Otherside Picnic – 12 (Fin) – No Longer Alone Together

Everyone opens up on the Kakandara, who is indeed a half-human, half-snake urban legend. She proves a nasty customer, using painful sound waves to cause everyone to drop their guns, but Sorawo refuses to break eye contact with the monster. Bullets aren’t of much use against the Kakandara, so she asks Toriko to find “something bigger” they can hit her with. That something is the modified MRAP.

Toriko launches the huge truck into the monster and strikes its true form repeatedly with the onboard robotic arm. Combined with focused firepower, the Kakandara shrivels up and vanishes. Sorawo asks Toriko to touch the now-unguarded offertory box, opening a gate back to Okinawa. As the elated marines walk through the gate, they salute and offer their thanks to “The Girls”. And just like that, it’s over; Mission Accomplished.

An exhausted Sorawo is steadied by Toriko, and starts to cry despite herself; perhaps just now feeling the magnitude of what they just pulled off. Sorawo says didn’t really care about the marines until Toriko brought them up in the café, but she summoned the courage to help rescue them for Toriko. When Sorawo says she’s only interested in herself and doesn’t care about others, Toriko begs to differ. On the contrary, Toriko feels that things she could never do herself are possible when she’s with Sorawo.

Back in Tokyo the girls are given an ultimatum from Kozakura to move the AP-1 off her property within three days. After a search around the vicinity for potential new gates, they luck out when Sorawo locates one right next to the machine, left behind by those unpleasant women who tried to break into Kozakura’s house. Sorawo figures how how to drive the thing, Toriko opens the gate, and they go on through just as Akari stops by to hang out.

After driving around for a while, Sorawo parks the AP-1 under a tree on a picturesque grassy hill, and Toriko asks the questions “Why do you hang out with me?” and “Are you alright with me having you all to myself?” To the first, Sorawo says it’s because they’re friends. To the second, she’s not interested in broadening her horizons or making lots of new friends if it means reducing their time together.

Sorawo wondered if anyone would notice if she was gone, and then before she knew it she was in Toriko’s “mystical, sparkly embrace.” Toriko admits that she once thought it would be okay if everyone in the world but Sasaki were gone, only to lose just Sasaki. When she did, she was afraid, but she’s not anymore…because she has Sorawo.

They cover the AP-1 in a tarp and return to Tokyo, where they end up treating Kozakura and Akari to a big dinner. It’s a warm, sweet way to end a series about two crazy kids who found each other and found courage, peace, and strength in one another. When it comes to exploring the Otherside with someone, no one but Toriko will do for Sorawo, and vice versa.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 09 – Don’t Be a Baby

In the opening moments of this episode, Sonoka gingerly approaches her Hero Wing as if it were a vicious wild animal about to strike, and finally collapses into a quivering heap from fear and anxiety. My breath was short just watching her, because I knew she really really shouldn’t get in that cockpit. Thankfully she doesn’t, and the guys take off in their modern fighters to join the battle, telling her they’ve got this.

The battle itself isn’t going well, as whatever Miko blows up, whether it’s the Tertiary Pillars or the Secondary’s core, regenerate almost immediately, rendering all their hard work moot. It’s like they’re caught in a time loop. And in Odin’s extradimensional “temple”, Claudia fights of the golems, one of their escorts is seriously injured, and Azusu realizes something and…freezes.

That injured soldier ends up sacrificing himself to buy the others time to flee, and Claudy has to slap Azusu to snap her out of her brain feedback loop. All that matters is that Azusu gets back to Tateyama with the knowledge she’s learned. Back at the base, the Pillars are approaching, but the pregnant civilian woman has already gone into labor.

The doctors tending her won’t abandon her, but try to think of a way to move her out of harm’s way. Sono witnesses these “ordinary heroes” and remembers her big sis Yayoi telling her to look in her charm if things get to be “too much”. Inside the charm, Sono finds a handwritten note with the words Yayoi said to her many times: “Don’t be a baby, idiot!”

Tough love to be sure, but Sono is able to laugh at the words, and recovers her nerve. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t how PTSD works—there’s no cure for it in reality, though it can be successfully treated, managed, and minimized—but it works enough for Sono to confidently and heroically stride back into the hangar, hop into her Hero Wing, and join the battle.

