Attack on Titan – 67 – A Few Miscalculations

Here it is, the rematch you’ve all been waiting for. Eren vs. Reiner. Attack vs. Armored…aaaaand just like that, it’s over. Reiner’s down for the count. He didn’t have much gas in the tank to begin with, and neither did Eren, who hops out of his Titan and gets picked up by a waiting Mikasa.

After last weeks Titan battle-heavy episode, I was pleased that this was only a brief struggle, with Reiner’s consolation prize being he managed to rescue Porco and Jaw. But even if Eren and Reiner are done for now, Gabi isn’t. She grabs her gun and runs after the airship. Falco follows close behind.

When Mikasa carries Eren up to the airshop, Armin is waiting there to help lift them up into the cabin, after the exchange of weary, haunted stares. I can’t help but think back when the three were just little kids running around Shiganshima laughing without a care in the world. If Armin’s a bit chilly, Levi is downright disgusted to see Eren’s face again.

Compare their thousand-yard glares to the still-strong camaraderie of the B-Team, Sasha, Connie and Jean, with Connie taking a moment to hug dear his siblings from other mothers out of relief they all made it out of this crazy operation. Indeed, we learn the Survey Corps only lost six men, against untold hundreds of Marleyans.

Of course, not only has the airship not ascended or cleared Liberio, it hasn’t even finished gathering up all of the corpsmen. One of them is Lobov, an older man but new recruit who sought to do more than he was doing in the garrison. He is unfortunate enough to be in Gabi’s line of fire.

But before that, Gabi is stopped by Falco, who tells her it’s impossible to chase an airship on foot. She tells him how Zofia and Udo died, and shocked she was by how protective of her the soldiers at the gate were despite her being an Eldian. All her life, Marleyans have cursed and spit on her, and all she wanted to do was prove Eldians could be good people.

Then tonight happened, with Paradis stomping on all of that. So yes, she’s going to chase an airship on foot. Falco tells her “we stomped on them first”, but it’s only an abstraction for Gabi, like the Eldians and Paradis themselves. To her, they’re cruel demons who deserve to die, end of story. She slides, gets a lucky shot off that kills Lobov. He crashes to the ground, but his ODM cable is still connected. As Gabi prepares to retract the cable and ascend to the airship, Falco again tells her it’s pointless and she’ll be killed.

Gabi doesn’t argue the latter part, but believes it will be far from pointless. She wants Falco to tell everyone how she fought to the end, and they’ll surely inherit her feelings. She tells him he’s a good person, then pulls the trigger…but Falco grabs hold of Lobov and rises with her, honoring what Reiner told him to do: save her from a grim fate.

When she asks why, he doesn’t say because he loves her—she wouldn’t understand—he tells her he’ll be the next Armored Titan. Of course, none of them know how the ODM works, so they end up banging against the belly of the airship. In the midst of the totally off-guard jovial celebrating corpsmen, Sasha hears their bump. But again, virtually everyone else aboard is in the midst of a celebration, before leaving the battlefield…before the battle is over.

It’s a shocking lack of discipline and training for such a dangerous operation. Before anyone knows the source of the bump, Gabi rolls into the cabin and fires the gun she’s been clutching tightly since the battle began, just waiting for her chance. The bullet goes straight through the heart of Sasha, the woman who killed the guards at the gate.

As she bleeds out, the corpsmen swarm on the two kids and beat them bloody. Floch wants to throw them out of the airship, but Jean, who is not an out-and-out monster (yet), won’t authorize it, because if he could, there would be no end to this killing. He takes them to Eren instead, so Gabi can curse him in person. The thing is, someone else they know is aboard the airship: War Chief Zeke.

Back on the ground, a recovering Pieck tells Magath she finally remembered the somewhat-“off” soldier who dropped her and Porco down a well. He, or rather she, was a follower of Zeke’s. We learn her name is Yelena, and she was wearing a fake beard when she escorted Pieck and Porco. Zeke was in on the operation all along, and to hear Eren say it, it was a victory: the operation killed the leaders of the Marleyan army, sunk their main fleet, and destroyed their major military port, and he was able to inherit the Warhammer.

While it was a tactical success, it may turn out to be a massive strategic blunder if the entire world unites against Paradis. Even so, I guess Eren demanded that the people who created the people who destroyed his home and family needed to be hit and hit hard, no matter the cost. As Hange remarks, Eren used his trust in her and the corps to rescue him, but by being taken hostage again and forcing them to attack, they’ve now lost their trust in him.

Zeke calls the sacrifices made “noble” as they will “bring freedom to Eldia.” It’s clear that unlike some like, say, Gabi, he wasn’t satisfied with Marley simply allowing Eldians to exist under their bootheels. True freedom means liberating all Eldians from the yoke of Marley forevermore. He’s willing to go, and indeed has gone, farther than someone like Gabi even believed was possible to even go. Call it the narrow perspective of youth.

Alas, there is one noble sacrifice no one in the corps was ever going to be able to bear: Connie reports that Sasha has died. Beautiful, capable, eternally hungry Sasha Blouse. She didn’t die in a blaze of glory, but by the hand of an indoctrinated little Eldian girl who was so desperate for revenge she literally chased down an airship and found a way aboard.

Mikasa and Armin race to where her body lay. Eren asks if she said anything before passing away; Connie says “meat.” Eren fights back a chuckle which twists into a grimace as Jean tells him Sasha is dead because of him. I doubt she’ll be the last, because as much as Eren cared for Sasha, her death won’t be enough for him to stop. If anything, it’ll only motivate him to keep going. Like Gabi, he can only keep going.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 04 – Making It Work

This week, the OP theme is played, but this time over a beautifully somber sequence of the Greyrat household is steeped in the winter of discontent inside while buffeted by the literal snows of winter outside. Zenith is pregnant, which was an occasion for great joy…but so is Lilia, and Paul says it’s “probably” his (it’s definitely his).

It’s at this point that I admit that while checking MAL for Lilia’s seiyu (Lynn), I caught the little factoid that she’s described not just a maid, but Paul’s “second wife”. In hindsight, this complicated my understanding of her precise status up to this point. Turns out Zenith is very much not okay with Paul sleeping with her.

