Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 09 – The Legend Continues

As those who share Kiichi’s views grow in number, he still finds time for tea with Yuugiri, who whips up a medicine for his ailing grandfather. Kiichi and Itou pose with Yuugiri for a photograph, which for me meant that somewhere in the present day there’s a very old black-and-white photo of the Legendary Courtesan out there—assuming it survived the war.

However, those who have joined Kiichi don’t necessarily want a new Saga for all; they want their old Saga back, and as many of them are veterans of the war lost eight years ago, they’re willing to take up arms and spill blood to do it, which is far beyond the peaceful return of Saga of which the idealistic Kiichi dreams.

Itou, in between ripping down Kiichi’s flyers and passing messengers disguised as vagrants, gives his friend one final warning to give up his crusade now that it is poised to become a violent one beyond his control. But Kiichi isn’t quite ready to give up on Saga, either for himself or the comrades he’s gathered.

Unfortunately, those comrades armed themselves and planned an armed rebellion behind Kiichi’s back. On the snowy night when they spring into action, Itou meets them in a quiet street…and cuts them all down on orders from the government.

By the time Kiichi catches up to his comrades, Itou has already slaughtered them all. It turns out he was watching out for spies all along, and while he knew Kiichi didn’t mean for things to turn out this way, he’s crossed a line he can’t un-cross, and now it’s Itou’s duty to kill him.

Yuugiri doesn’t let him, whipping a katana out of her shamisen to meet his, saving Kiichi’s life. When the local police approach with whistles blaring, Itou flees one way while Yuugiri and Kiichi go another. All the while, Kiichi’s gramps is having some kind of attack and collapses before he can reach the medicine.

After losing the fuzz, Kiichi starts to sob and whine, and Yuugiri slaps him, telling him he’s come this far for Saga’s sake and can’t give up now. As we saw in a previous scene, she’s already written to some of her many powerful friends who have sworn to protect Kiichi until things cool down. Kiichi doesn’t want to leave the Saga he loves, but he listens to the legendary savior whom he loves.

By the time Itou finds a casually smoking Yuugiri, Kiichi is long gone. Yuugiri forewarns that she was trained by someone called the “Sheathed Kichiemon”, whom Itou knows as “The Demon of Hibiya,” and thus knows he can’t go easy on her. In the ensuing one-slash duel, Yuugiri bests Itou, killing him, but is shocked that he let himself be killed.

No doubt if Itou failed to kill Kiichi, he was as good as dead anyway; he simply let Yuugiri take care of him for him. And with the snow ceasing and the clouds opening up to reveal a majestic full moon, Yuugiri accepts her fate. The next morning, Gramps wakes up and finds a letter from Yuugiri amongst the medicine.

In it, she says by the time he reads it she’ll likely be dead; beheaded by the military in a unilateral execution for killing Itou, a government official. Interspersed with her beautifully lit and solemn execution scene, she tells Gramps that if he’s truly “Saga” (as in, the human embodiment of Saga) as claimed, he’ll guide the new Saga Kiichi creates.

The following spring, May 1883, Saga re-gains independence from Nagasaki thanks to a peaceful appeal from supporters in the prefecture, and by August, unilateral execution was banned, and just nine days after that, Kiichi’s dream officially came true, as the first Saga prefectural assembly is held. Yuugiri’s death, and that of Kiichi’s comrades, weren’t in vain.

With that, we find ourselves back in the present, as Yuugiri takes center stage in a bopping swing-style concert, resplendent in period-inspired garb as her fellow idols support her. This particular concert hits different now that we’ve seen everything Yuugiri’s been through to come to this part of her (after)life.

In a very cheeky epilogue, she has some very nice whiskey in a very classy bar tended by a man who looks and sounds like a younger version of Kiichi’s gramps. He is aware that Yuugiri was alive in the Meiji era, and the black-and-white photo of her with Kiichi and Itou is behind the bar, so this guy must really be the immortal Saga.

Not only did this two-parter give the legendary Yuugiri the epic backstory he deserved, in which she was revealed a hero, martyr, and unsung founding mother to the new Saga—it also expands the mythos of the show by introducing an undying character who has been on the margins of this whole story all along, and may well be behind the necromancy that brought Yuugiri and the other idols back. In any case, I’m eager to see where this goes!

Crow and Irina talk episode 9 here!

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

86 – 05 – Ghosts In the Machines

This week we learn the details of how Shin’s brother saved Lena’s life when the helicopter she and her father were on crashed. Despite having everything taken from him by the Alba, Shourei was still a proud soldier of the Republic, and saving Lena—and giving her chocolate to eat—was his solemn duty.

Lena had seen and heard from her father how her people had done horrible things to the 86, so when Shourei’s stomach grumbled, she split the chocolate with him. It’s just that by the end of this episode, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier for Lena if that approaching Legion had killed her, though even then, it wasn’t a sure thing she’d remain dead.

The morning after reliving the most traumatic experience of her life, Lena is once again approached by Annette, who once again has a tasty dessert for her to try, and shifts the talk to party dresses for the upcoming Revolution Festival. Even Annette’s “memorial” to all her past suitors on the wall remind Lena of the actual memorial she just visited, as well as Shin’s undertaker role.

