86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 04 – Feeling Lucky

Part of what makes a good show comes down to tempering expectations as much as surpassing or subverting them. With three straight episodes of Iska and Alice bumping into each other, this episode felt oddly empty because the two never meet. Instead there’s some bonding of Unit N07 at a casino, which is nice, but can’t help but feel like filler, stalling the inevitable next confrontation between the star-crossed lovers.

It was nice to see the unit dressed to the nines just for the heck of cutting loose and having fun, as well as to learn that both Captain Mismis and Alice’s attendant Rin have the same love of gambling that neither Iska nor Alice share. But for the two to be so close to each other—at the same casino and then receiving the exact same accurate fortune—without meeting feels like a letdown.

After a scene with the Octet revealing that Risya for all her cheer is a sometimes ruthless ladder-climber, she informs Mismis and her unit that they’ll be part of an Imperial team charged with heading to the Myudol valley (located between the Empire and Sovereignty) where a new Vortex (a massive confluence of astral energy) has been found.

At roughly the same time, Alice and Rin are informed of the same thing by the shifty Tuxedo Mask” Masked Lord”, who is a member of the Zoas, one of the two royal families not on the throne. Turns out the Sovereignty isn’t as monolithic as I thought; there’s ongoing enmity between the three families, something Alice regrets.

When Iska and his unit head to the valley, the guy in charge is a fellow Saint Desciple, named, er…Nameless, and is also faceless thanks to his state-of-the-art optical camo armor suit. He’s unambiguous in the troops’ mission to either capture the vortex or destroy it, as well as in warning everyone not to “get in his way”.

But when over ten soldiers go missing during the recon mission, Nameless insists that there be no search-and-rescue ops, and orders the search for the vortex to continue. This doesn’t sit well with Iska, but he is dismissed as a traitor by Nameless when he tries to get more answers. He’s also too low-ranking to even speak to Nameless, but Mismis isn’t, and she’s as eager as Iska to know why they’re essentially sacrificing their comrades.

As for Alice, she’s distrustful enough of the Zoa family that the only way to learn the truth about the valley and alleged vortex is to go there herself, representing both the crown and the Lou family. This means that after this week’s near-misses, Alice and Iska are sure to meet back up. Unlike their team-up to stop the Founder, they’ll be on opposite sides of a battle to secure a key strategic asset.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 03 – The Secret to Strength

Move over Claudia—Miyako has quickly risen to my favorite of the four Tateyama Valkyries, and it really isn’t much of a contest. Early in the morning, after a vision-like meeting with Odin during which he warns Claudia not to get her new friends killed (what a dick), Claudia meets up with Miko, as they’re the only two who use the dojo.

Claudia used it because her father lived in Japan and imparted a lot of its culture into her upbringing, while Miyako grew up in a dojo. It was a stern and structured childhood, and her mom told her “she’s cute, but dumb, so learn housework”. Miyako took that to heart, and can now cook breakfast for the entire base.

But it’s more than cooking for Miyako, as we’ve seen in past episodes and reinforced this week. She’s basically both wife and mother to Azuzu, who doesn’t function well outside the cockpit (or in the morning). Of course, Miko doesn’t mind taking care of her, while Azu tries not to take it for granted.

After breakfast, the sleepy commander (a lot of people are yawning around the base) issues Claudia, Miko and Sono a special mission: a “Disaster Recovery Assessment” of Umihotaru, the shopping and entertainment isle they successfully defended last week. Miko is initially hesitant to agree to go, but when Azu (staying behind for maintenance meetings) reassures her, she’s in.

The “assessment” that follows is totally unlike the official military operation Claudia expected. Instead, the three girls (with three very happy and lucky escorts from among the guys) have was amounts to a day full of fun and diversion. They hit up the arcades. No one lets them pay for anything, because the Valkyries are their idols and saviors.

When Claudia finally asks when the actual assessment will happen, Miko tells her, simply, they’re doing it. It’s enough for them to avail themselves of Umihotaru’s facilities and witness all of the people happy and smiling. Miko runs out into the middle of a crowd to yell out “How’s everyone doing?” and sure enough, everyone’s super.

On the way home, the girls stop for ice cream, but Miko gets a call from Azu and immediately returns to base on the back of a motorcycle. When Claudia and Sono catch up, Claudia learns why Miko had to go so suddenly, why she was weary of going on the trip at all, and why everyone is so sleepy. Turns out a member of the recon team is in critical condition and near death.

Miyako takes her additional Valkyrie role of sending off soldiers as seriously as Azu scornfully shirks that duty entirely. It’s clear this is not the first soldier she’s been with when they die, nor will it be the last, but no one will ever tell her it’s stupid or a superstition.

