The Eminence in Shadow – 17 – Moonlight Oriana

While sneaking away from his sister (by again flying out a window), Cid notices Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata being played in a concert hall. It’s Epsilon at the keys. Like Gamma and Beta, she’s using knowledge from Cid’s world to advance her position in this one. He doesn’t mind, and even compliments her figure, because he loves the Moonlight Sonata. And why the hell wouldn’t he? It’s the perfect theme song for Shadow.

He asks Epsilon about Rose’s whereabouts, but all she knows is that she is in the underground labyrinth. That’s all Cid needs to know. Alexia is already leading Beta down there, the former by now completely unconvinced that “Natsume” is a weakling. Alexia doesn’t know how fortunate she is that Beta is capable, because they’re heading into a totally unknown and potentially fatal situation.

When an exhausted and bloodied Rose catches her breath, we finally see what she encountered when she met with her father and Lord Perv. The king was clearly not in his right mind, and he and all of the assembled nobles and courtiers were under Perv’s control. Rose lashed out with violence, but now regrets that decision as a princess shouldn’t be so reckless and shortsighted (though considering that’s Alexia to a T, maybe they should?)

The nasty wound on Rose’s chest wasn’t caused by her pursuers; rather it is the early effects of possession; before long she’ll be consumed like Alpha & Co. were before they were freed from their curses by Cid. Just as Cid wishes he could have been there to see Rose go all “rock-n-roll”, Rose wishes she could get rid of Perv and his ilk, marry Cid, and live happily ever after. Now she’s not even sure how much longer she’ll live, period.

Throughout her monologue, which is spoken aloud, I kept thinking Cid would emerge from the shadows to tell her he still believes in her, still has her back. Of course that’s ridiculous; Cid would never act like that. Instead of emerging from the shadows, he appears before her in disguise as Shadow, playing Moonlight Sonata on the piano he borrowed from the concert hall. A gorgeous moonlike light suffuses the hall, and thousands of white feathers fall, all adding to the theatricality. Cid is killin’ it here.

Once the sonata ends, he stands up and asks Rose if she’s going to give up or keep going. Rose isn’t sure how. Shadow tells her he’ll give her the power to do anything and everything she needs and wants to do. With few other options, Rose accepts, and Shadow not only extracts the curse, but imbues her with power comparable to his Greek letters.

Shadow doesn’t stick around, leaving a single black feather on the piano keys, because he doesn’t have to. Diabolos assassins arrive, but the newly supercharged Rose turns them all into red mist with a single slash of her sword. With this power, perhaps she truly can save her father, her kingdom, and all the other nations threatened by the Cult.

When she encounters Alexia and Beta, the former demands to know what’s going on, but Rose won’t tell her. She doesn’t want Alexia to get dragged into it, and telling her will do that. Alexia won’t take no for an answer, and starts a fight with Rose. While she fights better than Rose expected, she’s obviously no match for her.

Rose leaves an unconscious Alexia with Beta, who doesn’t offer any resistance and even expresses her support for Rose’s future ventures. Their alliance may now be shattered, but Beta suspects they’ll meet again. Beta is hardly one to question Lord Shadow’s actions—if he bestowed upon Rose the same power as her and the Gardeners, he must’ve had a good reason.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 16 – Gesundheit!

With one third of their alliance suddenly a fugitive, Alexia and Beta ponder what do do about it. Alexia wants to get at it, but Beta warns caution. At this point in their frenemy-ship Alexia can tell Beta is putting on an act, and doesn’t like how Beta is keeping stuff from her. But in the end, Beta is looking out for the headstrong Alexia, not just as a friend, but as Lord Shadow’s Number Two.

While Cid departs from the arena as himself in order to get into character for his match, an elf woman passes by him, and can smell elf on him. She asks if he knows any, particularly one that looks a lot like her. Her name is Beatrix, and she is Alpha’s aunt. But Cid isn’t about to tell a stranger about Alpha’s whereabouts. While likely no match for her niece, Beatrix can handle herself with a sword, but Cid puts on a weak, normal guy act that she buys.

Two warriors who don’t quite buy Mundane Mann’s act are Annerose and Quinton, who compare notes. Quinton admits he hasn’t been able to actually see what Mann is doing to win his battles, only that he knows he’s doing something. Annerose can see, but only for a scant moment.

For instance, in Mann’s fight against the Unbeaten Legend Goldy Gilded, he cracks his neck to avoid a fatal blow and throwing the strutting golden peacock into a rage, promising Mann will never get another chance to beat him. He charges at him again with his ultimate Golden Dragon Sword attack, but Mann sneezes and Goldy is knocked out by his own momentum.

Annerose can’t quite believe what she’s seeing, but also can’t dismiss Mann’s moves as mere luck or coincidence. That said, her running commentary to Quinton is so farfetched that he storms off not believing any of it, and looking forward to his fight with Mann. Left alone, Annerose finally cuts loose a bit, cracking her neck and sneezing in rhythm before realizing she’s practically surrounded by spectators, blushes and flees.

As for Princess Rose stabbing her husband-to-be Perv Asshat, when Princess Iris visits the lord, he seems perfectly fine. Meanwhile, Rose’s father the kind looks very much not fine.

The heavy implication here is that Perv has him on some kind of drugs and/or under some kind of brainwashing or hypnosis. In any case, Lord Perv does not seem like a savory guy, and certainly not someone I’d want someone as awesome as Rose to marry!

Speaking of awesome, Annerose confronts Mann after he easily handles Quinton, to tell him that she’s “seen his evervy move” and warn him that those same moves won’t work against her. She may be several orders of magnitude stronger than Quinton or Goldy, but she’s no Mundane Mann. Still, I love how she basically bluffs in order to try to get something from her next opponent (she has no idea about his true ability).

And it works, kinda! Cid removes his armguards and when he drops them on the ground they’re so heavy they make craters in the concrete. In the funniest moment of the episode, Annerose counterattacks with an adorable neck crack and self-satisfied smile—both of which are met by Cid simply shuffling away. I love how in addition to being stoic as hell, she’s also a delightful goofball. She should have sneezed too!

The fact Perv is uninjured and also seemingly controlling her father tell me that Rose is on the run because she tried and failed to stop Perv from whatever he’s scheming, and Perv framed her for assault, a crime for which even a princess can be severely punished.

