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

 

Meikyuu Black Company – 07 – Operation Eternal Capital

Just as Preston seems to be enjoying Moonlight Fantasy more for the interaction of its endearing cast and not necessarily its world-building or plot, I too prefer when MBC keeps things simple.

That didn’t happen this week, as the meeting with the Demon Lord—who is Rimu’s twin sister—sits on her throne and delivers one long and convoluted infodump about What’s Going On, What’s At Stake, and Ninomiya’s crucial role in Saving the World.

The Demon Lord’s exposition is actually accompanied by actual imagery of a temporal war between the forces of natural order in the world and the corrupting expansion of Raiza’ha that left unchecked will render the planet incapble of supporting life.

But that conceptual ambition isn’t matched by sufficiently impressive visuals. Also, the bottom linie is Ninomiya is standing around either nodding his head or adding his two cents here and there.

Ninomiya, Rimu and Ranga actually arrive at the Demon Lord’s castle as Raiza’ha of the future is about to bring about the end of the world, so at the end of her spiel it’s time for the three to return to the past from whence they came.

Well, Ranga comes from the future, but he’s all in on going back in time with Ninomiya and Rimu. The DL does give Ninomiya a Matrix-like blue-or-red choice, but rather tan return safely to Japan, Ninomiya accepts the challenge of the mantle of savior of this world.

Upon returning, Ninomiya learns he and Rimu were gone a month, and not only is he penalized for the unapproved time off by his boss Belza, but his accommodations were assigned to another employee.

Since he arrives just in time to save Shia and Wanibe in the Dungeon, he, Rimu and Ranga take it upon himself to crash at Shia’s (admittedly pretty nice) apartment until further notice. She’s not particularly thrilled—and is perplexed by the sudden appearance of the extremely cute Ranga—but she’s also a nice person, and so accepts the freeloaders.

That night, the gang avails themselves of a rare instance of Raiza’ha footing the bill at a traditional business dinner and drinks, though Ninomiya must foot the bill for Rimu and Ranga as they are not Raiza’ha employees.

Ninomiya wants to be above socializing with the “rabble” but he knows the consequences of letting Rimu go hungry for too long, and so accepts the additional debt on top of the cost of being AWOL for a month.

In a show as irreverent towards The System as MBC, it’s not surprising that Ninomiya would be sent back to the past as the world’s only hope of salvation only to be treated like a problem employee by the very company that will be responsible for the worlds destruction in 300 years if he didn’t come back.

He also faces a rude awakening as he commences Operation Eternal Capital, as the difficulty of the Dungeon that leads to the ancient ruins has increased quite a bit since he last tackled it. That said, with the power of Rimu, Shia, Ranga, on his side (and Wanibe too, I guess), his Meikyuu Black Company is putting its best foot forward in this quest to save the world.

I just wish the production values were doing the same, but this was a distractingly janky-looking episode, especially when contrasted with the smooth CGI go-go-dancing of Rimu and the Demon Lord in the new ED.

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

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 08 – The Celestial Maiden

Note: This episode was originally accidentally labeled episode 7. It is episode 8.

This is it, the much-anticipated backstory episode(s) for the oldest (by more than a century), wisest, and most elegant and domestically capable members of Franchouchou. One and a half seasons seems like far too long without Yuugiri being the focus, but good things come to those who wait.

The clock turns all the way back to 1881 (Meiji 14), when the proud proprietor and madam are meeting with the Legendary Courtesan Yuugiri at the very height of her powers. Such is her beauty and talents of entertainment, she literally priced herself out of her market!

Her richest and most devout patron showed his gratitude for her services by setting her up with her own household in Saga. I imagine he intended to live with her, but he died of an illness, and a year later, Yuugiri arrives in Saga completely alone and knowing no one. She spends her days giving the local girls dance lessons, and her evenings staring wistfully at the gorgeous Saga sunsets.

Ay, but there’s the rub: the region she moved to was once known as Saga (and will be again in the present day), but in 1882, the Meiji government considered it a nuisance prefecture, and after losing a regional war to Meiji, Saga was split up between Mizuma and Nagasaki, effectively erasing it from the map.

