No Guns Life – 13 (S2 01) – Enter the Dismantler

Following a brief re-intro by Juuzou, No Guns Life picks up right where it left off. Turns out that chip in Rosa McMahon’s locket, which Juuzou accepted as payment, is exactly as much trouble as he thought it would be. While he’s at a vintage electronics shop playing the recording on the old medium, his office is raided by Spitzbergen, the anti-Extended terrorist group.

Mary and Tetsuro escape (with the former being protected from a flash-bang by the robotic hand-pet), but Tetsuro doesn’t feel right leaving Chris behind. When Mary refuses to let him use Harmony on a badly-wounded EMS officer, he runs right into his captors’ hands. He and Chris are held as hostages until Juuzou coughs up the data.

Meanwhile, Mary follows the hand pet to a foggy staircase, atop which stands her big brother Victor, who is riddled with Extensions and was the same person who attacked the EMS officers guarding Juuzou’s office.

Victor isn’t there to ask how his sis has been, but to offer a simple warning: quit helping the Extended. Considering Mary doing so as her calling—even refusing payment in deference to what her patients have already lost—it seems unlikely she’ll comply.

Mary later meets up with Juuzou at a diner, where they meet Avi Cobo, a detective with Public Safety who is investigating Spitzbergen. Unfortunately, they can’t guarantee they’ll ever see Tetsuro or Chris again, considering how extreme some members of the group are. But what Cobo really wants is the data Juuzou has, and has his partner follow Mary, who he’s convinced is Victor’s sister.

I wouldn’t call this a standout episode of NGL, more of a gentle easing back into its grimy cyberpunk world, a re-establishing of stakes, and the formal intro of Victor, who villain-wise looks to give Berühren a run for its money. This week set up key future confrontations which will no doubt result in more of NGL’s trademark pulse-pounding, rock-em-sock-em action.

Deca-Dence – 01 (First Impressions) – A Study in Scale

Deca-Dance starts small and modest: a father on a mission to investigate artifacts; his young daughter Natsume tagging along out of a sense of adventure. It doesn’t end well for Natsume: she loses her dad and her right arm. Still, she survives, and dreams of fighting and making a difference.

Fast forward to when Natsume’s about to leave school and take on a job as a Tanker, supporting the Gears who fight monsters called Gadoll. They all live on Deca-Dence, a massive mobile fortress and humanity’s last bastion. Only she never hears back from The Power that doles out the jobs. She wanted to be a soldier, but it seems her missing arm disqualifies her.

Natsume is instead given a hard, dirty armor cleaning job under the supervision of a joyless man named Kurenai. He slaps a harness on her and pushes her off a ledge onto the sheer side of Deca-Dence. Rookies typically scrub rotten Gadoll guts and blood for five years before any kind of advancement.

While it’s gross exhausting work, Natsume eventually gets the hang of it. In both the classroom exposition scene and her working montage, Deca-Dence the show exhibits a willingness to use these methods of shorthand to deliver all the information it needs to deliver. The montage works better than the student recitation of What’s Going On mostly because it’s showing, not telling, and what it shows is very cool-looking.

Natsume eventually convinces her stoic boss to throw a welcome party for her, during which she gets tipsy and takes Kurenai to task for his fatalism. He just wants to live a relatively quiet peaceful life within the walls, and can’t see why Natsume looks at her arm stump and says to herself “More of that, please.”

The older Kurenai has clearly been worn down by his experiences, while despite suffering quite a bit of trauma of her own Natsume remains optimistic about the prospect of defeating Gadoll and living in true peace and prosperity.

At the same time, Kurenai has a pet harmless Gadoll whom Natsume names “Pipe”, and also a strange, unexplained side-job involving extracting “chips” from people when ordered to by a shadowy boss. We learn a lot this week, but there’s still a lot of mysteries to unravel; more on that later.

Eventually Deca-Dence comes afoul of a Gadoll attack party, led by an immense, Leviathan-like mega Gadoll that is larger than the fortress, surrounded by a bevy of bizarre candy-colored Gadoll small fry. They may look like Pokemon rejects but even the smallest of them are bigger and faster than humans. It’s a good thing then that the Gears use flight packs in order to increase their speed and mobility (similar to the flight packs in Youjo Senki, another Nut anime).

When the Gadoll are spotted Natsume and Kurenai are still outside, and their colleague Fennel and another maintenance guy end up falling off the side of the fortress. They fall for a very long time, accentuating the sheer scale of their home as well as the battle unfolding below.

That battle actually doesn’t seem to be going so well when Kurenai drops in with Natsume, but he grabs a flight back from one of the dead Gears and proceeds to unleash a can of whoop-ass on the lesser Gadolls, with a tethered, nauseous Natsume trailing behind him.

It’s an absolutely gonzo sequence with tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details. More importantly, it (along with his side job and pet Gadoll) drive home the fact that there’s a lot more to Kurenai to sleepy maintenance work, and despite not having Natsume’s moxie, unlike her he’s ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

I can see why he wouldn’t want her getting involved in this bloody business, but I still hope she convinces him to train her, “just in case” she has to fight some Gadoll on her own someday.

From the small-scale battlefield we pull way, way back to the final clash between Deca-Dence and the gargantuan Gadoll boss. In a high-tech command center that belies the fortress’ chaotic, grungy exterior, General Minato has his crew go through a number of checks and elaborate technobabble that essentially transform the fortress into a giant mass driver cannon in the shape of a fist.

