To Your Eternity – S2 06 – The Church of Heavy Metal

When Parona!Fushi mentions how they’ve been reading up on the concept of marriage and the “fluffy feeling” she gets from Kahaku and others, he embraces them, and that’s when Fushi becomes nauseous. As it happens, even if Fushi were open to becoming Kahaku’s wife, that’s not something Parona would tolerate. The very touch of Kahaku repels Parona, who was murdered by Hayase. Bon orders Kahaku to stay away from Fushi for the time being.

The campaign to gain Fushi followers continues in the next city, but this time many of the townsfolk have heard rumors that Fushi can now resurrect the dead. While true in the case of Anna, this comes as a surprise to Fushi, since Bon never told them. Fushi is shunted off into an alley, where a Bennett priest warns them that Bon is to be arrested and executed for heresy, but if Fushi surrenders willingly, their friends will be spared.

Fushi agrees, but neither Kahaku nor Todo buy what the Church is selling. Bon, when approached by Bishop Cylira, he grudgingly agrees to give Fushi up in exchange for a recommendation from the Church that Bon ascend to the throne of Uralis. It’s not what he wants, but it’s what’s best for his kingdom, and also what he’s been working for his whole life.

Todo whips up the crowd, and a town guard captain seemingly has Team Fushi’s back when he insists the church prove Fushi is a demon and not a servant of God. Cylira does so by giving Fushi a test: if they can’t revive a recently-deceased bishop, the church will have its proof.

Fushi, who at this point is still convinced they can’t revive anyone, copies the bishop’s corpse but is unable to revive him. They’re seized, and when Bon, Todo, and Kahaku try to intervene, Todo is stabbed by a sword and Bon is knocked out.

Bon comes to in an open-air cell suspended above a canyon, stripped of his gramps’ heirloom armor. Fushi is arguably worse off, as they’ve been sealed in a solid iron box. Fushi transforms into Gugu and breathes fire on the circular hatch, but can’t quite get it hot enough to melt the iron. After several attempts, Fushi starts to feel winded and nauseous.

The Beholder tells him he’s missing something they need (I’m guessing fresh air), and no matter who he transforms into, the bad feeling doesn’t subside. Then the hatch opens and molten metal starts to pour on them. The Beholder starts counting to see how long Fushi can last in a constant state of immolation and regeneration.

Of Team Fushi, only Kahaku and a handful of Guardians remain free. When they try to free Fushi from the cell in the dead of night, Pocoa emerges from her barrel and urges caution, and asks Kahaku to have faith in Bon and Fushi’s luck.

She might not be wrong, either! Todo, at least, survived the sword strike thanks to her embroidery stopping the blade before it could pierce her. Bon and Todo realize they’re in adjacent cells; perhaps they can work together. And even after over 100,000 seconds (over 27 hours), Fushi the immortal’s body still has form. All we can do is wait and see if that’s enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – S2 03 – Everything’s Peachy

Tonari told Fushi to find friends, and Kahaku claims to be one. As the first male of Hayase’s successors, his sole interest in women means Fushi doesn’t have to worry about being seduced. He also brings warning to Fushi that there’s a bounty on his head from a Church that considers both him and the Guardians as heretics.

Kahaku encourages Fushi to join the Guardians on their travels through towns and cities, showing himself to the people. It’s basically a PR junket, and the first of the villages is full of those who regard Fushi as a savior. He acts the part, producing both coin and food out of thin air for his followers.

When some not-so-friendly villagers attack Fushi, the Guardians protect him, though he does get hit by an egg. Kahaku suggests Fushi travel to the next city in a different form. When Fushi settles on Parona, Kahaku develops a crush, but for the journey Fushi shifts to Joan for better mobility.

While in this larger city, as in all previous settlements, the Guardians raise their banner, bearing the symbol of Jananda: three crossed swords representing the three major churches coming together as one. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not currently a reality, and Fushi starts to question if he’s truly “doing what he wants” (as Pyoran urged), and whether Kahaku is really one of the friends Tonari told him to make.

One day while walking in the woods between cities, Parona and Kahaku are suddenly caught in a rope trap, and the other Guardians are captured by strange purple knights. An extremely eccentric and flamboyant man in elaborate finery introduces himself: Prince Bonchien Nikolai La Tastypeach Uralys, their captor.

