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[Spark of Divinity] Part 78

Cover art | Free novella | Discord Server | Spark of Divinity - Home Page
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He’d sponsor me.
With my mind racing at a hundred miles an hour, I hardly had time to slow down and think about the intricacies of what that meant, practically speaking. All I heard was that for the first time in what felt like forever, someone wasn’t leaping to gut me or shove trees down my throat or cut my limbs off.
Having allies felt nice, it turned out.
“You’re sponsoring me,” I said flatly, though. My head was still swimming. It’d been a lot, okay? “Like...you’re going to help.
“Oh, my. No, no. Look. Over here.”
The feeling that I was being ignored sank through me. I looked up, furrowing my brow—and found Hades leaning over the still-kneeling form of Shade. I’d only been here for a few minutes, but the difference between the somber face he’d presented on my entrance and the utter glee he wore now was like night and day. His fireball eyes were sparking, sending off dribbles of blue embers.
Shade, to his credit, kept looking back to me, as if needing direction. “Uh...pardon me, but I believe my holiest, most supreme mistress requires my-”
“Nonsense. Just for a moment, son. I want to get a good look at you.”
Hades’ fingers slipped under Shade’s jaw, turning his face upward to catch the light. My prophet twitched, nearly shying away, but caught himself. His eyes flicked back to mine, utterly baleful.
“Is that necessary?” I said at last, crossing my arms. Hades was still looking Shade up and down, beaming. “He’s a bit unusual, maybe, but-”
“Unusual?” Hades murmured. “An understatement, girl. He’s a swarmheart. But tamed.
Shade’s nose wrinkled ominously. “Hey,” I said, sitting upright. “He’s a person too. Let’s not be assholes about this.”
“Exactly,” Hades said, his grin widening as though he hadn’t heard the other half of my sentence. “A soul, plucked back from the maw. I’ve...Oh, if only I could’ve managed a feat like this before now.”
His fiery eyes turned back, settling on mine, and again I felt a shiver run down my spine. “Marvelous,” Hades said, but something in his voice was...flatter. Less cheerful. With every second, it felt like he was burning through my skin, seeing down to my core, to where I-
And then he turned back to Shade, and the moment passed. “Tell me, then,” he said. “Where do you hail from? What do you recall from before you, ahem. From before you joined the swarm?”
“My existence does not continue for the sake of questions from the unworthy,” Shade growled. He tried to pull free of Hades’ grip, but the underworld god wasn’t letting go so easily. “Unhand me, skeleton, or a thousand suns shall come and go before your battered body is afforded rest.”
“Terrifying,” Hades said dryly. “Now, if you’ll just-”
Something clinked from the back of the room—a teacup settling against its saucer. Persephone didn’t say a word. She just smiled at her husband, her green eyes sharp.
Hades let go of Shade with a sigh. “I suppose you’re right. That’s enough. Now, would you-”
It was my turn to twist away with a groan, laying my head back. “Great,” I whispered.
Something shifted across from me. Heracles. Right. He’d stayed perfectly in place through the whole disaster, pale-faced and watching. “Relax,” he said, his voice soft. “This is a good thing. I’m...I’m glad that it went this way. That he was already interested.”
“That certainly helps, yep,” I echoed. It was good. Really. But now...I was more exhausted than anything. The tension of wandering the Sleepless Realms, scrabbling for any allies who’d help...it wore at me. I groaned, pressing my hands to my face. “It’s one,” I mumbled through my palms. “One’s something, I guess.”
“An ally is an ally, mistress,” Alice whispered. She’d stayed pressed into my side from the moment this started, as though she was trying to evade notice entirely.
I sighed. “Yeah, I get it. It’s something. But it’s not enough.
One of Heracles’ eyebrows arched. “If you waste your time wishing things were different, then you’ll lose.”
My lip curled back. “Fuck, do you think I don’t know that?”
Alice chuckled softly. “Well, mistress, you do seem to continue complaining far beyond-”
“Stuff it, Alice.”
“Yes, mistress.”
I turned my gaze back to Heracles, stifling yet another groan. “It’s just...hard to get excited,” I muttered. “I’m thankful for Hades’ help, but with Poseidon out for my blood and Zeus out for-”
“Must you?”
The voice wasn’t Heracles’. I jumped, looking up.
Hades stared back at me from across the table, his eyes unamused. His hand was still outstretched toward Shade, but he’d finally let my prophet regain a bit of distance.
Now, it seems, I’d earned his attentions. And with how pointedly unhappy he looked, that did not strike me as a good thing.
I tried to ignore the goosebumps spreading across the bare skin of my arms. “W-What?”
