Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 10 – Sirius Pride

Willard & Co. make good use of their Dogville Detour, locating some kind of magical item that Willard believes Yuliy will find useful once he’s found the Ark of Sirius, which is a Very Big Deal.

As his friends support him from afar, Yuliy and Bishop make quick work of Klarwein’s modified cyborg vampire soldiers. Turns out Yevgraf’s lack of confidence in Klarwein’s plans was justified!

While he may be dressed like a goofy cartoon villain and has a ridiculous (and awesome) airship to boot, Yevgraf is looking more and more like a more complex villain, someone who is backed into the corner.

He’s walking talking proof that maybe it’s better to have never become a immortal vampire than to become one and then, many centuries later, find out that hey, he’s not immortal after all!

Once past Klarwein (which again, wasn’t hard), Yuliy and Bishop enter the cavern where the Ark is believed to be sealed. Where Mikhail’s vampirism kept him from passing the barrier, Yuliy gets through.

There he bears witness to a very thorough flashback of the events that led to his father Alexei leaving one day and never returning. When Mikhail and Yuliy were attacked by a bear, Akasaka (the soldier, presently a hermit, who was seeking the Ark) saved them, and befriended Alexei.

Alexei wanted to reform the ways of his people in order to coexist better with humans like Akasaka, who were proof to him that they weren’t all bad (and hey, they’re not). But he could not escape his blood, which demands that someone of royal blood basically sacrifice their soul and corporeal freedom in order to seal and thus protect the Ark.

It’s heartbreaking to see what a vibrant and prosperous town Dogville was in its heyday, as well as seeing Yuliy and his family all alive and well and together. But it’s perhaps even more heartbreaking to find that his father is still conscious within the Ark itself, basically keeping it sealed with his soul.

Just as his father sought a new way for his people to live—a “new Sirius pride”—his son seeks a way to free his father; a new way to seal the Ark. That way might well be in Willard’s possession.

Alexei isn’t totally against Yuliy doing what he can, but not at the cost of his life, soul, or freedom. Even after everything that’s happened in the world since he was sealed away, he doesn’t see it as a burden; he sees it as vital to keeping the world peace.

The problem is, when it’s time for Yuliy to say goodbye to his father, a great pillar of light erupts from the once dark red pool in the chamber, alerting Yev and the twins in the airship that Yuliy has finally arrived there and done what he’d hoped he’d do. Yuliy’s intentions are noble, but now there are matters both more pressing…and more competent than Klarwein!

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Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 09 – The Look of Those Eyes

The vamp twins are tough customers, but Yuliy manages to get the upper hand on one of them…yet he sees a glimmer of fear in her eyes and hesitates for a split-second, allowing her to escape. Bishop arrives to force their retreat, but the fact remains: Yuliy isn’t just a Jaeger anymore. If he was, he would have surely dispatched her.

Yuliy and Bishop then encounter the hermit and former captain in the Imperial Army who was sent to look for the Ark, but doesn’t spill the beans about where it is. But they do think he knows. He also knew Yuliy’s dad Alexei, who may still be alive; but the hermit won’t surrender any more info. Bishop decides the best thing to do is head back into town and get a good meal before giving the old man another go.

In the process, he and Yuliy cross paths with Major Iba and Ryouko, who met on the train. Meanwhile, as the twins laugh and tease, Mikhail (whom they call Misha informally) sulks aboard Yevgraf’s airship. Having shown he can’t break the seal to the Ark, Yev is gunning for his little brother, who might have better luck.

Iba reveals his mission to Yuliy and Bishop, while Ryouko simply hangs around because…she feels like it? That’s good enough for me! You do you, girl. She even has a nice warm moment on a balcony with Yuliy, talking about what a father is, at least to her. When she describes it, Yuliy can’t help but think of how his brother tried to fulfill that role.

