Meikyuu Black Company – 06 – Meteoric Rise, Temporary Escape

Ninomiya celebrates his promotion to the Demon Lord Army’s Western Invasion Force Director with a trip to a hot spring with Ranga and Rimu. He revels in the fact that at this pace of advancement he’ll soon be a board member who can meet the Demon Lord face-to-face, and possibly return to Japan.

Little do the three know that they’re under surveillance from a camera owned by one of the Three Ravens, high level corporate executives who feel threatened by Ninomiya. One is an old fart who’s always spitting and wearing out the phrase “kids these days”; one is a voluptuous meatheaded amazon, and one is a four-eyed calculating perv.

Knowing what we know about Ninomiya, Rimu, and Ranga, it was a foregone conclusion that their petty schemes would fail one by one, much like Wile E. Coyote is always defeated in his efforts to capture Road Runner. Meathead unleashes a giant worm which Rimu quickly deals with; the worm even joins Ninomiya’s team!

When it’s the old fart’s turn, he challenges Ninomiya to cultivate some barren land, which is easy thanks to giant worm tilling and Ranga’s growing magic. Finally, the four-eyed perv tries to take unconsensual photos of Ranga nude, only to be defeated by the revelation he’s a boy.

If the first half is all about Ninomiya continuing to rise due to his ability to assemble a powerful and talented team, the second half is all about one of its members: Ranga. In what is clearly a dream in the style of Alice in Wonderland, Ranga witnesses the drudgery of unending labor in the form of a group of rabbits turning a wheel to power the Queen’s fountain.

When he laments that she can’t get them more tolerable hours or paid time off, he suddenly shrinks to a tiny size. While escaping the horde of evil rabbits (very Re:Zero-esque, that) he falls through a chute down into a massive underground…internet café.

If the rabbits toiling above ground represented one extreme of the labor spectrum, this café represents the other: all the mole people there have no goals other than repeating the same actions over and over again, calling into question whether life is even worth living.

From corporate grunts to NEETs, oppression and stagnation, Ranga finds himself trapped, both spiritually and physically (in a cage). His ancestor Belza, the Queen of this world, insists that he take her place by her side. That’s when the real Ninomiya stomps the White Rabbit Ninomiya and head-butts Ranga back into reality.

Apparently, the team was on a mission to defeat a Mobile Suit-like giant robot when it shot a strange beam into Ranga’s head, placing him in that dream prison that drew upon his own fears and insecurities. When he asks Ninomiya if always running away is bad, he tells him perhaps usually, but there’s always the useful phrase “strategic retreat”.

As long as Ranga’s overall goal hasn’t changed, he’s free to run away as many times as he needs to for the sake of future victory. Of course, Mobile Suit Gundam, the source of inspiration for their defeated mecha, was packed with those kinds of strategic retreats.

Defeating the mecha means Ninomiya can finally meet the Demon Lord…and she (or he) appears to be a Bahamut-like dragon in human form, like Rimu. Like Ranga last week, s/he asks Ninomiya to “save this world”. I know what he’ll probably say: Assuming he does, can he go home?

Mars Red – 01 (First Impressions) – On a Silver Platter

Tokyo, Japan, 1923: Major Maeda Yoshinobu is escorted to a maximum-security underground prison at Tsukishima Island housing a single inmate: Misaki, an actress who was performing Salome at the Imperial Theatre when she was turned into a vampire. When Maeda meets her through thick glass, she’s still reciting the lines of the play, as if she were still on stage.

Later on, a suspiciously vampiric-looking young man at the theatre tells Maeda that when the lights go out and the curtains rise, the audience is transported to the underworld. I can’t help but watch Maeda and his chatterbox underling’s journey deeper and deeper into the Tsukishima  facility and think they too are on a journey to the underworld.

While Japan and its military are rapidly modernizing and westernizing, it’s ironic that the covert vampire hunting unit Lt. General Nakajima has created deals with ancient monsters. The general reminds Maeda not to allow sympathy or pity to dull his blade, and Maeda assures him if Misaki cannot be brought to their side, he’ll promptly dispose of her.

Maeda visits the theatre, where the stage is still a mess of blood and ruined scenery, and he meets the inscrutable actor Deffrot, who played Jokanaan, AKA John the Baptist, whose head is served to Salome on a silver platter as payment for her Dance of the Seven Veils. In a very neat piece of “camera”work, the shadow of Maeda’s head is cast on the play’s poster, held in Salome’s hands.

Outside the theatre Maeda is approached by a young lady he mistakes for Misaki, but she introduces herself as Shirase Aoi, a reporter for the Nitto News. Maeda ignores her requests for comment and access to the theatre, and then Moriyama arrives by car to report that Misaki has escaped. For a second there, I wondered if Aoi was Misaki after all.

