Steins;Gate 0 – 14 – The Voice of God Can Be a Real Pain in the Ass Sometimes

Steins;Gate 0 comes out of its one-week break between Spring and Summer with authority, delivering a tantalizing blend of drama, tension, and purpose. Roughly half a year has passed since a brainwashed Kagari was taken by forces unknown, which means we’re already at a point where the likes of Rintarou and Mayuri have reached the “acceptance” phase of loss. There was a time when he’d search endlessly and fruitlessly, but absent clues or recourse…life goes on.

In Rintarou’s case, “life going on” means continuing not to pursue any kind of objectives relating to time travel, which means Suzuha and Daru are on their own. While Daru has made some progress, he’s still far from restoring the Phone Microwave, which prompts Suzu to reach out to Maho (back in America) for her assistance and scientific know-how.

The only problem is, a sleep-deprived Maho continues to suffer from her Salieri complex: even if she has the ability to repeat what “Mozart” accomplished in another world line, she lacks the confidence to implement it. She doesn’t agree to assist Suzu because she’s afraid she’ll fail; she’ll let everyone down where Kurisu wouldn’t.

Word comes that Fubuki is in the hospital again; Suzu makes her dad Daru use it as another opportunity to interact with her mother (worried she may never be born in the future). Thankfully, it’s a false alarm; the doctors simply wanted to run more tests on Fubuki…though I wonder whether this is some kind of foreshadowing for further ill effects of time travel.

While at the hospital, Rintarou meets Dr. Leskinen, who doesn’t hesitate to take several pictures of their encounter for the benefit of Maho. Daru learns for the first time that Rintarou may be bound for America to study and eventually join Leskinen’s research group, but Leskinen made sure not to set a concrete date for Rintarou to do so.

Suzuha finds Kagari’s metal opa in the hallway outside the lab, which is strange, because there’s no way she nor anyone else wouldn’t have noticed it for half a year; it must have been left there on purpose. Sure enough, Suzu pretends to be in the shower when an uninvited guest helps herself inside the lab.

Suzu, unquestionably the most militarily capable of Rintarou’s circle of friends (not counting Tennouji) gets the jump on the helmeted intruder in black, and when she forces her to take off her helmet, it’s revealed to be Kagari, or rather a fully-brainwashed Kagari in “Bureau Mode.” She’s come for her Opa, and when Suzu doesn’t produce it, Kagari goes mad and attacks.

Kagari isn’t too much of a challenge to Suzu, until Daru shows up and Kagari slashes Suzu across the abdomen. Kagari snatches up the Opa and flees, and Suzu isn’t able to catch up to her. But as she fled, Daru noticed Kagari was crying. Their Kagari is still in there, somewhere, and she needs their help. But if what Suzu suspects is true, they can’t help her without a time machine.

Suzu also notes that Kagari mentioned she “heard the voice of God” both in the present and twelve years ago when she held her up with a gun. She goes on to believe Kagari, like so many of her “Valkyrie comrades”, is the victim of the “Bureau’s Professor,” who thankfully doesn’t look much like Leskinen (from what little we see of him).

Suzu and Daru beseech Maho via “Skipe” one more time to assist them in building a time leap machine; Maho can tell they’re more desperate than before, yet still doubts herself. But after looking at Amakurisu, something clicks in her head, and she starts packing for Japan.

Rather than searching Kurisu’s work for all the answers, Maho intends to go down the same path and reach the answers herself. After all, no one acknowledged and valued Mozart’s talent more than Salieri. If anyone can do what Kurisu did when it comes to time travel technology, it’s Maho. I’m glad she finally realizes that.

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Steins;Gate 0 – 13 – Dark is Dangerous

The near-miss with the car brought back Kagari’s memories, but only some of them. She’s still missing a 12-year gap between 10 and 22. As a result, Kagari acts a lot more like a child than she used to, and treats a somewhat bemused Mayuri (who is mostly going with the flow) like her beloved “mommy.”

Watching a 22-year-old woman act so spoiled around her parents irks Suzuha, to the point they have a yelling match in the TV repair shop. Both sides regret the fight and plan to apologize, but Suzu learns something crucial from it: her and Kagari’s memories of how they became separated are very different.

After conferring with Tennouji, Rintarou begins to suspect Kagari’s strange memory gap is the result of foul play: brainwashing and mind control, just as Kiryuu discovers…something less than 5km from where Kagari collapsed. It’s a clue, but it requires they take a long drive.

Mayuri decides to celebrate the restoration of at least some of Kagari’s memories by throwing one of her patented parties, which she tries to make a surprise, but with her early memories restored Kagari knows when her Mommy is trying to keep a surprise party secret.

