Fate / Zero – 22

For an episode preceded by such disturbing spectacle as a broken man murdering his best friend and making Rin an orphan, and followed by the casual malice of a born-again nihilist discarding his hostage before setting a foreboding trap, this episode has the most charming, heartwarming opening: an exhausted Waver finally arrives back home just before daybreak.

We know it’s not really his home, and he hypnotized its occupants into thinking he’s their grandson. But when his “grandpa” beckons for him to join him on the roof for a truly spectacular sunrise, something else dawned on me: Waver is Me. He’s the most normal, decent, well-adjusted participant in a war stocked with utter weirdos on all sides.

He seeks only simple glory and acknowledgement; the underdog raised high; his doubters and haters silenced. Sure, hypnotizing the couple was wrong, but how can I judge when even after the hypnosis wears off, the grandpa is not only forgiving, but wants Waver to stay. He’s a better grandson than they ever had.

On to the weirdos. While I more easily related to him early as a young kid having fun before all hell broke loose, and continue to recognize the emotions in his heart, support his goals (as laid out by Iri) and feel for his many losses, I simply haven’t lived a life as intense as Kiritsugu, so while I’m rooting for him, I’m on the outside looking in with Kiritsugu.

And Kiritsugu is alone again. It’s not ideal, but he’s not going to slow down or stop, even though he’s gone forty hours without sleep. He says “alone again” because, like Natalia, Maiya has left him. He doesn’t seem to count Saber as a person he can work with or trust, let alone a person at all; instead, she’s a tool to win the war, and he treats her as coldly as ever as she makes her report.

Kiritsugu probably also feels alone because Iri has been taken by the enemy, and he no doubt fears he won’t see her alive again. But a defiant Iri makes use of her captivity by Kirei to get in a number of barbs that cut the priest to the quick. Notably, that Kiritsugu isn’t an “empty man” like him; he seeks nothing less than the salvation of the world through the elimination of all violence and conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Kirei hears nothing but the naive utterings of a child in these words, but Iri does manage to give him something he didn’t have before he kidnapped her: Kiritsugu’s dream, which he will now proceed to destroy, along with the Holy Grail itself, which he can think of no use for. And since he gets all he needs out of Iri, he snaps her neck, seemingly killing her.

That I’m a bit fuzzy on how this whole Einzbern homonculus system works—and thus unclear whether Iri is dead dead or even ever alive—is irrelevant; it’s still absolutely gutting to see such a gentle, loving person treated with such contempt. Kirei is one hell of a villain, and his frustration and resentment for lacking something fundamental Kiritsugu seems to possess is palpable; he’s an almost pitiable wretch.

After that unpleasantness, what sure feels like the final day of the War transitions into the final night, and Waver awakes to find Rider in no particular hurry. Mage signals in the sky indicate that someone wishes to challenge them—Kirei arrranges for Archer to fight Rider while Berserker will keep Saber company—and Rider summons a horse, the backup to his chariot.

Waver has no intention of going along. As Rider said, only the strong remain, and Waver doesn’t consider himself strong. He’s Just A Guy, after all, the Everyman of Fate/Zero, with no business in the final battles. He even expends all of his Command Seals at once so he can say with certitude he is no longer Rider’s Master.

And yet Rider still picks him up by the scruff and dumps him in front of him on his horse. He wants Waver to accompany him as he has on all of their great battles thus far, not because he’s his Master, but because they’re friends and equals.

Having gone from gut-punch to heartwarm, the episode closes with a bit of a mindblower, as Iri, apparently not quite dead (or…whatever) after all, goes Beyond the Infinite.

In a surreal, bizarre and thoroughly unsettling sequence that calls to mind Akira, Evangelion, and Dalí, Iri sees hundreds of naked doll bodies piled up before her, one of which cracks a way-too-wide evil grin; then she has a touching scene with her daughter Ilya before an oozing black darkness encroaches upon them, and dozens of tiny arms grab at her and pull her down into the goo.

When she emerges, she realizes what’s happening: she’s in the Holy Grail. What exactly that means, and whether and how she can aid her beloved from there, remains to be seen. But I have to say I’m digging the extra metaphysical layer the show has revealed.

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Fate / Zero – 21

I can only admire Fate/Zero for its willingness to include a little bit of everything for everyone in its Holy Grail War, and as it had already featured a dogfight between Archer and Berserker, it was only a matter of time before Saber got into a chase with Rider, she on her motorcycle and he and Waver on his giant chariot.

The resulting chase does not disappoint, as Saber squids fearlessly through traffic, pushing her steed to its mechanical limits before deciding Screw it, I’m bosozokuing this motherfucker. While I prefer the more classic look of her bike, it’s still hella cool she can soup it up the same was she can soup up her armor.

With only five episodes left (my how time flies) I wasn’t ruling out the possibility this would be it for Rider, but Saber is content to withdraw after destroying his chariot with Excalibur, after which Waver and Rider lament that they have to walk home; a not inconsiderable distance considering the speed and length of the chase.

And that’s pretty much the last of the levity in this episode, as things go visually and thematically super-dark from there. Turns out Rider didn’t kidnap Iri (didn’t seem very in-character); it was Kariya’s doing, using two command seals to A.) control Berserker and B.) disguise him as Rider. Kiritsugu tortures Kariya’s brother Byakuya but doesn’t get much out of him.

Kirei has been busy since killing Tokiomi; further exploring his capacity for “entertainment” by manipulating Kariya, using new Command Seals and his bloodlust for Tokiomi as bait. While this all makes sense, I wish we’d have been able to witness Kirei initially approach Kariya after healing him and his stint with Zouken. Instead, the plan came together entirely in the background and has to be swiftly explained after the fact.

