Mahoutsukai no Yome – 08

When Chise goes down, Ulysse fears the worst as he recalls the fate of his sister Isabelle, chased into a street by bullies and killed in a car accident. Isabelle never woke up, but Chise does, could see his thoughts, and tells him she’s okay.

Meanwhile, an enraged Elias in his true(r) form tears the chimera of the ageless sorcerer (whom Elia later calls Cartaphilus) to pieces, while Renfred shoots him in the head, giving everyone a bit of time to rest and Elias to return to a less terrifying (and more importantly, shorter) form.

Cartaphilus heals quickly, however, and summons another chimera: this one with the body of a giant spider and the head of none other than Isabelle, to capture Ulysse.

Chise isn’t having it, using her masses of magical power to summon a swarm of tarantula wasps from the ether; Elias warns her not to mess with the laws of nature in such a way, and manages to hold her back, but she’s super cheesed-off.

A blue flame fairy spirits them away from Carty and the chimera to a safe place, and lends Chise a lump of his coal to calm her racing blood.

When Carty appears once more with his Isabella-headed chimera, Chise forms a pact with Ulysse in a stirring ritual to make him her familiar, whom she renames Ruth. Their hearts, minds, and lives now bound together, Ruth attacks the chimera without reservation, knowing the Isabelle he knew and loved isn’t there and won’t be coming back.

Alice shoots off Cartaphilus’s arm, and with Chise and Ruth now in a familiar pact, decides they’re no longer worth his time, and he apparates away. Being an undying force of nature more than a human or beast, may well return if and when his interest is re-sparked.

But for now the threat has passed, and Elias bids that he, Chise, and Ruth all return home, where Chise will be healed, scolded, and told more about everything that went down, as well as the ins and outs of having a familiar.

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Fate / Zero – 20

This week is 95% talk and 5% action, resulting in an episode that’s 75% “8” and 25% “9.” Kiritsugu’s backstory duology was fantastic, as well as instrumental in helping us understand him more. One could also argue that positioning it after the Mion River Battle made sense, as all the Servants and Masters who survived the battle would require resting-up.

But the fact the two episodes are wholly self-contained, with no ‘bookends’ to tether the story to the present-day rest period, is a double-edged sword. The bad edge being that we simply time-traveled to Kiritsugu’s past; no one in the present was reminiscing. That meant a hard stop to the present-day story, which is a little jarring from a momentum and pacing standpoint.

It also means we barely skipped through the rest-and-recovery period for the Servants and Masters post-battle, so we’re presented with them now. Of course, Tokiomi getting killed and replaced as Archer’s Master was huge, but much of the episode that preceded that event felt like time-marking.

Fate/Zero’s long talks in dark rooms are always tolerable at worst and momentous masterpieces of the spoken word at best, but setting aside Kiritsugu’s past episodes, the proportion of present, legitimate Holy Grail War action set pieces and those of static dialogue has felt imbalanced.

That imbalance is amplified by the similar orientations of so many of the participants in those talking scenes, which are so simple in their execution one wonders if the studio was being more conservative with its budget post-Mion, post-Arimago, and post-Natalia. But they weren’t all bad. There were just a lot of them.

Iri is on her back, her body continuing to weaken as the War’s end draws closer, giving Kiritsugu Avalon since he’ll be needing it from now on. Their exchange is sad but also comforting; a kind of love has indeed taken shape in their nine years together, and there are no regrets, only the hope that Ilya will be able to avoid fighting in the next War, because there will be no next War. (Never mind that we know ful well there will be, of course…only adding to the tragedy).

Waver is on his back, in a full-length sleeping bag in the woods, trying to do all he can to restore Rider’s physical form and mana after having to use Ionian Hetairoi a second time (and saying there won’t be a fourth). They may have started out as comic relief, but they can pull off their share of dramatic scenes too; they’ve come a long way.

In the weakest scene, Kariya, while not supine, is strung up crucifixion-style, back under the tender care of Zouken, Evil Dad, who implants in him a crest worm that “first tasted Sakura’s purity”, and thus contains a lot of her life force, which Zouken then blames him for stealing, which is kind of like a bully using his victim’s own hand to hit him in the fact while saying “stop hitting yourself.” Such a creepy dick.

We don’t see Tokiomi, but we can assume he’s supine in death (unless Kiritsugu chose a more creative way to dispose of his body). And then we’re back to Iri, being watched by Maiya. As Kiritsugu infiltrates the Toosaka mansion and discovers Tokiomi is dead, Maiya answers Iri’s question about why she’s stood  beside Kiritsugu all this time.

We learn that as Natalia did with him,  Kiritsugu delivered Maiya from child soldier hell and, by taking her under his wing, inserted her into a different kind of hell that was better simply because neither of them were alone anymore. Despite Maiya’s believe that should she survive the war she won’t have a purpose any longer, Iri implores her to live life perhaps to find out what her name was and if any of her family still live.

A non-main character being told she has her whole life ahead of her is usually a sign that character’s hours are numbered, and so it comes to pass when Rider suddenly busts in their hideout, kidnaps Iri, and mortally wounds Maiya when she tried to stop him. The suddenness of Rider’s vicious attack really awoke me to the fact that the time for parlays, truces, and mercy is quickly waning, if it isn’t already gone.

That brings us to the final—and best—scene of a character lying on her back, the dying Maiya. Saber arrived almost immediately when Kiritsugu blew a Command Seal, but Iri had already been taken, and there was no time to heal Maiya and go after Rider.