Once that fist is charged up, they wait until the Gadoll is as close as possible before firing, and boy howdy can you ever feel the impact of that. The physics of large scale masses coming into contact at ridiculous speeds, and their effect on the surrounding environment, is beautifully rendered down to the smallest spec of debris.

With the latest round of bad guys thoroughly defeated, it’s time to collect all the Gadoll meat, rest, heal, repair, and celebrate…until the next battle, and the next, and the next. You can feel Kurenai’s weariness with this business, but also understand why Natsume wants to play a meaningful role.

Instead of ending conventionally with watching the humans deal with the aftermath of the battle we see that the humans had been observed by weird trippy robots in a trippy Dr. Seuss city. I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on here, but I sure as shit was enticed, as it adds an entirely new layer (and scale) of surreality and mystery to the past, mostly straightforward proceedings.

Gargantua. Sidonia. Macross. Er…Chrome-Shelled Regios—I’ve always had a soft spot for anime about a group of humans aboard a massive self-sustaining vehicle in a desperate struggle for survival. Deca-Dence is no different. From the city-punching, overarching Gadoll struggle down to the smaller, cozier struggle of one spunky girl trying to carve her way in the world, to the strange intriguing mysteries and ambiguity over who is actually the aggressor in this war, Deca-Dence is a sure keeper in my book.


Random Scattered Thoughts on Avatar: The Last Airbender

I historically would never bother with a non-Japanese animated series. Why mess with an “imitation” of anime when there’s plenty of the real thing? My previous, vague idea of Avatar: The Last Airbender was of just such a quaint, kiddy imitation with English voice actors that could never shape up to the style and depth of the best anime has to offer.

I have come to see these as horrible, ignorant opinions that have thankfully been reversed. A:TLA’s central theme is learning to move forward from past mistakes, and disliking the show sight unseen was definitely one such mistake. Having just completed the 61-episode series on Netflix, I can say without reservation that A:TLA is one of the finest pieces of televised entertainment I’ve ever had the privilege to watch. Talk about a reversal!

Does that mean the show is flawless? Not quite. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, any nitpicks I had with the show are vastly overshadowed by the sheer greatness exhibited by A:TLA in every aspect of what makes a great show: Characters, Story, Setting. All of the fundamentals are not only sound, but staggeringly adept.

Team Avatar, AKA the Aang Gang, is a group of friends, nay, a family for the ages. There’s Aang the Avatar with the weight of the world and past iterations of himself on his slight shoulders. The warm and passionate Katara. Her brother Sokka, with the plans and the jokes. Toph, one of the most stone bad-ass characters ever to grace the screen.

Then there’s Zuko, owner of one of the most dramatic, compelling character arcs of the show (or any show). His delightful, insightful Uncle Iroh. Appa and Momo. Sokka’s awesome Kyoshi Warrior friend Suki. Zuko’s twisted sister Azula and dowright evil dad Ozai. Mai and Ty Lee. The Cabbage Guy. The Boulder. Bumi. There are so goddamn many great characters, and how they grow, mature, learn from and interact with each other is never not compelling.

As I got into A:TLA, it became clear the creators borrowed a lot from the visual language of anime, from the blushing and head veins to the beautiful collection of various characters’ twisted reaction faces. But those are mainly surface resemblances. The creators didn’t just borrow the style, they expanded and in some cases, improved upon it, making something new and unique and excellent.

While this is ostensibly a “kids show” (rated TV-Y7), many of the ideas went far beyond the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth. Themes like pacifism, fascism, genocide and ethnic cleansing, and moral ambiguity were all explored in the stories and characters. It was a show that respected the intelligence of its audience and almost never sugarcoated or delivered easy answers. One of the most compelling was Aang’s eventual realization that because he was the Avatar, he’d never reach the spiritual nirvana to which every non-Avatar air nomad aspired. And, oh yeah, he was the last frikkin’ airbender!

For all of the emotional heart of the characters and their shifting philosophies and dynamics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the astonishing action of A:TLA, with characters of different nations consistently demonstrating distinct styles of martial arts, all of it masterfully executed by the animation teams. The creativity with which fire, water, earth and air are used by the various benders cannot be overstated.

Many people have written many more and better words about this show, and I seem to be simply gushing about it right now, but suffice it to say, I am a full-blown convert: Avatar: The Last Airbender is legit great TV that transcends imitation anime at every turn. I can’t wait to dive into its spin-off series The Legend of Korra (currently streaming on CBS All-Access in the U.S.)…and to (probably)hate-watch the much-derided TLA live-action film!

Gleipnir – 13 (Fin) – The Truth is Out There…Not Here

As Honoka/Aiko’s “Ghost” “erases” another classmate (perhaps involved in the bullying that caused Aiko’s suicide) in front of Elena, Shuuichi and Claire ask Sayaka’s gang to give them all the coins they collected so they can go back to living normal lives while the two of them “end the game” for good. It’s a neat strategy, but unfortunately we never get to see it realized in this frustratingly incomplete finale.

