Kuromukuro – 20

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Now this is the kind of episode that fully delivers on the promise of Kuromukuro from the start. No more teasing: Yukina is finally stuck aboard an alien mothership, and while before we were only given bits of dialogue from the bigwigs sitting on their thrones on the bridge, here we get a grand tour of the massive vessel, with Yukina as our guide.

Lighting, sound, and visual design get top marks here, creating a suitably alien and oppressive but still wondrous atmosphere. Yukina also benefits, at least initially, from the ship (and its various automated crewmen) believing she’s Muetta. I say initially because it isn’t long before Mirasa finds Yukina and tries to kill her, laughing maniacally the whole time.

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A little less exciting, but still important, is Sophie’s continued chat with Zell, who reveals he’s third world that was conquered and dominated by the Efidolg. He doesn’t want what happened to his world (nothing good) to happen to Earth, and he’d also like some retribution along the way.

At the same time, Major Graham discovers the director’s “mutiny” and acts to restrain her, but as she says, she’s “already won”, because Ken is up in orbit, trying to save her daughter. All anyone down there can do, from Graham and Hiromi to Yukina’s sister, uncle, and friends…is wait.

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Yukina manages to find a hiding place where Mirasa can’t see her, then digs into the ship’s records to try to figure out a way off, to no avail. She also finds what looks either like a clone or artificial “Yukihime head,” disturbingly enough. I appreciate her determination to help herself out, sticking true to what she said to herself in the beginning of the episode: “I can’t have him protect me all the time.”

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When she finally finds some clothes and a weapon, she remembers the gruelling training she went through, and it serves her well, at least in terms of the stamina she no doubt developed, as well as her sword skills, which keep her alive against a Mirasa who may well be compromised from the stress of “Muetta” returning to announce her treachery.

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Little does Mirasa know, until the last possible moment, that Muetta arrived on the ship separately. She reports to her superiors, but can’t keep up the fiction that nothing’s amiss when the ship’s sensors detect Ken roaming the corridors looking for Yukina.

Muetta is immediately treated and attacked as a traitor, which is probably what she expected all along. I for one am glad she doesn’t try to turn Ken and/or Yukina over in exchange for essentially keeping her job and having her past mistakes forgiven. Then again, she’s never actually given the choice to betray Ken, because bringing him here in the first place is all the bigwigs need to condemn her.

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Eventually, Ken finds Yukina, steps in on her fight with Mirasa, and along with Muetta they hurry back to the hangar to make their getaway. Yukina allows herself to cry and embrace Kennosuke with relief and heartfelt gratitude, and her continued thanks makes Ken blush. Sure you were only “fulfilling a promise.” Right.

The Efidolg try to snatch both the Kuromukuro and Muetta’s glongur, but fail when the Ogre flies up into orbit to snatch them out of the enemy tractor beam, allowing them to return to earth. All’s well that ends well…except for the little matter of the Efidolg ship preparing to descend to the Earth’s surface. No rest for the weary…or recently-half-naked.

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Kuromukuro – 19

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Now that’s more like it. The last episode kinda dragged on, building to the surprise abduction of Yukina. But this episode takes full advantage of the severity of that cliffhanger: the Kuromukuro is grounded, Earth is more vulnerable than ever, and everyone is on edge, but powerless to do anything in the immediate present. After all, Yukina is in space.

Their only consolation, and hope, as it happens, is the fact they retrieved the wounded Muetta, whom Dr. Hausen determines has identical DNA to Yukina and Hiromi. They’re definitely related, though Muetta is very old.

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Hiromi is in full-on Mom Panic Mode, Sophie is given mandatory leave by the commander, and Ken is disgraced by how useless he feels. Sophie doesn’t have any sympathy for him moping in the canteen, but that’s for the best, as shortly after she’s alone, she’s contacted by the Ogre, who promises an encounter soon.

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Dr. Hausen is the only one truly happy this week, as he gets to study an Efidolg—or, at least, a human who’s had their memories altered and their body populated by advanced nanomachines. He determines that Ken’s blood is the best way to counteract the effect of Mirasa’s weapon, and after a quick transfusion, Muetta is awake and as feisty and combative as ever.

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The Ogre rudely invades Sophie’s apartment, but properly apologizes, and explains that she was the only person he felt safe contacting. His comment about cosplay culture making it easier to move around modern Japan was pretty amusing, but the fact he’s finally here, with Sophie, ready and willing to explain all (or at least some) is very exciting.

He, or I should say, Zell, is absolutely an enemy of the Efidolg, but not yet an ally of the earthlings. Here’s hoping that will change, becaue the earthlings need all the help they can get.

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Ken knows he can’t do squat about Yukina without the Kuromukuro, and so breaks into Muetta’s cell to try to bargain with her. She agrees to co-pilot it with him, with the story that she stole it and captured him. It’s really the only play they have, and it gets them both what they want: Muetta, freedom from this place, and Ken, a chance to save Yukina.

