Vanitas no Carte – 07 – What Is Love? Oh Domi Don’t Hurt Me…

While not a lot happens from a plot perspective this week, quite a bit of the steadily simmering love rhombus that is Jeanne, Vanitas, Domi and Noé comes into focus. This rude, selfish, annoying human has caused quite a stir in these three vampires’ hearts.

When Luca treats Noé and the others to tarte tatin at a fancy restaurant Vanitas reveals that Jeanne has “marked” him—imbuing him with some of her power while also leaving a literal rose-shaped mark on his neck. While he initially jokes that she couldn’t contain her lust for him, he then admits that the screams of the curse-bearers caused her to lose control.

Jeanne lifts him up and jumps out the window with him, landing in a dark alley demanding to know why he lied. The reality is that she is a curse-bearer who keeps herself under control with a medicine. She begs Vanitas not to tell anyone, and he gives her two conditions that underscore his genuine affection for her.

First, he insists that henceforth she drink no one’s blood but his. Second, he insists she stop calling him “Human” and start calling him by his name. Pulling his collar open to reveal her mark, she says his name as she digs her fangs back into his neck, unable to resist his sweet, sweet blood—even if the vessel of that blood’s a complete cad.

Noé, who felt compelled to chase after them, watches Jeanne bicker with Vanitas from the rooftops; it’s quite evident that he’s jealous of her closeness to him, even if he himself is to inexperienced in such things to realize this. One person who does realize it is Domi, who catches up to her Mon Chéri, but is clearly distressed when he mentions how troubled he was to hear that Jeanne sucked Vanitas’ blood.

He later elaborates that he just wanted to taste that sweet blood first, and Domi works out her frustration with him by gnawing on him, but their embrace gradually becomes more intimate when she drinks from his neck, only for him to gently slip off her glove and drink from her hand, noting that her blood is delectable. So is this scene, gorgeously lit as it is by the setting sun.

Since both guy-gal pairs had their steamy scenes, it’s only fair that the two pairs switch off for the final act, in which the dashing Domi leads Jeanne in a courtyard dance while Noé leads Vanitas in another. It’s here where Noé asks Vanitas “what in the devil is love”, to which Vanitas replies he has no idea.

All Vanitas knows is that when he thinks of Jeanne, his heart races and his body trembles. He lists all the reasons he believes those bodily reactions mean love, and none of them are more important than the fact that Jeanne will never love him, as he has “zero interest” in the sort of person who would love him. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Noé then, huh?!

As it stands, Vanitas loves Jeanne, Noé is growing to love Vanitas, Domi loves Noé, and Jeanne is strangely drawn to Vanitas. All these beautiful sexy people are all stirred up in a big romantic goulash. It’s sublime. It’s even enough for me to not particularly care how the plot progresses—except insofar as how it affects these four characters’ relationships.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 06 – His Lordship’s Guests

We learn the amorphous distorted-voiced monster isn’t named Charlatan, but is someone named Naenia who is merely part of Charlatan, when Noé is broken out of his jam by Vanitas, while Luca is protected by a no-longer-thirsty Jeanne.

The three-monster team of Charlatan decides to skedaddle before “The Queen’s Fangs” show up, and Domi rips her dress to provide protection for Vanitas while he deals with the remaining curse-bearers in the palace. One of them, a young girl, is to far gone, and Vanitas has to turn her to ash.

Here little old me I thought Domi was flamboyant; turns out she’s scared shitless of her big sister Veronica, who is the aforementioned Queen’s Fangs. Easily wearing three times her mass in fabric and a black fox mask, she unilaterally decides that the stinky mortal Vanitas is responsible for this fiasco, and decides to literally put him on ice.

Nothing and nobody can stop her and her crazy eyes…except the timely arrival of one Lord Ruthven, who cracks her mask with one tap of his pimp cane, then chides her for such an “unbecoming show of power.” Just like there’s always a bigger fish, there’s always a stronger vampire, huh?

Ruthven is ready to dispense some quick justice upon the on-ice Vanitas for turning the little girl into ash, but Noé comes between them and calls Ruthven out for not knowing remotely the whole story. Rather than angry, Ruthven is amused, but also chastened by the young buck.

He introduces himself a a member of the Senate in service of the Queen, then melts the ice to free Vanitas. But after his ordeal with Naenia and the attack from a Veronica who was not holding back, Noé finally collapses from exhaustion.

In his dream Noé’s tucked into bed, holding the hand of his Teacher, and curses himself for forcing his hopes and ideals upon Vanitas and feeling betrayed when he didn’t live up to them. The Teacher clarifies the mission he bestowed upon his student: not to determine if the book of Vanitas is a threat, but to meet those whose paths cross it, and judge it on his own terms—terms in which the Teacher clearly trusts.

When Noé wakes up he finds Vanitas perched atop a clock tower like a gargoyle, sulking. When Noé mentions how sometimes Vanitas looks like he’s “given up on something”, Vanny pulls a knife on him and says he wants nothing to do with him. Noé comes back by saying he’s never remotely liked him.

