In / Spectre – 08 – The Curious Case of Sakuragawa Rikka

No sooner is Kuro’s mysterious cousin retroactively introduced as his “one true love” is the frail yet hauntingly beautiful Rikka revealed to be not only a fellow mermaid/kudan flesh-eater like Kurou (explaining why she’s his type), but the very mastermind behind the Steel Lady Nanase monster of imagination. Karin’s older sister was a red herring, while Karin herself was only a loose template upon which Rikka crafted a powerful urban legend.

Surprisingly—and yet not—Kotoko knew this all along, but coyly kept it from any part of the audience who didn’t suspect Rikka as soon as she was mentioned, not to mention from Saki. Kurou also knew it, which is the main reason he arrived to take the Steel Lady on (not exclusively because Kotoko summoned him).

As for how she knew, Kotoko recognized Rikka’s style in the illustration of Steel Lady Nanase that adorns the website, and which is key to creating a strong and consistent image grafted to existing rumors about the idol Karin’s ghost.

Once a goblin cat informs her that the Steel Lady has reappeared, Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki head to her location. There, Kurou will fight her, all night and dying several times in the process if necessary, as Kotoko works her logically fictitious magic in the car. Kotoko remarks that she’d rather not see her boyfriend die over and over, but this is the best way to keep Nanase from hurting anyone else.

As for why Rikka is doing this, Kotoko believes it’s so she can refine and expand her inherited kudan abilities. As Kurou mentioned, reading the future is an imperfect art, but Rikka is attempting to make her ability as perfect as possible, and is apparently obsessed enough in that venture to overlook the occasional murder.

Kotoko closes the episode with a wonderful analogy, likening her impending duel with Rikka as the start of a committee to discuss a proposed bill in parliament. It’s a deliciously wonky yet apt analogy. Rikka has a powerful, seemingly insurmountable majority with her captivating Steel Lady story and its accompanying imagery.

But here’s where things differ from government: among the “voters”—the tens of thousands who visit the site and contribute to the forums—there are no coalitions, nor alliances. Not only that, the masses aren’t explicitly aware they’re voting for anything; they’re simply going to believe the most compelling story. If Kotoko can convince them Steel Lady Nanase isn’t real, she can steel the votes and the majority, and sap her of her power.

In / Spectre – 07 – Turning Truths Into Lies

The sudden murder of Detective Terada in the middle of the night has made things way more difficult for Kotoko, Kurou, and Saki. Whereas before they had to deal with a moderately nasty spectre spreading fear and havoc within a relatively small sphere, now they must contend with a nationally known monster who has truly gone viral, only increasing the strength of its existence.

In her hotel room, which she bitterly resents is separate from the one in which her boyfriend resides, Kotoko taps away at her laptop, gathering as much information—as much truth—about the rapidly expanding fantasy of Steel Lady Nanase as possible. Time is of the essence; if they wait just one day, her legend will be too powerful to overcome no matter how convincing the logical fiction.

I’ll be honest: not a heck of a lot actually happens this week. The three leads basically sit in a hotel room and discuss things until Kotoko lands on some possible solutions to the problem. The thing is, In/Spectre is able to draw us into its world so subtly yet completely, even an actionless episode such as this feels consequential.

That’s due in no small part to the show’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack. It’s a shame the anime’s composer isn’t listed anywhere obvious, because this wouldn’t be half the show it is without the music, which I find casts a kind of wondrous spell on me during otherwise interminable exchanges of exposition.

Through the lengthy scene in the hotel room, Saki observes that her ex has developed a nice rapport with Kotoko, depsite his protestations that the last thing he wanted was to go out with her, along with the fact that Kotoko is nowhere near his type. As for who is his type, Saki introduces the woman who was 100% Kurou’s type: his older cousin Rikka, a frail woman who nevertheless had a profound impact on the lad. We’ll see next week how she figures into this tale.

In / Spectre – 06 – Conquering the Imagination, Grasping the Future

Practically speaking, most of this episode takes place in Saki’s apartment, and ends with Kurou biking Kotoko to the hotel for the night. None of the characters actually do anything, because this isn’t the kind of show where there’s always loads of action.

Instead, the three spend the whole time discussing the Nanase Haruko accidental death case, the online legend that bred the monster of imagination, and the proper steps needed to defeat that legend. The Steel Lady is not something Kurou can kill physically as long as hundreds if not thousands of people believe in her in her increasingly dangerous form.

 

That said, Kotoko knows their odds of coming up with a better “rational fiction” to blunt the Steel Lady’s power aren’t great, so she intends to cross every “T” and dot every I-Beam. After coaxing the official police position that Nanase’s death was a possible suicide, Kotoko confirms their suspicions by interviewing an unrelated third-party eyewitness to her death…who happens to be a ghost.