Bon talks a big game and even has an attendant he uses as a chair, but when Parona!Fushi frees herself and brandishes a sword, Bon goes to pieces. The chair-attendant explains that Bon sometimes talks to someone who’s not there.  Fushi is intrigued by this strange fellow, and allows herself to be captured, as long as Kahaku and the others come to and are not harmed. Bon agrees.

Bon is voiced by Koyasu Takehito, who is always an absolute hoot and often plays these kinds of out-there, over-the-top characters. Bon is no different, and Koyasu’s performance is a big reason why I found myself taking an instant liking to Bon. Another is that he’s quite unlike any other character in To Your Eternity thus far.

The capital of the Kingdom of Uralys is as whimsical as its prince: towers of pink, purples, and other pastels rising out of fissures in the earth. Despite the somewhat barren landscape the city is bustling and prosperous, and the smallfolk love their flashy prissy prince. The use of mimicking birds as microphones is a nice touch, as is the fact Bon’s father the king is tiny and adorable.

Bon orders ninja-like fashionistas to pounce on Fushi and give her a glow-up for dinner, as well as wash the stink of the road off Kahaku. Bon introduces his brother Prince Torta and his sister Princess Pocoa, who are excited and curious about Fushi. While technically captives, Fushi and Kahaku are treated well, and even share the table with the royal family, who pepper Fushi with questions about his orb-y origins and “the black one”.

Fushi’s mood sours when she learns Tonari’s diary was published, meaning one of Kahaku’s ancestors dug up her grave to procure it. She leaves the table, goes outside, and attempts to scurry off in mole form, but Bon follows and catches her. Kahaku joins them, and asks Bon to provide an army to Fushi and the Guardians so they can properly fight the Nokkers.

Bon considers it, but their talk is interrupted when representatives from the Church of Bennett (the ones who issued the bounty) come for Fushi. Bon shoos them away, saying Fushi isn’t going anywhere for the time being. The Bennettans leave, but they’ll surely be back, and possibly in force.

It’s after that encounter that we learn from Bon’s father the king that he’s not actually the crown prince; that’s the far less flashy Torta. Apparently his father believes him unfit to rule, but he’s determined to convince him otherwise, and capturing Fushi is a big part of that. But Fushi has apparently had his fill of all of this, and is considering letting the Nokkers absorb him entirely.

The Beholder appears to tell him even if he does that, he’ll simply return to being an orb and have to start over from nothing. Fushi claims not to care, as long as he’s not sacrificing any more of the living. To the Beholder’s count, over 13,000 people have been killed by the Nokkers, which isn’t much compared to natural disasters but still too many for Fushi’s taste.

The Beholder sees there’s no reasoning with Fushi, so he descends into the ground, but Prince Bon tells Fushi he’ll create “a new world” for him, so he should at least wait until after that to decide whether he wants to surrender to the enemy. While Fushi has value to Bon as a tool (like the Guardians), there’s also a chance, given time, that Bon could become a real friend. I want to see that friendship, and that new world. Then there’s the fact Fushi’s eye briefly changes from yellow to purple.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – S2 02 – Going to Town

With everyone else out cold, Tonari and Hisame have a little chat, but it quickly descends into violence as Hisame’s arm has a mind and will of its own (specifically Hayase’s). Once it gets its Nokker tendrils into Tonari’s hands, I knew it probably wasn’t going to go well for her. Her trusty owl Ligard knocks Hisame out with her poison talons, but the Nokker arm isn’t affected and drags Hisame into the night.

Tonari loses consciousness, and when Fushi comes to as an honored guest of the village elder, he finds her already on her death bed. There’s nothing her companion can do. All Tonari asks is that Fushi stay by her side until she “croaks”, and also show her all of the friends he’s made.

Fushi proceeds to transform into everyone from the original Boy to Tonari’s dead family, noting that his friends Tonari and Sander are still alive (he’d know if they weren’t). But what he doesn’t realize is that the two of them are right beside him, though Tonari soon dies and Sander says goodbye without revealing their identities.

It’s only when Fushi takes Tonari’s form and finds her journal behind her back that he realizes it was her all along, and that it’s always better to have many arrows than one. Now Tonari is part of his shapeshifting quiver. He soon runs into Hisame in the woods.

He wants to remove her Nokker arm, but she refuses, even when he transforms into Tonari. That night after wrapping her arm, she tells him that is her and her predecessor’s dream to have a child with him, which she hopes can happen if they “sleep together”. Both of them take this literally, which is obviously for the best!

The next day Fushi finds Hisame’s minders and returns her to them, and there’s a moment of levity as the Beholder tells Fushi that his reproductive organs work just fine, so he can “go to town” whenever. Again, Fushi takes this literally to go into town to make friends, and the Beholder doesn’t comment further, leaving Fushi to either figure out things in that arena to himself or not.

He travels from city to city, never staying longer than a couple of days lest the Nokkers have time to show up and take root. He has little luck making new friends, largely because whenever they seem friend-worthy he worries about watching them die, and breaks things off.

His only constant companions in the ensuing years are leaders of the Guardians, starting with Hisame’s Daughter (who was born many years after she and Fushi parted ways). Then her granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and so on for a few more generations show up, the latest being Kahaku, the first male successor. One would hope at this point in time that Hayase’s fye has mellowed a bit.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – S2 01 – Building Immunity

My first concern was that this second season of To Your Eternity wouldn’t feel quite right if the OP changed. Fortunately, the creators thought the same thing, and kept “Pink Blood”, just as House of the Dragon wisely kept the Game of Thrones theme for continuity’s sake.

When a village is suddenly attacked by Nokkers, there are those who come to protect the villagers, but Fushi isn’t one of them. He’s isolated himself on an island for forty years (two of them in the sea as various creatures), using his various forms to kill Nokkers as they come … and turning their dead cores into jerky.

Fushi thought the Nokkers were only interested in him, and so would only come to him, leaving the rest of the world safe from them. But one day the Beholder tells him that’s no longer the case. They’re attacking a village on another island, possibly to lure him out.

Fushi thought he was protecting humans by staying put, but now that he knows they’re still threatened, he doesn’t hesitate to make preparations to head there at once. But before he does, strangers arrive on his island, led by a nine-year-old girl with familiar eyes and hair.

She’s Hisame, the granddaughter of Hayase and a leader of the “Guardians”, a group that for the last forty years has been devoted to revering and one day supporting the Immortal One. While Hisame is a perfectly nice little girl, Fushi finds himself repelled from her, no doubt due to her connection to his former tormentor—not to mention the murderer of March and Parona.

Fushi keeps his distance, but one night when Hisame tries to sleep beside him, her grotesquely veiny arm reaches out as if outside her control. Turns out there’s a Nokker core within her arm, which was passed down to from her grandmother to her mother and now her. The Beholder explains that it contains the “fye”, or soul/spirit, of Hayase—and with it her will.

Fushi is weary, but he feels bad about regarding Hisame so suspiciously when it’s only that growth in her arm—a separate entity—that troubles him. He also can’t deny that he could use all the help he can get against the Nokkers. The Beholder suggests he get closer to Hisame little by little, building up an “immunity” to the negative feelings.

That night he builds boats for him, Hisame, and her party to take to the island where the village is being attacked by Nokkers. Hisame and the Guardians head into town first to get the lay of the place. While Fushi sits along from a high vantage point, he encounters two adult doctors who are there for the same reason he is: to help.

They also know Fushi the Immortal One well, as he’s become legendary throughout the land these last forty years. The female doctor closes in and warns him to stay weary of the so-called Guardians, who are only interested in one thing: possessing him, as Hayase did.

Hisame arrives in time to hear that and disputes it, and everyone heads into the village for dinner. There, Hisame insists the Guardians only want to help Fushi escape his “emotional prison” and aid him in defeating the Nokkers. She then asks her servants to serve everyone tea. The female doctor launches into a monologue about building up an immunity to the poisonous “silver bat”.

In the middle of her talking, both Fushi and her fellow doctor pass out, the result of poisoned tea. But she is still conscious, and even identifies the poison as morning glory. She asks for another cup of tea, which contains a different poison, but she’s immune to that too. Hisame calls for her comrades to seize her, but they’re all knocked out … by an owl.

Hisame then realizes who she’s dealing with: Tonari, who is now in her fifties and even tougher and more resourceful than her 14-year-old self when she first met Fushi on Jananda. She won’t let the reincarnation of Hayase and the Guardians have him so easily.

This second season had be excited for many reasons. First, Fushi can finally speak and act like a normal human due to all his past experiences and the benefit of time. He’s also a lot shrewder with his shapeshifting and better at hunting Nokkers.

I also like the big time jump. It makes sense that a forty years would hardly feel like anything to an immortal being, and I look forward to seeing how the world has changed since his absence, and who else besides Tonari may still be alive and well. And while the end theme did change, it’s very similar to, and just as trippy and weird as the previous one. I’ve missed you, TYE.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 04 – Divine Protection

Gus manages to fight off Stagnate, but it turns out Stagnate split himself in two. Stagnate’s second half arrives and puts Blood, Mary, and Gus out of commission, and gives Will an ultimatum: join him, or lose them all. He’s clearly the more charitable, patient half, because he gives Will 24 hours to decide. Will uses that time to sulk.

It’s at this point that the show reminds us that Will was, as he calls it, a useless garbage person in his past life, something he’s kept from his parents to this point. But when he wakes up and starts ranting about how useless and garbage-y he still is, Mary won’t hear it. She slaps him, tells him to stand up and get ahold of himself. Will may not have cried for his parents in his first life, but the fact he’s so shook up about his new parents proves he’s not the same person in this life.

Will turns Stagnate down, then has to fight a bunch of skeletons, which he does successfully, leading Stagnate to once again ask Will to join him. Will can tell Stagnate is genuine in his passion for and desire to create world without life or death, but simple everlasting…stagnation. The thing is, Will already had his fill of that in his past life, and is now in a position to reject it.

That’s because, even after Stagnate offers Will a cup of his blood, Will cuts of Stagnate’s hand holding the cup, and then the hand turns into a snake that injects Will with the blood like venom anyway, Will wakes up in the divine domain of Gracefeel, Goddess of the cycle of death and rebirth. A caring, benevolent God not unlike Mary in personality offers Will her divine protection.

All he has to do is what he wants to do anyway: move forward. Live. Not stagnate. When Will comes to, he’s able to use the Divine Torch, which spooks Stagnate into launching an emergency destruction spell. But Will realizes almost too late that Stagnate was using that as a smokescreen so he could get to his true target: Mary and Blood. Will Will make it in time to save his parents? I hope so!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 03 – Guardians of the Seal

Last week I was just complimenting Paladin for not wandering down the same seedy allies as Mushoku Tensei, but as Will is growing closer to adulthood, Blood decides to get him drunk and then try to spy on Mary undressing. There are a lot of problems with this—mostly that Mary is for all intents and purposes Will’s mom—but thankfully they fail, Will gets a swift slap in the face, and it’s over.

The next day is the day of the big duel between Will and Blood, and the combat animation and modeling was, if I’m being generous, a little rough. The surroundings at least were pretty, but the duel was not. It was also over seemingly as soon as it began, with Will figuring out that he has to bounce off Blood’s sword to get close. I will say Will’s trick of getting his opponent’s blade stuck in his ribs is a clever one…it just makes no sense that there’s black between those ribs.

The remainder of the episode has Blood and Mary basicaly giving Will a big old infodump of all the things they kept from him until he was old enough to hear and understand it. The two of them plus Gus were once humans, but in order to rid the city of demons loyal to the High King of the Eternals, they made a deal with the evil god Stagnate, and became undead guards of the seal keeping the High King at bay.

That was 200 years ago. At some point Will appeared in their lives, and Mary and Blood decided to raise him like a son. But now it’s time to say goodbye, and not just because Will is of age. Stagnate, it seems has come to take what’s left of the three in exchange for the peace they’ve enjoyed. He also probably wouldn’t mind having Will too.

Then Gus arrives and tells Will to take Mary and Blood and get out of there, presumably so he can engage in epic battle with Stagnate without worrying about collateral. I gotta say I’m not optimistic about that battle being any more impressive than this week’s duel, but I do care about what happens to this family.

The Faraway Paladin – 02 – Hero or Die

There’s not much of a sharp edge to Paladin, and yet it’s anything but soft. It’s as wholesome as Mushoku Tensei is raunchy, but it never feels too sweet. In fact, despite three of the four on-screen characters so far are a skeleton, a mummy and a ghost, there’s a profound realism to the proceedings. It’s a wonderfully balanced show that draws you effortlessly into its world.

William could easily have come off as boring or far too squeaky-clean for his own good. But he’s just such a goshdarn nice kid, you just want to protect and root for him. Now that he’s thirteen, the fruit of his three surrogate parents’ labor is starting to show: the kid is a badass. Blood knows this, which is why he leaves Will in the dungeon below the ruined city without escort. He’ll be fine!

But while Blood is passive in his instruction, teaching Will a lesson through the absence of his big, burly, protective person, Gus pushes Will to the absolute emotional limits with some truly diabolical mind games. Will doesn’t know if Gus is serious about trying to kill him, nor does he know if the dungeon and the city of death above it are somehow controlling Gus. All he knows is he’d rather die than hurt his “grandpa”.

With a father figure in Blood, a mother figure in Mary, and a gramps in Gus, Will has quite possibly the coolest and most loving families anyone could ask for, alive or undead. And yet questions like who his blood parents were and what happened to them and the city trouble him. He becomes more self-aware, introspective, and curious as he nears his fifteenth year, which in this world means you’re an adult.

Before the coming of age rituals that are certain to come, Gus and Blood show Will a more mischievous side by having him collect coins in the dungeon and then gamble over backgammon. This draws the ire of Mary, but both misbehavior and scolding are equally important lessons as Will will soon strike out into a world that will try to prey on his kindness and relative naïveté.

But the march of time is relentless, as is Will’s drawing nearer to the line between child pupil and adult paladin. He’s to swear an oath to one of the gods and thereby gain their divine blessing (along with a degree of hardship in exchange), and at some point Blood will challenge him to a serious one-on-one duel. There’s the bittersweet feeling that Will’s three parents don’t want him to leave the nest, but it’s inevitable that he’ll have to, and essential that he’s thoroughly prepared.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 01 (First Impressions) – Enduring the Holy Flame

When we meet Will, looking every bit like the little brother of Chise and Shirayuki (which is very apropos), his world is very small. There are only three people in his life: Gus the ghost, Mary the mummy, and Blood the skeleton. You will note that none of those creatures should necessarily classify as “people”, but here they do, because they’re raising a little boy they could have easily killed…or left to die.

While I know if I was three years old I’d probably be scared out of my mind by the presence of three monsters in my life, but that’s only because I was raised by human parents. Will has never known anything in this world other than these three. The twist is, he’s not originally from this world, but from ours. This adds a wrinkle to a premise that, frankly, could have been just fine without the Isekai angle.

That’s because the idea of these three classic enemies of humanity were responsible for leveling the nearby human city taking pitting on the sole survivor and raising him like their own child is an attractive one. Unlike, say, Golem in Somali and the Forest Spirit, they all have a good grasp on humanity and raising children because all three of them used to be human.

Of course, Gus, Mary and Blood are not simply emulating three human parents; they’re imbuing Will with the wisdom and experience only three undead beings can. Gus helps Will unlock his affinity for magic; Blood toughens and hones him into a man who can kill when he needs to (for survival) and defend himself so he won’t die. Mary teaches him everything else about life—including empathy and unconditional love.

Inevitably, Will grows older (eight to be exact) and his curiosity about what his three adoptive parents haven’t disclosed or are currently hiding from him grows exponentially, as does his ability to investigate. Again, this is nothing different from what regular human parents go through—you try to hold off on explaining certain concepts until the kids are old enough to properly understand. But Will is already at that point, whether they like it or not, and it’s due in no small part to how well they’ve raised him.

To that end, when he spots Mary sneaking into the chapel to pray and finds her surrounded by white flame, Will runs in and grabs her to try to pull her out, causing severe burns that may scar his hands and arms for life. But when he comes to and Mary apologizes for keeping secrets, Will apologizes right back, for prying.

Mary also tells Will that she keeps praying to the goddess Mater she betrayed after death because she still reveres her, and because Mater provides bread to sustain Will. By all indications, Will didn’t live the best life back in our world, but these three undead monsters seem to be teaching him to be a better human.

Good-natured, charming, optimistic, possessing just the right hint of darkness lurking beneath the surface (that city looked pretty dead) and a kick-ass English title, The Faraway Paladin is promising slice-of-life Isekai, perhaps different enough from Mushoku Tensei to keep it on my watchlist.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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.

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