NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 02 – Blood and Lilies

In episode two, perspective shifts from the YoRHa in their pristine orbital headquarters to a battered but still operational Machine Lifeform (ML). Curiously, despite having apparently been created by “Aliens”, they have a very similar bootup and heads-up display as the humans’ androids.

This single ML unit starts to walk, creating a sense of scale and grandeur to the ruined landscape. Upon returning to a base, it finds a book, and in that book, a bookmark with the image of a white lily. Scenes of ML are interspersed with a childlike narrator telling the story of the MLs with colored paper compositions.

This particular ML develops an “emotional matrix”, deemed a critical error, and its red eyes turn yellow, denoting neutrality. It ;earns how to garden, and devotes its existence to growing flowers, gathering “followers” in the form of other yellow-eyed MLs.

The comparisons to WALL-E are obvious from the serene, gorgeous empty vistas ML inhabits to the way the storytelling takes place without dialogue (narration segments aside). But hey, if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best.

Not far from ML’s growing garden is an embedded group of human resistance fighters led by…Lily. I immediately wondered if, like the stiff redheaded twin maintenance units assigned to the unit, she was an android in disguise. Regardless, she’s bitter about the “Council of Humanity” on the Moon ignoring all requests for badly-needed reinforcements.

Every encounter with the red-eyed MLs means at least one of her unit will be injured or killed, with no one to replace them. They’re ambushed when trying to gather resources to keep fighting, and have to abandon those resources when the MLs send in kamikaze units.

Little does Lily know that up in orbit, she’s about to get a helping hand, in the form of 2B and 9S. When 2B wakes up she tells 9S she finds the sound of his voice comforting, only to cooly head to the control room without him.

They may have just come back from a brutal battle that claimed 9S’s memories, but Commander White sends them back down to perform recon on the resistance unit. They had an android embedded with the unit, but there’s been a breakdown in communication.

2B and 9S can’t come soon enough, as a huge mass of red-eyed MLs trample and destroy the yellow-eyed peaceful bots and their garden on their march to kill the humans. Lily demonstrates that she’s a capable leader despite her youth, quick and decisive and maximizing the limited resources she has.

When they mine a bridge and lure the red-eyed bots across, the detonators fail to work. It’s here where Lily’s underlings spot the yellow-eyed ML we know and have grown fond of. He stands in front of the hundreds of red-eyes, seemingly to try to talk them out of further fighting.

But before he can turn any red eyes to yellow, the entire bridge is lit up by missiles from 2B and 9S’ flying mechas. 2B makes a characteristically stylish entrance, and Lily not only knows her as “Number Two” but is very shocked to see her, or indeed any Council reinforcements. That said, Lily’s bloody shoulder seems to confirm she’s a flesh-and-blood human, not a “tin man”.

As for our yellow-eyed friend, he didn’t die in vain, nor is he alone. Hundreds if not thousands of his kind are soaking up knowledge from the library of the civilization they toppled, and seem to be combining their amassed knowledge and brains into a single mega-brain.

While I’m not sure what this is quite about, from a visual standpoint I can at least guess that yellow eyes and books are, at least now, less of a threat than red eyes, kamikaze bots, and slaughter. The narrator also describes the yellow-eyed bot anomalies as “treasures”. Were they meant to evolve in this way, or was it just random happenstance?

Whatever the answers are, and even if they’re never revealed, I remain thoroughly intrigued, and the setting lends the show a welcome splash of color and life from last week’s largely monotone, industrial battles. The post-ED omake featuring a cloth puppet 2B and 9S answering fan mail provides humor and whimsy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 13 – Snack Wars

When the faculty arranges for a blanket crackdown on off-campus snacking, the students are ready to fight back, with Ataru and his boundless charisma leading the charge. Mendou joins the adults as part of the “Covert Civility Patrol”, but allows all the girls (and guys disguised as girls) to pass when they sweet-talk him.

A madcap game of guy in cat mascot costume-and-mouse around the nearby shopping district ensues, complete with dramatic music to punctuate the “snack wars”, with the store owners and employees helping out the students since they give them their business. Unfortunately for Ataru, he’s force-fed a chili-filled okonomiyaki by Lum when she sees him flirting with a server.

The battle ends in a stalemate, and the episode moves on to Lum, Shinobu, Sakura, and Ran at a café, taking turns feeding the adorable Ten while Ataru stews outside. When talk turns to Sakura’s fiance, Ten space mail-orders a “Lovey-Dovey Crystal Ball” which tells each of the girls who they’re destined to marry. A lot of bombshells drop: Ran with…Ataru? Lum with…Rei? Sakura with…Ataru and Mendou??

