Koe no Katachi – (Film Review)

Koe no Katachi isn’t just the redemption story of a guy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school, got caught, became ostracized, and came a hair’s length from offing himself. It’s more than just the tale of a deaf girl trying to do the best she can to fit into a world in which everyone else can hear. It isn’t just the story of a little sister being so worried about her big sister that she neglects her own life.

It’s all of those things, and far more. It’s really a story about all of us, because we all have flaws. We can’t always fix those flaws, either due to lack of understanding or guidance. All of us have at some point or another hurt others, or been selfish, just as others have hurt us or been selfish themselves. These are not unique qualities to have, they are the things that make us human.

Can people truly love themselves, or anyone else, completely unconditionally? Rarely. There are always conditions and compromises, and transactions. Words fly and are heard or not heard, but actions are felt, and ultimately they define us. Not one action or two, but all of the actions in one’s life, good or bad. And the sequence of those actions are crucial.

Ishida Shouya WAS a colossal dick in elementary school. He DID bully Nishimiya Shouko mercilessly until she had to transfer out. When confronted with his crimes, he DID lash out at his friends, who then turned on him one by one. But he’s trying to make things right; he’s trying to make amends. And he’s lucky; Shouko is as kind and forgiving in the present as she was in the past; almost to a fault.

And yet meeting Shouko again, seeing that she harbored no ill will, and even seemed interested in being friends with him aftrer all that happened, changes everything for Shouya. One by one, he makes friends again, through acts of kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Yet he learns that friendship isn’t a right attained by fulfilling qualifications or conditions, but about the simple gesture of reaching out and grasping someone else’s hand.

Of course, friendships can and almost always do get a lot more complicated. Back in elementary school, Shouya likely did what he did not just for personal amusement, but for approval and acceptance. When those things suddenly didn’t work, and in fact had the opposite effect, he was suddenly un-moored, and left with nothing but his own regret for all of the pain he caused.

But as long as there are other people in the world who will even consider sharing the same space or breathing the same air, recognizing pain and sharing it is the best way to go. We are social creatures. We may hurt each other sometimes, but we need each other to survive; to help each other live.

Whew…that’s probably enough pretentious babbling like I’m some kind of expert in psychology or sociology for one sitting! It’s just that Koe no Kotachi, as I said, is far more than the sum of its parts, and even those parts are phenomenal in their construction and presentation, be it its fully-realized and complex characters, KyoAni’s seemingly more obsessive-than-usual attention to human and environmental detail, marvelous dialogue, voice acting, music, etc.

Koe no Kotachi is BIG, and it’s often messy, much like life. There are moments of despair and disgust, but also moments of grace and astonishing beauty. Scenes filled with hate and loathing mixed with scenes of love, understanding, and camaraderie.

It’s immensely though-provoking and impeccably performed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (probably more than you’ll laugh) but mostly it will tear your heart to pieces and then meticulously reconstruct it, bigger and better than ever. Mostly it’s just really really good. I highly recommend it!

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Inuyashiki – 11 (Fin)

Early in this final episode, I was deathly afraid Hiro would somehow repair himself and pay Ichirou and his family a visit, and there would be no way Ichirou would be able to fight Hiro off and save his family; indeed, they’d likely be part of the ample collateral damage of such a fight.

That fear was only amplified when Ichirou showed his entire family the machinery within him, confessing to them that he might not be their Ichirou, but a fake. When his wife asks him to describe their honeymoon, he recalls every detail with such emotion both she and Mari end up bawling and embracing him…of course he’s their Ichirou. Only his son stays away, still understandably weary of this shocking news.

As for Hiro, his arms aren’t coming back, and he seems to have given up on destroying Japan. He shows up in Andou’s room to read the latest Jump, but Andou can’t allow the charade to go on, and calls Ichirou. Hiro splits before he arrives, and later watches Shion and her grandmother from afar, not daring to get too close lest his awfulness infect them any further. Hiro is also constantly hearing desperate cries for him to just effing die already for all the horrendous shit he’s done. He’s not in a good place.

As for Ichirou, honesty proves to be the best policy, as his family quickly embraces him (I love how his office didn’t even acknowledge him as the healing god on TV). He takes the fam out to eat and they take a riverside stroll afterward, in a wonderful display of family camaraderie.

In an earlier talk with his boy while walking home, Ichirou tells him how death makes life precious, and that now that he’s a machine he realizes he took being human for granted.  Even so, you can’t deny his family is being a lot nicer to him now that he’s a machine, when before, only his dog Hanako seemed to care whether he lived or died.

At the same time, perhaps they weren’t ever as disdainful as the earlier episodes depicted; maybe we were just seeing things from Ichirou’s woe-is-me perspective. It wasn’t as if he was the only member of his family feeling underappreciated or downtrodden.

In any case, that odd ominous sense of finality to the family interactions is explained by President Donald Trump of all people on the TV: Remember that Giant Asteroid? It’s still headed to Earth, where it’s expected to wipe out all life in three days. Trump basically tells the losers of the world to pound sand; he has no regrets about his life.

Such a comforting voice in trying times, is the Trumpster’s. A good chunk of the masses respond by engaging in widespread illegal activity. Something has to be done, and we know who needs to do it.

While I know the asteroid has been mentioned for some time, the shift from the Ichirou-Hiro conflict to Stopping the Asteroidocalypse still feels very sudden, and once this episode ended, I felt a bit like an entire arc had been awkwardly squeezed into one episode.