But as the sun rises between them, Vanita’s anger turns to more brooding, and Noé, feeling like he just might understand his companion a bit more, gives Vanitas a cool smile and says he’ll be remaining by his side for the time being. This comes as no surprise, as we know someday Noé will kill Vanitas…or will he?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 05 – Getting to Noé You

Charlatan takes hold of Noé and instigates a trip into his memories; specifically, back to when “Teacher” (not “Master”) brought Noé to live with his two grandchildren, Louis and Dominique in a mansion not too dissimilar from Bocchan’s. The siblings quickly become his first and dearest friends. The three of them, in turn, befriend four kids from the nearby village.

We’ve seen flashes aplenty of Louis—though I assumed she was a girl due to being voiced by one—but here we finally meet the kid, who while withdrawn and aloof does find comfort and even occasional joy in both Domi and Noé’s constant company. The three are inseparable, even sharing a bed during a thunderstorm, and during the blue moon the Teacher seems to indicate to Louis that he brought Noé there to raise him to eventually befriend someone like Vanitas.

That’s key, as Louis is isolated because he is a curse-bearer-in-waiting. He believes Dominique was born to replace him as the heir to the de Sade clan. Things take a turn for the super-dark when one of their village friends is scheduled to be executed, but goes berserk, leading to Louis beheading her to save Noé and Domi. However shitty his situation, he never blamed his sister and adpotive brother for it.

But when Louis himself succumbed to the curse, the Teacher steps in to behead him—right in front of Noé, who could not do what Louis wished and kill him himself. Left with nothing but a chest full of hand-carved stakes, Noé falls in despair for not being strong enough to save Louis or even put him out of his misery.

It’s Noé’s misery and regret upon which Charlatan feeds and tightens its hold on him, ready to curse him as he did Louis. And after reliving his tragic past, Noé definitely seems to be in a bad way…until Vanitas, having not been sucked dry by Jeanne—and possibly even made stronger by her drink—arrives just in time to disperse Charlatan and rescue his new friend Noé.

While lengthy flashbacks can sap present momentum, in this case it feltjustified, as we lacked the full emotional context of Noé’s relationships and motivations. We learn how close he got to Louis and how that made him reluctant to get too close to Vanitas. We see how adorable and sweet Domi was (Kayano Ai is so good at voicing the younger, more innocent versions of her characters), but how Louis’ fate and her family’s plan transformed her.

Finally, we understand why the Teacher sent Noé to befriend Vanitas, as the Teacher seems to be the rare vampire who understands the true value of those born under the blue moon. But then if Vanitas can save the vampires from the curses of Charlatan, why is Noé destined to kill him? Is that the Teacher’s ultimate plan for him, or does it just…happen? For that, we’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 04 – No Time to Be Choosy

After a pretty but clinical infodump about how the exploration of “World Formula Theory” led to the alternate coal known as astermite, the alternate Paris known as Altus, and the alternate humans known as vampires, we get something a lot hotter and heavier, as Domi offers Noé the blood in her neck and Noé does not refuse it with a boyish blush, but goes in and drunks deep.

Domi probably preferred that Vanitas was on the other side of the wagon door when Noé fed on her, as in the middle of the masquerade ball, she manages to separate Vanitas from Noé and locks him in her sadist torture chamber. She wants to know what he’s really doing with her Noé. Far from frightened by all the spikes and chains, Vanitas is wearing his usual fox-like smirk, loving every minute of this.

Rather than spook him, Domi’s heavy handed tactics inspire him to declare who he is, what he is, and what he plans to do with all the vampire bigwigs at the ball, adding that he looks forward to them experiencing the humiliation of being saved by a human who inherited the name and book of the Blue Moon vampire.

His impromptu speech does not go over well, with Domi’s sister Veronica ordering him killed. But in just an instant the chandelier upon which he was perched falls to the dance floor, and Vanitas is whisked away in a princess carry by Jeanne, following her master Luca’s wishes to meet Vanitas and Noé again.

Unfortunately neither Vanitas doesn’t just have angry, rich, murderous vamps to worry about: Charlatan has crashed the ball in tripartite form, turning numerous vamps into curse-bearers and basically setting up a gift-wrapped scenario in which Vanitas can prove his haughty boasts by healing the bearers. With Noé busy protecting Luca from Charlatan, Vanitas has a little room to work.

He also has Jeanne, who is extremely hungry, and acting suspiciously like a curse-bearer, though not all veiny and demonic like the others. Needing muscle to back him up in Noé’s absence and with no other convenient necks around, Vanitas decides to conduct a new experiment on himself by allowing Jeanne to suck his blood.

She warns him her fangs may be the death of him, but he repeats his claim to have fallen for her, and bids her bon appetit. If Noé drinking Domi’s blood was steamy, Jeanne drinking Vanita’s is downright smoldering, aided by the otherworldly pinks, purples, and reds of Altus.

Jeanne takes a brief pause, but then goes back to Vanitas’ neck for seconds, and he declares that “this isn’t half bad.” Let it never be said Vanitas can’t be sexy as hell right after being goofy as hell!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 03 – Blood Laid Bare

Vanitas looks like he was in trouble when he was up against Jeanne the Hellfire Witch, but he employs his usual boisterousness to buy sufficient time for Thomas Berneux paralysis to wear off so he attacks Jeanne for him. Then, with his associates and a neutralized Jeanne, and Orlok’s butler and maid bearing witness, transforms Berneux back into a human.

