Vinland Saga – 13 – The Prince is Beautiful, But Cautious

After what looked like a no-win scenario had unfolded for Askeladd, Thorfinn, and Prince Canute, the standoff actually de-escalates when Askeladd starts speaking Welsh, to the surprise of even Bjorn.

It’s his assessment that their “hosts” from Brycheiniog won’t do them any harm, but they cannot let a horde of Danes cross their lands unchallenged, hence their intimidating posture. Askeladd tries to get Canute to intimidate them back, but the prince hides behind Ragnar.

Askeladd and Gratianus have a private meeting with the Brycheiniog commander, Asser, in which Askeladd reveals that he is half Dane and half Welsh, and a living descendant of the legendary King Artorius of Brittania, who inspired the legend of King Arthur.

The episode’s cryptic cold open depicts him in his youth bringing his dying mother back to Wales, and Gratianus greeting him. It should be noted young Askeladd looks a lot like Thorfinn. No wonder he’s taken such a shine to him; he’s the son he never had.

Anyway, Askeladd agrees to hand over the weapons of all his men and allow themselves to be escorted across Brycheiniog so Asser and his king can save face and look good to the common subjects. In exchange, Askeladd will see to it Canute is the one who succeeds the Danish throne, which means he’ll have a powerful seat at the table with which to ensure a treaty of non-aggression with Wales is arranged.

The fact of the matter is, Askeladd hates the Danes, likely in part (if not mostly) because of what they did to his mother. He seems as intent of keeping Wales unspoiled for her sake as anything else. But between some concerned looks from Bjorn and some groaning of his men, he will be testing their loyalty—and the secrets he’s kept from them—to their furthest limits by changing their route to Gainsborough.

In the meantime, Prince Canute finally hits his limit for enduring verbal abuse and mockery from Thorfinn, and calmly explains that as a prince he must be more cautious with his words…before abandoning that cautiousness to give Thorfinn a piece of his mind. Ragnar is shocked, but in a good way; he knows more than most how he might be hurting the fledgling by not insisting he leave the nest.

Still, Ragnar’s desire to protect a child who has already endured so much (Canute’s childhood was not a happy or peaceful one) seems to override that logic. It’s probably heartening to no end to hear Canute speaking to someone other than him; it means Canute and Thorfinn are, against all odds, developing a rapport. That can only be good for the both of them.

Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

Steins;Gate 0 – 09 – Peaceful for All Eternity?

After the powerhouse of Steins;Gate 0’s episode 8, episode 9 had some big shoes to fill. Would Okabe find himself back in the Beta world line where he had been, in which Kurisu was dead but Mayuri was alive? If so, what if anything would have changed as a result of his visit? What fresh emotional torment would be in store for our most Promethean Mad Scientist?

When Okabe wakes up in the hospital, the show milks the suspense, as there’s no one in his room or in the hallway at first. Just hearing Mayuri’s voice and seeing her there with Daru and Maho warmed my weary heart. He asks them if they know the name Makise Kurisu; Mayuri says she does; she’s the girl in Amadeus.

So he’s back in Beta. Strangely, in this world line both he and Mayuri’s cosplay friend Nakase lost consciousness at the exact same time. Nakase had a dream where Mayuri was gone and she was working with Feyris in the cafe. I guess she traveled to the Alpha along with Okabe…either that, or they’re soulmates (as Kurushima muses).

Amadeus is safe from “takeover” for the time being, but that could change without warning. Okabe still needs to find out what happened, and vows to protect this Beta line that has and alive-and-well Mayuri in it alive and well.

That means putting the apparently non-evil Moeka busy with sleuthing (her nearly wordless visit to the lab and text convo with Okabe was vintage Moeka), as well as leaving Maho in the safety of Feyris’ well-protected home.

Okabe is about to get to work trying to discover who raided the lab and what they wanted (besides Kagari) when he gets a text from Suzuha saying she needs to talk. I somehow knew it wasn’t going to be a friendly chat, and when Suzuha pulls a gun on Okabe, I’m proven right.

Suzu is in a desperate state, especially when Okabe confirms that there was a world line change, even if brief and temporary. The earthquakes (and possibly the fevers and collapses that have been going around) are most likely the result of Russia and America’s “time machine race”, which will lead to WWIII.

