Fate / Zero – 23

Before their epic duel, Rider and Archer have a drink together and exchange words of respect. Waver quips that they’re friends, and Rider doesn’t argue with the label: how can he be unfriendly with the one who could be the last person he’ll ever see?

Rider doesn’t mess around with anything other than the best he’s got, and whips out Ionian Hetairoi. Archer looks pleased to be facing such a strong and worthy foe, but he also doesn’t look worried in the least.

While the ancient kings’ battle takes place on the vast expanse of sand, Saber ends up fighting Berserker in a relatively cramped underground parking lot. Berserker seems to feed off of Kariya’s suffering and regret, as Sakura shows up in his head, and while reassuring her they’ll all be together again, Sakura inadvertently reminds Kariya that “they” no longer includes her mom.

Berserker’s penchant for ‘turning’ weapons for his use continues when he makes use of some automatic weapons; Saber can barely get near him, and when she does, her sword bounces off his armor, or the blade merely caught in mid-strike by Berserker’s palms.

Once he does that, Saber gets into her head that he reminds her of some knight she once knew, and on cue Berserker’s Pigpen-like cloud of miasma dissipates and he removes his helm to reveal he IS someone she knew…or rather he WAS. That someone is none other than Sir Lancelot, the greatest of the Knights of the Round Table.

That Saber has no idea it was him until now, and has no idea how he came to be this way after they parted ways, gets to the heart of that seed of doubt planted by Rider about her reckless self-destructive path to kingship, which he didn’t see as kingship at all. Lance would seem to be proof of that, and I can’t imagine Saber wants to fight him, except perhaps to put him out of his misery.

Back in the desert, Gilgamesh reveals the reason he’s so calm with a massive legendary army descending on him: his own, thus-far-unused Noble Phantasm, Ea. As soon as he unlocks and activates Enuma Elish (an extremely strange and cool sequence, as befits Gilgamesh), the dunes begin to collapse, the legions plummet to their demise, and the very sky shatters along with the Reality Marble.

His trump card utterly defeated, Rider has no course but to charge Archer on his own. Even after his horse goes down, he runs at him on foot, getting impaled several times, before being restrained by great chains, his blade inches from Gil’s face. Before he fades away, Iskandar wonders if the lapping waves of Oceanus, the Ocean at the End of the World, was actually merely the dancing of his own heart.

It’s a legendary ending for a truly legendary Servant with whom there was never a dull moment. He was simply outmatched here. And to his credit, Archer is not cruel in his treatment of Waver. On the contrary, when he asks if as his sworn retainer, Waver should not avenge his fallen king, and Waver replies that he was ordered to survive, Gilgamesh salutes his “splendid loyalty” and spares his life, urging him to never let that loyalty tarnish.

Time for Waver to go home; he got far further in the Holy Grail War than most would expect a mage from a “lesser” family to get. While this fight is over and Rider is gone, the stage is set—literally, Iri’s body is on a stage—for the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei. Will their fight be as bold and flashy as Archer and Rider’s, or Saber and Berserker’s below them? Perhaps not, but it should still be…theatrical.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 47

This is an episode of small consolations and comforts before the apparent End of Everything arrives in the form of a Gjallarhorn mop-up crew (including but mercifully not led by Iok). The Mars branch of Gjallarhorn won’t join forces with McGillis and Orga, but they will overlook their arrival and claim ignorance as to their whereabouts. Like so much that happens, it just isn’t enough.

Mikazuki, perhaps sensing the end of Tekkadan as they know it, literally stops to smell the flowers at Sakura Farm. Once all the news outlets start proclaiming Tekkadan as a brutal criminal organization led by the rogue McGillis, who Iznario now claims was never his legitimate child or heir, even Biscuit’s twin sisters get ostracized at school.

Acknowledging that his promises of a better life came to nothing, and that with Tekkadan’s assets frozen, he can’t even pay his people well, or at all, Orga has an all-hands, and says anyone who wants to leave won’t be stopped, nor will less be thought of them. Obviously, Voice of Reason Zack is the first to volunteer to split.

He certainly wants to save his own skin, but we see how it pains him to no end that hardly anyone else has the same good sense to know that the end has already arrived, and there’s nothing to “give up.”

Of course, Zack still can’t understand that so many Tekkadan members like Dane don’t have the life fallbacks he enjoys. Dane is a murderer; Tekkadan was the only organization that let him in.

Kudelia calls her odd but sweet triangle with Mika and Atra “awkward”, and she’s not wrong, especially when Atra, who has already tried to conceive with Mika (off-camera, natch) and is waiting to see “if it went well”, enthusiastically asks her to have a baby with Mika as well.