That being said, the execution, while hasty, still made an impact, what with Mari’s tearful farewell of her father (who promises he’ll be back) and the gorgeous shots of Ichirou floating around space. Unfortunately, even his formidable arsenal is ineffective at altering the asteroid’s course.

Enter Hiro, who followed Ichirou into space, and who believes the course will shift if he self-detonates on the asteroid’s surface. As horrible as he is, Hiro doesn’t want Andou or Shion to die, so like Ichirou, he’ll do all he can to stop that from happening.

When the night sky turns to day for a few minutes, both Andou and Shion seems to sense their friend is gone. For all the hundreds of people he killed in various awful ways (and if looking at things dispassionately), sacrificing himself to save the entire population of earth seems like a sufficient means of redemption.

It’s too bad then, that Hiro alone can’t save earth; he only blew up part of the asteroid; to finish it, Ichirou has to blow himself up as well. While I’m sure he didn’t like breaking his promise to Mari, he’d have liked her being incinerated by a meteor even less.

Also neither Ichirou nor Hiro in their current states were anything that should have been anywhere near humanity; they were simply too powerful, on both the good and bad side of things. They should have died when that alien ship squashed them. Turns out they got some bonus time, but now that time has ended.

The simple, quiet epilogue of Mari learning her manga won the competition in Jump (to Andou’s surprise as well) is the product of Ichirou lovingly supporting his daughter’s creative dreams, and earning back her respect and affection in return. No doubt the next work she publishes will be dedicated to her father’s memory.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 04

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Obviously, things go a lot less bad than they seemed to be going. Mumei is able to sorta argue that the unborn baby she killed along with the mother was tainted, and no fight ensues where she’s forced to fight back and murder non-Kabanes. Back in the rear car, Ikoma doesn’t bite Ayame, but not of his own volition; Kurusu is there in the nick of time to stop him, and in ringing his bell, snaps him out of his, shal we say, hunger trance.

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But things still go bad, as this is Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, and never has there been that long a lull between crises. The first crisis becomes one of faith, as Ayame, shaken by Ikoma’s attack, isn’t so sure she’s still the best person to run the train, even if she inherited the job. Quite surprisingly, she hands the master key to one of the ICs (Ingrate Cowards), who immediately changes course for the more dangerous mountain shortcut.

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Ikoma and Mumei are locked in their rear car, along with Ikoma’s friends, but the ICs’ attempts to separate the car from the train and leave them behind fails when it virtually starts to rain Kabane, putting the train on high combat alert. It isn’t long until the zombies are in the train. I’ll say one thing for this show, it loves hiking the stakes up to ludicrous levels, and it loves to make the ICs their own worst enemies, as Ikoma and Mumei have to climb outside the train in order to participate in the battle.

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The bushi and other fighters within the train actually handle themselves well for far longer than I expected them to, but inevitably, and especially with the combat-savvy, battle-hardened wazatori aboard, things start to go pear-shaped. Kurusu learns he can kill more efficiently with his sword than a gun, but that same sword lets him down when he tries to pierce the waza’s chest and the blade shatters, giving the super-kabane an opening to stab Kurusu right through the chest.

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Once they no longer have to worry about being decapitated by tunnels, Ikoma and Mumei bust out, and aided by a brief de-railing, engage in a fantastic acrobatic aerial battle, building up a formidable Kabane body count. Mumei’s confidence when flying and twirling through the air, like a baton of death, inspired many a hearty fist pump.

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It’s only natural then, that when the first stage of their counterattack is complete, her fuel tank hits “E” and she goes down for the day. I loved how she and Ikoma were ready to go with the gear needed to keep her from being thrown from the train while unconscious, as well as how cool Mumei seems with leaving things up to Ikoma. Not that she has a choice, but, well, he’s no Mumei…and he’s starving too.

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It isn’t long before he can barely move himself, and beseeches someone – anyone – for a bit of blood, promising to waste the wazatori in exchange. The one who answers his call is Ayame, who hesitates not as she climbs to the top of the car and slashes her arm for Ikoma to drink from in one of the episode’s handful of dynamic “muralesque” shots. She also wastes quite a bit of her blood by not waiting for Ikoma to get close enough, but she seems to be okay.

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The blood re-energizes Ikoma, who polishes off the wazatori, who caused Kurusu (who somehow survives that wound) and the others so much trouble, as if he was swatting a big, lumbering fly with a steam-powered rolled-up newspaper. With that, the latest crisis is resolved, and the episode ends (thankfully) without immediately starting a new one. Instead, it ends on another still shot, with Ikoma’s circle of supporters, all of whom pledged to give him their blood so he can keep fighting for them.

It’s a triumphant shot, ending what could be considered a four-part movie with no shortage of badass action, heart-pounding thrills, and shocking levels of near-self-destruction on the part of Team IC. Hopefully, Ayame’s latest acts of courage and faith will inspire the rest of the schlubs on board to at least consider the fact the Kabaneri aren’t just Kabane by another name.

They’re the good guys, and all they ask is a little voluntarily-offered blood now and again for their indispensable services.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 03

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Well, Mumei and Ikoma got on the train, but hardly any of the ingrate cowards aboard want them there. Unfortunately, they can’t do shit about that, and Mumei makes it clear that if they think she’s their enemy, the feelings mutual and they’re welcome to die by her hand if that’s what they want.

It’s great that Mumei hasn’t the slightest will or compulsion to calmly explain herself. She saved all their pathetic lives; that should be enough reason for her to be allowed aboard. Ikoma, on the other hand, would like to explain himself, but he doesn’t quite get it yet himself.

