Prison School – 10

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What is that I see in Vice President Shiraki’s eyes, as she files Mari’s nails and then half-heartedly agrees that the school will be better off without the boys? Could it be a tinge of fondness for the five lads; a reverse-Stockholm syndrome, if you will? I don’t know, but I suspect her feelings are conflicted, at the very least. After all, if the boys are gone, who will be left to punish? Girls?

The council would certainly have some punitive measures in place for the likes of Chiyo, if they knew she was sneaking messages to Kiyoshi in his meals. By the way, why haven’t the two of them been doing this all along?

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In any case, the message she gets back is not from someone with any hope left, but someone saying goodbye and take care. The boys’ spirits are all but broken, and Gakuto is downright nuts, even faking out his buds with an absurd idea of sneaking themselves out with the meals like Chiyo’s note, and ordering fried grasshoppers for his “last meal” (a last meal that, by the way, seems to me like Meiko’s idea).

Meanwhile, Mari makes sure her father understands how things are going to go down, and to be ready to affix his seal on the necessary paperwork when the time comes. While it can be easy to deride Mari for exerting so much power while, at the end of the day, being beholden to daddy, it’s also a thankless position considering her dad’s abject inability to avoid exposing her to his latin butt fetish. He even kept the “mousepad” (a tremendous prop) while forgetting that glass is reflective.

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I don’t know if it was the taste of the grasshoppers or what, but Gakuto suddenly comes out of his psychosis, to the point he doesn’t remember ordering grasshoppers and rejects the dish outright. And yet, Meiko not only took that ridiculous order without batting an eye, she personally caught and fried the grasshoppers especially for Gakuto. This just isn’t someone in a big hurry to get rid of the guys. She’s someone who takes great pride in taking care of them, even so close to the end.

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And then there’s Prison School’s wild card, Hana, haunted by the feeling she’s forgotten something very important and impactful; something “that can’t be undone.” It’s only when the conditions of her last encounter with Kiyoshi are replicated that a switch flips in her head, and like Meiko, she doesn’t want the guys gone, but for a very different reason (so she can kill Kiyoshi, then herself).

But not so fast—just as a backlit Mari is smugly looking down on the boys as Meiko marches them up to the chairman’s office, the chairman is on his way down those same steps. Kiyoshi gave Meiko an appeal to give to him, but she tore it up. So what then, happened?

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Simple: the “appeal” was planted knowing Meiko would probably trash it. And that very obvious appeal would distract her from the fact Kiyoshi wrote the real appeal on his withdrawal form. And not just any appeal: a personal message to the chairman than he knows about his “buried treasure” out beyond the school walls. Once the chairman is in the prison, Kiyoshi quickly dismisses the notion that he intends to blackmail him; it was only to get him in the room.

Before he can consider postponing their expulsion to give them time to collect evidence of council malfeasance, the chairman has a very frank question: whether they prefer boobs or butts. Kiyoshi remembers the material he saw him with, and quickly states butts. But that’s not enough: the chairman wants to know why Butts.

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He makes a small origami sphinx out of Kiyoshi’s appeal just as Gakuto likens his riddle to that of the sphinx, about what has varying numbers of legs at different times (and the answer to which is “man”). As Meiko is eavesdropping, Hana tries to attack, but realizing the threat to the council a stabbed inmate would represent, she quickly neutralizes the Hana threat.

When Kiyoshi spots two round shapes from the window, he thinks it’s a butt at first, but it’s actually Meiko’s bust, the sight of which provides the spark to a response that will satisfy the chairman (who won’t hear any patronizing George Mallory-esque “because it’s there” BS). Boobs, Kiyoshi muses, only came about when mankind started standing upright, and no longer had the butts of those in front of them in their faces. Boobs are only a “pale imitation” of butts; butts are the original, accept no subsitutes.

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The discussion transcends its inherent dumbness with the pure seriousness and gravitas of its presentation, like so many other situations in Prison School (never before has shitting oneself in a computer lab seemed so goddamn noble before). As Kiyoshi get more and more worked up; as his idea takes a life of its own; he almost seems to become an “ass man” before our eyes in spite of his previous preference for the top bits. Performance or no, it’s more than enough to convince the chairman to give them one more day.

This outrages Mari, but the chairman, perhaps empowered by what he just witnessed, kindly points out to his daughter that he’s the boss, and he’s decided to postpone the expulsion one more day, and if she has a problem, tough. Like Chiyo, Anzu, and Meiko, he’d rather the male students not go, and wants to believe they can find a way out of their predicament.

Hana, meanwhile, is now a loose cannon consumed with a desire for revenge, even at (or perhaps especially) at the cost of her own life. She could represent Mari’s nuclear option, or contrarily, Kiyoshi and the others’ salvation. But like the lads, I’ll take that tiny strand of light as a sign things could still work out.

But guys, seriously: there’s no wet t-shirt contest. Meiko was just teasing!

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Attack on Titan – 25 (Fin)

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A Priest of the Wall is preaching in a packed temple, when all of a sudden, Annie the Titan bursts through the walls, killing dozens. When Eren punched her, he wasn’t thinking about the people inside, but rather how much damage he could do to Annie with his punch. Annie, who always looked so smug and bored, keeping her dark secret to herself while mixing with the rest of humanity when it suited her.

