Attack on Titan – 41 – Nobody Knows a Damn Thing

This week begins with Marlo and Hitch, a pair of military police on patrol in the woods, just shooting the shit with a little mild flirting mixed in. They’re not evil or anything, just ordinary people…just two more bricks in the wall. They find Armin by a stream, and when they try to arrest him, they’re ambushed by Levi and Mikasa.

They don’t expect any valuable intel from these two grunts…they’re merely one step in a whole sequence of steps that might lead them to Eren and Tori’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, Hange rescues the Reeves scion, Flegel, and challenges him to do more than spend the rest of his days scampering around like a rat.

Levi first chooses Sasha to tie up and guard the prisoners, but Jean volunteers to do it, and takes Marlo and Hitch to a secluded spot where he threatens to kill them. He then stumbles—on purpose?—and gives the captives an opportunity to kill him.

When they don’t—both lost people in Schoess District, but Marlo seems sincere about wanting to side with the Scouts—it would seem they both passed Jean’s “test.” Two more soldiers for the revolution, perhaps.

Flegel is cornered by military police once again, but all by design. As gratitude for letting them find him, they agree to tell Flegel why his father was killed: he betrayed the police, who threatened him with death if he didn’t agree to kidnap the scouts.

It’s a very inflammatory monologue—perhaps too conveniently so, considering Flegel is not the only one listening. The supposedly “deserted” area where he let himself get cornered happened to be the perfect spot for Hange and her men to turn the tables.

Even better, dozens of the public overheard the police’s schemes, including two journalists. After seeing Flegel face up to his enemies even at the risk of his life, will they or other citizens feel motivated to question the “truth” the military police dispenses? We shall see; that’s certainly what the Scouts want and need: public support to sway back in their favor.

After ambushing a checkpoint, Levi tries to beat intel out of its commander, but when he finally pretty much breaks him, the guy has little of value to say because he wasn’t trusted with the location of Eren and Tori. Kenny—whose last name is Ackerman, we learn—is too cautious for that.

Finally, in the royal capital, a beaten, tortured, starved, one-legged Erwin Smith still manages to maintain both his sanity and dignity, casually asking one of his tormentors about his family. Erwin is brought before the king for sentencing.

Erwin is to be the first of the Scouts to be officially tried, found guilty, and executed, and the Military Police won’t stop until they’re all gone…all to maintain the kingdom’s secrets.

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Attack on Titan – 40 – Truth Desert

Titan is effective because the audience shares in the characters’ frustration that their world is shrouded in mystery and they have no idea what The Truth really is. They have to either be content with smaller truths— Historia’s identity as true heir to the throne, for instance—or theories, like the one where the false king altered the memories of those who settled within the walls, and altered history along with it.

As Historia is meeting her father for the first time in years, she goes over her own sad, well, history in her head. She had an objectively horrible mother who never showed her love, but with no frame of reference for what a “normal” mom-daughter relationship should be, getting violently shoved away for trying to hug her made her happy, because it was something.

The first words Tori’s mother said to her were basically the same as the those with which Tori’s mother left the world: words expressing regret she ever gave birth her. Rob Reiss was and in the present still isn’t proud of having to send his daughter away, but the alternative was her sharing her mother’s fate that one night, when the men in black coats and hates came.

Meanwhile, at the farm, Hange returns Sannes to his cell, and reveals to him that his friend Ralph didn’t sell him and the king out, he was simply used as a pawn to get Sannes to betray the king. Hange has very little patience for their weeping and moaning, and voices that lack of patience…emphatically.

Erwin meets with Pyxis to inform him of the coup he’s planning; after he has words, Pyxis agrees to lend his support when the time comes, but the Military Police is working even faster than they are, and when Erwin’s presence is demanded at the scene of Reeves’ murder, Erwin doesn’t hesitate naming Hange his replacement as commander of the scouts in his absence.

I’d congratulate Hange on her sudden promotion, but she just took command of an organization that is about to be unjustly branded an enemy of the state. What had once been a position of great esteem is now a thankless job. Not that that matters to Hange—she’ll do her duty to the fullest.

