To Your Eternity – 16 – What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

Fushi just won a huge victory, aided in no small part by Tonari’s crew and other people of Jananda. He has March, Gugu, and Oniguma back, a group I’d call family but his creator calls his “past.” By the way, that’s the last time I call him “the creator”, as some guy calls him “the asshole in black” and that’s a much better name for him!

With the Nokkers out of the picture for the time being (but those OP images of Tonari’s crew Nokker-ified still fresh in my mind) it’s nice to see Fushi simply relax, drink some blood, drink some more blood, then conjure a sumptuous feast for his new compatriots. Unfortunately, the food he conjures is from the night March and Parona were drugged by Hayase using Morning Glory-based sedative. Talk about foreboding foreshadowing!

Tonari is the first to wake up from her food coma, and notices Fushi wandering off, as is his wont. For what I believe to be the first time, she apologizes to Fushi for bringing him there. That said, Fushi glimpsed an entry in the big red book that contains her thoughts, her dreams; specifically the entry where she says she’s going to invite him to share a meal with them.

Tonari starts writing in the book again, and regales us with her story so far. She’s always dreamed of “surprising” her dad, who was wrongly accused of killed her mom and sent to Jananda. Faced with the choice of being an orphan and going with her father, she chose the latter.

Eventually, however, her dad got caught up in the leader tournament, and warned his daughter that it wouldn’t be safe to be around him. That turned out to be true, but more to the point, in participating and eventually winning the tournament, Tonari’s father became someone that her seven-year-old self simply couldn’t recognize as her father anymore.

By the time they met at the port as they promised, he was already succumbing to the poison he was given by his rivals in the unending struggle not to lead the island, but simply to have control. Her father’s parting gift to her on her birthday was the book she writes in to this day. The years went on, and she met her found family and eventually, Fushi.

Speaking of Fushi, with March back in his repertoire, he’s able to easily scale the wall and enter Pioran’s cell. While she had urged him to leave her be earlier, now she can’t mask how happy she is that he’s there.

While he could smash the prison walls with one swipe of Oniguma’s paw, he intends to win the tournament, become the leader of the island, and leave the island with Pioran, their heads held high. It’s a good plan, and Pioran is right that he’s become much more reliable.

All he has to do is win the tournament final. Now armed with a reason for fighting, he walks down the corridor to the arena without hesitation. Tonari is there to see him off, worried he wouldn’t show but very glad he did. The two honestly don’t interact much this week, but this is the most tender moment they’ve shared yet. It figures that this comes right before yet another huge setback for Fushi, though fortunately not one that involves the Nokkers.

Then again, who needs the Nokkers when you have the evilest, most badass villain in the whole show in Hayase? Turns out she’s the one who urged Tonari to get Fushi on a ship to Jananda, all so she could eventually face him…and, incidentally, lick his face.

Fushi already has plenty of reason to hate Hayase considering she killed poor little March with an arrow to the back. But Hayase wants to make sure Fushi also understands that his Parona form is “her gift” to him: she tracked Parona down and murdered her by sloppily beheading her so she suffered. This riles Fushi up, and he comes at her with everything he’s got…but it’s not enough.

As Hayase puts it, Fushi is immortal, but feeble. His murderous intent is just one more simulacrum; it can’t hold a candle to her ruthlessness. Also, if we’re honest, Fushi hasn’t had much of a challenge in the tournament thus far, and all of his past opponents had no idea what he was. I guess Hayase doesn’t either, but she knows how he operates, and she knows his gentle nature.

She also knows that when he’s in human form he can succumb to a poison just like any regular human. She sticks him with some morning glory sedative (like I said, simply devastating foreshadowing), and just like that, she is the new leader of Jananda—presumably free to lick him all she wants. At the end of the day, Hayase isn’t the kind of villain who wants to destroy Fushi. Rather, she intends to possess and control him completely. I Imagine Tonari and her crew will have a couple things to say about that!

To Your Eternity – 15 – A Victor Without Victims

Having Parona’s form brings Fushi nothing but grief, for the fact he has her form almost certainly means she died, like March, far to young. His Creator tells him not to get so worked up every time someone dies—literally everyone in the world except the two of them will die, after all—but Fushi tells him to piss off, and to the very hands-off Creator’s credit, he does.

As for Fushi’s new self-appointed bestie Tonari, she’s absolutely jazzed by Fushi’s new form, complimenting his hair and skin, glomming on him like she wants to possess him. She claims to want to be the bow to his arrow, but her constant spewing of half-truths and false faces remains extremely disorienting to Fushi. Combined with the whole kidnapping Pioran thing, he insists she leave him alone. She doesn’t.

As for the Creator’s credo of Pain Promotes Growth, Fushi replaces it with his own: Fuck Pain. On a island where the intricate social organization of humanity is blended with inhuman savagery, Fushi may be the most human one there, thanks to the quintessentially human people who helped shape him into the good and kind orb he is. It’s why he wants to save Pioran, his family, even though she insists she’s where an old criminal belongs.

So dedicated is Fushi to the cause of honoring Parona and Gugu’s memory by putting himself to good use protecting others, as she did, he even protects his own opponent in the third round from the arrows of impatient staff and spectators. This flummoxes the fighter to no end, but after he’s laid up with an arrow back home, both we and Fushi learn he too is a human in this place that is both inhuman and as human as humanity gets.

Some veteran islanders come by to protest Fushi’s way of doing things, insisting that he brings dishonor to everyone he fights by not killing them. Tonari shields Fushi from them, only to get punched in the face by a man who is then shot with a poison dart by one of Tonari’s crew.