No more. Eren’s fighting spirit is fueled just as much by hate and resentment than a desire to save mankind. And in order to beat Annie, who has shed her allegiance to humanity altogether, he must be a monster, unconcered with the collateral damage to the district.

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Even though those behind Wall Sina contribute next to nothing to the survival of mankind, and live within a false shell of security forged from the deaths of those from the outer walls, they’re still largely innocent men, women, and children, like a little girl walking through the streets, bloodied, dazed, and almost certainly orphaned. While this is on the whole a duel between giants in what is to them a toy city, the episode makes sure to capture the human toll of their brutal melee.

After getting beaten to a pulp by the technically superior Annie, Eren gets his second wind by remembering the promise he made five years ago after the Titans first invaded: he’d exterminate every last one of them without fail. That must naturally include Annie, so he powers up into a kind of overdrive mode and overpowers her. Panicked she may actually lose, Annie tries to flee over the wall.

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Throughout the fight, we hear Eren’s inner monologue, but unfortunately, not Annie’s. However, we do see flashes of a past even in which her father is embracing her in apparent forgiveness, telling her he’ll be on her side even if the entire world becomes her enemy. The details on what exactly happened in Annie’s past to cause this encounter and lead to her gaining the ability to transform are nonexistent, but at least we now know that Annie’s actions weren’t totally random, but driven by this seminal past event in her life.

However much death and destruction she’s caused, she feels justified, if not totally immune to the judgment of the masses. Maybe she has no “leader” to report to or to deliver Eren to; perhaps Annie is doing all of this for Annie, and no one else.

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Her getaway is thwarted by a clutch Mikasa, who is able to slice even Annie’s crystallized digits off, sending her falling to the ground, where a berserk Eren proceeds to de-limb and decapitate her. Hange is concerned he’ll kill Annie in his rage, and with it the captive the Scout Regiment needs to survive the ramifications of this operation.

But he doesn’t. When he sees Annie within the Titan nape, unconscious, helpless, crying, and connected by tissue the same way he is, Eren freezes. All the resolve he’d built up melts away simply due to the sight of the Annie he knows. That hesitation allows Annie to (voluntarily or not) become encased in hard crystal that no blade can cut.

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Eren emerges from the Titan, exhausted but unharmed. Mikasa stays by his bedside as he makes a full recovery. Erwin manages to convince the Mayor and other bigwigs that they were able to accomplish something, by uncovering a potential epidemic of Titans hiding among mankind; Annie and Eren are surely not alone.

For now, Eren still has the key to his basement, Annie remains encased in crystal under Hange’s care, and Erwin vows to go on the offensive against the Titans. We have plenty of seeds for a second season, which is apparently arriving some time this year. With all the questions left unanswered mysteries left unsolved, and, of course, that creepy Titan peering out from inside the wall, I don’t see how I can miss it.

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Noragami Aragoto – 10

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Answers to our questions last week come quickly. Will that kiss really work? No, it didn’t; Hiyori doesn’t seem to have any interest in Fujisaki. Will Hiyori become even more troubled by her inability to remember? Yes, most definitely. She rubs at her lips until they’re red, and she walks around with a cloud over her head. Will someone be able to jog her memory before it’s too late? Thankfully, yes, albeit accidentally.

When Yukine first approaches her, she can’t see him, which is bad, but his voice and his smell bring all the memories of him and Yato rushing back. Simply beside herself with relief, Hiyori embraces Yukine tight enough and long enough to make his nose bleed. Who can blame her? She never wants to come close to losing him or Yato again.

She was in a kind of hell, one she’d experienced before, but was so sure—arrogantly so, she believes in hindsight—she’d never experience it again. Now she knows: she’s not immune to forgetting; she must be vigilant in remembering. But first thing’s first: Find Yato.

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Down in the underworld, Izanami has caught up with the fleeing Yato and Ebisu, and sends legions of naked blue beldams to drag the men back to her so she can play with them for all eternity. Hiiro acts independently by shoving one of Ebisu’s regalia into the beldams to distract them and save her master and Ebisu, who are all she cares about.

But when Yato learns Ebisu retrieved the ablution brush not for his own selfish reasons, but for the sake of protecting humanity by controlling phantoms, it changes Yato’s entire perspective of his charge—and mine as well.

With Bishamon and Kofuku also still away, Yukine joins forces with their exemplars Kazuma and Daikoku to seek out Yato. They ask Tsuyu—who isn’t a regalia but the spirit of a plum tree who serves Tenjin—to speak to the trees, and she finds one that saw two men matching the description of Yato and Ebisu entering the underworld. Hiyori hears this too; now she knows where to go.

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Meanwhile, in Takamagahara, the six other gods of fortune along with Bishamon are being held captive by High Sentinal Oshi, who tells them that by “interrogating” several of Ebisu’s regalia (many of whom turned out to be Noras), they’ve determined he’s the conjurer they’re looking for, and will seek to execute him for his crimes.

That doesn’t play so well for Okuninushi, who shows the adamant, haughty Oshi one of his more terrifying forms. But before any god or sentinal blood is shed, Kazuma arrives with Kuraha, restrains Oshi, and frees Bishamon, who make a beeline to the underworld to retrieve Yato and Ebisu.

