Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 07 – Night of Fallen Souls

The last battle between the Gotei 13 and the Quincy looked a lot like the current one, only in reverse. Yamamoto’s thirteen captains back then were vicious, savage killers who made quick work of the Quincy … yet Yamamoto wasn’t able to take Yhwach’s life.

That day of slaughter is memorialized in a painting in Yamamoto’s dojo, as seen by a young Shunsui. Yamamoto warned Shunsui that if the subject of the painting ever returned to Soul Society it would be a dark day indeed. And so it is, with Yamamoto being sliced in half by the real Yhwach after expending all his energy fighting a fake one.

With the Head Captain defeated, Yhwach orders the Stern Ritter to summon their foot soldiers to complete the slaughter of shinigami. The soldiers meet little resistance, mowing down their opponents with east and leaving Soul Society dark, burning, and drenched in blood.

It would appear Yhwach and the Quincy have had their revenge, but after being unable to simply stand by and watch countless lights of souls in Soul Society wink out, Ichigo manages to power his way out of Quilge’s prison and completes his journey through the Garganta.

The first Quincy to encounter him falls quickly by his sword, but before engaging Yhwach, Ichigo pays a visit to Kuchiki Byakuya. Before the sixth captain dies, he takes solace in knowing Rukia and Renji are still alive, and asks Ichigo for a final favor: protect Soul Society—what’s left of it, that is.

Yhwach is surprised but not totally shocked to see Ichigo before him, having defeated Quilge’s prison. It only reinforces the fact that Kurosaki is one of the five special threats that stand in the way of total victory over Soul Society. Ichigo, meanwhile, is already bloodied and battered and not in the best shape to face off against the Quincy king.

That said, he still puts up a hell of a fight, even if Yhwach is likely holding back from killing him. Their ensuing battle is nothing like the flame-wreathed inferno of Yamamoto vs. Yhwach. Things get downright 2001 trippy with the colors and patterns created by the sheer force of their attacks upon one another. But in the end, Yhwach puts his blade in Ichigo’s throat.

Confident he’s disabled but not killed Ichigo, Yhwach prepares to take him back to their realm so that he can revive him and turn him to his side, But he encounters another surprise: Ichigo is still conscious, Yhwach’s stunning strike blocked by a Quincy technique: Blut Vene.

Yhwach surmises that Ichigo’s persistent contact with Quilge’s prison when he busted himself out caused the Quincy’s spiritual pressure to mix with Ichigo’s, enabling him to unconsciously use the Blut to save himself. Yhwach takes off the kid gloves and surrounds and restrains Ichigo with rocks.

But then, just like that, he gives the order to withdraw. It isn’t a retreat, merely a break in the invasion that will be resumed again soon. The Quincy have only a limited timespan in which they are able to function outside of their realm, and that time comes sooner than Yhwach expected due to a little illusory fuckery from his brief encounter with Aizen.

Speaking of fuckery, Yhwach gives Ichigo something to chew on while heals up and awaits his return: the fact that he’s … a Quincy? Or, at least, possesses Quincy blood. It’s why Yhwach hesitates to refer to himself as Ichigo’s “enemy”—as far as he’s concerned, Ichigo is family: a prodigal son to be brought back into the fold. But something tells me Ichigo won’t be going quietly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 04 – Piling Up the Ls

16 distinct invaders are identified by Squad 12, and within 7 minutes of their arrival, over a thousand shinigami are dead, most of them rank-and-file, but apparently also some as high-ranking as Lieutenant Kira. In order to stem the slaughter, the Captains get involved, meeting the challenge of their Quincy counterparts. Squad 2 Captain Soi Fon, Squad 6 Captain Kuchiki, Squad 7 Captain Komamura, and Squad 10 Captain Hitsugaya all take on the nearest Stern Ritter with their lieutenants standing by.

