AICO – 10 – Explanations Give Way to Emotions

While “AICO” is off communing with “Aiko”, Sagami decides that his team will help Yura carry out the mission by helping him return AICO’s artificial brain with the Matter. In doing so, he basically concedes that AICO is an artificial being and thus expendable, or at least her sacrifice is instrumental in ending the Burst.

Kazuki isn’t okay with that. Artificial brain or not, he’s fallen for AICO, which Kazuki says is “based on a misunderstanding.” But just because Yura created AICO doesn’t make him the arbiter of who and what can and should be preserved.

While looking for AICO, Yura ends up engulfed by a Human-form Matter, which turns out to be controlled by Yuzuha. She recreates the mountains they once visited to beg him to help her find her body.

All this time, she’s been reaching out to the humans—not AICO—in order to make a human connection. Her body is at the hospital with her father, but she has no scientific data or even anecdotal information for Yura to use to be able to science a way to save her. It’s a very unfortunate situation all ’round.

Meanwhile, AICO makes contact with her real-brained counterpart in the purple/pink Matter. Aiko heard Isazu’s address, and knows an attack from the military is imminent. To that end, she asks AICO to find her family and get them out of harm’s way ASAP.

What about Aiko herself? She believes her “time is up”, and that there’s no longer any time to save her family and herself; and given a choice between the two, there is no choice. She resolves to suppress the Matter as much as she can to facilitate the task she gives AICO.

More interestingly, while existing as the Matter, she felt like she began to lose herself, but has been able to hold onto herself due entirely to her Dream Contact with AICO. Her artificial duplicate has lived her life in her stead, and she’s been able to watch and feel everything she’s felt, the good and bad, thus keeping her human.

AICO doesn’t like the idea of leaving Aiko behind, but ultimately she accedes to her wishes and hurries to where her mother and little brother are being held in stasis.

The resulting emotional reunion is an austere yet surprisingly powerful scene the show successfully earned. Artificial or not, AICO is pretty much Aiko, and rescuing her family has always been a higher priority han rescuing herself.

As the Divers deal with the increasingly dormant Matter, Aiko manages to free Yura from a panicked Yuzuha’s grasp, and Yura races to the cocoon, just as AICO takes her leave of her family. From the look of her, she seems particularly resolved to doing something that will probably result in her own sacrifice.

After all, while Aiko’s need for AICO to act in her place to save her family is all well and good, nothing about those wishes addresses the issue of the Matter itself. Will Aiko or AICO have to die to end it, or is there still a way to reunite them, which could also reunite Yuzuha with her body?

Advertisements

AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?

AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.

AICO – 07 – The Truth Carbon Nano-Hurts

When we last left our friends they were between a rock and a hard place—or rather between a Matter-clogged tunnel and a CAAC assault squad. They’ve come for Aiko, and when Yuuya refuses, saying he has to keep going and that they would never understand, they fire shots at the Matter.

That turns out to be a bad move, as the squad leader is nabbed by some human-form Matter, throwing the rest of the squad into chaos as they try in vain to retreat. Our team learns from their sacrifice that the Matter is attracted to light, and uses flares to draw the Matter out of the tunnel, clearing their path forward.

That’s far from the only danger the team faces, as the Beetle is nearly swallowed up and the Evidence system proves too far behind the curve to keep up with the new Matter forms they encounter. It’s straight-up dicey out there, leaving Aiko to voice her concerns about putting the Divers in further danger for her sake and her family’s.

In a slight change from his colder manner towards her back at the rest stop, Yuuya assures her that compared to her, everyone else is expendable. But he’s wrong that they knew what they signed up for, because they don’t know Aiko is walking talking Matter bait. Thanks to a hot mic, one of them learns this, but keeps it to herself.

There’s a brief check-in with the three college friends. Nanbara loses contact with her squad, Isazu once again commits to saving his daughter, and Kurose learns with the help of a hacker friend that Isazu’s daughter is somehow connected to the Matter.

