Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 11 – Playtime’s Over…Unfortunately

TRIGGER WARNING: This episode contains a sequence of graphic violence.

The last nine episodes and change of Moonlight Fantasy have largely consisted of Makoto, Tomoe, and Mio basically goofing off while demonstrating their immense powers in this world. Then, just when he’s gained a third companion in the newly-humanized Lich he names Shiki, Tomoe starts bleeding profusely and keels over.

Like most of Moonlight’s cliffhangers, I expected this one to be resolved in the first five minutes, possibly in a comedic way. It…didn’t. Shit suddenly got real at the end of last week’s episode, and it stays real and very dark for the vast majority of this week. It’s almost as if Moonlight wanted both Makoto and us to experience the sudden realization that we don’t really know the first thing about this new world.

The adventurer woman and her two associates raid the Illusory City, and the magical ring Drahpnir explodes in an ensuing fight, killing an orc who was just doing his job as well as Tomoe’s Fragment, hence her keeling over. In response, and after reading her deeply prejudiced memories, Makoto takes his revenge on the adventurer woman by stalking her, cutting off her forearms, and then stabbing her through the throat. Fuckin’ Yikes.

It is without doubt the most dark and disturbingly violent this series has ever gotten, and it doesn’t spare the blood. Like Tomoe’s collapse, it comes out of nowhere, but maybe that’s the point: this show is done taking it easy on Makoto, and is now treating him more like Re:Zero treats Subie: like the new world he’s in is always trying to kill him and those he holds most dear, and surviving is a constant struggle.

While it’s laudable for Moonlight to take a chance at going dark, it kind of undermines that a bit by throwing us back in its usual goofy comedic milieu before we’ve even had sufficient time to process the shocking gore we just witnessed. Makoto brutally murdered a woman, and is back to being the straight man in between Mio and a recovering Tomoe bickering. After a memorial service, it’s just tonal whiplash. It’s…odd.

But while things return to “normal”, the reset button is not hit on Makoto’s psyche. His experience that night changed him forever, and also told him that if he wants the Demiplane to be safe, he’s going to have to learn a lot more about this world. For him, that means leaving Tomoe and Mio and enrolling at a university in the neutral town Rembrandt told him about.

But in the first instance since the first episode of the Goddess interfering in his existence on this world, when he goes through a mist gate to the city with Shiki, he ends up materializing alone in the middle of another wasteland, and is immediately attacked by Sophia and Mitsurugi, who don’t just look like a couple of tough customers…the former is able to lop off a couple of Makoto’s fingers!

The shit truly hit the fan at the start of  this episode, and by the end Makoto finds himself just about neck-deep in it. I appreciate the show’s ambition in picking the path of grim drama, but I can’t deny my neck still aches from that sudden direction change. All that said, this episode, the second-to-last of this cour, makes the previous ten feel like an extended prologue to the real story. Not sure that’s a good thing!

P.S. It remains bizarre that nearly all humans think Makoto without his mask is some kind of hideous monster, when his character design just doesn’t read that way. The show could at least show us how they see him through their eyes…

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 10 – Underlord

After two straight cliffhangers involving the two forest-dwelling sisters, Eris and Aqua (which does sound like a sports drink!) are effortlessly defeated by Makoto and Mio. The weaker adventurers are teleported to the Illusory City, which is apparently an actual physical place…albeit a foggy one.

Eris and Aqua are fun enough in their quirky/serious sister act, but when they take Makoto and Mio to the “Forest Ogre” village is when the episode really starts to bog down. I honestly cannot tell you how many village elder scenes I’ve sat through in my day, but it’s a lot.

Most of them put in more effort than Moonlight Fantasy here. It’s all very by-the-numbers listless, aside from Mio’s adorable envy at Eris and Aqua’s shisho holding Makoto’s hand a second longer than she got to

The obligatory village banquet takes place, and again, it’s just kinda there, not really distinguishing itself in any way. Thankfully, Ains Ooal Gown’s freakin’ cousin crashes the party and livens things up. Yes, the lich has more vitality than the anonymous, homogenous villagers. The lich talks a big game, but obviously Makoto ain’t losin’ to no skeleton.

Rather than kill him, they take him to the Demiplane to hear his story. He’s been striving all his life (and death) trying to become a “Grant”, a rare and special human that can travel between worlds. [Nudges your side hard] Sounds familiar, mmmmm? 

