Gleipnir – 02 – Entering the Emptiness

When fellow “monster” Hikawa threatens Clair, Shuuichi freezes up, and Claire hits Hikawa’s eyes with pepper spray. Rather than fight, Shuuichi gathers Claire up and escapes out the window. We learn that Hikawa was her school’s ace runner, and became a “monster” by depositing the star coin in the vending machine and wishing to run faster.

Hikawa wasn’t prepared for the monkey’s paw-like downside of her wish, but now she seems accustomed enough to it that killing Shuuichi and Claire is no big deal. Did gaining monstrous physical traits make her into a monster, or was she one before those traits manifested?

Whatever the case, Shuuihi absolutely sucks at fighting, so when Claire finds a zipper on his back, she unzips him and finds nothing but a fleshy pocket inside. And while Shuuichi stopped himself from going to far with Claire after rescuing her from the fire, Claire dives right into that pocket and finds that it fits as snugly and comfortably as a glove.

As a result of “becoming one” with Shuuichi, Claire can now control his body, and her moves are a lot sharper than his was. Shuuichi finds he has no control over his body, but his thoughts and sensations are merged with Claire’s, forming a symbiotic pilot-vehicle pair. While this isn’t conventional sex, it’s definitely a weird supernatural analog.

A brutal fight with the berserk Hikawa ensues, and Claire gets better and better at controlling Shuuichi’s mascot body. Before long, Hikawa takes a couple of hard licks and wears down. Claire puts her leg in a hold and threatens to snap it if Hikawa doesn’t tell her everything she knows about the star coins.

Hikawa ain’t talking, so the leg goes snap, and then Claire draws the mascot’s gun—which is real, it turns out—and blows Hikawa away. Shuuichi’s desperate pleas for her to stop go ignored, and when the threat has passed, Claire emerges from the mascot’s interior a sticky but satisfied mess.

A week passes, and both Claire and Shuuichi go back to their ordinary lives without any developments. Whatever went down, it seems they weren’t seen and aren’t suspected by anyone. The two meet in private, and Claire tells him other “monsters” are out there and both of them individual lack the strength to fight them; they have to act as one.

Claire also has a personal interest in this whole mascot monster business—her sister Elena is one, and she’s eager to find her. She also promises Shuuichi that whatever happens, she’ll die with him so he won’t be alone. When he asks what she’d do if he wanted to die now? She leaps off a warehouse balcony, hoping to “see him soon”. Shuuichi is able to catch her, but if he hadn’t, she’d have died right there.

Half a year ago, Elena visited the vending machine, but asked the boy inside to give her wish to someone else…someone she “wants to be with.” The strap on her bag is a tiny version of Shuuichi’s mascot form. What’s the connection? Why him? And will Claire gradually wear down his basic decency and make him a monster, or will he continue to let himself be her puppet?

Gleipnir – 01 (First Impressions) – The Minx and the Mascot

Kagaya Shuuichi is ordinary, or rather wants to be perceived as ordinary, and takes great pains to maintain that ordinariness. He lets cute girls borrow his work, sneaks a peek up a girls skirt when opportunity knocks, and continues wearing glasses even though he doesn’t need them.

He also turned down a decent college recommendation to pursue … something else. A girl who seems to like him gets it instead, but knows he was the first choice. Unfortunately, what this poor girl doesn’t know about Shuuichi could fill volumes.

I guess it’s not so much what Shuuichi is pursuing that made him turn down college, but what he is enduring. He’s suddenly been granted a highly elevated sense of smell, like a dog, and when certain conditions are met (which I’m sure he takes pains to avoid) he transforms into a giant cartoon mascot dog.

One night he smells fire, and finds a pretty girl passed out in a burning garage. He transforms and rescues her, but seemingly enchanted by her smell, starts pulling her underwear down before stopping himself, transforming back to a human, and fleeing in a panic…without his phone.

Having potentially set back his program of maintaining normality for years, Shuuichi plays dumb at school until he comes face to face with the girl, his phone in her hand. Considering his refusal to own up to sexual assault on an unconscious woman, and that he considers gaslighting her, I’m not that sympathetic with his predicament!

The girl, first-year student Claire Aoki (Touyama Nao), has no intention of letting Shuuichi off lightly. The underwear aside, she was trying to kill herself in that garage (or so she says), and he ruined her plans. After kicking him off the roof to watch him transform, she indicates her intention to blackmail him.

Claire also seems committed to making Shuuichi uncomfortable as possible whenever possible, as exhibited when she takes him to her apartment and strips down to change right in front of him, threatening death if he moves. They’re interrupted by the invasion of a mysterious woman who is after the weird gold coin Claire possesses. The attacker can also transform into a part-woman, part-beast, and proceeds to kick Shuuichi’s inexperienced-in-combat ass.

