Vinland Saga S2 – 01 – Living is Winning

After a thoroughly badass James Bond-style OP followed by a downright poetic sequence about carving “that warmth” into anything and everything, Vinland Saga’s second season settles in the idyllic home of Einar, who lives there with his little sister Lotta and their mother. He’s practicing hacking with an axe in case their home is attacked again (the last time claiming their father), but their mother tells her children that as long as they’re alive, they haven’t lost.

Things don’t go well for Einar’s family, as their home is burned and pillaged. When the three try to flee, the mother is felled by an arrow, and neither Einar nor Lotta are able to leave her behind and keep running. Instead they are paralyzed by the prospect of doing so. When Lotta is carried away she stabs her captor in the neck, and is killed for it. Einar is taken away to be sold as a slave.

After a passage from the Old Norse poem Hávamál equating one with no love in their life to a fir tree on a barren land, Einar is on a boat filled with other slaves, one of the women can’t stop coughing. Their captors determine she won’t survive, so they toss her overboard to drown. Einar protests, but his captors are as cruel and unreceptive to mercy as the brooding ocean waves that churn before him. Once ashore, he and the others are washed and fed and put on display in the market.

Einar tries to escape, fleeing to a farm and stealing some food, but is immediately re-caught and severely beaten as a message to the other slaves: There’s no escape. There’s no going home. In this world, it is better to be a slave and be fed for their work than a runaway beggar. The world is utterly uninterested in your welfare.

Our first familiar face appears at the market, when the slaver presents Einar to Leif. Leif isn’t interested, as he’s looking for his relative, Thorfinn. But before departing, he grabs Einar’s arm and apologizes. It’s the first time anyone has apologized to Einar since he lost his home and family. He envies the man Leif is looking for, since it means there’s someone in the world who still cares about him.

Eventually a farmer inspects Einar and agrees to buy him, and escorts him to his sprawling farm, which reminds Einar of the idyllic home that was destroyed and stolen from him—the home and the family he was trying to defend, but could not.

At this farm, Einar meets the “blonde, small” guy Leif was looking for: our boy Thorfinn, who is chopping trees at the border of the woods. He has the look of someone who is carrying on with the same determination Einar’s mother demanded: to survive, and live at any cost, is what it means to truly win.

It may not feel anything like winning to Thorfinn or Einar. Their wait has only just begun, and may end fruitlessly. But as long as their wait continues, and their hearts continue to pump blood, they still carry the potential to carve their mark into the world. Maybe they can help one another.

To Your Eternity – S2 06 – The Church of Heavy Metal

When Parona!Fushi mentions how they’ve been reading up on the concept of marriage and the “fluffy feeling” she gets from Kahaku and others, he embraces them, and that’s when Fushi becomes nauseous. As it happens, even if Fushi were open to becoming Kahaku’s wife, that’s not something Parona would tolerate. The very touch of Kahaku repels Parona, who was murdered by Hayase. Bon orders Kahaku to stay away from Fushi for the time being.

The campaign to gain Fushi followers continues in the next city, but this time many of the townsfolk have heard rumors that Fushi can now resurrect the dead. While true in the case of Anna, this comes as a surprise to Fushi, since Bon never told them. Fushi is shunted off into an alley, where a Bennett priest warns them that Bon is to be arrested and executed for heresy, but if Fushi surrenders willingly, their friends will be spared.

Fushi agrees, but neither Kahaku nor Todo buy what the Church is selling. Bon, when approached by Bishop Cylira, he grudgingly agrees to give Fushi up in exchange for a recommendation from the Church that Bon ascend to the throne of Uralis. It’s not what he wants, but it’s what’s best for his kingdom, and also what he’s been working for his whole life.

Todo whips up the crowd, and a town guard captain seemingly has Team Fushi’s back when he insists the church prove Fushi is a demon and not a servant of God. Cylira does so by giving Fushi a test: if they can’t revive a recently-deceased bishop, the church will have its proof.

Fushi, who at this point is still convinced they can’t revive anyone, copies the bishop’s corpse but is unable to revive him. They’re seized, and when Bon, Todo, and Kahaku try to intervene, Todo is stabbed by a sword and Bon is knocked out.

Bon comes to in an open-air cell suspended above a canyon, stripped of his gramps’ heirloom armor. Fushi is arguably worse off, as they’ve been sealed in a solid iron box. Fushi transforms into Gugu and breathes fire on the circular hatch, but can’t quite get it hot enough to melt the iron. After several attempts, Fushi starts to feel winded and nauseous.

The Beholder tells him he’s missing something they need (I’m guessing fresh air), and no matter who he transforms into, the bad feeling doesn’t subside. Then the hatch opens and molten metal starts to pour on them. The Beholder starts counting to see how long Fushi can last in a constant state of immolation and regeneration.

Of Team Fushi, only Kahaku and a handful of Guardians remain free. When they try to free Fushi from the cell in the dead of night, Pocoa emerges from her barrel and urges caution, and asks Kahaku to have faith in Bon and Fushi’s luck.

She might not be wrong, either! Todo, at least, survived the sword strike thanks to her embroidery stopping the blade before it could pierce her. Bon and Todo realize they’re in adjacent cells; perhaps they can work together. And even after over 100,000 seconds (over 27 hours), Fushi the immortal’s body still has form. All we can do is wait and see if that’s enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 06 – Scaling the Wall

Lady Prospera has a chilly reunion with her former Vanadis colleague, Bel, AKA Belmeria Winston, who says she had little choice but to join Peil Group in order to survive after the punitive assault on their facility years ago. She asks Prospera why she’s using her daughter as an instrument of revent, but Bel retorts by asking “how many” Gundam pilots there have been before Elan.

While Earth House reconsiders their opinion on Elan in light of his treatment of their new housemate, Guel is thrown out of House Jeturk and cut off from all but the remaining school tuition. He leaves with his head held high, having done what he (and I believed) to be the right thing in standing up for Suletta. She and Elan meet for pre-duel formalities, but she has yet to decide her stakes.

Earth House know theirs: the 2.7-to-1 odds they’ll enjoy if Suletta wins. Led by Nana’s cautiously-can-do attitude, they scrounge around scrap and spare parts to cobble together a flight unit for Aerial. I can only imagine Suletta’s mom didn’t provide her such a unit because she was confident her daughter would make the necessary connections.

