86 episode 10

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

As a big fan of the novels, this episode surprised me a bit. Its title suggested that it would include a certain scene featuring Lena which forms the first epilogue of the first novel, but the “Thank You” turns out to be in reference to something else. What we get instead is a low-key, reflective episode that is almost entirely anime-original.

That the series would add in some anime-original content at this point is not a big surprise. The novels do not provide much detail about this stage of the 86’s journey, and there’s plenty for the characters to reflect on as they move forward through war-ruined land. Not sure I expect a whole episode of this, which makes me wonder if the production is planning to end the first cour on a cliffhanger (not what I would consider ideal, but it’s feasible), but after seeing what was done with this episode, I don’t have a problem with it. That Lena does not appear at all is a little disappointing, but this bunch is a solid enough group of personalities as is to carry the episode on their own, and flashbacks show little snippets of several other now-dead characters, especially Kaie.

That does mean that there are fewer little details to ruminate on here, as nearly all the racism elements have been left in the past. This is the most complete freedom any of the 86s have had, especially for Shin; the voices of the Legion are still in the background, but he no longer has the weight of his brother hanging on him. Yes, they are in enemy territory, so they must still worry about their supply situation and about keeping hidden from Legion patrols (as one night scene in a pillbox chillingly emphasizes), but they are also free to explore, make their own decisions, and operate on their own timetable. This leads to an entirely different Shin, one who can laugh and follow along with jokes, though one comment Raiden makes about whether Shin has “anything left” raises the episode’s main philosophical question: at what point does “complete freedom” cross over into “completely directionless”?

The somber scene at the zoo, where the 86s see the remains of all the animals left behind when their human keepers either retreated or were killed off, provides the main source of symbolism for the episode, and the wrecked Legion which Shin silences serves as a reminder that, even now, they cannot completely leave everything behind. Again, this is all anime-original, but it fits so seamlessly that an anime-only viewer probably couldn’t tell. The same is true with the flashback from Fido’s perspective, a framing device that I feel serves the series very well. In fact, that montage is the main reason why I am still giving this episode such a high rating. It hits all the right notes with every scene it shows, whether it is a scene that we have seen before from different angles, a continuation of an earlier scenes, or new entirely content. And that feeds directly into the ominous final shot.

Once again, the decisions made by the adaptation team are excellent ones. I look forward to seeing how next episode’s first cour finale will be handled.

OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:

Fruits Basket the Final ep 9 – As much as I dislike the previous episode, this one worked for me. Tohru really needs someone like Kyo to look out for her, as she seems to lack a self-preservation instinct. Even though she ends up hospitalized, she shows that, in the end, not even a desperate Akito can beat her on the emotional front. And of course we can’t forget the key moment that everyone had been anticipating for ages: love’s first kiss. This was a powerful and effective episode despite the cheap gimmick, and easily the best the series has delivered this season.

Higehiro ep 10 – I cannot entirely disagree with criticisms leveled in other venues that a lot of this episode felt redundant. Even so, the sweet final scene sold the whole episode for me. I also have not found its artistic effort to be as much of a distraction, though I will admit it’s nothing special.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent episode 10 – So the Saint’s power is connected to love, eh? No big surprise there. But now that Sei has realized that, how will she handle it?

Vivy -Flourite Eye’s Song episode 12 – Not sure what to make of this series at this point, although the revelation that the main boss was actively counteracting all of the changes that Vivy and Matsumoto were doing explains a lot. Everything is setting up for a “the song will save the world” kind of conclusion, which I suppose is fitting since the series has always been an idol show. But how gracefully will the series be able to manage it?

Zombie Land Saga Revenge episode 10 – Um, okay, those were some very big revelations to be throwing out at this point in the series. However, a curse being at the root of everything does explain a lot here as well.

So I’m a Spider, So What? episode 22

Ariel facing off against both Kumoko and the Hero

Rating: 3.5

As expected, Kumoko’s timeline returns to center stage for this episode, with the human timeline only getting the last couple of minutes as it shows a bit more of Shun stepping in to fight Hugo. As feared, the wonky use of CG also continues unabated, with more than just the purely action components getting a CG treatment. At least that aspect is better than last episode, but seeing how poorly this series is getting treated visually compared to the promise it showed earlier in the series (and especially compared to concurrently-airing fare like 86) just makes me sad, as there is only so much that the intrigues in the story can do to make up for that.

Nothing much of note is happening on the human front beyond a growing suspicion that Hugo is being influenced into his current behavior and the interesting point that Sophia is seeing to it that Yuri gets attended to; while Hugo may have lost it and Sophia would not mind seeing Oka dead, she, at least, does seem to value her allies. Aside from the overdependence on CG, the main problem I have with this part is that Oka is supposed to be badly injured at this point but is barely showing it even before getting healed. (At least it gives Window Dressing Anna something to do!) Well, that and the fact that they are supposed to be fighting in a forest but the terrain is barren all around; presumably, this was done to shortcut on the animation, either because of time or budgetary constraints or both. Also, I am unclear on who is doing the Appraisal during the telepathic conversation between Fei and Katia, especially since neither has previously been shown to have that skill.

