Darling in the FranXX – 19 – Talented Yet Terrifying

Frikkin’ scientists, amirite? It’s said Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, but the moment they tasted the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Eden pretty much ceased to exist anyway. Eden is an impossibility in a world where humanity is aware that there is far more to the world than the limited, tedious paradise they inhabit.

Knowledge is simultaneously what makes humans humans and what constantly threatens to destroy them. It is humanity that developed world-ending nuclear weapons; it is also humanity that maintains the delicate balance that has kept those weapons from being used for over seven decades and counting.

This week on DFX we learn a lot more about Dr. FranXX, formerly Werner Frank, eccentric maverick scientific genius. We also learn that APE began as a collection of elite scientists, and they recruited him to work on something that has always fascinated humans: how to make immortality a reality.

It’s all too poetic that humanity developed the ability that could massacre most of the human population in one day, while we still have a long way to go before we’re all immortal. And yet, I can’t help but think the same thing that staves off nuclear war is the thing that keeps us from advancing too far in achieving immortality.

That thing is fear. If there is ever a global nuclear war, it could end humanity. If there is ever a breakthrough that makes humans immortal, it will also end humanity; just in a different way.

But that’s the real world. Here in DFX humanity advances far beyond the “safe zone” of maintaining humanity as we know it, thanks to brilliant minds like Frank and his colleague Karina Milsa.

Their efforts are admirable, but to quote the incomparable Dr. Ian Malcolm, they were so preoccupied with whether they could achieve immortality, they never stopped to ask whether they should.

The Magma Energy mining system developed by APE ends up gradually  desertifying much of the Earth’s surface. But Magma Energy also grants humans—now essentially immortal—to build grand structures like Plantations in which to live. It’s just evolution, right?

Only Magma Energy has another side effect: the emergence of the inscrutable, ruthless Klaxosaurs. It’s as if the world was trying to correct humanity’s technological overreach, and restore its mortality.

Still, Frank and Milsa’s massive scientific intellects are re-purposed to developing anti-Klaxosaur weapons: a robot that would come to be called the FranXX. At first it had a single pilot. One of the test pilots was Milsa, who loved Frank and married him, but was lost in a prototype accident when the robot went berserk.

Upon losing the only person in his life Frank had a close connection to, he lost another part of his humanity, and so stopped caring about the future of mankind and simply focused on how much further he could progress it; how much better he could make weapons with which to defeat their new enemy.

FranXX became piloted by male-female pairs, restoring a measure of the reproductive drive lost by the proliferation of immortality treatments. Mankind put themselves back into a state of godliness and thus rebuilt Eden and locked themselves in for an eternal stay.

Only the pilots, parasites of FranXX were involved in fighting the Klaxosaurs outside of Eden (or, in the case of Mistilteinn, just beyond its borders). Meanwhile adults lived their endless tedious lives in the Eden they built, and forgot all about Klaxosaurs in the first place.

APE eventually located the Klaxosaur “leader,” and sends Frank to investigate. Of his team, only he is spared by the “Princess”, whom he regards as the most beautiful being he’s ever seen. But she can smell the blood of her Klaxosaur brethren on his hands, and exacts punishment in the form of tearing off his arm.

This ordeal does not discourage Frank in the least. Considering how far he’d come to come face-to-face with such a fascinating being, it stands to reason he’d keep pushing to perfect mankind’s defenses, not for it’s own sake, but like climbing a mountain, because it (being discovery) is simply there.

Frank seeks no earthly rewards or accolades; only more knowledge, and the self-recognition that he progressed the technology as far as he “humanly” could.

This brings us to the present, where Frank is now known as Dr. Franxx, and he’s grizzled and partially mechanized. APE, still his bosses, wiped Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories without his knowledge or consent, thus in his mind impeding the path he himself set to achieve the results they seek. Frank/Franxx never had any problem achieving results. The problem lay in the means with which he used to achieve them.

Regardless, results are results, and they’ve given him enough clout to allow Squad 13 to have a candid audience with APE in order to state their wishes: for Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories to be restored. No can do, APE cites; they cannot restore what is no longer there; the memories were removed, not merely blocked.

