The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 07 – Sonny Girl

Naofumi’s arrival in another another world doesn’t turn out at all like I’d thought. Instead of being a fish out of water in Glass & Co’s backyard, he ends up in a prison with just Rishia. Both their levels have been reset to 1. Later, Raphtalia jumps out of a pile of hay, revealing that she’s reverted to her previous smaller self. The three may have been tanks in their isekai, but this place seems to follow an entirely different set of rules.

That said, the cell they’re in is unlocked and they still have their weapons (Raph’s sword is way too heavy for her), so they start exploring. They soon find a portal of light that takes them to an isolated island. The sea stretches to the horizon, where it glitches in and out. Instead they head into the jungle, where they slowly start to level up by defeating easy lesser monsters. There’s a refreshing feeling to this, like just starting out on a new JPRG.

When they find a body of fresh water and are attacked by a kappa that’s way too strong for any of them, it looks like they’re about to suffer an ignominious defeat and end up God-knows-where, but they’re saved, by none other than the “Hunting” Hero, Kazayama Kizuna. She’s voiced by Tomita Miyu, who along with Penkin makes this a welcome Abyss reunion.

Before Naofumi, Raph, and Rishia arrived, Kizuna was all alone in this place, which she calls the Infinite Labyrinth. She says she was trapped there by a hostile country, and has long since lost count of how many years it’s been. At one point she even considered suicide, but that was long enough ago that she can talk about it in a cheerful tone. For someone who’s been a alone so long, she’s remarkably well-adjusted and “normal”.

Naofumi proceeds to make an absolute mockery of the untold years she spent here, as the moment she shows them what she believes to be the edge of the Labyrinth, he comes up with a plan to bust them all out. He has her cultivate a Bio Plant Seed, which he then detonates right next to the portal none of them can move through.

The plant starts to grow, and with it the portal grows. I suppose this has the effect of thinning out whatever barrier kept them out of it, because once it reaches a certain size everyone is able to go through it. Naofumi, Raph, and Rishia call out to Kizuna to come with them, and she snags them with her fishing wire, hitching a ride through the infinite.

The four are spat out in a place Kizuna recognizes as the world where she was originally summoned, and as soon as she realizes she’s finally free of the Labyrinth, she leaps on Naofumi and spins around in giddy elation.

While the Labyrinth crisis was solved way too quickly and easily, I still enjoyed this trippy, slightly unnerving, yet fun bridge between the Tortoise arc and whatever’s to come. Similarly, while Kizuna was rapidly introduced and had to spout a lot of exposition (much of it rendered moot by their escape) Tomita made her effortlessly charming and rootable throughout.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 05 – Now She Rises

The bespectacled lady with the shotgun manages to save Shinpei’s life (and her own) not by shooting Shadow Mio, but by shooting her shadow, which is its true form. Shadow Mio glitches out, allowing the lady to set his broken arm, introduce herself as Nagumo Ryuunosuke—the same name as a novelist Shin reads—and deliver some exposition.

Basically, Nagumo lifts most of the mystery of how the shadows operate: they scan humans with light, absorb their information, and feed on human data. The two of them are only survived by staying out of sight, and can discern even a shadow that’s a really good actor by stepping on their shadow, which will cause said shadow to move on its own.

Nagumo was sent to this island to save Shinpei, and seems to be doing it out of obligation for her sister. But after what happens when the two ascend the steps to the shrine grounds, Shin might just wish Nagumo had let Shadow Mio kill him. The shadows have amassed and have made a mountain of corpses out of the festival goers. Shin arrives just in time to watch both Toki and Sou get stabbed in the back of the skull.

When Nagumo shoots Shadow Sou’s arms off before he can kill the real Mio (who was being shielded by the real Sou, which, after hearing his confession and rejecting him…goddamn) but the “lead” shadow, a four-armed humanoid made of black goo, instantly copies her form and her shotgun and shoots back. Nagumo avoids the killshot, but is still gravely wounded.

The lead shadow reaches out with a stretchy arm and restrains Shin, noticing that he bears the eye of the shadows’ “mother”, enabling him to control time. But while Shin possesses the power to reset the game here and now at the moment of his defeat, what if the boss (in this case, the lead shadow) is not only aware that there’s a reset button, but that it’s attached to a console he can simply cut the power to?