As Moriyama speeds Maeda back to Tsukishima, Misaki effortlessly smashes through all of the steel doors and barriers in her way, takes a bullet with barely a flinch, bleeds black blood, bites a neck, casually nudges a bullet away and dodges the others with her vampiric speed. Through it all she moves with a dancer’s grace, embodying the role of Salome—whom I learned was transformed by French writers from her biblical role to the “incarnation of female lust”.

A different dance ensues, with both Maeda and Misaki gradually making their way to the same spot: across the Nihonbashi bridge to Marunouchi Plaza at Tokyo Station. It’s the capper to an episode that serves as a Where’s Where of Taisho-era Tokyo.

Misaki gets closer and closer to Maeda, but when he grips his sword and prepares to draw, she places her hand over his, embraces him a little while longer, then steps aside and lets herself be consumed by the morning light, without further bloodshed. The same stigmata design on her tongue appears on the spot where she incinerated.

Back at HQ, General Nakajima promotes Maeda to Colonel and puts him in command of Code Zero, with the mission of apprehending or disposing of vampires in Japan. If I had to describe Mars Red in one word, it would be classy. Given another word, I’d use deliberate. As Maeda navigates a Tokyo in flux and deals with Misaki, every scene is given room to breathe.  Maeda is a bit of a stiff, but still…I’m intrigued.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 24 (Fin) – Only So Many Open Seats

When Eso—who like his more monstery-looking brother Kechizu isn’t a cursed spirit but a physical being—unleashes his special attack Wing King, Yuuji grabs Nobara in a princess carry and uses his superhuman speed to flee Eso’s range of attack.

They’re then headed off by Kechizu, who douses them both with his blood. Eso then activates a cursed technique called Decay that ensures both Yuuji and Nobara’s skin will be rotted away until by morning nothing will be left but bones.

We learn that Eso, Kechizu, and their brother Choso comprise The Cursed Wombs: Death Paintings One through Three—the result of either failed or successful (depending on your point of view) experiments in cross-breeding humans and cursed spirits. The three see each other as one and are devoted to one another, as they are all they had when they were sealed away prior to Mahiru stealing and releasing them into the world.

Unfortunately, Eso and Kechizu fucked with the wrong jujutsu sorcerers. Nobara is one of the worst opponents they could have, as she can use her Straw Doll Technique Resonance on the blood splattered on her to turn their curse back on them. Yuuji is an even worse match, as thanks to being possessed by Sukuna he’s immune to all poisons and poison-like techniques.

Nobara makes clear that Yuuji still makes pain, but pain alone isn’t enough to stop the likes of Yuuji. Together the two bust out their own techniques and deliver crippling blows to Eso and Kechizu. Just as last week was Megumi’s time to shine, Jujutsu Kaisen saves its finale for some of Yuuji and Nobara’s most badass moments.

Eso can’t use Wing King unless he releases Decay, but when he fears his brother is near death he does just that, playing right into the sorcerers’ hands. Both he and Kechizu are killed—not exorcised—they are physical beings their bodies remain. Choso senses their loss while playing The Game of Life with Getou and Mahiru.

Yuuji and Nobara win the battle without suffering serious harm. Yuuji asks if Nobara is okay psychologically after killing a physical being. Nobara’s answer is superbly true to her character: when you’re a sorcerer, “these things happen.”

There are only so many people you can save, and as she puts it, only so many open seats in her life for people who will sway her heart. Yuuji just so happens to be the rare person in her life to bring their own seat and sit down. It’s her way of saying Yuuji is one of the few people she cares about, and it’s beautiful.

The two are initially distraught upon finding Megumi passed out under the bridge, and when he wakes up, they’re over the moon with relief. Megumi gives Yuuji the Sukuna finger he secured, but both of them are surprised when a mouth emerges from Yuuji’s hand and eats it. Thankfully, Yuuji’s body is able to withstand yet another finger. Then Nitta arrives and chastises them for not keeping in contact.

Yuuji, Nobara, and Megumi managed to defeat three Special-Grade curses, a feat for which Gojou claims credit for his diligent instruction as he chats with Utahime on her day off. Megumi and Nobara agree to keep the fact Yuuji “resonated” with Eso and Kechizu a secret to protect their bud. Toudou Aoi and Mei Mei officially recommend the three sorcerers—along with Maki and Panda—for promotion to First Grade status.

Maki and Panda spar together as Toge (who I assume is already a First Grade) keeps score; both of them determined not to get left in the dust by the three first year up-and-comers. Nobara then goes on a celebratory shopping spree with Yuuji and Megumi, using Yuuji as her pack mule.

Getou, Mahiru, Choso, and a host of other high-level baddies remain at large to be eliminated, while perhaps the greatest threat remains within Yuuji in Ryoumen Sukuna. A “To Be Continued” at the very end of the episode serves as a promise that at some point Jujutsu Kaisen will return to settle these matters with its trademark blend of bombastic action, heartwarming camaraderie, and rib-tickling comedy. I already can’t wait.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 10 (S1 Fin) – Nor Yet Favor to Women of Skill…

If you watched TOS you know about Beta III and how its pre-warp civilization was ruled by computer Landru until Captain Kirk shut it down. Apparently problem solved, but flash forward to the time of Lower Decks and the people of Beta III are once again under Landru’s heel.

