86 – 12 (S2 E01) – New Home, New Hope

86 is back…and there are some changes. San Magnolia’s awful system hasn’t changed, and Lena is still stuck in it (for now), but she’s adjusted the way she operates within it. Demoted to captain, she wears a streak of blood red in her hair and wears a black uniform to set herself apart from her drunken peers. She has a new squadron of Eighty-Six led by Iida Shiden, AKA Cyclops.

She handles them as she handled Shin’s squad; with as much compassion and care as she can. She learned their names from the start and has built a good rapport with Cyclops, who calls her “My Queen”. Most importantly, Lena is doing what she promised Shin and the others she would do: live on; survive. For her, that means preparing for the massive Legion offensive she senses is coming, even if her superiors are doing nothing.

Lena is maintaining and biding her time. As for her old friends Shin, Raiden, Anju, Kurena, and Theo? Amazingly, they’re all still alive, which is tremendous news. 86 really ripped my heart out, but it went a long way towards repairing that emotional damage by bringing them back without it feeling contrived or out of left field. Shin and the others are now honored guests of Giad, which is no longer the empire that created the Legion, but a diverse inclusive federacy.

That said, they should consider themselves lucky Giad’s President Ernst Zimmerman is, at least on the surface, a man of conscience and compassion, who wants only to give these found children, cast out of their homeland after fighting so long and hard, a measure of peace. Of course, Zimmerman is also a politician, and while I don’t know what his ultimate plan for the five is, I’m certain there is a plan, and his smiles and politeness are probably hiding darker intentions.

That said, it’s hard to argue that Giad is far better adjusted nation than San Magnolia, what with there not being apartheid and battlefield slavery of non-Alba citizens. Alba and non-Alba share the same streets and have families together. Zimmerman also wants his five new guests to be as comfortable as possible, and so arranges for them to live in his presidential mansion. That mansion also happens to be occupied by a haughty little spitfire of a girl named Frederica Rosenfort (Kuno Misaki).

Her hair and eye color suggest some kind of connection to Shin, while it’s clear Zimmerman is hiding the fact she is the last surviving Giadian Empress from the general public; officially, she’s his adopted daughter, as are Shin and the others. You can tell after their ordeal the five are simply tired, but they also look uncomfortable and awkward in such plush surroundings.

Between their new situation and Lena’s maintaining, there’s going to be a lot of adjusting and adapting in store for them. The new OP also indicates it’s only a matter of time before the five are back in the cockpits of war machines, but the president is right about one thing: that’s probably where they want to be because it’s all they know.

Giad is battling the Legion the same as San Magnolia. It’s obvious that if the two nations worked together, and San Magnolia, say, was run by Lena and not opportunists and drunks, that nation would be far better off. Shin & Co. certainly seem better off, while Lena has at developed a thicker armor.  We’ll see if it all pays off.

86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 32 – A Seed of Hope

Rimuru learns that Mjurran’s heart was stolen by Demon Lord Clayman, which ensured she’d have to obey him to live. As part of his ongoing quest to make things as “interesting” as possible, he sent her to spy on Tempest cast the anti-magic barrier within the capital to make things easier for the alliance of Falmuth and the Church.

Rimuru orders Mjurran detained until he has time to think of a punishment. He visits with and heals Hakurou and Gobta, whose spatial wounds couldn’t be closed by Shuna’s skills. Then he asks what I’ve been asking since her battle with Shougo: Where is Shion? Rather than say, Benimaru escorts Rimuru to the plaza to see for himself: Shion, along with Gobzo, are among the dead.

That’s right, Shion’s dead dead. He’s the first of his ragtag group of loyal companions to die, and she was killed protecting a child. Rimuru asks for time alone, re-creates Shizu’s mask and asks the Great Sage questions like “Why did this happen?”, “What should I have done?” “Was it a mistake to get involved with humans?”, and “Was I wrong?” The Sage has no answers.

Rimuru can’t understand why he can be so calm when such a torrent of emotions are surging and seething within him. He decides it’s because he too has become “a monster at heart.” As such, he’ll do what a monster like him can do and at least absorb Shion and the others as he did Shizu, with Gluttony.

But before he can, he’s interrupted by Eren and her party, who were the very first adventurers he encountered after being reincarnated as a slime. Eren comes bearing hope, if only the slightest sliver: it comes in the form of a fairy tale that has a basis in fact. She goes on to tell that tale, which we the audience recognize as the origin story of Demon Lord Milim Nava—lovingly rendered in a gorgeous watercolor/woodcut style.