Upon learning this, Hiro gets upset, and tells APE they can no longer consider people who did such things to them their “Papa”, i.e. their authority to which to be subservient.

When the APE members don’t even bother answering Zorome’s naive question about how many Klaxosaurs they’ll have to kill to become adults (because the answer is “you will never be adults”) “Papa” lost their last advocate in Squad 13.

They may need Franxx’s know-how and connections to have any success at opposing APE, but that doesn’t mean Hiro will ever forgive him for what he did to both him, Zero Two, and whoever else he used as mere tools or variables in his grand experiments.

We also learn how Zero Two came to be: when the Klaxosaur Princess attacked him, he managed to come away not just with his life, but a clump of her hair…hair containing her DNA…which he used to clone her, thus, presumably, creating Zero Two.

So will he help Zero Two, Hiro, and Squad 13? Have they rekindled his belief that humanity isn’t really human unless they can love, struggle, and die? I hope so; the kids need all the help they can get.

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Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.

Darling in the FranXX – 17 – All the New Rules are Starting to be Scrapped

Things have gotten so blissfully domestic in the scarred remains of Mistilteinn, Zero Two files her horns like one trims their nails, and Miku makes her a tiara of flowers that give her a more regal bearing. There’s a very Garden of Eden/Earthly Delights about their home, especially with Hiro Kokoro already having met their “serpents” in Zero Two and the pregnancy book, respectively.

Both have lent knowledge “Papa” (i.e. God”) did not directly give them, and has fundamentally changed their destinies, with Kokoro gaining the drive to procreate and Hiro growing horns of his own. Once Adam and Eve Know Too Much, anyone who’s read Genesis knows what happens next—expulsion from paradise. Papa’s agents arrive almost on queue to “check on” Squad 13 and see if any “corrections” are needed.

The Nines come dripping with the smug superiority you’d expect of such agents, looking down upon the less-than-ideal living conditions. None of them seem to touch the meager repast their hosts made and caught themselves—and no doubt can’t afford to waste. They look upon Squad 13 with pity, if not outright disgust, and their honeyed words and wry grins are fooling nobody (except Zorome, of course).

Meanwhile, during their latest meeting in the “birdcage” conservatory, Kokoro finally tries to come on to Mitsuru, having read the contents of the pregnancy booklet over and over, seeing the profound difference in their bodies, and thinking how right it feels to bring them together to make a life that will carry on after they’re gone.

Unfortunately, the night before while bumping into a Nine, Kokoro lost her booklet and it fell into Alpha’s hands. That’s when the wry grin vanishes.

Mitsuru rebuffed Kokoro’s advancements, but more out of shock that she was acting on feelings he knew he had for her. It takes a bath with his old buddy Hiro to realize those are feelings of love, and he should do what his heart is telling him to do.

Before he has a chance to, the Nines confront Kokoro in front of the rest Squad 13 (who heard from Zorome that she and Mitsuru are an “item” now), and Alpha presents her baby booklet, full of straight-up taboo ideas that aren’t even supposed to be spoken of. Reproduction has been banned ever since humans “evolved past it.”

What’s interesting is how Alpha handles what could be a life-jeopardizing situation for Kokoro like a hall monitor finding contraband. He is merely an instrument of Papa speaking only with Papa’s voice. But his dispassionate tone becomes cruel when Kokoro makes her case for why humans are no different in other animals, and how there should be more to life than piloting FranXX into battle.

He calls her and her perfectly reasonable ideas utterly “disgusting”, and for that, Ikuno slaps him and has to be held back from doing more, not merely lashing out on Kokoro’s behalf, but due to her own unrequited love for Ichigo.

Hachi and Nana separate Kokoro from the others and reveals that they’ve been watching Squad 13 all along, as part of Dr. FranXX’s “final test” for them. When Nana insists that even talking about reproduction is banned, let alone doing ti, Kokoro rightfully asks why they have the organs to do so, and emotions that seem to compel them to do so.

These questions from Kokoro spark a sharp visceral reaction in Nana, leading both Hachi and Alpha to suspect that she’s “relapsed to puberty”, which is ominously referred to as “not being good” for the person to which it happens. Alpha even blithely suggests they replace her with a “new Nana,” as the current one has been rendered “useless.” Harsh shit.