It quickly becomes clear that their conventional shikai attacks are useless against the Quincy, so one by one they summon their bankais, thereby falling right into the Quincies’ trap. Captain Kurotsuchi discovers too late that they don’t seal bankai, they steal bankai. And so just like that, four of the toughest motherfuckers in the Gotei 13 find themselves toothless against their foes. Hitsugaya even loses his composure in front of Matsumoto!

With Kurotsuchi racing to the front lines with his belated news, his underling Akon unilaterally makes the call to Ichigo via Urahara, who tells him Ichigo is busy with a Quincy opponent of his own. However, once Urahara learns how badly Soul Society is doing, he cuts the battle short by impaling Qulge Opie with a pillar of golden light and putting Ichigo on the phone.

Ichigo is, as expected, Soul Society (and Hueco Mundo’s) last hope against the Wandenreich, because reasons so far unknown even to Squad 12, his bankai alone can’t be stolen by the Quincy. So Urahara sends him off to Soul Society right away to spell the hurting Gotei 13.  Unfortunately, he was too confident his surprise attack killed Quilge, who launches a surprise attack of his own.

Rather than a direct attack, Quilge targets the Garganta in which Ichigo currently resides, using bonds of blue flame to close the opening and imprisoning Ichigo in what amounts to a giant hamster ball (or cat toy). Needless to say, this is not an optimal series of events. It’s now up to Orihime, Chad, and an injured Urahara—along with whoever else in Hueco Mundo can still hold a weapon—to take Quilge out, before the Quincy take out Soul Society.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 03 – Special Threat

After crippling the Tres Bestia with ease, Quilge Opie seems happy to see Ichigo, and unlike Ichigo, he knows all about him. His king has designated him a “special threat” that he’s to neutralize with all due haste. When Ichigo demonstrates he can catch and deflect Quilge’s projectiles, he levels up to a stronger form.

Ichigo hangs in there while Inoue shields Chad, Loly, and Menoly, but Quilge blocks his Getsuga Tenshou. In the midst of gloating, he’s suddenly coldcocked by a giant fist: the Tres Bestia have come to, and each sacrificed their left arms to create Ayon, a massive berserking brute of an Arrancar. It pummels Qulge into the sand, arresting the degregation of Inoue’s shield.

In the living world, Ishida pores through the books in his father Ryuuen’s library, and is scolded for doing so. He then rifles through Ryuuen’s desk, and finds an old black Quincy tome with some manner of secrets that aren’t disclosed to us, but give Ishida great pause.

In Soul Society, the Gotei 13 prepare for war, not waiting the five days indicated by the initial Quincy invaders. The Sixth seat of the 13th Squad tells the two scrubs that while Shinigami are all about balancing souls, Quincy utterly destroy them, resulting in an imbalance that will eventually destroy both worlds.

How exactly this benefits the Quincy is unknown, at least to me. Do they dwell in some realm beyond both worlds, or do they have no intention of surviving those worlds’ annihilation as long as Soul Society pays for their genocide? Revenge at any cost?

Whatever the case, Captain Kurotsuchi blames Head Captain Yamamoto-Genryuusai for this whole mess, for failing to kill the Quincy King when he had the chance centuries ago. Kurotsuchi, by the way, is the one responsible for the deaths of 28,000 denizens of Soul Society, all in order to balance the scales of souls

The Tre Bestia stand over the fallen Quilge, but when a gloating Apacci approaches him, he runs her through with a sword of light, then uses his Quincy powers to absorb and merge with Ayon to become what he deems an unattractive but ultimately necessary monster. He’s ready to kill one and all of the assembled Arrancar and humans, but then Ichigo intervenes in his Bankai form, ready to rumble once more.

But ultimately, Ichigo has already fallen right into the Quincy King’s trap. While he’s busy fighting Quilge in Hueco Mundo, the King and the other Stern Ritter (the equivalent of Captains or Espada) arrive at Soul Society and waste no time slaughtering the hapless lower-level Shinigami.

