Darling in the FranXX – 19 – Talented Yet Terrifying

Frikkin’ scientists, amirite? It’s said Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, but the moment they tasted the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, Eden pretty much ceased to exist anyway. Eden is an impossibility in a world where humanity is aware that there is far more to the world than the limited, tedious paradise they inhabit.

Knowledge is simultaneously what makes humans humans and what constantly threatens to destroy them. It is humanity that developed world-ending nuclear weapons; it is also humanity that maintains the delicate balance that has kept those weapons from being used for over seven decades and counting.

This week on DFX we learn a lot more about Dr. FranXX, formerly Werner Frank, eccentric maverick scientific genius. We also learn that APE began as a collection of elite scientists, and they recruited him to work on something that has always fascinated humans: how to make immortality a reality.

It’s all too poetic that humanity developed the ability that could massacre most of the human population in one day, while we still have a long way to go before we’re all immortal. And yet, I can’t help but think the same thing that staves off nuclear war is the thing that keeps us from advancing too far in achieving immortality.

That thing is fear. If there is ever a global nuclear war, it could end humanity. If there is ever a breakthrough that makes humans immortal, it will also end humanity; just in a different way.

But that’s the real world. Here in DFX humanity advances far beyond the “safe zone” of maintaining humanity as we know it, thanks to brilliant minds like Frank and his colleague Karina Milsa.

Their efforts are admirable, but to quote the incomparable Dr. Ian Malcolm, they were so preoccupied with whether they could achieve immortality, they never stopped to ask whether they should.

The Magma Energy mining system developed by APE ends up gradually  desertifying much of the Earth’s surface. But Magma Energy also grants humans—now essentially immortal—to build grand structures like Plantations in which to live. It’s just evolution, right?

Only Magma Energy has another side effect: the emergence of the inscrutable, ruthless Klaxosaurs. It’s as if the world was trying to correct humanity’s technological overreach, and restore its mortality.

Still, Frank and Milsa’s massive scientific intellects are re-purposed to developing anti-Klaxosaur weapons: a robot that would come to be called the FranXX. At first it had a single pilot. One of the test pilots was Milsa, who loved Frank and married him, but was lost in a prototype accident when the robot went berserk.

Upon losing the only person in his life Frank had a close connection to, he lost another part of his humanity, and so stopped caring about the future of mankind and simply focused on how much further he could progress it; how much better he could make weapons with which to defeat their new enemy.

FranXX became piloted by male-female pairs, restoring a measure of the reproductive drive lost by the proliferation of immortality treatments. Mankind put themselves back into a state of godliness and thus rebuilt Eden and locked themselves in for an eternal stay.

Only the pilots, parasites of FranXX were involved in fighting the Klaxosaurs outside of Eden (or, in the case of Mistilteinn, just beyond its borders). Meanwhile adults lived their endless tedious lives in the Eden they built, and forgot all about Klaxosaurs in the first place.

APE eventually located the Klaxosaur “leader,” and sends Frank to investigate. Of his team, only he is spared by the “Princess”, whom he regards as the most beautiful being he’s ever seen. But she can smell the blood of her Klaxosaur brethren on his hands, and exacts punishment in the form of tearing off his arm.

This ordeal does not discourage Frank in the least. Considering how far he’d come to come face-to-face with such a fascinating being, it stands to reason he’d keep pushing to perfect mankind’s defenses, not for it’s own sake, but like climbing a mountain, because it (being discovery) is simply there.

Frank seeks no earthly rewards or accolades; only more knowledge, and the self-recognition that he progressed the technology as far as he “humanly” could.

This brings us to the present, where Frank is now known as Dr. Franxx, and he’s grizzled and partially mechanized. APE, still his bosses, wiped Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories without his knowledge or consent, thus in his mind impeding the path he himself set to achieve the results they seek. Frank/Franxx never had any problem achieving results. The problem lay in the means with which he used to achieve them.

Regardless, results are results, and they’ve given him enough clout to allow Squad 13 to have a candid audience with APE in order to state their wishes: for Kokoro and Mitsuru’s memories to be restored. No can do, APE cites; they cannot restore what is no longer there; the memories were removed, not merely blocked.

Upon learning this, Hiro gets upset, and tells APE they can no longer consider people who did such things to them their “Papa”, i.e. their authority to which to be subservient.

When the APE members don’t even bother answering Zorome’s naive question about how many Klaxosaurs they’ll have to kill to become adults (because the answer is “you will never be adults”) “Papa” lost their last advocate in Squad 13.

They may need Franxx’s know-how and connections to have any success at opposing APE, but that doesn’t mean Hiro will ever forgive him for what he did to both him, Zero Two, and whoever else he used as mere tools or variables in his grand experiments.

We also learn how Zero Two came to be: when the Klaxosaur Princess attacked him, he managed to come away not just with his life, but a clump of her hair…hair containing her DNA…which he used to clone her, thus, presumably, creating Zero Two.

So will he help Zero Two, Hiro, and Squad 13? Have they rekindled his belief that humanity isn’t really human unless they can love, struggle, and die? I hope so; the kids need all the help they can get.

