Darling in the FranXX – 24 (Fin) – A Word They Were Never Taught

Despite the hope from their Squadmates that they’ll one day return victorious, there is every indication that Zero Two and Hiro’s insane odyssey through space is a one-way trip, at least in their current forms/lives. As they near the VIRM homeworld and fight off wave after wave of their warships, Hiro becomes a little more Zero-y, and Zero Two becomes a little more Hiro-y.

Back on Earth the gang returns to Mistilteinn, where they find things are growing again, and set to work rebuilding their food supply in order to survive without magma energy they relied on for so long. With Zero Two and Hiro’s lessons, as well as their own experiences, everyone ends up changing and growing up. Kokoro has the baby. The rejected parasites are brought out of hibernation, including Naomi.

Goro sets off on a journey of exploration on Earth seeking supplies and other lost children, making sure to kiss Ichigo before he leaves. After two years, the constant onslaught of VIRM has exhausted Hiro, allowing the enemy to “caress his consciousness” and knock him out, leaving Zero Two vulnerable.

They’re both saved not just by their own love, but by the fruits of those whom they inspired: Ai, the daughter of Kokoro and Mitsuru, named for the Japanese word for love, a word humanity had all but forgotten and which the children were never taught.

When the gang realizes the stone statute of Zero Two is a conduit through which both Zero and Hiro can hear them, they join hands and pray as loudly as they can for as long as they can, until their prayers get through to the two out in space. Hiro wakes up, green-eyed and blue-horned, rejects the pooh-poohing of the VIRM, and becomes even more one with Zero than they were before.

Apus is destroyed, but a new entity emerges; a total merging of Zero Two and Hiro, and they rend the VIRM homeworld asunder in a light that manages to reach Earth. The Klaxosaur fleets return to the earth and become one with it, and the green returns with it. Zero Two’s statue, no longer necessary, crumbles, leaving a small tree sprout.

While still hoping their friends will one day return, Squad 13 doesn’t assign them any time table, and instead begin writing their own stories. They help rebuild human civilization, without magma energy, while building families. Ikuno manages to slow their rapid aging, even though it’s too late for her. Ichigo and Goro have a kid. Futoshi finds another to love and has several kids. Zorome and Miku…continue to bicker with one another.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.

Then, centuries pass, Zero Two’s cherry tree grows larger and ancient, and a huge futuristic city rises around it, only no longer hidden within a plantation dome, and no longer populated by emotionless humans. It’s in this city built by love, the thing never taught its founders, where a boy and a girl one day meet who look an awful lot like our starring pair. Circle of life, baby.

And that’s a FranXX wrap. These last few episodes sure got BIG, as in expansive in both time, scale, and theme, culminating in a resolution for all of Squad 13 and an ending a franchise like Evangelion may never give us; instead of the story stopping before it ends, the book is closed on Hiro, Zero Two, and the others, and a new story begins, built upon what they started.

The VIRM may one day return, but mankind is in a much better position to oppose them, thanks to Hiro, Zero Two, and Squad 13 not living to fight, but fighting to live…and love.

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Darling in the FranXX – 23 – New Battles to Fight

As Hiro and most of Squad 13 and the surviving Nines head into space aboard a gigantic Klaxosaur mothership, part of a massive fleet on autopilot to Mars orbit, Michiru stays behind.

Kokoro believes that because she can no longer pilot a FranXX, she has no more purpose, other than perhaps staying by Zero Two’s side as she continues to get remotely cut by the VIRM attacking Strelizia. Since she feels herself so useless, she neither expects or wants anyone burdening themselves for her sake, but Mitsuru won’t hear of it.

A VIRM fleet intercepts Hiro and his Klaxosaur fleet, attempting to block them from reaching Strelizia, who they’re surrounding. But thanks to Nine Alpha being compatible as Hiro’s pistil, and some teamwork on the part of Squad 13 and the other Nines, Hiro is able to blast through the walls of enemy ships and reach Strelizia, which is believed inert due to not having a Stamen.

Alpha gets Hiro to the access hatch, but self-destructs soon after to take out a particularly large, nasty VIRM. The other Nines sacrifice themselves in similar fashion, going out doing what they were always created and designed to do: to fight in battles like this.

Humans like Squad 13 have other battles to fight, whether it’s the fight in which Kokoro and Mitsuru have to start over after losing their memories, protecting one another and awaiting the new life they created, or Hiro keeping his promise to Zero Two.

When he makes contact with her in Strelizia’s cockpit, Zero Two tells him she left Earth so that Hiro could remain a human, and help rebuild civilization with his Squad 13 family. But that’s not what Hiro wants. He wants to be with Zero Two, like they promised they would be, even if he becomes a “monster” like her.

He believes even Zero Two wanted this despite her actions, because she left the last page of her story blank. By returning to her side Hiro is filling that blank page with a new ending, one in which the lovers never part.

Their reunion triggers a major transformation in Strelizia Apath (or Apus, as it’s spelled in the subs this week), its mask shattering to reveal an enormous Zero Two, replacing or transporting her human body on earth into the cockpit with Hiro.

Now fully awake and in her true form, Strelizia unleashes a new and devastating arsenal of weaponry that annihilates the VIRM fleet in moments, likely ending Squad 13’s last military battle and freeing them to begin the next battle: surviving and rebuilding.

However, Hiro and Zero Two won’t be joining them, at least, not for a while. Devices emerge from the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos, and their combined beams open a warp gate to systems heretofore long out of mankind’s reach (though at this point the couple can probably no longer be called 100% human, what with the horns and all).

The VIRM’s fleet at Mars is destroyed, but their main fleet is still out there, and their mission to enslave humanity and the Klaxosaurs remains in force. Rather than wait for them to threaten the solar system again, Hiro and Zero Two will take the battle to them.