Ayame, who is de facto in charge of the train following the loss of her father, tends to agree. She’s the only one standing between the Kabaneri and the jumpy ingrate cowards eager to kill them, and she lets Mumei and Ikoma stay in the boiler car, provided they promise to stay there.

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Mumei doesn’t keep her promise long, as she senses a Kabane and rushes into a car full of scared evacuees, including a woman who is pretty clearly bearing a Kabane child, a possibility that probably escapes Mumei because she’s never come across it.

The resulting standoff with guns is defused when an engineer warns the train must stop before reaching the next station to repair the precious water tank, which I’m starting to think was manufactured by Ducati.

While the train is stopped we get a little more world-building with the evacuees, led by elders and holy men, conduct a funeral service for the scores who were lost. Ikoma takes the opportunity to recount the story of how he ran from his sister rather than stay and fight, resulting in her death (he also still carries around the green stone he and his sister kept as good-luck charms).

Ikoma wants to believe his past cowardice and trauma are exceptional in some way, but Mumei is again on the spot with the cruel truth: Ikoma isn’t special, and neither is his story: the weak died; the strong survived.

That cynical but not-wrong summing-up implies Ikoma is strong, by the way, even if he gets his ass handed to him in his first “training” sessions with Mumei. Clearly she believes him strong enough to be his shield when she falls asleep.

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But she gets no sleep tonight, as a gang of disgruntled ingrate cowards gathered by a tsking ringleader (who of course hangs back) challenges Mumei, despite Ayame’s pleadings for calm. Again, Mumei exposes her arrogant streak, perfectly fine with taking out anyone who raises a weapon to her with killing intent.

Ayame again, somehow, manages to stop a full-on fight (i.e. massacre) from breaking out, by pulling out her dagger, putting it to Ikoma’s chest, and proving to the malcontents (and to herself) that he’s not the enemy.

Meanwhile, Mumei slipped away to hang with the women, and kinda proves that she’s not the enemy either by comforting a baby and generally being able to slip into the role of ‘just one of the girls’.

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That act doesn’t last long, however, as after all the fun, Mumei gets hungry. She declines an offer of dumpling soup and asks for blood instead. That’s right; the dun dun duuuun moment occurs at roughly the same time for both Mumei among the girls and Ikoma with an initially relieved, thankful, even bashful Ayame.

This week, I came to empathize a little more for the ingrate cowards of the train. They’re weak, and can’t help being freaked out by the mere possibility a Kabane is walking among them, pretending to play nice, but only for now. Mumei doesn’t help matters by being aggressive and arrogant, but she can’t help being like that either, because she’s strong.

But like a vampire, she still needs blood to stay strong (and operating at peak efficiency). So does Ikoma, which is why after leaking a bit of blood, he starts to go at Ayame like, well, a thirsty vampire. I also learned this is a show that likes its cliffhangers, despite the fact that we know Ikoma isn’t going to remain in that state forever, nor is he going to kill Ayame.

But his and Mumei’s sudden need for fresh blood certainly doesn’t help their chances of ever being trusted by the people they keep saving.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 02

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Let me just first say I thought it was awesome that the show gave Ikoma a moment of nerdy victory with his friend Takumi, who helped him research both the gun and the method of stopping Kabane transformation in its tracks. That victory high lasts all of two minutes, before the next crisis is upon them: the train they need to get on is being blocks by legions of Kabane.

Ayame and Kurusu try talking sense to the masses, but panic is upon them and they’re about to lose their grip on the situation…until Mumei shows up in her battle guard, ready to do her part. When a much, much larger guy tells her not to talk out of turn and puts his hands on her, well, the guy isn’t in a vertical, painless position for long, and we learn again exactly how formidable a warrior Mumei is.

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Not 30 seconds later, she arms her dual steam-guns and goes on a one-woman Kagane-wasting spree. While she exceeds her self-imposed time limit of 100 seconds (by ten), it’s still an impressive feat that definitely rose my heart rate. This “kid” can flat-out fight, and this show can flat-out animate that fighting.

Ikoma is about to expose his Kabane parts to guards running a routine security sweep when he’s bailed out by Mumei, back from her spree…and she senses instantly that something is different with the guy. His aura feels different to her, and her’s to him. They can feel the power—and the connection—within them.

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Ikoma manages to get on the train with Mumei and Takumi, but he goes to the back with the latter while the former curls up and…takes a nap. A well-earned nap, to be sure, after all the ass-kicking she did. But beneath her cloak, we see why she fights so fiercely…she’s got a secret.

As Ayame enters her key we get to see the procedure of starting up the great rail fortress Koutetsujou, and all it’s steam trian-like details like an inability to start up too fast and a dependence on lots of water to operate.

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The regrouped Kabane storm the train as it lurches out of the station, and make no mistake; these are fast, parkour zombies; the worst kind IMO. The slow ones you can escape most times; these guys are just a headache. The show does a very good job making us not want to be anywhere near these monsters.

Naturally, it isn’t long before Ikoma is exposed as possibly one of those Kabane, and even after saving a family from a burst steam pipe and killing a Kabane with his new gun, when he sees his chest glowing, even HE starts to doubt whether or not the virus is continuing to spread, contrary to Takumi’s theories.

Kurusu is in no position to take that chance, and shoots Ikoma straight off the train. There’s just no time for the kind of nuanced, evidence-based explanations Ikoma wants to provide.