Hades pursed his lips, lifting his chin—but his stare never left me. “Must you speak his name here?”
Zeus? “You mean Ze-”
“He has the whole overworld to himself,” Hades muttered, rolling his eyes. “I do not understand why his name is always dragged down to my own dwelling, too.”
Shit. “S-Sorry,” I stammered, licking my lips. My mouth had gone dry, somewhere between the moment Hades said he’d help and the moment I trampled on his hospitality. “I didn’t mean to- I wouldn’t dream of-”
“It’s quite all right,” Persephone said. I glanced back to where she sat, but she wasn’t sitting anymore. The green of her dress fluttered gently as she rose, crossing to our bench. Her hands slipped onto Hades’s shoulders, settling into the crook of his neck to squeeze gently. “There was no malice. And this domain is our own. No name can change that.”
The words didn’t seem like they were for me, anymore—and Hades was nodding, his lips still pursed. “I know, dearest,” he said. “But even still-”
“It is all right,” she said, flashing him a smile.
Hades opened his mouth again, but before he could speak, the sound of something crashing broke the quiet. A door. It slammed open, bashing into the wall.
A woman burst through the opening, hardly seeming to notice the destruction she’d wrought. Black hair streaked with blue framed her round face, cut to a jagged bob. Cerberus tore out from under the table, all three of his tongues lolling, and darted straight toward her.
New things. I was growing to very much not like new things, but there was only so far I could squirm backward in my seat.
Crouched to scritch at the hellhound’s ears, she lifted her head. Her eyes settled on me, as piercingly blue as the streaks in her hair—and then her gaze shifted to Shade. “There,” she said, a satisfied smile appearing on her face, and she rose. “I knew you were holding out on me.”
“Now, hold on,” Hades protested. “I’ve only just-”
The woman elbowed him aside without a moment’s hesitation. “Stop hogging.”
If Shade had been keeping things together up until then, well, all of that vanished as the woman latched onto him, pressing her face so close to his I’d be surprised if their noses weren’t touching.
I started, leaning forward to step in, but Heracles’ hand pressed against my shoulder. “Hecate,” he said, his voice low, and nodded toward the woman currently harassing my swarmheart. “And…”
His sigh spoke volumes—and his gaze drifted toward the still-open doorway. There were others, I realized. Another pair of women, with a tall, wiry man half-visible through the frame.
Still feeling a bit unsteady, I stood. There was little else I could do, when it felt like half the underworld was traipsing through Hades’ chambers. The massive shadow of Heracles’ bulk drifted past me, taking up a place at my elbow.
His hand rose, one meaty finger jabbing towards a woman drifting in Hecate’s wake—willowy, with the sort of pure, perfect elegance that Hecate just couldn’t rival. A mane of hair swept down from a high ponytail, a brown so dark it seemed to drink up the light. “Nyx,” I heard Heracles murmur as she drifted forward.
Her eyes flicked to mine. I stiffened. “H-Hello,” I managed to spit out.
A smile curled at the corners of her lips. “”Well. You finally wandered down.”
I laughed, but the sound came out hollow. “You know how it is. Had to make the rounds.”
“I suppose,” Nyx said. Her eyes were black—the sort of colorless, lightless black that spread from eyelid to eyelid. She was still smiling, though. So that was something. “Perhaps you might even-”
“I do so hate to interrupt,” Hades said. Just like that, Nyx stopped—although she cast a glance back over her shoulder at the god, her eyes narrowed. Hades smiled faintly. “I do so look forward to introducing everyone more fully, and with any luck, we’ll have the rest of eternity to have these conversations. But right now?”
I blinked—and then nodded. Right. I didn’t have time to sit around hobnobbing and bumping elbows with the Greek divines. His eyes were hard, but not unkind. I took a deep breath, drawing back a step. “Then...If I have your agreement, I’ll head back and-”
Hecate hissed, whirling away from Shade. Actually hissed. I had a split second to stare in confusion as she bore down on me, and then she was just there.
Her blue eyes gleamed, oddly mischievous. “Don’t run off just yet,” she said, grinning. “Didn’t you want help?”
My palms were starting to sweat. “Uh...yes? But-”
“Then give me your hand.” Hecate thrust her own hand toward me in the same instant, palm-up.
I eyed the offered limb for a moment, fighting the urge to wrinkle my nose or draw back another step. It seemed a bit too much like a trap. Surely, if I took her hand, she’d do something awful.
This was Hecate, I tried to tell myself. Not Gaia. Not even Alice. I could be suspicious on my own time.
I put my hand in hers.
To my relief, she didn’t rip it off or lunge at me or anything. Her fingers brushed against my palm, sliding over the smooth scar Alice had left on me.