She has to settle for another group hug, the first, and possibly last one in a long time, and Kudelia’s promise that she’ll protect them: Mika, Atra, and the baby, with everything she’s got.

Orga, who has reverted back to old All On Me Mode, calls McMurdo to beg him to put him in touch with Rustal so he can beg him to spare his men in exchange for his life. But Rustal has all the cards and needs a scapegoat to raise Gjallarhorn back up into a place of legitimacy. Orga alone won’t be enough, no matter how awfully they kill him.

After the pathetic call that gets him nowhere, Eugene tries to shake some more sense out of him, and glimmers of hope start to appear towards the end of the episode, as Dexter and Merribit are able to scounge up a fifth of Tekkadan’s funds from secret unfrozen accounts. Kudelia adds to the hope by suggesting everyone in Tekkadan simply take on new identities, evacuate to Earth, and live on, leaving Mars behind but saving their lives.

But all of those little glimmers are quickly stomped on by the arrival of the Gjallarhorn task force, which surrounds Tekkadan HQ. All communications in and out of HQ are cut off, including, presumably, what’s left of their cash. Just like that, a jumping-off point for a future of peace becomes a siege that could consume everyone. At best, many more members of Tekkadan will die if anyone is to escape.

But hey…at least Macky has Bael, right?

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 46

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Once Shino’s suit blows up, there’s not enough time for Mika to take over the task of destroying Rustal’s bridge (nor is he assured to succeed). Besides, Mika is still busy with a very pesky Julieta. When Shino dies, we see a switch go off in Mika’s head: no more messing around with this relative amateur: Get out of my way.

After that, Julieta is lucky to escape with her life and limbs. But even when her suit is impaled, she still grabs on to Mika. Every moment he must fight her is a victory for her, especially considering she’s merely a human pilot, albeit a talented one; she hasn’t sold her soul to any technological devils. Julieta may be on the wrong side, but I still admire the hell out of her.

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Gaelio, who is tired to no end of McGillis’ bullshit, is determined to kill his former friend and commmander, a man who once inspired him. And to his credit, he seems to be doing quite well in his duel, even mocking McGillis for being so arrogant about piloting a suit with the soul of G-horn’s founder. And to the duel’s credit, it’s another brutal, beam-weapon-less smash-fest.

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In a crucial moment, the hand Almiria stabbed fails Macky, and Gaelio almost gets him, if it weren’t for somebody Gaelio sees his past self in: Isurugi. Someone hypnotised by the BS and whose head is filled with dreams that will never coalesce, but which will end only in his ruin.

Gaelio isn’t wrong about what happens: Isurugi’s last-ditch defense of his commander claims his life. But Isurugi wasn’t from a great family; he was colonist and a commoner, and being with McGillis allowed him to dream big, so big that he didn’t even need to be around to see those dreams fulfilled, as long as he was useful to McGillis.

It’s not a one-sided thing to him, in which Macky takes and the world makes. McGillis gave hope to the hopeless, and they gave him their lives.

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IBO has always had exciting battles, but it’s often the aftermaths of those battles that I’m more invested in, and that’s the case here. The “final battle” wasn’t final and wasn’t a battle so much as a rout, in which McGillis’ shorthanded fleet poked the bear and got mauled.

But Tekkadan isn’t just a military organization like G-horn, they’re a family, and to see Shino and others buy it not for final victory, but just so the rest of the family can live to fight another day (which they were hoping not to do) is particularly despairing.

There’s a great moment when Derma is wishing he had died alongside his friend, rather than losing an arm and becoming less useful as a weapon. Akihiro puts his hand on his head and simply thanks him for surviving. Aki doesn’t care about his adoptive brother’s future effectiveness as a weapon. He cares about being able to talk to him.

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Shaking off the loss of his most loyal lieutenant, it’s full-speed ahead to Mars for McGillis, who has the awkward task of having to call Orga and Eugene to his ship to talk about what happens next, even though the battle they just fought was supposed to be the final one.

At this particular juncture, McGillis believes, or at least gives the impression that he believes, Tekkadan will weather these setbacks and terrible odds as they always have, better than the group’s actual leaders. Orga likely never considered that whatever loses they sustained in the battle with Rustal would only be the beginning; that all those losses gave them was time.

The significance McGillis places on “flying over Mars” and fighting on “home ground” in the next leg of the battle couldn’t feel more hollow, because there wasn’t supposed to be a next leg.

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I loved the scene where Akihiro comforted Derma, but I loved the scene with a recovering Julieta and Gaelio even more. The second he appears, the playful adversity picks right back up, with her wondering what took him so long to visit her after she woke up.

