Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 03 – Space Hotel Sunrise

Fifteen years have passed since Diva rescued the assemblyman, Momoka died in a plane crash, and Matsumoto beat the ever-loving shit out of Diva to prove the point that they can’t meddle excessively in the timeline. He had her body repaired and she returned to NiaLand, where she continued to perform and attracted larger crowds over the years.

She’s still wrestling with the concept of singing “with all one’s heart” when Matsumoto returns to report the next “Singularity Point” requiring action. He also scolds her for influencing the assemblyman to push for even more pro-AI human rights legislation. But the more pressing crisis is that of Space Hotel Sunrise, whose AI director crashes into the earth, killing thousands.

Matsumoto arranges for Diva to join the space hotel’s all-AI hospitality staff under the name Vivy, going Full Temporal Secret Agent in a thrilling space venue that calls to mind the Fhloston Paradise space cruise in The Fifth Element. She meets the director, Estella, and learns that she’s her successor model—essentially, her little sister.

While Estella reminds Vivy to keep smiling for human guests who may be on edge from being in space for the first time, Matsumoto’s assignment for her is simple: prevent Estella from crashing the Space Hotel Sunrise by eliminating her. The crash is a major catalyst in anti-Ai sentiment that will eventually lead to the AI uprising.

The problem is, Vivy simply can’t reconcile the Estella she’s met—and observes playing with children in a Zero-G bubble room—with the Estella later remembered as “the single most grievously defective AI in history”. Matsumoto considers this irrelevant.

They’re here to destroy Estella and prevent the crash; anything else is “needless calculations” he warned her about. Still, while fulfilling her hospitality duties, Vivy learns from her co-worker Leclerc that there are rumors Estella took over the hotel and was involved in the death of the previous human owner.

Vivy decides to investigate Estella on her own, but Matsumoto follows her into Estella’s quarters just as Estella arrives. When Estella picks him up, he prepares to hack her and cause a system failure, but Vivy casts him aside and asks Estella straight-up about the previous owner.

She maintains that the owner died in an EVA accident, which Matsumoto later confirms she had no involvement. Estella asked his family for permission to keep the hotel going under her management to keep a promise he made to him before he died. When she says anyone would laugh at an AI talking about such things, Vivy, genuinely moved, says she wouldn’t laugh.

Just then, an alarm sounds, some 23 hours before the crash is slated to occur. Estella runs a scan and determines a malfunction in a security wall. She asks the rest of the staff to double check all systems while she opens up the roof of the main hall to reveal the dazzling night sky. Then she sings a song to calm and soothe the stressed guests—a true professional all the way.

However—and this will probably be important next week—Matsumoto is right beside her when she opens the roof. Did he do something to her while they were in physical contact? Also, a girl recognizes Vivy as Diva and introduces herself as Momoka’s younger sister. For Vivy, that seals it: she isn’t going to let another Kirishima die, no matter what.

However, something is very rotten in the state of Leclerc, as she meets secretly with Estella in a cargo bay and holds out some kind of device Estella presses with her thumb. Moments later, as Leclerc walks away, Estella rushes up to her as if to gather her into an embrace, the shears Leclerc’s goddamn head off and sighs in a thoroughly sinister way.

This sudden carnage occurs while we’re still hearing Estella’s lovely song about the stars, providing a wonderful clash of the beautiful and the horrific. Whether it’s Leclerc who caused Estella to malfunction with that little thumbpad or Estella just snapped, Vivy’s trials aboard Space Hotel Sunrise have just begun.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 01 (First Impressions) – Her New Mission

We begin at the end, and I immediately deem it hilarious that “music” is one of the two genres MAL lists under this show, the other being “sci-fi”. With “music” in there I was certain I’d have to sit through at least theme park idol song, possibly with CG dancing. And while an idol is indeed walking down the tunnel to NiaLand’s main stage, the music starts up, and she begins to sing and dance…let’s just say the audience is indisposed.

For as the idol sings and dances, a horrific massacre is taking place, both in the stands and throughout the park. The AI hosts have gone berserk and are engaging in a festival of cold blunt force savagery upon the human guests. Splattered blood and little fires are everywhere. Like Skynet, the machines in The Matrix, and the hosts of Westworld, apparently the AIs have decided to do away with humans as the earth’s dominant species.

One of the park’s researchers manages to get to a place where he can activate a special emergency protocol involving an AI named “Diva”, all the while apologizing in advance for the terribly heavy burden he’s placing upon her and her alone. AI techs arrive and shoot the researcher dead, but not before he activates the program.

After some brief exposition on the fundamental “one single mission per AI” mandate that keeps the lives of AI “free of confusion”, we meet “Diva” (voiced by Tanezaki Atsumi – Chise from The Ancient Magus’ Bride), the world’s first-ever autonomous humanoid AI, who was given the mission “to make everyone happy by singing with all her heart.” But despite her massive potential, Diva seems relegated to a quiet corner of NiaLand singing to a bored crowd of two or three at best.

Diva has a fan and friend in the human girl Momoka, whom she helped when she got lost once and nicknames her “Vivy.” Momoka even gives Diva a teddy for her first birthday. At the moment Diva’s moments disallow her from getting anywhere near the vaunted Main Stage, but Momoka has her promise to “someday” sing there, where her powers of song can reach the most people.