She brought her other hand over in the next moment, clasping my hand between hers. “The roads are far,” she said. Her eyes were glued to mine, unblinking. Something about their blue depths drew me in, holding me in place more tightly than chains. “The travels are challenging. Fearful.”
The corners of her lips curled up. It wasn’t my imagination—her eyes were starting to glow, ever so faintly. “May you never walk them alone,” she murmured. “May the consul of friends open winding passages to clear roads.”
No one else was speaking, I realized. They’d all gone quiet, watching this weird-ass girl caress my hand, and-
I reeled, my eyes going wide. My head. It was like the echo chamber in it had grown wider, impossibly. The voices whispering at the edges of my consciousness screamed louder, pressing in. I tried to rip my hand free, but Hecate clung to it, unrelenting.
-why does she appear so distressed? If an inch of her perfect form is harmed, I’ll-
-a bit of Chipotle? It’s a bit early. Maybe I could wait, grab some chips, and then-
-and before they can move, their traitorous hands will be-
“Shut the fuck up,” I whispered, hunching lower. “Everyone just shut up. I can’t-”
The hand holding mine flexed, squeezing tighter. “Clear your mind, sister,” I heard someone say. A woman, her words bright and full of life. Hecate. Right. She was...she was laughing at me, the bitch. “Lose not your way.”
I swallowed. I’d done this before, hadn’t I? When the prayers first whispered at my mind. I’d pushed them away.
It was harder, now. Two voices roared in my head, so close I could reach out and touch them, almost. If you could touch a voice, anyway. Shut up, I screamed silently, letting the thought fill my mind and explode outward like a shockwave. Shut the fuck up, right now.
I forced my eyes open, sucking down a breath of air, and stumbled away from Hecate. This time, she released me. I clutched my hand to my chest—but before I could, I saw a single white line shine down the back of my palm, like she’d scarred me. Damn it, she was like Alice after all.
Heracles’ arm settled around my shoulders, steadying me. “What’s going on?” he muttered in my ear. “Are you well? Did they-”
“What the fuck was that?” I said, ignoring him entirely to zero in on Hecate—who was even then inspecting her nails, swaying back and forth so that the hem of her skirt swished with every movement. “What did you do?”
“Light of the world?” Shade whispered. His voice was quiet, almost disbelieving. “It is almost certain that this one has misinterpreted, misunderstood such a gift from the heavens, but...my own ears heard not a thing. And yet, is it possible that the mellifluous voice of the one most high has reached across the expanses and touched my lowly self?”
“What?” I said, flummoxed. “What...What are you-”
That voice, I knew too well. “Toby?”
“Mistress?” Alice said, hurrying forward. “What are you-”
“I thought it would be fitting,” Hecate said. She winked at me. “To call the souls of the dead to your side, to serve as your own?” Again, she cast a glance toward Shade, something approaching raw longing in her eyes. “When you’ve found such allies, well. It would be a shame to be parted from them.” Her grin turned sly, and she wiggled her fingers in my direction. “I simply...strengthened their connection to you. Ever so slightly.”
“Oh.” I licked my lips, turning inward. It was true. I could still hear Toby and Shade, if I opened my thoughts. Their voices lingered at the very edges of my hearing, floating atop the prayers of the masses like boats in an ocean. “That...might be handy. Thanks. I guess.”
It’d be more than handy, I realized. I’d be in the middle of the challenge soon. I didn’t have any clue what to expect, but somehow, I doubted there’d be tons of downtime to dream my way back to Toby—and I had no idea how I’d find Shade, in the middle of all that. A gift like this could keep me connected to them. They could help, or just keep me sane.
Either way, it helped. I swallowed, then smiled, as warmly as I could. “T-Thanks. Really.”
Hecate rolled her eyes. “I’m not done,” she muttered.
“I got a little creative,” she said, flashing a sidelong grin my way.
Out of all the descriptors I wanted applied to a god’s enchantment of me, “creative” was not one of them. “Creative, how?”
Her grin turned positively gleeful. “Well, I said it before, did I not? You’ve already forged bonds to...unique beings.” Her eyes flicked over onto Shade, who was looking decidedly unsure about all of this. “I strengthened those connections, as well.”
“Okay. And what the hell does that-”
“If ever you should be lost, and you can’t find your way…” She glanced back to me, and her eyes had that odd, bottomless depth to them again. “Call on your once-lost friend. Together, you shall find new legs.”
“That doesn’t-” I stopped, clamping down hard enough on the protest that a vein in my jaw started to throb. “You’re not going to tell me even if I ask, are you?”
Hecate giggled, letting her head fall to one side. “No.”