We learn that the pile of corpses, and indeed every living soul on the island that is gradually swallowed up by waves of black and blue ooze, are all an offering, a meal for the shadows’ mother, Haine. A scientist at the Hishigata Clinic observes what’s happening and concludes that Haine managed to awaken by devouring a thousand human lives. Something tells me that’s just an appetizer, as shadows can reach out into the water…

The bottom line is, everything is super fuckity-fuck-fucked in this go-around. It’s a wash; by far the worst of the bad endings Shin has experienced so far, and reminds me of the things-can-and-will-always-get-worse progression of Subaru’s loops in Re:Zero. But the option to reset still exists, in the form of the dying Nagumo’s last shotgun shell.

Ushio, who it’s clear is unique among shadows in not being evil or wanting any part of helping Haine rise, punches the lead shadow in the fact, giving Nagumo time to shoot Shin in the head. She promises to save him next time no matter what if he finds her and tells her his name.

In the interstitial plane between the previous loop and a new one, Ushio can now see and hear Ushio clearly. She embraces him from behind and warns him to be careful, for his ability to reset has a limit. Shin figures out what that is soon after resetting: his start point keeps moving further forward in time, locking what came before in stone.

In this loop he has three days, but if he fails too many times, he won’t have the time he needs to save everyone, if he can, and will eventually reset to a time after everything is fucked. Meanwhile, we learn Shadow Ushio (if that’s what she even is) washes up the same day he arrives, meaning she could theoretically go to her own funeral, Huck Finn-style.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 07 – Going Fourth

With the Orwell ordeal behind them, Menou commences her pilgrimage with Akari, a two-month journey all the way to a purported “sanctuary” for Lost Ones. And if she comes up with a way to execute Akari along the way, so much the better. Akari wouldn’t have it any other way. Their first stop after two weeks is the port town of Libelle, which sits in the shadow of a perpetual curtain of fog known as Pandemonium.

Menou and Akari trade the ominous fog for the steam of a public bath, which constitutes “splurging” for someone like Menou who lives in “honorable poverty.” Notably, Akari neither tries any hanky-panky nor compares her boobs to Menou’s—both points in her favor. Instead she simply revels in being in the presence of her “emotional oasis”.

It’s not a role Menou is particularly comfortable or experienced in playing, but she continues to play it nonetheless. Momo, who arrived at Libelle sooner by a more dangerous route (and claims to have gotten Ashuna killed in the process), gives Menou a report on the “Fourth”—a terrorist group who reject the three other classes of society—in the town. She also suggests Menou try to kill Akari with the Pandemonium.

Menou didn’t even think to do such a thing until Momo brought it up, which adds fuel to the argument that she’s now actively hesitating in execution Akari in any kind of timely fashion, using what’s at hand. That’s remedied the next day, as Menou takes Akari out on a boat ride to get a closer look at the imposing Libelle Castle, home to Countess Manon Libelle.

Akari takes her “anti-nausea medicine” without question and soon passes out. Menou, in what is an oddly Wile E. Coyote-style move, tosses Akari on a rubber raft and lets her drift into the Pandemonium. There, Akari Prime revives, immediately recognizes where she is, spots an odd beam of light cast on her head that wasn’t in previous loops, and is then gobbled up by a monster. She resets right back next to Menou, reminding her that fulfilling her solemn duty isn’t going to be so easy.

Still, that odd beam of light Akari Prime did not expect is just one of many little odd things that fill the episode’s periphery. The other odd things involve the aforementioned Manon—the leader of the Fourth in Libelle—who isn’t taken seriously by her court of older adults but may well be poisoning them with spam sandwiches while paling around with a little girl with wide eyes who is always humming…even when she’s placed into an iron maiden and gooshed. I have no idea what Manon is up to, but I’m definitely intrigued…and a little weirded out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 06 – Killing Her Properly

A part of me was disappointed with how relatively cleanly Menou’s path to redemption became when Orwell went full Genie Jafar levels of evil. But I shouldn’t have worried; Virgin Road pulls off a rip-roaringly epic mid-cour finale that’s both ass-kicking and heartwarming.