Diva’s otherwise routine day is suddenly interrupted when an ominous timer that was in the top left corner finally reaches 11:35:00:00, at which point “Project Singularity” is executed. Diva’s consciousness is transferred from her body to a virtual construct called the Archive, where she meets a program in a floating cube that assumes the name of his developer, Matsumoto.

Matsumoto is here from 100 years in the future (and the massacre we witnessed) to ask Diva to join him in “destroying the Ais”. Diva immediately suspects some kind of virus or error, but all scans come up clean, and no matter how many times she asks Matsumoto to piss off, he refuses, and instead shows her imagery recorded from the future when Ais turned on humanity. In the first few minutes over 10,000 humans perished, and that’s only the beginning, if the future doesn’t change.

The next day, Diva goes about her routine, this time singing to an audience of no one, as Matsumoto predicted. Still, that’s nothing too unusual so it could have been a guess, so Diva has a human tech run a diagnosic that turns up nothing. Whatever Matsumoto is, she can’t be rid of him. He decides to tell her about another future event that will take place that very day: a bomb in a garbage can will seriously injure a pro-AI rights politician.

Once Matsumoto has given Diva this information, and less than a minute to respond, she chooses the next course of action quickly, and it underscores her unique nature as an autonomous AI—as opposed to the rest of the AI staff, who wouldn’t have been able to unilaterally break out of their primary directives. Diva is different, so she breaks into Terminator-style tromping run, pushes past the bodyguards with ease, and shields the politician from the blast—all in 45 seconds of real time.

The politician, Aikawa Yoichi, is grateful to Diva, and promises that next time he visits the park he’ll come watch her sing. But unfortunately, his dream of naming laws leading to equal human rights for AI will bring about humanity’s downfall in a century’s time.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the first bomb was only a warning, and those who want Aikawa dead will succeed in assassinating him. He’ll be labeled a martyr, speeding of passage of legislation in his name that will ironically doom humanity. So Diva’s next job is to prevent the assassination. Aikawa is ambushed in his office by SWAT-style operatives, but Diva jumps down from the ceiling just in time to shield him, and their bullets don’t damage her.

So begins the familiar but so-far compelling story of the reluctant heroine Diva’s new mission to stop a war between AI and humans that the humans will lose. The only way to do that is to slow or otherwise modify the particular explosive evolution of AI that leads to them to one day say in a single voice “we’re done with humans.”

This is an anime-original series, precluding any adaptation issues. It’s made by Wit Studio right on the heels of the first part of Attack on Titan’s final season, and created and written by Nagatsuki Tappei (Re:Zero), and scored by Kousaki Satoru of the Monogatari series. You can feel all that talent behind the confident, professional, polished production. This wasn’t on my initial Spring list, but it’s there now, and it’s not going anywhere.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul – Trials Make Love Stronger

I finished the first season of Made in Abyss three years and a week ago, commenting that while I ached to know what would happen next, a long rest was in order, so that I might recover from the emotional wounds throughout that first run, culminating in the shockingly brutal story of Mitty and Nanachi.

Turns out no amount of time would heal those wounds to the extent they wouldn’t be re-opened and—very soul freshly re-crushed—upon watching the continuation of the Abyss story. That’s because the deeper Riko, Reg, and Nanachi descend, the more acute and devastating the horrors they encounter.

This is the third of three Made in Abyss films; the first two were a retelling of the first season, while the third is a direct sequel As such, spoilers throughout.

Case in point: upon arriving at one of her mother’s favorite spots in all of the Abyss, the Garden of Flowers of Fortitude, they encounter one of Bondrewd’s delvers, the Umbra Hands, harvesting tissue from other delvers who have been infected by a parasite that not only feeds off you while you’re still alive, but feeds itself to you in order to keep you alive. Lovely!

Few anime do soaring vistas like Abyss, and there’s something just so otherworldly and dread-inducing about the sight of the Fifth Layer’s Sea of Corpses, along with Idofront, Bondrewd the Novel’s domain. But as cold and unyielding and inhospitable as the spinning ghost city seems on the outside, within resides one of the sweetest, warmest, most human souls they’ve yet encountered: an adorable little girl named Prushka.

Prushka is Bondrewd’s daughter (voiced by Minase Inori), who is initially suspicious of outsiders coming to help her dad when she thinks she should be enough. But once she meets Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, they open for her a whole new world of questions and information about the Surface (she was born in the Abyss).

It’s so strange to see Prushka acting so lovey-dovey with Bondrewd, perpetrator of countless acts of sickening biological crimes, especially since he and his Umbra Hands resemble evil robots. And yet that evil robot still has a strange gravitational pull Nanachi finds hard to resist. Nanachi can’t forgive Bondrewd, but something still draws them toward him. Nanachi was something of a child figure to him, after all, so Nanachi sees Prushka as a younger self.

Bondrewd has bad news for Riko: while she may have her mother’s White Whistle, only the person for whom the whistle was made can use it to activate the altar that will take her down to the Sixth Layer. He offers them accommodations to “think things over”, but there isn’t any doubt his intentions for them are about as far from harmless as they’re all far from the Surface.

