Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 02 – The Scent of Kindness

After an emotional grind of a first episode, it was nice to start the second with some lighter comedy, starting with Tenjirou absolutely insisting on paying someone for materials he then expertly weaves into a basket for carrying Nezuko during the day. He may no longer have parents to answer to, but he was raised right.

There’s a lot of physical comedy inherent in Nezuko hiding in the darkest places she can find, even if she has to dig, as well as her neat trick of shrinking just enough to fit in the basket. Kitou Akari, well-known to me as a seiyu with a very precise and matter-of-fact meter, does a lot with little nonverbal sounds.

Her placid stare and bamboo gag conceal the smoldering demon within. While on the way to Mt. Sagiri they encounter a demon eating three humans, and Nezuko’s mouth waters profusely at the sight and smell of her new preferred food. Nevertheless, she doesn’t join, and has her brother’s back when the demon attacks him.

When characters are relatively still or moving slowly, we get beautiful backgrounds and vistas. When there’s action, the camera mixes frenetic 3D POV views with wide static or panning shots, to allow the motion to breathe. Every moment is a visually stunning spectacle, with a gorgeous cinematic score backing it up.

Tenjirou and Nezuko’s battle with the demon also blends action and comedy seamlessly, as Tenjirou deals with the peculiar circumstances of going toe-to-toe with a demon for the first time. What would’ve been a fatal hatchet to the throat is quickly-healed scratch, and even when the demon’s head and body are separated, the body still fights while the head grows arms and suddenly it’s as if there are two opponents.

Tenjirou is eventually able to disable the head, then tackles the body off a cliff before being caught by Nezuko. That’s when Urokodaki Sakonji arrives, to see if Tenjirou has what it truly takes to be a demon hunter. Unfortunately, taking forever to make decisions and showing empathy and kindness for your lethal foe are traits Tenjirou possesses in abundance, and are not ideal traits for a demon hunter.

That said, Tenjirou is clearly a tough kid with a head like a rock and keen sense of smell, and Giyuu respectfully asked Sakonji to train him as there’s just “something about” him and his sister, so Sakonji sets to work training him. The test begins with a grueling trek to Mt. Sagiri, with Tenjirou running while carrying his sis. Then he’s made to climb the mountain, and, as night falls, climb back down while avoiding a ridiculous number of punishing traps.

At first, Tenjirou is overwhelmed by exhaustion, the thin air, and his lack of early progress. But he hunkers down, slows and controls his breathing, and uses his nose to detect the traps and avoid…most of them. Just before dawn he arrives at Sakonji’s front door, the mountain having thoroughly chewed him up and spit him out.

It’s enough for Sakonji to accept him as his student. But the true challenge will be whether Tenjirou can learn to switch off his kind heart when it becomes a threat to his safety or an obstacle to his duty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 04 – Hey Little Sister, Shotgun

Sorao’s waffling over helping Toriko find Satsuki comes to a head when Toriko leaves in the middle of a very weird lunch to search on her own, thanking Sorao for her help thus far, but implying she can’t count on it anymore and that’s fine. To be fair, Sorao has every reason to fear the Otherside: one of its inhabitants, “Space-Time Man”, warns her she’ll be stuck there if she returns.

Unable to find Toriko to apologize, Sorao visits Kozakura, who inexplicably finds a photo of Satsuki on Sorao’s phone. When three strange people knock aggressively at her door, she whips out an enormous shotgun. Turns out it’s not overkill: the lead woman’s head swells to enormous size, threatening to swallow the two up.

In fact, maybe they do, because one moment the head is there, the next moment they’re in the Otherside. This is particularly distressing to Kozakura, a hermit who doesn’t do field work and is far from dressed properly for an Otherside excursion.

While searching for Toriko, Sorao tells Kozakura about her rather checkered past, involving a parent who was swallowed up into a cult (were those the folks at the door?), then tried to abduct her, only to end up being killed before Sorao could torch them with kerosene. She talks as if this is all the most normal backstory in the world…which it isn’t.

That said, it seems Kozakura was only included so Sorao had someone with whom to talke about her past, because Sorao soon ditches her when she starts using her special eye to discern what’s real and what’s fake. She ends up chasing another version of herself to a strange modern cell where Toriko, dressed in some kind of weird cult garment, is being held.

Toriko is entranced by a figure outside she sees as her “special someone” Satsuki, but in reality is some kind of Art Nouveau monster trying to lure her to God-knows-where. Luckily, Toriko shoots the shit out of the monster with the shotgun, causing it to collapse into itself. Toriko comes out of her trance, and the two make up.

The pace remains leisurely and the runtime is peppered with “wait, what?” moments, but the atmosphere of Otherside and the haunting music accompanying it remain a strong draw. Sorao’s still threatened by Satsuki and pretty generally scared besides, but at least now seems to realize that she and Toriko need to keep sticking together in this bizarre realm.

Attack on Titan – 66 – What You Saw That Day

Eren has Lara Tybur in the palm of his hand but isn’t able to do anything with the super-hardened crystal she’s encased in, and she initiates a last-ditch attack that immobilizes him. This gives Pieck, Porco, and Zeke a chance to rally the troops.

Pieck’s machine gun armaments are particularly effective against the Paradisians’ ODM Gear. Gabi also has a gun, and runs. Even if it looks like she’ll never be able to make the slightest dent in this chain of events, well…let’s just say that’s how it looked for one Eren Yeager many years ago.

