Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 05 – A Rousing Royal Road Trip

King Gilgamesh comes to Ritsuka and Mash’s dwelling in person because he intends for them to serve as his escorts on a journey to the Persian Gulf to inspect the quality of the water keeping his people alive. Watching Gilgamesh, er, mesh with ordinary citizens on the streets of Uruk softens the pompous bastard a bit.

I also found the streamlining of both the cast and plot effective. Aside from occasional check-ins from Romani and Leo, it’s just Ritsuka, Mash, and Gilgamesh on a road trip with a simple objective. I just wish we could have heard (or seen) some of the adventures with which Ritsuka and Mash regale Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh has enough personality for the three of them, which is good, because aside from being generally kind, agreeable, and brave, there’s simply not much to Mash, and even less to Ritsuka (which is, of course, by design). The scenes in which Mash voices her doubts and Ritsuka reassures her have become a bit repetitive.

At least this time we actually catch a glimpse of one Francis Drake from the Okeanos Singularity mission, while the gulf coast makes for a very picturesque setting for their little break. It’s a break rudely interrupted by Enkidu screaming in low and hot like a cruise missile from the ocean horizon.

Annoyed that Ritsuka and Mash are taking it so easy, he unleashes a very Gilgamesh-esque attack upon them, with dozens of mini-dimensional portals opening and launching a torrent of blade-tipped chains. Mash is able to block and dodge a few, but eventually ends up a sitting duck, and Ritsuka just manages to shove her away from a killing blow.

Things look grim for a duo, but thankfully they’re not alone, and Gilgamesh has concluded whatever additional business of which they weren’t aware. He’s able to match Enkidu’s frighteningly powerful attacks with some of his own, opening up his treasury to produce a weapon for each of his opponent’s chain-blades.

The two put on quite a show, but ultimately Enkidu misses and hesitates before retreating, as if some of the old Enkidu were still within him. Gilgamesh warns Ritsuka and Mash that if that fake Enkidu truly wanted him dead, he’d be so. Later, Enkidu has to convince himself compulsively that yes, he can indeed kill Gilgamesh…he just couldn’t do it today.

91 Days – 12 (Fin)

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With Avilio’s grand revenge plan all but complete (but for Nero), this final episode is not a lot more than an extended epilogue in which the remainder of the Vanettis are wiped out, Avilio is captured by Nero, and the two kind of dance around each other until Nero finally does what he needs to do.

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I’ll be honest: I’ve never been fully emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Avilio, and was never all that big a fan of Nero, so watching all of the underlings, whom I often couldn’t tell apart from each other, was a bit of a bore. Not to mention the tommy guns in this show were way too reliable (not a serious criticism, just sayin’).

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I’ve also expected for a while now that Avilio would eventually end up succeeding but feeling utterly unfulfilled, in the same way Vincent was when he killed the Lagusas seven years ago, so the campfire confrontation isn’t all that impactful. These are two people who have been set up from the start to be unhappy and alone, and they’ve done too much to each other for there to be any outcome but one or both of them ending up dead.

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The bottom line: any and all hope this show had was wiped out back when Avilio killed Corteo, believing that last shedding of his humanity would be worth it, but it wasn’t. Avilio and Nero have a pleasant final road trip to the seaside, but only Nero gets back in the car and drives away, and we have no reason to believe he’ll be alive long with the new Don Strega and the long arm of the Galassias after him.

As their two pairs of footsteps are washed away by the waves, the lesson of 91 Days is clear: if you’re going to kill a family in a mafia coup, make sure you get all that family’s members. Nero can blame Avilio all he likes, but it was his nervousness/mercy that kept Angelo alive, leading to a life spent—wasted—planning only revenge.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 24

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SnO continues its episodic format as Roku, Benio, and Sae continue their “country tour” across the country, sealing dragon spots as they go. Last week was a bit of a drag, but this week presents us with Lio, not yet a Basara but by far the least hostile Kegare we’ve yet encountered.

The “non-evil enemy” is a fairly common convention, but it’s well-executed here, as Sae becomes the non-hostile go-between that allows for a moment of peace between warring species, however brief.

