Attack on Titan – 70 – The Good Eldian

Gabi Braun needs the world to be black and white. It’s how she’s always seen it. They are the good guys, and the “island devils” are the bad guys. So of course she’s not going to have any sympathy for the guard into whom she beat her frustrations with a brick, who was only concerned with her health. He’s a devil. The enemy. The bad guy.

Gabi and Falco escape their prison and run all night. Upon stopping to drink and wash off, Falco asks Gabi why she’s still wearing her Eldian armband on, which could get her killed if a soldier sees it. Gabi replies that she doesn’t care about being caught or killed, as long as she finds out the truth from Zeke before she is. When Falco rips it off anyway, she loses it, tackles him to the ground and demands it back.

To her, it’s not a symbol of her peoples’ oppression at the hands of the racist Marleyan state. It’s a talisman in this strange land, proof she’s a “good Eldian” not anything like the island devils. Then she asks, with tears welling in her eyes, why Falco followed her, saying he “didn’t have to die too”. It’s the first and only instance of Gabi acknowledging Falco as someone she cares about.

The duo don’t remain hidden from others long, as a young woman spots them while they’re fighting. Falco, showing his value in such situations where Gabi would be useless, comes up with a cover story on the spot: they’re siblings and runaways. They’ve inadvertently not only come to the right place, but a thoroughly ironic one, in keeping with Titan’s whimsical sense of karma.

To the young woman, Kaya, Gabi and Falco aren’t captives, they’re guests of the Blouse Stables, run by the family of the young woman Gabi killed while aboard the airship. The young woman her uncle Reiner once described in way overblown terms when she had stolen a potato. Gabi doesn’t want to interact or eat with devils, but Falco insists, leading to Gabi trying a spoonful of soup containing—you guessed it—a chunk of potato.

Meanwhile, in the capital, the press has gotten wind of Eren Yeager’s imprisonment and want an explanation, as a sizable segment of the population would probably celebrate his efforts in Marley. Hange will say is that everything that is being done is for the good of all Eldians. She meets with Floch and three recruits who are also against Eren being detained, and don’t care what happens to them; the info they leaked can’t be un-leaked.

Mikasa ends up escorting Louise, one of the recruits, to her cell, where she’ll stay until formally tried for the leak, discharged from the training program, incarcerated…perhaps even executed. But Louise isn’t in despair, she’s smiling as she makes clear she’s the same person Mikasa saved that day when she defeated a Titan before her very eyes.

That day, Louise experienced firsthand how powerless she, her mother, and all the other bystanders were, and how without power, you can’t protect anything. Mikasa tells her to stop talking and turns to leave, but catches Louise giving her a formal Scout Regiment salute, causing Mikasa to recall the same kind of moment she had years ago, when Eren saved her from the robbers.

Gabi and Falco, AKA Mia and Ben, settle in to farm life, with the former not proving particularly popular with the horses, one of which she originally planned to steal (they don’t know how to ride). The little comedy of errors is the one bright point in their whole visit. Kaya has them break for lunch, and tells them how the farms and stables are full of orphans utilizing the Queen’s welfare policies.

When Kaya brings up how she and all the other orphans lost their parents four years ago, Gabi can’t hold her tongue, and starts spouting the Marleyan company line. Kaya admits she’s known they were from Marley for some time, leading Gabi to grab a pitchfork. As Falco struggles with her, they attract the attention of other orphans, and Kaya covers for them, saying “Mia” was worried she’d steal her brother.

Then, in hopes of getting Gabi and Falco to understand her and the other orphans’ plight, takes them to the ruins of her village, and to the very spot in her house where she sat down and listened as her mother, who couldn’t walk and was abandoned by the others, was slowly eaten alive. That experience is burned into her brain forever, and makes her wonder why humanity outside the walls thinks they’re devils, when this is what happened to them.

Kaya asks simply, What did my mom do? Gabi comes back at her about ancestors this, millennia that; slaughter this and century that. In other words, whole cloth straw man arguments. Gabi can’t name a single thing Kaya or her mom did to deserve their suffering. As Kaya gets more and more upset as she tries drives that point into Gabi’s conditioned head, you can almost see the Gears in Gabi’s head start to spark and smoke.

All Gabi can do is talk about holding people responsible for things that happened before they were even born. Things she never witnessed but was only told about. Things that, considering Zeke’s betrayal, she cannot trust to even be true. Falco finally answers Kaya truthfully: she and her village suffered because they got caught up in Marleyan force-recon mission…and that’s all.

When Falco apologizes for what happened to Kaya’s family, she objects to him feeling like he should apologize for simply being from the country that did it. He didn’t do it! Then Kaya tells the story of how her life was saved after her mom was eaten. A girl a little older than her grabbed a hatchet and attacked the Titan, putting herself between it and Kaya. That girl was Sasha.