Once Kariya is off to the church to duel with Tokiomi (by now very dead), Zouken reveals himself to Kirei. If there is one remaining bit of levity in this episode, it’s here, as Zouken, truly a top-class Master of Evil, seems to take a shine to Kirei. Kirei is understandably disgusted by the mere suggestion of being compared to scum like him.

But for once, Zouken is right: I have no doubt that after a few more decades of this kind of stuff, Kirei will be standing in the exact same place as Zouken, King of Shitbags – so shitty, he’s not sure what he wants more: to win the Grail War, or watch his son continue to suffer.

And does Kariya ever suffer. After entering the church and yelling at a corpse, he discovers Tokiomi is already dead, just when the deceased’s widow Aoi arrives, no doubt summoned by Kirei. It’s not what it looks like (that Kariya just killed Tokiomi) but it sure looks bad, and Aoi doesn’t go easy on Kariya, rejecting his excuses and condeming him for never having loved anyone, despite the fact he always secretly loved her.

Kariya is clearly not in a stable place mentally here, and that instability and the resulting breakdown is chillingly depicted with a series of blackout shots, tinged with flashes of him attacking Aoi (the dark church appearing bright beside the blackness), before returning to full vision of him slowly strangling her to death.

After that all Kariya can do is get up and stumble out, screaming and wailing incoherently; becoming more like his unhinged Servant all the time. And who enjoyed a prime vantage point for this macabre entire “play” up in the church balcony? Kirei, who along with Archer were watching and sipping wine the whole time. Kirei notes the wine tastes different; better. He wants to sample more.

Kuzu no Honkai – 07

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Moca startin’ the day of ACCA-style!

The morning of her date with Mugi, Moca is on cloud nine, but she doesn’t have any illusions about suddenly winning his heart. Having an elegant breakfast and getting all dolled up is as much or more for her than for Mugi’s sake. Still, she has to try today, for she, a student of fairy tales, doesn’t think people should settle for replacements.

This week Moca accomplishes something neither Hanabi nor Mugi have been unable to in seven: confront her unrequited love head-on, face the object of that love, and, through a clean-ish rejection, be able to move forward. By doing so, she becomes, by default, the bravest of those three people.

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While Mugi is off on a date with Moca (unbeknownst to her, obv) Hanabi continues her half-cocked mission to seduce Takeya, but soon learns it isn’t so easy to elicit love in someone. All Takeya wants from her is sex right now, Hanabi doesn’t give it to him, so he leaves her to go bang some other chick.

That’s where Takeya is at at this point. It looks pretty hopeless for Hanabi, and I must have mistaken all the confidence she seemed to exude at the end of last week when getting her “project” off the ground.

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Moca, meanwhile, is always on the verge of tears, she’s both so happy about the dream-like date with Mugi, and devastated that the happiness is tempered and sullied by the fact Mugi feels obligated to take his childhood friend on a date.

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Since we’re in Moca’s head most of this week, we learn a lot, like how she’s always loved Mugi, since they were little kids, and how with waterworks, she knew precisely how to get him to do her bidding and acknowledge their special bond.

Mugi and Moca got used to this cycle of behavior for years, and the nature of their past is ultimately what stops things from going too far in the present.

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Moca is cute. She knows she’s cute, and while in Mugi’s bed, she thinks it might be enough to hear it from Mugi to allow her to keep on living (just as his not recoiling when she held his hand did). Mugi curses himself as a pathetic coward who is going straight to hell, because there’s something deep within him that is screaming this is Moca; this is wrong, and things go no further than the removal of clothes.

For too long she was, as she says, a sacred ornament to be admired, and he can’t sully her, even though he tries his darnedest. At the same time, now that things have gotten so real with Mugi, the “dream” of the two living happily ever seems to shatter for Moca. This is the way she and Mugi are; she’s “important” and “special” to him, but that only goes so far. They can’t be a man and a woman.

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Moca really put herself out there, and by the end, there’s a kind of release of pressure. And she also becomes a kind of catalyst, as Mugi’s night with her has the same general effect as Hanabi’s lonely, aimless night, and one fine day on a hill overlooking the town, the two agree that they’ll tell Akane and Onii-san how they truly feel, before the end of Summer vacation.

They are cowards, they admit that. But Moca showed them they don’t have to stay cowards. And if they’re both rejected, Hanabi wonders what will happen next; whether she and Mugi will start to date for real; whether they’ll both be able to say goodbye to their respective loves forever and accept what life has given them…or another path is needed.

Playing the Moca Card this late in the game turned out to be another good move. She’d been the weakest, least developed character in the love polygon to this point, but this week really fleshed her out nicely. More to the point, both by staying on Mugi and keeping him from Hanabi, she inadvertently showed them the only way forward.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 06

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Hanabi is tired of feeling empty, or that she’s being hollowed out. She wonders more what it’s like to play with peoples emotions; whether it feels as good as Akane makes it seem. She wants to claim everyone who likes her for her own – no mean feat, but she feels like she can’t not try.

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Because Akane doesn’t want Ecchan, Hanabi tries to cut her loose as quickly as possible to avoid complications and ruining their friendship. But Hanabi and Ecchan have already slept together, so their relationship is irrevocably changed.

Not only that, Ecchan won’t let go; she’s not simply giving Hanabi leave to use her, she’s insisting. And because of their bond, she knows Hanabi won’t resist. Indeed, Hanabi considers it just punishment for what she did to Ecchan.

