Vinland Saga – 16 – End of His Rope

Askeladd’s luck ran out the moment Anne was found by Thorkell’s men. The weight of his army steadily bearing down on Askeladd’s comparatively paltry band fills this episode with increasing tension. While there are warriors like Bjorn and Thorfinn who will never betray him, those two aren’t nearly enough to counter the precipitous drop in morale, and thus loyalty, among the majority of his men.

When I think of how much fun Askeladd and his men once had earlier in the series when his luck was riding high, it only puts his current predicament into greater focus. By episode’s end he can count on one hand the number of men he can truly count on, with fingers to spare. When an English captain simply won’t talk no matter how many fingers Askeladd snips off, it’s almost the final nail in the coffin for him; a sign that he’s lost his power.

When your men are all either worshipers of older gods or of no god at all, they put their trust in a leader with luck and strength, and Askeladd’s is almost totally out. His side plan to force Prince Canute to toughen up pretty much takes a back seat to the far more pressing matters of how long it will be before Askeladd’s men turn against him, and when Thorkell will finally catch up to them.

Thorkell’s name invokes far more fear than Askeladd’s at this point, which means Askeladd’s time is almost out. However, it’s not yet certain whether his longer-term plan to “reform” Canute will fail. All we see is that after he leaves Ragnar behind without any kind of funeral and slaps Canute across the face, Canute starts adopting a far more Thorfinnian visage.

Askeladd is nothing if not perceptive, and has no illusions about how things will go down once the men who are done with him gather enough allies within their ranks to pull something off. That’s why when Thorkell finally appears on that horizon—the glinting from the tips of his mens’ spears portending dread, while his own thrown spear impales three men and beheads a fourth—Askeladd has the best possible defensive position he can have.

Bjorn is at the reins of the lead sled with Thorfinn, Canute, the priest, and two horses when the rest of the men surround Askeladd, calling for an end to his leadership. It is without doubt the most precarious position he’s ever been in, but one should never underestimate Thorfinn’s desire to have at least one more duel with Askeladd—which means keeping him alive…maybe.

Vinland Saga – 06 – Engulfed by the Quarrels of Men

On November 13, 1002, King Æthelred II of orders all Danish immigrants in England killed. The Danish respond by sending troops across the sea, and the Vikings—Danish pirates—serve as the “army’s army.” Askeladd’s crew are right in the middle of this.

When English archers ambush their camp, Thorfinn gets a crash course in mass death, killing, and living with it, taking his first life and letting out a cry of vicious despair that carries through the forest, while Askeladd observes in quiet approval.

The battles with the English continue, and Thorfinn continues to kill and gets better at it, with his enemies continually underestimating him due to his size and youth. Askeladd starts using him as a scout, and he manages to kill two foes who come at him, gaining a second dagger with which he dual-wields henceforth.

While on another scouting mission he takes an arrow to the shoulder and washes up on a branch in a river in East Anglia. A kindly, God-fearing mother and her daughter take him in, clean him up, and feed him. The daughter worries (rightfully) that he’s a Dane, their enemy; but her mom doesn’t think any women or children should be bothered with the quarrels of men.

The mother even combs the fleas and lice from Thorfinn’s unruly hair, with the same comb she used to use on her son, who died of a cold two years ago. An English soldier arrives looking for a pint-sized scout, but the mother covers for Finn.

That night, while the daughter continues to argue with her mother about harboring him, Finn abruptly takes his leave, saying just one word to them in English: Run. He then sets a cottage on the beach aflame; the signal to Askeladd to make his landing.

The mother doesn’t run as Finn urged her; she comes to the beach and sees for herself the boy she nursed back to health and harbored: a rabid killing machine. When Finn spots her among the crowd, tears streaming down her cheeks, guilt momentarily washes across his face, as he remembers his own mother and older sister.

Then the mother is simply gobbled up by the charging viking horde, Finn takes a deep breath, and the guilt is replaced by cold detachment as he too gets lost in the crush, joining his fellow fighters in the latest retaliatory raid on a relatively well-off English village. The comb the mother used on him is trod upon and broken, and perhaps with it any possible chance of Thorfinn turning back from his current, blood-soaked path.

Vinland Saga – 05 – A Duel Deferred

Despite Askeladd and his crew being sure Thorfinn would eventually die of hunger, thirst, and/or exposure on the captured ship, he survives long enough for them to sail into the Humber for a brief stint in England. At first his thirst for revenge outweighs everything, but he slips on some moss and gets knocked out by a tree trunk. Defeated by his surroundings before he’s anywhere near the enemy.

