Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 09 – A Matter of Trust

It’s clear Shaddiq isn’t taking no for an answer when he asks Miorine to sell Gund-Arm to him, but he still “graciously” offers sweeteners in the deal: Miorine will remain president, Earth House will remain on the team, and Suletta will get to protect Aerial.

When Miorine asks Shaddiq if he’s the one who caused this situation by having the rules changed, and he can’t deny it, negotiations break down. Miorine decides to challenge Shaddiq to a duel. Specifically, a team battle between his elite (and all-girls) Grassley House, and Earth House led by Suletta in Aerial.

Shaddiq will get Gund-Arm if he wins, and will back off if he loses. Mine also makes sure that the battle will be streamed both school- and system-wide to advertise Gund-Arm’s prowess. That said, they face an uphill battle. The Grassley Girls are no joke and have top-of-the-line equipment; Earth House’s only real pilots are Suletta and Chuchu, and Aerial’s their only mobile suit worth a damn.

Nika continues to meet with Shaddiq in secret, but seems to be growing tired of it. She’s gotta be informing him due to blackmail, right? While trying to find support pilots, Suletta bumps into Guel, who seems half-interested were it not for his father forbidding him from dueling. He seems to immediately regret not helping her.

Shaddiq visits Mine’s garden one more time to try to get her to reconsider, but the bottom line is that she doesn’t trust him not to use her as a shiny ornament just like her father and the rest of the Benerit Group. The sad part is, Shaddiq actually seems to care for Mine, but has just just dug this hole for himself. When he runs into Suletta he urges her to talk some sense into her bride, but Suletta ain’t having it: she believes in Miorine.

While Shaddiq’s Grassley wingmen feature very different personalities (there’s a stern, all-business Sabina, the Bubbly Maisie, the nervous and apologetic Ireesha, the balletic Henao, and the gregarious Renee Costa. They’re all beloved by the school, and they’re all uniformly cocky.

I’ve learned not to bet against Suletta, especially when she’s backed by the plucky and resourceful Earth House and Miorine at the reins of the battle. Still, I got vicarious butterflies in my stomach, as I suspected her support pilots were not going to last long.

Sure enough, the battle starts off with Shaddiq targeting not Suletta but ChuChu, her strongest support, in the rearguard, keeping her busy enough that she can’t provide any cover fire with her rifle. The Grassley Girls cut through the other four Earth House suits like a hot knife through butter.

Now that all of Shaddiq’s pilots can focus on Suletta, they surround her and activate “Antidote”, and old but still very effective Anti Gund-Arm tech that serves the same purpose as an EMP: Aerial is suddenly inactive and grounded. Grassley pilots then start taking potshots at her.

He’s also convinced now that Suletta can’t be Miorine’s bride. She’s too sweet, to innocent, and above all, too honest. His desperate, hardscrabble orphan origin has led him to believe that in order to stand atop everyone else, you’re going to have to know how to lie, and lie well.

Suletta is contrite towards Aerial, lamenting that she’s relied on her for so much. But these words seem to wake Aerial back up, and while we don’t hear Aerial speak, Suletta has a dialogue with her, and they decide that they’re going to pull this battle out of the gutter together.

As Miorine watches, validated in her trust in her groom, Suletta cuts through the Grassley Girls just like they cut through her support pilots, flashing heretofore unseen Gundam tactics and delivering a hearty and welcome helping of comeuppance to the arrogant chicks.

In the ensuing 5-on-1 melee, Shaddiq does manage to take out Aerial’s left leg, leaving Suletta immobile and her all-important antenna vulnerable. Shaddiq swoops in for the “killing” blow, only for a sniper beam to blast his mobile suit’s head to smithereens.

Miorine, who knew Shaddiq wouldn’t trust his subordinates to finish the job, knew he’d go for the win himself, and was ready for him. In the end, Suletta and her crown jewel Gundam were a shiny decoy, and Shaddiq was caught completely off guard. Suletta hops out of her cockpit and repeats the slogan from GUND-ARM’s promotional video.

Shaddiq may have tried to play dirty with the rules, but it bit him in the ass, as he and Grassley lost fair-and-square to a seemingly hapless underdog in a very public and widely-viewed battle. He accepts the results and honors Mine’s stake: he signs a memorandum that forbids him from interfering any further in GUND-ARM.

