Aldnoah.Zero – 18

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A blue rose, which represents love because it’s a rose, but also either a miracle or impossibility because it’s blue (because it doesn’t occur in nature) is one of those symbols that’s instantly obvious once you hear of it. Another example is a golden violin: looks great but can’t play music.

Our two protagonists Count Troyard and Ensign Kaizuka are both holding blue roses, but aren’t yet sure whether they represent the love that will never be, or the love that will triumph against all odds. But the fact they have them motivates everything they do.

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For Inaho, it’s taking every measure, both inside and outside the UE chain of command, to secure his princess. He and Rayet let Mazuurek free for this purpose, something they don’t disclose to Inko. Inko’s not-so-subtle and unsuccessful probing of Rayet for info keeps her left out of the loop, something Rayet regrets but can’t do anything about.

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As for Slaine, he’s been challenged to a duel, and he’s going through with it, reporting to less hard-line counts his intention to lead the battle once the duel is over, and getting their support based on the unique perspective he has as a non-Vers-born. He can see how Verisan hubris and arrogance has blinded them. That their unswerving belief that a sustained Terran resistance is impossible is the very opening that allows it to be possible.

Of course, the duel is happening because Lemrina invited Marylcian to the base. Whether she expected that exact outcome is unclear, but now, as I said last week, she will see if Slaine can truly be the one she can depend on. She offers herself to Slaine, even if she’ll only ever be a substitute for her sister. I have to think she has to be invested in Slaine’s victory, since Marylcian probably wouldn’t be happy when he finds out she’s not really Asseylum.

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Down on Earth, the Deucalion faces off against a generic Count-of-the-Week with a highly-specialized kataphrakt whose primary weapon only fires in straight lines. That means a surface battleship can use the curvature of the earth to stay out of the Count’s range, while her cannons’ parabolic trajectories can reach the Count’s kat.

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While not overly complicated or important in its scope, this is a nice little battle that perfectly illustrates (once again) the very flaws in the Orbital Knights Slaine seeks to root out. While he wasn’t planning to duel with Marylcian, backing out would have been pointless and probably sealed his doom.

Instead, by defeating this relic of outmoded thinking that isn’t getting the job done on Earth, Slaine stands to gain more legitimacy among his peers, and offer unassailable proof that the flaws he speaks of are real and are crippling progress.

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But first, he has to actually defeat Marylcian, whose Herschel makes for a bad match-up, as he attacks from every direction with his cloud of Bits-like drone cannons, so great in number and complex in motion even Tharsis’ predictive abilities are taxed to the hilt. There’s a point when Slaine is in retreat and really getting knocked around that I momentarily entertained the possibility that his blue rose meant impossibility, rather than miracle.

There’s also a nice moment after the Count-of-the-Week battle where Inaho is simply looking up with his robo-eye, watching the duel from the dock as a confused Inko looks on. It’s a great way to connect the two protags in three-dimensional space, and the fact that the distance between them is quickly closing.

Slaine has been making all the big bold moves while Inaho continues to observe and wait patiently for his chance.

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Of course, there’s no way Marylcian beats Slaine. It’s been beaten into us at this point that he’s far to stodgy an Orbital Knight to survive a plucky Terran gambit. Slaine, like Inaho has done countless times before, equips his opponent’s pride and superiority as a weapon against him, retreating into one of the moon base’s supply shafts in an apparent act of desperation or even cowardice.

Marylcian unwisely follows him in, unwittingly greatly lessening the unpredictability of his weapon. From then on, it’s elementary, with Slaine popping the hatch off Marylcian’s cockpit and ejecting him into space, thus ending the duel. A witnessing Barouhcruz grudgingly accepts the result, and Slaine’s grand rise proceeds apace.

In fact, after the duel it rises higher and faster than I thought it would, with Lemrina-as-Asseylum proclaiming she is starting a new kingdom on Earth, independent from Vers, and will take Slaine as her husband. His win over Marylcian sealed the deal for her, leaving just one complication: her comatose sister.

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In a creepy post-credits scene, she nearly shuts off all of Asseylum’s life-support systems before switching them back on, unable to outright kill her sister, but perfectly fine with replacing her in the world. She can float in that tube for the rest of her life while she rules her new kingdom. Here, Lemrina is starting to fall victim to the same Versian hubris that has claimed so many Orbital Knights: underestimating her enemy: in this case, her sister, who finally opens her eyes when Lemrina leaves the room.

