91 Days – 02

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Avilio could have joined the Orcos and helped them take down the Vanettis, fulfilling his duty as a member of the family while satisfying his thirst for revenge. But he didn’t, and the answer why is clear: it’s easier to accomplish what hell-bent on doing by joining up with the Vanettis. He can earn their trust with his competence, with Colteo’s skill providing cover.

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He arrives at a Godfather-like wedding, with a groom who’s the nephew of the Chicago-based Galassias, who are more powerful than either of the families in Lawless. Because of that, they can pressure the two to make nice, something that doesn’t sit right with Vanno Clemente.

Not only that, he has to watch his pal Nero’s sister Fio be snatched up by the Chi-town clown. So when Avilio makes a flippant remark to the groom and dodges his punch, Vanno takes a shine to him. When Nero gives the okay to take out Fango, Vanno turns to Avilio—just as Avilio planned.

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Interestingly (for me anyway), the show doesn’t simply hand victory to Avilio. Despite a nice bit of disguise and stealth, Fango is a motherfuckin’ survivor (not to mention a masochist), and doesn’t go down easily. I imagine even if Avilio had gotten a bullet or two in him, it wouldn’t be enough to stop Fango from parkouring into the night.

But someone wanting to off a jerk like Fango probably isn’t such a surprise to his employers (he is a mercenary, after all), and Avilio claims he hasn’t killed before, so Vanno isn’t that upset by the failure; hell, he half-expected it. He knew you need more luck than Fango to kill Fango.

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What Avilio does get him, by dumb luck, is Serpente, the somewhat sadistic dude who killed his young car-loving pal earlier in the episode. At this point, Avilio has Vanno eating out of his hands, meeting him in a place and time where no one will see or hear them, so that Vanno can get his revenge.

What surprised me was that Avilio acted so fast. We’re only on Day frikkin’ two, and here he is, already taking a shot at one of the three main guys on his list, which he shares with an increasingly worried Colteo. The only problem is…he seems to have messed up again, and all the trust he earned may have been wasted. That’s typically the assessment when you’ve got the barrel of a gun in your back!

But judging from Avilio’s look, he’s not going to let things end here. I was expecting him to be friends with Vanno and Nero longer than he was. But I’m not disappointed the show didn’t go in the direction I assumed.

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91 Days – 01 (First Impressions)

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Seven years after his family is killed in a mob power struggle, Avilio returns to the town of Lawless, reuniting with his friend Colteo to sell his quality moonshine to discriminating customers on the “Island.”

They end up facing the Orco family’s new attack dog Fango, but manage to escape with their would-be-buyer, who turns out to be Nero Vanetti, the son of the man who killed Avilio’s family.

91 Days wastes no time establishing Avilo’s backstory and resultant vendetta, and the title leaves no doubt as to how long he’ll have to get his vengeance.

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What might be lacking in complexity or surprise in the story is made up for by 91 Days’ rich, detailed, earthy prohibition-era setting. There’s a pall of melancholy and fallen grace everywhere, no more overt than a church on an island converted to a bar.

Unlike GANGSTA, this is a show that sticks to realism; no magical super-beings here, just good old-fashioned blood, brawn, sweat, and smoke. The weapons are bats, bullets, but exclusively knives in the case of Avilio, who has clearly been honing his mind and body for this quest for revenge thes last seven years.

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Even a wild dog like Fango doesn’t faze Avilio when the guy interrupts his negotiations. In fact, he uses it as an opportunity to show his worth to some people who seem important, and turn out to be the very people he wants to get close to.

Avilio is a man with nothing to lose, since he already lost it all, so he’s no someone you want to bet against. That being said, there isn’t much else to his character, at least not yet in this first episode. His childhood pal Colteo welcomes him back in his life, but I wonder how long he’ll last, as he’s not as hard or strong as Avilio has become.

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Where the originality comes into play is Colteo’s mad distillery science, and the decisive blow to Fango is a chemical reaction that harkens to seven years ago, the night Avilio’s fam was murdered, when then-Angelo put out a candle with his finger, showing it was the paraffin burning.

Colteo hoped to make money off his quality hooch so he could go to school, but now that he’s swept up in Avilio’s plans, that’s probably not going to happen.

For all the looming stone buildings and iron bridges in Lawless, There’s a distinct sense of impermanence to 91 Days. Avilio probably doesn’t want to be on this earth any longer than he needs to take care of business, and he probably won’t be. I’m looking forward to seeing how he uses his 91 days.

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Ushio to Tora – 31

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Ushio’s previews are never anything than a listing of the (usually vague) title of the next episode accompanied by the sound of the Beast Spear striking something. As such, we’re always in the dark about what exactly will come next. I’ve always kinda liked that.

It meant I didn’t know if Asako would somehow end up encountering a HAMMR humvee on the street, and be taken to the floating dock by helicopter to Ushio’s side, right after he’s thrown in the brig with two civilian researchers who built the Undine submarine who let him take them hostage to escape.

That’s…a lot, but the bottom line is, Ushio and Asako are reunited. But as is usual with these two, it’s not that simple: Asako’s memories aren’t fully back, and they may never come back. That doesn’t matter, as she’s confident this is the boy she loves anyway, especially after he literally plucked her from the fire, along with the bits and pieces of memories still rattling around.

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This leads to one of the most raw and poignant scenes between these two. Asako begs Ushio not to go, lest he lose himself. Ushio insists he has to go, and he’ll be back “in a little while.” It’s the most comfort he can offer, because he knows there’s a good chance he won’t be back at all. He can’t promise anything.

But seeing Asako, even regarding him as a stranger, act in this way, and remembering everything they’ve been through and everything she’s meant to him, their last exchange is an exchange of I love yous…only because of the sub’s thick glass, neither can hear the other’s confession.

At this point, I just want more than anything for Ushio to get the job done and come back safe. No matter what else happens, Asako deserves that much.

