Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

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Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.

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?

Darling in the FranXX – 16 – How The Mood Has Changed

The Gran Crevasse is now under human control, but at the cost of about 40% of their parasites. Plantation 13 has been devastated, and Mistilteinn is without reliable sources of clean water, food, and electricity. Squad 13 has been ordered to stand by, and they’ve stood by for a month with nary a word from Nana or Hachi and only weekly deliveries of rations.

Despite all that, the group has never been closer. The squad went through the wringer and came out with bonds stronger than ever. The decision to collectively forgive and embrace Zero Two has also led to her pitching in and working diligently to do her part to help everyone out in the tougher times where their every domestic need is no longer taken care of.

The lack of sorties means Goro is a bit restless, while when Michiru asks Kokoro to cut his hair (during which time he works through his angst rather nicely), Kokoro gives him a kiss, and is wordlessly rebuffed.

There are also signs that the parasites might not be long for this world. Ikuno suffers from headaches and fever, and while bathing, Zero Two discovers white hairs among Miku’s red locks. Still, Hiro is having fun, and would love to live the way they’re living forever; sentiments Zero Two shares.

The two also spearhead a different kind of operation: one that will ensure the squad’s survival even if the food rations end. The squad catches their own fish, prepare them, and eat them on their own, a huge step towards independence for the once-coddled parasites.

While they’re engaging in this operation, Ichigo comments about how the mood of the squad has changed, how she likes the change, and how she admits she initially misjudged Zero Two as being fundamentally “different” from the rest of them; and now believes that not to be true.

In another case of the parasites perhaps not being quite as well as they could be, Zorome calls Futoshi out on his recent habit of not eating, or throwing up what he does eat. Zorome tears up while pleading with his comrade to eat if he wants to survive.

The squad may sometimes butt up against each other in these lean and trying times when they’re not sure when their next meal or drink will come, but Hiro maintains that this is all a good thing for them. He feels like this is “where they truly belong”, because there should be, and is, more to their lives than piloting FranXX and fighting Klaxosaurs.

Later that night, while drawing beautiful illustrations drawn from her memory of the picture book she had—her first “pretty thing”, Zero Two admits to having learned that being human is about more than looking human, and that Hiro’s humanity was the kind she truly wanted.

Their bliss is short-lived, as expected; Zero Two senses…something off in the distance—someone who looks for all the world like some kind of humanoid Klaxosaur pilot, like her, no doubt come to sour what had been such a pleasant and tranquil mood.

AICO – 06 – 99 Problems and a Burst Ain’t One

The closer the team gets to Primary Point, the more tricky it is to predict how the Matter will react, and what will work against it. Kaede’s recklessness puts the entire operation in danger when the Beetle is damaged and they lose precious time.

Maybe it’s the stress of their environment, but all of a sudden the Divers I touted as consummate professionals are bickering like siblings in the back seat. Ah well, Kaede gonna Kaede, I guess.

Back at Kiryu Hospital, Isazu and Nanbara complete their plot to edge Kurose out in order to maintain control of the Area situation. As villains go, these two are pretty dang dull, sitting in cars and offices and calmly betraying their college friend.

While I understand Isazu’s intense desire to save his daughter, what good will reviving her, or the Japanese economy, do if there’s no Japan, or world, in which to live or prosper? If he’s obsessed to the point of madness, he hides it well.

One thing made clear six episodes in is that AICO’s forte is clearly not characters. Nearly everyone is either derivative, generic, annoying, or a combination of same. Take Kanzaki. We still know almost nothing about him (though I somewhat suspect he may be artificial too), except that he loves bossing Aiko around and otherwise treating her like dirt.

The person he’s dealing with is Aiko’s real brain in a fake body, yet he treats her like she’s a full-on robot without a shred of humanity. He’s also oddly petty in that treatment, even scolding her for trying to make the Divers’ rations more palatable. Maybe he’s curt because time is an issue; maybe he’s an artificial dude who resents Aiko’s emotions…or maybe he’s just a dick.