As such, she’s on the run. It also tracks that Rose wouldn’t want to burden Alexia and Beta—possibly her first and only friends—with her personal issues, but she should know better. Hopefully she doesn’t have to suffer this ordeal alone for much longer.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 02 – Blood and Lilies

In episode two, perspective shifts from the YoRHa in their pristine orbital headquarters to a battered but still operational Machine Lifeform (ML). Curiously, despite having apparently been created by “Aliens”, they have a very similar bootup and heads-up display as the humans’ androids.

This single ML unit starts to walk, creating a sense of scale and grandeur to the ruined landscape. Upon returning to a base, it finds a book, and in that book, a bookmark with the image of a white lily. Scenes of ML are interspersed with a childlike narrator telling the story of the MLs with colored paper compositions.

This particular ML develops an “emotional matrix”, deemed a critical error, and its red eyes turn yellow, denoting neutrality. It ;earns how to garden, and devotes its existence to growing flowers, gathering “followers” in the form of other yellow-eyed MLs.

The comparisons to WALL-E are obvious from the serene, gorgeous empty vistas ML inhabits to the way the storytelling takes place without dialogue (narration segments aside). But hey, if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best.

Not far from ML’s growing garden is an embedded group of human resistance fighters led by…Lily. I immediately wondered if, like the stiff redheaded twin maintenance units assigned to the unit, she was an android in disguise. Regardless, she’s bitter about the “Council of Humanity” on the Moon ignoring all requests for badly-needed reinforcements.

Every encounter with the red-eyed MLs means at least one of her unit will be injured or killed, with no one to replace them. They’re ambushed when trying to gather resources to keep fighting, and have to abandon those resources when the MLs send in kamikaze units.

Little does Lily know that up in orbit, she’s about to get a helping hand, in the form of 2B and 9S. When 2B wakes up she tells 9S she finds the sound of his voice comforting, only to cooly head to the control room without him.

They may have just come back from a brutal battle that claimed 9S’s memories, but Commander White sends them back down to perform recon on the resistance unit. They had an android embedded with the unit, but there’s been a breakdown in communication.

2B and 9S can’t come soon enough, as a huge mass of red-eyed MLs trample and destroy the yellow-eyed peaceful bots and their garden on their march to kill the humans. Lily demonstrates that she’s a capable leader despite her youth, quick and decisive and maximizing the limited resources she has.

When they mine a bridge and lure the red-eyed bots across, the detonators fail to work. It’s here where Lily’s underlings spot the yellow-eyed ML we know and have grown fond of. He stands in front of the hundreds of red-eyes, seemingly to try to talk them out of further fighting.

But before he can turn any red eyes to yellow, the entire bridge is lit up by missiles from 2B and 9S’ flying mechas. 2B makes a characteristically stylish entrance, and Lily not only knows her as “Number Two” but is very shocked to see her, or indeed any Council reinforcements. That said, Lily’s bloody shoulder seems to confirm she’s a flesh-and-blood human, not a “tin man”.

As for our yellow-eyed friend, he didn’t die in vain, nor is he alone. Hundreds if not thousands of his kind are soaking up knowledge from the library of the civilization they toppled, and seem to be combining their amassed knowledge and brains into a single mega-brain.

While I’m not sure what this is quite about, from a visual standpoint I can at least guess that yellow eyes and books are, at least now, less of a threat than red eyes, kamikaze bots, and slaughter. The narrator also describes the yellow-eyed bot anomalies as “treasures”. Were they meant to evolve in this way, or was it just random happenstance?

Whatever the answers are, and even if they’re never revealed, I remain thoroughly intrigued, and the setting lends the show a welcome splash of color and life from last week’s largely monotone, industrial battles. The post-ED omake featuring a cloth puppet 2B and 9S answering fan mail provides humor and whimsy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 15 – Riding the Wave

One thing that keeps me coming back to Eminence is that it’s just plain fun as hell watching Cid having fun. And with the Sanctuary arc all wrapped up and the Bushin Festival gearing up, he’s having a ton of fun this week in particular.

It’s also fun watching his idea of fun, which isn’t just to sign up for the festival and obliterate everyone. Nah, there’s an order to this, and he wants to build up some mystique. Gamma gives him a new face and identity for this purpose: the on-the-nose “Mundane Mann”.

Between his weak look, wan complexion, poor posture, he becomes an immediate target for stronger fighters to warn him off the festival, starting with the very polite and to-the-point Annerose, one of the favorites to win it all. She tells Cid to back out now to avoid permanent harm.

Cid asks her to kindly not judge a book by its cover, but when a much larger Quinton picks a fight, Cid exercises discipline and doesn’t show his hand. He lets the guy wail on him, which is free marketing for how unlikely a champion this Mundane Mann guy is.

Annerose asks Quinton to stop lest she step in, and apologizes to “Mundane” for letting things get so out of hand. She says it’s better for him to get his ass beat now than enter the Bushin Festival and suffer even greater pain from certain defeat.

But when Cid simply hops back up and strolls away, Annerose is confused; even after being beaten on by that guy for that long, he doesn’t seem hurt at all! It’s a subtle but very effective strategy by Cid to get Annerose thinking maybe there is something to this weakling.

Since Bushin is held in Rose’s hometown, she and Cid end up bumping into each other at a fountain, after Cid has a thorough chat with Skel regarding betting over “Tuna King” burgers. Rose reports that she, Beta (in her alias as Natsume Kafka) and Alexia have become fast friends.

She also says she has a prior engagement: her father is going to introduce her to her fiancé Perv Asshat (what a name). She’s not looking forward to it. But she’s determined to live her live as a dark knight, something she’s always wanted to be since she watched a younger cid fighting those brigands years ago. That’s right: Rose met and fell for Cid far earlier than she realizes—and she wouldn’t be the knight she is without him!

The next day, the preliminary matches begin, and Cid tags along with Skel as the latter continues to bore him with his betting strategies. Skel does end up attracting another fighter, Goldy Gilded, the Ever-Victorious Golden Dragon (Skel murders the name many times.)

Goldy tells Skel that he assesses fighters and assigns a “power level” to each of them. Cid slips away to take a dump, and moments later Mundane Mann arrives. Goldy doesn’t think much of Mundane, giving him a scant 33 versus over 1,300 for his opponent.

