86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

86 – 10 – We’ve Come This Far

86 eschews dialogue and even diagetic sound, sticking with visuals and music to tell the story of Spearhead’s newfound freedom. Followed by their ever-trusty robot porter Fido, Raiden, Theo, Kurena, Anju and a far happier, less haunted Shin continue their “deep recon” mission by heading further and further from their Republic minders, camping out and keeping a low profile as columns of Legion pass by in the night.

It’s so nice to finally see these good kids get to live like the kids they are, not always having to worry about going into battle or being killed or being turned into a Legion. Being in the vivid blues, greens, and purples of nature make for a nice change of pace from their usual gunmetal grays and blood reds. They wash their uniforms, and trip to an old Imperial town nets them a boiler in which to heat a much-appreciated bath.

Shin is smiling and laughing the whole time, but still seems distracted by something, though it’s no longer his brother, whom he’s satisfied is now at rest. Like the others, I feared the worst when they woke up to find him gone, but Raiden remembered the tunnel in the town Shin took a good look at, and it leads them to a zoo where he’s found an immobile Legion with the brain of an 86, which Shin puts out of its misery.

The five stare for a long time at the skeleton of an elephant and other beasts who died locked behind bars, and wonder if they’ll end up the same way. It’s Fido, of all of them, who tells them to stop talking about such things and keep moving forward. While Raiden withdraws his question of whether Shin will be going across the water by himself—and possibly to the good Major, who doesn’t appear this week—he probably already knows the answer.

After the credits roll with almost ten minutes left, we get a retrospective of sorts of the life of Fido, starting with him finding and befriending Shin. He’s been there since this most recent cycle of Spearhead began, and probably before that, and all this time has been capturing all of these small moments of joy and grief. Shots of characters long gone smiling and playing are shown, then immediately juxtaposed of images from the day they died.

The most foreboding and indeed deeply upsetting moment we see happens at the very end, with Fido, and all of the memories he contained that for many of the 86 represented their only record of having existed on this earth, is blown up, most likely by Legion, on October 30, the latest date we’ve seen so far.

On one level, I have to think Shin and the others will be alright, even if Fido very clearly isn’t. And even with Fido’s stored “memories” have gone up in smoke, those five still carry memories of the fallen—all 576 of them, including Shin’s brother. The question is, assuming they’re alright, what will become of them? Will Shin find a way to get to Lena? I suspect next week’s season one finale will focus exclusively on her, and what progress if any she’s made in her one-woman crusade to save the soul of her nation.

86 – 09 – No Signal

“If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled…for you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!”—Maximus

This week, Spearhead, whose living members now consist only of Kurena, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Shin, ride out into a vast, dark, and bleak battlefield, where the five of them must face hundreds if not thousands of Legion, because they were never even meant to make it thisfar in their military “careers”.

Of course, Shin has something else in mind: he’s singularly invested in finding his brother and putting him out of his misery. He orders Raiden to take over the unit and find cover in the nearby forest, but his four comrades aren’t about to leave him. Instead, they do what they can to give Shin a clear shot at Shourei.

As it turns out, Lena has a surprise in store for all of them: she managed to get access to the republic mortars, while also being able to swap vision in one of her eyes with Raiden so she can target more precisely. In that split second, Raiden—and only Raiden—catches a glimpse of their “pig princess” Handler.

When Lena prepares to launch a massive mortar attack on Shourei Legion’s position—which is also where Shin is, dodging and grappling—the others are apprehensive: doe she mean to kill Shin too? Far from it; instead, she’s giving Shin the opening he needs.

The impacting mortars are represented in Shourei’s mind by the young Lena slapping him into something resembling coherence, and acceptance that Shin no longer needs his brother to look after him. Instead, his brother needs to know that he’ll be at rest.

The opening is created, and Shin takes his shot, saying goodbye to his brother and then sobbing his eyes out both in grief over his brother’s loss and relief that he’s no longer a technological abomination who wasn’t allowed to die naturally.

From here we shift to Lena’s little control room, and she heeds Raiden’s call to shut off the link for now, as Shin wouldn’t want anyone hearing him cry. She then turns to a sullen-looking Annette sitting in the corner with laptops. We go back a bit to before the battle, when Lena visits Annette despite Annette saying she didn’t want to see her again.

