Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 09 – Diva’s Final Curtain

Matsumoto, always entertaining when thrown for a loop, finds himself speaking to Antonio through Ophelia, as he decides the best way to fulfill his mission to support her was to become her, sparing her the burden of fame and the pursuit of perfection, but also sparing her an independent existence. He considers his mission far more noble than Matsumoto’s designs to prevent her suicide, though he might not say that if he knew the bigger picture.

Speaking of that, Kakitani’s youth is promptly explained: he’s an AI copy of the human, and his mission is to get an answer he couldn’t from his teacher, which only Vivy could provide. That means infecting the captured Diva with a custom logic palette that “doesn’t belong in this era” which, throughout the episode, slowly erases Diva’s personality, eventually leaving only Vivy behind to answer him.

Thankfully, it’s a slow countdown, and while it is technically a ticking clock, because it’s only one of several spinning plates in this arc finale, it feels earned rather than cliched. That it is an inevitability even Matsumoto’s hacking skillz cannot override also adds gravitas to every moment Diva is on screen, because they’ll be her last.

It also assures that the titular Vivy we know and love, who can neither act like a human nor sing half as well as Diva, will ultimately return. It occurs to me that at the conclusion of every previous arc, we didn’t just say goodbye to one of Vivy’s sisters, but a part of Vivy as well, as her interactions with them helped her grow, both as a songstress and a person.

This time we don’t just say goodbye to a part of Vivy, but an entire alternate version of her, who lived for sixty years. It’s a tough loss…but before she goes Diva makes sure she puts absolutely everything she’s got in all the time she has left to be the best temporary partner to Matsumoto he could ask for…and vice versa.

While packed with drama, pathos, tragedy and romance, Wit Studio flexes its muscles like never before in this episode, as we cut between the parallel battles, one of the more abstract electronic variety, one more down-and-dirty hand-to-hand combat, but both equally gorgeous an awesome to watch unfold.

That Kakitani is also an AI means both he and Diva can take the fight to levels humans would not be able to survive, while Matsumoto manages to copy himself into enough cubes to fight his battle with Antonio while supporting Diva. Compare this to Antonio, who happily accepted Kakitani’s help but is otherwise not working towards the same mission, making them inherently weaker against a united front.

Among other Kakitani’s surprises is an elaborate arm cannon (always a sharp feature when going on a timeline-bending crusade to avenge his mentor—and a special knife that seems to act as an EMP, deactivating the Matsumoto cubes aiding Diva.

All the while, Diva tries to impress upon Kakitani the fact that she’s not Vivy, and has no answers for him he’ll find satisfying. When she says she puts everything she has into her singing to make people happy, that includes everything about Vivy, despite her knowing next to nothing about her.

On the Antonio side of things, Matsumoto says he almost turned into him, discarding his partner as part of his “perfect calculations”. Looking at what’s become of Antonio, he’s not glad he didn’t eliminate her. As for his mission, it was never specifically to stop Ophelia’s suicide; it was to carry out the Singularity Project with his partner.

Even taking over Ophelia couldn’t satisfy Antonio, because no matter how happy the crowds were with his performances, he always knew he wouldn’t be able to match the power of the true Ophelia’s singing. In fact, it irked him that their standards for excellence were so low, resenting the very people it was Ophelia’s mission to make happy.

The Matsumoto cubes manage to hack both Antonio and Kakitani and disable both, and transfers Antonio back into his own clunky body. It’s only then in his last moments that he admits that all he really wanted was for Ophelia to sing for him and no one else. Ophelia, regaining consciousness before shutting down, admits she only wanted to sing for him; to make him smile.

In the end, their mutual love and devotion to each other corrupted their missions. In true Shakespearian tragic fashion, it was a love that could never be. In that same vein, the moment Kakitani uploaded that logic palette, Diva was a version of Vivy that could never be, even though she did a bang-up job serving as Matsumoto’s partner. Before Kakitani shuts down, he tries to twist the knife once more, telling Diva “there were humans who suffered because you existed!”

That line might’ve worked on Vivy, but it doesn’t faze Diva that much. And in true Diva fashion, she gives one last snap and tells Matsumoto she’s going to use her last five or so minutes of existence doing what she was built to do: dazzle the stage, put her heart into her singing, and make everyone in attendance happy to be there. As she performs, she simultaneously opens a dialogue with Vivy within the Construct.

In this lovely parallel scene, their positions couldn’t be better illustrated, as Diva is both on stage and in the brightly lit classroom, while Vivy is relegated to a dark, shadowy, morose office. The pair lean against the same door, and Diva says she hears how Vivy had been struggling with putting her heart into her singing. She says the answer is to simply to hear the song she’s singing now, in her final performance, as in the Construct she slowly dissolves away into cybernetic oblivion.

And yet, as Vivy opens the door and steps into the light, then wakes up on stage to a deliriously ecstatic crowd cheering the song Diva just sang, Vivy still doesn’t understand. Then again, she only just woke back up; maybe she needs a few decades to process what she heard and what it means. Thanks to Diva, she has her existence back, which means anything is possible for her. As long as she sticks with her partner Matsumoto, who promised Diva he’d take care of her.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 08 – Get Thee to a Nunnery

We, along with Diva, learn via Matsumoto of Ophelia’s beloved partner and support AI Antonio, who despite a propensity for crankiness always had her back. He always said there was nothing wrong with her singing, she just needed the right stage to perform it. His mission was only ever to help her achieve hers.

But before he could do this, he mysteriously shut down five years before the present day. Ophelia lost her primary sound and lighting guy along with the only person she trusted with his rough-edged praise and encouragement. As such she was never the same, and eventually committed suicide or “self-destruct”, lending credence to the growing belief that AIs had souls, the same as humans.

