Darling in the FranXX – 05

Now that Hiro has shown he and Zero Two can make a difference in Strelizia, everything is just peachy on the Plantation, right? They can relax, celebrate their victory as Plantation 26 hooks up with theirs, and look forward to Hiro leading the way in the next Klaxosaur battle. Hiro and Zorome even bury the hatchet.

Well, not so fast. Hiro’s body is boiling. Gorou is concerned, but Hiro says he’s never felt better. On one level that might be true—he made a difference and has a chance to keep contributing—but on the basic physical level, he has to be suffering. And this is after two times in the cockpit with Two. “The next time is the third”, Nana ominously says. No stamen has ever made it to a fourth.

FranXX proves it can deliver an engaging episode without any flashy battles between the enemy and its titular sexy mecha. That’s because both the main players and the supporting roles are all very well-executed, if archetypal.

Ichigo in particular turns in a wonderfully-layered performance, due in no small part to the talents of newcomer seiyu and Hana-Kana sound-alike Ichinose Kana, as the squad leader watches her beloved Hiro snatched away from her by the haughty Zero Two.

Ichigo takes this in stride—she isn’t even the person she was a few episodes back, but just because she’s better able to prioritize her personal feelings with her duties (and asking that Gorou do the same) doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t there, seething beneath her cool surface.

Ichigo makes it plain to Zero Two that she won’t tolerate rule-breaking or offer special treatment, and takes Two’s “bossy” comment as a compliment. Meanwhile, Hiro continues to writhe in a pain he is hiding from everyone, and spots a spider on the bathroom light about to kill a moth; a not-so-subtle symbol of his current situation.

When Squad 13 meets Squad 26, we learn just how different and unusual our squad is, with its unique FranXX and nicknames for their parasites. 26 is All Business, but aren’t so cold they’ll crush Zorome’s dreams by telling him no children ever become adults in this business.

Parasites purpose is to fight until they die or can’t fight anymore; growing up and procreating, it would seem, is for other people. They’re not fighting for their future, but for a future for mankind they’ll never see. Hiro seems to understand this more than anyone, as he’s willing to keep partnering with Two even as a bizarre and intensely painful blue growth spreads across his chest.


Gorou eventually discovers Hiro’s secret, but Hiro makes him keep it a secret, out of deference to their friendship and because Gorou doesn’t want to be the one to deliver the news that will ground Hiro and rob him of his chance to make a difference.

There’s also the fact that Strelizia is a big part of Hachi and Nana’s battle plan for the impending surge of Klaxosaurs descending upon the kissing Plantations, and they cannot guarantee the success of the mission (i.e., their survival) if Hiro and Zero don’t sortie.

When Squad 26’s leader hears that Strelizia will join the battle, he shows the most emotion he has up to that point, condemning Two for not caring about her allies and blaming her for the death of his former partner.

Two isn’t apologetic; she doesn’t even recall the battle that changed this guy’s life, and says “weaklings die”. But when he draws closer in anger Hiro blocks him, assuring him he’ll keep Two under control.

That night, Ichigo goes off with Two to warn her not to push Hiro too far. This is beyond jealousy; Ichigo doesn’t want to lose Hiro, no matter what, but Two cannot guarantee anything. Things turn nasty when Ichigo accuses her of wanting to “suck Hiro dry” and discard him.

Two states that if he dies its because he didn’t have anything going for him, she slaps her and calls her inhuman. Two, with her headband knocked off her horns, glares at Ichigo with glowing red eyes and asks what Ichigo and the others even think “human” is.

Gorou, who couldn’t sleep (Hiro groaning in pain in the opposite bunk), observed Ichigo and Two’s exchange, and Ichigo bursts into tears, lamenting how much of a mess her mind is, and not wanting to feel the way she does. Faced with his partner getting so upset about another guy, Gorou seems to feel something similarly undesirable.

Ichigo and Gorou would seem to be in the worst possible emotional state prior to the biggest and most hazardous battle of their lives (it might claim a parasite or two from Squad 13 before it’s over), but Hiro and Zero Two are an island of tranquility, standing by the pond where they met.

