NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 06 – A Model of Peace

While an armed guard keeps Naoya hostage, Kazama’s sketchy-ass Free Speech Alliance takes over the main news government propaganda TV station. After a brief and frankly hackneyed speech about corruption, oppression, etc., Kazama intends to put Naoto and his power on display for the entire viewing public to behold.

Needless to say, with so much of the population brainwashed hook, line, and sinker, it’s patently silly for this guy to believe seeing someone demonstrate “powers” on a TV program will win hearts and minds. Just as Naoya warned several times, the operation fails when the super-skeptic guy—whose treachery, in hindsight, was telegraphed within an inch of its life—reveals he’s an undercover SWE agent, and kills Kazama.

Despite being surrounded by the newly-awakened SWE oficers, Naoto still manages to slip away, until he’s cornered in the parking garage by Takuya. The Kuroki brother has a lot of questions for Naoto, but Naoto is in no mood to answer them, and at least at the start of the battle he’s a better psychokinesis user; or at least a more controlled one.

Ultimately, Naoto, along with Naoya, Emily, and Masayuki’s mom (Shouko’s old friend) end up vanishing in a big ‘ol flash of light. While I shouldn’t assume anything with the limited information we’re given, I’ll go out on a limb and theorize that it was Masayuki’s mom’s connection to Shouko that led to everyone being sent…somewhere in a similar manner to Shouko herself in previous encounters.

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 04 – Snakes and Sinners

When Sawa sees the note from Janome she rushes to his hideout, but Kuzuhara heads her off in his car. He won’t let her walk into a trap and ruin the path to revenge he laid out for her just to save a little girl who wants to kill her. It’s not part of his plan, so he knocks her out with the back of his blade.

Unfortunately for him, Sawa is a part of Janome’s plan, and Makoto is working for him now (I guess?) and she siccs a group of changeling bomb dogs(!) on his car. In the ensuing explosions, he and Sawa are separated, and Makoto scoops her up and skedaddles. I guess Janome and Makoto knew Sawa wouldn’t make it to his hideout on her own…???

In a touching flashback to a happier past we’re reminded how cute and kind and human-behaving Sawa once was, as her brother assured her a bird would choose her someday. She wakes up to an array of disco lights and ominous organ music being played by our big bad, Janome with his back turned to her. It’s all a bit…Saturday morning cartoon villain, to be honest!

What was supposed to be dark and menacing comes off as goofy and cheesy, especially with his host of snakes that honestly might’ve have been slightly scarier if they were CG. Janome has a special restraining chair and birdcage all set up for Sawa, and forces her to submit to him fully, lest his badly-drawn snakes kill little Asahi.

He draws some of her blue blood while describing his evil plan, promising to free her and Asahi when that plan is complete, at which point she can kill him if she likes. Oh, and he’s got her brother Takeru strung up on the organ. He’s been keeping him barely alive while using his blood for his experiments, and Sawa is next. Pretty fucked up for a guy who claims to “worship” her clan!

This is when things go a bit off the rails. Makoto, who revealed she was working with Janome, switches sides again by killing the snakes holding Asahi. Another snake takes her arm in return. I guess I was right about her being a triple agent, but we know so little about Makoto that neither apparent turncoat move really did anything for me?

She feels more like a plot device than a character with discernable motivations, and it was time for her to side with Sawa here, so she did. Then Janome eats one of the crystals made out of Sawa’s blood, briefly becomes Mr. Freeze, and then turns into a frankly laughable snake-man monster. At this point, Matoko—who you’ll remember is missing an arm and bleeding profusely—still has the strength to ascend out of the hideout with a cable gun. Uh, bye, I guess??

Sawa enters her much cooler-looking changeling mode, but even that’s undermined by a transformation sequence that is frame-for-frame the same every time. Even this mode apparently isn’t enough, but with his last ounce of strength Takeru tosses some vials full of orange…stuff? at both Janome and Sawa.

The stuff seems to have opposite effects on the two, subduing Janome and powering up Sawa, who slices Janome clean in half. Her revenge thus complete, Sawa goes to her brother, who says it’s too late for him. Then she says in that case she’ll die with him, but then Asahi makes a noise and Sawa remembers why she came here in the first place! Roll Credits.

Sorry for the snarky tone, but Jouran kinda fell apart in this fourth episode, with thing upon thing simply happening and character upon character doing things that either didn’t make a lot of sense or were extremely heavy-handed (i.e. the organ schtick). With Sawa’s nemesis Janome turning out to be a relative pushover, I don’t know what’s next for her and the rest of Nue, but I don’t much care either.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 03 – Helping People In Need

Onija, the fiery member of the Eugenicists, gets into a yelling match with Gauma, calling him a traitor and ready to kill him. The only problem, as the level-headed Juuga (a calm Kamiya Hiroshi) points out, is they have no kaiju with which to fight Dynazenon, so they’d better just split for now. But it’s clear there’s bad blood between them, and Gauma’s human co-pilots want to know what led to the rift.