If it weren’t for Mikhail, Yuliy would be dead, and he knows it. And he’s still trying to protect Yuliy, as we see when Yev and the twins catch him trying to leave the airship, likely to warn his bro. The confrontation is interrupted when one of the twin’s slaves becomes violently ill, transforms into a beast, and has to be put down.

It’s another sign the vamps aren’t just looking for the Ark just because they’re evil and want to dominate mankind (though both those things are probably true); they’re fighting for their very survival.

Iba and Ryouko join Yuliy and Bishop on their second trip to the mountains, and this time Yuliy has more luck getting through to the old man, inadvertently channeling his father, with whom the captain was good friends. He provides a map to the Ark’s location and wishes him good luck.

Yuliy slips away with Bishop without coordinating with Iba, but Iba memorized the map in the short time he saw it (there’s a reason he’s a major at such a young age) and he and Ryouko won’t be far behind.

However, once the snow picks up and Yuliy and Bishop continue on foot, they come afoul of yet another familiar face: Klarwein, who seems to have up to a (dozen or more) of his experimental modified soldiers at his command—ones far less plodding than his first Frankensteiny attempt. Despite Yev’s lack of explicit blessing, Klarwein is still trying to come through for his beloved boss.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 08 – Aligned Interests, Allowed Journeys

It’s official: the vamps have total air superiority in this show. I guess it can pay to be immortal! Mikhail is whisked to Sakhalin by Klarwein (the mad scientist) in a floatplane that wouldn’t be out of place in Porco Rosso. Yevgraf’s splendid airship has already docked atop a mountain. Where are the Jaegers’ toys?

Mikhail learns this was the birthplace of the Ark of Sirius, and an ancient sanctuary built by the Sirius sanctuary is where his father brought the Ark to be safe. Yevgraf believes because Mikhail has noble Sirius blood, he’ll be able to break through the barrier his father created at the cost of his life.

However, it’s not that simple. Mikhail also has a blood pact with Yev (formed when he turned him when Dogville fell) that not only prevents him from fully penetrating the barrier, but also prevents him from attacking his master. And now we know for sure: Mikhail wants the Ark so he can kill Yev. Instead, Yev decides he’ll try to use Yuliy.

Despite being about as gracious and simpering a thrall as a master could want, Klarwein is utterly ignored by Yev in every instance where he’s in his presence. While I don’t see the mad scientist’s loyalty wavering, it’s worth keeping an eye on what other “research” he’ll cook up in isolation.

Willard informs his team of Yuliy’s solo departure, and Fallon, Dorothea and Phillip all want to help him if they can, even if he left without them specifically to keep them out of something that could get them killed. But these are Jaegers; they’ll decide how they’ll be killed, so Willard announces they’ll make “a stop” before heading to London.

And in case you were wondering, the show isn’t done with Ryouko just because the Jaegers are no longer staying at Baron Naoe’s. She books passage to London, leaving a loving note to her pops about her duty as next head of the family to further investigate the attack on their manor. The Baron is content to allow his daughter her journey, but he’s coming too.

Finally, as soon as Yuliy arrives in Sakhalin, he picks up a tail, but it fortunately turns out to be a fellow Jaeger in Bishop, who I’m guessing is American from his attire. Yuliy and Bishop both want Yevgraf dead and the Ark out of the hands of the vamps, so they decide to work together. The first step is meeting with a recluse in the mountains who has info on the Ark.

Bishop is a bit of a walking cautionary tale for Yuliy; his entire team of Jaegers, which was more like a family to him than his own blood, was wiped out, leaving only him. Yuliy can smell the blood on him, almost as if he were a vamp himself, something Bishop explains is something that simply happens if you hunt them long enough and enough of the people you care about are lost.

By the time they arrive at the codger’s, he’s already being ambushed by vamps led by the twin sisters Larissa and Tamara, who have a flair for the theatric what with their sentence finishing and echoing laughter. But they can also handle themselves in combat. Once again Yuliy has to fight high-level vamps while keeping them from killing someone. Hopefully Bishop finds parking and lends him a hand fast!