While distributing art supplies, Brad tells Beckett he now knows she is the captain’s daughter, and since their comms are on an open channel, it isn’t long until the whole crew finds out. Beckett must contend with an uptick in nepotistic ass-kissing by her crewmates.

Elsewhere on the Cerritos, Rutherford tests out a new personality modifier that can make him optimistic, sexy, angry, and everything in between. This is as Tendi serves as liason for a new Exocomp crew member, Ensign…Peanut Hamper. Since the little guys were deemed sentient back in TNG’s “The Quality of Life”, it was only a matter of time!

Finally, Captain Bowman and the crew of the destroyed Rubidoux are breaking in their new ship, the Solvang, when they are captured (and blown up attempting to escape) by a powerful and gigantic ship made of a motley of cannibalized ship components…but the sharper-eyed nerds notice the ship at its core: Pakleds, last featured in TNG’s “Samaritan Snare.”

Needless to say, this episode is packed with stories big and small. And since this is the season finale, there are a number of big character changes to the status quo enjoyed in the previous nine episodes that will reverberate into the already-approved second season.

First is the cementing of Beckett and Boimler’s friendship in spite of their very different personalities. As predicted, Beckett is finally rolling down her sleeves, putting her hair up, and taking being a Starfleet officer seriously. Of course, this is for a very Beckett reason: she wants to run away from the hassle of being the Captain’s kid, and for that she’ll need to get promoted and transferred.

Tendi and Peanut Hamper turn get along like two space peas in a space pod, though the latter’s lack of hands makes it hard to manipulate objects meant for humans. Still, just when Tendi is about to warn the doctor that Peanut may not have the steadiest hands, Peanut executes perfect microsutures and even develops a new skin-grafting technique. The CMO is impressed, but is Tendi jealous? Of course not! She’s proud of Peanut Hamper!

Things take a sudden turn for the action-packed when the Cerritos receives a distress signal from the Solvang. When they arrive, the Pakled ship is already scavenging parts from the wreck of the Solvang. The ship gets its hooks in the Cerritos, but Freeman wisely notes that going to warp is probably what Bowman did, which doomed her ship, so instead she cuts power.

When they get their captors on screen and learn they’re Pakleds, everyone on the crew carries the same assumptions as the crew of the Enterprise: the Pakleds are slow and dumb, not a threat! And yet, here they are, carving the Cerritos up like a space turkey.

In such a strange and hazardous situation, Freeman leans on her daughter’s unorthodox methods for arriving at a plan to defeat the enemy. Beckett notes that the Pakleds are taking their time, meaning there’s time for Rutherford to create a virus that will hack into the Pakled’s “inviting” networks (due to the need to integrate so many different kinds of tech).

Ruthy turns to Badgey for help with the virus, but has to make a Faustian bargain: Badgey won’t cough up the virus without the safeties being taken off-line. Meanwhile, Beckett opens all the compartments where she’s hidden contraband (including her bat’leth) in order to arm the crew to repel Pakled boarders.

Just when it seems Peanut Hamper is the perfect crew member to deliver the virus to the Pakled ship…she declines, and beams herself into space to escape danger. Turns out she only joined Starfleet to piss off her mom. Hey, at least she didn’t go insane and try to kill everyone with her multi-tool nose!

Rutherford, who finally restores his “normal” personality, volunteers to deliver the virus. Tendi thinks he’s stuck on “heroic” mode, but he’s just being himself. Shaxs helps get him to a shuttlecraft and flies him to the Pakled ship, ramming through its hull in a nifty bit of tactical officering.

When Badgey, who Rutherford placed in his implants for the trip, refuses to finish downloading the virus unless his “dad” is killed by the Pakled. When Shaxs takes care of all the guards, Badgey sets the self-destruct, so Shaxs rips Rutherford’s implants out, tosses him on the shuttle, and shoves it back into space, before dying heroically in the explosion.

Rutherford and Shaxs have saved the day, but then three more Pakled ships just as huge and janky as the first converge on the Cerritos. Things are dire…until yet another ship dazzles the space-stage: The USS Titan, commanded by Captain William T. Riker (with his wife Commander Troi by his side).

It’s the second time he’s showed up in the nick of time (as he will decades later in Star Trek: Picard, though I’d prefer it if Picard took place in the future of an alternate universe. Do I buy that Riker knows Beckett? Sure, why not. They’re both the gregarious sort. The Titan scares off the Pakleds with its superior firepower and maneuverability, and the crew of the Cerritos can breathe easy.

In the final act, Freeman and Beckett agree to help each other out more rather than stay unproductively at each others’ throats. Rutherford loses his long-term memories, including his friendship with Tendi! She’s committed to becoming friends with him all over again, but it’s still a major bummer…the show just pressed a reset button on his character, and he wasn’t that developed to begin with!