But far greater than the threat of the islanders are the Nokkers, who rise out of the ground, stab Fushi, and steal Gugu away so he can’t use fire on them. Now down to the boy, the wolf, the crab, Parona, and the mole, and with a shitload of potential bystander deaths, Fushi runs, and warns Tonari and the others to run in the opposite direction. They don’t.

Fushi tries to burrow into the Nokkers as the mole, but he’s quickly tossed out and loses that form. Tonari grabs Fushi by the scruff of his coat, beaming widely and in absolute awe of the giant stone bear, while her crew launch diversionary attacks.

Tonari has a meta moment, asking Fushi who he thinks she is: “a side character who just runs away?” Then the earth opens up and it looks like Tonari is history, but Fushi grabs her and pulls her back onto land, where she orders her crew to execute a certain plan.

This plan involves explosive arrows. That works perfectly for Fushi, since his Parona form is quite comfortable with a bow. He can also infinitely create more bows and arrows when the crew runs out. The islanders, once rearing for a fight with Fushi and Tonari’s crew, restrain the bear with huge ropes and join the fusillade.

In the end, the Nokkers are defeated, and Fushi is able to regain both the form and memories of March, Oniguma-sama, and Gugu. It is an unqualified victory, but he could not have done it without help from Tonari’s crew and the islanders, all of whom he hated when the sun came up that day, but now probably has a new appreciation for, seeing as he got his forms, his family back.

For the first time, Fushi reacts to Tonari’s constant goofing around and bullshitting with a genuine thank you, which catches the girl completely off guard. Tonari repeats to him that to change fate, sometimes you have to work with others, and their victory today was proof of that.

It looks like Fushi, Tonari, and the crew will get to enjoy a bit of rest and celebration after quite an impressively action-packed episode imbued with ample emotional weight due to the stakes—and eventual spoils—of victory. But the final round of the tournament lurks, and crazy-ass Hayase lurks along with it, so that rest probably won’t last long.

To Your Eternity – 14 – Hail to the Chief

Fushi finds himself ensnared by the mysterious Tonari, who pushes him into a arena battle royale before he even knows what a battle royale entails. Once he realizes it’s kill or be killed, he decides not to kill, and since he can’t be killed, he ends up winning when the last non-immortal fighter standing passes out from a hangover.

Fushi wins the adoration of the crowd, as well as an entourage in Tonari and her young friends. In the episode’s very expository second act, Tonari and the others explain The Way Things Are on this prison island now essentially run by the convicts. The island burns through chiefs, but Tonari sees potential in an “eternal” chief to bring some kind of stability and dignity to her home.

Fushi is mostly disgusted by this island full of death and enslavement, and wants nothing to do with Tonari and her pals who he says aren’t “normal” if they can laugh, smile, and joke in such a place. He asks the Creator to take him to Pioran, but the Creator won’t do anything for him that won’t help him grow.

The creator tells Fushi that a plain fact of living with mortal humans is that sometimes they’ll choose how and when to die, as Gugu did, and as the arena combatants do. Fushi can already be said to have caused the deaths of many humans so far, so what’s a few more who have already chosen to die? As for one life he wasn’t able to take—Hayase of Yanome—she’s on the island, and marks her quarry in the night by licking his face.

The day of the second round of the arena tournament, Fushi has little interest in participating despite Tonari’s prodding. He turns into his dog form, accidentally kills a mole, then becomes the mole so he can dig underground. But he’s snatched up by an owl and dropped right in the middle of Tonari’s posse.

Forced into a one-on-one battle, Fushi tries to intimidate his opponent, but as the Creator told him, that opponent has already decided on only one of two paths: victory or death. Neither becoming a wolf-dog or a flame-spitting Gugu has any effect. That’s when Fushi suddenly remembers Parona, transforms into her (despite her still being alive, as far as we know), and is amazed at how light and nimble he’s become.

He’s able to defeat his opponent and move on to the third round. The crowd goes while, and Hayase licks her chops in preparation for a confrontation in the near future. Whatever Hayase’s intentions, Fushi is about to be tested like never before, as the Nokkers have surely followed him to this island. They’ll either take more of his memories and forms, or he’ll reclaim the ones they stole.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 13 – Acquiring Something Invisible

Less than a week after Fushi left Booze Man’s home and his found family, he wears a variety of facial expressions, wrestles with his grief, and questions his purpose. He even summons the Creator and puts the question to him, and obviously the Creator has an answer: Move Forward. Become Stronger. Defeat the Enemy.

This isn’t because Fushi was created to be a perfect weapon. It is because he is a mechanism placed on this world to collect and preserve information. If the world is destroyed by the Nokkers before he can do that, it would be an immeasurable loss. Fushi, having spent so long as a human, is understandably rebellious towards his “absentee dad.”

The Creator says at some point he’ll be gone, while Fushi will remain, so he’d better figure out how to deal with the Nokkers on his own in preparation for that time. Shortly afterwards, Fushi encounters Pioran once again, who left Booze Man, Rean and Shin to be Fushi’s “walking stick.” She knows the dangers they face, but “living on the edge” has more appeal to her than a quiet life.

Fushi is initially reluctant to have Pioran accompany him on his journey, but he soon re-warms up to her, as likely so many people have. They go to a town where she has a feast, and all the while Fushi is worried about the Nokkers following him and causing more harm. He realizes his Creator meant for him to bump into Pioran, knowing he couldn’t help but want to protect her.

