Fabiniku – 10 – It’s Only Natural to Help

Without having really thought through a promise like “I’ll do anything for you!”, Tachibana proceeds to serve as Yugrain’s sister-in-arms in the burgeoning rebellion against her father. Men loyal to the king proceed to list the particular type of woman who would sway him to their side, and when Yugrain can’t be that girl, Tachibana picks up the slack. Before you know it, they have a huge army!

Just as Tachibana and Jinguuji stumbled upon a captive Premier a couple episodes back, Tachibana just happens to encounter Maria, whom we know failed her intelligence mission, tied up knots that are almost too specific, like someone well-versed in rope play was simply showing off. Tachibana is distracted and only makes the knots worse rather than loosen them…which kind of describes her and Jinguuji’s fight this week!

Yugrain’s Head Maid, who on the one hand crafted both the cute idol costumes and strategy for the princess’ rebellion, seems to be hiding contempt for Yugrain, and is revealed to be an agent (if not general) of the Demon Lord when she gives Tachibana an otherworldly massage after a tough day of rabblerousing and worried about people seeing up her way-too-short skirt.

Clearly the Head Maid intends to turn the power of Tachibana, the hero of the Goddess of Love and Beauty, to the Demon Lord’s advantage. While working on Tachibana, she falls asleep and dreams of the day she first met Jinguuji. Tachibana was the victim of bullying, but Jinguuji put a stop to it with his overwhelming strength and sense of honor. Tachibana wonders if all along she was simply causing more trouble for him.

Back at the palace, Jinguuji is distracted from being worried about Tachibana for at least a little while by the arrival of Schwartz, who Lucius has taken under her wing. Schwartz may not know much about court etiquette, but he and Lucius are there to help the king put down his daughter’s rebellion, preferably without bloodshed.

Schwartz ends up harnessing the newly-recovered holy sword Gram by slicing through not only the rebels’ weapons and memories, but their clothes as well, sending them into confused retreat. Lucius only lets him bask in the light of his own magnificence for so long before giving him a punch back down to earth.

Schwartz may also still be a bit high on his victory when he teases Jinguuji, saying he’s this out of sorts after Tachibana “cheated on him” just a little. Even a joking implication sends Jinguuji into a heretofore unseen bloodlust as he tries to extract further intent from a terrified Schwartz’s jibes. However, this interaction is interrupted by an earthquake felt by all…are the demon lord’s minions making their move?

Fabiniku – 09 – Royal Rebel

After saving Tachibana and Jinguuji from the pool party, royal intelligence officer Maria gives them a tour of the palace before an audience with the king. When Jinguuji is rightly suspicious about how well-timed Maria’s arrival was and how quickly an audience was arranged, Shen emerges from beneath the floor, having alerted Maria to the presence of the Hero.

The king and his advisors, while dressed only in loincloths, give Tachibana a warm greeting befitting a hero. The king himself belts out the prophecy they’ve been after since arriving in the capital, and it turns out to sound a lot like a gyaru wrote it in the age of TikTok. However, they translated it to mean someone like Tachibana would one day arrive to defeat the Demon Lord.

Our pair are given all the resources at the kingdom’s disposal, which Tachibana chalks up to her Charm effect working on the king and his advisors in a subtle but powerful way. At a formal ball to celebrate her arrival, Tachibana’s dress causes Jinguuji to imagine them marrying and growing old together.

Tachibana is then banished from the ballroom. She wants to drink and be merry, but when she insists, Jinguuji goes so far as to grab her by the arm and give her a serious scolding for acting so recklessly. While Tachibana does have a penchant for getting into trouble, I do think he’s being too harsh on her here.

She runs off, and encounters a beautiful young woman sitting at a window. When this woman prepares to jump outsaid window, Tachibana has to stop her, and does so by asking for advice. While Tachibana tries to put things as unromantically as she can, the woman sees right through the word-mincing.

She can tell Tachibana is depressed that “the gentleman” she’s thinking of won’t look her way or praise her. As Tachibana goes on both inside and outside her head, the woman concludes that Tachibana must love him very much. This is spot-on, though that love isn’t as necessarily romantic in nature as the woman must suspect.

In any case, Tachibana’s talk with her leads her to cancelling her suicide for the time being. She introduces herself as Yugrain, the first princess of the kingdom. She then stops by as Tachibana and Jinguuji are having a meal to anounce her intention to accompany them on their quest.

Yugrain and Jinguuji develop as instant a disdain for each other as she and Tachibana developed a rapport. The two verbally spar, but Jinguuji doesn’t want another hanger-on, and is willing to leave it to her father the king to “smoothly, efficiently crush” her heart.

Sure enough, Yugrain storms off in an adolescent rage in response to her father forbidding her from going. Tachibana follows her, and pointedly tells Jinguuji not to follow her. She gets Yugrain to cheer up by saying that she’ll do anything she can to turn that frown upside down. In Yugrain’s case, that’s starting a rebellion in her own kingdom to spite her baka dad.

The king’s council debates how to handle this rebellion, and when the king rules out any military action, everyone turns to Maria to handle the princess carefully and quietly. Alas, she fails and is captured by the rebels off-camera.