Despite her cozy room, soon Riko wakes up alone, and upon exploring, finds that she’s trapped in a small area with the only exit being a stair Prushka warned will cause “strains of ascension” if climbed. When Riko attempts to climb them anyway, she loses all sense of touch and balance, grinds her baby molars away and falls down the stairs, gaining cuts here and there. But she hallucinates far worse: as the very concepts of what and where are gradually eaten away by white light.

Ultimately, the reason Bondrewd does anything all comes down to curiosity and the aspiration to reach the bottom of the Abyss and learn its infinite secrets, same as Riko. It’s just a matter of scope and scale. Riko has managed to retain her humanity throughout her descent. But while has the affable dad voice and general form of a man, there is simply nothing left of Bondrewd’s humanity.

After Nanachi offers to stay with him and help him continue his research in exchange for Riko and Reg’s safety, Bondrewd tells them that, uh, unfortunately, he’s already tossed Reg to his Umbra Hands, who restrain him, slice off his right arm (along with Incinerator) and start collecting his bodily fluids. That’s when Riko, who was helped up to the upper level by Prushka, intervenes, and Prushka learns the truth about her father for the first time.

With Bondrewd showing his true horrific colors loudly and proudly, Nanachi, the most experienced with how he operates, comes up with a plan to take him out. This involves luring him into a nest of giant seven-tailed scorpions, trying to infect him with parasite larvae, and finally Reg crushing his body with a giant boulder.

Naturally, Bondrewd praises both Reg and Nanachi every time they toss a new tactic at him, saying things like “wonderful” and “I’m surprised.” After all, Nanachi is one of the creations of which of which he is most proud, one who unlike Mitty and the others was able to receive the “Blessing” of the Abyss rather than fall victim to the Curse. You’d could mistake it for fatherly pride if, again, Bondrewd had a shred of humanity. But his willingness to offer love and pain and suffering in equal measure disqualifies him as both from being either a parent or a human.

None of the tactics against him end up working, because the Umbra Hand who escorted Prushka simply takes the mask off of the crushed Bondrewd and places it on his head, thus transforming into a new, untouched Bondrewd. Turns out all of his Umbra Hands are him—and his immortality is tied to a relic called Zoaholic. The fight ends for now, and Bondrewd returns home with Prushka.

If Zoaholic didn’t make Bondrewd insane, the act of splitting his soul and essence into multiple bodies still removed what was left of his empathy or humanity, which is why he ends up having Prushka cruelly vivisected just like all of the other orphan children before her. He’s satisfied her experiences with Reg, Riko, and Nanachi helped “perfect” her, and this is the natural next step. She is never told this would happen, and never asked if it’s okay.

Her body is marked with “X’s” to signify the parts that will be cut away and discarded (most of it) until all that is left is a mass of “fleshy curse repellant” to be placed within a suitcase-sized cartridge. It is in this way that Bondrewd staves off the curse; using the pain and suffering of still technically-living children as his strength.

It’s truly skin-crawling, horrible, horrible stuff, and even though I had a reasonable suspicion that Prushka was doomed to a Mitty-like fate, I was still not ready to see even a little of that fate carried out, nor would I ever be. No one would!

By the Riko, Reg, and Nanachi return to Idofront to rescue her they’re way too late, while the sight of the “processing” room brings back Nanachi’s memories of assisting with said processing. When Bondrewd arrives, Riko and Nanachi they buy time for Reg, who hooks himself up to Idofront’s power supply and ends up rebooting in Berserk Mode.

Bondrewd tells Riko that his own White Whistle is the result of sacrificing his own body and soul, and that all White Whistles are made in this way—with a willing human sacrifice, not carved stone.

It’s then when Berserk-Reg arrives and fights on the same level as Bondrewd, ultimately blasting a huge sphere-shaped chunk out of Idofront. He lands in a pit of Mittys—material for Bondrewd’s cartridges, and we’re reminded of all those lights on the wall representing their lives are labeled: he remembers the name of every child, their unique qualities, and how cute they were. Shudder…

As Bondrewd and Reg are locked in an epic battle, we hear Prushka’s disembodied voice as she recounts her life with Bondrewd, starting as a failed subject. He decided to raise her as his daughter, gave her Meinya as a pet, and gave her a fun and happy childhood, ultimately culminating in her helplessly watching as pieces of her are removed one by one on the operating table.

We hear Prushka because she’s now a cartridge that Bondrewd is currently using in his fight, and ends up being his last cartridge. Even after what he did to her, she still wants to help her dad achieve his dreams—even if it means helping him fight against Reg, Riko, and Nanachi.

Thus aided by Bondrewd, Reg can’t defeat him with one arm, which is why he was buying time for Riko to retrieve his other arm. Even disconnected from his body, she’s able to aim it at Bondrewd and fire it, blasting him to pieces.

As this is happening, Prushka pleads with everyone not to fight, because they’re all going to have adventures together. An image of that dream appears in the climax of the battle, and is pretty much the most heartbreaking goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.

Then Bondrewd falls to the ground, finally beaten, and Nanachi stand over him. True to form, Bondrewd isn’t bitter about losing; on the contrary: he’s never been happier to find someone with stronger aspirations, will, and love defeat him. It means they, not him, are worthy of exploring the greater depths of the Abyss, and all the curses and blessings therein.