That means saying goodbye to Futoshi, Ikuno, Zorome, Miku, Goro, and Ichigo, as well as Kokoro and Michiru. It would be nice if they could all fight their individual battles in the same place, but it’s not to be, so they’ll all have to just wait and see if Hiro and Zero Two will ever return to them.

 

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 29

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When Kudelia didn’t play ball with Allium, he sent the Dawn Horizon Corps after Tekkadan, but quickly lost control when Sandoval decided to use the job as an opportunity to put the upstart Tekkadan in its place.

Throw in rival Gjallarhorn forces and you have a chaotic, compelling mix of goals and motivations. It’s a big knot that came together last week, and by the end of this episode, that knot is mostly undone and replaced by other, tighter knots.

First things first: Nab Sandoval, and Tekkadan wins. Orga tells Mika to win it for them, and he does, capturing the pirate leader before Julieta can (Julieta is pissed, but not manically so, at least for now).

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For their victory, Barristan awards them the biggest half-metal mine in Chryse – giving Tekkadan the well-earned opportunity to supplement or even eliminate their mercenary activities with self-sustaining revenue stream…once it’s up and running of course. More victories, more rewards…more problems.

After the fine battle where he was essentially only part of the pit crew, Hush decides he deserves not just to confront Eugene and Shino, but ask them to ask Orga for a mobile suit. Mika says he will, after Hush tells him why: to become stronger than him. That’s fine with Mika; he’s not in a competition to be the strongest, he just is the strongest.

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Later, we see Allium desperately trying to pick up the pieces, continually reminding us of that cockroach Todo, only somehow less capable. Nobliss doesn’t answer his calls, and when Orga and Mika have come to ask for compensation for his treachery, a call to Gjallarhorn is of no avail.

Here we see a combination of the dual hats Orga must wear. He has to be the politician in the tie, making sure all his connections are in order before he steps in Allium’s office. Naze knows this side will be tough for him.

But in using Mika as his unblinking attack dog when diplomacy fails, Orga shows he must still cultivate and bring out the brawler/gangster side, backing words with steel. All Allium had in the end were words: far too many and not convincing enough to save him.

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It’s no accident that this unpleasant if necessary scene is juxtaposed with a far more peaceful moment between Kudelia and Atra at the Sakura Farm, tossing out potential death flags in committing to an endgame that is, as we saw with Orga and Mika, still quite a ways (and many more battles) off.

Kudelia is out of immediate, constant danger of the kind she was in last season, but she is still struggling with exactly how to end the deadly “chain reaction” of creating Mikas and Tekkadans to achieve her desired gains. Like Mika with the other types of seeds, she’s going to have to trying multiple methods, with no guarantee of success despite the conviction of her promise.

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Peace is a lot tougher not just when you’re surrounded by resentful rivals (two of whom Tekkadan ends in Terra Liberionis and the Dawn Horizon Corps) but possessed of all-too-tantalizing weapons.

At the end of the day, the nabbed Sandoval and won the mine thanks to Mika in his Barbatos. I’m not sure if Barristan knew about the more immediate treasures in the mine—a Gundam frame and “something bigger”—but it’s looking more likely like Hush may get his shot.

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Finally, Orga, along with Mika and Merribit, are invited (not summoned) to Gjallarhorn’s Mars HQ, Ares, and to the same office where Coral once plotted their and Kudelia’s demise. That didn’t go well, because Coral was corrupt and unprepared.  McGillis won’t make the same mistake of underestimating Tekkadan’s desire to survive and thrive and the upside of remaining close allies.

Orga and Mika are understanably suspicious—this guy wears more than one mask—but in this place and time it seems only appropriate to continue working with him. They want a less corrupt Gjallarhorn too, and McGillis offers advantages he says will outweigh whatever problems come from gaining the same enemies he has, which include Rustal, Iok, Julieta…and Gaelio.

I really liked this scene, because it shows McGillis dispensing with Gjallarhorn superiority, looking a potential ally level in the face, and offering an earnest hand of friendship and cooperation without strings (that we know of). Perhaps it’s because McGillis, like Orga, Mika, and Tekkadan, is not only an orphan, but an upstart rising high. Upstart orphans gotta stick together in a world trying to keep them down.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 28

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This week is a case of strange bedfellows and an unexpectedly huge and complex space battle. Orga can only move Tekkadan forward, but Merribit is there to remind him not to push too far too fast, and there’s a constant feeling Fareed’s Gjallarhorn allies could turn on them at any minute. So it’s interesting when they don’t, though they only brought one ship out of five promised, for “reasons.”

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The Gjallarhorn no-nonsense Captain Isurugi (perhaps the most level-headed and least scenery-chewing GJ commander to date) wanted to get a head start on the battle because the victor will get the fame of having taken down Dawn Horizon.

But Dawn’s leader Reuters seemed to be counting on his opponent to attack quickly when his forces were scattered…which is why he tricked them by towing seven of his fleet’s ships behind the only three Tekkadan detected. The Orphans used to pull off tricks like this all the time, now they’re falling for them. The times they are a-changin’…

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Even though they have the numbers, Dawn doesn’t have Mikazuki Augus, who goes about his business in his usual casually brutal way. We also meet Akihito’s huge Gusion “Rebake”, and the Tekkadan pilots experience the very strange sensation of being covered, not attacked, by Gjallarhorn Grazes. The goal isn’t total victory over a larger opponent, but simply buying time for the rest of Gjallarhorn’s fleet to show up. And it’s a tremendout battle – one of IBO’s finest.

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Even that task requires all mobile suits to be brought back in for pit stops, and launches are staggered so there’s always someone out there. When Mika comes in, Hush, assigned to flight deck duty, curses under his breath how efficient Mika was with his propellant, despite moving around the most.

