Re: Zero – 42 – Memory Spring

Echidna accompanies Emilia into her recently unsealed memories, ever ready for stinging vitriol (she really is notably more hostile to Emilia than Subaru…but that would be Envy, not Greed!). After a literally cold open in which a naked young Emilia first meets Puck, Emilia and Echidna begin the journey in earlier, warmer, happier, and distinctly more fairy tale-ish times. Lil’ Lia, we find, is often cooped up in the “Princess Room” within a tree, but is otherwise lovingly cared for by Mother Fortuna (Tomatsu Haruka).

Fortuna is not her actual mother but her aunt; her brother’s younger sister. One day, while particularly bored, a lesser spirit—Lia actually refers to it as a “fairy”—leads her to a loose stone in the room. Takahashi Rie does a masterful job making her sound not just like a higher-pitched Emilia, but adopting the speech patterns and weird little sounds of an actual little kid. No one does that better than Kuno Misaki, but Takahashi is pretty damn good here.

The space behind the stone leads out of the tree, and the spring Lia revels in being able to stretch her legs. It’s while she’s sneaking around the margins of the elf village that we non LN readers receive the first genuine shock of this flashback: our boy Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti, back then a humble bishop, not only looked normal, but seemed like a pretty nice guy!

“Geuse” and Fortuna go back decades, and you can sense that long history in their effortless chemistry and gentle flirtation. Whether of the Witch’s Cult or some other order, Geuse and a group acolytes apparently make regular visits to the village in Elior Forest, both to deliver supplies and so Geuse can receive confirmation from Fortuna that “the seal is intact.”

Lil’ Lia knows she’s not supposed to be out and about, so even after the fairies help clean her up a little, she spills blue ink on her outfit to hide the dirt and grass stains. If Fortuna doesn’t buy it, she doesn’t tell Lia, instead hugging her and telling her she missed her even in the brief time they were apart. Lia, even back then someone quick to comfort others, places her little hand on Fortuna’s head.

While this is a helpful introduction to the places and players of the past, this initial stirng of memories isn’t yet enough for present-day Emilia. Fortuna and Geuse mentioned a seal, so Lia needs to keep soaking up these memories. They include the elf Archi giving Lia some nuts to snack on, and another visit from Geuse, who inadvertently flirts more with Fortuna. They really do make a cute couple.

Geuse also mentions that affairs outside the forest are “dubious at the moment”, so it’s more vital than ever the seal remain intact. He mentions Emilia, but also “the two of them”—her mother and father, perhaps. Emilia and Echidna follow Lil’ Lia to the famous seal itself, an ornate black door in a glade carpeted with snow all year long. Lia pushes the door, but it won’t budge…which is probably for the best at that point!

Outside, Subie cries about Gar having seen his supportive etchings for Emilia before she did, but both Gar and Otto tell him to buck up. As they wait outside the Graveyard for Lia to return, Ram comes by to tell Subie that Ryuzu Shima wants to talk to him about “a subject that is unavoidable if you wish to liberate the sanctuary”. Wait, Lia passing the trial won’t be enough to do that? What am I saying; of course it won’t be…

Back in the flashback, Lil’ Lia is sneaking around the woods when she’s spotted by Geuse, who I thought was about to say something that would reveal that he’s actually evil, but nothing ever comes of that. Instead, he acts more “Geuseian” (at least as we know him) than he had to that point when he spots Lia and realizes who she is.

His face contorts just a bit as he sheds tears of joy for being granted “salvation like never before.” Is this because of Lia’s resemblance to more than one Witch of his cult, his regard for Lia’s importance to the seal, or both? In any case, Lil’ Lia learns from him that people can cry out of happiness too, and because she’s such a good girl, she gives him a hug and strokes his head, telling him it will be okay.

It’s at this point Echidna tells Emilia she’s quickly approaching the end of the “warm-up round” and the beginning of the part of the trial that utterly broke her before. While Emilia knows Subaru wouldn’t think any less of her for depending on him, and she’s scared of what’s to come, she won’t cower any longer.

She’s going to take this as far as she can. Rather than voice her esteem for Emilia’s determination, Echidna tells her she’ll “find satisfaction” in her “suffering”. Looking every bit like a dreamlike fairy tale for its entire runtime, the warm pastoral greens of the beginning shift to a cooler, moodier, more foreboding purples and blues.

