Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 15 – Clones Aren’t Just People…They’re Some of the Best

Suck up to the researchers. Words Kozaku Mitori lived by while she was at the facility. Put on a happy face, be chipper, never show them you actually hate their guts and everything they’re doing. But even if it was an act, her secret rebelliousness was futile. As long as she was cooperating, she was giving in to their control.

This became untenable when her chipper attitude led the researchers to pairing her up with Dolly. Like Misaki after her, Mitori initially found the lonely sick girl to be a pain in the rear, but Dolly’s sad, beautiful soul eventually wore her down, until she was looking forward to their visits. More importantly, her smiles were always genuine.

More than anything, Mitori saw Dolly as neither a clone nor a lab rat, but above all, a human being, deserving of rights and care. So when she saw the condition of Dolly’s body as a result of the researchers’ merciless experiments, she used her ability to learn more about her, and became even more outraged.

Sadly, nearly every adult in a white lab coat is a psychopathic, redeemable monster who tortures and murders children without blinking an eye. So it’s no surprise that her protests don’t just fall on deaf ears, but mocking laughter, which fuel a smoldering fire of hatred for The System in Mitori’s heart.

For dropping the nice girl act and breaking the rules, Mitori is held in solitary for months, never getting to see Dolly again. But one day her cell door is unlocked and she finds the place deserted. She vows to wage a one-woman campaign of vengeance against the Governing Board who approved what was happening to Dolly.

Her attempts ended in failure, mostly because she was acting alone and even 10,000 of her wouldn’t be enough to tough the bigwigs. Enter Kihara Gensei, who puts his trust in hatred and thus in their aligned desire to bring Academy City to its knees. Again Mitori picked the losing side and lost, this time to the good guys”.

Following Kuroko’s beatdown, Mitori lies in the sewer having utterly given up…until Misaki pays her a visit. She still has every intention of turning her over to Judgment, but before that, she has a personal matter to attend to and could use Mitori’s assistance. You see, the Dolly they know may be gone, but her memories were transferred to her clone sister, who is still alive…and they’re going to free her.

Where as everything involving her researcher handlers at the facility was about bending to their physical and psychological control, Misaki spares the Mental Out remote and plainly asks Mitori if she’ll accompany her. Aside from Mitori not having much else going on, Misaki knows that if Mitori felt the same way about Dolly as she did, she’ll gladly tag alone of her own free will.

Thanks to Misaki’s ability, the pair are able to easily infiltrate the facility and remove “Dolly II” from her stasis tube. A tearful reunion ensues, where again Mitori doesn’t have to put on any act; she’s overwhelmed by emotion upon finding this girl who is for all intents and purposes the same Dolly who knew and loved her, and whom she knew and loved.

This episode and scene in particular are the perfect way to wrap up the arc of Kozaku Mitori, who started out as a shadowy, one-dimensional baddie but soon evolved into a full-fledged character beyond black-and-white labels. Her alliance with the geezer and resulting actions may have been misguided, but everything she did was out of a desire to hurt those who hurt Dolly, and you can’t argue with that.

Misaki too, gets a nice catharsis in this reunion scene. At first she’s so guilty about misleading Dolly and failing to learn the whole picture before it was to late, and feels like she’s not entitled to forgiveness or affection. Dolly, of course doesn’t care about what happened in the past; what matters is that she, Misaki, and Mi-chan are together again. It’s what she’d been dreaming about in that tube, and now it’s a reality.

Thanks to Dolly, and her clone, Misaki and Mitori not only became strong individuals capable of setting their own courses in life, but were able to endure the cynicism and cruelty of the villainous scientific complex and retain their humanity. As Mitori tried to make clear to one of those villains, Dolly is a person, not a clone of fodder.

She also happens to be one of the best people, with a warm and kind soul. But even she wouldn’t be who she was (not to mention free of captivity) without her two friends. Hopefully they’ll never be separated again.

In other housecleaning, Mikoto’s circle of friends celebrates Kuroko finally being 100% and out of her wheelchair, and then Mikoto visits a recovering MISAKA in the hospital. But Mitori, Misaki, and Dolly were the refreshing narrative and emotional core of this epilogue, and I was more than fine with that.

