Attack on Titan – 72 – Lost in the Forest

One quiet afternoon, the fancy restaurant at which Niccolo works suddenly becomes very busy. First, the Blouses arrives with “Ben” and “Mia” in tow, to take him up on his offer to cook the meal he wanted to make for Sasha. Kaya tells them Niccolo is the Marleyan they should speak to. His food is the best any of them have ever eaten.

Not long thereafter, Hange and the Scouts arrive with Onyankopon to discuss some things with Niccolo. He sets them up in the private room where them Military Police often ate and drank. When Jean picks up a bottle of “special” red wine, Niccolo picks a fight with him and snatches it away.

Of course, we know, and later find out why he’s acting like an anti-Eldian ass to cover for the fact he’s saving Jean’s life, because that wine isn’t meant for Jean, and not because it’s too good of a vintage.

When Gabi and Falco spot Niccolo heading down to the cellar on his own, they excuse themselves from the table to meet with him. But while they weren’t wrong to seek aid from their Marleyan countryman, Niccolo just happens to be the absolute worst countryman they could have encountered.

As Gabi gleefully reports she killed a woman on the airship, Niccolo realizes these are the kids who killed his Sasha. Falco can see the change in his demeanor, but Gabi doesn’t. Niccolo tries to brain Gabi with the suspicious bottle of wine, but Falco pushes her out of the way and takes the hit.

Then he takes them both upstairs to present them to Sasha’s parents, along with a knife and the promise that if they don’t want to kill them, he surely will.

When Gabi sees the faces in Sasha’s parents’ faces, she automatically assumes they’re the looks of hatred and murderous rage. That’s certainly what’s emanating from Niccolo, who deduces from the way Falco shielded her that he’s someone important to her. Sasha was that someone to him, despite being a “descendant of demons” she saved him from the war by loving his food more than he’d ever seen anyone love anything.

Gabi tells him that Sasha “started” the killing by killing her friends (i.e. the Marleyan guards she shot), and she was only avenging those friends. At this point, Niccolo doesn’t care who started the killing, he just wants blood. Instead, Mr. Blouse asks for the knife. As he holds it he has a sobering monologue about how he and his wife raised Sasha as a hunter of the forest.

In the forest, it was kill or be killed, but they knew they couldn’t live like that forever. But when Sasha was exposed to the world, it ended up being just a bigger “forest” where the rules were just as ruthless. In his country drawl, he says to Niccolo that it’s up to them as adults to shoulder the sins of and hatred of the past and not pass them on; to keep the kids out of the “forest”, or they’ll just keep running in circles.

Then he and Mrs. Blouse tend to Falco while Connie and Jean restrain Niccolo. When a crazed Kaya rushes at Gabi with her own knife, wanting to kill the bastard who murdered her savior, Gabi is saved by Mikasa, who along with Armin take Gabi to the other room.

Niccolo tells Hange to wash Falco’s mouth out thoroughly, as when the wine bottle shattered some of the contents got into his mouth. That’s not good, because the wine may well contain some of Zeke’s spinal fluid, which he’d used in gaseous form in the past to immobilize a village in Paradis, as well as enemy cities on the mainland.

Niccolo further explains to Jean and Hange that he was told by Yelena to serve the wine to high-ranking military officials. While the Scouts were told that Zeke’s spinal fluid causes Eldians to freeze up, it could have other effects Zeke simply isn’t telling them about.

In the private room, Gabi asks Armin and Mikasa if they really hate her and want to kill her. We know they don’t, and they lament that a kid ended up in such a shitty position where all she can think of is hate and killing. Armin mentions that it reminds him of “someone he knows”, and right on cue that someone, Eren, enters the room, his hand bleeding like a lit fuse.

While Levi is questioning Zeke back in the forest, he gets a report that Zachary is dead, the walls are under Jaegerist control, and Pyxis has conceded to their demands.

Levi’s messengers think Pyxis is simply rolling over for Eren and Zeke, but Levi knows better; Pyxis is still trying to feed Eren to someone else. Levi looks back on all the times he saved Eren’s life because he thought it was the best chance for humanity’s survival, but seeing the mess they’re in, wonders why he bothered.

Back in the restaurant, a group of Jaegerists arrive led by Floch, taking Hange, Connie, and Jean and Niccolo into custody and demanding Hange tell them Zeke’s location. When Hange says they weren’t going to fight them on this, Floch tells her that Eren decided not to trust Pyxis’s surrender, certain the commander wouldn’t gamble the fate of the island on them.

When Hange tells Floch that wine laced with Zeke’s spinal fluid has been distributed throughout the military, Floch lets on that he already knows with a big playful grin. It’s part of the Plan. I assume Zeke already owns all those high-ranking military police officials who dined at Niccolo’s restaurant, and are currently with Pyxis planning to steal Eren’s Founding Titan.

As for Eren, he’s come for one reason: to speak to Mikasa and Armin, his best friends in the whole world; his brother and sister. No doubt he’s come to ask them to join him…and he’s probably only going to ask once.

Attack on Titan – 71 – Reshaping the World

Armin, desperate for answers, prepares to touch the crystal containing Annie, only to be scolded by Hitch, who is tasked with guarding her. But even if he had gleaned anything, it might not help solve the rapidly snowballing crisis in Paradis. Had Armin simply consulted the papers, he’d know the public is quickly losing faith in the military now that news of Eren’s imprisonment is out in the open.

A growing group of angry pro-Eren protestors surround military HQ, in support of a New Eldian Empire led by the younger Jaeger. When Hitch goes to help with crowd control, Armin meets with Mikasa and they head to Premier Zachary’s office, spotting three Scout recruits on the way.

