NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 03 – This Cannot Continue

Lily brings 2B and 9S to their ad hoc base, and does not get into why she shoots so many intent looks in 2B’s direction. Could Lily have known a former version of this 2B? Did she know 2A, since she recognized her as “Number Two”? We also meet Jackass, who really wants to take the YoRHa androids apart to “collect data”, but is content to drive them to their recon site.

The truck ride, and really all establishing shots in NieR succeed in creating a vast sense of both scale and desolation, especially when we see the half-buried ruins of our familiar civilization (Saturday is apparently post-apocalypse day for me—not that I’m complaining). The grandeur is enhanced with the score, with themes perfectly suited to the base, desert, and the orbiting YoRHa base.

When they encounter Machine Lifeforms wearing tribal masks and markings, 2B and 9S get to work trashing them. But when 9S hacks the biggest bot, he gets a lot more than he bargained for. These MLs are among those that have absorbed knowledge from the library of humanity of yore, and he ends up in the middle of a Mesopotamian-style  ritual.

With this group of bots defeated, 2B, 9S and Jackass trudge on into the ruined city, where all communications to YoRHa HQ are being jammed by an unknown power source. They keep exploring, and locate a group of android corpses, including the missing YoRHa liaison. That the corpses aren’t totally destroyed but in various states of dismantlement bodes ill for our two androids.

2B and 9S fall though quicksand and into a yawning undergeround complex. They come upon a circle of yellow-eyed, non-hostile MLs both reciting and emulating various human emotions and activities, including copulation and childrearing. All of this makes 9S particularly uneasy, since this is not the way the enemy should be acting. But then things get even weirder when one comment from a red-eyed ML—“this cannot continue”—sends the yellows into a frenzy.

The MLs climb columns made of the fossilized bodies of their dead, and huddle together in to the super-brain thingy teased last week. The mass opens and out pours an approximation of an android that quickly grows skin and stands up, part Terminator, part Sephiroth. 2B and 9S’ first instinct is to kill it ASAP, even though he is not immediately hostile to them.

While they successfully break his energy shield and impale him with their blades, a second, unharmed ML android emerges from the lifeless body, good as new, and this one is a lot more aggressive. 9S is just able to grab 2B and leap out of the way of the android’s devastating main weapon. The resulting cave-in apparently crushes the android, but as we saw that’s not going to be enough to do it in.

We learn from Commander White up in space that she didn’t send 2B and 9S to assist the resistance, but to use the resistance as a shield and decoy in order to facilitate their real mission, which has now borne fruit. Not only do they know what became of the liaison, but they’ve uncovered a potentially game-changing development in their once-primitive foe.

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 02 – Blood and Lilies

In episode two, perspective shifts from the YoRHa in their pristine orbital headquarters to a battered but still operational Machine Lifeform (ML). Curiously, despite having apparently been created by “Aliens”, they have a very similar bootup and heads-up display as the humans’ androids.

This single ML unit starts to walk, creating a sense of scale and grandeur to the ruined landscape. Upon returning to a base, it finds a book, and in that book, a bookmark with the image of a white lily. Scenes of ML are interspersed with a childlike narrator telling the story of the MLs with colored paper compositions.

This particular ML develops an “emotional matrix”, deemed a critical error, and its red eyes turn yellow, denoting neutrality. It ;earns how to garden, and devotes its existence to growing flowers, gathering “followers” in the form of other yellow-eyed MLs.

The comparisons to WALL-E are obvious from the serene, gorgeous empty vistas ML inhabits to the way the storytelling takes place without dialogue (narration segments aside). But hey, if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best.

Not far from ML’s growing garden is an embedded group of human resistance fighters led by…Lily. I immediately wondered if, like the stiff redheaded twin maintenance units assigned to the unit, she was an android in disguise. Regardless, she’s bitter about the “Council of Humanity” on the Moon ignoring all requests for badly-needed reinforcements.

Every encounter with the red-eyed MLs means at least one of her unit will be injured or killed, with no one to replace them. They’re ambushed when trying to gather resources to keep fighting, and have to abandon those resources when the MLs send in kamikaze units.

Little does Lily know that up in orbit, she’s about to get a helping hand, in the form of 2B and 9S. When 2B wakes up she tells 9S she finds the sound of his voice comforting, only to cooly head to the control room without him.

They may have just come back from a brutal battle that claimed 9S’s memories, but Commander White sends them back down to perform recon on the resistance unit. They had an android embedded with the unit, but there’s been a breakdown in communication.

2B and 9S can’t come soon enough, as a huge mass of red-eyed MLs trample and destroy the yellow-eyed peaceful bots and their garden on their march to kill the humans. Lily demonstrates that she’s a capable leader despite her youth, quick and decisive and maximizing the limited resources she has.

When they mine a bridge and lure the red-eyed bots across, the detonators fail to work. It’s here where Lily’s underlings spot the yellow-eyed ML we know and have grown fond of. He stands in front of the hundreds of red-eyes, seemingly to try to talk them out of further fighting.

