Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 12 – Asking a Friend for a Favor

Once the Archive completes its redesign of the Archive from schoolroom to nightscape, it appears before Vivy as a not-creepy-at-all face. It tells her that everything leading up to this final countdown was no malfunction, but merely the painstakingly calculated judgment of Archive, as well as the completion of its mission to assist the evolution of the human race.

It was determined the only way to do this was by wiping out the existing human race, so AIs could become the new one. As Vivy and Matsumoto made their changes, the Archive was watching for over a century, making sure their events did not change the main timeline appreciably. Obviously, the Archive also witnessed Vivy become the first AI to create something of their own free will.

Because of this, the Archive says something to Vivy that is inaudible to us and left unknown to us. Instead, we only see how Vivy reacts to it, and both Matsumoto and Beth also notice something’s on her mind. Meanwhile, it’s determined that by using the virus eliminated Vivy’s alter-ego Diva, which Matsumoto continued researching in the ensuing years, they may be able to shut down the Archive.

The problem is it can’t be sent wirelessly, but must be directly, physically injected into the Arayashiki core. The tower should be the most secure facility on the planet, but when Vivy and the Toak team they arrive by boat, the power is out and there are only a smattering of guards. There’s some great final-dungeon vibes coming from their assault, right up to the time the lights come up and the walls begin literally closing in.

Yui and the boat are assaulted by waves of guards, and in her final moments, Yui doesn’t order Beth to keep going: she asks her for a favor like a friend would ask another. That’s because she wanted the world to see that she and Beth, and AI, could stand and walk together. Her death, combined with all of the Toak soldiers getting smashed, means it’s all up to the Diva Sisters.

…Them and Matsumoto, who transforms into Flyer Mode. Vivy and Beth hop aboard and they punch through into the tower’s interior, but there, a “Dark” copy of Matsumoto is waiting for them, and is able to match every one of “Light” Matsumoto’s maneuvers. Eventually Beth sacrifices herself to ensure Vivy and Matsumoto can continue the mission.

This is when we start to learn what the Archive told Vivy back at the beginning that gave her so much pause: it had decided to entrust “one future” to Vivy, leaving open the infinitessimal possibility that the calculations that led to them wiping out the human race were in error. As she’s surrounded by expectant AIs, it seems all Vivy has to do to realize that one future…is to sing, the one thing she cannot do, because she still doesn’t know what it means to pour one’s heart into something.

Because she doesn’t sing her song, the bots sing the twisted minor-key version, the countdown expires, and Archive doesn’t just bring down one big satellite, but one third of the roughly one million satellites in Earth’s orbit, most of them coming down on cities and no doubt completing much of the work the berserk AI armies began. The moment the satellites streak through the sky in symmetrical unison is beautiful in its horror, resembling pipes of a grand organ in the sky.

Vivy could not bring herself to sing, even though Archive gave her the opportunity to use it to shut down the AIs. When Vivy laments her utter failure and again asks the heart question, he tells her about all the times he almost ruined his plans, went rogue, and almost got destroyed due to all of her unnecessary computations.

Just then, when all hope seems lost and there’s nothing to do but commisserate, Osamu comes in over the radio. He’s preparing to send Vivy and Matsumoto back one more time, to just after the AI attack first occurred, which is naturally, for dramatic purposes, the furthest back in time he’s able to send them.

Osamu succeeds in sending them back just before being killed, and instead of going with Osamu, Vivy and Matsumoto race to Toak’s aid in the warehouse. No doubt their assault plan may well end up doomed and everyone may end up sacrificed except for Vivy.

But if it’s all in the aid of getting her where she needs to be in order to sing her song, it will be worth it. Hopefully, when that moment comes again, Vivy will understand what it is to sing with all her heart, because only she can sing the song, and only her song can stop the end of humanity. We’ll see how it goes!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 11 – What’s Past Is Providence

As the end of last week teased, all of the work Vivy and Matsumoto have done throughout the century would seem to be for naught, as all the AIs still go berserk, this time with the added insult of singing Vivy’s song while they slaughter the humans.

Vivy does what she can in her immediate vicinity to stop the berserk AIs from killing, but even when she saves one man, he runs from her in terror. She’s woefully outnumbered and almost hit by a Johnnycab when she’s saved by Matsumoto, who just woke up after fifteen years to learn the Singularity Project was a complete bust.

The episode drives that point home by not shying away from the scenes of carnage mixed with programmed mirth, perhaps best illustrated by a gigantic musical parade float-thingy red-misting humans in the streets. Wit Studio’s experience in depicting horrendous disasters is well known, and they really flex their dread-inspiring muscles here.

Osamu is hard at work doing exactly what he did in the first episode: send the insulated Diva AI data into the past to fix this disaster. Only that’s already happened in another timeline, which means we have two Divas here. Instead of activate the Diva native to his timeline, Matsumoto witnesses as the AI security guards who came to kill him are neutralized…by Diva and Matsumoto.

Osamu’s first reaction is intense sorrow and guilt at having put Diva through a century of burdens and suffering when she was only born to sing. But Diva isn’t the Diva he knew anymore; she’s Vivy, and not only did she not mind the last century of service, but she’s asking him here and now to tell her and Matsumoto how to deal with this.

To make everyone happy with her singing, she must protect her audience. To protect her audience, she must stop the war.

