Mahoutsukai no Yome – 24 (Fin)

Cartaphilus and Chise are both what one could call “suffering junkies”, but where they differ is the former’s willingness to make everyone around him suffer as much as possible. Chise really just causes trouble for people; there’s no malice.

She tries to take Carty down, but let’s face it, she’s not that experienced in magical combat, and Ashen Eye intervenes. That’s when the cavalry arrives in the form of Elias, Ariel, and Ruth. Ashen Eye is dispersed and Chise manages to pin Carty, but her attempted sleep spell fails (he’s immune) and he stabs her through the midsection.

Though relieved of several organs, bones and much of her blood, Chise then smiles, because this was part of the plan. She and Elias were “bound” together, so that when Carty contacts Chise by stabbing her, he opens himself up to an attack from Elias, who surrounds both Carty and Chise in thorns and removes Carty’s eye (the one he got from Chise).

Chise then puts Carty to sleep with a pretty lullaby before passing out herself from her injuries. While unconscious, she’s visited by Carty’s curse, who tells her both he and the dragon are fighting it out in her body. It will keep her alive, but one day she’ll die. So, not that much different from anyone else.

She awakens back in her bed at home, and after hugging Elias, makes him explain why he used Stella for such a nefarious purpose.

That spurs an argument between the two, but they eventually hammer out an agreement. From now on, when he’s not with her, she won’t put herself in danger, will back down if about to get hurt, and will talk to someone before she takes action.

Thankfully, Chise doesn’t find herself in danger for the rest of the finale. After checking in on a slumbering Carty (who Ashen Eye now finds boring) she takes the train to London, visits Angelica and Stella, and receives gifts from both.

Those gifts are wedding rings (which will alert their wearers when the other is in trouble), a wedding dress and veil. Chise completes her look with penny loafers for some reason (no white pumps?) but I kinda like that choice, and in any case she looks absolutely gorgeous in the sylvan glade where she awaits the arrival of Elias.

There, they both promise to share each others paths, Elias sweeps her off her feet and gives her a skull-nuzzle, and she kisses and embraces him, now married (ceremonially, if not legally under the laws of the United Kingdom). But just because she’s his bride doesn’t mean she won’t continue her mage apprenticeship.

Overall, a pleasant, if tidy, end to a series for which there were great expectations. I would say there were many times when those expectations were exceeded or met, but there were also times that could be narratively meandering or tonally muddled. Inconsistency aside, it was a fun, sometimes intense, and almost always enchanting ride.

Now…Who’s up for a Chise/Shirayuki crossover?

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Mahoutsukai no Yome – 23

Whether he feels bad about trying to sacrifice Stella or not (I would guess not), Elias can’t accept Chise leaving him. He wants her back, and wanders aimlessly in search of her. When he kills part of the forest he’s in, Spriggan springs into action and takes him down.

Titania and Oberon show up, willing not just to help him find Chise, but to invite them both to the land of the faeries (always with the ulterior motives). Elias declines that particular offer, but Titania still helps him find Chise.

Titania’s powers reach far and wide, and practically everyone Chise has encountered and/or befriended on her various adventures notices those powers. As for Chise herself, she now finds herself watching a young Joseph’s memories.

Joseph was the son of a witch and gravedigger and much hated by the villagefolk for those qualities. But when he finds Cartaphilus half-buried in the woods, he takes him home out of pity, and resolves to heal his extensive injuries using the skills he no doubt learned from his mom.

Only Cartaphilus never gets better, no matter what treatments Joe tries. He doesn’t get worse either, which means the conditions that would allow Joseph to leave the town he hates so much never materialize. Joe snaps, and decides that drastic measures are the only answer: he “becomes one” with Cartaphilus.

The newly merged individual travels (presumably) to London, collecting body parts from innocents to replace the ones that no longer work, and learns from a mage that the ancient curse he has cannot be lifted.

With that, Chise comes out of it, and Cartaphilus almost immediately tries to rip her arm off, hoping it’s the final piece to the puzzle of ending his suffering. It doesn’t look good for Chise until Titania, Elias, Spriggan, and Ruth arrive in the nick of time to save her.

Renfred and Alice arrive as Cartaphilus unleashes his grotesque menagerie, and a big battle occurs in the small space. Still, Chise is laser-focused on Cartaphilus, and when he creates a portal to escape, she follows him, but not before shooting an angry look at Elias.

Elias and Ruth follow her, and they end up in a foggy London alley with Chise, just as a fleeing Cartaphilus bumps into Mariel, who just happens to be in that very same alley. Mariel, hoping to help in some way, transforms herself into a bull for Chise to ride.

They find Cartaphilus sitting on the same fountain we’ve always seen during the second-cour credits. Can Chise end his suffering, while also saving herself?

3-gatsu no Lion – 40

I realized something this week. Whenever 3GL strays too far from the core cast of Rei, the Kawamotos, and Niakidou, my interest flags. We’re now in episode 40 of 44, and the show (granted, based on the manga) has seen fit to spend not just one but two episodes on the grizzled 9-time Kishou champion Yanagihara, looking to beat a revitalized Shimada for his tenth to make him an “eternal champion.”

Which is fine; that’s all fine…if I really cared about Yanagihara as a character…and I don’t. Aside from bickering with the comic relief chariman, I hadn’t really thought much of the guy, and while we certainly get a portrait of the kind of man he is and the burdens he carries (all his old retired friends see him as a proxy in this match), the “old man raging against the dying of the light” is, to be generous, a well-tread path.


