SSSS.Gridman – 03 – Gridman, I Hate You!

It’s a rainy day in Tokyo when the newest kaiju appears, and this one seems different, because Akane isn’t making a model, but interacting with a small silver-haired boy named Anti who can transform into a kaiju. Why does he eat like he does, and why does hate Gridman so much? We don’t know. For that matter, we don’t know why Akane hates Gridman and wants him dead so badly, aside from having lost to him twice.

In any case, the Gridman Alliance is collected by Calibur, and before Rikka can apologize for not answering Yuuta’s phone call, Yuuta heads into action—and once again has his ass handed to him. Combined with Yuuta’s worry that he may be fighting/killing a human inside his opponent, he doesn’t fight back, even with Calibur by his side, and the two LOSE to Anti, much to Akane’s elation.

Rikka and Shou are stunned. They fear Yuuta and Calibur are dead, and in lieu of knowing what to do next, they wait in the shop and snipe at each other out of frustration. Their quarrel is broken up by the arrival of the “Neo Genesis Junior High Students” a team allied with Calibur and Gridman (and whose name is an homage to Evangelion). They tell Rikka simply to call Yuuta, and to her and Shou’s great relief, he is alive, and Gridman is simply regenerating. Before long he’s back in the fight.

One of the members of Neon Genesis joins the battle in the form of a battle tank, and combines with Gridman to form a new set of extra-chunky arms and fists with which to defeat Anti, who “runs out of time” in kaiju mode and reverts to human form, after which he’s basically disowned by a furious Akane.

Back at Junk, Rikka apologizes to Yuuta, which is something I think is way overblown in the grand scheme of things (I mean, people miss calls; she was trying to help someone she thought was in need), while her mom (who is voiced by the same actor who portrayed Haruka in FLCL) wonders where so many new people suddenly showed up in her shop.

While Gridman’s defeat was a nice change of pace, the fact it was resolved so easily—with Rikka and Shou simply sitting around until the cavalry arrived—kind of gutted the suspense. Everything is in a very bad way, and then moments later everything’s fine and dandy.

As for why Akane is doing what she’s doing, where exactly Anti came from, and other mysteries, lets just say I’m not holding my breath for satisfying explanations. Perhaps it would be best to just sit back and enjoy the action…it would just be nice if it meant more.

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SSSS.Gridman – 02 – Keep Doing What You Can Do

When Yuuta, Rikka and Shou return to school, they learn that several of their classmates have disappeared and nobody has any memory that they ever existed, or of the kaiju battle. They decide to seek answers from Gridman on the computer in Rikka’s shop, which was going to be closed so Rikka could hang out with her two best friends. Meanwhile Akane takes an interest in what Yuuta is talking about and joins him on the roof for lunch, but doesn’t get far.

Turns out Shinjou Akane is very different from the perfect student Shou made her out to be. She lives in an apartment packed with trash and clay models of kaiju. Turns out she’s the one who’s made some kind of Faustian bargain with Gridman’s enemy, who turns all of her creations into full-size kaiju which then kill people she doesn’t like. She may be talented, but she’s not a good person, and must be stopped.

The suspicious-looking sleepy-eyed man eventually arrives at the junk shop, introducing himself as Samurai Calibur and failing to enter or exit a door without getting caught by his ridiculously long four katanas. He “optimizes” the computer so Rikka and Shou can hear Gridman and see the giant kaiju they’re not aware their cute classmate is making and deploying. Her latest creation is “brought to life” and starts wreaking havoc in much the same way as the first one.

As Akane watches the carnage unfold from the safety of her apartment, Yuuta, Rikka and Shou are nearly flattened by a stray steel beam, but Samurai Calibur demonstrates his prowess by slicing it in two, saving them. They rush to the computer, and because it’s now optimized, Gridman (who is nothing but energy in this universe and needs a human with which to collaborate) provides Yuuta with a “Primal Acceptor” bracelet that lets him customize Gridman to his specs and colors.

The new-and-improved Gridman is lighter and faster, but his Grid Beam is deflected; Akane makes improvements to each kaiju based on the failures of the former ones. Gridman gets beaten up again, but Samurai Calibur joins the battle in the form of a gleaming golden sword, with which Yuuta/Gridman uses to cleave the kaiju in two, destroying it and pissing Akane off royally.

Back at school, Akane’s intended target is unharmed and like everyone else, has forgotten all about the attack. But unlike when he bumped into Akane, sparking her ire, he apologizes after bumping into Yuuta, suggesting perhaps the experience unconsciously made him more courteous.

