86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 15 – Dream Prisons

This week’s Boogiepop is a series of disorienting vignettes in which various visitors to the Moon Temple end up inhabiting old memories, first as their younger selves, then as their present selves. This enables them to do and say things they wanted to at the time, but didn’t.

We begin with a woman who knew Teratsuki Kyouichirou, who offered her money to care for her son Makoto before dying suddenly two years after he predicted. In the present, the King of Distortion takes Teratsuki’s form, but it was the past Teratsuki who spoke of leaving “one last parting gift”—most likely the Moon Temple.

We move on to Sakiko, walking along a train track with her best friend Hinako, who is tall and gorgeous…but Hinako never got to grow up into the woman Sakiko sees. She died in a car accident with her family before Sakiko could apologize for lashing out at her in jealousy. The King of Distortion offers her a chance to turn her bitter regrets into gold.

Next up, a younger Habara Kentarou, friend of Tanaka Shirou and student at Shinyou Academy. He used to hack into companies, but was caught by Kirima Nagi, in whose palm he was dancing all along. Suddenly Nagi, actually the King, turns into Saotome, who like Kentarou had unrequited feelings for Nagi.

The King presents Kentarou with a riddle: if the world is a nightmare, how does one escape? To drive the nightmare point home, the ground starts to shake and windows crack; a giant kaiju appears in the streets. Kentarou finds Makoto, recognizes him from the Moon Temple, and they escape to the one place Kentarou believes he’ll be able to escape the nightmare…the Temple itself.

Upon arriving there, Kentarou finds…himself lying asleep on the ground, gives himself a kick, and wakes up. He wakes up Shirou next to him, and the two are surrounded by sleeping people, every one of them trapped in their dreams by the King of Distortion.

Clearly it was the will of the King, or Teratsuki (or both, if there’s no difference between them) to entice a large number of people to come to the Moon Temple so he could put them to sleep and explore their memories, particularly those containing their regrets. But it remains to be seen where Boogiepop fits into all this. It the King simply another enemy for them to eliminate, or is there more going on here?

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 14 – Don’t Get It Twisted

Keiji is lonely. Touka is lonely. So they arrange a date at the grand opening of Moon Temple, AKA The Temple of Babylon, AKA “Teratsuki Kyouichirou’s Folly,” a massive, bizarre, twisted tower in the center of a postmodern park, the final legacy of a once hugely-successful CEO who died suddenly at 56.

The lovebirds aren’t the only ones to attend the unveiling: there’s a massive throng waiting in line hours before the opening, among them a mother and son, who upon leaving the bathroom finds himself face-to-face with a Teratsuki claiming he was “just born.”

Despite assuring Keiji she won’t be late, Touka is made late by the emergence of a fresh threat to humanity, and so Boogiepop takes over her body to intervene. Keiji, waiting for Touka in a cafe, encounters “Boogiepop”, but something’s off; it’s a fake, calling themselves the “King of Distortion.”

A girl named Sakiko on a date with a guy she’s not particularly interested in spots the real Boogiepop rushing past, but she only knows of the legend of the Boogiepop who kills women at the peak of their beauty. Niitoki Kei, who knows better, also spots Boogiepop and chases after them into the tower.

Kei ends up in the schoolyard, the same place and time of day Saotome Masami was killed. Saotome appears before her, calling himself the “King of Distortion.” A guy who was working at the tower but now finds himself in a restaurant with that same King, in the form of a girl he wanted to whom he wanted to say something but never did.

In all these cases, the King of Distortion seeks to turn the world to gold (hence the threat), and apparently seeks to do so by creating elaborate illusions and take the form of people that will help them remember something lingering in their hearts—in other words, distortion in those hearts.

