TenSura – 07 – Song of Slime and Fire

While sleeping in Rimuru’s goblin village, Shizu dreams of her wretched past, from when she was summoned from WWII-era Japan, was merged with Ifrit, and then essentially became a living weapon for the Demon Lord, who with one gaze can command her to destroy anyone from an interloping giant chicken to her poor friend and their unauthorized furry friend.

Waking up from a dream like that, it’s no surprise Shizu tries to make haste in leaving the village and her new friends behind, before the time comes when she can’t control the destructive power flowing within her. Unfortunately, her goodbyes run a bit too long, and Ifrit awakens in all his terrible fiery glory…right next to Rimuru’s newly rebuilt village.

To their credit, the experienced three-person party of adventurers don’t run, but try to fight to get their friend Shizu back, but Rimuru can tell they’re hopelessly under-leveled against a boss like Ifrit. However, Eren’s ice attack proves useful when Rimuru makes her use it agains thim and he analyzes and perfects it into a more powerful attack, which takes out all of Ifrit’s minions.

Ifrit counters by cloning himself dozens of times and surrounding Rimuru. When Rimuru takes the bait and blasts the clones with ice, Ifrit reveals a magic circle just beneath the slime, and casts Flare, enveloping Rimmy in a column of flame visible for miles around. The thing is…Rimuru is immune to fire, which means Ifrit is absolutely no threat, at least to the slime.

With that, Rimuru casts Predator and swallows Ifrit up where he joins Veldora in the void of the slime’s vast internal storage facility. Glad Veldora isn’t alone in there anymore! I have to admit I’ve missed the big guy ever since Rimuru ate him. In Ifrit’s place lies an unconscious but intact Shizu. Did Rimuru inadvertently free her from the curse she’s carried for decades?

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Sword Art Online: Alicization – 06 – One Big Weapons Project

Now that Asuna has revealed herself, Kikuoka must answer some questions for her. It turns out he wasn’t lying when he said Kirito was receiving treatment he couldn’t receive anywhere else. They have him in a full-spec STL that is gradually rebuilding his damaged brain, though they still don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

However, Kikuoka didn’t bring Kirito to Rath HQ out of the kindness of his heart. As an SDF official, he has always sought new ways to fight wars ever since the NerveGear came out. When fully copying the souls of fully-formed real-world adults failed (none will ever accept they are copies), they had to use the copies of infant souls, and raise them in a controlled virtual environment where they’d accept their existence—bottom-up AI.

While that in and of itself was a major achievement, it caused problems for Kikuoka vis-a-vis his ultimate goal: to develop a new weapon for the defense of Japan. The AIs followed the law—the Taboo Index—precisely and without exception. The Underworld was a utopia with no crime…until Alice crossed that border as a result of her dealings with Kirito, whom they placed into the world after wiping his memory.

In effect, Kirito was the chaotic element they needed in order to “teach” their homegrown bottom-up AIs to break the law; even to murder. Alice, or A.L.I.C.E. (a rather tortured acronym I will not repeat), was the first product of introducing Kirito to the project: the first AI to dissent and resist the Taboo Index (even if it was accidental).

That, Kikuoka hopes, is the first step towards building an army of artificial fluctlights capable of killing an enemy, which will mean no longer having to sacrifice real-world soldiers in conflicts—a huge strategic advantage that could elevate real-world Japan to the highest echelons of global power.

Of course, this opens up a tremendous ethical and philosophical can of worms; one so large Kikuoka himself isn’t interested in pondering it beyond the limited scope of what is essentially a weapon R&D project. But having experienced about as much virtual life as Kirito, Asuna is not okay with exploiting souls that are the cognitive equal to real-world humans as, well, cannon fodder. Perhaps they’re not real humans, but they’re close enough for it to be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the imperfect human world, two or more wrongs often make a right, and while Kikuoka is definitely putting out some serious supervillain vibes with his secret base and yukata, his intentions to eliminate the human cost of war are noble. But he execution has yielded the creation of a new race of beings that aren’t necessarily his to do with as he pleases.

Project Alicization is, in a way, one massive crime against virtual humanity. While she loved Kayaba too much to kill him, Koujirou Rinko is still aware of the role she played in his crimes.  But when she confesses that role to Asuna, Asuna is forgiving, because she doesn’t feel she’s in any position to forgive.

Asuna and Kirito, like Rinko and Kayaba, have also committed crimes in their various virtual dealings. But all they can do is accept that and move forward, learning the lessons that had to be learned. And right now those lessons are telling Asuna that Kikuoka is doing is wrong, even if it is saving Kirigaya Kazuto.

I imagine at some point Asuna is going to plug into one of those unused STLs, to reunite with Kirito and, if he ends up remembering her, confer with him on how they should deal with Kikuoka and his monstrously advanced experiment.

Even assuming Kikuoka had free reign to do as he pleased, there are so many complex variables in his system that something unexpected is sure to arise. If and when it all blows up in his face, he’ll need people like Asuna and Kirito to clean up his mess.