He even seems to regret having taken the tack he did. In hindsight, he wonders if she would have accepted his hand in marriage if he’d dueled for it back at the start. But for Miorine, it’s too little, too late. She’s fine staying in control of the company she built, and fine with her kind, sweet, and lionhearted groom.

That seems to be the end of Shaddiq as a threat for now, but Elan’s scheming and Mika’s apparent betrayal still looms, as does whatever new path Guel’s dad has in store for him. Will the next time he and Suletta meet be on the battlefield? Will there ever be a time when everyone just leaves GUND-ARM the ef alone and let them get to work? I hope so…

Call of the Night – 07 – What’s the Hot Vamp Goss?

While walking along lots of folks earlier in the night, Kou worries someone he knows will see him and wonder what he’s up to. Well, someone does, but it’s Kiyosumi, who fully understands what Kou’s up to and is grateful for his offer to turn her into a vampire. Even she’s surprised how much of a weight that lifted off her shoulders.

She gives him a Coke and the two part ways, and when it starts to pour, he finds shelter under an overhang and witnesses a high school girl getting hit on. She waves to him, and a moment later she’s right there in front of him. She tells him she’s there to get hit on, but it has to be the right person.

I was wondering when one or more of the bevy of unseen characters in the OP were going to show up in the cozy little world that so far has been just Kou, Nazuna, Akira and Kiyosumi, and this blondie is the first of them. The speed with which she sidled up to Kou also had me strongly suspecting her of being another vampire.

It doesn’t take long for that suspicion to be validated, as she lures him to a disserted underpass and starts talking about how things just aren’t exciting and haven’t worked out like she’d liked, and she has no one to talk to about it. Kou, ever the empath, tells him they’re the same.

The moment he says those words, a drop of water falls into a puddle, and the girl is embracing him. Then she says his name and bares her fangs…and gets her arm chopped off by a just-in-time Nazuna.

The light just started to glow purplish pink when the blonde (her name is Kikyou Seri, and she’s voiced by Tomatsu Haruka), and that color remains as Seri pops her arm right back on like it’s nothing and fights Nazuna. Despite her slight frame, Nazuna apparently has a reputation for brute strength.

That’s why Seri didn’t come alone to snatch away the new kid Nazuna’s been hanging around with. Another vampire appears behind Kou, and before he knows it he’s being shot up into the sky, bound who knows where, while Seri keeps Nazuna busy.

The where turns out to be an upscale but otherwise pretty sedate rooftop deck, where not one or two but three other vampires greet the fourth who brought Kou there (Honda Kabura, voiced by Itou Shizuka). They are redhead Hirata Niko (Kitamura Eri),the cutesy Kohakobe Midori (Oozora Naomi), and the neutral Suzushiro Hatsuka (Waki Azumi).

Kou is told the situation: now that he’s aware of the existence of vampires, he has two choices: become one himself tonight, or be killed. He also has the choice of which one of the four of them will turn him, and each one tries their own signature style of seduction while the other three do inner commentary and engage in girl talk.

Kou surprises them not just by not seeming scared in the least about his situation, but in his insistence that Nazuna, the weird, unpopular, unprolific, lilac-haired letdown of the bunch. The conversation is lively, and Kou mostly keeps up; I particularly liked him protesting everyone assuming he was a virgin, only to confirm that yes, of course he is a virgin.

The other vamps main problem with Nazuna is just that she sucks at making offspring, which brings down the whole clan and even threatens their survival. All of them have committed to whatever agreed-upon quota for making more vampires, while she’s kinda just messed around and rejected that whole system. She’s their prodigal daughter.

She hates how they always chat and gossip like a bunch of schoolgirls, while they’re miffed by how easily she blushes and how she hasn’t managed to create a single offspring. But while Kou tells them he’s not sure what liking someone means, he’s quick to dispell their presumption that he isn’t interested in becoming a vampire.

He very much is, and he doesn’t blush even a little when he declares firmly to all of them that his goal is to fall in love with Nazuna so she can make him one. Of course, Nazuna arrives that very moment and overhears, so even though she does an awesome superhero landing that shatters the deck, she can’t keep her face from turning into a tomato, so she just freezes.

It’s all well and good for Kou to want to fall for Nazuna, but the others want to know what she’s going to do to make that happen? She, who goes completely fluorescent at the mere mention of romance. This is where Kou steps up and articulates the mutually beneficial agreement they came to: she gets to drink his tasty-ass blood, and he gets to fall for her and become a vampire.

