GOD EATER – 13 (Fin)

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Like GATE, GOD EATER finally concludes on a satisfying, action-packed note, with only a few loose ends left outstanding and all of the big stuff put together. One day, by Pita or some other incident, Lindow was going to die, and the unit was going to lose their captain. Which meant someone had to replace him, and that person is Lenka. This is the episode where he fully grasps what it means to lead, not that he has not choice but to do so.

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Soma, Alisa, and particularly Sakuya flail around in outrage, but Lenka remains calm, centers everyone, reminds them of Lindow’s orders, and carry them out. Soma goes underwater to destroy the Aragami lure, leaving only Pita to contend with.

Of course, Pita is a pretty freakin’ tall order, but with the five remaining members of the unit all working together, maybe they can harass him into enough of a state of confusion to land a fatal blow on him.

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As with everything on GOD EATER, this is extremely hard and brutal. Everyone gets tossed around and loses, if we’re honest, unacceptable amounts of blood for people still conscious. But these aren’t ordinary people, they’re God Eaters, and Lenka, their leader, presses the attack once all his friends have been disabled.

When they can no longer move from their injuries, he keeps fighting, surviving, protecting them. He takes the hope both his family and Lindow (also his family, at this point) entrusted him to radiate for the benefit of others, and the impossible is made possible: on perhaps the last layer of his onion-like god arc, Lenka goes into overdrive, slices Pita up, and shatters his core.

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After that, it’s confirmed that Fenrir’s ultimate objective—completing Aegis—is only a cover for the real—and far less ambitious—Project Ark, which is little more than an Earth Escape Rocket, able to fit at most one thousand souls.

My belief in this is that the cream of Fenrir will be among those with tickets on that rocket, which will shoot into space and whose occupants will wait out the apocalypse, returning when everything has been reset. But without the hope Aegis provides, the ark rocket isn’t possible.

Johannes had Lindow taken out because Lindow was trying to hold on to what humanity had left on Earth, while he had given up on the world that is and made plans for a new one, judging the Aragami nothing but monsters that will consume one another after consuming every last human, if allowed to.

Dr. Sakaki has the opposite theory; that this is just a rough stage in the evolution of Aragami. Eventually, they’ll gain intellect (which we clearly see in Pita, though he’s pretty damn evil and inhuman) and, with communication, coexistence with humans might be possible.

It’s a dream Johannes doesn’t believe humanity has time to wait to come to fruition, and he may be right, but I also know that a thousand humans don’t make for the most diverse gene pool. Human extinction may be inevitable.

But enough dark talk: while Johannes and Sakaki debate whether Man will become God or God will become Man, all Lenka, Alisa, and the other God Eaters are concerned about is keeping hope alive and protecting each other and what they have, here and now.

Lenka is now the new captain, and his orders are the same as his predecessor (who may still be out there somewhere): Don’t die. If your life is threatened, run and hide. And, one day, destroy it.

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GOD EATER – 12

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One thing you can always be certain of in GOD EATER: things will not work out the way people hope. The best-laid plans, be they made with good or bad intentions, inevitably turn to ash in this harsh world. Heck, the show itself couldn’t even air its last four episodes in the season it meant to.

The only thing that’s really worked out so far is that Lenka’s family was successful in keeping him alive and instilling in him a desire to survive and become strong so he can protect everyone still alive (which unfortunately does not include that family).

But he does have something of a new family in his unit, and when its “father” Lindow is in a tough spot, Lenka is there, and thanks to Licca, so is his rad new god arc, which cuts through the Aragami like butter, be it slashing or blasting.

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But Operation Asteroid remains a big mess, as one of the luring devices has been sabotaged by an inside hacking source Tsubaki learns is Alisa’s personal doctor. So when Alisa arrives along with Sakuya, Soma, and that other guy, it’s nice to see the gang reunited, but I knew the happy feeling wouldn’t last becase A) Alisa is a ticking time bomb and B) the Pita Aragami isn’t going to be defeated this week.

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Sure enough, the evil doc says a few trigger words into Alisa’s earbud, and she starts firing wildly. However, she doesn’t hurt anyone, and when Sakuya tries to slap her out of whatever is going on with her, the earbud falls out, and the doc’s plan is foiled.