The Team gets through another guillotine gate by the skin of their teeth, but it isn’t long before they’re under attack, and as Yuuya is delivering ammo to the Divers, the Matter seeps into the Beetle, nabs Aiko, and places her in a fluid-filled cocoon.

Thankfully, it took a weapon with her, and she uses it to bust out, but she’s buried by the crystallized matter that trapped her, and by the time she’s dug out, all of the Divers see her for what she is: a composite being: human in mind, but artificial in body.

They’ve been traveling deeper into more and more hazardous territory with Matter bait. Will this revelation give them second thoughts about supporting her and Yuuya’s cockamamie plan? I doubt it. I don’t see Kazuki abandoning her, while Kaede is just happy to have the opportunity to fight in a place few humans have been.

Violet Evergarden – 10

Anne is of the age where she still plays with dolls, and is both troubled and intrigued when a life-size one arrives. Of course, Anne equates Auto Memoir Dolls with the ones she plays with, so for the duration of Violet’s seven-day contract, Anne believes she is not only a doll, but bad news as well.

The reason she is deemed “bad news” is simple. Anne may be young, but she knows all is not well with her ill, oft-bedridden mother. Now that Violet has arrived, all of the time Anne wants to spend with her mom is being taken by Violet, who ghostwrites letters of and for which the content and recipients remain frustrating mysteries to Anne.

When she witnesses her mother collapse once more while working with Violet, Anne has had enough, and confronts her mother with the truth of which she’s already aware; that her mom’s time grows short, and that she wants to spend what is left of it together.

Anne runs off, but Violet catches up, and impresses upon her the futility of Anne blaming herself or believing she can do anything about it. As Violet puts it, just as nothing can make her arms have soft skin like Anne’s, nothing can be done about her mother’s illness.

What follows this emotionally harrowing seven-day encounter is nothing less than the full realization of Violet Evergarden’s talent and skill, made possible by her own ability to step out of the role of the “toy” and be her own “player”, borrowing the terms Anne used when she still thought Violet was an actual doll.

All along, the letters Anne’s mom wrote weren’t for some distant people who didn’t even have the decency to pay her a visit in her final days; they were always only for Anne. Holding back tears for the duration of her contract, Violet wrote letters to Anne from her mother, to be delivered once a year for the next fifty years.

In a masterful montage of those years spanning from her tenth to twentieth birthdays, we see the insecure, clingy, doll-clutching Anne grow into a fine young woman, fall in love, get married, and have a kid.

Each year, her mom is right there, Violet having provided her with the means to live on through the letters, reminding her beloved daughter that no matter how far away she might be, loved ones will always watch over you.

It’s as moving a story as any Violet Evergarden has shared, and my favorite so far. Now that she’s emerged from the shadows of her past, we can now see just how exceptional an Auto Memoir Doll Violet really is.

Violet Evergarden – 09

A tool cares nothing for itself. It doesn’t even consider itself a “self”. It only has purpose in the hands of its master. No master, no purpose. Violet was only able to get as far as she did as an Auto Memoir Doll because she thought the Major was out there somewhere, they would one day reunite so she could be issued fresh orders.

Despite Gilbert’s attempts to appeal to her humanity, Violet had been so conditioned for carrying out orders and nothing else that even when she loses one arm to a bullet and another to a grenade, she’s still compelled to try to dress his wounds with her teeth, until he has to all but order her to stop.

But now there are no more orders to look forward to, and Violet is lost in her past. She revisits the ruin of the castle where he fell, perhaps harboring a glimmer of hope everyone was wrong, and Gilbert was there after all. It doesn’t take long for that hope to be crushed, which is just about when Claudia and Benedict arrive to pick her up.

Claudia explains his need to withhold the truth from her when she was admitted to the hospital; she was more concerned with Gilbert than herself, but Gilbert demonstrated to Claudia on the eve of battle that he never saw Violet as a tool or weapon, but an ordinary girl he’d taken it upon himself to care for.