At the same time, Zenith cares a great deal about Lilia, and doesn’t like the prospect of Lilia taking a rough month-long trip to her hometown with hew newborn. Both she and the baby could die. Rudy doesn’t like that either, so he introduces a compromise to keep the family from being torn apart.

When Zenith tells Rudy that the mood is gloomy because Paul and Lilia were “bad”, Rudy comes to Lilia’s defense: she couldn’t refuse Paul; the fact she’s in his employ aside, he has a “hold” on her that resulted in their illicit night together. That being the case, Lilia doesn’t deserve to suffer for something Paul did wrong.

Moved by her son’s words, Zenith decides that Lilia and her child will stay in the family…because they are family. Rudy knows he only dug Paul’s grave deeper, but it was a grave Paul dug himself, even if Lilia confides to us that she seduced him. Hearing the couple’s lovemaking in the next room created pent-up urges, and one night she left her door open so he’d see her washing herself.

Lilia believes Rudy understood full well that it wasn’t all Paul’s fault, but he forgave her anyway for “giving in to desire” and betraying Zenith. She also knows that by forgiving her and guiding the family to a compromise, Rudy saved her life. She had always been justifiably skeeved out by Rudy—even to the point she feared he was possessed by the devil!—but now resolves to spend her life repaying him—and have her child serve the future Lord Rudeus.

Zenith’s son daughter Norn and Lilia’s daughter Aisha are born, and Paul for all intents and purposes has two wives to care for (and take orders from). Rudy also notices how much more open with him Lilia becomes after the Great Compromise, and learns that she and Paul once studied swordsmanship at the same training hall…where Paul deflowered her…while she was sleeping.

My opinion of Paul plummets with each passing episode. Yet for all of Paul’s many faults (and, let’s be honest, crimes), Rudy respects him because he’s strong…and not just physically, mind you. Paul is also someone with whom Rudy can engage in “guy talk”, not just about women, but how to be a better man. It’s a path full of mistakes and failures, but Paul is hopeful Rudy will learn from them, even if he ends up making more of his own.

Paul discussing how underwhelming rich girl sex is, on the other hand? Probably going too far. But that comes up when Paul asks his son if he’s contemplating going to school, since he’s around the age kids start to go. Paul worries a kid like Rudy will be bullied (while also being confident Rudy could handle it) and questions the utility of him mixing it up with all those spoiled rich kids. Still, it’s ultimately Rudy’s call.

Rudy, meanwhile, starts to sense that Sylphiette could one day surpass him in magical prowess. When he mentions going off to the magic academy to continue his training, Sylphie reacts by hugging him tightly and bawling her eyes out until he says he’s not going anywhere. And why would he, when he has such a wonderful life with her and his family?

Things become more complicated when Paul interrupts Rudy jerking off hugging his pillow by presenting him with a letter from Roxy. She is well, training a similarly perverted young prince while also improving her own magical skills. She thought she’d hit a wall, but learned otherwise with the benefit of time and experience in new places. She writes that if Rudy feels similarly, he should enroll at Ranoa Magic University.

Rudy doesn’t want to make Sylphie feel sad or lonely, but he also doesn’t want to disappoint Roxy. In such a conundrum, he must fashion another compromise, as he did to save his family. He tells Paul, Zenith and Lilia of his intention to enroll at Ranoa, but requests that they pay Sylphie’s tuition along with his. She’s Ranoa material, but her family lacks the funds.

Paul refuses, but not because he doesn’t want his son to have his way. He has three valid reasons for doing so. For one thing, he’s still intent on making Paul into a capital-S Swordsman, and with Rudy’s lack of progress now is not the time to stop his training. Secondly, Rudy is still young, and Paul can’t neglect his parental responsibilities by sending Rudy away. Third and finally, they actually can’t afford to pay for Sylphie as well as him.

Rudy doesn’t argue, or even get mad. He probably knew he’d get a response like this. Instead, he introduces a counterproposal, asking Paul to find him a well-paying job so that by the time his dad deems him ready to go to Ranoa, he’ll have saved up enough to pay Sylphie’s way himself. When Paul tells him that “might not be the best thing” for Sylphie, Rudy acknowledges that, but it will be for him. Paul did tell him earlier to stick with one woman, and Rudy intends to do just that.

Paul accepts this proposal, but exactly what he has in mind for Rudy is left up in the air until an ornate wagon pulls up to the Greyrats’ front gate. Ghislaine, a hulking beast-woman, climbs out, and she’s welcomed by both Paul and Zenith. She’s the first beast-person Rudy’s encountered, and to his credit he doesn’t leer at her or make any unsolicited comments about her.

Paul asks a cryptic question, “What if I told you to stay away from Sylphie?”, then launches into a vicious sparring session, which ends with Paul using an advanced Water-God move on his son, knocking him out. When Rudy wakes up, he’s in the wagon opposite Ghislaine, who tells him they’ll be working together starting tomorrow. Rudy wanted a job…be careful what you wish for!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 4 here.

Kemono Jihen – 04 – The Iceboy Cometh

The next case with Kabane and now Kon on board involves Yoruno, a young man who has fallen in love with a woman who is actually a nekomata or cat youkai/kemono. In addition to learning the basic concept of love, Kabane also learns that Inugami’s former partner once ran the bar, and that it’s a somewhat sensitive subject. Inugami has Akira sit this one out, knowing he’ll have trouble with the dirty alleys and rodents.

Kabane and Shiki soon track down Mao-chan in her cat form, and learn she’s transformed other men into her cat servants. Kon ends up pouncing on Mao and neutralizing her, Mao ends up releasing the servants and starting a new life with Yoruno, and Kon leaves with Kabane’s head as payment from Inugami—or rather an orange given the appearance of Kabane’s head. Let it never be said Kon isn’t a good girl.

After Kabane rescues Akira from a roach in the bath, he decides to start serving as Kabane’s apprentice. Inugami doesn’t hesitate to give them a case with the potential to be far more disgusting than the first, but Akira is insistent. This leads to him suiting up in full hazmat gear for the trip into the sewers below Shibuya, though later downgrading to a chic mac and wellies.