Riko holds the spent cartridge of what’s left of Prushka, simply red liquid that spills everywhere, and very understandably begins to bawl in absolute despair. But then she notices an object lying in the puddle of liquid: a White Whistle. Turns out Prushka’s soul willingly became the sacrifice necessary for Riko. Now her dream of going on adventures together can be realized.

With that, Riko gains the means to make her Last Dive, along with Reg (who learned a great deal about what his relic body can do) and Nanachi (who found a degree of closure in her vendetta with Bondrewd). Bondrewd, oddly enough, is still alive (after a fashion), but no longer a threat to them, and indeed is happy to see them off as they enter the “elevator” that will take them to the Sixth Layer, that much closer to Riko’s Mom, whatever’s become of her.

Quite appropriately, the end credits pull double duty as an illustration of that elevator descending ever deeper  into the Abyss, accompanied by an achingly gorgeous song that is a collab between MYTH & ROID and Kevin Penkin. Penkin, of course, also contributed the score and outdoes himself in the task; his music has been and continues to be a vital piece of what makes Abyss so unique an special.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to end this in less than 1500 words, but whatever; this was basically four episodes of the anime comprising a Fifth Layer arc, enshrining Bondrewd the Novel as one of anime’s all-time most monstrous and compelling villains, exploring the ways ambition can mutate “love” into a heartlessly destructive force.

It also ably reinforced Abyss’ uncanny ability to tear its viewers’ hearts and souls to bloody shreds before painstakingly sewing them back together with delicate threads of hope. And with a second season in the early stages of production, the story of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi is far from over.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 19 – Just Another God

You can go ahead and call this the “Kitchen Sink” episode: everyone who didn’t fight in the previous few episodes fights this week, and I mean everyone. Gorgon basically covers Mash and Ritsuka’s retreat by butting heads with Tiamat. Still, that only slows her down a bit, so with Uruk about to be stamped out by the roving Tiamat, Gilgamesh goes on the offensive, managing to personally fire 360 cannons even with a huge hole in his chest.

Kingu, who’d been telegraphed as a potential turncoat, realizes that potential in the 11th hour by detaining his mother with the Chain of Heaven, because it’s what he, Kingu, not Enkidu, wants to do. Uruk, once so sunny and grand, now looks more like Mordor, and it’s a hell of a setting for a kinda-sorta-final battle. For Gilgamesh, it is the final battle, full stop.

With Tiamat chained down and Ereshkigal’s preparations complete, all Ishtar needs to do is unleash her stored up magical energy, firing her Noble Phantasm Angalta Kigalse, blasting through the earth that separates Uruk from the Underworld and dropping Tiamat down into a domain where the rules are different: Ereshkigal rules, Tiamat is no longer invincible.

The plan seems to be going well, and Kigal certainly seems confident in her impending success, fueled as it is by warm praise from Ritsuka and Mash. However, things take a turn when Tiamat covers herself in her primordial mud, and her chaotic sea starts to infect the Underworld itself. More than anything, Ereshkigal is grossed out, but also shocked her authority can be overwritten in such a way.

Fortunately, Merlin returns in his real form to turn all that mud into harmless flowers, but Tiamat is still hanging around, is still ridiculously huge and strong and has not only healed, but transformed into an immense dragon that Merlin somewhat unimaginatively calls Beast II, the culmination of evil borne by mankind’s folly throughout its history.

Tiamat is not getting any weaker, and will only remain mortal while in the Underworld, so she’s gotta be killed before she can escape by air (she regained her flying ability). And if you need someone important killed, who do you call? Why, an Assassin, that’s who. Specifically in the Fate world, you call the first Assassin, Hassan-i Sabbah.

FGO took a week off to sharpen up the animation, and it shows: this episode looks fantastic. It’s just…things are getting awfully ridiculous and BIG now, and Tiamat has now morphed into a comically overwrought CGI final boss. With just two episodes left, I’m hoping this Tiamat business can end sooner rather than later so we have some time for a proper epilogue.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 18 – No Pity

In the final night of rest everyone will get before the decisive battle with Tiamat, Gilgamesh warns Ritsuka and Mash not to blame themselves for Uruks fall, or dare pity the city or its people, but to stand proud of the amazing works they have achieved. That humanity is still here at all is all down to Ritsuka forming the new goddess alliance.

Quetzelcoatl seeks refuge at the Chaldean Embassy, not wanting to upset the cityfolk who considered her a fearsome enemy. She reveals to Ritsuka that she knew Gorgon and Tiamat were seperate entities ahead of time, but couldn’t tell the truth lest Ritsuka or others come to pity Gorgon.

Ishtar and Mash have a nice one-on-one, looking up at the stars of those who came before them, lived, shined, and died. Mash still fears battle, but because she has so many things she cares about and doesn’t want to lose. Leonidas once told her that heart of hers would be an invincible shield as long as that heart doesn’t break from the strain.

Finally, Gilgamesh meets Kingu atop the ziggurat, and has neither hatred nor pity for the one who stole his best friend’s body, which Gil heals using a grail from his treasury. Gil regards Kingu’s current position as an enviable one: his own free will is there to pick up and take. Kingu seems to take that to heart when he shows up for Gil’s final rally to his warriors of Uruk.