The kicker is when Shinobu reveals that she saw Sakura’s fiancé. Then the three guys come in and much relationship rancor ensues, as no one is happy with the prospective husband they saw in the crystal ball (except for Ataru and Mendou, of course). Ten learns that the ball actually shows you your worst match you should avoid at all costs, but gets the real Lovey-Dovey Crystal Ball too late to stem the chaos the first ball wrought.

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 01 (First Impressions) – Glory…to Mankind

Nier:Automata Ver 1.1a is an anime adaptation of a video game sequel to a spin-off of another video game series dating back to 2003, but for me it might as well be anime-original. With this adaptation, A-1 Pictures gives us a polished sci-fi action flick set in a bleak and gritty world decimated by alien invasion. The aliens use “machine lifeforms” (retro-looking robots) to fight sleeker (read: sexier) androids developed by humanity.

Our protagonist is YoRHa B-Gata H-Kei 2-gou B-gata, AKA 2B, which is super easy name to remember. Sporting a silver bob, eye mask, dark maid/knight outfit, katana, and slick-as-shit mecha, 2B is voiced by Ishikawa Yui, channeling Mikasa with an appropriately stiff, mechanical vocal performance. I also thought of early Vivy.

2B has the baroque look of a late-stage Final Fantasy character, which contrasts nicely with the more bare-bolts industrial setting. At times I wondered if Yuuri and Chito from Girls’ Last Tour might come running through the mist. She’s supported by a float “Pod” companion that keeps her informed about her surroundings and conditions.

2B has a mission, and despite being the only one of her squad to make it to the factory where her Goliath-type target is located, she is determined to carry out the mission or die (or rather be destroyed) trying. She’s aided by a far more “human”-acting intelligence android, 9S, voiced by Hanae Natsuki as if he were an affable high school character.

9S hasn’t spoken to anyone in a while, and is happy to be teamed up with someone, being a typically solo unit. 2B is less enthused, especially with 9S’ loquaciousness (she tells him not to call her “miss” and cuts his exposition short). But he also saves the “brute-force-first” 2B’s ass. As for the Goliath, it appears as a massive oil platform-on-tracks, with a face resembling the boss from StarFox.

This Goliath is a tough customer, but 9S has it handled: diving into its computer brain in a trippy hacking sequence that’s a nice change of pace from the external twisted metal and rust, and smoke. His hacking ends up being incomplete and he’s ejected from his mecha and seriously maimed, and Goliath is able to reboot and regain part of its autonomy.

9S urges a suddenly very human-like 2B not to worry about him and complete the mission. She runs up the appendages of the Goliath and punctures its core with her katana. The good guys have seemingly prevailed and defeated the big level boss. But then it wakes back up, and four other Goliaths awaken and rise, surrounding them.

It looks like it’s going to be Game Over, Man for both 2B and 9S, so after she thanks him for saving her, the two take out their Black Boxes. When these boxes touch, they self-destruct in a massive explosion that consumes all of the Goliaths. Even with 9S by her side, this was always going to be a suicide mission as soon as 2B arrived without any of her fellow squad units.

But while that’s the end of her body, her mind, memories, and data are all transferred back up to the massive orbital human stronghold called the Bunker, and she wakes up in a new android body. It’s the first time we see her eyes, and because of that the sight of them really packs a punch.

When she reunites with a revived 9S, he confirms that the mission was complete, but that he must have only had time to transfer her data back to the Bunker. The 9S before him has no memories of their joint mission down on the surface. When this new 9S dutifully utters their motto—Glory to Mankind—2B clenches a fist and repeats the words …but grudgingly.

We don’t see a single human being or alien in this episode, only their tools. If we never see either, I probably won’t mind. Their absence contributes to quite a compelling atmosphere of loneliness, isolation, and even a tinge of resentment and brooding in the androids. They were built and programmed to say that motto and fight and sacrifice their bodies and minds, and while emotions are forbidden, they are also definitely there.

2B wonders if her unending cycle of life and death is a curse or punishment from the gods who created her. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but it is admirably executed, and looks and sounds awesome (Aimer sings the OP and the score is boss), which is why I’ll be continuing to watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 40 – His Mother’s Eyebrows

If you told me we’d be getting a Lt. Koito origin story this week, I would have been dubious, but, well, here we are, and while it’s completely divorced from the present day story and our core couple of Sugimoto and Asirpa, it’s still a ton of fun, blending geopolitical history, family strife, and the usual Kamuy zaniness.

At fourteen, Koito Otonoshin is an aimless, willful 14-year-old, a spoiled rich kid whose father has basically washed his hands of him. But when he runs a man down with his mini-motorcycle, he gets more than he bargained with, as that man turns out to be Lt. Tsurumi, in full possession of all of his skin.