Kaya is right: if Sasha were still alive, she wouldn’t abandon Gabi and Falco who had nowhere to go, simply because of where they were from. Kaya tells them they’ll be having dinner with a Marleyan that night, and if they like, they can talk to that person about getting back home. Of course, Kaya isn’t aware that these are two extremely dangerous Titan candidates, but she’s not worried about who they are, but who she wants to be: a person like Sasha.

After the credits, Magath confirms to Reiner, Colt, Porco and Pieck that Zeke faked his demise and is working with Paradis, and announces a global alliance will launch a full-scale attack on the island…but not for six months. Colt doesn’t want to wait that long to rescue Falco and Gabi, who are after remain vital military assets (though we’ll see where their heads are at later). Magath insists they must wait; Marley alone will only be pushed back again.

Reiner assures them, Zeke is counting on them taking their time to attack so he can formulate a defense—or even perfect the Rumbling. He recommends they launch a surprise attack as soon as possible, not letting the Eldians bask in their Liberio victory. We’ll see if Magath listens. Until then, this was an episode full of people who were saved wanting to emulate those who saved them, and the decisive breakdown of Gabi’s black-and-white philosophy.

The Promised Neverland – 14 – Bless Us for These, Thy Gifts

This week the kids catch two key breaks. First, they weren’t captured or killed by the farm trackers or the wild forest demon. Second, Mujika and Sonju, the two demons who rescued them, don’t eat humans and have no intention to harm them. In fact, it’s been so long since they’ve encountered humans they’re happy to show them ample hospitality.

Sonju later tells Emma and Ray that after endless war and killing, humans and demons agreed stop hunting each other and split to the world into segregated halves. All the humans on the demon side were “gifted” to the demons and vice versa. With hunting forbidden, farms like Grace Field were established. And, oh yeah, the great split happened over a thousand years ago.

At first Emma and Ray are gobsmacked by the amount of real time that has passed, but then literally jump for joy. The fact that demons only rule half the world and humans are free on their half is a huge boost to their outlook. Even if Sonju says no one has ever crossed the boundary between worlds, well, Emma and Ray will simply be the first, that’s all!

The pair relay the news to the others and rallies them to their suddenly more concrete cause. The good demons, who practice their religious faith by not eating human flesh, show the group the proper way out of the tunnel network under the forest to eventually reach the spot indicated in Minerva’s pen.

On the way, they teach them all of the things they need to learn to survive on their own, from building fires and cooking to medicinal plants and archery. Gilda and the little ones harshly scold both Emma and Ray for being so reckless earlier. They can’t afford to lose either of them, so they have to start being more careful and speaking up if they’re hurt.

When Sonju heads to the surface to scope out the area for threats, Emma accompanies him, but not for a change of scenery. She wants him to teach her something he hadn’t to that point: how to kill a living thing. Sonju acquieses, and while Emma initially hesitates to loose her bow on an unassuming bird, she eventually does so, and hits the bird right in the head.

While a clean strike, the bird is not yet dead, so Sonju shows Emma the Gupna, a ritual that takes place to give thanks and show respect for the kill.. By plunging a vampiric Vida branch into the heart of the still-living bird, when the plant blooms it means the meat is safe to eat. It also means the gods have approved the meat for consumption

When Emma remembers the same plant being used on her family members, she retches, but completes the ritual, adding her own prayer: “We don’t want to be eaten. We want to live. But we’ve been eating others too. And if we can’t keep eating, we can’t survive.” When she returns to the caverns with Sonju, the kids notice something different about Emma. Indeed, while out in the forest, making her first kill, she was changed irrevocably. You can see it on her face, and in the haunting way she whispers “I’m okay.”

I for one am glad the kids not only caught a couple breaks this week, but were blessed with a path forward. Not only that, for a few days they were able to stop being runaways or survivalists and simply live like the kids they are, being fed and taught and not having to worry about running for their lives. Emma took an important step into the new normal by officially becoming an active rather than passive participant in the food chain.

P.S.Check out Crow’s Episode 2 review here.

The Promised Neverland – 13 (S2 01) – Freedom! Horrible, Horrible Freedom!

When the first season of The Promised Neverland wrapped at the end of March 2019, none of us could have imagined what life would be like a year from then: a pandemic unprecedented in modern times spreading death, chaos, and uncertainty across the globe. Now it’s January 2021, and things are looking up in the U.S., a nation that has handled the pandemic the worst proportional to its size and wealth.

A new president will be inaugurated in just two weeks, joined by the first woman vice president. Just today we learned he may have a cooperative Senate on his side. Vaccines to tackle the virus have arrived. Now that the second season of Neverland has arrived and picked up right where it left off, I can’t help but relate to Emma, Ray, and the other kids who escaped the farm.

