The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.

The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

The Promised Neverland – 09 – Let’s Get Cracking

By the end of last week, four episodes of The Promised Neverland remained for the kids to escape the farm and survive the aftermath of casting aside their old lives, and all the protections and amenities therein. Even if their lives wouldn’t last much longer than if they’d  stayed put, at least they’d die free.

Alas, for all of the kids’ careful preparation up to this point, the situation has never been more dire. Any hope of Emma escaping on her own two feet has been dashed thanks to Mama’s act of appalling brutality (“clean break” indeed) while Norman is due to be shipped out in a day’s time.

Norman puts on a brave face for Emma, but when he fetches water he betrays a look of paralyzing fear and despair. And yet, once that moment has passed, there’s a decidedly defiant look on his face, like he’s decided and committed to his next move.

When he returns, Ray is with Emma, and they’ve already decided something as well. When Norman proposes they proceed with the escape plan without him once he’s gone and Emma is healed, they reject him in unison. Their counter-proposal: Norman will deactivate his tracker with the device Ray has just completed (using parts from all the various discreet rewards he got over the years), and hide out until Emma heals. Then they’ll all escape together.

Norman is fine with this plan, except for the fact that if he goes missing, they may ship Ray out in his stead. In that case, Ray says he’s willing to have his arm broken so, like Emma, he won’t be suitable for shipping. When Norman asks how Ray found out about the truth of the House, he says he’s always known, since he has memories of his life going back to when he was still in the womb.

Norman agrees to the plan, and the next morning, Norman executes his escape, running to the wall with the backup rope Don and Gilda made, while Emma and Ray stick close to Mama. The music that plays while Norman is running to freedom is epic, hopeful and triumphant.

After he attaches the rope, he holds it taut as he runs up the wall, and manages to grab hold of the top ledge and hoist himself up. A vast forest unfolds in all directions on the other side; a forest full of possibility. If they could get everyone into that forest, the adults would be hard-pressed to find them.

When Mama finally notices Norman is not around, she checks his tracking device, and her expression makes it clear it’s not working. But to Emma and Ray’s horror, she smiles and closes the device, and Norman emerges from the forest, looking like he’d just been drugged or hypnotized.

Turns out it was neither, but simply the look of utter, complete defeat. Only while atop the wall and looking over the other side could he discover the truth: there is a vast, yawning, sheer CLIFF between the wall and the forested land, of a distance they can’t hope to surmount.

Just when the kids’ spirits were at their highest, everything is cruelly snatched away, and their doom feels more inescapable than ever. What an emotional roller coaster; a symphony sorrow; a triptych of tribulation. Those poor damn kids…what are they going to do now?

The Promised Neverland – 08 – Things Never Go Smoothly

More than once, Don hopes out loud that the inspection plan goes smoothly, and whenever a character hopes something like that, chances are it won’t come to pass. Things certainly don’t go smoothly for Sister Krone! Turns out she’s not fired, she’s just been named the new Mom of Plant Four. Only there’s one thing more important to Krone than becoming a Mom, and that’s ruining Isabella.

That turns out to be her downfall, as had Krone left quietly for her new assignment, it’s possible she would have been fine. Or maybe not; when she presents her evidence to Grandma of the high-quality kids’ escape plan, it’s utterly shrugged off because the kids are still “under control.” As for Krone ever having a chance of replacing Isabella, that was never in the cards.

And so, as Krone’s life in the farm and training to become a sister flashes before her eyes, Grandma sics a demon on her, and plants the flower that causes instant death. Rest in peace, Sister Krone: you certainly never had any in life. Her last thoughts are of her hope that the kids are successful in escaping—something she could never do.

Ray isn’t aware that Krone is no longer in the picture until it’s too late and the inspection mission is already underway. Isabella, calling out his treachery, suddenly and unexpectedly terminates their arrangement, locks him in a room, and uses her tracking device to detect Norman and Emma.

When Don and Gilda see Isabella leave the house, but no sign of Ray, Don races into the house, busts down the door and frees Ray, and the three of them head to Norman and Emma’s location as quickly as they can. But as has ever been the case since even Ray first thought of resisting this system, Mama is simply too many steps ahead.

She encounters Norman and Emma and rejects their fake smiles, dropping the pretense that she’s maintained for ten years. She also makes a seemingly heartfelt (though one questions if she has a heart to feel) plea for them to stop resisting and simply accept their fates. They can live happy, full lives until their shipment days, at which time their deaths will be instant.

Even if Isabella empathizes with her livestock in knowing that the worst kind of suffering for them would be to take her up on her offer and give up, they’re too valuable to her as meat for her to ever consider entertaining their desire for freedom. One wonders if Isabella, like Krone, was once in their position, and thus has already concluded resistance is pointless.

