Re: Zero – 44 – Prediction of a Happy Future

Lil’ Lia is all alone when Pandora approaches her. With Kugimiya Rie’s soft, sweet yet oddly menacing voice, Pandora begins the mind games, thanking Lia for bringing the key to her at the opportune time. When Lia says she knows of no such key, Pandora goes straight to threatening to “turn over” the forest looking for it. Then Lia says she’ll be the key, and it appears in her hands, though only she can see it.

For all intents and purposes, Lia herself is the key—she always was—and protected as such by being kept in isolation away from the seal she unlocks. But unlike the inanimate object with which she shares a purpose, she’s a key that made a promise to Mother Fortuna. This is when Pandora tells her she must make a choice: keep the promise and invite conflict, or break the promise and resolve “all this” harmoniously.

Pandora makes it clear that should Lia decide to keep her promise, she has a promise of her own: to open the seal by any means necessary. As if rewarding Lia for standing firm, Fortuna returns to her side, thanking her for keeping her promise. I may have faked myself out in believing Fortuna was killed by Pandora off-screen, and that she’s Lia’s biological mom.

She’s neither, and Lia is again referred to as “the Witch’s Daughter”, implying her birth mom is one of the witches. That’s not answered, but suffice it to say Fortuna doesn’t possess the ability to kill Pandora and make it stick; as a witch, Every time she’s struck down, Pandora can resurrect her body instantly, calling into question whether she’s even physically there.

Her witch’s tricks also victimize poor Geuse, who arrives in the nick of time with plans to help Fortuna. It’s important to note that he hasn’t “changed sides” here; his bloodshot eyes simply cause him to see Fortuna as Pandora and Lia as Fortuna, so when he uses his newly acquired Unseen Hands, it is Fortuna who receives the full brunt of the attack, which proves fatal.

As Pandora assures Geuse that his “love was not wrong”, and nor was offering up his soul to save the one he loved. In her last breaths, Fortuna expresses regret for not being able to keep her promise to her sister-in-law, saying she’ll never forgive her. Lia forgives Fortuna in her mother’s place.

Fortuna isn’t dead for five seconds before Pandora says Lia is no longer bound by promises made to a dead woman. Not the most tactful witch, is she?! Lia removes her flower hairclips and replaces them with one of Fortuna’s, which resembles a snowflake. She then interrupts Pandora with a simple “Die”, exploding her with a giant snowflake.

Again and again Lia’s ice magic destroys Pandora’s body in the blink of an eye, and again and again Pandora returns a blink later, telling Lia it’s pointless to continue. As Lia gets more and more upset, her ice magic gets out of control, covering Fortuna, an emotionally wrecked Geuse, everyone in the village, and all of Elinor Forest.

Lia herself becomes encased in ice, and Pandora accepts that she’ll have to wait a bit longer to unlock the seal, but it will happen. Before taking her leave, she touches Lia’s face, removing all memories of their encounter and knowledge of her existence, telling her to “fill the emptiness” however she likes.

Before her breakthrough with Subaru, learning all of this may have broken Emilia, but she accepts everything she’s seen without complaint, or protest, or emotional breakdown. Because she’s able to part with her greatest regret and accepted her past self, she’s completed the first trial, just as Subaru did.

While she regrets she wasn’t strong enough to do more, Emilia is pleased to learn she never broke her promise to her mother to obey Fortuna. She never yielded to Pandora and even forced her to withdraw. She now has her gaze focused on the future, one in which the permafrost is lifted from Elinor and her friends awaken from their deep slumber so they can yell at her.

When (not “if”) that happens, she vows to keep apologizing until they forgive her, so they can all live in the world her mother, Fortuna, and Geuse loved. Echidna can rail against her all she wants about delusions, pushiness, insolence, egotism, selfishness, and hypocrisy, but she can’t deny the effectiveness of Emilia using her mother’s sacrifice as an “excuse” for her resolve, to see that the future she dreams of come true.

Echidna parts ways with Emilia, telling her that while two trials remain, because she’s now “fighting back” they shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Was that a backhanded compliment from someone who claims to despise Lia? I believe it was! With that, Emilia wakes up within the graveyard, still festooned with Subaru’s well wishes. As her eyes fill with tears, Emilia apologizes to her mother, and prepares for the second trial.

