Spy x Family – 23 – The Flames of War

The Campbell siblings have no shortage of dirty tricks to try to stop the Phonys, from a net that moves up and down, a wind machine that affects trajectories, to a hidden sniper firing court-colored rubber bullets. But even they couldn’t have known they’d be up against a couple of elite spies.

Throw adversity at a couple of lunatics like Twilight and Nightfall, and they’re going to keep finding a way around it. Once they’re both in rhythm making impossibly acrobatic yet precise moves, it’s game, set, and match. The Campbells poked a couple of bears, and simply got mauled.

Whether it was Cloverworks or Wit Studio that animated this episode (or both), the “tennis” action was never not fantastic looking, adding a sense of legitimacy to a thoroughly farcical game. When it comes time to claim the painting, Cavi suddenly says it’s the one piece he can’t part with.

But Loid and Fiona prepared for the possibility the secret police would get to Campbell before they got to the painting, so Loid simply disguises himself as Campbell’s valet and pulls the ol’ painting switcheroo, Thomas Crown Affair-style. The mission is a complete success, and the two spies high-five.

Fiona drops Loid off to find Yor in the park with Anya, and decides she needs to challenge and defeat Twilight’s Strix wife right then and there … in a game of tennis. Thanks to Anya, we can witness Fiona’s ridiculous thought about how it’ll go down, as well as Yor’s worry about Fiona replacing her.

Yor also plays the bumbling novice perfectly when she whiffs on what starts off as a badass assassin’s serve. But the thing is, she didn’t whiff; she simply hit the ball so hard it went through the strings of the racket like Play-Doh through an extruder (or human beings in Cube). The concassé’d ball is a little masterpiece of comic timing and trick animation.

Even when Yor holds back on her serve, she hits the ball so hard it goes faster than sound, creates a shock wave that digs into the ground, and lights up like a comet. Fiona tries her best to absorb the serve and volley it back, but her racket simply isn’t up to it, smashing to bits.

Fiona, defeated utterly, runs to her Trabant and races off, not letting Loid or Yor see her mask crack to reveal the seething, churning tempest of emotion within. Yor, who is simply relieved she fought Fiona off this time, very empatically tells Loid that she Won, leaving out the “for Us.”

The punchline of this two-parter is that while the code hidden in the painting indeed leads to finding Zacharis’ Dossier, but it turns out to be a diary filled with photos of pretty young actresses. These are the “dark secrets” that could “re-ignite a war”, not between East and West, but between Zacharis and his wife. I also loved the uncommented-upon sight of the gaudy rings Fiona took from Campbell on Handler’s hand.

But after the punchline comes a moment of realization for Loid when he sees that Zacharis managed to maintain a happy marriage and family after burying away his creepy dossier. Keeping a marriage and family happy isn’t easy, as evidenced by a clearly frustrated-looking Yor at the end.

I imagine she was underwhelmed by Loid’s reaction to her win over Fiona, and still worried about Fiona continuing to try to usurp her. Sure enough, the episode wraps up with Fiona in the mountains strengthening her serve with a racket made from a boulder as the wildlife watches in morbid curiosity.

Spy x Family – 18 – No Leash is Power

Anya attends a school, so it’s not all arts and crafts. There are quiz and test scores, and even though Anya was confident she scored well, she ends up with supplemental lessons—and having to see her smug “friendly” face perfectly imitated by the high-scoring Damian. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Anya decides she’ll simply read Damian’s mind to attain a good score on the upcoming midterm exams—for which the highest scores get Stella and the failing ones get Bolts. But there’s a snag: Anya’s telepathy doesn’t work on the New Moon. To it’s credit, SxF doesn’t bother explaining why. What matters is that Anya will have to study for real.

Enter “Uncle” Yuri as a tutor. Yuri is immediately childishly envious of Loid’s “gremlin” of a spawn for getting to live with his dear sister, but when Yor give him her biggest smile, he resolves to tutor Anya gently but firmly. They study all day, and end up exhausted on the floor.