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Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 08 – Growing Up Quickly, Venturing off the Path

As their days in Japan grow less numerous, Alec might’ve hoped Teresa will gradually ratchet down her lingering glances in Mitsuyoshi’s direction. Instead, after a lovely trip to Lake Kawaguchi to photograph Fujiyama and the stars, the opposite seems to be happening, and Mitsuyoshi finds himself glancing back more and more.

The subject of the group’s conversation turns to love when they visit a shrine and purchase their fortunes. Ijuuin continues to quixotically flirt with Alec, while Hajime continues to make remarks about HINA when she’s standing right beside him. Pretty standard TKS stuff.

Teresa probably also hoped Charles’ continued presence would steer Teresa back on course, but Charles is drawn away from the fun by work from home, and has to stay at the inn while everyone else sets out for the lake to make camp and wait for the stars to come out.

Everyone ends up dozing off except for Mitsuyoshi and Teresa, who end up talking a lot about their respective pasts. While Mitsuyoshi losing his parents was certainly more tragic than Alec getting wet and crying, the fact of the matter is both of them reacted the same way: by regretting mistakes they made and wishing they could go back and fix them.

But they can’t so Mituyoshi opines that regret is a means of reminding themselves not to repeat mistakes that were made but can’t be unmade. The symbolism of the clouds parting to reveal the stars just as the two possible soul mates open up to one another was not lost on me.

Unfortunately, any further developments between the two are curtailed when Ijuiin pops out of the darkness, though Teresa instinctively grabs hold of Mituyoshi’s arm, turning beet red when she realized what she’d done.

The photo club gets their star shots, and before you know it the trip is over and Charles is headed back to Larsenburg. When he kisses Teresa’s hand and bids her goodbye, her hilarious lack of emotional response is conspicuous, but Charles doesn’t let his disappointment show until he has his back turned to Teresa and Alec.

Alec, meanwhile, doesn’t have the same faith Charles does that Teresa will end up fine eventually; perhaps because she’s been by her side in Japan far longer. So she confronts Teresa right there at the airport, preparing to ask, no doubt, about what exactly she’s doing falling in love with Mitsuyoshi.

I doubt the question will be phrased quite that way—nor is there a version of such a question Teresa will be able to answer easily—but when the hair of anime characters whips around that emphatically, you know drama’s afoot.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 07 – If You Give Up, Then That’s That

Nyanko Big, Pillar of the Tada family since the loss of its mom and dad, is missing. Mitsuyoshi’s little sister Yui takes center stage in the search for him, riffing off of her favorite manga that chronicle the cases of Hercule Poirot’s half-Japanese granddaughter…which doesn’t sound like a half-bad anime!

Everyone joins in the search, even Sir Charles, who was the one who saw him last with his “girlfriend” (a raggedy foxtail toy). During the search, Yui is happy to be partnered with Yamashita Dog, on whom she’s been maintaining a crush. (Hinako and Hajime sit this one out).

When we first see Charles reacting to something earlier on, and Yui’s gramps mentions how pets “take a trip” when their “time has come”, the episode is trying to tint the proceedings with foreboding, but while the thought briefly occurred to me they might kill off the cat, that thought didn’t last due to the search’s lighthearted tone.

Sure enough, they find Nyanko attempting to woo the disinterested Cherry, who happens to be the pet of “Chia-nee”, a lovely woman who knows Yamashita and pats him on the head as he coos. The joy of finding her cat is replaced by the revelation the guy she likes likes someone else, and says as much later when they’re enjoying celebratory festival snacks.

Teresa knows something’s up, and when asked what’s up, Yui cannot hide her tears of frustration, asking Teresa if falling in love with someone is always so painful. Like Nyanko Big, Yui is meowing up the wrong awning, but Charles later confides in Nyanko that he senses he may be doing the same with Teresa.

That aside, Teresa is the one who once told him “if you give up, then that’s that!”, when he tried to give up looking for his cherished gold bracelet (perhaps given to him by Teresa). She didn’t give up, ended up finding it, and he still wears it to this day. He, in turn, won’t give up, and neither will Nyanko and Yui.

As for Mitsuyoshi? Well, once again he’s a non-factor, only managing a momentary awkward meeting of eyes with Teresa. You can’t give up something you haven’t started, and with only five episodes left, he’s running out of time to do so.

Darling in the FranXX – 17 – All the New Rules are Starting to be Scrapped

Things have gotten so blissfully domestic in the scarred remains of Mistilteinn, Zero Two files her horns like one trims their nails, and Miku makes her a tiara of flowers that give her a more regal bearing. There’s a very Garden of Eden/Earthly Delights about their home, especially with Hiro Kokoro already having met their “serpents” in Zero Two and the pregnancy book, respectively.

Both have lent knowledge “Papa” (i.e. God”) did not directly give them, and has fundamentally changed their destinies, with Kokoro gaining the drive to procreate and Hiro growing horns of his own. Once Adam and Eve Know Too Much, anyone who’s read Genesis knows what happens next—expulsion from paradise. Papa’s agents arrive almost on queue to “check on” Squad 13 and see if any “corrections” are needed.