Lena tells Annette that her old neighbor Shin is none other than Undertaker of the Spearhead unit, that she speaks to him every day, and that this is now Annette’s third chance to save him, the first two times having run away. While at first apathetic, knowing it’s Shin forces Annette’s hand. She calls Lena “the devil” for pulling such a stunt, but Lena simply says “that’s right; I am…and so are you.” Better to be devils who care.

With what was supposed to be the battle that should have wiped out Spearhead once and for all ending in unlikely victory thanks in large part to Annette’s hacking, Shin and the others give their heartfelt thanks to Lena, as well as tease her for having turned into a “bad girl” by breaking the rules to save them.

But after that, the group continues their advance without further input from Lena. In fact, all she can say as they head closer and closer to a foreboding “UNKNOWN” area is “please don’t leave me!” It occurs to her that while she made little drawings of them, her only connection to them is the Para-RAID, and soon the distance between them will grow too great to maintain that connection.

Lena bolts out of her control room and runs out of the headquarters, out into the streets, and just keeps running, all while Kurena, Raiden, Anju, Theo, and Shin describe their surroundings, mentioning a “cathedral” the same time we see the one in Lena’s capital, and describing flowers that fall when you touch them carpeting the ground.

As they approach at the barrier of District 86 and the limits of the Republic’s control area, Lena’s desperate dash to maintain reception ends with her losing a heel and ending up collapsed on a lonely cobblestone bridge, suddenly, heartbreakingly alone. Her Para-RAID blinks out, and back at HQ the signals of the five remaining members of Spearhead are lost.

Losing  Spearhead is just one of many burdens Lena will have to bear if she’s truly serious about helping all Eighty Six—not just the ones with which she cultivated a quasi-friendship. Her resolute insistence on Doing What’s Right despite being a devil demands she keep doing what she can—as long as she is able—to end the unjust suffering of the oppressed.

86 – 08 – We Weren’t Ready

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.—Kay, Men In Black

The Alba are right: the Eighty Six aren’t human. They’re better than that. The humans who populate the serene Republic of San Magnolia blindly accept the government’s policy of ethnic cleansing as the cost of peace, order, and harmony. Lena, like the Eighty Six, knows there’s a wrong, but isn’t prepared to do more wrong to right it.

It’s why when Lena discovers the orders basically sentencing what’s left of Spearhead to their almost certain deaths, she wants to rescind them. Annette pulls her out of the records room for some tea and biscuits, but when Lena once again says it’s wrong not to try to do anything, all of the simmering resentment within Annette finally comes to a caustic boil.

Annette isn’t merely “pretending” to be a bad person; she’s fully embraced the role, heart and soul. She doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing; her inaction has already caused the death of her former neighbor and friend (who it’s pretty clear from the suspenders was none other than Nouzen Shinei) while her research is built upon the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Eighty Six.

Like the vast majority of people would in such a situation, Annette chose not to fight a force that could not be beaten, but to join them. Even though her father committed suicide after the suffering he caused developing the Para-Raid, Annette carried on his work. She might’ve scared herself when she first called her friend a “filthy colored” like her classmates did, but that fear soon dissipated into acceptance.

After everything she’s been through and done in the name of not being able to do anything else, Annette doesn’t want to hear one more idealistic word out of Lena’s mouth. After all, the Para-Raid that enables Lena to speak to Shin and the other members of Spearhead was the product of involuntary human experimentation and state-sanctioned suffering. So is her comfy bed, her crisp uniform, her tasty coffee and sweets. It’s all tainted by evil.

Annette tells Lena she hates her and never wants to see her again. I mean, we already new full well Annette wouldn’t join any potential crusade against injustice Lena might concoct, but this really twists the knife, as Lena doesn’t even have a pretend friend in the capital in which to confide.

When she confronts her uncle before the statue of San Magnolia, he tells her the orders sending Spearhead to their deaths cant be recinded because it is the will of the republic that evry Eighty Six not only die, but be forgotten and erased from having ever existed. The only way San Magnolia will avoid becoming a pariah state after the war is if the atrocities they committed against the Eighty Six never come to light.

When Lena begs her uncle to remember the spirit of Saint Magnolia, he tells her their republic was never anything other than a country full of fools and villains who executed Magnolia for their wealth and greed. She says that’s just his despair talking, but he doesn’t consider his despair any different from her hope.