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After recovering from a fever (likely brought on in part from the stress of dealing with all this shit) Hanabi goes into town and bumps into Takeya, the guy she and Mugi saw with Akane. As soon as I realized who it was, I knew some trouble was going to ensue. After all, Hanabi is on a mission to beat Akane at her own game.

I’ll allow the coincidence, because it results in some of the best inner monologue by Hanabi yet; a sometimes disturbing, sometimes hilarious play-by-play commentary of her interactions with Takeya. She starts out with Don’t touch me, don’t get near me, then the light bulb goes off.

Before our eyes and ears, she starts to put in play what Ecchan says Hanabi naturally has: a knack for nabbing guys. It rarely occurs to her that she’s an attractive being, since she doesn’t really trust anyone other than Onii-chan, and her own inner voice despises her.

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When she learns he knows he’s one of many and will “never have [Akane]” to himself, his value to her drops considerably, but not completely. Taking something of Akane’s – particularly someone so into her, is one of her goals, so even though she almost caves and sends Takuya away, she manages to salvage the situation.

Takuya is, for the most part, respectful and keeps his ears open to what Hanabi does and does not want, and agrees they’ll take things slow, and not go all the way their first time.

Hanabi’s closing inner remarks regarding their date are suitably devastating in their frankness, and indicate she might just be getting the hang of this: I’ll pretend with you as much as you want. Then you can fall for a fake version of me.

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Another thing Ecchan said to Hanabi is that there’s nothing wrong with having oneself be the only one who knows one’s true self. Akane doesn’t seem to let anyone else know. After that bit of advice, Hanabi considers whether Akane truly is happy, or is lonely and sad as she, just better at hiding it. There are no true answers to be had, as it should be.

As for Ecchan, she acts against Hanabi x Mugi, planting in his head the possibility that Hanabi is still “cheating” on him with another guy. Hanabi never told Mugi who she slept with, and actually is popular with the guys, so Mugi has no problem letting that seed sprout suspicion in his head. Ecchan is still very much gunning for Hanabi.

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Well now, that’s a pretty apt subtitle there! I was beginning to think Kuzu had forgotten about Moca. But then, Kuzu doesn’t do anything by accident. After a slightly jarring introduction in which we kind of had our fill of her, the show wisely kept her away, knowing her extended absence would be noted, and increasing the drama when she suddenly shows up at the end of this episode.

Moca gets to the point, with honesty and forthrightness that seems to tick Mugi off, calling it “unexciting” in his head. Moca probably doesn’t even know who Ecchan is, but inadvertently benefits from the doubt she planted in Mugi’s head, adding water and fertilizer to the sprout by telling him Hanabi doesn’t really want him.

Then fruit is borne: Mugi asks Moca on a date. If Hanabi can have her something on the side, why can’t he?

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The episode closes with Hanabi stringing Takeya along via text (I love her fireworks avatar, as that’s what her name means), continuing to play the field, her bedroom window open to the Summer night, the night before vacation starts.

It’s a long way from being feverish, under the covers, and completely at a loss for what to do or who she is. Hanabi is now on a mission, and her date with Takuya gave her confidence. She just looks more with it, even if she still very little to no idea what she’s doing, but I think that’s part of what she’s learning: you’re only as weak as you look to others.

Like Moca with Mugi or Ecchan with her, she also seems to understand that persistence is necessary to achieve her goal of beating Akane. She can’t stop; if she does, she’s back in bed, back in her head; empty, hollowed out, alone again. She’s only lost if she stops and thinks about where she is or isn’t.

She’s still certainly no match for Akane yet, but good God, imagine if she becomes a match…or even surpasses Miss Minagawa? As Ecchan says (and Mugi agrees), what makes Hanabi great is her “danger.” It should be an interesting Summer.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 05

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Hana believes Kanai has abandoned her, so seeks her “safe space”—or at least a space where she feels she belongs and doesn’t feel the weight of life crushing her—elsewhere. When Ecchan turns to face her in bed, Hana sees Akane for a moment. Akane seems to enjoy taking advantage of men.

Hana doesn’t seem to enjoy what transpired with her and Ecchan. Hana doesn’t seem to be sure what she likes or wants, which must make Akane’s apparent certainty and staunch confidence all the more vexing.

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Last week was light on Mugi, but he returns to the forefront with the revelation he’s known about Akane’s dalliances since he was dating senpai, who he only realizes now might’ve bitten his ear out of jealousy.

He still has her number; she shows up for a booty call, from his perspective almost out of obligation, as she was the one who popped his cherry. According to her, it’s the first time they did it when he wanted to, but she still doesn’t spend the night at the love hotel with him, considering them even.

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Like Hana with Ecchan, Mugi seems unfulfilled and insufficiently stimulated by his encounter with his senpai. After a period of him and Hana drifitng apart, one day on the roof they come back together. Hana can tell Mugi slept with someone else, and he can tell she did too.

They did it for the same reason: to test if they really needed each other, or if they could get what they needed elsewhere. The results weren’t as conclusive as either had likely hoped. Hana’s thoughts say they’re both terrible. I just think they’re both profoundly lonely and unhappy.

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Shift to Akane’s POV, as she grudgingly asks Kanai out, despite the fact he’s super-boring to her. That boring-ness continues throughout most of their date, until she drinks too many to compensate and he catches her before she falls in the street, accidentally calling her “Hana-chan.”…“-chan.”

Those words, not the catch, are the first things that get Akane interested. When she gets him in a room, and he asks permission, she brings up Hana as an object of envy, and he responds by kissing her and getting things started. Too easy says Akane. Indeed. The implication is, when things are too easy for Akane, watch out.

