GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 15

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GARO has never been shy about shuffling off to a totally different story in its world when it feels the urge to. The serial tale of the Makai knights’ struggle against evil has always gone hand and hand with the smaller but still interesting stories of the people they’re protecting. Episodes like this are successful when they find a way to tie the two together. In this case, without meaning to, the common folk’s activities provide another lesson for the Prince Alfie, still young and learning what it means to rule.

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I won’t blame you for not remembering the blacksmith Julio, who had dealings with Herman and Leon and whose dad Sergi (or Jordi, depending on the subs) became a horror and had to be killed. But even if I hadn’t looked back at my older reviews, I’d have recalled him, and I’m glad they brought him back rather than making new characters. We know this kid’s history, and why he’s so determined to build his own Golden Knight; not just so he and his can protect themselves, but be able to help out the real knight.

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I will say, however, that the trial-and-error quality of developing the suit gets a little repetitive, and the sophistication of the technology employed strains credulity quite a bit (the Makai knights’ clearly supernatural armor). I simply don’t buy that elbow grease and some pig iron are capable of building a mobile suit in what is clearly a pre-industrial time period.

It’s also hard not to see this as filler, especially when our main characters get so little time. That being said, the show seems intent to tell us other stories precisely because Leon and Alfie are both kind of in holding patterns. Leon’s one scene with Lara is nice, but it doesn’t provide anything new; these two like each other, but Leon is transient. There’s also something awesome about the prince’s uncle sneaking into the palace through a window just for the hell of it…but it’s hardly substantial stuff.

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In the second half, things pick up when a widow visits the workshop with tales of a monster prowling their farmland. Time to test the anachronistic suit! And despite having, delicate, perishable pig intestines for hydraulic hoses, the suit holds up pretty well…though they’re not actually dealing with a horror, but a big bear made bigger and scarier by the light of the moon.

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Herman and Alfie just happened to be passing by this battle, and Herman is able to step in at the last minute when it seem’s the mecha’s pilot Bruno is about to be blown up with it. The lesson to Alfie is that the people he is sworn to protect are not helpless—indeed, in the ways of the world, they are far stronger—so it’s important not to see them as merely sheep to be tended.

As royalty and a Makai knight, maintaining and protecting the realm is a collaborative effort with his people. They can take care of themselves by and large, but it’s crucial he be there in case whenever they’re in a pinch.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 14

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90% of last week’s episode was given over to Leon’s rebirth into a simple life of working the land. This week it’s Prince Alfie’s turn to get the lion’s share of the episode, and while his adventures have nowhere close to the emotional impact as Leon’s, it’s still a respectable, if episodic, romp.

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Exhausted by the ample rigors of being the Golden Knight and a prince being groomed for the throne, Alfie gives his portrait artist the slip and hides inside a wagon that just happens to be robbed while on the road, and its young driver is tied up and thrown in the back with him.

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Leon continues to enjoy the company of the fair Lara (voiced by Aiba Madoka, her first role, and a damn good one) and Emma happens to cross paths (it’s probably more like Emma was looking for him.) Emma confirms Leon is okay, tells him Alfie is okay, and they part ways. Short and sweet, but it’s good to know Lara is going to be around more than one episode.

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When the thieves arrive at their abandoned (and haunted) castle hideout, Alfie reveals himself and asks them to surrender, but not only does Herman appear on the balcony, but the Juliet to the tied up guy Mauro’s Romeo; in love with each other, but with feuding families.

Mauro tells tales of Count Juste—the castle’s former lord, whom Alfie always idolized as a great knight—coming home to find his wife Isabelle had become a witch, and killed her. Alfie assumes Uncle Herman came to address a potential horror infestation in the castle. The fact that Herman knows nothing about the curse and merely came to collect white lilies for his new lady friend Himena, the romantic bastard.

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When night falls, Fana springs Mauro from the dungeon, but get cornered by guards, and happen upon a hidden passage that leads to the room where Horror-Juste and Isabelle remain in their deadly embrace.

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Juste takes Fana for his new bride, but Horror-Roland (Juste’s rival for Isabelle’s heart) possesses Fana’s dad, and the two start to fight in Horror Mode. Yes, there’s a lot going on here; not all of it necessary, but the detailed story is surprisingly easy to follow along.

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Since these guys are horrors, that means Herman and Alfie can actually fight them. Lo and behold, they’re both complete pushovers, though when Juste is about to drain poor Fana of all her blood, his face opens up to reveal a gruesome face that wouldn’t be out of place in Parasyte. Herman takes out Roland, Leon takes out Juste, and Mauro reaches out and catches a falling Fana, cushioning her landing.