Even Shin tells Lena to go have fun; she’s not expected to spend all her time with Handler duties. As she talks to Shin, she encounters two other soldiers flirting on the stairs and gets a little flustered herself, but any thoughts of kicking back and partying are dashed when Shin announces out of the blue that the Legion are coming—despite there not being any warnings on Lena’s end.

Shin also makes the unprecedented request that Lena switch off her Para-Raid for the coming battle, as there are a lot of “Black Sheep” approaching. Lena resolutely refuses to disconnect, and Shin makes it clear that he warned her. As Shin and the others engage, Lena starts to hear strange voices among the static: the sounds of peoples’ last moments…including Kaie’s “I don’t want to die.”

The voices keep repeating and echoing in Lena’s head, and immediately it becomes clear why so many other Handlers went mad; even in her bedroom with the Para-Raid deactivated, merely reaching for it causes all the voices to rush back into her head. But while no previous Handler ever called back after hearing the voices, Lena still calls Shin back. She had to; she needs answers to what the hell just happened.

Shin is happy to provide the answers, but they’re all horrific downers. He can always engage the Legion before Lena even gets an alert because he can always hear the voices of ghosts of those who have died, but are still there.

Despite the Republic’s official stance that the war will end in two years when the Legion’s AI will shut down, Shin knows better: the Legion have been taking the brains of fallen 86 and copying them to replace the function of the AI due to shut down, thus extending their operating time—and thus the war—indefinitely.

This means the Republic, whose Alba citizens are so keen to hold swanky parties and get drunk and bang, believe they have the war in the bag when in reality, their defeat is almost assured. Not only will the Legion not shut down, but they’ve been building up their numbers, all while the 86 have dwindled to a smattering of children. Soon, Shin says, all of them will be dead.

When that happens, will the Alba fight in their place? Shin doesn’t think it likely. Even if they did, they’d be outmatched, since some of the brains recovered by the Legion were undamaged enough to create “Shepherds”—ghost commanders who make their Legion units significantly more powerful and adaptive.

Lena says if all that is the case, they simply need to wipe out the Legion before the 86 are wiped out, and before Shin’s service time expires. She wants the two of them to win and survive. But as Shin reveals a huge scar around his neck and recalls his brother choking him and saying “It’s your fault!”, it doesn’t seem Shin is interested in surviving. It’s also looking like his brother’s brain is one of those Shepherds.

Lena’s struggle to bring justice and dignity to the 86 seemed quaint and woefully insufficient before we learned the Republic are actually massive underdogs in this war, which won’t end when they expect it. With all this new information, it almost seems like Lena attending that party with Annette and getting blackout drunk would be equally as productive as anything else she could do.

Maybe that’s why Annette warned Lena not to get too close to the 86: because she too knows the truth (or a measure of it), and that there’s nothing left for them to do but enjoy life while the living’s good.

86 – 04 – Your Names.

After Theo lays into Lena for her hypocrisy, Raiden asks that she cut the connection for now. While Theo went too far, no one is in the mood for another “friendly chat” with her. Theo ends up regretting his rant for “tainting” Kaie’s death, making him no different from the white pigs.

After Anju, Kurena and Rekka grab Theo and mend his jacket button, he heads to the hangar to ask Shin what the “Fox commander” would have said to the Handler, a white pig who thinks she’s a saint for getting all buddy-buddy with them. As he secures a scrap of Kaie’s Juggernaut, Shin simply says the commander wouldn’t have said that.

While Theo’s comrades help him to process his grief and rage, all Lena’s “best friend” Annette has for her is pudding and platitudes. I’m not here to say Annette is a coward or a monster—it’s not that simple—but she is an unapologetic cog in a monstrous machine, believes there’s “nothing she can do” to change that, and strongly suggests Lena give up on the 86, and join her at the lab.

It also seems like her patience with Lena’s idealism is wearing thin. Even if she’s not a true believer and sees the injustice in their world, she resents Lena’s continued insistence the worlds can and should be bridged. “There’s pudding here, and not there” is as chillingly banal a defense of slavery ethnic cleansing as I’ve ever heard.

Not satisfied to eat away her pain, the evening light from the windows of HQ  calls to Lena’s mind a memory of riding with her father in a helicopter over the 86 concentration camps. She doesn’t remember much of what happened afterwards, but we can see the chopper was shot down and he tried to protect her from an attacking Legion mecha.

Lena tells her uncle about that memory, and how it allowed her to hold the ideals that the Republic threw away (as she says this, we see the statue of the gorgeous Wagnerian Valkyrie representing those ideals, while the fountain below is fouled with empty bottles and trash. 86’s visuals are rarely subtle, but they are damned effective!

Her uncle dispenses with the pudding analogies and tells Lena straight up that her father was a kind man and a good father, but at the end of the day he was doing nothing more than watching and talking about making it a better place. All he ended up achieving was getting himself killed and planting a potentially equally fatal seed of idealism in Lena. Her uncle probably wishes his niece wasn’t so intent on making those ideals real, as her father was, because the whole point of ideals are that they are unattainable, and trying to achieve the impossible is “foolish and cowardly.”