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I like how Roku and Benio’s instincts have them shooting Leo on sight, especially when they find Sae with her. But all it takes is a word from Sae, and Leo won’t fight with the exorcists anymore. All he wants is to “see something beautiful”; indeed, it seems to be his only purpose in life. We’ve never seen a Basara just before they became a Basara, so this is new and fresh territory in terms of building the (other)world of the show.

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Roku even ceases charging Leo on sight when he sees tears in the Kegare’s eyes. Somehow, right on cue, the amusement park comes to life, and the seed Roku planted in Sae’s head (and Sae planted in Leo’s) of a “sparkly, beautiful” place comes to fruition…just in time for Leo to get pierced through the chest by an arrow of light.

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That arrow was fired by Sada Sakura, who along with Zeze Miku are members of the 12 Guardians, who don’t know why Roku and Benio are just standing around with a near-Basara. They’re very far away, and allow no time for explanations, shooting first like the Twins, but with far deadlier attacks.

Zeze could be fun if she wasn’t just a deadpan foil for the manic Sada, whose yelling and passion for RULUSU wears thin fast. As for Sae, she flashes a look we see, but Roku and Benio don’t: a knowing expression that, like her ability to learn and make things so easily, is far beyond her years (if she is indeed a little kid and not…something else).

R.I.P. Leo. You were threatening at first, but in the end you were an ‘ol softie, and you were okay by me. Glad you got to see something beautiful before you were taken out.

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91 Days – 05

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After a rough, uneven road trip last week, 91 Days smooths out a bit as Nero is lured back home by the promise of a truce with Orco. Unfortunately for Nero, that truce is dependent on him dying, something his brother is willing to make happen for the good of the family, with Ronaldo’s blessing.

Nero smells something rotten in Denmark and bugs out of the meet-up, leaving him, Avilio, Volpe, Valbero, Colteo, and a wounded Tigre out in the wind. If Avilio isn’t careful, fate will take care of Nero before he can!

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Naturally, he’s not going to let that happen. He’s gotten this far in gaining Nero’s trust, and he needs to get closer to Don Vanetti before he’s satisfied. So he sneaks to the Island with Colteo and his fine, fine hooch, in order to parlay with Fango.

Nero wants nothing to do with Fango (since he believes he killed Vanno), but Avilio forces the issue, confident Nero’s loyalty to his friend Tigre overshadows his hatred of Fango.

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Fango doesn’t so much receive Avilio and Colteo so much as they’re delivered into his clutches by his lover. Fango claims to not want to do business with Avilio after what happened to Serpente, but unlike Nero, he’s only joking. Avilio offers Fango something he wants—Don Orco on a silver platter—in exchange for protection.

Never mind that Nero has no plan to nab Orco; as long as Fango thinks he has a plan, he won’t kill them all, which is the whole point. I for one am glad we’re seeing a more reasonable, less chaotic Fango who is willing to hear the enemies of his enemies out. Returning the Island is the best thing 91 Days could have done.

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91 Days – 04

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This week documents the adventures of Nero and Avilio on their road trip, with dwindling funds and a hitman on their tail. After the action, intrigue, and tragedy of the first three episodes, this…was a bit of a drag.

A road trip is an opportunity to spice things up, but the manner in which 91Days does this is scattershot and disjointed in nature. The guys have a little fun doing tricks for kids, but it’s too obviously a means to show Avilio the innocence he’s lost.

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Meanwhile, the lumbering Mexican hitman is about as one-dimensional as you can get; more a walking plot device to be defeated than a character. Fango, while evil, was a lot more interesting than this guy.

After managing a smile while around the kids, later in the night Avilio continues practicing his murder face while Nero remenices on his first job with the family, which was the night Avilio’s family was killed. Nero was the one who shot at Avilio as he ran. He realizes there were “three”, but I thought he already knew this.

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The episode kinda goes off the rails when the hitman making his move is played for laughs for some reason, complete with a slapsticky kick in the nuts, and failing to kill him by hitting him with the car (which is totaled by the impact).

Sure, the hitman is good at tracking, but never seems to apply his superhuman strength when he needs to. That, and the goofy comic tone to his pursuit near the end, really kills the tension.

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He tracks them to a barn late in the night, but once more, “Big Mexico” can’t get the job done. Nero empties a clip into him to no avail, but his well-thrown knife to the back gets the job done…only he gets right back up a few seconds later (only to be blown away by a shotgun-wielding Alex Trebek).

