Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 12 (Fin)

Aboard the derelict sub, the girls find a clean boat, chocolate…and a kind of patchwork history of everybody and everything that came before them, thanks to the camera auto-syncing with the monitors on the bridge. In addition to all the pictures they took, and those Hanakawa took before them, the camera is a veritable cornucopia of visual (and audiovisual) information.

The content ranges from simple images of life and death, to the reports of a school robotic research club, to news reports of a worsening geopolitical situation that leads to large-scale war and genocide. On the whole, though, Chito and Yuuri feel less lonely, now that they were able to watch how others lived.

Suddenly processing more information than they ever had before proves exhausting for the girls, who fall asleep under the consoles and dream of their escape from their town.

When Chito wakes, she’s too late to do anything about Yuuri getting swallowed up by a giant version of Cut. Chito suspects Cut might’ve been some kind of lure used by the bigger ones, but Cut’s body language suggests that’s not the case.

Chito runs through the submarine, desperate to find her one and only companion, and eventually emerges from the conning tower to find the Big Cut isn’t interested in eating living humans, and spits Yuuri out. It then transforms to reveal it’s a kind of semi-sentient mushroom.

The mushroom has a mix of good and bad news…though I guess it’s mostly bad for humanity. They are systematically ridding the earth of toxins leftover from the human population after it destroyed itself with war. Yuuri and Chito are the last two humans left, by the mushrooms’ reckoning.

All machinery will shut down around them, and after they’ve passed away, the world will enter a period of rest and inactivity, as the mushrooms hibernate. With that all said, mushrooms emerge from the nuclear missile tubes of the sub and they all ascend into the sky, likely to start “cleaning” the higher levels.

There’s not much for Chito and Yuuri to do but continue on their tour, with the goal of reaching the highest level. Even with their companion/pet Cut gone off with its brethren, Chito and Yuuri aren’t lonely, nor do they care if the world ends, because they have one another.

As with so much relating to this show, it’s simultaneously a deeply bittersweet ending, conveying the lesson to not be troubled by things life you can’t control (like the ending of the world) and take comfort in those you can—like who you choose to spend your days with.

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Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 11

In “CULTURE”, as Yuu feeds the “cut” bullets of increasing size, the girls roll into an armory, but Chito is far less interested in the tanks than a book lying on the ground. Titled “War and Human Civilization”, it’s written in English, which means even Chito can’t read it, calling them “letters from an old, far-off place.”

Considering the state of civilization in this show, that would seem to be something of an understatement. We build taller and taller buildings; Saudi Arabia is building one that will be 1km tall when finished. But we’re a long way from stacking cities on top of other cities like so many pizza boxes.

The book and its language, like the elaborate giant whirligig, are elements of human culture that should be preserved and understood if lessons are going to be learned by future generations.

It’s all well and good to feed an animal bullets, but to possess a book about how and why that animal can eat bullets—or detect where radio waves are originating—is even better.

Lessons of being mortally injured by falling objects or stray bullets led to the development of helmets, and in “DESTRUCTION” Chito gets and object lesson on why they still wear them even though there’s no one else around: their environment can be extremely hazardous at the drop of a hat…or bolt.

That bolt is the vanguard of a hail of shards of metal and machinery, as a gargantuan robot that could be a flesh-less warrior from the Seven Days of Fire plummets into a heap. The girls explore, and the cut shapes its body into a key of sorts to activate the robot. Yuu activates the first lever she sees, and a cruise missile is launched and detonates a few thousand feet away.

She presses another button, and the robot emits a laser beam that causes even greater destruction and widespread fires just off in the distance. Yuu starts laughing uncontrollably, saying it’s “fun”, but Chito gives her a closed-fist punch, telling her that nothing about this is funny. Yuu apologizes.

If they didn’t before, a first-hand demonstration of the destructive capabilities of civilization helps the girls to understand a little better why so much of the world is abandoned and in tatters. And yet there’s stuff all over the city and its environs that is still on, long after humans disappeared.

In “THE PAST”, Using their new pet as a guide, Chito and Yuri traverse a forest of windmills in, and come across a nuclear submarine. Again the animal creates a key out of its body, granting them access. The submarine may be beached, but it’s in working order, to the girls’ amazement.

It’s nuclear reactor seems to still be generating power (though I worry about radiation), while the girls traverse another forest within the sub on foot: a forest of what look like ICBMs.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 10

This week, the girls find a train, a radio signal, and a furry companion. As usual, they are absolutely dwarfed just by the vertical scale of the train, to say nothing of its length. Judging by the number of “robot corpses” strewn across its interior, it seems the design had to accommodate robots far bigger than humans.

After Yuuri experiences the boredom of waiting for the train to reach the destination, she and Chito do what I do when possible—head to the front. Yuuri points out that they’re going faster than usual because they’re moving on a moving train. It starts a fun discussion about the rotation of the earth and relative speed.

If there’s a commonality to these little talks it’s that it reveals both that Chito is very bright and just doesn’t have all the words needed to describe the scientific principles she understands, and Yuuri, while perhaps less bright, nonetheless comes to some perceptive conclusions of her own, despite having even less vocabulary than Chito.

At the end of the line they alight from the train and continue through another vast expanse of infrastructure. For a moment, Yuuri picks up something on the radio: what sounded like a sad song.

They look for a way to ascend to where the waves will be stronger, and happen to stop right on an ascending platform…only it either needs maintenance or wasn’t meant to convey humans and kettenkrads, because it moves extremely fast and stops on a dime.

That leads to a great bit of physical comedy as the girls and rig keep moving even when the platform stops; naturally, Yuuri lands on her feet. They’re met at the top by an eerily red sunset and a much clearer and more consistent transmission of the song, which is indeed sad, albeit very beautiful and moving in general, especially combined with the sad sunset.

I especially liked when the graininess of the radio feed gave way to a clear, crisp performance of the song. I just wished they could’ve tuned the radio to something more upbeat; they could’ve used some cheer after that last song.

When they come upon a massive hole—with another massive hole in the level above—Yuuri wonders if it was caused by the battle all the broken weaponry around them was used for. Chito surmises the hole predates the weapons, and that the hole was more recently merely a venue for a later battle. In any case, the image of a tank being repurposed as a fountain by nature and gravity is a sight to behold, especially when Yuuri literally soaks her head.

In what looks like a rocket tube, Yuuri finds a strange creature that neither she nor Chito can quite place, and so settle on “cat.” While they don’t mention it themselves, it very much also resembles those tall white idols they’ve encountered here and there. When the animal makes noise, the radio seems to translate it, even though the animal only seems to be repeating the girls with slight variation.

While the end of the train line and the sunset provided suitable ending points for the first and second vignettes, the third looks poised to continue, as the “cat” follows the girls, who decide to keep it with them for now. As Chito puts it, they’re always throwing things away or using them up, it’s nice to add something for a change.

Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 10

While there are certainly important stories to be told, the true genius of SGRS is the realism and intensity of the world in which those stories take place. While there was a soapy vibe to Yakumo’s inadvertent arson, this week grounds the even for what it was: something that was likely to happen to the tinderboxy theater sooner or later, regardless of who or what started it.

Even if Yakumo was trying to deal a blow to rakugo by sending the place up, the fact is, the theater is just a thing. You don’t really need it to perform rakugo. All you need is people to perform, people to support those performers, and an audience. And those things can be found anywhere. They’ll be okay…even the kid who worked at the theater to try to get closer to rakugo.

When we see Yakumo in the hospital, Shin and Matsuda are crying by his side, but Konatsu is sitting off at a distance, with a look that conveys both suspicion (both she and Yota had to stop him from jumping off a bridge, after all) and uneasiness.

As much as she has always hated her adoptive father for killing her birth parents, the window for hashing things out with him once and for all is quickly closing. Sooner or later Yakumo, like the theater, is going to go up-either by his own hand or by nature.

Still, even as Yakumo lies there in bed with a hell of a face burn, we know that when it came down to it, he’s terrified and not at all interested in dying. He’s not ready to leave the family he’s made, which we learn is about to get larger: Konatsu is pregnant again, and this time it’s Yota’s.

Since Yota is always calling Konatsu “nee-san”, its easy to forget that these two are married, let alone sleeping together. But I loved the way Konatsu drops the news—by mentioning how she craves sweet things when she’s expecting. I also loved Yota’s total obliviousness until she actually spells it out for him too.

You can feel the love and joy in this little scene. The RABUJOI, if you will ;)

As for her scene with Yakumo, it’s steeped in a combination of loathing and tenderness. It’s not the same love that she has for Yota at all, but it’s still love, and arguably a deeper one. As she helps him into the sun and combs his hair, he tells her how his mind wanders to things he never thought about when rakugo was his life, like how he never planted a cherry tree in his garden, or all he missed out on for rakugo.

Konatsu doesn’t let the opportunity to ask him why he never followed her parents to the grave, and there’s no need for any more pretense: Yakumo was too busy raising her to think about killing himself, and in any case, being a parent has a way of simultaneously overwhelming and soothing you. Raising Konatsu kept his regret at bay, and made it possible to live as long as he did.

Upon hearing all this, Konatsu softens, her eyes well up, and she does something it’s probably been very hard for her to consider doing: thank Yakumo, for not abandoning her.

Of course, she’s very welcome, and doesn’t even have to thank Yakumo, since she did as much for him as he did for her by being in his life. It’s a marvelously executed and acted scene; the epitome of bittersweet-ness.

Then Yota comes on the radio, Shin pops out of the bushes and recites the story Yota is telling (while tossing sakura petals in the air), Konatsu asks Yakumo if she can be his apprentice, and he says “yes” without any pushback whatsoever.

Yota and Shin’s story is accompanied by a montage of imagery that matches their words, though that imagery is coming not from the imaginations of the listeners, but in the city and world living and breathing around them during a warm, pleasant sunset. It looks like a moment of almost perfect contentment for Yakumo…

Which also makes it the perfect time to leave that world, if he was going to do so. When petals on the floor are suddenly picked up by a sudden wind and dipped into darkness, Yakumo wakes up on the planks of zig-zagging, seemingly endless boardwalk flanked on either side by countless candles. Sukeroku greets him, and this time welcomes him to the land of the dead.

Tellingly, Sukeroku doesn’t tell him he’s not yet supposed to be there. So is this it for Yakumo? Did that perfect moment signal his exit from the living world? Did he agree to train Konatsu to avoid stirring rancor so close to his end?