He awakes in a gorgeously lit forest and finally drinks some fresh water. He’s so surprised to still be alive he even manages to smile and laugh, but that cheerful mood doesn’t last when he starts to hear screams and spots flames in the distance. Askeladd’s men have decided to spend their “resting time” doing what they apparently do best: rape, burn, and pillage.

Once things die down Finn sneaks into the village and finds the hut where Askeladd is sleeping, unprotected. Eschewing his dagger for an unwieldy longsword, he raises it in preparation to behead his father’s murderer, but stops and retreats, much to the surprise of Askeladd (who was briefly roused before going back to sleep.

In the morning, it’s confirmed why Finn stayed his hand: he’s his’ father’s son. Stabbing a sleeping man in the back isn’t his style; he wants a proper duel with Askeladd. Unfortunately Finn is absolutely no match for Askeladd, especially when he’s letting his sword swing him. He gets a brutal kick to the gut, but that’s all he gets.

Back in Iceland, Leif and the rest of the crew return and inform Helga and Ylva of Thors’ honorable death, and promise to not rest until they’ve found Thorfinn. Ylva, bypassing several stages of grief, flies straight to detatched acceptance and gets back to work, reacting to the news with little more than a shrug and by admitting she figured he’d get killed one of these days.

Neither Ylva’s friends nor her mother are buying what she’s selling—that she feels nothing for what has happened and merely wants to move on—and this is most powerfully illustrated when Ylva is working on a loom late into the night and Helga puts her hands on hers to stop her.

Only then, when Ylva stops—working, busying her mind, simply stops—do tears start to flow, almost despite herself, from her crystal blue eyes. Then Helga draws her into an embrace of shared grief and comfort. Will Ylva stay with her mother, perhaps the only family she has left, or join Leif on the search for her kid brother?

As we know, she still has a brother, who simply refuses to die. While Thorfinn won’t accept scraps from Askeladd’s men when they’re offered, he comes back later to eat what little meat is left and suck out the marrow. He has a chance encounter with Bjorn (collecting mushrooms), who treats him as little more than an irritant, but tells him that while his father was indeed strong, he was also naive. Finn isn’t even strong, not yet, which means he doesn’t have a chance.

Taking that to heart, Thorfinn continues training in the forest, and one night encounters a hungry wolf. Remembering Askeladd’s words about being swung by his own sword, Finn ditches the huge weapon for something much more suited to his size: the dagger Thors gave him. He then kills his first wolf, learns to throw a dagger, kills his first rabbit, feeds himself, recovers some strength.

As Askeladd and his men prepare to depart, having stayed longer than originally planned, Thorfinn confronts him one last time with yet another duel challenge. This time, he shows Askeladd a lot more, and even surprises him with the thrown dagger, but Finn is still nowhere close to being a threat.

Demonstrating he has at least some heart and empathy for the kid’s plight, Askeladd refuses to kill him, and instead makes a promise: if Finn becomes stronger and distinguishes himself in battle, he will honor the duel at a later date. The implication is, he must first join Askeladd’s crew. Knowing that as much as he might want to avenge his father, he’s still too young and weak, Finn agrees, and a truce is struck.

Sarazanmai – 10 – A Little Bit of Dishtory Repeating

Way back when, after the siege of Keppi’s castle, Otter saves Mabu’s live with a mechanical heart, but only if he makes a solemn promise. In the present, Reo reveals he’s a kappa too, once a vassal of Keppi’s along with Mabu. He shrink-wraps Keppi and demands the final dish of hope, but empathizes with Kazaki’s wish to save someone close to him, and so lets him tag along while he collects the other four dishes.

During the descent, Reo laughs at Kazuki’s earnest attempt to save his connection with Enta, and his jadedness is understandable; the Mabu they encounter is less his Mabu than ever; cold, distant, and in Reo’s words, nothing but a fake, half-baked doll. They descend further and find Dark Keppi, the half of Keppi created when he split his Shirikodama to escape capture by the Otters.

This otter demands the dishes, and also places Enta in “Enta’s World”, in which his desire—to be loved by Kazuki—is made real. But like Reo with the resurrected Mabu, it’s just not the same, and Enta escapes the fantasy. Reo has a key assist by shooting the head off the Otter and producing four of the five dishes needed, but just then Mabu jumps from a precipice and ends up transforming into a Zombie Kappa.

