Akudama Drive – 07 – The Offering

As the elevator to Brother and Sister’s destination rises out of the debris, Hoodlum reunites with the others, proudly reporting to have stabbed the Apprentice to avenge his brother, Brawler, who didn’t make it. When Brother is flippant about there being casualties on the job, Hoodlum almost loses it, but Swindler once again plays the peacemaker, and his temper subsides.

At the end of the elevator’s descent they reach Expo Park, a sprawling abandoned underground amusement park. Bunny and Shark cut in to tell us it was built before the war to preserve the culture of Old Kansai, but ominously notes that “there are some things better left not known”. The siblings’ ultimate destination is a rocket that Brother says will convey him and his Sister to a base on the Moon, where they’ll be safe.

That’s when we learn from Brother that he and his sister are the result of human experiments at Kyushu Plant to create immortal humans. Between them they are the product of 5,555 other siblings who were sacrificed in one horrific way or another to make the two of them possible.

I’m reminded of any number of anime in which humans and innocent kids in particular are treated brutally by an unseen, unfeeling scientific villain. Brother wakes up in a lab in a puddle of blood that grows bigger and bigger until one day the gym once full of siblings is empty.

That’s when the “Headmaster” reports that he was a successful experiment. They go on to make one more, Sister, and the two of them will be sent to Kanto as an “offering”, with mass production to follow. But their “Professor”, an AI in an artificial cat body, took pity on them and allowed them to escape on the Shinkansen. The rest of their story we know.

With that, Brother deposits a billion yen in each of the surviving Akudama’s accounts and deactivates their bomb collars, and prepare to board the rocket. Swindler gives them a farewell hug with the wish that maybe someday they’ll see each other again and eat more yummy takoyaki together.

Then, as the siblings ascend to the rocket’s hatch, Sister is stabbed in the throat…with one of Doctor’s scalpels. She’s fine, but she grabs Brother, making her meaning plain: she’s sold them and everyone else out to the Executioners.

A huge contingent of them suddenly swarm the launch pad and surround the Akudama. When Swindler asks Doctor why, the Doctor coldly declares she doesn’t owe her or anyone a goddamn thing. In exchange for her delivering the “offerings”, Boss removes Doctor’s Akudama status; she’ll no longer be on the run. Boss also tells Brother that the “Moon” they see in the sky is a mere holo-illusion; the real moon was destroyed in the war.

Brother bites Doctors hand and breaks free, while Courier and Cutthroat fight off the swarming Executioners—the latter particularly concerned with Swindler’s safety. He gets cut up pretty bad (which spells trouble considering their medic has defected) but ultimately ends up buying time for Swindler and the siblings.

Brother takes hold of Swindler and leads her and Sister into the rocket just as the countdown reaches zero. The rocket successfully launches with Swindler and Sister inside. Brother probably feels better to have at least protected half of the 5,555 siblings who died for them than none at all.

As for where the rocket is headed, who can say? The episode ends with it trailing away from what’s left of the moon—though perhaps its course takes the earth’s rotation into account. Even if they reach the moon, there surely isn’t anything there but death…but that wouldn’t be any different from the Executioner-infested launch pad.

First Hacker split off, then Brawler died, and now Doctor has stabbed everyone in the back. It remains to be seen if the Executioners either claim or scatter the remaining team of Courier, Cutthroat, and Hoodlum. Much like the war shattered the moon, the show has blown its group dynamic to smithereens. We’ll have to wait and see where the pieces land.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 13 – Malty Escalation

When one of Melty’s escorts suddenly rushes her, Naofumi acts instinctively and blocks his strike, but then the knights all suddenly adopt the notion that the Shield Hero has kidnapped the Second Princess, and they attack him in order to “rescue” her. Naofumi shields Melty while Raphtalia and Filo deal (non-lethal) blows to the other knights, but two of them aren’t fighting; they’re recording.

They magically alter that recording to make it look like the “Devil of the Shield’s” vicious slaves are massacring the knights, then present that fake footage all across the lands, making it much harder for Naofumi’s party to move about freely, keeping his reputation in the shitter (even after all the people he’s saved), and preventing him from acquiring the means to level up past 40.

It’s a dastardly plot that has Malty written all over it. While Naofumi considers the king to be involved as well, Melty vouches for her father, in whom she doesn’t want to lose hope of reconciling with the Shield Hero. When Naofumi decides his party will leave the country and head to Siltvelt, Melty offers to return home, but Naofumi, knowing Malty, warns her that will only get her killed.

So Melty joins the party, not as a hostage, but a willing companion. She learns what her father had done to Naofumi to make him hate him so, while Naofumi learns that Melromarc is a matrilineal monarchy, which means her mother the Queen is higher in rank than the King.

Those small moments of exposition aside, a good chunk of the episode is comprised of lovely sprawling vistas that dwarf the party as they trudge onward, all while Kevin Penkin’s lush, sublime score washes over it all. But they’re not alone out there in the wilderness: they’re being followed…and pursued.

Eventually Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo and Melty are cornered at the edge of a sheer cliff, and the three heroes, all of them either willing or unwitting puppets of Malty’s treachery, descend upon Naofumi, ordering her to release Melty. Naofumi tries to talk sense to them, and even Melty makes a little headroom in calling for an end to “needless conflicts.”

But all of that progress is lost when Malty makes the supremely insidious suggestion that Naofumi has in his possession a shield that brainwashes anyone he talks to. That means not only Melty can’t be taken at her word, but Raphtalia (and more importantly for Motoyasu, Filo) are brainwashed too. Ren still has his doubts, but gives in to the inertia or Malty’s incessant scheming.