And yet, in the blink of an eye, Mundane’s opponent is out cold on the ground and Mundane is the winner, which means he’ll be Goldy’s next opponent. Goldy is confident, and Annerose is intrigued by what she (and likely no one else) saw—Mundane delivering a devastating double punch to the loser’s chin. All of this is just what Cid wants to create more anti-hype with a tinge of mystique.

The next morning, however, Cid’s fun looks destined to be curbed, as Skel bursts in with a newspaper article alleging that Rose stabbed her fiancé and ran off. I don’t think that’s what Cid meant when he suggested that she “relax”! I know Cid is pretty indifferent towards most people, but maybe it’s different with Rose? Will he try to track Rose down in time to make his match with Goldy?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 01 (First Impressions) – Glory…to Mankind

Nier:Automata Ver 1.1a is an anime adaptation of a video game sequel to a spin-off of another video game series dating back to 2003, but for me it might as well be anime-original. With this adaptation, A-1 Pictures gives us a polished sci-fi action flick set in a bleak and gritty world decimated by alien invasion. The aliens use “machine lifeforms” (retro-looking robots) to fight sleeker (read: sexier) androids developed by humanity.

Our protagonist is YoRHa B-Gata H-Kei 2-gou B-gata, AKA 2B, which is super easy name to remember. Sporting a silver bob, eye mask, dark maid/knight outfit, katana, and slick-as-shit mecha, 2B is voiced by Ishikawa Yui, channeling Mikasa with an appropriately stiff, mechanical vocal performance. I also thought of early Vivy.

2B has the baroque look of a late-stage Final Fantasy character, which contrasts nicely with the more bare-bolts industrial setting. At times I wondered if Yuuri and Chito from Girls’ Last Tour might come running through the mist. She’s supported by a float “Pod” companion that keeps her informed about her surroundings and conditions.

2B has a mission, and despite being the only one of her squad to make it to the factory where her Goliath-type target is located, she is determined to carry out the mission or die (or rather be destroyed) trying. She’s aided by a far more “human”-acting intelligence android, 9S, voiced by Hanae Natsuki as if he were an affable high school character.

9S hasn’t spoken to anyone in a while, and is happy to be teamed up with someone, being a typically solo unit. 2B is less enthused, especially with 9S’ loquaciousness (she tells him not to call her “miss” and cuts his exposition short). But he also saves the “brute-force-first” 2B’s ass. As for the Goliath, it appears as a massive oil platform-on-tracks, with a face resembling the boss from StarFox.

This Goliath is a tough customer, but 9S has it handled: diving into its computer brain in a trippy hacking sequence that’s a nice change of pace from the external twisted metal and rust, and smoke. His hacking ends up being incomplete and he’s ejected from his mecha and seriously maimed, and Goliath is able to reboot and regain part of its autonomy.

9S urges a suddenly very human-like 2B not to worry about him and complete the mission. She runs up the appendages of the Goliath and punctures its core with her katana. The good guys have seemingly prevailed and defeated the big level boss. But then it wakes back up, and four other Goliaths awaken and rise, surrounding them.

It looks like it’s going to be Game Over, Man for both 2B and 9S, so after she thanks him for saving her, the two take out their Black Boxes. When these boxes touch, they self-destruct in a massive explosion that consumes all of the Goliaths. Even with 9S by her side, this was always going to be a suicide mission as soon as 2B arrived without any of her fellow squad units.

But while that’s the end of her body, her mind, memories, and data are all transferred back up to the massive orbital human stronghold called the Bunker, and she wakes up in a new android body. It’s the first time we see her eyes, and because of that the sight of them really packs a punch.

When she reunites with a revived 9S, he confirms that the mission was complete, but that he must have only had time to transfer her data back to the Bunker. The 9S before him has no memories of their joint mission down on the surface. When this new 9S dutifully utters their motto—Glory to Mankind—2B clenches a fist and repeats the words …but grudgingly.

We don’t see a single human being or alien in this episode, only their tools. If we never see either, I probably won’t mind. Their absence contributes to quite a compelling atmosphere of loneliness, isolation, and even a tinge of resentment and brooding in the androids. They were built and programmed to say that motto and fight and sacrifice their bodies and minds, and while emotions are forbidden, they are also definitely there.

2B wonders if her unending cycle of life and death is a curse or punishment from the gods who created her. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but it is admirably executed, and looks and sounds awesome (Aimer sings the OP and the score is boss), which is why I’ll be continuing to watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 14 – The Start of a Legend

As soon as Cid opened his right eye at the end of last week’s episode, I knew that playtime would soon be over. Nelson can send his copy of the Great Hero Olivier—heck, he can send dozens of copies—at Cid, but it doesn’t matter. He’s the motherfucking Eminence of Shadow. When Olivier draws too close, he lets her impale him, missing his vitals, then bites her neck , severing a major artery.

The other copies soon fall by Cid’s sword, until he’s stabbed in the heart (and has to move said heart to avoid serious damage) and decides to wrap this up with his Atomic overkill move, which doesn’t just destroy the Olivier copies, Nelson, the sword in the stone, the chains, and the magical core. It obliterates the entire Sanctuary, and floods the city by displacing an entire reservoir’s worth of water. Alexia, Rose and Beta can only watch in awe (and in Beta’s case, knowing pride)

The end of the Sanctuary also spells the end of Aurora, or at least the walking walking memory version of her that befriended Cid. Their goodbye scene is genuinely moving, and even if, say, Aurora’s other name is Diabolos, she hopes that one day Cid will find her—the real her—if only so they can meet and “converse” again.

In the aftermath of their singular experience, Alexia takes the initiative and asks Rose and Beta to join forces with her, for the three of them working together will accomplish more than any of them independently. Of course, she doesn’t know Beta is a high-ranking member of Shadow Garden…but that’s okay! It just means Beta has just made inroads with not one but two prominent royal families.

Time progresses, and Gamma is able to buy up a bunch of property in the Velgalta Empire where she knows petroleum deposits dwell. The seller doesn’t even know what that is, but he will—the whole world will. You could say that while Nelson and his Sanctuary ilk suppressed the world’s technology, Shadow Garden is rapidly bringing it back. We see prototype automobiles and airships in the works.

