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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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 20

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The above scene is a blatant, laughable lie, one proven to be one mere minutes later when Embryo puts the exact same moves on Ange (Also, why does he always get fully dressed before her? Can’t he snuggle Pretty Salian once in a while?). But Salia accepts it, because talk of love or destiny aside, Salia’s made a deal with Embryo.

She gets to live out her fantasy, and he gets to have her mind and body. Embryo is essentially an immortal pimp, and he makes each woman he manipulates feel like they’re his queen, through offering things they want most.

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Angelise is former royalty, so he continues to treat her as such with lovely invitation letters, second flush Darjeeling, and more honeyed words, many of them recycled from speeches with the other women. Salia doesn’t even care what Ange wants or does from this point on, as long as she’s not there to steal her spotlight and her man.

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“These are the implants I’ve had designed for you. We’re gonna make you a STAR!”

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But the same flattering, nurturing faux-kindness doesn’t work on Ange. She’s the same warrior she was when she pulverized that dragon back when she got stranded on that island. If she has a blade and a threat, she’s going to take it out. This time, Ange tries to make her point clearer by making Embryo suffer.

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Little does she know Embryo is going easy on her out of real kindness, preferring to turn her with a minimum of suffering. When he pops back again, alive and well, he reluctantly resorts to stronger measures, and it’s here that we start to take Embryo a bit more seriously.

He did create Ange’s race of humans, after all; it stands to reason he has all the tools at his disposal to manipulate them at will. Playing nice didn’t work on Ange, so he makes things far more elemental: zapping her brain with 50xPain, followed by 50xPleasure. It’s not a pretty sight, even for an eavesdropping Salia.

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What makes this episode the best in a long time is just how nicely it balances development of the careening plot with a bevy of truly great character moments, and because there are so many of them, the pacing is brisk and thrilling. Take Roselie sneaking into Hilda’s room, where Roselie comes to terms with the fact Hilda has fallen for Ange, while she herself admits she loves Chris, and always had the wrong idea about who looked out for whom. They want to be with Ange an Chris again, and Hilda knows that’s not going to happen as long as Jill is in command.

To do something about it, they’ll need help, which means recruiting the gaoled Tusk and Vivian. Hilda initially tries to seduce Tusk, but despite the rumors his head is almost constantly in Ange’s crotch (a gross exaggeration), Hilda is almost disappointed to find that he never slept with her, confirming what Ange said, and is in fact saving himself, like a true knight. Hilda just calls him a “loser”, but he’s also a useful loser, so they make an accord.

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Jill, meanwhile, can’t get Embryo-sama out of her head, so she dons her flight suit and attempts to fly off, leaving Libertus and her crew behind. Hilda organizes and stages the most necessary mutiny ever, and in Jill’s fractured state she’s no match against people with far clearer heads. It’s an awesome bring-down, especially since we learn soon after that Jill needed and wanted to be saved…from herself.

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“How was I supposed to explain? That I went to kill Embryo, but instead he took my body and mind?”

This is the crux of Jill’s sad story, which there’s no point in concealing from her crew any longer, and it really nicely explains all of her actions and attitudes to this point, helping us see her in a far more sympathetic light. Jill may have been an ace mail-rider and royalty and pilot to Villkiss but she’s still only human, and able to be reprogrammed into submission by her creator, the very same curse that befalls all other humans, mana-using or not.

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This is a fact Embryo wishes to impart onto Ange in no uncertain terms, as he enjoys another cup of tea in Dave Bowman’s 2001 Bedroom as a topless Ange flails about on the floor in rapidly fluctuating states of acute pain, pleasure, and amusement. It’s a sickening scene, like watching one of the replicants in Blade Runner go berserk before blowing up.

This is no longer a battle of wills, but a battle of science. Even if her will continues to resist longer than Jill’s or Salias, Ange’s body and mind will only hold up so long against this punishment. When Embryo leaves her, Salia comes in, pleading with Ange again to go away, for both their sakes.

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Salia isn’t going to excuse what she did to get to where she is. Even if Jill deserved to be betrayed, Salia still chose to do so. She traded her pride, duty, and chastity for pleasure, the illusion of true love, and utter dependence on Embryo, just like Jill. But Salia did this because she felt she had no other choice but death, and she’d be right. Embryo is a repellent slimeball, but he’s all Salia has left. She’s either abandoned or revoked everything else.

They may have had their differences, but deep down Salia has always known that Ange was stronger than her; even the sweating, shambling half-naked wretch at her feet is stronger than her (the bit about ‘without having to transform’ is particularly devastating). In Salia’s self-narrative, Ange has been cast as her nemesis, so it does the heroine no good to see the nemesis in such a pathetic state. She’s not just begging Ange to flee Embryo out of the kindness of her heart, but because she needs Ange to continue to be strong, or all the rest of that fantasy falls apart.

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Salia isn’t brainwashed. She’s just chosen the path that she thought would give her the most happiness, and accepted the steep costs. She hasn’t really even transformed herself: the garb and weaponry and love Embryo showers her with is just another form of cosplay, and Salia remains hidden behind those facades because she fears if they were all torn down there’d be nothing at the core. I hope she’s proven wrong.

Ange thanks Salia for freeing her, and even repays her by putting her in a sleep hold and stealing her uniform, hoping it will lessen Salia’s punishment for letting her get away. I’m not convinced Embryo will be so forgiving to a tool that turned out to be defective.

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Plot and character really went hand-in-hand in this well-composed episode, with the anti-Embryo parties starting to coalesce. Jill gives Hilda command of the Aurora and Libertus; Tusk, Vivian, Roselie, and the rest of the crew are behind her plan to rescue Ange. Ange is able to summon Villkiss and escape with Momoka.

Her escape is covered by Salako, which would be an awfully convenient effect, if it didn’t have such a solid cause: Momoka shows an act of kindness and forgiveness by freeing the battered Riza Randog, who is able to contact her Dragon commander. So nice assist from Momoka, an unsung heroine of the series.

Even if Embryo has control over the bodies and minds of all who oppose him, in the case of Hilda with Jill, Momoka with Riza, and Salia with Ange, the capacity for genuine kindness, forgiveness, and love may be effective weapons against him. But at the end of the day, while his methods repel, Embryo is no entity of pure evil. He too a victim of his own immortality, arrogance, and the belief he must bear the entire weight of the world upon his shoulders.

That means if his creations find a way to really kill him, he may not necessarily resist that chance to be freed from his curse, thus ending obsession with “getting humanity right this time.”

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