Whatever the case, when Emma and Norman reject Isabella’s ultimatum,  Emma rushes Mama and hugs her tight so Norman can get to the rope…and Emma pays for it, big time. Mama snaps her knee like a twig, then lovingly applies a splint and carries her back to the house.

No matter how spunky and determined Emma might be, there’s no way she’ll be able to escape now; at least not on her own two legs. Oh, and just to twist the knife, Isabella informs a horrified Norman that his shipment date has been set. Far from smooth, things have gone just about as awfully as possible for our pee-wee heroes. I honestly don’t know where they go from here.

Shuumatsu no Izetta – 09

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This episode’s opening act painted a rosy picture: with Germania not attacking, Izetta continues to build her image across the world by assisting the resistance movements of territories Germania has conquered, and the narrating Lotte is hoping the good times keep coming. Fine even tells Izetta a ceasefire could be in the making.

I didn’t buy this rosiness for a second, since it’s already been established that Berkman has Izetta’s number and has merely been biding his time for an assault, both the map and the crystal are in enemy hands, and even Muller AKA Sieg Reich simply isn’t giving off very trustworthy vibes.

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A reckoning, then, was inevitable, and it comes later in the episode after Izetta ends up on the wrong battlefront and must be quickly transported to the right one. There, the one tactical advantage Eylstadt has over Germania—the White Witch—is taken away, by Germania’s own White Witch, a clone of Izetta’s descendant, Sophie.

The path that led to her creation is hastily told, as Berkman learns of Division 9’s research and cloning methods, and Izetta’s blood is gradually used to “awaken” Sophie from the doll-like clone. Eylstadt’s own recklessness with Izetta’s personal security indirectly led to Berkman’s success.

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At first, Sophie tries to appeal to Izetta’s pride and duty as a witch, telling her what her own family told her: using her magical powers to help affect the outcome of war between non-magical countries is wrong.

But when Izetta insists she must fight for her archduchess and refuses to stand down, Sophie ditches the nice guy act right quick, turning on a dime into Izetta’s enemy, and the two duel in the sky as Germania’s superior military runs the Eylstadt forces roughshod.

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Sophie ends up nullifying Izetta’s magic at a crucial moment, causing her to crash, then for good measure, employs magic chain bondage to crush Izetta’s insides. She’s taken prisoner, photographed and filmed for pro-Germanian propaganda, which is likely to kill morale in Eylstadt as well as anywhere where people oppose Germania.

Now that their “nuke” isn’t unique anymore, or even a threat to Germania, they’re free to attack Eylstadt’s capital, even bombing Fine’s palace. But the lack of chivalry in the assault mirror’s Eylstadt’s own desperate but ultimately foul play: when they couldn’t win with conventional warfare they turned to magic.

They put all their eggs in that basket, and now that basket’s been crushed and burned. It’s not looking good at all for Fine, Izetta, or Eylstadt.

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Charlotte – 11

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If it hadn’t already, with this, its third 10-rated episode, Charlotte has established itself as not only one of the year’s best shows, but one of P.A.Works’ and writer/composer Maeda Jun’s best, as well. Even though I knew full well last week’s rescue of Ayumi was essentially a cakewalk that returned us more or less to the status quo, and that there would be hell to pay this week, I wasn’t fully prepared for just how much hell would go down.

Things start out tentatively, however, with Yuu returning to the syndicate headquarters with Ayumi, who meets her big brother for the first time since her memories were erased. It’s wonderful that Ayumi is breathing and free of Collapse, but to learn her memories of Shun are gone forever is the first of many harsh blows to the cast this week.

And hey, we finally learn why the show is called Charlotte, and more importantly, why there’s an outbreak of kids with abilities: it’s the name of a comet that spreads particles across the earth, activating dormant parts of the human brain. It last happened 400 years ago, and there was a witchhunt. When the comet passed again 12 years ago, more kids were bestowed with “magic powers”, and the witchhunts started back up.

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Shunsuke shelters a research team working on a vaccine for the “disease” that always leads to such horrible massacres throughout histroy, though he admits there’s little to be done for those who already possess powers except to protect them and wait it out until they age enough to lose them. With his Plunder ability Yuu is the most powerful, most valuable, and hence most at-risk ability wielder in the world, so Shun is committed to protecting him.

However, Shun reveals that for all his planning and good intentions, all it took for his syndicate to be unraveled and all of his friends and family to be put squarely in harm’s way, and for the entire vaccination plan to be put into jeopardy, is the syndicate’s hired driver, Furuki.