Still, she refuses to step down as Spearhead’s Handler. Her talks with Annette and her uncle leave her as frustrated as ever, and as she overhears another propaganda report on the public monitor, she hears Theo’s truer words over the reporter’s, reaches a breaking point, and initializes synchronization with Undertaker.

Lena runs to the War Casualties Cemetery, where not a single one of the 86 who have fallen has a grave. She begins by apologizing to Undertaker, then asking if she can learn the names of the members of Spearhead. Shin assures her that what Theo said wasn’t what they all thought, and they realize she didn’t create this world and can’t fix it on her own, so she doesn’t have to blame herself for “not doing the impossible”.

He continues by asserting that callsigns are used and Processor files locked so that Handlers won’t get too attached to them, or become overwhelmed by all the inevitable loss. But Lena doesn’t care; she doesn’t want to be a coward anymore. She asks again for their names, and writes them down as Shin gives them to her.

Then she hears him carving into the scrap of metal for Kaie, and he explains his duty of ensuring those who have been lost are remembered through the ritual, which is partly how he got the name “Undertaker”. He tells her Kaie was the 561st person for whom he’s carved a name, meaning he’s faced each and every one of the people who died beside him. Lena laments having never faced the deaths that occurred under her watch—only felt vaguely bad about them.

Lena then asks for Shin to broadcast her to everyone in the unit so she can apologize to them for not treating them as humans and not even realizing it. She learns from Theo that the previous Laughing Fox was an Alba like her. He was one of them, but as long as she’s inside the walls, they’ll never accept her as one of theirs. Raiden adds that while they’re sorry for thinking she was a “wannabie saint” and “hypocrite pig”, he still doesn’t think she’s cut out to be a Handler.

In a private chat with Shin later, Lena gets his name: Shinei Nouzen, and asks him if he knew a Shourei Nouzen, AKA Dullahan. Shin’s memories of Shourei (with his face scratched out) flood his head, leading him to crack an exceedingly rare smile as he tells her he was his brother.

Throughout all of this, we see the past structure of the series begin to break down, with far more cuts back and forth between Lena and Shin’s worlds. Now that she knows the real names of her unit, she’s rejected the cold complicity of her so-called best friend and jaded uncle.

They told her to extricate herself from this mess, but she decided to dive in deeper, and the more frequent cuts between the worlds is a sign of that fresh devotion to living a more honest life and not giving up on the ideals everyone else has. This episode lacked any battle action and was essentially a simple sequence of discussions.

Despite that, I was never once bored by the visuals that accompanied those talks, which more often than not were arresting both in the reality of the images presented and the interplay between them and the subject matter. I said last week Lena would have to do more to reconcile her ideals and actions, and she took the first steps here. A hard road lies ahead, but as her father’s daughter she’s determined to walk it. She’s had enough of pudding.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 03 – What a King (and Queen) Need

Well, SPZC has one thing going for it for sure: the story ain’t hard to follow! As with last week, a lot less happens on the light side that has to be stretched out. Queen Iris is troubled by the recent violence, but looks back to the time when she and Cima were still candidates.

Back then she managed to dispel a cloud of darkness on her own when the Rune answered her call. The look back reminds her of her duty not just to protect her people, but maintain the balance of Black and White, even if no one else understands that bit.

Indeed, the only person she can probably relate with on the matter of balance (as opposed to simply eliminating one’s enemy completely) is the Dark Prince. As I said, more happens to him, as he has yet to succeed the present King. However, this week eliminates the obstacle of competition for his spot as successor.

Like Iris, the prince’s commitment to balance causes him to act in a way the other candidates fight inexplicable, like helping one of them rather than letting them die. But the prince remembers the horrors that befell his village and has determined he’ll be a king who doesn’t just look after himself and his own power.

The competition is quick and efficient: after the larger group is whittled down in a beast battle, the last two standing duel each other, with the Prince beating Adel, who like Cima takes the loss very well and is willing to befriend the winner.

Groza bestows upon the Prince the symbol of his right of succession—the unimaginatively named Greatsword of Black—and his first mission: for him and Adel to go to the Kingdom of White as official envoys and deliver the news of their succession to the Queen of Light.

It looks like the fourth episode will be the one when Iris and Prince (God I wish he had a name) finally meet. I wish these first three episodes had delved a little deeper into who these two characters are besides their very simplified archetypes and shared ideals, but this isn’t that kind of show.

Instead, Iris and Prince are more symbols of hope in the idea that a lasting peace beneficial to all could be struck if they can come together. The stage is now set for that encounter. Will Cima and Adel stand by their friends throughout these efforts, or undermine them, more confident in the strength of their side than with the prospects of balance?

P.S. Here’s the poppy ED. It rips!

One Punch Man 2 – 09 – Not Strong Enough to Defeat Boredom

Watching Saitama obliterate foes with one punch is only half the fun of his fights. The other half is how he reacts to blows against him, or otherwise absorbs them. In this case, taking Monster Bakuzan’s first and second kicks do nothing but send him sliding off to the side; he’s otherwise unharmed.

Bakuzan assumes he’s lost his mind from the fear of facing him, but Saitama is only still and lost in thought because he’s trying to remember who this guy is. He can’t, so he ends it…by halving Bakuzan.