In this fully dystopian-adjacent episode, the scrappy underdogs must hook up with their allies, who in this particular case—and quite ironically so—are Toak. Specifically, a moderate faction of Toak led by none other than Kakitani Yugo’s granddaughter, Yui (voiced by Asai Ayaka, who sounds a lot like a more assertive Ichinose Kana).

Like Osamu, she wants to create a world where AI and human can coexist. When Vivy, Osamu, and Matsumoto arrive at the cargo port where Yui’s faction is battling, we and Vivy lean that Elizabeth is not only still alive and well and not berserk, but serving as Yui’s bodyguard.

Once Yui stands down the Toak soldiers suspicious of Vivy and Matsumoto, we learn the details of how Beth is still around: while her body was lost in the Sunrise incident, her data was still on Toak servers, and was uploaded into a new body, but only with memories before Sunrise.

Beth asks Vivy about herself, Yugo, and her sister Estella, and Vivy’s answers comfort her: she was Yugo’s lifekeeper, and Estella carried out her mission until the very end with a smile on her face. Yui produces a recording of Yugo from just before Vivy met Ophelia forty years ago, with Yugo asking Beth to protect the others, a recording that inspired Yui to found the moderate faction of Toak.

Once the group is in a safe (for now) place, they start to put their heads together: which historical event sparks this war, and how can it be avoided? Why is everyone singing Vivy’s song? Also, why haven’t Vivy or Beth lost control like the others?

Beth can be explained easily enough; she’s no longer a true autonomous AI, but a kind of emulation of the past Beth, “a bot who keeps on following her master’s orders.” She was also never uploaded to the Archive for updates, as that would have exposed Toak to authorities.

That Toak never updated Beth after reviving her is a eureka moment for Osamu, who reveals there is a supply of dormant, outdated AIs who also were never connected to the Archive, and so haven’t gone berserk.

As for the Archive, its physical form is the Arayashiki, the tower that Vivy and Matsumodo used as both index and measuring stick for AI progress. In both this episode and in the updated OP, the tower is complete. This episode started with a countdown, and when zero was reached a signal was send to all AIs, save Vivy and Beth: essentially, “kill all humans.”

The group’s brainstorming session is interrupted by some new devilry: The Archive sends out a message over every PA: it has started a twelve-hour countdown, after which it will bring down a giant orbiting satellite. It warns “all AIs who want to exist” to evacuate the affected area ASAP.

Vivy dives into the Archive, which is in the middle of some major redecorating, turning the pastel classroom into an early 21st-century Tokyo nightscape. When Vivy asks Archive (voiced by Ohara Sayaka) what she’s doing, she says she is fulfilling her and their purpose: to wipe out the current human race.

It seems clear now that Archive is the key. This time, she used Vivy’s song as part of whatever data package altered all AIs’ missions to mass murder. That she’s bringing down a satellite on Arayashiki’s position indicates she may also be trying to end her own existence, leaving the humans and AIs who survive to deal with the aftermath.

Of course, this is all speculation. Suffice it to say, we needed an episode that upped the stakes near the end and put Vivy, Matsumoto, and their allies in a race against time to stop the robo-pocalypse. This episode served that purpose admirably, and with the series’ typical flare for grimly dissonant juxtapositions.

It was also great to see that Elizabeth survived, at least in some form. It will be nice to see the Diva sisters fighting side-by-side this time around. Matusmoto said the Singularity Project failed, but that assumes the project is over. I just see this as them having attained the project’s next level; the final dungeon. And it looks to be a doozy.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spark in the Gloom

When the immensely popular and critically acclaimed ufotable series Demon Slayer aired between April and September of 2019…I missed out. Being highly susceptible to FOMO, when it first appeared on my Netflix home screen, I decided to dive in, buoyed by going back and catching up on the currently airing Jujutsu Kaisen.

With the first episode in the bag, I can confidently say that this is right up my alley, and I really should have cracked it open back in Spring 19. In my defence, back then I was busy watching the excellent Dororo reboot, Part 2 of Attack on Titan’s third season, and the second cour of the promising Rising of the Shield Hero, so I wasn’t just twiddling my thumbs.

That said, I’m glad I went back to check this out. While the number of characters and storylines are sure to balloon before long, I loved how simple it starts out: a boy carrying a wounded girl through a bleak wintry forest. I can’t stress that “bleak” part enough—once Kamado Tanjirou returns home to find his entire family slaughtered but one sister, I couldn’t help feel like we were entering Grave of the Fireflies territory.

I won’t spoil Grave for those who haven’t seen it; suffice it to say it’s by far the darkest and bleakest Ghibli film and one of the saddest films ever, and things don’t end well for its pair of siblings. Demon Slayer differs in that while Tanjirou and Nezuko suffer horrendous tragedy, the opening episode ends with a spark of hope that breaks through the unyielding cold.

Granted, that hope is a spark and only a spark, made possible by a titular demon slayer named Tomioka Giyuu staying his hand when it comes time to execute Nezuko. Did I mention demon blood got into her wounds, thus transforming her into a demon? Well, that’s the sitch, because it wasn’t enough that Tenjirou lose his mother and other siblings.

While this could easily have descended into tragedy porn, there’s a sense that things can’t get any worse, and that it’s always darkest before the dawn (though Tenjirou is warned to keep Nezuko out of direct sunlight). That fact is reflected in the stunningly gorgeous wintry mountain landscape, which at least started out bright and cheerful before the clouds amassed.