Based on Dr. FranXX’s reaction to Squad 13’s developments (and absent further information) it seems his primary goal was to see how easing 13’s emotional and sexual suppression would improve their performance as weapons against the Klaxosaurs. After all, he never expected his experiments would lead 13 to develop “humanity’s original reproductive instincts.”

And yet, here we are. When two members of APE arrive at Klaxosaur Central (presumably in the Gran Crevasse), they meet the humanoid “Princess of the Klaxosaurs” and formally ask her to surrender to Humanity and end the now century-long war.

When she refuses, one of the APE members attacks her, and she slaughters him, his partner, and their three guards with ease. When she removes the mask of one of the corpses to find nothing there, she derides them as “human wannabes.”

That got the gears going in my head: what if, perhaps a century ago or more, aliens invaded earth and imposed the system they have now? What if the “humans” we’ve seen in the various plantations are the anamoly, and the Klaxosaurs are actually closer to what humans used to be?

We can’t say how far in the future this story takes place, so the fact Nana, Hachi, and the parasites we’ve watched could have tricked us into thinking they’re “real humans” with their familiar looks and ways of living. The Princess’ words throw everything into doubt…though one thing we learn from Zero Two is that she can’t reproduce like humans.

Earlier in the series I doubt anyone would have guessed that the first Squad 13 couple to jump into bed together would be Kokoro and Mitsuru, but here we are. I enjoyed the contrast between the candlelit chasteness of Zero Two and Hiro’s romance, and the more physical, primal, hot-and-heavy Kokoro+Mitsuru variety that finally crests with the two having sex.

It is an act of simple human biology, and yearning to decide one’s future with one’s own heart an act of simple human psychology. But in their artificial world, these are also acts of rebellion, as well as capital crimes for which there may well be dire consequences. After all, Dr. FranXX, Hachi, Nana, the Nines, and APE are all watching. The Garden of Eden may feel secluded, but nothing that goes on there is really private.

APE, however, have more pressing matters. The Princess has violently rebuffed their condescending “olive branch”, and so they vow the Klaxosaurs will “feel the pain of having their earth scorched by their own creation.” ‘Their?’ Scratch that about aliens: perhaps Klaxosaurs are highly-evolved humans who created the APE and their ilk; now they’re at war with them, with Zero Two, Hero, and Squad 13 stuck in the middle.

While we’re on the subject of creations coming to bite their creators in the ass, I’ll close with that iconic quote from Jurassic Park:

Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 11

Lindel’s fireside infodump-er-saga with Chise continues as he recounts his early travels with his new apprentice Elias. While making a house visit to heal a sick child, the child’s sister has “the sight” and spots Elias in Lindel’s shadow.

The girl assumes it’s an evil demon, and before long the entire village is mobilized against Lindel and Elias. When Lindel is injured by a thrown rock, Elias loses his temper and attacks the villagers with his thorny vine appendages, basically confirming their worst fears.

And here is the start of the trouble with Elias Ainsworth that I’ve had for the past ten weeks; a problem no closer to being solved in its eleventh. As Lindel’s master noted, he has a tiny amount of human in him, but there just isn’t enough humanity for me to fully emotionally connect.

That’s made any exploration of Elias and Chise’s relationship—in terms of her status as his future wife—feel incomplete and unsatisfying. As Lindel said to Chise, Elias “seemed to be missing something”, and for me, he’s still missing it.

(There’s also the little matter of Elias having a vague memory of—and occasionally feeling the urge to—eat humans, though Chise claims she’s never once feared Elias, even during that tense bed scene.)

But perhaps I’m not being open-minded enough with the premise that it isn’t that Elias isn’t human enough, but that for all the years he’s lived, Elias is still a child, and not just in Lindel’s eyes.

As a child, he’s insecure, emotionally stunted, and prefers the shadows. Chise, with her own stunted childhood, is in a similar state, leaving us with two would-be “lovers” who really have no clue what they’re doing.

A large part of that is neither Elias nor Chise have really taken the time to dig that deeply into who they are and what they want, aside from the big things like “survival” and “being wanted/needed”.