By the time Kiritsugu reaches Maiya, she’s too far gone, which means Kiritsugu has to endure watching yet another person he loves die before his eyes. But the world without fighting he wants to build isn’t meant for him or Iri or Maiya; they’re all merely tools. That world is for his daughter, for all the world’s sons and daughters. So he will press on.

Made in Abyss – 08

“If they die now, it just means they didn’t have what it takes to go any further.” Harsh they may be, truer words were never spoken. Despite her ice-cold demeanor and gloomy, threatening affectation, I have no doubt Ozen would be immensely disappointed if Riko and Reg died during their ten-day survival test.

Now obviously they’re not going to die—and she probably knows that. There may be a lot of bugs when they use fire and a grumpy hippo-like beast who doesn’t want them near his water, but Riko and Reg make a great team, and they have, after all, lived and survived off the land up until now.

Thus Ozen would be worried, even if she was capable of being worried about the two kids passing the test. Ozen takes us back to when Lyza introduced her to a frail-looking young man named Torka whom she married. In a classic Ozen move, she fast-forwards to after Torka has passed away from the effects of the Abyss, and Ozen has to deliver a stillborn Riko.

But as much of a ‘hassle’ as it was, Ozen remained faithful to her dear apprentice, who had progressed so far only to go through so much pain and anguish, and assures the suddenly-alive baby Riko of her “strong sense of duty” which continues to the present now that Lyza’s daughter has descended to her lair.

The product of her duty returns, dirty and exhausted but very much alive after ten days. Reg points out it feels like more, and when Ozen invites them to sup with her, she tells them of how being in the Abyss warps one’s sense of time (among other parts of the brain), such that while Riko has lived ten years since coming up to the surface, to Lyza down in the netherworld it may have felt like a scant ten months; possibly even less.

Needless to say, this is very heartening to Riko, but Ozen warns her and Reg to avoid the three White Whistles besides Lyza who are lurking in the lower layers as they speak, and when she says one of them isn’t “kind like I am”, you know she’s not joking: she, and everything we’ve seen of her, is still kinder than The Sovereign of Dawn, Bondrewd the Novel. 

I love the idea of White Whistles being their own tiny, elite tribe of eccentrics, and to think they get more eccentric (and less human) than Ozen is…a little unsettling. She’s also still not sure what to make of the note Riko thought was written by Lyza.

After giving Riko her mother’s pickaxe, Blaze Reap, she sits her and Reg down and begins to tell them all of the things they’ll need to know as they continue their descent. These are secrets usually kept between White Whistles exclusively, but as Riko is the spawn of one and is headed to their realm, it only makes sense. It’s a sobering experience for Reg to hear of all the strange things on the lower layers, and Ozen doesn’t mince words.

But Ozen isn’t trying to discourage them; only to prepare them as much as one can be prepared. When it comes time to say goodbye, Ozen isn’t present, so Marulk and the raiders see off Riko and Reg. Marulk is particularly sad to see them go, and her tears not only cause Riko and Reg to tear up, but me as well!

Ozen recalls one final pivotal exchange she had with Lyza after they returned to the surface. Lyza, whose face is finally fully revealed, has not only taken on an apprentice (Jiruo, AKA Leader), but has made the decision to make another descent in order to allow Riko to decide for herself what kind of life she’ll lead. She asks Ozen to tell Riko about all of the miracles that had to occur so she could live; Ozen agrees.

Back in the present, with her duty now done, Riko and Reg set out for deeper depths approaching the terrifying sheer pale walls of the Great Fault and the Third Layer. While it seemed strange and alien at first, the longer we spent in the Inverted Forest, the more comfortable, even cozy it felt.

The edge of the Fault couldn’t be any less hospitable. It will be exciting to see what other wondrous sights they’ll see in this newest setting—and what fresh devilry with which they’ll have to contend.

Re:Creators – 08

I found last week’s episode a bit plodding and tedious, but as Altair’s identity is discovered by all and a confrontation of ideologies mounts, this week’s sequence of emotionally-resonant conversations and its closing confrontation earns it a higher grade.

The briefing to the group proper on what they know about Altair so far kinda goes off the rails when Yuuya’s creator appears with a dismissive, aloof atitude, and Yuuya, sees it as provocation to sic his esper on him. Blitz’s artist is also there, but these are merely intros for people who may or may not play key roles later.

Showing Yuuya as an unpredictable hothead was nothing new, but I appreciated Meteora’s meet-up with Souta, in which she senses he’s trying to get something off his chest and tries to make it as easy as possible.

Souta still dances around matters far too much for my taste, but it’s definitely a start, and Meteora shows how she’s morphed from a fish-out-of-water game character to a warm, patient, understanding person who considers Souta a friend and hopes he feels the same.

Despite their wildly clashing worldviews (and for the record, Alice’s take on the “world of the gods” isn’t all that unfair or inaccurate) Mamika continues to embrace Alice as a dear friend; one she believes in an hopes will believe in her.

Alice does, and can, as she can tell from her words and actions that for all her naivete Mamika has a strong and pure heart. But Alice is caught off guard when Mamika suddenly jumps off the skyscraper they’re both perched on (Tokyo City Hall) and heads off on her own, indicating it could be the last time the two friends see each other, either on the same side, or at all.