Tomoe, demonstrating a knowledge of other worlds that surprises Makoto a bit, says Grants are Grants not for what they are, it’s more bestowed upon someone by dint of having found a passage between worlds.

Lich (I didn’t hear a name) ends up forming a contract with Makoto, and gains a ripped bishounen body, which combined with seiyu Tsuda Kenjirou being particularly velvety, makes the Lich the third member of Makoto’s now unisex harem. But no sooner does he gain one member than he seems on the brink of losing another!

Without any explanation whatsoever, Tomoe keels over and starts bleeding out. It’s the highest stakes we’ve ever seen in this show. And while I’m fairly tired of these cliffhangers-for-the-sake-of-cliffhangers, I need to know dear sweet dashing Tomoe will be okay. Wait…what’s that? The next episode is titled “Goodbye?!” 

Shiiiiiiiiiit…

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 15 – The Flag

This episode was not for the faint of heart. Once faced with her past tormentor, Lord Idol Rabier, memories and emotions from Raphtalia’s past start to flow out like water from a spigot. She remembers her village, and her best friend Rifana, as she has her sword pointed at Idol’s neck.

But Idol only cowers so long, and when he learns she’s one of the demi-humans he used to torture in his dungeon, he draws a hidden sword and puts up a fight. He ends up tripping on his own whip and falling backwards out a window to his apparent death. Raphtalia then decides to investigate the dungeon, and Naofumi, Filo, and Van accompany her.

As she walks with Raphtalia through the dungeon where she once spent an untold duration suffering pointless beatings at Idol’s hand, Melty is disgusted that such things went on in her kingdom right under her nose. Unfortunately, the truth is Idol is not the only one perpetrating such heinous acts.

Raphtalia, meanwhile, continues to dredge up memories, both of her village being raided by Idol, to being carted off to the dungeon with Rifana, to the beatings. Through it all, Raphtalia tried to obey her late father (killed in the Wave) and keep smiling, even in the hardest times. During the beatings, Raphtalia defiantly won’t cry out, but maintains a semblance of a smile.

Her friend Rifana doesn’t fare as well; she loses the will to eat and soon grows weak and feverish. While Raphtalia clings to her duty to smile in order to keep others’ spirits up, the one thing keeping Rifana going is her hope that they can return to their village and raise their flag, the flag that was proof that the demi-humans were able to build their own village.

All Raphtalia can offer her is a small flag made from a stick and scrap of cloth, but she’s grateful even for that. Then one day, the two are ripped apart, as Raphtalia is sold to a slave merchant, leading to her eventual purchase by her and Rifana’s favorite hero, that of the shield. Back in the present they find three survivors in the dungeons, the third being her old friend Keel.

After Naofumi heals him, Raph asks Keel where Rifana is, and he tells her. While she must have hoped the rest of her life that the Shield Hero would save her, he came too late; there’s nothing left of Rifana but her skeleton, still clutching the little flag Raph gave her not long before they were parted.

It’s a sickeningly awful sight to behold, and it causes Raph to break down into a fit of despair and self-hatred. She curses herself for not being able to protect anyone, and deems herself unworthy of standing beside the Shield Hero.

Of course, Naofumi has something to say about this, and assures her she did nothing wrong. On the contrary, the only reason he didn’t fall into his own pit of despair and run away from his duty as hero is because he met her, the first person he could really trust, and which led to meeting Filo and Melty.

On another plane, Raphtalia says goodbye to Rifana before gathering her earthly remains for a proper burial. Then she and the others return to the surface, where not only is Idol still alive (they really should have checked to make sure he wasn’t), but is in the process of summoning a monstrous beast sealed away by past heroes…for revenge, I guess?

Once summoned, the T.Rex-like monster promptly steps on Idol, reducing him to a flat film of pulp. It’s a fittingly unceremonious, darkly comic end for a character who was never anything more subtle than sniveling evil incarnate—good riddance! As for our dino-pal, I’m sure he’s a tough customer but likely nowhere near as formidable as, say, Glass, so I’m confident Naofumi, Raph and Filo can take care of it.

But damn, what a dark past Raphtalia had. Hopefully her unplanned trip to the site of the worst times of her life, and putting Rifana to proper rest, will give her some closure and end the nightmares. Not to mention she was able to rescue Keel and two other demi-humans, who would have certainly shared Rifana’s fate were it not for her.

