Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 05 – Black Cod

After the Tateyama crew are introduced to Valkyrie Amatsuka “Big Sis” Yayoi and her Shield Squadron, they all bathe together (in an extremely indulgent but lavishly animated scene of fanservice) with the exception of Sonoka, who seems to have bad blood with Yayoi.

Amatsuka is typically assigned to where the fighting is heaviest, and this time that’s the Fuji Primary Pillar, due to be attacked shortly after it enters its dormant state. Tateyama is the stage for the decisive battle for Japan, and this week is the calm before the storm.

Claudia and Azu visit Odin, who is a picture of confidence as he beats Azu in a Street Fighter II-like video game featuring pilots from the show. He admits that Claudia was also transferred here in preparation for the big Primary Pillar fight, since she’s a Named, and Japan lost theirs (Ortlinde). He also tells Azu that while her mind is a “gem”, she’s “mediocre” as a Valkyrie. I wouldn’t be surprised if Azu remains a Valk nevertheless due to Miko.

The next day, the five Valkyries have a meal at a popular spot; the last big meal they’ll have before the coming battle. Miko intends to mend fences between Yayoi and Sonoka, but it doesn’t go well. Yayoi also teases Azu by pretending to claim Miko as a wife. As for Claudia, she blindly orders a black cod, but is able to resolutely power through the gigantic fatty fish, impressing Yayoi.

Sonoka seeks refuge in the commander’s office, and we see that on his desk is the previous Tateyama squadron, composed of her, Yayoi, Ortlinde, and a redhead I can’t place. Obviously something went down, and Sonoka blames Yayoi for it. As for the commander, like the other adults he simply wallows in despair for having to deploy such young kids to fight the Pillars.

Later that night, everyone assembles in the control tower to see if the Primary Pillar goes dormant, which it does right on time. That said, as soon as they attack it, it will wake up and start fighting back. They’ll have a slight window of surprise when it will be defenseless, so they’ll have to hit it with all they’ve got. I for one can’t help but be worried about any one of the Valkyries—the death flag-wreathed Miko in particular.

DanMachi III – 05 – Being Made to Cross a Dangerous Bridge

Dix’s party ends up overwhelming and making quick work of the Xenos protecting Wiene before Dix himself captures her. He even lets the grunts have their way with Ranieh the spider woman, but she kills herself before they can do anything. Ya know, just in case we needed confirmation that Dix’s men are not good people!

The Gargoyle Gros is furious and demands vengeance. He destroys the bauble connecting Lyd to Fels, washing his monster hands of the humans for good. He convinces most of the other Xenos around into action, but Lyd and Rei (who’s still alive; Dix used a different siren as bait) aren’t among them, and follow in hopes of stopping Gros from undoing all of the progress they’ve made.

Human-Monster relations are all about appearances and experiences. Bell may have learned that despite looking monstrous the Xenos are thinking, feeling beings that aren’t united in a singular will to harm humans. But Ais Wallenstein has grown up defeating any monsters who would make any humans cry.

When they were last together, Ais and Bell were on pretty good terms, agreeing to visit that village together someday. But here Bell can already sense her lack of inflexibility or nuance when it comes to monsters. She’s always been a very straightforward person in other matters, so it will be tough for him to convince her some monsters are actually good.

Convincing Ais to join his pro-Xenos coalition becomes that much more difficult when the Guild sounds a citywide emergency alert: Livira on the Eighteenth Floor has been attacked and leveled by “armed monsters”, immediately followed by orders forbidding all citizens, even adventurers, from entering the Dungeon until further notice.

It’s an order from Ouranos himself, not wanting to further escalate the human-Xenos violence. Instead he devises a lighter-touch response involving a Ganesha Familiar suppression force (not kill squad), while also ensuring Bell, possibly the most reliable bridge between the sides, will join that force.

One by one we check in on the major familiae of the city and see how they all react. Loki is certain this is only the beginning and eventually they’ll all be drawn into the fighting; Freya seems intrigued that the Guild is keeping her fam out of it; Hermes is worried about Bell, and so has Asfi summon Aisha, who then convinces Ryuu to accompany her. I for one am always up for Aisha-Ryuu pair-ups!

Dix has what he wants—Wiene in chains—but he doesn’t seem to fully grasp or care exactly what he’s done. By slaughtering Wiene’s escort, he invoked Gros’ rage, and shattered any hope of Gros ever coming around to Lyd and Rei’s way of thinking regarding human coexistence. As for Ikelos, he seems elated his familia has created a waking nightmare.

Bell prepares to enter the Dungeon with the Ganesha Familia, who have orders to tame, not kill, the armed monsters. His role is much tougher, as he must try to re-establish a dialogue with the Xenos while they’re being attacked by Ganesha’s forces.