Finally, Beckett and Boimler come to an understanding. He’s come to think of her as a valued mentor, but she insists it doesn’t have to be that way, they can just hang out as buds like they have been. However, when Riker offers Boimler a promotion to helmsman of the Titan, he takes that pip and runs, leaving Beckett in the dust. A captain mom, an admiral dad and years of experience, and a guy still gets promoted before her. Not that she wanted to leave, mind you, but she thought Boimler was happy where he was.

Will we follow his adventures on the Titan next season, or will he screw up and end up kicked back to the Cerritos? Only time will tell! Until then, this was a surprisingly strong first season of Lower Decks. I enjoyed it on a Star Trek level, a comedy level, and even an animation level; it looked consistently awesome and the classic orchestral soundtrack really sold the grandeur of space exploration and battle.

Trek-wise, it was able to pay homage and/or satirize without ever coming across as either too sappy or too mean; a delicate, difficult balance to be sure. The tone was always just-right, and even its bombastic finale managed to find time for the slice-of-life-on-a-starship moments that really immerse you in its world. I never thought I’d say this, but the extant live-action Trek series could learn a lot from Lower Decks. They probably won’t, but that’s okay…there’s more Lower Decks to come.

Arte – 03 – Different Kind of Animal

It’s Carnival in Florence, and Leo has Arte dress like a boy so they can sit in on a hospital dissection. On the way, Arte meets one of Leo’s patrons—a courtesan—and sees him smiling in a way she’s never seen before. While normally forbidden by the church, Carnival time is an exception. Some guys go pale or faint from the sight of a cadaver being carved up, but Arte is just fine…she truly has the guts to draw guts!

What the church apparently will not abide is to have a woman at a dissection, so when Arte loses her hat and lets out a very feminine yelp, Leo has to get them both out of there lest they get into some serious legal trouble. It ain’t fair, but that was the time. In the process of running and hiding from their pursuers, Leo draws Arte so close that she notices for the first time how a man’s bone structure and skin differ greatly from a woman’s. She also feels an unpleasant pain in her chest that she’s never felt before. Hmmmmm…I wonder what that could be?????

Arte dismisses such sensations as temporary illness and moves on. She also moves up, as Leo is willing to accelerate her progression through the artisan ranks by assigning her the task of a journeyman: creating a background for a real commissioned painting. Arte sets out and braves the cold, comes back with a fine sketch of a cityscape, and it’s rejected.

She goes back out and does it again, and again…and many more times before Leo has her look at the painting and discern what it is the client truly wants. The woman subject should be the focus, which means the background should have less detail.

That Leo doesn’t spell it out for her, but lets things dawn on her naturally, speaks to his growing respect not just for her work ethic, but artistic instincts. It’s why he’s drawn up a new contract that gives her both a promotion and a raise, and why he rejects her feeling that in obsessing with art she neglected her womanlike charms. Like her father, Leo is one who prefers an independent woman with a strong will and drive to the period’s ideal of a woman: quiet, complacent, and above all idle.

That’s why I’m not the most enthusiastic about Arte suddenly developing a crush on Leo. In her defense, she’s been so absorbed in art in her life she’d never felt romantic feelings for anyone before. The only other person who didn’t look at her like something was wrong with her was her dad. It makes sense that the first man not related to her not to treat her like “just a woman” would make her heart beat a little faster.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 02 – Elephant = Car

After being duped into not one but two separate radio broadcasts, Minare considers legal counsel, until Matou produces her business card with a drunkenly-scrawled note declaring that she wouldn’t complain no matter how many people he shared their conversation with. Even if it’s not a binding document, with the hole Minare has dug with her boss Takarada, she may not be able to turn down a new job at the radio.

Takarada can’t really afford to drop an experienced waiter like Minare on the eve of the summer festival, so he claims her life for that duration. Her co-worker Nakahara, who has a thing for her, would rather she stay put and fulfill the things she promised to do for him…probably while drunk, because she doesn’t remember any of those things. In any case, while updating the restaurant blog, Minare learns that much of the customers are so attuned to her voice that they immediately recognized it on the radio.

Radio host Chisato Madoka casually asks Matou if he’s looking to replace her, but that’s not his intent with Minare at all. Mostly, he wants to bring up a voice talent from the ground up, and there’s never been an amateur who is so clear and presice with her words while delivering a tone that’s harsh and overbearing yet somehow also not unpleasant—pretty much the opposite of Chisato’s. So he and other members of the crew visit Minare at her workplace to offer her a more permanent job.

Some time passes, but eventually Minare is picked up in a car by the fit mixer Koumoto, whom Minare immediately considers asking out before reconsidering due to her uncertain economic future. Matou has her sit in to deliver a 5-minute promotion for the festival. Minare warns him she might not paint it in the best light since she’s not a fan of Urasando, but does a fine job anyway, and like before, doesn’t mess up once.