Erwin walks into what he knows to be a frame-job, but still makes sure to let Reeves’ family know he intends to avenge the man’s killers, and even though they’ve been carefully conditioned to blame him, Erwin’s pure charisma seems to have an affect on them. On the rooftops Kenny watches scouts all over the city get rounded up as criminals, but prefers to let Levi come to him.

Before being arrested, Erwin told Pyxis a story about his childhood, when his father used to teach his history class. Erwin asked a question his dad had to evade, but later that night explained his theory to his son. In a truth desert like the world in which they lived where others only encountered mirages, his father had found an oasis. But Erwin, young and stupid, blurted out his father’s theory in public until the wrong ears caught it, and that was the end of Erwins’ father.

Since then, Erwin had always suspected his father was killed by the government, and if that happened, it meant there was merit to what his father believed, so he came to believe the theory was fact. To get closer to The Truth, the current government and its fraud monarchy must be replaced, and Historia enthroned as the true queen.

With the military police prowling for any scout and the government on high alert, no part of Erwin’s plan will be easy. In the midst of all this intrigue, I’m sure a number of scouts are almost wishing for the days when all they had to do was…kill Titans. Of course, that (relatively) easier life was only possible because they were more in the dark than they are now.

Attack on Titan – 39 – Breaking Bad…For the Greater Good

Things used to be so…simple. Or at least, it used to feel that way. Kill the Titans or they’ll eat you; for the sake of those you love, or duty, or plain old revenge. Not only are things not that simple anymore…they never really were. The further behind the wall you get, the more complicated things seem to get, but  at least there are two simple truths to grasp: one, Historia Reiss is the heir to the throne, and two, not all humans are on the same side; not by a long shot.

For whatever reason the Titans are not an imminent threat to mankind’s survival, so now their internal divisions are laid bare before us. Chief among those divisions are the Scouts vs. the Military Police, and Levi and his squad find themselves outnumbered, out-maneuvered, and generally out-matched by the MP contingent led by Kenny, the man who raised Levi and still thinks he’s a kid that can be jerked around.

It takes every last ounce of grit and resourcefulness, but Levi just manages to get one over on Kenny and his cohorts, in an elaborate but very slick sequence involving a showdown inside and outside of a saloon (apropos considering Kenny’s cowboy-western style).

Levi figures out pretty quick that it’s time to start killing his fellow humans lest he get killed, but other than Mikasa, the other squad-mates have trouble adjusting to the very abrupt change in mission. Jean almost pays dearly when he hesitates to kill the woman at the reins of the wagon carrying an unconscious Eren and Historia.

But the woman hesitates too—whether she personally knew Jean (sister?) or just noticed how young and scared Jean looked—but Mikasa is a beat too late to kill her. Instead, it’s Armin who carries out Levi’s order to kill, and just like that, he’s a changed man.

He later laments that they’re no longer “good people”, let alone “good guys”, as they’re no longer taking the lives of monsters that would otherwise eat them and others. Now they’re fighting for a faction of humans, not all humans, and are forced to kill to preserve the way of thinking they deem to be more “right”.

While it’s hard to see what choice they have, I still acknowledge Armin’s lament, and share in it. These kids wanted to serve their people, but now that Eren and Historia are being hunted not by Titans but other people, they must do things they never thought they’d ever consider doing. Perhaps even worse: they quickly learn they’re pretty good at it.

By the end of the episode, Levi and Hange have resided over murders, kidnapping, and torture…but also become reasonably certain that Historia is now in the hands of Rob Reiss, of the Reiss family, who are the true heirs to the throne. But the Trost merchant who played both sides and helped them capture Sannes is later killed by Kenny, leaving his company and the futures of the people who depended on its business in question.

Sannes too proves a true patriot, unblinkingly believing that the horrible things he and his men did throughout the years were absolutely necessary for the survival of the kingdom and preservation of peace within the walls. From his perspective, what he did was as important (or moreso) than the Scouts killing Titans.

In that regard, Levi, Hange, and those under their command have joined the ranks of Sannes and the Military Police: dirtying their hands and eroding their souls for what they believe to be the right reasons. To survive against Kenny and the royals presently in power (who have no intention of giving that power up willingly), and to rescue Eren and Historia, they’ll have to be as ruthless as the Titans that invaded their city and ate their friends and family.