The means by which Kotoko summons the ghost—a “goddess’ dance” seems tailored not just to impress the former contruction worker, or annoy Saki, but because she definitely has a genuine joie de vivre about her life and her duties…and why not? Losing and eye and a leg feels totally worth it if in return you have an information network beyond the bounds of mankind or science.

With both the police conclusions and the eyewitness concluding an emotionally distraught Nanase did nothing to move out of the way of the falling beams, Kotoko has a full picture of the past, but that’s the easy part. She’s going to have to come up with a story that narrows down all the possible futures to come into a single one: one in which no one cares about Steel Lady Nanase anymore.

Even in the midst of all this careful analysis and preparation, I’m glad Kotoko still finds time to be a brat to Saki or to flirt with Kurou, as when she invites him to share her double bed at the hotel. Even so, she is clear-eyed about not knowing whether Kurou will be in her future, making it that much more important to make the best use of the time they have.

As for Kurou, it’s fascinating to hear him describe the abilities of the kudan, specifically that they don’t look into the future so much as pull all the branches of possibility into a single bundle. Kurou can use those powers to a degree, but not without dying.

While the mermaid flesh he ate means he’ll come back to life, his kudan powers are limited by the brief amount of time he has to look forward (the further into the future, the more branches, the less accurate he is) before resurrecting. For now, he’s confident he’ll be able to grasp the future he and Kotoko need, at least with regards to solving this case. Getting back with Saki is a future he can neither see nor reach.

Kotoko just hopes the Nanase saga won’t be complicated by an actual murder in the night while they sleep, but unfortunately that’s exactly what happens, only making their task even more difficult. Worse still, the victim is Detective Terada, Saki’s colleague, who wrongly assumed Nanase was a normal person in cosplay.

We also catch a glimpse of the mastermind behind the site and the Steel Lady legend. Is it Nanase’s older sister? Nanase herself? I can’t wait to see how this case is resolved, in large part because it was set up so smartly and carefully.

In / Spectre – 05 – A Ghost Born from a Wiki

very cross Saki arrives just in time to witness her ex go toe-to-toe with the vicious steel beam-wielding ghost of an idol. Saki had seen Kurou’s cuts heal immediately and even saw his detached finger regenerate, but had never seen him die, which is what happens when Nanase whacks his head off.

I was surprised Saki didn’t let out a scream upon witnessing such a  horrifying sight, but in possibly an even more unsettling sight, Kurou’s head is whole again and he’s alive and well just a minute or so later.

Having taken her best shot, Nanase can’t really do anything else other than try to kill Kurou again. Kurou is also able to predict her generally mindless movements, but even when he snaps her neck she’s back as quickly as he was. Perhaps sensing a stalemate, Nanase disapparates to fight another night.

We learn through Kotoko that Kurou is the result of his insane grandmother performing human experimentation on members of the Sakuragawa clan and the flesh of the immortal mermaid and future-seeing kudan. Kurou was the first to consume both and not immediately keel over and die, but in gaining the abilities of the monsters he ate, he naturally became less human.

This is no doubt a large part of why Kotoko is so enamored of Kurou—they both inhabit the space between humans and the supernatural, and who else would be able to deal with either of them? But while Kotoko is determined to make Kurou her husband, Kurou seems to be less enthusiastic and even fatalistic about the prospect of such an often annoying brat being his only hope at happiness.

Kurou’s reunion with Saki is pleasantly cordial, underscoring how there’s still love there for both of them and things ended so abruptly as to lack closure, and thus cause emotional confusion upon seeing one another again. The reason Kurou is there is because some of the monsters in the city sought out his aid without using Kotoko as a go-between, demonstrating effectiveness of her efforts to make him less frightening to her supernatural pals.

Meeting in Saki’s apartment, where Kotoko must endure Kurou staring at his ex (who says she lost weight due to her police job, not depression), Kotoko explains how a “monster of the imagination” like Steel Lady Nanase comes into physical existence. It’s essentially a matter of humans playing a game of telephone with each other regarding a rumor, which is spread, embellished, and refined until it is given name and a form.

Typically monsters of imagination aren’t grave threats to humanity, but Steel Lady Nanase clearly is, and the rumor that eventually gave her form was essentially supercharged by the power of the internet to reach more people and gain viral status. Thus, the wiki Saki found wasn’t created in response to Nanase, Nanase was created because of the wiki.

Kurou can fight Nanase all night long, every night, but she’ll never be defeated for good until a new rumor, one simultaneously more enticing to people and less lethal to people than the current iteration. That won’t be easy, but Kotoko is already a powerful conduit for human-supernatural networking, which means no one’s better suited for the job.

In / Spectre – 04 – Much More than Big Melons

Despite Saki’s hospitality in bringing Kotoko into her home to tend to her minor wounds and serving her coffee, it doesn’t take long for pleasantries to cease and for the barbs to start flying.