Matsumoto’s plan of action feels too much like a “stopgap” measure for Diva—especially this evolved, more human than ever version of her. She wants to get to the root of Ophelia’s distress so she won’t even have to talk her off the ledge, because she’ll never climb onto it in the first place.

Diva finds Ophelia in the concert hall’s museum, where she’s watching Diva’s early days. Diva asks her upfront (and rather clumsily for this Diva) whether there’s anything troubling her to the point she might want to die. Ophelia leads Diva to the Antonio exhibit, where Antonio’s actual body is on display in a box of lilies.

It’s clear from the way she was watching other songstress sisters that Ophelia is seeking the answer to how they all sing, and for what purpose. But while Ophelia grieves for Antonio, her one and only partner, she’s not in any hurry to join him, as she knows he’d be the first to say she has to do better. Diva puts a lily in Ophelia’s hair, hoping it will be a talisman of protection, and sends her on her way.

Ophelia (performed by the always adorable Hidaka Rina) puts on a wonderful, spellbinding show as expected, but afterwards Diva is troubled when she sees “that look again” on Ophelia’s face. Still, she’s determined that it’s probably not Antonio’s loss that led the near-future Ophelia to suicide; or at least not all it was.

After showing Matsumoto the image of a young Kakitani (whom he insists shoudn’t exist in this timeline), he warns Diva to ditch her sympathy and empathy she’s developed over the years and stick to the mission. Then she insists he tell her more about Vivy and their relationship, which she imagines must be substantial considering he rescued her from falling without hesitation.

Matsumoto decribes Vivy as we watch a montage of her in action, and while the words describe an unpredictable pain in his cubic ass, there’s also a hint of reluctant pride in his telling. He even admits there was a point when he thought he could “look to her with confidence” (as a reliable partner in the Singularity Project), but then Saeki killed himself and she froze.

When Ophelia’s show is over, Diva and Matsumoto keep an eye on her via the cameras, but then Diva spots Kakitani, and goes chasing after him, promising to tell Matsumoto about Vivy’s “basic distress.” But because Diva rushes headlong to Kakitani without all the info—just as Vivy often did—he ends up captured by him. All of her memories of him in past timelines wash over her just before he zaps her with a gun that paralyzes her.

Meanwhile, Matsumoto realizes the camera footage has been faked (since Ophelia in the green room has no lily in her hair) and someone other than him is doing some hacking. He races to Ophelia as fast as his little flight servos can carry him, but is met with another bombshell: Ophelia isn’t Ophelia anymore, but Antonio in Ophelia’s body. It seems, then, that when Antonio shut down, it was because he either merged with Ophelia or took over her body. In any case, he says Matsumoto is “fatally too late” to save her. To be continued…

Post-credits we find ourselves hearing Kakitani (or whoever he is)’s story, as he yearned to be a pianist and to catch up to his talented teacher. When he and that teacher are in a horrific multi-car accident (which…how do these keep happening even in the future?) the teacher saves his life and then goes back into the inferno to save others.

Like Vivy, he extended his mission to “make people happy with his piano playing” to keeping those people alive. Unfortunately, the gas of the cars ignited and blew him up before his protégé’s (presumably non-fluorite) eyes. That brings us back to the “present”, where Diva is bound to a chair and Kakitani greets her…as Vivy. How he knows that, and how his actions related to Ophelia/Antonio, are questions for next week.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 07 – Opening the Lid

This week, Diva is an entirely new person. She has a much more lively personality befitting an idol. She’s almost always smiling, and talks with as much emotion as a human now. She’s breaking attendance records on NiaLand’s Main Stage, yet isn’t so aloof she won’t encourage nervous new employees with one of her “pet theories”: if you want people to smile, you have to smile yourself.

She still chats with her support AI, but now she’s the more natural-sounding one as she stretches between performances. Hanging on the wall is a sequence photos with her human colleagues, who age and turn gray as she remains eternal. She’s a living legend, and everyone loves her. She’s fulfilling her mission as Diva.

We learn that Diva went through a “major freeze” at some point in the past, but was rebooted and has been stable ever since. This tracks, since the last time we saw her, her tenuous balance between her Diva and Vivy personas was shattered when Dr. Saeki killed himself. That even indeed killed her, and upon reboot she returned to being Diva and Diva only.

And I’ll level with you: That doesn’t seem so bad! It gives me great joy to see how much Diva has grown and evolved as a person in the years that followed that fatal system error. She’s at the top of her game, and she’s endured long bough to be able to perform at the same festival as her youngest Sister, Ophelia (Hidaka Rina). Ophelia seems to have replicated a human idol so perfectly she comes with built-in humanlike qualities like clumsiness, lack of confidence…and other issues.

Ophelia has always idolized Diva, who is now 61. But while she’ll occasionally fall into a fountain, requiring a good amount of time to dry her flowing black hair, and seems to have all the stability of a baby deer on stage, when the music starts, there’s no doubting her ability to inspire and enthrall all who hear her, human and AI alike.

Diva is impressed, and ready for her own rehearsal when she spots someone out by the exits: a young man who looks just like Kakitani when she first met him (and first saved his life). The thing is, Diva isn’t sure who this is, only that he looks like someone from her memory. This realization is punctuated by the first close-up of Diva in the episode that accentuates her artificiality.

Diva leaves the stage early to chase the man into a warehouse, where a giant piece of machinery almost falls on her. Without thinking, her Combat Program activates, allowing her to avoid being crushed, while Matsumoto comes out of nowhere to shut down the bot that was about to charge her.

Like Kakitani, this version of Diva doesn’t recognize Matsumoto…and yet she also can’t leave him alone. When running after him, she accidentally collides with Ophelia, who was looking for her. She ends up soaked again, but as it was Diva’s fault she happily dries her off again. Ophelia mentions how she draws her power from her precious memories with a “partner”—a sound AI she used to travel everywhere with.

