Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 04 – Snakes and Sinners

When Sawa sees the note from Janome she rushes to his hideout, but Kuzuhara heads her off in his car. He won’t let her walk into a trap and ruin the path to revenge he laid out for her just to save a little girl who wants to kill her. It’s not part of his plan, so he knocks her out with the back of his blade.

Unfortunately for him, Sawa is a part of Janome’s plan, and Makoto is working for him now (I guess?) and she siccs a group of changeling bomb dogs(!) on his car. In the ensuing explosions, he and Sawa are separated, and Makoto scoops her up and skedaddles. I guess Janome and Makoto knew Sawa wouldn’t make it to his hideout on her own…???

In a touching flashback to a happier past we’re reminded how cute and kind and human-behaving Sawa once was, as her brother assured her a bird would choose her someday. She wakes up to an array of disco lights and ominous organ music being played by our big bad, Janome with his back turned to her. It’s all a bit…Saturday morning cartoon villain, to be honest!

What was supposed to be dark and menacing comes off as goofy and cheesy, especially with his host of snakes that honestly might’ve have been slightly scarier if they were CG. Janome has a special restraining chair and birdcage all set up for Sawa, and forces her to submit to him fully, lest his badly-drawn snakes kill little Asahi.

He draws some of her blue blood while describing his evil plan, promising to free her and Asahi when that plan is complete, at which point she can kill him if she likes. Oh, and he’s got her brother Takeru strung up on the organ. He’s been keeping him barely alive while using his blood for his experiments, and Sawa is next. Pretty fucked up for a guy who claims to “worship” her clan!

This is when things go a bit off the rails. Makoto, who revealed she was working with Janome, switches sides again by killing the snakes holding Asahi. Another snake takes her arm in return. I guess I was right about her being a triple agent, but we know so little about Makoto that neither apparent turncoat move really did anything for me?

She feels more like a plot device than a character with discernable motivations, and it was time for her to side with Sawa here, so she did. Then Janome eats one of the crystals made out of Sawa’s blood, briefly becomes Mr. Freeze, and then turns into a frankly laughable snake-man monster. At this point, Matoko—who you’ll remember is missing an arm and bleeding profusely—still has the strength to ascend out of the hideout with a cable gun. Uh, bye, I guess??

Sawa enters her much cooler-looking changeling mode, but even that’s undermined by a transformation sequence that is frame-for-frame the same every time. Even this mode apparently isn’t enough, but with his last ounce of strength Takeru tosses some vials full of orange…stuff? at both Janome and Sawa.

The stuff seems to have opposite effects on the two, subduing Janome and powering up Sawa, who slices Janome clean in half. Her revenge thus complete, Sawa goes to her brother, who says it’s too late for him. Then she says in that case she’ll die with him, but then Asahi makes a noise and Sawa remembers why she came here in the first place! Roll Credits.

Sorry for the snarky tone, but Jouran kinda fell apart in this fourth episode, with thing upon thing simply happening and character upon character doing things that either didn’t make a lot of sense or were extremely heavy-handed (i.e. the organ schtick). With Sawa’s nemesis Janome turning out to be a relative pushover, I don’t know what’s next for her and the rest of Nue, but I don’t much care either.

DanMachi III – 11 – Don’t Speak

Welf and Mikoto manage to successfully stall Gareth with a last-minute assist from Tsubaki, ordered by Hephaistos to assist Hestia Familia. Wiene manages to give Tiona the slip, but the chase continues. In the process, the Amazoness witnesses Wiene save a demi child from a crumbling bridge.

When she corners her again, Tiona can’t go through with killing her, and lets her go, now sensing what it is Argonaut-kun saw in her, and acknowledging she’s more than just another monster.

Wiene reunites with Bell and Haruhime, but it’s not long before they’re confronted by Bete. Again asserting her newfound confidence and strength, Haruhime stalls Bete to allow the others to flee, then uses Uchide no Kozuchi to summon a leveled-up Aisha.

Haruhime may not be that good in an offensive battle, but those who love her like Aisha consider her battles to be their battles, and gladly fight in her place. Even though Aisha loses and doesn’t feel particularly cool about it, the fact is, she is extremely cool, while Bete’s just a hotheaded dork.

That brings us to the titular Decisive Battle, in which Bell and Ais dance once more, only this time with blades instead of eveningwear. As Finn expected, Ais isn’t prepared to make any distinction between Wiene and Monsters Who Make People Cry based on what she’s seen. Wiene went berserk before, she could do so again, and she can’t allow it.

That said, she is surprised that Bell is able to hold his own in their initial scuffle, such that she dispenses with holding back for the sake of their unique bond, and takes things up a notch. Bell can’t keep up, so he spams Firebolt at the stone arch above them and uses the debris cloud as cover to escape.

