Sarazanmai – 02 – Let Slip the Cats of War

As a reward for defeating their first kappa zombie, Keppi bestows upon the boys a silver “Dish of Hope” they can use to wish for anything. Enta snatches it and accidentally wishes for a hatchback-sized cucumber roll, shattering the dish and leaving the three with no reward (unless they’re going to eat that roll…which is on the ground).

Kazuki is eager to earn another dish that he can use not to fulfill his own wish, but that of his little brother Haruka. We learn that he is the “Harukappa” to whom Kazuki is sending selfies of himself-as-Azuma Sara. Kazuki’s only wish is that Haruka is happy, and a dish can only help that cause.

Meanwhile, Kuji Toi is up to more criminal mischief on behalf of his older brother, while Enta receives a Kappazon package meant for Toi—containing a handgun of all things—strengthening Enta’s belief he’s Bad News

When Nyantaro, the fat, awesome neighborhood cat Haruka adores, sneaks into Toi’s weed-growing lab and steels a shipment hidden in cat treats, another ludicrous chase ensues. Kazuki (dressed as Sara again) stops Toi when he threatens Nyantaro with his metal ruler, and refuses to get out of his way or stop following him.

The chase leads them to a couples-only theme park, an employee of which dresses the two up in bee costumes and insists they hold hands the entire time they’re in the park. Kazuki and Toi hold hands and chase Nyantaro on ride after ride, but can’t manage to close the distance, since we’re talking about a neighborhood cat here: if he doesn’t want to be caught, it’s not happening.

We learn a little more about the two bishounen cops from the end of last week, who appear to do an elaborate song and dance of their own to extract desire and create a new cat-based kappa zombie boss.

It’s apparent these two and Keppi’s three young helpers are working at cross purposes, but the cops’ specific motivations, beyond their commitment to “wring out the desire”, remain mysterious.

Not soon after their “performance”, thousands of cats start to float up into the sky, including Nyantaro, and Enta and Keppi (disguised as his date) meet up with Kazuki and Toi to discuss the situation. Enta warns Kazuki to stay away from the kid he’s currently holding hands with, but in order to get his little brother’s favorite cat back, he needs Toi’s help.

Events from there follow a pattern now familiar after the first go-around last week (in what I like to call the Ikuhara Formula): Keppi turns the three lads into kappa, they attack the zombie boss (this time a giant cat), and when they determine its secret (he kidnapped cats and shaved them to give himself a coat of fur so his girlfriend would take him back! Of COURSE!!), they  break through and extract its shirikodama.

Once that’s done, the guys go through the titular sarazanmai, during which it’s revealed that Nyantaro was owned by another family before Kazuki stole it so Haruka could have a cat (even if it was only a neighborhood cat). He defends what he did because he did it for his brother’s sake; his happiness trumping all other considerations.

With the second boss defeated, the lads receive another silver dish of hope, and Kazuki and Toi immediately argue over it, with Toi even brandishing his gun. Since both have brothers they want to make happy, and Keppi informs them they’ll need five to grant a real wish, Toi cedes the dish to Kazuki, but he’s getting the next one.

That night, Kazuki finally completes his mission to take a Sara selfie with a cat (specifically the rescued Nyantaro), to Haruka’s delight. Exhausted from the day of activity, he passes out right there in the park, where he’s approached by none other than Enta…who promptly kisses him! Looks like he’s got a secret too—one that re-contextualizes why he was so concerned with Kazuki hanging around Toi.

The two cops also now realize somebody is out there working against them. It’s likely only a matter of time before the two opposing groups clash. In the meantime, on with the hope-dish collecting!

After two episodes, I now have a better grasp of the beats and rhythms of a show that definitely dances to the beat of its own drum. With less head-scratching to do I could concentrate better on all the little details that contribute to making Sarazanmai such a fun and exciting little show that’s unafraid to challenge contemporary “norms”of gender and sexuality.

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Sarazanmai – 01 (First Impressions) – Secrets, Lies, and Butt Stuff

“The world is full of connections,” muses Yakaza Kazuki at the start of things. Yeah, no duh, Kierkegaard. That’s especially true in Tokyo (Asakasa specifically), where many people are connected both by technology and the relatively small amount of space they share. There’s one connection in particular Kazuki never wants to lose.

