Golden Kamuy – 30 – The Flag-Bearer

The dead Russian doesn’t just have a wanted poster with a sketch of Kuroranke, but Wilk as well, as we learn the two worked together to kill the emperor. Ogata’s game of cat-and-mout with Vasily concludes when he makes the Russian shoot first—at the wrong thing.

Vasily saw signs of covered footprints leaving the unmoving cloaked figure, which led to an Uilta coffin in a tree. But it turns out the coffin was the decoy, and when Vasily shoots it, thats when Ogata, the cloaked figure after all, shoots Vasily through the face.

Ogata masked his breath by eating snow, but hours of that and sitting in the bitter cold take their toll, and he end up with a horrible fever. He starts to have delirious dreams of the past when he was still trying to recruit his ultra-pure of blood and heart half brother Yuusaku, the flag-bearer for their unit.

There’s a superstition in the army about the flag-bearer being a virgin as a form of protection from the bullets. Ogata never cared for that, but he can’t really complain when Asirpa and Shiraishi participate in an Uilta healing ceremony designed to draw out the “wicked thing” causing his fever—in his case, lingering memories of his failed attempts to corrupt Yuusaku.

During the ritual, Shiraishi meets with Asirpa outside, telling her it’s not safe for her in Russia, particularly when their guide killed the emperor. Kiroranke leaves the tent too and comes as clean as you’d expect, telling them his old name was Yulbars, and he and Wilk killed the emperor who forged a treaty that threatened all far-east minority peoples. Asirpa decides not to run away, hoping to find the gold “when the killing is done”.

Ogata’s dreams resolve in a revisiting of the episode 19, when we first learned of Ogata’s unfortunate family situation. When Ogata notes Yuusuke hasn’t killed a single Russian during his tour, he offers up a prisoner for him to execute, but Yuusuke refuses. The next time he marches into battle bearing the flag, Ogata shoots him in the head, ending the failed mission to bring him into the fold with Tsurumi and negating the superstition of the flag-bearer’s invincibility in the same shot.

Because ultimately, Ogata is right: surviving bullets on the battlefield has nothing to do with chastity, nobility of one’s blood or the purity of one’s heart or soul. Yuusuke may have been the most moral man on the battlefield, but that made him an easy target for any bullet, not just Ogata’s. When his blood spilled, it was just blood, like anyone else’s.

After an Uilta fortune-telling ritual involving reading the cracks in burnt reindeer shoulder blade (that apparently goes well), Asirpa joins Kiroranke and a recovered Ogata further north, but Shiraishi is poised to stay behind. They say their goodbyes, but when Shiraishi remembers Sugimoto urging him to keep Asirpa safe, he runs after them.

When we first saw the bone cracks indicating “someone approaching from behind”, I took it to mean Sugimoto’s group was closing on them and they’d eventually meet up. But here it’s revealed Shiraishi, was the person from behind foretold by the bone. Then, after they leave, more cracks appear on that same bone, turning the good sign into a bad one.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 29 – The Way of the Sniper

Sugimoto & Co. put on that big show for nothing; Asirpa & CO. were, as was hinted by the closing poop scene, already far to the north. We don’t check in on Sugimoto this week, and the possibility of the two groups reuniting anytime soon remains remote.

On one level, that’s a shame, because the relationship of Asirpa and Sugimoto forms the emotional heart of Golden Kamuy. Put simply, I care about the two of them more than anyone else, and the prospect of them being apart all season is…frustrating.

So far, Golden Kamuy has ably tempered that lingering frustration to a tolerable trickle, because on another level, the two groups together would simply be too many characters in one place. Separate, the two groups and their unique dynamics have room to breathe.

Also, while the main duo are a critical piece of the whole, they are not the only piece of interest by a long shot. The two split groups also mean double the cultural education and immersion, as demonstrated when Asirpa & Co. enter the lands of the Uilta, whose traditions include suspending the coffins of their dead in the air with planks rather than bury them.

In this part of the island reindeer are the main game, and Ogata immediately commits a cultural faux pas by shooting one. It was a kept Reindeer that, along with the rest of its herd, comprises the sum total of a Uilta family’s material wealth. Their first contact with the Uilta consists of an apology followed by a cooperative reindeer hunt to make up for the lost property.

Kiroranke was hoping for just such an encounter, because Asirpa’s father Wilk made the same mistake as Ogata back in the day. Watching the Uilta’s way of hunting wild reindeer—using their own reindeer as a decoy to mask their approach—awakens more childhood memories for Asirpa and her aca.

Ogata impresses the Uilta elder with his prowess with a three-shot rifle, killing the entire herd of wild reindeer without letting any escape. The Uilta only have a single-shot bolt-action rifle, but as they put it following Ogata’s success, if he lived there then there soon wouldn’t be any reindeer left to hunt!