All the while Jinguuji goes over Tachibana’s words to him—don’t follow me—as he sits stoically on a balcony, wondering what she wants him to do. Maybe don’t be so dang cold to her all the time and not shit all over her new friend!

Attack on Titan – 80 – When the Walls Fell

Eren thanks his older bother for taking him into their Dad’s memories…it’s how he was able to push Grisha into fighting the King of the Walls. Eren saw his future when he kissed Historia’s hand, but Zeke still thinks he has Eren in check. After all, Eren didn’t know he couldn’t use the Founder’s power in the Paths. What Zeke didn’t know is that Eren would rip off his own thumbs to escape his bonds and stop Ymir from obeying Zeke’s command.

What follows is the long, sad story of Founder Ymir, from back when she was just an ordinary girl delivering water to those who needed it. One day, her world was set ablaze by a raiding army, and her life of selfless service became one of brutal servitude. When a pig escapes the barn, all the other slaves point their finger at Ymir, as if confirming that she is the one to bear all of the pain and suffering of this world.

Ymir is “freed”, but only so her captors can hunt her. Run through by two arrows, she collapses at the foot of a massive tree, with a hollow that leads to a massive underground lake. There, she encounters…“something”. Be it an alien, parasite, or god, it imbues Ymir with the power to transform into the first Titan—the Founding Titan.

The King of Eldia uses Ymir as a weapon with which to create a massive empire and conquer Marley; he also claims her as his consort. She bears three daughters—Maria, Rose, and Sina—and when an assassin tries to kill the King, Ymir takes a staff through the chest. In one of the more graphic scenes of the whole show, he eventually chops Ymir up and forces his daughters to eat her so the Titan power can be carried on.

Ymir’s daughters procreate, then their offspring procreates, each time creating a new branch on the tree of life in the Paths. Meanwhile Ymir returns to the form of a young girl walking slowly across the endless sands, up and down ramps, building Titans one bucket at a time. Even after death, she could not escape servitude, nor the responsibility that came with her chance encounter with “something.”

That is, until 2,000 years later, when Eren arrives, and instead of ordering to end the Eldians forever, he gives her a hug and tells her she’s neither a slave nor a god, and never was. She’s just a person; a person who has been waiting for someone like him. For the first time, Ymir’s empty eyes come to life and shed tears, and she makes the same face Eren made when he saw his future four years ago.

I don’t know if it’s Ymir, the “something” within her, or both who decide to side with Eren, but it is the “something” we see connecting his head to his neck even though Gabi just blew it off. Thanks to them, Eren is still alive, and the Rumbling commences.

And let me tell you, it is something to see. The walls begin to crumble—not just Maria, but all three—and out of their ruins, a terrifying legion of Colossal Titans. But even they are dwarfed by Eren’s latest and possibly final form, an intricate construction of ribs and spines. There are now three different orders of scale—Mikasa and Armin, the Colossal Titans, and whatever Eren has become.

Fortunately for Mikasa and Armin, they are not crushed or obliterated in the clouds of debris the Rumbling creates. Armin is proven half-correct, in that Eren was their ally all along, and looking after the people behind the walls. I say only half-right because Armin did not imagine Eren would bring all three walls down. Doing so means he has far larger designs than merely crushing the Marley alliance.

Eren confirms those greater ambitions in a telepathic communication that reaches every single Subject of Ymir, both on Paradis Island and the rest of the world. He’s sick of the world trying to annihilate his people, so instead he and his army of Wall Titans will annihilate the rest of the world. He won’t stop until every enemy city, town, and village, and every non-Eldian life, is extinguished. I don’t see how anyone can stand in his way.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 07 – Mars (Enterprises) Attacks!

“Everyone’s so worried about me…What am I, a little boy?” I doubt the people warning Makoto are doing so because they think he’s a kid, but because there is much he has to lose by diving too deep into this latest mess. Like his mother, his newly adopted sister Shungui, the family produce stand, and his reputation as a neutral troubleshooter.

Unfortunately, we don’t see his mom or Shungui either this week or last, which is a shame, not just because they could put the impudence of Makoto’s words into relief and even offer him perspective, but because I like those characters, and Shungui in particular seemed like someone we would be and should be seeing more of. Alas, Makoto is on an island at the beginning of this episode.

Ikebukuro is on the knife’s edge; war could spill onto the streets at any moment…yet he still finds time to work on Toshiaki’s film at the video store. His police buddy informs him “Shadow” is a lone operator, while his Hidaka PR buddy Saru informs him that Mars Enterprises hired both the Shadow and the masked thugs to create imbalance as a preface for expanding into Ikebukuro.

Unfortunately, Takashi is once again ghosting him, and the minute Makoto is off the phone with Saru, he has the bunny mask thug’s knife to his neck, clarifying that he and his guys have a grudge with him and Takashi personally. Bunny Mask is also helpful enough to perform his scene right in front of the “making of” camera, which is just icing for the cake in terms of how sloppy the masked thugs are.

Makoto determines that the masked thugs are Yamamoto and his men, who worked for OK Holdings and were previously run out of town. He informs Hiroto personally, but the Knight is already on his horse, and his men are itching for a confrontation with Takashi for control of the G-Boys present and future.

He finally gets to meet up with Takashi, who notes that one piece his old friend has left out of the equation are the Red Angels. Whether Makoto simply took Kyouichi at his word or has a blind spot due to his officially neutral status, Makoto isn’t willing to entertain the possibility the Angels could exploit the G-Boys civil war to expand their own influence.

Finally, and apparently quite by chance, “Shadow” presents himself to Makoto in the park. He further clarifies matters, saying the only job he did was on Donglong, while the thugs did the jobs on Hiroto’s men. He adds that they did a crap job while both they and Mars used the “Shadow” brand without his consent. This caused Shadow’s reputation to take a hit, and he paid Mars back by beating up each of their board members.

Shadow seems to consider himself an underworld equivalent of Makoto: an independent troubleshooter who works for justice (Shadow works for money; justice is just gravy), and someone for whom “reputation is paramount”. In the interests of preventing war, Makoto decides to ask Shadow to take care of the “weak link”: the war-mongering Hiroto.

Makoto institutes this gambit as much out of a desire to prove he’s not “just some kid” or a “nice guy”, but someone willing to do whatever it takes to protect the peace and balance of his town. But the gambit backfires, as Hiroto’s men blame King for the beating of their Knight and begin the march to war.

After consulting with Takashi once more, Makoto gets Kyouichi to agree to back Takashi in order to “quell the disturbance”. Kyouichi proves himself an honest and honorable man by doing his part, marching his Red Angels between Hiroto’s men and Takashi and declaring an alliance with the latter, then getting Hiroto’s uneasy No.2 to drop his bat and back down with a mere look.

With war averted—arguably way too neatly, but averted all the same—all that’s left is to take out the trash, i.e. Yamamoto and his ragtag quintet of thugs, who end up coming to them as Takashi and Makoto film a scene in Toshiaki’s film. In the adult video section, Yamamoto & Co. surround the two, but suddenly Shadow appears to even the odds. He takes out two of the thugs, and Takashi takes out the remaining three including delivering a knockout blow to Yamamoto.

The excellent fight scene really underscored how overmatched Yamamoto and his thugs were. Once the masked thugs identities and motives were made clear, they never had a realistic chance to instigate a full-scale turf war, especially since revenge was Yamamoto’s primary goal. Hopefully he won’t need a third demonstration of the futility of seeking revenge.

Toshiaki finally finishes his film, and it’s a hit, so he plans to make more, and Makoto notes the firm dedication inherent in Toshiaki’s efforts. He saw that same dedication in Shadow’s no-nonsense way of operating, and in Kyouichi’s dedication to protecting the town he’s come to like. After dancing on a razor’s edge these last two episodes, Makoto seems content to continue dedicating himself to selling fruit. Gotta pay the bills!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 06 – Shadows in the Knight

Ikebukuro is a town of balance, and that balance ensures peace. But one otherwise ordinary night, a group from the G-Boys Hiroto Faction are pulled from their van and viciously beaten by toughs in animal masks. Makoto is busy acting in an indie film being directed by the clerk of a doomed video store.

It’s a fitting setting in which to begin for an episode about the wider downfall of Ikebukuro’s hard-fought peace. Also on the film crew is Crow, an underling of Hiroto, whose boys were hit by the animal maskers, apparently led by a mysterious figure called “Shadow”. Hiroto suspects the attack was a warning from his boss, “King” Takashi, to keep his ambitions in check.

Before Makoto can confer with Takashi, Hiroto’s boys are hit by the Shadow again, and hard. In lieu of any word from King, Makoto meets with another childhood friend, Saru, the Hidaka Group’s PR man. He knows that Shadow is apparently elite muscle-for-hire, and that Hidaka’s position is that balance should be maintained, using his ice cream to illustrate his point.

He also warns his friend Makoto to “know where to draw the line” in his involvement, lest he end up in trouble. That’s when Hiroto reaches out to Makoto through Crow, and Makoto learns Hiroto is now having his men call him “Knight”—a direct challenge to King. With command of a third of the G-Boys, among them some of the toughest fighters, his faction has been waiting for someone to “pull the trigger” at them for some time.

In other words, even if it is King sending Shadow against his men, it doesn’t matter. He wanted an excuse to move anyway, and he got it. The spark has been lit, and the Hiroto faction is a tinderbox. Makoto gets him to agree not to move against Takashi until he’s spoken to him, but Hiroto warns if his boys are attacked one more time, it will be war.

With Takashi still not taking his calls, Makoto has no choice but to meet with the Red Angels instead. Kyouichi says he isn’t attacking Hiroto’s boys, as he has no reason to start a war that will endanger his people. However, he hastens to add, should one drop of Red Angel blood spill from the crossfire of an imminent G-Boys civil war, they’ll show no mercy.

Makoto walks down a dark Ikebukuro alley late at night with Sunshine 60 looming in the background. The mass of the tower behind him makes him look that much smaller and more alone; the town’s chief diplomat who has yet to make contact with the leader of its most powerful gang. Even as he makes no progress, he is followed by a sketchy guy in the shadows whose face he never sees, perhaps as subtle and bloodless warning as he’s going to get to quit while he’s still neutral.

As timing would have it, Takashi calls him immediately after the frightening encounter, and they meet in West Gate to talk for the first time. King hesitated to answer his buddy’s calls because he didn’t want him involved, because he can’t guarantee his safety this time. This enrages Makoto, with good reason.