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After Ayame sees her former father turned into a Kabane, Kurusu orders the hatch shut and the train run all the Kabane (including his former lord) over. But once they reach the bridge, the switch to lower it won’t work; it’s jammed.

Kurusu prepares to go out and pull the manual lever, quite possibly giving his life for Ayame and the rest of the train’s occupants—but Ikoma, who wasn’t killed by Kurusu’s bullet, beats him to it, killing all the Kabane around him and lowering the bridge himself.

All the while he’s doing this, he’s cursing every soul on that train who doubted him, and hope they all live long, tortured lives knowing they owe them to the actions of someone they tossed away. He’s being a little melodramatic, but he’s also not wrong: humanity isn’t going to survive if they toss out their heroes and generally act like self-destructive, paranoid dicks.

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Still, Takumi, who hesitated and recoiled form his friend earlier, is the one to toss him a line to grab before the train is out of his reach. He gets on the train, but after a nudge from—yup—Mumei, who woke up from her nap in time to save him and help Takumi get him aboard. Thank goodness. There’s something about this train slowly leaving the station that made me thinking ‘he has to get on that thing before it leaves, or he’s going to die.’

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When he gets on, there’s an immense feeling of relief—but his troubles aren’t quite over. Kurusu greets him with a suicide kit, acknowledging that he saved them, but urging him to “do what needs to be done.” Of course, he believes Ikoma is a Kabane, and about to transform into a ferocious, unthinking monster.

He’s mistaken. Mumei stands up for Ikoma by removing her jacket to reveal that she too has a glowing Kabane-esque heart. But she insists she and Ikoma are no Kabane, nor are they entirely human. They are Kabaneri: in between. Kurusu doesn’t have to like it, but he does have to accept that they are the closest thing to humanity’s salvation.

I like it just fine. I love it. Ikoma and Mumei make a compelling lead duo. I hope to see them kicking ass side-by-side soon—if they can manage to quell the naysayers.

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Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 01 (First Impressions)

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Well, here it is: one of the contenders for King of Spring. KnK had a little bit of everything that you want in a heart-pumping steampunk horror-action-thriller (even a dash of wit). But mostly it’s gorgeously-rendered, dark, brutal, bloody good fun.

KnK wastes no time dunking our heads into its not-so-ideal world and not letting us come up for air until the very end. A good way to get a good pace going to start is a train job of some kind. This train happens to be a mobile fortress, transporting humanity from one “station” (heavily fortitied settlements) to another.

What is everyone running and hiding behind iron and wood from? The Kabane: zombies who move at a pretty good clip and have metal cages around their hearts, making them really hard to kill (though as we learn apparently beheading works too). The Kabane are indeed fierce and fearsome, as it only takes one bite to turn you into one of them. Once that happens and your peers know about it, you’re expected to commit suicide immediately.

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One dude who is trying—perhaps in vain—to stem the tide of the vicious Kabane is Ikoma, a mechanic who in his spare time is working on a stea gun powerful enough to pierce the Kabane’s heart cages. He’s very very close, and in fact would have probably had a breakthrough had he not been distracted by the train raid.

Of course, he’s at the bottom of the food chain, society-wise, so only he and some of his friends even know what he’s working on and its importance to the future of humanity. When the aristocracy deigns to walk among the masses, it’s either to have their gun fixed, or to sit back and watch as bushi (a force of soldiers with steam guns who protect everyone else and the peace) gun down a suspected Kabane who turns out not to be one.

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For trying to defend this poor wretch, Ikoma gets the butt of a rifle and thrown in jail, but he also catches the eye of the catbell-adorned, carefree aristocrat Mumei, as well as Ayame-sama, a high-class lady with a gentle heart. While he’s in jail, unable to perfect his gun, another train enters the station—one I knew from the foreboding atmosphere of its approach was overrun by Kabane.

They are smart enough to operate the train, and ram it into the city in a stunning derailment set piece, followed by a gory massacre of the townsfolk nearest the gate. Mumei, who snuck away from the castle for a lovely evening June constitutional, pays a brief visit to Ikoma in his cell, but is soon back on her way to the armored train out of this lost station.

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Ikoma frees himself and prepares his new jet gun just in time for a Kabane to drop in on him. He wins the subsequent struggle with authority, blasting the Kabane’s caged heart to smithereens. It worked; but the Kabane took a nasty bite out of his arm.

What happens next…is a little odd and hard to grasp, but Ikoma, unlike most people, knows the Kabane affliction is a virus, not a curse, and so can be dealt with if acted upon quickly enough. He manages to seal off his arm and improvises a kind of self-exorcism of the virus from his body, drawing it out like steam out of a tank.

We also learn while he’s undergoing this highly painful procedure that he once ran before, back when he was a kid and his family was killed and his hometown destroyed by Kabane. Ikoma is done running, and he won’t let a little (or even a big) Kabane bite interfere in his quest of redemption and vengeance.

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Yeah, comparisons to another apocalyptic steampunk thriller, Attack on Titan, are very much inevitable, and were always in some part of my mind throughout this episode. Still, it’s hard to complain about KnK’s ambitious, kick-ass execution. Basically, KnK differentiated itself more than well enough for my satisfaction.

I don’t want to close without mentioning Mumei, who seemed like an entitled brat when the episode opened, but more than proved her mettle in a climax that ran parallel to Ikoma’s. When her attendant is bitten and has to kill himself, she races to the train on her own, but is cornered by a big ol’ Kabane.

