Cautious Hero – 09 – Riding the Valkyrie

Kilkapul sacrifices himself and his family in order to summon the “hyper-conceptual reaper” Thanatus, who merely splits into two copies when sliced in half and even manages to lightly bruise Seiya. Even when they retreat to the Divine Realm, the reaper follows them, and makes quick work of every god and goddess that tries to bring him down. Meanwhile, Seiya’s party just runs.

Seiya may not know how to beat Thanatus, but he has a pretty good idea who could beat him: Valkyrie. He knows she’s painting, and and sets things up so an attack by Thanatus destroys her almost-finished canvas, enraging her into fighting. She ultimately defeats Thanatus by using “Gate of Valhalla,” a godly technique she believes no human could achieve. But Seiya wants to train with her and prove her wrong.

When Rista checks in on the two, they appear to be banging in Valkyrie’s bed, but Seiya insists it’s “just training,” I’m a little skeptical, as Rista is, but she’s gotten so obsessive about her love-hate relationship with the lout that she’s taken to making dolls out of her own hair—and developing ever more manic faces. She’s also developing a self-defeating neurosis about her body odor, leading to compulsive bathing till her skin is raw.

Ishtar informs them the fourth Heavenly King and his army are advancing on the Roseguard capital, so Seiya & Co. head back to Gaeabrande. But the boss is dealt with not by Seiya, but by the “Warmaster”, an elderly but extremely powerful knight who dispatches the HK with one shot and the army with another. The catch is, after his immense attacks he reverts to infancy, leading to the strangest Ristaface to date.

Val x Love – 07 – The Doc Is Not In

In what has to be one of the strangest conceits of the show thus far, Ninth Daughter Kururi demonstrates her powers of invention by building a kind of “auto-doctor” suit for Takuma. It’s a very thin and random excuse for him to examine most of the sisters’ bodies in various ways.

Aside from a few bizarre moments, it’s not that amusing. It also repeats a number of character beats without adding anything new, and it’s all very lazily-animated.

The second half is focused on Third Daughter Misa, who has to demonstrate to Itsuya what a Midgard date is like. This takes the form of her being alone in a room with Takuma as he folds laundry and she sews a giant stuffed doll for Natsuki in a loose-fitting sweater, leading to various compromising ecchi situations.

Again, nothing much of note here. Things happen to Takuma, he gets embarrassed or nervous or afraid, and the girls berate, praise and titillate him in more or less equal measure. It all happens within the confines of Takuma’s dark, drab house. It was as if, after the battles of last week, the show decided to take a nap under the kotatsu.

Val x Love – 06 – Victory by Sustained Frenching

Two Minutes into their fight, Futaba thinks she’s won, but Garm’s slashes carry parasitic blades. Takuma is sliced in half, but is immediately put back together by Mistilteinn, summoned from within him due to his growing will to fight. As Futaba keeps Garm busy, he bulldozes through akuma to reach Natsuki.

Once reunited, the only way to defeat the huge boss Svadilfari is to level-up through a five-minute French-kissing session without wearing “a stitch of clothes.” Takuma and Natsuki handle this about as calmly tastefully as they can, but they first have to wipe each other down, and that Natsuki is already exhausted. Much in the way he summoned the tree to save him, Takuma summons a book that warms Natsuki up and recharges her energy.

They continue going at it, and by the time the other sisters are about to get gobbled up by the boss, Natsuki rescues them and uses “Rune” to reinforce her sword, producing a single strike so devastating Svadilfari can’t devour it, leading to its destruction. The battle is over, and Garm is reprimanded by his superior, who takes the form of a grim-looking little boy.

The beauty pageant follows the sisters’ victory. Mutsumi wins, and as per the triplets’ earlier agreement, the winner gets to dance with Takuma. Even so Mutsumi lets Natsuki take her place, considering she wanted to to begin with. Takuma apologizes to Natsuki for turning her down so brusquely,and agrees to dance around other people. Takuma gradually showed more and more spine this week, which is encouraging, while he and Natsuki are growing more comfortable with the roles Odin bestowed upon them.

Cautious Hero – 05 – Heaven Hath No Fury Like a Goddess Scorned

With Mash all healed up and Seiya agreeing to let him and Eruru carry his stuff, Rista deems it time to head to the Dragon’s Den to recover a powerful new weapon. Seiya insists on making a stop to the Divine Realm first so that his new assistants can train a bit. After the torture of Seiya, Cerecus is happy to have a normal student in Mash, though Eruru doesn’ t make any progress with the fire goddess Hestiaca.