This wasn’t a total loss; Nero had some more adventures with Avilio, making their bond that much closer for when Avilio decides to make his move…but other than that, this was a pretty uneven episode.

There was a bad omen in the beginning, when a waitress’ eyes were pale blue one second and deep green the next. Unlike Nero with his juggling skills, a ball or two was dropped here.

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Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil – 08

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Well, it isn’t as if the show’s been coy about this, but damn, Cecil really is beset on all sides by foes! Thanks to the progress made between them in these last couple episodes, Natsuna isn’t one of them. She even offers to help out with research on Cecil’s mom’s case, albeit in a tsundere kind of way. And Cecil’s wise-seeming father looks past the surface tension to perceive Natsuna as a valuable friend and ally. And it looks like Cecil is going to need as many of those as she can get.

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What looked ostensibly like a “girl’s road trip”-turned-“coming home” story turned out to be much more, as the other members of the Butterfly delegation are led into a trap by their Boston counterpart, Diana who turns out to be very evil. At the same time, Cecil and Natsuna’s lovely little log cabin/maple/syrup/boat retreat is crashed by the hitchhiker Kaede, whom Cecil’s familiar Nanajiinyi felt a faint murderous intent from earlier. In addition to the correct tarot readings by both Sasori and Cecil’s dad, it’s clear that on this show, you take people’s intuitions seriously!

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Kaede challenges Cecil to a metamoloid duel, and when Cecil’s childhood home is destroyed in an instant, it’s enough to force her to summon metal from distant cities to build her own, overpowering and defeating Kaede in the process. But both Kaede and Diana’s Sudden But Inevitable Betrayals are soon cut short by a combination of Cecil and the other Barristers fighting back (respectively) and by their sudden and quite horrific deaths by unknown magical powers. Back in Tokyo, Shizumu reports to his dad that they bowed out of their “missions.” Things are definitely afoot.

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Even more intriguing is the fact that a couple weeks after saving Cecil’s life, Tento appears in Canada—and not by plane—apparently annoyed that Diana and Kaese “jumped the gun.” Obviously Tento is more than just a flirty, ketchup and whipped cream-loving paralegal, and she’s far more powerful than anyone around her is aware. We’re not even sure she’s actually on Cecil’s (or anyone’s) side. All we know is, we fully agree with Cecil that it’s time to get back to researching the incident with her mom…and this time she’s got Natsuna to help out!

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Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil – 07

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Kudos for this episode for choosing to send its cast to Boston, out of all of the places to visit in America. It’s a very odd choice, but for all we know, the majority of Japanese are aware of the city’s existence. It had us wondering if it was some kind of shout-out to ABC’s departed dramady Boston Legal (one of the last network TV shows we watched with any regularity). We even got a look at Boston’s “T” subway (actually one of the better systems on the Eastern seaboard) but it looked a bit dingy and shabby. Moreover, the highly-stylized Butterfly delegation sticks out like a sore Pocky.

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But ultimately it seems Boston was chosen due to its relative proximity to the Canadian border. Seseri gives Cecil leave to visit her dad there, which means we’re in for a road trip. We’ve been waiting for the show to put its two most at-odds characters—Cecil and Hotaru Natsuna—in a situation where they must deal with each other for an extended period of time. Thanks to Natsuna’s international driver’s license (which she mentions on the flight to Boston, not knowing it would doom her), that happens this week. The results are delightful.

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In another odd but inspired choice, rather than drive a reliable but dull rental car (like a Chrysler 200), Natsuna and Cecil are lent/saddled with an aqua 1966 Ford Thunderbird by the Boston law firm (they also pick them up from the airport in a VW Microbus, so we assume the partners are car buffs). As a kind of modest protest to her lot, Natsuna initially bans conversation, lest she get distracted. But it’s going to be a long, long drive, and we know they’ll talk eventually. After all, if not on this trip, then when?

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We’ve come to like and appreciate Natsuna more and more as the show has progressed, and have been eager to find out more about her as a person, not just as the only character consistently disapproving of Cecil. We learn she’s traveled around Europe. When the old car breaks down, we learn she knows her way around an engine (even a vintage foreign one!). And after they pick up a hitchhiker (also a Japanese girl who wants to be a wizard barrister) we also learn about her one-sided love of her former professor. All of this really rounds out her character, both for us and for Cecil. But this isn’t a one-way thing: Natsuna’s hostility towards Cecil was always based on her outward impression of her. This week she learns why Cecil is in such a hurry.

