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

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 09 – Jahyat Emptor

After last week’s charming Druj-centric episode, we get a substantial serving of The Magnificent Saurva, which totally sounds like a Mad Max character. Specifically, we get the bathhouse segment from her POV, and learn that she just wanted somewhere to get away from worrying about defeating Jahy.

Instead, Jahy steals half of her fancy shampoo! Saurva also slips on soap, but lands in the soft bosom of the manager, thus attaining the peace she originally sought.

The next segment is something totally different, as Jahy gets her monthly paycheck and decides to hit up a home goods megastore to stock up on weapons with which to defeat the Magical Girl (who doesn’t appear this week, and remains menacing in her mere absence, like in Jaws or Alien).

Unfortunately, Jahy is extremely suceptable to the hard sell, and marketing in general, and ends up blowing her pay on a bunch of mostly useless junk.

In the next segment Jahy prepares birdlime and other traps at the entrance and window of her apartment in order to trap an attacking Magical Girl. By doing so, she traps herself in, and she has to wait for a Magical Girl that may never come.

Fortunately, Kyou comes in to unknowingly save Jahy from being trapped forever, and as thanks, Jahy takes not a bullet, but a washtub to the head to protect Kyou. It’s a sweet little moment that shows how close they’ve become.

We’re back to Saurva in the fourth and final segment, as she has nightmares about Jahy (and Kyou) and sits in the park feeling sorry for herself. That’s when she finds a little girl with Jahy’s complexion and hair whom she still doesn’t realize is Jahy, but is amazed by how hard she’s fighting against three crows stealing her lunch.

Lil’ Jahy ends up giving Saurva some encouraging advice not to let a few failures get her down and keep doing her best. Alas, when Saurva finds a pissed adult Jahy aggressively waiting tables on an unusually busy weeknight at the craft pub, Saurva decides not to attack quite yet, but give it some time…what’s the rush?

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 08 – Too Much of a Good Thing

After a thoroughly unpleasant cold bath in her cramped metal tub, a hungry Jahy wanders the streets until picked up by a giant white limo sent by, who else, her trusty attendant Druj. A sumptuous feast of sweets awaits her, and a remote control transports her into starry space. She doesn’t want the ultimately short ride to end; she wants to live in that limo.

However, duty calls. Druj, who is the president of a profitable consulting firm, wants Jahy to give a motivational speech to some young corporate recruits. While I thought Jahy might get stage fright from being out of the spotlight for so long, she ends up having no problem taking the stage and speaking…if only the overeager Druj would let her speak.

The raucous applause that follows Jahy’s time on stage doesn’t please her in the least, because Druj kept interrupting her with what she expected her to say. In a way, perhaps Druj was actually protecting Jahy from embarassing herself by sounding like a chuuni, but on the limo ride back Jahy looks suddenly disillusioned with all the preferential treatment. When Druj invites her to a party, she cheers up a bit.

At work, the manager notices Jahy is smelling a little ripe, the product of only bathing once every three days—and without hot water or soap. This is how Jahy discovers an absolutely kick-ass bathhouse within walking distance of the pub. In addition to vicariously enjoying the simple pleasures of hot water, steam, and sweet-smelling shampoo, Manager can’t help but pamper Jahy (especially when she’s in child form), all while Saurva creepily lurks in the background.

The night of Druj’s Dark Realm party arrives, and at first it’s a lovely simulacrum of Jahy’s former lifestyle, complete with decent approximations of Dark Realm delicacies and using Druj as a chair. But there are constantly little real-world interruptions that ruin the fantasy for Jahy, such as when Druj, while still being sat on, switches to Corporate Mode on her cell.

I have no doubt Jahy appreciates Drujs’ not inconsiderable efforts to make her feel like she’s back home, but the bottom line is she’s not home, and her home doesn’t exist anymore because she wasn’t strong enough to protect it. After the evening of fun, Jahy returns to her ratty apartment and cries bitter tears over things lost, and frustration at her lack of progress.

So she runs inside and basically howls at the moon that she basically won’t let herself be defeated. It’s moments like these when we see the real vulnerable Jahy that have really endeared her to me as a character. Much like Nagatoro, she contains multitudes…nearly all of them charming and adorable.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 27 – Bonds Through Brandy

While we initially see the king in his standard position on the throne in full armor, Rimuru’s meeting with him is a far more casual affair, the two sitting across from a coffee table as equals. Dwargo is pleased to hear that Kaijin, the brothers, and Vesta have all found a place where they can exercise their talents to their fullest.

He also has nothing but good things to say about the apple brandy Shuna presents to him, which gives Rimuru to mention that they’re in trade talks with Eurazania. This impresses Dwargo, who is now at the stage of friendship with Rimuru that he has no need to check his drink for poison. Shion gets into it and demonstrates what a messy drunk she is, but Dwargo isn’t offended. Heck, he’s entertained.

