Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 03

This week on Girl’s Last Trip, something amazing happens; something perhaps more amazing than finding all the elements one needs to build a makeshift hot tub: Chito and Yuuri meet another survivor, a young man named Kanazawa.

The lit cigarette portended something potentially perilous, but Kanazawa is harmless. He has no gun and no vehicle, and has been making maps, but that’s about all we and the girls ever learn about him. Where he came from and how he survived are left a mystery.

While he doesn’t have a gun, he does have dynamite, which he uses to knock a building over so they can use it as a bridge across a gorge. His maps help lead them to a fueling station, and then they finally reach their destination: one of the mammoth towers that must lead to a higher level, where maybe there will be more people…or at least more food.

SSR excels at portraying just how tiny humans are before all this gargantuan infrastructure; Kanazawa offers some insight regarding the fact more contemporary civilizations couldn’t fully figure out the more ancient, yet in some cases, more advanced structures. At any rate, they’re very big and impressive.

Anyone who doesn’t like heights—like Chito—might just feel a bit of vertigo or tingling in the back as the elevator, which has no chain link fence, slowly rises higher and higher. Just as Chito is worried about what would happen if the elevator tilted, the elevator tilts, and Kanazawa’s sachel of maps slips off.

He nearly slips off as well trying to catch it, but he can’t. His maps are gone; scattered hundreds of feet above a level they may never return to. As he had earlier declared the maps were his life (i.e. the only thing keeping him going), he wants the girls to let him fall. They do not let him fall—Yuuri may be a book-burning glutton but she’s not evil.

They manage to fix the elevator and reach the top, and their seeming reward is the activation of all the streetlights around them, and a great light in the distance that is the girls’ next destination.

After Yuuri uncharacteristically shares her rations with Kanazawa (and Chito rewards her by giving her half of hers), Kanazawa heads North on his own. Looks like he was only ever going to be a temporary party member. Now on to that great light…whatever it is.

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Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 01 (First Impressions)

The premise couldn’t be simpler: two girls on a bike in a world of nothing. They are, as far as they know, the only living souls left in that world; the rest is in darkness and ruins. Yuuri and Chito are their names. The more serious, reserved Chito drives the Kettenkrad half-track motorcycle; the more Yuuri rides along and carries a rifle.

Ever since they were thrust out of their home (which looked on the verge of falling to an unknown enemy force), they’ve had no direction except towards fuel and food; no directive except survival. And somehow, for an unknown period of time, they have managed to survive.

Their stomachs are always growling. They’re often cold, though warmer when huddled together. Food is never plentiful. They’ve been meandering through the darkness of a vast system of underground spaces for so long, that when they finally find themselves back outside, they’re blinded…by the starry sky, full of shooting stars.

They also behold a sprawling landscape of ruined, snow-covered civilization. These are kids, and they mess around and get on each others’ nerves, even as they work together to survive. They seem almost blind to the destruction and have perhaps compartmentalized the fact the two of them are all they have and possibly all they’ll ever have.

Things get a bit testy when they find a chest full of chocolate-covered ration biscuits that come five to a pack. Yuuri, the one with the rifle, unexpectedly turns that rifle on the unarmed-by-choice Chito, taking the fifth biscuit for herself. Even though they escaped and survived a larger war, the war to stay alive wages between the two of them, and one day one biscuit may make all the difference.

Chito is pissed, beating Yuuri up as punishment, and Yuuri seems to laugh off the incident, but it sure didn’t seem like a silly joke at the time. It seemed like a petty thing to do when they had a whole box of biscuits, especially considering a warm Chito to drive the bike and sleep beside (rather than a cold corpse) is surely more important to survival as the difference between three biscuits and two and a half.

Made in Abyss – 12

This week, while waiting for Riko to heal, Nanachi teaches Reg the “true nature” of the abyss, calling it, essentially, a physical, if invisible, trap of barbs that are easy to descend through but quite difficult to ascend. The Abyss itself is both something that doesn’t want anything going in, but also won’t let anything that does get in get out easily, or without exacting a toll.

That toll would seem to extend all the way tot he surface, where lil’ Kiyui (Kiwi) has come down with an awful fever; a growing trend that is claiming lives. When Girou (Gilo) takes him off the island onto one of the ships of the “Caravan Fleet” docked there, he recovers immediately, without any medical treatment.