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When Natsuna hears about the injustice Cecil’s mom received, and how Cecil gave up tv, movies, music, and friends to study for the bar, her stance softens considerably, as it should, as Natsuna is a reasonable person with a bigger heart than she lets on. Unlike last week, this was an episode that didn’t feel like it was lacking anything. If anything, it had too much: we could have done without the hasty Boston montage, or the scene at the end where the Shark lawyers just happen to show up in the diner (what the hell?). But all the Cecil-Natsuna bonding, facilitated by a run-down Thunderbird, a hitchhiker, and the long road to Canada, was very good stuff indeed.

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White Album 2 – 08

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December arrives. Setsuna and Haruki start dating with Touma’s blessing.Touma lets Setsuna start calling her Kazusa. They also help her study for exams, which she ends up passing, assuring her graduation. To celebrate, the three go on a trip to a hot spring inn in the mountains, a tradition Setsuna hopes they’ll do every year, no matter what happens. Kazusa tells the others she’s delaying college to give piano a serious go, starting with a recital after new years, which Haruki and Setsuna promise to attend.

With Haruki and Setsuna dating, Kazusa seemingly fine with it while also passing her classes, things seem to be going swimmingly since their school fair concert. The three continue to spend time together, including Christmas at a very swanky mountain inn, culminating in the three sharing a hot spring together, without doubt the most intimate contact they’ve had yet. But this show has always been about what people aren’t saying, or in Touma’s case what she “jokes” about. Then there’s Haruki the narrator, speaking from the future, who knows how this all ends, and knows that concert was the apex of the trio’s happiness.

We still find it sad that he’s looking back at the Christmas adventure with a degree of regret and/or anguish, because by all rights, they really do seem to enjoy themselves, whether in the car together (which Kazusa drives with increasing efficacy), to getting stranded on a snowy road, to even being comfortable being naked together in a hot spring (major kudos to this show for not taking the cliched anime route here), everything seems to be fine between them. But it’s not just Touma’s jokes, Haruki’s voiceovers, or the cautious whispers of their outer circle of friends, but also the fact we’ve got five more episodes that tell us that the trio’s troubles aren’t over.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Tamayura: More Aggressive – 07

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Sayomi, Kaoru, Norie, Maon and Potte take a road trip to Shioiri in Yokozuka, where Potte grew up. They meet up with her childhood friend Miyoshi Chihiro, who introduces them to her friend Tomo. They tour the city along the way to a festival to watch fireworks. Potte enters a sparkler contest, and remembers doing the same thing when she was younger as her dad watched. Just like then, she reaches the quarterfinals. When the fireworks start, she snaps a picture of her friends admiring them, starting a new page in her book of Shioiri memories.

An overarching theme of Tamayura’s OVAs and two TV series has been Potte’s healing process after the loss of someone irreplaceable in her life, both through photography and through making and having fun with her friends. This week, that process finally takes her back to the place where everything began; Shioiri. Getting there is no mean feat: roughly 500 miles and over nine hours of driving with Sayomi at the wheel of her recently-repaired Mazda Premacy (Kanae can’t come because let’s face it, that would be way too many characters in one place). Such a trek would’ve been an adventure in and of itself, but in a bold but ultimately logical move, Potte and the others sleep through most of it. For once, this was about the destination, not the journey.

Once they reach Yokozuka and Shioiri (and Sayomi nearly runs poor Chihiro over and drives into a wall), there’s this nice sense, that Potte has come home, and that it is indeed quite possible to have more than one home (she’s young, so she’s just realizing this). Then there’s Chihiro’s friend Tomo who everyone’s been waiting to meet. She’s terribly shy and quiet at first, but it doesn’t take long for Potte to trigger her obsessive “interrogation mode” (Touyama Nao is up to the task of expressing Tomo’s bubbly exuberance). Tomo and Chihiro owe their friendship to Potte & Co, who encouraged Chihiro last season, so this episode was a nice follow-up to that, as well as another link in Potte’s chain of healing.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)