Fate / Zero – 07

“I KNEW all those cereal box tops would pay off!”

After a slight stumble last week, Fate/Zero immediately regained its footing as I thought it would. It starts out strong, with some more delightful comic relief courtesy of Rider and Waiver, who were absent last week. The fact that Iskandar’s main motivating factor at this point is his Master buying him pants works in a way Iri’s terrifying joyride just…didn’t.

Meanwhile, the War for the Holy Grail is on hold until all participants hunt down Caster and his Master…who are a couple of disastrous bastards. Risei promises whoever kills him will get a rad new tattoo a Bonus Command Seal. That would bring Tokiomi and Kayneth back up to three, and give the others four.

“Maiya, would you tell Iri to tell Saber that I’m NOT talking to her?”

Not surprisingly, the Magehunter-by-trade Kiritsugu is planning to break the truce by going after any Masters who are occupied with finding Caster. At the same time, he’s under no illusions anyone else will abide by Jisei’s rule change, and his cynicism and pragmatism are later validated…and then some.

This is key, because despite making the right calls once Caster arrives with a brace of child hostages, Saber urges her Master to let her defeat Caster. Kiritsugu stubbornly refuses to respond to Saber in any way, continuing his planning talk with Iri as if Saber weren’t even there.

I’m not sure if a Servant’s like or dislike of their Master makes them better or worse at fighting, but Kiritsugu is operating under the assumption a Servant’s personal emotions play next to no role. Either that, or there’s a very good reason he’s not speaking to her that just hasn’t been revealed yet.

“If this is about my cousin Sephiroth, I told him he can’t ask you for money anymore.”

What is revealed on the balcony after that tense meeting inside, is a side of Kiritsugu we haven’t seen since the scene in the first episode when his daughter was born. It’s a side he has no problem showing his wife. He’s afraid; afraid of losing those he loves most, and afraid of Kotomine Kirei in particular.

He wants to take Iri and Ilya, run away, and never return to this nasty business. But Iri won’t let him, because if she does, she knows the regret he’ll feel from running will be the end of him anyway. If death is to come for them all, one way or another, better to face it together as a family, no?

“Can’t a lady fight someone wielding a SWORD for once?!”

When Caster starts popping kids’ heads, Saber finally gets the order to deal with him. But Caster isn’t alone; he may not have Uryuu with him (thank God) but he does have a legion of tentacle demons that restore themselves as fast as a still-depleted Saber can cut them down.

Sometimes I worry that Saber has too often been depicted as a pushover, but it’s more of a “Worf-in-TNG” situation: if he’s getting schooled, you know the foe is tough. Besides, even with her injured hand, Saber kicks plenty of eldritch ass before finally becoming surrounded, overwhelmed, and bound by their tentacles.

“Sooo….while you’re here, d’you mind fixing my hand?”

And that’s when Lancer arrives, and the two warriors who respect the hell out of each other go back-to-back to fight off Caster’s legion together. Lancer assures Saber that this doesn’t mean they’re suddenly allies, just that this is the most efficient way of carrying out the order to defeat Caster. This pairing-up was a definite fist-pumper; I look forward to seeing how the two of them take on Caster.

“I tellya, this T-1000 pays for itself!”

As for Lancer’s Master Archibald, he obviously didn’t die in the bombing of his hotel; he surrounded himself in a quicksilver ball he manipulates with magic. After his so-so introduction and the dull hotel-scenes leading up to the blast, Kayneth is in top badass form himself this week, casually reciting orders to his ball and ruthlessly pursuing Kiritsugu, aiming to punish him for his cowardly failed attempt on his life.

At moments, Kiritsugu looks as outmatched as Saber often has early in battles. I mean, bringing a gun to a magic fight…seriously? But Kiritsugu is nothing if not crafty, resourceful, and sneaky as hell, and when he uses magic, you can bet there’s an important reason for it.

He’s not a guy who shows off, preferring the shadows. He turns the tables with time magic, then aims a special-looking pistol at Kayneth with a look that suggests its bullets might pierce the quicksilver shield. So much for a truce…

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Fate / Zero – 06

“I may be an ancient king…but I don’t think you should be driving like this!”

