Dororo – 16 – Nobody Listens to Dororo

I wish that instead of a large trove of gold that continues to paint a literal target on Dororo’s back, his dad’s “lifelong ambition” could have been something as simple as giving his daughter he raised as a son a safe and comfortable life. That would have meant setting aside larger ambitions like rebelling against the samurai, but it would prevented Dororo from living such a hard life, and from being in his current predicament: captured by his dad’s former No.2, Itachi.

Itachi dug up Dororo’s mother’s remains and found half of the map, and he believes her son has the other half, if not on his back then in his head. To that end, he takes Dororo to the cove where the treasure was stashed, and makes his latest in a long line of mistakes: trusting a crazy-eyed one-armed sole survivor of a village, whose self-proclaimed family consists of two giant sharks. Did I mention he fed them his arm, and has made a habit of feeding him live humans?

Dororo warned Itachi not to trust the kid, and of course, Dororo turns out to be right. One of the two boats carrying half of Itachi’s men is capsized, and its occupants eaten by one of the sharks. He promises to return at sundown to finish off the other half, including Itachi and Dororo, and orders one of the sharks to keep watch.

Itachi—now a brigand again after being double-crossed by the samurai he double-crossed Hibukuro to join—quickly loses hope in getting out of this alive, but Dororo loudly admonishes him, using his own shit life so far as an example of the importance of keeping one’s head up and not giving up even when death seems close. Itachi notes that Dororo sounds like his old man.

If he spoke too many words “for a little runt”, Dororo decides to be the first to take action. He dives fearlessly into the sea to lure the shark guarding them, then leads him to leap up by the side of the boat where Itachi and his men are ready with swords.

It’s an audacious gambit to be sure; not sure quite how Dororo doesn’t get himself killed in six different ways, but hey, I guess that’s why he’s lived so long without parents up to this point: he’s good at surviving. Unfortunately, the sharks are often somewhat poorly drawn and animated, which blunts the impact of the action.

When the shark’s “brother” returns and finds the shark slain on the coast of the cove, he’s caught in an ambush and then viciously beaten. His life is only spared because Dororo insists, but that could prove a bad move if the guy, who is let go and vows revenge, considers Dororo to be one with the brigands who killed half his family.

Meanwhile, Itachi insists Dororo spill the beans about the exact location of the treasure. When Dororo lets slip that even if he knows where it is he doesn’t want to reveal it (believing whatever Itachi does with it beneath his father’s legacy) Itachi has him stripped down and learns that he’s biologically a she. The heat of the fire then reveals the map on Dororo’s back, and Itachi traces it and heads off with his men, leaving Dororo tied up.

Where is Hyakkimaru in all this? While he sees the trail Itachi’s horses made, his makeshift leg slows him considerably. So it’s fortuitous he comes across a stranger who tells him there’s someone around who makes new limbs for those who have lost them. That’s right: Jukai’s back. Assuming Dororo and Hyakkimaru remain separated most if not all of next week, I suspect Hyakkimaru will be reuniting with the man who first gave him a functional life—the closest thing to a father he ever had.

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Sword Art Online: Alicization – 17 – The Ascent

Considering the Rising Arc has consisted of “climb a few levels, fight a boss, repeat” structure, SAOA has managed to mix things up by demonstrating both the variety of integrity knights and varied ways in which they fight and think, and the variety of ornate settings in which they fight within the cathedral.

Things get shaken up even more when Kirito and Alice end up outside the Cathedral’s quickly-autohealed walls. All of a sudden things get a lot more simple and minimalist, both in where they are—Dangling from Kirito’s sword, with death beneath them—and who they are to each other: enemies who must work together to survive.

Interestingly, Alice inititally wants Kirito to let her plummet to her death, for she wouldn’t be able to live with the shame of being saved by “such a sinner.” Kirito actually has to remind her that as a knight, her life is not her own, but belongs to the church, and to her Pontifex. Whether she has to bear shame or not, it is her duty to live on and protect humanity from the incursion of the Dark Territory.

He even makes the case that his and Eugeo’s “invasion” of the cathedral is the will of the gods and of Stacia, since Alice herself cites that their will is revealed through the actions of her servants. So Alice holds on, lets Kirito raise her up so she can put her sword in the wall just as his slips out, and then she returns the favor and lifts him up.