The show’s saving grace continues to be its action and the heightened peril the nearly omnipresent Malignant Matter presents. Our infiltration team is a bunch of tiny, puny humans who are only kept alive by highly sophisticated technology, the proper training and experience to utilize it, nerves of steel, and a disturbingly high amount of luck.

This particular episode also benefits from having Aiko actually defy Kanzaki, not only by making a tasty meal for her protectors, but serving an ultimately decisive role as resident Matter Detector. If she’d listened to Kanzaki, and sat back and done nothing, the mission would have surely failed. Nice to finally see some agency from her.

Their successful passage through a devilish gauntlet of active Matter from above, below, and all sides, the Divers also manage to work out their interpersonal issues, particularly when it comes to Kaede being a loose cannon. Kaede almost runs out of her famous luck, but is saved by the same guy who grabbed her by the neck and chewed her out earlier, while the rich kid loses an arm, but it’s artificial and easily replaced.

Some may actually be disappointed by the show’s unwillingness to pare down the admittedly quite large Diver crew; losing some players would certainly raise the stakes. Perhaps it’s holding its powder until they get closer to Primary Point…and even then, mission success is not assured.

Aiko may have saved the day, but attacking Matter has a deleterious effect on her, and the surgery can’t proceed if she’s knocked out and can’t be revived. More pressing is the fact their way forward is blocked by more Matter, while a CAAC team is hot on their heels.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 07

While attempting to follow Ishii’s route to the ration production facility, Chito and Yuuri find themselves utterly lost in a labyrinth of pipes. Chito’s intense fear of heights rears its head, and naturally Yuuri has a little fun with that, as she doesn’t fear heights in the least.

Still, Yuu takes pity on Chito, lets her tie them together with rope (so either one of them will keep the other from falling, or they’ll both go down), and stays close during the scary bits. Even so, they have to find flat ground at some point; they’re getting tired and it’s getting dark.

While Yuuri is the one obsessed with foot, it’s Chito whose slighter weight breaks through a weak spot of the pipe, revealing a bright light that makes Chito look like she’s glowing (in a way, a callback to Yuu’s belief Chito resembled the gods whose idols populated the temple).

They enter the pipe and are treated to a well-lit route with arrow signs pointing in the right direction. Yuu whimsically suggests they “explore” by ignoring said signs, but Chito isn’t having it; wandering aimlessly will only make them hungrier and more tired, and they only come upon one last measly potato in what looks like a vast airpoinics bay.

The arrows lead deeper into the production facility where Chi and Yuu encounter heavy-duty industrial food production machinery that’s still operational, a testament to the now-long-gone people who designed and built the stuff.

It’s been a long time since Yuu not-so-playfully pulled a gun on Chi, leading me to wonder the next time she’d play with her only companion’s life. That comes when Yuu switches on the gigantic potato masher…when poor Chi is on the conveyor. She switches it off…then on again…then off again, and Chi makes her pay by roughly handling her cheeks.

Still, Yuu proves particularly useful this week, both with her courage in the pipe labyrinth and the highly detailed memories of baking with Gramps. That knowledge is put to use as she and Chi gather powdered potatoes, sugar, salt, and water, and start mixing and kneading ration dough.

The dough is cut into bricks and popped in the giant oven, and a bit later they’ve got a decent supply fresh rations, which pass the taste test with flying colors, even calling forth the girls’ patented “headmelt of satisfaction.”

With the Kettenkrad and nearly all sight of the outside world sidelined, this was all about Yuu and Chi on their own, giving each other a hard time but also having each other’s backs. While the rations won’t last forever, they’ll last a while (unless Yuu goes to town while Chi sleeps).

adding a welcome measure of optimism to the conclusion of an episode on the heels of last week’s failed flight. Better still, it was packed to bursting with wonderful Chi-Yuu banter and interactions. Honestly, I could listen to Minase Inori and Kubo Yurika read the phone book together.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 04

On this installment of Girls’ Last Tour, a foreboding title if ever there was one, Chito and Yuuri mess around with the digital camera Hanazawa gave them as thanks for sharing their food. Now on a much higher level, the scenery is all new, and we’re treated to vastly wide shots of the dwarfed Kettenkrad trundling along, Chi driving as Yuu tries to capture it.

Throughout this new abandoned cityscape are numerous curious stone columns with faces, kind of like idols. As Yuu is trying to take a picture of Chi, they crash into one and knock it over, but there’s no harm done to their ride save a small dent in the fender – and Chi’s pride as a driver.

That night Chi corrects Yuu that the camera’s capacity can be filled up, albeit after 50,000 photos have been taken. Yuu marvels at such a number, and how even if all of the things they take pictures of crumble and fall, the pictures will still be there as a record they existed.

With that sentiment in mind, Chi fires up the camera’s timer walks over to Yuu’s side, gets just a little bit closer, and says “Hi Chizu,” as is the tradition; a cute little moment of friendship, and a desire to capture it for posterity.

In the second half, the girls arrive at the central building that seemed to glow at night. Upon entering they find it very dark and full of the tall stone idols; Chi deduces it must be some kind of temple; a house for a god. When Yuu asks what a “god” is, we get this priceless, perfectly delivered exchange:

“A god is like…I dunno.”
“Can you eat it?”
“You can’t.”

When Chi’s lantern goes out, Yuu suddenly feels very alone. She calls out to Chi, but there’s no answer. I shared her tension as she stood there, in the impenetrable pitch black darkness, musing at what she’d do if she lost Chi. Then she bumps into Chi, who was beside her all along, and admits she didn’t answer Yuu because her reaction was hilarious.

You could also call it a bit of revenge for making her crash the bike. Chi may be serious and strict most of the time, but she has both a mischievous and a sentimental side.

Suddenly, the blinding light they witnessed outside suddenly switches on, and they finally see where they are: the central nave of the temple, where a giant idol stands tall among giant chimes, below which glass pools of fake water, lilies, and fish.

Chi seems impressed, but Yuu is disappointed…mostly because the fish are fake, but also because she wonders why they’d try to make “paradise on earth” (as the wall carvings described) with a bunch of fake stuff. Chi explains that even a fake paradise must give people comfort, solace, and hope in a world that’s sometimes dark and lonely.

For Yuuri, the thing that gives her comfort, solace, and hope in the dark isn’t a thing, it’s Chito. She wonders if Chi is a god…until Chi demands an offering of food; then Yuu names herself a god.

It’s always been clear that between Chi’s smarts and Yuu’s shooting skills, it’s always been best for the two to stick together to survive. They left their home together, and haven’t split up since.

These two stories continue building their relationship as not simply two people putting up with each other for the sake of the greater good, but because they’re friends, and want to explore, eat, sleep, and laugh together. It scarcely matters that there’s virtually no one and nothing else around; they have each other.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 03

This week on Girl’s Last Trip, something amazing happens; something perhaps more amazing than finding all the elements one needs to build a makeshift hot tub: Chito and Yuuri meet another survivor, a young man named Kanazawa.

The lit cigarette portended something potentially perilous, but Kanazawa is harmless. He has no gun and no vehicle, and has been making maps, but that’s about all we and the girls ever learn about him. Where he came from and how he survived are left a mystery.

While he doesn’t have a gun, he does have dynamite, which he uses to knock a building over so they can use it as a bridge across a gorge. His maps help lead them to a fueling station, and then they finally reach their destination: one of the mammoth towers that must lead to a higher level, where maybe there will be more people…or at least more food.

SSR excels at portraying just how tiny humans are before all this gargantuan infrastructure; Kanazawa offers some insight regarding the fact more contemporary civilizations couldn’t fully figure out the more ancient, yet in some cases, more advanced structures. At any rate, they’re very big and impressive.

Anyone who doesn’t like heights—like Chito—might just feel a bit of vertigo or tingling in the back as the elevator, which has no chain link fence, slowly rises higher and higher. Just as Chito is worried about what would happen if the elevator tilted, the elevator tilts, and Kanazawa’s sachel of maps slips off.

He nearly slips off as well trying to catch it, but he can’t. His maps are gone; scattered hundreds of feet above a level they may never return to. As he had earlier declared the maps were his life (i.e. the only thing keeping him going), he wants the girls to let him fall. They do not let him fall—Yuuri may be a book-burning glutton but she’s not evil.

They manage to fix the elevator and reach the top, and their seeming reward is the activation of all the streetlights around them, and a great light in the distance that is the girls’ next destination.

After Yuuri uncharacteristically shares her rations with Kanazawa (and Chito rewards her by giving her half of hers), Kanazawa heads North on his own. Looks like he was only ever going to be a temporary party member. Now on to that great light…whatever it is.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 01 (First Impressions)

The premise couldn’t be simpler: two girls on a bike in a world of nothing. They are, as far as they know, the only living souls left in that world; the rest is in darkness and ruins. Yuuri and Chito are their names. The more serious, reserved Chito drives the Kettenkrad half-track motorcycle; the more Yuuri rides along and carries a rifle.

Ever since they were thrust out of their home (which looked on the verge of falling to an unknown enemy force), they’ve had no direction except towards fuel and food; no directive except survival. And somehow, for an unknown period of time, they have managed to survive.

Their stomachs are always growling. They’re often cold, though warmer when huddled together. Food is never plentiful. They’ve been meandering through the darkness of a vast system of underground spaces for so long, that when they finally find themselves back outside, they’re blinded…by the starry sky, full of shooting stars.

They also behold a sprawling landscape of ruined, snow-covered civilization. These are kids, and they mess around and get on each others’ nerves, even as they work together to survive. They seem almost blind to the destruction and have perhaps compartmentalized the fact the two of them are all they have and possibly all they’ll ever have.

Things get a bit testy when they find a chest full of chocolate-covered ration biscuits that come five to a pack. Yuuri, the one with the rifle, unexpectedly turns that rifle on the unarmed-by-choice Chito, taking the fifth biscuit for herself. Even though they escaped and survived a larger war, the war to stay alive wages between the two of them, and one day one biscuit may make all the difference.

Chito is pissed, beating Yuuri up as punishment, and Yuuri seems to laugh off the incident, but it sure didn’t seem like a silly joke at the time. It seemed like a petty thing to do when they had a whole box of biscuits, especially considering a warm Chito to drive the bike and sleep beside (rather than a cold corpse) is surely more important to survival as the difference between three biscuits and two and a half.

Attack on Titan – 34

While I’m all for hanging out in the branches of giant trees on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, I was hoping for a little more substance. Instead, it’s a time-marking episode, with Reiner and Bertholdt waiting for a sunset that never comes while Ymir and Eren poke and prod them with questions, none of which are actually answered except one: they’re ultimately headed for the traitor’s hometown.

Just as Mikasa has to keep calm and watch her pace so as not to break the rescue party formation, Eren has to keep calm and not do anything stupid by transforming back into a titan before he’s healed and in the middle of enemy territory. But while his eyes bulge and his teeth grind, Eren’s struggle is pretty moot: Reiner says he and Ymir are too weak to transform anyway.

Then Reiner goes off, talking as if he wasn’t the armored titan, but just another soldier in the scouts who should probably get a reward, if not a promotion, for all his good work. Ymir surmises, and is probably correct, that after spending so long pretending to be a regular human soldier, he no longer knows who he is, or at least forgets sometimes.

However, he’s lucid enough to know he can flip Ymir if he can convince her it’s in her best interest, or more importantly, in Christa, AKA Historia’s. Ymir is at least willing to listen, adding another slice to Eren’s shit sandwich. But as the sun sets, their limbs start to regenerate, and the smoke flares in the distance indicate the scouts are further along in their pursuit than Bertholdt calculated.