Like them, we are getting the first taste of freedom in what feels like far more than four years. Also like them, it is far too early to celebrate or rest easy. Yes, elections were won by reasonable, non-sociopathic, non-authoritarian people, and the vaccines are being shipped. But the winners must still implement policies to heal the nation, and the vaccines must still be distributed while maintaining the necessary safety guidelines that have caused so much economic harm.

As for the escaped kids, they are free, and freedom is sweet, but also terrifying. The Grace Field House sheltered, clothed, and fed the kids, but now all their survival needs are up to them, and the threat of being caught or killed by forest monsters is constant. And of the fifteen or so kids, only four (Emma, Ray, Gilda, and Don) are old enough to keep the group organized, and even these four are mere tweens. They’ve had to grow up in a hurry.

Fortunately, the kids have an ally out there somewhere in William Minerva, whose smart pen serves as a map and guide for those who have his books to decipher the code. That code points them to a particular spot on the map; they just need to get there and they’ll (presumably) be safe, though I won’t rule out the possibility Minerva could be dead or this could all be another cruel trap.

But potential threats on the horizon are of far less concern than those more immediate, starting with the giant monster that chases them in the cold open. The forest is very Nausicaä-esque with its giant trees, whimsical plants and creatures, but the kids have inserted themselves into a food chain that would be glad to avail themselves of easy prey.

It’s a good thing the kids practiced “playing tag” so much, because those organizational skills prove crucial to their survival. The group branches off twice, first with Gilda and the slower kids, then with Emma and the rest. Ray volunteers to lure the monster into a vine trap they find on the forest floor. But before he can implement his plan, the monster is beheaded by a sword-wielding demon pursuer, aided by bloodhound-like demons seekers who detect Ray’s scent.

If Neverland stretched credulity a bit by having all the kids run fast enough to elude the beast, and only one little kid stumbles (and happens to do so right beside Emma), it restores that credulity by not forgetting about the fact that Emma is missing an ear, and a wound like that can and does open up if you run around too much.

The blood loss becomes too much and Emma faints at the worst possible moment, but they are met by an unlikely ally—a mysterious cloaked figure—at the best possible moment. Meanwhile, Ray runs as fast as he can as far as he can, but ultimately collapses from exhaustion, at the complete mercy of the demons bent on returning the product to the farm.

Thankfully, their task is made harder by the fact that killing or harming such prime stock would defeat the purpose of catching it. A second mysterious cloaked figure on demon-horseback exploits this by snatching up Ray and riding off, leaving smoke bombs in his wake that confound the seekers.

Ray wakes up in a serene cave, safe and sound, and more importantly not tied up or otherwise restrained. He explores the caves and finds Emma also safe and sound, her ear wound re-dressed. They are approached by the female cloaked figure, who has apparently never heard of Minerva. She leads them to the other kids, who are about to be fed.

Then Ray notices the figure isn’t human, but a demon, based on her clawed bare feet. The second figure, the one who saved Ray on horseback, also appears. Emma and Ray have every right to be suspicious considering recent events (along with their upbringing, obviously). Do these two represent a faction of “good demons” opposed to the ones running the human farms?

Maybe. Then again, this sounds too good to be true. It could be these demons simply have different plans for the kids. For now, I’ll hope that’s not the case, and the fact the kids can roam free after waking up is a sign they don’t have to fear their rescuers, and could even regard them as allies in their ongoing struggle for freedom.

I just hope that we, as well as Emma, Ray, and the kids, don’t end up like the poor space ants who provided the title for this review:

P.S. Crow is reviewing Neverland too.

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 01 (First Impressions) – Wive’d Up

Yuzaki Nasa is a third-year middle schooler who has always had an inferiority complex tied to his strange, spacey name, at which everyone always seems to snicker. That led to him becoming an overachiever on the fast track to adult success…until one chilly winter night he spots a girl and falls in love at first sight.

That sudden surge of love is so disorienting, he walks straight into the path of a passing truck, which strikes him. However, he wakes up to find he’s not dead; the girl saved him, and looms over him backlit by a majestic full moon. As she turns to leave, leaving the truck driver to call an ambulance, she appears to him to be returning to that moon, like Princess Kaguya.

Rather than accept that like Kaguya the girl must return to the moon, Nasa makes the most of his post-accident adrenaline and follows her to an enclosed bus stop. She’s impressed he was able to even move, and gives him her coat to stay warm before bidding him farewell once more.

But Nasa won’t let it end this way. Even with two broken legs, he gets up and chases after her once more, declaring his love and asking if she’ll go out with him. She agrees that they can be together…but only if he’ll marry her. Since Nasa is already in love (and adrenaline’s a hell of a drug) he quickly agrees before passing out.

He wakes up some time later in the hospital, and doesn’t hear from the girl for years as he completes middle school but declines to pick a high school and enters the workforce as a konbini clerk. He turns eighteen and gets an apartment on his own.