But never mind that for now; we’ve got a long way to go with these two crazy kids. For now, Chise gets tossed back into the water by baby dragons, meets a leviathan (neat!) and then sets to work whittling down a wooden log into her wand, which is meant to be an introspective process.

When night falls, Lindel, AKA Echos, sings the song of a hundred flowers, and all number of magical beings emerge and join in a dance. Chise dances for the first time, and then inadvertently opens a “water mirror” through which she can communicate directly with Elias.

Chise says Elias “looks troubled”, which is a bit silly since his bony face never really changes that much, and then the two remark at how much they miss one another, despite not having been apart all that long.

Home is cold without Chise, and Chise wants to show Elias the beautiful scene Lindel has created. “Two kids”, as Lindel said, both trying to figure out who they are and what the other person means to them.

And since Chise has learned so much about Elias—things he couldn’t or wouldn’t say—she wants to reveal to him more about her self; something she hasn’t yet been able to do to her satisfaction.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 10

Lindel sends a selkie along with one of the young dragons (now big enough for a human to ride) to invite Chise to the Land of the Dragons so the “Robin” can have a wand made. For this journey, Elias will stay behind, though Ruth will remain by her side.

Chise’s dragon ride through the wind and clouds is appropriately epic in presentation, with stirring orchestral accompaniment to boot. It’s also nice, for once, to have an episode without any imminent or even perceived threats. There are more sides to Chise’s life than peril…procuring a wand, for instance.

Nevin’s Tree is as big and majestic as ever, and Lindel directs Chise to saw off a piece of it for her wand. Her lack of surefootedness in the tree results in a spill and a demonstration of how crucial it is she have a familiar nearby to, among other things, catch her. Back home, Elias notes how quiet it seems without Chise.

While she’s hardly a Chatty Cathy, she’s a motormouth compared to Silver. Then Elias receives a message via bird-intercom from Adolf Stroud of the College administration, who’d like to learn more about what Elias has in mind for Chise’s future.

That night, Chise arms and hands are covered in scrapes and scratches, which Lindel instantly heals with a touch. As a “bedtime story”, and because Elias hasn’t told her, Lindel regails Chise with the tale of how Lindel met Elias.

Lindel himself didn’t even have a name before his master found him, and Elias has a similar “birth”, one brutally wintry day simply appearing out of seemingly nowhere, nameless, without any memories or idea of what he was. Lindel gave him a place to rest and a meal, but its clear if either of them want any answers, the best bet is to take him to his master.

Lindel finds his master with a sprig of spruce and a red string. When they arrive, when Elias is too big to enter the house, he shrinks himself to child-size. The master, kind and curious, pegs the creature as almost a fairy; as close as one can get, yet still with a bit of human, which pretty much describes the Elias we’ve come to know.

She’d normally chalk his state to the result of a human transformed after abusing black magic, but she keeps her other guess close to her chest. All she can get out of him memory-wise is a color: red. She tells Lindel to take care of him, giving him the name Elias. Lindel is initially hesitant, but when Elias starts to take off (not wanting to be a bother), he agrees, though makes sure to call him his “acquaintance”, not his “apprentice.”

Back in the present, Elias’s bird-call from Adolf is interrupted by Renfred, who warns Elias that he’ll “ruin” Chise if all he does is let her live with him. Everyone from the college to Lindel wants her to spread her wings, but Elias is taking things slow, and Chise, happy simply to be wanted by someone, is being complacent on purpose.

Of course, this episode only provided part of Elias’ past, and we still don’t know exactly who or what he is, particularly before that scene in the forest where he had to fight back wolves. Ultimately, Chise’s future is up to her and no one else, but she’ll need more knowledge before making any concrete plans.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 04

Grimoire of Zero continues to feel episodic; last week was the big city episode, while this was largely a transitory outing, full of little slice-of-life vignettes that serve to deepen our understanding of who Mercenary, Zero, and Albus are—not to mention having the latter two bounce off the former, both literally and figuratively.

One thing is clear: Albus has quickly softened his “kill all beastfallen” stance, while Zero, neophyte to the outside world that she is, has formed a very close bond with Merc, considering him not just an employee, but a project.

She and Albus repeat the joke about them being sex slaves to the gate guards, but when one of the children he scared away is hurt (when another beastfallen shoves her out of his way), Zero makes it look like Merc fully heals the young woman’s ankle.

Changing hearts and minds will be key if the war between the factions of this world is to ever cease. After that, the downright leisurely pace of the episode is mitigated somewhat by the fact the trio covers a fair amount of ground, much of it very picturesque (see above).

Albus gets some pointers on fishing magic from Zero, while Zero also attempts to give Merc a kiss (and is rebuffed by the bashful tiger).

The trio tucks into another fine meal by Merc (who wants to one day open and run a tavern), and learns that Albus was orphaned and raised by his granny, and that Zero grew up in the caves studying sorcery and may well have developed her Grimoire of Zero in order to eat better. Not a bad reason, if you ask me!

Continuing the theme of Zero wanting to get closer to Merc, she offers to train him in magic, which will keep them together for some time. All this sticking around with people for an extended length of time is clearly a new concept for Merc, but I don’t think he loathes it as much as he sometimes protests; quite the contrary.

Thinks finally take a turn for the dark, and a rather sudden one, at that, once the trio reaches the outskirts of their next destination, the village of Latette. Albus knows the village well, and a dog he knows comes to greet him, but it’s carrying a burnt doll. The trio looks on and is horrified to see it is also smoldering; its inhabitants burned alive.

Is it mere raiders, or more likely, hostile witches fighting in their late idol Sorena’s name to exact revenge on humans? Whatever it is, our trio will likely have to tread carefully once again, and avoid revealing too much of themselves to strangers—something they now have no trouble doing with each other.

Grimoire of Zero has its charms, but it isn’t particularly spellbinding; it’s a bit of a dawdle at times. It’s certainly no match for recent fantasy adventure shows like Grimgar, Alderamin, or Re:Zero. If it was airing any other day but Monday I’d have probably already dropped it, but after a four-episode sample, I believe I’ve watched enough after all.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 03

This week the party of Mercenary, Zero and Albus arrive in the bustling trading town of Formicum. Zero reports to the guards at the gate that she and Albus are Merc’s sex slaves, and they’re allowed to pass at half cost…though it could be argued you can’t put a price on Merc’s reputation.

Once there, Zero shows Merc some gems, and he tells her she only needs one small one to buy a fine set of new threads, which she does. I like the look, even if the clothes are a bit baggy on her. Zero also shows off her utter lack of modesty by trying to change in front of men and women alike. That’s so Zero!

Once they’re settled in…at an inn, Merc tries to sneak out but Zero spots him and they go out drinking, only to re-encounter another Beastfallen who has three captive girls who Zero knows are not witches. So Merc enters and wins a duel with the wolf-man and the girls are freed.

The sprightly dialogue between Merc and Zero continues to entertain, and it’s always fun to watch Merc take down a baddie. But as Merc’s defeat is never remotely in doubt, the whole episode lacks any kind of serious stakes. Still, it’s a pleasant enough watch for an overcast Monday afternoon.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 02

Wenias is a world where inaccurate assumptions abound while forgiveness is in short supply. It’s in a state where most witches hate humans, most humans hate witches. And it’s one assumption—that Mercenary is a witch-hunter rather than a present witch-harborer—that leads to an episode of trouble for Merc, Zero, and their third member Albus.

Merc & Co. are welcomed to the village with open arms, because they appreciate his service as a beastfallen witch-hunter. But when an old woman reports a ring stolen and Albus produces that very ring (which he found in the spring outside of town), the villagers, wracked with grief and pain from witch raids, turn on a dime and demand justice.

The villagers have been through too much, and suspect outsiders so much, that it doesn’t matter if Albus is in fact innocent, and they’re immune to calm discussions, only taking it as further proof of guilt. So Merc has to scoop up Zero and Albus and skedaddle while they still can. But the villagers, desperate to blame and punish someone for their ills, pursue them deep into the forest.

Only one villager—the old woman who lost the ring—has the trio’s side, and shows them a safe escape route. She does this to thank Albus for finding her ring—which was given to her by none other than the great witch Sorena—but also because she to is a witch, albeit one in hiding.