Miko is elated to find Sono by her side (better late than never) since she’s almost out of ammo. Sono’s fully loaded, and helps plow the road so Miko can make the most of her remaining ordinance. The thousands of spinning gears around them have been a clue for how to defeat the Pillar all along: they are a clockwork that enable it to turn back time and repair itself.

Once some of the gears are jammed with Tertiary Pillars and Miko splashes the Secondary’s core, the whole intricate Rube Goldberg machine falls apart. The Pillar is destroyed, leaving a big ‘ol tree, and the 909th have their first victory in a long time, and it feels so good.

Claudy, Azuzu, and the surviving escorts make it out of Odinville and Claudy successfully closes the portal; Azuzu saves her from being pulled back in by one of the golems. The four Valkyries reunite to join the celebration of the new birth, which brings light to an otherwise dark and death-filled time.

Their celebrations don’t last long, as Azuzu presents imagery of the murals they found in Odin’s temple, which suggest that while they’ve seemingly been fighting to prevent Ragnarök, the fact Norse mythology doesn’t exist anymore suggests Ragnarök already happened. That means Odin has been lying to them at best. The episode ends with him in the temple, insisting “we have not yet fallen.”

Following a recap, this episode offered a welcome glimmer of hope for our four air maidens and their cause, but their patron god has yet to reveal his true intentions for them. I also can’t help but feel like things were resolved too neatly and easily, particularly Sono recovering from her PTSD enough to fly again…just from reading a note.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 08 – Valhalla’s Gate

We open with Miyako, Satomi, the Shield Squadron, and the maintenance crew breaking through a barrier to reach a secret stash of equipment with which to continue the fight. Twelve hours earlier at Shimofusa Base, Satomi tells the Valkyries about this stash, located under Mt. Nokogiri in case of dire need.

Once again Azu is both frustrated and smitten with Miko’s determination to keep fighting despite the increasingly desperate odds. As for poor Sono, her last sortie and the loss of her Big Sis has rendered her too traumatized and distraught to get out of bed, let alone climb into a cockpit.

Satomi takes Azu aside to have her listen to a recording of General Okita’s last moments, during which Odin refers to such odd terms as “Valhalla” and “Asgard”. Azu isn’t familiar, but their resident Norther European Valkyrie and Odin’s favorite just might. Claudy, meanwhile, visits Lizbet, who recovers quickly, something she attributes to the blessing of Odin enduring even if his body was destroyed in the attack.

The bottom falls out of Lizbet’s heart when she hears Lily is dead, but tells Claudy that Yayoi’s last message to her was that Odin is hiding something and Claudy holds the key. Sure enough, when Azu asks her about it, Claudy recites something Odin once said about “Valhalla’s Gate” always being open to her. Sure enough, such a gate appears right there in the corridor.

The question now is should they move forward with trying to retake Takeyama with the Nokogiri stash, or go through the gate and explore Valhalla. The answer is, Why Not Both? Miko, backed up by her devoted Shield Squadron, volunteers to take Takeyama back on their own, while Azu and three escorts will accompany Claudy through the gate.

Just as they walk through it and it closes behind them, Sono appears, on her feet for the first time. At the sight of Miko she bolts but Miko chases her down. Sono is worried that every time she sees someone off it’s bad luck, but Miko takes hold of her and tells her not to think such things, and that there are ways for Valkyries to help even if they can’t fly.

As Claudy and Azu explore a grand, ornate and otherworldly corridor and Miko and the Shields prepare to sortie, Sono aids the civilian evac by helping out at the outdoor canteen. There, she’s approached by the two young pilots (lower-class Valkyries I imagine) from last week, who thank her profusely for, well, their lives, which they’re certain they wouldn’t have if not for her heroics. They vow to become “strong like her”, even though Sono breaks down after they leave, asserting she’s “not strong at all”.

Despite pushing back against the praise and gratitude of those pilots, hopefully it nevertheless helps nudge Sono closer to again stepping into a cockpit. It’s probably not a great idea at this point, but it may be necessary very soon, judging from what happens to her comrades. First, Claudy touches some rotating runes and starts to sing, then a nasty-looking golem appears, poised to attack.

As for Miko, she and her Shield take out a number of tertiary Pillars on their way to Takeyama, but there are simply Too Many Of Them, and they eventually clump together and coalesce into a secondary Pillar that totally envelops Miko’s Hero Wing. She’d flying through an otherwordly plane consisting of giant gears and strange eddies.

When the Gjallarhorn sounds, indicating the Pillars are heading towards Shimofusa, Sono urges the evacuees to remain calm, but one civilian woman collapses, having suddenly gone into labor. While the others have uphill battles with uncertain outcomes, Sono will have to do her best to help deliver the woman’s child. In other words, everyone is officially too busy to grief.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 05 – The Wild Hunt

When attempts to contact the recently deceased Waletta fail, Adashino swiftly declares Wills as the culprit, since he stood to gain the most from her death. Lord El-Melloi II contents—quite reasonably—that in the world of mages, it doesn’t matter who does something or how, because both of those things can be controlled via magecraft. Rather, it’s the why that matters most.

Since the storm has not ended the original agreement is still in place; Adashino will allow Lord El-Melloi to continue his investigations. He hires Shishigou Kairi to assist him, but as Kairi and Gray collect reference materials, they are attacked by a Black Dog—the final form of the lightning outside—that punches right through Adashino’s Bounded Field.

This incident not only confirms the “murder weapons” used in the string of killings, but piques Shishigou’s interest in Gray, and why the Black Dog seemed to fear her Mystic Code. With her okay, El-Melloi explains that the code is Rhongomyniad, the spear of King Arthur (Arturia), disguised and sealed by both Add and its scythe form. He calls Gray “a portrait of King Arthur created by a certain family.”

The Arthur connection confirms it for Kairi and El-Melloi: the storm of lightning, wind, and spirits surrounding the workshop is the legendary Wild Hunt, once led by Arthur, but which led to defeat and his departure to Avalon. El-Melloi bids that the others indulge him in carrying out a ritual to test his new hypothosis.

Using Wills Mystic Eyes (with Reines’ as a catalyst), El-Melloi is able to summon a fairy in the flesh—the same one that has been appearing before Wills as if to warn of an impending death. The fairy can speak, and admits that she herself killed Trevor as punishment for essentially disrupting the balance between worlds for his own selfish desire to build an army of “false fairies” (i.e. Black Dogs) that he can command.

Now El-Melloi has the “why” as well as the ultimate means: the Marburry Workshop itself being the murder weapon with its ability to summon the murderous Black Dogs.

In his shortsightedness, El-Melloi’s demonstrative ritual ended up activating that weapon, sending an entire army of Black Dogs (led by one large boss-sized one) at the mansion. Adashino stays inside to protect Reines while the others head out to meet the dogs of war in glorious battle.

And I have to say, despite it being a bit dark, it’s quite a battle to behold. Wills shows his prowess with mystic daggers, Kairi has a mystical shotgun, and even El-Melloi pops off a few magical bullets, if you will. But obviously the battle’s MVP was always going to be Gray, taking care of business with her scythe and saving El-Melloi from a premature end.

Ultimately Gray must rescind the second seal and unleash the true power of Rhongomyniad in order to defeat the boss. It’s a hauntingly beautiful sequence, as her “Lance that Shines to the Ends of the World” not only obliterates the boss but blasts away the storm clouds as well. Gray may only be a “portrait” (her name perhaps a reference to Dorian as well as her main color) but she can still bring it when called upon.

What her attack does not do is close the gate to the fairy realm from which the Black Dogs first emerged. To do that, Wills decides to do something he always suspected he’d had to do: walk through the gate himself. El-Melloi begs him not to go as it would be a one-way journey, but Wills is prepared, and knows that not only will he not really “die”, but that his father and Waletta are waiting for him there.

With the gate—and case—closed (and El-Melloi’s favor to Sophia-Ri fulfilled), all that’s left is to head back to London. But before parting ways, Adashino hands the lord some material she found in the aftermath relating to the origin of Wills’ Mystic Eyes, with which he wasn’t born as El-Melloi assumed. They were acquired via Rail Zeppelin, a legendary phantom train that buys and sells the eyes.

With part of the lengthy show title now in play things look to only get more interesting as Lord El-Melloi’s case files continue to flow. Meanwhile, before parting with Gray Kairi tells her to keep a close eye on El-Melloi, since he senses the former Waver to still have a strong connection to his now-dead servant. Since connections to the dead only draw people backwards into the past, it’s on Gray to ensure El-Melloi resists that pull and keeps moving forward.

AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?

AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.

AICO – 07 – The Truth Carbon Nano-Hurts

When we last left our friends they were between a rock and a hard place—or rather between a Matter-clogged tunnel and a CAAC assault squad. They’ve come for Aiko, and when Yuuya refuses, saying he has to keep going and that they would never understand, they fire shots at the Matter.

That turns out to be a bad move, as the squad leader is nabbed by some human-form Matter, throwing the rest of the squad into chaos as they try in vain to retreat. Our team learns from their sacrifice that the Matter is attracted to light, and uses flares to draw the Matter out of the tunnel, clearing their path forward.

That’s far from the only danger the team faces, as the Beetle is nearly swallowed up and the Evidence system proves too far behind the curve to keep up with the new Matter forms they encounter. It’s straight-up dicey out there, leaving Aiko to voice her concerns about putting the Divers in further danger for her sake and her family’s.

In a slight change from his colder manner towards her back at the rest stop, Yuuya assures her that compared to her, everyone else is expendable. But he’s wrong that they knew what they signed up for, because they don’t know Aiko is walking talking Matter bait. Thanks to a hot mic, one of them learns this, but keeps it to herself.

There’s a brief check-in with the three college friends. Nanbara loses contact with her squad, Isazu once again commits to saving his daughter, and Kurose learns with the help of a hacker friend that Isazu’s daughter is somehow connected to the Matter.

The Team gets through another guillotine gate by the skin of their teeth, but it isn’t long before they’re under attack, and as Yuuya is delivering ammo to the Divers, the Matter seeps into the Beetle, nabs Aiko, and places her in a fluid-filled cocoon.

Thankfully, it took a weapon with her, and she uses it to bust out, but she’s buried by the crystallized matter that trapped her, and by the time she’s dug out, all of the Divers see her for what she is: a composite being: human in mind, but artificial in body.

They’ve been traveling deeper into more and more hazardous territory with Matter bait. Will this revelation give them second thoughts about supporting her and Yuuya’s cockamamie plan? I doubt it. I don’t see Kazuki abandoning her, while Kaede is just happy to have the opportunity to fight in a place few humans have been.

AICO – 05 – I’m Not a Thing, I’m a Person and My Name is Aiko

After a harrowing trip through Area One, the group rests and resupplies at the facilities near the guillotine dam, a place of relative safety with all of the nearby Matter either destroyed or paralyzed. The respite also means a slowing of the brisk and satisfying pace AICO had maintained until now.

Outside the area, Kurose decides to give Director Nanbara a ride to CAAC headquarters. She and Kurose happened to date in college, but Nanbara dumped him, and while the two are on cordial terms, neither comes away with much information from the other about the situation with Aiko. Nanbara also warns Kurose to stay out of the affairs in the Area altogether—apparently unaware he’s already very much involved, and indeed facilitated Aiko’s escape.

While on watch duty, Kazuki and Kaede learn a bit more about their client, who remembers fishing with her family on the river now overrun by Matter, and the events that lead to her not getting tangled up with Yuya, Kurose, and eventually them. In the process, we also learn that Kazuki is a spoiled rich kid who joined the Divers to chart his own course, while Kaede came from a broken family and enjoys her new solitude and independence.

We also learn that the translucent blue ball Aiko has is actually a very valuable prototype for a mouse-like artificial life form. Yuya’s comparisons between it, the Live Suits, and Aiko bother her quite a bit, seeing as how she feels like a person and doesn’t appreciate being treated and talked about like an object, even if Yuya is correct that she, or at least her body, is just that.

Not five minutes after discovering her blue ball was really a pet, Aiko loses it as it runs outside. She puts on a suit and chases after it, slipping, falling, and getting lost in the woods. This would have been a perfect time for the drug that keeps her from attracting Matter to wear off, at least from an urgency perspective…but Daisuke finds her and a very worried Yuya finds her pet, whom Kaede names “Gummi.”

With their client retrieved and the “Beetle” Tank loaded up, the team piles in, leaves their safe place, and heads to Area Two, just as a CAAC team enters Area One. Isazu and Nanbara agree that Kurose succeeds Dr. Yura as head of Kiryu Research, he’ll stop research Nanbara believes is crucial to the Japanese economy, and Isazu believes is crucial to saving his daughter. As such, he prepares to oust Kurose from Kiryu with trumped-up corruption charges.

AICO – 04 – An Artificial-Bodied MacGuffin

I’ll give AICO this: it knows how to move things along. The Diver team run into far nastier resistance than they thought so early in the mission. It’s great to watch people on the job whom we’ve already met off duty. It not only affords us a look at their procedures and teamwork, and ability to keep up with their constantly evolving foe.

As for that foe, we get a decent helping of its various forms and behaviors. As a rule, any non-sentient “force of nature” villain has to evoke a certain degree of primal fear (in lieu of a personality), and I think that’s achieved here. There was a lot of jargon/technobabble being thrown around, but the brisk pace kept me from getting bogged down.

I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of the foreboding alien landscape that is the MatterZone with the so-far-untouched parts of Japan the other characters enjoy.

Sure, in each case they’re basically scenes of more exposition—establishing that Nanbara, Isazu, and Kurose were all college buds, and that Nanbara and now Isazu aren’t in a hurry to destroy a valuable resource.

But it’s just neat to cut from scenes where characters are fighting for survival while pushing through a hostile environment, to ones where they can hold a meeting, enjoy a tasty desert, or dote upon their comatose daughter without having to worry about being, er, mattered.

The show doesn’t forget that the individual sub-teams within the Diver team are competing for an achievement bonus. Kaede is probably guilty of the most unnecessary chatter of the whole crew, but probably gets away with it due to the fact she’s still quite young and also extremely talented.

Yet no matter how highly talented, trained, experienced, and armed the Divers are, it never feels like they can truly relax there in The Shit, and constantly have to have each other’s backs lest some tentacle of Matter end them in an eye-blink.

The first leg of their journey is marked by one of the giant dams, which also happens to serve as a massive three-bladed, electrical-shocking guillotine, which is one of the more original ideas AICO has served up. If this setup is an exact copy of something from a far better anime I haven’t seen before, well…ignorance is bliss, because giant dam guillotines are cool.

They’re also damned effective, if only temporarily so, as after the “slice” is made everything downriver dies, while everything in the immediate vicinity is paralyzed. But between the living Matter looking like miscellaneous viscera and the fact it’s apparently “learning” how to take a crude human form, there’s clearly no permanent fix for this scourge as yet.

Of course, ending all this is, supposedly, Aiko’s role…or it will be, much further up the river. If there’s one blemish on this episode, it’s that the protagonist is utterly sidelined this week; even more so than previous episodes. She mostly just reacts, once to the point of passing out. Simply being in such an inhospitable place clearly has a deleterious effect on her cyborg physiology.

Part of that is inevitable: she’s certainly not trained to fight the Matter, and I daresay I’d probably be much more freaked out in her situation. But let’s call an artificial-bodied MacGuffin a MacGuffin. The show could have avoided this by giving Aiko some training (and development) prior to the mission, but that would have killed the narrative momentum. For now, like Aiko, we’re along for the ride, so I suppose I’ll just enjoy it…and watch my six.

P.S. I’ve intended to skip the ED the last three episodes…yet I always end up watching it to the end. The end theme is very pretty, as are the sights the top half of Aiko walks through.

AICO – 03 – After a Rescue, The Real Journey Commences

Aiko and Yuya have been captured by CAAC (Control Agency of Artificial Creatures), led by Director Nanbara, your obligatory Badass Director Lady giving orders in the back of a fancy car. She’s in frequent contact with Dr. Isazu, director of the Kiryu Hospital and once the doctor in charge of Aiko’s care. Clearly lots of people are interested in Aiko.

Thanks to a clever tracking strip in his paper airplane (activated when he goads a guy into crushing it), the Divers get a fix on Yuya’s location before the government takes harsher steps to interrogate him and fill Aiko’s head with lies (they insist her family is dead).

The Divers ambush the captors when they try to move their prisoners, in a decent action scene that demonstrates the Divers’ coordination and toughness, even in non-diving situations. That they were able to so easily infiltrate CAAC and retrieve their assets speaks both to their exceptional skills and CAAC not expecting an ambush.

With Aiko and Yuya back, the mission proceeds as planned—even as there’s a sudden flare-up of the Malignant Matter behind the Gate, spurring an increased military presence, which launches tranquilizer missiles over the gate that manage to calm the Matter down.

While preparing for zero hour, Aiko nods off and her dreams include the POV memories the other Aiko—her real body with an artificial brain. She and her double are connected. Not only that, the Matter is attracted to her artificial body; but Yuya hopes a certain drug will diminish that particular effect.

Aiko has decided to side with those who cultivate and embrace her belief her family is still in there, alive (the other Aiko seems to have encountered them, after all). We’ll see if she’s put her trust in the right people. The Divers are pros who will carry out their mission to the best of their abilities, but they also seem to have taken to Aiko and want to help her out, in addition to, well, trying to save Japan and the world.

Once she and the other Divers are suited up in their “Live Suits” (a process that reveals a lot of her and the Divers’ skin), they head to the Gate. Just minutes after they’re allowed through, however, the Gate is locked down by the government. There’s no turning back; if they’re going to do this, it’s now or never.

AICO – 02 – Getting Up to Speed, Running Away, Getting Nabbed

Aiko’s new “friends” dump a lot of info on her in an episode that gets us up to speed, introduces some other players, and sets the stakes, which are far-ranging. To sum it up, Aiko’s natural body was all but destroyed in a car accident, so researchers decided to put her brain in an artificial body they made when she was born.

However, the surgery that allows her to be standing there today caused the Burst: an overpowered proliferation of “malignant matter” that threatens Japan and the world. She’s also apparently the key to stopping it. Oh, and her mom and brother are still in ground zero.

It’s obviously a lot to absorb for poor Aiko, whose world has just been flipped upside down. She’s a lot like Neo during his sprawling introduction to the Real World, though she doesn’t throw up, she RUNS…nowhere in particular, just away from all this scary shit.

While running, she ends up falling through a roof, right into the lunch a redheaded Diver named Misawa Kaede is about to tuck into. Kaede’s colleague Kazuki assists Aiko when he learns she just wants to get away, but Kaede and the others corner her and bring her back to Kanzaki, Dr. Korose & Co.

Kurose decides to hire the 4-person Diver team to infiltrate Ground Zero in order to retrieve Aiko’s real body. Kanzaki will be their guide, they’ll be paid handsomely even if survival can’t be guaranteed, and whatever 2-person team from the quartet fares better by a certain leg in the mission, will get a bonus and be the ones to accompany Kanzaki to the final leg.

Now that the situation and the plan for dealing with it have been established, it looks like it’s time to impliment it, but the team hits a snag: a SWAT team busts into the hideout and snatches up Aiko and Yuya.

In two episodes, Aiko has been plucked from school by one party, given an infodump, freaked out and run away, picked up again, and then kidnapped by another party. I’m not seeing a whole lot of agency for the titular character, nor are there any indications she’ll be gaining any of it anytime soon.

That could be problematic going forward, as we’re dealing with a Netflix “Original”-style series that has been intricately formulated to check a lot of boxes and satisfy multiple audiences, but in doing so lacks any kind of basic originality.

AICO is (and will probably remain) watchable because’s it’s well-made competently executed, and isn’t gratingly gratuitous (likeDevilman Crybaby). But I like to think I’ve watched enough anime to make the determination that there’s no potential for AICO to be anything other than popcorn entertainment.

Re:Creators – 22 (Fin)

With Altair, well, not defeated per say, but ceasing to be a threat to the world last week, Re:Creators can relax and do a leisurely victory lap. The five creators remaining on the battlefield accept their supporting roles in a story that ended up being primarily about Altair and Setsuna. The other creators congratulate Souta for his achievement, even if, especially for Matsubara and Takarada, it hurts that their heroines had to die in order to win.

But Meteora steps in to assure Matsubara that only one possible Selesia’s story ended there; there are countless others that remain alive, and more still as long as he’s committed to keep adding to her world…coffee, for instance.

After a celebratory feast at a down-home restaurant, Meteora also points out to the other creations that they will all have to return to their respective worlds soon, as her magic will eventually cease to work as the world restores its proper order (an order in which her magic doesn’t exist).

After the creations and their creators spend one last day together, saying what they want to say and suggesting what they want to suggest, Meteora opens a return gate.

One by one, the Creations say their final goodbyes and walk through the gate, disappearing from the world in physical form but not in the hearts and minds of their creators and fans. I was kinda wondering where Magane was in all of this, and I really wish we’d been able to see more of her…did she de-coalesce off-camera after using her ability to help Souta?

In any case, Meteora has one more plot twist in store: she’s staying. I mean, even if she wanted to go back, she can’t go through a gate she is keeping open any more than she can pick up and throw herself. But she loves this world, and has always seemed quite comfortable here. So while she loses the rest of her magic as soon as the gate closes, I have no doubt someone as strong and brilliant and charming as she will land on her feet.

A bit of time passes, marked by the emergence of several new advertisements around the city promoting new seasons of the creators’ creations, each with new stories that reflect their experiences during the Chamber Festival: Shou and Yuuya fighting side by side, Blitz with his daughter by his; Hikayu’s new martial-arts master alter-ego; Magical Slayer Mamika meeting Aliceteria.

Everyone continues to create. Whatever problems people had with the story of the Chamber Festival (and it did kinda go all over the place, if we’re honest), creators can’t look up to a standard they worry they’ll never approach; they can only keep moving forward, and keep creating. That’s the surest way to achieving happiness not just for themselves and those who consume their work, but for their creations too.

I’m also heartened to see Souta and Meteora exchanging texts in much the same way Souta used to do with Setsuna, only now he’s a little older, a lot wiser, and more importantly, confident enough in his ability as a creator in his own right, to be anything but proud and supportive of his friend’s efforts.

Meteora has pivoted to creation herself, and has decided to name her first work Re:CREATORS—the very work we just spent 22-plus weeks watching.

Divine Gate – 03

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As Arthur summons Oz (that’s right: the Wizard of Oz…oh my) along with Loki, not necessarily for their aid but to at least bear witness to the impending discovery of the Divine Gate, the show takes a closer look at the cheerful, energetic Midori, who not surprisingly is dealing with demons just like Aoto, which affects her focus and performance in a sparring exercise, and may prove more of a crippling liability as the quest to find the gate heats up.

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We haven’t even been formally introduced to three of the six kids in the core group, but as Akane talks with them, one makes clear that Midori’s intense belief in the Gate, or something related to it, could be hampering her development, like an anchor holding back a boat (not the most flattering metaphor, I’ll admit).

As Aoto is initiated into the academy, he still declines warm food and has trouble putting into words why exactly he’s there (as opposed to how he came to be there). But it’s a brief outburst by Midori about “being number one” that shifts Akane’s attention to her later.

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Midori decides to open up Akane, telling him about her friendship with Elena, someone who only wanted one friend: her. When Midori, a far more outgoing girl, inevitably made other friends at school, it poisoned the bond between them, culminating in an ultimatum from Elena that Midori simply could not accept. This was a decent, no-nonsense execution of the Obsessive Friend theme.

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Midori fails to make up with Elena, who rather than attend the summer festival as they always do, heads off to find the Divine Gate on her own. Once Midori hears of a girl disappearing in the mountains, she rushes to a police-filled scene, and actually sees the massive gate looming over the mountain.

Ever since that strange, vivid experience, Midori has not only believed in the gate, but believed Elena was already there, waiting for her. She wants Elena to still be alive, but she also wants to repair the bond she broke by rejecting her ultimatum (which wasn’t an unreasonable move, but obviously came at a stiff price).

Aoto hears a little of the story, and it probably shows him that he’s not the only one with issues, but unlike her, he’s also got a little boy in his head telling him how messed up he is all the time. Akane and Midori can see him talking to someone they can’t see, and it worries Midori.

She does some digging online (on a computer with a keyboard that seems way too loud and disruptive for a library), but as soon as she accesses Aoto’s files, a red “Restricted Access” wall goes up, stopping her in her tracks and making her and Akane wonder what the heck Aoto did, or what was done to him.

Another episode that efficiently fleshes out one more character, Midori, without solving all her problems, but making us understand her better. I imagine the show will eventually do this with Akane and the other three prominent kids in the group, parallel to Arthur and the Round Table’s more abstract machinations.

However, I won’t be around to see it, because the mystery of the gate just isn’t doing anything for me, and there’s no indication the revelations (if they ever come, as we’re likely to be strung along for some time beforehand) will be any less half-baked than the characterization of iconic characters like Loki and Oz. So I’m making a discreet exit now; no hard feelings.

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