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Because Furuki has a family, and when that family is abducted and held hostage, Furuki has no choice but to betray Kumagami, who is also captured by a group of foreigners.

These foreigners don’t use the kid gloves on Kumagami, pummeling him, administering truth serum so he spills the beans about every “psychic” he knows and has been in contact with, and ripping out all his teeth and nails. From there, the enemy storms Hoshinoumi’s dorms and Nao is also captured, though she puts up a valiant fight.

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Yes, this is all Furuki’s fault for working with the syndicate when he has something as important as a family to be manipulated with by the enemy, but the responsibility lies with Shunsuke for hiring him, and he knows it. He messed up bad, and Kumagami and Nao won’t be the only ones to suffer for it.

Being more or less powerless himself, Shunsuke has no choice but to give in to the enemy’s demands to send Yuu to them, alone. Yuu is the only one who can stand against them, and his only hope is to steal the enemy’s abilities in order to rescue Kumagami and Nao.

Suddenly having all this shit shoveled on his plate almost causes Yuu to blow from his Collapse ability before the operation even starts, but Shunsuke manages to calm him down, and in any case Yuu feels he must save Nao, the girl who wouldn’t give up on him even when he gave up on himself.

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Whereas Ayumi’s rescue went like clockwork, here the clock is blown to bits and then the bits are set on fire. Murphy’s Law rules, as infiltrating his two foes reveals they neither have powers nor weapons on their person. While the muscleman is not present, a spry little green-eyed ability wielder ambushes Yuu and gouges out one of his eyes, making it impossible for him to make an emergency time leap (and possibly wrecking his plunder ability too).

I’m curious who this Ayumi-sized girl is and why she’s fighting on the wrong side, but I imagine her masters either have some kind of leverage on her like they did Furuki, or she was raised by the masters to hate others with abilities…or perhaps a wielder betrayed her and she’s sworn to make them pay.

Whatever her motives, she’s only one of the enemy’s tools here. Climbing on Yuu can stabbing him in the shoulder,  she causes Collapse to activate in him, bringing the whole warehouse down.

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Shunsuke and his friends rush to the scene to survey the sheer breadth of Yuu’s failure, which was again bourne from Shunsuke’s poor judgement in hiring Furuki. Yuu was able to save himself with telekinesis, but Kumagami wasn’t so lucky: he was run through with several pieces of metal and rebar, using his body as a shield to save Nao.

Now, not only is the syndicate’s ability to identify new ability users and a close friend since the beginning of the resistance dead, their trump card Yuu may be totally neutralized. The only bright side is that they’re able to capture the unconscious foreigners, but I’m sure they have friends too, and right now no user or former user in or out of the syndicate is safe, including the just-rescued Ayumi.

Earlier in the episode, Yuu remarks that the witchhunts happening overseas “have nothing to do with them,” but Shunsuke rebutted that “this story can’t possibly be that easy.” It seemed that way last week, but now there are no delusions. It’s not easy, and this looks to be only the beginning of the hardship. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

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Charlotte – 10

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After all the shock and intrigue of last week’s masterpiece, this week started off a bit slow and rigid, with Shunsuke telling Yuu and Nao the story of what happened after his time leap.

He returned to a time a couple of years before the three of them are captured, tracks down his trusty friends Kumagami (or “Pooh”), Shichino, Medoki, Maedomori, and helps them expand a syndicate of ability wielders. However, something always ends up going wrong, everyone is captured or killed, and Shun has to time leap and start all over.

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The re-re-re-built syndicate starts to become more wealthy and secure thanks to gambling winnings, but Shun learns that he loses a bit of his vision every time he leaps, and when he goes blind, he won’t be able to leap at all.

So he makes his last leap count, by working to set up a school to educate and protect ability wielders until they lose those abilities, including his brother and sister. To further protect them while working behind the scenes, his friends help him erase all memory of him from Yuu and Ayumi.

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That brings us back to the present, where Shun announces the next mission is to save Ayumi. He may not be able to time leap anymore, but if Yuu uses his true power, “Loot” (or “Plunder”) to steal Shun’s power, than he can time leap and save Ayumi. And that’s exactly what he does.

Being back in a time when his sister is alive—something he took for granted the last time around—is ample motivation to save her this time, and he moves forward with confidence and a solid plan to save her not only from “Collapse”, but from Konishi the knife-wielder as well.

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Yuu also finds an understanding ally in the Nao of the past, who has been through a lot less things with Yuu at this point. Still, she believes his story about time leaping without complaint, and also accepts his thanks for her saving him when Ayumi died before. It doesn’t matter that she won’t actually have to save him from himself in this timeline if he saves Ayumi, because the fact she did in the previous one is the only reason he’s still alive, free, and there, in a position to save her. Yuu understands this, and makes sure Nao knows how grateful he is.