Emilia insists that Fortuna and Geuse play chase with her. Geuse is out of breath, so Fortuna snatches her up and imparts in her the importance of making and keeping promises. Emilia then summons her fairy friends, which identifies her as a future spirit user. Geuse tells her they’ll be her strength when no one is by her side, but Fortuna would just as soon not think about such scenarios, promising she’ll always be there for Lia.

When Geuse accidentally lets slip something about Lia’s parents (mentioning the days they were “well”, implying they aren’t well now), Fortuna has Lia run back home to the Princess Room…but before she can go, someone approaches, wearing a fancy white cloak. He gets pissy and verbose about Fortuna asking who he is before introducing herself, but he eventually tells her.

He’s an Archbishop of the Witch’s Cult, representing Greed: Regulus Corneas. This marks his second appearance in the anime, but his first since he attacked Rem and Crusch’s wagon back in this season’s first episode. As Echidna warned, the tough portion of this stroll down memory lane has arrived in earnest.

Re: Zero – 41 – The Purrfect Loser

Years ago, Garfiel attempted and failed the trial, and smashed his head against a column, causing the scar he wears to this day. He is the final obstacle to Emilia continuing her trial, and has come to the Graveyard to smash the entrance, isolating the Sanctuary forever.

Only Emilia and Subaru stand in Gar’s way, and it’s the former who makes a barrier of herself before him. She has lived in fear all her life until today, and knows the pain of being separated from a parent. All this time, Gar has maintained that he and his sister were obstacles to his mother’s happiness, which is why she abandoned them. But then the memory surfaces…of Gar finding his mother’s carriage, wrecked by a landslide.

She wasn’t even able to reach the outside world that lured her, that was to be the place where she’d find happiness, away from him. Gar has washed his hands of the outside, and will stand, as a wall in and of himself, to protect everyone else in the sanctuary who feel, like him, that things changing won’t make them happy. Nothing will ever get better, so you might as well stay frozen in place.

Having heard and been unmoved by either Emilia or Subaru, Gar transforms into Beast Mode and charges them. Subaru uses Shamac to halt time so he can stab Gar with the crystal Frederica gave him, which seems to be imbued with some of Puck’s spirit. This transforms him back into a man, but it hasn’t sapped Gar’s will to fight.

Subie stands firm and takes a vicious shot to the face, but he’s able to counterattack with a supernatural punch from the Sloth Witch Factor within his body, which he inherited from Betelgeuse and learned about from Echidna.

Gar is down, but not yet out. The knockout blow is delivered by someone who owed Gar such a blow: Subaru’s ever-dutiful earth dragon, Patrasche. Her charge finally gets the job done. Even if Gar hasn’t been proven wrong, he can no longer fight. Both he and Subie pass out in short order.

When Subie wakes up, it’s once again in Emilia’s lap. He thanks her, punches then shakes hands with Otto for his help and for being alright, and of course thanks Patrasche for her loyalty and love. Ram allows Gar to lay in her lap, but only until he wakes up and barely a second more.

Rem proceeds to give him the third degree, telling him to fight with an empty head next time and to stop yammering on in front of “the woman he loves” and accept his loss, and move forward. She then urges him to take the trial one more time, in order to confront and accept the past.

The Graveyard transports him back to that golden-lit day his mother left him and Fred in Ryuzu’s care. She kisses her infant son right on the place where he would create an ugly scar years later. Then his mother says something he didn’t remember: “I promise I’ll bring your father back.” That means not only did she not leave them to find her happiness, but she always intended to return, and with his dad.

The memory fades away until it’s just him and young Fred, who asks him straight up what he wants to do. He answers that he wants to do what he’s expected to do, by all of the people who need him. With his past confronted and resolved, he leaves the trial exchanging sharp toothy smiles with his little big sister.

Just as Emilia emerged from the graveyard a new and stronger person last week, the young man who would stop her and anyone from completing the trial emerges in much the same manner. He can’t claim he gained much that can be seen, but he did gain vital closure, and can even thank Subaru for being the one to give him the push he needed.

It’s then when Subie learns Gar is not only younger than him, but at fourteen is just an eighth grader…which actually explains a lot! With no further obstructions, Emilia can re-enter the graveyard and continue the trial with a full head of steam. Some of that steam is produced when she asks Subie if they can talk about the kiss they shared when all this is over.