From a technical standpoint the execution is all there, as is Shinbou’s usual eclectic visualizations of the players’ emotional states. The trips into Yanagihara’s psyche in which he’s bound and pulled by the hundreds to thousands of strips of cloth, or burning like a human torch, or standing in a one-burnt but now verdant field, are all visually arresting.

And yet…I was still left mostly cold, in part because he ends up winning (and delivering Shimada yet another loss), and in part because, as I said, Yanagihara just isn’t on my list of characters I’m emotionally invested in, and two episodes simultaneously felt like not quite enough to get invested in, and too much time to spend on a tertiary (at best) member of the cast.

Mostly, I think I’ve just got Kawamoto withdrawal. So congrats, Saku-chan, for winning the tenth and becoming eternal with one hell of a game of shogi—a game no one who knows shogi (or thought they knew it) expected a man of his years to play. But with just four episodes left, I’m ready to get back to our core characters’ lives.

3-gatsu no Lion – 39

Returning from an Olympic break, 3GL turns its attention away from both Rei and the Kawamoto and focuses on two other shogi players. Shimada is going up against Yanagihara Sakutarou in the Kishou Championship; Rei and Nikaidou will only be giving commentary.

Yanagihara has won the championship fourteen times, and at 66 is the oldest active Class A player. As one of the elder statesmen of his sport, he seems to effortlessly surround himself with supporters and pals, all of whom call him “Saku-chan.” This irks Shimada, who really really wants to win his first title, even if he has to end Yanagihara’s warm reunions.

What Shimada might be too focused on winning to understand is that Yanagihara isn’t interested in passing the mantle of Kishou champion to anyone. Why would he? What comes next after he’s been knocked off the top of the pyramid?

He now stands alone, while everyone else has put their faith and their hopes in his continued success, and he wears those wishes like a mess of heavy white sashes, constantly threatening to smother him.

We see the weight both of those sashes and the realities of old age, as he takes every morning extra slow to ensure he takes all the medicine he needs to take. Once the match begins, Shimada is determined and uncharacteristically fiery, but Yanagihara is no slouch.

On the contrary, when an old friend told him early retirement “scared him” and was like “standing in a burnt field”, Yanagihara summons the flames that burned the field to begin with, and uses them to propel himself along in the match, which so far looks like the liveliest and most aggressive Kishou final match in years. Poor Shimada…he has the worst luck with opponents!

Made in Abyss – 13 (Fin)

Always cold and hungry yet full of longing to see the wonders of the Abyss, the still-human Nanachi was lured, along with a good deal of other disadvantaged children, to their doom by the dastardly White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel.

On the way down to the unreassuringly-named Sea of Corpses, Nanachi meets the ebullient Mitty. Weary at first, they hit it off almost immediately, buoyed by the exciting, life-changing adventure they’re about to undertake.

Did I say exciting and life-changing? I meant nightmarish and life-ruining/ending. One by one Bondrewd comes for the children until Nanachi and Mitty are the only ones left.

Neither has any idea what’s happening to the others until Bondrewd comes for Mitty, but not Nanachi, in the night. But Nanachi, now all alone, follows them, and sees and hears things she shouldn’t.

Bondrewd takes Nanachi’s disobedience as an auspicious event, and places them in a tube right beside a frightened, already-trapped Mitty, and calmly explains how the “experiment” is going to go down. The two descend to the Sixth Layer, where a horde of formerly-human things gather around their tubes.

Then the ascent begins, and all of the Curse is transferred to Mitty in a graphic, gruesome, and thoroughly upsetting sequence. Nanachi can only watch in the other tube, absolutely powerless to help. Mitty was Nanachi’s one and only true “treasure”, more important than any relic they might have found in the Abyss.

But, as we know, Mitty isn’t gone. Well, not totally. To Bondrewd’s delight, the double-dose of Sixth-Layer Curse not only took Mitty’s human form, but made it impossible for her to die. She is constantly disintegrating, regenerating…and suffering.

Nanachi flees Bondrewd’s clutches with Mitty (though it’s highly likely he lets them go) and eventually finds a place to live. But there is nothing Nanachi can do for Mitty. It’s not that they can’t put Mitty out of her misery due to emotional considerations…it simply isn’t possible.

Not until Reg and Riko came around. With his Incinerator, which Nanachi calls “Sparagmos”, or the “light that returns to the cardinal point”, Nanachi believes she can finally free Mitty’s long-suffering soul from what’s left of her body.

Reg asks for time to think it over, and worries that if he kills Mitty, Nanachi will feel they have no more reason to live, and might take their own life. Nanachi promises they won’t, and convinces Reg of the only right and proper course of action when they tell him that when they one day do die, Mitty will be left alone, suffering for all eternity.

After preparing a tasteful site for “sending off” Mitty, Nanachi only halts Reg from firing Incinerator for one last goodbye to her treasure, then tells him to do it. The ensuing inferno consumes every bit of Mitty until there’s nothing left. Just like that, she’s gone.

It’s ruinously sad, but I’ll admit, a HUGE relief her suffering is at an end. After all, her last words as a human to Nanachi in that tube were “kill me.” Hers was the kind of pure lasting suffering that’s hard to imagine or even comprehend, but I can grasp the catharsis, even if the hurt remains in the hearts of those who sent her off.