Saki is dubious that Kotoko and Kurou are really dating, and isn’t convinced by Kotoko’s obviously forced “couple” photos. Kotoko eventually reveals that Kurou disappeared a week ago and hasn’t answered her calls or texts—more fuel for Saki’s “he doesn’t like you” fire.

After Kotoko takes her leave (on the shoulder of an awesome giant skeleton!) Saki wastes no time diving into the internet to research the life of Nanase Karin, a well-endowed beauty who could also boast a sharp intellect.

She gained a flame-throwing lead role on a live-action drama (the OP for which we see in its entirety) and her fame grew, but her father, whom it’s believed she resented after he quit working, died under mysterious consequences.

An unscrupulous tabloid put forth the theory that she murdered her father to get him out of the picture (and collect on his life insurance), Karin took a kind of sabbatical. But the day after a bad storm an eyewitness found a body buried under fallen steel beams.

The head and face were completely pulverized, but the rest of the body, clothes, belongings all pointed to Karin as the victim of the accident. Some time after that the legend of a vengeful spirit grew in the town.

Both Saki and Kotoko arrive at the same point in their respective investigations, but only Saki has the benefit of police records and resources to support their case. The idea is planted in both their heads that there’s more to this Steel Lady Nanase than has been covered by news, reports, and the internet.

My take? The absence of her face could mean the body was that of Karin’s older (and similar-looking) sister, whose life Karin then took over…but that’s just one of several theories rattling around.

Before Kotoko and Saki meet to put their heads together (and make no mistake, Kotoko relishes being able to freak Saki out with youkai), Kotoko is informed that Steel Lady Nanase has reappeared, and finds Kurou dueling with her.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 12 – The True Battle Of The Wave

Glass dismisses three of the four heroes as nothing but “servants”, and her appraisal isn’t off-base, as their best meteor attacks fail to put a scratch on her, and all three go down with one strike, no doubt wounding their egos as well as their bodies.

That leaves Naofumi, Raphtalia, and Filo to deal with her, and while she’s somewhat impressed by his stout defense (as befits the Shield Hero), nothing offensive he can throw at her is any more effective than his beaten fellow heroes.

She breaks out of the Shield Prison immediately. Filo’s kicks are fast but still can’t touch her. Poor Raph’s swordsmanship isn’t even “worth mentioning.” She even calmly basks in the enveloping flames of Naofumi’s Rage Shield like it’s a sauna; “too cold” to burn her. This Glass lady is tough, and if the first Wave seemed to easy, it’s clear the difficulty level has risen exponentially.

That brings us to Naofumi’s final trump card, the Iron Maiden, so effective against the soul eater. Turns out it’s just as useless on Glass as Shield Prison. Glass’ withering criticism of her opponents’ attacks almost grows tiresome—we get it, Naofumi can’t beat you at his present level—but just as she’s ready to take him out, a countdown starts on his HUD, which indicates the Wave “period” is about to end.

Rather than give Glass the last word, Naofumi has Raph cast Fast Light, and the two of them jump on Filo who gets them the hell out of there. She doesn’t chase, and her attacks aren’t effective at long range, so she calls it a draw, this time. But when the next Wave arrives, she promises to kill them unless they grow stronger. Much stronger.

The second Wave disperses, and Naofumi is quickly summoned back to King Melromarc’s court for some backhanded thanks and demand that he explain how he gained so much power—more than “befits a Shield Hero.” Naofumi, no longer having any more shit from this royal family, tells the king he’ll talk…if he bows down and grovels.

This act of disrespect leads the king to call in his guards, but Naofumi is quite right when he says he can take them all out and walk out the front door without any difficulty, and the guards waver. When the king says he’ll punish Naofumi’s “slaves” in his stead, that really rankles him, and he promises him if anything happens to his underlings on account of more dirty tricks, the king will “wish he had never been born,” then stalks out unopposed, like a boss.

Princess Melty later hears of the “hostile” exchange between her daddy and Naofumi, and tells her father that their country will be put at risk until they reconcile. Her older sister Malty intervenes and tries to make a stink of matters, but Melty shuts her down almost immediately, and with good reason: she’s the one who was trusted with the title of crown princess.

Naofumi shakes off his unpleasant experience at the palace and gets re-outfitted by Elhart, who fills the wagon back up and throws in some gifts for good measure: a new sword for Raphtalia, along with a bladeless mana sword, a shield scanner thingy for Naofumi, and gloves that will increase Filo’s strength.

Naofumi is looking forward to being nowhere near the royal city, royal family, or the other hero jerks. Unfortunately, the peace doesn’t last long, as Melty and her retinue track his party down and urges him to return and make peace with her father. Naofumi is as stubborn as the king, and his strong passes ignite Melty’s secret weapon: the Entitled Person’s Tantrum.