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As Ushio goes down in the Undine to perhaps meet his ultimate fate, Tora stays topside to give Nagare what he’s always wanted, and what he betrayed Kouhamei and Ushio to get: a serious, no-holds-barred fight with Tora. Tora doesn’t disappoint, though at one point Nagare nails him to the deck and rants about another reason he had to betray Ushio: in order to show him, and his painfully naive eyes it grew so hard to look at, what he really is: a traitor and a wretch.

Tora doesn’t buy it, breaking out some ruthless chortling and mocking. If Nagare is afraid of that little twerp’s EYES, there’s no way he can beat a dyed-in-the-wool monster like him.

It’s moments like this that I’m reminded that perhaps Tora truly plans to eat Ushio one day, just that he’s in absolutely no hurry to do so. That, I guess, makes him a monster. Also, whatever else he is, he’s a being who can do things Nagare simply can’t, even when he hulks up and digs deep into his bag of spiritual tricks.

But for all his insistance that he’s the baddest mofo-in’ monster around, Ushio was still trying to obey Ushio’s wishes by not killing Nagare—only for Nagare to make him go far enough to kill him anyway.

I don’t see Tora being genuinely contrite enough to convince Ushio it was an accident, and I don’t see Ushio (if and when he returns, or if and when Tora goes to him) easily forgiving or going back on his promise that Tora will regret it. But hey, who knows: the preview, as always, won’t show even a glimpse of what is to come.

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Ushio to Tora – 30

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With Mayuko doomed to live the rest of her life replacing Ushio’s mom, Asako in the hospital still growing her skin back, and a lot of people either dead, turned to stone, or unable to remember Ushio, this entire second season has been one big fat DOWNER.

There seems to be no end to Ushio’s torment, as one thing after another crops up to make his life that much more dark and tragic. Just take Nagare, who “frees” Ushio and Tora from a JASDF transport taking them who knows where.

As was teased previously (by his evil grin), Nagare is now on Hakumen’s side. There’s no explanation why, nor why he retreats as suddenly as he appeared when a HAMMR helicopter approaches (he sliced an armored humvee in half; he can’t take out a chopper?)

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So yeah, there’s been a lot of piling on this season, and each episode has dug deep into the vast repository of Ushio to Tora characters from the first season, dusting them off and putting them back on the game board, like the two HAMMR scientists who didn’t die.

All the negativity of compounded ordeals early on made it hard to enjoy this episode, but the show does,to its credit, throw us a few bones of both hope and levity, which are much appreciated—though Asako getting out of bed and wandering around town with her skin still healing, looking like a damn mummy, is definitely not one of those bones. For the love of God, Asako, go back to the hospital!

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Rather, Ushio’s first bone is the Rock Eater armor HAMMR procured from the Kouhamei Sect before shit went down. They believe it will help them in the latest trial he must face: stopping the JASDF, all the brass of which have been fooled by a false Jei Mei, to launch missiles at the stone pillar at the bottom of the sea where Hakumen is (barely) being held.

It’s pretty obvious by how she speaks and looks that this Jei Mei is not Ushio’s mother, but a Hakumen fake, and it’s just as clear destroying the stone pillar will have the opposite effect of destroying Hakumen’s power.

You know you’re in a plot-heavy show when a fleet of submarines makes an appearance in your supernatural action fantasy shounen rom-com-a-drama! So much stuff going on.

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After Nagare’s tease and HAMMR, Ushio decides to stop by at home to…clean his room for some reason. Naturally, he runs into an ambush by more agents of Hakumen determined to crush the stone Azafuse before they revive and join the fight.

In the process, Ushio’s house is fucking destroyed (I can’t believe that hasn’t happened like five times already, considering all his dangerous adversaries!), and even when he dons his arguably badass Rock Eater armor, he and Tora end up in a tight spot.

So it falls to the shattered bits of petrified Azafuse to glom onto Tora like armor which, while lamer-looking than Ushio’s, enables Tora to take out the baddies with ease.

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After that, all that’s left is for Ushio to collect a couple of mementos from previous episodes and go down to the cellar to re-enact the scene where he first met Tora, which was….weird. I guess it speaks to how on-the-same-wavelength these two are—and how desperate for a moment of fun and levity among all the destruction and despair—that they’d do such a goofy thing.

However, after seeing Asako wander the streets in her bandages, I was really hoping she’d end up at Ushio’s place, even if, realistically, she’s still probably too frail to make it there. But she didn’t, which sucks, because now Ushio is off to the Okinawan Sea to stop those JASDF subs from doing something stupid.

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Ushio to Tora – 29

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With the East and West youkai still not remembering Ushio (but admitting he and Tora are probably their best hope), Mayuko gone off to relieve Ushio’s mom, and Asako healing in the hospital, Ushio and Tora…don’t have much to do this week. Instead, they learn a couple of new nuggets of information and run into an old acquaintance. A pretty quiet, often lumbering episode.

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That old acquaintances is Hyou, who we haven’t seen in who-knows-how-long. He doesn’t get much of a chance to explain why he’s at Ushio’s house when another unexpected visitor arrives: Guren, the black Tora working for Hakumen.

Hyou gives Ushio and Tora the scoop about Guren, whose name used to be Sokuei when he was a human thief who loved to kill, found the Beast Spear in the mountains, used it to make money, and eventually let it corrupt him and consume his soul (Ushio got close to a similar fate, but his friends saved him).

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Anywho, Guren continues to do what he wants, which in this case is doing the bidding of Hakumen. However, Ushio doesn’t fight Guren, and he tells Tora not to either. That’s because Guren also happened to be the sonofabitch who killed Hyou’s family.

That gives Hyou a better claim to fighting him, and he does…but I’ll be honest, it’s not the most thrilling or consequential fight. It doesn’t help that it doesn’t even end decisively, with Hyou managing to survive and leaving a knife in Guren’s body to track him later.