A Truce it is, then: they will work together to climb to the open-air Morning Star Lookout on the ninetieth-fifth-floor, at which time the truce will terminate and Alice promises to slay him. Kirito soon learns he’ll be doing most of the work on this climb, as apparently Integrity Knights are a pretty specialized sort, and Alice neither has the athleticism (not to mention outfit) to do the gymnastics necessary to climb.

As Kirito climbs in the virtual Underworld, Asuna and Rinko are having lunch when they a Japanese escort ship on the horizon changing course in a maneuver that catches one of Ocean Turtle’s officials off-guard. In a neat little transition from Asuna piercing her salad tomato to Kirito piercing the wall of the cathedral, we return to the climb. I’m not sure what else to say about the brief trip to the real world, except that it’s possible the easy peace Asuna and Rinko of enjoyed may not last.

With the sun setting, Kirito is finding it harder to generate wedge objects, so Alice makes one of her own (gold and fancy-looking, of course), revealing she was letting him make them this whole time even though she could have chipped in earlier.

Eventually they can see a ledge above them where some kind of statues sit, but they begin to transform into dark territory minions, which start to attack the two. And just like that, what had been a tough enough job of climbing the sheer wall is made that much more perilous with these flying beasts.

Since dealing with the minions isn’t going to work of Kirito has to hold Alice up, he decides to hoist her up to the ledge above, in a move that catches her entirely by surprise, but does add some stability to their situation. Once she’s on solid ground, she hoists him up in the same way, though he hits the wall back-first and upside-down.

Detaching the chain so they can both move freely, Alice dispatches two of the three beasts with one slash, then waits for Kirito to take care of the third, asking if he needs any help. He doesn’t, and once he finishes his foe off, she likens his weird Aincrad style to a kind of dance that would be performed on stage at the summer solstice festival.

That’s an odd thing to note, because when Alice thinks about it more, her head starts to hurt. She’s never actually been to the festival, as she initially said, but heard about it from monks…apparently. Or maybe the Alice buried in the Synthesis is starting to claw its way back to consciousness, due to all of her interaction with her old friend Kirito.

Regardless, throughout the climb Alice’s opinion of Kirito seems to soften more and more, until she even offers her handkerchief to the “criminal” to wipe minion blood off his face. Perhaps she doesn’t want him at any externally-forced disadvantage for their 95th-floor duel. But even as an integrity knight Alice doesn’t like the fact their were minions in such a sacred place…it means someone in the church wanted them there.

Cut to Eugeo, who is without Kirito by his side for the first time in quite a while. He continues climbing, and makes it to a hall on the ninetieth floor, which appears to be a bathhouse. There he encounters a man bathing there, covered in muscles and scars: not just any Integrity Knight, but Commander Bercouli Synthesis One. He asks for Eugeo to give him a little time to relax, as he just arrived from a long dragon ride.

Will Eugeo be able to defeat or at least get past Bercouli without help from Kirito? Will Kirito manage to defat Alice, or possibly turn her to their side once and for all before they face Administrator? Either way, their epic climb is almost at an end.

Goblin Slayer – 01 (First Impressions) – Shoulda Leveled Up More…

A young priestess and healer is eager to start adventuring, and registers with the guild. She’s quickly recruited by a party of three: a swordsman, a hand-to-hand warrior, and a wizard of the mage’s college. All are Porcelain-ranked, the lowest.

They’re all very gung-ho about going into a cave and hunting some goblins who recently raided a village, but they don’t have any plan, and it’s clear from the worried look of the guild registrar that they’re in over their heads with such a mission.

At no point do the members of the party take the threat of the goblins seriously, or not overestimate their skills. The swordsman even boasts he could slay a dragon if he wanted, even as his long sword hits the roof of the cave, showing just how out of his element he is.

Predictably, the low-level rookies get their asses handed to them, and it’s not pretty. This show promptly shows the folly of underestimating goblins, who are all too willing to exploit the many weaknesses of their human opponents.

The party manages to kill a couple of goblins, but the wizard is stabbed with a poison blade and the priestess’ healing spell is useless. The swordsman nicks the cave roof at the wrong time and gets overrun and gutted; and the hand-to-hand specialist is over-matched by a larger hobgoblin, who tosses her to the other goblins.

That’s when we learn one more little detail that takes the threat of the goblins to a new and darker depths: they’re quite fond of raping the women they manage to overpower.