Without flinching, she stands her ground and lets the beast come to her, whereupon she decapitates him with her shoe, which not only houses the catbells we were hearing the whole time, but a razor-sharp blade. Then, for giggles, she gets that shoe stuck in a wood pillar. Bad…ass…like this show’s opening salvo. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing Ikoma and Mumei take it to the Kabane.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 07

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Ayatsuji Ayase is lost. To her, reaching and winning the Seven Stars Battle has become everything. In order to beat Ikki, she must cast away her pride, which she deems useless as it has not garnered any positive results. So in a stunning trick, she throws herself off the roof, forcing Ikki to use Itto Shura to save her. Because their battle is in just ten hours, Ikki won’t be able to use his trump card against her.

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Ikki stumbles home and wakes up in the nurse’s office, where we learn why Ayase’s sudden but inevitable betrayal isn’t totally unjustified or evil, but simply misguided. When Karaudo fought her legendary father, he took his ability to hold a sword and left him bedridden for the last two years, while he took everything the Ayatsujis for everything they were worth.

Alone, broke, and harboring that “worthless pride”, Ayatsuji is no longer a swordswoman so much as a wounded, desperate beast who has been backed into a corner. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but it does make them understandable. But Ikki won’t let her reach the point of no return. He’ll face her in the selection match, Shura or no Shura.

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Ayase is incredibly confident, but there’s the sense that her hardscrabble “evil” armor is as delicate as an eggshell, just waiting to be cracked so a redemption omelette can be made. But her battle with Ikki is nothing short of thrilling and brutal. She certainly has the weapon of a villain, as her Hizume ignoble art is able to recreated every previous sword slash on the field of battle, as well as open small wounds on Ikki wider for maximum blood loss and pain.

And while this Ayase character is extremely different from the one we met last week, that’s just because she hadn’t born her wounded, desperate, relentless side. She makes it clear she harbors no particular ill will toward Ikki, but he’s an obstacle she must cut down.

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The color commentary clashes with the serious tone of the battle, but there’s no levity in the reactions of Alice, Shizuku, or Stella. Stella in particular looks troubled that her lover is getting so torn up, but there’s also the sense she knows something the others don’t; a plan of Ikki’s she hopes goes smoothly. That plan is revealed in the turning point of the battle, when Ayase’s coup-de-grace is barely blocked by Ikki’s “irregular guarding” technique.

Ikki tells Ayase she’s not fighting like the girl he sparred with. She’s ignoring his instructions and even what she already knew. Her mind is so consumed with convincing herself and everyone else that she’s a revenge-seeking dark angel of evil, she can’t actually fight properly. Her conflicted mind is at odds with her pure soul, where the love and pride of her father and his sword school endures.

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Before the battle, Ikki reported Ayase’s foul play, which was enough to disqualify Ayase and hand victory to Ikki without stepping foot in the arena. But Ikki doesn’t want that, because he wants to prove to himself and to Ayase that Ayase isn’t completely lost, and that there’s another way to get what she wants.

He cracks her evil armor by forcing her into submission, using the Fourth Secret Sword, Shinkiro to create an illusion of himself that she cuts, then drains her energy so she can no longer fight. His latest lesson to his pupil is that if those with nothing lose the pride in their swords, their swords will disappear. No sword, no win. She concedes defeat.

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But that’s not the end. She may feel the damage she did to her friendship is too severe to repair, but she clearly doesn’t know Ikki well enough. He offers not only forgiveness to someone who lost her way but was able to come back, but offers to help her get back what she lost, without sacrificing friends or pride.

Free of her evil villain act, when Ayase sees the callouses on Ikki’s hand, she sees her father’s hand reaching out. She asks Ikki for help, and Ikki is glad to offer it. Ideals that don’t produce results aren’t meaningless, as results ill-gained by casting them away will crumble to dust, leaving nothing.

Things might have gone far worse had Ayase not reached out to her swordsman brethren last week, but she did, and it made all the difference in the world.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 25 (Fin)

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One of the question marks last week was what, if anything, would bring Salia back into the fold. That turns out to be Alektra, whom Salia brings to the Aurora. All Alektra wants is a cigarette and the chance to say what she needed to say to Salia, whom she regards as a little sister, if not a carbon copy of herself, complete with the same mistakes. But as Aura halts the world-merging, there’s still a chance to beat Embryo.

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And is there some villainy thee vile Embryo hast not committed? Why, forcable rape, of course! His final move is to return to his own timeless “in-betweeny space”, where he gives Ange more of his backstory in between slapping and stripping her. He won’t be refused, and aims to “purify” Ange, who was “sullied” by Tusk. Now Embryo is just pathetic, though who can say this wouldn’t happen to any man kept alive for a thousand years, with the power to control everything?

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But yeah, in it’s last episode, Ange “goes there”, just it has not been afraid to go there throughout its run, for good or ill. He binds her arms and legs with vines so she’s spread eagle, but is kind enough not to gag her, so Ange takes advantage and sings the song of Villkiss. Tusk boards it, and with his tears of love he’s able to activate her ring, and the Villkiss teleports him, Hilda, Salia and Salako to Ange’s location.

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Tusk is just in time to stop Embryo from going too far, and rescues Ange in their now trademark position of his head in her crotch. This time, Ange is too scared and happy he’s there to blush or slug him. And he even has the panties she gave him so she can cover up. I wondered when those panties would come in handy.