There, where the original river is being broken up and diverted, various frog kemono have forgotten reason and become feral, monstrous man-eaters. A tanuki appears to lend a helping paw, but once dozens of the frogs appear, Kabane has his hands full while Akira is overwhelmed and freezes up…until he freezes OUT.

We learn officially that Akira is a yuki-otoko, the incredibly rare male version of the yuki-onna tribe who live in the snowy mountains of Aomori. We also learn Akira came to Inugami searching for his twin brother, who always told him to leave things to others because he’s so weak.

Akira is tired of being the weak one who only screams kya while the others do something, so with a sudden summoning of his powers of ice, he ends up taking out all of the rabid frog kemono at once. The tanuki turns out to be Inugami, who is thanked by the super-chill frog elder, while the social media-obsessed Akira celebrates his first great success with, what else, a selfie.

So far I’m digging the case(s)-of-the-week interspersed with downtime that shows us a wide variety of critters while also providing the opportunity to learn more about the cast, in this case Inugami and the always-adorable Akira. While not as battle-oriented as Jujutsu Kaisen or epic as Demon SlayerKemono Jihen is the cozier, comfier, more mellow of the three monster shows I’m watching. Its understated charm and likeable cast keeps me coming back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 04 – Not Going Anywhere

After a particularly cute scene with StuCo member Kouno Sakura, Tooru meets up with Miyamura, who has ice cream courtesy of Hori (not present). Unfortunately, the other ice cream is melon, which Tooru can’t eat. Thankfully they run into President Sengoku, and soon the boys are comparing tongue color and length, as guys do!

When Sengoku invites the two to stop by the (blessedly air-conditioned) StuCo office, they show up with Hori and Yuki, making for a full house. They use janken to determine Horimiya should grab everyone drinks, but when they’re gone too long, Tooru gets worried about what they’re “up to”. When they’re back, there’s a misunderstanding, but Kouno is there to help set him straight…and with a towel to clean his soda, which Miyamura dropped.

Back at her house, Hori apologize for the A/C not working, but Miyamura says he doesn’t mind. When the subject of his sleeping in underwear comes up, Hori impulsively asks to see his tattoos, and he immediately strips. This throws her off, but it shouldn’t, she’s seen them before. She wonders what if anything makes him blush or get flustered, and he assures her…there’s plenty!

For one thing, his middle school friend Shindo, who he bumps into while in town. Shindo has seen Miyamura with Hori enough to assume they’re dating, something that flusters Miyamura. Then Shindo sends him a photo of him with his GF and suggests a double date…a text Hori doesn’t get to see.

What Hori does see is Miyamura getting flustered and raising the volume of his voice, but calling Shindo just to yell “PISS OFF!” As with every time she sees a new part of him, Hori is fascinated…and also a little sad that there’s still so much about him she doesn’t know. Only one thing for that, Hori: keep asking!

Next time Hori’s in town, she’s approached by Shindo, not having a clue who he is. Miyamura spots them while he’s walking with Tooru, and he immediately charges Shindo and starts punching and slapping him. The thing is, Shindo barely reacts at all to this, meaning it’s just their dynamic. Like Hori, Tooru is fascinated, and the four decide to do lunch.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to see that lunch, but we do get a glimpse into Miyamura’s middle school life, thanks to a very effective smash cut to the past. He was shunned for being gloomy and depressing by everyone except Shindo, who was super-popular with the class, and soon befriends him.

When his other mates tell him to avoid Miyamura, Shindo shuts them right down, saying they’re just mad because they think Miyamura stole him from them. Now we know: Shindo’s a decent guy, like Miyamura, only more gregarious and approachable. It’s only natural they’d be friends. I just hope we meet his girlfriend soon, because we know she’s got a keeper!

Earlier in the ep we got Hori’s Chekhov’s Cough, which she denied was a sign of a cold, because “only morons get colds in the summer.” Well, one morning she has a temperature over 100°, and who should stop her from leaving the house and put her back in bed but her awesome kid brother Souta, who is growing up fast!

Souta also contacts Miyamura, who is in Hori’s room with water, sports drink and meds when she wakes up. She has a feverish dream about her mother having to leave a previous time she was sick in bed. Her mom praised her for being so good at “toughing things out”, but what Hori didn’t tell her mom is that she didn’t want her to go.

After giving Hori a wet towel, Miyamura gets up to leave so she can change, and Hori panics, rising out of bed only to collapse from the fever. She grabs Miyamura’s arm and asks what she could never ask her mom—“Where are you going?”  Miyamura knows what she means is “Please don’t go”. Taking her hand in his, he answers: He’s not going anywhere until she doesn’t need him anymore, or is sick of his face.

He helps her back in bed, then tells her to drink some water while she’s lying on her side away from him. He also tells her he’s in love with her, and has been for a while now, and to call or text him if she needs anything. He’ll be right over. A few beats after he leaves, Hori leaps out of bed, her fever momentarily broken, thinking “WHAT did he just say?”, even though she already knows.

She wonders if she pretends not to have heard it, the two of them can “stay like this for a little while longer.” But he said it—albeit in the middle of a bunch of “boring stuff”—and she can’t un-hear it. Especially with her abandonment issues in mind, I can understand her desire to maintain the status quo. But she shouldn’t pretend out of fear of losing what she has when she could have so much more. The more she waffles, the greater the chance Miyamura will return to thinking she doesn’t have the feelings he has. It seems the ball is in her court. No pressure!

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 05 – All Ore Nothing

Seemingly telegraphing the fact that Tanjirou isn’t going to face any demons more powerful than the one he beheaded last week, DS lingers on the aftermath of the Hand Demon’s life and demise. He started out as a little kid who just wanted to hold his big brother’s hand, but one day he became a demon, and that was pretty much that.

Tanjirou has shown that no matter how evil a demon might seem, he wishes for them to be at peace or be reborn as humans again. That empathy isn’t just the result of a kind heart: surely the only ones who know if Nezuko can be changed back are demons. Alas, the ones he asks aren’t even high-level enough to be capable of speech.

