Oresuki – 05 – Not Working Out

We saw Asunaro’s smirk last week as she looked over an inflammatory article about Joro’s alleged three-timing, so when she invited him up on the roof, I feared the worst for him, even as he thought Asunaro was poised to confess. It isn’t until he sees that damnable bench that he knows nothing good will come of their imminent conversation.

Sure enough, Asunaro isn’t there to confess, but to warn him about the article she’s about to publish documenting his Don-Juanery, with photos of him very close to Cosmos, Himawari and Pansy to prove it. However, Asunaro believes in publishing the truth, and so agrees to shadow Joro and give him a chance to clear his name.

Sure enough, his next interaction with Cosmos does nothing to assuage Asunaro’s suspicions. He asks the three girls if they can just keep their distance for a bit, and all refuse. On the contrary, he’s doomed to stick close to them until the festival, as he’s been chosen as the boy in the Flower Dance, while Cosmos and Himawari are two of the three girls with whom he’ll dance.

When Cosmos asks if he’ll accompany her to meet the first-year who will be the third to dance with him, he asks if she’ll treat him more strictly around Asunaro, but she ends up pulls out a completely over-the-top full samurai lord act. As for the first year, the nasty rumors about Joro are still floating around her grade, and he’s known as the “Slipper Man” for licking girls’ hallway shoes. So yeah…she’s out of the Flower Dance.

Cosmos picks Sun to replace her (still not sure why Sun is even in the picture anymore after his horrendous threat to Pansy), and gets permission from the adults, which means the whole study group (plus Pansy) end up spending more time together, both practicing and buying outfits for the dance. The more she shadows him during these events, the less Asunaro is convinced of the accuracy of her article—which, it should be said, begs the question of why it ever got from draft to ready-to-print status.

That fact ends up costing Joro a lot when the unedited original article is accidentally published and distributed to the whole school. Joro is confronted by the elites in his class who promise punishment for anyone who hurts girls. They’re not even entirely convinced when President Cosmos arrives to defend him, as they suspect she’s one of the three girls in the article. It takes Asunaro to call them off, and she seems incredibly apologetic and upset to the point she doesn’t even check her dialect.

She offers to personally retrieve every copy, but there’s no letting the genie out of the bottle, and Cosmos seems to realize that when she can’t convince the gals. She decides to call off the rest of the practices between her, and basically tells him it will be best to avoid hanging around each other for the time being. Not just her, but Himawari and Pansy too. Cosmos is worried continuing to interact so closely will only create more misunderstandings, for which Joro will bear the brunt.

This leaves Asunaro as the only girl still in Joro’s orbit at the end of the episode, and considering how many twists this show has already presented, part of me can’t help but wonder if this was her plan all along. The article, the rooftop meeting, the shadowing, the “accidental” publishing, her offer to help fix everything, and finally, her eagerness to practice dancing with him (in which she appears to take great joy); all of that can be construed as a sequence of actions undertaken by someone who wanted to likes Joro and wanted to isolate him from the other girls.

If that was the plan, it’s worked perfectly so far. Chances are it wasn’t the plan, because this is Oresuki, which loves flipping the script. But if it was, she hasn’t achieved total victory quite yet; Cosmos watched them dancing on the roof, and despite being a bit of a goofball most of the time, has the smarts to expose and foil Asunaro’s plot…again, if it is indeed even the plot!

Oresuki – 04 – Mending Fences

If the first three episodes didn’t make it plain, Oresuki does not beat around the bush. Joro’s name was just cleared last week, as Sun’s scheme to win Pansy by using Himawari and Cosmos was exposed, mostly thanks to Pansy herself. So it’s understandable for emotions to be too raw for any kind of swift reconciliation to take place anytime soon.

And yet, that’s just what happens, as Pansy tells Joro he can’t hide in the library with her forever avoiding the others. To use her words as a jumping-off point, any effort to justify not mending fences is wasted effort. Just get out there and mend ’em! So he does, and refreshingly, he doesn’t let newspaper editor Hanetachi “Asunaro” Hina spoil his first chance to make up with Himawari.

Himawari assumes Joro hates her and that no good can come from them being around each other, but after a chase, Joro follows Pansy’s advice and simply tells Himawari the truth: he wants to be friends with her again. That’s all she ever wanted too, and they’re both simultaneously relieved and surprised how easy it feels in hindsight.