It would seem that a combination of his injury and the girl’s tacit rejection-by-absence cost Nasa a more prosperous life, but only until his doorbell rings. Who could it be at the door at this hour? Why, Tsukasa, who by night’s end will be his lawful wedded wife!

There’s a charming matter-of-factness to Tsukasa’s interactions that border on alien-or-robot-like inhumanity, but I preferred to take a less cynical tack throughout my viewing. Suffice it to say, Tsukasa is ready to honor their hasty agreement from years ago to wed, because she offered it and he accepted.

As she suspected, Nasa isn’t one to back down from his word; indeed, upon her sudden unexpected return to his life he’s compelled to recite his credo “I’ll go faster than light before NASA!” In other words, while his professional ambitions may have been dashed as an indirect result of meeting her, in exchange he gets to marry an exceedingly cute young woman. It’s a fair deal!

There’s also a sense of quietly brewing vicarious excitement as the process gets realer and realer, first with the filling out of mundane forms, then the visit to the ward office (open 24 hours for weddings), to the moment the two are officially married and simply holding hands for the first time is more than enough excitement!

Setting aside the possibility of this work’s creators intending to deliver a not-so-subtle message to the youth of Japan to get married and have kids already!, the ward official is absolutely right that young love and marriage is indeed portrayed as beautiful, joyful thing.

There’s still the big questions like why exactly Tsukasa is so okay with suddenly marrying a guy who fell for her at first sight, why there was zero contact in last couple years, and what exactly the new Mrs. Yuzaki had to “take care of” on her own before heading home with him. But for now I’m content to revel in the elegance of two hearts finding one another.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

P.S. The OP absolutely whips. I love how it starts so simple and bittersweet then captures the chaotic whiplash of suddenly sharing your life with someone.

Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

Machikado Mazoku – 02 – A Demon Girl and Her Money are Soon Parted

Yuuko may consider Momo her mortal enemy, but the feeling isn’t mutual, and that isn’t just down to because Yuuko is so weak (she is) or because she’s so powerful (she says she’s not even that strong as magical girls go). Momo could always just ignore Yuuko and retire to her big modern house after school, but she doesn’t.

She entertains and indulges Yuuko at every turn, as if she’s happy for the company, even if that company wants to drain her blood. At the same time, she could just be playing a very shrewd and subtle long game, with the end goal of keeping Yuuko broke and powerless, which Yuuko’s mom says is the magical girl M.O.

When Yuuko reports her lack of progress, her mom decides to up her monthly allowance to 500 yen (~$5), an extravagant (by Yoshida family standards) budget with which to purchase weaponry to defeat Momo. Her friends end up taking her to the mall and Momo tags along, further proof that she either wants to be friends with Yuuko or wants to bankrupt her, or both!

Looking around in vain for a weapon under 450 yen (she gave Momo 50 as part of a 10-installment repayment plan for train fare) exhausts Yuuko and makes her hungry, and Momo and her friends point her in the direction of an udon restaurant, where she spends all but 120 yen. Momo then points out a soda machine, and Yuuko buys a coke with the last of her cash.

Clearly, neither a war of fists or a financial battle will be enough to put a dent in the pink magical girl. Perhaps nothing Yuuko can muster will ever make her a legitimate threat, even with Momo stepping back from her magical girl duties, she’s still a Level 99 against her 1. That’s why Lilith is poised to join the fray. But more likely than not she won’t be much of a threat to Momo either…

While perhaps not quite as strong as it’s first episode (few second episodes are), I’m still very much enjoying MachiMazo’s blazing color, rapid-fire comedy and cheeky irreverence. So I’ll be back for more!

Machikado Mazoku – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Think This Means You’ve Won!

One morning Yoshida Yuuko wakes up with horns and a tail, and her mother reveals that her family are descendents of the “Dark Clan,” whose powers were sealed by the Magical Girls of the “Light Clan” long ago. It’s why her family lives in poverty. But now that she bears the horns and tail of a demon girl, she is named “Shadow Mistress Yuuko” (sent by fax) and must seek out and defeat a Magical Girl in order to restore her clan’s former glory!

The casual blending of the supernatural and the mundane, and the superb, energetic performance of Kohara Konomi, form the beating heart of this slick little slice-of-life comedy that’s also a charming underdog story and a send up of the demon/magical girl genre in which it operates. The moment the town’s magical girl, Chiyoda Momo, rescues her “mortal enemy” from a truck (transforming in just 0.01 seconds!), you know this is going to be a wonderfully extreme mismatch.

At school (which the narrator describes very literally when Yuuko asks “What’s up with this school?”), Yuuko’s friends don’t seem all that concerned with her horns, and soon point her in the direction of Chiyoda Momo, for whom Yuuko is absolutely no match.

Yuuko flubs her words when trying to formally initiate a duel, and Momo doesn’t bother dodging her attacks, letting Yuuko wear herself out. Like when she rescued and then fed her, Momo, while polite, is just barely restraining her arrogance and superiority.

