SAKUGAN – 01 (First Impressions) – SOMEDAY IS RIGHT NOW

The all-caps up top are no mistake—this is a big, loud first episode, starting with a father-daughter quarrel through an impossibly complex subterranean metropolis that’s shot like a Mission Impossible film. The precocious Memenpu wants to become a “Marker”, one of the elite group who trek through the Labyrinth to parts unknown. Her father Gagumber is content to keep her home and safe as they work menial jobs in the colony.

Their home, Pinyin, is basically one big nest where Memenpu’s father never wants her to leave…at least not yet. But Memenpu, despite being only nine years old, is already a college grad and distinguished inventor. It’s only a matter of time before Pinyin—and her dad—just can’t hold her back from grander, more dangerous future.

Memenpu finds inspiration in Lynda, a Marker who works side-by-side with her dad Walsh. Lynda is initially fine stoking that fire of adventure and discovery in Memenpu’s diminutive abdomen, acting as a big sis and role model and encouraging her little sis to dream big. As it so happens, Memenpu has dreams about and draws pictures of a surface with a boundless sky. A mysterious master Marker named Urorop seemingly eggs her on by leaving a photo at her door of that very surface.

While Memenpu and Lynda bond, Gagumber and Walsh drink. It’s pretty clear that Gagumber used to be a Marker like Walsh, and probably a good one,  but gave it all up (including all the esteem and preferential treatment) the moment his daughter entered his world, and then became it. But Walsh, as someone with an older daughter who has already been through this, tells his friend that there comes a time when a father has to put trust in their child to become their own person.

While I have no doubt that Gagumber is immensely proud of his little girl, that’s tempered by a great sadness that she grew up so damn fast. When he teeters home drunk as a skunk and she pretends to be asleep, he’s still lucid enough to make his thoughts clear. It’s not that he never wants her to grow up, only that he wishes she’d stayed a kid a little longer.

But it’s not just Memenpu’s natural intelligence and talent that is pushing her towards adulthood and independence, but seemingly Urorop as well. Along wih the photo of the surface, Memenpu is given a jewel that when its intricate cracks are projected on a larger surface reveals a map of the Labyrinth around Pinyin…and a route to the surface in the picture.

Then a kaiju bursts through the walls of the colony and wreaks havoc, sending Memenpo, Gagumber, and Lynda on a mad dash to safety. When they’re cornered, Gagumber draws his pistl and shoots the monster in the face, asserting that he won’t let it hurt his beloved daughter. Memenpo is shocked by her usually deadbeat-ish dad’s sudden change in demeanor.

Speaking of changes in demeanor…at first the kaiju chase is played as tongue-in-cheek; the kind of whimsical lunacy you’d find in Durarara!! or Gatchaman. But the kaiju threat is real, and even Lynda curtly orders Memenpo to keep back as she and her dad Walsh board their Mark Bot to do battle. Just as Walsh is complimenting Lynda on having grown up, the two of them instantly get blown up. Memenpo is frozen in shock…as was I. I did not expect shit to get so real so quick.

Fortunately, her dad’s composure isn’t so easily shaken, as he scoops her up and takes her to safety. But if this day’s events taught him anything, it’s that Walsh (RIP) was right: when “someday” becomes RIGHT FUCKING NOW, all a father can do—all a father must do—is trust in their child. But, again, she’s only nine.

So he compromises: she’ll let her strike out into the vast underground unknown towards her destiny—heck, he’ll even supply their transport in the form of his old Mark Bot—but he’s coming along for the ride to protect his little girl. So begins a father-daughter adventure for the ages. I can’t freakin’ wait to see where it goes.

DanMachi III – 08 – Suffering Fools

Every season of DanMachi has come with one or two absolute bangers that are both the culmination and transcendence of every preceding episode to that point; a climax that feels epic and cinematic in scope; that pulls out all of the stops. This season’s banger has arrived, and it simply rules.

Bell, foolish as he is, is able to create just enough deniability to not be branded an enemy of humanity on the spot: the vouivre is his catch, and he won’t let anyone else touch it. That said, when Wiene slithers away, crashing into every other stone building and causing it to topple, it doesn’t inspire much confidence he has his quarry under control!

When other Xenos emerge from Knossos, Loki Familia is ready, with Bete, Tione, and Tiona making quick work of Gros, Lyd, and various small fry. It’s especially fun to see the two Amazon sisters in action again. They’re ordered only to disable, not to kill, but it’s clear they could kill easily if they needed to.