The next day, Rimuru gives his big speech to the myriad peoples of Dwargon in his slime form. Shion is sufficiently sobered up to hold him up high so those in the back can hear his message of mutual respect and excitement over the new alliance between their nations. Dwargo later awards him zero points for coming off far too friendly and humble than a leader of a great nation should be, but the bottom line is, the speech is a success—the people of Dwargon have heard Rimuru and like him.

That night, Rimuru arranges a boys’ night out with the goblins and dwarves at the Elf Paradise hostess club. While I realize that deep down Rimuru is still a salaryman and takes these kinds of rituals seriously, the fact that Gobta and his fellow riders look way too young to be in such a club made the scene a bit awkward.

Granted, this isn’t a brothel, and if Rimuru, the goblins, and dwarves are literally objectifying them by regarding them as lovely jewels in a wood-lined treasure chest, at least the women don’t seem to be exploited; indeed, they’ll happily teast Gobta until his nose is drained of blood. The club manager is also happy to sell the apple brandy and research how much people will pay for it, so Rimuru gets another potential revenue stream out of the business.

I can also forgive the subtle skeeviness of the club scene because the boys are ultimately caught by Shuna and Shion, as one of the elves was too pure-hearted to lie about what they were up to that night. The two women are rightfully hurt that they wouldn’t so much as tell them where they were going, which only indicates they knew they wouldn’t be pleased about it, but that’s no excuse for their secrecy. Rimuru’s punishment is to endure a week of Shion’s cooking. Sounds fair!

From there we travel to what I believe to be the human kingdom of Falmuth, which, if King Dwargo is right, may someday be supplanted by Tempest as the continent’s main trading hub…whether Rimuru wants it that way or not. For now it’s a pretty bustling city, and Youm and his party of champions are walking along when his friend Isaac introduces Youm to his sister Myulan, the wizard we saw who is working for Clayman.

Myulan requests that she join Youm’s party. When he says he has enough magic users (and one of his more sexist comrades mutters that they have no need for a woman) Myulan decides to demonstrate her power to Youm in a duel between them. Myulan wins in an total cakewalk, with Youm ending up waist-deep in the ground and enveloped in a magical wind funnel.

Youm is convinced not only by Myulan offensive capability, but the insights she can offer into improving his clearly-lacking magical defense. They shake hands to make it official: Demon Lord Clayman now has a mole in the party of one of Rimuru Tempest’s best human friends. [Grabs popcorn and apple brandy]…This should be interesting!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 64 – Parting Ways with False Honor

Back when Reiner was with Bertholdt and Annie on Paradis, a man they met prefaced his eventual suicide-by-hanging by telling them a story. The three wondered if the man did so seeking forgiveness—which Annie felt they had no right to give after losing Marcel—or merely wanted to be judged.

Now in the present day, face-to-face with Eren Yeager for the first time in four years, it’s Reiner who wants to be judged, and as someone who witnessed his crimes firsthand in Paradis—not the propaganda Marley peddles—Eren is uniquely suited to do so.

Still, as he urges Reiner to sit down and listen to Tybur’s speech with him, he also insists Falco stay put and listen, both to the speech and to his and Reiner’s concurrent chat. Meanwhile, Porco and Pieck are told to accompany an escort for an undisclosed matter.

Tybur really went all out with the theatrical production, as his speech begins with the story the entirety of the assembled crowd already knows: how the Eldians conquered the world a hundred years ago and then turned on their own people, and how Helos and the Tyburs fought together to free the world of the Eldian hegemony.

Porco and Pieck’s escort is a non-Eldian and doesn’t wish to speak with them en route, but Pieck runs into other non-Eldians who are members of the Panzer division, i.e. soldiers whose lives depend on the Cart Titan over all other groups and thus have a soft spot in their heart for her, even though she’s an Eldian.

Pieck can’t help but think she’s seen the anti-Eldian escort before—perhaps on Paradis?—but she and Porco are led into a house and fall down a trap door into a narrow well in which they cannot transform. Clearly someone wanted them out of the way…but who?

Willy’s speech takes a sudden turn when he reveals that the story of Helps and Tybur saving Marley was nothing but a lie crafted by the Eldian King Fritz, whose plan was to flee to Paradis with as many Titans as possible and stay there, neither attacking nor being attacked by any force. We learn the tripartite walls themselves are composed of countless Colossal Titans and built with the power of the Founding Titan.

