Fate/Extra Last Encore – 07

The fourth level’s part two starts with a flashback—I think—to an Alice wondering where Hakuno went, and in the process of absorbing various objects around her to replenish resources, transforms into a grotesque monster that forces the Masters to flee to lower floors, and killing and eating those that don’t. None of this seems to be anything Alice the Master intended.

Back in the “present”—whatever that even is—Hakuno, Saber, and Rin make their way back to the castle. The phenomenon that sent them back was only a “respawn”, not a time loop; and all parties involved retain their memories of the first attempt.

Rin (flashing an epic Shaft head-tilt) continues to drop hints to Hakuno about Dead Face without coming right out and saying that’s what he is, DFs being humans “rebooted by their grudges”, and Hakuno not knowing what beyond hatred propels him upward.

When Hakuno starts daydreaming of hanging out with Alice, reading to her and playing tag, Amari is also there in some form. When he comes back to reality, he, Saber and Rin face the monster they’re assuming is the Floor Master’s Servant.

Rin puts up a barrier, but the monster sends a hail of scissors at it, shattering it and her. Hakuno manages to spend another command seal, but before the monster is destroyed and the “game” reset, he ends up back in the dream.

There, Hakuno meets Alice in her true form, covered in bandages, lying in a bed, hooked up to all manner of IVs…and dead. The living, walking, talking Alice Hakuno has been interacting with is no more than a dream that dead Alice is watching, and is herself dreaming in Alice’s place, even able to take Amari’s form.

Back at the starting point, after Hakuno washes up and Rin apparently had a bath, they set out once more with Saber, for what Rin hopes will be the third and final time. As they walk through the forest, Hakuno ponders what and where he is: a man with no past and a place where the past has piled up to the point of near-madness.

Hakuno feels of a piece with the place because the hatred that drives him is essentially an obsession with the past; an inability to let something go. Saber tells Hakuno a story of a Master she once had “much like him”, with neither memories nor a wish, aiming to ascend only out of a desire to live on. At Angelica Cage, the highest level, the Master was defeated by “Twice Pieceman.”

Saber’s point, I believe, is that there are no guarantees. If you get to Angelica Cage, you have to beat Twice. If you beat Twice, Moon Cell has to decide to grant your wish. She wants to know if Hakuno will still ascend despite all that uncertainty.

In the dream (and a repeat of last week’s cold open), Hakuno has already won the third round, as Alice conceded the fight by not showing up. He leaves her with the promise he’ll be back once he’s won the Grail. And it certainly seems to be the case that he did return even after failing to win it.

Once back with Saber and Rin, Hakuno acknowledges that he’s no one special; just a fake who made it this far in someone else’s place. But even as a fake, he wants his feelings to be true. His time with Alice in his dreams have spurred him to want to ascend not just with hatred, but with hope.

In the present, however, the Servant still needs to be dealt with, and between Rin seemingly unleashing her trump card—transforming into Lancer, complete with Gae Bolg—and Saber’s coup-de-grace, it feels as much like putting a wretched creature (or ghost, as it were) out of its misery as defeating the floor boss.

It also carries on the Monogatari tradition of lots of discussion punctuated by short, intense bursts of decisive action. On to the fifth level.

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Fate/Extra Last Encore – 06

The third level, the “Nameless Forest” is a totally different animal than the ones that came before, both in design and purpose. First of all, it’s way trippier, as Shinbo creates a lush and textured wonderland inspired by the aesthetic of the illusory worlds witches created in Madoka.

These bizarre, whimsical surroundings make for a great backdrop as Hakuno, Saber and Rin attempt to find the Floor Master. According to Rin, the third level is the land of dreams where “ghosts” gather, ghosts being souls transferred into information by Moon Cell.

Rin also kinda answers my question from last week, in that Death Face is “something different” from the other ghosts,embodying a “different concept of death.” She also calls it a thousand-year-old legend, apparently unaware that Hakuno is that legend (or feigning ignorance for some reason).

Things get increasingly weird in terms of time and space, with Saber almost instinctively taking Hakuno’s hand to ensure they won’t become separated. Even so, with all off the multi-colored drawers, tanks containing thousands of playing cards, and most concerning, a preponderance of mushrooms, Hakuno eventually finds himself somewhere other than Saber’s side.

That place is in the presence of the Floor Master whom Hakuno says goodbye to in the episode’s cold open; we see his victory and ascent to the fourth level so we know it happens (or happened in the past); it’s a question of how.

This Master is a ghost named Alice, and this wonderland is where she’s been ever since a war that killed everyone else, and after her life of illness was ended by excruciating pain caused by adults in a hospital.

Alice wants nothing more than to have someone like Hakuno to play with forever and ever. Quite suddenly, Hakuno “snaps out of it” and is once again in Saber and Rin’s presence. A vision.

Rin and Hakuno each have one more vision while in the midst of the mushrooms – both involving Amari Misao, their “classmate” in “high school.”

If ghosts are reproductions of people’s states at the moment of death, Amari’s regrets come through strong and clear; both her insufficient strength (which Rin can sense) and when she tried to seek the week to defeat her enemies, only to find there was no one weaker than her.

Having returned from their visions, Hakuno and Rin find signs of a battle, and Saber goes after a shambling, scissors-shooting construction of various objects as if it were like any other opponent. She manages to slash it in two, but the moment she does she and the other two are instantly transported all the way back to where they started, next to the ladder that brought them there. Even time has seemingly reverted.