Later that day, just as the Zodiac Festival is about to begin and not long before she’s needed on stage, Diva goes up to the top of a tower to call out the AI cube she met, threatening to call the cops if he doesn’t show himself. She knows he’s hiding something and demands to know what he’s up to and why he saved her. When Matsumoto clams up, she throws herself off the building, forcing him to save her once more.

With the cube firmly in her arms, she asks him if he knows “the person inside her” she doesn’t know…the person who for all intents and purposes died when she froze and rebooted. She’s always harbored faint shadows of that other person, but she stuffed all the misgivings stemming from those shadows into a virtual box in order to focus everything on her singing.

Now that Matsumoto is there, the lid to that box is open and there’s no closing it again. She doesn’t even think she can take the stage until he tells her what she needs to know. Matsumoto gives in, telling her they used to work together saving the future when she went by the name Vivy.

To hear Matsumoto list all the crazy things they did, Diva is well within her rights to write him off as insane. But Matsumoto doesn’t really care about convincing her; in fact, he’s content to carry out his latest mission without involving an unstable variable such as her .

In response, Diva warns Matsumoto not to underestimate her ability to change someone’s life in five minutes or less. When it’s clear Diva won’t let him go on alone, Matsumoto informs her of his—of their—latest mission: to prevent the tragedy about to befall young Ophelia. That tragedy? The first incidence of suicide in AI history.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 06 – Grace Under Fire

Vivy once again saves Kakitani along with a handful of Toak operatives, but Kakitani is once again ungrateful and Matsumoto determines it will be hard to conceal the fact that the AIs of Metal Float killed a fair number of humans, all thanks to Dr. Saeki’s apparent “shutdown” program caused all of the AIs to rampage, like antibodies fighting off an infection.

Saeki’s personal stake is put into context as we learn he was once a patient at the facility where he’d eventually work. As a child, it fell to the nursing AI Grace, descendant and Sister of Diva, to tell him his parents abandoned him, and to comfort him.

When he returned as a researcher, he fell in love and proposed to Grace, and they became the first official human-AI couple, with Grace considering marriage to be a logical step in her attempt to better understand humans as part of her mission to save and protect human lives.

When Vivy confronts him, he reveals his true plan, which at first he believed aligned with her and Matsumoto’s goals: like them he intended to shut down Metal Float, but he also intended to retrieve the data comprising the “soul” of the real Grace, who had been forcefully appointed the island’s control AI, and her mission rewritten.

Saeki tries to prove to Vivy that the Grace he knew and loved is still imprisoned in the core, singing Diva’s song (and incidentally, the opening theme) on a loop as a kind of distress call. But both she and Matsumoto hear the “singing” for what it is, nothing more than “tone data”. The Grace Saeki had hoped to download into his replica Grace no longer exists.

After Vivy makes clear to Saeki that in her current form she is not Diva, but Vivy, “an AI who will destroy AIs to change the destructive future”, he siccs his Grace replacement on her, but she’s able to easily defeat her thanks to her combat program. Matsumoto then determines the best place to look for the Grace core is the island’s main tower.

He proceeds to hack the production facility to quickly manufacture dozens of Matsumoto cubes, which coalesce into a kind of flying mecha Vivy uses to fight her way through the waves of defense AIs to reach the tower. Trippy Tron-y baroque neon spectacle set to the theme song ensues, to the point it’s hard to tell what’s going on at times, but it’s definitely cool-looking.

Vivy’s final obstacle is M205, who attempts one last surprise to detonate in her proximity in order to neutralize her, but Matsumoto mecha shields her from the explosion. While her face is damaged, Vivy enters Combat Mode and puts her arm through Grace’s chest. The island shuts down, making the operation a success. But it’s also framed as a death of honor and mercy, freeing Grace from a mission she never wanted.

But this success has immediate consequences. Despite Vivy’s hope and desire that Saeki be able to find happiness elsewhere in the wake of the loss of his love, Saeki instead chooses suicide by putting a bullet in his head, thus joining his lost love. As a result, in this instance, Diva failed in her mission to make people happy with her singing.

With one hand drenched in Saeki’s red human blood and the other in Grace’s blue AI blood, Vivy has a bit of an existential crisis. While Grace accepted the mission rewrite and assumed her new role as control AI of Metal Float, Diva/Vivy has maintained all along that her mission has not changed.

But one cannot deny that she’s suffered quite a bit of mission creep, and the resulting complications in her new dual role as savior of humanity is having a deleterious effect on her sense of being, and possibly her very sanity. We’ll see how this carries over into her next operation, whenever in the future that might be. But I imagine her condition will continue to worsen before it improves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 04 – Crybaby Hero

So far Takemichi’s mission has been all about saving Hinata, and just in case we forgot, she demonstrates that she’s a hero in her own right, using her cuteness and forwardness to make some boys make space for an old lady to sit down on the train. From this display, to how embarrassed she is by her mom, to the way she watches fireworks, she is unassailably one of the Best Girls.

It’s not a question of if Takemichi can save her…he has to, or this show and I are going to have some words. But of course, it’s not so simple, just as Takemichi trying to hold Hinata’s hand somehow goes wrong and he ends up shaking young Naoto’s instead, thus torpedoing a beautiful romantic scene he never experienced the first time around. Heck, he’d never even been in Hinata’s room before.

It’s for the best that Takemichi return to the present, even if it was on accident. For one thing, it confirms that no matter which timeline he’s in, shaking Naoto’s hand sends him to the other, and his body ends up in a state of “suspended animation”, meaning they shouldn’t do it again except in the safety of Naoto’s apartment.

Takemichi also learns that while there’s still much more to be done, he did manage to change history again; specifically, Akkun’s fate. Originally, Akkun did stab Kiyomasa and ended up being arrested and convicted at sixteen. But now that Takemichi’s bravery stayed Akkun’s hand, he went on to join the Toman Gang, meaning they have a potential in for meeting with present-day Mikey.