With that, Ritsuka, Mash, Ishtar and Quetzalcoatl head towards the rapidly advancing Tiamat, only hours away from a surely doomed Uruk. While en route they hit a cloud of lahmu and a resurrected Dark Ushiwakamaru, who is determined to stop them in their tracks before they do the same to her “Mother.”

Yet it is ultimately Ushiwaka who is stopped, and by her own former subordinate Benkei, returning to make up for the wrongs of his lord. As with her last appearance, there isn’t the slightest hint that Ushi could ever come back from her dark transformation, but Benkei isn’t looking to save her, but give her an honorable death, ending her suffering and anger for good.

He achieves this by holding Ushiwakamaru and her shadow clones in place as the wake of Kuku’s booming Noble Phantasm, Piedra del Sol, washes over them. Ushiwaka and Benkei’s Spirit Origins disappear, but while Tiamat is briefly stopped, she sheds her legs and starts to float above the sea of flame, despite being an earth goddess.

Since the plan was to drag her down into the underworld, the fact she is now airborne jeopardizes everything. Kuku doesn’t stand still, but takes advantage of Tiamat’s pause to throw everything she’s got left at her. Ritsuka fortifies Kuku’s Magical Energy, allowing her to unleash Ultimo Tope: Patada, in an increasingly awesome avant-garde display of destruction.

Essentially transforming herself into a comet (like the one that struck the Yucatan peninsula and decimated the dinosaurs), Kuku is able to destroy a number of Tiamat’s barriers, but once the dust clears, there’s no sign of Kuku remaining—we saw her very flesh cracking and shedding as the launched her attack—but Tiamat is still intact.

The Chaldeans’ options continue to dwindle as Tiamat keeps throwing wrenches into their carefully-laid plans, but it is not over yet. Kuku’s attack left a wound at which they can still scratch. Ishtar is still on the board. Ereshkigal’s underworld is still below if they can only manage to bring Tiamat back down to earth. Finally, the now-healed free agent Kingu still looms on the sidelines. I can’t imagine he’ll stay there.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 17 – Fresh Start

The gang approaches Tiamat, and Ishtar puts everything into her largest attack, which Ritsuka supports with a Command Seal: Angalta Kigalse. Tiamat is defeated in the first five minutes, but I didn’t believe for a second she was gone for good. Why? Because there are four episodes left.

Ishtar only destroyed a tiny part of Tiamat; her mammoth body proper rises up, and with it the sea levels. It’s not regular seawater either, but a poisonous red-black substance that means death for anything living. All the gang can do is withdraw to Uruk.

Gilgamesh just manages to save the city by deploying the Fang of Napishtim, which is a one-time thing, like Ishtar’s all-or-nothing attack. He’s glad Ritsuka and Mash are alive, but is open to ideas. Romani doesn’t have any good news for them: Tiamat literally has no weaknesses and can not die as long as there are humans alive on earth.

Oh yeah, and there are only 500 humans left. Things have only managed to get more and more dire, but humanity hasn’t lost as long as there’s even one of them alive, and as long as Gilgamesh and Uruk survive, humanity will be able to endure.

Enter Ereshkigal, who very informally reports to Gilgamesh that a huge number of souls have suddenly been dumped into her lap; far more than the natural balance of things would allow. That’s when it dawns on Ritsuka and Gil at the same time: in order to defeat goddess of life Tiamat, she must be dragged down into the underworld, where there is no life to sustain her.

Ereshkigal has certainly never attempted anything of the sort, but having held a grudge against Uruk for many years, just so happens to have prepared to open a gate to the underworld underneath the city. Thanks to her initiative, the time to prepare such a gate is reduced from ten years to three days.

The problem is, Tiamat is only two days away at her current speed, which means they have to somehow hold her off for twenty-four hours before Ereshkigal’s gate is ready. That’s a tall order, considering even the most powerful entity among them, Quetzalcoatl, doesn’t think anything can be done to even scratch Tiamat.

That’s when Gil turns to Ishtar, assuming she’s been holding back her ace in the hole this whole time. The Bull of Heaven, Gugalanna, will surely be sufficient in keeping Tiamat at bay for the necessary duration. Only one problem: Ishtar doesn’t have Gugalanna; she lost it and has no idea where it is. Following that disappointment, Gil proposes everyone relax and try to get some sleep—it could be the last time they ever have a chance to do so.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 16 – It’s About Family

It’s About Family—It’s a line that became a meme when the late Carrie Fisher used it to describe her journey in the Star Wars saga, and often used mockingly or in jest. I decided to use it here without cynicism, because it fits quite well. Family isn’t just about blood, but shared time and experiences, and being changed by that proximity.

After six singularities and change, Fujimaru and Mash are the brother/sister-esque duo (see also: Valerian and Laureline) responsible for saving the human race, aided by Big Bro Romani and Big Sis da Vinci. Servant “cousins” from far and wide have joined their fight, each with their own unique bond with Ritsuka. As for Gilgamesh? Well, he’s everyone’s Daddy, naturally.