But before he can turn any red eyes to yellow, the entire bridge is lit up by missiles from 2B and 9S’ flying mechas. 2B makes a characteristically stylish entrance, and Lily not only knows her as “Number Two” but is very shocked to see her, or indeed any Council reinforcements. That said, Lily’s bloody shoulder seems to confirm she’s a flesh-and-blood human, not a “tin man”.

As for our yellow-eyed friend, he didn’t die in vain, nor is he alone. Hundreds if not thousands of his kind are soaking up knowledge from the library of the civilization they toppled, and seem to be combining their amassed knowledge and brains into a single mega-brain.

While I’m not sure what this is quite about, from a visual standpoint I can at least guess that yellow eyes and books are, at least now, less of a threat than red eyes, kamikaze bots, and slaughter. The narrator also describes the yellow-eyed bot anomalies as “treasures”. Were they meant to evolve in this way, or was it just random happenstance?

Whatever the answers are, and even if they’re never revealed, I remain thoroughly intrigued, and the setting lends the show a welcome splash of color and life from last week’s largely monotone, industrial battles. The post-ED omake featuring a cloth puppet 2B and 9S answering fan mail provides humor and whimsy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 01 (First Impressions) – Glory…to Mankind

Nier:Automata Ver 1.1a is an anime adaptation of a video game sequel to a spin-off of another video game series dating back to 2003, but for me it might as well be anime-original. With this adaptation, A-1 Pictures gives us a polished sci-fi action flick set in a bleak and gritty world decimated by alien invasion. The aliens use “machine lifeforms” (retro-looking robots) to fight sleeker (read: sexier) androids developed by humanity.

Our protagonist is YoRHa B-Gata H-Kei 2-gou B-gata, AKA 2B, which is super easy name to remember. Sporting a silver bob, eye mask, dark maid/knight outfit, katana, and slick-as-shit mecha, 2B is voiced by Ishikawa Yui, channeling Mikasa with an appropriately stiff, mechanical vocal performance. I also thought of early Vivy.

2B has the baroque look of a late-stage Final Fantasy character, which contrasts nicely with the more bare-bolts industrial setting. At times I wondered if Yuuri and Chito from Girls’ Last Tour might come running through the mist. She’s supported by a float “Pod” companion that keeps her informed about her surroundings and conditions.

2B has a mission, and despite being the only one of her squad to make it to the factory where her Goliath-type target is located, she is determined to carry out the mission or die (or rather be destroyed) trying. She’s aided by a far more “human”-acting intelligence android, 9S, voiced by Hanae Natsuki as if he were an affable high school character.

9S hasn’t spoken to anyone in a while, and is happy to be teamed up with someone, being a typically solo unit. 2B is less enthused, especially with 9S’ loquaciousness (she tells him not to call her “miss” and cuts his exposition short). But he also saves the “brute-force-first” 2B’s ass. As for the Goliath, it appears as a massive oil platform-on-tracks, with a face resembling the boss from StarFox.

This Goliath is a tough customer, but 9S has it handled: diving into its computer brain in a trippy hacking sequence that’s a nice change of pace from the external twisted metal and rust, and smoke. His hacking ends up being incomplete and he’s ejected from his mecha and seriously maimed, and Goliath is able to reboot and regain part of its autonomy.

9S urges a suddenly very human-like 2B not to worry about him and complete the mission. She runs up the appendages of the Goliath and punctures its core with her katana. The good guys have seemingly prevailed and defeated the big level boss. But then it wakes back up, and four other Goliaths awaken and rise, surrounding them.

It looks like it’s going to be Game Over, Man for both 2B and 9S, so after she thanks him for saving her, the two take out their Black Boxes. When these boxes touch, they self-destruct in a massive explosion that consumes all of the Goliaths. Even with 9S by her side, this was always going to be a suicide mission as soon as 2B arrived without any of her fellow squad units.

But while that’s the end of her body, her mind, memories, and data are all transferred back up to the massive orbital human stronghold called the Bunker, and she wakes up in a new android body. It’s the first time we see her eyes, and because of that the sight of them really packs a punch.

When she reunites with a revived 9S, he confirms that the mission was complete, but that he must have only had time to transfer her data back to the Bunker. The 9S before him has no memories of their joint mission down on the surface. When this new 9S dutifully utters their motto—Glory to Mankind—2B clenches a fist and repeats the words …but grudgingly.

We don’t see a single human being or alien in this episode, only their tools. If we never see either, I probably won’t mind. Their absence contributes to quite a compelling atmosphere of loneliness, isolation, and even a tinge of resentment and brooding in the androids. They were built and programmed to say that motto and fight and sacrifice their bodies and minds, and while emotions are forbidden, they are also definitely there.

2B wonders if her unending cycle of life and death is a curse or punishment from the gods who created her. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but it is admirably executed, and looks and sounds awesome (Aimer sings the OP and the score is boss), which is why I’ll be continuing to watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 01 (First Impressions) – The Winner Takes It All

In this reboot of a sci-fi/rom-com anime from 1981 (41 years ago) we’re introduced to Moroboshi Ataru (Kamiya Hiroshi), an unrepentant horndog in a Waldo shirt who ogles a comely jogger mere seconds after reaffirming his love for his long-suffering girlfriend, Miyake Shinobu (Uchida Maaya). That status quo is suddenly shattered by an alien invasion of earth by a race called the Oni.