Mika, meanwhile, is personally refueled with pita sandwiches by Atra, making sure the pilot who makes Barbatos go doesn’t go hungry in the midst of a battle. Even in an intense battle like this, it’s warmer lighter moments like these that give life and realism to proceedings that would otherwise be stodgy.

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We perhaps learn the reason Fareed’s Gjallarhorn ship arrived so quickly: when the others show up, they have no intention of fighting with Tekkadan. Iok, Julieta, and the bitter Masked Man (Gaelio?) all pilot mobile suits and add even more complexity to the battle. Reuters also covers Dawn’s withdrawal by taking his Hugo out.

But when Mika engages, he’s blocked by Julieta, who so far is not acting as crazy as her butterfly-eating debut. Perhaps, like Mika, she’s All Business when she’s in the cockpit? In any case, these two will either start going at it next week, or one or both of their COs will tell them to stand down. One would hope the pirate leader doesn’t get to slip away in all the confusion over dibs and jurisdiction.

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Macross Delta – 22

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Well, with a big battle coming up and the show deciding to check in once more on Cassim, it was pretty clear from the cold open that this was going to be the swan song for, to date, the most three-dimensional Windermeran on the show.

But first, a note about the shot that establishes the Chaos fleet the last two episodes: could it have killed them to zoom in a little more and let us get a nice look at that fleet? It’s a nitpick that expresses my desire for a big space/aerial battle after a string of episodes that were more about developing characters. And we got one.

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After a quick chat between two of the simpler characters in Macross, Mikumo (who lives to sing) and Hayate (who lives to fly), everyone salutes Captain Johnson and the Elysion enters a fold gate. All of a sudden, we’re back in the shit, as Chaos teams up with the liberated Vordorian military to strike against Randall.

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But that turns out to be only a means of diverting and splitting Lloyd’s forces, as Delta and Walkure’s true desination is Windermere itself, by way of a fold gate opened on Alfheim. The only way to open that gate is for Walkure to give the protoculture structure everything they have.

At first, Freyja doesn’t do that, because she’s still scared Hayate and/or Mirage will go nuts. But after a quick slap by Mikumo, combined with the urgings of Hayate and Mirage, Freyja is back in the game.

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Turns out she was right to worry: the song does make Hayate go berserk, just when locked in a dogfight with Cassim (who is fighting like this is his last battle, because it is). Just as Hayate and Mirage helped snap Freyja out of her funk, Mirage and Freyja snap Hayate out of his Var before irreparable damage is done, and the battle resumes.

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By the time Hayate has his senses back, the platoon has bought Walkure adequate time, the gate opens, and they fly through, emerging in Windermere’s atmo. Two Aerial Knights: one of the twins and Cassim, follow, and take out Walkure’s shuttle.

Remembering vividly what happened to Flay in Gundam SEED I naturally worried about the idols’ transport getting hit, but they all survive the attack, with Arad and Mirage catching Kaname and Freyja out of the sky.

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All that’s left is for Hayate to stay alive long enough for Cassim to burn (or freeze) out, which is what happens. Interestingly, no other Windermerean defense is around, allowing Hayate and Mirage to land their planes so they, along with Freyja, can pay respect to their fallen adversary and acquaintance.

Cassim’s time may be up, but Hayate, Freyja, and Mirage’s Windermerean adventure has just begun. Freyja is finally home. There’s still quite a bit left to do, and Lloyd probably isn’t going to roll over and let them destroy his life’s work. We’ll see whose wind prevails.

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Macross Delta – 06

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Hayate’s pilot-soldier training gets off to a rough start, as Lt. Messer delivers a frank and devastating critique of both his and Mirage’s skills. It’s an old story: Mirage is precise but too by the book; Hayate is suitably unpredictable but has all kinds of other problems, including the lack of the killer instinct all soldiers must have.

The third vertex of the triangle isn’t spared harsh criticism, delivered to her by Mikumo, who coldly remarks how Freyja’s song conspicuously lacks the surging life of the voice the Windermereans are using to annex planet after planet after infecting them with the Var.

Those victories are coming at a cost to Heinz’s health, as the strength and endurance of his voice, so crucial to his world’s war effort, decrease by the day. And yet rather than fall back or rest, Heinz (egged on by Keith) is determined to keep singing, no matter the cost.

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Hayate, Mirage, and Freyja also decide they won’t just quit in the face of withering criticism or risks, but resolve to continue moving forward. That resolve is tested in the first big space battle since the first episode, and is bursting with all the awesome space battle goodness one would expect of Macross.

Freyja and Hayate resolve themselves before departing from Ragna, and once in space, Hayate cheers up Mirage—who can’t obsess over the fact she inherited her grandfather’s legacy, but not necessarily all his talent. The two sortie in good spirits, to provide cover for Walkure while they purge Ionideth of the Var with their song.

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What follows is part space battle, part music video, with the Walkure members projected on meteorites as fighters dark through them; capital ships’ flak curtains dazzling as heavy beam weapons demarcate the screen, and lotsa shit gets Blow’d Up Real Good. Mirage and Hayate initially make up for their deficiencies by having each others’ backs, and it mostly works.

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Things take a turn for the dark when an Aerial Knight goes straight for Freyja, condemning her as a traitor. Hayate knocks him away before he can fire his weapon at the weakened glass which is all that stands between Walkure and the vacuum of space.

In doing so, Hayate leaves Mirage’s side, and she gets cornered and very nearly turned into a younger knight’s first kill, until Hayate swoops in and makes that kid his first kill, saving Mirage in the process. The other knights are ordered to retreat without further bloodshed.

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After the battle, Freyja gets another earful from a frustrated Mikumo, after she had to step in when Freyja’s voice wavered after being called a traitor. Mikumo, like Messer, isn’t here to coddle anyone, and tells it like it is: as things are, Freyja can’t last or be useful in Walkure. Not until she learns why she risks her life, why she takes the stage, and what feelings she puts into her singing.

It’s a tough assignment, to be sure; but then again, perhaps the answer is staring her in the face. Isn’t she working hard and singing for the same reason Hayate is working hard and fighting? Why, even after he took a life, won’t he won’t back down?

It’s because he (and Mirage) are motivated by everyone else risking their lives and fighting and enduring the pain of having taken lives, and having to take more before all’s said and done. Freyja sings, and Hayate and Mirage fly and fight, to protect one another.

Hayate deals with his first kill pretty well, and Mirage no doubt feels a bit closer to him, now that they’ve been in battle and taken the lives of adversaries in order to protect allies.

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I’m not sure Heinz needed any more motivation to protect his world, but perhaps Keith thought that seeing firsthand the horrific scar in the landscape would light a fire under him, that he can find a second wind with his voice. He may have a head start over Freyja when it comes to the power of his voice, but the cost may well prove too high.

The more Heinz helps Keith fight this war, the more planets are annexed, and the hungrier Keith and the hardliners get, thus extending what Heinz insisted must be as quick and bloodless a war as possible into something neither quick or bloodless. And yet even if he were to refuse to sing, the war would not simply stop on a dime. There’s too much inertia for that.

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Macross Delta – 04

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First some quick observations on our Windermeran boy prince songster: he’s the key to his people’s plans for galactic domination, he’s a pawn of his big brother Keith, he likely has misgivings about hurting people with his song, and the song hurts him; indeed, he may be running out of time, necessatating an acceleration of those plans.

On the other side of the galaxy, fellow Windermeran Freyja Wion and her friend Hayate are at a party welcoming them to Walkure and Delta Platoon, respectively, but neither are (yet) carrying the weight of his little highness, they’re kicking back and relaxing with their new family. Mikumo solitary, solemn audience with the stars is a stark contrast to the frivolity of the party; and in lighting and mood, a lot more like the prince’s milieu.

But the lighthearted fun, for both for our star idol and pilot and the show, has to hit a snag at some point: we need to start seeing some stakes and some danger if I’m going to become dramatically invested and take the show seriously (that is, as seriously as one can take a show in which a berserker syndrome is cured with song). This week provides that necessary snag.

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Mind you, there’s still a Nostalgia Corner, for those watching Delta because of all the Macross that came before. Not only does Freyja name-drop several musical personalities and groups from previous shows, they’re on her playlist and formed her inspiration.

Mind you, this mirrors the real life cyclical inspiration of the idols who got their start with Macross: no doubt Freyja’s Suzuki Minori was inspired by Ranka’s Nakajima Megumi, and so on.

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But however inspired Freyja is by her forebears, Mikumo informs her in no uncertain terms that if she can’t deliver the goods in her debut, she’s fired.

This time it’s not a highly controlled simulation: Planet Randor has requested a “Waccine” to preemptively inoculate its population from the Var. Freyja inadvertently plays up her clumsy nervousness as a virtue in her debut, and the adoring crowds eat it up.

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Freyja also gets better as the show goes on, able to mostly keep pace with Mikumo, even if her fold receptors don’t activate at first, which was the whole point of recruiting her.

Things then take a turn for the perilous when a formation of Var-infected Spacy planes arrives and attacks Walkure/Delta. I was a little confused whether the Var was being caused by the Windy Prince’s song, but it sure looked like a connection between the two was implied.

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When shit hits the fan, the Walkure members scatter for safety, and the adrenaline of the first episode returns as they feel terribly exposed to the firepower and brawn of bogeys.

Of course, that’s where Delta comes in, and Hayate has Freyja’s back, keeping her alive until Mikumo regroups with a Var-eradicating solo Freyja turns into a duet, finally activating her fold receptors and avoiding summary termination.

Turns out harrying Walkure/Delta was only an elaborate diversion by the Aerial Knights of Windermere, as Chancellor Brehm announces a formal declaration of war against the New Unifed Government, while Delta confirms that Planet Vordor has been invaded.

First the Var, now a war with Windermere, a people who are short-lived (~30 years max) but powerful. The fact the newest member of Walkure is from the same planet should make things interesting. A quarter-cour in, things are finally starting to spice up.

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Macross Delta – 03

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The plot: Mirage and Messer don’t like Hayate and Hayate isn’t helping his case. He skips class and doesn’t take his training seriously and only survives his final examine because Freyja sings to him.

And until Hayate needs help, Freyja was under-performing as well. However, in her case she both takes the training seriously and her fellow songstresses are far more supportive and understanding.

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The Problem: This episode paints a bleak picture for Macross Delta. When all the extraneous, predictable and force-fed nostalgia is stripped away, all that is left is a beautifully-rendered but vapid show.

Worse, there are so many characters fighting for screen time, and each is so distractingly over-designed, that there’s no room for the main characters to breath. For goodness sake, the three street children from last week’s throwaway phone joke did not need to become recurring secondary characters.

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Counting the slap-stick Mercat, who’s antics are clearly telegraphed as a teaching tool for Hayate to using in his exam, this episode features sixteen secondary characters, three main characters and that’s not counting the Aerial Knights who teaser us after the ending credits. Too much!

Even if Delta weren’t choking to death on frivolous characters and predictable plots, other plot elements feel purely nostalgic. Flying in VF-01 trainers (and being told they are ‘cute’) feels forced and without in-show purpose.

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You will probably enjoy it: because it’s wondrously rendered and packed with details. Even Elysion Colony floating in the bay itself is a visual callback to Frontier and Macross 8, and anchors this show within the greater universe.

You may not enjoy it: because the plot is predictable and the characters, what little we get to see of them, are Macross archetypes: Low-stress anti-war fighter ace, bright eyed loli-songstress whose spunk will win the day, and a rainbow of inconsequential ‘advance the plot’ secondary cast characters.