In the meantime, Yomogi attempts to practice in his Dyna Soldier, and then he and Yume actually hang out during school. Specifically, they go to the chorus club advisor asking about her sister Kano, who she tells Yomogi died five years ago, just before the first recital she ever invited her to.

Yume and her sister didn’t speak much. Koyomi then runs into a classmate from middle school he once watched breaking school windows; now she’s married…and Yomogi’s boss, who gives him her contact info. Little by little, we’re being presented with bits and pieces of the Dyna-pilots’ pasts. Do their connections to each other predate their current collab?

Perhaps most mysterious is what is up with Gauma and the Eugenicists. Juuga takes the step of meeting with Yomogi after school—not to threaten, like his hotheaded comrade, but to answer what questions he can. Yomogi learns that Gauma was someone Juuga and the others looked up to 5,000 years ago, but at some point Gauma betrayed them and they all died.

Now they’ve revived…for some reason. As for how and why Gauma betrayed his kohais, he’s tight-lipped as the co-pilots visit him under the bridge, eating tiny river crabs. The next day, a new kaiju appears, and Onija uses the Vulcan Salute to activate it.

When the Dyna-pilots learn of the new kaiju sighting, they all answer the call, but remain frustrated with Gauma’s silence. When it’s clear they won’t be able to defeat Onija’s explosive-lobbing kaiju without combining, they insist he give them something so they can trust him enough to combine.

Gauma gives in, telling them he wants to meet someone, and believes he was given the power to operate Dynazenon so that he could find that person in this era. When he affirms that this “someone” is a woman, everyone understands, and are sufficiently satisfied that the combination can proceed.

The combined Dynazenon grabs the kaiju and launches it into space, where its explosion attacks won’t work in a vacuum (while proving that this world has significant differences from Akane’s “world” in Gridman). Dynazenon launches all its weapons, which apparently work just fine in space. The kaiju is blasted to pieces, one of which gets through the atmosphere and knocks Onija off his electrical pylon. But while it sure looked like he was killed, he’s actually fine.

“Kaiju defy common sense,” says Gauma. They make the impossible possible. All the pilots need to confirm this is the fact they’re floating in space. But to Yume, it means something more. If the person Gauma wants to meet revived, maybe her sister can be revived too?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 03 – A Blue Coffin

After Sawa learns that Yoshinobu himself ordered Kuzuhara to have the Treasurer killed, Makoto suggests that Sawa drop the “sister act” and cut little Asahi loose. All of them in Nue have assigned roles to play, and none of them can afford to let sentiment dull their wits.

After recalling when Kuzuhara first showed her a slideshow of her family and village’s destruction and the person responsible, ordering her not to cry, Sawa puts up the hard front Kuzuhara aimed to teach her in dealing with Asahi. Sawa refuses to let Asahi kill her until she’s killed Janome, and tells her to be gone by the time she returns that night.

Sawa, Elena, and Makoto all confront Nue’s cleaner, whom they suspect is a traitor passing secrets to Kuchinawa, finding money in the coffin he’s pushing. He pleads his innocence, then sets off a bomb with a detonator in his hat. Sawa follows him down a secret tunnel hidden in a tomb, while Elena intends to head him off on the surface. Meanwhile, a dejected Asahi seeks comfort in her grandmotherly neighbor Yamazaki.

But the cleaner never went in the tunnel; he hid in the coffin. When Makoto, who lied to Elena about a twisted ankle, opens it and the cleaner pulls a gun. A shot rings out, and Makoto later reports that the cleaner killed himself. But at this point Makoto was already acting super suspicious.

While burying the cleaner themselves, Elena asks Sawa what coffin she’d want to be buried in, her preference being red. Sawa doesn’t answer at first, then says blue, like her blood and that of her clan. That said, she won’t be put into a coffin until Janome is in his.

Makoto meets with Kuzuhara, who reveals he is a woman by tearing his clothes to reveal her chest binding, warning her to never forget where she stands. But Kuzuharais seemingly in the dark about where Makoto actually stands. Before the Treasurer died, she gave Makoto a karuta card that serves as a treasure map. Makoto follows it and discovers a small book that the Treasurer said could bring down “Tokugawa, Nue…all of it.”

Sawa comes home to find Asahi gone, but on her desk is the piece of paper with “Yuki” written on it Asahi had reconstructed with paste. Sawa then sees that Asahi left the satchel she gave her containing cash and a boat ticket to her new home, and blood on the walls.

Her white crow comes to help her search for Asahi, but we find out where she is first: in the clutches of Janome, who had disguised himself as Yamazaki with an elaborate prosthetic suit. We also learn that Makoto is indeed in cahoots with Janome, serving as a double agent. Or maybe triple, if Kuzuhara knows she’s infiltrated Kuchinawa.

In any case, for Sawa, who’d prefer clarity and simplicity, nothing is simple or clear, and never really was. To whit: she aims to save her would-be murderer from the man who murdered her family, and with whom her fellow Nue agent is working. Not ideal!