After that Vanitas turns his attention to Jeanne, who insists she can still fight. He then employs another gambit: having Noé nab Luca and cover his mouth, making it look like he’s a hostage. Vanitas revels in his correct assessment that Luca is Jeanne’s weakness, then wall-slams and kisses her in her weakened state which, well…kissing people who can’t physically resist you ain’t cool!

At least it’s not supposed to be cool; everyone makes it plain Vanitas is a big ol’ jerk. He’s definitely a rascal; you could also call him a scoundrel and I doubt anyone would complain. As for Berneux, he doesn’t last long in his restored human state, as he’s seemingly killed by the one who turned him into a curse bearer to begin with.

Back at Orloks, Amelia’s execution is “postponed” for the time being, on the condition that she works, and Noé and Vanitas live, at a hotel he owns in the city so he can keep an eye on the three of them. Now that he knows the Vanitas no Carte isn’t bunk, he’s loath to let go of such a valuable curse-bearer-exorcising resource.

As for Berneux’s demise, Vanitas chalks it up to “Charlatan”, a monster (possibly a vampire) of dubious corporealness who has been going around town creating curse-bearers to expand his whimsical parade of death and destruction. Noé, revealed by Orlok as a member of the Archiviste Clan, has the ability to read the memories of those whose blood he drinks.

He does just that with Amelia to confirm how she was changed into a curse-bearer, and…goddamn, is it an unsettling, fucked-up little sequence. He wakes up screaming from watching Amelia’s memory of Charlatan glomping her head. But now that he knows who’s responsible, Noé isn’t going to rest until the shithead’s dust.

If that means having to continue to put up with a jerk like Vanitas, so be it. Not long after his memory-reading session with Amelia, his betrothed childhood friend Dominique de Sade struts in, dazzling the stage like a Kill la Kill character. Kayano Ai gives a playful arrogance to the role, and her little steampunk droid Kreisler (or Chrysler, if you prefer) provides a steady cloud of rose petals for added effect.

We learn that “Domi’s” gramps is Noé’s teacher, and that the House of de Sade is known for its rude behavior, but also the power and wealth to back it up. Domi wants Noé to be her escort for a masquerade ball in Altus, the city ruled by the de Sades. No doubt she wants more than just a date; she overheard the situation with Charlatan, and there’s people she wants Noé and Vanitas to meet.

Noé, Vanitas, and Domi reach “the barrier”—elegantly and ominously described as “the product of an experiment gone wrong long ago, or so it’s said”—the bridge between regular, mostly-human Paris and “Altus Paris”, which is frankly way more badass looking with its blood red sky lined with spider web-like lines and towering castle (no doubt the domain of the de Sades).

Humans cannot cross the barrier, but Vanitas is different. He can make the crossing as long as he’s touching a vampire while he’s doing so. He actually took quite a risk in simply leaping into the barrier without telling anyone. Noé just so happened to be close enough to take his hand and catch him, and Vanitas probably expected him to do that.

These three colorful characters in an even more colorful setting should make for an excellent, intrigue-filled fourth episode. Until then, this outing very successfully established the threat (and creepiness) of the Parade of Charlatan, as well as Domi de Sade’s general awesomeness.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 02 – A Matter of Application

I’ll admit it: I missed the airship this week. They didn’t show as much of it as I would have liked even last week, just as they don’t show quite as much of Steampunk Paris as I’d like. That said, what we do see impresses “country bumpkin” Noé once he and Vanitas are released from jail on the orders of Count Orlok, a vampire charged with maintaining the human-vampire balance in the city.

While Orlok claims the Book of Vanitas to be a bunch of hooey, he’s also stolen the book, and intends to execute Amelia and “rake Vanitas over the coals” for his role in abetting her escape. Noé, clearly has strong feelings about “curse-bearers”, or vamps born under a blue moon based on flashbacks involving a childhood friend who became one.

Noé is having none of Orlok’s games, and smashes his desk to splinters with a kick to get his attention. He insists the book be returned to Vanitas so the two of them can apprehend a vampire who has been murdering humans in Paris, bring him to Orlok, and show the count firsthand how the book can save vampiredom.

After a conversation on their target, one Thomas Berneux, over rooftops with those awesome airships floating impossibly in the sky, the two soon find Tommy in the middle of trying to take his next victim. Noé gives Vanitas the opening he needs to use the book to temporarily paralyze him. Everything is going smoothly…until two new faces arrive.

They are the pint-sized Luca and his “chevalier” Jeanne (clearly taking after d’Arc), who are convinced Vanitas is using the book to create curse-bearers, not cure them. Clearly they’re misinformed; while the book can be used for such a nefarious purpose, Vanitas uses it to heal, not harm.

The thing is, even Noé is no match for Jeanne, who isn’t interested in talking things through, so the pair have to make a run for it. But as much as he claims to dislike Vanitas, as long as he keeps committing “resoundingly righteous acts” such as saving Amelia, he’ll keep protecting him with his not inconsiderable vampire strength and speed.

There were a couple nice bursts of action and Vanitas and Noé continue to be a hoot to watch, it can be hard to keep track of the show’s ever-expanding glossary of names, positions and terms, and thus hard to get too deeply invested. It’s as if Vanitas no Carte is so intent on setting up its many and varied game pieces on its ornate board, it forgot that the game actually has to start at some point!