The Nines come dripping with the smug superiority you’d expect of such agents, looking down upon the less-than-ideal living conditions. None of them seem to touch the meager repast their hosts made and caught themselves—and no doubt can’t afford to waste. They look upon Squad 13 with pity, if not outright disgust, and their honeyed words and wry grins are fooling nobody (except Zorome, of course).

Meanwhile, during their latest meeting in the “birdcage” conservatory, Kokoro finally tries to come on to Mitsuru, having read the contents of the pregnancy booklet over and over, seeing the profound difference in their bodies, and thinking how right it feels to bring them together to make a life that will carry on after they’re gone.

Unfortunately, the night before while bumping into a Nine, Kokoro lost her booklet and it fell into Alpha’s hands. That’s when the wry grin vanishes.

Mitsuru rebuffed Kokoro’s advancements, but more out of shock that she was acting on feelings he knew he had for her. It takes a bath with his old buddy Hiro to realize those are feelings of love, and he should do what his heart is telling him to do.

Before he has a chance to, the Nines confront Kokoro in front of the rest Squad 13 (who heard from Zorome that she and Mitsuru are an “item” now), and Alpha presents her baby booklet, full of straight-up taboo ideas that aren’t even supposed to be spoken of. Reproduction has been banned ever since humans “evolved past it.”

What’s interesting is how Alpha handles what could be a life-jeopardizing situation for Kokoro like a hall monitor finding contraband. He is merely an instrument of Papa speaking only with Papa’s voice. But his dispassionate tone becomes cruel when Kokoro makes her case for why humans are no different in other animals, and how there should be more to life than piloting FranXX into battle.

He calls her and her perfectly reasonable ideas utterly “disgusting”, and for that, Ikuno slaps him and has to be held back from doing more, not merely lashing out on Kokoro’s behalf, but due to her own unrequited love for Ichigo.

Hachi and Nana separate Kokoro from the others and reveals that they’ve been watching Squad 13 all along, as part of Dr. FranXX’s “final test” for them. When Nana insists that even talking about reproduction is banned, let alone doing ti, Kokoro rightfully asks why they have the organs to do so, and emotions that seem to compel them to do so.

These questions from Kokoro spark a sharp visceral reaction in Nana, leading both Hachi and Alpha to suspect that she’s “relapsed to puberty”, which is ominously referred to as “not being good” for the person to which it happens. Alpha even blithely suggests they replace her with a “new Nana,” as the current one has been rendered “useless.” Harsh shit.

Based on Dr. FranXX’s reaction to Squad 13’s developments (and absent further information) it seems his primary goal was to see how easing 13’s emotional and sexual suppression would improve their performance as weapons against the Klaxosaurs. After all, he never expected his experiments would lead 13 to develop “humanity’s original reproductive instincts.”

And yet, here we are. When two members of APE arrive at Klaxosaur Central (presumably in the Gran Crevasse), they meet the humanoid “Princess of the Klaxosaurs” and formally ask her to surrender to Humanity and end the now century-long war.

When she refuses, one of the APE members attacks her, and she slaughters him, his partner, and their three guards with ease. When she removes the mask of one of the corpses to find nothing there, she derides them as “human wannabes.”

That got the gears going in my head: what if, perhaps a century ago or more, aliens invaded earth and imposed the system they have now? What if the “humans” we’ve seen in the various plantations are the anamoly, and the Klaxosaurs are actually closer to what humans used to be?

We can’t say how far in the future this story takes place, so the fact Nana, Hachi, and the parasites we’ve watched could have tricked us into thinking they’re “real humans” with their familiar looks and ways of living. The Princess’ words throw everything into doubt…though one thing we learn from Zero Two is that she can’t reproduce like humans.

Earlier in the series I doubt anyone would have guessed that the first Squad 13 couple to jump into bed together would be Kokoro and Mitsuru, but here we are. I enjoyed the contrast between the candlelit chasteness of Zero Two and Hiro’s romance, and the more physical, primal, hot-and-heavy Kokoro+Mitsuru variety that finally crests with the two having sex.

It is an act of simple human biology, and yearning to decide one’s future with one’s own heart an act of simple human psychology. But in their artificial world, these are also acts of rebellion, as well as capital crimes for which there may well be dire consequences. After all, Dr. FranXX, Hachi, Nana, the Nines, and APE are all watching. The Garden of Eden may feel secluded, but nothing that goes on there is really private.

APE, however, have more pressing matters. The Princess has violently rebuffed their condescending “olive branch”, and so they vow the Klaxosaurs will “feel the pain of having their earth scorched by their own creation.” ‘Their?’ Scratch that about aliens: perhaps Klaxosaurs are highly-evolved humans who created the APE and their ilk; now they’re at war with them, with Zero Two, Hero, and Squad 13 stuck in the middle.

While we’re on the subject of creations coming to bite their creators in the ass, I’ll close with that iconic quote from Jurassic Park:

Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 06 – Teresa Can’t Fall in Love

For a show called “Tada-kun Never Falls in Love”, it’s somewhat stunning how little romantic development there’s been between Tada and Teresa, not to mention how little Tada-kun there’s been.

His interest in Teresa has been so…peripheral (one or two moments excepted) that the sudden appearance of Prince Charles—Teresa’s fiancee back home—feels premature. Why throw a wrench into the works when there have been barely any works?

