86 – 01 (First Impressions) – There but for the Grace of God Go I

Here’s a little story about the term “86” that I looked up after the title of this series piqued my interest: back in the 30s during prohibition there was a speakeasy on 86 Bedford Street in NYC, and when the cops arrived, its patrons would “86”—quickly flee—from the premises using various hidden exits. Since then, 86ing has also developed as a term to reject, discard, or cancel—86ing an idea, and such.

The second and now more common definition applies to the eponymous military unit of discarded humans in the 86th District of the Republic of San Magnolia. Despite national propaganda in the other districts that assures the public that war is now fought by bloodless drones, that’s just a lie: the 86 are very much flesh-and-blood, and they’re dying for a nation that doesn’t know they exist.

The 86 units are led by Processors, who answer to Handlers operating from the safety of San Magnolia’s luxurious military HQ. Major Vladilena Mirizé is one such Handler—and also one of the only ones with a conscience and who feels the weight of the lives at her fingertips. Much of HQ is a den of hedonism, with drunk and carousing Handlers either unaware their decisions cost human lives, or worse: they’re well aware and don’t care.

Lena cares, however. She tries to keep an open and cordial dialogue with her Processors on the battlefield, who thank her sarcastically. In between operations, she hangs out with her researcher friend Annette, who like Lena is following in her late father’s footsteps. One day, Lena is reassigned by her commanding general, who is also her uncle, to command of Defense Line 1 in Eastern Defense Line Combat District 1, AKA the Spearhead Squadron.

Warning his niece—the youngest person ever to rise to the rank of Major—that feigning modesty will make unwanted enemies, the General also informs her that the Processor who leads Spearhead is called Undertaker, AKA Reaper, which is notorious for destroying Handlers, either by forcing them to retire or change units or, in some cases, commit suicide. Lena, insistent she’s no coward, takes the assignment, but not without a generous helping of dread.

From there the perspective shifts to Processor Shin and the 86, of whom we caught a brief glimpse prior to the title card, fighting a battle that was a chaotic storm of smoke, metal, fire, and blood. But during their downtime, the unit of “grizzled veterans” is nothing more than a bunch of kids. Iron-blooded orphans, if you will, seeking fun and joy and love where they can, but also carrying the scars of their ordeal and their lot in life on their sleeves.

The 86 are mustered for a sortie, and one of them ends up seriously injured inside his spider-like mecha. There are no medics, but Shin the “Reaper” puts his comrade out of his misery with a single bullet, cutting a scrap of metal out of the mecha and later carving his name on it—a grim ritual for a leader tortured by loss and the futility of their shared struggle.

That night after dinner when the 86ers are cleaning up and preparing to go down for the night, Shin and the others receive a message in their ears from their new Handler, Major Vladilena Mirizé, cheerfully introducing herself and looking forward to working with them. Shin answers cordially, while one of his soldiers sketches a caricature of the woman he hears: an aristocratic pig in a frilly dress.

It is in this horrifically unbalanced world of haves, have-nots, and One Big Lie that a young man and young woman from different sides are introduced. Will the rumored “voices of the dead” that caused Lena’s predecessors to go mad have a different effect on her, due to her commitment to regarding the 86 as actual living, breathing people?

Will Lena, in turn, show the perennially abused and oppressed child soldiers that not all Handlers are sadistic scum who deserve a fate worse than death? Follow the visually impressive and thematically compelling 86 along with me, and ye shall find out.

Attack on Titan – 71 – Reshaping the World

Armin, desperate for answers, prepares to touch the crystal containing Annie, only to be scolded by Hitch, who is tasked with guarding her. But even if he had gleaned anything, it might not help solve the rapidly snowballing crisis in Paradis. Had Armin simply consulted the papers, he’d know the public is quickly losing faith in the military now that news of Eren’s imprisonment is out in the open.

A growing group of angry pro-Eren protestors surround military HQ, in support of a New Eldian Empire led by the younger Jaeger. When Hitch goes to help with crowd control, Armin meets with Mikasa and they head to Premier Zachary’s office, spotting three Scout recruits on the way.

Yelena tells Pyxis that it was she who met with Eren in secret to tell him “someone” had to light a fire under HQ to get the military moving against Marley. Of course, Eren himself. Just as Yelena and Zeke hoped, he delivered “divine retribution” the volunteers had wished upon Marley for years. Now Yelena plans to watch with great interests as the two brothers continue “reshaping the world”.

I’m not sure why Eren kept his plans from Mikasa and Armin, since now that he’s done everything he’s done all they want to do is ask him about it. But Premier Zachary forbids them from meeting with Eren, saying the situation is too delicate. After they’re dismissed, Armin comes to believe they’re not letting them talk to Eren because they’ve already given up on him and are preparing to pick the next Founding Titan.