What I’m glad about is that Ken needs help, and lots of it. He may be a samurai, but he can’t whisk Yukihime out of a high-security international installation on his own. The other civilian lab employees clear a path for them, ending with Hiromi herself giving Ken her blessing (and making him swear he’ll bring her Yukina back).

This is because Hiromi’s superiors told her to give up on Yukina. They proposed using Muetta to pilot Kuromukuro, with Dr. Hausen minutes from administering some dread medication that would likely not give her a choice in the matter.

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to place Yukihime in the “Good Guys” column just yet, but I’ll pencil her in for now. The bottom line is she had few choices to get back to where she belonged other than going along with Ken’s plan, and once they’re up in orbit, Ken is at the mercy of her “people.”

But what makes be believe Yukihime might not bretray him immediately is the recording of…herself she sees once they fire up the Kuromukuro, which she’s amazed powers up so quickly even though it’s her first time. Only it isn’t: she recognizes herself in the recording. There’s an opening here, however small, for her to start entertaining the idea that Ken is right about her.

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That brings us to poor, poor Yukina. The only moment sadder than seeing her sister and mother despair at her abduction is seeing her look down on earth and call for Kennosuke…after asking for some clothes, of course. The Efidolg brought her there not as a hostage, but because they thought she was Muetta.

Mirasa quickly took it upon herself to try to finish what she started, but it seems Yukina was able to escape her stasis chamber in time. Despite her call for her samurai buddy, something tells me she ‘s not simply going to wander the ship, catching her death of cold, waiting for Ken to rescue her. She’s going to have to help herself out, and stay alive and free until help arrives.

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Kuromukuro – 18

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It’s a little detail, but I appreciate the fact that we see Yukina and Ken finally getting paid by the UN for their services. Everyone else working there seems to be. It also lets us know it’s been about three months since they started working together. The sudden influx of funds leads to Yukina taking her family to a hot spring inn. Mika catches word, unilaterally invites anyone who will come, and we’re off to the races.

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The hot spring inn isn’t the most luxurious—no food service and not even any close hot springs—but the ten attendees make do, and Ken uses the $400 pot he bought online to make curry (with Yukina’s help). The centerpiece of the episode is a long dinner scene that to its credit looks like a really fun place to be, unless of course you’re Carlos.

He tried to be clever about announcing he’s transferring but his cosplay video editing job was universally panned, and the announcement (and his on-screen plea not to be forgotten) is ignored in favor of other myriad conversations. The scene has a great energy, jumping from one discussion to another with several interruptions and interludes, just the way a big group dinner works in real life.

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Once it becomes time to check out the actual hot springs the next morning, Yukina happens to forget her towel, and she and Ken happen to go the wrong way and find a different hot spring than the others, where an injured Muetta just happens to be hiding.

We are tipped off to Muetta being at a hot spring before the encounter, and we actually catch a glimpse of her life as a child back home, a gorgeously alien world with crazy sky colors and celestial alignments. It makes her argument that she is not Ken’s princess a lot easier to buy. At least, she’s not lying when she says she has no memory of being Yukihime.

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Not long after Yukina and Ken find Muetta, men in black show up to secure the location…only for Yukina and Ken to end up separated again, and in that moment, Yukina is snatched up by an Efidolg robot and rises up into orbit, leaving her robe behind.

I wasn’t a fan of all the coincidences necessary for that ending to be achieved. This also smells like yet another case of Poor Defenseless Yukina being kidnapped—while naked, no less—and the Dashing Samurai having to find a way to rescue her. Not the most innovative storytelling. Also, while the emphasis on him is played mostly for comedy, I just don’t really care about Carlos, or whether he ceases to be on the show or not. Why should I, when no one else does?

Still, I liked the slice of life vacation elements, and I did not expect things to end so badly, so quickly, for Yukina and Ken. Yukina suddenly being up in orbit, at the mercy of those thoroughly unpleasant Efidolg knights, is a huge turning point—As is finally having Muetta in custody. I don’t doubt that in his desperation to quickly save his new princess, he’ll try to enlist the help of the old one. Pulling that off should prove even tougher than salvaging Carlos’ hack job.

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Kuromukuro – 17

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Ken and Yukina were actually able to witness Muetta’s fall on a video feed, so when all geoframe pilots are on standby, Ken is understandably anxious and unwilling to sit around doing nothing.

He doesn’t sympathize with the Efidolg, he just wants his beloved princess back. He wants her on their side. They simply have to channel his energy into something productive.

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The commander lets Ken and Yukina take the Kuromukuro out, and Yukina using its newfound recon toys to find…a bear, along with her commenting on how a walk by the river could be fun, keep things light and breezy.

It’s easy to forget how stressful a situation Yukina is in: co-piloting a giant alien mecha with a samurai whose lost princess looks just like her. You gotta keep your wits about you somehow; Yukina does it with wit.

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The leader of the Efidolgs sends Yorba down to retrieve their two agents, and he comes down in style, in the “Bluebird”, a huge flying geoframe with a dragon’s form, slicing through Earth fighters like they were warm butter and deflecting their missles.