Gilbert had hope of his own: that one day Violet could be an ordinary girl with a purpose and emotions and dreams all her own. And even if he wasn’t around to meet that girl, he entrusted Claudia to care for her in his stead. Claudia perhaps understood more than Gilbert did just how difficult a transition from weapon to person would be.

Still, he doesn’t regret how he’s handled things. Cattleya thinks him heartless to tell Violet she’s “burning in the flames of what she’s done”, but it’s true, and it’s not something unique to Violet. Everyone has lost people, and parts of themselves. There’s nothing for it but to accept those flames, and they’ll gradually subside.

Upon returning to Leiden, everyone is worried about Violet, but also keep their distance out of respect. She sits in her dark room, alone with her flames, her grief and regret. She dreams of returning to the steps where she last saw Gilbert, but he’s not very nice.

Dream Gilbert essentially repeats the words his brother said to Violet at the port—words that appeal to her guilt over being able to write letters that connect people with the same hands that took the lives of so many others. She cries. She makes a mess. She puts those hands around her throat and contemplates joining the major.

Then there’s a knock at her door and she receives a letter; her first. Before reading it, she helps deliver some letters an errant delivery boy abandoned, and seems to enjoy ensuring the thoughts and hearts and souls of those who wrote them find their way to where they belong.

The letter addressed to her was written by Iris and Erica, figuring writing Doll-to-Doll was the best way to maintain that respectful distance while making sure Violet knew they were worried about her and are hoping and waiting for her to return. Additionally, Spencer requested her by name to ghostwrite an apology/thank you letter for his sister Luculia.

In this way, Violet gets back to work, the embers still glowing but the flames perhaps gradually subsiding. Spencer’s hope was to express gratitude for the one who got her back on her feet, all the while unaware that he’s helping Violet to do the same.

On her way back to the office, she spots a newspaper article featuring Princess Charlotte and her new husband meeting with children, as well as an advertisement for Oscar Webster’s newest play about Olivia. It’s a little on the nose, but it’s important that she she be reminded of what she’s done since her military career ended.

That’s because when she rushes to Claudia’s office to ask him if it’s really, truly all right for her to live on, he tells her that while the things she did back then can’t be undone, neither can the things she’s doing and will continue to do as an Auto Memoir Doll. Not only is it all right to live on…it’s essential. Both the show and this episode share her name. They are hers, and so is her life. Time to start living it.

Violet Evergarden – 08

There are no fancy clients or letters written this week, as learning of Gilbert’s death pulls Violet back into her dark past. Though it’s never explained exactly how the girl who Gilbert would come to call Violet was molded into such an efficient killing machine, but one thing is certain: absolutely no care was taken into how her emotional development would suffer from her military duties; at least not until Gilbert took custody of her.

Violet was too valuable an asset for the military to keep on the sidelines, so Gilbert was ordered to put her on the front lines of the war, where she distinguished herself as a fearless weapon. But as he watched her slaughter the enemy without any kind of expression on her face, many a pained look came from the major.

He really didn’t want to contribute any further to this child’s torment, but he had little choice, not being the particularly rebellious type. And so he watches the girl everyone considers nothing but a weapon continue to tear her soul apart as he watches with pity and regret.

When Violet treks (in her memoir doll dress no less) to the Bouganvillea mansion and finds Gilbert’s grave beneath a tree, it may be starting to sink in for her that she’ll never see the major again, but as it’s something she’s never before contemplated—any more than she knew what concepts like “beautiful” or “gratitude” meant before meeting him—she just seems utterly lost without the man whose green eyes match the brooch she had him buy for her, calling those eyes “beautiful from the first time they met.”

Gilbert’s and Violet’s relationship was always an utterly tragic one, with the war dictating how Gilbert had to use her, and Violet never properly growing up or mastering human skills of interaction or self-relfection while Gilbert drew breath.