They watch three soldiers enter Zachary’s office after them, and Mikasa wants to listen in to see if they can learn about their plans. Armin holds her back, telling her it’s too risky, and it’s a good thing he does, because moments later a bomb goes off in the office, sending the top half of Zachary’s torso flying out to the HQ’s gate. Armin and Mikasa survive the blast, but the crowd is even more whipped up.

In the immediate investigation that follows the bombing, it’s believed that Zachary’s special torture chair contained the bomb. While Mikasa and Armin didn’t see who exactly placed it there, the two did see those three out-of-place Scout recruits just before meeting with Zachary. This causes everyone in the room to develop those classic Titan face shadows.

Then more bad news for the military drops: Eren has broken out of his cell, likely to join up with Floch and 100 other soldiers and guards loyal to his cause who vanished from the prison. Nile labels this new group of insurgents “Jaegerists”. Now Eren is no doubt looking to secure both Zeke and Queen Historia.

With Zachary dead, Pyxis is de facto in command, and true-to-form, he gives a rather unexpected order: as much as he hates it, he’s to let Zeke and Eren have their way…for now. It’s not quite surrender, but he acknowledges they’ve already been thoroughly outmaneuvered—especially with a lot of the public against them. This no time for a civil war; not with an enemy like Marley across the sea preparing to attack.

With most of the Jaegerist defectors coming from the ranks of the Scouts, Hange is on shaky ground with the other bigwigs, but they have no reason to believe Hange is in cahoots with Eren, so they remain in charge of the regiment. Of particlar concern now is the fact that Yelena strategically placed Marleyan prisoners in odd places like restaurants, as we saw with Nicolo serving Roeg and his men.

But there’s also the restaurant where the Blouse family is getting a fancy dinner. Gabi and Falco are with them, and we see Pieck has already snuck onto the island. Did she see the Titan recruits go in? Mikasa, Armin, Jean, and Connie find themselves on the opposite site of Eren’s movement, and Connie isn’t 100% sure Mikasa won’t choose Eren when all’s said and done (what can you say, he knows her).

Everything’s a big mess, but there is one constant this week: Eren, and Yelena, and Zeke are all getting their way so far. The fact the Jaegerists have worked so fast in this episode suggests Zeke knows Reiner will be launching a counterattack on Paradis sooner rather than later. The Rumbling test run must be implemented ASAP.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 65 – Empathy for the Devil

In last week’s big finale, Eren bursts on the scene as the Attack Titan. This week begins with Willy Tybur saying goodbye to his family, perhaps for the last time. His plan is to draw out the Titans with as many people from around the world watching in order to maximize the carnage. Commander Magath can’t promise he can protect Willy, but Willy doesn’t want protection. After all, the nations won’t unite against Paradis if he doesn’t survive.

Eren’s attack mirrors Braun and Bertoldt’s attack on Shiganshima many years ago, as we watch from the perspective of people on the ground as chaos reigns. Gabi turns to Zofia to find she’s been crushed by a giant boulder, while Udo is trampled to death. Colt keeps Gabi from suffering the same fate by holding her close against that same rock.

Of course, while Willy fully intended to sacrifice his own life on the alter of global cooperation, he also intended for whatever was left of the Marley military in the area to mount a counterattack. It is led by the Tybur family heirloom itself, the Warhammer Titan, but Willy isn’t its pilot—his younger sister Lara is.

When she transforms, the Warhammer immediately starts whaling on Eren, who can’t penetrate his foe’s hardened skin even with his hardened fists. He’s impaled on a giant spear. Meanwhile, Pieck and Porco are rescued by the Panzer Unit, whom Pieck instructed to follow them when she hugged one of them. As they emerge from the house, we hear that oh-so-familiar sound of zipping ODM gear overhead.

The Attack/Warhammer stalemate is seemingly broken when the military, led by Magath, starts firing at Eren anti-Titan rounds. He’s in trouble, so who should appear in the nick of time but his raven-haired guardian angel, Mikasa Motherfuckin’ Ackerman, sporting a new short hairdo and all-black Survey Corps uniform.

Mikasa attacks the Warhammer’s nape with a whole bunch of explosive missiles, disabling her temporarily and giving Mikasa time to ask Eren to come back home. He can’t undo what he’s done—including killing scores of innocent civilians—but he can stop continuing to kill them. Eren doesn’t seem interested in stopping what he’s started.

Despite her adoptive brother, best friend, soul mate, and one true love basically commencing his heel turn before her very eyes, Mikasa won’t leave Eren’s side or stop protecting him, as she must do when the Warhammer wakes up. But Eren noticed something fishy when the Titan constructed from the bottom-up rather than the usual nape-outward.

Colt and Gabi take Udo to the hospital, but they’re in triage mode and Udo is already dead. Gabi is still largely in shock, and doesn’t understand why Zofia and Udo just died, but decides she’s not going to run and hide, but join the military in the fighting.

Upon reaching the gate, the guards (who know and are fond of her) warn her to run, and are both shot dead…by Sasha Blouse. Sasha and Gabi lock gazes, but Sasha doesn’t kill her, instead joining Connie, Jean, Floch, and the rest of the Survey Corps in their operation.