Yelena tells Pyxis that it was she who met with Eren in secret to tell him “someone” had to light a fire under HQ to get the military moving against Marley. Of course, Eren himself. Just as Yelena and Zeke hoped, he delivered “divine retribution” the volunteers had wished upon Marley for years. Now Yelena plans to watch with great interests as the two brothers continue “reshaping the world”.

I’m not sure why Eren kept his plans from Mikasa and Armin, since now that he’s done everything he’s done all they want to do is ask him about it. But Premier Zachary forbids them from meeting with Eren, saying the situation is too delicate. After they’re dismissed, Armin comes to believe they’re not letting them talk to Eren because they’ve already given up on him and are preparing to pick the next Founding Titan.

They watch three soldiers enter Zachary’s office after them, and Mikasa wants to listen in to see if they can learn about their plans. Armin holds her back, telling her it’s too risky, and it’s a good thing he does, because moments later a bomb goes off in the office, sending the top half of Zachary’s torso flying out to the HQ’s gate. Armin and Mikasa survive the blast, but the crowd is even more whipped up.

In the immediate investigation that follows the bombing, it’s believed that Zachary’s special torture chair contained the bomb. While Mikasa and Armin didn’t see who exactly placed it there, the two did see those three out-of-place Scout recruits just before meeting with Zachary. This causes everyone in the room to develop those classic Titan face shadows.

Then more bad news for the military drops: Eren has broken out of his cell, likely to join up with Floch and 100 other soldiers and guards loyal to his cause who vanished from the prison. Nile labels this new group of insurgents “Jaegerists”. Now Eren is no doubt looking to secure both Zeke and Queen Historia.

With Zachary dead, Pyxis is de facto in command, and true-to-form, he gives a rather unexpected order: as much as he hates it, he’s to let Zeke and Eren have their way…for now. It’s not quite surrender, but he acknowledges they’ve already been thoroughly outmaneuvered—especially with a lot of the public against them. This no time for a civil war; not with an enemy like Marley across the sea preparing to attack.

With most of the Jaegerist defectors coming from the ranks of the Scouts, Hange is on shaky ground with the other bigwigs, but they have no reason to believe Hange is in cahoots with Eren, so they remain in charge of the regiment. Of particlar concern now is the fact that Yelena strategically placed Marleyan prisoners in odd places like restaurants, as we saw with Nicolo serving Roeg and his men.

But there’s also the restaurant where the Blouse family is getting a fancy dinner. Gabi and Falco are with them, and we see Pieck has already snuck onto the island. Did she see the Titan recruits go in? Mikasa, Armin, Jean, and Connie find themselves on the opposite site of Eren’s movement, and Connie isn’t 100% sure Mikasa won’t choose Eren when all’s said and done (what can you say, he knows her).

Everything’s a big mess, but there is one constant this week: Eren, and Yelena, and Zeke are all getting their way so far. The fact the Jaegerists have worked so fast in this episode suggests Zeke knows Reiner will be launching a counterattack on Paradis sooner rather than later. The Rumbling test run must be implemented ASAP.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 70 – The Good Eldian

Gabi Braun needs the world to be black and white. It’s how she’s always seen it. They are the good guys, and the “island devils” are the bad guys. So of course she’s not going to have any sympathy for the guard into whom she beat her frustrations with a brick, who was only concerned with her health. He’s a devil. The enemy. The bad guy.

Gabi and Falco escape their prison and run all night. Upon stopping to drink and wash off, Falco asks Gabi why she’s still wearing her Eldian armband on, which could get her killed if a soldier sees it. Gabi replies that she doesn’t care about being caught or killed, as long as she finds out the truth from Zeke before she is. When Falco rips it off anyway, she loses it, tackles him to the ground and demands it back.

To her, it’s not a symbol of her peoples’ oppression at the hands of the racist Marleyan state. It’s a talisman in this strange land, proof she’s a “good Eldian” not anything like the island devils. Then she asks, with tears welling in her eyes, why Falco followed her, saying he “didn’t have to die too”. It’s the first and only instance of Gabi acknowledging Falco as someone she cares about.

The duo don’t remain hidden from others long, as a young woman spots them while they’re fighting. Falco, showing his value in such situations where Gabi would be useless, comes up with a cover story on the spot: they’re siblings and runaways. They’ve inadvertently not only come to the right place, but a thoroughly ironic one, in keeping with Titan’s whimsical sense of karma.

To the young woman, Kaya, Gabi and Falco aren’t captives, they’re guests of the Blouse Stables, run by the family of the young woman Gabi killed while aboard the airship. The young woman her uncle Reiner once described in way overblown terms when she had stolen a potato. Gabi doesn’t want to interact or eat with devils, but Falco insists, leading to Gabi trying a spoonful of soup containing—you guessed it—a chunk of potato.

Meanwhile, in the capital, the press has gotten wind of Eren Yeager’s imprisonment and want an explanation, as a sizable segment of the population would probably celebrate his efforts in Marley. Hange will say is that everything that is being done is for the good of all Eldians. She meets with Floch and three recruits who are also against Eren being detained, and don’t care what happens to them; the info they leaked can’t be un-leaked.

Mikasa ends up escorting Louise, one of the recruits, to her cell, where she’ll stay until formally tried for the leak, discharged from the training program, incarcerated…perhaps even executed. But Louise isn’t in despair, she’s smiling as she makes clear she’s the same person Mikasa saved that day when she defeated a Titan before her very eyes.