As for the Ayumi-saving caper itself, he steals her Collapse ability without a hitch, while he, Nao, Yusarin and Joujirou all go undercover at Ayumi’s school for a coordinated attack. Yusa and Jou are immediately indisposed and taken out of the equation due to their respective fame and suspiciousness, but then again, they both serve as good diversions for the bulk of the students, giving Yuu and Nao room to work.

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And work the plan does: Konishi stalks Ayumi once more with her click-click-clicky knife, but Yuu is there to stand between the two. He breaks all the windows behind Konishi, and an invisible Nao kicks the knife away and snips away Konishi’s bangs. Konishi retreats, her warning received loud and clear.

With Ayumi safe and by Yuu’s side, he encounters Pooh and Medoki on the streets, who offer to take him to his brother. I was certain there would be some kind of mistake, Steins;Gate-style, that would prevent Yuu from saving Ayumi once more, but everything went off without a hitch.

It was almost too easy and quick a resolution, but it was still a very satisfying episode that covered a lot of ground and still found time for little moments of comedy. Now, with Ayumi apparently safe, there’s still plenty of time for Yuu, Shun, and the resistance to accomplish even more for the cause.

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Charlotte – 09

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Judging from the amount of time he spends figuring out what to wear, Yuu is not only looking forward to his concert date with Nao, but also seems to be developing some feelings for her. When they meet, he encounters a much more pleasant and bubbly and less surly Nao who is genuinely excited to see ZHIEND live (and collect their very practical smartphone case!)

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As the concert progresses, Yuu’s mind-splinter like nagging feeling of deja vu keeps building until it finally explodes when Sala starts singing a song caled “Trigger”, which just happens to be the trigger that sends Yuu…somewhere, somewhen else. Here, he and and a very alive Ayumi are patients/inmates at the very kind of government facility Nao always warned about, where ability users are rounded up and monitored, while those more powerful (and thus dangerous) are restrained, dissected, and/or disposed of.

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Is this a flashback, or an alternate reality? The show doesn’t say for sure, nor does it need to. Suffice it to say this is an awesome new direction for a show featuring characters with all sorts of crazy powers, so the ability to travel through time (Yuu’s “big brother” Shunsuke’s ability) isn’t that far out there.

The episode fully commits to this new, harsh, dystopian setting with abandon, along with the efforts by other users to free Shun with Yuu’s true power, “plunder”, or the ability to steal other abilities. That power makes him uniquely suited when the time comes to race through the corridors of the facility to release Shun. In the process, many of his associates fall to the security forces. The time between 13:55 and 17:30 is a thrilling masterpiece in and of itself.

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Everything seems to be worth it though, as Shun is released, his eyes uncovered, and…well, something happens. Yuu wakes up in the hospital with Nao by his side, as if it was all a dream, but the timing of Shun using his powers suggests it’s because of Shun that Yuu is here, and was here in this world living peacefully with Ayumi.

Nao is confused by Yuu’s thinking out loud, until a dry Kumagami (who was in the facility with Yuu and Ayumi) enters the room, offering to take Yuu and Nao somewhere where they’ll learn everything they’ve missed out on so far, including reuniting with Shunsuke, who Yuu learns was the one who set Nao on her path of finding and protecting users, thus helping the overall cause. Kumagami also says he can help Yuu rescue Ayumi, as if she wasn’t dead (and indeed, we never saw a body.)

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From post-rock concert to dystopian government facility to comfy hospital room, Yuu then finds himself following Kumagami with Nao to another top-secret underground facility, though in this case, it’s the well-funded but time-deficient headquarters and last stronghold of the “resistance” of ability users against the government, an organization led by Shunsuke, who is now blind.

This is little more than a reveal, with Shuu exchanging pleasantries and preparing to tell Yuu and Nao Everything, but this episode had done more than enough already, completely changing the complexion and expanding the scope, stakes, and very reality of the show. This is no longer just about a school club that rescues kids one at a time. This is about saving them all, including Ayumi. I’m always suspicious of un-killing characters, but in this case I’m very intrigued to see how they do it.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 22

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This week somewhat inauspiciously begins with Salia being spanked like an insolent child by Embryo, for letting Ange get away. But as painful and humiliating as this experience is, there’s still a glint of defiance in Salia’s face and words. Chasing after Ange the Chosen One like an obedient errand girl is not what she signed up for; in fact, it’s one of the very reasons she defected from Arzenal in the first place.