And now I’ve come to it: the Fate/Zero equivalent of a meh episode. It had to happen sometime, so better early on than not; also, after last week’s multivector face-off and just-as-rapid standdown, it’s hard for the immediate aftermath episode to not feel a bit…anticlimactic.

And while I’ve enjoyed the moments of levity Zero has managed to weave into the action and drama, Iri’s crazy drive along a twisty mountain road kinda fell flat for me. I totally get the joy she feels from being ‘let out of the birdcage’, so to speak, and perhaps it was the animation, but the drive felt way too reckless for no reason.

“We can’t exchange insurance info if you’re all the way over there!”

It’s a good thing Caster seems to be standing in the middle of a straight and not on the other side of a blind turn; otherwise Iri would have hit him (and what a shame that would have been); instead, they get out and have a deeply unpleasant exchange with him.

Since taking out that kid after letting him think he was home free with his dark tentacles, Caster has not endeared himself to me, and his ranting about Saber being Jeanne d’Arc reincarnate does him no favors. I’m totally with Saber that I dislike opponents who you can’t reason with because they lack reason.

Thats…not…good…

In addition to being illogical and maddening to deal with, Caster is also a despicable monster, like his Master Uryuu, crucifying kids while still alive. They’ve abducted fifteen from a couple of towns, which just seems like a lot, though to be honest I’m not sure how much time they’ve had to do it.

In any case, Caster insists they must sacrifice all the children they have as soon as possible, then go out and get more, which, sure, fantastic. Even Uryuu is like, ‘I guess we’re just different kinds of serial killers.’

“Why do I have two Masters…and why are they so lame?”

Archie sits in his hotel room, scolding a brooding Lancer, until his companion Sola-Ui, who despite Archie’s Command Seals, is the Mana behind the Master. She’s not afraid to speak her mind to Archie about his hiding in the shadows, but Lancer then scolds her for badmouthing his Master. Even though technically, the two of them are more like Co-Masters.

In any case, Archie belives (rightly) that Saber will try to attempt a rematch with Lancer before fighting anyone else, to undo her cursed wound. So he’s laid a trap, filling an entire floor of the hotel with magical booby traps, and is very excited to see how everything works out.

“Look, that building had all kinds of code violations anyway.”

And then Kiritsugu just burns the whole mother down. I’ll admit, it’s a fine fake-out, and yet another stealthily bad-ass move from Kiritsugu, who approaches his work in a very deliberate, disciplined, military fashion.

I also appreciated that he’s aware that he has disrupted and possibly ruined more than a few lives by blowing up the building, but he’s going to defeat the other mages by any means necessary—but not by killing innocent people.

Kirei manages to briefly corner Maiya in an adjacent structure, but Kiritsugu bails her out with a well-timed smoke bomb. As for Archie, Sola-Ui and Lancer…I’m sure they’re just fine.

“Hey God Boy—run out and get me some more libations!”

Later, Kirei’s Assassins inform him, Risei and Tokiomi of Caster and his Master’s horrific crimes, which threaten the secrecy of the War. As observer, Risei stands ready to exercise his power to make minor rule changes; in this case, ordering all Masters to take out Caster ASAP. He’s a rogue element, and clearly Saber and Iri (and I) aren’t the only ones who’d rather he went away as soon as possible.

After a long day of morally ambiguous activity, Kirei encounters Archer getting drunk (or attempting/failing to do so) on a couch, who not only voices his disappointment in his Master, but also tries to pry out of Kirei what he’s getting out of this; what he desires. If Kirei doesn’t know, Gil figures he should use his Assassins to determine what motivates the others, so he might gain insight into his own motives.

So while Kiritsugu and Maiya’s special ops exploits were pretty cool and I dug the potential realignment of the War to focus on taking out the most irredeemably loathsome Master-Servant pair, I wasn’t as enamored with Lancer’s Co-Masters (indeed, I kinda just feel sorry for him), Saber and Iri only showed up for two minutes, and Waiver, Rider, Kariya and Berserker took the week off—and at least two of them were missed. So yeah, a 7 seems about right.

Kuromukuro – 20

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Now this is the kind of episode that fully delivers on the promise of Kuromukuro from the start. No more teasing: Yukina is finally stuck aboard an alien mothership, and while before we were only given bits of dialogue from the bigwigs sitting on their thrones on the bridge, here we get a grand tour of the massive vessel, with Yukina as our guide.