Milim didn’t mean to become a Demon Lord, but when the king killed her only companion—a baby dragon her father created for her—she killed the king and wiped out his entire nation, killing tens of thousands. As a result, the baby dragon came back to life—but lost its soul when it died, thus becoming the became the Chaos Dragon, which Milim had to seal away.

While souls escape in all directions immediately after death, it dawns on Rimuru that the souls of Shion and the others cannot penetrate the barriers enveloping the capital. The souls are there, ready to be reunited with their  resurrected bodies, thus preventing what befell Milim’s dragon friend. The Great Sage confirms there’s a roughly 3% chance of reviving everyone.

Naturally, Rimuru takes those odds, which while small are not zero. He thanks Eren, who turns out to be a damn princess, Eryune Grimwald! All this time she’s been disguised as an ordinary human so she could adventure freely; her party-mates are her royal guard. As the princess of the Sorcerous Dynasty Sarion, she pledges to help Rimuru with anything other help he might require.

First things first: Rimuru needs to get started on becoming a Demon Lord so he can revive everyone. First, he sets up his own barrier in case the other two go down. Then, he asks the Sage for the requisites of becoming a Demon Lord. Turns out he already acquired the Demon Lord “seed’ when he predated the Orc Disaster.

The seed requires nourishment to grow and sprout, in the form of a minimum of ten thousand human lives. Double that number from Falmuth/Church alliance just happen to be descending on the capital, so it looks like Rimuru is ready to go. But first, he returns to the reception hall, insisting that Mjurran “must die”, then killing her…though she doesn’t die!

The reason is simple: Rimuru never intended to kill her permanently, only for three seconds. That was enough time to destroy the artificial heart Clayman had placed within her—which doubled as a bug—and replace that with a new artificial heart. Mjurran is no longer tied down by Clayman, and free to be tied down (via marriage) by Youm.

She in turn immediately swears fealty to Rimuru as thanks for his mercy. Rimuru asks her and Youm for help with his crazy new plan. In a short while, he’ll wipe out the entire force of Falmuth and Church soldiers and mages, including Falmuth’s king. That means Falmuth will need a new king, and Rimuru picks Youm for the task. Once Rimuru is a Demon King, Shion and the others should resurrect, badda-bing badda-bang!

I’m all for this sequence of events unfolding. Sure, keeping someone like Shion dead would cement the consequences of Rimuru’s poor leadership. It would also crest palpable stakes, since if she could die, anyone could. On the other hand, Shion staying dead would be really lame. She got on my nerves at times with the drinking and violence, but like our blue friend I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I want her back! Also, that Milim and Shion-heavy end sequence hit different this week.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 08 – Hard Truths and Soft Landings

The stinger for this week is only a few moments long: a toddler playing with a toy plane falls off a balcony and lands in a bush. He’s fine, but his single mother Ohnuki Yui, age 22, is massacred in the papers and online for letting it happen. Kyouichi and Inogai stop by Majima Produce to give Makoto an unusual job: check in on Yui and ensure she’s okay. When asked why Kyouichi cares, he says it’s because Yui is a fan, and “you have to take care of your fans.”

The day he fell, Yui decided to leave her 3-year-old son Kazushi unattended so she could more closely watch Kyouichi’s ballet in the park, and the fall was the result. It was a stupid, reckless mistake from a young mother, and she’s lucky he wasn’t seriously hurt. But his fall mirrors her own: she works all night, every night at a konbini bento factory to make ends barely meet, and hardly has any time for anything else, including Kazushi…to say nothing of self-care.

As the son of a single mother, Makoto can relate to Yui and Kazushi’s troubles. But he doesn’t know as well as his mother. One meeting with the mother and son and she knows Yui isn’t just on the edge of a cliff; she’s already falling, and if “something isn’t done” she’ll be in trouble.

Sure enough, that trouble arrives in the form of the kind of predator that is common in a big city: men who scout women at the edge of cliffs, and ensuring they land not on their feet, but in the sex industry. The scout appears to Yui to be a new man who is interested in her, and lavishes her with luxurious gifts. As Yui’s mood brightens, Kazushi’s darkens. Both Makoto and his mom notice, and Detective Yoshioka confirms what is  going on with her.

However, scouts like the one working Yui are hard to catch, so he recruits Makoto to follow Yui and gather evidence the scouting is taking place. Makoto hesitates, and rightly notes that the sex industry is not automatically a shameful means of paying the bills, but that ignores the manner in which Yui is being preyed upon. His mom rightfully smacks him on the ass and tells him to get going.