Alpha looks in on her fellow Shadows with a sense of pride and accomplishment, remembering when it was just a handful of them in a modest Japanese-style house with Cid. And now they’re all poised to turn the wheels of the world from the shadows.

They’ll have another chance to demonstrate their power if they choose at the next tournament in Rose’s neck of the woods. Alexia’s sister will be gunning for them, while Rose appears to have contracted the Curse. There’s a lot to cover in the remaining six episodes.

Yuru Camp△ Movie – Adulting Outdoors

Rather than chronicle another fun camping trip in a new place with the Outclub while they’re still in school, Yuru Camp’s first movie takes place in the not-to-distant future, when Rin, Nadeshiko, Aoi, Aki, and Ena are now full-fledged young adults with jobs (though notably no romantic partners).

They stay in touch through chat, but compared with their time at school they’re very far flung and their daily routines have changed. Rin’s at a publishing office in Nagoya, Nadeshiko works at a camping store in Tokyo, Aoi is a grade school teacher, Ena is a pet groomer, and Aki works with the local tourism department after her life in Tokyo didn’t pan out.

It’s Aki who is the catalyst that brings the five Outclub members back together with a bold proposal: take a derelict outdoors youth center with a great view of Fuji-sama and turn it into a campground. After Aki has (lots) of drinks with Rin (all drunk by her; she’s predictably now the lush of the group), she takes them to the spot, and at sunrise, Rin gets it; it’s a good spot.

The challenge, then, is how the five of them are going to navigate their day job obligations and distances and make this thing happen. Aki assigns everyone a role and wisely picks Rin as the team lead, as she’s the most experienced camper and thus perhaps the best organizer of the group.

They start small and realistically; trimming the overgrown grass and removing errant shrubs while discussing ideas for what they want on the grounds. Once a farmer friend of Aki’s shows them the proper way to to these things, and they get their hands on some machinery, the cleanup work accelerates.

It’s exciting watching the adult versions of these characters, already having eased into their new adult lives, banding together once more over something they always loved sharing with each other—camping—with the goal of now sharing that love with others so those people will share it, and so on and so forth.

It’s also comforting to know that both the chemistry and the comedic banter among the young women is still alive and well. A different movie could have had its individual members much more isolated and/or estranged (or even having families of their own) but this is rather the evolution of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things—Cute Women Doing Cool Things.

Once all the major cleanup and grading is complete, they decide to give the grounds a whirl by being the first to camp there. They find areas for improvements, and also ease back into their old dynamic of preparing a perfect campsite and cooking the perfect camp feasts.

The fact that these five young women are now old hands at camp cooking—not to mention they have a lot more cash than they did as kids—means Nadeshiko and Aki really go all out with the (still on sale!) salmon, with a light yet hearty cream soup and a full-on hot pot. The fact that these five young women are now old hands at camp cooking.

But like Yuru Camp’s first two seasons, the movie is not entirely without conflict, which comes in the form of a setback. Ena’s now-old pup Chikuwa brings her an odd piece of broken pottery, which eventually leads to a full archeological survey and excavation, which first delays and then completely nixes the campground plan. Aki, who brought everyone into this plan, has to make the call to everyone saying all their hard work may have been for naught!

And yet, because they’re adults, this isn’t the end of the world for any of them. It’s definitely disappointing, even deflating, but everyone aside rom Aki finds solace and stability in their day jobs. Rin finds out her senpai at work has been supporting her a lot behind the scenes so she could work on the campground project (both as team lead and covering it as a print and online serial for the magazine) and vows to work harder.

Aoi’s work story might be the most bittersweet, as the school where she’d started teaching just a couple years ago is closing down (possibly due to there simply not being enough kids to fill it), but gives the kids who are there all the love and attention she’s got. And I love how three high schoolers from Bizarro Yuru Camp come into Nadeshiko’s store again, looking to dip their tows into camping. Nadeshiko truly was born to get people into camping!

Those three kids’ simple but very doable plan to have a day trip with cup noodles inspires her to invite Rin to a special new spot: Rin has to endure a lot of climbing in the snow and ice, but the reward is the highest hot spring in Japan, which is tiny, but also breathtakingly beautiful, not to mention the absolute best thing after all the exertion.

There, the two old friends discuss how they really have become proper adults, who can do a lot more than they used to, not just regarding camping, but life in general. Nadeshiko also notes that even adults can’t do anything, but they can do what they can. She doesn’t regret the time they spent trying to get the campground off the ground, even if it didn’t work out. Neither does Rin.

It’s fortunate, then, that the campground plan isn’t entirely dead. With help from Ena, Aki prepares a new proposal that integrates the archeological site with the campground. The video presentation shows footage of the five women working hard and also relaxing and enjoying the outdoors, and is extremely persuasive.

The council votes to approve the plan, which means the Outclub is back in business, having only lost a couple of months. They cut the grass back down, the dog run is completed, they put a coat of paint on the distinctive aviary frame, and Aoi procures all the stuff they’ll need for the kid’s area.

When Aoi brings the fancy and very professional sign made by Akari (who is now in art school) and the five mount it to the entrance, it lends an immensely satisfying feeling of completion. They adulted the hell out of shit, and weathered the challenges that came their way. They did it!

Mind you, while getting caught up in all the excitement, they forgot to post the signs leading to the campground, so their first group of campers (many of them family and friends and thus more forgiving) get lost on their way there!

Not a problem, as the women work together to communicate with Rin while she rides out (not on her gramps’ motorcycle, which is in the shop, but her old moped) to locate and guide everyone safely to their destination. Crisis averted!

Once the sun sets and everyone is settled in, the five women stand at the top of the hill and admire what they’ve accomplished. Earlier, Rin’s Gramps gave the site his blessing. The group makes plans right then and there to reunite and camp there for New Years, when the sun rises out of Fuji-san’s peak. Rin, to the surprise of the other four, says she’ll also be joining them (albeit tentatively). Of course, she told Aki she’d “think about” helping with the campground too!

As the credits go by we get snapshots of that trip, on which Rin indeed accompanies the others, while we also get snapshots of them continuing their adult lives at their jobs. Aoi’s at a new school, Nadeshiko is still being the best dang camping store clerk ever, Rin is hard at work at the magazine, Ena’s grooming pups, and Aki is sticking with the local tourism.