Sadly, Mirage’s tsundere character is about the most original thing here, and it’s only somewhat original to Macross, not anime in general. I am seriously tempted to rate this a 7.

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Macross Delta – 02

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Delta quickly wraps up last week’s cliffhanger with Mirage swooping in to rescue Hayate & Freyja’s falling, crippled variable fighter and the Aerial Knights retreating, having collected the data they were after.

The remainder of the episode sets out to establish more of the world, context for Freyja’s ability, character relationships and how Hayate & Freyja ultimately join Walkure.

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From mer-cats to gilled street kids with webbed fingers selling organic fish cellphone bracelets, the world around Macross Elysion, Delta Platoon’s HQ, is a fantastical buffet of extraneous but enjoyable details.

It’s all lovingly rendered but Hayate literally grabs Freyja and runs her out of the scene because they have so little narrative purpose, beyond a minor nod to Ranka Lee’s squeezable organic cell phone in Macross Frontier. Even the brief scene in the Aerial Knight’s mountain castle, which includes a column-like pipe organ in the background, only repeats information we’ve already been told.

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As to the joining Walkure part, Freyja is given an audition, which she fails and Hayate is outright offered a piloting position by Delta Platoon Arad Molders. Later, on her way back to the city, Freyja’s tram suddenly halts and one of the passengers goes var-mad. Freyja is knocked to the ground but she sings her way to safety and passes Walkure’s final, secret audition test.

Delta deserves serious credit for its solid sound design.  Music cues are tight. We can feel Freyja’s frustration in the droning elevator-pop of the tram ride and feel her surprise as that music cuts off with the lights and is replaced by something more ominous. Subtle too, that omens music is fun-house style goofy, which softly hints that not all is as it seems to the viewer.

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As to the character relationships, Mirage and Hayate are immediately set up as rivals (and, probably, long term love interests) due to Hayate’s natural skills and matter of fact criticism of the military and rules following. It doesn’t help that Mirage was out of sync during combat too and they both know it.

More broadly, we see Arad’s fatherly relations with with his pilots and other admin, as well as how most people are scared of Elysion’s Captain Ernest Johnson, who is probably Zentradi but looks like an adult version of Teen Titans’ Beast Boy. We also see the Aerial Knights have a lot of internal conflict, which will no doubt be their undoing.

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Stray details and speculation: The Aerial Knights’ SV-262 Draken III’s appeal to be capable of docking with a Ghost on the end of each wing. This not only looks pretty cool, but could imply reliance on artificial intelligence to bolster their numbers. (AI is also generally outlawed in the Macross universe, following Sharon Apple’s rampage in Plus and whatever the heck the androids of Macross Galaxy were up to in Frontier)

Also worth noting the Aerial Knight’s resemblance to the pre-space era earth villains in Macross Zero. The fighters look similar, also had purple, and the characters had feudal sounding titles and ranks…

Also also, Walkure’s VF-31 “Siegfrieds” are named after a dragon slayer, which is important because “Draken” means dragon in swedish.

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Delta’s strength is that it is very well produced: tremendous precision went into its sound design, visual styling, animation and world building. It somehow even keeps its 17+ characters recognizable and coherent.

Delta’s weakness is it has 17+ characters to show us, tons of world building to get through, and some technobabble about singing/fold-space potential, and even more alien races than Macross has ever tackled before.

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It does a good job balancing that all out, but there is so much packed into this episode, I found it hard to absorb in one sitting. More critically, despite the extraneous detail scenes that serve as points of ‘rest,’ the shows maximum level of information density stops individual elements from standing out.

It’s like playing a game for the first time with 2 years worth of DLC turned on from the very beginning!

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Macross Delta – 01

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Note: This is a repost of my January review of the preview special, updated with the rest of the episode that more recently aired.

Cute, quirky, idealistic heroine whom the serious male protag helps out? Check. Rather than Ranka Lee, we have Freyja Wion. She’s also voiced by a first-time seiyu (Suzuki Minori), who does a pretty good job balancing goofiness, earnestness, vulnerability and determination.

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If you’re not put off by Freyja’s bubbly enthusiasm, you’ll want to root for her almost immediately. She’s on the run from an arranged marriage to audition for Walkure, a “Tactical Sound Unit” that uses music to fight the Var, which unlike the Vajra aren’t a primal alien race, but a disease that infects everyone, potentially making anybody a weapon in its arsenal.

While there’s a lot of terminology right out of the gate, Delta doesn’t drown you in it, and also assumes this isn’t your first Macross rodeo (my other exposure to the franchise is the excellent 25th anniversary series Macross Frontier). Like that show, the world is lush and detailed, only the visuals here in 2016 are even more smooth and refined, particularly where CGI is concerned.

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The male protag, Hayate Immelmann (probably named for the turn), is initially put off by Freyja’s weirdness, but ends up rescuing her, though having been someone who’s dreamed big in the past and gotten nowhere, he remains skeptical of her lofty aspirations.

Something tells me his attitude will have changed when this episode concludes in April. He even seems to come under a little bit of a spell from her overflowing charisma—until she loses her foothold and he has to catch her in an awkward position that has him at gunpoint for suspected perversion by Mirage, a soldier in Delta Platoon, Walkure’s escort unit.

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The misunderstanding is corrected just in time for a city-wide Var Alert. The Var infect the local Zentradi base (as in Frontier, the green-skinned giants are normally allies of the humans here), and Freyja and Hayate become naught but two more ants on a massive battlefield, running for their lives.

Then we’re introduced to the four members of Walkure who run towards the danger, transforming into their magical songstress forms: You have the Sheryl Nome-esque star Mikumo, the tomboyish Reina, the girly Makina, and the sporty leader, Kaname.