When the King and Boogiepop meet, he warns them that he won’t allow anyone to interfere with his “experiment to turn everything to gold.” What we have, then, is a bizarre but intriguing new adversary who uses peoples’ memories, relationships, and insecurities against them and twists their very reality. In light of all this, Boogiepop wonders for the first time if she’ll actually be able to protect Kei & Co.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 03 – Facing the Atmosphere

Sakuta doesn’t wake up at 6 in the morning, because he never slept in the first place, while Mai sleeps soundly. It starts a string of days Sakuta doesn’t sleep, because as he soon learns upon returning to school, everyone there has forgotten her except his sciency friend Futaba and himself—neither of whom got any sleep last night.

It isn’t murder by Freddy in his nightmares Sakuta fears, but the prospect of forgetting Mai. So he stays up, under the pretense of cramming for exams. The next day, Futaba has slept, and forgets Mai, all but making it official. The bags under his eyes grow larger and darker as he pops stims, chugs “Blue Bull”, but Mai picks up on what’s going on.

One night, during an ostensible study session, Mai slips sleeping pills in his drink, and then strokes his head as he slowly, gradually loses consciousness, tears forming in her eyes as she comes to terms with the fact he may not remember her when he wakes up.

That brings us to the opening moments of the first episode, when Sakuta finds the notebook painstakingly detailing his past self’s experiences with Mai. But when he inspects the book, all of the instances of Mai’s name appear blank, leading him to believe it’s a notebook full of wishful thinking.

While the notebook alone fails to jog his memory, it paves the first stone. He gets another when Futaba shows him the notes her past self wrote to herself, surmising that the collective effort of the school, and indeed the rest of the world, to utterly fail to confirm Mai’s existence, could possibly be overridden by a sufficiently powerful confirmation of her existence…i.e., a confession of love.

The final stimulus that brings the memories of Mai rushing back, like water from an unclogged faucet, is a question in the exam that deals with the characters for “security” and “guarantee”; he remembers Mai’s finger pointing them out, and from them on, he knows what he needs to do…and that is to make a complete and utter fool of himself, by running out into the schoolyard and screaming at the top of his lungs that he loves Sakurajima Mai.

He yells himself hoarse, but it has an effect: the other students begin to remember Mai. Then Mai herself appears to share in the humiliation, but also to slap Sakuta for breaking his promise never to forget her, which he definitely did, if only briefly.

If the school was a box and Mai the cat, Sakuta’s bold actions broke the logical stalemate, declaring once and for all that yes, Sakurajima Mai exists, and he loves her. The “atmosphere” of unconscious ignorance of the collective student body was overcome, and thus the “world regained” Mai. She insists Sakuta continue to tell her he loves her as often as possible so that she knows he’s sincere.

From the emotional lows of Mai willingly saying goodbye to the exhausted Sakuta to the highs of him remembering her again their reunion in the yard, this was a roller coaster of an episode; Bunny Girl Senpai’s best outing yet. Was his public outburst corny? You betcha…but that’s the point!

In order to “bring her back”, he had to step out of the flow and do something no one else did. A stern talking-to from the faculty is well worth it, because Mai will be getting one right beside him. So far BGS is smart, clever, mature, and engaging romantic comedy done right.

ReLIFE – 17 (Fin)

Aw HELL yeah! I didn’t ask for much, just a happy yet satisfying ending that felt earned, and ReLIFE delivered exactly that. Initially framed by Yoake’s final report, things start out in the afterglow of Kaizaki and Hoshiro’s confessions. All their friends are super-excited for them, but they keep it very cool and low-key, which is just like two teenagers who are actually adults.

They’re both simply savoring every day they have left together, because they don’t have a lot of them. It makes you wish they’d gotten together much sooner…but then again, I couldn’t have asked for a better way for them to finally realize their feelings for another, and their love only deepens as the days pass, as evidenced by their late night phone call when simply messaging on LIME won’t cut it.

Graduation Day comes, and Kanzaki manages to graduate by the skin of his teeth (thanks to Oga). There’s goodbyes, notes of goodwill, flowers, smiles…and tears. But there are no tears more bitter than those shed by both Kanzaki and Hoshiro.