Chiku’s been busy tailing Souta during his meetings with Mamika and Meteora, and she’s pretty sure not only that Souta knew Altair’s creator, but that the creator is dead, and Souta feels at least partially to blame. Not willing to wait for him to spill the beans, she used what he’d given others to paint a larger picture for herself, and Souta’s reaction makes it clear she’s spot-on.

As such, Chiku now has leverage on Souta, and isn’t about to let him get away with avoiding the reckoning she feels should surely await the protagonist of a world as messed-up as Souta’s. So she swaps contact info and promises him they’ll go on a “date” soon. Unless he wants to be exposed, he’ll do as she says.

As for Mamika, her ultimate destination this week is Altair’s lair (an ‘Altlair’, if you will) to confront her with the knowledge she’s gained, affirm that she considers her a friend too, and offers to help “save her soul”, and that of her creator. For all the talk of creators and/or creations expressing their affection for one another, Altair is having none of it.

She hates everyone and everything and wants to destroy it all, and her response to Mamika’s olive branch is to launch a fusillade of sabres into Mamika’s body. If talk failed, Mamika was always prepared to do what was necessary to stop Altair from destroying anything or anyone else, so she casts Magical Splash Flare in a thrilling finish to the episode. No matter who emerges from the resulting conflagration, things will never be the same.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 42

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I may have railed a lot against Jasley as a villain, but in exchange for putting up with him, I got to behold one of the most visceral IBO battles yet, so good in part because there’s no foreplay and no dawdling. All our Tekkadan boys are stone-faced and businesslike in their hugely satisfying, meticulous taking-down of Jasley’s larger fleet. We start in the middle, when things are already going badly for ol’ Jazzers, but he still holds out hope Iok will come to bail him out (he won’t).

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Hush gets to do some stuff in a new suit, and I kinda liked while he held his own, he wasn’t out there dominating or anything. He also got to crack a smile. When he and Shino return to the ship to refuel, reload, I also appreciated the scenes of out-of-breath pilots taking a breather and grabbing a quick bite and drink while they can.

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Also fun is the fact that from the very start of the episode, the Jasley we’re shown seems…different. He may have the bigger fleet, but they’re all unreliable mercs, and he somehow looks smaller and more vulnerable on his paisley-lined bridge, swapping his pimp duds for the same spacesuit as everyone else.

As things go worse and worse for him and his defensive line begins to crumble, he keeps yelling mostly to himself about how none of this makes any sense: he’s a good earner, he deserves the top spot he’s trying to take from McMurdo. He’s simply unprepared for the intense level of resolve the foes he so easily made are carrying with them. He’s literally kicked a hornet’s nest.

He sends out human debris pilots, in hopes they’ll be a match for Tekkadan. Zack asks if it’s really okay with Chad and Dante to be fighting…their ‘own kind’. Chad get one of the better lines in an episode full of them: “Our standings and backgrounds don’t matter. Everyone with a weapon is equal. We just crush them.”

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All hope of the cavalry arriving is lost when Jasley contacts McMurdo to try to work something out, to get him to call off his Tekkadan dogs. But McMurdo turns out to be a lot less old and out of touch than we might’ve thought last week when Jasley was able to undermine him so easily.

No, Iok isn’t coming; McMurdo had a talk with Rustal, who is keeping Iok in check and ignoring Teiwaz affairs in exchange for Teiwaz forgetting about the Iok’s attack on Turbines. And since Tekkadan isn’t part of Teiwaz anymore, the only person Jasley has to sort out his problems is…Jasley. It’s a great little phone call…so devastating.

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Does he jump in his souped-up mobile suit and take the fight to Tekkadan? No; when Tekkadan is close enough to start taking potshots at his flagship, he calls Orga to surrender. I guess Orga could work out a pretty sweet deal with Jasley, but it’s clear Orga just wants to watch him beg, and isn’t even that entertained by it.

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With that, he sends in Mika, who asks Orga what to do, standing over Jasley’s bridge with his weapon drawn. Orga says crush ’em; Mika crushes them, and that’s that. With Jasley gone, and Naze, Amida, Lafter, and all the others he killed avenged, Orga breathes a deep sigh of relief.

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Everyone agrees that while the departed probably aren’t too happy with what they did (and what they had to give up to do it), they still did the right thing. Now Tekkadan can truly move forward towards kingship of Mars. And they don’t need Teiwaz anymore.

Instead, they’ll be joining the Gjallarhorn revolution that announces its existence not long after Tekkadan finishes things with Jasley. McGillis has rightly pinned the blame for the SAU-Arbaru conflict with Rustal, and now that Teiwaz and Rustal seem to have an understanding, it’s possible Tekkadan might fight against Teiwaz in the future. And now that Tek’s cut ties with Admoss as well, Kudelia finds herself on the outside looking in.

But for now, they have a powerful ally who shares their ideals, and will fight beside him as he roots out the rot of corruption that has plagued Gjallarhorn too long. Orga and McGillis’ original deal still stands. In hindsight, Jasley never really had a chance to disrupt it.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 41

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A funeral service was a given in the aftermath of the battle between Kujan (via Jasley) and the Turbines, resulting in the sacrifice of Naze and Amida. Jasley showing up in his usual pimp outfit to essentially gloat about his rival’s death?

That’s entering a whole new level of scumbaggery, and Jasley doesn’t stop escalating, intent as he is on getting Tekkadan to strike first so he can put them down, along with their last Teiwaz patron, McMurdo.