The more Makoto watches from afar as the sex industry scout, Shinji, plays Yui like a cat plays with a mouse, he gets angrier and angrier. But unlike Kyouichi (who would line up and shoot all the internet people denigrating Yui and even wishing death on her) or even his mother (who would walk in and chew Shinji out), Makoto uses his people skills to become fast friends with the guy, starting with complimenting his fancy shoes.

Once Shinji believes Makoto is connected to the Hidaka Group, he’s all too eager to spill the beans about his operation, in hopes one of Hidaka’s clubs or brothels could be a landing spot for his latest catch. As Shinji coldly describes Yui as “the type that can’t get by unless someone looks after her”, Makoto can barely contain his rage, but he remains cheery and enthusiastic about working with the scum.

This pays off when the next time they meet, Makoto doesn’t come alone, but with his mother, Yui, and Kazushi. Makoto plays back the recording of Shinji incriminating himself, and then Yoshioka and the cops come in and arrest him. But while Yui is now free from a predator’s net, she’s still falling. Like the bush that saved Kazushi, she’s in dire need of a soft landing.

Makoto and his mom take Yui and Kazushi to the park, Makoto discovers why Kazushi’s mood had darkened so much since Yui met Shinji: she had been harming him. The bruises on his arms aren’t marks of malice or cruelty; she clearly loves her son, but a desperate, despairing woman grasping for a way to stop her fall.

Despite that love, she cannot help but think of the better job she could get and better life she could live, if only she didn’t have the child of a man she didn’t love. As her tears fall in the heavy rain, Kazushi notices and rushes to her, giving her a hug and telling her it’s “not your fault”. Hearing this out of the literal “mouth of a babe” only makes her tears fall harder.

Makoto’s mother is frank: Yui has pushed as hard as she can, but it hasn’t been enough, and probably won’t be; if she pushes harder still, she may end up killing the child she loves. But there is one option to explore: giving Kazushi up, as in having someone look after him long enough for Yui to get her life in order.

Then Makoto’s mom admits something he never knew: after his dad died shortly after he was born, she was falling off a cliff too, as a single mother with a mound of debt running the produce shop alone. So she placed Makoto in someone else’s custody for two years, worked her ass off, paid off her debt, and only then reunited with her son.

Makoto turned out to be a good boy, and she believes Kazushi can too, if Yui speaks to a caseworker she knows. It’s a drastic and awful choice for a mother to make, but even Yui realizes it’s now time for drastic measures. In order to help her usher in this new difficult but necessary reality, Kyouichi performs his ballet in the rain just for her and Kazushi, appearing to the boy to fly through the air, like his beloved toy airplane.

We then learn from Isogai the true reason Kyouichi cares: like Makoto’s dad, both his parents were killed in an accident when he was young, and he had to live, make a living, and learn ballet in Chicago on his own. As such, he can’t look the other way when he sees a family in turmoil. Kazushi has a mom, and this way he gets to keep her. The next we see Yui, she’s wearing a business suit and pounding the pavement for a full-time job. Her falling has stopped and her landing was soft.

This is the best IWGP yet, and not because it was always easy to watch. Seeing Shinji get collared was righteous fun, but the ep is also unblinkingly frank in the fact that Yui is no saint, yet still doesn’t deserve unrelenting online scorn, nor the dark fate that awaited her on the other end of Shinji’s self predatory machinations. It also makes clear that as long as someone is making their own choices, entering the sex industry isn’t automatically bad.

In addition to the extensive nuance and complexity with which real-world issues are tackled this week is the portrayal of the importance of community, and shared concern for one’s neighbors. If something bad happens to someone and you and others can help, you fucking do it, and good outcomes are the result.

My only two marks against this outing: We still haven’t caught so much of a glimpse of Shungui since she was adopted (seriously…where is she?), and we still don’t know Makoto’s mother’s actual name. Considering her crucial role this week, that’s a pretty big oversight. But these are minor nitpicks in an otherwise strong and compelling episode.

Re: Zero – 32 – All of It Was Written

When Beatrice grants Subaru access to her library and starts to heal him, he panics, just as I would if I realized I’d just overwritten a saved game at a crucial point. Considering all the crap things that happened in this loop, Subaru can’t let this point of time become a save point.

Beyond stopping Subaru from stabbing himself with a broken piece of her tea set, Beatrice either can’t or won’t help much, aside from telling Subaru that everything she’s said and done has been in accordance with the “Gospel” and for the sake of “mother”—presumably Satella, the Witch of Envy, but who knows?

