Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 02 – Don’t Touch My Tomatoes

After her decisive win over the overconfident Guel Jeturk, Suletta is now the school’s ace pilot and fiancé to Miorine, heiress to one of the largest corporate concerns in a universe de facto ruled by corporations…Right? Uh, not so fast. The adults cry foul. Suletta’s Aerial is identified as an illegal Gundam, so both she and her suit are swiftly taken into custody.

If the prologue provided the backstory and context for Suletta’s background and legacy and the first episode established the school setting, system of duels, and the pairing off of Suletta and Miorine, this week is all about What Is To Be Done About Suletta, along with her suit that looks, sounds, and smells like a Gundam. We also know What Delling Did, and Aerial represents the ghost of a rival he thought he’d defeated over a decade ago.

While Suletta is interrogated and the old people comb through the implications, life goes on at the school. Rather than hailed as its new idol, Suletta is dragged through the scuttlebutt mud as a cheater, which explains how easily she won. Earthian Nika knows better, and doesn’t rise to the unrelated provocations from Spacians. She just hopes she can see Suletta—and her suit—again soon.

Miorine returns to her garden, her connection to Earth and also the one place where she actually has a measure of control. In true Rich Boy fashion, Guel does not come in person but sends his brother and peons to help clean up the mess he made Miorine accepts the offer, but warns them that if they touch her precious tomatoes, she’ll kill them.

Compare this to Suletta, whom Miorine readily allowed to taste of her tomatoes even when she was just an annoyance. Suletta then fought for her, totally unbidden, and became someone worthy of her hand (unlike Guel, who was merely given that hand). Only now her father is changing the rules Miorine thought she was following: Suletta is to be expelled, her suit scrapped, and he’ll find a new groom for her.

Miorine tries to let out her frustration by tossing the phone with this message, but the gentle tap against the glass accentuates her impotency and sense of being trapped within a birdcage. It’s so bad she can only escape her minders by going to the toilet, where the contractor she hired to smuggle her to Earth arrives to tell her it’s not too late if she still wants to go. The woman asks her to “make a decision she won’t regret”; Miorine decides she’ll run.

Delling once again takes great pains to make clear to everyone that he cares about his daughter less than just about everything else. That backfires here as he didn’t bother vetting the minders she was able to shake off.

Guel is slapped and chastised by his daddy for hurting the Jeturk reputation, but then the representative of Shin Sei, the company that built the Aerial, shows up at his office. Her name is Lady Prospera, presumably the masked “Char” character in this Gundam.

My ears immediately perked up at the name, the feminine version of Prospero from The Tempest: a duke overthrown by his brother years ago, cast adrift in a boat with his baby daughter, and used those years to learn magic. Sounds a lot like what happened to Suletta’s mom, huh!

Suletta is despondent in her cell, but is the recipient of a small kindness from one Elan Ceres, a soft-spoken, unemotional young lad who has “taken an interest” in her. That said, his previous statement about being unable to fall in love makes it seem more like that interest is more that in a fascinating new tool, not a new friend. But we shall see.

The grand inquiry is then held, with all representatives of the Benerit Group in attendance in a dark and brooding tribunal hall, the oppressive darkness a keen symbol that the light of democracy holds no sway there. Lady Prospera is not the slightest bit intimidated being in the literal spotlight, providing answers to all inquiries and pointing out that even if she can’t 100% deny Aerial isn’t a Gundam, they can’t 100% prove it either.

She also removes her bionic arm (more evidence this is Suletta’s mom) saying both her original arm and face fell victim to Mercury’s magnetic field, and that the tech within Aerial will enable the safer mining of Permet, a vital resource in mobile suit production. She merely asks that the group of which Shin Sei is a small but innovative member give them the support they need.

But nothing in this room is ever up for a vote. Delling Rembran sits above all, and his word is law. That word is no. Prospera can mince words and specs all she likes; as far as he’s concerned, Aerial is a Gundam, and both it and its pilot are to be disposed of. No one has the guts to summon even a word of objection.

That’s what makes Miorine’s sudden crashing of the inquiry so righteous. All these powerful people can’t make a peep, but the president’s 17-year-old daughter is more than happy to give him a piece of her mind. Rather than run off to Earth, Miorine had her smugglers take her here instead, which means she owes them a favor.