I was expecting a quiet episode in the trees, but rather disappointed in the lack of answers, especially when it comes to the Beast Titan. Eren also seems to know, and accepts, less than we do, and it’s always frustrating to wait for a character to catch up to you.

Attack on Titan – 33

Thanks to Bertholdt’s colossal smoldering husk falling off the wall, he and Reiner are able to make off with both Ymir and an incapacitated Eren in a literal cloud of smoke. All the scouts present end up injured and burned in some way, and Mikasa, who is knocked out, isn’t able to immediately give chase, like she did when Annie took Eren. No one is.

It’s a good a time as any, then, for another flashback to the “good old days” when Eren, Mikasa and Armin played out the very same dynamic: Eren would bite off more than he could chew in fights with bullies, Armin would run to Mikasa, and Mikasa would unleash hell on those who hurt Eren. But because she’s almost always just a bit late, she’s rarely able to get Eren out of a fight before he gets beaten up.

EAT ANGRY.

Hannes, who remembers this (and misses being a ‘useless drunk soldier’), reassures the two that Eren won’t give up just because he’s been taken away. There’s no evidence of him ever giving up throughout the years they’ve known him. So the best thing for Mikasa and Armin to do is not to stew in their own present helplessness, but rest, heal, and eat food, so they can give their best when it’s time.

That time comes sooner than expected, as Erwin arrives with the military police and join forces with the scouts to go across the wall. Hange believes the two traitors are likely tired after their ordeal and will hole up in the nearby giant forest until nightfall, when (most) other Titans don’t move.

She turns out to be correct, as Eren wakes up, still steaming and missing his arms, beside Ymir, who is looking much better than a couple episodes ago (in that she’s up, about, and talking). Reiner and Bertholdt are both back to their human forms. They should have a lot to talk about before the cavalry appears, and before the sun goes down.

Sidonia no Kishi – 05

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Sidonia belts out yet another BADASS episode, that’s very different from the four that preceded it. In fact, one of the only things that held it back from a 10 was the somewhat meaningless cutaway back to Sidonia in the middle for what was nothing but an infodump by Kobayashi and the wierd Bear woman (?)(Why is she a bear? Inquiring minds want to know…). But the badassery of this episode wasn’t due to any flashy battles or explosions.

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No, this was a bottle episode, the majority of which took place inside Takane’s frame after rescuing Shizuka. They’re beyond the point of no return and his fame is out of juice anyway, so they have to do a lot of sitting and waiting for one of two things: death or rescue. This is by no means original, but I have to say, I’m hard-pressed to recall better executions of this kind of lost-in-space scenario.

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Leaving aside the convenience of two love interests being in such close contact for so long. And Shizuka strips down to her birthday suit for a totally practical reason: to photosynthesize! Despite how cold and terrifying space looks out there and how tiny the frame looks compared to it, there’s a warmth from the two of them that permeates their scenes. You get the feeling everything will be fine, because at the very least, if they die, they’ll die together.

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Ten days pass before any hint of rescue, and food and water are exhausted, the latter an example of over-complicated technology coming to bite them ass at the worst possible time. When Takane starts to succumb to dehydration, that same fancypants tech is his savior, as Shizuka is able to filter her urine for him to drink, a touching scene with shades of Princess Mononoke. The act also gives Takane the idea to filter the frame’s lubricant for more water. Wonderful things, these filters!

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The victory is enough for the couple to try a closer embrace, forgetting their suits are on. Further hanky-panky is interrupted by One Hell Of A Dramatic Entrance by the entire defense wing, which disobeyed orders and formed a 256-frame relay ring to come back for the pilot who defeated the Gauna (along with his would-be girlfriend). Their arrival is a powerful moment of jubilation and relief, and a happy ending that neither felt like a cheat nor an inevitability.

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