But Niko and the others still don’t trust Nazuna, given her aromantic history. They want to hear it from her. When she can’t say the words, Kou again says them for her, saying she said if he wanted to fall for her, then whatever; it’s fine.

The vamps agree to let him go, but when Kou says he’ll become a vampire no matter “how many years it takes” that their confusion returns. Something tells me they had a faster timeline in mind. And hey, the sooner the better, seeing as how Kou already has his first offspring lined up on Kiyosumi!

While it largely lacked the nice, laid back, expansive vibes of the earlier, less-populated episodes, this Call of the Night had its own merits, like the wealth of great voice acting and character design, the lived-in chemistry of the vampires, and beautifully composed combat. I also love how their ultra-speed is portrayed with quick cuts and slow-mo.

Last night Kou was in a tight little group of moody broody pals, but tonight he finds himself in a bigger, potentially more threatening, but also enticing world. I’m sure he’ll sleep well!

Call of the Night – 06 – A Private Place

Kou insists he’s not giving Shirakawa Kiyosumi a massage so Nazuna will give her a kiss; no, he’s all about the Murasakis, baby. Last time Kiyosumi came to Nazuna’s she got the best massage of her life. Kou’s is…less so, to the point she’s wearing a distinct “Is that it?” kind of face throughout the course. It leads Kiyosumi to ask how old he is, and when he says fourteen she’s amazed he’s working at such a young age, but sure he must have his reasons.

When she asks, Kou tells her how school was boring and he got tired of it, and how much more fun and exciting the streets are at night. Hearing how he wants to “enjoy the night” reminds her of the first time she went out late on her own, and felt like she was in a special place just for her. From there, the two start to have a lively conversation about their shared love of the night.

When that talk turns bitter when Kiyosumi brings up work and how all the things she has to endure, she starts to tear up, and then her boss calls her, even though it’s the middle of the night she’s expected to answer and go back into the office. But Kou blocks the door, tells her she isn’t going anywhere, and summons Nazuna, who comes through the wall. The massage course isn’t over.

When Kou tells Nazuna to make sure Kiyosumi doesn’t go to work, she tosses her out the window. Kiyosumi has the similar feeling of confusion about what the hell just happened, followed immediately by the terror of falling and the strange feeling of whether this is it.

Kou dives out the window after her and catches her, and the two of them are suspended in the air by Nazuna. As it was with him, it feels like a rite of passage: thinking you’re going to die, and then being plucked from that certain death by a vampire saying “nah, you’re actually not.”

When they land, Kiyosumi asks why Kou did this; he says anything that makes you cry isn’t something you should have to do. This is where their age gap rears its head again, as she tells him he’s still just a kid and doesn’t understand. Adults have to keep enduring, even if something makes them cry.

Then he tells her his dream to become a vampire so he can keep enjoying the night, and it’s so earnest and serious she can’t help but burst into laughter. He Kou walks out into the middle of the road—something you can do at night since it’s not busy—and Kiyosumi joins him, once again feeling that old feeling of doing something wrong but feeling so right.

Kiyosumi tells Kou she hopes he achieves his goal of becoming a vampire, and in turn Kou tells her that when he becomes one, he promises to make her into one too. Nazuna seems taken aback by this, and later reminds Kou that to change Kiyosumi he’d have to make her fall for him, but he’s not worried; “girls tend to like him.”

That lovely character portrait of the overworked businesswoman and her night of enjoyment is followed up by Nazuna greeting Kou in her entryway and telling him to come up with different stuff for them to do. This leads to them going to a nighttime pool, which Kou remarks is “nothing like the pool in P.E.”

For one thing, it’s extremely gaudily and even raunchily lit; for another, the swimsuits are a lot more revealing, though ironically he finds Nazuna’s choice to wear more fabric than she usually does more erotic than her standard swimsuit-like garb.

It’s also here where Kou feels every bit like the fourteen-year-old he is, including rushing to jealousy and possessiveness. When Nazuna decides to tease him by letting two other dudes hit on her, He grabs her and pitches a hissyfit, even though the two guys are totally fine with him.

Nazuna apologizes for teasing by taking Kou on another aerial trip, then dumping the two of them into his school’s pool, which is nice and deserted at this time of night. As we’ve seen from his interactions with Akira and now Kiyosumi, Kou isn’t socially awkward or anything.  But his intense dislike of the other night pool came down to it being crowded and with people too casually trying to make friends with Nazuna.