Pillars of blue flame erupt from all over, resulting in looks of concern from all the Gotei 13 captains and lieutenants you’ll already know if you’ve watched a sufficient amount of Bleach like I have throughout the years. I’m overjoyed to report that among them is our girl Kuchiki Rukia, who finally makes an appearance. I just wish it was under happier circumstances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DanMachi IV – 11 (Part 1 Fin) – The Banquet Continues

When we last saw Bell he looked…pretty dead! Fortunately, Ryuu soon finds a pulse—the Goliath Scarf Lili and Welf gave him saved his life. Ryuu keeps him alive by tying off his arm and healing him, but he’s still unconscious when Bors and what’s left of his party arrive and become the Juggernaut’s next targets.

Ryuu saves Bors by coming between him and the beast’s initial strike, and she’s even able to kinda fight it, though she soon suffers too many wounds to continue. There also apparently isn’t adequate time to warn Bors & Co. that their magic will be reflected back onto them. When the dust clears, only Bors is still alive, and only thanks to a magic dagger that is now dust.

The force of the reflected magic sends Bell rolling into the river, where he’s found by Marie. Would it be nice if Marie were more than just a plot device with fins? Sure, but that will have to suffice, as she uses her magic mermaid blood to reattach his severed arm and heal him.

The last episode’s one saving grace is that it truly raised the stakes by having Bell taken out so easily. I thought he’d have to deal with having only one arm at least until he returned to the surface where it could be treated by higher healing. So while Marie’s healing powers have been demonstrated, this frankly feels like a cop-out.

Regardless, it at least puts Bell back in the fight, and this time he knows how to fight the Juggernaut: with numerous precise strikes to its legs to slow it down. Ryuu, who is still out of commission, can only watch and marvel at how much stronger “Cranel-san” has become since they last crossed paths.

She yells to him when it looks like he’s going to repeat his mistake of launching a Fire Bolt at his foe, but this time he uses the Goddess Blade to absorb all of the magic the Juggernaut reflects back, which he then uses for an all-or-nothing coup-de-grace.

Unfortunately, when the dust clears, the Juggernaut isn’t defeated; it’s merely stunned and wounded. Worse, this is exactly what Jura (remember him?) wanted, as it enables him to attach a beast-taming magic stone to Juggernaut. After a little more maniacal laughing, he cracks his whip, hoping to finish Bell and Ryuu off once and for all. But Juggernaut either can’t be tamed, or just can’t be tamed by someone of Jura’s level.

It turns on him immediately slicing him clean in half. Let it never be said that the Juggernaut never did anything right, and let us hope that’s the end of the maniacal laughing. Unfortunately, it’s far from the end of the ordeal, and Jura’s final whip-crack attracts a still-alive Lambton, who then proceeds to swallow up both the immobile Ryuu and a Bell lunging after her.

Back up at the 25th Floor, Cassandra is doing everything she can to keep Lili and the others from descending any deeper without spilling the beans about her premonition. But while her vision seemingly didn’t factor in Marie’s clutch assist, it turns out the banquet of tragedy is only getting started. The 27th Floor’s Boss, Amphisbaena, an impressively huge two-headed dragon, is now Lili’s crew’s new opponent, and there’s seemingly nowhere to hide.

As for Bell and Ryuu? He blasts them out of the Lambton’s stomach, but they only end up out of the frying pan and into the freezer. Remembering Eina Tulle telling him different parts of the Dungeon have different colored walls, he notices the walls here are white, which means the Lambton transported them all the way down to the Deep Floors, an area known as the White Palace where death is around every corner even for the most elite (and unwounded) adventurers.

So yeah, Bell and Ryuu are in deep shit, and Lili and the others aren’t that much better off. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to get out of this one, but I very much want to find out, so both cliffhangers can be considered an unqualified success!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. Looks like that’s it for this cour! DanMachi IV will continue in Winter 2023.

DanMachi IV – 10 – Game Over, Man

When Marie hears the shouts of agony from the Dungeon itself, all she can do is stay below the water and cover her ears; later, she wishes she was by Bell’s side again. But unfortunately for most of this episode, Bell and Ryuu are simply standing around as they express outrage at what Jura has done.