Suzuha can’t allow that to happen, and is ready to force Okabe to get in the time machine with her so they can travel back to July 28th, when he first learned he could send D-mail.

Okabe tells her the torment and the nightmare that awaited him once he started trying to toy with the past to affect the future, and warns her that forcing him to do it all over again does not guarantee anything; if anything, it could result in a future somehow worse than the one she knows and is so afraid of repeating.

Ultimately, Daru comes in to talk Suzuha down. I can’t blame her for acting as she did, as she considers herself one of the last people standing in the path of WWII occurring. But perhaps she’s over-inflating her role: as Okabe says, there’s only so much they as humans can do to influence things. The universe is most likely going to have its way, no matter what they do.

After the rooftop standoff, Okabe goes back to Tennouji for more clues and insight on who was behind the lab raid. “DURPA” and “Stratfor” are names he researches, and a Makise Kurisu in his head helps him out. For instance, no group could steal future time machine tech to build their own time machine without causing a massive paradox.

Meanwhile, Suzuha and Daru settle in for a night guarding the Time Machine, with Daru assuring his daughter that one day Okabe will be reborn as the delusional chuuni Hououin Kyouma, take command, and lead them all to the ideal future. It exhibits great deal of confidence in his friend.

Having calmed down some, Suzu brings up their critical fuel situation, which will only allow them one or two jumps of half a year. It could even result in them getting caught between world lines for all eternity, though she wonders if that would really be the worst thing if it means things could be as (relatively) peaceful as they presently are; an eternal calm, and never any storm.

Okabe checks in on Maho at Feyris’ and discovers how messy Maho can be when she’s hard at work researching. Okabe posits that the groups trying to acquire time travel are after Kurisu’s theory, which may well be contained in the memories used by Amadeus.

Maho refutes that, but also stares at a login screen with Kurisu’s name. What secrets lie beyond that security wall…and is that wall any match for the powers that desire her secrets?

Steins;Gate 0 – 07 – Mr. Braun (and Wikipedia) to the Rescue

The standoff with what is apparently the “Rounders” of SERN mercifully ends without any tragic deaths, thanks to the sudden arrival of Tennouji, who makes quick work of the masked bandits, while Suzu frees their quarry Kagari from their clutches.

Their leader in black has a female figure, but Okabe almost immediately doubts it was Kiryuu Moeka again because the Akiba boss from the other world line was Braun; it would  make no sense for him to hinder the Rounders here. Something else is clearly up.

The first priority is ensuring Kagari’s safety going forward now that they know she’s particularly susceptible to capture. She continues to stay at Ruka’s place, which Daru fortifies with motion sensors while Suzuha keeps a sleepless watch.

Ruka can tell something’s up, and wants Suzuha to explain why she uses the family-based honorifics she uses…but Suzuha isn’t talking. She (rightly) believes Okabe wants to keep Ruka from learning anything about other worlds, so that he can stay in the one he’s in.

The next day Okabe visits Tennouji at the shop to explain the disturbance he had to break up (not the kind of landlord duties he likes undertaking, even if he’s more than capable). Okabe first confirms that Tennouji is indeed Ferdinand Braun, affiliated with the Rounders.

Braun concedes that Okabe is disturbingly accurate about things he has no business knowing, and in the absence of more credible explanations is willing to at least hear him out about time travel and world lines. He agrees to keep Kagari under his protection, hiring her and Suzuha as part-timers, but insists Okabe get to work discovering the identity and goals of Kagari’s would-be captors.

One clue is the alphanumeric code uttered by two of the Rounders: K6205, whom Mayushii’s friend Kaede is able to identify as possibly a Köchel number; those used to catalog the works of Mozart. Specifically, K. 620, his opera The Magic Flute, which is packed with Masonic elements.

Scene 5 of Act 2 involves a man being ordered to marry an elderly woman or he’ll be imprisoned forever. When he does, she’s transformed into a young and beautiful young woman, only for priests to hold him back, warning that he’s not yet worthy of her.

I learned all of this on Wikipedia, as Daru and the others’ primary source of research (always a good place to start, anyways). But one can’t think of the Mozart connection without also thinking about his middle name: Amadeus; ‘loved by God’.