Meanwhile, Elan undergoes more lonely testing and his blurry recurring image of a candle is interrupted by a surprise visitor in Elan … the real Elan Ceres. He’s every bit the smug, privileged aristocrat you’d imagine would be heading up Peil House, and is the rightful recipient of a future face-punch from Chuchu, Miorine, and/or even Suletta herself.

The “Elan” we’ve known thus far is no villain, only a pawn and victim, though he apparently volunteered for this with the promise he’d get his “face” back and a citizens ID should he prevail. I suspect the memories of his past life have been subordinated by the Permet conditioning.

During flight testing out in open space, Suletta is down in the dumps, feeling dumb and annoying after Elan’s hurtful words. Miorine is out there assisting with Nana, and gives her bridegroom a bit of tough love, as well as reflect back Suletta’s “move forward, gain two” credo.

Suletta snaps out of it and gets back to testing, then afterwards visits Peil House insisting to speak to Elan. She’s put over house-wide loudspeakers calling out to Elan, asking if he meant everything he said, and then singing him “Happy Birthday.” He only calls her to tell her to go home, saying he has no birthday. But we know better; her singing briefly brought his hazy memory into focus.

But the die is cast, and the next day the duel unfolds as planned, with Suletta announcing that her stake is that if she wins, Elan has to tell her all about himself. This further rankles an Elan already understandably frustrated by his lot in life; from his perspective he has absolutely nothing, while Suletta has everything, and yet still wants more from him, and won’t let him have this victory.

A thrilling space battle ensues, with both Aerial and Pharact’s Bit Control Systems dueling, and the latter suit’s superior mobility creating a long-range disadvantage for Suletta and her jury-rigged unit. Once again the corporate bigwigs—in this case Peil—arranged for unfair conditions. Perhaps they know that they need every edge they can get against Suletta and Aerial.

The entire school is watching, including Guel from his new home—a tent in the woods (I’ll admit to laughing out loud as this uncommented-on development, and part of me hoped Shimarin or Honda Tooru would show up). It looks bad for Suletta, but she has an advantage Elan doesn’t: time.

Elan has to continually up his Permet Score to maintain his edge, which takes a toll on his already depleted body. He even predicted this would be his last duel, judging from Bel’s reports on his testing. He and Suletta trade flurries of beams, and the latter’s flight suit is damaged.

Now a drifting sitting duck, Pharact’s Bits prepare to envelop Aerial as they did Guel last week, but in a development that may even come as a surprise to Suletta, an emergency defense system is activated that neutralizes the Bits and Pharact. The laughter of children can be heard as Aerial’s Bits form a spinning ring around her and then blast Pharact to hell.

Suletta has won, her house has more than doubled their money, which means they eat next month, and Miorine doesn’t have to worry about Elan becoming the Holder and her new groom. Elan drifts in defeat, but his memory finally comes into focus: a mother, his real mother, with loving eyes, presenting him with a birthday cake.

The light of the candle becomes the light of the glowing debris as Suletta stretches out her hand for him, and he takes it. As they drift together in the void, she assures him he doesn’t have nothing, and she and many others will celebrate his birthday.

As Elan flashes perhaps his first genuine smile, Miorine sits in the repair pod with Nana and endures this bit of “minor two-timing”, which extends to a second date for Suletta and Elan, so he can fulfill the stakes of the duel. Miorine leaves Suletta to await his arrival, but the clock ticks by and he doesn’t show.

Suletta cheerfully sings “Happy Birthday” once more as she waits, but she waits in vain. Elan isn’t standing her up; the Peil bigwigs have decided to scrap him. He was never anything other than a disposable tool for them, and with his failure to gain Aerial he’s no longer of any use to them. That they unceremoniously stick him in what looks like a goddamn sci-fi cremation furnace while he’s fully freaking conscious seems inhumane to the extreme.

Just as they did with new Yuru Camp cast member Guel Jeturk, Gundam successfully rehabilitated Elan’s character into someone with whom we could sympathize and root for. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll also have to grieve for him. Will the real Elan replace him in both the cockpit and at school, or will it be another “spare” with his face? Either way, Suletta’s victory is tempered by a bitter loss; the latest casualty in this corporatocracy’s unrelenting thirst for profits.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 05 – A Patch of Black Ice

For those girls (and guys) for whom the fiery Guel Jetark isn’t their cup of tea, they have the apparent opposite in Elan Ceres. They call him the “ice prince”, and long to melt his icy heart. If they only knew. Elan rarely duels, but he’s 7-0 after winning a 3-on-1 affair that was never close.

Elan is also working on behalf of Piel Technologies, but unlike Guel, he’s treated more employee than son to their four-woman leadership group. After winning, he surprises Suletta with a phone call … and asks her out on a date. Her Earth House girls go giddy (Chuchu excepted).

In another demonstration of how different she and Elan are, Suletta calls her mom, who is supportive of her daughter branching out and getting to know others better—the move forward, gain two ethos. But after getting off the phone with her daughter, Lady Prospera gets a report about Peil “making its move”—faster than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Elan hasn’t been talking to Suletta because she’s a friend; indeed, I do not believe he understands such a concept. He’s been pumping her for information and context on Aerial on behalf of the company he serves. We also see that he’s an “enhanced person” created for the sole purpose of piloting a Gundam.

This culminates in Suletta letting Elan into Aerial’s cockpit for a routine survey of the testing area (which is definitely an idea for a date). He observes how easily she pilots Aerial, and she says she’s never felt suffering doing so, but actually always feels at ease.

Elan then asks to pilot Aerial on his own—an astonishing ask but one Suletta happily grants because she thinks Elan’s a friend. Piloting it convinces him that Aerial is the key to “breaking the curse” of the suffering he feels every time he takes the controls of his mobile suits.

When he returns to Suletta, the kindly mask has dropped. Her usefulness to him and the faux friendship he fostered is no longer needed. Now he has the information he needs, and she’s just an annoyance, especially with her entitled belief that Aerial is “family.”