Darling in the FranXX – 24 (Fin) – A Word They Were Never Taught

Despite the hope from their Squadmates that they’ll one day return victorious, there is every indication that Zero Two and Hiro’s insane odyssey through space is a one-way trip, at least in their current forms/lives. As they near the VIRM homeworld and fight off wave after wave of their warships, Hiro becomes a little more Zero-y, and Zero Two becomes a little more Hiro-y.

Back on Earth the gang returns to Mistilteinn, where they find things are growing again, and set to work rebuilding their food supply in order to survive without magma energy they relied on for so long. With Zero Two and Hiro’s lessons, as well as their own experiences, everyone ends up changing and growing up. Kokoro has the baby. The rejected parasites are brought out of hibernation, including Naomi.

Goro sets off on a journey of exploration on Earth seeking supplies and other lost children, making sure to kiss Ichigo before he leaves. After two years, the constant onslaught of VIRM has exhausted Hiro, allowing the enemy to “caress his consciousness” and knock him out, leaving Zero Two vulnerable.

They’re both saved not just by their own love, but by the fruits of those whom they inspired: Ai, the daughter of Kokoro and Mitsuru, named for the Japanese word for love, a word humanity had all but forgotten and which the children were never taught.

When the gang realizes the stone statute of Zero Two is a conduit through which both Zero and Hiro can hear them, they join hands and pray as loudly as they can for as long as they can, until their prayers get through to the two out in space. Hiro wakes up, green-eyed and blue-horned, rejects the pooh-poohing of the VIRM, and becomes even more one with Zero than they were before.

Apus is destroyed, but a new entity emerges; a total merging of Zero Two and Hiro, and they rend the VIRM homeworld asunder in a light that manages to reach Earth. The Klaxosaur fleets return to the earth and become one with it, and the green returns with it. Zero Two’s statue, no longer necessary, crumbles, leaving a small tree sprout.

While still hoping their friends will one day return, Squad 13 doesn’t assign them any time table, and instead begin writing their own stories. They help rebuild human civilization, without magma energy, while building families. Ikuno manages to slow their rapid aging, even though it’s too late for her. Ichigo and Goro have a kid. Futoshi finds another to love and has several kids. Zorome and Miku…continue to bicker with one another.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.

Then, centuries pass, Zero Two’s cherry tree grows larger and ancient, and a huge futuristic city rises around it, only no longer hidden within a plantation dome, and no longer populated by emotionless humans. It’s in this city built by love, the thing never taught its founders, where a boy and a girl one day meet who look an awful lot like our starring pair. Circle of life, baby.

And that’s a FranXX wrap. These last few episodes sure got BIG, as in expansive in both time, scale, and theme, culminating in a resolution for all of Squad 13 and an ending a franchise like Evangelion may never give us; instead of the story stopping before it ends, the book is closed on Hiro, Zero Two, and the others, and a new story begins, built upon what they started.

The VIRM may one day return, but mankind is in a much better position to oppose them, thanks to Hiro, Zero Two, and Squad 13 not living to fight, but fighting to live…and love.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

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.

KonoSuba 2 – 07

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For the first act of this particularly energetic, at times hyper KonoSuba, Megumin is the straight man, watching aghast as Kazuma and Aqua act disgustingly pleasant to each other; even as Aqua purifies Kazuma’s finest tea into plain hot water, he just keeps politely drinking it.

They’re acting this way because they think they’re rich, after a visit from Vanir results in an IP transfer deal that could net them 300 million Eris (or 1 mil a month). After, well, dying last week, I can understand why Kazuma wouldn’t mind hanging up his adventurers’ boots and living comfortably ever after.

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Of course, I neither expect the windfall to come (unless its made of wind, not cash) as Vanir is a sneaky slippery demon, nor for Kazuma to give up his overarching mission to defeat the Devil King; as annoying and useless as Aqua is, he still made a promise to her, and Kazuma is (usually) a man of his word (I can’t speak to Vanir).