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Hana decides she wants to have sex with Mugi at his place. He has reservations, but he can’t deny her beauty, her honesty, the directness of her gaze, and her “hysteric, fickle, recklessly egocentric remarks.” So the two of them decide to break the rules of their arrangement and do something that could upset the uneasy balance that had been maintained.

But it’s Hana’s first time, and it hurts, so they stop. She’s not into it at all, but is still frustrated they can’t do it. Mugi thinks it’s because she doesn’t really love him. Just saying she loves him doesn’t work, and then Mugi insults her. The mood ruined, she gets dressed and leaves.

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Mugi sleeps alone, frustrated and depressed. Hana sleeps alone, frustrated and depressed. She wants to sleep with someone. She wants to fill the void of loneliness, but nothing is currently working, and it’s becoming unbearable.

Akane almost seems to sense her frustration, because the next day at school she walks past Hana to twist the knife, reporting on her conquest of Kanai. Ice. Cold.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 04

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Whew…well that was a properly intense episode. In it, we finally enter the head of Minagawa Akane and find out what makes her tick and what she says gives her joy in life: being desired by men. She started back when she was in school, stealing away her best friend’s crush even though she didn’t even like the guy.

Indeed, she’s only interested in guys other girls desire; it’s how she gauges their value. It’s as if she only derides pleasure from her contact with men if she knows it’s pleasure being taken from other women; depriving them of it.

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Her latest victim is Hanabi, but what’s so insidious is that like her best friend’s crush, Akane wouldn’t even care about Kanai if Hanabi didn’t love him. Hanabi is unknowingly fueling her own despair by making it so clear to Akane that she’s into Onii-san. It makes Akane the villain – if you’re rooting for Hanabi. On the other hand, if you’re rooting for the one person who seems to be confident in what they’re doing, Akane’s your girl.

Akane believes it’s Hanabi’s own fault she’s in her predicament, but not because Hanabi has never gathered the stones to confess to Kanai, but because Hanabi should be on same side of this game. She kinda already is; Moca essentially feels for Mugi (whom Hanabi has) what Hanabi feels for Onii-san (whom Akane has). Akane’s become quite adept at taking full advantage of the situation, but Hanabi seems to lack the will.

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We’re then thrust out of Akane’s head and into Kanai’s for the first time, and while I didn’t quite fathom the scope of Akane’s true personality before it was unveiled to us, Kanai is pretty much what I expected.

Kanai is normal, boring, and enough of a romantic to throw caution to the wind when someone like Akane appears in his life, even though a part of him knows (and is correct that) she’s too good to be true.

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Demonstrating how experienced she is at this kind of thing, Akane executes a perfect reenactment of the way she hurt her friend when she separately tells both Kanai and Hanabi to be in the music room after school, then lets Kanai do the rest, confessing to an utterly disinterested Akane as Hanabi watches helplessly.

Akane’s eyes narrow and turn to see Hanabi, and then the episode fades to black in a spine-chilling close to Akane’s half of the episode. This show excels at many things, but it’s particularly good at transitioning from one “soliloquy” to another and keeping the flow moving. The fantastic score and cinematography pulls you into its dark soup of an atmosphere and makes it impossible to break free.

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And we’re only halfway through! Good lord, the first half felt like a complete, and amazing, episode. Thankfully, it isn’t all downhill from here. In fact, Akane’s actions drive those of Hanabi, the main POV of the second half. They drive her to finally emulate the one who hurt her.

I’m not talking about getting hot and heavy with Mugi again, to Moca’s dismay. Seeking comfort from Mugi wouldn’t be possible without telling him what she knows about Akane (the poor bastard). So she heads home alone, in tatters, then realizes she’s been followed…by Ecchan.

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Ecchan still wants Hanabi…very much so. So when Hanabi, in tatters, impulsively embraces Ecchan, then worries how it will feel to her, Ecchan assures her it’s all good. Hanabi this way is better than no Hanabi at all. Besides, Ecchan, makes no apologies for taking what she can when the opportunity arises, almost as payment for the pain Hanabi’s caused her to that point.

As they start having sex, Hanabi finds herself in an Onii-chan fantasy, but it’s soon broken by her waking senses making her see, smell, taste and touch Ecchan, and only Ecchan. Ecchan is ready to stop at any time, but Hanabi won’t tell her to, so she doesn’t. Ecchan wants Hanabi to be filled with her, and Hanabi lets her fill her void.

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The experience, however, leaves Hanabi cold and alone, walking home in the rain, with only her force ghost as company, taunting her for destroying a friendship, notifying her that she’s actively taken advantage of someone’s feelings for the first time, and congratulating her for being scum just like Akane.

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Her force ghost doesn’t tell her anything she doesn’t already know, it is her who is talking to her, after all. She’s having a conversation in her head, and the fact this part of her is mocking her means that she is no match whatsoever for Akane right now. But she wants to be a match, and she’s going to work towards it with everything she’s got. Dark shoujo.

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In one last scene, Hanabi confronts Akane openly about being loved by people she doesn’t even like, and how it can be so fun for her. Akane’s response? There is no greater feeling than being desired by men. Whether she likes them or not is irrelevant, as long as they’re liked, preferably loved, by someone.

It’s a “get with the program” kind of line; one suspects if Hanabi somehow fell out of love with Kanai there’d be nothing left of him to interest Akane. You can have it like i have it, she seems to be telling Hanabi, as long as you’re able to redirect your energies.