The sun rises on the final day of the Fina Selection, and it seems only four applicants survived, all kids. Oddly, we still aren’t introduced to any of them, though since they all appear in the OP and/or ED, that will happen at some point. The creepy twin girls in charge of the selection assign the survivors crows, new uniforms, and have them pick the ore from which they want their Nichirin blades to be forged.

The three other survivors consist of Silent Pretty Girl, Crazy-Haired Guy who is constantly afraid he’s going to die, and Short-Tempered Prick, who grabs one of the twins by the hair to protest not being given his sword immediately (it will take 10-15 days). Tanjirou, friend of the weak, comes between the two, putting the jerk in his place.

With his uniform acquired and the sword in the mail, Tanjirou makes the trek back to Mt. Sagiri, though it’s far slower going this time due to his exertion during the Final Selection. Even so, a newly-awake Nezuko literally breaks down the door to meet him when he finally arrives, runs to hold him wordlessly in her arms…I couldn’t help but get a little cloudy-eyed at their touching reunion.

Urokodaki believes that Nezuko is sleeping so much in order to conserve energy since she’s not eating humans. Haganezuka soon arrives to present Tanjirou with his very own Nichirin katana, which turns an apparently unlucky pitch-black when he unsheathes it (not red, as Haganezuka hoped).

Finally, the Kasugai crow the twins assigned to Tanjirou arrives and speaks the human tongue, announcing his first assignment in a town where young girls have gone missing. No rest for those who’ve just been given a really, really nice sword for free!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 16 – To Panda or Not To Panda

The new Bromance for the Ages is off to a good start, with Toudou eager to teach his new best friend how to use one’s mind, body, and soul as one, in order to eliminate the lag inherent in Divergent Fist.

Yuuji proves a quick study, much to Toudou’s delight, as it means he doesn’t have to use kid gloves. At this point it seems unlikely Toudou will carry out Principal Gakuganji’s order to kill Yuuji, or even allow anyone else to do so. What kind of friend would he be if he did?

From Yuuji vs. Toudou we shift briefly to Panda/Nobara vs. Momo, who looks for all the world like Kiki’s buddy and is voiced by Lil’ Taiga herself, Kugimiya Rie. The odds are evened when Ultimate Mechamaru emerges from the soon-to-be-felled trees. Panda estimates the robot to be somewhere in the Grade 2 range like him, but Mechamaru corrects him, saying he’s more of a semi-Grade 1.

It’s appropriate for the two most different sorcerers from among their peers would go up against each other, but throughout their hard-hitting battle, Mechamaru continues to look down on Panda as “just another Cursed Corpse”, when in reality, Principal Yaga created the first CC with emotions.

Mechamaru, meanwhile, is merely the robot remote-controlled by a human born with profound physical disabilities. He lies in a tub surrounded by tubes and covered in bandages, virtually immobile and in constant pain. The trade-off for such an existence is a ridiculous level of cursed energy that can be used at range.

Panda has a couple other secrets that give him the upper hand in their battle. First, unlike most CCs he has not one but three cores in his body: his “panda” core, his brother’s “gorilla” core, and his “bashful” sister’s core, represented by a flash of light. Mecha disables two of the three, but Panda is still going strong in Gorilla mode, and manages to trash the robot before it learns the location of his last core.

On the one hand, this was a fun battle between two extremely quirky characters that pulled double duty in explaining who and what they are and what makes them tick. On the other, part of me was perfectly fine with neither of these characters being explained beyond “one is a panda and one is a robot.” Now that the show has answered a bunch of questions about the two, there’s less mystique there.

Finally, the Panda vs. Mechamaru duel was the one I was least invested in compared to the three others that bookend the episode: Yuuji vs. Toudou, Nobara vs. Momo, and Maki vs. Miwa. I’m probably not alone in this, which may be why the show chose to resolve this battle first.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 04 – Standing Up to the Queen

Tomozaki just landed a lucky break. If there was no reason for Izumi Yuzu to approach him, he’d been making his presence known to the point that when he approached her, she felt she could come to him with her TackFam problem, which is really a Nakamura Shuuji problem. Bottom line: Izumi likes Shuuji, and wants to get good enough at the game to take him on. We also learn Shuuji recently turned down the Konno Erika, leader of the Neckties to which Yuzu belongs.

Yuzu invites Tomozaki to her place so he can teach her, and after one match he knows exactly what she needs to get better, starting with learning how to execute a short jump, which is simply a matter of practice and muscle memory. Yuzu is grateful for Tomozaki’s advice but wonders what the deal is with his various poses and gestures…turns out he’s mimicking Hinami’s teaching style without knowing it!

By the time Tomozaki is drawing detailed diagrams of all the moves Yuzu will have to memorize, she asks him: What is all the intense effort even for? He tells her what it’s not for: making friends or winning praise. When Yuzu claims she can’t ever change from her current status of superficially laughing with her necktie-wearing friends, he assures her he is proof that anyone can change; they just need to commit themselves and put in the effort.

While Hinami calls Tomozaki’s break with Yuzu pretty “miraculous” when they meet up for a debrief, she can’t deny he properly capitalized, using what he knows best (TackFam) to really connect with someone. That said, she still wants him to ask Fuuka out on a date, even producing movie tickets for them to use.

The night before, Tomozaki practices asking Fuuka out on the recorder Hinami gave her, showing how he’s learning how to listen to himself and adjust. But he also accidentally opens a folder of recordings Hinami didn’t delete: ones in which she too practices talking. He already considers it amazing she’s so good at the Game of Life; to hear the process firsthand is even more amazing.

Like him with TackFam, no matter how high a level you achieve, you can never stop practicing. But with practice comes the realization that sometimes circumstances won’t always accommodate your plans, nor will practice always inform what to do when it’s go time. To whit: Tomozaki calls an laudable audible: coming clean to Fuuka about having not read any of her favorite author, and thus not yet being ready to read her own novel.

This could have turned out disastrously, but the risk was well worth the reward of starting fresh from a position of honesty. A white lie or misunderstanding rarely forms a strong foundation for a relationship. While there’s clear and justifiable disappointment in Fuuka’s reaction, there’s also the sense she’s happy he’s being so honest. He’s also able to break the news naturally and casually enough not to come off as dismissive or cruel.

