The Genius Prince’s Guide – 04 – Lord Gerard the Airborne

Whew…I must confess my head is spinning a bit after all that political ballet, which basically proceeds from the opening minutes (after the newly finished OP airs) to the final ones (there’s no ED this week). It begins with Wein revealing that he knows Lowa’s real real reason for being in Natra.

First, the weapons shipments meant to bolster the empire against civil war are distributed evenly among the three princes, to maintain the three-way stalemate. Their resulting collective weakness will lead to rebellions, but Lowa’s warnings fell on deaf ears, so her plan is to control which nation rebels first so her brothers would be persuaded to take the rebellion seriously.

Mind you, Lowa doesn’t want the rebellion to succeed, but she wishes both for the peace and security of the empire and to ascend as its empress. The nation she’s chosen to bait with an offer of marriage is Marquess Antgatal, who has a dimwitted boor of a son, Lord Gerard.

Lowa had hoped Antgatal would invate Natra to claim her hand, then have Wein and Natra thwart them to protect the throne. But then Lord Gerard arrives, apparently uninvited but lured by a letter to meet with and propose to Lowa in person.

Wein remains friendly and polite despite Gerard looking down on him, which makes Ninym so upset she has to calm herself by enjoying a brief spell sitting in Wein’s lap. As Wein unravels what he believes to be Lowa’s scheme with Gerard, we cut to Lowa discussing these same matters with her retainer Fisch.

The two have a little battle of wits in separate rooms, each tipping their caps to their respective geniuses. Wein intends to support Lowa in her manipulation of Gerard, but won’t go so far as to lend military support in the crushing of the rebellion.

At that evening’s banquet, even Lord Gerard can tell that Wein and Lowa go way back from their glances at each other. But he cannot possibly fathom how many intricate gears are turning in his host’s nor his would-be-fiancée’s pretty heads. He plays every bit the predictable pawn, putty in their collective hands…until he hears that Wein can handle himself with a sword.

Wein and Lowa’s internal duel of wits is totally usurped by Gerard’s desire to put the prince in his place and impress his future bride with a mock duel of wooden swords. Wein has to delicately balance not totally whooping Gerard’s ass but also not losing so blatantly he either comes off as taking a fall, or just plain weak.

I love how he only has moments to consider what amount of force and skill he should employ against his opponent, and the long and wide-ranging ramifications of such a seemingly innocuous activity. I also love how Lowa reacts to him having to duel someone well beneath his ability.

It’s just that neither one of these schemers could have predicted in a thousand years how the mock duel would end: with the drunken Gerard charging Wein, missing, and then crashing through the window of the banquet hall, and over the damn balcony, breaking his neck. It’s an expertly delivered and timed bit of absurd slapstick that also happens to instantly blast all of Wein and Lowa’s carefully laid schemes into smithereens.

Gerard’s father, Marquess of Antgatal, soon becomes convinced his son was lurder to Natra to be assassinated, and that the princess must’ve had a hand in it. War between Antgatal and Natra seems certain. Wein wants to be the first of the three parties to take the initiative in this newly swept-clean game board, but Lowa beats him to it by visiting his office…to surrender.

She’s decided that preventing the rebellion and saving her empire is more important than claiming the throne—for now—so that’s what she’ll focus her efforts on from now on. Wein has bad news for her if she was planning to borrow Natra’s armies: his kingdom can only afford to deploy 500 troops against Antgatal’s 4,000+.

With a military solution untenable, Wein seeks a political one, in which he and Lowa get Antgatal to confess to his knowledge of the brewing rebellion before a mass uprising occurs. Wein, Ninym, Lowa, and Fisch hole themselves up in the parlor for a long night of planning all new devious schemes. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 12 (Fin) – Moonlight Dreamers

Having watched Irina and Lev risk their lives so many times for each other and their country (very much in that order), Anya has decided it’s her turn to put everything on the line. And boy, does she ever, drugging the guards and sneaking off to the ceremony in the Zirnitran equivalent of Red Square.

There, a seemingly obedient Lev is giving the speech he was told to give…until suddenly he’s talking about how he actually isn’t the first cosmonaut, but the second, after a 17-year-old vampire girl! As he gives her her proper due by describing everything he loves about her, she breaks from the crowd, and with help from Anya (using herself as a missile!), manages to reach Lev before the sun knocks her out.