Himawari accompanies Joro to the rooftop to attempt a reconciliation with Sun, but it initially goes south when Sun dismisses Joro’s indirect “challenge,” which is little more than excuse to study together. It’s only when Joro, and then Himawari, drop all pretense (and dispense with all pride) and simply shout about wanting to be friends again that Sun comes around.

On a clear role, Joro brings Himawari and Sun before Pansy, both so the latter can apologize for his brutish words, and so the four of them can arrange a study circle for midterms. (I wouldn’t have so quickly forgiven Sun for threatening to rape her, but hey, I’m not Pansy.)

But for some strange reason, Joro completely forgot about Cosmos—and while she’s been essentially stalking him the whole time as he made up with the others, to boot!

When he feels her evil purple aura behind him, Joro realizes his mistake and seeks her out on the steps. It turns out not only does Cosmos want to make up more than anything, she’s slaved over an elaborate script for the process, and won’t accept Joro’s offer until he does it in just the bizarre performative way with weird voices that she envisioned!

So! No sooner did Oresuki tear apart all of its wholesome initial friendships with the utmost gusto does it carefully piece them back together, and in an entertaining and believable way. Each of Joro’s make-up sessions felt true to the character he was making up with.

But the end of the episode doesn’t forget that Dark Joro is very much still a thing, and that these reconciliations has rekindled his desire to one day seduce one of these three of these beautiful girls. Little does he know someone other than Pansy is on to Dark Joro, and is ready to expose him as “King of the Scumbags” in a newspaper article.

The charming, Tsuguro dialect-having Asunaro seemed amiable enough in her interactions with Joro, but his line about her being a master of information gathering wasn’t a throwaway. She’s got mud to throw—mud that threatens both his newly-mended friendships and reputation at school in general…again.

P.S. Anime News Network’s Lynzee Loveridge has a nice write-up of the first three episodes, including more references to the characters’ names that offer insight to their personalities. I for one missed the fact that “joro” means “watering can”—how apropos!

Oresuki – 03 – Bounce Back

When Sun, Himawari and Cosmos all arrive at the library at once, it’s clear that some shit is going to go down. Joro almost manages to slip out of it by revealing his darker side and calling out the two girls for using him as a convenient tool, not because he’s a dear childhood friend or cute kohai.

That last-ditch effort fails when Pansy throws him under the bus, telling them he was trying to get her to date Sun while claiming to be on their side. Sun punches him for playing with the girls’ hearts, declares their friendship over, and carries him off.

It sure looks like this is curtains for Joro, and that all Pansy did was assist in this catharsis of misery. But when she mutters “have faith in me” to Joro on his way out, it becomes apparent there’s still more to this story yet to be explored.

Since there was a bystander in the library during the exchange, rumors spread and Joro is ostracized overnight, including having his indoor shoes bedazzled and a detailed golf course model placed on his desk, which is such a bizarre and random head-scratcher of a prank I couldn’t help but laugh.

With Joro out of the picture, Sun is free to spend the next week of lunch periods in the library with Pansy, unaware that she’s putting the finishing touches on her grand plan. It all starts by asking him, quite simply, why he tricked and entrapped Joro, using the feelings of Himawari and Cosmos as his tools in that venture.

And there it is: Joro, as we know, wasn’t the mastermind here, but neither was Pansy: it was Sun all along, sore over an incident years ago when a girl he liked asked him if he’d help her get with Joro. Sun was the one who put the girls up to confronting Joro about asking Sun about them. Joro played the part Sun knew he would (aware as he was about “dark Joro”) and he got his revenge.

Believing he’s all alone with Pansy, Sun doesn’t deny any of this, but proudly proclaims he was after revenge for “losing” to Joro back then, and again with Pansy. He’s also enough of a jerk that he threatens to “do whatever he wants” to Pansy without consequence, since they’re all alone.

Of course, they aren’t. Joro, whom Pansy summoned to the library a minute before Sun arrived, is a witness to her takedown and exposing of Sun as the villain. She threw Joro under the bus in the previous dust-up to give Sun the false sense that everybody was against Joro, when in fact she loves Joro and intended to clear his name.