While Menou fights Orwell down below, Akari’s “blanching” is interrupted by an automated time magic spell, which revives who I’ll call Akari Prime, who knows everything that has happened in all the previous time loops she’s experienced.

It’s thrilling to see this knowing Akari easily dispatch her captors, as well as to learn that she knows Menou has been trying to kill her, but she loves her so much that if she must die, she wants no one but Menou to kill her.

Akari ZAPs herself back to a simpler, earlier version of herself, but keeps a sense of deja vu and her love for Menou, which is clearly the most important part of her existence. No wonder Akari fell for Menou so hard in such a brief time together. Akari Prime also does something pretty “mean”, but also necessary to defeat Orwell.

In the bowels of the castle, Momo and Ashuna are stalemated against the demon and red dragon. But then Akari remotely ages Momo’s most prized possession: the ribbons Menou gave her when she was little. Now, we know Menou is excellent at wielding ether but has a very short supply. But her aide is no slouch in the ether-wielding department, and possesses vast stores of the stuff.

She is so freaking pissed when the dragon’s flame burns away what’s left of her ribbons, she goes absolutely ballistic, unleashing an attack that brings half of the castle down on top of her. For one terrible moment I thought she’d ethered Ashuna, but not, the swole princess not only escapes, but has never had more fun.

Following Momo’s lead, she whips out a mega-blade to defeat the demon with no regard for the corrupt castle where she was brought up. Then it’s Game Over for Orwell at the halfway point of the episode, because Akari and Menou are reunited. That means Menou’s ether supply is no longer of any concern.

That said, it’s her against Orwell and her Red Angel automaton, but the advantage doesn’t last long when Momo, still super pissed, brings down the cathedral’s barrier and beats the red angel to a pulp. Momo takes advantage of her competent aide’s distraction to create a diversion of bubbles…and etheric camouflage.

By appearing as Flare, she’s able to make Orwell hesitate for just the few moments she needs to throw a knife at her unguarded head. But it still is guarded, as the apparently not-too-judgey cathedral itself protects her simply due to her position as Archbishop. This even surprises Orwell, who thought for a second she was a goner.

She isn’t, which means she’s still quite a handful for Menou what with her RGB wand, and Menou knows it. In order to defeat her she’ll have to use Akari’s Pure Concept and delve deeper than she ever has into Akari’s subconscious.

I lit up when I heard that, because that means Menou is going to catch a glimpse of Akari Prime, who is still in there somewhere. A trippy dream sequence ensues as Menou enters Akari’s mind while dealing with her own subconscious, which admits she was never able to become the villain Flare taught her to be.

Just as Akari always has Akari Prime in the back of her mind ready to protect her, Menou always harbored a desire to be a non-sarcastically pure, just, and strong priestess. And in a way, she has remained that, as she didn’t go along with Orwell’s scheme.

Subcon Menou is ready to take her own life with her blade when she’s stopped by Akari in the classroom of her school. There, Akari tells her she’ll be her best friend, no matter what happens.

This acknowledgement of their bond allows Menou to unlock her and Akari’s combined powers, against which Orwell’s RGB wand is absolutely no match. The white beam overwhelms the rainbow beam, and rather than her planned de-aging, Orwell’s aging is ultra-accelerated to just a few moments before her death.

She almost seems to regret having cast aside all that was just and pure for her own path, and considering it led to her ruin, I can’t blame her. But this isn’t her story, it’s that of Menou and Akari, and of Momo and Ashuna, the latter of which finds the former sleeping off her berserkness. She tells the slumbering Momo that she genuinely enjoyed fighting by her side.

In the aftermath of the battles that claimed both the Noblesse’s castle and the Faust’s cathedral, the public report is that Orwell died in battle, her heretical crimes never to be revealed. She wasn’t too big to fail, but the Faust are, which means Menou still has a job, and still has values to uphold.

In a beautiful callback to last week’s shopping, which feels like a dang year ago, Menou instantly cheers a contrite, weepy Momo up with twin red scrunchies, which immediately become her new most prized possessions. Menou also explains how the Akari now among them is a regressed version of one from a distant future, but despite “resetting”, she maintained her affection for her. As we saw, that’s a feature, not a bug, of Akari’s magecraft.