But these aliens are the sporting type, so they give humanity a chance to avoid subjugation: if a randomly selected human can catch the Oni’s leader’s daughter Lum (Uesaka Sumire) by the horns in a game of tag, the invasion will be cancelled. The human they randomly select is Ataru, of course. And Lum? She’s a total babe.

The game of tag is internationally televised and held at a soccer stadium packed to capacity. Unfortunately for Ataru (who is preternaturally unlucky having been born on Friday the 13th), Lum can fly, and proves extremely hard to catch.

He only has ten days to tag her, and those days go by utterly devoid of success. On the evening before the last day before humanity is doomed, Shinobu decides to give Ataru some extra motivation: if he succeeds, she’ll marry him. Ataru genuinely cares for Shinobu, so the next day he’s all vim and vinegar.

Upon finally catching Lum by the leg, he learns she has another power: electricity. But that doesn’t faze him. As his bride-to-be watches and he repeatedly shouts “Marriage!” he intensifies his pursuit of Lum, eventually grabbing her into an embrace and relieving her of her tiger-print bikini top.

Using the top as a lure, for the first time Ataru brings Lum to him, and uses said top as a distraction as he allows her to reclaim it while he reorients himself and grabs her by the horns, thereby winning the game of tag and saving earth from invasion.

Ataru is instantly a global hero, and he’s ready to marry Shinobu right then and there … but there’s one problem: all those times he shouted “Marriage!” while chasing Lum? Lum thought that meant he intended to marry her. And having lost the game fair and square, she agrees.

Neiher Ataru nor Shinobu (especially Shinobu) like this, but Lum is absolutely intent on being Ataru’s wife. When he declares that he only loves Shinobu, he makes Lum cry, and when she calls Shinobu on the phone (this series is very much lodged in the 80s, tech-wise) both girls accuse him of two-timing.

That said, Shinobu is on board with Ataru’s plan to simply ignore Lum when she uses her alien ship’s jamming tech to intrude on their phone calls.When Ataru and Shinobu threaten meet in person, Lum creates massive electrical storms, but the lovebirds still manage to unite, which is when she takes her ship into the atmosphere to intercept them.

Normally, saving the world would afford the saver a life of leisure and ease; not so for the ever-unlucky Ataru. While he loves Shinobu, he also cannot deny his attraction to Lum, even though she has a tendency to electrocute him when she perceives him to be cheating.

It is here where I admit that the premise and the character dynamics are very much stuck in the 20th century, and perhaps that’s for the best. Compare this to the reboot of the even older Dororo, which respected its source while also bringing it into modernity.

Urusei Yatsura isn’t just retro in look (albeit with a 21st century glow-up), but also retro in sensibility. The show is loud, boisterous, and a a bit backwater. But it’s also fantastic-looking, brimming with infectious energy and charm, and is mostly just a big ol’ heap of fun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 02 – Don’t Touch My Tomatoes

After her decisive win over the overconfident Guel Jeturk, Suletta is now the school’s ace pilot and fiancé to Miorine, heiress to one of the largest corporate concerns in a universe de facto ruled by corporations…Right? Uh, not so fast. The adults cry foul. Suletta’s Aerial is identified as an illegal Gundam, so both she and her suit are swiftly taken into custody.

If the prologue provided the backstory and context for Suletta’s background and legacy and the first episode established the school setting, system of duels, and the pairing off of Suletta and Miorine, this week is all about What Is To Be Done About Suletta, along with her suit that looks, sounds, and smells like a Gundam. We also know What Delling Did, and Aerial represents the ghost of a rival he thought he’d defeated over a decade ago.

While Suletta is interrogated and the old people comb through the implications, life goes on at the school. Rather than hailed as its new idol, Suletta is dragged through the scuttlebutt mud as a cheater, which explains how easily she won. Earthian Nika knows better, and doesn’t rise to the unrelated provocations from Spacians. She just hopes she can see Suletta—and her suit—again soon.

Miorine returns to her garden, her connection to Earth and also the one place where she actually has a measure of control. In true Rich Boy fashion, Guel does not come in person but sends his brother and peons to help clean up the mess he made Miorine accepts the offer, but warns them that if they touch her precious tomatoes, she’ll kill them.

Compare this to Suletta, whom Miorine readily allowed to taste of her tomatoes even when she was just an annoyance. Suletta then fought for her, totally unbidden, and became someone worthy of her hand (unlike Guel, who was merely given that hand). Only now her father is changing the rules Miorine thought she was following: Suletta is to be expelled, her suit scrapped, and he’ll find a new groom for her.

Miorine tries to let out her frustration by tossing the phone with this message, but the gentle tap against the glass accentuates her impotency and sense of being trapped within a birdcage. It’s so bad she can only escape her minders by going to the toilet, where the contractor she hired to smuggle her to Earth arrives to tell her it’s not too late if she still wants to go. The woman asks her to “make a decision she won’t regret”; Miorine decides she’ll run.

Delling once again takes great pains to make clear to everyone that he cares about his daughter less than just about everything else. That backfires here as he didn’t bother vetting the minders she was able to shake off.

Guel is slapped and chastised by his daddy for hurting the Jeturk reputation, but then the representative of Shin Sei, the company that built the Aerial, shows up at his office. Her name is Lady Prospera, presumably the masked “Char” character in this Gundam.

My ears immediately perked up at the name, the feminine version of Prospero from The Tempest: a duke overthrown by his brother years ago, cast adrift in a boat with his baby daughter, and used those years to learn magic. Sounds a lot like what happened to Suletta’s mom, huh!

Suletta is despondent in her cell, but is the recipient of a small kindness from one Elan Ceres, a soft-spoken, unemotional young lad who has “taken an interest” in her. That said, his previous statement about being unable to fall in love makes it seem more like that interest is more that in a fascinating new tool, not a new friend. But we shall see.

The grand inquiry is then held, with all representatives of the Benerit Group in attendance in a dark and brooding tribunal hall, the oppressive darkness a keen symbol that the light of democracy holds no sway there. Lady Prospera is not the slightest bit intimidated being in the literal spotlight, providing answers to all inquiries and pointing out that even if she can’t 100% deny Aerial isn’t a Gundam, they can’t 100% prove it either.

She also removes her bionic arm (more evidence this is Suletta’s mom) saying both her original arm and face fell victim to Mercury’s magnetic field, and that the tech within Aerial will enable the safer mining of Permet, a vital resource in mobile suit production. She merely asks that the group of which Shin Sei is a small but innovative member give them the support they need.

But nothing in this room is ever up for a vote. Delling Rembran sits above all, and his word is law. That word is no. Prospera can mince words and specs all she likes; as far as he’s concerned, Aerial is a Gundam, and both it and its pilot are to be disposed of. No one has the guts to summon even a word of objection.

That’s what makes Miorine’s sudden crashing of the inquiry so righteous. All these powerful people can’t make a peep, but the president’s 17-year-old daughter is more than happy to give him a piece of her mind. Rather than run off to Earth, Miorine had her smugglers take her here instead, which means she owes them a favor.

But no matter, she’s here, and when her dad overwrites his rules and admits that he is a king with all the power, Miorine remembers Suletta telling her she “gains two” by going forward…and challenges dad to a duel. Sensing family friction, Guel’s dad suggests that keeping Aerial around to see what makes it tick could be the boost the group has been looking for to recover their declining market share.

That corporate contrivance would seem to have worked, as Miorine is able to visit Suletta in a lovely reunion with strong romantic vibes—Miorine even gives Suletta a zero-g Wall Slam. Is it just a coincidence that Suletta’s hair is … tomato red? She fills Suletta in: the two of them are to fight her dad to make their betrothal stand. If they lose, Suletta gets expelled and Aerial gets scrapped.

Like last week, Suletta is exasperated, but I imagine she’s not about to lose her fiancée and her metal little sister. Not only that, there’s another Gundam-like suit—a red one—already out there on test runs, slicing and dicing lesser suits. Chances of Suletta and Aerial going up against this red guy are somewhere in the region of 100%.

And just in case there was any doubt that Suletta x Miorine is most definitely A Thing, well … consider the Ship deployed.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 01 – Rich Kids Are Scary

Fast-forward over a decade from the prologue, and Ericht Samaya is now the teenaged Suletta Mercury, pilot of Gundam Aerial, arriving at the Asticassia School of Technology, where she has just transferred. While surveying the giant space station, she spots someone floating free in a spacesuit and executes a rescue operation. The person she rescues, Miorine Rembran, doesn’t want to be rescued.

She was trying to escape, and was about to succeed but for Suletta’s sharp eye and impeccable timing. Now that I know where these two end up by episode’s end, one could call it kismet. I also hasten to add that Miorine is the daughter of Delling Rembran, the man whose actions led to the death of Suletta’s dad and destruction of her family’s home. Obviously Miorine didn’t play a role in that, as she was only four at the time.

Upon arrival at her new school, which is full of rich, stuck-up jerkwards, Suletta is quickly treated like a Mercurian “country bumpkin” and also given the cold shoulder by Miorine. That said, she also meets a potential first new friend in mechanics student Nika Nanaura.

All of a sudden, all of the fake blue sky is replaced by clear windows out to space, and the campus is transformed into the ground for a duel between Guel Jeturk, son of one of Delling’s top business generals, and some nobody who dared to call him “a man with a runaway bride”.

Jeturk, an unrepentant preening jackass of the highest order, is Miorine’s fiance, a decision made not by either of them but by their parents. Her father, however doesn’t even bother to review the bodyguards assigned to his daughter, as he’s too busy financially destroying a business partner who posted too many quarterly losses.

As Suletta learns by following her like a puppy, Miorine would prefer to be left alone with her garden that emulates earth environs, and even lets Suletta sample a tasty real tomato before downloading the map app of the school and sending her on her way. But before Suletta leaves, Jeturk and his clique of syncophants arrives to declare that Miorine will live with him at his family home from now on.

When Miorine protests, Jeturk starts wrecking her garden. When she tries to stop him, he shoves her aside. Suletta, who has a stutter and is clearly not great with social situations, nevertheless knows very well between right and wrong,. What Jeturk is doing is wrong, so she spanks him. She even gets giggles from his patsies when she calls him a “pushy suitor”.

Jeturk doesn’t take these affronts lightly, and suggests that if Suletta has a problem with him, they can settle it with a duel. Despite learning he is the school’s undefeated “Holder” (i.e. Ace) with a 26-0 record, Suletta doesn’t hesitate to accept the challenge. Jeturk tells her if he wins, she’ll be kicked out of the school. Meanwhile, Jeturk’s dad intends to speed up his and his son’s ascension by arranging to assassinate Delling.

When the duel commences, both Jeturk and Suletta are surprised to find that Miorine has commandeered Suletta’s Aerial, having gained access when she had her school handbook. That said, she has no idea how to pilot a mobile suit, let alone a Gundam, and Jeturk proceeds to make quick work of her.

With an assist from Nika, Suletta is able to get to Aerial before Miorine loses the duel, and those observing the duel accept the second change of Jeturk’s opponent back to Suletta. Having been head-butted when they first met, Suletta returns the favor and takes over in the cockpit, asserting that she and Aerial grew up together (indeed, when she was four, she considered her a little sister).

No one can pilot her but her, and as long as she’s piloting, Aerial won’t lose to the likes of Jeturk. She maintains that running away gains you only “one” by not losing, but going forward and rising to fight gains you “two” – experience and pride…as well as trust (so many three?).

Jeturk repsonds to that insult with a charge, but he’s totally out of his league. His beam weapon is reflected by Aerial’s shield, which then disassembles into a swarm of drones that tear Jeturk’s suit to pieces, giving Suletta a clear path to behead him with her energy sword.

As one would expect of a high-class Sunrise flagship production, the battle is absolutely top-notch in design and execution, fast, fierce, and gorgeous, accompanied by Ohmama Takashi’s stirring cinematic score that calls to mind Hans Zimmer with its blend of classical and futuristic electronic orchestration.

After the episode wasted absolutely no time showing what a sonofabitch Jetark is, I was literally cheering and laughing at the television as Suletta effortlessly put him in his place.

Again, Suletta’s timing is impeccable, as she defeats Jeturk just moments before his dad is about to press the detonate button on Delling’s transport. His aid quickly informs him that Jeturk will inherit neither Miorine nor her father’s company, because he was just defeated in a duel for the first time.

To the victor belongs the spoils, so Suletta not only wins the title of Holder of her very first day, but also becomes Miorine’s new fiancé, effective immediately. When Suletta points out that she’s a woman, Miorine tells her that unlike the apparently more conservative Mercury, such things are commonplace here. Suletta’s look of bewilderment says it all: these rich kids are crazy.

The Witch from Mercury follows up its thrilling, bittersweet prologue with an equally impressive opening sortie, establishing Suletta as a meek but determined and clearly immensely talented heroine (the first female Gundam lead), Miorine as her frenemy-cum-fiancée, the current financial and political power dynamics in play, and the system of duels that determine far more than they probably should. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next week.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury (Prologue) – Rise and Shine

This prologue for the newest full-length anime installment in the venerable, 43-year-old Gundam franchise is a perfect balance of worlds small and large. In the former, the Samaya family (mother Elnora, father Namid, and their four-year-old daughter Elricht) are just living their lives, trying to make  space more habitable for humans through the development of the newest Gundam suit Ifrith (i.e. Ifrit).

Their asteroid base home’s name has mythic resonance: Folkvangr, the field ruled by Freyja where half of those who die in war go, the other place being Valhalla). It’s a small, tight-knit group, and it’s little Eri’s fourth birthday. But beyond this little haven that may just hold the hope for mankind, the larger world is scheming to eliminate them and their efforts—the classic Ominous Circle of Old Dudes in a Dark Room.

The Samaya family are cought between a council that has ruled that further development of Gundams must cease immediately. To his credit, the leader of this effort, Delling Rembran, believes that merging man and machine the way Gundams do is an affront to the natural order of things. He does not celebrate violence, murder, or war, but insists that human hands do the killing.

Of course, in his condemnation of Gundams as a technology that claims the lives of its users as well as its targets, he kind of elides humanity’s history of necessary sacrifice, on scales both large and small, for the benefit of scientific advancement. Regardless of how lofty his ideals, the bottom line is he’s sugar-coating a plain old massacre of civilians at Folkvangr.

Mother, father, and child are all separated when the siege commences, with Delling’s Dominicus (i.e. dogs of God) units carrying out the slaughter. Elnora, the pilot of a still-in-progress Ifrith, reunites with Eri in the cockpit, where Dr. Carbo Nabo, Elnora’s savior, mentor, and Gundam project lead (as well as Eri’s “granny” had been showing Eri around.

Eri’s dad Namid sorties in a less sophisticated LF suit and is soon followed by Wendy, who wishes to avenge her colleague who was murdered in the Dominicus raid. We see how the GUND tech takes a physical toll on their bodies, and the enemy’s ace mobile suit Beguir-beu is has a power-draining ability that leaves Wendy’s suit powerless before blowing her up.

Delling’s ultimate goal is to blow Folkvangr out of the stars, and with it all of Carbo Nabo’s new Gundam tech. But the raiders miss the most important target: Ifrith itself, where mother and daughter reunite. To her mother’s surprise and horror, her little Eri’s biological signature is able to “awaken” Ifrith to Level 33, enabling full functionality.

Using Ifrith as an escape pod, Elnora sorties with Eri, and the show’s flagship Gundam dazzles the stage. Eri, who considers Ifrith her “little sister” is just happy that sister finally turned in bed woke up—on Eri’s birthday, no less—but once leaving the warm, safe confines of the asteroid, Eri and Ifrith are officially in the crossroads between big and small worlds.

Thanks to Eri’s inadvertent input, Ifrith puts on a show, making quick work of the enemy’s less mobile suits. When Beguir-beu draws in close and starts to do its power-drain thing, Namid comes between them and goes into fatal overdrive to force Beguir-beu away, giving his wife, his child, and maybe the only hope for sustained human survival in space a chance to escape.

It’s the kind of noble heroic sacrifice ordinary people make every single day in our world, even if it will end up robbing Elricht Samaya of her father so early in her life, the alternative would have seen Eri dying too. Namid tearfully singing “Happy Birthday” and Eri singing along, provides a heartbreaking capper to this, the first act of what felt like an epic, operatic film.

A glance at the MAL page shows that the show proper will likely pick up with Eri a woman grown, carrying on her parents’ and granny’s legacy. This isn’t about developing weapons, which the likes of Delling believe are the only good, right, or just use for Gundam tech. Without this tech, Elnora would have died and Eri wouldn’t be born.

No doubt Eri will be the champion of the underdog, the little guy in the little world, the engineer or scientist who just want to make life better, even if the costs are excruciatingly high. And no doubt she’ll butt up against that big yet small-minded world trying to stamp that out to protect their own narrow and ultimately self-defeating ideals. In other words, it’s an all-new Gundam, and I am hyped up.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 05 – Free Falling

A military bigwig arrives to inspect the training facility, and to also tell the two dozen or so candidates that only six of them will make the cosmonaut cut. When one of those candidates screws up their parachuting drill, Lev is suddenly back on the active roster. He might end up in space after all.

Meanwhile, Irina is in the anechoic chamber, which she basically treats like her coffin, only larger and most likely quieter. While in there, she’s left alone with her awful memories of when her village was massacred and her parents torched. At one point she softly calls Lev’s name, and can’t help but grab his sleeve when he finally comes in to release her from her solitude.

Irina probably figures she can’t hide the fact that she doesn’t hate Lev’s guts, so she comes right out and says she considers him the only human who isn’t bad. I’m not sure what that pink-haired researcher did to her! All joking aside, we get another great skydiving scene with Irina ending up in the unenviable situation of having to stare at Lev to keep her head up, even if it means being unable to hide her blushing.

When the two are up in the air they can forget about all the awfulness that surrounds them, but they come back down to earth literally and figuratively when they witness an aborted space capsule flight and the corpse of one of the experiment dogs. Those horrible flashbacks come roaring back, putting Irina in a state of shock.

Lev’s superior picks them up, and tells him that no one was supposed to see that. Back in the command room, the mission commander battles both his ailing heart and the political reality of having to self-destruct Irina’s capsule should she land in another country. You can tell he’s way more in this for the science and discovery, not the patriotism.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 04 – Fly Me to the Moon

With Lev being told Irina will launch in three weeks and her finally trying on a real spacesuit, shit is starting to get very real. If the higher-ups are to be believed, she may not live a long life even if the launch is successful, but Irina doesn’t seem to mind at all, and continues going through the training with nary a complaint (though she does remark that the suit is really heavy).

While Irina is changing out of her sweaty clothes into a fresh jumpsuit, Lev encounters Rosa in the hallway. Rosa is, so far, a completely one-dimensional racist bitch who is a waste of time. But when she lays into Irina to Lev, Irina overhears, and bids that Rosa say what she wants to say to her face. Rosa slinks off, warning Lev not to get his blood sucked. Even though, if we’re honest, it’s Rosa who sucks here!

When Lev and Irina get some free time before she has to enter an anechoic chamber (where you can indeed go mad quite quickly listening to nothing but your body make noises), Irina kinda prods Lev into taking her to a jazz bar. She gets some soda water, natch, but one sip of Lev’s dark red concoction has her slightly tipsy. No matter; she’s never heard jazz before, and she quite likes it.