As for Seiya himself, he almost starts a fight he might not be able to win with goddess of destruction Valkyrie; thankfully Aria is there to calm the “exhibitionist” down. Instead, she introduces Seiya to the war goddess Adenela, whose disheveled appearance gets more and more girly as she falls deeper into love with him, only to be callously rejected, sending her into a fit of rage. Thus, Seiya has now proven a “goddess-killer” in two very distinct ways.

Seiya says sayonara to the Divine Realm, and the party begins their first real quest together, to the Dragon’s Den. Rista learns the hard way that he won’t let her peek at his true levels (the fake-out “1’s” even turn and poke her in the eye!). Mash and Eruru may be useful insofar as they can sense when they’re getting closer due to their dragon blood, but Seiya doesn’t let them actually fight any monsters on the way.

Instead, he simply relies on his “Automatic Phoenix” to instantly destroy any monsters under Level 30 within a certain radius. Mash can’t get close to any monsters, and the Phoenix even rudely knocks down one of Eruru’s fire arrows! Just when the two dragonkin think they can be of help by opening the gate to the den, Seiya simply smashes through it with his sword.

Inside they find a magical circle, and after Seiya tests it on a lizard (bemusing the people on the other side), the party uses it to transport to the remote Dragon Village. There they meet the…ahem, Mother of Dragons Leviae, who shows Mash how to turn into a dragon to boost his levels.

When Eruru asks if she can do the same, Leviae casually tells her that won’t be necessary, because she has a different role: that of Igzasion, the mightiest of weapons. That, of course, means sacrificing her life, something clearly Eruru doesn’t want. As for Seiya, his stone face doesn’t give away much, but could it be he wouldn’t be particularly enthused about Eruru dying?

Val x Love – 05 – No Obedient Banquet

All nine Valkyrie sisters attend the campus festival despite knowing the chance of an attack there is high, because they have the opportunity to all level up at once. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Takuma is his usual insufferable scaredy-cat self, but that doesn’t stop him from ending up spilling viscous white liquid all over Yakumo or having to fish an eel out of Misa’s clothes—pretty standard lucky lecher stuff.

When the enemy (whom they don’t know is Garm) strikes, he robs the women of their source of power, the Einherjar by impaling him through the stomach and locking him in the bounded cube, while all the other festival attendees are converted to akuma minions that keep the sisters plenty busy. First sister Ichika and Natsuki protect the entrance, while inside Garm toys with Takuma, counting on him to do nothing and die as he enjoys a McDonalds banquet.

Things start to get dire as Itsuya and Mutsumi end up overwhelmed by akuma army and their various appendages, providing more ecchi content. But it’s Natsuki’s earnest belief that Takuma will indeed stand and fight when the time comes (because he’s done so and saved her many times before) that holds more power than all the T, A, and ahegao. Upon standing, Takuma is swiftly taken down by Garm, but Second sister Futaba finally locates them. He held out just long enough; now a Valkyrie has access to the Einherjar, and the tables can be turned.

Val x Love – 04 – He’s “It” (Unfortunately)

Val x Love loses the nice rhythm it had developed in which a different sister’s power was awakened to eliminate a demonic threat. Instead, it felt like nothing of consequence happened. The second daughter Futaba indeed reveals her “Castle” power, but it doesn’t quite fit in a game of tag where she’s the one who is it and thus on the offensive.

While the game of tag is meant to “refresh” Takuma after some stressful exams, thinking he’d be okay with them running around the house destroying stuff as she steals her sisters’ underwear makes Futaba look pretty dumb. The game is a transparent vehicle for incidents of accidental groping.

VxL digs deep into the cliche toy box for the second half, which has no connection to the first, combining a school festival, maid outfits, and jealousy of Takuma’s male classmates for his proximity to Natsuki. Garm ends up using this as an opportunity to transform the classmates into akuma to test a Valkyrie’s strength in human form.

He determines that Natsuki isn’t much of a match even for low-level demons, but that Takuma will spring to the rescue. And there’s the main issue with this episode. Aside from rescuing Natsuki and later telling her he thinks she’s cute, his general denseness, near-constant terrified state and dopey stammering is really starting to get old.

Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!

Val x Love – 02 – A Pat on the Head, a Peck on the Cheek

This week it’s the turn of Odin’s fifth daughter, the Student Council President Saotome Itsuya AKA Schwertleite. A raven-haired maiden beloved at school for her peerless looks and elegant ladylike aura, Itsuya has somewhat less ladylike plans for Takuma after witnessing what she deemed was a pretty chaste exchange between him and her sister Natsuki.