But no matter, she’s here, and when her dad overwrites his rules and admits that he is a king with all the power, Miorine remembers Suletta telling her she “gains two” by going forward…and challenges dad to a duel. Sensing family friction, Guel’s dad suggests that keeping Aerial around to see what makes it tick could be the boost the group has been looking for to recover their declining market share.

That corporate contrivance would seem to have worked, as Miorine is able to visit Suletta in a lovely reunion with strong romantic vibes—Miorine even gives Suletta a zero-g Wall Slam. Is it just a coincidence that Suletta’s hair is … tomato red? She fills Suletta in: the two of them are to fight her dad to make their betrothal stand. If they lose, Suletta gets expelled and Aerial gets scrapped.

Like last week, Suletta is exasperated, but I imagine she’s not about to lose her fiancée and her metal little sister. Not only that, there’s another Gundam-like suit—a red one—already out there on test runs, slicing and dicing lesser suits. Chances of Suletta and Aerial going up against this red guy are somewhere in the region of 100%.

And just in case there was any doubt that Suletta x Miorine is most definitely A Thing, well … consider the Ship deployed.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 01 – Rich Kids Are Scary

Fast-forward over a decade from the prologue, and Ericht Samaya is now the teenaged Suletta Mercury, pilot of Gundam Aerial, arriving at the Asticassia School of Technology, where she has just transferred. While surveying the giant space station, she spots someone floating free in a spacesuit and executes a rescue operation. The person she rescues, Miorine Rembran, doesn’t want to be rescued.

She was trying to escape, and was about to succeed but for Suletta’s sharp eye and impeccable timing. Now that I know where these two end up by episode’s end, one could call it kismet. I also hasten to add that Miorine is the daughter of Delling Rembran, the man whose actions led to the death of Suletta’s dad and destruction of her family’s home. Obviously Miorine didn’t play a role in that, as she was only four at the time.

Upon arrival at her new school, which is full of rich, stuck-up jerkwards, Suletta is quickly treated like a Mercurian “country bumpkin” and also given the cold shoulder by Miorine. That said, she also meets a potential first new friend in mechanics student Nika Nanaura.

All of a sudden, all of the fake blue sky is replaced by clear windows out to space, and the campus is transformed into the ground for a duel between Guel Jeturk, son of one of Delling’s top business generals, and some nobody who dared to call him “a man with a runaway bride”.

Jeturk, an unrepentant preening jackass of the highest order, is Miorine’s fiance, a decision made not by either of them but by their parents. Her father, however doesn’t even bother to review the bodyguards assigned to his daughter, as he’s too busy financially destroying a business partner who posted too many quarterly losses.

As Suletta learns by following her like a puppy, Miorine would prefer to be left alone with her garden that emulates earth environs, and even lets Suletta sample a tasty real tomato before downloading the map app of the school and sending her on her way. But before Suletta leaves, Jeturk and his clique of syncophants arrives to declare that Miorine will live with him at his family home from now on.

When Miorine protests, Jeturk starts wrecking her garden. When she tries to stop him, he shoves her aside. Suletta, who has a stutter and is clearly not great with social situations, nevertheless knows very well between right and wrong,. What Jeturk is doing is wrong, so she spanks him. She even gets giggles from his patsies when she calls him a “pushy suitor”.

Jeturk doesn’t take these affronts lightly, and suggests that if Suletta has a problem with him, they can settle it with a duel. Despite learning he is the school’s undefeated “Holder” (i.e. Ace) with a 26-0 record, Suletta doesn’t hesitate to accept the challenge. Jeturk tells her if he wins, she’ll be kicked out of the school. Meanwhile, Jeturk’s dad intends to speed up his and his son’s ascension by arranging to assassinate Delling.

When the duel commences, both Jeturk and Suletta are surprised to find that Miorine has commandeered Suletta’s Aerial, having gained access when she had her school handbook. That said, she has no idea how to pilot a mobile suit, let alone a Gundam, and Jeturk proceeds to make quick work of her.

With an assist from Nika, Suletta is able to get to Aerial before Miorine loses the duel, and those observing the duel accept the second change of Jeturk’s opponent back to Suletta. Having been head-butted when they first met, Suletta returns the favor and takes over in the cockpit, asserting that she and Aerial grew up together (indeed, when she was four, she considered her a little sister).