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Aboard the Aurora, Embryo finally manipulates Emma Bronson to antagonize what looks like the beginning of a Norma/Dragon alliance, in the midst of Riza’s report that Embryo is trying to merge both their worlds to form a new one, destroying them in the process. Even if Salako & Co. are Dragons, Hilda can relate Salako’s friendship to Ange. Roselie, meanwhile, isn’t looking forward to killing Chris, but it’s her or them; something she laments with great sadness.

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Embryo expounds on his grand plans for the world by stating it will be ruled by “strong, intelligent women.” He leaves out “pliable women who will acknowledge his unlimited power and know their place below him.” At the same time, he takes no pleasure in watching Ersha grovel and beg him to restore the lives of her children. He really never intended those children to survive the merging at all. Rather, he intends Ersha to become the mother of the new world’s children, which has some pretty messed-up ramifications if you think too long about it, which, judging from Ersha’s expression, she does.

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Like Salia, Embryo essentially warns Ersha that she’s not acting like the “intelligent women” he needs for that world. Unlike Salia, he basically casts her aside and tells her to stay out of sight, whereas he at least gives Salia one more chance to prove her loyalty. Salia won’t be doing that, though.

It looks like her spanking was the straw that broke the camel’s back; she won’t prove her value to Embryo by finding Ange; she’ll prove she’s stronger by besting and killing her, going against Embryo’s wishes in a desperate bid to win his approval.

This is not the best plan, considering Embryo can bring people back from the dead at will, but even if her judgement-quashing inferiority complex is still as strong as ever, at least she now realizes how much of a sack of shit Embryo is. Ripping up her Pretty Salian cosplay is as strong a symbol as any that she’s done playing the heroine.

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Ersha, meanwhile, realizes how appallingly naive she’s been, and how easily she allowed Embryo to win her obedience by manipulating her powerful maternal instincts. In both her and Salia’s case, they were girls with ambitions (albeit very different ones) that got their way, and now that they’ve seen how thin the veneer of Embryo’s goodness extends, They’re both well and truly disillusioned, and will no longer follow him.

Chris is different, in that nothing happened to her this week that suggests she’ll be going against Embryo. Embryo is her best bud, after all; the one person who would simply be her friend the way no one else ever did. Her ambitions are far smaller by comparison, and so easier to both fulfill and maintain. Are Chris, Roselie, and Hilda doomed to try and kill one another without ever reconciling the often twisted shit they’ve all been through? Or will something Embryo does cause CHris to revolt as well? I hope it’s the latter.

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Meanwhile, Tusk’s chopper-thingy deposits Ange on his island and releases her, and it doesn’t take long for the same crushing loneliness Tusk must have felt in the years he was here to sink in for her, combined with her grief over losing both Tusk and Momoka. Ange can’t see the purpose of trying to save a world she can’t share with those two very important people.

She even considers taking her life, before remembering Tusk’s final words to her about her having to live. But reading Tusk’s diary, including the entry when she arrived (not Ange’s best outing), at which point he’d already chosen to be her knight, only makes Ange more upset. She may have spared her own life for now, but she still can’t see the point of sparing it indefinitely.

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And then, all of a sudden, as she remarks on how she’d have gone all the way with Tusk if she’d known he’d sacrifice himself, Tusk pops up behind her, alive and well! She thinks it’s another of Embryo’s illusions at first, but I had a pretty good idea it was Tusk. Am I going to defend this ridiculous plot twist? No, but I can understand it: You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it; we never saw Tusk actually die in the explosion.

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Having tasted the bitterness of losing Tusk, Ange isn’t going to side-step the issue of the furtherance of their relationship any longer. On the contrary, she has sex with Tusk right then and there, under the stars, to prove it’s really him. Afterwards, it’s as if all of that sexual tension had simply melted away, leaving two far calmer, less distracted people.

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Momoka’s back too, because Hell, why not? She had a frying pan in her clothes that stopped a bullet. I’m more on the side of happy than angry they’re back, even if it’s very sudden. The why isn’t really important, only the that. And that Tusk and Momoka are alive means Ange has far stronger motivations to stop Embryo.

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I just don’t see how she’s going to do it considering how easily he dispatched them last time. Maybe these two finally getting laid was the key?

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 21

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Hilda leads a team composed of herself, Roselie, Vivi, Tusk, and the three new pilots to invade Misurugi and rescue Ange, in an action-packed episode that satisfactorily juggles all the involved parties and all their individual stakes and relationships, both forged and shattered. Ange is ultimately freed from Embryos clutches, but it’s only another temporary victory, and it comes at the greatest cost yet.