Alisa reverts to her useless crying state, but Lenka manages to talk her out of it, trying his hand at field psychiatry. The results are favorable, as Alisa snaps out of her funk and returns to usefulness, but it’s a little dubious that Lenka’s words about toughness and inner strength could cause such an abrupt change in the behavior of such a scarred and unstable mind.

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Once everyone is freed from the berserk trees, Lenka leads everyone to the dam town to take out the luring device and protect the people there, which Sakuya didn’t know existed until now. Lindow will stay behind and duel the Pita, but predictably, it goes pear-shaped in a hurry, as this particular Aragami possesses a keen intellect and ability to counter any tactics the wounded Lindow throws at him.

After the obligatory flashback to a younger Johannes attempting (but obviously failing) to commit suicide, overcome as he is by the loss of the mother of his child. The child remains as a painful reminder of what he cost, but Dr. Sakaki suggests that he wasn’t able to kill himself for a reason: that he was meant to stay on this world and try to save it before Aragami consume everything and reset the world.

The results of that plan are still pending, but Lindow wasn’t able to delay Pita long, and the last we see of him, his bloody arc arm is hanging out of Pita’s mouth. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to take this guy out, which should make the final episode interesting.

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GOD EATER – 11

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It’s not often a late-coming backstory outshines the present-day narrative it’s interrupting, but that’s what happened with GOD EATER. That being said now that we’re back in the present, everything Lenka says and does carries new weight, not that we know where he comes from. We’ve broken through his shell just as we did with Alisa.

Speaking of sisters, we also see how lucky Lindow is to still have his in Tsubaki, and the two share a nice moment in the house they grew up in. As for Alisa, she returns the team apparently none the worse for wear, but having a distinctly un-Alisa-like artificial chipper-ness to her. Was she hypnotized simply to save her from her crippling memories, for for a more sinister purpose? Probably still the latter.

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But the core of this episode is the commencement of the ambitious Operation Meteorite, which involves God Eaters of all types from all over the world. While calling out the order of battle, Lindow has his sister make a slight adjustment: he’ll take the front line with Team One, while Lenka (whose God Arc isn’t quite ready yet) will monitor and command the team from the forward base camp. Lenka has proven he can lead, after all, and he’s totally fine with the arrangement.

The night before the operation starts, he has dinner with Kouta and his mom and sister’s, again driving home the family Lenka once but no longer has, and the need/desire for some kind of occasional substitute. If he couldn’t save his own family (because they saved him first), then he’ll just have to save other families, like Kouta’s or the Amamiyas.

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Now that Lenka knows the path he should—wishes to—walk, he feels he no longer needs the compass Lindow gave him a few years ago when they first met. But Lindow has him keep it. Even if he already knows his way, it’s up to him to give it to someone who doesn’t, just as Lindow did.

Once the battle starts, Lenka isn’t angry or restless about not joining the front lines; after all, there’s not much he can do without a God Arc. Instead, he takes instantly to command with a steady confidence and competence that’s visualized nicely by the neatly symmetrical framing of him in the CIC. As for the Meteorite weapons, they pack a impressive opening punch against the amassing Vajra-type Aragami.

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Both before and during the operation, Johannes von Schicksal has had little on his mind beyond the flashback to the exceedingly difficult birth of Souma, which resulted not just in Aisha’s death, but the death of everyone in the room. Only Johannes survived the explosion of oracle cells, protect, to his surprise, by a charm which has circuitry embedded in it that repels the cells. In the present, he activates a device that has the opposite effect—luring many of the Aragami towards the dam village. Why he’s doing so, and acting without telling anyone below him, only he knows.

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However, it may have something to do with the fact Lindow kept the town a secret. When Lindow sees where the Aragami are headed, he goes off on his own (though after getting the okay from Tsubaki and Lenka). When they lose his signal, the only God Eater who can get to him in a reasonable amount of time is, you guessed it, Lenka.

Tsubaki sends him to help Lindow, and Licca and Sakaki finish up his arc just in time to deliver it to him on the way. Now that we know where he got his short cloak from, it’s a lot more meaningful to see him don it on his very badass, purposeful way out of the CIC. Time to see what his new God Arc can do. And lurking not far away is Pita, the Aragami Alisa has sworn to kill.

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GOD EATER – 10

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GOD EATER is back. Repeat: GOD EATER is BACK. And just when I was about to give up hope. Turns out they waited until the point in the season when the rest of the Winter shows were in their final quarter, either because they needed more time or because they didn’t want this show to end when everything else was at episode 4 or 5.