Tsurumi can tell young Koito has skill and potential, but needs direction. He also learns—or rather already knew—that Koito has a complex about his 13-years-older brother who died valiantly in battle. Basically, he wishes he was the son to die. Tsurumi tells Koito he’ll enjoy his move to Hakodate, and that if they meet again, it will mean the heavens want them to be friends.

Two years later, Koito is still a rich little shit put-putting around town, but is suddenly kidnapped by Russians. Tsurumi arrives as a representative of the army to deal with the hostage situation, meeting with the grizzled Captain Koito and his wife. Finding his son will involve using the telephone exchange to trace the kidnapper’s call—the town only has 50 or so non-public phones, but that’s still too many to go door-to-door.

On one of many hunches, Tsurumi and Koito stake out the abandoned Russian embassy and await a phone call. But Captain Koito makes clear that if the Russians want him to dismantle his fleet in exchange for his son’s life, that’s not going to happen. Yet when the kidnappers call and put the captain’s son on, Koito is already prepared to die, tells his father to forget he was born, and starts fighting with his captives over the phone.

Papa Koito may be stern and honorable, but he’s not heartless, and his son’s gesture propels him to go after his son once the location of the phone—an abandoned fort six klicks away—is found. The horses are too scared of the steep hills, so Koito races off on his son’s motorcycle, with Tsurumi catching up with his Terminator speed and hopping on.

A thrilling little chase ensues, with one of the kidnappers pursuing the motorcycle. Tsurumi helps them get around corners by leaning to the side, surprising a couple of local townswomen and giving them a wink. He then swings around so he’s facing the captain and shoots and kills their pursuer.

However, Captain Koito ends up crashing the bike into a trolley and sending them both flying, losing just enough clothing to look like they’re members of a queer bike gang. They arrive at the old fort, the Captain distracts the kidnappers by striking a rock star pose, but he’s knocked out, and his son is tied up to a post again.

Koito hears gunshots behind the closed door and fears the worst, but when the door opens it’s not his captors, but Lt. Tsurumi, in all his sexy masculine glory. Koito’s dad comes to, and the three enjoy a good laugh while Tsurumi’s underlings—a younger Kikuta, Tsukishima, and Ogata—deal with the bodies of the dead kidnappers.

Clearly smitten with the always-charming Lt. Tsurumi, and also finally possessed of a sense of duty to both father and country, Koito takes the army officer test and passes, and even though his father is a naval man, he’s proud of his son whether he fights on land or sea. Tsurumi takes him under his wing, and Koito and Ogata exchange glares, the start of their long and colorful history together.

Left ambiguous is whether Tsurumi planned all of this: meeting the young Koito in Kagoshima to get the measure of him, arranging the kidnapping, facilitating a reconciliation between him and his dad, and eventually claiming him as one of his loyal 7th division officers. Or was it simply fate that brought them together?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 02 – Blue Ruin

Word comes down the ranks to the 12th Squad scrubs crashing at Ichigo’s that Soul Society has been attacked, the 1st Squad’s Lieutenant Sasakibe is dead, and all 116 squad members were killed in just over three minutes of fighting. At the bad guys’ HQ, their leader has no qualms about cutting off arms, legs, and heads of those who displease him.

We also see he has 3rd Espada Tier Harribel in custody, presumably to use her as a soldier in his war. While Ichigo is on a patrol of town to clear his head, Arrancars Nel and Pesche literally drop in on him, in an acute state of panic and distress.

When Lt. Sasakibe’s funeral pyre is lit, the episode does a smash cut to the blue flames of a gas stove as Yuzu cooks dinner while Karin watches TV. The blue flames are a symbol of the power of the Quincy, while one shot of Ichigo’s beloved little sisters are all that’s needed to make the stakes plain.

Pesche and Nel recount the invasion of Hueco Mundo and the capture of both Harribel and their large companion Dondochakka. They’ve come to Ichigo to ask for his help, and predictably, Ichigo agrees, and both Chad and Orihime are with him. Uryuu declares he can’t accompany them, since he’s Quincy sworn to destroy Hollows and Arrancar. Thus the main quartet is already down a member, and Uryuu’s loyalty to his friends will surely tested.

Urahara Kisuke, having noticed the not-so-quiet arrival of Arrancar to the World of the Living, offers to take Ichigo & Co. to Hueco Mundo via Garganta. They arrive to a land even more ruined than usual, with enemy soldiers in white uniforms rounding up the scant Arrancar survivors of the battle.

Little blue fires are omnipresent among the ruins; a dead giveaway that this was the work of the Quincy. And while even though Pesche doesn’t sense Dondochakka among the nearest group of POWs being herded away, Ichigo wants to get a closer look at his enemy, and if possible, give them a bloody nose.