They don’t even have a problem about raping the half-dead wizard. The depiction of bestial rape was apparently (and understandably) controversial in both the LN and this adaptation. The helpless, fear-petrified Priestess is shot in the shoulder with an arrow and looks to be their next victim…until the titular Goblin Slayer shows up.

The Slayer is as effective, ruthless, and cunning as the noobie party was ineffective, overconfident, and foolish. He keeps a running tally of his goblin kills (like Gimli and his orc-count), puts the wizard out of her misery, and with the Priestess’ Holy Light assists, takes out the two biggest threats: the goblin shaman and the hulking hobgoblin.

He also finds the goblin children and slaughters them, saying they’ll learn from their elders’ mistakes and hold grudges for life. The Goblin Slayer may be more the manifestation of an concept (namely, goblin slaying) than he is an actual character, there’s no disputing his skills…nor his respect for his enemy, something that doomed the rookies.

The hand-to-hand warrior’s adventuring days are likely over, at least for the time being, as she’s carted off to recover from the trauma she endured. The swordsman and wizard both died in the cave.

That leaves the Priestess the sole survivor of her first ill-fated party, but to her credit she’s not discouraged from continuing her life as an adventure; it’s just who she is. Indeed, she takes her first fiasco of a quest as a valuable lesson: don’t go in to any quest half-cocked. As soon as she returns to town she procures some chain mail.

The hand-to-hand warrior’s adventuring days are likely over, at least for the time being, as she’s carted off to recover from the trauma she endured. The swordsman and wizard both died in the cave.

To survive the next quest, she must also gain strong allies—allies like Goblin Slayer. She may only be able to heal or cast holy light three times, but those three times will make his job of slaying goblins that much easier, so he’s happy to have her by his side for his next session. And so, a new party of two is born.

Like other White Fox works like Akame ga Kill!, Re:Zero and Steins;Gate, Goblin Slayer knows how to pile on the suspense and dread and doesn’t hold back when it comes to torturing its characters. It also features some pretty solid soundtrack, including a thoroughly badass battle theme during the end crawl.

It’s a desperately simple show—something I believe works in its favor—and while its protagonist is pretty much an Index clone looks a lot like Index, at least the episode ends with her in a good position to succeed…though she’ll have to get stronger for the day or moment when the Slayer won’t be there to bail her out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darling in the FranXX – 15 – Two Jian Become One, and a Much Bigger World Reveals Itself

When the Battle of Gran Crevasse begins, Hiro has no pistil, partner, or FranXX…a bird with one wing and one eye, unable to fight without his one and only partner. A Jian.

While his friends head out into by far the biggest and most dangerous battle they’ve ever fought, one that will surely determine the future of mankind—a battle from which they may not return—Hiro is merely a spectator in Plantation 13’s CIC, with Hachi, Nana, and Dr. FranXX.

Thankfully, he won’t remain one.

Oh, look: the Nines swap the “gender roles” in the cockpit. It figures that they do things quite a bit differently. Zero Two is of their ilk, but also pretty much her own animal; when we check in on her she’s already devoured all of her disposable Stamens, and is operating Strelizia alone in Beast Mode.

While she and the Nines aren’t having any trouble destroying scores of Klaxosaurs, their foe’s numbers are being replenished as quickly as they can dispatch them, meaning no progress is being made, even when Squad 13 joins the fray with their own unique brand of combat.

Plantation 26 is obliterated, and when a mountain-sized “Super Lehmann-class” Klaxosaur emerges from beneath the ground, Plantation 13 is also pierced and thousands of smaller Klaxosaurs infiltrate the city within.

Hachi and Nana’s foreboding was more than justified: this episode of DFX raises the scale of the threat and stakes to dizzyingly huge, TTGL-esque levels. In doing so, the show reaches a high watermark; everything has been building up to this, and the execution is equal parts breathless and flawless.

At one point, Hiro has seen enough. He’s tired of standing by, and curses himself for having suddenly stopped asking questions and challenging the limited world he’s been spoon-fed his entire life.

Thanks to Zero Two, he managed to find the memories the adults tried to steal from him, and now that he remembers the inquisitive brat he once was, he intends to get back to discovering the true boundaries of the world with immediate effect.

To that end, he pilots a wimpy training mech into the warzone—and nearly gets himself killed. Ichigo, who has tried at all costs to keep him and Zero Two apart, both for his safety and due to her wanting him to come love him as he loves her…but that’s simply not going to happen.