All the while, this ominous van drives around Akiba playing seemingly innocuous Mozart, and it’s clear the van is Bad News, whether it’s a van for kidnapping or simply for triggering Shiina Kagari. That perilous van hangs there, like Damocles’ Sword, over the remainder of the episode, as Mayuri & Co. prepare the party.

If the argument got the ball rolling on a theory about mind control, Kagari’s desire to properly apologize to Suzuha is the unfortunate side-effect. Kagari’s trip to the sweet shop isolates her from everyone else, who in hindsight are wayyy to loosy-goosy with her security at this point.

Indeed, in his desire for more clear answers about what’s going on, Rintarou is far, far away; in no position to keep her safe.

She hears the Mozart from the van (which is either planted there by “Them” to play specifically for her, or sheer coincidence) and more memories flow into her head: memories of being left with “doctors” by Mayuri, ostensibly to cure her PTSD, but the visits really comprise a kind of human experiment called the “Amadeus System”, of which Kagari is Sample #K6205.

The shock of this influx of memory sends Kagari into a trancelike state, and she drops the cake for Suzuha and her cell phone and wanders off who-knows-where, believing she’s hearing “the voice of God.” More likely, it’s the voice of those who did this to her to begin with.

Combined with Rintarou and Kiryuu discovering the facility, where Kagari was held in a cell for who knows how long, scrawling “Mommy” on the walls, Kagari’s vanishing from everyone’s sight (again) forms one hell of a thrilling cliffhanger for the second half of Steins;Gate 0.

While we may now know mostly what’s been done to Kagari, it remains to be seen who did it, why, and most important, how Kagari is linked to Maho and Leskinen’s Amadeus System. Was Kagari even a war orphan from the future? Will there really be enough cups and plates? We shall see…

Steins;Gate 0 – 12 – Paradox Song

There’s this song. It’s a song Mayuri sang to a young Kagari in the future, just when she finally became her legal mother. When the Kagari of the present hears the Mayuri of the present singing it, she loses consciousness. It’s not that Mayuri’s singing is just that bad—it’s quite lovely—but rather that Kagari’s brain is suddenly getting hit by some pretty profound aural stimuli.

But when Kagari makes the connection between the song and her fainting spell, the question becomes where did Mayuri learn the song? That takes us on a rather wild ride: She heard it from Suzuha, who heard it from Yuki, who heard it from a woman in her baking class who turns out to be…Rintarou’s mother. Yet Rintarou himself, apparently the source, can’t remember singing it. To quote Alice, “curiouser and curiouser.”

Rintarou’s mom said he used to sing it to Mayuri to cheer her up when she was in her “reaching up at the sky at a cemetery” part of her life. They visit Mayuri’s grandma’s grave to try to spark Rintarou’s memory, but get caught in the rain.

While seeking shelter by a shop window, Kagari hears “The Magic Flute” (K620) playing on the radio and goes into a kind of trance, remembering when she once walked along that same street in her bare feet and pajamas. She’s almost hit by a truck (of course), but Rintarou makes a diving save.

While she’s out this time, something happens. Kagari runs to her mother’s arms; a blurry figure that she discovers is Shiina Mayuri. Waking up in a hospital room, she sees Mayuri by her bedside and immediately recognizes her as her one and only mommy.

Mayuri protests that she’s not a mommy, but, well, she just is. Or rather, she will be…just as Suzu is Daru’s daughter. Rintarou nods assent, and Mayuri goes with it, providing Kagari with the affection she needs. The plain credits roll as a very lovely rendition of the song is sung, at it seems things will end on a pleasant note.

Of course, this is the twist-loving White Fox we’re talking about, so after the credits we find ourselves on a train platform where that same barefoot pajama’d Kagari is singing the song, and a teenaged boy overhears it—a teenaged boy with the same color hair and eyes as Rintarou.

I’ll admit, I was a little confused by this scene, but maybe that was the point. Here is Kagari, who will presumably be adopted by Mayuri in the future, in Rintarou’s past, singing the song he’ll sing to Mayuri to cheer her up. Seems an awful lot like a causal loop to me.

That would be fine, except there’s a creepy white van parked near the platform, confirming that “Runaway K-6205” has been found. Are we watching past events here, or is Kagari in danger no matter where or when she is? Will the next episode continue in this world line, with “Macho Psychologist” Rintarou helping Kagari out? I honestly have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Darling in the FranXX – 21 – Fight to Live

Things are looking pretty grim with the VIRM’s purple nerve networks overwhelming the blue of the Klaxo princess as Hiro continues to suffocate. However, just his presence in Strelizia Apath’s cockpit seems to have delayed the VIRM self-destruct booby trap the princess triggered.