After learning this guy’s real name is Saitama, and he mostly joined the martial arts competition because he was bored and wanted a taste of what he might be up against with the hero hunter, Suiryu still tries to stop him from going after Goketsu, convinced he’s walking towards certain death.

Always good to see Saitama’s doubters thoroughly rebuked. Goketsu is so easy, we don’t even have to watch it—and the sappy piano just keeps playing through the “fight”—but we do hear it. I also enjoyed Saitama laughing off Suiryu’s request to be his disciple. Dude’s got standards, man! Beat Genos and we’ll talk.

After a brief check-in with Puri-Puri Prisoner fighting buck naked and hugging his spiky opponent to death then pulling a flip phone out of his ass, we find Saitama wandering the streets until he encounters King, and the two have a long conversation about Saitama’s long-standing ennui caused by his power plateau (King rather hilariously assumes at first that Saitama is depressed because of his baldness).

King promises him he’s only being arrogant about having no challenges left. He’s a hero who cares more about having fun fighting than the heroic ideals he should be living by; that’s room for improvement, for a start.

King supplements their lovely talk by lifting cool manga monologues, impressing Saitama with his eloquence, when suddenly Garo shows up, pissed off from his defeat to Watchdog Man and looking for another hero to hunt. His eyes focus on King, assuming his casual appearance is merely a facade and calculating all of his possible first moves.

But King doesn’t move; he just stands there like a big dumb idiot. It’s Saitama who saves him by kicking Garo through a wall, just as he’s talking about his hope the hero hunter will be something resembling a challenge. Sorry, Saitama…no such luck. There’s another hallmark of good OPM: Saitama is either completely out of the loop or at least four or five steps behind what’s going on in the world of heroes and monsters. In this case, that obliviousness is sparing him more bitter disappointment.

Speaking of wannabe Saitama rivals, Speed-o’-Sound Sonic is accosted by two equally quick and powerful members of the “Golden 37” who have converted to Monsters and offer Sonic a cell, demanding he join them. Sonic mulls over the consequences of losing his humanity, but he considers himself as good as dead anyway after his first (of many) losses to Saitama.

Thankfully, Sonic’s general disgust with the cell leads him to cooking it up before eating it, which not only gives him a bad case of the runs, but likely nullified the cell’s ability to transform him into a monster. Not like becoming a monster makes it any less likely you’ll be able to defeat Saitama…or even lay a scratch on him.

In other news, Genos is on his way to be repaired after being ambushed, the Gorilla monster meets an actual, sentient Gorilla who is just going about his business, very Saitama-like; and the Hero Association board prepares to exercise caution lest their main patron’s son get killed and led to their funding getting cut, followed by the infiltration of the room by a functionary-turned-monster.

One Punch Man 2 – 08 – Call of the Heroes

Even if Suiryu thought he deserved the tournament win (he doesn’t), he wouldn’t have had more than a few moments to savor it, as Goketsu, escorted by three monstrous crows, crashes the award ceremony. Once a martial arts champion and believed killed by monsters, he was actually given the choice to join them, which he did.

He extends that same choice to the assembled fighters: eat the monster cells and become like him, or die. Some, like Choze, are eager to see how much stronger they can get. Others, like Suiryu himself, aren’t interested in becoming ugly brutes. Instead, he asks a pretty girl if she’ll go on a date with him if he takes care of the monsters.

While Suiryu holds his own and dispatches Monster-Choze, he’s absolutely no match against Goketsu. As Garou picks a fight with Watchdog Man in City Q, Goketsu treats Suiryu like a ragdoll, easily absorbing his strongest attacks and breaking his arm.

To Suiryu’s surprise, Snek and Lightning Max, who had been flicked away by Goketsu earlier, are back for round two, standing their ground like the professional Heroes they are. They made sure to grab effects crucial to their success: Snek’s suit and Max’s shoes.

Ultimately, they’re no more a match for Goketsu as Suiryu. Meanwhile, Bakuzan, who ate a bunch of cells, transforms into a Threat Level-Dragon monster, although still not one that can push Goketsu around. For his part, Goketsu is ordered back to the Monster Association base on the outskirts of City Z, an urges Bakuzan to follow.

But before he does, Bakuzan takes his time wailing on the already battered Suiryu, taking great pleasure in beating down someone much weaker. It’s then when Suiryu, so independent and fun-loving thanks to his good looks and tremendous strength and fighting ability, is brought so low he has no choice but to call out to someone, anyone to help.

And who should answer that call but Saitama, whose absence this entire episode can be chalked up to him either running home or to the locker room to put on his superhero costume. The same man whose punch Suiryu estimated would have ended him had it not been held back; the same opponent who only lost because he was wearing a wig—he’s Suiryu’s only hope. Thankfully, it’s a good bet Saitama’s got this.

One Punch Man 2 – 07 – It’s Fun Being Strong

After meeting Monster King Orochi, who leads the Monster Association, we see Class S Heroes spring into action and dispatch the latest batch of monsters with relative ease. Meanwhile, Saitama takes care of the sadistic eugenics enthusiast Choze with one punch in the semifinals, making Suiryu his final opponent.