Two knows about the growth and the pain Hiro is enduring, and gives him one last chance to back out from darlinghood. Hiro immediately and firmly declines. He said he’d fly with her. It’s what he wants. And he’ll do it as long as he’s able and allowed (or even if he’s disallowed, as he was last week). He knows the wings he’s been given may snap any day, but his place is in the sky.

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Darling in the FranXX – 04

Mitsuru is alive, but he’ll never go near a cockpit with Zero Two again; it’s as if he knows he’d never survive. Despite this, and to Ichigo’s frustration, Hiro remains resolved to pilot with Two again if it means he’ll be able to be useful. Meanwhile, Two gets a scolding but ends up coldly writing off the other FranXX as weaklings who will die soon anyway.

Ichigo decides not to fight Hiro on the issue, and rather steels herself for that eventuality. As Hiro trains alone, she manages to get the rest of the team behind her, asserting her leadership role by reminding them of the stakes and how every day could be their last until they all get it together. She also encourages Ikuno to help Mitsuru, who like the rest of them surely doesn’t want to fail again.

Paying him back from the first episode, Zero Two walks in on Hiro bathing and makes another offer for them to run away together, just them and Strelizia against the world. When she senses his hesitation and fear, her mood darkens, and she asks him whether he thinks she’s just a pilot-killing monster like everyone else.

When a Klaxosaur worm appears during a docking procedure, Ichigo’s team sorties, and quickly brings the worm down, but wthout knowing where the core is, it comes back to life and is joined by a second enemy. Just like last week Ichigo’s team seems in over their head; but Nana refuses to allow Zero Two and Hiro to sortie; “Papa’s” orders.

Eventually, Zero Two and Strelizia’s transport lands at the Plantation, and she’s ordered to go with her “escort team” back to the front lines, without Hiro. When she bristles, they train their guns on her, and she says a sad “would’ve been nice” bye-bye to Hiro, filling him with regret and shame for his inaction.

He tries to right this by chasing after Zero Two and yelling through a security barrier, acknowledging his fear then and now, telling her he doesn’t think she’s a monster, and that what he wants most isn’t to pilot a FranXX, but to ride with her again.

With those words from Hiro, Zero Two shakes off her guards, rushes to Hiro’s side, and takes him through the barriers and all the way into Strelizia. Once there, Hiro wonders if he’ll really be able to pilot her again, and Two promises him that he—that they—absolutely can, and will.

When Strelizia enters the battlefield, Ichigo keeps her cool and continues to give the orders, telling Hiro and Two to go after one worm while she and the others tackle the second. It eventually becomes clear the two are really seperate ends of the same single worm, and when Ichigo & Co. end up in trouble again, Strelizia hurries to their rescue, slashing the worm in half and shattering it’s core—but not before showing Ichigo (whose face is repeated in Delphinium) a very smug face.

I was hoping, for once, that instead of moping about not being useful for yet another episode, Hiro would finally be allowed to show he could be useful again. And I got that, so I’m satisfied, even if it happened rather easily, and with likely consequences on the way.

At the same time, the pair has kinda backed their superiors into a corner: Zero Two needs a stamen who won’t die after three sorties, and Hiro is mostly fine after two and may well do fine in a third. They can’t very well put the welfare of civilization above nailing him to the wall for his disobedience.

Darling in the FranXX – 03

All of the ten parasites of Plantation 13 grew up together as “hatchlings”, and they all gravitated towards 016, Hiro, who gave all of them names, including 015/Ichigo.

They all had high hopes for him leading them, but it didn’t happen. After their catastrophic mock battle, the interaction between Ichigo and Hiro is understandably awkward.

Gorou has always understood and accepted how close Ichigo is to Hiro; they’re both in the -teen numbers, which basically makes them brother and sister. But nothing is more important to Hiro than being useful, which means if he can only pilot with Zero Two, so be it.

Of course, that’s not his call, or Two’s. As the undermining of Ichigo’s authority as leader proceeds apace, led by Mitsuru, who thinks it’s time to cut their losses on the now-pathetic Hiro, Two watches Hiro feverishly train, and falls asleep waiting for him to finish.