That day, Louise experienced firsthand how powerless she, her mother, and all the other bystanders were, and how without power, you can’t protect anything. Mikasa tells her to stop talking and turns to leave, but catches Louise giving her a formal Scout Regiment salute, causing Mikasa to recall the same kind of moment she had years ago, when Eren saved her from the robbers.

Gabi and Falco, AKA Mia and Ben, settle in to farm life, with the former not proving particularly popular with the horses, one of which she originally planned to steal (they don’t know how to ride). The little comedy of errors is the one bright point in their whole visit. Kaya has them break for lunch, and tells them how the farms and stables are full of orphans utilizing the Queen’s welfare policies.

When Kaya brings up how she and all the other orphans lost their parents four years ago, Gabi can’t hold her tongue, and starts spouting the Marleyan company line. Kaya admits she’s known they were from Marley for some time, leading Gabi to grab a pitchfork. As Falco struggles with her, they attract the attention of other orphans, and Kaya covers for them, saying “Mia” was worried she’d steal her brother.

Then, in hopes of getting Gabi and Falco to understand her and the other orphans’ plight, takes them to the ruins of her village, and to the very spot in her house where she sat down and listened as her mother, who couldn’t walk and was abandoned by the others, was slowly eaten alive. That experience is burned into her brain forever, and makes her wonder why humanity outside the walls thinks they’re devils, when this is what happened to them.

Kaya asks simply, What did my mom do? Gabi comes back at her about ancestors this, millennia that; slaughter this and century that. In other words, whole cloth straw man arguments. Gabi can’t name a single thing Kaya or her mom did to deserve their suffering. As Kaya gets more and more upset as she tries drives that point into Gabi’s conditioned head, you can almost see the Gears in Gabi’s head start to spark and smoke.

All Gabi can do is talk about holding people responsible for things that happened before they were even born. Things she never witnessed but was only told about. Things that, considering Zeke’s betrayal, she cannot trust to even be true. Falco finally answers Kaya truthfully: she and her village suffered because they got caught up in Marleyan force-recon mission…and that’s all.

When Falco apologizes for what happened to Kaya’s family, she objects to him feeling like he should apologize for simply being from the country that did it. He didn’t do it! Then Kaya tells the story of how her life was saved after her mom was eaten. A girl a little older than her grabbed a hatchet and attacked the Titan, putting herself between it and Kaya. That girl was Sasha.

Kaya is right: if Sasha were still alive, she wouldn’t abandon Gabi and Falco who had nowhere to go, simply because of where they were from. Kaya tells them they’ll be having dinner with a Marleyan that night, and if they like, they can talk to that person about getting back home. Of course, Kaya isn’t aware that these are two extremely dangerous Titan candidates, but she’s not worried about who they are, but who she wants to be: a person like Sasha.

After the credits, Magath confirms to Reiner, Colt, Porco and Pieck that Zeke faked his demise and is working with Paradis, and announces a global alliance will launch a full-scale attack on the island…but not for six months. Colt doesn’t want to wait that long to rescue Falco and Gabi, who are after remain vital military assets (though we’ll see where their heads are at later). Magath insists they must wait; Marley alone will only be pushed back again.

Reiner assures them, Zeke is counting on them taking their time to attack so he can formulate a defense—or even perfect the Rumbling. He recommends they launch a surprise attack as soon as possible, not letting the Eldians bask in their Liberio victory. We’ll see if Magath listens. Until then, this was an episode full of people who were saved wanting to emulate those who saved them, and the decisive breakdown of Gabi’s black-and-white philosophy.

Kuromukuro – 18

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It’s a little detail, but I appreciate the fact that we see Yukina and Ken finally getting paid by the UN for their services. Everyone else working there seems to be. It also lets us know it’s been about three months since they started working together. The sudden influx of funds leads to Yukina taking her family to a hot spring inn. Mika catches word, unilaterally invites anyone who will come, and we’re off to the races.

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The hot spring inn isn’t the most luxurious—no food service and not even any close hot springs—but the ten attendees make do, and Ken uses the $400 pot he bought online to make curry (with Yukina’s help). The centerpiece of the episode is a long dinner scene that to its credit looks like a really fun place to be, unless of course you’re Carlos.

He tried to be clever about announcing he’s transferring but his cosplay video editing job was universally panned, and the announcement (and his on-screen plea not to be forgotten) is ignored in favor of other myriad conversations. The scene has a great energy, jumping from one discussion to another with several interruptions and interludes, just the way a big group dinner works in real life.

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Once it becomes time to check out the actual hot springs the next morning, Yukina happens to forget her towel, and she and Ken happen to go the wrong way and find a different hot spring than the others, where an injured Muetta just happens to be hiding.

We are tipped off to Muetta being at a hot spring before the encounter, and we actually catch a glimpse of her life as a child back home, a gorgeously alien world with crazy sky colors and celestial alignments. It makes her argument that she is not Ken’s princess a lot easier to buy. At least, she’s not lying when she says she has no memory of being Yukihime.

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Not long after Yukina and Ken find Muetta, men in black show up to secure the location…only for Yukina and Ken to end up separated again, and in that moment, Yukina is snatched up by an Efidolg robot and rises up into orbit, leaving her robe behind.

I wasn’t a fan of all the coincidences necessary for that ending to be achieved. This also smells like yet another case of Poor Defenseless Yukina being kidnapped—while naked, no less—and the Dashing Samurai having to find a way to rescue her. Not the most innovative storytelling. Also, while the emphasis on him is played mostly for comedy, I just don’t really care about Carlos, or whether he ceases to be on the show or not. Why should I, when no one else does?

