86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

Yuru Camp△ – 02 – Wide-Open Camp

This was never going to be a show just about two girls, so this week Nadeshiko joins her school’s Outdoor Activities Club, or Outclub for short. To my surprise, Shima Rin is not a member, which in hindsight explains why she always camps solo. The only two members of the club are Oogaki Chiaki and Inuyama Aoi. Aoi convinces Chiaki that if they increase the club to at least four members, they may be able to get a larger clubroom.

A lot of comedy is suceesfully mined from the current clubroom, which is more of a cloakroom. Its surreally absurd narrowness reminded me of the low ceilings at Lestercorp office in Being John Malkovich. But a good point is made: it doesn’t really matter how small their indoor clubroom is. Their true clubroom is the great outdoors!

Aoi shows Nadeshiko some tent magazines so she can become familiar with the pros and cons of various types, but Chiaki suggest they leave the cozy confines of their clubroom for the courtyard to put theory into practice. This is where Rin, reading in the library, finally spots Nadeshiko and realizes they attend the same school.

Unfortunately, the club’s super-cheap (¥980!) tent’s support poles snaps. Rin’s friend Saitou Ena asks if there’s a way to repair it, and just happens to have the little bit needed to do so, having “found it in lost-and-found!” After helping the other girls fix the pole, Ena makes it a point to point out “Shimarin”, and Nadeshiko is so excited to see her she rushes headlong into a plate glass window.

While it’s fun to meet Chiaki and Aoi and see how Nadeshiko fits into their club, the first half of this second outing was missing the sweet natural serenity of camping that drew me in. Fortunately, the second half makes up for that as Rin goes on another solo camping trip, this time in the wide-open fields of the Fumoto Campgrounds.

As Tateyama Akiyuki’s breezy guitar gently strums, Rin proceeds with her elegant, joy-sparking ritual. Never has watching someone set up a campsite felt so wonderfully relaxing. After exchanging some playful texts with Ena (and it’s absolutely 100% important to let a friend know where you’ve gone) and weighing the costs of a fire, Rin goes on a leisurely stroll, sees the sights, and snaps some photos.

As she settles in with a book and some tea, Fuji-san starts to turn pink from the setting sun—a breathtakingly gorgeous image that, as with all images of Fuji, doesn’t remotely do the real thing justice but is a fair facimilie. She thinks back to the other day at school when Nadeshiko approached her, and in response to her offer of a camping trip together she gave her a disgusted look.

Rin didn’t didn’t want her solo camp time to be threatened—and who can blame her…it’s bliss!—but realizes that it was “kinda crappy” of her not even try to hide it. But who should then appear at her campsite but Nadeshiko, bearing a big bag full of groceries!

Ena told Nadeshiko where Rin was staying. While this certainly wasn’t what Rin planned (like last time), she has grown tired of eating cup ramen. She’d hoped to try some real cooking, but none of the supermarkets on her way were open. Now that Nadeshiko is here, they can cook after all (and maybe split the cost of firewood and a stand). Trading solitude for al fresco hot pot—I think that’s a trade off Rin can live with!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 07

While attempting to follow Ishii’s route to the ration production facility, Chito and Yuuri find themselves utterly lost in a labyrinth of pipes. Chito’s intense fear of heights rears its head, and naturally Yuuri has a little fun with that, as she doesn’t fear heights in the least.

Still, Yuu takes pity on Chito, lets her tie them together with rope (so either one of them will keep the other from falling, or they’ll both go down), and stays close during the scary bits. Even so, they have to find flat ground at some point; they’re getting tired and it’s getting dark.

While Yuuri is the one obsessed with foot, it’s Chito whose slighter weight breaks through a weak spot of the pipe, revealing a bright light that makes Chito look like she’s glowing (in a way, a callback to Yuu’s belief Chito resembled the gods whose idols populated the temple).

They enter the pipe and are treated to a well-lit route with arrow signs pointing in the right direction. Yuu whimsically suggests they “explore” by ignoring said signs, but Chito isn’t having it; wandering aimlessly will only make them hungrier and more tired, and they only come upon one last measly potato in what looks like a vast airpoinics bay.

The arrows lead deeper into the production facility where Chi and Yuu encounter heavy-duty industrial food production machinery that’s still operational, a testament to the now-long-gone people who designed and built the stuff.

It’s been a long time since Yuu not-so-playfully pulled a gun on Chi, leading me to wonder the next time she’d play with her only companion’s life. That comes when Yuu switches on the gigantic potato masher…when poor Chi is on the conveyor. She switches it off…then on again…then off again, and Chi makes her pay by roughly handling her cheeks.

Still, Yuu proves particularly useful this week, both with her courage in the pipe labyrinth and the highly detailed memories of baking with Gramps. That knowledge is put to use as she and Chi gather powdered potatoes, sugar, salt, and water, and start mixing and kneading ration dough.

The dough is cut into bricks and popped in the giant oven, and a bit later they’ve got a decent supply fresh rations, which pass the taste test with flying colors, even calling forth the girls’ patented “headmelt of satisfaction.”

With the Kettenkrad and nearly all sight of the outside world sidelined, this was all about Yuu and Chi on their own, giving each other a hard time but also having each other’s backs. While the rations won’t last forever, they’ll last a while (unless Yuu goes to town while Chi sleeps).

adding a welcome measure of optimism to the conclusion of an episode on the heels of last week’s failed flight. Better still, it was packed to bursting with wonderful Chi-Yuu banter and interactions. Honestly, I could listen to Minase Inori and Kubo Yurika read the phone book together.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 06

The girls are in a spot: a gear has snapped clean in two, stopping the Kettenkrad, and their “last tour” in its tracks. If they can’t get it going, their chances of survival plummet. Chito can’t get it going, and Yuuri won’t help (probably aware there’s little she can do). She just cheerfully sings a little song with one lyric: “hopeless, hopeless.”

Then Yuuri spots an airplane flying in the sky, and Chito spots a woman in a white coat running after it. Hope has arrived, in the person of Ishii, who has taken up residence in an old underground aircraft hangar.

Ishii is a quietly kind yet no-nonsense person. She knows she can’t live in the base forever, so she’s using the plans she’s found to design and build an airplane to fly to the next city (the plane seen in they sky was a prototype).

More than a base, the hangar appears to be some kind of repository of aeronautical history, and just as Chito and Yuuri may be the last two people operating a Kettenkrad, Ishii is possibly the last aeronautical engineer and aviator left.

The girls help Ishii compete construction of her plane, and in exchange, she provides them with food, shelter, a bath (aaaaahhhh) and the part and repairs needed to get their ‘Krad going again, thus probably saving both their lives.

The day of the flight comes, and there’s a sense of finality and longing for the status quo that’s about to be blown to bits by the winds of progress. It won’t stay warm and calm for long; Ishii has to launch now. And she’s glad she has human witnesses for what could be the last manned flight.

After all, it’s only history if someone besides the one making it saw and documented the event. The takeoff sequence is appropriately epic in its portrayal, as is the awe in the girls’ eyes as they watch Ishii achieve flight.

For a few magnificent moments, the plane soars majestically over one of the widest and clearest views of the city we’ve yet seen; loaded with enough fuel to fly 2,000km, more than enough to reach the nearest city, just visible from Ishii’s giant telescope.

But a few moments is all the plane gets; it breaks up in midair, the pieces pathetically plummeting to the ground far, far below. Chito collapses in reaction, but Yuuri spots Ishii in a parachute, slowly descending. She’s okay, but she failed.

Still, Ishii feels a great sense of relief, to the fact she even smiles, which Yuuri interprets as her finally “embracing the hopelessness” all humans in this wrecked world must embrace in order to keep going. She falls and falls and falls, perhaps to the lowest level, but there’s every reason to believe she’ll survive.

As for Chito and Yuuri, they load up on as many ration potatoes they can find and set off in their repaired Kettenkrad, bound for still higher levels of the city. They, like Ishii and Kanazawa, are also a part of history…likely the tail end of it. When they, and whatever other scattering of remaining humans, have passed on, there will be nobody and nothing left but the ruins.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s hope somewhere out there, waiting to be found. And maybe Yuuri wants to be proved wrong.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 05

(Click here for an ambient accompaniment to this review)

Dwarfed as they always are by their vast, abandoned urban labyrinth, the girls come upon habitations. They grossly underestimate the number of people who could live there—millions, not a mere thousand, but it that speaks to their extended isolation in general.

They explore inside one and find a place that, in another time, and if the city around them wasn’t totally dead, they might’ve lived. At least for one night, they stay in the room, and as they each imagine how they’d furnish it, those items magically appear, as if the girls were sharing the contents of their minds’ eyes.

Still, they decide they can’t stay any longer; they’d run out of food for one; the automatic lights would keep them up for another (unless they find a switch). Their “house” is now the Kettenkrad; they feel most comfortable aboard it, always on the move.

But due to the little amount of sleep they got under the lights, Chito falls asleep at the handlebars, and only Yuuri waking up and rousing Chito stops them from crashing. Still, they need to stop and rest, which they do in an eerily gorgeous geometric landscape, surrounded by clusters of buildings suspended on tall poles.

While their brainstorming in the house was more magical realism, Chi’s bizarre dreams enter the world of the surreal, and also highlight what could be some deeply-ingrained anxiety over Yuuri. Her more aggressive personality and “bigger” presence give her monumental scale, suddenly of a piece with the colossal surroundings, and only Chi alone, small and vulnerable.

First MegaYuuri blows Chito off a carefully balanced pile of rocks (like the one they built before going to sleep), then Chito finds herself in a vast ocean, riding the same kind of fish they ate a couple episodes back, only for Yuuri to appear in monstrous fish form to try to eat Chi, who wakes up with a start. To her irritation, Yuuri, still asleep, seems to be dreaming about eating something…or someone.

(Now let’s switch it up to some rain.)

Girls’ Last Tour has always been a very immersive, atmospheric, and for all its fantastical ruined landscapes, naturalistic show, but the last segment, “Sound of Rain”, really kicked those qualities up to eleven. When it starts to rain, the girls find shelter under a partially-collapsed structure of unknown purpose. There, they dry their jackets, Chito reads, and Yuuri gets bored.

But when she focuses in on one raindrop hitting a surface, then another, she decides to place objects under those drops, eventually creating a relaxing orchestra of sound that is random-sounding at first but suddenly snaps into a musical rhythm—which turns into a new song that plays as the credits roll.

The sounds took me right back to the last time I sat on the porch and simply listened to the gently falling rain. Kino doesn’t have the monopoly on the “Beautiful World”; it’s here too, in all its glory.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 04

On this installment of Girls’ Last Tour, a foreboding title if ever there was one, Chito and Yuuri mess around with the digital camera Hanazawa gave them as thanks for sharing their food. Now on a much higher level, the scenery is all new, and we’re treated to vastly wide shots of the dwarfed Kettenkrad trundling along, Chi driving as Yuu tries to capture it.

Throughout this new abandoned cityscape are numerous curious stone columns with faces, kind of like idols. As Yuu is trying to take a picture of Chi, they crash into one and knock it over, but there’s no harm done to their ride save a small dent in the fender – and Chi’s pride as a driver.

That night Chi corrects Yuu that the camera’s capacity can be filled up, albeit after 50,000 photos have been taken. Yuu marvels at such a number, and how even if all of the things they take pictures of crumble and fall, the pictures will still be there as a record they existed.

With that sentiment in mind, Chi fires up the camera’s timer walks over to Yuu’s side, gets just a little bit closer, and says “Hi Chizu,” as is the tradition; a cute little moment of friendship, and a desire to capture it for posterity.

In the second half, the girls arrive at the central building that seemed to glow at night. Upon entering they find it very dark and full of the tall stone idols; Chi deduces it must be some kind of temple; a house for a god. When Yuu asks what a “god” is, we get this priceless, perfectly delivered exchange:

“A god is like…I dunno.”
“Can you eat it?”
“You can’t.”

When Chi’s lantern goes out, Yuu suddenly feels very alone. She calls out to Chi, but there’s no answer. I shared her tension as she stood there, in the impenetrable pitch black darkness, musing at what she’d do if she lost Chi. Then she bumps into Chi, who was beside her all along, and admits she didn’t answer Yuu because her reaction was hilarious.

You could also call it a bit of revenge for making her crash the bike. Chi may be serious and strict most of the time, but she has both a mischievous and a sentimental side.

Suddenly, the blinding light they witnessed outside suddenly switches on, and they finally see where they are: the central nave of the temple, where a giant idol stands tall among giant chimes, below which glass pools of fake water, lilies, and fish.

Chi seems impressed, but Yuu is disappointed…mostly because the fish are fake, but also because she wonders why they’d try to make “paradise on earth” (as the wall carvings described) with a bunch of fake stuff. Chi explains that even a fake paradise must give people comfort, solace, and hope in a world that’s sometimes dark and lonely.

For Yuuri, the thing that gives her comfort, solace, and hope in the dark isn’t a thing, it’s Chito. She wonders if Chi is a god…until Chi demands an offering of food; then Yuu names herself a god.

It’s always been clear that between Chi’s smarts and Yuu’s shooting skills, it’s always been best for the two to stick together to survive. They left their home together, and haven’t split up since.

These two stories continue building their relationship as not simply two people putting up with each other for the sake of the greater good, but because they’re friends, and want to explore, eat, sleep, and laugh together. It scarcely matters that there’s virtually no one and nothing else around; they have each other.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 03

This week on Girl’s Last Trip, something amazing happens; something perhaps more amazing than finding all the elements one needs to build a makeshift hot tub: Chito and Yuuri meet another survivor, a young man named Kanazawa.

The lit cigarette portended something potentially perilous, but Kanazawa is harmless. He has no gun and no vehicle, and has been making maps, but that’s about all we and the girls ever learn about him. Where he came from and how he survived are left a mystery.

While he doesn’t have a gun, he does have dynamite, which he uses to knock a building over so they can use it as a bridge across a gorge. His maps help lead them to a fueling station, and then they finally reach their destination: one of the mammoth towers that must lead to a higher level, where maybe there will be more people…or at least more food.

SSR excels at portraying just how tiny humans are before all this gargantuan infrastructure; Kanazawa offers some insight regarding the fact more contemporary civilizations couldn’t fully figure out the more ancient, yet in some cases, more advanced structures. At any rate, they’re very big and impressive.

Anyone who doesn’t like heights—like Chito—might just feel a bit of vertigo or tingling in the back as the elevator, which has no chain link fence, slowly rises higher and higher. Just as Chito is worried about what would happen if the elevator tilted, the elevator tilts, and Kanazawa’s sachel of maps slips off.

He nearly slips off as well trying to catch it, but he can’t. His maps are gone; scattered hundreds of feet above a level they may never return to. As he had earlier declared the maps were his life (i.e. the only thing keeping him going), he wants the girls to let him fall. They do not let him fall—Yuuri may be a book-burning glutton but she’s not evil.

They manage to fix the elevator and reach the top, and their seeming reward is the activation of all the streetlights around them, and a great light in the distance that is the girls’ next destination.

After Yuuri uncharacteristically shares her rations with Kanazawa (and Chito rewards her by giving her half of hers), Kanazawa heads North on his own. Looks like he was only ever going to be a temporary party member. Now on to that great light…whatever it is.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.

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