Carole & Tuesday – 12 – Setting the Stage to Stardom

As a dejected Carole tells Gus and Roddy what just happened, Tuesday is briefly scolded by her mother upon returning to her mansion. Her mom couldn’t give to shits about her beyond how her actions reflect on her, and she basically says as much before locking her daughter in her room for a week.

You’d think for a politician worried about the scandal of a runaway daughter, subjecting that daughter to solitary confinement might not be the best look! Anyway, what follows is an effective montage of the two girls suddenly ripped apart becoming more and more morose. They are both The Loneliest Girl all over again.

Gus, who had a similar falling-out with a loved one that in hindsight he believes he could have salvaged, offers some sage advice to Carole about not letting things fester too long without making amends. Carole, eating her feelings in the form of a double Whopper, is way ahead of him: She needs Tues, and she thinks Tues needs her. Gus agrees, which means it’s time to plan the rescue mission—which, yes, may technically involve kidnapping!

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s only non-robot visitor is Spencer, who is as supportive as Gus about getting the duo back together, and letting his sister pursue her dreams. He reveals to her he saw her in the club, and while he admits he never thought his sis was capable of running away to the big city or getting into music, he can relate (having once pursued music but gave up, likely under pressure from mom).

I like Spencer. He’s a good brother! He didn’t give in to their domineering mother when it mattered most. Mom’s too self-involved and distracted by politics and toy boys to realize her hold on him is not as strong as she thinks. And while he couldn’t make it, he can tell she’s got what it takes, and so will do everything to free her from her gilded prison.

That night—the night before the finals, as Carole, Gus, Roddy take the train to Tuesday’s district—Angela is at the Artience Lab with Tao, asking him why the AI lyrics seem to be almost reading her mind. His answer is that, well, the lab itself has been reading her mind all along, as well as her body. It’s been listening and watching and writing, and perhaps even drawn out words from her subconscious she’d never be able to draw out alone.

In this regard, Angela is not a solo act, despite appearing alone on stage. Tao is her collaborator, since he’s the one who developed the AI. After getting into singing to please Dahlia, she can’t sing the final song to her Mama, so she asks Tao to indulge her and look at her and only her throughout the performance.

Tao agrees, but only this once. Like Carole and Tuesday, there’s nothing overtly or explicitly romantic in play here, but it’s also not like there’s nothing there.

The next morning, the rescue attempt, in which Spencer aids Carole, Gus and Roddy without even knowing it by unlocing her door and holding back a security robot so she can run away in her very inappropriate-for-running fancy shoes. They also catch a bit of luck when a driver in a car that’s faster than the cops recognizes them and offers them a ride to the station.

Gus and Roddy are arrested, but the mission is complete: Carole & Tuesday are on their way to their destiny. On the train, Carole apologizes to Tues for the things she said, and the two make it clear to each other that they want nothing more than to by each other’s side. Carole also finally manages to give Tues her birthday gift: a shiny acoustic guitar pin.

When the two return to Alba City, the grandeur of the first episode in which Tuesday arrives for the first time returns, only now she’s not alone and unknown, but running hand-in-hand with her new bestie as the throngs of people recognize and cheer them on. The only problem is, they’re very late; the season finale of Mars Brightest has already started, and as promised, Tao is in the back of the hall, his gaze locked on Angela.

Angie takes that gaze and runs with it, turning in another lovely performance. The vocals are good, but as usual I’m just not that impressed with the lyrics. She sings two identical verses without any change, which makes me wonder, are they that deep and sophisticated as to make Angela believe the AI was reading her mind? I don’t know, but as usual I have to grade on a curve and for this show, it’s a damn good song, well performed.

The judges agree, and are ready to crown Angela a winner until the sudden belated appearance of Carole & Tuesday. Catherine whips out the rulebook and states that any performers not present at the start of the show will be disqualified. Despite this, Carole, Tuesday, Benito, the crowd, and even Angela all compel her to allow them to perform anyway.

Since they had no time to write or practice a new song, they go with their very first song, Loneliest Girl, the song that marked the beginning of their friendship, the end of their loneliness, made them a viral sensation (thanks to Roddy) and put them on the road to musical greatness.

While we’ve heard the song a few times throughout the series, it’s never been performed so powerfully as this time, and with both this and Angela’s finals performance, Mars Brightest finally sounds and feels like a genuine reality TV competition, breaking through the walls of mere imitation.

That’s carried forward with the deliberation of the judges afterwards. Even DJ Ertegun is moved to tears! Catherine initially holds her “rules are rules” ground, but allows an exception that satisfies everyone from the crowd, to Angela (who wanted a fair-and-square fight) to Gus and Roddy (still stuck in jail): Angela is the official winner, but both acts will be permitted to make their pro debuts.