Unlike Yuuko, Momo is rolling in cash from the look of her postmodern mansion and chic decor—but she seems to live all alone with her cat, no one to share all that square footage. She’s bored and alone! When she saved Yuuko it had been a long time since she even had to transform.

Even if they’ll remain “mortal enemies”, perhaps Yuuko could be someone to make things interesting in Momo’s life for a change. As for Yuuko, she’s resolved to improve her offensive capabilities (leveling up from…Level 0), training beside the river as her sister spots her. As she exclaims every time she’s retreated from a fight she knows she’d lose, Momo hasn’t won yet—not as long as Yuuko still has the will to fight.

Machikado Mazoku is a lot of fun, and is backed up by above-average production values and exquisite attention to detail (Momo wears Crocs! The background characters play very goofy games!). It constantly makes fun of itself with characters’ side commentary, and the jokes-per-minute ratio is quite good. All in all, a solid way to spend twenty minutes of your Thursday afternoon.

Kuromukuro – 13

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Two Efidolg knights seem to have “gone rogue” in order to pursue their own personal ambitions against Earth. The first is Mirasa, who fights the Black Relic and GAUS units to a draw and escapes into the woods to regenerate. The second is “Muetta”, whose hair immediately indicated is Yukihime, or at least some kind of Efidolg clone of her.

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As Takeyama High prepares for their cultural festival in the interests of maintaining normalcy and taking a break from studies and battles alike, Yuki looms over the episode like a silent wraith, crouched and ready to strike.

Yukina’s class decides to do an “Efidolg Forum”, what with three UN pilots in their class. Unfortunately, everyone else at the base is too busy to join the forum, so it’s just Yukina, Ken, and Sophie.

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In a particularly clever bit of plotting, because one of the activities at the school festival is cosplay (with Mika switching her usual school uniform for another), Muetta is able to slip into the school without any trouble. Indeed, she’s commended for the craftsmanship of her armor and arms.

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While Muetta closes in, Yukina and Ken have a grand old time at the festival, with Ken remarking that modern life itself has always felt like a festival to him, but this takes it to another level. Yukina asks him what he plans to do once he avenges Yukihime, because he has his whole future ahead of him (dundundunnnn).

Almost immediately after Yuki mentions how everyone has two doppelgangers, her Efidolg doppelganger leaps on the stage and charges at Ken, who is so shocked by the sight of her (having just seen her in the digitally altered photo of Yukina), he lets his guard down and gets run through.

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The show, knowing we knew who this was all along, still expertly kept most of Muetta’s face out of the frame right up until the very end, when showing it had the most impact. And the camerawork of the stabbing is great stuff, with an extreme closeup of Muetta cutting to a dumbfounded Ken, who then falls to reveal an equally shocked Yukina.

Where goeth things from here? Hard to say. I wonder if Sophie can somehow suppress Muetta, and why Muetta stabbed him. Perhaps, like him, her memories had bene lost on Earth those centuries ago, but now they’re back and she’s punishing him for betraying their people?

In any case, this was quite the exciting cliffhanger to place between Kuromukuro’s two halves: the moment Ken’s two princesses met.

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P.S. The rock band in the auditorium is playing the show’s opening theme, a cover of “Distopia” by GLAY.

Kuromukuro – 12

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As the Gezon-Reco of Efidolg decide to send another of their own (Nouet) down to Japan to deal with the Black Relic that’s been ruining their plans, the school term has given way to Summer break for Yukina, Ken, and Noelle, as well as Akagi, Mika, and Kaya.

Yukina boasts that she needn’t participate in extra lessons despite her deplorable marks, since she’s already been enrolled in what amounts to boot camp at Kurobe, with the always pleasantly profane Tom Borden as drill sargeant and Noelle, Shenmei, and Seb joining both out of solidarity and to stay sharp. Akagi also joins, in hopes of becoming a geoframe pilot.

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What ensues is your standard boot-camp/training episode, with Yukina predictably bad at pretty much everything early on. Indeed, after the first day of exertion she’s skipping dinner to throw up in the sink, but Shenmei grabs her from behind, throws her on the bed, sits on her, and…gives her deep massage and reiki. We’ve seen precious little of Shenmei, but I like how she’s so quietly supportive during Yukina’s descent into her Summer of Hell.

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To add insult to injury, Seb is assigned by her teacher to make sure she and Ken don’t fall behind on lessons. But the training is a long time coming now that Yukina is committed to co-piloting the Black Relic with Ken: she can’t rely on him to rescue her from every little thing.

That being said, Ken still saves her on numerous occasions, whether it’s a hand or word of encouragement, or something more dramatic like saving her from drowning when Tom shoves her into a pool in full kit.