While I’m skeptical Beako doesn’t care at all about Subie or anyone else, the two are unable to make any further progress as Elsa enters and disembowels Subie. He’s clearly hugely relieved to Return by Death back in the ruin, shaking off the last attempt and comforting Emilia.

Emilia’s beautiful dreamy piano leitmotif plays, as if to indicate the mood has re-lightened and there’s optimism in the atmosphere. Otto, who is unaware this is now Subie’s third time, finds his calm both concerning and comforting.

Before Subaru can meet with Roswaal (again) and this time try to get more about Beatrice out of him, he is brought to a quiet field by Garfiel so Ryuzu can speak to him. It’s productive in that he learns that because Frederica is Garfiel’s half-sister and was born to a human mother, she can pass back and forth through the sanctuary at will.

Meanwhile, Subaru is determined to find a way to liberate the Sanctuary without Emilia having to go through the trial. He considers it nothing more than his own selfish wish; Emilia may have to face her past one day, but it doesn’t have to be here and now.

To that end,Subie announces to Ryuzu and Garfiel his intention to undergo the trial in Emilia’s stead. Once he says this, Ryuzu has Garfiel restrain him and then knock him out. When he comes to, he’s tied up and gagged in a stone cell. Why, do you ask? Because as soon as he came out of the ruins he reeked of miasma—what he calls the “witch’s scent”—which means Ryuzu and Garfiel can’t trust him.

This is an interesting complication. The miasma could be an innocent by-product of Subaru’s respawning process to which Ryuzu and Garfiel are simply overreacting. But either we nor Subie himself can rule out the possibility he is an unwitting cog in a much more elaborate machine: doing things for the Witch while under the impression he’s doing them just for himself or others.

Could his will already be written, as Beatrice claims hers to be? Whatever the case, Ryuzu and Garfiel keep him under lock and key and he wallows in darkness and damp for three days. Garfiel, thinking Otto as a merchant first and foremost, dangles a valuable-looking glowing stone at him as payment in exchange for his silence (Otto was the last to see Subie with Garfiel).

Garfiel’s flaw in keeping Subaru restrained, as well as Subaru’s deliverance, lies in the many meaningful relationships great and small he’s built with others. In this case, he is served by Otto choosing his friendship with Subie over a trinket he’s not even sure Gar will give to him.

Otto reports what’s happened since Subie was captured: after a fruitless search for him, Roswaal instructs Emilia to keep attempting the trial, which she’s done the last two days without success. He then details how he’s been in hiding collecting information ever since Gar attempted to make a deal with him.

At first Subaru doesn’t realize why Otto rescued him—and even mishears the word “friend” as “Eugene”! For all the people stonewalling him and making his internal organs external, he still has friends like Otto to help him in his time of need. While not as deep or profound as Emilia or Rem, his bond with Otto, and the things they’ve gone through, are still significant.

It’s a good thing too, because were it not for Otto Subaru would still be rotting in that cell for as long as Ryuzu and Gar want him there—say, until the barrier falls (if that can even happen without Subie). Otto leads Subie out of the dungeon and to a “very reliable helper” he’s lined up: Ram, who is just wonderfully smug and cool as she declares even if she had to wait for them so long she’d become a old granny, she’d be a cute old granny. Damn straight!

This episode ends with Subaru on an encouraging upswing, with ample time to reach the mansion and armed with a bit more intel. But many concerning looming questions remain. How exactly will he be able to keep everyone in the mansion from an Elsa-slashing? What exactly is Beako’s deal? Are all of Subie’s actions following a sinister predetermined path without him even knowing it? Is he just another Witch’s tool, kept in line by the mere illusion of free will?

Deca-Dence – 02 – A Bug’s Second Life

Well now…that was weird. Deca-Dence completely changes gears in its second episode, all but putting Natsume’s story on hold to answer some of the most pressing questions of the opening outing. Why is Kaburagi so good at fighting? He was once a high-ranking Gear. Why is he collecting “chips” from random humans in the shadows? It’s the true nature of the new job given to him after falling from the system’s good graces.

What was the deal with that crazy Yellow Submarine-like city at the end of the last episode? Well, uh…that’s actually Kaburagi’s reality. His human form is only an avatar, and Deca-Dence is a huge and elaborate entertainment facility run by the all-powerful Solid Quake Corporation.

The Gears are all like him: robot-like beings liking in the corporations “Chimney Town” when not playing Deca-Dence. Only the Tankers are all real human beings—the last of their species.