Fritz intended to fully enforce the renouncement of war with those walls and never emerge from them. We learned that he inspired the generations that came after to follow suit. But then Eren came into possession of the Founding Titan, and Fritz’s dynasty fell (when Historia rose to power). Thus even though the King had saved Marley by allowing himself to be their most hated enemy, that King’s legacy can no longer be relied on.

The Founding Titan has the ability to convert the walls back into an army of Colossal Titans who would then go on to literally trample the world. If Eren didn’t know this before, he knows it now. As his leg regenerates Falco realizes he was duped into delivering mail to Eren’s allies—who I’m guessing trapped Porco and Pieck in the well.

As they listen to Tybur, Eren asks Reiner why the walls were breached and why his mom was eaten, and Reiner, nearly mad by now with grief, replies that it was because he fucked up. The others were willing to abort the mission when Marcel died, but Reiner wanted them to press on. He doesn’t want to be forgiven for what ended up happening, he wants to be judged and executed by Eren, one of his first victims.

But Eren isn’t here to judge Reiner, any more than he’s here to judge Falco, or Porco and Pieck, or Colt, Gabi, Zofia, or Udo. They were all just kids, after all, told just like he and his friends were told that The Other Side were evil demons, when in reality both sides were mostly just regular people. Those responsible for the atrocities in Marley and elsewhere were long gone, though they were still ruled by their descendants.

So no, Eren won’t blame or judge brainwashed kids past or present for the state of his family, people, or homeland. What he will do is put the blame squarely where it belongs: on Willy Tybur, who seems to successfully unite his diverse audience into joining forces to defeat the demons across the sea once and for all. But his big shining moment is stolen by Eren, who transforms into a Titan and bursts out of the building nearest the stage.

A new war has been declared, and it seems that Tybur specifically chose the Internment Zone as its first battlefield, luring leaders from all over the world there in order to witness the ensuing carnage the Titans can cause, perhaps hoping they’ll return and sway their people into joining his cause. In seeking judgment of Tybur, Eren may have played right into his hands…

Attack on Titan – 63 – Bread and Circuses

Mister “Kruger” (*cough*-Eren-*cough*) has developed enough of a rapport with young Falco that he’s comfortable asking him to deliver mail to his family from outside the Internment Zone.

Meanwhile, Commander Magath welcomes Willy, head of the Tybur family—and thus the head of Marley’s military. He recognizes that Marley needs a new hero, in the image of Helos of a hundred years ago, and intends to make the IZ the site of a speech he’ll deliver that will change Marley’s course.

As preparations for his speech commence, planning for the invasion of Paradis continues, with the Marleyan commander dismissing Braun’s dilligent and nuanced intelligence of the island to be a waste of time. Braun, Pieck, and Porco (who is briefly freaked out by Pieck’s tendency to crawl like her Titan) watch as their young successors train.

It’s a big day for Falco, who beats Gabi in a full-kit footrace. Gabi has a blind spot when it comes to Falco’s crush on her and desire to save her from the curse of being the next Armored Titan, so when he comes right out and tells her he “cares about her”, she’s utterly confused and angry rather than touched.

Gabi is the kind of wide-eyed dreamer who believes if the Tyburs bring people from all over the world to the IZ, they’ll be able to see that the present generations of Eldians are nothing like their demonic forebears, and aren’t anyone to fear (or systematically eradicate).

Unfortunately, Gabi is ignorant not just to the true attitudes of other nations, but also the fact that most Marleyans will never accept Eldians as equals or even real humans. Tybur’s seminal speech could praise her people or it could condemn them.

When Falco visits Mr. Kruger at the hospital, he now has a baseball and glove. After he leaves, an old man sits beside Kruger and introduces himself as “Dr. Yeager”. He warns Kruger not to get Falco, a promising Eldian, into trouble, and talk of lifelong regrets come up, including “that day” when his son (Grisha?) took his sister outside the walls.

While I pondered whether Eren just met his grandfather (later carried away by orderlies when he starts screaming uncontrollably), day turns to night and we’re at a fancy banquet honoring Tybur and his upcoming speech. Falco, Gabi, Udo and Zofia are put to work as waiters, underscoring their status as second class citizens no matter how hard they fight.

Things get tense when Udo overhears foreign guests lobbing slurs at them, but thankfully when he spills wine on a woman, she happens to be from Hizuru, “a country in the Orient” which may well be more tolerant of Eldians. She lies about spilling the wine on herself, sparing Udo harsh punishment.

The next day, Gabi wakes up to find the IZ has been turned into a busy, colorful festival town, and joins her mates and senpais for a day of sampling every kind of food they can. It’s a rare montage of pure fun and joy, which almost surely means it’s probably the last fun they’ll be having for a while.