So Ichigo concedes defeat. Goro gives up his spot so Hiro can pilot Delphinium to Strelizia’s location. You can’t help but feel for Ichigo: she can finally pilot a FranXX with the one she loves, only so he can get to the one he loves. But even Ichigo has to admit they can’t save the day without Strelizia at full chat. For that, it needs two pilots working as one.

Ichigo delivers Hiro to Zero Two, but not before she gives Strelizia a couple of frustration slaps to help dull the sting a small bit. Once inside, Hiro finds Zero Two unresponsive, but grabs hold of her over-sized horns and enters her thoughts.

There, he finds the little red girl and comforts her. There, Hiro learns how long Zero Two fought to keep her memories; how she fought the world without him. We learn she got the term “darling” from him, referring to the picture book she ate in order to never forget.

Her horns shatter, and the human Zero Two returns. She tells Hiro to stay away, but he won’t. She may have called him fodder, and he may have called her a monster, but it doesn’t matter anymore, because there’s a world out there to explore, far beyond what the adults might like or allow…and he’s ready to fight by her side for that world once again.

Hiro kisses Zero Two, Strelizia returns to its humanoid form, only red and souped-up, and the two confess to each other emphatically over open comms for all of Squad 13 to hear. Ichigo is “happy” for them.

Oh, and the New Strelizia borne from their mutual confessed love not only tears through the Super Lehmann, but opens a hole to the blue sky, literally piercing the old boundaries of the world that simply aren’t adequate anymore.

But just when the immediate threat is eliminated, a newer, stranger, and most importantly even bigger threat emerges in the form of a gargantuan Klaxosaur(?) arm and hand that rise up and smashes the majority of Plantation 13 to dust.

The two Jian have finally joined to become one, and their world has never looked bigger…but now the question arises: how much longer do they have to explore it?

P.S. Miku and Zorome discover a Klaxosaur core containing a golden mass with a vaguely human form that might be a pilot, covered in some kind of protective coating. Something to keep an eye on…

Darling in the FranXX – 14 – Ichigo Wins the Latest Round but It’s a Pyrrhic Victory

It seemed like they had all the time in the world to talk in the cockpit after waking up from their mutual, past-recalling, truth-revealing dream. But they don’t, because Hiro passes out from his exertion, and Ichigo storms in and separates the two immediately. After all, she knows nothing of the extent of their past together.

From Ichigo’s perspective, Zero Two is a monster who was willing to either turn Hiro into one or kill him trying and move on to the next stamen. From circumstantial evidence alone, it certainly doesn’t look good for Zero Two. Add in Ichigo’s competition with her for Hiro’s love—on which she clearly hasn’t given up—and it’s a perfect storm of bad luck for the formerly red girl.

We know who Hiro wants to see the moment he comes to, but he doesn’t get to see that person. She’s kept away, while everyone else is there, relieved and supportive of his recovery (the adults paint a bleaker picture of his health, but not near open doors this time).

In the midst of this love triangle drama, I’m glad Hiro still had time to speak with Mitsuru alone, and start to offer apology for breaking his promise before Mitsuru tells him it’s “no big deal” and “in the past”, even if we know full well how much the perceived betrayal affected him.

At the briefing for what will be the largest and more dangerous sortie ever attempted, involving not just Squad 13 and the Nines but a host of other FranXX squads, Ichigo formally requests Zero Two be ejected from the Squad. Nana tells Ichigo Zero Two was scheduled to sortie with the Nines for the mission anyway.

And so it’s all happening how Zero Two feared: no matter how many klaxosaurs she killed, even now, when she knows Hiro was her darling all along, she can’t talk to him or even see him. Everyone is blocking her way, having already formed their conclusions about who and what she is.

It’s patently unfair, in my view, and despite how much I personally like Ichigo as a character, I take no pleasure in watching her and the other squad members work together to block Zero Two and guard Hiro from any contact, because none of them have the whole picture. Heck, Hiro doesn’t even have the whole picture, which is why he wants to talk with Zero Two so badly. He wants to know if she knew he and only he could pilot FranXX with her…perhaps due to the fact he drank some of her blood.

Still, it’s a credit to Hiro’s genuine “goodness” that he doesn’t rage and fume when he’s unable to get his way. And when Ichigo cuts herself with a knife, he’s just as caring and nurturing as he’s always been. But Ichigo’s luck is almost as bad as Zero Two’s, as even her attempt at an apple bunny recalls the image of Zero Two’s red horns for Hiro, and he’s right back to thinking about how much he wants to see her.