As Mikasa distracts the Warhammer, Eren finds a hose-like extension from its feet, and locates Lara, who is encased in the same kind of extra-hard crystal as Annie Leonhart. Nevertheless, the egg-like “cockpit” is small enough for Eren to eat and thus inheret the Warhammer Titan’s powers. Before he can chow down, he’s interrupted by Jaws, piloted by Porco.

Porco, however, doesn’t have enough time to bite through Eren’s nape, because Levi swoops in and slices Porco’s nape, continuing the thrilling back and forth. Porco can only watch helplessly as dozens of Survey Corps soldiers descend upon him—mere humans not only unafraid of the fact he’s a Titan, but ready to end him. To paraphrase Magath, there are devils on both sides. There always were.

The war between Marley and Paradis has well and truly begun, and assuming enough foreign dignitaries escaped the carnage, it won’t be long before other nations answer Willy Tybur’s call. Meanwhile, Paradis has come in force to wreak havoc on Marley and, presumably, destroy its own force of Titans, while Eren may have his own, more nihilistic agenda. In any case, it’s great to see the old gang in action, looking much cooler—and more hardened—than the goofy kids we saw on the beach.

Magath ends up surviving a grenade attack, while Braun and Falco are missing for the entire episode. It will be interesting to see if Braun passes the Armored to Falco due to the fact he’s not certain Gabi survived Eren’s attack. Falco wants Gabi to live a full life, but Gabi wants revenge for Zofia, Udo, and all the other comrades and friends she’s lost.

Attack on Titan – 64 – Parting Ways with False Honor

Back when Reiner was with Bertholdt and Annie on Paradis, a man they met prefaced his eventual suicide-by-hanging by telling them a story. The three wondered if the man did so seeking forgiveness—which Annie felt they had no right to give after losing Marcel—or merely wanted to be judged.

Now in the present day, face-to-face with Eren Yeager for the first time in four years, it’s Reiner who wants to be judged, and as someone who witnessed his crimes firsthand in Paradis—not the propaganda Marley peddles—Eren is uniquely suited to do so.

Still, as he urges Reiner to sit down and listen to Tybur’s speech with him, he also insists Falco stay put and listen, both to the speech and to his and Reiner’s concurrent chat. Meanwhile, Porco and Pieck are told to accompany an escort for an undisclosed matter.

Tybur really went all out with the theatrical production, as his speech begins with the story the entirety of the assembled crowd already knows: how the Eldians conquered the world a hundred years ago and then turned on their own people, and how Helos and the Tyburs fought together to free the world of the Eldian hegemony.

Porco and Pieck’s escort is a non-Eldian and doesn’t wish to speak with them en route, but Pieck runs into other non-Eldians who are members of the Panzer division, i.e. soldiers whose lives depend on the Cart Titan over all other groups and thus have a soft spot in their heart for her, even though she’s an Eldian.

Pieck can’t help but think she’s seen the anti-Eldian escort before—perhaps on Paradis?—but she and Porco are led into a house and fall down a trap door into a narrow well in which they cannot transform. Clearly someone wanted them out of the way…but who?

Willy’s speech takes a sudden turn when he reveals that the story of Helps and Tybur saving Marley was nothing but a lie crafted by the Eldian King Fritz, whose plan was to flee to Paradis with as many Titans as possible and stay there, neither attacking nor being attacked by any force. We learn the tripartite walls themselves are composed of countless Colossal Titans and built with the power of the Founding Titan.

Fritz intended to fully enforce the renouncement of war with those walls and never emerge from them. We learned that he inspired the generations that came after to follow suit. But then Eren came into possession of the Founding Titan, and Fritz’s dynasty fell (when Historia rose to power). Thus even though the King had saved Marley by allowing himself to be their most hated enemy, that King’s legacy can no longer be relied on.

The Founding Titan has the ability to convert the walls back into an army of Colossal Titans who would then go on to literally trample the world. If Eren didn’t know this before, he knows it now. As his leg regenerates Falco realizes he was duped into delivering mail to Eren’s allies—who I’m guessing trapped Porco and Pieck in the well.

As they listen to Tybur, Eren asks Reiner why the walls were breached and why his mom was eaten, and Reiner, nearly mad by now with grief, replies that it was because he fucked up. The others were willing to abort the mission when Marcel died, but Reiner wanted them to press on. He doesn’t want to be forgiven for what ended up happening, he wants to be judged and executed by Eren, one of his first victims.

But Eren isn’t here to judge Reiner, any more than he’s here to judge Falco, or Porco and Pieck, or Colt, Gabi, Zofia, or Udo. They were all just kids, after all, told just like he and his friends were told that The Other Side were evil demons, when in reality both sides were mostly just regular people. Those responsible for the atrocities in Marley and elsewhere were long gone, though they were still ruled by their descendants.