It would seem that all that was needed was to get further away from the Abyss.

And yet Riko, like her mother Lyza, her mentor Ouzen, and Nanachi and Mitty, couldn’t help but get closer and closer. The longing to reach thebottom of the netherworld and discover its secrets is far more agonizing than any trap, predator, poison, or curse. It’s a curse in and of itself; an infinitely seductive world beneath the surface, simultaneously beckoning and warning.

Good News: Mitty isn’t trying to eat Riko, she’s merely being friendly, and as Nanachi says, uncharacteristically “emotional” toward a visitor (though it’s doubtful they have many other visitors). She also points out Mitty was once a girl like Riko, then demonstrates to Reg how terrible her cooking ability is, prompting Reg to commit to cooking for RIko once she wakes up.

Meanwhile, Nanachi uses a thin, transparent “fog weave” to very effectively demonstrate the physical qualities of the Curse of Abyss; how it morphs to take the shape of whatever it covers, and the consequences of recklessly bursting through it.

Back in the hut, we’re “treated” to one of the more disturbing sequences in the show: Riko, covered in a fleshy film of her own, sits in the pitch black darkness but for a hole, through which Mitty’s eye peers. Riko peers back, and hears not the cooing and moaning of the present Mitty, but the more lucid cries of the girl Mitty once was. Chilling.

Continuing her lessons, Nanachi places a device in Reg’s helmet so she can communicate with him in real time from afar as he responds to a call for help from a Black Whistle, who then bristles when he sees a mere child has answered and begs him to flee.

Of course, Reg isn’t an ordinary kid, and he has a score to settle with this particular piercer, so with Nanachi’s aid he reaches out and grabs the curse, (which the piercer uses to predict the future with its red “nose”) and fires Incinerator at point-blank range, forcing the beast to shed 80% of its quills and withdraw.

Reg calmly asks the stunned Black Whistle to relay a message to Girou up at the Belchero Orphanage: “They are continuing their adventure.”

Even being almost killed won’t sate Riko’s longing to continue, and Reg knows that, so whenever she wakes up and is well and strong enough to do so, they’ll resume their descent. Reg, grateful for all of Nanachi’s help, asks if she’ll accompany him and Riko on their journey.

It’s not that Nanachi outright refuses their offer, but has a request of her own that is more pressing: she asks if Reg will kill Mitty for her. We heard through Riko the misery Mitty lives in each and every moment; almost gone but not gone enough for it to not matter.

Barring some kind of miracle that could save her, killing Mitty would seem to be a mercy; it’s just that after what happened with them and Bondrewed, Nanachi hasn’t been able to herself do what she know needed to be done. She hopes there’s enough emotional separation for Reg to do it instead.

Made in Abyss – 11

Thanks to the careful ministrations of Nanachi the Hollow, Riko’s arm is stabilized and she’d given another 12 or so hours of life to play with.

Turns out Nanachi had been shadowing her and Reg since they reached the Fourth Layer, but only revealed herself out of pity for Reg, who mewled like a “lost little kid” when Riko went blue.

She warns Reg Riko is far from out of the woods: to save her life, he’ll have to go back out into the Goblet to collect a number of items within those 12 hours.

Then another sound comes from the tent, and Nanachi introduces Reg to OH GAAAAAAAH JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE HELL IS THAT … THAT THING? Honestly, after the “meat” Ozen brought back to life and last week’s gruesome ordeal, you’d think I’d be more desensitized to the horrors of the Abyss, but “Mitty” provides another, well, layer of darkness and dread.

Nanachi makes it clear that Mitty in her current form (which is barely a form at all) is nearer to the rule, not the exception, where Hollows are concerned. Both Nanachi and Mitty ascended from the Sixth Layer. Both were changed irrevocably, but only Nanachi maintained her humanoid form and mental faculties – an “exception among exceptions.”

Mitty is…well, hollow. For most humans who undergo such a transformation, death by their comrades usually follows, but not in this case. Nanachi not only hasn’t put Mitty out of her misery, but keeps her around like a kind of pet.