Turns out that connection is a ritual exchange of selfies with the local idol, Sarakappa, who is constantly keeping the folk appraised of the latest Asakusa news via the public video screens. While Sara herself is taking a selfie, she happens to catch someone breaking into a car. That someone is Kuji Toi, who chases after her.

Instead, Toi encounters Kazuki, notices he has the same phone strap as the girl, and lunges at him with his ruler-cum-slimjim. Kazuki happens to be grabbing at statue of the Prince of the Kappa Kingdom, and in the ensuing violence, the statue is destroyed, releasing a great gust of wind.

The next day at school the two lads hear a clear ringing bell no one else can, and start compulsively acting like kappas, dousing themselves with water, doing a sumo dance, or eating cucumbers. Neither knows what the heck is going on.

The ringing leads them back to the destroyed statue (now a crime scene), where they are introduced to the actual Prince of the Kappas, Keppi, whom they awoke with their roughhousing. Keppi seems level-headed enough…until Toi dares to call him a “frog.”

Keppi reaches into their anuses (yep) and extracts their shirikodama, an organ containing desire, then gobbles them up and transforms them into kappas themselves. When Kazuki’s best mate Enta arrives to see what’s up, he ends up calling Keppi a frog, so he’s transformed as well. It’s a very gross process!

The gross weirdness continues when Keppi assigns them their mission: extract the shirikodama from a “zombie kappa” in the “Field of Desires,” a realm between life and death where no humans can see them, but where the kappa and zombie kappa dwell.

This particular zombie is hoarding stolen “Kappamazon” packages, and his deep dark secret is his compulsion to empty the boxes and place them on his head while naked. The three kappa-lads work together to sing a musical number, blast through the zombie’s defenses, reach and enter his anus, and successfully extract his shirikodama. Again, quite gross!

After the extraction, before they pass the shirikodama to Keppi, the three undergo the titular “Sarazanmai”—a connection of mind and soul between the three. Within that state, Toi learns that Kazuki and the girl he saw were one and the same, and Enta learns his best friend cross-dresses as an idol, all to send selfies of himself as Sara religiously.

The other two learn Toi is a car thief, but Toi isn’t outwardly ashamed by that, but after the initial embarrassment has passed, neither is Kazuki. Even when Enta tells him he’s cool with his “quirk”, Kazuki insists he isn’t asking for understanding, only for his secret to remain his and his alone…which is fair.

Post-ED (a lush merging of live-action footage, augmented reality lightwork and animation with a very catchy peggies song) there’s another strange incident involving two very pale, stylish cops extracting something from their prisoner, but that will have to wait until next week.

Sarazanmai is nothing if not visually bold and doggedly inventive with its madcap brew of mythology, symbology, philosophy, and sociology you tend to get from the work of Ikuhara Kunihiko. Its narrative isn’t always the easiest to follow but you can be assured it’s going to look and sound cool and explore ideas few anime do (especially when it comes to contemporary social issues), which definitely helps.

Non-fans of kappas (or, incidently, Ikuhara) probably need not apply, nor should anyone who is uncomfortable with the occasional…stylized anal extraction. But there’s a lot to like here so far.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 23 – No Puppet, You’re The Puppet

This is a thrilling powerhouse of an episode, but it starts out a little slow, with over seven minutes of this:

Admin: [Describes in detail horrible things she’s done]
Cardinal: How dare you!
Admin: [Chortles]

Mind you, there are far worse things than listening to Sakamoto Maaya describe her evil plan and chortle. She gives Admin an extra dimension of imperious ethereal swagger.

Once the two pontifexes are done talking, Cardinal decides the only thing she can do is surrender: offer her life—and the guarantee she won’t resist and take potentially half of Admin’s life—in exchange for the three “youngsters.”

Admin agrees, though doesn’t exactly hide the fact that she still plans to sacrifice fully half of Underworld’s humans (40,000 of them) to complete the final version of her sword golem with which she’ll defeat the enemies of the Dark Territory, as well as the real world.

Then she has fun taking several hundred dark lightning potshots at Cardinal. She’s been waiting 200 years to get rid of her, and is clearly savoring the moment. Cardinal warns the others not to interfere—they’re not powerful enough to make a difference anyway—and instead puts all her hope in Admin’s assurances they won’t be harmed.