But thanks to him, she at least had a chance to gradually learn; her exploits with the doll company are proof of that. He was always right about her: she was more than a weapon, she was a human being, and it wasn’t too late for her.

Unfortunately, we learn what causes the wound that leads to Gilbert’s demise, and it’s just a cherry on top of the shit life sundae Violet has been handed. Enemy stragglers shoot him in the eye, using the light of the very flare he sent up to alert ground forces to invade the fortress.

It was the last goddamn battle he and Violet had to fight, and thus the war snatched him away from her when she needed him the most—with peace on the horizon. Will she ever recover from that loss? I would hope so, but she’ll need help from those around her, and she’ll have to want to be helped, as opposed to simply wanting to join the major in death.

Violet Evergarden – 07

Much to the envy of superfan Erica, Violet is sent to pastoral Roswell (in Genetrix, not New Mexico) to assist the famous playwright Oscar Webster with his newest work.

As is so often the case with great talents, he also has his problems: he lives all alone, his house is a mess, and he day-drinks too much (Violet helpfully points out it’s “not good for him”…I think he’s aware Vi). When Oscar first sees the blonde Violet, he narrates in his head how she isn’t the blonde he wished he could see again, whose name he can’t utter.

Violet deems Oscar a “handful”, but if anyone can handle him, it’s her. In the day before she begins taking dictation, she cleans the place and even tries her hand a cooking Carbonara. Her difficulty with cracking eggs and the resulting single mass of pasta she presents to Oscar engendered belly laughs from your author.

But again, before going to bed Violet must keep the booze away from Oscar, hiding all of his various bottles that she might get a good day’s work out of him. His status as a handful thus established, we move on to the why, which makes for the show’s most emotionally devastating and sorrowful stories yet—aside from Violet’s own tale of woe.

The why of Oscar’s solitude and drunkenness is revealed quite by chance. Oscar and Violet reach a rapport as he dictates his play—his first for children—and even Violet can empathize with its protagonist, Violet finds a frilly parasol that evokes in Oscar memories of a girl with a gap in her teeth.

With heavy implication that girl passed away, Oscar knocks the parasol out of Vi’s hand in anger and orders her to leave. Violet manages to calm him, correctly guessing there’s something deep in his heart he’s trying to hide. The truth is, Oscar hasn’t been able to write for some time, but thought the best way to do so would be to complete the tale he once told his late beloved daughter, Olivia.

Oscar’s wife, Olivia’s daughter, passed away all too early of an illness, leaving him to raise her. While he was sure she missed her mother, she never let on, as if being strong for both of them.

Then, quite tragically, she took ill as well, and rather than keep her in the hospital to pass, Oscar took her to their vacation home he still occupies, so she could die with a smile on her face. She does so as they sit by the lake; a lake Olivia promised to walk across, using her parasol to keep her aloft.

Oscar’s story is well and powerfully told (it’s akin to the opening scene in Up), and accompanied by composer Evan Call’s familiar ‘tragic’ theme; a theme that never fails to make me suddenly realize how gosh-darn dusty it is in the room in which I’m watching the show. I was glad this was the halfway point so I could grab a few kleenex.

That night, Oscar decides to finish the play after all, giving it the happy ending he and Olivia couldn’t have, in which the protagonist Olive will return home and reunite with her father. They complete it outside on the terrace, and Oscar asks Violet to go stand by the lake with the parasol to help him better visualize the ending.

While this scene is beautifully, breathtakingly staged—it’s one of the best-looking scenes of the series—it failed for me where the pre-intermission montage of Olivia fully succeeded: in not going too far. Call’s score gets a bit too bombastic, and when combined with the Bullet Time of Violet’s “walking on water”, the scene strays uncomfortably close to maudlin.

Still, the idea of Oscar dealing with his grief through finishing the play inspired by his daughter, and having Violet be the muse he needed to draw out the pages, still rang clear and true. The execution simply needed more moderation.