When you think about it, he is one of the strongest and bravest players in this town precisely because he works alone and has no sworn allegiance, except to Ikebukuro herself. He commits to finding out who the Shadow is and who sent him to attack Hiroto’s men. As if to answer that question for the audience, the camera lingers on Isogai as he and Kyouichi walk on a bridge as cop cars race past.

Makoto and King end up shaking hands, symbolically sealing Makoto’s fate as a declared ally of King and thus a legitimate combatant in the G-Boys war to come. Because it is coming; and Makoto is out of time to stop it. The Shadow attacked Hiroto’s boys a third time, and this time a group from Dongfeng were hit as well.

Hiroto justifiably doesn’t care about the attack on Dongfeng muddying the waters; too much of his boys’ blood has been spilt. Just as Makoto is confident he can keep both King and Knight at bay, Knight draws his sword: he’s quitting the G-Boys, and no longer taking orders from Takashi. Their meeting in the alley was but a mere formality.

Maintaining peace and balance is not Hiroto’s goal. He’s thirsted for power, and is now taking the opportunity to grab it. Once he’s in charge of the G-Boys, he dreams of expanding their influence across all of Tokyo. Obviously, this is folly, and Takashi tells Makoto that it’s a product of his lack of strategic experience (Lao Tzu would also have some criticisms of Knight’s approach).

The episode ends with another suspicious lingering camera shot at Kyouichi, who is apparently pleased with how things are going. Did he and/or Isogai hire Shadow to destabilize the G-Boys? Were they simply biding their time all along? Or are they just looking forward to their largest rival eating away at itself from the inside, poised to fill the vacuum that results?

Whatever the case, IWGP is on a certified roll, following up two strong case-of-the-week episodes with a headfirst dive into the central gang conflict. It may be too late to keep a war from starting, but perhaps Makoto can still find a way to end it before it causes too much damage.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 06 – Truth is the Sword, Lies the Scabbard

Elaina’s next destination is an island city-state whose name has recently been changed to “Land of Truth-Tellers”. Their king has initiated a barrier around the whole of his domain in which no one can lie, either verbally or by writing. Elaina is weary of entering such a place but deems it worth the risk if it makes for a good story.

This being our ever-confident Elaina, she first tests the truth-telling effect by trying to say “I am not beautiful,” and later tries to write “I have a twisted personality”. Instead she ends up saying she is beautiful and writes that she’s pure of heart—both of which are the unvarnished truth.

Despite the seeming benefits of a society without lies, she finds the town quiet and oddly tense. She’s also approached by an unwashed young woman who asks non-verbally via a notepad if she’s the witch dispatched the United Magic Association. Again Elaina tells her the truth: she isn’t.

It’s when Elaina witnesses two young men fighting in the streets while others do nothing and watch that the problems with a lie-free society become clear: if everyone always says the truth, it’s much easier to end up in fights, which is why most people simply stay quiet. If you don’t have anything nice to say, etc.

But one witch decides to break up the lads’ fight mid-punch—Saya “the Charcoal Witch”, who is the UMA witch dispatched to the town! She’s so elated to see her beloved Elaina that her time-freezing spell dissipates and the lads punch each other square in the jaws. Elaina tries to take Saya’s extremely heavy feelings in stride.

Another effect of the truth barrier is that Saya, who is naturally quite the chatty person, will and does say everything rattling around in her mind, including all the things she wants to do with Elaina. But duty calls: she meets with the notepad woman, Eihemia the Quicksand Witch, who gives them the full situation.

When the King (with whom Eihemia was secretly infatuated) demanded she make his kingdom free of lies, she went all out to do so, locating a sword (which he’d later truthfully declare “lame”) powerful enough to serve as a vessel for the truth barrier’s magic. Unfortunately, in doing so Eihemia loses all of her magic and even her voice.

That means even though she did exactly what the king wanted, she ended up losing all the things that made her a useful member of his court, and she was banished from the palace. Had the episode wanted to go darker it could have explored what Eihemia has been forced to do to survive on the streets in a town with no lies, but it does not go there, which is probably for the best!

Her solution is clear: destroy the sword, and her magic and voice will be returned—as will the ability of the kingdom’s people to lie. Elaina and Saya get around having to write the truth by cleverly piecing together separate sentences then putting them together to gain access to the palace.

Once inside, they soon end up fighting off magical attacks from the king and his sword, one of which hits Saya square in the back and hurts like a bitch. When the king’s guards arrive, Elaina has Saya take care of them in the background while she reasons with the king.

The crux of her argument for destroying the sword: good people sometimes lie, while bad people will always find ways to bend the truth through the various loopholes in the barrier magic. To keep people from the little white lies we tell each other to get along every day will eventually be the kingdom’s undoing.

If truth is a sword, Elaina puts succinctly, lies are the scabbard that keep us from swinging that sword recklessly. Of course, scabbard in Japanese is apparently Saya, so Saya momentarily thinks Elaina called her name. Elaina then uses her broom to disarm the king and conjures a hammer to smash the sword to bits, thus lifting the curse of unchecked truth from his kingdom.

Eihemia’s voice and magic are restored, and she and the king reconcile when he agrees that some degree of lying and being lied to is necessary in any society. She returns to the court, and the king apologizes to his people. All’s well that ends well, and Saya gets paid for her trouble!