Meanwhile, Bilma and Ram help take Shima somewhere where she can rest, now that she’s successfully told Subaru the true purpose of the Sanctuary. Armed with this knowledge, he, Otto, and Garfiel pay another visit to Roswaal, who is again in full makeup and costume; his “war paint”, so to speak. Subie’s glad to see him taking their battle seriously, but brings Otto to point out that the Margrave’s carefully set up game board is already falling apart.

Roswaal doesn’t recognize Otto, because the prophesy in the gospel makes no mention of him. While this irks Otto, it’s actually good, because it meant he could act freely without the bounds of destiny licking at his heels. It was entirely thanks to Otto that Subaru was able to find the backbone he needed for this battle. Subaru and Otto virtually break the fourth wall in musing about a male character playing that role rather than the love interest.

Subaru has brought Otto, as well as the “tamed” Garfiel, to show Roswaal that the writing is on the wall—and he’s not talking about his encouraging messages he left for Emilia. With Roswaal’s game board quickly falling into ruin, Subaru has come to ask for his surrender. He probably won’t get it so easily, but like Pandora asking Emilia to unlock the seal for her, he had to ask!

Re: Zero – 43 – Run Lia Run

From last week’s cliffhanger with Regulus we take a brief detour to a weakening Ryuzu Shima tell Subaru & Co. a tale about her progenitor, Ryuzu Meyer, who lived in the Sanctuary before it was a Sanctuary. There, she met Echidna, Witch of Greed, and her daughter, a young Beatrice.

Meyer endured Beako’s unyielding haughtiness and the two went on to have “quite a heartwarming friendship”. Meyer also met a generations-young Roswaal, whose eyes were the same color back then. Getting down to brass tacks, Shima says the former Sanctuary “collapsed”, and then the true reason for the Sanctuary’s existence came about.

Just when Shima’s story is getting good, we shift back to Emilia’s trial. Considering the trial isn’t even done introducing people, I would’ve probably preferred to pick up where we left off, since Shima’s story and Lia’s past don’t really connect (at least not yet). New to the stage and flanking Regulus is the Witch of Vanity, Pandora, who—surprise, surprise—resembles Echidna, Satella, and Emilia.

Pandora wants the seal, so the Witch’s Cult can “fulfill its long-cherished desire.” Regulus seems to be her muscle, but as always has his own agenda and is an exhausting stickler for “authority” and “permission”. As Fortuna runs off with Lia, Geuse stands his ground and whips out the Witch Factor he was holding onto for just such an occasion.

Apologizing to someone named Flugel-sama, he presses the factor to his heart and undergoes a painful transformation. Pandora grants him the title of Sloth, Geuse uses Unseen Hands to fight Regulus (and puts extra emphasis on “desu!” For the first time).

The resulting stalemate enables Emilia and Echidna to shift to young Lia’s perspective. Fortuna gets her as far away from the fight as she can before entrusting Archi to her care, but not before giving her a loving, tearful goodbye, insisting she loves her like a daughter. Indeed, present-day Lia comes to believe Fortuna is her “real” mother after all, though it’s still not crystal clear if she means biological.

Archi carries a weeping Lia, aiming to leave the forest as Fortuna commanded, but he’s tripped up by the Black Serpent, a plague-bearing mabeast. The wound quickly spreads across his leg, which he amputates and freezes, but the spread doesn’t stop, it only slows. With what time he has left he orders Lia to head to the field of flowers and keep running straight and forward.

Fortuna reunites with Geuse, and the two have a very lovey-dovey moment that tests Regulus’ already virtually non-existent patience for being ignored. When Pandora gently asks him to remain calm, he turns her into a bloody mist.

She returns without a scratch moments later, drives Regulus into the ground, and then uses her ability to rewrite reality itself.  The purpose for Regulus entering the forest has been achieved, so she returns him to his mansion, which also undoes all the wounds he inflicted on Geuse. It’s as if he was never there!

Considering that there’s nothing stopping the witch from turning that terrifying, reality-altering power onto Geuse and Fortuna, their chances feel so much more hopeless against her than Regulus, and yet they won’t run. Protecting Emilia and the Seal is everything, and if they have to die, they’ll die together. Of course, as we know, only Geuse ends up living to encounter the likes of Natsuki Subaru—albeit in a profoundly twisted form.

As for Lil’ Lia, left to her own devices, all the thoughts about everyone hating her and not wanting her around flow back, and she soon becomes lost. This despite the fact that Fortuna, Geuse, and Archi never stopped telling her how loved she is or how good a girl she is. She believes the only way to fix things is to give the pretty witch what she wants: the key. The lesser spirits guide her to the Seal.