She embraces him so he can get through a security wall, and Two shows him the glittering inner city, not because she thinks it’s beautiful or romantic, but because it’s ugly, boring, and depressing. She can’t stand it in there, with no sky and no sea.

She’s thinking about getting away, and wouldn’t mind her Darling coming with her. She laughs it off as a joke, but one must wonder…

The active parasites, meanwhile, are assigned their first sortie against a klaxosaur, but things immediately go wrong. Ikuno cannot connect with Mitsuru (and the hubristic Mitsuru blames her without mercy), and the one klaxosaur turns into a lot more, and Miku gets knocked out, leaving just two FranXXs to deal with the threat. They may have passed trials Hiro could not, but they’re still green-as-hell rookies.

When things turn dire, Zero Two demands to sortie, with her Darling Hiro. The adults adhere to the rules and won’t allow it, as Hiro is not an official parasite. Mitsuru offers an alternative: he’ll be Zero Two’s Stamen. Two asks Hiro if he’s sure he wants her to pilot Strelizia without him; Hiro definitely isn’t happy about it, but insists nevertheless; it’s more important to save the others.

When Ichigo hears Strelizia is sortieing, she loses composure just long enough to allow the Klaxosaurs to break through a barrier and surround them, making the situation a lot worse.

Knowing Hiro might be in there with Zero, kissing, is just too much to bear, and even if she knows she must if she wants to be a parasite and a leader, she can’t control those feelings or how they affect operation of Delphinium.

Strelizia swoops in, and when the other parasites hear Mitsuru’s voice, they’re shocked. Mitsuruimmediately becomes drunk on power, further dragging his partner Ikuno’s name in the mud expressing his amazement at himself and his elation he wasn’t the reason things weren’t working out.

However, when Strelizia returns after Zero Two went “all out”, Mitsuru is barely alive, and Zero Two is unimpressed. As far as she’s concerned, she only has one Darling, and it’s Hiro.

Darling in the FranXX running into problems and having to deal with periods of helplessness or instances of failure, but I do hope Hiro is able to prove himself once again and isn’t useless or a failure. Otherwise, he’s a reverse Gary Stu; an Anti-Inaho.

Some more balance would be nice. It’s confirmed by the adults that no one has fared better than him as Zero Two’s partner. So lets get these two back in a pilot so they can contribute. I’d just like to see a win soon, however small.

Darling in the FranXX – 02

Last week was pretty much Hiro, his rough break-up with Naomi, meeting Zero Two, and taking care of the crisis. This week things slow down a bit as we’re introduced to the rest of the squad where Hiro once again has a home. That includes the squad leader Ichigo, very well-voiced by Ichinose Kana in her first role (and sounding a bit like another, more famous Kana).

Ichigo clearly harbors feelings for Hiro of which he’s clearly unaware, and so she sees Zero Two as an interloper. Setting aside the fact that she swooped in and snatched Hiro practically the moment Naomi peaced out, Ichigo doesn’t want to see him get hurt, and Zero Two seems like the type who will hurt. She barges into the squad’s chow and pours honey over everything like a weirdo.

Hiro is the eleventh of a squad of ten, but Zero Two isn’t the twelfth; her fate is unknown, leaving Hiro with no official partner or FranXX. Ichigo is the unquestioned elite squad leader, but one can tell the redhead Miku maintains a quiet envy for her stature (as demonstrated in the classic locker room scene with fanservice and plug-suit fitting).

Ichigo and Miku are “pistils”, and their “stamens” are the studious Gorou and wild Zorome. Gorou is very friendly with Hiro (and not threatened by Ichigo’s affection for him) and seems like a nice guy, but Zorome is your classic heel/rival character who will likely keep berating and running Hiro down until Hiro does something (not counting last week).

Rounding out the group are the pistil-stamen pairs of Kokoro/Futoshi (the lovey-doveyest) and Ikuno/Mitsuru. When the pairs enter their colorful, distinctive FranXXs, we see that the actual pistil-stamen interface is a little…suggestive, with the girl on all fours while the guy stands behind and “drives.”