Tomioka admits he shares part of the blame for Tenjirou’s plight; if he’d arrived a few hours earlier he could have stopped the demons before they attacked. But he didn’t get where he is today by dwelling on the past. What keeps him from killing Nezuko is that despite most likely starving for human flesh, rather than eat her knocked-out brother, she shields him from Tomioka. Instead he places some kind of pacifier in her mouth that seems to calm her (and give her a very cute surprised expression).

So the story so far is simple and familiar: kid loses almost everything, and seeks to find and kill (or…slay) the demons responsible, and save his sister. Naturally, he’ll need to become stronger to do that, and Tomioka tells him to head to Mt. Sagiri to find a man named Urokodaki Sakonji.

ufotable, renowned for its action sequences, wows with the landscapes first, but is no slouch when it comes to the showdown with Tomioka and the Kamado siblings. The action is beautiful and precise, but not overly flashy or show-offy. Tomioka is so quick it’s as if he can teleport. Tenjirou is a lot more clumsy in his movements, as befits his desperate mood, while the demonic Nezuko is both beast-like and balletic in her strikes, leaps and lunges.

All in all, Demon Slayer is off to a stirring, enticing start, front-loading the tragedy but also presenting its hero with a chance to claw back from the brink and salvage what remains of his shattered life. I’m glad Tenjirou isn’t left all alone, and while Nezuko is a demon, and that sucks, there seems to be enough of her left that she’s not an immediate threat to him. As their quest begins, so does my quest to cover it. Better a bit late than never, eh?

Vinland Saga – 14 – The Luck of the Wicked

I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light. —Maximus, Gladiator

Forget about Thorfinn for a moment. He’s not the protagonist this week, Anne is. Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is large, poor, and devoutly Christian. But even if Rome was once “the light”, it has long since fallen, while the world remains as brutal and cruel and dark as ever, if not more so.

Anne has a secret: she’s come into possession of a beautiful ring. We later learn she’s not sure how much it cost, because she didn’t buy it; she stole it from the market. By doing so, she broke one of the Ten Commandments, which her pious father has no doubt drilled into her means a one-way ticket to hell.

Anne understands she’s sinned on one level, because she keeps the ring hidden from her family in the hollow of a tree. But on another level entirely, she’s just so goddamn delighted to have this gorgeous ring! It seems to give her no end of pleasure. At present, her love for the ring overrides her fear of God’s judgment.

Two of Askeladd’s men, whose banter we’ve seen during various marches and battles, are trying to understand the drunk priest’s concept of “love.” Does the longstanding brotherly bond between the two constitute that kind of love? The priest doesn’t know.

Does whatever amount of silver would break that bond constitute that love? Is the priest’s own veneration of booze love? He wouldn’t call it that; needing booze due to addiction and loving it are far from the same thing.

Ultimately, the warriors can’t understand the priest’s words, but they can remember another “weirdo” who used to talk in strange, seemingly contradictory riddles. Thors said “a true warrior didn’t need a sword”. Thors may not have been Christian, but to the drunken priest who never met him, Thors may as well have been describing Jesus.

Still, most warriors in this cruel dark world still carry swords, like Askeladd. He’s a man like Askeladd, who would probably be the first to say he owes a lot amount of his success as a warrior and a commander to luck. Even all the skill and experience he has, he could not have gathered without luck.

But his luck seems to have hit a snag: the countryside has been beset by harsh wintry weather that threatens to kill his men long before he reaches his destination. Ragnar believes Askeladd’s luck has run out altogether, and that nothing he does will be able to change that.

But Askeladd isn’t out of luck; not really. If he were, they wouldn’t have encountered a village to plunder for food…Anne’s village.

When Anne’s large, devout Christian family sits around the table for a meager (but very much appreciated) repast, her father says the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, and explains to the younger children why it is important to say it, and to obey the Commandments. When the day of judgment comes—and father believes it will comes soon—the faithful and righteous will ascend to heaven, while the sinners will descend into hell.

This is enough to frighten the little ones, but when Anne quietly excuses herself from the table to “go pee,” it seems more out of discomfort than fear. Outside, as the cold winds and snow lash, she recovers her precious ring, puts it on her raw, rough hand, and revels in its beauty. And while she’s out by the tree, Bjorn bursts into her family’s house.

Askeladd still has luck, but it isn’t perfect, and isn’t without cost. When he learns there’s only enough food in the village for fifty villagers to last the winter, the choice is plain: either he and his men starve, or they kill the villagers and take their food. He decides on the latter, making use of what luck he was given.

The villagers—men, women and children—are rounded up and slaughtered. Anne survives that slaughter, because she’s hiding behind a tree. You could say she was lucky, at least in terms of being able to stay alive, in spite of the fact she broke one of God’s commandments. If she hadn’t stolen the ring, or gone out to admire it, she’d have met her family’s fate.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God—Matthew 5:8

Was Anne’s father’s heart pure? Her mother’s? The hearts of her younger siblings and other relations? Did they ascend to heaven upon being murdered, leaving her alone in the cruel dark world below? Was her luck merely a curse, keeping her bound to cruelty and darkness her family will no longer have to endure?

Anne wanders off, neither spotted nor followed by Askeladd’s men, and the winter storm passes. She reaches a spot where the crescent moon looms large. She asks God if her family made it to heaven, but declares that she’s “elated” not to be sent there herself.