Jura, in turn, laughs maniacally as he describes his diabolical scheme, then laughs some more. Rinse, repeat. It got to the point I actually said to the TV “Alright already, enough build-up…let’s get to it!”

Not helping matters is that the static, repetitive scenes of Bell, Ryuu, and Jura are interspersed with scenes of Ouranos delivering exposition to Fels via magic telephone. It’s all very dull and plodding, not what you want when trying to build tension for the Dungeon’s most vicious beast.

When Bell’s party starts to hear the screams from below, Lili prepares to head down to see if they can help, which is quite possibly the dumbest thing she has ever attempted. Thankfully, a weeping Cassandra stops her and tells them they’re only alive right now because they’re here.

The beast itself is…kinda weak looking? Like some kind of giant emaciated, skeletal horse-mutant. Maybe that’s the point; even Bell notes that it has barely any armor, even as a well-placed strike from his sword simply bounces off. It does kill a great number of the adventurers in the Ryu hunting party through slicing in half, dismemberment, and straight-up glomping, but the vast majority of its victims are nameless NPCs.

It isn’t until Bell says enough and charges at the beast that we truly learn just how deep into the shit everyone is. Bell is level four, and has learned a lot in his short time on these lower floors, but against the Juggernaut, as it’s known, he might as well be one of those scores of Bors’ adventurers getting cut in half. None of his attacks have any effect, and Juggs is far faster than he anticipated.

By the end of the episode, Bell’s right arm has been sliced off, he’s been thrown across the cavern like a ragdoll, and the life is fading from his eyes. Considering he may be the strongest adventurer down there, that’s not a good sign. He’s no longer in any condition to even dodge the Juggernaut’s next attack, which begs the question of who (or what) will come to save the day—or at least get him and Ryuu to safety?

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.

Dororo – 07 – Spiders Are People Too

In the wake of the loss of Mio and the orphans, Hyakkimaru isn’t really in the mood to talk, even though he has his voice back. In an effort to get him to cheer up, Dororo tries to tickle him, no no avail. Instead, they encounter yet another monster.

This time it’s a frightening spider woman, who is busy sucking the life out of a man she hypnotized into thinking it’s a much more pleasurable experience. Notably, the man is not dead, and once Hyakkimaru frees him, the spider woman runs off, and we later see she’s transforming into human form.

This form allows her to grab the immediate attention of the first man to come across her passed out in a bed of flowers. His name is Yajirou, and he offers his home and his food to nurse her back to health. She has no human name, so Yajirou names her Ohagi.

She’s not particularly friendly, but his human food is good, and he’s not like other humans, not even harming a cockroach in his house. He values all life, big or small. In the night, while hungry for a human snack, Ohagi decides to have more rice instead.

As Hyakkimaru and Dororo spend the next two days searching in vain for the monster they believe is kidnapping villagers in a valley quarry where life is harsh, Yajirou is worried that Ohagi is getting paler and weaker, and offers to smuggle out of the town, whose lord is very stingy about letting people leave; he’d rather they work themselves to death at the quarry, making him money. It’s another sign that war or not, life is particularly tough for the little guy in this time.

Ohagi takes Yajirou up on his offer, but they come afoul of Hyakkimaru and Dororo. To their surprise, Yajirou confesses to being the “kidnapper”—the people who are missing he helped smuggle out of the town for their own sakes. Ohagi, meanwhile, doesn’t kill if she doesn’t have to, preferring to suck just enough life out of people to allow them to revive. But the village guard shows up, ready to arrest Yajirou.

Ohagi attacks them and slips away from Hyakkimaru, for whom it’s become a habit to tear off his fake arms and attack red form in his vision. But Ohagi isn’t always red; an indication she’s not always evil or demonic, just perhaps more often than most. More importantly, she’s not trying to kill anyone, just survive, and Yajirou wants to help her.

While I thought Ohagi would eventually betray Yajirou (like the scorpion and the frog—due to her nature), my expectations were nicely subverted, as it seems theirs will be a more symbiotic relationship.

The guard catches up with them and puts two arrows in Yajirou just after Ohagi agrees to go with her and be her regular “prey.” Yajirou strikes out in anger, and Hyakkimaru once again intervenes as Ohagi takes her true spider monster form. But once again, it’s not as simple as Hyakkimaru defeating the demon and regaining a new part of himself.

Thanks to Hyakkimaru’s hearing, he can hear both Yajirou’s pleas not to kill her, and he stays his blade, allowing the two to escape without further incident. Provided Ohagi has a willing source of life force in the person of Yajirou, Hyakkimaru can be confident she doesn’t pose a threat. For once, Hyakkimaru and Dororo aren’t walking away from a complete bloodbath; there’s hope for this couple.

While we’ve had a human serving as the instrument for a demon blade, we haven’t yet had demon who wasn’t just pure evil all or all about killing. We here at RABUJOI are all extremely pro-spider. They do humans far more good than harm as devourers of house pests, and aren’t really interested in hurting us unless threatened.

Thus it’s only fitting that the first demon to have a more nuanced, dimensional character takes the form of our scary-looking but generally beneficial eight-legged friends. The final scene—in which an initially-spooked Dororo spares a spider leading to Hyakkimaru’s first laugh—was pitch-perfect. Even better than having a diversity of foes is when some of them turn out not to be foes at all.

Dororo – 06 – Not Everyone Can Get It All Back

Anyone who thought things were going to work out with Mio and her group of orphans has not been paying attention: Dororo is about people losing more than they can bear and trying to press on, but not everyone gets to survive. Some, like Mio and the kids, become another loss for our protagonists, who are cursed with the luck of survival, and with bearing witness to those who aren’t so lucky.

Dororo may have stumbled upon what Mio is up to all night, but Take is still blissfully unaware, and Dororo keeps it that way. Take, like Mio, dreams of the day they have the money to plant a rice paddy that will be green in spring and golden in the autumn. It’s what keeps them going, and it no doubt prompts Dororo to wonder what keeps him going.

At Casa de Daigo, Tahomaru urges his father to let him fight in the army. His head is full of steam and dreams of making his parents proud, but both father and mother forbid his demand, because they know all too well how easy it is to lose your life, no matter how good at martial arts one may be.

Tahomaru takes out his frustrations on his mother, who he’s suspected for some time loves and cares about something more than him. He knows he was childish to guilt trip her, but he’s continually vexed by the mystery of who or what dominates his parents’ thoughts. If he and Hyakkimaru ever meet, it’s not going to be cordial.

Dororo and Mio have to watch Hyakkimaru like a hawk from going back to fight the antlion demon while his leg wound is healing. Mio is eager to hear the voice Hyakkimaru gained , but he only wants to hear her song, which she says she sings to forget the pain. She lives with the pain of both everything she’s lost and what she must deal with nightly.

She worries her soul looks “filthy” to Hyakkimaru, but we can see through his eyes and it’s not; she’s being far too harsh on herself. Dororo also admits after his initial reaction that Mio is only doing what she must to survive. He tells her his mother never did what she did, and she died for it.

But unlike Hyakkimaru and Dororo, Mio doesn’t get to survive anyway, despite going to such lengths. Daigo’s soldiers catch her working on both sides of the conflict, which was always a risk too great no matter the reward, and they punish her by killing her, slaughtering the orphans, and burning their temple shelter.

Worse still, Hyakkimaru’s need to finish his fight with the demon draws him away at the worst possible time. He successfully defeats the demon, and the leg it took from him last week is fully restored. But it wasn’t worth it. I will miss Mio terribly; Mizuki Nana really brought warmth and empathy to her role, but she was just too good for this world.

When Hyakkimaru takes out his hatred for the soldiers and anger at himself for not being there when it mattered, it is a terrifying sight to behold, and almost verbatim what Biwamaru had feared: that the beast that emerged from the cave would be a monster. He doesn’t just quickly, cleanly kill the murderous wretches, he evicerates them, ignoring their pleas for mercy.