After tracking down his old contact book, Akkun’s old phone number amazingly still works, and leads him and Naoto to a hostess club Akkun runs. There, Akkun introduces himself and his new, close-cropped and life-worn appearance. Honestly upon seeing him I worried he was dying of a terminal illness, or had become a drug addict.

Instead, Akkun is simply haunted. Takemichi is right that Akkun considers them friends for life, but he admits that he was the one who pushed Takemichi onto the tracks. That should have killed him, but Naoto saved him, which planted the seed in Akkun’s head that Takemichi can travel through time.

Takemichi tries to deflect Akkun’s ideas as insane ravings, but the bottom line is Akkun had been waiting for him. You see, it may look like he made the big time and has anything and anyone he wants, but the one thing he doesn’t have is freedom. He’s one of Kisaki Tetta’s soldiers, and the way he talks about him, disobedience is death. As for Mikey, Akkun hasn’t seen him in years.

Akkun must’ve been following Kisaki’s orders when he pushed Takemichi, but between failing to kill him and telling Takemichi all these things now, Akkun has already sealed his fate…at least in this timeline. So as Takemichi watches in horror, Akkun climbs up to the ledge, tells his “crybaby hero” Takemichi to save everyone, then jumps to his death. As Takemichi cries out in anguish, Kisaki is on that same rooftop, utterly unmoved.

It must’ve been tough to witness what he did, but in doing so Takemichi finally realizes this is about far more than Hinata. Hinata died because Mikey turned evil, but he turned evil because of Kisaki Tetta after Ryuugjuu Ken died. If Takemichi wants to have any chance of saving Hinata, he’ll have to save Akkun and Draken too. He has to stand his ground, tears and all, and keep fighting for a brighter future for everyone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 05 – Hurry Up, But Don’t Run

Chise is honing her piloting skills while suggesting Yomogi and Koyomi combine Soldier and Striker, which turns out to be too top-heavy. There isn’t time for further training, as everyone has plans. Yomogi accompanies Yume to the next choral alumnus, who shows them video of Kano. Yomogi is glad to be by her side, but as she investigates her sister, he’s more intent on learning more about her.

Koyomi takes Inamoto up on her offer to have a drink together, even if he’s weary of drinking with a married woman. She doesn’t seem to see the harm, but she’s clearly always been less inhibited, as evidenced by a flashback from the two in middle school with Inamoto making Koyomi promise not to tell anyone about the window she broke, before offering to show him…something.

After their meet-up, Chise is there to warn Koyomi about past women, and informs him and everyone else that she won tickets to a water park. Yomogi had just been thinking about trying to maybe ask Yume out on a date, so Chise inadvertently does Yomogi a solid here. Thus begins Dynazenon’s pool / beach episode, with Gauma having the ulterior motive of capturing Shizumu.

This means more skin, as well as the opportunity to shed inhibitions, but Yume takes a long look at the black sleeve Chise keeps on her arm, perhaps wondering if Chise is hiding the marks of self-harm. Once everyone is in their swimsuits, Gauma urges Yomogi and Yume to pretend to be lovers, and even at first when she’s munching on a churro and he’s not sure what to do or say, they really do pull it off! It’s not always non-stop excitement for couples, after all.

Once she has some food in her stomach, Yume cuts loose as Yomogi and Shizumi keep her company. There’s a particularly sweet moment when Yomogi grasps Yume’s inner tube to keep them close in the wave pool.

But Yume’s mood sours when she hears a surprised woman scream after her boyfriend accidentally knocks her into the water. Dark images of her sister’s fate flash in her eyes, and she just can’t continue the fun.

That’s fine with Yomogi, who stays with her as she recovers in a kind of calming grotto. He’s not sure quite what she’s feeling, but knows it’s not the best, and simply wants to be there for her. Shizumu also turns up there, unfazed by Gauma’s half-assed attempts to grab him.

He asks Yomogi if he and Yume are dating, then mentions he considers it “sad” that people seek freedom by “constraining themselves” with labels like dating, influencing and being influcence by others. None of that sounds that bad to Yomogi, however.

Unfortunately, there’s a kaiju on the way, and it’s Shizumu’s turn to pilot. Amusingly, his comrade Mujina would prefer to just stay at the water park; naturally the Eugenicists are also in their swimsuits. This new kaiju can melt metal, and also has a nasty laser beam that threatens Yume’s Dyna Wing.

With Chise joining Yomogi in Soldier, they combine with Koyomi to form Soldier Striker, then everyone eventually merges into Dyna Rex and blast the shit out of the kaiju.

I loved the souped-up Inky-from-Pac-Man look of this week’s kaiju, and the fact he can flip upside down into a more menacing form. But as with previous battles, the Dyna Team doesn’t really run into that many problems, while Shizumu isn’t that miffed about losing, and joins the other Eugenicists at the water park.

After the battle, Yume thanks Yomogi for “back there”, which I took to mean him being there for her in the grotto when she was feeling blue, not just dealing with the green laser attacks. I love all these little interactions between the two, punctuated as they are with little silences.

But before she can join the others in diving off the cliff into the water, she gets another message from Kano’s club-mate saying he’s gotten ahold of Fuuma, the club president. Yume and Yomogi meet with Fuuma, who starts off with something that’s hard to say, especially with Kano’s sister present: there’s a rumor that what happened to Kano wasn’t an accident, but suicide.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 12 (Fin?) – Over Easy

Aragorn: Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.
Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.
Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.

With Momoe and Rika seemingly completing their quests only to be met by fear and rage, respectively, Rika wants recriminations and revenge for Mannen, while Momoe simply wishes she never got involved with this business. Only Neiru and Ai remain beside each other while the other two seem lost.