I expected there to be some bittersweet way Irina and Lev would be reunited. I did not think it would be in front of 200,000 Zirnitrans, Chairman Gergiev, and a TV and radio audience of 3 billion. In front of the largest audience in human history, Lev decided that lies wouldn’t do. He made his estranged parents, and more importantly Irina, proud. He told the truth. Then he hands the mic to the true Hero of Zirnitra.

A lot of the crowd is not initially open to listening to what they perceive as an evil monster to say, but the more Irina talks, the more she sounds like just a young girl who dreamed of reaching the stars, and frikkin’ did it. Later, Gergiev uses Lev’s and Irina’s modifications to the ceremony to tell the world that, actually, Zirnitra is the progressive, tolerant nation of the future, and these two crazy kids are proof positive!

Lev makes a stink about being used as a pawn by Gergiev and Harlova, but it ultimately doesn’t matter that much because a.) somehow, Lev and Irina (and presumably Anya) escape any kind of consequences for basically committing high treason—at least in the country that had been portrayed to this point—and b.) they’re both alive, together again, and the twin faces of hope for a better world, and a future where they travel to the moon together.

Did this ending strain credulity a bit? Sure. But is it a cold Monday, the second-shortest day of the year, and this was exactly the fun upbeat ending I both wanted and needed? ALSO SURE. All it was missing was a first kiss…though their first “bite” a few weeks ago arguably already achieved that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 10 – Kicking Despair in the Face

When last week ended with the sour note of Prince Ethelbald considering killing him, Will does what Lugh Tuatha Dé would have done when he first entered the room: size up his opponents in a potential fight. He thinks better of starting anything, and instead puts his faith in his ability to speak from the heart and plead his case earnestly.

Will tells the Prince that as the bearer of Gracefeel’s torch, it is ones like him who must march first into the darkness. Ethel says such a path will only lead to despair, but Will is well aware; he has business with that despair, and will be sure to smack the shit out of it when he sees it.

Ethel is charmed and disarmed by Will’s utter frankness, which makes the sudden intrusion of Bishop Bagley almost unnecessary. I say almost, because it’s a key moment when we see that despite Will being an official novice of the temple for barely a day, Bagley will go to bat for him, even standing up to the Crown Prince.

Ethel acknowledges Bagley and the temple’s authority, and proposes a collaboration: he wishes to appoint William as a knight, and since he is also a warrior priest, that will officially make him the titular paladin. Both the responsibility and profits of Will’s exploits as paladin will be shared by the temple and the crown.

We also meet one of the final two unknown characters in the end credits: Anna, the bishop’s lovely adopted daughter and attendant. She’s one of many adopted children from an orphanage he once ran—demonstrating again that beneath all the bishop’s brusqueness is a heart of gold. Anna already knows this, and that her father’s façade is a misleading yet very necessary portrait of the real man beneath.

When Will later asks Bagley why he eschews the blessing bestowed on him by his guardian deity’s divine protection, Bagley tells him he’s known far too many with such blessings who eventually lose them by making the mistake of thinking the power is their own to use how they please. I’ll just say here: the dialogue this week really is a cut above.

Will can admit to using it for the sake of convenience at times, but the reasons have always aligned with Gracefeel’s teachings of stamping out evil, helping the week, and ending suffering. Bagley keeps all of his blessings and prayers stored within him, and uses his own gifts of playing the role of the loud, greedy, borderline corrupt asshole so well, people believe that’s who he is.

After demonstrating perfect praying form that reminds Will of Mary, Bagley tells Will not to accept Ethel’s offer of knighthood, for his own good. But Will has already made his decision—or rather, the decision was made when he was first given Gracefeel’s blessing: She wishes to achieve something through him, and becoming a paladin is the way.

Will then meets the final mystery character from the ED in the tavern, who I’d simply been calling “Aragorn” to this point since he reminds me of his “Strider” ranger persona. His real name is Reystov, and Bee knows him as as one of the strongest adventurers who nevertheless never gives her detailed enough accounts to write proper songs about him.