You can hear Minare on the radio while she tends the food stall, and a discussion with Nakahara emerges about the nature of the food they’re selling at the stall under the name “Gagarin.” Turns out it’s the predecessor restaurant to “Voyager” run by Takarada’s culinary master, and they’re selling what’s left of Gagarin’s food at festivals to phase it out.

Honestly I wasn’t so sure what the point of all that talk was about the two restaurants, except as an opportunity for Minare to introduce a more dramatic scenario than the mundane truth…only for it to be the truth? As for Minare’s weird neighbor who remembers a date and starts seeing blood? What’s up with that?! Could that be fodder for a future Minare broadcast? Finally, her ex Mitsuo heard her, and seemed amused. That can’t be good!

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 13 (Fin) – His Own Battlefield

Gray and Lord El-Melloi are back in London, recovering from the battle outside Rail Zeppelin with Dr. Heartless and Faker. The Lord’s students are so eager for him to return to teaching class they infect his hospital room, which he believes actually lengthens his recovery time. However, both are eventually discharged.

They meet with Miss Adashino, who reveals that Dr. Heartless is her older brother-in-law, and also the case with him isn’t quite closed. El-Melloi agrees; both he and Faker were described as “necessities for the future”, meaning he’ll likely face Heartless again. Bathed in the light of the setting sun, future Lords Reines and Olga-Marie resolve to become friends and allies.

Gray runs into Melvin Weins on the street, and the latter discusses how he is in possession of both the damaged El-Melloi magical crest and the Velvet family crest that Waver surrendered as collateral to pay off the El-Melloi family’s debt.

When asks why he still calls the Lord “Waver”, he says someone has to, or he’ll be lonely when he eventually gives up the title, as he will and must do when Reines comes of age. He warns Gray that Waver may not stay in London forever; that he might move on, be it for the next Holy Grail War or something else.

After a ceremony in which Svin is promoted to the rank of “Pride”, surpassing El-Melloi himself, a big celebration is thrown in the lecture hall, where El-Melloi’s students all express their appreciation and gratitude for his valuable lessons.

Not a lot of the praise gets through, as El-Melloi retires to his office to keep drinking and wallowing in self-loathing until Gray takes his cup. After comparing himself unfavorably to Lord Kayneth, Gray contends with his claim of being a “half-assed lord” only good for celebrating the accomplishments of his students.

But he, and only he, saved Gray. Who knows where she’d be without him. For that, and for many other contributions to the lives of his students, he should take pride. She then asks if he’s going away, and he declares that he’s abandoned his bid to join the Fifth Holy Grail war. Instead, he’s pivoting to a more important battle, one involving settling matters for Iskandar by continuing to pursue Doctor Heartless and foiling his plans involving Faker…and himself.

For that he’ll need to continue depending on Gray to fight beside him, relieving her to no end. With that, she finally gives him the gift she bought at Luvia’s department store, and he reminds her that the gift itself isn’t as important as the whydunit—the thought and intent behind giving him a gift.

In a dream, an Iskandar of his mind and memories’ own making confronts him, asking for a progress report of sorts. The king seems impressed by Waver’s growth and furrowed brow, and even though El-Melloi insists he’s still nowhere near close enough to being a worthy subject, Iskandar is more concerned with whether Waver has had fun living the live he was ordered to preserve. With tears welling up, Waver tells his former Servant that it has indeed been fun.

With that, he marches back into his lecture hall in the Clock Tower, surveys his talented, dependable students, and commences class once more. There will certainly be more battles and challenges he’ll have to face in the name of both the El-Melloi family and Iskandar, but he won’t face them alone, and those trials certainly won’t preclude the fun Iskandar would prefer he’d continue to have.

So ends the generally nonessential (hence the Grace Note) yet diverting Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II, an intriguing look forward from one of Fate’s best–told stories, Zero, which added color, texture, and added context to the overall world. The scenario started small (with a dead cat in episode 0) but grew grander and grander, and the stakes along with it.

Ultimately I’m glad Waver decided not to try to participate in another Holy Grail War—enduring one is enough for any individual, two would be seriously trying his luck—and with more relevant fish to fry vis-a-vis Doctor Heartless, there will still no shortage of excitement in store for him, Gray, and any other gifted students who’ll gladly have his back.

Goblin Slayer – 05 – When in Doubt, Go Clubbing

In a quieter low-key episode of GS, the Slayer wakes up after three days of rest at the farm and immediately sets back to work checking it for signs of goblins. Cow Girl asks him how he is, and he responds with his usual “fine/no problem.”

They go into town for guild business, and GS meets his eclectic team. He gives the Lizardman more of that sweet sweet cheese and tells the High Elf Archer he’ll “think about” joining them on another adventure soon, which makes her very happy.

Parallel to GS going about his business is a pair of Porcelain-ranked adventurers, one of whom lost his sword in the sewers fighting giant rats and bugs. They’re able to get away, but with no weapons or money, they’re at a loss of how to get the sword back.

The halting-speech mage gives them a candle that will indicate when they find the sword, while GS suggests they try using a club in lieu of a sword. It works, even if it’s a bit messy and requires the club wielder to mercilessly swing the thing at the heads of his foes, grossing out his partner. But he gets his sword back and they both return unharmed, so all’s well that ends well.

Finally, there’s more focus on the Guild Girl than in previous episodes, as she asks GS to serve as a subsitute observer at a promotion hearing. There, she accuses a Rhea of taking the whole contents of a treasure box to himself and selling the contents, resulting in his demotion and banning him from adventuring in the town.

The Rhea is furious, but when he senses what would happen if he attacked the Guild Girl (GS would smash his face in) he simply storms off. Guild Girl is glad to have GS by her side, and even has a bit of a crush on him, as she digs “straight-laced” adventurers, even if he may well be a bit too stoic.

GS surprises her by returning with a special quest that comes from none other than the Sword Maiden of the Church of the Superior God. Looks like GS is going to get his wish to slay goblins again, this time perhaps with another high-caliber partner by his side.

 

Hinamatsuri – 09 – A Tropical Vacay, a Promotion…and a Funeral

If Hina had simply been sent home via orb, none of the hilarity this week would have transpired. Chalk that up to an “organization” that is way more incompetent than you’d expect of an entity that deals with girls with terrifying telekinetic abilities. You’d think there’d have been some kind of revolt at this point.

Consider Mao: the “shy but capable” courier meant to deliver a new orb to Kei for Hina to use to return home (so that’s not off the table like it is for the officially-dead Anzu). Only Mao is transported to a remote tropical island just north of Indonesia, and both her orb and the spare for Hina are washed away within moments of arriving.

From there, the first act is a one-woman homage to Cast Away starring Ozawa Ari as Mao. She certainly is capable, able to survive just fine for days thanks to her ability (though why’d it take twelve days to make clothes?) Like Tom Hanks, she makes a friend—two friends, Anzu and Hina—out of coconuts. Unlike Tom Hanks, she voices both of them.

Weeks pass, and like Hanks, her hair gets longer and she develops a more stoicly intense look, while her “friends” have grown bodies. But eventually she snaps, tosses the coconuts—which are not her real friends, but just, well coconuts—off a cliff, and does what she should have done weeks ago: builds a raft and sails for the mainland (though ends up in Thailand, not Japan).

With Hina’s departure again indefinitely on hold, we move on to Nitta. He and Sabu have been ordered to pick up Nitta’s former brother Naito “The Slayer” from prison. With the president in a coma prior to naming a successor, an idiotic little power struggle plays out, thanks in equal part to Hina and Sabu.

Nitta manages to convince Naito not to challenge the lieutenant, but when Gramps wakes up and names Nitta his successor (to placate Hina, to whom he’s taken a shine), Sabu has too quick a text trigger. Both the lieutenant and Naito believe Nitta played them to steal the throne. Nitta sets the old man straight and the lieutenant is reinstalled two minutes later, but Sabu never texts this to the still-enraged lieutenant.

Before he knows it, Nitta is encased in an oil drum full of hardened concrete, with the LT and Naito ready to make him swim with the fishes. But Sabu’s chronic nausea is the first sign something is amiss. Nita’s failure to “nut up and go out like a villain” is another.

The president arrives just in time to corroborate Nitta’s defense. Once the LT and Naito realize they jumped the gun (with Sabu continuing to vomit but not own up to causing this) it’s needless to say an awkward situation. The LT decides to promote Nita to replace him on the spot, and everyone cheers him…but he just wants to be let out of the damn concrete. Where’s Hina when you need her?

Well, she and Nitta are apparently fine now after she walked in on his “one-man party.” We know this because there’s a helpful side note at the bottom of the screen. And that’s fine with me; that shortcut enables us to move on to something funnier: Hina planning a celebration for Nitta’s promotion.

She reaches out to virtually all of her amassed acquaintances, who all have different suggestions. I particularly liked Mika’s suggestion of booze…while drinking booze, stating she’s always celebrating the fact she was born, which is a slick way to excuse her alcoholism! A woman after my heart…

Hina can’t decide which persons advice to use, so she combines them. However, she isn’t able to procure booze, and spends so much on flowers she cans afford a cake, so makes one out of salt

Alderamin on the Sky – 10

ald101

This tenth Alderamin begins with a flashback from nine years ago, and the show is hardly timely in revealing that the fiery Sinack chieftain Nanaku Daru was childhood friends with Ikta.

It’s also hardly subtle in juxtaposing her paying a visit to Ikta’s bedroom of her own free will—but too young to know the true reason woman would do such a thing—with the present, where she suddenly finds herself in a huge heap of trouble, surrounded by three enemy soldiers who plan to rape her.

ald102

Who comes to her rescue in the nick of time but her old friend Ikta, whom she doesn’t yet recognize? Ikta is pissed, not being one to suffer “beasts.” Nanaku is taken into safe custody. It’s a sobering glimpse of what war often boils down to, and what depths the battle-weary and under-supervised can stoop to when their enemy is demonized and dehumanized by their superiors.

The war is over between the Empire and the Sinack, but before they can even catch their breath, a new, mutual, and well-rested enemy arrives at their doorstep in the form of “La Saia Alderamin”, a once-neutral, highly religious country Ikta suspects is being used as a Kioka pawn as part of the wider conflict.

ald103

What made this episode so strong, and, for me, eliminated any concerns about plot convenience or retconning, was how Ikta handled things with “Nana,” knowing they’ll need her help to cover their retreat from Aldera, and he’s the only one who can negotiate with her.

He gets her attention and reveals who he is by carrying out the Sinack tradition of cutting digits off one’s hand; a legend she told him about nine years ago. He cuts his entire left pinky off in a visceral, powerful scene, and you can tell he’s not putting on a performance, but dead serious about his role as agent of apology and olive branch.

That last part is important, since Nana agrees to help because she knows the religious Alderamin will never tolerate their “heretical” religion, but the Empire will. Obviously it’s not what she wanted (to be rid of both), but she has to compromise, because Aldera won’t.

ald104

Our Knights all get promotions this week – Yatori and Ikta to First Lieutenant, the others to Second, and after Matthew and Haro protest, they agree to stick together in the force that will delay the Alderamin advance. That is achieved by creating a fire line at a crucial forest crossing.

But it would seem Ikta has finally met his match in the form of newly-introduced Kioka Army Major Jean Alkiniks, he of tirelessness to Ikta’s sloth; white hair to Ikta’s black. Both seem excited to have met strategists who will really challenge them for once.

One of the weaknesses of the show has been the appalling ineptitude of the brass, but Jean here is high-ranking enough to do what needs to be done at a larger scale. He’s come further than Ikta so far, but will no doubt be the catalyst by which Ikta continues to advance and progress to become the hero Princess Chamille believes him to be.

I also hope we get to see a little more Nana.

16rating_9

Macross Delta – 14

md141

When Walkure, Delta, and Chaos retreated from Ragna, they did so with a ragtag fleet led by the reliable Macross Elysion, but lagging behind it is the Island Ship, a 30-year-old relic that didn’t get to properly warmed up and is now experiencing cascade power failure.

On top of air, food, and weapon shortages there are thousands of refugees who want to get back home ASAP, several of which wonder why they left in the first place.

md142

Makina and Reina formulate a plan to shore up the Island Ship’s systems, but they have to accelerate their plans when an energy blow-out causes a hull breach right near where Hayate, Mirage and Freyja are hanging out.

For a second, I thought things would go from bad to worse, but Freyja has always been pretty lucky, and so is not sucked out into space when she’s separated from the other two by an emergency bulkhead.

md143

While the plan to restore the ship unfolds, Walkure takes an impromptu stage to keep the refugees calm, hopeful, and entertained. Things get a little silly when Hayate and Mirage inexplicably strip down to their skivvies, ostensibly to get a better grip on a crucial power conduit.

md144

Things get a little sillier (and worrying for Freyja, who can kinda hear what’s going on in fits and spurts but comes to the wrong conclusion) when Mirage has to embrace Hayate tightly like a lover in order to turn the dang valve over, and when the power, gravity, and lights come back on, they’re literally left hanging from that valve, looking to everyone watching like they’d just been up to something untoward.

md145

With Elysion successfully docked and the Island Ship working more or less normally again, our heroes’ have cleared their first post-defeat hurdle: stay alive. Chaos also gains new sponsors (the old ones being occupied) in mining corporations who hire them to take the Globular Cluster back.

They’re still way outgunned, but at least they don’t have to worry about going broke, and they’ve staved off a more serious crisis with the refugees. Meanwhile, a power struggles seems to be afoot, with Keith in an apparent coma, Heinz poised to succeed his dead father, and Roid believing he possesses Gramia’s “will.”

16rating_8

Macross Delta – 13

md131

In case we forgot, Macross Delta reminded us it can present an epic climactic air-and-space battle, augmented with the dualling, increasingly powerful songs from Prince Heinz and Walkure. But before the aerial battle down on Ragna, both Johnson and Gramia play a little game of chess with their respective armadas, and the Sigur Valens’ stereo system gets knocked out. Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Squadrons engage the Valens, but Hayate, Mirage and Delta go after the Aerial Knights led by Keith.

md132

Delta also has to contend with NUNS, which considers their gambit a failure and detonates a nuke-type reaction bomb in the Protoculture Ruins, causing a massive explosion that threatens to consume Delta Squadron. Hayate manages to escape the blast radius, but his plane is wrecked and he has to eject. Freyja steps down from the stage to check on Hayate’s status, but it’s Mirage who rescues him, and gets a warm, unexpected hug in return.

md133

Not long after that, the ruins reappear in a different form, and connect with the Windermeran flagship, enabling Heinz to pipe his song out to the masses of Ragna, resulting in instant Var contamination. Johnson orders all units to pick up as many civilians as they can and retreat from Ragna, meaning for all intents and purposes the Windermerans have won.

md134

Walkure fights to counter Heinz’s song, but Heinz risks his life to boost his output, and the Windermerans take a shot that shatters Walkure’s stage shield, injuring Mikumo (who shilds Freyja from harm, showing she’s not all about herself). The Valens fires a huge cannon to finish the Island ship, but Johnson swoops in just in time to absorb the hit before plunging into the sea in one of the many fist-pumping moments in the episode. With that, Freyja realizes her song simply must reach Hayate at all costs, so she jumps off the ship and starts flying, using her rune and her voice to ride the wind.

md135

Hayate gets his groove back, is able to read Keith’s moves, and actually seems to best him, While Mirage rescues Freyja from a watery grave. Both Freyja and Mirage then risked their lives to keep Hayate—and their longstanding flames—alive for Part Two. Walkure joins Freyja’s extended arrangement of the OP, the Elysion emerges from the waves and takes a shot at the Valens, and Keith takes a nosedive towards the ruins (it’s unlikely he’s dead though). Walkure, Delta, and the Ragnan evacuees escape Ragna, now a Windermere-held world like the others, and Gramia dies shortly thereafter.

Lord Roid is put in charge and announces the completion of the Starwind Sector. But they’ve surely only won this latest battle. As long as Walkure have a voice and the Deltas have their planes, the war isn’t over yet. Until next season.

16rating_9

Macross Delta – 12

md121

To quote Ron Burgundy, of all people: “Boy, that escalated quickly.” I thought we were being set up for a huge battle in Al Shahal, but Heinz’s song is so powerful, Al Shahal falls in fifteen minutes, putting a very large target on Ragna, the last world they haven’t annexed.

I like how off-guard Walkure and Delta Platoon are by this news; it matched my own surprise quite nicely. I knew our heroes would be heading into battle very soon; I just assumed Al Shahal would last longer than fifteen minutes—shorter even than the running time of this episode.

md122

But you know what? I’m glad the stakes have so rapidly escalated. I like the mild sense of dread and disquiet everyone wears on their faces, and the desperation in all of the remaining forces amassing at Ragna for what could be their only shot at a serious counterattack. The only reason they have any time to prepare at all is because King Gramia won’t allow Heinz to sing again so soon; though Heinz says he’s ready to sing again at once.

While Heinz rests, Arad promotes Mirage to 1st Lieutenant and puts her in charge of Delta Platoon, while Keith continues to question Roid’s dedication while Roid worries that Heinz, Keith, and Gramia are all intent on burning out in a blaze of righteous glory…without any plans for the future of Windermere. As Roid puts it, a new wind must come to take the place of the old, just as Mirage must step into Messer’s place.

md123

Ernest Johnson is prominent this week, and not just because he’s the commander of the counterattack; he actually trained King Gramia when he was a lad (the king is 35, old for a Windermeran, but no one else). He knows how proud he is and how far he’ll go to preserve his people’s honor. Then a liason from NUNS arrives to inform Johnson that his forces are to destroy the Protoculture ruins on Ragna to prevent the Windies from taking control of the planet and the cluster.

This plan seems akin to releasing all the ghosts from their custom-built storage facility in the basement of a run-down firehouse in Ghostbusters (the original, not the upcoming film): a bad idea that could have unpredictable, possibly cataclysmic consequences. Put simply, the ruins are dug in too deep in Ragna, who knows what destroying them would do to the planet? Probably nothing good.

md124

When Lady M gets NUNs to agree not to destroy the ruins until after Johnson’s forces counterattack, I felt very relieved for the people of Ragna. Meanwhile, Walkure and Delta mentally prepare for the imminent battle of their lives. Hayate, Freyja, and Mirage all independently end up on the same flight deck, though Mirage hides while the other two talk, though I like how she doesn’t know why she’s hiding.

She catches a couple of tender nuggets between the couple about things like how far they’ve come together, the mutual respect they’ve developed, and their commitment to keep fighting for each other, their friends, and their freedom, but it’s not like they snog or anything. Even better, Mirage’s comms blow up, giving away her position, and rather than run off in a tizzy, Hayate has her stand her ground and encourages her as he and Freyja encouraged one another. All three intend to get through this, together.

md125

When the previously stationary Macross Elysion finally burbles to life and lifts off into orbit and fold space, it’s a pretty impressive and awe-inspiring moment: very much the ‘good-guy’ equivalent of the Windermeran flagship launch last week.

Then the Windermere fleet intercepts them, and we see how comparitively puny the Elysion is, and I got a lump in my throat. Okay, maybe this isn’t going to be as easy as giving the aggressive schoolyard bully a bloody nose…

In terms of raising stakes, building tension, putting us in the heads of its characters, and sheer adrenaline extraction, this episode of Delta put all the pieces of the previous eleven together and delivered a must-watch experience, even absent the actual battle. I hope the payoff matches the excitement of the setup.

16rating_9