But he only delayed it; Hiro’s friends and allies have just 72 minutes to do something before Apath blows and takes Earth with it. Just as that countdown begins, Zero Two arrives at the control room where Franxx and Hachi are observing events…and she promptly passes out.

When she comes to, she learns from Franxx that she is a clone of the princess, the last surviving member of a Klaxo Sapiens species that fought a millions-of-years-long war with the invading VIRM. That war changed the  once-cosmopolitan Klaxos into sterile war machines, just as humans have become something similar.

Franxx created Zero Two from DNA from the princess so that humanity had someone on their side who could operate Star Entity. He created the human Nines so that she had backup. Reuniting her and Hiro was simply a “scientist’s whim.” For her part, Zero Two doesn’t care about clones or fakes or the VIRM; she just wants to fulfill her promise.

To do so, she has to get back to Hiro in Strelizia Apath. Since the path to the Grand Cradle is sealed and can only be accessed by the princess, Franxx comes along. Right on time, Squad 13 arrives to escort them, bringing a much-needed smile to Zero Two’s face. Time is running out, but it looks like they’re going to make it.

Kokoro, Michiru, Miku and Ikuno stay behind to fend off the VIRM that followed them, so that escort shrinks to one: Delphinium. When they arrive at the door, another VIRM attacks and Ichiro and Goro keep it away from Zero Two and Franxx by grabbing it and jumping off a ledge to an uncertain fate.

Franxx reveals Zero One DNA in his left arm, which the tentacles of the door snatch (with little regard to Franxx’s human parts), and a Klaxosaur snake arrives and opens wide for Zero Two to ride to the Cradle, leaving Franxx behind. One by one, people are sacrificing their lives to give Zero Two the smallest of small chances of stopping the end of the world.

Before leaving Franxx, rather than curse him for what he did to her, as he fully expects her to do, she thanks him for creating her and allowing her to meet her Darling. Love, in Zero Two’s case, trumps hate.

When she arrives, things are bad; both the princess and Hiro are unresponsive. But Zero Two won’t accept it. She kisses Hiro in hopes of taking away the burden of the VIRM infection. Zero One watches in spectral form and is moved (as much as an ancient sentient weapon can be “moved”) to lend to Zero Two what remains of her powers.

In mid-kiss, Zero Two and Hiro share a moment in an idyllic setting, in a wintry place that looks similar to the forest to which they escaped years ago. They kiss in this place too, and in the real world Strelizia Apath “hatches” from the shell around the cradle, and launches a massive beam that obliterates the VIRM fleet in space. In the ensuing chaos, Franxx is crushed, but got to see his life’s work realized, and the world saved because of it.

The VIRM snatch Hringhorni from Strelizia and retreat, vowing to return with a full army (it’s somewhat frightening that what we saw was just a “small detachment” and not at all representative of their full force). But for now, at least, the world is safe.

Time for a big party with good food, good friends, and good conversation, right? Except that the fleet-destroying attack seems to have taken everything Zero Two had. She’s slumped in the cockpit, unresponsive, and her red horns have crumbled.

Could this be the end for Zero Two; one last sacrifice to keep the world alive? And is there any kind of world in which Hiro wants to even live that doesn’t have her in it? I’d predicted often that Zero Two would eventually bite the dust early in the show, a la Kamina, but the fact we’ve (presumably) lost her with just three episodes left somehow hurts all the more.

Darling in the FranXX – 20 – I’m Gonna Come Get You

Between the belated Dr. Frank backstory episode and the week off that followed, we’ve had to wait an awfully long time to get back to the central story of Hiro, Zero Two, Ichigo, and the others. Thankfully, it was worth the wait. This week starts in the Birds Nest, Squad 13 still shaken by the forced memory loss of Kokoro and Michiru.

Hiro and Zero have agreed to implant Strelizia into Star Entity, the weapon at the bottom of Gran Crevasse, in order to have a decisive edge against the Klaxosaur scourge. The couple only agrees reluctantly, telling APE that it will be the last time they call them “Papa” and let them steer their destiny.

Meanwhile, Kokoro is also she’s throwing up all the time, which is a pretty good sign that she’s preggers. That child may well prove to be the most important ray of hope for humanity, yet neither parent knows it exists, or remembers conceiving it.

Zero has also become one of the 13th again, defending her comrades against barbs from the Nines and really steaming Alpha’s beans. Once all the FranXX are mobilized the battle against a massive Klaxosaur force commences. In the middle of battle, Michiru calls Kokoro “Kokoro”, and gets a jolt of pain that spreads to her head and immobilizes Genista.