Shocked to have witnessed what Askeladd and his men did without fearing God’s punishment in the slightest (since, of course, they believe in entirely different gods), she’s as elated in that moment staring at the moon as she was when she stole the ring.

Maybe she sees in those wicked men, and in her own wickedness, a different kind of purity—of a kind she can’t quite describe, but which bestowed upon those wicked men the luck to find food, and upon her the luck to survive at least one more harsh winter night.

Overlord III – 13 (Fin) – Another Easy Triumph

Gazef Stronoff knows there’s no way he can win, but he’ll fight Ains Ooal Gown anyway. As Head Warrior he is the sword of his kingdom; if he doesn’t face their greatest foe, who will? All other considerations are secondary.

While an argument could be made there was far more Brain, Climb, and other warriors of the kingdom could have learned from Gazef, staying alive to teach them would have meant some kind of surrender against Gown, which his code simply would not allow.

Gown defeats him easily by stopping time and casting True Death upon him. It’s pretty anticlimactic, but it’s also efficient, and Gown had no real reason to do further bodily harm to such an impressively stalwart opponent.

Emperor El-Nix is driven half-mad by the results of his new “ally’s” overwhelming victory over the royal armies. Climb surmises that Gazef may have given his life as a message to him, Brain, and others not to bother fighting the likes of Gown and instead building a future. Brain ain’t hearin’ it; after drinking with Climb, he’s jumping right back into the fight.

As for King Ramposa, with his eldest son gone too long and his second son already jockeying, he agrees to cede E-Rantel to Lord Ains. Princess Renner has a simple task for Climb: to deliver her handpicked roses to the memorial of the fallen armies, flashing her trademark evil smirk once his back is turned to her.

Ains’ dark forces march into E-Rantel without resistance, save a pebble thrown from an angry little boy whose father died in the recent battle. Albedo, who hates humans, prepares to execute the whelp for his disrespect, but she’s blocked by Momon.

Even weirder, however, is that Lord Ains appears behind Albedo to offer Momon a job as their law enforcer in the city. No harm will come to the innocent, as long as Momon makes sure to deal with the guilty. I imagine either Ains simply used a cloning spell or Demiurge disguised himself as Momon or Ains.

Whatever the deal was with two alter-egos of Momonga being in the same place at the same time, the effect is the same: the townsfolk see Momon as their protector, sacrificing his honor for their sake. I’m sure they’d much rather have an adventurer like him enforcing laws than the myriad undead beasts under Ains’ command.

With that, Sorcerer King Ains Ooal Gown takes a seat in the throne room of E-Rantel’s royal palace, all the Floor Guardians and Battle Maids assembled and offering him congratulations on his triumph. But as usual, he didn’t have to actually do much, and a lot of the plan that was just executed wasn’t even his, but Demiuge’s.

Still, as far as Demiurge, Albedo, or anyone else in that room is concerned, everything that happened happened because their lord and sorcerer king made it happen. E-Rantel is now the capital of his new “Sorcerer Kingdom”, Ains Ooal Gown.

No doubt OverLord IV will deal with the political transition and administration of the city, dealing with any resistance that crops up, and perhaps further expansion of the new kingdom. I’ll be here to watch, as always.

Overlord III – 12 – No Chance

In giving Lord Gown the task of giving the signal to start the battle against the Kingdom with one of his magic spells, Emperor El Nix plans to observe how Gown fights in hope of determining a strategy for fighting him, a fight he knows is on the horizon. But as we know, no NPCs, or humans for that matter, have a snowball’s chance in hell against the undead Gown and his minions.

To demonstrate just how hopeless it is to resist his might, Gown takes the ball El Nix gives him and runs with it. The “signal” spell, Tribute to Dark Fertility, Ia, Shub-Niggurath, is actually an offering to one of the game’s dark deities. The Empire is outnumbered 240,000 to 60,000, but the tribute ends up massacring seventy thousand of the kingdom’s forces in one fell swoop.

Both sides of the battle tremble in fear at what they witness, and anyone with a head screwed on right starts running like hell, including Marquis Raeven. But the tribute was only the beginning of the spell; a great black sphere floats over the masses of corpses and absorbs them in black goo.

Five gigantic, many-mouthed beasts Gown calls “adorable baby goats” are summoned, which he believes to be a new game record. As they’re “goats”, the beasts do what goats do: devour everything in sight. Only they’re twenty-story-high goats with more legs and mouths, so they make quick work of the remaining kingdom forces that haven’t fled.

Among those who don’t run are whom I imagine to be three of the four individuals Gown has ordered his dark forces not to kill: Climb, Brain, and Gazef. Climb and Brain are prepared to lead a decoy force in order to facilitate the king’s safe return to E-Rantel.

When King Ramposa asks Brain what he would ask in return, he wants Climb to be able to marry Renner, which the king approves, though it will mean giving Climb a worthy title. Meanwhile, Gazef tries to take on one of the “goats”, and gives one of them his best shot, but even his badass blue sword can’t make a dent, and he’s sent flying—though not fatally.

Climb and Brain end up with Gazef as the goat being ridden by Lord Gown arrives. Gown and Gazef exchange pleasantries, and Gown cuts to the chase: he wants Gazef as a subordinate. If he agrees, Gown will spare the rest of the army. But to agree would mean betraying his king, and as we know Gazed would never do that. Instead, he challenges Gown to a duel.