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The other big news is that Tora himself was once an ordinary human whose soul was corrupted by the spear, which is news to Ushio. A lot of other Tora-like monsters showed up for Hyou and Guren’s duel, but they didn’t do any more than Ushio and Tora, which was watch.

Anyway, Ushio patches Hyou up as best he can and lets him help himself to the house sake, which is apparently the best thing to drink after a big battle, win or lose, in order to “wash the hate out.” Hyou is also confident that not only will he defeat Hyou eventually (not caring what happens to him) but that Ushio and Tora will eventually defeat Hakumen.

That may be because Hakumen is fueled by the fear of its enemies, and Ushio and Tora are too busy bickering with each other to have much fear. Still, they’d better not come at Hakumen with anything resembling fear, or they’ll likely be toast.

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Musaigen no Phantom World – 05

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This week focuses on MPW’s member of the team who isn’t really a member yet, the aloof, distant Minase Koito. We learn she gained her powers at a young age, and at the cost of never being close to friends or family ever again. A chimera-like beast who loves preying on animals is the phantom that first awakened her powers, and she wants payback. Only she has two problems: she can’t take the phantom on alone, and Haruhiko won’t leave her alone.

It starts with one of Haruhiko’s friends saying something mean about Koito with Koito right behind him. Haruhiko means to apologize, but ends up caught up in the fight with the phantom. Koito saves Haruhiko from the brunt of its attack, but gets a face full of voice-nullifying gas, and without her voice, Koito can’t do squat.

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The episode is basically a progression of Koito realizing again and again that the phantom is too much for her to take on alone, as Haruhiko, Mai, Reina, and newcomer Kumamakura Kurumi (the girl who was observing the group from afar last week). Turns out Kurumi’s teddy bear Albrecht can balloon into a huge golem who fights for her

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Koito doesn’t take kindly to having her personal affairs intruded upon by meddlers like Haruhiko and Mai, but Haruhiko, feeling responsible for her voice getting damaged, can’t help but stay near her side as she tries in vain to take out the phantom. Mai, meanwhile, is very obviously miffed by Haruhiko’s sudden obsession with Koito, a classic childhood friend reaction.

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Koito’s voice heals enough for her to go at the phantom one more time, but it isn’t long before it breaks out the gas and she finds herself in a tough spot. But thanks to Ruru, Haruhiko was able to locate her. He summons Marchosias to distract the phantom while Kurumi uses Albrecht to pummel him into submission.

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From there, it becomes a group affair, with Reina healing Koito, Mai employing her elemental magic, and Haruhiko sketch-sealing the phantom. Himeno-sensei then notes that the phantom isn’t the same one that awakened Koito’s powers years ago after all; Koito was chasing after the wrong phantom.

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After Haruhiko & Co. went the extra mile for her sake without claiming the quarry she meant to claim, Koito can’t help but ask Himeno for Haruhiko’s address so she can wait outside his place as he waited outside hers, in order to apologize and thank him for his help. Which for someone as introverted as Koito, is real progress.

This episode got repetitive at times – Koito faces off against the phantom; loses; gets bailed out; then protests the others’ interference – but it was a decent enough fleshing out of the heretofore least fleshed-out member of the team…aside from Kurumi, who seems to exist in the show for “cuteness (as opposed to comic) relief.”

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 25 (Fin)

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One of the question marks last week was what, if anything, would bring Salia back into the fold. That turns out to be Alektra, whom Salia brings to the Aurora. All Alektra wants is a cigarette and the chance to say what she needed to say to Salia, whom she regards as a little sister, if not a carbon copy of herself, complete with the same mistakes. But as Aura halts the world-merging, there’s still a chance to beat Embryo.

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And is there some villainy thee vile Embryo hast not committed? Why, forcable rape, of course! His final move is to return to his own timeless “in-betweeny space”, where he gives Ange more of his backstory in between slapping and stripping her. He won’t be refused, and aims to “purify” Ange, who was “sullied” by Tusk. Now Embryo is just pathetic, though who can say this wouldn’t happen to any man kept alive for a thousand years, with the power to control everything?

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But yeah, in it’s last episode, Ange “goes there”, just it has not been afraid to go there throughout its run, for good or ill. He binds her arms and legs with vines so she’s spread eagle, but is kind enough not to gag her, so Ange takes advantage and sings the song of Villkiss. Tusk boards it, and with his tears of love he’s able to activate her ring, and the Villkiss teleports him, Hilda, Salia and Salako to Ange’s location.

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Tusk is just in time to stop Embryo from going too far, and rescues Ange in their now trademark position of his head in her crotch. This time, Ange is too scared and happy he’s there to blush or slug him. And he even has the panties she gave him so she can cover up. I wondered when those panties would come in handy.

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There’s still Embryo to content with, and Tusk crosses swords with him, as is expected of a knight, and we also learn this is Embryo’s original body. He’s still a tough customer, so Tusk keeps him busy as Villkiss upgrades again to a Ange/Tusk combo paint scheme, and cloaks Ange in a crisp, white flight suit.

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Hilda (riding Chris’ mail), Salia, and Salako prove to be a good group to have accompanied Tusk to this place. They’re kept busy fighting duplicates of Embryo’s Ragna-mail. He tries to brainwash Salia and briefly takes over control of her mail, but as Ange and Salako monologue about how they’ll allow themselves to be controlled (by a man, no less) over their dead bodies. Hilda and Salia join their voices.

Salako even figures out why Norma exist—judgment for Embryo thinking in his hubris he could control human genes—and why they’re all women: so they can re-populate the Earth with a population of humans he can’t control. Life Will Find A WayCross Ange-style. It holds together pretty well.

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As Tusk runs Embryo through and Ange delivers that dynamite one-liner in the top-right, she runs his Ragna-mail through, and it’s over. No more dirty old man. Good game; let’s go eat!