If Lena werent already having one of the worst days of her life, Shin also bids her farewell, fully accepting his suicide mission. Lena deduces he’s going after his brother, but Shin doens’t want her to hear his last words. Instead, he warns her that once the Shepherd is destroyed, the Legion is temporarily thrown into chaos, .

He urges her to head for the Eastern border, where she won’t hear the Legion’s voices and go mad. He and the others will buy her some time. With that, he signs off, for what seems like the last time. Now all Lena has is her tears.

With Lena left very much at rock bottom, we return to Spearhead, now only five strong: Kurena, Anju, Theo, Raiden, and Shin. They clean up their barracks, polish up their Juggernauts, have a final meal, and then set off on their deep recon mission with their heads held high.

As we’ve learned, they’re not just doing this because the alternative is summary execution. They’re doing it for their fallen comrades, and because just because they were always called pigs doesn’t mean they’ll become them. There’s a biting sense of inescapable dread and crushing unfairness to their scenes. More than anything, they feel like five kids who shouldn’t have to be anywhere near a battlefield.

Post-credits, we get one more taste of despair in the absence of anything else, in the form of the complete flashback of Shourei choking Shinei. He had been barely keeping it together before that point, crushed by his powerlessness to do anything about the loss of his parents. In a moment of weakness, he let himself blame Shinei for everything, and nearly killing him until someone pulls them apart.

A roboticized, Legionized Shourei narrates this final scene, lamenting that he couldn’t protect Shinei before. But this time, as Shin and his four companions approach him and his Legion unit, Shourei says he’ll protect his brother forever. All he has to do is come to him…which is what he’s doing.

All I can say to any of this is damn…this is some good shit, but it is also incredibly heavy and upsetting. I can only hope that we’ll get some glimmer of light at some point before the end…but that’s hardly a sure thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 07 – Nobody Comes Back

86’s structure returns to more of a mix of the processors’ and Lena’s perspectives rather than being split evenly, starting with the unit launching fireworks on the anniversary of the Republic’s Great Revolution. Some are playing with sparklers, Anju is finally crying, and Kurena watches Shin off by himself talking to Lena.

Lena is the one who sent them the “special ammunition”, emptying her wallet to bribe the quartermaster. It’s a small gesture, but she can do it, so she does, and it also highlights her increasing disillusionment with the shallow material world she lives in. If it can soothe the hearts of those soldiers for just a few moments, it’s worth all the money she has.

The superb juxtaposition of the fantasy world she inhabits with the realities of how it’s maintained continues as Lena walks alone in a bustling plaza. Celebrating Alba citizens are stuffing their faces with fine food and wine and couples are whispering sweet nothings, and little kids are crying about something as little as tripping and falling (something Lena herself does in front of subordinates earlier, so nervous she was about the fireworks).

All the while, Lena is on her Para-RAID, listening to Kuren describe in unsparing detail all of the horrors processor see every day.  Compared to watching their friends lose limbs, get their faces shredded, their bodies burned, their guts ripped open, and screaming in pain as they die, the voices of the long dead are nothing.

Because Lena is a kind and virtuous person, she never stops requesting reinforcements from the surrounding units, even “overstepping herself” in the eyes of her Uncle Jerome to complain directly to him about the lack of progress in her request. He assures her “the resupply and Processor replacement plans for the Eastern Theater are a settled matter.”

She takes that to mean resupply reinforcements are on their way to Spearhead, and Jerome pointedly doesn’t dispel that misconception. Despite what she takes as good news, she obeys the letter of her uncle’s order to attend the Revolution gala in an “appropriate dress”—which for Lena, can only be mourning black.

When the time she usually contacts Shin passes, he ends up calling her, which may just be a first, and she’s clearly thankful to be called away from the boring festivities. She heads out into the courtyard to watch the city’s fireworks display, marred by light pollution, almost letting slip that she wishes she could watch the fireworks she sent with Shin, modifying her hope that all of them can watch them together when the war is over.

Lena knows Shin once watched fireworks with his brother, and Shin is happy Lena remembered her brother when he was still his brother, something he can’t do anymore. Shin also reports Anju was finally able to cry, making the fireworks a unique opportunity for 86 to have a memorial gun salute. When asked if she’ll remember them all, Lena says she will, but before that, she won’t let anyone else die.