One of the commanders of the Quincy invasion and subjugation forces is the flamboyant Quilge Opie, who is looking for “choice” Arrancar that might possibly be of use to their cause (read: competent cannon fodder). That said, he doesn’t give the lineup of captives an equal chance of survival, but rather stabs a number of them to death simply because he can.

Two of the captives are of a higher level than most: Loly and Menoly, Lord Aizen’s former aides. They ditch their cloaks, brandish their blades, and introduce themselves, but they’re no match for Quilge, who shatters their blades and easily disables them both.

This activity attracts the attention of still stronger Arrancar, namely Harribel’s Fraccion, the Tres Bestia of Mila Rose, Sun-Sun, and Apacci. The three are their usual cocky, argumentative, and highly skilled selves, and they dispatch seemingly all of Quilge’s underlings.

However, by the time Ichigo and Nel arrive, Quilge is looming over their defeated bodies, quite unscathed. One would hope that won’t be the case in a battle against Ichigo, but Ichigo is only one human, and the Quincy know who he is and possibly how best to fight him. I don’t think he can expect any “easy” battles going forward.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 14 – Anya Saves the Future

Yor obliterates Keith’s heavy with a single kick, but he still has a dog. But when he tries to sic the shepherd on Yor and it bears its teeth, Yor out-intimidates it and sends the dog running. Keith runs too, but Yor stays with a still frightened Anya, then hugs and comforts her. The talking-to can wait until they get home. What a good mom.

Mister Dog has another vision that Anya picks up on: one of Papa suddenly no longer being in the family, and Anya discovering Loid’s lifeless body in a  pile of rubble. There’s a clock tower and a bell that tolls just before an explosion. Anya has to stop this future from happening, but she can’t tip Yor off to her powers, so she mounts Mr. Dog and runs off on her own yet again.

Yor calls the cops to arrest Keith’s unconscious comrade, and that tips off WISE, who descend upon all of the student-terrorists but Keith. They thumb their noses at their initial interrogators, but then Handler walks in and asks them what they want. When they say “war”, she delivers a  truly chilling speech about what war really is:

Have any of you actually killed a person before? Have you ever been killed by anyone? Have you ever lost a limb in an attack? Have you ever heard bones being smashed? Have you ever smelled festering flesh? Have you ever seen your parents or siblings crushed in a crumbling building right before your eyes? Have you ever seen a piece of your lover’s flesh stuck to a wall? Have you ever been so hungry, you tried to bite into a tree? Have you ever stewed human flesh in a pot? Have you ever had someone close to you deny your enemy’s humanity so they could continue the killing, only to become so mentally broken after the conflict is over that they weep with regret and shame, vomit, and then eventually…take their own life? Apparently, you’ve learned nothing of war at your university … you utter children.

America has a history of university students protesting recent wars deemed unnecessary that were started by those who don’t truly grasp its costs. My own mom was tear-gassed and four of her classmates killed at Kent State protesting the Vietnam War.

Perhaps out of a sense of national zeal and boredom being on the sidelines, these Ostanian students decided that war would be fun and are trying to start one with Westalis. Well, as Handler makes perfectly plain even to them, there’s nothing fun about war. All the glory and nobility turns to ash and maggots without fail.

That Handler has such a sobering speech like this in an episode where a grade-schooler riding a big floofy dog preserves the peace by scribbling ketchup on the door rigged with a improvised bomb really gets to the heart of Spy x Family’s essential duality. Half of it is family slice-of-life and comedy, but the other half is the very serious, sometimes desperate struggle to prevent war from destroying that family, and millions of other families.

I love how Anya works through the problem, along with obstacles like not knowing how to read an analog clock, or all the wires on the bomb being black, all while Mr. Dog lends a helping paw or boost when needed, even if he’s not 100% wise to what’s going on. It’s entirely likely that smart as he is for a dog, he can’t make as much sense of his future visions as Anya can, making their collaboration vital.

With her ketchup warning heeded and the clock tower explosion prevented, Loid returns to the family in Mr. Dog’s vision, Back to the Future-style. WISE and Loid then turn to protecting the foreign minister from the still-at-large Keith. This is accomplished, like so many other gambits, by Loid disguising himself as the minister and leading an unwitting Keith on a wild goose chase.

Keith, who is unassailably a villain due to his desire to not only start a war, but his willingness to discard his beautiful, intelligent, and loyal dog as a bomb, thinks he’s got the minister right where he wants him, but gets wise to his tail when WISE agents shoot at him (and honestly, really should have been able to hit him, even in a moving vehicle. Those Ostanian cars ain’t that fast).

When Keith catches up to the “minister’s” abandoned car, he sends the dog after him while continuing in the car. He soon finds out that Westalis’ foreign minister is extremely spry for being a “60-year-old geezer”, as he’s able to evade the shepherd.