The human side is not the only place where the camera seems overly fond of spinning around in 3D modeling, as the spider side also gets this in spades. That effect seems less distracting in those parts, however, and overall, the visuals work at least a little better. Kumoko’s commentary at the beginning of the episode is mostly anime-original, but I did expect something of the sort given that the remaining material in novel 5 is a little short on filling three episodes, and her spiel is entertaining enough. The real feature comes when Ariel shows up on the battlefield for the one-on-one fight that has been teased in the opener since the beginning of the second cour. The battle does a decent job of impressing the scale of the battle on viewers, and it makes for probably the most exciting battle in the series since Kumoko faced off against the puppet spider. It also shows why Ariel is so fearsome beyond just her stats: she can eat anything and use it to recover her stats. The interesting twist is the appearance of a very young Julius (novels later clarify that he was 11 at this point), who is present for his first battle as Hero, and how that gives even Ariel pause. Apparently in this setting, even a massive stats difference cannot negate the Hero’s innate ability to defeat the Demon Lord.

Nearly as interesting as the fight itself is what happened before that. Gülie arrived where Ariel was finishing off her epic battle against the last earth dragon and decides to help her by teleporting her to where Kumoko is. In the anime he only says that it’s recompense for the trouble his subordinates (i.e., the dragons) caused her, but he offered an additional reason in the novels: she’s the daughter of a friend. (The adaptation may have skipped that line because it is not relevant to anything else happening in this part of the story.) Also interesting, this scene is happening after Gülie spoke to Kumoko in the anime, but happened in the reverse order in the novels, where Gülie’s statements to Kumoko were also meant as an assurance that he wouldn’t do something like teleport Ariel again. That changes apparent motivations a bit.

The other important detail there, though, is that we finally get clarification on who Ariel is in the human timeline. Those who suspected that Kumoko became Ariel were neither totally correct nor totally incorrect: Ariel is being influenced by essentially melding with Kumoko’s Body Brain, so her new personality is a mix of both. Basically, her goals are still her own but her attitude and aggressiveness are shading more towards Kumoko. This accounts for all her behavioral differences between the human timeline and earlier spider timeline appearances and why she seems to know about the reincarnations. Interesting, though, that even such a powerful entity as her has no direct knowledge of D. . .  anyway, the suggestion that D may have specifically done the reincarnations as part of a deliberate attempt to save the world is also an intriguing theory, and I agree with Gülie that the timing seems too suspicious.

Of course, the big feature moment at the end is that Kumoko apparently got obliterated by Ariel’s Abyss magic at the end of their scene. Obviously Kumoko isn’t permanent deadly, but how does she get out of this one? It’s been very vaguely hinted at previously, or you can just wait until next week to find out.

86 episode 9

Rating: 5 (of 5)

One sign of a great episode is when you can watch it twice in the same afternoon and it loses none of its impact on a second viewing. That was my reaction to episode 9, which mostly completes the adaptation of the first novel. It brings the series’ first story arc to a resounding – if also very melancholy – conclusion, in part by bringing both of its protagonists to tears.

For the five 86s who have survived to this point, this is the battle that they must survive to achieve their true freedom. For Shin, it is also the battle that he must win to move on in a figurative sense, as he must put his brother’s ghost (brain?) to rest. Rei – now as a Shepherd – also has some very complicated feelings, and the Shepherd is unable to fully process them. The result is a crazed Shepherd, one which will not let even its own units harm Shin but is still determined to bring Shin into the fold as a Legion, so they can be together. Young Lena become his inner voice of conflict as he ponders killing Shin in his grief over the loss of their parents (her slapping Rei coinciding with the shell landing was a nice touch), and the way he reached out to Shin in his final moment alive now manifests in nanomachine arms which reach out for Shin in his new form. That sets up one part of one of the series’ more spectacular and well-realized action scenes to date.

The other part of that sequence is the horde of lesser Legion that the rest must contend with – and that, not surprisingly, ultimately includes Lena. As soft as she seems because of how emotional she gets, I have long insisted that there is a strength in her that everyone is not giving full credit, and that shows beautifully here. Even with depleted officer ranks, Lena did not get to be the youngest Major ever by passively accepting the circumstances before her, and in the scene where she emotionally manipulates Annette to help her rig the Para-RAID and mortar controls (leaving Annette a complete wreck afterwards), she shows just how gloriously ruthless she can be. I love that scene both visually and contextually, especially the symbolic meaning where Lena stepped back from the cover of the porch awning and into the rain, hence drawing Annette into the rain as well, or how her eyes were concealed by her hat at first. That scene is loaded visually, but just as importantly, it shows why she was able to use the spectacle of the mortars to cover Spearhead Squadron. The message it sends is also as important: if the rules are wrong then they should be broken.

All of this ultimately brings the matter with Shin’s brother to a satisfying conclusion and leaves Shin in tears for the first time, but that is merely the action climax. The dramatic climax follows, as Lena starts to realize that Spearhead Squadron is fully intent on pushing forward anyway. The anime version is stretching this scene out – Lena running down the street in a desperate effort to keep in contact as long as possible and the contiguous commentary among the 86s is anime-original – but it works so well that I cannot fault the adaptation for it. With the great musical backing, it sells the power of the scene. Lena has finally made the connection she sought, saved them (at least for now), and earned the respect of the remaining 86s, but that does not change the fact that they are still leaving her behind. Lena being brought to tears at the end of this is heartbreaking but feels well-earned. All of this happening in front of a field of blooming spider lilies, which Asian legends claim bloom when two people part ways forever,

is a fitting choice, as is the five birds shown flying away as Spearhead Squadron exits Republic territory.

Again, there are just too many neat little touches here to account for all of them without making this review ridiculously long. Even if the nanomachine arms are a little wonky, those are still straight out of the novel, so I cannot imagine how the adaptation of the first novel’s final full chapter could have been done any better. This is one of the highlight episodes of the whole Spring 2020 season, not just this series.