Anyway, Kaz holds off on making a decision (lol he’s never getting that cash) and accepts Megumin’s suggestion the party head to Arcanretia, the city of water and (hopefully for Kazuma, mixed) hot springs so he can convalesce after cheating death. They bring Wiz along as well…Wiz being kind of a waste of Horie Yui.

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After winning every game of rock-paper-scissors against an increasingly flustered and desperate Aqua, and using Darkness’ vitality to heal Wiz (who was blown up by Vanir, long story) the party heads off aboard hired wagons in a beautifully-shot scene that is played straight.

Naturally, I was expecting something ridiculous to kill all the good normal vibes before the convoy left the city walls, but surprisingly, nothing happens!

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Instead, the ridiculousness happens en route, as a flock of ground-based birds known for stampeding toward the hardest objects they can find in a chicken-like mating ritual target Darkness.

I liked the fact the convoy had its own party of adventurers to take care of any problems, but once Kazuma learns it’s their—or rather Dark’s—fault the birds are there at all, his party mobilizes.

Or, I should say, Darkness runs out to meet the herd, a hired adventurer accidentally binds her, and…well, not sure what happened next, but afterwards Kazuma is apologizing profusely. Presumably, at some point, they’ll arrive at Arcanretia.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 15

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After a brief introduction to Raj’s siblings Rona and Eugena, we see that things aren’t exactly going so smoothly between Raj and Shirayuki. It’s nothing dramatic; he just can’t seem to strike up a proper conversation with her, perhaps feeling the pressure of not saying the wrong thing. His difficulty contrasts sharply with Shirayuki’s effortless chat with Obi on the balcony overlooking her hometown. It’s the conversation she should have had with Raj, but couldn’t.

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The siblings were a hint that the whole of Scheherazade is singularly focused on Raj’s interactions with Shirayuki, which explains why he feels like he’s on the spot. So he decides a change of scenery is best, and wouldn’t you know it, the castle has a greenhouse, which is Shirayuki’s wheelhouse.

The only problem is, while Raj has gotten a little nicer and more considerate, he’s still inept at most things, such as finding his way through the labyrinthine (and booby trap-laced) vaults that lead to their destination. Raj is doing his best to seem on top of things with his authoritative snapping, but he soon gets the three of them lost – which surely doesn’t help his confidence.

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Meanwhile, as Zen meets with that island hottie Kihal and her awesome birds, Mitsuhide runs into Prince Izana. He decides to ask point-blank if he’s testing the lovebirds, to which Izana responds point-blank (to Mitsu’s surprise) that yes, he is. If Zen and Shirayuki are for real, this little forced separation in the midst of an at-large would-be kidnapper should be a walk in the park.

Meanwhile in Tanbarun, Obi starts to notice they’re being followed, and manages to catch Rona and Eugena (and show off his mad ninja skillz). That gives Raj a rare moment alone with Shirayuki, during which he expresses his (wrong) opinion that she knows this was all going to go pear-shaped, and that she’s only sticking around so she can “say she couldn’t do it and leave as soon as possible”.

Shirayuki rightly takes exception to that assertion. In fact, she legitimately wants to change her relationship with Raj for the better. She believes she was sent to him for a reason and she’s going to stick it out. Once Obi and the twins (who know a way out) rejoin them, Shirayuki praises Raj for looking her in the eye when speaking to her, a first.

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Once they reach the greenhouse, Raj could, ya know, escort her around the grounds and stike up some kind of conversation about plants, but he’s so exhausted he collapses onto a bench and leaves her to Obi. Still, he makes sure to apologize for his mistakes – another first, by his siblings’ reckoning, and when the sun sets, Shirayuki says she’ll see him tomorrow.