In her head, she’s not that interested in Takuma at all. He’s just a means to an end: if he can awaken her powers and she can save the world, she’ll get a pat on the head from Odin. It’s a simple, childish wish that she keeps entirely to herself, until a frosti shows up ahead of schedule and she suddenly has to level up with Takuma in a hurry.

The thing is, her full-speed-ahead approach doesn’t work on the nervous, petrified Takuma, and once she starts to undress and moves in on him, she suddenly loses her nerve as well, as she can no longer reconcile her mature outward manner with her inner innocence.

Seeing her freeze up in fear causes Takuma to remember what his mom did to calm him down—a good old head pat—so he gives one to Itsuya and it manages to do the trick. The extent of their hanky-panky is that head-pat and a kiss on the cheek just like Natsuki’s, but it’s enough.

With Natsuki just barely holding on against the monster (even getting all bondaged-up and getting her outfit torn), Itsuya swoops in with her chain of white crosses, enveloping the frosti so Natsuki can finish it off with a giant sword. Mission complete, and now two of Odin’s daughters have leveled up. Seven to go.

We also learn that Itsuya’s treasurer in the StuCo is actually Garm, named for Garmr, a helldog/wolf whose howling heralds the coming of Ragnarök. He’s listed as a “watchdog” and sports a level three times higher than Natsuki’s. If he starts something, head pats and cheek pecks may not be enough to beat him.

Val x Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Love is the Source

This is the story of Akutsu Takuma, who is huge and scary-looking and thus is always likened to an akuma or demon and ostracized. In reality, Takuma is just as scared of people as they are of him, and prefers to live and study alone.

And yet, after a discussion among class boys about the school’s three most beautiful girls, Takuma comes home to find not just those three beautiful girls (in the middle of undressing no less) but five other women of various ages, all of whom have the same last name Saotome which isn’t his. He doesn’t like this situation, but it’s been this way for some time.

Val x Love makes an interesting choice to ease us into its supernatural elements by first presenting everything mundanely, and offering only hints as to what the Saotome sisters really are, why they alone don’t fear him, and why Takuma has allowed them to take over the house he inherited from his departed parents.

What is prevalent throughout the episode are references to a spate of recent “suspicious attacks” that many attribute to akuma; but until one actually appears, one could imagine people were only being superstitious (if you didn’t watch the OP, that is). In reality the attacks are being caused by summoned demons, one of which Takuma encounters when he’s out shopping with the second-youngest sister Natsuki, on the orders of the second-oldest, Ichika.

The other sisters gather on the roof to watch the result. Turns out the nine of them are Valkyries of Valhalla, brought to Midgard by Odin to save humanity. Because “love is the source of a maiden’s power”, the more they are loved, the stronger they are. Natsuki was chosen by the others to level up first, and after Takuma is wounded saving her from falling debris (not the first time that’s happened), she disrobes, has him massage her breasts, and kisses him.

In a massive flash of heavenly flame, the giant akuma is utterly eliminated, and for a few moments we see Natsuki in her Valkyrie form as Siegrune, The Blade, before passing out in Takuma’s arms. This makes Takuma Einherjar (named after those who died in battle and go to Valhalla), here the lover of the nine Valkyries appointed by Odin to raise their levels.

If that all sounds like a lot of poppycock, I’m here to tell you…it’s not the worst? I was expecting more comedy from a show that had it among its genres, but it mostly arose from the fact such a large brute as Akuma is so intimidated by everyone, and yet has what in his case is a case of very-unlucky lechery. The akuma designs are marginally striking, while the action was brief but convincing. High marks also go to Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund, who composed all of the music.

For those who see the Valkyrie angle as just another excuse for a lame harem, consider that Takuma’s strong reluctance to have in one feels more genuine than most harem MCs. His introverted personality and public perception that constantly feed his self-loathing make him a sympathetic lead. As he is the source of love that powers the Valkyries, they too could fuel a transformation in him from someone who only hopes to become a quiet, respectable person to something far greater.

Macross Delta – 03

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The plot: Mirage and Messer don’t like Hayate and Hayate isn’t helping his case. He skips class and doesn’t take his training seriously and only survives his final examine because Freyja sings to him.

And until Hayate needs help, Freyja was under-performing as well. However, in her case she both takes the training seriously and her fellow songstresses are far more supportive and understanding.

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The Problem: This episode paints a bleak picture for Macross Delta. When all the extraneous, predictable and force-fed nostalgia is stripped away, all that is left is a beautifully-rendered but vapid show.

Worse, there are so many characters fighting for screen time, and each is so distractingly over-designed, that there’s no room for the main characters to breath. For goodness sake, the three street children from last week’s throwaway phone joke did not need to become recurring secondary characters.