When Pioran catches Fushi talking to no one she can see, she eventually coaxes him into telling her about the Creator. Pioran takes the information in stride, just as an old lady like her takes everything in stride, as she must. Then one day, she spots some ripe fruit in the trees, and tells Fushi to change into March…and Fushi doesn’t know who she’s talking about.

Pioran thus learns that the Enemy has stolen his memories of March along with her form—a second death, when you’ve been forgotten by everyone still alive. It’s the antithesis of what he was created to do: to collect information so it is never forgotten.

Fushi and Pioran’s travels eventually take them to a busy port full of seedy individuals. A cheerful girl guides them aboard a ship that turns out to be run by human traffickers. Fushi and Pioran are separated by gender and are sailed to Jananda Island to be processed.

Fushi’s brand heals almost instantly, however, so when a guard notices, the same girl who lured him and Pioran aboard the ship rescues him, successfully claiming to the guard that a mistake was made. Fushi goes with her, but eventually stops her to ask where Pioran is; she tells him he shouldn’t bother; there’s no getting her back from those people.

Fushi insists and tries to climb a massive sheer stone wall using conjured spears, but ends up slipping, falling, and dying. As his smashed head reassembles, the girl who doomed then helped him watches along with her four young friends, who are simultaneously grossed out and greatly impressed.

The green-eyed girl tells the newly-healedFushi that there is a “realistic” way to free Pioran, and it’s to fight in the Arena. For Jananda Island is a Prison Island, where any and all favors are never given, only taken. It’s a new arc, with a new collection of immediately lovable characters who will surely meet their untimely and heartbreaking demise by the arc’s end. Hopefully we’ll have some good times with them before then!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 07 – Opening the Lid

This week, Diva is an entirely new person. She has a much more lively personality befitting an idol. She’s almost always smiling, and talks with as much emotion as a human now. She’s breaking attendance records on NiaLand’s Main Stage, yet isn’t so aloof she won’t encourage nervous new employees with one of her “pet theories”: if you want people to smile, you have to smile yourself.

She still chats with her support AI, but now she’s the more natural-sounding one as she stretches between performances. Hanging on the wall is a sequence photos with her human colleagues, who age and turn gray as she remains eternal. She’s a living legend, and everyone loves her. She’s fulfilling her mission as Diva.

We learn that Diva went through a “major freeze” at some point in the past, but was rebooted and has been stable ever since. This tracks, since the last time we saw her, her tenuous balance between her Diva and Vivy personas was shattered when Dr. Saeki killed himself. That even indeed killed her, and upon reboot she returned to being Diva and Diva only.

And I’ll level with you: That doesn’t seem so bad! It gives me great joy to see how much Diva has grown and evolved as a person in the years that followed that fatal system error. She’s at the top of her game, and she’s endured long bough to be able to perform at the same festival as her youngest Sister, Ophelia (Hidaka Rina). Ophelia seems to have replicated a human idol so perfectly she comes with built-in humanlike qualities like clumsiness, lack of confidence…and other issues.

Ophelia has always idolized Diva, who is now 61. But while she’ll occasionally fall into a fountain, requiring a good amount of time to dry her flowing black hair, and seems to have all the stability of a baby deer on stage, when the music starts, there’s no doubting her ability to inspire and enthrall all who hear her, human and AI alike.

Diva is impressed, and ready for her own rehearsal when she spots someone out by the exits: a young man who looks just like Kakitani when she first met him (and first saved his life). The thing is, Diva isn’t sure who this is, only that he looks like someone from her memory. This realization is punctuated by the first close-up of Diva in the episode that accentuates her artificiality.

Diva leaves the stage early to chase the man into a warehouse, where a giant piece of machinery almost falls on her. Without thinking, her Combat Program activates, allowing her to avoid being crushed, while Matsumoto comes out of nowhere to shut down the bot that was about to charge her.

Like Kakitani, this version of Diva doesn’t recognize Matsumoto…and yet she also can’t leave him alone. When running after him, she accidentally collides with Ophelia, who was looking for her. She ends up soaked again, but as it was Diva’s fault she happily dries her off again. Ophelia mentions how she draws her power from her precious memories with a “partner”—a sound AI she used to travel everywhere with.

Later that day, just as the Zodiac Festival is about to begin and not long before she’s needed on stage, Diva goes up to the top of a tower to call out the AI cube she met, threatening to call the cops if he doesn’t show himself. She knows he’s hiding something and demands to know what he’s up to and why he saved her. When Matsumoto clams up, she throws herself off the building, forcing him to save her once more.

With the cube firmly in her arms, she asks him if he knows “the person inside her” she doesn’t know…the person who for all intents and purposes died when she froze and rebooted. She’s always harbored faint shadows of that other person, but she stuffed all the misgivings stemming from those shadows into a virtual box in order to focus everything on her singing.

Now that Matsumoto is there, the lid to that box is open and there’s no closing it again. She doesn’t even think she can take the stage until he tells her what she needs to know. Matsumoto gives in, telling her they used to work together saving the future when she went by the name Vivy.

To hear Matsumoto list all the crazy things they did, Diva is well within her rights to write him off as insane. But Matsumoto doesn’t really care about convincing her; in fact, he’s content to carry out his latest mission without involving an unstable variable such as her .

