Ushio to Tora – 33

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Looks like last week lifted our spirits only to utterly crush them here, as Hakumen no Mono rises out of the ocean, and its tails take the form of monsters Ushio already defeated, reminding him of how much he lost, and how much hatred has built up inside of him after enduring all that loss.

His mom tries to slap him out of his spiral of hate, but that only makes things worse. Whether she’s there with him now, for the majority of his life she was lost to him, and he has very little time to be with her now. Ushio dredges up all of that accumulated hatred to launch a counterattack, but he’s going about it entirely the wrong way.

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But Ushio won’t listen to reason from anyone. Not his mother, and not even Tora. Especially when Tora admits he killed Nagare and doesn’t bother explaining the extenuating circumstances. He doesn’t bother because he knows nothing he’ll say will change the fact that Ushio told him not to kill Nagare, and he killed Nagare.

The Kouhamei Sect awakens from their stone slumber and comes in force to set up a barrier, but they, and apparently the prison where Asako was waiting, are easily destroyed by Hakumen. He destroys an entire island, killing untold thousands, in the blink of an eye. And news cameras get it all on camera, spreading the fear across Japan and further fueling the demon.

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Did I mention the stone pillar the JASDF fleet destroyed had kept Japan from sinking into the sea? Well, that happened to. The triumphant return of Mayuko isn’t triumphant at all; it’s an afterthought, as nothing anyone can do can snap Ushio out of his berserk hatred-mode.

But he can’t fight hatred with hatred, and when he tries to stab Hakumen in the head with the Beast Spear, the spear shatters into a million shards. So yeah, this was not a feel-good week for Ushio and Tora; not at all! Ushio lost; Hakumen won, Asako could be dead…it’s all over. Japan is hosed. 

Except it isn’t, right? There are at least six whole episodes left! So even with no spear, no hope, and nothing but seething hatred in his heart, we can’t rule out a come-from-behind win. But I have to salute this show for letting things get so very FUBAR before that happens. This Hakumen guy is one tough little shit!

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Ushio to Tora – 32

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“Mother” – such a simple title for an episode positively bursting with powerful, complex emotions; frustration, loneliness, and powerlessness among them. Ignoring his fearful young colleague, the Undine’s grizzled pilot Goro is willing to take Ushio where he needs to go now that he knows what Ushio wants to do once he sees his mom, which is to give her a stern talking-to about how devastating her absence from his life has been.

But nothing, nothing can prepare Ushio, who has been through so much, for the singular occasion of being in the presence of his mother for the first time since he was barely crawling. He doesn’t even remember her face, and for one horrifying moment I thought a monster or corpse would be all he would find. The episode really does a good job building up this, one of the most important moments both of Ushio’s life and for the show as a whole.

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The sights and sounds of his journey to his mother’s side is filled with a sense of quiet awe and grandeur. And to my relief, his mom is just a regular woman…who happens to have been sitting in the same place for nearly Ushio’s entire life. She may have freakishly-long hair, but she also has Ushio’s familiar dark eyebrows above warm, kind eyes. There’s no doubt about it: this is Ushio’s mom.

And look a how all of the things Ushio wanted to say to his mom melt away, replaced by love, gratitude, and relief. He’s in awe of his mother and her own meekness and contriteness. Her first act upon seeing him is to bow her head. But before he lets her ask his forgiveness, he assures her, by showing her all of his various scars and wounds—some acquired fighting monsters, others just doing stuff kids do—that it’s no big deal; and it’s true.

While she’s been here, the love she put into Ushio endured and sustained him, and made him into the fine young man he is today. He knows that, and he no longer has any hard feelings on the matter. How can he, when his mother sacrificed so much?

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Her look when he starts dusting her off, and the laugh they share when he bashfully askes for miso soup (there’s no kitchen there, bub!), it’s all wonderful. Finally, goddamnit, Ushio gets to see his mom, and she’s not terrible! What is terrible is the impending situation, in which the shit hits the fan before his mom can pat him properly on the head.

The East and West youkai have arrived up at the surface (in giant amalgamated forms), with the former keeping the latter from attacking Hakumen by fighting them. The navy fires its torpedoes and destroys the stone pillar, as Hakumen had planned. Ushio’s mom’s barrier finally fails after 700 years of continuous activation.

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It’s the end of the line for Ushio’s mom as far as being the Oyakume goes, which begs the question: where the heck is Mayuko at? Isn’t she supposed to pick up where Ushio’s mom left off? I hope she gets there soon, because it becomes clear Hakumen isn’t going to stay put.

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Indeed, after ignoring Ushio’s mom’s warning that he’ll be dealt with by Ushio and the others soon enough and has no reason to celebrate, Hakumen still appears to be very happy to be free, and does celebrate by tossing the entire sub fleet into the air and impaling the East youkai, then vowing to destroy everything in the world.

All poor Tora can do is watch! I do hope his girl Mayuko arrives soon with a barrier, or some other somebody comes out of the woodwork to lend him and Tora a hand. I also hope that while her Oyakume days are over, Ushio’s mom doesn’t have to die; at least not until she gets to see her son defeat Hakumen no Mono once and for all.

Then she gets to pat Ushio head, and they get to spend some time as mother and son, with worries about saving the world far behind them. But I’m getting ahead of myself…the next episode’s title isn’t vague at all: “Beast Spear Destroyed.” Nuts!

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Ushio to Tora – 31

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Ushio’s previews are never anything than a listing of the (usually vague) title of the next episode accompanied by the sound of the Beast Spear striking something. As such, we’re always in the dark about what exactly will come next. I’ve always kinda liked that.