Amadeus is still offline and when Okabe calls Hiyajou, she expresses her fear the server has been taken over. But moments after Hiyajou hangs up Okabe gets a call from Amadeus. It’s highly distorted and garbled, but Amakurisu pleads for help clearly enough.

That’s when Okabe enters Reading Steiner, the Divergence Meter’s Nixie Tube numbers flutter furiously. He ends up alone in the lab, the TV no longer shot through, and the Amadeus app gone from his phone’s home screen. It’s a World Line Change, people, and what do you know, Kurisu is alive in this one.

Just like the first Steins;Gate series, S;G 0 started off slow, but there was always the possibility, even probability that one big event after another was bound to go down soon. Now we’re there, with Okabe, in a totally different world than the one in which started, with no knowledge of how he got there, whether he’s been there before, or if he’ll ever get back.

Not to mention the fact that without even trying he’s been reunited with the only woman he’s ever loved. Depending on how things go, he may not even want to leave…but where Steins;Gate is concerned, getting something you want almost always means losing something you need.

Overlord II – 13 (Fin) – Nazarick Cleans Up, but Many Stories Left to Tell

When Jaldabaoth unleashes a hail of demons at the force of adventurers, Momon swoops in with Nabe and Evileye to plow the road. Brain ends up encountering Shalltear on a rooftop, and manages to chip one of her nails, which he considers a great leap forward, weirding everyone out while boasting about it.

When Gazef arrives with the king himself he and a healed Gagarin and Tia join Lakyus and Tina in the rearward fight. Up front, Momon takes on “Jaldabaoth” (almost slipping up and calling him Demiurge again) while Nabe and Evileye split up the five other battle maids. It’s a vicious fight, as Alpha breaks Evileye’s magical shield and even chips her mask, revealing a small but still tantalizing portion of her face.

When Evileye is occupied with Alpha and Delta, Momon meets Demiurge in a secret meaning, where Demiurge explains the full scope of his plan, in which Nazarick claims a goodly amount of materials and hostages, while “Momon” gets to pump up his stature among the humans by defeating the evil Jaldabaoth.

Demi is basically taking a fall for his lord, while also gaining the opportunity to show that same lord how far he’s come power-wise. Manwhile, Nabe shoots the breeze with Beta, Epsilon and Zeta, a pleaqsantly casual, candid scene among the maids.

The gears of the plan creak and groan near the end, when Demi and Momon duel for a bit but Demi rather suddenly gives up, takes his maids and goes home. But hey, the humans, Evileye included, buy it hook, line, and sinker.

So it’s a big win for Nazarick, as the Eight Fingers are eliminated without Nazarick’s fingers being anywhere near their demise, Renner gets her Climb back safe and sound (and must find sombe other way to incapacitate him so she can take care of him), Sebas brings Tuare into the staff fold…and an old mage-like wizard fellow and a gold-plated warrior-prince-looking dude both ponder a meeting with one Ainz Ooal Gown in the near future.

And so OverLord II ends as it began: seemingly right in the middle of things. While its tendency to bounce around from one scenario to the next and often under-emphasize the ostensible main cast, that unpredictability kept things fresh, and the delayed explanation of scenarios led to some very satisfying payoffs, whether it was the Lizardmen battle, Sebas’ badassery, or some very cool battles between fellow Nazarickians, with some surprisingly strong human adventurers mixed in. I wouldn’t mind jumping back into these stories sometime down the road.

Overlord II – 12 – The Truth Can Be Surprising

Momon, embracing his role as protector of his adventurer brethren and fights off Demiurge, who also takes on the alias Jaldabaoth for the purposes of this pageant.

Witnessing Momon fight to protect her, Evileye is impressed to the point of fascination, becoming smitten with one of the few warriors she’s met who is actually stronger than her. However, she comes to be disappointed in how Momon ultimately decides to hold her: less like a princess, more like baggage.

The “Tuare” Climb & Co. rescue turns out to be Succulent in disguise, a trick that the warriors didn’t fall for. Zero, last of the Six Arms, shows up to occupy Brain, so Climb and the other guy fight Sucky, with the other guy showing Climb that in situations like this it’s okay to fight dirty. Climb takes the advice to heart by delivering a vicious kick to Succulent’s succulents.