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But first, Lafter has a choice: McMurdo follows through with putting Naze’s all-female crew under his protection, but it looks like whatever role Lafter will play, it won’t involve a mobile suit. Azee tells her what Amida said about finding someone all her own whom she loves (Akihiro) and how she wanted Lafter to be happy, even if it meant “leaving the nest”.

In one of the better scenes of the series, we finally get Akihiro and Lafter sharing a drink, and finding out just how much in common they both have, having begun life in the darkness but being given second chances at freedom and self-determination. Naze and Amida were Lafter’s saviors; Orga and Tekkadan were Akihiro’s.

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But ultimately the Turbines are Lafter’s family, and as much sense as it would make to go with Akihiro, her place is with that family, so she gives Akihiro a big hug and the two part ways, hopeful they’ll cross paths sometime in the future.

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Last week, Lafter and Azee were “spared” from being among the casualties of Kujan’s completely illegal operation (which Rustal seems to chastise him for this week, if not condemn). Turns out the show was merely saving them for more torture in the very next episode.

When neither the operation nor his attempts to provoke Orga work, Jasley has one of his thugs gun Lafter down while she’s looking at teddy bears. I’m not saying IBO is often the subtlest of shows, but the emotional manipulation here was jacked up to 11.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m heartbroken and furious Lafter’s dead, but she was murdered on the orders of a one-dimensional character in a telegraphed and mawkish manner that bordered on silly. She deserved far better, more significant death. Of course, that’s probably the whole point.

At least Kujan can be somewhat excused for being a rich spoiled brat with delusions of grandeur that are too often affirmed; Jasley is just So Very Evil it’s a bit boring. Of course we want our girls and boys to avenge her by any means necessary, but IBO succeeds best when its antagonists are complex, not foregone conclusions.

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Take McGillis, who throughout these forty-one episodes has always seemed like he’s hiding something from someone. We’ve come to trust him more and more as Orga has, and to see him reaffirm his dedication to backing Tekkadan up after devastated Orga tells him they’re probably going to have to go to war with Teiwaz, it was both reassuring and added to the overall tension. He’s relying on Tekkadan as much as they on him now. Their victories are his victories, and vice-versa.

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Mika was more silent than usual last week, limiting his interaction with Orga to a couple of his classic “looks”. This week, while watching some Turbine babies while their moms attend Naze’s funeral, Mika spends some time with little ones, and the topic comes up with Atra, resulting in Mika stating without equivocation (or embarrassment) that if she’ll have him, he wouldn’t mind making a little scamp with her.

That’s all well and good, apparently, because Mika doesn’t think like Orga or McGillis. He doesn’t allow himself to feel the doubt they feel. It’s not a matter of “will I be able to be useful to Orga” to Mika, but “how far should I go?” Orga answers in a way Mika seems to appreciate: “all the way.”

Now, hopefully, we can look forward to some righteous vengeance being carried out on behalf of Naze, Amida, Lafter, and all the others whose lives Jasley, Iok, and their ilk have devastated. But it won’t change the fact that the damage is done, and there will be a steep cost for revenge as well.

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Macross Delta – 11

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Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance: the Five Stages of Grief. Macross Delta wsn’t going to cheapen Messer’s apparent death by bringing him back, so no one is really in denial.

Hayate, Freyja and Mirage are angry that they didn’t do everything they thought they could to prevent his death. Others still have more or less moved to acceptance, or at least the veneer of it, in the case of Kaname and Arad; keeping busy so the veneer doesn’t crack.

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Heck, even Lord Keith is angry about to loss of his wind-dancing rival, putting a blade to Bogue’s throat when he mocks the dead. It’s an interesting moment for Keith, who shares a moment on the balcony with Roid, reminding him of their promise to make their world strong again.

Clearly Keith is pretty miffed Messer had to die for that end, but will get over it, while Roid worries for Heinz because no one else (including Heinz) will. Hayate has to storm off when Arad brings up the necessary matter of re-filling Messer’s cockpit, while Freyja keeps getting up and running no matter how many times she faceplants in the mud.

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As everyone processes, the tech boffins sort out why Windermere is annexing planets with ruins: annexing them all (and they only have two to go) will allow them to exert mind control on all 8 billion inhabitants of the Globular Cluster (AKA Starwind Sector), bending everyone to their will.

To show he means business, the ailing king gets out of bed (possibly inspired by Hundred’s Karen) and leads the attack himself, overseeing the launch of the positively gargantuan, Final Fantasy-esque baroque flagship called the Sigur Valens, which was being hidden under a retractable mountain range.

It seems to me, if you have this much power, you’re probably set. But this is also about revenge. Revenge for that mysterious scar in Windermere; and perhaps also due to a powerful collective envy at the other races of the sector for their longevity. Windermere is committed to burning brightest, even if briefly.

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A fire burns on the beach, with the whole gang assembled, when Hayate arrives. They have a kind of wake for Messer there, during which they eat, drink, sing, and be merry. A model plane is constructed as a symbol of Messer, which in a Ragnian ceremony will be committed to the sea to become one of the endless jellyfish beneath the waves.

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The music during this scene is top notch – soulful, moving; especially when Mikumo finally shows up and starts singing, and the rest of Walkure joins in. They also read from Messer’s log, which is full of detailed critiques of his kohais.

Even though we didn’t see all that much of Messer, the outpouring of emotion here makes it clear that he was loved and appreciated, and will be hard to replace. That being said, I’m not sure Hayate is being very sensible when he assures Arad no replacement pilot is necessary.