Perhaps it’s an act of penance. In some flashes of the past we see what is probably a pre-ascent Mitty—a girl with eyes the same reddish hue as the eye of post-ascent Mitty—and a younger, post-ascent Nanachi being praised by the White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel, who is happy “the experiment” was a success. Perhaps Nanachi and Mitty were the subjects of that experiment, and only Nanachi survived (relatively) intact.

Reg collects all the items on Nanachi’s list without too much difficulty, only to learn that just one of those items—the purple mushrooms that grow on shroombears—was necessary to save Riko; the other things were merely for Nanachi to eat. But Nanachi makes a good point: she cannot forage for food while tending Riko, so someone had to.

Reg is also instructed to wash Riko’s soiled clothes at a nearby riverbank behind Nanachi’s hut. The utterly gorgeous verdant landscape he beholds is peppered with graves, somewhat souring the awe with melancholy.

But Reg starts seeing things – the field of flowers of fortitude, Blaze Reap marking a grave – and also hears his own voice speaking to Lyza. He wonders if he buried Lyza, but remembers Ozen said “no one was buried” there.

The thing is, “no one” could be construed as “nothing human”—i.e., a hollow—but when back in the tent, what’s left of Mitty suddenly approaches a sleeping Riko. Does this behavior suggest that Riko’s presence is somehow drawing out the humanity in Mitty, like the mushrooms are drawing out the piercer’s poison? Does Mitty recognize Lyza’s daughter?

Made in Abyss – 10

Riko and Reg’s first impressions of the Fourth Layer are that it’s very damp, humid, and majestic. the “Goblets” that give the Layer its name are filled with something that smells “vinegary”, which leads me to think it’s another kind of digestive juice you don’t want to be wading around in too long.

While looking for a place to camp (the first place they found had an odd presence shadowing them), they encounter an orbed-piercer – a predator that can kill them a heck of a lot quicker than gut juice. It’s a fearsome thing to behold – a growling yet unreadable red face with five holes, surrounded by shaggy white fur and poisonous barbs that can cut through steel.

Scary looks and pointy bits aren’t the only things in its arsenal – the piercer is also a lot smarter than the beasts they’ve encountered thus far, as Ozen warned them they would get. It’s quick, crafty, and thinks a step ahead.

Reg can’t get away from it, and in a matter of moments, three absolute disasters occur: they lose the Blaze Reap, their best weapon against tougher beasts (Reg dare not use his Incinerator); their umbrella shield is easily shattered, and one of the barbs pierces Riko’s left hand.

Reg has to deal with that quickly before the poison spreads and kills Riko, so he does something else that threatens her life: he escapes by ascending. In the fourth layer, humans start bleeding profusely out of every orifice, and that’s what happens to poor Riko.

As if that wasn’t grim enough, Riko’s hand swells to three times its size, and before passing out, she tells him the only thing for it is to cut her hand off. Reg breaks the bone first and then fights back tears as he works away at the arm with his knife, but the blood attracts a cloud of bugs that interrupt his work.

Both Riko and Reg are saved when “presence” they felt before makes its appearance – a rabbit-like creature offering help.

After following the creature’s instructions and giving a very purple Riko the kiss of life (without a moment’s hesitation, or bashfulness), she starts breathing again, thank the gods. Their new friend then leads them to her very cool and comfy-looking home in a place where the Curse of the Abyss has no effect, and introduces herself as Nanachi, what the upworlders would call a “Hollow.”

Made in Abyss continues to plumb new depths of acute peril and danger, not treating Riko or Reg—who are only little kids after all—with any more mercy than their surroundings.

I knew things would never be the same the moment Riko’s hand was pierced, and the entire ordeal to stabilize her was simply gutting, as we weren’t spared the most grisly details (haring Reg breaking and cutting Riko’s wrist was bad, but so was watching more blood bubble out of her eye after he wiped it dry).

Here’s hoping this Hollow person Nanachi can work some kind of magic to save Riko’s hand, even if, as she said, it will never be the same. That seems to be the enduring theme of Abyss – the further down they go, the quicker it is to be slaughtered, and the more things will never be the same.

Classroom of the Elite – 09

“This test is sounding much more complicated and difficult than I thought it would be.” You and me both, Horikita! The details of weeklong survival trip that pits the four classes against each other is indeed are many and complicated; one might even say convoluted, to the point of ungainliness.