Just as he and his Familia alone aren’t enough to convince all humans, Lyd and Rei aren’t enough to convince all Xenos. At least he’ll have backup in Aisha, Ryuu, and who knows who else…and I’m sure he’ll be needing it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 05 – Any Old Ring Will Do

Tsukasa and Nasa’s marital bliss is suddenly, sharply interrupted by Tsukasa’s realization that Nasa doesn’t own a television. On one level, that’s quite admirable for a studious young man; on the other, if he’s going to be married to Tsukasa, there’s going to have to be a TV in the house, because she’s a TV and movie buff, with particular enthusiasm for the oeuvre of one James Cameron. But like her futon, she doesn’t need the best; a god cheap TV will do just fine.

While waiting for Tsukasa at the baths, Nasa tells Kaname that he proposed, though they don’t have rings yet. Kaname stops Nasa before he spews one of the three main husband clichés she so wonderfully proceeds to recite: that their wife doesn’t care about fancy trips, going out for fancy food, or fancy jewelry. Yet when Tsukasa emerges fresh from the bath, both she and Nasa exchange looks that suggest rings really aren’t necessary.

Nasa has to go in to work, which means leaving Tsukasa alone for the day. He feels bad about this, and can sense that she’s feeling a little lonely when they stop to sit on a lakeside bench in the park. That’s when the two both lean in for a long, sweet kiss—just as Chitose’s maids are ready to pounce on them anew. Where this scene kicks so much ass is that the kiss isn’t interrupted at the last second, and the maids don’t interfere. In fact, they aren’t seen again!

Instead, the balance of the episode centers on Nasa’s insistence he procure not one or two but three rings—an engagement ring for Tsukasa and wedding bands for the two of them—to serve as reminders of one another and symbols of their enduring love. The ever-practical Tsukasa only sees it as a waste of money…but just how much money remains unknown to Nasa.

She takes him to the fanciest jewelry store in a fancy district to try to dissuade him from his crusade, but Nasa harbors the foolish belief the brilliance and cost of the diamond must be proportional to the amount of love he feels for Tsukasa. The attendant’s sales pitch is so strong he almost liquidates all his assets. Worse still, when Tsukasa takes him to a budget jewelry store, he starts to think ¥680,000 is “cheap”—which I guess it is, after seeing ¥9,000,000 rings!

When Tsukasa discovers that Tsukasa is doing this far for her, so she won’t be lonely, she kisses him and tells him, essentially, that if they absolutely must have diamond wedding rings, the cheapest ones will do. They settle on a pair costing a total of ¥32,000—which is still a lot of money for “little rocks!”

But Nasa need not despair that the rings aren’t worthy of symbolizing their love. Tsukasa tells him every time she’ll look at her new ring she’ll remember the day he bought it for her, how kind he is, and how much he takes care of her, and those thoughts will make give the ring a surpassing shine that won’t fade. Nasa never had to buy the moon for Tsukasa. It’s the thought—and his love—that counts!

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 05 – Any Gift Will Do

This week’s AL:B takes on a distinct slice-of-life flavor, no better illustrated than Yoshimura Thi Mai napping in the shade of a tree so peacefully, a cat Andou Tasuza was chasing curls up on her belly. The episode tries to draw out the uncertainty of Thi Mai and Tasuza being the two final pieces of Riri’s nine-Lily Legion, but the OP already erased any doubt.

Rather than focus on Riri, Kaede, and Fumi’s attempts to woo Thi and Taz, the episode pivots to Yuyu. She learns by chance when Fumi fires up a vintage tablet that Riri’s birthday is tomorrow. Between the spinning 3D model of Riri and the continued use of name tags for characters, it’s clear AL:B wants to sell some figures, but it was still fun to watch Riri try to run from her AR stats.

Yuyu thinks Riri has given her so much, it’s time to give back, especially on her birthday, but is concerned about giving too random or modest a gift. She talks with everyone but Riri, who has since gotten to know her better, and two facts become clear: that she’ll be happy with any gift Yuyu gives her, and that Riri loves Ramune. Only problem is, the store only sells Ramune candy; Yuyu would prefer to get some of the genuine article.

This leads to Yuyu taking a solitary odyssey to Riri’s hometown the next day. The dialogue-free traveling sequence is gorgeous to behold, and captures both the beauty of the world and, finally, the general peril of ordinary citizens, as Riri’s town is in a constant state of evacuation. Still, there are cold Ramunes for sale at the konbini, and when Yuyu samples one, it’s like learning a little more about her Schild.