In this way, Reystov, like Bagley and Will, is merely acting as a corporeal agent of his guardian deity (if that is indeed where he gets his power). He doesn’t care about fame, only getting shit done; getting paid and having fun are nice perks. When Will says he’s assembling a team to go to the Beast Woods and defeat the demon boss, Reystov is in.

With that, Will is officially created a paladin by Prince Ethelbard in a ceremony officiated by Bagley’s Number Two and public pious face of the Temple. With Menel, Bee, Tonio, and now Reystov and additional adventurers, he has the beginnings of the holy army with which he will purge the Beast Woods of evil and suffering. Can’t wait!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 11 – The Second Ever Cosmonaut

On the bus ride to the launch pad, Lev suddenly asks the driver to stop, and makes a face that wouldn’t look out of place on Irina. Everyone is worried until he says he just needs to take a leak, and the bus erupts in laughter and relief. Mikhail joins him outside, and offers Lev congratulations, now that he knows why Lev was chosen over him: because Lev is an everyman.

The launch goes off without a hitch; it’s almost too problem-free. Then again, the team learned a lot from the problems that occured during Irina’s test flight, and it looks like they were able to use her data to solve those problems.

While in orbit, Lev borrows Irina’s words to describe what he sees, and then uses kholodets as a code word to let her know, wherever she is, that he’s thinking of her.

The launch occurs in the middle of the day, when Irina is still in bed. Anya lets her know Lev made it to space, and the throngs of celebrating Zirnitrans outside confirm the success.

The radio relays Lev’s words to the masses, which Irina recognizes as her own, then hears about the kholodets and weeps in happiness. The effect of her going out into the sunlight is very well-done, evoking pain and disorientation.

Lev feels a bit disoriented after returning to Earth too. He’s been promoted several spots to Major and has immediately a world historical figure and national hero and celebrity.

For someone as honest and unassuming as Lev, it’s hard to keep up, especially when his post-launch job is all about schmoozing, marketing, and propaganda. Harlova even tells him he now has the power to start a revolution…if he so chooses.

Harlova seems to want Lev to go down this road, but he’s still preoccupied with Irina, who lied to him about joining the design bureau. It gives him further pause when Harlova tells him that anything that no longer has a use is disposed of as a matter of course.

Anya is reassigned, which means Irina will soon be all alone. But when she gives Anya her jewel necklace to give to Lev, Anya presses it back in Irina’s hand. She’s resolved to help Irina see Lev again, and won’t let Irina give up so easily.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Faraway Paladin – 09 – A Wyvern in Whitesails

Will, Menel, Bee and Tonio arrive in Whitesails, and Will is understandably overwhelmed by how big and full of people and activity it is. Bee suggests the quartet wash off the road at the local public bathhouse and then grab a bite to eat at a local tavern. After that, Will gets down to business.

He arrives at Whitesails’ main temple, a gigantic classical structure that feels more like a tourist trap. After meeting with an acolyte, he encounters the temple’s head bishop, Bagley, who is a gruff, no-nonsense operator who nonetheless can sense the power of Will’s faith, and approves having him added to the priestly registry. I’m sure we’ll see more of Bagley, along with the Vice Bishop (the young woman in the end credits) soon.

Will and his party aren’t able to relax long in the cushy accommodations the clergy provides as a perk of his registration, as the city is suddenly attacked by a wyvern. Within seconds it manages to destroy crucial infrastructure, kill dozens, and leave hundreds more in a state of chaos. Will hurries to meet the threat, but initially lashes out with his longest-range lightning magic, and misses.

Menel gets Will to calm down and focus, and summons the faeries to help Will create a lightning spider web that brings the wyvern down to the ground. Once there, the wyvern threatens to spread both its fire breath and a dark miasma all over the temple grounds, but Will first spears it in the midsection then relies on Blood’s hand-to-hand training to wrestle the beast down and break its neck.

He does this in full view of dozens of shocked bystanders, who aren’t quite sure how to react to what they just saw. That’s where Bee and Tonio come in. Bee strums her lute and sings a song of the Wyvern Killer saving the city, and Tonio ensures word of their friend’s heroism will spread throughout the city. In this regard, Will’s party truly is optimized for both creating and distributing his growing legend.