That turns out to be a good thing, since she had recently spend all of her money on matching dolphin necklaces for her and Elaina for when they crossed paths. Before heading back to UMA HQ, Saya takes her time tenderly putting the necklace on Elaina. Then the two pinky-swear to meet again someday.

This week was Elaina very nearly at its best. I for one don’t mind the darker stories like the one with the princess and dragon, but this was also great stuff; a feel-good fable-like high concept adventure that’s balanced by solid comedy. And of course, it is improved immeasurably by the return of the delightful Saya, voiced by Kurosawa Tomoyo, who brings so much effervescent vim and vigor to her characters.

Bofuri – 08 – Maple Ex Machina

In preparation for NWO’s third event, a cow-hunting expedition, Iz kits out Maple, Sally, and Kasumi in some adorably warm wool outfits. But this is event that values high agility, so Maple doesn’t contribute as much as she could to the final cow count. Rather, she stumbles and falls off a mountain and into a fierce battle with an increasingly gross demon boss. She’s swallowed up, but eats her way free.

For defeating the demon Maple gains some frightening new skills, including the ability to transform into Atrocity, complete with a deep and demonic version of her own voice. At the gate to the Third Level, the rest of the party just stands back with sweat drops and lets their adora-monstrous friend do her work against a tree monster that never had a chance.

The third level turns out to be a distinctly cyberpunk world full of whimsical machinery and flying vehicles (she’s no longer alone in the skies with her giant Syrup). The party splits up to get a sense of the place, and Maple ends up feeding an old man on the street who gives her a rare quest that leads to an encounter with what I believe to be the first generation Machine King.

The former king is malfunctioning and changes its form and demeanor several times, but Maple is quick enough to keep up with those changes, and in one of the king’s lucid moments, he bestows upon her the skill [Machine God], which enables her to transform into a powerful, midriff-bearing cyborg killing machine straight out of Gurren Lagann.

An intense robo-duel ensues until Maple is the last one standing, packed with some really nice smooth and dynamic animation and lighting effects. Once things have died down and Maple gets a look at herself, she not unreasonably wonders what the heck just happened. Will she be able to change back to normal, as with [Atrocity]?

One hopes so; she’s going to have trouble fitting through the guild hall door with all that paraphernalia! Whatever happens, the paradigm of NWO has shifted once more as the scale of its world has expanded and evolved. As she collects more ridiculous skills, her ability to surprise us with fun combinations increases. As Kanade puts it: “Watching Maple never gets old.”

Astra Lost in Space – 12 (Fin) – Lost No Longer

We’re blessed with a double-length Astra finale, which really gives the show time and space to breathe and finish telling the story it’s apparent it always wanted to tell, and more importantly treated a loyal audience to a proper sendoff of the characters we’ve gradually come to love—and who have grown to love one another—one by one.

The first half, itself the length of a normal episode, is devoted to the return trip home. With Charce’s suicide plan foiled and Kanata down an arm but otherwise fine, the work of restocking the ship for the journey back to Astra. Kanata has to rest while the others work outside, but Aries quells his loneliness and FOMO by keeping him company.

Once they’re off Planet Galem, there’s ample time for the crew to assemble and hear Charce’s story of the history of their world—the real history, corroborating and continuing the story begun by Polina. Turns out the plan to relocate humanity’s population was so fraught with conflict, half of that population was killed in bitter wars for land on the new planet before the migration even took place.

The survivors of the conflict vowed never to let anything like that occur again, and so abolished nations and religions on Astra. Furthermore, the first generation to move and live there was the last to know about the true history of Earth; an alternate history of WWIII was fabricated, and the very timeline of humanity turned back 100 years.

All this time, the crew thought they were living in the year 2063, when it has actually been 2163; over one hundred years since the migration was successfully completed. It also means Polina wasn’t asleep for twelve years, but one hundred and twelve—yet doesn’t look a day over 29!

The crew decides that the world can’t go on living with a false history, but understands that telling the world the wrong way could be disastrous, not just to them but to the world.

Ulgar suggests they contact a trustworthy police lieutenant, and an detailed message is sent to him through Aries’ mom, including photos and videos of the still very much alive crew of Camp B5 and the log Aries has been making throughout the show (a nice touch).

By the time the Astra reaches orbit of Planet Astra, Lt. Grace is already at work arresting the King of Vixia, as well as his successor for his role in Princess Seira’s murder. Nothing a cop likes more than a bonanza of hard evidence. Very satisfying to watch these jerk-ass crooks made to pay for their heinous crimes.

The kids are met by an armed fleet in orbit, but after a few tense moments, contact is made and they identify themselves as friendly escorts, reporting that their originals have been apprehended and they are free to land. This is one of those instances where the extra length really counts, as we get to savor the crew’s arrival home and their ship’s final landing.

Once they arrive, and they get to tell their story to every media outlet on the planet, the crew become instant celebrities. Kanata and Charce tell the higher authorities about the need to spread the truth, something the higher-ups ultimately go with.

That bitter pill of truth is washed down without excessive unrest due in no small part to the charm of the crew, including the humanizing memoir about their five-month odyssey written by Kanata…not to mention the modelling chops of Quitterie and King Charce.