They earned it, and Angela is cordial in congratulating them. She, Carole and Tuesday have come a long way, and many challenges remain. Will their continued chilly rivalry curdle into outright hostility? Will Cybelle break out of prison and finish what she started? Will Tues’ mom take harsher measures, despite the blowback from the duo’s growing legion of fans? We’ll find out in the second half of the series. I’ll be on board!

Sarazanmai – 05 – A Nostalgic Scent

Not long after Haruka was born, Kazuki gleaned from his grandfather’s dying words that his mother wasn’t his biological mother, and ever since felt disconnected from the family as a non-member, despite all the love they gave him.

It’s not so much that he hated his brother, as he said last week, but he hated the whole situation of him and his brother not actually being related by blood. Why it matters so much to him that they are connected by blood, but there it is.

In the present, Toi captures Sara’s manager and escorts her away from her fan meet-up event, but finds she’s not quite human, and thus capable of transforming into a little critter who can squeeze out of any confinement.

Kazuki fares rather well as Sara’s double, at least where Haruka’s concerned, but things go pear-shaped fast when both the manager and the real Sara arrive in the hall and the former removes Kazuki’s wig. And that’s it: his secret is out. Now Haruka knows all those texts were just from him.

As all this is going on, the Otter Cop Duo wrings the desire from a man obsessed with sachets of a very specific smell, creating a new Kappa Zombie boss.

The three kappaboys do their song-and-dance, but when the Sarazanmai comes, and Kazuki’s memory of finally reuniting with his true mother in secret, the smell of her sachet he remembers is the same as the sachet Haruka always carries.

Whatever that means, the three kappaboys are ripped out of the tunnel of water, their work to extract the shirikodama still incomplete.

Keppi is so mad he can boil tea on his belly, and asserts to the boys that they won’t get their human forms back or get a dish of hope until they defeat the Sachet Zombie. Kazuki shares more about his meeting with his mother with Toi and Enta, culminating in him deciding to stay with Haruka and his non-biological parents.

Even so, before he returns to them, Haruka runs (that’s right runs on his functioning legs) to beg Kazuki to come back, fearing he’s going away. Kazuki spurns him rather harshly and walks off, but Haruka follows him…and gets hit by a car.

Now, every time Kazuki sees Haruka in his wheelchair, he’s reminded of what he did to him, and simply can’t bear it, which is why he adopted the Sara clone routine to make a faux connection with him from a safe distance. But odds are Haruka already forgave Kazuki a long time ago, and couldn’t care less if they have different mothers.

Sarazanmai – 04 – Only The Bad Ones Survive

That’s the mantra a younger Kuji Toi learns from his older brother Chikai at a seminal moment in his life, along with the lesson that those who can’t survive can only perish and be forgotten. It’s when Toi is thinking about these things that Enta calls him to meet. Enta wants him to give his Dish of Hope to Kazuki…again for Haruka’s sake.

We learn along with Enta that Toi’s relatives run a soba shop that used to be run by his and Chikai’s parents before they ran into debt and committed suicide. It’s from those shadows that Toi finds himself in the position to give someone some light: in Kazuki’s case that means kidnapping the real Sara Haruka is poised to meet so he’ll meet Kazuki instead, preserving his secret identity.

Kazuki is so dedicated to his Sara persona, Toi can’t help but blush when he watches him eat soba, even though he sucks at eating soba! Watching Kazuki work to protect his weaker brother dredges up more memories for Toi, even to when he and his brother were not on the best of terms.

Chikai joined a gang to make money, cursed their folks for offing themselves, and spitting on Toi’s quaint sentimentality. But he also takes care of Toi, even if Toi doesn’t think what he’s doing is good or right. He produced enough cash to prevent the soba shop from leaving the family, and put their relatives to work running it. It was as if Chikai was sacrificing his goodness for Toi’s sake.

Kazuki’s crazy Sara-kidnapping plan is sidelined by a Zombie Kappa alert, also soba-themed. Specifically, Sobatani, a soba shop owner who was charged with stealing bathwater from a female regular. The Flying Object of the Week is soba and soba dishes, drawn by the Zombie Kappa’s insatiable desire.

Since some of the soba he draws in comes from Toi’s relatives’ place he has a personal stake in defeating the Zombie Kappa, and so takes the lead, demanding Keppi transform him, then uncovering the truth after their song and dance: Sobatani wanted to make soba out of the bathwater. Weird!

With Sobatani’s secret out and Shirikodama extracted, Sarazanmai occurs, and Kazuki and Enta watch along with Toi as the missing pieces of his tragic flashback fall into place. When Toi learned that both his and Chikai’s lives were in danger after stealing the money to buy the soba shop, he takes the handgun he finds in a drawer and shoots Chikai’s gang senpai.

Chikai arrives on the scene, and puts too more bullets in the man, claiming he was the killer, not Toi. Even when Toi sought to share some of the burden of badness in order to survive, Chikai was there to cover for him; to, in a way, save his soul. If only the two of them knew the truth, no one in the world would ever suspect the little brother of murder.