TenSura – 06 – Fire and Slime

Kaval, Eren, and Gido are the adventurers who Rimuru briefly encountered. We learn their guildmaster is quite the taskmaster, sending them back out to Jura to further investigate the disappearance of Veldora after just three days of rest. They are accompanied by a raven-haired young woman in white cape and mask named Shizu.

Meanwhile, Rimuru surveys the fruit of his overpoweredness, as the Dwarves he brought to the village immediately begin to make a big impact on the goblins’ development. He also names 500 more goblins to evolve them so they won’t be wiped out in the power vacuum caused by Veldora’s vanishing.

The adventurers soon get in over their head, and end up getting chased by a pack of giant ants. Shizu uses her mastery of fire and not inconsiderable combat skills to destroy the ants and save her comrades, but ends up missing one, and almost fainting just before she can kill it.

That ant is destroyed by Rimuru’s Black Lightning, and he introduces himself to them all, including Shizu, whose mask came off in the hubbub, revealing a face Rimuru saw in the crystal ball; the person he’s “destined to be with.”

Rimuru takes them back to the village where the goblins put them up in a hut and feed them meat, and they have their introductions. Shizu is putting out all kinds of Japanese vibes, and turns out there’s a reason for that: she was summoned to this fantasy world from the same real world as he was, only in her case, it was during an bombing raid in WWII, just after her mother was killed by debris.

While the details are scant, Shizu was apparently summoned (by at least 30 mages, according to Veldora) to serve as a weapon. At first the big cheese in charge of bringing her there doesn’t think anything of her, but then has none other than Ifrit use Shizu as a vessel.

Shizu seems glad to have met a fellow Japanese, and even happier when he shows her his memories of how well the country has fared since she left. But there are times when she collapses; perhaps a symptom of the “curse” she bears. And then there’s the whole reason she’s there: to serve as a weapon formidable enough to defeat, say, a dragon…or even, perhaps, a slime that ate a dragon? Whatever her motives, I’m glad we’ve finally been introduced.

Hinamatsuri – 01 – Not Your Average Brat (First Impressions)

Nitta Yoshifumi is your typical low-to-mid-level yakuza, doing pretty well for himself without getting his hands bloody, preferring the art hustle to less civilized ventures. He has a fine condo with fine furniture, fine objets d’art, and fine wine.

Then quite suddenly (as these things tend to happen), a strange metal egg with a face falls from above. Nitta decides to pretend its not there and go to bed. But of course, it’s still there in the morning, and he presses the red button as the face instructs to reveal Hina, a blue-haired brat with telekinetic powers.

Nitta…goes with it. I mean, Hina doesn’t give him much choice, wordlessly threatening to destroy all the fine things he owns unless he acquiesces to her demands, which range from “clothes” of any kind to cover her up, to over eight thousand dollars worth of merch at the mall.

Hina isn’t the expressive sort, but lots of TV-watching gives her a vocabulary Nitta can immediately identify when she uses it. He finds himself feeling like a caregiver all of a sudden, rather than somebody only in this life for himself and his organization.

When Hina decides she’s going to school, Nitta gets her to promise not to use her powers, lest chaos ensue. As Hina makes a fine first impression by forgetting her assumed last name, then sleeps through every class, Nitta wrings his hands at a meeting with his fellow yakuza, worried about how she’s doing—and they misinterpret his intensity for being gung-ho about taking on a rival group.

Well, chaos ensues anyway, because she neglects to tell him that if she doesn’t use her powers for too long, the power builds up and explodes, trashing his whole place. I loved the suddenness with which this escalated.

Since she has to use her powers anyway, Nitta tries to find a practical use for them, and finds one in a forest-clearing job for a shady developer. Uprooting mature trees, cleanly stripping their branches, foliage, and bark, and filling the holes in the ground is child’s play to Hina, who privately wonders why this Nitta guy is being so nice and not ordering her to kill people.

Nitta makes a killing on the tree job, but gets no congratulations from the Chief, because in his absence the Boss got shot, requiring their group to respond in kind. Nitta doesn’t even think of taking Hina with him, but resolves to take care of it himself, despite lacking any credible bona fides in the violence department.

Hina tags along (and scares the shit out of Nitta in the car) of her own volition, asking him why he won’t give her orders to kill the men in the building. Nitta’s all-too-decent response is a revelation to Hina: “Why should you have to do that? This has nothing to do with you!” Touched that he cares for her, she smirks and decides to take care of business without orders.

Hina is as efficient at clearing out the rival groups’ hideout and serving up their boss as she was clearing the forest, and we listen along with Nitta to the screams and grunts of the building’s occupants as she goes floor-to-floor, tossing every peron and piece of furniture out into the street (though notably never hitting Nitta with anything).

Everybody wins: Nitta is promoted for his excellent work (he neglects to mention his “brat” did it all; not that he wants it known she has powers), and Hina gets to exercise her telekinetic valves. Nitta generously rewards her (another concept unfamiliar to Hina from her previous life) with the finest kind of her so-far favorite food (red caviar), and the two settle into a mutually beneficial situation.

