Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 06 – Apples and Lemons

Ever since the vortex incident that thrust her and Iska apart, Alice has been sighing heavily a lot while looking out the window of her bedchamber. She’s clearly pining for him, purportedly to fight and defeat him once and for all, but both we and Rin can see there’s more to it than that. Absent any other leads, Alice decides to return to the Neutral City Ein, hoping they’ll bump into him once more.

Meanwhile, in the empire, Mismis’ left arm has felt funny ever since falling into the vortex. But it doesn’t hurt, so she chalks it up to nothing serious. Their next mission, however, is no joke: Led by Misya, Unit N07 is to infiltrate the Sovereignty and capture Queen Nebulis! We learn how difficult it is for any non-astral mage to enter the Sovereignty.

The crests all mages bear are used as passports, which is a fuck-you to the empire for using those same crests as evidence for their witch trials (and subsequent genocide). Iska, Mismis, Nene, Jihn seem like nice people, but Jesus Christ is the empire they serve fucked up!

Alice and Rin arrive in Ein, and stand by the fountain where she encountered Iska before. However, in this case where she’s actively trying to encounter him, Rin doubts they’ll find him easily. Rin even suggests Iska might’ve died in the vortex, but Alice won’t hear of it: he’s alive, and she’s going to date—er—fight him. Even so, three days pass, with no sign of Iska.

Rin is concerned about Alice’s sudden intensified fixation on Iska. Other families are watching the Lou family for weaknesses, ready to take the throne, while Alice’s sisters are diligently preparing for the forthcoming eleciton. Meanwhile Alice is committed only to fruitless stakeouts in Ein. Rin knows she’s the only person who can get Alice “back on track”.

Meanwhile, Mismis’ arm won’t stop feeling strange, so she removes her jacket for Nene to inspect it, and that’s when she discovers…an astral crest. In one lift of the sleeve, Mismis’ life has changed forever. If the research institute found out she was hiding the crest, she’ll be summarily executed! Even if she comes forward of her own free will, she’ll be imprisoned, likely for life!

All Iska and the others can do is try to comfort Mismis (who is understandably freaking out), and Iska lays out the options: turn herself in, or keep hiding it. As their captain, they’ll follow whichever path she chooses.

In the meantime, Iska decides to take Mismis to Ein, where she’ll be safe for the time being. Ein is so incredibly peaceful and idyllic, one wonders how it’s even able to exist between two warring nations, one of which is brazen enough to attempt the kidnapping of the other’s sovereign. Does Ein have its own force to deter either side from starting shit?

That aside, the minute Mismis leaves Iska to buy some drinks, Alice appears, and there’s a neat little scene where neither Alice nor Iska recognize one another at first due to the glare of the sun. That said, once they do recognize each other, it’s not long before they’re sitting on the bench together, exchanging blushing looks.

Alice even declares she’s glad to see her purported “enemy” is safe after the vortex incident. Indeed, she’s positively giddy to see him, and when she senses something is troubling Iska, she asks him to tell her, as she’s good at keeping secrets (though she undermines that claim rather totally by saying she only tells Rin, who is clearly more than a maid).

Before Iska can say anything, Rin appears with drinks, and to the surprise of both Alice and Iska, she offers one to Iska. It’s an apple-lemon blend, which calls to mind “apples and oranges”—a nice metaphor for the Empire and Sovereignty. But it’s not the strange blend that knocks Iska out: it’s a sleeping drug that Rin slipped into the can. When Iska passes out on the bench, Rin reveals her plan: she assumed he’d reject the offer of a drink due to his distrust.

He’d then take it as a sign he should stay away from her. But Iska did trust Rin, and not just because they were in neutral territory. Alice’s behavior totally disarmed him, because like him, she had no ill intent that day, having declared a “temporary truce”. Rin regrets not using a fatal potion, but the fact remains they can’t just leave him there, so she takes him into custody.