While Hiro and Zero descend to the bottom of Gran Crevasse, they commit themselves to the shared goal of being together forever. When this is all over, Zero hopes to travel the world like the princess in the story; it doesn’t matter where, as long as her Darling is with her. And should they ever be parted by outside forces, they’ll come and get one another, sealing the promise with a kiss.

With Dr. Franxx and Hachi along for the ride, Strelizia reaches the bottom, but when Strel reaches the portal to Star Entity, it won’t open, and the Klaxosaur Princess (whom Franxx calls Zero One) bursts through the walls of the Crevasse, intent on stopping the humans from stealing her “child.” The Princess forces open Strel’s cockpit, yanks Zero Two out, and restrains Hiro.

After giving him a very rough and not very romantic kiss, the Princess takes control of Strelizia, not needing the stamen-pistil interface (I like how she just floats around with arms crossed like a boss). Hiro is helpless to resist, but a wounded and bleeding Zero Two starts a slow and arduous journey back to her darling, to fulfill her promise.

As the princess links up with Star Entity, to form “Strelizia Apath”, Dr. Franxx tells Hachi about how Klaxosaurs split into two distinct forms: the magma energy that courses through the depths of the earth, and a form that consumed that energy and took physical form. He also reveals that Klaxosaurs are biological weapons built and piloted (in male-female pairs) by “klaxo sapiens”, a species of which the princess is the last surviving member.

If that sounds like how FranXX are piloted by parasites, it’s because the FranXX are themselves Klaxosaurs that genetically-modified humans can use. This confirms that most if not all of the Klax Squad 13 has fought and destroyed had pilots just like them.

There’s one more big reveal: APE is led by members of an alien race known as the VIRN, whose objective was to retrieve both Star Entity and Hringhorni (a spear made of Klax cores) for use in space as “soldiers”, i.e. tools. Now that the princess is threatening that, they decide to destroy both assets and the rest of Earth with them.

With that, a massive space fleet appears just past Earth orbit. The Princess activates Apath’s main weapon, obliterating much of the fleet in a dazzling show of lights an kick-ass space battle sound effects. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot to take in all of a sudden, but there was always something alien about APE, so it’s not like all of this is coming out of nowhere.

We even get to see a VIRN’s true form, a four-pointed star-cross with eyes. Maybe not the coolest or scariest design (and more than a little similar to Eva-explosions), but definitely weird and alien.

Turns out they booby-trapped Strelizia Apath, rigging it to explode if the Princess ever piloted it. As she is restrained by glowing VIRN-purple bonds, they start to infect Hiro as well, but he still can’t move, and even if he could…what could he do?

I have no idea how Hiro and Zero Two are getting out of this one, but they’re both alive for now, Zero is still coming for her Darling, and there’s four whole episodes left; plenty of time to craft a satisfying final denouement.

Steins;Gate 0 – 07 – Mr. Braun (and Wikipedia) to the Rescue

The standoff with what is apparently the “Rounders” of SERN mercifully ends without any tragic deaths, thanks to the sudden arrival of Tennouji, who makes quick work of the masked bandits, while Suzu frees their quarry Kagari from their clutches.

Their leader in black has a female figure, but Okabe almost immediately doubts it was Kiryuu Moeka again because the Akiba boss from the other world line was Braun; it would  make no sense for him to hinder the Rounders here. Something else is clearly up.

The first priority is ensuring Kagari’s safety going forward now that they know she’s particularly susceptible to capture. She continues to stay at Ruka’s place, which Daru fortifies with motion sensors while Suzuha keeps a sleepless watch.

Ruka can tell something’s up, and wants Suzuha to explain why she uses the family-based honorifics she uses…but Suzuha isn’t talking. She (rightly) believes Okabe wants to keep Ruka from learning anything about other worlds, so that he can stay in the one he’s in.

The next day Okabe visits Tennouji at the shop to explain the disturbance he had to break up (not the kind of landlord duties he likes undertaking, even if he’s more than capable). Okabe first confirms that Tennouji is indeed Ferdinand Braun, affiliated with the Rounders.

Braun concedes that Okabe is disturbingly accurate about things he has no business knowing, and in the absence of more credible explanations is willing to at least hear him out about time travel and world lines. He agrees to keep Kagari under his protection, hiring her and Suzuha as part-timers, but insists Okabe get to work discovering the identity and goals of Kagari’s would-be captors.