Still, I liked the slice of life vacation elements, and I did not expect things to end so badly, so quickly, for Yukina and Ken. Yukina suddenly being up in orbit, at the mercy of those thoroughly unpleasant Efidolg knights, is a huge turning point—As is finally having Muetta in custody. I don’t doubt that in his desperation to quickly save his new princess, he’ll try to enlist the help of the old one. Pulling that off should prove even tougher than salvaging Carlos’ hack job.

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Kuromukuro – 16

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This week, there’s almost equal time spent between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, as Muetta and Mirasa fall from the sky to infiltrate the Kurobe Lab in search of the “Pivot Stone.” It’s a daring and professional operation led by Muetta, with Mirasa never quite matching her precise moves. For instance, Mirasa hits the water too hard on their landing, but Muetta saves her. By the end of their op she’ll wish she hadn’t.

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Another healthy chunk of “good guy” time is taken up by more Ken and Sophie, with which I have no problem. Its fun to watch the moment Ken realizes Sophie is trying to become a samurai, which she sees as swapping one form of bondage (doing as her parents say and going home) for another (being bonded by loyalty to her fellow warriors in Kurobe).

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What of Yukina? She’s plays only a bit role here, tagging along for Mika’s cosplay film with Akagi, Kaya, Carlos, and the nurse Marina. In a nice bit of narrative symmetry, Muetta and Mirasa also “cosplay” by dressing up in UN maintenance unis that will help them move further into the enemy base. But while Mika & Co. are just trying to have some fun, these two are grinding like their lives depended on it…because they kinda do.

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By sheer coincidence the Efidolg pair end up taking the same lift as Ken, and the smell of blood on the orange jumpsuits (another blunder by Mirasa) gives them away. Thus we’re offered another confrontation between Ken and “Yukihime” far earlier than I expected, and it goes pretty much how I imagined: Ken prostrates himself before the princess, hoping against hope he can jog her memory.

Alas, Muetta claims to have never heard of him, though interestingly she calls him a “peasant” later on. It’s very much up in the air whether she’s playing another role like Mika and Marina, fully brainwashed, or a true and loyal daughter of Efidolg.

Speaking of loyalty, when, in a hostage situation, Muetta seems prepared to kill Ken, it’s Sophie who fires the bullet that knocks the knife from her hand. When Ken shields a retreating Muetta and Mirasa, Sophie makes up her mind: she can’t trust Ken’s brand of loyalty with keeping him alive. She’ll stay in Kurobe and make sure he stays safe.

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In this regard, Sophie takes on a role similar to Yukina, another person intent on saving Ken from his own reckless impluses. It’s also a huge victory for the show, because getting rid of Sophie, or declawing her by giving her scenes in France, would not have been something I particularly wanted to see.

As for Yukina, the cosplay story, beyond being a parallel to the costumes Muetta and Mirasa don, doesn’t come to much other than “Yukina is special now and her normal high school life continues to suffer from that specialness.”

IMO a bit too much time was spent on this plot, though I commend Mika wanting to cheer everyone, including Yukina and Marina, up a bit (plus the costumes and locales were cool).

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Then there’s Mirasa. She started this thrilling, action-packed infiltration op following Muetta’s lead and calling her “sister” with deference and loyalty. She ends it by suddenly but inevitably betraying Muetta, shoving her knife in her belly so she can go home and take all the credit for finding the stone.

It’s another demonstration how bad and fundamentally immoral and messed-up the Efidolg are, more an advanced form of the everyday cruelty and brutality from feudal times much (though certainly not all) of the modern world has left behind.

But Mirasa’s treachery also forces a new choice upon Muetta / Yukihime. Assuming she survives her Fugitive-style jump off the dam (a good bet), she’ll be hurt pretty damn bad, and she’ll be alone.

Chances are the UN finds her first, and they’ll treat her. I wouldn’t even rule out such a fall ringing her bell to the extent some memories of Ken return (if they’re there, and if she doesn’t have them already). In any case, it will be Muetta’s turn to make a choice.

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Kuromukuro – 15

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The battle is over, the chaos paused, and disaster averted, for now. This episode deals with the aftermath of the last one, as Muetta’s stunning assault on the school has made a lot of people make up their minds about leaving town. Others, like Sophie, have hard choices to make, which include going along with the choices others have made for them.

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Sophie Noelle isn’t your typical stuck-up rich kid: yes, she’s very rich and kinda stuck up, but she’s fiercely loyal and kind to her allies and is also perfectly capable of taking care of herself – and making her own choices – despite her unadvanced age.

When she sees Ouma, a real-life samurai like the ones she’s always admired, begging before a food-ordering machine in the canteen, she happily pays for his meal in exchange for listening to her problem.

As he gorges with relish (Dr. Hausen’s hospital food just wasn’t doing it for him), Ouma makes a point about a warrior being responsible for themselves, and sticking with the decision they make to the end. He’s talking about flavors of popsicles, but Sophie still gleans insight. Staying or going is her call, not her parents’.

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For their stunning failure last week, Muetta and Mirasa are essentially neurally tortured by treatments that invoke persistent “primal fear”; both beak out of their torture and crumble to the ground, indicating this isn’t the kind of society we want running Earth.

Even after all the mayhem they caused, I still feel bad for them. They probably knew this would happen when they returned in shame, but they did so anyway, and they’ll gladly go back down to Earth, either to accomplish what they couldn’t before, or die trying.

We see that Mirasa’s a little more hesitant to do a space drop back to Earth, but once Muetta jumps, there’s little she can do but follow her. The choice has been made.

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Even last week’s hectic episode managed to still have some moments of levity, and the comedy is ratcheted up a little more here, what with more funny “Ken vs. Modern Times” moments, Carlos’ family troubles, and what I believe to be the first time an anime scientist was only joking about dissecting someone (…or was he?), or the scene where Yukina thinks he’s saying he’s dead, when he’s sad that he’s fully recovered.

In the beginning of the episode Yukina is with Ouma, but he’s unconscious, so she goes back to school, where we see Mika isn’t letting current events get in the way of her goal for a cosplay film (and enlists Kaya, Ryouta, and Carlos to help her), while other classmates wonder if Yukina’s an alien too.

When Yukina finally finds Ouma to scold him, he’s already healed. She pivots to the uncomfortable subject of the princess who looks just like her. Ouma tells her she’s nothing like her, but the Efidolg warrior is “without a doubt” Yukihime.

The question is what he’s going to do when they meet again, whether she’ll even give him a chance to speak before trying to kill him, and whether he’ll again fail to properly defend himself from the woman who was once his only reason for living…because now he has two; three if you count his friendship with Sophie.

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Kuromukuro – 14

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They’re not playing around, Kaya

Kuromukuro’s second half picks up right where it left off, with Ken suffering a serious wound by Muetta/Yukihime’s hand. She goes after Yukina too, but a huge cloaked ogre jumps in to be her opponent, eventually chasing her off. Sophie and Sebastian also spring into action, surprising their ordinary classmates with their skills.

It’s a state of extreme chaos, where no one can think more than a few seconds ahead. It’s here we see the importance of training and poise under duress (the school nurse, for instance, simply isn’t ready for the wound Ken suffers).

As for Kaya, well, he’s not alone in trying to convince himself this is all some kind of harmles cosplay fun…until a UN soldier saves him from Muetta’s blade. Even so, he keeps the camera rolling, putting the recording of this momentous event over his own life. Priorities.

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“So just DIE already, idiot!”

Speaking of priorities, Ken’s, after his wounds heal quickly but not completely, has his all wrong as well. He wants to “save” the woman who tried and will keep trying to kill him, meaning he’s always going to be a liability against her in a fight.

The fact his wounds are still open and he keeps coughing up blood all tell Yukina he’s breaking his promise not to go off and die. But she sticks with him to make sure he doesn’t, and it’s her advice in the heat of the battle with Muetta and Mirasa that saves the good guys from defeat.

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Sure, talk about “warrior’s honor” when you’re fighting in a mecha with 8 arms

She notices from the way the two Efidolg geoframes are fighting that they’re not working together, and may not even like each other. And she’s right; Muetta wants the glory, and doesn’t consider Mirasa a warrior of equal standing.

Yukina suggests that the Kuromukuro, along with GAUS 1 and 2, pick on one opponent at a time, working together to wear it down while the second one founders. Before long, Mirasa’s frame shuts down, and rather than let the three turn on her, Muetta grabs Mirasa and heads for the nearest atmospheric lift back to orbit.

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Nothing like a cool, refreshing aloe vera drink bath after a battle

The two pilots failed in their mission because Muetta prioritized personal revenge over the mission’s successful completion, while Mirasa prioritized her own honor. They only lasted as long as they did because Ken was never going all out, both because he didn’t want to harm the woman he’s convinced is Yukihime, and because he’s in such rough shape.

Indeed, he can’t keep the blood down moments after the two enemies escape, and after he’s held back by a GAUS from following them up to their space station. No good can come from him going up there alone, especially in his state.

Instead, it’s time to heal, repair, then re-assess and coordinate priorities. If Muetta is Yukihime, that certainly seems to be news to her. As for the Ogre, I don’t know where to start with him. Is he the same guy Ken saw centuries ago (and drew an awful picture of), or is it Yukina’s father in disguise? Whatever the case, events keep proving her dad right.

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Kuromukuro – 13

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Two Efidolg knights seem to have “gone rogue” in order to pursue their own personal ambitions against Earth. The first is Mirasa, who fights the Black Relic and GAUS units to a draw and escapes into the woods to regenerate. The second is “Muetta”, whose hair immediately indicated is Yukihime, or at least some kind of Efidolg clone of her.

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As Takeyama High prepares for their cultural festival in the interests of maintaining normalcy and taking a break from studies and battles alike, Yuki looms over the episode like a silent wraith, crouched and ready to strike.

Yukina’s class decides to do an “Efidolg Forum”, what with three UN pilots in their class. Unfortunately, everyone else at the base is too busy to join the forum, so it’s just Yukina, Ken, and Sophie.

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In a particularly clever bit of plotting, because one of the activities at the school festival is cosplay (with Mika switching her usual school uniform for another), Muetta is able to slip into the school without any trouble. Indeed, she’s commended for the craftsmanship of her armor and arms.

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While Muetta closes in, Yukina and Ken have a grand old time at the festival, with Ken remarking that modern life itself has always felt like a festival to him, but this takes it to another level. Yukina asks him what he plans to do once he avenges Yukihime, because he has his whole future ahead of him (dundundunnnn).

Almost immediately after Yuki mentions how everyone has two doppelgangers, her Efidolg doppelganger leaps on the stage and charges at Ken, who is so shocked by the sight of her (having just seen her in the digitally altered photo of Yukina), he lets his guard down and gets run through.

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The show, knowing we knew who this was all along, still expertly kept most of Muetta’s face out of the frame right up until the very end, when showing it had the most impact. And the camerawork of the stabbing is great stuff, with an extreme closeup of Muetta cutting to a dumbfounded Ken, who then falls to reveal an equally shocked Yukina.