It meant I didn’t know if Asako would somehow end up encountering a HAMMR humvee on the street, and be taken to the floating dock by helicopter to Ushio’s side, right after he’s thrown in the brig with two civilian researchers who built the Undine submarine who let him take them hostage to escape.

That’s…a lot, but the bottom line is, Ushio and Asako are reunited. But as is usual with these two, it’s not that simple: Asako’s memories aren’t fully back, and they may never come back. That doesn’t matter, as she’s confident this is the boy she loves anyway, especially after he literally plucked her from the fire, along with the bits and pieces of memories still rattling around.

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This leads to one of the most raw and poignant scenes between these two. Asako begs Ushio not to go, lest he lose himself. Ushio insists he has to go, and he’ll be back “in a little while.” It’s the most comfort he can offer, because he knows there’s a good chance he won’t be back at all. He can’t promise anything.

But seeing Asako, even regarding him as a stranger, act in this way, and remembering everything they’ve been through and everything she’s meant to him, their last exchange is an exchange of I love yous…only because of the sub’s thick glass, neither can hear the other’s confession.

At this point, I just want more than anything for Ushio to get the job done and come back safe. No matter what else happens, Asako deserves that much.

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As Ushio goes down in the Undine to perhaps meet his ultimate fate, Tora stays topside to give Nagare what he’s always wanted, and what he betrayed Kouhamei and Ushio to get: a serious, no-holds-barred fight with Tora. Tora doesn’t disappoint, though at one point Nagare nails him to the deck and rants about another reason he had to betray Ushio: in order to show him, and his painfully naive eyes it grew so hard to look at, what he really is: a traitor and a wretch.

Tora doesn’t buy it, breaking out some ruthless chortling and mocking. If Nagare is afraid of that little twerp’s EYES, there’s no way he can beat a dyed-in-the-wool monster like him.

It’s moments like this that I’m reminded that perhaps Tora truly plans to eat Ushio one day, just that he’s in absolutely no hurry to do so. That, I guess, makes him a monster. Also, whatever else he is, he’s a being who can do things Nagare simply can’t, even when he hulks up and digs deep into his bag of spiritual tricks.

But for all his insistance that he’s the baddest mofo-in’ monster around, Ushio was still trying to obey Ushio’s wishes by not killing Nagare—only for Nagare to make him go far enough to kill him anyway.

I don’t see Tora being genuinely contrite enough to convince Ushio it was an accident, and I don’t see Ushio (if and when he returns, or if and when Tora goes to him) easily forgiving or going back on his promise that Tora will regret it. But hey, who knows: the preview, as always, won’t show even a glimpse of what is to come.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 22

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This week somewhat inauspiciously begins with Salia being spanked like an insolent child by Embryo, for letting Ange get away. But as painful and humiliating as this experience is, there’s still a glint of defiance in Salia’s face and words. Chasing after Ange the Chosen One like an obedient errand girl is not what she signed up for; in fact, it’s one of the very reasons she defected from Arzenal in the first place.

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Aboard the Aurora, Embryo finally manipulates Emma Bronson to antagonize what looks like the beginning of a Norma/Dragon alliance, in the midst of Riza’s report that Embryo is trying to merge both their worlds to form a new one, destroying them in the process. Even if Salako & Co. are Dragons, Hilda can relate Salako’s friendship to Ange. Roselie, meanwhile, isn’t looking forward to killing Chris, but it’s her or them; something she laments with great sadness.

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Embryo expounds on his grand plans for the world by stating it will be ruled by “strong, intelligent women.” He leaves out “pliable women who will acknowledge his unlimited power and know their place below him.” At the same time, he takes no pleasure in watching Ersha grovel and beg him to restore the lives of her children. He really never intended those children to survive the merging at all. Rather, he intends Ersha to become the mother of the new world’s children, which has some pretty messed-up ramifications if you think too long about it, which, judging from Ersha’s expression, she does.

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Like Salia, Embryo essentially warns Ersha that she’s not acting like the “intelligent women” he needs for that world. Unlike Salia, he basically casts her aside and tells her to stay out of sight, whereas he at least gives Salia one more chance to prove her loyalty. Salia won’t be doing that, though.

It looks like her spanking was the straw that broke the camel’s back; she won’t prove her value to Embryo by finding Ange; she’ll prove she’s stronger by besting and killing her, going against Embryo’s wishes in a desperate bid to win his approval.

This is not the best plan, considering Embryo can bring people back from the dead at will, but even if her judgement-quashing inferiority complex is still as strong as ever, at least she now realizes how much of a sack of shit Embryo is. Ripping up her Pretty Salian cosplay is as strong a symbol as any that she’s done playing the heroine.

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Ersha, meanwhile, realizes how appallingly naive she’s been, and how easily she allowed Embryo to win her obedience by manipulating her powerful maternal instincts. In both her and Salia’s case, they were girls with ambitions (albeit very different ones) that got their way, and now that they’ve seen how thin the veneer of Embryo’s goodness extends, They’re both well and truly disillusioned, and will no longer follow him.

Chris is different, in that nothing happened to her this week that suggests she’ll be going against Embryo. Embryo is her best bud, after all; the one person who would simply be her friend the way no one else ever did. Her ambitions are far smaller by comparison, and so easier to both fulfill and maintain. Are Chris, Roselie, and Hilda doomed to try and kill one another without ever reconciling the often twisted shit they’ve all been through? Or will something Embryo does cause CHris to revolt as well? I hope it’s the latter.

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Meanwhile, Tusk’s chopper-thingy deposits Ange on his island and releases her, and it doesn’t take long for the same crushing loneliness Tusk must have felt in the years he was here to sink in for her, combined with her grief over losing both Tusk and Momoka. Ange can’t see the purpose of trying to save a world she can’t share with those two very important people.