Seeing this honest side of Elan upsets Suletta, and his cold words cause her to cry. That’s just when Guel arrives, sees Suletta’s eyes, and demands to know what Elan is doing, with the answer determining whether they duel. That’s just fine with Elan. Whether he intended to use Suletta as bait or not, Guel’s timing works out perfectly.

While it’s good of Guel to stand up for Suletta, she hasn’t quite turned against the hope that Elan is a good person and a friend, so she objects to the duel, but it’s not her call: Shaddiq tells her if she doesn’t like current conditions, she’s welcome to change them in a subsequent duel.

The stakes are set: if Guel wins, Elan will stay away from Suletta from now on. If Elan wins—and I had a feeling he was going to win easily—he gets to duel Suletta. Guel’s red mobile suit is out of commission, he uses his brother Lauda’s Dilanza, even though their father forbade him from dueling.

That Guel is willing to incur more of his dear father’s wrath speaks to the genuine affection he’s gained for Suletta and his desire to keep others from making her cry. Underneath the bluster he’s an honorable guy.

But honor, like smiling, laughing, birthdays or family, is not something in Elan’s programming. Suletta’s been interacting with a doll designed to learn as much about her for his employers’ sake, as well as his own (lifting the aforementioned curse). Elan surprises all when he arrives at the duel in a new suit—the Pharact. It’s a menacing, bat-like suit with its own drone swarm system.

It looks every bit like the dark sibling of Suletta’s Aerial. Guel is mad as hell, and kicks up a lot of dust in the dueling ground. This unwittingly creates the conditions by which he is defeated: the dust, charged with static electricity, gets into the gaps and joints in Dilanza’s armor.

Elan’s drones create laser-like webs that in concert with the dust Guel himself kicked up, has the effect of an EMP, shutting down Dilanza’s systems and leaving him immobilized. Elan takes an easy win, and the Peil Group’s engineer (and Elan’s minder) confronts Lady Prospera, who concludes there was “another witch all along.” The Peil woman addresses her as senpai, suggesting she was part of the same research group that developed Aerial.

Elan again makes a prompt phone call to Suletta, to arrange another “date.” This time, it will take the form of an official school duel, and if he wins, he will claim Aerial for himself. And this, folks, is why Suletta should have probably listened to everyone telling her to stay away from people from the three branches—including Guel, someone from those branches.

Now, I can’t imagine Suletta will lose to Elan next week—especially if Miorine lends a hand, nor to I believe Aerial will fall into the hands of a rival company. The only question is whether Suletta, who is no doubt still confused and hurt by Elan’s treatment of her, can switch gears and do what needs to be done to defeat her most implacable enemy yet.

As for Elan? I’ll admit to hating him more than Guel now, but I also understand the kid has suffered his whole life, is looking for release, and the only thing in his way is a silly girl who calls a Gundam “family”, a word that’s meaningless to him since he never had one.

In Elan Ceres, Peil created an organic machine to pilot their metal one. But Suletta is, if nothing else, an ordinary human fueled her whole life by love and support. That should prove the edge in this duel.

Made in Abyss – S2 08 – The Child

Reg wants to know what he promised Faputa long ago, and in response, she rips off one of her arms and ears and tells him she’ll “offer up her all” if it’s for the promise…which doesn’t really help Reg understand what it was, only how important it is.

From there we return to Vueko’s torrid tale. Wazukyan shows her what Irumyuui has become: a sedentary pink juggernaut that gives birth every day to larger and larger doomed young. Wazukyan now slaughters them live and they cure everyone of the effects of the living water.

While Vueko has more or less recovered fully, Belaf fares much worse, racked with guilt over eating Irumyuui’s young (and finding them tasty), and he always looks like he’s about to pull his face off. Wazukyan offers to show her how to prepare and cook the young, but she can’t bear it.

What follows is Vueko’s first attempt to kill herself, but Irumyuui is still in that hulking mass of flesh somewhere, and she convinces Vueko not to do it with her warm embrace. Eventually Irumyuui grows too large for the caves where they dwell. Vueko and the others follow her as she finds a spot out in the open, sheds her skin, and starts to devour the flying monsters they find there.

While at least one Ganja member gets carried off by one of the flying monsters, the end result is Irumyuui creates a green portal not unlike the lift that bore them all there from the higher Layer. Belaf, truly at the end of his physical and emotional tether, steps through the membrane and is instantly transformed into the snakelike creature of the present.

The others follow, one by one, shedding their human bodies and being transformed into the hollows that define their innermost desires. The only holdout is Vueko, who would rather jump off a cliff, but Wazukyan still has plans for her, and grabs her with an arm reinforced by one of the many Cradles of Desire he’s instructed the Interference Units to find.

When Vueko next wakes up, she’s naked, restrained, and kneeling in the mass of dark mud-like goo where Riko would discover her centuries later. Wazukyan tells her she’s now within Irumyuui’s brain, where she can commune directly with her. She accepts her new task of naming, singing to, and caring for the countless “children” of Irumyuui, deep in the warm darkness.

But gradually, quietly, Irumyuui was growing a different kind of child, a creature who we learn to be Faputa. When Faputa hatches, she goes on a rampage, for which Vueko is glad, since Faputa embodies all of the pent-up resentment and despair of her mother, who can no longer speak or move.

Back in the present, Vueko tells Riko that she believes Faputa’s ultimate goal is to destroy the village and free her mother, who, as it turns out, physically became the village. If and when I ever rewatch, those earlier episodes when Riko & Co. first find the village will hit different.

Did Reg promise long ago to help Faputa carry out her goal? We’ll obviously find out soon. In the meantime, Riko finds herself in the middle of a very volatile situation. Vueko’s only desire is that she not forget who Irumyuui was, and I don’t believe she’d miss it if it were Faputa’s (and thus Irumyuui’s) will for the village to die.

Made in Abyss – S2 07 – A Warm Darkness

After spending a good long while in the present with Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, we go back to when Ganja and the Three Sages first arrived in what would eventually become Iruburu. They used a Mitty-like hollow to activate the lift that took them down to the Sixth Layer, but soon learned that they would never be able to ascend again.

Faced with having to live down there the rest of their lives, they set out to find water. They also find a docile mammalian-like creature, showing them that living things can live down here. But while fighting off beasts, the creature, to whom Irumyuui had been incredibly attached, dies.