When she arrives, Pandora is already there, which indicates not only that Fortuna and Geuse didn’t last long, but that Emilia is the key to the Seal (duh). Moreover, Pandora was expecting Emilia to come to the Seal. The shit has officially hit the fan in this trial…but it’s not over yet.

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 11

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This week is bookended by scenes between Ayato and the girl in his “harem” (at least the harem expressed in the ED) that he perhaps pays the least attention to and has the least interactions with. Claudia seems to savor her brief moments with him, even as they’re interrupted by the other girls. When he has to go to find a lost Saya (who really should have satnav on her phone), he promises to atone for skipping out on Claudia.

But for the second straight week, on his intended path to Saya and Kirin, he encounters the Urzaiz sisters. This time, Priscilla is on the run from some thugs (of course) and Ayato takes her to a rooftop. He saves her so quickly, she forgets to call off her sister, whom she told she was being attacked, and so comes in ready to rumble with whoever happens to be beside Pris.

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Again, however, Priscilla is able to calm Irene, and offers Ayato an invitation to dinner as thanks for his help and for his trouble. Irene angrily complains to the stodgy Le Wolfe’s Dirk Whasisname, who later makes sure via tarot-reading from his aide Corona that the Urzaizs will indeed prevail in the coming battle.

Julis very successfully includes herself in Pris’ invitation, but that turns out to be no problem at all, since neither Pris or Irene are interested in seducing her Ayato, nor are they using the dinner as a ploy to somehow gain intel on their coming matchup. It’s just…a dinner party. And that’s fine!

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Irene even wears a shirt for the occasion! She doesn’t get up, though, and welcomes her guests with a nonchalant “yo”, drawing the ire of her far more mannerly sister. The ice is broken when the food arrives, as Irene loves food, loves Pris, and genuinely appreciates how good a cook her sister is.

Dinner conversation takes a darkish turn when Irene mentions the casino, her primary source of revenue to keep their fam of two afloat. Ayato assumes Festa winnings would be enough, but Dirk garnishes those earnings from her, slowly repaying a huge debt she incurred from him in a time of dire need.

Beholden both to a callous loan shark willing to squeeze her for everything she’s worth, and an Ogre Lux, Gravi-sheath, that transforms her into something even Priscilla fears, if she’s honest, this episode did a nice efficient job of humanizing Ayato and Julis’ next opponents.

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Irene isn’t coy about the mission Dirk has given her, which isn’t to win the Phoenix Festa, but simply to destroy Ayato. He wants to do this sooner rather than later, since he once knew someone else who wielded Ser Veresta. Since the rest of his info on his big sister came from Claudia, I imagine that’s why he wished to meet with her so late at night.

But because he comes on such short notice, Claudia nods off while waiting for him, and her dreams are how her Ogre Lux Pandora take hold of her: she’s experienced death 1,200 times since taking up the weapon, and always a different way. I knew Ayato neglected her, but to know she also suffers this much due to her Ogre Lux – she has even more of my sympathy. Being voiced by Touyama Nao helps, too.

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Claudia only tells Ayato all this because he agrees to be part of her team in the upcoming Gryps Festa. She also gets into how Ogre Luxs, like people, cover the full spectrum of personality traits good to bad.  And one of the worst is Gravi-sheath, which turns Irene into a vicious vampire.

Things seem to be getting worse for her, but what can Irene do? She needs to repay Dirk, and doesn’t believe she can do it without her Lux, even with Pris by her side. In a very nice parting montage that transitions into the ED (which I never ever tire of; it’s so beautiful) we see what’s at stake, from Claudia to Julis and a worried Priscilla to an Irene possessed. Will she have to destroy Ayato, or will another way emerge?

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 06

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This latest episode of ARISE further reinforces the quality that make it by turns engrossing an frustrating: its complexity. The show is to be commended for not compromising its narrative principles or pandering to a lower common denominator. But that rigidness makes it more practical as a binge than stepping in every week, especially when there are a lot of other shows, anime or otherwise, on one’s weekly watchlist. This makes sense, considering this show was originally a series of movies.

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I’d argue the “alternative architecture” was a blessing and a curse to ARISE: while I feel it might be more cohesive and easier to follow in its previous format, without airing as television broadcast, I would have never been exposed to it to begin with. That being said, its translated structure lends a certain uniqueness that can’t be ignored.