The length of the episode not only means it gets to take its time with a happy ending, but jumps seven years into the future, when the bulk of the crew is now 24. Everyone has changed their look a bit, but remain themselves and more importantly, remain good friends with one another, as you’d expect from what they went through. Yunhua sings a song inspired by those experiences, which essentially plays the series out.

Quitterie is married to Zack, while Funi is in high school and looks just like Quitterie (and has Polina as a teacher). Ulgar is now a serious journalist, while Kanata has achieved his goal of becoming a captain in seven years. His new ship is his old ship; buying the over 100-year-old Astra with funds earned from his book and fame.

With his past and present trusty mates Zack and Charce, they take off to chart the exit points of the wormholes and beyond, but they’ll be back. After all, Charce has kingly duties to get back to; Zack has a wife to get back to, and Kanata has to get back to Aries so they can marry and have a daughter they can name Seira.

And there you have it: Kanata no Astra, not just an epic survival story of a group of extraordinary kids, but herald to a bold new truth for humanity. One could say almost too much befell these kids; that they’re too special. But to that I say…what do you expect? They are, after all, the clones of people rich and powerful and ambitious enough to, well, clone themselves.

They were always destined for greatness, but it wasn’t going to be given to them; they were literally left for dead. But their originals made one critical blunder, forgetting about the presence of one last ship in old Earth’s orbit, the chariot of their downfall and their clones’ salvation. In the end, the clones surpassed their originals to become entirely different people—better people.

People who, rather than lying and cheating and stealing their way through life, scratched and tore and screamed to break the bonds of their origins, united together in love and fellowship, and changed the goddamned world. Hell of a story if you ask me.

Astra Lost in Space – 11 – Right Hand Man

In the biggest twist yet in a show packed with ’em, Charce turns out to be the clone of the king, raised to be a replacement body, not an individual person. When clones were banned, his mission changed: accompany the Space Camp and ensure they all die.

And yet, even having heard all this, Kanata isn’t ready to give up on Charce. He insists that if he really didn’t love and care about them, he wouldn’t have hesitated with the wormhole generator. But Charce has an exploration for that too: Aries Spring is the clone of the king’s only daughter, Princess Seira.

Seira was staunchly against being cloned, but her father did it anyway, cementing the king as a violating dickwad concerned only with everlasting life. She spirited her baby clone away with her surrogate mother, Emma, naming her the reverse of her name before parting.

A year before Space Camp, Seira and Charce were enjoying nature when a shadowy figure rushed out of the woods and shoved Seira off a cliff; an assassination made to look like an accident. The king threw Charce in jail where he rotted until a week before camp, when he was assigned his new mission: to die, and take the other illegal clones with him.

It’s fair to say Charce had the most fucked up childhood of the crew, and what makes him even more pitiable is that he believes his life has been wonderful, as long as he’s had a purpose; as long as he served his king. Kanata gives him a much needed punch; he can talk about his true purpose all day; he knows when someone is forcing or faking happiness, and Charce hasn’t been faking it.

But Charce’s mind seems made up; he produces a second wormhole generator from the right arm of his suit—a wormhole meant only for him. This isn’t about fulfilling a mission anymore, but punishing himself for betraying the only friends he had in the world (other than Seira).

Kanata stops the suicide attempt with another one of his athletic feats, jumping over the dang wormhole and shielding Charce from it. But he misjudged the distance, and Charce can’t turn off the wormhole soon enough. It swallows Kanata’s right arm, transporting it back to Earth orbit.

The moment Kanata’s arm disappears, the most pressing question is whether he’ll survive the injury. Quitterie doubtlessly saves a lot of his precious blood with her quick thinking and first aid, but he needs a hospital, and they’re still far from Astra. Charce regrets what happened, and Kanata tells him he’ll pay for it by being his second-in-command when he gets a ship. But right now, in Kanata’s present state, it sounds an awful lot like a death flag.

Astra Lost in Space – 10 – Snowball’s Charce in Hell

Polina knows something’s up when the blue planet on the screen isn’t Earth, and that none of the kids know what “Earth” even is, because their home planet is Astra. Kanata jokes that Polina might be an alien, but he and the crew decide it best to compare histories.

That’s when they learn where their two histories diverged: in Polina’s, 1962 was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis; in the crew’s, that crisis precipitated World War III, which resulted in half of humanity perishing. When it was over, countries and weapons were abolished, and a united planet rebuilt.

That brings us back to Polina’s history: there never was a World War III, but a little while before embarking on the journey that would strand her on Icriss, astronomers detected a 300-kilometer asteroid on a collision course with earth. That necessitated humanity packing up and migrating to a new world.

When Polina was on her mission aboard the Ark VI, they were still looking for planets, but six years before the present—and five years after she went into hibernation—the asteroid must have struck. By then, humanity had managed to successfully migrate…to Astra. The next generation, of which the Astra’s crew is composed, were told a vague alternate history and raised not to dwell on the past.

How, you ask, did they manage to move so many people? Why, with miniature artificial wormholes (duh), the very phenomenon that sucked up the crew in McPa and dropped them in orbit of an icy planet…a planet that turned out to be Earth itself, having gone into an ice age after the asteroid impact.