She even considers taking her life, before remembering Tusk’s final words to her about her having to live. But reading Tusk’s diary, including the entry when she arrived (not Ange’s best outing), at which point he’d already chosen to be her knight, only makes Ange more upset. She may have spared her own life for now, but she still can’t see the point of sparing it indefinitely.

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And then, all of a sudden, as she remarks on how she’d have gone all the way with Tusk if she’d known he’d sacrifice himself, Tusk pops up behind her, alive and well! She thinks it’s another of Embryo’s illusions at first, but I had a pretty good idea it was Tusk. Am I going to defend this ridiculous plot twist? No, but I can understand it: You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it; we never saw Tusk actually die in the explosion.

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Having tasted the bitterness of losing Tusk, Ange isn’t going to side-step the issue of the furtherance of their relationship any longer. On the contrary, she has sex with Tusk right then and there, under the stars, to prove it’s really him. Afterwards, it’s as if all of that sexual tension had simply melted away, leaving two far calmer, less distracted people.

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Momoka’s back too, because Hell, why not? She had a frying pan in her clothes that stopped a bullet. I’m more on the side of happy than angry they’re back, even if it’s very sudden. The why isn’t really important, only the that. And that Tusk and Momoka are alive means Ange has far stronger motivations to stop Embryo.

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I just don’t see how she’s going to do it considering how easily he dispatched them last time. Maybe these two finally getting laid was the key?

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 21

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Hilda leads a team composed of herself, Roselie, Vivi, Tusk, and the three new pilots to invade Misurugi and rescue Ange, in an action-packed episode that satisfactorily juggles all the involved parties and all their individual stakes and relationships, both forged and shattered. Ange is ultimately freed from Embryos clutches, but it’s only another temporary victory, and it comes at the greatest cost yet.

To think Hilda, Roselie, and Chris started out as an annoying “popular girl clique” that shunned Ange. They’ve come a long way. Hilda is fighting for Ange, Roselie is fighting for Hilda and her novice riders, and Chris is fighting for her new, true friend, Embryo-sama. She looks back in retrospect and concludes that even before Hilda and Roselie “left her for dead”, they were never really her friends. Despite Hilda’s harsh words earlier in the show, I don’t think that’s true, but tempers are too high for any hope of reconciliations.

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Chris knocks out Villkiss’ power, and it ditches in the river. Momoka rescues Ange and tries to get her away by car before Embryo unveils another one of his little tricks: the ability to turn any mana-user into a homonculus. Ane manages to snap Momoka out of it, but throngs of zombie Misurugi citizens converge. Embryo proves as tenacious as ever in cornering Ange and bending her to his will.

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While Hilda and Chris value Embryo as a lover and best mate, respectively, Ersha is doing everything for the kids, not him. So when, in the crossfire of the battle, all those kids get slaughtered, Ersha too loses all possible compunction to ever side with Ange and her cohorts again. Now, I imagine, whatever is left of her life will be dedicated to making sure those kids are avenged.

Chris, meanwhile, takes a sadistic amount of relish in killing off Marika, one of Roselie’s novice riders who came to cover her teacher’s escape. Her end is neither as surprising or as gory as Coco and Miranda’s, but it again escalates the conflict between these former comrades-in-arms, and even proves Embryo’s point that with or without the light of mana, it doesn’t take much to turn once somewhat reasonable humans into monsters.

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Embryo’s intention to punish Ange are thwarted by her trusty, horny knight, who stalls Embryo so Ange and Momoka can escape. After getting in a dig about how Tusk, the final member of “ancient people”, is nothing but a monkey, Embryo ends the stalling by shooting himself in the head.

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Just when we think Ange is home free, with the ocean and skies sprawling out before her, Momoka is taken over by Embryo once again, as he sips tea down on a balcony below them. You have to credit Embryo with being so damn hard to foil, though that’s a given when you have the powers of a god. Frankly, anyone who attempts to oppose such a powerful being has never seemed to have a very good approach for actually doing so, and the fact he’s immortal makes that unpreparedness understandable.

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Ange is then forced to watch as Momoka, whom Embryo has powered up to the very limits of her body, slashes at Tusk with a sword. Ange is able to break Embryo’s hold on her once more, saving Tusk, but then Momoka goes after Embryo while using her mana to make a huge truck hit them and push them off a cliff. It’s one final act of valor and love from Momoka, but I wonder if she didn’t squander her life trying to take out someone who couldn’t be taken out. Ange did tell her and Tusk that Embryo can’t be killed, right?

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No matter. Even if she did know she couldn’t kill him, she could slow him down, and prevent herself from being used as a homonculus again. Tusk does the same thing, sacrificing himself with a suicide bomb in order to buy time for Ange’s escape, which isn’t her choice, as he sets auto-cruise and cuffs her to his ship.

And just like that, Momoka and Tusk, two of the people Ange cared about most, are gone. Seeing the stunned pain in Ange’s face and voice at this realization, one almost can’t fault those who surrendered and sided with Embryo, because this is the price of opposing him, with the final cost yet unknown.

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Stray Observations:

  • I know it’s indicative of far more insidious elements of their dynamic in the past, but Chris is kinda overreacting over the other two making her lose one of her braids when they only gave her a clip for one. She could have, you know, spoke up for herself regarding her hairstyle preference.
  • The fact Embryo can make any one, or any number, of mana-users into his own zombie army seems like a wildly underused power up to this point.
  • Continuing with its utterly irreverent theme of the previews, Ange considers simply replacing the fallen Tusk and Momoka with Hilda and Roselie…but ironically that’s essentially what I see happening!
  • Tusk may have died a virgin, but no one can say he didn’t have his share of interesting experiences with women.
  • I assume Salia was knocked out this entire episode.