Much of this episode simply sets up all of the various rules and ways of spending, scoring, or being deducted points, but it’s a lot to keep track of, and the episode itself doesn’t do the best job of organizing everything in any kind of order. Instead, it lays out some rules, the students mill around in the woods, and then they lay out some more.

There’s also the fact that Class D is made up of twenty students, and yet we don’t really learn or get any kind of impression from any but the ones we already know: Horikita and Ayanokouji, the three bad apples, Hirata and Karuizawa, etc. The rest are kinda just there.

I appreciate the fact that everyone in the class can agree to appoint Horikita as their Leader (a position with both advantages and potential pitfalls requiring both responsibility and discretion).

What I did not appreciate were the incessant sexist allusions to girls being weaker, more delicate, and somehow not as cut out for roughing it as the boys. Out of twenty students, you’d think one or two of the girls would be outdoorsy types like Ike.

On that same subject, what the hell is the deal with the toilet situation? Have these kids not heard of these things called holes that you can dig in the ground to do your business? I realize a lot of these kids are rich and sheltered, but still…

Somehow, some way, the girls manage to survive the first day (/s), and Hirata manages to work out a reasonable number of points the class can walk away happy with: a floor of 120 out of the 300 they start with. As for the ceiling, well, it all depends on how many leaders they can identify, how may “spots” the possess for how long, and how much food and water they can take from nature without spending points on rations.

They also have to be careful not to lose too many points to deductions, and in this, right off the bat they stand to lose 30 points when Kouenji, after doing his Tarzan thing all over the island, craps out on the rest of the class by returning to the boat. I’ve no idea if he’s just out of the game or has some other plan (probably the former), because all he does is strut around saying “beautiful.”

At least with the majority of the test’s rules out of the way, we’ll see more execution next week. But seriously, CotE: dial back the male chauvinism a bit, if you would. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Made in Abyss – 09

Riko and Reg descend the four thousand meters of the Great Fault (over ten Empire State Buildings, for those keeping count) using the “weakling’s way”, as Ozen suggested: the network of tunnels within the fault’s walls.

They quickly learn why when they inadvertently scare some flat, fluffy Neritantans out onto the edge, where a few quickly become lunch for the flying Madokajacks.

The Neritantans are ridiculously adorable, but this isn’t a place where you can be sentimental about such things if those animals are the only thing you can use to distract the predators that make no distinction between them and you.

Riko and Reg find the ancient ruins of a ship embedded in the fault wall, which raises so many questions, chief among them how it got there. In any case, it’s super cool. But just as the Madokajacks were distracted by the Neritantans, Riko is distracted by the prospect of finding cool relics.

She doesn’t realize until it’s too late that she’s strayed right into a Madokajack nest. Ozen warned Reg not to use Incinerator recklessly, but he’s confident Riko will be safe for the two hours he’s out if he uses it, so he does…and it continues to be a fantastic, if terrifying, sight to see.

What Reg didn’t know is that the strange distant sound he’d been hearing was a Crimson Splitjaw, who he grazed with the beam from Incinerator. He and Riko have to book it fast before he passes out, and they seem to receive som karmic justic when their only avenue of escape is blocked by tightly-packed, Neritantans.

If I didn’t know better, I thought I saw the thirst for vengeance in their beady little eyes. But the roar of the Splitjaw spooks them and they disperse. In a place of relative safety, Reg warns Riko to stay where she is and then passes out. Now who seriously thought Riko was just going to sit around?

No, She’s Got This, and wraps Reg’s extendo-arms around her and drags him behind her…straight into the digestive chamber of a Amakagame, yet another wonderfully bizarre beast of the Abyss. But this is Riko we’re talking about. Does she panic? No, she breaks out her knife and stabs the shit out of the Amakagame until she’s pierced its skin and escaped.

At first, I thought the legions of Neritantans that amassed around her were there to celebrate her vanquishing of the monster that claimed so many of their own—an “okay, we’re even now, you’re not so bad” kinda moment.

Then I remembered she smells like the fruit they love, and they swarm ravenously at her, the cute fluffy-looking animals suddenly a little more threatening. They cause Riko to fall down another steep tunnel, but far from a shortcut, it dumps her at the bottom of hexagonal basalt cave, and the only way out requires an ascent of several hundred feet.