Basically, the girl is an interface between the guy and the FranXX; without total synchonicity between partners, the FranXX won’t work properly. Adding to the suggestiveness is the fact that interfacing is very physically taxing and sometimes painful, so that while operating a FranXX, everyone’s breathing heavily and occasionally making weird noises.

After their first official sortie as parasites, the pairs stand down. Zero Two continues to loiter around, invoking the ire of Ichigo, who isn’t afraid to warn Zero to stay away from Hiro. Though Ichigo might wish she hadn’t, as Zero Two gives her a taste. Out in the yard, Zorome wallops Hiro with a football, and the two get into each others faces, forcing Ichigo and Gorou to be the adults in this messed-up family and restore peace.

The thing is, Hiro can understand why Zorome is so dubious of his ability: Hiro himself doesn’t actually remember what happened after entering that cockpit being kissed by Zero Two. He only remembers the feeling, and he wants to get back to it so he can prove to Zorome, Ichigo, the others, and most importantly himself that he can pilot a FranXX.

Well, Hiro promptly gets his Shot, though perhaps not quite under the circumstances he’d hoped for. The brass (led by the mysterious “Papa”) okays a FranXX mock battle to test Hiro, but Zero Two isn’t allowed to partner with him this time.

Even before that was made clear, Ichigo volunteers to partner with him, hoping she can bring out the pilot in Hiro as much as her pink-haired nemesis. Zorome volunteers to be the opponent, and eager for an opportunity to prove her worth against Ichigo, Miku agrees as well.

The second Ichigo got her wish, I knew things were not going to go well, but things start out just fine, with Hiro and Ichigo reaching 100% sync rate and activating her FranXX Delphinium, without any trouble. And then, not ten seconds into the battle, it shuts down again.

Inside the cockpit, Ichigo is on all fours, sweating and heavily breathing as she and Hiro unleash a flurry of double entendres that, taken out of context, sound like dialogue from Girls, a show renowned for its awkward sex scenes:

Ichigo: What’s wrong?
Hiro: I don’t know. It just stopped.
Ichigo: Was it my fault?
Hiro: I don’t think so.
Ichigo: What did she do differently?
Hiro: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Ichigo: Calm down. No need to rush.

Whew. Suffice it to say, as much as she may like Hiro and want to stick it to Zero Two, Ichigo and Hiro simply aren’t a good match in a FranXX.

When Hiro remembers that Zero Two kissed him and everything went “BOOM”, and Ichigo climbs onto Hiro and kisses him as well, it felt as much like a last-ditch effort to get things moving again as Ichigo not wanting Zero Two to have something she doesn’t with Hiro, i.e. a kiss.

That her kiss does absolutely nothing for Hiro only makes things worse. I can’t help but sympathize with both of them; things are not going well at all.

When Zorome starts kicking Delphinium while its down (with Miki and their FranXX Argentea), Ichigo remembers they’re in a fight, and decides to bypass a defeated, powerless, inert Hiro and pilot the FranXX by herself, a very risky maneuver that takes a lot out of her.

The mock battle ends with Hiro having hit a new low, with all hope of ever piloting anything again in grave jeopardy, with Ichigo feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and very much taken down a notch, and Zorome emboldened. Last week was Hiro’s bad breakup and fleeting fling with Z2; this week Ichigo attempted to reassert her bond with Hiro and it went horribly, horribly wrong.

The failure she endured in front of her squad is the kind of thing that might have far-reaching impact on her confidence at precisely the wrong time in her development as one of the defenders of humanity.  Here’s hoping things start to look up for both of them, both personally and professionally.

Classroom of the Elite – 12 (Fin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classroom of the Elite – 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classroom of the Elite – 10

How could a show that started out so fresh, slick, clever, and cerebral feel so stale, dull, dumb now? The first mistake seemed to be taking the classes out of the proverbial classroom and onto an island…then proceeding to do basically nothing for five days.

Horikita conducts recon of Classes A and B, both times having unpleasant encounters with their respective leaders, both of whom are drawn as if they were in their thirties. Fine, I’ll forgive the disappointingly goofy character design—this is Lerche, after all—but I won’t forgive the obvious holes in logic that keep creeping up this week, even if the sexism subsides.