Post-credits, Nitta accidentally locks himself in the metal egg Hina arrived in, and Hina exacts a bit of revenge by leaving him in there all night, only releasing him in the morning after he’d wet himself (the moment of his release is played exactly like Ahnold’s arrival in Terminator, only with a cloud of piss.)

Hinamatsuri is a ton of fun. It’s also an absolute hoot. I was snickering or laughing for virtually the entire run time, as Nitta’s reactions to Hina’s deadpan remarks were constantly entertaining, as was the physical comedy of the telekinetic hi-jinx. There were too many hilarious lines to list.

The show has a marvelous sense of comedic timing in both dialogue and editing, but the comedy never overshadows what is, at its heart, a warm and sincere story of a man who suddenly has someone to care about, and a former human weapon who suddenly has the freedom to be a normal girl, even if she occasionally has to literally blow off some steam. I’m on board!

Violet Evergarden – 09

A tool cares nothing for itself. It doesn’t even consider itself a “self”. It only has purpose in the hands of its master. No master, no purpose. Violet was only able to get as far as she did as an Auto Memoir Doll because she thought the Major was out there somewhere, they would one day reunite so she could be issued fresh orders.

Despite Gilbert’s attempts to appeal to her humanity, Violet had been so conditioned for carrying out orders and nothing else that even when she loses one arm to a bullet and another to a grenade, she’s still compelled to try to dress his wounds with her teeth, until he has to all but order her to stop.

But now there are no more orders to look forward to, and Violet is lost in her past. She revisits the ruin of the castle where he fell, perhaps harboring a glimmer of hope everyone was wrong, and Gilbert was there after all. It doesn’t take long for that hope to be crushed, which is just about when Claudia and Benedict arrive to pick her up.

Claudia explains his need to withhold the truth from her when she was admitted to the hospital; she was more concerned with Gilbert than herself, but Gilbert demonstrated to Claudia on the eve of battle that he never saw Violet as a tool or weapon, but an ordinary girl he’d taken it upon himself to care for.

Gilbert had hope of his own: that one day Violet could be an ordinary girl with a purpose and emotions and dreams all her own. And even if he wasn’t around to meet that girl, he entrusted Claudia to care for her in his stead. Claudia perhaps understood more than Gilbert did just how difficult a transition from weapon to person would be.

Still, he doesn’t regret how he’s handled things. Cattleya thinks him heartless to tell Violet she’s “burning in the flames of what she’s done”, but it’s true, and it’s not something unique to Violet. Everyone has lost people, and parts of themselves. There’s nothing for it but to accept those flames, and they’ll gradually subside.

Upon returning to Leiden, everyone is worried about Violet, but also keep their distance out of respect. She sits in her dark room, alone with her flames, her grief and regret. She dreams of returning to the steps where she last saw Gilbert, but he’s not very nice.

Dream Gilbert essentially repeats the words his brother said to Violet at the port—words that appeal to her guilt over being able to write letters that connect people with the same hands that took the lives of so many others. She cries. She makes a mess. She puts those hands around her throat and contemplates joining the major.

Then there’s a knock at her door and she receives a letter; her first. Before reading it, she helps deliver some letters an errant delivery boy abandoned, and seems to enjoy ensuring the thoughts and hearts and souls of those who wrote them find their way to where they belong.

The letter addressed to her was written by Iris and Erica, figuring writing Doll-to-Doll was the best way to maintain that respectful distance while making sure Violet knew they were worried about her and are hoping and waiting for her to return. Additionally, Spencer requested her by name to ghostwrite an apology/thank you letter for his sister Luculia.

In this way, Violet gets back to work, the embers still glowing but the flames perhaps gradually subsiding. Spencer’s hope was to express gratitude for the one who got her back on her feet, all the while unaware that he’s helping Violet to do the same.

On her way back to the office, she spots a newspaper article featuring Princess Charlotte and her new husband meeting with children, as well as an advertisement for Oscar Webster’s newest play about Olivia. It’s a little on the nose, but it’s important that she she be reminded of what she’s done since her military career ended.

That’s because when she rushes to Claudia’s office to ask him if it’s really, truly all right for her to live on, he tells her that while the things she did back then can’t be undone, neither can the things she’s doing and will continue to do as an Auto Memoir Doll. Not only is it all right to live on…it’s essential. Both the show and this episode share her name. They are hers, and so is her life. Time to start living it.

Violet Evergarden – 08

There are no fancy clients or letters written this week, as learning of Gilbert’s death pulls Violet back into her dark past. Though it’s never explained exactly how the girl who Gilbert would come to call Violet was molded into such an efficient killing machine, but one thing is certain: absolutely no care was taken into how her emotional development would suffer from her military duties; at least not until Gilbert took custody of her.

Violet was too valuable an asset for the military to keep on the sidelines, so Gilbert was ordered to put her on the front lines of the war, where she distinguished herself as a fearless weapon. But as he watched her slaughter the enemy without any kind of expression on her face, many a pained look came from the major.

He really didn’t want to contribute any further to this child’s torment, but he had little choice, not being the particularly rebellious type. And so he watches the girl everyone considers nothing but a weapon continue to tear her soul apart as he watches with pity and regret.