Of course, a 13th-ranked S is still quite a bit weaker than Tornado, as we see when Flashy Flash can’t quite finish a boss monster with maximum efficiency. We check in on Atomic Samurai asking for the help of the other members of the Holy Order of the Sword to defeat Garo in case Silverfang goes soft on his former student and fails.

One of the members, Haragiri, has already been corrupted and transformed into a monster, courtesy of the Monster Association, which he helpfully describes as “a group made up of monsters.” But however much stronger becoming a monster made him, Haragiri falls to Atomic in the blink of an eye.

The balance of the episode deals with the tournament final between Suiryu of the Dark Corporeal Fist and Charanko of the Fist of Water Polo. Saitama’s main worry is whether Suiryu figures out he’s wearing a wig or, worse still, knocks it off. As a result, Saitama has to take a defensive posture.

Suiryu can tell Saitama is far stronger than he looks, and as a fellow strong person expresses his desire to have fun with that strength. If Saitama entertains him with a good fight, Suiryu will show him what martial arts truly are, which is the main reason Saitama entered in the first place.

None of Suiryu’s attacks have any effect on Saitama, but his words spitting on the Hero Association and its lofty ideals are mere “boring containments” that threaten his life of fun. Suiryu then knocks Saitama’s wig off. It’s enough to make Saitama mad enough to almost punch him, but he holds back at the last second.

The officials disqualify Saitama, making Suiryu the tournament champion, but he’s not satisfied and the fight continues, multiplying in intensity exponentially as he reduces the stone fighting platform into rubble. This leads Saitama to glean that the primary purpose of Martial Arts is to learn how to look cool while you’re fighting.

Trying to take a page from the Suiryu school, Saitama backs into him with his butt, sending him flying into the side of the arena. Rules or no, Suiryu suffers his first defeat ever—that’s sure to mess with a guy. Finally, out in the city, Genos is dealt an unprecedented defeat at the hands of a dragon-level monster named Goketsu.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 12 (Fin) – Never Gonna Give Up, Never Gonna Let Down

For the record, I was never against Akira running again, I just wanted it to be because she wanted to do it, not because Haruka or anyone else compelled her to. In any hard endeavor, if your heart isn’t in something, quality suffers, and its evident for all.

What I learned from this finale is that both Akira and Masami got nudges of varying kinds from their respective best friends. One of them, Haruka, may have pushed a little to far in her zealousness, but to her credit, is aware of that, and how it may well be selfish of her to put Akira on the spot.

At the same time, Haruka is being true to what she wants, even if it’s selfish or may not work out; even if Akira never speaks to her again, she had to make her stand, in case there was just the slightest glimmer of an ember of passion remaining in post-op Akira’s heart.

Despite the differing levels of intensity, both “friend nudges” ultimately succeed, because there were indeed embers in the hearts of both Akira and Masami, which only needed a little bit of oxygen to reignite. Perhaps due to how receptive he was to Chihiro’s advice, Masami is back to belting out pages through the night, nearly causing a dozen cigarette fires.

It’s at this point that we return to the budding romance of Nishida and Yoshizawa, never an unwelcome prospect owing to their infectious chemistry and general adorability. Both are unsure of their futures, but while Yoshizawa is simply going to college and will figure out what to do later, Nishida has decided to start on the path of hair-styling.

Yoshizawa was the one that nudged her in that direction, fortifying her courage with his confidence in her ability and satisfaction with the work she’s done and, if she’ll have him, will continue to do into the future. Bawwww.

Meanwhile, Haruka continues to wait for Akira, spotting two middle schoolers sharing a scarf while scouting the high school and remembering when she and Akira did the same exact thing, because it was a school that, according to its name, can “see the wind,” something they wanted to do together.

While Kondo is away at the Head Office again, sparking rumors that he’s soon to be promoted, his son Yuuto suddenly asks Akira if she’s fast, and whether she’ll teach him. Akira just as suddenly agrees, and does a really good job!

When Yuuto falls, he asks if he wants a break, but he refuses, not wanting to give up; wanting to reach the finish line even if he’s last, or else it will feel like he never ran. Just when it sounds like a “from the mouths of babes” moment, Yuuto makes it clear it was his dad that said this stuff to him, adding that he wasn’t going to give up either.

When she catches Kondo in the office, he thanks her for teaching his son, and she tells him what Yuuto told her. Akira can tell he’s gotten back into writing novels, and he tells her he’s essentially added a promise to a promise one from which he’s both suffered and learned, wondering out loud if she has a similar promise she’s forgotten.

That night, she remembers. Unpleasant and overdone as it was, Haruka’s confrontation nevertheless helped unsheath a still-warm ember in her heart. Kondo’s inspiring words and those of his son then reignited it.

Kondo finally announces why he’s been at the head office so much: it’s not that he’s getting promoted, but he has to master a new menu…which he hasn’t been able to do. His coworkers assume it’s another episode of their pitiable bed-headed manager bumbling about again…but nobody knows that he hasn’t kept up with the new menu because he’s so absorbed in writing. Nobody, that is, except Akira.

When he even leaves the menu book behind, Akira decides to tracks him down to return it. She remembers that after the fall that tore her Achilles, Haruka urged her to get back up, and she did, limping across the finish line. She didn’t give up.