That night Asirpa gets to satisfy her brain-tooth (and give us a Hinna Face) with the reindeer brains—which taste just like those of the southern deer she’s accustomed to. They also partake of freshly-baked bread and the equivalent of reindeer butter—no part of the animal is wasted, of course.

The nomadic Uilta may be nominally Ainu, but in their game, hunting methods, dwellings, and cuisine, they’re very distinct from their southern cousins, accentuating the cultural diversity that still endured during that time in one of the more remote parts of the world.

The group lucked out by making contact with the Uilta and helping them take down a herd. Hiring the dogsleds to take them north left them broke, but the Uilta don’t care about money, only reindeer. Kiroranke also knows that nomadic tribes are tacitally allowed to cross the Japanese-Russian border, so they disguise themselves as Uilta to cross the border by reindeer sled.

Things go pear-shaped due to an unforeseen development. Turns out Lt. Tsurumi’s maccinations can reach northern Sakhalin from Otaru, and he has no intention of letting Kiroranke move freely. Tsurumi learned that a young Kiroranke was one of the revolutionaries responsible for the assassination of Russian Emperor Alexander II in St. Petersberg back in 1881.

The Russians very much want to catch everyone involved in the regicide, so Tsurumi tips them off that one of them will be crossing the border in Sakhalin. Sure enough, border troops are  hiding in the woods, and a sniper shoots the Uilta elder in the head. Ogata realizes he wasn’t the one shot because he’d switched rifles with the elder, lending his new three-shot model to him.

This also tells Ogata that the sniper who fired isn’t just a good shot, but a suspicious one. Asirpa and the others hide behind sleds and reindeer, but they’re well and truly pinned down. Even so, Kiroranke exposes himself to fire in order to grab the wounded but still breathing elder, and the Russian sniper, Vasily, lets him, later citing “respect for someone risking their life for a comrade”.

That moment of Vasily’s hesitation gives Ogata the opening to shoot Vasily’s comrade, Ilya. He doesn’t shoot him fatally in the head, but in the stomach, which ensures the Russians will be slowed down in caring for him enough for them to give them the slip into the woods. Ogata also seems invigorated and even a little giddy at the prospect of a serious playmate with which to fight a two-man “Part Two of the Russo-Japanese War.”

What follows is an intricate and fascinating chess match between Ogata and Vasily. While the cultures of Russians and Japanese are wildly different, the mind and disposition of a sniper is pretty much the same no matter where you’re from: whoever has the colder ice water in their veins will prevail. Ogata knows the ideal sniper will only be interested in “murder and pursuing their prey”, and so Vasily would soon split off from his unit and wounded comrade for that second thing.

It dawns on Vasily it wasn’t respect that kept him from shooting Kiroranke, but the lack of agency: a sniper kills at a time of their choosing, not when the target says so. Similarly, when Vasily’s men fall for a simple gunpowder trap set by Kiroranke, they start screaming in pain, but Ogata isn’t surprised his opponent doesn’t react—a good sniper can listen to his comrade’s screams all night and not be fazed.

When Kiroranke, Asirpa and Shiraishi double back to the wounded Russian Ilya, he presents the wanted poster featuring a sketch of a young Kiroranke, shocking Asirpa and Shiraishi. But Ogata and Vasily are in their own little Sniper World, waiting for one another to make the first move. Vasily thinks he has the cloaked foe in his sights, but it looks for all the world like a decoy.

The episode ends leaving us in that suspenseful moment before Ogata presumably emerges from an angle Vasily didn’t expect and does him in, clearing their path to the prison where Kiroranke’s comrades are imprisoned. But how will Ogata, Asirpa and Shiraishi react to that wanted poster? And will this incident at the border slow their group down enough for Sugimoto & Co. to gain a little ground?

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 20 – Den Perfekte Soldaten

Well, what do you know, not only can Kuroko carry an episode, Ruiko can carry a pair, along with Frenda Seivelun. Most of the episode is one big shopping mall chase scene and showdown between Frenda and Yumiya Rakko, two sadistic hunters with poor Level 0 Ruiko in the middle. And yet the episode manages to infuse some humanity in both killers.

Having gone this far to save Ruiko, Frenda never quite feels right abandoning her to Yumiya, even when it seems the best shot at surviving. After all, Ruiko shared the last of her mackeral with her. As for Yumiya, she’s in full Assassin Mode until she spots some classmates from her school, and for a moment she’s reverted to her shy and lonely persona.