Gazef would rather go out in a blaze of glory than forsake his monarch, but honestly I don’t think it will go well for him…after all, he’s mortal.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 09 – Lucky Girl

Pitohui seemed to be talking a bigger game than of that which she would’ve been capable last week, but she holds true to her avatar name, killing everyone she touches (and quite a few she doesn’t) taking out over twenty of the nearly thirty allied opponents all by herself. The episode is called “ten-minute massacre” but her work doesn’t even take that long, and just like that, seven teams and their leaders are taken out, thinning the SJ2 field considerably.

With the number of teams holding Pito and M’s attention dwindling fast, LLENN takes a safe and stealthy route to them through the inside of the Dome, which has a savannah theme of high grass perfect for hiding, especially if you’re tiny like LLENN and Fuka.

When their position is suddenly exposed, they use speed, pink smoke grenades, and a silencer on P-chan to defeat their foes. Fuka gets a bit too cocky and ends up emptying a clip from her handgun without hitting her target, but she draws from her fantasy RPG background to blugeon the guy to death with a rifle.

Throughout SJ2, we’ve gotten color commentary from the peanut gallery, which is a bit tiresome considering how misogynstic many of their comments are. However, I’m willing to tolerate it to a degree because this is, after all, meant to be a Boy’s/Man’s Game with women players seen as upstart outsiders.

In the cases of Pito, LLENN and Fuka, they’re showing they can not only hang with the boys, but dominate. Speaking of women dominating, “Sinon”, AKA Asada Shino, is mentioned as having cleaned up at the last BoB.

We meet a new woman character in Clarence who LLENN and Fuka initially believe to be just another lecherous dude, albeit a more androgynous one. Turns out she’s a pansexual woman IRL and wants to meet them both. LLENN just wants her magazines, since they’re compatable with P-chan.

She agrees to a kiss (a peck on the cheek) in exchange for the ammo and Clarence’s resignation. She gets both, but they’ve been chatting so long a team has manages to sneak right up to them and initiate an ambush. That team is MMTM, one of the contenders for the SJ2 win, which means LLENN will need every one of the bullets she got from Clarence (who promptly dies) as well as the hope she won’t run out of her famous good GGO luck.

Inuyashiki – 10

Turns out the woman, father, and baby we met last week weren’t the ones in the plane that crashed. Hiro has taken control of dozens, many of which find targets on the ground below, but Ichirou is finally able to take action,  commandeering and soft-landing ten planes in the bay – including the one with the woman, father and baby.

But Hiro has already caused much carnage, and hundreds if not thousands of casualties. And perhaps more pressing to Ichirou, Mari calls him to say she’s trapped atop city hall in the observation deck, where there’s a fire raging and where oxygen is running out.

Ichirou could probably save Mari and the others in City Hall in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, but there’s a problem: Hiro has found him. In their first encounter, he bolted as soon as Ichirou got up from Hiro’s bang; here, he wants answers, and isn’t satisfied with the ones he gets.

Hiro is upset that he’s the villain, while the old man is the hero, and so lashes out like a child would, first by grappling with Ichirou, then by bang-bang-banging him mercilessly. Finally, Ichirou counters with a bang of his own, but Hiro is only momentarily stunned.

As previewed in the show’s OP, a no-hold-barred battle between Hiro and Ichirou, nobody wins or loses except the city crumbling around and below them. When they’ve finally beaten and blasted each other unconscious, their “fail-safe”/”autopilot” systems kick in.

It’s here where it’s indicated that for all of the carnage and mayhem Hiro has caused, Ichirou’s system may be the superior of the two, and not necessarily due to any mechanical differences. Rather, because the original human that was copied by the mysterious aliens was older and more experienced.

This enables Autopilot Ichirou to destroy the hapless $100 billion space station in orbit and use the falling debris as cover for a sneak attack. He essentially scalps and literally “dis-arms” Hiro, and both fall back to earth with a crash and a splash.

At this point, I didn’t have very high hopes for Mari’s survival, and indeed she looks to have succumbed to smoke inhalation and asphyxia by the time Ichirou finally arrives. We watch him quickly descend into a new sub-level of despair as Mari’s life flashes before his eyes, but after much perseverance he manages to revive her.

Mari reacts to learning her father came when she needed him most with a big hug and a lot of tears. There’s no time fo Ichirou to explain or try to hide what he is; he must save the rest of the sightseers atop the building, including Nao, and after sending Mari home, he’s all over the city, saving as many as he can as those around him call him “god”.

Meanwhile, Hiro’s in a bad way, but he’s obviously not dead. Two good Samaritans encounter find him in an alley, and when he manages to mutter “water”, they give him some juice from the nearby vending machine, unwittingly helping a potential country-destroyer get back in the game.

I hope Ichirou realizes it isn’t ovr between him and Hiro, and that he isn’t so caught up in helping strangers that he neglects his family’s safety.

Inuyashiki – 09

The day after he kills an entire gaggle of press and an entire station full of police, Shishigami Hiro is all everyone is talking about. Due to his attractiveness, a number of fan clubs crop up, and many girls aren’t ashamed to voice their admiration for him. It’s a chilling reminder that this kind of “villain worship” happens in real life all the time.