Thankfully, Charles isn’t a tumbling dickweed despite his status and his Aventador rental(?); he seems to genuinely care about Teresa, and he has the looks and charisma to win over every skeptic at school. He doesn’t even make the mistake of blurting out the blindingly obvious fact that Hinako is HINA!

You get the feeling Charles isn’t interacting with Teresa’s Japanese friends out of obligation or a sense of royal patience. Even if his coming to Japan flies in the face of Teresa’s original intent for going—to get away from her other life—one can appreciate how her trip there might’ve felt to him like a warning sign, and how coming there allayed those concerns.

When Ijuuin invites everyone to a fancy celebrity gala and neither Charles, Teresa, nor Alec can attend, only for their previous engagement is that very party, seems to be the universe once more working in Teresa and Tada’s favor, even if the two have done precious little with such opportunities (with good reason, considering Teresa’s obligation to marry Charles).

It’s here at the party where it should be plain that Teresa isn’t just a mere foreign transfer student, but someone quite a bit more…important. Nevertheless, Tada treats her like he’d treat anyone else, and when she wanders off on her own after washing a drink off her dress, and she and Tada are caught in the rain, he does the appropriate thing and give her his jacket to keep her warm.

As Charles and Alec dance to pass the time, Tada and Teresa simply shoot the breeze, enjoying one another’s company. But while Tada is being as open and honest as someone who “never falls in love” can be, Teresa basically continues to sit on a throne of lies (or at least omissions).

Teresa and Tada look for all the world like star-crossed lovers, what with the fact they both stared up at the same North Star as kids. And Tada is once more swept into the background when a panicked Alec arrives to scold Teresa.

Charles is not nearly as worried (unlike Alec he recognizes she’s an adult, if an easily-lost one), but the sight of him taking Teresa by the shoulder and walking off is the first time we’ve seen anything resembling anguish from the oh-so-stoic Tada.

What Tada has yet to learn (and will he ever?) is that Teresa has already decided that when she’s done this Japan trip, she’s going back home marrying Charles, and becoming queen once the present monarch kicks the bucket. It’s all set in stone.

With this episode, the title of the series can be viewed in a different light: it’s not that Tada isn’t capable of falling in love—he’s on his way to doing so with Teresa—but he never falls in love because in the one instance he did, it’s with an unattainable woman.

But as Teresa looks up at the North Star after retiring for bed, one gets the feeling she might feel lost, despite her stone future. After all, that’s what people do when they’re lost and the North Star is in view!

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 05 – A Good Meal, a Nice Bath, and an Unexpected Guest

The first minutes of this episode of Tada-kun are, in a word, heartbreaking. A grown Mitsuyoshi and Yui pray at their parents’ grave with their gramps, and we’re taken back to the rainy day their dad suddenly has to hop on a flight, and their mom drives him to the airport.

As they pull away, his dad pokes his head out the window and snaps a picture of his kids. Mitsuyoshi is sullen. Yui is cheerful. It turns out to be the last picture their dad took; he and their mom were killed in an accident, and would never return.

Back in the present, Kaoru blasts into the Tadas’ cafe to announce the “Tenth Annual Ijuuin Kaoru Show” is on, and it’s live. This year, all are welcome, from Hajime, Hinako and Yamashita Dog, to newcomers Teresa and Alec. Kaoru asks them all to sit back while he utilizes his not inconsiderable culinary skillz to prepare all their favorite dishes.

When Mitsuyoshi and Teresa are tasked with putting some food away in the fridge in the upstairs apartment, she’s drawn to that last photo Mitsuyoshi’s dad took, and when he explains the context, she remembers when she fell in the drink and was saved by Alec around the same time Mitsu and Yui lost their folks. She considers both times when they decided they had to try to become stronger; in her case for Alec’s sake; in his case for Yui’s.

The exchange is interrupted when Kaoru announces he’s completed everyone’s dishes and it’s time to dig in. Everyone agrees Kaoru (who comes from a restaurant family) is damn good at cooking, even if, in Alec’s case, she doesn’t outwardly say it. Instead, she merely polishes of every last bit of her katsu bowl and asks for seconds.

The Kaoru Show continues after dinner with a trip to a bathhouse he’s rented out for the evening (he’s a young man of means, after all), and the two genders split off to their respective sides of the bath. Since they’re in the bath, there is talk of boob size on both sides, as well as Yui thinking out loud that Teresa would be a great girlfriend for her big brother. Alec says Teresa already has one, only to dismiss it as a “joke.”

Over on the boys’ side, Yamashita pines for an “older girl” presumed to be Hinako, while Hajime overheats and slips on a bowl, nearly cracking his skull. When the two groups reunite, Hinako is right there by Hajime’s side to help him, for which he’s grateful, even if he told his friends in the bath that his getting romantically involved with her would never happen (likely because he’s still mostly convinced Hinako and HINA are different people).

After the bathhouse, the Tenth Annual Ijuuin Kaoru Show comes to a close, and we learn about it’s raison d’etre: ten years ago, when Mitsuyoshi lost his folks, Kaoru, who was his classmate but never got along with him before, took pity on Mitsuyoshi, and made cheering him up at any cost his life’s work from that point on.