All that is left of the first novel at this point are two epilogues. Based on the title for episode 10, it will likely start by adapting the first epilogue, while the second will probably not get adapted until the end of the series. (For anime-only viewers, it involves a big time skip, and most of the second and third novels happen during that time skip.) Thus, this is the conclusion of the opening act, but definitely not the story as a whole.

OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:

Fruits Basket the Final ep 9 – As much as I dislike the previous episode, this one worked for me. Tohru really needs someone like Kyo to look out for her, as she seems to lack a self-preservation instinct. Even though she ends up hospitalized, she shows that, in the end, not even a desperate Akito can beat her on the emotional front. And of course we can’t forget the key moment that everyone had been anticipating for ages: love’s first kiss. This was a powerful and effective episode despite the cheap gimmick, and easily the best the series has delivered this season.

Higehiro ep 9 – Quite the surprise here: Sayu’s elder brother is actually quite reasonable and genuinely protective/supportive of Sayu, even if his methods (leaving Sayu unsupervised in circumstances like this?) leave something to be desired. Sayu’s motivation to run is also laid bare by the flashbacks, and it is pretty awful; her friend’s suicide over being bullied because of her association with Sayu was bad enough, but man, her mother is a class act. No matter how much you are inconvenienced, there are some things you just don’t ever say to your kids. Also kudos to Asami for once again coming through as the caring friend.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent episode 9 – Seeing the matter involving Prince Kyle and Aira resolved to a certain degree is very satisfying, even if it supposedly makes the prince come off looking better than the source material does. (And Kyle shouldn’t ever underestimate his future bride Elizabeth, as she seems able to see through him.) Feel like that whole situation could have been build up more for dramatic effect, but it’s still nice to see Aira no longer being an afterthought character.

Vivy -Flourite Eye’s Song episode 11 – The revelation of the final boss’s identity – and thus the reason why the AI insurrection happened despite the Singularity Project’s efforts – is an interesting choice, but ultimately the only logical candidate. The irony that Vivy’s success at achieving what no other AI has probably ultimately spurred the uprising in this timeline (I’m guessing it showed the “boss” that humans are no longer needed?) is also implicit. That was also a neat sort-of reappearance from a much earlier character.

Zombie Land Saga Revenge episode 9 – For me, this was maybe the most satisfying episode of the whole series, as it lays out why Yugiri was likely chosen for this project despite being from such an earlier era than the rest; she was a pivotal player in why Saga exists as a prefecture to this day. This also explains why she has settled into this new era without complaint: she gets to see what became of her efforts way back then. The performance at the end of the episode was killer, too; it’s probably my favorite of the series to date. Also, a lot has been discussed in other forums about the picture of Tae in the photographer’s window back in the past, but I’m not sure how much can be made of that since the other girls also appeared in the past in some form or another.

So I’m a Spider, So What? episode 21

Hugo and Sophia, preparing to face Oka.

Rating: 3

As the title of this episode – “So, I’m Not in This One, Am I?” – suggests, the titular character does not appear at all in this episode. (Or at least not in spider form in the spider-side timeline, anyway.) White – who’s been all but outright said to be the human-side version of Hiiro Wakaba – makes a brief appearance to play a critical role, but that’s it. This is entirely a human-side chronicle, showing how Shun and crew get involved in the opening maneuvers of the assault on the elf village. However, the lack of Kumoko is not why I am rating this episode considerably lower than normal; while Kumoko is the powerhouse which carries the show, what’s happening on the human side is interesting, too.

Unfortunately, once again the artwork and artistic direction proves erratic. This episode leans heavily on CG for animating human/elf characters in the action scenes, but while that is not a great visual effect, I do not find it totally objectionable. However, whether characters are animated in CG or not at various points in the actions scenes is somewhat random, as if the CG was being used for emergency patches when the production did not have time to do it without CG, and movements are often stiff or fixed. (One shot of Hugo galloping forward on his horse, but not actually looking like he’s advancing any, is especially egregious.) Occasionally the battles scenes do also get off a good cut or two, but the way it is all put together is also quite rough. The action lacks a good flow from shot to shot, especially when Oka is going head-to-head against Hugo. This is merely the first stage of the pivotal battle of the entire novel series, and it does not leave me feeling good about how the rest of the battle is going to be portrayed.

Thankfully, the story side saves the episode from being a disaster. This happens in part because the adaptation goes back and covers a couple of scenes that had previously been skipped, and after seeing how the episode fits them in, at least one of them works better here. That scene is the one where Oka explains to Hyrince and Anna that she, Shun, Katia, Fei, and the ones that they have met at the village are all reincarnations from a different world, one which lacks the game mechanics-like structure of this one. She further spills one other crucial bit of information for everyone: that gods called Administrators exist in the setting (which implies that the general populace is unaware of them) and that the elves have long believed that they are up to no good, including draining skills from people for some unknown purpose. Notably, Oka does not entirely buy what she’s been taught while growing up, but the fact that she has seen at least Kanata listed as dying after Katia gets her skilled drained is enough to get her to act. Why she could not have explained some of this earlier – like, back at the academy – is not clear, and anime-only readers should not ever expect a good explanation on that. Oh, and she also finally reveals that Sophia was Shouko Negishi. Again, not sure why that revelation had to wait until now, either, other than maybe that Oka would have had to explain some things about her earlier meetings with Sophia that have yet to come up in the anime. (And they likely won’t before the end of this season.)

The other add-in scene is a shorter one – too short, in fact. Anna’s status as a half-elf is not going over well with the other elves, but the elves are such douchebags about it that it’s hard to believe that they didn’t start picking on her earlier. It just timed out better to do it here, I guess? That results in it feeling more like it was thrown in as filler rather than as an integral part of the story.