Things thankfully take a lighter turn when Reg awakens to find Riko is also awake, and starting her rehabilitation. Riko takes an instant liking to the cute and fuzzy Nanachi, and both Nanachi and Reg appreciate Riko’s far superior culinary skills.

After going through that emotional, visceral ringer, It’s awfully nice to see Riko back to normal. Then she asks if there wasn’t someone else there besides the three of them, and recalls a dream that made her think that.

The creepy dream we saw part of last week is put into context thanks to Riko. She is consumed by a kind of skin (representing her deep illness) and can only cry and panic, but when she sees that terrified, crying eye—Mitty’s eye in the waking world—she calms down, stares back, and tries to comfort her.

Then, after Reg sends Mitty off, Riko perceives it as Mitty (or rather, her soul) being restored to its human form before passing on. Then Riko realizes she needs to “get going”, and follows the light back to consciousness and out of her wounded stupor.

Upon hearing this “dream”, which was likely something more significant, Nanachi looks grateful that someone saw their treasure in the moment she finally achieved her freedom.

Nanachi takes Riko and Reg to a kind of healing hot spring, and enjoys watching Reg squirm as Riko proceeds to have no qualms whatsoever about bathing with him naked, all while quietly asking Mitty to wait “a little longer,” which could either be interpreted as Nanachi planning to take her life and join Mitty soon, or not until after she’s lived a life that now includes two new potential “treasures” in Reg and Riko.

After removing the mushrooms from her arm (another highly painful, unpleasant ordeal), Riko eventually regains the ability to lift her arm and even move her thumb. Reg blames his crappy amputation attempt for the state of her arm, but Riko doesn’t blame him; she asked him to do it, after all. She also heared from Nanachi how tearfully and desperately Reg tried to save her, and thanks him for that, regarding her nasty scar as “precious proof” he protected her.

Riko, like Reg before her, asks Nanachi if they’ll join them as they continue their journey further down the Abyss, and Nanachi agrees. The credits then roll over a lovely montage: Riko ties her backpack to a balloon and releases it, and they prepare for their journey as it makes its harrowing ascent past all the layers they’d passed, even requiring Marulk to free it from a branch and repair it.

It eventually reaches Nat, who looks shocked and elated to finally possess evidence of Riko and Reg’s progress. Having completed their preparations (and the construction of a big, sturdy new backpack), the new party of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi leave Nanachi’s cozy house behind, in search of trying to satisfy that most unstoppable longing for the unknown.

Meanwhile, in Bondrewd the Novel’s lab, he notices one of dozens of lights has gone out; a light signifying Mitty’s life. He is proud of and grateful to Nanachi for having finally gotten it done, as if letting them escape was yet another experiment. And he’s eager to meet her again. Ouzen was right; she’s kind and pleasant compared to this evil bastard.

And there we are; that’s a wrap! At least until a second season comes along. While I can assure you there are very few shows I’d want to jump into the second season of immediately, and this is one of them, I think a good long rest is in order, to recover from the emotional wounds it left in this final, epic, horrendously devastating yet still somehow hopeful, and achingly beautiful finale. I want to believe Riko’s mom is waiting for her. I have to.

Fate / Zero – 25 (Fin)

Did the Holy Grail know Kiritsugu would reject it? Who can say? But even if it initially chose him to be its bearer, his order to Saber to destroy it flipped the script. It also flipped the cup, as the Grail’s destruction means the black ooze it contained falls upon Fuyuki, destroying everything in sight, to Kiritsugu’s great despair. Even trying to do the right thing at the right time would seem to have backfired on this exceedingly unlucky and tortured soul.

Speaking of tortured souls, Kariya is still barely alive when he returns to the Matou basement, but while his senses tell him he is reuniting Sakura with Rin and Aoi, in reality Sakura is abandoning him to the Crest Worms and accepting the fate he tried in vain to keep her from.

Perhaps it was the contents of the Grail, not the Grail itself, that mattered most, as those contents fell on Archer, but rather than destroy him along with everything else, it gave him physical form (though not clothes). And because Gilgamesh still had a pact with Kirei, it resurrected him, albeit with no heartbeat.

That literal lack of a beating heart is indicative of his departure from humanity, as is his apparently Grail-fulfilled wish for death and destruction around him, and a hunger to “learn more” and explore the depths of his inhumanity. But as I said, the Grail will never fully satiate; at best it can only lock people—Servants and Masters alike—in a perpetual state of searching.

As for Kiritsugu, he’s done searching. Indeed, he seems to be just about done with everything, owing to the curse bestowed on him by a scorned Grail and his entire life’s work burning before him. The last thing he searches for—a single survivor among the scorched rubble—is something he ironically finds immediately.

By saving that single life—a young Shirou—Kiritsugu himself is saved. It’s a concept a sneering Kirei can’t possibly comprehend enough even to envy.

With that, the clock on the Fourth Holy Grail War reaches…Zero and comes to an end, with the official winner in doubt, though more-or-less claimed by Kirei, since the Grail seemingly brought him back.

Back at his “grandparents”, Waver announces he’s going to set aside his magical studies for a bit, get a part-time job, live with them, and save up enough to travel the world his king once conquered a good chunk of.