Working entirely outside the letter of Hinami’s plan while hewing to the spirit of her training, Tomozaki shows great growth here, while rejecting her “an in is an in” mentality. Yes, the author misunderstanding, got Fuuka talking to him, but so did simply asking Yuzu for a tissue.

He also wisely realizes that to ask her out on a date so soon after basically restarting their friendship from a place of honesty would be overdoing it, so he withholds the tickets for now. If he gets any flak from Hinami, he’ll be ready with a pretty good explanation. However, their next meeting is preempted by Shuuji’s two mates: he wants a TackFam rematch, now.

In the AV room, Tomozaki plays Shuuji while Shuuji’s mates, Yuzu, and Erika and her two Necktie acolytes watch. Tomozaki proceeds to beat Shuuji handily in match after match, but Shuuji keeps asking to play again. He grows more frustrated, even as he starts to improve slightly, to the point he’s able to take out one of Tomozaki’s health stocks.

That frustration creates an increasingly unpleasant tension and aura of desperation around Shuuji, to the point Erika begins to mock him as “weak”, his obsession with a “stupid game” as “creepy”, and that she dodged a bullet when he turned her down. The “stupid game” comment draws the ire of Tomozaki, as does her assertion that all of Shuuji’s hard work and practice amounts to nothing.

The old Tomozaki would have muttered something and not followed through, but this newly Hinami-trained Tomozaki is at least adept enough at the Game of Life to call Erika out for the haughty tourist she is. Shuuji may have been a dick to him all this time, but at least he’s committed to improving and keeps fighting no matter how much he loses. All Erika can do is mock someone else’s effort when she (at least as far as Tomozaki knows) puts in none at all.

Yuzu even has the courage to chime in and call Shuuji’s efforts “beautiful in a boyish way”, despite the fact doing so is contradicting the vaunted Queen of the Neckties. But I have no doubt it was Tomozaki’s earlier words about her ability to change that helped her summon the courage to speak up. Erika slinks away, pretending not to have learned anything, but she did. So did Shuuji, who probably resents Tomozaki defending him but also appreciated it.

Notable for her silence during all this is Hinami, which was no accident. The thing is, while she observed that Tomozaki had things well in hand, I also think she stayed above the fray in order to avoid needlessly upsetting the apple cart with Erika & Co., who would have likely felt ganged up on if she’d joined Tomozaki and Yuzu—an example of maintaining balance through inaction. Regardless, both Erika and Shuuji stop giving Tomozaki a hard time, now knowing better what he’s made of.

At their next meeting over lunch, Hinami asks how things are going with Fuuka, wondering if he’s lost motivation. He assures her he hasn’t, but without explaining the whole situation with coming clean and not wanting to pile on with a date request, Tomozaki pulls another laudable audible: whipping out the very tickets she gave him and asking Hinami if she’ll join him instead.

Hinami’s look of surprise is followed by the kind of proud face a master makes when their student has just done something good. Unfortunately, she’s not free tomorrow (what do you know, she does have other obligations!), but she is free for a movie now. Is it just me, or do these two just make a good couple, full stop?

It’s too early to tell, but I appreciate that Hinami doesn’t go all cliché blushy or tsundere at the prospect of Tomozaki asking her out. Maybe she gets that it’s for more “training”, or as thanks for her help so far. But at some point all these times they’re meeting up one-on-one and having fun will start painting the picture of two people…going out. We’ll see if anything comes of their consistently pleasant proximity, and more importantly, if more people start noticing them together all the damn time!

Crucially, this outing proved Tomozaki isn’t just some automaton carrying out Hinami’s directives, nor does she want him to be. She’s taught him the basics, and it’s up to him to experience how to properly use them and switch things up when warranted. The recording of Hinami also shows that her life game is an ongoing work in progress. I know it’s Tomozaki’s name in the title, but I would love to delve more into Hinami’s growth, and if Tomozaki has anything to teach her—something his recent shrewd freestyling might portend.

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 16 – A Pretty Fun Hell

While Fuutarou, Itsuki and Ichika try to bail Yotsuba out of her track training camp, Miku stops by Nino’s for tea. She saw Nino stomp out of her previous hotel, and wonders what went on with Fuutarou. Nino is still fuming about Kintarou always being Fuu in disguise, but that’s tabled for now in favor of discussing Nino’s return home.

For all Nino thinks all of her sisters have changed, she’s changed too. They remain five sisters in completely different directions, but that just means they continue to complement each other by exposing them to things they normally wouldn’t…even something as mundane as the different teas they drink, which they learn come from the same leaf!

Operation Spring Yotsuba doesn’t get off to a great start, owing to how well the track captain knows Yotsuba, Itsuki’s less-than-stellar impression, and the simple fact her hair is too damn long! The real Yotsuba returns after having tackled the “groper” (a Fuutarou invention), but then it soon becomes obvious she isn’t Yotsuba either…she’s Nino!

That’s right, the scissors Nino produces at the end of her scene with Miku were meant for her own hair. Whether in order to confront the track people for Yotsuba’s sake, or because her heart was broken by a boy who never existed, or a little of both, Nino now sports the same cropped locks as Yotsuba, though she retains her signature butterfly ribbons and flat bangs.

With Yotsuba agreeing to help with the most recent meet and then quit the team—which is what she wants, but simply needed a nudge to do—Nino and Itsuki adorably make up, each apologizing for their role. Itsuki, the youngest of the quints, tears up despite having played the role of mom when she slapped Nino way too hard, and the fact they both buy tickets to the movie the other sister liked completes the reconciliation.

With the quints reunited, they soon complete their problem sets, and Fuutarou has them go over them again as they enter the home stretch till the exams. He shows deference to Nino by asking her if it’s okay to proceed in this manner…she can’t help but blush and fight back a smile at his polite attentiveness. The day of the exams arrives, and the quints stride confidently into the schook. Fuutarou hangs back, borrowing Itsuki’s phone to call his sister…but we see he was actually on the phone with the quints’ dad.