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Ken is punished for “babying the Princess”, but thanks to Tom not thinking when activating the shock collar, Yukina and Noelle also get zapped, and the three zappees get a day off while Shenmei and Tom test the experimental GAUS water-walking system.

The unusual-for-Kuromukuro level of fanservice continues when Noelle shares photos of Mika in sexy fantasy cosplay that Ken can neither resist voicing his outrage and snapping a pic of the pic for his own, erm, records.

When the water-walking GAUS goes literally sideways and water starts leaking in the sinking frame, Shenmei remains almost comically (but also impressively) cool as a cucumber.

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The training continues, with Ken having to push Yukina less and less since she’s pushing herself (though Noelle notices how much he stares at Yukina), and things get easier as she grows stronger and more confident. Where once she couldn’t shoot with her eyes open, now she at least opens one, so it’s only a matter of time before she opens both.

For his continues heroism and lack of betrayal, Ken is rewarded by having his sword returned to him (by Yukina) and his collar removed (also by Yukina), resulting in some very close proximity between the two.

I’m enjoying the slow burn of their mutual attraction and respect, even if it doesn’t go far. Like it or not, Ken has found a new “princess” in Yukina, and thus a new commitment and purpose.

Yukina tells him he gets the sword on the condition he won’t seek his death with it through reckless action. And as the episode closes with a descending Nouet, Yukina’s newfound skills and stamina will be put to the test very soon.

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Kuromukuro – 11

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No sooner than I complained about the show dragging a little do things really start picking up. And while they picked up in more or less the most predictable way they could, it doesn’t change the fact that this was the first Kuromukuro that actually got my heart pounding, both with the suspense (and suspended disbelief either of the leads would die) and the kinda-sorta-maybe budding romance (or at least mutual respect) between those leads.

Fusnarnie is truly a loose cannon this week, and for a second, I thought Mulder and Scully weren’t going to release Kennosuke to deal with the situation. Also, there’s no more playing around with big robots and evacuations; there is blood and death here, and Yukina witnesses it close up for the first time, and reacts exactly how a non-grizzled warrior would: with fear and near-paralysis.

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That fear keeps her alive, though; one wrong move, and she knows she could be toast; this guy only wants her alive long enough to let him contract with Glongur. Before he can, Ken corners him, but he still has his hostage.

This is when Yukina finally springs into action to facilitate Ken’s rescue; quickly darting back and smacking Fusnarnie in the face, a move he clearly didn’t expect her to make. Sure, she stumbles immediately, but she gives Ken just the opening he needs to engage the enemy. Who knows how things would have gone down had Yukina not chosen to act.

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Ken is able to best Fussy, but that doesn’t stop the guy from trying to take Yukina down with him. He gets perilously close to her—and she’s again too terrified to move—but Ken does what he has to to protect Yukina, stabbing Fusnarnie in the back. Shortly thereafter, Fussy lets himself fall over the railing to his death rather than stay alive in disgrace.

What follows is a pivotal moment in the show, when Yukina makes a connection to Ken when she sees him trembling just as much as she is. Is this his first kill? Probably not, but it’s certainly his first in a while, and in any case killing is never easy, nor was killing Fusnarnie Ken’s first choice (and not just because the agents wanted him alive; surely Ken wants answers too, particularly about his so-called “altered memory.”

But as he shakes, Yukina sidles over to him and hugs him from behind, as much to calm him as to calm herself. It’s a lovely moment and proof of real growth in their relationship.

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Speaking of love interests, I have just plain had it with Akagi, and not because I’m a Yukina x Ken shipper (though I’m certainly far closer to being one after this week).

His impulsive desire to become a GAUS pilot (and belief he has the talent based on his hi-score) is just so dumb for this show; as if he’s some shounen hero in another show who really should have become a pilot in the first episode or two, but instead just talks about it over and over. We get it: dude wants to protect Yukina. I just don’t see him as GAUS pilot, ever. I enjoyed his dad’s incredulous and exasperated expressions, however.

I’d much rather see more of Sophie, who is ostensibly one of the three main characters in the show but has been woefully underused. Hopefully the second half will feature more of her.

Uncle Oshou is another story altogether; he’s a side character who steals nearly every scene he’s in; I especially liked his story about the seated statue and how Ken reacted to it. I also liked how in the same scene, Yukina asks Ken out on a date without even knowing it. And while on the hiking trip, she sticks to the map while Ken of all people embraces the wonders of GPS to get them on the right track. That was unexpected.

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Unfortunately, there’s as much mystery surrounding where exactly Yukina was, who or what rescued her, and what became of the “80’s Electronics Cave Base” as there is surrounding Ken’s past, and those answers still aren’t forthcoming this week, but the hiking trip did allow Ken and Yukina to process their emotions about recent events involving one another, and that made up for it.