In other words, or more accurately in Alec’s words, Kaoru is a “pest”, but “has some good points too”, one of them being he can always be relied on to cheer you up when you’re feeling low. He’s never failed to do so with Mitsuyoshi (and Yui!) for a decade and counting.

After everyone goes their seperate ways and the credits roll, we move on to an entirely new development: the arrival of Teresa’s apparent fiancee/suitor/betrothed, Charles, who not only can stop Alec’s attacks with one hand, but confirms that Teresa is not only a princess of “Larsenberg” (maybe not Luxembourg?), but its future queen.

That makes things a bit more complicated for her and Mitsuyoshi, now doesn’t it?

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 01 – Meet Cutes and Coincidences (First Impressions)

“Oh Hai! I’m not weirded out by you taking my picture AT ALL!”

There are three basic kinds of anime rom-coms: those that do something totally unique and/or unexpected, those that hew close to the well-worn conventions of the genre, and those that stride the two extremes. From the moment Tada Mitsuyoshi catches his love interest Teresa Wagner in his viewfinder, it’s clear we’re dealing with the well-worn variety.

That means it’s up to things like the execution of the romance, the quality of the comedy, the likability of the characters, and the technical aspects that determine whether I’ll watch it. And if I do, I’m still looking for surprises somewhere to liven up an otherwise boilerplate affair. So let’s see what TKS has going for it, and what it doesn’t.

“We meet AGAIN? It’s almost like we’re supposed to be in the same anime!”

Regarding execution of romance, the title says it all: “Tada doesn’t fall in love.” That doesn’t mean he shouldn’tcan’t, or won’t, mind you; it just means he usually/typically/classically…doesn’t. But it’s almost immediately clear from the Imperial Palace Sakura Photo Meet Cute that Mitsuyoshi is struck by Teresa’s beauty, if nothing else. First impressions matter, and can make the difference between “doesn’t” and “could.”

Mitsuyoshi is most likely someone who has never fallen in love because a.) he’s young,  b.) hasn’t found the right person, and/or c.) he’s focused on photography and school. I’m glad he doesn’t fall head-over-heels for Teresa from the start—he knows next to nothing about her—but at the very least, the air-headed foreigner is an intriguing  new presence in his life.

Alec kicks the overcaffeinated sidekick (THANK you…)

As coincidences continue to pile up that bring the two together, Mitsuyoshi brings Teresa before his whole family, consisting of his cafe-running grandfather (who likes the same old samurai tv show as Teresa) and little sister/waitress Yui (obligatory Minasi Inori presence). The shrine in the Tada residence indicates the loss of one or both Tada parents, one of whom was a photog like Mitsuyoshi.

Before long, Mitsu’s best mate and self-professed “Adonis” Ijuuin Kaoru shows up and tries to put the moves on Teresa as soon as Mitsu tells him she’s not his gf, but he’s quickly thwarted, not just from the cafe cat Nyanko Big (who amusingly resembles a friend’s cat), but by Teresa’s traveling companion, Alexandra “Alec” Magritte, who assumes Kaoru is attacking Teresa and swiftly deploys her itchy trigger leg.

Alec and Kaoru look like a dead ringer for the “opposites attract” trope, but while I appreciate what Miyano Mamoru does with his voice at times, his performance as Kaoru feels a few notches too extreme for this milieu (which is probably intentional).

If you were surprised by this development, you don’t watch many anime rom-coms

Why, do you ask, do two Luxembourgish women in Teresa and Alec have perfect command of Japanese? I imagine it’s the same reason Teresa almost gives another surname other than “Wagner”, and why Alec is so well-versed in martial arts and is protective of Teresa: it’s likely she’s royalty, and Alec is her bodyguard/valet.

She’s come to Japan, likely her favorite foreign country, to soak it all in. That means transferring to Mitsu and Kaoru’s school, and even their class. Ye gods, the coincidences…

Of course, they don’t want to broadcast that fact, but it will be interesting if a.) I’m right about this and b.) it creates a conflict with Mitsu, because at this point, there are no conflicts beyond Mitsu’s general normalness and heretofore non-existent love drive. Maybe she has a betrothed? In any case, this was an establish and introduce episode, and for the most part I’m on board.

Violet Evergarden – 05

Violet must be making a name for herself with her unique yet compelling ghostwriting style, because her latest request comes from the royal family of Drossel, whose princess Charlotte is arranged to marry a prince of Flugel, a former enemy.

Violet must ghostwrite love letters to Prince Damian, on Charlotte’s behalf, which will be public and meant to “sell” the match to the two nations’ subjects. One could scarcely live two lives as differently as the coddled Charlotte and the tortured Violet, who are both around fourteen.

Still, Violet assures her client that she will accomplish her mission without fail. Her first love letter is well-written and has the desired effect among both the royal families, resulting in a favorable and just as well-written reply (no doubt from another Auto Memories Doll).

As such, the reply only frustrates Princess Charlotte (Nakajima Megumi), who is quick to emotion and tears, and knows the prince she only met once would never have written such a letter. Four years ago, she fled her “birthday” party, which was nothing but an endless parade of suitors.