Nazuna, who after all hasn’t been drinking anyone else’s blood since she and Kou started hanging out, understands his desire for quiet and solitude, where the only two eyes on her are his. Considering how tasty his blood is and how fun he is to spend her nights with, Nazuna seems fine with that. But there’s still something to be said for exploring parts of the night out of one’s comfort zone.

Summertime Render – 11 – Prelude to Feeding

Shinpei, Sou, and Ushio with her nifty Shadow powers are looking like a great team against their Shadow adversaries…at first. As they go deeper into Shadow territory they find themselves increasingly outnumbered and outmatched.

Two other groups head into the sewers: the well-armed and prepared Minakata and Nezu, and Mio and Tetsu, the latter just hoping for some tough guy cred, while Mio wants to follow someone who is clearly Shadow Shiori, who isn’t lying when she says Shin is “down there”.

After another wave of Shadow Babies is defeated in a cave full of undersea life (shades of Nausicaa), Ushio collapses, and finally comes clean to Shin and Sou about her arm. Since Shiori damaged her main body, she needs data from the original Ushio’s body to repair it…but Ushio was cremated, so she can either endure the pain and bleeding or delete the arm, limiting her abilities.

While Tetsu and Mio continue to tread far too close to their demises (and Tetsu gets himself copied; as we know Mio is immune), suddenly Tokiko turns up to confront Team Ushio, with a pair of Shadow Baby heavies. Shinpei waits for her to get close enough, then shoots her shadow full of nails and…nothing happens. Tokiko isn’t a Shadow…she’s just Tokiko.

If there’s one complaint I have with this tripartite excursion to the Hiruko Caves, it’s that it’s hard to gauge where each group is in relation to one another. You’d think Shinpei, Sou and Ushio, not to mention Tetsu and Mio, would hear Minakata’s shotgun blasts in a cave. And yet, the three groups never meet or even realize they’re all in generally the same place.

Undefined spatial relationships aside, one lesson that applies to all three groups is Never wander into the caves. Minakata and Nezu end up facing off with Shiori (who only pretended to be killed earlier) and her much bigger and tougher multi-limbed pal, who copies a shotgun, shoots Nezu in the chest, and Minakata in her liver as she’s fleeing.

This just shows that there are dark and deadly things down here that either no human has ever seen and lived to talk about, or in the apparent case of the Hishigatas (sans Sou), they’ve known about all too long. It’s a family secret, but back at their dad’s lab, it seems clear that he’s taken an active role in the cultivation of Hiruko and/or Haine.

Knowing they’re out of their element, Shinpei surrenders to Tokiko, who agrees to show them everything and come clean to her brother—as long as they don’t tell Mio, one thing Toki-chan apparently couldn’t bear. They arrive in the core of the cave where both Hiruko and Haine dwell, and their stomachs are growling. Usually a joke in anime, here it makes the skin crawl.

It’s now 9:00 PM, and “time to feed.” With the next episode ominously titled “Deadly Night”, I’m with Ushio in thinking Shinpei has probably abandoned this loop as a viable chance to fix everything. Progress has definitely been made, but much has gone wrong.

At this point, all Shin can hope is that he gathers enough info for to make the next loop more of a success before dying and returning. That probably means heading to the caves much earlier next time, and preventing Ushio from getting wounded.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 10 – A Leaf in the Forest

This week is a no-holds-barred Scooby-Doo adventure almost from start to finish. After watching what Ushio went through to warn Shinpei, there’s no way Sou isn’t going to tag along as they head to his family’s old abandoned clinic up in the mountains. Ushio also struts her Shadow Power stuff, able to transform into a shell necklace Shinpei wears, and explaining how her swimsuit is her armor.

Her abilities combined with Shinpei’s courage and Sou’s loyalty make them the perfect team to investigate a creepy haunted hospital. One great detail is a rare statue of the ancient Japanese deity Hiruko-sama, in the form of a limbless leach-like fertility idol. The fact that legend suggests it was heteromorphic creates an enticing connection to the clearly equally-ancient Shadows. Shinpei, Ushio and Sou end up in what seems to be a Shadow nursery.

Turns out there’s something even more terrifying than a Shadow … a baby Shadow, one that seems docile and harmless enough right up until Shinpei tries to shoot it with a nailgun. It dodges and rolls and bounds all over the place until Sou hits it with his baseball bat.