Indeed, Hanabi already started with Ecchan, but if she’s serious about wanting to be a match for Akane, she’s got her work cut out for her. And I’m not saying she should! Shit’s already pretty damn heavy. Everyone has their limits. She may just not be cut out for it.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 32

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I lauded McGillis’ decision to take to the battlefield to personally end the “mayhem” stewing between Arbrau and the SAU, but I did not expect the enemies he was fighting to be the Earth Branch of Tekkadan, but that’s exactly what went down thanks to the scheming of Galan Rossa and Radice.

Takaki and Aston have been so thoroughly, well, brainwashed by the charismatic veteran Galan that they’ll fight their own ally without hesitation – though it’s unclear how well they know McGillis and his relationship to Orga and Mika.

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It’s a relief, then, that all of the delaying is done away with and the Barbatos arrives in the middle of the battle just in time to save McGillis from Takaki and Aston. And man does McGillis, and all that he represents, almost get killed in a nameless skirmish spearheaded by a nameless mercenary, all for the benefit of his political and military rival, Rustal. Mind you, Mika isn’t helping an old friend, or even a guy who gives him cool chocolate: he’s simply obeying Orga’s orders not to let him die.

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As for Aston, he steps in front of Takaki and takes the brunt of an attack from McGillis that kills him, and all of Takaki’s hopes and dreams and innocence seem to die with him. That last thing is surprising considering how much Takaki has gone through, but up until Aston dies with a grateful smile on his face, Takaki was determined to go home to Fuka with Aston, not leave him behind. This may have been a pointless battle, but it might just cost Takaki the most.

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As for Hush, he gets to tag along with Mika, as Mika is willing to give him a shot, but let’s just say Hush doesn’t do so great in his mobile suit debut. Indeed, he’s quickly disarmed, loses his cool, and very nearly cries for his mommy before Mika has to bail him out (the second big bailout Mika executes this week).

Hush’s comrade later tells him he’s still got the self-awareness of his weaknesses to be a good pilot, but yeah, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a very very weak asset to Tekkadan right now, and can’t be trusted with anyone but Mika, someone who can take care of himself.

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Okay, maybe Mika isn’t the only one who can take care of himself and his own affairs when it comes to mobile suit battle. When Eugene and Akihiro arrive at Tekkadan Earth HQ, corner Radice and learn of His and Mossa’s treachery, and furthermore learn that Aston has been lost as a result, he goes the fuck after Mossa, and doesn’t stop until the guy has to self-destruct himself to keep form being halved by Akihiro’s giant vice-grips.

Their battle is the most emotionally and physically intense of the episode, illustrating both how badass Akihiro is and how fiercely he defends (and avenges) his fellow ex-human debris. Though like Aston, Akihiro has never really come to grips with the “ex-” part; he always puts others before his own well-being, and almost gets blown up by it, moments before Laffter can arrive to warn him. Laffter doesn’t want to lost Akihiro because of his own paltry sense of self-worth.

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I enjoyed the little scene between McGillis and Mika near the episode’s end; both because these two are always fun to watch interact directly with each other (especially now that they’re on the same side), but that it almost shows that for all their differences, these are two guys utterly ruthless in their own ways, going after very specific goals only they believe they can achieve.

He’s almost an Orga surrogate here, without the shared past. Both McGillis and Mika seek a better tomorrow, and for now, their interests are aligned, with no sense of that changing anytime soon. And just as McGillis has Mika, his rival Rustal has Julieta, who seems to be the only one who sheds any tears for Galan Mossa, but is told not to do so by Rustal, as it wouldn’t be what Mossa wanted.

But as much as Mossa—who seemed to be a good friend of Rustal’s; perhaps even a blood relative—tried to erase his identity and that of his entire operation, he couldn’t erase one eccentric pilot’s regard for him, nor her grief over his loss.

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As for Takaki, the loss he experienced is more than evident both in the cockpit, at Earth Branch HQ, and back at home. His gaze has changed, from his easygoing glint to more of a Mikazuki stare. He decides to take care of “Earth branch problems” in the injured Chad’s stead, doing what Mika casually offered to do and putting three bullets in Radice for his treachery.

The once kind and gentle Takaki has crossed over into new territory, and both the blood of Aston and the lies of Radice and Mossa crafted this new, darker, more tortured Takaki, who no longer seems comfortable in Fuka’s presence.

This was a hard-hitting and very satisfying episode that swiftly and efficiently wrapped up the Earth Branch arc. I won’t lie that bringing in Mika, Akihiro & Co. definitely raised my interest level, but I also won’t deny that despite the fact either Takaki or Aston (or both) were doomed here, I was still fully emotionally invested in their fates. Not a bad feat for a miniature war with no name.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 31

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Even Takaki can feel it: something’s not right. Something hasn’t been right since Chad was injured, Radice took over, and Galan was brought on. But that “something” is impossible for him to grasp, at least to the point it alters the course he and the other Earth Branchers of Tekkadan, which is precisely the course Galan wants them on: the path to ruin.

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As such, Takaki finds himself very nearly back to where this all began: human tools of CGS; cannon fodder for endless, pointless battles between Arbrau and the SAU. And it’s all in service of weakening McGillis’ position and reputation. As he stares in his coffee, McGillis knows exactly what’s going on, as he’s probably been expecting concerted resistance to his reform movement. It’s strange to see him on his heels, almost forced to make a move.

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I’m not yet sure if McGillis is being played here, but Takaki and Aston are being played like fiddles. Galan treats them decently, but behind their backs calls them dogs he’s helpfully trained for Rastal. He tells Takaki again and again that this is it; the last battle; just one more push and he can go back home to his normal happy life with Fuka and Aston. Only they’re just words, and in reality there is no end to the war in sight.