This show has always done a good job showing how implacable Efidolg technology is…if only the people wielding it had the discipline to match.

(Also good? Never going too far up the chain of command, at least on the Earth side. I’m sure there are conference rooms full of suits determining our characters’ fates – I just don’t need to see them. The show seems to get that.)

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I can’t help but love an episode in which Ken and Yukina have to stop trudging in the river looking for Yukihime so they can stop an immense USAF C-5 Galaxy transport from crashing into the damn lab.

I also appreciate the valorous portrayal of the Air Force transport pilots, who complete their mission even though their bird is on fire and going down. We didn’t see the faces of the fighter pilots Yorba slaughtered, but thankfully we get to see the faces of some luckier ones, who survive thanks to the Kuromukuro.

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Getting back to Efidolg arrogance and suspicion being their undoing, Yorba isn’t satisfied with simply picking up Mirasa, though to his credit, he doesn’t buy her lame story about Muetta dying for a second. It’s almost as if Mirasa is lying for the first time, and it’s not her forte.

I’m not convinced Yorba is as concerned with avenging Muetta as he claims, but I’m willing to bet that’s as good an excuse as any to pick a fight with the black glongur that’s been giving his fellow Efidolg so much trouble. So rather than return to base with crucial information, he satisfies his desire for a real fight.

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He gets one, but at first, he tosses the Kuromukuro up above the stormclouds like a cat flicking a toy in the air, bashes at it while it falls then flicks it back up before it falls too far. It’s a battle Ken and Yukina can’t win without the power of flight…so it’s fortuitous that they gain that power, thanks to Mr. Ogre, who it turns out has a flying geoframe of his own.

Once the odds are evened, Ken gives Yorba a run for his money, until Yorba exercises the better part of valor. Back to the mothership he goes, a Mirasa richer but Muetta-free.

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As for the winged benefactor, he asks Ken to consider whether he’s been wrong all along about the “ogres” destroying the Washiba, then releases them at a safe altitude, convinced he’s not quite ready to hear the whole truth.

And Yukina? She hears a bit of her father in the Ogre’s voice, because let’s face it, he probably is her father. It’s as if he’s Darth Vader, only he’s been helping his kid all along, instead of waiting until the bitter end to do so.

But as he said, more answers will have to wait until a future encounter between them. Until then, after such a harrowing battle, I’d say Yukina and Ken have earned another break.

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Kuromukuro – 16

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This week, there’s almost equal time spent between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, as Muetta and Mirasa fall from the sky to infiltrate the Kurobe Lab in search of the “Pivot Stone.” It’s a daring and professional operation led by Muetta, with Mirasa never quite matching her precise moves. For instance, Mirasa hits the water too hard on their landing, but Muetta saves her. By the end of their op she’ll wish she hadn’t.

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Another healthy chunk of “good guy” time is taken up by more Ken and Sophie, with which I have no problem. Its fun to watch the moment Ken realizes Sophie is trying to become a samurai, which she sees as swapping one form of bondage (doing as her parents say and going home) for another (being bonded by loyalty to her fellow warriors in Kurobe).

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What of Yukina? She’s plays only a bit role here, tagging along for Mika’s cosplay film with Akagi, Kaya, Carlos, and the nurse Marina. In a nice bit of narrative symmetry, Muetta and Mirasa also “cosplay” by dressing up in UN maintenance unis that will help them move further into the enemy base. But while Mika & Co. are just trying to have some fun, these two are grinding like their lives depended on it…because they kinda do.

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By sheer coincidence the Efidolg pair end up taking the same lift as Ken, and the smell of blood on the orange jumpsuits (another blunder by Mirasa) gives them away. Thus we’re offered another confrontation between Ken and “Yukihime” far earlier than I expected, and it goes pretty much how I imagined: Ken prostrates himself before the princess, hoping against hope he can jog her memory.

Alas, Muetta claims to have never heard of him, though interestingly she calls him a “peasant” later on. It’s very much up in the air whether she’s playing another role like Mika and Marina, fully brainwashed, or a true and loyal daughter of Efidolg.

Speaking of loyalty, when, in a hostage situation, Muetta seems prepared to kill Ken, it’s Sophie who fires the bullet that knocks the knife from her hand. When Ken shields a retreating Muetta and Mirasa, Sophie makes up her mind: she can’t trust Ken’s brand of loyalty with keeping him alive. She’ll stay in Kurobe and make sure he stays safe.

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In this regard, Sophie takes on a role similar to Yukina, another person intent on saving Ken from his own reckless impluses. It’s also a huge victory for the show, because getting rid of Sophie, or declawing her by giving her scenes in France, would not have been something I particularly wanted to see.

As for Yukina, the cosplay story, beyond being a parallel to the costumes Muetta and Mirasa don, doesn’t come to much other than “Yukina is special now and her normal high school life continues to suffer from that specialness.”