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In the end, Mauro and Fana, who we don’t really care that much about, end up together (who knew the Garo Knights were yentas?), Alfie has a little adventure away from his palace, along with some exercise, and Herman has to look somewhere else for white flowers for Himena. Nothing super-consequential, but stylish and witty as always, and thus still enjoyable.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 13

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Prince Alfonso buries his mother and starts the long process of rebuilding his country, Herman makes a friend in the lady who was doing laundry back during his extended streak session, and Emma is the only one looking for Leon, though even Garm doesn’t know what’s become of him.

Leon, meanwhile, is lying in a riverbank, near death after his plunge into that gorge. He is no longer keeper of Garo nor Zaruba’s partner. He’s just Leon again. Having failed miserably in the world of demons and dark magic and fantasy, what he needs is a good dose of reality, which is exactly what he gets thanks to his savior, a farmgirl named Lara.

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When Lara brings Leon home and nurses him back to health, his first words to her are “Why did you save me?” when they should have been “Thank you.” Lara’s dimiutive but tough-as-steel grandmother puts an end to his pity-party right then and there: if they hadn’t saved him, he would have died on their land and they’d have had to waste time tending to his body, and time is the farmers’ enemy.

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This is a strange new world for Leon, whose former life had been pretty transient and action-packed. Here, it’s quiet, calm, boring, but the onions have to be planted and the firewood collected and the irrigation canal fixed before the ice comes. There are debts to be paid to the lord, and that Lara’s father was killed by wolves doesn’t change the fact they need a good harvest to pay them off.

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Leon watches these farmers, and the kinda and lovely Lara in particular, as if they were some kind of exotic animal. When he asks her how she can stand this unending routine of drudgery, and whether she ever dreamt of leaving and living a different life, she states simply that this is her father’s land, and it’s up to her to keep tending it. She isn’t the kind of person to abandon her mother and grandparents for her own selfish dreams. But in any case she seems to like her life just fine, and it’s been made a lot more interesting by the traveler’s arrival.

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Once Leon is strong enough, the grandpa gives him the shovel so he can take a breather (the episode is full of close-ups accentuating just how hard the elderly characters are working). Leon is understandably terrible at this non-combat manual labor, and Gramps shows him how, making it look easy. But it dawns on Leon as he sleeps beneath the full moon: nothing here is easy, but nor is it pointless, and he can be of help.

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The highlight of the episode is, surprisingly, a montage, but a truly powerful one, set to a bold, epic piece of soaring orchestral music that calls to mind the work of Joe Hisaishi (the whole episode has a distinct Ghibli vibe to it, for that matter.) It sounds like a determined march to a tough battle, only the enemies are nature, the elements, and time, and the weapons shovels, hoes, axes, and elbow grease. This really is a new world for Leon, but takes up these arms all the same and fights beside Lara and her family.

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And they are victorious, completing the canal before the ice comes, giving the family a chance at that good harvest. This was just one battle, but the war Lara and the farmers are fighting is unending. Now Leon can answer his own question from back when Lara first saved him: it was as if fate had brought Leon to Lara’s lands so she could restore his health, and in turn he helped them rebuild the canal and save their crops. They saved each other.

More enticing still, Leon doesn’t say farewell and leave by the end of the episode. Is Garo not quite done with this new, good-honest-labor setting for Leon? Will Lara continue to play a role in this second cour? In both cases, I hope so.

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Back in Santa Bard, Nuncle Herman assists his nephew the prince with a nasty-looking leftover horror from a Giger sketchbook, before considering hitting up a brothel or two, but his “butterflies” euphamism soars right over dear sheltered Alfonso’s head. The Herman/Alfie dynamic is a nice one, and while both are worried about what’s become of Leon, they know only he can help himself now.

I kinda wish Alfie hadn’t retained Mendoza’s closest confidant, and connected the dots that she was the one keeping his father ill. But that’s a classic rookie prince mistake, and I’m sure it won’t be his first.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 12

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Last week, our brave, valiant, devoted young Makai knights, brothers in blood as well as calling, stood shoulder-to-shoulder against Mendoza and his partially-summoned beast, poised to teach the bad guy a valuable lesson about going up against good. But then Mendoza got Leon to focus on him, took him into his clutches…and pretty much ruined him forever. I didn’t see that coming, I’ll tell you that right now!

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Overcome by grief, pain and rage over vivid imagery of his mother dying (courtesy of Mendoza’s magic), Leon loses control and transforms into a terrifying beast. Mendy made it so that it’s as if Leon never left those flames his mother was being roasted in when she birthed him, and the flames that protrude from the Berserk-Garo cause significant damage and death to the city.

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Obviously Leon didn’t mean for things to go this far, but the fact remains he has to be stopped, one way or another. Herman is too injured to do it, so it falls to Alphonso, who hasn’t let Mendoza get close and still has full control of his faculties and his armor. You know your final battle isn’t going well when you have to allocate significant time and energy to taking out your own ally before he destroys the city you’re supposed to be protecting!

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Alfie manages to kick Leon out of the Garo armor at a very high altitude. Emma saves Leon by cushioning his fall with a soft, fluffy stone column. By this time, Mendoza’s pet is fully formed and ready to complete the work Leon inadvertently started.

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Alfie needs to make a choice quick, and makes it, taking Leon’s sword, donning the armor of the Golden Knight himself, and going after Mendoza and the beast. All a dazed Leon can do is watch his prized armor he worked so hard for move and fight without him. All because he let Mendoza get too close, and continued to harbor thoughts of anger, hatred, and revenge – which even Mendoza correctly asserted were piss-poor motivations for a Makai Knight, any way you slice it.

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Mendoza doesn’t get any lengthy farewell speeches, however, nor does his face contort very dramatically, before the very horror he summoned swallows him up and is then sliced clean in half by Alfie-Garo. The scourge of Valiante is gone…but sadly, so are Leon’s days as a Makai Knight.

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He says he did ‘nothing’, but that’s not true…he burned much of the city and probably killed a lot of people, and wouldn’t have stopped had Alfie not forced him out of his armor. I must say, that’s a heck of a bitter pill to give one of your heroes to swallow in the penultimate episode.

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The hero-ship basically passed from Leon, who utterly failed, to Prince Alfonso, who is welcomed back to the palace with open, happy arms. Unfortunately, one of his first actions upon returning is to go to his mother, who committed suicide rather than serve as Mendoza’s hostage.

In the heat of the moment the previous night, Alfie cursed Leon as a useless weakling, a coward, and above all, a great disappointment…but he knows that if his own mother hadn’t sacrificed herself, he might well have gone the exact same path as Leon.

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Mind you, just because Mendoza had ammo against Leon and used it doesn’t completely vindicate Leon; the fact remains his actions were motivated by the wrong reasons for someone wishing to be a Makai Knight. He was wrong, and that wrongness accelerated his downfall. At the end we see him alone, with no more means to fight nor anything to fight for.

To him, that means there’s nothing to live for either, so he prepares to toss himself off a cliff. Seems to me like a perfect time for Emma to show up with her magic thread! Not to mention, back at Santa Bard, Octavia is ostensibly still lurking.

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Akame ga Kill! – 24 (Fin)

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As the big let down that was Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle demonstrated, it’s rare for a long-running series to field a finale that delivers on virtually all of its promises and potential. But Akame ga Kill! succeeded everywhere Chaika failed miserably,  pulling out all the stops for an ending worthy of the excellence that preceded it.

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Akame v. Esdeath was being billed as one for the ages, and in this it did not disappoint, from the moment a surrounded Esdeath seals scores of Revolutionary troops in a jagged ice wall, forming an arena in which to tangle with the raven-haired wielder of Murasame.

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The show could really take its time and do things right with this battle because it so painstakingly took care of everything else on its sizable plate, along with killing off most of the cast. Everything we’ve seen of Akame and Esdeath in combat is brought to the table here, along with a lot of new moves and counter-moves, and it’s just fantastic to see these two go at it like no one on the show has quite gone at it before. There’s the feeling that everything has naturally escalated up to this level.

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When she realizes she won’t be able to defeat Esdeath without her trump card, Akame uses it, merging further with Masamune to increase her speed and power to even more ridiculous levels; a testament to just how tough a customer Esdeath is. Esdeath has basically merged with the soul of a terrifying danger beast and the two share unending bloodlust out of a desire to destroy the weak – all the week.

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The deaths of ‘livestock’ mean nothing to Esdeath, but they mean everything to Akane. Masamune has remembered every life she’s taken, and while the weight of those deaths on her shoulders is considerable, it also gives her the strength she needs to fight not just on Esdeath’s level, but above it.

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Esdeath will always be weaker, because she doesn’t understand and thus can’t properly utilize the weight of the death and destruction she causes. Akame works for the good guys, but she’s not necessarily a good guy herself, just a necessary evil in a world where foes like Esdeath threaten peace and won’t stop killing unless they’re killed.

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A lot of Esdeath’s early confidence in the fight is knowing she can lean on her Makahadoma to freeze Akame if things get that serious. She even says it’s the second time she’s had to use it; the first being to defeat Susanoo. But she’s so confident it will work just as well against Akame, she doesn’t consider the possibility that Makahadoma is exactly what Akame wants her to do.

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Esdeath doesn’t realize this until it’s too late, the Akame before her is merely an afterimage, and the real one is coming down upon her with the full force of her blade. The certainty that Esdeath would use Makahadoma proves to be her downfall.

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After that, Esdeath is not only an arm short, but also mortally wounded from throat to hip, and she concedes defeat. She is not upset; by her own lifelong code, she deserves to die for being the weaker one. If anything, she’s glad it’s something else she can share with Tatsumi, whose body has been lying nearby all along. Before Akame can stop her, Esdeath embraces him and surrounds herself with ice and shatters, in just the latest in a series of gorgeous deaths.

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In their last talk, Akame tells Esdeath about how she draws strength from taking responsibility for the lives she’s taken, but she just can’t understand. And yet, Esdeath loved Tatsumi, something else she couldn’t understand, but still accepted.

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With Esdeath now diamond dust, the Empire really is done. Wave and Run aren’t going to fight for it anymore, and Minister Onest is scurrying through the palace like a rat until cornered by Leone. When he uses his Imperial Arms to destroy hers, I thought “Uh-oh…now he’s going to inject himself with something and become a ferocious beast-man.” Fortunately, I was wrong! He takes out a gun a gun! — and simply shoots her with what looks like small-caliber shot.

But Leone, born and raised in/by the slums, is a tough cookie, Imperial Arms or not, and gives Onest the death that, if I’m honest, I always wanted for him: getting his face smashed in by her bare hands. It’s gruesome, undignified, and downright icky, and underlines the fact that Night Raid are vicious killers too, but the difference being they kill for something other than themselves.

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As Leone later says her goodbyes to Akame (Onest shot her ten times in the abdomen), we also see that the ‘something’ Night Raid has fought for — a peaceful land free of the corruption and bloodshed of Onest and Esdeath — isn’t something they’ll be able to partake in. Leone ignores the calls from the townsfolk asking her to join them for a drink. Instead, she finds a dark alley to lie down in and die with a smile on her face, knowing she’ll be with the others soon. Night Raid gets a different kind of peace.

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With Esdeath and Onest gone, all that’s left is for the Rebellion to take one last life: that of the young, naive Emperor. It’s fitting and very nice of the show to give the lad as clean and dignified and honorable death by guilloutene as Onest’s was dirty and pathetic. The Emperor holds his head high until it’s lowered into the stock as the entire capital watches, while Onest died in the dark bowels of the castle, his killer the only witness to his end.

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Najenda, along with Wave and Run, take up new posts in the New Kingdom (who is actually ruling isn’t made clear yet). After all, those who remember the horrors of the war that brought them this Kingdom are well-equipped to stand and protect it from those who would threaten it again. But Akame leaves the capital, keeping the lives she’s taken on her shoulders. Her work isn’t done, and it will never be done as long as she’s alive, and there is no other course for her.

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The episode also ends with one last stirring hurrah with a booming narrator talking about everything Night Raid did…and how history will not remember any of it. They were assassins, killers, working in the shadows, doing dirty work for a clean world. They’ll have no honors or monuments or even songs or stories sung or written about them, ever…but what they did have was each other, and that was enough.

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In the post-credits epilogue, Akame continues her duty, facing those who would destroy the progress made, both burdened and fueled by the ones she killed before. She’s not with Leone, Mine, Sheele, Bulat, Chelsea, Lubbock, Kurome, and Tatsumi…yet, but one day she will be. Until then, she has work to do.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 11

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One could say the Makai Council created a monster when they marked Mendoza for life. They should have just killed him and saved a lot of trouble (and lives). Mendoza then went on to create a monster of his own with Bernardo. This week we get the rest of the story of what happened to Bernie as he fights Herman in the present, which is a much more interesting and satisfying story than Mendoza, who was pretty much always an irredeemable shit.

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Bernie wasn’t. He just got seduced by the Dark Side, so to speak. As a Makai Knight he swore to protect the people, but all he got for his duty was persecution by those very people. Anna insisted that turning the other cheek was also their duty, but cornered in the city, with Anna and Roberto still in trouble, Bernie chooses to protect them. He won’t sacrifice his friends, and especially Anna, whom he always seemed to have a thing for, just to protect the scum before him.

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He kills dozens of guardsmen, but ends up pretty gravely hurt himself, and probably should have died right then and there, having disgraced his oath, even if for a good cause. But Mendoza watched him fight, and restored his body with dark magic, and told him to join him, with the philosophy that people shouldn’t be protected; they should be ruled.

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Herman’s repsonse to all this is to call Bernie a “stupid idiot”, though perhaps that’s not quite harsh enough an insult; Herm could learn a lot from Captain Haddock! In any case, he agrees with me that Bernie should have died on that night and not lived on in darkness and disgrace, and so they go at in in one hell of a quick but visually impressive knight-on-knigh battle.

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They eventually fight each other into exhaustion, losing their armor and ending up in heaps on the ground. Bernie uses one of many dirty tricks to stab Herm in the chest, but that’s after Herm threw a knife a long way away, which makes its way back…into Bernie’s back. The mortal wound seems to bring the old Bernie back, who is glad Herman survived that awful night, and asks about Anna. Herm tells his old friend she’s safe, which I suppose is true if the afterlife is safe!

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It’s a pretty good death with an air of redemption and forgiveness to it; an end I’m practically certain is not in store for our low-pitched pal Mendoza. As Herm and Bernie were fighting, Leon and Alfie infiltrated Mendoza’s underground lair. I didn’t say anything about it because it wasn’t that interesting. But once they find him, he’s summoning a particularly nasty looking horror from Makai.

Insufferable bastard that he is, Mendoza is still an immensely powerful fellow, and far more experienced than these two kids. But then again, as the face of the Makai Order’s future, this is their time to prove they’re worthy of their armor. They’ve got to get it done.

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Akame ga Kill! – 23

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With just Wave and Run still standing between Night Raid and Onest and the Emperor, AGK!’s milieu has become a much smaller and lonelier. But Wave is, er…wavering, and we already know Run’s designs. Also, this is the last two episodes, so it’s good there aren’t too many people milling around. It was also fairly certain someone would die…but who?

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After one final Night Raid mission briefing, Tatsumi, Akame and Leone blow right into the ornate but flimsily-constructed Imperial Palace, and none of the guards put up much of a fight. But they’re not here to fight grunts or kill unnecessarily.

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The guards won’t stand down until Run himself dismisses them. While he’s all for rebellion, he wants it done bloodlessly, from within, or something. Sorry Run, the ship has sailed on that! Still, he bars their path, but Leone is able to occupy him enough to let Tatsumi and Akame slip past and head to the throne room. This is it!

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With just a handful of palace guards around Onest and the Emperor, this looks like it’s going to be a cinch, but of course, it isn’t. Night Raid and the Jaegers may have had their Imperial Arms, but through the puppet Emperor, Onest has THE Imperial Arm: Shikotazer. Trump-cardier and trump-cardier…

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Backed into a corner and with the rebellion literally at the base of the throne, Onest directs the boy to harden his heart and assert his authority through force. Shikotazer rises from the wreckage of the shoddily-built palace, possessing the ‘Power of God’, which is to say the atom, apparently, and starts firing devastating (though hopefully not radioactive) volleys all over his own beautiful capital, burning and killing hundreds. Nice job, kid.

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Onest’s hold on the kid is as ironclad as Shikotazer’s armor, and Tatsumi is soon overwhelmed, but then Wave shows up, having made up his mind. Actually, pretty sure Onest made it for him by attacking innocent people. Wave is a soldier, and soldiers protect the weak. Even if the Emperor is a lost cause, I’m glad Wave ended up on the right side. Though man, he sure ‘saw no evil, heard no evil’ for a long time!

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The Emperor begs Tatsumi and Wave to give up (not sure why, since he’s fine blowing everything and everyone else up), but Tatsumi obviously perists, driven by his desire not to let those he’s lost down: Sayo and Ieyasu; Sheele, Bulat, Chelsea, Lubbock, and Mine. They all died so Tatsumi could be here and finish the job.

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He awakens a new stage of Incursio, golden and winged, and blasts a hole through Shikotazer’s weakest spot, blowing numerous holes in his own body in the process. His wounds are made worse and ultimately fatal by his final selfless act: slowing the descent of the defeated juggernaut to save a group of bystanders frozen in terror.

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Akame is not happy that Tatsumi breaks his promise not to die, but she just doesn’t understand how death flags work. She also isn’t aware of the title of the show she’s in, because this isn’t Tatsumi ga Kill!. The final battle was always going to involve Akame, and her opponent will be Esdeath, no doubt just as pissed off about Tatsumi dying…if he’s really dead…which he probably is.

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