Dororo manages to stop him from killing the last man, who escapes and will probably report Hyakkimaru to Daigo, officially ending his time in the shadows and putting him squarely in his father’s sights. That may end up being a very bad idea, but Dororo had to stop him from killing everyone, lest the darkness consume him. He shows Hyakkimaru the bag of rice seed Mio finally got for her services.

She was on the cusp of achieving her dreams and those of the orphans, but their idealized future was never going to be safe in this harsh brutal land of warring factions, whether Hyakkimaru stayed to protect them or not. He couldn’t be a hero to Mio and the kids. All he can do is accept his luck, keep surviving, keep fighting the demons both outside and within, with Dororo making sure to serve as a conscientious check when his aniki’s pain threatens to explode.

Goblin Slayer – 04 – He’s Always Like That

The High Elf Archerhad no idea what she was getting into when she teamed up with ‘Orcbolg’. At first, it was kinda fun, sitting ’round the campfire, getting a bit drink, nibbling on melted cheese, teasing him about his helmet. It was the start of an adventure she was hoping to have.

But upon entering the once-grand ruins taken over by goblins, and finding a nearly-dead elf much like herself hanging from chains, things suddenly aren’t fun or exciting anymore. They’re sobering and dark and cruel. GS brains the goblin behind the poor woman, who is carried off to safety by one of the Lizardman’s conjured dragonbone warriors.

The experience of suddenly encountering a fellow elf in such a state lingers; the High Elf Archer looks traumatized and weighed down. The GS doesn’t have time to comfort her or anyone else; if anyone can’t continue, they should go; otherwise, they should stay.

She decides to stay, not feeling at all right about abandoning the party (especially since she’s the best ranger and marksman among them). But then GS comes up with a plan to take on the far greater goblin numbers…and it isn’t exactly sporting. They basically cast Stupor and Silence on them, and kill them in their ‘sleep.’

At first, the Archer wants revenge for what the gobs did to the other elf, but after the sixth or seventh or seventeenth goblin she’s repeatedly stabbing and letting the blood splatter on her face, she’s kinda not feeling it anymore…or feeling anything for that matter. She looks numb, and hard, and wonders how GS could have done this alone for so long.

The next stage isn’t as easy as slaughtering sleeping gobs, however, as it turns out they’re being led by a massive ogre, capable of speech (and trash talk). The parties’ efforts don’t really seem able to put a dent in his thick and quickly regenerating skin, the Priestess runs out of miracles for the day protecting them from fireballs, and the GS gets slammed hard against a column and briefly stunned.

When he has a couple potions, he gets back up and carries out another “plan”, which is to use a gate scroll to “transport” water from the bottom of the sea into the same space the ogre’s body occupies. The high pressure water cuts him in pieces as a blade would.

After finishing the ogre off with a sword to the brain, the party exits the ruins and are met by a friendly group of elves eager to join the fray…but it’s already all over. The party members wordlessly board the wagon. What is there to say? As the High Elf Archer later tells the Priestess, whatever that was, that wasn’t adventuring.

It was savage, joyless drudgery. Even if the end result was one of her people was saved and many more made safe by eradicating the goblins and the ogre, the way it was done just left a bad taste in her mouth. But more than that, she doesn’t like how easily the GS abosorbs such experiences as if they were just business as usual.

It goes a long way to explaining how he ended up so taciturn, unemotional, and obsessed with doing only what is necessary. She wants to show him another way someday, if it’s not too late for him.

Goblin Slayer – 03 – A Fellowship Forms

A High Elf, a Dwarf, and a Lizardman walk into the guild, and then into the lives of the Priestess and Goblin Slayer. While they have far loftier goals in mind—defeating a horde of world-ending demons—the Slayer won’t give them the time of day until they propose he kill goblins, to which he asks how many, how strong, and where.

The trio of adventurers adds much needed new personalities to the show, and I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings-style banter, with the Elf and Dwarf going at it about any number of things while still tolerating their company, and the stoic Lizardman floating above the fray.