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That’s just how Galan, Radice, and Rustal want it. It’s another case of the adults getting one over on the kids; manipulating their emotions to keep them pliable. Galan even goes out of his way to save Takaki’s life, not just to keep up the charade but to build more trust; trust Galan has every intention of betraying when the time is right.

It’s an episode that establishes a terrible situation for Earth Branch, and makes me question the wisdom of splitting Tekkadan’s forces across two planets in the first place. Mika, Kudelia, Eugene & Co. are on their way, and may be able to provide some relief but Galan won’t make it easy for them to interfere in his plans. Will it be too little, too late to save Takaki?

Meanwhile, McGillis takes the stage in his mobile suit, determined after a matter of weeks to nip this sprawling yet low-boil conflict in the bud. A rematch with the masked Gaelio seems imminent.

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91 Days – 07

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Clearly, Angelo’s anger over what happened to his family is so great and unyielding, he’s committed to enacting his revenge through an obscenely intricate long game. It’s not enough to kill everyone involved in his family’s murder; he wants to cause them the maximum amount of pain before he kills them. Such a considerate young man!

By assisting Fango’s coup over Don Orco, Avilio has kept Nero alive. Now he must turn to Nero’s next threat: his own brother Frate, being used as a puppet by Rolando Galassia. He also wrangles Fio into the negotiations, and eventually she plays a significant role in Avilio’s plan. Rather than Galassia’s puppets, the Vanettis have become Avilio’s  (Vincent excluded; who knows where he is this week).

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Avilio seems pretty sure there’s no chance for reconciliation between Nero and Frate, especially with Galassia breathing down Frate’s neck (and giving him all the booze and drugs he needs to become an increasingly unstable puppet). He lets Nero give it a try anyway, and lets the brothers become more frustrated by their diametrically opposed goals.

At the same time, Avilio convinces Volpe to help him attack Frate and Fernando while the former is travelling to mass, making it sound like Volpe will be doing Nero a favor. Hmm…maybe don’t have such a regular Sunday schedule if you’re planning to be the boss of a crime family?

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Volpe only manages to wound Fernando and scare Frate, but Avilio kills him and makes it look like he acted alone. Galassia tries to use his wife Fio to get Nero in a room with him, but Nero stays away.

Avilio comes instead as a messenger, but the messege is for Fio, not Fernando, and she puts two bullets in her husband, apparently sick and tired of his role in tearing her family apart. She doesn’t know that both she and Fernando were only pawns of the Great Avilio.

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In another bit of Venetti manipulation, Avilio leads Nero to Frate, reveals the gun Frate was hiding under a magazine, then leaves the two to hash it out—but only after he takes all the bullets out of Frate’s gun, apparently unbeknownst to either brother.

We end with two more of the biggest obstacles to keeping Nero alive dead, by Nero and Fio’s own hands. Through his machinations, Avilio saw to it the Vanetti family suffered its first blood casualty, but likely not the last. Then he tells Nero he’ll be his brother from now on. Honestly Avilio’s master plan continues to baffle, and the effortlessness with which he gets his way this week makes everyone else in the episode feel like helpless pawns.

It’s pretty ridiculous, but I still enjoyed this gritty, unrelenting episode. As characters drop left and right, 91 Days is starting to feel more and more like a Shakespearean tragedy set in the days of prohibition.

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Sakurako-san – 12 (Fin)

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Shoutarou is not satisfied with being separated from Sakurako, especially when it’s “for his own good,” but as of the start of the episode, he has yet to gather the courage to confront her about his displeasure. That is, until he reminisces about the time he first saw her (she put a spell on him with her ethereal beauty) first called the cops on her (when he saw her boiling bones), and accompanied her on their first case as a mystery-solving duo, during which Sakurako did all the heavy lifting.

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The case involved an elderly relation of his neighbors, who had the urge to visit a certain shrine. Sakurako canvases the shrines and determines the old lady murdered the man she finds buried beneath the tree, and does her Sakurako thing that transforms her into the young girl she was when she did it, in order to save her mother from her father’s beatings. It packs the usual emotional punch of such encounters throughout the show.

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The part of the flashbacks pertinent to Shou’s present predicament is Sakurako’s assertion that “time stopped” for Yachi-san when she killed her father. Her regret kept her standing still, no better than a still-living corpse, just waiting to die. But time never stops for anyone, and stopping in fear of the future gains nothing, according to Sakurako’s past self. Shou now has all the inspiration he needs to face the present Sakurako-san, and all the ammo he needs to get her back in his life, and him back in her’s.

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So Shoutarou storms back on to her property, declares he wants back in her life, and won’t take no for an answer. Like the first time they met and he followed her around, he’s come to “escape his everyday life”…only he wants his everyday life to be one with Sakurako in it. Saku warns him of the “abyss” Hanabusa, and by extension she, represents, and how she dreads seeing Shoutarou’s bones. But he rattles off all of the people she saved from Hanabusa’s machinations—Ii-chan, the baby, Fujioka-san—as well as two of the three girls who worshipped Hanabusa, along with Yuriko’s peace of mind.

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With that track record, Shou feels safer with Sakurako than without, and asks her to continue protecting him. Defeated, Sakurako agrees, and we know she’s a bit relieved herself that this boy shook her out of her attempt to carry on alone. So much so, she calls him by his name again, without reservation; a sign she herself may be willing to keep moving forward beyond whatever dark mysteries are in her past, or whatever skeletons are in her closet.