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Even though Yato is still missing, Hiyori is clearly in far higher spirits now that she’s remembered him and Yukine. Yukine remains weary, mostly because he doesn’t want Hiyori to get involved in anything hazardous. Her scrape with the whole Bishamon business was a close enough shave for him. But Hiyori tells him she needs to find Yato and hear his story face-to-face, so Yukine agrees to let her accompany him.

It doesn’t really matter who shows up to the underworld first, as long as someone gets there fast; Izanami and her harem is proving too much for Yato and Ebisu, and all the exits are sealed with powerful-looking magic. Ebisu remembers his childhood—a childhood he’s had often because he dies and reincarnates so much. He’s a popular, well-known god with many shrines and books and oral histories about him. So if someone has to stay down there with Izanami and die, it should be him.

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Yato disputes that logic, much to the chagrin of Hiiro. Now that he can see Ebisu’s formidable will, which causes him to press forward in his purpose no matter how many times he dies, and he wants to be a god worthy of that kind of respect; worthy of Hiyori. This is how great and immortal gods are forged, he believes; not by simply going with the flow and doing whatever his father and Hiiro tell him to do.

This time he makes his stand, and convinces Ebisu to use the brush to punch a vent into the very fabric of the underworld with phantoms. Suddenly, something that was a big no-no in past episodes is crucial to their survival; the ramifications can be dealt with later.

Even though Yato gets snagged by Izanuma and pulled back down into the abyss, with a huge host of gods, regalia, and Hiyori about to descend on the underworld in quick succession, his number is far from up…especially if Ebisu, who escaped, tells the others of Yato’s selflessness.

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Noragami Aragoto – 09

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Because Yato is in a charitable mood and possibly harbors guilt for the things he did with her, he goes along with Hiiro’s idea to go into the underworld to rescue a conjurer, despite the fact he could very easily get trapped down there by it’s queen, Izanami. When that conjurer turns out to be Ebisu (who is absent for the latest colloquy, correctly suspected, and for whom an arrest warrant is issued), suddenly Yato’s personal dilemma is intertwined with the overarching threat of Ebisu.

For a supposed Big Bad, it’s surprising how casual Yato and Ebisu are when they meet. Perhaps it’s because Yato trusts a far more famous god, or because hasn’t always been the most scrupulous fellow himself (as his continued entanglement with Nora attests) but he doesn’t really protest Ebisu’s use of Masked Ones as “phantom regalias”. In fact, we get a lot of Ebisu’s silly, eccentric side, rather than any goofy evil face-twisting. It’s a nice change of pace; I like it.

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While Yato, Hiiro, and Ebisu tread deeper into the underworld, Hiyori is snagged by her high school friend into a triple date at Amagi Brilliant Park some Capybara-themed park. Notably, Tenjin stops Tomone (curious about where Yato went off to) from getting Hiyori’s attention in the street; it’s been established Tenjin wants Hiyori to stop hanging out with gods an regalias and live a normal living high school girl’s life.

Now it looks like that might be happening. We don’t know her friends that well, but their meeting up and pairing off at the park is very well done. It’s amusing to see the girl who arranged everything ended up pairing up with a different guy, leaving the handsome, well-spoken Fujisaki (who caught her from falling last week) to Hiyori, and the two have instant chemistry, courteously apologizing to each other for putting one another out.

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When Yato and Ebisu encounter Izanami, everything seems arranged to keep them by her side. She takes the form of people they care about—a very forward Hiyori, in Yato’s case—and she constantly offers food, drink, friendship; all of which will keep them stuck in the underworld as her “friend” forever. Hiiro actually does Yato a solid by protecting him from “Hiyori’s” kiss; let it be said that Yato and Hiiro really do make a good team; it’s just that being in that team puts serious strain on Yato’s newer relationships in the living world.

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Yukine, for his part, has very little to do this week, but he continues to train and become stronger in body and mind under Kazuma’s wing. Kazuma notes that Yukine is also trying to remain strong for Yato’s sake, even though he’s worried about him.

He should be, it would seem: when Izanami says she’ll only give them the brush if one of them stays behind, Ebisu picks Yato to stay with the logic that he’s the more famous god with a lot more at stake. Obviously, Yato takes exception to this—he has as much a right to exist as Ebisu, regardless of his past—so they fight.

But it all turns out to be an elaborate distraction. When Ebisu “beats” Yato by snatching Hiiro from him (she once served him as well, taking the form of a pistol), Izanami celebrates the fact Yato will be her friend. But then Ebisu uses his little masked phantom bat to snatch the brush, and he and Yato high-tail it together as Izanami fumes.

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As they flee, Yato thinks only of getting back to the near shore and to Yukine and Hiyori, whom he cares for so much. Surely this is the end of his dealings with Hiiro, right? He’ll pop back at an awkward time during the date and Hiyori will be embarassed but relieved and happy at the same time, right? Right?

Well…no. As the date progresses, Hiyori continually remembers someone who’s name and face she can’t place, and it starts to eat at her, until it’s clear to her date Fujisaki that something is very wrong. But Fujisaki reads her demeanor as something that can be remedied by taking her hand and kissing her in front of the hugely-romantic fireworks parade.

His instinct isn’t wrong, nor could he possibly be aware that by being kind and charming and comforting to Hiyori all but snaps the thread connecting her to Yato. Who was the one she wanted to take to the park so badly? Wait…she’s at the park with someone now. Does it matter? 

This is what Tenjin – and Hiiro – wanted. Will that kiss really work, or will Hiyori become even more troubled by her inability to remember? Will someone be able to jog her memory before it’s too late?

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Noragami Aragoto – 08

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As a fully committed Ebisu creates more masked ones, Yato continues to bask in the elation of finally having a real shrine to call his own, along with all the honors and privileges that come with it, from official registration to a plot of land and admittance to Takamagahara. He also wastes no time lavishing an excessive amount of attention on Hiyori, who probably didn’t realize when she made it how big a deal a little shrine could be for a god who had never had one.

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That importance is driven home when Hiyori encounters Manabu at school (the bullied kid who appeared in last season’s episode 8), but he only thanks her, he doesn’t remember anyone named Yato. Gods are created from the wishes of humans. No wishes, no gods. Meanwhile, Yukine takes advantage of his new resident status to look up Kazuma and beg him to help him become a better exemplar to Yato.

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Because as annoying as Yato has been, Yukine and Hiyori both are glad to see him so happy. He’s so happy, he doesn’t even know what to do, because as he says while drunk in a rare glimpse into his deep past, his “father” told him he’d never need a shrine. This is because Yato is a god of calamity. His clients would never be long-lasting, but due to human nature, there would always be clients for his kind of services.

With his blessed vessel and shrine and Hiyori, Yato wants to leave that past behind and hold tight to these new gifts, and even arranges to release Nora AKA Hiiro, believing he no longer needs her, and since she has many other masters, she doesn’t need him either. But Hiiro reminds Yato that he made her a Nora, then sics her phantom dogs on him to demonstrate how much he needs her to continue existing.

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From there, Nora pulls him off the wagon altogether and back into the life they used to lead, with her as the sharp sword of not-always-righteous retribution. Yato sinks back into the rut all too easily, like a drug he thought he kicked. Because as long as he’s fulfilling the dark assignments of the damned, he continues to exist. It was instilled in him long ago that he needed Nora for that.

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In this way, a full month passes during which neither Yukine nor Hiyori see or hear from Yato. Hiyori goes to Tenjin asking if he’s seen him, and Tenjin reiterates his concern that she’s gotten caught up in too much god stuff and needs to spend more time enjoying her adolescence. Almost on cue, as she’s worrying about whether Yato’s continued absense will cause her to eventually forget him, she trips on a flight of stairs and a strapping young lad catches her.

And as Ebisu recovers from a bad reaction to his latest masked creation and Bishamon and Okuninushi are apparently ambushed in a parking garage, Yato is off in some house with Nora, playing out the same old destructive patterns. Only thoughts of Hiyori bring him out of his complacent trance and he demands he be allowed to leave. The door opens, Nora appeals to their “father”, who gives them one more job before letting him go: rescuing a conjurer from the underworld.

Something tells me neither Nora nor this father figure are anyone Yato can trust, but at the same time, they were and continue to be a part of him, and his perceived obligation to them isn’t something easily cast aside, no matter how much progress he’s made reforming himself. Even for a god, old habits die hard.

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Ushio to Tora – 18

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Few anime this year have worn their hearts so brazenly and so effectively on their sleeve as Ushio to Tora, and these past two episodes—in which the women (and one special woman in particular) in Ushio life literally save his soul—comprise UtT’s finest and most thrilling hour yet. Not a single line or action is wasted, and the dramatic stuff is expertly garnished with bursts of UtT’s trademark comedy.

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Two girls have successfully combed his hair, and once Yuu uses her athleticism and courage to be the third, that leaves his closest friends Mayuko and Asako. Mayuko almost instantly falls into a river charging ahead, but she is continually rescued by Tora, under the pretense of preserving a future meal.

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That neither Mayuko, a grateful Asako, nor anyone else take Tora’s malevolence seriously cracks Izuna up while showing how far he’s come whle maintaining his preferred way of showing affection to the humans around him: by claiming, almost defensively, they’re all food. With Jiemei showing him the way, Tora carries the girls to Ushio’s new location by the mouth of the cave where “a piece” of Hakumen no Mono dwells, and Mayuko reflexively uses the comb to parry a blow from the Beast Spear.

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That sends her flying to the edge of a cliff from which she falls rather than drop the comb that contains “all their hopes”, but fortunately for her Tora is really diligent about keeping his food clean and unharmed. Mayuko in arm, he decides he’s sick of Ushio, a human, acting like this. So he lets Ushio stab him with the spear, giving Mayuko the opening she needs. Four down, one to go.

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As suspected, for maximum dramatic effect, the one who loves Ushio the most is saved for last. Jeimei reveals it’s her brother who is the Beast Spear trying to devour Ushio in service of destoying Hakumen, but she begs him to stop. Ushio is even able to get the words “it hurts” out, sending the tears streaming from Asako’s eyes as she laments that all this crap is happening. Like Tora, she wants the old Ushio back, preferring him and all his lovable flaws to the mindless monster before her.

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As she wipes her eye she combs his hair, but the Spear senses Hakumen close and seemingly undoes all the progress the combing made, and neutralizing the power of Asako’s emotions. But she doesn’t give up, grabs hold of Ushio and doesn’t let go, and remembers all the times throughout the years Ushio pissed her off by teasing her, only to be her dopey knight in shining armor when she was in a spot.

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Just as Tora has a shorthand for why he helps out his “food” so much, Asako has a shorthand for the “idiot” Ushio. But she also happens to love that idiot, and all but says it when his crystal eyes shatter for good, released from the Beast Spear’s hold. Back in “normal” Beast Mode, he summons Tora and the two deal with the threat that had been bubbling around them, and had been dealt with by his dad, the chosen four, Jun, the priests, and even Hyou (Hi Hyou!), until the end of their limits: the massive swarm of Hiyou.

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Noting he seems stronger than before, Tora works with Ushio to obliterate the storm, after which Ushio collapses from exhaustion, back to his old self. He mutters to Tora how before he woke up, he felt like he was having a strange dream full of strange people, but also filled with warm people who were at their very best. But it all seems like a dream to him; he’s unaware of what has transpired and who was involved.

That Ushio may forever be ignorant to their deeds and hard-won victory is a little disappointing, but they’re right: if he learned what he did to them, he’d likely never forgive himself. They’re protecting him from needlessly punishing himself for hurting them, because to a woman, they were there by choice, and would do it again to save him in a heartbeat.

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This is an experience none of them will ever forget, but it’s also notable that it’s an event that brought them all together, as shown when they decide to go party together to celebrate a victory everyone who was present knows about except the one they saved.

But while many friendships were forged in this ordeal, as Ushio heads into the cave with Tora (no time to waste!) all the girls not named Asako know that Ushio will definitely be back, but won’t be coming back to them, but to her.  That will be some reunion.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 02

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Gundam IBO backtracks a bit with the first of what seemed like a redundant scenes whose heavy lifting had already been more efficiently handled last week: Orga sends Mika to fire up the Gundam. This week we see Mika’s side of it, and I can’t say we didn’t learn a lot: why Mika was bleeding last week (Gundam’s visceral neural interface is a lot tougher on the body than the mobile workers), Aina’s condemnation of using such barbaric interfaces (no surprise there; but Mika doesn’t care if it will help them survive), and the fact Mika can’t read. That’s right, Mika is the Charlie Kelly of GIBO.

That’s all well and good, but it was an awful lot of infodumping so early in the episode, and I enjoyed the alacrity with which Mika simply showed up in the Gundam that had been teased early last week, without excessive explanation.

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But once we’re back in the present with Mika battling and bleeding in Barbatos, we learn that he and his Gundam are only the savior’s by a very shallow margin. Because a lot of quick jerry-rigging had to take place to even get it going, the mechanic forgot to fill it up with gas. Also, Mika himself soon runs out of juice and passes out, mere moments after Lt. Crank, his arrogant young CO killed and his subordinate injured, orders a retreat. The Third Group lives another day thanks to Mika and Orga, but only barely.

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As Mika’s adorable love interest Atri heads to CGS for a supply run while giving Biscuit’s twin sisters Cookie and Cracker a lift, Coral lays into Crank for not getting the job (getting Aina killed in “glorious battle”) done. This was the other scene that I felt went too far out of its way to explain the Aina assassination plot, which was more elegantly implied last week. Still, Coral’s men’s failure harms his reputation and threatens his unit’s funding, so he orders Crank to take care of Aina before the blue-coated Gjallarhorn inspectors show up, which is soon.

Crank, an old space salt, has no desire to do further battle with child soldiers like the pilot of the Gundam, as he fears they’re fighting against their will. His empathy falls on deaf ears, as Coral will certainly find someone else to do his dirty work if Crank doesn’t. But this is the first case of someone in Gjallarhorn having an ounce of empathy for the childrens’ plight, and depending on how things go, it could be paving the way Crank defecting.

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Atra’s encounter with Mika—which she was clearly very much looking forward to any may well have been the primary reason for her coming at all—lasts all of ten seconds. Atra doesn’t challenge the still-bloodstained Mika’s assurance that he’s all right, and he shuffles off, saying he has things to attend to. Mika may regret taking Atra’s love for granted down the road.

As Mika attends to things, he crosses paths with Aina. During the battle, she felt useless. After the battle, she’s still there, and feels she can’t leave, out of guilt for everyone who died for her sake, feelings she relays to Mika as an act of contrition. But Mika doesn’t want her sorrow or her pity, and coldly requests she not look down on his fallen comrades and think they only died for her. They also died for him, for their other comrades, and for themselves.

That brings us to what is perhaps the Third Group’s breaking point: the First Corps is back, but rather than have their tails between their legs, they’re eager to punish the Third for their insubordinate actions. Orga, respectful of his superior on the surface but clearly restraining his contempt, works out a lovely explanation for what happened, but is met by his superior’s fist.

Orga takes this beating for his men, but it looks like he’s not any more willing to take any more than his men are willing to watch. Orga knows how things will go with the First Corps dopes in charge. Declining business, higher-risk ops, and more Third Group death and suffering as they’re used as bait. He’s through with that life, and starts preparing for a mutiny.

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In another instance of their strong fraternal, symbiotic bond, Orga says he’ll call the whole thing off if Mika isn’t on board, while assuring the men that Mika will definitely say yes. When he meets up with Mika, who is fueling the Gundam that is stuck where he left it, he says he’s on board with whatever Orga thinks is best. He’s also working rather than paying respect for the dead because of something Orga said to him when they were young: “You can see the dead when you’re dead, so to keep the living alive, do everything you can.”

“Everything you can” means rising up against their First Corps oppressors before they’re sent on a mission they can’t come back from. But with Aina still at the base, Coral nervously receiving the two elite young Gjallarhorn inspector-majors he has no intention of revealing his failures to, and the decent veteran Crank deploying alone to complete the mission Orlis could not, possible alliances abound. Yet at the end of the day the Third Group will probably have to take care of themselves, as they always have.

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Noragami Aragoto – 02

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That shaman-looking regalia did the “Evil Smirk at the End of the Episode”, so there was a good bet he’d turn out to be a less than swell guy, and this episode confirms that with all the subtlety of a Hiyori Iki Suplex.

Yukine comes clean about having made a friend outside the Circle of Trust, but everyone’s happy about it, and Yato, while a little weary that Suzuha is a Bishamon regalia, merely urges caution going forward.

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Suzuha already has Yukine in his thrall with his friendly demeanor and approachability, but seals the deal by telling a very sad tale about a girl who used to notice his flowers every Summer, but could never remember him, and forgot about him altogether thirty years ago, when they promised to meet at an old cherry tree he’s now desperately trying to rehabilitate.

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Suzuha’s longing turns to obsession and despair one night, after the shaman-looking guy (named Kugaha) seems to twist the knife, telling him even his master has forgotten him and that he has nothing. A pack of phantom wolves then kill Suzuha right there, and Bishamon, who may well have forgotten Suzuha what with the legions of other regalia she has to keep track of, only wakes up when she feels the loss.

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Unaware that Suzuha is gone, Yukine arrives at the time they agreed on for a picnic, along with his friend Hiyori. Yuki makes no bones about his concern about Hiyori forgetting about him when she grows older and moves on with her life, both to Yato and to Hiyori herself, but she tells him not to worry: she’s not going anywhere. At least, not until she’s satisfied Yuki has gotten a good academic education. When/if Yato fixes her tail problem, even she can’t say what will happen, but she doesn’t want Yukine to worry.

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The pain from Yukine’s worrying, after all, is also felt by his master Yato. So it really puts into perspective how much pain Bishamon endures every day from the collective pain of her myriad regalia. And she only knows it’s Suzuha who is gone when she spots a dead plant in the hall; all the low-level regalia put on happy faces so as not to add to her suffering, a geture that’s both helpful and unhelpful.

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Even though her exemplar Kazuma watches her like a hawk, he’s still caught off-guard when blight suddenly appears on Bishamon’s neck. He acts quickly and decisively, gathering all regalia for a full-body inspection to ascertain who gave Bishamon the blight. When Dr. Kugaha performs the examinations and finds no blight, and Bishamon shows up with no blight on her neck, Kazuma is confused and his confidence shaken.

And that’s probably also Kugaha’s doing: the guy’s a doctor; maybe he faked the blight to stir Kazuma up? It would seem he’s poking and prodding at the weak spots of his fellow regalia. Suzuha was only the first. As he remarks to Nora (who the bad guys always seem to consort with on this show), Kugaha doesn’t consider Bishamon worthy of being the War God, is acting to topple her, and seems bent on using Yato to facilitate that outcome.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 23

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The calm is over, bring on the storm. And my oh my, is that storm ever gross. Let it be said: shutting down the Holy Grail is a task akin to wading through refuse in the bowels of the Death Star; at least that’s the vibe I got. This is mana given physical form, but that form is nasty. It seems too crude weapon for a King of Heroes would use to “cull the mongrels” as he so eloquently puts it. Then again, I imagine it’s the only weapon he has to get the job done.

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Shirou, Rin and Saber’s plan falls apart almost immediately, as Gil confronts the former two while the latter is tied up for the entire episode by Assassin, who has not vanished yet, due to…good fortune? Don’t you mean ‘plot convenience,’ show? Regardless, I’m glad the show didn’t forget about Assassin, and even though he’s fading away, he puts up his usual tough fight at the temple gate, complete with his original brand of stoic banter.

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As for Gil, the glimpse of yore is striking, but his grandeur is let down by his unceasing monologues, which make him sound like a garden-variety villain, contemptuous of humanity, seeking to reshape the world to the way it was, when everyone’s life had purpose. I don’t remember the Gilgamesh of the eponymous epic to be such a dick towards humanity.

Then again, I haven’t read it in a while. He also seems to take his sweet old time killing Shirou, even saying out loud he’s going easy on him, since he’d consider taking the “Faker” seriously a defeat in and of itself. Look, I don’t need all villains to have a sympathetic side, but Gil is essentially nothing but a harbinger of death. He’s barely even a character, and for all his talk of originality, he’s always felt like the thinnest, least developed Servant in UBW. 