Yet just as Frenda gradually figures out Yumiya’s tactics as she survives one bullet wound after another, Yumiya draws on her experience with being an extreme loner to aid her assassin’s skills. When Frenda finally decides splitting up is necessary, she tries to find the right way to break it to Ruiko—who proceeds to suggest splitting up before her.

Frenda can’t help but be impressed with Ruiko’s attempt to be “a perfect soldier” despite knowing it could mean her death. Ruiko serves as a decoy with stuffed animal bombs that among everyone in the mall only one person reacts to as bombs: Yumiya. This allows Frenda to finally spot her, and when she launches herself at her with a devastating kick she doesn’t miss her face.

A thrilling two-sided beatdown ensues, with Frenda hitting the deck indicating to Yumiya that she’s won. However, Frenda is merely getting low because it’s the safest position to be in for when she detonates bombs all over the mall, sucking the oxygen out of the air and with it Yumiya’s ability to smell or breathe. It’s a very demolition expert-y way of getting the upper hand in a fight.

Yumiya tries to counter the thermobarics by rushing to the nearest broken window to take in air, but that’s just when Frenda pounces out of the smoke, stuffs mini-bombs in Yumiya’s gob, kicks her out of the building, and sets off the detonator with a particular sense of self-satisfaction followed by a huge bang. Throughout their battle, Ruiko managed to blend in with the bystanders and calmly escape the mall.

With the extent of the threats to her life still not fully known, Ruiko takes up temporary residence at an Antiskill facility, and is restless and anxious until she finally receives a message from Frenda, who asks her to have dinner ready when she stops by, a reply to Ruiko’s invitation before they split up.

As for Yumiya, she’s alive but down an eye and most of her face due to the blast, and her SCHOOL boss Kakine Teitoku isn’t in the mood to indulge her in seeking revenge. Getting ahold of the Tweezers takes precedence, and her role in the op is going to a backup.

Back home, Ruiko tries to reach back out to Frenda but doesn’t get any replies, yet still prepares dinner for two. When the doorbell rings, she’s so excited she stubs her toe on her desk (as beautifully animated as the earlier battle), and just as dejected when it turns out to be Uiharu.

The good news? Ruiko learns no one died in the mall explosions. The bad news? She’ll probably never see Frenda again. That hurts, and you can sense Ruiko’s pain. Frenda, so much more powerful an esper than her and heartless a killer to boot, and yet someone with whom Ruiko could share a can of mackerel. Ruiko may have acted like the perfect soldier that day in the mall, but at the same time, Frenda was the perfect friend.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 19 – New Friends, Good Fish, and Foul Play

While Kuroko and Uiharu are busy using the pre-cog app to prevent accidents, Ruiko ends up making an unexpected friend at the supermarket. Due to a fad going around claiming the fish helps increase good looks, Ruiko buys the last two cans, and Frenda Seivelun hounds her until she gives her one. When she accidentally blows it up trying to open it on the spot, she worms her way into dinner.

Ruiko is initially bemused by this odd, haughty foreigner, but the two end up becoming fast friends and message each other regularly. It’s strange having Frenda show up in a mostly comedic role considering we know she died a grisly death in the Index show, but to enjoy this episode you have to put her impending doom out of your head.

Things actually take a dark turn as Ruiko’s purchasing of a Dream Poker card that makes you an expert at “picking things up with chopsticks”, raises a flag with a member of SCHOOL, who believes it relates to the “Tweezers” their underground group is trying to acquire. The hacker kid has Ruiko abducted, not knowing she has absolutely nothing to do with the Tweezers. This franchise certainly asks its audience to remember a lot of parallel storylines.

Thankfully, Frenda spotted the toughs approaching Ruiko’s position, and tossed a tracking device on their clothes. Hamazura picks her up in his Mini and they catch up to the vans. Then Frenda uses explosives to block the vans and takes out the goons, thus rescuing Ruiko. SCHOOL hacker guy then contacts sniper Yumiya Rakko, who was about to hang out with her school friends when she was called away.

Yumiya’s persona changes drastically from shy and stuttering at school to a focused, sadistic killer in hunter mode. And make no mistake, she’s going to hunt Frenda to blow off the steam from missing out on her crucial social gathering.

If you ask me, Academy City has way too many crazed teenagers working for what amount to criminal gangs, whether ITEM or SCHOOL. It’s why poor civilians like Ruiko always end up in the middle of trouble not of their making.

ID: INVADED – 03 – A Gawker Just Enjoys the Scene

I don’t believe we’ve been told who precisly Sakaido killed or how to land him in prison, but regardless of his crime it’s awfully hard not to sympathize with the guy. For one thing, he’s always dreaming of his wife and daughter, the good times always turning to bad before he wakes up. They weren’t just murdered, they also suffered terribly.