In some Gundams, no doubt this would be a scene in which the injured pilot double down and decides that, like Gaelio, there’s no price she won’t pay, nothing she wouldn’t give up, to become stronger; strong enough to beat Mika. Julieta doesn’t go there.

Having faced off against the terrifying, inhuman might of Mikazuki, she’s decided that’s not her path. Even if she didn’t see the malice in Mika’s real face, his Barbatos’ “expression” mirrored his own. Julieta will become stronger as a human, as herself. No shortcuts.

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Having come back from that deeply unpleasant meeting with McGillis, Orga inspects a room full of body bags filled with comrades for whom he promised a warm place to live and make money without bloodshed. Yamagi, still reeling from the loss of Shino, expresses his resentment for what he sees as cowardly whining by Orga.

When Eugene tracks Yamagi down, he thanks him for tellking Orga what he couldn’t say. Then he tells Yamagi about a time Shino pondered whether Yamagi liked him, and expressed his gratitude that their family is full of so many different types of guys, including a guy who’d love someone like him.

Yamagi knows Shino wouldn’t want him to worry about having not died with him, but to live on, fight on, and make him proud. Just as Isurugi gave his life for a dream he’ll never see, so did Shino, and both went out perfectly fine with that arrangement. No one cursed their lot in life, because they were the lives they chose.

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We end with another excellent Orga-and-Mika scene, in which Orga admits all the lies and big talk he told everyone about money and status and one last battle. Mika, true to his Mika-ness, tells him if there’s someone to blame, it’s him. Orga only “lied” because Mika couldn’t wipe everyone out. His failure to do so only steels him to want to correct that failure in the battles to come.

Orga seems to get it, finally: he’s never had to bear the entire weight of the decisions that have led to their current situation, because they were never his and his alone. They were also Mika’s, and Eugene’s, and Akihiro’s, and everyone else’s, because Orga isn’t a dictator. The things they’ve done are things everyone more or less agreed to or went along with.

On the one hand, most of Tekkadan can’t easily walk away, like Zack could (but likely won’t). But the responsibility lies with everyone. Orga’s most important job is to not have doubts, and as Macky sends Tekkadan and what’s left of his fleet into a Martian trap, a absolute lack of doubt is vital to just keep going.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 45

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The calm is over; the storm is here, and it’s going to be a bad one. IBO wastes no time plunging us into this, what everyone is calling The Final Battle. As there are still five episodes left, I didn’t think the battle would only last an episode, and so it didn’t. But a great deal of damage was done to the good guys, and though key pieces still on the board mean they can still turn things around, they have lost and will lost a lot to do so.

Rustal Elion shows what a ruthless sonofabitch he can be, quickly splitting McGillis’ fleet and focusing on the rebels and Tekkadan, confident if he takes them out the Regulatory fleet will go over to him. He even has a mole among the rebels, who fires a Dainsleif at Rustal’s fleet, making it legal to return fire with the same weapon, only a hundred fold.

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The results are devastating as round after round pierces allied ships. Even Shino takes a big hit, but manages to get back to base, where Yamagi fixes his broken arm, and Yamagi reveals (to us, not Shino) his feelings for him. This…seemed a bit rushed, frankly.

Shino’s great, but from the way he fights I kinda always knew what end he was headed for. Adding this extra wrinkle out of nowhere as incentive to want him to avoid a violent fate doesn’t harm my like of the character, but doesn’t elevate it; it’s just there.

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McGillis tries to dazzle the stage after over half his forces are destroyed (along with Tekkadan’s Hotarubi) but I couldn’t help but think how similar Macky’s posturing felt to Carta’s empty pageantry, which is worth less than nothing if the enemy doesn’t fight with honor, as Rustal certainly doesn’t. He’s playing to win, as well as for survival.

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Even the look in McGillis’ face—a truly “Oh Shit” moment when Rustal looses another massive volley of Dainsleifs—seemed Carta-like in a sort of entitled Things aren’t supposed to go this way! outrage. Bael looks like a shining knight on this stage, but there’s increasingly little he can do to stop the crumbling equipment and spirits that surround him.

Meanwhile, Tekkadan’s only hope is to use one of their crippled ships as a shield in a last-ditch effort to get Shino close enough to Rustal’s bridge to take him out with his “Super Galaxy Cannon.”

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…It doesn’t work. Once more, a potentially huge pressure-releasing moment is denied the audience, just as Naze and Amida were denied their final revenge. In a way, repeating this pattern is a strategy of diminishing returns.

With Julieta somehow holding her own against Mika (which seems dubious) and Gaelio lurking around Macky and Isurugi, Orga down to one beat-up ship, and nowhere left to run, our iron-blooded orphans are in the direst of straits yet.