A planned third season of Yuru Camp will likely return us to the present when they’re all still in school. But it was great to see everyone doing so well in the future. I got the same warm, fuzzy, cozy, calming, healing feelings I got from the show, only a little more adult-y. I honestly wouldn’t mind if season 3 picked up from here!

It also had some low-key poignant commentary on the preservation and revitalization of existing things—as well as the need to preserve and occasionally revitalize one’s old friendships! What better way to do that then to go camping, when we can be one with ourselves, rely on one another, and of course indulge in lavish outdoor feasts!

The Eminence in Shadow – 13 – The Beast Girl, the Witch and the Wardrobe

In the white void, Alpha sits back while Delta does her think as the “token musclehead”, rejecting the fact that being closer to the center of the sanctuary makes them weaker and Nelson stronger, donning a skimpy slime bikini, and summoning a gargantuan meat cleaver with which she splats all of Nelson’s clones in one go. It’s good to finally see Delta in extended action.

Meanwhile, Epsilon’s group encounters a memory that she’s able to purify, and they discover a library that holds all the knowledge on the possessed children held in the Sanctuary, as well as the means to open an exit. Epsilon briefly loses her falsies, but her underlings know better than to say they saw it.

Finally, there’s Cid and Aurora, who are like two peas in a pod and gradually build a genuine bond as they continue to explore her dark memories. Cid continues to treat her like no one else, neither as an adversary, underling, or hassle, but as a pal.

The two buds end up dead ended at the door that leads to the magic core. Cid knows his sword can’t break the chains, and also knows it will require a descendant (presumably of Olivier) to pull the key-sword out of the floor, Excalibur-style.

But while they kill time playing tic-tac-toe and pondering their next steps, Delta’s unhinged violence manages to shatter Nelson’s white void, leaving him no choice but to summon Olivier herself. That’s when Epsilon’s group meets up with Alpha’s to report their findings, and Alpha orders a withdrawal.

It speaks to just how damn powerful Alpha is that not only was her slime outfit not visibly effected by the power drain, but one stern look at Delta instantly cows the beast girl into leaving her prey and coming along. Alexia and Rose accompany Alpha, Beta, Epsilon, and the others through the exit.

Nelson receives an alert about Cid and Aurora, and meets them where they are with Olivier by his side. He orders her to kill Cid and while she’s extremely strong and is able to draw blood, she fails to do so. Cid, meanwhile, wears an involuntary smirk on his face. Nothing like a worthy opponent to lift the spirits.

Only Cid doesn’t necessarily consider Olivier that worthy; after all, she lacks a heart, and is simply a tool Nelson is using to try to kill him. Nelson tries to cut a deal with Aurora that will save Cid, but he rejects it, asking them to kindly not decide the outcome of his battle with Olivier before it’s over.

Nelson says fine, and sends Olivier to deliver a killing blow through Cid’s chest. But again, he merely smiles, and finally opens the right eye he’s kept closed this entire time, and not just because that’s what many anime characters do: he was suppressing an even greater power within him, which he will likely use to neutralize Olivier and continue assisting Aurora.

The question is, is Nelson right when he says the witch is just deceiving Cid and she’ll lead him to his doom once her memories are all back? It’s worth thinking about considering the Aurora with whom he’s gotten along with so famously is missing large chunks of her former personality…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 25 (Part 2 Fin) – The Front Line

Disguised as a professor, Loid assesses the current situation as the Eden College Social Gathering commences. There is no way to infiltrate the gathering without actually belonging there. Since Anya earning enough Stella to become an Imperial Scholar is probably out, that leaves Plan B.

Like Loid, Damian longs to be in the presence of his father (for obviously very different reasons). But while his older brother says he’ll tell their dad Damian wants to see him, he also tells Damian not to get his hopes up. Damian probably doesn’t need to be told this. But he has to try.

Anya has to try too. She can read Loid’s mind since he’s in range, and doubles her efforts to be close to Damian so that she can face the “final boss.” Of course, this gives both Damian and Becky the impression she’s stalking him. And she’s not not stalking him.

Loid, who is far better than Anya at staying hidden, watches Damian head to the place where he said he’d be waiting for his father. But when Damian reconsiders since he’s so sure his dad won’t show, he can’t do anything about it.

But Anya can. She tells Damian she can tell he’s scared (and he suspects she can read his mind…which he can…) just as she was scared to show her dad her low test scores. But she also knows her dad loves her, even when he’s mad at her, so she’ll keep showing him her tests scores. While he tsunderes Anya off, Damian gets her, and heads to the meeting place after all.

Anya waits with him from afar, and Becky waits with her, assuming she’s in love with Damian and wants to meet his dad. But Anya soon falls asleep. As Becky has Martha carry her to the car to take her home, Loid walks past in his professor disguise, carrying the same keychain she has on her backpack.

It’s that keychain that provides Loid the excuse to speak to Damian. He planted it in the meeting place for Damian to find, then takes the opportunity to take a knee and profusely apologize on behalf of his daughter, being nothing but submissive and deference.

While he’s apologizing, Desmond shocks his son by arriving. Loid then introduces himself formally apologizes. In these first critical moments, he takes as much of the measure of Desmond as he can, while formulating the right conversational path to get the most out of their encounter.

Once, then twice, Desmond cheerfully tells Loid that he needn’t go so far to apologize for a trifling quarrel between children. Loid knows not to push further against such a man as cautious and wily as Donovan, so he doesn’t. But Damian is another matter.

Loid proceeds to elegantly and expertly make use of Damian and his justified daddy issues as a conduit to open a meaningful dialogue and make himself memorable and appealing enough for Donovan to take notice. Damian is angry his dad isn’t angrier, but Loid and Donovan bond over their shared inability to truly know or understand what their kids or thinking.

Loid doesn’t really agree, but Donovan’s comments help him to better understand Donovan’s political philosophy, which is the first step to steering him towards one less likely to lead to the East-West cold war going hot. He even gets a solid dig in by assuming Donovan makes time for Damian when he’s never done any such thing.