Local boy Momozaki Kiichi is determined to “Bring Saga Back”, making him the spiritual (if not biological!) descendant of Tatsumi Koutarou (he’s even voiced by Miyano Mamoru) . He tries to pass out flyers urging others to join his cause to create a new beginning for Saga, but he’s stopped often by the local cop, and just as often bailed out by his more jaded friend Itou.

One day, Yuugiri’s students urge her to leave her stately roost and view the cherry blossoms. She purchases a windmill, and the wind—and possibly fate—blow it out of her hands, landing at Kiichi’s feet. Kiichi is understandably bowled over by her beauty and politeness.

They’re almost both bowled over by a rickshaw, but when he leaps to push her out of harm’s way, she deftly dodges the ride on her own, and in the opposite direction, while he lands in a muddy bog. To his continued shock and shame, she soils her yukata to dry his face. We get another gorgeous shot of Yuugiri staring at the sunset, but because the red pinwheel is there, it feels significantly less lonely than the first shot.

The woman aboard that rickshaw looks just like Tae, just like many extras in the background resemble characters from the present day. It’s an fun artistic choice that reminds me of Farscape’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and Star Trek: DS9’s “Far Beyond the Stars”—two episodes that placed the casts in totally different roles.

Kiichi learns who he met from Itou, who is more up to speed with gossip in the prefecture formerly known as Saga. It’s rumored Yuugiri was so good, it almost brought down the Meiji court. Kiichi comes calling at Yuugiri’s house to offer a humble comb as thanks for her help; it’s then he learns he’s the first person to actually visit her other than her dance students.

Itou says that Yuugiri and Kiichi are “from different worlds” and thus hopelessly incompatable, but Kiichi rejects that cynicism and begins to build a friendship with Yuugiri, which isn’t hard because she’s incredibly nice and he’s her only adult visitor.

And then, one day, Yuugiri is in the kitchen when she feels what she charitably describes “a fresh presence” that turns out to be Itou. From this point on, and really before that too, something seemed off and sinister about this guy. That he perfectly blocks Yuugiri’s chopstick strike doesn’t dispel that notion!

The aura around Itou is so menacing, in fact, that I half believed he drugged Kiichi in order to be alone with Yuugiri. Instead, he has her put down the shamisen, offers her a drink (she graciously declines), and the two talk about Kiichi. As Yuugiri learned from Kiichi while visiting him at his “gramps”,  he was taken in by an old man after he was orphaned in the Saga war.

While Itou thinks Kiichi’s wild dreams and guileless optimism will lead to heartbreak and despair, Yuugiri admires the lad’s capacity for dreams. For all of Yuugiri’s comfort and luxury, in this era she remains the proverbial bird in a cage, idolized by all and avoided by all. Yet Kiichi, with his wild dreams, visits her and talks to her like they’re equals, and Kiichi-han’s Saga is a Saga where she truly can be free.

Before taking his leave for the night, Itou insists Japan is still too “twisted” and “barbaric” a nation for Kiichi’s dreams to ever come to fruition. Yet the next morning, a hot one, two strapping young lads approach Kiichi with his flyers in hand, interested in a new Saga themselves.

That glimmer of hope Kiichi has finally found some like-minded folks is all but snuffed out when Itou tosses a scrap of paper to an beggar who moves a lot faster and with far more purpose than you’d expect. This elicits a host of suspicions in me, from Itou plotting something horrible for Yuugiri (perhaps on orders from the Meiji court), to those two lads interested in Kiichi’s cause actually being hired muscle waiting for their chance to silence Kiichi, possibly for good.

And then there’s the overarching pall hanging over this look back: it is a look back. We know Yuugiri is already dead. I feel we just may have experience the happy half of the Legendary Courtesan’s saga. One way or another, the second half will end in tragedy as Itou predicted (and could well be an architect in that tragedy), and more than a century will pass before Yuugiri is revived by Koutarou and actually gets to see the New Saga Kiichi-han dreamed about.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 8 here!

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