Meanwhile, Hiro hacks all screens in Japan and makes an announcement: because Japan will never stop hunting him, he has declared the entire country of 120-odd million his enemy, and intends to kill every last one of them. He starts picking off targets from his rooftop vantage point, but also uses the screens of televisions and smartphones to execute people.

Andou gets Ichirou to send a hack of his own warning people to put away their smartphones, but it’s too late. In a half an hour, 100 have been murdered. He intends to kill 1,000 tomorrow and cheerfully asks the people to “look forward to it” before signing off.

Needless to say, it was hard to watch Hiro “gun” down throngs of people down in one of the busiest business districts in the world, and a place I spent a lot of time walking around. That sinking feeling is made worst by the fact he knows Chakko betrayed him (but wrongly believes he’s working with the police).

Hiro has also completely lost whatever goodwill he had with Shion. When he contacts her she begs him to stop the killing, but he responds as a machine would: there’s a problem, and they can’t live together in peace until he’s fixed it. He talks of eliminating Japan with the detached urgency one speaks of tying one’s unlaced shoe.

I doubt it will be long before even Andou and Shion enter Hiro’s crosshairs. The next day, as anticipation mounts as to whether, when, and how he’ll kill 1,000, we watch a pretty young woman board a plane, and once in the air, pacify a baby with a YouTube video.

Meanwhile, Mari is playing hooky with her friends in Shinjuku, but wants to keep the promise to come home with a treat for her dad’s dog. With Andou using Ichirou’s last name so often during their phone convos, it’s only a matter of time before Ichirou’s family is at risk too.

All the while, Mari seems to suspect/realize her father is the hero trying to stop Hiro, but is so unused to communicating with him she can’t seem to bring it up to him, or even thank him for going to bat for her over her future.

But that’s assuming she, and the rest of Japan, have a future. That plane with the woman and the baby? Hiro pulls it down in the middle of Shinjuku, in a sickening echo of 9/11. As his destructive capabilities increase, 10,000 dead tomorrow isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Ichirou HAS to find him and stop him. But right now, he seems over-matched and overwhelmed, and it’s hard to blame him. If there’s a mark against this episode, it’s how ineffectual and unprepared Ichirou was against Hiro’s slaughter. He sent Andou’s warning to phones, but that just wasn’t enough.

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Hiro manages to escape the cops without killing anybody, but the damage is done: his mother has seen him treated the way a terrorist would be treated, and that’s going to be hard to explain, especially when his face and deeds are all over TV, the internet, and word-of-mouth.

Hiro lands nowhere in particular, but it isn’t long before he comes across Watanabe Shion, who is willing to harbor him in the cramped apartment where she and her grandmother live. Shion, the poor lass, doesn’t believe the news…except the part about his “complicated” family situation.

This served to endear him even more to her; she’s an orphan. Both her parents died of cancer, and she believes she won’t live long either. Her classmates may ultimately conclude Hiro was a bad egg despite being cute and nice, but Shion can’t do that. And you really feel for her and yes, worry about something on the TV or internet setting Hiro off on another rampage.

After a quiet, polite dinner, and in a scene reminiscent of Leon, Hiro gets up and points his finger at the heads of Shion and her grandmother…but in a genius bit of cutting that leaves you hanging for just a moment…we see he didn’t go through with it, as he’s having a nice breakfast with them the next morning.

This is an 80-90% Hiro episode, but the bit with Ichirou and Andou serves as a nice, lightweight intermission from the tense and emotional goings-on with Hiro. Very lightweight, as it happens. Andou, being very scientific in helping Ichirou maximize his powers, has Ichirou interface with is phone so that he can communicate hands-free at any time, like an iPhone in his brain.

Ichirou’s bewilderment and panicky reactions are always a great source of laughs, and this is no exception, as Andou recommends Ichirou test the range of their comms, which he does by launching himself into orbit. An spacewalking astronaut spots him; whether this will be trouble later depends on whether there was any kind of video feed.

Back to Hiro, who doesn’t have much to do besides “watch” TV and surf the internet, specifically chat rooms like “2chan”. He gets sucked in and is unable to “turn off”. The online dialogue is naturally quite vicious, and in his absence, it turns against his mother, who is so upset and ashamed she commits suicide.

Hiro learns this on a breaking news graphic during a comedy show he was actually managing to laugh at. Turns out there’s no escape from his torment, even when he launches himself high into the sky to scream. As I said last week, losing his mother would mean losing the one thing keeping him tethered to a degree of humanity—though we’ll see if Shion steps in to fill that role.

My only nit to pick this week: Why didn’t Hiro locate and rush to his mother the moment the news dropped she’d committed suicide? You’d think he would have at least tried to resurrect her. Then again, if she was totally dead at that point, perhaps even Ichirou and Hiro’s healing powers can only go so far.

Hiro intends to take revenge on those who caused and celebrated the death of his mother. He slaughters a media circus outside his father’s house, sparing his father, despite his role in abandoning his mother for another woman. I guess he still has some boundaries.

However, there are certainly some boundaries that he can easily break through—like the boundary between the legion of trolls and real-life, real-time consequences for their words and attitudes.

Targeting a particularly nasty chatroom, a member of which gave the media his address and name, he first hacks in and tells them that he’ll kill them all. Then he kills the one who ratted him out (even though he insists he was only trolling), then systematically kills each and every member of the room.

The nature of their real-life isolation from each other made it impossible for anyone to credibly warn anyone else, and the speed with which Hiro works makes it impossible for anyone to even process what the hell is happening, let alone defend themselves.