It’s rough going, as Riko experiences headaches, dizziness, nausea, and the kicker: extremely realistic visual and auditory hallucinations. I mean, she might as well be on the holodeck, because she’s in a full-fledged dreamworld.

She knows what (and who) she’s looking at isn’t real…until her mother appears and they ascend all the way back up to Orth in the same gondola at the Seeker Camp. There, the entire city has come out to celebrate their return to the surface. What snaps her out of it? The fact that Reg isn’t there. He’s her totem, and he saves her butt again, without even being awake.

However, at nearly two hours, it’s really time he does wake up, and none too soon, either, as the Splitjaw that was after them before has found them again. Riko decides it’s time for Blaze Reap, but even as she wielded it and faced down the Splitjaw’s charge, it just didn’t look like she’d be able to do much damage.

Fortunately, Reg does, and uses his superior strength and speed to land a critical blow on the Splitjaw’s jaw, with the axe’s power causing multiple explosions that disable the beast once and for all.

With both kids awake and safe, Reg apologizes for going out so long, but Riko is actually appreciative: she learned by doing that taking this journey all by her self really would have been impossible, while Reg is certain it’d be impossible for him too if he didn’t have Riko with him.

Next up, the Fourth Layer: The Goblet of Giants.

Classroom of the Elite – 08

This week begins with a production of Icarus in an unfamiliar venue—did the school have such a sumptuous theater?—and an ultimatum from Chabashira-sensei to Ayanokouji: try, actually make an effort to get into Class A…or be expelled. Someone outside the school wants him gone, but Chabashira is willing to let Ayano stay around—but only if he plays ball and makes it worth her while.

We then learn the entire school is not at school at all, but aboard a gargantuan luxury cruise ship. The luxury part comes naturally to the higher-ranked classes, but Sudo and his crew stick out like sore thumbs, while still others (Ichinose and Hoshinomiya-sensei) avail themselves of the fanservice spa facilities.

The only two people neither having a good time nor trying to have a good time are—you guessed it—Ayano and Horikita. They’re weary. This whole cruise has been free and there’s been no explanation for its existence…so what’s the catch?

While the two are sitting at a bar alone together, pondering that question, Ryuuen shows up and calls Horikita out for the camera prank that saved Sudo. Ryuuen is overly familiar and grabby, and returns Horikita’s disgust with a promise she’ll be seeing a lot of him.

They are interrupted by a very ill-tempered classmate of Ryuuen’s who is apparently sick and tire of “how he does things.” She’s flung aside by Ryuuen’s bodyguard Albert, but doesn’t give Ayanokouji anything when he asks what’s up, so all he and Horikita know is that there is tension within Class C.

Some use the cruise as an excuse to try to nab a romantic partner: Ike with Kushida (he chokes and settles for first-name terms), Sudo with Horikita (never gonna happen), and Sakura with Ayanokouji (she hesitates and is interrupted by Kushida).

Because Sakura can sense Kushida is hiding something behind her public image, she skitters off, and before long, Ayano also tires of her friendly girl act and starts to take his leave.

Kushida then changes tone for the first time since the first time, but doesn’t threaten Ayano, just gets him to acknowledge he’s weary around her, while she’s…well, she just doesn’t like being left alone so soon after showing up.

The episode’s title, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” from Dante’s Inferno, provides some early insight into what we and the students are in for. Those are the words inscribed on the gates of Hell, and Hell, albeit in the form of a gorgeous island, seems to be their destination (though none of these kids are anywhere near the middle of their lives).

Once they spot that island, the faculty announces a week-long survival test will take place on the island. I imagine then, that we’re in for some Lord of the Flies kid self-rule adventures next week, with all of the different character and class dynamics touched on this week and in weeks prior will come into play in an all-new, less academic setting. I look forward to it.

Fate / Zero – 19

In Part 2 of How Kiritsugu Got So Messed Up, young Kiritsugu finds himself in a gender-swapped version of The Professional. Natalia is Leon, the ‘cleaner’ with a heart of gold who suddenly isn’t alone, and Kiritsugu is Matilda, the trauma-stricken, anger-filled youth searching for purpose.