The only one to go looking for her, and tell her it was okay to cry, was Prince Damian. When Violet hears of this, the genesis of true love between two people acting genuinely to one another without airs, she institutes a bold plan: let Charlotte write letters, by hand, from the heart, which Violet will refine as necessary.

A stirring correspondence between her and the prince ensues, captivating the public even more with their brutal honesty, modesty, and emotion. Violet assists, but the words are purely Charlotte’s, and once she gets into a rhythm, she has no trouble speaking her mind and voicing her concerns.

The replies she receives are similarly, refreshingly self-deprecating, suggesting the two are more alike than different, each finding the mantle of royalty—and even maturity—an ill fit.

Finally, the time comes for the prince and princess to reunite in the same moonlit garden where they met for the first and only other time. Damian, fully convinced by the letters that Charlotte will be a splendid match, offers his hand in marriage.

Through the power of the letters and the memory they shared (or perhaps the memory Violet told Cattleya to bring up on Damian’s behalf) the royal couple’s love became real, making their marriage not merely one of political expediency, but a strong and lasting bond that reflects the potential for the two nations to embrace each other in equal measure.

Charlotte, like every other “guest” character in VE so far, is quickly and wonderfully depicted, starting out as your prototypical spoiled princess but gradually revealing much more humanity, ironically thanks to the still very doll-like Violet. Her close bond to her maid Alberta was particularly poignant.

While Violet had to force a smile upon meeting Charlotte, her face bears a real one, without trying, on the beautiful day of Charlotte’s wedding, which neither she nor Damian’s doll Cattleya attend, as they must return to Leiden to tackle their next missions.

That smile is huge, because it means that through Violet’s interactions and education dealing with people whose emotions she must suss out in written form, is gradually rubbing off on her. She is learning how to be a person with feelings and desires of her own.

So it’s particularly troubling for someone from her past (Gilbert’s brother Dietfried, if I’m not mistaken) to appear, condemn her for the bloodshed she committed when she was nothing but a vicious weapon, and make her relive one of her many past slaughters.

It occurs to me that Violet Evergarden’s stoic, doll-like, emotionless demeanor was not something hastily achieved; it was the result of an entire life of fourteen years bereft of mercy, kindness, and love…until Gilbert. Now he’s gone, and someone who remembers what she once was and what she did, and threatens to tear down all her progress.

Yet this is also her first real test: Violet must not simply take Dietfried’s scorn and abuse lying down. Whatever she did, she had to do, because she was never given any other choice at that point in her life. Now that conditions have allowed her to claim a life all her own, it’s up to her to defend that life from those who’d drag her back into the shadows.

Overlord II – 01 (First Impressions)

It’s been over two years—833 days—since I last watched or wrote about Overlord, so an immersive episode packed with exposition wasn’t the worst way to be introduced back into its world.

In a lengthy eight-minute cold open, we meet a good number of parties I either have fuzzy memories about or don’t know at all (I haven’t read the light novels).

But the bottom line is, many of these parties spread far and wide throughout the world know of Ainz Ooal Gown, which is precisely how Momonga wanted.

When we finally meet up with the big dude, he’s in Momon Mode, taking out a giant lizard with help from Hamasuke; Nabu by his side. It’s not a tough opponent at all, more of a warm-up, like this episode.

From there, he returns to the Tomb of Nazarick where Albedo is waiting for him, as eager as ever for praise and, well, more physical contact than Momonga’s player is able to consent to (seeing Alby and the other NPCs more as children). Still, Flustered Skullface is always welcome.

Momonga then has a seat, unfurls a big map, and methodically points at each destination, as Albedo gives a report on all the various projects his guardians are working on, from the building of a Fake Nazarick in the nearby great forest, to the status of the investigation to find the one who used a World Item on Shalltear, forcing her to fight her master.

Shalltear is drowning her overwhelming guilt in drink, so Albedo suggests Momonga issue some form of punishment in order to exorcise that guilt, which he considers. He also sends Cocytus off to fight Nazarick’s “first war”, though the details on whom it’s against and where are not shared. There’s also a talking penguin with a very stern look on its face, which…cool, cool.

The episode closes out with a visit to the land of Lizardmen; specifically, Zaryusu, a supposedly disgraced yet respected warrior, and the grizzled chief of his tribe, inspecting Z’s first-of-its-kind fish farm.

Then inky black clouds coalesce and swirl above the village and a super-creepy ball of purple skeletal faces with red eyes announce it is a herald of the “Great One”, declaring death unto the lizards.

So yeah, was this episode a bit all over the place? Sure. But it was still fun. And after so much time, it was great to see the gang back in action (or planning future action) while meeting a few new faces.

Lastly, after the credits, we have a nice little auspicious note from original creator Maruyama Kugane thanking the fans of Overlord for making a second season possible, and dedicating the season to us; a gesture I appreciated.

Kino no Tabi – 05

“Hero” is rarely a title rightly given to oneself; it must be earned and bestowed upon them by those who deem them a hero. And sometimes it’s not the hero’s choice; they just are a hero, because that’s what the people say. Kino runs into one of those people, a tour guide and true believer who fawns over the great hero of her people and gives them a tour of his modest house.