To think Hilda, Roselie, and Chris started out as an annoying “popular girl clique” that shunned Ange. They’ve come a long way. Hilda is fighting for Ange, Roselie is fighting for Hilda and her novice riders, and Chris is fighting for her new, true friend, Embryo-sama. She looks back in retrospect and concludes that even before Hilda and Roselie “left her for dead”, they were never really her friends. Despite Hilda’s harsh words earlier in the show, I don’t think that’s true, but tempers are too high for any hope of reconciliations.

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Chris knocks out Villkiss’ power, and it ditches in the river. Momoka rescues Ange and tries to get her away by car before Embryo unveils another one of his little tricks: the ability to turn any mana-user into a homonculus. Ane manages to snap Momoka out of it, but throngs of zombie Misurugi citizens converge. Embryo proves as tenacious as ever in cornering Ange and bending her to his will.

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While Hilda and Chris value Embryo as a lover and best mate, respectively, Ersha is doing everything for the kids, not him. So when, in the crossfire of the battle, all those kids get slaughtered, Ersha too loses all possible compunction to ever side with Ange and her cohorts again. Now, I imagine, whatever is left of her life will be dedicated to making sure those kids are avenged.

Chris, meanwhile, takes a sadistic amount of relish in killing off Marika, one of Roselie’s novice riders who came to cover her teacher’s escape. Her end is neither as surprising or as gory as Coco and Miranda’s, but it again escalates the conflict between these former comrades-in-arms, and even proves Embryo’s point that with or without the light of mana, it doesn’t take much to turn once somewhat reasonable humans into monsters.

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Embryo’s intention to punish Ange are thwarted by her trusty, horny knight, who stalls Embryo so Ange and Momoka can escape. After getting in a dig about how Tusk, the final member of “ancient people”, is nothing but a monkey, Embryo ends the stalling by shooting himself in the head.

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Just when we think Ange is home free, with the ocean and skies sprawling out before her, Momoka is taken over by Embryo once again, as he sips tea down on a balcony below them. You have to credit Embryo with being so damn hard to foil, though that’s a given when you have the powers of a god. Frankly, anyone who attempts to oppose such a powerful being has never seemed to have a very good approach for actually doing so, and the fact he’s immortal makes that unpreparedness understandable.

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Ange is then forced to watch as Momoka, whom Embryo has powered up to the very limits of her body, slashes at Tusk with a sword. Ange is able to break Embryo’s hold on her once more, saving Tusk, but then Momoka goes after Embryo while using her mana to make a huge truck hit them and push them off a cliff. It’s one final act of valor and love from Momoka, but I wonder if she didn’t squander her life trying to take out someone who couldn’t be taken out. Ange did tell her and Tusk that Embryo can’t be killed, right?

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No matter. Even if she did know she couldn’t kill him, she could slow him down, and prevent herself from being used as a homonculus again. Tusk does the same thing, sacrificing himself with a suicide bomb in order to buy time for Ange’s escape, which isn’t her choice, as he sets auto-cruise and cuffs her to his ship.

And just like that, Momoka and Tusk, two of the people Ange cared about most, are gone. Seeing the stunned pain in Ange’s face and voice at this realization, one almost can’t fault those who surrendered and sided with Embryo, because this is the price of opposing him, with the final cost yet unknown.

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Stray Observations:

  • I know it’s indicative of far more insidious elements of their dynamic in the past, but Chris is kinda overreacting over the other two making her lose one of her braids when they only gave her a clip for one. She could have, you know, spoke up for herself regarding her hairstyle preference.
  • The fact Embryo can make any one, or any number, of mana-users into his own zombie army seems like a wildly underused power up to this point.
  • Continuing with its utterly irreverent theme of the previews, Ange considers simply replacing the fallen Tusk and Momoka with Hilda and Roselie…but ironically that’s essentially what I see happening!
  • Tusk may have died a virgin, but no one can say he didn’t have his share of interesting experiences with women.
  • I assume Salia was knocked out this entire episode.

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 20

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The above scene is a blatant, laughable lie, one proven to be one mere minutes later when Embryo puts the exact same moves on Ange (Also, why does he always get fully dressed before her? Can’t he snuggle Pretty Salian once in a while?). But Salia accepts it, because talk of love or destiny aside, Salia’s made a deal with Embryo.

She gets to live out her fantasy, and he gets to have her mind and body. Embryo is essentially an immortal pimp, and he makes each woman he manipulates feel like they’re his queen, through offering things they want most.

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Angelise is former royalty, so he continues to treat her as such with lovely invitation letters, second flush Darjeeling, and more honeyed words, many of them recycled from speeches with the other women. Salia doesn’t even care what Ange wants or does from this point on, as long as she’s not there to steal her spotlight and her man.

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“These are the implants I’ve had designed for you. We’re gonna make you a STAR!”

