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.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 05 – Flying Colors

As Ichika hides her face by locking herself in a warm embrace with Fuutarou, we learn that the mustache guy is not her date, but her co-worker on a film crew. But even that is a fabrication on Ichika’s part, desperate as she is to keep her secrets as long as she can.

She manages to deflect by asking Fuutarou why exactly he’s so invested in her and her sisters. When Ichika comments how it’s weird for them to be hugging so intimately despite just being friends, Fuutarou mentions how he’s not sure it’s right to call themselves friends, to which she responds he’s being way too picky about semantics!

Also, Ichika says she’s a little hurt by the notion he never considered them friends, and that gets Fuutarou thinking about his recent interactions with both Miku, who also looked hurt by the same assertion, and Itsuki, who said it’s so obvious what they are to each other it doesn’t actually have to be said!

Yet apparently it does! Especially when Ichika’s co-worker spots Miku—who is sporting a new hairstyle so Fuutarou will compliment her— and mistakes her for Ichika. Fuutarou and Ichika track the two down, and Fuutarou declares once and for all: he’s their partner. That’s when mustache guy blurts out that Ichika is actually an actress who has to get to her audition.

While that’s not the most surprising twist, it’s still a hella good one, which subverts Ichika’s previous reputation as cool, relaxed and lazy. It’s not that she can’t be all three of those things at times, but that’s not all she is. She’s held back, both from her sisters and Fuutarou, in case this audition thing goes south. But judging from Fuutarou’s reaction to their little line-reading session, it won’t!

When she turns to leave, Fuutarou takes her face in his hands and stretches it out, telling her to quit it with the fake smiles that hide her true emotions. He’s observed it what sets Ichika apart from the others, and it was confirmed when he felt her trembling while hugging him in the alley. Ichika is putting on an act with those false smiles, but Fuutarou isn’t convinced. He proceeds to come clean about their partnership, and that at the core of things he wants to “work for what he earns.”

Ichika is impressed he was able to discern such a subtle change in her behavior. Acting is her dream; her way to finally stand tall as the eldest sister. If she has to ditch the fireworks for a shot at her first big break—leaving the ensemble to explore a solo leading role—she’ll do that, apologize to the others later, and hopefully it will work out.

Ichika is super-late to the audition, but gets her shot, and doesn’t miss. From the first lines she utters, the casting crew stands up straight, like some rare bird had suddenly entered the room. There’s suddenly more conviction and resonance to her lines than when she said them to Fuutarou. Now I know why they cast Hana-Kana for Ichika—it’s such a powerful yet subtle performance, but she makes it look easy.

Later, Mustache Guy (who scouted her) presumes Fuutarou must’ve helped Ichika pull out a role-winning performance. Her role thus secure, Fuutarou escorts her to her sisters, who are waiting in the part with…Chekhov’s Fireworks Kit! Yotsuba bought the kit for Raiha, but there’s no doubt the wise-beyond-her-years imouto would have no problem donating it to a good cause.

Ichika bows and apologizes, but the others apologize right back, since all five played a role in the confusion that separated them. Where one sister messes up, the five of them overcome it together. Nino gets in Fuutarou’s face, but to his shoc k it’s to thank him for getting the job done—albeit in the most unconvincing tone imaginable! He then sits back and admires his work, shaking off the urge to go home and study.

When there are only five fireworks left, the sisters do a countdown before grabbing their preference…and Ichika and Miku pick the same thing. Ichika lets Miku have it, saying Miku “can’t let go of that one.” It couldn’t be any clearer that the “less flashy” firework represents Fuutarou, and despite Ichika’s generosity in this one instance a love triangle is officially up and running.

To confirm that, one need not look further than when Ichika approaches Fuutarou to tell him that as partners, she’ll be working hard to repay him for his support, but warns him not to think he’ll have an easy time with her. Alas, he’s asleep with his eyes open, so she gently rests his head in her lap.

This episode felt like a turning point when the dynamic of Fuutarou and the quints finally shifted from one primarily composed of hostility and discord to one of more cooperation and harmony. Sure, it may now only be something like 51-48 in cooperation’s favor, as there are surely many more conflicts to come, but it’s a long way from the utter chaos of the first episodes. Enough good faith and good deeds have been exchanged and motivations revealed that more progress can be made.

It’s been said in the comments, but it bears repeating after watching this episode: a harem rom-com about quintuplets has absolutely no business being this damn good. It’s as if creator Hariba Negi came up with a premise he knew sounded like tacky schlock, but said “Just watch—Imma elevate the FUCK outta this schlock!” And he did. I don’t often regret a decision to skip a show, but in the case of QQ I clearly missed out on a gem.

Happy Sugar Life – 10 – Partners in Crime

Shio believes everyone’s heart is a jar made of glass. If it isn’t regularly filled with love, or is hit by various stresses, it will crack and break, and when it does, there’s no coming back.

Shio is worried Satou’s jar is dangerously close to shattering, so she tries to do as much as she can. She covers her with a blanket, warms up the curry, and throws her clothes in the wash—where she sees Satou’s bloodstained clothes.

Seeing Satou in such a state reminds Shio of her last days with her mom, who became destitute when she finally left her abusive husband. Shio wanted to do what she could then too, including replace her mother’s “jar” with a new one she sees across the street.

But in doing so, Shio is almost hit by a truck, and her mom’s jar breaks. She takes Shio on a walk in the rain, then stops and leaves her there, saying a simple “goodbye.” Her mom’s jar was broken, and she was simply…done.