But hey, spending the whole episode on the human side allows more reincarnations to get involved, such as the two former adventurers (honestly, their names are not critical to remember at this point) and Kasuma, who is revealed to be both the guy practicing with swords in front of the church  last episode and a ninja. He seems very capable despite his demeanor, too, and plays the role of shutting off a line of retreat. The other one is the oni who appeared very briefly in the Demon Lord’s council meeting a few episodes back and has been named Wrath in advertising copy. All indicators point to him being Kyouya, so that should make for an interesting reunion in another episode or two.

Not much content is left on the human side before the end of novel 5 (which is the only sensible stopping point for the series), so I’m betting that next episode will be mostly or all spider-side. Big battle scenes await there, too, so hopefully it will look better than this one does. But I’m not holding my breath at this point.

Special Notice!

Since the first Princess Principal sequel movie is now available on HIDIVE, a review of it is likely coming sometime next week.

86 episode 8

The surviving 86 are set to depart.

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Storytelling in all forms has a habit of exaggerating the evil actions of an enemy or an oppressor just to make sure that the audience has no sympathy for them. Much more rarely, though, the full extent of the evil is just a logical extension of what has already been established. That is the case with the most recent episode of 86, though not for the most immediately apparent reasons.

The revelation last episode that Spearhead Squadron assignments are effectively execution orders also partly falls under that umbrella. After all, successful 86s being allowed to live would contradict the whole purpose of the oppression. Given that, the revelation this episode that 86s whose terms are up are given an open-ended “Special Recon Assignment,” which is implicitly intended to be a suicide mission, should hardly come as a surprise. The bigger revelation is that Annette’s apathy towards Lena’s efforts is a defense mechanism.  She feels that she selfishly betrayed an 86 neighbor boy by distancing herself and discouraging her father from taking him in, and she knows first-hand the uglier side of the research behind the Para-RAID. Their development was the fruit of inhuman experiments on 86 children, her father’s anguish over that most likely resulted in him committing suicide, and she implies that she was involved herself afterwards. Hence, she strikes out at Lena when the latter tries to shake her out of that protective bubble.

The other dark truth here is that the Republic’s effort to expunge the 86s from the Republic extends to eliminating evidence that they even existed. That is why 86s are not allowed graves, but this is not just evil for the sake of evil, either; if the 86s are gone, and no record of them remains, then the Republic cannot get in trouble for their actions when/if contact with other countries is reestablished. Yeah, I know there are some big holes in this theory, but this has historical parallels as well: the Nazis did try to destroy records of what was happening in the concentration camps in the waning days of World War 2. Lena’s uncle’s comments about this – that a lack of resistance to this from the public implies tacit acceptance, and that the country’s namesake saint may have been a martyr herself – are also damning. This is all practically an embodiment of the famous quote, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

What I find most interesting about this part of the story – and in particular how the anime adaptation portrays it – is the stark contrast between the Republic side and the 86 side. On the Republic side, Lena is being isolated further as each avenue for trying to help Shin and crew gets shut down on her. Indeed, even Shin shuts her down by telling her not to resonate with them anymore. (He does not seem to understand that this is ultimately probably crueler to Lena than keeping her involved until the end would be.) On the other side, the 86s, their number now dwindled just to the five most prominent members, stand united and, to a degree, even happy. They are resigned to their fate, but as Raiden reaffirms, they aren’t going to just hang themselves, and in a sense, this is the freedom that they have long sought. Even if they will likely end in ugly fashion, their journey still awaits, and Shin can settle one final score in the process. It is just like they are being sent on a grand adventure, rather than to their deaths.

The one minor surprise here is that the anime does not skip the scene where the Shepherd which has Rei’s brain reflects on what really happened between Rei and Shin. I am very pleased that it was included, especially since most previous Interlude scenes in the novel have been skipped. It is the one whose absence would probably be most felt by anime-only viewers, however, and it does allow for a dramatic lead-in to next episode. It also allows for pictures like this one:

Among other random tidbits, this episode does not have the wealth of visual cues that the previous episode did, but it still has some.  One of the most significant is Lena’s flower vase. Conversations in another forum have led me to believe that her vase is being used to indicate how many 86s have died in the given episode, and this time it has four, to signify the four remaining non-core members dying off-screen. (The deaths are also being reflected in two different places in the opener.) The musical support also does not get enough credit. And boy, all of the signs point towards the boy that Annette was talking about being Shin, don’t they?

Since next episode’s title is also the title of the first novel’s last chapter, the adaptation of the first novel will probably mostly conclude with episode 9. (I predict that the last few pages of the chapter will make up the beginning of episode 10, and the epilogue will be dealt with throughout the second cour.) What the 86s will do is obvious; but what will Lena do?

OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:

Fruits Basket the Final ep 8 – Drag thing out much? Though these were big revelations about how Kyo and Tohru are far more connected than we’ve known until this point, the delivery of it here was tedious. The only thing which saved the episode for me was the cliffhanger ending.

Higehiro ep 8 – You had to figure that the kind of turning point that the episode ends on was coming. Up to that point I thought the episode was trying a little too hard to keep a potential romance between Yoshida and Sayu in play despite Yoshida’s effort to distance himself from that. Still, it conveyed well that Sayu is taking small steps towards the need to confront her past, while Yoshida is realizing more and more how firmly Sayu is becoming part of his life. This is one of two big cliffhangers for Monday that I will be eagerly awaiting.

SEVEN KNIGHTS REVOLUTION: Hero Successor – Actually got caught up on this one because I was bored one night. Have about the same reaction to this one that I had to Hortensia Saga last season: looks nice, but it is painfully generic as fantasy content goes. Still, it has just enough going for it (especially the Class President character) that I will probably finish it out.