Killing the wyvern also gets Will an audience with Ethelbard, the fair and honorable young lord of Whitesails and all of Southmark. That said, their meeting is a bit tense, as it was when Will first entered the temple, as Ethel isn’t quite sure who he’s dealing with or what to make of him. That soon changes when he learns that half of Will’s party wasn’t directly involved in the battle, and that he did most of the work.

After officially thanking him for saving the city, Ethel asks if there’s any reward he’d want, and Will is ready: he wants Ethel to send troops to the Beast Woods to aid the villages suffering demon attacks. Ethel says that’s a tough ask, as his forces are already spread thin, and the dark miasma turns any beings it touches into savages, further complicating matters.

Will requests an alternative: he will use his own funds to raise an army of mercenaries and adventurers to protect those areas Ethel’s armies cannot. Ethel immediately sees this as a potential threat to his authority, even if Will doesn’t intend it as such, and even weighs the pros and cons of simply killing Will before he becomes too much of a problem.

Obviously he’s not going to be killing Will—I doubt Gracefeel will allow that!—but the more macro Will’s efforts become, the more he bumps up against established powers and enters a realm in which he’s all too green: politics. Again, this is where an expert merchant like Tonio and an expert storyteller in Bee will surely come in handy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 10 – That Sweet Pain

Parting is sweet sorrow, but before that, Irina and Lev’s first and last official date is just plain sweet. Their usual bar is closed, so they go see a movie instead—one about traveling to the moon, natch. Her theater etiquette leads much to be desired, but as Lev learns during their night picnic under the aurora, her kholodets game is pretty solid.

When the time comes for what would normally be a gradual lean in for a kiss, Lev instead remembers the weakened Irina sucking his blood from his arm, and decides to bear his neck to her. She almost digs in, but for the sound of the approaching bus, so the two settle for a significantly less intimate but still sweet, and for Irina, tearful, hug.

Unfortunately, that’s the last we see of these two together this week, which makes the rest of the episode a bit of a drag and a downer. Much is made of Lev and Mikhail being the final two candidates for the first human spaceflight, but there’s no real reason to ever think it won’t be Lev. Still, the two are the subjects of a photo session in the capital of Sangrad to make it look like they live and have always lived there, for the benefit of the public.

As for Irina, she and Anya just happen to be in Not-Red Square when Irina spots Lev and rushes towards him, only to be stopped by suited security goons. Anya has ice creams slapped out of her hands and is scolded for letting Irina out of her sight. Turns out there is no “Design Bureau”, Irina continues to undergo tests and counts down the days down until the launch, when she suspects she’ll be of no further use and disposed of.

Little does she know the saucy Comrade-Secretary Ludmila Harlova does have plans for Irina as some kind of weapon, and besides that considers her too cute to eliminate. Since she’s essentially Gergiev’s right hand (and may be eyeing his job for all her talk of “revolution”), that means Irina will almost certainly live.

As for Lev, he is chosen to be the first human in space, basically because he’s less of an arrogant prick than Mikhail, which…sure, fine! He reunites with the Chief at the flight center, and names his capsule Aster, which in the language of flowers (in Zirnitra at least) represents hoping someone far away is safe.

Irina has to settle for seeing Lev as a constellation in the sky, or mistaking Anya for him. I (1.) hope she’s not slowly going mad and (2.) sincerely hope that she and Lev can meet again, because when the two of them aren’t sharing the screen together, everything—even the first human spaceflight—feels a little less special.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 09 – A Softening of Thorns

Not-Russia’s head honcho doesn’t like how the not-Americans are progressing with their space program, and the Chief promises they’ll have a human in space by Spring. That human will be one of three people: Mikhail, Roza…and Lev. As you’d expect, Lev is over the moon about getting one step closer to it, while Mikhail is more reserved and Roza downright cold, telling him his “tongue is honey” and his “heart is ice.”

While wishing Mikhail and Roza would be more friendly, Lev mostly just wants to give Irina the good news, driving home the fact he cares for her a great deal. She, in turn, can’t hide how much Irina cares for Lev, as Anya mentions to him that she even threw a pine cone on the ice to make a wish. Irina, not to mention Lev and Anya, have a lot of fun faces this week as the highly procedural show lets its hair down a bit.