Slaine’s big battles in orbit, Inaho’s smaller battles below, and Lemrina’s scheming and maneuvering continue to satisfy, all of it building to what should be one hell of a final confrontation. The main trio’s larger arcs have been nicely supplemented by smaller, more down-to-earth running stories of Inko, Rayet and Yuki. Finally activating the dormant Asseylum at this point is a welcome move I hope A/Z follows through on.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 17

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This episode was titled “Dawn of Intrigue: The Turning Wheel”, and not for nothing. A/Z went into full-on Space Opera Mode this week, as in a soap opera in a sci-fi setting. The enjoyment you derived from this episode depends on how much you like this kind of thing: beautiful people wearing their hearts on their sleeve, clashing plots and motivations, intrigue, betrayal, tests, tears…all delivered with a slightly amplified emotional intensity.

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I for one enjoyed it immensely. For all the lack of physical action, this episode kept me happy with ample duels of wits and wills everywhere you look, and a number of character expressions oozing with depth, starting with Rayet’s look when she’s locking Count Mazuurek away.

Yuki finally tracks down Inaho and asks her straight up why he’s come back to the Deucalion. She became a soldier to protect him, but she can’t very well do that when he’s a soldier too. But he tells his sister he knows Seylum—the real Seylum—is still alive. She tried to help him, and now he’s going to help her. It’s a simple as that. If Yuki has to find a new reason to fight, that’s her problem.

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Frankly, of the two Kaizukas, Inaho is the more resourceful and versatile soldier, which he proves in his talk with Mazuurek, during which we hear my favorite musical theme from the first season for the first time in the second.

It’s well-placed here, as Inaho steadily brings the arrogant count around to his line of thinking, not with brainwashing, but just by knowing and saying the right things at the right time. As Inaho puts it so eloquently, a man who doesn’t look or sound at all like a man who would sell out his country is the perfect man to ask.

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Meanwhile, Slaine is a little drunk on power, as he’s already using visual aids from David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds in his monologues to his audience of one (Eddelrittuo, unless Asseylum can hear him in that tube). He talks about flightless birds (like he used to be) being well suited to survival without flight, and the pity that must be bestowed upon birds who can fly but are placed in cages.

While Slaine is partly correct that birds are put in cages “because they are so beautiful”, in Lemrina’s case she’s a bird in a cage because she is the key to Slaine’s power. Right now, she’s feeling restless, useless (or at least under-utilized), and in the dark about far too much.

She hoped for an equal partnership, but she just feels used right now…and she’s not entirely incorrect, because at the end of the day, she is not the princess Slaine is most intent on protecting. If the real Asseylum wakes up, Slaine will have another key, a no need for Lemrina.

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When Rayet hears that Inaho is interrogating the count, she comes down to offer her own two cents and proceeds to have all her buttons pushed by said count. Inaho gets her out of there, but Rayet’s point is that she’s no different than that count, or Saazbaum, or any other Martian, which is why she’ll always hate them, and herself. Inaho thinks otherwise, and is prepared to prove it.

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Lemrina uses Count Marylcian’s desire to speak with her (believing she’s Asseylum) as an in to the intrigue she’s been missing out on, and also to assert her authority; with Asseylum in a coma, she is the senior member of royalty in orbit. She avails herself of that fact, granting Marylcian an audience, and the wheels start to turn…against Slaine.

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For one brief moment I thought Mazuurek had broken out on his own, but then I realized that was unlikely after they had given him a full body search. When Rayet is the first person he encounters, I thought for another brief moment that Rayet was going back to the side she hated to punish herself, or something.

Then we see Inaho is in on it, and it’s all clear: Inaho knows Mazuurek wants to preserve Earth at all costs, so after convincing him Asseylum is an impostor, he sets him free, where he can be far more effective than if he remained a captive, because he can find out where Asseylum is, keep her safe, and learn what Slaine is up to. It seems mutually beneficial. Mazuurek seems sincere in his interest in earth beyond conquest; we’ll see if he honors the agreement.

But Inaho also involved Rayet, who’d be alone with the count as part of the plan, and thus in a position to kill one of the Martians she hates so much, like she tried to kill Asseylum many moons ago. She doesn’t, and that, to Inaho, says that despite what she says, she’s not the same person she was, and she’s not someone to be hated.

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So Slaine should expect Mazuurek to invite himself over at some point, he already finds himself outmaneuvered by Count Marylcian, who arrives at the base with Cuont Barouhcruz to challenge Slaine to a duel. There’s so much win in this entire situation, what with Lemrina, the scorned princess reduced to Slaine’s pawn, believing she’s controlling this chess game as Queen now.

But she could just as likely have fallen for Marylcian egging her on about being a caged bird, as I seriously doubt Marylcian cares about her beyond how much power he can gain by being her Royal Guard. Heck, he doesn’t even know she’s an impostor; I wonder how he’d react to learning he’d booted out the earth mongrel to take his place protecting a bastard princess.