Attack on Titan – 38 (Start of Season 3) – Behind the Curtain

Season 3 of Shingeki no Kyoujin begins with a question long pondered by Eren: If beyond the wall is a sea…what’s beyond the sea? Wizard of Oz will always be a favorite movie of mine, but I doubt I was alone when I first saw the curtain get pulled back to reveal the “Great and Powerful” Oz was just a flimflam man with a budget.

Titan has never pulled the curtain back; not entirely. It may show us glimpses that alter or expand our way of thinking about this bizarre and mysterious world, but the central mystery of how all of what is going on came to be remains tightly guarded.

I found it notable that this season’s OP contains not one bit of anyone actually fighting a Titan. Indeed, the entire episode only features one Titan: Eren, briefly, in a controlled experiment. That’s because the true enemy of mankind is, not surprisingly, mankind.

Titan Season 3 looks like it will further explore the depths of the secrets of the walls, detail the lengths to which the Powers that Be will go to protect them, and impress upon us the importance of revealing or exposing those secrets for the salvation of humanity…if that’s even what the “good guys” are actually doing.

That’s what’s intriguing; even someone as sharp and resourceful as Levi only has bits and pieces to work off of regarding their “enemy.” All he knows is that he was entrusted with the Titan Coordinate (Eren) and the heiress to the throne (Historia), two assets that, properly utilized, could blow this whole thing wide open.

But those Powers are working against him, and brazenly; no longer in the shadows. The secret behind the curtain remains, but forces have come from behind it to shoo nosy interlopers away. With Scout Regiment activity suspended, Pastor Nick murdered, Commander Erwin arrested, and Levi’s squad on the run, the episode adopts the feel of a cat-and-mouse conspiracy thriller.

And yet, for all of the brisk plot development, the ep still takes the time to re-introduce the cast still stinging from their respective recent ordeals. There’s painfully forthright Eren; eternally badass Misaka; strategic Armin; hungry Sasha; resentful Jean; weary Connie; non-good-girl-y Historia; crazy Hange; no-BS Levi. I left plenty out but you get the gist.

When the government demands the Scouts hand over Eren and Historia, Levi takes a gamble by sending his squad to Trost district, the site of the Pastor’s torture and murder, and bring Eren and Historia before Pyxis. They enter the district in broad daylight wearing their gear, and Eren and Historia are quicky snatched up by kidnappers.

Only the “Eren” and “Historia” they snatch are actually Armin and Jean posing as body doubles. Led by Mikasa, Levi’s scouts rescue them and capture the kidnappers, who prove so laughably amateurish that it sets off alarm bells in Levi’s head. Could they—could HE have fallen for a larger chess game in which the kidnapping was only a diversion?

The feeling of dread only grows worse as Levi observes from a rooftop as the wagon containing the real Eren and Historia getting blocked by a large crowd. The suspicion of being in the middle of a trap crystallizing, Levi asks Hange’s scouts Nifa if she’s ever heard of the serial-killer Kenny the Ripper, then reveals he used to know and live with him.

Levi identifies the true kidnappers too late, as Kenny gets the jump on him, takes Nifa’s head off with his huge guns, and gives Levi a warm greeting as his very large and professional-looking crew swoops in to surround him.

What had started oh-so-modestly with the scouts cleaning up their farmhouse hideout escalated in a damned hurry. Eren and Historia are in deep trouble if Levi could be ambushed so easily. I didn’t imagine the show could make the government as existentially scary as a Titan attack, but…here we are.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 13 (Fin) – On Second Thought…Screw Duty!

Tada-kun never fell in love…until he did. And just his luck, it’s someone who is not only from very far away, but whose hand is promised to another. Against as a monumental, implacable an obstacle as Teresa’s stated duty to her country, he feels lost, defeated; like nothing matters anymore—even feelings that got him on a plane.

As Alec basically lets Teresa cry it out one more night (and cries right beside her, owing to her own unrequited love) Kaoru emerges from the sidelines to encourage Tada not to give in to despair or give up on saying what he came there to say to Teresa. While messing around, Kaoru accidentally lets the royal invite Rachel slipped in Tada’s bag.