We also see how much Irina and Anya have grown as friends, with the latter giving the former a full progress report on the three final candidates. Mikhail and the “White Rose” Roza are still running first and second, and Irina can’t help but tip her hat at the nickname, as Roza is certainly full of thorns. Later, after running out of her dungeon due to embarrassment over Lev, Irina asks Anya if she’s been useful and still has value. The sweet and empathetic Anya naturally reassures her with both words and a hug.

Roza’s position as Number Two among the candidates suddenly goes up in flames when she loses control during a high-speed skydive. She spins out of control, unable to move, but Lev catches up to her, steadies her, and pulls her cord. It means Lev has to pull his cord a few seconds late and ends up landing in a forest, but he saved Roza’s life, and later Roza makes no bones about knowing that.

When Roza asks Lev why he saved her, Lev simply said he moved on his own to save a pal. There was no why, only that bond he feels, which has been one-sided up to this point. Roza thanks him by smiling, buying him a soda water, and apologizing for all the nasty things she’s said both to him and Irina, who she calls by name for the first time. The face turn seems sudden but only until you remember she really thought she was going to die. I for one am delighted they found another note for Roza besides prickly bitter xenophobe!

As for Miss Luminesk, who has always been a kaleidoscopic symphony of notes, she and Anya happen to walk by while Lev and Roza seem to be enjoying each other’s company, sparking a degree of jealousy. She’s almost assassinated in the street by a car, whose driver is swiftly executed by Nataliya, who proves she’s as much Irina’s bodyguard as her dorm mother.

Laika was never going to “dispose” of its titular protagonist, but there was always the possibility she and Lev would be separated by powers outside their control. Irina puts on a brave face regarding her choice to relocate to he capital to aid in space research, because it means not being close enough to Lev to hang out whenever they want.

Still, Lev is happy the government he could take or leave is finally seeing the value in Irina, and wishes her well. Anya also arranges for the two to have one last, first date together on Armed Forces Day. Irina’s face upon seeing Lev arrive bang on time is worth a thousand bittersweet words.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 08 – Wait and See

Irina returns to headquarters not to more scorn and racism, but an actual standing ovation—albeit a somewhat forced and stilted one. As forced by the chief as the applause might be, it’s still applause directed at Irina, something she likely never imagined she’d ever experience when she volunteered to do this.

The downside to both Irina’s success and Lev’s role in that success is that it becomes the impetus that separates them just when they were feeling closer to one another than ever. Lev is promoted to full candidate and joins the others for the final tests to select the first human cosmonaut. One would think his knee injury would put him out of the running, literally, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue.

As for Irina, her long expected post-launch “disposal” is postponed indefinitely. While the narrator suggests that someone might try to cause an “accident”, that’s made harder by the fact Anya makes it her mission to be Irina’s friend in Lev’s place. She takes her out for a festive night on the town, wearing traditional dress and performing the ritual of tossing pine cones into the water to grant your wishes.

It would seem Irina got her wish, which wasn’t at all “Love Live the Motherland”, but nothing more than another opportunity to be with Lev. When they meet for the first time in the new year, he’s prepared a spread and presents her with a bouquet. Irina questions the “point” of all this, all the while smiling with glee. So far it looks like these two crazy kids are going to be just fine, but as Lev says, it’s very much still a “wait and see” situation.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 07 – Borscht or Bust

The day of launch has arrived, and Irina dons her proper Zirnitran uniform, but meets one-on-one with the Chief, who has survived countless small heart attacks to get to this point. Due to the risk of the UK monitoring her transmissions once in orbit, Irina is told to read the script of a cooking show to communicate her condition. If everything’s A-OK, she’ll read about borscht. If not, a cheeseburger.

In hindsight, Lev’s arrest was a naked attempt to build up tension and drama before the launch, as his detainment doesn’t even last through the launch. He is freed by Natalia, who discovered that Franz sabotaged the centrifuge in order to kill Irina, thus ending the Chief’s career. Lev is not only freed but gets to be one of the last people Irina sees before her flight to the heavens.