One clue is the alphanumeric code uttered by two of the Rounders: K6205, whom Mayushii’s friend Kaede is able to identify as possibly a Köchel number; those used to catalog the works of Mozart. Specifically, K. 620, his opera The Magic Flute, which is packed with Masonic elements.

Scene 5 of Act 2 involves a man being ordered to marry an elderly woman or he’ll be imprisoned forever. When he does, she’s transformed into a young and beautiful young woman, only for priests to hold him back, warning that he’s not yet worthy of her.

I learned all of this on Wikipedia, as Daru and the others’ primary source of research (always a good place to start, anyways). But one can’t think of the Mozart connection without also thinking about his middle name: Amadeus; ‘loved by God’.

Amadeus is still offline and when Okabe calls Hiyajou, she expresses her fear the server has been taken over. But moments after Hiyajou hangs up Okabe gets a call from Amadeus. It’s highly distorted and garbled, but Amakurisu pleads for help clearly enough.

That’s when Okabe enters Reading Steiner, the Divergence Meter’s Nixie Tube numbers flutter furiously. He ends up alone in the lab, the TV no longer shot through, and the Amadeus app gone from his phone’s home screen. It’s a World Line Change, people, and what do you know, Kurisu is alive in this one.

Just like the first Steins;Gate series, S;G 0 started off slow, but there was always the possibility, even probability that one big event after another was bound to go down soon. Now we’re there, with Okabe, in a totally different world than the one in which started, with no knowledge of how he got there, whether he’s been there before, or if he’ll ever get back.

Not to mention the fact that without even trying he’s been reunited with the only woman he’s ever loved. Depending on how things go, he may not even want to leave…but where Steins;Gate is concerned, getting something you want almost always means losing something you need.

Devils Line – 01 – Back to the Well…of BLOOD (First Impressions)

“AND I’m a vampire…what a week!”

From Blood and Shiki to Dance in the Vampire Bund, Rosario + Vampire, Seraph of the End, and Help! My Little Sister is a Vampire!, there is no shortage of vampire anime out there, old and new, good and bad.

There’s so much, you might not have realized that I simply made up that last one, though for all I know it might actually exist (and Tasukete! Watashi no Imouto wa Kyuuketsuki! can be readily pared down to Tawamokyu!). 

The point is, we know all about vampires in anime. So any time a new one comes around, I ask two pretty standard questions:

#1: Does this add anything notably new to the table?
#2: If not, what makes it worth watching?

In the case of Devils Line, the answer to Question #1 is a firm “no.” Sure, the vamps’ chompers are a bit over-sized (not a great look!) and there’s an emphasis on vamps as crazed blood-and-sex addicts, but we’ve got a standard “pure maiden gets drawn into the dark side” story, which hearkens back to Lucy Westenra.

As to Question #2, I actually found a lot to like in the first 19/20ths of the episode (more on the final 20th later). First, the setting is realistic and grounded rather than surreal or baroque, and there’s a familiar Tokyo Nighttime atmosphere that pervades the episode and draws you in. I took note of the way characters were back-lit from various light sources.

In keeping with the much-like-real-life setting, the vamps, while ostensibly the “bad guys”, are also given a good degree of nuance and humanization. It’s not an accident that the blood-soaked cold open depicts a vamp tearing people apart…but not being all that happy about it! (no doubt because his fangs are so comically huge).

Finally, while it’s ultimately a red herring, the chase scene does good and efficient double duty, introducing us to the special division and their procedures for dealing with vamps in this world (a bad-ass cop lady fights on a higher footing than the vamp, probably because she too is a vamp) while also giving us a nifty Vamp-Speed chase and moonlit brawl.

So what didn’t work so well? Pretty much what the ED portends will be the entire premise of the show going forward: a Vampire Romance. College(?) student Taira Tsukasa goes with the flow, while sometimes looking off to the side like she needs new friends (or possibly very very old ones, amirite?!) but one thing I like about her is that she’s comfortable not having a boyfriend.

It doesn’t help when one of her two close friends confessed to her at school, she had to reject him, and he’s been basically tolerating the fact they’re “just friends” ever since…for now. Turns out Mr. Unrequited Love was the vampire she needed to watch her back for, and it’s to the kid’s credit that my disgust turned to pity once the Shadowy Subway Guy came between him and Tsukasa.

Subway Guy is a special division officer named Anzai, who suspected Tsukasa’s friend would soon crack from the pressure of having to hold in his vampiric nature, but concedes the kid’s desire not to hurt her was genuine…it’s just that Vamps can’t be trusted. When they see someone’s blood, they’re off to the sexy races.