Menou decides she’ll stay by Akari’s side in order to find a way to kill her. After all, Akari is still an existential threat to the world, something Prime Akari is aware of. Because of that and her love for Menou, she not only doesn’t hold it against her, but welcomes the day Akari will kill her.

We catch a glimpse of that future in the form of a nightmare non-Prime Akari has before waking up in her hotel room with Menou. It’s definitely a nightmare for Akari Prime, because it’s the day Menou dies before she can kill her, leaving the deed to Flare.

All Akari Prime can do is keep going back, making adjustments, and maintaining her faith that one of these times around, her beloved Menou will kill her properly.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

SSSS.Gridman – 11 – Backed Into A Corner

No matter how many kaiju Akane made and Alexis embiggened, they were never able to defeat Gridman. As a god suddenly hemmed in by the intolerable rule that her kaiju will and must always lose, she finally snapped and took matters into her own physical hands.

Rather than use her box cutter to carve a new kaiju, she stabbed Yuuta with it, then wanders away in a haze, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torturous cycle is over.

It’s not that easy. She missed Yuuta’s vitals, so she didn’t kill him, though he seems to be in some kind of coma. With all the custodian kaiju beheaded, nothing in the city resets, and the chaos just remains. Worse still, as far as Alexis is concerned, nothing’s over.

Lex believes Anti to be the “next Gridman in line” and thus needs Akane to keep creating more kaiju for him to use. When she categorically refuses (pointedly saying she “can’t”, not “won’t”), he simply brings back all the kaiju she already made…at the same time.

A scenario entirely beyond Akane’s control and will thus unfolding, Anti arrives in the hospital room, not to apologize for what he did as a kaiju but to settle his debts as a human. He’ll fight off the kaiju as Gridknight, as Neon Genesis set to work repairing the computer so Yuuta and Gridman wake back up (they can’t sortie without Gridman).

In a brief dream sequence before he wakes up, Yuuta sees Gridman in the mirror, and it dawns on him: He’s not Yuuta; not really. Rather, he’s Gridman dwelling within Yuuta, using his body and mind as a vessel. The matter all along, then wasn’t that Yuuta had amnesia; he was never Yuuta to begin with, and thus whatever memories he had as Yuuta were as repressed as the real Yuuta himself, whom we’ve apparently never even met.

Shou is feeling particularly useless this week, and we can’t really blame him; aside from being the only person with the time to stay by Yuuta’s bedside when he wakes up, he is pretty useless this week. He can’t dissuade Gridman from a course of action that could get his friend killed.

Instead, Yuuta and Neon Genesis mobilize and fight beside a battered Anti against the kaiju “greatest hits,” destroying them all. Alexis can bring back the defeated kaiju all he wants; the fact remains they exist only to be beaten by Gridman.

Meanwhile, Rikka seeks out Akane, not to seek revenge or to give her a piece of her mind, but just to be there for her as a friend. Yes, Rikka may only think she’s Akane’s friend because Akane “set it up” that way, but Rikka doesn’t care; it doesn’t change the fact they are friends, through and through.

Before Rikka can hear what Akane thinks of her, they’re interrupted by Alexis, who labels their conversation “pointless” and tells Akane that new kaiju are needed post-haste. Again Akane tells him she can no longer make kaiju, but Alexis rephrases his position: he’s going to have a new kaiju, even if he has to transform Akane herself…which he promptly does, much to her and Rikka’s bewilderment.

Thus the downward spiral of Akane’s world reaches a new nadir: in which the creator of the world herself prepares to become just another one of the monsters programmed to fight Gridman. This seems to be breaking some fundamental rules of the “game” that’s been played so far, but Alexis doesn’t seem to mind. If Akane really does become another kaiju, isn’t she just as doomed to lose as the ones she created…or is that just another rule poised to be broken?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 06 – Quantum Entanglement-by-Butt-Kickin’

On the eve of finals, Mai decides she’s used enough of the stick and whips out a carrot in the form of her bunny girl suit, which she wears while tutoring Sakuta. Why the change of pace? She witnessed him stand up for Tomoe at the station, and thinks better of him for working so hard even for a fake girlfriend. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is that Mai isn’t the slightest bit threatened by Tomoe.