IMO a bit too much time was spent on this plot, though I commend Mika wanting to cheer everyone, including Yukina and Marina, up a bit (plus the costumes and locales were cool).

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Then there’s Mirasa. She started this thrilling, action-packed infiltration op following Muetta’s lead and calling her “sister” with deference and loyalty. She ends it by suddenly but inevitably betraying Muetta, shoving her knife in her belly so she can go home and take all the credit for finding the stone.

It’s another demonstration how bad and fundamentally immoral and messed-up the Efidolg are, more an advanced form of the everyday cruelty and brutality from feudal times much (though certainly not all) of the modern world has left behind.

But Mirasa’s treachery also forces a new choice upon Muetta / Yukihime. Assuming she survives her Fugitive-style jump off the dam (a good bet), she’ll be hurt pretty damn bad, and she’ll be alone.

Chances are the UN finds her first, and they’ll treat her. I wouldn’t even rule out such a fall ringing her bell to the extent some memories of Ken return (if they’re there, and if she doesn’t have them already). In any case, it will be Muetta’s turn to make a choice.

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Kuromukuro – 15

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The battle is over, the chaos paused, and disaster averted, for now. This episode deals with the aftermath of the last one, as Muetta’s stunning assault on the school has made a lot of people make up their minds about leaving town. Others, like Sophie, have hard choices to make, which include going along with the choices others have made for them.

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Sophie Noelle isn’t your typical stuck-up rich kid: yes, she’s very rich and kinda stuck up, but she’s fiercely loyal and kind to her allies and is also perfectly capable of taking care of herself – and making her own choices – despite her unadvanced age.

When she sees Ouma, a real-life samurai like the ones she’s always admired, begging before a food-ordering machine in the canteen, she happily pays for his meal in exchange for listening to her problem.

As he gorges with relish (Dr. Hausen’s hospital food just wasn’t doing it for him), Ouma makes a point about a warrior being responsible for themselves, and sticking with the decision they make to the end. He’s talking about flavors of popsicles, but Sophie still gleans insight. Staying or going is her call, not her parents’.

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For their stunning failure last week, Muetta and Mirasa are essentially neurally tortured by treatments that invoke persistent “primal fear”; both beak out of their torture and crumble to the ground, indicating this isn’t the kind of society we want running Earth.

Even after all the mayhem they caused, I still feel bad for them. They probably knew this would happen when they returned in shame, but they did so anyway, and they’ll gladly go back down to Earth, either to accomplish what they couldn’t before, or die trying.

We see that Mirasa’s a little more hesitant to do a space drop back to Earth, but once Muetta jumps, there’s little she can do but follow her. The choice has been made.

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Even last week’s hectic episode managed to still have some moments of levity, and the comedy is ratcheted up a little more here, what with more funny “Ken vs. Modern Times” moments, Carlos’ family troubles, and what I believe to be the first time an anime scientist was only joking about dissecting someone (…or was he?), or the scene where Yukina thinks he’s saying he’s dead, when he’s sad that he’s fully recovered.

In the beginning of the episode Yukina is with Ouma, but he’s unconscious, so she goes back to school, where we see Mika isn’t letting current events get in the way of her goal for a cosplay film (and enlists Kaya, Ryouta, and Carlos to help her), while other classmates wonder if Yukina’s an alien too.

When Yukina finally finds Ouma to scold him, he’s already healed. She pivots to the uncomfortable subject of the princess who looks just like her. Ouma tells her she’s nothing like her, but the Efidolg warrior is “without a doubt” Yukihime.

The question is what he’s going to do when they meet again, whether she’ll even give him a chance to speak before trying to kill him, and whether he’ll again fail to properly defend himself from the woman who was once his only reason for living…because now he has two; three if you count his friendship with Sophie.

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Kuromukuro – 14

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They’re not playing around, Kaya

Kuromukuro’s second half picks up right where it left off, with Ken suffering a serious wound by Muetta/Yukihime’s hand. She goes after Yukina too, but a huge cloaked ogre jumps in to be her opponent, eventually chasing her off. Sophie and Sebastian also spring into action, surprising their ordinary classmates with their skills.

It’s a state of extreme chaos, where no one can think more than a few seconds ahead. It’s here we see the importance of training and poise under duress (the school nurse, for instance, simply isn’t ready for the wound Ken suffers).

As for Kaya, well, he’s not alone in trying to convince himself this is all some kind of harmles cosplay fun…until a UN soldier saves him from Muetta’s blade. Even so, he keeps the camera rolling, putting the recording of this momentous event over his own life. Priorities.

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“So just DIE already, idiot!”

Speaking of priorities, Ken’s, after his wounds heal quickly but not completely, has his all wrong as well. He wants to “save” the woman who tried and will keep trying to kill him, meaning he’s always going to be a liability against her in a fight.

The fact his wounds are still open and he keeps coughing up blood all tell Yukina he’s breaking his promise not to go off and die. But she sticks with him to make sure he doesn’t, and it’s her advice in the heat of the battle with Muetta and Mirasa that saves the good guys from defeat.