The beach wake also kinda contradicts Arad’s comment about their being no time to mourn, as they had an entire evening to do so. However, that’s all they get, because not long after the sun rises on Ragna, the huge Windermere fleet arrives at Al Shahal—and they’re not their for R&R.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 13

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While this is officially the last episode of the Fall 2015 season, Gundam IBO’s second half will continue without a long hiatus. Despite that, this really felt like the turning of a page, full as it was with both endings and beginnings. One first: Shino’s Tekkadan commandos getting attacked by the Brewers’ Human Debris kids when they turn their backs, forcing them to fire back.

It speaks to the fierce reality and lack of shortcuts in this show that the kids aren’t simply happy their saviors have arrived. They know what will happen if they don’t do their jobs as proscribed by their Brewer masters. While that goes on, Akihiro leaves his cockpit to say goodbye to his brother on better terms than I’d expected, with Masahiro “going ahead” of his brother to see if what he heard about souls being reborn is true.

Finally, as Mikazuki methodically takes down Kudal in his Gusion, a strange feeling comes over him as he masters his sword. From the way he’s fighting, Kudal thinks Mika is someone who enjoys taking human life. Mika isn’t sure, but it’s clear he’s comfortable in such a hazardous situation, and Kudal ultimately didn’t even pose much of a challenge to him.

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Speaking of challenges, you can almost see McGillis Fareed gritting his teeth at the umpteenth evening gala full of an equal measure of snobs, gossips, and syncophants who don’t even bother keeping their voice down about either his dubious parentage or the youth of his betrothed Almiria. When Ally comes out, repslendent in her party dress, the first thing her eyes wander to after McGillis are the fully developed bodies of the ladies surrounding him, wanting to dance (and probably more, as Gaelio suspects).

McGillis knows he could take any and all of those women if he wanted, but he doesn’t want to. Instead, he goes to his future bride, still a child but desperately wanting to dance cheek-to-cheek, and takes her into his arms. She’s embarrassed and worried people will laugh if they’re seen, but McGillis doesn’t care, and he doesn’t want her to care either.

She’s the finest lady there, as far as he’s concerned, and her happiness is far more important than the idle chatter of people with nothing better to do. This adorable gesture didn’t feel like another calculated move by McGillis, but a genuine act of kindness and love. He and Alimiria will make this work, together.

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Speaking of kindness, the Brewer kids have never known it, so they’re on edge after being rounded up by Tekkadan, like caged feral animals. However, Orga’s charisma and decency shines through in his informal chat with them about how they’ll be taken care of from now on, and not in a sinister way.

Masahiro may not have survived the battle, but it’s good to see the other kids being integrated into Tekkadan. I’m sure some will integrate better than others, but they’ll also be able to do what they want and realize their own unique potential, with no more beatings.

Shino was much closer to Mika to the comrades that were killed, both physically and emotionally, so it makes sense to see Shino breaking down before Mika and the corpses of those comrades. But when Shino he says he wishes he’d died too, Mika reproaches him. To wish for death disrespects those who died so others could live, even if that’s not the only reason.

Regardless, everybody is down in the aftermath of this battle, moreso than any previous one, so after all the business is complete, Merribit suggests they hold a funeral for the dead. Orga is particularly dubious of the concept, but once the benefits both to the dead and the living who survived are laid out, he agrees.

The subtle dance of Orga and Merribit continues, as she catches him calling her “old lady”, and shoots right back by calling him a “child”; both being more playful than nasty about it.

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Everyone deals with grief in different ways, but even for those who are able to keep it all bunched in are struggling, so the funeral really does the trick in terms of being a release valve for the crews’ collective pain; the space fireworks were a particularly nice touch. And because most of this crew are still children, sometimes simply being held by a mother figure is required, something even the usually-stiff Fumitan (who is hiding things other than pain deep within her) is able to do for one of the younger orphans.

Finally, after the funeral, at the meeting where the plan to continue on to the Colony is agreed upon, Naze and Amida seem to put a punctuation mark on the whole Brewers/Shoals affair by starting to make out, startling and embarrassing the young men present, Orga included. Naze says it’s simple: years with high death rates have high birth rates. After seeing lots of death, men look at the women next to them, who are suddenly “even prettier than normal,” and can’t help but kiss them.

Whether he’s 100% correct on the brain chemistry, it’s true that after battle men tend to reflexively seek out the opposite sex, be it a matronly embrace to feel safe within, or the lips of a woman you want to make babies with. Such a phenomenon is perhaps best immortalized in that famous photo of V-J Day in Times Square, a spontaneous reaction casued by the sudden release of so much tension and despair the war caused, and unreasonably high levels of jubilation over its ending.

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Mika seems to take that to heart when he encounters Kudelia, who, having seen how effective Fumitan managed to calm the younger kid, hugs Mika when she sees his hands shaking. Mika, suddenly seeing the beautiful woman in front of him for the first time, takes some liberties and kisses her. Some bad graphics editing unfortunately obscures this kiss with end credits, but the music editing was perfect, as the soulful refrain “or-or-phans” is belted out in the moment of that kiss.

I must say, I knew Mika withheld multitudes of emotions behind his calm exterior, but I was just as suprised as Kudelia by that kiss. At the same time, the kiss made perfect sense, and I hope it leads to a deepening of their relationship, which has had some nice moments but had remained pretty distant until now.

The show doesn’t forget about Atra, who sneezes alone in the kitchen while this is going on. There’s also an interesting parallel between Mika and McGillis: both didn’t do what was expected, but simply what they wanted and what they felt was the right thing to do.