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But the same flattering, nurturing faux-kindness doesn’t work on Ange. She’s the same warrior she was when she pulverized that dragon back when she got stranded on that island. If she has a blade and a threat, she’s going to take it out. This time, Ange tries to make her point clearer by making Embryo suffer.

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Little does she know Embryo is going easy on her out of real kindness, preferring to turn her with a minimum of suffering. When he pops back again, alive and well, he reluctantly resorts to stronger measures, and it’s here that we start to take Embryo a bit more seriously.

He did create Ange’s race of humans, after all; it stands to reason he has all the tools at his disposal to manipulate them at will. Playing nice didn’t work on Ange, so he makes things far more elemental: zapping her brain with 50xPain, followed by 50xPleasure. It’s not a pretty sight, even for an eavesdropping Salia.

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What makes this episode the best in a long time is just how nicely it balances development of the careening plot with a bevy of truly great character moments, and because there are so many of them, the pacing is brisk and thrilling. Take Roselie sneaking into Hilda’s room, where Roselie comes to terms with the fact Hilda has fallen for Ange, while she herself admits she loves Chris, and always had the wrong idea about who looked out for whom. They want to be with Ange an Chris again, and Hilda knows that’s not going to happen as long as Jill is in command.

To do something about it, they’ll need help, which means recruiting the gaoled Tusk and Vivian. Hilda initially tries to seduce Tusk, but despite the rumors his head is almost constantly in Ange’s crotch (a gross exaggeration), Hilda is almost disappointed to find that he never slept with her, confirming what Ange said, and is in fact saving himself, like a true knight. Hilda just calls him a “loser”, but he’s also a useful loser, so they make an accord.

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Jill, meanwhile, can’t get Embryo-sama out of her head, so she dons her flight suit and attempts to fly off, leaving Libertus and her crew behind. Hilda organizes and stages the most necessary mutiny ever, and in Jill’s fractured state she’s no match against people with far clearer heads. It’s an awesome bring-down, especially since we learn soon after that Jill needed and wanted to be saved…from herself.

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“How was I supposed to explain? That I went to kill Embryo, but instead he took my body and mind?”

This is the crux of Jill’s sad story, which there’s no point in concealing from her crew any longer, and it really nicely explains all of her actions and attitudes to this point, helping us see her in a far more sympathetic light. Jill may have been an ace mail-rider and royalty and pilot to Villkiss but she’s still only human, and able to be reprogrammed into submission by her creator, the very same curse that befalls all other humans, mana-using or not.

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This is a fact Embryo wishes to impart onto Ange in no uncertain terms, as he enjoys another cup of tea in Dave Bowman’s 2001 Bedroom as a topless Ange flails about on the floor in rapidly fluctuating states of acute pain, pleasure, and amusement. It’s a sickening scene, like watching one of the replicants in Blade Runner go berserk before blowing up.

This is no longer a battle of wills, but a battle of science. Even if her will continues to resist longer than Jill’s or Salias, Ange’s body and mind will only hold up so long against this punishment. When Embryo leaves her, Salia comes in, pleading with Ange again to go away, for both their sakes.

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Salia isn’t going to excuse what she did to get to where she is. Even if Jill deserved to be betrayed, Salia still chose to do so. She traded her pride, duty, and chastity for pleasure, the illusion of true love, and utter dependence on Embryo, just like Jill. But Salia did this because she felt she had no other choice but death, and she’d be right. Embryo is a repellent slimeball, but he’s all Salia has left. She’s either abandoned or revoked everything else.

They may have had their differences, but deep down Salia has always known that Ange was stronger than her; even the sweating, shambling half-naked wretch at her feet is stronger than her (the bit about ‘without having to transform’ is particularly devastating). In Salia’s self-narrative, Ange has been cast as her nemesis, so it does the heroine no good to see the nemesis in such a pathetic state. She’s not just begging Ange to flee Embryo out of the kindness of her heart, but because she needs Ange to continue to be strong, or all the rest of that fantasy falls apart.

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Salia isn’t brainwashed. She’s just chosen the path that she thought would give her the most happiness, and accepted the steep costs. She hasn’t really even transformed herself: the garb and weaponry and love Embryo showers her with is just another form of cosplay, and Salia remains hidden behind those facades because she fears if they were all torn down there’d be nothing at the core. I hope she’s proven wrong.

Ange thanks Salia for freeing her, and even repays her by putting her in a sleep hold and stealing her uniform, hoping it will lessen Salia’s punishment for letting her get away. I’m not convinced Embryo will be so forgiving to a tool that turned out to be defective.