The Elf doesn’t think much of the GS at first, but the Dwarf can see much practicality in what he does and how he does it. We also learn why the GS never cleans his arms or armor: the goblins would be able to smell clean metal, putting him at a disadvantage.

The GS would probably be content rushing into a situation where there were so many goblins he’d end up getting killed, but he’d certainly take a lot of goblins with him. He’s not quite sure that’s what the Priestess wantshowever, and so prepares to leave her behind to “rest.” However, the Priestess doesn’t like how he’s making decisions without her input, and voices her desire to come with.

And so the group of five adventurers set off to their first goblin target. But before that, they make camp and have a meal, in which everyone introduces themselves and offers a gift to the others. The Lizardman provides the meat, the Elf some elven bread, the Dwarf some firewine (that gets the Elf tanked), and GS provides some cheese from the farm where he hangs his hat (so to speak), which the others love.

He even opens up, but only when the subject of conversation turns to, what else, goblins. Specifically, how they come from the desolate green moon, and live their lives envious of the riches of Earth. It’s a story his late sister told him, and it’s clear he treasures it. As for the priestess, her contribution to the evening is insight into the GS, whom the others find particularly inscrutable.

At dawn the five strike out, and the High Elf demonstrates her prowess with the bow by sending a single homing arrow through the heads of two goblins at once; very Legolas-esque. They move with accompaniment of a metal riff, indicating that the goblins within the lair they approach aren’t going to be much of a problem; the main question will be how cleverly and awesomely they can dispatch them.

Goblin Slayer – 02 – Not a Man’s Man, but Maybe a Goblin to Goblins

This week begins from the perspective of a rose-haired farm girl who is going off to the city. She gets into a fight with her childhood friend, a boy who can’t go with her. Jump forward to the present, and the farm girl is a very buxom farm woman who prefers to sleep in the nude.

She’s friends with the Goblin Slayer, who rents a place to stay at the farm. He has a routine of inspecting the entire area for signs of goblins, keeping her and her dad uncle safe for no charge. He never removes his mask—not even for breakfast—but it’s clear the farm girl knows who’s behind it.

When they go into town, she can see that while she admires the Goblin Slayer a great deal, neither he nor his singular task of goblin slaying are particularly well-regarded. His fellow Silver-rank adventurers look down on his shoddy arms and armor and his weak chosen opponent, while the Porcelains wonder if he’s really worthy of Silver.

And yet, while they’re all jockeying for position to get the highest-paying or most dangerous quests, he waits until the end, when all the goblin-slaying requests remain unclaimed. The priestess is there too, and will stay by his side even though he refuses to go to the aid of another party of rookies.

Turns out those rookies come back alive, well, and victorious; it’s often just the roll of the dice out there. As for Goblin Slayer and his new companion, together they bring down an entire mountain goblin fortress. The priestess uses a new miracle, “Protection”, but to trap the goblins to choke and burn in the flames.

The Priestess doesn’t much like using the Earth Mother’s miracles for such heartless slaughter, but as the guild admin opines, the Goblin Slayer is doing something that needs to be done. There has to be someone out there culling the herds of the weakest rung of foes, or else they won’t be so weak for long. That makes him, and anyone who aids him, a net good for society, methods be damned.

The farmer’s daughter niece knows this, and also is simply glad her childhood friend is still by her side, even if he never takes off his mask. Her father uncle warns her not to get too involved with the guy, whom he believes “lost it” ever since their village was raided by goblins, introducing the GS’s motivation.

While certainly unglamorous, the GS’s adventures are known by at least one bard in a city, who tells the tale of how even after he saved the fair maiden from the goblin king, he left her to keep wandering the wilds the rest of his days, slaying and slaying and slaying some more goblins.

A tough-looking she-elf approaches the bard after a performance to ask if it’s all true, and he answers in the affirmative, letting her and her party (an old dude and some kind of lizard-man, also tough-looking) know where they can find him. Do they seek a fight with our tortured, single-minded slayer…or a team-up?

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