The show also doesn’t forget about Nobliss, who seems to be planning for Kudelia’s death at the Colony in the show’s second half – and continues to portray Fumitan as someone who has a role those plans, yet looks conflicted as she admires the necklace Kudelia gave her.

Hopefully things won’t Nobliss’ way. But whatever happens, this show is sure to continue to surprise and delight in its second half. It’s already the finest Gundam I’ve laid eyes on. If it were the opposite sex, I might just be inclined kiss it…or at least cut a rug with it.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 12 (Fin)

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Though Yuki is the only one who can save everyone, I appreciated that she didn’t have Kurumi’s zombie-smiting strength, as her first target doesn’t even feel the force of the aluminum bat she swings. She’s not going to get it done with brawn, but she does get it done with a bit of luck, as well as the relationship she’d cultivated with Taroumaru all this time.

He’s loose again, but rather than bite her, he chooses to bite the zombies cornering her, remembering just enough of his pre-zombie life to instinctively protect his friend, just as Megu-nee did by staying in the basement. It gives Yuki the moments she needs to slip into the broadcast room.

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There, she makes a P.A. announcement that school is out, along with a moving speech that mirrors her monologue in the first episode. Only now, her eyes are wide open, and she’s aware that the ideal school she speaks of is no more. The announcement works, and the zombies disperse, freeing Miki, who rushes the medicine to Kurumi in time to save her. Thank goodness!

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But there is a price for Yuki and Miki succeeding and Kurumi recovering, in the form of the show’s biggest gut punch yet. Taroumaru is doing much better than he was, but he can’t eat and only drinks a little bit of water before letting out one last little yip before dying in Miki’s lap. Needless to say, this was a heartwrenching and tearful scene, but like Megu-nee’s end as seen in flashbacks, and Yuki saying goodbye to her “specter”, the sendoff further demonstrates this show’s devotion to giving its doomed characters a proper, unblinking sendoff.

The girls bury Taroumaru next to Megu-nee; two protectors who gave their lives to save them, and when Miki says she’s fine, Yuki lets her know it’s okay to not be fine; to not bottle up one’s grief, but let it flow out without reservation. This is sage advice coming from someone who once broke from reality rather than face what was going on, but eventually opened her eyes.

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With the school’s utilities trashed and provisions dwindling, the School Life Club must disband and depart from the school for a more suitable shelter. Megu-nee provided locations of other shelters on a map, and though the group doesn’t know what kind of survivors (if any) they’ll encounter, they have little choice but to take their chances out there.

The graduation ceremony they have isn’t some empty gesture, but is carried out with the same decorum and formality as the real thing would have had most of the school not been zombified—Yuki even neatens her hair! They are literally graduating from one kind of life, one of relative safety and routine and contained within the walls of their beloved but now-broken school, and striking out into the vast, unknown world, full of as many possibilities as hazards.

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But I have no doubt that they’re ready, if they stick together, they’ll do fine. And when Kurumi fires up the Mini Cooper and they pull away from the school, even when Miki catches a glimpse of one last zombie who may well be her friend Kei, she doesn’t insist they turn back, because they can’t turn back.

Megu-nee, Taroumaru, and even Kei may be lost to them, but they wouldn’t be alive without them, and aren’t going to squander the product of their noble sacrifice. We also get a glimpse of the puppy Taroumaru saved; an upbeat parting shot of the school grounds.

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After the gang heads off into the horizon and the credits roll, there’s one last ambiguous scene imparted with GG!’s signature sneakiness, in which a glasses-wearing girl we’re not familiar with (but who definitely isn’t a zombie) approaching a field of debris (though it looks more like building rubble than car wreckage) finds Yuki’s childish drawing of the School Life Club members with the message “We Are Happy”.

Is this something Yuki left behind, like Miki’s note to Kei on the blackboard, for anyone who might come past, like this girl? Or is this drawing all that’s left of them? The latter possibility is too dark and ghastly for me to contemplate any further, so let’s say the latter and call it a day, shall we? After all, it’s School-Live, not School-Die,right?

…Right? O__O

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 11

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After multiple events at the end of last week’s episode piled upon each other like so many zombies, spelling imminent doom for the School Life Club, this week starts off with a continuation of that despair, with no shortage of intense terrified close-ups of Rii-san and Miki. But Yuki’s expression is different. It’s not existential fear…it’s an awakening, which comes in the form of a sudden flash as she sees her former choker-wearing classmate as she truly is.

That awakening continues gradually and painfully throughout the episode, as more and more, it becomes clear Yuki is the only club member who can save everyone. Her emotional scars are re-opened and reckoned with, and the same voice in her head that’s taken the form of Megu-nee for so long steps into high gear, putting Yuki not only in a position to stay alive, but help the others, starting with Miki. Now that she finally sees again the danger she and her friends are in, she doesn’t crumple into a ball; she picks up a shovel.

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Nostalgia, despair and hope go hand in hand (…in hand) this week. Rii-san remembers promising to “do what must be done” if Kurumi were to get infected, and as she’s being slowly driven mad by Kurumi’s increasingly horrifying moans and screams, with a knife in her lap, Rii-san starts to contemplate fulfilling that promise. Meanwhile, the zombies are everywhere, including the roof, where a lightning storm ignites the zombies, who then ignite the crops and Megu-nee’s grave marker.