Vivy -Flourite Eye’s Song episode 10 – This has been a strong enough series that it might be a contender for Best of Season honors if 86 wasn’t around, and this may have been the series’ best episode yet. Seeing Diva relegated to a museum attraction after retiring (because she couldn’t sing anymore after her other persona left) was particularly sad, and the relationship with the boy Osamu over the course of 20 or more years has a certain melancholy feel to it as well, as do the visits from Matsumoto. The song she finally comes up with fits perfectly, as do the two twists at the end: both about Osamu’s last name and the suggestion that she might have unwittingly caused the very thing that she was trying to prevent. I sort of suspected all along that the story might go in this direction, but even so, I am eager to see how this plays out.

So I’m A Spider, So What? Episode 20

Rating: 4.5

To answer the question in the episode title – “this isn’t my fault, is it?” – yes, Kumoko, this one is most definitely your fault, both directly and indirectly. However, it’s not entirely your fault, as you also unwittingly played into the plans of a country that was just looking for a trigger to go to war.

Her part in it all started with her destruction of the fortress that she encountered when exiting the Labyrinth, back in episode 13. Admittedly, the humans did attack first in that one (although out of legitimate concern about a dangerous monster escaping rather than malice), but accidentally going over the top in wrecking a human fortress tends to have consequences, and now they are catching up with her. The Word of God religion was already inclined to go after Sariella over their Goddess religion, and presumably they pushed Ohts to create an incident to justify a war. What better way to do that then to send an incompetent ambassador who would cause some incident concerning the so-called Divine Beast? The Ohts leadership may or may not have intended the ambassador to be a sacrificial pawn, but he certainly gave Kumoko an excuse to kill him, and Kumoko, not knowing any better, bit. Things are looking bad for baby Sophia’s homeland, and Kumoko staying involved is certain to complicate things further.

The troops marching on that incident allows the series to parallel to events 15 years later, where a different set of massed troops is marching on the elf village. (Honestly, it took me a moment to realize that the series had shifted time frames, since it ran so smoothly together and Hugo is not instantly recognizable in that helmet.) However, instead of focusing on Shun and crew preparing, most of the rest of the episode gives us Oka’s backstory, and that fills in numerous big gaps. It provides the first indication that the student roster we have been seeing when Oka talks about the other reincarnates is actually a visualization of her unique skill, which allows her to track the status and a future prediction on all her former students. That’s how she was able to find everyone, and that’s what drove her to action and helped define her identity in this new world. It is also why she has been so dodgy about details, though whether she actually is incapable of revealing that information, or would lose the skill if she did, is unclear. (The fifth novel does not clarify this, either.) Clearly, though, Oka is in as difficult a position as any of the reincarnations, as she knows when several are supposed to die (Natsume in the upcoming battle, but Kanata, interestingly, from being “stripped of of skills”) and is desperate to prevent that. It makes her into a much more sympathetic character.

Less certain is where Potimas stands in all of this. What we have seen about him over the previous couple of episodes suggests that he is a calculating rather than benevolent type, so he likely has unrevealed reasons for deciding to devote resources to helping Oka. Based on anime content only, the best guess is that it has something to do with his long-standing conflict with Ariel and/or the Pontiff of the Word of God. Another interesting tidbit is Kumoko’s second encounter with Black, aka “Guli-Guli.” Black at that point seems to be on friendly terms with Ariel, which may be connected to why he’s one of her generals in the future timeline. He also does seem to care about the state of the world, which makes his participation in Ariel’s war effort later on seem even odder. This conversation is more verbose in anime version than in book version (Kumoko does not explain herself in the novel), but it does show that Kumoko is serious about preventing the world’s collapse, even if she does sometimes stray into moral gray areas with her glee over getting XP for killing humans. Also, Ariel is shown in a more prolonged battle with Dragons, which aligns better with what happened in the novel than the final scene from last episode alone did.

The final montage is also interesting. It confirms that grown-up Sophia seems to be referring to Shun-timeline Kumoko (aka White) as Master, who is using miniature versions of herself for apparent remote communication. It also shows Merazophis, the right-hand mand of Sophia’s father, more clearly in this timeline as working with Ariel, as well as the robed figure who used the chakram back in episode 14 and another sword-wielding figure practicing outside a church; I do not believe that the latter character has previous popped up in the anime. This scene is a combination of two different traveling scenes in the fourth novel, but the way it is handled here works for the anime version.

The next episode’s title – “So I’m Not In This One, Am I?” – leaves me curious about its exact meaning, since I’m not sure how the story could avoid Kumoko for a whole episode at this point. Clearly, though, big events are coming again.

86 episode 7

Lena all dressed-up for the party.

Rating: 5 (of 5)

From the beginning of the series until episode 5, one of the unspoken truths about Spearhead Squadron was Shin’s ability to hear the voices of the Legion. However, another unspoken truth has lingered just as long. At first, the 86s didn’t inform Lena because it didn’t seem important, but as they began to accept her as a person (and not just another white pig), they seemed reluctant to tell her because they started to care how it would affect her. This episode, further losses of minor characters among the 86s – and the lack of any good explanation to Lena about why Spearhead Squadron isn’t getting reinforcements (despite getting new Juggernauts at the beginning of the episode) – brings the matter to a breaking point. It’s finally time for the 86s to admit that they’ve known all along that they have no end game. Spearhead Squadron is, literally, where they were sent to die.