The exam scores come in, and out of 500 possible points from the five subjects tested, none of them scored higher than 206. While discouraged by these underwhelming results considering how hard they worked, the sisters actually seem to be looking forward to Fuutarou scolding them and pushing them to do better…which is why they’re shocked to learn from their father’s butler Ebata that Fuutarou has resigned as their tutor.

The sisters can’t even go to Fuutarou immediately, as Ebata has been ordered to tutor them on an interim basis. The problem sets Ebata gives them seem so easy, which they attribute to Fuutarou’s diligent tutoring. Then they break out the rolled crib notes he gave them in case of emergency and discover they don’t contain notes at all, but a message meant for all five sisters to read off in order.

It concludes, “I’m glad I finally done with this hell job…but it was a pretty fun hell. Later.” But the sisters are in agreement: they want Fuutarou to continue tutoring them. So they devise a plan. On Christmas Eve, while Fuu is acting as a crier for a cake shop, the five sisters approach him and ask if he’ll deliver a cake to their place. His clearly awesome boss lets him off work early, urging him to have a Merry Christmas.

When they ask him back, he says he already blew his second chance, and now believes it was only his “selfish ends” that held them back, to which he can no longer in good conscience subject them. The newly short-haired Nino gets in Fuu’s face, telling him they’ve only made it this far because of that selfishness, and he can’t stop being selfish now.

When he reminds them that their father has forbidden him from entering their house again, they direct his gaze to the building behind them: with Ichika’s new acting salary, they’ve rented a new place where he’ll always be welcome. Yotsuba inexplicably tosses the five keycards into the air, and in trying to catch them, Fuu slips and falls into the water. To his shock, all five quints jump in after him. All for one and one for all, to be sure!

After surfacing, he spots the rolled fortune Rena gave him, to open once he “learned to accept himself”. But at the same time, Nino cramps up and can’t swim, and Fuutarou abandons the fortune to rescue her, obviously. But maybe he never needed to read the fortune, because when everyone is out of the river, he rips up the résumé of his replacement and decides he’ll stay on as their tutor after all. As for Nino, her heart is beating like a jackrabbit and it may well have less to do with almost drowning and more to do with who saved her.

QQ started out totally scattering the quints, but it’s clear that besides the fact they complement each other and make up for their shortcomings, the one thing that brings them back together this week is the desire to keep Fuutarou in their life, as the one who will help them realize their best selves.

While him calling their dad was an obvious clue, his sudden resignation still felt abrupt, and hit me as hard as the sisters, so I tip my cap to the show for keeping me off balance. It was also a wonderfully brisk affair, with resolutions to this arc coming fast and furious without feeling rushed or inorganic (though part of me was hoping they’d address the whole “jumping into freezing water” thing). I’m looking forward to their next tutoring session in their new, less snazzy digs!

Episode Four Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Nino: Between her lovely sisterly tea time with Miku, to her portrayal of “Cranky Yotsuba”; from making up with Itsuki to her efforts to get Fuu back; from being the only quint who Fuu needed to rescue to her cute new ‘do, it’s another easy win for Best Girl Nino.  Total Points: 19 (1st)
  2. Itsuki: No Itsuki-at-the-Uesugis this week, but she was as wonderful in her making-up scene with Nino as she was wonderfully terrible at impersonating Yotsuba. She also had a moment where she channeled Fuutarou. She and Nino are pulling away from the pack. Total Points: 16 (2nd)
  3. Miku: Came close to tying Itsuki this week. She was so damn cool in that tea scene, describing to Nino why they belong together. She also had the highest test scores of all the quints! Total Points: 9 (3rd)
  4. Yotsuba: Glad her track crisis didn’t drag on any longer, as it felt like a rehash of something not that engaging to begin with. Nice tackle of that creepy groper, but otherwise didn’t distinguish herself. Total Points: 8 (Tied for 4th)
  5. Ichika: I hate to rank her last when she’s footing the bulk of the rent for the quints’ new place, but yeah…she didn’t do much this week! Total Points: 8 (5rd)

The Promised Neverland – 16 – Too Good To Be True

Last week’s cliffhanger wasn’t all that dire for the kids: Minerva’s phone call is merely a recording apologizing for not being able to meet them in person, revealing he once worked for the farms before revolting, and providing the password for the pen to display map to the human side of the world. The creepy messages and journal were from a previous batch of escapees, only one of whom remained before they chose to make a run for the border.

What our kids don’t know is what ever happened to that lonely last escapee. All they know is they can use the shelter as the headquarters for their plan, which still involves returning to the farm, freeing Phil and the others, then freeing all of the other children in the other farms. Far from not pragmatic, this plan seems far too difficult and doomed to failure, considering how few grown kids there are to pull it off.

Still, it’s clear Emma isn’t going to the human side without fulfilling her promise to Norman to free everyone, so they set to work making the shelter a sustainable place, including growing crops, hunting birds (and later gathering slimy fish) for food, and teaching the younger kids marksmanship.

As they settle into a happy and all-too obvious false sense of security, we check in on their former “Mother”, Isabella, who is in jail for allowing the escape. When the demons come, she’s pretty certain they’re there to execute her. Back at the shelter, a peaceful evening is shattered by an explosion blowing one of the hatches clean off, knocking out the power.

A human strike team then infiltrates the facility, where all the kids escape using the hidden passage behind the piano. Don’s one of the last into that passage, and Gilda gives him a huge hug of relief when he arrives. Ray changes their plan on the fly: with the shelter no longer safe, they have to get out of there and seek refuge in the forest…again.

Unfortunately, the enemy forces seem to have a good grasp of the shelter’s layout, since they trap them at every turn. The kids are saved by the fact that these guys are supposed to deliver the merch back to the farm, not harm it in any way. It makes me wonder why they’re not using tranq darts, honestly.

Emma and Ray cover the others as they head to the forest, but again the soldiers are waiting for them. It looks like Game Over, but for the giant wild forest demon bursting out of the trees to kill the soldiers one by one; the muzzle flashes from their guns makes them easy decoys while the kids scatter. But even if they’re all safe for now, they won’t be for long. In the end, shelter might as well have been a mirage!