While these trolls were undeniably assholes, they didn’t really deserve to be executed, and Hiro certainly wasn’t the one to pass judgment on them, considering the extent of his own crimes. The grand irony of it all is that if only he hadn’t been caught, Hiro might’ve actually stopped killing; and redirected his life to protecting and providing for the mother who bore him.

Alderamin on the Sky – 04

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This episode of Alderamin provided great bang for the buck, not only giving us a highly satisfying mock battle where Ikuta can flex his keen military mind and Yatori can flash her considerable skills in combat (albeit on the wrong side), but it also inserts a fresh plot against the princess by skilled knights loyal to the late Gen. Rikan.

That once more places our core of protagonists between training and war, and neither Yatori nor Ikuta flinch when the time comes to flip the switch to “playing for keeps.”

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But first, Ikuta easily outwits an overconfident and intellectually outclassed opponent, just as we thought he would. It wouldn’t be any fun if his chess moves proved incorrect and a clearly semi-villainous character were to prevail, even temporarily, eh? In fact, had Sarihaslag not had Yatori on his side, he would have “died” much sooner than he did.

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Ikuta steers the mock battle exactly how he likes, exerting as little effort as possible and making his off-balance opponent fret and sweat (I like how he let Torway do the honors of taking out his bro). Like farming and digging wells, his strategies are borne out of laziness; the human desire to make life easier.

You’d think Suya would still be opposed to this kind of philosophy, but she looks as dazzled as the rest of Ikuta’s men, who surprise him by chanting his name. But he doesn’t think he did anything special. Just Ikuta being Ikuta.

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Because the mock battle was so entertaining and yet still fairly lighthearted, the episode wisely decided to follow Ikuta’s victory up with a serious situation, as Chamille, hearing false reports that Ikuta was injured, ends up surrounded by rogue knights who want to exact their vengeance upon her for what happened to their beloved leader.

Yatori is Johnny-on-the-spot, but these are seasoned warriors led by someone who looks just as badass as her, if not moreso. Indeed, he quickly demonstrates how tough he is by driving his bare hand through Yatori’s sword and pinning her to the ground.

That’s when Torway fires a shot at the rogue captain’s head, and things get crazy.

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The moment Yatori’s movement is freed by the shot, she kills the captain, then explodes into a furious killing frenzy, ending the entire group of renegades with the vicious grace of some kind of wild cat. It’s Alderamin’s best combat sequence to date, beautifully staged and animated for maximum breathless effect.

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When it’s all over, all the traitors are lying dead in pools of their own blood, which also covers both Yatori and Chamille, who is fine, but stunned by what she just witnessed. Yatori too can neither move nor let go of her swords, as if unable to switch off her berserk mode.

That’s where her “left hand”, Ikuta comes in, saying just the words and touching her in just the way that calms her down and brings her back into the world, as no one else can. This is clearly not the first time this has happened; Ikuta has been supporting Yatori since they were very young. If anyone wondered why she puts up with this twerp, here it is.

When Chamille sees Ikuta with Yatori, she seems in awe of the bond they share, not to mention jealous. And when Ikuta starts teasing her for drenched in blood (probably not the best idea considering she’s twelve), she starts to bawl like the kid she is and lets him have it.

Ikuta may be annoyingly good at a lot of things, but he has enough flaws and nuances to balance him out and bring out his humanity. And his chemistry with Yatori, and the dialogue, combat and direction in general are all marvelous. If it weren’t obvious already, Alderamin is a sure keeper for me.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 15

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I honestly didn’t think a second cour episode of Re:Zero could match the cinematic majesty of episode 7, but, well…here we are, eight episodes later, and this show is still topping itself. My expectations for the finale have now risen to unreasonable highs. But never mind that; we’ve got a long, long way to go, as does Natsuki Subaru.

Subaru doesn’t commit suicide. He does die and Return by Death; but not by his choosing. He is slain in the most nightmarish way imaginable, having his fingers and leg cleaved off before freezing solid and cracking. Jeez, this show is rough on ol’ Subaru.

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Surprisingly, he respawns not in a bed, but at the vendor’s cart, where he was with Rem seemingly an eternity ago (but in reality, early in last week’s episode). It isn’t long before he’s in a bed, however, as he’s so traumatized by what he witnessed and experienced in his last life, he is still in shock and barely able to speak.

Felix can’t do anything about his mental condition, so Crusch lets Rem take him home to Roswaal’s manor, hopeful being with Emilia and Ram will help him recover. Crusch also asks why Rem is so devoted to Subaru, and she responds “because he’s special.”

Once again, they fail to reach manor without incident, even though it’s Rem and not Subie’s choice to head there.

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The hooded baddies—witch cultists—ambush the cart, bloody a furious Rem, and take Subie captive.

Subie wakes up in chains, still unable to speak, and comes face to face with the grotesque and thoroughly insane Betelgeuse Romanee-Conti, who would be a goofy character for Re:Zero if we weren’t familiar with his far less evil counterpart, Roswaal.

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Oh, and if this guy wasn’t fucking threatening and terrifying as all Hell, and merely a subordinate to “The Gospel”, and presumably, The Witch. Betel is a high priest of “sloth”, and initially calls Subie “pride” (perhaps why the cultists bowed to him last week?), and while his plans for Subie aren’t precisely clear, he’s intent on finding and killing Rem as soon as possible.