While in there, the tour guide tells Kino and Hermes a number of stories about the relics on display, like a shovel that let him plant flowers anywhere (that was probably for digging poop holes) or his special knife (which is just a souvenir from another country).

Finally, Kino and Hermes meet the hero’s motorrad, kept in perfect running condition, but not ridden since his master’s death. He’s in his version of Hell, and wants desperately to either be freed or destroyed. Kino can do neither; not without deeply offending the people. Would YOU want to get on the bad side of that tour guide? Nuh-uh.

However, before leaving town Kino is approached by a boy who dreams of being a traveler, like Kino and the hero of their country. Kino nudges the kid in the direction of the hero’s doomed motorrad, leaving it up to the kid whether he’d like to take it for a ride. I doubt he could ever go back if he did, though!

Upon entering the gates of another country (the only gate through which travelers can enter or exit, oddly enough), Kino and Hermes find themselves in a dark wood, out of which a man appears and, talking to them as if he knows them, asks if they’ve seen his lover or were sent to give him a message about her. The man’s maid/caretaker catches up to him and takes him back home.

Kino and Hermes go into town and get the skinny on the man from the folk at the inn: He was the hero of their revolution, who had fallen in love with a farmer’s daughter. When the day of the revolution came, he launched a grenade at the escaping royal family’s car, killing them.

His actions secured liberty and a new government for the country, but the princess whom he’d slain turned out to be the farmer’s daughter. Wracked with grief and betrayal, the people say he went mad; and has had to be cared for by one caretaker after another.

For five years, he’s waited for his lover to return, and everyone keeps lying to him. Apparently no one wants to be the one to give him the bad news that she died, because they all say they’ll continue to lie until he dies or they do.

After helping the man’s caretaker get her wagon out of the mud, she offers them tea at the house the government built for the man. After sending him away by lying about an engine noise at the gate, she sits down with Kino and Hermes and tells them the truth: she is the princess, the royal family the man killed were body doubles, and her real family is safe and living comfortable lives out of danger.

Despite the man not knowing who she really is, the princess is still happy, and never wants things to change. The next day, when Kino and Hermes prepare to leave, the man runs out to meet them once more and tells them the truth: he’s not really crazy; he’s actually happy with things the way they are. Everyone in this country is happy lying to each other for their whole lives. I’m not sure if I should pity them or envy them.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 06

With its sixth episode, Akashic Records has unfolded in a steady pattern: a first episode of setup (in this case the magical competition) a second episode that raises the stakes (the attempted plot to kill Rumia) and a satisfying third episode that brings everything together with style and panache.

Last week ended with Re=L trying to kill Glenn, but that’s just her nature: rush in headfirst without thinking. Fortunately for Glenn and Rumia, Albert is there to hold Re=L back, and the two court mages decide to help their old buddy out with protecting Rumia and foiling the Imperial Guard’s plot.

Many times, we cut away from the end of the competition to Glenn simply running from the Guard with Rumia in his arms. Albert and Re=L take over for Glenn, with Albert saying everything Glenn would say if he was there, keeping Class 2’s heads in the game. Everyone performs like he hoped when he selected them, including Sisti, who makes use of his altered spell advice to defeat her opponent in a duel and grasp victory.

From there, a nifty little twist takes place: the representatives of the winning class get to be presented their award by Queen Alicia herself. In this case, that’s Albert and Re=L…only it ISN’T. Albert and Re=L switched places with Glenn and Rumia back when they met, using self-illusion magic to assume each other’s forms.

That puts Glenn, The Fool, right where he needs to be to (quietly) unleash his Fool’s World spell, nullifying the conditional cursed necklace around Alicia’s neck. Before that, Alicia has to say some very harsh lies about ordering Rumia’s execution and that she never loved her.

That really puts poor Rumia through the emotional ringer, but Rumia’s a tough gal, and once it’s no longer deadly to do so, Queen Alicia lets her true feelings be known, and that in turn leads Rumia to accept and return her mother’s love in a tearful, cathartic embrace.

As for the ringleader in the Guard’s treachery, Eleanor Chalet, a heretic mage of the Researchers of Divine Wisdom, is surrounded by the real Albert and Re=L in a dark alley, but uses a spell to escape before they can place her in custody, offering only one vague, if titular clue, about why she was so keen on killing Rumia AKA Ermiana: “Akashic Records.”

If a RDW traitor could pose as queen’s chief handmaiden, it means the good guys will have to exercise constant vigilance. Albert and Re=L bid goodbye to Glenn, though considering she’s featured heavily in the OP and ED in an academy uniform, I wouldn’t be surprised if Re=L returns, posing as a student in Glenn’s class to assist him in keeping Rumia safe.

After thanking Glenn for helping to save her, along with her mom, and for keeping his three-year-old promise to have her back, Rumia and Glenn head to the tavern where the rest of Class 2 has already gotten the victory celebration started. In fact, I was totally caught off guard yet delighted by the fact Sisti managed to get wasted (on brandy cake of all things!) and is in full-on Lovey-Dovey Shironeko Glom mode with Glenn.