“Fucking great. If you don’t mind, then-”
An elbow hooked past Hecate’s shoulder, neatly pushing her out of the way. The dark-haired woman from before stepped through the gap. “If you’re done, girl, then-”
“Stop pushing me, I’m-”
Thank you,” the woman said, straightening her dress. Nyx, Heracles had called her. Right. Her black-on-black eyes settled on mine—and she smiled. My skin crawled. A whisper of fear settled over me. The sort that crept back in the small hours of the morning, when shadows were deep. When they transformed the familiar into the unknown, haunting the edges of you vision and-
I blinked, and the shadows were gone. She had her hand out, just like Hecate. I stared at it, and it wasn’t just confusion holding me back this time. “Um…”
“Just give it to me,” she sighed, reaching out. In an instant, she had me in her grasp, and one of her long, painted nails dragged down my skin.
A black mark appeared to join the white left by Hecate. No voices roared in my ears. No dizzying power filled my veins, leaving me nauseous. Just...a line.
I glanced up, trying to hide my bewilderment as best I could. “Uh-”
“I shan’t play games with you, unlike some,” Nyx said, somehow managing to keep from eyeing her companion. “But know this. You have naught to fear from the night, from this day onward.”
“Oh,” I said. When I pulled my hand back, she let me. “Um. Sweet.”
Alice’s hand pulled at my elbow. “Mistress, we should-”
“Right.” I glanced back to the clustered gods. “I...I appreciate it. Really. But now, I should-”
“Just a moment longer,” a new voice said. Another woman, but...more of a girl, really. I glanced up.
Hades stood near the back of the group, as though unwilling to interrupt us. One of his hands lay on Persephone’s hip, but the other…
The other sat on the shoulder of a young woman, who looked like she probably couldn’t even drink if she’d been mortal. Her hair hung in perfectly-smooth planes to her waist. It was black, but...I shook my head, blinking, but it was still there—waves of iridescent color shone in the firelight reflecting off it, as though her hair wasn’t actually black at all.
More striking than that were her eyes, gleaming from her face like pools of molten silver. I could almost see them whirling, spinning, pulling me closer. Pulling me under, until my breath caught in my throat and my limbs trembled and-
The girl blinked, turning her eyes away, and the moment was lost. I sagged, panting for breath without quite knowing why.
“Sorry,” she murmured. Long eyelashes settled forward, heavily lidding her eyes. “I do apologize.”
Hades shifted forward, half-hiding her from view. “Ah...Mistress Terra, this is-”
“Melinoe,” the girl said, and offered me a tiny smile.
“My daughter,” Hades said with a sigh—but even if the sound was weary, the look on his face was too contented for me to buy it.
“You were going to let her leave,” Melinoe said, folding her arms across her chest with what looked suspiciously like a flounce. The dress she wore was split down the middle, black and white. Looking at her was starting to make me dizzy again. “Without saying a word.”
Hades rubbed at his face, glancing away. “Now, dearest, I-”
“Weren’t you?”
I could have sworn I was imagining it—but no, a delicate flush was starting to spread across Hades’ cheeks. “The game’s no fun if you spoil it,” he mumbled.
Melinoe rolled her eyes, twisting back to face me. “Our support will not be limited to these tokens,” she said, with a wave towards the other two women.
“Hey,” Hecate said, screwing up her face. Nyx just flipped her hair over her shoulder, scowling.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll take whatever I can get. But-”
“I cannot say quite yet what form it shall take,” she said, cocking her head to one side. “But I’m sure I will find a good moment yet. And my father-”
“Oh, leave off,” Hades mumbled, kicking at the ground. “I’m not helping anyone, how’s about-”
Persephone elbowed him. He rolled his eyes.
“The tables will be stacked against you,” he said, returning his stare to me. “You know that, I trust?”
I smiled grimly. “Of course.”
“Well, then.” He shrugged, starting to smile—long and slow. “I believe the best gift I can give you is time.”
“I shall do my best,” Hades said. “And now, as I have said, time is important. You have precious little of it.” His fireball eyes bored into mine. “If you don’t want to run out entirely, you’d best get busy.”
Right. I backed away, my skin prickling with the rub of too many eyes on it. “I’ll just- I’ll be going, then.”
Hades’ smile was starting to warp, twisting into something no longer quite so pleasant. That did not seem like a good thing. “Do enjoy your trip back, mistress mortal,” he said.
Fucking hell. “Whatever,” I mumbled. My pulse was starting to race again, but I didn’t want to piss him off, either.
The sight of Melinoe waving at his elbow lingered in my vision as I spun, stalking toward the exit.
Part 79
submitted by Inorai to redditserials


