Kemono Jihen – 01 – (First Impressions) – Tokyo Dreamin’

Detective Inugami is on his way to a remote village to investigate strange instances of rotting livestock corpses. Yataro, the innkeeper’s son, is quick to show off to his friends, who all think Yatarou will be Tokyo-bound at some point.

Yatarou also warns Dorotabo—a boy working in the fields in lieu of school—not to go near the detective, lest the stench upset him. However, the detective, an eccentric sort named Inugami who wears a flashy suit and drives a vintage car, seems far more interested in Dorotabo than in Yatarou.

Yatarou plays the role of eager-to-please innkeeper’s son, hoping to make a good impression on a Tokyo resident, but soon after he talks to Inugami about Dorotabo in derisive terms, the detective dismisses him in favor of Dorotabo.

Dorotabo has always been ostracized in the village for smelling bad and being generally creepy. He also wears a strange necklace that he was wearing when he was abandoned, but Inugami identifies it as a “lifestone”, which means whatever happened to his parents, they didn’t abandon him.

Yatarou, like the spoiled haughty little shit he is, tries to steal the necklace from Dorotabo, but when he does, Dorotabo transforms into a vicious demon; he’s just barely able to regain possession of the lifestone and transforms back into human form.

He’s hiding when Inugami tacks him down, warning him that he is the cause of the dead and rotting livestock. But Inugami while already has him pegged as the child of a human and a demon—a kemono like him—he knows Dorotabo isn’t responsible. Sure enough, other demon beasts appear as corrupted dogs and deer.

Inugami and Dorotabo are in time to save Yatarou from the dogs, but a giant demon buck with weirdly human teeth appears, and is a tougher customer. Inugami is only able to shoot through half of its thick neck with his gun (which he’s able to summon out of thin air), but Yatarou rips the rest of the demon’s head off with his bare hands.

Afterwards, Inugami reveals to Dorotabo that the innkeeper brought him to the village to kill him. He asks him his real name—Kabane—and asks once more if he wants to meet his parents. Kabane says no with a bright smile, and asks Inugami to kill him. Inugami shoots him in the head, and reports the kill to the innkeeper.

Kabane wakes up in the back of Inugami’s car, having been out for a day healing. A bullet to the head can’t kill what’s already dead, after all. Kabane now finds himself in the middle of the largest metropolis in the world—where that little punk Yatarou wanted to go—and Inugami sets him up with some cool new threads at the Inugami Strangeness Counseling Office, where two other kids—presumably also kemono—show up wondering who the heck he is.

I found Kemono Jihen (literally “Beast Incidents”) to be a fresh, fun supernatural series that immediately pulled me in with its picturesque village setting, and kept me engaged by having a bake-danuki like Inugami act with more human compassion than actual humans towards a kid who didn’t deserve their ire. The beasts are legit creepy, while there’s a palpable sense of excitement and momentousness to Kabane’s arrival in the big city. This looks like a keeper so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 01 (First Impressions) – Over Hard

Well, what have we here? Only the most mind-bending, cerebral, downright trippy anime of the season, featuring absolutely stellar animation and direction and music. It’s one thing to be good-looking; Jobless Reincarnation is good-looking. But to be downright gorgeous, while also featuring an instantly sympathetic main character you just want to gather into a protective hug as she rides a psychological roller coaster through shifting space and time?

Welcome to the oddly-titled but brilliant CloverWorks original anime Wonder Egg Priority, created and written by Nojima Shinji (his first anime), directed by Wakabayashi Shin (his directing debut), and starring Aikawa Kanata (her first voice role). All of the elements that make a great anime hum along in perfect harmony with the precision and assuredness of far more seasoned staff.

It starts simply, and without holding our hands. This is a show you just have to go with and trust it won’t lead you astray. The lonely Ooto Ai finds a dead lightning beetle in the road, and upon giving it a proper burial it immediately resurrects, talks to her, and has her follow him down a proverbial rabbit hole. When she wakes up in her bed she finds a strange egg, and wonders what to do with it.

Ai sneaks out late at night often, and when she does so I couldn’t help but remember all the times I’d sneak out late at night, often not for any particular reason than I couldn’t sleep and needed some air. I could feel that distinct tingling you feel in the darkness, and the excitement of going out on your own.

But does Ai actually leave her house? Perhaps not physically, but she does enter a bizarre dreamworld that uses her school as a template. When she spots two classmates with pixelated faces and mocking grins defacing her locker with dozens of “DIE” tags, she retreats to the bathroom—where she most likely often retreated in real school to avoid the bullying.

Then the damn toilet paper shapes itself into lips with the same voice as the lightning beetle and demands that she break the egg. When she tosses it against the stall door, it grows to the size of a person and bursts to reveal a redheaded girl in a school uniform.

When the two leave the bathroom, a pixelated bully throws an axe at the redhead, leaving an ugly gash just above her shoulder, and she and Ai run from a swarm of “Seeno Evils”, no doubt a symbol of the evils peers pretend not to see in school.

Ai is also wounded in the liver area, but when the two girls successfully escape through a narrow broom locker, her wound vanishes while the redhead’s remains. The girl says Ai is virtually immortal, because this is her dream. If they can hold out until the next bell tolls, they’ll be home clear. But when the Seeno Evils return, Ai stays put, and the girl has to run off on her own.