Zero Two is done holding back. If the squad won’t let her see her Darling, she’ll use force to see him. At the same time she starts to fight them, Hiro asks Ichigo to leave the knife behind before she leaves, a dead giveaway he intended to use it to “escape” his friends’ supervision by climbing out the hospital window.

The thing is, calmer heads prevail when Goro and Kokoro insist Ichigo stand down lest things get out of control. Goro doesn’t think Zero Two would be so desperate if she didn’t have something very important to discuss with Hiro.

Ichigo isn’t convinced that won’t just be more manipulative lies, but she relents, and the whole squad escorts Zero Two to Hiro’s room…but he’s already gone, discovering how feral Zero Two has become from the state of her dorm room.

Zero Two, already on her last nerve, thinks Ichigo and the squad tricked her, and proceeds to beat them all up. Such is her horrible luck and timing that Hiro walks back in just as she’s choking Ichigo nearly to death with one hand, and Hiro condemns her for being, in that moment, a real monster.

But it goes further than that. Zero Two knows what she did, and knew, one day, she’d be punished for it. By setting Hiro up as her one and only Darling, she put him on the path to becoming a monster like her (Nana and Hachi even discuss his imminent “saurification”).

So she accepts her punishment and is sent away, just as the Beast was separated from her human Prince. Such a simple thing as existing in a room and talking things out was never allowed to happen; other people and her own actions kept conspiring to get in the way.

So Zero Two leaves the Squad 13 dorm without speaking a word, her horns longer than ever, wearing an imperious white coat, and flanked by minders. She meets up with the other Nines, who present her with a procession of disposable stamens ready to give their lives so that she can pilot Strelizia and keep killing klaxosaurs.

Only now her original reason for wanting to fight, along with her sole reason for wanting to be human, are gone. Now, she seems poised to embrace the Beast within, seemingly convinced she was never meant to have a Darling in the first place.

Hiro can’t fight back tears as Zero Two departs, and when he tries to run after her, Ichigo grabs him and won’t let go. She’s decided she’s not going to let Zero Two influence or change him any more than she has. She thinks there’s still time to get back her Hiro. She takes hold of his face, gets on her tiptoes, kisses him, and confesses her love for him.

But once again, bad luck strikes: Zero Two’s transport soars overhead immediately after she says the words, and it looks for all the world like Hiro was a lot more focused on that than her confession.

Ichigo may have Hiro in her arms, and he may have just been told how much she loves and cherishes him, but she won’t escape punishment either: Punishment for the ruthlessness with which she sent her rival away; for refusing to give her a chance; for not allowing two people who loved each other to talk things through.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 06

With Megumi’s breakup of Mari duly rejected, the quartet endures the harsh stare of a customs official and heads to Singapore by A380, where they’ll spend a few days before the next flight to Fremantle.

I enjoyed the fact it was Shirase’s first fight (Mari’s too, I believe), and how the flight scenes accurately portrayed the intermittent fun, wonder, and boredom of a long flight. I also liked the girls’ culture shock of seeing so much more English everywhere and shamelessly tourist-ing out (Merlion! Merlion!).

Mari’s more sensitive side comes out when she waxes poetic about how amazing it is that people go on with their lives in far-off places they’ve never seen—and it is amazing!—but the fun and excitement of the trip hits a major snag when Hinata’s passport comes up missing.

Everything had been going so well for Shirase, and when the prospect of delaying their flight to accommodate the time required for Hinata to get a new passport from the Japanese embassy, she’s quietly but dreadfully worried that her chance to finally follow her mother might slip away.

That night, Yuzuki must deal with Mari the Bed-Sprawling Monster, who evokes murderous thoughts in her bedmate, but Yuzu actually has it easy compared to the other pair of Hinata and Shirase. Both are stubborn in their respective views: Shirase doesn’t want to leave anyone behind, despite her initial bristling at the prospect of a delay.

While flattered, Hinata says being “shown consideration” is disconcerting; it’s partly the reason she left high school. She understands it’s part of normal relationships, but she’s been burned by such consideration in the past and can’t not look upon it with suspicion. She doesn’t wish to bear the guilt of having inconvenienced everyone else.