But as she protests his obstinance, Naofumi senses something’s UP—set-up to be precise. Of what kind, he soon finds out: one of the knights who escorted Melty rushes at her, sword drawn, and Naofumi draws her back and shields her…with his shield.

Obviously, these knights are in Malty’s pocket (I doubt the king is awful enough to off his own heir). Honestly, it kinda just makes her look foolish and pathetic—why try to assassinate her sister in front of the Shield Hero, who could easily protect her? In any case, if Melty doesn’t re-join the party next week (or whenever the next episode airs), I’ll be shocked.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 11 – This Wasn’t In The Game…Because This Isn’t One

With his wagon bursting with medicines, spare weapons, and other supplies, Naofumi and his suddenly larger party teleport to the site of the second Wave, teleporting us from the safe, familiar capital to another chaotic and brutal magenta-skied war zone.

The rapid transition and immediate dive into the battle is effective, and now that they have more numbers, Naofumi’s team can more quickly and effectively evacuate and defend the village closest to the Wave. Naofumi, Raph and Filo handle the tougher baddies while the others handle the small fry.

Once the village is cleared out, the underlings stay behind with the ex-adventurer Granny who Naofumi once saved, enabling the core trio to join the other three heroes, two of which are already locked in a heated battle aboard a flying pirate ship with a kraken attached to its keel. And immediately, there’s a problem: nobody’s working together.

When Naofumi arrives, Kawasumi is on the ground, while Motoyasu and Amaki are bickering over whether to defeat the Skull Captain or Kraken bosses. Naofumi attempts to bring order to the chaotic situation, and determines that the bosses themselves aren’t the proper targets; their shadows are.

Once Raph and Amaki have stabbed those shadows, numerous soul eaters emerge and combine to form one big nasty one that’s immune to the Shield, Bow and Sword Heroes’ fire-based attacks. Naofumi orders Filo to use wind and speed magic to attack the boss, but between her and Raph, there simply isn’t enough damage being done.

They’ll be there all day and there’s no telling how much destruction will occur in that time, so Naofumi reluctantly whips out his Rage Shield, knowing full well how hard it is to control. Raphtalia offers her moral support, and Naofumi ends up back in that “in-between space,” where this time he’s confronted by the enraged soul of the zombie dragon he defeated.

Once he has his Dragon Zombie Shield, Naofumi begins to press his attack on the soul eater, all while the other heroes and their parties are standing around twiddling their thumbs. Raphtalia reprimands them, basically shaming them into finally finally assisting Naofumi—and in a support role, no less.

With help from Raphtalia, Naofumi doesn’t allow himself to be consumed by the dragon’s hatred, and regains his composure, rebuking Malty’s comparison of him to nothing but a wild beast. He summons Iron Maiden, a titanic prison of spikes that closes in on the boss and crushes it.

The other heroes can only look on in awe at Naofumi’s power, as they don’t have anything like what he just demonstrated. Motoyasu backs down from his sore loserdom when Filo transforms into the cute little girl he loves so much, but the Waves are curiously not going away.

Turns out that mega-soul eater wasn’t the final boss for this particular Wave. Instead, it’s another maiden—a raven-haired on with two fans who introduces herself as Glass. She was watching the four heroes and only deems Naofumi to be worthy of going against her.

This was not only a return to the high-stakes, high-intensity atmosphere of a Wave (accompanied all the excellent Kevin Penkin music), but some decent development in the relationship betweeen the heroes. For the first time, they’re all fighting in the same place, and it’s clear they’ll need each other to defeat some of the tougher foes the Waves throw their way.

Darling in the FranXX – 09

Poor Goro. The girl he’s coming to understand that he has feelings for has only ever had eyes for Hiro, whom Goro also likes and values as a person. Yet Goro is better at reading Ichigo’s often wildly shifting moods, and since becoming partners his affection for her has only increased.

Meanwhile, he must stand back and watch Ichigo stand back and watch Hiro get along so well with Zero Two. Ichigo and Goro are the “losers” in this love triangle, as neither has the attention of the person they want. But only Goro has a constant reminder of that staring him in the face: the hair clip Ichigo wears is identical to one he was going to give her; Hiro simply gave her one first.

Since he’s very new to all these feelings, now that he knows them he knows how long they’ve lasted, but he can’t resent or hate Hiro, even though Hiro is oblivious to Ichigo’s feelings. But the time for being silent about his feelings is over. Whether it’s uncomfortable for Hiro or not, Goro tells Hiro that he loves Ichigo just as Ichigo loves Hiro.

While it’s been established since they were youngins at the parasite “orphanage” that Goro and Ichigo are stronger as a duo, Goro’s one flaw as a Stamen is that he’ll always put Ichigo first and himself second, rather than treat the two of them as having equal value. In this regard, he loves Ichigo more than he loves himself, so when a Klaxosaur swallows up Delphinium, Goro hits the ejection button…for Ichigo alone.

The parasites are ordered back to base to regroup, and Nana and Hachi make it clear that the priority moving forward is protecting the Plantation from the Klax, even if it means leaving Goro to die. He did, after all, dig his own grave by ejecting his Pistil; he cannot pilot Delph without her.

When Ichigo wakes up from ejection blackout, she’s furious with everyone; from her squad mates for turning tail to Goro for being so stupid and selfish. She wants to know why he did this, but it’s blindingly obvious to Miku. She gives Ichigo a piece of her mind, saying how Goro has always looked out for her and tempered the volatility in her persona that has always threatened to compromise her leadership (Zorome sheepishly slinks away during their exchange).

The parasites have their orders, which do not prioritize saving Goro, but Ichigo is allowed to contact Goro, who is slowly running out of power and air, stuck in a relatively harmless part of the Klaxosaur but unable to move Delphinium. Ichigo’s exchange is more of a scolding, for Goro never leaning on her a little and taking everything on himself.

When Zero Two mentions a way for a parasite to enter the area of the Klax where Goro is trapped, Goro’s punishment for his “selfishlessness” is for the very person he aimed to save—Ichigo—to go right back in there to save him. It’s a quick and thrilling sequence as Argentea gives a boost to Strelitzia—carrying Ichigo in her palm—and then tosses her down the gullet of the Klaxosaur.

As she passes through the hazardous layers of fuel, Goro reminices on how he first met, befriended, and fell for Ichigo—when she decided to stand and fight bullies beside him. They’ve always worked better together…ejecting her went against that.

While he regrets never having the opportunity to tell Ichigo how he really feels, he takes solace in the fact that he’ll at least take the Klax out with him by self-destructing Delphinium.

He comes oh-so-close to turning the dial when Ichigo bursts in to the rescue, flashing the same peace sign she did when they first teamed up years ago.

She takes her position, Delphinium wakes up, and they blast out of the Klax, leaving the remaining fuel behind to detonate and destroy the Klaxosaur in an epic explosion.

Delphinium lies inoperative and powerless, but the Klaxosaur is gone, and Ichigo and Goro are alive. While swimming to his rescue Ichigo lost the hair clip Hiro gave her, but Goro has always carried the clip he meant to give her, and finally gets to here.

Goro takes the opportunity to confess his love, but asks for nothing else in return. Ichigo’s flustered reaction is priceless, as is her thanking Goro for being her partner and willingness to let their hug last a little longer.

She could learn a thing or two from this moment, as Goro was able to say something he needed to say to the person he needed to say it to, and will no longer worry about living with regret for not doing so, or saying “I should’ve done that back then.”

Ichigo also has something to say to Ichigo, who thanks to Goro at least has a cursory knowledge of what that might be, even if he remains frustratingly dense about it. I’ll be pulling for Ichigo, as always. And please, Trigger: don’t kill her off immediately after she confesses. That would be lame.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 24 (Fin)

I’m not going to lie and say I was all that enamored by this finale. In fact, it was a bit of a chore to get through, ironically as soon as the titular Bahamut showed up. Now, all of a sudden, Charioce is a good guy like everyone else, and all is forgiven, at least until the more immediate threat of Bahamut is dealt with (and, as it happens, all is forgiven even after that).

Favaro is dead, and Bacchus’ wagon has crashed. Nina decides the only way to fight a dragon is with another dragon (hers truly) while the gods and demons get together and form a barrier to minimize damage to the capital—though Bahamut’s random breath blasts still causes plenty of apocalyptic destruction. I just wish it was more interesting a boss.

Dragon-Nina doesn’t go up against Bahamut head-to-head; that would be suicide. Instead, she flies to Dromos and lands (naked) on Charioce’s back, much to his chagrin. But that’s just tough: if he’s going to put his life on the line to destroy Bahamut, she will too. They interface with Dromos together and it takes the form of a dragon covered with magical circuitry.

Nina and Charioce’s dragon shoots a beam; Bahamut shoots a beam; the beams meet, the first beam pushes Bahamut’s back and eventually blasts his head off, and badda-bing-badda-bang, the capital—and the world—is saved.

Just before Bahamut is blasted away, Nina (but not Charioce) finds herself in “the light of Bahamut”, where Amira is still hanging out. She gives Nina a big ol’ hug (both are naked, so Nina’s a bit bashful) and whispers something. When the day returns, the Dromos dragon has turned to stone and Charioce and Nina are passed out on the deck.