Attack on Titan – 10

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After building a partial Titan to protect Mikasa and Armin, Eren considers going on alone to his parents’ basement in Shiganshina. In the present situation, Armin is crippled not only be fear, but the feeling he’s worthless and holding the other two back. One would think he wouldn’t still feel this way after his baller plan to liberate the resupply depot, but then again this is a pretty stressful situation, which can lead people to reopen still-raw wounds.

The reality is that Armin is a crucial member of the young triad: the brains. So it makes sense that those same brains can betray him by making him overthink things and be his own harshest critic. One reason Eren is a more effective conventional fighter is that he doesn’t think as much. So Eren leaves it to Armin to secure his safety as well as Mikasa’s, because of the three he’s the only one who can do it.

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To do so, Armin must disarm and expose himself to Woerman and his troops; which takes every drop of courage he has, but also proves he has plenty of courage. Unfortunately, Woerman is so spooked (rightfully so) by the prospect of Titans who look, walk, and talk just like humans, he’s no longer thinking rationally, only viscerally, which means he’s impervious even to Armin’s most dogged and reasonable arguments for sparing their lives.

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Woerman is about to take them out with a second cannon shot when his arm is suddenly stayed by his superior, General Dot Pixis, whose sudden presence catches everyone by surprise. He’s a bit of a weirdo (if he’s going to be eaten by a Titan, he’d prefer if it was by a smoking-hot lady Titan), but he’s got a lot more sense in this situation than Woerman, and more importantly, his actions aren’t driven by fear. He uses his judgment and his authority to save the three cadets, then asks to meet with them personally atop the wall.

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I liked Pixis’ attitude towards the nobility in an earlier episode, and I like his no-nonsense practicality in dealing with Eren here. He takes Armin at his word that it’s possible someone like Eren with “Titan Power” can be utilized to re-take Trost, if only by sealing the breach in the wall with a boulder.

Pixis first asks Eren if he can do it, but Eren isn’t entirely sure and worried about answering “irresponsibly.” So Pixis rephrases: Will he or won’t he? Obviously, he will. But even if Eren has found a valuable, powerful ally in Pixis (and we’re by no means sure of even that), and even if he does seal the breach and save the district, there will always be some, like Woerman, who won’t look at the evidence or listen to reason. Those who have let Fear take over, and will consider anything remotely Titan-related an enemy to be vanquished.

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Attack on Titan – 09

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The show chooses a rather odd time to introduce us to a new group of characters in the elite Scout Regiment, led by “neat freak” Captain Levi. I saw bizarre because there’s still quite a bit that needs to be resolved with Eren. As great as it is to see soldiers other than Mikasa having success in killing Titans, the truth is I was patiently waiting for the show to get back to the main characters, which thankfully happens about a third of the way in.

Before returning to the present, we find out what became of Eren after being swallowed. Not surprisingly, he ended up in the Titan’s gut, surrounded by his dead comrades being slowly digested, which…gross. But Eren refuses to give up, doggone it, and a light flashes and he transforms into Titan Eren, bursting out of the Titan who ate him and commencing his rampage.

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When Eren wakes up, he finds himself in a bit of a predicament. No good deed goes unpunished here on AoT, which means an entire battalion of his fellow soldiers have their weapons trained on him, Mikasa, and Armin. They’re led by a very twitchy commander who looks like he needs a lot more sleep, and everyone is convinced Eren is a Titan in disguise who needs to be eliminated.

With Eren still highly disoriented, negotiations break down pretty quickly, with Mikasa only offering temporary relief by putting herself between the guns and Eren and challenging anyone who wants to try to hurt him to get through her first. Eren finally cries that he’s a human, but the commander has already made his decision. Mikasa tries to get Eren away as the cannon above them fires, but Eren…does something else.

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And that something else is transforming back into a Titan, using his only partially constructed Titan body to shield his friends from the cannon blast. Once again, a bold action keeps him and them alive, but only a little longer: it doesn’t exactly help his claim he’s human, and I doubt such a trick can be pulled twice in such short order.

Preceding Eren’s last-ditch effort to keep death at bay, he experiences flashes of memory, like his dreams in earlier episodes, in which his father tells him the key around his neck and the secrets in the basement of their home are of utmost importance. I imagine the power he’s awakened has something to do with those secrets.

But first things first: how are he, Mikasa and Armin going to stay alive long enough to uncover those secrets? Forget the Titans; he’s got humanity against him at the moment. Talk about ‘out of the frying pan, into the freezer’.

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