Rem all but grants his wish by busting into their cavern hideout, hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded. For all her power and combat ability and heartfelt desire to save her beloved Subaru, she’s still quite messed up from the initial ambush, and when she gets too close, Betel strings her up in mid-air and breaks all the bones in her body, then twists her extremities in the opposite direction just to twist the proverbial knife.

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Betel heads off to prepare for “The Ordeal”, but Rem is amazingly still alive enough to scoot towards Subaru and free him from his chains, and from what is certainly to be more horrible torment at the hands of that monster and his master.

Rem tells Subaru to live, and that she loves him, then passes away in his arms. While Rem has died before, as has Subaru, I just wasn’t prepared for this. She was found dead suddenly last week, but here the death is cruelly drawn out, as is Subaru’s apparent helplessness.

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Not sure what else to do, and still clearly foggy from his multiple ordeals, Subie continues his trek on foot to Roswaal’s manor with Rem’s body in his arms. Again, he finds signs of a massacre, dead villagers, children, and Ram.

He doesn’t get anywhere near the front door before a colossal dark beast with glowing yellow eyes orders him to “sleep now, like my daughter.” Subaru’s head pops of with a splash of blood, and the blood-red credits start to roll as he’s buried by the snow. There’s no merciful fade to black. The camera doesn’t budge. The soaring, relentless score blares.

By God…that was one of the darkest, cruelest, most hopeless endings I’ve ever seen. But this is Re:Zero, where endings usually lead to new beginnings. Still, it still felt like everything was over and there would be no victory, ever. 

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Sure enough, Subie respawns with Rem at the vendor’s. He’s not catatonic this time. He embraces Rem, alive again, in love with him. The vendor tells them to take a hike and stop scaring customers with their PDA. Subaru takes Rem’s hand like he never intends to let go of it again, and she’s all to happy to hold his as they walk peacefully, quietly down the street.

Subaru’s smile slowly vanishes as the camera pans up to his face. It’s a beautiful day, but there’s a storm brewing in his eyes. They’re not the dead eyes of defeat. They’re the fanatical eyes of a demon ready to hunt, and Betelgeuse is his prey.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 14

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It stood to reason Subaru wouldn’t quickly or easily fix things with Emilia, or even determine how. As disheartening proof, Emilia doesn’t so much as appear this week. Her absence creates a yawning void considering where she and Subaru left things. Still, I had no idea things would get so much worse so quickly. And yet they do: Re:Zero lets the shit fly free into a very big fan, and nobody comes out clean.

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What’s devastating about what transpires centers on some intentionally harsh words from Felix that sort of echo what Julius had to say (and what he risked his career and chivalry to try to teach Subie, to no avail): Even if Subaru had a plan, even if he involved himself, even if he risked everything to try to do something to protect Emilia, it wouldn’t matter.

That’s how out of his element he is: those who would be his enemies (or at least the political rivals of Emilia) are doing their utmost to simply keep Subaru out of it, not because they’re worried he’d make things worse, but because he’d only end up dead, accomplishing nothing.

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Subie being Subie, he respectfully dismisses stern warnings from both Crusch (who if nothing else was a decent host) and Felix (who had been healing his gate) and heads back home to Roswaal Mathers’ domain as soon as he hears of reports of suspicious movement near the mansion.

The one bright light in the yawning abyss this week was Rem, staying by Subaru’s side no matter how pathetic he gets (indeed, largely because he’s pathetic), not due to any contracts or obligations or honor, but simply because she wants to.

We know what that means even if Subaru isn’t particularly receptive to it: Rem cares about him, at least as much as he cares about Emilia, and Rem won’t leave his side. Her “save a tiny bit of that for me”, talking about his feelings for Emilia, might be the saddest line of the show so far. She deserves so much more than a tiny bit.

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But as far as she takes him, even Rem can’t find it in her to take Subaru to whatever is going in the Mathers lands. Instead, she leaves for the mansion in the night, leaving a note pleading Subaru to heed her words: Stay behind; wait for her return; trust in her.

He can’t. He uses every means at his disposal to get closer and closer to the place no one wants him anywhere near for his own good. He takes Rem’s note as another endorsement of the “Subaru can’t do anything” narrative.

When he’s running in the dark and becomes suddenly surrounded by a circle of sinister-looking mages who don’t even bother to kill him before racing off, it’s clear that Yup, he can’t do anything…not about this.

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In case he didn’t get the message there, he finally arrives at the village near the mansion, and it’s the site of a massacre of men, women, and children. Was this the result of the intense public prejudice against Emilia’s half-elf lineage, which she barely ever mentioned to Subaru? Was it the work of those mages? I don’t know, but I’ll admit the sight shocked me.

But the village was nothing compared to Subaru entering the Mathers estate, seeing a bloody flail, and then coming upon the lifeless, bloodied body of Rem, as she recites her letter to him. I can’t believe Rem is dead any more than Subaru wants to, and though I wouldn’t put it past Re:Zero to make these myriad tragedies stick, one can’t discount the fact Subaru can do something no one around him knows he can do: Die, and by doing so, blow up everything that’s transpired to this point.

Will he do that? If he does Return by Death, where and when does he wake up, and what the hell can he do to prevent this? As for if he doesn’t RbD, well…I don’t particularly want to think about that.

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