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Working in concert with the Delta Platoon, they neutralize the effects of the Var with their music, as the battle on the ground is essentially one big music video. This is a departure from Frontier in that the effects of the singing on the enemy aren’t known until later in the show. Here, Walkure is an active participant in the combat, and also in protecting the hordes of citizens with swarms of multidrones.

As one would expect of an experienced and practiced pop music group, Walkure knows exactly what to do and carry it out swiftly and efficiently, but also with an ample helping of style. So confident is Mikumo in her powers of charm, she gets right in a Var-infected Zentradi pilot’s face and cures him on the spot, getting him to exclaim that iconic line, “Deculture!”

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But that’s not all for enemies. In orbit, the planet’s space fleet is attacked by the Aerial Knights, a group of badass male warriors who look to be the Walkure Girls’ rivals and foils. When they engage the Delta Platoon on the surface, they learn they’re more than a match.

Be it the Huge Capital Ship Getting Blow’d Up Real Good in orbit or the Zig-Zagging Dogfight in the skies, Delta doesn’t separate itself much from Frontier in these areas, but it does distinguish itself in sheer quality and refinement. There’s nary a frame out of place, and as previously stated, the CGI is far better integrated into the regular animation than the older work. The plane, ship, cockpit, and HUD designs are also new and very cool-looking, all with a welcome nod to the past.

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With all the big battles and explosions going on, the episode could be excused for completely forgetting about Freyja and Hayate, but when the Knights push Walkure and Delta into a corner, we come back to them, trying not to get caught in the crossfire. Then Mikumo emerges from the pile of wreckage, ready to rumble anew, and changes the tune—literally—to a more aggressive but still upbeat song.

Freyja’s little heart-shaped stone on her head starts to glow (as it did when Hayate fell on her), and she can’t resist singing along and running towards the battle rather than away. It’s an inspiring sight for young Hayate, seeing her risk her life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, without a care in the world that things won’t work out.

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So…what does the newly-aired episode add to the preview? Nothing that changes my original score of an 8. Right after Freyja runs off, Hayate commandeers a partially-wrecked mech to back her up. As Walkure detects Freyja adding her voice to theirs (and it’s a nice voice), Hayate takes out baddies with the grace of a dancer.

Eventually, he gets lost in the song, and he and Freyja spend a little time in Glowing Naked Blue Sky Land before enemy fire snaps Hayate out of it, and the two start plummeting to the Earth. With their fates uncertain (though not really; they’ll be fine) the episode really just replaced one ellipsis with another, only now Walkure and Delta Platoon have seen a little of what these two crazy kids can do.

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Macross Delta (Preview Special) – 01

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A couple of things: First, to my surprise, Macross Delta won’t be airing until April as a Spring 2016 show (which is for the best, as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle both a Gundam and a Macross at the same time). Second, while this isn’t a complete episode, it is comprised of 391 of the 450 frames of the first episode, or over 86% of the total. So we get a pretty good look.

A lot of those 391 frames contain some pretty familiar stuff…but this is Macross, so you go in fully expecting that.  Cute, quirky, idealistic heroine whom the serious male protag helps out? Check. Rather than Ranka Lee, we have Freyja Wion. She’s also voiced by a first-time seiyu (Suzuki Minori), who does a pretty good job balancing goofiness, earnestness, vulnerability and determination.

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If you’re not put off by Freyja’s bubbly enthusiasm, you’ll want to root for her almost immediately. She’s on the run from an arranged marriage to audition for Walkure, a “Tactical Sound Unit” that uses music to fight the Var, which unlike the Vajra aren’t a primal alien race, but a disease that infects everyone, potentially making anybody a weapon in its arsenal.

While there’s a lot of terminology right out of the gate, Delta doesn’t drown you in it, and also assumes this isn’t your first Macross rodeo (my other exposure to the franchise is the excellent 25th anniversary series Macross Frontier). Like that show, the world is lush and detailed, only the visuals here in 2016 are even more smooth and refined, particularly where CGI is concerned.

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The male protag, Hayate Immelmann (probably named for the turn), is initially put off by Freyja’s weirdness, but ends up rescuing her, though having been someone who’s dreamed big in the past and gotten nowhere, he remains skeptical of her lofty aspirations.

Something tells me his attitude will have changed when this episode concludes in April. He even seems to come under a little bit of a spell from her overflowing charisma—until she loses her foothold and he has to catch her in an awkward position that has him at gunpoint for suspected perversion by Mirage, a soldier in Delta Platoon, Walkure’s escort unit.

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The misunderstanding is corrected just in time for a city-wide Var Alert. The Var infect the local Zentradi base (as in Frontier, the green-skinned giants are normally allies of the humans here), and Freyja and Hayate become naught but two more ants on a massive battlefield, running for their lives.

Then we’re introduced to the four members of Walkure who run towards the danger, transforming into their magical songstress forms: You have the leader, the Sheryl Nome-esque leader Mikumo, the tomboyish Reina, the girly Makina, and the sporty Kaname (thanks Starqo).

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Working in concert with the Delta Platoon, they neutralize the effects of the Var with their music, as the battle on the ground is essentially one big music video. This is a departure from Frontier in that the effects of the singing on the enemy aren’t known until later in the show. Here, Walkure is an active participant in the combat, and also in protecting the hordes of citizens with swarms of multidrones.

As one would expect of an experienced and practiced pop music group, Walkure knows exactly what to do and carry it out swiftly and efficiently, but also with an ample helping of style. So confident is Mikumo in her powers of charm, she gets right in a Var-infected Zentradi pilot’s face and cures him on the spot, getting him to exclaim  that iconic line, “Deculture!”

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But that’s not all for enemies. In orbit, the planet’s space fleet is attacked by the Aerial Knights, a group of badass male warriors who look to be the Walkure Girls’ rivals and foils. When they engage the Delta Platoon on the surface, they learn they’re more than a match.