Fels summons an Adamantite Golem, but Tiona cuts it down with one swing from her massive two-sided sword, as if to say “That all you got?” As it turns out, it isn’t: the Xenos’ least talkative but most powerful member, the Black Minotaur Asterius, arrives fresh from killing Dix in the halls of Knossos, that’s when Loki’s vanguard starts to have some problems.

The Minotaur proves a worthy match to all three active combatants, then pulls out a magical axe that shoots them so full of lightning they become numbed and paralyzed. That’s Finn’s queue to send in their heavy hitter, the War Princess herself and Bell’s would-be girlfriend…Ais Wallenstein.

After ethereally floating down to street level, Ais unleashes an Aerial Tempest combo, and suddenly the Minotaur is down an arm. The moment Ais takes the field, you know shit’s getting real, but that’s by far the most damaging blow she’s able to land, as in the ensuing fight Asterius is able to keep up with and defend her lightning-fast attacks. He’s no slouch!

But when the Minotaur slashes her left shoulder, Gareth and Finn step in to relieve her and prepare a pincer when Hermes’ chienthrope child Lulune covers the area with smoke bombs, allowing Asterius to flee. It’s clear Hermes wants Ouranos—and Bell—to succeed.

As for Bell, he continues to chase a berserk, raging Wiene as she leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. When adventurers and guards try to attack her, Bell launches Firebolts in their general direction (but without intent to harm them). Little does he know their arrangement through the city blocks is no accident.

Wiene ends up being led straight into the amphitheater, where she’s surrounded by more than two dozen mages who fire lightning attacks at her in unison. One of Dix’s henchmen delivers the coup-de-grace before being crushed to death by Gros. The arena floor collapses and Wiene and Bell take a tumble.

With Wiene now near death and no longer thrashing about, Bell is able to replace her jewel, but while she regains her “humanity”, it seems too late to save her, as she begins to turn to dust, like someone snapped away by Thanos. As tears well in her eyes, Wiene smiles. She had a dream that no one saved her, but it was just a dream. In reality it’s Bell, whom she loves, who saved her, and for that she is happy and grateful.

It’s obviously heartwrenching to see her vanish in a cloud of black dust while Bell embraces her, but thankfully we don’t have to endure the despair for long, as Fels decides to whip out a spell he’s been attempting for 800 years and long since condemned as useless: Dia Orpheus, which essentially rewrites the rules of the universe to return Wiene to life and to Bell, back in her humanoid child form.

This time it works; Fels achieves a miracle. And one could hope that this time it worked because it had to in order to restore hope of humans and Xenos coexisting. That’s only possible because of Bell, who, foolish as it was, rushed headfirst to protect them when they were being unjustly demonized and oppressed.

After Wiene is returned to the other surviving Xenos in their hideout, Bell returns to the surface, and the city is half-destroyed, due in large part to his chasing Wiene around. Eina asks him if it’s true he exposed the city to danger and allowed other adventurers to suffer injury. When he responds in the affirmative, she slaps him…then hugs him, not wanting it to be true.

But there’s no overlooking the destruction around them, nor the injuries of the adventurers involved in the incident. Bell likely has a lot to answer for. Hesita & Co. stayed out of the fighting, and I doubt Bell will be expelled from the Guild with Ouranos in charge. But surely some measure of sanction or reckoning awaits him. As he couldn’t let Wiene die—and she didn’t—it will have been worth it no matter what. But that doesn’t mean Everything’s Going to Be Okay.

DanMachi III – 07 – A Beast’s Dream

I respect Bell’s moxie, but I was hoping for something a bit more clever than trying to go toe-to-toe in a melee fight against an opponent two full levels higher than him. Sure, Dix is in a weakened state due to the curse, but that won’t last. At least we get some clarity via his ranting: he’s been able to calm his raging Daedalus blood—and nullify the urge to keep building Knossos—by killing Xenos.

It’s the specific fact they cry and scream like humans that makes it work. So yeah, Dix has been suffering a horrible curse for which not even the bloodshed in the dungeon could lift his entire life. It’s not surprising he’d take whatever form of release that came along; moral implications be damned. But still, he’s one sadistic bastard!