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Promised Neverland – 23 (Fin) – Easy Win

“It’s an ending, that’s enough!”—Marge Simpson

I thought of those sage words—spoken to end a discussion of whether another ending was happy or sad—after the end of The Promised Neverland. This finale was, without a doubt, a series of scenes where dialogue is exchanged and things happen.

Like the previous episode, in which every single thing that needed to go Emma’s way did go Emma’s way, not a lot of it holds up to even cursory scrutiny. Unlike the previous episode, it wasn’t packed with enough stuff to keep my mind from dwelling on just how goshdarn fast things are moving.

And yet, it’s also an episode that tends to drag and sag during lengthy dialogue scenes. Starting the episode with Peter’s backstory, such as it is, was an…interesting choice? It really did nothing to make me care about him one way or another; I’m not surprised in the least he had his own brother Minerva killed, or that he rejected Emma’s call to join her in building a new world.

Ratri would rather slit his own throat (which he does) then even try to live in such a theoretical world; going out as a “Ratri”, descended from those who originally negotiated the great pact that split the human and demon worlds in two. Isabella and the mothers, who all seem to speak with one united voice, are also initially reluctant to go with Emma, who manages to convince her to change her mind. All is forgiven!

Now for the journey to the gate to the human world. Wait, the elevator takes them right there? And the pen, already literal deus ex machina, also happens to unlock the completely unguarded gate? Oh, and Emma, along with Norman, Ray, and the Lambdas, decide not to go through that gate? I commend the composer for accompanying the gate scene with suitably epic music, but other than that it’s just a lot; all at once, and all too easily.

The decision to remain while Don, Hilda, the mothers and the kids all go ahead to the human world is simple: Emma’s job won’t be done until all the farms are shut down. With Mujika’s help, she intends to create a new pact that won’t allow demons to raise children for meat anymore. So I guess Sonju was just joking when he was hoping to eat some free-range kids in the near future?

I was also a little worried when Emma and the others not going through the gate simply left them without checking out if it’s even safe on the other side. Those worries were short-lived, as beyond the white void is…modern-day New York City, immediately followed by an unanimated slideshow of the kids gradually assimilating to life in such a world. Judging from the stills, they don’t have much difficulty at all!

We then switch to a slideshow of Emma & Co. on their crusade that for all I thought would take the rest of their lives. I mean, you’re talking about rescuing each and every child currently imprisoned in the demon world. It’s a herculean effort many times larger than the already ridiculous operation that liberated Grace Field House in a single night with zero casualties.

But nope, it only takes a couple years or so. Emma, Norman, and Ray just suddenly appear by Hudson Bay one day, their mission apparently accomplished. Phil’s happy about it, because he doesn’t have to make good on his promise to go back after her. It’s all a little sudden, and random, and rushed, and weird. All my goodwill was spent mindlessly enjoying last week’s all-too-easy victories.

So it’s a totally, completely, 100% happy ending for Emma and the kids, who’d basically ceased enduring serious hardship or encountering setbacks of any kind after being forced out of their bunker hideout. But for me, it just feels like an ending, and a blessed one, as my enthusiasm for the direction of the story was waning by the day. An ending is enough.


Read Crow and Irina’s discussion on the final episode of The Promised Neverland right here!

The Promised Neverland – 22 – Playtime Has Only Just Begun

First of all, Vincent is not a turncoat; I can’t see how someone otherwise proven as intelligent as him would think Ratri and the demons would honor any deal he made for them. Instead, Norman has Vincent leak one plan, knowing the farms will prepare for it, while executing an entirely different plan. And not a moment too soon, either, as that very day Phil and all the kids at Grace Field House are notified that they’re being shipped off.

Final preparations are made in Mujika and Sonju’s secret tunnels, and then everyone boards a fleet of hot air balloons—which presumably were part of Norman’s original “Kill All Demons” plan. When Ratri and the head demon spot the fleet proper approaching the farms and separating into small groups, the demon spearmen atop the walls shoot them down one by one.

Of course, the initial wave of balloons was only a feint; all of the ones that were shot down are armed with firebombs that soon set the forests within the farms alight. While the demons are busy putting those out, they’re suddenly ambused by the Lambda kids, while the other balloons land safely and the Farm’s administration facility is raided using Minerva’s blueprints. Soon Vincent has hacked into the system and shuts down all of Ratri’s surveillance and comms.

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to the mothers escorting their kids to the shipping area, each of the farms has been infiltrated by little kids sent by Emma, who uses the hacked comms to give the signal to “play tag”. Phil and the others obey and run for it while the gates are closed on the mothers, keeping them from pursuing. Everyone meets at the massive central elevator. Everything’s going according to plan…until the elevator refuses to budge.

The kids below look up in horror at dozens of mothers armed with assault rifles, led by Grandmother Isabella and smirking Gatekeeper Peter Ratri. “Playtime is over,” he tells the “lost” children. That certainly seems to be the case. How are the kids going to get out of this one? They brought bows and arrows to a gunfight, and they don’t even have the benefit of the high ground!