Gleipnir is the name of a delicate yet immensely strong dwarven-made chain that holds Fenrir back until Ragnarok, when he’s free to devour Odin. If Shuuichi’s mascot mode represents Fenrir, his human form is that chain. But unlike its Norse namesake it’s quickly fraying, thanks in part to Claire helping it along. Or Maybe, ironically, maybe it’s Claire who is the true Fenrir here, a wolf in model’s clothing. Shuuichi broke the chain and unleashed her by getting rescuing (and assaulting) her. There’s no going back now!

Gleipnir looks and sounds great (thanks to composer Sakata Ryouhei and a great Mili ED), with a taut, tense and gripping story. The dread of Shuuichi’s misfortunes is weighed against the reality of Claire having a legit beef with him. The cuteness of his mascot form contrasts with the horrifying nature of his transition. We’ll see what hell she puts him through, and if it ever rises to the level of Aku no Hana pitch-blackness.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 08 – Two Hearts at a Time

Thanks to Praline’s library guide and the Head Librarian’s own voice, Golem and Somali are able to locate Isolde Nebsolv, who not only was the last person to check out Chronicles of Haraiso, but actually wrote it. One of her head guards, Leigle, is suspicious of the intruders, but Isolde is glad to see them and all too happy to tell them the story from the now-destroyed book, the events of which took place many centuries ago.

Isolde’s ancestor Feodora was flying on her broom and got caught by dragon twister winds that blew her off course and wrecked her on an island. She’d later learn that Haraiso is not only the name of the island, but its “god”, a skinless golem. The rest of the island’s population are humans, who distrust all other “grotesques” except Haraiso.

Knowing this, and knowing of humans’ nature to fear the unknown and exterminate anything that is too different, Haraiso assures them the witch Feodora is actually a human and they have nothing to fear. Feodora quickly befriends Miya, the little girl who rescued her, and the rest of the villagers, as she slides into a pleasant, idyllic daily life.

The golem Haraiso eventually determines that Feodora will be able to fly home by riding the dragon twisters as they circle north to her home, but she’s hesitant to leave such a lovely place full of such kind people, and Miya doesn’t want her to go either. That’s when a “grotesque” appears: a large, two-headed beast that insists he has no quarrel with them.

The humans don’t believe or listen to their pleas for mercy, and they tie up, stone, beat, and cut the beast to death without mercy as Feodora watches. Even Miya tosses a stone. It’s clear now that her secret is a knife at her throat; she has to get out of here before she ends up like the beast.

But the morning of the day she’s to cast off, the villagers go looking for her, and Miya knows she’ll be at their spot: the bluff under the tree. When the winds pick up and toss Miya off the cliff and into some brittle branches, Feodora has no choice but to use her broom to swoop down and save her before she’s dashed on the rocks below.

All this happens in full sight of the villagers, who quickly ignore her heroics and start to call for her execution. Haraiso intervenes in time, pardoning Feodora for saving Miya but banishing her from the island. Feodora flies off, and only Miya bids her farewell. In the end, Feodora got through to Miya, and the friendship they shared overwrote her prejudice and fear.

Feodora shared her story with others, but considering how starkly it laid out how far apart humans and other clans were, it was decided not to write about it for a thousand years. Isolde wrote the book earlier than that, and for that, blames herself for the humans being wiped out. Still, Golem only sees it as a string of coincidences. Bottom line; humans and monsters were going to clash with or without this tale as ammo for the latter.

Before Isolde passes away in a cloud of butterflies, she considers herself fortunate to have not only met a human in Somali, but one who has friends among non-humans. It means perhaps she wasn’t wrong to write a book that, for all of the ways it depicted the humans as utterly incompatible, was at its core about two people: Feodora and Miya, who were able to reach an understanding and a bond.

There’s still hope for Somali, even after Golem dies, because of the friends she’s made. But it looks like Golem is still determined to find her fellow humans at the ends of the earth…just in case.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 07 – The Witching Hour

As he did with Shizuno and Yabashira, Golem confides in Haitora the truth of his dwindling lifespan, and how like Haitora he won’t be around to see his charge grow up. It’s like he’s getting the weight of the lie off his chest; dropping the facade of pretending everything’s okay with Somali.

Even so, Haitora considers Somali all too lucky to have found Golem, as she gets to live her life with a smile on her face and with peace of mind thanks to her guardian’s care, despite being a human.