In response, Diva warns Matsumoto not to underestimate her ability to change someone’s life in five minutes or less. When it’s clear Diva won’t let him go on alone, Matsumoto informs her of his—of their—latest mission: to prevent the tragedy about to befall young Ophelia. That tragedy? The first incidence of suicide in AI history.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 06 – Grace Under Fire

Vivy once again saves Kakitani along with a handful of Toak operatives, but Kakitani is once again ungrateful and Matsumoto determines it will be hard to conceal the fact that the AIs of Metal Float killed a fair number of humans, all thanks to Dr. Saeki’s apparent “shutdown” program caused all of the AIs to rampage, like antibodies fighting off an infection.

Saeki’s personal stake is put into context as we learn he was once a patient at the facility where he’d eventually work. As a child, it fell to the nursing AI Grace, descendant and Sister of Diva, to tell him his parents abandoned him, and to comfort him.

When he returned as a researcher, he fell in love and proposed to Grace, and they became the first official human-AI couple, with Grace considering marriage to be a logical step in her attempt to better understand humans as part of her mission to save and protect human lives.

When Vivy confronts him, he reveals his true plan, which at first he believed aligned with her and Matsumoto’s goals: like them he intended to shut down Metal Float, but he also intended to retrieve the data comprising the “soul” of the real Grace, who had been forcefully appointed the island’s control AI, and her mission rewritten.

Saeki tries to prove to Vivy that the Grace he knew and loved is still imprisoned in the core, singing Diva’s song (and incidentally, the opening theme) on a loop as a kind of distress call. But both she and Matsumoto hear the “singing” for what it is, nothing more than “tone data”. The Grace Saeki had hoped to download into his replica Grace no longer exists.

After Vivy makes clear to Saeki that in her current form she is not Diva, but Vivy, “an AI who will destroy AIs to change the destructive future”, he siccs his Grace replacement on her, but she’s able to easily defeat her thanks to her combat program. Matsumoto then determines the best place to look for the Grace core is the island’s main tower.

He proceeds to hack the production facility to quickly manufacture dozens of Matsumoto cubes, which coalesce into a kind of flying mecha Vivy uses to fight her way through the waves of defense AIs to reach the tower. Trippy Tron-y baroque neon spectacle set to the theme song ensues, to the point it’s hard to tell what’s going on at times, but it’s definitely cool-looking.

Vivy’s final obstacle is M205, who attempts one last surprise to detonate in her proximity in order to neutralize her, but Matsumoto mecha shields her from the explosion. While her face is damaged, Vivy enters Combat Mode and puts her arm through Grace’s chest. The island shuts down, making the operation a success. But it’s also framed as a death of honor and mercy, freeing Grace from a mission she never wanted.

But this success has immediate consequences. Despite Vivy’s hope and desire that Saeki be able to find happiness elsewhere in the wake of the loss of his love, Saeki instead chooses suicide by putting a bullet in his head, thus joining his lost love. As a result, in this instance, Diva failed in her mission to make people happy with her singing.

With one hand drenched in Saeki’s red human blood and the other in Grace’s blue AI blood, Vivy has a bit of an existential crisis. While Grace accepted the mission rewrite and assumed her new role as control AI of Metal Float, Diva/Vivy has maintained all along that her mission has not changed.

But one cannot deny that she’s suffered quite a bit of mission creep, and the resulting complications in her new dual role as savior of humanity is having a deleterious effect on her sense of being, and possibly her very sanity. We’ll see how this carries over into her next operation, whenever in the future that might be. But I imagine her condition will continue to worsen before it improves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 05 – The Machine City

As last week marked the end of the Space Hotel Sunrise operation, it was anyone’s guess where and when Vivy would end up next time. This week begins with one hell of a hook: an apparently human man and an AI woman getting hitch in a gorgeous derelict cathedral on a lush green island. We pull out from that timeline and are presented with what must be that same island, only it has been developed into a futuristic floating city.

Five years, one month, and nine days have passed since the Sunrise incident. Estella was lauded for her heroics as the quintessential benevolent AI. Vivy is more popular than ever, headed ever closer to that main stage. Suddenly Matsumoto arrives in his floating cube form. The first step of Vivy’s newest op is to save the life of AI researcher Dr. Saeki Tatsuya from pursuing Toak agents. Due to his position, Saeki recognizes Vivy as the Diva AI.

Once Toak is dealt with and Saeki is safe, they pull over by the water where an island looms on the horizon. That island is the Metal Float, the world’s first unmanned offshore plant built and run by AIs and only AIs. Immediately I thought of the Machine City Zero One from The Matrix, as well as the reclusive advanced nation of Esthar from FFVIII.

Dr. Saeki puts it simply: That island’s overkill for this era. Matsumoto confirms its present advanced state has come about twenty years earlier than the “official history”. Vivy, Matsumoto, and Saeki are in agreement that the island must be shut down if the future annihilation of humans by AI is to be avoided. He takes them to his home where his AI wife Grace is waiting, and shows them a storage device that contains a program that will shut Metal Float down.

Matsumoto informs Vivy that Dr. Saeki’s wife Grace is one of the Sisters (though insists it’s a coincidence they keep running into them on their ops) and that they are the first human-AI couple to marry, and as such are celebrities. It’s a certainty that if they are to succeed in this operation and shut the island down, it will likely doom their marriage.

Nevertheless, they press on, taking a boat to the island where they are met by a WALL-E-like robot whose designation is soon shortened to “M”, and welcomes Vivy, who is registered as an “Inspection Team Researcher”, and Matsumoto her assistant.