No one can pilot her but her, and as long as she’s piloting, Aerial won’t lose to the likes of Jeturk. She maintains that running away gains you only “one” by not losing, but going forward and rising to fight gains you “two” – experience and pride…as well as trust (so many three?).

Jeturk repsonds to that insult with a charge, but he’s totally out of his league. His beam weapon is reflected by Aerial’s shield, which then disassembles into a swarm of drones that tear Jeturk’s suit to pieces, giving Suletta a clear path to behead him with her energy sword.

As one would expect of a high-class Sunrise flagship production, the battle is absolutely top-notch in design and execution, fast, fierce, and gorgeous, accompanied by Ohmama Takashi’s stirring cinematic score that calls to mind Hans Zimmer with its blend of classical and futuristic electronic orchestration.

After the episode wasted absolutely no time showing what a sonofabitch Jetark is, I was literally cheering and laughing at the television as Suletta effortlessly put him in his place.

Again, Suletta’s timing is impeccable, as she defeats Jeturk just moments before his dad is about to press the detonate button on Delling’s transport. His aid quickly informs him that Jeturk will inherit neither Miorine nor her father’s company, because he was just defeated in a duel for the first time.

To the victor belongs the spoils, so Suletta not only wins the title of Holder of her very first day, but also becomes Miorine’s new fiancé, effective immediately. When Suletta points out that she’s a woman, Miorine tells her that unlike the apparently more conservative Mercury, such things are commonplace here. Suletta’s look of bewilderment says it all: these rich kids are crazy.

The Witch from Mercury follows up its thrilling, bittersweet prologue with an equally impressive opening sortie, establishing Suletta as a meek but determined and clearly immensely talented heroine (the first female Gundam lead), Miorine as her frenemy-cum-fiancée, the current financial and political power dynamics in play, and the system of duels that determine far more than they probably should. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 12 (Fin) – Moonlight Dreamers

Having watched Irina and Lev risk their lives so many times for each other and their country (very much in that order), Anya has decided it’s her turn to put everything on the line. And boy, does she ever, drugging the guards and sneaking off to the ceremony in the Zirnitran equivalent of Red Square.

There, a seemingly obedient Lev is giving the speech he was told to give…until suddenly he’s talking about how he actually isn’t the first cosmonaut, but the second, after a 17-year-old vampire girl! As he gives her her proper due by describing everything he loves about her, she breaks from the crowd, and with help from Anya (using herself as a missile!), manages to reach Lev before the sun knocks her out.

I expected there to be some bittersweet way Irina and Lev would be reunited. I did not think it would be in front of 200,000 Zirnitrans, Chairman Gergiev, and a TV and radio audience of 3 billion. In front of the largest audience in human history, Lev decided that lies wouldn’t do. He made his estranged parents, and more importantly Irina, proud. He told the truth. Then he hands the mic to the true Hero of Zirnitra.

A lot of the crowd is not initially open to listening to what they perceive as an evil monster to say, but the more Irina talks, the more she sounds like just a young girl who dreamed of reaching the stars, and frikkin’ did it. Later, Gergiev uses Lev’s and Irina’s modifications to the ceremony to tell the world that, actually, Zirnitra is the progressive, tolerant nation of the future, and these two crazy kids are proof positive!

Lev makes a stink about being used as a pawn by Gergiev and Harlova, but it ultimately doesn’t matter that much because a.) somehow, Lev and Irina (and presumably Anya) escape any kind of consequences for basically committing high treason—at least in the country that had been portrayed to this point—and b.) they’re both alive, together again, and the twin faces of hope for a better world, and a future where they travel to the moon together.

Did this ending strain credulity a bit? Sure. But is it a cold Monday, the second-shortest day of the year, and this was exactly the fun upbeat ending I both wanted and needed? ALSO SURE. All it was missing was a first kiss…though their first “bite” a few weeks ago arguably already achieved that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 11 – The Second Ever Cosmonaut

On the bus ride to the launch pad, Lev suddenly asks the driver to stop, and makes a face that wouldn’t look out of place on Irina. Everyone is worried until he says he just needs to take a leak, and the bus erupts in laughter and relief. Mikhail joins him outside, and offers Lev congratulations, now that he knows why Lev was chosen over him: because Lev is an everyman.