When Yuri asks Anya how she think she did on the grammar lessons and Anya asks what grammar is, his patience is exhausted and he leaves … but not before sampling some of Yor’s freshly-baked treats, which he chomps down on and then joy-vomits in the hall. When Loid comes home, he’s dismayed to learn that the whole time he was there Yuri tutored Anya in language arts, which are not even on the midterms.

This leads to the second segment of the episode, as he takes drastic measure to ensure Anya doesn’t get expelled due to failing grades. The high security North Tower of the school contains a vault where all the students’ exams are stored. Loid disguises as an instructor to infiltrate the vault and alter Anya’s scores.

However, someone had the same idea, and hired “Daybreak”, Twilight’s self-professed Number One Rival. His methods for infiltrating the tower and vault are about as thoughtful, subtle, and discreet as smashing cans of tomato soup with a sledgehammer at a funeral. And yet somehow he avoids the watching eye of guards and makes it inside without getting arrested.

Loid decides to help Daybreak get in so that his loud boorish actions will mask his own infiltration efforts. Once he opens the vault, Daybreak bonks him on the head and drags him in. Because Daybreak had his spy notes written on his hand, he knows he’s there to alter the Desmond brothers’ exams.

Once he’s done, Daybreak launches into a celebratory monologue, and when he prepares to leave an “autograph” among the scores, Loid can no longer pretend to be passed out and protests against Daybreak’s ridiculously un-spy-like behavior. To this, Daybreak simply asks Loid to tell everyone about how awesome he is.

Upon inspecting the exams, Loid sees that Daybreak doctored the Desmonds’ answers so they’d fail, an assumes one of their father’s business rivals hired the buffoon. He reverts the answers to what they were before moving on to Anya’s exam.

When she passes and ends up ranked 213th (compared to 46th for Becky and 11th for Damian), I assumed Loid only altered her scores a little so as no to rouse suspicion. But while it takes all four of her exam scores combined to exceed 100, the fact is she passed all four on her own; Loid didn’t have to alter anything. So no Stella, but no Bolts either. Meanwhile, Daybreak is fired for failing his mission. I wonder if he’ll cross Twilight’s path again …

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 17 – If You Have Love, You Can Fly (But Jets Work Too)

Anya’s initial attempt to impress Damian with news of her new dog failed, so she’s brought a new family portrait to “accidentally” drop when Damian is passing by, hoping he’ll see it and marvel at Bond’s grand floofiness.

Unfortunately it doesn’t go as planned, as Damian and his toadies ignore the photo. It flies off and is picked up by Becky, who is immediately smitten with the hot guy and asks Anya if he’s “seeing anyone”. A dismayed Anya responds “Papa is married to Mama!”

In a stroke of luck for Anya, she and Damian are paired off for and arts-and-crafts project: making an animal. Becky ends up making a model of Loid with a “battle suit” from her dad’s company, and when substitute teacher Mr. Henderson tells her the assignment was animals, she once again demonstrates her precociousness by stating “In the end, humans are animals too”, something our mustachioed paragon of elegance cannot dispute.

Anya doesn’t fair so well, as she’s as bad at arts and crafts as her Mama is (or at least was) at cooking. When she reads Damian’s mind to make a griffin, the heraldic beast of his family, she magnanimously offers to assist, but proves absolute rubbish, building legs with jet engines and uneven feathers. Damian is so pissed by her uselessness he makes her and another girl cry, inviting a scolding from Mr. Henderson, who exclaims “Not Elegant!”

Henderson understands Damian probably wants to impress his father, but he tells Damian there’s no need to rush; all he can do is what he can with the resources he has. The resulting “griffin”, with Anya’s interpretation of a griffin beside it, looks like a disaster, but it invokes patriotic fervor in one of the bigwig judges, and the pair end up winning first prize.

The griffin is proud-looking despite its sorry state, while what is interpreted as “the corpse of an innocent baby griffin” moved the judge to strong emotion. It’s a great bit of still art.

Unfortunately, Anya doen’t really make any progress in her friendship to Damian, nor does the prize include any Stella. But as big of a jerk as he often is to Anya, I couldn’t help but feel bad when he called home and had to settle with talking to the butler Jeeves, since his father is away in more ways than one, and generally disinterested in his second son.

The episode switches gears to do a brief profile of Sylvia Sherwood, AKA Handler, AKA Fullmetal Lady, so-called due to her flawless performance as a spymaster for Westalis. Varying cinematic shots of her walking down the street create a sense of paranoia, but her tail turns out to be a couple of easily-fooled guys who never considered she’d use the public pool locker rooms to change into a disguise and give them the slip.

We witness two separate meetings between Sylvia and Loid, with the episode underscoring that every meeting threatens both of their lives. So it’s amusing both that Loid makes sure not to tell the Fullmetal Lady that the tag on her dress is still on, and also that his “report” to her on Operation Strix involves Anya’s athletic progress.

The final post-credits skit, basically an omake, is a flashback to when Anya would cook dishes for Yuri to eat (all of which are pixelated and feature worryingly unnatural colors), and Yuri scarfs it down with a smile in between projectile vomiting. When he tells her she’ll make a great wife, she gets bashful and slaps him so hard he bounces off the floor and spins horizontally to the far end of the room.

This combination of being repeatedly poisoned and thrashed about due to his sister not knowing her strength is what makes Yuri the excellent operative he is today. He’s been toughened to such an extent that getting his by a truck is of absolutely no consequence. After all, Yor’s tougher than a truck.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 15 – A Dog Has Appeared

Keith is finally dealt with when Yor spots him in his car and then kicks said car so it crashes. She then calls the authorities to ask them to come fetch the terrorist. Between Anya saving the future and Yor bagging the baddie, Loid simply doesn’t know how good he has it!

That’s abundantly clear when he finds himself at an intersection with Yor, Anya, and Mr. Dog. Anya says she was worried about her Papa’s pooping situation, while Yor chased after her; plausible deniability is secure for both of them. As for Mr. Dog? Sylvia comes to retrieve him, but Anya decides that he is the dog for her, even threatening to drop out of school if they don’t let her have him. Seeing as how Operation Strix depends on Anya staying in school, both Loid and Sylvia grudgingly agree.

Thus Mr. Dog joins the Forger family, and we see the “good future” he saw take place. My heart soared at the sight of him safe and sound in the Forger home; it’s the least of what he deserves for saving and staying true to Anya. Unfortunately, despite the fact both she and Mr. Dog played a pivotal role in keeping the peace between East and West, she doesn’t earn any additional Stella, which is a terrible shame.

Even so, since Anya is well aware of her role in keeping said peace, she recommits to becoming friends with Damian, and she’s confident that having a dog can only strengthen her position. Indeed, Damian voices genuine interest in her new pet, only for her to blow it by not having a proper name for the pooch, simply referring to him as “Dog”.

That oversight is corrected after an ooting in a dog park. Another dog makes off with Anya’s favorite gloves, and he’s ornery when Anya tries to get them back. All it takes is an intense glare from Mr. Dog for the other dog to drop the gloves. Anya likens Mr. Dog to Bondman from her favorite cartoon, and notes that Mr. Dog has “gloves” in the form of his black paws. Festooning him with a bow tie collar, Anya declares that his name is Bond.

Even though Loid insisted that Anya study that night, when he and Yor find her and Bond sleeping together, he decides to let her insolence slide. Considering Anya and Bond saved the future, it’s the right move, even if Loid is unaware of their contribution. Bond is a most welcome member of the Forger family, and if Damian were to meet him, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t be eminently charmed by him. I mean, he’s so big and white and fluffy!

Spy x Family – 14 – Anya Saves the Future

Yor obliterates Keith’s heavy with a single kick, but he still has a dog. But when he tries to sic the shepherd on Yor and it bears its teeth, Yor out-intimidates it and sends the dog running. Keith runs too, but Yor stays with a still frightened Anya, then hugs and comforts her. The talking-to can wait until they get home. What a good mom.

Mister Dog has another vision that Anya picks up on: one of Papa suddenly no longer being in the family, and Anya discovering Loid’s lifeless body in a  pile of rubble. There’s a clock tower and a bell that tolls just before an explosion. Anya has to stop this future from happening, but she can’t tip Yor off to her powers, so she mounts Mr. Dog and runs off on her own yet again.

Yor calls the cops to arrest Keith’s unconscious comrade, and that tips off WISE, who descend upon all of the student-terrorists but Keith. They thumb their noses at their initial interrogators, but then Handler walks in and asks them what they want. When they say “war”, she delivers a  truly chilling speech about what war really is:

Have any of you actually killed a person before? Have you ever been killed by anyone? Have you ever lost a limb in an attack? Have you ever heard bones being smashed? Have you ever smelled festering flesh? Have you ever seen your parents or siblings crushed in a crumbling building right before your eyes? Have you ever seen a piece of your lover’s flesh stuck to a wall? Have you ever been so hungry, you tried to bite into a tree? Have you ever stewed human flesh in a pot? Have you ever had someone close to you deny your enemy’s humanity so they could continue the killing, only to become so mentally broken after the conflict is over that they weep with regret and shame, vomit, and then eventually…take their own life? Apparently, you’ve learned nothing of war at your university … you utter children.

America has a history of university students protesting recent wars deemed unnecessary that were started by those who don’t truly grasp its costs. My own mom was tear-gassed and four of her classmates killed at Kent State protesting the Vietnam War.

Perhaps out of a sense of national zeal and boredom being on the sidelines, these Ostanian students decided that war would be fun and are trying to start one with Westalis. Well, as Handler makes perfectly plain even to them, there’s nothing fun about war. All the glory and nobility turns to ash and maggots without fail.

That Handler has such a sobering speech like this in an episode where a grade-schooler riding a big floofy dog preserves the peace by scribbling ketchup on the door rigged with a improvised bomb really gets to the heart of Spy x Family’s essential duality. Half of it is family slice-of-life and comedy, but the other half is the very serious, sometimes desperate struggle to prevent war from destroying that family, and millions of other families.

I love how Anya works through the problem, along with obstacles like not knowing how to read an analog clock, or all the wires on the bomb being black, all while Mr. Dog lends a helping paw or boost when needed, even if he’s not 100% wise to what’s going on. It’s entirely likely that smart as he is for a dog, he can’t make as much sense of his future visions as Anya can, making their collaboration vital.

With her ketchup warning heeded and the clock tower explosion prevented, Loid returns to the family in Mr. Dog’s vision, Back to the Future-style. WISE and Loid then turn to protecting the foreign minister from the still-at-large Keith. This is accomplished, like so many other gambits, by Loid disguising himself as the minister and leading an unwitting Keith on a wild goose chase.

Keith, who is unassailably a villain due to his desire to not only start a war, but his willingness to discard his beautiful, intelligent, and loyal dog as a bomb, thinks he’s got the minister right where he wants him, but gets wise to his tail when WISE agents shoot at him (and honestly, really should have been able to hit him, even in a moving vehicle. Those Ostanian cars ain’t that fast).

When Keith catches up to the “minister’s” abandoned car, he sends the dog after him while continuing in the car. He soon finds out that Westalis’ foreign minister is extremely spry for being a “60-year-old geezer”, as he’s able to evade the shepherd.

Eventually, Loid is done running, rips off his mask, and turns his gun on the lunging dog, to whom he apologizes for getting it mixed up in the affairs of humans. Handler AKA Sylvia’s words solidified his resolve to prevent war whenever it threatens to spring up. Loid may never know that Anya saved his life and began the effort to save the peace from these misguided students, but he sure as hell is going to finish it.

Spy x Family – 13 – The Dog Borfs for Thee

After a brief recap of the premise and a nifty, breezy new OP, SpyFam gets right back into the swing of things, as Loid and Yor take Anya on an ooting to adopt a dog as a reward for her gaining her first of eight Stellae. The first pet shop is also the location of his contact, who has a new mission for him. Loid feigns digestive distress and tells Yor and Anya to go ahead while he’s whisked away to meet with Handler.

There’s a plot by terrorists at Berlint University planning to assassinate the Foreign Minister of Westalis in hopes of starting a war, but one of them has already been caught, and Loid barely pulls off the disguise of his leader Keith to get the kid to spill the beans about their operation and hideouts. Turns out they’re going to use…dog bombs, which doesn’t seem like the most efficient means of assassination.

One of these dogs is a gigantic fluffy white dog that doesn’t say “woof” or “bark” but “borf”, which is a lovely bit of onomatopoeia. But this is no ordinary dog, but one with the power of precognition, able to save a running child from a falling sign. Even without some hints that this dog was gong to join the family, it’s clear he and Anya are destined to meet.

That first meeting happens through glass as Anya is in a dog adoption event in a convention area with Yor. But she can tell there’s something about that dog; she sees her family when she reads his mind, and despite Yor telling her not to wander off, wander off is what Anya does.

Her search for the large pup takes her across the street, where she not only finds him (and a host of other poor good boys and girls), but stumbles upon the latest hideout of Keith and his minister-wasting dog bombers. When they realize she’s heard all of their very loud plotting, Keith wastes no time brandishing a pocketknife with which he intends to silence her.

That’s when the ol’ borfer bites through his leash and puts himself between Anya and the bad guys. Yes, he wimps out and later hides behind her, but his precognitive ability saves them both, as he uses the distraction of a phone call (warning the terrorists that someone leaked their plot) to get Anya away.

Anya, who is tiny, is able to ride the great pup like a horse through the streets, and while Yor overhears Anya’s voice and Anya asks the dog to go back to the adoption place, the dog just keeps on running, and Anya starts to revel in the excitement, determined to crack the case as Starlight Anya.

Alas, the dog’s sense of direction is poor, and they end up running right back into the baddies’ clutches. Keith delegates the killing of Anya to his henchman, who tells her no hard feelings and reaches out, presumably to strangle her. That obviously doesn’t happen because Mama Yor arrives and kicks him so hard he pinballs against the alley walls ten times.

Keith is gobsmacked by this sudden feat of strength, while Yor has the wrong idea: in her mind, these aren’t assassins trying to silence a witness to their dirty deeds, but a band of creeps trying to kidnap Anya and make her their bride. No doubt Keith will soon wish he never antagonized the diminutive coral-haired young lady. Or as she might say, he’s in deep shit.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 06 – Moon Shot in the Arm

Traumatized by what she saw at the crash site, Irina has a nightmare about suffering the same fate as all those poor test dogs. But as usual, she keeps her troubles within and tries to power through them, training as if nothing is wrong. But her mental anguish results in physical ailments: fatigue, loss of apetite, and anemia. With only days before the launch, this is no time for her numbers to be dropping.

Remembering what Irina told him about drinking the goat’s blood, Lev arranges some blood to drink. Not knowing where it came from, Irina refuses it, saying she’d rather die than defile her body. Unwilling to let her dream die, Lev offers an alternative: she can drink his blood…from his arm.

Irina agrees, and not long after digging into that arm, the light is back in her eyes, and the color back in her flesh. It’s also the equivalent of this particular couple’s first kiss…a vampire’s kiss. As such, both of them act bashfully and nervously before it happens. Once it’s over though, Irina looks and feels so much better, Lev is glad he had blood to offer. Still, Irina seems to feel a bit guilty for taking it.

With Irina back on her feet, the two enter the final stages of her training, including the harrowing parachute spin. Her first such trip to the ground is in tandem with Lev, who keeps her calm when the g-forces start to rattle her. Once they land, Lev tells her that her next jump will be solo. Who knew then that meant he wouldn’t be around for it!

Due to what looks like some shenanigans from Franz, the centrifuge goes haywire. Lev basically breaks the machine in order to stop it, enraging the old asshole researcher, who then decides to start beating on Irina. Lev doesn’t lose his temper, but it doesn’t matter.

When the old coot trips and falls backwards, it’s all the pretext he needs to have Lev hauled away for assault. Irina is now left without a protector…and her capsule will indeed be fitted with explosives in case it lands near the borders. In other words, just as Lev and Irina had their closest and most tender encounter, things couldn’t be worse. The only bright side is that Irina does indeed seem bound for space in just a couple of days.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 05 – Free Falling

A military bigwig arrives to inspect the training facility, and to also tell the two dozen or so candidates that only six of them will make the cosmonaut cut. When one of those candidates screws up their parachuting drill, Lev is suddenly back on the active roster. He might end up in space after all.

Meanwhile, Irina is in the anechoic chamber, which she basically treats like her coffin, only larger and most likely quieter. While in there, she’s left alone with her awful memories of when her village was massacred and her parents torched. At one point she softly calls Lev’s name, and can’t help but grab his sleeve when he finally comes in to release her from her solitude.

Irina probably figures she can’t hide the fact that she doesn’t hate Lev’s guts, so she comes right out and says she considers him the only human who isn’t bad. I’m not sure what that pink-haired researcher did to her! All joking aside, we get another great skydiving scene with Irina ending up in the unenviable situation of having to stare at Lev to keep her head up, even if it means being unable to hide her blushing.

When the two are up in the air they can forget about all the awfulness that surrounds them, but they come back down to earth literally and figuratively when they witness an aborted space capsule flight and the corpse of one of the experiment dogs. Those horrible flashbacks come roaring back, putting Irina in a state of shock.

Lev’s superior picks them up, and tells him that no one was supposed to see that. Back in the command room, the mission commander battles both his ailing heart and the political reality of having to self-destruct Irina’s capsule should she land in another country. You can tell he’s way more in this for the science and discovery, not the patriotism.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 04 – Fly Me to the Moon

With Lev being told Irina will launch in three weeks and her finally trying on a real spacesuit, shit is starting to get very real. If the higher-ups are to be believed, she may not live a long life even if the launch is successful, but Irina doesn’t seem to mind at all, and continues going through the training with nary a complaint (though she does remark that the suit is really heavy).

While Irina is changing out of her sweaty clothes into a fresh jumpsuit, Lev encounters Rosa in the hallway. Rosa is, so far, a completely one-dimensional racist bitch who is a waste of time. But when she lays into Irina to Lev, Irina overhears, and bids that Rosa say what she wants to say to her face. Rosa slinks off, warning Lev not to get his blood sucked. Even though, if we’re honest, it’s Rosa who sucks here!

When Lev and Irina get some free time before she has to enter an anechoic chamber (where you can indeed go mad quite quickly listening to nothing but your body make noises), Irina kinda prods Lev into taking her to a jazz bar. She gets some soda water, natch, but one sip of Lev’s dark red concoction has her slightly tipsy. No matter; she’s never heard jazz before, and she quite likes it.

Later that night Lev and Irina head out to a frozen lake to skate. While last week’s animation really shined with the airplane ride and skydiving, here Irina performs an elegant performance while an insert song plays. It’s really quite something to behold, and the latest demonstration of why Lev should really try to prevent her from being “disposed of” if he can.

Irina and Lev have never been closer. He tells her how he’s wanted to go to the moon since he was five; she told him how her parents were burned alive while she watched…pretty standard date stuff!

As for the whole post-launch disposal thing, Irina volunteered to be a test subject because it meant she would be going to space, and possibly the moon, before the humans defiled it. Even if the Zirnitrans off her afterweards, they can never take away the fact that she danced among the starts before they did.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 03 – Freedom, Not Fear

After a scene involving the pudgy, scheming old men who run Zirnitra from the capital, Sangrad (some who want to kill Irina as soon as the mission is over, some who want to wait and see), we see Lev get his first R&R since taking on the job of Irina’s handler. His former candidate comrades are a mix of curious, pitying, and superior.

It’s clear that due to his time with Irina, he’s no longer one of them…and that might not be the worst thing. As for “things”, it’s clear Anya doesn’t consider Irina one, but a fellow person. As a scientist, she knows the best way to overcome fear of something is to understand it better. She understands vampires to an extent she doesn’t fear them in the least. On the contrary; she adores “Irinyan”.

Lev ends up applying this axiom to Irina’s acrophobia, by exposing her to the most extreme heights so she can eventually realize how goddamn awesome it is when you’re flying and thus overcome her fear. Their moonlight flight is a series highlight in terms of visual panache; it really draws you in, like the great Miyazaki adventure in the sky.

Lev’s experiment on his “test subject” works like a charm, as Irina’s fears are replaced by wonder and a thirst for freedom unquenchable by even the fizziest lemon seltzer available. But the flight doesn’t just change Irina. It continues a gradual but inevitable change in Lev, from a soldier carrying out his duty of handling a test subject, to a young lad developing feelings for Irina Luminesk as if she were an ordinary human woman.

Lev isn’t training Irina in order to achieve the mission anymore; he’s training her so the government won’t dispose of her for not measuring up. Fortunately Irina excels at pretty much everything they throw at her, and once she’s over her acrophobia, flight and parachuting (another bravura sequence) is no exception. One of Lev’s colleagues warns him not to develop feelings for Irina, but it’s clearly already way too late for that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 02 – Lemon Seltzer

This week is entirely devoted to the beginning of Irina’s training to become the first human(esque) Cosmonaut in space. Lev is right beside her all the way, enduring the same trials, so it’s no surprise he fails to see her only as an object and a test subject and not…a person like him.

After Lev narrowly outruns Irina on the track drills, she tries to regain her pride by outlasting him in in a 90-degree (Celsius!) steam bath. The senior researcher is a real racist piece of shit who insists on binding and muzzling her when it’s Lev’s turn to bake, then strapping her into the centrifuge so tight the chafing makes her bleed then subjecting her to too many Gs too fast.

If Dr. Asshole’s goal was to dehumanize Irina, it had the opposite effect, not just with Lev but with Anya as well. Seeing a vampire bleed the exact same blood, like running beside one or enduring intense heat, intense gravity, or intense…space food is only making Lev think of her more as just a human with pointy teeth and no sense of taste.

It’s with this in mind and a spirit of playfulness that Lev takes Irina to the parachute training site in the middle of the night. When she shows signs of acrophobia but won’t admit she’s scared, she gives her a little push, and she ends up on an awkward, harrowing ride to the bottom. But I’m sure the same exact thing happened to Lev his very first time, just as I’m sure it would’ve happened with me!

The kicker is when Lev treats Irina to a new sensation: carbonated water. Because she despises everything Lev represents, she won’t explicitly admit she really loves the stuff, especially with lemon, but whether she likes it or not shes warming to him just as he’s learning that vampires are just humans with a few differences that are, at the end of the day, not enough to engender the prejudice and oppression Irina and her kind suffer.

We learn from the boss that Lev was chosen specifically because he was liable to treat Irina like a person. It remains to be seen if Lev, like Lena in 86, will try to rebel against Irina’s oppressors for her sake.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 01 (First Impressions) – What We Do in the Cosmos

An alternate-world space race between USSR and USA analogues, in which the Soviet equivalent power decides to recruit a vampire to be the first person in space, could’ve easily been played as pure farce. Heck, The Death of Stalin was a laugh riot. But Irina, The Vampire Cosmonaut has … ahem … loftier goals.

IVC is, in fact, straight as an arrow when it comes to presentation. Avoiding the names of real nations or people works to its benefit, as this is a world that still has a space race like ours and was still initially won by Rus-er, Zirnitra by launching an artificial satellite and then a dog I’m sure would have rather stayed on earth.

Reserve cosmonaut Lev Leps, who will probably never see orbit since an incident, is chosen to monitor and train N44, AKA Irina Luminesk. While she’s a vampire, this world’s version is far more human, not drinking blood or changing form. But because she’s not a “real” human, the government is putting her up in space first, and it’s Lev’s job to make sure she’s ready.

While I’m sure this wasn’t the higher-ups intent, Lev, who resembles an all-growd-up Claus Valca, has a kind heart. Despite strict orders to treat “N44” like an object (after what happened with this world’s version of Laika), his attempts to maintain emotional distance are awkward and ultimately unsustainable.

As for Irina (voiced by the legendary Hayashibara Megumi), she later has to remind herself that despite how nice they seem, Lev and the lab assistant and vampire expert Anya would kill her without hesitation if ordered to do so. Only…I don’t think that’s the case? Lev seemingly adds to her doubt about that sentiment when he apologizes for how she was treated and leaves a blanket and hot water in her cell.

IVC’s first episode sets everything about its world and major players very efficiently and succinctly, with some nice little details and humorous moments on the edges. It’s a little dull and plodding at times, but I’m nonetheless eager to watch Lev and Irina form a bond over their mutual love of the stars.

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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