But then it wraps around the bat (again, Shadow) and very nearly kills him, only Shinpei has been practicing his nailgunning and gets three shots into the Shadow. Ushio finishes it off with her Shadow hair, and cue Victory Fanfare for the Scooby Gang. As much as I fear for their safety, it’s a hell of a lot of fun watching these three old friends get shit done.

At the end of the battle, Ushio gives Sou a playful shove forward as the three continue their investigation, but her arm starts bleeding, like the injury that occurred to a previous copy of the arm has returned. After her powers are essentially a cheat code for most of the episode, it’s good for the episode to self-level and demonstrate she’s far from all-powerful.

Shinpei knows this, and he also stands by his promise to always protect her (which made her blush earlier), and his foreknowledge of the nightmares to come even make a dark cave full of Shadow babies seem…not that bad? He knows firsthand it can always be worse! That said, considering how much effort it took to defeat one baby, the trio have their work cut out for them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 09 – A Tale of Two Ushios

The video on Ushio’s unlocked phone shows both the original Ushio and her Shadow delivering a joint message to Shinpei. The original assures him her Shadow isn’t evil like the others, but an ally, then proceeds to tell the story of how she ended up dying, and why that’s not the end of her story, because ultimately she is her Shadow and her Shadow is her.

It started with Shiori telling Ushio about seeing her own Shadow and asking her for help, since no one else will listen to her. Then, while Ushio and Mio were cleaning up the beach, there was a flash from above and just like that there was a second Ushio, who runs away before she can learn anything more.

Ushio comes home for a bath to find the other Ushio is already in the tub; she went home because it’s her home, same as Ushio’s. Once she determines that this other Ushio isn’t a threat, the two join forces to seek out Shiori’s Shadow on Mt. Takanosu, the locaiton of Sou’s family’s old clinic, believed by most of the island to now be haunted. It is haunted, but not by ghosts…by a monster.

A Shadow in its black goo form copies Ushio’s copy and tries to kill her, but Shadow Ushio figures out on accident that the copy’s weakness is not its body, but its shadow, and that she can use her own body—like her hair—as a weapon to slice through that Shadow. She can also repair her physical body, and tells Ushio that the instinct to kill her original “fills her brain”, even though she has no intention of doing so.

The two Ushios return to the beach to record a message for Shinpei, and after the present-day Shadow Ushio watches it with Shinpei and Sou, she suddenly regains her memories and knowledge of her power. She uses that power and her phone to “transport” the three of them into a recording of the tragic events of July 21st on the private beach where original Ushio breathed her last.

Original Ushio had Shadow Ushio turn into a seashell necklace and wore her, so that when Shiori was washed out to sea, not one but two Ushios were there to rescue her. However, under those waves Shadow Shiori kills her original and drowns the original Ushio—the one Sou was unable to revive and ended up being cremated.

Struck by her original’s sacrifice for both Shiori’s sake and her own, Shadow Ushio vowed to help Shinpei wipe out the Shadows when he returned to the island. As Sou and Shinpei weep over what they witnessed, Shadow Shiori suddenly grabs Shin’s arm and transforms into Haine, who promises he won’t escape her next time.

Shadow Ushio switches of the recording so she, Shin and Sou are back in the present, but Shin now has a sinister black mark on his arm where Haine touched him, proving that it wasn’t just part of the recording, and that Haine is apparently capable of transcending time and space like he can.

That adds an extra layer of difficulty and dread to Shinpei’s task, but the recordings he and Sou watched proved one thing: Shadow Ushio is indeed their ally, and they need all the allies they can get against an increasingly menacing enemy.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 09 – Foregone Conclusion

We’ve now arrived back at that scene on the boat where Siesta, Kimihiko, and Char—who is still not really a character—are headed to Secret Evil SPES Island. It’s as clear as it is by the name of the anime that this will be Siesta’s last mission, especially since Char keeps telling Kimi he’s going to regret not hugging Siesta or having her pat his head.

Kimi and Char go off on their own armed only with guns against an enemy they know to be superpowered. Seems kinda dumb! But then the entire excursion into the deeply unimpressive SPES HQ is a bit of a waste of time, unless you got anything at all out of the deadpan monologue of SPES’ space plant uber-boss. I was just waiting for Kimi to go back to Siesta. When he does, she’s only playing dead…at least at this point.