But what saves everyone, as usual, is Emma, or more precisely, her words and her indomitable will. When Peter tells her to give up and accept they were all born to be eaten, Emma refuses to do so. She and her suddenly huge family have a future they want, and she’s going to keep fighting for it no matter how many times she fails, so Peter can take his destiny and shove it.

That’s when Isabella—and all the other mothers and sisters she leads—turn their guns on Ratri. She tells Emma not to misunderstand; she claims not to be doing this for them—though she is proud of how well she raised them. She’s simply grown tired of how Ratri and the others run the farms, and now has the power to do something about it. And with the system hacked, the chips Ratri once could have used to blow them up no longer work.

Ratri still has one card left to play: the demon reinforcements from outside of the farms. The lead demon warns all of the children to be obedient and yield, as once those forces arrive there will be no more hope of victory, even with Isabella and the mothers on their side. Unfortunately both the lead demon and Ratri, another, much larger force of lower-class demons overwhelm those reinforcements before they can even arrive.

That’s right: thanks to a coordinated effort between Mujika and Vylk, a huge number of demons have been cured of their need for human meat, and they’re ready and willing to help overthrow the farm system that has oppressed them all these years. Mujika and Vylk enter the elevator room, surprising both Isabella and Ratri with their presence. For them it must be unthinkable to see demons standing in solidarity with these kids.

But again, it’s all about aligned interests. Just as Isabella is sick of the system, so are the demon masses. Ratri’s final threat—that the human-demon conflict resolved 1,000 years ago by his ancestors will start back up—is nullified by the presence of Mujika and the Evil Blood.

Suddenly fresh out of haughty remarks, Ratri falls to his knees in defeat, while Emma approaches him and holds out her hand, not asking for his surrender or ordering his death, but asking him to join them; to join the future they’re well on their way to realizing.

While I had to suspend an air balloon fleet-load of disbelief for much of “Operation Playtime”, I can’t deny it was loads of fun watching it unfold, as long I didn’t think about anything too much! Looks like we’re in store for a slightly rushed but hopeful and happy ending.

Check out Irina and Crow’s thoughts on the episode here!

The Promised Neverland – 21 – More Important than Revenge

By arriving just in time with Mujika and Sonju, Emma is able to talk Norman down and get him to drop his knife. Despite all the time they’ve been apart and the things Norman has done and planned to do, Emma still feels absolutely certain that he doesn’t really want to do those things he planned, even going so far as calling him an “arrogant coward”.

The show deems that she is correct in her assessment, and that, when offered, Norman is willing to share the suffering, pain and fear with Emma, Ray, and the others instead of shouldering it all himself. Mujika then goes around the town administering her blood to those who have degenerated, not only curing them but ensuring they’ll never degenerate again.

As Norman’s plan to annihilate the demons of the village is reversed, Barbara prepares to kill a demon girl and her infant sibling, but when she sees herself in the cowering girl, she finds herself unable to do it. We’re to understand this is the first time she’s been presented with the opportunity to kill a demon child, and was all talk before.

Norman and Emma emerge from the burning town, and Norman tells his comrades the truth: he didn’t want to get revenge on demons, but to save his family. He used the ticking clock on his life to justify taking a path he wouldn’t have otherwise chosen. And he lied about not having succombed to the same Lambda drugs as all of them because he wanted to project reliability.

Barbara, who just stopped herself of her own accord from murdering a child, can’t very well argue, and says Norman is more important than revenge. Cislo and Zazie are also extremely understanding of Norman’s coming clean. Vincent isn’t, but the others tell him to stand down.

Upon returning to the hideout, the kids there tell them they just got word from the Grace Field radio: Phil and everyone else are being shipped. We cut to a scene with Petri and Isabella, who have sent the message as a trap, knowing the kids who escaped will come to the rescue.

What’s odd is that Petri is talking with the demons like Norman and the others just escaped from Lambda; presumably that happened weeks if not months ago. And don’t get me started on Isabella, who we were led to believe was on a short leash, and yet has been allowed to fail for quite some time now.

Of greater import in this scene is Petri’s announcement that the Lambda materials weren’t lost in the bombing, and the entire high-class farming system is poised to be replaced by Lambda-style farming through drug-induced brain enhancements.

Ray rightly suspects the message about the premature shippings is a trap to lure them there, but it doesn’t matter, because they still need to return to Grace Field if they want to save Phil and the others. The fact we haven’t seen one second of Phil or the others at the farm somewhat dulls those particular stakes…as do the developments at the hideout.

Vylk, the grandpa who’d regularly visit the hideout—and who Norman almost killed—and his granddaughter Emma visit so he can tell a story about a small piece of a pen a dying human was grasping, and the remorse he feels for not using his blood to save others besides his own family. When screwed into Emma’s pen, it not only provides blueprints for farming HQ and the gate to the human world, but a cure for the side-effects of the Lambda drugs!