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His bluster about not going all out is also an opening to his defeat, as arrogant villains like him are often their own worst enemies. His complete lack of understanding of humanity’s complexity is also demonstrated as Rin casually wades through the goo, climbs the grail, and pulls its vessel Shinji out, disrupting Gil’s plans. Rin isn’t doing it for her would-be sexual predator, but for his sister, someone the show has totally forgotten about but we know to be a good person.

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Gil think’s Rin’s actions are part and parcel of what’s wrong with humanity, but hey, the grail ain’t got a vessel any more, and it forms a giant arm to reach out to him when Shinji is gone, interrupting a fight that Shirou is hanging in fairly well, now that he’s copying all of the weapons Gil sends at him.

In one of Gil’s cooler moments, his mouth is actually mostly shut. Instead, he summons a strange lock-like mechanism which he then unlocks, summoning a bizarre-looking sword Shirou neither recognizes or nor can scan. Gil calls it Ea—no doubt named after the Sumerian deity also known as Enki—and dispatches the grail arm with ease, also destroying the temple he’s standing on and knocking Shirou out.

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Meanwhile, as their battle rages on, Assassin reveals nothing he’s ever done has had any meaning, since he was always a false, fictional servant. Sasaki Kojirou was never his name; he has no name, and only exists to replicate the skills of the real Sasaki.

Yet despite all that untold time as nothing, doing nothing of consequence, he considers the final moments he spends locked in battle with Saber to finally provide him with purpose. Saber manages to cut him through with her Holy Sword, and he lets her pass, making me wonder if she’ll now disappear because she used it…

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So that leaves us with a Rin with an out-cold, messed-up Shinji in her arms, a grail seeking a new vessel and being rebuked by Gilgamesh, a Shirou who is severely winded and lying in a pile of rubble, and a Saber whose time on this earth may or may not have just become severely curtailed a result of using her trump.

Of these people, Gilgamesh certainly seems to be standing on the firmest ground, but with his grail sabotage Saber sure to bear down on him momentarily, he may want to start thinking about a Plan B. I’m certain he’s going down—he’s the bad guy and this is that kind of show—it’s a matter of how fantastically he’s brought down, and what it will cost our heroes.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 22

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After a tense multi-episode battle with Archer, Shirou, Saber and Rin get a much-deserved respite back home, which almost seems like a preview of sorts for the “household of three” domestic arrangement that represents the ideal ending for these three once the war is over.

But it’s far from a sure thing, as there’s still Gilgamesh/Archer and his Shinji Grail to deal with. Rin determines that it’s all going down at Ryuudou Temple, so after a meal (gotta feed the brain), they determine the best course of action.

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There’s an interesting dance between the three in Shirou’s sprawling manse, as he happens to not be around while Rin is conferring with her servant, while Saber happens to not be around when Shirou goes to Rin’s room, where she tells him how they’re going to get over his lack of mana (and thus inability to maintain a reality bubble like Archer): she’s going to transfer her magic crest to him, giving him all the mana he’ll need to face Gilgy.

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This is treated as very intimate act, but not too intimate. While it’s certainly the hottest thing these two have done together (on this particular show, that is), things stay tasteful…if a bit dull and underwhelming.

Considering the affection these two have for each other, everything they’ve been through, and the fact they may not come back from their next fight, part of me wanted a little more amorousness.

Yet their contact never comes close to veering into the territory of sex, with Rin only removing her iconic turtleneck and Shirou taking off his shirt, with the understanding that more efficient “exchange of body heat” helps the process. Whatever you say, show.

While the transfer takes place, Shirou has some trippy dreams about being amongst jellyfish-style marine animals in the sea, to a scene of a kid practicing the high jump over and over as a young Rin watches.

I gathered that the jumping kid was him, and this was an actual memory Rin cherishes, and bristles when Shirou brings it up, because she doesn’t have an intimate memory of his to lord over him.

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When they’re all done, Shirou goes out to see Saber, who was thankfully not peeking through the window to see what was going on or anything silly like that. Shirou is resolved to take care of Gilgamesh and come back home safe and sound, but Saber seems more tentative about that last part.

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So this was the calm before the storm—which is brewing menacingly on the other side of town—but a warm and enjoyable one. Again, I don’t particularly care about Gilgamesh’s ideals or anything; he’s just an arrogant Bad Guy who needs to be put in his place. Here’s hoping our Power Triangle can make it happen.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 21

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Yes. The long, long battle between Shirou and his alternate future self continues this week, though thankfully comes to an end around the halfway point. I say thankfully, because as cool as the animation is and as beautiful a setting their fighting in and as poignant the points both combatants are making are, I’ve kinda seen and heard enough, and I was really ready to move on.

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While standing around bearing witness to the Shirous, Saber sees a little of herself in the duality, remembering her days as a farm girl before she drew the Excalibur from the stone. “Even if nothing but regrets remained, if I was able to achieve many of my ideals in the process, then…” Saber trails off, but I believe she means to say it was worth making the choice she made, though both possibilities were correct.