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With all this grimness, Yuki’s strength in this time of ultimate crisis, and her desire to have more fun times with the club in the future, inspires Miki to action, after she was briefly paralyzed by her grief over Taroumaru. She then use’s Kei’s discman to try to sooth/distract the zombies at another barricade as she heads to the basement to find medicine. As that gorgeous music first we heard in episode 4 plays, we return to the day the club drove out in Megu-nee’s car and ended up saving Miki.

On the drive home, Kurumi and Rii-san (the only two still awake) talk about whether the zombies are still “aware”, and Kurumi hopes they aren’t, after all the terrible things she’s done to them. She says she had no choice—it was them or her—and she’s right. But that doesn’t make what she’s done, or not knowing the true nature of the zombies, any easier a pill to swallow.

Back in the present, Rii-san prepares to stab Kurumi to death…but just can’t do it, thus avoiding the possibility of Miki getting the antidote, only to return to find Kurumi is dead. If Rii-san isn’t already FUBAR, she certainly would be under that scenario.

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But Miki is still a long, long way from getting that antidote to Kurumi. It’s by no means a sure thing. She encounters Megu-nee down there, gets cornered by her and pays her respects, cognizant of the possibility the teacher’s stayed down there all this time in order to prevent hurting her still-living students. Despite that apparent awareness Kurumi mused about (and hoped wasn’t true), Megu-nee is still, ya know…a zombie, and grabs Miki’s ankle, forcing Miki to take her out.

Just then, as if there was a chip in Megu-nee tied to the school (though probably a coincidence what with the roof generators going haywire), an alarm sounds and red lights come on, and a P.A. system announces emergency power has been activated for the shelter (which probably means batteries, which aren’t going to last). All that noise attracts hordes of zombies to Miki’s location, and she ends up trapped in a room, unable to act, just like when she was at the mall.

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Thus Yuki becomes the only one who can save everyone. She does so by finally opening her eyes to “the hard stuff” she left to the others for so long, even before she went into her dissociative state, because she deemed herself clumsy and weak. But she’s able to use a vision of Megu-nee to get to the place she needs to be, have one last conversation with her through a door before opening it, and seeing, finally, that Megu-nee is no longer around, that she’s gone, and now it’s up to her.

It’s not easy, nor is it painless, but it’s what has to be done, or, Yuki knows, the School Live Club is finished. Her smile and her silly optimism sustained the club for so long, but now she has to do more, by breaking out of the protective shell she created in her mind, facing the reality of her situation, grabbing a bat, and getting to work. Everyone is counting on her.

No matter what happens, everyone will be scarred by this day they’re having. But can Yuki stand strong and act; protect and guide as Megu-nee did; be the new guardian angel, so that she and the others can live a little longer? I hope so.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 21

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Yes. The long, long battle between Shirou and his alternate future self continues this week, though thankfully comes to an end around the halfway point. I say thankfully, because as cool as the animation is and as beautiful a setting their fighting in and as poignant the points both combatants are making are, I’ve kinda seen and heard enough, and I was really ready to move on.

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While standing around bearing witness to the Shirous, Saber sees a little of herself in the duality, remembering her days as a farm girl before she drew the Excalibur from the stone. “Even if nothing but regrets remained, if I was able to achieve many of my ideals in the process, then…” Saber trails off, but I believe she means to say it was worth making the choice she made, though both possibilities were correct.

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Shirou, too, doesn’t care about the regrets that have burden Archer and brought on his suicidal rage. His dream to help others so they can be happy is beautiful, and he won’t abandon it. His dream isn’t wrong. The universe around him would tend to agree, because no matter what Archer throws at him, he’s able to slash it away. He’s got almost no mana left, but his spirit is unbreakable.

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The Unlimited Blade Works setting suddenly vanishes, and we’re back in the mansion, with Shirou scoring a fatal blow to Archer. And all because the split second before Shirou stabs him, Archer recalls the memory of sitting on the porch, taking Kuritsugu to step back and let him carry on that wish.

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Oddly enough, it’s Shirou, the victor, who collapses in a pile, as Archer stands his ground, defeated but dignified. He accepts defeat and seems ready to depart, but then he’s stabbed by swords from Gilgamesh.

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Gil, the “genuine article”, means to destroy both of the “fakes” that stand before him, ruining his day, but in his last moment of life, Archer plays the hero once more, shoving Shirou aside and taking the full attack head on, vaporizing him. Rin, abandoning all common sense, shoots a little magic bolt at Gil, shifting his gaze to her, but fortunately, Saber is there to protect her.

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Gil, who was Archer in the previous war, delays killing everyone in order to initiate a enlightenment/gloating session, in which he tells Saber, Rin, and Shirou that the Holy Grail itself is a weapon; a gateway to Hell itself, capable of killing billions of humans. His goal is to do just that, and anyone who survives what pours forth from the grail will be “worthy of his rule.”

Then pieces around the mansion start to fall, and he halts his attack once more, worried about getting soot on him. This was an odd choice, because you’d think if he could effortlessly do so, he’d eliminate anyone who was even the slightest bit of a threat against his plans. Instead, he’s almost challenging them to foil those plans, despite saying their lives are worth less than soot to him.

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So Gil just struts off, finding the wounded Shinji in the forest, and decides to turn him into the vessel for the grail, and Shinji undergoes an Akira-style transformation that is none too pleasant. Then again, this show has been extremely clear about how huge of a piece of crap Shinji is, so this kind of an improvement.