Eventually, Loid is done running, rips off his mask, and turns his gun on the lunging dog, to whom he apologizes for getting it mixed up in the affairs of humans. Handler AKA Sylvia’s words solidified his resolve to prevent war whenever it threatens to spring up. Loid may never know that Anya saved his life and began the effort to save the peace from these misguided students, but he sure as hell is going to finish it.

Spy x Family – 01 (First Impressions) – Toupees are a No-Go

The master spy Twilight never wanted a family. He’d sworn such emotional connections off when he decided to become a master spy. Connections would only slow him down or compromise him. But now his latest mission is to gather intel on a man who only attends school related social functions. So he crafts the name Loid Forger, gets an apartment, all-too-easily adopts a 4-to-6-year-old  girl named Anya, and begins to craft the illusion that he is a father.

As you’d expect, someone who’d sworn family off does not make the best dad out of the box, and he’s clearly thrown off by Anya’s chaotic behavior, so he raids the library for parenting books. But at the end of the day, he’s like every other new parent out there: on his own, and needing to stay on his toes. He’s now responsible for a life other than his own.

Little does he know that his secret about being a spy isn’t a secret, nor are any of his thoughts. That’s because Anya is an esper, able to effortlessly read his mind and those of anyone else she chooses. This is the result of shadowy human experimentation project from which she fled and has been in and out of foster families and orphanages ever since.

Anya’s built-in struggles with family stability create instant pathos and sympathy for her, on top of her being someone you want Loid to protect at all costs. That said, she really makes it harder than it needs to be by messing with Loid’s spy stuff while he’s out, and ends up getting kidnapped by the same people Loid worked with in his previous mission (I love their leader’s insistence politicians can pretend they’re not bald).

Loid is jumped by several thugs, but while it looks like he’s had his head stove in by a pipe, when he’s brought before the thugs’ boss, he’s not the man with the sack on his head; he switched himself out somewhere along the way. He rescues Anya in disguise and tells her to run to the nearest police station, as he’s decided his mission is to dangerous to involve a little girl. But after he deals with the boss, Anya is still there waiting for him, and makes it clear she wants to remain a family.

Loid relents, and then helps Anya study for the entrance exam needed to be accepted to the academy where his target’s kid also goes, thus giving him the access he needs. It’s a good thing he helped her memorize the answers, too, because none of the minds of the kids around her know them! When Loid finds her number on the board of accepted students, he can’t contain his genuine joy, and is suddenly hit by all the built-up exhaustion of the last few days.

He manages to get home and passes out on the couch. Anya gets the mail (telling the mailman “her mother doesn’t exist”) then sees Loid asleep and vulnerable, and decides to curl up under his arm, finally with a home and parent to her name after so much heartbreak and pain. When Loid wakes up to read the mail that arrived, he learns that having a daughter won’t be enough: he’ll need a wife in order to pass the second admission test. How hard could it be?

Spy x Family is a taut, brisk, and thoroughly charming and heartwarming story of a spy’s ice cold heart gradually melting in the presence of the world’s cutest telepathic orphan. Will he really abandon her like all those others once his mission is complete, or will the fake family he’s building (and will soon complete with a fake wife) convince him he can have “conventional happiness”?

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 12 (Fin) – Exception to the Rule(r)

With Soljest marching on Marden at Delunio’s behest, Wein is facing his toughest challenge yet. Of course, there was never much doubt this season would end with another brilliant victory. It just takes a bit for it to come together. King Soljest simply wants a good fight, so Wein gives him one in the form of ambushes from small groups of Natran cavalry.

He plans for the battle to unfold in such a way that the earliest reports back to Delunio will arrive stating that the Natran army has been routed, which exactly what he needs Sirgis to hear when he needs him to hear it for his crazy negotiations to have actual teeth.

It’s a complicated gambit, but basically he gets Sirgis to believe it’s possible the yellow dye used in the clothes popular with his people is actually poison, and that he’ll unleash 800,000 Natran refugees into Delunio at the worst possible time, throwing the kingdom into chaos and allowing Soljest to swoop in.

It’s not clear whether Wein is aware that Sirgis’ true goal isn’t necessarily to regain lost Delunian territory within Marden—that’s just icing—but that he wants to become a Holy Elite. But if even half of what Wein tells Sirgis comes to pass, he can kiss a future where Delunio is the shining beacon of the continent goodbye.

The coup-de-grace of Wein’s diabolical bluff is that he has the “antidote” to the poison yellow dye, but will only offer it if Sirgis attacks Soljests’ army from the rear. By overwhelming Sirgis with a bevy of undesirable and downright nightmarish scenarios, he gets him to turn against Soljest.