If, as Azu says, only “idiots” do it, then Claudia would rather be an idiot too, joining Miko for the solemn task, and aiding the soldier’s passing by singing a soulful song. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking, poignant scene I didn’t think this show had in it, but I was mistaken.

A few hours later, Miyako is back in the dojo training vigorously, tears mixing with her sweat as she goes through her practiced combat motions. Claudia, who arrives in time to train with Miko, doesn’t feel worthy. After watching the soldier pass away and thinking of Odin’s words and all the others who died while she piloted her plane, Claudia is feeling weak and ashamed what she feels to be an unearned reputation for strength.

When Miko finds her outside, Clau asks her, “How are you so strong?” To her surprise, Miko answers that she doesn’t think she’s strong at all. Claudia isn’t alone in never thinking she’s doing enough, that everything she doesn’t do will hurt others. But Miko adds, if Clau insists she’s strong, she’ll let her in on the secret to that strength: Don’t be a picky eater! So Claudia tries the sashimi for breakfast, and finds it delicious.

That Miyako is always trying to keep everyone smiling and positive, whether they’re going through the daily grind, in the heat of battle, or on death’s door. Her generosity and emotional intelligence is unmatched among the characters of Sigrdrifa, which when paired with Odin’s warning of something big on the horizon gives me terrible pause. Could this episode have been one big Miyako Death Flag? I sure hope not.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 02 – Operation Sneaky Eel

After a doozy of a welcoming party for Claudia, most of the base sleeps in with raging hangovers, which doesn’t seem ideal for battle readiness? The culture of Takeyama Base is a far cry from the iron samurai and the elegant ladies who supported them described by her dad upon visiting Japan. Still, now that she’s not considered a Grim Reaper here, Clau is ready to learn and eager to fit into this base full of eccentric misfits who are really not that bad once you get to know them.

Between Sono’s gardening and Miko’s cooking and cheerleading, Takeyama is more than just a place of war, but of life—thriving in spite of the threat of the Pillars. Clau’s open-mindedness even inspires her to come up with a choreographic introduction, but she’s interrupted by the Gjallarhorn, or Pillar alert. The recon squadron heads out first, but not before Miko sees them off with her blessing, a promise to come home safe, and rewards like breakfast when they do.

As with last week, this is a Pillar that is more powerful than an over-water Pillar should be, suggesting the enemy continues to evolve as they defeat it. We also get the first look of the effect Pillars have on civilians, as an entire island of them are rendered unconscious. The Valkyries only have 3600 seconds (an hour) to eliminate the threat, or all those people are dead. Just one problem: the Pillar has surrounded itself with an impenetrable water barrier.

Thankfully, that barrier doesn’t extend below the water surface, which means the girls have a route into the barrier: through the underwater tunnel to the island. The sight of four planes screaming through a tunnel meant for cars is a pretty awesome and harrowing sight, especially when they start getting fired upon from both ends of the tunnel. And even once they’re inside, the Pillar puts up a water wall that blocks their attacks.

Luckily the water wall is open at the top, but the Pillar protects itself with a cushion of heat so intense it melts all ordinance. That’s where Sono with her payload of coolant bombs does the trick, freezing the Pillar so it can be shattered and Claud can destroy the core so a giant tree can be born—while also reciting the intro she prepared. Rescue teams were dispatched so there are no casualties…but how long can that good fortune last?

Once back at base, Clau and Miko bump fists over a job well done while Azu and Sono look on. The quartet demonstrated much more cohesive teamwork, a product not just having been in the air together before, but of Clau knowing her comrades better and trusting them, and they trusting her with taking the lead.

There’s something inherently charming about the inoffensively fine Sigrdrifa’s quirky battle system, even if the enemy itself is a dull-as-sand force of nature the rules for which are always changing. The main draw here is the team of bright and endearing Valkyries, and while the peril has been underplayed so far, Odin’s close observation of his “daughter” Claudia and ominous warnings suggests it won’t all be smooth flying from here on in.

Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince – 19

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With the global military in shambles and Team Rabbits’ AHSMBs still being rebuilt, the Dobermans are given a recon mission that is crucial to the survival of mankind. They must locate the dimensional gate the Wulgaru are using, which lies beyond Saturn, further than humanity has ever gone. Using laser-fueled sails and booster missiles, they get close enough to the gate to gather data, but due to solar storms they must get it back to Earth in person. Legatus Lutier sends a fleet after them. Randy and Patrick are killed, but Rakesh survives when the Godinion arrives, and Lutier withdraws.

Lately this series has been making abundantly clear just how narrow a margin of error mankind has in order to survive the onslaught of the Wulgaru. Their top secret elite pilot training facility was almost wiped out last week – which would have been Game Over – but if they don’t find a way to close the gate the Wulgaru are using, it’ll be Game Over anyway. We see civilian protests calling for greater defensive measures, but the global military is utterly tapped out, and as the perceptive (and tipsy) Amane points out during drinks with Rin, they’re led by morons.