Kirei has upheld his promise to his master to look after Rin after he’s gone, likely so that he can observe and absorb all of the grief, pain and suffering Rin is likely to experience on the long, hard road all heads of great families must walk.

Rin maintains a stoicsm beyond her years at her father’s futural, even as she wheels her brain-damaged, delusional mom around. What gets her to crack and shed tears is the Azoth dagger; Kiritsugu twisting the blade like the piece of work he is.

And Saber, poor Saber, is back in Britain, on a battlefield strewn with corpses, having led everyone nowhere but to their own deaths. She remembers Lancelot’s last words to her, about how he only ever sought her righteous judgment for betraying her and falling in love win Guinevere.

Arturia considers herself a failed king who never understood anyone, and considering her surroundings it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

As for Saber’s former Master, he is banned from Einzbern Castle forever, having failed to secure the Grail for them, and never sees his daughter Ilya again. So he adopts Shirou, fixes up the old safe house, and spends the next five years raising his adoptive son and living a quiet but happy life.

One night he tells Shirou how he once wanted and tried to be a hero, but ultimately failed. Shirou confidently promises his dad he’ll become a hero in his place. A heavenly light suddenly shines above Saber; a ray of hope.

Clearly contented by his son’s words, Kiritsugu starts to peacefully pass away, with an answer for his friend Shirley’s question about what he wanted to be when he grew up: he wanted, and still wants, to be a hero.

* * * * *

And that’s it for Fate/Zero! Boy, what a ride it’s been these past five weeks. That was a far better show than I could have imagined…which is why it took so long after UBW to watch it. Burned by previous prequels to beloved works, I was worried knowing pretty much how everything would end would make it difficult for the stakes to matter.

Yeah…I was dead wrong about that. Not only was I far more emotionally invested in Zero, it was a lot more approachable, had a lot more heart, and took a lot more risks than the smoother, shinier UBW. It’s not that UBW is bad, it’s simply a matter of Zero kicking ass in virtually every aspect of the game. It wasn’t just a great anime, it was great television; great storytelling, full stop. So thanks to everyone out there who recommended it to me. It was well worth a look back.

Fate / Zero – 24

Ever since the childhood trauma that set him on his path, Emiya Kiritsugu has striven to be a level-headed, efficient, logical man. It’s partly why he kept Saber at arm’s length: an emotional connection with his Servant isn’t necessary and exposure to her illogical honor can only create inefficiencies in his plans.

So as Saber finds herself struggling with the insane anger and hatred of her former most trusted knight, essentially making her the logical one in her fight, and Iri’s body transforms into the Holy Grail, Kiritsugu never would have imagined it would not only toy with his emotions, but use his beloved logic against him.

But first, by god was I not wrong when I said the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei would be something. It’s quite different and more minimalist than any previous battle in the show, with both participants sizing up their opponents, approaching them with a certain strategy, and switching up tactics on the fly as conditions rapidly change.

Kirei would have surely killed Kiritsugu relatively quickly were it not for Avalon imbuing Kiritsugu with a virtual “Auto-Life” status. In the slight sliver of a moment Kirei’s guard is down, Kiritsugu takes Kirei’s right arm away with Contender, and the odds are evened.

So even is the duel, in fact, that the Grail itself, runnething over with some kind of dark, blood-like ooze directly above the fighters, essentially calls a “timeout” by covering both in that ooze.

That indicates the War is finally at an end, and the Grail has chosen the victor. At the same time, Saber runs Berserker through, killing him, as Kariya also expires; claiming she cannot atone to him without winning the Holy Grail.

In an illusory world created by the Grail, an avatar of Iri representing the will of the Grail names Kiritsugu as the winner, and he need only officially pray for his wish to become reality. The only problem is, the Grail, or at least this Grail, cannot give him the miracle he wants. At least, not in a manner that is acceptable.

The Grail then sets to work taking Kiritsugu’s philosophy to its logical conclusion: killing the smaller percentage of people to save a larger one, thought-experiment style; sacrificing the few to save the many.

But if, like his time-altering battle ability, Kiritsugu would continue to whittle down some humanity in order to save another proportion, before long there will be no one left in the world but him and those he cares about the most, presented to him as Maiya, Iri and Ilya.

To save them, he’ll have to kill everyone else. In other words, “saving the world” means destroying humanity. This is the sum total of Kiritsugu’s wish, according to the Grail.

And the Grail stands ready to grant that wish, even though it is not at all what Kiritsugu wants. He rejects the Grail, unwilling to sacrifice the world for his own few loved ones, symbolically murdering both Iri and Ilya in a thoroughly upsetting scene in an attempt to subvert of the nightmare scenario the Grail put forward. The Grail curses him and he is cast out.

Back in reality, such as it is, Kiritsugu has the advantage over Kirei, who rages and fumes at him for refusing and wasting the Grail’s wish. But in killing him it seems Kiritsugu is almost doing Kirei a favor.

This Grail is not omnipotent, and thus would be no more able to reveal the nature and meaning of Kirei’s existence than it could grant Kiritsugu a miracle that would end all conflict in the world. In both cases, the one making the wish does not know what it is they seek.

That being said, the Grail is still immensely powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands, and Kiritsugu decides that no one, including him, has the right hands.