Subie states that would be happy to, and is delighted by Emilia’s confidence, betting another date with her that she’ll prevail this time. When Emilia enters the inner chamber, she finds out what Subaru was doing when he abandoned her bedside that night: etching words of cheer and encouragement with Puck on the chamber walls.

Once Emilia is in the trial, she’s immediately met in the forest by Echidna, who unloads with a string of biting insults that would certainly cause distress to the Emilia of yore. But this Emilia is made of sterner stuff.

Taking a page out of Subie’s book on theatricality, she points dramatically up into the air, then directly at the Witch of Greed,  and introduces herself as Emilia, the Frozen Witch, born in Elinor Forest. She won’t give in to the “malice of a fellow witch”, and further warns that she too is “quite an insufferable woman, after all!”

Accompanied by a defiant orchestral score to match the occasion, this was a pitch-perfect way to end the episode and begin the trial of Emilia’s life. While I still can’t quite rule out things going badly for her and Subaru from this point on, I also never thought we’d see Emilia and Subaru kiss, or Garfield both thanking and apologizing to Subaru. But we’re in uncharted Re:Zero territory, and we have a brand-spankin’ new old president, so I’m in a hopeful mood!

Re: Zero – 40 – Her Most Precious Feeling

Otto tells Garfiel his mission: to buy time “so a certain boy and girl can be alone for a while.” But Otto isn’t all alone in this effort: he’s called upon the entire forest to fight beside him. That’s why when Gar is led outside and falls down a hole, he’s soon beset by a swarm of zodda bugs. How was Otto able to do this? Duh, he’s Re:Zero’s Dr. Doolittle!

We take a step back to Otto’s earliest days, when he could hear the voices of animals but couldn’t understand it. His ears were constantly assaulted by a a jumbled din so intense he couldn’t hear his family members. Then his older brother gave him a pen and paper, and he could finally communicate.

He marked the occasion by crying, something he only did once before: when he was born. When he turned ten, he began to understand the animals’ voices, but his brother warned him to keep his divine protection a secret lest others try to exploit them.

That protection creates the conditions for Otto being exiled from his hometown when, in an effort to clear his name in a love triangle, says the wrong thing about the wrong daughter. Nevertheless, Otto makes the most of his exile by becoming a successful traveling merchant.

One day on those travels, his carriage is stopped by Betelguise and the Witch’s Cult (Hi Betelguise!), and he is bound and held captive in the cult’s god-forsaken cave lair. But then, suddenly, he was freed by a beastman, who told him to make sure to thank the “boss kid”—Natsuki Subaru.

He cried then for the third time, to mark another “rebirth” in his life: when he finally understood his purpose and reason for living. Back in the present, here it is: continuing to buy time. But after a brief chase, a pissed Garfiel has him by the scruff, and Otto’s personal part of the plan would seem to be over. Thankfully, Ram is on the scene to pick up the baton!

That’s right: Ram has thought about it and must’ve decided that supporting a man with such “bizarrely good timing” (despite having virtually nothing else of value) to be worth her time. She won’t hear Gar impugn her loyalty to Roswaal either.

Gar has had enough of this shit and transforms into a giant cuddly tiger (right on the heels of TenSura’s cuddly tigers!), but Ram is ready, willing, and eager to go toe-to-toe with his Beast Mode, dodging his thrusts and landing blow after devastating blow with a superior smirk.

Otto stands back in awe of Ram’s power, but when Gar gets a lick in on her (who compliments him for having become stronger since their last scrap), he calls out to the forest to buy him and Ram another precious few moments of keeping Gar occupied.

It’s at this point Subaru looks back at the forest hoping Otto can hold out, and fifteen minutes into the episode, you’d be forgiven if you thought we were being deprived of the crucial Emilia-Subaru Talk last week previewed. But once he sits down beside her, it’s clear we’ll get that talk, and much more.

Emilia’s memories are returning; that much is certain. But she tries to keep them at bay with anger and despair over both puck and Subaru breaking their promises. I too was both perplexed and disappointed when Subaru left her bedside, and all he’ll say about why is that “he can’t tell her” just yet.

But besides that, she can’t fathom why Subaru wouldn’t be angry at her for being so “useless”, both with the trial and with everything else throughout their time together. His answer is as honest as it is simple: because he loves her. He loves her so much he can barely take it—the cute parts, the kind parts, the selfless parts—even the parts she’d call “ugly”. Moreover, he doesn’t love her because he believes in her, he believes in her because he loves her.