Claire finally gives Shuuichi an ultimatum: either they hang out at one of their houses or they’re through, having had only this one summer together before going their separate ways. It’s a bit out of left field, but the result is Shuuichi invites her to his house, which is filthy and no place for a makeout session. When Claire tries to get answers, a repressed memory of Elena in the same position surfaces, and in a panic, Shuuichi nearly assaults Claire before returning to his senses.

Ultimately, Sayaka’s gang decides they’ll give their coins to Elena and not Shuuichi. Chihiro makes the exchange, but is interrupted by the arrival of Shuuichi, whose memories continue to surface. He now knows that Elena used her ability to erase his memories so Honoka/Ghost Aiko wouldn’t go after him. In effect, she did the same thing to him that he and Claire want to do for Sayaka’s crew: shoulder all the burden.

Shuuichi wants more answers, but Elena is elusive, and a fight ensues, that while technically impressive and exciting, doesn’t really amount to much. With his memories returning Honoka/Ghost Aiko appears and prepares to erase Shuuichi altogether. While he’s busy with “ghost clones” Elena slips behind him and uses her ability, locking the memories of her back away and saving his and Claire’s lives.

And that’s pretty much where we leave things: a stalemate with no time left; an ellipsis. Kaito and Ghost Aiko guard the landing site that Shuuichi and Claire are still determined to reach, reuniting with Sanbe for that purpose (Hey Sanbe). Sayaka and the others go back to their lives.

Mifune, perhaps the most ineffectual character of the entire series, is resigned to moving on from Shuuichi, who was never aware of her feelings. But the power couple is still in the game, and still determined to end it. It’s just unsatisfying that we probably won’t see that end in anime form. Thirteen episodes should’ve been enough to tell this story.

Tower of God – 13 (Fin) – Just Climb, Baby

“‘Be sure to drink your Ovaltine’. Ovaltine?! A crummy commercial?! Son of a bitch!”—Ralphie, A Christmas Story

I thought of that quote from a movie I watched a ton growing up when I watched this finale, because over and over I’d heard that this adaptation was nothing but a pale shadow of/introduction to the sprawling webtoon, something I’d never seen, and was more of a commercial than a product in its own right.

Don’t get me wrong: both Ralphie and I should have known that at the end of the day anime—like radio—is a business. Unless it’s original content, part of its raison d’etre is to sell its source material, be it a manga/manhwa, novel, or game. Much like Bam, I can’t say Tower of God “tricked” me into watching it only for it to be a glorified prologue. Like Rachel’s attitude towards Bam, its true nature was always apparent.

But I only watch anime for anime’s sake. Any product that tries to steer me towards something that isn’t anime is never going to succeed. I watched Tower of God simply for the characters it introduced, the story that was told, and the setting in the title…which, it turns out, we never really got to see. There was never any actual climbing…that doesn’t begin until the very end.

Up top you see Rachel’s look of relief as she says “Finally,” her long ordeal with Bam is over (at least for now). One mark against this finale is how little new content it contains; much of it is a recap of past events with Rachel’s narration providing fresh context, right up to when she shoves Bam out of the bubble and to his apparent death.

We start with Rachel arriving at the base of the Tower, meeting Headon, and being told she’s too weak to climb it. But she’s eventually able to convince both him and Hansung Yu to let her make the attempt anyway, but only if she completes a special test: She must kill Bam. They even provide her with a Rak-sized bodyguard, as well as guidance from the redhead Hwaryun.

In Rachel’s mind, what she must do is never in dispute, so much of her ordeal throughout the training sessions is convincing her body to respond to her mind’s intentions. Climbing the Tower and becoming a star, not just seeing them, is her primary objective, and Bam is an obstacle.

She watches and stews with envy and resetment as he gains everything she wants with hardly any effort: an amazing weapon, a tight-knit circle of loyal friends who believe in him, the ability to summon and manipulate shinsu at an elite level.

But finally, the incident with Hoh puts her in a position to get rid of Bam, but tying him to her more closely than ever. Bam was never going to abandon her not matter how badly she treated him, so when she loses the ability to walk, he offers to stay by her side and be her legs.

Throughout all of this, Rachel has no illusions about who and what she is. She’s no savior, she’s nothing special; only something “extra”. She’s not a star, but at best a shadow cast by one. But that doesn’t mean the shadow won’t try to take the star’s place. If she climbs the Tower and becomes a star, perhaps the self-loathing within her will go away.

Yu and Hwaryun arrange things so Rachel is found by the others in a puddle of worm slime, and when she comes to she has no idea what happened to Bam. Anything could have happened, but the theory they’re left with is that he was probably eaten by a fish. In any case, he’s gone, Rachel is free of him. Climbing out of bed with very functional legs, she stands by the window and laughs a villainous laugh.


That’s because despite no longer having Bam to lean on, all of his friends (except maybe Parscale, who goes along with the group anyway) believe that helping Rachel in Bam’s place is what he would have wanted. They’re not wrong, either—even though Rachel played them all.

She continues to pretend she’s disabled, and while Khun most definitely has his suspicions about Rachel and what went down in that bubble, what he doesn’t have is proof, so he holds his tongue as Yu transports the surviving examinees up to the Tower to begin their clumb.

As for Bam, he’s not really dead, but was held in a bubble of shinsu until everyone else was gone. Then Hwaryun releases him and offers to continue training him to climb the Tower, if he still seeks answers at the top. Bam responds that he doesn’t think there are any answers up there, but he’ll search for them as he climbs anyway, because…well, what else does he have going on?