Meanwhile, outside Knossos, the Ganesha Familia have almost finished capturing the Xenos when they are ambushed by a giant minotaur. Everyone is either killed or injured, including Aisha and Asfi. Ryuu manages not to die by dumb luck, as the minotaur hears a wolf howling and departs before finishing her. So much for Bell getting some help from these three!

He’s on his own when Dix shows him the chained Wiene, then rips the stone off her head. Wiene undergoes a horrifying (and no doubt excruciating) transformation into a full adult vouivre, screaming and lashing out mindlessly.

Bell attempts to reach the Wiene he knows by refusing to fight her and letting her grab his shoulder (after swatting him back a couple times). She remembers the first time she accidentally cut him, and actually manages to say his name and weep tears of despair. But it doesn’t last long, and soon Wiene is back to going berserk.

Dix is super pissed that Bell almost succeeded in proving him wrong about Xenos just being monsters by any other name, and they continue their one-on-one battle, but despite being pretty beaten down (both physically and emotionally) he seems to find his second wind, even breaking the blade of Dix’s spear. Then Lyd breaks free of Dix’s curse and fights beside Bell, allowing him to land his Bell Punch square in Dix’s chest.

Unfortunately, regardless of Dix’s status, the damage is done, and he opens a door to allow the berserk Wiene direct access to the surface, where she’s sure to be “dealt with” by adventurers. Bell races after her, stopping only to be healed by Fels’ kick-ass magic. Gros joins Lyd and Rei in going after Bell to help him, even if he can’t admit he can probably trust the Little Rookie at this point.

Wiene emerges first on Daedalus Street, which just happens to be where Welf led Hestia Familia on a hunch. She was immediately vilified by citizens on the surface when she was a cute little kid; I can’t imagine her new form will do her any favors.

Bell follows shortly thereafter, but Wiene is stabbed by a spear thrown by Loki Familia, who are perched on a roof, ready to swoop down and eliminate the threat. Bell then does something that could condemn him, his goddess, and his Familia forever: he shields Wiene from the Lokis, a half-defiant, half-mad look on his face.

This pits him against Ais and every other member of the Lokis who have just been ordered to dispose of the vouivre. It’s an extremely volatile situation where there just isn’t time to explain what needs to be explained, and even if there was, orders are orders. One just hopes Bell won’t have to fight his friend, and cooler heads in Lyd, Rei, and Gros can arrive in time to restrain Wiene and bail Bell out. But I gotta say, things are not looking good for Argonaut-kun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Darling in the FranXX – 08

In another episode not about the FranXX but the flawed and confused boys and girls who pilot them, the effects of everyone in a squad hitting puberty at once comes to a head (no pun intended) when the latest Klaxosaur attack uses blue goo to eat away at the pistils’ suits, causing the stamens to ogle their partially naked bodies.

The girls are hurt, mortified, and furious, especially the fact the boys kept their condition a secret as long as they did (even if it was in the middle of battle). Led by the fiery Miku, a tape line divides the dorm in two: the girls on one side, the boys on the other, and n’er the twain shall meet.

Led by the fiery Zorome, the boys don’t take this perceived shabby treatment lightly, and proceed to take advantage of every loophole Miku and the girls didn’t think of, from flaunting their own half-naked bodies after taking a dip in the lake, to claiming the dining hall (and all the food in it) for themselves.

Meanwhile, those not so enthusiastic about the gender war, like Kokoro and Mitsuru, actually find common ground in their love of the greenhouse as a place of tranquil solitude (and where Kokoro hopes to read her baby book). The one neutral party is Zero Two, who the girls eventually confront to take a side. Perhaps charmed that they came to her, she agrees to join them.

However, as usual Two goes her own path in how to best antagonize the boys, using the other girls as bait by getting the boys to accidentally barge in on them in the bath, then stealing everyone’s clothes.

Hiro gets wise, but he’s absolutely no match against Two in a foot chase that leads them to the roof, where she releases the basket of clothes into the wind. Hiro can’t help but laugh at the situation, which Zero Two agrees is a lot of fun, while hoping Hiro can think of her as a little more “human” for taking part in the war.

Despite being ordered by Dr. FranXX only to observe and report, Nana and Hachi tell both sides to knock it the ef off; after all, they need their parasites in a position to sortie at any given moment, and that just isn’t possible with all the consternation floating around.

Zero Two tells the girls they’d better stop half-assing things and say what they want to say to who they want to say it, because it’s very likely none of them will be alive much longer, considering their occupations. Both girls and boys alike start to feel bad for the other side (which is good, because they’re thinking of how the other side feels and bears rather than just themselves).