Haitora’s words make Golem feel lighter in the chest. Anyone who thinks Somali hasn’t made him more human isn’t paying attention. The next day, Golem and Somali say goodbye to Haitora and Uzoi, but Uzoi promises Somali they’ll meet again once she’s found a cure for Haitora. I for one would have enjoyed them remaining together longer, especially since it makes sense for all four of them should be headed in the same direction.

That’s because Golem and Somali’s new destination is a village filled with witches who bear a solemn duty to amass all of the world’s knowledge. If there was a cure for eating harpy flesh, you’d guess you’d find it there. Alas, it’s just Golem and Somali, who are greeted by a bevy of witches selling all manner of delicious food an drink, in which the food-crazy Somali is all to happy to indulge. The village is gorgeous with its whimsical architecture and glowing light.

The pair are directed to the Witches’ Crest Library, a huge and grand structure containing millions of books of every conceivable topic. Just being led into the libarary and hearing the various voices bounce off the walls has a major impact, a feeling of being truly immersed into this gradually expanding fantasy world. Somali is eager to read a book about food, and I’m surprised she knows how to read!

Among the myriad non-human clans of this world, one would think witches, like harpies, would be able to “sniff out” a human in disguise. But if their magical hosts detect Somali’s true nature, they don’t make an issue of it. Instead, friendly librarian witch Hazel and her bookworm older sister Praline are happy to escort Golem to the location of a biography that makes mention of humans.

Things are derailed a bit when Somali locates the book in question on a shelf and recklessly pulls it off the shelf, dislodging a school of skeletal book-eating fish who are particularly interested in that particular book. Praline summons several little blue penguins to eat the fish, while Hazel produces a cloud of rose petals that squash the remaining beasts out. Their magic, and the accompanying music, adds the whimsical, wondrous atmosphere.

Even Hazel’s spell isn’t enough, however, as the surviving bookfish coalesce into a single giant subspecies. Somali refuses to give up the book, runs off, and inevitably trips over her feet. The book goes flying and the bookfish destroy it before a single page can be written. Worse, Golem must sacrifice the remaining “skin” on his arm and enter into a reflexive Attack Mode to rescue Somali and defeat the fish boss.

Somali is tearfully apologetic for getting Golem hurt, but he’s not concerned as long as she’s okay. Praline also suggests that all is not lost if they can find the previous person to have read the book, who could then share its contents with Golem and Somali. It turns out the last borrower of the book was Isolde Nebsolv, their boss and Head Librarian.


Somali and the Forest Spirit – 06 – Love Never Lies

When Uzoi tells Somali what she’s doing and why, Somali doesn’t take it lying down. She screams so hard she hurts Uzoi’s sensitive ears and runs. While fleeing, Somali falls off a cliff into a pond, and Uzoi jumps in and saves her.

As Somali whimpers, soaked and cold, Uzoi extends one of her harpy wings around her, inverting its previous use as the prelude to an attack. When Golem and Haitora arrive, Somali protects Uzoi from her dad, while Uzoi crumbles into her dad’s arms, lamenting that she just couldn’t do it.

As we gathered last week, Haitora is nothing but glad she couldn’t do it, and we learn why when he delves into his past to explain to Golem why he’s not deserving of Uzoi’s love. For he was once in her position, after he and his wife and daughter were forced to flee their small human settlement when it was raided by “grotesques.”

Trapped in a cave with no food or water for days, a desperate Haitora happens upon an adult harpy—Uzoi’s mother. And because he and his family is starving and there’s no other option, he kills the harpy without a moment’s hesitation, then drags the body back to the cave. “We have to be like them” to survive, he gravely tells the family in his failing voice.

They all tuck into the raw harpy meat, and within a few minutes, both his wife and daughter suffer unspeakably agonizing deaths before his eyes. This is the kind of graphic horror I came to expect of Made in Abyss, and it’s just as unsettlingly naturalistic in its depiction here.

As we’ve learned, Uzoi has great hearing, so she hears Haitora’s confession to Golem and learns her whole life with him was based on lies. Even after Somali lazily forgives her friend for trying to kill her and drain her blood, Uzoi (whose name sounds a lot like usoi, Japanese for “lying”) faces existential despair and emptiness in the wake of Haitora’s words.

She’s so depressed, in fact, that when they come across a dragon twister while traversing the desert, and the winds pick her and Somali up, she takes one last pained look at Haitora and lets go, in that moment preferring death to living a terrible lifelong lie any further.

The moment also confirms to Haitora that Uzoi heard him last night. He wants to rush out to save her, but Golem insists they stay put until the storm subsides, using his fancy eye to calculate where the girls are likely to survive grave injury by landing on the soft sand.