You know what else? My patience was handsomely rewarded. This was the best episode of GOD EATER (and one of the best of the entire Winter) yet, using Lenka’s ordeal with adjusting to a new God Arc as the framing device for a heretofore untold story of Lenka’s childhood, starting with when he was found in the mud by a kind family who tested negative for entry into Fenrir.

More than a story, it is an often horrifically heartbreaking tragedy that is epic in scale, stretching across the fifteen years that precede the show’s present day, and being far more emotionally powerful than any of the black-and-white flashbacks that came before.

A lot of this episode’s power comes from our amassed knowledge of the previous nine. And yet, this could very well have been the first episode of GOD EATER—or even a completely standalone short film—and still been effective.

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After Lenka was rescued and named by his new big sister Iroha, his family lived in a shanty town living off rations and constantly at risk of Aragami attacks. When his mother develops a cough and becomes bedridden, he and his sister strike out with other town members to find medicine, but are ambushed.

Lenka, who wants to become strong enough to protect everyone, hits an Aragami with a stick, but it has no effect. Still, he’s bailed out by a God Eater – Lindow, specifically. Lenka is both jealous of Iroha’s attention towards Lindow, and of Lindow’s strength to protect. Lenka’s father doesn’t like the Fenrir system in which “people choose people” and leave others to die due to limited resources, but that’s exactly what happens in the shanty town as well.

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When Lenka grows ill and there’s only one dose of medicine, Lenka’s mother demands it be used on him, for he is the future. That’s confirmed when they test him for the first time and he reads positive, making his dream to become strong a more real possibility. It’s Iroha who injects the drugs, as both she and their father weep uncontrollably over tacitly condemning their mother to die. They bury her not long after.

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A few years pass, and Lenka is on the cusp of fifteen, the age when he can join Fenrir. His older sister has also grown more beautiful, and still quite close and protective of her brother. But she’s also mature enough to slap Lenka when, after an Aragami attack, their father is trapped under wreckage. All they can do is escape on a motorbike their father prepared for such an eventuality. Like his mother, Lenka’s father died so that he could live.

But while escaping the Aragami on the bike, one manages to scratch Iroha’s leg. It doesn’t look that bad, but the wound bleeds and festers, and before long, she can no longer walk (an analog to a similar desperate journey he’ll go on with Alisa later on). Once they check the wound and it’s riddled with maggots, once more a choice must be made.

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Lenka can’t make that choice—Iroha is all he has left—so she chooses for him, by slitting her own throat, forcing him to leave her. Before they part, she tells him to go to Fenrir, because he tested positive, and always was positive. That didn’t do the family any good, however, because they weren’t related by blood. But no matter how Fenrir cruelly defines it, Iroha always considered Lenka her brother – she even named him, because like a lotus, they found him in the mud, where lotuses bloom.

To twist the proverbial knife once more, before and then in the process of being devoured by Aragami, Iroha briefly envisions the world she always dreamed of, a beautiful pastoral paradise where plants have returned, and where she’ll be together with her dear brother forever. She looks like a Studio Ghibli character in this fantasy, before a devastating smash cut to her being eaten. No point in trying to hold back the tears here; this was utterly dejecting. Rest in peace, Iroha.

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The Utsugi family, then, sacrificed themselves one after another to save a boy who wasn’t even related to them by blood. But if any of the three of them, including Iroha, had to do it all over again, I doubt they’d change a thing. The choices they made led to Lenka being in the position to “overturn” the world they had no power to change.

When Lenka stops re-living the memories of losing his family members one by one over the course of his life, he awakens to find the adjustments for his new God Arc are complete. All that’s left is to re-declare what he means to do with his newly-resotred (and likely greatly increased) power: to kill Aragami. But also, to be someone whom people can entrust their hope for a better world, the way his family was for him.

GOD EATER is back; with brutal, gorgeous, heart-rending, unyielding authority. Episode 11 has its work cut out for it.

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 12 (Fin)

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Both this sequel series and its final episode share the title “insight”, meaning “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” Throughout much of the story, the public at large didn’t have much insight into anything beyond what they collectively felt they wanted in the moment.

Their growing enthusiasm with becoming one, fueled by Gelsadra’s brief rule and new ways of doing things, created a new enemy that no one saw coming until it was too late, due to their lack of insight into themselves. That enemy was the pervading atmosphere.