Yuyu buys two more and keeps them chilled in a mini-cooler, but when she encounters two thirsty little kids at a station, she gives them both away like the kind and generous Lily she is. Upon returning to the station nearest the academy, she runs into Thi and Tax chasing cats, but can’t very well go lecturing them considering her trip.

Then they notice something glintnig behind some ivy, and discover a hidden Ramune vending machine that was in power-save mode. Now Yuyu can give Riri some Ramune. She might think her whole day-long trip was for nothing, but she ends up clinching Thi and Taz’s decision to join the Legion.

The nine Lilies assemble to celebrate Riri’s birthday, and as expected, she’s elated by Riri’s gift, but amusingly assumes she just went down by the station to buy it, rather than all the way to her hometown. The only other thing Riri wants is, well, Yuyu, and Yuyu offers herself up for a hug, before Yuyu shows how inexperienced she is at hugging back.

With nine members to the Legion and Riri happy on her birthday, Yuyu is flying high that night…until her roommate brings up the fact that the academy is investigating whether Riri’s Rare Skill is “Charisma”, an ability that draws everyone towards her and makes her a natural leader.

This doesn’t sit well with Yuyu, who contemplates whether what she feels for Riri is simply a matter of eating out of Riri’s hand as a result of some power, and not her genuine feelings. With a huge Huge battle coming up, her lingering conflict is sure to be as much a factor as the cohesion of the new Legion.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 05 – Two Not of a Kind

This week the timeline resets back to June 12, long before everyone starts murdering each other. In fact, until the very end of the episode there’s barely a hint of dread to be found here. A lot of time is spent literally playing games at a store. Like the first episode, this is largely table-setting.

Keiichi is saddled with The Game of Life, which unlike his fellow club members’ games, is predominantly luck-based. When Mion, Rena, Satoko and Rika all win their games, Kei decides to win by making a deal with the two younger boys he’s playing with, both of whom like Satoko and Rika, respectively.

The shop’s owner, who is Mion’s uncle, gives everyone gifts for helping to boost the day’s game sales. Keiichi ends up with a western-style doll, and following Rika’s advice, gives it to Mion, who is surprisingly flustered and bashful about receiving it.

The next day, Kei’s dad takes him to a restaurant where all the waitresses are in fantasy cosplay. To his shock, he finds Mion working there—but she reveals she isn’t Mion, she’s Mion’s twin sister Shion, who seems to appreciate Kei’s praise for how she’s rocking her outfit.

Since Shion was so familiar with Keiichi, there’s a distinct possibility she and Shion pose as one another, so from that point on I kept wondering who was who while interacting with Keiichi. When he praises Shion’s outfit, Mion blushes, and while Mion goes to her part-time job, it’s apparently Shion who comes to Keiichi’s house to drop off some dinner.

Throughout this, Keiichi is kind of a jerk in how he treats Mion as somehow “rougher” or more “tomboyish” than Shion…but even he can’t be certain with which twin he’s been interacting, nor could he know how good Shion is at acting like Mion, or vice versa.

At school the next day, Kei returns the dishes to Mion, whom everyone notes is acting more “kind and gentle” than usual. Rena ends up giving Keiichi a friendly reminder not to always tell a book by its cover. When Kei asks what he’s to make of that warning given Rena’s “cover”, she changes the subject.

That said, Rena notably maintains her “cute” Rena persona, never betraying any kind of malice as she did in the previous arc. It could be that instead of Rena, it’s Mion, or rather the Sonozaki Twins Keiichi will have to watch out for.

That brings us to the foreboding yet cryptic ending: when Keiichi is distracted by the restaurant where he met Shion, he stumbles into a row of motorcycles, angering their delinquent owners, who seem to be itching for a fight.

Just when they seem poised to start roughing him up, they’re stopped by a suddenly very pissed-off and assertive Mion…or is it Shion? Whoever it is, they tell the three punks to piss off, and when they move to challenge her, they’re surrounded by dozens of ordinary townsfolk, all wearing the same hostile expression as her.

Is this simply a factor of there being so many Sonozakis in the town? Does Mion/Shion have some kind of power to bring allies to her side? Is she a secret delinquent with more clout than these three grunts? Which twin even is it, considering we’ve apparently seen both “normal” and “reserved” versions of Mion? Could it be we never really met the real Mion until now?

Adachi & Shimamura – 04 – The Joy of Being Patted on the Head

Shimamura calls Adachi to ask if she can do a sit-up. It’s a weird and random conversation, but who cares? They’re enjoying talking on the phone together; the content doesn’t matter. Then Shimamura goes to the gym with her mom and encounters Adachi’s mom talking about her daughter.