That would be enough discomfort on his plate, but as a final insult, the class ended up spending his entire reward, as well as the three-month salary he won in the bet with his fellow teacher, on the night’s food and drink bill. Not to worry, however: he’s sure to get more homemade meals from Sisti.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 05

What seemed most likely to be the conclusion of the magical competition turned out to be something else entirely: something far more significant than Glenn’s wager with Halley; something far more interesting, too.

It starts simply enough, with a lunch break in which Glenn reminds us what a bastard he can be by taking advantage of the fact that Sisti thinks he’s Rumia so he can nab a bite to eat. That being said, he transformed to give Lynn a pointer about illusion magic, so he’s really only a half-bastard.

Quite surprisingly, Glenn and Rumia are approached by Queen Alicia VII, who can’t help but take advantage of the fact her biological daughter is right there before her. Unfortunately, Rumia isn’t in the mood to talk or be conciliatory; she politely tells the queen she’s mistaking her for someone else and bolts.

I can’t say I blame her! Rumia may have just won the Mental Defense round, but that was nothing compared to her dilemma this week as her “former” mother all of a sudden gets in her face. Glenn tracks her down when Sisti is worried about her, and helps Rumia work through the conflicting feelings. For his part, Glenn tells her there’s no way to avoid regrets 100% in life, so one might as well make choices that are true to who they are.

Meanwhile, our two mysterious bluish-haired folks are on the alert after hearing about suspicious activity with the Imperial Guard: Albert and Re=L. Not long after Alicia talks with Glenn and Rumia, she is taken into custody by said guard.

The two are clearly court mages and former colleagues of Glenn’s, have have both a casual rapport with one another (considering how often she lets him pull her hair) and confidence in their abilities (Re=L is all for a fully frontal assault).

It isn’t long before Rumia is tracked down by the guards, accused, tried, and convicted of attempting to assassinate the queen right then and there. Glenn is knocked out and she’s tied to a tree to be executed, and as is typical of Rumia, she’s ready to die…

…But Glenn wasn’t knocked out that badly, and uses flash spells to get the jump on the guards and rescue Rumia…even though Rumia isn’t sure she should be rescued, poor girl.

Once a safe distance away, Glenn contacts Celica, but like the queen, she’s being held hostage by the Guards, which means Glenn is on his own. Only, not really, because Re=L and Albert show up just when they’ll be the most useful; an ace in the hole, if you will.

We’ll see if they consider Glenn a hostile, or if Re=L will stand down shortly after her aerial attack. Whatever the case, between Glenn, his old buddies, and his capable students, I like their odds of saving Alicia and Celica from the Imperial Guard…Unless there’s a good reason Zelos is restraining the queen and Celica, of course.

In any case, it’s another nice setup for both another high-stakes hostage situation and a proper introduction of Albert and Re=L.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 04

After its best episode yet, I wasn’t under any assumptions that the show would keep getting better and better, but last week is followed up by a solid, satisfying outing that explores the new status quo among the class now that Glenn is actually giving a shit; this is something that couldn’t be explored last week because of the far more pressing terrorism.

It’s Magical Competition time, and the games will be performed before the queen herself (and Rumia’s biological mother) Alicia VII, but Class 2 is unenthusiastic. Glenn assures them he’s after nothing less than Victory, and appoints those he believes are the best in the individual fields the various events focus upon.

Because the whole class is involved, and Glenn is so confident, everyone becomes engaged and motivated, and Sistine becomes his very active advocate of his strategy. Only Rumia and we know the truth: Glenn actually would have preferred to use only his best students for all the events.

But he can’t go back now; he’s in too deep. I appreciate that he’s bearing the discomfort that comes with knowing he’s dug himself in a big hole, but is willing to stick it out for the good of his students. In fact, he doubles down by entering a bet with Class 1’s instructor Halley involving three whole months of salary…and the bastard is already hungry!

The competition prep is punctuated nicely by a B-plot involving Queen Alicia’s guilt over abandoning Rumia (even if it was for her own good), as well as a glimpse of family life with the Fibels. For her part, Fibel considers Sisti’s parents her mom and dad, and Sisti her sister, so that’s all there is to it.

We later learn on the day of the competition that Celica is an old friend of Alicia’s, meaning not only does the queen tolerate her familiar manner, but she also trusts Celica’s faith in Glenn. That trust is validated when Class 2 goes on to place in all the events thus far, surprising everyone, including themselves and Glenn.

I believe a non-trivial amount of their success is thanks to the confidence Glenn instilled in them all, backed up by Sistine and Rumia, which allows them to focus and maximize the skills they need to harness. It’s also great to see Glenn put Rumia in the Mental Defense event, knowing full well from the past couple episodes how tough she is (more than Sisti, to be sure).

When Glenn sees Rumia’s badass Class 5 competition, Jaill, he starts to sweat a little, especially when the instructor in the even turns out to be a real perv. But to Jaill’s credit, he’s not an overly aggressive or disrespectful opponent; he simply believes he’s the best and Rumia is as frail as she looks.

He’s mistaken, and the revelation that he ends up unconscious while standing while Rumia is still awake to take the win was another great surprise. Competition episodes can be a bore, but this one excelled by leaning on its characters and their relationships. It was a lot of fun.