[WT!] Ergo Proxy

"What has been divided, must become one."

They say when huge ambition meets perfect execution actual masterpieces are born. They also say there are no true 10/10 anime exist.
It's hard to describe Ergo Proxy, an anime created by Manglobe (still remember them?) in 2006, in few words. Commonly perceived as a big original work with seemingly endless ambition which borders on pretentiousness if not madness, with all the philosophical allegories, convoluted story and dark, edgy™ atmosphere, Ergo Proxy is deemed as an acquired taste and is rarely recommended to a mass viewer. It's true that the scope of the work reaches the skies, burning itself while approaching the sun - however, that sheer ambition allows Ergo Proxy to show unique traits which make it a standout work among all of other anime, even if it takes experience to notice. And hey, it's not like execution is all too bad either.

Anime: Ergo Proxy

Episodes: 23

Year: 2006

Genres: Sci-Fi, Mystery, Psychological

Available on: Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu

Those of you who are model citizens, let's throw things away. [...] Your life will become easier when you lessen the number of things in your life.

- an announcer, Episode 1

Faraway future. People live in the special domed cities, mostly oblivious to what's happening outside of their zone of comfort. Re-l lives a respectable and comfortable life of a regent's granddaughter in one of such cities named Romdeau. She also works at her leisure in Citizen Intelligence Bureau as an inspector, complaining that nothing ever happens in this utopia. On one day, however, her peaceful life comes to an end - she was attacked by a terrifying monster, who ravaged her house and almost killed her in process. Driven by curiosity, Re-l tries to uncover mysteries of the monster, launching an investigation which will uncover far more sinister secrets of the world. Wait, what this meek guy has to do with anything?
Ergo Proxy doesn't hold back its scope from the beginning: unsettling atmosphere of (anti)utopia, cryptic phrases, mysterious characters - all of that is here to capture attention of the viewer. It works really well - action mixed with mystery fills the screen, and when the viewer finally prepares themselves for a serious political thriller a la Stand Alone Complex the story shifts for the first time. Suddenly, the characters are on the road, traveling around the world and trying to find themselves amidst the endless wasteland. And when the viewer gets accustomed to a wacky, totally bizarre adventure the genre changes once again. This is how Ergo Proxy works - it feels like several highly talented, ambitious people tried to pull the anime in different directions, resulting in eccentric amalgamation of brilliant ideas (while in reality it's all created by mastermind of Dai Sato). Melancholy of being an android in human society? Sure, why not. Awkward romance? Let's put it in! Choose a famous song by an iconic western group for an ending? Great idea! Starting episodes in the middle of the trouble so viewer gets more confused? Sounds cool, let's do this. By the way, you know why Ergo Proxy has such an interesting title? Yes, because it "sounds cool". Nothing more, nothing less.
This is one of the reasons why Ergo Proxy is an honest anime despite all of its ambition. In its heart it's an experimental work with a strong craving for adventure, which bears similarities to Samurai Champloo and Wolf's Rain. That's why one of the episodes takes place entirely in one of the characters' head. During the other characters are "busy doing nothing", while a notorious quiz episode achieved a legendary status. Ergo Proxy isn't afraid of taking risks - it embraces its weirdness and creates memorable, unique experience, effortlessly juggling the genres and even the artstyle. Sick and tired of predictability in anime, when events of next episode are seen from miles away? Ergo Proxy knows how to surprise or, in other words, how to entertain a viewer.