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 20

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The above scene is a blatant, laughable lie, one proven to be one mere minutes later when Embryo puts the exact same moves on Ange (Also, why does he always get fully dressed before her? Can’t he snuggle Pretty Salian once in a while?). But Salia accepts it, because talk of love or destiny aside, Salia’s made a deal with Embryo.

She gets to live out her fantasy, and he gets to have her mind and body. Embryo is essentially an immortal pimp, and he makes each woman he manipulates feel like they’re his queen, through offering things they want most.

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Angelise is former royalty, so he continues to treat her as such with lovely invitation letters, second flush Darjeeling, and more honeyed words, many of them recycled from speeches with the other women. Salia doesn’t even care what Ange wants or does from this point on, as long as she’s not there to steal her spotlight and her man.

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“These are the implants I’ve had designed for you. We’re gonna make you a STAR!”

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But the same flattering, nurturing faux-kindness doesn’t work on Ange. She’s the same warrior she was when she pulverized that dragon back when she got stranded on that island. If she has a blade and a threat, she’s going to take it out. This time, Ange tries to make her point clearer by making Embryo suffer.

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Little does she know Embryo is going easy on her out of real kindness, preferring to turn her with a minimum of suffering. When he pops back again, alive and well, he reluctantly resorts to stronger measures, and it’s here that we start to take Embryo a bit more seriously.

He did create Ange’s race of humans, after all; it stands to reason he has all the tools at his disposal to manipulate them at will. Playing nice didn’t work on Ange, so he makes things far more elemental: zapping her brain with 50xPain, followed by 50xPleasure. It’s not a pretty sight, even for an eavesdropping Salia.

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What makes this episode the best in a long time is just how nicely it balances development of the careening plot with a bevy of truly great character moments, and because there are so many of them, the pacing is brisk and thrilling. Take Roselie sneaking into Hilda’s room, where Roselie comes to terms with the fact Hilda has fallen for Ange, while she herself admits she loves Chris, and always had the wrong idea about who looked out for whom. They want to be with Ange an Chris again, and Hilda knows that’s not going to happen as long as Jill is in command.

To do something about it, they’ll need help, which means recruiting the gaoled Tusk and Vivian. Hilda initially tries to seduce Tusk, but despite the rumors his head is almost constantly in Ange’s crotch (a gross exaggeration), Hilda is almost disappointed to find that he never slept with her, confirming what Ange said, and is in fact saving himself, like a true knight. Hilda just calls him a “loser”, but he’s also a useful loser, so they make an accord.

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Jill, meanwhile, can’t get Embryo-sama out of her head, so she dons her flight suit and attempts to fly off, leaving Libertus and her crew behind. Hilda organizes and stages the most necessary mutiny ever, and in Jill’s fractured state she’s no match against people with far clearer heads. It’s an awesome bring-down, especially since we learn soon after that Jill needed and wanted to be saved…from herself.

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“How was I supposed to explain? That I went to kill Embryo, but instead he took my body and mind?”

This is the crux of Jill’s sad story, which there’s no point in concealing from her crew any longer, and it really nicely explains all of her actions and attitudes to this point, helping us see her in a far more sympathetic light. Jill may have been an ace mail-rider and royalty and pilot to Villkiss but she’s still only human, and able to be reprogrammed into submission by her creator, the very same curse that befalls all other humans, mana-using or not.

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This is a fact Embryo wishes to impart onto Ange in no uncertain terms, as he enjoys another cup of tea in Dave Bowman’s 2001 Bedroom as a topless Ange flails about on the floor in rapidly fluctuating states of acute pain, pleasure, and amusement. It’s a sickening scene, like watching one of the replicants in Blade Runner go berserk before blowing up.

This is no longer a battle of wills, but a battle of science. Even if her will continues to resist longer than Jill’s or Salias, Ange’s body and mind will only hold up so long against this punishment. When Embryo leaves her, Salia comes in, pleading with Ange again to go away, for both their sakes.

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Salia isn’t going to excuse what she did to get to where she is. Even if Jill deserved to be betrayed, Salia still chose to do so. She traded her pride, duty, and chastity for pleasure, the illusion of true love, and utter dependence on Embryo, just like Jill. But Salia did this because she felt she had no other choice but death, and she’d be right. Embryo is a repellent slimeball, but he’s all Salia has left. She’s either abandoned or revoked everything else.

They may have had their differences, but deep down Salia has always known that Ange was stronger than her; even the sweating, shambling half-naked wretch at her feet is stronger than her (the bit about ‘without having to transform’ is particularly devastating). In Salia’s self-narrative, Ange has been cast as her nemesis, so it does the heroine no good to see the nemesis in such a pathetic state. She’s not just begging Ange to flee Embryo out of the kindness of her heart, but because she needs Ange to continue to be strong, or all the rest of that fantasy falls apart.

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Salia isn’t brainwashed. She’s just chosen the path that she thought would give her the most happiness, and accepted the steep costs. She hasn’t really even transformed herself: the garb and weaponry and love Embryo showers her with is just another form of cosplay, and Salia remains hidden behind those facades because she fears if they were all torn down there’d be nothing at the core. I hope she’s proven wrong.

Ange thanks Salia for freeing her, and even repays her by putting her in a sleep hold and stealing her uniform, hoping it will lessen Salia’s punishment for letting her get away. I’m not convinced Embryo will be so forgiving to a tool that turned out to be defective.

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Plot and character really went hand-in-hand in this well-composed episode, with the anti-Embryo parties starting to coalesce. Jill gives Hilda command of the Aurora and Libertus; Tusk, Vivian, Roselie, and the rest of the crew are behind her plan to rescue Ange. Ange is able to summon Villkiss and escape with Momoka.

Her escape is covered by Salako, which would be an awfully convenient effect, if it didn’t have such a solid cause: Momoka shows an act of kindness and forgiveness by freeing the battered Riza Randog, who is able to contact her Dragon commander. So nice assist from Momoka, an unsung heroine of the series.

Even if Embryo has control over the bodies and minds of all who oppose him, in the case of Hilda with Jill, Momoka with Riza, and Salia with Ange, the capacity for genuine kindness, forgiveness, and love may be effective weapons against him. But at the end of the day, while his methods repel, Embryo is no entity of pure evil. He too a victim of his own immortality, arrogance, and the belief he must bear the entire weight of the world upon his shoulders.

That means if his creations find a way to really kill him, he may not necessarily resist that chance to be freed from his curse, thus ending obsession with “getting humanity right this time.”

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 19

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Back from her DRAGONcation, Ange saw the Arzenal/Libertus “new normal” aboard the Aurora last week, only to learn that Jill wasn’t someone she could count on to accomplish her goals. When she leaves the Aurora with Tusk, Momoka, and Vivian, they’re quickly captured by Ersha, Chris, and Salia, and we travel back to Misurugi, where it all began, and to these girls’ “new normal.” Of course, first the show acts as if Ange was fatally shot, but obviously she’s not dead.

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Momoka couldn’t be happier to be back in the capital, dressing and tending to her princess. Ange is looking for escape. She finds it when Salia comes in throwing her weight around; the new captain of the “Order of the DIamond Rose.” (So lame.) Salia explains how Embryo saved her and gave her everything she ever wanted because he loves her. Ange’s response is why she’s not called the Burn Princess for nothing: “You were adrift in the world, and then a new owner picked her up.”

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She pokes Salia in her boob with a pen and quickly overpowers both her and her two subordinates, even getting in a dig at Salia’s new uniform, saying the Pretty Salian cosplay suited her better. In terms of physical and psychological dominance, Ange really rules the day in this scene, even if I still have quite a bit of sympathy for poor Salia, who was raised to obey, not dominate. And Embryo did save her from a terrible drowning death.

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As soon as I saw the little Arzenal orphans running around the palace grounds with Ersha, I knew why she went over to Embryo. He literally brought the little ones back to life and let Ersha bring them to Misurugi to care for them.Ersha has what she’s always wanted: to be able to protect the children, and like a momma grizzly, she’ll show no mercy to anyone who threatens them, even Ange.

Like Salia, Chris was abandoned and left for dead, only to be saved and befriended by Embryo. And all Chris ever wanted was a friend. Embryo even lets Sylvia, who is still very much insane, lead a naked Riza around like a dog and whip her when she brings her the wrong book in the library.

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It isn’t until halfway through the episode that Ange comes face to face with Embryo, who immediately gives Salia pause when he asks to be left alone with the princess. Just like Jill, he’s far more interested in Ange, who is the first human in a long time who has interested him more than the characters in his beloved books. That’s another way of saying the likes of Salia don’t interest him. He’s given her everything she wants, but in exchange for her allegiance, and with the understanding that there isn’t anything deep or profound beneath any of it.

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Embryo takes Ange far beneath Misurugi to show her Aura, whose plight she’s already learned from Salako. Ange uses Embryo’s lowered guard to pull a gun on him, but no matter how many times she kills him, he comes right back, like a bishonen Kyuubey. It’s clear this is an enemy unlike any other Ange has faced: one with the powers of a god. A god who “tunes the sound of the world” can’t be defeated with guns.

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Embryo turns the tables by putting Ange into some kind of hypnotic trance, telling him all of the love, peace of mind, friendship, trust, and belonging he’s given her former comrades. He offers those same things to Ange, and even gets her to undress before him so he can get a good look at what is to be his prized possession and tool.

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Then he kisses her, Ange remembers her true knight Tusk, and snaps right the fuck out of it. Far from being hurt that she’d rebuke him so coldly, the mere fact that she could resist him is, arguably, even more preferable to her easily falling under his spell. Ange is a part of the world Embryo created and should be able to tune her like anyone or anything else…but he can’t.

This golden-haired, fiery-eyed princess is living proof his powers aren’t limitless, a claim that hasn’t been challenged for thousands of years. Perhaps those centuries have made him weary, and this is what he’s been seeking all along; what Salia and even Jill couldn’t provide (as it’s clear from her nightmares she was under his thrall): a human heart and will that can truly resist him.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 18

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Ange arrives aboard the Libertus flagship and mobile HQ Aurora, with her knight, filled with flowery ideas about convincing her former Arzenal comrades to join forces with the DRAGON to put out the Light of Mana. Unfortunately for her, Jill isn’t going to fight with people she doesn’t trust, and she sure as hell doesn’t trust the DRAGONs; nor does anyone else aboard the sub. Why would they, after all the death and destruction their raids caused?

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The Aurora is shiny and bright and being run just as Arzenal was, but I’m glad the episode shows us that wasn’t always the case. Seeing the state of the Arzenal survivors when they first set off, it’s not surprising that if Jill kept them alive they would rally around her cause, even if the odds were hardly in their favor.