And to the list of Vamps that can’t be trusted, go ahead and add Anzai in there, because once he notices Tsukasa’s scratched face, he starts French-kissing her. This burst explosion of passion might not have come out of nowhere, but it still felt sudden and oddly staged.  It looked less like the pure Tsukasa suddenly yearning and embracing a man’s touch, and more like he just jumped her.

So yes, this show has some good things going for it, but some big questions moving forward about whether and how the whole vampire romance thing will work. That she’s ostensibly dealing with a vamp who has his shit mostly under control (and is working for the “good guys” i.e. public safety) works to Anzai’s advantage, but I want to see more agency from Tsukasa, not for her to keep going with the (blood)flow.

 

Juuni Taisen – 03

Is it just me, or have the POV warriors gotten progressively more interesting with each episode? After Boar and Dog, we now learn more about Chicken (Niwatori), who had spent last week showing Dog one side only to turn on him and show her true one.

Niwatori’s childhood was…rough, to put it comically mildly. We find her where the cops do: malnourished and filthy in an apartment filled with garbage and blood. It’s not her blood; it’s that of her parent(s), which, considering her “pecking” specialty, she killed by repeatedly pecking bits out of hem with an egg topper.

Her own memories of this time are quite foggy; she spent some time at a facility after a hospital visit, and after regaining her physical health, she was adopted by the Niwa family, whose matriarch was interested in utilizing her special ability to speak to birds.

They trained her into a soldier and assassin who can hide in plain sight and deceived and betrayed so many people, she had no idea who was a friend or enemy.

Back in the present, Niwatori has successfully fooled Dog unto his death, and makes quick work of Zombie Boar with a swarm of birds under her control, who peco their prey to pieces and pick flesh from bone.

Feeling peckish herself, Niwatori enters a convenience store and encounters Rat, who has no quarrel with her, and leads her to the sewers to meet Monkey.

Niwatori finds herself unusually affected, even moved by Shuryuu’s seemingly catch-less kindness and earnestness, and believes Dog’s One Man Army poison has heightened her emotions as well as her body.

Even though she finds herself perfectly capable of killing Monkey and Rat right there and then, and knows that is the best course of action to ensure victory in the Zodiac War, she just…can’t do it. She withdraws…and when she does, she’s so busy cursing herself for making such a dumb move, she doesn’t realize Ox is right there, ready to kill her.

Naturally, because Niwatori is the POV character this week, she has to die, and she’s not even the first warrior Ox kills this week (that honor goes to Horse, whom we don’t learn much about before his demise).

Still, she faces her imminent death standing tall, with a defiant look in her eye, and after sacrificing so many of her beloved birds to defeat Zombie Boar, there’s a poetry to her giving up her body to feed still more of those birds.

I won’t say that she came out of the hell of her childhood—in which she was no doubt pecked away at to the brink of death—to live a life of honor or morality. Indeed, she saw herself as an instrument—another weapon in the Niwa family’s arsenal—and little else.

We don’t know what wish she’d have asked for had she won the Zodiac War. But I will say that for the brief time I got to know her, I emphasized and liked Niwatori, and the show feels a little smaller without her, as I’m sure it will continue to feel as more POV characters meet their maker.

Juuni Taisen – 02

Poor Boar is now a puppet of Rabbit’s along with Snake; he’s in the lead. Turns out Monkey (Shuryuu) interrupted her own attempt to form a pacifist alliance by smashing the floor. In doing so, she thwarted a preemptive strike she sensed from one of the others, though apparently she doesn’t suspect the sleepy Rat (Nezumi).

Having holed up in an underground parking garage, Dog (Dotsuku) is our primary POV character this week, and we hear more of his inner thoughts than the words of anyone else. Upon meeting Chicken (Niwatori), he believes he’s better off agreeing to her request to team up, as she possesses a valuable skill by which she can see through the eyes of all of the birds in the city; pretty handy.

Unfortunately for Dog, he’s too confident he can control Niwatori, to the point he’s drugging her with a supersoldier “poison” that powers her up and leads to her crushing his face. Whether Chicken was putting on a meek innocent act all along until then or really couldn’t control the strength Dog gave her, it looks like Dog is now out of the game, marking the second straight POV character who fell by spending too much time in their head and not enough time being very careful.

I don’t know if the same pattern will be followed next week or the week after that, but I got an odd, satisfying feeling of finality from both Boar and Dog’s stories this week; they went as far as they could go, even if they didn’t know they were at the end of their respective roads until it was too late to turn back. There’s a super-abridged version near the end of Horse seeking out Ox as a fellow “moderate”, only to be charged at by Ox like the train behind him.