When Golem spots the girls later, they’re being attacked by an aggressively territorial canterbird. He quickly formulates a plan wherein he serves as a decoy to allow Haitora to get the girls to safety, but Haitora quickly adopts his own plan, hoping to give what’s left of his wretched life leading the canterbird away. To his surprise, upon being cornered the canterbird is stopped…by Uzoi.

Unwilling to let him die without talking to her, Uzoi would much rather he stay alive with her, proving true Somali’s earlier words that “love doesn’t lie.” Love isn’t always happy, or clean; even Somali is aware of this if she doesn’t know her father is dying. Sometimes those who love each other wound each other, but the scars can’t be ignored, even if they’re deepened by confronting them.

Hayami Saori puts on a clinic performing this scene, which comes as no surprise if you follow her voice work. When you need a character to deliver dramatic dialogue movingly and convincingly, Saori-chan is someone you can always count on. Even so, she never ceases to amaze me with her remarkable vocal talent.

Haitora, realizing he was only trying to take the easy way out, re-commits to living with Uzoi as long as he humanly can. Not out of obligation to atone for his past sins and lying about them, but for a more important reason: he and Uzoi are family, and they love one another, period.

But even if he’d been persuaded to drink Somali’s blood (something he’d never do after what happened with his family) it likely wouldn’t have worked. Harpies are magical creatures, so it’s likely magic is needed to heal him. If you need magic, you’ll need witches, whom we glimpse in the preview.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 05 – Sun of the Harpy

With Somali fully recovered, she and Golem bid farewell to their kind shurigara hosts and continue their journey. Upon arriving in Winecup Village, dramatically nested in the caldera of an extinct volcano, they meet a very similar pair of travelers: the harpy Uzoi and her guardian Haitora.

Like Golem, Haitora is dying, but he’s a human in disguise like Somali. Uzoi is not only aware Haitora is dying, but the purpose of their journey is to seek a cure for his illness. Finally, someone has finally sniffed out Somali: Due to her heightened harpy senses, Uzoi can tell from Somali’s smell she’s no minotaur.

After a brief clash over last serving of sweet corn ice cream, Uzoi enthusiastically offers free passage through the desert on their wagon if Golem and Somali assist with loading their baggage. They take her up on her offer, but later that evening, Uzoi reveals her ulterior motive to Haitora.

This is the first important scene in painting Uzoi as more than a malicious villain. The clock is ticking on the one and seemingly only other person in her life, for whom she clearly harbors deep affection. She’s run out of time and options, and may never come across another human again.

While she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save Haitora, it’s clear throughout their ensuing desert journey that Uzoi is conflicted and not at all happy about what she believes must be done. She and Somali quickly form a sororal bond, that between an older and younger sister.

All the while, both Uzoi and Haitora shift in their seats, knowing they’re on the cusp of doing something terrible to good people for selfish reasons. Hayami Saori’s kind, soothing, gentle voice is the perfect choice for the conflicted Uzoi. Whenever Haitora tries to dissuade Uzoi from carrying out her plan, he suffers a coughing fit, underscoring the urgency of their plight.

When the four seek shelter in a cave full of flowing crystals and light-bearing torchbugs, Uzoi makes her move, going off with Somali to fetch water, pouncing on her, and spreading her wings to reveal her full harpy form. She feels bad about killing Somali so her blood can save Haitora, but she’s still going to do it.

That is, unless Golem can stop her in time. Haitora finally speaks up to Golem about his human status, and begs him to help him stop the misguided Uzoi. Haitora wants no part of making someone so young suffer and die so he can live a little longer. Like Golem, he’s struggling to prepare Uzoi for a life without him, which to both her and Somali must seem as unthinkable as living without the sun.

Inuyashiki – 08

Hiro never bothered to cover his tracks that well, and so it was only a matter of time before a SWAT team showed up. In their attempt to capture him, Shion and her grandmother are killed, and the ostensible sociopath, who has chosen them as tethers to his humanity, is clearly very upset and guilty about that.

The police empty clip after clip into him but of course cannot penetrate Hiro’s skin, and he’s able to escape with Shion and her grandma and, I assume, heal them. Still, he leaves them behind, with words of apology, and will likely never let them get in harm’s way again—which means never coming near them again.

It’s a busy episode of Inuyashiki that checks in on just about everyone, even a random cop duo who hope to catch Hiro soon. But its focus is on Ichirou’s daughter Mari, who gets some welcome development beyond the thin outline we’d gleaned thus far of a girl ashamed to have such a poor, pathetic old-looking man for a father.

Turns out that was not nearly the whole picture. Mari’s grades aren’t great, and isn’t that interested in going to college. Instead, she wants to strike out as a mangaka, utilizing a craft she’s honed in secret since elementary school. She’s motivated by her neighbor and classmate, the rich and entitled son of the famous mangaka Oda, and she resents that he’s trying to follow in his footsteps simply because it seems like the natural thing to do.