Like sand through the hourglass…

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Aldnoah.Zero – 16

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Oho…A/Z straight up brought it this week. Not to be outdone by Durarara!!’s best episode to date, it fielded its best as well. I held back a 10 last week purely due to the pure dumb (non-Kuma) shock from the suddenness of what had unfolded. This episode had no such shortcomings, and not only had time for a decent amount of well-paced, efficient action, but also time and room to paint some nice character strokes.

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That started with Inaho’s sister and guardian Yuki, whom we’d only seen in flashback form when she accidentally discovered Inaho could activate Aldnoah cores. That turned out to be a curse for a big sister, or any parent figure, for that matter, as his new ability meant things were only going to get harder for him as the earth leans more and more heavily upon him. She feels that again when he wakes up in the hospital.

Like us, Yuki thinks it’s all just too much for one young lad to bear, to say nothing of the strategic vulnerabilities of staking all your hopes to one prized thoroughbred. But her mothering ended up getting her separated from Inaho and reassigned to the Gulf of Aden, along with Marito. When news comes that the Deucalion is coming to port, the tee-totaling Marito declines Calvados, but Yuki drowns her tea in it. Being Inaho’s family is a stressful thing.

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Speaking of bearing burdens, Count Slaine is enjoying a brief honeymoon free of criticism from other counts who find it distasteful to gang up on him while Vers is still mourning the loss of Saazbaum, who despite his later decisions remains well-regarded in the empire. Slaine doesn’t just inherit his lands, titles, and equipment, but guardianship of Princess Asseylum, as well as the care of Princess Lemrina.

Lemrina tells Slaine she was the product of an affair by her father on the Moon, which is now in tatters. The only one who came to her aid was Saazbaum, and while she will never know his true intentions, she cannot deny that he owes her, as well as whomever succeeds him. She’s no Lady MacBeth—yet—but Lemrina and Slaine have the makings of an epic power couple. And at this point, Lemrina would really prefer if her sister never wakes up.

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Things seem calm and leisurely on the UE side as the Deucalion prepares to return to the surface, but Slaine wastes no time making his next move. He knows it’s only a matter of time before other counts start to move against him (we see two of those dandy counts indeed planning to accuse him of killing Saazbaum), but he also knows simply destroying them will accomplish nothing.

Instead, he will wrap himself in the very glory and honor of Vers: “The key is to show yourself to be so superior that they will not defy you in the first place.” This is Slaine at the top of his game, focused and merciless, and prepared to use any and all of the considerable resources he has come into to reach his goals.

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The same sentiment about demonstrating overwhelming superiority in order to crush your foes’ spirits is what fuels Count Mazuurek, who is one of the counts who wants to avoid unnecessary destruction and death so as many as the earth’s resources are preserved. He has been convinced/nudged into attacking Aden by his fellow counts Marylcian and Barouhcruz, and his victory is meant as the foundation for a coalition they mean to build against Slaine.

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They fail miserably, because as awesome as Mazuurek’s Gravity-Tornado Kataphrakt is, he’s only focused on the forces in front of him, not the battleship directly above him in low earth orbit, where Inaho disables him with one shot.

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Marito is able to distract him the proper amount of time because he’s able to overcome the traumatic flashbacks. Where they used to cause him to freeze up and become useless in battle, now they seem to fire him up. Souma believes that’s worth some celebratory hooch.

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But because Inaho and the Deucalion helped Marito and Yuki out, Trident Base was left unprotected. This wasn’t necessarily a foolish choice under the circumstances, as it was believed an attack would be highly unlikely so soon after the last battle, especially with the huge debris field to contend with.

But the UE brass probably weren’t thinking that someone like Slaine would pilot the Tharsis through the debris and blow up transport shuttles packed with the brim with munitions as they were in the process of docking. By the time the Deucalion hears of the attack, the base has been obliterated.

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Slaine returns to base triumphant, and one by one, everyone, aristocrat and mechanic alike, salute him, for doing what he set out to do, and doing it brilliantly. Not only did he deal a serious blow to the enemy and make them feel weak and helpless than ever, but he headed off any potential moves against him by his cowardly fellow counts. The mangy cur has become a wolf, and they can no longer touch him and come away unscathed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Slaine’s troubles are over—far from it—but he’s in a far stronger position now than he was at the beginning of the episode, and he knows it. Bravo, Slaine. You are doing all the heavy lifting and power consolidation, while Inaho is content with small operations.