The only alliance that seems reliable is the one between Rabbit, Snake and Boar, and you can’t really call it that since Snake and Boar no longer have free will, heartbeats, or jewels in their chests. Nevertheless, I liked the parting shot that combined bloody horror of an undead Boar with a Hitchcockian mass of birds surrounding her.

Considering the ominous calculation of this parting scene, I’d wager SuperChicken is primed to peck somebody.

Little Witch Academia – 23

The first half of this week chronicle’s Chariot du Nord’s rise and fall from stardom, undone by a fickle public, the constant need to create bigger, flashier magic, and her school rival Croix still having a score to settle.

Such is Croix’s spite for the Claimh Solis choosing Chariot over her, she decides to exploit Chariot’s desire to make ever larger crowds happy by giving her the Dream Fuel Spirit…without mentioning the costs until after she’s already used it.

Of course, Croix has rhetorical cover: Chariot did essentially ask her old classmate for more power, and didn’t ask any questions, so none were answered.

One night, desperate to be relevant, Chariot uses the Shiny Rod and inadvertently scars the moon, and that’s pretty much it for Chariot.

Back in the present, Akko is still missing, and it feels like the longest we haven’t seen her in the entire run of the show. Something’s up, and Akko’s friends—Diana chief among them—want to do something about it. They all go looking for her, and when Diana doesn’t get the answers or action from Ursula, nay, Chariot, she finds Akko on her own.

It had been an 8 episode up to the point Diana sprang into action, and that’s when we enter more of a 10 territory (my rating splits the difference). Not only has Diana come to consider Akko a dear friend, but she manages to cheer that friend up and get her out of her funk.

It’s the first time Diana admits to Akko that she too was a Chariot superfan; that her momentary loss of magic was due to seeing that show, but she then worked hard to regain her magic, and even though her family thought she was being silly and childish, she never completely gave up on the dream to be like Chariot…which is why she initially resented Akko so much.

This is Diana at her most dimensional and likable: when she of all people has to lift the spirits of who had been until last week, almost criminally high-spirited proportional to her actual magical progress. Brass tacks: Diana tells Akko no one’s magic is stronger than hers, and she believes in her believing heart.

With that, Akko is reinvigorated, and her friends file into the store to express their relief she’s okay. I have a feeling all of them may have to be at their best for the upcoming trials, as Croix is nearing completion of her Noir Fuel Spirit-driven World Reconstruction Magic.

As powerful as we know Chariot to be, it’s not unrealistic to assume Croix’s confidence is at least somewhat based in her empirical research of Chariot herself, and knows for a fact she’s no threat. Of course, that may only be Chariot as she is now, still known to most as Ursula, drowning in regret and self-loathing.

If Chariot could be lifted out of that mire, like Diana & Co. did for Akko, perhaps then Croix will have something to worry about (here’s hoping!). This turned out to be a lovely episode. It’s so good to see Diana shine, and it was also fascinating to see Akko legitimately down for once.

All that’s really left is to find out if and how Croix is foiled, and whether that takes the remaining two episodes, or will be wrapped up next week. Leaving the final outing for epilogue.

 

Little Witch Academia – 22

As Andrew sees a worsening situation with the soccer-fueled civil unrest, Chariot decides, at last, that she’s really, truly, definitely going to tell Akko her true identity…only for her only chance in this episode to be interrupted. And by Andrew, no less, via Diana, whom he’s able to contact because of their families. All for a lost hat!

Just as Diana is asking “Ursula” if she knows anything about the greatly increased stores of energy that correspond to the installation of Croix’s SSS system, Chariot spots her rival in the window to give chase.

This is an episode that doesn’t waste a lot of time, and its most leisurely scene is also its best because of the wonderful chemistry that has developed between Akko and Andrew.

As someone being told day in day out that his path has already been set for him, and defiance will not be tolerated, an idealistic free spirit like Akko is just the kind of girl he’d fall for, almost envious of her worldview.

He’s become far less dismissive of her flowerly hopeful little speeches, especially in light (or darkness) of the soccer protests. But he makes sure to check Akko’s boundless idealism with the caveat that she herself should be the one to take action, rather than wait for Chariot to swoop in and save the world.

Akko’s in full agreement: she’ll make the world happier and preserve magic with her own hands and heart. In his criticism, Andrew is aware that it applies to him as well.

While it’s nice to see Akko and Andrew laughing together and enjoying each other’s company, when duty calls (in the form of one of Croix’s little cube drones), Akko springs into action immediately, leaving her hat behind once more.

That cube leads her to a rooftop where Croix stands, and is all to happy to explain that the cubes are her handiwork, that she’s using “Noir Fuel Spirit” to absorb negative emotions from the people and converting it to magical energy. In effect, she’s saving the magical world, her way.