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Counting the slap-stick Mercat, who’s antics are clearly telegraphed as a teaching tool for Hayate to using in his exam, this episode features sixteen secondary characters, three main characters and that’s not counting the Aerial Knights who teaser us after the ending credits. Too much!

Even if Delta weren’t choking to death on frivolous characters and predictable plots, other plot elements feel purely nostalgic. Flying in VF-01 trainers (and being told they are ‘cute’) feels forced and without in-show purpose.

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You will probably enjoy it: because it’s wondrously rendered and packed with details. Even Elysion Colony floating in the bay itself is a visual callback to Frontier and Macross 8, and anchors this show within the greater universe.

You may not enjoy it: because the plot is predictable and the characters, what little we get to see of them, are Macross archetypes: Low-stress anti-war fighter ace, bright eyed loli-songstress whose spunk will win the day, and a rainbow of inconsequential ‘advance the plot’ secondary cast characters.

Sadly, Mirage’s tsundere character is about the most original thing here, and it’s only somewhat original to Macross, not anime in general. I am seriously tempted to rate this a 7.

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Macross Delta – 02

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Delta quickly wraps up last week’s cliffhanger with Mirage swooping in to rescue Hayate & Freyja’s falling, crippled variable fighter and the Aerial Knights retreating, having collected the data they were after.

The remainder of the episode sets out to establish more of the world, context for Freyja’s ability, character relationships and how Hayate & Freyja ultimately join Walkure.

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From mer-cats to gilled street kids with webbed fingers selling organic fish cellphone bracelets, the world around Macross Elysion, Delta Platoon’s HQ, is a fantastical buffet of extraneous but enjoyable details.

It’s all lovingly rendered but Hayate literally grabs Freyja and runs her out of the scene because they have so little narrative purpose, beyond a minor nod to Ranka Lee’s squeezable organic cell phone in Macross Frontier. Even the brief scene in the Aerial Knight’s mountain castle, which includes a column-like pipe organ in the background, only repeats information we’ve already been told.

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As to the joining Walkure part, Freyja is given an audition, which she fails and Hayate is outright offered a piloting position by Delta Platoon Arad Molders. Later, on her way back to the city, Freyja’s tram suddenly halts and one of the passengers goes var-mad. Freyja is knocked to the ground but she sings her way to safety and passes Walkure’s final, secret audition test.

Delta deserves serious credit for its solid sound design.  Music cues are tight. We can feel Freyja’s frustration in the droning elevator-pop of the tram ride and feel her surprise as that music cuts off with the lights and is replaced by something more ominous. Subtle too, that omens music is fun-house style goofy, which softly hints that not all is as it seems to the viewer.

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As to the character relationships, Mirage and Hayate are immediately set up as rivals (and, probably, long term love interests) due to Hayate’s natural skills and matter of fact criticism of the military and rules following. It doesn’t help that Mirage was out of sync during combat too and they both know it.

More broadly, we see Arad’s fatherly relations with with his pilots and other admin, as well as how most people are scared of Elysion’s Captain Ernest Johnson, who is probably Zentradi but looks like an adult version of Teen Titans’ Beast Boy. We also see the Aerial Knights have a lot of internal conflict, which will no doubt be their undoing.

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Stray details and speculation: The Aerial Knights’ SV-262 Draken III’s appeal to be capable of docking with a Ghost on the end of each wing. This not only looks pretty cool, but could imply reliance on artificial intelligence to bolster their numbers. (AI is also generally outlawed in the Macross universe, following Sharon Apple’s rampage in Plus and whatever the heck the androids of Macross Galaxy were up to in Frontier)

Also worth noting the Aerial Knight’s resemblance to the pre-space era earth villains in Macross Zero. The fighters look similar, also had purple, and the characters had feudal sounding titles and ranks…

Also also, Walkure’s VF-31 “Siegfrieds” are named after a dragon slayer, which is important because “Draken” means dragon in swedish.

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Delta’s strength is that it is very well produced: tremendous precision went into its sound design, visual styling, animation and world building. It somehow even keeps its 17+ characters recognizable and coherent.

Delta’s weakness is it has 17+ characters to show us, tons of world building to get through, and some technobabble about singing/fold-space potential, and even more alien races than Macross has ever tackled before.

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It does a good job balancing that all out, but there is so much packed into this episode, I found it hard to absorb in one sitting. More critically, despite the extraneous detail scenes that serve as points of ‘rest,’ the shows maximum level of information density stops individual elements from standing out.

It’s like playing a game for the first time with 2 years worth of DLC turned on from the very beginning!