That’s an inordinate amount of coincidence and suspension of disbelief in one little flash drive! But even with all this new information, and with almost everyone on board with returning to Grace Field, the one holdout—Vincent—ends up betraying everyone by using the radio to exchange intel for a deal. I guess he wasn’t moved by the embrace of the Emmas…

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 11 – When It Rains Princesses, It Pours

Sisbell comes offering some kind of magical bracelet to Iska, as well as the promise of restoring his status, honor, and more. All he has to do is go back with her to the Sovereignty. Familiar request, right? Iska is flattered but loath to accept, and at this point has no idea who Sisbell is other than the “royal servant” he broke out of prison.

When Alice and Rin find an article about Iska in Sisbell’s room, Alice is eager to find out what she’s up to, especially if it involves treason. Thanks to Rin, the Queen agrees to let Alice go on a low-profile long-distance trip to track Sisbell down. Back in Alsamira, Iska has a lot on his mind and can’t quite fully participate in the BBQ fun.

In what seems like an extraneous repeat of their scene last week, Elletear comes out and tells Masked Lord that she suspects her two younger sisters of treason, but is worried her love for them will keep her from “doing what is necessary”, so she bypasses the enmity between the Lou and Zoa houses and asks Masks to take care of her sisters for her.

This does not make Elletear look particularly smart or good! Naturally, Alice is in the desert on her way to Alsamira when her tour bus comes to a screeching halt: there are giant footprints and machine oil stains in the sand…suggesting the Empire has deployed the Witch-hunting “Object” teased at the very end of last week.

Iska changes up the unit’s hotel accommodations, hoping to distance his comrades from getting tangled up with Sisbell. Jhin also recommends as they’re in a neutral city to procure for Mismis the same crest-concealing special bandages Shanorotte used while posing as an Imperial.

Despite his cautiousness, Iska is approached once more by Sisbell, and they continue their discussions at a secluded industrial zone. She reveals her time-manipulating astral power that has enabled her to keep tabs on him, as well as her true identity as Princess Sisbell, Alice’s sister.

Unlike Alice, she isn’t asking Iska to out-and-out defect from the Empire; she merely needs someone she can trust to help her out the Sovereignty’s traitor, who is tyring to destroy both nations by fanning the fires of total war.

Iska respectfully declines the offer, as he believes it doesn’t go far enough towards peace between their peoples. Sisbell deems that unrealistic, but that doesn’t faze Iska. Just then, Masked Lord appears behind Sisbell. He have some kind of teleporting ability, because he sure got there quick after meeting with Elletear!

Accusing her of being a traitor, Mask and his mage guards have come to arrest Sisbell, who quickly flees as Iska stands between them. She’s stopped in her tracks by the Object, whose presence is either a happy coincidence for Mask, or a sign that he is the traitor Sisbell feared.

I’m sure Iska can handle Mask’s troops with one hand tied behind his back—which isn’t the case this time!—but that mecha dragon seems like a tougher customer. Still, even if Iska and Sisbell can’t handle it, both Alice and Unit N07 aren’t far away.

While there are more new developments, this was the second straight table-setting episode where nothing is resolved and a lot is left up in the air. If next week is the final episode, I can’t see how it won’t be thoroughly overstuffed! That suggests a second cour is in the cards, though I’m not sure one is deserved…

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 10 – My Dream Knight

Risya and Nameless meet with the Emperor…and they seem to be an androgynous cat-person. Not only that, the Emperor seems all too aware that a “Witch Princess” (i.e. Alice) has fallen for an Imperial Swordsman (i.e. Iska), and seems pleased with that development.

Meanwhile, Third Princess Sisbell is having troubling nightmares about the demise of her mother the queen that she believes to be visions of the future. Needless to say she’s uneasy and is desperate to find a way to alter that future.

Back in the Empire, Iska, Nene and Jhin are worried about Mismis’ crest being exposed, but they’re bailed out by an imperial administrator who castigates Risya for grossly overworking the unit. They are awarded sixty days of vacation, and they decide to spend them in Alsamira, a desert resort nation that while not officially neutral like Ein is considering an alliance with the Empire.

Alsamira also just happens to be the destination of Sisbell, as her mother sends her there to attempt to convince their leaders to side with the Sovereignty. As a pawn in the continuing political game that is the election of the next queen, Sisbell only trusts her personal butler Schwarz to accompany her.

Then we finally meet the First and eldest of princesses in the green-haired Elletear. She meets with Zoa’s Tuxedo Mask to report something most troubling: apparently someone high up in the Sovereignty is working with the Empire. My first thoughts went to Alice, of course, but we learn she’s not the only suspect.

Alsamira closely resembles Dubai or Abu Dhabi IRL, a wealthy emirate currently thriving on tourism and hospitality, which Unit N07, particularly its female members, are all too happy to exploit. Mismis and Nene show off their swimsuits to the boys, and a day of fun and not fighting the Sovereignty ensues.

As the sun sets and the unit heads back to the hotel for dinner, Nene and Iska split off to buy food and Nene goes off to use the restroom. Whenever Iska is left alone in a city he tends to bump into a princess, and this week is no different…but the princess is. He recognizes her as the astral mage he broke out of prison, but when Nene returns to him, Sisbell vanishes without a trace. Still, Sis is convinced she’s found the “knight of her dreams.”