That night, minutes before Tybur gives his speech, Falco asks Braun to follow him somewhere. He takes him down into a secluded basement where Mr. Kruger is waiting…only his name, as expected, isn’t Kruger. He greets Braun for the first time in four years, and Braun immediately recognizes him as Eren Yeager.

After episodes that give the “bad guys” of previous seasons more depth and illustrating how much the world sucks no matter where you live, we’re finally approaching something resembling the Attack on Titan with which we’re most familiar: Eren and Braun in the same room.

That said, who knows what Eren wants, how he lost his leg, why he’s posing as a wounded Eldian veteran, or what he intends to get out of Braun. Regardless, I remain intrigued.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 12 (Fin) – Back to the Way Things Were

The Sleepy Princess show, a surprise smash comedy hit of the Fall, closes out just how the title above says: with things back to where they were at the beginning. But at the episode’s start, when the demons find a letter to santa in Sya’s stocking asking to “go home”, they wonder if the princess has finally become homesick.

…She’s not, of course; she just wants to stop by Goodreste Palace to grab her special Christmas woolen undies. Rather than try to stop her (which would probably result in her going it alone), Twilight and the Cleric decide to transport straight into her palace bedroom. Predictably, Sya loses focus and has a quick nap in her lavish king-size bed.

When her mother the queen hears all the noise in her room she goes in to investigate, and lifts the covers to find…Cubey?! Yes, Cleric stowed Cubey away in case a body double was needed, and what do you know, the queen is convinced it’s her daughter! I was waiting for her to comment on how she changed her style while away.

The queen takes Cubey away, but Sya and the demons know they can’t just leave her, so the princess dresses up in one of her coolest dresses and strides down the halls without a care in the world. The three end up hiding in a giant suit of armor to avoid Paladins, but one of them, Evening Star, regales the comrade he thinks he’s talking to with super-embarrassing stories of Sya when she was little. Naturally, Twilight and Cleric can barely contain their delight.

Evening Star chases them until dawn, when he falls asleep instantly (he’s apparently a night owl). The gang regroups in Sya’s room, where she decides she’ll take responsibility as a princess and ensure things go back to the way they were.

Just as “Princess” Cubey is about to speak to the entire Kingdom of Goodreste (with TV feeds reaching to the Demon Castle), Sya cuts in with her own speech thanking her subjects for their love, which has helped her remember she is a princess, not a hostage.

Sya also speaks to how her experiences with the demons have not only helped her learn a lot about herself, but about the ways humans and demons can have better relations down the road. Then she somewhat undermines those words by accosting Cubey while wearing a hastily-scrawled Twilight mask and his cape, declaring he’s taking Sya back to his castle after all.

In short, Sya was only back for a quick Christmas drop-in and hello. In order for things to “go back to the way they were”, she needed to ensure she went back to her second home with Twilight, Cleric, and Cubey. Her mother, who recognized her voice during the speech, seems to understand her daughter’s intentions, and wishes her well on the adventures to follow. What a cool mom!

Sya & Co. return to the Demon Castle where she’s warmly welcomed, and the castle proceeds to throw one hell of a Christmas party. Twilight and Cleric than curse themselves for forgetting the main reason for going to Goodreste with Sya—to retrieve her woolen undies—but Sya seems unconcerned.

For one thing, she may have grabbed them after all before leaving, and is wearing them as they speak (though she’s thankfully grown beyond the skirt-lifting necessary to prove it). Whether she’s got them or not, she seems quite happy distributing other sets to her Teddy Demon friends as thanks for their loyal service. With that, she lets out a big ol’ yawn and drifts off to sleep with her signature “Syaaaaaa”, her final quest complete.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 07 – Ragnarok Salt in the Wound

Programming Note: Our other Cute Girls Battling Things show, Assault Lily: Bouquet, took the week off, so its episode 07 will air next week.—Hannah

Warlords of Sigrdrifa is not fucking around with the drama.

As soon as we open on the battle in progress both within and without the Primary Pillar, it’s clear everyone is in over their heads, and this battle was far more desperate and last-ditch than I initially imagined. You can see the weight of all those kids’ lives on Satomi’s shoulders, while General Okita adopts a Shinji Gendo/Oigakkosan pose.

There are two things inside the Pillar their forces didn’t expect and aren’t quite equipped to deal with: the seemingly undead fallen Valkyries like Jinguugi and Sakura piloting black Hero Wings who are just as skilled as they were when alive but are now the damn enemy, and the gigantic Thor guy against whom bullets are useless and the Hero Cannon only makes him mad.

Amidst all the ensuing chaos, second-string pilots Kurumi and Moe (call ’em the Biggs and Wedge of this episode) end up drifting into the Pillar, where they have no business being. Not that it’s any safer outside, with Thor’s bellow calling every Secondary in Japan to Fuji. Okita orders a full retreat and evacuation, but Sonoka wants to help Kurumi and Moe like Claudia and the European Valkyries.