When Violet treks (in her memoir doll dress no less) to the Bouganvillea mansion and finds Gilbert’s grave beneath a tree, it may be starting to sink in for her that she’ll never see the major again, but as it’s something she’s never before contemplated—any more than she knew what concepts like “beautiful” or “gratitude” meant before meeting him—she just seems utterly lost without the man whose green eyes match the brooch she had him buy for her, calling those eyes “beautiful from the first time they met.”

Gilbert’s and Violet’s relationship was always an utterly tragic one, with the war dictating how Gilbert had to use her, and Violet never properly growing up or mastering human skills of interaction or self-relfection while Gilbert drew breath.

But thanks to him, she at least had a chance to gradually learn; her exploits with the doll company are proof of that. He was always right about her: she was more than a weapon, she was a human being, and it wasn’t too late for her.

Unfortunately, we learn what causes the wound that leads to Gilbert’s demise, and it’s just a cherry on top of the shit life sundae Violet has been handed. Enemy stragglers shoot him in the eye, using the light of the very flare he sent up to alert ground forces to invade the fortress.

It was the last goddamn battle he and Violet had to fight, and thus the war snatched him away from her when she needed him the most—with peace on the horizon. Will she ever recover from that loss? I would hope so, but she’ll need help from those around her, and she’ll have to want to be helped, as opposed to simply wanting to join the major in death.

Violet Evergarden – 03

Violet attends Auto Memoir Doll Class, sternly instructed by Mrs. Rhodanthe. Violet treats it like military training, and without trying impresses the whole class with her two hundred words-per-minute typing speed, earns top marks for grammar and vocabulary. So far, so good.

Her desk neighbor Luculia (whose seiyu I can’t quite place…Yuuki Aoi, perhaps?) takes an interest in the “doll-like girl with a soldier’s demeanor.” When the time comes to ghostwrite letters to one another, Violet’s letter to Claudia sounds like a dry report, while Violet utterly fails to parse out the feelings Luculia expresses, resulting in another tactless letter full of potential misunderstandings, which the instructor soundly rejects. Technical proficiency will only get you so far in this class.

Still, Luculia, while walking partway home with Violet, decides to show her her favorite view of the city, from the clock tower. This induces a vivid flashback for Violet, remembering Major Gilbert telling her how he wished for her to see that very view.

This reinforces the notion that the only way Violet will make any progress—either as a Memoir Doll in touch with her clients’ feelings or a woman in touch with her own—is through external interactions with her fellow townfolk, like Luculia, which bring out her internal emotions. Seeing the view the Major wanted her to see is a step in the right direction.

At first, Luculia chose her brother as the recipient of her letter, but switched to her parents, and we get a glimpse of why: her brother is a raucous drunk and a layabout, and not really available to hear what Luculia might want to say, even if she found the words to say. Watching her eat dinner alone in the dark as he snored beside her was sad beyond words.

When the Doll class concludes, Violet is not among the nine who graduated, though Luculia does pass. Violet reports her failure to Claudia, who tells her not to feel so bad, since graduation isn’t a requisite of being a Doll. But Violet isn’t satisfied. She doesn’t see how she serve any purpose as a doll if she can’t do what the instructor said: draw out the true feelings the client wishes to express.

Violet returns to the school, perhaps for further guidance, but to her surprise is met by Luculia, who offers to ghostwrite her a letter about the person she kept mentioning at the end of her previous ones: the Major. This leads to Violet telling Luculia why she wanted to be a Doll in the first place (to understand what “I love you” meant).

Whether Luculia took “the Major’s last words to me” to mean the Major is dead or not, she proceeds to pour her heart out about her own situation. Her parents, whom she had Violet ghostwrite letters to, were killed in the war, and her brother, who was in the army but never saw battle, blames himself for not being able to defend the city where their parents died.

Here I thought he was tortured by the things he had to do in the heat of battle—this world’s equivalent of PTSD. But it’s the regret over not being able to do anything that took root in his heart that has been eating away at him ever since.

Watching him get into a pointless fight and getting badly beaten as Luculia expressed her feelings made for some singularly powerful drama, aided in no small part by Evan Call’s sumptuous score, which never strays into melodrama.

Violet hears Luculia’s words, and after Luculia leaves, takes up the typewriter once more. The next time we see her, she’s blocking a drunken, supine brother’s crutch with one arm, and delivering him a ghostwritten letter with the other. He had been lying there remembering better times, when he and Luculia would climb to the top of the clock tower to enjoy the view. It’s clear even here, at rock bottom, that he loves his sister very much.

The letter is oh-so-brief: I’m glad you’re here for me. Thank you for everything. They’re the words Luculia wanted to say but couldn’t, and they’re the words her brother needed to hear but weren’t being said. Words of forgiveness, gratitude, and love.

The next day, Luculia takes Violet back to the school once more. Luculia and her brother are on the road to rebuilding a relationship, thanks to the letter. Rhodanthe presents Violet with a brooch signifying her status as a graduate of the class, in hopes she’ll become an exemplary Memoir Doll.