That’s honestly a lot of vague cliched “what will you do” platitudes at the end there, which aren’t very enticing considering how relatively little happened in these past thirteen episodes, and how no Tower climbing at all took place. There’s a certain feeling of arrogance that an audience will simply keep letting itself get strung along a la Attack on Titan, season after season, year after year…and as a newcomer to the series ToG just didn’t develop the clout to do that.

That said, I don’t see what will possibly stop me from tuning back in if and when the anime adaptation of ToG continues. Perhaps this really does mark the end of the beginning, and that an end—teased at the very end with what I assume to be an older, longer-haired Bam standing triumphantly near the corpse of a monster with a color palette similar to Rachel’s—may someday come.

I just won’t hold my bread that we’ll see that end in that next season. But perhaps we’ll finally see the Tower, a bit of climbing, and learn more about why those things are so important. Also Rak eating more chocolate bars. Till then, I’ll be sure to drink my Ovaltine.

Gleipnir – 12 – Cram School Curse

For those like myself who were eager for answers, the penultimate Gleipnir delivered in a big way, taking us back to the halcyon days of the Yamada Cram School gang, which consisted of Kaito (the lion haired lad), Naoto, Aiko, Honoka, Elena…and Shuuichi. Things would not go well at all for these five friends as the years progressed, and the Alien and his coins only made things worse.

Fast-forward to a few months before the present day, and the friends meet up for a reunion. Only Honoka isn’t there. Only Kaito doesn’t know why: Honoka’s dad murdered someone, she ended up living with relatives, they didn’t get along, and she just…disappeared. Aiko things they should just let things be, since Honoka didn’t tell any of them and so probably doesn’t want to be searched for. Pretty cold stuff.

The thing is, Naoto has noticed Aiko (who is his girlfriend) acting a bit off lately, and when Kaito sees her twirling her hair the way Honoka used to, he follows her and meets the alien. Then Kaito gathers everyone else to explain what happened: Honoka used a coin to transform into Aiko. Kaito believes Honoka did it out of a desire to have “everything” Aiko had…including Naoto, whom she loved.

To Kaito’s frustration, no one wants to do anything about this, and insists that things “stay the way they are.” But that doesn’t sit well with him. He confronts Honoka!Aiko at the cram school, sitting before of the real Aiko’s grave. Believing Honoka killed the real Aiko and took her place, he takes a rope and strangles her to death. It’s a shockingly rash action from someone who had to that point been a normal high school teen, and timing for such rash action couldn’t have been worse.

Shortly after killing her, Kaito learns from Naoto that Aiko’s will was found and addressed to Honoka. Aiko, who had a strong sense of justice and defended other kids being bullied at school, became the bully’s new target, and eventually she succumbed to the despair and hung herself.

Honoka, filled with regret for being unable to save her best friend and was the only one to get a note from her, went to the alien with a coin and asked to become Aiko, believing no one would care if she disappeared, but would be sad if they learned the truth about Aiko.

What’s so heartbreaking is she was pretty much right—everyone was willing to go along with the “new” Aiko despite eventually learning what Honoka did. Only Kaito didn’t want Honoka to disappear, and wasn’t okay with everything the way it was. From this point forward, Kaito disowns Naoto, Elena and Shuuichi, and vows to make them disappear to see how they like it.

He goes to the alien with a coin to make that happen, and in the present we learn he’s the one who has collected 100 coins, no doubt enlisting the aid of the “glowing lady” with Honoka’s form. Elena and Naoto are part of the team attempting to defeat him, but they’re clearly at a disadvantage.

That brings us back to the day Shuuichi encounters and murders the last survivor of Madoka’s gang in the junkyard. We knew Claire called him and he assured her everything was taken care of, but now we learn Claire had gone to the abandoned cram school to investigate Shuuichi’s past on her own.

There, she finds the little stuffed dog that was the inspiration for Shuuichi’s form. It’s concrete proof not only that he was there, but that his memories have been messed with. Months before, Shuuichi assured Elena and Naoto that if Kaito was plotting something, he’d use a coin to respond.

It’s starting to look like Elena didn’t force him into anything, but it will be up to the finale to present the actual moment he got transformed by the alien, and show why he broke from Elena and Naoto and lost his memories.

Tower of God – 12 – Sunk Cost

When ordered to kill Anaak, Endorsi refuses, instead inviting her to lunch “when this is all wrapped up.” It’s a pretty badass and heartwarming moment, but unfortunately neither of the two princesses can put a meaningful dent in Ren’s defense, and he’s ready to stomp Anaak to death when their big sister Yuri shows up. Her appearance is very welcome, considering how little she’s had to do since giving Bam the Black March.

Yuri is also able to demonstrate her awesome Ranker Princess power, exhibiting a gap between her power and Ren’s that’s as wide as the gap between his and Shibisu. Yu is very hands-off with Ren’s intrusion, but warns Yuri that helping Bam means his immediate failure of the final test. Her hulking underling ends up crushing Ren, while Yuri claims both the black and green swords until Anaak and Bam are ready for them.