When Mismis returns, even Alice knows there’s no easy way to explain what’s happening, so she slides back into official mode, telling her they’re taking in an enemy of the Sovereignty. That’s when Mismis insists they let him go…and her astral crest activates, albeit without any kind of control. Again, Alice doesn’t have any time to consider why an Imperial soldier has a crest; she freezes Mismis’s foot to the ground and takes off with Rin and Iska.

We don’t learn if any witnesses saw Mismis’ astral power awaken, just Misya meeting with the Emperor himself to report Iska’s kidnapping and requesting instructions. In a way, having the Queen’s own daughter bring Iska into the Sovereignty means the infiltration plan has gone off without a hitch; there will be a lemon in the land of apples. All Iska needs to do is free himself, capture the Queen, and return to the Empire, and it’s mission accomplished!

Of course there are a variety of questions in play: will he be able to free himself? If he does—or Alice is the one to do it—will he still go forward with his unit’s mission, or will he and Alice be able to make a sliver of progress with peace talks? Will Misya learn Mismis has a crest, and if so, will she punish her, or use her to infiltrate the Sovereignty and rescue Iska? Tons to consider…I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 05 – Hindrances to Her Chosen Fate Arise

Much to the surprise of the mages on guard, Alice and Rin show up at the new vortex site unannounced, and are soon joined by TuxedoLord Mask and his younger Zoa relation, Kissing, whom he considers to be on a power level close if not equal to Alice’s. He assures the princess they’ll be enough to protect the vortex from the Empire’s forces. Alice is troubled that the Zoa family seeks all-out war—and if she hadn’t come, they’d have exploited the vortex to towards that goal.

Meanwhile, Mismis locates the vortex—which wasn’t hard, as its a giant pillar of light on the horizon!—but they’re not the first on the scene. Their unit is confronted by Shanorotte’s, but when Mismis runs over to hug her, Noro-chan reveals her true colors: she and her unit are and always were loyal mages of the Sovereignty. She shocks Mismis with magic and prepares to take her away as a POW.

That’s when Nameless, who was nearby all along, de-cloaks and wounds Noro’s fellow mages. Nameless prepares to send a sword at Noro which will go through Mismis, but Iska deflects the blade. Nameless threatens to bring Iska up on charges for insubordination, but he doesn’t have time for him. He must return to the Imperial Base so he can bomb the vortex, which is a lost cause now that it’s firmly in enemy hands.

Back at the vortex, Noro presents her captive Mismis to Mask and Alice, who fears Mismis will recognize her from the Neutral City. Thankfully, Rin knocks Mismis out before she can say anything that could incriminate Alice. Mask and the Zoas are hawks, after all; the crown princess meeting with the enemy could be all the excuse they need to move against the Lous.

As it is, Alice simply asks Noro where the enemy base is, as she’s eager to meet back up with Iska as the fortune teller foretold. Only Iska has Nene and Jhin hang back while he infiltrates the enemy base, headed to the place Alice was just as she’s leaving.

Iska is able to easily wrest Mismis back from Noro’s sadistic clutches, but Noro is bailed out by Kissing, who attacks with summoned thorns that take on a variety of forms. Iska, who recognizes Kissing as a strong purebred, is able to hold out until Noro uses the thorns to destroy, then reconstruct an incoming Imperial missile.

That explosion is seen by Alice after she returns to the Imperial base. Nameless is waiting for her there, and manages to cut both Rin and Alice, but then Alice goes all out with Ice Calamity, forcing Nameless to flee. The blast in the distance convinces Alice she should never have left the vortex zone; she must’ve just missed Iska.

Iska is able to slip past Kissing’s thorny offense-defense and knock her unconscious with a non-lethal blow, but then Mask shows up to carry her away, shoving Mismis into the vortex to buy time for their escape. Iska jumps in after her and eventually grabs hold of Mismis. Alice returns just in time to watch him leap in, and she leaps in after him.