Be it the Huge Capital Ship Getting Blow’d Up Real Good in orbit or the Zig-Zagging Dogfight in the skies, Delta doesn’t separate itself much from Frontier in these areas, but it does distinguish itself in sheer quality and refinement. There’s nary a frame out of place, and as previously stated, the CGI is far better integrated into the regular animation than the older work. The plane, ship, cockpit, and HUD designs are also new and very cool-looking, all with a welcome nod to the past.

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With all the big battles and explosions going on, the episode could be excused for completely forgetting about Freyja and Hayate, but when the Knights push Walkure and Delta into a corner, we come back to them, trying not to get caught in the crossfire. Then Mikumo emerges from the pile of wreckage, ready to rumble anew, and changes the tune—literally—to a more aggressive but still upbeat song.

Freyja’s little heart-shaped stone on her head starts to glow (as it did when Hayate fell on her), and she can’t resist singing along and running towards the battle rather than away. It’s an inspiring sight for young Hayate, seeing her risk her life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, without a care in the world that things won’t work out.

Even though Freyja stowed away on a ship to the wrong planet, it looks like she’ll get her audition after all—we’ll just have to wait until April to see how it goes. Until then, I know I have a big, bold, upbeat new Macross to look forward to when the chill breaks.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 07

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Space may be big, but the shipping lanes aren’t, and it was only a matter of time before Tekkadan got some attention. Only the first ship to confront them since their Gjallarhorn skirmish is the Hammerhead, commanded by Naze Turbine, who works for Teiwaz. They’re not stodgy and militaristic, but rather much more of a Bizarro Tekkadan, right down to the two groups’ eccentric young ace mecha pilots. It also reminds us that CGS were no angels back when they were working for Maruba. They did the jobs they were contracted to do.

I couldn’t really ask for a better adversary at this point: a group of people who under different circumstances I wouldn’t mind rooting for. Naze, like Orga, is a fundamentally pragmatic guy. With the info he currently has, Naze has no reason not to help the connected Maruba recoup his CGS losses. And while the Turbines have probably made lots of compromises to get to where they are, the point is they’re surviving and thriving. They’re a glimpse of a successful, stable Tekkadan no one is hunting.

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Except the Turbines have been charged with hunting Tekkadan. Biscuit thinks their wiggle room, but Orga has to consider all the angles, like losing face or breaking their promise to Aina and Nobliss. So negotiations break down, Turbine’s ace paints her nails and then licks her chops (the Tekkadan’s Isaribi looks kinda like a mecha-shrimp), and Atra battens down the curry and rounds up the potatoes in Zero-G.

In this battle, Orga sends Mika and Akihito out in the Barbatos and Graze, gives Eugene the bridge, then sends Shino down to the hangar. Now, I don’t know Shino so well, so I figured his time was going to be up., but the show turned out to be far cleverer than that. There were also no more strange shots of Fumitan; perhaps that’s just her natural expression to glare at people.

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Atra and Aina, who aren’t so great at the combat, make a connection during the chaos of battle, as Atra helps Aina get her spacesuit on properly and keep her company. Out in space, meanwhile, IBO finally introduces us to some female pilots in Amida and Lafter, who aren’t just among the Turbines’ pilots; they’re the best, and don’t let anyone forget it.

After six weeks of Atra and Aina not having that much to do (and filling into “traditional” roles of cook, teacher, and emotional support), I can’t underscore enough how glad I am the show now has women in powerful warrior roles. And Atra and Aina aren’t in their roles because they’re not men, but because they’re not soldiers; an important distinction.

Mika’s ancient Gundam is realistically having software bugs, and is absolutely no match for Lafter’s super-fast customized-to-the-hilt rig, which fits her like a glove. Mika has to give everything he’s got not to be overwhelmed, while not forgetting he has to protect the Isaribi from the Hammerhead. Akihito has similar problems with Amida and her wingman Azee, but holds his own by sheer will, determination, and courage in the fact of unfair odds.

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Throughout the battle, Naze and Amida keep on ongoing narrative of the Turbines being the adults who must do their duty and teach the Tekkadan rapscallions a lesson. To that end, they feign being impressed when Tekkadan executes by-the-book tactics, and dismiss their reckless mecha combat as juvenile and undisciplined. Basically, while they’re not nearly as incompetent as any Gjallarhorn officer not called Fareed, Naze and the Turbines are still underestimating these kids. Obviously, that’s a running theme.

In fact, Orga, Biscuit, and Eugene use those by-the-book tactics in order to lull the Turbines into a false sense of strategic superiority. When the Isaribi fires missiles, the Hammerhead shoots them down, creating a smokescreen. But the Isaribi doesn’t escape; the screen is used to surprise the Hammerhead when Eugene plots a near collision course, stealthily dropping an Orga-led boarding party that cripples the Turbines from the inside.

To his credit, Naze doesn’t fume or pull his hair out when he realizes he’s been outmaneuvered. Instead, like Fareed, he seems glad to have a worthy opponent to face off against. Tekkadan exceeded his expectations, and he can’t help but smile about it.

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Out in the void, things get more and more intense, and if your adrenaline wasn’t pumping for that Isaribi maneuver through the smoke, Mika and Akihito’s increasingly brutal, metal-crunching duels do the trick. Mika manages to cast a line out and tether himself to Lafter’s mecha, and she tries to use the fact his old bucket lacks inertial dampers to let the g’s take care of him for her. But Mika not only endures, and lets her slam him into an asteroid: he uses his spear to anchor himself and pull her back to him.