So sure, there’s room for improvement, but large strides have already been made between Raj and Shirayuki; strides forged in those vaults. If only things could stay this breezy; but it would appear Mihaya may be forming an alliance with Kazuki, who promises to reward him handsomely through his “villainous” associates.

I’d say Shirayuki is safe in Raj’s castle with Obi in a room right next door to her, but surely there’s a Shirayuki-napping quota to be met, and Kazuki (who isn’t bad at the mad ninja skillz himself) will find a way.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 14

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Shirayuki knows this visit to Tanbarun is a little suspicious, and so does everyone around her. Like Obi, who splits his time looking for the bishounen Kazuki and observing how Shirayuki is taking her sudden orders.

Naturally, she’s working as hard as she can to learn enough about dancing, etiquette, and comportment in order to not bring shame upon Clarines during her visit. Whatever plot, if any, has been hatched, it’s starting with a gentle whisper, rather than a bang, which if anything, is more unsettling, considering how many times Shirayuki has found herself captured by someone.

But maybe there isn’t a plot…right? (No, there definitely is.) But theoretically, if there weren’t one, Shirayuki wants to take advantage of this opportunity anyway. She’s also heard Raj is a “new man”; and I’m as curious as she is to see if that’s true.

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As for Zen, well, he’s pretty sore about the whole thing, but like Shirayuki, keeps himself busy with palace and state matters, and whenever he’s not, he’s sparring with himself, in order to vent his frustration. I enjoy watching his entourage watch and comment on their master, who is more than just their master.

More and more since he became a permanent member of the posse, Obi seems like he’s cultivating a little bit of a crush on Shirayuki, or otherwise wants to be close to and protect her. That would make his master his rival for her affections.

Even if he suspects he has little chance against what the two lovebirds have, he’ll do what he can, like beat Zen in a match (proving how tough he is even unarmed), and granting his permission to accompany Shirayuki instead of Mitsuhide.

And I like this development. Mitsuhide, bless him, is too stiff for this trip. Shirayuki and Obi’s chemistry, while perhaps not as magnetic as her and Zen, has its own strange-but not-in-bad-way energy; not to mention the show is pushing the suspicion that Obi likes her, not Mitsu.

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If Obi had been peeping in the windows of the palace wing where Shirayuki is boarding, he might’ve seen just how steep a hill he’d have to climb to change Shirayuki’s heart. For the first time in this second season, Shirayuki and Zen get to share some quality time, be calmed and reassured by each others’ presence.

Zen’s last-minute hug-from-behind may not have been steamy, but it was so warm and sweet and lovely, as the atmosphere tends to be when these two are alone. But lest we forget, this is a farewell, for perhaps up to a month, even if all goes smoothly. So the encounter’s sweetness is tinged with the bitter truth that they’ll be apart, something neither of them want but are strong enough to accept.

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Loved the very sudden surprise appearance by Lord Haruka, Eternal Stodgy Sourpuss, only this time he’s fully accepted Shirayuki’s right to be at court. Of course he doesn’t miss out on the chance to remind her not to return in disgrace. Shirayuki very adorably asks for a trinket of Zen’s to keep with her, and he gives her his pocket watch, which she promises to give back upon her return. Even Prince Izana, the apparent mastermind in this dastardly scheme, shows up to see Shirayuki off.

As for Izana’s reasons for doing this, I can think of three: he wants to make sure Prince Zen can still function as a Prince of Clarines when his girlfriend isn’t constantly by his side; he wants Shirayuki to learn more about court life, in preparation for her to one day become Zen’s consort; and finally, to give Shirayuki the opportunity to spend some time outside of Wistal Castle and return to her home; offering her a good look at other potential paths, to ensure she’s on the right one.

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And Shirayuki will definitely see other things and people on her journey, from an Obi who acts a specific way around her (and knows how to clean up and speak pretty when he needs to); and a Prince Raj who upon welcoming her (back) to his kingdom seems to have changed somewhat for the better…only to revert back to his old goofy, wishy-washy self once they’re in the throne room.