The older generation seems more open to negotiation, cooperation, and forgiveness regarding “the other side”, while the younger people on both sides want blood and fire to satisfy their thirst for justice. And yet just like this little incident with the ring in the village, Sorena herself fell victim to a misunderstanding, having been performing magic when a plague broke out.

She was blamed and burned to death, leading to the violent witch rebellion that rages on. But the witch-in-hiding with the ring believes there’s still hope that witches and humans can—and must—coexist peacefully, someday. The developing Merc-Zero-Albus trio is small-scale but important proof that she’s right.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 01 (First Impressions)

In a world where witches are hunted and burned by normal humans, a half-man, half-cat “beastfallen” witch-hunting mercenary encounters a petite, seemingly young witch named Zero in a forest.

They make a pact: the Mercenary will be Zero’s guard as she searches for her associate Thirteen. In exchange, she will make him human. She’ll do so using magic from the Grimoire of Zero, so-called because she wrote it. She impresses that upon a young witch named Albus who tries in vain to hunt the Merc. 

Fresh of the heels of Re:Zero, this similarly-named, similarly-set new show eschews the modern-guy fish-out-of-water angle for a more straightforward pact-between-classic-foes story.

The nameless (for now) Mercenary fears and hates any and all witches, and kinda hates himself too, for causing his family and village to suffer and die. But he’s got a good heart, so he’s not going to leave a hungry, cute little girl in the forest.

Does he bite off more than he can chew, oh, definitely. And a great deal of the appeal of this otherwise not-too-original fantasy milieu is in the relationship that forms between the Mercenary and Zero, complete with lots of informal, playful banter.

It’s an intro that doesn’t try to do too much, but gives us a good-enough glimpse of the situation and then focuses on the two lead characters, quickly breathing life into both so we care about them immediately.

Is there excessive explanation of “sorcery” and “magic” and the differences between them? Sure, but because Merc wasn’t totally informed himself, Zero’s lessons at least serve the story rather than simply bring us up to speed.

Also, there’s the fact that this seemingly-young girl literally wrote the book on magic, to the extent that fellow magic-user Albus has his ass handed to him when going up against the author. And they’re on a journey to a place with a defined goal, which can be nice for contrast when watching other, more mysterious shows.

Add the fact it’s a Monday show, and Zero looks like a keeper.

Ai Tenchi Muyo! – 28

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There’s a basic sincerity to ATM!. For all the panty shots, unintended compromising positions Tenchi ends up in, and occasionally clunky delivery of plot or exchanges of dialogue, it’s heart is almost always in the right place. It’s not just here to titillate us or make us laugh; it wants us to care about its characters too, because they care about each other. Specifically, Tenchi cares about his students, and won’t sit by while one sits on the roof suffering.

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Kinojou Beni’s story isn’t complicated: she came to this planet charged with protecting Momo and hence possessing immense strength, but she lost her memories and fell in with the sworn enemy of Momo’s Student Council. She knows she’s not a normal human, and she fears truly hurting someone someday with her power. Someone…not Tenchi.

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When Tenchi arrived, it set something into motion for Beni: suddenly, there was someone else with freakish strength, who stands (or tries to stand) alone, above all the warring clubs and school rivalries. Only unlike her, he almost never uses them, except to prevent harm or protect others. She resents his passivity, and wont say anything to him unless he demonstrates his strength, which means swinging her spiked club at him.

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Tenchi won’t rise to her violence, however, and the precise thing she fears occurs when Momo suddenly pops on the roof to see what the ruckus is about. Tenchi manages to block the terrifying blow, and he and the two girls end up on the ground, and appear to be sharing a loving embrace, but we know Tenchi is only holding them to protect them. Such subtleties do not move Kurihara-sensei, who drags Tenchi away.

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That leaves Beni with Momo, who takes her hand, concerned about her cuts. In that moment, Beni gets a flash from the past of a baby clutching her finger in apparent friendship. But Momo backs away from Momo, either unready to remember or unwilling to risk hurting her again. What she hasn’t grasped yet is that maybe it’s okay to be friends with Momo.

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