Of course, things soon get worse…much, much worse. That water they found? Not water, but an organism containing countless eggs or seeds. One by one, people come down with fevers and severe diarrhea and become bedridden. Then some begin to morph into bizarre forms.

Irumyuui, one of the first to get sick, is clinging to life when a glowing gold egg relic is found, and the Interference Units they befriended tell them it’s basically a wish-granting egg. It’s also apparently more effective if used by a juvinille as opposed to a more world-weary adult.

Vueko asks Wazukyan, and he agrees, that Irumyuui should have first dibs on the egg. In fact, he welcomes it being used on her, as he believes she will be the savior to everyone there. Vueko, looking deep into his eyes, believes him, because she believes him to be a divine prophet.

One morning, Vueko hears Irumyuui’s voice, and it’s full of mirth. Despite gradually metamorphosing into a hollow, she apparently feels no pain, and always has a wide smile on her face. Vueko is happy, but the others continue to grow ill, lie down, and never get back up.

One day, Irumyuui gives birth…after a fashion. But the “child” has no organs for taking in nutrition, and so it soon dies in her arms. She gives birth to another, and another, and another…all in fun colors, but all meet the same fate.

As Vueko can only be there and comfort Irumyuui in her continued moments of grief and loss, she also rues the day she gave the egg to Irumyuui. While it technically granted the girl’s wishes, it also twisted them, like a Monkey’s Paw, into something awful.

Then the day comes when Vueko becomes ill and can’t even get up to comfort Irumyuui. She seems resigned to her fate—the same fate countless others faced in this beautiful godforsaken place. But then suddenly she’s being fed a tasty-smelling stew, and before she knows it, she’s ambulatory and free of illness.

She walks out onto a promontory, where Wazukyan greets her warmly. As he promised, Irumyuui would end up saving everyone, and so she did. Was that stew made of Irumyuui’s body? Her stillborn offspring? I don’t know, but when you find yourself living within a legend, finding and keeping a foothold means making choices one might not have made on the surface.

This was one of the tougher watches of Made in Abyss’ run, but also a crucial one, lending us insight into the desperate choices a ragtag group of exiles made simply to continue existing. Vueko is right that she technically started this by putting Irumyuui and the wishing egg together.

In the present she might think she’s a “bad person”, but just like someone isn’t choosy about the “water” they drink when they’re dying of thirst, she, Irumyuui, and everyone else were doomed if they did and doomed if they didn’t in this place. Given the choice of death or chance, in the intrepid spirit that brought them this deep into the Abyss, they chose the latter. Only those others who’d been through what they did can stand in judgment.

Attack on Titan – 80 – When the Walls Fell

Eren thanks his older bother for taking him into their Dad’s memories…it’s how he was able to push Grisha into fighting the King of the Walls. Eren saw his future when he kissed Historia’s hand, but Zeke still thinks he has Eren in check. After all, Eren didn’t know he couldn’t use the Founder’s power in the Paths. What Zeke didn’t know is that Eren would rip off his own thumbs to escape his bonds and stop Ymir from obeying Zeke’s command.

What follows is the long, sad story of Founder Ymir, from back when she was just an ordinary girl delivering water to those who needed it. One day, her world was set ablaze by a raiding army, and her life of selfless service became one of brutal servitude. When a pig escapes the barn, all the other slaves point their finger at Ymir, as if confirming that she is the one to bear all of the pain and suffering of this world.

Ymir is “freed”, but only so her captors can hunt her. Run through by two arrows, she collapses at the foot of a massive tree, with a hollow that leads to a massive underground lake. There, she encounters…“something”. Be it an alien, parasite, or god, it imbues Ymir with the power to transform into the first Titan—the Founding Titan.

The King of Eldia uses Ymir as a weapon with which to create a massive empire and conquer Marley; he also claims her as his consort. She bears three daughters—Maria, Rose, and Sina—and when an assassin tries to kill the King, Ymir takes a staff through the chest. In one of the more graphic scenes of the whole show, he eventually chops Ymir up and forces his daughters to eat her so the Titan power can be carried on.

Ymir’s daughters procreate, then their offspring procreates, each time creating a new branch on the tree of life in the Paths. Meanwhile Ymir returns to the form of a young girl walking slowly across the endless sands, up and down ramps, building Titans one bucket at a time. Even after death, she could not escape servitude, nor the responsibility that came with her chance encounter with “something.”

That is, until 2,000 years later, when Eren arrives, and instead of ordering to end the Eldians forever, he gives her a hug and tells her she’s neither a slave nor a god, and never was. She’s just a person; a person who has been waiting for someone like him. For the first time, Ymir’s empty eyes come to life and shed tears, and she makes the same face Eren made when he saw his future four years ago.

I don’t know if it’s Ymir, the “something” within her, or both who decide to side with Eren, but it is the “something” we see connecting his head to his neck even though Gabi just blew it off. Thanks to them, Eren is still alive, and the Rumbling commences.

And let me tell you, it is something to see. The walls begin to crumble—not just Maria, but all three—and out of their ruins, a terrifying legion of Colossal Titans. But even they are dwarfed by Eren’s latest and possibly final form, an intricate construction of ribs and spines. There are now three different orders of scale—Mikasa and Armin, the Colossal Titans, and whatever Eren has become.

Fortunately for Mikasa and Armin, they are not crushed or obliterated in the clouds of debris the Rumbling creates. Armin is proven half-correct, in that Eren was their ally all along, and looking after the people behind the walls. I say only half-right because Armin did not imagine Eren would bring all three walls down. Doing so means he has far larger designs than merely crushing the Marley alliance.

Eren confirms those greater ambitions in a telepathic communication that reaches every single Subject of Ymir, both on Paradis Island and the rest of the world. He’s sick of the world trying to annihilate his people, so instead he and his army of Wall Titans will annihilate the rest of the world. He won’t stop until every enemy city, town, and village, and every non-Eldian life, is extinguished. I don’t see how anyone can stand in his way.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 05 – Staying in the World of Dreams

Trigger Warning: this episode frankly depicts bulimia and the practice of binging and purging.