Khun manages to call a pretty good game, using Lauroe to funnel the pigs to the ogres so they spend all their time and energy fighting each other while Rak and the others mop up. But Khun takes an “unprecedented break” when another member of the Khun family appears, offering to bring him to Princess Maria, the sister who betrayed him. Khun declines, as he’s kinda in the middle of something. Hatz interrupts the exchange, and the other Khun withdraws…but I’m sure we haven’t seen the last him him.

The two who had the least to do last week were Bam and Rachel, though their moments of bonding as their bubble rose were rewarding. But since Ren also wants the Irregular dead, he sends the Bull to attack Bam and Rachel. Yuri can’t help, so Bam has to deal with it himself, in this case by letting himself get swallowed up so he can explode the Bull from the inside.

When Bam emerges from the cloud of exploded Bull parts, Rachel is able to catch him. As the Dolphin Queen opens its maw in preparation to receive the bubble and the test-winning pair, Bam holds his hand out for Rachel to take in solidarity and friendship, and to celebrate a job about-to-be-well done.

Instead, Rachel shoves him out of the bubble.

As all his friends prepare to celebrate their victory, Bam sinks deeper and deeper into the water. He doesn’t use shinsu to create a breathing bubble around himself. He doesn’t even breathe. He just keeps sinking as the credits roll. It’s a devastating betrayal, but by no means unexpected—Bam put all his trust in someone he shouldn’t have, and got burned.

Now I understand better why Rachel is largely loathed by the webtoon fans. I have no idea what’s in store for Bam and the others in the final episode of this first arc. I would hope that after such a dark ending to this outing, Bam has nowhere to go but up…but who knows?

Read Crow’s write-up of episode 12 here.

Gleipnir – 11 – Like Nothing Ever Happened

This episode is full of one-on-one visits to the alien, the first of which is Elena. It’s clear she’s tired of this nightmare, wants it to end, and when the alien gets a little too cute marveling at her sister’s group’s recent ingenuity, threatens to kill him. The alien tells her he’s as mortal as his human form suggests, but killing him won’t undo everything that’s already happened, nor everything she’s done.

Following the slaughter of Madoka’s crew by poison fire, Sayaka’s group decides to let things cool for the time being, and return home for now. Shit just got a bit too real. As Sayaka laments to Aihara (while also declining an offer to comfort her), her lofty ideals led to the same carnage and destruction she’d hoped to avoid all along. Isao remarks to Yota how frighteningly calm Claire and Shuuichi were; as if they were used to doing such things.

As Shuuichi walks home with Claire, he wonders if everyone in Madoka’s group was really dead. He’s come around to thinking if it means keeping her and the rest of the group safe, it’s better if they’re all dead, so no one will come for revenge.

Claire pulls Shuuichi into an apologetic hug, but Shuuichi doesn’t blame her for getting him into this. In fact, Shuuichi’s been feeling a stronger and stronger desire to use his power to fight, not just to get his memories back, but to truly become one with her.

Clair tries to lighten the mood by suggesting they go see a movie, or alternatively renting one, watching it at her place, and fooling around. Time was this would sound like Claire teasing him, but she genuinely loves and cares about him. If they’re going to hang on to their humanity together, well…one assumes they’d become one the conventional way at some point.

Shuuichi returns to school and his normal life, and the first day goes by without any threats upon his life or those of the group’s. He and Claire finally notice Chihiro attends their school, and Shuuichi warns Chihiro to pretend they don’t know each other in case any of Madoka’s guys are also classmates.

And then there’s his friend Abukawa, whom he saw hanging with unsavory looking sort a while back. He’s been absent since the fire, and Shuuichi’s classmate Izumi tells him she heard about his burned body being found by the river. Shuuichi grapples with the realization that in order to save Claire and the others, he may have inadvertently murdered his friend.

Shuuichi stops by the alien’s spot (a rare daytime visit) eager for answers he’s certain the alien has. Whether Sayaka’s desire to preserve their humanity or Madoka’s desire to create a tight-knit misfit family, he knows people have come to the alien seeking the power to make their lives and those of others a little bit better.

The alien admits that the current form of the “game” wasn’t what “they” imagined, but now it’s a force of nature that can’t be stopped, only observed until it reaches its conclusion on its own. Shuuichi is welcome to try to take back his lost memories and the normal lives he and Claire once had, but the alien can only provide the raw materials; it’s up to Shuuichi to determine precisely how to pull that off.

It’s a testament to Shuuichi’s evolution that he so calmly allows himself to be watched and followed from the alien’s spot to a junkyard, his keen sense of smell making him aware of a potential enemy. It turns out to be the only surviving member of Madoka’s crew, who is eager to avenge his boss and brother.

This guy assumes that without the girl inside him, Shuuichi will be a pushover…but ever since the fire in the forest, he’s been a whole new Shuuichi, capable of handling himself even against a katana specialist. He tells Shuuichi he must not have known who Abukawa truly was; everyone has at least two faces; Shuuichi only ever saw the kind one.

Just as the last Team Madoka member urges Shuuichi to finish him off, Claire calls him on the phone, worried. Shuuichi assures her everything’s fine; he’s got this. And then he kills the guy.

The third alien visit of the week is from the past. A high schooler named Honoka is his very first visitor. Honoka proposes he ask other humans to help him find his companions, and set up a vending machine to grant their wishes as a reward.

Honoka is hesitant to provide a wish of her own for the alien to grant, but shows him a photo of her five friends, telling him they’re good people who would be willing to help him collect coins. Among those friends are Shuuichi and Elena, along with two other guys and a third girl.

It’s the clearest picture yet of Shuuichi’s social situation prior to gaining his powers and losing his memories. As the alien reflects back in the present on how kind and ruthless humans are, we cut to the lion-haired lad from the photo in the present, along with Honoka, who clearly gained powers at some point despite her initial hesitation. He uses her power to kill a group of gatherers, declaring this his story.

It’s a late introduction to two more of Shuuichi’s old circle of friends, but a fascinating one, especially considering Elena, like everyone else, was drawn into this mess by a well-meaning Honoka. The show is steadily gathering momentum and I’m looking forward to the final two episodes filling a few more gaps in Shuuichi’s memory, as well as further developing his bond with Claire.

Tower of God – 11 – I’M NOT DELICIOUS!

After a quick and easy meeting with the Admin, who accepts Bam’s request to let Rachel participate, Yu explains the rules of the final test, called the “Underwater Hunt”. They’re a bit…odd, but this time they’re easy as 1-2-3 to follow:

    1. Bam and Rachel go underwater in a shinsu bubble, with the aim of getting caught in the fishing net of the Net Dolphins.
    2. If they are swallowed up by the Dolphin Queen and get spat out on dry land, they pass. If they don’t, they fail.
    3. The other examinees must defeat or otherwise divert all of the Barnacle Goblins, Giant Wetworms, Striped Earthpigs, and the vicious “Bull”, all of whom are looking for a piece of the Dolphins’ catch.

Bam and Rachel have the easiest job: hang out in the bubble until steps one and two unfold. The tranquil, austere underwater surroundings make the perfect setting for the continuation of their reconciliation. If Bam is afraid, he never lets it show.

Bam tells Rachel that when the Admin asked him what he wants at the top of the Tower, he says two things: Rachel’s smiling face, and a cafeteria full of friends sharing a meal. Rachel can’t help but smile now, and muss his hair just like old times.

Things seem well in hand for the other examinees too…at least at first. Hatz keeps an eye on the goblins and wetworms, while Shibisu recognizes his duty to distract the Bull when he encounters it. When it proves too difficult an opponent, Shibisu is seemingly “saved” by Princesses Endorsi and Anaak. Alas, they’re there to compete, and make a bet: If Endorsi can beat the Bull in five minutes, she’ll win the two 13 Month series blades from Anaak. If she doesn’t, she’ll become Anaak’s servant for life.

What had been a lighthearted underground adventure turns sinister when the Bull rushes off, Endorsi gives chase, and in Round 2 it is suddenly much stronger; so strong Endorsi can’t escape its tentacle-like binds. Anaak’s pursuit is interrupted by Lo Po Bia Ren, who tells her this whole test was set up in order to retrieve the Green April and capture and kill her. Since Ren’s a ranker, Anaak is no match for him and gets stabbed through the chest.

The Bull then delivers Endorsi to Ren, who buffed it up and made it obey his commands. Rather than simply kill Anaak himself, he wants Endorsi to use the Green April to do it, thus proving her loyalty to her father King Jahad. This is nothing Endorsi hasn’t done before, and she and Anaak have no lost love, but you can see in her shocked look that she’s not at all looking forward to the task.

That said, how the hell will she be able to refuse, when Ren has both of them in his clutches, and the only one anywhere near them is Shibisu? Then again, Yuri and her crew are attempting to reach the testing area unnoticed. Maybe the only one who can save two princesses is a third…

You can read Crow’s review of Episode 11 here.

Gleipnir – 10 – Partners in Grime

Special abilities and incredible strength aren’t what’s scary, says Clair. What’s truly scary is the people who use them. Madoka is one of those people, and after disarming Shuuihi and Clair with ease, he gives the Weak a simple ultimatum: either serve up one of their own for him to kill to make up for the man he lost, or he’ll kill every one of them.

As someone who, like Madoka, has the will to use the power she wields when within Shuuichi, Clair breaks it to the others that there may be no way out of this except by playing dirty to some degree, or otherwise choosing one of them to sacrifice. Clair is exempt from the choice, since Madoka recognized her as a kindred spirit.


It’s good to learn more about Madoka, and how he was a pitiable loner and self-professed “shithead” who couldn’t make anything work in his past life. Ironically, it was his tendency to always look down that led him to finding the coin that changed his life. All Madoka ever wanted was a group of friends, and now that he has that, he couldn’t be happier, and wants to keep it going. He says as much to the Weak, being far more reasonable than someone so powerful needs to be.

Clair hears those words and knows that if they’re going to survive the day without any of them dying, they’ll have to hit Madoka where it truly hurts: his friends. She has Isao grow huge bushes of poisonous oleander. Then Shuuichi shows up, and wants to help.

Clair tells him to stay out; it’s her job to get her hands dirty while he remains the “good boy”. But Shuuichi doesn’t agree. They’re one, which means she won’t have to bear her crimes and their consequences alone anymore. You can tell Clair really needed the hug he gives her, and to hear those words from him. This is a beautiful moment on a show full of ugly ones.

Once the oleander is set alight, the Weak escape upwind of the poisonous smoke, which envelops Madoka and his gang when they try to persue. Madoka can escape the fire on his own and kill the Weak, but to do so would mean abandoning all of the friends to die in a cloud of poisonous smoke and flame. So he remains to help them. Clair trusted her intuition that Madoka wouldn’t abandon his friends, and won.