Fast-forward to the epilogue: Nina is still in the capital, helping with rebuilding; still living with Bacchus, Rita and Hamsa; Favaro announces he’s leaving again to resume his wandering life; Nina tells him about Amira, and he’s heartened; Rita has apparently resurrected Kaisar as a zombie.

Nina can apparently visit the palace whenever she wants to dance with Charioce, who is blind now but still king. As I said, all the horrible things he did are forgiven now because Bahamut was defeated…only Bahamut isn’t really dead, and he’ll be back, because he’s the name of the franchise.

But…I guess Nina’s willing to let bygones be bygones in terms of the atrocities Charioce committed against demons, gods, and whatever humans opposed him. She’s also lost her voice, apparently the price she had to pay (along with Char’s other eye) to use Dromos.

I do loathe running out of enthusiasm right before the finish line, but Bahamut really undermined much of this season with its inexplicable insistence that the audience go along with the notion that Charioce was a fellow who deserved redemption.

Nina’s love always felt as blind as the king ended up. She gave and gave and never got anything back for her love, except for the occasional decently-animated dance.

This season was at times fun, often gorgeous, occasionally sweet or funny or even moving. But in the end I just wasn’t buying what Virgin Soul was trying so hard to sell, and as a result I doubt I’d have any use for a third round.

Fate / Zero – 08

Maiya has orders to escort Iri away from the castle, but the orders aren’t so precise that Iri can’t countermand them when she senses Kotomine Kirei approaching. She doesn’t want that guy anywhere near her Kiritsugu, and Maiya feels the same way, so the decide they’ll do what they can to keep him away.

Neither of them are any match for Kirei’s considerable mage-executing skills, so all they can do take up as much of his time as they can. The bravery, grit, and selflessness the women exhibit without Saber by their side is something to behold. There’s no doubt Kirei is a fearsome, superior foe, but it doesn’t matter: he’s not getting to Kiritsugu, period.

Meanwhile, a bullet from Kirei’s pistol gets through Kayneth’s quicksilver defense, but he chalks it up to a fluke and a moment of poor focus to the disgust of fighting such an awful mage, and redoubles his defenses…which is exactly what Kiritsugu wants.

Saber and Lancer are having no luck, as there’s no end to Caster’s minions as long as he’s holding his noble phantasm, an old grimoire. Rather than keep hacking away, Saber clears a path with an Air Strike, through which Lancer dashes and slashes the book with Gae Dearg, and just like that Caster is defenseless and must withdraw.

Saber and Lancer’s ‘knightmance’ proceeds apace when Lancer senses his Master is in danger, Saber senses it’s because of her Master, and gives Lancer leave to tend to Kayneth, in accordance with the ideals of nobility and chivalry, while she rushes to help Iri and Maiya.

The next time Kiritsugu fires his pistol into Kayneth’s heightened magical defense, it scrambles the opponent’s magical circuits, causing him to cough up a good deal of blood and pass out. Kiritsugu remembers his mentor(?) explaining the bullets which contained his own ribs in powdered form; but he was only given 66 of them, and we see him use two on Kayneth.

And even that doesn’t kill Kayneth, only gravely wound him. Lancer arrives to rescue him and withdraw, and tells Kiritsugu that he’s only alive because of his Servant Saber’s devotion to the right-and-proper precepts of nobility; because she is the King of Knights. I’m sure Kiritsugu’s glad Lancer didn’t kill him, but less pleased Saber let Lancer get away so easily.

What’s so great about this situation is that everyone has a reasonable position here and nobody is outright right-or-wrong. In a way, Saber went rogue, but again…Lancer would have Kiritsugu him if not for her.

As he beats Maiya to a pulp and chokes then stabs Iri (who he thinks is a homonculus), Kirei can’t fathom why not one but two people challenged him, of their own accord for Kiritsugu’s sake. Kirei has been operating under the assumption that Kiritsugu is, like him, friendless, alone, and understood by no one. But he’s wrong…and I kind of pity him for being so.

One could say Kiritsugu using Iri as a kind of “decoy master” smacks of cowardice, but that position doesn’t take Iri’s (and Maiya’s) feelings into consideration. They do protect him of their own accord, as we witnessed here, and they will continue to do so.

Kiritsugu seems to know this, because when Saber finally comes and touches the injured Iri, she is immediately healed by the scabbard Avalon implanted within her according to her husband’s wishes—something only he and she knew about. Kiritsugu is not alone, because there are those who don’t want him to be.

Fate / Zero – 07

“I KNEW all those cereal box tops would pay off!”

After a slight stumble last week, Fate/Zero immediately regained its footing as I thought it would. It starts out strong, with some more delightful comic relief courtesy of Rider and Waiver, who were absent last week. The fact that Iskandar’s main motivating factor at this point is his Master buying him pants works in a way Iri’s terrifying joyride just…didn’t.