Yayoi tells her that’s the prerogative of a Named and she should obey the order to flee. Sono suspects Yayoi is going to leave her behind like she did before, but in doing so she almost proves why she shouldn’t even be in a cockpit in her present state, as she’s hit bad by one of the black Hero Wings, losing both one of her landing pontoons and consciousness.

Just as Okita tries to ask Odin about Thor (who says it’s “too soon” to answer), Thor fires up his mighty hammer Mjolnir, which fires a massive green beam of destruction that takes out most of the air base and command center, and any unfortunate souls who were in the line of fire.

Sonoka wakes up in a field hospital bed surrounded by her three comrades and Yayoi. Satomi also arrives with the three-girl operations team; they were able to evacuate before the beam destroyed Fuji’s control tower. Okita’s final order was for them to regroup at an auxiliary site. As for Odin, he’s “missing”…but something tells me while the humans consider this a total defeat, for him, everything went according to plan.

Then Yayoi asks for privacy with Sonoka, and tells her that there are still comrades left behind in the Pillar, and she’s going back in to rescue them. I fail to see how Satomi sanctioned such a clearly suicidal operation considering how few viable forces remain, but Yayoi is a Named, which apparently gives her free reign to sortie at her pleasure.

After kinda-sorta making up with Sonoka, she takes her locket containing the photo of their old unit, then gives Sono her Safe Flying Charm to hold on to, and promises to return, even if she’s shot down. Claudia, Azu and Miku join the rest of the remaining forces in rendering formal honors to send off Yayoi and her escort, who toast to good luck with a shot of Satomi’s good booze.

Then Yayoi heads into the hornet’s nest, and at that point I thought we wouldn’t learn their fate until next week at the earliest. Instead, we learn immediately: Yayoi doesn’t make it back, and neither do her escorts. Instead it’s just Lizbet who limps home in her barely-functioning Hero Wing. She gives Sono the locket back, saying it’s all she could bring back.

So four went in, and only one came back…another defeat. Strategically it could be a wash with one Named going in and one coming out, but Lizbet’s eye one bit; she may not be the same pilot anymore. So humans face an even more uphill battle, and there seems to be no end to Sonoka’s despair and suffering. She wasn’t in the right mind to fly earlier, she certainly isn’t now, but there may not be a choice. Whatever their next move, every last Valkyrie will be needed.

After that gut-wrenching ending and the solemn end credits, we’re treated to the usual goofy upbeat preview music and the return of the nearly-naked manly men. Talk about tonal whiplash! That aside, this was a wonderfully tense and dramatic outing that didn’t let any of the characters off easy. Will Yayoi end up keeping her promise of returning even if she’s shot down? Can the humans scrounge together some kind of win from these ruins? Whither Odin? Stay tuned…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 06 – The Dead Are Coming

The Takeyama Four + Amatsuka Yayoi arrive at Iruma Air Base, the staging area for what is to be the decisive battle against the Fuji Primary Pillar. They are joined by Valkyries and elite Named from around the world, including Claudia’s former comrades Lizbet and Leyli. Lizbet pouts over the fact Claudy has found both peace and friends at her new posting, but that’s probably because she misses Claudy.

Among the Named present for the battle are the “Dancing Goddess” and the “Maid from Hell”. These are unassailably good nicknames for ace pilots, but the show is all too cognizant of the fact they’re all teenage girls and that is, regardless of their willingness to fight for the sake of humanity, bad and wrong. None of the adults seem comfortable or happy about having to rely on them.

Nevertheless, rely for them they must, and on Odin as well. At the end of this episode, I was left wondering Whose side is Odin even on? I’m left with the theory that He is only on His own side, and as much as he lauds his “daughters”, it’s clear they are disposable tools with which to execute his will—with varying degrees of success. They die; he keeps smirking.

I liked how it is established that Major General Okita has a unique and singular duty beyond simply bossing everyone below him around: it’s his job to rally the troops, be the Valkyries or their manly escort pilots. He gets the job done with a rousing speech with lots of call and response from those troops, but Odin just can’t let him get the last word in, taking over the stage at the end and infecting the occasion with his creepy inscrutability. It makes Yayoi click her tongue, and I can’t blame her.

Odin bestow his “blessing” all he wants, the fact is that blessing meant jack shit when it came to so many young Valkyries who are no longer around to fight his latest battle for him, like Jinguuji AKA Sakura, Yayoi and Sonoka’s former squad-mate. We also learn that in the same battle in which Jinguuji was KIA, Yayoi sabotaged Sonoka’s Hero Wing so she couldn’t fly.