Something awakens in Eugeo, and suddenly he realizes what he was always meant to do, now that he’s in the time and place to do it. He asks Cardinal to use her remaining power to transform him into a sword, just as Admin turned hundreds of humans into parts of the golem.

The process isn’t exactly quick, and Admin attempts to disrupt it, but Alice is able to block her attacks just long enough for the transformation to complete, and Eugeo becomes a self-moving sword.

The sword wastes no time destroying the sword golem by hitting its weak spot, blowing it to pieces in a tremendous explosion. But Admin is #NotImpressed, and relishes the opportunity to put this “brat” in his place with her superior weapon authority.

Ultimately, Eugeo simply doesn’t have enough to take a suddenly very serious Admin down, and while he does relieve her of her left arm, it comes at the cost of being split in two. The split sword revert back into human form, and Eugeo lies lifeless in a pool of blood.

Admin then describes Eugeo’s mistakes that led to his defeat, then turns to Kirito, expressing her hope they’ll meet again in the real world after she kills him here (she’s apparently unaware he’s only alive here; he’s still in a coma out there).

Having lost Cardinal and Eugeo in quick succession, Kirito is feeling defeated and unable to do anything, but like Yuuki and others in Kirito’s past, Alice steps between him and his death, willing to sacrifice herself so he can live on and complete the mission.

This time, Kirito steps back in front of his protector, parries Admin’s strike, and pushes her back. Alice, totally out of gas, passes out, leaving it a duel between the one-armed Admin and Kirito, for the very soul of the Underworld.

Admin would say he and Eugeo were only puppets for Cardinal, and Kirito continues to serve as a puppet for the good of the masses she sees only as resources, in reality Admin has herself long been a puppet of her own greed and lust for power.

Those traits define her and drive her totally, and they will destroy her, once they butt up against the amassed love and resolve of her foes. The hours of her reign appear to be numbered, but she’s not going down without (another) hell of a fight.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

SSSS.Gridman – 11 – Backed Into A Corner

No matter how many kaiju Akane made and Alexis embiggened, they were never able to defeat Gridman. As a god suddenly hemmed in by the intolerable rule that her kaiju will and must always lose, she finally snapped and took matters into her own physical hands.

Rather than use her box cutter to carve a new kaiju, she stabbed Yuuta with it, then wanders away in a haze, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the torturous cycle is over.

It’s not that easy. She missed Yuuta’s vitals, so she didn’t kill him, though he seems to be in some kind of coma. With all the custodian kaiju beheaded, nothing in the city resets, and the chaos just remains. Worse still, as far as Alexis is concerned, nothing’s over.

Lex believes Anti to be the “next Gridman in line” and thus needs Akane to keep creating more kaiju for him to use. When she categorically refuses (pointedly saying she “can’t”, not “won’t”), he simply brings back all the kaiju she already made…at the same time.

A scenario entirely beyond Akane’s control and will thus unfolding, Anti arrives in the hospital room, not to apologize for what he did as a kaiju but to settle his debts as a human. He’ll fight off the kaiju as Gridknight, as Neon Genesis set to work repairing the computer so Yuuta and Gridman wake back up (they can’t sortie without Gridman).

In a brief dream sequence before he wakes up, Yuuta sees Gridman in the mirror, and it dawns on him: He’s not Yuuta; not really. Rather, he’s Gridman dwelling within Yuuta, using his body and mind as a vessel. The matter all along, then wasn’t that Yuuta had amnesia; he was never Yuuta to begin with, and thus whatever memories he had as Yuuta were as repressed as the real Yuuta himself, whom we’ve apparently never even met.

Shou is feeling particularly useless this week, and we can’t really blame him; aside from being the only person with the time to stay by Yuuta’s bedside when he wakes up, he is pretty useless this week. He can’t dissuade Gridman from a course of action that could get his friend killed.

Instead, Yuuta and Neon Genesis mobilize and fight beside a battered Anti against the kaiju “greatest hits,” destroying them all. Alexis can bring back the defeated kaiju all he wants; the fact remains they exist only to be beaten by Gridman.

Meanwhile, Rikka seeks out Akane, not to seek revenge or to give her a piece of her mind, but just to be there for her as a friend. Yes, Rikka may only think she’s Akane’s friend because Akane “set it up” that way, but Rikka doesn’t care; it doesn’t change the fact they are friends, through and through.