In any case, I’m sure Yuuta and Akane will be facing off a lot more with their respective weapons. The question is, will the Gridman Alliance ever find out she’s the kaiju-maker, will she reveal it to them when she’s ready to eliminate them once and for all, or can she be convinced to stop this evil, destructive venture? On I watch…

SSSS.Gridman – 01 (First Impressions) – Old Computers are Terrifying…and Awesome

SSSS Gridman follows a familiar formula of “average kid awakens as mecha pilot and fights monsters” and elevates it with a movie-quality production that doesn’t skimp on naturalistic sights, sounds and pacing to immerse you into its once-but-no-longer-mundane world.

The simple beginning of Hibiki Yuuta waking up in Takarada Rikka’s house, recipient of an act of kindness. He hears a voice from an old, cobbled-together computer in Rikka’s family junk store, but only he can see and hear the robot on the screen introducing himself as Gridman.

Similarly, only he can see the immense kaiju looming in the otherwise ordinary Tokyo dusk. Heck, it looks almost like a cloud cell. At first things are kept at a normal level: perhaps Yuuta just hit his head, has temporary memory loss with some audiovisual hallucinations. It’s why Rikka makes sure he gets home safe and someone picks him up in the morning.

That someone is his friend Utsumi Shou, who recommends they carry on like everything’s normal. Yuuta gets a “special hot dog” from the class idol Shinjou Akane, but Shou thinks it’s more out of pity than kindness.

The school scene is full of naturalistic sounds and leisurely pacing that emulates real life. The voice actors all use a casual conversational style that makes the scenes feel lived in.

He wants to see what Yuuta saw, so the boys return to Rikka’s mom’s store. Neither of Yuuta’s new friends can see or hear Gridman on the screen, but they do hear and feel the tremors in the ground when a kaiju finally shows up and starts wreaking havoc on the city.

And boy, is there a lot of havoc. Vehicles are flung about like toys, energy balls are shot from the kaiju’s mouth that level whatever buildings it doesn’t flatten with its lumbering gait—including Yuuta’s school. In the tradition of Power Rangers, the big boss is slightly unsettling looking…yet also a bit cute.

It isn’t until Yuuta is transported into the computer to have a quick confab with Gridman that Rikka and Shou can see the robot on the monitor. Outside, the full-size Gridman materializes and starts going at it with the kaiju, but just as Shinji’s first go in Unit 01 didn’t go so swimmingly, Yuuta quickly gets put on his ass by his opponent.

Wanting to help in some way, Rikka decides to try typing encouragement to Yuuta on the computer, exhibiting her skill for speed-typing. It gets through to Yuuta, who stands up, dusts himself off, and then goes at the monster with a full head of steam, culminating in ripping its head and neck off and finishing it off with a good old-fashioned Grid Beam.

Once the battle is over Yuuta materializes back in Rikka’s place, victorious, but Gridman warns him this is only the beginning; there will be far more to his mission. Shou can’t believe what he just saw but is really pumped up; Rikka is more reserved and kind of freaking out as her mind tries to process it all. So Yuuta and Shou head home.

The next morning everything is back to normal…too normal, as their school was definitely destroyed last night, but when they arrive, it’s been fully restored with neither a scratch nor a dead kaiju head rotting in the yard. There’s also another “chosen pilot” on the opposite side of the fight being encouraged by a robot different from Gridman.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not here to tell you SSSS.Gridman is some marvel of original, compelling stroytelling. It basically steals everything it is form other sources, some of them many would rather re-watch than see in bastardized form.

But I will say simply that I was greatly entertained, fully engaged, and came to like the lead characters whose broad strokes were given texture by their seiyus. And if every episode comes close to being as much of a feast for the eyes and ears as this one, then I’m excited to watch more. It’s nothing fancy, fancily executed.

Darling in the FranXX – 21 – Fight to Live

Things are looking pretty grim with the VIRM’s purple nerve networks overwhelming the blue of the Klaxo princess as Hiro continues to suffocate. However, just his presence in Strelizia Apath’s cockpit seems to have delayed the VIRM self-destruct booby trap the princess triggered.

But he only delayed it; Hiro’s friends and allies have just 72 minutes to do something before Apath blows and takes Earth with it. Just as that countdown begins, Zero Two arrives at the control room where Franxx and Hachi are observing events…and she promptly passes out.

When she comes to, she learns from Franxx that she is a clone of the princess, the last surviving member of a Klaxo Sapiens species that fought a millions-of-years-long war with the invading VIRM. That war changed the  once-cosmopolitan Klaxos into sterile war machines, just as humans have become something similar.