This episode was an improvement over last week’s more open-ended affair, but still suffered a bit from repeating itself too often. There’s also the problem that Gilgamesh is a two-dimensional demigod with lofty but obvious goals of world destruction and domination. In other words, he’s not as interesting a foe as Archer was; not yet, anyway. Prove me wrong, F/sn.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 20

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Remember, I don’t know anything about stats or paths or ends or zeros or kaleids, nor do I have any plans to branch out and learn. I judged this episode the only way I could; the same way I’ve judged every episode of UBW: on its own merits. And I judged it to be another mostly thrilling important event and important revelation-packed powerhouse.

But it wasn’t perfect. In fact, there were a couple times when Archer’s lengthy, repetitive monologues threatened to drown the central battle’s momentum.

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What saved this episode was the awesome wrap-up of Rin’s predicament, which didn’t take up nearly as much time, but packed plenty of punch. When we left her, Lancer was apparently dead and Kirei was preparing to rip her heart out.

To my delight, Lancer wasn’t quite dead yet, and he not only kills Kirei (we hardly knew ye…at least on the show…so ‘bye bye Kirei, but scares Shinji off with a little prick to the shoulder after yanking him off of Rin once more.

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I never quite understood why he wanted to rape Rin so badly, but it wasn’t in the cards thanks to a particularly chivalrous Lancer, who refuses Rin’s thanks, as things merely “worked out.” But from there it’s clear Lancer won’t be getting back up again, and Rin tells reiterates her dispassionate view of Archer, thinking his regrets are justified, but at the same time knowing she’s not the one to judge or save him.

All she can focus on is herself and moving forward. Lancer sets himself and Kirei on fire as Rin departs. His fitting final rhetorical wish before he vanishes: that Rin look him up when she’s got a few more years on her. I’ll miss you Lancer, you magnificent bastard.

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My take is if Shirou survives his fight with Archer and continues on a path with her and Saber, that would be peachy. But again and again he projects his twin daggers and again and again Archer shatters them, telling him he’s no match for him.

Still, every time Shioru crosses blades he learns a bit more and his skills get a bit better, and even though he’s taking a lot of hits and losing a lot of blood, he keeps fighting even when Archer transports them back to the UBW.

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He literally fights until his body stops working, and his mind enters “hell”, both the hells his future self created and participated in, and the hell-fire from which Kuritsugu saved him. In this psychic limbo, he remembers something Archer forgot: how happy Kuritsugu looked when he saved him; a feeling Shirou wanted to experience for himself.

Unbeknownst to Shirou, Kuritsugu saved his life by somehow infusing him with Saber’s scabbard. That same scabbard heals him in his present UBW fight, and he gets back on his feet.

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Thus the fight will spill at least partway into next week, with Shirou proclaiming he doesn’t mind being beaten by someone else, but he’ll be damned if he’ll let himself be beaten…by himself. That’s only the last of several great shonen moments Shirou gets this week.

With his body, spirit, and resolve all in good repair for the first time, here’s hoping the “sham” beats the “original”, regardless of whether he can change his mind, proving the borrowed wish of becoming a hero of justice is still a wish, and a powerful one at that.

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Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – 24 (Fin)

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After his out-of-Shinichi’s-body experience within Gotou, Migi has decided to go to sleep and think about things more deeply, which he says might lead to him never waking up. It’s a strange and somewhat sudden goodbye that Shinichi isn’t okay with, but it’s clearly for the best. They had some fun times, but Shinichi can’t be talking to his right hand forever.

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As anyone who’s read my past reviews of this series knows, I’m a fan of Satomi, despite the fact she’s gotten so little to do, and a part of me is glad the show closes on a relatively pleasant note with the two continuing their relationship past high school. They’ve always had a nice chemsitry, when Shinichi isn’t acting like a weirdo.

What I can’t really forgive, however, is that they dusted off Uragami, a relic of my least favorite episode of the show, and brought him back to terrorize the happy couple one last time. As such, this felt more like an extra episode; a spin-off of the show we’ve seen to this point, and at no point did I think he’d succeed in killing Satomi.

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The show tries to create stakes and make some kind of a point that Uragami is the real parasite, feeding off human life while contributing nothing but fear and misery, but I just don’t care about this guy or his goofy sandals or his deluded ideas about humanity and honesty. He also blows Shinichi’s cover, but fortunately for Shinichi, Satomi couldn’t care less what Shinichi is or isn’t, beyond the guy she loves.

So even though she’s forced to witness two rooftop murders and has a knife to her throat for most of the episode, Satomi eventually comes to a point when she can’t listen to any more of Uragami’s drivel and starts laying into how pathetic he is. Go Satomi!

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Shinichi also realizes he’s probably quick enough to stop Uragami from killing him, but when he makes his move, Uragami an Satomi happen to be right near the ledge, so of course Satomi falls. But Migi wakes up long enough to stretch Shinichi’s arm out to catch her, remarking how humans “have the time” to think about and connect with others rather than just consume them, or something. I’m just glad Satomi’s okay.

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When people arrive on the roof to see what’s transpired, Shinichi and Satomi, sprawled out on the roof, can only laugh at the fact those people think they’re dead. But they’re also laughs of relief that no harm came to either of them, aside from Shinichi’s arm getting stabbed, which I assume is fine.

This episode tried to act as a kind of reflection on the show, but came off a little high-and mighty, and thought is was far weightier than it was. So, a bit underwhelming, like much of show ever since Kana died. But again, the nice character beats of the lovebirds made sure it wasn’t a total loss.

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