This means Reo has to be transformed by Keppi—like he and Mabu were in the old times—and go through the same (literal!) song and dance as Kazuki, Enta, and Toi. Even Miyano Mamoru’s casual singing voice is better than those of the other three, as he peers into Mabu’s Shirikodama and learns that in order to live and stay by Reo’s side, Mabu had to give up his connection with him.

That means when Mabu, who he only just freed from zombiehood, decides he can’t live on with that severed connection anymore. Pledging his everlasting love for Reo, his deal with Otter is broken, his mechanical heart stops, and he disappears. When the dust clears, Keppi creates a new fifth dish of hope (Kazuki broke one earlier) and Reo is beside himself with grief, unleashing it with his pistol in a destruction spree that ruins Asakusa’s bridges.

Then Reo forgets who Mabu ever was, and is then shot through the heart…by Toi, who has returned from the ferry. Kazuki thinks he’s changed his mind and come to rescue him and Enta, but Toi hesitates, wanting the five dishes to bring his brother back. Enta’s clock runs down to fifteen, ten, zero seconds…and Kazuki makes his  wish, even at gunpoint.

When Enta wakes up, Toi admits he probably would have saved Enta too…but now he’s as full of grief and rage and desire as Reo was before he shot him. That attracts Otter, who looks to bring him under his influence, using the spectre of his older brother to lure him in. Once Chikai appears, whispering in his ear, Toi lets go of Kazuki’s hand and walks into the darkness of his own volition.

With Kazuki, Enta, Haruka, Mabu and Reo’s stories largely complete, the final episode will seek to close the book on Toi, one way or another, who has only had to live in a world without his brother for a few hours (maybe less), and is thus all too easily manipulated by Otter. We’ll see how Keppi and the Golden Duo fare against that negative influence, and maybe get back to being three normal soccer-loving kids.

The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.

The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

Banana Fish – 06 – All the Good Ones Die First

Ash, Eiji, Shorter, Max and Ibe head north to Ash’s birthplace at Cape Cod, far from the blood and chaos of NYC. The scenery is gorgeous and the air is clean, but the family dynamics have a few warts.

Ash and Griff had different mothers; Ash’s mother forced Griff’s mother out, but then left their Dad. Ash’s Dad welcomes him by calling him a “whore” about six times in two minutes of contact. Ash doesn’t care; he just wants the keys to their now-abandoned birthplace.

It’s a sad, lonely little house. His Dad’s kindly companion Jennifer assures him he’s actually happy to see him; I have no reason to doubt her. She lives with the guy, plus it’s always hard for Dads to express their true feelings, and often cover them up with a bunch of machismo and faux loathing.

At the house they find the clue that indicates that their next destination in discovering the truth of Banana Fish will be Los Angeles, but the truck needs to be fixed before they can set off. Ash and Eiji share a sunset, but Ash tells him there’s nothing there, and he has no feelings for it.

Ash gives Eiji a shooting lesson the next morning, while Ibe talks with Max about how he wants to help Eiji after he lost ability to pole vault competitively. When Max tells Ash’s Dad that he was in Iraq with Griff, he loosens up a little, has a drink with Max, Eiji, Ibe and Shorter.

He tells them how Ash was raped when he was 7 by a coach. It went on for some time but eventually Ash killed him, and the coach was exposed as a serial rapist and murderer. Considering what a cruel and violent childhood Ash endured, it’s no surprise he’s gone on to live a cruel and violent life.

Not only that, but people close to him tend to get caught up in it. Case in point, Golzine’s goons catch up to him and take his Dad and Jen hostage. IN the ensuing fracas Jen gets shot dead and Ash’s Dad takes a bullet in the chest. So yeah, Ash’s record with hostage situations clearly sucks ass.

No matter, when the chips were down  his Pops came through for his son, stalling the authorities so Ash & Co. can escape and get on with their mission. But while Golzine has nobody out west, he forges a quick alliance with Mr. Lee, who does have men in L.A.’s Chinatown. One wonders who among the five-man group will kick the bucket there.

Banana Fish – 05 – No More Quitting

Ash is on his best behavior when interacting with Max’s lawyer, who manages to score a conditional release for the kid, checking off one of the items on my wish list for this week: Get Ash Outta Jail. Max, thanks to his time inside with Ash, isn’t fooled, but Charlie and Ibe are when, after telling him Griff was killed, he breaks free of their custody. Though that’s only possible when Eiji decides to commandeer the car. Ash wants to take care of everything by himself, but between Eiji and Shorter, he’s destined to be disappointed.