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The world Ange & Friends return to is the “true” Earth of Dragons, now freed from Embryo’s tinkering. There, with no one left to fight, Ange declares she’ll build a new nation, and at this point everyone at her side is fine with that. She was born to lead, after all, not to mention she’s the reason they’re all alive.

When Momoka asks what’s to be done about the other world, Ange basically shrugs and says it’s not her problem, which she’s well within her rights to do. The people of that world are humans; they’ll figure it out.

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Sure enough, we see Sylvia embracing the fact that she really can walk, and arms herself with friends and weapons to protect the weak. The show didn’t have to do anything else with Sylvia, but I’m glad they did. She is Ange’s sister, and Ange herself was once an insufferable brat, so it stands to reason Sylvia had that same strength within her.

As the credits roll we get a great epilogal montage that shows us what everyone is up to now that there’s peace: Ersha, Salia, and the surviving rookies meeting Vivian’s parents; Ange opening her dream cafe with Tusk; Momoka and the bridge crew; hanging out with Salako on her time off; paying respects to the fallen, and building their new nation.

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Left out of the end montage, in a rare showing of restraint for this show: Hilda-Roselie-Chris makeup sex, Ange-Tusk baby-making, and other potential bedroom formations, such as Ange-Salako-Tusk or Ange-Tusk-Hilda-Roselie. Gotta leave some things to the imagination, I suppose…but I imagine at some point they’ll want to populate this new nation, and there are only so many men. Gotta watch out for inbreeding.

And on that somewhat inappropriate note, it’s time to say goodbye to Cross Ange, at least until the OVA or film, if they come to fruition. It was a very fun ride, and I’ll miss the show’s shameless raunchyness and shlock combined with genuinely compelling character drama and feminist commentary.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 24

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As you can see, a lot happened in the second-to-last episode of Cross Ange, but not a whole lot was resolved; most glaringly the Embryo problem: dude just won’t die. Perhaps they’re leaving that for the last episode; though as Ange remarks in the preview, they could also hold that off until a special or movie…which would make me as cross as Ange usually is (if it’s to be believed the show’s title is a pun).

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While the fate of Ange, Tusk, Salia, and Embryo remains up in the air for the finale, this episode focused on secondary characters, as many as it could, and tied up some loose ends we were hoping wouldn’t end in tragedy.

The Aurora takes a beating, but Jasmine, Vivi, Riza, Momoka, and Ersha (taking to the cockpit again) manage to keep it together long enough for DRAGON reinforcements to arrive (sent by their empress to back up the Norma).

Embryo also shows his Diamond Rose Knights exactly how little he really thinks of them by using them to bait the Dragons so he can go grab his “wife” Ange. Two of Chris and Salia’s comrades, whom I could never remember the names of, are killed off in quick succession.

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In the episode’s best act, this latest betrayal basically breaks Chris, who just fires wildly at everyone wishing they’d all die. A nifty combo of Hilda’s tough love (“Give it a break, you emo bitch!” is particularly cutting, but apt) and a desperate stunt by Roselie, who plucks Chris right out of her cockpit and won’t let go until she’s heard.

Hilda manages to catch them both, by which time Roselie has reiterated her love for Chris, and the fact she can’t live without her, and wants to be her friend again more than anything. Chris, back to her senses and thinking like the Chris of old, uses this opportunity to make Roselie agree to several conditions, which will have the effect of balancing their relationship.

If nothing else, I’m glad these girls made up and no one had to be killed (well, except Marika).

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While all this feel-good making up is going on, Salako and Ange succeed in releasing Aura from his cage. Jill also smells defeat on Embryo and tries to get him to take her with him…wherever he escapes to. It’s a trick, but one that doesn’t work out for Jill, as she wrongly assumed she was dealing with Emby’s original body. She’s injured, but not dead, so we’ll see what becomes of her.

There’s not a lot of her here, perhaps because she’ll factor so huge in the finale (Embryo plucks her away in the end, sans clothes), but the fact large swaths of time pass where we’re not sure what she’s up to was troublesome. Furthermore, Salia has seen her comrades be betrayed by Embryo, but she doesn’t quite wake up like Ersha and Chris.

Emby doesn’t seem to care about either world anymore, and as they’re 97% converged when the credits roll, he may not have to care about them much longer. Ange remains his top priority, and he seems genuinely pissed when Tusk boasts deflowered her. Which when you look at that flashback and see Embryo with Tusk’s mom, adds a somewhat icky sheen to this whole affair.

Then again, it wouldn’t be Cross Ange if it wasn’t a little icky.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 23

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Even though two more episodes remain, this had the feel of a second-to-last episode, with a lot of character housekeeping leading into the start of the final battle that will decide the very fate of the world(s). With such a tangled web of character connections, any housekeeping episode in which many were either resolved or set up to be resolved soon could run the risk of feeling overstuffed and unwieldy.

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Not so here, and you can chalk that up to the show’s genuine care and concern for each and every one of its characters, with the possible exception of Embryo, who has been painted pretty consistently as a transparently evil pervert of late.

Because Cross Ange cares so much, so do I. So even when minor characters like a sober Emma and Riza Randog achieve redemption, it lifts my spirits as much as Ange returning to the Aurora with Tusk aboard his mother’s paramail, or Ersha returning to the fold. Everyone is getting into the right place.

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As Ange later remarks to Salia, she has a lot of “errands” this week, which starts with welcoming Salako back and thanking Riza, and continues with trying to slap some pride back into a sulking Jill. Hilda now sees fully what she’d only seen glimpses of before; how inspiring and natural a leader Ange is.

To that end, she offers Ange the command, and to Hilda’s credit it feels more like a correct and practical decision rather than any kind of emotionally-driven concession borne out of her inadequacies. She just prefers to run around with a gun, which is true.