When the Nazis first started forcing Jews (and others) into death camps, one of the first groups of people they killed off were those whose roles in society made them potential leaders; this was done explicitly to minimize chances for rebellion. Among 86s, those individuals would be the Name Bearers, those who have survived long enough to build up both combat experience and a reputation and nickname among the other 86s. Spearhead Squadron – which sits on the most active and dangerous front – serves the dual purpose of eliminating them while still getting use out of them. Thus, they will never get reinforcements, only replacements – the next group up for the execution ground! – when they are all gone.

This is the grim and devastating truth that everyone around Lena has been trying to warn her about. In retrospect, it is why Kaie told her in episode 3 that she shouldn’t be associated with them, and why Shin and others later repeated that warning. Lena’s uncle clearly knew about it, bur the fact that he gave her every opportunity to step away without directly mentioning it suggests that the policy is not supposed to be common knowledge; presumably that’s to keep potential bleeding hearts on the Alba side from interfering. Annette also probably has at least an inkling about this, though her warnings to Lena may come from a different angle. (Next episode should have a scene which delves into that further.) To some degree they’re all trying to protect the emotional and kind-hearted Lena, but the 86s, at least, are forgetting that this is the same girl who weathered Theo’s wrath and hearing the voices of the Legion and still came back. This is also the girl with the temerity to wear a black dress to a gala, which both makes a pointed statement (even if the only attendee there who would understand it is Annette) and discourages attention of a type that she doesn’t want right now.

The mere fact of the 86s’ fate is not the whole point in that pre-closer scene, either. Lena brings up the matter that many viewers have surely been wondering about: why fight at all, if they know that they are not being given a chance to survive? The answer offered by Raiden and others is multifaceted. Some of it comes down to pride; if all they can be is warriors, then they will go down fighting, and thus have at least some say in the manner of their effective executions. But they also acknowledge that not all 86s are complete scum. Exceptions like Lena are rare, but she and Fox Commander are not the only ones, as both Shin and Raiden benefited from sympathetic Alba. They also bring up the interesting point that not all 86s are noble in their suffering, either, as several of them have been subject to prejudice from other 86s. The implication here is that they don’t feel that they can claim moral high ground when some of their peers are just as bad, and even besides that, and they don’t feel right punishing the few good Alba because of the attitudes of the majority.

That the 86s are not of a common attitude – and thus can be cruel to each other – also comes up in the shower scene, where we learn that Anju has grown her hair out impractically long (and pointedly not showered with other girls!) because that long hair is hiding something on her back. The anime version does not fully reveal the phrase, but it spells out “whore’s daughter,” and the later scene suggests that it was fellow 86s who hated her for her mixed blood (the novel clarifies that she’s mostly but not totally Alba) who did it. Revealing that is necessary to drive home the later point about how the Alba are not the only ones who can be cruel, so I do not consider that to be a true fan service scene even though the camera gives good glimpses of both girls’ curves. There’s nothing gratuitous about it.

That is hardly all that happens in this heavily-packed episode, either. A new and devastating artillery weapon is the cause of the 86 casualties, and every suggestion points toward Shin’s brother (or, rather, his brain) being behind it. Further, a velocity of 4 km/s and a range of 120 km firmly points towards an advanced railgun. In other words, it’s a weapon capable of making all of the Republic’s defenses irrelevant. This episode does not have time to delve into that matter further, but it absolutely sets up the series’ first boss enemy and speaks of a major threat going forward. Kurena’s descriptions of suffering on the battlefield, and how they can tolerate the voices Shin hears because they are mild by comparison, also plays out in sharp contrast to the scenes of peaceful life and festival events seen by Lena. And of course they have to work in one scene of Lena being adorable, so they have her tripping over herself and utterly failing to act cool when offering a bribe to ensure no questions are asked about the “special ammunition” shipment to Spearhead.

That leaves one other significant scene: the fireworks, which are the truth behind the “special ammunition.” These are loaded with multiple levels of meaning. In simplest form they are Lena’s attempt to give Spearhead something nice, but they also serve as a memorial for those who have died recently; seeing Anju finally tear up over Daiya is especially impactful. They are also used as a framing device through the rest of the episode, clearly meant to be symbolic of the 86s in multiple ways: they burn bright before their lives fizzle out, the expended nature of used fireworks is equated to the expended lives of the 86s, and so forth. Again,  each shot carries so many extra interpretations that a full essay could be written just about them.

Put altogether, the episode packs emotion and weight at least on par to episode 4. It is another shining example of what this series can accomplish.

OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:

Because this post ran so long, I am passing on the “other series” part for now. I may post that individually in a couple of days.

So I’m A Spider, So What? Episode 19

Kumoko is shocked.

Rating: 4

In this episode, both the spider and the human protagonists reach goals that they have been pursuing for several episodes now. The results are entirely different, and atypically, the spider side is the one which comes up a bit disappointing this time.

That side starts with Kumoko being an object of veneration by those regarding her as the Divine Beast, much to her dismay since it does not fit at all with her loner nature. (Curiously, she is acting here like she can understand them now, though she is seemingly still incapable of communicating with them in a coherent fashion.) But that’s merely the humble prelude to the real action: Kumoko’s ultimate confrontation with the Queen Taratect of the Labyrinth. This promised to be one of the series’ most epic battles to date, even with the Queen reduced to a level where Kumoko could match her, and indeed, it started out quite promising. Kumoko has thrived so far on being able to use traps to her advantage, but this time her mother turns the tables on her, proving that previous indications of the queen having greater intelligence were no fluke.