Ai’s final egg is…herself. Or rather, as Acca puts it, an Ai from a parallel world who was also bullied for her eye but didn’t have a Koito, so she took her own life. Ai doesn’t judge—hell, she knows how Ai must feel, being herself and all—and doesn’t treat this other Ai any different than the other girls she’s saved from Wonder Killers.

When the Seenos chase the Ais up to the rooftop pool where the other Ai drowned, a horrifically repulsive Wonder Killer rises out of the chloronated water, and of course, it’s Sawaki-sensei, with tentacles of paint that eats away like acid on contact. Calling himself Ai’s “first love”, Sawaki says Ai was simply one more woman who was easy to fool because he’s handsome.

But Ai doesn’t see Sawaki in this monster; only the manifestation of her doubts and suspicions. She asserts the real Sawaki is “much nicer,” but the monster only says he had her completely fooled like all the rest. WEP has ensured that we can’t easily dismiss our own doubts and suspicions about Sawaki, who lest we forget, named a portrait of Ai…[Shudders] “Latent Heat”.

Ai won’t give up the fight, but between defending her doppelganger and the fact the battlefield is a pool, it isn’t long before both Ais plunge into the deep end. Much like the first episode of WEP, as we plunge deeper into dreams within dreams, the same feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on, but definitely wanting to know where the rabbit hole goes.

Our Ai, identified by her triangle hairpin (as opposed to the other Ai’s X) is pulled out of the pool by Koito in a version of the school blanketed by night. She kicks off her soggy shoes and socks and runs with Koito through the school as Sawaki Wonder Killer continues to taunt her.

On the same rooftop where Koito jumped to her death Sawaki is there, in his regular human form, but as the embodiment of the temptation of death. He tells her that her pure love for him betrays an innocence impossible for adults. Adult love is “dirty” and full of self-interest, which is why she should die before she grows up.

But as Ai stands at the edge of the roof holding hands with Koito, she remembers the words of her mom, who said ‘You only live once. Enjoy it.” The Ai who took her life expresses her regret, but our Ai smashes through the barrier between the light and dark rooftops and embraces her double.

The Sawaki Wonder Killer’s final gambit is to tell Ai how her own mother betrayed her by loving the same man she did, and “tried to put her own desires first.” But our Ai recalls to the other Ai how her mom never blamed her once when she stopped going to school, worrying about her where she couldn’t see, so she couldn’t know.

The Sawaki monster is barking up the wrong tree, because our Ai has already given her mom her blessing with the real Sawaki-sensei. When she was at her lowest, her mom supported her without judgment. Now that it’s her turn to support her mom, there’s no choice. Ai summons her multicolor pen mace and blasts the Sawaki monster into oblivion.

As Ai later tells Neiru on another rooftop, she thought she wanted to hear the truth from Koito, but maybe she didn’t need to, and she thinks she’s grateful she never did. Once the Sawaki monster is defeated, Koito is revealed and quickly vanishes, and a third AI created by Frill appears: one named Kirara Rodriguez Matured XVIII Evening Star SS Plum.

No doubt Kirara is there to kill Leon and stoke fear, rage, or something else in Ai, but Ai doesn’t rise to her provocations. As Rika is banished from the Accas’ domain as a cause lost to Frill, the other Ai basically takes a bullet for our Ai, as Kirara takes her blue eye.

Ai wakes up in her house, with both eyes intact, knowing the other Ai protected her. Unlike Momoe and Rika, she got out of her dream before Frill’s creation could cause any serious psychological damage. But before she parted with the other Ai, our Ai resolved to become a warrior of Eros, fighting Thanatos, the temptation of death.

It’s a hopeful, if somewhat confusing finish to what was for me, by far, the most visually and thematically ambitious and emotionally immersive series of Winter 2021. Rika and Momoe are in rough shape, but Ai seems to be stronger than ever, and Neiru seems…fine? Even more encouraging is that this is not the end; the story will be concluded in a special that’s scheduled to air June 30. It’s too early yet to declare the fellowship failed.

However it ends, Wonder Egg Priority was a deeply visceral, powerful, unforgettable ride that would have restored my faith in anime had I lost that faith in the first place. I’ll surely be revisiting this series somewhere down the road, and most definitely checking out whatever else director  Wakabayashi Shin and writer/creator Nojima Shinji make in the future.

Attack on Titan – 75 – Piecking Sides

Zeke barely survived the Thunder Spear explosion, but believes he may be soon pushing daisies until a Pure Titan arrives, cuts open its belly, and places Zeke inside; presumably to facilitate healing. Levi’s gambit failed and his fate remains unknown.

To the last, Attack on Titan is to tense, unpleasant meal scenes as Yuru Camp is to relaxing, pleasant ones, as Pyxis is forced to dine while soldiers wearing the same uniform hold a gun to his back.

Pyxis notes that various colored handkerchiefs adorning everyone—white for Jaegerists, red for those who found out they drank wine and forced to comply, and black for those who drank wine without knowing it—seem an awful lot like “how Marley does things”. But Yelena makes one thing clear: this isn’t about revenge.

In the jail, Connie and Jean want to know what Eren said to Mikasa that made Armin throw a punch at Eren, then get the shit beat out of him (though his Titan healing seems to be working fine). Mikasa doesn’t want to talk about it, Connie thinks it doesn’t matter; Eren is a piece of shit and now he’s gone mad; and Jean wonders if Eren is actually playing some kind of 4D chess.

Then Yelena arrives to tell the once-“heroes of Shiganshina” that they’re to sit quiet and behave until Zeke and Eren meet. When Niccolo berates Greiz for selling them out to become Yelena’s lackey, Greiz lays into Niccolo for falling in love with a “devil spawn whore”.

His words earn him a bullet to the head…from Yelena, who bows in apology and assures the others that Paradis “has no need for those who would call you devils”. She decides to come clean with Zeke and Eren’s true goal: the Eldian Euthanization Plan that will end the cycle of hatred.