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Sure, talk about “warrior’s honor” when you’re fighting in a mecha with 8 arms

She notices from the way the two Efidolg geoframes are fighting that they’re not working together, and may not even like each other. And she’s right; Muetta wants the glory, and doesn’t consider Mirasa a warrior of equal standing.

Yukina suggests that the Kuromukuro, along with GAUS 1 and 2, pick on one opponent at a time, working together to wear it down while the second one founders. Before long, Mirasa’s frame shuts down, and rather than let the three turn on her, Muetta grabs Mirasa and heads for the nearest atmospheric lift back to orbit.

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Nothing like a cool, refreshing aloe vera drink bath after a battle

The two pilots failed in their mission because Muetta prioritized personal revenge over the mission’s successful completion, while Mirasa prioritized her own honor. They only lasted as long as they did because Ken was never going all out, both because he didn’t want to harm the woman he’s convinced is Yukihime, and because he’s in such rough shape.

Indeed, he can’t keep the blood down moments after the two enemies escape, and after he’s held back by a GAUS from following them up to their space station. No good can come from him going up there alone, especially in his state.

Instead, it’s time to heal, repair, then re-assess and coordinate priorities. If Muetta is Yukihime, that certainly seems to be news to her. As for the Ogre, I don’t know where to start with him. Is he the same guy Ken saw centuries ago (and drew an awful picture of), or is it Yukina’s father in disguise? Whatever the case, events keep proving her dad right.

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Kuromukuro – 13

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Two Efidolg knights seem to have “gone rogue” in order to pursue their own personal ambitions against Earth. The first is Mirasa, who fights the Black Relic and GAUS units to a draw and escapes into the woods to regenerate. The second is “Muetta”, whose hair immediately indicated is Yukihime, or at least some kind of Efidolg clone of her.

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As Takeyama High prepares for their cultural festival in the interests of maintaining normalcy and taking a break from studies and battles alike, Yuki looms over the episode like a silent wraith, crouched and ready to strike.

Yukina’s class decides to do an “Efidolg Forum”, what with three UN pilots in their class. Unfortunately, everyone else at the base is too busy to join the forum, so it’s just Yukina, Ken, and Sophie.

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In a particularly clever bit of plotting, because one of the activities at the school festival is cosplay (with Mika switching her usual school uniform for another), Muetta is able to slip into the school without any trouble. Indeed, she’s commended for the craftsmanship of her armor and arms.

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While Muetta closes in, Yukina and Ken have a grand old time at the festival, with Ken remarking that modern life itself has always felt like a festival to him, but this takes it to another level. Yukina asks him what he plans to do once he avenges Yukihime, because he has his whole future ahead of him (dundundunnnn).

Almost immediately after Yuki mentions how everyone has two doppelgangers, her Efidolg doppelganger leaps on the stage and charges at Ken, who is so shocked by the sight of her (having just seen her in the digitally altered photo of Yukina), he lets his guard down and gets run through.

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The show, knowing we knew who this was all along, still expertly kept most of Muetta’s face out of the frame right up until the very end, when showing it had the most impact. And the camerawork of the stabbing is great stuff, with an extreme closeup of Muetta cutting to a dumbfounded Ken, who then falls to reveal an equally shocked Yukina.

Where goeth things from here? Hard to say. I wonder if Sophie can somehow suppress Muetta, and why Muetta stabbed him. Perhaps, like him, her memories had bene lost on Earth those centuries ago, but now they’re back and she’s punishing him for betraying their people?

In any case, this was quite the exciting cliffhanger to place between Kuromukuro’s two halves: the moment Ken’s two princesses met.

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P.S. The rock band in the auditorium is playing the show’s opening theme, a cover of “Distopia” by GLAY.

Kuromukuro – 12

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As the Gezon-Reco of Efidolg decide to send another of their own (Nouet) down to Japan to deal with the Black Relic that’s been ruining their plans, the school term has given way to Summer break for Yukina, Ken, and Noelle, as well as Akagi, Mika, and Kaya.

Yukina boasts that she needn’t participate in extra lessons despite her deplorable marks, since she’s already been enrolled in what amounts to boot camp at Kurobe, with the always pleasantly profane Tom Borden as drill sargeant and Noelle, Shenmei, and Seb joining both out of solidarity and to stay sharp. Akagi also joins, in hopes of becoming a geoframe pilot.

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What ensues is your standard boot-camp/training episode, with Yukina predictably bad at pretty much everything early on. Indeed, after the first day of exertion she’s skipping dinner to throw up in the sink, but Shenmei grabs her from behind, throws her on the bed, sits on her, and…gives her deep massage and reiki. We’ve seen precious little of Shenmei, but I like how she’s so quietly supportive during Yukina’s descent into her Summer of Hell.

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To add insult to injury, Seb is assigned by her teacher to make sure she and Ken don’t fall behind on lessons. But the training is a long time coming now that Yukina is committed to co-piloting the Black Relic with Ken: she can’t rely on him to rescue her from every little thing.