Even so, Donovan notes that this is an oversight he hadn’t considered, but acknowledges. After Loid showers praise on Damian for a report about his father that he claims Anya really liked, he prepares to take his leave. His final request to Damian is that he try to be friends with Anya, as she likely wants to be his friend. In an unguarded moment, Damian says he feels the same way…before turning beet red and rejecting the idea.

Once Loid departs, Donovan turns to Damian and asks what he wanted. Damian says it’s nothing, but then remembers Anya’s words about having to show your test scores, and stops his dad to tell him all of the good things that have happened to him so far in class.

Then, to Damian’s surprise and boundless elation, his father says “well done, keep at it.” Simple and boilerplate they may be, hearing his father say them absolutely makes Damian’s year. And if he’s on better terms with his dad in no small part thanks to words from both Anya and her dad, then perhaps in future he’ll be less inclined to call her a stubby-legged uggo stalker.

That helps Loid’s cause. But what’s so great about his discussion with the Desmond is that he’s not simply operating as a heartless agent of the state trying to manipulate an enemy VIP and his son. I mean, he kinda is, but he’s also uses his experiences as Anya’s father, not a spy, to actually improve the relationship between Damian and Donovan.

It works like a charm, and it was thrilling to watch. As for Anya, she must’ve needed to catch up on some sleep, since she’s still out cold when Loid comes home, her having been delivered there like a package by Becky earlier that afternoon.

The long-awaited first meeting of Twilight and his primary target marks the end of Spy x Family Part 2, ending on a high note. Whenever Part 3 comes around there will be plenty to chew on, from the continued development of the Forget family and Anya and Damian’s friendship, to the potential for the family’s mutual secrets to be revealed to one another. I shall eagerly await Part 3—and hopefully not fall asleep on a stoop as Anya did while staking out Damian.

Spy x Family – 24 – Rebuilding the World

Annihilating Fiona in tennis proves not to be a cure-all for Yor’s replacement anxiety. It’s gotten to the point where Loid observes her walking into lampposts while muttering and the neighbors gossiping about adultery.

Taking her out for drinks only heightens Yor’s distress, as she assumes the bar to be the venue where he’ll officially declare he’ll be moving on with Fiona. That’s not what he’s planning to say, but before he can get a word in edgewise Yor champs her fancy cocktail and then chugs his scotch to soften a blow that will never come.

Once Yor’s lips have been sufficiently loosened by alcohol, her rants make Loid realize that this goes beyond her worrying about not being an adequate wife and mother, and passes into jealousy territory. Assuming Yor has developed romantic feelings for him, he turns on his practiced Twilight charm.

But while there’s definitely something to Yor feeling something for him, his advances are far to powerful, and her reduced inhibitions mean she has not problem kicking him in the chin and sending him flying. He manages to to a mid-air flip and land on his feet, but the kick landed, and Loid goes down.

He wakes up from a dream of his mother humming a lullaby to him to find his head in Yor’s lap as she sings the same tune (though with improvised lyrics). The mere fact her song reminded him of his mother, and of a time when he felt happy, safe and loved even in the midst of a terrible war, speaks to Yor’s latent skills.

When she says of course he’d want to move on from a “musclehead” like her, he recounts to her the story of his mother, and sees that same strength in her with Anya. While he, Nightfall, and the other spies have been working tirelessly to rebuild the world, Yor has already rebuilt it in their home: made a place where Anya feels safe, happy, and loved.

That’s why he’s honored to have Yor as a wife and mother, and has no intention of replacing her with Fiona. As for Yor, Yuri was once the only thing she cared about in the world, but now she can add her new family to that short list. It’s a home she and Loid built that she doesn’t want to leave anytime soon.

In the second half, Becky notices Anya watching Damian from afar and assumes she’s in love with the twerp. In reality, she’s trying to befriend him since eight Stella are out of the question. But Becky assumes she’s just being shy, and tells her the best way to get a man’s attention is by looking as good as possible.

To that end, Becky invites Anya on a shopping trip to a department store she rented out in its entirety. A shopping montage ensues, with Anya trying on increasingly avant-garde clothes and Becky cheering her on all the way even though she’s increasingly unsure what’s going on.

All this Fashion exhausts Anya, while Becky realizes that at the dorm party where they’ll be able to be out of uniform, she needs to come up with an ensemble to impress her darling Loid. Moving on from that, the girls keep shopping for shoes, glasses, accessories, and then have some tea and lunch at the store café.

When Anya appears colorless and says she’s near death, Becky asks her if she didn’t enjoy shopping with her. In response, Anya brightens up and assures Becky that she had tons of fun, as this was her first time shopping with a friend. Hearing Anya say “friend” really moves Becky.

As her maid and chaperone Martha drives the tuckered out girls home, we learn why that is: Becky had trouble making friends prior to enrolling at Eden. She came off as an arrogant bully and found socializing with commoners to be beneath her.

Considering her father runs one of the country’s largest conglomerates, it’s not surprising her to-the-manor-born upbringing caused this aloofness. Combine that with her precociousness, and Becky thought she had the entire world and everyone in it figured out before she turned eight.

It was Martha who told her the first step to being a true and proper adult is accepting that she didn’t know all there was to know about everything and everyone. Watching Becky interact with Anya, who may well be her first true friend just as she is Anya’s, Martha can see how far Becky has come since attending Eden and meeting Anya.

It warms her heart to see Becky with a real friend she can be herself with. That genuine happiness is more attractive than any couture outfit, as evidenced by Damian blushing when he sees Anya and Becky the next day, walking and laughing with their matching sheep keychains.

The Eminence in Shadow – 07 – Making Friends

Ever since she received the gift of chocolates, Sherry’s head has been in the clouds. She’s moved to action when she tastes one of them, and finds it irresistibly sweet. Nu shows off her disguising abilities by posing as an academy student to give Cid her report; they couldn’t get anything out of the brainwashed “Child of Diabolos”.

A “Named” Child (one who has kept their personality through the cult conditioning) has been sent to the capital, surely to continue sullying the name of Shadow Garden. There’s a sad little moment when Nu briefly daydreams about a normal high school life of fun and dancing, only for it to turn into a nightmare.

Cid has a nightmare of his own on his hands: he’s been entered into a fencing tournament against his wishes. He makes lemonade from lemons when his opponent is Rose Oriana, Princess of the kingdom of art and culture and also the academy’s top swordsman.