Meanwhile, the War for the Holy Grail is on hold until all participants hunt down Caster and his Master…who are a couple of disastrous bastards. Risei promises whoever kills him will get a rad new tattoo a Bonus Command Seal. That would bring Tokiomi and Kayneth back up to three, and give the others four.

“Maiya, would you tell Iri to tell Saber that I’m NOT talking to her?”

Not surprisingly, the Magehunter-by-trade Kiritsugu is planning to break the truce by going after any Masters who are occupied with finding Caster. At the same time, he’s under no illusions anyone else will abide by Jisei’s rule change, and his cynicism and pragmatism are later validated…and then some.

This is key, because despite making the right calls once Caster arrives with a brace of child hostages, Saber urges her Master to let her defeat Caster. Kiritsugu stubbornly refuses to respond to Saber in any way, continuing his planning talk with Iri as if Saber weren’t even there.

I’m not sure if a Servant’s like or dislike of their Master makes them better or worse at fighting, but Kiritsugu is operating under the assumption a Servant’s personal emotions play next to no role. Either that, or there’s a very good reason he’s not speaking to her that just hasn’t been revealed yet.

“If this is about my cousin Sephiroth, I told him he can’t ask you for money anymore.”

What is revealed on the balcony after that tense meeting inside, is a side of Kiritsugu we haven’t seen since the scene in the first episode when his daughter was born. It’s a side he has no problem showing his wife. He’s afraid; afraid of losing those he loves most, and afraid of Kotomine Kirei in particular.

He wants to take Iri and Ilya, run away, and never return to this nasty business. But Iri won’t let him, because if she does, she knows the regret he’ll feel from running will be the end of him anyway. If death is to come for them all, one way or another, better to face it together as a family, no?

“Can’t a lady fight someone wielding a SWORD for once?!”

When Caster starts popping kids’ heads, Saber finally gets the order to deal with him. But Caster isn’t alone; he may not have Uryuu with him (thank God) but he does have a legion of tentacle demons that restore themselves as fast as a still-depleted Saber can cut them down.

Sometimes I worry that Saber has too often been depicted as a pushover, but it’s more of a “Worf-in-TNG” situation: if he’s getting schooled, you know the foe is tough. Besides, even with her injured hand, Saber kicks plenty of eldritch ass before finally becoming surrounded, overwhelmed, and bound by their tentacles.

“Sooo….while you’re here, d’you mind fixing my hand?”

And that’s when Lancer arrives, and the two warriors who respect the hell out of each other go back-to-back to fight off Caster’s legion together. Lancer assures Saber that this doesn’t mean they’re suddenly allies, just that this is the most efficient way of carrying out the order to defeat Caster. This pairing-up was a definite fist-pumper; I look forward to seeing how the two of them take on Caster.

“I tellya, this T-1000 pays for itself!”

As for Lancer’s Master Archibald, he obviously didn’t die in the bombing of his hotel; he surrounded himself in a quicksilver ball he manipulates with magic. After his so-so introduction and the dull hotel-scenes leading up to the blast, Kayneth is in top badass form himself this week, casually reciting orders to his ball and ruthlessly pursuing Kiritsugu, aiming to punish him for his cowardly failed attempt on his life.

At moments, Kiritsugu looks as outmatched as Saber often has early in battles. I mean, bringing a gun to a magic fight…seriously? But Kiritsugu is nothing if not crafty, resourceful, and sneaky as hell, and when he uses magic, you can bet there’s an important reason for it.

He’s not a guy who shows off, preferring the shadows. He turns the tables with time magic, then aims a special-looking pistol at Kayneth with a look that suggests its bullets might pierce the quicksilver shield. So much for a truce…

Little Witch Academia – 20

Despite Akko’s protesting (with backup from Andrew) Diana insists she has no choice but to perform the ritual before the transit of Venus behind the moon is complete. She goes into the ritual chambers alone, but is immediately impeded in her mission by Aunt Daryl, who wraps her in one of her many giant magic snake familiars.

No matter how much logic he tosses at Akko, she knows it’s not right for Diana to be dropping out; she’s clearly putting her own dreams aside for the good of her family. When they eavesdrop on Daryl and her twin daughters talking about how she had no problem stopping Diana, Akko has all the moral capital she needs to break with sacred Cavendish custom and enter the sanctum to rescue her.

Andrew helps, convinced that Akko is right. He remembers how passionate Diana became years ago when talk flew around she wouldn’t be able to perform magic. We know the spark of inspiration was the twin pillars of her mother and Shiny Chariot. But to her credit, Akko keeps Andrew out of the sanctum: she’ll bring back Diana on her own…all the way back the academy.

Akko proves she can mostly take care of herself, using her patented partial-transformation magic in rapid-fire mode to lure the snakes away from Diana and stay one step ahead until she regains consciousness and saves her.