Some time has passed; the girls are now in their summer unis, and Ai is trying her darndest to both apologize to Sarasa and call her by her first name…but she just can’t quite find the right time. Meanwhile, Sarasa confesses she only knows one Kouka show, so Sugimoto takes her and the others to one of the Winter Troupe shows. They run into Winter’s number two star, Satomi Sei, off-stage, and its top star Kazahana Sou on it.

Ai, totally unaccustomed to fighting with friends, follows her uncle’s advice to take her time and calmly tell Sarasa how she feels when the time is right. That time finally arrives when Sarasa suddenly recites verbatim lines from Romeo & Juliet.

Her peers are amazed both that she memorize the lines so easily, and by her performance on their walk home. Ai can’t help but reach out and grab the star shining brighter that all the others, and formally asks to be Sarasa’s friend. Sarasa, of course, is glad; she’s wanted to be Ai’s friend from the moment she saw her!

Later, Ai had hoped Sarasa would accompany her to the bathroom (as besties do), but instead Sarasa wants to check out the exam scores. Sarasa is delighted to have moved up from dead last to second-to-last in ranking, but the reason for that advancement is less about her studies improving and more about poor, poor Yamada Ayako’s plummeting.

As we saw at the end of last week, Ayako is in trouble. In a desperate effort to lose 5 kg (11 pounds—probably around 10% of her weight!), she is obsessively binging and purging. Her body and mind are suffering. Tachibana-sensei, who called her a “fattie” and started her on this path, defends how blunt she was with Yamada because all students must grow a formidable backbone in the cutthroat environment of the Kouka Troupe.

“If Yamada can’t cut it, she shouldn’t be there” is Tachibana-sensei’s position, while her music teacher Onodera-sensei disagrees in the strongest terms. He understands their role to toughen the girls up, but calling a sweet, sensitive Yamada a “fattie” was way beyond the pale. Tachibana-sensei is also unaware of how badly Ayako wants to make her loving big sister proud.

One night, Ai catches Ayako in the bathroom, and tells her something I never knew: throwing up as much as Ayako does causes the stomach acid to irritate the esophagus, leading to pain, swelling, and the deterioration of one’s voice. She knows because someone in JPX did what Ayako is doing.

The only problem is, Ai, inexperienced with interacting with people, is way too blunt at the wrong time, and Ayako mistakes her concern with kicking her when she’s down. Ayako also has an inferiority complex when it comes to the naturally stunning Ai, even if Ai herself isn’t aware of how her beauty affects other women around her.

One day in singing class, a wan Ayako with deep eye bags and chapped lips can’t sing a single note before collapsing on the ground. Onodera-sensei takes her to the doctor, who diagnoses her with pharyngitis. The only remedy is to rest and relax, something Ayako feels she can’t do because she fears falling behind even further. Thankfully, the doctor is totally unwilling to administer drugs to rid of her fever so she can continue. She has to rest, period.

While lying in bed, at rock bottom, Ayako gets an encouraging text from her sister, and Ayako expresses how she’s suffering by telling her sister all the delicious pastries and desserts her family makes that she wants to taste. Picking up on this, her sister says there’s no shame in quitting and coming home. She contemplates doing just this, prepared to look upon her time at Kouka as a passing dream as she returns to “the world she knows.”

Thankfully, and unlike the horrible Tachibana-sensei—who should be fucking fired for what she did in a just and fair world—Onodera-sensei breaks the rule about no men in the women’s dorm by rapping on Ayako’s door to tell her what she needs to hear. When the dorm mom protests, he asks her to regard him as “a beautiful Kouka girl on the inside.”

Onodera-sensei, who is a genuinely Good Guy, impresses upon Ayako the fact that she is far too young to be giving up on an opportunity as great as Kouka, and that stumbling, falling, and despairing are normal from time to time. He wants her to remember that over  girls couldn’t achieve what she did: get accepted to Kouka. Girls with “nothing to offer” simply don’t get it in. So he asks her to tell him why it is she got in: her beautiful singing.

Even before she got sick, Ayako had never given singing her all in class, so none of her peers heard what got her into Kouka. But apparently her soprano was so sweet and lovely, the normally bored teachers sat up and listened intently. When Ayako recovers from her pharyngitis and returns to class looking much better, Onodera-sensei asks her to sing the same song she sang at that audition, to build her confidence and show the others how beautiful a singer she is when she’s serious.

While it was lovely to see Ai reach out a hand of to Sarasa and begin her awkward little dance of friendship, this was really Yamada Ayako’s episode. Her seiyu Sasaki Rico delivers a stunningly beautiful performance that shattered my heart into a million shards only to painstakingly piece it back together better than ever by the end.

My chief complaint with this episode is that it seemingly solves Ayako’s eating disorder far too quickly and easily. But at the same time, I’m relieved beyond belief she’s okay, she’s not quitting, and a decent adult was in her corner when she needed one, reminding her how she earned the right to be here by her own talent and hard work, and that she belongs there just as much as top stars Satomi or Kazahana.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

The Promised Neverland – 21 – More Important than Revenge

By arriving just in time with Mujika and Sonju, Emma is able to talk Norman down and get him to drop his knife. Despite all the time they’ve been apart and the things Norman has done and planned to do, Emma still feels absolutely certain that he doesn’t really want to do those things he planned, even going so far as calling him an “arrogant coward”.

The show deems that she is correct in her assessment, and that, when offered, Norman is willing to share the suffering, pain and fear with Emma, Ray, and the others instead of shouldering it all himself. Mujika then goes around the town administering her blood to those who have degenerated, not only curing them but ensuring they’ll never degenerate again.

As Norman’s plan to annihilate the demons of the village is reversed, Barbara prepares to kill a demon girl and her infant sibling, but when she sees herself in the cowering girl, she finds herself unable to do it. We’re to understand this is the first time she’s been presented with the opportunity to kill a demon child, and was all talk before.

Norman and Emma emerge from the burning town, and Norman tells his comrades the truth: he didn’t want to get revenge on demons, but to save his family. He used the ticking clock on his life to justify taking a path he wouldn’t have otherwise chosen. And he lied about not having succombed to the same Lambda drugs as all of them because he wanted to project reliability.

Barbara, who just stopped herself of her own accord from murdering a child, can’t very well argue, and says Norman is more important than revenge. Cislo and Zazie are also extremely understanding of Norman’s coming clean. Vincent isn’t, but the others tell him to stand down.