Lighting, sound, and visual design get top marks here, creating a suitably alien and oppressive but still wondrous atmosphere. Yukina also benefits, at least initially, from the ship (and its various automated crewmen) believing she’s Muetta. I say initially because it isn’t long before Mirasa finds Yukina and tries to kill her, laughing maniacally the whole time.

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A little less exciting, but still important, is Sophie’s continued chat with Zell, who reveals he’s third world that was conquered and dominated by the Efidolg. He doesn’t want what happened to his world (nothing good) to happen to Earth, and he’d also like some retribution along the way.

At the same time, Major Graham discovers the director’s “mutiny” and acts to restrain her, but as she says, she’s “already won”, because Ken is up in orbit, trying to save her daughter. All anyone down there can do, from Graham and Hiromi to Yukina’s sister, uncle, and friends…is wait.

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Yukina manages to find a hiding place where Mirasa can’t see her, then digs into the ship’s records to try to figure out a way off, to no avail. She also finds what looks either like a clone or artificial “Yukihime head,” disturbingly enough. I appreciate her determination to help herself out, sticking true to what she said to herself in the beginning of the episode: “I can’t have him protect me all the time.”

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When she finally finds some clothes and a weapon, she remembers the gruelling training she went through, and it serves her well, at least in terms of the stamina she no doubt developed, as well as her sword skills, which keep her alive against a Mirasa who may well be compromised from the stress of “Muetta” returning to announce her treachery.

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Little does Mirasa know, until the last possible moment, that Muetta arrived on the ship separately. She reports to her superiors, but can’t keep up the fiction that nothing’s amiss when the ship’s sensors detect Ken roaming the corridors looking for Yukina.

Muetta is immediately treated and attacked as a traitor, which is probably what she expected all along. I for one am glad she doesn’t try to turn Ken and/or Yukina over in exchange for essentially keeping her job and having her past mistakes forgiven. Then again, she’s never actually given the choice to betray Ken, because bringing him here in the first place is all the bigwigs need to condemn her.

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Eventually, Ken finds Yukina, steps in on her fight with Mirasa, and along with Muetta they hurry back to the hangar to make their getaway. Yukina allows herself to cry and embrace Kennosuke with relief and heartfelt gratitude, and her continued thanks makes Ken blush. Sure you were only “fulfilling a promise.” Right.

The Efidolg try to snatch both the Kuromukuro and Muetta’s glongur, but fail when the Ogre flies up into orbit to snatch them out of the enemy tractor beam, allowing them to return to earth. All’s well that ends well…except for the little matter of the Efidolg ship preparing to descend to the Earth’s surface. No rest for the weary…or recently-half-naked.

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Kuromukuro – 19

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Now that’s more like it. The last episode kinda dragged on, building to the surprise abduction of Yukina. But this episode takes full advantage of the severity of that cliffhanger: the Kuromukuro is grounded, Earth is more vulnerable than ever, and everyone is on edge, but powerless to do anything in the immediate present. After all, Yukina is in space.

Their only consolation, and hope, as it happens, is the fact they retrieved the wounded Muetta, whom Dr. Hausen determines has identical DNA to Yukina and Hiromi. They’re definitely related, though Muetta is very old.

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Hiromi is in full-on Mom Panic Mode, Sophie is given mandatory leave by the commander, and Ken is disgraced by how useless he feels. Sophie doesn’t have any sympathy for him moping in the canteen, but that’s for the best, as shortly after she’s alone, she’s contacted by the Ogre, who promises an encounter soon.

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Dr. Hausen is the only one truly happy this week, as he gets to study an Efidolg—or, at least, a human who’s had their memories altered and their body populated by advanced nanomachines. He determines that Ken’s blood is the best way to counteract the effect of Mirasa’s weapon, and after a quick transfusion, Muetta is awake and as feisty and combative as ever.

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The Ogre rudely invades Sophie’s apartment, but properly apologizes, and explains that she was the only person he felt safe contacting. His comment about cosplay culture making it easier to move around modern Japan was pretty amusing, but the fact he’s finally here, with Sophie, ready and willing to explain all (or at least some) is very exciting.

He, or I should say, Zell, is absolutely an enemy of the Efidolg, but not yet an ally of the earthlings. Here’s hoping that will change, becaue the earthlings need all the help they can get.

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Ken knows he can’t do squat about Yukina without the Kuromukuro, and so breaks into Muetta’s cell to try to bargain with her. She agrees to co-pilot it with him, with the story that she stole it and captured him. It’s really the only play they have, and it gets them both what they want: Muetta, freedom from this place, and Ken, a chance to save Yukina.

What I’m glad about is that Ken needs help, and lots of it. He may be a samurai, but he can’t whisk Yukihime out of a high-security international installation on his own. The other civilian lab employees clear a path for them, ending with Hiromi herself giving Ken her blessing (and making him swear he’ll bring her Yukina back).

This is because Hiromi’s superiors told her to give up on Yukina. They proposed using Muetta to pilot Kuromukuro, with Dr. Hausen minutes from administering some dread medication that would likely not give her a choice in the matter.

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to place Yukihime in the “Good Guys” column just yet, but I’ll pencil her in for now. The bottom line is she had few choices to get back to where she belonged other than going along with Ken’s plan, and once they’re up in orbit, Ken is at the mercy of her “people.”

But what makes be believe Yukihime might not bretray him immediately is the recording of…herself she sees once they fire up the Kuromukuro, which she’s amazed powers up so quickly even though it’s her first time. Only it isn’t: she recognizes herself in the recording. There’s an opening here, however small, for her to start entertaining the idea that Ken is right about her.

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That brings us to poor, poor Yukina. The only moment sadder than seeing her sister and mother despair at her abduction is seeing her look down on earth and call for Kennosuke…after asking for some clothes, of course. The Efidolg brought her there not as a hostage, but because they thought she was Muetta.

Mirasa quickly took it upon herself to try to finish what she started, but it seems Yukina was able to escape her stasis chamber in time. Despite her call for her samurai buddy, something tells me she ‘s not simply going to wander the ship, catching her death of cold, waiting for Ken to rescue her. She’s going to have to help herself out, and stay alive and free until help arrives.

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Flying Witch – 08

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Makoto Chinatsu and Kei just be chillin’ like vanilla villains playing violins in a villa. Put less poetically, they spend the entire episode hanging out in the cafe, meeting its owner (mistaking her for her nearly identical daughter at first), are formally introduced to Hina the ghost, and also meet some of the cafe’s regulars.

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Yet no matter how insectoid (the thistle-eating ladybugs), vulpine (the cherry-loving fox), or intimidating (the Veil of Darkness and Bringer of the Night, everyone they meet is nice, welcoming, and friendly, even if Chinatsu is being a bit nosy or intrusive.

The overall feeling is that this definitely a cafe where I’d like to spend some time, sip some tea, and munch on some pastries. Anzu’s mom’s comment about Kei not having to worry about being “normal” (because he hangs out with witches) was pretty funny, too.

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While the others are at the cafe, Akane is hard at work on a potion, but for what we don’t learn until after the credits roll, Marvel-style. She teleports with Kenny all the way to otherworldly, picturesque Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, where she accidentally turns the entire landscape monochrome.

It’s temporary, though, so rather than panic, Akane teleports back to Aomori, grabs a half-asleep Makoto, and has her snap a photo of her and Kenny…which Akane later remembers as a strange dream. But that’s life as a witch: sometimes things get a little surreal and dream-like, and ya just gotta roll with it.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 16

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Fumitan has seen some things. She’s from the Martian slums, and seen things she was certain would cloud young Kudelia’s honest, ignorant eyes. When Kudelia shows her a bound book with stories about revolution (and an illustration of a golden-haired maiden leading the charge), she decides to give in to Kudelia’s demands to see the outside world, so her world can become larger.

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Despite Fumitan’s insistence, Kudelia reaches out to a young child in the slums with a candy. Immediately, there are three more children and an old man eager for handouts. Kudelia is overwhelmed by the lesson. Fumitan teaches her one more, by hiding in an alley and letting the young miss sweat. When she finally shows herself, Fumitan runs into her arms like a scared child relieved to see her mother. But her eyes didn’t cloud.

And they don’t cloud when Fumitan admits to betraying her, then runs off and hides from her just like that time in the Martian slums. But once again, Kudelia’s eyes remain honest, even as she becomes less ignorant. She doesn’t hate Fumitan; she’ll never hate Fumitan. She just wants to know the whole truth.

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As Mika and Atra search for Kudelia, Fumitan’s escape route is blocked when the space ports are closed in response to the worker protests. As soon as her elevator reaches ground level, two of her “associates” are waiting, and they give her one more chance to “do her job.”

Meanwhile, the more moderate workers’ timing is ruined when their march arrives at the government offices, but Savarin runs into a dead end with peaceful negotiations. There will be no negotiations, and there never were going to be any. The protesters are there, and they’re armed, because they’re all part of the plan.

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And wouldn’t you know, it, for the purposes of completing her betrayal of Kudelia and Tekkadan, Fumitan happens to be in the right place at the right time for Kudelia to spot her and try to get to her. Only she’s blocked from crossing the street by the picket line, and protesters recognize her as the “Maiden of the Revolution” and surround her.

The two goons who accosted Fumitan train a sniper rifle at Kudelia’s position, waiitng for the perfect moment to take her out, hoping to stoke even greater enmity with the oppressed workers, as well as the oppressed everywhere else; everything is being captured on live TV. It’s around this time I’m feeling very nervous about Kudelia.

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This is how Mika and Atra find Kudelia, but Mika sends her back to Orga (with a tender holding of her injured chin). It looks like he’ll go in Full Assault-and-Rescue Mode with Kudelia, like he did with Atra. But something’s not right. I just don’t feel like that’s going to go down, even if the show even further stretches his ability to kick ass without getting a scratch. This situation looks too big even for Mika.

That suspicion proves true, as Gjallarhorn stages a bombing on the government building they can later blame on the protesters, giving them the excuse they need to quell the demonstration, which they do in on of the cruelest, bloodiest way they can: blowing up the mobile workers, launching smoke bombs to obscure the protesters, then laying down sweeping machine gun fire into the cloud.

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Kudelia, somehow, survives the massacre, but she’s surrounded by carnage, and the girl who recognized her dies happy, because she was able to die in the arms of the Maiden of the Revolution, “like a fairy tale.” At this point I’m certain Mika won’t come in time, and he’s not omniscient enough to sniff out the snipers’ nest and kill them before they can get their shot off. So as the smoke clears, they train their crosshairs on Kudelia’s golden head…

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…and Fumitan takes the bullet for her. Just as before in the slums, she couldn’t stay hidden in the alley, in the shadows, just to prove a point. When she saw that illustration, she saw Kudelia’s idealism, and something she could destroy to save her, just as she could have torn or burned that book.

That will teach her the truth of the world, she thought. But that figure in the illustration wasn’t the Maiden of the Revolution, she was Hope Personified, which is apparently what Kudelia is and why her eyes never clouded. Was this practically the most predictable climax to an episode titled “Fumitan Admoss?” You’re damn right. And I didn’t give a rat’s ass; it was a beautifully orchestrated foregone conclusion.

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Who is the Kudelia Mika scoops up, the one who just had a random admirer and Fumitan die right before her eyes? Will she be able to recover, or are those eyes now in store for some clouding? As for the grand plot, everyone involved seems to think it can still be salvaged.

But Teiwaz’ leader McMurdo Barristan, having watched things unfold on TV, calls Nobliss with an offer to join forces, knowing Kudelia won’t be snuffed out so easily. This is the first solid instance of us knowing Teiwaz was rotten at the top, but it’s not entirely surprising.

For now, the Turbines and Tekkadan are unaware of treachery at the top, but I doubt they’ll go along with it if and when they become aware. Of course, there are more pressing matters: Tekkadan is still trapped on a Dort colony about to explode, and Kudelia probably doesn’t know what their next move should be.

The show is almost telling us “Sure, we knew that you knew what Fumitan’s fate would be. But what will happen now?” I’m not quite sure; there are many possibilities. All I know is that this was one thrilling powerhouse of a Gundam episode.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 15

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“You cannot truly become an adult.”—our Masked Man McGillis’s words in the cold open. Those words didn’t stick with me throughout this phenomenal episode, but gradually gained significance as things progressed. Masky is surprised by how excited he is. Disguising himself so he can visit Dort, the front lines of the upcoming rebellion, has brought out the little kid in him. The Mask protects his identity, but he’s still exposed and untethered, and we can only guess what he’s up to.

When Mika tells Fumitan he knows something is on her mind (he just doesn’t know what), she talks about things adults are supposed to have, like responsibility. Only hers are dual: both to protect Kudelia and watch her. But hanging out with all these kids, and Kudelia in particular, has brought out the kid in her too, and before she knew it she’d disobeyed orders, irking Noblesse.

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Meanwhile, someone who believes he’s one of the most responsible, pragmatic adults around, Savarin, wears the suit of a salaryman, occupies a cubicle, and informs on his little brother the minute he sees Atra with him. We’ll later learn Savarin has replaced the family of his childhood with the responsibility of adulthood: working to keep the working class society of Dort from exploding into chaos and blood, but also working to preserve his own skin.

The workers are lead by union boss Navona Mingo, who gets Orga’s team out of the line of fire and hides them in the slums, where he casually asks them to join his fight. He seems to shrug off Orga’s declining, but I somehow doubt that’s the end of it. Meanwhile, Gaelio and Ein are ready to go, but the captain of their ship is able to delay him by spewing a lot of bureaucrat-babble that impresses a junior officer. What’s this captain’s angle?

Betrayal is bad no matter who does it, so when Savarin betrays Biscuit, who idolized him and lived his very life by his example, has got to be devastated when Gjallarhorn arrest him and Atra. But the reason they’re doing so is because they believe Atra is Kudelia Aina Bernstein, Goddess of the rebellion. This is a misunderstanding Atra quickly picks up and runs with, to protect Kudelia, her family, from harm.

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This gets her beaten by the Gjallarhorn soldiers trying to get rebellion intel out of her, and the sight of Atra being roughed up, her legs, one missing a boot, dangling from the interrogation chair, is almost too terrible to behold; she is only a child, for crying out loud.

But Atra’s blood is iron; forged and stiffened on Mars from an even younger age than she is now. She knows how to take a beating; she used to endure them every day. Now that she actually has someone to take it for (rather than punishment for some petty slight), she’s all the more resolved. Her toughness in this situation brought a tear to my eye.

Speaking of eyes, when Orga learns through Navona that Biscuit and Atra have been kidnapped, he relays the info to Mika, who tells Fumitan to keep Kudelia safe while he rescues them. The “foolish, innocent child” Kudelia tries to sneak out anyway, but Fumitan stops her, and can’t help but remark how her “clear, honest eyes” haven’t changed since she was a young girl, and how much she’s always hated those eyes and wished they’d cloud up from reality; from adulthood.

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Hope and idealism, like the giddy excitement McGillis is feeling, is for kids. Reality and stern responsibility is for adults. And speak of the masked devil, MaskGillis shows up right there and then, revealing to Kudelia not only how Nobliss Gordon has been using her, but how he’s had one of his own by her side all this time.

Sensing this moment of betrayal could be a chance to finally cloud those eyes, Fumitan does not deny the masked man’s claims, and Kudelia is devastated. Fumitan then leaves Kudelia’s side, but Kudelia can’t help but go after her, even when Masky tries to hold her back and remind her of her responsibility. But is this all a game? Was Mask’s intention to use the truth to put Kudelia in a more vulnerable position?

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It’s a shame Mika wasn’t around to mediate things, but he’s occupied with being a one-man rescue team, finding Atra’s boot in the streets, seemingly following her scent to where she’s being held, crashing a truck into the building, and taking out all the guards off-camera before bursting in.

When he sees the state of Atra, he’s ready to go a little bit further, but there’s no time. Orga arrives in a truck just as Savarin is fingering them for Gjallarhorn once more. Savarin appeals to his brother to see reason and do as his big brother says. Biscuit is appreciative of everything Savarin did for him and his sisters, but he has a new family now, so he goes with Tekkadan, and the brothers are separated, perhaps forever.

Meanwhile, Kudelia is out in the open, searching desperately for Fumitan, while a full-blown armed uprising of Dort’s working class is about to explode on the same streets where she calmly shopped just hours before. She’s too concerned with Fumitan to realize the danger she’s in, or the merit of staying put so Mika and the others could meet up with her.

She’s acting like a child would, only considering one thing at a time and rushing at it with reckless abandon; unknowingly squandering the sacrifice Atra made to keep her safe. But it’s not all her fault—because you cannot truly become an adult.

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