Everyone was to blame, but an individual was still needed to represent collective guilt and collective culpability; a bad guy who the Gatchamen would beat so badly, the atmosphere would become too terrifying for anyone to want to be a part of it any more.

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As Tsubasa explains to the public on the Milione Show, in the second phase of their plan, she says Hajime took that role. She used Berg-Katze’s power to become Gel-san, then told her G-men comrades to beat her mercilessly before a live nationwide audience.

Hajime was the ultimate hero of heroes in Gatchaman because he realizes her role in protecting the planet goes beyond simply saving whoever is right in front of her, but, when necessary, saving everyone from themselves, even if it means putting her life on the line. Rather than go with the flow or settle for quick votes and easy answers that feel good, Hajime thought, long and hard, about what she, Ichinose Hajime, could do.

Last week’s straightforward battle is thus place in a far different and more compelling context, with added dialogue that accentuates how conflicted the G-men really were about beating up “Gel-san”, because it was really Hajime. Yet again and again, she told them not to stop, until they literally cleaved her in two. As a result, she’s in a coma, and the sight of her on TV incites public rage against Gel-san.

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But Tsubasa implores everyone to follow Hajime’s example and think carefully about what is to be done about Gelsadra: Should they expel him from Earth, allow him to stay, or leave it up to the Gatchamen? Unlike all other previous votes, the people have a whole month to decide, and can change their votes as much as they want until the final tally.

As the days and weeks go by, anti-Gel-san sentiment goes from a boil to a simmer, as after longer and more thorough thought, everyone starts to take responsibility for what happened to the atmosphere rather than blame it all on Gel-san, who was, after all, only a naive facilitator with the very best intentions.

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When the vote comes, Tsubasa is relieved that not only do the people (by a narrow margin) agree to let Gel-san stay on Earth, but only a tiny sliver left it up to Gatchamen. Well over 90% of the population decided for themselves. To Suzuki Rizumu’s delight, the people evolved beyond the level of apes.

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After the vote, public opinion is driven a little less by what happens to be the flavor of the week, but greater intuitive understanding of the situation and their own individual power to shape their own opinion. X tells Rui to think long and hard about what to do about the Crowds, who play with the remaining, calm, Kuu-sama. The Prime Minister reminds his salty colleagues in the Diet that everyone was responsible for the atmospheric fiasco, and everyone is responsible for preventing it from happening again.

As for the savior who woke everyone up from their destructive bliss, Hajime does, thankfully, eventually wake up from her long slumber, without any fuss and grateful she slept so well. She’s clearly happy her big plan worked out, since so much of it depended on her fellow Gatchamen as well as the general public to make it a success.

Now, with the world more or less back to normal, the G-men await the next arrival of an alien who might, unwittingly or not, take a certain human quality to its most dangerous extreme. If that ever happens, I’ll be here to watch and cover it. GATCHA!

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GOD EATER – 09

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In the final episode before a Fall hiatus (the final four episodes will air in the Winter), GOD EATER comes to something of a logical crossroads to pause at, while looking back at one of the least-used main characters in Soma Schicksal, who up until this week we’d only gathered bits and pieces about. As it did with Alisa previously, the character is improved and made more understandable when the show looks back upon his history and how it shaped the dour, taciturn God Eater.

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This new information comes when Lenka of all people is selected to lead one of the five squads that will set up the devices for the Meteorite Project, and Soma is assigned to Lenka’s team. Lenka’s as surprised as anyone else, but Major Amamiya isn’t aware of his life-threatening situation (only Sakaki and Licca know), so she’s sending him in. He accepts the mission and leadership role, but decides to bone up on Soma’s history, and learns that he was the first God Eater.

His mother Aisha died in childbirth, and his development as a weapon against Aragami hit a number of bloody bumps in the road. As such, everyone around him has thought of him as a harbinger of death (or Shinigami); a label he may not like but certainly seems to accept, especially when his nightmares include looks of fear from injured researchers and a look of resentment and disappointment from his dad, now Fenrir’s director. The father and son share just one brief scene in an elevator, and it’s cold as ice, which isn’t that surprising considering Johann lost Aisha the day he gained a son.

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But Lenka learns an important lesson from Major Amamiya before the operation, after he asks her why she retired from being a God Eater. Rather than get the answer he expected—like him, her God Arc was going to eventually kill her—she said she simply lost hope, after watching so many Aragami emerge from the barren ground right after killing others. Rather, she lost hope that she could do anyting about them, so she decided to put her trust in the future; pass the hope onto those who haven’t been beaten down as she has.