Later that night Lev and Irina head out to a frozen lake to skate. While last week’s animation really shined with the airplane ride and skydiving, here Irina performs an elegant performance while an insert song plays. It’s really quite something to behold, and the latest demonstration of why Lev should really try to prevent her from being “disposed of” if he can.

Irina and Lev have never been closer. He tells her how he’s wanted to go to the moon since he was five; she told him how her parents were burned alive while she watched…pretty standard date stuff!

As for the whole post-launch disposal thing, Irina volunteered to be a test subject because it meant she would be going to space, and possibly the moon, before the humans defiled it. Even if the Zirnitrans off her afterweards, they can never take away the fact that she danced among the starts before they did.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 03 – Freedom, Not Fear

After a scene involving the pudgy, scheming old men who run Zirnitra from the capital, Sangrad (some who want to kill Irina as soon as the mission is over, some who want to wait and see), we see Lev get his first R&R since taking on the job of Irina’s handler. His former candidate comrades are a mix of curious, pitying, and superior.

It’s clear that due to his time with Irina, he’s no longer one of them…and that might not be the worst thing. As for “things”, it’s clear Anya doesn’t consider Irina one, but a fellow person. As a scientist, she knows the best way to overcome fear of something is to understand it better. She understands vampires to an extent she doesn’t fear them in the least. On the contrary; she adores “Irinyan”.

Lev ends up applying this axiom to Irina’s acrophobia, by exposing her to the most extreme heights so she can eventually realize how goddamn awesome it is when you’re flying and thus overcome her fear. Their moonlight flight is a series highlight in terms of visual panache; it really draws you in, like the great Miyazaki adventure in the sky.

Lev’s experiment on his “test subject” works like a charm, as Irina’s fears are replaced by wonder and a thirst for freedom unquenchable by even the fizziest lemon seltzer available. But the flight doesn’t just change Irina. It continues a gradual but inevitable change in Lev, from a soldier carrying out his duty of handling a test subject, to a young lad developing feelings for Irina Luminesk as if she were an ordinary human woman.

Lev isn’t training Irina in order to achieve the mission anymore; he’s training her so the government won’t dispose of her for not measuring up. Fortunately Irina excels at pretty much everything they throw at her, and once she’s over her acrophobia, flight and parachuting (another bravura sequence) is no exception. One of Lev’s colleagues warns him not to develop feelings for Irina, but it’s clearly already way too late for that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 02 – Lemon Seltzer

This week is entirely devoted to the beginning of Irina’s training to become the first human(esque) Cosmonaut in space. Lev is right beside her all the way, enduring the same trials, so it’s no surprise he fails to see her only as an object and a test subject and not…a person like him.

After Lev narrowly outruns Irina on the track drills, she tries to regain her pride by outlasting him in in a 90-degree (Celsius!) steam bath. The senior researcher is a real racist piece of shit who insists on binding and muzzling her when it’s Lev’s turn to bake, then strapping her into the centrifuge so tight the chafing makes her bleed then subjecting her to too many Gs too fast.

If Dr. Asshole’s goal was to dehumanize Irina, it had the opposite effect, not just with Lev but with Anya as well. Seeing a vampire bleed the exact same blood, like running beside one or enduring intense heat, intense gravity, or intense…space food is only making Lev think of her more as just a human with pointy teeth and no sense of taste.

It’s with this in mind and a spirit of playfulness that Lev takes Irina to the parachute training site in the middle of the night. When she shows signs of acrophobia but won’t admit she’s scared, she gives her a little push, and she ends up on an awkward, harrowing ride to the bottom. But I’m sure the same exact thing happened to Lev his very first time, just as I’m sure it would’ve happened with me!

The kicker is when Lev treats Irina to a new sensation: carbonated water. Because she despises everything Lev represents, she won’t explicitly admit she really loves the stuff, especially with lemon, but whether she likes it or not shes warming to him just as he’s learning that vampires are just humans with a few differences that are, at the end of the day, not enough to engender the prejudice and oppression Irina and her kind suffer.

We learn from the boss that Lev was chosen specifically because he was liable to treat Irina like a person. It remains to be seen if Lev, like Lena in 86, will try to rebel against Irina’s oppressors for her sake.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 01 (First Impressions) – What We Do in the Cosmos

An alternate-world space race between USSR and USA analogues, in which the Soviet equivalent power decides to recruit a vampire to be the first person in space, could’ve easily been played as pure farce. Heck, The Death of Stalin was a laugh riot. But Irina, The Vampire Cosmonaut has … ahem … loftier goals.

IVC is, in fact, straight as an arrow when it comes to presentation. Avoiding the names of real nations or people works to its benefit, as this is a world that still has a space race like ours and was still initially won by Rus-er, Zirnitra by launching an artificial satellite and then a dog I’m sure would have rather stayed on earth.

Reserve cosmonaut Lev Leps, who will probably never see orbit since an incident, is chosen to monitor and train N44, AKA Irina Luminesk. While she’s a vampire, this world’s version is far more human, not drinking blood or changing form. But because she’s not a “real” human, the government is putting her up in space first, and it’s Lev’s job to make sure she’s ready.