He finally gives her a hug, just when she needs one most, and it turns out he needed that hug just as badly. He says it feels like a break-up, even though they’ll see each other at the start of the college term. Hoshiro thanks him for being such a transparent yet kind liar.

And that’s the last they see of each other in their respective ReLifes—with a tearful embrace, assuring each other they’ll never forget each other, even if they know they can’t keep that promise.

Yoake congratulates Kanzaki for a marvelously successful ReLife, telling him he can look forward to very promising job placement in exchange for his cooperation with the experiment, and should hold his head high. Meanwhile, Onoya has her exit interview with Hoshiro, who never really warmed up to her newer support.

Describing her ReLife, Hoshiro describes how her heart is “ripped open” by getting close to people only to lose them, but admits she does feel like she changed “a little.” After taking her pill and falling asleep, Onoya accidentally discovers a marker Hoshiro used to write “I was in love with Kaizaki Arata”, and breaks down at Hoshiro’s failure to hide it better, as once Onoya sees it, she has to get rid of it along with all other evidence. It’s her job, after all.

Fast-forward to a bit of time after Kanzaki regains his 28-year-old appearance and starts interviewing for the jobs ReLife provided. Ultimately, however, he wants nothing more than to help others as he was helped, so he requests a job with ReLife, and is accepted. Now he is the one visiting shut-ins and other wretches, offering a way for them to find themselves again.

At a ReLife company dinner, Kanzaki arrives a bit late, but a space was saved for him. Turns out the seat he takes belongs to Hoshiro, but it’s no big deal or anything, as someone from another part of the restaurant is calling for her. As she turns to walk away, Kanzaki notices the strap on her bag…

At the end of the dinner (well, the first round, but the only round recommended for newbies), it starts to rain, but Kanzaki doesn’t have an umbrella. Just then, Hoshiro appears once more and opens the very same green umbrella the two shared just after confessing. She offers to share it, but Kanzaki politely declines, and she starts to head off on her own…but turns and says she heard the higher-ups calling him a test subject.

She then mentions her own stint as a subject, how it lasted two years, and how her supporter pushed for her to get a job at ReLife, and she took a position in the pharma section. Kanzaki asks if she’d tell him about her ReLife, and she compares it to…fireworks, like the ones she saw at the festival with her friends.

They both latch onto the spectacular yet fleeting nature of fireworks, and eventually both remember flashes of that night when Hoshiro told Kanzaki he was like fireworks. I tellya, I got an absolute thrill out of watching them gradually put the pieces together in their heads.

You could say the fireworks…sparked their memories, heh-heh. Once he recalls Hoshiro in her red yukata looking up at the sky, Kanzaki calls her by her name. Hoshiro needs just a little bit more, but she eventually remembers writing the note on her hand as she cried after taking the pill. And that’s it: in spite of the lab’s efforts, they found and remembered each other…and it didn’t even take that long!

Now, while the ReLife procedures were concluded with all due diligence, I’d like to think both Yoake and Onoya played roles in facilitating a reunion. Yoake accepting Kanzaki’s request to work for ReLife; Onoya predding Hoshiro to work there as well…even telling Kanzaki that Hoshiro’s seat was his in the restaurant.

But while the supports made the conditions more favorable for a happy ending, at the end of the day they were just that, support. It took Kanzaki and Hoshiro being friendly, open, and honest with each other, and especially Hoshiro bringing up how she heard he test subject, like her, at that crucial moment.

If she hadn’t they might have gone their separate ways, perhaps forever. But I’m immeasurably chuffed she did, and the resulting re-connection was nothing short of mesmerizing. Time for some #Adulting!

ReLIFE returned quite out of the blue to rip my heart out with the prospect of tearing apart two lovely people who had only just found each other…only to painstakingly reconstruct that heart, and fill it back up with love until it almost burst all over again, only in a good way!

Of course, you’re mileage may vary, depending on whether you read the entire web manga (I did not) and your particular emotional investment. Clearly, my investment was significant, and one and a half years of time away didn’t dull it in the slightest. This was a big win.