This info helps us further understand the rift between Sono and Yayoi. It’s about more than just Yayoi screwing up on the field of battle two years ago. It was about her not even letting Sono take that field, despite her prodigal status.

Sonoka probably blames herself as much as Yayoi for the death of Sakura, but Yayoi was trying to answer the question of “How young is just too goddamn young to fight and die for the sake humanity?” She deemed Sonoka to be too young. She probably was. It was a question that needed to be explored. It still is!

The huge decisive battle I knew was coming only takes up the last seven or so minutes of the episode, but the establishment of the emotional stakes and character work that went into the previous seventeen minutes was well worth it. Watching cute girls in vintage planes kick some Pillar ass is fun, but is much more satisfying for having the stakes laid out in advance.

The Dancing Goddess is able to blast a hole in the dormant Pillar with a ten-ton bomb from her hulking Lancaster, which enables the other Valkyries to fly into the Pillar to find and destory its core. But instead they find themselves in a TARDIS-like trans-dimensional situation where there’s a lot more space within the Pillar that there should be.

Within that Pillar, the Valkyries find a graveyard of all those who died fighting the Pillar in the past. Back at the base, Odin ominously declares “The dead are coming.” Again I ask: Whose side is he on??? Because within the Pillar is his son (at least according to the mythology), Thor, a giant mecha-like final boss to be defeated.

But that’s not all…among the “dead” Odin warned about is Jinguuji, whose plane comes alongside Yayoi’s. Yayoi is thoroughly spooked. Sonoka is thoroughly spooked. Everyone is in uncharted territory. Just what the hell is going on in this Pillar, and why is Odin being such a creepy mysterious nonchalant jerk about everything? Warlords of Sigrdrifa has my full attention.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 11 – Protecting The World They Built

When Vecta sends his remaining troops across the chasm Asuna created a few at a time, it goes predictably badly, gaining the ire of the leader of the Pugilists. Asuna, Bercouli, and the other knights mop up the relatively defenseless forces, but Vecta isn’t surprised; the Human Empire has superior AI for its grunts and generals. But he has another ace up his sleeve, where his tech Critter is hard at work back on Rath.

The first thing Critter does is synch the Underworld’s clock to the real worlds, so an hour here is an hour there. Then he sends out a massive invite blast to an Underworld “beta test” in America. The resulting montage of people speaking horrific English made me wonder why they bothered, as it almost pulled me right out of the episode, but the end result is that Vecta is able to amass a reserve army of seasoned American MMO gamers, thus potentially turning the tables.

From the realm where she’s on standby, observing the digital world, Yui notices the implementation of the fake beta test, and notifies both Suguha and Shino. Following Yui’s instructions, the girls head to the Roppongi branch of Rath, ask to speak to Kikuoka, and are given access to STL beds. Looks like Asuna will soon be getting reinforcements.

Finally, Yui rouses the rest of the SAO/AFO crew: Lisbeth, Silica, Klein, and Agil, and brings them up to speed. Needless to say, all of them are fully on board with helping Kirito and Asuna any way they can, but the four of them plus Suguha and Shino won’t be enough.

They need numbers to counter the American invasion. A similar beta test blast in Japan won’t give them those numbers, as it’s the middle of the night when perhaps a tenth of the active users. Definitely a clever use of time zones as an obstacle to gaining parity with Vecta’s forces by the same methods.

It falls to Lisbeth & Co. to gather what members of the various tribes of AFO are awake and deliver to them a heartfelt speech that will convince them to undertake all of the risks that come with diving into the Underworld. Those risks include the lack of admin control, UI interfaces, and pain absorbers, and the potential for character degradation or even total loss.

It’s a tough sell, and many of the assembled players believe SAO survivors look down on them, but Lisbeth digs deep and gives an impassioned call for everyone who loves MMOs to come to the aid and defense of a world all of them helped create, and an AI in Alice who is the culmination of their shared experiences and emotions.

As we all know, War of Underworld is being split into two cours, the first of which will end with the next episode. And while it will be hard to wait for the ultimate conclusion to this arc, this first half looks primed to end on a very satisfying note as the titular Underword War enters its next phase.

Attack on Titan – 53 – The Ones Who Will Remember

It’s pretty impressive that after 54 episodes—probably about double the number required to tell a complete and satisfying tale—Titan is still bringing it. Armin freezes up after his hunch about Hoover turns out to be wrong, and so defers command to Jean, at least to decide their next course of action.

The thing is, while Jean probably wanted command, he tells Armin striaght up that it won’t be enough to get them out of this. When the rubber meets the road they’ll be relying on Armin’s strategic know-how, even if he’s finding it hard to focus, he’ll have to. Outside the wall, Erwin loses three whole squads in quick gory succession to the Beast Titan’s new tactic of hurling fastballs of rock at his forces.