Upon returning to the hideout, the kids there tell them they just got word from the Grace Field radio: Phil and everyone else are being shipped. We cut to a scene with Petri and Isabella, who have sent the message as a trap, knowing the kids who escaped will come to the rescue.

What’s odd is that Petri is talking with the demons like Norman and the others just escaped from Lambda; presumably that happened weeks if not months ago. And don’t get me started on Isabella, who we were led to believe was on a short leash, and yet has been allowed to fail for quite some time now.

Of greater import in this scene is Petri’s announcement that the Lambda materials weren’t lost in the bombing, and the entire high-class farming system is poised to be replaced by Lambda-style farming through drug-induced brain enhancements.

Ray rightly suspects the message about the premature shippings is a trap to lure them there, but it doesn’t matter, because they still need to return to Grace Field if they want to save Phil and the others. The fact we haven’t seen one second of Phil or the others at the farm somewhat dulls those particular stakes…as do the developments at the hideout.

Vylk, the grandpa who’d regularly visit the hideout—and who Norman almost killed—and his granddaughter Emma visit so he can tell a story about a small piece of a pen a dying human was grasping, and the remorse he feels for not using his blood to save others besides his own family. When screwed into Emma’s pen, it not only provides blueprints for farming HQ and the gate to the human world, but a cure for the side-effects of the Lambda drugs!

That’s an inordinate amount of coincidence and suspension of disbelief in one little flash drive! But even with all this new information, and with almost everyone on board with returning to Grace Field, the one holdout—Vincent—ends up betraying everyone by using the radio to exchange intel for a deal. I guess he wasn’t moved by the embrace of the Emmas…

The Promised Neverland – 20 – Emma

Instead of being slaughtered for meat, Norman was introduced to Peter Ratri, his “new father”, and asked to assist with his research. No matter how much they up the difficulty of the tests, Norman always scores perfectly.

Peter is trying to wrest control of the farms from James, presumably his brother or father. Norman also observes how gently he’s treated compared to the other children at the Lambda facility, who undergo all manner of horrific surgery and used as fodder for experiments.

Norman eventually meets Vincent, and together they clandestinely plan a prison break, which is initiated when Norman grasps the king while playing chess. He gives the surveillance camera a blank look, immediately followed by the blast of an improvised bomb.

Norman and Vincent rush through the facility, now in total chaos, and save what humans are still able to be saved, like Cislo and Barbara, the latter of whom asks Norman if he’s a “god” when he frees them. Standing over his great victory, Norman tells the captured demons he won’t stop until their kind has “died out from this world”.

I’m glad we were shown these events, as in this case where it’s important to see the horrors he saw, showing is better than telling. I only wish Norman and his comrades hadn’t spent so much of the last couple episodes spouting so much exposition, which in hindsight feels redundant.

Still, we get a very foreboding shot of a robed Norman at sunset, looking quite a bit like Anakin Skywalker after being seduced by the dark side. He doesn’t care if he has to be a god or a devil if it means Emma and the other children will be able to live in safety and peace.

This episode suffers from a considerably less interesting middle act involving the four days and change Emma, Ray, Gilda and Don are searching for Mujika and Sonju. They basically trudge from one point of the forest to the other in their demon disguises, coming up empty until they reach final search area.

Naturally, this area is crawling with those giant creepy wild demons, and naturally Emma almost gets her head bitten off not once, but twice. The first time, Ray shoots the demon in just the right eye to bring it down. The second time, Sonju and Mujika arrive In the Nick of Time.

But before Emma can even get out how they need the two demons’ help, there’s a blast from afar: Norman has started the operation a day early. Bombs detonate all over the town, releasing the degenerative drug in a sickly purple cloud. It spreads and affects the demons precisely as Norman calculated, turning them into wild vicious beasts that rip each other apart.

This creates a horrifying situation in which demons watch their loved ones degenerate, but beg other demons of sound mind not to hurt or kill them, only to themselves be killed by those transformed loved ones. Soon the streets are full of the cries of terrified children, their mothers and fathers either dead or transformed and about to kill them. It is the scene of hell.

As his comrades stand atop brick columns watching their vengeance unfold with glee, Norman enters the town square and finds one of the young demon girls alone, scared, and crying. Norman, determined not to waver, prepares to kill her with a sword, but he’s stopped in his tracks when her grandfather—the same elderly demon who visited the kids’ hideout—calls out the girl’s name: Emma.

A fresh cloud of the drug falls over the square, infecting the little one but not the old man, who Norman suspects to have devil’s blood like Mujika, and is thus immune. He stabs the old man, but he has Emma drink his blood, reversing her degeneration, and begs her to run.

Before Norman can re-commit to killing the old man or the demon Emma, someone calls to himhis Emma, with Ray by her side. Thanks to Sonju’s horse they managed to make it back to town just in time. When Norman sees Emma he starts to tear up, and when Emma sees him she sees him as the little boy at Grace Field House, in whose hands a bloody sword just doesn’t look right.

While Norman has the intellect to know what exactly to do, and that it may be the only way to save Emma and the others, and he even possessed the will to do the horrible things that needed doing, he still doesn’t have the heart to follow through, at least not without the wavering we saw.

I’ve heard many rumblings about how dissimilar and inferior this second season is to the first due to the fact it’s passed over large swaths of the original manga’s story and basically doing its own thing. I’ve also learned that this was apparently the author’s choice to do this, so it isn’t as if his work was getting short shrift against his wishes.

Whatever the case may be, a second season that takes place after escaping the farm was always going to be a thoroughly different kind of show, despite the same title, and that’s certainly proven the case. But now that Norman, Emma, and Ray are reunited once more in the epicenter of his grand plan, I remain thoroughly engaged and excited to find out where in the world things go from here!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 20 here. They know their stuff!

The Promised Neverland – 19 – A Future Without Regret

By bringing up Mujika and Sonju, Emma clues Norman in on a major threat to his plan. He’s never met either, but heard stories about a mutation of demons who could maintain their human-esque form and intellect without eating meat. He thought they’d all been hunted down and killed by the Demon King and royalty committed to maintaining the status quo that lines their pockets.