That’s…a lot, but what’s so incredible is how organically all this new information fits into what we’ve seen thus far, and how everything that seemed a little “off” about last week is logically explained here. And in an extended flashback to seven years ago, we see Kaburagi and his elite ranker team. They all sport odd skin and hair color because they’re not really human, just avatars.

Kaburagi is in the Top-5 Gears in all of Deca-Dence, but he can feel he’s reached his peak and bracing for the down-slope. On the other hand, his young and eager comrade Mikey is slowly rising in the ranks, with much the same stats as Kaburagi in his prime. When not playing, Kaburagi is ingesting Oxyone like all the other people in Chimney Town, or getting stimulation in the form of “beam” sessions.

While Kaburagi sees a bright future for Mikey, Mikey himself is impatient, and feels something is missing, namely the ability to release his limiter, a risky maneuver that will give him enhanced strength and speed in the game.

Now that Mikey knows what it’s liked to be a ranker, he no longer wants to feel like he’s “replaceable” (even though he kinda unwittingly is replacing Kaburagi). After quite a bit of begging Kaburagi relents and shows Mikey how to do it.

However, Mikey gets caught as a cheater and labeled a “bug” by Hugin, the stoic, matter-of-fact system administrator. Mikey gets scrapped and the entire ranker team disbanded. While all of Kaburagi’s other teammates were sent into confinement for refusing their next assignment, Kaburagi decides not to go against the system today so he can live to possibly fight it another day.

The nature of Kaburagi’s new job? He’s demoted to armor repairer with the Tankers, but that’s just his day job. By night he’ll be a “recovery agent”, collecting the chips from humans deemed by the Hugin to be “bugs” that could harm the system.

Now that (mostly) all has been explained, we return to Natsume incessantly begging Kaburagi to train her to fight. Having already lost a dad and an arm to combat, she isn’t fazed in the slightest by the gory aftermath of the Gadoll battle. No doubt Kaburagi compares her to Mikey, who also begged to be more significant and paid the price for it.

Even when Natsume halfheartedly tries to blackmail him with a photo she took with Pipe, Kaburagi won’t budge on helping her. However, one night she spots him sneaking around in the shadows and catches him removing a chip from someone. Of course, not knowing his story, as far as she knows he’s just robbing him because he’s hard up for cash.

Natsume gets Kaburagi to promise not to rob anyone else, and stop talking about it being “over” for him. Little does she know he’s telling the truth, as he’s been intentionally refraining from ingesting oxyone or rebooting, which will eventually lead to shutdown—a slow suicide, if you will.

Kaburagi always assumed that Natsume was another bug—maybe even the next on the list provided by Hugin. But when he scans her face, he finds no data among the current population of Tankers, and a deeper search reveals that she was listed as deceased way back when her dad died and she lost her arm.

That means she’s not only a bug in the system, but one that’s outside it’s control due to the lack of a chip. If the system won’t recognize her, or believes she’s of no value, then he’ll recognize her. He finally ingests the oxyone, crediting her with saving him from an early demise, agrees to train her, and shows her around the swanky Gears’ base.

The more I learn about this weird whimsical world, the more I like it, and the more invested I am in watching how Kaburagi and Natsume manage to resist a cruel system that considers her an anomaly to be eradicated. Deca-Dence has exhibited a willingness to take big bold risks in each of its first two episodes, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Deca-Dence – 01 (First Impressions) – A Study in Scale

Deca-Dance starts small and modest: a father on a mission to investigate artifacts; his young daughter Natsume tagging along out of a sense of adventure. It doesn’t end well for Natsume: she loses her dad and her right arm. Still, she survives, and dreams of fighting and making a difference.

Fast forward to when Natsume’s about to leave school and take on a job as a Tanker, supporting the Gears who fight monsters called Gadoll. They all live on Deca-Dence, a massive mobile fortress and humanity’s last bastion. Only she never hears back from The Power that doles out the jobs. She wanted to be a soldier, but it seems her missing arm disqualifies her.

Natsume is instead given a hard, dirty armor cleaning job under the supervision of a joyless man named Kaburagi. He slaps a harness on her and pushes her off a ledge onto the sheer side of Deca-Dence. Rookies typically scrub rotten Gadoll guts and blood for five years before any kind of advancement.

While it’s gross exhausting work, Natsume eventually gets the hang of it. In both the classroom exposition scene and her working montage, Deca-Dence the show exhibits a willingness to use these methods of shorthand to deliver all the information it needs to deliver. The montage works better than the student recitation of What’s Going On mostly because it’s showing, not telling, and what it shows is very cool-looking.