I actually thought the transition was too quick; I kinda wanted to see Raj on his best behavior a little longer. Nevertheless, he seems shocked and a little overwhelmed that the girl he tried to forceably marry not long ago is actually there. Maybe he has changed, in that he realizes how badly he acted, and acknowledges he owes her a debt to her from his last stop in Clarines. Time will tell, but for now, all eyes are on Shirayuki–and not just for that dazzling apple-red hair.

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Ushio to Tora – 15

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This week’s UtT starts out in deliciously absurd fashion as Ushio is once again a passenger on a runaway vehicle—this time a bus being controlled by Hakumen’s lesser youkai minions, the hiyou. One or two of them are no problem, but as this arc has proven, get enough of them together and they’re a menace.

When they learn of Ushio’s latest dilemma, Nagare and Tora both race to the speeding bus, and the three then use a neat bit of teamwork to rescue the 40+ passengers. It involves Nagare slicing off the ends of the bus, Tora blowing out the people, and Nagare catching them with a magic barrier. Then Ushio stops the bus by stabbing the Hiyou with the spear.

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The passengers are safe, with no serious injuries, but Ushio is racked by guilt over what happened to them and how much worse things could have potentially gotten. But it’s a burden the wielder of the beast spear must bear, and Nagare doesn’t want to see his pathetic face, so he  starts asking him about the girls in his life, and Ushio’s scowl turns into a blush.

Nagare, Ushio, and Tora then encounter what looks like a group of Stigs, but are actually former potential spear wielders who didn’t make the cut. They include the long golden-haired biker girl Moritsuna Jun, whose big brother Satoru is an onmyou master and one of the four chosen along with Nagare and Hinowa.

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Jun can’t find Satoru, but then he turns up with a fearsome shikigami called a hiruko, targeting Ushio. Nagare and Jun can’t do anything against it, but Tora tears through it, and the deranged Satoru has to retreat for the time being. Tora opines that Satoru’s body has been taken over by the Hiyou, like the bus, and has become their latest instrument for disposing of Ushio.

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Unsure of how to proceed, Ushio remembers he can contact the Elder of Ungaikyou through any mirror, even a rest stops! The elder puts him in touch with the tengu Osa, who informs Ushio that the only way to remove the Hiyou from Satoru’s brain is to become an apparition or monster, which Ushio does whenever he wields the spear, enter Satoru’s body, and destroy the infestation. But it’s a risky proposition: the spear could very well consume Ushio’s entire soul in the process. So Ushio is faced with a choice: risk his own humanity to save another, or put him out of his misery.

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Of course, Ushio doesn’t really see that it’s much of a choice, especially when he sees how distraught Jun is and why: her brother once had trouble controlling his spiritual powers, and when he saved her from a low-level youkai, he ended up scaring her.  Ever since, she’s wanted to properly thank him.

To see Ushio’s reaction to her story, you just know he’ll put even excising the regrets of others before his own life; to do so would only add to his guilt and make it even harder to live with himself. At the same time, he has responsibilities as the true chosen wielder of the spear. At some point he must put his selflessness and emotions aside and think about the bigger picture.

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Satoru returns as promised, he has a few tricks out of the gate, and combined with Ushio’s uncertainty about how to handle this situation, the good guys are quickly on their heels. But it’s Jun who grabs hold of her brother and won’t let go that eventually draw the real Satoru out and make him come to his senses.

But once he does, and realizes what he’s done, he too is overcome by guilt and regret, harking back to how his sister recoiled when he last lost it. He’s so overcome, in fact, that he doesn’t believe he should live anymore, and leaps backwards off a cliff, giving us…a cliffhanger. Of course, considering Tora—who can fly—is around, and Satoru features prominently in the OP and ED, I’m not willing to write Jun’s bro off just yet. Catch’im, Tora!

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