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Jill held the crew together…well, most of them; Salia, Ersha, and Chris deserted and joined Embryo, which will prove telling later in the episode. I was also glad for the “slice-of-life aboard a rebel submarine” after. Momoka’s role as ship’s cook; the three bridge girls becoming mail-riders; a drunk and depressed but still grateful Emma; and especially Hilda, who’s really happy Ange is back, and even happier she hasn’t slept with Tusk yet. Hilda and Ange have had their spats, but they’ve come out of it all as something resembling friends, and it’s clear Hilda wouldn’t mind if they became something more.

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But I knew something about Jill’s mission is off, and we should have seen it coming when Roselie, one of the most oblivious and least informed characters on the show, says “Jill is only one we can trust in the world.” An enraging memory of being beneath a nude Embryo seals it: liberating the world isn’t as important as her personal vendetta, which twists into an obsession within the cramped confines of the Aurora. Whenever she says “Libertus”, she’s actually referring to her own selfish whims.

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She tells Ange she’s changed her mind about working with the DRAGON, but only to use them as cannon fodder, one more tool to reach her goals. Ange refuses to obey, but Jill is ready for that, having endured the bitter taste of the princess’s insubordination many times before, by threatening to toss Momoka out of an airlock if Ange doesn’t fall in line. And now we know: Jill has become Admiral Cain.

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Tusk’s very suspicious late-night visit to the paramail hangar (this is a submarine carrier,  donchaknow) is explained, as he releases gas throughout the ship while he, Ange and Vivian don gas masks. Tusk may be a horny fake-klutz, but he’s also one hell of a knight for Ange, preemptively preparing an escape route should their encounter with Libertus go sour, which it surely did, and in a breathless hurry.

But, again, it’s all because of Jill. The other Arzenal elders didn’t know about the hostage, nor did they know how bad Jill’s obsession had grown. Because this isn’t just about her killing Embryo for some wrong he perpetrated against her. This is about righting the wrong that was her failure. She failed as Vilkiss’ pilot, but she can save face if she makes Ange succeed for her. It doesn’t matter to her anymore how many of her own people or how many DRAGONs have to be sacrificed.

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Jill recovers from the gas and blocks Ange’s path, but Ange puts the still-woozy ex-commander down with a slick-looking kick, obviously the product of her military and athletic training as princess. Ange’s response to Jill’s scheming: “No one knows what’s right…But I hate the way you get things done!” She then takes to the air with Tusk, Momoka, and Vivian, and enjoys the gorgeous blue sky and warm sun, and even flashes a cute Nausicaa pose before Ersha zooms into range…and not to say “Hi.”

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Ange decides she’ll destroy Embryo herself, in her own way. Jill is right that Ange has been through all kinds of hell and torture and has every right to want to destroy the world, regardless of who’s giving the orders. But Ange has changed. She wants to create a world where she can look Momoka, Vivian, Salako, Hilda, and Tusk in the eye without the shame of having used them as tools to satisfy her thirst for revenge. She wants to protect and preserve, not exploit and punish.

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Stray Observations:

  • “If you want to play with your boyfriend in a pink flower garden, do it after our mission is accomplished!” – Harsh burn from Jill.
  • The Opening sequence has been tweaked to include new shots of the Aurora crew, and one interesting still of Hilda holding a nervous Tusk…as Roselie holds Hilda’s hand. I know, these images bear only slight resemblance to actual events in the show, but it’s an interesting choice
  • Tusk casually points out he’s not actually a Norma, but no one is listening.
  • Jill is awful this week, but the show makes sure as villain-y as she gets near the end, she’s far from pure evil, merely incredibly wounded and misguided, with a great weight on her shoulders.
  • I’d say she still has compassion since she let Emma stay with them, but that’s probably because you can never have too many magic-users in your quiver. Another tool, in other words.
  • In the preview, Hilda laments that she only got a little screen time this week, only to be missing from the events of the next episode. Poor Hilda.
  • That same preview shows a naked Salia in what I assume Embryo’s bed, proving Ange’s burn/guess correct.
  • If one considers that at some point in the past Alektra was also in that bed, the romantic web and its resultant emotional fallout grows ever more complex. Like A/Z, Ange has taken a more space opera vibe in its second half: All the conflict begins and ends in bed, or more generally, in people’s hearts.

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 13

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Cross Ange wastes no time getting back into the swing of things, picking up where we left off: an obviously phony ‘rescue flotilla’ commanded by Julio. He’s only after Angelise, Villkiss, and other Mail Riders, and he gives orders to exterminate the rest.

Everyone has to decide what to do quickly. Jill proclaims the official start of the rebellion and orders all of Arzenal’s defenses turned against Julio’s fleet. She also orders Salia to retrieve Ange at all costs. Yes, retrieving the real savior is now pretty much the most important thing poor Salia can do.

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Ange isn’t interested in going along with Salia or Jill. At the moment, she’s only thinking short-term: Get Julio. Momoka helps spring her (with pepper, of all things), and after assessing the slaughter (and taking out child-killing soldiers whose defense is ‘just following orders’, which is never a good defense) she races to Villkiss.

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Even though she’s totally outmatched, Salia still tries to stop Ange, who is having none of it, trashing Salia’s mail and ditching her in the sea. Salia must watch helplessly as the woman who has all the power and privilege and importance she doesn’t have utterly reject it for her own reasons.

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Back in Arzenal’s wreck of a landing bay, Hilda displays bravery and selflessness despite the odds, even literally taking a bullet for Chris, whom she scorned so bitterly not too long ago. As the three reunited girls take off, an errant human solider gets a headshot on Chris. Damn.

However, the cutting back to Chris, followed by Embryo eventually healing her, makes this nothing more than a close call, though at this point both Hilda and Rose still think she’s dead.