Before Rikka can hear what Akane thinks of her, they’re interrupted by Alexis, who labels their conversation “pointless” and tells Akane that new kaiju are needed post-haste. Again Akane tells him she can no longer make kaiju, but Alexis rephrases his position: he’s going to have a new kaiju, even if he has to transform Akane herself…which he promptly does, much to her and Rikka’s bewilderment.

Thus the downward spiral of Akane’s world reaches a new nadir: in which the creator of the world herself prepares to become just another one of the monsters programmed to fight Gridman. This seems to be breaking some fundamental rules of the “game” that’s been played so far, but Alexis doesn’t seem to mind. If Akane really does become another kaiju, isn’t she just as doomed to lose as the ones she created…or is that just another rule poised to be broken?

TenSura – 10 – Maybe I’m Actually Pretty Great?

During the village feast, Rimuru offers to help the Ogres get revenge on the orc army that destroyed their village and killed all but the six of them. After sleeping on it, the Ogre leader agrees that they’ll serve as his subordinates until the orcs are dealt with.

Rimuru then names the six Ogres, but comes to learn that while there are only six of them, they were far more powerful to start then the goblins he named, and he passes out from magicule depletion much faster than expected.

But with their new names the six Ogres evolve into “Kijin”, more human and less wild-looking. Now the posse we see during the end credits is complete, and Rimuru now has some very capable subordinates. Looks like he’ll need them!

Scouts of the Lizardmen who dwell in the marshlands in the center of Jura Forest report back to their chieftain that a massive, 200,000-strong army of orcs is making its way through the forest, no doubt to conquer the territory. The chieftain muses that an Orc Lord must have been born to be able to control an orc army so large.

And now we know what that business with the big-man was all about a couple episodes back: A Demon Lord Army officer named Gelmud named an Orc, resulting in its evolution to Orc Lord. That same Gelmud named Riguru’s big brother, as well as the son of the Lizardmen Chieftain, Sir Gabiru.

Gabiru is sent by his father to seek aid in their defense of Jura from the Orc horde. His loyal retainers convince him that this is the perfect opportunity to prove to his father that he can retire and let him take on the mantle of chieftaindom. Souei, Rimuru’s new Kijin ninja, reports the presence of Lizardmen nearby. These two groups will likely have to come together to overcome the threat of the orc army.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 12 (Fin) – Bringing the World Together

Fallon manages to land the plane without killing anyone, and Dorothea deals with their vampy stowaway. Willard gains access to the airship’s bridge and brings the ship close enough to the ground so Yuliy can grab hold and board it. Yevgraf immediately becomes drunk with power and spends a lot of time smirking, laughing, and gloating about it.

Indeed, Yev proves just a few minutes into his “merging” with the Ark that he’s only in it for number one. Having gained the knowledge of the Ark, he believes vampires to be a weak and inferior race just like humans, and plans to purge both in his new world.

This naturally comes as a shock to his always enthusiastically loyal underling Tamara. But even more shocking to her is that Yuliy is the one who comes to her rescue against a Yevgraf who has changed a great deal in a very short time…and not for the better. Like myself, she did not see such an alliance coming!

Yuliy isn’t interested in killing vampires for the sake of killing vampires. He made a promise to his father to keep the Ark, and the pride of Sirius alive, and to prove him right about all of the races of the world being able to peacefully coexist. I mean, if the Ark doesn’t have the answers to such a future hidden somewhere within it, what good is it, really?

The Jirov brothers team up to fight this new “deformed final boss” version Yevgraf, who is little more than a monster now; all subtlety regarding his lamenting the end of his kind by some random disease utterly evaporated for the sake of a good-vs.-evil showdown.

Yev can heal super-fast, but eventually the power proves too much even for his body, and the regeneration slows and eventually stops altogether. This leaves him a far more vulnerable target for attacks by both Yuliy and Mikhail, who work together to finish him off.

Not soon thereafter, Misha succumbs to the disease and his wounds, but not before handing Yuliy the Ark he pulled out of Yev’s chest and telling him to keep living, this time with the Ark.

The airship crashes into the sea, and Willard washes up on the shore, but while he’s out, Yuliy reaches out to him, telling his second father he’s found a new way to live: by using the power of the Ark to help the world, as he believes those who bestowed it upon his predecessors intended.