With Barbaros and Bael still on the board, it’s not quite time to throw in the towel. But will these two namesakes of the franchise possibly be enough to grab victory from the jaws of defeat, and how many more familiar faces won’t live to see it?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 44

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While it certainly seemed like the start of the “final battle” between McGillis/Tekkadan and Rustal was eminent, that start is pushed back to next week, leaving us with the CBTS to end all CBTS episodes. Turns out piloting Bael isn’t enough for the other families to side with McGillis; the best he gets is their neutrality.

I guess they figure not actively helping someone Rustal has publicly labeled a traitor and murderer may help them down the line, if Rustal is able to defeat him. I’m not sure why one of the family heads is an alien, but between him and the fat one I’m not sure Macky would have gained much by having them on his side anyway.

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Another “loose end” is Almiria, who hears Rustal’s speech and assumes, not wrongly, that she’s been a pawn in this all along. When she can’t force herself to do what she believes is her duty—kill Macky for killing her brother—she turns the blade on herself, only for Macky to stop the thrust with his hand.

Telling her he will fulfill his promise to make her happy, one day, is all well and good, but her head is swimming with so many complex emotions (and she’s just a kid besides), she concludes that Macky is simply going crazy here, and so is she.

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As for Orga, he is not pleased McGillis could not secure a larger fleet to fight Arianrhod. When they meet face to face he makes sure to slug Macky for so blithely bringing up the casualties that will surely result from being outnumbered 2-to-1.

Orga wasn’t expecting to have to sacrifice so many members of his family to gain the Martian crown, and it’s because he fell into a pattern of accepting McGillis’ constant reassurances without question.

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From there, everyone starts taking stock. Merribit and Dexter feel helpless for not being able to fight beside the fighters, but will stand beside them anyway. Zack wonders out loud whether fighting the battle really is the only option.  Gaelio tells Julieta she’s becoming stronger “the right way”, perhaps insinuating he didn’t by relying on taboo measures.

Kudelia tells Atra over the space phone that she finally realizes the contradiction of working to eliminate strife from Tekkadan’s future, even though they wouldn’t be the tight-knit family they are without past strife.

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But because Kudelia is back on Mars, it falls to Atra to be there for Mika, so that’s what she does, and in one of the most tender scenes Mika has ever been involved in, when Atra bursts into tears from his tough talk, he hugs her and won’t let go. He’s only known battle in his life, whether it was his choice to fight or someone else’s. Now he’ll fight so Atra, who he admits is precious to him, won’t have to cry anymore.

The show can’t wriggle out of giving us a battle next week, so however many episodes it lasts, what form will it take? Will it be the beginning of Tekkadan’s future, or will Rustal see to it that future is snuffed out in the flames McGillis’ childish delusions of super-heroism?  There are sure to be casualties, big ones, but who? We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 43

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When the stage is set at the end of this stage-setting episode, Rustal calls McGillis “just a child who can’t grow up,” referring to his obsession with shining monolithic superheroes who can bring righteous light to the world.

Rustal is probably right. McGillis can’t grow up. He’s been portrayed as the upstart kid at the adult’s table; an iron-blooded orphan who suffered just as much trauma as the kids of Tekkadan. Learning that Iznario Fareed was a pedophile who collected blonde boys paints Macky’s past even blacker.

To say he grew up far too fast ignores the fact that the ordeals he had to endure didn’t embue him with all the subtle qualities required for proper development. They only taught him the absolutes of weakness and strength; the only subtleties being in the various forms of power.

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With Mika assisting in capturing Gjallarhorn headquarters, McGillis believes he has finally achieved his goal of resurrecting the hero that propelled him, Agnika Kaieru, the tool that will cleanse a dirty system. He renames his rebuilt Bael Agnika Kaieru to commemorate his imminent victory.

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Vidar turns back into Gaelio Bauduin this week, after spending much time correctly ascertaining McGillis’ true goal. For the time they grew up as friends and brothers, Gaelio thought he already knew the McGillis behind “the mask” (not his physical one), until Gaelio betrayed him and Carta.

Now that he knows what McGillis wants, he’s going to stand in the way, not just for his Gjallarhorn, but his family. And he’s come in a Gundamn frame imbued with an faux-A-V system and Ein Dalton’s brain.

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The results are pretty impressive, as Gaelio is able to keep up with Mika and keep him guessing, even getting him to quietly admit “this dude is big trouble.” It certainly looks like McGillis has been outmaneuvered here, with Rustal’s dog able to fight on the same level as his dog, possibly necessitating his own personal involvement in the fight earlier than he’d like.