Shimamura can’t stop herself from speaking up for her friend, questioning whether her mom really knows what she’s talking about. Mirroring her own mom’s tendency to act younger than she is, Shimamura ends up challenging Adachi to a sauna duel to determine who is right.

While Adachi’s mom is initially hostile, she admits she doesn’t know what’s going through her kid’s head. She just wishes she did. In this, the two are alike. When asked for suggestions on how to be a better mom, Shimamura says she should just be normal: have dinner with her once in a while.

Adachi’s mom ends up doing just that, which Shimamura learns as she’s resting her head in Adachi’s lap. Turns out this was odd enough behavior from her mom for Adachi to be too anxious to taste the food her mom made. Shimamura snuggles closer to Adachi, who is demure. Then they do sit-ups!

Shimamura reaches out to Adachi to hang out with her and her friends at karaoke. Shimamura’s mom raised her not to be a burden to others, but it’s Adachi who feels she’ll affect the “harmony” of Shimamura’s three-girl group. Shimamura insists that won’t be the case, and Adachi agrees to the date.

When Adachi arrives on her bike and spots Shimamura’s cute outfit, the two look like a perfect couple. Shimamura’s other two friends are warm and friendly to Adachi, but things still feel “off” to her. She senses that while Shimamura is better at social situations, she doesn’t like them anymore than Adachi.

The two sing a beautiful duet and then prepare to head home, but Adachi offers to give Shimamura a ride on her bike, and Shimamura accepts. Adachi is blushing the whole trip, completely on top of the world to have Shimamura behind her, her hands on her shoulders.

Shimamura suggests a detour to a nearby playground and buys them drinks. Earlier, while underwater in the pool, the vivid aqua color reminded Shimamura of Adachi’s favorite brand mineral water, but the machine closest to them didn’t sell it.

When Shimamura finally draws close and asks Adachi if she has something she wants to talk about, Adachi is initially silent. After all, there isn’t just something she wants to say; a great number of things have piled up inside her, but she’s held them all back for fear of making things “weird” between them. Even so, something comes out: “I want you to pat my head.”

Adachi thinks she’s totally blown it, but then Shimamura pats her head! She pats it slowly and gently, and Adachi has never been happier. Shimamura again notes that Adachi likes to be coddled, and while that’s true, her little request shouldn’t be taken to mean she wants a Big Sis. She wants to be someone special to Shimamura…even if it’s weird.

That head-pat all but clinches it for Adachi: she must like her. Rather than let Shimamura toss her empty off-brand drink can, Adachi keeps it as a memento of that moment of clarity. If Shimamura ever ends up in that room, maybe she’ll see it, and understand. And maybe laugh, too…but good-naturedly!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 04 – The Kickass Express

As expected once the Shinkansen took off from Kansai Station, the action and difficulty level of the heist kicks into a higher gear. The train is hurtling towards an “Ultimate Quarantine Zone”, and if that doesn’t kill them, the sweep that eliminates all organic material before the Kanto gate certainly will. Oh, and the Master and Pupil have hopped aboard.

With so many different ways to die, the shrinking of the setting to a long but relatively narrow tube makes for some excellent action set pieces. Without a lot of space for lateral movement, there’s a lot of people punching, kicking, or tossing their opponents across the length of a carriage.

Brawler and Cutthroat fight Master and Pupil with Doctor offering occasional support and Hoodlum, um, cheering on his kyoudai. Ordinary Person and Black Cat watch Hacker’s back as he hacks one lock after another to reach the next carriage. Each lock gets more complex, so it feels like a game for him.

Indeed, everyone seems to take the unexpected setbacks and increased difficulty level in stride, thriving off the increased challenges. That’s with the exception of the lazy and childish Cutthroat, who just wants to see blood, but even Master can’t help but be impressed by his natural fighting skills.

Thanks to the weekly Bunny & Shark informational segments, we learn more about how and why the Shinkansen operates, while Hacker and Ordina’s progress reveals passenger carriages, meaning the train either used to transport people to and from Kanto, or once did and no longer does. After the mostly metal and mechanical freight carriages, the lavishly-appointed, wood-paneled carriages are a lovely visual change of pace.

Once Courier finally gets to his bike, he points its railgun forward to destroy the defense drones, then points it back at the Executioners, slicing their carriage off from the front of the train. This exposes everyone to the Zone briefly, but Doctor uses a quick-solidifying foam to seal the breach. Like last week, some members are more important roles than others, but everyone is needed and everyone contributes, with both actions and wry banter.

They finally reach the front carriage, which has an appropriate “final stage” aesthetic with its clean off-white bulkheads. Hacker breaks through all the locks he can, but the final one requires a seal he doesn’t have. That’s when the Black Cat disintegrates, revealing it was the seal all along. Ordina uses it to open the vault…where they find a young brother and sister in military uniforms.

The sister immediately plays a note on a flute which stops the train and puts up a protective shield. The brother speaks with the same voice as the cat’s (Maaya Uchida), while the sister is voiced by Ichinose Kana. So, Mission Accomplished—everyone’s super-rich, right? Seems that way; I don’t see the siblings double-crossing their own rescue team.

The question is, why were two human children being transported to Kanto like cargo? As the Black Cat implied with an earlier comment, Kanto is far from the wonderful Utopia Hacker believed it to be. Will our gang head back to Kansai for now, or will we get a glimpse of the not-so-perfect-after-all other side?

Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World – 04 – Feeling Lucky

Part of what makes a good show comes down to tempering expectations as much as surpassing or subverting them. With three straight episodes of Iska and Alice bumping into each other, this episode felt oddly empty because the two never meet. Instead there’s some bonding of Unit N07 at a casino, which is nice, but can’t help but feel like filler, stalling the inevitable next confrontation between the star-crossed lovers.

It was nice to see the unit dressed to the nines just for the heck of cutting loose and having fun, as well as to learn that both Captain Mismis and Alice’s attendant Rin have the same love of gambling that neither Iska nor Alice share. But for the two to be so close to each other—at the same casino and then receiving the exact same accurate fortune—without meeting feels like a letdown.

After a scene with the Octet revealing that Risya for all her cheer is a sometimes ruthless ladder-climber, she informs Mismis and her unit that they’ll be part of an Imperial team charged with heading to the Myudol valley (located between the Empire and Sovereignty) where a new Vortex (a massive confluence of astral energy) has been found.

At roughly the same time, Alice and Rin are informed of the same thing by the shifty Tuxedo Mask” Masked Lord”, who is a member of the Zoas, one of the two royal families not on the throne. Turns out the Sovereignty isn’t as monolithic as I thought; there’s ongoing enmity between the three families, something Alice regrets.

When Iska and his unit head to the valley, the guy in charge is a fellow Saint Desciple, named, er…Nameless, and is also faceless thanks to his state-of-the-art optical camo armor suit. He’s unambiguous in the troops’ mission to either capture the vortex or destroy it, as well as in warning everyone not to “get in his way”.

But when over ten soldiers go missing during the recon mission, Nameless insists that there be no search-and-rescue ops, and orders the search for the vortex to continue. This doesn’t sit well with Iska, but he is dismissed as a traitor by Nameless when he tries to get more answers. He’s also too low-ranking to even speak to Nameless, but Mismis isn’t, and she’s as eager as Iska to know why they’re essentially sacrificing their comrades.

As for Alice, she’s distrustful enough of the Zoa family that the only way to learn the truth about the valley and alleged vortex is to go there herself, representing both the crown and the Lou family. This means that after this week’s near-misses, Alice and Iska are sure to meet back up. Unlike their team-up to stop the Founder, they’ll be on opposite sides of a battle to secure a key strategic asset.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 04 – Knowing the Whole Story

Last week was a half-baked and tedious exploration of the online content culture featuring an unlikable YouTuber. But that was just one episode of a show that can be about a lot of different thing. The first two episodes were decent, and this fourth happens to be the best yet. It’s also the heaviest emotionally, starting out the night of Christmas Eve with Makoto encountering an old man named Nanjou at the very spot where his son Toshi was killed five years ago.

Nanjou raised Toshi alone, and couldn’t keep him out of trouble, but considered him a fundamentally kind boy. His appeal to Makoto is simple: find out what happened to Toshi and who is responsible. As thanks in advance, he gives Makoto a ride home in his Jazz Taxi, which sounds like just about the perfect way to get a ride home on a snowy Christmas Eve night in they city.

Thanks to Takashi, Makoto learns that Toshi started a gang in Ueno called Team Apollo. As a mediator of note with powerful friends, Makoto walks through the territories of various gangs with confidence, but he’s initially regarded by Apollo as a trespasser trying to stir the shit. They refuse to tell him anything about Toshi, and when he doesn’t give up, they beat the shit out of him.

But it seems clear to Makoto that he wouldn’t get anything at all out of Apollo if he didn’t let them beat him up a little, then come right back with no hard feelings…and Toshi’s dad. Makoto’s mom assures Nanjou that Makoto gets in scraps all the time, but he’s tough and can take it, and she’s right! Makoto ends up meeting the current Apollo leader, Rintarou, who reveals that Makoto beat his girlfriend Harumi, as well as her eventual husband, Kouji.

That leads Makoto to meet with Harumi, whose son Akihiro is treated by Nanjou like his blood grandson. In truth, after suffering brutal beatings by Toshi, Harumi found comfort, safety, and eventually love in Kouji, and Akihiro is his son. She was already pregnant with Akihiro when she told Toshi she was leaving him.

Harumi’s story is familiar and sadly all-too-common: at one point she loved Toshi and he her, but he became increasingly twisted and violent towards her, yet the love was still there, mixed with fear. That’s why Harumi followed Toshi when he ran out of the house that night, only to find him dead. She felt horrible about his death, but also relieved, since it meant he could no longer hurt her, Kouji, or Akihiro.

The question remained: Who killed Toshi? It turns out the answer was right there in the opening scene when we first met Nanjou and Harumi. Makoto contacts his police friend who gives him the details of Toshi’s unsolved murder case. Turns out a young couple was on the scene, and the woman was fairly tall; only 5cm shorter than the man.

When Makoto calls his police friend, that friend is about to go on a date, and he can hear that Makoto is troubled and asks what’s wrong. Makoto ends the call soon thereafter, but his friend was right: this “case” definitely took its toll. Makoto should be with friends or family on this night, but instead he’s all alone in the cold, learning more and more about a story that can only further hurt everyone involved.

Still, he promises Harumi he won’t tell Nanjou that Akihiro isn’t his blood grandson, nor drag Toshi’s memory in the dirt. Aside from the harm it could do, it isn’t his place as an outsider. That’s why it’s gratifying that when Makoto meets with Nanjou to feed him a fake story, not only is Harumi there to tell the truth about Toshi’s violence, but so is the couple who were present for Toshi’s death.

Turns out in his rage, Toshi assaulted the husband, and when the wife shoved away him he fell awkwardly down the steps and suffered a fatal head injury. It was an accident caused in self-defense, but the couple never turned themselves in, and now the wife is with child, making things more complicated. They promise Nanjou that once their kid is born and older they’ll turn themselves in.

Nanjou doesn’t seem eager to let them do that, as it would only ruin their lives and that of their child. Instead, he turns all the blame in on himself; had he raised Toshi better, he wouldn’t have hurt Harumi, not to mention put himself in the position where the young wife pushed him to his death. He apologizes to Toshi, and Makoto, whose father is gone, can’t help but feel pride for the poor old man.

This episode got downright noir-y and hardboiled, and Makoto showed off his detective chops, much of which come down to his considerable people skills (and ability to take a beating). The setting of snowy Ikebukuro adds to the brooding atmosphere, as does Makoto’s early comment about how some spots in the city feel like they’re devoid of air—like the otherwise unexceptional spot where Toshi died.

At least now Nanjou can breathe knowing the truth of what happened and why, and if he doesn’t want to dwell on it, he can always turn up the jazz in his taxi.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 04 – Do You Want to Build a Bathtub?

Despite being a hostage and captive, Princess Syalis is still entitled to the occasional bath, same as all the other inhabitants of the Demon Castle. However, the Red Siberian ordered far too small a tub based on inaccurate information about her size, so it isn’t long until her frustrated fists have pummeled the tiny tub into rubble.

So she sets off in search of water and materials for a new tub. She uses the communication piping to pipe hot water directly from the public demon baths into her cell, then happens upon Rocket Turtle, which features a fuse for a tail. Upon blowing the turtle up, its shell is left behind, making for the perfect basin in which to luxuriantly bathe and eventually sleep.

There are no consequences of Syalis setting off the largest explosion to date in the next segment, in which the Summer heat has afflicted everyone in the castle. Searching for releif, Syalis hears about the “cold area” of the castle, and “borrows” the outer body of the Tire Genie in order to brave the area without freezing.

The ice demon subjects of the area, who have long harbored resentment for the perceived better treatment of fire demons, mistake the princess for their leader, Ice Golem, and she uses that mistaken identity to issue them orders to equip her cell with an igloo, three seals, and some shaved ice, even claiming that Syalis will be the next Demon King!

With Syalis having acquired both leisurely sleep in a hot bath and a wonderfully cooling setup in the summer heat, the third segment offers something completely different: While on another excursion to steal supplies, she shakes an hourglass and ends up shrinking herself to half her normal, already-petite size.

Her clothes don’t shrink, so it’s hard to move, and she can neither lift her stolen goods nor climb out of her present location without help. When she uses the Procupine and Minotaur as a ladder, Quilly won’t let her go, as there is apparently something uniquely pleasant about holding a small human child—especially knowing what a menace she is when full-sized!

As a result, other demons flock to the suddenly-tiny princess, leading to the fiasco she had hoped to avoid (and her strategy of repelling the others by shooting Quilly’s quills only goes so far). But, to her surprise, she doesn’t have to return to her cell to get a good night’s sleep; simply being in Quilly’s warm embrace eventually bestows upon her a child’s sleep that comes after a full day of play. All’s well that ends well!