Remember how I said Horikita came into contact with the leaders of Classes A and B? Isn’t there a 50-S-Point bonus to anyone who correctly guesses the leader of another class—an a 50-point  deduction from the leader correctly ID’d? Am I missing something here? Katsuragi and Ryuuen aren’t exactly being subtle in their leaderliness—nor is Horikita herself.

Days 2 thru 4 breeze by without any incident…or any meaningful developments whatsoever, aside from more of Sakura flirting with Ayanokouji (who has never been portrayed as anything other than an unromantic, assexual character, making her flirtation seem like a futile waste of time), a mysterious scene in which a mystery student of unknown gender steals a girl’s bag from the tent, and Sudou suspecting Class C exile Ibuki of some kind of treachery.

I suppose I should look to the episode’s title for guidance, a Kierkegaard quote: “Every man has in himself the most dangerous traitor of all.” I’m no philosophy major, but off the top of my head, this seems to have dual meaning: everyone has the potential for treachery, but no other person is capable of betraying you more than you can betray yourself.

It could also just mean there’s a traitor in Class D’s midst, which Sudo believes is Ibuki, so I gravitated to her as well. Then, on the morning of Day 5, the girls are united in their outrage that Karuizawa’s underwear was stolen in the night. The rest of the episode deals with the investigation of this panty heist. See what I said about feeling a bit dumb and rote?

Despite that feeling, things to sharpen up a bit when Ike finds the panties in his bag. Clearly they were planted there, but by whom? What the heck would Ibuki have to gain by sowing discord, when her own Class spent all their points and headed back to the boat to party?

By the way, I’m happy Class C’s strategy was not immediately dismissed as the wrong one; none of the remaining classes are guaranteed to earn enough points to make all the trouble they’ve been through worth it. It’s almost as if the show is saying “yes, this whole island survival premise is indeed dumb, but only Class C and Koenji decided to reject it.”

Ike gives the panties to Ayano, and Hirata finds them when giving the boys pat-downs at the girls’ demand. But Hirata doesn’t turn in Ayano, because he understands the distinction of Ayano having the panties and Ayano stealing them.

Hirata takes the panties from Ayano, supposedly to protect his classmate, as Karuizawa’s boyfriend is the one the girls suspect the least to have them, but despite the fact it’s (I’m assuming) to prevent further discord from compromising the class, Hirata is betraying himself here, by lying.

And the fact he’s able to be dishonest here makes me start to think that maybe his whole upstanding, “Everybody Loves Hirata” act is merely cover for…more sinister designs.

Classroom of the Elite – 09

“This test is sounding much more complicated and difficult than I thought it would be.” You and me both, Horikita! The details of weeklong survival trip that pits the four classes against each other is indeed are many and complicated; one might even say convoluted, to the point of ungainliness.

Much of this episode simply sets up all of the various rules and ways of spending, scoring, or being deducted points, but it’s a lot to keep track of, and the episode itself doesn’t do the best job of organizing everything in any kind of order. Instead, it lays out some rules, the students mill around in the woods, and then they lay out some more.

There’s also the fact that Class D is made up of twenty students, and yet we don’t really learn or get any kind of impression from any but the ones we already know: Horikita and Ayanokouji, the three bad apples, Hirata and Karuizawa, etc. The rest are kinda just there.

I appreciate the fact that everyone in the class can agree to appoint Horikita as their Leader (a position with both advantages and potential pitfalls requiring both responsibility and discretion).

What I did not appreciate were the incessant sexist allusions to girls being weaker, more delicate, and somehow not as cut out for roughing it as the boys. Out of twenty students, you’d think one or two of the girls would be outdoorsy types like Ike.

On that same subject, what the hell is the deal with the toilet situation? Have these kids not heard of these things called holes that you can dig in the ground to do your business? I realize a lot of these kids are rich and sheltered, but still…

Somehow, some way, the girls manage to survive the first day (/s), and Hirata manages to work out a reasonable number of points the class can walk away happy with: a floor of 120 out of the 300 they start with. As for the ceiling, well, it all depends on how many leaders they can identify, how may “spots” the possess for how long, and how much food and water they can take from nature without spending points on rations.