The episode closes with two instances of someone saying something to Violet that sets her off: first, when she and Oscar part, he thanks her for helping Olivia “keep the promise she made.” Violet lies sleeplessly in her berth, thinking of all the lives she took in the past, and all the promises they couldn’t keep because of her.

Claudia once told her she was “on fire”, and she took him literally; now she finally understands that she is on fire, and has not been able to forgive herself.

The second instance occurs when she returns to Leiden to encounter Lady Evergarden at the pier. The Lady can tell how much Violet has grown since their first tense interaction, and believes “now the late Gilbert’s soul can rest in peace.”

This is the first time Violet has been told the Major is dead, and when Claudia confirms it and gives her the details (they never found his body, only his dog tag), she immediately reverts to believing he’s alive and well.

The odds aren’t good, however. That hardly matters to Violet, who, like Oscar with Olivia, tied all her hopes to Gilbert. Coming to terms with the fact she may never see him again will not be easy, especially when the circumstances of his disappearance aren’t so clear cut.

For now, Violet simply runs, not knowing what to do. It’s appropriate then, that this episode has no title.

Net-juu no Susume – 10 (Fin)

Sometimes ten is a really good number for a series—it works fine for KonoSuba. Net-juu no Susume also ends at ten eps, and it wraps up very nicely and neatly indeed…I just wish I could spend another episode or two with the surpassingly adorable new couple of Morioka and Sakurai.

Finales are always, in part, a “thank you” to those who have watched the whole time, and NjS’s fulfills that role with aplomb. There’s no more misunderstandings or missed opportunities with these two, just a general (and understandable) nervousness and excitement.

It’s a thoroughly fun and joyful episode, which takes place mostly in Sakurai’s apartment. Morioka’s soaked clothes quickly led to a far more intimate situation than either party expected, to the point Morioka has to snap out of it lest Sakurai see her underwear in the changing room.

Each and every little domestic situation you’d expect of, say, a live-in couple, is experienced for the very first time by both Sakurai and Morioka. Take Sakurai’s computer terminal, which like Moriokas was a place of deep physical solitude for so many hundreds of hours, but sharing his computer and the experience of playing Lily, if only briefly, is as enjoyable for Sakurai as it is for Morioka.

These are also two very well-matched people, with Sakurai being very polite and even “old-fashioned” for his age, which isn’t even that much younger than Morioka to begin with. When they accidentally touch, they’re both embarrassed, but neither fins they really dislike such accidents.

Then Morioka’s stomach grumbles, and she defiantly accepts that this is “just who she is”; she also helps Sakurai cook and wash the dishes, and the two are already looking like an old married couple. They’re both having such a lovely time despite being so flustered.

Inevitably, the konbini incident comes up, and Morioka’s putrid sense of self-worth rears its ugly head. Sakurai, thankfully calling her out, gently tells her that while she often puts herself down, both he and likely everyone else values her a lot more than she thinks they do. He continues that both as Harth, Lily, and Sakurai Yuta, he’s very glad to have met her.

When Morioka cries tears of joy, he dries them with his sleeve, and the two almost seem ready for a kiss when the frikkin’ talking dryer startles them. With her clothes dry, Morioka takes her leave, thanking Sakurai for his hospitality.

Naturally, Sakurai reconsiders simply staying behind and walks Morioka home. Before they part, he lets her know he’d very much like “another day like today”, whether in Fruits de Mer or real life. Morioka agrees.

In a nice little moment while in the game, Lily notes the full moon, but Hayashi looks up and sees a crescent. But it’s really Sakurai talking about the moon IRL. And it’s IRL where they finally have their first (really second) date; with a very pleased Koiwai’s full blessing.

The two can’t help but notice the other couples are acting around them, and it makes them both a little embarrassed…but both want to power through that embarrassment. Gaining strength from their avatars and alter-egos, the triumphant Fruits de Mer music starts to play as Morioka takes a step forward, trips, and is caught by Sakurai.