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There’s still Embryo to content with, and Tusk crosses swords with him, as is expected of a knight, and we also learn this is Embryo’s original body. He’s still a tough customer, so Tusk keeps him busy as Villkiss upgrades again to a Ange/Tusk combo paint scheme, and cloaks Ange in a crisp, white flight suit.

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Hilda (riding Chris’ mail), Salia, and Salako prove to be a good group to have accompanied Tusk to this place. They’re kept busy fighting duplicates of Embryo’s Ragna-mail. He tries to brainwash Salia and briefly takes over control of her mail, but as Ange and Salako monologue about how they’ll allow themselves to be controlled (by a man, no less) over their dead bodies. Hilda and Salia join their voices.

Salako even figures out why Norma exist—judgment for Embryo thinking in his hubris he could control human genes—and why they’re all women: so they can re-populate the Earth with a population of humans he can’t control. Life Will Find A WayCross Ange-style. It holds together pretty well.

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As Tusk runs Embryo through and Ange delivers that dynamite one-liner in the top-right, she runs his Ragna-mail through, and it’s over. No more dirty old man. Good game; let’s go eat!

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The world Ange & Friends return to is the “true” Earth of Dragons, now freed from Embryo’s tinkering. There, with no one left to fight, Ange declares she’ll build a new nation, and at this point everyone at her side is fine with that. She was born to lead, after all, not to mention she’s the reason they’re all alive.

When Momoka asks what’s to be done about the other world, Ange basically shrugs and says it’s not her problem, which she’s well within her rights to do. The people of that world are humans; they’ll figure it out.

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Sure enough, we see Sylvia embracing the fact that she really can walk, and arms herself with friends and weapons to protect the weak. The show didn’t have to do anything else with Sylvia, but I’m glad they did. She is Ange’s sister, and Ange herself was once an insufferable brat, so it stands to reason Sylvia had that same strength within her.

As the credits roll we get a great epilogal montage that shows us what everyone is up to now that there’s peace: Ersha, Salia, and the surviving rookies meeting Vivian’s parents; Ange opening her dream cafe with Tusk; Momoka and the bridge crew; hanging out with Salako on her time off; paying respects to the fallen, and building their new nation.

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Left out of the end montage, in a rare showing of restraint for this show: Hilda-Roselie-Chris makeup sex, Ange-Tusk baby-making, and other potential bedroom formations, such as Ange-Salako-Tusk or Ange-Tusk-Hilda-Roselie. Gotta leave some things to the imagination, I suppose…but I imagine at some point they’ll want to populate this new nation, and there are only so many men. Gotta watch out for inbreeding.

And on that somewhat inappropriate note, it’s time to say goodbye to Cross Ange, at least until the OVA or film, if they come to fruition. It was a very fun ride, and I’ll miss the show’s shameless raunchyness and shlock combined with genuinely compelling character drama and feminist commentary.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 13

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Prince Alfonso buries his mother and starts the long process of rebuilding his country, Herman makes a friend in the lady who was doing laundry back during his extended streak session, and Emma is the only one looking for Leon, though even Garm doesn’t know what’s become of him.

Leon, meanwhile, is lying in a riverbank, near death after his plunge into that gorge. He is no longer keeper of Garo nor Zaruba’s partner. He’s just Leon again. Having failed miserably in the world of demons and dark magic and fantasy, what he needs is a good dose of reality, which is exactly what he gets thanks to his savior, a farmgirl named Lara.

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When Lara brings Leon home and nurses him back to health, his first words to her are “Why did you save me?” when they should have been “Thank you.” Lara’s dimiutive but tough-as-steel grandmother puts an end to his pity-party right then and there: if they hadn’t saved him, he would have died on their land and they’d have had to waste time tending to his body, and time is the farmers’ enemy.

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This is a strange new world for Leon, whose former life had been pretty transient and action-packed. Here, it’s quiet, calm, boring, but the onions have to be planted and the firewood collected and the irrigation canal fixed before the ice comes. There are debts to be paid to the lord, and that Lara’s father was killed by wolves doesn’t change the fact they need a good harvest to pay them off.

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Leon watches these farmers, and the kinda and lovely Lara in particular, as if they were some kind of exotic animal. When he asks her how she can stand this unending routine of drudgery, and whether she ever dreamt of leaving and living a different life, she states simply that this is her father’s land, and it’s up to her to keep tending it. She isn’t the kind of person to abandon her mother and grandparents for her own selfish dreams. But in any case she seems to like her life just fine, and it’s been made a lot more interesting by the traveler’s arrival.

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Once Leon is strong enough, the grandpa gives him the shovel so he can take a breather (the episode is full of close-ups accentuating just how hard the elderly characters are working). Leon is understandably terrible at this non-combat manual labor, and Gramps shows him how, making it look easy. But it dawns on Leon as he sleeps beneath the full moon: nothing here is easy, but nor is it pointless, and he can be of help.

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The highlight of the episode is, surprisingly, a montage, but a truly powerful one, set to a bold, epic piece of soaring orchestral music that calls to mind the work of Joe Hisaishi (the whole episode has a distinct Ghibli vibe to it, for that matter.) It sounds like a determined march to a tough battle, only the enemies are nature, the elements, and time, and the weapons shovels, hoes, axes, and elbow grease. This really is a new world for Leon, but takes up these arms all the same and fights beside Lara and her family.

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And they are victorious, completing the canal before the ice comes, giving the family a chance at that good harvest. This was just one battle, but the war Lara and the farmers are fighting is unending. Now Leon can answer his own question from back when Lara first saved him: it was as if fate had brought Leon to Lara’s lands so she could restore his health, and in turn he helped them rebuild the canal and save their crops. They saved each other.