Vanitas no Carte – 01 (First Impressions) – Airships and Airheads

Bones usually does a good job, and Vanitas is no different: it’s a slick, classy, attractive, crowd-pleasing steampunk vampire caper with airships and a healthy sense of humor and great sense of comic timing. It can also be dark and bloody and downright distressing when it wants to be. Vanitas, like its namesake antihero, can and does essentially do whatever it wants whenever it wants, and does it with the utmost style and swagger.

It is also super playful with its reveals in its first episode. I assumed the crowd in the opening were in a town square, only to pull back on a massive ornate airship straight out of Final Fantasy. I was pretty sure the white-haired Noé was a vampire, but that fact is only revealed for certain when it has to be, which is when Vanitas goes after him for protecting Amelia, another vampire who spends much of the episode not feeling so swell at all.

Noé may be a vamp but he’s also a good dude, and whether Amelia is a vamp or not he’s not about to let Vanitas get a clear shot at her with his knife. Another reveal comes when we learn that not only is Vanitas not bent on destroying all vampires like his namesake, but he’s not even a vampire—he’s just a human who is extremely hard to kill thanks to the book he carries.

The show looks great from start to finish, the action and magical artwork is seamlessly integrated, and Murr the Cat is cool. Everything about this production screams consummate professional. The classical music adds more class, and the ED absolutely WHIPS. In fact it’s one of the best anime themes I’ve heard since Dororo’s OP. Its smooth, slick, futuristic production perfectly compliments Vanita’s brassy retro aesthetic.

Vanita’s last trick is framing the entire opening episode as an entry in Noé’s memoirs, which he ends by saying that despite how chummy they seem to be, Vanitas will one day die by his hand. The show can be pleasantly goofy at times, but it’s declarations like that that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’m in!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 09 – Diva’s Final Curtain

Matsumoto, always entertaining when thrown for a loop, finds himself speaking to Antonio through Ophelia, as he decides the best way to fulfill his mission to support her was to become her, sparing her the burden of fame and the pursuit of perfection, but also sparing her an independent existence. He considers his mission far more noble than Matsumoto’s designs to prevent her suicide, though he might not say that if he knew the bigger picture.

Speaking of that, Kakitani’s youth is promptly explained: he’s an AI copy of the human, and his mission is to get an answer he couldn’t from his teacher, which only Vivy could provide. That means infecting the captured Diva with a custom logic palette that “doesn’t belong in this era” which, throughout the episode, slowly erases Diva’s personality, eventually leaving only Vivy behind to answer him.

Thankfully, it’s a slow countdown, and while it is technically a ticking clock, because it’s only one of several spinning plates in this arc finale, it feels earned rather than cliched. That it is an inevitability even Matsumoto’s hacking skillz cannot override also adds gravitas to every moment Diva is on screen, because they’ll be her last.

It also assures that the titular Vivy we know and love, who can neither act like a human nor sing half as well as Diva, will ultimately return. It occurs to me that at the conclusion of every previous arc, we didn’t just say goodbye to one of Vivy’s sisters, but a part of Vivy as well, as her interactions with them helped her grow, both as a songstress and a person.

This time we don’t just say goodbye to a part of Vivy, but an entire alternate version of her, who lived for sixty years. It’s a tough loss…but before she goes Diva makes sure she puts absolutely everything she’s got in all the time she has left to be the best temporary partner to Matsumoto he could ask for…and vice versa.

While packed with drama, pathos, tragedy and romance, Wit Studio flexes its muscles like never before in this episode, as we cut between the parallel battles, one of the more abstract electronic variety, one more down-and-dirty hand-to-hand combat, but both equally gorgeous an awesome to watch unfold.

That Kakitani is also an AI means both he and Diva can take the fight to levels humans would not be able to survive, while Matsumoto manages to copy himself into enough cubes to fight his battle with Antonio while supporting Diva. Compare this to Antonio, who happily accepted Kakitani’s help but is otherwise not working towards the same mission, making them inherently weaker against a united front.

Among other Kakitani’s surprises is an elaborate arm cannon (always a sharp feature when going on a timeline-bending crusade to avenge his mentor—and a special knife that seems to act as an EMP, deactivating the Matsumoto cubes aiding Diva.

All the while, Diva tries to impress upon Kakitani the fact that she’s not Vivy, and has no answers for him he’ll find satisfying. When she says she puts everything she has into her singing to make people happy, that includes everything about Vivy, despite her knowing next to nothing about her.

On the Antonio side of things, Matsumoto says he almost turned into him, discarding his partner as part of his “perfect calculations”. Looking at what’s become of Antonio, he’s not glad he didn’t eliminate her. As for his mission, it was never specifically to stop Ophelia’s suicide; it was to carry out the Singularity Project with his partner.

Even taking over Ophelia couldn’t satisfy Antonio, because no matter how happy the crowds were with his performances, he always knew he wouldn’t be able to match the power of the true Ophelia’s singing. In fact, it irked him that their standards for excellence were so low, resenting the very people it was Ophelia’s mission to make happy.