Where goeth things from here? Hard to say. I wonder if Sophie can somehow suppress Muetta, and why Muetta stabbed him. Perhaps, like him, her memories had bene lost on Earth those centuries ago, but now they’re back and she’s punishing him for betraying their people?

In any case, this was quite the exciting cliffhanger to place between Kuromukuro’s two halves: the moment Ken’s two princesses met.

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P.S. The rock band in the auditorium is playing the show’s opening theme, a cover of “Distopia” by GLAY.

Kuromukuro – 12

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As the Gezon-Reco of Efidolg decide to send another of their own (Nouet) down to Japan to deal with the Black Relic that’s been ruining their plans, the school term has given way to Summer break for Yukina, Ken, and Noelle, as well as Akagi, Mika, and Kaya.

Yukina boasts that she needn’t participate in extra lessons despite her deplorable marks, since she’s already been enrolled in what amounts to boot camp at Kurobe, with the always pleasantly profane Tom Borden as drill sargeant and Noelle, Shenmei, and Seb joining both out of solidarity and to stay sharp. Akagi also joins, in hopes of becoming a geoframe pilot.

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What ensues is your standard boot-camp/training episode, with Yukina predictably bad at pretty much everything early on. Indeed, after the first day of exertion she’s skipping dinner to throw up in the sink, but Shenmei grabs her from behind, throws her on the bed, sits on her, and…gives her deep massage and reiki. We’ve seen precious little of Shenmei, but I like how she’s so quietly supportive during Yukina’s descent into her Summer of Hell.

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To add insult to injury, Seb is assigned by her teacher to make sure she and Ken don’t fall behind on lessons. But the training is a long time coming now that Yukina is committed to co-piloting the Black Relic with Ken: she can’t rely on him to rescue her from every little thing.

That being said, Ken still saves her on numerous occasions, whether it’s a hand or word of encouragement, or something more dramatic like saving her from drowning when Tom shoves her into a pool in full kit.

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Ken is punished for “babying the Princess”, but thanks to Tom not thinking when activating the shock collar, Yukina and Noelle also get zapped, and the three zappees get a day off while Shenmei and Tom test the experimental GAUS water-walking system.

The unusual-for-Kuromukuro level of fanservice continues when Noelle shares photos of Mika in sexy fantasy cosplay that Ken can neither resist voicing his outrage and snapping a pic of the pic for his own, erm, records.

When the water-walking GAUS goes literally sideways and water starts leaking in the sinking frame, Shenmei remains almost comically (but also impressively) cool as a cucumber.

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The training continues, with Ken having to push Yukina less and less since she’s pushing herself (though Noelle notices how much he stares at Yukina), and things get easier as she grows stronger and more confident. Where once she couldn’t shoot with her eyes open, now she at least opens one, so it’s only a matter of time before she opens both.

For his continues heroism and lack of betrayal, Ken is rewarded by having his sword returned to him (by Yukina) and his collar removed (also by Yukina), resulting in some very close proximity between the two.

I’m enjoying the slow burn of their mutual attraction and respect, even if it doesn’t go far. Like it or not, Ken has found a new “princess” in Yukina, and thus a new commitment and purpose.

Yukina tells him he gets the sword on the condition he won’t seek his death with it through reckless action. And as the episode closes with a descending Nouet, Yukina’s newfound skills and stamina will be put to the test very soon.

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Kuromukuro – 11

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No sooner than I complained about the show dragging a little do things really start picking up. And while they picked up in more or less the most predictable way they could, it doesn’t change the fact that this was the first Kuromukuro that actually got my heart pounding, both with the suspense (and suspended disbelief either of the leads would die) and the kinda-sorta-maybe budding romance (or at least mutual respect) between those leads.

Fusnarnie is truly a loose cannon this week, and for a second, I thought Mulder and Scully weren’t going to release Kennosuke to deal with the situation. Also, there’s no more playing around with big robots and evacuations; there is blood and death here, and Yukina witnesses it close up for the first time, and reacts exactly how a non-grizzled warrior would: with fear and near-paralysis.

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That fear keeps her alive, though; one wrong move, and she knows she could be toast; this guy only wants her alive long enough to let him contract with Glongur. Before he can, Ken corners him, but he still has his hostage.

This is when Yukina finally springs into action to facilitate Ken’s rescue; quickly darting back and smacking Fusnarnie in the face, a move he clearly didn’t expect her to make. Sure, she stumbles immediately, but she gives Ken just the opening he needs to engage the enemy. Who knows how things would have gone down had Yukina not chosen to act.

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Ken is able to best Fussy, but that doesn’t stop the guy from trying to take Yukina down with him. He gets perilously close to her—and she’s again too terrified to move—but Ken does what he has to to protect Yukina, stabbing Fusnarnie in the back. Shortly thereafter, Fussy lets himself fall over the railing to his death rather than stay alive in disgrace.

What follows is a pivotal moment in the show, when Yukina makes a connection to Ken when she sees him trembling just as much as she is. Is this his first kill? Probably not, but it’s certainly his first in a while, and in any case killing is never easy, nor was killing Fusnarnie Ken’s first choice (and not just because the agents wanted him alive; surely Ken wants answers too, particularly about his so-called “altered memory.”

But as he shakes, Yukina sidles over to him and hugs him from behind, as much to calm him as to calm herself. It’s a lovely moment and proof of real growth in their relationship.

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Speaking of love interests, I have just plain had it with Akagi, and not because I’m a Yukina x Ken shipper (though I’m certainly far closer to being one after this week).

His impulsive desire to become a GAUS pilot (and belief he has the talent based on his hi-score) is just so dumb for this show; as if he’s some shounen hero in another show who really should have become a pilot in the first episode or two, but instead just talks about it over and over. We get it: dude wants to protect Yukina. I just don’t see him as GAUS pilot, ever. I enjoyed his dad’s incredulous and exasperated expressions, however.

I’d much rather see more of Sophie, who is ostensibly one of the three main characters in the show but has been woefully underused. Hopefully the second half will feature more of her.

Uncle Oshou is another story altogether; he’s a side character who steals nearly every scene he’s in; I especially liked his story about the seated statue and how Ken reacted to it. I also liked how in the same scene, Yukina asks Ken out on a date without even knowing it. And while on the hiking trip, she sticks to the map while Ken of all people embraces the wonders of GPS to get them on the right track. That was unexpected.

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Unfortunately, there’s as much mystery surrounding where exactly Yukina was, who or what rescued her, and what became of the “80’s Electronics Cave Base” as there is surrounding Ken’s past, and those answers still aren’t forthcoming this week, but the hiking trip did allow Ken and Yukina to process their emotions about recent events involving one another, and that made up for it.

Yukina and Ken will still blush whenever he conversation turn slightly romantic, but they’re becoming more comfortable being honest with each other. Ken is devoted to protecting her, and Yukina is just fine with that. She’s very candid about how his rescuing her made her feel, and it’s doubtless a feeling she’d never felt before, just as she never before saw Ken trembling. This episode definitely re-stoked by enthusiasm for the show as it approaches its second half.

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Kuromukuro – 10

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A quick trip to MAL will show you that Kuromukuro currently only manages a very meh 6.95 rating, which for MAL means “Good” but we’ve since come to mean “watchable, but not necessarily recommended.” I’ver certainly dropped higher-rated shows before.

The low score isn’t due to a disgruntled source material audience unhappy with the adaptation, either: it’s an anime original. So what gives?

Well, like Kennosuke’s bizarre experience 450 years ago, it’s kind of hard to put my finger on it, and that’s part of the problem. It’s one thing to be consistently and demonstrably great or terrible; Kuromukuro is merely solid, at best.

It’s not badly put together, and some of the character interaction is quite strong; it’s just not particularly original or exciting. A lack of 9 ratings bear this out: Kuromukuro has entertained, but never wowed.

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I never like quitting a show right in the middle, but with a planned 13 more episodes in addition to the 13 this Spring, I need to start taking a good long look at whether this show will be worth retaining into the busy new Summer season, which promises several new mecha series, the quality of which I can’t vouch for. (Macross will likely be continuing on as well, but I’m unaware of whether it will take a season off).

Basically, things need to start picking up, and soon. This episode promised a lot, but it really only amounted to table-setting. Now, table-setting can be interesting, but this week wasn’t, despite the fact we now have an Efidolg captive and learned more about Ken’s aforementioned experience, both under questioning by UN officials brought in from outside the Kurobe Lab.

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Interrogation episodes can be great, too, but again, Kuromukuro does not distinguish itself or add anything new to the genre. The interviews are largely dull and uninformative, as Fusnarnie, as he’s called, isn’t interested in giving many detailed answers, and Ken simply doesn’t remember very well what happened.

This is frustrating to him, on top of his whole “continuing to live in shame while his princess is dead” dilemma, and Yukina is just as frustrated (as I was) by the lack of answers from that weird cave with the “demon” who may have been her dad. What could have been an episode of bombshell revelations amounted to little more than more teasing of larger but still obscured things, combined with lots of moping by the main pair.

And don’t get me started on Akagi; this stiff’s cockamamie idea to simply become a pilot without actually putting any work in (and thinking his arcade high score is a gauge of his talents) just fell flat with me. Yukina couldn’t care less about this guy; why should I?

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One of the better parts of the episode was the flashback, in which we see Ken is a member of the soldiers fighting for Yukihime, and not, as Fusnarnie claims, an Efidolg advance guard. Or is he? How far in advance did he arrive? Did he bonk his head and forget who he was, and simply joined the princess’ guard since he’s good with a sword?

I’m not sure how else to explain how he’s able to pilot the Black Relic so easily. Was there something in Yukihime’s blood that made that possible? More to the point, is Yukihime really even dead, or was that light just a tractor beam that took her up to the mothership, where she remains? Lots of questions, as you can see, but precious few satisfying answers.

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I’m not particularly interested in the UN and Sophie being suspicious of Ken, either, seeing as how he’s only served the good guys faithfully all this time. Also, if Fusnarnie is to be believed, Ken betrayed his people; why would he switch back to the “enemy”?

Nevermind, all we get at the end is a somewhat obvious cliffhanger in which Fussy breaks free, kills his captors, summons his “Lion”, and just happens to bump into Yukina in the corridor, grinning when he realizes she’s a wielder. So great; now Yukina probably needs to be rescued…again.

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Kuromukuro – 09

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Not long after coming to in a cave filled with clocks and obsolete electronics, Yukina passes back out, as if hypnotized by the mysterious figure with the robotic voice and her dad’s watch and journal. She wakes up in a bus shelter, where Akagi and Kaya find her.

Just like that, all the potential answered questions about Yukina’s dad, and all the other mysteries in that cave, dissipate. That was a little disappointing, and the whole cave thing felt like a tease, but I came to forgive the episode when Yukina came around on piloting the artifact with Ken.