Since this is the first time they’ve attempted this with a person, there’s no guarantee this will be a two-way trip…except for the fact this is just the seventh episode and the titular character is exceedingly unlikely to perish here and now. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel a combined feeling of awe and dread—the same thing I’ve felt before watching any real-world spaceflight.

Everything goes according to plan at first, but other than a brief shot of Irina on video that soon fizzles out, the entire flight is from the perspective of Lev and the team in the control room. Lev’s crippling sense of helplessness is palpable when they lose contact, and for a few moments, he feels like perhaps Irina really is gone…and really feels that loss.

Thankfully, once communication is restored, Irina recites the recipe for borscht, delighting Lev the flight team down on earth and adding some welcome whimsy to what had been a strictly by-the-book launch procedure, as she rattles off the cooking instructions as her capsule dances above Earth’s night side. She even manages to get her feelings through to Lev by reciting her own recipe: for the odd Zirnitran drink he loves.

While the political officers in the control room really want to blow her up, both when she goes off script and when there’s a chance the capsule could land outside Zirnitran borders. But they don’t blow it up. That said, it’s a mad dash to the remote wintry landscape where the capsule landed, and Lev leads the way on his motorcycle.

While he’s thrown from that cycle when he hits an ice sheet, he only suffers a skinned knee, and gets right back in the saddle in search of Irina and her parachute. He finds it, which…is pretty lucky! But that’s fine; just as this show knows we don’t want Irina to die, it also knows we want to see the pair cuddle under the parachute in mutual relief and affection for each other.

The world may never know who Irina was or the feat she achieved, but it doesn’t matter: she knows, and the human lad knows too. That’s more than enough for both of them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 06 – Moon Shot in the Arm

Traumatized by what she saw at the crash site, Irina has a nightmare about suffering the same fate as all those poor test dogs. But as usual, she keeps her troubles within and tries to power through them, training as if nothing is wrong. But her mental anguish results in physical ailments: fatigue, loss of apetite, and anemia. With only days before the launch, this is no time for her numbers to be dropping.

Remembering what Irina told him about drinking the goat’s blood, Lev arranges some blood to drink. Not knowing where it came from, Irina refuses it, saying she’d rather die than defile her body. Unwilling to let her dream die, Lev offers an alternative: she can drink his blood…from his arm.

Irina agrees, and not long after digging into that arm, the light is back in her eyes, and the color back in her flesh. It’s also the equivalent of this particular couple’s first kiss…a vampire’s kiss. As such, both of them act bashfully and nervously before it happens. Once it’s over though, Irina looks and feels so much better, Lev is glad he had blood to offer. Still, Irina seems to feel a bit guilty for taking it.

With Irina back on her feet, the two enter the final stages of her training, including the harrowing parachute spin. Her first such trip to the ground is in tandem with Lev, who keeps her calm when the g-forces start to rattle her. Once they land, Lev tells her that her next jump will be solo. Who knew then that meant he wouldn’t be around for it!

Due to what looks like some shenanigans from Franz, the centrifuge goes haywire. Lev basically breaks the machine in order to stop it, enraging the old asshole researcher, who then decides to start beating on Irina. Lev doesn’t lose his temper, but it doesn’t matter.

When the old coot trips and falls backwards, it’s all the pretext he needs to have Lev hauled away for assault. Irina is now left without a protector…and her capsule will indeed be fitted with explosives in case it lands near the borders. In other words, just as Lev and Irina had their closest and most tender encounter, things couldn’t be worse. The only bright side is that Irina does indeed seem bound for space in just a couple of days.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 05 – Free Falling

A military bigwig arrives to inspect the training facility, and to also tell the two dozen or so candidates that only six of them will make the cosmonaut cut. When one of those candidates screws up their parachuting drill, Lev is suddenly back on the active roster. He might end up in space after all.

Meanwhile, Irina is in the anechoic chamber, which she basically treats like her coffin, only larger and most likely quieter. While in there, she’s left alone with her awful memories of when her village was massacred and her parents torched. At one point she softly calls Lev’s name, and can’t help but grab his sleeve when he finally comes in to release her from her solitude.

Irina probably figures she can’t hide the fact that she doesn’t hate Lev’s guts, so she comes right out and says she considers him the only human who isn’t bad. I’m not sure what that pink-haired researcher did to her! All joking aside, we get another great skydiving scene with Irina ending up in the unenviable situation of having to stare at Lev to keep her head up, even if it means being unable to hide her blushing.