King Gruyere, being an exceedingly experienced head of state, knows Sirgis’ betrayal was a possibility, and isn’t the slightest bit worried when his army is suddenly caught in a Natran-Delunian pincer. In fact, he was bored when his army was slowly pushing the Natrans back and threatening to take the Mardenian fortress.

What ultimately dooms Gruyere is his desire to blast through the Delunian lines, let the Natran forces merge with them and get embroiled in chaos, then circle around an eliminate both. His underlings’ first instinct is to beat a hasty retreat now that they’ve lost the advantage, but Gruyere needs to feed that Beast Within.

That proves to be his downfall when he finds himself distracted by Wein standing atop a high cliff. Wein’s top general and soldier then charge Soljest, but even they are merely a distraction for the much quicker and more nimble Ninym, who manages to gravely wound him.

Notably, however, Ninym doesn’t kill the good king, and he ends up convalescing at Castle Natra, during which time he slims down to a far more normal size. It’s here where he and Wein spar once more, with Gruyere threatening to let himself die in Wein’s custody rather than let him have his way, thus plunging Natra into all-out war against Levetian religion.

Wein is only saved thanks to Gruyere’s insatiable curiosity about the beast within Wein, saying he’ll go along with three-party talks if he tells him what that beast desires. We don’t hear Wein’s answer, but we already know it: just as it was in the beginning, he wishes to drag Natra out of debt enough so he can sell it off and live the slow life (no doubt with Ninym by his side).

The opportunity to see if Wein will get what he wants is enough to entice Gruyere to surrender. However, it’s not a perfect victory for Wein. While he avoided all-out war, by wounding and capturing the Holy Elite Gruyere, the influx of Levetian pilgrims has plummeted and the Mardenian-Natran economic bubble has burst.

While that means Marden won’t be a threat for independence anytime soon, it also means that Wein won’t be in a position to sell his kingdom anytime soon. Instead, it’s back to work negotiating, planning, and strategizing … with Ninym by his side.

What this show lacked in technical execution of battles (or any animation involving large groups) it made up for it with its thoroughly likeable core of characters and wonderfully cerebral plots. Whether we’ll get to see more of that in a second season, I don’t know…but I wouldn’t hate it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 11 – Rare Beast

After scoring some impressive political and economic wins last week, it’s time for Prince Wein to take his medicine, as he encounters conflicts and the potential for treachery as a result of Delunio’s (correct) accusations that Imperial goods are being distributed to the West through Natra and Marden.

Sirgis, Prime Minister of Delunio, demands an explanation, and when Zenovia doesn’t give him one, he demands it of Wein. And while Wein bails Zeno out and scores some points for the ensuing verbal sparring, the meeting ends with Sirgis promising they’ll rue the day.

With uppity kingdoms like Delunio seemingly itching for a fight, Wein decides to forge an alliance with Soljest’s King Gruyere. The military and economic benefits for both sides are clear, but Wein finds himself up against the most formidable leader he’s yet encountered, one who makes a huge meal of being carted around on a palanquin even as he speaks coridal words.

Speaking of meals, Gruyere insists that all important affairs of state must be discussed over one, and this is when we meet Gruyere’s adorable daughter, Princess Tolcheila. While both the OP and her unique twisted smile suggest she’s up to something, all she really does is cheerfully describe each delectable course of the meal.

Wein is utterly defeated by this meal, ending up eating far too much and saying far too little to the king. As Ninym rubs his back (another lovely little moment that speaks to this couple’s bond) Wein resolves to strike up a talk with King Gruyere. But the next day, every attempt to interact with Gruyere results in him being brushed off or outright ignored and avoided.

It’s enough for both Wein and Ninym to suspect treachery in the form of an assassination…but then why is Gruyere delaying? They’re about to set a contingency plan into action when Gruyere welcomes them to his private veranda to have the very talk Wein wants, not only expressing his belief that all people, including flahms, should be treated equal, but agreeing to an alliance with Natra.

It feels all too easy because it’s not true. As soon as Wein returns to Natra, he learns that the Mardenian borders are being attacked by Delunio, who are staking a claim to lands they loaned to the crown Marden in perpetuity. Whether that’s an excuse or a genuine desire, Delunio has an alliance with Soljest, and so Soljest has delcared war on Natra.

It’s an unusual place for Wein to be—on the wrong side of a doublecross. He remains a genius who had always suspected something like this would happen, but also shows that he often follows his passions, and the charming King Gruyere’s genuine-sounding entreaties snagged him hook, line, and sinker.

It’s a lessoned learned for a prince who may be brilliant, but doesn’t have half the experience playing the game of an operator like Gruyere. And we learn that Gruyere isn’t doing this just because he’s evil, but because Wein is a worthy opponent, a “rare beast” Gruyere is looking forward to devouring. Even if he loses, he’ll still be glad to have tried to go up against the Genius Prince.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 13 – Tired of Resting

In a wonderful, succinct yet detailed montage, we see that the surviving members of Spearhead have settled into normal life in the Giad Federacy.