Natsume eventually convinces her stoic boss to throw a welcome party for her, during which she gets tipsy and takes Kaburagi to task for his fatalism. He just wants to live a relatively quiet peaceful life within the walls, and can’t see why Natsume looks at her arm stump and says to herself “More of that, please.”

The older Kaburagi has clearly been worn down by his experiences, while despite suffering quite a bit of trauma of her own Natsume remains optimistic about the prospect of defeating Gadoll and living in true peace and prosperity.

At the same time, Kaburagi has a pet harmless Gadoll whom Natsume names “Pipe”, and also a strange, unexplained side-job involving extracting “chips” from people when ordered to by a shadowy boss. We learn a lot this week, but there’s still a lot of mysteries to unravel; more on that later.

Eventually Deca-Dence comes afoul of a Gadoll attack party, led by an immense, Leviathan-like mega Gadoll that is larger than the fortress, surrounded by a bevy of bizarre candy-colored Gadoll small fry. They may look like Pokemon rejects but even the smallest of them are bigger and faster than humans. It’s a good thing then that the Gears use flight packs in order to increase their speed and mobility (similar to the flight packs in Youjo Senki, another Nut anime).

When the Gadoll are spotted Natsume and Kaburagi are still outside, and their colleague Fennel and another maintenance guy end up falling off the side of the fortress. They fall for a very long time, accentuating the sheer scale of their home as well as the battle unfolding below.

That battle actually doesn’t seem to be going so well when Kaburagi drops in with Natsume, but he grabs a flight back from one of the dead Gears and proceeds to unleash a can of whoop-ass on the lesser Gadolls, with a tethered, nauseous Natsume trailing behind him.

It’s an absolutely gonzo sequence with tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details. More importantly, it (along with his side job and pet Gadoll) drive home the fact that there’s a lot more to Kaburagi to sleepy maintenance work, and despite not having Natsume’s moxie, unlike her he’s ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

I can see why he wouldn’t want her getting involved in this bloody business, but I still hope she convinces him to train her, “just in case” she has to fight some Gadoll on her own someday.

From the small-scale battlefield we pull way, way back to the final clash between Deca-Dence and the gargantuan Gadoll boss. In a high-tech command center that belies the fortress’ chaotic, grungy exterior, General Minato has his crew go through a number of checks and elaborate technobabble that essentially transform the fortress into a giant mass driver cannon in the shape of a fist.

Once that fist is charged up, they wait until the Gadoll is as close as possible before firing, and boy howdy can you ever feel the impact of that. The physics of large scale masses coming into contact at ridiculous speeds, and their effect on the surrounding environment, is beautifully rendered down to the smallest spec of debris.

With the latest round of bad guys thoroughly defeated, it’s time to collect all the Gadoll meat, rest, heal, repair, and celebrate…until the next battle, and the next, and the next. You can feel Kaburagi’s weariness with this business, but also understand why Natksume wants to play a meaningful role.

Instead of ending conventionally with watching the humans deal with the aftermath of the battle we see that the humans had been observed by weird trippy robots in a trippy Dr. Seuss city. I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on here, but I sure as shit was enticed, as it adds an entirely new layer (and scale) of surrealism and mystery to the past, mostly straightforward proceedings.

Gargantua. Sidonia. Macross. Er…Chrome-Shelled Regios—I’ve always had a soft spot for anime about a group of humans aboard a massive self-sustaining vehicle in a desperate struggle for survival. Deca-Dence is no different. From the city-punching, overarching Gadoll struggle down to the smaller, cozier struggle of one spunky girl trying to carve her way in the world, to the strange intriguing mysteries and ambiguity over who is actually the aggressor in this war, Deca-Dence is a sure keeper in my book.


P.S. Thanks to Crow for another shout-out!

Fruits Basket – 36 (S2 11) – Don’t Pity Me

While their beach vacation had its good times and bad, it must feel good regardless when Shigure, Yuki, Kyou and Tooru arrive home. Their return is only marred by the unexpected presence of Ayame, who was housesitting came in the unlocked back door and made himself at home.

Ayame sets Yuki off a bit (though not as earlier visits might) which in turn leads to Yuki and Kyou fighting. But Tooru separates herself from the bickering to make a phone call.

Since she’s now resolved to break the curse, Tooru needs to gather information, so she starts by visiting Kazuma (in secret!) and telling him what Akito told her. He’s frank in warning her that Kyou’s confinement and the Zodiac members returning to the estate is without doubt one “potential future”—though he for one won’t let it happen without “resistance.”