With Akko bitten and poisoned, Diana sacrifices her chance to complete the ritual by healing and staying with Akko, who wakes up, then scolds Diana for staying there with her instead of continuing on with the ritual. But this is just Diana being Diana: kind, caring, and healing, just like her mother and the centuries of Cavandishes who came before her.

It’s no coincidence their conversation is held in a facility borne of that family “affection”, a secret hospital where Diana’s ancestors used their considerable magical knowledge to heal the wounded from conflicts that plagued history, without regard to whose side they were on.

Diana’s confession of her lifelong dream (to protect and preserve her family’s and mother’s names and the home they left behind) moves Akko to assure her she can still achieve that dream, restoring her family and complete her education at Luna Nova, as long as she…you guessed it, believes in her heart.

In this manner, two Chariot superfans—one current, one lapsed—come together to realize her credo that a believing heart can make anything possible. To that end, traditional and modern powers mingle, and Diana realizes the fifth word is Akko’s for the taking.

Reciting it summons Chariot’s broom, which they ride together to reach the site where the ritual is to be completed…only to find Aunt Beryl and her daughters waiting to disrupt Diana once more.

For this latest act of treachery, Diana’s relations are punished not by her or Akko, but by the system itself, and are quickly encased in trees. As she did with Akko, Diana stays true to her family’s legacy again by putting judgement aside and helping others before herself.

By the time she’s saved Daryl and the twins, the Venusian eclipse is over, but Diana still gets a momentary nod of approval, so to speak, from her family’s founder, Lady Beatrix. She may not have quite completed the ritual, but it’s clear to all who will lead the Cavendish family’s future.

Until that time, Diana is free to return to Luna Nova, much to Akko’s delight. She also gives Akko a ride home on her broom, which is the perfect time for her to express her gratitude for what Akko did…softly, and only once. Still, Akko heard her, and after their shared experiences this week their bond has never been tighter.

After charming and fun but inconsequential episodes involving the B-characters, this Diana-focused two-parter was a welcome and worthwhile outing that brought two rivals closer together and brought Akko one word closer to potentially changing the world.

I also appreciated the bonhomie that’s gradually developed between Akko and Andrew (who will be back, at least to give Akko her hat back). While I would have preferred if Diana’s full fleshing-out arc had come sooner, it’s better late than never, and well worth the wait.

DanMachi Gaiden: Sword Oratoria – 02

After an action-packed return, Sword Oratoria settles down, as the Loki Familia returns to the surface and home to their patron, Loki. For those who weren’t a fan of apparent co-protagonist Lefiya’s bungling on the battlefield, you probably weren’t thrilled that she’s an easy mark for Loki’s sexual harassment (which all the other girls know how to avoid…though they should really report to H.R. More to the point…they need H.R., bad!)

But while she’s still finding her footing in battle, with one of the higher-ups like Riveria on her side, and the fact she’s cute and mostly harmless, Lefiya is treated like something of a mascot or good luck charm. She seems to revel in that role, and makes cheering Ais up her primary mission.

The higher-ups also see how restless and consumed Ais is with improving herself, and believes having an admirer close by will help her be more aware of others. It certainly can’t hurt for Lefiya to be beside Ais. Each can provide what the other lacks; it’s a good arrangement.

But the true reason Ais has been more down than usual lately is her encounter with the previous show’s MC, Cranel Bell, or “Tomatoface”, as a drunken Bete calls him at the tavern…the same tavern where Cranel himself is. Like the minotaur encounter, it’s another scene inhabiting the same time and place as DanMachi, only from Ais and the familia’s POV.

At the same time, Oratoria doesn’t lean too heavily on the events we’ve already seen, and when it does, the fresh POV, gives them, well, fresh context and insight.

As for what’s new, we get a lot more exposure to the various members of the Loki Familia and get to see them take care of things like bartering away dungeon loot and getting their weapons repaired—or in Tiona’s case, replaced—by some very exasperated smiths.

When the twins decide Ais needs more cheering up they take her on a shopping trip, where we see the stark contrast between their taste in fashion (much less is more) and Lefiya’s (lots of cloth; lots of frills). (They also put Ais in Hestia cosplay, which…well played, DanMachi).

When Lefiya foots the bill as thanks for Ais looking out for her (and because she just wants to) Ais finally puts two and two together and realizes everything Lefiya has done for her, and why. So instead of apologizing for not realizing sooner, Ais does all she really needs to do: she thanks Lefiya for blowing so much petty cash on her. It’s Cranel to whom she apparently feels she must apologize.

Was there way too much talk of boobs and grabbing and groping of boobs in this episode? Probably. But the fine slice-of-lifeity made up for that, and Lefiya was definitely of more use in town than in the dungeon, even if talked to herself and daydreamed too much. There’s still hope for her!