The launch goes off without a hitch; it’s almost too problem-free. Then again, the team learned a lot from the problems that occured during Irina’s test flight, and it looks like they were able to use her data to solve those problems.

While in orbit, Lev borrows Irina’s words to describe what he sees, and then uses kholodets as a code word to let her know, wherever she is, that he’s thinking of her.

The launch occurs in the middle of the day, when Irina is still in bed. Anya lets her know Lev made it to space, and the throngs of celebrating Zirnitrans outside confirm the success.

The radio relays Lev’s words to the masses, which Irina recognizes as her own, then hears about the kholodets and weeps in happiness. The effect of her going out into the sunlight is very well-done, evoking pain and disorientation.

Lev feels a bit disoriented after returning to Earth too. He’s been promoted several spots to Major and has immediately a world historical figure and national hero and celebrity.

For someone as honest and unassuming as Lev, it’s hard to keep up, especially when his post-launch job is all about schmoozing, marketing, and propaganda. Harlova even tells him he now has the power to start a revolution…if he so chooses.

Harlova seems to want Lev to go down this road, but he’s still preoccupied with Irina, who lied to him about joining the design bureau. It gives him further pause when Harlova tells him that anything that no longer has a use is disposed of as a matter of course.

Anya is reassigned, which means Irina will soon be all alone. But when she gives Anya her jewel necklace to give to Lev, Anya presses it back in Irina’s hand. She’s resolved to help Irina see Lev again, and won’t let Irina give up so easily.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 10 – That Sweet Pain

Parting is sweet sorrow, but before that, Irina and Lev’s first and last official date is just plain sweet. Their usual bar is closed, so they go see a movie instead—one about traveling to the moon, natch. Her theater etiquette leads much to be desired, but as Lev learns during their night picnic under the aurora, her kholodets game is pretty solid.

When the time comes for what would normally be a gradual lean in for a kiss, Lev instead remembers the weakened Irina sucking his blood from his arm, and decides to bear his neck to her. She almost digs in, but for the sound of the approaching bus, so the two settle for a significantly less intimate but still sweet, and for Irina, tearful, hug.

Unfortunately, that’s the last we see of these two together this week, which makes the rest of the episode a bit of a drag and a downer. Much is made of Lev and Mikhail being the final two candidates for the first human spaceflight, but there’s no real reason to ever think it won’t be Lev. Still, the two are the subjects of a photo session in the capital of Sangrad to make it look like they live and have always lived there, for the benefit of the public.

As for Irina, she and Anya just happen to be in Not-Red Square when Irina spots Lev and rushes towards him, only to be stopped by suited security goons. Anya has ice creams slapped out of her hands and is scolded for letting Irina out of her sight. Turns out there is no “Design Bureau”, Irina continues to undergo tests and counts down the days down until the launch, when she suspects she’ll be of no further use and disposed of.

Little does she know the saucy Comrade-Secretary Ludmila Harlova does have plans for Irina as some kind of weapon, and besides that considers her too cute to eliminate. Since she’s essentially Gergiev’s right hand (and may be eyeing his job for all her talk of “revolution”), that means Irina will almost certainly live.

As for Lev, he is chosen to be the first human in space, basically because he’s less of an arrogant prick than Mikhail, which…sure, fine! He reunites with the Chief at the flight center, and names his capsule Aster, which in the language of flowers (in Zirnitra at least) represents hoping someone far away is safe.

Irina has to settle for seeing Lev as a constellation in the sky, or mistaking Anya for him. I (1.) hope she’s not slowly going mad and (2.) sincerely hope that she and Lev can meet again, because when the two of them aren’t sharing the screen together, everything—even the first human spaceflight—feels a little less special.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 09 – A Softening of Thorns

Not-Russia’s head honcho doesn’t like how the not-Americans are progressing with their space program, and the Chief promises they’ll have a human in space by Spring. That human will be one of three people: Mikhail, Roza…and Lev. As you’d expect, Lev is over the moon about getting one step closer to it, while Mikhail is more reserved and Roza downright cold, telling him his “tongue is honey” and his “heart is ice.”