Because Cid is Cid—pathelogically devoted to playing the nobody—he uses this opportunity to be defeated in the most embarrassing “bloody” ways imaginable, only to get back up and demand the fight continue. Rose slashes him and he goes flying every time, but she can sense his fire…and likes it.

When she finally admits she was underestimating him and takes the kid gloves off, the ref jumps between them before she can lay down a strike. Rose is technically the winner, but she feel like a loser because Cid never gave up in the battle of spirit.

Despite trying to come off as as pathetic a loser as possible (and has practiced 48 different ways to do so), Cid inadvertently gains the ungrudging respect of Rose, an unquestionably powerful “main character”—not exactly what Cid was going for!

In that same vein, Cid didn’t put any thought into whom he gave chocolates to, but by giving them to Sherry Barnett, he picked one of the rare girls at the academy who admired what she saw of him out there in the arena. Recognizing him through his (fake) bandages, she seeks him out and invites him to coffee.

There, Sherry presents him with a bag of homemade cookies as a thank you—even though Cid doesn’t remember giving her chocolates. When he casually agrees to her proposal that they “start out” as friends, and then learns whose daughter she is, Cid is immediately apprehensive; should a background character such as he really consort with such heavy hitters?

He has no idea how happy he made Sherry with his acceptance of her offer. But when she still can’t concentrate on the artifact research, she pays a visit to Alexia, and over an extremely sweet and milky cup of coffee (contrasted with Lexi’s black) asks if she and Cid are still dating. When she says they’re not, and never really were, Sherry can’t contain her elation, which gives Alexia quite a bit of pause!

After befriending Sherry, Cid uses his “injuries” to justify staying away from classes for five days. Upon his return, Rose (the student council president) and her apparent Veep pay his class a visit to talk about elections. But just then, Diabolos commences an invasion plan by cloaking the entire academy with a magic-dampening field.

Among his classmates, only Cid seems to notice the change, and even senses when danger is approaching before it does. When Rose draws her sword to challenge the invaders, she’s unaware of the field, and almost gets seriously hurt. Instead, Cid comes between her and her charging attacker…and gets badly slashed across the chest.

As Sherry takes her coffee with a heap of sugar, I’m inclined to take Cid’s injury with a grain of salt. His performance at the tournament showed that he can an elite dark knight and a stadium full of people into thinking he’s getting seriously hurt. This seems like another opportunity to show everyone how very good he’s gotten at looking so very bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 06 – Scaling the Wall

Lady Prospera has a chilly reunion with her former Vanadis colleague, Bel, AKA Belmeria Winston, who says she had little choice but to join Peil Group in order to survive after the punitive assault on their facility years ago. She asks Prospera why she’s using her daughter as an instrument of revent, but Bel retorts by asking “how many” Gundam pilots there have been before Elan.

While Earth House reconsiders their opinion on Elan in light of his treatment of their new housemate, Guel is thrown out of House Jeturk and cut off from all but the remaining school tuition. He leaves with his head held high, having done what he (and I believed) to be the right thing in standing up for Suletta. She and Elan meet for pre-duel formalities, but she has yet to decide her stakes.

Earth House know theirs: the 2.7-to-1 odds they’ll enjoy if Suletta wins. Led by Nana’s cautiously-can-do attitude, they scrounge around scrap and spare parts to cobble together a flight unit for Aerial. I can only imagine Suletta’s mom didn’t provide her such a unit because she was confident her daughter would make the necessary connections.

Meanwhile, Elan undergoes more lonely testing and his blurry recurring image of a candle is interrupted by a surprise visitor in Elan … the real Elan Ceres. He’s every bit the smug, privileged aristocrat you’d imagine would be heading up Peil House, and is the rightful recipient of a future face-punch from Chuchu, Miorine, and/or even Suletta herself.

The “Elan” we’ve known thus far is no villain, only a pawn and victim, though he apparently volunteered for this with the promise he’d get his “face” back and a citizens ID should he prevail. I suspect the memories of his past life have been subordinated by the Permet conditioning.

During flight testing out in open space, Suletta is down in the dumps, feeling dumb and annoying after Elan’s hurtful words. Miorine is out there assisting with Nana, and gives her bridegroom a bit of tough love, as well as reflect back Suletta’s “move forward, gain two” credo.

Suletta snaps out of it and gets back to testing, then afterwards visits Peil House insisting to speak to Elan. She’s put over house-wide loudspeakers calling out to Elan, asking if he meant everything he said, and then singing him “Happy Birthday.” He only calls her to tell her to go home, saying he has no birthday. But we know better; her singing briefly brought his hazy memory into focus.

But the die is cast, and the next day the duel unfolds as planned, with Suletta announcing that her stake is that if she wins, Elan has to tell her all about himself. This further rankles an Elan already understandably frustrated by his lot in life; from his perspective he has absolutely nothing, while Suletta has everything, and yet still wants more from him, and won’t let him have this victory.

A thrilling space battle ensues, with both Aerial and Pharact’s Bit Control Systems dueling, and the latter suit’s superior mobility creating a long-range disadvantage for Suletta and her jury-rigged unit. Once again the corporate bigwigs—in this case Peil—arranged for unfair conditions. Perhaps they know that they need every edge they can get against Suletta and Aerial.

The entire school is watching, including Guel from his new home—a tent in the woods (I’ll admit to laughing out loud as this uncommented-on development, and part of me hoped Shimarin or Honda Tooru would show up). It looks bad for Suletta, but she has an advantage Elan doesn’t: time.

Elan has to continually up his Permet Score to maintain his edge, which takes a toll on his already depleted body. He even predicted this would be his last duel, judging from Bel’s reports on his testing. He and Suletta trade flurries of beams, and the latter’s flight suit is damaged.

Now a drifting sitting duck, Pharact’s Bits prepare to envelop Aerial as they did Guel last week, but in a development that may even come as a surprise to Suletta, an emergency defense system is activated that neutralizes the Bits and Pharact. The laughter of children can be heard as Aerial’s Bits form a spinning ring around her and then blast Pharact to hell.

Suletta has won, her house has more than doubled their money, which means they eat next month, and Miorine doesn’t have to worry about Elan becoming the Holder and her new groom. Elan drifts in defeat, but his memory finally comes into focus: a mother, his real mother, with loving eyes, presenting him with a birthday cake.