With the “Evil-Blooded Girl” still out there, the demons presumably have a defense against his degenerative drug. Emma sees it the other way: instead of eradicating the demons, they can treat them all to be like Mujika and Sonju, so they won’t need to eat human meat anymore. But that misses the whole point: the Demons in charge would keep eating humans even if they didn’t have to, simply because they want to.

If that’s the case, then Emma thinks they should escape to the human world rather than committing demon genocide. Again, Norman has researched this, and the only gate he knows of is deep beneath…Grace Field House. It’s too dangerous and there are too many unknown factors, including whether the humans would even accept them.

Emma can’t accept a future she has to kill her friends and countless other innocents to achieve, in which she’d never be able to smile again. Norman knows the kind soul Emma is and always was, but here again they disagree: he says it isn’t “tough” to do what he’s doing, because he’s working towards the future he desires.

The debate would seem to be over, with the two sides at an impasse and Norman politely shuffling Emma and Ray out of there, but Emma proposes a deal: give her ten days to find Mujika and Sonju before proceeding with his plan. Norman gives her five…because he doesn’t expect her to succeed.

When Emma and Ray leave, Norman joins Cislo, Barbara, and Vincent in the bowels of their headquarters, and tells them that his siblings from the farm don’t want to annihilate the demons, and have also met with and are friends with the Evil-Blooded Girl. Just the thought of not eradicating the demons sends Barbara into a jar-shattering rage, leading to a “Lambda seizure”, which seem to be happening to her and the other two with increasing regularity.

They’re running out of time fast—just when Emma asked for more of it. Cislo is disgusted by Norman’s siblings’ “naive nonsense” but understands they’re good kids. So he asks Norman on behalf of the other Lambda survivors: Is Norman still on their side? Norman tells them he agreed to wait five days, but nothing else has changed. If Emma returns successful, Norman will kill the Evil-Blooded, but his plan will go forward without further alterations.

To show how far he’s come and why he can’t back down now, he shines his lantern on a massive Lilith-like demon, which he’s no doubt used for research and development of his anti-demon drug.

So now we know—if it wasn’t clear from the end of their conversation—that Norman has no intention of cancelling or changing his plan to commit genocide. Even if he wanted to, he has more than just Emma to think of. If the Lambda kids feel he’s betrayed them, he’s just as sure to die by their hands than demons’. And then there’s the matter of him doing what he did when he got shipped away: putting all of the burden on his own shoulders.

Of course, Emma thinks deep down the same Norman she knew and loved is still in there somewhere, and will honor his part of the bargain. Ray seems to want to trust Norman too; clearly being around Emma so much has blunted his cynicism. So they return to their mountain hideout, and there Emma presents her view and gets everyone onboard, even the terrified Gilda.

She uses the kids own grumbling bellies to drive home the point that killing all the demons would only spread more fear and hate, making the world a worse place. Emma can’t accept any other path but a peaceful one, but what she doesn’t yet grasp is that she’s already on the path Norman has paved for everyone—he just gave her five more days to pretend otherwise.

Back at Norman’s HQ, he suddenly coughs up blood into the same hand Emma took into hers when forging their doomed bargain. It would seem that whatever happened after he said goodbye to Emma to be shipped off, he didn’t fare any better than the other Lambda victims. His time grows short too, to the point even if Emma’s plan was most certain and logical, there wouldn’t be enough time to realize it.

Irina and Crow had a discussion on this episode. Check it out here!

 

 

The Promised Neverland – 18 – The Norman Invasion

After a recap week, Neverland is back, and as good as its been all season, although not for the reason you’d think. Norman’s back, and that’s great! Emma can’t believe it’s not a dream, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. This literally doesn’t seem real that their old friend is alive, well, and not just deep in the anti-demon resistance, but its leader. It changes everything.

Norman comes to the Temple where he receives a hero’s welcome from the other kids. Like Emma, they initially can’t believe it’s really him, but unlike her they weren’t in charge of ensuring everyone’s survival all this time. They see how they’ve fared, and how things aren’t going so well, and how now that Norman’s here everything will be fine.

Of course, they don’t consciously put it in a way that diminishes Emma’s leadership to this point. Instead, they see it as a great lifting of a weight from her shoulders she never should have had to bear alone. But with the lifting of that weight naturally means there will be a shift in power and authority.

That’s especially apparent when Norman regales the group with what he’s been up to since he left Grace Field House. Rather than processed for food, he was sent to Lambda, a facility for testing and experimentation. There, he made use of his superior intellect to wreck the place, freeing himself and many other captives who had suffered horribly.

Ever since then, he’s been developing a means of utterly defeating the demons: a drug that will cause them to degenerate into wild beasts who will turn against each other. In effect, it’s a biological weapon, and Norman intends for its widespread use in order to decimate their tormentors.

There’s no doubt that if the drug works as Norman claims, it will usher in a new era of freedom and peace for humanity. This is a big deal. And when you consider all he’s accomplished in the same amount of time Emma and her group have only barely managed to feed themselves, it really puts Emma’s relative lack of progress in relief.

Of course, Emma’s overwhelming concern with Norman’s plan is that it’s so barbaric, and renders humans as no better than the worst demons. Demons have names, thoughts, family. She wants a future where they don’t have to hate, fight, or kill. Ray can sense this, and he gets it out of her fairly easily, which means those so-called “secret” thoughts could have come out at a far worse time, in front of a far less receptive audience.

Ray doesn’t agree with Emma. He’s fine with annihilating the demons, but he also wants to make sure Emma makes her feelings known to Norman. They don’t know, for instance, if Norman knows about demons like Mujika who can maintain their intellects without human meat, so it could be an exchange of information that could help Emma better determine and articulate a more peaceful counterproposal.

As soon as they reach Norman’s holdfast and meet his fellow Lambda escapees, the immense scale of Emma’s task becomes clear. After what they and their friends both dead and alive endured at Lambda, Cislo, Vincent, and Barbara harbor a pure and intense hatred of demons. Cislo can’t wait for the high that comes from massacring demons, while the suspicious-looking haunch of meat Barbara is chomping on turns out to be demon meat.