That being said, Ken still saves her on numerous occasions, whether it’s a hand or word of encouragement, or something more dramatic like saving her from drowning when Tom shoves her into a pool in full kit.

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Ken is punished for “babying the Princess”, but thanks to Tom not thinking when activating the shock collar, Yukina and Noelle also get zapped, and the three zappees get a day off while Shenmei and Tom test the experimental GAUS water-walking system.

The unusual-for-Kuromukuro level of fanservice continues when Noelle shares photos of Mika in sexy fantasy cosplay that Ken can neither resist voicing his outrage and snapping a pic of the pic for his own, erm, records.

When the water-walking GAUS goes literally sideways and water starts leaking in the sinking frame, Shenmei remains almost comically (but also impressively) cool as a cucumber.

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The training continues, with Ken having to push Yukina less and less since she’s pushing herself (though Noelle notices how much he stares at Yukina), and things get easier as she grows stronger and more confident. Where once she couldn’t shoot with her eyes open, now she at least opens one, so it’s only a matter of time before she opens both.

For his continues heroism and lack of betrayal, Ken is rewarded by having his sword returned to him (by Yukina) and his collar removed (also by Yukina), resulting in some very close proximity between the two.

I’m enjoying the slow burn of their mutual attraction and respect, even if it doesn’t go far. Like it or not, Ken has found a new “princess” in Yukina, and thus a new commitment and purpose.

Yukina tells him he gets the sword on the condition he won’t seek his death with it through reckless action. And as the episode closes with a descending Nouet, Yukina’s newfound skills and stamina will be put to the test very soon.

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Kuromukuro – 11

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No sooner than I complained about the show dragging a little do things really start picking up. And while they picked up in more or less the most predictable way they could, it doesn’t change the fact that this was the first Kuromukuro that actually got my heart pounding, both with the suspense (and suspended disbelief either of the leads would die) and the kinda-sorta-maybe budding romance (or at least mutual respect) between those leads.

Fusnarnie is truly a loose cannon this week, and for a second, I thought Mulder and Scully weren’t going to release Kennosuke to deal with the situation. Also, there’s no more playing around with big robots and evacuations; there is blood and death here, and Yukina witnesses it close up for the first time, and reacts exactly how a non-grizzled warrior would: with fear and near-paralysis.

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That fear keeps her alive, though; one wrong move, and she knows she could be toast; this guy only wants her alive long enough to let him contract with Glongur. Before he can, Ken corners him, but he still has his hostage.

This is when Yukina finally springs into action to facilitate Ken’s rescue; quickly darting back and smacking Fusnarnie in the face, a move he clearly didn’t expect her to make. Sure, she stumbles immediately, but she gives Ken just the opening he needs to engage the enemy. Who knows how things would have gone down had Yukina not chosen to act.

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Ken is able to best Fussy, but that doesn’t stop the guy from trying to take Yukina down with him. He gets perilously close to her—and she’s again too terrified to move—but Ken does what he has to to protect Yukina, stabbing Fusnarnie in the back. Shortly thereafter, Fussy lets himself fall over the railing to his death rather than stay alive in disgrace.

What follows is a pivotal moment in the show, when Yukina makes a connection to Ken when she sees him trembling just as much as she is. Is this his first kill? Probably not, but it’s certainly his first in a while, and in any case killing is never easy, nor was killing Fusnarnie Ken’s first choice (and not just because the agents wanted him alive; surely Ken wants answers too, particularly about his so-called “altered memory.”

But as he shakes, Yukina sidles over to him and hugs him from behind, as much to calm him as to calm herself. It’s a lovely moment and proof of real growth in their relationship.

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Speaking of love interests, I have just plain had it with Akagi, and not because I’m a Yukina x Ken shipper (though I’m certainly far closer to being one after this week).

His impulsive desire to become a GAUS pilot (and belief he has the talent based on his hi-score) is just so dumb for this show; as if he’s some shounen hero in another show who really should have become a pilot in the first episode or two, but instead just talks about it over and over. We get it: dude wants to protect Yukina. I just don’t see him as GAUS pilot, ever. I enjoyed his dad’s incredulous and exasperated expressions, however.

I’d much rather see more of Sophie, who is ostensibly one of the three main characters in the show but has been woefully underused. Hopefully the second half will feature more of her.

Uncle Oshou is another story altogether; he’s a side character who steals nearly every scene he’s in; I especially liked his story about the seated statue and how Ken reacted to it. I also liked how in the same scene, Yukina asks Ken out on a date without even knowing it. And while on the hiking trip, she sticks to the map while Ken of all people embraces the wonders of GPS to get them on the right track. That was unexpected.

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Unfortunately, there’s as much mystery surrounding where exactly Yukina was, who or what rescued her, and what became of the “80’s Electronics Cave Base” as there is surrounding Ken’s past, and those answers still aren’t forthcoming this week, but the hiking trip did allow Ken and Yukina to process their emotions about recent events involving one another, and that made up for it.