Finding the barred gate to a secret passage where he once stood up for Hestia, Bell has Wiene go through to meet up with the other Xenos, promising he’ll be right behind her. Round 2 with Ais commences, and Ais is not playing around. Her only accomodation to Bell is to warn him that she is going to cut him and it will hurt, a lot.

If she were to spill Bell’s blood, I doubt things would ever be the same between them—maybe they won’t be anyway—but thankfully Wiene sensed Bell was only lying to protect her (again) and comes back to put herself between Ais and Bell. Ais is shocked to hear her speak and express emotion—specifically concern for Bell.

It’s an inconvenient truth she’d rather not deal with. Things were easier when she thought Wiene was just a monster; now it will hurt her to kill her, but she’ll still kill her, because she has “deadly claws” and a “terrifying wing”. Wiene responds to that by literally tearing off the monstrous parts of her (not her jewel, that would kill her).

Wiene tearfully assures Ais that she ever loses herself again she’ll disappear “like she’s supposed to”, but she doesn’t want to go back to being in the “pitch black”. Bell saved her, and she wants to stay with him. Having witnessed Wiene act not like a monster at all, Ais concludes she can no longer kill her. She tosses Bell a potion and lets them go.

Bell and a healed Wiene meet up with Haruhime, Lili, and some Xenos who got separated from the main group, and Bell and Wiene say goodbye one more time. This time Wiene tells him she won’t cry while they’re apart because she doesn’t want him or the Familia to worry about her. Haruhime suggests Wiene and Bell pinky swear that they’ll meet again.

Unfortunately, that might not happen, as throughout this whole operation, the trickster Hermes was playing the good guys like a fiddle. The main Xenos group encounter a dead end that wasn’t on Daedalus’ map, and Hermes arrives with Asfi to confess he faked the map to corner them. He condemns the Xenos as “heretical” and politely asks them to die. As expected, he has his own personal agenda, and he’s making his move.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 69 – Tsukimine Showdown

This is it: with just one episode left in reserve (presumably for an epilogue), the big clash between Team Eriol and Team Sakura has finally come. After revealing himself, Eriol releases the true forms of Spinel and Ruby, and the trio really play up the Big Bad Villain act.

Eriol shrouds the entire city in darkness, which puts everyone to sleep except for Sakura and Syaoran (though even he’s woozy). If Sakura can’t lift the darkness spell by daybreak, everyone will remain asleep…forever.

The show makes a point to underline the stakes by showing almost every secondary character out cold, including Touya, who has no more magical power, after all. Sakura asks Eriol why he’s doing all this, but Eriol will only tell her if she breaks his spell.

Spinny and Ruby aren’t just arrogant, but also exceedingly powerful, and even when Yue arrives to shield Sakura, both he and Kero have a tough time keeping pace with Eriol’s guardians. The aerial battle between Yue and Ruby in particular is a beautiful action set piece.

Once it’s clear Sakura will have to stop playing defense and do something about the darkness spell, she takes out her cards, notes that eight Clow Cards remain to be converted, and then proceeds to convert six at once. Two “refuse” to change, however: Light and Dark.

Since those cards are most closely tied to her guardians, Kero and Yue tell Sakura to absorb the two of them into her staff. She does so, and her staff becomes longer and grander; Syaoran helps her hold it steady, and relies on his Clow Reed blood help convince the cards to change.

Once both Light and Dark are Sakura Cards, Sakura invokes Light, which proceeds to shatter the darkness and restore the regular sky. Everyone wakes up, safe and sound, and Eriol and his guardians stand down, his mission to help Sakura convert all of his cards now complete. Call it tough love on his part: in order for Sakura to summon the power, he had to create a crisis only she could fix.

When Kero and Yue go chasing after Eriol, Spinny and Ruby, Sakura prepares to follow, but Syaoran holds her up so he can tell her something he’s been wanting to tell her practically all season: he likes her. That’s right; the kid finally got the words out!

Alas, all he gets in response before the credits roll is Sakura’s shocked expression. But as she puts it in the preview for the finale, she once had no idea how she felt about Syaoran…but now she does know.

No Guns Life – 23 – Pulling Your Own Trigger

Deep within Juuzou’s sub-brain and in contact with his subconscious, Tetsuro assures his friend that he’s not there to pull his trigger (a somewhat dirty-sounding string of words, but that’s an observation I’ll table for this review), but to get Juuzou to realize and accept that it’s his trigger to pull: his will, his choice, his wish. By hanging in there against Seven, Kronen buys the kid the time he needs, even though from the outside it looks like his sub-brain is toast.

With Seven/Pepper and Juuzou’s battle attracting the media and crowds of gawkers, Cunningham decides it’s time to sweep their operatives under the rug, and sends an elimination squad after Seven and Peppeer. I expected the pair to be betrayed by Berühren, just as I expected Seven to easily repel their would-be killers. However, Pepper’s hand is blown off and she starts to bleed out.