Willard wakes up surrounded by the rest of V Company, Iba and Ryouko. A bit later Ryouko returns home and enrolls in college business classes, hoping to one day walk by Yuliy’s side once again. Willard & Co. receive word of the location of a couple matching Yuliy and Tamara’s description, and are ordered to capture them.

While their superiors now see Yuliy as an adversary to keep in check, nobody in V Company is against what he’s doing, which is why they intend to be the first to find him. When we leave Yuliy, he’s on a train, preparing to meet with vampire elders about reaching some kind of détente.

And that’ll do it for Sirius! I’ll admit it took me a while to get through it, but that wasn’t out of lack of enthusiasm. On the contrary, despite its lukewarm reception in the halls of MAL, I quite enjoyed P.A. Works’ foray into the vampire genre. It tweaked the blueprint with period and steampunk touches and a likable (if not particularly unique or deep) cast of characters.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 13 (Fin) – Mankind’s Journey Continues

Twice H. Pieceman is done with humans, and he has been for a long time. On Earth, in life, he was surrounded by the death and suffering of the Vietnam War. After death, he was “reproduced” as an NPC within SE.RA.PH, but that NPC status meant the Holy Grail would always be out of reach, so he sought a successor who also felt the future was wrong.

When none came, and humanity grew stagnant, Pieceman stopped seeing the point of letting it all continue. That’s pretty much where we’re at when Hakuno, Saber, Rin, and Leo arrive at the doorstep of Angelica Cage and the Moon Cell Core, still shielded and guarded by Chakravaratin, the Noble Phantasm of Pieceman’s no-longer-around Servant.

Oh, and Pieceman is also a Dead Face; a remnant of his digital body that was destroyed when he sealed off SE.RA.PH. Killing a final boss that’s already dead will be impossible…but they don’t have to kill him; they simply need to get past him.

When a frontal assault on Twice and Chakravaratin by Rin and Saber fails (Leo is initially neutral and takes no action), Pieceman informs them even if they wish to save humanity, it’s too late; showing them images of what has become of Earth. Yet Hakuno is sure there are survivors he wasn’t able to eliminate—even after a millennium of trying—who will one day make their way to SE.RA.PH to continue civilization.

Having heard both sides, Leo abandons his neutral position and uses a barrier to shield the others from Chakravaratin’s lasers. He also summons Gawain and uses his final Command Seal to order him to use Excalibur Galatine on the wheel, damaging it and giving the others time to finish what he’s started.

Leo goes out as a proud leader fighting for the future of humanity, and Gawain goes out with a majestic bang, reforming Excalibur with the light of the sun.

Damaged but not stopped, it falls to Saber to fly up to the wheel and cease its turning so the shield over Moon Cell core will drop. Emperor Nero Claudius proceeds to prove her worth by achieving what is “no mean task”—stopping Chakravaratin as she promised. While she expected Hakuno to race to the Moon Cell core, he sends Rin instead, as the only true Holy Grail War Master still “in the game” (he’s not an official participant).

That allows Hakuno to come to Nero’s side near her end, which was the one simple wish she told the female Hakuno, since dying alone the first time was “harsh.” She gives Hakuno her sword and sends him off to Moon Cell.

Believing he’ll be able to manipulate a fellow Dead Face’s body and use it as a vessel, Twice is surprised to find his attempts are utterly ineffective as Hakuno bull-rushes Moon Cell, passing right through Pieceman. Despite being a Dead Face, Hakuno was able to go against his kind’s nature by expressing no hatred and not considering Pieceman a foe.

Hakuno shatters the shield and joins a somewhat flustered Rin right by the core. Touching returns Moon Cell to normal, but results in his disappearance. It’s something he does willingly, with a smile on his face: a being shrouded in death believing in life; and not shrinking from his duty, which led to his end, despite yearning for that life.

Down below at the ruins of Chakravaratin, Nero offers her congratulations to her Master and disperses in a cloud of rose petals, and Moon Cell is restored to normal, whatever “normal” is. The only person who appears to remain there is Rin, sporting a new dirty-blonde hair color, looking ready, willing, and eager to welcome the survivors of Earth, that they may begin rebuilding civilization.