It’s a trick as cheap as much of the animation, framing, and general direction of the final showdown between Hel and Siesta/Kimi. Giant vines pop out of the ground, but they’re mostly a series of still shots. Our heroes move awkwardly and stiffly across the barren, boring battlefield. Hel reveals that she’s a personality created by Alicia to deal with all the torture, or something.

Then the giant stupid monster comes out of nowhere and tries to eat Kimi, only for Siesta to dive into harm’s way, push Kimi aside, and get killed. Yet even this is so oddly and sloppily presented that finally witnessing how the Detective who was Already Dead dies elicited no more than a shrug, and a bit of a yawn.

As if there weren’t enough clichés in this episode, it ends with Kimi waking up in his bed, presumably in the present when he’s rolling with Nagisa…but who knows? It’s a bit frustrating to think that all these episodes that took place with Siesta, and indeed made up the bulk of this cour, were just one long flashback that undermined the show’s premise. Sure, the Detective is Already Dead…but we’re spending most of the time with her still alive. Now that she’s gone, I’m not sure I care where this show goes next…

The Detective Is Already Dead – 08 – She’ll Steal Your Heart

This episode starts off with a gag—that the carrots in the curry Kimi made are too hard. They’re hard because he couldn’t find the kitchen knife, which Siesta confirms is still missing. Siesta is rather harsh and perhaps even a little possessive of her Sidekick when she informs Alicia that her services as substitute detective are no longer required. Kimi disagrees, and allows Alicia to continue investigating beside him.

Then sirens blare, and the next victim of the heart-stealer is revealed. Siesta, Kimi, and Alicia visit the grief-stricken mother of the woman, and regrets only taking and never giving to her daughter. Siesta is again harsh and clinical in questioning the grieving mother, causing Kimi to interrupt, while Alicia comforts the mother by assuring her that it wasn’t a one-sided relationship.

Siesta and Kimi have a tiff and go their separate ways for the day, but Alicia isn’t far behind, and Kimi presents her with a gift—the ring she liked at the curbside jeweler—and she asks him to slip it on her finger as a groom would. Siesta returns to apologize, only to see the two together, wish them every happiness, and storms off in a fresh barely-concealed huff.

Needless to say, Kimi has become quite fond and trusting of Alicia, in spite of the fact so much of her is still shrouded in mystery. In place of all the things he doesn’t know, he fills his heart with all the things he does, including that she’s a good person, and completely misses how she suspects she used to be a bad one. Turns out the ring was a tracking device, and Kimi soon finds a stabbed but not killed police officer…and Alicia on the ground with a gunshot wound.

It was when Alicia first said she was once bad that it first popped into my head she was Hel in a different form. That’s because everything I’d seen so far pointed to that. So I fully expected the episode to zag instead of zig, and pull something completely different out of nowhere; once again to prove it doesn’t really care about process or clues so much as the final twist.

Instead, it just zigged—Alicia is Hel, or at least the innocent, kind surface side of Hel. She’s been unknowingly switching into Hel Mode and stealing the hearts of the victims. Once she put the pieces together for herself, Alicia was left with nothing but the inevitability that her fun with Kimi had to come to an abrupt end.

Just as her reveal as Hell was earned, so is Alicia’s tearful goodbye to Kimi before turning into a knife-brandishing Hel. It was truly heartbreaking after all the moments—both tender and fraught—they’d shared, and become a kind of big-brother/little sister detective duo.

Again, Siesta comes in to do what is necessary, tackling Hel!Alicia before she can kill Kimi, then preparing to shoot her in the head before Kimi pulls his gun on Siesta. His heart may still be beating in his chest, but there’s no denying that Alicia stole it anyway. How else could he point a gun at Siesta?

Kimi was emotionally compromised. He’s a human being; it happens. Siesta doesn’t hold it against him, nor does she impose some kind of punishment for him losing objectivity. On the contrary, Siesta admits that Alicia was so trustworthy to her that she didn’t start suspecting her until the most recent victims, meaning she didn’t have the knowledge to act before anyone was killed. Call me crazy, but I like the fact that while Siesta is legendary, she’s not perfect.

But as both Kimi and Siesta were trying to do the right thing and were momentarily at odd with one another like never before in their three-plus years together, they’re soon reunited when Chameleon abducts Hel!Alicia and dares them to follow him to his not-so-secret private island base (which…what a stock villain move). They have a comrade to save, and they’ll do it the best way they know how: together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TenSura – 39 – The Slime’s Gambit

Amen, Gobta. Gobta is me right now, after enduring another interminable episode packed with people standing or sitting around talking about everything they’re going to do instead of actually doing anything. A full quarter of Slime’s second season’s second cour has been nothing but exposition. When I think of how much To Your Eternity gets done every three episodes, it really puts TenSura’s leisurely start into relief.