Rewinding a bit to the morning Shin received the delivery of fireworks, Anju and Kurena, the last two girls left in Spearhead, discuss whether they should “tell” Lena a secret they still carry, now that it’s clear she’s a good person. Anju warns that Shin and Raiden probably aren’t telling her because she’s a good person they don’t want to hurt more than they need to.

We also learn Anju has words scarred into her back, and while she grew her hair out to hide them, Daiya thought she did it because her hair was so pretty. Now that it’s just her and Kurena, and Daiya is gone, she sees no reason to hide it anymore. As for Kurena, she knows when they die “their Reaper” Shin will make sure they’re properly sent off. What she fears most is when he’s the only one of them left…who will carry his heart?

Two days after the fireworks and Lena’s vow not to let anyone else to die, Spearhead attacks the forward base knowing full well it’s a trap, and are then assaulted by a new ultra-long range Legion artillery cannon. Within seconds, four more soldiers are killed. Hopefully they died instantly, because Shin obeys Lena’s retreat order, knowing if they stay they could be wiped out entirely.

When they manage to shake off their Legion pursuers, Lena launches into a diatribe about reinforcements and how it simply “doesn’t make sense” that a unit as important as Spearhead hasn’t received any in all the time she’s been their Handler. That’s when Shin asks the others if it’s okay to “tell her”, and they all agree. She’s earned enough trust to learn yet another horrible truth.

Shin, Raiden, Theo, Anju, and Kurena all take turns telling Lena that nothing she does will change a single thing, ever. They’re going to get wiped out, because they’re supposed to get wiped out. The “replacements” Jerome told her about are the Processors that come after them, but they won’t come until every last one of them is dead. Nobody ever leaves the 86th District. The five-years thing is a lie…of course it is.

The higher-ups are able to determine which Eighty-Six are smart by how long they survive, and place them in increasingly dangerous positions until finally they arrive at the Spearhead. They’re not in an elite squad because they’re the best at fighting the Legion. They’re there to be killed off so no strong strategic or tactical Eighty-Six minds will ever be able to lead a rebellion against the Alba.

Now that she knows replacements won’t come until all of them are dead, Lena doesn’t want to believe it, but she believes them anyway. When she asks why they don’t simply run, or let the Legion through, it’s for many reasons. First, to honor those lost before them. Second: just as not all 86 are good, not all Alba are scum.

An Alba woman raised Raiden. Shin was raised by an Alba priest who refused to give up his land and was sent to the camps. Theo’s captain was an Alba. They knew some of the good Alba, while Kurena and Anju knew the very worst. They mention how Kaie was abused by other 86 for her skin color, while many of them have Alba blood.

Raiden says just because some of the Alba are scum who treat them like scum, doing the same doesn’t make them better. Even if they have no choice but to face the gallows, they can at least choose how they’ll climb up there. So they’ll keep surviving as long as they can. With increasingly advanced Legion—controlled by Shin’s brother’s brain—slowly advancing, that may not be long at all.

Now that Lena knows all of these things, simple gestures of kindness or little acts of resistance against her apathetic, hedonistic society probably won’t suffice anymore. All her hopes were riding on reinforcements that she now knows aren’t coming. And if Shin and the others are right, slaughtering their best frontline shoulders will eventually lead to the Legion invading the Alba districts.

So really, Lena can see the gallows in the distance as well. The difference is, she may still be do something other than merely decide how to climb up to them. With the help from what’s left of Spearhead, there’s a slight chance she can change all their fates.

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

86 – 05 – Ghosts In the Machines

This week we learn the details of how Shin’s brother saved Lena’s life when the helicopter she and her father were on crashed. Despite having everything taken from him by the Alba, Shourei was still a proud soldier of the Republic, and saving Lena—and giving her chocolate to eat—was his solemn duty.

Lena had seen and heard from her father how her people had done horrible things to the 86, so when Shourei’s stomach grumbled, she split the chocolate with him. It’s just that by the end of this episode, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier for Lena if that approaching Legion had killed her, though even then, it wasn’t a sure thing she’d remain dead.