More enticing still, Leon doesn’t say farewell and leave by the end of the episode. Is Garo not quite done with this new, good-honest-labor setting for Leon? Will Lara continue to play a role in this second cour? In both cases, I hope so.

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Back in Santa Bard, Nuncle Herman assists his nephew the prince with a nasty-looking leftover horror from a Giger sketchbook, before considering hitting up a brothel or two, but his “butterflies” euphamism soars right over dear sheltered Alfonso’s head. The Herman/Alfie dynamic is a nice one, and while both are worried about what’s become of Leon, they know only he can help himself now.

I kinda wish Alfie hadn’t retained Mendoza’s closest confidant, and connected the dots that she was the one keeping his father ill. But that’s a classic rookie prince mistake, and I’m sure it won’t be his first.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 12

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Last week, our brave, valiant, devoted young Makai knights, brothers in blood as well as calling, stood shoulder-to-shoulder against Mendoza and his partially-summoned beast, poised to teach the bad guy a valuable lesson about going up against good. But then Mendoza got Leon to focus on him, took him into his clutches…and pretty much ruined him forever. I didn’t see that coming, I’ll tell you that right now!

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Overcome by grief, pain and rage over vivid imagery of his mother dying (courtesy of Mendoza’s magic), Leon loses control and transforms into a terrifying beast. Mendy made it so that it’s as if Leon never left those flames his mother was being roasted in when she birthed him, and the flames that protrude from the Berserk-Garo cause significant damage and death to the city.

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Obviously Leon didn’t mean for things to go this far, but the fact remains he has to be stopped, one way or another. Herman is too injured to do it, so it falls to Alphonso, who hasn’t let Mendoza get close and still has full control of his faculties and his armor. You know your final battle isn’t going well when you have to allocate significant time and energy to taking out your own ally before he destroys the city you’re supposed to be protecting!

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Alfie manages to kick Leon out of the Garo armor at a very high altitude. Emma saves Leon by cushioning his fall with a soft, fluffy stone column. By this time, Mendoza’s pet is fully formed and ready to complete the work Leon inadvertently started.

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Alfie needs to make a choice quick, and makes it, taking Leon’s sword, donning the armor of the Golden Knight himself, and going after Mendoza and the beast. All a dazed Leon can do is watch his prized armor he worked so hard for move and fight without him. All because he let Mendoza get too close, and continued to harbor thoughts of anger, hatred, and revenge – which even Mendoza correctly asserted were piss-poor motivations for a Makai Knight, any way you slice it.

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Mendoza doesn’t get any lengthy farewell speeches, however, nor does his face contort very dramatically, before the very horror he summoned swallows him up and is then sliced clean in half by Alfie-Garo. The scourge of Valiante is gone…but sadly, so are Leon’s days as a Makai Knight.

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He says he did ‘nothing’, but that’s not true…he burned much of the city and probably killed a lot of people, and wouldn’t have stopped had Alfie not forced him out of his armor. I must say, that’s a heck of a bitter pill to give one of your heroes to swallow in the penultimate episode.

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The hero-ship basically passed from Leon, who utterly failed, to Prince Alfonso, who is welcomed back to the palace with open, happy arms. Unfortunately, one of his first actions upon returning is to go to his mother, who committed suicide rather than serve as Mendoza’s hostage.

In the heat of the moment the previous night, Alfie cursed Leon as a useless weakling, a coward, and above all, a great disappointment…but he knows that if his own mother hadn’t sacrificed herself, he might well have gone the exact same path as Leon.

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Mind you, just because Mendoza had ammo against Leon and used it doesn’t completely vindicate Leon; the fact remains his actions were motivated by the wrong reasons for someone wishing to be a Makai Knight. He was wrong, and that wrongness accelerated his downfall. At the end we see him alone, with no more means to fight nor anything to fight for.

To him, that means there’s nothing to live for either, so he prepares to toss himself off a cliff. Seems to me like a perfect time for Emma to show up with her magic thread! Not to mention, back at Santa Bard, Octavia is ostensibly still lurking.

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GARO: Honoo no Kokuin – 11

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One could say the Makai Council created a monster when they marked Mendoza for life. They should have just killed him and saved a lot of trouble (and lives). Mendoza then went on to create a monster of his own with Bernardo. This week we get the rest of the story of what happened to Bernie as he fights Herman in the present, which is a much more interesting and satisfying story than Mendoza, who was pretty much always an irredeemable shit.

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Bernie wasn’t. He just got seduced by the Dark Side, so to speak. As a Makai Knight he swore to protect the people, but all he got for his duty was persecution by those very people. Anna insisted that turning the other cheek was also their duty, but cornered in the city, with Anna and Roberto still in trouble, Bernie chooses to protect them. He won’t sacrifice his friends, and especially Anna, whom he always seemed to have a thing for, just to protect the scum before him.

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He kills dozens of guardsmen, but ends up pretty gravely hurt himself, and probably should have died right then and there, having disgraced his oath, even if for a good cause. But Mendoza watched him fight, and restored his body with dark magic, and told him to join him, with the philosophy that people shouldn’t be protected; they should be ruled.

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Herman’s repsonse to all this is to call Bernie a “stupid idiot”, though perhaps that’s not quite harsh enough an insult; Herm could learn a lot from Captain Haddock! In any case, he agrees with me that Bernie should have died on that night and not lived on in darkness and disgrace, and so they go at in in one hell of a quick but visually impressive knight-on-knigh battle.