But Toi still concedes he killed someone, his brother’s save aside. He claims not to be too haunted by it—it was a necessity to ensure both his and Chikai’s survival, in keeping with his bro’s mantra. But it’s still his secret, and he threatens Enta and Kazuki with deadly retribution if they ever spill the beans about what they’ve learned.

Having gained new insight into Toi’s upbringing and motivations, Kazuki decides to offer up his Dish of Hope to him, believing he’s more deserving of it than he. ‘But what about Haruka’, Enta protests? Well, for Kazuki, that’s why Toi is more deserving: Kazuki claims to hate Haruka.

Does he mean Kazuki finds looking out for him and doing these things for him a burden? A mere excuse to indulge his own desires? Or would he never kill, even for Haruka’s sake? It’s a declaration that seems to come out of left field, but I’m sure there’s more context to come.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 13 – Malty Escalation

When one of Melty’s escorts suddenly rushes her, Naofumi acts instinctively and blocks his strike, but then the knights all suddenly adopt the notion that the Shield Hero has kidnapped the Second Princess, and they attack him in order to “rescue” her. Naofumi shields Melty while Raphtalia and Filo deal (non-lethal) blows to the other knights, but two of them aren’t fighting; they’re recording.

They magically alter that recording to make it look like the “Devil of the Shield’s” vicious slaves are massacring the knights, then present that fake footage all across the lands, making it much harder for Naofumi’s party to move about freely, keeping his reputation in the shitter (even after all the people he’s saved), and preventing him from acquiring the means to level up past 40.

It’s a dastardly plot that has Malty written all over it. While Naofumi considers the king to be involved as well, Melty vouches for her father, in whom she doesn’t want to lose hope of reconciling with the Shield Hero. When Naofumi decides his party will leave the country and head to Siltvelt, Melty offers to return home, but Naofumi, knowing Malty, warns her that will only get her killed.

So Melty joins the party, not as a hostage, but a willing companion. She learns what her father had done to Naofumi to make him hate him so, while Naofumi learns that Melromarc is a matrilineal monarchy, which means her mother the Queen is higher in rank than the King.

Those small moments of exposition aside, a good chunk of the episode is comprised of lovely sprawling vistas that dwarf the party as they trudge onward, all while Kevin Penkin’s lush, sublime score washes over it all. But they’re not alone out there in the wilderness: they’re being followed…and pursued.

Eventually Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo and Melty are cornered at the edge of a sheer cliff, and the three heroes, all of them either willing or unwitting puppets of Malty’s treachery, descend upon Naofumi, ordering her to release Melty. Naofumi tries to talk sense to them, and even Melty makes a little headroom in calling for an end to “needless conflicts.”

But all of that progress is lost when Malty makes the supremely insidious suggestion that Naofumi has in his possession a shield that brainwashes anyone he talks to. That means not only Melty can’t be taken at her word, but Raphtalia (and more importantly for Motoyasu, Filo) are brainwashed too. Ren still has his doubts, but gives in to the inertia or Malty’s incessant scheming.

Naofumi decides retreat to be the best option, and he, Raphtalia and Melty jump onto Filo and start to fly away, but Filo is brought down and her strength sealed by a magical bangle prepared by the alchemists for Motoyasu to capture her. Melty finally whips out her own (water-based) magic in an attempt to get Filo freed, but Malty fires back with fire, ignoring Ren’s suggestion she maybe stop attacking the Crown Princess?

Malty dispenses with any pretense and unilaterally states that if Melty is brainwashed, she must die. Alright, then! I have to say, if Melty was chosen over her to be Crown Princess, you’d think the King and Queen would have done more to limit her powers and freedom of movement, because she has single-handedly really gummed up the works. Raphtalia manages to deliver some revenge when she slips in from behind stabs her with the magic sword she was gifted.

Filo regains her strength (and then some) with the gloves she got as a gift as well, while Naofumi splits the rock  formations with his Rage Shield, leaving Ren, Malty, Motoyasu and Itsuki on one side, unable to pursue for now.

They flee into the woods, where they’re approached by one of the Queen’s Shadows. The Queen summons Naofumi to her location at once, which just happens to be in the opposite direction of their original destination of Siltvelt. It also means backtracking to where they left Malty and the heroes.

With Malty burning through the forest, it’s clear that she’s not going to give up hunting for Naofumi or her sister that easily. Who knows if anyone will be able to rein her in now, as she’s really turned the villainy up to 11. As for Melty, she considers herself an official member of the party, and demands that Naofumi call her by her first name from now on, irking Raphtalia.

There was some great action, adventure, and above all music this week, but man alive does that First Princess steam my beans! My frustration might have knocked this down to an 8 if there wasn’t still hope she’ll get her just righteous comeuppance at some point.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 04 – Taking the Bait

Asuka has a recurring dream where she’s too late to save her leader Fracine from her injuries. Before she dies, she names Asuka to succeed her, and assures her that while the world has a lot of problems, it is also full of beautiful things worth protecting.