So no, Eren won’t blame or judge brainwashed kids past or present for the state of his family, people, or homeland. What he will do is put the blame squarely where it belongs: on Willy Tybur, who seems to successfully unite his diverse audience into joining forces to defeat the demons across the sea once and for all. But his big shining moment is stolen by Eren, who transforms into a Titan and bursts out of the building nearest the stage.

A new war has been declared, and it seems that Tybur specifically chose the Internment Zone as its first battlefield, luring leaders from all over the world there in order to witness the ensuing carnage the Titans can cause, perhaps hoping they’ll return and sway their people into joining his cause. In seeking judgment of Tybur, Eren may have played right into his hands…

Attack on Titan – 63 – Bread and Circuses

Mister “Kruger” (*cough*-Eren-*cough*) has developed enough of a rapport with young Falco that he’s comfortable asking him to deliver mail to his family from outside the Internment Zone.

Meanwhile, Commander Magath welcomes Willy, head of the Tybur family—and thus the head of Marley’s military. He recognizes that Marley needs a new hero, in the image of Helos of a hundred years ago, and intends to make the IZ the site of a speech he’ll deliver that will change Marley’s course.

As preparations for his speech commence, planning for the invasion of Paradis continues, with the Marleyan commander dismissing Braun’s dilligent and nuanced intelligence of the island to be a waste of time. Braun, Pieck, and Porco (who is briefly freaked out by Pieck’s tendency to crawl like her Titan) watch as their young successors train.

It’s a big day for Falco, who beats Gabi in a full-kit footrace. Gabi has a blind spot when it comes to Falco’s crush on her and desire to save her from the curse of being the next Armored Titan, so when he comes right out and tells her he “cares about her”, she’s utterly confused and angry rather than touched.

Gabi is the kind of wide-eyed dreamer who believes if the Tyburs bring people from all over the world to the IZ, they’ll be able to see that the present generations of Eldians are nothing like their demonic forebears, and aren’t anyone to fear (or systematically eradicate).

Unfortunately, Gabi is ignorant not just to the true attitudes of other nations, but also the fact that most Marleyans will never accept Eldians as equals or even real humans. Tybur’s seminal speech could praise her people or it could condemn them.

When Falco visits Mr. Kruger at the hospital, he now has a baseball and glove. After he leaves, an old man sits beside Kruger and introduces himself as “Dr. Yeager”. He warns Kruger not to get Falco, a promising Eldian, into trouble, and talk of lifelong regrets come up, including “that day” when his son (Grisha?) took his sister outside the walls.

While I pondered whether Eren just met his grandfather (later carried away by orderlies when he starts screaming uncontrollably), day turns to night and we’re at a fancy banquet honoring Tybur and his upcoming speech. Falco, Gabi, Udo and Zofia are put to work as waiters, underscoring their status as second class citizens no matter how hard they fight.

Things get tense when Udo overhears foreign guests lobbing slurs at them, but thankfully when he spills wine on a woman, she happens to be from Hizuru, “a country in the Orient” which may well be more tolerant of Eldians. She lies about spilling the wine on herself, sparing Udo harsh punishment.

The next day, Gabi wakes up to find the IZ has been turned into a busy, colorful festival town, and joins her mates and senpais for a day of sampling every kind of food they can. It’s a rare montage of pure fun and joy, which almost surely means it’s probably the last fun they’ll be having for a while.

That night, minutes before Tybur gives his speech, Falco asks Braun to follow him somewhere. He takes him down into a secluded basement where Mr. Kruger is waiting…only his name, as expected, isn’t Kruger. He greets Braun for the first time in four years, and Braun immediately recognizes him as Eren Yeager.

After episodes that give the “bad guys” of previous seasons more depth and illustrating how much the world sucks no matter where you live, we’re finally approaching something resembling the Attack on Titan with which we’re most familiar: Eren and Braun in the same room.

That said, who knows what Eren wants, how he lost his leg, why he’s posing as a wounded Eldian veteran, or what he intends to get out of Braun. Regardless, I remain intrigued.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 62 – Looking Past the Hell

If you like Reiner Braun, you’ll love this episode. If you’re an anime-only watcher wondering where the hell Eren, Mikasa and Armin are, well…you’ll have to settle for flashback cameos for now. When Reiner saw the latest (and possibly last) generation of Titan candidates as his own candidate circle last week, that was a prelude to the episode we get this week, in which the story of his generation of candidates unfolds.

Reiner, Annie, Bertholdt, Pieck, and the Galliard brothers Marcel and Porco make up that previous generation. Back in the day, Reiner was extremely unsure of himself and his talents, much like Falco is in the present, and was bullied by Porco. Marcel kept his bro in check, but Annie is too busy smushing grasshoppers into goo to get involved in the scraps.

Unlike Falco, Reiner towed the company line without hesitation, and the Marleyan commanders valued his loyalty. To Reiner’s shock and Porco’s outrage, Reiner ends up inheriting the Armored Titan. He and the others (minus Porco) end up in a parade, which he leaves when he spots his Marleyan dad. Unfortunately, his dad wants nothing to do with him.