Now that they know the basic how of their predicament, Aries suggests the crew not dwell on the why, lest it bring down morale at a crucial time. Life returns to normal for the duration of the trip to the final planet, Galem. When they land on the planet to resupply one last time, Polina is duly impressed by the efficiency and know-how the crew demonstrates—this is not their first planet rodeo, after all.

Kanata and Aries reflect on everything that’s happened and how they’ve become stronger people during this whole adventure, no matter what the goal of the enemy was. Kanata also asks if he can walk Aries home to reunite with her mom; Aries accepts the offer. Maybe there’s hope for this couple after all, eh?

But while off on his own on Galem’s surface, a wormhole appears and starts chasing Kanata, who ends up finding refuge in a cave where Aries is gathering supplies. Later, Kanata confides in us, the audience, by stating he knows who the enemy is now, that the enemy doesn’t know he knows, and that he intends to make the first move before they can kill them all.

Kanata meets secretly with Charce and Zack and informs them that Ulgar is the enemy, and outlines the plan to entrap and capture him, with Charce serving as the bait. But when the plan of action is executed, Charce is alone with Ulgar, Ulgar pulls his gun but it misfires, and the wormhole is activated, it’s not Ulgar who Kanata takes down…it’s Charce.

Charce is the one who controls the wormholes. Charce is the one whose mission was, and is, to kill all the others….along with himself. It’s a thrilling, brilliant set piece of misdirection, and some impressive cunning on Kanata’s part.

The entire crew except Charce was in on the plan, and they are there when Charce is captured. A tearful Aries wants him to tell them that they’re, that she’s mistaken; earlier in the ep Kanata meets with Aries in her quarters, but he wasn’t there to confess. He wanted to know, in detail only Aries’ photographic memory could provide, who was sucked into the wormhole last. It was Charce, ensuring everyone else went in before him.

While his mission was to transport himself and everyone else from McPa to space to die, he didn’t count on everyone getting their helmets on in time to survive the transition, nor the pure dumb luck of the Astra, formerly the Ark XII, being in orbit so close to where they materialized.

As for who he really is, well, Charce is a clone too, but has always known he’s a clone…and not a clone of just anyone, but of Noah Vix, king of the Vixia Royal Quarter. Of course there could only be one king. One wonders if his friend Seira was a factor in his agreeing to complete this mission, and also make me wonder if, considering their resemblance, arieS is Seira’s clone.

Not only that, but what will happen now that his mission has failed, and the clones are returning to Astra? Not that things were ever not interesting on this show, but things are really starting to more interesting. And to think I initially thought this was a show that would kill its characters off one-by-one on a weekly basis…

One Punch Man 2 – 12 (Fin) – A Blow from the Weak

Bang, and then Bomb, and then Bang and Bomb start whaling on an already diminished Garo, and Genos is reasonably confident the old dudes have this in the bag. But he underestimates Garo’s almost bottomless stores of resentment and disdain for the heroes of the world.

As a kid, he was always made out to be the monster while so-called “heroes” beat him up, just because he was weak and unpopular. The monster never got to won. This fuels a fourth or fifth wind for Garo, but the battle is interrupted when he is airlifted out by a big talking bird monster.

I have to say, I’m as pissed off as Garo, Bang, and Genos about this twist. This was supposed to be the Hero Hunter’s final battle; this episode should have brought some kind of closure to his story (and this season), even if it ended with him meeting Saitama’s fist. But that expected period became an ellipsis. Clearly OPM has other plans for our bloody-eyed friend.

As Garo exits the stage prematurely, Centichoro appears in all his very big, evil-looking CGI glory. As skilled as Bang and Bomb are, their gifts just aren’t that effective against an enemy so freakin’ huge, while Genos is similarly hamstrung by a firepower limit that can barely scratch Cent’s carapace. Even Bang and Bomb’s final one-time combo attack only works temporarily; the centipede simply shrugs it off molts.

Genos offers to stay behind, but the old-timers don’t think that’s right. Young’ins need to live on; Genos’ own scientist mentor said as much. But Genos ignores the advice of his elders, because he doesn’t think it’s right to let the old protect him while he sits back and watches.

So he blasts off and starts going at Centichoro, pushing him away from the civilian centers, blasting through one of his teeth, entering his digestive tract, and incinerating him from the inside out. As he’s spat out of the boss’s mouth, all his clothes burned off, it looks like his reckless abandon did the trick…but it just wasn’t enough.

That’s when Bang, Bomb, and Genos finally run into a little luck, as “S-Class” King starts egging on Centichoro with a megaphone, telling him he’s brought his rival, “Blast”. Of course, he’s only serving as bait for Saitama, who arrives just in time to save King from being squashed like a bug.

Saitama steps between King and Centichoro, rushing at him at full speed, and delivers his One Punch special, totally eradicating the monster, just as we all knew he would. It doesn’t matter how much other heroes struggle in vain to defeat a boss; Saitama will always make it happen.

That’s why it seems like a bit of a letdown he wasn’t able to deliver a punch to Orochi, chopping off the head of Monsters, Inc. so the body will die (or alternatively, punching all of the monsters into oblivion, Orochi included). Instead, Genos is yet again inspired by his master’s excellence, and Garo is probably off to be transformed into an actual monster. Those twelve episodes just flew by!