Asuka apparently needed to be taught this lesson in the worst way  possible, as one of the current problems plaguing the world (groups who wish to use magic to hurt people and gain power) takes one of the beautiful things (her friend Nozomi) hostage.

Nozomi’s father is to blame for her capture, not Asuka. It would seem that terrible things need to be done in the name of national security, but it’s clearly better if the ones doing the terrible things didn’t have such lightly-protected family.

In a further display of cynical pragmatism that borders on comical, Nozomi’s dad is told his daughter will be a “sacrifice” that will give Public Safety the budget and mandate they need to go out there and really bust some heads.

Since no police or military unit will mount a rescue, it falls to Asuka. With Francine’s words still ringing in her head she doesn’t spend much time mulling over whether going into action to save Nozomi is the right thing to do.

Considering how sweetly and adorably portrayed as Asuka’s friends were, it was fairly inevitable that one of them would end up in some real shit. But while Sayoko was merely caught in some crossfire, Abigail and her twin Russian sorcerer mercenaries spare no cruelty as they burn Nozomi’s skin off and simulate drowning, all while the cameras roll.

You get the feeling even if Kurumi can heal her many physical wounds, unless she can also remove all memory of the ordeal, Nozomi is going to be severely scarred by the torture. But first thing’s first: she has to be rescued. Asuka and Kurumi have no trouble getting past the initial waves of guards, but Abigail isn’t remotely concerned they’ve arrived. In fact, she’s delighted they took the bait. She feints “freeing” Nozomi, but slices one her arms off.

Unfortunately for her, in such close quarters Abigail has the disadvantage, which Kurumi exploits by impaling her with a giant needle, after which she and her familiar Sacchuu grab Nozomi and rush her to safety while Asuka keeps the Russians busy with a grenade.

She knows that won’t be nearly enough to kill them, but is still confident in her abilities to handle the three mages alone. But she underestimates the Russians’ magic, getting smashed into a wall and allowing Abigail to go after Kurumi (who hasn’t even started getting serious yet).

Overall, the stakes were succinctly set: poor Nozomi’s life and many other lives will be lost in gruesome fashion if Asuka and Kurumi (and whatever other magical girls/guys wish to participate) can’t get the job done. I would hope that whenever this is all over, Asuka will cool it with the “not my fight” attitude, and Nozomi’s dad will quit torturing people. Bad guys are going to do bad guy stuff regardless…so don’t give them any excuses!

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 03 – The Enemy Disagrees…Vehemently

In Tijuana, Mexico, Mia Cyrus is taking care of business with her anti-cartel unit (her magical bullets can pass through any armor or barrier) when they find an emaciated, tortured prisoner tied up, who is then compressed to death into a magical energy cube. Clearly, there’s more going on here than drug cartels, Mia worries aloud.

Back in Japan, Kurumi has transferred to Asuka’s school to remain by her side in case another threat arises, and also to see the new life and friends Asuka has abandoned Kurumi and her duty to live. Suffice it to say, Kurumi is not that impressed with Sayako’s half-hearted “I guess we’re friends” and annoyed by Nozomi’s “if anything happens the magical girls will save us.”

Still, she tries to keep up a cordial front, as she warns that despite what Asuka might think, the enemy doesn’t agree that it’s not her problem. Whenever a good guy has something to lose, they’d better be ready to fight to protect it, or the enemy will try to take it away.

Kurumi must feel doubly frustrated by Asuka, who has always been in peak physical and mental condition. Kurumi was horribly bullied as a child, came to hate that weak version of her, and has worked extremely hard to become and stay strong and dependable. She sees that Asuka is still staying in shape, in contrast to her mindset of not wanting to fight anymore.

Iitzuka tries to entice Asuka once again by showing her the headquarters for the elite M Squad of the JSDSF, disguised as a maid cafe with training facilities in the sub-basement. Between the rise of illegal magial girls and the distribution and improvement of remnants from the old war, a new, potentially worse war is just on the horizon, and they can’t afford to have someone of Asuka’s skills on the sideline. Still, Asuka insists her war is over. If only repeating it enough would make it true…

Speaking of people with something to lose, Nozomi’s dad continues his brutal torture of the terrorist leader one minute, and is admiring the phone background of his cute daughter the next. It’s admirable this guy can switch from work to family so quickly, but there’s simply no way the enemies he’s made won’t become aware of the existence of his family, if they aren’t already. His work puts a target on Nozomi’s back.

The only solace we have is that, at least for some of the day, Nozomi and Sayoko are safe when they’re hanging out with Asuka and Kurumi, as they do when they all go to a Olympic-grade swimming center together. Fanservice is kept to a minimum as everyone’s in standard issue one-pieces, but Sayoko uses the high dive as an opportunity to get over some of her paralyzing trauma.