While wishing Mikhail and Roza would be more friendly, Lev mostly just wants to give Irina the good news, driving home the fact he cares for her a great deal. She, in turn, can’t hide how much Irina cares for Lev, as Anya mentions to him that she even threw a pine cone on the ice to make a wish. Irina, not to mention Lev and Anya, have a lot of fun faces this week as the highly procedural show lets its hair down a bit.

We also see how much Irina and Anya have grown as friends, with the latter giving the former a full progress report on the three final candidates. Mikhail and the “White Rose” Roza are still running first and second, and Irina can’t help but tip her hat at the nickname, as Roza is certainly full of thorns. Later, after running out of her dungeon due to embarrassment over Lev, Irina asks Anya if she’s been useful and still has value. The sweet and empathetic Anya naturally reassures her with both words and a hug.

Roza’s position as Number Two among the candidates suddenly goes up in flames when she loses control during a high-speed skydive. She spins out of control, unable to move, but Lev catches up to her, steadies her, and pulls her cord. It means Lev has to pull his cord a few seconds late and ends up landing in a forest, but he saved Roza’s life, and later Roza makes no bones about knowing that.

When Roza asks Lev why he saved her, Lev simply said he moved on his own to save a pal. There was no why, only that bond he feels, which has been one-sided up to this point. Roza thanks him by smiling, buying him a soda water, and apologizing for all the nasty things she’s said both to him and Irina, who she calls by name for the first time. The face turn seems sudden but only until you remember she really thought she was going to die. I for one am delighted they found another note for Roza besides prickly bitter xenophobe!

As for Miss Luminesk, who has always been a kaleidoscopic symphony of notes, she and Anya happen to walk by while Lev and Roza seem to be enjoying each other’s company, sparking a degree of jealousy. She’s almost assassinated in the street by a car, whose driver is swiftly executed by Nataliya, who proves she’s as much Irina’s bodyguard as her dorm mother.

Laika was never going to “dispose” of its titular protagonist, but there was always the possibility she and Lev would be separated by powers outside their control. Irina puts on a brave face regarding her choice to relocate to he capital to aid in space research, because it means not being close enough to Lev to hang out whenever they want.

Still, Lev is happy the government he could take or leave is finally seeing the value in Irina, and wishes her well. Anya also arranges for the two to have one last, first date together on Armed Forces Day. Irina’s face upon seeing Lev arrive bang on time is worth a thousand bittersweet words.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 08 – Wait and See

Irina returns to headquarters not to more scorn and racism, but an actual standing ovation—albeit a somewhat forced and stilted one. As forced by the chief as the applause might be, it’s still applause directed at Irina, something she likely never imagined she’d ever experience when she volunteered to do this.

The downside to both Irina’s success and Lev’s role in that success is that it becomes the impetus that separates them just when they were feeling closer to one another than ever. Lev is promoted to full candidate and joins the others for the final tests to select the first human cosmonaut. One would think his knee injury would put him out of the running, literally, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue.

As for Irina, her long expected post-launch “disposal” is postponed indefinitely. While the narrator suggests that someone might try to cause an “accident”, that’s made harder by the fact Anya makes it her mission to be Irina’s friend in Lev’s place. She takes her out for a festive night on the town, wearing traditional dress and performing the ritual of tossing pine cones into the water to grant your wishes.

It would seem Irina got her wish, which wasn’t at all “Love Live the Motherland”, but nothing more than another opportunity to be with Lev. When they meet for the first time in the new year, he’s prepared a spread and presents her with a bouquet. Irina questions the “point” of all this, all the while smiling with glee. So far it looks like these two crazy kids are going to be just fine, but as Lev says, it’s very much still a “wait and see” situation.

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 07 – Borscht or Bust

The day of launch has arrived, and Irina dons her proper Zirnitran uniform, but meets one-on-one with the Chief, who has survived countless small heart attacks to get to this point. Due to the risk of the UK monitoring her transmissions once in orbit, Irina is told to read the script of a cooking show to communicate her condition. If everything’s A-OK, she’ll read about borscht. If not, a cheeseburger.

In hindsight, Lev’s arrest was a naked attempt to build up tension and drama before the launch, as his detainment doesn’t even last through the launch. He is freed by Natalia, who discovered that Franz sabotaged the centrifuge in order to kill Irina, thus ending the Chief’s career. Lev is not only freed but gets to be one of the last people Irina sees before her flight to the heavens.

Since this is the first time they’ve attempted this with a person, there’s no guarantee this will be a two-way trip…except for the fact this is just the seventh episode and the titular character is exceedingly unlikely to perish here and now. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel a combined feeling of awe and dread—the same thing I’ve felt before watching any real-world spaceflight.

Everything goes according to plan at first, but other than a brief shot of Irina on video that soon fizzles out, the entire flight is from the perspective of Lev and the team in the control room. Lev’s crippling sense of helplessness is palpable when they lose contact, and for a few moments, he feels like perhaps Irina really is gone…and really feels that loss.

Thankfully, once communication is restored, Irina recites the recipe for borscht, delighting Lev the flight team down on earth and adding some welcome whimsy to what had been a strictly by-the-book launch procedure, as she rattles off the cooking instructions as her capsule dances above Earth’s night side. She even manages to get her feelings through to Lev by reciting her own recipe: for the odd Zirnitran drink he loves.

While the political officers in the control room really want to blow her up, both when she goes off script and when there’s a chance the capsule could land outside Zirnitran borders. But they don’t blow it up. That said, it’s a mad dash to the remote wintry landscape where the capsule landed, and Lev leads the way on his motorcycle.

While he’s thrown from that cycle when he hits an ice sheet, he only suffers a skinned knee, and gets right back in the saddle in search of Irina and her parachute. He finds it, which…is pretty lucky! But that’s fine; just as this show knows we don’t want Irina to die, it also knows we want to see the pair cuddle under the parachute in mutual relief and affection for each other.

The world may never know who Irina was or the feat she achieved, but it doesn’t matter: she knows, and the human lad knows too. That’s more than enough for both of them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 05 – Free Falling

A military bigwig arrives to inspect the training facility, and to also tell the two dozen or so candidates that only six of them will make the cosmonaut cut. When one of those candidates screws up their parachuting drill, Lev is suddenly back on the active roster. He might end up in space after all.

Meanwhile, Irina is in the anechoic chamber, which she basically treats like her coffin, only larger and most likely quieter. While in there, she’s left alone with her awful memories of when her village was massacred and her parents torched. At one point she softly calls Lev’s name, and can’t help but grab his sleeve when he finally comes in to release her from her solitude.

Irina probably figures she can’t hide the fact that she doesn’t hate Lev’s guts, so she comes right out and says she considers him the only human who isn’t bad. I’m not sure what that pink-haired researcher did to her! All joking aside, we get another great skydiving scene with Irina ending up in the unenviable situation of having to stare at Lev to keep her head up, even if it means being unable to hide her blushing.

When the two are up in the air they can forget about all the awfulness that surrounds them, but they come back down to earth literally and figuratively when they witness an aborted space capsule flight and the corpse of one of the experiment dogs. Those horrible flashbacks come roaring back, putting Irina in a state of shock.

Lev’s superior picks them up, and tells him that no one was supposed to see that. Back in the command room, the mission commander battles both his ailing heart and the political reality of having to self-destruct Irina’s capsule should she land in another country. You can tell he’s way more in this for the science and discovery, not the patriotism.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 04 – Fly Me to the Moon

With Lev being told Irina will launch in three weeks and her finally trying on a real spacesuit, shit is starting to get very real. If the higher-ups are to be believed, she may not live a long life even if the launch is successful, but Irina doesn’t seem to mind at all, and continues going through the training with nary a complaint (though she does remark that the suit is really heavy).

While Irina is changing out of her sweaty clothes into a fresh jumpsuit, Lev encounters Rosa in the hallway. Rosa is, so far, a completely one-dimensional racist bitch who is a waste of time. But when she lays into Irina to Lev, Irina overhears, and bids that Rosa say what she wants to say to her face. Rosa slinks off, warning Lev not to get his blood sucked. Even though, if we’re honest, it’s Rosa who sucks here!

When Lev and Irina get some free time before she has to enter an anechoic chamber (where you can indeed go mad quite quickly listening to nothing but your body make noises), Irina kinda prods Lev into taking her to a jazz bar. She gets some soda water, natch, but one sip of Lev’s dark red concoction has her slightly tipsy. No matter; she’s never heard jazz before, and she quite likes it.

Later that night Lev and Irina head out to a frozen lake to skate. While last week’s animation really shined with the airplane ride and skydiving, here Irina performs an elegant performance while an insert song plays. It’s really quite something to behold, and the latest demonstration of why Lev should really try to prevent her from being “disposed of” if he can.

Irina and Lev have never been closer. He tells her how he’s wanted to go to the moon since he was five; she told him how her parents were burned alive while she watched…pretty standard date stuff!

As for the whole post-launch disposal thing, Irina volunteered to be a test subject because it meant she would be going to space, and possibly the moon, before the humans defiled it. Even if the Zirnitrans off her afterweards, they can never take away the fact that she danced among the starts before they did.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 03 – Freedom, Not Fear

After a scene involving the pudgy, scheming old men who run Zirnitra from the capital, Sangrad (some who want to kill Irina as soon as the mission is over, some who want to wait and see), we see Lev get his first R&R since taking on the job of Irina’s handler. His former candidate comrades are a mix of curious, pitying, and superior.

It’s clear that due to his time with Irina, he’s no longer one of them…and that might not be the worst thing. As for “things”, it’s clear Anya doesn’t consider Irina one, but a fellow person. As a scientist, she knows the best way to overcome fear of something is to understand it better. She understands vampires to an extent she doesn’t fear them in the least. On the contrary; she adores “Irinyan”.

Lev ends up applying this axiom to Irina’s acrophobia, by exposing her to the most extreme heights so she can eventually realize how goddamn awesome it is when you’re flying and thus overcome her fear. Their moonlight flight is a series highlight in terms of visual panache; it really draws you in, like the great Miyazaki adventure in the sky.

Lev’s experiment on his “test subject” works like a charm, as Irina’s fears are replaced by wonder and a thirst for freedom unquenchable by even the fizziest lemon seltzer available. But the flight doesn’t just change Irina. It continues a gradual but inevitable change in Lev, from a soldier carrying out his duty of handling a test subject, to a young lad developing feelings for Irina Luminesk as if she were an ordinary human woman.

Lev isn’t training Irina in order to achieve the mission anymore; he’s training her so the government won’t dispose of her for not measuring up. Fortunately Irina excels at pretty much everything they throw at her, and once she’s over her acrophobia, flight and parachuting (another bravura sequence) is no exception. One of Lev’s colleagues warns him not to develop feelings for Irina, but it’s clearly already way too late for that!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut – 02 – Lemon Seltzer

This week is entirely devoted to the beginning of Irina’s training to become the first human(esque) Cosmonaut in space. Lev is right beside her all the way, enduring the same trials, so it’s no surprise he fails to see her only as an object and a test subject and not…a person like him.

After Lev narrowly outruns Irina on the track drills, she tries to regain her pride by outlasting him in in a 90-degree (Celsius!) steam bath. The senior researcher is a real racist piece of shit who insists on binding and muzzling her when it’s Lev’s turn to bake, then strapping her into the centrifuge so tight the chafing makes her bleed then subjecting her to too many Gs too fast.

If Dr. Asshole’s goal was to dehumanize Irina, it had the opposite effect, not just with Lev but with Anya as well. Seeing a vampire bleed the exact same blood, like running beside one or enduring intense heat, intense gravity, or intense…space food is only making Lev think of her more as just a human with pointy teeth and no sense of taste.

It’s with this in mind and a spirit of playfulness that Lev takes Irina to the parachute training site in the middle of the night. When she shows signs of acrophobia but won’t admit she’s scared, she gives her a little push, and she ends up on an awkward, harrowing ride to the bottom. But I’m sure the same exact thing happened to Lev his very first time, just as I’m sure it would’ve happened with me!

The kicker is when Lev treats Irina to a new sensation: carbonated water. Because she despises everything Lev represents, she won’t explicitly admit she really loves the stuff, especially with lemon, but whether she likes it or not shes warming to him just as he’s learning that vampires are just humans with a few differences that are, at the end of the day, not enough to engender the prejudice and oppression Irina and her kind suffer.

We learn from the boss that Lev was chosen specifically because he was liable to treat Irina like a person. It remains to be seen if Lev, like Lena in 86, will try to rebel against Irina’s oppressors for her sake.

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