The pain and regret of not being there to protect them probably broke a sizable chunk of the Sakaido That Was. His investigative work within the Mizuhanome, psychologically invasive as it is, would seem to be not just a welcome respite, but a necessity for keeping what’s left of him intact and carrying on.

The things he did to end up with such a job are also the reason Matsuoka discourages Hondomachi from considering a similar line of work in no uncertain terms. When visiting her in the hospital. She’s missing frontal lobe matter but is already bouncing off the walls, desperate to get back to work, and romanticizes “The Great Detective” a pilot like Sakaido plays within Id Wells. But Matsuoka warns her: it’s a sacrifice tantamount to suicide.

As I said, one Sakaido went into this line of work, and another came out. Hondomachi doesn’t feel she’s loved or even valued by her family, while Sakaido’s family was murdered. Both detectives seek solace and purpose through work, creating their own value. Hell, Hondomachi could be a mirror to Sakaido’s past, when his work kept him away from the family he loved until one day they were gone.

This week’s Id Well is nothing like the previous two, demonstrating that we’re in for a new trippy psychological ride every week or so. This time he and roughly 70-80 random people standing on a giant turret surrounded by infinite waterfalls on all sides…very Myst Uru. This is the Id Well of “The Pyrotechnician”, who is responsible for very public, very meticulous bombings.

Kaeru is there too, already dead, while the others start falling one-by-one to rounds fired by a sniper hiding in the waterfalls. Like the stylized “Brilliant Detective” role Sakaido plays, Kaeru is a stylized version of his daughter, helping him remember himself, grounding him in whatever crazy dreamworld in which he ends up.

Sakaido is good, but not so good he doesn’t get killed a couple of times, requiring his handlers to quickly extract and re-inject him, resetting the scenario but allowing him to learn from the previous dives. But trial and error is only the start of his investigation. He eventually determines that there is only one sniper, but the turret on which his victims stand is turning, allowing the sniper to make quick successions of kills.

Sakaido eventually successfully hides from the shooter until there is only one man remaining other than himself—and it’s always the same man. He also happens to have a handsome but somehow artificial-looking face, which means the Pyrotechnician altered his face with plastic surgery. That is enough for the cops to track him down and for Mitsuoka to apprehend him.

In what seems like going a bit too far with the ironic punishment, the people Sakaido helps to apprehend end up his prison mates, occupying adjacent cells and enabling them to have a dialogue. The Pyro explains that his acts, which netted photos like the ones he took of people gawking and holding up their phones at the destruction and carnage, “exposed the emptiness of humanity” by showing that neither life or death matter.

Sakaido turns it around on Pyro. Just as he was in the Id Well, and in the bombing four years ago when he was a war photographer, Pyro always desired to be the Last Man Standing. He was the ultimate gawker, producing scenes of hell and watching the masses take it in, knowing humans can’t resist.

Then Sakaido tells Pyro his days are over, and that he’ll never see hell again, except in his memories, always a pale shadow of reality. The Pyro can’t really dispute anything Sakaido is saying, because the guy was in his unconscious, where truths are plain to see.

It’s enough to drive Pyro to suicide in the middle of the night. I’m not sure if Sakaido intended that, but he’s doubtless a man who abhors killers, and was none too happy about Pyro mentioning his daughter. ID:INVADED is proving to be a dense, nervy, and captivating depiction of crime-fighting from within the minds of the criminal.

Fire Force – 09 – Decisive Battle

“Second Sun” was my other choice to name this review, though I went with “Decisive Battle” in homage to the best battle theme in anime history. And this was a decisive battle, in that it dispensed with the enthusiastic but ultimately one-note villain of Lt. Rekka as quickly and efficiently as he was revealed.

My other reason for recalling Eva’s battle theme is that both the music and the visuals took on a decidedly Eva-esque flavor, while Rekka’s rants were full of “Evangelists.” Of course, with all the crosses and creative expliosions flying around, comparisons have been in-Eva-table from the start. Sure enough, one of Fire Force’s storyboarders did key animation on Eva.

While Shinra is quite different MC from Shinji, his hot/cold, love-hate relationship with Tamaki echoes that Shinji and Asuka. Tamaki’s Lucky Lechery ability means Shinra always has a soft body to land on when Rekka blasts him back. Rekka’s flames also conveniently burn most of her clothes off, while Shinra’s jumpsuit is unaffected.

Still, having been unable to fight Rekka herself, Tamaki offers Shinra support as she urges him to do what she couldn’t. Shinra rises to the occasion, exploiting his superior mobility in the warehouse and delivering an unpredictable parkour-style offense to Rekka’s more conventional two-feet-on-the-ground strategy. The battlemation is, as ever, bright, bold, and beautiful.