That night, Rin and Alice, stuck in the palace with mountains of paperwork and other official duties, assist the queen in snooping through Sisbell’s chambers. As Sisbell’s mother, the queen is concerned with what she’s been up to cooped up in her room. Alice and Rin find a clue: a newspaper reporting the arrest and life imprisonment of Iska, the Imperial who saved her. Alice is shocked her sister might know her Imperial buddy.

Back in Alsamira, Sisbell decides to make her move…by breaking into Iska’s hotel room. By acting so suspiciously, she should have known she’d be welcomed as an assassin and not a guest, but she doesn’t seem to care. All that matters is that she’s found Iska, her Knight. I’m inclined to believe she considers Iska the key to preventing the bad future she’s been dreaming of. She believes this because Iska helped her, his “enemy”, when he had no other reason to other than kindness and mercy.

That Sisbell is meeting secretly with Iska will no doubt be a red flag for her sisters and mother, and their already flaky retainers may even consider her a traitor for doing so—and that’s assuming they’re not yet aware of Alice’s many meetings with an Imperial swordsman. While laying the groundwork for some interesting developments, this episode was a classic table-setter: necessary, but a bit ho-hum.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 09 – Nobody Is Perfect

Matters isolate quickly this week, as Chairman Takamatsu concedes that according to GEHENA and Grand Guignol, Yuri is a Huge, not a human or a Lily, and thus not under the academy’s protection. The StuCo brass goes to Riri just as she’s about to trim Yuri’s bangs, but thankfully Yuyu backs them up, giving them cover to escape.

Whatever she was to GEHENA and Grand Guignol, Yuri is clearly something else entirely now, thanks to Riri and the Legion. Yuri has also demonstrated free will, and it’s her wish to stay with everyone. Still, the government doesn’t see it that way, and orders all available Lilies to capture Yuri and arrest Riri.

Yuyu insists to Takamatsu that Yuri couldn’t possibly by a dangerous entity. The Legion sans Yuyu and Kaede makes a collective effort to support Riri and Yuri, and Yuyu soon joins them to declare that as vice commander she is going against the government’s orders. They’ll pursue Riri and Yuri and be the first to find them, and when they do, they’ll protect them from anyone who tries to take Yuri.

Kaede, whom it was hinted at could be a Guignol mole, ends up not betraying Riri and the Legion. Quite the contrary, her call to her father is to tell him she won’t soon (if ever) forgive him for getting in bed with GEHENA and causing this mess, before joining Yuyu and the others. Meanwhile Riri and Yuri find refuge in an abandoned, Huge-ravaged town.

It isn’t just Riri’s Legion who question the justifications of the government’s pursuit of Yuri. All over the search radius, groups of Lilies from Yurigaoka and other academies are all wondering the same thing: “Is Yuri a person or a Huge?” Their answer determines how they should proceed, and whether they should disobey orders. In the case of three Yurigaoka rank-in-files, the answer is obvious and unanimous: Yuri is a person.

But the government won’t take their word, nor Riri’s, nor even Chairman Takamatsu’s at face value. Their belief must be proven, and that’s what brings us to a surprisingly excellent mini-“courtroom drama” as Takamatsu is grilled before arrogant government representatives. As always, Takamatsu’s position is that the young girls who must bear the burden of combat should be afforded as much free will as possible, and Yuri is no different.

That assertion is proven beyond doubt by the absolutely clutch and badass Moshima “Weekly” Moyu, who just finished science-ing the FUCK out of this issue, and has come to the conclusion that Yuri is not a Huge; she’s Human. 99.9% human. Why not 100? Because no one is 100% human, or we’d all be exactly the same and evolution would never occur.

With the matter of what Yuri is settled, the question becomes a matter of jurisdiction and precedent. Moyu demonstrates how prepared she was for this presentation by citing a treaty their nation’s government ratified last year affording “genetically human” individuals like Yuri the same human rights as naturally born ones.

Takamatsu completes the absolute ruination of the pencil pushers by concluding that the order to arrest Riri and capture Yuri were baseless and illegitimate, and thus should be rescinded. As for Riri and Yuri, as Lilies, their punishment is his responsibility.

Riri and Yuri have some tough conversations about where Yuri belongs and what will happen if things don’t go their way, but thankfully all of that is moot when Yuyu and the rest of the Legion arrives in force, and Yuyu declares the crisis resolved. Yuri has been proven to be human, and thus is now safe. The episode could have ended here…All’s well that ends well…Let’s all celebrate over ice cream!

Well, hold on…not so fast.

Their reunion is interrupted by the emergence of the biggest, baddest, most destructive mega-Huge yet encountered, an Evangelion Angel by any other name that is not only able to control Magie, but draws a continuously replenishing supply from its nest. It demonstrates its power by focusing nine energy fields into one and condensing it into a particle beam that utterly destroys everything in its path.