Having to quit pole vaulting has never sat well with Eiji, and now that he’s involved (feeling responsible for getting Griff killed since he was followed), he’s done quitting. Shorter too doesn’t trust Ash to do anything on his own but get himself killed. Thankfully, he listens to reason, and the trio are harbored by the “banker” Mr. Lee, who is cool with anyone trying to bring Dino down. Ash knows where Dino will be…but so does Max, and he tells Ibe.

Everyone converges at “Club Cod”, a restaurant front for a dastardly child sex trafficking operation that once included Ash himself and still ensnares bigwigs the nation over, who end up in Dino’s pocket (for the record, the Mafia aren’t that powerful in America anymore…though they certainly once were!). Unsurprisingly, things go pear-shaped: Dino takes a bullet, but it’s not fatal, and Ash and Shorter get shot too (though also not fatal).

Max and Ibe arrive in the middle of the fracas, and decide the best move is for all the good guys to take a swim in the river, which, East or Hudson, ain’t a pleasant experience. But it’s certainly better than getting killed, which no one important to Ash is, notably. Max knocks Ash out and takes him to his hideout where he fixes Shorter’s wound and plots the next move: heading to Cape Cod, where Ash and Griff grew up, hoping to find more clues in the Banana Fish investigation.

Banana Fish – 04 – Thoroughly Punished

Arthur gives Eiji a choice—tell him what he knows or watch one of the white coats die—but even when Eiji relents, he still orders the woman’s death, only cementing the axiom that a traitor like Arthur can never be trusted. Shorter manages to rescue Eiji and the two white coats, but at great cost: Griffin is shot when he bursts into the middle of the standoff, and eventually dies from his wounds.

It seemed like a great deal of what Ash was doing was for the sake of his brother, but he doesn’t learn until after he defeats his new bunkmate Bull. Ibe feels responsible for Eiji and wants him to return to Japan now that his life is in danger, but Eiji wants to stay put; he can’t leave Ash now. Ash is also attacked by convicts loyal to Golzine but he manages to handle them thanks to a fork he hid. After that, Max lets him know about Griff’s death, and the two have it out, each giving in to the grief.

As Ash and Max reach a kind of detente, bunkmates once more, the wheels of justice may be slowly turning in Ash’s favor. I certainly hope he’s out of prison soon; the fights and threats of rape have grown stale, especially since it’s clear Ash can handle himself. Even with Griffin dead, Ash probably won’t stop scratching at this itch of a mystery once he gets out, and Eiji will no doubt be by his side in the search for the truth, no matter how many dangers accompany their path.

Steins;Gate 0 – 11 – WWIII Averted…For Now

The shadowy guy whom Maho hired to analyze Makise’s laptop turns out to be…Daru, working out of the back room of a cosplay store. He still needs three days to complete his work, but after telling her the whole story about the time machine and the horrors the secrets within the computer may unleash, Rintarou manages to convince Maho to destroy it.

Before they can, the “wrong hands” in which it would be so dangerous arrive in force. Daru has an escape route worked out, but they’re still cornered in a dark alley and Maho is nabbed and has a knife placed against her throat. That they were able to find Daru’s hideout so soon, or were watching listening for just the right time to move in, is disconcerting, to say the least.

However, they must not have been listening in, because after some negotiations they’re willing to let Maho, and Daru walk away unharmed in exchange for the laptop. Rintarou briefly switches places with Maho as their hostage, but then another masked group arrives and opens fire, making sure the laptop is destroyed.

It’s doubtless a harrowing ordeal for Maho; she may have been held up along with the others at the lab, but no shots were fired. Here, had Rintarou not pushed her flat to the ground, she might’ve died. Back at the lab, she’s so out of it she doesn’t notice she’s clutching one remaining shard from the laptop in her hand so tightly it’s drawing blood.

Rintarou takes Maho to Feyris’ to clean up, but the trauma from the shootout has a more pronounced effect than she thought, and after all that tension, every muscle in her body goes limp, making her practically a helpless doll. And just as Rintarou once walked in on Kurisu, he ends up facing Maho just as her towel falls off. The universe is keen to make him suffer, but also to make him accidentally see his love interests in the nude.

That night, Maho asks Rintarou to stay by her bedside a little longer, and he happily obliges. Returning to her Mozart-Salieri narrative, after hearing from Rintarou about the possibility she might “disgrace the dead” by unlocking Kurisu’s laptop’s secrets, Maho admits to herself that it wasn’t just a matter of honoring her friend’s legacy, but trying to subconsciously exorcise the frustration she felt.

Not just frustration over not being able to achieve the things Kurisu did, mind you, but frustration over the mere fact she’s so concerned about her as a rival; Mozart, she says, never wasted a moment concerned with Salieri; he only made great music (and drank and gambled…it’s all in the movie).

Rintarou disputes the similarities between the two pairs of gifted people from vastly different times. He’s convinced that Maho loved Kurisu and would never disgrace her. It’s why she agreed to break the laptop, it’s why she shed tears and apologized, and it’s why she clutched the fragment so tightly.

It’s such a quiet, tender scene filled with mutual respect and affection, with Mamoru Miyano wonderfully modulating Rintarou’s voice to a caring hush, matching the vulnerability of Yahagi Sayuri’s Maho. Very nice work here.

After Rintarou and Maho’s lovely night together, she and Leskinen head back to America, but not before inviting him to Viktor Chrondria University whenever he can make it. So it’s not goodbye, merely see ya later for the couple. That probably makes both Leskinen and Amakurisu happy; Ama also fully intends to see and hear from Rintarou again, expressing Kurisu’s tsundere mode.

Rintarou is also able to convince Suzuha that they’ve avoided a potentially WWIII-starting clash between America and Russia (the two powers he suspected he and Maho were caught between), though Suzu remains skeptical that they’ve eliminated the only cause of the war, only one of them. And she’s most likely right.

One of the last scenes is of Maho’s colleague Judy Reyes aboard a flight, hiding…something in her lap. Was she one of the masked people in black? Could it be salvageable remnants of the laptop? Whatever it is, it’s clear Rintarou’s work is far from done. Meanwhile Mayushii seems to harbor some conflicting feelings about Okarin leaving for America to join Leskinen, Maho, and the digital Kurisu.

Steins;Gate 0 – 10 – Kurisu’s Salieri

Amadeus is a fantastic movie with a good old-fashioned fatal flaw in its co-protagonist: caring too much. Salieri could hear God through Mozart’s music but not in his own, and it drove the guy mad, especially since he worked and prayed so hard, while everything seemed to come all to easily and naturally to Mozart (or at least it seemed that way to him).

I like how Steins;Gate 0 references that film, and the historical figures behind it, as a kind of loose parallel for Kurisu and Hiyajou Maho. Maho doesn’t claim to have anywhere near the obsession Salieri had, but can’t deny she’s always measured her life and accomplishments against her departed kohai.

She’s also a grinder, which explains how terrible a mess she makes at Feyris’ place (though she has a bodyguard in Kiryu contributing to the mess). When Mayushii is invited over, she brings “Sergeant Clean” Nae with her along with Daru to whip the place into shape.

Maho is asked to leave the apartment so they can clean more efficiency, and that’s when she’s able to present the newly-rebooted Amakurisu to Rintarou, who for his part is ready to “move forward” and regard her as a distinct AI and not Kurisu Reborn.

After that, Feyris hosts a sleepover with Maho and Kiryuu, and Maho learns Kiryuu is writing a novel, and also believes she’s “not special in any way” and imminently replaceable. Maho tells her none of that is true; that she shouldn’t belittle herself so easily; or compare herself to others and go through life feeling inferior and…oops, that’s exactly what she’s done with Kurisu. She backs off.

That night, Maho seems to resolve herself to moving forward, just as Rintarou said he wanted to do. They go on a date by any other name to Akiba, where she geeks out both on obscure computer parts (the district’s original function) and racing games (part of its newer identity). Rintarou even wins her an @channel plushie.

The fun day takes a turn for the solemn when Maho says it’s her intention to visit the Radio Building where Kurisu died, perhaps to find some kind of closure. Rintarou accompanies her, and when Maho laments that humans can move around the axes of space, they’re prisoners of time. If only we could move through time’s axes as well, she wonders, but Rintarou, speaking from experience, tells her they still wouldn’t be able to change anything.