That way happens to be pretty much the opposite of how Akko would want to save it; by creating positive energy—happiness—and she tells Croix this is flat-out wrong. Croix responds by fusing her drones into a giant monster and attacking Akko with it.

Chariot arrives just in time to save Akko, and destroys the drone-‘dragon’, but in the process lets the cat out of the bag, a cat Croix is all too happy to pounce on. Here Akko finally learns her idol was beside her all along, in Croix’s words, holding her back. And while that might sound like emotional manipulation, it turns out Croix means it literally.

Chariot, it seems, is responsible for sapping Akko of her magic, back when she attended her show. Chariot absorbed dreams, rather than negative energy, to gain magical power. This is why Akko can’t fly; not any lack of effort or perseverance.

Right on the heels of Akko learning Ursula is Chariot, that revelation is a gut punch for poor Akko, who merely shouts about it being all lies before running away. Croix tells Chariot she doubts Akko will be pursuing the words anymore, all but claiming victory in a rivalry in which she deemed Akko Chariot’s proxy.

With the completion of this outing we’re down to three episodes of LWA, at least that we know of, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in some order: Akko regaining her composure and rising to the occasion and gaining sufficient power (be it through the words or through her friends) to foil Croix’s plans for world “reconstruction,” and hell, maybe receive a kiss from our boy ‘Drew.

That’s a lot, but now that LWA has kicked into a higher gear, I’m confident it can deliver on the denouement.

Attack on Titan – 34

While I’m all for hanging out in the branches of giant trees on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, I was hoping for a little more substance. Instead, it’s a time-marking episode, with Reiner and Bertholdt waiting for a sunset that never comes while Ymir and Eren poke and prod them with questions, none of which are actually answered except one: they’re ultimately headed for the traitor’s hometown.

Just as Mikasa has to keep calm and watch her pace so as not to break the rescue party formation, Eren has to keep calm and not do anything stupid by transforming back into a titan before he’s healed and in the middle of enemy territory. But while his eyes bulge and his teeth grind, Eren’s struggle is pretty moot: Reiner says he and Ymir are too weak to transform anyway.

Then Reiner goes off, talking as if he wasn’t the armored titan, but just another soldier in the scouts who should probably get a reward, if not a promotion, for all his good work. Ymir surmises, and is probably correct, that after spending so long pretending to be a regular human soldier, he no longer knows who he is, or at least forgets sometimes.

However, he’s lucid enough to know he can flip Ymir if he can convince her it’s in her best interest, or more importantly, in Christa, AKA Historia’s. Ymir is at least willing to listen, adding another slice to Eren’s shit sandwich. But as the sun sets, their limbs start to regenerate, and the smoke flares in the distance indicate the scouts are further along in their pursuit than Bertholdt calculated.

I was expecting a quiet episode in the trees, but rather disappointed in the lack of answers, especially when it comes to the Beast Titan. Eren also seems to know, and accepts, less than we do, and it’s always frustrating to wait for a character to catch up to you.

Attack on Titan – 33

Thanks to Bertholdt’s colossal smoldering husk falling off the wall, he and Reiner are able to make off with both Ymir and an incapacitated Eren in a literal cloud of smoke. All the scouts present end up injured and burned in some way, and Mikasa, who is knocked out, isn’t able to immediately give chase, like she did when Annie took Eren. No one is.

It’s a good a time as any, then, for another flashback to the “good old days” when Eren, Mikasa and Armin played out the very same dynamic: Eren would bite off more than he could chew in fights with bullies, Armin would run to Mikasa, and Mikasa would unleash hell on those who hurt Eren. But because she’s almost always just a bit late, she’s rarely able to get Eren out of a fight before he gets beaten up.

EAT ANGRY.

Hannes, who remembers this (and misses being a ‘useless drunk soldier’), reassures the two that Eren won’t give up just because he’s been taken away. There’s no evidence of him ever giving up throughout the years they’ve known him. So the best thing for Mikasa and Armin to do is not to stew in their own present helplessness, but rest, heal, and eat food, so they can give their best when it’s time.

That time comes sooner than expected, as Erwin arrives with the military police and join forces with the scouts to go across the wall. Hange believes the two traitors are likely tired after their ordeal and will hole up in the nearby giant forest until nightfall, when (most) other Titans don’t move.

She turns out to be correct, as Eren wakes up, still steaming and missing his arms, beside Ymir, who is looking much better than a couple episodes ago (in that she’s up, about, and talking). Reiner and Bertholdt are both back to their human forms. They should have a lot to talk about before the cavalry appears, and before the sun goes down.