Lenka carries those words to the battlefield where they set up the device, and when everyone, including Soma himself, tells him to run, he refuses, instead using the device to lure the Aragami and ordering Soma to aim his deadly attack directly at him. He trusts in his battered arc’s ability to shield him from the attack, and all the Aragami are wiped out.

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Lenka decided to put his trust in Soma, not as a harbinger of death, but a vessel of hope. That’s why his name is Soma in the first place; for the wine of the gods bestowing life energy to man. That hope was placed in Soma by his mother Aisha, who volunteered to sacrifice herself and her baby for the good of mankind, absent time or other viable options. And for the first time, with Lenka, Soma sees that hope, and value, in himself.

Unfortunately, Lenka doesn’t have a lot of time left; but rather than pass his hope onto others, he’s willing to bet that little time he has left is enough to make more than an impact than retiring. So he asks Sasaki and Licca to repair his God Arc, even if it accelerates his demise. Meanwhile, Johann seems miffed that Lindow has kept a secret village a secret, while an increasingly sinister doctor seems to be brainwashing a drugged/hypnotized Alisa not just to fight Aragami again, but Lindow as well.

There should be plenty of action and character drama in the final fourth of the series. We’ll just have to wait a few months to see it pan out.

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GOD EATER – 08

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I must say, it’s rough having to wait an extra week for every other episode (now I know what Preston went through with Sailor Moon Crystal), but of late, when GOD EATER deigns to air, I can be confident there will be good stuff in store. Alisa is holed up in her messy quarters, apparently continuing to suffer withdrawal from the pills that have always neutralized her fear, which come with a different fear of ever being without them, as she was the last few episodes. With Lenka’s God Arc in need of repairs, both he and Alisa are on leave,  leaving Fenrir Far East shorthanded on the eve of a big operation.

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Professor Sasaki, the father of the God Arcs, arrives, and is shocked that Lenka’s Arc broke; something that’s never happened. Not getting any further answers out of the weapon, he and Licca turns to Lenka himself. Meanwhile, the active part of Unit One joins with Unit Two on an operation at a baseball stadium, led by Sakuya, as Lindow is sent on another mysterious solo mission.

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Shortly after engaging the Aragami, the baseball field crumbles beneath their feet, sending the Eaters underground. Lenka, who has been encouraged to observe the op from the Command Information Center where Major Amamiya spends her days, and it isn’t long before he suggests a course of action contrary to her orders, angering her.

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However, when the Eaters underground follow his suggestions and things turn out for the best, with them bottle-necking the Aragami in a narrow corridor and mopping them up with a pincer attack, Lenka is ultimately absolved rather than punished for speaking out of turn. The successful mission, with everyone returning and praising Lenka for saving them (even Soma, in his way), shows Lenka has value as both a front-line fighter or, if he doesn’t have a God Arc, commanding them from behind.

That’s good to know, because his days as a front-line fighter with a God Arc are uncertain, at best. Sasaki determines he, not the Black Vajra, broke his own God Arc, when his compatibility spiked to a level it couldn’t handle. Sasaki also informs him that this condition also threatens Lenka’s life and will eventually kill him.

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Undergoing psychiatric treatment (i.e., talking to a professional), Alisa realizes if she’s ever going to get back in the fight—and her services are desperately needed—she has to rid herself of her fear, and begs the doctor help make that happen, not matter what the cost. I don’t doubt whatever is done to her will not only affect the personality of the woman we’ve come to know and feel for, but threaten her life, as Lenka’s compatibility threatens his.

As the two most valuable New-Types struggle with their problems, Director Shicksal announces a new strategy for eliminating the Aragami from the immediate vacinity in order to allow work on Aegis. It involves controlling their movements, sorting them by species, and sending God Eaters who specialize in each species to take them out. It sounds like a daring plan, but I’m almost certain it won’t go smoothly, because that’s just not how things tend to go on this show.

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Last but not least (for once), we have another dark flashback, this time to the very evening the Aragami Apocalypse occurs. I was not prepared for how total and unyielding the transformation of the world was, with giant towers of oracle cells jutting out of the earth, dwarfing, piercing, and crumbling all works of mankind like so many sand castles. I was also moved by the last shots of a tranquil world at night before all hell breaks loose.

Schicksal, Sasaki, And Gauche were working feverishly until the end, but losing government support torpedoed their chances of coming up with a solution in time to stop the calamity that befell the earth. It’s looking more and more like mankind’s worst enemy in this whole dark business has been…mankind.

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GOD EATER – 07

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In a welcome surprise, Lindow doesn’t simply lead Lenka and Alisa back to Fenrir; they take a detour into a forest—the sight of which amazes the two new-types—within which lies something even more unthinkable: a civilian settlement for those who Fenrir turned away…including the little girl in pink Lenka saved. The show packed a punch when it sent her off, but I’m glad the show didn’t carelessly discard the character for good. She is, among other things, the embodiment of the future Fenrir is fighting for.

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The reason the village is able to survive and even thrive is that the trees of the forest are really Aragami the people have raised as a protective barrier. Even so, large Aragami like Vajra can still force their way through. When a Vajra does just that, Alisa is soaking in a bathtub to try to clam her nerves and steady her hands, and failing at both. She knocks over the tub and crawls into a closet to hide. I like that the show has the guts to keep one of its strongest characters out of commission for the entirety of the crisis, upping the difficulty level for those able to fight.

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Lindow also peaces out for what reason we don’t know (though testing Lenka by risking all the people he worked so hard to protect doesn’t sound like a logical one). He sends Lenka to deal with the Vajra and protect the people by himself. Lenka is not to let anyone die, especially himself, and Lindow urges him to trust in his God Arc, even though we saw how ineffective it was last time Lenka tried to use it.

During this crisis, GOD EATER once again exposes its difficulty with pacing in such situations. As soon as Lenka returns to the village, the Vajra has already done a ton of damage, and you’d think he’d already killed a good number of settlers, but time seems to grind to a very noticeable crawl to halt as Lenka slowly figures out who and what he has to work with and what the plan should be. Honestly, it’s like the show presses “pause” on the Vajra attack.

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Fortunately, despite of Alisa’s emotional incapacitation, the episode is not bereft of proper Girl Power, as the unlikeliest (or most predictable, depending on how you look at it) person volunteers to help grab some ampules from the warehouse for Lenka to draw the Vajra away: the little girl in pink. She puts the lion in civilion (if civilan were spelled that way, of course), acting with uncommon courage and determination, and not only comes through for Lenka, but saves his life in the process.

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Also fortunately, the screeching halt of the action picks up nicely during the entirety of Lenka’s final gambit, squaring off with the Vajra David & Goliath style with his crossbow of ampules. When the Vajra halts its retreat and prepares to skewer him, Lenka finally figures out what Lindow meant by trusting in his God Arc by pumping an ampule into it, brining it back to life so he can use it to push the Vajra into the river. The other civvies finish the job by opening the damn, and good ol’ mass and gravity finish the job.

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It’s a great moral-boosting side-victory for Lenka; a performance that inspires the girl in pink, impressed Lindow, who knew he had it in  him, and worries Alisa, who is not happy that she’s been so useless of late, but has no idea how to fix it. Sure, she could get drugged back up in Fenrir, but the drugs can’t fix her underlying crippling fear of the Aragami, and she can’t be sure the drugs will always be around.

Alisa’s continued struggles continue to make her the one of the more interesting characters, and while I realize that’s not saying much on this show, her retreat from heroism absent courage-endowing drugs nicely mirrors the girl in pink’s progress absent exceptional strength or ability. It’s a dynamic that keeps me emotionally invested, though I’m also hoping Alisa doesn’t remain a defenseless damsel for too long.

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Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 05

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Momo, Touri, Hana and Hachiko arrive to rescue Tenchi from the science club. As Hachiko battles Kinojou, Momo frees Tenchi, who saves her from falling rocks as the caves start to collapse. Everyone makes it back to the surface safe and sound.

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That’s more like it: a short, sweet, daring, action-packed rescue mission, made possible by the tracking device in Tenchi’s Gentleman’s Area, presumably put their by Touri. Momo and the StuCo prevail, ending up with Tenchi, who shows he can be heroic in a pinch, but we’re sure the tug-of-war (with him as the rope) has only just begun. Oh, and the dress code at this school is appallingly loose!

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Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 08

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As intense and harrowing as the last episode was, it was but the first taste of what was to come this week. We don’t know what’s gotten into this show, but we like it. It brings the hammer down hard on everyone this week, and a ton of characters get knocked off. Last week took a very telegraphed outcome and totally sold it with the execution; this week, the only thing we were relatively sure of is that our main couple would survive; for everyone else—Ariel and Ignacio included—all bets were off.