So as Saber and Archer descend on the physical Grail, poised to fight the final duel in the War, and Saber rejects Archer’s offer of marriage and servitude, Kiritsugu forsakes Saber once more, hitting her where it hurts most: he uses his two remaining Command Seals to order her to destroy the Grail with Excalibur…and she cannot disobey.

But perhaps Kiritsugu is right that Saber, like Kirei and he himself before, is merely deluding herself into believing the Grail will grant her wish, only offer shallow illusions in exchange for being possessed by someone worthy. The Grail is not an answer.

Fate / Zero – 23

Before their epic duel, Rider and Archer have a drink together and exchange words of respect. Waver quips that they’re friends, and Rider doesn’t argue with the label: how can he be unfriendly with the one who could be the last person he’ll ever see?

Rider doesn’t mess around with anything other than the best he’s got, and whips out Ionian Hetairoi. Archer looks pleased to be facing such a strong and worthy foe, but he also doesn’t look worried in the least.

While the ancient kings’ battle takes place on the vast expanse of sand, Saber ends up fighting Berserker in a relatively cramped underground parking lot. Berserker seems to feed off of Kariya’s suffering and regret, as Sakura shows up in his head, and while reassuring her they’ll all be together again, Sakura inadvertently reminds Kariya that “they” no longer includes her mom.

Berserker’s penchant for ‘turning’ weapons for his use continues when he makes use of some automatic weapons; Saber can barely get near him, and when she does, her sword bounces off his armor, or the blade merely caught in mid-strike by Berserker’s palms.

Once he does that, Saber gets into her head that he reminds her of some knight she once knew, and on cue Berserker’s Pigpen-like cloud of miasma dissipates and he removes his helm to reveal he IS someone she knew…or rather he WAS. That someone is none other than Sir Lancelot, the greatest of the Knights of the Round Table.

That Saber has no idea it was him until now, and has no idea how he came to be this way after they parted ways, gets to the heart of that seed of doubt planted by Rider about her reckless self-destructive path to kingship, which he didn’t see as kingship at all. Lance would seem to be proof of that, and I can’t imagine Saber wants to fight him, except perhaps to put him out of his misery.

Back in the desert, Gilgamesh reveals the reason he’s so calm with a massive legendary army descending on him: his own, thus-far-unused Noble Phantasm, Ea. As soon as he unlocks and activates Enuma Elish (an extremely strange and cool sequence, as befits Gilgamesh), the dunes begin to collapse, the legions plummet to their demise, and the very sky shatters along with the Reality Marble.

His trump card utterly defeated, Rider has no course but to charge Archer on his own. Even after his horse goes down, he runs at him on foot, getting impaled several times, before being restrained by great chains, his blade inches from Gil’s face. Before he fades away, Iskandar wonders if the lapping waves of Oceanus, the Ocean at the End of the World, was actually merely the dancing of his own heart.

It’s a legendary ending for a truly legendary Servant with whom there was never a dull moment. He was simply outmatched here. And to his credit, Archer is not cruel in his treatment of Waver. On the contrary, when he asks if as his sworn retainer, Waver should not avenge his fallen king, and Waver replies that he was ordered to survive, Gilgamesh salutes his “splendid loyalty” and spares his life, urging him to never let that loyalty tarnish.

Time for Waver to go home; he got far further in the Holy Grail War than most would expect a mage from a “lesser” family to get. While this fight is over and Rider is gone, the stage is set—literally, Iri’s body is on a stage—for the duel between Kiritsugu and Kirei. Will their fight be as bold and flashy as Archer and Rider’s, or Saber and Berserker’s below them? Perhaps not, but it should still be…theatrical.

Fate / Zero – 22

For an episode preceded by such disturbing spectacle as a broken man murdering his best friend and making Rin an orphan, and followed by the casual malice of a born-again nihilist discarding his hostage before setting a foreboding trap, this episode has the most charming, heartwarming opening: an exhausted Waver finally arrives back home just before daybreak.

We know it’s not really his home, and he hypnotized its occupants into thinking he’s their grandson. But when his “grandpa” beckons for him to join him on the roof for a truly spectacular sunrise, something else dawned on me: Waver is Me. He’s the most normal, decent, well-adjusted participant in a war stocked with utter weirdos on all sides.

He seeks only simple glory and acknowledgement; the underdog raised high; his doubters and haters silenced. Sure, hypnotizing the couple was wrong, but how can I judge when even after the hypnosis wears off, the grandpa is not only forgiving, but wants Waver to stay. He’s a better grandson than they ever had.

On to the weirdos. While I more easily related to him early as a young kid having fun before all hell broke loose, and continue to recognize the emotions in his heart, support his goals (as laid out by Iri) and feel for his many losses, I simply haven’t lived a life as intense as Kiritsugu, so while I’m rooting for him, I’m on the outside looking in with Kiritsugu.

And Kiritsugu is alone again. It’s not ideal, but he’s not going to slow down or stop, even though he’s gone forty hours without sleep. He says “alone again” because, like Natalia, Maiya has left him. He doesn’t seem to count Saber as a person he can work with or trust, let alone a person at all; instead, she’s a tool to win the war, and he treats her as coldly as ever as she makes her report.

Kiritsugu probably also feels alone because Iri has been taken by the enemy, and he no doubt fears he won’t see her alive again. But a defiant Iri makes use of her captivity by Kirei to get in a number of barbs that cut the priest to the quick. Notably, that Kiritsugu isn’t an “empty man” like him; he seeks nothing less than the salvation of the world through the elimination of all violence and conflict.