Raiden got a job with a moving company and made some buds; Theo draws his surroundings and gains praise from passersby; Kurena frequents the shops and boutiques, Anju takes up cooking classes, and Shin studies up in the library. There he meets Eugene Rantz and his little sister Nina, who has befriended Frederica.

After their horrible ordeal getting to the Federacy, followed by the roller coaster of being confined to a facility until being adopted by Zimmerman, the five former child soldiers have certainly earned some peace and respite.

But while they’re living in peace, they’re still not at peace. There’s a restlessness lurking behind their mundane days in Giad. These are kids who never considered what their futures might be, suddenly being given the opportunity to choose whatever futures they want.

But especially for Shin, it’s a false choice. At least his immediate future seems to be returning to the battlefield, for many reasons, not the least of which is freeing all of his colleagues whose souls remain at the mercy of the Legion. They call to him in his dreams, but when he raises the pistol he used to end their lives and spare them further torment, his hand is empty; Ernst returned his scarf, but not his pistol.

Shins new friend Eugene is poor, and in order to provide for and protect Nina, he’s enlisting in the service. The military is lauded in Giad the same as San Magnolia, and Eugene is eager to see the new mechs in the Christmas Eve military parade.

In a wonderful piece of cinematography, Shin looks down at The Skull Knight book, then looks up, and we see laundry flowing behind him through the window, emulating the knight’s cape. There is no pageantry to the military for Shin or the others; only necessity, purpose, pride, and obligation.

After each of them witness the military parade and are each quite put off by the pageantry, it’s Kurena who firsts breaks the dam of complacency. She’s seen and heard enough of this “peace,” and now it’s time to return to where she belongs: the battlefield. The other four quickly concur, glad someone was able to finally vocalize that they’ve all simply spent to much time “resting.”

Ernst objects to their sudden decision, but there’s nothing sudden about it, the five have said from the beginning that this is they always intended. And we the audience can play the concerned parent figure like Ernst and say that they only feel that is all they can do because it’s all they’ve done, and because the Republic and the Legion took everything else.

It’s the precocious Frederica, exhibiting surprising maturity and clarity, who tells Ernst that if he keeps these kids from doing what they want to do he’d be no different than the Republic. She also decides to reveal that she is the last surviving Empress of Giad and carries the responsibility for unleashing the Legion in the first place.

The thing is, that was ten years ago when she was even wee-er than she is now, so Shin and the others don’t hold it against her. It was really the Republic that took everything from them. Ernst grudgingly agrees to allow the five to do as they please, but only if they enter officer training, so that they’ll have more options when the war is over.

Of course, none of them were thinking about that possibility, even though he says it’s a certainty that the war will end. As for Frederica, she’s determined to join them, that they might help her find and put to rest her valliant Knight Kiriya, who was taken by the Legion just like Shin’s brother.

Lena takes the week off, and that’s a boon here in terms of portraying Shin, Anju, Kurena, Raiden and Theo’s transition from acceptance of their new lives to the realization that here, for once, they can choose what to do and where to go, and a mundane peaceful life in the Giadian capital just isnt’ their scene.

Whether next week focuses solely on Lena or is another split episode of the kind the last cour did so well, I’m simultaneously happy and terribly worried for our Eighty-Six. Part of me wishes they would just stay in that capital and live quiet peaceful lives…but that’s not up to me, or anyone else but them.

86 – 12 (S2 E01) – New Home, New Hope

86 is back…and there are some changes. San Magnolia’s awful system hasn’t changed, and Lena is still stuck in it (for now), but she’s adjusted the way she operates within it. Demoted to captain, she wears a streak of blood red in her hair and wears a black uniform to set herself apart from her drunken peers. She has a new squadron of Eighty-Six led by Iida Shiden, AKA Cyclops.

She handles them as she handled Shin’s squad; with as much compassion and care as she can. She learned their names from the start and has built a good rapport with Cyclops, who calls her “My Queen”. Most importantly, Lena is doing what she promised Shin and the others she would do: live on; survive. For her, that means preparing for the massive Legion offensive she senses is coming, even if her superiors are doing nothing.

Lena is maintaining and biding her time. As for her old friends Shin, Raiden, Anju, Kurena, and Theo? Amazingly, they’re all still alive, which is tremendous news. 86 really ripped my heart out, but it went a long way towards repairing that emotional damage by bringing them back without it feeling contrived or out of left field. Shin and the others are now honored guests of Giad, which is no longer the empire that created the Legion, but a diverse inclusive federacy.