However, even when Kumoko is once again reduced to just being a severed head (with the digital censoring returning as a running joke), she never quite feels like she is in serious peril. The reversal also comes quick once the Parallel Minds that had been interfering with the queen (and which did not go after Ariel) rejoin to give her a major power-up; in fact, it felt almost too easy. That’s partly because this fight is a truncated version of what the novel describes, but to an extent that’s also understandable. When an even bigger fish (er, spider) is on the hunt in the background, even the Queen Taratect does not seem like a worthy threat anymore. Ariel is on the hunt again and she’s not happy.

The episode’s final scene with the earth dragon is an interesting one, though. It is also a simplified version of what the novel describes, though it gets the point across: that the dragons see the arrival of Kumoko on the scene as the time for a changing of the guard. That explains Araba’s behavior at the end of his earlier battle with Kumoko – the way that he acquiesced his defeat rather than struggle to the bitter end – better. He recognized that anyone capable of beating him was fit to replace him. Clearly Ariel does not agree.

The other detail from the spider side is Sophia’s encounter as a baby with Potimas, who still mistakenly thinks that Kumoko is acting on Ariel’s behalf in protecting Sophia. That meeting is anime-original, though the rest of what gets discussed in that scene is not; it just wasn’t told from Sophia’s perspective in the novel. This framing works better, I think, and having Potimas meet Sophia at this point will justify some things that happen later a bit better.

What’s happening on the human side is, arguably, more interesting. Shun’s crew has finally made it to the elf village, and surprise! Surprise! Potimas is still alive in this timeline. How he survived is a mystery that will probably be revealed within the next couple of episodes, but the more important part of this scenario is Shun’s party meeting the other reincarnations and how they react. Some of it – like everyone being startled by Kanata now being a hot girl – is to be expected, but to say that the other reincarnations are less than grateful towards Ms. Oka would be an understatement. Hard to blame them; as the spider timeline suggested, some of them were kidnapped by the elves and all are effectively being kept prisoner here, and if Sophia’s words are any indication, at least some were taken violently. (This further suggests that Sophia may have first-hand experience with the elves being involved in such an attempt on her.)

Exactly why Potimas is doing this is unclear at this point, though presumably it has something to do with Oka’s warning about not developing too much for skills. Also unclear is the level of Ms. Oka’s complicity in all of this. Undoubtedly, the other reincarnations are here because of her, but how much blame does she deserve for the way in which they were brought here? She has unquestionably been keeping secrets, but her efforts to protect her former students seem sincere, and she was clearly surprised by Potimas’s survival. She also gives the impression of not being in control of this situation and being fully aware that she deserves at least some of the other students’ scorn. Oh, and as a final thought on the other reincarnations for anime-only viewers: don’t worry about keeping track of the bevy of new names thrown at you this episode. Only a couple are consequential, and those should become clear in upcoming episodes.

With this episode, the series mostly completes its coverage of the fourth novel. (One or two minor scenes remain that may still be adapted.) Bits of the story have already been used from the fifth novel, and with next episode, the story should fully push into its adaptation.

86 episode 6

Shin and Kaie in a peaceful flashback

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

If the more serious parts of 86 ever fail the series, it has a good fallback plan: just depend on Lena being adorable. The way she gradually loses it in the scene right before the closer, as she realizes that what she just innocently said to Shin could be interpreted a whole different way, is precious. (And kudos to the adaptation team for fully animating that. Most series wouldn’t bother.) Fortunately for her, Shin is too distracted by other things to notice.

Part of why Shin is that distracted is made clearer by the rest of the episode, which opens with an exceptionally grim and graphic flashback to a younger Shin finding his brother’s wrecked Juggernaut with its desiccated, headless corpse still inside. (Other corpses are laying around in the ruined library as well if you look closely.) The irony that a soldier who uses a headless skeleton as his insignia ends up headless himself is quite thick, but more importantly, that scene is the visual affirmation of what Shin described to Lena last episode: about how the Legion is harvesting the brains of dead 86s. That, combined with the much later scene of the older Shin hearing his brother’s voice, reinforces the implication from last episode that his brother is still active out there as a Black Sheep – or, more likely, a Shepherd. Lena’s scene at the end is either a welcome or distracting counterbalance, depending on point of view.

The rest of the episode in between shows how the series may actually spend the whole first cour just adapting the first novel, as most the episode’s contents are either completely anime-original or else dramatically fleshing out scenes that are only briefly referenced in the novel. Despite that, nothing feels the slightest but superfluous about any of it. The party scene reinforces that, while the 86s are all soldiers, they’re still just teens at heart and just as prone to goofing around in their downtime as any normal teens. The most welcome aspect of that scene for me was giving Kaie a bit more screen time; I found her to be mostly forgettable as a character when reading the novel, but the anime gives her a much stronger and more appealing presence. The scene also does not forget the underlying racism of the setting, as they talk about a Lena that they have not even conversed with yet via para-RAID. Interestingly, that conversation also seems to pointedly skewer the “white savior” trope.

The battle scene maintains the series’ high technical standards so far, while also introducing an unsettling element not seen in previous battles: the vaguely humanoid Legion which are basically suicide bombers. Two characters die in this battle, of which one – Daiya – is a loss at least as major as Kaie. His death is just casually mentioned in the novel, but he gets significantly more attention in this version, so showing his demise is more warranted and, given the romance between him and Anju, has more impact. Meanwhile, Lecca is, I think, getting named for the first time, but goes out on an equally dramatic note with a suicide shot before a Legion can claim her head. Both that and the scene where Daiya has to be finished off by Shin stack up the grimness of the 86s’ situation. No real help is to be found with Lena’s uncle or Annette, either, although the cat plushie Annette gives her as a birthday gift creates another interesting parallel; it’s stuffed in the Republic, while the 86s’ cat is a live one. Certainly that’s not coincidental.