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But as it turns out, everything seems to be going the way McGillis had hoped, and he’s more than ready to join the fray immediately. Gaelio/Ein is merely giving him the opportunity to test his research. They are an obstacle he will swat away, and with Tekkadan’s help, complete his conquest of Gjallarhorn.

Mika, Orga, and Tekkadan are all counting on this shirtless, suddenly slightly unhinged-looking McGillis for all their fortunes. They cast their lot with him long ago and it’s far too late to back out, even if they wanted to. Now we’ll see if he’s actually on to something, or if Rustal is right and he’s just a kid who can’t grow up.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 42

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I may have railed a lot against Jasley as a villain, but in exchange for putting up with him, I got to behold one of the most visceral IBO battles yet, so good in part because there’s no foreplay and no dawdling. All our Tekkadan boys are stone-faced and businesslike in their hugely satisfying, meticulous taking-down of Jasley’s larger fleet. We start in the middle, when things are already going badly for ol’ Jazzers, but he still holds out hope Iok will come to bail him out (he won’t).

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Hush gets to do some stuff in a new suit, and I kinda liked while he held his own, he wasn’t out there dominating or anything. He also got to crack a smile. When he and Shino return to the ship to refuel, reload, I also appreciated the scenes of out-of-breath pilots taking a breather and grabbing a quick bite and drink while they can.

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Also fun is the fact that from the very start of the episode, the Jasley we’re shown seems…different. He may have the bigger fleet, but they’re all unreliable mercs, and he somehow looks smaller and more vulnerable on his paisley-lined bridge, swapping his pimp duds for the same spacesuit as everyone else.

As things go worse and worse for him and his defensive line begins to crumble, he keeps yelling mostly to himself about how none of this makes any sense: he’s a good earner, he deserves the top spot he’s trying to take from McMurdo. He’s simply unprepared for the intense level of resolve the foes he so easily made are carrying with them. He’s literally kicked a hornet’s nest.

He sends out human debris pilots, in hopes they’ll be a match for Tekkadan. Zack asks if it’s really okay with Chad and Dante to be fighting…their ‘own kind’. Chad get one of the better lines in an episode full of them: “Our standings and backgrounds don’t matter. Everyone with a weapon is equal. We just crush them.”

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All hope of the cavalry arriving is lost when Jasley contacts McMurdo to try to work something out, to get him to call off his Tekkadan dogs. But McMurdo turns out to be a lot less old and out of touch than we might’ve thought last week when Jasley was able to undermine him so easily.

No, Iok isn’t coming; McMurdo had a talk with Rustal, who is keeping Iok in check and ignoring Teiwaz affairs in exchange for Teiwaz forgetting about the Iok’s attack on Turbines. And since Tekkadan isn’t part of Teiwaz anymore, the only person Jasley has to sort out his problems is…Jasley. It’s a great little phone call…so devastating.

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Does he jump in his souped-up mobile suit and take the fight to Tekkadan? No; when Tekkadan is close enough to start taking potshots at his flagship, he calls Orga to surrender. I guess Orga could work out a pretty sweet deal with Jasley, but it’s clear Orga just wants to watch him beg, and isn’t even that entertained by it.

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With that, he sends in Mika, who asks Orga what to do, standing over Jasley’s bridge with his weapon drawn. Orga says crush ’em; Mika crushes them, and that’s that. With Jasley gone, and Naze, Amida, Lafter, and all the others he killed avenged, Orga breathes a deep sigh of relief.

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Everyone agrees that while the departed probably aren’t too happy with what they did (and what they had to give up to do it), they still did the right thing. Now Tekkadan can truly move forward towards kingship of Mars. And they don’t need Teiwaz anymore.

Instead, they’ll be joining the Gjallarhorn revolution that announces its existence not long after Tekkadan finishes things with Jasley. McGillis has rightly pinned the blame for the SAU-Arbaru conflict with Rustal, and now that Teiwaz and Rustal seem to have an understanding, it’s possible Tekkadan might fight against Teiwaz in the future. And now that Tek’s cut ties with Admoss as well, Kudelia finds herself on the outside looking in.

But for now, they have a powerful ally who shares their ideals, and will fight beside him as he roots out the rot of corruption that has plagued Gjallarhorn too long. Orga and McGillis’ original deal still stands. In hindsight, Jasley never really had a chance to disrupt it.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 41

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A funeral service was a given in the aftermath of the battle between Kujan (via Jasley) and the Turbines, resulting in the sacrifice of Naze and Amida. Jasley showing up in his usual pimp outfit to essentially gloat about his rival’s death?