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Plot and character really went hand-in-hand in this well-composed episode, with the anti-Embryo parties starting to coalesce. Jill gives Hilda command of the Aurora and Libertus; Tusk, Vivian, Roselie, and the rest of the crew are behind her plan to rescue Ange. Ange is able to summon Villkiss and escape with Momoka.

Her escape is covered by Salako, which would be an awfully convenient effect, if it didn’t have such a solid cause: Momoka shows an act of kindness and forgiveness by freeing the battered Riza Randog, who is able to contact her Dragon commander. So nice assist from Momoka, an unsung heroine of the series.

Even if Embryo has control over the bodies and minds of all who oppose him, in the case of Hilda with Jill, Momoka with Riza, and Salia with Ange, the capacity for genuine kindness, forgiveness, and love may be effective weapons against him. But at the end of the day, while his methods repel, Embryo is no entity of pure evil. He too a victim of his own immortality, arrogance, and the belief he must bear the entire weight of the world upon his shoulders.

That means if his creations find a way to really kill him, he may not necessarily resist that chance to be freed from his curse, thus ending obsession with “getting humanity right this time.”

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 19

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Back from her DRAGONcation, Ange saw the Arzenal/Libertus “new normal” aboard the Aurora last week, only to learn that Jill wasn’t someone she could count on to accomplish her goals. When she leaves the Aurora with Tusk, Momoka, and Vivian, they’re quickly captured by Ersha, Chris, and Salia, and we travel back to Misurugi, where it all began, and to these girls’ “new normal.” Of course, first the show acts as if Ange was fatally shot, but obviously she’s not dead.

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Momoka couldn’t be happier to be back in the capital, dressing and tending to her princess. Ange is looking for escape. She finds it when Salia comes in throwing her weight around; the new captain of the “Order of the DIamond Rose.” (So lame.) Salia explains how Embryo saved her and gave her everything she ever wanted because he loves her. Ange’s response is why she’s not called the Burn Princess for nothing: “You were adrift in the world, and then a new owner picked her up.”

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She pokes Salia in her boob with a pen and quickly overpowers both her and her two subordinates, even getting in a dig at Salia’s new uniform, saying the Pretty Salian cosplay suited her better. In terms of physical and psychological dominance, Ange really rules the day in this scene, even if I still have quite a bit of sympathy for poor Salia, who was raised to obey, not dominate. And Embryo did save her from a terrible drowning death.

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As soon as I saw the little Arzenal orphans running around the palace grounds with Ersha, I knew why she went over to Embryo. He literally brought the little ones back to life and let Ersha bring them to Misurugi to care for them.Ersha has what she’s always wanted: to be able to protect the children, and like a momma grizzly, she’ll show no mercy to anyone who threatens them, even Ange.

Like Salia, Chris was abandoned and left for dead, only to be saved and befriended by Embryo. And all Chris ever wanted was a friend. Embryo even lets Sylvia, who is still very much insane, lead a naked Riza around like a dog and whip her when she brings her the wrong book in the library.

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It isn’t until halfway through the episode that Ange comes face to face with Embryo, who immediately gives Salia pause when he asks to be left alone with the princess. Just like Jill, he’s far more interested in Ange, who is the first human in a long time who has interested him more than the characters in his beloved books. That’s another way of saying the likes of Salia don’t interest him. He’s given her everything she wants, but in exchange for her allegiance, and with the understanding that there isn’t anything deep or profound beneath any of it.

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Embryo takes Ange far beneath Misurugi to show her Aura, whose plight she’s already learned from Salako. Ange uses Embryo’s lowered guard to pull a gun on him, but no matter how many times she kills him, he comes right back, like a bishonen Kyuubey. It’s clear this is an enemy unlike any other Ange has faced: one with the powers of a god. A god who “tunes the sound of the world” can’t be defeated with guns.

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Embryo turns the tables by putting Ange into some kind of hypnotic trance, telling him all of the love, peace of mind, friendship, trust, and belonging he’s given her former comrades. He offers those same things to Ange, and even gets her to undress before him so he can get a good look at what is to be his prized possession and tool.

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Then he kisses her, Ange remembers her true knight Tusk, and snaps right the fuck out of it. Far from being hurt that she’d rebuke him so coldly, the mere fact that she could resist him is, arguably, even more preferable to her easily falling under his spell. Ange is a part of the world Embryo created and should be able to tune her like anyone or anything else…but he can’t.

This golden-haired, fiery-eyed princess is living proof his powers aren’t limitless, a claim that hasn’t been challenged for thousands of years. Perhaps those centuries have made him weary, and this is what he’s been seeking all along; what Salia and even Jill couldn’t provide (as it’s clear from her nightmares she was under his thrall): a human heart and will that can truly resist him.

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