Reiner was already begging for death before the attack began; now he’s lost the will to even wake up from unconsciousness. He was able to save Falco, but that’s as far as he’s willing to go. He’s as much paralyzed as Eren, but by choice. He was already the aggressor; what’s the point of starting the cycle over?

Eren, full of terrible purpose, tries to bite through Lara’s crystal but only ruins his Titan’s mouth. As Levi stalks the Beast Titan, Eren transfers out of the immobilized body and into a fresh Titan body. Gabi has stopped running, but still has her gun, and wants to use it. Against Eren. Against his allies. Against the demons of Paradis. Then Armin Arlert makes his appearance.

Having hidden aboard an unassuming fishing boat that drifts right into the middle of the Marleyan fleet, Armin transforms into the Colossal Titan, which we recall is a cataclysmic event in and of itself. It’s as if a massive bomb were detonated over Liberio’s waterfront.

The eerie blood-red glow calls to mind Evangelion and the God Warriors of Nausicaä—the 80s precursor to Colossal Titans. The Marleyan navy is obliterated; even the water the ships were floating is all boiled away. Armin climbs out of the Colossal, looks upon his mighty work, and despairs. This is essentially the very same sight Bertoldt Hoover saw in Shiganshima.  What’s past is prologue.

Levi takes out the Beast Titan. Sasha shoots dead one of Pieck’s gunners, then her reinforcements carpet bomb the Cart Titan. The only Marleyan Titan still in the game is Porco in Jaw, who uses his speed and agility to deliver some wounds to Eren. Only Eren uses Lara’s crystal to block one swipe, and thus Porco inadvertently teaches him how he’ll crack that particular nut.

Levi cuts Jaw’s legs off, and Eren uses him as a nutcracker. The crystal doesn’t just crack, it shatters into a million pieces; Lara is just a spray of blood, most of which Eren swallows up, thus gaining the Warhammer power. Zeke is out of commission. Pieck looks near death. Jaw himself is about to be eaten by Eren. And oh yeah, Hange Zoe has arrived via armored airship to retrieve the assault force.

All Gabi can do about this situation is call out to the only Titan left: Reiner. So she cries out to him, in an extended scene that I hope Ayane Sakura recorded in parts because it sounded painful to scream that much. Falco joins in, and their two-kid chorus reaches Reiner, even though he’d prefer if they just stayed quiet.

Reiner knows if he gets up, he’ll be giving Gabi and Falco a good chance of dying even more horribly than they might have otherwise. All the same, he can’t ignore their cries. He transforms behind Eren, interrupting his eating of Jaw. He’s not in his full armor—indeed, he already looks exhausted before raising a hand to Eren, and certainly not particularly happy to be here once more. But if certain kids won’t let him die in peace, he’ll just have to die more violently, even if those kids will rue the day they asked to be saved.

Well, that was a goddamn downer. It feels downright wrong at this point to outright root for the Paradis forces. Heck, even Mikasa and Armin look like they’d rather be anywhere else…like back on that gorgeous beach. At the same time, did they have a choice? Willy Tybur was coming for them with the full force of the Marley Titans. The majority of Eldians of Paradis don’t deserve death any more than the Eldians of the Liberio Internment Zone.

In any case, a large number of lives were going to be lost. The only question was from where those lives would be taken. There are no heroes here, and probably never were. Only warriors on both sides sacrificing their humanity to try to ensure their side suffers a little less this time around.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 15 – My Best Friend

The first group battle of the Exchange Event begins, and is ultimately notable not just for its various character pairings, but for what it lacks: Sukuna, the ultimate target of the Kyoto sorcers, barely makes a peep, and the only demon that’s slain is a small frey that got in the way of Toudou’s fist, and incidentally, saved Yuuji’s life. Even Gojou is only appears at the beginning to start the battle and at the end of the omake.

That means the episode belongs to the Tokyo and Kyoto students, and both as complete groups and once split up, they very ably and entertainingly carry the day with scene after scene of badass and/or hilarious interactions, starting with Toudou Aoi and Yuuji. Yuuji lucks out by having the same type (tall, large posterior), which temporarily sents Aoi into a kind of idyllic school drama daydream in which he gets shot down by Takada-chan but comforted by Yuuji.

They are now best friends, so when Aoi’s Kyoto classmates, led by Kamo Noritoshi, converge on Yuuji with the goal of assassinating him, Aoi uses a cursed technique to make Yuuji and Noritoshi switch places, then tells Nori and the others to buzz off. This is his fight, he’ll say when he’s done, and he’ll decide—not Nori, not the principal—whether Yuuji dies.

It’s clear the Principal has more to contend with than the threat of Sukuna if his own elite students are in such disarray. Much to Yuuji’s confusion, they scatter as Aoi commands, while their witchy comrade Momo’s air superiority is suddenly nullified by Megumi’s Nue. They were counting on her for the actual group battle part, involving locating and defeating demons.

Once the Tokyo kids realize the Kyoto kids are trying to kill Yuuji, they rethink his use as a decoy. Inumaki is sent to start exorcising, Panda and Nobara keep Momo busy, and Maki ends up with Miwa Kasumi, by far my favorite and the most “normal” person in perhaps either school.

Yuuji takes off the kid gloves and demonstrates to Aoi’s boundless joy that despite being way skinnier he packs a lot more raw power. Of course, Aoi’s gotten to the point where he can focus that power a lot better than Yuuji, and in any case has a whole bag of cursed tricks at his disposal. Aoi is having fun until his thoughts linger on how Yuuji’s Divergent Fist feels, and decides, quite loudly and emphatically, that it is WRONG.