The morning after reliving the most traumatic experience of her life, Lena is once again approached by Annette, who once again has a tasty dessert for her to try, and shifts the talk to party dresses for the upcoming Revolution Festival. Even Annette’s “memorial” to all her past suitors on the wall remind Lena of the actual memorial she just visited, as well as Shin’s undertaker role.

Even Shin tells Lena to go have fun; she’s not expected to spend all her time with Handler duties. As she talks to Shin, she encounters two other soldiers flirting on the stairs and gets a little flustered herself, but any thoughts of kicking back and partying are dashed when Shin announces out of the blue that the Legion are coming—despite there not being any warnings on Lena’s end.

Shin also makes the unprecedented request that Lena switch off her Para-Raid for the coming battle, as there are a lot of “Black Sheep” approaching. Lena resolutely refuses to disconnect, and Shin makes it clear that he warned her. As Shin and the others engage, Lena starts to hear strange voices among the static: the sounds of peoples’ last moments…including Kaie’s “I don’t want to die.”

The voices keep repeating and echoing in Lena’s head, and immediately it becomes clear why so many other Handlers went mad; even in her bedroom with the Para-Raid deactivated, merely reaching for it causes all the voices to rush back into her head. But while no previous Handler ever called back after hearing the voices, Lena still calls Shin back. She had to; she needs answers to what the hell just happened.

Shin is happy to provide the answers, but they’re all horrific downers. He can always engage the Legion before Lena even gets an alert because he can always hear the voices of ghosts of those who have died, but are still there.

Despite the Republic’s official stance that the war will end in two years when the Legion’s AI will shut down, Shin knows better: the Legion have been taking the brains of fallen 86 and copying them to replace the function of the AI due to shut down, thus extending their operating time—and thus the war—indefinitely.

This means the Republic, whose Alba citizens are so keen to hold swanky parties and get drunk and bang, believe they have the war in the bag when in reality, their defeat is almost assured. Not only will the Legion not shut down, but they’ve been building up their numbers, all while the 86 have dwindled to a smattering of children. Soon, Shin says, all of them will be dead.

When that happens, will the Alba fight in their place? Shin doesn’t think it likely. Even if they did, they’d be outmatched, since some of the brains recovered by the Legion were undamaged enough to create “Shepherds”—ghost commanders who make their Legion units significantly more powerful and adaptive.

Lena says if all that is the case, they simply need to wipe out the Legion before the 86 are wiped out, and before Shin’s service time expires. She wants the two of them to win and survive. But as Shin reveals a huge scar around his neck and recalls his brother choking him and saying “It’s your fault!”, it doesn’t seem Shin is interested in surviving. It’s also looking like his brother’s brain is one of those Shepherds.

Lena’s struggle to bring justice and dignity to the 86 seemed quaint and woefully insufficient before we learned the Republic are actually massive underdogs in this war, which won’t end when they expect it. With all this new information, it almost seems like Lena attending that party with Annette and getting blackout drunk would be equally as productive as anything else she could do.

Maybe that’s why Annette warned Lena not to get too close to the 86: because she too knows the truth (or a measure of it), and that there’s nothing left for them to do but enjoy life while the living’s good.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 07 – The Aquarium

LIW’s second season continues to take anime comedy to dizzying new heights and unexpected places. There’s literally no telling what it’s going to throw at you next, and that unpredictability combined with top-notch execution at every level of production means this is a show that keeps getting better and more entertaining.

We begin with Chika and Kaguya learning that Yuu is a briefs man, followed by his passionate assertion that boxer-brief men are nothing but “man whores.” Kaguya is determined to learn what kind of underwear Miyuki wears, she formulates an entire perverted plan in her head before rejecting it, showing just how demented by love she’s become.

Naturally, that same derangement compels her to ask Miyuki the question casually while serving tea, and Miyuki naturally assumes she’s talking about his preference in girl’s underwear. Not wanting to come off like a cad, he proceeds to describe girls’ bloomers (since anything he’d pick for Kaguya would be hot), but the same traits apply to mens’ boxer briefs, Kaguya loudly proclaims Miyuki is a man whore!

Suffice it to say, this is not proper behavior in the StuCo office of a prestigious school, but this is where Kaguya, Miyuki are. So it’s most inauspicious that Iino Miko should come through the office door just as Kaguya is yelling this, and Miko runs off in fear Miyuki will attack her “next”.