After saving him, Natalia takes Kiri under her wing, gradually teaching him the basics. Before long he’s accompanying her on jobs, and if there’s one complaint I have with this episode (and it’s not a biggie), it’s that there’s really no transition between Kiri’s ‘kid’ and ‘adult’ voices.

What Nat continually drives into Kiri (whatever voice he has) is that her line of work, one’s own survival is the most important consideration. If you’re dead, it’s all for nothing. As a result of her training and care, Kiri becomes a highly capable and reliable apprentice. (She also eventually powders some of his ribs into 66 bullets).

The moment a Dead Apostle named Odd Vorzak appears in the tray of Natalia’s fax machine, I had the ominous feeling that it would be her last job, but while the destination was basically known, I still greatly enjoyed the journey. As a big job in which Kiritsugu plays a crucial role, flying to NYC ahead of Natalia and utilizing his bullets, there’s an auspicious tone to the proceedings.

While there are few things worse than getting the back of your seat kicked on a plane, what Natalia does to Vorzak is most definitely one of them. It’s a great scheme, transporting Kiri’s bullet into Vorzak’s back, and it’s executed perfectly. But it’s also all too easy, and I couldn’t help but think there would have been better, and more importantly safer ways to eliminate him.

Sure enough, while taking care of the bees in Vorzak’s luggage in the hold, all hell breaks loose in the cabin, as Vorzak was carrying more bees in his body. All 300 crew and passengers are quickly turned into vicious ghouls. By some miracle, Natalia is able to reach the cockpit, but it’s a long, tense trip to New York with those ghouls at the doo, and you can feel it.

Kiritsugu keeps Natalia company over the radio, in a beautiful scene that lessons the tension but still feels like it captures the specific emotions of the situation perfectly. As they talk, Natalia gets more an more sentimental, wondering if “playing at a family” is what caused her to screw up so badly, while Kiritsugu subtly talks of her in the past tense, sailing out into open water on one of the small, efficient little boats he loves to use.

There’s a wonderful ambiguity to what Natalia’s particular thoughts are about the conversation she’s having with Kiritsugu, and if and when she realizes that he’s preparing to destroy the plane before it lands. After all, she trained him, and always knew he had way too much potential in her line of work, not to mention her edict that her apprentice think of his survival first and foremost.

Whatever she feels or knows, the reveal of the missile launcher just as the dawn arrives, with a flock of seagulls circling Kiritsugu as if he were the center of a storm—it’s all wonderfully staged and directed. And before pulling the trigger Kiritsugu makes sure Natalia knows: he was glad to have her as a mother.

As is usually the case with Kiritsugu, I can totally understand why he does what he does, even if it’s absolutely horrible: that plane could not be allowed to land just because Natalia is dear to him. The other 300 people on the plane weren’t people anymore, and if they get out into the city, many many more people would’ve died. Kiritsugu couldn’t allow that, so he does what he couldn’t do when Shirley turned into a vampire: nothing more or less than What Has To Be Done.

There’s such a dark, bleak symmetry to Kiritsugu killing his real father and adoptive mother as bookends to his transformation into the Emiya Kiritsugu currently fighting the Holy Grail War. Natalia was such a great character who came out of nowhere, it was sad to see her go so soon, but we were dealing with flashbacks after all, and I had no reasonable expectation she would survive them.

The break in the present-day story was abrupt (especially since I haven’t watched episode 17 yet), but it was well worth the detour to learn more about the key protagonist of the story. It also demonstrated that whatever the timeline or setting, Fate/Zero knows how to tell a damned compelling story.

Made in Abyss – 08

“If they die now, it just means they didn’t have what it takes to go any further.” Harsh they may be, truer words were never spoken. Despite her ice-cold demeanor and gloomy, threatening affectation, I have no doubt Ozen would be immensely disappointed if Riko and Reg died during their ten-day survival test.

Now obviously they’re not going to die—and she probably knows that. There may be a lot of bugs when they use fire and a grumpy hippo-like beast who doesn’t want them near his water, but Riko and Reg make a great team, and they have, after all, lived and survived off the land up until now.

Thus Ozen would be worried, even if she was capable of being worried about the two kids passing the test. Ozen takes us back to when Lyza introduced her to a frail-looking young man named Torka whom she married. In a classic Ozen move, she fast-forwards to after Torka has passed away from the effects of the Abyss, and Ozen has to deliver a stillborn Riko.