Vivy can’t contain how awed she is by what AIs have been able to create on this island without any human involvement. Even Matsumoto admits it would be hard for any AI to deny that seeing such a place makes them feel something. Indeed, that very something may be what pushes future AI to turn on humanity. The Metal Float is truly a world all their own; a Utopia and crowning achievement of AI. And she’s there to shut it all down.

Even so, there are already facilities pre-built for the express purpose of accommodating future human visitors—Vivy and Matsumoto being the first visitors of any kind—and M and his compatriots throw a surprise party to welcome them, singing a song sung by Vivy (i.e. Diva) herself.

The affable visit is suddenly interrupted when M’s eyes start flashing red as he reports armed targets approaching the island. Toak has sent craft by both air and sea to capture the secrets Metal Float possesses.

Matsumoto tells Vivy to attach Saeki’s storage device to M so he can force-connect to the CPU. Meanwhile M and his compatriots spring into action, repurposing themselves as kamikaze missiles to destroy the approaching Toak craft.

Vivy dives into the ocean to rescue one of the Toak agents, who turns out to be Kakitani…again. She saved him when they first met, and Elizabeth saved him from dying on the Sunrise. At some point you’d expect this guy to come around and rethink his stance on AI. Meanwhile, in the heart of the island, another Sister seems primed to wake up. As expected, this operation is about to take some unexpected turns.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 23 (Fin) – How the Sausage is Made

In its penultimate episode Great Pretender pulled the wool over our eyes as well as those of con artists’ hapless targets. The finale opens with Liu, Chen, Suzaku, Ishigami, and a couple henchmen adjusting to their new reality: stranded on a deserted island with water and emergency rations.

There’s an absurd surrealism to seeing Liu, typically perched in his gaudy Shanghai tower, sitting on the beach looking defeated, or Suzaku lighting up a smoke in her ruined red throne, no longer surrounded by her lacquered and gilded office. They were well and truly conned like they’ve never been conned before.

The question is, how? After that quick check-in, we rewind back to the morning of the job. Before waking up, Makoto dreams of the time she gave her mom a wizard figurine, and she hoped it meant she’d see Seiji soon. Abby visits Makoto unannounced, urging him to hurry up and forgive himself, noting she was saved by doing the same.

From there, we follow Makoto as he clandestinely puts a sleeping drug in coffee he serves to Suzaku and Ishigami, while Laurent drugs the champagne he serves to Liu and Chen. This way, the targets are asleep while they are transported to the island where they’ll eventually be marooned.

We learn that while only Eddie Cassano is involved in this game as a favor to Laurent (they’re apparently on good terms now), the similarly reformed James Coleman and Sam Ibrahim also tagged along. Another character from a previous arc who plays a role is Shougo, who provides the air transport to the island.

On that island, Oz has led the construction down to the minute detail of a replica of Suzaku’s Tokyo HQ office. He had Makoto order the real thing re-painted recently so that the smell of fresh paint could be explained, while Suzaku herself is too woozy from her “nap” that she shrugs off the presence of cat sculptures Cynthia included because she thought they were cute, but weren’t in the real office.

The gun battle from which Liu, Chen, Suzaki and Ishigami escape was really just the “police” and Cassano’s “henchmen” firing their guns into the air, making enough noise to cover their escape down the elevator. As for Makoto’s “slashing?” The sword was real, but Oz only cut deep enough to break the blood bag inside Makoto’s jacket.

Fast-forward to the immediate aftermath of the successful completion of the job, the con artists party on what turns out to be Cassano’s boat. Makoto feels good about getting one over on Laurent (as well as following Abby’s advice to forgive himself), while Laurent tosses Dorothy’s ring into the ocean, satisfied she was properly avenged.

In the epilogue, Oz visits his wife’s grave, and we learn she knew what happened to him all along, but never told Makoto. Oz dedicates himself to finding homes for all of the rescued refugees, though Cynthia takes one of the older ones under her wing, giving him the choice of what to do with his life.

Abby reaches the top of a rock in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon and sends a bird-flipping selfie to Makoto; I really liked how their relationship progressed, how they remain in touch even though they’ve parted ways as con artists. Laurent, meanwhile, is still in the game, and picks the newly inaugurated U.S. President as his next target. Four Seasons, anyone?

Finally, in a feel-good surprise ending, it’s revealed Dorothy is still alive after all, having apparently washed up in Taiwan with amnesia (she could be faking it, but then why did she never reunite with Laurent?). One of her adoptive parents presents her with a ring he found in the stomach of a fish—her old good luck ring, which Laurent tossed into the sea.

And that about does it. What a ride this was! Every arc of Great Pretender had its strong points and a distinct atmosphere owing to their varying settings and types of cons. It’s a show that seemingly got better and better, and this longer final arc brought everything together quite nicely, with its usual stylish cheekiness. I’d highly recommend GP, especially as a gateway show for entering the world of anime.

Great Pretender – 06 – Earning His Wings

After an enticing stinger in which a terrified Makoto is along for the ride in a plane piloted by a crazed-looking Abby—which then blows up—we rewind a bit to see Makoto serving the remainder of his sentence at a Japanese penitentiary. The warden notices he’s good with a wrench, and decides to put in a good word for him with Nakanoshima, a grizzled old mechanic who runs a successful garage.

Makoto’s prison sentence really has changed his perspective on things. He no longer believes it’s justified to scam people, whether they deserve it or not. He wants to pay his debt to society and live life on the straight and narrow, rejecting any further collaborations with Laurent’s crew. Of course, that stinger of him in a plane with Abby indicates he will ultimately fail.