For her  part, Nozomi is grateful that Asuka and Kurumi came, since she’s looking out for Sayoko’s well being and Sayoko loves to swim. She also plans for the four to see a movie the next day. Before parting for the night, Asuka maintains her resolve not to fight because she now has things (or rather people) she cares about, which Kurumi feels is the exact opposite of what she should be doing.

Kurumi is proven right (which probably gives her no joy) and Asuka pays for her lack of vigilance when Nozomi is confronted in the street by ominous members of the “Babel Brigade”, a group both tortured prisoners muttered about being involve in a “new, more terrible war.” As I predicted, they know who Nozomi’s father is, and that they can hurt him by hurting her.

The bad guys have a sizable head start on Asuka, who just got the text Nozomi sent about being excited for the movie just before being kidnapped, no doubt lulling her into a false sense that Nozomi is okay, when the exact opposite is true. Asuka is going to have to come to terms with the very problematic opposites that dwell her life…very soon.

Attack on Titan – 40 – Truth Desert

Titan is effective because the audience shares in the characters’ frustration that their world is shrouded in mystery and they have no idea what The Truth really is. They have to either be content with smaller truths— Historia’s identity as true heir to the throne, for instance—or theories, like the one where the false king altered the memories of those who settled within the walls, and altered history along with it.

As Historia is meeting her father for the first time in years, she goes over her own sad, well, history in her head. She had an objectively horrible mother who never showed her love, but with no frame of reference for what a “normal” mom-daughter relationship should be, getting violently shoved away for trying to hug her made her happy, because it was something.

The first words Tori’s mother said to her were basically the same as the those with which Tori’s mother left the world: words expressing regret she ever gave birth her. Rob Reiss was and in the present still isn’t proud of having to send his daughter away, but the alternative was her sharing her mother’s fate that one night, when the men in black coats and hates came.

Meanwhile, at the farm, Hange returns Sannes to his cell, and reveals to him that his friend Ralph didn’t sell him and the king out, he was simply used as a pawn to get Sannes to betray the king. Hange has very little patience for their weeping and moaning, and voices that lack of patience…emphatically.

Erwin meets with Pyxis to inform him of the coup he’s planning; after he has words, Pyxis agrees to lend his support when the time comes, but the Military Police is working even faster than they are, and when Erwin’s presence is demanded at the scene of Reeves’ murder, Erwin doesn’t hesitate naming Hange his replacement as commander of the scouts in his absence.

I’d congratulate Hange on her sudden promotion, but she just took command of an organization that is about to be unjustly branded an enemy of the state. What had once been a position of great esteem is now a thankless job. Not that that matters to Hange—she’ll do her duty to the fullest.

Erwin walks into what he knows to be a frame-job, but still makes sure to let Reeves’ family know he intends to avenge the man’s killers, and even though they’ve been carefully conditioned to blame him, Erwin’s pure charisma seems to have an affect on them. On the rooftops Kenny watches scouts all over the city get rounded up as criminals, but prefers to let Levi come to him.

Before being arrested, Erwin told Pyxis a story about his childhood, when his father used to teach his history class. Erwin asked a question his dad had to evade, but later that night explained his theory to his son. In a truth desert like the world in which they lived where others only encountered mirages, his father had found an oasis. But Erwin, young and stupid, blurted out his father’s theory in public until the wrong ears caught it, and that was the end of Erwins’ father.

Since then, Erwin had always suspected his father was killed by the government, and if that happened, it meant there was merit to what his father believed, so he came to believe the theory was fact. To get closer to The Truth, the current government and its fraud monarchy must be replaced, and Historia enthroned as the true queen.

With the military police prowling for any scout and the government on high alert, no part of Erwin’s plan will be easy. In the midst of all this intrigue, I’m sure a number of scouts are almost wishing for the days when all they had to do was…kill Titans. Of course, that (relatively) easier life was only possible because they were more in the dark than they are now.

Attack on Titan – 39 – Breaking Bad…For the Greater Good

Things used to be so…simple. Or at least, it used to feel that way. Kill the Titans or they’ll eat you; for the sake of those you love, or duty, or plain old revenge. Not only are things not that simple anymore…they never really were. The further behind the wall you get, the more complicated things seem to get, but  at least there are two simple truths to grasp: one, Historia Reiss is the heir to the throne, and two, not all humans are on the same side; not by a long shot.

For whatever reason the Titans are not an imminent threat to mankind’s survival, so now their internal divisions are laid bare before us. Chief among those divisions are the Scouts vs. the Military Police, and Levi and his squad find themselves outnumbered, out-maneuvered, and generally out-matched by the MP contingent led by Kenny, the man who raised Levi and still thinks he’s a kid that can be jerked around.

It takes every last ounce of grit and resourcefulness, but Levi just manages to get one over on Kenny and his cohorts, in an elaborate but very slick sequence involving a showdown inside and outside of a saloon (apropos considering Kenny’s cowboy-western style).

Levi figures out pretty quick that it’s time to start killing his fellow humans lest he get killed, but other than Mikasa, the other squad-mates have trouble adjusting to the very abrupt change in mission. Jean almost pays dearly when he hesitates to kill the woman at the reins of the wagon carrying an unconscious Eren and Historia.

But the woman hesitates too—whether she personally knew Jean (sister?) or just noticed how young and scared Jean looked—but Mikasa is a beat too late to kill her. Instead, it’s Armin who carries out Levi’s order to kill, and just like that, he’s a changed man.

He later laments that they’re no longer “good people”, let alone “good guys”, as they’re no longer taking the lives of monsters that would otherwise eat them and others. Now they’re fighting for a faction of humans, not all humans, and are forced to kill to preserve the way of thinking they deem to be more “right”.

While it’s hard to see what choice they have, I still acknowledge Armin’s lament, and share in it. These kids wanted to serve their people, but now that Eren and Historia are being hunted not by Titans but other people, they must do things they never thought they’d ever consider doing. Perhaps even worse: they quickly learn they’re pretty good at it.

By the end of the episode, Levi and Hange have resided over murders, kidnapping, and torture…but also become reasonably certain that Historia is now in the hands of Rob Reiss, of the Reiss family, who are the true heirs to the throne. But the Trost merchant who played both sides and helped them capture Sannes is later killed by Kenny, leaving his company and the futures of the people who depended on its business in question.

Sannes too proves a true patriot, unblinkingly believing that the horrible things he and his men did throughout the years were absolutely necessary for the survival of the kingdom and preservation of peace within the walls. From his perspective, what he did was as important (or moreso) than the Scouts killing Titans.

In that regard, Levi, Hange, and those under their command have joined the ranks of Sannes and the Military Police: dirtying their hands and eroding their souls for what they believe to be the right reasons. To survive against Kenny and the royals presently in power (who have no intention of giving that power up willingly), and to rescue Eren and Historia, they’ll have to be as ruthless as the Titans that invaded their city and ate their friends and family.

Attack on Titan – 38 (Start of Season 3) – Behind the Curtain

Season 3 of Shingeki no Kyoujin begins with a question long pondered by Eren: If beyond the wall is a sea…what’s beyond the sea? Wizard of Oz will always be a favorite movie of mine, but I doubt I was alone when I first saw the curtain get pulled back to reveal the “Great and Powerful” Oz was just a flimflam man with a budget.

Titan has never pulled the curtain back; not entirely. It may show us glimpses that alter or expand our way of thinking about this bizarre and mysterious world, but the central mystery of how all of what is going on came to be remains tightly guarded.

I found it notable that this season’s OP contains not one bit of anyone actually fighting a Titan. Indeed, the entire episode only features one Titan: Eren, briefly, in a controlled experiment. That’s because the true enemy of mankind is, not surprisingly, mankind.

Titan Season 3 looks like it will further explore the depths of the secrets of the walls, detail the lengths to which the Powers that Be will go to protect them, and impress upon us the importance of revealing or exposing those secrets for the salvation of humanity…if that’s even what the “good guys” are actually doing.

That’s what’s intriguing; even someone as sharp and resourceful as Levi only has bits and pieces to work off of regarding their “enemy.” All he knows is that he was entrusted with the Titan Coordinate (Eren) and the heiress to the throne (Historia), two assets that, properly utilized, could blow this whole thing wide open.

But those Powers are working against him, and brazenly; no longer in the shadows. The secret behind the curtain remains, but forces have come from behind it to shoo nosy interlopers away. With Scout Regiment activity suspended, Pastor Nick murdered, Commander Erwin arrested, and Levi’s squad on the run, the episode adopts the feel of a cat-and-mouse conspiracy thriller.

And yet, for all of the brisk plot development, the ep still takes the time to re-introduce the cast still stinging from their respective recent ordeals. There’s painfully forthright Eren; eternally badass Misaka; strategic Armin; hungry Sasha; resentful Jean; weary Connie; non-good-girl-y Historia; crazy Hange; no-BS Levi. I left plenty out but you get the gist.

When the government demands the Scouts hand over Eren and Historia, Levi takes a gamble by sending his squad to Trost district, the site of the Pastor’s torture and murder, and bring Eren and Historia before Pyxis. They enter the district in broad daylight wearing their gear, and Eren and Historia are quicky snatched up by kidnappers.

Only the “Eren” and “Historia” they snatch are actually Armin and Jean posing as body doubles. Led by Mikasa, Levi’s scouts rescue them and capture the kidnappers, who prove so laughably amateurish that it sets off alarm bells in Levi’s head. Could they—could HE have fallen for a larger chess game in which the kidnapping was only a diversion?

The feeling of dread only grows worse as Levi observes from a rooftop as the wagon containing the real Eren and Historia getting blocked by a large crowd. The suspicion of being in the middle of a trap crystallizing, Levi asks Hange’s scouts Nifa if she’s ever heard of the serial-killer Kenny the Ripper, then reveals he used to know and live with him.