And there you have it…FELE is at an end. Sure, at times things were a bit hard to follow and the jargon was a bit too dense for my tastes, but through it all Hakuno never ceased his dull optimism while Saber and Rin never ceased being awesome and fun to watch. Even Leo had a nice redemption here.

The setting of the final battle was appropriately sprawling, with intricate structures sticking out in a vast, austere void. The soundtrack delivered at every turn, just as it had throughout the show’s run. Shaft’s trademark closeups were on full display but not overused. It took a few months, but FELE came to a powerful and satisfying conclusion.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 03 – Just Live

As Ryouko’s classmates mistake her frustrated sigh for a lovesick one (though her blushing suggests they’re on to something), Yuliy’s unexpected encounter with his now-vampirized brother Mikhail brings all of his memories of him roaring back, starting with the good times when the two would hunt in the wintry forests of their home—which I imagine to be somewhere in eastern Russia; possibly Sakhalin.

After a good meal with the villagers, the elder laments that the Sirius Arc is no more, but a confident young Yuliy vows to protect it, only for his big speech, like his first kill, to be foiled by a sneeze (he’s sensitive to cold). That’s where the good times end; Yuliy wakes up in the night to find vampires raiding the village. Their mother is killed, but not before making both her sons promise to run away and live. Only one brother can obey; Mikhail sacrifices himself to Yuliy can slip away.

In the present, while reminiscing on all this, Yuliy’s fellow Jaegers try in vain to cheer him up, but the fact is, now that he knows his brother is alive, he can feel his resolve to kill all vampires wavering, as he still loves Mikhail and doesn’t want to kill him, even if he’s a vampire now. His frustration bubbles over when he remembers summoning the power of Sirius to save himself from a pursuing vampire, just when a determined Ryouko tries to confront him.

She isn’t scared of him—or at least talks a good game; we see her trembling slightly—but Yuliy doesn’t want any new friends, because it will mean more people he can lose or who might suffer because of their association with him or their proximity to his powers (Ryouko likely is willing to befriending him, and in any case it’s her choice to make).

Dr. Willard was the one who found him half-dead in the cold, and offered water so he won’t die, Yuliy says if it means he can see his mother and brother again, he wants to die. Willard’s words that follow—fine, die, if that’s what you think your loved ones want—have guided Yuliy ever since.

He may still not know how he should keep living; only that he knows it’s what his family would want, so he can’t give up. But with Kershner, Mikhail by his side, preparing to field some kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, just living—and keeping those around him alive—is only going to get tougher.

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.

Darling in the FranXX – 24 (Fin) – A Word They Were Never Taught

Despite the hope from their Squadmates that they’ll one day return victorious, there is every indication that Zero Two and Hiro’s insane odyssey through space is a one-way trip, at least in their current forms/lives. As they near the VIRM homeworld and fight off wave after wave of their warships, Hiro becomes a little more Zero-y, and Zero Two becomes a little more Hiro-y.

Back on Earth the gang returns to Mistilteinn, where they find things are growing again, and set to work rebuilding their food supply in order to survive without magma energy they relied on for so long. With Zero Two and Hiro’s lessons, as well as their own experiences, everyone ends up changing and growing up. Kokoro has the baby. The rejected parasites are brought out of hibernation, including Naomi.

Goro sets off on a journey of exploration on Earth seeking supplies and other lost children, making sure to kiss Ichigo before he leaves. After two years, the constant onslaught of VIRM has exhausted Hiro, allowing the enemy to “caress his consciousness” and knock him out, leaving Zero Two vulnerable.

They’re both saved not just by their own love, but by the fruits of those whom they inspired: Ai, the daughter of Kokoro and Mitsuru, named for the Japanese word for love, a word humanity had all but forgotten and which the children were never taught.

When the gang realizes the stone statute of Zero Two is a conduit through which both Zero and Hiro can hear them, they join hands and pray as loudly as they can for as long as they can, until their prayers get through to the two out in space. Hiro wakes up, green-eyed and blue-horned, rejects the pooh-poohing of the VIRM, and becomes even more one with Zero than they were before.

Apus is destroyed, but a new entity emerges; a total merging of Zero Two and Hiro, and they rend the VIRM homeworld asunder in a light that manages to reach Earth. The Klaxosaur fleets return to the earth and become one with it, and the green returns with it. Zero Two’s statue, no longer necessary, crumbles, leaving a small tree sprout.