The effects of their reunion seemingly carries across the network of Sisters, as MISAKA has a vague sense of deja vu and a sudden desire to visit the ocean. She’s most likely glimpsing Dolly’s beautiful dreams—which can now be a reality.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 05 – Hospital of Horrors

This week Yuuki has a bad fever, so the girls take him to the hospital. At least, they think it’s a hospital. The eccentrically dressed (even for this world apparently) Doctor Mitsuki and her nurse Nanaka assure them that they’ll have Yuuki feeling “30% better” in no time, and to leave him in their care.

Turns out Mitsuki and Nanaka are part of a guild of dark mages called Twilight Caravan who bring in the injured to use for their experiments. Their third member Eriko, possibly the most unhinged of the three, is the very person Yuuki “rescued” with an onigiri, and is convinced he’s her “soulmate.” What she intends to do with him is left shrouded in mystery…but it can’t be good, right?

What had been a “make sure Yuuki gets the medical care needs” mission turns into a “rescue Yuuki from the demonic hospital full of loons”—note neither has anything to do with cooking or food. Kokkoro creates a diversion with her stinky backwater ritual while Karyl and Pecorine grab Yuuki and sneak him out of the hospital. But Karyl realizes if the others are going to get away successfully, she must offer herself as bait to distract the doctor and nurse.

While Yuuki is rescued, the party simply swapped his captivity for Karyl’s, who appears in the sky with her thumb up in a less-than-convincing sign she’s okay. However, when they visit another doctor in town, he confirms that Dr. Mitsuki is legit and that the lad will be on the mend in a couple of days. That means Karyl will probably be fine when—and if—she’s released.

While I usually don’t give much thought to source material of anime I watch, the fact that this is based on a game with lots of colorful players was not lost on me when a bunch of new characters were introduced. This week there’s no sign of those, but instead we get yet another set of introductions, and while they are indeed colorful there’s not much else to them, and their antics rob time from the core quartet and their culinary mandate.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 04 – Cleans Up Nice

While Shironeko frustrates, PriConne delights, never more completely as this week, which leans heavily into slice-of-life to great effect. The Gourmet Guild’s new hall is a big mess on the inside, and takes the leadership role in making it into a home they can be proud of.

When Pecorine and Yuuki take all the furniture out, Peco discovers something important to their guild is missing: a big table at which to dine together. So she sets to work chopping down a tree to build one while Yuuki joins Karyl on deep-cleaning duty.

Kokkoro heads into town to buy some sundries, and meets former knight, now orphanage director Saren and her clumsy but loyal maid Suzume. Like every other character so far, both are effortlessly attractive in their design and style.

Saren seems much like Pecorine: someone from on high who has come down to live a life worth living, while Kokkoro bonds with Suzume over their appreciation of and devotion to their respective lords. Other nice details: the donkey is CGI, which is better than a badly-drawn donkey in my book!

It’s here where I’ll admit I love episodes in which a big mess is cleaned up. One of my favorite examples is the interior of Howl’s Moving Castle. Karyl seems to share my love of cleaning one’s abode in order to reflect one’s clarity of mind, and takes great pride in evicting every bug an snake and eradicating every spot of dirt or dust from the hall until it gleams.

However, there are still one or two bugs when she’s spotting Yuuki as he cleans the high windows from a stack of chairs. When Karyl panics and thrashes about, Yuuki takes a spill and is briefly knocked out. This is when he meets the host avatar from the first episode.

She’s pleased he’s managed to find so many companions who will help him grow, but warns him to be careful, as “the enemy” knows of his existence. It’s appropriate that the first person he sees when he comes to is Karyl, as he learned she’s having the “toughest time”.

With Yuuki back on his feet, Peco announces the table is done. It’s a beaut, too: sturdy, welcoming…and too big to fit in the doorway. I loved watching the trio attempt different formations and angles to no avail, but it’s not the end of the world. After all, if Peco could build such a fine table in a day, she can easily modify it so it will fit through the door.

While traveling home, Kokkoro and Suzume get lost in the forest and then the donkey runs off. Fortunately, they meet someone both useful and entertaining in Rima, a stylish, anthropomorphic llama, who is able to quickly deal with some bandits before eating a Metamorapple” to transform, mahou shoujo style, into an equally stylish woman. I’m sure we’ll meet her again, but even if we don’t, she certainly made an impression!