The Matsumoto cubes manage to hack both Antonio and Kakitani and disable both, and transfers Antonio back into his own clunky body. It’s only then in his last moments that he admits that all he really wanted was for Ophelia to sing for him and no one else. Ophelia, regaining consciousness before shutting down, admits she only wanted to sing for him; to make him smile.

In the end, their mutual love and devotion to each other corrupted their missions. In true Shakespearian tragic fashion, it was a love that could never be. In that same vein, the moment Kakitani uploaded that logic palette, Diva was a version of Vivy that could never be, even though she did a bang-up job serving as Matsumoto’s partner. Before Kakitani shuts down, he tries to twist the knife once more, telling Diva “there were humans who suffered because you existed!”

That line might’ve worked on Vivy, but it doesn’t faze Diva that much. And in true Diva fashion, she gives one last snap and tells Matsumoto she’s going to use her last five or so minutes of existence doing what she was built to do: dazzle the stage, put her heart into her singing, and make everyone in attendance happy to be there. As she performs, she simultaneously opens a dialogue with Vivy within the Construct.

In this lovely parallel scene, their positions couldn’t be better illustrated, as Diva is both on stage and in the brightly lit classroom, while Vivy is relegated to a dark, shadowy, morose office. The pair lean against the same door, and Diva says she hears how Vivy had been struggling with putting her heart into her singing. She says the answer is to simply to hear the song she’s singing now, in her final performance, as in the Construct she slowly dissolves away into cybernetic oblivion.

And yet, as Vivy opens the door and steps into the light, then wakes up on stage to a deliriously ecstatic crowd cheering the song Diva just sang, Vivy still doesn’t understand. Then again, she only just woke back up; maybe she needs a few decades to process what she heard and what it means. Thanks to Diva, she has her existence back, which means anything is possible for her. As long as she sticks with her partner Matsumoto, who promised Diva he’d take care of her.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 08 – Get Thee to a Nunnery

We, along with Diva, learn via Matsumoto of Ophelia’s beloved partner and support AI Antonio, who despite a propensity for crankiness always had her back. He always said there was nothing wrong with her singing, she just needed the right stage to perform it. His mission was only ever to help her achieve hers.

But before he could do this, he mysteriously shut down five years before the present day. Ophelia lost her primary sound and lighting guy along with the only person she trusted with his rough-edged praise and encouragement. As such she was never the same, and eventually committed suicide or “self-destruct”, lending credence to the growing belief that AIs had souls, the same as humans.

Matsumoto’s plan of action feels too much like a “stopgap” measure for Diva—especially this evolved, more human than ever version of her. She wants to get to the root of Ophelia’s distress so she won’t even have to talk her off the ledge, because she’ll never climb onto it in the first place.

Diva finds Ophelia in the concert hall’s museum, where she’s watching Diva’s early days. Diva asks her upfront (and rather clumsily for this Diva) whether there’s anything troubling her to the point she might want to die. Ophelia leads Diva to the Antonio exhibit, where Antonio’s actual body is on display in a box of lilies.

It’s clear from the way she was watching other songstress sisters that Ophelia is seeking the answer to how they all sing, and for what purpose. But while Ophelia grieves for Antonio, her one and only partner, she’s not in any hurry to join him, as she knows he’d be the first to say she has to do better. Diva puts a lily in Ophelia’s hair, hoping it will be a talisman of protection, and sends her on her way.

Ophelia (performed by the always adorable Hidaka Rina) puts on a wonderful, spellbinding show as expected, but afterwards Diva is troubled when she sees “that look again” on Ophelia’s face. Still, she’s determined that it’s probably not Antonio’s loss that led the near-future Ophelia to suicide; or at least not all it was.

After showing Matsumoto the image of a young Kakitani (whom he insists shoudn’t exist in this timeline), he warns Diva to ditch her sympathy and empathy she’s developed over the years and stick to the mission. Then she insists he tell her more about Vivy and their relationship, which she imagines must be substantial considering he rescued her from falling without hesitation.

Matsumoto decribes Vivy as we watch a montage of her in action, and while the words describe an unpredictable pain in his cubic ass, there’s also a hint of reluctant pride in his telling. He even admits there was a point when he thought he could “look to her with confidence” (as a reliable partner in the Singularity Project), but then Saeki killed himself and she froze.

When Ophelia’s show is over, Diva and Matsumoto keep an eye on her via the cameras, but then Diva spots Kakitani, and goes chasing after him, promising to tell Matsumoto about Vivy’s “basic distress.” But because Diva rushes headlong to Kakitani without all the info—just as Vivy often did—he ends up captured by him. All of her memories of him in past timelines wash over her just before he zaps her with a gun that paralyzes her.

Meanwhile, Matsumoto realizes the camera footage has been faked (since Ophelia in the green room has no lily in her hair) and someone other than him is doing some hacking. He races to Ophelia as fast as his little flight servos can carry him, but is met with another bombshell: Ophelia isn’t Ophelia anymore, but Antonio in Ophelia’s body. It seems, then, that when Antonio shut down, it was because he either merged with Ophelia or took over her body. In any case, he says Matsumoto is “fatally too late” to save her. To be continued…

Post-credits we find ourselves hearing Kakitani (or whoever he is)’s story, as he yearned to be a pianist and to catch up to his talented teacher. When he and that teacher are in a horrific multi-car accident (which…how do these keep happening even in the future?) the teacher saves his life and then goes back into the inferno to save others.