The Lilies amass on the beach, and the moment Yuri understands the situation, she’s off, on her own, at blinding speed over the water, while effortlessly using a combination of Thi Mai and Gropi’s Rare Skills.

One by one she takes out the nine fields while dodging the Huge’s counterattacks, in another sequence lush with awesome sakuga. When Yuri delivers the coup-de-grace, the resulting explosion is massive and, she smiles a sad but determined smile…as it seems to consume her.

As the remains of the Huge burn offshore, Yuri’s ruined CHARM washes ashore, and Riri takes hold of it as she grieves for her sister who sacrificed herself to save everyone who fought to save her. She bitterly remarks how the day started so innocently—with her giving Yuri he first haircut. How that same day end like this?

This is without doubt the finest bloom yet in Assault Lily’s bouquet. It upended the status quo, raised the stakes to the rafters, and put all the pieces together. It employed its reliably-strong eye candy not as a crutch but to back up some truly superb character work, badass scientific research, and some smart, electric conference room sparring.

As for whether Yuri is really dead, that’s something I’m not yet ready to concede with a certainty. It depends on several factors. Will Assault Lily get a second season? After all those lengthy introductions and lighter, quieter early episodes, I truly hope so…I’ve finally memorized everyone in Riri’s Legion!

Second cour or no, it isn’t even about Assault Lily’s “courage” or “guts” to keep an apparently killed key character dead. If it can come up with a good reason to bring her back, I’m all for it. Like she was for Riri and everyone else, Yuri was taken away far too soon.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 08 – Field Day at the Garden

Yuri is assigned her ring and CHARM, making her an official Yurigaoka Lily in addition to being the new talk-of-the-academy. The Student Council is weary of arming her, but as far as the (Acting) Chairman is concerned, until new information comes to light, Yuri is as entitled to defend herself as any Lily.

While lounging on their bunks, Shizu reveals that she’s already thinking about the war that could follow the defeat of the Huge: a return of humans fighting each other. Now that humanity has found Magie, what will they (or to be more precise, its shadier elements) do with it?

Shizu ultimately apologizes to Lily for being so somber, especially on the eve of Yurigaoka’s athletic festival. But as Yuri senses with her nose, all the Lilies are carrying a measure of sadness due to their roles as sole defenders of mankind. Athletics aside, there’s also a mood-lightening cosplay division for which the Legion decides Yujia is best suited.

The sports day is an opportunity for outside onlookers to infiltrate academy grounds and observe their defenders; the Chairman calls them “voyeurs” but orders the StuCo only to “take care of them” if they overstep their established bounds. Like the Lilies of the academy, all outsiders’ eyes seem to be fixed on Yuri, so what better way to keep her safe than keep her in the spotlight?

Yuri (re-)learns defeat in her first game to an elite first-year. Rokkaku Shiori shows off her dual-CHARM-wielding skills, while second and first years demonstrate new CHARM mods from the Arsenal Division. Gropi ends up beating her rival Tanaka Ichi in the target-blasting game by using her Phase Transcendence.

This has the side-effect of draining all Gropi’s Magie for the day, so someone else must fight Moyu’s special “Huge-roid”, which she makes clear she designed to defeat Gropi. Instead, it’s Yuri who faces off, and shows off the same stance as her big sis and unofficial Schutzengel, Riri.

Riri is as worried as a flustered mother hen about dropping Yuri into a veritable lion’s den, but her own Schutzengel Yuyu tells her to calm down and watch, as she once watched her. All the Lilies cheer her on and yell advice her way, and in a gorgeously-choreographed and animated sequence, Yuri defeats the Huge-roid with both ease, grace, and style.

It ends up being Riri crying tears of pride and relief and Yuri comforting her, while Tazusa swoons at the cosplay division-winning Yujia’s cat pose. All in all it’s a successful festival; no real Huge interrupted, and Yuri was kept safe while Moyu was able to gather quite a bit of new data about her.

Moyu makes her report to the Chairman, and sure enough, Yuri is an odd one; average human woman at first glance, but all too normal, as in lacking any of the usual slight abnormalities all humans possess. This jibes with a report the Chairman received from both Grand Guignol and the research institute G.E.H.E.N.A. of a joint “test subject” lost at sea.

The two organizations claim Yuri was born from Huge stem cells—a Synthetic Lily. This is not only super illegal but super immoral, but the groups came clean about it anyway because they are demanding she be returned. The Chairman notes that his purview is limited to educating and protecting humans, so if Yuri isn’t human, the law says he must turn her over.

That brings us to Kaede, the daughter of the Chairman of Grand Guignol, calling her father in the middle of the night. Has she been a Guignol plant, and all of her fawning over Riri been an act? Or is she turning traitor now only because her father’s prized test subject has mistakenly fallen into Yurigaoka’s custody?

For now, I’m inclined to believe the latter is the case. Even if Kaede wasn’t always a spy for her father, she clearly takes deep pride in being her father’s daughter, and her loyalty to him may simply trump her loyalty to anyone else, even Riri and her Legion. If that’s the case, Yuri could be in grave danger.