Shirase goes to sleep abruptly, clearly done with debating the particulars of interpersonal behaviors, and the next morning we learn why: she had to get up before Hinata, turn off her alarm clock, and leave her at the hotel while she and the others go to the airport to get new tickets, against Hinata’s apparent wishes.

When Yuzuki says they can’t change their tickets on such short notice, it would seem the conflict between Hinata and Shirase is moot. However, while the two may both regard themselves as unusually stubborn individuals, Shirase has the edge in cash, plopping down her beloved Mwillion Yen to get everyone Business Class two days later.

When Hinata protests further, Shirase lets her have it with both barrels: This isn’t just about Hinata; it’s about Shirase not wanting to be the kind of shallow friend who just ditches another when they’re slightly inconvenienced, or doesn’t worry when she’s told not to worry, and doesn’t want to be a coward who gives up so easily. “I remain stubborn…because I’m right!”

The speech moves Hinata to tears, and she yields. But not long after she spent the sum total of her hard-earned Antarctica savings on expensive new tickets, Shirase spots Hinata’s passport in her purse; Hinata was tying her shoe and must’ve forgotten she handed it to Shirase, but Shirase forgot she had it.

Thanks to Yuzuki’s uncanny innate method of detecting when one of her comrades is hiding something, it isn’t long until Shirase’s little secret is exposed, but thankfully, the tickets could be cancelled and Shirase’s savings returned. Yuzuki and Mari punish Hinata and Shirase for their collective tomfoolery by insisting they try Durian fruit (which I for one find too foul-smelling to bring anywhere near my mouth).

When Mari befriended Hinata, a part of me was worried we’d lose some of the excellent dynamic between Mari and Shirase, or that Shirase might be marginalized in some way. But those worries have long since been allayed, as the dynamic between Hinata and Shirase is just as compelling, due in no small part to the wonderful script and the abundant talents of Mmes. Hanazawa et Iguchi.

Houseki no Kuni – 04

When Master Kongou finally wakes up from his slumber, it’s from a strange dream in which he is in the center of a mob of Lunarians, and destroys them all with a kind of chakra. He regrets sleeping too long.

Jade, Bort, and Diamond then brief him on everything that’s happened, including the snail eating Phos, mining and reconstructing Phos from the snail’s shell, and the fact that only Phos can understand what the creature is saying, leading everyone to think Phos has gone crazy.

In defense of Phos, we can hear the creature too; their name is Ventricosus, king of of the Admirabilis, and in her current form, she’s pretty cheeky (she’s also voiced by Saito Chiwa).

Despite the indignity of a tossed Ventricosus landing on his head just right, Kongou not only believes Phos, but uses Phos as an interpreter to initiate a dialogue with the creature. He orders Phos keep the creature close while continuing work on the encyclopedia (at present, the amount of work Phos has done on that is…naught).

When Phos speaks on Cinnabar’s behalf, Kongou interrupts, stating that not only is he still working on the matter (and has yet to find a solution), but that it was Cinnabar’s decision to go on night watch to begin with, going into exile rather than sit around HQ doing nothing. It’s not ideal, but Kongou maintains the best way Phos can help Cinnabar is by doing what he ordered: work on that encyclopedia. Later, Phos and Venty get to talking, and Venty mentions that there is someone who resembles the Gems back in her homeland under the sea.

Phos, not making any progress on the land with Cinnabar, decides it’s work a look, and prepares for the trip by applying a salve to the “skin” that should protect the finish from the saltwater. Rutile tattles on Phos, and Kongou categorically forbids such a trip, reminding Phos to do what he asked and not worry about Cinnabar for now.

When it’s clear Ventri isn’t getting the proper nutrition she needs away from the sea (Phos even believes Ventri has died momentarily), Phos and Ventri have a very in-depth discussion on the nature of death (something neither the immortal Phos nor any Gem may can fully grasp the finality of), then Phos breaks the rules once again and heads underwater.

Once on the sea floor, Venty suddenly transforms into a beautiful jellyfish-queen form, and here is again where the 3DCGI fluidity really shines. Now closer to home, Venty starts to remember certain information; a kind of oral history about a race called “humans” who walked the earth.

Things happened, and humans split into three distinct forms: flesh (Admirabilae like Venty), bone (the Gems) and soul (the Lunarians). “Vague stories” also point to the fact that the Lunarians are seeking a revival of humanity by uniting the three forms, capturing them by force.