This ragtag fam is up against another kind of family entirely: neither of blood nor circumstance, but mud—the primordial kind. Kingu was the proud firstborn of Mother Tiamat, but as he finds himself stabbed through the heart by a chaotic, impudent younger sibling, he probably longs for the days he was an only child.

The Lahmu who stabs him ends up extracting the Holy Grail, which was Kingu’s heart all along. It uses the Grail’s power to instantly evolve and gain wings with which to fly back to Mother, deliver the grail, and seal humanity’s doom. It’s all Ishtar can do to keep up with it with Maana, and Quetzelcoatl summons her Pterodactyls to join the chase. Neither make much progress slowing the Lahmu down.

Kingu, despite missing his grail-heart, attempts to flee his traitorous, sadistic sibings, who relish hunting him down and laughing at his inferiority and obsolescence. They eventually corner him in the woods, but just as one of them is about to kill him, it is killed instead by one of its own.

Siduri, as it happens, was part of the group chasing him, and decided the time was right to make her move. While she kills the other Lahmu, she suffers a mortal wound herself. Before she turns to dust, she thanks Kingu—referring to him as  Enkidu—for all the good times they had together and with Gilgamesh, and begs him to seek a life of happiness.

Gilgamesh and Siduri were a family Enkidu forgot when Mother used his body as the basis for Kingu. With the grail gone and Siduri managing to resist Tiamat’s authority, the memories come rushing back, and even though he doesn’t consider himself Enkidu, tears stream from his cheeks, mourning the twisting of his once happy family in Uruk.

Thanks to some persistence and teamwork, Kuku and Ishtar manage to ground the flying Lahmu, only for it to vanish without a trace. In its place, the long-awaited DARK USHIWAKAMARU emerges from the sea with one goal: to kill them all for abandoning her to wallow in hell. To his credit, Ritsuka doesn’t waver, and delivers the order to defeat the black sheep of the family.

Kuku jumps at the chance to cross swords with Dark Ushi, but can’t quite take her on alone. When Ishtar fires her last bullet before running out of magical energy, Kuku tag-teams with Mash, in one of the better-animated and most exciting lightning fast hand-to-hand battles in a show packed with ’em. I wouldn’t be surprised if F/GO took a week off in order to make sure scenes like this were done right…and they were.

With so much time passing between Good Ushiwaka’s fall and now, and all the buildup in between and speculation about when she’d return, it was going to be tough to give her the sendoff she deserved. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super-terrifying when she starts laughing maniacally (Hayami Saori’s performance turns wonderfully dark too) and suddenly multiplies into an army of dark Ushiwakas.

Mostly it’s just good to see her again, even if not under the best circumstances. But she’s gone almost as soon as she arrives, as Ishtar uses Ritsuka to recharge her energy stores and blasts all of the Ushiwakas into oblivion.

While I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be coming back around to the good side, I’m a little miffed she didn’t get the same sendoff as, say, Siduri or Merlin…or Ana. Instead, she dies gloating that her mission to act as a diversion was a success. While Ritsuka’s party was fighting her, the flying Lahmu arrived and delivered the grail to Tiamat, a huge setback.

Look at that, a cheeky Star Wars reference from the King of Heroes. Having both analyzed the primordial mud and invented a holo-imager, Papa Gil reports his findings to the team, and it’s not good: the parts of the sea now blackened by Tiamat contain her authority, and sea levels are rising. They threaten to flood humanity’s one and only bastion of civilization, and the forces of Uruk will only hold out another hour or so against the Lahmu.

With Game Over so close, the team’s only play is to head to the Spirit Origin signature in the Persion Gulf that is sporting magical energy of over seven Holy Grails. Ritsuka, Mash, Ishtar, and Kuku will have to be enough, barring the return of Ereshkigal…or a change of alliance by Kingu. Mother Tiamat is waiting in the middle of the gulf, butterfly eyes and all. Which family will win out?

P.S. Driving that family theme home, as well as adding to the special nature of this episode, is a new ending sequence featuring beautifully-rendered snapshots of Enkidu, Siduri, and Gilgamesh during happier days in Uruk, set to a soulful new song by milet, who has one hell of a voice.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 15 – Careful What You Wish For

Thanks to Ana’s immortality-nullifying Harpe, Gorgon/Tiamat is defeated in the episode’s first five minutes, which should have been the herald of good news, were this the final or penultimate episode. Of course, with a whole half-cour remaining in F/GO: ADF-B, the humanity and it’s heroes climb out of one hole only to find themselves at the very bottom of an even larger one.

Depsite Ana’s sacrifice, Gorgon did not possess the grail required to collapse the seventh Singularity and end the war. Kingu still has the grail, and was planning on killing Gorgon all along in order to awaken the real Tiamat, which Merlin calls an “Evil of Humanity” before vanishing after a massive “spacetime quake.” That’s right, Ritsuka, Mash & Co. will have to fight the true boss without Ana or Merlin. Bummer.

The real Tiamat doesn’t awaken immediately (though we do catch her seemingly yawning), but from the epicenter of the quake, an impossible force of 100 million beasts emerge, and thousands of them are already attacking Uruk by the time the heroes get back there. These creatures are apparently the species that will serve as the “New Humanity,” and they’re effectively fearsome, offputting, and implacable.