The times when Rekka knocks Shinra back, he makes sure to rant more about what his cult is trying to do: make the Earth a second sun. It’s your typical “villain wants to burn the world down to make a new one” position, and Rekka goes all out despite the fact that his friend Karim has always had his back, and today is no exception.

The only difference is, instead of backing him up, Karim freezes him out, converting his overheated flames into an ice prison. Karim kept him alive, hoping to get more info about who he works for out of him, but a fire sniper (clever concept) shoots a round straight through the frozen Rekka’s chest, killing him, then starts firing at Karim, Shinra, Tamaki, and the kids.

Karim has Shinra put up a smokescreen and locate the snipers, then freezes Tamaki’s twin fire tails as they point out the sniper’s location, causing them to wig out and retreat lest they get exposed. Their main objective of eliminating Rekka as a source of information was a success, but Karim vows to assits the 8th’s investigation of the Evangelist in any way he can.

In an after-credits sequence, we find Shinra has returned to the 8th, with his inter-company training suspended after the Rekka incident. He’s glad to be home with his fam, but finds that two people are out of place. Arthur “got lost” during the incident, and they can’t find him (to be continued).  Tamaki, suspended from the 1st for her role in the incident, is now on the 8th with Shinra, no doubt to be a source of both glee and woe—hopefully more of the former.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 05 – Run, Close In, then Win

After running from a somewhat pathetic display from a suddenly sobbing and Raving M (who actually believes Pitohui will murder him IRL if he loses), LLENN decides she’ll have to win the SJ all by herself, despite her opponents being very smart, crafty, and downright scary in their relentlessness.

Her foes look tough and grizzled, and aren’t afraid to rain bullets down upon LLENN in order to spring her from her hiding spots. The only thing is, she’s so small and quick actually getting a killshot proves most difficult. Despite her wavering confidence and the near-arrogant attitude of her opponent, both parties are on the same level here.

Perhaps due to her critical HP level, LLENN starts to hear her P90 “P-chan” glow, talk to her and even sprout eyes to make a face, which is definitely the most demented and terrifying thing GGO has shown us thus far.

Regardless, P-chan manages to fire LLENN up, and she remembers how and why she’s succeeded so far: not by running, hiding, and keeping her distance, but by blazing in so close to her opponents they cannot get a clean lock on her, and overwhelming them with her quickness, and peppering them with P90 bullets.

She executes her preferred strategy by taking on Eva, the “Boss” of the enemy squad, whose enormous size and brute force end up momentarily overwhelming LLENN, who needs a last-second assist from M, who manage to gathered up what was left of his decency and rejoin the fray (and who does thrive from great distance).

Eventually, LLENN and Eva run out of bullets, but Eva’s lieutenant tosses her a new clip, and LLENN has no choice but to sacrifice P-chan to shield her from the bullets, then whip out her knife and carve the Boss up like a turkey to take the SJ win, demonstrating the literally cutthroat tenacity required to prevail over such a tough opponent.

Back IRL, the short cute girls Karen passes by so often finally approach her, led by Nitobe Saki. They’re second-years at the high school affiliated with Karen’s college, and just wanted to tell her how stylish and cool she always looks, especially with her new ‘do.

Then Saki draws Karen in close with a handshake and quietly congratulates her on her victory. Saki is Eva, the hulking Boss she defeated as LLENN, and her friends and fellow rhythmic gymnastic teammates are ready for a rematch any time.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 04 – The Game is the Game

Back to the “present” of Squad Jam (though not far enough into the present where Karen is entertaining her diminutive friends IRL). I tell ya, this show can give one temporal whiplash like nobody’s business.

Having defeated the pros and after another scan, LLENN and M determine they’re one of only three squads remaining. One of them ambushes them from hovercraft in the lake, forcing the huge M to set up his “space battleship armor” shielding, while the tiny LLENN remains just plain hard to hit.

Safe behind his shield, M is able to pick off the hovercraft gunners one by one and takes out the last one with a well-placed grenade that detonates underwater, sending the craft and its occupant flying and vulnerable to LLENN’s killshot.

M was able to kill all of those enemies without creating bullet lines, because he learned to aim without his finger on the trigger or using Bullet Circle assist. But when the next scan comes, the last team is not only right on top of them, but in position to take a shot at LLENN, not missing a fatal spot by much.

M grabs LLENN and races out of there with one of the hovercraft, getting shot in the process, but LLENN heals the two and they prepare for a counterattack. But first, LLENN lets M read a letter he was going to read before they were ambushed.

Immediately after reading the letter, he pulls a gun…on LLENN, saying he’s “sorry” before pulling the trigger. His shot misses; LLENN’s agility wins out again, and moments later his safety is on and she has her gun trained on him, demanding to know why he betrayed her.