"Look at the minimalist beauty of this world. All of us are manufactured cogwheels in this utopia. Our existence is allowed so we can fulfill this reason we've been given."

- Raul Creed, episode 10

Entertainment and experiments aside, the anime has a lot to say on its own. Essentially, Ergo Proxy is a story about identity and, pardon my French, raison d'être, which the series is not-so-subtle about. Existentialism runs deep in Ergo Proxy, and at some points of the plot all characters think about their own reasons to live and struggle against cruel fate, often conflicting with their own sanity and world perception. Fair word of warning: the story is twisted, hard to understand fully and requires immediate and full attention. Filled with cultural and historical references, Ergo Proxy is infamous for being "too deep" for the sake of it, borrowing a lot from philosophy "just to look smart". It's up to one's judgment how really pretentious Ergo Proxy is, but one thing is for sure - it tries to be something different, with varied success.
Arguably the main reason why the series gets its job done against all odds is its cast of characters. Unlike many other psychological and experimental anime with dark and twisted nature, Ergo Proxy feels very much humane - and it's by virtue of having incredible cast. It's not easy task to create very much alive characters in otherwise dead world, while not making them totally naive and breaking immersion. Re-l seems like a cool badass female character similar to Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, while in reality she is just an ice queen with superiority complex. Iggy, Re-l's devoted companion, is hardly a simple machine serving a human and has surprising depth which also speaks for Re-l herself. Vincent Law has his own story which is long enough to create a whole anime about him. Pino makes the whole company work and is just adorable without measure. All of them are deeply troubled, show variety of emotions and are devoted to their own goals. The strong cast can make or break the story, and the person who was working on a script of Cowboy Bebop and Eureka 7 knows it best.
A buzzword "atmospheric" is also often thrown while talking about Ergo Proxy, and it indeed describes the anime extremely well. That odd middle section with almost standalone episodes exists for a reason. Remember that extraordinary weird game show episode? It's actually a brilliant way to tell exposition and provide necessary worldbuilding. What about that "filler" episode where characters did absolutely nothing? It was crucial in establishing characters' relationship, developing their bond and making them more likeable to the viewer. Add to this excellent visual style with distinct choice of color (almost everything in the anime is brown, grey and just dark), amazing and often overlooked OST full of electric guitars and industrial tunes, deliberately slow pace which unwillingly unravels mysteries and drops vague hints - and you get an example of how to create an unforgettable, embracing world which is hard to put on hold. Atmosphere of Ergo Proxy is second to none, and even people who disliked the series can hardly argue about that.

"The world will come to and end soon. That's just fate."

Ergo Proxy is wild, uneven and ambitious, sometimes too ambitious for its own good, when the mind of viewers can't keep up with all the nuances of the complex story. That's why it's a difficult anime to recommend - yet still, it rewards patient and attentive anime lovers with rich plot, remarkable characters and unique, haunting experience. Anime as deep and daring as Ergo Proxy are hard to come by (especially these days full of LN adaptations), which makes them all the more precious after passing years.

Watch if you liked:

  • Shinsekai yori;
  • Ghost in the Shell;
  • Serial Experiments Lain.

Watch if you look for:

  • atmospheric adventure with ingenious worldbuilding and captivating mysteries;
  • likeable cast of characters who try to defy fate;
  • experimental anime which isn't afraid of taking risks.

Be wary of:

  • the story which is hard to understand and ending close to ideals of Gainax;
  • at times excessive references and allusions to history and philosophy.
submitted by kaverik to anime