This time Violet listened and understood the words being spoken, and took from them the feelings that needed to be expressed, without the need for paragraphs of flowery language. All she needed was a strong inspiration—almost a muse—and found one in Luculia.

We’ll see how this breakthrough translates to being able to successfully convey the feelings of people other than her new friend. But for now, Violet has achieved a hard-earned and well-deserved victory.

Violet Evergarden – 02

The second episode of Violet Evergarden begins with a flashback to four years ago, when Gilbert first “met” Violet. I use quotes, because his brother suddenly presents him with Violet like she’s a new weapon for him to try out, rather than a human being to meet.

As we know, Gilbert would come to think a lot more of Violet than merely as a trusty tool, be it a comrade in arms, a sister, or even a lover. But witnessing the simple moment they met serves to underscore what was lost when they were suddenly separated at the end of the war.

I imagine Violet and Gilbert were quite inseparable for all of the four years that followed, but now they’re apart, and Violet is trying to make the best of it. More importantly, she wants to learn what the last three words he said to her meant.

For her, that means learning the secrets of the women who write letters that properly express the feelings and intentions of their clients. But there’s a problem: Violet may be able to express love—for Gilbert, mostly—but since she doesn’t understand love, she doesn’t know she’s doing it.

As such, despite her speed and precision at the typewriter, she has a rough go of perceiving or transcribing the clients’ wishes. She’s always lived by cold hard facts and logic. The nuances of words and the concept of tact are as foreign to her as her metal arms are to her new co-workers Cattleya, Erica, and Iris.

When a customer is so angry he prepares to walk out without paying, Violet restrains him with ease, showing she can be an asset to the business (in addition to accurately typing addresses and records). But she’s not going to learn about love by simply doing the grunt-work.

Unfortunate circumstances lead her to writing a “love letter” from an interested woman who doesn’t want to come off as too easy to her admirer, and it goes about as well as you suspect. I actually really felt for the poor customer who had the bad luck to entrust Violet with such a coorespondence.

But I also felt bad for Violet, who has no idea (not yet at least) why her letter was so horrible. We can only hope she’ll apply that military discipline and sticktoitness to learning the finer points of interpersonal communication…and tact. I felt worse still when she thought she saw the back of Major Gilbert’s head, and her crestfallen face when it turned out to be a stranger.

The fellow Auto Memoir Doll who gets the most exposure this week is Erica, who was struggling to write letters that satisfied her customers before Violet showed up. In Violet’s blunders she sees her own shortcomings in this very tricky business, albeit different shortcomings.

She later learns from Violet (in a gorgeous end-of-the-rain scene where the sun starts to pour on their faces) why Violet is so adamant on persisting with the job even though she’s not well-suited for it: to learn what “I love you” meant.

Erica often walks past a store window with an early typewriter, whose inventor built for his blind wife so she could keep writing novels. It was a tool build out of love. The wife’s novels inspired Erica to try her hand at writing, and she intends to stick it out just as Violet does.

Erica (and Iris for that matter) are well aware not everyone can be Cattleya, who is the company’s popular (and money-making) celebrity. She likes Claudia Hodgins (so named because his parents wanted a daughter), but he can’t treat her to dinner because he spent his month’s pay to retrieve the brooch Gilbert gave to Violet, which was later stolen and placed on the black market.

Once Cattleya dolls Violet up a little to give her a look better befitting her regimental aura, Hodgins presents the brooch to Violet as a surprise, and her reaction shows every one present there’s a lot more to Violet than she’s revealed to them thus far.

When Cattleya asks Hodgins about the “Gilbert” Violet mentioned, he tells her, gravely swirling his drink (creating patterns of undulating light on the bar) and as Violet, in her quarters holds her brooch up to the light: Gilbert is from the rich and famous Bougainvillea family.

But still unbeknownst to Violet, he’s Never Coming Back, in one of the more effective episode title drops I’ve ever had the privilege to see. Violet bites the brooch, no doubt believing she’s now a little closer to meeting Gilbert again. In reality, that brooch is all that’s left of him.

It’s a truth Hodgins is in no apparent hurry to reveal to her, and who can blame him? The way she is now, Violet would either not believe him, and possibly undertake a desperate, futile quest to find him, or believe him, and lose all will to live one moment longer without her Major.

Violet Evergarden – 01 (First Impressions)

Violet’s life was once simple to the point of elemental. Rather than earth, fire, water, and air, she had the Battlefield, the Mission, the Orders, and, most importantly, the one who provided the last two on the first, the Commanding Officer; Major Gilbert.

When she comes to in a hospital, her face and arms bandaged, unable to hold a pen, Major Gilbert is the first person she calls for. She believes she’s in sufficiently good working order to begin the next Mission. She wants Orders as soon as possible. She wants to return to the Battlefield. She wants Gilbert.

She doesn’t get any of that. Instead, there’s this guy Colonel Hoggins. Violet’s new orders are simply to come with him. He takes her to a mansion, and there lives the Evergarden family to whom Gilbert has entrusted her until she comes of age.