From there, we shift to a woman being fired by her boss for refusing his advances, and that same boss meeting Cynthia (AKA “Jennifer”) at a bar in Las Vegas. Jen clues the man in on unlicensed underground fights where the real money can be made, and even spots him cash to wager.

She tells him to put the money on Abby, who ends up winning despite her opponent being twice her size. Jen tells the businessman the outcome of the fight—and subsequent fights—was rigged so Abby would win, getting him to bet more and more of his own cash on a sure thing, night after night.

Meanwhile, far from his past con man life, Makoto works his ass off for two months, learning his way around his boss Nakanoshima’s true passion, propeller planes. Eventually Nakanoshima informs him of a racing team that needs a mechanic, encouraging him to “leave the nest.”

This mention of a racing team, along with the abrupt shift to working on planes, should have tipped Makoto off in some way, but perhaps his con man instincts were dulled by prison and his focus on “breaking good”.

As for Mr. Businessman, he ends up withdrawing all of his liquid assets and wagering them on another Abby victory. Only this time, Abby doesn’t win…though after taking a couple of blows to the head, she tries her damnedest not to lose, going into MMA punishment machine mode against her hulking opponent.

Ultimately she loses, as there are no rules to break to achieve victory. Businessman loses everything, and in a very Robin Hood move, Cynthia ends up delivering his duffel of cash to the very woman he fired. She may be a ruthless con artist, but she still has a sense of honor, and isn’t above pulling off jobs to right injustices.

Shortly thereafter (and once Abby’s battle damage heals) is when Makoto finds himself on an island that gives him quite a bit of deja vu, and before he knows it he’s being introduced to the plane racing team for whom he’ll serve as mechanic: Cynthia, Abby, and Laurent. They paid

The next scam involves a race in Singapore, where they’ll work to take everything a pair of oil magnate heirs for everything they have—two hundred million dollars, or double what they made in the LA job. Makoto wants nothing to do with them or any more crimes, so Laurent insists he’ll be on the level as a mechanic, and not be involved in anything else.

Abby, who will apparently be the team’s pilot, goes up with Makoto in a plan he himself serviced, returning us to the events of the stinger. That’s when we learn Laurent and Cynthia paid Nakanoshima to train Makoto just enough to pass as a plane mechanic, but obviously there’s only so much he can learn in two months, right?

Even so, the plane Abby and Makoto are in blows up (they’re able to safely eject) not because Makoto didn’t service it correctly, but because Laurent sabotaged it, in order to convince Makoto that he’s not a mechanic, but a con man.

I’ll give Great Pretender credit: it closed the book on the LA job before it got stale and then immediately shifted gears to something entirely new, fresh and exciting, with ever higher stakes and moral implications in store for Makoto. Just when he thought he was out…

Great Pretender – 05 – Cooking Up Something Good

Turns out Dickens wants Salazar in cuffs, so Makoto’s efforts to keep him free to care for his son goes nowhere, and Makoto has no choice but to cooperate lest he end up in prison himself. So as Eddie, Laurent, Abby, and a camera watch closely, Makoto cooks up his very first batch of Sakura Magic, a drug that doesn’t really exist.

Having watched sufficient instructional videos, Makoto is able to pull it off, though the candy is a little rough-looking. Abby is ready to taste-test and offer another performance, but first Eddie presents Laurent with the ten million dollars in ten suitcases, and Agent Dickens’ troops bust in, automatic weapons drawn.

Dickens makes no effort to conceal the fact that Makoto was her mole. She also promised no one would get killed in the raid, but that’s before an enraged Abby suddenly pulls a gun on the cops. Laurent dives to shield her, but the two end up riddled with bullets and die in a puddle of blood on the floor, to Makoto’s absolute shock. Naturally, I immediately questioned whether they had actually been killed, or if this was simply a larger con in play.

If it is, Makoto goes off script and takes Dickens hostage, forcing the cops to back off. He urges Salazar to escape, but in the confusion Eddie sneaks off and overloads the pressure on a tank, blowing up the entire lab. Makoto ends up under a wounded Salazar, and ends up chasing a hobbled Eddie. Eddie gets the jump on him and starts beating him with a traffic cone before Salazar, okay after all, punches him out.

That’s when things get weird. Dickens conducts an interrogation that ends with her accepting a bribe of 100 million dollars, again to Makoto’s shock. This cleans Eddie out of his international assets, but he’s free to leave and make it all right back. Naturally, Makoto is disgusted with Dickens’ shady conduct, but before he can protest too much he’s knocked out.

When he comes to, he learns what I expected: Laurent and Abby were fine, and Dickens and her team were fellow con artists, part of a much larger scheme to take Eddie for all he’s worth. “Dickens”, who really goes by Cynthia, hosts a huge celebration for the whole team on her private island, and everyone receives a cut in the numerous millions of dollars.

It’s understandably quite the surreal experience for Makoto. Despite the predictability of the outcome, Makoto being in the dark for the majority of the long con nevertheless lent an air of suspense, which helped the proceedings feel like more than the sum of their elemental parts. When people start going their separate ways but Laurent offers to take him under his wing, Makoto asks them to wait three or four years for him to get his affairs in order.

They agree, and Makoto returns to Japan. But just as soon as he arrives, he dumps his sack of American cash on the front desk of the nearest police station, confesses to having conned people out of it, and indicating his wish to pay back those he scammed. Looks like he’s going for a clean slate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those years he told Laurent to wait would be spent behind bars (again). In any case, the LA designer drug adventure comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 08 – Two Hearts at a Time

Thanks to Praline’s library guide and the Head Librarian’s own voice, Golem and Somali are able to locate Isolde Nebsolv, who not only was the last person to check out Chronicles of Haraiso, but actually wrote it. One of her head guards, Leigle, is suspicious of the intruders, but Isolde is glad to see them and all too happy to tell them the story from the now-destroyed book, the events of which took place many centuries ago.

Isolde’s ancestor Feodora was flying on her broom and got caught by dragon twister winds that blew her off course and wrecked her on an island. She’d later learn that Haraiso is not only the name of the island, but its “god”, a skinless golem. The rest of the island’s population are humans, who distrust all other “grotesques” except Haraiso.

Knowing this, and knowing of humans’ nature to fear the unknown and exterminate anything that is too different, Haraiso assures them the witch Feodora is actually a human and they have nothing to fear. Feodora quickly befriends Miya, the little girl who rescued her, and the rest of the villagers, as she slides into a pleasant, idyllic daily life.

The golem Haraiso eventually determines that Feodora will be able to fly home by riding the dragon twisters as they circle north to her home, but she’s hesitant to leave such a lovely place full of such kind people, and Miya doesn’t want her to go either. That’s when a “grotesque” appears: a large, two-headed beast that insists he has no quarrel with them.

The humans don’t believe or listen to their pleas for mercy, and they tie up, stone, beat, and cut the beast to death without mercy as Feodora watches. Even Miya tosses a stone. It’s clear now that her secret is a knife at her throat; she has to get out of here before she ends up like the beast.

But the morning of the day she’s to cast off, the villagers go looking for her, and Miya knows she’ll be at their spot: the bluff under the tree. When the winds pick up and toss Miya off the cliff and into some brittle branches, Feodora has no choice but to use her broom to swoop down and save her before she’s dashed on the rocks below.

All this happens in full sight of the villagers, who quickly ignore her heroics and start to call for her execution. Haraiso intervenes in time, pardoning Feodora for saving Miya but banishing her from the island. Feodora flies off, and only Miya bids her farewell. In the end, Feodora got through to Miya, and the friendship they shared overwrote her prejudice and fear.

Feodora shared her story with others, but considering how starkly it laid out how far apart humans and other clans were, it was decided not to write about it for a thousand years. Isolde wrote the book earlier than that, and for that, blames herself for the humans being wiped out. Still, Golem only sees it as a string of coincidences. Bottom line; humans and monsters were going to clash with or without this tale as ammo for the latter.

Before Isolde passes away in a cloud of butterflies, she considers herself fortunate to have not only met a human in Somali, but one who has friends among non-humans. It means perhaps she wasn’t wrong to write a book that, for all of the ways it depicted the humans as utterly incompatible, was at its core about two people: Feodora and Miya, who were able to reach an understanding and a bond.

There’s still hope for Somali, even after Golem dies, because of the friends she’s made. But it looks like Golem is still determined to find her fellow humans at the ends of the earth…just in case.

Classroom of the Elite – 12 (Fin)

The first seven episodes of Classroom of the Elite were solid, but gave way to an increasingly unfocused and often downright tedious Island Arc. After pointing out how delicate and demanding the girls are compared to the guys, demonstrating the class’s appalling ignorance of outdoor fundamentals (except for one character who camps out a lot), and introducing a set of rules and objectives only slightly less complicated than the U.S. Tax Code, we were then treated to thrilling whodunits involving the theft of a girl’s undergarments and the burning of a manual.

Class C student Ibuki was planted as the obvious culprit to everything, but we can’t be sure if she’s really the culprit, because the biggest question mark of them all is, and has always been, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, whom it’s implied was the sole “survivor” of a “gifted kid farm.”

Meanwhile, his interactions with Horikita Suzune have been dull and repetitive (due in no small part to the nebulousness of his true motives and  intentions), while what had been perhaps the best character dynamic of the show—that between Ayano and Kushida—has curiously been abandoned altogether, with no further exploration of her character. Some of Kushida’s screen time was replaced by Sakura, whose puppy love for the unperceptive Ayano isn’t nearly as compelling.

But WHO CARES? This was a bad-ass finale. It stuck the landing.

It starts slowly, in basically the same place we left off last week: in a state of confusion and frustration. Horikita wakes up to find Ayano nearby, telling her she should drop out and that whatever goal she has in mind, whether it’s making Class A to prove something to her brother, or something else, she’s going to need allies. She faints again, and Ayano carries her to the teachers.

Ayano tells Hirata everything that’s happened and how it will effect the points, and Hirata is devastated, no doubt believing he let his class down…but Ayano asks a favor of him. When the day the Special Test ends arrives, Sakura asks Ayano what he thinks their points will be, and Ayano simply looks over to Hirata, who is holding the leader identification form.

All of the classes assemble on the beach, except Class C…but a dirty, disheveled Ryuuen does appear…in his mind, to declare victory. Once he lays out his scheme to gain the names of all three class leaders, things don’t just look bad for Class D, but Classes A and B as well.

Ryuuen’s plan is extra-complex, as befits the finale of CotE: signing a binding contract with Class A in which they’ll supply 200 S-points in goods and provide the names of B and D’s leaders, using Ibuki and another C-class student as spies D and B.

Of course, Ryuuen intended to betray Katsuragi, because an ally of Katsuragi’s rival Sakayanagai gave him the name of Class A’s leader…which was never Katsuragi to begin with. Ryuuen runs the math as the calculations are displayed on the screen.