That said, they should consider themselves lucky Giad’s President Ernst Zimmerman is, at least on the surface, a man of conscience and compassion, who wants only to give these found children, cast out of their homeland after fighting so long and hard, a measure of peace. Of course, Zimmerman is also a politician, and while I don’t know what his ultimate plan for the five is, I’m certain there is a plan, and his smiles and politeness are probably hiding darker intentions.

That said, it’s hard to argue that Giad is far better adjusted nation than San Magnolia, what with there not being apartheid and battlefield slavery of non-Alba citizens. Alba and non-Alba share the same streets and have families together. Zimmerman also wants his five new guests to be as comfortable as possible, and so arranges for them to live in his presidential mansion. That mansion also happens to be occupied by a haughty little spitfire of a girl named Frederica Rosenfort (Kuno Misaki).

Her hair and eye color suggest some kind of connection to Shin, while it’s clear Zimmerman is hiding the fact she is the last surviving Giadian Empress from the general public; officially, she’s his adopted daughter, as are Shin and the others. You can tell after their ordeal the five are simply tired, but they also look uncomfortable and awkward in such plush surroundings.

Between their new situation and Lena’s maintaining, there’s going to be a lot of adjusting and adapting in store for them. The new OP also indicates it’s only a matter of time before the five are back in the cockpits of war machines, but the president is right about one thing: that’s probably where they want to be because it’s all they know.

Giad is battling the Legion the same as San Magnolia. It’s obvious that if the two nations worked together, and San Magnolia, say, was run by Lena and not opportunists and drunks, that nation would be far better off. Shin & Co. certainly seem better off, while Lena has at developed a thicker armor.  We’ll see if it all pays off.

Sonny Boy – 10 – The Girl Who Knew Too Much

This week’s Sonny Boy experience comes from the POV of Tsubasa, AKA Sarah Plain and Tall With Broken Arm. We learn her power is “Monologue”—the ability to hear everyone’s inner voices. In order to not be ostracized, she’s kept the power a secret from everyone. She listens, but she doesn’t act in a way that would arouse suspicion.

Tsubasa likes Asakaze. She knows he’s kind of an ill-natured prick, but it doesn’t matter; she still likes him. But as she can read minds, she knows it’s unrequited; she also knows Asakaze likes Nozomi. He doesn’t like how close Nozomi is with Nagara. All the while, he’s unconsciously closer to Tsubasa than anyone; only she can hear his inner voice.

Tsubasa can’t help but like Asakaze, but while you’d think she’d try to use her power to try to make him feel the same way, all she does is quietly admire him from a distance. She hears all his thoughts about Nozomi, all the while dreaming of the day all his other romantic options will be exhausted and he’ll “land at her feet.” But between Nozomi (who doesn’t return his feelings) and Aki-sense (who is only wielding Asakaze like a tool), there’s too much competition.

Tsubasa and Nozomi end up accompanying Asakaze and Aki-sensei on the “grand task” he wishes to complete: defeating “War” before he can cause undue destruction. Tsubasa can’t fault Asakaze for liking Nozomi, because she knows that Inner Nozomi is just as wholesome and noble and honest as Outer Nozomi. Everyone practices some degree of deceit…except Nozomi. On the treacherous hike in “War’s” strange ceramic world, it’s Nozomi who comes to Tsubasa’s aid when she twists her ankle.

When they encounter “War” while falling down an endless gorge with a blood red bottom they never reach, he’s a student constantly falling and buffeted by the wind like the Maxell guy. Tsubasa can’t hear his thoughts; the guy is totally empty. Kinda like warD’YOU GET IT?!?!! Ahem…anyway, Aki-sensei (and apparently God AKA Dr. Strangelove) wants Asakaze to eliminate “War” from this world by creating “Death”, leading Nozomi to take him to task for trying to play God.

This causes Aki-sensei to retreat with Asakaze somewhere where she can bury him in her bust and keep him under her thumb. But as Tsubasa always knew since the drifting began, the only person who could truly change Asakaze was Nozomi. Nozomi won’t pretend to pander to him. Asakaze can probably sense that there’s never any deceit with her.

So when Nozomi says “Even if I’m dead, I can accept my own fate,” she means it. Maybe that’s why, after he turns “War” into a gun and the red into white, when the cliff crumbles and she falls, Asakaze doesn’t use his power to save her. Or maybe he can’t.

Meanwhile, Nagara picks up the mantle of island researcher from the long-departed Rajdhani, and continues to experiment with Mizuho’s powers. When he orders a chicken with Nyamazon and then kills it, it stays dead. When Mizuho orders one and he kills it…it comes back. Between having three wise talking cats protecting her and the potential power over life and death, I’m starting to wonder if Mizuho is the true God around these surreal parts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

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