The finals come and go, as does the last day of school and the start of summer break: July 18. Sakuta and Tomoe have been dating three weeks now, but Tomoe assures him she has an ironclad plan for the breakup. After a fun final date at the beach, she shakes his hand and thanks him for his help. She’ll simply tell her friends she dumped him when she realized he only had feelings for Mai—something that happens to be true.

But I knew, after that “final” date, there was no way July 19 would come. Instead, July 18 resets, as I predicted. What I didn’t expect was that Tomoe isn’t aware of the reset…or at least says she isn’t. They go on their beach date a second, then a third time.

Sakuta starts to suspect Tomoe may be lying about not knowing about the looping. It’s confirmed when she turns around and smiles at him during the principal’s address; something she hadn’t done in previous iterations. Not only does Sakuta know for sure that she’s lying, but he knows why.

On the fourth July 18 Sakuta throws Tomoe for a loop (for a change), taking her to Enoshima, the place they were originally going to go on their first date, but he’s making it their last. They climb the prodigious stairs to the shrine, and he fills out a votive tablet for good relationships. Tomoe thinks it sinful, since their relationship isn’t real, but he tells her that when they both agreed to do this, they agreed to to it all the way, even to hell.

Moreover, it isn’t sinful for Tomoe, since she’s actually in love with Sakuta. She plays dumb, but once they’re alone on the observation deck, he finally gets her to admit that she’s aware of what she’s doing, and why. Sakuta tells her flat out that whether she repeats time a hundred or a hundred million times, his feelings for Mai won’t change.

Tomoe counters that her feelings have changed. At first, she only meant for the fake relationship to help her save face. But every time she loops, her feelings for Sakuta only keep building up. A stirring monologue ensues, with Touyama Nao effortlessly bringing the feels. Finally, Tomoe does what needs to be done to move on: to stop lying to herself confess her love, clearly and loudly.

The next time Sakuta wakes up, it’s not July 18, or July 19; it’s June 27 (again). Tomoe sent them all the way back to the day she was asked out by the guy her friend likes. This time, she turns him down properly, resolved to face the social consequences…which don’t turn out to be that bad; her friends don’t end up ostracize her. Better still, she can still be good friends with Sakuta, which was always part of her plan.

As for Sakuta, he gets to redo asking Mai out, and she responds just as he’d hoped, as she steals a kiss to express how she feels about him. The next three weeks proceed as they did the last time, with the two differences being Sakuta knows what’s going to happen (even the exam questions) and he and Tomoe aren’t fake dating. They don’t have to.

It was, after all, nought but a simulation of the future, and yet still just as real as the future to come. In her traditional casual science-y explanation, Futaba surmises that Sakuta was drawn into the looping with Tomoe due to “quantum entanglement”, which happens when two particles collide. In this case, Tomoe and Sakuta kicking each other’s butts. Will this show’s delicious cleverness never cease? I for one hope not.

It certainly wastes no time getting the next arc started, as the episode closes with Sakuta meeting a middle school girl who just happens to share the name of his first crush: Makinohara Shouko.

SSSS.Gridman – 04 – Truly Vexing to Watch

Akane is pretty sure Yuuta is Girdman, but not 100% sure. She wants to investigate further, which includes questioning Rikka when the two take the bus to school on a scorcher of a day. The two also end up joining Rikka’s friends Namiko and Hass on a group date with the Youtube group of college boys called Arcadia, despite the fact neither Rikka nor Akane are really into group dating…or any dating at all.

Yuuta doesn’t really like the idea of Rikka going on any kind of date that doesn’t involve him, and Gridman can sense he’s troubled about it (though Yuuta tells him not to worry about it). Yuuta and Shou decide to basically shadow the group date, as it involves two women they’re both emotionally invested in (in Shou’s case, Akane; in Yuuta’s case Rikka).

Neither really ever had anything to worry about; the only two women remotely  interested in Arcadia are Namiko and Hass. Akane is far more interested in learning why Rikka is spending more time with the guy she suspects to be aligned with her arch-enemy Gridman.