I like to see Gobta dozing through the endless talking as a sign even the producers know this is a bit much…but that didn’t stop them from making these episodes! When I go through all of the information I received, I can’t help but think it could have been presented a different way. A cutaway or two to illustrate the scenarios brought up, perhaps? This ain’t rocket science, it’s anime production!

The best part of this episode is when it ended. Yes, it was nice to see Ramiris again, but despite the episode being called “Ramiris’s Warning” Rimuru doesn’t take her warning seriously, and she spends the remaining 90% of the episode lying unconscious on Veldora’s leg.

It’s also downright odd to hear Rimuru cheerfully planning on intentionally causing a civil war in Falmuth that will probably claim the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. That’s some villainous shit, discussed with upbeat music in an idyllic English-style garden. But I won’t mind Rimuru committing any number of further atrocities…if he and his pals would just leave that frikkin’ gazebo and do something!

Great Pretender – 09 – Shock & Awe

In Singapore Sky we’ve had two storylines running in parallel: the Thierry gang’s efforts to bilk the Ibrahims out of their fortune through air racing, and the slow reveal of Abby’s Dark Past and her apparent ongoing death wish. While the two plotlines bear little in common, this week it’s starting to become clearer why they occupy the same arc.

The biggest issue for Laurent and Cynthia is whether Abby can stay alive long enough for their scam to pay off. Makoto proves he’s a born con man by effortlessly luring Sam and his millions into the phony underground casino, but Abby’s continued deteroiration concerns him, and not in terms of whether she’ll cost him money. He wants to learn more about Abby’s story, and help if he can.

It’s what sets Makoto apart from his more emotionally detached partners, but they haven’t gotten as far as they have with their conning if it weren’t for that commitment to detachment, or at least compartmentalization. Laruent and Cynthia may well care a great deal about Abby, but they have a job to do, and trying to break down Abby’s walls could threaten that job and Abby herself.

Meeting Luis Muller was a catalyst for Abby’s continued descent into her traumatic memories. While she had loving parents and early success in ballet, the 2003 bombing of Baghdad claimed those parents’ lives, and Abby channeled her physical talents into what from her perspective was freedom fighting. Unfortunately, this ended in abject defeat, and while her comrades died all around her she was cursed with the good luck to survive.

Back in the present, Makoto has Sam eating out of his hand, getting him to bet 2.5 million on a race he then loses because, deliciously ironically, Cynthia is able to successfully seduce the baby-faced young pilot he bets on, which lets Abby slip a compound into the engine that causes his plane to stall out.

Since this was the first time Sam trusted Makoto to wager his cash (having been banned from the casino by Laurent after “discovering” his secret identity) you’d understand Sam suspecting Makoto of being In On It. But when he points his gun at Makoto’s head, it’s not because he suspects Makoto at all—he’s just pissed off in general.

The gang may have made millions off him already, but Makoto didn’t lose his trust, so they can still milk him for more, knowing his frustration and insatiable greed for winning and money will continue to drive his actions.

Abby, meanwhile, quietly does her job when she needs to, and one night she goes out for a walk with Luis Muller so she can confirm what she suspects: he was one of if not the fighter pilot who dropped the bombs on her hometown, killed her parents, and ruined her life. Her knife is literally out when she broaches the topic, which means whether Luis denies it or not, she’s ready to exact revenge.

Extremely strict Singaporean laws notwithstanding, murdering Luis is most definitely not on the list of things Laurent and Cynthia want to happen just as they’re ready to finish cleaning the Ibrahims out. And while we saw what she did to a dummy with her knife, I believe we’ve yet to witness Abby definitively kill anyone, even in the past where the fog of war throws all in doubt.

That would make Luis her first, and who knows how that will affect her in or out of a cockpit. As Cynthia tells Makoto, knowing someone’s story is different from understanding how they feel. Well, it looks like we’re poised to find out just how Abby feels about a great many things, and what if anything Makoto can do.