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…Or is he? Frankly, I think that Inaho would prefer not to do any of the shit he’s had to do. He does it because he’s the only one who can, and because he can’t close his eyes and will the war away. He, his friends, and his planet’s existence is at stake, so as always, he will try to use what he has to make a difference, and step up his game when necessary. And Inaho doesn’t complain or hesitate, even for a second.

He discovers pretty quickly that his nemesis is responsible for Trident’s fall, which he admits has forced his hand. I’m glad the gloves are coming off, but has Slaine progressed too far for Inaho to ever hope to catch up?

I’m gonna say no. And that can only mean good things for this show moving forward.

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Stray Observations:

  • I have to mention Sawao Hiroyuki’s musical contributions to this show, which hit new heights of awe and cinematic grandeur this week, particularly in the scene between Slaine and Lemrina, and his triumphant return to base.
  • Yuki’s reunion with Inko, Rayet, Nina and Calm is a sweet little scene I’m glad was included.
  • Along with the drinking scenes, that reunion was proof that even in an episode and a show packed with Huge Events, it doesn’t forget about the little moments.
  • The episode’s title is “Soldier’s Pay,” with significant scenes of Yuki and Marito. Marito’s “pay” are his dark memories he must make work for him; Yuki’s “pay” is her beloved little brother she’d tried so hard to protect. But consider what they’re both buying: Not just survival or pride, but freedom and victory over Vers. If Inaho pans out.

Aldnoah.Zero – 15

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As Captain Magbaredge and Inaho’s pre-battle match so subtly implies, this episode is a game of chess being played by Troyard Slaine, and his opponent doesn’t even know he’s playing until it’s too late.

The match is also a chance for Darzana to note just how valuable Inaho has become to Earth’s defense, now that he has the Aldnoah activation factor. Even so, she’s doesn’t feel it’s right to keep him away from battle.

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A couple of garden variety racist counts try to put Sir Slayne in his place, but Saazbaum stops them, going so far as to name Slaine his son. Sure, it sounds sudden, but he’s surely been thinking about this in the last ten months since Slaine came back to him, and the situation called for a gesture that would make any action the counts take against Slaine a act of war against Saazbaum, something they’re far to cowardly to try in the open.

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Now that Slaine has been named Saazbaum’s son an heir in the presence of witnesses both common and elite, his manservant Harklight congratulates this next step towards achieving his dreams, to which Slaine responds above. Sure you don’t, Slaine.

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With his new skills, Inaho isn’t just a hero. He’s become The Hero. With Vers’ overwhelming military superiority, if they lose him, they lose everything. Some have expressed frustration that Inaho and Only Inaho is the only one who can do much of anything, but that’s the natural result of the events.

Earth’s survival dangles by a thread, and he’s that thread, grabbing and clawing and maintaining his grip, finding every advantage and blind spot…yet as his quips indicate, the same old Inaho is still in there somewhere. Inko, Rayet, Calm and Nina are there to keep him grounded, but he’s always threatening to float out of their reach.

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Then the battle dawns (last week was just a glancing taste), and, well, A/Z has always been pretty unassailable when it comes to combat, and the orbital setting continues to dazzle. Here we see the UE kats protected (for a time) by energy-absorbing umbrellas, along with Inaho’s Space Tarzan-like use of swinging cables against the rocks to speed up his maneuvers.

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Still, Inaho’s out here to fight Slaine, as Slaine is apparently out here to fight Inaho. Inaho suspects Slaine is able to somehow see a hint of the near future in order to dodge attacks, so he tries to launch an attack he won’t be able to totally dodge in time But events force us to consider the possibility that Slaine allowed Inaho to hit him (an outcome that surprised even Inaho), so that Saazbaum would come to his son’s aid.

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He does, right on cue, aboard his new kat Dioscuria II, and suddenly Inaho is a bug being swatted at by a raging papa bear. When Inko flies in to offer relief, my heart sinks, warning A/Z “If you kill Inko here, I’m through with you”, but she obeys Inaho and stays put, which is wise, because Inaho gets Saazbaum into the precise position to be pelleted by high-speed debris he detected was incoming.

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What Inaho didn’t know is that the debris was a cloud of bullets, fired by Slaine in the Tharsis using the maximum extent of its time-bending ability. Originally a gambit meant for his face-off with Inaho, Slaine pivots and instead uses Inaho as a chess piece in order to cripple and destroy…Count Saazbaum.

The count might have shout “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”, if he weren’t simultaneously heartbroken and proud of how Slaine played him. Saazbaum, in his typical Versian arrogance, believed he’d won Slaine over, but Slaine wasn’t going to serve under the man who shot his princess a second longer than he needed to.