Naofumi decides retreat to be the best option, and he, Raphtalia and Melty jump onto Filo and start to fly away, but Filo is brought down and her strength sealed by a magical bangle prepared by the alchemists for Motoyasu to capture her. Melty finally whips out her own (water-based) magic in an attempt to get Filo freed, but Malty fires back with fire, ignoring Ren’s suggestion she maybe stop attacking the Crown Princess?

Malty dispenses with any pretense and unilaterally states that if Melty is brainwashed, she must die. Alright, then! I have to say, if Melty was chosen over her to be Crown Princess, you’d think the King and Queen would have done more to limit her powers and freedom of movement, because she has single-handedly really gummed up the works. Raphtalia manages to deliver some revenge when she slips in from behind stabs her with the magic sword she was gifted.

Filo regains her strength (and then some) with the gloves she got as a gift as well, while Naofumi splits the rock  formations with his Rage Shield, leaving Ren, Malty, Motoyasu and Itsuki on one side, unable to pursue for now.

They flee into the woods, where they’re approached by one of the Queen’s Shadows. The Queen summons Naofumi to her location at once, which just happens to be in the opposite direction of their original destination of Siltvelt. It also means backtracking to where they left Malty and the heroes.

With Malty burning through the forest, it’s clear that she’s not going to give up hunting for Naofumi or her sister that easily. Who knows if anyone will be able to rein her in now, as she’s really turned the villainy up to 11. As for Melty, she considers herself an official member of the party, and demands that Naofumi call her by her first name from now on, irking Raphtalia.

There was some great action, adventure, and above all music this week, but man alive does that First Princess steam my beans! My frustration might have knocked this down to an 8 if there wasn’t still hope she’ll get her just righteous comeuppance at some point.

Planet With – 02 – Dearth of Enthusiasm

As the “Citizens’ Safety Center Special Defense Division: Grand Paladin” deals with the aftermath of losing one of their seven fighters to the enemy (which is called “Nebula”), Souya doesn’t so much as get real meat as a reward for his victory.

He lashes out at both Ginko and Sensei and skips school, then encounters Torai, the guy he just beat last night. Now lacking Photon Armor, he’s on investigation duty, but his memories of meeting Souya are fuzzy, so it’s a cordial exchange. Then another, even weirder UFO arrives.

Sensei clarifies that while he and Ginko are with Nebula, they’re with the pacifist faction that only wants to relieve humanity of the power the Photon Armor, which they’re using Souya to do (the “Sealing” faction wants to take it a step forward and actually keep humanity from ever evolving to a point where they develop such power).

Inaba Miu, the youngest member of Grand Paladin, is the star of the show, defeating the UFO after getting stuck in an illusion involving her and her friend and comrade Harumi in a judo match. But shortly after winning, Miu and Harumi are confronted by Souya and Sensei, and a 2-on-1 fight ensues.

Once Souya gets the hang of operating his “Sensei Armor”, he manages to defeat Miu and snatch away her power, but gets greedy and wants to go after Harumi too, against Sensei and Ginko’s order to withdraw. As a result, the rest of Grand Paladin show up and surround them. Could the gig be up just 2/7ths of the way into their mission?

Planet With episode two has the same shortcomings as the first: a whiny protagonist; loose-sketch supporting characters; goofy-looking anonymous UFOs. The CGI fights come with some decent SFX but are otherwise fairly standard 2018 fare. But with no strong characters or ideas to get enthusiastic about, the show feels very color-by-number so far.

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta – 08

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As intense and harrowing as the last episode was, it was but the first taste of what was to come this week. We don’t know what’s gotten into this show, but we like it. It brings the hammer down hard on everyone this week, and a ton of characters get knocked off. Last week took a very telegraphed outcome and totally sold it with the execution; this week, the only thing we were relatively sure of is that our main couple would survive; for everyone else—Ariel and Ignacio included—all bets were off.

The sudden assault of Isla by air and land of the mysterious enemy forces with very modern and competitive weaponry causes different reactions in different trainees; some hunker down and rise to the occasion, Mitsuo and Chiharu. Others’ hands shake, or their resolve wavers, and who can blame them? By any measure, they’re not ready for full-on combat against an older, wiser foe. But for the likes of Ari and Kal would rather be unready than dead, and fight their goddamn hearts against dreadful odds.

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There’s only so much they can do in their training aircraft, and one by one they’re picked off, the show totally uninterested in pulling punches. Before we know it, Kal and Ari are the last ones in the air, surrounded by superior force. And then Ari takes a bullet to the shoulder, and all seems lost. In this moment, Kal starts to lose it, pleading for Ari to wake up, but he doesn’t stop piloting the plane, and doing an incredible job of it. Ultimately, he buys just enough time for a blue fighter to turn up and waste the last of the enemy before disappearing into the night. It may have been a bit of deus ex machina, but it’s a welcome ray of hope in a series that has washed much of its hope away, along with its innocence.

There are allies out here, not just foes. The dogfighting throughout is really riveting, occasionally lyrical stuff (setting aside the fact the enemies don’t have the best aim). Clearly the show had been holding back with its budget for these past two episodes. But most satisfying is that when the spotlight turned back onto Kal, Ari, Claire and Ignacio, they didn’t disappoint in their scenes. Kal and Ari’s sibling interactions during and after the battle were a highlight. Barely surviving a hellish battle in which many of their friends died tends to bring people closer together.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)