M merely responds with streams of tears, begging the Pink Devil not to kill him, because he doesn’t want to die. It’s a 180 in M’s character, though he did mention he prefers fighting from a distance and from the safest possible position.

In this instance, with LLENN’s P90 at his throat, he’s suddenly way out of his comfort zone, so it’s understandable we’d see a new side of him. But it doesn’t explain why he suddenly pulled his gun on her. I suspect there’s a real-world reason for it. All I know is, LLENN’s reaction to his sudden change in character was priceless.

Violet Evergarden – 11

As a civil war rages in the frigid north, Claudia decides to decline a doll request from a soldier in the war zone; it’s just too dangerous. However, Violet overhears him, snatches up the request when no one’s looking, and takes a ship to the war-torn country. After all, there’s no place too dangerous for Violet.

When no ground route can be taken, Violet suggests they drop her into the camp via airplane; the pilot likes her moxie and goes along with it, possibly seeing the iron resolve in her eyes. When she says there’s nowhere she won’t go for her clients, she means it, damnit.

Looking outside my window, I don’t see a scene all that different from the snow-covered woods of the camp outskirts…at least in terms of looks. Thankfully, I don’t have snipers lurking in the distance trying to pick me off, which is the case with the unit Aiden is in. Everyone is killed but him and a younger colleague. Aiden tries to carry him with him, but it slows him down, and he’s shot too.

Not long after the enemy arrives to finish the job, Violet’s plane appears in the air and she leaps out and soars through the sky like a missle before pulling her chute and landing. She takes out a number of the enemy troops with ease until their leader trains his gun on her.

This leader knows who she is (and what she was), and so orders his men to retreat, leaving Violet with Aiden, who is most likely a goner. After so many jobs in the lands where there is peace, this is the first time she merges her past and present worlds.

When he wakes up in a cabin, Aiden tells Violet he can’t hold out long, and would like her to write his letters immediately. With neither a typewriter nor writing pad on hand, Violet simply uses her hands to air-type the worlds Aiden is saying, which she says she’ll memorize; another heretofore unknown talent.

At first Aiden only asks her to write a letter thanking his parents and hoping that if they ever reincarnate and marry again, he would love to be their son again. Then he drops a photo of his sweetheart Maria, and Violet asks if he wants her to write her a letter as well.

When Aiden went off to war, it was before he and Maria—childhood friends—had truly started acting like a couple. He never even got to kiss her, and when he closes his eyes in these, his final hours, Maria is foremost in the imagery, smiling in the fields of their home. He tells her how happy he was she confessed, and his desire to be by her side.

Then, as Aiden starts to fade, he asks Violet to her to put her hands on his, he tells Maria he loves her, and as he kisses Maria in his mind, for the first and last time, Violet kisses him on the forehead before promising the letters will be delivered.

There are no more dealings with the war-mongering extremists, and Violet is safely taken out of the zone, but before returning home, she visits Aiden’s family to deliver the letters and his bloody kerchief in person. When she sees the anguish and grief well up in Aiden’s parents and Maria, Violet cannot hold back her own anguish, and turns to leave before she makes an undue scene. But Aiden’s mother stops her and gives her a hug.

Thinking she caused so much pain by delivering the news of Aiden’s death, Violet is taken aback when they thank her for bringing him back to them. So many other families will never know what happened to their sons, brothers, fathers who went off and never returned.

But Aiden’s family not only knows, and have closure, but they were able to read the feelings in his heart in his last moments, and know he wasn’t alone…all thanks to Violet.

No other Auto Memoir Doll could have done what she did to fulfill Aiden’s request. She suffered a horrible past as a fearless weapon, but at least in this mission, those skills served a good cause. She should take solace in that.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 05

Last week Rani painted a morose picture: there are only a few thousand humans still alive on Earth, a dire scenario the species hasn’t seen since the last ice age. Combined with the dreadful state of SE.RA.PH, mankind is staring at the edge of oblivion.

It’s a much bigger crisis than I had comprehended at the time (due partially to spotty translation); almost too big a crisis for our MC, who still isn’t sure how many times he’s died and been brought back (though it’s been a lot). All I know is, he may be humanity’s last hope.

It certainly isn’t Dan Blackmore, a knight who fought and was defeated by Hakuno 999 years ago. He lost not due to lack of willpower or clarity of duty, but simply because he had more regrets and thus less resolve, than his opponent.

But now that Dan’s back, he’s not going to let anything get in the way of his winning—in lieu of the Holy Grail or ascending, continued victories are their own reward, and has been for nearly a millennium.