That means they’re holding hands, but they don’t let go and continue on with their date, drawing strength and courage from one another. The episode ends rather abruptly (and with no “thanks for watching” card), but that’s alright; I’m not going to complain after such an enjoyable, heartwarming finale!

Net-juu no Susume – 09

The penultimate NjS‘ cold open has a hell of a hook: Morioka taking a shower in Sakurai’s apartment! It’s safe to assume the episode to follow would tell the story of how such a seismic development in their relationship (“level up” in MMO terms) occurred. It’s also safe to assume that there’s nothing untoward going on; the two were caught in the rain and his place was closer seems about right.

But first, we go back to the aftermath of Sakurai’s confession that he’s both Lily and Harth, knows Morioka is Hayashi, and has been her beloved confidant and partner under her nose. At first, the news seems to break Morioka—it’s a lot to process, and her “CPU” overloads. She comes out of it to ask him when he first knew; he suspected when they started talking more in-game, but their “first date” was the confirmation.

In her head, Morioka is happy Sakurai rushed to her, lamenting how she might not have done the same, as she’s be so worried about upsetting the apple cart. The two have taken their next step, but neither has any idea how to proceed, nor are they remotely on the same page.

To whit: when Morioka tells Sakurai she wants them to “keep being good online friends”, she says it believing that’s all Sakurai will ever want, while Sakurai considers it a rejection—that she only wants to be good online friends and nothing else. Both are misunderstanding a great many things.

Sakurai’s belief he’s struck out is a weight that replaces the weight he just got off his shoulders with his confession, and he makes matters worse by not going online, leaving Morioka feeling lonely and unfocused in the MMO, as well as free to incorrectly interpret his motives.

Koiwai can totally deduce why Sakurai gets so uncharacteristically drunk on night, can reasonably conclude he’s misinterpreting things, and texts Morioka, asking if they can meet and talk something over.

That something is Sakurai, but Morioka never meets Koiwai in the park. Koiwai summons Sakurai into the park so he and Morioka meet. And that’s all he really has to do (though I wish he’d delete that photo of Morioka sleeping…that’s not cool, man!).

I’ve been up and down with Koiwai, but I never should have had any doubt that he’s a true and loyal friend to Sakurai and that Morioka’s a much better match for his blonde-haired friend…if only they could get together and relax…which he makes happen.

They relax, that is, until they go to the convenience store together and Morioka, already worried she looks like shit, gets even more self-conscious when the shopkeeper asks Sakurai if she’s his girlfriend, to the point of running off as the clouds gather. She believes, of course, that the shopkeeper meant “there’s no way she’s your girlfriend, right?” She was teasing, not condemning!

Sakurai chases her down, and after hearing her lay into herself and apologize for being seen with him, Sakurai sets the record straight: he doesn’t think like that at all. Then those clouds open up, he uses his coat to keep her dry(ish) and suggests they go to his place, which is just nearby, dry off, and he’ll cook some lunch.

Sakurai didn’t think, he just suggested this…and Morioka doesn’t think, she just agrees and comes up with him. As soon as they start thinking, she realizes she’s taking a shower, and he’s leaving out some of his clothes for her to change into. In other words, pretty boyfriend-girlfriend kinda stuff! I’m all for it. Hang in there, you crazy kids. Just one episode left!

Attack on Titan – 37 (Fin, For Now)

Erwin manages to tie off his arm stump and stay conscious enough to witness a lot more of his scouts get eaten by the swarming Titans, but Eren and Mikasa are rescued from “Momeater” by Hannes, looking to settle a score from the very beginning.

Historia, who is now correcting people who call her Krista, tells Ymir it’s time for them to live for themselves, and when Ymir is around, no matter how messed up things get, Historia isn’t scared. Seeing her brandishing a sword and a confident smirk is a great way to close this chapter on the character.