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They eventually fight each other into exhaustion, losing their armor and ending up in heaps on the ground. Bernie uses one of many dirty tricks to stab Herm in the chest, but that’s after Herm threw a knife a long way away, which makes its way back…into Bernie’s back. The mortal wound seems to bring the old Bernie back, who is glad Herman survived that awful night, and asks about Anna. Herm tells his old friend she’s safe, which I suppose is true if the afterlife is safe!

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It’s a pretty good death with an air of redemption and forgiveness to it; an end I’m practically certain is not in store for our low-pitched pal Mendoza. As Herm and Bernie were fighting, Leon and Alfie infiltrated Mendoza’s underground lair. I didn’t say anything about it because it wasn’t that interesting. But once they find him, he’s summoning a particularly nasty looking horror from Makai.

Insufferable bastard that he is, Mendoza is still an immensely powerful fellow, and far more experienced than these two kids. But then again, as the face of the Makai Order’s future, this is their time to prove they’re worthy of their armor. They’ve got to get it done.

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Black Bullet – 08

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What with the intensity of last week’s battle between Rintaro and Tina, I had a pretty good feeling we were in store for a cooldown episode, and so it came to pass. But Bullet made the most of it, allowing two former enemies to do some bonding, but never letting us forget that the peace won’t last long.

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Dual threats appear this week: not only have the Gastrea returned to the picture, but they’re up to some unprecedented shit, attacking one of the monoliths that protect Tokyo. The government will have a new one built in nine days (how, I have no idea…those things are HUGE), but the old one will only last six. The three day gap is all the Gastrea need to convert or kill Tokyo’s entire population, if they aren’t opposed.

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That means it’s time for an Entmoot Adjuvant, where Civil officers join forces with the military to fight the bugs off, thereby saving the city. But the other threat appears from within, and again brings up the question of whether the city even deserves to be saved. When a leader of the movement to expel the cursed children is murdered and a cursed child named as a possible suspect, anti-cursed sentiment balloons.

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Frankly, it would make more sense to me to expel the anti-cursed mob: if they don’t want to afford gratitude, rights, or even the slightest decency to girls who save their skins day in day out, they can piss off out of Tokyo and fend for themselves. Fortunately for them, cooler heads like Rentaro seem committed to saving the city despite all the ingratitude. When some punks toss a soda tab at a blind cursed-child beggar who mistakes it as a coin, we mused about how good they’d look in the bottom of a Gastrea’s stomach.

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The girls Rentaro and Kisara teach in the beginning don’t even get a classroom with a roof. And the Katagiri siblings are proof that not all civil agencies are as prosperous as Tendo. Still, nice to see how well Tina is taking to normal life as a regular girl, even with war on the horizon that could cut it short. There’s a kind of gloom in the fact that even if she and many other girls fight and give their lives for the city in the coming days, they’d still be hated and ostracized.

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Black Bullet – 07

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While Preston continues to bask in the warm, fuzzy glow of Nagi no Asukara’s finale, let’s talk Black Bullet, shall we? Last week’s episode ended with the implication that Enju had just gotten her ass handed to her (or worse) off-camera, by 98th ranked Tina Sprout. We later learn that Satomi’s power level is 2200% and Enju’s 8600%, but Tina’s is estimated to be 12900%. Not sure what that means, but it sounds impressive; you don’t see percents going into the tens of thousands often enough, if you ask me.

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But even if Tina’s power level were One Million percent, the chances of Enju kicking the bucket in the seventh episode were precisely zero. Instead, she’s hospitalized. The third meeting between Seitenshi and Saitake will happen before she’s expected to wake up, so he’ll have to defeat Tina without her. But that doesn’t mean he’s on his own. And he also gets the feeling she’s not killing people on purpose, as if, unlike the general consensus about the Top 100, she still has a soul, and is trying not to fully lose it.

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Even though Enju sits this one out, Satomi isn’t alone. Muroto-sensei tells him about the small, nifty “Shenfield” drones Tina uses in concert with remote machine guns to keep her foes at a distance. He makes full use of the Shiba training facilities. And when he finds Tina and goes after her, Miori has his digital back. But even with all this support, Tina is a 12900% handful. She’s also been warned by her master (named Ayn Rand, a very loaded real-world name) that if she keeps not killing people and having emotions or whatever, she can just kill herself.

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She’s committed enough that no amount of appealing to her humanity is enough to stop Tina from trying to kill him…but he is able to slow her down and get her to come close enough to stun her with a flash grenade. After that, he rains a proper Vanadium-plated beatdown upon her; that’s what stops her. As thanks for not killing Enju (even if that was actually just a mistake on her part), he spares her. And then she’s shot through the heart…not by Rand—whom we hear no more of the rest of the episode—but by Yasuwaki, the most over-the-top, insufferable, Worst Character Ever.

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Of course he’s the one to shoot her, right? Fortunately, Yasuwaki just fires a regular bullet that doesn’t kill her, and Seitenshi stands up Saitake in order to stop him.  She then promotes Satomi, and his first act as Yasuwaki’s superior is to shoot one of his fingers off, which is fine with us! It’s a little tidy that Kisara ends up hiring Tina, but as she says, Tina has nowhere else to go, and Tina is frikkin’ adorable. Ultimately, I like her more as an ally and a friend than as a mortal enemy, and look forward to her future contributions. Sounds like we’ll be getting back to the Gastrea. Yeah…remember those?

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