Once Hakuno is over the initial shock of learning what year it really is and how long things have been left to rot, he, Saber and Rani talk Dan, Archer, and strategy.

First, since he was already defeated and died, Dan is no longer a true Master (why Hakuno, who has also died a lot, is a true Master is a head-scratcher for your humble author). As for his servant, Archer’s true name is Robin Hood, an expert in guerrilla warfare, who has two noble phantasms but cannot use both simultaneously.

One allows him to attack undetected; the other, Yew Bow, is more of a coup-de-grace, and is only effective after the first phantasm has been used to shoot the target with a poison arrow. The Yew Bow detonates the poison in the target’s blood, killing them from the inside out.

For the battle, Saber takes on Robin by herself, dodging a number of invisible arrows until one finally gets her, thus exposing her to the poison Robin will use to blow her up. But her part of the plan is simply to keep Robin busy, partly by asking why he still serves a man who is no longer a Master, to which his reply is both concise and logical: Would you tell a knight who’s been brought back to life and fought 999 years to simply give it up?

Meanwhile Hakuno learns more from Rani (in her awesome futuristic motorcycle and sidecar) about Moon Cell’s quandary: while it can manage the “exterior” of humans, it could not understand their “core”—their reactions and emotions—even when it invited them to SE.RA.PH. for observation. So it simply discards those emotions to the bottom floor.

By that same token, there is no physical or observable “world of the dead” on Earth, but SE.RA.PH. made it quantifiable, such that the hatred (and presumably other emotions) of the dead still roam around as “ghosts,” which is exactly what happened to Dan Blackmore. One could also say he respawned.

Hakuno and Rani’s chat is cut short by their arrival at the clock tower, but as soon as they emerge from the forest, Rani is shot and she and Hakuno knocked off the bike. Hakuno finds cover, but Rani is out in the open, obviously bate to take.

Many “ghosts” start to surround Rani, urging Hakuno to forget about her and continue up the tower to defeat Blackmore, but he rejects their certainty and chooses to save her instead, donning the Death Face to gain exceptional speed that avoids the gunshots. Rani is unable to move, but still able to fight.

Deeper in the forest, Robin deems the time is right to use Yew Bow on Saber, only to have it fail spectacularly. Saber, you see, picked up on the fact the detonator targets the impurities—the poison—in the target’s blood. Her answer to that is to simply bleed out, and once Robin detonates it, divert the blood-blast with her sword.

It works like a charm, and Robin isn’t ready when she charges him and runs him through. How can she survive bleeding out? Well, aside from being Saber and thus very tough, she apparently has up to three extra lives provided her body remains intact. Losing her blood now and again isn’t that big a deal…especially if it helps secure a path to victory for her Master.

That leaves Dan on his own against Hakuno, who does not fall for the trap of Dan being at the top of the clock tower just because the bells ring every time he takes a shot. Dan is in fact in the tower of the citadel, firing at the bells, while the clock tower is lined with explosives.

No matter; once atop the clock tower, Hakuno, in Death Face mode, shoots Dan before he can shoot him, and Dan dies with a distinct sense of relief he can finally be with his wife again. Upon his death, the elevator appears immediately, leaving Hakuno no time to get Rani.

But as Saber says, Rani never intended to ascend at all. She was always content to tend to the dead and watch one last “star” ascend, which Hakuno and Saber do thanks to her assistance. 50 years of “rebellion” against Blackmore were enough.

Oh, and Rin’s still hanging out on the elevator as they start their ascent to the third stratum—though Hakuno and Saber aren’t sure why.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 04

As they ascend to the next level, Hakuno ponders Rider’s dying question to him: Why does he want to ascend? All he can come up with is hatred, and a desire to simply ascent, but Saber, once again demonstrating her lack of modesty, does not consider his motivations relevant; he’ll surely find what he desires as they continue to “climb the ladder”, so to speak; she’ll help.

When they arrive, the setting is a lot simpler than the complex, futuristic city: a vast forest with mountains on the horizon, and a few buildings in a clearing. In one of those buildings, someone has been waiting for them; a aging Master who also desires to ascend—and believes defeating another Master will do the trick.

To that end, he fires shots with his sniper rifle from his perch in the clock tower, and Saber and Hakuno have to flee into the forest.

There, Hakuno makes sure to thank Saber for keeping him alive to that point, and Saber tells him to essentially not forget to stop and smell the roses—to enjoy what is beautiful, whether it’s the forest, some flowers, or her own purty face.

That face is threatened once more, not by the Master, but by his Servant, Archer, who drops a poison cloud on Saber and Hakuno and stays invisible, shooting invisible arrows, one of which pierces Saber’s shoulder.