Just when Brain and Zero are ready to get serious, Sebas arrives with the real Tuare, lets Zero (highly skeptical the old guy took out all of his comrades without taking a scratch)  take his shot (utterly ineffective) and ends him with one kick. The only mark against the fight is that he got blood on his attire.

With Sebas’ part of the mission a success, we return to Momon, Evileye and Demiurge, the latter of which retreats so he can set up a wall of fire in the capital, presumably to show the city who’s boss—though if he’s doing it with an alias and not in Nazarick’s name I fail to see how it serves the Tomb; I thought the point was to teach Eight Fingers a lesson?

Reagrdless, once that wall of fire is up, Momon decides to join Evileye, the Blue Rose, Brain, Climb, and a mess of other adventurers, all under command of Princess Renner, who sets up a battle plan, briefs her troops, and sends them out to fight the demons within the otherwise harmless wall set up by “Jaldabaoth.”

Renner stays behind in the palace, revealing to her brother and the Marquis her true plan, while showing her true, demented face: she’s counting on Climb dying so Lakyus can ressurect him, a process that will make him as weak as a newborn kitten, necessitating constant attention and care. And Renner intends to take good care of him.

Overlord II – 11

(Rubs hands together vigorously) Oh man, do I love a good Overlord battle extravaganza. In order to answer the slight against Nazarick, Demiurge arrives with Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Zeta, along with Mare and Shalltear (though Shally sits out the battle, lest she do much damage) to supplement Sebas and Epsilon.

Nazarick’s…let’s call it a punitive assault, happens to coincide with the Renner Raid, and Climb, Brain, and one of the Orichalcum-ranked warriors provided by the Marquis end up at the same place as Sebas: the Eight Fingers hideout where not only Tuare is being held, but where four of the Six Arms are ready to fight.

Sebas tells them they’ll last up to ten seconds if they all attack him at once, but when he hears one of them dares call himself the “Undead King”, he pops, he gets mad and does it in about eight. No wasted movements, just pop-pop-pop-pop, off come the elite warriors’ heads.

Climb & Co manage to find Tuare’s cell…or do they? The camera cuts away before we see the woman’s whole face (or it’s just assumed to be Tuare and I’m just overthinking things).

Meanwhile, at another Eight Fingers base, Mare figuratively disarms the mistress of the house before literally de-legging her and dragging her away, leaving Zeta to take care of things from there.

The Amazonian Gagaran arrives just around this time, and assumes Zeta works for Eight Fingers, and judges her a foe she can take based on her slight size and cutesy voice, and picks a fight.

Wellsir, Gagaran judged very, very wrong…but she’s not alone, so the fight is extended when Tia arrives and manages to hold out against Zeta’s very novel high-level entomancy, which includes bugs that block blows as well as Cap’s shield, bug bullets that take down adamantium barriers, and bugs that have sword-sized mandibles.

Eventually the gap in level is too much for Gagaran and Tia, but their ally Evileye arrives in the nick of time. Unlike them, when she says she’s stronger than Zeta…I kinda believed her. She certainly demonstrates the validity of such a claim by putting Zeta on her ass (well, abdomen; she’s an insect) with an equally novel homebrew insecticide spell.

With four other sites and four other maids, I expected the episode to jump around more, but I appreciate Overlord’s patience in sticking with one battle once it gets into rhythm, as this one does.

This battle escalates so many times with the introduction of new parties, I wasn’t missing the other raids anyway. When Zeta is just about out for the count, who should arrive but Demiurge, wearing a sinister mask (perhaps to hide his nerdy glasses from mere mortals?).

Demiurge takes out Gagaran and Tia with a ranged fire spell, but went with too high a setting because he assumed they were as strong as Evileye. And even when she throws everything she’s got at Demi, it’s all for naught; his defense is just too strong.

Demi looks ready to stop playing around and finish things when there’s yet another arrival—frikkin’ Momonga himself—wondering out loud which of the two combatants will be his foe. I’m intrigued by the possibilities this presents.

3-gatsu no Lion – 34

Despite all of the good vibes sent Hina’s way by her sisters, her grandpa, and of courses, Rei, the bullying is still going on, and it has cast a pall of black, miasma-like mist over the entire classroom and school. Takagi Megumi won’t stop stirring the shit, and Hina won’t stop bravely confronting it head-on. Both can probably keep the battle going indefinitely, but their teacher has had enough.