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As for Hilda’s feelings for Ange, well, now is the time to confess them, and when Ange insists, Hilda doesn’t hold back: she sees Ange as her knight; her Tusk. When she laughs away these feelings as strange because they’re both women, Ange leans in for a kiss, and tells her the world where such things are strange is the same world they’re going to destroy.

Ange will need Hilda in that world as much as Tusk and Salako. This suggests it will be a society in which relationships need not be monogamous. It’s another credit to the care with which these characters’ roller-coaster history has been portrayed that this corridor exchange hits all the right emotional notes. Tamura Yukari also turns in a great performance as Hilda here.

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When chewing out Jill, Ange pointed out that many lives were destroyed in her failed missions for revenge and revolution, and that even Salia had to latch onto Embryo when Jill spurned her. When we see Salia saluting Embryo, you can tell that Embryo himself is now secondary to her own desire to rid the world of Ange once and for all, hoping that will make her special and desired. It’s a misguided motivation that I simply don’t see unfolding.

As Ange’s “errands” continue, she and Tusk have a quiet tender moment on the eve of battle, when Ange insists on giving Tusk something back for his undying devotion. Something more than being safe, that is, which is enough for him. But being light on the possessions, she decides to give him the panties she’s presently wearing, which Tusk accepts graciously and promises to return “so she doesn’t catch cold.” It’s the same kind of risque sweetness that has defined so much of their romance.

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After Ange delivers a stirring pre-battle speech that only demonstrates Hilda made the right decision in raising her to the command, the Aurora, with Jasmine at the help and Ersha on the weapons, heads to the Dawn Pillar for a frontal assault. The conventional Misurugi military units don’t put up much of a fight, so as the enemy nears, Embryo sends his harem of ragna-mail pilots out to meet them, and the battle’s stakes heighten accordingly.

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Such a wide-ranging battle with everyone involved means we get some nice matchups: Hilda and Roselie against their former lover Chris, who’s still in Embryo’s court; Salako’s two lieutenants we can’t remember the names of versus the other two Embryo girls we can’t remember the name of, and Vivi inspiring the rookies with her usual kick-ass combat skills. And then Tusk takes on Embryo, who is amused that Tusk isn’t dead.

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Jasmine and Ersha successfully fire the Aurora’s cryo-cannon at the Dawn Pillar, destroying it and opening the way for Salako and Ange to free Aura beneath the ruins. But Ange has to get past a hate-fueled Salia, who may yet again be ignoring her natural shortcomings in her obsessive quest to destroy her rival. Note that her arc has gone in essentially the opposite direction of Hilda’s.

Salia tosses Ange into the palace, where Ange happens to come upon her sister Sylvia, who is being harassed by commoners furious that nothing’s being done to protect them. Ange has nothing for these people but contempt, and in one case, a bullet to the head. In what she believes will be her last encounter with her pathetic little sister, Ange fires warning shots at her, forcing her to stop pretending she can’t walk and run away, taking care of herself for once.

It’s pretty harsh treatment when you consider that like much of the rest of humanity, Sylvia is simply a slave to her genetic abhorrance of Norma and Dragons, and a victim of her weak, brainwashing-susceptable mind. But alas, this is not a fair world; that’s why Ange’s going to destroy it, giving rise to a fairer one.

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With that last “errand” taken care of, Ange returns to her duel with a patient Salia, and it’s pretty clear at this point there’s nothing Ange can say that will make her see reason. Enter Alektra Maria von Levenherz, who has taken Ange’s words to heart, suits up, and pilots Ersha’s ragna-mail to join the fray, doing her part for Libertus.

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Perhaps Jill will be able to succeed where Ange has thus far failed vis-a-vis Salia. She certainly knows how to press Salia’s buttons, as the first thing she says to her is that she’s disappointed, the kind of tack that drew Salia away from her in the first place.

Is she provoking Salia to throw her off the game so she’ll break off from Ange and start attacking Jill? Is Jill’s goal to atone by snapping Salia out of it, or simply by letting Salia kill her, if she can? Did Embryo really set up this whole world-merging threat simply to draw Ange to kill him for realsies, using the Villkiss’ inter-dimensional ability.

Will the battle end next week, making episode 25 an epilogue? Who will live; who will die; who will reconcile? The housekeeping and table-setting is over: it’s time for the big dance.

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P.S. In the adorable preview, Vivi celebrates Ersha’s return by demanding food, and Ersha headbutts her, but the preview ends before she can tell us what happens next week. Drat!

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 22

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This week somewhat inauspiciously begins with Salia being spanked like an insolent child by Embryo, for letting Ange get away. But as painful and humiliating as this experience is, there’s still a glint of defiance in Salia’s face and words. Chasing after Ange the Chosen One like an obedient errand girl is not what she signed up for; in fact, it’s one of the very reasons she defected from Arzenal in the first place.

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Aboard the Aurora, Embryo finally manipulates Emma Bronson to antagonize what looks like the beginning of a Norma/Dragon alliance, in the midst of Riza’s report that Embryo is trying to merge both their worlds to form a new one, destroying them in the process. Even if Salako & Co. are Dragons, Hilda can relate Salako’s friendship to Ange. Roselie, meanwhile, isn’t looking forward to killing Chris, but it’s her or them; something she laments with great sadness.

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Embryo expounds on his grand plans for the world by stating it will be ruled by “strong, intelligent women.” He leaves out “pliable women who will acknowledge his unlimited power and know their place below him.” At the same time, he takes no pleasure in watching Ersha grovel and beg him to restore the lives of her children. He really never intended those children to survive the merging at all. Rather, he intends Ersha to become the mother of the new world’s children, which has some pretty messed-up ramifications if you think too long about it, which, judging from Ersha’s expression, she does.

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Like Salia, Embryo essentially warns Ersha that she’s not acting like the “intelligent women” he needs for that world. Unlike Salia, he basically casts her aside and tells her to stay out of sight, whereas he at least gives Salia one more chance to prove her loyalty. Salia won’t be doing that, though.