Rin surmises this is the work of the Noble Phantasm known as “Nursery Rhyme”, which is being used to ensure they keep repeating the same day forever. With such a power, in such a place, being wielded with such a character as the Alice we met, it’s pretty obvious we’re dealing with Caster. Swords and bullets aren’t going to do the trick this time.

Musaigen no Phantom World – 07

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Aaaaaand I think I’ve about had my fill of Phantom World! It’s a show with lush visuals beyond reproach that for some reason seems intent on out-twee-ing and out-moe-ing itself with each passing week. This week, which opens with the seventeen-millionth adoption of Schrodinger’s Cat in an anime (and presented as if it’s being used for the first time), and devolves from there, was the breaking point.

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When the kitten of one of Kurumi’s friends goes missing, everyone at school starts acting like, then slowly transforming into, cats. Due to Haruhiko’s pre-OP explanation, we knew this was what was happening, but it still takes the crew, including Haruhiko himself, one entire half of the episode to figure it out.

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Look, the sight of a whole school of students curling up and napping, or Mai and Reina stretching like felines, or getting excited by fish or toys is cute and all, but there isn’t any substance to any of it. It’s just pure eye candy, and the characters are just along for the ride. I frankly just couldn’t roll with it this time.

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Their investigations, if you want to call it that, lead them to a bizarrely abandoned mansion near the school (why?) and the gang ends up hopelessly lost, their senses inundated with confusingly trippy scenes. These visuals would be a lot more engaging if there was anything profound behind them, but it seems the artists just wanted to draw cool stuff, and stuffed it all into this episode with a cat theme slapped on.

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They finally determine the entire mansion is a giant cat-house phantom, which is manifested in a form lifted straight out of Howl’s Moving Castle. How does the lost and quickly catifying group overcome this phantom? All too easily and neatly, unfortunately. Kurumi literally meows at it to give up the kitten in drew in, and the phantom just kinda vanishes, apparently satisfied…for some reason. It sure went through a lot of trouble only to fold like a cheap catsuit!

This was a mansion owned by a wealthy couple that loved cats, and after they died, you expect me to believe their valuable property was simply left to rot? Why wasn’t the building inherited by someone, or fall into public trust or something? How is it they’re able to clean the place up so quickly, when it had sat abandoned and dilapidated for years? You expect me to believe some mops and elbow grease will fix the foundation, wiring, plumbing, etc.?

You see, I’m so disenchanted with this show, I’m resorting to bestowing unfairly lofty expectations of practical logic on it. Definitely time to say so long and thanks for all the fish.

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Space Dandy 2 – 08

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Every once in a while a rare and truly special episode comes along that wraps you up in it like a warm, thick blanket on a cold winter’s night. It’s not the kind of episode an anime, even Space Dandy, can or should do every week, as it would then cease to be rare and special. But when it does come around, it’s a wonderful thing.

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This episode is oozing with highly refined whimsical trippy goodness right from the start, as the camera pulls back from the Aloha Oe’s pinup to show her crashed on a planet with plants growing out of her, followed by a kind of Norse funeral, with a long-haired Dandy as the honored dead. The show often makes fun of blowing up its world and characters only to hit the reset button, but there’s a much more serious tone here.

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Then Dandy wakes up in his viking boat, which crumbles away to dust, and starts wandering a utterly alien and yet immediately comforting world of lush, gorgeous imagery and a similarly lush, immersive soundtrack to match. There are enough visual and musical cues to make this identifiable as a Dandy episode, and Dandy remains the same old Dandy, but there’s a heightened dreaminess to everything around him. Compared with his usual alien milieu, it all feels a lot more human here.

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Everything has this lovely, fantastical, trippy “off” quality to it (reminding me of everything from Ghibli and Bosch and Pink Floyd to Schim Schimmel and Alice in Wonderland), but as I said, not in a threatening way. As it turns out, this is Planet Limbo, a world without sadness, which also means a world without joy, as you can’t have one without having experienced the other. Any world that lacks one or the other is not a world Dandy, or any human can live in happily.

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None of the colorful characters Dandy meets cast reflections in the water, meaning they’re ghosts who are caught between the worlds of the living and dead, and are neither as long as they’re there. Dandy’s not done living yet, so he elects to board one of the awesome trams strung along the sky piloted by a strange white girl, a girl who has a brief monologue in the beginning of the episode but otherwise wordlessly watches Dandy from afar.

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This girl is Limbo, the avatar of the planet itself, the only living thing left on a world whose civilization destroyed itself long ago. Now that another living thing, Dandy, is there, she has fallen in love. But loving him, she is willing to let him return to the living world he treasures, even sacrificing the planet’s remaining energy to send him back. As it turns out, Dandy hit his head on a lever in the Oe during a choppy ride through a dark nebula.

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When QT and Meow see him passed out over the lever, they assume he’s sleeping and leave him be, and he returns to Limbo on the same Tram he left on. It’s a very sudden and bizarre but strangely sweet twist, because it means Limbo will be reunited with her love, suggesting that maybe, with at least some life among all the dead, there can be joy in limbo after all.

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It seems unfair to call this just another anime episode. This was a 24-minute psychedelic cinematic masterpiece: an offbeat exploration of life, death, and in-between; soaring vistas; a wealth of memorable images; a simple little love story for good measure; and an absorbing, truly inspired and score that complements the visuals and themes perfectly (if you enjoy DSotM, you’ll dig this music too). The only downside to this episode I can see is that its greatness will cast a long shadow over the show’s five remaining outings.

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