Being able to gamble when the stakes are so high is also what makes Clair and people like her “scary” in her eyes. But after hearing Madoka’s thoughts on the matter, as well as Shuuichi’s words of support, Clair realizes that even the purest of heart can become utterly ruthless when taking action for the sake of another, as Shuuichi vowed to do for her.

In fact, it explains why someone like Elena, whom neither she nor Sayaka could ever imagine becoming an evil monster, became one anyway. Not only someone with terrifying powers, but the will to use them…but like Clair, she couldn’t hope to bear the weight of her crimes alone.

Tower of God – 10 – The Light That Pierced a Dark and Lonely World

This was a transitional episode filled with several goodbyes, a check in on numerous storylines that have stayed on the margins, and the introduction of the nature of the final test, marked by a shocking revelation on Bam’s part.

Hoh is dead, and while Rachel is alive, she’s lost her ability to walk. Nevertheless, Bam vows to be her legs and climb the tower together with her. Rak says goodbye to his imposing stature thanks to a spell from Hansung Yu, making him an even more comedic presence.

As Serena prepares a quiet evening of remembering Hoh, she’s invited to join Bam, Rachel, Khun, Rak, and the others on the “friends list” for a memorial service where Hoh is interred. Afterwards when Bam is alone with Rachel, she confesses that she thought of him as a “clueless and weak” nuisance who was in her way, so she abandoned him.

That means, she says with a face soaked with tears, that he can abandon her if he likes; it’s what she feels she deserves. Obviously, Bam rejects that offer out of hand; he would still be in the dark lonely world where she found him  if he hadn’t met and come to love her. He’s not about to leave her side now.

Following this rather gratifying reconciliation between Bam and Rachel, everyone else gets the party started early with copious amounts of sake. I for one wished they’d spent a little more time on this, since it’s just as much fun (if not moreso) watching these colorful characters hanging out as it is watching them do battle.

After the party, Serena quickly sobers up and tries the old Irish goodbye, but Shibisu isn’t too shitfaced either and tracks her down to say “see ya later” properly. Serena he had a great intensity and simple but compelling backstory; if she’s truly gone, I’ll miss her.

Those marginal storylines I spoke of? They include Yuri, Evan & Co. slowly continuing their ascent, hoping to arrive before the examinees’ tests are complete. I imagine Yuri won’t be pleased that Bam lost Black March…or did he? Does Anaak still have both it and Green April? Somewhere along the line I lost track of that thing…

Speaking of the 13 Month Series, both March and April are being sought by Lo Po Bia Ren, Royal Enforcement Division Unit #67, who has been disguised as the woolly Wave Controller instructor Yuga. Honestly Yuga didn’t have enough screen time to make this revelation all that surprising, but the fact that part of his mission includes eliminating Anaak makes any potential alliance with Hansung Yu just plain bad news.

The next day, everyone gathers to hear who made the final cut prior to the final test. When one of those who washed out complains, Yu gives him a thoroughly torturous shinsu bath, leaving him a spent pile on the ground. But this doesn’t discourage Khun from also voicing a complaint.

While he, Bam, and Rak may have all passed, his quarrel (or rather his friend Bam’s, which makes it his) is with the fact Rachel is eliminated due to her injury. When Hansung Yu tells him Them’s the Rules, Khun offers to take the famously grueling Administrator’s Test, since the Administrator makes the rules, and they can be changed to accommodate Rachel.

Again Yu can’t help Khun; only an Irregular can negotiate to take the test. That’s when Bam volunteers to do it in Khun’s place, since he is, after all, an Irregular. This comes as a shock to everyone, including Khun, though frankly I always assumed everyone knew because, being a tourist to Tower of God newbie, I wasn’t aware how taboo such a status truly is, or that it’s said to bring “calamity” to the Tower.

Nevertheless, everyone in the newly advanced group of examinees agree to back Bam’s play, stopping Khun and Rak in the middle of their little manufactured spat designed to convince them of what they’re already on board with. Even someone like Anaak who doesn’t particularly care about Bam (or claims not to) wants to take the shortest, fastest route to the Tower, and that’s this.

Bam is escorted by Yu and Rachel to the door to the Administrator’s office, and upon entering he encounters a gigantic eye telling him they “meet again”. With everyone else pulling for him and Rachel’s fate in his hands, Bam’s got some serious negotiating to do.

Gleipnir – 09 – The Third Faction

The first third of this episode resembles a pleasant hiking trip (they even take a break to eat watermelon) through the woods, but it’s clear that the closer they get to the crash site, the more powerful foes they’ll encounter. When they take a detour around a site marked as turf by a rival group, that detour takes them to a very exposed riverbed, leading Claire to wonder if that was the enemy’s goal in the first place.

Sayaka may have stirred her troops with her speech—she’s clearly a good leader in that regard—but the fact remains she led her group into a potentially deadly trap simply by discounting the possibility her group could be outwitted by the selfish savages who inhabit the woods. Worse, her lack of any offensive capability make her an instant liability in an actual battle with a member of this third group.