The new Titan Warriors are sent by Commander Magath to Paradis, and on their first night there, Reiner learns that Marcel set things up so Reiner would get the Armored Titan instead of his brother. Like Falco intends to do with Gabi, Marcel wanted to protect his brother and give him a longer life. That morning the group is ambushed by Ymir, but Marcel saves Reiner at the cost of his own life.

When Reiner stops running later that morning, Annie and Bertholdt eventually catch up with him, and he’s a blubbering wreck. Annie has no time for his cowardice and starts to beat the shit out of him, insisting that their new priority should be to retrieve the Jaw Titan and head home.

As she beats him, Annie says both Marleyans and Eldians are a bunch of lying bastards, so who gives a shit, but Reiner rises like a creepy zombie from behind her and puts her in a chokehold. He insists they continue the mission. If they tried to go home now, they’d be fed to their successors.

After this scuffle, we know what happens: Reiner, Bertholdt, and Annie attack Shiganshima as the events from Titan’s very first episode are repeated from the Titans’ POV.

The three mix with the district’s refugees and join the 104th Cadet Corps with Eren & Co. We know that story too. Fast forward five years, and Annie tracks down Kenny Ackerman, but is unable to get any info about the Founding Titan (i.e., Eren) from him, and he doesn’t buy that she’s his long-lost daughter.

Annie wants to head back to Marley, certain that the intel they’ve amassed these five years will be sufficient, but Reiner knows better: They don’t have the Founding Titan, which means their mission isn’t complete, which means they won’t be welcomed back.

As Reiner’s memories of his undercover mission on Paradis progress, we see watch present-day Reiner prepare to commit suicide by placing a rifle in his mouth. He only hesitates when he overhears Falco, probably the candidate most like him in his candidate days, discussing his problems with one of the wounded veterans at the hospital (who, judging from his black hair and green eyes, could…could be an older Eren in disguise).

Falco could be one of the last Titan warriors, and he needs all the help he can get from those who served before him. Reiner decides he won’t end his life today. His life might be hell right now, but he’s still able to look beyond that hell to, in this case, the hell that awaits Falco and his comrades. If he can stop them from reliving that hell, remaining alive will have been well worth it.

Attack on Titan – 61 (S4 E02) – One Last Gasp

They’ve emerged from four years of war the nominal victor, but Marley can’t rest on its laurels. The generals are in consensus that their strategic advantage of the Titans hangs by a thread. Of particular concern is the quickly advancing aviation industry. They’re on the wrong end of history, and the entire episode is suffused with that bleakness and weariness.

Reiner actually survived the naval bombardment, but it’s just a taste of what the future will bring. We also meet his comrades Galliard (Jaws, who inherited his Titan from the imprisoned Ymir) and Pieck (Cart). Interestingly Pieck has trouble walking on two feet as a human since her Cart is a quadruped.

Back on his feet, Reiner tracks down Gabi and the other three Titan candidates, much to Gabi’s elation. When the funnel of a passing ship suddenly covers them in shadow, he briefly sees four of his comrades from back when he was their age, including Bertholdt and Annie.

Our quartet of kids consist of two goers-with-the-flow (Udo and Zofia), a True Believer in Gabi, and a Skeptic in Falco. On the train home to Liberio, Gabi is all too happy to accept praise for her prowess in battle and looks forward to being the next Armored. Falco take on that mantle in her place, but not for glory. You see, he simply wants Gabi to live past age twenty-seven. Braun isn’t altogether dismissive of Falco’s attitude.

Earlier in the episode we’re reminded that even decorated Eldians like Zeke and Reiner are still considered Less Than by their non-Eldian leaders, and as such they are not entitled to privacy. When we arrive in the ironically-named Liberio, the Eldian soldiers reunite with their families—one by one we see moments of unbridled love and joy (RABUJOI!)—from people who can use any and all such moments they can get.

Again, Falco zags while Gabi and everyone else zigs. Before joining his family, he checks in on a group of Eldian soldiers who are suffering severe PTSD. The supposed doctor even mimics the sound of a bomb to freak them all out, and only Falco tries to calm them down.

At the Braun family dinner, more praise than food is heaped upon Gabi’s plate, but when Reiner is asked about his time on Paradis with the descendants of the “evil” Eldians who fled there, his response becomes a rant in which he suggests there were “all kinds” of people there, not just monsters. The matriarch quickly insists that the Eldians on Paradis are the source of all “good” Eldians’ problems, and must be wiped off the earth.

At the next meeting of Zeke, Reiner, Galliard, Pieck and Colt (Zeke’s eventual replacement), Zeke announces that they’ll be launching a new offensive on Paradis, with the goal of conquering the island for Marley within a year—which is all Zeke has left in the Beast Titan. Their meeting is being monitored by non-Eldian Marley officials, who pick up on Zeke’s offhand “not in this room.”