Levi identifies the true kidnappers too late, as Kenny gets the jump on him, takes Nifa’s head off with his huge guns, and gives Levi a warm greeting as his very large and professional-looking crew swoops in to surround him.

What had started oh-so-modestly with the scouts cleaning up their farmhouse hideout escalated in a damned hurry. Eren and Historia are in deep trouble if Levi could be ambushed so easily. I didn’t imagine the show could make the government as existentially scary as a Titan attack, but…here we are.

Phantom in the Twilight – 01 (First Impressions) – Supernatural Study Abroad

Just minutes after arriving in London for their study abroad, Bayrou Ton and her BFF (and secretary?) Shinyao are robbed of their luggage, passports, credit cards, and Ton’s heirloom ring. Ton is a girl of action, and so runs through London chasing the semi-transparent beast-like thief.

Despite arriving during late afternoon at the latest, this chase goes on until after midnight, when she finally realizes she’s lost and separated from Shinyao. She throws a paper airplane with a spell written on it, which flies right into a night cafe that just happens to have been founded by her great-grandmother, Sha Rijan.

At Cafe Forbidden, Ton meets three strapping young lads who knew Rijan, suggesting they’re actually very long-lived lads. here’s the aloof, prickly one (Vlad), the tall, dark, and quiet one (Tauryu) and the kiddy, friendly one (Luke). They believe the thief is a goblin, and race to Hyde Park to deal with it.

Ton follows them in a taxi (I guess she had some pocket money), and watches a very bizarre spectacle unfold. The three lads, decked out in their fancy black coats, do battle with a whole band of goblins, while Vlad confronts a Spriggan. Ton reveals herself to warn him, but he’s distracted and is briefly stunned.

Ton uses the heirloom ring a monocled stranger returned to her and told her to wear to pull some kind of magical chains out of the ground she uses to protect herself. Vlad pounces on the Spriggan from behind and kills it with a coup-de-grace. Rather than explain to Ton all of the straight-up weird shit that just went down, Vlad glamours her instead; replacing her memories with false ones involving a police chase. Luke later wonders if it was the right thing to do.

Ton wakes up in the park like nothing weird at all happened, gets in touch with Shinyao, and after credits that underscore just how much these two friends care about each other, Ton meets her at their new apartment…only for Shinyao to be immediately kidnapped. Well played, show.

So, not the bestest first couple of days for Bayrou Ton! She has a cool name, though, and she’s voiced by Hanazawa Kana, making it two characters in short red jackets she’s voicing this Summer! Other than that, and despite some competent animation and a decent soundtrack, I came away a bit less enthusiastic for this than the quieter, more thoughtful Holmes of Kyoto. Twilight has a likable heroine but is a bit all over the place so far.

Overlord II – 13 (Fin) – Nazarick Cleans Up, but Many Stories Left to Tell

When Jaldabaoth unleashes a hail of demons at the force of adventurers, Momon swoops in with Nabe and Evileye to plow the road. Brain ends up encountering Shalltear on a rooftop, and manages to chip one of her nails, which he considers a great leap forward, weirding everyone out while boasting about it.

When Gazef arrives with the king himself he and a healed Gagarin and Tia join Lakyus and Tina in the rearward fight. Up front, Momon takes on “Jaldabaoth” (almost slipping up and calling him Demiurge again) while Nabe and Evileye split up the five other battle maids. It’s a vicious fight, as Alpha breaks Evileye’s magical shield and even chips her mask, revealing a small but still tantalizing portion of her face.

When Evileye is occupied with Alpha and Delta, Momon meets Demiurge in a secret meaning, where Demiurge explains the full scope of his plan, in which Nazarick claims a goodly amount of materials and hostages, while “Momon” gets to pump up his stature among the humans by defeating the evil Jaldabaoth.

Demi is basically taking a fall for his lord, while also gaining the opportunity to show that same lord how far he’s come power-wise. Manwhile, Nabe shoots the breeze with Beta, Epsilon and Zeta, a pleaqsantly casual, candid scene among the maids.

The gears of the plan creak and groan near the end, when Demi and Momon duel for a bit but Demi rather suddenly gives up, takes his maids and goes home. But hey, the humans, Evileye included, buy it hook, line, and sinker.

So it’s a big win for Nazarick, as the Eight Fingers are eliminated without Nazarick’s fingers being anywhere near their demise, Renner gets her Climb back safe and sound (and must find sombe other way to incapacitate him so she can take care of him), Sebas brings Tuare into the staff fold…and an old mage-like wizard fellow and a gold-plated warrior-prince-looking dude both ponder a meeting with one Ainz Ooal Gown in the near future.

And so OverLord II ends as it began: seemingly right in the middle of things. While its tendency to bounce around from one scenario to the next and often under-emphasize the ostensible main cast, that unpredictability kept things fresh, and the delayed explanation of scenarios led to some very satisfying payoffs, whether it was the Lizardmen battle, Sebas’ badassery, or some very cool battles between fellow Nazarickians, with some surprisingly strong human adventurers mixed in. I wouldn’t mind jumping back into these stories sometime down the road.