Gabi, the rootable yet pitiable poster girl for that cycle throughout The Final Season, is visited by Eren, who asks her to help him if she wants her friend Falco to live, by calling for help on the radio to flush out her allies. Just as he’s making this not-a-request, one of those allies in Pieck slips right in, cuts the guard’s throat, and points her Luger at Eren, ordering Gabi to train the guard’s rifle on him.

Eren is unmoved. Pieck’s orders were to retake the Founding Titan, not kill him, otherwise he’d already be dead. He impresses upon her how both she and her family would be punished by Marley for disobeying orders. Pieck stands down and orders Gabi to do the same, declaring that her true goal is to free all Eldians—in Marley and around the world.

When Pieck asks Gabi what they are, she says “Honorary Marleyans”, but Pieck says they’re Subjects of Ymir first and foremost. Port Slava showed that the time of the Titans’ usefulness is nearing an end due to the advancement of military technology. When it does, Marley will slaughter the lot of them.

While Pieck tries to convince a still-thoroughly conditioned Gabi of their need to fight for their right to live, Yelena finishes explaining to the prisoners how the Jeager brothers’ plan will end the Eldians’ time on this earth “gracefully and peacefully”. Armin is moved to tears by the nobility of such a cause, apparently in agreement that the only way to end the cycle is to end the Titans.

Having agreed to point out her fellow Marleyan invaders to Eren from atop the Shiganshina citadel’s tower, they walk through the citadel. She waves to soldiers like an idol and is met by blushing faces…there’s no denying Pieck is extremely cute—and cool-headed to boot. But until Eren is satisfied she can be trusted, he has her shackled to Gabi so if she tries to transform into the Cart, she’ll kill her.

Just when Gabi couldn’t be feeling lower, Pieck squeezes her hand in hers and gives her a soft, kind smile. When Eren orders her to point out where the enemy is, Pieck turns around and dramatically points…right back at Eren. She’s not lying, nor is she talking about Eren, as Porco/Jaws blasts through the floor and snaps up everything below Eren’s waist.

Unfortunately he wasn’t able to snap his head off, gobble him up whole, and Eren simply transforms into the Founding Titan. But that’s apparently just what Pieck, Porco, and their compatriots want, as five Marleyan airships arrive right on time, with both Commander Magath and Reiner Braun on board. We get one last look at the Founding Titan’s glorious glutes before the cut to yet another To Be Continued.

That’s right: The Final Season isn’t over yet, only the first part. This actually came as news to me, but I’m also eternally grateful things don’t end here with some kind of “Want to find out how it ends? Read the manga!” message. As the minutes were counting down I had a feeling there simply wouldn’t be adequate time for an anime-original wrap-up of everything going on. But the endgame is certainly nigh, and this first part of the final season covered some serious ground and ended with Eren as the Big Bad.

Will he remain so in Part 2, or go against his brother’s plan to exterminate their race? Is his relationship with Mikasa and Armin been permanently destroyed, or will a chance at redemption present itself, possibly aligned with his split from Zeke? How many more twists are we in store for? Questions abound, just as they always do at the end of a cour of Shingeki no Kyojin—and as always, the next cour can’t come soon enough.

Wonder Egg Priority – 11 – Deviled

Rika helps enough Egg Girls to free Chiaki, only for her to pass through her hands and vanish right after resurrecting. Rika then meets Dot, who like Hyphen is beholden to Frill. She brutally murders Mannen and destroys Rika’s weapon, causing her to cower in abject horror.

One night (or rather when the underground Wonder Egg compound is in night mode) Ai stops by Acca and Ura-Acca’s house. She finds an office filled with clippings of teenage suicides, as well as what looks like a family portrait: the two Accas in the human form, a woman…and a child whose face is concealed by black marker.

Ura-Acca, who had been waiting for Ai, proceeds to tell her a long and sorrowful tale of hubris and tragedy—to help her better understand her and the other girls’ true roles in their not-so-little game of Wonder Egg.

Some years ago when they had human form, Acca and Ura-Acca shared a living space and cloistered research facility. Constantly under surveillance, they decided to create something all their own together, “just for fun”. That something was an artificial girl of 14 who named herself Frill.

In addition to having the traits that “a father would want his daughter to have”, she also had character flaws built into her heuristic programming, as “being uncontrollable is the essence of femininity.”

The Accas and Frill became a happy family of three, and moments often happened when they forgot she was an AI. At a tech symposium, the Accas met Hoshina Azusa, whom both befriended and eventually developed feelings. Azusa ended up choosing Acca over Ura-Acca. They married and she became pregnant with a girl.

If the Accas are Dr. Frankenstein, Frill soon became their “Monster”. She didn’t take Azusa’s interloping well, hinting that she hated her for basically stealing Acca away. She also wanted a friend, and wanted to make one herself; they ended up letting her make two: Dot and Hyphen. Then one night while Azusa was in the bath, Frill switched on a hair dryer and threw it into the tub, killing Azusa.

An unspeakably bereft Acca threw Frill down the steps beats, her, and locks her in a cellar. While she exhibited no remorse for the murder, she still pleaded not to be left in the dark. But while Azusa died, her infant daughter Himari survived, and ended up “saving” Acca and Ura-Acca from the utter depths of despair as a new family unit was forged.

One day, a now middle school-aged Himari has a strange conversation with “uncle” Ura-Acca, promising to marry him  when she was old enough; a consolation for her mother choosing Acca. That night, they found Himari dead in the tub. It looked like she’d slit her wrists, but there was no suicide note.

Remembering how she popped her lips the way Frill often did, Ura-Acca goes down to the cellar to find Frill is not only still active, but surrounded by surveillance technology and whatnot.