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What I like is that there wasn’t any one reason she didn’t want to and tried to run away: she’s scared; overwhelmed by the pressure; uncertain if this was the right path. But she also doesn’t like how she’s been ordered around like some automaton. Would it hurt for someone to ask her nicely?

Having dealt with her absence, Ken is resolved to let Yukina go, but Yukina isn’t ready for Ken to disappear from her life. She’s taken a shine to the guy, and vice versa, and when he realizes it’s as simple as asking nicely, he does so, and before lone Yukina is back in the cockpit with him.

I also appreciated that Hiromi’s decision not to let the military force her daughter into the artifact, even using her body as a shield. The protection is unneccesary, as Yukina was only “annoyed with herself” and needed some time and space, which she got, and is now willing to do her part.

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Once Yukina and Ken are in their tough new skin-tight nanofiber flight suits, Yukina puts on a brave front but Ken sees her hands shaking. She admits it: she’s scared shitless, but that command artifact out there isn’t going to defeat itself, and she doesn’t want Ken to use her absence as an excuse to get himself killed, nor does she like the idea of him sacrificing his life to save her. She’d prefer if they get through this together.

What “that” is could have been very intriguing indeed, had Efidolg succeeded in abducting Glongur and bringing Yukina and Ken up to the mothership. But that possibility is negated when the UN’s hunch about the tractor beam neutralizing the artifacts’ shields proves true.

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Another possibility not realized: Akagi and Kaya are once again very close to an errant missle explosion, but neither is even slightly injured. Not sure why they keep teasing the fact that these two could end up stains on the mountainside, adding to Yukina’s burden by association, but Akagi is determined to play a larger role in her protection, and not just because he teased her when they were little.

Sophie and the guy with the dirty mouth show up to take out the small fry, leaving Ken free to take on the boss artifact. He has trouble with his acrobatics, but Yukina again uses her unusually extensive knowledge of geology to lure the artifact onto a rock face she knows will crumble.

Rather than self-destruct, the Efidolg pilot surrenders. This was initially surprising, but I’m pretty sure when both Plan A (capturing Glongur) and Plan B (defeating Glongur in a duel) failed, he pivots to Plan C: letting yourself be captured by the enemy so you can learn more about them and possibly escape and cause more damage from within. We’ll see how he plays it.

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Kuromukuro – 08

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Like Ikari Shinji, who was overwhelmed by duties and expectations, Yukina seeks refuge away from the places that have oppressed her, but neither strays too far. Yukina hides out in Ogino’s room (decorated with posters of other P.A. Works), unsure of what she wants to do but very sure of what she doesn’t, namely fight and kill people in Glongur.

Ogino is a good friend in that she lets her crash there, lies to her mom for her, and gives her space to sulk. But she’s also a good friend because she provides her own perspective on Yukina’s plight—i.e. it’s a blessing, not a curse—and tells her the sulking and running has to end eventually, and she has to go home.

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Akagi and Kaya turn out to be fine, and were only gone as long as they were because Akagi’s bike ran out of gas. He gets a punch and a stern reaming from his father, warning his son not to “keep living for others’ approval,” but Akagi is mostly concerned with gaining Yukina’s approval, and he feels bad for ending up in a position where she might have been hurt.

Ken claims not to be worried about Yukina, and is only searching for the key to his artifact, but let’s be real here: of course he’s worried; after all, he’s still not certain Yukina isn’t the reincarnation of his princess. The princess is gone and his sense of purpose with it…except that Yukina has been filling the role of protectee he needs so dearly.

Talk about what Yukina wants comes up both in class and at UN control. Sophie suspects that if Yukina being in that artifact’s cockpit is the only thing keeping Earth safe, Yukina’s getting in that cockpit, whether she wants to or not. Unlike Shinji’s dad Gendo, Hitomi isn’t ready to commit to forcing Yukina; she’s more concerned with simply finding her.

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Yukina’s would-be protectors mount a search for her; Ken on the big horse he met earlier, Akagi on his refueled bike (with Kaya tagging alone, hungry for more viral streaming).

Rather than go to school (which would feel like a quick surrender), Yukina heads into the Kurowashi Valley, where the castle of Ken’s lord once stood but has since been reclaimed by nature.

Not having any satisfying answers about how to proceed, perhaps she thinks following her father’s journal and exploring the site where the demons once attacked might shed some light on her proper path. Or heck, maybe she’ll find her missing dad.

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Little does she know, the area is swarming with formerly dormant Efidolg Cactii, one of which zeros in on her location and attacks her. She’s saved neither by Ken (who gets close but never finds her by episode’s end) or Akagi (who took off later).

Instead, the magenta cactus is destroyed by a mysterious blue robot and a man with a very sharp sword and a watch Yukina instantly recognizes as—you guessed it—her father’s. The way this reunion has unfolded, it’s almost as if Yukina was always meant to ‘run away’ (even just a little bit) in search of either a reason for—or alternative to—pilot Glongur.

I’ll close by presenting two little snippets from the episode of both Ken and Yukina talking to themselves:

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I just wanted to point these moments out because I laughed heartily at both, for different reasons. Ken’s surprise at the horse’s size is another unique product of a samurai from four centuries ago suddenly finding himself in the present, where horses (and Japanese people) are simply larger due to better food, medicine, and breeding. His delivery is great too.

Yukina’s observation, on the other hand, is one of the most sophisticated collections of words she’s spoken. It seems meant to show us there’s more to this unmotivated airhead than meets the eye. She’s either a secret geology buff or maybe she was just paying special attention to one particular part of class.

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