One Punch Man 2 – 11 – When It Rains Heroes, It Pours

Unlike the other kids (and the kid hiding in the shack), Garo didn’t really care that much about the heroes. He liked the monsters, who were perpetual underdogs and were almost always outnumbered, outmatched, or both.

Death Gatling would seem to have assembled a crack team of Garo-hunters, what with their diverse array of ranges and styles of attack, as well as the motivation to prove to the world that Class S heroes aren’t the only ones who can get the job done.

The thing is, Garo is just too strong and fast for any of their best-laid plans to matter. He isolates and throttles them one by one (often using others as shields against the marksmen), drawing from a second wind.

Even Mr. Stamina, Megane, who was encouraged to keep getting stronger by Saitama himself when all seemed lost, doesn’t last long once he’s one-on-one with even a gravely injured and poisoned Garo. Soon only Death Gatling remains, and once he fires off his special move that expends all his bullets, Garo is relatively unscathed.

Notably, he warned Gatling about the kid in the shack, but Gatling didn’t believe him, so Garo had to shield the shack. Once Gatling is taken out, the kid is so frightened of Garo he runs off screaming. Garo thinks he’s finally earned a rest and a drink of water, but he’s only completed Round One. His next challenger is the new-and-improved Genos.

The difference between Class B, A, and S is pretty clear in the sheer level of fighting Genos is able to maintain with Garo, just as the gap between Genos and Saitama is evident in the fact that dozens of blows and blasts from Genos aren’t enough to knock Garo out, but one even half-hearted punch from Saitama is more than enough.

Garo first learns of “Master Saitama” from Genos, but when we cut to Saitama, he doesn’t sneeze from being talked about, because he’s too busy losing eighty-one matches in a row to King, who then gets a Class S alert. Saitama hasn’t seen Genos for a day or so, and is a bit worried about him, so he prepares to head out and look for him.

While it’s a stretch to say he’s in any danger against such a heavily-wounded and fatigued opponent, Genos is certainly having a rough time knocking Garo out, or even tying him down. Then Garo gets unwanted help from a band of monsters who come out of the ground following orders to escort Garo to the Monster Association.

Of course, Garo isn’t going anywhere, and Genos liquifies half of the monsters in the blink of an eye, then prepares to incinerate Garo once and for all. Round Two is then ended in a draw when Silverfang swoops in and delivers a devastating kick to Garo, who had just died his hair with his own blood.

Bang’s “big bro” ices the remaining monsters while he focuses on Garo, remembering the day he arrived at the dojo exhausted and starving. It would seem Round Three will be a cakewalk for the geezer, but as we saw throughout this episode, Garo is not one to be underestimated or counted out.

If Bang and Genos can’t put him down, the “Ultimate Hero” Saitama may have to intervene after all. I just hope if and when he does, it’s with his usual nonchalance.

One Punch Man 2 – 10 – Stating the Obvious

Saitama may be bored with a life of beating everyone with one punch and never losing, but thanks to King he’s able to forget about that for a little while, as he is beaten over and over again in a Street Fighter-esque combat game, to his unending frustration. “THIS GAME IS SHIT!” is his only defense. Reminds me of me when I play video games!

As for the Monster Association infiltrating the executive board room, the eyeball that serves as a conduit through which King Orochi’s adjutant, Gyoro-Gyoro, can mess with the humans by offering an olive branch than shooting the first taker. Thankfully for the other suits, resident Class-S hero Superalloy Blackluster—basically Luke Cage—has no trouble dispatching the baddies.

Still, shots have been fired, and the Monster Association officially declares war on the Hero Association. It’s in all the papers and on all the news channels. Over at MA HQ, the amassed monsters aren’t impressed with Gyoro-Gyoro’s motivational speech, but actions speak louder than words, as Orochi demonstrates when he eats Cockroach for losing.

Speaking of losing, a badly-wounded Garo wakes up, assuming it was King who knocked him out, while Genos gets a shiny new upgraded metal body from Dr. Kuseno, who only asks that win or lose, Genos is careful enough to live on and fight another day.

As the top heroes debate the merits of the HA’s plan to storm MA HQ , the news spreads to independent monsters, who pour out of City Z full of piss and vinegar, eager to join up with the MA. Unfortunately, they’re all obliterated by Saitama while he’s taking out the trash.

Garo ends up healing up in a shack that happens to be used by the brat with the hero guide he’s encountered in the park. That brat is the runt of his circle of friends, so he has to go in to see who’s in their secret hideout. Garo offers some obvious advice—the kid should become stronger, duh—but before sending him on his way, the shack is surrounded by eight Class A and B heroes led by Death Gatling, who tracked him there.

Even having unknowingly been recently pummeled by Saitama, Garo could probably take on, say, four of these heroes, but not eight, and certainly not all at once. Thanks to the brat’s guide, he at least gets some intel on all of them, and learns that they possess quite the diverse and complementary skill set.

The heroes marvel at his ability to dodge their attacks, but as he gets tired cracks in his defense start to form. Worse, the guy he worried about the least, Megane, is actually a hand-to-hand specialist with a lot more stamina and endurance than he currently has. Gatling demands he surrender and let them take him alive. How’s he going to get out of this one? Does the brat have a role to play in rescuing him from a bad end?

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