When Satou awakens, she pretends like nothing’s wrong, but immediately starts talking about their next home. After all her talk about the castle where they’d live happily ever after, it wounds Shio to hear Satou so gung-ho about abandoning it.

But more than that, Shio is hurt by what Satou isn’t saying, and by all the things she’s hiding. When Satou tells Shio all she needs to do is smile and love her, it reminds her of her mother, who also asked nothing of Shio but to stay put; to stay safe.

Shio won’t have it; not anymore. She doesn’t like Satou’s secrets, or her vision of how she should be to her, which is to act as little more than a human doll. She storms off, and in her anger, tells Satou she hates her. Satou then becomes paralyzed with despair.


The same night Shio’s mother abandoned her, Satou happened to be walking around, and meets Shio, asking her why she isn’t chasing after her mom. Shio tells her it’s because what she felt toward her mother wasn’t love, it was just a desperate hope her mom would keep living, so she could live.

With an attitude well beyond her not numerous years, she decides not being with her mom anymore is for the best. But she also realizes she was too harsh with Satou. She doesn’t hate her; but she hates how Satou shoulders the burden of protecting her.

From now on, Shio wants Satou to tell her everything, and they’ll share the burden and protect each other. In other words, a more balanced relationship where Shio has agency. Satou agrees, and tells Shio all of the horrible things she’s done to keep her safe, including killing someone. Shio accepts it all and fills Satou’s jar…because Satou fills and strengthened hers.

Darling in the FranXX – 15 – Two Jian Become One, and a Much Bigger World Reveals Itself

When the Battle of Gran Crevasse begins, Hiro has no pistil, partner, or FranXX…a bird with one wing and one eye, unable to fight without his one and only partner. A Jian.

While his friends head out into by far the biggest and most dangerous battle they’ve ever fought, one that will surely determine the future of mankind—a battle from which they may not return—Hiro is merely a spectator in Plantation 13’s CIC, with Hachi, Nana, and Dr. FranXX.

Thankfully, he won’t remain one.

Oh, look: the Nines swap the “gender roles” in the cockpit. It figures that they do things quite a bit differently. Zero Two is of their ilk, but also pretty much her own animal; when we check in on her she’s already devoured all of her disposable Stamens, and is operating Strelizia alone in Beast Mode.

While she and the Nines aren’t having any trouble destroying scores of Klaxosaurs, their foe’s numbers are being replenished as quickly as they can dispatch them, meaning no progress is being made, even when Squad 13 joins the fray with their own unique brand of combat.

Plantation 26 is obliterated, and when a mountain-sized “Super Lehmann-class” Klaxosaur emerges from beneath the ground, Plantation 13 is also pierced and thousands of smaller Klaxosaurs infiltrate the city within.

Hachi and Nana’s foreboding was more than justified: this episode of DFX raises the scale of the threat and stakes to dizzyingly huge, TTGL-esque levels. In doing so, the show reaches a high watermark; everything has been building up to this, and the execution is equal parts breathless and flawless.

At one point, Hiro has seen enough. He’s tired of standing by, and curses himself for having suddenly stopped asking questions and challenging the limited world he’s been spoon-fed his entire life.

Thanks to Zero Two, he managed to find the memories the adults tried to steal from him, and now that he remembers the inquisitive brat he once was, he intends to get back to discovering the true boundaries of the world with immediate effect.

To that end, he pilots a wimpy training mech into the warzone—and nearly gets himself killed. Ichigo, who has tried at all costs to keep him and Zero Two apart, both for his safety and due to her wanting him to come love him as he loves her…but that’s simply not going to happen.

So Ichigo concedes defeat. Goro gives up his spot so Hiro can pilot Delphinium to Strelizia’s location. You can’t help but feel for Ichigo: she can finally pilot a FranXX with the one she loves, only so he can get to the one he loves. But even Ichigo has to admit they can’t save the day without Strelizia at full chat. For that, it needs two pilots working as one.

Ichigo delivers Hiro to Zero Two, but not before she gives Strelizia a couple of frustration slaps to help dull the sting a small bit. Once inside, Hiro finds Zero Two unresponsive, but grabs hold of her over-sized horns and enters her thoughts.

There, he finds the little red girl and comforts her. There, Hiro learns how long Zero Two fought to keep her memories; how she fought the world without him. We learn she got the term “darling” from him, referring to the picture book she ate in order to never forget.

Her horns shatter, and the human Zero Two returns. She tells Hiro to stay away, but he won’t. She may have called him fodder, and he may have called her a monster, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because there’s a world out there to explore, far beyond what the adults might like or allow…and he’s ready to fight by her side for that world once again.

Hiro kisses Zero Two, Strelizia returns to its humanoid form, only red and souped-up, and the two confess to each other emphatically over open comms for all of Squad 13 to hear. Ichigo is “happy” for them.

Oh, and the New Strelizia borne from their mutual confessed love not only tears through the Super Lehmann, but opens a hole to the blue sky, literally piercing the old boundaries of the world that simply aren’t adequate anymore.

But just when the immediate threat is eliminated, a newer, stranger, and most importantly even bigger threat emerges in the form of a gargantuan Klaxosaur(?) arm and hand that rise up and smashes the majority of Plantation 13 to dust.

The two Jian have finally joined to become one, and their world has never looked bigger…but now the question arises: how much longer do they have to explore it?

P.S. Miku and Zorome discover a Klaxosaur core containing a golden mass with a vaguely human form that might be a pilot, covered in some kind of protective coating. Something to keep an eye on…