Akane also ditches the other girls at her earliest convenience, and succeeds in killing all but one of them with a kaiju. Rikka later catches on to the fact three of the four members of the group were killed and erased from the collective memory of society (including her friends), so she meets with the last surviving member, Yamato, to warn him of his impending doom.

She’s almost too late, as the fog that serves as the precursor to the latest kaiju attack envelops Yamato. It’s Samurai Calibur who ends up saving them both from the kaiju. Yuuta and Gridman deploy, but they end up having to fight not only the insectoid kaiju that killed the other members of Arcadia, but Item as well, who is singularly interested in defeating Gridman and nothing else.

All four members of Neon Genesis decide to sortie at once, but when combined with Gridman’s deployment, the computer they’re all working through basically freezes, freezing all of them in turn. Rikka scares the shit out of Shou by unplugging the computer, then plugging it back in and rebooting it, but doing so actually solves the problem, as the whole of Neon Genesis simply isn’t able to sortie simultaneously.

Instead, only one of them, the tank from last week, sorties, combining with Gridman into Gridman Max, defeating the insectoid kaiju. Item then reaches his time limit and reverts to his human state. It’s another victory, albeit a close one.

Later, at the shop, Yuuta works up the courage to ask Rikka out to grab something to eat, but she misinterprets it as a suggestion for the whole group to have a meal together. Mind you, Yuuta could mend the misunderstanding with two words: “just us,” but of course he doesn’t, mimicking Wile E. Coyote in the “trying something only once” strategy.

This was an episode in which the large-scale battles between Gridman and kaiju took a backseat to the high school romantic drama unfolding between Yuuta, Rikka, and Akane. Yuuta has proved pretty inept at getting Rikka to notice him in the way he’d prefer, but he should have plenty more opportunities, especially since she doesn’t have the slightest interest in Arcadia’s Yamato.

SSSS.Gridman – 03 – Gridman, I Hate You!

It’s a rainy day in Tokyo when the newest kaiju appears, and this one seems different, because Akane isn’t making a model, but interacting with a small silver-haired boy named Anti who can transform into a kaiju. Why does he eat like he does, and why does hate Gridman so much? We don’t know. For that matter, we don’t know why Akane hates Gridman and wants him dead so badly, aside from having lost to him twice.

In any case, the Gridman Alliance is collected by Calibur, and before Rikka can apologize for not answering Yuuta’s phone call, Yuuta heads into action—and once again has his ass handed to him. Combined with Yuuta’s worry that he may be fighting/killing a human inside his opponent, he doesn’t fight back, even with Calibur by his side, and the two LOSE to Anti, much to Akane’s elation.

Rikka and Shou are stunned. They fear Yuuta and Calibur are dead, and in lieu of knowing what to do next, they wait in the shop and snipe at each other out of frustration. Their quarrel is broken up by the arrival of the “Neo Genesis Junior High Students” a team allied with Calibur and Gridman (and whose name is an homage to Evangelion). They tell Rikka simply to call Yuuta, and to her and Shou’s great relief, he is alive, and Gridman is simply regenerating. Before long he’s back in the fight.

One of the members of Neon Genesis joins the battle in the form of a battle tank, and combines with Gridman to form a new set of extra-chunky arms and fists with which to defeat Anti, who “runs out of time” in kaiju mode and reverts to human form, after which he’s basically disowned by a furious Akane.

Back at Junk, Rikka apologizes to Yuuta, which is something I think is way overblown in the grand scheme of things (I mean, people miss calls; she was trying to help someone she thought was in need), while her mom (who is voiced by the same actor who portrayed Haruka in FLCL) wonders where so many new people suddenly showed up in her shop.

While Gridman’s defeat was a nice change of pace, the fact it was resolved so easily—with Rikka and Shou simply sitting around until the cavalry arrived—kind of gutted the suspense. Everything is in a very bad way, and then moments later everything’s fine and dandy.

As for why Akane is doing what she’s doing, where exactly Anti came from, and other mysteries, lets just say I’m not holding my breath for satisfying explanations. Perhaps it would be best to just sit back and enjoy the action…it would just be nice if it meant more.