In this civilized civilian capital untouched by war, Violet must feel utterly out of place. You don’t go stashing a military asset in a civilian setting, now do you? That would be improper. And Violet has always seen herself as such an asset. It’s why she stands at attention and salutes Mrs. Evergarden.

When Violet cannot grasp a lovely-looking cup of tea, it’s a highly symbolic gesture that becomes far more explicit when she reveals her adamantine hand. The metal on that hand is unlike anything else in that mansion, and so it doesn’t look like it belongs. Violet senses this.

When Hoggins starts to go, she protests. She must have orders at once. She must contact Gilbert. She must restore those elements that made up her world as long as she could remember. But again, Hoggins is unaccommodating. The war is over, he tells her, and to her that means she no longer has a purpose, and should be disposed of.

Colonel Hoggins, realizing Violet won’t adjust to life in peacetime so easily, decides to take her with him to the new postwar business he started: a civilian post office that also ghostwrites letters for the many members of the populace that can’t write (presumably due to the ravages of the war).

Because Hoggins, once the a leader of a force dedicated to destroying the enemy and nothing else, found a new niche in the war their blood and toil created, so can Violet. It’s just a matter of re-configuring the nature of those elements which she requires to live.

The “Battlefield” is now the port city of Leiden. In Gilbert’s stead, Hoggins is now her Commanding Officer (he prefers “Boss”). He’ll issue her Missions and Orders.

Those orders will consist not only of work—sorting and delivering mail—but also to learn that she needn’t work all day and night; that she must take breaks, eat, sleep, and all the other things civilians take for granted every goddamn day.

She seems to gradually get the hang of things, but there’s still a “fire” within her Hoggins hopes she’ll one day recognize. Not a literal fire, of course, but the fire of the trauma she suffered. She may regard herself as a weapon and tool and much of the rest of the army might’ve thought the same, but there’s also a human girl in there, and it’s time for her to live and be free.

Live and be free were Gilbert’s last orders, so Violet has no qualms about carrying them out. One day, she listens to one of the “Auto Memoir Dolls” writing a letter for a man who wants to urge his childhood friend not to marry another man.

As the words flow out of the “Doll” (really a beautiful, perceptive woman), memories of Violet’s former Battlefield surface. They’re brutal, and cruel, and dark. She’s every bit as brutal, taking out every enemy soldier that comes near her with grim efficiency and with no regard for her personal safety. We also see Gilbert, who seems to silently curse having to send her out to fight and kill.

The Doll’s closing words in the man’s letter are “I love you”, which are the last words Violet heard from Gilbert, who most likely died in that alley.

Violet didn’t understand those words, any more than a rifle would, but after witnessing the Doll use those words with such surety and conviction, she wants to learn what they mean. As such, she asks Gilbert if she can join the Auto Memoir Dolls in order to learn more about love and other emotions. Gilbert agrees, and Violet’s new Mission begins.

My first impressions of Violet Evergarden are…Wow. Dayum. This is how shit is done. KyoAni really balled out, delivering a wonderfully structured, quietly thrilling portrait of this broken vet. The war between nations may be over, now a new, more difficult war begins: to survive and find purpose in peacetime; to learn what an individual is and to learn what love is.

Ishikawa Yui (AKA Mikasa Ackerman) also delivers a compelling perfomance as, well, someone very similar to Mikasa in terms of loyalty to the person she loves most (though Vi doesn’t know what love is yet) to her general badassery.

Animation is, in a word, majestic. There’s a very vivid sense of the ugly pall of war being lifted over this alternate world, and yet the episode never banged us over the head with exposition. The flashbacks to the battle are effective in their brevity and intensity.

And the score, composed by American Evan Call, was the perfect aural accompaniment to Violet’s story. I don’t award 10s to first episodes lightly, but in the case of this episode, there is no other choice. Bravo.

Made in Abyss – 05

Riko and Reg’s first hours in the Forest of Temptation go easily enough—even the giant leaves point them in the right direction. But we knew the silkfang wasn’t going to be the only man-eating beast they encountered, and sure enough, rushing in the direction of what they think is a man yelling “help me” turns out to be the luring call of a corpse-weeper, who snatches up Riko with the intent to feed her to her young.

Reg’s extending arm’s aim is true, but other weepers knock it off course. In addition to being torn apart and eaten, ascending worsens the Curse and puts extra strain on Riko, who vomits in midair before passing out.

Even though I knew there was no way she’d buy it here, my heart was still in the pit of my stomach. When Reg’s arm doesn’t work and he’s swarmed by weepers, he changes tactics, firing his hand cannon at the weeper nest and obliterating all the weepers, including the one carrying Riko.

He then catches her in mid-air with his arm, gathers her into his arms, and soft-lands on an itty-bitty column of rock. Whew, that was close. but it’s also telling. Things are not going to get easier from this point on! It’s a dangerous place. Here, all humans (or robots that look like humans) are prey.

Riko is tough-as-nails, and doesn’t even mind that Reg took her top off (to check her for injuries) when she was out; because she knows full well that like any other ordinary human Red Whistle (or even above), she’d be silkfang, or weeper food, or simply a dark red spot on some rock face, without Reg’s help.