Unsurprisingly, Kirei hears nothing but the naive utterings of a child in these words, but Iri does manage to give him something he didn’t have before he kidnapped her: Kiritsugu’s dream, which he will now proceed to destroy, along with the Holy Grail itself, which he can think of no use for. And since he gets all he needs out of Iri, he snaps her neck, seemingly killing her.

That I’m a bit fuzzy on how this whole Einzbern homonculus system works—and thus unclear whether Iri is dead dead or even ever alive—is irrelevant; it’s still absolutely gutting to see such a gentle, loving person treated with such contempt. Kirei is one hell of a villain, and his frustration and resentment for lacking something fundamental Kiritsugu seems to possess is palpable; he’s an almost pitiable wretch.

After that unpleasantness, what sure feels like the final day of the War transitions into the final night, and Waver awakes to find Rider in no particular hurry. Mage signals in the sky indicate that someone wishes to challenge them—Kirei arrranges for Archer to fight Rider while Berserker will keep Saber company—and Rider summons a horse, the backup to his chariot.

Waver has no intention of going along. As Rider said, only the strong remain, and Waver doesn’t consider himself strong. He’s Just A Guy, after all, the Everyman of Fate/Zero, with no business in the final battles. He even expends all of his Command Seals at once so he can say with certitude he is no longer Rider’s Master.

And yet Rider still picks him up by the scruff and dumps him in front of him on his horse. He wants Waver to accompany him as he has on all of their great battles thus far, not because he’s his Master, but because they’re friends and equals.

Having gone from gut-punch to heartwarm, the episode closes with a bit of a mindblower, as Iri, apparently not quite dead (or…whatever) after all, goes Beyond the Infinite.

In a surreal, bizarre and thoroughly unsettling sequence that calls to mind Akira, Evangelion, and Dalí, Iri sees hundreds of naked doll bodies piled up before her, one of which cracks a way-too-wide evil grin; then she has a touching scene with her daughter Ilya before an oozing black darkness encroaches upon them, and dozens of tiny arms grab at her and pull her down into the goo.

When she emerges, she realizes what’s happening: she’s in the Holy Grail. What exactly that means, and whether and how she can aid her beloved from there, remains to be seen. But I have to say I’m digging the extra metaphysical layer the show has revealed.

Fate / Zero – 21

I can only admire Fate/Zero for its willingness to include a little bit of everything for everyone in its Holy Grail War, and as it had already featured a dogfight between Archer and Berserker, it was only a matter of time before Saber got into a chase with Rider, she on her motorcycle and he and Waver on his giant chariot.

The resulting chase does not disappoint, as Saber squids fearlessly through traffic, pushing her steed to its mechanical limits before deciding Screw it, I’m bosozokuing this motherfucker. While I prefer the more classic look of her bike, it’s still hella cool she can soup it up the same was she can soup up her armor.

With only five episodes left (my how time flies) I wasn’t ruling out the possibility this would be it for Rider, but Saber is content to withdraw after destroying his chariot with Excalibur, after which Waver and Rider lament that they have to walk home; a not inconsiderable distance considering the speed and length of the chase.

And that’s pretty much the last of the levity in this episode, as things go visually and thematically super-dark from there. Turns out Rider didn’t kidnap Iri (didn’t seem very in-character); it was Kariya’s doing, using two command seals to A.) control Berserker and B.) disguise him as Rider. Kiritsugu tortures Kariya’s brother Byakuya but doesn’t get much out of him.

Kirei has been busy since killing Tokiomi; further exploring his capacity for “entertainment” by manipulating Kariya, using new Command Seals and his bloodlust for Tokiomi as bait. While this all makes sense, I wish we’d have been able to witness Kirei initially approach Kariya after healing him and his stint with Zouken. Instead, the plan came together entirely in the background and has to be swiftly explained after the fact.

Once Kariya is off to the church to duel with Tokiomi (by now very dead), Zouken reveals himself to Kirei. If there is one remaining bit of levity in this episode, it’s here, as Zouken, truly a top-class Master of Evil, seems to take a shine to Kirei. Kirei is understandably disgusted by the mere suggestion of being compared to scum like him.

But for once, Zouken is right: I have no doubt that after a few more decades of this kind of stuff, Kirei will be standing in the exact same place as Zouken, King of Shitbags – so shitty, he’s not sure what he wants more: to win the Grail War, or watch his son continue to suffer.

And does Kariya ever suffer. After entering the church and yelling at a corpse, he discovers Tokiomi is already dead, just when the deceased’s widow Aoi arrives, no doubt summoned by Kirei. It’s not what it looks like (that Kariya just killed Tokiomi) but it sure looks bad, and Aoi doesn’t go easy on Kariya, rejecting his excuses and condeming him for never having loved anyone, despite the fact he always secretly loved her.

Kariya is clearly not in a stable place mentally here, and that instability and the resulting breakdown is chillingly depicted with a series of blackout shots, tinged with flashes of him attacking Aoi (the dark church appearing bright beside the blackness), before returning to full vision of him slowly strangling her to death.