Yukina and Ken will still blush whenever he conversation turn slightly romantic, but they’re becoming more comfortable being honest with each other. Ken is devoted to protecting her, and Yukina is just fine with that. She’s very candid about how his rescuing her made her feel, and it’s doubtless a feeling she’d never felt before, just as she never before saw Ken trembling. This episode definitely re-stoked by enthusiasm for the show as it approaches its second half.

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Kuromukuro – 10

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A quick trip to MAL will show you that Kuromukuro currently only manages a very meh 6.95 rating, which for MAL means “Good” but we’ve since come to mean “watchable, but not necessarily recommended.” I’ver certainly dropped higher-rated shows before.

The low score isn’t due to a disgruntled source material audience unhappy with the adaptation, either: it’s an anime original. So what gives?

Well, like Kennosuke’s bizarre experience 450 years ago, it’s kind of hard to put my finger on it, and that’s part of the problem. It’s one thing to be consistently and demonstrably great or terrible; Kuromukuro is merely solid, at best.

It’s not badly put together, and some of the character interaction is quite strong; it’s just not particularly original or exciting. A lack of 9 ratings bear this out: Kuromukuro has entertained, but never wowed.

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I never like quitting a show right in the middle, but with a planned 13 more episodes in addition to the 13 this Spring, I need to start taking a good long look at whether this show will be worth retaining into the busy new Summer season, which promises several new mecha series, the quality of which I can’t vouch for. (Macross will likely be continuing on as well, but I’m unaware of whether it will take a season off).

Basically, things need to start picking up, and soon. This episode promised a lot, but it really only amounted to table-setting. Now, table-setting can be interesting, but this week wasn’t, despite the fact we now have an Efidolg captive and learned more about Ken’s aforementioned experience, both under questioning by UN officials brought in from outside the Kurobe Lab.

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Interrogation episodes can be great, too, but again, Kuromukuro does not distinguish itself or add anything new to the genre. The interviews are largely dull and uninformative, as Fusnarnie, as he’s called, isn’t interested in giving many detailed answers, and Ken simply doesn’t remember very well what happened.

This is frustrating to him, on top of his whole “continuing to live in shame while his princess is dead” dilemma, and Yukina is just as frustrated (as I was) by the lack of answers from that weird cave with the “demon” who may have been her dad. What could have been an episode of bombshell revelations amounted to little more than more teasing of larger but still obscured things, combined with lots of moping by the main pair.

And don’t get me started on Akagi; this stiff’s cockamamie idea to simply become a pilot without actually putting any work in (and thinking his arcade high score is a gauge of his talents) just fell flat with me. Yukina couldn’t care less about this guy; why should I?

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One of the better parts of the episode was the flashback, in which we see Ken is a member of the soldiers fighting for Yukihime, and not, as Fusnarnie claims, an Efidolg advance guard. Or is he? How far in advance did he arrive? Did he bonk his head and forget who he was, and simply joined the princess’ guard since he’s good with a sword?

I’m not sure how else to explain how he’s able to pilot the Black Relic so easily. Was there something in Yukihime’s blood that made that possible? More to the point, is Yukihime really even dead, or was that light just a tractor beam that took her up to the mothership, where she remains? Lots of questions, as you can see, but precious few satisfying answers.

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I’m not particularly interested in the UN and Sophie being suspicious of Ken, either, seeing as how he’s only served the good guys faithfully all this time. Also, if Fusnarnie is to be believed, Ken betrayed his people; why would he switch back to the “enemy”?

Nevermind, all we get at the end is a somewhat obvious cliffhanger in which Fussy breaks free, kills his captors, summons his “Lion”, and just happens to bump into Yukina in the corridor, grinning when he realizes she’s a wielder. So great; now Yukina probably needs to be rescued…again.

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Kuromukuro – 09

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Not long after coming to in a cave filled with clocks and obsolete electronics, Yukina passes back out, as if hypnotized by the mysterious figure with the robotic voice and her dad’s watch and journal. She wakes up in a bus shelter, where Akagi and Kaya find her.

Just like that, all the potential answered questions about Yukina’s dad, and all the other mysteries in that cave, dissipate. That was a little disappointing, and the whole cave thing felt like a tease, but I came to forgive the episode when Yukina came around on piloting the artifact with Ken.

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What I like is that there wasn’t any one reason she didn’t want to and tried to run away: she’s scared; overwhelmed by the pressure; uncertain if this was the right path. But she also doesn’t like how she’s been ordered around like some automaton. Would it hurt for someone to ask her nicely?

Having dealt with her absence, Ken is resolved to let Yukina go, but Yukina isn’t ready for Ken to disappear from her life. She’s taken a shine to the guy, and vice versa, and when he realizes it’s as simple as asking nicely, he does so, and before lone Yukina is back in the cockpit with him.