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Shirou, too, doesn’t care about the regrets that have burden Archer and brought on his suicidal rage. His dream to help others so they can be happy is beautiful, and he won’t abandon it. His dream isn’t wrong. The universe around him would tend to agree, because no matter what Archer throws at him, he’s able to slash it away. He’s got almost no mana left, but his spirit is unbreakable.

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The Unlimited Blade Works setting suddenly vanishes, and we’re back in the mansion, with Shirou scoring a fatal blow to Archer. And all because the split second before Shirou stabs him, Archer recalls the memory of sitting on the porch, taking Kuritsugu to step back and let him carry on that wish.

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Oddly enough, it’s Shirou, the victor, who collapses in a pile, as Archer stands his ground, defeated but dignified. He accepts defeat and seems ready to depart, but then he’s stabbed by swords from Gilgamesh.

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Gil, the “genuine article”, means to destroy both of the “fakes” that stand before him, ruining his day, but in his last moment of life, Archer plays the hero once more, shoving Shirou aside and taking the full attack head on, vaporizing him. Rin, abandoning all common sense, shoots a little magic bolt at Gil, shifting his gaze to her, but fortunately, Saber is there to protect her.

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Gil, who was Archer in the previous war, delays killing everyone in order to initiate a enlightenment/gloating session, in which he tells Saber, Rin, and Shirou that the Holy Grail itself is a weapon; a gateway to Hell itself, capable of killing billions of humans. His goal is to do just that, and anyone who survives what pours forth from the grail will be “worthy of his rule.”

Then pieces around the mansion start to fall, and he halts his attack once more, worried about getting soot on him. This was an odd choice, because you’d think if he could effortlessly do so, he’d eliminate anyone who was even the slightest bit of a threat against his plans. Instead, he’s almost challenging them to foil those plans, despite saying their lives are worth less than soot to him.

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So Gil just struts off, finding the wounded Shinji in the forest, and decides to turn him into the vessel for the grail, and Shinji undergoes an Akira-style transformation that is none too pleasant. Then again, this show has been extremely clear about how huge of a piece of crap Shinji is, so this kind of an improvement.

This episode was an improvement over last week’s more open-ended affair, but still suffered a bit from repeating itself too often. There’s also the problem that Gilgamesh is a two-dimensional demigod with lofty but obvious goals of world destruction and domination. In other words, he’s not as interesting a foe as Archer was; not yet, anyway. Prove me wrong, F/sn.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 20

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Remember, I don’t know anything about stats or paths or ends or zeros or kaleids, nor do I have any plans to branch out and learn. I judged this episode the only way I could; the same way I’ve judged every episode of UBW: on its own merits. And I judged it to be another mostly thrilling important event and important revelation-packed powerhouse.

But it wasn’t perfect. In fact, there were a couple times when Archer’s lengthy, repetitive monologues threatened to drown the central battle’s momentum.

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What saved this episode was the awesome wrap-up of Rin’s predicament, which didn’t take up nearly as much time, but packed plenty of punch. When we left her, Lancer was apparently dead and Kirei was preparing to rip her heart out.

To my delight, Lancer wasn’t quite dead yet, and he not only kills Kirei (we hardly knew ye…at least on the show…so ‘bye bye Kirei, but scares Shinji off with a little prick to the shoulder after yanking him off of Rin once more.

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I never quite understood why he wanted to rape Rin so badly, but it wasn’t in the cards thanks to a particularly chivalrous Lancer, who refuses Rin’s thanks, as things merely “worked out.” But from there it’s clear Lancer won’t be getting back up again, and Rin tells reiterates her dispassionate view of Archer, thinking his regrets are justified, but at the same time knowing she’s not the one to judge or save him.

All she can focus on is herself and moving forward. Lancer sets himself and Kirei on fire as Rin departs. His fitting final rhetorical wish before he vanishes: that Rin look him up when she’s got a few more years on her. I’ll miss you Lancer, you magnificent bastard.

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My take is if Shirou survives his fight with Archer and continues on a path with her and Saber, that would be peachy. But again and again he projects his twin daggers and again and again Archer shatters them, telling him he’s no match for him.

Still, every time Shioru crosses blades he learns a bit more and his skills get a bit better, and even though he’s taking a lot of hits and losing a lot of blood, he keeps fighting even when Archer transports them back to the UBW.

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He literally fights until his body stops working, and his mind enters “hell”, both the hells his future self created and participated in, and the hell-fire from which Kuritsugu saved him. In this psychic limbo, he remembers something Archer forgot: how happy Kuritsugu looked when he saved him; a feeling Shirou wanted to experience for himself.

Unbeknownst to Shirou, Kuritsugu saved his life by somehow infusing him with Saber’s scabbard. That same scabbard heals him in his present UBW fight, and he gets back on his feet.

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Thus the fight will spill at least partway into next week, with Shirou proclaiming he doesn’t mind being beaten by someone else, but he’ll be damned if he’ll let himself be beaten…by himself. That’s only the last of several great shonen moments Shirou gets this week.

With his body, spirit, and resolve all in good repair for the first time, here’s hoping the “sham” beats the “original”, regardless of whether he can change his mind, proving the borrowed wish of becoming a hero of justice is still a wish, and a powerful one at that.

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