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Free of Salia, Ange paints the sea red by sinking every ship in Julio’s fleet before slicing off the front of the bridge where he cowers and bargains for his life. Before Ange can finish him, Embryo blocks her blow with his own paramail, not wanting her ‘divine flame’ to be tarnished ‘burning useless things.’ He kills Julio himself, likely pissed off the emperor launched the Arzenal attack without his leave.

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While Julio is eaten up by the white light of destruction, and Good Riddance, Riza takes wing and escapes—topless, no less—suddenly down a royal puppet. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of her, boring a character as she is. Meanwhile, with no one left alive on Arzenal, Jill sets off with the survivors aboard the submarine Aurora (which we’re just now hearing about) to start her rebellion in earnest.

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“Own-Agenda Ange”, meanwhile, does something else new with her Villkiss when Embryo targets an approaching Tusk (with Vivian), who says Embryo is a very dangerous dude (and is probably right). Villkiss turns blue, sidles up to Tusk’s ride, and they teleport away before Embryo can destroy him.

Good:

  • A great overarching sense of all hell breaking loose, because it does
  • Nice character beats with Ange/Salia hitting a new low and Hilda/Chris/Roselie reconciling
  • Tusk was used sparingly but well this week, kicking ass and saving Vivian.
  • Julio’s dead. Who’s in charge of the empire now?
  • The new opening theme is fantastic.

Not so good:

  • Julio’s fleet and assault force was awfully easy to defeat.
  • lot of people died, and died horribly, but they were all nameless extras.
  • Where the heck did that awesome sub come from?
  • Another “Tusk and Ange on an island’ episode next week. Oh dear…

Verdict: Lots of huge and exciting developments this week, delivered with confidence, if not finesse. We’ll see where they lead. The Norma are now far less numerous and more vulnerable without a base, but the empire took its licks, too. Not a bad start at all for Cross Ange’s second half.

P.S. I just discovered Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Gakuen, which is a comedy 4koma that puts the same cast in a high school setting. Take that for what you will.

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Franklin’s Take:

This week got all the explodey-killy terror we’ve come to expect from Ange and… just sort of flailed around incoherently and undid the most meaningful emotional moments. Dead Chris and children revive, Vivian is rescued, and Ange still gets to win the day no matter how much she runs off on her own.

If i still thought as highly of this show as I once did, I’d wonder if the entire structure was making fun of red herrings. For example, the episode opens by introducing FIVE new mail pilots who, presumably, immediately die off camera.

But thirteen episodes in and I wonder how well thought out or intentionally critical Ange really is? Sure, it can be over the top and ruthless. But is it all just for shock value or is there a point to this?

For now, I’m not really sure…

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Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 06

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Haruna creates a Makie decoy and distracts the human soldiers while Kirishima (still in a stuffed bear) protects the real Makie. After her contact with Makie, Haruna finds she isn’t able to kill the soldiers, so attacks them non-lethally. This drains her energy, and the decoy dissipates. The soldiers find Makie and Kirishima and open fire, but Haruna shields them in time, becoming pinned down herself. She pleads for someone to save them, and Iona and the I-401 arrive to do just that.

After last week’s fiasco, we approached this episode in a bit of a sour mood and with much trepidation. Could Blue Steel manage to pull out of this tailspin? Things were looking grim in the first minutes, with Makie’s lame dying creator-dad breaking out this gem:

You were created as a puppet. And yet, I came to care for you. And now, you are attempting to form a bond with the enemies of humanity. How ironic.

It’s not ironic, it’s just freaking stupid. Anyway, we weren’t about to let this show break our spirits and defeat us, any more than Haruna was going to let those army dudes lay a hand on her dear new friend. So we decided to accentuate the positives. Fortunately, there were far more than we anticipated.

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First of all, as the episode progressed we actually bought into Haruna’s sudden friendship with Makie. She’s Fog after all, so a day of contact is apparently enough for her to form an intense bond with a human, to the point she fights with everything she’s got, but stops herself from killing. All her amassed data and observations led to that bond and the development of emotions, which end up circumventing her Fog directives. There’s also a nice symmetry to Kirishima getting caught up in Haruna’s new-found compassion, just as Haruna got caught up in Kirishima’s sabre-rattling in the naval battle.

Secondly, there was no shortage of “Fuck Yeah!” moments throughout: From Haruna stepping out into the hall to face off with the soldiers, to all of her myriad bullet-deflecting and gun-melting, helicopter-killing tactics. Ridiculous as it was, watching Teddy-Kirishima kick ass was still hilariously awesome to behold. And Iona’s timely arrival and subsequent pwnage of the soldiers—irrespective of her past beef with her Fog sisters—was also most satisfying. This episode did much to assuage the grief last week’s stoked; for the moment, the series seems to be back on track.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Valvrave the Liberator – 17

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Haruto learns that anyone who pilots Valvrave will eventually end up an empty shell like Marie. The Dorssian Royalists ask New JIOR to destroy a covert Dorssian submarine, the Phantom, in exchange for supplies. Yamada and Akira are sent to search for Rukino, while L-elf and Haruto infiltrate the sub as the others stand by in the stolen transport hidden underwater. Meanwhile X-eins is summoned by Colonel Cain to the “Castle of No Return” in Grunau.

A concerned H-neun beats X there, and Cain hunts him down. In the bowels of the Phantom, L-elf and Haruto find a hundreds of unconscious people having Runes extracted. When L-elf threatens to make Satomi pilot Unit 1, Haruto pilots it instead, sets off a volcanic eruption, and mops up the Dorssian forces attacking the transport. X-eins arrives at the castle, where Cain laments he has to start “the ceremony” over again.