Meanwhile, Ichirou continues to explore and refine his abilities with the help of Andou, another classmate of Mari’s, and it isn’t long before she spots the two walking and talking together. She stalks them, and dismisses the wild (and hilarious) theories that initially enter her mind (Andou is asking for permission to pursue Andou; her dad is into younger boys; Andou is his bastard son).

She keeps following them, watches them go into hospital rooms, then Googles the “miracle worker” who has saved over 120 lives. Then she sees her father launch himself into the sky like a rocket, and nothing will ever be the same.

By that, I mean Mari immediately starts to think of her father in a different way. Not much time is spent on her processing what she’s seen—it would understandably take some time—but when her mother confronts her on her low grades and insist she abandon the manga hobby and go to college, expense be damned—Ichirou walks in and immediately takes her side. 

Granted, Ichirou probably has no idea Mari knows anything about his abilities, so there’s no leverage at play here. Indeed, a pre-transformation Ichirou may have taken his wife’s side instead, because he struck me as a bit of a pushover. But not now. Now he’s willing to let his daughter embrace her dream, because he wants her to be happy.

As for Shion and her Grandma? They’re alive and well, in a new apartment, receiving payments from “him.” He healed them, but apparently could not wipe their memories. My money is on Shion trying to reach out to Hiro again, perhaps to her peril…again.

But being apart from Shion, her grandmother, and their quiet, simple life, not to mention the reason he had to leave it, has an immediate and strong negative impact on Hiro, who slips back into his old homicidal ways. The ones he cares about may still be alive, but it doesn’t change the fact that the police killed them, obviously lacking the knowledge he could repair them.

Had the police left him alone (whether that was the right thing to do or not), he may have continued on his peaceful course. But now he wants revenge, and to lash out at those who dared hurt Shion and her grandma. So he heads to the station and starts systematically slaughtering every policeman he sees—including the two cops we saw earlier.

When he’s done inside the headquarters, he goes outside to find a huge force waiting for him. A sniper knocks him down, and SWAT teams riddle him with bullets anew, but they can only slow him down; they can’t stop him, or really even hurt him. Even when “unconscious”, his defensive systems deploy and eliminate all threats with grim efficiency.

All of this unfolds before the video cameras of the media, which it seems Hiro doesn’t kill. Indeed, he leaves one defiant policeman alive so he can witness him killing all the other police around him, to prove to him he will always win in the end.

But because those cameras are capturing him, Ichirou and Mari are watching on the news, and Ichirou doesn’t see the boy who fought to protect Shion and her grandmother, or saved as many lives as he killed (though he’s now clearly “in the red” again). Ichirou just sees a butcher only he can stop.

Fate / Zero – 17

For Risei and Tokiomi, the greatest blunder they committed in the Holy Grail War was believing they knew and understood who Kirei was, when he seemingly didn’t even know until recently, after a few key conversations with Lady MacGilgabeth.

Risei, who Kirei was probably planning to kill, was murdered by Kayneth, but by the end of this episode, Tokiomi is dead too, by Kirei’s own hand, petty much forced by accelerating events.

Fate/Zero isn’t subtle about death flags, and it sure looked like even Tokiomi himself sensed his end was near when he visited Rin and Aoi one last time. The only thing that escaped him was the means of that end; surely he must’ve thought if he died, it would be fighting against his enemies, not his own student.

But back to forcing Kirei’s hand: with Risei dead, Tokiomi proposes a temporary alliance with Irisviel, who is flanked by Saber and Maiya in the church where they meet (odd choice of venue if you ask me, considering it couldn’t even protect the observer.)

Iri agrees with Tokiomi that they should save the battle between themselves for the end, once Rider and Berserker are dealt with … but only if he expels Kirei from Japan immediately.

It’s not an unreasonable demand, considering Kirei and the Einzberns have “bad blood” Tokiomi didn’t know about, but Kirei is also not a Master anymore, and thus should step away from the war altogether. Upon leaving the meeting, Iri collapses onto Maiya’s shoulder, confiding in her that she’s not just any homonculus, but the Holy Grail itself given human form.

When this Holy Grail War is over, she will die and the grail will take whatever new form the winner desires; only Avalon is keeping her going. Maiya promises she’ll stay by Iri’s side until the end.

With one more one-on-one chat between Tokiomi and Archer, Tokiomi has decided what he’s going to do, and has Archer’s support. Kirei will get to explore his “dark desires”, and Gilgamesh will gain a more entertaining Master.