Akito and the Zodiac members exist in a “world” impenetrable to outsiders, and the bond of their very blood may be the curse. Tooru thinks of bonds as precious things, but she’ll break them if she must. Kazuma urges Tooru to continuing being who she is and smiling around the Soumas as much as possible. Because when she does, “the world feels gentler” and the curse a bit less heavy.

Tooru leaves, runs briefly into Rin (hostile as always) who is also seeking Kazuma’s counsel. Then gears then shift to what was for me a long-awaited reunion of Kyou and Kagura.

In past encounters Kyou was a very different person, and Kagura knows he’s changed when the usual things she says that would Kyou him to yell at her are dealt with far differently. Kyou tells her he has something to say, but before she’ll hear him, she wants to go on one last date.

Kagura’s thoughts linger on their first encounter, when Kyou was a lonely boy drawing fried eggs in the dirt. Before she met him, Kagura thought she was being a burden to her family, but Kyou showed her that there are people truly suffering and deserving of pity; what true misfortune was In doing so, she was looking down at Kyou to build herself up, and while she’d come to feel awful about it, she kept doing it for years.

Then the incident occurred where she removed his rosary, saw his true form, and ran away screaming. Kyou was punished by not being allowed out as much, and Kagura decided the only way to purify her selfish, “unclean” self was to rationalize her feelings for him into unconditional love and devotion. Through all her dealings with him, she never thought about Kyou’s feelings, only her own.

Kyou’s reaction to all this is to tell Kagura was he’d meant to tell her the other day: he’s not in love with her, and he never will be. It’s a devastating hammerfall, but one he needed to say as much as Kagura needed to hear it, for it to be real. But Kyou makes clear it’s not because of her looking down on him, and that her hanging out with him in the past really did make him happy. She was, for a time, the provider of light and hope that Tooru is for him today.

Before going their separate ways, Kagura turns and declares her love for him over and over again until there are tears in her eyes, and Kyou again surprises her not by ignoring her or yelling, but tenderly embracing her and letting her cry into his chest until the tears have fully dried. When she comes home and her mother sees her puffy-eyed, Kagura rejects her pity.

Kagura accepts that it was time to hear what Kyou said, and to reflect on how selfish she’d been to that point. She’ll own that, and won’t share it with anyone; not her mother, and surely not Akito. Same with the gentle warmth and kindness of Kyou holding her until she’d cried it out. It’s all hers to cherish, and to one day move beyond.

Both Kazuma and Kagura (not to mention Ayame) represent people Tooru may be able to rely on as allies in her fight to save Kyou from confinement, though in Kagura’s case her blood bond could limit how much she can defy Akito (it remains to be seen where Rin stands). Even if Tooru has to do most of the bond-breaking and curse-lifting herself, she’ll need any and all the assistance she can get.

Read Crow’s write-up of episode 11 here.

Fruits Basket – 35 (S2 10) – Squaring Off Against a God

Tooru can tell that both Yuki and Kyou have changed on this beach trip, and believes that they must have changed for the better. But what about her? They’re going home the day after tomorrow, and Tooru feels like she hasn’t been done enough self-improvement of her own. Yuki is content to finish the trip with the fun memory of fireworks on the beach.

Tooru happens to listen in as Kyou confides in Momiji. He now realizes why he and the other Zodiac members obey Akito without complaint or argument: for Tooru’s sake. By letting Akito have his way, they’re sparing her more of his ire. Momiji laments that they’ve been doing it “all wrong” due to their selfish desire to have it both ways. Tooru just wants to do more for them.

As for Akito’s ire, Tooru already has it, and it’s built up every day of his trip until he can even sense that Shigure has fallen under the “ugly girl’s” spell. When Kureno interrupts Akito’s ranting with a report from the main house, the two begin to depart, but Akito gives Kureno the slip after changing.

The next we see him, Akito is in the yard, and Momiji grudingly receives him. When Akito announces he’s there for Tooru, Momiji blocks his path, and pays for it with a vicious punch to the face that draws blood. That’s when Tooru who couldn’t sleep anyway and was out on a walk, puts her body between Akito and the thoroughly cowed Momiji. I can’t decide if it’s the bravest or the stupidest thing she’s ever done, but hey…why not both?

Akito holds back on neither the invasion of personal space, the gaslighting, or the plain ol’ acidic vitriol. He accuses Tooru of being “not a very nice person”—which would be laughable if he wasn’t so menacing—and proceeds to dictate how things are going to go: after high school graduaction, Kyou is going into confinement for the rest of his life, and the other Zodiac members will return to the estate with him for the rest of theirs.