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Theoria ominously warns them that Hitachi Izuru is essentially their only hope, even as he deals with medical exams that continue to worry his examiners. Still, Izuru and the others can’t do anything until their suits are repaired, which means it was the Dobermans’ turn to get the job done under heavy duress. The episode makes sure Patrick and Rakesh set death flags before setting off on their insanely dangerous mission to a part of the solar system no man has ever reached until, conveniently, now. But it’s Randy and Patrick who die: Randy in a blaze of glory, Patrick literally quartered by behind.

Their deaths are notable for being the first major character deaths on the “good guy” side. There frankly wasn’t much to Randy and Patrick aside from liking porn and Tamaki, respectively, but it makes us wonder if there are more casualties in store among the Rabbits and their command and support crews. With five episodes left, anything could happen. On its technical merits, this was also another exceptionally executed episode, including the Dobermans’ 120-hour cruise to Neptune and Suruga and the Godinion kicking some yellow Wulgaru ass.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Sword Art Online – 19

Kirito and Leafa enter a cave network that leads through the subterranean town of Lugru, but Yui alerts them to a dozen players headed in their direction. They turn out to be a squad of Salamander mages, who block the entrance to Lugru and force Kirito into a fight. Leafa hangs back and heals him, and he uses an illusion spell to transform into a giant monster that kills eleven of the twelve. Back to normal, he bribes the survivor for information. Once in town, Leafa logs out to learn Recon’s been trying to reach her. He knows Sigurn is working with the Salamanders, and is planning an surprise attack on a meeting between the Sylphs and Cait Sith.

As the main battle in this episode showed, battles in Alfeim are a bit more complicated than swords and shields. Sure, there’s both of those, but augmented by a galaxy of magic that hurts, heals, supports and sabotages. Sigurn has ordered a hit on Kirito and Leafa, and the squad he sends definitely has their shit together. Kirito complains earlier about having to learn English to memorize the spells, but it doesn’t sound like any English we know. He’s a a meleer no surprise the spell he ultimately casts on himself turns him into an even more powerful meleer. Apparently he can also run really fast now, which startles Leafa when he grabs her along for the ride.

Kirito’s goal is to get to that Tree of Life, climb it, and rescue Asuna. Leafa’s faction is now faced with going to all-out-war against the one group who may have the best chance to get where Kirito needs to go. That means Leafa has to deliver the obligatory, selfless “If you want to kill me and join them, go ahead.” speech. Obviously, Kirito declines. In SAO if you died, you were dead in the real world, and if you murdered another players in SAO, that made you a murderer. He’s going to keep playing with a conscience and not give in to the impulses the game offers to sate. To him, they’re all in it together. And there is a life at stake in Alfeim: Asuna.


Rating: 6 (Good)

P.S. Lugru is yet another awesome-looking town. It’s too bad they spend like no time there.

Sword Art Online – 16

Kazuto visits Agil, who tells him the pixelated photo of Asuna was taken by players of a new MMO called ALfeim Online, after flying to the highest level they could reach. Agil lends him the game, and Kazuto uses his NerveGear to jump in. Once he registers as Kirito, he learns he still has all his SAO parameters and skill levels compatable with ALfeim, but all his items are unknown save one: the file he copied Yui into. She is resurrected as a Navigation Pixie. Kirito watches two other players, Lyfa and Recon, get chased by baddies; Recon is knocked out of the game, and Lyfa is cornered. Kirito comes to the rescue, owning the baddies.

Let’s get this outta the way – SPOILER ALERT: Lyfa is Kazuto’s sister Sugu. Book it. Yeah, she doesn’t look like her, but she sounds like her, and she yells the same when she’s swinging her sword. Also, she’s good with that sword. Like a kendo quarterfinalist. So now Kirito (he’s Kirito again!) finds himself in another MMO (though not trapped in it) with both his little sister and his soulmate Asuna (who is trapped). The underlying SAO architecture is the same. Asuna didn’t wake up because she remained trapped in that architecture  Why is anyone’s guess, but it certainly is a raw hand to be dealt.

While the new fairy look makes Kirito look dumber, this game is already cooler in our books because players can fly. That’s a nice feature. It does suck, however, that all of Kirito’s inventory except for Yui was corrupted, and Yui isn’t even omnipotent anymore (if they had to bring her back, this was a clever way to do it). But despite that, Kirito is able to kick some ass, impressing someone he probably doesn’t realize is his sister/cousin. And we can bet he’ll be trying his darnedest to get up into that World Tree to free Asuna from her big birdcage. She remains off-screen and inactive this week; naught but a damsel in distress. And she was once so much more, long ago…well, actually just two episodes ago.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)