They also have to be careful not to lose too many points to deductions, and in this, right off the bat they stand to lose 30 points when Kouenji, after doing his Tarzan thing all over the island, craps out on the rest of the class by returning to the boat. I’ve no idea if he’s just out of the game or has some other plan (probably the former), because all he does is strut around saying “beautiful.”

At least with the majority of the test’s rules out of the way, we’ll see more execution next week. But seriously, CotE: dial back the male chauvinism a bit, if you would. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Fate / Zero – 12

“Why do I always sit on my smokes?”

After the Rumble in the Marble, most Servants take a step back and assess the situation. Kiritsugu sits in a dark hotel room and pores over intel as he chats with Maiya on the phone…and that’s about it, really.

“I like the way your tent your fingers. Why don’t you work for me?”

Reports and conversation are the name of the game again, but instead of interacting with Saber and Rider, Archer is stuck with Kirei, trying to connect the dots as part of his larger plan to make him one of his men. Kirei delivers his report on the motivations of the other Masters to Archer, who points out that the one that seems to interest Kirei the most is Matou Kiriya, who also seems to be enduring the most pain and suffering.

“I mean, this isn’t how I would drive, but this is fine too, I guess…”

Pain doesn’t seem to be an issue for Iri, while Saber doesn’t seem to be feeling the lasting effects from her throughout putting-down she endured at the hands of Rider and Archer. But Saber does find it odd that Iri has her drive and perform every other task that requires the use of her hands. When she asks Iri about it, she reveals she’s become extremely physically weak as a result of shutting down her sense of touch (a homonculus ability, apparently).

While she believes she can recover a bit of strength by sitting in the right kind of magical circle, the bottom line is that she’ll be relying on Saber more and more as this War progresses. Saber, obviously, is up to it. I must say I underestimated her mental toughness. That circle is drawn in a storeroom on a Japanese mansion that looks very much like the place where Emiya and Saber live and practice in UBW.

“Feel that sting? That’s pride, fuckin’ with you!”

From there it’s back to Archer gradually wrapping Kirei around his finger, Emporer Palpatine-style. He gets Kirei to pretty much admit that he is actually capable of joy, and even if he’s previously considered such feelings to be a sin, Gilgamesh isn’t a fan of this newfangled puritanical philosophy that generated people like Kirei and Saber. Joy is joy, and leads to happiness.

So Archer gets Kirei to ‘find his bliss’, and Command Seals suddenly reappear on his hand. Archer believes it’s proof the Holy Grail isn’t done with him; indeed it’s almost as if the Holy Grail rejected his previous role as Toosaka’s ally and spy and reinstates him as a full Master. Archer also suggests Kirei go out and steal a new Servant, and not-so-subtly picks up the Archer piece from the chessboard to indicate who he should pick.

While there were some nice character beats, you can really only portray two people sitting around talking for so long from so many angles before it gets a bit tedious. In other words, another cool-down episode on the heels of a solid 10. That leaves one episode left in the first cour.

Fate / Zero – 11

Iris detects the massive mana of Rider heading towards the castle, and Saber suits up for a battle…only for Rider to show up in his t-shirt and pants with a giant barrel of wine. He’s not there to fight, he’s there to drink and talk. A Holy Grail “dialogue”, as he puts it.

Saber has no objection, and drinks from the barrel with Rider. Soon, Archer also arrives, on Rider’s invitation, and after rejecting Rider’s “swill” opens a portal to his treasury to draw out…a golden jug and three golden cups.

This would be absurd if it wasn’t also frikking brilliant, for Iskandar and Gilgamesh share one thing in common: they are hedonistic tyrants of yore.

Gilgamesh is such a tyrant he considers all treasures in the world to be his, since they all sprang from his treasury—a treasury so vast he isn’t even aware of all it contained.

Iskandar wants to be reincarnated as a flesh-and-blood man to take up his world conquest anew. Saber…wants to save Britain, in part by erasing all of the perceived mistakes she made in life as king. She wants a redo.