As Reiner watches the young candidates spar, he dreads returning to the “pure hell” that was Paradis. But considering how he described Sasha stealing a potato to eat way back when (I believe that’s what he was on about), and his comment to Falco about taking over for him instead of Gabi, what he says to his family and what he believes may be very different. He’s just aware that those who weren’t on that island wouldn’t understand.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 03 – The Secret to Strength

Move over Claudia—Miyako has quickly risen to my favorite of the four Tateyama Valkyries, and it really isn’t much of a contest. Early in the morning, after a vision-like meeting with Odin during which he warns Claudia not to get her new friends killed (what a dick), Claudia meets up with Miko, as they’re the only two who use the dojo.

Claudia used it because her father lived in Japan and imparted a lot of its culture into her upbringing, while Miyako grew up in a dojo. It was a stern and structured childhood, and her mom told her “she’s cute, but dumb, so learn housework”. Miyako took that to heart, and can now cook breakfast for the entire base.

But it’s more than cooking for Miyako, as we’ve seen in past episodes and reinforced this week. She’s basically both wife and mother to Azuzu, who doesn’t function well outside the cockpit (or in the morning). Of course, Miko doesn’t mind taking care of her, while Azu tries not to take it for granted.

After breakfast, the sleepy commander (a lot of people are yawning around the base) issues Claudia, Miko and Sono a special mission: a “Disaster Recovery Assessment” of Umihotaru, the shopping and entertainment isle they successfully defended last week. Miko is initially hesitant to agree to go, but when Azu (staying behind for maintenance meetings) reassures her, she’s in.

The “assessment” that follows is totally unlike the official military operation Claudia expected. Instead, the three girls (with three very happy and lucky escorts from among the guys) have was amounts to a day full of fun and diversion. They hit up the arcades. No one lets them pay for anything, because the Valkyries are their idols and saviors.

When Claudia finally asks when the actual assessment will happen, Miko tells her, simply, they’re doing it. It’s enough for them to avail themselves of Umihotaru’s facilities and witness all of the people happy and smiling. Miko runs out into the middle of a crowd to yell out “How’s everyone doing?” and sure enough, everyone’s super.

On the way home, the girls stop for ice cream, but Miko gets a call from Azu and immediately returns to base on the back of a motorcycle. When Claudia and Sono catch up, Claudia learns why Miko had to go so suddenly, why she was weary of going on the trip at all, and why everyone is so sleepy. Turns out a member of the recon team is in critical condition and near death.

Miyako takes her additional Valkyrie role of sending off soldiers as seriously as Azu scornfully shirks that duty entirely. It’s clear this is not the first soldier she’s been with when they die, nor will it be the last, but no one will ever tell her it’s stupid or a superstition.

If, as Azu says, only “idiots” do it, then Claudia would rather be an idiot too, joining Miko for the solemn task, and aiding the soldier’s passing by singing a soulful song. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking, poignant scene I didn’t think this show had in it, but I was mistaken.

A few hours later, Miyako is back in the dojo training vigorously, tears mixing with her sweat as she goes through her practiced combat motions. Claudia, who arrives in time to train with Miko, doesn’t feel worthy. After watching the soldier pass away and thinking of Odin’s words and all the others who died while she piloted her plane, Claudia is feeling weak and ashamed what she feels to be an unearned reputation for strength.

When Miko finds her outside, Clau asks her, “How are you so strong?” To her surprise, Miko answers that she doesn’t think she’s strong at all. Claudia isn’t alone in never thinking she’s doing enough, that everything she doesn’t do will hurt others. But Miko adds, if Clau insists she’s strong, she’ll let her in on the secret to that strength: Don’t be a picky eater! So Claudia tries the sashimi for breakfast, and finds it delicious.

That Miyako is always trying to keep everyone smiling and positive, whether they’re going through the daily grind, in the heat of battle, or on death’s door. Her generosity and emotional intelligence is unmatched among the characters of Sigrdrifa, which when paired with Odin’s warning of something big on the horizon gives me terrible pause. Could this episode have been one big Miyako Death Flag? I sure hope not.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 02 – Operation Sneaky Eel

After a doozy of a welcoming party for Claudia, most of the base sleeps in with raging hangovers, which doesn’t seem ideal for battle readiness? The culture of Takeyama Base is a far cry from the iron samurai and the elegant ladies who supported them described by her dad upon visiting Japan. Still, now that she’s not considered a Grim Reaper here, Clau is ready to learn and eager to fit into this base full of eccentric misfits who are really not that bad once you get to know them.

Between Sono’s gardening and Miko’s cooking and cheerleading, Takeyama is more than just a place of war, but of life—thriving in spite of the threat of the Pillars. Clau’s open-mindedness even inspires her to come up with a choreographic introduction, but she’s interrupted by the Gjallarhorn, or Pillar alert. The recon squadron heads out first, but not before Miko sees them off with her blessing, a promise to come home safe, and rewards like breakfast when they do.