Hannes lasts about as long as one would expect, but Momeater ends up eating him in much the same way, as Eren and the injured Mikasa can only watch. Eren tries to transform before his hand is fully healed, resulting in failure and an emotional breakdown.

But Mikasa is there to pull him out of it, bringing out the Full Adorable Mikasa routine and essentially charming Eren into calming the eff down, which still leaves the matter of Momeater starting to finish up with Hannes.

When it reaches out to grab another snack, Eren stops its hand with his fist, and something happens: Eren gains a new power. That power transforms his ravings into orders for all the rank-and-file Titans to follow, making them his minions.

They surround and tear Momeater apart, then aid the scouts’ retreat by swarming Reiner, forcing him to give up on grabbing Eren. Seeing that Reiner and Bertholdt are in deep trouble, Ymir runs to their aid, leaving Historia behind with a simple “I’m sorry” and tender caress of her hair.

Reiner and Bertholdt survive the day, and that night, Ymir tells them why she helped: because the day they brought Wall Maria down was the day she was freed from her nightmare of a life, into a life that’s, if we’re honest, still a nightmare, but maybe not quite as bad because she does have a measure of freedom.

As for Eren, he has no idea what happened, so Armin has to put two and two together for him, having talked it over with Jean. That Eren now knows he can control Titans without becoming one (he’s the “coordinate”, as Reiner says), is huge. It means civilization behind the wall isn’t as imminently doomed as everyone thought the previous day.

Not that there’s going to be smooth sailing ahead. As the scouts look out, the camera speeds past the horizon and beyond any point the humans we’ve been following have ever reached…all the way to another wall; another civilization, where a shirtless man with glasses sits atop the Beast Titan…whom I’m guessing is Eren’s dad.

That’s an effective, world-expanding teaser for a continuation of the story…whenever it happens to come around. While I’m not greatly informed of the particulars, it seemed like a huge effort just to get these twelve new episodes produced and aired, so I’m not holding my breath for episodes 38-50.

However, for all the questions from the first season the second failed to answer, I still feel it did the job most people expect of Titan: to entertain. I can’t say I wasn’t, or that I don’t look forward to the next chapters.

Little Witch Academia – 23

The first half of this week chronicle’s Chariot du Nord’s rise and fall from stardom, undone by a fickle public, the constant need to create bigger, flashier magic, and her school rival Croix still having a score to settle.

Such is Croix’s spite for the Claimh Solis choosing Chariot over her, she decides to exploit Chariot’s desire to make ever larger crowds happy by giving her the Dream Fuel Spirit…without mentioning the costs until after she’s already used it.

Of course, Croix has rhetorical cover: Chariot did essentially ask her old classmate for more power, and didn’t ask any questions, so none were answered.

One night, desperate to be relevant, Chariot uses the Shiny Rod and inadvertently scars the moon, and that’s pretty much it for Chariot.

Back in the present, Akko is still missing, and it feels like the longest we haven’t seen her in the entire run of the show. Something’s up, and Akko’s friends—Diana chief among them—want to do something about it. They all go looking for her, and when Diana doesn’t get the answers or action from Ursula, nay, Chariot, she finds Akko on her own.

It had been an 8 episode up to the point Diana sprang into action, and that’s when we enter more of a 10 territory (my rating splits the difference). Not only has Diana come to consider Akko a dear friend, but she manages to cheer that friend up and get her out of her funk.

It’s the first time Diana admits to Akko that she too was a Chariot superfan; that her momentary loss of magic was due to seeing that show, but she then worked hard to regain her magic, and even though her family thought she was being silly and childish, she never completely gave up on the dream to be like Chariot…which is why she initially resented Akko so much.

This is Diana at her most dimensional and likable: when she of all people has to lift the spirits of who had been until last week, almost criminally high-spirited proportional to her actual magical progress. Brass tacks: Diana tells Akko no one’s magic is stronger than hers, and she believes in her believing heart.

With that, Akko is reinvigorated, and her friends file into the store to express their relief she’s okay. I have a feeling all of them may have to be at their best for the upcoming trials, as Croix is nearing completion of her Noir Fuel Spirit-driven World Reconstruction Magic.

As powerful as we know Chariot to be, it’s not unrealistic to assume Croix’s confidence is at least somewhat based in her empirical research of Chariot herself, and knows for a fact she’s no threat. Of course, that may only be Chariot as she is now, still known to most as Ursula, drowning in regret and self-loathing.

If Chariot could be lifted out of that mire, like Diana & Co. did for Akko, perhaps then Croix will have something to worry about (here’s hoping!). This turned out to be a lovely episode. It’s so good to see Diana shine, and it was also fascinating to see Akko legitimately down for once.

All that’s really left is to find out if and how Croix is foiled, and whether that takes the remaining two episodes, or will be wrapped up next week. Leaving the final outing for epilogue.

 

Little Witch Academia – 22

As Andrew sees a worsening situation with the soccer-fueled civil unrest, Chariot decides, at last, that she’s really, truly, definitely going to tell Akko her true identity…only for her only chance in this episode to be interrupted. And by Andrew, no less, via Diana, whom he’s able to contact because of their families. All for a lost hat!

Just as Diana is asking “Ursula” if she knows anything about the greatly increased stores of energy that correspond to the installation of Croix’s SSS system, Chariot spots her rival in the window to give chase.

This is an episode that doesn’t waste a lot of time, and its most leisurely scene is also its best because of the wonderful chemistry that has developed between Akko and Andrew.

As someone being told day in day out that his path has already been set for him, and defiance will not be tolerated, an idealistic free spirit like Akko is just the kind of girl he’d fall for, almost envious of her worldview.

He’s become far less dismissive of her flowerly hopeful little speeches, especially in light (or darkness) of the soccer protests. But he makes sure to check Akko’s boundless idealism with the caveat that she herself should be the one to take action, rather than wait for Chariot to swoop in and save the world.

Akko’s in full agreement: she’ll make the world happier and preserve magic with her own hands and heart. In his criticism, Andrew is aware that it applies to him as well.

While it’s nice to see Akko and Andrew laughing together and enjoying each other’s company, when duty calls (in the form of one of Croix’s little cube drones), Akko springs into action immediately, leaving her hat behind once more.

That cube leads her to a rooftop where Croix stands, and is all to happy to explain that the cubes are her handiwork, that she’s using “Noir Fuel Spirit” to absorb negative emotions from the people and converting it to magical energy. In effect, she’s saving the magical world, her way.

That way happens to be pretty much the opposite of how Akko would want to save it; by creating positive energy—happiness—and she tells Croix this is flat-out wrong. Croix responds by fusing her drones into a giant monster and attacking Akko with it.

Chariot arrives just in time to save Akko, and destroys the drone-‘dragon’, but in the process lets the cat out of the bag, a cat Croix is all too happy to pounce on. Here Akko finally learns her idol was beside her all along, in Croix’s words, holding her back. And while that might sound like emotional manipulation, it turns out Croix means it literally.

Chariot, it seems, is responsible for sapping Akko of her magic, back when she attended her show. Chariot absorbed dreams, rather than negative energy, to gain magical power. This is why Akko can’t fly; not any lack of effort or perseverance.

Right on the heels of Akko learning Ursula is Chariot, that revelation is a gut punch for poor Akko, who merely shouts about it being all lies before running away. Croix tells Chariot she doubts Akko will be pursuing the words anymore, all but claiming victory in a rivalry in which she deemed Akko Chariot’s proxy.

With the completion of this outing we’re down to three episodes of LWA, at least that we know of, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in some order: Akko regaining her composure and rising to the occasion and gaining sufficient power (be it through the words or through her friends) to foil Croix’s plans for world “reconstruction,” and hell, maybe receive a kiss from our boy ‘Drew.

That’s a lot, but now that LWA has kicked into a higher gear, I’m confident it can deliver on the denouement.