Shou is well aware their path won’t be an easy one; Hanabusa is definitely watching them and will try to tap into their grief and regrets and despair just as he has his many victims. But in a battle of wits between him and Sakurako, there is no choice for Shoutarou: Sakurako will win. Especially with an excellent assistant such as himself by her side.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 11

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A night at Sakurako’s moves Minami to tell her Hitoe’s location, and when they find her covered in butterflies the worst is feared. Alas, “only” her dog is dead and attracting the insects; she merely took a non-lethal dose of sleeping pills and soon wakes up. Not shortly thereafter, Hector barks from outside, announcing he’s found what Sakurako was hoping to find: more bones. Specifically, the bones of a young woman; Minami and Hitoe’s friend Futaba. And that’s far from all that’s unearthed this week.

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Minami recounts the tale of how Futaba showed her and Hitoe this abandoned cabin in the woods, and they made it their home, their place where they belonged. All three of them had their problems, but Futaba was the worst, and soon wanted to enter a suicide pact with the other two. Hitoe agreed, but Minami didn’t want to die, so she ran. When she returned later, Futaba was dead, having hung herself, while Hitoe injured her hands trying to save her.

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Minami buried the body, and that was that. Only…Sakurako-san wasn’t born yesterday by any stretch, and Futaba’s bones tell her a far different story. Not a story of Futaba hanging herself as Hitoe struggled to stop her, but a story of being strangled to death, as indicated by bones that would not have been broken by hanging, and the dubiousness of dying while hanging so low her feet touched the ground.

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Hitoe can’t keep up the fiction any longer, though she kept it hidden within her memory for so long, it flows out like a river through breached dam, all anger and despair. Futaba gave her an ultimatum: she’d either help her kill herself, or she’d kill her, then commit suicide. It was an impossible situation for Hitoe, who comes out and blames Minami for running. Had she been there, maybe Futaba would have kept it together a little longer (though considering both she and Hitoe were already considering suicide when Minami fled, I doubt it).

Isozaki is able to calm Hitoe, and puts all the blame on himself, not for failing to see the pain his three students were in, but for seeing the pain, and turning away, not wanting to be hurt himself.

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After burying Futaba, Minami and Hitoe drifted apart, partly because Hitoe started seeing other friends, partly because Hitoe reminded Minami of what happened to Futaba. Then she met Hanabusa, who she waxes poetic about as if her mind had been programmed to say these things. But it wasn’t; she simply fell victim to the honeyed words of a criminal mastermind, just as Hitoe would, and just as many other victims have.

Sakurako knows Hanabusa never loved Minami—that he’s incapable of loving anyone unless they’re bleach bones—and that Minami was just another pawn in his game. The thing is, she doesn’t really need to be so blunt about all these things at this particular time. For someone so good at detecting, she fails to read the room, and turns her back on Minami, who can’t handle what she’s saying and tries to stab her with a palette knife.

But Sakurako doesn’t get stabbed, because Shoutarou comes between her and Minami, catching the knife in his side. Remembering her brother, who apparently drowned in a rainstorm, she shouts out Shoutarou’s name.

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But it’s all okay; the stabbing wasn’t precise, nor was it lethal. Shou will be fine. But Sakurako isn’t. It was too close a call for her. As she hits the home stretch on tracking down the “abyss” that is Hanabusa, Sakurako has unilaterally decided she and Shou must part ways. It almost feels like a breakup…because it is, and Shou is heartbroken. But the bottom line is, Hanabusa is a dangerous, brilliant son of a bitch, and while Sakurako loves bones, she never wants to see Shoutarou’s.

Will Shoutarou really accept this? He’s too shocked and overwhelmed to protest here, but once he’s discharged, I wonder how Sakurako will keep him away, and whether he’ll honor her selfish desire to go it alone with Hanabusa. I’m hoping he won’t, because as the tear Sakurako sheds indicates, these two people belong together. Call them soul mates, if you will.

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Noragami Aragoto – 05

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Last week, it was all coming up Kugaha: everyone was playing the roles he’d laid out for them, and everyone was tied up in a knot, culminating in the shattering of Yukine by Bishamon’s untempered-by-Kazuma hand. But Yukine is fine, in fact, he’s better than fine: his act of sacrifice to save his master led to his evolution and transformation from mere regalia to blessed vessel, the same thing that happened with Kuzama.

Now Yukine is two blades instead of one, and they’re both much sharper; all the better to protect his master. Let there be no more doubt about the depth of their bond not just as master and weapon, but family.

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Does the quick resolution of last week’s cliffhanger kill the tension? Not by a long shot. In fact, Yukine’s transformation still plays into Kugaha’s hands, because Yato is now in a far better position to take out Bishamon, who is riddled with blight once Kugaha’s medicine wears off. But if the corruption is weakening her, it’s sure hard to tell; she fights as hard as ever, and her regalia suffer, sharing every blotch of blight she’s enduring.

This won’t end well until someone acts outside of the chain of command and saves Bishamon and everyone else from herself.

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That someone is Aiha, who tells Kuraha, who was just wishing Kazuma was there, where Kugaha stashed Kazuma and Hiyori. As Kugaha lays waste to scores of Bishamon’s lesser regalia with a giant dragonlike phantom, the old lion conveys the two former captives to Bishamon and Yato.

Notably, Hiyori refuses to return to the living world and her body until Yato has seen her; just as Kazuma may be the only one to stop Bishamon, Hiyori is the only one who can stop Yato.