The ensuing scene is highly amusing for its informality considering the situation. Despite descending through a column of surging astral energy that apparently has no bottom, Alice blushes at the sight of Iska and treats him as if he stood her up at the base. Still, she agrees to help him and Mismis out of there if he agrees to fight her as soon as they’re back on the ground.

Iska agrees, and the two join hands just as the astral energy surges further. Suddenly they hear a fell voice in the din—an astral spirit’s chant—and the column detonates and dissipates, separating Alice and Iska and dispelling them to different remote areas of the surface. Rin meets back up with Alice, who is annoyed her next battle with Iska has again been postponed by outside forces. Nene and Jhin pull up to find Iska and Mismis, none the worse for wear all things considered.

With the vortex gone, there may be nothing left for either side to do, but more vortices are sure to crop up. We’re left wondering if it was Alice and Iska’s holding hands that caused the vortex to close, which could portend an interesting possible destiny for the pair. If astral vortices are akin to nuclear weapons, or at least sources of atomic-esque energy that can bring about great death and destruction, it falls upon these two to ensure those sources never fall into the hands of either side’s warmongering factions.

I may be off-base with that theory, but it fits with both Alice and Iska’s reluctance to escalate the conflict and desire to bring about a lasting peace. This week’s events underscored the difficulty of that goal, with players like Noro, Kissing, Mask, and Nameless all unwittingly conspiring to hinder Alice and Iska’s continued interaction. The more they fight, the more they’ll understand and trust one another, and the better positioned they’ll be to save the world.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 04 – Feeling Lucky

Part of what makes a good show comes down to tempering expectations as much as surpassing or subverting them. With three straight episodes of Iska and Alice bumping into each other, this episode felt oddly empty because the two never meet. Instead there’s some bonding of Unit N07 at a casino, which is nice, but can’t help but feel like filler, stalling the inevitable next confrontation between the star-crossed lovers.

It was nice to see the unit dressed to the nines just for the heck of cutting loose and having fun, as well as to learn that both Captain Mismis and Alice’s attendant Rin have the same love of gambling that neither Iska nor Alice share. But for the two to be so close to each other—at the same casino and then receiving the exact same accurate fortune—without meeting feels like a letdown.

After a scene with the Octet revealing that Risya for all her cheer is a sometimes ruthless ladder-climber, she informs Mismis and her unit that they’ll be part of an Imperial team charged with heading to the Myudol valley (located between the Empire and Sovereignty) where a new Vortex (a massive confluence of astral energy) has been found.

At roughly the same time, Alice and Rin are informed of the same thing by the shifty Tuxedo Mask” Masked Lord”, who is a member of the Zoas, one of the two royal families not on the throne. Turns out the Sovereignty isn’t as monolithic as I thought; there’s ongoing enmity between the three families, something Alice regrets.

When Iska and his unit head to the valley, the guy in charge is a fellow Saint Desciple, named, er…Nameless, and is also faceless thanks to his state-of-the-art optical camo armor suit. He’s unambiguous in the troops’ mission to either capture the vortex or destroy it, as well as in warning everyone not to “get in his way”.

But when over ten soldiers go missing during the recon mission, Nameless insists that there be no search-and-rescue ops, and orders the search for the vortex to continue. This doesn’t sit well with Iska, but he is dismissed as a traitor by Nameless when he tries to get more answers. He’s also too low-ranking to even speak to Nameless, but Mismis isn’t, and she’s as eager as Iska to know why they’re essentially sacrificing their comrades.

As for Alice, she’s distrustful enough of the Zoa family that the only way to learn the truth about the valley and alleged vortex is to go there herself, representing both the crown and the Lou family. This means that after this week’s near-misses, Alice and Iska are sure to meet back up. Unlike their team-up to stop the Founder, they’ll be on opposite sides of a battle to secure a key strategic asset.