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As Inaho is busy becoming the Savior of Earth, Slaine ascends to the rank of count, vowing via broadcast to exterminate all remaining Earth resistance in the name of Princess Asseylum before slipping on the burgundy coat. Both lads have risen higher than ever…but even this only feels like one more step on a long road for Count Slaine. Those dreams he claims not to have: what are they, truly? And will Inaho be able to divine a way to stop him?

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Aldnoah.Zero – 14

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I don’t usually pay much attention to episode titles, but “The Beautiful and Damned” is pretty damned apropos. Beautiful, damned people are fighting for their respective beautiful, damned worlds.

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Let’s start with Inaho. His new eye (flawed though it still is), has greatly increased his ability to measure and assess situations and formulate tweaks to existing resources and strategy in realtime. It also allows him to determine not only that Inko has put on weight, but whose words are accompanied by a vocal “tell” indicating she’s not being entirely honest with him (due to her feelings for him).

Using Inko as a test subject for his new eye is a dick move, sure, but it’s Pure Inaho. Rayet rightly calls him a dick (well, an idiot, at least), but this is how Inaho flirts. He detects a similar tell in the “Princess Asseylum’s” speech. If he survives the war, he’d make a badass detective.

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To my relief, it turns out Asseylum is in a persistent coma, not intentionally imprisoned in that tube, which makes sense considering her injuries last season (I can see either she or Inaho surviving relatively unscathed, but both? Nah-ah). Eddelrittuo isn’t strictly allowed to see her, but Slaine’s a nice guy so he won’t tell anyone, and promises her the princess will wake up someday.

Listening from the other side of the heavy metal door (she must have really good ears) is Princess Lemrina, who doesn’t seem to like Slaine’s regular visits to Asseylum one bit. To the point she deactivates Tharsis’ Aldnoah drive just when Slaine is about to embark on a mission.

Slaine and Lemrina stand out among all the beautiful, damned people in the world of A/Z. Up to this point, many people were asking ‘Hey, where the heck did this chick come from?”…turns out, that was the point. All her life, Lemrina has been the ignored and forgotten princess; Asseylum’s sister by another mother; the Kato Megumi of the Vers Royal Family.

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No one ever had any cause to admire or love or even take notice of her, until Asseylum was out of the picture. Only then is she unique and indispensable to Count Saazbaum and Slaine. In this context, it’s perfectly understandable that we’ve never seen hide nor tail of her.

When she calls Slaine out on this bullshit, he’s ready, showing her he’s dealt with hardship and isolation as well (and still has the back scars to prove it), getting on one knee, and earning a kiss that gives him the power to activate Tharsis once by himself.

There’s so much good stuff going on in this exchange: Slaine is either being extremely manipulative or extremely sincere (or both), and Lemrina either totally believes him or is willing to let the display appease her. Regardless of whether either or both harbor deceit, the fact is they need one another: Lemrina wants to take over everything her sister once had, and Slaine needs his kat to move.

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Speaking of beautiful and damned, how ’bout that view of Earth from the Satellite Belt? I haven’t mentioned the fact that this week we get a space battle, and a damned good one, at that. The setup is simple: like two ships passing in the night, UE and Vers bases are about to cross paths along their orbits.

The largest UE space force since the very beginning of the war (which didn’t go well for Earth) has been amassed at Trident, while a similarly large force is making the trip to Marineros. When those forces meet, there are lovely fireworks, but the build-up is handled nicely, particularly the logistics of transporting Slaine, Saazbaum, and the Stygis Platoon where it needs to be.

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The tension also builds on the EU side, allowing Darzana to get another little dig in on her uncharacteristically nervous XO. Not surprisingly, Inaho isn’t the slightest bit flustered at the prospect of his first space battle. He simply floats over to his by now highly-modded but still orange trainer, steps into his office and gets to work.

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There are few backdrops to a space battle more attractive than the big ol’ Blue Marble itself, partially obscured by clusters of satellites, which we learn create a gravity gradient that must be compensated for in order for weapon shots to hit their targets (gravity gradient=”wind”).

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Inevitably, Orange and Bat encounter one another, but between Inaho’s mad skillz and Tharsis’ superior stats, neither Inaho nor Slaine are even able to land a love tap on the other. Their brief skirmish this week was a stalemate, but now Slaine knows Inaho is alive, and Inaho knows what’s become of Slaine.

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I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’d truly like to see these two not only at each others’ throats on the battlefield, but trading dry insults in person. We’ll see how and when the show decides to bring them back together in either setting, and when Chekhov’s Comatose Princess wakes up and puts the kibosh on both Saazbaum and Lemrina’s ambitions.

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