Kasumi would really rather not kill Yuuji or anyone else, and makes it known to Maki that she’s not an asshole like the others; she just wants to do well in this event so she can get good recommendations, ascend the ladder to a well-paying position, and move out of the poorhouse with her two brothers. Maki is both admiring of Kasumi’s wholesomeness and mortified by the fact Kasumi must spend considerable time with Mai.

As for Aoi’s problem with Yuuji, he flat-out tells him it won’t be enough to defeat him, cool name, signature move or no. As soon as it starts, their BFFship is threatened. Yuuji doesn’t really care about that, but he does care about winning. He was never going to be satisfied simply buying time for his comrades. If he could hold out against a monster like Mahito, than he should be able to beat a fellow human.

I’m looking forward to more of their forest sparring, which was superbly directed and animated, as one expects of Jujutsu Kaisen by now. But the mood-lightening omake ends this week’s episode on a funny note, going through everyone’s different romantic types. Kasumi seems to put the most thought into it, and she’d be absolutely over the moon to learn that she’s exactly Gojou’s type! Great stuff.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and in reality, is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

Kemono Jihen – 03 – Good Fox Girl

This week Inugami sends Kabane to the woman he spoke to at the end of last week: Police Superintendent Inari Yoko, performed by Kana-Hana in her most imperious ojou-sama voice. Inari may as well be Empress of the Police, as she has every officer in her thrall.

Shiki and Akira escort Kabane to the Shinjuku police station, but the desk officer claims not to know about their appointment. Then a blonde girl their age with a fox-ear hoodie comes for Kabane and only Kabane, then takes him to a waiting Inari, who immediately asks to see his lifestone necklace.

Once Inari has the stone, she has the girl, Kon, slice Kabane’s head off, then has police officers seal the head in a case and take the body away for disposal. When Kabane returns to the lobby with the case, Akira and Shiki sense something is off about him.

Kon, voiced by Hanamori Yumiri (who often voices maids or other dutiful characters) lives only for Inari to tell her she’s a “good girl”, disguises herself as Kabane to shoo the other boys away. But when Shiki insults her beloved Inari-sama, she drops the disguise and prepares for a fight.

Because Kon, like her mistress, is a kitsune, she can shoot fireballs from her tail, and does so…a lot. Shiki uses his silk to pull a bunch of furniture together to form a shield, then snatches the case from Kon, who’s too concerned with burning everyone and everything to keep a firm grip on it.

Shiki opens the case to reveal the real Kabane’s head, the shock of which causes Akira to faint. Kabane instructs Shiki to throw him at Kon, and he’ll deal with her. Shiki is dubious, but sure enough Kabane is able to disable the enraged fox girl with a bite to the shoulder.

With Kon out cold, the lobby returns to normal; all the fire was just an illusion. Free from the case, Kabane grows his body back from his neck down in a very cool (but far more casual) Titan-style transformation. Shiki can’t deny Kabane got the job done and saved him and Akira, and after giving him his jacket to cover up, offers his fist for Kabane to bump…which he does wrong of course.

Inari, who thinks she just pulled off a neat little theft, watches the lifestone transform into a tanuki figurine in her hand, then gets a call from Inugami, who has just picked up the kids. He’s not surprised things went down like they did, and says she owes him for her treachery. He also warns her that the lifestone is Kabane’s, and if she tries to take it again she’ll have to deal with him.

I for one like how Inari and Inugami never got into a fight, or even showed their true forms; handling things on the phone like regular humans and threatening with words is enough to maintain their territorial balance. That said, Kon didn’t get the memo, and is still wandering the streets trying to retrieve Kabane’s head for her mistress.

Kon ends up approaching the others after they have a Kabane-welcoming meal of Chinese and pancakes, only to immediately pass out from exhaustion and hunger. Inugami brings her into the agency and feeds her pizza, but at the first sight of Kabane she lunges at him with a beheading strike.

Inugami, realizing the proper way to deal with her, tells Kon that Inari wouldn’t be happy if she knew her “good girl” wasn’t minding her manners. No standing on the table, no leaving leftover food out, and no beheading hanyos. While not technically in her thrall, Kon’s daughterly devotion to Inari is absolute, and so she behaves herself.

This episode was a lot of fun, giving the three kids more time to gel in both casual and hectic situations, introducing the adorably dutiful Kon (who is a lot like Kabane) and her haughty mama figure. I like how Shiki is slowly warming to Kabane, and if Akira had a real Twitter I’d definitely follow. This is the kind of show where your protagonist gets beheaded one afternoon, but you know he’ll probably be fine and ready for pancakes that evening.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spark in the Gloom

When the immensely popular and critically acclaimed ufotable series Demon Slayer aired between April and September of 2019…I missed out. Being highly susceptible to FOMO, when it first appeared on my Netflix home screen, I decided to dive in, buoyed by going back and catching up on the currently airing Jujutsu Kaisen.

With the first episode in the bag, I can confidently say that this is right up my alley, and I really should have cracked it open back in Spring 19. In my defence, back then I was busy watching the excellent Dororo reboot, Part 2 of Attack on Titan’s third season, and the second cour of the promising Rising of the Shield Hero, so I wasn’t just twiddling my thumbs.