Like Vivy, he extended his mission to “make people happy with his piano playing” to keeping those people alive. Unfortunately, the gas of the cars ignited and blew him up before his protégé’s (presumably non-fluorite) eyes. That brings us back to the “present”, where Diva is bound to a chair and Kakitani greets her…as Vivy. How he knows that, and how his actions related to Ophelia/Antonio, are questions for next week.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 12 (Fin) – Good Trouble

You could sense this was going to be a particularly intense finale when it starts with Swindler, Courier, and the kids surviving a violent Shinkansen derailing. Brother thinks it’s all over, but Sister still believes in her big sis. Swindler may have a badly broken leg, but she’s not ready to give up.

She produces the 500-yen coin that started her run of “bad luck” (putting it quite mildly) and places it on Courier’s chest. It’s payment for one last job: ensure the kids get to Shikoku safely. Through their prickly, foul-mouthed repartee, Courier too can sense that Swindler is cashing out.

After wishing the kids godspeed, Swindler limps out into the open and almost immediately spotted and surrounded by police drones. But she finally gets her own official Akudama intro sequence (this show’s version of the magical girl transition) as she pulls off one last Swindle.

At first, it seems like nothing other than stalling the Executioners—whose mundane banter in the midst of such carnage only heightens their monstrousness. She pretends to be an ordinary civilian caught in the crossfire, but she’s quickly identified as Swindler, and is stabbed through the chest by one of the Executioners.

That woman Executioner thinks it’s creepy that the Akudama wears a bright smile even in death, but Swindler has every reason to smile: not only did she succeed in buying crucial moments for Courier and the kids, but also sparked something even the Executioners won’t be able to contend with.

Oh, they certainly put on a show of force in surrounding Courier’s bike with seemingly every Executioner, drone, and airship in the city. A feisty Executioner is even able to lunge at Courier, but Brother comes between them an ensures the wound isn’t deep enough to kill Courier yet.

That’s key, because they still need Courier to help them out of this mess. Of course, Courier isn’t enough, especially in his battered state and woefully outnumbered and outgunned. That is, until, the fruits of Swindler’s Last Swindle are borne. Her execution, ruthlessly carried out while pleading she was just an ordinary person? That was caught on video.

The girl whose parents were killed last week steps between the Executioners and Courier and the kids, and even shoots one of them with a gun she found. She’s not alone. Soon the Executioners and their arrogant Boss are surrounded by a far larger force of ordinary citizens rising up against the violence. Even Bunny & Shark’s message is retooled: the Executioners are the Akudama now.

The resurgence of public unrest keeps the Executioners busy enough that Courier is able to charge up his bike railgun and not only bring down the Police station and its looming tower, but uses the tower wreckage as a goddamn ramp to escape with the kids.

He follows the train tracks towards Shikoku until his bike warns him it’s running low on juice, and in any case there are three Executioner airships still in pursuit. Courier stops near a windswept tree, the kids alight from the bike and continue on foot while he’ll go back and stop the airships…at any cost.

Akudama Drive has never had a problem with absolutely bonkers action sequences, but as expected the finale takes them to entirely new heights, reaching Synthwave Music Video levels of serene awesomeness. Courier dances on his bike to dodge enemy fire as long as he possibly can, but is eventually swallowed up by a railgun beam and seemingly vaporized, all while Brother and Sister run away as fast as their little legs can carry them.

BUT…it turns out Courier isn’t quite dead yet after being turned into a black-on-white sketch—usually a death sentence for most characters, but Courier and the Akudama aren’t “most”! He uses his metal arm to replace one of the two prongs on the bike’s railgun that melted away, focusing the beam enough to land a direct hit on the third and final airship pursuing the kids, and destroying it.

With nothing and no one else chasing Brother and Sister, Courier slumps over wearing a smile of relief and satisfaction as the morning sun washes over him. He just managed accomplished his final delivery mission. Before parting with the kids, he gave them the 500-yen coin Swindler gave him, making his last job technically gratis.

Aside from a parting shot showing the wreckage of the police tower, the remainder of the episode is given over to Brother and Sister continuing on to Shikoku as the end credits roll. They reach a tunnel through which there is nothing but light, and walk through it while holding hands, vanishing into the blinding white.

What Shikoku is like and what becomes of them is left ambiguous; suffice it to saw they are safe and free. So is Kansai, it would seem, with the fall of the murderous Executioners. Swindler’s heroic death made her a martyr, and caused the spark that lit the match that brought about the downfall of the region’s old, unjust order—what the late John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Hey, I never thought I’d be quoting a civil rights icon in a show about goofy Danganronpa-style archetype criminals on the run, but here we are! In its finale Akudama’s lyrical action sequences, heart-wrenching character moments and operatic soundtrack all combined to elevate a previously goofily over-the-top series to an epic cinematic experience. And like any great movie or series, I’m holding myself back from immediately watching it all over again.

Akudama Drive – 06 – Akudama Brawlliant Park

Even though the Boss has mobilized every Executioner to seek and destroy the Akudama, Master gets there first, driven by his need to redeem himself for past failure. An Executioner doesn’t execute, then what is his purpose, right?