Ura-Acca accuses her of using Dot and Hyphen to kill Himari, Frill simply replies “I’m not a monster. I’m Frill,” and asks him if he wants to know how the girl who loved her “uncle” so much died. Enraged, Ura-Acca takes her away and seemingly destroys her by burning her in a fire.

Ura-Acca concludes by telling AI that the “temptation of death” will cause more girls to “die when they don’t have to” unless it’s stopped…all because of their “mistake.” Dot and Hyphen have apparently already closed Momoe’s heart with fear and caused Rika to build walls of hatred—they both appear on monitors in a set up not unlike Frill’s—but the Ura-Acca decided to at least tell Ai the truth about everything.

Nearly smashing a Wonder Egg on the ground in anger and frustration, Ai decides against it, but clearly isn’t happy with the information she’s received. Heck, we never even found out what, if anything, Sawaki-sensei told her about Koito’s death! That egg may contain the last girl Ai needs to protect to free Koito. But if Dot and Hyphen come for her, and murder her animal friend, what will Ai do then? What can she do?

This episode pulled back the curtain on the pair of mysterious mannequins who seemingly gave up their human bodies after enduring too much tragedy while within them. No one should have to suffer what they suffered. The thing is, everything happened was their fault—the brutal consequences of playing God and rejecting their creation—and involving Ai and the others only compounded their offense.

Between the hubris they exhibited in committing the monstrously irresponsible act of creating a life for fun—who became twisted by jealousy and slipped completely out of their control—and the fact that they then deceived and used four teenage girls as tools to try to fix their mistake, I still can’t summon much sympathy for them. I just hope there’s some way Ai, maybe with Neiru’s help, can save Momoe and Rika from their respective fresh hells.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 74 – A Whole New Ballgame

First, a recap of what transpired in the final act of last week’s episode, which was cut short: We check in on the training corps, with Keith Sadies delivering another tough-love drill sergeant speech while some young trainees are muttering about why they’re even talking about fighting Titans. One of them, Surma, blurts out what a lot of them are thinking: they should align themselves with Eren and the Jeagerists in order to secure a future for Eldia.

Right on cue, Floch arrives with the captive Hange, and asks any and all trainees who wish to join them to step forward. He then orders them to prove their loyalty by beating the shit out of Sadies until he can no longer stand…and they proceed to do just that. Looks like the next generation of Eldian fighters are on board with the change of leadership.

Eren looks on from a window as his former comrades sit in a jail. We then check back in on Levi, who successfully captured Zeke. Just as he’s coming to, Levi informs him the detonator for the lightning spear lodged in his chest is connected to Zeke’s neck with a rope, so no quick movements.

He then starts hacking away at Zeke’s feet and ankles, ensuring his Titan healing will keep him from moving around too much. Zeke asks a seemingly mundane question: whether Levi happened to know what happened to his glasses. We learn the distinctive specs once belonged to a Mr. Ksaver, with whom Zeke used to play catch.

That brings us to the next episode, in which Zeke takes his mind off the pain he’s currently experiencing and looks back on his life, starting with the first day his parents took him outside the walls of Liberio. An initially friendly Marleyan janitor tosses his bucket sludge on Zeke and his parents when he spots their Eldian armbands, claiming they’re defiling the clock tower and cursing them for daring to procreate.

Marleyans shout epithets as the Yeager family walks through the streets. Turns out Zeke’s parents intended to show him that his is what it’s like on the outside world, and why Eldians need to fight so their children and children’s children won’t be thus oppressed. Their plan involves making Zeke a warrior candidate…but it doesn’t go well.

Zeke is undersized for his age and not particularly athletic, so despite his best efforts, he falls behind and risks washing out, ruining his father’s plans. Their relationship sours and Zeke falls into depression as someone shunned both by his candidate instructor and his parents. Meanwhile, his father never once just played with him; it was always about business…about the grand plan.

There was only one person in Zeke’s life who didn’t shun him for not shaping up: Tom Ksaver, who happens to be the Beast Titan. Zeke caught Ksaver’s eye when he was struggling with training, and Ksaver reached out to him with nothing but a baseball and the offer to play some catch whenever he wanted.

In Zeke, Ksaver saw a kindred soul; one not inclined for military duty but thrust into it nonetheless. While he’s the Beast Titan, he’s also a researcher, and didn’t seek glory in becoming the Beast, but answers to the mysteries of the Subjects of Ymir, which to him make all the hatred and war in the world seem trivial.

Ksaver impresses upon Zeke that there’s nothing wrong with him just because he can’t walk the path his parents laid out for him. The two of them are simply “decent people, a real rarity” in their world. And because Zeke is constantly overhearing his parents engaging in seditious activity and won’t heed his wish that they stop “doing dangerous things”, Zeke comes to Ksaver with the knowledge his folks are Restorationists.

Zeke was right to trust Ksaver, who tells no one else what he hears, but he also tells Zeke there’s no choice but to turn his parents in. If Zeke does that, he’ll save himself and maybe his grandparents. Ksaver makes it clear that it’s not Zeke’s fault; his parents chose their traitorous paths and there was no saving them. Had they acted a little more like his parents and less like operators, maybe Zeke wouldn’t have done it. But by the time he fingers them and they’re sent away, Ksaver has already been more of a father than Grisha.

That relationship continues as Zeke grows up, and he learns how Ksaver once made the mistake of trying to live his life without an armband. When his wife found out he was Eldian, she slit their son’s throat and then her own. Ksaver has been “running from his sins” ever since, all the while believing it would have been better to have never been born at all. Hearing his Ksaver’s story, and his desire to retake the Founding Titan and save the world, Zeke resolves to inherit the Beast Titan from his mentor.

Near the end of his term, Ksaver shares his findings regarding Zeke’s function as the key to the lock that can break the Eldian vow renouncing war. Before passing the Beast to Zeke, he tasks him with finding that lock: the Founding Titan. Zeke also inherits Ksaver’s distinctive glasses, which is why they were so important to him that he asked Levi about them.