Great Pretender – 08 – Tinker, Gambler, Soldier, Fly

The plan is to get Sam to join an underground casino the gang controls and squeeze him for all he’s worth. When Cynthia’s honeypot angle fails (Sam likes ’em young), and Abby refuses to be her replacement, Laurent is ready with a backup: Makoto. Specifically, his skills as a mechanic. In order to sell him, he brings in Luis Muller (Clark’s rival in the air who was nearly killed in an accident) and his attractive, patient wife Isabelle.

Thing is, Luis is only interested in one thing: revenge. He wants Sam and Clark dead and their entire race burned to the ground, but isn’t willing to stoop to a con to accomplish that. He’s also a bit…unbalanced since the accident. Fortunately Isabelle is steady as a rock and comports herself well in selling Makoto as a desirable mechanic, even though it’s her very first time participating in a con.

Clark is eventually sold by Makoto’s mechanical know-how, but Sam is on the fence. Clark thinks he’s a cheeky but otherwise “nice guy” but Sam, being a self-professed “bad guy” can sense that Makoto is more like him than he lets on. That belief is confirmed thanks to Laurent’s use of Mrs. Kim and some goons to pose as Muller’s “patroness” who are looking to hang Makoto out to dry for double-crossing her pilot.

Sam eats right into their hands, claiming Makoto as his “property” and “buying” him off of Mrs. Kim. The kicker is when he hears about the underground casino to which Makoto has connections. Sam may not fall for pretty faces like Abby’s or Cynthia’s, but he certainly falls for the prospect of betting on pilots and making more money on the side, especially as it caters to his bad-guy image.

One thing I like about Sam (who is otherwise a scumbag) is that you’re never 100% sure whether he’s buying what the con artists are selling, or simply going along for the ride to see where it goes. As for Abby, she’s interested in learning whether Luis was really a soldier, and when and where he operated, as he may have played a role in her own dark, traumatic militant past. That said, you can only have so many shots of Abby staring stoically out of windows!

Tower of God – 03 – Any Door Will Do

As his party waits for the latest test, Aguero (who I’ll call Khun going forward since that’s what Bam calls him) recalls some sore memories about his sister Maria, who was basically his version of Bam’s Rachel. Maria betrayed Khun once she became a Princess of Jahad, and he was exiled. Rachel’s sudden abandonment of Bam could also be called a betrayal, but for the fact Bam doesn’t consider it that.

Instead, he saw it as the ultimate motivator: If you want to follow me, there’s some shit you gotta do without me. As for Khun, his mind sometimes fills with the murmurs of those who mock his failure and foolishness, and a “Plastic Bag person” is able to provoke him with that same kind of talk. However, the Bag person isn’t trying to start a fight, but deliver a hint for the next test.

That test involves ten doors, one of which must be opened within ten minutes to avoid elimination. The Bag guy tells them that no one who has opened the door within five minutes has lost. Once the clock has started, the lack of further hints by the administrator Hansung Yu serves as a hint in and of itself.

Sure enough, as Khun’s head fills with doubt and more mocking murmurs, it’s Rak who takes decisive action, opening a door just before the five-minute mark. The test isn’t a matter of choosing the right door—any door will do—but trusting in one’s instincts enough to open any door fast enough. If Khun can’t be certain about his actions, it’s good that he has Rak on his team.

This otherwise clever, elegant test is somewhat undermined by the sheer amount of explanation that takes place before, during, and after the test—a full ten minutes of this episode. I realize there’s a lot of source material to work with but this test still felt padded.

The next yest is described as a voluntary “bonus” test, but the team who wins it won’t have to take any more tests and be granted permission to climb the Tower. It’s a five-round “crown game” in which one member of a team must wear a crown and sit in a throne while the other two fight off challengers.

Again, there’s a lot of explanation of this test, which is necessary to know what’s going on, but that means there’s only time for the first round of that test, which is undertaken by Anaak, Hatz and Shibisu (who earlier befriends Bam). The ridiculously competent Anaak absolutely ruins the first team of competitors and claims the crown herself, promising her teammates she won’t let anyone have it.

Had the relatively simple door test been pared down to a more economic length, we could have gotten more of this more complicated test. While I enjoyed some of the moments of Bam’s team just chillaxing between tests, during which it’s revealed the sky above them is fake and the real one might not exist, the pacing of the episode as a whole still felt sub-optimal.

And is that a cloaked Rachel, descended from the top of the Tower to check on Bam’s progress? Will he be able to flag down and talk to his idol, or will she vanish in the shadows? We’ll have to find out next week.

AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?

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