After that all Kariya can do is get up and stumble out, screaming and wailing incoherently; becoming more like his unhinged Servant all the time. And who enjoyed a prime vantage point for this macabre entire “play” up in the church balcony? Kirei, who along with Archer were watching and sipping wine the whole time. Kirei notes the wine tastes different; better. He wants to sample more.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 12

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GIBO has followed a highly effective pattern throughout the Fall: terrific quiet episodes followed by even more terrific LOUD episodes. The latest Loud One might just be the best.

Eugene might scoff at Kudelia’s ignorance of the gravitic effects of Ahab reactors, but I was glad for the little lesson, which explains why there’s a vast churning debris field made up of ships and suits from the calamity war, all gathered together by still-active ahabs, like the Pacific Trash Vortex in space.

It’s a fitting battlefield for Tekkadan and the Turbines’ fight with the Brewers, who have been hired by Gjallarhorn to bring Kudelia back into their orbit, whether she wants to or not. The debris field has powerful metaphorical value too: it’s the ingrained belief of most Human Debris that they’re no different from those hunks of metal floating around; if they’re not useful, they’re worthless.

At the same time, the adoptive, surrogate, and biological families aboard the Hammerhead and Isaribi themselves came together much like the debris field in which they’ll fight, only their shared experiences, emotions, fondness, and love comprise the “gravity” that brought them together.

That “human gravity” gives the impending battle extra weight: it’s not just about giving the Brewers a bloody nose: it’s about saving Masahiro, who isn’t just Akihiro’s brother to Orga and Tekkadan. Mika understands this, so as he goes out to scout with Lafter, he promises Akihiro he’ll try to go easy on Masahiro until he arrives.

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Heartbreakingly juxtaposed with Atra and Kudelia presenting their beloved Mika with a love-infused and no-doubt sumptuous homemade lunch for the battle (how adorably domestic), is the Brewers debris chow scene, who are lucky to get dry packaged protein bars. They notice there’s one extra, for their fallen brother Pedro, and talk arises of rebirth and resurrection into a better life after this one. Naturally, Kudal comes in and smacks them for such talk, but Masahiro seems intrigued.

As Mika and Lafter scout out the debris field (with Mika studying reading and writing and eating his lunch to kill time – every minute is valuable for this guy) Kudelia, Atra, and Merribit wait for the ride to get bumpy in the mess hall. Kudelia is apprehensive, but Atra takes her hands into hers to reassure her: Mika will come back; he always comes back. And because of how this particular Gundam treats statements like that, I know he’ll most likely come back too.

To me, it’s more another sign that Atra’s idea of sharing her love for Mika—rather than “winning” and depriving Kudelia of him—wasn’t a fleeting one. She cares deeply about Kudelia too, and doesn’t want her to worry. The display of affection and concern makes Merribit smile.

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And that’s about it for the “quiet” part of “The Shoals.” Brooke and Kudal end up taking the bait, believing the false readings of enemy ships being right behind their scouts, and sending all their mobile suits to attack, leaving them wide open for when Tekkadan and the Turbines get the jump on them.

The Hammerhead impressively rams Brooke’s ship into an asteroid, while the Isaribi handles the other with arresting cables and a boarding party led by Shino. Kudal sorties in his Gusion (armed with his own hammer), while Mika, Lafter, Azee, and Amida all maneuver the Brewer suits so that Masahiro is isolated, to allow Akihiro to approach and retrieve his bro.

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While the Brewers are no Gjallarhorn, didn’t see through their adversary’s tricks, and don’t impress Shino with their intruder repelling skills, they still put up a hell of a fight. In addition to its hammer, Gusion has anti-ship artillery that packs a punch, while most of the human debris pilots are fighting with revenge on their minds. Of course, ultimately Mika and the ladies don’t have much trouble taking them out; only Kudal looks to be a legitimate headache for our flygirls and boys.

As such, Akihiro gets the one-on-one encounter with Masahiro that he wanted. Akihiro still goes off about how he’s garbage, but Orga makes it clear he’s sick of that talk. Whatever happened in the past, they all have the power to change things as much as they want; they only have to do it. Akihiro thinks he can convince his brother of the same thing…but his brother is too far gone. “Why now?” is his refrain; as if now was too late.

When Akihiro headed out, I wanted him to bring his brother back to the Isaribi. I wanted the words Akihiro heard from Orga, and took to heart, could be successfully relayed to Masahiro and snap him out of his nihilistic human debris mindset. But none of that happened. When Akihiro mentions another family other than him, mom, and dad, Masashiro loses it; Akihiro’s been having fun since abandoning him.

Twisting Akihiro’s brotherly mobile suit hug for a darker purpose, Masahiro releases Akihiro at just the right time to spare him the blow of Kudal’s hammer, which crushes him instead. Whether he was thinking about ending it so he could be reborn in his mother’s belly—a clean slate he felt wasn’t possible in this life—it’s a rejection of Akihiro’s hope, and an immediate end to Masahiro’s suffering…if he’s actually dead, that is.

In a safer, more controlled environment with more time and cooler heads, Akihiro might’ve been able to more carefully explain things and convince his brother to join him, but in the heat of a battle in a debris field wasn’t that environment. And now, no doubt, Akihiro will blame himself for what happened as more evidence debris is all he should ever aspire to be; to hope or wish for more only brings about punishment such as this.

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Attack on Titan – 02

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As the first waves of Titan victims become a feast for crows, Eren, Mikasa and Armin retreat from Shiganshina and the breached Wall Maria to Wall Rose. Initially carried by Hannes, Eren fumes over running away, but there’s nothing else to do: he lacks the strength, as does all of humanity.