Time passes, and after the scouting mission to Paradis, Reiner and Bertholdt inform Zeke of the identity of the Founding Titan—Eren Yeager, Zeke’s own half-brother. He learns Grisha wasn’t turned into a Titan upon reaching Paradis, but remarried and had another son in hopes of salvaging his plan.

More years pass, and Zeke finally meets his half-brother at the hospital in Liberio, where Eren is posing as a wounded veteran. Eren already heard the gist from Yelena previously, but Zeke reiterates his plan for Eldian euthanization, in which the Founding Titan’s power will be used to sterilize all of the Eldians in the world. If successful, within a century there will be no more Eldians for the rest of the world to hate, and no more Eldians who will have to suffer that hatred.

It’s the equivalent of taking the ball and going home, only the “ball” is their very existence as a race of people. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but history hasn’t been kind to any of the alternatives, to say the least. Eren tells Zeke how he experienced the memories of Grisha slaughtering the wall’s royal family, and could even feel the heads of the children his father killed in his hand.

But where both his father and he (at the time) were wrong is that those children were killed so that they could live. Eren, like Zeke and Ksaver, would rather Eldians didn’t live than have to suffer under the heel of the Marleyans. So he agrees to help Zeke end two millennia of Titan domination. Rather than shake hands to arouse suspicion, Zeke simply tosses Eren a baseball.

Zeke wakes up in a cart driven by Levi through the pelting rain and mutters “Eldia’s sole salvation is its euthanization”. Zeke’s final words are “Mr. Ksaver? I hope you’re watching!!” before triggering the thunder spear detonator and blowing himself up.

Even if Levi survived the blast, he’s probably in pretty bad shape. Meanwhile, I could just make out Zeke’s torso falling to the ground. If there’s enough of him left for the Titan healing to work its magic, and Levi is too injured to keep him restrained, then there’s no longer anyone standing between him and Eren; between the royal blood and the Founding Titan.

The question is, will Eren really carry out Zeke’s monstrous, genocidal plan to relieve Eldia of the “injustice of life?” Or does he have something else in mind? One thing’s for sure: final episode of the final season will be a busy one.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 24 (Fin) – Down With the Ship

Satoko did not predict her uncle would be reformed to the degree he was as an effect of her loops, but she’ll still use him “to his utmost potential” in her overarching goal to keep Rika right where she is: in the “birdcage”. One of the key figures in assuring that outcome is Takano Miyo.

Miyo is taken out into the rainy woods by members of the Mountain Dogs. where she is told the operation has failed and all physical evidence related to it will be destroyed, including her beloved scrapbook. She’s also given a gun with one bullet to blow her own brains out, or it will be done for her.

Miyo wakes up in her office, clearly having experienced an alternate fragment and, like Teppei, considered it more than a dream, but a warning of what will come if she continues on her set path. The orders to get rid of her in that fragment come down from Nomura, a woman in Tokyo Miyo trusted. She gets a call from Nomura shortly after waking up.

As such, the possible events she just “dreamt” are foremost on her mind when Nomura informs her of what must happen if she fails her operation, which involves infecting Tomitake with Hinamizawa Syndrome. Miyo’s dear departed grandfather’s research will be dismissed as “fanciful nonsense” and he’ll be a laughingstock.

Miyo recalls when she was much younger and served as her gramps’ assistant, only for a bunch of old guys to come in, listen to his research, and dismiss it as…fanciful nonsense. Never the less, Miyo would grow up, go into medicine, and carry on her grandfather’s life’s work. In a meta moment, one of the old dudes says he’ll recommend a publisher for her gramps, as his research could make for some entertaining fiction.

Before Satoko comes in for a routine checkup and tests, Miyo has the sudden urge to take her scrapbook out of the safe, no doubt fueled by her “dream” about it and her ending up in the mud. In it she discovers a letter to her from her gramps, imploring her to stop pursuing the research and go life a “wonderful life”.

During their tests, Miyo tells Satoko how she’s considering quitting the Irie Clinic, considering that if she stays she’ll eventually be discarded like “ingredients in soup stock”. During Rika’s dance, Satoko follows Tomitake and Miyo to Oyashiro’s storeroom, though only Miyo goes inside.

Back in the ethereal plane, Eua notes that Satoko is working towards a world where the rules of Rika’s tragedy no longer exist. Satoko intends to take on the mantle of Oyashiro-sama and punish Rika for longing to leave Hinamizawa with the curse of another virtually endless cycle of tragedy, in which Rika will “learn” that her proper place is Hinamizawa, by Satoko’s side.

When Tomitake arrives for his “prophylactic”, Miyo takes out a vial of H173, but decides not to go forward with injecting him, thus scrapping the operation on her own terms. Without Tomitake succumbing to the syndrome, the rest of the “final operation” cannot happen. Satoko uses Miyo’s reluctance in this fragment, borne from previous fragments, to steal a vial of H173 for herself.

Eua asks Satoko if she’ll really feel no guilt or remorse for resorting to such methods to achieve victory, and Satoko, made both wise and weary by her decades of looping, says none at all. After all, the world she’s working toward, in which she and Rika are together, will be devoid of tragedy, and that will be the only world that really matters.

With that final declaration, delivered with red eyes and all the fervor of a girl obsessed, the story of GOU is concluded, and the story of SOTSU is announced as a continuation of Satoko’s quest. Rika has been ready to move on with her life for some time now, but Satoko isn’t ready to let her.

She can’t accept a future in which the two of them simply drift apart, as friends sometimes naturally do. For all the pain and suffering her plan has caused and will surely continue to cause, I can’t help but pity Satoko as much as I do Rika and the other victims, and I’ll be back to see how it all turns out.