As with last week, this is a Pillar that is more powerful than an over-water Pillar should be, suggesting the enemy continues to evolve as they defeat it. We also get the first look of the effect Pillars have on civilians, as an entire island of them are rendered unconscious. The Valkyries only have 3600 seconds (an hour) to eliminate the threat, or all those people are dead. Just one problem: the Pillar has surrounded itself with an impenetrable water barrier.

Thankfully, that barrier doesn’t extend below the water surface, which means the girls have a route into the barrier: through the underwater tunnel to the island. The sight of four planes screaming through a tunnel meant for cars is a pretty awesome and harrowing sight, especially when they start getting fired upon from both ends of the tunnel. And even once they’re inside, the Pillar puts up a water wall that blocks their attacks.

Luckily the water wall is open at the top, but the Pillar protects itself with a cushion of heat so intense it melts all ordinance. That’s where Sono with her payload of coolant bombs does the trick, freezing the Pillar so it can be shattered and Claud can destroy the core so a giant tree can be born—while also reciting the intro she prepared. Rescue teams were dispatched so there are no casualties…but how long can that good fortune last?

Once back at base, Clau and Miko bump fists over a job well done while Azu and Sono look on. The quartet demonstrated much more cohesive teamwork, a product not just having been in the air together before, but of Clau knowing her comrades better and trusting them, and they trusting her with taking the lead.

There’s something inherently charming about the inoffensively fine Sigrdrifa’s quirky battle system, even if the enemy itself is a dull-as-sand force of nature the rules for which are always changing. The main draw here is the team of bright and endearing Valkyries, and while the peril has been underplayed so far, Odin’s close observation of his “daughter” Claudia and ominous warnings suggests it won’t all be smooth flying from here on in.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 01 (First Impressions) – Meet the 909th Valkyrie Wing

For it’s opening sortie we get a double-helping of Senyoku no Sigrdrifa. Strange phenomena called Pillars threaten Earth, but an entity calling himself Odin bestows upon humanity a weapon with which to fight them: Valkyries, battle maidens who pilot vintage aircraft called Hero Wings.

Claudia Bruford, callsign Schwertliete, is the ace of the European Valkyrie wing, but she’s often the sole survivor of her missions, leading to her unofficial title Grim Reaper When Japan’s ace is KIA, she is transferred away from Europe, and believes it’s due to that title.

En route to her new assignment, her transport aircraft is attacked by a ocean-bound Pillar, but before she can sortie three other Valkyries enter the battlefield, identifying themselves as Anonym, Red, and Pink. They’re an extremely animated bunch, whom Claudia likens to a “circus”.

They also seem a bit uncoordinated, so Claudia launches and joins the battle. In addition to showing what an S-Class Valkyrie is made of, and it’s more than enough to keep up with the others, the quartet manage to stall the Pillar until it runs out of energy and breaks up.

Claudia returns to base, which she learns is Tateyama, a rearguard base which is also where her three fellow Valkyries are stationed. She is given a tour by Red, AKA Muguruma Miyako, and also meets Watarai Sonoka (PI=ink) and Komagome Azuzu (Anonym).

Claudia or “Clau-chan” as “Miko” nicknames her, is taken aback by how laid back the base is, even under alert. But she meets the very abled mechanic crew and enjoys curry with Miko and Sono while the unathletic Azu tries to play soccer with the kids. We also learn Azu likes Miko.

Their fun on the ground is cut short by reports of more Pillars in the vicinity, and the four Valkyries sortie with Claudia in charge. A handful of Pillars soon turn into dozens, and upon “fishing” out the Pillar’s core, a giant whale-like leviathan takes flight.

Prior to launching, Azu clears the air about Claudia’s reputation as a omen of death for all who fly with her, but both her fellow valkyries, support pilots, and mechanics consider her good luck, no matter what happened in the past. A huge aerial battle between colorful vintage airplanes and Art Nouveau-style CGI enemies ensues, with the brilliant azure sky providing a glorious backdrop.

When the Pillar’s core is finally exposed, everyone is out of ordinance, so Miko jumps out of her cockpit and slashes the core with a katana, thus destroying the Pillar, something that always triggers the creation of a giant floating tree. Claudia fears she’s the sole survivor once again, but when the fog clears it reveals Azu, Sono and Miko all soft-landed in the tree’s foliage.

The girls return home triumphant, and Claudia is officially welcomed to Tateyama air base by her comrades. While she initially thought she was being swept under a rug, now she finds herself somewhere she feels she truly belongs, and with something like a loving family supporting her.

The 48 minutes of Sigrdrifa is a lot to digest, but goes down easy thanks to a simple linear narrative that’s well-paced. There’s a generous use of Norse mythological names and terms likely in order to add a sense of prestige, though I’m not quite sold on whether they’re necessary; any made-up names would have worked.