That’s entering a whole new level of scumbaggery, and Jasley doesn’t stop escalating, intent as he is on getting Tekkadan to strike first so he can put them down, along with their last Teiwaz patron, McMurdo.

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But first, Lafter has a choice: McMurdo follows through with putting Naze’s all-female crew under his protection, but it looks like whatever role Lafter will play, it won’t involve a mobile suit. Azee tells her what Amida said about finding someone all her own whom she loves (Akihiro) and how she wanted Lafter to be happy, even if it meant “leaving the nest”.

In one of the better scenes of the series, we finally get Akihiro and Lafter sharing a drink, and finding out just how much in common they both have, having begun life in the darkness but being given second chances at freedom and self-determination. Naze and Amida were Lafter’s saviors; Orga and Tekkadan were Akihiro’s.

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But ultimately the Turbines are Lafter’s family, and as much sense as it would make to go with Akihiro, her place is with that family, so she gives Akihiro a big hug and the two part ways, hopeful they’ll cross paths sometime in the future.

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Last week, Lafter and Azee were “spared” from being among the casualties of Kujan’s completely illegal operation (which Rustal seems to chastise him for this week, if not condemn). Turns out the show was merely saving them for more torture in the very next episode.

When neither the operation nor his attempts to provoke Orga work, Jasley has one of his thugs gun Lafter down while she’s looking at teddy bears. I’m not saying IBO is often the subtlest of shows, but the emotional manipulation here was jacked up to 11.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m heartbroken and furious Lafter’s dead, but she was murdered on the orders of a one-dimensional character in a telegraphed and mawkish manner that bordered on silly. She deserved far better, more significant death. Of course, that’s probably the whole point.

At least Kujan can be somewhat excused for being a rich spoiled brat with delusions of grandeur that are too often affirmed; Jasley is just So Very Evil it’s a bit boring. Of course we want our girls and boys to avenge her by any means necessary, but IBO succeeds best when its antagonists are complex, not foregone conclusions.

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Take McGillis, who throughout these forty-one episodes has always seemed like he’s hiding something from someone. We’ve come to trust him more and more as Orga has, and to see him reaffirm his dedication to backing Tekkadan up after devastated Orga tells him they’re probably going to have to go to war with Teiwaz, it was both reassuring and added to the overall tension. He’s relying on Tekkadan as much as they on him now. Their victories are his victories, and vice-versa.

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Mika was more silent than usual last week, limiting his interaction with Orga to a couple of his classic “looks”. This week, while watching some Turbine babies while their moms attend Naze’s funeral, Mika spends some time with little ones, and the topic comes up with Atra, resulting in Mika stating without equivocation (or embarrassment) that if she’ll have him, he wouldn’t mind making a little scamp with her.

That’s all well and good, apparently, because Mika doesn’t think like Orga or McGillis. He doesn’t allow himself to feel the doubt they feel. It’s not a matter of “will I be able to be useful to Orga” to Mika, but “how far should I go?” Orga answers in a way Mika seems to appreciate: “all the way.”

Now, hopefully, we can look forward to some righteous vengeance being carried out on behalf of Naze, Amida, Lafter, and all the others whose lives Jasley, Iok, and their ilk have devastated. But it won’t change the fact that the damage is done, and there will be a steep cost for revenge as well.

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Kuromukuro – 17

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Ken and Yukina were actually able to witness Muetta’s fall on a video feed, so when all geoframe pilots are on standby, Ken is understandably anxious and unwilling to sit around doing nothing.

He doesn’t sympathize with the Efidolg, he just wants his beloved princess back. He wants her on their side. They simply have to channel his energy into something productive.

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The commander lets Ken and Yukina take the Kuromukuro out, and Yukina using its newfound recon toys to find…a bear, along with her commenting on how a walk by the river could be fun, keep things light and breezy.

It’s easy to forget how stressful a situation Yukina is in: co-piloting a giant alien mecha with a samurai whose lost princess looks just like her. You gotta keep your wits about you somehow; Yukina does it with wit.

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The leader of the Efidolgs sends Yorba down to retrieve their two agents, and he comes down in style, in the “Bluebird”, a huge flying geoframe with a dragon’s form, slicing through Earth fighters like they were warm butter and deflecting their missles.

This show has always done a good job showing how implacable Efidolg technology is…if only the people wielding it had the discipline to match.

(Also good? Never going too far up the chain of command, at least on the Earth side. I’m sure there are conference rooms full of suits determining our characters’ fates – I just don’t need to see them. The show seems to get that.)

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I can’t help but love an episode in which Ken and Yukina have to stop trudging in the river looking for Yukihime so they can stop an immense USAF C-5 Galaxy transport from crashing into the damn lab.