Does Tooru give in to the finality and despair of these words, despite learning that Akito is not the rooster but the literal GOD of the Zodiac, and after receiving nasty gashes to the face? My friends, she does not. While it must no doubt be disconcerting to be told a future by someone with the power to make it a reality, Tooru is just as certain in her own commitment to prevent that future, because she doesn’t think it’s what the Zodiac members want.

As with Kyou and Yuki before him, meeting with Akito changed Tooru. She’s no longer uncertain about what to do, and it was Akito’s quintessential rottenness that finally solidified that plan. Tooru is going to protect them. She’ll protect their freedom to choose where to seek their happiness. Their freedom to move forward, not stay stagnant in some dusty estate at the whims of a loathsome wretch.

As Yuki tells Hatsu (who stopped both him and Kyou from interfering in the confrontation), it’s not easy to protect someone, let alone a whole group people with myriad problems in addition to the common one of Akito. But Tooru doesn’t care if it’s hard, or if it’s impossible and will result in Akito tearing her limb from limb.

She’s going to break that goddamn curse, and won’t hear a single syllable from anyone urging her to reconsider. Her arsenal will include light, love, kindness and hope…but will it be enough? And can she hope to fight effectively without reckoning with her own murky past and its constituent traumas? I don’t know, but I’m not about to bet against her!

Fruits Basket – 34 (S2 09) – A Too-Perfect Monster

Rin’s story is placed on hold as this episode is entirely given over to the fated rematch between Kyou and Akito. On the way in, Kyou castigates Yuki and the others for letting Tooru be all alone at the beach house, two which Yuki throws a “what about you?” back in his face. As much as they might hate Akito, obeying him is “how it’s supposed to be.” And yet how unusual is it for Akito to give the Cat another audience? Akito’s looking to head off any further intrusions from Tooru by appealing directly to Kyou.

For what it’s worth, Tooru is ecstatic that Kyou was finally invited in. Little does she know all Akito wants is to stamp out the beautiful thing she and Kyou have, and turn him against her. The visit goes about as well as you’d expect, considering how little experience Kyou has dealing with Akito. He tries his best to keep his temper in check, but Akito knows exactly how to push his buttons and make him erupt into a scattered emotional mess.

This is in sharp contrast to Yuki’s last couple meetings with Akito, in which he proved to himself that Akito’s taunts and mind games are of little utility. When Kyou’s eyes widen and he trembles as Akito’s proverbial tentacles surround and restrain him, it’s in large part because Akito is tapping into Kyou’s long-held guilt that his mother committed suicide because of him, and thus is undeserving of love, happiness, or hope.

But what really pushes Kyou into the deep end from which he may never return is when Akito starts insulting Tooru as a fellow “monster”, an angel far too perfect to be normal or real. Kyou sets the record straight, telling Akito just how scared Tooru was when she saw his true form, yet still held onto his hand lest she lose him forever. Akito derides Tooru as a monster, while Kyou’s Shisho made him think of her as a little flower in the dirt.

No matter how many times one might trample that flower—that hope—it always blooms anew after periods of nurturing sun and rain. As we see in a flashback involving Lil’ Kyou meeting Kyouko, Tooru became that little flower for him.

In their previous meeting Akito and Kyou made a bet: if he defeated Yuki by graduation, Akito would stop calling him a monster and welcome him into the Zodiac. But if he failed, Akito would confine Kyou just as he did previous Cats. It’s a terrible bet; one Akito can far too easily rig in her favor by poisoning Kyou’s all-too-fragile mind. Just bring up the guilt about his mother, and he starts wondering why he was even kept alive this long.

And yet, when he reunites with Tooru on the beach, the little flower he loves so much he can’t let her get any more involved with him, he resolves to stay with her until “the end”, when he’ll go quietly into confinement and save her from being trampled.

Of course, there’s no way in hell Tooru would want him to do something like that for her sake or anyone else’s. And I predict the more we learn about what she’s keeping under the still-closed lids in her heart, the more we’ll find she harbors very similar guilt about the fate of her parents as Kyou does, which will only draw her closer to him as he plans for a gradual separation.

In any case, quietly making such choices without consulting her is just plain bad form and walking backwards by Kyou. Hopefully Tooru will learn about what he has planned for himself before it’s too late to change anything, and find a way to help reconcile the guilt over the past that continues to press upon both of them.