In the next segment, Kaguya offers to give Miyuki a hand massage as an apology for disparaging him. Her true motive, however, is to use the pressure points in his hand to secrete “prevent-men-from-cheating” hormones of the type released during “se-“.

Note that Kaguya can never complete the word “sex”, but only utters the first half of the word in a high-pitched voice that Hayasaka can’t help but imitate while explaining sex hormones to her.

The resulting hand massage is a stirring tale of two nervous systems. While Kaguya’s hands are small and soft, they’re causing extreme pain to Miyuki’s hand, releasing stress hormones like beta-endorphins and cortisol. Simultaneously, love hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin are being secreted in Kaguya’s brain. It’s as if the StuCo office has suddenly turned into a biochemistry lab!

With all those love hormones suddenly swimming in Kaguya’s already love-addled head, she gets a little more comfortable and offers to do Miyuki’s back. She ends up on top of Miyuki on the couch, which is again the precise moment Miko decides to enter the StuCo office.

Combined with all of the misleading things she hears from them (“If I feel any better than this I’ll die!”) the mere sight of two students going at it in the sacred StuCo office is enough to cause Miko to flee in terror once more. Miko’s minimal usage in these first two segments is truly inspired.

Not only is it a means of gradually easing her into the office (if she ever manages to set foot in there, of course!), but it shows just how unprepared an outsider like her truly is for the demented antics of that room. One does not simply walk into that room!

The opening moments of Segment #3 would seem to hint at a shift to a Kei-focused story, but she’s only there in order to pass on an accursed shougo manga that is 100% guaranteed to make you weep uncontrollably no matter how much or little you like manga or the shoujo genre.

A skeptical Miyuki is converted that very night, and decides that introducing the manga to Kaguya is the perfect strategy for getting her to ask him to go out with her so they can enjoy a flowey, lovey-dovey shoujo manga-like romance.

But as has been established from her taste in eyes, Kaguya doesn’t really go for common romantic archetypes, and proves a tough nut to crack even as Miyuki has both Yuu and Chika in full agreement that the manga is a must-read tearjerker.

The trio’s enthusiasm for the story causes them to leak too many details and spoilers, and the second-hand synopses still fail to move Kaguya. Heck, she can’t even understand what they’re saying once they’ve all covered each others’ mouths to stop blabbing.

It’s at this point when Miko enters the office a third time to find something strange and horrifying waiting for her. Then as the narrator declares the result (everyone loses but Kaguya), Miko asks if this is really “what happens at the end?” of segments, in a lovely breaking of the fourth wall.

However…this is not the end.

At this point the episode had a solid-“9” in the bag, but there was still a ton of time left after the end credits, so I was curious and excited about where it would go for the finale. It turns out Kaguya did end up reading the shoujo manga the previous night, and joins the ranks of her StuCo comrades (sans Miko) in the Shoujo Manga Brain club.

The next day is presented as an entirely different anime, one that is a straight-up high school shoujo romance with Kaguya as the heroine and Miyuki and Yuu as competing love interests. It’s as ambitious as it is hilarious.

Everyone’s character design has been “beautified” and their voices either more lovey-dovey (in the case of Kaguya) or more “cool-sounding” (the boys). Heck, even the damn narrator has “gone goofy!”

Once Chika arrives at school, we learn that the change in her personality is negligible, but she interrupts what was about to become fisticuffs between Miyuki and Yuu for the right to take Kaguya to the aquarium.

In the end, Miyuki wins out by insisting on valiantly escorting Kaguya to the infirmary hand-in-hand. He then manages to ask Kaguya to go to the aquarium with him, only for her to decline since, so overcome by longing for love, she already feels like she’s at the aquarium!

So Miyuki and Yuu go instead, and end up having more fun than they thought they would! Note that at no point did Miko set foot anywhere close to the StuCo office for this latest bout of nonsense. You know what they say: “Once bitten, twice shy…thrice traumatized.”

Assassins Pride – 08 – Heart of Darkness

Attacks on innocents increases, and they look a whole lot like vampire attacks, so with Kufa suddenly vanished and the blue aura a distinguishing feature of the culprit, it’s looking increasingly bad for Melida’s instructor. Rather than continue with her school’s training, she decides to sneak off and investigate matters for herself, notably leaving Elise behind.

Instructor Laqua predicted Melida’s actions and tags along, in part because Kufa told her to look after his charge if anything were to happen to him. Whether he’s responsible for the attacks or has gone dark in order to more effectively track down the true culprit, the bottom line is that he’s not around.

Melida and Laqua search the most forbidden of the “mystery spots” and learn there’s not strange phenomenon at all, just a secret dungeon where Marquis Pricket has been experimenting on townsfolk. The increased restrictions on movements were all to hide his dark operations.

Upon returning to town, Melida and Laqua find Rosetti killedapparently while protecting an injured Elise. When the Marquis himself is attacked, the townsfolk turn against Kufa and seek to use Melida as a hostage to snag him and no doubt exert mob justice.

Shenfa helps Melida escape, and suddenly she’s all on her own. She investigates another mystery spot that turns out to be the bad guy’s library and office. He sics a vampirized Rosetti at Melida, and that’s when Kufa finally shows his face to protect his student, begging Rosetti to snap out of it.

At this point it’s pretty clear Marquis Pricket is the baddie, and is trying to create his own army of lancanthrope-human hybrids. We’ll see if Melida and Kufa can foil his plans and save Rosetti from an awful fate. In any case, I imagine the fake-boyfriend angle has been shelved indefinitely!

Assassins Pride – 07 – The Blue-Flamed Assailant

On the eve of a training trip to her hometown of Shangarta, Rosetti begs Kufa to pretend to be her lover so she can refuse the hand of the man chosen by her father, Marquis Blossom Pricket. Judging by a cold open in which a young, lighter-haired Kufa is with an unconscious young Rose in a burning church, the two go back far further than we thought, and Kufa decides to help her out again here.

Naturally, Melida doesn’t like this one bit, as she doesn’t want her instructor to have even pretend eyes for anyone but her. Marquis Blossom arrives (and with him a very Gilderoy Lockhart vibe), but the dispute over who shall marry Rose is tabled, as prep for the trip takes precedence.

Incidentally, that cold open came in the form of one of many strange dreams Melida has been having, no doubt due to the fact Kufa transferred his mana to her in order to help her awaken hers. She continues to hear a voice no one else can (not even Black Madia AKA “Instructor Laqua”), but then hears a scream everyone hears while chasing after a troubled Kufa.

One of the students has been rendered unconscious, though shows no signs of injury (unless they didn’t check her neck carefully). Marquis Blossom whips out a magic potion that reveals the mana of the culprit: blue, male, and belonging to someone still in their teenage years. In other words, the only one around fitting that description is Kufa.

This is the second plot point (after Rosetti’s betrothal) to be tabled so the training trip can press on, which is odd because nothing comes of the potion pointing to Kufa as the culprit, he attends the rest of the group on the train as if nothing happened. I was also surprised to learn that Shangarta isn’t one of the domes that make up Flandore, but a separate bustling town in its own right, built deep into a chasm. It’s a fascinating place, made all the more bizarre by the presence of several “mystery spots” Marquis Blossom vaguely states do not follow the normal laws of nature.

There is also a raging disease in which townsfolk take leave of their senses and become mindless killers and need to be quickly put down…sounds pretty vampiric to me! The way Blossom so casually executes the afflicted man in front of all the students is quite disturbing.

Rosetti takes Kufa to the same church we saw in the cold open—thankfully not on fire in the present—and introduces him to all of the orphans her father has taken in and lies about him being her lover. I wonder how far such a fiction can be taken.

Melida certainly voices her displeasure at the existence of such a farce, to the point she forces Kufa to put her socks on, conceding that he doesn’t see her as a woman. Kufa offers to make it up to her by taking her on a late-night date, and he is immediately forgiven as her frustration turns to bubbly delight.

Specifically, Kufa takes Melida to a glowing magical cave that contains one of the “mystery spots”, where the two are able to glide across the surface of the water and fly about as if weightless in a stirring scene that further builds the chemistry between them. But once Melida is back in bed, she’s back to having weird vampirish dreams most likely involving a young Kufa, and is awakened by Elise with bad news: another student has been attacked, and Kufa is nowhere to be found.

I’m not prepared to conclude Kufa is deceiving her intentionally—these attacks could well be subconscious on his part (unless he’s being framed). The bottom line is, Kufa hasn’t told Melida enough about him for her to paint a full picture, so in a way he’s already deceiving her by omission.

Houseki no Kuni – 07

Phos lies prostrate before the Amethyst twins as Rutile repairs them, but once they’re whole enough to speak, it’s the twins apologizing to Phos: they were overzealous in their efforts to show Phos how badass they are and let their guard down.

Phos doesn’t feel any better about freezing up, and runs off, both to try to outrun the shame, but also because that when circumstances necessitate an immediate retreat, Phos has to be able to do it. Phos’ legs lead to Cinnabar, whom Phos still doesn’t feel right speak to quite yet.

Phos’ state of incomplete development comes at a bad time for them; Winter has come, and with it the time when all gems hibernate until Spring—and sufficient sunlight for them to function—returns.

The only two who normally stay awake while the others sleep are Master Kongou, and the heretofore-unseen Antarcticite, voiced by Ise Mariya.

Antarcticite was unseen because they only become solid when the temperatures drop enough; when it’s warm, Antarcticite occupies a vat in their room, in a liquid state. “Antarc” also has a particular like of Kongou, and cherishes the time when they patrol together.

Then, while the two are hugging, Phos emerges from behind a wall. Unable to sleep, Phos requests to be allowed to stay up and train up in these harsher-than-usual conditions rather than waste them hibernating. Kongou agrees and partners Antarc with Phos.

Antarc is initially quite annoyed by this decision, but only because they remember Phos of yore, not the present Phos, willing and able to grow. When Phos tells Antarc of the desire to become better and more useful, Antarc takes a more patient tack.

Phos is particularly sluggish in the dim winter chill, but toughs it out until the two reach their destination: a field of eerily gorgeous and hazardous ice floes that let out blood-curdling screeches when grinding together.

Like Amethyst, Antarc is quick to demonstrate their duty to Phos: cleaving the surfacing ice floes with a saw in order to stop them from disturbing the hibernating Gems. Watching Antarc spring into action, balance a high heel atop the ice, then unleash a massive blow, is really something to behold.

The spectacle, and the utterly pristine whites, blues, purples and aquas of the frigid winterscape lend this episode a unique beauty, backed up by some of the most conspicuously excellent music of the show.

I’ve always liked “ice levels” as a kind of aesthetic palate-cleanser. Winter turns the Land of the Lustrous into another world, and it’s a glorious thing to see and hear. The stark beauty is nicely complemented and warmed up by the understated Phos-Antarc buddy comedy.

Antarc shows Phos all of the various duties they must perform; some menial, others herculean, and others downright weird, like making sure to put down the sleepwalking gems—and, occasionally, cover Master Kongou when he smashes into a wall—with blankets. Phos simply tries to keep up, but it’s a lot of work and has to be done with a minimum of energy due to the low sun.

Then, just as Phos is wondering whether they bit off more than they can chew and ponders the hopelessness of achieving their goals, the ice floes seem to call out, echoing the anxieties in Phos’ head. Kongou warns Phos to ignore the voices, giving Phos yet another challenge to overcome among all the others.

It ultimately proves too much. While out on patrol, Phos considers sawing off both arms so that they be replaced with a stronger ones, as Phos’ legs were. Phos stops themselves, but slips and falls into a frigid pool. Antarc pulls Phos out, but Phos is missing both forearms—and if they can’t be retrieved, many more memories.

Antarc has been shown to be proficient in making minor repairs, but this is a job for Rutile, who is hibernating. So yeah, we close another episode with Phos’ existence at another crossroads. Here I thought Phos would find a way to attach saws to their legs and use them to cleave the floes; now I just hope the Phos I know and love can get out of yet another spot.

Aquarion Logos – 03

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Blergh…when you’ve checked out of a show only three episodes in, it’s time to say Sayonara. And between the almost painfully-goofy word-of-the-day crises, Akira’s “I’m the Savior” schtick, and the introduction of a snot-nosed little kid as the newest pilot, I find myself suddenly but categorically checked out of Aquarion Logos.

I’m not alone in this; as of writing fewer than 650 people have bothered to rate the show on MAL (compared to over 11,000 for GANGSTA.), and its rating sits at a paltry 6.20, more than a full point below the older, better Aquarion Evol.

I’m no stranger to going against the whims of MAL (especially when small sample sizes are involved), but in this case our opinions align. Dropped.

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