Those attacking the city suddenly withdraw without explanation, enabling Ritsuka’s party to meet with Gilgamesh. He has no orders for his people but to either fight and die in Uruk now or flee north, and perhaps live a bit longer.

When Ritsuka notices Siduri is missing and hears what happened, he demands to be given leave to rescue her in Eridu, where she was taken by the demented monsters Romani names lahmu. What seemed like an opportunity to raise some spirits in Gilgamesh’s court by rescuing his beloved scribe turns sour almost immediately…this episode is merciless in the crap it throws at the heroes.

Siduri has already been transformed into a lahmu, who are totally indescriminate in their torture, mind-manipulation, maiming and killing of “old” humans. Kingu stops this chaos, disgusted by the behavior of his “siblings” but determined to lead them and whip them into shape. For his trouble, he’s stabbed in the back by a lahmu, who sadistically tells him he’s “boring”.

Allies and villains are dropping like flies, replaced by ever more unreasonably monstrous foes. How Ritsuka is going to be able to salvage this situation short two servants is beyond me. And, as always since her capture, Ushiwakamaru remains an unseen, heartbreaking threat

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 14 – Heads Up!

It seems silly to call this a “calm before the storm” episode when it actually featured quite a bit of spectacle and excitement, but it’s clear the real decisive battle is yet to come, and this entry was to set it all up and give that battle the weight and finality it’s due.

As such, it starts with a war council composed of Gilgamesh, Ritsuka, Mash, and their assembled allies. Gil is short on men, but has enough for a last diversionary stand at the Northern Wall, giving Ritsuka and Mash sufficient cover to head to the Blood Fort in the Cedar Forest.

The day before the battle begins, Ritsuka and Mash say goodbye to Uruk as it is for perhaps the final time, reveling in how many new people they were able to interact with this time around, further reminding them why humanity is worth saving. While en route Merlin speaks to Ritsuka about the “beautiful history” humans make, and he wants a happy ending.

Ana, who also didn’t accompany the party to the Underworld, spent her time helping a blind, ailing old woman with her flower stall. That woman couldn’t see, but could feel the warmth within Ana, and urged her to remove her hood and keep her head up so she could be seen as the most beautiful young woman in Uruk.

If it wasn’t clear before, it’s made explicit here: Ana is a younger, more caring version of Gorgon, before her heart was twisted into an evil abomination. She carries all the guilt of her older self, but could prove to be the X-factor in the battle to defeat her and save humanity.

The day of the battle arrives, and Kingu joins the forces of Demonic Beasts, meeting Quetzalcoatl in single combat. Here Kuku shows just how powerful a goddess she is, not just by overpowering Kingu, dodging his chains, and staying on offense even when one catches her wrist.

No, I’m talking about the means by which the city block-sized Axe of Marduk will be sent to the Blood Fort: Kuku grabs it out of the sky, spins it like a propeller, and THROWS it to Merlin. This “mounmental axe throw” is one of the most badass things we’ve seen a Servant do in this series, right up there with when Ushiwakamaru shows out in her doomed battle with Gorgon.

The plan was simply for Quetzalcoatl to pass the axe off to Merlin so he could drop it on the fort, but Merlin’s staff “slips” and he simply alters the trajectory of her far more powerful throw. As a result, the fort is trashed and Gorgon’s divinity drops, increasing her vulnerability. Kuku loses some too as a result of breaking the edict of the alliance, but not all, since it was inadvertent.

Once inside, Mash is mortified almost unto paralysis by the sights they see of humans trapped in glowing orbs in various states of transformation to Demonic Beasts. She must be steadied by Ritsuka, but his hand also trembles. When they summon Gorgon, she’s in a charitable mood—likely due to the weakening caused by the partial destruction of her temple. If Ritsuka joins her cause to end humanity, he can be her Master.

That’s a Hard Pass for Ritsuka, and Ana steps forward, hood removed, and raises her head in preparation to unleash the Divinity she’s held back all this time. Turns out she has a pair of Mystic Eyes she’ll use to offset Gorgon’s, making things a little easier for our heroes. But there’s a lot of episodes left, so this fight is probably not going to be a butter cakewalk. Not to mention the yet-to-be-determined fate of Ushiwakamaru.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 12 – The Same Layer of Scroll

Happy New Year, and Happy New Fate/Grand Order. There was always something odd about Ishtar occasionally changing Dresspheres while chatting with Ritsuka. Now we learn the official reason: She’s two goddesses in one. Her opposite half Ereshkigal is the true third goddess of the Alliance, along with Gorgon and Quetzal.

When Siduri reports a spate of weakness-related deaths in Uruk, Gilgamesh’s chief among them, it’s clear it’s Ereshkigal’s handiwork. In order to rescue Gilgamesh’s soul and return it to his un-interred body, they must travel to the Underworld of Kur. To do so, Ishtar opens a huge hole in the ground.

I appreciate how this isn’t treated as some kind of inter-dimensional journey, but something far more grounded; after all, in the age of Gilgamesh the heavens, earth, and underworld were all physically linked. I also enjoyed the lighter tone to ease us back into the show. there were some dark times in the previous eleven episodes and there are sure to be more ahead, so it’s nice to see the show let it’s hair down when it’s appropriate.