He goes all out from the start, sending both Brawler and Cutthroat flying and tossing the police drone at Courier, knocking him and the kids off his bike. Then he slashes Doc across the belly…though I somehow knew she’d be fine.

When Hoodlum finds Brawler in a pile of rubble, he suggests they fall back and give the latter time to recover, but Brawler won’t hear of it. He’s never been in a brawl like this, and isn’t going to back down. His words and wholesome smile make Hoodlum blush…his brother is so cool!

Cutthroat ends up under rubble as well…but cuts his own legs off to continue protecting Swindler…and Swindler alone. Without any regard for the kid brother, he uses him as an (artificial?) human shield, then stabs right through him to wound Master.

Swindler laments Brother’s death, but the Sister tuges at her sleever and tells her to watch: Brother is fine; he has fully regenerative healing. He’s more miffed Cutthroat broke his backpack. Doctor, who stitched herself up, then stiches Cutthroat’s legs back on so he can fight at 100%.

It’s clear from the injuries both the Executioners and Akudama sustain that they’re something more than plain ‘ol human. Only Swindler and Hoodlum, whom we know to be “normal”, escape horrific injuries this week, likely because they wouldn’t recover from them so quickly. Everyone piles onto Couriers bike, then Brawler bursts back onto the scene like an uncaged beast.

The balance of the episode is taken up by their one-on-one decisive battle, which moves from a glitzy arcade to an old amusement park, their fighting and the lightning seemingly giving these abandoned places new life, if only for a short moment.

Here Akudama Drive really shows off its visual flair, taking the ridiculousness of the brawl the extra mile, and all the while both Master and Brawler feeding off their mutual joy over how much goddamn fun they’re both having. Before Master hid his scar with a mask; now he’s grinning like a schoolboy, just like Brawler.

The two continue to wear each other down until it comes down to one last punch that does them both in at the same time. Meanwhile, Apprentice, who had just received a somewhat momemtum-sapping infodump from Boss about why she started pairing up Executioners, arrives on the scene. Boss told her survival rates of Executioners increased dramatically when they had a “reason to live”, i.e. their partner.

But Boss is incorrect that this is what separates the Executioners from the Akudama, because this particular group, despite having been a collection of selfish loners, has also developed a sense of camaraderie, even family. Had they not, they would have surely fallen to Master one by one. Instead, he falls, while the Akudama just lose Brawler—a huge loss, to be sure, but a survivable one.

As Apprentice mourns her Master’s death, Hoodlum mourns his big bro’s…then picks up Master’s lightsaber and rushes an unready Apprentice. When next we see her she’s alive and back in the hospital; both lightsabers by her bed. Hoodlum is also alive in the preview, which means he only took her eye, not her life. But it’s a given Apprentice will seek revenge.

Meanwhile, Swindler drops the nice-girl act (as Doctor had been pleading) to slap Cutthroat across the face and call him “despicable” for valuing her “beautiful” life over that of the kid Brother. The message is clear: she won’t tolerate any more of that. No more cutting through others to protect her! Brother and Sister locate their next destination, which turns out to be the underground network where survivors of the bombing of Old Kansai still reside.

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 11 (Fin) – The New Boss

“Final Boss” Shigemaru leads Daisuke and Haru on a wild goose chase to the bowels of the Kanbe summer home. There, they not only find the allodium lab and his father’s research data, but a secret underground tube train that shoots them all the way back to Daisuke’s house, where Shigemaru is waiting for them. That is, until Daisuke remarks that his father was left-handed and this guy is right-handed, and the gig is up.

“Shigemaru” removes his mask to reveal he was an imposter all this time. Grandma Kikuko sics the guy on Haru while she and Diasuke discuss the future of the world over a cup of tea. Gran considers Allodium too dangerous to allow in any other hands but the Kanbes; it’s why she had Daisuke’s mother killed and Shigemaru framed. Haru eventually brings down the imposter, but not before he gets a bullet in the thigh.

Haru’s victory, and the fact the imposter was not given orders to kill him, end up mattering quite a bit. Daisuke is ready to transfer the Allodium research to scientists around the world, but hesitates in the powerful presence of his grandmother. Haru ends up making the choice to transfer the data for him, but by pressing the button on accident as a result of slumping over Suzue’s control panel.

This was never about Daisuke defeating the final boss, or even taking his rightful place on the throne of the Kanbe Empire, but making that Empire his own. To that end, he rejected generations of secrecy and lets the spread of Allodium information take place…then arrests his granny.

Weeks pass, Haru recovers, but turns down a return to the First Division, citing he can be a detective and dish out justice no matter where he is. He and Daisuke then proceed to do just that, tracking down all criminal activity regarding Allodium and stopping it in its tracks, with the help of HEUSC and Daisuke’s Unlimited Balance (The Second Division misfits also get full access to HEUSC, and of course use it for silly things like porn and sweets). On Daisuke and Haru’s particular mission, Suzue is on a well-deserved vacation.

In a nice bit of series symmetry, Daisuke’s brash, expensive actions end up blowing up part of the Manhattan Bridge, and Haru, even wearing one of those ASV suits, finds himself hanging on a ledge. Last time Daisuke let him fall because he neither trusted nor thought he needed Haru. Now the two are partners and pals, so Daisuke offers his hand…only to playfully pull it back, letting Haru fall in the drink once again. Same action, completely different motivations.