I also appreciated that Hiromi’s decision not to let the military force her daughter into the artifact, even using her body as a shield. The protection is unneccesary, as Yukina was only “annoyed with herself” and needed some time and space, which she got, and is now willing to do her part.

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Once Yukina and Ken are in their tough new skin-tight nanofiber flight suits, Yukina puts on a brave front but Ken sees her hands shaking. She admits it: she’s scared shitless, but that command artifact out there isn’t going to defeat itself, and she doesn’t want Ken to use her absence as an excuse to get himself killed, nor does she like the idea of him sacrificing his life to save her. She’d prefer if they get through this together.

What “that” is could have been very intriguing indeed, had Efidolg succeeded in abducting Glongur and bringing Yukina and Ken up to the mothership. But that possibility is negated when the UN’s hunch about the tractor beam neutralizing the artifacts’ shields proves true.

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Another possibility not realized: Akagi and Kaya are once again very close to an errant missle explosion, but neither is even slightly injured. Not sure why they keep teasing the fact that these two could end up stains on the mountainside, adding to Yukina’s burden by association, but Akagi is determined to play a larger role in her protection, and not just because he teased her when they were little.

Sophie and the guy with the dirty mouth show up to take out the small fry, leaving Ken free to take on the boss artifact. He has trouble with his acrobatics, but Yukina again uses her unusually extensive knowledge of geology to lure the artifact onto a rock face she knows will crumble.

Rather than self-destruct, the Efidolg pilot surrenders. This was initially surprising, but I’m pretty sure when both Plan A (capturing Glongur) and Plan B (defeating Glongur in a duel) failed, he pivots to Plan C: letting yourself be captured by the enemy so you can learn more about them and possibly escape and cause more damage from within. We’ll see how he plays it.

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Kuromukuro – 08

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Like Ikari Shinji, who was overwhelmed by duties and expectations, Yukina seeks refuge away from the places that have oppressed her, but neither strays too far. Yukina hides out in Ogino’s room (decorated with posters of other P.A. Works), unsure of what she wants to do but very sure of what she doesn’t, namely fight and kill people in Glongur.

Ogino is a good friend in that she lets her crash there, lies to her mom for her, and gives her space to sulk. But she’s also a good friend because she provides her own perspective on Yukina’s plight—i.e. it’s a blessing, not a curse—and tells her the sulking and running has to end eventually, and she has to go home.

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Akagi and Kaya turn out to be fine, and were only gone as long as they were because Akagi’s bike ran out of gas. He gets a punch and a stern reaming from his father, warning his son not to “keep living for others’ approval,” but Akagi is mostly concerned with gaining Yukina’s approval, and he feels bad for ending up in a position where she might have been hurt.

Ken claims not to be worried about Yukina, and is only searching for the key to his artifact, but let’s be real here: of course he’s worried; after all, he’s still not certain Yukina isn’t the reincarnation of his princess. The princess is gone and his sense of purpose with it…except that Yukina has been filling the role of protectee he needs so dearly.

Talk about what Yukina wants comes up both in class and at UN control. Sophie suspects that if Yukina being in that artifact’s cockpit is the only thing keeping Earth safe, Yukina’s getting in that cockpit, whether she wants to or not. Unlike Shinji’s dad Gendo, Hitomi isn’t ready to commit to forcing Yukina; she’s more concerned with simply finding her.

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Yukina’s would-be protectors mount a search for her; Ken on the big horse he met earlier, Akagi on his refueled bike (with Kaya tagging alone, hungry for more viral streaming).

Rather than go to school (which would feel like a quick surrender), Yukina heads into the Kurowashi Valley, where the castle of Ken’s lord once stood but has since been reclaimed by nature.

Not having any satisfying answers about how to proceed, perhaps she thinks following her father’s journal and exploring the site where the demons once attacked might shed some light on her proper path. Or heck, maybe she’ll find her missing dad.

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Little does she know, the area is swarming with formerly dormant Efidolg Cactii, one of which zeros in on her location and attacks her. She’s saved neither by Ken (who gets close but never finds her by episode’s end) or Akagi (who took off later).

Instead, the magenta cactus is destroyed by a mysterious blue robot and a man with a very sharp sword and a watch Yukina instantly recognizes as—you guessed it—her father’s. The way this reunion has unfolded, it’s almost as if Yukina was always meant to ‘run away’ (even just a little bit) in search of either a reason for—or alternative to—pilot Glongur.

I’ll close by presenting two little snippets from the episode of both Ken and Yukina talking to themselves:

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I just wanted to point these moments out because I laughed heartily at both, for different reasons. Ken’s surprise at the horse’s size is another unique product of a samurai from four centuries ago suddenly finding himself in the present, where horses (and Japanese people) are simply larger due to better food, medicine, and breeding. His delivery is great too.

Yukina’s observation, on the other hand, is one of the most sophisticated collections of words she’s spoken. It seems meant to show us there’s more to this unmotivated airhead than meets the eye. She’s either a secret geology buff or maybe she was just paying special attention to one particular part of class.

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