That’s right: Barbara says her anger melts away when she eats their meat. She believes every single demon should suffer what they endured, and worse. The atmosphere wasn’t altogether welcoming at the beginning of the scene, but as the Lambda kids start talking about how much they hate demons, the mood of the scene turns that much more sinister, to the point I feared for Emma’s safety!

Indeed, when Barbara can see what she’s saying is disturbing Emma, she makes it clear that Emma better not have any disgusting ideas about changing Norman’s plan. Cislo and Vincent tell Barbara to take off and cool down, but they feel the same way: the demons must go. When they leave Emma and Ray to wait for Norman, Ray tells her there’s no stopping hatred like that once it’s begun.

I honestly couldn’t help but think of the current situation in Attack on Titan’s final season, in which the “good” and “bad” sides have long since melted away, and everyone arms themselves with enough hatred to commit any atrocity against anyone who stands in their way. I’m with Emma that this isn’t the right way to forge a future, but I’m also with Ray: in this climate she’ll be steamrolled by the hate long before she can come up with, let alone implement, an alternative plan.

When Norman is free, he sits down with his brother and sister, and shows them a bottle of the drug that will be used in the plan. Emma doesn’t even get to the part where she objects to that plan when Ray mentions the demons who didn’t eat humans. Norman reacts in a way neither Ray nor Emma expected: like someone who had staunchly believed their nemesis was dead and buried suddenly having to call that into doubt.

Referring to Mujika as the “Evil-Blooded Girl” while glaring and grasping his face dramatically, Norman shows a side of himself Emma has never seen, and part of the New Norman with whom the other Lambda kids are familiar and comfortable. No doubt Norman cast away those parts himself that weren’t relevant to The Cause. And now she and Ray may be the bearer of news that could ruin his intricate plan for demon eradication. Not the reunion anyone wanted!

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of the episode here.

Re: Zero – 41 – The Purrfect Loser

Years ago, Garfiel attempted and failed the trial, and smashed his head against a column, causing the scar he wears to this day. He is the final obstacle to Emilia continuing her trial, and has come to the Graveyard to smash the entrance, isolating the Sanctuary forever.

Only Emilia and Subaru stand in Gar’s way, and it’s the former who makes a barrier of herself before him. She has lived in fear all her life until today, and knows the pain of being separated from a parent. All this time, Gar has maintained that he and his sister were obstacles to his mother’s happiness, which is why she abandoned them. But then the memory surfaces…of Gar finding his mother’s carriage, wrecked by a landslide.

She wasn’t even able to reach the outside world that lured her, that was to be the place where she’d find happiness, away from him. Gar has washed his hands of the outside, and will stand, as a wall in and of himself, to protect everyone else in the sanctuary who feel, like him, that things changing won’t make them happy. Nothing will ever get better, so you might as well stay frozen in place.

Having heard and been unmoved by either Emilia or Subaru, Gar transforms into Beast Mode and charges them. Subaru uses Shamac to halt time so he can stab Gar with the crystal Frederica gave him, which seems to be imbued with some of Puck’s spirit. This transforms him back into a man, but it hasn’t sapped Gar’s will to fight.

Subie stands firm and takes a vicious shot to the face, but he’s able to counterattack with a supernatural punch from the Sloth Witch Factor within his body, which he inherited from Betelgeuse and learned about from Echidna.

Gar is down, but not yet out. The knockout blow is delivered by someone who owed Gar such a blow: Subaru’s ever-dutiful earth dragon, Patrasche. Her charge finally gets the job done. Even if Gar hasn’t been proven wrong, he can no longer fight. Both he and Subie pass out in short order.

When Subie wakes up, it’s once again in Emilia’s lap. He thanks her, punches then shakes hands with Otto for his help and for being alright, and of course thanks Patrasche for her loyalty and love. Ram allows Gar to lay in her lap, but only until he wakes up and barely a second more.

Rem proceeds to give him the third degree, telling him to fight with an empty head next time and to stop yammering on in front of “the woman he loves” and accept his loss, and move forward. She then urges him to take the trial one more time, in order to confront and accept the past.

The Graveyard transports him back to that golden-lit day his mother left him and Fred in Ryuzu’s care. She kisses her infant son right on the place where he would create an ugly scar years later. Then his mother says something he didn’t remember: “I promise I’ll bring your father back.” That means not only did she not leave them to find her happiness, but she always intended to return, and with his dad.

The memory fades away until it’s just him and young Fred, who asks him straight up what he wants to do. He answers that he wants to do what he’s expected to do, by all of the people who need him. With his past confronted and resolved, he leaves the trial exchanging sharp toothy smiles with his little big sister.

Just as Emilia emerged from the graveyard a new and stronger person last week, the young man who would stop her and anyone from completing the trial emerges in much the same manner. He can’t claim he gained much that can be seen, but he did gain vital closure, and can even thank Subaru for being the one to give him the push he needed.

It’s then when Subie learns Gar is not only younger than him, but at fourteen is just an eighth grader…which actually explains a lot! With no further obstructions, Emilia can re-enter the graveyard and continue the trial with a full head of steam. Some of that steam is produced when she asks Subie if they can talk about the kiss they shared when all this is over.

Subie states that would be happy to, and is delighted by Emilia’s confidence, betting another date with her that she’ll prevail this time. When Emilia enters the inner chamber, she finds out what Subaru was doing when he abandoned her bedside that night: etching words of cheer and encouragement with Puck on the chamber walls.

Once Emilia is in the trial, she’s immediately met in the forest by Echidna, who unloads with a string of biting insults that would certainly cause distress to the Emilia of yore. But this Emilia is made of sterner stuff.

Taking a page out of Subie’s book on theatricality, she points dramatically up into the air, then directly at the Witch of Greed,  and introduces herself as Emilia, the Frozen Witch, born in Elinor Forest. She won’t give in to the “malice of a fellow witch”, and further warns that she too is “quite an insufferable woman, after all!”

Accompanied by a defiant orchestral score to match the occasion, this was a pitch-perfect way to end the episode and begin the trial of Emilia’s life. While I still can’t quite rule out things going badly for her and Subaru from this point on, I also never thought we’d see Emilia and Subaru kiss, or Garfield both thanking and apologizing to Subaru. But we’re in uncharted Re:Zero territory, and we have a brand-spankin’ new old president, so I’m in a hopeful mood!

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