Then the points are announced: Class C gets ZERO points, Classes A and B make just over 100 each, and Class D…WINS, with 225 points. SHOKU!

How’d it happen? Cough-cough. C’mon now, you know: it was all Ayanokouji-frikking-Kiyotaka. What Horikita doesn’t know is how. Class A continues its internal strife as Sakayanagi’s ally antagonizes Katsuragi’s furious levies, while Ichinose doesn’t feel too bad about her class’s high score, since she’s likely close to amassing enough points to buy her way into the class of her choice (which I’m assuming would be A).

Ayano managed to win by pivoting from a strategy of spot-occupation points to leader identification points, and used virtually everyone and everything he had on that island to discover the identities of the leaders of Class A and C (leaving B alone to preserve their alliance). He even used Horikita’s illness, which was actually crucial to giving him a “legitimate reason” to change the leadership of Class D to him at the very last minute. Thus, Ayano was right about Ryuuen and Ryuuen was wrong about him – a 100-point swing.

As an apparent apology for using Horikita and potentially making her even sicker, he had Hirata tell the rest of Class D they owe everything to her, not him. It’s a brilliant move that accomplishes two things: it keeps Ayano in the shadows where he can do the most, and brings the class together, which was Hirata’s goal all along.

Kushida seems to know there’s something a little off about Horikita being the hero here, but can’t get a straight answer out of Ayano when she asks which girl he’d choose. It’s not much, but I did appreciate one last scene with “Real Kushida,” especially in which she resents the fact a girl like Horikita doesn’t have a “side to hide.” But Ayano rightly points out that most people have one.

In his chat with Chabashira-sensei in the ship’s theater, she commends him for having performed up to the standards not only she, but “that man” (AKA his dad) expected. There’s talk about Daedalus and Icarus, but Ayano doesn’t intend to lose his wings any time soon. That’s good, because Ryuuen (and his loyal lieutenant Ibuki) are coming for him, armed with a windfall of points thanks to one other stipulation in their contract with Class A.

Finally, Horikita loses her throng of admirers long enough to track down Ayano and ask him why he told Hirata to spread the word that she, not he, was the class savior and mastermind behind their victory. He tells her, in a scene that’s played quite tenderly at first, to remember when he said she needed allies to succeed – giving her the credit helps get her those allies (and she did suffer in sickness for the cause).

Horikita’s Tsundere Levels reach critical levels as she both thanks Ayano and acknowledges him as an ally while making it clear their future interactions will be purely professional in nature and focused on getting to Class A.

She’s fooling no one, but Ayano is fooling her along with everyone else, because, at least according to his inner thoughts, he’s only looking out for one guy: Ayano. Hirata, Sakura, Ichinose, Kushida, and Horikita are nothing but stones he’s all too willing to step on to win, because winning is all that matters to him.

A dark ending…but also a wide-open door for a sequel down the road. Horikita has changed a lot, and she says it’s all Ayano’s fault. Maybe she, along with Kushida and the others, will get a chance to change him. Or maybe he’ll just dance on their corpses when he’s king of the world. Here’s hoping we get to find out!

Classroom of the Elite – 11

Prior to watching this episode, only one persistent wish occupied my mind: Get off the damn island. Just get off. It’s been a convoluted mess and I’m honestly having trouble caring anymore. The primary reason I watch anime is to be entertained, and the island arc just ain’t getting the job done. It’s a slog.

Alas, we do not leave the island, as time only transitions from Day 5 to Day 6, with the girls and boys of class D continuing to bicker amongst themselves, a storm coming, and the hidden fact that their leader Horikita has been ill since leaving the boat.

Way too much time is spent on the secondary and tertiary classmates yelling at each other. I already get that there’s discord, the episode just repeats itself. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no reason for Yamauchi to put a clump of mud on Horikita’s head, except perhaps to serve the plot, as Horikita must exert herself by throwing him.

More importantly by having mud randomly dropped on her head, she has to wash it off, which means stripping down to her skivvies…which means temporarily not having her key card on her person. Her one primary job as leader is to hold on to that card, but she failed, and only informs Ayanokouji.

Their talk is interrupted by a fire at the camp, which sets off another round of argument. Hirata kinda loses it once it starts to pour, and then orders the others to do useless things like cover the already-wet firewood and collect the already-soaked clothes.

Completely independent of the events on the island, we keep making small check-ins on Ayano’s past as some kind of organization-raised “special” kid, the last one remaining among of a large group of potentials, for which he seems to be placed behind bars.

I honestly couldn’t tell how these little glimpses of Ayano’s past are trying to relate to the events of the present…unless, perhaps, Ayanokouji means to betray Horikita, and is the one who told Ibuki to steal the key card. It could also be an elaborate plan to make their rivals think chaos reigns in Class D, and “betraying” Horikita is part of that. Still, Ibuki doesn’t hold back on beating her up.

That person remains a mystery for now, but the reveal that Ibuki is the one causing all the mayhem feels a bit…obvious, even though the episode tried to keep its cards close. Ayano must’ve found something buried in the spot where he found her, and we don’t know that either.

I have no idea if we’ll get another cour of CotE, but if not, it’s been an interminable, disappointing, seemingly aimless final arc, in which everyone has become progressively dumber, except perhaps Ayano, whose true intentions remain stubbornly opaque. It will take one hell of a finale to bring all the disparate pieces together and deliver some satisfying answers.