Archer laughs in her face at the fact she harbors regret for the deeds in her life, and Rider can’t help but agree. As far as they’re concerned, it’s the duty of the nation and its people to serve and sacrifice for their ruler, not the other way ’round as Saber would have it.

By insisting upon being a “slave to what’s right”, Saber might be able to save Britain, but she can never lead it, and so Rider ceases to see Saber as a real king.

Kingship, to him, has always been a wondrous gift, and throughout his rule he lived and fought as grandly and greedily as possible, living life to the extremes of both good and bad, that he might inspire men to fight and die for him. When Assassins surround them (a test by Kirei and Tokiomi), Rider transports everyone into a Reality Marble.

There, in the vast desert sands, Iskandar’s endless armies march, and when he mounts his trusty horse and orders them to advance, the Assassins are quickly routed. Saber, Iri and Waver can only sit and watch in stunned awe, while Archer does his best to look unimpressed. It’s the biggest spectacle since the port battle, and it is well and truly momentous.

When the battle is over and everyone’s back in the courtyard, Rider takes one more drink, then takes his leave, which is just as well, as I don’t think anyone’s ideals could have been shat on as thoroughly and mercilessly as Saber’s (If I didn’t know better, I’d say Rider was a cruel drunk). Archer remains to mock Saber, urging her to go ahead and continue believing in her ‘backwards’ philosophy so he can laugh at her some more.

Their words cut as deeply as any blade, as Saber remembers one of her Knights of the Round Table stepping down because he didn’t think Arthur understood his people…and Rider and Archer’s words only served to reinforce her growing crisis of confidence.

But while it doesn’t end well for Saber, like at all, it was fantastic to see three Servant Kings simply sitting in a courtyard, drinking wine, and shooting the breeze…and for Rider to show that he can back up all his big talk, and then some.

Made in Abyss – 04

Remember Snape going on about ‘bottling fame’ or ‘brewing’ glory? I kept coming back to how Made in Abyss seems able to effortlessly bottle…AWE. It’s masterful in unveiling Riko and Reg’s new surroundings. 

First we get a tight shot of Riko waking up…in a mad web of protective Reg arm cable! Then we pull waaaay back to a superwide shot of the First Layer: The Edge of the Abyss. It’s like pure, uncut, Bottled Awe.

After Riko’s terrible-looking but delicious fish stew (good to see them not relying on packed food), they face their first foe: a giant silkfang from whose nest they narrowly escape from, thanks to Reg’s ridiculously handy arms, which are also making their climb much easier. Let’s call it a Level 1 fiend…and they didn’t defeat it, they just got away.

They’re also trying to keep from getting caught by Leader or any search parties who may be pursuing them. After receiving hand-drawn copies of Lyza’s Abyss notes, with a red note indicating he’s coming for them at dawn, Riko concludes escaping Leader is the “final lesson” they must overcome to prove they have what it takes.

The next massive swig of primo Bottled Awe comes in the form of a Castle in the Sky-style reveal of the abandoned ancient windmills and endless greenery of Layer Two: The Forest of Temptation. It’s like watching an awesome game where the deeper you descend, the crazier things start to look and feel.

But eventually one of their “pursuers” catches up, only to not be trying to catch them at all. The Black Whistle Habo came when Sigy and Nat told him to help Riko get to the Seeker Camp and Second Layer, and in exchange he could see Reg, a genuine treasure of the Netherworld, in the rubbery flesh.

When Riko politely declines his offer, citing Leader’s final lesson, he takes her and Reg into his arms, perhaps to embrace the girl he’s known her whole life, and watched, and known that the day would come when she’d run off after, and like, her mother. He also warns her about the White Whistle “Ozen the Immovable” at the Seeker Camp.

After some more descending, we can take one more swig of dramatically unveiling vistas as they arrive at the Abyss’ Second Layer – The Forest of Temptation (not to be confused with the Forest of Illusion, though the vibe is similar).