What truly drew me in for the near-hour was competent production values, a soaring sense of scale to the battles, the quirkiness of cute girls in old-fashioned planes being the salvation of mankind, and the bright and colorful characters we meet, who each have distinct qualities and possess  solid chemistry and lived-in relationships. Let’s see where this goes.

Clockwork Planet – 01 (First Impressions)

One of the downsides of choosing what anime to watch, in part, by their promotional art, is that just as a mechanical clock will one day fail, sometimes a piece of art will let you down. Clockwork Planet is evidence of this. The promo art didn’t look that bad at all, but the show’s a dud.

Just to give a quick recap: In a post-apocalyptic world built almost entirely of gears (?) Miura Naoto is a fairly wimpy tinkerer who dreams of becoming a proper clocksmith. Just when he wishes out loud that automata would rain down upon him, one does, a state-of-the-art model named RyuZU. Naoto shows what he’s got by repairing her.

Then RyuZU becomes Naoto’s trusty servant, in a very silly ceremony in which she sucks on his finger (though it’s an efficient way to collect genetic material with which to imprint).

Later, they check into a love motel because his house was destroyed when she dropped in. Naoto can’t help but see RyuZU as a pretty girl and not a mere automaton, because, well, she looks like a pretty girl.

Meanwhile, Marie Breguet, who is some kind of scientific-commercial big shot despite being (or at least appearing to be) very young, laments the loss of an automaton (RyuZU), clashes with the military, and finds out that said military is going to purge the Kyoto Grid, sending 20 million people to their deaths. She also sleeps in the buff…because…

I needn’t go on. World made of gears? Casual military mass murder? Characters who look like little kids? A very low-budge and unattractive production? I believe I’ll pass.

Youjo Senki – 12 (Fin)

The Gist: Topping all but the second episode, this week’s Tanya outing owns some lengthy, thoughtful and horrifying dialog. Despite what high command may think, the war will not be over and that is strictly because humans are too animalistic — too emotional — to follow the rational path and surrender.

The Republic rises in Africa, joined by survivors from the Kingdom and Alliance. The Kingdom mobilizes at home, and we see weapons of war rolling along the rail tracks in the Russian federation and in America as well. (Even Anson’s daughter has volunteered for service, yellow magic eyes and all!)

It all threatens to swallow Tanya and her fragile battalion. But Tanya is having none of it. In a fiery speech to her recently deployed African troops, she vows that the battlefield is no place for God. That her soldiers will put him out of work and that she will slice him into pieces personally and feed him to the pigs.

Back at home, among the frustration and angst of high command, the leadership has come to believe in her. She IS a monster in the body of a little girl and, no matter what, nothing will stop her from her goals.

Dun dun duuunnnnnn!

The Verdict: I have tremendous respect for this show ending on a largely talky episode, and in a so very Tanya-talky way. From her cold, calm, and horrifying explanation to high command on why they are wrong, to her frothing mad rant to her soldiers, it’s all very off putting and terrifying.

I do wish Serebryakova got a bit more screen time, and I do wish I had a sense of where any of this was going, or that it had gotten to this point 2-3 episodes earlier, but, if a second season will come our way, I think it will deserve your watching.

At it’s lowest, Tanya is a combat procedural with an unusual aesthetic. At it’s height, it transcends nihilism and delves right into an antagonistic relationship with God, and man’s own nature. Good stuff, that.

Youjo Senki – 11

The Gist: In a lovely bit of symmetry, Colonel Anson tears through Tanya’s forces, followed by a suicide self-destruct gambit when Tanya finally over powers him. Fortunately, the ever loyal Serebryakova is there to save the day and Anson is out of God’s game for good.

It’s a genuinely exciting fight, with vibrant colors, and remarkably effective use of space considering much of it is 3D models rendered over clouds. It’s also full of lovely details, like the Kingdom Mages, who ride steampunk brooms, reinforcements arriving ‘in 600 seconds,’ and Anson’s use of outlawed weapons.

On the emotional front, the battle reasserts an ongoing question in Youjo Senki: “Despite her name and actions, is Tanya truly any more evil than anyone else?” Given Anson’s shallow thirst for revenge, his use of illegal weapons, and the Kingdom troops’ indifference to the war, the answer seems to be ‘not much?’ for the time being…

Following the battle, we get a happy ending of sorts. All 11 of Tanya’s troops have survived, the Republic surrenders, and celebration awaits. At least, until Tanya realizes the Empire is walking into a trap that will cost them the war in the longer term…

The Verdict: despite a general familiarity with World War 1, I’m actually unclear on exactly what Tanya has realized (too late). However, the narrative implication that she now sees the Empire as doomed and, therefore, herself as well, are quite clear. Her faith in the one, logical institution she believes in is shaken and only Serebryakova knows it. What this means for next week, I have no idea?

That said, I see no coherent way for Youjo Senki to resolve itself in a single half and hour. Likewise, the first season has been sluggish enough that I don’t think it warrants a second season. Will it get one anyway? I have no idea.

Will I watch it if it does? …Maybe.