That said, I’m glad I went back to check this out. While the number of characters and storylines are sure to balloon before long, I loved how simple it starts out: a boy carrying a wounded girl through a bleak wintry forest. I can’t stress that “bleak” part enough—once Kamado Tanjirou returns home to find his entire family slaughtered but one sister, I couldn’t help feel like we were entering Grave of the Fireflies territory.

I won’t spoil Grave for those who haven’t seen it; suffice it to say it’s by far the darkest and bleakest Ghibli film and one of the saddest films ever, and things don’t end well for its pair of siblings. Demon Slayer differs in that while Tanjirou and Nezuko suffer horrendous tragedy, the opening episode ends with a spark of hope that breaks through the unyielding cold.

Granted, that hope is a spark and only a spark, made possible by a titular demon slayer named Tomioka Giyuu staying his hand when it comes time to execute Nezuko. Did I mention demon blood got into her wounds, thus transforming her into a demon? Well, that’s the sitch, because it wasn’t enough that Tenjirou lose his mother and other siblings.

While this could easily have descended into tragedy porn, there’s a sense that things can’t get any worse, and that it’s always darkest before the dawn (though Tenjirou is warned to keep Nezuko out of direct sunlight). That fact is reflected in the stunningly gorgeous wintry mountain landscape, which at least started out bright and cheerful before the clouds amassed.

Tomioka admits he shares part of the blame for Tenjirou’s plight; if he’d arrived a few hours earlier he could have stopped the demons before they attacked. But he didn’t get where he is today by dwelling on the past. What keeps him from killing Nezuko is that despite most likely starving for human flesh, rather than eat her knocked-out brother, she shields him from Tomioka. Instead he places some kind of pacifier in her mouth that seems to calm her (and give her a very cute surprised expression).

So the story so far is simple and familiar: kid loses almost everything, and seeks to find and kill (or…slay) the demons responsible, and save his sister. Naturally, he’ll need to become stronger to do that, and Tomioka tells him to head to Mt. Sagiri to find a man named Urokodaki Sakonji.

ufotable, renowned for its action sequences, wows with the landscapes first, but is no slouch when it comes to the showdown with Tomioka and the Kamado siblings. The action is beautiful and precise, but not overly flashy or show-offy. Tomioka is so quick it’s as if he can teleport. Tenjirou is a lot more clumsy in his movements, as befits his desperate mood, while the demonic Nezuko is both beast-like and balletic in her strikes, leaps and lunges.

All in all, Demon Slayer is off to a stirring, enticing start, front-loading the tragedy but also presenting its hero with a chance to claw back from the brink and salvage what remains of his shattered life. I’m glad Tenjirou isn’t left all alone, and while Nezuko is a demon, and that sucks, there seems to be enough of her left that she’s not an immediate threat to him. As their quest begins, so does my quest to cover it. Better a bit late than never, eh?

Horimiya – 03 – Just a Couple of Hand-Lovers

Throughout elementary and middle school, Miyamura exuded a gloomy aura and was always the last to be picked for partners or groups, because everyone thought he was “weird”. Yet it doesn’t seem like he stayed away from others because he wanted to be. He pierced his ears in an apparent act of coping, or possibly controlling a part of his life when so much seemed outside his control.

Miyamura learned of Hori Kyouko’s existence the same day she learned of his; the two were assigned together due to their seating positions. Yuki mentions his gloominess to Hori, but once she actually meets and talks to him, she smiles declares him perfectly normal. Now, in their current state, Miyamura is a Part of the Group, with Yuki, Tooru, and Hori all pushing their desks into his without him having to move.

They’re all relieved they’re back in the same class for the new term, and Miyamura and Tooru end up going to the roof to apparently “affirm their friendship”. Tooru repeats the same descriptor of many past classmates, when he calls Miyamura “weird”, but the key difference is that he adds “but that’s okay.” Weird isn’t bad. It’s going to be okay, Miyamura thinks. He just wishes he could’ve told his younger, lonelier self.

Hori ends up at the cafeteria earlier than expected, and ends up sitting with Remi. Remi has noticed that Miyamura is “pretty hot” and asks Hori if he’s her boyfriend. When she says no, Remi asks if she can have him. When Hori doesn’t strongly object, Remi says fine, then “he’s mine”. That’s when Hori gets legitimately upset, envisioning Remi and Miyamura laughing together. She revises her position, telling Remi in no uncertain terms that Miyamura is hers and she’ll never let her have him.

With Souta now in grade school, Miyamura and Hori see less of him, which means they’re spending more time alone together. Part of that time is spent watching cheesy horror movies that Hori clearly likes getting Miyamura flustered about. But they also just hang out, talking about anything, letting their conversations peter out and not getting hung up on the lack of stuff to say.

Miyamura notices Hori’s index finger is double-jointed, something Tooru mentioned when he and Hori were comparing hands. But while Miyamura warned Tooru that he’d better not grasp her hand if he wants to live, here she gently weaves her fingers into Miyamura’s larger ones without hesitation, and quietly says “I love you”, before revising it to say she loves his hands. He tells her the feelings mutual, and as they sit there, their hands intertwined, he quietly says he loves her too.

They both heard each other. No one else needs to hear or know. Their love is right there and plain to see. It’s all over their faces, and they just fit together so perfectly and effortlessly. But school, as Miyamura once declared, remains “hard.” It’s hard because Tooru overhears Remi talking to Sakura about how Hori blew up on her for joking about taking Miyamura.

The next day, Miyamura arrives at class with a bruised cheek from a fight. Then Tooru arrives in even worse shape; I love how he’s no match for Miyamura in a scuffle, despite him asserting Miyamura was “prettier than most girls” with his hair up. Yuki pairs off with Miyamura while Hori talks to Tooru.

It started last night when Tooru told Miyamura that Hori was in love with him. When Miyamura denies this, insisting they’re still just friends, Tooru asks him what he’d say if it were Hori himself telling her…which of course we the audience just witnessed during their movie night. Their spirited verbal sparring turns physical, and Miyamura utterly squashes Tooru.

When both Tooru and Miyamura take the blame for beating each other up, Hori is perplexed, but Yuki less-so, because Miyamura told her straight up that they were fighting about Hori, but told her not to tell Hori.

If this all sounds like some drama is starting to stir, you’re not wrong. But it’s the kind of realistic drama that tends to crop up in close friend circles at school. Tooru may not be 100% opposed to Miyamura being with Hori, but it’s more Miyamura’s equivocation about their status that stokes his frustration.

Miyamura is called “weird” many times this week, with both derision with affection. In high school, a girl and guy hanging out and occasionally muttering I love you to one another and sitting in quiet bliss together and yet not outright “dating” might count as being “weird”…but it’s also okay!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 03 – Character Creation, Phase 2

While a plethora of new characters were introduced last week, this episode keeps things simple by narrowing down the ones with whom Fumiya interacts to three: Aoi, Fuuka, and Yuzu. That not only keeps things from getting too scattered but is in keeping with Aoi’s desire to figure out who is best worth Fumiya’s time and effort.

Of course, first thing’s first: making him sufficiently presentable to converse with people. That means a trip to the mall for some new threads, a new haircut, and some lunch conversation practice. Fumiya has learned from the tapes that he has a tendency to mutter; Aoi tells him to use fewer words and rely more on gestures and tone to convey his emotions.

Quite by surprise, Fuuka is a waitress at the restaurant where they have lunch. Refreshingly, Fuuka doesn’t seem necessarily threatened by seeing them together, nor does she assume they’re on a date—she simply hadn’t pegged them as being friends material. Based on little details she noticed during their encounter, Aoi is convinced that Fuuka should be the “first heroine” Fumiya should pursue in his “playthrough.”

At their next meeting, Fumiya proudly reports that one of his small goals was achieved: his sister noticed he was putting more effort into his appearance. While Fumiya feels like he’s relying on “cheats” like dressing like the store mannquin or getting his hair done, Aoi insists that because he’s trusting in her and doing as she says, he deserves at least some of the credit for his success.

That said, Aoi isn’t going to start going easy on him. His next goal is to go somewhere alone with a girl who isn’t her. His related task for the week is to talk to Izumi Yuzu at least twice a day. Why Yuzu and not Fuuka? Because, as Aoi points out, real life isn’t a dating sim. Raising “affection levels” of one girl can raise them for all, along with increasing their innate possessiveness.

Fumiya is still weary that he’s not being “sincere”, but Aoi tells him it’s too early in his progress to worry about that. He’ll cross that bridge when he’s in a more serious relationship. For now, he needs “ins”, however he can get them. Things don’t go too smoothly with Yuzu at first; topics he chooses tend to lead to awkward conversational dead ends. But he keeps at it, and his quota for the week is eventually filled.

While in the library pretending to read a random book while coming up with TackFam strategies, Fumiya is approached by Fuuka, who notices the author he’s pretending to read is her favorite. Fumiya doesn’t correct her, and Fuuka ends up confessing something she’s never told anyone: she’s working on a novel, and would love it if he (and only he) read it sometime.

It’s a lovely little exchange because it’s the first of its kind fo Fuuka as well as Fumiya. Kayano Ai really sells Fuuka’s warmth and quiet enthusiasm, and Fuuka really does seem like a suitable person for Fumiya to pursue, and he has the perfect “in”.

As Aoi reiterates, it’s still too early to worry about “sincerity”; she can tell he’ll use it as an excuse to run away if she lets him. While he filled his quota in talking to Yuzu twice a day for a week, he may feel like he failed, like a battle he loses that results in KO and Game Over.

But unlike games of that kind, in the game of life you gain as much if not more XP by losing than by winning, so you’re better off keeping up the fight than starting over from scratch. That assertion really speaks to the gamer in Fumiya. The losses he tallied against Yuzu weren’t in vain; they got him to at least Level 3, and he can use what he learned from those failures to succeed with Fuuka.

But then life throws him for a loop when he spots Yuzu sitting alone and looking somewhat down. Remembering Aoi’s advice for him to mention something about her clothes or face, Fumiya tactlessly tells Yuzu she looks “gloomy”, but she doesn’t storm off. In fact, she just keeps looking gloomy, and even gets to the point that tears are welling in her eyes when she comes right out and asks him to teach her how to play TackFam.

I don’t believe this is the same kind of “in” as Fuuka’s secret novel reading—it’s possible Yuzu wants to learn to play so she can play with another boy she’s interested in, or maybe she just wants to learn TackFam, period. But the fact Fumiya reached out to her so much in the last week made him a viable person for Yuzu approach with such a request. So it could be an overture for a friendship. We shall see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 14 – Meet Bizarro Jujutsu Tech

As Jougo and Mahito plan to attack Jujutsu High to secure Yuuji, the Kyoto team arrives in Tokyo for the Exchange Event. Aoi, Mai and Miwa Kasumi we’ve already met, but they are joined by the haughty Kamo Noritoshi, the witch-like Nishimiya Momo, and the robot-like Ultimate Mechamaru, who seems to be Kyoto’s version of Panda: a character who simply will not be explained further.

Between all the introductions (we also meet their head teacher Iori Utahime) and Gojou handing out souvenirs, and the start of the competition, Yuuji’s return is kind of lost in the shuffle. Sure, he pops out of a box, but the looks on Megumi and Nobara’s face are less elation and more…mortification?

While I’m sure they’re glad he’s back, Megumi doesn’t show it, while Nobara expresses her joy through anger. All I’ll say is fantastic to see the three finally reunited. It’s even treated as a meta gag that they were apart way too long, though I guess it’s only been about two months total.

With the Tokyo team now at six members to match Kyoto’s, the two teams are informed of the first group battle, involving the exorcism of a second-grade cursed spirit released in a designated area, supplemented by various third- and lower-grade curses. Whoever exorcises the second-grade, or failing that, exorcises the most total curses wins. There are no other rules, so you can bet it will be a free-for-all.

Kyoto’s Principal Gakuganji is not happy Yuuji is still alive, and immediately orders his students to kill him at the first opportunity. Some, like Kamo, are eager to kill him anyway as he deems it unacceptable for someone of such low breeding to be a Jujutsu Tech student. Others, like Miwa, don’t like the idea of having to kill a fellow student. And then there’s Toudou, who just wants to watch his tall idol on TV.

Still, most if not all of them will presumably follow their principal’s orders and go after Yuuji. Since Yuuji remains hesitant to harm fellow humans, this will be a test of how all-out he’ll go. Perhaps, as Nanami has said, “moderate effort will suffice” here, but considering Aoi’s power alone, I really doubt it.

At any rate, if all of Kyoto is focused on Yuuji, that gives the other Tokyo kids ample room to breathe. Using him as a decoy could be the key to victory. Sadly, I won’t be able to find out for a couple days, since now I’m all caught up!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 13 – What Is a Proper Death?

Yuuji is in the fight of his life, but he’s also in the middle of a lecture. Nanami may not be a teacher, but he’s still going to coach up the young buck so he doesn’t get himself killed. Yuuji, for his part, pays attention. He’s not the kind of hero who’s going to defy his sensei because he thinks he knows better or thinks he’s strong enough.

Nanami’s plan with Mahito is simple: wait for an opening, then rain blows upon him with Yuuji. It takes a little under four minutes, but the two jujutsu sorcerers eventually get the timing right, and then it’s open season. That’s when Mahito plays dirty, unleashing a trio of deformed humans on Yuuji, knowing he doesn’t have the heart to kill them.

Only, to Mahito’ surprise, he does. It happens offscreen, but Yuuji deals with the humans before they kill him. That’s when Mahito decides to push all his chips into the pot with Domain Expansion, engulfing only Nanami while Yuuji is trapped outside. Nanami, all but certain this is the end for him, looks back on how he got back into sorcery in the first place.

We watch him live his life in a pinstripe suit stealing money from wealthy people in order to make other people wealthier. It’s a job he’s good at but gives him no joy, and he believes no one would miss him if he simply ceased to exist. Then, when a cute young woman at the bakery has a low-level curse on her shoulder, he exorcises it, she thanks him profusely, and he decides right then and there to give Gojou a call.

Of course, while more rewarding and a better use of his time and talents, jujutsu sorcery was always going to be a higher-risk proposition. Mahito thanks Nanami for getting him to unleash his domain, but Mahito isn’t interested in the gratitude of a curse. He’s gotten enough thanks from people like the bakery lady that he has no regrets.

Only before Mahito can do Nanami in, Yuuji successfully busts through the domain from the outside, which is far easier than trying to break out. Because Yuuji is the vessel for Sukuna’s soul and Yuuji is now within Mahito’s domain, Mahito touches Sukuna’s soul a second time, and Sukuna punishes him—a flick of his hand puts a gaping gash across Mahito’s chest.

With his cursed energy depleted from summoning the domain, Mahito puts everything he’s got left into making himself as big and fat as possible. Yuuji proceeds to put everything he has into a Divergent Fist, which pops Mahito like a balloon, but crucially does not kill him. He’s able to slip back into the sewers. Nanami has his colleague Ito try to track him down, while Yuuji passes out from exertion and his many wounds.

When Yuuji wakes up he’s back at the school, specifically the morgue, where he reflects on the human life he was forced to take, and how it led to the realization that while he’s been trying to ensure everyone gets a “proper death”, he has no idea what that is. Nanami has news for him: no one does. All he knows is there will be many more people like him who will need him, so he’d better not die improperly himself.

Back at the late Yoshino Junpei’s high school, the lead bully Itou is called out by his peers filling out surveys, and the ineffectual teacher who looked the other way for so long develops a spine. He knows both he and Itou bear the crime of killing Yoshino’s heart, and will have to keep bearing it the rest of their lives. While Junpei died far too early, his death wasn’t without purpose.

Meanwhile, Yuuji is back on his feet and above ground at Jujutsu High, meeting Nanami and Gojou in the hall as a full-fledged jujutsu sorcerer. While Mahito & Co. will surely go after him in hopes of releasing Sukuna (who Mahito believes can singlehandedly usher in the “Age of Curses”), his more immediate concerns are reuniting with Megumi and Nobara (at last!) and participation in the Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event.

As for this episode, I consider it the best of Jujutsu Kaisen yet, an absolute tour-de-force of combat animation and sakuga, staging, pacing, atmosphere, peril, and sweet, sweet near-victory. Nanami’s backstory was well-timed, efficient, and effective at giving the guy some dimension, while Mahito remained an entertaining adversary to the bitter near-end.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 12 – Shape of the Heart

Last week barreled through a rapidly-created friendship between Yuuji and Yoshino Junpei, yet despite that story being told at breakneck speed, it still worked; i was still emotionally invested, and like Yuuji was dearly hoping Junpei could be saved.

Granted, that wasn’t going to happen without a little bit of tough love in the form of a physical showdown between the two. At first glance Junpei seems as bad a matchup with Yuuji as Mahito vs. Nanami: he can use his jellyfish shikigami to dull Yuuji’s blunt-force blows.

Well…until he can’t, and Yuuji punches the shit out of the jellyfish. Junpei tries to explain while he fights why what he’s doing is right and just, but like myself Yuuji wasn’t really listening, and in any case isn’t buying what Junpei is selling about nobody having hearts, or people being free to kill those who wronged them.

But when Junpei breaks out the jellyfish cutlery, Yuuji fails to dodge on purpose, because he realizes he’s dismissing Junpei’s point of view from a place of ignorant privilege. Especially considering how short a time he’s known Junpei, Yuuji admits he doesn’t know the full story about what’s going on…which is why he stops fighting and asks Junpei to tell him.

Once he does, Yuuji suggests Junpei come to Jujutsu Tech with him, not only to hone his abilities, but to find out who cursed his mom and bring them to justice the right way. Junpei might even have been receptive to such an offer, as he’d no longer have to attend the school where he’s so horribly bullied. Alas, it’s not his call…it’s Mahito’s.

Mahito arrives with all his usual immaturity, vivaciousness and swagger that make him Gojou’s cursed spirit counterpart. Without hesitation, he uses Idle Transformation on Junpei, transforming him into a grotesque monster that called to mind both Made in Abyss Attack on Titan, and of course Parasyte: The Maxim.

It was one thing to see a curse sneak up on Junpei’s mom; her death happened off-camera. But to see Yuuji’s new friend, someone who was just a kid being led down the wrong path by a literal curse, cruelly disfigured beyond repair was f-ing hard to watch. The transformed Junpei attacks Yuuji, who tells Sukuna that he’ll do or give up anything if only he heals him…and Sukuna refuses.

This shocks Mahito, whose entire plan (or rather Getou’s) was to back Yuuji into a corner so he’d have no choice but to form a pact with Sukuna, whereupon Mahito and his friends would introduce themselves to the King of Curses and seek an alliance in the war against humanity. Instead, Yuuji remains Yuuji, and Junpei dies (from the shock of the transformation) while clutching his friend.

From that point on, Yuuji has HAD it with Mahito, explodes with shounen energy and starts whaling on the guy. Of course, physical attacks are of limited efficacy against a curse that can change his physical shape at will, but that first punch makes Mahito’s nose bleed, which is something.

Unfortunately, Mahito has something for Yuuji too; part of being able to change his shape means he can transform into any number of frightening weapons, from a chain of razor-sharp blades to piercing spikes large and small that riddle the reckless Yuuji with holes.

Throughout this fight, in which Mahito hangs in there in a rather bemused state, still feels he can salvage the plan. Yuuji made clear he doesn’t want to exorcise Mahito, he wants to kill him, so if he can’t kill him alone, he’ll have no choice but to switch out with Sukuna.

Mahito is even fully prepared to transform every student in the school until Yuuji is enraged enough to switch out. However, when Mahito gets an opening, he can’t resist trying to use Idle Transformation on someone who is “aware of the outline of their soul”, as Yuuji is.

It doesn’t go well. Rather than touch Yuuji’s soul and transform him, Mahito is shunted to Sukuna’s Innate Domain, where Sukuna sits upon his giant throne of bones, looks down on a frightened Mahito, and gravely warns the “fool” to “know his place.” He’ll let him off with trying to touch his soul once, since they both shared a laugh at Yuuji and Junpei’s expense. But ther won’t be a second time.

Mahito ends up back in the outside world, and his failed technique opens him up to a series of brutal skull-crushing headbutts from a committed Yuuji. Mahito stops playing around and slips out of Yuuji’s hold, and is about to bash him with a giant cudgel arm when Nanami swoops in to absorb the blow.

Next, Nanami asks for a report from Yuuji, and is irritated when Yuuji reports that he couldn’t save two people (Junpei and his mom) before reporting on his own physical status. To Nanami and many other sorcerers, looking after oneself trumps worrying about others. I’m sure he hopes it’s something he can exorcise from Yuuji, but for now, he recognizes that he’s still just a kid. A kid full of holes.

Now that a capital-A Adult has arrive at the scene, we’ve arrived at the beginning of the endgame to the Mahito battle. Nanami has already determined his attacks are ineffective, but he is able to limit his movement. Combined with Yuuji’s ability to make him bleed, hopefully the two of them working together can defeat the patchwork curse…or at least force him to retreat. If not, heck…maybe they’ll get a surprise assist from Gojou.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 15 – Leaving the Nest

Nino insists Fuutarou take a shower to thoroughly wash off the river, but mostly wanted someone to talk to and break the monotony of her solitary hotel life…plus she felt bad that he looked so depressed! She gets Fuutarou to tell the full story of his encounter with Kyoto Mystery Girl…which lasted far longer than I had originally thought!

Sleep-deprived or not, there’s virtually no way “Rena” was a hallucination, yet remains an baffling enigma. She asks him to tell her about the students he’s tutoring as if she’s not one of them, but then why does she not only look just like one of them, but blushes when he describes them one by one with perfect accuracy?

Rena tells Fuutarou he seems like someone who is “needed” now, and takes her leave, returning his student ID but keeping the photo of them, because, as she says, “they’ll never meet again.” She tosses him a rolled fortune and tells him to open it when he’s learned to “accept” himself. When he tries to follow her, he falls out of the boat and into the river.

The story moves Nino to tears, and she assures him “at least one person on this planet” would fall for an “insensitive guy” like him. Right on cue, she notices he’s wearing nothing but a tiny towel and is scandalized…yet can’t help peer through her fingers! Fuu learns she taped his study packet back together and has been working on it.

She apologizes to Fuu for her behavior, but won’t go home and make up with Itsuki, who had never slapped her before. Itsuki, meanwhile, has become way too comfortable at the Uesugi residence for Fuu’s taste. The next day, Fuu shows up at Nino’s hotel again, and she tells him about how she feels like her four sisters flew away from their nest, leaving only her behind—it’s why she keeps her hair the same length it was five years ago.

Fuu tells Nino that you can’t change how people change, but have to accept that change and whatever it brings. One part of Nino’s past she isn’t ready to forget is her brief time with Fuu’s cousin “Kintarou,” so she changes gears by having Fuu arrange for them to meet again.

A classic sitcom scenario then plays out, with Fuu having to spend the day with Nino as Kintarou and answering her phone calls for advice about his “cousin”. He slips up more than once, calling Nino by her first name, letting slip he knows she’s a good cook, then finally telling her he doesn’t care about their exams, but just wants the five of them back together.

Nino doesn’t ever let on that she knows Kintarou is Fuu in disguise until he’s ready to confess. She claims to Fuu at the first-floor café that she thinks Kintarou was about to ask her out. She then holds out her hand to give him a handshake of gratitude, only to pull up his sleeve to reveal the bracelet she just returned to Kintarou.

Whether Nino thinks the previous Kintarou she met was the real one, or she knew Fuu was Kintarou all along isn’t 100% clear, but what is clear as day is her expression of hurt and disappointment, which is the last thing Fuu sees before succumbing to the drug she slipped in his iced coffee. While it was played for laughs when she drugged him in the first season, it hits different here, especially after the heart-to-hearts they’ve had since then.

It’s an abrupt end to the Nino storyline, as she ends up checking out of the hotel, leaving Fuu in the lurch. I do wish he had had the chance to make clear there never was any Kintarou and properly ask for forgiveness, but Nino seems to have made her own ruling on the matter, and so we move on to the other sisters.

After forcing Itsuki to wake up on time (she forgets where she is and thinks Nino is trying waking her), the two of them try to get a bead on Yotsuba’s situation with the track team. Her coach doesn’t care about exams, and is willing to use Yotsuba as long as she lets herself be used…which is always.

Fuu has to resort to running with Yotsuba while quizzing her, ultimately resulting in him tripping over his own feat and into Yotsuba’s caring arms. She uses that as an excuse to get him to stop running. Then we learn Ichika also wants to help her little sister, even going so far as to brush her teeth like she used to do when they were little.

Ichika makes it clear that as the eldest, she wants to be there for Yotsuba and the others, and furthermore, tells Yotsuba it’s okay to quit if she wants. Yotsuba seems to want to quit, but doesn’t think she can, because it would mean causing trouble for the team.

Little does Yotsuba know that Ichika has been on the phone with Fuu and Itsuki throughout their conversation. She tells them she’ll be meeting with the track coach tomorrow. Hopefully the three of them working together can help “free” Yotsuba from a prison of obligation.

As for Miku, she arrives at Nino’s new hotel, having worn Nino’s spare butterfly ribbons to pass as her sister. Fuu had his change to try to bring Nino back into the fold and only got her angry by pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Now it’s time for Miku to have a go!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode Three Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Nino: Not much of a contest here. Nino totally ruled the roost this week. We got Caring Nino, Sensitive Nino, Real-Talk-with-Fuu Nino, Crushing-on-Kintarou Nino, and, most controversially, the return of Criminal Nino. Don’t drug people! Total Points: 14 (1st)
  2. Itsuki: Total Points: 12 (2nd) Not as much screentime as last week, but it’s clear she’s become a capable, productive surrogate member of the Uesugi family, yet is also capable of faces like this upon waking up:
  3. Yotsuba: Nice to see number four again! Unfortunately, she’s pretty one-note, with her usual conflict of trying to please too many people. Total Points: 6 (Tied for 4th)
  4. Ichika: That was the most, uh, interesting toothbrushing scene since Nisemonogatari. Glad to see Ichika actively trying to help Yotsuba rather than continuing to float above everything. Total Points: 7 (3rd)
  5. Miku: Yout can’t score points if you don’t show up! Total Points: 6 (Tied for 4th)

Rena (Unranked): The show wants me to think she’s a sixth and separate person, but I still don’t know what to think. I was intrigued by the fact Nino is the only quint to retain her original hair length from five years ago. Could Rena be Nino in disguise, getting back at Fuu for his Kintarou deception? To be continued…