While that’s their goal, the “flesh” in the equation are content with their existence under the waves, while the “bone” would clearly prefer not being attacked from the sky all the time.

Alas, Ventricosus is hiding something, and exploits their newly-formed bond to deceive Phos. There is no malice in her actions, but her brother is being held by the Lunarians, and she means to offer Phos in exchange for his freedom.

With the sun almost down and Phos greatly weakened, the Lunarians prepare to capture Phos, smashing Phos’ arms and legs. But I’m sure Venty’s betrayal hurts far more than Phos’ loss of limbs, and the fact that Phos once again needs rescuing after disobeying Kongou’s commands to try to help Cinnabar.

It isn’t just the animation that’s beautiful in HnK, although it certainly is that; it’s also very well-written and performed, with a wealth of clever quips in the dialogue and some surprisingly profound discussion on the varying natures of existence of the three kinds of beings.

It remains a mystery what happened to humans, or what exactly Kongou is besides caretaker to the Gems, but if we take Venty’s stories at face value, we now know a lot more about why things are the way they are in this world, and have a clearer picture on the Lunarians’ goals.

Not that that puts them in the right; despite being human myself (I think), there’s something sinister about eliminating three new forms of life that emerged naturally for the sake of reviving one. It seems reckless and hubristic; akin to swimming against the waves of evolution.

Fuuka – 07

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As expected, the photo of Yuu and Koyuki goes viral, creating problems for both. Yuu’s sister and mother chew him out for being so reckless with his celebrity childhood friend. He’s mobbed at school by both classmates and total strangers.

Fuuka is disappointed that when she told her she saw Koyuki, he didn’t feel the need to tell her he saw her too. But with their first concert coming up at the cultural festival, they decide not to get too bent out of shape out it.

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Meanwhile, Koyuki’s handlers coach her on the proper PR response to the photo. Yuu tweets that they’re just friends, while Koyuki’s company was ready to deny it was her and decline further comment.

Instead, Koyuki stays true to herself, and in a bit of a personal coup, blows things up even more, stating on live TV to the masses that the boy in the photo is not just some friend, but her unrequited love and muse for all her songs.

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While admirable, Koyuki’s decision is a bit selfish, and only results in more potential problems for both Yuu and his band when the day of their first show arrives. Koyuki arrives in disguise, not wanting to miss it, and sees that legions of her fans—and haters of Yuu, the guy who apparently won’t love her back—are amassed, ready to shit all over Yuu’s show…figuratively of course.

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Yuu apologizes to Fuuka and his bandmates over and over, but they understand it’s not his fault, nor is it Koyuki’s. What happened happened, and all they can do is put on the best performance they can. You can’t please or appease all the haters, and trying is a proposition of diminishing gains.

That being said, we’ve essentially jumped two months from last week to now, so all the bonding the band has done was done ‘off-camera’ (not that I particularly wanted to watch more band practice, mind you). It also seemed a bit anti-climatic to end the episode before the big performance takes place.

As for Fuuka’s dilemma about her feelings for Yuu conflicting with her pledge to Koyuki, well…at this point I still see Fuuka winning out. She’s the title, after all.

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Fuuka – 06

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This episode of Fuuka has no band/light music club practice, no Mikasa, Nachi or Iwami, and precious little Fuuka. Instead, true to its title, it’s all Hinashi Koyuki all the time, starting with a particularly bad day at the recording studio. Koyuki just can’t manage to find her voice, and it’s likely largely due to “Nico-kun” being back in her life.

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First, we look back on their friendship, when she seemed to have much harder edges and a tomboy streak. Yuu was a crybaby prone to moping, but took direction well, and genuinely seemed to enjoy spending time with Koyuki, adventuring and such. Indeed, at this time, Yuu liked Koyuki, he just couldn’t muster the courage to say anything.

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As for Koyuki, her home situation isn’t great, as she cries herself to sleep as her parents war downstairs. When she becomes a child of divorce and moves to Tokyo with her mother, her friendship with Yuu is tragically cut short, just when they’d made promises not just to make snowmen, but to start a band like their mutual favorite – HEDGEHOGS – and share the stage one day.

I understand Koyuki’s attraction to Yuu and vice-versa a little more now now – they were largely each other’s only and best friends. People fall for their besties all the time. Yuu, for Koyuki, was an escape from her unpleasant home. Koyuki drew courage and chivalry out of Yuu.

It’s just a bit unfortunate Yuu tells her he “likes it better when she smiles”, because it plants a seed in her head that her smile around him is some kind of prerequisite for him liking her. I’m sure ‘lil Yuu didn’t mean it that way, but still…

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Fast-forward to now, and when Yuu admits he avoided contacting her out of fear she hated him—when she avoided contacting him out of fear he hated her—the assertive Tama-chan comes back out, inadvertently bringing out the mopey, submissive Nico-kun. It’s a nice scene, because A.) it lets us see another side of Koyuki and B.) it shows how quickly their old dynamic from when they were kids can reassert itself.

When Yuu talks about the band Fuuka made him and others join, it really irks Koyuki, to the point she can’t listen anymore and has to go. She leaves on cordial, even upbeat terms, however, as she gets Yuu to renew their deferred promise to share the stage someday.

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Koyuki then gets splashed by a truck just when Fuuka happens to be running by, and invites her into the bathhouse she lives above. Koyuki gets to take the measure of her potential rival, and Fuuka’s bubbly exuberance and physicality contrasts nicely with Koyuki’s more modest, solemn bearing. Koyuki also learns Fuuka has never even thought of being in a relationship, which buoys her spirits as she heads home: maybe regaining Yuu’s affections won’t be so hard after all, eh? Riiiight.

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And because we can’t have two episodes of Fuuka in a row end on an upbeat note, we end instead with two amateur photogs in a “Starbuccos” looking over a shot of Koyuki and Yuu pinkie-promising in his street. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up on a tabloid magazine cover Fuuka happens to notice while walking by a newsstand, or something.

I’ll just close by saying I didn’t much mind the dearth of music or band practice this week, because, if I may confess, I don’t much care for that part of this show. It may yet change my mind, but for now I’m content with the relationship stuff.

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Kuromukuro – 26 (FIN)

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With Ken planning to leave Earth to help Zell and Muetta fight another battle, Yukina is forlorn, but she regains the will to do something about it thanks to her supportive circle of friends, who have always served as a kind of Scooby Gang, performing impressive feats by utilizing and pooling their individual talents. Akagi in particular takes one for the team, as ultimately Yukina’s happiness is more important to him than being her husband.

 

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When it comes time for Ken, Zell, and Muetta to make their move, trying to open a wormhole to Zell’s world with the Pivot Stone, Yukina and her friends descend on Kurobe lab armed with their wits, the press (so there are eyes on the military’s actions), and Yukina’s unyielding determination to accompany Ken on his journey, lest he go and get himself killed.

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Sebastian also lends Yukina, Sophie and Kaya a hand, while we learn with shock that Dr. Hausen is Kaya’s dad (good for a chuckle). It’s understood that Ken, Zell, and Muetta, along with Yukina and her friends, are violating international law through their actions, but neither Graham nor Scully are quick enough to stop them.

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Even when Scully corners Ken, Zell and Muetta, Yukina manages to pilot Medusa, bursting through the wall and giving Ken an open path to the Kuromukuro. And when she grabs a hold of Kuromukuro and Ken demands she let go, Yukina…doesn’t. She’s in this for the long haul, whether he wants her in danger or not. Ken accepts that Yukina (whom he calls his “wife”) won’t take no for an answer.

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Unfortunately for Yukina and Ken, Tom and Shenmei have orders to stop them at all costs, and while Ken ultimately succeeds in going through the wormhole, it isn’t with Yukina, and they are in an instant separated by perhaps thousands of light-years.

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Cut to a few years later, and thanks to the technology lifted from the Efidolg mothership, mankind has developed interstellar flight, and have built a spaceport a slightly older Yukina, Sophie and Sebastian utilize to finally meet up with Ken (whom Yukina knows is still alive thanks to a bauble given to her by Dr. Hausen).

After a tragic separation, this epilogue paints an optimistic future for Yukina as she says a temporary goodbye to her family and strikes out in the vast expanse of space to join the man she fell in love with. Like him, like the samurai, she is always going forward.

And that finally does it for Kuromukuro. The ending episodes weren’t quite as good as when all shit hit the fan and everyone had to deal with the aftermath in episodes 6-8, but they were still solidly entertaining.

P.A. Works took an offbeat, novel approach to the sci-fi mecha genre, but with lovable characters above-average animation and taut action, and a good helping of the all-important “not taking itself too seriously”, the studio churned out another winner.

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