This monster, Morita, runs ahead of his allies to cut Sayaka’s group off and stall them, taking Sayaka hostage and holding her limbs (and boobs) with his many arms. Due to the usual way things go in Gleipnir, I didn’t think Sayaka would ever leave Morita’s grasp with her life (or all her limbs attached). Enter Yota, who reveals his superior offensive capability for the first time by freeing Sayaka, ripping Morita’s jaw out, and leaving him in a defeated pile.

When Morita’s allies find him, they declare him useless and are excited at the prospect of putting him out of his misery and moving on, since they never liked him. But their leader, who unlike Sayaka is the most powerful among them, takes pity on Morita, rips out one of his own teeth to share in the pain, and promises he’ll make the one responsible pay dearly.

Taking the form of a massive gorilla, the leader rushes Sayaka’s group and punches out Isao, believing him to be Morita’s attacker before Yota saves Isao from being pummeled by a log. Yet even Yota has trouble with this guy, meaning the Weak’s last best chance of surviving this latest encounter is for Claire to climb into Shuuichi and do their thing.

After a couple straight episodes of interesting relationship dynamics, that’s all set aside this week for the sake of the plot moving forward. You could call that a demerit on a show where the characters are more compelling than the story, but it’s good to see the show strike a balance. After all the talk about external threats, this was a confrontation that needed to happen sooner rather than later. We’ll see how many of the Weak come out of it in one piece.

P.S. The sub-7 rating of Gleipnir on MAL is frankly a joke. This is easily a 7.6-7.8 anime at worst. Remember to keep taking those with a grain of salt!

Tower of God – 09 – Forgetting the Taste of Stale Bread

Endorsi prefaces her betrayal of her fellow Team B Fisherman by telling a little story in earshot of Bam, about how she was one of at least a dozen adopted daughters forced to fight each other for the right not just to become a Princess of Jahad, but to eat.

At first, Endorsi only ate stale bread, but she ate it all the same, maintained her strength, and defeated her competitors one after another until she could enjoy a delicious rare steak at the head of the table. She was quite literally forged in a crucible of blood.

While we know little of Bam, it’s clear he hasn’t had to betray or kill anyone to get here, so it tracks that he considers Endorsi’s treacherous methods “wrong.” But would it have been more “right” if Endorsi had let her adoptive sisters kill her? Endorsi (and surely many other competitors) didn’t enjoy the luxury of morality prior to these proceedings.

As she takes down the other Fisherman, Endorsi wants Bam to understand what is required in order to climb the Tower. Bams asks her why she mocks the fishermen for trying to fight her when she’s been where they are—the weak trying to become strong. But the past is past for her: she no longer remembers the taste of that stale bread.

In order to get what you want, Endorsi asserts, sometimes you have to do things you know are wrong. It’s what Bam must do if he wants to climb with Rachel. Still, Bam puts his foot down: he’s going to climb his way: no betrayals, no tricks. And even if Rachel hates him for it, he’ll protect her.

Rachel is actually in some need of protecting, as Hoh, overcome by the need to get Bam out of the picture, takes her hostage at knifepoint. Quant, having beaten up Hatz (whose comrades betrayed him), tries to de-escalate, but matters are complicated when Bam shows up.

In the ensuing standoff, Bam learns a shinsu paralysis trick from Quant, Rachel struggles, and Hoh accidentally stabs her in the back. Bam paralyzes him and tries to slow Rachel’s bleeding as she asks him why he followed her. Serena shows up just as Hoh stabs himself in the chest, resigning himself to “have-not” status.

Finally, Endorsi appears to fight with Quant, but gets slapped in her beautiful face by Serena, who like Hoh harbors some bitterness and resignation about being a fellow “have-not”, but doesn’t see offing herself as the solution.

Like Bam with Rachel, Endorsi has decided she wants to climb the Tower with her sister/niece Anaak—whom we see in the waiting room having her hair done in what is without question the most adorable moment of the series so far. So she took steps to make sure she and Anaak wouldn’t drop out.

But as someone who tasted as much pain as she did stale bread getting to this point, Endorsi warns Bam that he’ll have to keep tasting pain too if he keeps passing tests, whether he does it his “right way” or not. No one can have it all; everyone loses something in this game.

Endorsi shows Quant the red badge inside her vest and the two duel, with Bam deciding to back her up (they are still teammates, after all). Quant dodges Bam’s paralysis attack, swoops in, and snatches Endorsi’s vest, seemingly ending the game.

But it isn’t quite the end, as the red thing in her vest wasn’t the badge, but her red boy shorts! Endorsi shows her her real badge in one hand, and produces his badge in the other. So Team B wins and scores a heap of points.

The Tag Game turned out to be an intricately thrilling tapestry of clashing motivations, twists and tricks, and while Hoh seems to be dead, he’s still carted off by medics, so perhaps they can save him. Rachel is stabilized and rests Bam stands beside her bed. Khun’s gambit worked out and their core trio moves on to the next rounds of testing.

I appreciated the exploration of the kinship of “have-nots” like Hoh and Serena and “haves” like Endorsi and Bam, as well as how they gained those statuses. Serena led her friends to their doom because she wasn’t strong enough; everyone Hoh cared about died for the same reason. Endorsi became a Princess by killing all of her sisters while Bam largely stumbled into his good fortune.

Compelling characters, impressive action sequences, balanced pacing, and a badass soundtrack—Tower of God is truly firing on all cylinders.