The sudden assault of Isla by air and land of the mysterious enemy forces with very modern and competitive weaponry causes different reactions in different trainees; some hunker down and rise to the occasion, Mitsuo and Chiharu. Others’ hands shake, or their resolve wavers, and who can blame them? By any measure, they’re not ready for full-on combat against an older, wiser foe. But for the likes of Ari and Kal would rather be unready than dead, and fight their goddamn hearts against dreadful odds.

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There’s only so much they can do in their training aircraft, and one by one they’re picked off, the show totally uninterested in pulling punches. Before we know it, Kal and Ari are the last ones in the air, surrounded by superior force. And then Ari takes a bullet to the shoulder, and all seems lost. In this moment, Kal starts to lose it, pleading for Ari to wake up, but he doesn’t stop piloting the plane, and doing an incredible job of it. Ultimately, he buys just enough time for a blue fighter to turn up and waste the last of the enemy before disappearing into the night. It may have been a bit of deus ex machina, but it’s a welcome ray of hope in a series that has washed much of its hope away, along with its innocence.

There are allies out here, not just foes. The dogfighting throughout is really riveting, occasionally lyrical stuff (setting aside the fact the enemies don’t have the best aim). Clearly the show had been holding back with its budget for these past two episodes. But most satisfying is that when the spotlight turned back onto Kal, Ari, Claire and Ignacio, they didn’t disappoint in their scenes. Kal and Ari’s sibling interactions during and after the battle were a highlight. Barely surviving a hellish battle in which many of their friends died tends to bring people closer together.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 07

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It may not have the best production budget, but damn, this show knows what it’s doing, delivering a fiercely emotional, thrilling, heartbreaking outing; the best of its run so far and definitely one of the top ten episodes of the season. Even more impressive is that its quartet of main characters—Kal-el, Ariel, Claire, and Ignacio—were literally on the sidelines the entire time, eager to do their part but barred by orders from ever doing so.

It’s amazing what one episode can do for your opinion of two people, but last week, we really connected with Mitsuo and Chiharu. Of course, we also knew that the fact they were laying the happiness between them on so thick was essentially setting one or both of them up for death. The episode makes no secret of the fact these young lovers could well be doomed. Hell, the title is “A Glorious Death.” Whether it’s Mitsuo or Chiharu or both, someone’s dying. We know, and the show knows we know.

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But here’s the thing: even with all the telegraphing and death flags, when it actually goes down, it still hits us like a ton of bricks. The show seems to know it was going to do so, and that’s why it was never coy. It did a hell of a job quickly establishing a romance and then snuffing it out in the cruelest way possible. And let’s not beat around the bush: their military superiors fuck up royally. Had Leopold Melze been less of a short-sighted, arrogant fool, Mitty would still be alive. Not to mention de Alarcon and Cervantes don’t even try to tell him how to do his job, even though they both smell an ambush.

The ineptitude of the brass matters not to Mitsuo and Chiharu. When something doesn’t feel right, Mitty tells Chiharu to climb higher. The tiny glimmer in the clouds he spots turns out to be a huge, advanced enemy fleet. Though they’re only trainees, they both realize they have to fire flares at the enemy in order to give their bombers light. They know it could mean their death, but they do their duty anyway. That makes them both heroes, but Mitsuo is simply a little less lucky than the girl he loves, convincing her to eject when he takes a couple bullets.

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After their plane blows up, Chiharu’s spotted by enemy fighters, and while she hangs there helplessly as they mercilessly bear down on her, our hearts sank as it looked for a moment like the show was going to take her too. She’s only saved because Banderas and Sonia disobeyed orders. She lands softly in the cockpit and collapses into Banderas’ arms, her love gone forever in the blink of an eye. It’s sudden, brutal, and unfair. It’s war.

We can’t overstate how riveting and moving this episode was, highlighting unbridled incompetence at the top of the military ladder, but uncommon greatness at the very bottom. The meekest of the trainees was the one who didn’t waver when it mattered, saving everyone. What’s more distressing is that he only saved them for a time; a massive enemy force is nearing Isla, compelling Kal-El, Ariel, Noriaki and Wolfgang to take off and enter the fray. They have a tough act to follow.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)