Ritsuka and Mash grow impressed with Ishtar’s knowledge of Kur, inadvertently forcing her to reveal she’s been there before, when in a moment of hubris she believed she could conquer the realm, only to be handed perhaps the most humiliating defeat of her existence (hence not bringing it up before).

To reach Ereshkigal’s palace to defeat her, they’ll need to pass through Seven Gates that ask logical questions to ascertain the worthiness of the infiltrating soul. Ueda Kana (also Ishtar/Rin’s voice) puts on a clinic as the voice of those gates, asking Ritsuka deadly seriously who is more beautiful, Ishtar or Ereshkigal? Tough spot for Ritsuka.

Once they’re through six Gates (just as they’re currently through six of seven Singularities), Ishtar has been through a lot, and is now so tiny she can ride Fou, and does. That’s when the party encounters Gilgamesh, who reveals that he actually did die of overwork, but as he considers Kur his “own backyard”, wasn’t in a huge hurry to leave—not without using the opportunity to pay Ereshkigal a visit.

That said, if his physical body is dead, he won’t be of any more help than Tiny Ishtar. The other Heroic Spirits stayed behind because they’d be equally powerless. It’s Ereshkigal’s underworld, everyone else is just being dead in it. Only the still-living Ritsuka and Mash will be a match for the mid-level goddess, who gets things rolling by appearing in a form that wouldn’t be out of place on a death metal album cover.

I really dig the JRPG concept of having two normally overpowered members in Ishtar and Gilgamesh amounting to nothing to the strength of your party in Kur. They’re little more than observers, their powers locked away, able to only offer verbal and emotional support. After being sidelined for many of the tougher recent battles, Ritsuka and Mash are going to have to help their own cause.

P.S. New OP and ED. Both look fantastic, but really stand out with their songs. For the OP, a more urgent remix of the UNISON SQUARE GARDEN theme of the first half. The ED features the ridiculously talented milet, whose Vinland Saga ED theme never failed to give me the feels every time I heard it!

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 11 – Leap of Faith

Since his bitter defeat against Tiamat, Ritsuka has been on a serious goddess-collecting kick. First Ishtar, then Jaguarman, and now Quetzalcoatl this week. What’s that, you say? Ritsuka and his collection of servants were able to overpower “Kuku” and force her to to admit she’s better off on side Chaldea? Well…no, she actually kicks every one of the servants’ asses without breaking a sweat.

Instead, Ritsuka determines that the only way he’ll gain Kuku’s respect and trust is by trusting her when she says she’d rather not kill humans, and demonstrating “height and courage”. A bruised Ishtar carries Ritsuka high up in the air with her flying bow Maana, and he takes a flying leap, risking his life. He wakes up in Kuku’s lap, having won her over.

Romani admits that all’s well that ends well, but if Ritsuka had been wrong, it would have been Game Over for humanity, so…maybe don’t do that again. In a chat with Mash, she agrees with Ritsuka that despite being told Romani is hiding something, they should trust him and keep moving forward until the end.

Interestingly, it isn’t Kuku who visits Ritsuka in the night to relieve him from his watch, but Ishtar. She admits she’s been pleased with his progress, both in gaining the alliance of goddesses and learning how to properly interact with her. The two have made a habit of chatting under the stars like this, and it’s never not a lot of fun to watch—especially when Ishtar transforms into (presumably) an Archer servant from past singularities (not to mention her human vessel).

What everyone thought would be a triumphant return to Uruk with both a new goddess and the Axe of Marduk, turns to the next crisis, as Siduri runs out to tell them Gilgamesh is…missing. Gil wakes up in a dark cave dotted with strange light fixtures…Kur. Apparently, he’s dead now. That’s not good…

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 10 – The Apex of All Things Good

Gilgamesh assigns Fujimaru his next mission: travel to Eridu to attain the Axe of Marduk, a Divine Tool that can be used against Gorgon. They also have to look out for another stunningly-designed goddess Quetzalcoatl, who shows up unannounced by blasting right through the city gate and killing 100 people. She flirts with Fujimaru but its beyond any of his amassed servants, and in her true form potentially more dangerous than Gorgon. It’s more of a meet-and-greet than a battle, but it doesn’t change Fujimaru’s mission.

Instead, he has an additional objective: defeat Quetzalcoatl. To do so they must travel to her temple, believed to be just south of Eridu, and destroy the symbol that gives her superior divinity. That will even the odds. That means trudging through the jungle, the first night of which is another opportunity for Ishtar to warm up to Fujimaru, even using his name and calling them friends. She also momentarily changes form when she sneezes, but I’m not sure what that’s about.

FGO’s designated comic relief reappears in Jaguarman, after they witnessed her collecting the corpses of the Urukers killed by Quetzalcoatl; as a secondary Divine Spirit Jaggy is apparently bound to serve the big Q. She’s also no match for Ishtar, and when Fujimaru turns on the charm, she agrees to join his party as an additional ally, almost too easily. They then learn the corpses were actually reborn by Q but detained to be used as sacrifices. The episode closes with the party arriving at Q’s temple, with her looking ready to fight.