We learn the farm demons were prepared for this operation to fail, and rather than execute Isabella at once, they’ll leave the matter in her hands as a means of redeeming herself for her failure. If she can successfully retrieve every escaped child, she’ll be granted her freedom and more.

Isabella seems eager to take on the job, claiming that her children “betrayed” her…but that’s just a bit disingenuous considering she was secretly raising them for slaughter. In any case, Mama’s back…and this time, it’s personal.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review here.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 17 – The Dice Roll for Thee

After a cold open in which Takano shoots Rika and her friends, we cut to a different version of the scenario in which Takano tells her she was going to kill everyone, but didn’t, and was leaving town with Jirou. What follows is a lot of stuff that comes out of the blue, but may have been happening off-camera for many loops.

The Tokyo Bloodhounds and Mountain Dogs are rival elite tactical groups, with Jirou being a member of the former. With Dr. Irie’s cooperation, the underground research lab is shut down, even though he has yet to find a cure for Satoko’s brother Satoshi’s “Hinamizawa Syndrome.

Honestly, I was pretty confused by most of this, and assume that’s because stuff similar to this went down in the original Higurashi. But whatever all these events mean, the bottom line is there have still been no demon-ing away or gruesome murders on this loop, days after the festival. So why is Rika so uneasy?

It’s simple: the events of the present loop are so far out of the usual norm, her only conclusion is that “someone else” is rolling the dice of fate. She considers killing herself with the blade shard, but decides to stay put for now. Satoko can tell she’s down about something, but urges her not to look gift horses in the mouth and simply enjoy these moments of happiness while they last.

Rika ends up taking everyone’s money in a game of poker at school, and her “punishment” for them all is to arrange a party for Satoko’s birthday, which falls on June 24 (usually once the shit has hit the fan). Satoko seems a little uneasy about being the center of attention, but still accepts gifts from Keiichi, Rena and Mion.

When it comes time for Rika to present her gift to her, Satoko instinctively ducks and covers, apparently knowing it was a gag gift containing a boxing glove on a spring. Rika lifts the box to reveal it’s just a teddy bear (not unlike, if not the same bear Satoshi sought to give his sis), and asks how Satoko knew. Satoko’s eyes turn red and she pulls a gun on Rika with an evil smirk. I guess we know who’s “rolling the dice”, but why, and to what end?

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 04 – Above the Wisteria Line

We learn that Tanjirou was able to defeat Sabito, i.e. cleave the giant boulder, by sensing the “thread” of his target by smell, made possible during Total Concentration. After a celebratory dinner when Urokodaki gives him the cloud-emblazoned tunic like his and a kitsune warding mask, Tanjirou bids his master and still-sleeping sister goodbye and heads to Mount Fujikasane, which is replete with gorgeous glowing wisteria blooms.

The year-long blooms aren’t just for show, as the creepy twins who administer the Final Selection explain: demons hate wisteria, and so they are trapped above the elevation where the blooms don’t grow, making the top half of the mountain a demon prison. The applicants must survive seven days in order to pass. There are many other applicants, but we don’t meet any of them, which is was an unexpected but welcome choice.

Instead of introducing potential rivals and allies, the focus remains on Tanjirou, who decides he’ll stay as far east, where the sun rises earliest, as he can, and use the daytime when the demons aren’t active to rest. He smells his first two demon opponents before he sees them, and is initially a little uneasy, but remembers his training and defeats them both with relative ease (they had been fighting each other over terf, after all).

The third demon is a different story, as it is on a level unlike anything else he’s encountered. A giant grotesque mass of sinewy, veiny hands like something straight out of Akira, Tanjirou is again taken by fear at the mere sight of it, especially as it already has a human applicant in one of his many hands, and drops him into his maw.

Urokodaki told Tanjirou that the more humans a demon has eaten the stronger they are, and when Tanjirou confronts his Hand Demon, he helpfully tells him he’s eaten over fifty “brats” in his extremely long life (dating back to the Edo period).

Not only that, but this “morphed” demon has a particular grudge against Urokodaki, who imprisoned him on Mt. Fujikasane. He’s gotten his revenge by eating no fewer than thirteen of Urokodaki’s students—including Sabito and Momoko, who it’s now confirmed interacted with Tanjirou in some kind of spiritual form.

The demon successfully throws Tanjirou off the game on which he very critically needs to stay by describing in detail how the two others were killed, and our boy ends up smacked against a tree hard, his protective mask shattering. He avoids being killed only thanks, I believe, one of his departed little brothers shouting for him to wake up…just in time to dodge the demon’s killing blow.

Not about to let himself become Urokodaki’s fourteenth dead student (with that track record I can see why he was reluctant to train anyone else), Tanjirou re-centers himself, attains Total Concentration, and uses his specialized water-based attacks (which are beautifully rendered like Ukiyo-e waves) to slash the demon’s neck, defeating him.

So far Demon Slayer has been incredibly efficient, getting its protagonist from losing his family to meeting his master to training to reaching the final test that will make him a demon hunter. And yet even though I’m semi-binging, none of it has felt rushed in the least. Events pass as slowly or quickly as I’ve felt they should. Finally, this episode featured the most dazzling combat to date. As expected, ufotable knows what they’re doing.

Re: Zero – 42 – Memory Spring

Echidna accompanies Emilia into her recently unsealed memories, ever ready for stinging vitriol (she really is notably more hostile to Emilia than Subaru…but that would be Envy, not Greed!). After a literally cold open in which a naked young Emilia first meets Puck, Emilia and Echidna begin the journey in earlier, warmer, happier, and distinctly more fairy tale-ish times. Lil’ Lia, we find, is often cooped up in the “Princess Room” within a tree, but is otherwise lovingly cared for by Mother Fortuna (Tomatsu Haruka).

Fortuna is not her actual mother but her aunt; her brother’s younger sister. One day, while particularly bored, a lesser spirit—Lia actually refers to it as a “fairy”—leads her to a loose stone in the room. Takahashi Rie does a masterful job making her sound not just like a higher-pitched Emilia, but adopting the speech patterns and weird little sounds of an actual little kid. No one does that better than Kuno Misaki, but Takahashi is pretty damn good here.

The space behind the stone leads out of the tree, and the spring Lia revels in being able to stretch her legs. It’s while she’s sneaking around the margins of the elf village that we non LN readers receive the first genuine shock of this flashback: our boy Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti, back then a humble bishop, not only looked normal, but seemed like a pretty nice guy!

“Geuse” and Fortuna go back decades, and you can sense that long history in their effortless chemistry and gentle flirtation. Whether of the Witch’s Cult or some other order, Geuse and a group acolytes apparently make regular visits to the village in Elior Forest, both to deliver supplies and so Geuse can receive confirmation from Fortuna that “the seal is intact.”

Lil’ Lia knows she’s not supposed to be out and about, so even after the fairies help clean her up a little, she spills blue ink on her outfit to hide the dirt and grass stains. If Fortuna doesn’t buy it, she doesn’t tell Lia, instead hugging her and telling her she missed her even in the brief time they were apart. Lia, even back then someone quick to comfort others, places her little hand on Fortuna’s head.

While this is a helpful introduction to the places and players of the past, this initial stirng of memories isn’t yet enough for present-day Emilia. Fortuna and Geuse mentioned a seal, so Lia needs to keep soaking up these memories. They include the elf Archi giving Lia some nuts to snack on, and another visit from Geuse, who inadvertently flirts more with Fortuna. They really do make a cute couple.

Geuse also mentions that affairs outside the forest are “dubious at the moment”, so it’s more vital than ever the seal remain intact. He mentions Emilia, but also “the two of them”—her mother and father, perhaps. Emilia and Echidna follow Lil’ Lia to the famous seal itself, an ornate black door in a glade carpeted with snow all year long. Lia pushes the door, but it won’t budge…which is probably for the best at that point!

Outside, Subie cries about Gar having seen his supportive etchings for Emilia before she did, but both Gar and Otto tell him to buck up. As they wait outside the Graveyard for Lia to return, Ram comes by to tell Subie that Ryuzu Shima wants to talk to him about “a subject that is unavoidable if you wish to liberate the sanctuary”. Wait, Lia passing the trial won’t be enough to do that? What am I saying; of course it won’t be…

Back in the flashback, Lil’ Lia is sneaking around the woods when she’s spotted by Geuse, who I thought was about to say something that would reveal that he’s actually evil, but nothing ever comes of that. Instead, he acts more “Geuseian” (at least as we know him) than he had to that point when he spots Lia and realizes who she is.

His face contorts just a bit as he sheds tears of joy for being granted “salvation like never before.” Is this because of Lia’s resemblance to more than one Witch of his cult, his regard for Lia’s importance to the seal, or both? In any case, Lil’ Lia learns from him that people can cry out of happiness too, and because she’s such a good girl, she gives him a hug and strokes his head, telling him it will be okay.

It’s at this point Echidna tells Emilia she’s quickly approaching the end of the “warm-up round” and the beginning of the part of the trial that utterly broke her before. While Emilia knows Subaru wouldn’t think any less of her for depending on him, and she’s scared of what’s to come, she won’t cower any longer.

She’s going to take this as far as she can. Rather than voice her esteem for Emilia’s determination, Echidna tells her she’ll “find satisfaction” in her “suffering”. Looking every bit like a dreamlike fairy tale for its entire runtime, the warm pastoral greens of the beginning shift to a cooler, moodier, more foreboding purples and blues.

Emilia insists that Fortuna and Geuse play chase with her. Geuse is out of breath, so Fortuna snatches her up and imparts in her the importance of making and keeping promises. Emilia then summons her fairy friends, which identifies her as a future spirit user. Geuse tells her they’ll be her strength when no one is by her side, but Fortuna would just as soon not think about such scenarios, promising she’ll always be there for Lia.

When Geuse accidentally lets slip something about Lia’s parents (mentioning the days they were “well”, implying they aren’t well now), Fortuna has Lia run back home to the Princess Room…but before she can go, someone approaches, wearing a fancy white cloak. He gets pissy and verbose about Fortuna asking who he is before introducing herself, but he eventually tells her.

He’s an Archbishop of the Witch’s Cult, representing Greed: Regulus Corneas. This marks his second appearance in the anime, but his first since he attacked Rem and Crusch’s wagon back in this season’s first episode. As Echidna warned, the tough portion of this stroll down memory lane has arrived in earnest.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 03 – Like a Rock

This week is a very workmanlike training episode, what amounts to a lengthy montage in between scenes of Tanjirou writing journal entries to Nezuko describing all of the things Urokodaki teaches him over a year. That includes how to stand, land, hold a sword, breathe, hold your breath and more. All the while, Nezuko sleeps, and Tanjirou worries about her.

Tanjirou soaks it all up like a sponge in order for his master to clear him for the Final Selection that will determine if he can become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps. Once Urokodaki tells him there is nothing else to teach him, he offers him a final test: slice a giant boulder in the woods clean in half.

The varying environments (forest, mountains, waterfall) break up the repetition that is both a bug and feature of most training episodes, and despite how fast time passes you can really feel how hard Tanjirou is working and struggling, and how frustrated he is when he’s suddenly left on his own to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

For another six months Tanjirou tries and fails to slice the boulder, until he’s approached by a boy in a kitsune mask named Sabito and a cute girl named Mokomo. Sabito offers tough love and clichéd motivational patter as he wails on Tanjirou. In between their sparring sessions, Mokomo teaches Tanjirou how to properly achieve Total Concentration, which allows humans to fight on par with demons.

After six months of that, Tanjirou is ready to face Sabito, who wields a metal sword for the first time after using only wood before. Tanjirou uses Total Concentration, her and Sabito rush at each other, and his strike hits Sabito first, cracking his mask in two. With that, the orphans trained by Orokodaki smile and disappear, and all of a sudden Tanjirou is standing before the boulder, which is sliced in two.

As I said, this episode has some cool moments but gets the job done in a pretty matter-of-fact manner. I’ve seen training regimens last only half an episode or less, while I’ve also seen them last entire arcs or cours. In the case of Demon Slayer, Tanjirou’s training takes an episode an change, which seems about right. On to the Final Selection…and hopefully Nezuko wakes up soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars