Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 01 – Quest for the Legendary Seasoning

Every single one of PriConne’s season two premiere’s 23 minutes is used to pull us straight into its lush, expansive world and not let us go, like those mangy purple dogs that keep nomming on Yuuki. It offers both epic fantasy thrills and comfy cozy little pleasures that come between those big moments, and I absolutely love it to bits.

As thanks for sharing her mushroom harvest, Kokkoro was given a map by Karin at the Guild which leads to a “Legendary Seasoning”. After a tasty breakfast of egg sandwiches, the quartet heads out into the big, beautiful world. The first season was always easy on the eyes, but PriConne pulls out all the visual stops as Peco, Yuki, Kokkoro and Karyl strike out on an adventure.

The four soon find themselves gleefully lost in a vast above-water coral forest. Along with all the eye candy comes top notch chemistry between the disparate characters, the same classy orchestral score, and superb sound design. It also features some great comic timing, with quick cuts that had me laughing on more than one occasion.

They’re stuck in the forest for what seems to be several days, such that when Karyl is sick of fish, Peco and Yuuki trap one of the furry beasties that roam the area. Their meat is juicy and delicious…but ultimately poisonous. The four find out the hard way one by one when they vomit rainbows. The friends and family of the beast they ate surround the paralyzed party. Karyl had me howling when she exclaimed “I don’t want to die in such a stupid way!”

Fortunately, te four are saved by a grizzled old man who has lived in the coral forest for years. In fact, he and his party made the original map the copy of which Kokkoro obtained. He serves as their guide, and Kokkoro learns from his locket that he’s the last living member of a adventurer’s party of four…whose souls happen to still be stuck here in the form of spectres.

The quartet readies for battle, but when physical attacks prove worthless, Kokkoro works off a hunch and initiates a healing spell to help the ghosts pass on peacefully. Turns out that’s what the old man wanted all along, and he too is a ghost. That said, Peco asks the four of them to join them on their search for that legendary seasoning, “Drops of the Sea.”

The ghosts agree, and procure transport to the location in the form of a dang airship that soars through achingly gorgeous landscapes and cloudscapes. This is all happening during the end credits, and it’s a credit to the show that it packs as much as it can into its running time. It’s only fitting that a series in part about food that it offers such heaping helpings of visual bliss right out of the gate.

Alas, they’re never able to procure the Drops of the Sea from the eggs of the giant turtle who supposedly lays them…because the only turtle they find is a male. That said, this was always about the journey and about sharing new sights, sounds, and tastes along the way…even if they were briefly poisoned!

The episode fittingly ends with a meal. Returning home after to long, there isn’t much in the way of food to prepare, but Kokkoro makes it work, whipping up a quick and tasty fried rice-like concoction. When Karyl, a famously picky eater who hates vegetables, spots bits of them in her food, she is weary, but when she works up the courage to take a bite she learns it’s much better with veggies than without.

Everyone scarfs down their dinner and puts their hands together in thanks: thanks for the food, and thanks for each other. Then it’s off to warm beds, restful sleep, another gorgeous dawn, and another fun adventure.

Mieruko-chan – 10 – One More Time

The show delivers one of its creepiest scenes yet without showing a single ghost or ghoul…just creepy-ass Toono Zen, cracking open the door of his pitch-black apartment surrounded by crows, accepting some leftovers from a kindly lady with some suspicious blood on his hand. He retreats back inside when talk turns to the recent maiming of cats in the neighborhood.

How such a guy was able to get a job subbing at a girl’s high school is beyond me, but a lot of the class finds him hot. Naturally, this doesn’t include Miko, who now has to constantly see those tortured cat ghouls writhe around Toono, who looks on the surface like he’s not aware of their presence, but at the same time could simply be hiding the fact he’s aware of them…just as Miko tries to do.

One side-effect of their new substitute teacher and his ghoulish kitty entourage started out as a joke, but is now starting to become worrying: Hana just can’t stop eating. She even inadvertently bails Miko out of a very sticky situation with Toono and the ghouls when they to to the nurse’s office. Yulia sees them go in, and immediately correctly diagnoses the problem: Hana’s aura is being drained by the spirits surrounding Toono.

That Yulia knows this could prove crucial to Miko and Hana in the days ahead, but there are two problems: Hana has no idea what Yulia is talking about, Miko does know but is still apprehensive about talking about it, and Yulia thinks Miko is out to get her. To Miko’s point, ghouls can pop up anywhere at anytime; there’s no safe time or place to talk about them, as evidenced in a “peaceful” park where one cute kid transforms into a ghoul and has to be destroyed by Miko’s guardian spirits.

But that marks the second of three times they’ve helped Miko; the third time will be their last, adding one more lump in her throat. The episode is bookended by two students accidentally interrupting their teacher Toono’s seemingly nightly cat-hunting mission. Here I thought the show was going to try to humanize him a bit at some point, but nope, looks like he’s pure evil.

The forces of evil seem to be amassing around Miko, Hana, and Yulia. With only one guardian intervention left to count on, it may be time for Miko to drop her guard and converse with Yulia about ways to protect themselves from the coming scourge…and prevent Hana from gorging herself.

Mieruko-chan – 09 – The Joy of Being Able to React

The arrival of Toono Zen as her substitute homeroom teacher is an extremely vexing proposition for Miko. There are an inordinate number of intense cat-demons constantly surrounding the guy, who doesn’t seem to notice. At least he doesn’t seem to remember her from the stray cat encounter, while Hana can’t quite place the guy and Miko encourages her to believe she’s mistaking him for someone else.

Still, Zen’s demon hangers-on creep out Miko to the point she retreats to the bathroom, only to encounter another gigantic ghoul who climbs out of the toilet in her stall. Miko uses the fact there’s no TP to retreat, only to find Yulia eating her lunch in the stall next door. Mind you, Miko is only alone because Hana went to buy bread to eat after she ate her regular lunch.

Miko is of the mind that no one should have to eat their lunch in a bathroom stall, so invites Yulia to join her and Hana outside. Yet when she spots their teacher once again walking down the halls, Miko’s eyes suddenly fill with tears, concerning both Hana and Yulia.

The bulk of the remainder of the episode consists of a test of courage in the form of a haunted house set up by the local donut concern; if customers can brave the house and get their card stamped, they’ll receive 20 free donuts. Hana is an incurable scaredy-cat, but Miko simply loves the opportunity to be able to react to scary things by screaming. The fact that she smiles as she screams is particularly disturbing to Yulia!

Miko ends up seeing a real ghoul among all of the haunted house monsters, but she’s still able to react because the ghoul can’t be sure who she’s reacting to: the genuine article, or the artifice of the haunted house. When all’s said and done the three friends end up going through the ringer but coming out of it closer than ever…not to mention 20 donuts richer!

Mieruko-chan – 08 – Let Sleeping Moths Lie

While shopping with Kyousuke for a birthday gift for their mom, Miko comes across a very cute dress and decides to try it on, since she and her mom are pretty much the same size. Unfortunately, a ghoulish store rep who says “It looks great on you!” kinda ruins the mood…not to mention Miko wears the dress out of the store, basically nixing it as a gift for mom.

While she and Kyousuke find another gift, the trip home is less than stress-free, thanks to a spectral axe murderer walking down the subway car, swinging its axe right into peoples’ heads. Miko has every right to be scared about what the axe might do to someone like her who can see them.

Thankfully, the axe only hurts other ghouls, and goes right through her head without incident. We don’t see Miko and Kyousuke giving their mom the gift of couple mugs. Rather, we watch as their mom makes two cups of tea with them: one for her, and one for her dearly departed husband.

The balance between creepy/gross/spooky/sinister ghosts and benevolent ones continues when Miko and Hana see off their pregnant homeroom teacher, learning that the child she’s carrying is her second try. This explains the odd white specter that’s so interested in the teacher’s belly: it’s the ghost of her dead child.

This was one of the best and most powerful segments of Mieruko-chan to date, because it once again subverts expectations. At first I thought the ghost was a threat like Miko did. But when we see how it interacts with his mother’s hand, it’s as if we and Miko can see the healing love emanate from her. I was well and truly choked up.

Contrast that with just regular choking due to one of the grosser ghouls Miko has come across. With a dozen slithery three-nostriled tusks leaking snot and some unsettling googly eyes, this particular specimen is not the first ghost Miko decides to face “head-on”. Perhaps she’ll face a less gross one later. For now, Miko joins Senpai’s Futaba as a Fall 2021 character who is partial to canned oshiruko.

The final segment brings back two very different cat people. First, Miko and Hana’s substitute homeroom teacher is Toono Zen, the guy Miko wouldn’t let adopt the stray kitten. Between those nasty demonic cats surrounding him and his blood red eyes, I wonder if he has “the sight” like Miko and Yulia, and knows that Miko can see too?

Whatever his deal, homeroom is not going to be pleasant for Miko for the foreseeable future. As for the tough yakuza-looking guy, he takes his time finding just the right cat food and cake to celebrate his late wife’s life, their anniversary, and the lives of their two beautiful white cats, who continue to watch over his new fuzzy companion as benevolent spirits. Mieruko-chan continues to spook me out and melt my heart.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 07 – Tunnel Visions (of Horror)

Things are only getting spookier for Miko, and it’s largely Hana’s fault! When Hana’s photo gets a lot of likes on Instagram (666, to be exact) she believes it’s her calling to be a photographer, and buys a Polaroid to take more. Yulia, waiting for an opening to exact her revenge on Miko for humiliating her/choking her out, eggs Hana on by suggesting a bus trip to the mountains for some prime photo spots.

Yulia’s motivations aside, this is the first time in a long time, maybe ever, she’s gone on a trip with friends. That said, she sticks to her mission, getting Hana to enter a tunnel known to be haunted so Miko will have no choice but to admit she also sees ghosts, and deal with them. Of course, at first it’s normal stuff that gets Hana spooked: the darkness and a sudden drop of water falling on the back of her neck.

When Miko trips in the dark, then dusts off her hands, Yulia believes her rival is setting up some kind of supernatural barrier. Because of the discrepancy between the types of ghosts Yulia and Miko can see, Miko’s gestures seem to coincide with the ghosts Yulia can see shriveling up and vanishing, as if Miko exorcised them. But Yulia can’t bigger and much more horrifying monster that is devouring the ones she can see.

Yulia makes things worse by trying to get Miko to admit she can see the ghosts too, totally unaware the biggest and baddest instantly reacts to the sensation that the humans can see them. Miko has been operating under the assumption that this is, as Egon once said, “very bad”. The monster prepares to swoop down on the three girls, but is stopped and defeated by the shrine spirits, who once again protect Miko.

Hana takes Miko and Yulia’s defeated, exhausted expressions on the ride home as shared disappointment in not getting to the end of the tunnel to the photo spot. So she gathers the two close for a selfie. That ends up making Yulia’s day, as it’s established her belief in ghosts cause other classmates to ostracize her, but she’s finally found new friends.

As for Miko, she’s just trying not to overthink why some spirits protect her while others want to kill her, Hana, and now Yulia, or what one of the ones protecting her meant by “three times”. But as the preview says, things are going to get spookier before they become less spooky, so Miko will likely need all the spectral allies she can get!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 06 – Aw, No…Hana!

While there’s equal or greater Miko at either end, the middle of this episode is All Hana, All The Time, starting with her waking up to find her clock stopped, eating a giant stack of pancakes for breakfast, and lights flickering and going out around her. This is because one of the bigger and more grotesque ghouls to appear in Mieruko-chan is following Hana around, even using her dazzling aura as a kind of grill to sear smaller ghouls to snack on!

I love that as sinister and deadly as this monster looks, the only thing we know for sure is that he loves barbecue…that could be the only reason he’s haunting Hana! For while he gets awfully close to Hana and messes with lights and clocks around her, he doesn’t seem capable of actually hurting Hana, even when she braves a haunted abandoned building to retrieve a crying boy’s dog.

Once both boy and dog are happily home, Hana swears she’ll never put herself through something that terrifying again. And Hana didn’t actually see any ghosts! Like most people, she was simply scared of the unknown in the darkness. It’s probably for the best she can’t see what’s actually there, like Miko.

This proves especially true when Miko takes Hana to a shrine with an ulterior motive: pray to the local deity to do something about the monster still haunting Hana’s steps. While Hana soaks in the Ghibli vibes (even humming a bit of a tune from Nausicaa), Miko watches all paranormal hell break loose…or is it heaven?

Why not both? The black shadowy monster seemingly bests the two golden fox deities, only to be destroyed by what seems to be their big, big brother.

After the shadow monster is pulverized, the golden monsters converse in a strange language neither we nor Miko understand, then the larger of the three does…something to Miko while saying the one thing we do understand: “Three times,” then vanishing with a gust of wind.

Did this deity protect Miko from three future hauntings? Both we and Miko will have to wait to find out what, if anything, these deities did. All the while, Hana grabbed some sweet Insta pics that don’t even need filters!

Mieruko-chan – 05 – Of Moms and Manjuu

Mieruko-chan sticks to two main stories, one in which Niguredou Yuria is finally introduced as a third character who can see ghosts and ghouls—more clearly than the old fortune-teller but less clearly than Miko. As we’ve seen on the margins of past episodes, she’s been watching Miko, convinced she can see what she sees.

The thing is, Mieruko is still committed to not disclosing that she can see them, especially when a much larger and spookier ghoul is in the gym storage room that Yuria can’t even see. Her solution for not discussing it is to use a signature submission move of her favorite wrestler, Badger: a serpent drop. It’s not surprising Yuria thinks Miko is threatening her in the nurse’s office later, but it’s just a bit of miscommunication.

Meanwhile, Miko is now seeing so much that others can’t that sometimes she can’t tell ghouls from humans, as she mistakes a tiny, ancient, but very much still alive granny on some steps. She carries the lady to her house, where her daughter proceeds to thank her by going in the house to grab some manjuu. That’s when a creepy business suit-wearing ghoul approaches Miko and she just wants to leave.

The thing is, the ghoul keeps repeating the same four-digit number, which Miko finally types into her smartphone and shows the old lady. Suddenly, like a switch flipped, the granny, whose daughter said had serious dementia, is lucid again. She uses the code to open her safe, use the comb within her departed husband gave her to put her hair up, and prepares to make some pork miso soup.

The granny invites Miko to join them, but seeing what amounts to a mother-daughter reunion (with the ghoul of the father thanking Miko before shambling off), Miko is eager to get home to her family. She makes sure to text her mom she’s on the way home, and when her mom sends a goofy sticker back, Miko can’t help but smile.

Once again, in a very real and meaningful way, Miko’s ability has allowed her to help improve the lives of others. Even if it wasn’t entirely intentional, she helped that lady home and typed that code into her phone. Yuria may want to be a spiritualist, but Miko seems to already be a kind of saint—an individual performing unexplainable deeds for the betterment of others.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 04 – Chestnut Pudding

First of all, a ghost haunting the konbini Miko frequents adding three percent tax to the items the living cashier is ringing up, and Miko’s dry observation of it, got a huge laugh out of me. I just loved the creepy, absurd, yet mundane nature of it.

You’d think Miko would want to watch something, anything other than paranormal TV shows, but either she’s being a good big sis by watching with her little brother Kyousuke, or she genuinely likes ghost stories…she just doesn’t like being able to see said ghosts.

Something spooks Miko into going to the nearest vending machine, where she finds tiny little spirits when she drops her 500-yen coin. Oddly charmed by these bitty, seemingly harmless little guys, she follows one as he skitters away, only to end up in an alley with a giant ghost who eats the little ones like a snack. When she tries and fails to pick up the coin, a crow bails her out by stealing it.

Mieruko-chan once again proves its horror movie bona fides by giving us the classic situation of being visited by a ghost in one’s most vulnerable state: while naked in the bath. This is apparently the first time it’s happening to Miko, and she’s genuinely voicing her limits. She thought she could rely on the bathroom for solace, but now that’s no longer true.

This time her savior is Kyousuke. Worried she’s dating some dude (she’s not) wants to get in the bath with her, and she enthusiastically offers to wash his back. If he’s in there with her, the ghost isn’t as scary.

Every morning, Miko tells us she makes a wish to no longer “see them”, but that wish is seemingly ignored day after day, as she’s seemingly seeing more ghosts in more places all the time. She’s not even given a moment’s peace to eat breakfast with her family thanks to ghosts swarming the table and breathing on her food.

Throughout the episode, Miko had been all gung-ho about procuring some chestnut pudding. In addition to sounding freakin’ delicious (seriously, I need to find a recipe and make some if I can’t find some at the Japanese grocery store), I figured it was one small way Miko copes with her ghost sightings.

Then the episode throws us a twist by showing that the chestnut pudding has special significance: it’s not for her, but as an offering for her dad…who was dead all along! It’s a hell of a twist that builds on the fact Miko can see more than the ugly invasive ghosts, but ordinary ones too.

The post-credits sequence is a replay of the first segment in which Miko was watching TV with Kyousuke, only this time we see what Miko saw, and why that shampoo commercial freaked her out enough to go out for drinks.

This episode really accentuated the sheer weight of Miko’s ESP, and how it’s adversely affecting her sleep, behavior, and appetite. Could the new character who’ll (finally) be formally introduced next week, be a fellow “seer” who might have some tips for Miko finding some relief? I hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 03 – A Bus Ride, Don Juan, and Beads

It’s the weekend, and Miko is meeting Hana at a Starbucks ripoff, but she has to take a bus, and the bus is full of ghouls. She comports herself pretty well throughout the ride, only to miss her stop because she’s trying to distract herself from the monsters so much, she forgets to get off at that stop. Fortunately the airheaded Hana did the same thing without an assist from ghosts.

That means Miko arrives at the cafe first. There, she finds a dashing young man waiting for his date, but that doesn’t stop him from hitting on Miko before she arrives. He thinks Miko is staring at her, but she’s staring at a possessive ghost haunting him, while his girlfriend has a half-dozen ghosts haunting her, suggesting these two heartbreakers were made for each other. Miko’s solution for not drawing the ire of the lady-ghoul is to pretend she’s into super macho wrestlers on her phone.

Once Miko and Hana finally meet up, it’s time to buy some prayer beads. Only the first instance in which Miko has to use them, the elastic snaps and the beads go everywhere. Miko knows how much Hana attracts ghouls and wants to protect her, so she takes one for the team and walks through a particularly big and nasty ghoul in a yellow jumpsuit, so Hana doesn’t have to.

Seeking stronger beads leads Miko to a fortune teller whom we learn is just a petty scammer since we can hear her inner monologue. However, she can not only tell that Miko is haunted by ghouls, but that Hana has a dazzling aura that’s like frikkin’ catnip for ghouls. So the lady decides to give Miko a set of beads with what seems to be legit ghoul-repelling power…only for those beads to break too.

Ultimately, Miko decides to give up on prayer beads, as they seem to welcome more ghoulish attention. As for the fortune teller? She closes up shop and turns a leaf, accepting her kids’ invitation to move in with them. Little does Miko know the change she instilled…

Mieruko-chan – 02 – Wrong Line

This week’s Mieruko-chan starts with Miko and Hana changing. Hana overhears other girls talking about a TV show featuring a severed head, and is scared there might be a head in her locker. Miko checks, and it looks clear…until she looks up at the top shelf, where there’s a severed ghost head only she can see. It’s all she can do not to react to it.

In the next segment Miko has to watch in horror as her airheaded friend Hana is slowly enveloped by pervy ghost limbs she can neither see nor feel. They don’t seem to be hurting Hana, but Miko still tries to get them off of her, even going so far as to douse Hana’s blouse in hand sanitizer. Ultimately, the ghoul shifts to their buxom teacher, spurning the slighter-chested Miko.

The next segment is a quick one involving a long line for half-off donuts. Miko, distracted by the menu on her phone, steps into what she thinks is the right line, but it’s actually a line of dead people waiting to get devoured by a larger ghoul. Hana grabs her and puts her in the right line. Miko is eternally grateful.

In the most heartwarming segment of the series yet, Miko and Hana find an abandoned kitten in a box on the street, but both live where pets aren’t allowed, so they put an announcement on social media. The handsome young man who responds is rejected by Miko, since he’s surrounded by what look like evil cat spirits and God knows what else.

Rather, it’s the huge, super-scary looking yakuza who gets the kitten. He may look scarier than the handsome guy to Hana, but Miko can see good cat spirits on the yakuza’s shoulders. After the credits they’re joined by the spirit of his dearly departed loved one.

Mieruko-chan – 01 (First Impressions) – I Don’t See Dead People

Mieruko-chan’s premiere featured, by my count, twenty shots of fanservice: two busts, two butts, and twelve legs/thighs. I won’t say they didn’t distract me, but not in a necessarily bad way. This is a show that is very good at building up tension and then releasing it, and in creating patterns that lull us into a sense of security. Those shots are part of that.

The premise is wonderfully, beautifully simple: Yotsuya Miko can see ghosts and ghouls, but tries to act like she can’t. She doesn’t do this out of genuine indifference; she is actually very afraid of them, just as I’m sure I would be. She’s just worried that letting them know she can see them will only make things worse. It probably would!

Throughout the episode, Miko goes through things no one wants to go through, and reacts the way you’d expect someone to react. This makes her very relatable, as well as someone to admire. I can only hope I wouldn’t just scream my goddamn lungs out if one of these creepy ghouls suddenly crept into my vision or invaded my personal space.

Other than ghosts, Miko’s life consists of her busty best friend Miko, a third girl who is aloof this week but looks to become another friend, and her little brother. But mostly ghosts. Studio Passione takes a simple premise and really goes out with the execution, featuring suitably creepy ghosts designs that are thankfully CGI-minimal, crisp, clean character designs, and if the fanservice is frequent and in-your-face, at least it’s competently done. Overall a good, spooky start, just in time for October!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

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