But as much of a ‘hassle’ as it was, Ozen remained faithful to her dear apprentice, who had progressed so far only to go through so much pain and anguish, and assures the suddenly-alive baby Riko of her “strong sense of duty” which continues to the present now that Lyza’s daughter has descended to her lair.

The product of her duty returns, dirty and exhausted but very much alive after ten days. Reg points out it feels like more, and when Ozen invites them to sup with her, she tells them of how being in the Abyss warps one’s sense of time (among other parts of the brain), such that while Riko has lived ten years since coming up to the surface, to Lyza down in the netherworld it may have felt like a scant ten months; possibly even less.

Needless to say, this is very heartening to Riko, but Ozen warns her and Reg to avoid the three White Whistles besides Lyza who are lurking in the lower layers as they speak, and when she says one of them isn’t “kind like I am”, you know she’s not joking: she, and everything we’ve seen of her, is still kinder than The Sovereign of Dawn, Bondrewd the Novel. 

I love the idea of White Whistles being their own tiny, elite tribe of eccentrics, and to think they get more eccentric (and less human) than Ozen is…a little unsettling. She’s also still not sure what to make of the note Riko thought was written by Lyza.

After giving Riko her mother’s pickaxe, Blaze Reap, she sits her and Reg down and begins to tell them all of the things they’ll need to know as they continue their descent. These are secrets usually kept between White Whistles exclusively, but as Riko is the spawn of one and is headed to their realm, it only makes sense. It’s a sobering experience for Reg to hear of all the strange things on the lower layers, and Ozen doesn’t mince words.

But Ozen isn’t trying to discourage them; only to prepare them as much as one can be prepared. When it comes time to say goodbye, Ozen isn’t present, so Marulk and the raiders see off Riko and Reg. Marulk is particularly sad to see them go, and her tears not only cause Riko and Reg to tear up, but me as well!

Ozen recalls one final pivotal exchange she had with Lyza after they returned to the surface. Lyza, whose face is finally fully revealed, has not only taken on an apprentice (Jiruo, AKA Leader), but has made the decision to make another descent in order to allow Riko to decide for herself what kind of life she’ll lead. She asks Ozen to tell Riko about all of the miracles that had to occur so she could live; Ozen agrees.

Back in the present, with her duty now done, Riko and Reg set out for deeper depths approaching the terrifying sheer pale walls of the Great Fault and the Third Layer. While it seemed strange and alien at first, the longer we spent in the Inverted Forest, the more comfortable, even cozy it felt.

The edge of the Fault couldn’t be any less hospitable. It will be exciting to see what other wondrous sights they’ll see in this newest setting—and what fresh devilry with which they’ll have to contend.

Made in Abyss – 05

Riko and Reg’s first hours in the Forest of Temptation go easily enough—even the giant leaves point them in the right direction. But we knew the silkfang wasn’t going to be the only man-eating beast they encountered, and sure enough, rushing in the direction of what they think is a man yelling “help me” turns out to be the luring call of a corpse-weeper, who snatches up Riko with the intent to feed her to her young.

Reg’s extending arm’s aim is true, but other weepers knock it off course. In addition to being torn apart and eaten, ascending worsens the Curse and puts extra strain on Riko, who vomits in midair before passing out.

Even though I knew there was no way she’d buy it here, my heart was still in the pit of my stomach. When Reg’s arm doesn’t work and he’s swarmed by weepers, he changes tactics, firing his hand cannon at the weeper nest and obliterating all the weepers, including the one carrying Riko.

He then catches her in mid-air with his arm, gathers her into his arms, and soft-lands on an itty-bitty column of rock. Whew, that was close. but it’s also telling. Things are not going to get easier from this point on! It’s a dangerous place. Here, all humans (or robots that look like humans) are prey.

Riko is tough-as-nails, and doesn’t even mind that Reg took her top off (to check her for injuries) when she was out; because she knows full well that like any other ordinary human Red Whistle (or even above), she’d be silkfang, or weeper food, or simply a dark red spot on some rock face, without Reg’s help.