Hakuno must expend a command seal so Saber can raze all of the forest around them with fire (she IS Nero after all, isn’t she), but that’s just what Archer wants: a clear shot.

Archer’s arrows don’t find their target, however, because they’re destroyed by a surprise ally to Saber and Hakuno, the Servant-less Master Rani VIII. She takes them to her home, where she explains she is the last “rebel” Master fighting against the sniper, and has been waiting for someone like Hakuno to come along, with a Servant, to arrive on this level.

She concedes that for all of its inherent stagnation, SERAPH may well be an “ideal heaven”, but that’s irrelevant, because it’s on the brink of destruction. When Hakuno sleeps, he dreams of the man in the white coat he met lower down, making him to wonder if he’s trying to ascend to a place he had already descended from.

After all, not only does his thus-far-inexplicable drive to ascend simply “feels like the right thing to do”, but he’s completely clueless about the actual year; he thinks it’s still the 21st Century, but Rani informs him it’s actually 3020. Worse, the humans living in SERAPH will soon be all that’s left of their race; if SERAPH goes, humans go extinct.

It would seem Rani has far grander designs for Hakuno than he himself could ever have envisioned—that will determine not just the course of humanity, but its very existence in the universe. Perhaps, then, Hakuno finally has a reason to ascend…other than hatred.

I was a little confused about what happened to Rin after seeing her in the bath with Saber. It seemed a bit convenient they’d be shorthanded when Archer attacked them. I guess she had other matters to attend to this week?

Kino no Tabi – 03

While resting before trying to figure out what to do next, Kino hears some rumbling in the distance. An earthquake? An avalanche? No … a country.

Neither this country nor any of its inhabitants are ever given names—the people only introduce themselves by their title(s)—but it is the coolest country Kino has visited yet: a country that moves.

Technically, that makes it a gigantic vehicle, so Kino does what one does when a vehicle approaches: thumb a lift. While the country-tank is initially a menacing thing, a kindly voice asks Kinos her intentions.

She’s then welcomed aboard with open arms by the immigration and diplomacy officer, who has a comfortable room available, with a bed with clean white sheets Kino probably hasn’t seen in a long time.

After beholding the consequences of shushing Hermes (who warned Kino to dry her hair before going to sleep) and fixing her bed-head, Kino continues her tour of this wondrous, awe-inspiring place full of contradictions—the same contradictions that face every country.

The country is powered by an advanced, self-maintaining reactor, but in order to avoid overheating (or perhaps a straight-up meltdown), the country has to be kept constantly moving, meaning the drive motors and caterpillar tracks must be carefully maintained.

But that’s not the only reason they keep moving: the people of the country, like Kino, want to explore the world as she does. The only difference is they all go together as a country, and take their country with them. That means leaving quite a mark, but the people have long since made their peace with that.

While maintaining the motors and tracks must be quite a feat, the scenes of life Kino sees are of a peaceful country where families relax in the lush rooftop park and schoolchildren paint murals on the country’s outside shell. Contemporary cars are driven around, and tablets are used. It’s a very comfortable living.

Throughout this flowery tour I kept waiting for the catch, but in terms of the people turning on Kino or becoming threatening in some way, that never happens. These are nice people, but their country is a huge nuisance what with the tracks it leaves, particularly when butting up against a conventional, immobile country.

Still, the leaders have no problem allowing Kino into their command center. After asking for and being forcefully denied passage through the country, those leaders simply shrug and order the country to press on. That means firing a laser to obliterate the border wall in their path.

While armed with artillery and missiles, nothing the other country has is any match for the moving country, which mows down everything in its path. Those aboard it can only apologize and assure them they’ll be out of their hair within half a day.

When the other country finds something they can damage—the children’s mural—the moving country goes on the offensive. Wishing to minimize casualties on the other side as much as possible, Kino steps forward offering her assistance.

She heads out to a vantage point, armed with her persuader sniper rifle, and efficiently destroys all of the missile guiding sights—without killing their operators. She also takes out a couple of stray missiles for good measure.

With that, Kino cements her role as a friend of the Moving Country…but she said at the start she was only there for a sightseeing visit of 5-10 days, and when those days are up, she bids the country farewell.

On to the next, not-moving country, but Hermes relays to her the very distinct possibility the next children’s mural will feature her fighting off the missiles.

And while the Moving Country is extremely intrusive to other countries its path happens to intersect with, it’s not like they have a choice! If they stop, the reactor blows. If they just drive around in circles, they’ll eventually lose their minds.

Moving is how this country survives. There is a cost to that survival, but it is acceptable. If they wanted, they could easily conquer and subjugate any other country or countries they wished, but they don’t. They only destroy what they must to keep moving.

Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.