That’s all the stimulus Tada needs to spring into action, retrieving the damp envelope at all costs. He’s regained the will and the imperative to see and speak with Teresa one last time…even if he’s being a bother.

Turns out Tada is far more of a bother to Charles and Alec than Teresa, but while Alec is quick to call for Tada to leave, Charles, who puts Teresa’s happiness before his own, lets her and Tada have some more time together. Nothing he says or does can change the fact Teresa simply doesn’t love him.

It sucks, but it’s not at all unexpected when two people are arranged, basically at birth, to marry one another. Love can certainly develop in such a scenario, but in my personal view it’s definitely putting the cart before the horse, and such arrangements aren’t a match for organically developing love such as Teresa and Tada’s.

When Tada finally confesses he’s loved Teresa since they met, she accuses him of being unfair. She left Japan so she could lock away all of her feelings deep inside for all time, but all it took was him following her to her home and saying a few words to break that lock.  There’s no “last day of crying” for Teresa, as long as she’s not in a situation where she can live with the one she loves.

As the credits roll, we return to Japan, where aside from Pin-senpai graduating, is more-or-less the status quo…with one very important development: Charles broke off his engagement to Teresa, rightfully acknowledging that it wouldn’t be fair for either of them to follow through with something that was not their choice.

In a bit of a surprise, Teresa not only seems happy to be free of her engagement to Charles, but took it further by “running after” Tada back to Japan, either delaying or outright cancelling her succession to the throne.

Tada is shocked that she would all but abdicate for him, but once they’re in each others arms, the whys, wherefores, and consequences melt away, and it’s just the two of them, Teresa, and Tada, no longer having never fallen in love. Is it a bit too neat and tidy of an ending? You bet…but who cares!

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 12 (Not Fin) – It’s Not You, it’s the Royal We

First, I have to applaud TKnS for shedding its comfortable Japanese high school milieu for something completely different that expands the story’s boundaries a whole hemisphere’s width and lends it a sense of occasion.

Second, I applaud Mitsuyoshi for getting over his aviophobia to make the trip to Larsenburg, for he feared something far more than flying: not knowing why Teresa left, and not telling her how he truly felt about her. (Kaoru also cheers his friend on, but keeps his distance)

Larsenberg is gorgeous, as one would expect of a fictitious Germanic-sounding miniature kingdom. You can’t help but notice how different it is from the Japan he left, right down to the fact it’s now wintertime.

Mitsuyoshi arrives at the address his gramps stipulated as the place where he’d find Reiko, AKA Rachel, but has trouble gaining access, because it’s a goddamn palace, complete with a Royal Guard that won’t answer his questions…or speak at all.

Meanwhile, Teresa, Alec, and Charles are busy with the duties of a royal couple and their bodyguard…only with a little bit of palace drama mixed in. Alec reveals her lifelong love for Charles when Teresa walks into find her hugging his recently-worn jacket.

Teresa also picks up on Alec’s tell, a grabbing of the arm that signifies lying. Alec denies and denies, not because she doesn’t believe Teresa knows about her feelings (she does), but because she knows nothing good could come of her expressing her feelings for Charles; he’s supposed to marry Teresa, not her.

Before Teresa and Alec can continue their discussion, Mitsuyoshi pops in. He had the good fortune of being spotted outside the palace by Rachel, who invites him in and tells him how she used to work at his gramps’ cafe when she was in college, before moving to Larsenburg to serve the royal family.

Rachel and Charles present Mitsuyoshi to a very shocked Teresa. He apologizes for surprising her, but she knows she’s the one who needs to apologize and properly tell him what the dealio is. Their reunion came far later in the episode than I expected, and it’s almost painfully brief and cordial.

In a sumptuous gilded drawing room the two sit across from one another, Mitsuyoshi expresses his relief that she’s okay and relays Teresa the others’ regards. Then Teresa comes out with it: she’s the future queen of Larsenburg, and thus there is, in her mind, “no way she can live the life she wants”, i.e. either as an ordinary woman in Japan, or as queen, but getting to choose her man.

In the latter case, Teresa drops a second bombshell on Mitsuyoshi: her lifelong betrothal to none other than Charles. We never see if or how he reacts to this verbally after his initial pained look; we only see the aftermath, with neither Alec nor Charles able to approach a sobbing Teresa in her darkened chambers, while Kaoru finaly reveals he followed Mitsuyoshi here, only to watch his friend crying for the first time.