Kirei helps Gil finalize his choice by saying the Holy Grail can only be activating by sacrificing all seven Servants, meaning Tokiomi was eventually going to use a command seal to force Gil to commit suicide.

So after thanking Kirei for being his loyal student and comrade, Tokiomi presents him with a will leaving his wealth to Rin and appointing Kirei as her guardian. Kirei then takes that newly-gifted dagger and kills Tokiomi with it.

The literal backstabbing, while extensively telegraphed, is still a powerful, disturbing moment. With this betrayal, Kirei becomes Archer’s new Master, and the dynamic of the War is irreparably changed. And I must say, I fear Kirei a hell of a lot more than Tokiomi as an adversary to Kiritsugu and Iri, because, well, Kirei himself fears the guy.

Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.

Fate / Zero – 18

Per a reader’s suggestion, I am watching the next three F/Z episodes in the order of 18-19-17. We’ll see how this goes. At the end of episode 16, Saber wondered what the hell happened to make Emiya Kiritsugu the kind of person he’s become. Episode 18 begins to answer that very question by taking a trip back to Kiritsugu’s childhood on picturesque Arimago Island.

Things couldn’t start out any more idyllic, with “Kerry” (what everyone calls Kiritsugu) cliff-diving with his friends on an absolutely perfect day before being picked up by Shirley, a very pretty young local who is serving as his father’s assistant. Kerry’s father is mage, developing flowers that never wilt in hopes of someday applying the same principles to humans.

Throughout the episode’s first acts, the gorgeous tropical setting could never quite hide the fact that there was something very fishy about Kerry’s father taking up residence in a secluded property on a remote island for mysterious magical experimentation related to immortality. That’s a lot of red flags.

One night Shirley shows Kerry that her flower has wilted, and that she will never be able to be anything other than a glorified lab assistant. She believes Kerry has a bright future following in his dad’s footsteps, and they both agree that his dad is doing something that will be able to help humanity immensely.

Kerry also recoils from Shirley when she gets too close to him, as he’s of the age where boys typically deny their attraction to the opposite sex despite biological evidence to the contrary.

However, it’s clear Kerry likes Shirley very much, which makes it that much more heartbreaking when I realized that beautiful night they talked would be the last. The next day, Kerry’s dad asks if he went into his lab, then warns him to stay in the house for the day.

When Shirley doesn’t arrive at the usual time, he sneaks out to look for her, and finds an empty medicine bottle on the floor of her house. Shirley herself has set to work sucking the blood of the chickens in her yard, as whatever medicine she took turned her into some kind of vampire.

Kerry, unable to grant Shirley’s wish to kill her, seeks refuge in the church, but before long the entire island turns into a battlefield. The vampirism spreads quickly from Shirley to the other townsfolk, and Church Executors have to work overtime to kill them, while the Mages Association sets everything ablaze in order to protect their secrets.

Kerry ends up running through the middle of this hellscape (and as he’ll say to Saber years later, all war is hell) and almost gets himself killed, but he’s saved by a mysterious woman who is very handy with firearms, using them in an efficient manner that reminds me of Kiritsugu’s own style in the present.

She tells him everyone has turned into “dead apostles”, and she’s there to eliminate Kerry’s father…but Kerry gets to him first. When he asks his dad about his work and what it did to Shirley and the town, his father is, shall we say, not particularly contrite. Indeed, he seems to consider all of the horrible things that have happened a minor inconvenience, and is eager to escape the island get back to work.

Unable to muster any words in response to his father’s despicable attitude, Kerry stabs him in the gut with the dagger Father Simon gave Shirley to protect her from the evils he believed Kerry’s father to be messing with. He then takes a pistol and kills him, before the lilac-haired woman shows up.

By doing so, he did what had to be done, something he wasn’t able to do with Shirley, a misstep that ended up costing the entire town. As he escapes from the island with the woman, I imagine Kiritsugu—no longer “Kerry”—won’t be hesitating that much more from here on out.

Fate / Zero – 16

It’s no rest for the weary or hungry in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of Caster and his monster. Sola-Ui is hoping her beloved Lancer’s contributions will net her a fresh command seal, but she ends up losing her two remaining seals when Maiya sneaks up and cuts her fucking arm off before calmly reporting to Kiritsugu.

Sola-Ui’s fiancee Kayneth seems to fare better, as he manages to convince Risei to bestow upon him a new seal as a reward, then shoots Risei before peaceing out of the church, though if I were him I’d have checked to see if the brakes weren’t stuck on; he seemed to have some trouble with the wheelchair.

When Lancer returns to report that Sola-Ui is alive but missing, a particularly revitalized Kayneth really lays into his Servant, even accusing him of seducing his fiancee, just like he seduced that of his commander of yore. Lancer has to break into the endless berating, because someone has arrived.

That someone is Saber, with Iri in tow. While everyone is exhausted from the battle, there is yet some time before the dawn, so she (probably wisely) suggests there will be no better time to get their chivalrous duel out of the way.

Lancer assents, and the two have at it with a kind of infectious glee, finally able to fight nobly one-on-one after such a distasteful monster battle. If ever there was a ‘heromance’ on Fate/Zero (not a one-sided one like Caster), it’s these two. Which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see their noble duel cruelly cut short by the implementation of Kiritsugu’s underhanded but ruinously effective gambit to take Lancer and Kayneth off the board for good.

The dueling Saber and Lancer are essentially distracting themselves from the fact their masters are in the shadows, “negotiating.” I use quotes because Kiritsugu has all the leverage and Kayneth has none. Kiritsugu has Sola-Ui, and makes Kay sign a contract of geis in which Kiritsugu will be unable to kill or even harm him or Sola-Ui. In exchange, Kay has to use his final command seal to force Lancer to run himself through with his own single remaining lance.

Kay takes the deal, and the impaled Lancer is disgusted and enraged, cursing everyone—including Saber, whom he assumes is in on it—as he slowly dies and evaporates into the either. Then Kiritsugu holds up his end of the bargain: he can’t kill Kayneth or Sola-Ui…so he has Maiya do it for him, and when Kayneth is begging for death, Kiritsugu must decline due to the contract. Ice. Cold.

It falls to Saber to put Kayneth out of his misery, but no one is more disgusted with Kiritsugu than she, as she openly questions his true motives for winning the HGW, considering the underhanded, dishonorable depths to which he is willing to stoop.

Even Iri, who Kiritsugu points out hadn’t seen “the way he kills” until now, is clearly angry at him and demands he speak to Saber directly and not through her. And Kiritsugu finally explains why he’s been so loath to interact with Saber and so unwilling to heed her council: because she is a knight, imbued with heroic honor and chivalry. And he doesn’t believe a knight can save the world.

Throughout history, knights and other heroes have inspired men to set out, fight, and die. It’s a deadly wheel that Kiritsugu intends to break. If he is victorious, he will see to it the blood shed in the HGW will be the “last blood shed by humanity,” and he doesn’t care what he has to do or how his actions make him look, as long as he gets the job done. It’s the ultimate ends-justify-the-means argument, and it’s hard to argue with it.

Saber’s reaction to Kiritsugu’s passionate rant is to deduce that for someone to speak the way he does, he must have at some point in he past fought nobly and justly, only for something to go horribly wrong to lead to his fall from chivalry. Saber is of the mind that his methods not only won’t break the wheel, but strengthen it by stoking resentment, hatred, and further conflict unbound by any decency.

I can appreciate both viewpoints (a testament to the quality writing and characterization) and while I can’t endorse Kiritsugu’s methods, I can’t argue with their utility and effectiveness thus far: only Rider, Berserker, and Archer remain in the war, and he has all of his command seals.

But I take the collapse of the downright exhausted Iri after Kiritsugu departs as a bad omen; things have been going too smoothly so far. I sense rougher seas ahead.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 08

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After spending much of the previous episode apart, this episode almost revels in pairing up Moe with Saikawa once more. With dawn approaching and the police soon on their way, Moe believes she can get her uncle in the police department to keep Shiki’s murder a secret for the length of time the lab needs; that way no one has to lie. Moe goes to the roof to try to determine how Shindo’s killer could have gotten on or off the roof from the outside, but more than anything she’s just happy to be with Saikawa.

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As for that sunset, it’s a really lovely scene during which the sky gradually lightens and the sun comes up over the trees as Moe and Saikawa lean on the rail, enjoying each other’s company. Moe talks about how she hurt her when she lashed out in her mad grief all those years ago, but Saikawa never held it against her; “glasses can be fixed.” It was more important to him that Moe knew she wasn’t alone, even though her parents were gone.

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The pleasant domestic theme continues when Moe takes a shower and Saikawa makes a hearty breakfast of bacon & eggs, and then Saikawa lets Moe doze off for a few hours, then for the two to keep each other company during a slightly scary blackout as the lab’s computer is rebooted.

Saikawa notes how differently he and Moe think: he sees the path and carefully walks along it to find the answer, while Moe grasps at random facts and tries to make connections. Saikawa implies Moe has much to learn, but can’t deny that she presents ideas that he wouldn’t have come up with. They make a good team.

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With Moe, who feels much lighter since  by his side in the dark as he puffs away at a cigarette, Saikawa comes upon what he believes to be a truth that may turn everything on its head: the Magata Shiki Moe spoke to via teleconference wasn’t really Magata Shiki. The episode also brings up the possibility of passing Miki off as Shiki, despite being taller and more filled out…but what if Miki IS Shiki?

What if that whole English conversation Saikawa had was with Shiki? Could the whole “sister” thing be one long con? Or, even more distrubing, did Shiki cut off Miki’s longer limbs to pass her corpse off as her own, thus faking her death? Shiki considers bodies mere containers, so she’s definitely capable of it.

All this time I’ve been operating under the assumption Shiki was definitely dead, even if a part of her still existed in, say, the computer system. But now even that fact is in dispute. If Miki is Shiki, that’s a whole new ballgame.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 07

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This week Saikawa and Moe have very interesting encounters and conversations; I just wish the vehicles for those conversations weren’t, in the case of Moe (at least initially), an overly aggressive otaku researcher Shimada, and in the case of Saikawa, what felt like fifteen years of Kase Yasuyuki and Kaida Yuuko speaking in very rough English. Hey, Anime: If the seiyu isn’t fluent, don’t make them play a fluent character. This. Never. Works.

It’s ironic that Moe ends up plunging into a sensory deprivation chamber, where she’s closed off from the outside world, because the bad English pulled me right out of the world of Subete ga F. It was painful, but I don’t blame the seiyuu; at the end of the day the producers and director have to step in and say this isn’t going to work. I get it; Miki is from America…but why can’t she just speak Japanese? People speak a lot of languages in America.

I don’t want to belabor the point any further; I just hope there’s little to no more such dialogue in the final four episodes. Because the content of the conversation was actually pretty poignant and enlightening. By talking with Saikawa, Miki is able to summon a memory of when she hurt herself, and Shiki told her the human body is only a container for the brain; a mechanism; a doll.

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Miki also suspects that while they never met, Shiki and Saikawa would have gotten along, because she thinks they’re probably pretty similar people, hiding intense emotions behind a cold, sterile exterior. Shimada actually likes how “cold” Saikawa seems, even if Moe says he’s actually very nice. Shimada also likes how warm Moe is, and while she says Moe doesn’t have a chance with someone she deems the opposite “temperature”, it’s not like hot-cold relationships are impossible. Opposites can attract and compliment each other.

Once the English conversation is over, we dive into Moe’s mind, no longer receiving signals from her senses in the deprivation tank. This is what Shiki was getting at: in the tanks, humans shed their bodies and shed the physical world, and the brain takes over, creating worlds from the stuff stored inside. Moe’s dreamscape starts by chasing Saikawa around campus, defying gravity and physics in the process. It’s very light and fun…until Saikawa’s office turns into the room where Moe spoke to Shiki.

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This is where Moe’s trip to the tank seems more than a mere lark by Shimada to see her in a bikini, but a legitimately profound, eye-opening experience. A “dream Shiki” purports to have been “called there” by Moe, where they continue their past conversation. Moe’s parents died in a plane crash, Moe was distraught, and the purple dress she wore that day was thrown out because it had become bloodstained.

Shiki helps Moe remember where that stain came from, which is the same reason Moe was able to survive despite losing everyone dear to her in her life. The blood came from Saikawa, who was there for her. Mad with grief, she struck him in the face, but that didn’t stop him from doing what had to be done, which is simply to hold her and allow her to let it all out. Moe wasn’t alone; she had Saikawa.

Now we know for a certainty why Moe cares for him so much, and stays by his side, and why he won’t reject her, but feels uncomfortable taking things in a romantic direction. Her flashback is a gorgeous sequence that made my heart hurt more than a little, and made up for all the Bad English earlier.

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Shiki seems to be happy for Moe, but at the same time, she pities her and everyone else in the “restricted” physical world, where she’d clearly accomplished everything she thought she could. As more pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the possibility arises that Magata Shiki found a way to leave her physical body behind, and still exists somewhere in or about that lab, or possibly in the digital either. The end credits have been hinting at that all along.

On the other hand, everything Moe experienced was more likely all in her own straying mind. The Shiki she conversed with was really just herself. Sure enough, fifteen years ago, after taking the first steps towards freeing herself from the restrictive world by killing her parents, Shiki predicts that she and Shindo will one day be killed. All they can to in the meantime is “live righteously, believing in human pride.”

Is she speaking of her own pride and Shindo’s, or the pride of those who will eventually kill them?  If it’s the latter, than I imagine Shiki, tired of the physical world, wanted someone to kill her and send her to some other, immortal realm; to true freedom. But is that just death, or something more? And if no one could get in or out, did she kill herself, her body possessed by one of her three alternate personalities?

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