Yukina and Ken will still blush whenever he conversation turn slightly romantic, but they’re becoming more comfortable being honest with each other. Ken is devoted to protecting her, and Yukina is just fine with that. She’s very candid about how his rescuing her made her feel, and it’s doubtless a feeling she’d never felt before, just as she never before saw Ken trembling. This episode definitely re-stoked by enthusiasm for the show as it approaches its second half.

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Kuromukuro – 10

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A quick trip to MAL will show you that Kuromukuro currently only manages a very meh 6.95 rating, which for MAL means “Good” but we’ve since come to mean “watchable, but not necessarily recommended.” I’ver certainly dropped higher-rated shows before.

The low score isn’t due to a disgruntled source material audience unhappy with the adaptation, either: it’s an anime original. So what gives?

Well, like Kennosuke’s bizarre experience 450 years ago, it’s kind of hard to put my finger on it, and that’s part of the problem. It’s one thing to be consistently and demonstrably great or terrible; Kuromukuro is merely solid, at best.

It’s not badly put together, and some of the character interaction is quite strong; it’s just not particularly original or exciting. A lack of 9 ratings bear this out: Kuromukuro has entertained, but never wowed.

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I never like quitting a show right in the middle, but with a planned 13 more episodes in addition to the 13 this Spring, I need to start taking a good long look at whether this show will be worth retaining into the busy new Summer season, which promises several new mecha series, the quality of which I can’t vouch for. (Macross will likely be continuing on as well, but I’m unaware of whether it will take a season off).

Basically, things need to start picking up, and soon. This episode promised a lot, but it really only amounted to table-setting. Now, table-setting can be interesting, but this week wasn’t, despite the fact we now have an Efidolg captive and learned more about Ken’s aforementioned experience, both under questioning by UN officials brought in from outside the Kurobe Lab.

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Interrogation episodes can be great, too, but again, Kuromukuro does not distinguish itself or add anything new to the genre. The interviews are largely dull and uninformative, as Fusnarnie, as he’s called, isn’t interested in giving many detailed answers, and Ken simply doesn’t remember very well what happened.

This is frustrating to him, on top of his whole “continuing to live in shame while his princess is dead” dilemma, and Yukina is just as frustrated (as I was) by the lack of answers from that weird cave with the “demon” who may have been her dad. What could have been an episode of bombshell revelations amounted to little more than more teasing of larger but still obscured things, combined with lots of moping by the main pair.

And don’t get me started on Akagi; this stiff’s cockamamie idea to simply become a pilot without actually putting any work in (and thinking his arcade high score is a gauge of his talents) just fell flat with me. Yukina couldn’t care less about this guy; why should I?

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One of the better parts of the episode was the flashback, in which we see Ken is a member of the soldiers fighting for Yukihime, and not, as Fusnarnie claims, an Efidolg advance guard. Or is he? How far in advance did he arrive? Did he bonk his head and forget who he was, and simply joined the princess’ guard since he’s good with a sword?

I’m not sure how else to explain how he’s able to pilot the Black Relic so easily. Was there something in Yukihime’s blood that made that possible? More to the point, is Yukihime really even dead, or was that light just a tractor beam that took her up to the mothership, where she remains? Lots of questions, as you can see, but precious few satisfying answers.

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I’m not particularly interested in the UN and Sophie being suspicious of Ken, either, seeing as how he’s only served the good guys faithfully all this time. Also, if Fusnarnie is to be believed, Ken betrayed his people; why would he switch back to the “enemy”?

Nevermind, all we get at the end is a somewhat obvious cliffhanger in which Fussy breaks free, kills his captors, summons his “Lion”, and just happens to bump into Yukina in the corridor, grinning when he realizes she’s a wielder. So great; now Yukina probably needs to be rescued…again.

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Kuromukuro – 09

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Not long after coming to in a cave filled with clocks and obsolete electronics, Yukina passes back out, as if hypnotized by the mysterious figure with the robotic voice and her dad’s watch and journal. She wakes up in a bus shelter, where Akagi and Kaya find her.

Just like that, all the potential answered questions about Yukina’s dad, and all the other mysteries in that cave, dissipate. That was a little disappointing, and the whole cave thing felt like a tease, but I came to forgive the episode when Yukina came around on piloting the artifact with Ken.

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What I like is that there wasn’t any one reason she didn’t want to and tried to run away: she’s scared; overwhelmed by the pressure; uncertain if this was the right path. But she also doesn’t like how she’s been ordered around like some automaton. Would it hurt for someone to ask her nicely?

Having dealt with her absence, Ken is resolved to let Yukina go, but Yukina isn’t ready for Ken to disappear from her life. She’s taken a shine to the guy, and vice versa, and when he realizes it’s as simple as asking nicely, he does so, and before lone Yukina is back in the cockpit with him.

I also appreciated that Hiromi’s decision not to let the military force her daughter into the artifact, even using her body as a shield. The protection is unneccesary, as Yukina was only “annoyed with herself” and needed some time and space, which she got, and is now willing to do her part.