When the two are up in the air they can forget about all the awfulness that surrounds them, but they come back down to earth literally and figuratively when they witness an aborted space capsule flight and the corpse of one of the experiment dogs. Those horrible flashbacks come roaring back, putting Irina in a state of shock.

Lev’s superior picks them up, and tells him that no one was supposed to see that. Back in the command room, the mission commander battles both his ailing heart and the political reality of having to self-destruct Irina’s capsule should she land in another country. You can tell he’s way more in this for the science and discovery, not the patriotism.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 03 – Freedom, Not Fear

After a scene involving the pudgy, scheming old men who run Zirnitra from the capital, Sangrad (some who want to kill Irina as soon as the mission is over, some who want to wait and see), we see Lev get his first R&R since taking on the job of Irina’s handler. His former candidate comrades are a mix of curious, pitying, and superior.

It’s clear that due to his time with Irina, he’s no longer one of them…and that might not be the worst thing. As for “things”, it’s clear Anya doesn’t consider Irina one, but a fellow person. As a scientist, she knows the best way to overcome fear of something is to understand it better. She understands vampires to an extent she doesn’t fear them in the least. On the contrary; she adores “Irinyan”.

Lev ends up applying this axiom to Irina’s acrophobia, by exposing her to the most extreme heights so she can eventually realize how goddamn awesome it is when you’re flying and thus overcome her fear. Their moonlight flight is a series highlight in terms of visual panache; it really draws you in, like the great Miyazaki adventure in the sky.

Lev’s experiment on his “test subject” works like a charm, as Irina’s fears are replaced by wonder and a thirst for freedom unquenchable by even the fizziest lemon seltzer available. But the flight doesn’t just change Irina. It continues a gradual but inevitable change in Lev, from a soldier carrying out his duty of handling a test subject, to a young lad developing feelings for Irina Luminesk as if she were an ordinary human woman.

Lev isn’t training Irina in order to achieve the mission anymore; he’s training her so the government won’t dispose of her for not measuring up. Fortunately Irina excels at pretty much everything they throw at her, and once she’s over her acrophobia, flight and parachuting (another bravura sequence) is no exception. One of Lev’s colleagues warns him not to develop feelings for Irina, but it’s clearly already way too late for that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 02 – Lemon Seltzer

This week is entirely devoted to the beginning of Irina’s training to become the first human(esque) Cosmonaut in space. Lev is right beside her all the way, enduring the same trials, so it’s no surprise he fails to see her only as an object and a test subject and not…a person like him.

After Lev narrowly outruns Irina on the track drills, she tries to regain her pride by outlasting him in in a 90-degree (Celsius!) steam bath. The senior researcher is a real racist piece of shit who insists on binding and muzzling her when it’s Lev’s turn to bake, then strapping her into the centrifuge so tight the chafing makes her bleed then subjecting her to too many Gs too fast.

If Dr. Asshole’s goal was to dehumanize Irina, it had the opposite effect, not just with Lev but with Anya as well. Seeing a vampire bleed the exact same blood, like running beside one or enduring intense heat, intense gravity, or intense…space food is only making Lev think of her more as just a human with pointy teeth and no sense of taste.

It’s with this in mind and a spirit of playfulness that Lev takes Irina to the parachute training site in the middle of the night. When she shows signs of acrophobia but won’t admit she’s scared, she gives her a little push, and she ends up on an awkward, harrowing ride to the bottom. But I’m sure the same exact thing happened to Lev his very first time, just as I’m sure it would’ve happened with me!

The kicker is when Lev treats Irina to a new sensation: carbonated water. Because she despises everything Lev represents, she won’t explicitly admit she really loves the stuff, especially with lemon, but whether she likes it or not shes warming to him just as he’s learning that vampires are just humans with a few differences that are, at the end of the day, not enough to engender the prejudice and oppression Irina and her kind suffer.

We learn from the boss that Lev was chosen specifically because he was liable to treat Irina like a person. It remains to be seen if Lev, like Lena in 86, will try to rebel against Irina’s oppressors for her sake.

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