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As for the Titans themselves, there’s a bizarrely charming dumpy childishness to many of the smaller ones, acting like the humans spread out before them are simply fun toys that happen to double as food. But then there are some that seem much more purely evil, or at least more evolved to dispatch humans on a massive scale, like the Titan that blasts through the gate and uses fire breath to roast the garrison.

There’s a sickening inhuman cruelty at work, but also the sense that this is simply how nature has progressed; humans are no longer the top dogs, and life is going to get more difficult. The Titans are simply doing what they’ve evolved to do: feed on humans. Sorry, humans.

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The kids end up on a boat with a few hundred other survivors, who then become refugees within Wall Rose. Whatever picturesque, idealized town Shiganshina was, their new temporary home is far bleaker and harsher, with a populace already experiencing a food shortage, there’s great animosity for the newcomers; even wishes that the Titans ate more of them.

Once he’s over the initial shock of witnessing his mother’s death and the death of hundreds of others before his eyes, Eren switches to anger and goals that, at this point, are absurdly unreasonable and premature. He tries to run before he can crawl, or at least talk about running, i.e. driving the Titans out.

Thank goodness then, he has the more sensible Armin to keep him from getting an even more severe beating from a guard, and a no-nonsense Mikasa who isn’t above punching Eren out and stuffing bread down his throat if it means keeping him alive.

I’m already enjoying the dynamic of these three, in particular Mikasa, the steadfast rock of the trio with no patience for Eren’s empty speeches about wiping out the Titans when clearly, at present, nothing can be done.

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That fact is underlined when, after putting the refugees to work in the wastelands cultivating food doesn’t arrest the food shortage, 250,000 of them are sent back out to “fight” the Titans. Of course, they only serve as a massive buffet (only 200 survive), and a sign of how callous those behind an inner wall can be to preserve what they have.

A lot of time passes this week, making these first two episodes  a solid foundation chronicling the trauma endured by our protagonists that motivate them to enlist in the military, that they might do something, anything to try to push the Titans back.

Meanwhile, Eren has intense, disturbing dreams and/or visions of future events; his dad is still alive somewhere, and there was a secret in the basement of the family home his dad intended Eren to see. All of this points to Eren being more than just talk, but whatever power he possesses seems a long way from being unleashed.

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Reminder: Comments are welcome as always, but please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am watching AoT for the first time. Many thanks—HB

Attack on Titan – 01

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Thanks to Netflix and a relatively light Fall season, I am pleased to finally crack open the massively popular Attack on Titan, a show I eschewed virtually sight unseen, choosing instead to follow Gargantia, Majestic Prince, and Valvrave. I’m only past the first episode of AoT, but I can already see I made a major oversight; one that will be corrected forthwith.

AoT’s cold open shows us the very moment the people of Shiganshina are royally hosed, then after the credits, rewinds to the morning before the shit hits the fan and begins the process of masterfully building up the dread and tension preceding the events of the cold open.

As we follow Eren (a loud-mouthed portentous shonen if ever there was one) and his sister Mikasa (a girl of few words but immense strength) as they wind their way through the streets of their huge hometown, the walls, streets and structures have a strength, solidarity, and safety to them. Even the sounds of everyday life are lulling.

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If there is one shortcoming to this first episode, it’s that Eren isn’t necessarily likable at first. His reasons for wanting to strike out into the outside world aren’t unreasonable, but he can be over-emphatic in his protestations and scolds.

Sure, he may have had a vision of doom descending on Shiganshina, but he’s fighting against a century of idleness and contentment. Conviction and loudness are no substitute for hard evidence. Also, the episode tries to paint Armin with broad strokes, but there’s not much to him yet except that like Eren, he’s not content to stay within the walls.

Then the evidence arrives in the form of a hand grasping the top of the 50-meter outer wall, and it’s a powerful “Toldya so” moment that shakes every inhabitant of the city to their core. Then…a hole is blasted in the wall with such force it causes widespread destruction to the rest of the city. And that’s before smaller Titans start rushing in.

Any early quibbles I might have had with Eren or Armin go out the window when the appalling carnage starts, with throngs of humans running for their lives and many being scooped up and gobbled up like hors d’oeuvres. There’s a distinct sticky aura of awfulness to the spectacle, and the utter powerlessness of the three young protagonists.

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When Eren rushes home hoping against hope his house is still intact only to find his mom’s legs crushed under its ruins, it’s a gut punch. Before I can recover from that, a Titan eats her with cold satisfaction as a fleeing Eren watches, flooring me yet again.

Amidst the wholesale butchery and mass despair, there are obviously glints of both hope and levity. Mikasa’s imposing brawn is employed for a snicker when she and Eren rescue Armin from bullies, and the smash cut from Hannes momentarily facing off against a Titan to reconsidering and scooping up the kids, and retreating was a legitimately funny “oh shit” moment.

As for hope, well, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are still alive, which means anything is possible. Obviously, they won’t stay powerless for long. But nor is any viable counterattack likely in the immediate future. The onslaught of the Titans has only begun, after all. For now, surviving is the name of the game.

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Welcome to my weekly (or bi-weekly) Attack on Titan retro reviews. Comments are welcome as always, however please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am writing these reviews as I watch AoT for the first time. Thanks—HB