While still hoping their friends will one day return, Squad 13 doesn’t assign them any time table, and instead begin writing their own stories. They help rebuild human civilization, without magma energy, while building families. Ikuno manages to slow their rapid aging, even though it’s too late for her. Ichigo and Goro have a kid. Futoshi finds another to love and has several kids. Zorome and Miku…continue to bicker with one another.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.

Then, centuries pass, Zero Two’s cherry tree grows larger and ancient, and a huge futuristic city rises around it, only no longer hidden within a plantation dome, and no longer populated by emotionless humans. It’s in this city built by love, the thing never taught its founders, where a boy and a girl one day meet who look an awful lot like our starring pair. Circle of life, baby.

And that’s a FranXX wrap. These last few episodes sure got BIG, as in expansive in both time, scale, and theme, culminating in a resolution for all of Squad 13 and an ending a franchise like Evangelion may never give us; instead of the story stopping before it ends, the book is closed on Hiro, Zero Two, and the others, and a new story begins, built upon what they started.

The VIRM may one day return, but mankind is in a much better position to oppose them, thanks to Hiro, Zero Two, and Squad 13 not living to fight, but fighting to live…and love.

Darling in the FranXX – 23 – New Battles to Fight

As Hiro and most of Squad 13 and the surviving Nines head into space aboard a gigantic Klaxosaur mothership, part of a massive fleet on autopilot to Mars orbit, Michiru stays behind.

Kokoro believes that because she can no longer pilot a FranXX, she has no more purpose, other than perhaps staying by Zero Two’s side as she continues to get remotely cut by the VIRM attacking Strelizia. Since she feels herself so useless, she neither expects or wants anyone burdening themselves for her sake, but Mitsuru won’t hear of it.

A VIRM fleet intercepts Hiro and his Klaxosaur fleet, attempting to block them from reaching Strelizia, who they’re surrounding. But thanks to Nine Alpha being compatible as Hiro’s pistil, and some teamwork on the part of Squad 13 and the other Nines, Hiro is able to blast through the walls of enemy ships and reach Strelizia, which is believed inert due to not having a Stamen.

Alpha gets Hiro to the access hatch, but self-destructs soon after to take out a particularly large, nasty VIRM. The other Nines sacrifice themselves in similar fashion, going out doing what they were always created and designed to do: to fight in battles like this.

Humans like Squad 13 have other battles to fight, whether it’s the fight in which Kokoro and Mitsuru have to start over after losing their memories, protecting one another and awaiting the new life they created, or Hiro keeping his promise to Zero Two.

When he makes contact with her in Strelizia’s cockpit, Zero Two tells him she left Earth so that Hiro could remain a human, and help rebuild civilization with his Squad 13 family. But that’s not what Hiro wants. He wants to be with Zero Two, like they promised they would be, even if he becomes a “monster” like her.

He believes even Zero Two wanted this despite her actions, because she left the last page of her story blank. By returning to her side Hiro is filling that blank page with a new ending, one in which the lovers never part.

Their reunion triggers a major transformation in Strelizia Apath (or Apus, as it’s spelled in the subs this week), its mask shattering to reveal an enormous Zero Two, replacing or transporting her human body on earth into the cockpit with Hiro.

Now fully awake and in her true form, Strelizia unleashes a new and devastating arsenal of weaponry that annihilates the VIRM fleet in moments, likely ending Squad 13’s last military battle and freeing them to begin the next battle: surviving and rebuilding.

However, Hiro and Zero Two won’t be joining them, at least, not for a while. Devices emerge from the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos, and their combined beams open a warp gate to systems heretofore long out of mankind’s reach (though at this point the couple can probably no longer be called 100% human, what with the horns and all).

The VIRM’s fleet at Mars is destroyed, but their main fleet is still out there, and their mission to enslave humanity and the Klaxosaurs remains in force. Rather than wait for them to threaten the solar system again, Hiro and Zero Two will take the battle to them.

That means saying goodbye to Futoshi, Ikuno, Zorome, Miku, Goro, and Ichigo, as well as Kokoro and Michiru. It would be nice if they could all fight their individual battles in the same place, but it’s not to be, so they’ll all have to just wait and see if Hiro and Zero Two will ever return to them.