Kondou encounter her in a light jog, and after what happened the last time she chased someone down, Kondou is worried. But Akira is perfectly fine, telling him “It’ll stop raining soon.”

Kondou is about to say something but is interrupted by a phone call—no doubt the head office tearing him a new one. But as Tachibana quietly walks away, the rain stops, the clouds part, and a lusciously gorgeous deep blue sky opens up, reflected in the pools of fallen rain.

He calls out her name once more, and she comes running, practically throwing herself into his arms. And she’s fine, no re-aggravation. They resolve to fulfill their own promises—his writing, her running—they’ll let each other know right away, whenever that may be. Akira then texts Haruka, indicating her desire for them to “see the wind” together again.

It’s a lovely end to a lovely show to put a very necessary pause on their romance. Rekindling fires is one thing, keeping them going long and strong is another. It takes time, dedication, effort, and care. As such, I imagine by the time Akira makes some good progress fulfilling her promise, she’ll be sufficiently old to remove the elephant from the room of their relationship.

However things go, it’s good to see Akira and Kondou end up in such a good place. They both know what they have to do, but more importantly, they know what they want to do, and are going to give it their all—come what may.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 11

When Haruka learns that a runner from another school fully recovered from the same injury Akira suffered to best her personal 100-meter time, and could threaten Akira’s tournament record, she redoubles her efforts to bring Akira back in the fold, even going so far as to follow her to her workplace.

Kondou sees that a girl from Akira’s school is a customer, and that can tell the conversation isn’t a pleasant one. Let’s get one thing straight: Haruka isn’t here to ask Akira what she wants or how she feels. Haruka is there to tell Akira what Haruka wants—and how sad she’ll be if she doesn’t get it.

She marches in there judging Akira’s choice to work an honest job rather than risk re-injuring herself, saying she’ll “always be waiting” for Akira to come around to wanting to run again, as if that’s the only acceptable path for her. Then she storms off without letting Akira so much as respond.

It’s frankly sickening to watch someone who purports to care about Akira only seem to be interested in what would make herself happy—not to mention shore up her track team. If their roles were reversed, I doubt Akira would treat her so awfully.

Thankfully we get a pleasant palate-cleanser in the form of Chihiro paying Kondou a surprise visit with a brand-new siphon coffee maker. Make no mistake: Chihiro isn’t there just for Kondou’s benefit, he came to ground himself with an old friend he still holds in high regard.

Kondou looks at Chihiro’s success in the same way Haruka looks at Akira’s records and talent—from the outside. The book being made into a movie is a “piece of shit” in Chihiro’s mind, and the more successful he gets, the more expectations mount (much as they did for Akira before her injury), and the more “shit” he feels he has to put out.

Rather than voice any disappointment, Chihiro actually lauds Kondou for living an honest life. Unlike Akira giving up running cold turkey, Kondou has always to maintain the obsession to write, even if it’s for nobody but himself, and even if he’s too excited to do the first one-minute novel in a long time.

Chihiro isn’t asking him to quit being a manager and start selling novels…but he urges Kondou not to give up that obsession, even if it’s not as big a part of his life as it was. Granted, Chihiro and Kondou are older and more matured by life experience, but the contrast between their equitable dynamic and Haruka’s totally unfair one-sided oppression of Akira couldn’t be starker.

Chihiro and Haruka, who are still fully in the respective games their friends left, have similar messages. I’ve always seen Akira as not giving up or running away from track, but simply moving on, while Kondou gives his old habit of late-night writing another go after Chihiro’s visit.

That same night, Akira takes out her cleats, suggesting as terribly as she expressed it, Haruka was right that Akira still yearns to run. But the next day when a customer forgets a phone and she can’t get it back to them without running, she doesn’t run this time, as the camera pulls in on her recently repaired Achilles. I can’t blame her, considering what happened the last time she did.

In the restaurant office, Akira sees that Kondou hasn’t filled out her shift schedule yet with her requested increased shifts, and when he asks her if there’s “anything else she wants to do” besides work there all the time, she should do that. This angers Akira, because it’s almost as if everyone’s ganging up on her…even the man she has feelings for.

The fact of the matter is, even if it’s objectively wrong for Akira to not even consider giving running another go, it’s her goddamn RIGHT to be wrong, no one else’s. Yes, she’s young, and her emotions on this matter are all over the place.

She might not be able to easily answer the question “do you want to run?” if asked because she’s so afraid of the possibility she just can’t do it anymore. Or maybe she really truly doesn’t want to run. In either case, it’s her choice to make. Haruka may have enough confidence in her for the both of them, but at the end of the day…it ain’t her Achilles.

Fate / Zero – 24

Ever since the childhood trauma that set him on his path, Emiya Kiritsugu has striven to be a level-headed, efficient, logical man. It’s partly why he kept Saber at arm’s length: an emotional connection with his Servant isn’t necessary and exposure to her illogical honor can only create inefficiencies in his plans.

So as Saber finds herself struggling with the insane anger and hatred of her former most trusted knight, essentially making her the logical one in her fight, and Iri’s body transforms into the Holy Grail, Kiritsugu never would have imagined it would not only toy with his emotions, but use his beloved logic against him.

But first, by god was I not wrong when I said the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei would be something. It’s quite different and more minimalist than any previous battle in the show, with both participants sizing up their opponents, approaching them with a certain strategy, and switching up tactics on the fly as conditions rapidly change.

Kirei would have surely killed Kiritsugu relatively quickly were it not for Avalon imbuing Kiritsugu with a virtual “Auto-Life” status. In the slight sliver of a moment Kirei’s guard is down, Kiritsugu takes Kirei’s right arm away with Contender, and the odds are evened.

So even is the duel, in fact, that the Grail itself, runnething over with some kind of dark, blood-like ooze directly above the fighters, essentially calls a “timeout” by covering both in that ooze.

That indicates the War is finally at an end, and the Grail has chosen the victor. At the same time, Saber runs Berserker through, killing him, as Kariya also expires; claiming she cannot atone to him without winning the Holy Grail.

In an illusory world created by the Grail, an avatar of Iri representing the will of the Grail names Kiritsugu as the winner, and he need only officially pray for his wish to become reality. The only problem is, the Grail, or at least this Grail, cannot give him the miracle he wants. At least, not in a manner that is acceptable.

The Grail then sets to work taking Kiritsugu’s philosophy to its logical conclusion: killing the smaller percentage of people to save a larger one, thought-experiment style; sacrificing the few to save the many.

But if, like his time-altering battle ability, Kiritsugu would continue to whittle down some humanity in order to save another proportion, before long there will be no one left in the world but him and those he cares about the most, presented to him as Maiya, Iri and Ilya.

To save them, he’ll have to kill everyone else. In other words, “saving the world” means destroying humanity. This is the sum total of Kiritsugu’s wish, according to the Grail.

And the Grail stands ready to grant that wish, even though it is not at all what Kiritsugu wants. He rejects the Grail, unwilling to sacrifice the world for his own few loved ones, symbolically murdering both Iri and Ilya in a thoroughly upsetting scene in an attempt to subvert of the nightmare scenario the Grail put forward. The Grail curses him and he is cast out.

Back in reality, such as it is, Kiritsugu has the advantage over Kirei, who rages and fumes at him for refusing and wasting the Grail’s wish. But in killing him it seems Kiritsugu is almost doing Kirei a favor.

This Grail is not omnipotent, and thus would be no more able to reveal the nature and meaning of Kirei’s existence than it could grant Kiritsugu a miracle that would end all conflict in the world. In both cases, the one making the wish does not know what it is they seek.

That being said, the Grail is still immensely powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands, and Kiritsugu decides that no one, including him, has the right hands.

So as Saber and Archer descend on the physical Grail, poised to fight the final duel in the War, and Saber rejects Archer’s offer of marriage and servitude, Kiritsugu forsakes Saber once more, hitting her where it hurts most: he uses his two remaining Command Seals to order her to destroy the Grail with Excalibur…and she cannot disobey.

But perhaps Kiritsugu is right that Saber, like Kirei and he himself before, is merely deluding herself into believing the Grail will grant her wish, only offer shallow illusions in exchange for being possessed by someone worthy. The Grail is not an answer.

Fate / Zero – 23

Before their epic duel, Rider and Archer have a drink together and exchange words of respect. Waver quips that they’re friends, and Rider doesn’t argue with the label: how can he be unfriendly with the one who could be the last person he’ll ever see?

Rider doesn’t mess around with anything other than the best he’s got, and whips out Ionian Hetairoi. Archer looks pleased to be facing such a strong and worthy foe, but he also doesn’t look worried in the least.

While the ancient kings’ battle takes place on the vast expanse of sand, Saber ends up fighting Berserker in a relatively cramped underground parking lot. Berserker seems to feed off of Kariya’s suffering and regret, as Sakura shows up in his head, and while reassuring her they’ll all be together again, Sakura inadvertently reminds Kariya that “they” no longer includes her mom.

Berserker’s penchant for ‘turning’ weapons for his use continues when he makes use of some automatic weapons; Saber can barely get near him, and when she does, her sword bounces off his armor, or the blade merely caught in mid-strike by Berserker’s palms.

Once he does that, Saber gets into her head that he reminds her of some knight she once knew, and on cue Berserker’s Pigpen-like cloud of miasma dissipates and he removes his helm to reveal he IS someone she knew…or rather he WAS. That someone is none other than Sir Lancelot, the greatest of the Knights of the Round Table.

That Saber has no idea it was him until now, and has no idea how he came to be this way after they parted ways, gets to the heart of that seed of doubt planted by Rider about her reckless self-destructive path to kingship, which he didn’t see as kingship at all. Lance would seem to be proof of that, and I can’t imagine Saber wants to fight him, except perhaps to put him out of his misery.

Back in the desert, Gilgamesh reveals the reason he’s so calm with a massive legendary army descending on him: his own, thus-far-unused Noble Phantasm, Ea. As soon as he unlocks and activates Enuma Elish (an extremely strange and cool sequence, as befits Gilgamesh), the dunes begin to collapse, the legions plummet to their demise, and the very sky shatters along with the Reality Marble.

His trump card utterly defeated, Rider has no course but to charge Archer on his own. Even after his horse goes down, he runs at him on foot, getting impaled several times, before being restrained by great chains, his blade inches from Gil’s face. Before he fades away, Iskandar wonders if the lapping waves of Oceanus, the Ocean at the End of the World, was actually merely the dancing of his own heart.

It’s a legendary ending for a truly legendary Servant with whom there was never a dull moment. He was simply outmatched here. And to his credit, Archer is not cruel in his treatment of Waver. On the contrary, when he asks if as his sworn retainer, Waver should not avenge his fallen king, and Waver replies that he was ordered to survive, Gilgamesh salutes his “splendid loyalty” and spares his life, urging him to never let that loyalty tarnish.

Time for Waver to go home; he got far further in the Holy Grail War than most would expect a mage from a “lesser” family to get. While this fight is over and Rider is gone, the stage is set—literally, Iri’s body is on a stage—for the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei. Will their fight be as bold and flashy as Archer and Rider’s, or Saber and Berserker’s below them? Perhaps not, but it should still be…theatrical.

Fate / Zero – 22

For an episode preceded by such disturbing spectacle as a broken man murdering his best friend and making Rin an orphan, and followed by the casual malice of a born-again nihilist discarding his hostage before setting a foreboding trap, this episode has the most charming, heartwarming opening: an exhausted Waver finally arrives back home just before daybreak.

We know it’s not really his home, and he hypnotized its occupants into thinking he’s their grandson. But when his “grandpa” beckons for him to join him on the roof for a truly spectacular sunrise, something else dawned on me: Waver is Me. He’s the most normal, decent, well-adjusted participant in a war stocked with utter weirdos on all sides.

He seeks only simple glory and acknowledgement; the underdog raised high; his doubters and haters silenced. Sure, hypnotizing the couple was wrong, but how can I judge when even after the hypnosis wears off, the grandpa is not only forgiving, but wants Waver to stay. He’s a better grandson than they ever had.

On to the weirdos. While I more easily related to him early as a young kid having fun before all hell broke loose, and continue to recognize the emotions in his heart, support his goals (as laid out by Iri) and feel for his many losses, I simply haven’t lived a life as intense as Kiritsugu, so while I’m rooting for him, I’m on the outside looking in with Kiritsugu.

And Kiritsugu is alone again. It’s not ideal, but he’s not going to slow down or stop, even though he’s gone forty hours without sleep. He says “alone again” because, like Natalia, Maiya has left him. He doesn’t seem to count Saber as a person he can work with or trust, let alone a person at all; instead, she’s a tool to win the war, and he treats her as coldly as ever as she makes her report.

Kiritsugu probably also feels alone because Iri has been taken by the enemy, and he no doubt fears he won’t see her alive again. But a defiant Iri makes use of her captivity by Kirei to get in a number of barbs that cut the priest to the quick. Notably, that Kiritsugu isn’t an “empty man” like him; he seeks nothing less than the salvation of the world through the elimination of all violence and conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Kirei hears nothing but the naive utterings of a child in these words, but Iri does manage to give him something he didn’t have before he kidnapped her: Kiritsugu’s dream, which he will now proceed to destroy, along with the Holy Grail itself, which he can think of no use for. And since he gets all he needs out of Iri, he snaps her neck, seemingly killing her.

That I’m a bit fuzzy on how this whole Einzbern homonculus system works—and thus unclear whether Iri is dead dead or even ever alive—is irrelevant; it’s still absolutely gutting to see such a gentle, loving person treated with such contempt. Kirei is one hell of a villain, and his frustration and resentment for lacking something fundamental Kiritsugu seems to possess is palpable; he’s an almost pitiable wretch.

After that unpleasantness, what sure feels like the final day of the War transitions into the final night, and Waver awakes to find Rider in no particular hurry. Mage signals in the sky indicate that someone wishes to challenge them—Kirei arrranges for Archer to fight Rider while Berserker will keep Saber company—and Rider summons a horse, the backup to his chariot.

Waver has no intention of going along. As Rider said, only the strong remain, and Waver doesn’t consider himself strong. He’s Just A Guy, after all, the Everyman of Fate/Zero, with no business in the final battles. He even expends all of his Command Seals at once so he can say with certitude he is no longer Rider’s Master.

And yet Rider still picks him up by the scruff and dumps him in front of him on his horse. He wants Waver to accompany him as he has on all of their great battles thus far, not because he’s his Master, but because they’re friends and equals.

Having gone from gut-punch to heartwarm, the episode closes with a bit of a mindblower, as Iri, apparently not quite dead (or…whatever) after all, goes Beyond the Infinite.

In a surreal, bizarre and thoroughly unsettling sequence that calls to mind Akira, Evangelion, and Dalí, Iri sees hundreds of naked doll bodies piled up before her, one of which cracks a way-too-wide evil grin; then she has a touching scene with her daughter Ilya before an oozing black darkness encroaches upon them, and dozens of tiny arms grab at her and pull her down into the goo.

When she emerges, she realizes what’s happening: she’s in the Holy Grail. What exactly that means, and whether and how she can aid her beloved from there, remains to be seen. But I have to say I’m digging the extra metaphysical layer the show has revealed.