Rather than getting Pepper some medical help, Seven decides to obey the last order his Hands gave him: destroy everything. That includes the EMS officers and crowds gathered around the plaza. Kronen can’t stop him, but Juuzou does. Having successfully “pulled his own trigger” as Tetsuro suggested, Juuzou can draw on powers previously only available when he had a Hands, but without a Hands.

As a Gun Slave Unit in the military, Juuzou put all the decision-making on his Hands. As a resolver in the city, Juuzou worked to fulfill the wishes of his clients so he wouldn’t have to think about his own. But thanks to Tetsuro, he now knows he’s not beholden to anyone, even his past self. He can choose to move forward and fight for what he wants. So can Seven, but Seven won’t hear him out, and their destructive duel continues.

At Berühren HQ the board makes preparations to bring Tetsuro in, having been impressed with his recent progress and not wanting the only successful instance of Harmony on the loose. However, one board member, the woman, vetoes the decision. She wants to watch Tetsuro a little longer without interfering, so see what else he might show them. Berühren still considers Tetsuro a tool and their property. Hopefully he’ll prove otherwise in the next and final episode.

No Guns Life – 22 – The Shackled Man

Kronen and Kunugi would have probably fought for some time to an eventual draw. As it stands, Kunugi is almost out of ammo, so he takes the opportunity to flee when the fight betwen Juuzou and Seven distracts Kronen.

That’s just as well; I’m here for the Gunhead Fight. Unfortunately for Juuzou, Seven and Pepper are rather effectively demonstrating the advantage of a gun having a shooter, as Juuzou is soon beaten down into a corner.

Juuzou recalls that his own Hands once gave him the choice of whether to carry out the mission to eliminate the other GSUs. Like Pepper, he chose to do his duty, in the absence of anything worth fighting or dying to protect.

In what may be the first evidence of nuance in Pepper’s character, she actually seems to lament the fact Juuzou won’t join her. She considers not wanting to die to be what makes people human, and can’t fathom why he insists on dying rather than joining her and living, even if it’s shameful.

Pepper decides to give Juuzou what he wants, but Seven is stopped in his tracks by Kronen, allowing Tetsuro to use Harmony on Juuzou. Tetsuro remembers Juuzou telling him never to use Harmony on him again, but he also told him later that his choices and his worth are his own to determine.

Tetsuro choses to save Juuzou, and the only way to do that is to become his Hands, at least for the time being. When he hacks into Juuzou’s sub-brain, he finds a pedestal containing Juuzou’s trigger, and Juuzou’s voice begins to guide him through his formative memories.

I say formative because even here Juuzou doesn’t remember anything about his past prior to becoming a soldier and GSU. He does, however remember the mission to destroy the other rogue GSUs. We get to meet Twelve, who has a big pot belly and drinks sake from a dainty bottle rather than smoking cigarettes (back then Juuzou simply administered the drugs with an inhaler).

Twelve tells Juuzou that he and his fellow gunheads are tired of war and simply want to live their remaining days in peace, and to have a bit of fun after so much toil. He seemingly convinces Juuzou, who gives Twelve an escape route. But Juuzou simply led them to a spot where he could take them all out from a clock tower—an appropriately noir-y venue for betrayal.

It was there, after he had blasted to smithereens the people who considered him a brother, and heard the mocking comments of his fully human handlers who call him a “lunatic extended” that a switch flips in Juuzou. All this time he’d been insulating himself from blame and regret because it wasn’t his hand on the trigger.

But Juuzou wasn’t—and isn’t—an inanimate gun. He’s a gun with a human soul and personality, capable of making his own choices then and now. He chose to let his Hands use him to eliminate his brothers rather than letting them go. When he realizes that no matter who pulled the trigger, the decision was his, he snaps.

This is the first step on the road to the remorseful Juuzou we know, a Resolver living every day trying to atone for the red in his ledger. He’s always felt both he, the people in his life, and the world are better off if he never had a Hands again. But it’s not just his choice anymore, it’s Tetsuro’s too.

No Guns Life – 21 – Babes and Bullets

Tetsuro uses Harmony to remove his own extension limits, enabling him to punch the shit out of Wachowski’s face. The old man then draws from the “every action has a reaction” speech from the Merovingian in The Matrix Reloaded, but Tetsuro is done listening to someone who has thought nothing of the pain and suffering caused to achieve his ends.

He also declines to finish Wachowski off, feeding him back his line about the ideals of men tending to change with time. Despite his scary extended form, Tetsuro neither fears nor hates Wachowski—in fact, he almost pities him. So he’s won on every front.

Well…not every front. Kunugi decides to inject drugs into his own fellow Spitzbergen member Shimazu in order to augment her—that’s right, HER—organic body in order to better fight the Gun Slave Unit. When those huge bazongas popped out of Shimazu’s armor, I knew we were going to have a Bashful Cartoon Juuzou reaction. It’s a silly but welcome bit of levity, though I wish so much NGL’s comedy didn’t rely so much on boobs.