Golden Kamuy – 28 – Big Top, Big Turd

There’s no shortage of deep, dark, horrible stuff in Golden Kamuy (see: last week), but what keeps the audience from descending into despair is its well-integrated, irreverent, and sometimes gross comedy. Yet the comedy almost always serves and propels the more serious and dramatic central story, rather than simply serving as isolated points of relief.

Take Kiroranke introducing Asirpa to a opokay, a fanged deer that was her father’s first kill. He has her smell the musk glad, giving us another wonderful Asirpa Face (Ogata’s face, funnily enough, barely changes upon smelling it). Kiroranke tells the tale of how he and Wilk not just hunted this deer, but were called musk deer due to their wandering.

Our sense of smell is most closely tied to memory, so Asirpa remembers the beaded hohchiri her dad gave her to wear until her first kill (which is typically only for boys). This is how Kiroranke hopes to uncover the mysteries Wilk left in his daughter’s head: by continuing to familiarize her with the man her dad was, and that above all she can trust him, her father’s friend.

Comedy returns to the fore in a big way this week as Team Sugimoto ends up in Toyohara, the cultural capital of Karafuto, and fall victim to a circus acrobat who snatches bags in his spare time. Despite the kid’s speed and agility, Koito is up to the task of chasing him down with the Japanese equivalent of parkour.

When the circus’ ringleader Yamada hears the boy was thieving again, he whips out his sword and appears to cut his face, only for there to be no cut, only blood. Turns out the sword is part of Yamada’s show-stopping fake harakiri act, which was so good in Russia that he was declared dead in the newspapers.

This gives Sugimoto a fresh idea for reuniting with Asirpa: by performing his “Immortal Sugimoto” act in the circus, he’ll be putting himself out there in front of a huge crowd as well as the local media, meaning there’s no way Asirpa will miss him.

The other three soldiers also join the circus temporarily, as they are all united in the goal of finding Asirpa. Koito is an instant hit with Yamada and the girls for his considerable and effortless acrobatic feats. When asked what circus he came up in, he proudly proclaims “The 7th Division of the Imperial Army!”

Tsukishima and Tanigaki, who lack any acrobatic talent, are shunted off to join the dancing girls who perform between acts. Tanigaki reveals how sensitive he is to harsh criticism by the stern battleaxe of a choreographer, but is comforted by one of the older girls, Beniko, who cheers him on as she contemplates her final performance before the circus cuts her loose.

Then Sugimoto is taught the harakiri act by Yamada, who not only reveals what a good showman he is, but how damn big his nipples are! In truth, the sword has a grove containing red dye, and the water splashed on the body to “purify” it is really the liquid the dye turns red upon contact, leading the audience from afar to believe real cuts were made.

The day of the big show arrives, and the soldiers must before to a packed house, only with their natural or acquired artistic skills, not their fists. Koito performs almost perfectly until he finds a photo of his beloved Tsurumi on the tightrope.

Later, Tsukishima confesses he put it there worried Koito’s performance would overshadow Sugimoto’s, and thus their objective to find Asirpa. But Koito’s resulting improvisation ends up bringing the house down anyway. As for Tanigaki, he turns in a performance he can be proud of, and is finally acknowledged by the tough choreographer.

All that remains is the big closer: the Immortal Sugimoto Harakiri Show. His assistant Cikapasi (whom we learned received a hohchiri from Enonoka that he won’t be removing anytime soon) douses him with water in the right places, but Sugimoto soon learns that the sword he has is real—Koito switched out the fake as revenge for trying to sabotage him (before Tsukishima claimed responsibility).

Sugimoto shows he has a bit of a gift for showmanship by drawing the sword close and pulling it back with a chuckle, allowing the audience to let out the collective breath they were holding in. But this only works a couple times; they want to see blood. So after cutting his wrist, he cuts his leg, and prepares to cut his chest in a place where it will bleed a lot but not damage anything vital.

Right then, he’s bailed out from having to cut himself when one of a trio of suspicious Russians pulls a gun on him. He slices the assassin’s hand off then slashes him across the mid-section. He then takes out the other two, all to the rapturous delight of the crowd, who of course think this is all fake.

It’s delcious irony that just as Tsukishima’s attempt to sabotage Koito’s act made his act much better, the same happens when Koito tries to sabotage Sugimoto’s. More than that, if Sugimoto hadn’t had a real sword, he could have been in real trouble against those three Russians.

After the show, which was an undisputed hit, ringleader Yamada reveals that the Russians were likely hired to assassinate him, as he was an Imperial Army spy embedded in Russia before the war and provided intelligence to Japan.

Yamada’s intelligence bonafides also make him an ideal source of intel for their search for Kiroranke and Asirpa, as the newspaper only had two sentences mentioning Sugimoto. Yamada tells them about Alexandrovskaya Prison, where a large group of “eastern minorities” were recently transferred there for plotting a resistance.

As the four soldiers prepare to head further north to the prison, Sugimoto holds out hope Asirpa’s beautiful blue eyes will read those two sentences about him in the Toyohara paper, and learn that he is still indeed alive. Instead, in another irreverent comedy aside, we see that Asirpa is actually, in that moment, looking at poop she mistakes for that of big game, when it is actually the recent leavings of one Shiraishi Yoshitake.

Maybe it’s just as well she’s staring at a turd…what if the paper had erroneously reported Sugimoto’s death? In any case, the ED sequence in which both Sugimoto and Asirpa see the same snowflake glide by gives me hope that one of these days he’s going to finally catch up to her, and with some amazing new stories to tell.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 03 – Shouting for the Future of Ramen

Youta’s little sister Sora has a strong sense of justice, since she feels obligated to help her senpai (and film club alumnus) Jinguuji Hikari out at her struggling ramen restaurant. Sora ended up getting chased by an unscrupulous debt collector, but her family and Hina won’t let her fight this fight alone. And by that, they all agree Youta should help her out.

Hina is supremely confident in her plan from the start, almost as if she knows how it will turn out—which I guess she does, seeing as how she’s a god and all. But it requires more strenuous work from Youta, who poses as a babyfaced 40-year-old “revitalization contractor” who promises to turn Hikari’s business around in a week—for the low price of ¥300!

Following Hina’s instructions to the letter, Youta practices tough love as he picks apart all of the flaws in Hikari’s menu and business model, and gets her to reformulate her ramen and develop a cold noodle substitute. He does this while shouting quite a bit, as if to shake the lovely Hikari from complacency.

Youta’s seiyu Hanae Natsuki is up to the task of strict taskmaster, and his detailed explanations for the changes Hikari is making—even changing the name from “Heavanward Ramen” to “Fallen Angel”—are delivered with hilarious conviction and intensity.

With the restaurant now serving food that’s tasty and cheaper to make, Hina’s next phase involves Youta the “40-year-old contractor” doing an interview for TV in order to create media buzz. The resulting segment is extremely well-produced, with Youta not just sitting in a chair between two ferns but in thematically-appropriate settings.

Like the film spoofs last week, Kamisama ni Natta Hi knows when to let its hair down and get silly, but here gets silly with such a stern straight face it accentuates the absurdity of, say, Youta’s claim to have worn the same one suit for ten years, even during his climb up Mt. Everest!

In an interesting segue, we meet a new character while he’s watching Youta’s interview in the back of a car. His fingers are bound and he’s being driven by a MiB handler, and we learn why when a mom calls out for her lost child: he’s some kind of master hacker who uses computer gloves to create a Minority Report-style floating 3D interface wherever he happens to be.

The silver-haired (and silver-tongued) lad quickly locates the lost daughter and reunites her with her mom, after which his handler re-locks his hands and return to the car. How exactly this hacker kid will connect with Youta and Hina, we’re left to speculate.

Meanwhile, Hina’s plan is a huge success, as there’s a line going outside Fallen Angel for its grand re-opening. That only leaves one more matter her plan must account for: the predatory lender. When he arrives to throw his weight around, Hina has Youta fight him.

While this would normally be impossible, as Youta is far more into basketball than martial arts, Hina laid out a sequential series of steps on the floor for Youta to follow so he’s able to dodge the low-level gangster’s punches and land a couple of his own, hastening the tough’s retreat.

With Hikari’s family business saved and the threat of the loan shark neutralized, Youta comes clean about being Sora’s brother, not uncle, and having never won a baby-face contest (as, he hilariously puts it, such contests don’t exist).

Hikari admits she already knew he was putting on an act (thanks to her film club experience) but adds that his efforts were real, as were their effect the restaurant. Youta, in turn, urges her to direct all praise to Hina. He’s not sure if she’s really a god, but is she isn’t that was a lot of coincidences, right down to his fight!

The episode closes with our learning the hacker’s name—Suzuki—as he’s been conscripted to find dirt on a preeminent quantum physicist and computer scientist. Could that be the guy who causes the end of the world, which is now in just seventeen days? We shall see. Until then, this was a fun “project” episode that gave Youta another chance to demonstrate he’s an uncommonly capable lad when following a divine plan.

Rating: 4/5 Stars