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As Bishamon endures the pain of losing more and more regalia, she refuses to give up the fight, and seeing who’s fighting her, doubles down on her belief Yato is the one behind all this, and is again trying to take everything from her. At the same time, Yato hears the voice of Nora imploring him to cut Bishamon’s regalia down before she entangles him with her scourge. Nora drowns out Yukine’s voice, Yato’s eyes go dead, and he aims for Bishamon’s throat…

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But Hiyori’s voice, now stronger than Nora’s ancient influence, and the reason he’s come, stops him. She shows she’s fine, and explains Bishamon didn’t kidnap her. But it’s too late; if he doesn’t kill her, she’ll kill everyone in a massive atom bomb of corruption. Again going exactly according to Kugaha’s plans, he plans to kill her, saying it’s “not such a big deal” as she’ll be instantly reborn. But it will be a big deal, because she won’t be quite the same Bishamon.

Fortunately, perhaps, Yato’s cut doesn’t kill her, and when she counters, Kazuma comes between the two and takes the full brunt of the attack, then embraces Bishamon and confesses what he deems his sins. He was always going to tell her that he ordered the killing of the Ma clan, but he was the only one left she could turn to, he simply couldn’t say it, and never did, until now.

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Still, I think Kazuma is being too hard on himself. He did what he thought he had to to save his master, and bearing that terrible secret also protected her. Having only Kazuma as a basis for starting over was more important than revealing the truth, which back then would have been the final nail in her coffin. Instead, he became an earring and her exemplar, and she became a better, kinder god.

As with Yukine last week, I can’t definitively speak to the status of Kazuma (though I doubt he’s a goner), but that was some intense catharsis right there, and it had the effect of calming Bishamon and prompting her to release all the regalia she was pushing to their limits.

Most importantly: Aiha’s turnabout, Kazuma’s intervention, Kuraha’s independence, and Bishamon’s catharsis were all events that weren’t part of Kugaha’s plan. He managed to kill a lot of regalia, but his primary goal was thwarted (for now), and now Yato is resolved to go after “the guy behind all of this.” Finally, a break for the good guys.

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Noragami Aragoto – 04

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Well, looks like Kugaha took Kurama too…Damn! That makes things trickier for Yato. Oh yeah, and Yato seems to believe, quite understandably so, that Hiyori was kidnapped under Bishamon’s orders, rather than Kugaha acting alone. Let’s just say Yato gets a little hot-blooded the moment he knows Hiyori is in enemy hands. He’s going to get her back; nothing else matters. When Yukine hears what’s happened, he’s quick to join.

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It’s a race against time, as Hiyori can only survive so long outside of her body. But she and Kurama are stuck, so it’s as good a time as any to explain the beef between Bishamon and Yato. Turns out, as we more or less knew, Bishamon’s entire cadre of regalias were wiped out by Yato, and Kurama was the only survivor. But Kurama also lets us know how a God can be resurrected after being destroyed, which is what Kugaha’s aim seems to be.

Kugaha wants Yato to kill Bishamon for him so a new Bishamon will be born: one he’ll be the exemplar for (rather than Kurama) and will likely be able to mold into more compliance than the current, “spoiled” Bishamon, whom Kugaha also believes is too “soft-hearted” to carry the mantle of God of War. And he may not even be wrong.

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Thanks to Tenjin, Yato and Yukine are able to travel to the realm of Bishamon’s mansion (in exchange for being kept out of it, plus one other thing Yato understands without him saying), and the fight begins. Because Kugaha is basically using Aiha’s corrupted body to weaken Bishamon, the lack of a steady exemplar like Kurama means her power flies out of control easier, which results in tougher attacks but at a risk to herself and her regalias.

Trapped in a dungeon and unable to intervene even if “Veena” heard him, Kurama laments the fact that it was he who got his fellow regalias wiped out by Yato. That’s right: Yato wasn’t only a rabid monster killing indiscriminately (though he was certainly in Nora’s thrall at the time): he was a rabid monster killing indiscriminately because he was asked to, by a young Kurama who didn’t know what else to do.

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When Bishamon’s body became riddled with corruption, and the regalia culprit wouldn’t come forward, discord was sown among them all, and all it took was one spark from someone who’s lost their temper to start fighting amongst themselves. Kurama couldn’t bear to watch Bishamon be destroyed in the chaos, so he exercised the nuclear option: hire a calamity god, Yato, to cut out the rot, to save Bishamon.

In the present, Yato seems to sense Bishamon is corrupted again, but Bishamon insists none of her regalias are betraying her this time—words that make Aiha tear up, because she and Kugaha are betraying her. In the past, Kurama’s quick, decisive action saved Bishamon, but I don’t think Bishamon wanted to be saved that way, even though things had gone to far to save her regalias.

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The collective pain of their fighting and deaths would have probably destroyed her, but better she die than watch them die. It’s the reason she takes on every lost soul she can, even if they’re not useful. She blames Yato, but she blames herself just as much for what happened.

Now, things are on the verge of going past the point of no return, and everything is going according to Kugaha’s plans, with Yato and Bishamon fixed on one another and their colorful pasts, unable to see the forest for the trees. Vastly outnumbered, Yato gets separated from Yukine, is encased in a tripartite barrier, and Bishamon’s killing blow for him is caught by Yukine, shattering him into pieces.

This was a brutally intense episode culminating in an equally intense cliffhanger. I can’t quite believe Yukine is dead, since that would surely be curtains for the unarmed Yato, but who knows? It’s a very unfortunate situation. Kugaha has truly made a mess of things, and it’s going to be interesting to see if and how it’s cleaned up.

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