But as averse as he is to hitting women, he doesn’t have much of a choice, so he swallows a bunch of cigarettes to counteract Kunugi’s drugs and brings Shimazu down. It’s here when Kunugi notes that Spitzbergen’s continued terrorism actually increased Berühren’s profits, since public support for self-defense by extension increases with each attack.

Kunugi reveals he was hired by Cunningham to keep that sick cycle of violence going, working against both Wachowski’s attempts at moderation and true believers like Shimazu who aren’t in it for the money. When Shimazu tries to attack him, her arm is sliced off at the wrist by Pepper…who thank goodness doesn’t proceed to compare their boobs.

Kunugi, Pepper, and Seven are all there to bring Juuzou down, but Pepper (with her seiyu Minase Inori really savoring a rare villainness role) admits that protecting a “weak asshole” like Cunningham and killing a “sad old man” like Wachowski isn’t her idea of a good time, just her nine-to-five.

Pepper also tells Juuzou that she knows the whereabouts of the Hands who abandoned him in the midst of bringing down the other Gun Slave Units. But she won’t tell him unless he beats Seven, something she doubts he can do without a Hands.

She also offers more than once, to become his Hands, a matter on which she and Seven vehemently disagree. The perpetually insecure Seven is so threatened by the competition he violently comes between the two, coming awfully close to hurting Pepper, who shrugs it off. I for one wouldn’t mind if at some point Pepper casts aside her loyalty to a corporation that doesn’t give a shit about her.

Juuzou doesn’t believe Pepper, but is so outraged that she’d even bring his Hands up, goes into no-holds-barred full combat mode. Pepper does the same with Seven, but then has to simply step back and watch as the two units go at each other in earnest with blinding speed and ferocity—kinda like the ED, but less informal street-brawly, more epic final-bossy.

Finally, Kunugi comes upon the injured, bleeding Tetsuro where Seven left him, but is confronted by Kronen in his first S2 appearance. The Corvette-loving cop isn’t there to bandy words with Kunugi; he’s there to “take responsibility for an embarrassing fellow pupil.” Of course, by his ultra-rigid code Tetsuro is also a criminal to be dealt with, but at the moment it can’t hurt Tetsuro to have an enemy of his enemy around.

Oregairu 3 – 05 – Making It Work

After enduring a heartbreaking ending last week, Yui doesn’t appear in this episode, which is just as well as Hiki, Shizuka, Iroha and Yukino are more than sufficient. As Shizuka lays out the situation to Hikki, he laments that the prom already in danger of being checkmated.

The “anti-prom faction” most likely led by Yukino’s mom has already sown the seeds of negativity regarding the event. “The prom might be cancelled” can become “The prom should be cancelled” much easier than overcoming the naysaying. In effect, the detractors are using the original “social media”—word of mouth and inertia—to undermine the prom.

Hikki wants to help. He also knows Yukino considers making the prom a reality to be the ultimate personal trial, and will surely reject any offer of help, lest it descend into undue dependence as before. While she chain smokes Shizuka helps Hikki determine the proper language with which to approach this complex problem.

Having shot the breeze with a sensei, Hikki moves on to his kohai in Iroha, who stops him from entering the StuCo room without her knowing how he’s going to deal with Yukino. He ends up surprising her (which he does a lot anyway since her surface opinion of him is so low) by making this about taking responsibility for the complication of both the prom situation and his relationship with Yukino.

Like Shizuka, Iroha gives Hikki her blessing in his imminent confrontation with Yukino. But while Shizuka was mostly joking about having to marry him if she ends up fired over her role in the prom scenario, Iroha is still harboring some pretty strong feelings for this guy, with which she’s not sure quite what to do, resulting in frustration and her refrain he and his friends are a “pain”…which they most certainly are!

When Hikki and Yukino finally meet in the StuCo room (with Iroha watching), he comes right out and asks to help, using a lot of qualifying language to underscore how it won’t be like other times when she’d come to depend on him; he’d be moving as instructed and not interfering. He gives this argument everything he’s got, because in the moment he thinks it’s best.

Yukito appreciates the offer, but is resolute in making the prom happen without Hikki; as Shizuka said, it’s a matter of personal pride as much as wanting to grow beyond her dependency. When he mentions how he wants to “save” her, it’s a word that catches Iroha totally off-guard, while Yukino understands immediately, and is happy just to hear it, even if her position remains unchanged.

Hikki is of the mind that they’ll need more than just a Plan A to get the prom out of check, and so he didn’t come into that room without a Plan B for how he’d end up helping Yukino. He proposes something that came up last time they had a “difference of opinion” when it came to how to accomplish a job: a good old-fashioned showdown.

Rather than helping Yukino directly, he’ll go his own way and use his own methods to bring the prom to fruition, foiling those who want it to fail but don’t want to be the ones actively stamping it out. This appeals to Yukino’s desire for independence as well as her competitive spirit and love of winning. They even set up stakes: whoever loses the showdown will have to do whatever the winner says.