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While they started out as monolithic, brutal Space Nazis—an opaque villain to root against, the Dorssians have become a lot more textured and nuanced, starting obviously with L-elf’s decision to revolt against his own people, but carried through with all of the military-political intrigue involving Cain, and the fact that he’s not really human, but some kind of godlike being who’s up to no good. And obviously conscious that it has a whole season to fill, the series is delving even deeper into the everyday lives, pasts, and motivations of L-elf’s former comrades, namely H-neun and X-eins.

Meanwhile Haruto and L-elf get some quality time together, and Haruto, with his post-Marie nightmares and the knowledge he’s being slowly killed by his mecha, appears to waver, and L-elf decides that maybe it would be best if more JIORans resign their humanity so the burden can be shared. This has the semi-intentional effect of rattling Haruto’s cage to the point where he jumps back into the cockpit and raises hell, vowing never to share his unit – or his curse – with anyone else. Which leads to him setting off a friggin’ volcano, which is such Valvrave-y thing to do.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • R.I.P. Marie…though she’s not so much dead as…decompiled into oblivion, which sucks.
  • Considering how cruelly logical L-Elf is, we’re surprised he sent a search party after Rukino, but we know she’ll be back, as we’ve already seen her in the distant future last season.
  • The whole sequence at the castle…yeah. That was awkward and kind of silly, an we’re not just talking about big jars of green glitter. There was just something absurd about Cain chasing one of his former subordinates through the house taking potshots at him. It had an air of horseplay to it, as the culty guys sat around their table doin’ culty-ass shit.
  • In rattling Haruto’s cage, L-elf also impresses upon him how personally frustrated he is to not be able to pilot a Valvrave, which in his mind makes him “powerless,” relegated to commanding troops, but lacking the strength to fight on the front lines, something Haruto not only takes for granted, but despises
  • Grunau Castle reminded us a little of Muska’s huge fortress from Castle in the Sky.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 04

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Fog fast battleships Kirishima and Haruna launch an assault on Yokosuka, breaching her defensive wall, entering the harbor within and laying waste to the human navy. Chihaya employs a number of unconventional tactics to keep the battleships off-balance, but lacking the firepower to pierce their Klein fields, I-401 has to goad them into docking together and charging their supergravity cannon. They fire a torpedo from a remote launcher hidden in the sunken museum ship Mikasa, which passes through the temporary hole in their foe’s field, sinking both ships. Haruna’s mental model barely escapes with Kirishima’s core, and is found unconscious by a human girl.

This week Blue Steel returns to its strengths, serving up its most exciting battle yet, and the I-401’s most improbable victory. Iona is outnumbered 2-1 and outgunned by a large degree, but once again, her human crew nullifies the shortcomings of her specs. The fog battleships seem to have more power than they know what to do with. The aggressive, arrogant Kirishima simply lashes out, getting more and more annoyed when things don’t go her way, and while the calm, analytical Haruna sees some value in human communication, she allows herself to be caught up in her partner’s intensity, and pays dearly for it, understanding in her moment of defeat the true feeling the word “regret” represents.

It’s a real pleasure to watch the underdog I-401 crew poke and prod their superior foes as they navigate the sunken ruins of old Yokosuka, finally playing their trump card at the most opportune moment. It’s a very close shave, but as Captain Haddock says, “All’s well that ends well.” While she’s still afloat, Kirishima’s demonstration of her arsenal makes for an imposing spectacle, even more so when she and Haruna literally part the friggin’ sea, then merge into a single unit (which leads to their downfall, as they also become a single target.) As Chihaya defeats fog ships with Iona, he’s also converting them; being defeated by humans means seeing value in them; value Kongo ignores at her peril.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 03

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I-401 enters the fortress port of Yokosuka, but after docking, the crew taken into custody by the army, who escorts them to dinner with former admiral and current diet member Kita Ryoukan. He doesn’t believe Iona can be trusted, and demands that Captain Chihaya surrender her to the military. Cihaya refuses, and the dinner is interrupted by an attack by the Fog battleships Kirishima and Haruna. Iona neutralizes the soldiers surrounding them, and the crew boards her and prepares for battle. Meanwhile, Submarines I-400 and I-402 have found Takao, who has decided to leave the fleet, seeking Chihaya as her captain.

So the ragtage young crew of the I-401 leave the perilous high seas for the safety of a port, only to find themselves entering the jaws of an old lion in Admiral Kita – complete with epic beard. But aside from sticking a bunch of automatic rifles in unarmed a bunch of unarmed kids’ faces, he doesn’t accomplish much. In fact, the whole episode lagged a bit, owing to the fact it was the first without a naval battle in it. With nothing loud and shiny to distract us, we couldn’t help but wonder how a raw material-starved country with no access to the sea and a decimated fleet were able to build a gigantic fortress wall around one of their major ports, complete with underground dock. Why would the Fog leave them alone long enough to complete it in peace? Also, the characters look cool, but their appeal is only surface-deep.

The crew members are little more than their jobs; Iona is playing the dense robot role – not understanding cemeteries and what not – while Chihaya is full of determination and gumption, but is a bit wishy-washy in his goals. Everyone is lacking in personality, with the possible exception of Takao, the one character in this series who’s actually changed, though she went from uninspiring villain to vapid love interest. Blue Steel is a series blessed with impeccable good looks, but to hold our interest, it needs to keep the action and combat going at a steady clip. Taking its foot of the gas exposed the flaws lurking just beneath its sheen, we’d overlooked up to this point. The good news is, with two Fog battleships entering the mix, next week should be better.


Rating: 6 (Good)