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I also have to commend ARISE for not holding back in the action department, though I do wish quieter scenes could have been animated with as great care as said action scenes were composed. The amazing stunts Kusanagi & Co. pull off as if it’s just another day at the office really pull me in and make me feel comfortable, despite the fact there’s a bit too much AI in the world being portrayed to be too comfortable.

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But yeah, this week things get very complex indeed, with the operation to retrieve colonel’s module being hamstrung by an illusory world before Kusanagi can break free, and is then saved by her new ally VV, whom I described as the CIA equivalent of Kusanagi. They work well together; as well as I imagine Kusanagi and Batou would work together if they weren’t on opposite sides for most of this episode.

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This complex scene of Kusanagi, Batou, Paz and VV all trying to get the upper hand on each other best illustrates the attention to detail and creativity of the direction. Not to mention, this is a show where many characters don’t have flesh-and-blood bodies, and thus can take quite a bit more punishment, not to mention lose a limb or two and keep on tickin’.

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The plot is even more complex than the action, but boils down the Colonel, Ishikawa, Batou, and everyone else in their unit being infected with fales memories of a humanitarian mission, when they were actually confronted with guerillas.

The Colonel takes his life so he can’t be used by whomever infected him to cause any more harm. Batou wouldn’t mind keeping memories that portrayed him as something other than a “dog trained to kill”, even if they’re fake. Kusanagi’s response is both cold and accurate: he’s a whiny bitch.

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As for the final twist: VV, who had helped Kusanagi up until now, was in actuality an AI infected with false memories that allowed her to masquerade as a human, who won’t rest until she’s found out why; ironically one of the more human compulsions for self-discovery and validation for one’s existence.

Unfortunately, achieving her goal would mean throwing the world into more political turmoil than it’s already in, so she’s gunned down. It’s certainly an unexpected twist—almost too unexpected—but I appreciated the guts of the show to take things one step deeper.

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Even if the mastermind behind the insidious false memory-producing virus remains at large, thanks to Kusanagi and her variably loyal (looking at you, Saito) fledgling unit, Pandora wasn’t fully unleashed to the world and Japan is safe for another week.

In a common problem in anime, Kusanagi needs to recruit more members for her club or its registration will be revoked, so she reaches out to another one of the bes tin the business, Batou, with an enticing offer: to let him feel like more than a trained killing dog…without the aid of false memories.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 05

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In our next arc, Kusanagi has yet to form her “best defense is a good offense” unit, but has to react to a new threat in which another disgraced colonel is using city-wide Domination to control nearly all of the city’s 20 million vehicles, thus holding their occupants hostage, while he works to air all of the Japanese military’s dirty laundry to the world. Clearly, the public story of what happened in Qhardistan differes from what really happened.

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It’s an episode in which a lot of the mundance automation technology both the people of Japan and Kusanagi herself take for granted is suddenly all messed up. Luckily for Motoko, an older-model motorcycle passes her by when he late model slows down and refuses to respond to her inputs, and one of her many badass moments of this week, she manages to maneuver the bike into and through a delivery van trying to take out Logicoma (whose memory apparently contains incriminating data). Oh, and Batou’s driving the van. I guess these two still aren’t quite friends yet, huh?

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It’s on to the next badass moment, as Motoko and her comparatively pint-sized Logicoma have to take on not one but two heavy-duty military mechas that would like nothing else than to take her out. She seems to be in a bad way when all of a sudden an ally leaps out of the shadows and disables the enemy mechs.

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This ally, code named “VV”, looks like the American equivalent of Kusanagi, and wants to assist her in locating and deactivating or destroying Colonel Soga’s means of hacking the city’s systems and prevent Pandora from being opened, as such an action would likely cause problems for America’s government as well. VV’s arrival inspires Kusanagi to finally assemble her team; one member by gunpoint (Saito), another who volunteers (Pazu).

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But in the middle of their op, once they successfully infiltrate the suspected enemy base, Kusanagi herself is trapped in a mental construct of Soga’s making. He knows she’s after him, and warns her she won’t succeed in stopping him from carrying out his mission. Soga is certainly a tech whiz, and may even have a good reason for doing what he’s doing; a reason Kusanagi can relate to. But her first loyalty is to the state, and despite this initial setback I expect her to give Soga a run for his money.

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