Maho is no dummy, and can tell there are a lot of things about Rintarou and his relationship with Kurisu he’s not telling her. Even so, she can sense he’s somehow working to protect her (and Mayushii) and seeing him struggling alone makes her want to support him in some way. To that end, she informs him she has “Kurisu’s legacy”—her notebook, likely containing all of her time machine research. She doesn’t know the login password, so she hasn’t been able to access it yet, but has reached out to a “trusted” party to analyze it.

This news makes Rintarou turn white as a sheet and adopt his “extremely freaked out” face. He calls that notebook a Pandora’s Box that should never be opened, and could well lead to World War III. Considering her lab was ransacked and she was present for an attack by people they still haven’t identified, Rintarou’s words don’t seem to sound like the ravings of a madman to Maho. They shouldn’t—he knows what he’s talking about.

Steins;Gate 0 – 09 – Peaceful for All Eternity?

After the powerhouse of Steins;Gate 0’s episode 8, episode 9 had some big shoes to fill. Would Okabe find himself back in the Beta world line where he had been, in which Kurisu was dead but Mayuri was alive? If so, what if anything would have changed as a result of his visit? What fresh emotional torment would be in store for our most Promethean Mad Scientist?

When Okabe wakes up in the hospital, the show milks the suspense, as there’s no one in his room or in the hallway at first. Just hearing Mayuri’s voice and seeing her there with Daru and Maho warmed my weary heart. He asks them if they know the name Makise Kurisu; Mayuri says she does; she’s the girl in Amadeus.

So he’s back in Beta. Strangely, in this world line both he and Mayuri’s cosplay friend Nakase lost consciousness at the exact same time. Nakase had a dream where Mayuri was gone and she was working with Feyris in the cafe. I guess she traveled to the Alpha along with Okabe…either that, or they’re soulmates (as Kurushima muses).

Amadeus is safe from “takeover” for the time being, but that could change without warning. Okabe still needs to find out what happened, and vows to protect this Beta line that has and alive-and-well Mayuri in it alive and well.

That means putting the apparently non-evil Moeka busy with sleuthing (her nearly wordless visit to the lab and text convo with Okabe was vintage Moeka), as well as leaving Maho in the safety of Feyris’ well-protected home.

Okabe is about to get to work trying to discover who raided the lab and what they wanted (besides Kagari) when he gets a text from Suzuha saying she needs to talk. I somehow knew it wasn’t going to be a friendly chat, and when Suzuha pulls a gun on Okabe, I’m proven right.

Suzu is in a desperate state, especially when Okabe confirms that there was a world line change, even if brief and temporary. The earthquakes (and possibly the fevers and collapses that have been going around) are most likely the result of Russia and America’s “time machine race”, which will lead to WWIII.

Suzuha can’t allow that to happen, and is ready to force Okabe to get in the time machine with her so they can travel back to July 28th, when he first learned he could send D-mail.

Okabe tells her the torment and the nightmare that awaited him once he started trying to toy with the past to affect the future, and warns her that forcing him to do it all over again does not guarantee anything; if anything, it could result in a future somehow worse than the one she knows and is so afraid of repeating.

Ultimately, Daru comes in to talk Suzuha down. I can’t blame her for acting as she did, as she considers herself one of the last people standing in the path of WWII occurring. But perhaps she’s over-inflating her role: as Okabe says, there’s only so much they as humans can do to influence things. The universe is most likely going to have its way, no matter what they do.

After the rooftop standoff, Okabe goes back to Tennouji for more clues and insight on who was behind the lab raid. “DURPA” and “Stratfor” are names he researches, and a Makise Kurisu in his head helps him out. For instance, no group could steal future time machine tech to build their own time machine without causing a massive paradox.

Meanwhile, Suzuha and Daru settle in for a night guarding the Time Machine, with Daru assuring his daughter that one day Okabe will be reborn as the delusional chuuni Hououin Kyouma, take command, and lead them all to the ideal future. It exhibits great deal of confidence in his friend.

Having calmed down some, Suzu brings up their critical fuel situation, which will only allow them one or two jumps of half a year. It could even result in them getting caught between world lines for all eternity, though she wonders if that would really be the worst thing if it means things could be as (relatively) peaceful as they presently are; an eternal calm, and never any storm.

Okabe checks in on Maho at Feyris’ and discovers how messy Maho can be when she’s hard at work researching. Okabe posits that the groups trying to acquire time travel are after Kurisu’s theory, which may well be contained in the memories used by Amadeus.

Maho refutes that, but also stares at a login screen with Kurisu’s name. What secrets lie beyond that security wall…and is that wall any match for the powers that desire her secrets?