She calls his beam weapon “Incinerator” (even though he’s still weary of accidentally hitting her with it), and makes a meal of the meat from the weepers he killed. While the weepers eat the flesh of men, Riko doesn’t consider it any different than the times cave raiders brought Abyss meat to the orphanage. It’s just the Circle of Life, baby.

Another realistic detail about their quest for which I’m thankful so far is that Riko keeps losing things: first her seemingly useless (but probably not) Star Compass, and most recently her book of field notes, which she did not memorize. In both cases, they can’t risk trying to search for or retrieve such things; they can only press on.

And press on they do, to the bottom edge of the Second Layer, the Inverted Forest. I’ve been looking forward to them reaching this place ever since we got a glimpse of it in the OP (and since Sigy described it on the map). It does not disappoint, as it is not only a stranger and more fantastical landscape; it’s also darker, colder, more foreboding and treacherous. The waterfalls going up are also a nice touch.

Just as Riko is losing things, Reg’s foolproof extending arm is getting more and more flummoxed; first by the weepers, and here with the intermittent strong winds. They also run afoul of a colony of ape-like Inbyos, who are not interested in interlopers in their territory. So Reg has to get used to his arm’s more limited effectiveness while getting himself and Riko away from violent primates.

But even here, there is some small relief: the same reason it’s dark and cold is the reason most of the fauna is relatively peaceful, while the effects of the Curse are diminished (or at least more bearable) around the Seeker Camp, which they eventually arrive at.

When they don’t see a lookout and no gondola descends, Reg does what he does, using his arm to ascend to the camp. But something else unexpected happens: his arms don’t grasp any rock or wood: they are grabbed and held by the person Habo warned them of; the one who helped Lyza carry baby Riko back to the surface; who notes the “brat” is still alive.

She’s the one they call The Unmovable Sovereign: Ozen. Will she be a source of hope or despair for our adventurers?

 

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 13

As it turns out, Charioce wasn’t being overconfident about his chances against the gods. Sure, it looks like a rout at first, but once the human king activates his secret weapon Dromos, the battle not only sways in man’s favor…Gabriel straight up runs with her tail between her legs, leaving her (very insubordinate) army to be wiped out. El tries to keep fighting, but he ends up being the overconfident one, and is rendered unconscious in a blast from Dromos.

It would appear the weapon worked almost too well, as Charioce doesn’t really seem to know what he should go do with himself after the gods retreat. That’s mostly because the winds literally blew Nina into his arms. When Nina sees that Jeanne, Kaisar and Rita are in danger (and who knows about Favaro; he’s blown elsewhere), she insists the king hug her.

Nina hopes she can appeal not to the cold, evil king, but the warm, kind young traveler who danced with her. He acquiesces to her demand, and before you know it boom, she’s a dragon again. This certainly seems to prove that only Charioce can transform her now.

The Black Knights try to capture her with a colossal golem, but Nina the dragon is far stronger than Nina the girl, and Nina the girl is redonkulously strong. As such, whenever it seems the golem has her number, she finds an extra store of strength with which to stay in the fight.

That fight ends when she finally dives through the golem, blasting a hole through it that deactivates it for good. Then the dragon approaches Charioce, who touches its head, casuing Nina to transform back into a (naked) girl.

Nina appears with the wagon to pick up Nina and Jeanne, while Kaisar distracts the guards, who quickly beat up and re-capture him. Favaro is still at large, which is why when the wagon is safely in the air, Rita jumps out to go “check on” the lads.

Left only with orders to look after one another, Jeanne decides her best next move is to head for the land of the gods, where she might be able to see El. She doesn’t know how to get there, but Nina remembers her granny talking about the place often, so they decide to head instead to Nina’s home village…which should be fun.

Meanwhile, Gabriel is a nervous wreck after having seen Dromos, which she didn’t think the humans would be able to build at all, let alone so quickly. That begs the question what the heck Charioce did to make that happen, and considering it’s the worst threat to the balance of the world since, well, Bahamut, it clearly falls under the category of “things safe in no ones’s hands.”

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 12

The plot of this episode couldn’t be simpler: as Rita, Nina, Jeanne, Favaro and Kaisar escape the prison, the battle between humans and gods commences—and quickly turns into a rout, forcing Charioce to use “The Device”, a WMD cure that looks far worse than the disease and which I have little confidence he’ll be able to control.

Speaking of controlling unknown quantities, Sofiel continues to worry about how Gabriel is using El as the linchpin of their attack. Gabriel, apparently quite jazzed up about going to war, dismisses Sofiel’s wordless concerns with a sidelong glance. But Sofiel is still full of doubt and apprehension; we should keep an eye on her.

Down in the depths of the imperial prison, Rita has no trouble re-springing Nina and Jeanne, and the three women embark on a harrowing escape from an almost unreasonably vast and relentless garrison of guards.

The chase is depicted from a variety of different areas of the prison, and from many different angles, colors, and speeds, keeping things from getting repetitive. It’s a positively rousing adventure, and it’s especially satisfying to watch the ladies taking care of business without help from, say, Kaisar and Favaro, who are still locked up on the men’s side.

None of them escape before Gabriel’s giant celestial donut appears ominously in the skies over Anatae. Charioce has a giant, impressive and deadly-looking force waiting for the gods, but one piercing glance from a fully-operational El renders all the humans’ (and subjugated demons’) fancy toys inert.

From there, the heavenly shock troops are deployed, and waste no time demonstrating why You Do Not F*ck With The Gods. Each one of them is able to take on entire platoons and battalions. It’s enough to make Kaisar’s younger Orleans comrade essentially call for a timeout; though no such halt in the battle is forthcoming. The humans asked for a war, and Gabriel has given them one.

Our heroine trio eventually make it to the other side of the prison, and Favaro decides it’s ready to reveal the secret ability of Kaisar’s metal hand as an explosive device when the right gang sign is made and words spoken. Kaisar is, not unreasonably, quite cross upon learning his hand was explosive all this time, and would like the next one Rita makes him to not have that “feature.”

Both those means of escaping their cells and the moment when Favaro and Kaisar finally cross paths and team up with Rita, Jeanne, and Nina, makes for some warm and laugh-inducing levity in an otherwise intense outing.

Naturally, Favaro makes an inappropriate comment about Nina’s “development”, and Kaisar and Jeanne’s reaction upon reuniting made me a shipper on the spot. The band has gotten back together at the perfect time: when the sh*t is categorically and profusely hitting the fan.

Gabriel has backed Charioce into a corner, but he doesn’t waver in calling for the activation of the previously-mentioned “Device”, which rises out from beneath the prison (destroying said prison in the process…collateral damage much?) and resembles a Laputa core. It seems poised to fire upon the god donut.

It’s the kind of bahamut-like escalation it will take the maximum effort of our heroes to overcome—possibly even a sacrifice or two.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 11

Jeanne and Nina wait for the right moment to make the slip and start the long climb to the elevator that leads to the surface, and freedom. Jeanne quickly learns how useful Nina can be as an ally.

She’s able to run and jump better than any Olympian even with a ball and chain, as well as bend metal bars. These two have great chemistry and their repartee during their escape attempt is great stuff.

Meanwhile, in the realm of the gods, Gabriel lifts whatever seals had been cast on Mugaro, AKA El, and he transforms into someone who, well, looks like they belong among the gods.

El also gains a voice; the voice of Kugimiya Rie, to be exact. He uses that voice to essentially parrot Gabriel’s words: he’ll “correct” humanity and save his mother. He’s like putty in Gabe’s hands so far.

Back at the prison, Rita arrives and quickly works her way down to the lift that will take her to the subterranean network where everyone else is imprisoned, showing what a force she can be on her own when motivated.

It’s also a ton of fun to see Rita clearly take so much joy in her work; she’s having a hell of a time barreling through dozens of guards with ease…until they shoot her out of the air. Even then, she has her umbrella to slow her descent.

In the capital, one of the mob-appeasing demon-on-demon gladitorial matches Charioce is holding in the colosseum becomes the dramatic stage upon which Gabriel gives him one last chance to heed her demands he return the godly property he stole, along with St. Jeanne.

Charioce remains unbowed, despite knowing the gods now have Jeanne’s powerful son. Apparently he believes El isn’t enough for the gods to defeat humanity…but he may well be mistaken. Nevertheless, Gabriel gives him what he seemingly wants: a declaration of war.

Once Nina and Jeanne approach the lift (after a harrowing ordeal with a spider), Jeanne is discouraged by the legion of guards awating them…but Nina assures her she’s got this—she’s “strong”, after all, and demonstrates that strength by acting as a one-woman wrecking crew, creatively using her ball and chain as a leg-mounted mace.

But it’s all for naught, for when the elevator doors open, it isn’t Rita awaiting them, but King Charioce XVII himself, who quickly points his sword at Jeanne’s throat and demands that she join his side against the gods, so that neither the gods nor her son will suffer or die.

Jeanne says “thanks but no thanks”, and Charioce orders her thrown back in her cell, where she’ll stay, powerless to stop those she cares about from “marching to slaughter” (though I still think he’s being overconfident). Say what you will of Charioce the villain, he did give Jeanne a kind of chance to prevent a war; it’s just that Jeanne would never betray her gods, even to save her son…not to mention Charioce simply can’t be trusted.

At this point, Nina, on the bridge, holding off the guards literally singlehandedly, has had enough of Charioce picking on Jeanne, and gives him a peace of her mind once more. Charioce approaches her and gets in her face, causing her not just to blush, but realize he is the man she arm wrestled with; with whom she shared that magical night; with whom she danced.

Learning that man and the evil king are one and the same is definitely gutting for Nina, who offers no resistance as she and Jeanne are re-imprisoned (though I wonder if they’d be placed right back in the same block together again).

Nina’s spirits immediately lift when Rita and Rocky appear, having taken advantage of all the ruckus Nina and Jeanne’s escape attempt caused to sneak in under the radar. Here’s hoping Attempt #2 is more fruitful.