What had been palpable tension suddenly lifts from the room and the two launch into good-hearted trash talking, the parameters for their interaction having been established. Iroha, who is privy to all of this, feels like a voyeur listening to either a confession, a lovers quarrel, a breakup, or any combination of the above. Watching the two affectionately bicker is a glimpse into another world where Iroha is baffled by the dialect and local customs.

Yet her impressively eloquent thought: “Seriously, I never imagined their talk would get this complicated while being so clear and precise”, could just as well be describing Oregairu’s dialogue, in general, which is always about more than the sum of its words. Finally, she’s frustrated that while Hikki is so determined to “take responsibility” for things with Yukino and Yui, he has yet to take responsibility for how he’s come to make her feel…and how uphill her battle truly is.

Steins;Gate 0 – 18 – What is this New Devilry

What happens this week? God, what doesn’t happen this week?! (Oh wait; sorry, “there is no God…”) But first, a couple of misconceptions I’d gathered at the end of the last outing. Mayuri is not dead; a bullet only grazed her head.

Also, Kagari/K2605 didn’t shoot her; it really was a stray from the soldiers. Far from being her attempted murderer, Kagari completely loses it on the troops in her mother’s name, lopping off their heads and shooting them with their own rifles.

When Mayuri gets a (pained) look at her future adoptive daughter, K2605 snaps out of it and becomes regular Kagari again. But nobody’s out of danger yet. Maho and Daru are still being held captive by soldiers, and the mastermind finally reveals himself, first to Rintarou, then to everyone else on that rooftop.

It’s Professor Leskinen. He, or rather numerous “hes” throughout history, are behind everything: the “voice of God” in Kagari’s head to manipulating events so Kurisu would die but her memories of the time machine would be preserved through Amadeus.

Leskinen/s have been preparing for this very day, the perfect time when competing global powers (Stratfor and DURPA) converge on the Time Machine, allowing him to swoop in and snatch it for himself.

I’m pretty sure I never suspected Leskinen was the Big Bad; only when they showed part of the face of the guy who brainwashed Kagari did I comment that he didn’t look like Leskinen. Now Judy Reyes I suspected (who drinks red wine on a plane? A little turbulence and you’re wearing it), but not the mostly harmless-seeming bad Japanese-speaking professor.

Of course, Lesky relied on the “soft-heartedness” of everyone from Maho to Rintarou to facilitate his plan, and was all too willing to appear harmless until it was too late to stop him. His reveal is a double-edged sword: there’s more clarity now to who Rintarou & Co. are up against, but “villain spends inordinate amount of time explaining his evil scheme” cliche really has been done to death.

It’s a bit disappointing to see Lesky reduced to a chortling mad scientist, but at least there’s a kind of dark symmetry with Rintarou’s long-dormant Hououin Kyouma. Oh, and thanks to wasting so much time explaining his plan, he ends up never getting to even implement it. Instead, Kagari uses her remaining strength to grab him.

He puts a couple more bullets into her but she doesn’t let go, giving Suzu time to take care of the rest. Only her dad can stop her from beating Leskinen to death. Then things get really crazy when a Black Hawk helicopter opens fire on the roof before another team of soldiers drops in.

Then an Apache helicopter shoots the Black Hawk, causing enough chaos for Mayuri to grab Suzuha and do what they originally set out to do: use the time machine. After bidding Rintarou farewell, the machine is activated and begins to glow green, but one of the helicopters fires a missile at it. There’s an explosion, and the among the resulting debris is a part of the machine.

Did Mayuri and Suzuha fail to get out in time? We don’t know for sure (just like I wasn’t sure Mayuri was killed or Kagari didn’t kill her last week). If they made it, perhaps we’ll pick up on their experience, and Mayuri will be able to undertake her first big mission as Lab Member #002.

Furthering the confusion is a lengthy text Rintarou gets from Mayuri. Is it just a text she sent in the present that simply took a while to get to him, or is it a D-mail? The timing suggests the latter.

If they didn’t make it, there’s still the Phone Microwave and Daru and Maho’s know-how (not to mention a captive Leskinen), and they’ll be making more green bananas. In either case, Rintarou & Co. are down, but far from out.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 12 – Doing What You Can

Shortly after Hakuno and Saber are expelled from the Seventh Level, Twice Pieceman paying Leo a visit from the Angelica Cage in an apparent flashback. Their unaligned positions are laid bare: Twice believes there is nothing left of humanity but its past; Leo still believes he can restore it if only he has the grail. As a Harwey, Leo has long been groomed to be the ultimate leader, but while he can “control” humanity, but he can no longer save them, or even live among them.

Kishinami Hakuno may not even be a real human, but he still wants save them and continue to live as one. The previous act’s ending suggested he and Saber had a long climb ahead of him, but while FELE faithfully replicated the old-school video game cruelty of having to start back at the beginning, Hakuno had in his pocket the bookmark of hope Alice gave him, which serves as a handheld save point.

Once he and Saber finish falling, he uses the bookmark like a phone flashlight to lead them through Limbo, where they first met. Rin gives a report; she’s still on the Seventh Floor just barely staying alive against Leo and Gawain as SE.RA.PH begins to crumble around them. Leo doesn’t have a concrete plan for defeating Leo, but a simple realigning of his thinking will serve him immensely in Round Two.

In Round One, he and Saber were separated, having to fight their counterparts one-on-one and being so overwhelmed they had no time to regroup. This time, they’ll arrive side-by-side and fight as one unit. Neither Hakuno nor Leo believe a mass of anger and hatred—much of it collected from those who failed to defeat Leo—will ever be sufficient. As such, when Hakuno and Saber arrive to spell an exhausted Rin, Leo is more bemused than anything else; the Dead Face has a death wish.

But Hakuno doesn’t wish do die, nor is he not dying because he’s pursuing a concrete goal. He wants to keep living so he can find a goal. The warmth of Saber helps him to focus just the anger within him, not the hatred. She believes she can break Gawain’s Excalibur, and only needs Hakuno’s best for an instant to do so.

It’s the ideology of hoping the best they can do will suffice against Leo’s bored arrogance and certitude. Indeed, Gawain and Excalibur put on a bigger, brighter show than the tiny red glowing dot that is the Dead Face-turbocharged Saber, while Hakuno’s face starts to crack and bleed like he could come apart at any moment.

But again, a moment is all Saber needs, and it’s what she gets, smiling when the light comes, knowing she’s got it. She shatters Excalibur Galatine in two and then activates her Golden Theater for One Final Play, Fax Caelistis; the Closing Rose that Fames Stars.

Excalibur is broken. Gawain is disarmed. Leo concedes defeat, and the battle is over without him dying, as is the rule of the Holy Grail War…though his still-smug look still amusingly pisses Rin off.

Leo rings the bell signalling Hakuno’s victory, and the floating chunk of rock upon which they stand begins to rise, taking them up to Angelica Cage AKA the Tree of Possibilities (without a bath, to Saber’s disappointment). Rin is upset that Leo still looks like he won something even though he just lost…but maybe he did win something by losing.

Unlike Pieceman, Leo hasn’t given up on humanity, only he lacked the ability to save it. By conceding to someone who can, a part of his goal could yet be achieved. The best Hakuno could do was enough to get to Pieceman. Will it be enough to defeat him? And barring defeat or victory, can humanity be saved another way before SE.RA.PH perishes?

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 11 – Status Quo Equals Decline

When last we saw Hakuno and Saber, he had just saved Rin and Rani from an eternal stalemate (though only Rin survived); we now rejoin them as they ascent to the seventh and highest floor, where master Leonardo Bistario Harwey dwells. Even though Rin and the female Hakuno managed to defeat Leo and his servant a thousand years ago, it was only because Leo “gave up the win” of his own volition.

They arrive at a painfully gorgeous yet empty place, and are met by the Saber-class servant Gawain, who has neither the will or reason to raise his sword against them. Turns out Leo was saved by Twice Pieceman (the one who holds the grail and from which whom no servant has ever taken it) and subscribed to the ideology of Twice, maintaining the status quo on the floor.

Since humans can only survive through change, he became humanity’s enemy. After about a century, he determined no challengers would come forth, and settled into a slumber, where he remains…until now. Gawain leads the new challengers to the place where Leo sleeps—though not before Saber pays respects to her former master, whose tomb is situated on a picturesque cliff overlooking a waterfall.

As much as Saber liked that Hakuno, Rin opines that perhaps if Leo and not Hakuno had won and made it past the Seventh Floor, perhaps SE.RA.PH and humanity might not be in such a bind, because Leo wouldn’t have lost to Twice as Hakuno did. Even so, it’s likely civilization would have still fallen for other reasons related to the kind of person Leo is.

Regardless, the present Hakuno must do what neither Leo (devoted to preserving the present) nor Twice (obsessed with the past) ever could: look to the future; the only way forward for mankind. To do so, he must do what his predecessor did and win against Leo…only this time when he awakens, Leo is prepared to fight back rather than conveniently resign.

As soon as he’s up and about, Leo sics Gawain on Saber and starts attacking Hakuno, who can barely deflect his attacks with Dead Face. Saber is similarly overwhelmed by Gawain’s power, and notably neither are able to properly support one another or compensate for their shortcomings. It’s a relatively quick but still extremely epic and badass battle.

Leo orders a coup-de-grace in the form of Excalibur Galatine, Gawain’s Noble Phantasm that basically creates a facsimile of the sun itself to incinerate his opponent. While Saber and Hakuno survive the onslaught, the ground beneath them does not, and they fall, perhaps all the way back to the lowest level. Speaking of levels, it’s as if they approached a boss in an RPG without sufficiently leveling up, and simply got schooled.