Gazing at the environs sprawling out before him, Reg can’t help but wonder if he and Riko actually “escaped” their pursuers, or if they’ve come to a place where other things will pursue them. For this is no longer the territory of man, it’s The Abyss proper, from which all things sprang, and where all things eventually return. I’m drunk on awe now.

Made in Abyss – 03

I’ll just come out and say it: three episodes in, and of all the anime we’ve watched this Summer at RABUJOI, Made in Abyss is the best. It effortlessly grounds a fantastical world (primed to become more wondrous still) with deeply human characterization, in particular the bottomless (no pun intended) curiosity and stubbornness of kids.

Riko’s friend of many years Nat is against her going down the Abyss. He stays against it for the entire episode, right up to the moment she actually descends. He doesn’t change his mind. He’s worried she won’t come back. He’s angry she won’t listen to him when he’s trying to keep her safe. And he’s scared of being alone after she leaves.

Nat’s objections aside, Riko still plans to go first thing tomorrow. And after his very first cave-raiding, Reg decides he’ll accompany her, now that he knows the curse doesn’t affect him (at least not as bad as humans). Riko needs to find her mom. Reg wants to find out what he is and why he was made, and what he was meant for.

Against these lures, Nat doesn’t have a chance, even after Siggy unfurls a gorgeous map of the Abyss and describes all of the exotic hazards and trials that await Riko and Reg (while the Abyss’ equally gorgeous xylophone leitmotif plays). Even though Sigy is merely describing the levels while pointing to illustrations on the map, the limitless grandeur and wonder of the Abyss comes through crystal clear.

Nat finally goes to far trying to dissuade Riko by telling her the most likely possibility is that her mother died long ago, and there’s nothing for her down there. It’s a horribly mean thing to say, and Riko runs off, but Nat immediately regrets hurting his friend.

Sigy and Reg get it, and neither of them want Riko and Nat to part ways without making up. So when dawn breaks, Sigy enlists the help of none other than Nat to lead them to the rarely-used entrance to the netherworld in the slums where he grew up collecting rags before he was admitted to the orphanage. He says he’s sorry and Riko immediately forgives him.

The slums become denser, darker, and dingier, until they finally reach a rickety wooden platform extending over the Abyss. Below them is only inky blackness. It might as well be the end of the world. It is, quite simply, terrifying.

But it’s also tremendously exciting, with a momentous, THIS IS IT kind of vibe. After a thoroughly tearful farewell to Nat and Sigy, the 12-year-old Riko, possibly braver than I could ever be, grabs hold of Reg; he lowers them into the void, and they’re gone, just like that.

How long will that darker-than-darkness last? How accurate is that map? What wonders—or horrors—will await them down there? I won’t speculate—I’ll just keep watching.

Drifters – 05

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This was a particularly shitty episode of Drifters – and I say that not due to a lack of quality (it remains consistently average most of the time), but due to the sheer amount of excrement used as a weapon against the Orte soldiers in the Elven Rebellion. The three samurai help the Elves train for the battle, then Toyohisa leads the fight, which is waged with arrows and blades covered in crap, and a well full of crap so wounds can’t be washed.

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In this regard, Nobunaga shows just how ruthless he can be, employing the very natural processes of life and death to his advantage, and rightfully expecting the Orte troops to crumble once they see the tactics being used against them.

However, Nobunaga also knows that Yoichi isn’t the biggest fan of such “dirty tricks”, nor that Toyohisa knows how to do anything other than compel others to fight and then fight himself. He proposes the storming of the lord’s castle, but it’s up to Nobunaga to formulate a plan to do so.

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The castle-storming (involving the elves disguised as troops returning…the Orte don’t seem that bright) leads us to a discovery that makes the enemy even more baldly despicable: not only did Orte abduct all of the female elves, but soldiers have been free to have their way with them in a filthy, hellish nightmare setting that make Toyohisa change his mind about accepting anyone’s surrender. If they’re going to act like beasts, he’s going to slaughter them like beasts.

The three amigos made some progress, but we may be starting to see cracks appearing between them even as their quest to conquer everything in sight is just beginning. And while this episode wasn’t marred by any other Drifters or Ends, showing us the dirty, smelly side of war was ultimately more gross than engrossing.

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