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Macross Delta – 01

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Note: This is a repost of my January review of the preview special, updated with the rest of the episode that more recently aired.

Cute, quirky, idealistic heroine whom the serious male protag helps out? Check. Rather than Ranka Lee, we have Freyja Wion. She’s also voiced by a first-time seiyu (Suzuki Minori), who does a pretty good job balancing goofiness, earnestness, vulnerability and determination.

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If you’re not put off by Freyja’s bubbly enthusiasm, you’ll want to root for her almost immediately. She’s on the run from an arranged marriage to audition for Walkure, a “Tactical Sound Unit” that uses music to fight the Var, which unlike the Vajra aren’t a primal alien race, but a disease that infects everyone, potentially making anybody a weapon in its arsenal.

While there’s a lot of terminology right out of the gate, Delta doesn’t drown you in it, and also assumes this isn’t your first Macross rodeo (my other exposure to the franchise is the excellent 25th anniversary series Macross Frontier). Like that show, the world is lush and detailed, only the visuals here in 2016 are even more smooth and refined, particularly where CGI is concerned.

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The male protag, Hayate Immelmann (probably named for the turn), is initially put off by Freyja’s weirdness, but ends up rescuing her, though having been someone who’s dreamed big in the past and gotten nowhere, he remains skeptical of her lofty aspirations.

Something tells me his attitude will have changed when this episode concludes in April. He even seems to come under a little bit of a spell from her overflowing charisma—until she loses her foothold and he has to catch her in an awkward position that has him at gunpoint for suspected perversion by Mirage, a soldier in Delta Platoon, Walkure’s escort unit.

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The misunderstanding is corrected just in time for a city-wide Var Alert. The Var infect the local Zentradi base (as in Frontier, the green-skinned giants are normally allies of the humans here), and Freyja and Hayate become naught but two more ants on a massive battlefield, running for their lives.

Then we’re introduced to the four members of Walkure who run towards the danger, transforming into their magical songstress forms: You have the Sheryl Nome-esque star Mikumo, the tomboyish Reina, the girly Makina, and the sporty leader, Kaname.

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Working in concert with the Delta Platoon, they neutralize the effects of the Var with their music, as the battle on the ground is essentially one big music video. This is a departure from Frontier in that the effects of the singing on the enemy aren’t known until later in the show. Here, Walkure is an active participant in the combat, and also in protecting the hordes of citizens with swarms of multidrones.

As one would expect of an experienced and practiced pop music group, Walkure knows exactly what to do and carry it out swiftly and efficiently, but also with an ample helping of style. So confident is Mikumo in her powers of charm, she gets right in a Var-infected Zentradi pilot’s face and cures him on the spot, getting him to exclaim that iconic line, “Deculture!”

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But that’s not all for enemies. In orbit, the planet’s space fleet is attacked by the Aerial Knights, a group of badass male warriors who look to be the Walkure Girls’ rivals and foils. When they engage the Delta Platoon on the surface, they learn they’re more than a match.

Be it the Huge Capital Ship Getting Blow’d Up Real Good in orbit or the Zig-Zagging Dogfight in the skies, Delta doesn’t separate itself much from Frontier in these areas, but it does distinguish itself in sheer quality and refinement. There’s nary a frame out of place, and as previously stated, the CGI is far better integrated into the regular animation than the older work. The plane, ship, cockpit, and HUD designs are also new and very cool-looking, all with a welcome nod to the past.

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With all the big battles and explosions going on, the episode could be excused for completely forgetting about Freyja and Hayate, but when the Knights push Walkure and Delta into a corner, we come back to them, trying not to get caught in the crossfire. Then Mikumo emerges from the pile of wreckage, ready to rumble anew, and changes the tune—literally—to a more aggressive but still upbeat song.

Freyja’s little heart-shaped stone on her head starts to glow (as it did when Hayate fell on her), and she can’t resist singing along and running towards the battle rather than away. It’s an inspiring sight for young Hayate, seeing her risk her life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, without a care in the world that things won’t work out.

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So…what does the newly-aired episode add to the preview? Nothing that changes my original score of an 8. Right after Freyja runs off, Hayate commandeers a partially-wrecked mech to back her up. As Walkure detects Freyja adding her voice to theirs (and it’s a nice voice), Hayate takes out baddies with the grace of a dancer.

Eventually, he gets lost in the song, and he and Freyja spend a little time in Glowing Naked Blue Sky Land before enemy fire snaps Hayate out of it, and the two start plummeting to the Earth. With their fates uncertain (though not really; they’ll be fine) the episode really just replaced one ellipsis with another, only now Walkure and Delta Platoon have seen a little of what these two crazy kids can do.

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