Blending James Bond and Batman billionaire tech and backstory with procedural detective stories and a uniquely Japanese keiretsu element made for a sleek and entertaining eleven episodes. If you’re into any or all of those and love a good rich family drama mystery full of bodacious crime-fighting toys, Fugou Keiji is a solid viewing choice.

Season Average: 8.55

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 09 – Old Tricks Are the Best Tricks

This episode begins encouragingly, with Haru and Daisuke in the same room together. Unfortunately, they’re soon separated again, as Daisuke refuses to return to the station and tosses his badge, telling Haru the case is a personal family matter he’ll be handling in his own way, i.e. ostensibly alone, but really with the help of Suzue and his bottomless purse.

Back at the station, the Second Division is on the job, even as the First Division now led by Hoshino takes Haru in for questioning. No doubt awakened by his old friends’ deaths, Kiyomizu shows his underlings that the dice Cho-san always had on him were in fact a nifty transmitter-receiver set, and Cho-san’s last act before being killed was planting the transmitter on Shigemaru. Natural Po-lice to the end.

After mostly goofing off for most of the show, it’s awesome to see the Second Division misfits pull off through pure pluck and resourcefulness what it costs Daisuke hundreds of millions of yen to achieve. Even deprived of official cars, under the pretense of “going out for lunch” they slip out one by one to the “kabob truck”, actually an old surveillance van with an antenna.

As the lanky Kamei contorts himself on the van’s roof to get the antenna into position, Saeki works her computer mojo to attain a clear enough signal to hear. It’s the boat-loving Yumoto who first recognizes a marine motor, and then they hear sweagulls and a huge steam whistle. That means in the 10km-range of the die, the Oura Wharf is the only place Shigemaru could be.

Haru isn’t able to participate in this awesomeness, but he tells Hoshino the whole truth and nothing but the truth, which Hoshino can’t really believe because he still resents Haru for washing out of the First Division. However, upon searching Takei’s desk, he find’s Haru’s letter of resignation from two years ago; after killing the bank robber’s accomplice he’d become unable to fire his weapon. Thanks to Takei, he remained a detective with the Second Division.

Daisuke’s much more expensive solo investigation bears fruit when Suzue finds Shigemaru’s car, but assumes it’s a trap…and it is. Upon entering the car to read a letter bearing his name Daisuke is hit by nerve gas; thankfully he was wearing a protective mask.

As Suzue tracks surveillance footage of Shigemaru, HEUSC starts painstakingly deleting all the camera data in the city. With their video trail suddenly dried up, Daisuke suggests they create their own surveillance network with the power of Balance: UNLIMITED.

As Haru and a newly convinced and contrite Hoshino head to the wharf, he gets a video message offering cash prizes to anyone who turns on their video camera and spins around in place. In addition to reminding be of the excellent Gatchaman:Crowds in clever hijacking of mass technology, it’s a wonderfully whimsical workaround.

But the fact is, it is almost totally unnecessary. Had Daisuke kept in touch with Haru and his police colleagues he would have learned the position of his father a little bit quicker and with none of the cost. Haru actually beats Daisuke aboard the huge cargo ship in the wharf where Shigemaru’s signal is located.

Hoshino is there to tell Daisuke Haru is aboard, much to Daisuke’s surprise. He also tells Daisuke about Haru’s past, and that while he’d “stopped being a hero” after the bank incident, thanks to Daisuke he seems to have gotten his spark back. Daisuke listens as he puts on a Black Panther-like nanotech suit Suzue calls an “Active Support Veil”, one of the highest-tech toys we’ve yet seen.

Plunging his apparently amphibious Bentley Continental into the sea, he catches up to the ship and stows aboard, using his suit as camouflage until he locates Frantz Weinski, bodyguard of an international arms dealer and apparent accomplice of his not-dead dad.

But while Daisuke gets the jump on Frantz, upon confronting his dad, who stares down at his son from the bridge, an “Allodium antenna” is activated that causes EMP-like burst, deactivating Daisuke’s suit and thus his tactical advantage. Frantz smashes his earring and Suzue loses all contact; I wonder if she’ll stay away or take a helicopter out to sea.

Before his phone is fried by the Allodium burst, Haru gets a text from Suzue asking him to look after Daisuke. Just like that, the two detectives are back together, having chased the same trail by very different means. I liken those differing means to two very different consecutive James Bond films.

In Die Another Day the spy tech reached its peak of goofiness with the cloaking device-equipped Aston Martin “Vanish” (a pun on the car’s real name, Vanquish). Casino Royale, on the other hand, was a return to basics, and Bond’s “toys” were similarly stripped down, until by Skyfall he had the same old DB5 with an ejector seat.

If Daisuke was Die Another Day Bond when he boarded the ship, now he’s just a well-dressed man with no tech at all. Haru is unable to immediately rescue him from Frantz because he still can’t fire his gun. But he’s there, and Shigemaru pointedly says his son is not to be killed. It’s a big ship, and if there’s a way to save his partner that doesn’t involve cloaking suits or revolvers, I’m confident Haru will find it.