I also appreciate the valorous portrayal of the Air Force transport pilots, who complete their mission even though their bird is on fire and going down. We didn’t see the faces of the fighter pilots Yorba slaughtered, but thankfully we get to see the faces of some luckier ones, who survive thanks to the Kuromukuro.

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Getting back to Efidolg arrogance and suspicion being their undoing, Yorba isn’t satisfied with simply picking up Mirasa, though to his credit, he doesn’t buy her lame story about Muetta dying for a second. It’s almost as if Mirasa is lying for the first time, and it’s not her forte.

I’m not convinced Yorba is as concerned with avenging Muetta as he claims, but I’m willing to bet that’s as good an excuse as any to pick a fight with the black glongur that’s been giving his fellow Efidolg so much trouble. So rather than return to base with crucial information, he satisfies his desire for a real fight.

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He gets one, but at first, he tosses the Kuromukuro up above the stormclouds like a cat flicking a toy in the air, bashes at it while it falls then flicks it back up before it falls too far. It’s a battle Ken and Yukina can’t win without the power of flight…so it’s fortuitous that they gain that power, thanks to Mr. Ogre, who it turns out has a flying geoframe of his own.

Once the odds are evened, Ken gives Yorba a run for his money, until Yorba exercises the better part of valor. Back to the mothership he goes, a Mirasa richer but Muetta-free.

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As for the winged benefactor, he asks Ken to consider whether he’s been wrong all along about the “ogres” destroying the Washiba, then releases them at a safe altitude, convinced he’s not quite ready to hear the whole truth.

And Yukina? She hears a bit of her father in the Ogre’s voice, because let’s face it, he probably is her father. It’s as if he’s Darth Vader, only he’s been helping his kid all along, instead of waiting until the bitter end to do so.

But as he said, more answers will have to wait until a future encounter between them. Until then, after such a harrowing battle, I’d say Yukina and Ken have earned another break.

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Kuromukuro – 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 25 (Fin)

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This was an episode full of tying up loose ends, the most important of which being Subaru presenting himself before Emilia a better and more useful man than the last time he saw her. He even gets to be a badass action hero! But as a loose-ends episode, it works very nicely, even if it’s not perfect, and leaves a lot hanging in the air (likely for another season, but not anytime soon).

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The first loose end is Betelgeuse, who very annoyingly won’t go down much of the first act. I was pleased Subaru used the Witche’s curse to expel Betelgeuse from his head so Julius could finish him, especially since we got a good look at the Satella herself. She does look a lot like Emilia…if Emilia were all black with a purple outline and glowing eyes!

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I rolled my eyes a little when moments after defeating Betelgeuse, Juli and Subie get a call from Felis another problem fresh out of the blue: an unaccounted-for sack full of fire stones.

There wasn’t any doubt that sack would be stashed in the wagon Emilia and the village children just happen to be riding in, nor was there the slightest chance, even in an often sadistic show like this, that this latest particular bomb would go off.

When Subie and Otto are acting like a comedy duo in a wagon Otto has nitrous’d with his magic in the last episode, it’s reasonable to assume things will work out.

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The whole rescue attempt felt like an excuse for Subaru to confront Emilia as the one who led the army, something she only just learned about from some snot-nosed kids who don’t know how to keep their damn mouths shut. Betelgeuse’s extended demise further delayed the inevitable reunion, and by the time Betel had become a Ghibli Goop Monster with his head on fire, I had long since had my fill of the manic bastard.

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But the how of how Subaru came to triumphantly reunite with Emilia didn’t mar the fact that this episode took great strides to repair what had been an estranged relationship not just between these two, but between myself, representing the non-manga-reading audience, and Emilia. Takahashi Rie does a great job reintroducing Emilia-tan to us, as she gets to express a good number of powerful emotions during the final ordeal.

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Subaru basically gets to make the perfect series of gestures to reunite with Emilia, swooping in, grabbing the bomb, and running off to get it away, but not before telling Emilia he loves her. After smashing the whales, the giant fallen tree is the gift that keeps giving, as its trunk largely shields Subaru from the blast he’s still pretty close to when the stones detonate.

It is here when Emilia, still processing everything Subaru has done for her these last few days/weeks, completely unbidden, springs into action, rushing into the danger, desperate to find Subaru alive and alright. And perhaps because the show is finally done torturing us, he is!

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From there, there’s no long, sprawling epilogue, showing what becomes of who. Just a simple scene of Subaru lying on Emilia’s lap, the two of them overjoyed to be together again.

The way Subaru describes it, Emilia is made happy for the first time by the prospect of “special treatment.” This can’t quite match the Rem Confession episode in emotional power, but it comes darned close with much less time to work with.