And it’s about here when I was wondering “Wait, really? You’re going to end it like this, show?” But the show didn’t. MAL misled me into thinking this was the last episode, but there’s one more. Thus, there’s hope everyone can walk away with some kind of closure!

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 10 – The Things We’re Taking are Lives

Eto confronts Kanae and proceeds to read them like the open book they are. She seems intent on changing Kanae’s fruitless course to make Shuu love them. Eto offers them an apple, or “fruit of knowledge”, in the form of one of her “bones.”

This will likely make Kanae more powerful and thus capable of taking away that “something precious” from Shuu—namely Sasaki Haise—in order to take their place as Shuu’s “precious person.” It’s also sure to come at a heavy cost: Kanae’s remaining humanity, sanity, et cetera. Like Rize and Ken, the deal seems a bit…Faustian.

We also learn the core of Shirazu’s hesitance to use Nutcracker. The final words of the first ghoul he killed echoed what his sister said, once what had been a mole under her eye turned into a life-changing growth: “I want to be pretty.” He’s in CCG and the Quinx Squad only to make enough money for her considerable care.

Fura comes upon him, and relays to him the commonality of investigators having trouble with quinques from their first kills. He says it’s perfectly normal, and even healthy, as someone who felt nothing for taking another life is probably not a great way to start one’s CCG career.

As we’ve seen, the opinions on morality vis-a-vis ghouls within the organization run the gamut from “ghouls are people” to “ghouls are targets to be eliminated.” Shirazu would seem to be oriented more towards the former; S1 investigators Ui and Ihei the latter.

As Haise deals with his worsening identity crisis, he continues to do his job, wanting both himself and Quinx to be useful to S1 in the operation to take down Rose. To that end, Ui allows him and Quinx to don the masks Uta made them (or in Haise’s case, made for Ken) and mingle with the ghouls for intel.

They learn that all the ghouls on the street are uneasy, guarded, distrustful of newcomers, and in Haise’s case, deathly afraid of his mask, which is that of the “Eyepatch Ghoul.” He learns the name “Kotarou Amon”, then meets with Shuu, wanting to learn more about Kaneki Ken so that he can accept him.

But despite having been restored to health by Haise, Shuu has no idea what to tell him about Ken, and ends up running away. Besides, his hands are full; his servant Yuma is still being held by Kijima. In a sickeningly brutal scene that shows where on the spectrum Kijima falls, he executes an already brutally tortured Yuma.

As Ui receives permission from CCG Chairman Washu to implement the Tsukiyama Family Eradication plan (with S2 head Washu breathing down his neck), Haise searches the archives for more info on Kotarou Amon and the Eyepatch Ghoul, fearing that in reality he was the latter and murdered the former. Akira draws him into a hug, comforting him without confirming any of his (correct) assumptions.

That night, Shuu’s Papa Mirumo gives him a cup of coffee, which makes him pass out instantly. The Doves surround the mansion, and Mirumo greets them in the grand foyer, claiming he does not intend to fight or resist, but only asks that he and his family be left alone and allowed to live out their lives as people, as they have done. Ui isn’t having it.

When Shuu wakes up, his world has been inverted. He’s in a car, being driven by Matsumae at top speed away from the mansion, where Papa and all the other servants are making a stand for Shuu’s sake. Shuu wants to go back; Matsumae won’t comply. It’s imperative Shuu survive.

They arrive at the headquarters of one of the Tsukiyama Group’s many subsidiaries, where an army of Ghouls loyal to Shuu’s Papa stand ready to fight to the last man to keep him safe. All Shuu can do is admire the greatness that inspired such loyalty, greatness he likely doubts he himself possesses.

The three Tsukiyama veterans in charge of the defense get prepare for what may be their final night alive, as a smug-as-hell Ihei orders the commencement of the extermination operation.

As the aggressors in this latest conflict, led by those who made the decision long ago that Ghouls are not to be empathized with or shown mercy, the Doves definitely felt like the Bad Guys this week—which means Haise and our Quinx Squad are fighting on the wrong side.

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?

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.