Again, I could probably go on for a while about the richness of the little details and visual cues, such as the way the 86s looking at Theo’s sketch steadily increased, or the leaf that fell from the plant as Lena remembered the sound of Shin shooting Daiya, but I’ll let that go for now. The short version is that, even with a lot of anime-original content, the series shows no sign of dropping off anytime soon.

OTHER SERIES I’M FOLLOWING:

Higehiro episode 6 – Man, that was edgy, but also every bit as ugly as expected. I honestly wasn’t too surprised that the series came to that, partly because predators like that – who can sense when a girl is vulnerable and box them into “consenting” to sex – are all too real, and Sayu still practically radiates vulnerability. Kudos to Sayu’s support team for coming through in her defense, and to Asami in particular for not wavering after learning about Sayu’s secret. This is arguably the second-best series this season after 86.

How NOT To Summon a Demon Lord Omega ep 6 – Diablo shows up and pwns everything. Yawn.

Vivy – Flourite’s Eye Song ep 8 – Have the to give the series’ creators credit here; that was a twist that I did not see coming, though in retrospect it makes a certain amount of sense. Very curious to see how this plays out.

Zombie Land Saga Revenge episode 7 – Fun episode with Tae as the focus, but what consequences will that ending having?

So I’m a Spider, So What? episode 18

Kumoko is shocked by the crowds lining up for her.

Rating: 4

What happens when you go flashing your OP powers around normal people without thinking much about the consequences? You become a religious icon, of course! That is the entirely sensible conclusion of this episode, which combines a look at five different viewpoints and a peek at some of the setting’s bigger machinations in the context of the religions at work in this world.

Religion has certainly been touched on before in this series, but only really involving Yuri’s utter devotion to the Word of God religion. This episode establishes that there is a competing religion called the Goddess religion. Putting the tidbits revealed in this episode together with earlier information paints an interesting (if still vague) picture about the world’s bigger truths, so let’s summarize:

(For anime-only viewers, everything listed below has come up in the anime.)

  1. The Word of God (hereafter WoG) venerates the Voice of God, while the Goddess religion venerates a Divine Beast, who is a servant of the Goddess.
  2. WoG adherent increase skills so they can hear the Voice of God, while Goddess adherents preach the sacrifice of skills to support their goddess. Given these starkly opposing viewpoints, armed conflict arising between the two is predictable.
  3. Ariel, the Demon Lord, has the title Ancient Divine Beast.
  4. Dustin, the pontiff of the Word of God, ironically comments that the two religions cannot get along even though they actually support the same goddess.
  5. Sariel, the one who was sacrificed in ancient times to preserve the world, has been implied to be the Voice of God. The country which is home to the Goddess religion is Sariella, which is presumably named after their goddess. That seems to support Dustin’s assertion.
  6. Oka has previously stated, without explanation, that skills shouldn’t be amassed. That seems to be out of perfect alignment with both religions, and thus represents a third viewpoint, one apparently advocated and represented by Potimas. (This can be assumed from Oka’s comments about the elves long believing it)
  7. Ariel, Dustin, and Potimas all clearly know each other and have mutually adversarial relationships, with the implication that this is a very long-standing thing.

This is the schema that Kumoko is unwittingly stumbling into the midst of as she gets involved in Sariella, purely because she decides to continue to help out her fellow reincarnation. Her actions are proving a wild card to all of the trio I’m going to start calling the Big Three: none of them understand what she’s doing, and two of them mistakenly think she’s currently acting on behalf of Ariel rather than in opposition to her. The fun part is that Kumoko doesn’t have a clue about how much chaos she’s throwing into everyone’s plans – which is no doubt one of the reasons why D is “following” her. She’s just creating her own chaos by getting herself called the Divine Beast for rescuing the local lord’s family on a whim, killing bandits (some of which are Word of God agents in disguise) on a whim, and getting a reputation as a healer because of something she did on a whim. No wonder her motives are inscrutable to everyone, both now and 15 years in the future: no one (except maybe D) correctly understands that she’s just doing whatever she feels like.

This also throws the spotlight on two characters who have not previously received much attention so far. One is Potimas, who was killed by Sophia in the future timeline but is very much alive in Kumoko’s and scheming to get possession of the reincarnations. The extremes he’s willing to go to here (he’s behind a widespread child kidnapping ring just to mask the acquisition of reincarnations?) suggest a more nefarious reason for it than Oka’s good intentions, and he seems unaware that Dustin’s movements – at least for now – have nothing to do with those. In a meta sense, his status here as a mastermind-type suggests that he’s probably not actually dead in Shun’s timeline, but if that’s the case, we’ll have to see how he got out of it. His apparent upcoming appearance in Keren County might provide hints on that front.

The other person in the spotlight is Sophia, this time as a baby. This anime-original scene is our first look at her perspective, and seeing the stagecoach scene and its aftermath from her viewpoint allows that scene to be put back in its more proper time frame. (Episode 14 jumped ahead quite a bit to include that scene from Kumoko’s perspective.) This provides the first hint that Shouko’s life back in Japan was not a happy one even if one discounts her homely appearance and the way she was regarded by classmates. The novels do not offer much perspective from her until much later in the storyline, so hopefully that this is a sign that she will get more attention earlier. Her pleasant life here also raises the question of how she and the family servant ended up affiliated with the Demon Lord.

Overall, no really major events happened this episode, but plenty enough little details get thrown out to maintain interest and point towards bigger events to come.