Franxx created Zero Two from DNA from the princess so that humanity had someone on their side who could operate Star Entity. He created the human Nines so that she had backup. Reuniting her and Hiro was simply a “scientist’s whim.” For her part, Zero Two doesn’t care about clones or fakes or the VIRM; she just wants to fulfill her promise.

To do so, she has to get back to Hiro in Strelizia Apath. Since the path to the Grand Cradle is sealed and can only be accessed by the princess, Franxx comes along. Right on time, Squad 13 arrives to escort them, bringing a much-needed smile to Zero Two’s face. Time is running out, but it looks like they’re going to make it.

Kokoro, Michiru, Miku and Ikuno stay behind to fend off the VIRM that followed them, so that escort shrinks to one: Delphinium. When they arrive at the door, another VIRM attacks and Ichiro and Goro keep it away from Zero Two and Franxx by grabbing it and jumping off a ledge to an uncertain fate.

Franxx reveals Zero One DNA in his left arm, which the tentacles of the door snatch (with little regard to Franxx’s human parts), and a Klaxosaur snake arrives and opens wide for Zero Two to ride to the Cradle, leaving Franxx behind. One by one, people are sacrificing their lives to give Zero Two the smallest of small chances of stopping the end of the world.

Before leaving Franxx, rather than curse him for what he did to her, as he fully expects her to do, she thanks him for creating her and allowing her to meet her Darling. Love, in Zero Two’s case, trumps hate.

When she arrives, things are bad; both the princess and Hiro are unresponsive. But Zero Two won’t accept it. She kisses Hiro in hopes of taking away the burden of the VIRM infection. Zero One watches in spectral form and is moved (as much as an ancient sentient weapon can be “moved”) to lend to Zero Two what remains of her powers.

In mid-kiss, Zero Two and Hiro share a moment in an idyllic setting, in a wintry place that looks similar to the forest to which they escaped years ago. They kiss in this place too, and in the real world Strelizia Apath “hatches” from the shell around the cradle, and launches a massive beam that obliterates the VIRM fleet in space. In the ensuing chaos, Franxx is crushed, but got to see his life’s work realized, and the world saved because of it.

The VIRM snatch Hringhorni from Strelizia and retreat, vowing to return with a full army (it’s somewhat frightening that what we saw was just a “small detachment” and not at all representative of their full force). But for now, at least, the world is safe.

Time for a big party with good food, good friends, and good conversation, right? Except that the fleet-destroying attack seems to have taken everything Zero Two had. She’s slumped in the cockpit, unresponsive, and her red horns have crumbled.

Could this be the end for Zero Two; one last sacrifice to keep the world alive? And is there any kind of world in which Hiro wants to even live that doesn’t have her in it? I’d predicted often that Zero Two would eventually bite the dust early in the show, a la Kamina, but the fact we’ve (presumably) lost her with just three episodes left somehow hurts all the more.

Darling in the FranXX – 20 – I’m Gonna Come Get You

Between the belated Dr. Frank backstory episode and the week off that followed, we’ve had to wait an awfully long time to get back to the central story of Hiro, Zero Two, Ichigo, and the others. Thankfully, it was worth the wait. This week starts in the Birds Nest, Squad 13 still shaken by the forced memory loss of Kokoro and Michiru.

Hiro and Zero have agreed to implant Strelizia into Star Entity, the weapon at the bottom of Gran Crevasse, in order to have a decisive edge against the Klaxosaur scourge. The couple only agrees reluctantly, telling APE that it will be the last time they call them “Papa” and let them steer their destiny.

Meanwhile, Kokoro is also she’s throwing up all the time, which is a pretty good sign that she’s preggers. That child may well prove to be the most important ray of hope for humanity, yet neither parent knows it exists, or remembers conceiving it.

Zero has also become one of the 13th again, defending her comrades against barbs from the Nines and really steaming Alpha’s beans. Once all the FranXX are mobilized the battle against a massive Klaxosaur force commences. In the middle of battle, Michiru calls Kokoro “Kokoro”, and gets a jolt of pain that spreads to her head and immobilizes Genista.

While Hiro and Zero descend to the bottom of Gran Crevasse, they commit themselves to the shared goal of being together forever. When this is all over, Zero hopes to travel the world like the princess in the story; it doesn’t matter where, as long as her Darling is with her. And should they ever be parted by outside forces, they’ll come and get one another, sealing the promise with a kiss.

With Dr. Franxx and Hachi along for the ride, Strelizia reaches the bottom, but when Strel reaches the portal to Star Entity, it won’t open, and the Klaxosaur Princess (whom Franxx calls Zero One) bursts through the walls of the Crevasse, intent on stopping the humans from stealing her “child.” The Princess forces open Strel’s cockpit, yanks Zero Two out, and restrains Hiro.

After giving him a very rough and not very romantic kiss, the Princess takes control of Strelizia, not needing the stamen-pistil interface (I like how she just floats around with arms crossed like a boss). Hiro is helpless to resist, but a wounded and bleeding Zero Two starts a slow and arduous journey back to her darling, to fulfill her promise.

As the princess links up with Star Entity, to form “Strelizia Apath”, Dr. Franxx tells Hachi about how Klaxosaurs split into two distinct forms: the magma energy that courses through the depths of the earth, and a form that consumed that energy and took physical form. He also reveals that Klaxosaurs are biological weapons built and piloted (in male-female pairs) by “klaxo sapiens”, a species of which the princess is the last surviving member.

If that sounds like how FranXX are piloted by parasites, it’s because the FranXX are themselves Klaxosaurs that genetically-modified humans can use. This confirms that most if not all of the Klax Squad 13 has fought and destroyed had pilots just like them.

There’s one more big reveal: APE is led by members of an alien race known as the VIRN, whose objective was to retrieve both Star Entity and Hringhorni (a spear made of Klax cores) for use in space as “soldiers”, i.e. tools. Now that the princess is threatening that, they decide to destroy both assets and the rest of Earth with them.

With that, a massive space fleet appears just past Earth orbit. The Princess activates Apath’s main weapon, obliterating much of the fleet in a dazzling show of lights an kick-ass space battle sound effects. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot to take in all of a sudden, but there was always something alien about APE, so it’s not like all of this is coming out of nowhere.

We even get to see a VIRN’s true form, a four-pointed star-cross with eyes. Maybe not the coolest or scariest design (and more than a little similar to Eva-explosions), but definitely weird and alien.

Turns out they booby-trapped Strelizia Apath, rigging it to explode if the Princess ever piloted it. As she is restrained by glowing VIRN-purple bonds, they start to infect Hiro as well, but he still can’t move, and even if he could…what could he do?

I have no idea how Hiro and Zero Two are getting out of this one, but they’re both alive for now, Zero is still coming for her Darling, and there’s four whole episodes left; plenty of time to craft a satisfying final denouement.

Darling in the FranXX – 19 – Talented Yet Terrifying

Frikkin’ scientists, amirite? It’s said Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, but the moment they tasted the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Eden pretty much ceased to exist anyway. Eden is an impossibility in a world where humanity is aware that there is far more to the world than the limited, tedious paradise they inhabit.

Knowledge is simultaneously what makes humans humans and what constantly threatens to destroy them. It is humanity that developed world-ending nuclear weapons; it is also humanity that maintains the delicate balance that has kept those weapons from being used for over seven decades and counting.

This week on DFX we learn a lot more about Dr. FranXX, formerly Werner Frank, eccentric maverick scientific genius. We also learn that APE began as a collection of elite scientists, and they recruited him to work on something that has always fascinated humans: how to make immortality a reality.

It’s all too poetic that humanity developed the ability that could massacre most of the human population in one day, while we still have a long way to go before we’re all immortal. And yet, I can’t help but think the same thing that staves off nuclear war is the thing that keeps us from advancing too far in achieving immortality.

That thing is fear. If there is ever a global nuclear war, it could end humanity. If there is ever a breakthrough that makes humans immortal, it will also end humanity; just in a different way.

But that’s the real world. Here in DFX humanity advances far beyond the “safe zone” of maintaining humanity as we know it, thanks to brilliant minds like Frank and his colleague Karina Milsa.

Their efforts are admirable, but to quote the incomparable Dr. Ian Malcolm, they were so preoccupied with whether they could achieve immortality, they never stopped to ask whether they should.

The Magma Energy mining system developed by APE ends up gradually  desertifying much of the Earth’s surface. But Magma Energy also grants humans—now essentially immortal—to build grand structures like Plantations in which to live. It’s just evolution, right?

Only Magma Energy has another side effect: the emergence of the inscrutable, ruthless Klaxosaurs. It’s as if the world was trying to correct humanity’s technological overreach, and restore its mortality.

Still, Frank and Milsa’s massive scientific intellects are re-purposed to developing anti-Klaxosaur weapons: a robot that would come to be called the FranXX. At first it had a single pilot. One of the test pilots was Milsa, who loved Frank and married him, but was lost in a prototype accident when the robot went berserk.

Upon losing the only person in his life Frank had a close connection to, he lost another part of his humanity, and so stopped caring about the future of mankind and simply focused on how much further he could progress it; how much better he could make weapons with which to defeat their new enemy.

FranXX became piloted by male-female pairs, restoring a measure of the reproductive drive lost by the proliferation of immortality treatments. Mankind put themselves back into a state of godliness and thus rebuilt Eden and locked themselves in for an eternal stay.

Only the pilots, parasites of FranXX were involved in fighting the Klaxosaurs outside of Eden (or, in the case of Mistilteinn, just beyond its borders). Meanwhile adults lived their endless tedious lives in the Eden they built, and forgot all about Klaxosaurs in the first place.

APE eventually located the Klaxosaur “leader,” and sends Frank to investigate. Of his team, only he is spared by the “Princess”, whom he regards as the most beautiful being he’s ever seen. But she can smell the blood of her Klaxosaur brethren on his hands, and exacts punishment in the form of tearing off his arm.

This ordeal does not discourage Frank in the least. Considering how far he’d come to come face-to-face with such a fascinating being, it stands to reason he’d keep pushing to perfect mankind’s defenses, not for it’s own sake, but like climbing a mountain, because it (being discovery) is simply there.

Frank seeks no earthly rewards or accolades; only more knowledge, and the self-recognition that he progressed the technology as far as he “humanly” could.

This brings us to the present, where Frank is now known as Dr. Franxx, and he’s grizzled and partially mechanized. APE, still his bosses, wiped Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories without his knowledge or consent, thus in his mind impeding the path he himself set to achieve the results they seek. Frank/Franxx never had any problem achieving results. The problem lay in the means with which he used to achieve them.

Regardless, results are results, and they’ve given him enough clout to allow Squad 13 to have a candid audience with APE in order to state their wishes: for Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories to be restored. No can do, APE cites; they cannot restore what is no longer there; the memories were removed, not merely blocked.

Upon learning this, Hiro gets upset, and tells APE they can no longer consider people who did such things to them their “Papa”, i.e. their authority to which to be subservient.

When the APE members don’t even bother answering Zorome’s naive question about how many Klaxosaurs they’ll have to kill to become adults (because the answer is “you will never be adults”) “Papa” lost their last advocate in Squad 13.

They may need Franxx’s know-how and connections to have any success at opposing APE, but that doesn’t mean Hiro will ever forgive him for what he did to both him, Zero Two, and whoever else he used as mere tools or variables in his grand experiments.

We also learn how Zero Two came to be: when the Klaxosaur Princess attacked him, he managed to come away not just with his life, but a clump of her hair…hair containing her DNA…which he used to clone her, thus, presumably, creating Zero Two.

So will he help Zero Two, Hiro, and Squad 13? Have they rekindled his belief that humanity isn’t really human unless they can love, struggle, and die? I hope so; the kids need all the help they can get.

Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.

Sagrada Reset – 20

Urachi strikes the first blow, and as soon as Kei commits to preserving the abilities in Sakurada, all the abilities in Sakurada go bye-bye in an instant. After some momentary disorientation from the memories clashing in his head, Kei finds himself in a new world.

But from the moment this world “begins”, Kei doesn’t seem comfortable in it. How can he, when he has all his memories from the previous one? And how can he live life here knowing there’s a chance he can reverse Urachi’s handiwork and bring abilities back? If he can make it so Haruki’s last text to him isn’t an unnecessary apology?

In this world, Souma Sumire attends his high school and is an ordinary girl who likes him. But she notices something’s ‘off’ about him and through some discussions about the fallacy of memory, the five-minute hypothesis and being happy with the simple, unflashy life one has been given, Souma can help but feel rejected.

But it’s not just her: it’s this entire world. Kei can’t stay; not as long as he has those memories. And due to his ability, his memories will never go away.

In this world, Kei was born in Sakurada, while in reality he was born elsewhere and only moved to Sakurada in the sixth grade. In this world, his parents are dead and he is adopted. But he remembers the apartment he grew up in, and also remembers the taste of his mother’s curry. So he pays a visit to that hometown.

What I didn’t expect was that he would meet his mother, and the sister he never knew he had, whose name, Megumi, shares the same kanji has his name, Kei: both represent deep love, as their mother says to them; since names are what others use to call you.

Of course, Kei’s mother has no idea Kei is her son, so when he brings up something horrible he did to his parents and doesn’t think he has the right to seek forgiveness, she firmly corrects him. She may not know who his parents are, but they surely love him, even if they can’t forgive him, so he should apologize.

Of course, he can’t. Leaving his family was the price of remaining in Sakurada.

Little did I know (and possible little did Kei know himself) that his visit with his mother and sister would be crucial in his plans to undo what Urachi has done. When he visits Haruki, she’s back to her robotic, emotionless self of two years ago, and does not remember or trust him.

What she does do is humor Kei quite a bit, coming along on a bus ride, conceding a text was sent from her phone, proving they are acquaintances, than helping him hold a Polaroid of the cherry tree they’re standing in front of.

That photo, which was in Haruki’s hidden diary, turns out to be Kei’s key to getting back in the fight, as it transports him and Haruki to the time the photo was taken, back when she had the reset ability. All her memories rush back, but they’re a jumble, and she struggles to stand from the stress.

For whatever reason, she still can’t quite remember him, and when he tells her she should Reset, she tells him she can’t, because it “doesn’t feel like the right time.” That time comes almost immediately, however, thanks, again, to Kei’s experiences earlier in the day.

He thinks about the home and family he can never go back to, and the true meaning of his name, and dearly wishes for one last chance to undo some of the things he’s done. He didn’t cry over his past experiences on this day, but he does cry here, and Haruki remembers that that is her cue to Reset: when she sees someone crying. So she Resets.

And what do you know, Sumire Souma is also crying, by the water, in that very moment, upset that even after everything that happened, she’s not the one.

Back on the evening of October 22nd, Kei and Haruki are outside her house, and he can’t help but steal a big hug, so happy he is that his Haruki is ‘back.’ She can tell a lot has happened, and is worried about him. Kei tells her what’s going to happen the night after tomorrow unless they do something…they, not just him.

Haruki asks if abilities are really necessary, and Kei says no…the town would be fine without them, but he likes them, so he’ll do everything he can to protect them. With her help, he’ll attain the MacGuffin.

Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 13

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As she sleeps and dreams in Bossun’s Concentration Mode, New Yuki seems to resign herself to the fact that as much as she doesn’t want her time in this world to be limited, it is, and there’s nothing she can do about it. As she sleeps, “Old Yuki”‘s memories come into greater focus and reorganize. Her dysmnesia resolving. Time, and neurology itself is against her.

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New Yuki may have the personality and mannerisms of a new person, but she was never meant to be one; not permanently. Her body belongs to another, one who was injured in the accident, and as her brain heals, the temporary nature of her existence, along with the dread of her impending “disappearance” suffuse every moment she spends “on the outside.”

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But what continues to amaze me is that despite New Yuki treating these final days as a kind of requiem for who she is, and an opportunity to disappear with no regrets, the show doesn’t rule out the possibility the very title of this show is a misnomer. Is New Yuki really disappearing, or is she merely changing…or to be more precise, being changed by external stimuli, i.e. her friends?

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New Yuki is, after all, pretty much identical to Old Yuki; their difference lies primarily on the ownership of memories: If New Yuki believed those memories were her own and not Old Yuki’s, she’d probably act a lot if not exactly like Old Yuki. Furthermore, while Kyouko picks up on the fact Yuki is treating these like her last days, she is the one who posits the theory that it’s Yuki’s exposure to her and Kyon that’s causing this change in her, and therefore not a bad thing.

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But this discussion about whether there’s erasure or change going on is moot: erasure IS change. Also, New Yuki isn’t going back to Old Yuki; not really. I’m not sure the coinidence is intentional, but this episode has a “III” in it; the Yuki that results from her memories and personality being restored will be a third, new Yuki. New Yuki or “Yuki II” may only end up as synaptic scars, but that’s still a difference.

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The final scene is exhilarating, because we know Yuki will be “back to normal” soon, but heartbreaking, because it’s in her state as New Yuki, on the precipice of oblivion, that she has the courage to say what Old Yuki never could: that she loves Kyon. These are words Kyon really had to hear directly from Yuki, and when he does, it’s over the phone, and he knows he has to hurry to her side to properly respond.

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It doesn’t work out. By the time he finds Yuki, she’s dozed off, and just as she told him, she’s slightly confused by her surroundings when she wakes up. She also would seem to have no recollection of having just confessed to Kyon over the phone, though we’ll have to wait until next week to confirm this.

But who’s to say Yuki’s decision to confess right then and there, triggered by the knowledge Kyon knows her so well and cares for her so much, triggered her own disappearance, and the restoration of her old personality? If that’s the case, then it’s as if the Yuki created by accident accomplished a very important feat for her more easily-flustered counterpart.

Will Kyon believe the Yuki that confessed her love for him is gone, or will he understand that the back-to-normal Yuki feels the same way; that the accident was the finally learning her feelings? Here’s hoping.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 12

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This week is another quiet, pensive exploration of “New Nagato Yuki”, as time passes and more aspects of “Old Nagato Yuki”‘s personality gradually begin to surface. With four more episodes left after this one, the show may as well take its time.

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As a result, we’re treated to a rare instance of observing a character more or less observe themselves, along with Kyon, constantly on edge about the possibility of fading into oblivion once Old Yuki fully returns.

It’s a slow, slow burn, and very…neostalgicNew Yuki is seemingly experiencing this library for the first time, but it is in fact the same library where Old Yuki met, and possibly fell for, Kyon.

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I continue to be fascinated with the two different sets of glasses Nagato Yuki owns. The New Yuki wears one set; the Old Yuki wore the other. And as if she were getting superstitious, or even validly worried about further stimuli progressing her disappearance, New Yuki chooses not to put the old glasses on.

When Kyon tries on a pair of sunglasses, Yuki is almost taken aback by how easily he can do so without having to worry about his personality drastically changing.

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But even though she eschews the old specs, there are other stimuli New Yuki cannot avoid, because she doesn’t know about them until it’s too late, such as when Kyon gets her a book she’s too short to reach. She’s blushing, getting nervous for “no reason”, and her heart is beating faster.

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Hell, she’s even smiling. New Yuki wants to think she’s in control; wants to think she has a decent chance at surviving, that this “change” is permanent…but there’s too much evidence to the contrary, and it’s all because of her continued proximity to Kyon.

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New Yuki is remembering Old Yuki through dreams that are really memories, but they feel like someone else’s, an interloper’s, if you will. I find it fascinating that the show isn’t automatically taking Old Yuki’s side here; New Yuki has every right to exist, even if it’s not for much longer, due to the fact she only exists at all due to some strange brain glitch as a result of an accident that will pass with time.

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But things may not be so black and white. There are at least three Yukis to consider: the one before she met Kyon, t one who is in love with Kyon, and her current self, who stands between them, with bits of both mixing with her.

It would seem as though her brain injury fractured these parts, and that their “natural state” is combined into one; the one that, thanks to the linear passage of time, loves Kyon.

Yet that doesnt’ make it any easier for New Yuki, who considers herself a separate entity within the same body—a body she doesn’t necessarily want to surrender.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 11

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“I couldn’t tell who I was.” so begins a stirring re-telling of the events of last week’s episode, only from Nagato Yuki’s perspective, or rather “Nagato-Yuki”, someone who carries Yuki’s memories but don’t feel like her own. As a result, in this portion of the episode everyone’s voice is muffled slightly, as if there’s too much wax in our ears.

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Those muffled voices combine with the darker and grainier imagery to really effectively express the discombobulation of Yuki’s condition. And yet, even though there were sinister undertones to Asakura’s “Who are you?” query that ended last week’s episode, it’s a testament to the writing that Yuki is bestowed with even more humanity, as Asakura decides she’ll make an effort not to “deny” the “current” Nagato Yuki.

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That doesn’t meant Asakura isn’t concerned about Yuki’s health: a personality change could be a precursor to a more life-threatening condition. So she convinces Yuki to go to the hospital, where the doctor believes Yuki is suffering from a type of memory impairment called “dysmnesia” brought on by the shock of the accident. The doc believe it to be temporary, but recommends a hospital stay. Asakura talks her down by promising to take care of Yuki, who has thus far still been able to function.

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When Asakura finally lets Kyon in on this, he’s not surprised, and even more readily believes what’s happened when Yuki confesses she left her video game at home, something the “old” Yuki would never do. But like Asakura, while worried, he’s still respectful of the “current” Yuki’s right to exist and doesn’t want her to feel alone. To that end, they resolve to treat her just like they always have. Continuity and normalcy will hopefullly hasten recovery.

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Sure enough, even though when she first encountered Kyon after he accident she said her current self couldn’t feel the feelings she knows the former Yuki had for him, she’s not incapable of emotion altogether. She even expresses some very Yuki-esque embarrassment at not wanting to ask for so much food, even though her stomach growls more than once as a result, betraying her true state of hunger.

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This development, which has been foreshadowed all along in the show’s title, has certainly provided a spark to the show. And while I decry overly assertive music that “tells me how to feel”, I’ll make a notable exception here: Kato Tatsuya’s surging score throughout this arc has been phenomenal. This arc is also reminding me of one of my all-time favorite animes, Serial Experiments: Lain; never a bad thing.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 10

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The last three episodes of lazy onsen antics would seem to have been a concerted effort to lull us into a sense of complacency and security before Yuki got hit by a car and…simply changed. Honestly, she undergoes the most radical character change I’ve seen since Golden Time. It’s sobering; it’s unsettling; it’s downright intense. And it’s also kind of amazing.

That’s because the previously most dramatic moment of this series was when Yuki walked in on Haruhi giving Kyon chocolate. That seems so petty and insignificant now. Also, while I had worried Haruhi would take over the show, here she doesn’t appear at all, not for one second. Nor, ironically, does the sun. It’s all dark clouds and rain, matching the gloom and uncertainty of the situation.

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Also, it takes a little while, but I realized how Yuki was talking and acting: like she did in the Haruhi series: distant, unemotional, nigh impossible to read. In other words, completely different from the Yuki of the first nine episodes. That it feels so very wrong for her to talk and act like this is a testament to how well the show has sold to me the idea of “New Yuki”.

And neither Asakura and Kyon seem to know what to do with her now that she’s seemingly regressed to who we know of as the “Old Yuki” of the other shows, who acts this way because she’s not human, but rather an alien interface. It’s impossible for a veteran of the franchise to not make the connection, which I’m sure is the producers’ intent.

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For the record, I don’t believe there’s any alien influence or other supernatural powers at work here. To that end, the explanation that makes the most sense is that Nagato Yuki suffered some kind of personality-altering brain trauma as a result of the accident (The somewhat spoilery preview shows brain scans that would seem to back this up).

But man, this episode was packed with uncomfortable scenes in which a normally flustered, flattered, or bashful Yuki simply…didn’t have any reactions at all. It’s smart of the show to jettison the others for an episode and keep her with the two people who know her the best, which underlines just how much she’s changed since that encounter with the car.

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I will say I thought the soundtrack was a little over-assertive throughout most of this, except for the very end, when we started hearing stuff we’ve never heard on the show before, stuff that doesn’t jibe with Yuki’s romantic narrative, but something else entirely. Asakura’s look of resignation, followed by her final question to Yuki before the credits roll; essentially, “Who the heck are you?” heightens the tension that accompanies the already ample discomfort and gloom.

I have no idea where the final six episodes will take us, but I can say for sure that my hopes for a “feel-good”, low-effort romance are as broken as Yuki’s primary glasses. But I will also say that the show has my full attention. It’s taken a huge bold step I honestly never saw coming, but probably should have, because of that dang “disappearance” in the title.

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Majimoji Rurumo – 12 (Fin)

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“I want to wear that…”

Kouta and Rurumo’s romance was always simple and sweet, based on mutual kindness and fondness, with little in the way of serious drama getting in the way of their happiness. The only kink was Ruru’s training; to complete it Kouta would have to spend all of his magical tickets, whereupon his life would end. But that’s just not how things ended up working out.

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Look at this guy…working a job so he can surprise Rurumo. This is what a man is.

The tickets, in the end, kinda fell by the wayside, along with the vast majority of magical stuff; something I really didn’t mind at all. As much as I enjoy magical shows, I was more invested in the human relationship being cultivated than any magical bureaucratic nonsense going on in the background. The show seems to understand this as well, which is what makes Rurumo’s explanation of what the heck happened for most of the episode a pleasant surprise.

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*touch*

It all starts as New Year’s nears, and Kouta seeks something to present to Ruru as a token of his affection, and finds it in a rather expensive yukata rental he must work a part-time job to afford. First of all, kudos to Kouta: he’s become a fine young man, and his perverse tendencies have become almost as peripheral as the magic tickets. He can’t use those to make money, because it wouldn’t be a surprise.

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Sumiko does look good in a shrine maiden’s outfit, it must be said

He gathers the necessary funds,then falls asleep under the kotatsu, and the morning of New Year’s turns out to be the titular “Day Without Rurumo.” Kouta has no direct memories of Ruru, nor does his family or friends, though there are little clues here and there that tweak Kouta’s memory, though not long enough to fully remember her. This is a little alarming at first, but something about the way it was unfolding told us it would turn out alright in the end.

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Ruru’s awsome look of belated surprise

That turns out to be the case, as as soon as the clock strikes twelve—maybe a second or two before hand—Kouta remembers Rurumo, just as she’s passing him by in the yukata he bought her. New Year’s Eve happened to be the day of her “evaluation”, which meant everyone she knew had their memories temporarily wiped to avoid interference. What seemed like a huge dilemma turned out to be the magical equivalent of an annual review.

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Baaaaaw I’ll miss these two

When he hangs his wish to the future at the shrine, Kouta apologizes to Ruru for not being of any help whatsoever in her training, but the fact is, neither of them want the training to end, not just because it would kill him, but because they like being around each other and don’t want that to end. Like I said: simple and sweet.

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