Kokkoro finally makes it home to find the filthy hall she left has become a cozy, spotless home. Pecorine has just whipped up a huge pot of tasty beef stew to celebrate a day’s hard work and commemorate the Gourmet Guild’s first night in their hall. The potential future trouble the host warned Yuuki about when he was out couldn’t feel further away.

That new table is a place you can’t help but want to have a seat at, just as these are people you can’t help but want to be friends and comrades with. It’s slice-of-life with a twist of fantasy done absolutely right, and like Peco with food of all types, my appetite for this kinda stuff is nigh boundless!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 03 – Bugs are Best with a Squeeze of Lemon

Karyl spends the better part of a day observing from afar as Pecorine eats and eats and eats some more—all while her own stomach goes empty. This is just the vulnerability needed for Pecorine, Kokkoro and Yuuki to invite her to share a meal (of bugs) with them, and melt her icy heart just a little bit more. That said, she still outright refuses to join their Gourmet Guild, which makes the meek Kokkoro sad, as the gesture of officially signing everyone up is very important to her.

Thanks to Pecorine’s bottomless appetite, she’s soon out of cash, but the proprietor of her go-to restaurant offers her a part-time job. This further complicates Kokkoro’s plan as now some of Peco’s time is already taken up with work. However, Peco’s energy and passion for food makes her the perfect hostess and waitress, and even persuades some brand-new pint-sized patrons to try the bug menu when Karyl breaks cover to stop her.

Karyl has actually come because she has new orders from her apparent femme fatale boss: she’s no longer supposed to assassinate Pecorine, just observe her, so joining the guild now aligns with her objectives. Everything is interrupted by the sudden arrival by a huge ogre-like brute who will have the restaurant shut down if the food he’s served isn’t perfect.

When he breaks the proprietor’s wrist, it’s up to Peco to whip up the bug menu…but it’s Karyl with the lemon juice assist that wins the ogre over. That is, until he decides to toss the rest of his food on the ground. That’s when Peco summons her “princess knight power” to toss the brute out on his can.

Having helped save a beloved business from being shuttered, Karyl accepts the invitation to the Gourmet Guild, in her typical tsundere way (“you’d better be grateful!” and such). With that, the quartet is now officially a guild, and they can commence their quest for unique culinary treasures.

Princess Connect continues to emanate thick waves of charm from each of its characters and this week shows an ability to balance its core party with a host of new characters, all deployed surgically rather than crowding the scene. The mysterious demon girl Yuuki feeds, the adorable would-be guild Little Lyrical, Karyl’s boss, all show promise, while it’s great that the guys who stole Peco’s sword are now best buds with her.

Honestly, anyone would be a fool not to be friends with her: we’ve yet to see anyone who can match her prowess in battle…or at the dinner table!

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 13 – Don’t Get it Twisted

Putting on a tough front, Ereshkigal pummels Mash and Ritsuka with stone projectiles, but Gilgamesh, despite being dead, can still launch attacks from his Divine Treasury under his Royal Authority. His assist enables Ritsuka to start a dialogue of reconciliation; of asking Ereshkigal straight-up if she’ll leave the Alliance and join their fight to protect Uruk.

Ereshkigal is initially stubborn and won’t put her duties aside. Ishtar provides some griping for psychological effect. All Ereshkigal claims to want is “commendation” for all of the hard work she’s done in the Underworld while her other half flew freely through the heavens.

Ritsuka tells her he can’t praise her for work she clearly hates doing but does anyway out of divine obligation. Instead, he spends a Command Seal so Mash can activate Camelot, tearing down Ereshkigal’s hostile front (expressed through Gulganna) while protecting her pride and dignity as a goddess.

The scary skeleton monster disappears, leaving only a chastened, yet also relieved Ereshkigal in human form. She exhibits far more dere than tsun in this state, as Ritsuka takes her hand with both of his and welcomes her to their side if she’s willing. Ereshkigal is surprised he knew it was her coming to visit him during those chats, which is why he knew deep down she wasn’t an evil goddess like Gorgon.

The old cloaked dude severs Ereshkigal’s connection to the Alliance, but she holds back on becoming an official servant of Ritsuka. Before that, she wants to be of help to Ritsuka of her own free will rather than by contract, when he and the others are in a bind.

Until then, as Gilgamesh ascends back to the living world, his soul freed and returned to him by Ereshkigal, Ritsuka, Mash, and Ishtar trudge back to the surface to meet him back at his ziggurat in Uruk. Siduri is over the moon to have her king back, but Gilgamesh reports that while in the Underworld he failed to find Enkidu’s body, which means while his soul was destroyed, Kingu may be the present occupant of that body.

Before dying, the real Enkidu assured Gilgamesh that he’d “encounter more valuable treasures than me” in time. Perhaps those treasures have revealed themselves as Ritsuka and his growing alliance of servants and goddesses, all dedicated to saving Uruk and the human world, even if it ultimately means the end of the age of gods.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 12 – The Same Layer of Scroll

Happy New Year, and Happy New Fate/Grand Order. There was always something odd about Ishtar occasionally changing Dresspheres while chatting with Ritsuka. Now we learn the official reason: She’s two goddesses in one. Her opposite half Ereshkigal is the true third goddess of the Alliance, along with Gorgon and Quetzal.

When Siduri reports a spate of weakness-related deaths in Uruk, Gilgamesh’s chief among them, it’s clear it’s Ereshkigal’s handiwork. In order to rescue Gilgamesh’s soul and return it to his un-interred body, they must travel to the Underworld of Kur. To do so, Ishtar opens a huge hole in the ground.

I appreciate how this isn’t treated as some kind of inter-dimensional journey, but something far more grounded; after all, in the age of Gilgamesh the heavens, earth, and underworld were all physically linked. I also enjoyed the lighter tone to ease us back into the show. there were some dark times in the previous eleven episodes and there are sure to be more ahead, so it’s nice to see the show let it’s hair down when it’s appropriate.

Ritsuka and Mash grow impressed with Ishtar’s knowledge of Kur, inadvertently forcing her to reveal she’s been there before, when in a moment of hubris she believed she could conquer the realm, only to be handed perhaps the most humiliating defeat of her existence (hence not bringing it up before).

To reach Ereshkigal’s palace to defeat her, they’ll need to pass through Seven Gates that ask logical questions to ascertain the worthiness of the infiltrating soul. Ueda Kana (also Ishtar/Rin’s voice) puts on a clinic as the voice of those gates, asking Ritsuka deadly seriously who is more beautiful, Ishtar or Ereshkigal? Tough spot for Ritsuka.

Once they’re through six Gates (just as they’re currently through six of seven Singularities), Ishtar has been through a lot, and is now so tiny she can ride Fou, and does. That’s when the party encounters Gilgamesh, who reveals that he actually did die of overwork, but as he considers Kur his “own backyard”, wasn’t in a huge hurry to leave—not without using the opportunity to pay Ereshkigal a visit.

That said, if his physical body is dead, he won’t be of any more help than Tiny Ishtar. The other Heroic Spirits stayed behind because they’d be equally powerless. It’s Ereshkigal’s underworld, everyone else is just being dead in it. Only the still-living Ritsuka and Mash will be a match for the mid-level goddess, who gets things rolling by appearing in a form that wouldn’t be out of place on a death metal album cover.

I really dig the JRPG concept of having two normally overpowered members in Ishtar and Gilgamesh amounting to nothing to the strength of your party in Kur. They’re little more than observers, their powers locked away, able to only offer verbal and emotional support. After being sidelined for many of the tougher recent battles, Ritsuka and Mash are going to have to help their own cause.

P.S. New OP and ED. Both look fantastic, but really stand out with their songs. For the OP, a more urgent remix of the UNISON SQUARE GARDEN theme of the first half. The ED features the ridiculously talented milet, whose Vinland Saga ED theme never failed to give me the feels every time I heard it!

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 11 – Leap of Faith

Since his bitter defeat against Tiamat, Ritsuka has been on a serious goddess-collecting kick. First Ishtar, then Jaguarman, and now Quetzalcoatl this week. What’s that, you say? Ritsuka and his collection of servants were able to overpower “Kuku” and force her to to admit she’s better off on side Chaldea? Well…no, she actually kicks every one of the servants’ asses without breaking a sweat.

Instead, Ritsuka determines that the only way he’ll gain Kuku’s respect and trust is by trusting her when she says she’d rather not kill humans, and demonstrating “height and courage”. A bruised Ishtar carries Ritsuka high up in the air with her flying bow Maana, and he takes a flying leap, risking his life. He wakes up in Kuku’s lap, having won her over.

Romani admits that all’s well that ends well, but if Ritsuka had been wrong, it would have been Game Over for humanity, so…maybe don’t do that again. In a chat with Mash, she agrees with Ritsuka that despite being told Romani is hiding something, they should trust him and keep moving forward until the end.

Interestingly, it isn’t Kuku who visits Ritsuka in the night to relieve him from his watch, but Ishtar. She admits she’s been pleased with his progress, both in gaining the alliance of goddesses and learning how to properly interact with her. The two have made a habit of chatting under the stars like this, and it’s never not a lot of fun to watch—especially when Ishtar transforms into (presumably) an Archer servant from past singularities (not to mention her human vessel).

What everyone thought would be a triumphant return to Uruk with both a new goddess and the Axe of Marduk, turns to the next crisis, as Siduri runs out to tell them Gilgamesh is…missing. Gil wakes up in a dark cave dotted with strange light fixtures…Kur. Apparently, he’s dead now. That’s not good…

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 10 – The Apex of All Things Good

Gilgamesh assigns Fujimaru his next mission: travel to Eridu to attain the Axe of Marduk, a Divine Tool that can be used against Gorgon. They also have to look out for another stunningly-designed goddess Quetzalcoatl, who shows up unannounced by blasting right through the city gate and killing 100 people. She flirts with Fujimaru but its beyond any of his amassed servants, and in her true form potentially more dangerous than Gorgon. It’s more of a meet-and-greet than a battle, but it doesn’t change Fujimaru’s mission.

Instead, he has an additional objective: defeat Quetzalcoatl. To do so they must travel to her temple, believed to be just south of Eridu, and destroy the symbol that gives her superior divinity. That will even the odds. That means trudging through the jungle, the first night of which is another opportunity for Ishtar to warm up to Fujimaru, even using his name and calling them friends. She also momentarily changes form when she sneezes, but I’m not sure what that’s about.

FGO’s designated comic relief reappears in Jaguarman, after they witnessed her collecting the corpses of the Urukers killed by Quetzalcoatl; as a secondary Divine Spirit Jaggy is apparently bound to serve the big Q. She’s also no match for Ishtar, and when Fujimaru turns on the charm, she agrees to join his party as an additional ally, almost too easily. They then learn the corpses were actually reborn by Q but detained to be used as sacrifices. The episode closes with the party arriving at Q’s temple, with her looking ready to fight.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 09 – Buying Off a Goddess

Upon returning to Gilgamesh with news of their great losses, he concedes that sacrifices are necessary in any war. Losing Ushiwaka and Leonidas wasn’t in vain: Uruk still stands, and they now know that Gorgon is a seething mass of anti-humanity rage can not be bargained with. They also learn that the only thing she fears is the other two goddesses, and Gilgamesh recognizes that as their path to victory.

With Gorgon out and too little known of the Jungle Goddess, that leaves Ishtar, the pseudo-servant who uses a human girl as a vessel. Gilgamesh is amused by the prospect of the alliance crumbling from within, and Ishtar is by far the easiest to turn to their side, because she can be bought off with physical riches. Gilgamesh does not want for those, and is prepared to offer up to 30% of Babylon’s treasury to Isthar in exchange for fighting for them.

When Ritsuka & Co. reach her ostentatious palace atop Mount Ebih, Ishtar rejects the idea of further “collusion” with humans, lest it damage her dignity. But in the middle of battling Mash and Ana (whom it’s strongly implied could be Medusa, the youngest of the Gorgon sisters), Ritsuka tosses a cloud of gems up in the air, dazzling Ishtar, then lays out the arrangement they seek with her.

Unable to resist the lure of the pretty gems, and having never received such a large offering from humans before, Isthar folds, agreeing to join them. After assuaging Dr. Romani’s ethical concerns about who and what she is (essentially, the human girl she was became Ishtar, rather than became possessed by her, and they are now one) her 70-30 personality split is tested when she gets some time alone with Ritsuka just before dawn.

Ishtar presents a much friendlier, more human side with Ritsuka than all their previous interactions, to go along with her already established tsundere nature. At first she asks if it was “love at first sight”, but when Ritsuka doesn’t understand she drops the matter. Simply being with humans has shown her that not all of them hate her, but she’s still skeptical of a world ruled by humans and not gods.

That’s not because it means her power as a goddess will diminish, but because she simply believes humans will have, at the end of the day, easier, less painful lives, compared with a human future of knowing all the answers. It’s not that different from wanting humanity never to leave the Garden of Eden: more knowledge, more problems, more despair…but more freedom and opportunity too.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 08 – A Dark Day for Humanity

Tiamat is by far the toughest boss Ritsuka and Mash have had to face, and they don’t even try to fight her themselves. Ushiwakamaru manages to make it in time and delivers one hell of a fight—with nary a wardrobe malfunction—in the most exciting, best-looking and sounding sustained battles in a show that’s been packed with them. Ushiwaka is utterly devoted not just to protecting humanity, but her friend—not master—Ritsuka, a boy who remembers her tale a thousand years after she left the mortal plane.

Her own history and legacy is also at stake, so she fights like there’s no tomorrow, giving absolutely everything she has, including her Noble Phantasm. It isn’t enough. Tiamat regenerates all of the severed snake heads and holes Ushiwaka’s attacks made, and she ends up in a heap, spent and exhausted.

King Leonidas sallies forth with his 300 Spartan warriors to spell Ushiwaka, but despite more impressive fireworks and hyper-masculine posturing, he lasts an even briefer time than her, as all of his defenses gradually fall and he is turned to stone by Tiamat’s Mystic Eyes, eventually crumbling to dust.

Ushiwaka gets her second wind after Leonidas, but it’s to no avail. Ultimately it’s “Enkidu”, who reveals himself to actually be Kingu, who stops his mother and gets her to withdraw. If she were to take Uruk, the alliance with the other two goddesses would fall, and she’d have to fight them, draining valuable time and effort. Instead, Kingu is content to leave Ritsuka, Mash, and Merlin alone for the time being.

His big-picture plans include the release of the second generation of Demonic Beasts, which we learn are being grown in Tiamat’s lair. It is where a beaten Ushiwaikamaru finds herself, and because she cannot hold her “cheeky tongue”, Kingu decides to bestow upon her a fate worse than becoming just another run-of-the-mill beast, but a monster born in the primoridal “mud of the holy grail.”

Needless to say, this is awful news for humanity. Leonidas is beaten, Ushiwaka is in the hands of the enemy (and her friends believe her to be gone), and Benkei peaces out. As Lord Elrond once said: “our list of allies grows thin.” How in Babylon are the good guys going to turn this around?

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 07 – Deep Breaths

After dreaming about the Mage King Solomon, whom he and Mash were unable to defeat in London, Ritsuka and Mash head to Uruk’s Northern Wall, under the defense of Leonidas of Sparta. Contact has been lost in the still further-north city of Nippur, and the mission is to find and rescue any survivors.

The night before setting out, two Servants have a heart-to-heart, with Ana wondering if it’s time to tell the others about her true identity, and Merlin recommending she postpone that announcement. As a servant who feeds off of human dreams, he understands human emotions, and knows it would be a shock even to any human even Ritsuka.

Upon setting out at the head of a column of soldiers, the party encounters hordes of Demonic Beasts that are larger than expected. Ushiwakamaru and Benkei stay behind to keep the beasts occupied while Ritsuka, Mash, Ana and Merlin head to Nippur. But Ushiwaka senses something unusual about the situation, realizing it is they, not the beasts, who have fallen for a diversionary attack.

Ritsuka & Co. find Nippur already devoid of all life, with a wide and grisly blood trail leading to the highest structure, where Fake Enkidu awaits. When he notices Ana’s ability to slay immortals, he makes her elimination a priority, summoning the lion demon Ugallu. Merlin uses his magic to buff Ana, and she’s able to bisect the beast.

But Ugallu was just more bait. Ana is restrained by the chain of heaven and stabbed by Enkidu. Merlin sends Fou to do what Fou does, teleporting Ana to safety. However, the disturbance causes the awakening of Enkidu (and Ugallu’s) mother, the Goddess of Demonic Beasts, Tiamat. Massive and terrifying, the ordinary soldiers flee before her.

Even Ritsuka and Mash are briefly paralyzed, but Ritsu remembers Leonida’s advice for when you’re scared (which is always the case in battle, or should be): take a deep breath and the muscles will loosen. Tiamat presents the largest threat yet to the last champions of humanity, but for the moment they’re still standing—and a few avenues of victory yet remain.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 06 – Though Our Battlefields Differ

Other episodes of F/GO have presented bigger earth-(and history)-shattering events, but this was the first one I felt best brought all of the series’ myriad elements together. All the adventure, history, action, comedy, and romance levels were set just right so that they complemented each other rather then got in each others’ way.

This was also the episode in which I most felt the humanity of the characters. It’s apropos the cold open should feature the origin of the current Ishtar. It also had the most one-on-one interaction between Ritsuka and Ushiwakamaru. She’d always seemed drawn to him, and I should have known it was because they’re both Japanese.

Among the many servants with whom he interacts, Ushiwakamaru is the only one Ritsuka sang songs of as a kid, something that both astounds and flatters her. He was a real person, after all, and his story is an amazing one. One of the low-key great things about Fate is that it nudges you to learn more about these historical and legendary figures.

As such, wonderful to see these two countrymen assert their bond of friendship as people, not any Master-Servant contract. Ushiwakamaru also sports one of the more awesome costumes in a show positively bursting with them. Like this episode, it’s a satisfying balance of elements—a little cute, a little sexy, all bad-ass. Not to mention Hayami Saori is perfectly cast as Ushi’s voice—warm, caring, and determined.

Another thing I’m enjoying about F/GO is that while there is a larger overarching story arc, it doesn’t get in the way of smaller, more self-contained episodic stories. Last week felt like a road trip with Gilgamesh; this felt more like a good old-fashioned fantasy quest. Their mission couldn’t be simpler: go to the city of Kutha and recover the Tablet of Destinies.

(In a well-placed moment of comedy, Ritsuka asks why Gilgamesh doesn’t remember what he himself wrote on said tablet; Gilgamesh response is Pure Gilgamesh: “Why do I have to retain in my memory a clairvoyant premonition I wrote in a dream?” #DemigodProblems)

Sadly Ushiwakamaru can’t join them, but the party of Ritsuka, Mash, Merlin and Ana is more than adequate. On the way to the city, whose entire population seemingly died peacefully in their sleep, the party encounters the collateral damage caused by Ishtar’s Cautious Hero-style demonic beast extermination, and she’s been making off with the gems of those she “saved.”

The night before they enter the city, Ritsuka has a nice chat with Merlin about how even though he’s just an ordinary human, he has to do what he can to the best of his ability, which means a strict workout routine to stay in shape. From her tent, Mash seems disappointed Ritsuka thinks she only chose him because he was virtually “the last man on earth.”

Once in Kutha, the party splits up to look for the tablet…simple enough, though Mash was weary of Ritsuka going off with only Fou for protection. Turns out her intuition was correct: Ritsuka suddenly strays into the Underworld, which in this age is a very real place people stray into all the time (and in Gilgamesh’s case, even went on a quest there).

The hostile undead who surround Ritsuka are eventually dismissed by a man Ritsuka seems to recognized named Ziusu-dra, who castigates Rituska for entering the Underworld while still alive; a big no-no. Still, he sees Ritsuka is a nice guy and so lets him off this time, sending him back to Kutha.

He awakes to find Mash shedding tears of joy and relief after she shed tears of panic and worry for his safety; going back to what he said to Merlin last night, Ritsuka may well not quite grasp just how much Mash cares for him, and is not merely resigned to serving him. And what do you know, the Tablet of Destinies is in his hands. Looks like he was meant to stray into the Underworld, if only briefly.

Of course, the mission was never going to be quite that simple: Ishtar suddenly arrives like a fighter jet; Chaldea only warns the party four seconds before she attacks. She’s there to “save” them just like she saved the ranchers whose lands she ravaged and pockets she picked, and intends to collect payment in the form of the tablet.

Ritsuka’s not about to fail Gilgamesh, so they must fight. And what a fight. From Ishtar’s concussive kicks to Mash’s shield and her graceful gliding through the sky, to Ana’s decisive chain-assisted counterattack, we’re treated to a beautiful, deadly dance. My only complaint is that it’s over too fast, but I’m also glad it didn’t go on too long.

Going back to the cold open, we learn Ishtar was summoned using ahuman girl as a vessel. Despite nearly all Mesopotamian gods being blonde as a rule, Ishtar retained her vessel’s black hair, since the human girl’s will merged with Ishtar. That goes a ways towards explaining her peculiar behavior that both saves and hurts humans.

It may also explain why she’s willing to cooperate when she wakes up finding herself tied up, surrounded by Ritsuka’s party demanding answers. She explains that the other two goddesses were drawn there by Gilgamesh’s Holy Grail. The three of them decided to enter a competition whereby the first to defeat Gilgamesh and claim the Grail shall rule his lands. They also entered a three-way non-aggression pact, so Ishtar won’t go so far as to tell Ritsuka the true names of the others.

The party fails to connect the ease with which Ritsuka entered the Underworld to Kutha’s status as a place where undead congregate and dwell…until they’re surrounded by massive horde of skeletons. With the tablet in hand they make a run for it, but not before Ritsuka frees Ishtar from her binds. Having been treated so kindly despite her hostility (and perhaps motivated by her human half), Ishtar returns the favor by obliterating all of the skeletons with a single all-out arrow burst, sparing the party a tough battle.

When Ritsuka earnestly thanks her before turning back to Uruk, the blonde goddess half of Ishtar wonders if perhaps he’s “a sacrifice too good for the other goddesses.” I enjoyed the ambiguity of that line, just I enjoyed the entirety of this splendidly balanced episode.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 04 – I Don’t Want to Live In This Dark Territory Anymore

Before arriving in Underworld as Emperor Vector, Gabe has a vision of a girl he grew up with, and remembers his father talking about the location of the brain in humans compared to insects. I already didn’t like where this was going, because there’s little point in showing this guy’s past other than creeping people out even more than his desire to eat ALICE’s “sweet” soul.

Most of the tribes of the Dark Territory support Emperor’s decree for more “blood and terror”, except for Dark Knight Commander Vixur ul Shasta and his lieutenant/lover Lipia. Dark the Dark Territory may be, but they know delicate alliance between the tribes will be thrown out of balance and lead to ruin if they go all out against the Human Empire.

Lipia shares Vixur’s sentiments on this matter, but takes it upon herself to rectify it by waiting for Vector in his bedroom and attempting to assassinate him. He’s able to repel her attack, and after strangling her to death, her soul emerges from her forehead and he eats it, experiencing something he’s been yearning for since it happened just once more in his life, with his childhood friend Alicia.

It hapened after he killed Alicia when he drove a screwdriver too far into her ear, hoping to find her soul. Whether he was trying to kill her or not, he was extremely happy with the result, and sought to repeat it by doing it to many, many others. It helps that he’s voiced by the veteran Ishida Akira, who does “aloof, world-weary misanthrope” very well, but yeah…yet again we’re dealing with a straight-up sociopath and irredeemable bastard of an SAO villain. Would be nice if he had more…nuance.

Gabe’s lieutenant (who gets a name this week: Vassago) is amused by how naturally and how well-suited for acting like an emperor his boss is. In a communication with Critter back IRL (where just two hours and change have elapsed), they are warned that if they’re killed in their current bodies, they won’t be able to return to the Underworld as superusers, but mere grunts. So for all intents and purposes, they’re mortal here.

Gabe goes ahead and warns his would-be future assassins by presenting the head of Lipia frozen in a block of ice. This throws Vixur into a fit of rage, but one of the dark mages poisons him before he can touch Vector. Somehow, he manages to overcome the poison and enter a kind of Overdrive mode, launching a suicide attack on Vector that ultimately fails.

Vixur ends up in a strange void where he learns Vector’s soul is “neither alive or dead”, which will make it hard for anyone to kill him. It sucks that seemingly the only two people who opposed Vector are immediately out of the picture.

Before joining the other knights in preparing their defense, Alice peeks over the suddenly crumbling Eastern Gate and spots the massive armies of the Dark Territory advancing. The Human Empire isn’t just, as Alice says, “out of time”, but they’re also very lacking in numbers, and even if they were to mobilize regular citizens, what hope to they have against vicious goblins, orcs, ogres, giants, and…er, pugilists?

We’ll just have to find out. Suffice it to say, I’ve seen enough from the perspective of the bad guys, who are, in true SAO fashion, the baddest bad guys to ever bad who need to get got in the worst way. I don’t like them; mission accomplished, show. Hopefully it returns to Alice’s POV, and/or gets around to updating us on Asuna’s status.