She calls his beam weapon “Incinerator” (even though he’s still weary of accidentally hitting her with it), and makes a meal of the meat from the weepers he killed. While the weepers eat the flesh of men, Riko doesn’t consider it any different than the times cave raiders brought Abyss meat to the orphanage. It’s just the Circle of Life, baby.

Another realistic detail about their quest for which I’m thankful so far is that Riko keeps losing things: first her seemingly useless (but probably not) Star Compass, and most recently her book of field notes, which she did not memorize. In both cases, they can’t risk trying to search for or retrieve such things; they can only press on.

And press on they do, to the bottom edge of the Second Layer, the Inverted Forest. I’ve been looking forward to them reaching this place ever since we got a glimpse of it in the OP (and since Sigy described it on the map). It does not disappoint, as it is not only a stranger and more fantastical landscape; it’s also darker, colder, more foreboding and treacherous. The waterfalls going up are also a nice touch.

Just as Riko is losing things, Reg’s foolproof extending arm is getting more and more flummoxed; first by the weepers, and here with the intermittent strong winds. They also run afoul of a colony of ape-like Inbyos, who are not interested in interlopers in their territory. So Reg has to get used to his arm’s more limited effectiveness while getting himself and Riko away from violent primates.

But even here, there is some small relief: the same reason it’s dark and cold is the reason most of the fauna is relatively peaceful, while the effects of the Curse are diminished (or at least more bearable) around the Seeker Camp, which they eventually arrive at.

When they don’t see a lookout and no gondola descends, Reg does what he does, using his arm to ascend to the camp. But something else unexpected happens: his arms don’t grasp any rock or wood: they are grabbed and held by the person Habo warned them of; the one who helped Lyza carry baby Riko back to the surface; who notes the “brat” is still alive.

She’s the one they call The Unmovable Sovereign: Ozen. Will she be a source of hope or despair for our adventurers?

 

Made in Abyss – 04

Remember Snape going on about ‘bottling fame’ or ‘brewing’ glory? I kept coming back to how Made in Abyss seems able to effortlessly bottle…AWE. It’s masterful in unveiling Riko and Reg’s new surroundings. 

First we get a tight shot of Riko waking up…in a mad web of protective Reg arm cable! Then we pull waaaay back to a superwide shot of the First Layer: The Edge of the Abyss. It’s like pure, uncut, Bottled Awe.

After Riko’s terrible-looking but delicious fish stew (good to see them not relying on packed food), they face their first foe: a giant silkfang from whose nest they narrowly escape from, thanks to Reg’s ridiculously handy arms, which are also making their climb much easier. Let’s call it a Level 1 fiend…and they didn’t defeat it, they just got away.

They’re also trying to keep from getting caught by Leader or any search parties who may be pursuing them. After receiving hand-drawn copies of Lyza’s Abyss notes, with a red note indicating he’s coming for them at dawn, Riko concludes escaping Leader is the “final lesson” they must overcome to prove they have what it takes.

The next massive swig of primo Bottled Awe comes in the form of a Castle in the Sky-style reveal of the abandoned ancient windmills and endless greenery of Layer Two: The Forest of Temptation. It’s like watching an awesome game where the deeper you descend, the crazier things start to look and feel.

But eventually one of their “pursuers” catches up, only to not be trying to catch them at all. The Black Whistle Habo came when Sigy and Nat told him to help Riko get to the Seeker Camp and Second Layer, and in exchange he could see Reg, a genuine treasure of the Netherworld, in the rubbery flesh.

When Riko politely declines his offer, citing Leader’s final lesson, he takes her and Reg into his arms, perhaps to embrace the girl he’s known her whole life, and watched, and known that the day would come when she’d run off after, and like, her mother. He also warns her about the White Whistle “Ozen the Immovable” at the Seeker Camp.

After some more descending, we can take one more swig of dramatically unveiling vistas as they arrive at the Abyss’ Second Layer – The Forest of Temptation (not to be confused with the Forest of Illusion, though the vibe is similar).

Gazing at the environs sprawling out before him, Reg can’t help but wonder if he and Riko actually “escaped” their pursuers, or if they’ve come to a place where other things will pursue them. For this is no longer the territory of man, it’s The Abyss proper, from which all things sprang, and where all things eventually return. I’m drunk on awe now.