Similarly, Akihito, who Amida says with semi-sarcastic respect fights like he has “muscle for brains” doesn’t give up, despite his mechanical shortfalls and the fact the enemy has numbers on him. He keeps fighting because he told Mika he’d take care of it, so he will. Even so, while Mika got the upper hand on Lafter and is poised to finish her, Amida seems ready to close her jaws on Akihito…

…Then Orga and Naze suddenly order a cease-fire to their respective fighters. Just like that, the battle is over, and for once, it’s the stopping of a battle I wanted to stop. I didn’t want Lafter or Akihito to buy the farm so soon, and I didn’t want Tekkadan and the Turbines stacking up blood-grudges that would prevent future cooperation.

I look forward to seeing not only how Orga, Biscuit and/or Aina deal with Naze and Amida now that the guns have been lowered and cooler heads have prevailed, but hope Mika gets to interact with his counterpart Lafter, who seems to share his love of the uncomplicated. They already had their first dance, after all.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 05

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There’s a wonderful sense of anticipation and occasion on the eve of Tekkadan’s first space mission, as warm moments like Aina joining Mika on his night watch, or Atra enlisting as Tekkadan’s cook for the journey, are tinged with foreboding when Orga shakes hands with Orcus, a man we know he doesn’t trust as far as he can throw him.

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Traps and betrayals await Tekkadan in low orbit, with Todo cutting a deal with Orcus, who gets betrayed by Orcus, who cut a deal with Coral, who himself made a deal with Fareed in the apprehension of Kudelia. And at the end of the day, youth and smarts beat age and greed.  Todo’s treachery has been so blatantly telegraphed, it was all but inevitable his plan would be foiled by somebody; the fact Orga doesn’t have to lift a finger for it to happen is icing on the cake.

So Todo, and later Coral, aren’t just old villains, they’re bad, dumb villains that the show disposes of as soon as it can. In the villain vaccum comes Fareed, who like Mika on the other side is a different kind of animal. The beautifully-oiled gears are always spinning beneath his golden locks. Fareed doesn’t mug for the camera get bent out of shape; he twirls his hair, playing the long game.

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And as predictable as Todo’s failed betrayal was, the fact the show was very coy indeed about what if any countermeasures Orga had was nicely hidden beneath the more predictable surface. Orga doesn’t even tell most of his comrades what he has in store for Aina’s would-be apprehenders: Mika in the Gundam (wearing a flight suit too), and a game Akihito arriving right on time with Tekkadan’s ship.

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We’ve been waiting five weeks for IBO’s first space battle, and it doesn’t disappoint. Is there rampant, obvious CGI? Nope, just hand-drawn (or at least hand-drawn looking) mechas rockin’-sockin’ it could with maces, axes, swords, and bullets. And just when we thought Mika was good in atmospheric combat, we see he’s even better once he has the omnidirectionality of space in which to work.

The action is beautifully and tautly directed, and it’s easy to know what’s going on where at all times, without dumbing it down. There are also a good number of Gundam cockpit shots, and thankfully the pilots can speak to each other on the radio.

As his Gjallarhorn opponents get more and more pissed off, Mika just maintains his cool—but not cold—demeanor. He’s got a job to do, everyone’s depending on him, and he’s going to do it. His constant calm, and the power of those convictions, carry with them their own brand of ferocity.

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It’s fitting then, that Fareed, who really secured his position as most serious, interesting and complex antagonists in IBO, remains equally calm and collected this week. The lack of bluster or panic or desperation makes him all the more formidable a foe.

One of Fareed’s best lines of dialogue this week is a little cheesy and meta, but I still absolutely loved it: when the ship’s database confirms Tekkadan’s trump is a Gundam from the Calamity War, he points out how appropriate that is, since Gundams always seem to pop up and make significant contributions at key turning points throughout human history, and with a Martian independence movement gaining strength, this Barbatos has risen up once more to defend the underdog, in this case Kudelia.

What’s also so great is that his little speech didn’t just fire me, up, but it fired him up, to the point he heads out in his own upgraded Graze to join the fray. His opponent is a legend, and finally, a legitimate chance to test his mettle and prove his greatness.  Very good stuff.

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As Mika is dancing with the mobile suits, the Orcus and Gjallarhorn capital ships bear down on Tekkadan’s. They need a big maneuver to escape: enter a mining asteroid they tether to using some good old-fashioned, quick-and-dirty, NASA-style improvisation. Someone has to cut the tether loose at the right moment to send the ship flying safely away from the enemy.

It’s a suicidal mission, so Orga prepares to take it on, but in a nice bit of character development Eugene (for all intents and purposes his XO) volunteers in his stead, insiting the captain should just “sit around and look important.”

It’s a reminder that even though he’s pissed Orga kept the ship secret from him, he still has ample faith and respect in Orga’s command. It also reminds us Orga is still getting used to being the top dog; which sometimes requires delegating, or sending people out you know might not come back.

The thrilling tether swing-around works like a charm, even when the initial blast doesn’t cut the cord. On its way out of orbit on onwards to Earth, they don’t forget to pick up Mika, who destroyed Coral and got a good lick in on Gaelio. The whole time, Fareed was carefully analyzing Mika’s movement, and came away impressed.

Orga and Eugene also make peace, lessening considerably my previous worries Eugene would try to make a move against him. We’ve got a lot of Gundam left, so that could still happen down the road, but for now, they’re buds.

Oh, and yes, Mika’s fine. No adverse side-effects from all that space combat, either mental or physcial. Having both Aina and Atra aboard is a good move, not just for the triangle, but because they represent everything Mika has to lose if things go south.

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The final kiss-off from Tekkadan is shipping a beaten and marked Todo to Gjallarhorn in an escape pod. No more Todo blatantly undermining Tekkadan in the shadows. Fareed lost this round, but he didn’t come away empty-handed (and I’m not talking about Todo): he got to observe his enemy closely, and will be more prepared for him the inevitable next time.

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