While I’m sure this wasn’t the higher-ups intent, Lev, who resembles an all-growd-up Claus Valca, has a kind heart. Despite strict orders to treat “N44” like an object (after what happened with this world’s version of Laika), his attempts to maintain emotional distance are awkward and ultimately unsustainable.

As for Irina (voiced by the legendary Hayashibara Megumi), she later has to remind herself that despite how nice they seem, Lev and the lab assistant and vampire expert Anya would kill her without hesitation if ordered to do so. Only…I don’t think that’s the case? Lev seemingly adds to her doubt about that sentiment when he apologizes for how she was treated and leaves a blanket and hot water in her cell.

IVC’s first episode sets everything about its world and major players very efficiently and succinctly, with some nice little details and humorous moments on the edges. It’s a little dull and plodding at times, but I’m nonetheless eager to watch Lev and Irina form a bond over their mutual love of the stars.

Sonny Boy – 07 – Nagara Inverted

Sonny Boy loves starting episodes in media res, and this week is no different, as we sit in on the 601,344th meeting of the Drift Victims Society. If it’s a weekly meeting, that means it’s been going on for 11,564 years, give or take a decade. Needless to say, the majority of those assembled are looking for someone to blame for this predicament.

Now they know it’s Nagara, and they condemn him and promise justice, whipping the enraged mob into a bitter froth.

Meanwhile on the island, the Mizuho, Pony, and Yamada watch Hoshi’s faction loads up the Ark with supplies in preparation for a journey from which they won’t be returning. Yamada, who’s been around as long at least half of those meetings, describes the thousands of other castaways, and how it’s taken thousands of years for them to figure out how to travel between worlds.

That this newest class was able to do it in a matter of weeks or months means whatever this “culling” is that God is doing, it’s breeding more capable students with each generation.

When Nagara liberates Rajdhani’s ant farm before he lets the ants start eating each other, he comes upon an exercise bar, and when he decides to flip himself on it. That’s when the episode goes full Patema Inverted, as his world is flipped upside down. A strange student who is completely covered by a giant folded umbrella greets him before he starts falling…up.

Nagara wakes up in the middle of a shift, with helmeted students working tirelessly like worker ants building an endlessly tall tower (but oddly enough, carrying the building blocks downward). Nagara being Nagara, he tries to keep his head down and roll with the punches. He’s bailed out and befriended by the kindhearted Futatsubushi…who’s been at this for over two centuries.

Futatsubushi is charmed by Nagara’s “new guy” aura. Everyone in this world were students of the same school, but now all they’re doing is building the tower…and eating gross invertebrates and insects during their breaks. Hakuna Matata, I guess. Futatsubushi makes it feel like a simple, honest life, even if its seemingly dead-end one.

That night, Nagara is ready to return home, only to find he can’t use his powers. That’s because the “Host” or boss of this world—a guy with glasses who wears a tall sock on his head and is umbrella guy’s associate in an elite group of castaways called Beatnik—is able to nullify those powers. The two hang out atop Babel, basically waiting to see if and when Nagara can figure his way out of this place.

While striking out with Futatsubushi to discover the urban legend of shooting stars, Nagara instead discovers a macro version of the predatory luminescent bugs Rajdhani once showed him. We don’t watch his gruesome “end”—only his screams—but before that he has a very bittersweet monologue about how it’s important to believe in nonsense or continuing to go after a hope, even if it’s false…because otherwise, what is there?

The question of “if not this, than what?” seems foremost in the mind of Nozomi as she watches the cubic Ark carrying Nozomi and most of the rest of the class off to parts unknown grow smaller and smaller in the sky before disappearing altogether. It’s such a simple image as presented, but so haunting and lonely. Meanwhile, the prickly but loyal Mizuho searches diligently for her friend Nagara.

Futatsubushi probably inspired our guy to keep going forward and putting in an effort, even if Hoshi has said many times before that getting home is not in the cards. After remembering when he’d try to flip on the exercise bar as a child while another kid nicknamed “Koumori” (“Bat”) flipped with ease.

Once he’s up at the top of Babel, he walks straight out the railing-less balcony…and re-inverts to his original orientation. Since he figured things out, both Sockhead and Koumori (the same kid he saw that day in his youth) let him go.

No sooner does Nagara return, having been found by Mizuho and Yamada, is it revealed that Rajdhani is also off on his own personal voyage of discover and wonder. Nozomi, a tearful Mizuho, and Nagara all give him big hugs, and I have to admit this completely unexpected goodbye scene really made the air in my room dusty.

With Rajdhani gone, apparently the only ones still on the island are Nagara, Nozomi, Mizuho, Yamada, Asakaze, and possibly the members of Aki-sensei’s faction that didn’t leave on the Ark (Aki-sensei, it’s revealed, is just another student). I almost wish it’s just the five of them left. While the ideas and allegories are growing bigger and more complex, I’m excited at the prospect of the cast getting drastically stripped down to the basics.

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