Ai’s dream takes a funereal turn when she walks through a hall of white flowers, then walks through a floating door that leads to the school roof, at the edge of which a bronze statue is mounted. Ai recognizes it as that of Nagase Koito, a girl in her class who committed suicide by jumping off the roof.

Ai recalls the day Koito transferred to the class and immediately tried to befriend her. Ai tried to keep her distance, calling herself ugly, but Koito thought her differently-colored eyes were beautiful.

Koito visited Ai at her house, entered her blue womb-like bed, took Ai’s foot in her hand, then gave her a big hug, again asking if they can become best friends. We return to Ai on the roof’s edge, the statue cradling her, lamenting how she betrayed Koito even though she was her one and only friend.

She’s snapped out of this lament by the sight of the redhead down below, still being chased by pixelated bullies and the horde of Seeno Evils. Ai decides she’s had enough of sitting around doing nothing and springs into action.

She takes her multi-color pen, raises it like a sword, and takes a running leap down to the ground to deliver a devastating strike to the lead bully, obliterating her in a cloud of red-stained rubble and leaving a crater in the ground. Ai then returns the smile and double peace signs the redhead gave her.

Surprised and grateful for Ai’s help, the redhead introduces herself as Saijou Kurumi. But no sooner do they shake hands than Kurumi disappears in a puff of smoke, just after telling Ai not to forget her. The lightning  beetle’s voice says it’s a shame, but she has to cheer up if she wants her best friend back.

Ai starts to make sense of her experiences, and figures that the egg she was given contained someone she needed to save: Kurumi. But there are more eggs, which means more girls that need saving.

Cut to Ai back home about to tuck into breakfast with her mom, when her nose starts bleeding. The wound in her side that healed in her dream is back in the real world, and Ai is hospitalized. Her parents have no idea what the hell happened, but assume it happened when Ai snuck out one night.

hen Ai recovers, she races back to the odd escalator in a cave, which leads to a trap door and a chute that leads to a room filled with hundreds of eggs in washing machine-like tanks. From there, she finds herself in a strange garden with a blue sky that on closer inspection is merely paneling, suggesting an interior.

There she meets two figures with sewn heads, as well as a normal human girl who is collecting eggs. Ai seems instantly smitten with this girl, but the girl says nothing. And so begins, presumably, Ai’s quest to resurrect her friend by collecting eggs, freeing those trapped within them, and saving them from foes, which the bug promises won’t be as easy as the Seeno Evils this time.

Honestly, watching this episode made my brain bloom, explode, then slowly reconstruct itself. It was so sumptuous, so confident, and so goshdarn strange. At various times I was reminded of the work of Akiyuki Shinbou, Maasaki Yuasa, Ikuhara Kunihito, Kon Satoshi, and Shinkai Makoto, as well as Paolo Sorrentino, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson. In other words, this was some proper auteur film shit. There’s nothing else like it airing this Winter.

I particularly liked how few answers we got early on, while the info the bug provides later about How This Is Going to Work can’t necessarily be taken at face value either. What is reality and what is a dream is often deliciously unclear. But here’s what I do know: Ai, a troubled, profoundly lonely girl bullied at school for her eyes and suffused with guilt for what happened to her best friend, has been given the means to possibly make things right. I truly cannot wait to see what weirdness befalls her next time.

TenSura – 25 (S2 E01) – Brandy in the Bath

TenSura returns after a rambling first season finale, multiple OVAs, and full-length recap, only to give us a tedious, redundant, and lazily-executed clip show (it’s literally just clips of past events flying by), followed by a woefully generic opening theme. Thankfully things look up from that rough start, but it’s clear TenSura remains quite unconcerned with exercising airtime discipline in between big arcs.

Once Rimuru leaves the five kids in the care of Tiss-sensei, the main order of business is establishing diplomatic relations with the Animal Kingdom of Eurazania. Rimuru tries on a number of outfits to send off his delegation, led by a much-matured Benimaru, and when his speech is too short, he adds a bit more to the end of it, somehow moving Rigurd and Gabiru to tears.

With Benimaru’s delegation properly sent off, focus shifts to preparing the assembly hall for the arrival of Eurazania’s delegation. Vesta uses his noble background to help ensure all the diplomatic “i’s” and “t’s” are dotted and crossed, while underlings like Treyni announce that the Eurazanians are five days away.

That means they won’t arrive before Youm and his two buddies, who have aligned themselves with Rimuru and Tempest and have been spreading the word to other humans that the monsters of Tempest are nothing to fear. Rimuru welcomes them with brandy and a hot bath, again demonstrating that comfort and relaxation are chief tenets of the Tempest lifestyle.

The next day, Rimuru and his retinue welcome the Eurazanians, who arrive in a procession of gaudy carriages drawn by giant fluffy tigers. The delegates who have come on behalf of Demon Lord Carrion are the Three Beastketeers: Albis, Suphia, and Grucius. Among the three, Suphia is the most outspoken, and the anti-slime insults fly with abandon.

Rimuru asks Youm to fight the rude and fiery Suphia, but Shion steps forward and fights her instead, without her sword, resulting in the episode’s first cool fight between overpowered warriors. The second fight begins shortly thereafter when Grucius, “runt” of the Beastketeers, takes on Youm in a daggers-vs.-sword duel.

Rimuru had hoped things would go a little more smoothly and less violently, but there can be no diplomatic progress without mutual respect, so it becomes necessary to prove to the Beastketeers that the warriors of Tempest should be respected. Or as Seraph from The Matrix Reloaded once said: “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.”