It looks like her spanking was the straw that broke the camel’s back; she won’t prove her value to Embryo by finding Ange; she’ll prove she’s stronger by besting and killing her, going against Embryo’s wishes in a desperate bid to win his approval.

This is not the best plan, considering Embryo can bring people back from the dead at will, but even if her judgement-quashing inferiority complex is still as strong as ever, at least she now realizes how much of a sack of shit Embryo is. Ripping up her Pretty Salian cosplay is as strong a symbol as any that she’s done playing the heroine.

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Ersha, meanwhile, realizes how appallingly naive she’s been, and how easily she allowed Embryo to win her obedience by manipulating her powerful maternal instincts. In both her and Salia’s case, they were girls with ambitions (albeit very different ones) that got their way, and now that they’ve seen how thin the veneer of Embryo’s goodness extends, They’re both well and truly disillusioned, and will no longer follow him.

Chris is different, in that nothing happened to her this week that suggests she’ll be going against Embryo. Embryo is her best bud, after all; the one person who would simply be her friend the way no one else ever did. Her ambitions are far smaller by comparison, and so easier to both fulfill and maintain. Are Chris, Roselie, and Hilda doomed to try and kill one another without ever reconciling the often twisted shit they’ve all been through? Or will something Embryo does cause CHris to revolt as well? I hope it’s the latter.

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Meanwhile, Tusk’s chopper-thingy deposits Ange on his island and releases her, and it doesn’t take long for the same crushing loneliness Tusk must have felt in the years he was here to sink in for her, combined with her grief over losing both Tusk and Momoka. Ange can’t see the purpose of trying to save a world she can’t share with those two very important people.

She even considers taking her life, before remembering Tusk’s final words to her about her having to live. But reading Tusk’s diary, including the entry when she arrived (not Ange’s best outing), at which point he’d already chosen to be her knight, only makes Ange more upset. She may have spared her own life for now, but she still can’t see the point of sparing it indefinitely.

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And then, all of a sudden, as she remarks on how she’d have gone all the way with Tusk if she’d known he’d sacrifice himself, Tusk pops up behind her, alive and well! She thinks it’s another of Embryo’s illusions at first, but I had a pretty good idea it was Tusk. Am I going to defend this ridiculous plot twist? No, but I can understand it: You don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it; we never saw Tusk actually die in the explosion.

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Having tasted the bitterness of losing Tusk, Ange isn’t going to side-step the issue of the furtherance of their relationship any longer. On the contrary, she has sex with Tusk right then and there, under the stars, to prove it’s really him. Afterwards, it’s as if all of that sexual tension had simply melted away, leaving two far calmer, less distracted people.

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Momoka’s back too, because Hell, why not? She had a frying pan in her clothes that stopped a bullet. I’m more on the side of happy than angry they’re back, even if it’s very sudden. The why isn’t really important, only the that. And that Tusk and Momoka are alive means Ange has far stronger motivations to stop Embryo.

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I just don’t see how she’s going to do it considering how easily he dispatched them last time. Maybe these two finally getting laid was the key?

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 21

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Hilda leads a team composed of herself, Roselie, Vivi, Tusk, and the three new pilots to invade Misurugi and rescue Ange, in an action-packed episode that satisfactorily juggles all the involved parties and all their individual stakes and relationships, both forged and shattered. Ange is ultimately freed from Embryos clutches, but it’s only another temporary victory, and it comes at the greatest cost yet.

To think Hilda, Roselie, and Chris started out as an annoying “popular girl clique” that shunned Ange. They’ve come a long way. Hilda is fighting for Ange, Roselie is fighting for Hilda and her novice riders, and Chris is fighting for her new, true friend, Embryo-sama. She looks back in retrospect and concludes that even before Hilda and Roselie “left her for dead”, they were never really her friends. Despite Hilda’s harsh words earlier in the show, I don’t think that’s true, but tempers are too high for any hope of reconciliations.

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Chris knocks out Villkiss’ power, and it ditches in the river. Momoka rescues Ange and tries to get her away by car before Embryo unveils another one of his little tricks: the ability to turn any mana-user into a homonculus. Ane manages to snap Momoka out of it, but throngs of zombie Misurugi citizens converge. Embryo proves as tenacious as ever in cornering Ange and bending her to his will.

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While Hilda and Chris value Embryo as a lover and best mate, respectively, Ersha is doing everything for the kids, not him. So when, in the crossfire of the battle, all those kids get slaughtered, Ersha too loses all possible compunction to ever side with Ange and her cohorts again. Now, I imagine, whatever is left of her life will be dedicated to making sure those kids are avenged.

Chris, meanwhile, takes a sadistic amount of relish in killing off Marika, one of Roselie’s novice riders who came to cover her teacher’s escape. Her end is neither as surprising or as gory as Coco and Miranda’s, but it again escalates the conflict between these former comrades-in-arms, and even proves Embryo’s point that with or without the light of mana, it doesn’t take much to turn once somewhat reasonable humans into monsters.

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Embryo’s intention to punish Ange are thwarted by her trusty, horny knight, who stalls Embryo so Ange and Momoka can escape. After getting in a dig about how Tusk, the final member of “ancient people”, is nothing but a monkey, Embryo ends the stalling by shooting himself in the head.

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Just when we think Ange is home free, with the ocean and skies sprawling out before her, Momoka is taken over by Embryo once again, as he sips tea down on a balcony below them. You have to credit Embryo with being so damn hard to foil, though that’s a given when you have the powers of a god. Frankly, anyone who attempts to oppose such a powerful being has never seemed to have a very good approach for actually doing so, and the fact he’s immortal makes that unpreparedness understandable.

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Ange is then forced to watch as Momoka, whom Embryo has powered up to the very limits of her body, slashes at Tusk with a sword. Ange is able to break Embryo’s hold on her once more, saving Tusk, but then Momoka goes after Embryo while using her mana to make a huge truck hit them and push them off a cliff. It’s one final act of valor and love from Momoka, but I wonder if she didn’t squander her life trying to take out someone who couldn’t be taken out. Ange did tell her and Tusk that Embryo can’t be killed, right?

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No matter. Even if she did know she couldn’t kill him, she could slow him down, and prevent herself from being used as a homonculus again. Tusk does the same thing, sacrificing himself with a suicide bomb in order to buy time for Ange’s escape, which isn’t her choice, as he sets auto-cruise and cuffs her to his ship.

And just like that, Momoka and Tusk, two of the people Ange cared about most, are gone. Seeing the stunned pain in Ange’s face and voice at this realization, one almost can’t fault those who surrendered and sided with Embryo, because this is the price of opposing him, with the final cost yet unknown.

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Stray Observations:

  • I know it’s indicative of far more insidious elements of their dynamic in the past, but Chris is kinda overreacting over the other two making her lose one of her braids when they only gave her a clip for one. She could have, you know, spoke up for herself regarding her hairstyle preference.
  • The fact Embryo can make any one, or any number, of mana-users into his own zombie army seems like a wildly underused power up to this point.
  • Continuing with its utterly irreverent theme of the previews, Ange considers simply replacing the fallen Tusk and Momoka with Hilda and Roselie…but ironically that’s essentially what I see happening!
  • Tusk may have died a virgin, but no one can say he didn’t have his share of interesting experiences with women.
  • I assume Salia was knocked out this entire episode.

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 20

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The above scene is a blatant, laughable lie, one proven to be one mere minutes later when Embryo puts the exact same moves on Ange (Also, why does he always get fully dressed before her? Can’t he snuggle Pretty Salian once in a while?). But Salia accepts it, because talk of love or destiny aside, Salia’s made a deal with Embryo.

She gets to live out her fantasy, and he gets to have her mind and body. Embryo is essentially an immortal pimp, and he makes each woman he manipulates feel like they’re his queen, through offering things they want most.

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Angelise is former royalty, so he continues to treat her as such with lovely invitation letters, second flush Darjeeling, and more honeyed words, many of them recycled from speeches with the other women. Salia doesn’t even care what Ange wants or does from this point on, as long as she’s not there to steal her spotlight and her man.

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“These are the implants I’ve had designed for you. We’re gonna make you a STAR!”

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But the same flattering, nurturing faux-kindness doesn’t work on Ange. She’s the same warrior she was when she pulverized that dragon back when she got stranded on that island. If she has a blade and a threat, she’s going to take it out. This time, Ange tries to make her point clearer by making Embryo suffer.

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Little does she know Embryo is going easy on her out of real kindness, preferring to turn her with a minimum of suffering. When he pops back again, alive and well, he reluctantly resorts to stronger measures, and it’s here that we start to take Embryo a bit more seriously.

He did create Ange’s race of humans, after all; it stands to reason he has all the tools at his disposal to manipulate them at will. Playing nice didn’t work on Ange, so he makes things far more elemental: zapping her brain with 50xPain, followed by 50xPleasure. It’s not a pretty sight, even for an eavesdropping Salia.

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What makes this episode the best in a long time is just how nicely it balances development of the careening plot with a bevy of truly great character moments, and because there are so many of them, the pacing is brisk and thrilling. Take Roselie sneaking into Hilda’s room, where Roselie comes to terms with the fact Hilda has fallen for Ange, while she herself admits she loves Chris, and always had the wrong idea about who looked out for whom. They want to be with Ange an Chris again, and Hilda knows that’s not going to happen as long as Jill is in command.

To do something about it, they’ll need help, which means recruiting the gaoled Tusk and Vivian. Hilda initially tries to seduce Tusk, but despite the rumors his head is almost constantly in Ange’s crotch (a gross exaggeration), Hilda is almost disappointed to find that he never slept with her, confirming what Ange said, and is in fact saving himself, like a true knight. Hilda just calls him a “loser”, but he’s also a useful loser, so they make an accord.

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Jill, meanwhile, can’t get Embryo-sama out of her head, so she dons her flight suit and attempts to fly off, leaving Libertus and her crew behind. Hilda organizes and stages the most necessary mutiny ever, and in Jill’s fractured state she’s no match against people with far clearer heads. It’s an awesome bring-down, especially since we learn soon after that Jill needed and wanted to be saved…from herself.

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“How was I supposed to explain? That I went to kill Embryo, but instead he took my body and mind?”

This is the crux of Jill’s sad story, which there’s no point in concealing from her crew any longer, and it really nicely explains all of her actions and attitudes to this point, helping us see her in a far more sympathetic light. Jill may have been an ace mail-rider and royalty and pilot to Villkiss but she’s still only human, and able to be reprogrammed into submission by her creator, the very same curse that befalls all other humans, mana-using or not.

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This is a fact Embryo wishes to impart onto Ange in no uncertain terms, as he enjoys another cup of tea in Dave Bowman’s 2001 Bedroom as a topless Ange flails about on the floor in rapidly fluctuating states of acute pain, pleasure, and amusement. It’s a sickening scene, like watching one of the replicants in Blade Runner go berserk before blowing up.

This is no longer a battle of wills, but a battle of science. Even if her will continues to resist longer than Jill’s or Salias, Ange’s body and mind will only hold up so long against this punishment. When Embryo leaves her, Salia comes in, pleading with Ange again to go away, for both their sakes.

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Salia isn’t going to excuse what she did to get to where she is. Even if Jill deserved to be betrayed, Salia still chose to do so. She traded her pride, duty, and chastity for pleasure, the illusion of true love, and utter dependence on Embryo, just like Jill. But Salia did this because she felt she had no other choice but death, and she’d be right. Embryo is a repellent slimeball, but he’s all Salia has left. She’s either abandoned or revoked everything else.

They may have had their differences, but deep down Salia has always known that Ange was stronger than her; even the sweating, shambling half-naked wretch at her feet is stronger than her (the bit about ‘without having to transform’ is particularly devastating). In Salia’s self-narrative, Ange has been cast as her nemesis, so it does the heroine no good to see the nemesis in such a pathetic state. She’s not just begging Ange to flee Embryo out of the kindness of her heart, but because she needs Ange to continue to be strong, or all the rest of that fantasy falls apart.

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Salia isn’t brainwashed. She’s just chosen the path that she thought would give her the most happiness, and accepted the steep costs. She hasn’t really even transformed herself: the garb and weaponry and love Embryo showers her with is just another form of cosplay, and Salia remains hidden behind those facades because she fears if they were all torn down there’d be nothing at the core. I hope she’s proven wrong.

Ange thanks Salia for freeing her, and even repays her by putting her in a sleep hold and stealing her uniform, hoping it will lessen Salia’s punishment for letting her get away. I’m not convinced Embryo will be so forgiving to a tool that turned out to be defective.

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Plot and character really went hand-in-hand in this well-composed episode, with the anti-Embryo parties starting to coalesce. Jill gives Hilda command of the Aurora and Libertus; Tusk, Vivian, Roselie, and the rest of the crew are behind her plan to rescue Ange. Ange is able to summon Villkiss and escape with Momoka.

Her escape is covered by Salako, which would be an awfully convenient effect, if it didn’t have such a solid cause: Momoka shows an act of kindness and forgiveness by freeing the battered Riza Randog, who is able to contact her Dragon commander. So nice assist from Momoka, an unsung heroine of the series.

Even if Embryo has control over the bodies and minds of all who oppose him, in the case of Hilda with Jill, Momoka with Riza, and Salia with Ange, the capacity for genuine kindness, forgiveness, and love may be effective weapons against him. But at the end of the day, while his methods repel, Embryo is no entity of pure evil. He too a victim of his own immortality, arrogance, and the belief he must bear the entire weight of the world upon his shoulders.

That means if his creations find a way to really kill him, he may not necessarily resist that chance to be freed from his curse, thus ending obsession with “getting humanity right this time.”

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 19

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Back from her DRAGONcation, Ange saw the Arzenal/Libertus “new normal” aboard the Aurora last week, only to learn that Jill wasn’t someone she could count on to accomplish her goals. When she leaves the Aurora with Tusk, Momoka, and Vivian, they’re quickly captured by Ersha, Chris, and Salia, and we travel back to Misurugi, where it all began, and to these girls’ “new normal.” Of course, first the show acts as if Ange was fatally shot, but obviously she’s not dead.

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Momoka couldn’t be happier to be back in the capital, dressing and tending to her princess. Ange is looking for escape. She finds it when Salia comes in throwing her weight around; the new captain of the “Order of the DIamond Rose.” (So lame.) Salia explains how Embryo saved her and gave her everything she ever wanted because he loves her. Ange’s response is why she’s not called the Burn Princess for nothing: “You were adrift in the world, and then a new owner picked her up.”

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She pokes Salia in her boob with a pen and quickly overpowers both her and her two subordinates, even getting in a dig at Salia’s new uniform, saying the Pretty Salian cosplay suited her better. In terms of physical and psychological dominance, Ange really rules the day in this scene, even if I still have quite a bit of sympathy for poor Salia, who was raised to obey, not dominate. And Embryo did save her from a terrible drowning death.

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As soon as I saw the little Arzenal orphans running around the palace grounds with Ersha, I knew why she went over to Embryo. He literally brought the little ones back to life and let Ersha bring them to Misurugi to care for them.Ersha has what she’s always wanted: to be able to protect the children, and like a momma grizzly, she’ll show no mercy to anyone who threatens them, even Ange.

Like Salia, Chris was abandoned and left for dead, only to be saved and befriended by Embryo. And all Chris ever wanted was a friend. Embryo even lets Sylvia, who is still very much insane, lead a naked Riza around like a dog and whip her when she brings her the wrong book in the library.

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It isn’t until halfway through the episode that Ange comes face to face with Embryo, who immediately gives Salia pause when he asks to be left alone with the princess. Just like Jill, he’s far more interested in Ange, who is the first human in a long time who has interested him more than the characters in his beloved books. That’s another way of saying the likes of Salia don’t interest him. He’s given her everything she wants, but in exchange for her allegiance, and with the understanding that there isn’t anything deep or profound beneath any of it.

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Embryo takes Ange far beneath Misurugi to show her Aura, whose plight she’s already learned from Salako. Ange uses Embryo’s lowered guard to pull a gun on him, but no matter how many times she kills him, he comes right back, like a bishonen Kyuubey. It’s clear this is an enemy unlike any other Ange has faced: one with the powers of a god. A god who “tunes the sound of the world” can’t be defeated with guns.

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Embryo turns the tables by putting Ange into some kind of hypnotic trance, telling him all of the love, peace of mind, friendship, trust, and belonging he’s given her former comrades. He offers those same things to Ange, and even gets her to undress before him so he can get a good look at what is to be his prized possession and tool.

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Then he kisses her, Ange remembers her true knight Tusk, and snaps right the fuck out of it. Far from being hurt that she’d rebuke him so coldly, the mere fact that she could resist him is, arguably, even more preferable to her easily falling under his spell. Ange is a part of the world Embryo created and should be able to tune her like anyone or anything else…but he can’t.

This golden-haired, fiery-eyed princess is living proof his powers aren’t limitless, a claim that hasn’t been challenged for thousands of years. Perhaps those centuries have made him weary, and this is what he’s been seeking all along; what Salia and even Jill couldn’t provide (as it’s clear from her nightmares she was under his thrall): a human heart and will that can truly resist him.

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