Unfortunately, there’s no time to gather more power; nor is there time to ascend all the way back to the Seventh Floor: Chakravartin will be complete in a matter of hours. Just when Hakuno was his most resolved, he’s swatted down…and even if he manages to reset Moon Cell, it will most likely mean deleting the last thousand years of history.

Since that history contains the defeats and amassed negativity that led to his creation, restoring Moon Cell will presumably claim Hakuno as well, meaning history could easily repeat itself with no more hero to correct it again. Still, I’m sure he, Saber, and Rin can figure something out.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 09 – The Emperor’s Soliloquy

The “film” the female Kishinami Hakuno shows her male counterpart is of her own quest with Saber as her Servant, and a more noble, loyal and true servant, no one could possibly have.

Like the current Hakuno, the female Hakuno learns that she’s neither wizard nor Master, but a “recreation of the data of someone who once existed”; an “NPC”. But Saber tells her that’s of no consequence, either to her value as an individual or her role as prospective victor of the Grail War.

It is in She-Hakuno’s moment of deepest despair and crisis of identity that Saber reveals her True Name: Nero Claudius, fifth emperor of the Roman Empire and one history condemns as a raving despot and dictator. Naturally, Nero herself has a more nuanced life story to tell, and that story is told through what appears to be the work of Ueda Hajime, a frequent collaborator with Shinbo Akiyuki who also animated all Monogatari EDs.

Saber makes no attempt to sugar-coat her tale or excuse the life she led, only to lay it all out to provide Hakuno with context in which to consider her sage advice. Nero loved strangers and commoners more than the royal family to which she belonged. She’s proud of bringing the Great Fire of Rome under control, but as her reign went on she became seen as a moody, unstable dictator.

The Senate could not depose her as long as she had the loyalty of the common people, but when push came to shove no one came to her aid when she was brought down, and she died alone, in despair, with the love of no one. Both in its flamboyantly unconventional presentation, themes of adoration and fall from grace, and truly epic scope, Saber’s story parallels that of the vampire later known as Oshino Shinobu in Monogatari.

And now that we finally have the whole picture of who Saber is, and was, we can appreciate just how much weight there is behind her words of encouragement, for both past and present Kishinami Hakunos. She is at peace with her demise, and will set her life ablaze for the sake of those who wish to believe she is beautiful. In other words, who will love her.

Whatever love she had in her lifetime—of family or people—was either nonexistent or fleeting, so it stands to reason she’s not picky about where she gets her love now. Both Hakunos may deem themselves pale imitations unworthy of having a Servant as excellent and wise and kind as Saber.

They are utterly mistaken for thinking that way. Saber doesn’t care from whom she gets her love. In fact, she would prefer if those people did not “mind every little thing” about themselves.

Call it the extension of her affinity in life for those deemed “less than” in the society in which she lived. Commoners. Bastards, cripples, and broken things. And yes, even NPCs who have been killing and hating for a millenium.

Saber’s been dead three millenia, but doesn’t let it get her down for a second. To her, Hakuno isn’t beholden to the person or people he was before. As far as she’s concerned, he’s is a new person, who deserves a fresh start without prejudice. But he has to take it.

Reinvigorated and healed thanks to the ministrations of Rani (or, at least, her ghost), Hakuno and Saber head back out. Saber faces off against Berserker once more.

After copying and countering his martial arts moves with Royal Privilege, she unleashes her Noble Phantasm: Kingdom of Heaven and Hell,  the Golden Theater of the Deranged, and Veil of Petals, ending Berseker without any difficulty. It’s a short but gorgeous battle.

That leaves Hakuno to deal with Julius, who no longer has any backup. Julius tries his usual spiel denigrating Hakuno for not being alive or having a wish or any business fighting him. This time, the words don’t hurt Hakuno. Saber has opened his eyes. Julius isn’t talking about him; those were other people, and he’s not interested in hearing about their pasts.

After a trippy zero-gravity battle in which the two Dead Faces fight in midair as their surroundings rotate and reorganize around them, Hakuno delivers a decisive blow. Yet even in his dying breath, Julius assures him that he’ll end up like him eventually.

Hakuno doesn’t worry about those words; he’s recommitted to being the best Master he can be for the best Servant one could ask for, who is waiting for him at the ladder to the sixth level.

Rani and Rin seem poised to remain behind having accomplished their shared goal of getting a “decent Master” to the sixth level. But citing the increased difficulty at that level, Rin changes her mind and follows the pair after all, while Rani vanishes in a cloud of digital code.

Thinking back on this episode, I’m astounded at how much it achieved in 25 scant minutes. It felt like a feature film, without ever feeling overstuffed, while cementing my undying love for this version of Saber, whose story was so vividly and painfully told. My head is still spinning. That was truly awesome.