The one holdout is Miku, who runs away and hides in an off-limits dorm. There, she discovers among a vase of dead lilacs, a photo of the previous Squad 13, all of whom must’ve been wiped out. When the others join forces to find her, Miku is a wreck, but the photo and empty dorm room are a powerful, sobering message: if you don’t get to know each other, they have no chance of surviving.

With that, the two sides formally make up, with Miku rather adorably revising her stance, telling Zorome he can ogle “a little bit” as long as he doesn’t go so far. Apologies and handshakes are exchanged, and the squad recombines…but not before cleaning up the empty dorm where there predecessors lived and placing a vase of fresh lilacs by the window, a flower signifying friendship, fond memories, and youth, all of which were on full display this week.

I actually enjoyed these two past episodes in which the battle with the Klaxosaurs was either absent or pushed to the side; I’d much rather watch the members of Squad 13 continue to learn more about one another, become friends, and perhaps more…which is likely Dr. FranXX’s intention with the test squad, after all. That they’re all starting to realize they are boys and girls at once was certainly no coincidence.

Darling in the FranXX – 07

After last week’s epic battle, the 13th gets some well-deserved R&R on a real beach, which makes this a respite episode and a beach episode. It’s a good time to let us spend more time with the pilots as they interact in non-life-or-death situations for once.

The other big news is that 002 and Hiro are officially partners and Zero Two is now a member of the 13th. The higher-ups pulling the strings assign extra surveillance to her and seem to want Hiro to safely “deliver” her somewhere specific. Hiro also meets a fellow young man who’ll be the one doing the surveillance.

But for now, splashing and floating in the ocean are the order of the day, and the male gaze is in full force, with even a “goody-two-shoes” like Gorou thanking the powers that be for such a wonderful experience.

Hiro got to meet Dr. Franxx, who warns him not to let 002 “consume his emotions” if he wants to always be her partner. That is obviously a challenge, since Two is extremely flirty whenever around her Darling, even leaning in for what Hiro thinks is another kiss before she licks his cheek.

Zorome, Goro and Futoshi are in the dark about what all this “kissing” is about, and when Hiro grudgingly describes it and how it feels, Zorome is so eager to experience it for himself he tries to kiss Hiro. Mitsuru and Ikuno don’t participate in the other girls’ and boys’ fun, but Ikuno also makes it clear that doesn’t make them alike.

Then Mitsuru finds a path and leads everyone through it, and they find an abandoned ghost town not unlike the one they appear in during the typical end credits (we get a girls-in-swimsuits sequence this week).

It’s a place that’s gorgeous in its decay, where nature is taking over what was once civilization. Kokoro finds a book on child-rearing, something I’m sure is not done anywhere near the way we know about in our world, considering the ignorance of the parasites—or maybe it is, but since it has nothing to do with their duty to protect humanity, they were never taught about it.

002 tries to tease Ichigo about the fact that she’s kissed Hiro, but Ichigo mostly stands her ground without revealing she kissed him too. In any case, she’s far from ready to surrender Hiro to Two.

After enjoying a lovely sunset on an outcropping, the squad returns to the beach to find a sumptuous barbeque awaiting them. There, Ichigo and the others officially welcome Hiro to the 13th. They welcome 002 as well, but she runs off to swim some more, and seems miffed her Darling did not follow her.

That night, Ichigo gets some much-needed alone time with Hiro as they both wake up in the middle of the night and take a nice starlit stroll along the beach. Seeing Ichigo step into each of Hiro’s steps ahead of her was a really adorable move on her part, and she has a lot of nice closeups of just how much she’s enjoying being with Hiro and Hiro alone.

Ichigo eloquently expresses her feelings, from telling him not to give “all his attention” to 002 “look at her too”, to how much their kiss meant and her desire to be with him forever. She’s relieved Hiro still remembers the “Ichigo Star” in Orion he once pointed out to her.

Unfortunately, Hiro interrupts her, but it’s because a shower of shooting stars breaks out, further adding to the magic of the evening. Ichigo sees them as a good omen; the light they give off looking to her like rays of hope. Rather than repeat herself to Hiro, she playfully calls him baka for not listening when he had the chance. As exotic and alluring as 002 is, Ichigo shows no signs of relinquishing her Best Girl status.