Jean decides everyone will climb aboard Eren and attempt to distract the Colossal Titan, but screaming at him accomplishes nothing; he keeps heading towards the wall. Eren has to bum rush one of his legs and attempt to knock him down, but the Colossal simply kicks him off, sending him flying to the top of the wall.

Jean, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha and Connie all launch off off Eren before the rush, but instead find themselves confronted with a very alive and very pissed-off-looking Armored Titan. Looks like Hoover’s distraction bought Braun enough time to heal up.

Irwin and Levi spot Eren atop the wall, and Levi suggests his commander take the horses and survivors and withdraw with as many people as he can. Only the new recruits have survived, and the constant rock bombardment is starting to make some of them crack, including one who gives a lengthy monologue about their entire cause being hopeless and pointless, and no one really piping up to argue with him.

Erwin and Levi have an extended (and very moving) talk in which Erwin laments he won’t ever get to see the basement he longed to see his entire life. He also looks around and sees his fallen comrades all around him, watching him, wondering if they were sacrificed in vain. He asks Levi if it was all a sad delusion.

Levi is respectful, thanking Erwin for getting them this far, but it’s time to give up on the dream, lead the recruits into hell, and die. If he does, Levi will have that much better a shot at taking down the Beast Titan.

Still, Levi wonders how he can even reach the Beast when he’s on on a wide open field. In this, the Beast’s vanity and desire to present a show of devastating force leads to him making a critical tactical error: all of the large Titans spread out on either side of him provide the perfect ODM path for Levi.

That leaves Erwin to fire up his shaky, demoralized recruit squad, and shows why he was born to lead with a rousing motivational speech for the ages, which he starts up when one of the recruits asks why it matters whether they die fighting or cowering in a corner:

No matter what dreams or hopes you had, no matter how blessed a life you’ve lived, it’s all the same if you’re shredded by rocks. Everyone will die someday. Does that mean life is meaningless? Was there even any meaning in our being born? Would you say that of our fallen comrades? Their lives…were they meaningless? No, they weren’t! It’s we who give meaning to our comrades’ lives! The brave fallen! The anguished fallen! The ones who will remember them are us, the living! We die trusting the living who follow to find meaning in our lives! That is the sole method by which we can rebel against this cruel world! My soldiers, rage! My soldiers, scream! My soldiers, fight!

Hell, I was ready to charge into battle after that. By splitting into three groups and launching smoke flares simultaneously, Erwin hopes to affect the Beast’s accuracy enough to draw out the charge as long as they can, giving Levi the time he needs to reach his target. Unfortunately, Erwin is pierced through the torso in the first moments of the charge, which likely means his time is finally up.

So, did Erwin believe what he told the recruits to motivate them? Is he confident he gave his fallen comrades’ lives meaning, and does he trust those who outlive him to give his life meaning as well? We’ll see. But whatever happens to him, the Scouts, and the mission, let it be said that through his actions Erwin Smith rebelled against the cruel world until his final breath.

Bloom Into You – 03 – Too Kind, or Just Normal?

This week Yuu stays by Touko’s side at every turn, giving her an indirect kiss-through-bottle-sharing like it’s not biggie and then surprising Touko about her family owning the bookstore she likes. Yuu’s fam is certainly impressed with Touko (and why wouldn’t they be) while Yuu’s older sister Rei seems to cut right to it, perhaps without realizing what she’s doing, by referring to Touko Yuu’s “girlfriend.”

During vacay Yuu hangs out with friends, one of whom the others know is pursuing a senpai. She doesn’t break it to them until after they watch the mushy romance movie that she already confessed but was kinda-sorta rejected, with the guy saying he wants to focus on basketball.

Yuu is both envious and bemused by her friend, but also her other friends’ insistence things will “turn around” if she keeps at it. Speaking of persistence, before Vacay is over Touko makes it a point to stop by Yuu’s to give her a gift…but also, likely, simply to see Yuu at work at the store.

Yuu “guesses” she’s “pretty” happy about being given the gift of a mini-planetarium, but seeing the stars projected on her ceiling call to mind how the distance from her understanding of why Touko likes her sometimes feels as vast as the distance from those stars.

She just might gain a little bit of understanding the day of the stump speeches. Touko looks like a picture of calm…until Yuu notices her hands are shaking. She takes Touko outside, where Touko admits she can’t hide from the likes of Yuu. So she doesn’t: she bares her feelings right there, and also goes into her past, when she was “nothing” (i.e. shy and introverted).

Yuu isn’t shocked by Touko’s sharing. Even if others see Touko as perfect, Yuu knows perfect people don’t exist…but nor does she look down on Touko for not being perfect and trying to hide it. Touko may say she’s “hardly special” for showing her “weak side”, but Yuu thinks having such a side is perfectly normal.

But out there, Yuu realizes she saw a “special” side of Touko, one she wouldn’t show to anyone else. Simply being that person makes Yuu herself special, and not just to Touko, but in general. Her speech doesn’t betray what she’s learned about Touko, but nor does it lie about who Touko the Student Council member is. She really does put the work in, and really is kind, and really would make a good president.

But it also means Touko’s hands will shake sometimes, and she’ll need someone to help her steady them. Yuu lists the boxes Touko checks, but includes her personal take on her, including using the speech to announce that she’s joining the council.

Touko win the election handily, and celebrates with Yuu via a PDA that their classmates don’t read too much into. As for Yuu, she’ll stay close to Touko and see where this goes. Will things “turn around” if she merely “keeps at it”? She’s resolved to find out.

Hinamatsuri – 07 – Take a Deep Breath Here and Hold it

Despite being introduced as the girl from the same “realm” as Hina come to eliminate her, Anzu’s stories since have tugged hardest on the heartstrings due to the circumstances in which she ends up, and this week is no different.

We start off with her learning the ropes of the restaurant owned by the couple who took her in, and she’s constantly saying and doing things that remind them of her destitute recent past, and thus make them tear up.

Those things include her clothes always being too big, 800 yen being a king’s ransom, and using only cold water for her shower. However, her time among the homeless made her a hard worker and a quick study, and by the time her first day is over, she has time to soak in her warm and comfy new home. Dawww.

From the sweetness of Anzu getting acclimated to her new life, we shift to Hina getting chewed out by a teacher for constantly sleeping (guilty as charged), and what do you know, Hina actually uses her powers!

Not to do anything to the teacher, mind you; she merely manipulates her desk neighbor Hitomi into pocking out a pointillist sketch of a knife-wielding oni, which Hitomi would surely get in trouble for if teach saw it!

Hina isn’t just sleeping at school because she’s tired; she’s also bored. Nitta tells her to figure out on her own how to make things more fun. When she hears some somewhat exaggerated claims about how much power a student council president has, Hina mixes it with stuff she saw on TV and announces her candidacy, to the dubiousness of all.

When Hina tells her homeroom teacher “I’ve got this”, he’s never been less convinced, and scoffs at a fellow teacher praising his ambitious kids. The only one who takes Hina seriously is someone who barely knows her; Nitta’s boss, who instructs the company lawyer to draft a proper speech for her.

When that suggestion was first made, I knew it would result in some comedy gold, and readers, I was not disappointed. After ignoring a teacher’s insistance first-years can’t run for president (causing the whole auditorium to note her ignoring him, in unison!) Hina starts out strong, as her speech is a reasonable argument for a competitive bidding process for a new lunch supplier.

Things go off the rails once Hina simply recites even the parts she’s not supposed to read (‘take a deep breath here’) and even the lawyer-speak can’t hide the fact that a school-mandated afternoon nap for middle schoolers is…a bit silly.

Nevertheless, Hina wins secretary, a job for which she’s a no-show for the first few council meetings. When a member pays a visit to her classroom, only Hitomi is there to receive her, and Hitomi being Hitomi, gets roped into yet more work as she inadvertently fills in for Hina and is appointed “stand-in secretary.” Guys…Hitomi’s got a bar to tend!

The third segment finds the middle ground between Anzu’s poignant introduction to homed life and Hina’s comedic presidential campaign, as Nitta once again fails to secure a date with Utako, and Hina urges him to talk about it with her so he’ll feel better (having learned this on TV, of course).

When Hitomi gets word Hina’s “dad” wants to date her boss, she thinks of how hard it must’ve been for Hina losing her mother (whom she envisions also had blue hair, since Nitta doesn’t), and vows to help get Nitta that date in any way she can so Hina can one day have a new mom.

Her efforts don’t go so swell at first, as Hina’s hamfisted act makes it seem as though Nitta put her up to asking Utako on his behalf. Hitomi persists, and Utako relents, agreeing to go on the dang date.

Upon learning Hina got him said date, Nitta picks her up and spins her around the room in elation…until she smacks her foot on the doorway and breaks it. In the hospital room Hina insists Nitta carry on with the date, which he does…but on that date—the audio for which we never hear—he apparently never stops talking about Hina.

Utako takes that, and Hina’s closeness to Nitta, to mean that she’d only come between them if she continued dating them, not at all perceiving the fact that they’d both welcome her as part of the family if things progressed that far (and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t).

And so Nitta essentially strikes out for being too good a fake dad, and has to resort to using a hand puppet to represent Hina’s new mom, which even Hina isn’t buying!

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