Joro comes out of his hiding place at the perfect time, and tells Sun where he truly erred: in making light of the “birdbrained” two girls’ feelings for him in order to use them in his scheme to destroy him. A chastened Sun promises to apologize, and departs, and then Joro tells Pansy that her efforts don’t change the fact he hates her, and he won’t be returning to the library.

That’s when Pansy tells Himawari and Cosmos to come out of their hiding spot; unbeknownst to Sun or Joro, Pansy invited them to listen in on the truth of things.

In golf parlance, we can call this episode a major bounce back for Joro. Himawari and Cosmos apologize, the vandalism of his stuff ceases, and Sun confesses in front of the class, clearing Joro’s name to the whole school through the same rumor mill that sullied it.

That brings us to Joro and Pansy, and why the latter fell in love with the former. Turns out, it isn’t his “dark side” she necessarily likes, but the kind, hardworking side that waited by the north entrance to the gym after Sun’s game, standing there dutifully and waiting with his arms full of Sun’s favorite food.

What Joro remembers most about that day was the gorgeous, well-endowed, raven-haired maiden whose eyes met his and with whom he became transfixed, only to never see her again. The last twist is the most predictable lame: Pansy is that gorgeous maiden, and was simply hiding her looks behind a “plain girl” disguise.

While I understand this reveal was necessary, it was very clumsily done for a show that had just crafted such an intricate tapestry of romantic intrigue, and portrays Joro in a very poor light: someone who is now more or less on board with this “Hot Pansy” on the surface but is still confident he’ll never fall for the Pansy inside.

While the ball might’ve land in a bunker (more golf talk…sorry) at the end, after three (or more precisely, 2.85) strong episodes that subverted my expectations, Oresuki has earned some benefit of the doubt. Let’s see where this goes!

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 11 – The Wrong Hands

After leaving the realm where his father resides, the red pool is gone, and the Ark of Sirius is in Yuliy’s hands. It looks a lot like the sphere Willard acquired in Dogville, suggesting one of the two may be a fake or other means of defeating Yevgraf. Yev arrives right on schedule in his airship, and uses his blood pact with Mikhail to force him to retrieve the Ark from his brother.

Major Iba and Ryouko have followed Yuliy and Bishop and meet up just in time for Bishop to take Ryouko hostage and reveal he’s a vampire, something Yuliy already knew. However, the threat is short-lived, as Yuliy tells Bishop he always knew, and also knew that he and Bishop wanted the same thing: to defeat Yevgraf.

Where they differ is that Yuliy wants to keep the Ark around as the new “pride of the Sirius” while Bishop sought to destroy it so the vamps wouldn’t get it. They eventually agree to fight side-by-side towards that goal.

Yuliy and Bishop confront Misha and the twins, respectively, and with Misha basically programmed to attack Yuliy, it isn’t long before there’s a knife in Yuliy’s shoulder and the Ark is in Misha’s hands. As Tamara rushes the Ark to Yev, Bishop grabs Larissa and kills her.

After a struggle, Misha overcomes the blood pact, thanks to the blood of a diseased vampire he drank earlier. But he still doesn’t want Yuliy doing anything foolish; to let him do so would be to betray the promise he made to their mother. Yuliy, however, won’t allow any outcome where the Ark is destroyed or ends up in vampire hands.

Unfortunately, he’s powerless to stop the latter from happening, as Larissa gets the Ark to Yev, who promptly kills Bishop, then dickishly offers his immense gratitude to Yuliy for doing such a great job unsealing the Ark so he could take it. It really is a worst case scenario, as Yev orders his army to attack Yuliy, with Iba and Ryouko also in the crosshairs.

V Shipping comes to the rescue via airplane, and eventually deposit Willard on the airship with the “other Ark” in hand. But both he and Misha would seem to be too late; activated with Yuliy’s blood, he swallows the Ark whole and its power begins to surge within him, turning one eye gold.

Yev’s laughter suggests he’s absorbing an immense amount of information, and as we know, information is power. Will a Mikhail on his last legs and very mortal Willard be enough to delay whatever Yev has planned so Yuliy can arrive, unleash his Sirius powers, and use Ryouko’s katana to defeat the big bad? Only one episode left to find out.

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.

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.