This isn’t the first time her class has been thrown into shadow and chaos by one shit-stirrer and one defiant victim, and the stress that comes from her helplessness to ever resolve such situations, combined with the dread that comes with the certainty it will happen again, proves too much for the poor woman, who unleashes a desperate rant before passing out.

Now that Takagi has not only sent a victim off, but the supposed authority figure as well, one would think she’s “winning” this particular war. But whether she actually really wants this to go on or not, she seems almost as powerless to stop this as her victims. That makes whatever victory that might come feel not only hollow, but Pyrrhic.

This is some Scorched Earth-kinda shit going own, so who better to deal with averting apocalypse than Ikari Gendo himself? Just kidding; a 3GL-Eva crossover would be too weird (though not altogether unwelcome!) But the ruined teacher’s temporary replacement Mr. Kokobu is voiced by the same guy, doing a more causal performance more indicative of Zaraki Kenpachi.

Kokobu comes in not only knowing pretty much exactly what’s going on, but on whom to pin the blame. He laments that a class so close to high school entrance exams must be disrupted by a faculty shake-up, but also says, basically, “you little shits have no one to blame for not making a peep when one of their classmates had to change schools because of the bullying.”

And of course, he’s right. Takagi and Hina aren’t as powerful as a classroom united against bullying and conflict. But Takagi has spent so much time and effort neutralizing them with threats of retribution that they’ve kept quiet all this time. But it’s not like I expect the class to en masse decide to take a stand.

The overarching problem is that no one is in a situation they can control or pull themselves out of alone. It will take a unity of will and intent, and Kokobu likely hopes the unpleasantness of the situation to date will start bringing this mess to an end.

The last thing Hina wanted to do was bring her sister Akari into this, but that’s what has to happen, and Akari doesn’t shrink before the task at hand, nor does she hesitate to spoil Hina with some of her favorite foods (some kind of french toast drink and a beef croquette) on the eve of their parent-teacher conference.

Akari even fends off Grandpa, who has an important sweets order to take care of, so seriously does she take her promise to her dying mother that she’d take care of Hina and Momo. That she made this promise in her uniform, showing she’s still a child herself, makes it the dream much more heartbreaking.

It’s a dream that keeps Akari up late, so even if she had a particular game plan against the eventuality of encountering Takagi’s formidable mom in the hall (and she does not), she wouldn’t be at 100% to execute that plan.

Any thoughts of Takagi losing her hold on the class anytime soon are dashed when two of the classmates lure Mr. Kokobu away with a lie about a broken window, leaving the two students and their guardians alone together. Takagi’s mom immediately sets to work telling Akari to sort Hina out, and Akari falls all too easily into a trap where the mom asks her for proof of her daughter’s malfeasance, for which there is only Hina’s word.

Unaccustomed to such aggressive confrontation, overwhelmed by the promise she made to her mom, and fatigued from last night’s lack of sleep, Akari quickly falters, but before Mrs. Takagi can finish her, Kokobu returns, and it is Hina who takes Akari’s hand and sends her of to calm her down, not the other way around.

In this horribly shitty situation, Hina maintains her composure and is able to stand and endure the black mist. In the nurse’s office, she vows, like a shounen hero, that she’ll survive and graduate, she wins, so she’s not going to spend a second of her life worrying about the words and actions of c-words like Takagi again. Even if that’s better said than done, Akari is heartened.

Meanwhile, Kokobu calmly listens to Takagi’s Mom’s grievances, but cannot accept them without proof Hina is lying (which she obviously isn’t). The burden of proof both Takagi and her Mom were touting works both ways, and without the opportunity to pawn all the shit her daughter stirred up on to someone else, neither are ever going to be happy about the situation any more than Hina and Akari.

That means we have something of a stalemate.  Hopefully the escalation has been halted, the miasma somewhat cleared, and that with Kokobu’s guidance, the possibility of productive peace talks isn’t as remote as it once was.

3GL always seems to know when I’m hankering for a Kawamoto-heavy episode, and this one pretty one delivered everything I could have hoped for, with phenomenal performances by Kayano Ai and Hanazawa Kana and  a sweet guest appearance by the always authoritative Fumihiko Tachiki— (not to mention some nice work from Yuuki Aoi as Takagi).

The episode leans on the 3GL habit of using stark contrasts in light, dark, water, and color as the mood of the episode changes. We also get a new OP sung by Unison Square Garden and a sensational new ED featuring “I Am Standing” by Ruann. Forget March, it’s January that comes in like a lion with this, probably the best episode yet of 3GL’s second season.

GATE – 22

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This week everything inches incrementally toward some kind of final confrontation in the capital, where it’s quickly becoming clear to everyone interested in peace that Zolzal can’t be allowed to rule much longer. The Rose Knights continue to fight for his bedridden father, against men who don’t at all want to slaughter the women they respect, who were allies until today. But it’s either the Roses or their families.

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As for Lelei, the assassination attempts continue as she attempts to make a presentation for her promotion to master; a cat-woman under the apparent influence of the Pied Piper. This time, the attack is foiled by Lelei’s fellow mages, watching her back and prompting Itami to wish the JSDF had magic.

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Of course, it’s good old-fashioned dagger in the chest by someone unexpected that seems to get Lelei, as the opportunity for Shandy to strike presents itself, and she takes it.

Meanwhile, as the low-morale Imperial soldiers continue to be beaten back by the knights, Tyuule tells the Oprichnina leader to either gather more men and get the job done, or kiss his own position and life goodbye. All the while, the SDF awaits official orders to intervene in the Jade Palace siege.

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Speaking of inching along, Pina is a “free captive” for all of a day or so before Zolzal’s henchmen clap her in irons and a burlap shift and toss her roughly in a cell, dispensing with her status as a member of the royal family.

Tyuule takes great pleasure in seeing Pina wearing the same shift she wore, occupying the same cell she once spent an inordinate amount of time…perhaps enough time to drive her to her crazy, power and revenge-hungry state.

The thing is, she hasn’t referred to Zolzal as her ultimate enemy in some time; all she seems to be doing is doing his bidding, perhaps all in the name of bringing down the empire. Right now her priority seems to be remaining in power and taking sadistic pleasure in throwing her new-found weight around.

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Shandy, it turns out, was not under the Piper’s spell, but heard that Pina was in mortal danger and believed the only way to save her would be to bring Zolzal Lelei’s head. This is an incredibly naive and shortsighted strategy, so I’m glad she was foiled. But at least she’s able to relay the fact Pina is in a very, very bad way, and needs rescue before something terrible happens to her.

Fortunately, the SDF gets their orders, and a paratrooper unit is quickly mobilized for an operation to save the Japanese citizens and pro-peace asylum seekers. At the same time, Itami and his gang races to the Imperial Palace to free Pina.

Everyone still in play is moving into position, and hopefully their efforts will bear fruit in terms of stopping Zolzal/Tyuule’s reign of terror, which is benefiting no one.

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GATE – 21

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Pina’s Rose Knights fight, bleed and die, but ultimately prevail against the initial force of Gimlet’s cleaners, seeing as how the latter aren’t equipped with plate armor and aren’t exactly great fighters. Sherry, wasting no time demonstrating what a badass she is, stands and watches with unblinking eyes the violence and death she knows is of her making (though I wish she and Sugawara had retrieted within the Palace, lest, say, a stray arrow find one of them).

The knights managed to keep Oprichnina at bay and protect the embassy this time, but a bigger, tougher force will show up eventually, and they’re going to be woefully outnumbered. This leads the officials responsible for the diplomats’ safety to beseech a minister for authorization to rescue them, along with the pro-peace refugees.

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The civilian politician is, well, like pretty much every civilian politician in GATE: a weak weeny who is waffling about doing the right thing because he’s too concerned about his own career and upcoming elections.

He has reason to worry: Alnus is full of press and military officials from all over, and he doesn’t want to look weak. As if the waffling politician weren’t enough, we also have a self-important journalist who has a low opinion of the noble SDF, and makes no bones about his journalism not being totally objective, since at the end of the day it’s a business.

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Meanwhile in Rondel, assassins make another attempt on the lives of Lelei & Co., only they are foiled by Itami’s stuffed beds and a flash grenade. The assassins are far from pros, but they are representative of the M.O. of someone called the “Pied Piper”, who exploits those who are easy to convince of huge plots and conspiracies and lies; in this case, young inn employees were told Lelei & Co. were impostors and murderers.

The key, then, to stopping these attempts on Lelei’s life is to figure out who this Pied Piper is and take him out. At the same time, Rondel has learned through recent messenger of Team Itami’s exploits with the Fire Dragon. In particular, Lelei is lauded as the one who finished it off, furthering the Imperial position that a human and Imperial citizen get the lion’s share of credit for the feat, which doesn’t sit right with Lelei (her word for it is “nasty”).

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Because the Jade Palace-protecting Rose Knights are under Pina’s command, it isn’t long before Zolzal “kindly requests” that she order them to stand down, promising no harm will come to the diplomats (but making no such promises for Casel or Sherry). Naturally, Pina refuses, and attempts to set off for the Palace to see what’s what, but then, in the least surprising move yet by the Acting Emperor, he places Pina under arrest. Frankly, Pina should have sneaked out of the Capital ages ago.

With a force of Imperial regular army—the Rose Knights’ own comrades—over one thousand strong at the Palace gates, the situation is about to explode. So it’s a relief that the civilian minister finally gives the go-ahead for a rescue mission.

Like Sugawara last week, his professional training gives way to his humanity, and he makes the better of two bad choices. There were going to be consequences either way, but at least this way he won’t be sitting back and twiddling his thumbs while his diplomats are slaughtered, along with what’s left of the pro-peace movement.

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Attack on Titan – 11

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Supreme Commander Pixis decides the fate of humanity will depend on whether Eren can seal the broken gate with a boulder. At no point does he ever go a step further to what the plan is if Eren can’t, or say, if the Colossal and Armored Titans reappear and destroy the boulder or blast a new hole in the wall. I guess that doesn’t really matter at the moment; one crisis at a time and all that.

The advantage of semi-marathoning (2-3 episodes per week) is that I can go from one episode to the next without waiting a week. In the case of the Battle of Trost arc, I’m starting to wonder how viewers back in Spring 2013 could stand the snail’s pace. Part of that is the fact the first few episodes covered five years; for the last seven to be about the same battle is a bit disorienting.

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Time is moving so slowly, serious damage has been done to the arc’s sence of urgency. Despite often claiming there’s no time in various ways, there’s still plenty of time for leisurely strolls along the wall and interminable motivational (or sobering) speeches. A disadvantage to semi-marathoning also rears its head: the use of narration and repetition of events we just watched don’t do the episode’s urgency any favors.

Stretch out a daylong battle across so many episodes, and the viewers’ minds can stray. I know that if this battle had been wrapped up by now, I wouldn’t be noticing details like it’s strange that Pixis’ voice can carry far enough for everyone below to hear him, or soldiers worrying about “losing discipline”…as dozens of scared soldiers start deserting en masse. Uh, I think that’s a sure sign discipline has already been lost, actually…

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Finally, near the end, we get beautiful and highly kinetic sequence of soldiers flying through the city. I’d been mired in speeches and exposition so long, this scene made me sit up straight. Like the rest of the episode, it’s little more than people getting into position, but it does so without listing a bunch of names of redshirts we may never meet, something Rico does to Eren as they’re running. Why does everyone suddenly think Eren’s a spoiled brat? He’s going to save everybody.

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Only, he’s not. Not really. And that was the most glaring problem with this episode, from my perspective: Titan-Eren was never going to actually succeed. When he transforms, he turns from the boulder and smashes the roof where Mikasa is standing, in an apparent attempt to kill her. Oops.

This show has proven, Lucy-from-Peanuts-like, that just because it’s carefully positioning a football on the ground, doesn’t mean it won’t pull it back up just when you’re about to kick it, leaving you, Charlie, flat on your back. Not always, mind you: Armin’s gambit worked very nicely indeed.

But past results are no guarantee of future success, and it would have been too easy if Eren just picked up the boulder and plugged the hole like a good Demi-Titan. So…how about that Plan B?

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Attack on Titan – 10

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After building a partial Titan to protect Mikasa and Armin, Eren considers going on alone to his parents’ basement in Shiganshina. In the present situation, Armin is crippled not only be fear, but the feeling he’s worthless and holding the other two back. One would think he wouldn’t still feel this way after his baller plan to liberate the resupply depot, but then again this is a pretty stressful situation, which can lead people to reopen still-raw wounds.

The reality is that Armin is a crucial member of the young triad: the brains. So it makes sense that those same brains can betray him by making him overthink things and be his own harshest critic. One reason Eren is a more effective conventional fighter is that he doesn’t think as much. So Eren leaves it to Armin to secure his safety as well as Mikasa’s, because of the three he’s the only one who can do it.

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To do so, Armin must disarm and expose himself to Woerman and his troops; which takes every drop of courage he has, but also proves he has plenty of courage. Unfortunately, Woerman is so spooked (rightfully so) by the prospect of Titans who look, walk, and talk just like humans, he’s no longer thinking rationally, only viscerally, which means he’s impervious even to Armin’s most dogged and reasonable arguments for sparing their lives.

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Woerman is about to take them out with a second cannon shot when his arm is suddenly stayed by his superior, General Dot Pixis, whose sudden presence catches everyone by surprise. He’s a bit of a weirdo (if he’s going to be eaten by a Titan, he’d prefer if it was by a smoking-hot lady Titan), but he’s got a lot more sense in this situation than Woerman, and more importantly, his actions aren’t driven by fear. He uses his judgment and his authority to save the three cadets, then asks to meet with them personally atop the wall.

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I liked Pixis’ attitude towards the nobility in an earlier episode, and I like his no-nonsense practicality in dealing with Eren here. He takes Armin at his word that it’s possible someone like Eren with “Titan Power” can be utilized to re-take Trost, if only by sealing the breach in the wall with a boulder.

Pixis first asks Eren if he can do it, but Eren isn’t entirely sure and worried about answering “irresponsibly.” So Pixis rephrases: Will he or won’t he? Obviously, he will. But even if Eren has found a valuable, powerful ally in Pixis (and we’re by no means sure of even that), and even if he does seal the breach and save the district, there will always be some, like Woerman, who won’t look at the evidence or listen to reason. Those who have let Fear take over, and will consider anything remotely Titan-related an enemy to be vanquished.

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Attack on Titan – 09

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The show chooses a rather odd time to introduce us to a new group of characters in the elite Scout Regiment, led by “neat freak” Captain Levi. I saw bizarre because there’s still quite a bit that needs to be resolved with Eren. As great as it is to see soldiers other than Mikasa having success in killing Titans, the truth is I was patiently waiting for the show to get back to the main characters, which thankfully happens about a third of the way in.

Before returning to the present, we find out what became of Eren after being swallowed. Not surprisingly, he ended up in the Titan’s gut, surrounded by his dead comrades being slowly digested, which…gross. But Eren refuses to give up, doggone it, and a light flashes and he transforms into Titan Eren, bursting out of the Titan who ate him and commencing his rampage.

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When Eren wakes up, he finds himself in a bit of a predicament. No good deed goes unpunished here on AoT, which means an entire battalion of his fellow soldiers have their weapons trained on him, Mikasa, and Armin. They’re led by a very twitchy commander who looks like he needs a lot more sleep, and everyone is convinced Eren is a Titan in disguise who needs to be eliminated.

With Eren still highly disoriented, negotiations break down pretty quickly, with Mikasa only offering temporary relief by putting herself between the guns and Eren and challenging anyone who wants to try to hurt him to get through her first. Eren finally cries that he’s a human, but the commander has already made his decision. Mikasa tries to get Eren away as the cannon above them fires, but Eren…does something else.

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And that something else is transforming back into a Titan, using his only partially constructed Titan body to shield his friends from the cannon blast. Once again, a bold action keeps him and them alive, but only a little longer: it doesn’t exactly help his claim he’s human, and I doubt such a trick can be pulled twice in such short order.

Preceding Eren’s last-ditch effort to keep death at bay, he experiences flashes of memory, like his dreams in earlier episodes, in which his father tells him the key around his neck and the secrets in the basement of their home are of utmost importance. I imagine the power he’s awakened has something to do with those secrets.

But first things first: how are he, Mikasa and Armin going to stay alive long enough to uncover those secrets? Forget the Titans; he’s got humanity against him at the moment. Talk about ‘out of the frying pan, into the freezer’.

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