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I also appreciated that Emilia doesn’t have an instant reply to Subaru’s confession. It’s all well and good to say “I love you too”, but loving and being loved are so new to her it’s going to take time. Time Subaru assures her she has.

Subaru doesn’t wake up back in front of that convenience store, but merely admires Emilia’s tearful, radiant smile, as the episode fades to white and we’re treated to an extended mix of the original ED.

All in all, an imperfect but still solid and satisfying, and entertaining finale. If a second season comes along one day, I’ll surely be tuning in. If not, it was a fun ride. Often stressful, enraging, and heartbreaking…but also fun.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 24

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So, the first attempt to save the village and take out the Witch’s Cult was met by some mishaps, such as the time-consuming misunderstanding that led to a confrontation with Ram, the killing of villagers before evacuation was complete, Emilia taking the field of battle, putting herself at risk, and oh yeah, Subie getting possessed by Betelgeuse.

But when Julius and Felis killed him, he died and came back just like he always did, without any twists due to his possession. And fortune not only smiles, but beams on him, as he wakes up right in the middle of the planning phase, allowing him to casually introduce the new information he gleaned about body-snatching, the traitor in their midst, and Ram.

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His new plan revolves around convincing Emilia to go along with “Crusch’s plan” to evacuate the mansion and village, including Emi-tan herself. She agrees, because she believes the plan put before her, while not entirely or even partially of her own making, is the best plan as far as she can tell.

So she’s put on a wagon with some enthusiastic village kids, and sent off to safety, while Subie and the knights capture the traitor and take the metia he was using to pass information to the cult. It’s important to note Subaru himself wore the recognition-blocking robe Emilia threw at him, so she had no idea he planned all this.

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Suffice it to say, thanks to learning the lessons of last week’s ‘dry run’, everything goes off without a hitch, as Subaru once again confronts a Betelgeuse now weakened by a lack of fingers nearby. Subie also allows Juli to uses a spell, Nect, that lets him see with his eyes, alowing him to see the unseen hands and cut through them.

This achieved one of Subie’s secondary objectives: to properly make up with Julius. He is, after all, a crucial part of the plan and why, when the episode ends, it looks like the end is near for the Sin Archbishop, and very good for Subaru, who has once more learned from his past mistakes, put pride aside, planned carefully, and relied on and trusted in others.

This is how he has truly become Emilia’s knight.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 23

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False Alarm: No Fresh Hell, just not completely dealt-with Old Hell on this week’s menu. Hell leftovers, if you will. Ram puts the convoy under an illusion spell because she fears Subaru switched sides and the convoy is his invading force. This is due to a misunderstanding: the letter sent to the mansion was blank, usually a declaration of war.

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No harm, no foul, then, right? Ram accepts Subaru’s explanations, and while she’s not in love with him like her sister, he and she still have quite a bit of history which lets her withdraw her aggressive stance with confidence.

It’s also confidence Subaru needs in order to tell the people of the village they need to evacuate. At first a couple of malcontents curst the “half-elf” who brought this upon them, but with Ram’s help, Subie successfully persuades the villagers, even the racists, to cooperate.

Just when Subie is about to head for the mansion with Juli and Felis, the latter discovers one of the merchants has been possessed by a member of the witch’s cult. The man self-destructs, nearly killing Felis and Subie, and the remnants of Betelgueses fingers attack the village.

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Smoke (and Unseen Hands) fills the sky, blood stains the ground, adn the scene starts to resemble one of Subie’s past nightmare scenarios. But this time, he isn’t singularly responsible for failing to detect the cult’s, inside men; he’s just one part of an alliance made up of far more capable people than he who also missed this one.

That being said, and in spite of her earlier warnings to the villagers falling on deaf, non-pointed ears, Emilia arrives to help deal with the threat and protect the villagers who still live.

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She and Pick manage to take out all of the fingers…that they know of, all of whom talk and move and act like Betelguese. But even Emi’s last defeated opponent isn’t the end. When one of Juli’s lesser spirits, deployed to protect Subie, leaves Subie’s body, Betelgeuse possesses him.

Since we’ve never seen Betelgeuse leave a body that went on to survive, it sadly looks like the end for this version of Subaru, as he compels a reluctant, emotional Felis and Juli to kill him before Betelgeuse completes his hold. When the curtain falls on the episode, it would seem they obeyed him.

Will we shift to the focus of everyone but Subaru now that he’s left this world, or will we continue to following him as he respawns…wherever it is he respawns? Whatever the case, I doubt this turn of events will be resolved as quickly as Ram’s misunderstanding…

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