3 1/2 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 06 – Apples and Lemons

Ever since the vortex incident that thrust her and Iska apart, Alice has been sighing heavily a lot while looking out the window of her bedchamber. She’s clearly pining for him, purportedly to fight and defeat him once and for all, but both we and Rin can see there’s more to it than that. Absent any other leads, Alice decides to return to the Neutral City Ein, hoping they’ll bump into him once more.

Meanwhile, in the empire, Mismis’ left arm has felt funny ever since falling into the vortex. But it doesn’t hurt, so she chalks it up to nothing serious. Their next mission, however, is no joke: Led by Misya, Unit N07 is to infiltrate the Sovereignty and capture Queen Nebulis! We learn how difficult it is for any non-astral mage to enter the Sovereignty.

The crests all mages bear are used as passports, which is a fuck-you to the empire for using those same crests as evidence for their witch trials (and subsequent genocide). Iska, Mismis, Nene, Jihn seem like nice people, but Jesus Christ is the empire they serve fucked up!

Alice and Rin arrive in Ein, and stand by the fountain where she encountered Iska before. However, in this case where she’s actively trying to encounter him, Rin doubts they’ll find him easily. Rin even suggests Iska might’ve died in the vortex, but Alice won’t hear of it: he’s alive, and she’s going to date—er—fight him. Even so, three days pass, with no sign of Iska.

Rin is concerned about Alice’s sudden intensified fixation on Iska. Other families are watching the Lou family for weaknesses, ready to take the throne, while Alice’s sisters are diligently preparing for the forthcoming eleciton. Meanwhile Alice is committed only to fruitless stakeouts in Ein. Rin knows she’s the only person who can get Alice “back on track”.

Meanwhile, Mismis’ arm won’t stop feeling strange, so she removes her jacket for Nene to inspect it, and that’s when she discovers…an astral crest. In one lift of the sleeve, Mismis’ life has changed forever. If the research institute found out she was hiding the crest, she’ll be summarily executed! Even if she comes forward of her own free will, she’ll be imprisoned, likely for life!

All Iska and the others can do is try to comfort Mismis (who is understandably freaking out), and Iska lays out the options: turn herself in, or keep hiding it. As their captain, they’ll follow whichever path she chooses.

In the meantime, Iska decides to take Mismis to Ein, where she’ll be safe for the time being. Ein is so incredibly peaceful and idyllic, one wonders how it’s even able to exist between two warring nations, one of which is brazen enough to attempt the kidnapping of the other’s sovereign. Does Ein have its own force to deter either side from starting shit?

That aside, the minute Mismis leaves Iska to buy some drinks, Alice appears, and there’s a neat little scene where neither Alice nor Iska recognize one another at first due to the glare of the sun. That said, once they do recognize each other, it’s not long before they’re sitting on the bench together, exchanging blushing looks.

Alice even declares she’s glad to see her purported “enemy” is safe after the vortex incident. Indeed, she’s positively giddy to see him, and when she senses something is troubling Iska, she asks him to tell her, as she’s good at keeping secrets (though she undermines that claim rather totally by saying she only tells Rin, who is clearly more than a maid).

Before Iska can say anything, Rin appears with drinks, and to the surprise of both Alice and Iska, she offers one to Iska. It’s an apple-lemon blend, which calls to mind “apples and oranges”—a nice metaphor for the Empire and Sovereignty. But it’s not the strange blend that knocks Iska out: it’s a sleeping drug that Rin slipped into the can. When Iska passes out on the bench, Rin reveals her plan: she assumed he’d reject the offer of a drink due to his distrust.

He’d then take it as a sign he should stay away from her. But Iska did trust Rin, and not just because they were in neutral territory. Alice’s behavior totally disarmed him, because like him, she had no ill intent that day, having declared a “temporary truce”. Rin regrets not using a fatal potion, but the fact remains they can’t just leave him there, so she takes him into custody.

When Mismis returns, even Alice knows there’s no easy way to explain what’s happening, so she slides back into official mode, telling her they’re taking in an enemy of the Sovereignty. That’s when Mismis insists they let him go…and her astral crest activates, albeit without any kind of control. Again, Alice doesn’t have any time to consider why an Imperial soldier has a crest; she freezes Mismis’s foot to the ground and takes off with Rin and Iska.

We don’t learn if any witnesses saw Mismis’ astral power awaken, just Misya meeting with the Emperor himself to report Iska’s kidnapping and requesting instructions. In a way, having the Queen’s own daughter bring Iska into the Sovereignty means the infiltration plan has gone off without a hitch; there will be a lemon in the land of apples. All Iska needs to do is free himself, capture the Queen, and return to the Empire, and it’s mission accomplished!

Of course there are a variety of questions in play: will he be able to free himself? If he does—or Alice is the one to do it—will he still go forward with his unit’s mission, or will he and Alice be able to make a sliver of progress with peace talks? Will Misya learn Mismis has a crest, and if so, will she punish her, or use her to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska? Tons to consider…I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars