Fruits Basket – 57 – Caught Up In a Fantasy

“I wonder how much time and effort it’ll take for you kids to find your answers…” Those are the words Kyouko said to a young Kyou. The answer? A fuckin’ lot. Only Kyou seems to be retreating into the answer forced upon him at birth. As Akito was born to be loved, he was born to be loathed and despised, his existence only causing pain.

Even if he didn’t believe those words, as far as he’s concerned they were proven true when his mother walked in front of a train, and then Kyouko died. In his dream, in his dark room in this mercilessly dark episode, he dreams of a third death at his feet, with his hands drenched in blood: that of Tooru. He believes his mother and Kyouko came to him for a reason: to tell him to know his place.

It’s ironic, then, that neither he, nor the other Zodiac members, would even be in this dreadful mess were it not for someone NOT knowing their place. Whether she genuinely loved Akito’s father Akira or was simply trying to get in on that sweet, sweet Souma fortune and prestige, I cannot say, because I have no reason to trust her. But Souma Ren was but a humble servant when she decided to approach Akira, saying she alone could see his pain and loneliness, and offered to take it all away.

Even if it was a cynical scheme at the beginning, Ren was profoundly attached and obsessed with Akira, so maybe she always was. And maybe Akira’s attendants would have found a suitable mate for him to produce a successor before he died…but maybe not. Instead, Ren overstepped her assigned bounds and stepped into that role, bearing the next family head. But it was she who demanded Akito be raised as a man…and a precocious young Shigure seemed to know what that was really all about.

Ayame, Hatori, and Kureno didn’t understand, but Shigure did, even then: Akito was always going to be someone to be pitied, for Ren was imposing upon her a life she never asked for, costing her access to a life where she might not have become a Machiavellian monster.

In the present, Ren thinks that she has a sympathetic ear (and possibly another lay) in Shigure, but he’s only there to fuck with her, as usual. He says he only looks at Ren “that way” because it lets him fantasize about whether Akito would look like her if she’d lived as a girl.

Meanwhile, Akito is sulking in her room, holding the box containing Akira’s remains, remembering her mother (who was never really a mother) challenging her to prove that nobody can break her little dream and rub it in her face. But the dream is dying; Akito can feel it. Bonds are breaking by the day. She’s interrupted by Ren storming in with a dagger, ready to use it unless Akito hands her beloved Akira over.

Akito, in a particularly nihilistic mood, tosses the box high into the air, and for a moment I thought there’d be a horrible cloud of ash. But the box is empty. It always was empty. The chief attendant prepared it as a charm when Akito was being consumed by grief after her father’s death.

As a bereft Ren stares into the empty box, Akito says she’s always been “Other”, and this has all been broken from the beginning. There will be no rubbing in the face of a victory, but she does seem poised to kill Ren with her own knife…until another bond breaks just then.

This time it happens to Hiro, who is playing with his siter Hinata and was probably finally swayed from Akito’s pull due to her. The first thing he does is hold her tight, and then his mom comes in and hugs him. Hiro is full of conflicting emotions, and his mom understands that “saying goodbye feels lonely” by nature. But ultiamtely, it’s a good thing. Hopefully Kisa can follow and these poor kids can start having ordinary lives!

As for Akito…I can pity her without forgiving the things she’s done. It’s not just a matter of her sticking to the “fantasy” that she was a god born to be loved by all forevermore. It’s that she herself was always fifty-fifty about whether Akira’s soul was in that box. No one ever gave her any other life to live than the one she had, and didn’t even know or think she had the ability to change any of it.

Kureno draws her in to comfort her, saying she can start learning the things she doesn’t know or understand. She can change, and escape the choking, crushing bonds of the Souma clan, and he’ll be right there beside her. But Akito believes they’re already past the point of “change”.

She blames Kureno for this, by staying with her out of “kindness”, while half-saving and half-rejecting her. She wishes he could have left her back when his curse was first broken. But it’s too late, and she demands he take responsibility with his life, stabbing him in the back. As Kureno collapses, there’s a devastating smash cut to Arisa looking at a dead bird in the rain.

With that, we return to Shigures, where Tooru and Kyou are just finishing up a meal. Kyou prepares to leave, but Tooru doesn’t simply let him go without a word. She stops him at the door and says there’s something she has to talk to him about. Judging from his face and the dream he had about Tooru, I doubt Kyou’s in the most perceptive mood. It’s going to take a little more time and effort for these kids to find their answers…

Wonder Egg Priority – 05 – Scrambled

We hadn’t been privy to Aonuma Neiru’s Egg missions until this week; only the interludes between recovering from battles and purchasing new Eggs to protect. Her dream-battlefield is a majestic suspension bridge with a huge city nightscape as the backdrop; as bold and dramatic as Neiru herself is modest and unflappable.

Her egg this time is a runaway dealing with an abused, but Neiru has it covered, darting around the bridge like she’s in FLCL and defeating it with her compass-turned-gun with action movie fluorish, complete with the catchphrase “I’m going to blow your mind.” She means the words literally.

The runaway thanks her savior, but Neiru remains businesslike and aloof. She’s not doing this for her. She’s merely completing objectives, like a good operative. In a thematic transition only a eclectic show like WEP can pull off, we shift to real life, with Ai welcoming Neiru, Rika, and Momoe to her home.

Ai can’t contain how happy she is to have friends over, and neither can her adorable mom, who recognizes Momoe as Sawaki-sensei’s niece. Ai mentions that Koito seemed to have a thing for Sawaki. Rika, in true Rika form, stirs up a conspiracy that’s plausible enough to give Ai pause: What if Koito was dating Sawaki? What if she got pregnant? What if Sawaki only visits Ai regularly because he suspects she has proof of the affair?

The talk of Koito and Sawaki leads Ai to remember when Sawaki was sketching her for a portrait as his means of entry to a life of painting. In the memories Koito seems to be projecting envy in the way she tells Ai that if her heart isn’t in being Sawaki’s subject, she’d better bow out, as his “future is on the line”…as if an adult man’s future should be anyone’s responsibility but his own!

The messy can of worms Rika opens and stirs threatens to curdle the vibe of Ai’s friends’ visit. It also reinforces the fact that a great deal of mystery surrounds Koito’s death. When Rika asks why she doesn’t just ask her mom, who seems to be close to Sawaki, Ai voices her reluctance to make her mom worry more than she clearly already is about her string of recent unexplained injuries, which…fair enough!

Rika gets that. So do the other girls. No matter how nice and understanding her mom is, nothing good can come of Ai telling her she sneaks out at night to fight monsters in her sleep on behalf of youth suicides…it will only worry her more! That’s what re-knits the tentative bonds Rika’s speculation briefly frayed and lightens a conversation that had turned dark: the four of them can’t tell anyone.

It’s their story that no one else knows about. While before they were toiling alone, not even sure what the fuck was going on, now they have context through each others’ shared burden. They are seen by one another; they recognize the pain, guilt, and curiosity in one another. Then Rika and Ai compare mothers: Rika took one look after being born and thought “this lady wants to stay a woman her whole life and never be a parent.” Ai wonders if her perfect, imminently capable mom drove her dad away.

There’s an excellent exchange in which Rika looks Neiru’s way after stating that capable women can spoil men, both because she sees Neiru as capable, and because it’s her turn. They’re playing Jenga, and the way Rika steers the convo throughout makes the group dynamic almost feel like a Jenga game in and of itself: gradually removing blocks while maintaining integrity. In a similar fashion, Rika pounces on Neiru and tickles her. She doesn’t get the right spot at first, but when she finds it, Neiru can’t help but burst into laughter, while Ai and Momoe note how well the two opposites get along.

We can’t be sure if her battles on the bridge take place before or after the friends meet at Ai’s, but her latest egg is a real piece of work, criticizing Neiru’s hair while going off unbidden about the ephemeral nature of a girl’s beauty, and how dying while at one’s most beautiful is preferable to becoming an “ugly hag” in a pointless adult life.

The four girls meet up and break into a shuttered bowling alley and arcade. Acca tells them to get out of there and buy some damned eggs already, but they push back, declaring what they’re doing to be necessary “group therapy”. Ura-Acca lets them have a little fun, declaring that “soldiers” need R&R.

For a few blissful hours, four girls who have been battling monsters in their dreams get to live their lives as ordinary girls. Momoe talks about how at least six people have confessed to her—all girls—but only Haruka saw her as a girl. Remembering how she handled Haruka stripping before her, she wonders if she could have done things differently.

While Rika and Ai are off playing a different game, Momoe and Neiru have a chat while playing a racing game. Neiru points out that Momoe doesn’t necessarily hate being popular, even with girls. Neiru concedes that, adding that “sometimes you end up enjoying something even though you didn’t mean to.” That’s something Neiru needs to hear, especially as she’s enjoying hanging out with the others despite herself.

Later, in Acca and Ura-Acca’s garden, the four exchange contact info for future hangouts together, and Rika lies on her back, looks up at the sky, and asks a very fair question: Why don’t they stop buying eggs? Rika admits she got caught up in her mission, but at the end of the day Chiemi “died on her own”, and dying isn’t “playing fair”, so why should she bear responsibility? She asks the same questions of Ai, as Koito died without ever talking to her, and may not even want to come back to life.

What if their egg-protecting missions led to them meeting each other in real life, and now that they have new friends, they can ditch the eggs and dreams, move forward together, and live their lives? Again, this is all fair, and I’m glad Rika goes with her instinct to probe and prod and bring up hard truths regardless of how she’ll be seen by the group. It means she feels safe enough with them to to do.

The problem is, this isn’t just about bringing their respective friends back to life. That was never the case with Neiru, because her statue is of her sister. Her sister ran away and jumped off a bridge, but only after stabbing Neiru in the back, quite literally. To this day, the scar aches and keeps her awake, especially when she tries to forget her. It’s like a curse she’s trying to exorcise from her body. As she tells the eggs she protects, she’s not doing it for them…she’s doing it for herself.

In a similar way, Ai’s desire to keep going isn’t only couched in saving Koito or righting any wrong she might have done. It’s to crack the mystery; to feed her insatiable curiosity, like a splinter in her brain that won’t let up until she has the answers. As Ura-Acca puts it to the stricter Acca, the girls are in a state of teenage rebellion: they’ll stop if told not to stop, and will keep pushing boundaries to build up their own identities.

Back in the battle protecting the girl obsessed with the pure, inimitable beauty of youth, Neiru realizes the three pompom-like monsters aren’t the Wonder Killer’s true form, it’s the girl’s hair. After shooting it, Neiru notes that her sister (whose statue stands on the edge of the bridge) “tempted” her to die by stabbing her, before ending her own life.

Was her sister’s rejection of reaching adulthood an ultimate act of rebellion against What Is and What Should Be? As with Ai’s inquiries into Koito, it’s a question that may only be answered if they keep fighting—egged on by the Accas all the way. I just hope that the fact the four girls are not alone in this business will make their struggles a little easier to bear.

Talentless Nana – 13 (Fin) – Friendship Is Tragic

Poor, poor Nana. She’s been so traumatized by her parents’ murder and by the idea drilled into her hear that it was All Her Fault, she’s never been able to trust anyone long enough to become friends. It never occurred to her that anyone would want to be her friend unless something was in it for them, and in any case she never felt she deserved one.

But Inukai Michiru is different. She may be in the dark about Nana’s murders, but one thing she’s sure of is that Nana didn’t kill her parents. The reason for her odd behavior of late wasn’t because she suspected Nana, but because she was wracking her brain for a way to convince Nana her parents deaths weren’t her fault.

When Nana realizes this, she’s overcome by a feeling she’s never experienced before: pure, real friendship. The next day there’s an outdoor market from the supply ship, and Nana is compelled to buy Michiru a gift. Kyouya notices Nana is acting like she has a crush, and she absolutely does have an incurable girl-crush on sweet, kind Michiru.

Nana ends up giving Michiru a cute dog pen, while Michiru gives her a frilly pillow so she’ll sleep better. The two haven’t been closer, and at no point during the day does Inner Nana come out to reveal she’s still just messing around with Michiru to keep her guard down. No, she’s straight up fallen for Michiru!

Like Kyouya, Jin notices Nana’s lack of usual focus and sharpness, but considers it a repaid debt for rescuing his kitty friend to warn Nana about Michiru being lured out to a secret meeting. Sure enough, Nana is confronted and slashed across the face by the real murder both Nana and Kyouya have been looking for.

While running to Michiru’s rescue, Nana gets an almost too-perfectly-timed call from her mentor and handler, Tsuruoka, whose very voice seems to flip a switch in Nana’s head and return her to Unfeeling Cynical Killer Mode. She’ll let the students keep killing and weakening each other…including Michiru.

However, despite Tsuruoka’s call that seems designed to get her back on track, Nana still all but abandons her mission by sacrificing herself to save Michiru from the killer, who we learn is the Astral Projector, Tsurumigawa Rentarou. She rescues Michiru just as Michiru is saying Nana will come save her!

Still, Tsurumigawa can’t ignore his instinct about Nana hiding a dark and tortured soul beneath her cute and bubbly exterior. And while he’s right about that, the bottom line is that Nana isn’t going to let him kill Michiru. She says some heartbreakingly awful things to Michiru about them not being friends to get her to flee.

Then we learn what Nana said to Kyouya before racing to save Michiru. She tells him Tsurumigawa is the killer, and tells him to look for his real body and stop him while she saves Michiru. In a cute moment, Kyouya tries to protest Nana taking the dangerous job, but both sides of the job are dangerous in this case!

Kyouya finds Tsurumigawa in the bathroom and chokes him until his projection dissipates…but the damage is done: Nana has been “butchered”, and more to the point, doesn’t really mind dying here and now in this manner, considering the things she’s done. So of course Michiru returns to her side and starts working her healing magic.

While being healed, Nana is too weak to speak and protest that Michiru is using up what’s left of her life to save someone who doesn’t deserve salvation or mercy. She’s right back to hating and devaluing herself. It’s a state Tsuruoka cultivated in order to facilitate her development into a tiny pink murder machine, and Michiru almost broke her out of it.

Wait, what is this “almost”? The death of Michiru hits Nana hard. Perhaps her sacrifice wasn’t in vain if Nana changes her ways and stops blindly following Tsuruoka and the Committee, who, if we’re honest, sure look like they were the ones who orchestrated the death of her parents, then blamed it on her as part of her hitgirl conditioning.

Michiru wasn’t just Nana’s first friend, she was her only friend, someone who loved her unconditionally and would probably go on loving her even if she knew of the horrors Nana committed. Assuming there’s a second season of Talentless Nana, Michiru will be sorely missed, but maybe her loss will help Nana escape the box in which others placed her and forge her own path.

Talentless Nana – 04 – A Useful Idiot

Nana contemplates her next target when the two class Gals pick on Inukai Michiru, the meekest, most guileless member of the class, with a love letter Nana knows is just a fake. Michuru spots a scrape on Nana’s leg and proceeds to reveal her Talent: a tongue that heals all wounds. It’s a scene that happens so suddenly you almost overlook the yuri/BDSM subtext.

Nana also determines that Michiru could cause the deaths of 150k (still not sure how that algorithm works), and thus as good a next target as any. The only problem is, Kyouya is still breathing down her neck. Nana decides she’ll play her part, first in informing poor Michuru that her after-school rendezvous will be a bust (the love letter was fake), then cheer her up with some lunch.

That night, Nana arms herself with an icepick to do the deed, but finds Kyouya sitting right outside her door, “guarding”, i.e. watching her out of “concern”, i.e. suspicion. She then proceeds to play loud music and sneak out her window—which she should have done in the first place! It appears as though Nana is going to stab Michiru in the back, and Kyouya hears a scream from Michiru’s dorm…but when he arrives, it is Nana on the floor with a stab wound.

She claims she heard the Enemy’s inner-voice and raced to save its target, Michiru. Detective Kyouya can use this latest incident and connect it to past info however he wishes, but everyone else in the girl’s dorm is immediately united behind Nana when they see what she did for Michiru.

Kyouya later considers that Nana could have stabbed herself—which of course she did—but Nana presents to him and everyone else a lie (an invisible monster) more feasible than the truth.

Kyouya’s lack of concrete evidence to support his accurate suspicions to a class now fully trusting of Nana essentially paralyzes him. His theories remain in his brain, harmless to her efforts. She’s even able to get Ice Prince and Fire Thug to agree on something: that SHE should be their new leader in Nanao’s stead. Since her self-inflicted attack is accepted as an attack by an invisible Enemy of Humanity, she can use them as cover for all subsequent killings. Nana is flying high—ultimately too high.

Her arrogance gets the better of her when she instructs an enthusiastically willing Michiru to talk with all of the other students and record their Talents in a book. This would seem to be a no-brainer considering what a Chatty Kathy Michiru is (and she can be offed when no longer useful), but the benefits are quickly nullified by an unexpected setback: Michiru’s probing tips off Hatadaira Tsunekichi, a psychic photographer who has acquired a photo of her killing him in the future.

Whelp, there’s the concrete evidence Kyouya needs so desperately to prove his suspicions! Thankfully for Nana, Tsunekichi comes to her first. He demonstrates with devastating accuracy that every photo he takes ends up happening without fail. Even when Nana changes her order, she ends up with a face-full of soba. Then he pulls out one more dagger: a photo of her shoving Nanao off the cliff.

This would put Nana in check, but for the fact that, as far as we know, only she and Tsunekichi have seen these photos. Tsunekichi also seems to have doomed himself: If there’s a photo of him being killed, and everything in his photos happens, then he must be resigned to die. So, will Nana succeed in killing him before anyone else sees the photos? Or will they be leaked, forcing her to use all her leader capital to defend herself?

It’s definitely a tricky new corner she’s been pushed into. Like Michiru, Nana considers Tsunekichi an imbecile, and I definitely can’t rule out her managing to outwit him and turn him into another victim of the Enemy. But his power exposes a huge flaw in her execution of this mission: Why the heck did she start killing anyone before she learned the powers of everyone? Assuming she gets out of this fix, what other surprise Talents could compromise her, all because she killed too fast?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 13 (Fin) – A Hero’s Hero

When Hero Kanon was murdered, he used Evansmana’s power of breaking destiny to prevent Anos from becoming the Demon King of Tyranny, and taking his place as Avos. Now he wants Anos to kill him, believing his sacrifice will break the chain of hatred that is the Asc spell. Now that Ray/Kanon’s affection for humans has taken a more specific form in Misa, he can no longer wait for “someday” to arrive and bring peace; it has to happen here and now.

Anos initially seems willing to play along, pulling out all his OP magic tricks to destroy all but one of Kanon’s sources. But then, at the last minute, Anos lets Kanon stab him through his own source. As the boundaries of their battlefield drop, he slips Avos’ helmet on his head, making it appear to everyone assembled that Ray has defeated the Demon King.

Anos hoped this would extinguish the humans’ hatred, but the Asc is still going strong within Diego, who musters his ten thousand Zeshia troops and orders them to extinguish all demons. Eleanor enters the fray to try to halt their advance, while Commander Jerga himself appears in monumental scale to finish the job.

Ray/Kanon tries to attack the giant Jerga with Evansmana, but his holy sword has no effect on the “true sacred magic”. Enter Misha and Sasha, who know their King will resurrect, and in the meantime will do what they can to protect their demon brethren.

To that end, they use their Necron family magic Dino Jixes to merge into a single entity that fights alongside Ray/Kanon while Eleonore and Misa attempt to hold back the Zeshia army. It’s ultimately all about buying time and hoping the Demon King returns.

Just when Jerga seems ready to unleash a holy magic spell to exterminate all demons, it is negated by a giant black and red magical circle, and all the hundreds of Zeshias fall to the ground, stunned. Anos makes his re-appearance, having used Ray/Kanon’s killing blow to repair his source via source magic.

In this final stage of the battle, Anos and Ray/Kanon fight side-by-side, while the Demon army commander helps Eleonore and the Human forces. When Jerga tries to use Asc, Anos counters with an Asc of his own, fueled by the Fan Union’s latest song. He even summons Delsgade!

Soon, even Jerga’s hatred is transformed into love as he sees the shell necklace he gave his beloved wife. The present era of peace asserts itself and the united forces of Humans and Demons fight together to eliminate a solitary man’s two thousand-year-old grudge.

At this point we’re running out of episode, so Misha and Sasha split back into two girls in order to welcome Anos back to the world of the living, while Ray returns to Misa and embraces her with love. As the credits roll, the whole, the Anos & Co. return home, where his parents meet his “third wife” Eleanore (whom he converted into his magic so she’d no longer be misused) and learn of her ten thousand “children”.

That final scene really brings is back to one of the more unique aspects of the series, which was that the main antihero always had a loving home and family to go home to and enjoy some piping hot mushroom gratin. It’s welcome and necessary follow-up to an disorienting kitchen-sink final battle that in the end was only slightly more over the top than previous climactic battles.

While I maintain that things got overstuffed towards the end and that 5-6 additional episodes would have been ideal, Demon King Academy was nonetheless a fun new take on the OP Asshole MC, tempering extremely arcane magical jargon with a surprising amount of heart.

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 12 – The Necklace

Eleanor explains to Anos that Hero Kanon’s right-hand man Commander Jerga feared that the humans would forget their grudge against demons in time, rendering them vulnerable for destruction. So he used taboo magic to split his source into two distinct spells. One is Asc, the manifestation of his grudge that infects every human, including the hero academy students.

The other spell, Eleanor, was a “bust” because while she performed her role of creating source clones, she failed to absorb any of Jerga’s hatred. She believes Anos can end Jerga’s grudge by destroying her, but her clone children begin to gather around her and beg Anos to save their mother.

And, oh yeah…Jerga freaking murdered Kanon, when the hero wouldn’t support the generational spread of hatred into the future. While Hero could have instantly resurrected himself, he didn’t, apparently washing his hands of humans and their inevitably treacherous ways.

Anos and Eleanor are interrupted by Diego and his guards, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of the three remaining brainwashed Seven Elder Demon Emperors…along with a masked Avos Dilhevia himself.

Diego and Avos project their images over the human and demon capitals, respectively, in order to drum up support for a new war against each other. Both the human and demon crowds welcome a return to hostilities. It’s as if Diego and Avos were coordinating with each other.

Not content to sit back and let this play out, Anos resolves to prevent the war before it starts. Naturally, he is accompanied by Misha, Sasha, Ray, Misa, the Fan Union, and the four Elder Demon Emperors loyal to him.

The day before they head out, Ray comforts a nervous Misa, believing his own lack of nerves to be a sign he once fought in the war two thousand years ago. He also asks for half of Misa’s single-shell necklace, which tradition states is a essentially a proposal.

The next day, with the Fan Union providing rearguard support, the Necron sisters neutralize the advancing demon armies to the west, while Ray and Misa are tasked with neutralizing the armies to the east. Anos himself heads to Avos’ fortress, and Misa informs him remotely that she’s lost sight of Ray. Uh-oh…

As the two opposing groups of Demon Emperors fight (three on Avos’ side, four on Anos’), Anos and Avos meet in the field, and Anos connects the dots. After Jerga’s betrayal, Kanon resurrected as a demon: Ray Gransdori. As for Ray? Well, he’s Avos Dilhevia, and has been all along.

While Anos states Ray’s knowledge of the neckless and ability to wield both a Unique and Holy Sword as evidence Ray is Kanon, looking back there were other little clues here and there that in hindsight indicated Kanon/Ray was Avos. There’s…a lot that happens and is revealed this week, and it’s a bit rushed, but that it all mostly makes sense and holds together is a testament to the writers, as well as the adapters who clearly had their work cut out for them reducing the source material down to thirteen episodes.

Anos also deduces that Kanon must be trying to “save something (or someone) new” by posing as a fake Demon King. Did he become Avos and stoke a new war knowing the true Demon King would stop him, and end the grudge Jerga had spread? Does he truly love Misa, or was he just playing her? Despite all we’ve learned, the final episode still has plenty to reveal.

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 11 – There Are No Heroes Here

With the lake drained of water (holy or otherwise), the multi-pronged fight between Anos and his cohorts and four reincarnations of Hero Kanon’s sources, including their secret weapon, the mute, petite, first-ranked Zeshia. As the fight commences, one hears a dread voice in the air saying kill the demons—even though this is supposed to be a friendly class competition!

As expected, the demons fare well, as the hero reincarnations possess far more arrogance than actual talent. As Misha builds a sturdy castle within their barrier, Sasha makes the jock hero wither in despair while Ray bests the self-style sword ace of the heroes. They only protest harsh treatment when they get a taste of their own medicine.

That leaves Zeshia and Four-eyes against Anos, and let’s be honest, it was always going to end up with Anos winning walking away. Zeshia’s acrobatics are impressive, but even when the heroes summon all of the love of the ten million people of their city, it only takes the eight girls of Anos’ Fan Union to counter that magical enhancement. Quality over quantity.

The heroes’ primary misconception is that demons cannot love, when it’s obvious that the relationships between Anos and his friends and family are suffused with the stuff. When Eleanor summons Anos to the shrine, vowing to help them stop Zeshia, he sends Misha instead, and she’s brutally stabbed by Diego, who has gone absolutely mad with hatred for all demons, vowing to exterminate them all here and now.

Anos doesn’t allow Misha to suffer long, disabling Diego before healing her wounds, then killing Diego, bringing him back to life with the hilarious line  “If you have time to be dead, answer me.” Diego has been using his students as puppets and “Kanon” fodder to carry out his vendetta, proving to Anos that he has nothing to do with the true Hero Kanon, who would rather suffer the destruction of six of his seven sources than allow anyone to sacrifice themselves for his sake.

Gathering a still-woozy Misha in his arms, Anos proceeds to a chamber where he finds a nude Eleanor within a bubble of light, and she declares that she is…”magic.” And here I thought she was just a friendly upperclassman and helpful school tour guide! In any case, she’s not necessarily an enemy of Anos & Co., so I’m eager to learn what her deal is.

Tower of God – 11 – I’M NOT DELICIOUS!

After a quick and easy meeting with the Admin, who accepts Bam’s request to let Rachel participate, Yu explains the rules of the final test, called the “Underwater Hunt”. They’re a bit…odd, but this time they’re easy as 1-2-3 to follow:

    1. Bam and Rachel go underwater in a shinsu bubble, with the aim of getting caught in the fishing net of the Net Dolphins.
    2. If they are swallowed up by the Dolphin Queen and get spat out on dry land, they pass. If they don’t, they fail.
    3. The other examinees must defeat or otherwise divert all of the Barnacle Goblins, Giant Wetworms, Striped Earthpigs, and the vicious “Bull”, all of whom are looking for a piece of the Dolphins’ catch.

Bam and Rachel have the easiest job: hang out in the bubble until steps one and two unfold. The tranquil, austere underwater surroundings make the perfect setting for the continuation of their reconciliation. If Bam is afraid, he never lets it show.

Bam tells Rachel that when the Admin asked him what he wants at the top of the Tower, he says two things: Rachel’s smiling face, and a cafeteria full of friends sharing a meal. Rachel can’t help but smile now, and muss his hair just like old times.

Things seem well in hand for the other examinees too…at least at first. Hatz keeps an eye on the goblins and wetworms, while Shibisu recognizes his duty to distract the Bull when he encounters it. When it proves too difficult an opponent, Shibisu is seemingly “saved” by Princesses Endorsi and Anaak. Alas, they’re there to compete, and make a bet: If Endorsi can beat the Bull in five minutes, she’ll win the two 13 Month series blades from Anaak. If she doesn’t, she’ll become Anaak’s servant for life.

What had been a lighthearted underground adventure turns sinister when the Bull rushes off, Endorsi gives chase, and in Round 2 it is suddenly much stronger; so strong Endorsi can’t escape its tentacle-like binds. Anaak’s pursuit is interrupted by Lo Po Bia Ren, who tells her this whole test was set up in order to retrieve the Green April and capture and kill her. Since Ren’s a ranker, Anaak is no match for him and gets stabbed through the chest.

The Bull then delivers Endorsi to Ren, who buffed it up and made it obey his commands. Rather than simply kill Anaak himself, he wants Endorsi to use the Green April to do it, thus proving her loyalty to her father King Jahad. This is nothing Endorsi hasn’t done before, and she and Anaak have no lost love, but you can see in her shocked look that she’s not at all looking forward to the task.

That said, how the hell will she be able to refuse, when Ren has both of them in his clutches, and the only one anywhere near them is Shibisu? Then again, Yuri and her crew are attempting to reach the testing area unnoticed. Maybe the only one who can save two princesses is a third…

You can read Crow’s review of Episode 11 here.

Kabukichou Sherlock – 09 – Not Who They Seem

Irene has a target on her back now courtesy of Jack, who wants the egg USB drive back. It’s decided that she should stay with Sherlock for the time being for her own safety, which means Watson has to move out.

The episode plays on Sherlock’s obvious attraction to Irene, as well as Irene’s general fitness as a domestic partner—she even gets him to eat ordinary food! She also has fun teasing him, because apparently when it comes to women Sherlock is thirteen years old.

The same goes for Kyougoku, who his head-over-heels in love with Maki-chan and has a plan to woo her that’s straight out of a middle-schooler’s mind.  He places her on an impossibly high pedestal and showers her with gifts, including a diamond ring to hold her hand, but all Maki-chan wants is a boyfriend with whom to go on ordinary dates.

Maki gets her wish, and they eventually end up in a hotel, where Kyougoku presumably learns Maki’s secret down below. The outcome of this particular plot is ambiguous and not particularly compelling. That the success of Kyougoku’s plan somehow inspires Watson to serve as a lookout for Irene (once Sherlock’s place is ransacked and they move her to a former yakuza hideout)—it’s a bit thin, motivation-wise.

Much is made this week about him having nothing to do, which makes you wonder whether he’ll ever bring up his case with Sherlock, or if it’s a running gag that he never will. Matters are made worse by the fact Watson is terrible at keeping Irene safe. On her first night in the theater, she gets stabbed, while Sherlock runs after a decoy. He’s not even a good doctor, as he fails to administer any kind of first aid, but just kneels beside her, gawking.

It isn’t until later, when Sherlock gives word that Irene has died of her injuries, that Watson realizes Moriarty—who was with Irene just before he arrived—shouldn’t have known where Irene was. Many clues in this and previous episodes point to Moriarty as Jack. I’m also not convinced Irene is really dead. Sherlock may just be saying that in earshot of Moriarty because he’s already pegged the kid as the culprit.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

SSSS.Gridman – 11 – Backed Into A Corner

No matter how many kaiju Akane made and Alexis embiggened, they were never able to defeat Gridman. As a god suddenly hemmed in by the intolerable rule that her kaiju will and must always lose, she finally snapped and took matters into her own physical hands.

Rather than use her box cutter to carve a new kaiju, she stabbed Yuuta with it, then wanders away in a haze, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torturous cycle is over.

It’s not that easy. She missed Yuuta’s vitals, so she didn’t kill him, though he seems to be in some kind of coma. With all the custodian kaiju beheaded, nothing in the city resets, and the chaos just remains. Worse still, as far as Alexis is concerned, nothing’s over.

Lex believes Anti to be the “next Gridman in line” and thus needs Akane to keep creating more kaiju for him to use. When she categorically refuses (pointedly saying she “can’t”, not “won’t”), he simply brings back all the kaiju she already made…at the same time.

A scenario entirely beyond Akane’s control and will thus unfolding, Anti arrives in the hospital room, not to apologize for what he did as a kaiju but to settle his debts as a human. He’ll fight off the kaiju as Gridknight, as Neon Genesis set to work repairing the computer so Yuuta and Gridman wake back up (they can’t sortie without Gridman).

In a brief dream sequence before he wakes up, Yuuta sees Gridman in the mirror, and it dawns on him: He’s not Yuuta; not really. Rather, he’s Gridman dwelling within Yuuta, using his body and mind as a vessel. The matter all along, then wasn’t that Yuuta had amnesia; he was never Yuuta to begin with, and thus whatever memories he had as Yuuta were as repressed as the real Yuuta himself, whom we’ve apparently never even met.

Shou is feeling particularly useless this week, and we can’t really blame him; aside from being the only person with the time to stay by Yuuta’s bedside when he wakes up, he is pretty useless this week. He can’t dissuade Gridman from a course of action that could get his friend killed.

Instead, Yuuta and Neon Genesis mobilize and fight beside a battered Anti against the kaiju “greatest hits,” destroying them all. Alexis can bring back the defeated kaiju all he wants; the fact remains they exist only to be beaten by Gridman.

Meanwhile, Rikka seeks out Akane, not to seek revenge or to give her a piece of her mind, but just to be there for her as a friend. Yes, Rikka may only think she’s Akane’s friend because Akane “set it up” that way, but Rikka doesn’t care; it doesn’t change the fact they are friends, through and through.

Before Rikka can hear what Akane thinks of her, they’re interrupted by Alexis, who labels their conversation “pointless” and tells Akane that new kaiju are needed post-haste. Again Akane tells him she can no longer make kaiju, but Alexis rephrases his position: he’s going to have a new kaiju, even if he has to transform Akane herself…which he promptly does, much to her and Rikka’s bewilderment.

Thus the downward spiral of Akane’s world reaches a new nadir: in which the creator of the world herself prepares to become just another one of the monsters programmed to fight Gridman. This seems to be breaking some fundamental rules of the “game” that’s been played so far, but Alexis doesn’t seem to mind. If Akane really does become another kaiju, isn’t she just as doomed to lose as the ones she created…or is that just another rule poised to be broken?

SSSS.Gridman – 10 – Akane’s in Her Heaven, All’s Wrong with the World

Akane has a dream in which Tonkawa and all of the other people she killed are back, but wakes up in the dark in her room, the weird “ceiling city” in the background, and Alexis looming over her, waiting for her to complete her next kaiju.

Yuuta, Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis all determine that if Akane is being controlled by an alien, they have to at least go to her house to talk with her. Somewhat hilariously, that means simply walking out the door to the junk stop and going next door to Akane’s house, but when the door is forced open, there’s nothing on the other end but…more “back-end” city.

Writing the slogan of NERV from Eva in his notebook, Shou gets back to his studies, saying that even if he, his world, and everything in it was made by Akane, there are still things that need to be done, like studying for midterm exams. After all, there are no kaiju attacks for several days in a row.

Yuuta, Rikka, and Gridman muse about why Akane built this world: was it to find tranquility, or refuge from the world of the other gods? Rikka thinks it wasn’t because Akane was/is weak, merely that she’s sensitive, and as she says so, the very sunset she beholds seems to speak to that sensitivity.

When a frankly fucked-up-looking kaiju suddenly disturbs the peace, I was wondering if Alexis had simply used one of the incomplete kaiju models Akane didn’t seem motivated to finish.

It certainly doesn’t take much for a full-powered Gridman to take it down, while a determined Anti in kaiju form doesn’t give him much more of a fight. Later, we learn that unique to all the other kaiju she’s created, Anti alone has “life”, which makes it possible for him to read the hearts of others, even think about or look out for them, something true kaiju would never do.

But Akane doesn’t seem to have a use for a kaiju with feelings, and so basically tells him to buzz off and do whatever he wants. Later that night, out of the husk of the dead weak kaiju, another, more aggressive-looking kaiju emerges.

It proceeds to chop the heads off all of the massive “custodian kaiju” that dot the city, and the pall of fog/poison gas they emit is lifted. When Gridman sorties once more, this new kaiju is more than a match, he can read all of Gridman’s moves and outmaneuver and outgun him.

It isn’t until this pointy-headed monster is looming over a trashed Gridman flat on his back, surrounded by flames, that Anti springs back into action, this time saving Gridman from the kaiju. His logic is that in order to crush him, he must fight together with him to defeat that which would crush him first. He doesn’t just want Gridman crushed by anyonehe wants to be the one do it.

Anti then transforms into a Gridman clone, or “Gridknight”, and with a shimmering purple energy donut, cleaves the kaiju—which represent’s Akane’s heart—in two. Perhaps that’s why Akane seems so down when she appears in the Junk Shop and inspects the computer used to interface with Gridman: one could say Anti just “broke her heart”.

In return, now knowing that Yuuta and Gridman are separate entities, she suddenly embraces Yuuta, then pulls away, revealing a bloodied knife as Yuuta falls to the ground.

For the first time, she’s foregone the use of kaiju or other godly powers and bloodied her own hands to rid her world of someone messing everything up. It would seem, then, that she’s made her choice, even if she doesn’t seem particularly happy about it.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 02

Our introduction to this new Fate world and story continues with a classic Shaft-type episode that is dense in conversation and exposition, but festooned with lavish trappings that befit a story of this scope. F/ELE (as I’ll be calling it for brevity’s sake) has a lot that is familiar to fans of Fate, fans of Shaft, and fans of both such as myself.

Indeed, the manner in which Kishinami Hakuno summons Saber when he is on death’s door is essentially a reversal of Araragi Koyomi’s first meeting and rescue of Kiss-Shot, another blonde of legendary status, in Kizumonogatari. And while Hakuno is so far a walking bag of virtues, this new-look Saber, voiced by all-star seiyu Tange Sakura, is a lot of fun to watch.

We also get a Nisemonogatari-esque bath scene, not just in any bath, but a sprawling, elaborate Roman-style mixed bath strewn with rose petals. It’s hardly a Shinbo production without such a bath, where a young man and a young woman talk business utterly unfazed by the fact they’re both stark nakked.

When they arrive at the first level, which Saber believes will be the first battlefield of the next Holy Grail War, she is surprised to find a bustling metropolis that, far from being ravaged by war, is united in celebration. At first Saber doesn’t mind this twist at all, and soaks it all in, and we learn that while Tange’s Cardcaptor Sakura says “ho’e,” her Saber says “umu.”

They visit an empty bar occupied by only one, somewhat suspicious woman with pink hair dressed as a bartender. When Saber presents herself as a foe and bids her chosen opponent defend herself, the lady scoffs; surely Saber jests. There is no Holy Grail War here, she says; the Masters have sold off their Servants to live in eternal happiness and peace; that’s what’s being celebrated.

Both Saber and Hakuno seem a bit disappointed by this news, but also somewhat skeptical. When seven splendidly uniformed policewomen arrive, surround the pair, and ask them to accompany them to the Mayor’s office, Saber may gush about how pretty they look, but just as with her outwardly carefree soaking in of the city, Saber is likely staying on her guard and gathering information as if there were a war in progress, which is as it should be.

As they’re escorted to the Central Tower and ride its super-fancy elevator to the top, Hakuno starts to remember some of what happened before he arrived here. Saber said his memory would start to return upon becoming a Master, and his vision of a pile of dead classmates serve to remind him of what had to be done to get this far.

However, the mayor—who turns out to be Matou Shinji, appearing before the pair as a hologram—would prefer if they go no farther. After waxing poetic about the benefits of the AI and NPC-rich Utopia he’s helped build (and performing the Shaft Head Tilt), he finally brings up the price of all this happiness. Citizenship requires all Masters to sell off their Servants.

Naturally, Hakuno refuses, and Shinji stops playing nice, reveally he had physically isolated Saber some time ago with his suite of high-tech digital smoke and mirrors, and sics not one or two but three nasty-looking Berserkers upon Saber. She seems to relish a fight at last, as I did, but at the same time she doesn’t seem that impressed by her foes.

Meanwhile, Shinji’s sexy police all stab Hakuno with their swords. For defying the order of things, the plan is to use Saber as a power source as other Servants have been used, and for Hakuno to simply die.

Only Hakuno didn’t get the right script, and refuses to let a few impalings bring him down. To his attackers’ shock, he pulls out their swords one by one and then seemingly powers-up/transforms, a phenomenon Toosaka Rin senses from the top of a building elsewhere in the city.

Rin calls it “Dead Face.” Whatever that is, it’s clear Hakuno isn’t there to celebrate, or live comfortably, or die. He is there to fight.