The light of the candle becomes the light of the glowing debris as Suletta stretches out her hand for him, and he takes it. As they drift together in the void, she assures him he doesn’t have nothing, and she and many others will celebrate his birthday.

As Elan flashes perhaps his first genuine smile, Miorine sits in the repair pod with Nana and endures this bit of “minor two-timing”, which extends to a second date for Suletta and Elan, so he can fulfill the stakes of the duel. Miorine leaves Suletta to await his arrival, but the clock ticks by and he doesn’t show.

Suletta cheerfully sings “Happy Birthday” once more as she waits, but she waits in vain. Elan isn’t standing her up; the Peil bigwigs have decided to scrap him. He was never anything other than a disposable tool for them, and with his failure to gain Aerial he’s no longer of any use to them. That they unceremoniously stick him in what looks like a goddamn sci-fi cremation furnace while he’s fully freaking conscious seems inhumane to the extreme.

Just as they did with new Yuru Camp cast member Guel Jeturk, Gundam successfully rehabilitated Elan’s character into someone with whom we could sympathize and root for. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll also have to grieve for him. Will the real Elan replace him in both the cockpit and at school, or will it be another “spare” with his face? Either way, Suletta’s victory is tempered by a bitter loss; the latest casualty in this corporatocracy’s unrelenting thirst for profits.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 05 – A Patch of Black Ice

For those girls (and guys) for whom the fiery Guel Jetark isn’t their cup of tea, they have the apparent opposite in Elan Ceres. They call him the “ice prince”, and long to melt his icy heart. If they only knew. Elan rarely duels, but he’s 7-0 after winning a 3-on-1 affair that was never close.

Elan is also working on behalf of Piel Technologies, but unlike Guel, he’s treated more employee than son to their four-woman leadership group. After winning, he surprises Suletta with a phone call … and asks her out on a date. Her Earth House girls go giddy (Chuchu excepted).

In another demonstration of how different she and Elan are, Suletta calls her mom, who is supportive of her daughter branching out and getting to know others better—the move forward, gain two ethos. But after getting off the phone with her daughter, Lady Prospera gets a report about Peil “making its move”—faster than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Elan hasn’t been talking to Suletta because she’s a friend; indeed, I do not believe he understands such a concept. He’s been pumping her for information and context on Aerial on behalf of the company he serves. We also see that he’s an “enhanced person” created for the sole purpose of piloting a Gundam.

This culminates in Suletta letting Elan into Aerial’s cockpit for a routine survey of the testing area (which is definitely an idea for a date). He observes how easily she pilots Aerial, and she says she’s never felt suffering doing so, but actually always feels at ease.

Elan then asks to pilot Aerial on his own—an astonishing ask but one Suletta happily grants because she thinks Elan’s a friend. Piloting it convinces him that Aerial is the key to “breaking the curse” of the suffering he feels every time he takes the controls of his mobile suits.

When he returns to Suletta, the kindly mask has dropped. Her usefulness to him and the faux friendship he fostered is no longer needed. Now he has the information he needs, and she’s just an annoyance, especially with her entitled belief that Aerial is “family.”

Seeing this honest side of Elan upsets Suletta, and his cold words cause her to cry. That’s just when Guel arrives, sees Suletta’s eyes, and demands to know what Elan is doing, with the answer determining whether they duel. That’s just fine with Elan. Whether he intended to use Suletta as bait or not, Guel’s timing works out perfectly.

While it’s good of Guel to stand up for Suletta, she hasn’t quite turned against the hope that Elan is a good person and a friend, so she objects to the duel, but it’s not her call: Shaddiq tells her if she doesn’t like current conditions, she’s welcome to change them in a subsequent duel.

The stakes are set: if Guel wins, Elan will stay away from Suletta from now on. If Elan wins—and I had a feeling he was going to win easily—he gets to duel Suletta. Guel’s red mobile suit is out of commission, he uses his brother Lauda’s Dilanza, even though their father forbade him from dueling.

That Guel is willing to incur more of his dear father’s wrath speaks to the genuine affection he’s gained for Suletta and his desire to keep others from making her cry. Underneath the bluster he’s an honorable guy.

But honor, like smiling, laughing, birthdays or family, is not something in Elan’s programming. Suletta’s been interacting with a doll designed to learn as much about her for his employers’ sake, as well as his own (lifting the aforementioned curse). Elan surprises all when he arrives at the duel in a new suit—the Pharact. It’s a menacing, bat-like suit with its own drone swarm system.

It looks every bit like the dark sibling of Suletta’s Aerial. Guel is mad as hell, and kicks up a lot of dust in the dueling ground. This unwittingly creates the conditions by which he is defeated: the dust, charged with static electricity, gets into the gaps and joints in Dilanza’s armor.

Elan’s drones create laser-like webs that in concert with the dust Guel himself kicked up, has the effect of an EMP, shutting down Dilanza’s systems and leaving him immobilized. Elan takes an easy win, and the Peil Group’s engineer (and Elan’s minder) confronts Lady Prospera, who concludes there was “another witch all along.” The Peil woman addresses her as senpai, suggesting she was part of the same research group that developed Aerial.

Elan again makes a prompt phone call to Suletta, to arrange another “date.” This time, it will take the form of an official school duel, and if he wins, he will claim Aerial for himself. And this, folks, is why Suletta should have probably listened to everyone telling her to stay away from people from the three branches—including Guel, someone from those branches.

Now, I can’t imagine Suletta will lose to Elan next week—especially if Miorine lends a hand, nor to I believe Aerial will fall into the hands of a rival company. The only question is whether Suletta, who is no doubt still confused and hurt by Elan’s treatment of her, can switch gears and do what needs to be done to defeat her most implacable enemy yet.

As for Elan? I’ll admit to hating him more than Guel now, but I also understand the kid has suffered his whole life, is looking for release, and the only thing in his way is a silly girl who calls a Gundam “family”, a word that’s meaningless to him since he never had one.

In Elan Ceres, Peil created an organic machine to pilot their metal one. But Suletta is, if nothing else, an ordinary human fueled her whole life by love and support. That should prove the edge in this duel.

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