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Once Yukina and Ken are in their tough new skin-tight nanofiber flight suits, Yukina puts on a brave front but Ken sees her hands shaking. She admits it: she’s scared shitless, but that command artifact out there isn’t going to defeat itself, and she doesn’t want Ken to use her absence as an excuse to get himself killed, nor does she like the idea of him sacrificing his life to save her. She’d prefer if they get through this together.

What “that” is could have been very intriguing indeed, had Efidolg succeeded in abducting Glongur and bringing Yukina and Ken up to the mothership. But that possibility is negated when the UN’s hunch about the tractor beam neutralizing the artifacts’ shields proves true.

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Another possibility not realized: Akagi and Kaya are once again very close to an errant missle explosion, but neither is even slightly injured. Not sure why they keep teasing the fact that these two could end up stains on the mountainside, adding to Yukina’s burden by association, but Akagi is determined to play a larger role in her protection, and not just because he teased her when they were little.

Sophie and the guy with the dirty mouth show up to take out the small fry, leaving Ken free to take on the boss artifact. He has trouble with his acrobatics, but Yukina again uses her unusually extensive knowledge of geology to lure the artifact onto a rock face she knows will crumble.

Rather than self-destruct, the Efidolg pilot surrenders. This was initially surprising, but I’m pretty sure when both Plan A (capturing Glongur) and Plan B (defeating Glongur in a duel) failed, he pivots to Plan C: letting yourself be captured by the enemy so you can learn more about them and possibly escape and cause more damage from within. We’ll see how he plays it.

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Kuromukuro – 08

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Like Ikari Shinji, who was overwhelmed by duties and expectations, Yukina seeks refuge away from the places that have oppressed her, but neither strays too far. Yukina hides out in Ogino’s room (decorated with posters of other P.A. Works), unsure of what she wants to do but very sure of what she doesn’t, namely fight and kill people in Glongur.

Ogino is a good friend in that she lets her crash there, lies to her mom for her, and gives her space to sulk. But she’s also a good friend because she provides her own perspective on Yukina’s plight—i.e. it’s a blessing, not a curse—and tells her the sulking and running has to end eventually, and she has to go home.

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Akagi and Kaya turn out to be fine, and were only gone as long as they were because Akagi’s bike ran out of gas. He gets a punch and a stern reaming from his father, warning his son not to “keep living for others’ approval,” but Akagi is mostly concerned with gaining Yukina’s approval, and he feels bad for ending up in a position where she might have been hurt.

Ken claims not to be worried about Yukina, and is only searching for the key to his artifact, but let’s be real here: of course he’s worried; after all, he’s still not certain Yukina isn’t the reincarnation of his princess. The princess is gone and his sense of purpose with it…except that Yukina has been filling the role of protectee he needs so dearly.

Talk about what Yukina wants comes up both in class and at UN control. Sophie suspects that if Yukina being in that artifact’s cockpit is the only thing keeping Earth safe, Yukina’s getting in that cockpit, whether she wants to or not. Unlike Shinji’s dad Gendo, Hitomi isn’t ready to commit to forcing Yukina; she’s more concerned with simply finding her.

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Yukina’s would-be protectors mount a search for her; Ken on the big horse he met earlier, Akagi on his refueled bike (with Kaya tagging alone, hungry for more viral streaming).

Rather than go to school (which would feel like a quick surrender), Yukina heads into the Kurowashi Valley, where the castle of Ken’s lord once stood but has since been reclaimed by nature.

Not having any satisfying answers about how to proceed, perhaps she thinks following her father’s journal and exploring the site where the demons once attacked might shed some light on her proper path. Or heck, maybe she’ll find her missing dad.

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Little does she know, the area is swarming with formerly dormant Efidolg Cactii, one of which zeros in on her location and attacks her. She’s saved neither by Ken (who gets close but never finds her by episode’s end) or Akagi (who took off later).

Instead, the magenta cactus is destroyed by a mysterious blue robot and a man with a very sharp sword and a watch Yukina instantly recognizes as—you guessed it—her father’s. The way this reunion has unfolded, it’s almost as if Yukina was always meant to ‘run away’ (even just a little bit) in search of either a reason for—or alternative to—pilot Glongur.

I’ll close by presenting two little snippets from the episode of both Ken and Yukina talking to themselves:

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I just wanted to point these moments out because I laughed heartily at both, for different reasons. Ken’s surprise at the horse’s size is another unique product of a samurai from four centuries ago suddenly finding himself in the present, where horses (and Japanese people) are simply larger due to better food, medicine, and breeding. His delivery is great too.

Yukina’s observation, on the other hand, is one of the most sophisticated collections of words she’s spoken. It seems meant to show us there’s more to this unmotivated airhead than meets the eye. She’s either a secret geology buff or maybe she was just paying special attention to one particular part of class.

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