Overlord II – 12 – The Truth Can Be Surprising

Momon, embracing his role as protector of his adventurer brethren and fights off Demiurge, who also takes on the alias Jaldabaoth for the purposes of this pageant.

Witnessing Momon fight to protect her, Evileye is impressed to the point of fascination, becoming smitten with one of the few warriors she’s met who is actually stronger than her. However, she comes to be disappointed in how Momon ultimately decides to hold her: less like a princess, more like baggage.

The “Tuare” Climb & Co. rescue turns out to be Succulent in disguise, a trick that the warriors didn’t fall for. Zero, last of the Six Arms, shows up to occupy Brain, so Climb and the other guy fight Sucky, with the other guy showing Climb that in situations like this it’s okay to fight dirty. Climb takes the advice to heart by delivering a vicious kick to Succulent’s succulents.

Just when Brain and Zero are ready to get serious, Sebas arrives with the real Tuare, lets Zero (highly skeptical the old guy took out all of his comrades without taking a scratch)  take his shot (utterly ineffective) and ends him with one kick. The only mark against the fight is that he got blood on his attire.

With Sebas’ part of the mission a success, we return to Momon, Evileye and Demiurge, the latter of which retreats so he can set up a wall of fire in the capital, presumably to show the city who’s boss—though if he’s doing it with an alias and not in Nazarick’s name I fail to see how it serves the Tomb; I thought the point was to teach Eight Fingers a lesson?

Reagrdless, once that wall of fire is up, Momon decides to join Evileye, the Blue Rose, Brain, Climb, and a mess of other adventurers, all under command of Princess Renner, who sets up a battle plan, briefs her troops, and sends them out to fight the demons within the otherwise harmless wall set up by “Jaldabaoth.”

Renner stays behind in the palace, revealing to her brother and the Marquis her true plan, while showing her true, demented face: she’s counting on Climb dying so Lakyus can ressurect him, a process that will make him as weak as a newborn kitten, necessitating constant attention and care. And Renner intends to take good care of him.

Overlord II – 11

(Rubs hands together vigorously) Oh man, do I love a good Overlord battle extravaganza. In order to answer the slight against Nazarick, Demiurge arrives with Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Zeta, along with Mare and Shalltear (though Shally sits out the battle, lest she do much damage) to supplement Sebas and Epsilon.

Nazarick’s…let’s call it a punitive assault, happens to coincide with the Renner Raid, and Climb, Brain, and one of the Orichalcum-ranked warriors provided by the Marquis end up at the same place as Sebas: the Eight Fingers hideout where not only Tuare is being held, but where four of the Six Arms are ready to fight.

Sebas tells them they’ll last up to ten seconds if they all attack him at once, but when he hears one of them dares call himself the “Undead King”, he pops, he gets mad and does it in about eight. No wasted movements, just pop-pop-pop-pop, off come the elite warriors’ heads.

Climb & Co manage to find Tuare’s cell…or do they? The camera cuts away before we see the woman’s whole face (or it’s just assumed to be Tuare and I’m just overthinking things).

Meanwhile, at another Eight Fingers base, Mare figuratively disarms the mistress of the house before literally de-legging her and dragging her away, leaving Zeta to take care of things from there.

The Amazonian Gagaran arrives just around this time, and assumes Zeta works for Eight Fingers, and judges her a foe she can take based on her slight size and cutesy voice, and picks a fight.

Wellsir, Gagaran judged very, very wrong…but she’s not alone, so the fight is extended when Tia arrives and manages to hold out against Zeta’s very novel high-level entomancy, which includes bugs that block blows as well as Cap’s shield, bug bullets that take down adamantium barriers, and bugs that have sword-sized mandibles.

Eventually the gap in level is too much for Gagaran and Tia, but their ally Evileye arrives in the nick of time. Unlike them, when she says she’s stronger than Zeta…I kinda believed her. She certainly demonstrates the validity of such a claim by putting Zeta on her ass (well, abdomen; she’s an insect) with an equally novel homebrew insecticide spell.

With four other sites and four other maids, I expected the episode to jump around more, but I appreciate Overlord’s patience in sticking with one battle once it gets into rhythm, as this one does.

This battle escalates so many times with the introduction of new parties, I wasn’t missing the other raids anyway. When Zeta is just about out for the count, who should arrive but Demiurge, wearing a sinister mask (perhaps to hide his nerdy glasses from mere mortals?).

Demiurge takes out Gagaran and Tia with a ranged fire spell, but went with too high a setting because he assumed they were as strong as Evileye. And even when she throws everything she’s got at Demi, it’s all for naught; his defense is just too strong.

Demi looks ready to stop playing around and finish things when there’s yet another arrival—frikkin’ Momonga himself—wondering out loud which of the two combatants will be his foe. I’m intrigued by the possibilities this presents.