SSSS.Gridman – 02 – Keep Doing What You Can Do

When Yuuta, Rikka and Shou return to school, they learn that several of their classmates have disappeared and nobody has any memory that they ever existed, or of the kaiju battle. They decide to seek answers from Gridman on the computer in Rikka’s shop, which was going to be closed so Rikka could hang out with her two best friends. Meanwhile Akane takes an interest in what Yuuta is talking about and joins him on the roof for lunch, but doesn’t get far.

Turns out Shinjou Akane is very different from the perfect student Shou made her out to be. She lives in an apartment packed with trash and clay models of kaiju. Turns out she’s the one who’s made some kind of Faustian bargain with Gridman’s enemy, who turns all of her creations into full-size kaiju which then kill people she doesn’t like. She may be talented, but she’s not a good person, and must be stopped.

The suspicious-looking sleepy-eyed man eventually arrives at the junk shop, introducing himself as Samurai Calibur and failing to enter or exit a door without getting caught by his ridiculously long four katanas. He “optimizes” the computer so Rikka and Shou can hear Gridman and see the giant kaiju they’re not aware their cute classmate is making and deploying. Her latest creation is “brought to life” and starts wreaking havoc in much the same way as the first one.

As Akane watches the carnage unfold from the safety of her apartment, Yuuta, Rikka and Shou are nearly flattened by a stray steel beam, but Samurai Calibur demonstrates his prowess by slicing it in two, saving them. They rush to the computer, and because it’s now optimized, Gridman (who is nothing but energy in this universe and needs a human with which to collaborate) provides Yuuta with a “Primal Acceptor” bracelet that lets him customize Gridman to his specs and colors.

The new-and-improved Gridman is lighter and faster, but his Grid Beam is deflected; Akane makes improvements to each kaiju based on the failures of the former ones. Gridman gets beaten up again, but Samurai Calibur joins the battle in the form of a gleaming golden sword, with which Yuuta/Gridman uses to cleave the kaiju in two, destroying it and pissing Akane off royally.

Back at school, Akane’s intended target is unharmed and like everyone else, has forgotten all about the attack. But unlike when he bumped into Akane, sparking her ire, he apologizes after bumping into Yuuta, suggesting perhaps the experience unconsciously made him more courteous.

In any case, I’m sure Yuuta and Akane will be facing off a lot more with their respective weapons. The question is, will the Gridman Alliance ever find out she’s the kaiju-maker, will she reveal it to them when she’s ready to eliminate them once and for all, or can she be convinced to stop this evil, destructive venture? On I watch…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darling in the FranXX – 17 – All the New Rules are Starting to be Scrapped

Things have gotten so blissfully domestic in the scarred remains of Mistilteinn, Zero Two files her horns like one trims their nails, and Miku makes her a tiara of flowers that give her a more regal bearing. There’s a very Garden of Eden/Earthly Delights about their home, especially with Hiro Kokoro already having met their “serpents” in Zero Two and the pregnancy book, respectively.

Both have lent knowledge “Papa” (i.e. God”) did not directly give them, and has fundamentally changed their destinies, with Kokoro gaining the drive to procreate and Hiro growing horns of his own. Once Adam and Eve Know Too Much, anyone who’s read Genesis knows what happens next—expulsion from paradise. Papa’s agents arrive almost on queue to “check on” Squad 13 and see if any “corrections” are needed.

The Nines come dripping with the smug superiority you’d expect of such agents, looking down upon the less-than-ideal living conditions. None of them seem to touch the meager repast their hosts made and caught themselves—and no doubt can’t afford to waste. They look upon Squad 13 with pity, if not outright disgust, and their honeyed words and wry grins are fooling nobody (except Zorome, of course).

Meanwhile, during their latest meeting in the “birdcage” conservatory, Kokoro finally tries to come on to Mitsuru, having read the contents of the pregnancy booklet over and over, seeing the profound difference in their bodies, and thinking how right it feels to bring them together to make a life that will carry on after they’re gone.

Unfortunately, the night before while bumping into a Nine, Kokoro lost her booklet and it fell into Alpha’s hands. That’s when the wry grin vanishes.