Kokkoku – 08

Sagawa completes his merging with a Specter while able to maintain his own will. I just wish his various “experiments” he performs had a bit more bite. Now he’s essentially just a Hulk-like OP monster man, and he doesn’t even seem to take much if any joy out of his success. As he says, he’s a cautious man and always has been, but in this case a cautious villain is a dull villain.

Killing off his remaining followers didn’t really do much for me, since I never knew them anyway. It’s Sagawa’s apparent disinterest in quickly dispatching the Yukawas, Majima and Sako that confuses me.

More than once they butt right up against him, and he doesn’t put a lot of effort into taking them out, giving them ample chances to escape him, and even leaving Tubasa with them.

At this point in the story it feels like things have stalled, which shouldn’t be the case considering how the villain has powered up and become even more lethal. But it feels stalled because Sugawa is such a drab, boring dude who has slowed to a crawl right before the finish line.

It’s even more concerning that this is the eighth of what I presume to be 11-13 episodes. If things are this slow now, and the only remaining baddies remain as dull as they are, how in the heck are they going to fill the time?

Perhaps the family drama that results if Gramps really is expelled from Stasis, and Takafumi continues to oppose the rest of the family’s desire to be rid of Stasis, will inject some energy into the proceedings. All I know is the increased focus on the bad guys this week didn’t do the show any favors.

Little Witch Academia – 25 (Fin)

Ya know, I re-read my review of last week’s episode, and started watching the finale form the same jaded viewpoint, until I said nah, “let’s just have some fun watching this play out,” not worrying about how much the finale owes to Gurren Lagann (just like Trigger’s aesthetic is basically Neue Gainax) or how crazy positive everything gets towards the end.

Say what you will about Trigger, at least—unlike the Evangelion film—series, LWA got an actual ending! And it’s one in which Akko finally takes charge and her words—combined with the believing hearts of all around her—are finally backed up by similarly lofty action.

Those like a version of myself that thinks the ending got too “cute”, may I direct you to the name of this show, which contains the words “little witch”? So yeah, I lightened up, sat back, and enjoyed it when Chariot and Croix gave the six girls their “final battle” outfits, and one by one the secondary trio falls off the mega-brom like stages of a rocket after expelling all their magic.

Eventually it’s just Akko and Diana, the ultimate demonstration of what is possible when airs are dropped and people come to understand each other. They’re fighting an evil, “magic creature”-ified ICBM that can basically do…er, whatever they feel like drawing it doing.

Needless to say, this is quite entertaining to the crowds, suddenly distracted from the fact nuclear war might have been started by one of the rival countries. The crowds start organically rooting for the two witches in the sky, being streamed online due to…something, and then goes superviral when Croix transmits the feed to the world.

The really boring, annoying old white dudes initially have a problem with these witches and it’s even suggested shooting them down, but Andrew, like the crowds, has come to believe in Akko and in witches and magic, (despite his fervent anti-magite upbringing).

Drew’s argument gains the endorsement of the prime minister, who’s a little person like the King in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, only he actually has all the power. Mr. Mustache is quickly cowed by the political chain of command.

Imbued with the positive vibes of their collected audience, Akko and Diana suddenly have a lot of surplus magic to work with, and Akko doesn’t waste it, as we get a visually arresting scene of their aerial battle in which complicated spells are flying left and right like the Siege of Hogwarts.

It’s frankly quite satisfying to finally see Akko put her money where her mouth has been all this time. She’s worked hard and gone through some things, and this is the fruit of her labor, as well as the fruit of the bonds she’s formed with her friends, including Chariot.

Heck, she even summons the legendary broom and saves Diana from falling. Diana! And she looks damn good doing all this in her “final battle” dress whites.

Eventually, it’s time for Akko and Diana to put their powers together, hold hands and point the Shiny Rod at the camera as they stare a hole in said camera, and shout GIGA DRILL BREAKER!!! (okay not those exact words, but something like that) at the top of their lungs, tearing the ICBM monster a new one.

Could I have done without the explosion becoming a smiley face that giggles like a little kid? Oh yeah…but whatevs. Akko finally proved not only that her believing heart is her magic, but everyone’s is…if that makes sense? Whatever, the soccer riots are now over, so it’s all’s well that ends well!

All that was left was to see Akko finally take off on a broom…without the aid of the Shiny Rod (which she allowed to disperse and for the stars to return to space and become the Great Bear). And…she fails, again.

Only, when Sucy and Lotte cheer her on and deliver that believing heart spiel, she’s suddenly laughing and joyful and hey presto she’s levitating all on her own! The damage Chariot did, it would seem, wasn’t permanent.

Also, Croix ends up in jail where she belongs…oh wait, no she doesn’t! She’s allowed to go out, fix the messes she made, and continue her research, presumably under supervision. Happy endings for everyone!