When she goes all [CITATION NEEDED], Subaru tells her why else he would willingly go through all this suffering and torment to help “a pain in the ass” like her? She then tells him how unfair it is for him to bring that up when she never asked for him to suffer for her, and how she’s always  worried about him getting hurt for her.

Their talk gets more and more heated, as Takanashi Rie voices Emilia in a faint whisper at the beginning but takes it all the way up to full-throated hysterical yelling, before the wave crests, and she quietly tells Subaru of the fear she’s experiencing now that her memories are resurfacing.

She doesn’t recognize what she’s remembering, can’t believe she even forgot her mother, and worries the memories will change her, that the Emilia he knows was never the real Emilia. Mention of her mother and the past causes Subie to remember what his mother said to him during his trial: “What matters isn’t how you start or what happens in the middle, but how it ends.”

If Emilia can’t believe Subaru loves her, than he has no choice but to put his hands on her shoulders, lean in, and prove it. He tells her “if you don’t want this, then dodge,” but Lia doesn’t dodge. She closes her eyes, expectantly, and they kiss. As they kiss, their surroundings suddenly glow with a warm, pinkish light.

When their lips separate once more, Emilia starts to cry, but Subie assures her it’s only natural to be anxious and scared about the rush of old, sealed memories. But it’s also okay to remember, because among those memories may be the one most precious feeling she can use to burst through the anxiety and fear and run forward toward the end—which matters most.

Subaru, for his part, hopes that feeling is for him, as his is for her. When they emerge from the graveyard interior, Garfiel is waiting for them, but says he wasn’t. But hopefully, he’s too late. Too late thanks to Otto and Rem and the animals of the forest, and too late because Subaru told Emilia he loves her no matter what, and everything is going to be fine.

Is it though? Does Gar simply concede defeat here and go off to eat some lasagna? Does he beat the shit out of Subie and take Lia hostage? Whenever someone in Re:Zero believes or states everything will be fine, I can’t help but be a little dubious. But I’ll put that doubt aside for now and simply celebrate the momentous events of this episode’s second half.

For the very first time in this whole run, Subaru and Emilia shared a kiss, and Emilia seems to finally get that while Subie did leave her bedside, he never left her side in spirit, and his love will keep him firmly entrenched there throughout all the trials to come.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 00 – Wishing for the Sky

Looks like I got in just under the deadline in time for episode 1 of Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia, which I will review soon. I wanted to make sure to catch Episode 0 for the same reason I watched El-Melloi II Case File’s Episode 0: to gain some context so I wouldn’t be too confused when the main show commenced.

Episode 0, also titled Initium Iter or Beginning of the Journey, starts simply, with a demi-servant experiment seemingly going wrong, as the servant is only awakened within the human subject for a short time. In that time, the subject is suddenly transformed to a Shielder-type servant, and tries her best to break through the multiple bounded fields that protect the researchers.

That subject is Mash Kyrielight (Takahashi Rie), a designer baby with a shortened lifespan, and her primary physician at the Chaldea facility is Dr. Romani Archaman. Initium Iter focuses on the start of their relationship, as Romani is one of her only connections to humanity.

The rowdy servant that still dwells deep within her could make Mash a time bomb in the wrong hands, but Romani is committed not just to maintaining her physical and emotional health, but teaching her what it is to be, well, a person, not just a vessel.

When some kind of singularity is detected which will cause “the history of all humanity” to cease to exist by 2016, the Rayshift experiment is proposed and approved by the UN, and Mash leads a group of “spiritrons” whose mission is to travel to various points in history and “intervene in matters” with the overarching goal of making sure humanity has a future.

This prologue doesn’t really go into great detail about the mechanics behind this mission, and we only see various glimpses into the adventures Mash goes on, which presumably comprise the content of the main series to come. Suffice it to say a lot happens (or will happen), there’s a lot of characters involved, wearing a lot of elaborate outfits.

Romani makes Mash aware from the start that she may only last eighteen years at most, but Mash is accepting of that span, and like him, hopes to make the most of it. Eventually she is able to leave the clean room that was her world for years and walk about the Chaldea facility as a fellow researcher.

At some point, some kind of calamity befalls Chaldea, and seemingly only two people survive the devastation: Mash, and a young lad with black hair whom we see interacting with Mash as a comrade in arms, companion, and perhaps more. With that, the beginning ends, and their journey begins in earnest.