Mitsuru rebuffed Kokoro’s advancements, but more out of shock that she was acting on feelings he knew he had for her. It takes a bath with his old buddy Hiro to realize those are feelings of love, and he should do what his heart is telling him to do.

Before he has a chance to, the Nines confront Kokoro in front of the rest Squad 13 (who heard from Zorome that she and Mitsuru are an “item” now), and Alpha presents her baby booklet, full of straight-up taboo ideas that aren’t even supposed to be spoken of. Reproduction has been banned ever since humans “evolved past it.”

What’s interesting is how Alpha handles what could be a life-jeopardizing situation for Kokoro like a hall monitor finding contraband. He is merely an instrument of Papa speaking only with Papa’s voice. But his dispassionate tone becomes cruel when Kokoro makes her case for why humans are no different in other animals, and how there should be more to life than piloting FranXX into battle.

He calls her and her perfectly reasonable ideas utterly “disgusting”, and for that, Ikuno slaps him and has to be held back from doing more, not merely lashing out on Kokoro’s behalf, but due to her own unrequited love for Ichigo.

Hachi and Nana separate Kokoro from the others and reveals that they’ve been watching Squad 13 all along, as part of Dr. FranXX’s “final test” for them. When Nana insists that even talking about reproduction is banned, let alone doing ti, Kokoro rightfully asks why they have the organs to do so, and emotions that seem to compel them to do so.

These questions from Kokoro spark a sharp visceral reaction in Nana, leading both Hachi and Alpha to suspect that she’s “relapsed to puberty”, which is ominously referred to as “not being good” for the person to which it happens. Alpha even blithely suggests they replace her with a “new Nana,” as the current one has been rendered “useless.” Harsh shit.

Based on Dr. FranXX’s reaction to Squad 13’s developments (and absent further information) it seems his primary goal was to see how easing 13’s emotional and sexual suppression would improve their performance as weapons against the Klaxosaurs. After all, he never expected his experiments would lead 13 to develop “humanity’s original reproductive instincts.”

And yet, here we are. When two members of APE arrive at Klaxosaur Central (presumably in the Gran Crevasse), they meet the humanoid “Princess of the Klaxosaurs” and formally ask her to surrender to Humanity and end the now century-long war.

When she refuses, one of the APE members attacks her, and she slaughters him, his partner, and their three guards with ease. When she removes the mask of one of the corpses to find nothing there, she derides them as “human wannabes.”

That got the gears going in my head: what if, perhaps a century ago or more, aliens invaded earth and imposed the system they have now? What if the “humans” we’ve seen in the various plantations are the anamoly, and the Klaxosaurs are actually closer to what humans used to be?

We can’t say how far in the future this story takes place, so the fact Nana, Hachi, and the parasites we’ve watched could have tricked us into thinking they’re “real humans” with their familiar looks and ways of living. The Princess’ words throw everything into doubt…though one thing we learn from Zero Two is that she can’t reproduce like humans.

Earlier in the series I doubt anyone would have guessed that the first Squad 13 couple to jump into bed together would be Kokoro and Mitsuru, but here we are. I enjoyed the contrast between the candlelit chasteness of Zero Two and Hiro’s romance, and the more physical, primal, hot-and-heavy Kokoro+Mitsuru variety that finally crests with the two having sex.

It is an act of simple human biology, and yearning to decide one’s future with one’s own heart an act of simple human psychology. But in their artificial world, these are also acts of rebellion, as well as capital crimes for which there may well be dire consequences. After all, Dr. FranXX, Hachi, Nana, the Nines, and APE are all watching. The Garden of Eden may feel secluded, but nothing that goes on there is really private.

APE, however, have more pressing matters. The Princess has violently rebuffed their condescending “olive branch”, and so they vow the Klaxosaurs will “feel the pain of having their earth scorched by their own creation.” ‘Their?’ Scratch that about aliens: perhaps Klaxosaurs are highly-evolved humans who created the APE and their ilk; now they’re at war with them, with Zero Two, Hero, and Squad 13 stuck in the middle.

While we’re on the subject of creations coming to bite their creators in the ass, I’ll close with that iconic quote from Jurassic Park:

Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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