NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 02 – Diner of Illusion

In addition to showing us a lot of cool stuff, NH2K41 can add another feather to its cyberpunk cap: it’s able to cover a lot of narrative ground in these two episodes. There’s a lot of information to convey, and while it isn’t always the most elegant or subtle (we learn the Kuroki brothers were abandoned because…they mention it while looking at a photo) it’s all easy to digest. And Takuya’s whiskey on the rocks looks frikkin’ epic.

The show also wastes no time connecting our two pairs of brothers, as Yuuya has a momentary vision of the Kirihara brothers, who are once again just trying to fill their stomachs in an unassuming diner. Unfortunately for them, the fugitive Miracle Mick is there, along with a Harley Quinn-style femme fatale, who uses Mick’s celebrity to bilk a 2D three-man band out of all their cash. She, not Mick, is the one with the psychic power: the power of mind control.

It isn’t long before the Thought Police (Takuya and Yuuya’s squad) show up, but they’re just there for Mick and the woman using him and manipulating the musicians, whom she sics on the cops like brainwashed dogs. The order comes down to arrest everyone in the diner, even the cute waitress, but when they start getting rough Naoto gets pissed off and uses his psychokinesis to fight back, stopping all the bullets Neo-style. In the process, Yuuya learns he has a skill: psychic shields.

Naoto, Naoya, and the waitress are able to flee, while Mick and the band are arrested as scapegoats. Then the mischievous woman, Kobayashi Kimie, reveals she’s a cop who was working undercover to bring Mick down. She also demonstrates her powers of illusion in one of the coolest manners possible: by “stabbing” the four squad members with glass spikes. It’s as pretty as it is gruesome.

That’s when Takuya, Yuuya, Reika and Michio learn that it isn’t that the supernatural doesn’t exist, but that the government wants the public to think it doesn’t exist. Psychics, like the four cops are about to awaken to be come, are the exclusive purview of the government. If they have to use supernatural powers to root the civilian world of the supernatural, so be it.

The waitress Naoto saves isn’t particularly thankful, as now the cops will be after her since she’s a Psychic too (though not, as she says, a “monster” like the brothers). She thanks them before shuffling off, warning them to keep a low profile. That may be tough in what is clearly a police and surveillance state where everything that has a microchip could be watching or listening.

The fact that when the Kirihara brothers escaped from the lab where they spend fifteen years, only to find themselves ten years further into the future than they expected, doesn’t help matters. Naoto thought they were going somewhere where their own kind were accepted and coexisted with regular humans. Instead, the opposite has happened.

Clearly the girl in the school uniform is a part of the experiments at the lab, as she’s returned unconscious and with a weak pulse, but alive after an apparent trip to the future. The question is, is there any way to prevent the awful post-WWIII dystopia that exists in 2041?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 14 – Kisaki Tetta Day

This week is essentially one long drawn out ceremony to announce the new third division captain of Toman: Kisaki Tetta, the one guy Takemichi can’t allow to gain too much power if he wants to save Hinata, Akkun, and Draken—not to mention himself from a disappointing dead-end life.

Unfortunately, most of this ceremony is extremely dull and slow-moving, and intercut with slow pans of still images of the dark, muddy background. There’s no insight into who Kisaki is or why he’s so intent on killing Hina. Honestly, I was glad Takemichi decided to cold-cock the guy; at least it made things a little interesting.

There’s all kinds of bizarre choices made this week, starting with Takemichi, who is still somehow not a member of Toman, being invited to a captain-naming ceremony at all, or how there was no build-up to Mikey’s choice, which Draken clearly isn’t happy about. Even Mikey admits Kisaki is “bad news” but acts like he has no choice but to bring him aboard.

Even more awkward is the sudden inclusion of first division captain Baji Keisuke in this episode. He’s apparently someone so important to Mikey that he makes Takemichi a Toman member under Mitsuya with the mission of bringing Baji back into the fold after he threatened to join Valhalla.

Takemichi agrees to bring Baji back, in exchange for Mikey firing Kisaki. If Takemichi fails, Mikey promises to kill him. Considering Takemichi’s showing this week—mostly sweating, panting, and panicking—I can’t say I’m optimistic about his success. And yet, he’s such an ineffectual fuck-up I somehow can’t help but want him to succeed.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 03 – Sapphire in the Rough

Saikawa Yui is a nationally famous idol on the rise who also happens to be a ridiculously wealthy heiress. As her parents died three years ago, she is now head of a household that possesses, among other things, a sapphire worth upwards of three billion yen.

How she happened to find Kimizuka or know he was tied to a famous detective is unclear (though I’m guessing with her money she can afford all manner of resources) but her mission for him is simple: prevent the theft of the sapphire on the day of her live Tokyo Dome performance.

Nagisa threw Kimizuka for a momentary loop when she declares that she is the legendary detective and he is merely her sidekick, but he isn’t surprised for long. After all, Siesta’s heart is beating in Nagisa’s chest, and Nagisa later mentions that due to her prior poor health she didn’t really take pains to establish a clear identity for herself.

Now Siesta’s heart seems to be pulling her along, and Nagisa seems game to be along for the ride. Nagisa has taken a shine to Kimizuka, and vice versa, and while Kimizuka is concerned that the fact Nagisa wears her new heart on her sleeve could cause problems for her as a detective (who must always follow their heads first), that doesn’t change the fact he’s looking as forward to working with her as she is him.

Despite being packed with just the kind of almost-too-polished witty banter I often enjoy in these kinds of series, this was still the weakest episode of the bunch. It lacked the action and intrigue of the double-length first episode, and lacked much of the emotional resonance of the second. Instead, it’s basically about a case-of-the-week(s) that seems simple on the surface, but it’s complexities remain known only to Kimizuka.

While his claim that Yui-nya is lying should bear intriguing fruit next week, and there were likely a few clues this week that will be referred to when he makes his big deductory speech, the fact is this episode’s true value can’t be fully assessed due to its reliance on the payoff in the next.

Also, the fact Yui is so quick to label Kimizuka a pervert feels both lazy and unnecessary. Even if it’s mostly in jest, it undermines the goodwill built up last week which portrayed Kimizuka as a decent mature fellow. Yui doth protest too much…though maybe that’s the point: she’s trying to deflect his suspicions about what she’s hiding from him and Nagisa with childish insults.

We’ll see … as for my prediction: Yui made the ransom note-like warning that the gem would be stolen, or possibly hired people to steal it.

Meikyuu Black Company – 02 – Workers of Another World, Unite!

Taking in a pet behemoth wasn’t all it was choked up to be, but now both Ninomiya and Wanibe are reassigned to Raiza’ha Mining Corp.’s Exploration Division, Group 8, performing menial support duties to the elite front-line groups like Group 3. No sooner does he discover that excellently marbled beef is dirt-cheap in this world than a hungry Rimu snatches it and gulps it down after stoving his head in the wall.

The job soon wears down Ninomiya’s spirit, to the point he’s sheepishly obedient. He doesn’t like it, but fate smiles upon him when he crosses paths with a member of that elite Group 3, separated from his companions. He’s being chased by a swarm of giant ants, but armed with various potions for stocking treasure chests (someone has to do it), he mixes some ant leg shavings one of those potions, turning himself, his elderly supervisor, and the Group 3 kid into ants.

For a large portion of this episode, it’s all ants, all the time, which is just so refreshingly weird to behold. Ant!Ninomiya has the same gestures as regular Ninomiya, and even a shock of blue hair. What’s even better is that he’s not a totally self-serving asshole this week! Now, I’m not going to say convincing the ants to join his cause doesn’t benefit him, but the entire enterprise was born out of empathy he felt for the endlessly toiling ant drones.

Of course, it isn’t long before the rabble-rousing Comr-ant Ninomiya (who has turned back into a human) encounters Management, AKA the Ant Queen. When Ninomiya accuses her of simply lounging around while her subjects work themselves to death, she responds by demonstrating her brute strength, molting to become thrice her original size. Even then, the timely arrival of Rimu spooks the queen into submission; she who knows exactly what Rimu is.

Ninomiya than earns the queen’s esteem by taming Rimu with what I’ll call “Chekhov’s Marbled Steak”. Once Wanibe, who had been laid up with a injury throughout the ant-venture, returns to work, the fire is fully back in Ninomiya’s belly, and he has a proposition for Wanibe: join his new organization for bringing down the corrupt oppression of Raiza’ha Mining Corporation: the titular Meikyuu Black Company. 

With both Rimu, the Ant Queen and her army as his allies, he’s very quickly become someone to be taken seriously; an Ant of the Peopl, if you will. And while I got a kick out of watching Ninomiya be an asshole and get punished for it, it’s even more rewarding to see him seemingly learn from the mistakes of the past and attempt to be a better man, lifting others up along with himself and reaping the rewards of loyalty and fellowship.

I must say really didn’t expect this isekai show about an arrogant NEET layabout to become so…socialist so fast, but now that it has, I find it delightful, and can’t wait to see what craziness is in store next week—or who of the five main characters in the OP and ED we’ll meet next.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 01 (First Impressions) – It’s That Kind of Night

I’ll give NIGHT HEAD 2041 this: it gives you bang for the buck. There’s a metric fuckton of stuff to look at in its 22 minutes, and a pulsing, pounding score by Yamada Yukata (Vinland Saga, Great Pretender) adds weight and dignity to every one of those minutes. The CGI modeling of most characters is akin to Knights of Sidonia, a show I enjoyed quite a bit, and like that show’s sci-fi setting, the sometimes off-putting style fits the cyberpunk milieu like a glove.

The thing is, it’s not just visuals and sound that NH2K41 has in spades; it’s characters, factions, and ideas. It’s not lacking in ambition, but it often feels scattered, like it’s trying to say too much to fast. I’m reminded of the 2004 live-action Casshern film, which my friends and I love, but also joke that it’s about “absolutely everything, all the time, only louder and faster”.

Perhaps that’s a side effect of having to introduce us to this world, its pair of protagonist brothers on opposite sides of a post-WWIII conflict between the hyper-atheist, rationalist powers that be and anyone and everyone who believes in higher powers, the supernatural or the occult, or any kind of fiction. That last part is a bit hard to chew; but fine.

I can totally believe that society has put all of its eggs in the pseudo-military police industrial complex that is Special Weapons Enforcement, to which the Kuroki brothers belong. There’s a distinct vibe to both them and their two comrades that made me think they were criminals going after other criminals a la PSYCHO-PASS. But the less this is compared to that, the better; at least for now.

P-P could go off the rails at times, at least had some focus to its bold brash ruminations on society. It was also anchored by my avatar of many years, Tsunemori Akane, one of my all-time favorite anime characters. Night Head has a lot of characters, including the aforementioned pair of brothers, but they’re not exactly brimming with personality or originality.

One thing I did like was how the episode suddenly changed gears after one of the Kuroki Takuya accidentally conjured an EMP to save his little brother Yuuya, basically committing a crime by doing something that shouldn’t be possible. That segues smoothly to the Kirihara brothers, Naoto and Naoya, a psychokinetic and a clairvoyant, respectively.

Freshly sprung from some kind of lab where they’d spend an untold portion of their lives and with a fast car and a stack of cash in their possession, Naoto continually assures his adorable little brother that the time is now, as in, for people like them to step out of the shadows and join the world community without fear of ostracization or oppression.

Unfortunately, when you and your brother are essentially X-Men, it’s hard not to make ordinary humans fearful, angry, or a combination of both simply by existing. That’s what happens when the brothers dare to grab a bite to eat—though it’s at least partially their fault for waltzing into a bar where there’s an obvious shit-starter lounging on a couch with his honey.

Weirdly enough, these two are rendered in the anime-standard two dimensions instead of the three of our superpowered brothers. I’d normally cry foul but it makes sense thematically, so I’m going to allow this. Still the interaction is awfully pat, and drags on a bit too long, such that I left the scene less worried about backlash for the brothers, and more upset that what was probably a pretty good pizza went to waste.

After the Kiriharas’ pub crawl, we return to the thought police in the aftermath of the EMP, which erased all records of what happened during the raid to capture “Miracle Mick”, who may just be a money-grubbing charlatan or could actually have powers. Heck, Takuya clearly has the power to create an EMP—a super useful ability if you don’t want anyone to know you have an ability, owing to the overreliance on electronic tech.

While it’s usually a good idea not to expect every episode to look as good at the first, both Sidonia and the more recent Akudama Drive are exceptions to that rule. But it’s not consistent production quality I’m worried about. I know Night Head 2041 is probably going to look and sound awesome every week. But will it ever get around to organizing its myriad ideas and scenarios?

Learning that the girl only the Kuroki bros saw during the raid astral projected into the future is the kind of hook that ensures I’ll be back next week and probably the week after that. I just hope there’s more in store than eye an ear candy…but some head meat and potatoes, too.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 02 – Heart of the Matter

Sometimes I pick up on the mystery at the beginning. From the moment Natsunagi Nagisa told Kimihiko she was the recipient of a heart transplant a year ago—the same year Siesta died—I knew it was Siesta’s heart she had. It’s, as Nagisa later remarks, why she’s so forward with him at first, and also so weird, sticking her hand in his mouth and threatening to touch his uvula before giving him a comforting hug.

It’s partly so he can hear the heart, but also because it’s the closest he can get to Siesta now that she’s gone. Never mind that “memory transference” is pseudoscience. I believe there are documented instances of people suddenly yearning for things or people connected to the donor. There’s a reason for the popular belief the heart is the domain of the soul and not the brain.

The thing is, it didn’t matter that I immediately figured out the “mystery”, because that wasn’t the point. The point was the emotional fallout of such a reunion. Kimihiko had returned to his lukewarm ordinary life of high school and was fine with it, but he later admits he “couldn’t go on” without some form of closure.

Of course, that’s before he himself figures out what the heck is going on. I’m sure he had some suspicions—you’re not a legendary detective’s sidekick for three years without absorbing some deductive wisdom—prior to taking Nagisa to meet the very person who could not cannot under any circumstances harm Siesta, and so cannot harm Nagisa, the new owner of her heart.

While lacking anything in the way of action like the first episode (which feels more like a prologue to this series), the fact this second outing half the length means a more satisfyingly taut story can be told. It doesn’t waste any time, yet doesn’t feel rushed. Your mileage may vary, but I derived a great deal of emotional impact from the reunion of Siesta’s heart and her clearly bored and listless assistant.

A lot of the resonance is due to some particularly decent dialogue towards the end, when Kimihiko realizes that Siesta’s heart (and Nagisa along with it) needs both a hug and reassurance. Taketatsu Ayana, one of the best in the business, voices Nagisa pitch-perfect with a cool effortlessness.

Even if Siesta is no longer in Kimihiko’s life, I hope we get more Nagisa. As for the Chuunibyou-looking girl who shows up at the very end looking for the Legendary Detective, well…we’ll see, won’t we?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s watching this too! Read his review here.

Meikyuu Black Company – 01 (First Impressions) – Report, Remind, Review

What am I doing, reviewing a show better suited for either Preston (fantasy) or Zane (comedy)? Because I have the fewest shows so far. See, I’m not like Ninomiya Kinji, who cares nothing for the equal distribution of labor. If he can stand at the top of a mountain and profit off everyone toiling below, by golly he’s going to put all of his energy into that venture.

This is to say, Kinji is a jerk. A BIG jerk. Like, it would be tiresome being around him. He doesn’t care; in his world he’s an “Ultra-Pro NEET” who made all his money by age 26 and is now dedicating the rest of his life to kickin’ back. I can’t say I blame him, nor that I can’t relate…but it does not mean I like the guy.

Of course, we’re not supposed to like him; he’s the most transparent of antiheroes, always making the wrong choices out of his own self-interest, only to immediately pay the price. There’s definitely a Wile E. Coyote aura about him, only his Road Runner is to live in this new world like he lived in the old one.

About this new world: it’s a rare-ish modern (rather than medieval / renaissance) fantasy setting, where adventuring has been replaced by corporate culture. Kinji, who already put in all the work he ever wanted to building his Ultra-NEET lifestyle, quickly tires of the drudgery and searches for the nearest shortcut.

He finds two: a secret passage to a deeper level of the mines where the mineral Demonite is purer and thus more valuable; and meets the hulking Behemoth Rimu (Misaki Kuno), who transforms into a horned girl when Kinji makes a deal to keep her fed if she helps keep him and his grudging associate (but not friend) Wanibe safe as they mine the ore.

Part of me feels a grim respect in watching Kinji sweatily chase the dream of his old world down. If the means make his end easier, they’re always justified. That includes a magical staff once crapped up by the likes of Rimu which he uses to enslave all of his co-workers into working nonstop until they start to keel over.

Naturally, the staff eventually breaks, and Kinji receives his comeuppance in the form of a good old-fashioned beatdown by the people he mesmerized. He deserved the beating…and getting bitten in the ass by Rimu, who is always hungry. But darn it all if as loathsome as Kinji is, it was fun watching him do bad things…and then have bad things happen to him. It was like watching the universe self-correct in real time.

Kinji also happens to be the most hard-working lazy do-nothing you can imagine. Despite the beating (and ass-biting) he received, I have no doubt he’ll dust himself off and look for the next get-rich-quick scheme, only to pour all of those riches into his ravenous behemoth girl, all while Wanibe face-palms in the corner. It feels like a dynamic with potential.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 01 (First Impressions) – To Have and to Hold

Kimihiko Kimizuka just wants to live a normal dull life. But like Kamijou Touma’s tendency towards misfortune (if being surrounded by poweful cute girls all the time is somehow unfortunate) Kimi is a trouble magnet. It’s how he found himself being forced to carry a mysterious attaché case on a jumbo jet flight carrying 600 passengers.

Then a flight attendant asks not if there’s a doctor on the plane, but a detective, and the blue-eyed, silver-haired young woman sitting next to him not only declares that she’s a detective, but that Kimi (which in Japanese also means “you”) is her sidekick. Her name is Siesta—Spanish for a midday nap—and she’s the best trouble Kimi could as for.

He joins Siesta in the cockpit where a battle of wits with a hijacker ensues. Siesta manages to provoke him into revealing his identity as part-“android” created by the secret organization SPES. She also reveals she was the one who arranged for Kimi to board the plane with an attaché case, which contains a silver rifle loaded with bullets containing her blood. When the hijacker is shot, he can no longer do her any harm.

With their first “case” closed, Siesta suddenly disappears from Kimi’s life as soon as she enters it, only to show back up in his apartment, making herself at home by wearing his leisurewear, ordering pizza, and even walking in on him while bathing. Since Kimi’s dream is to live a life that’s the equivalent of a relaxing warm bath, this is particularly egregious to him.

But Kimi can complain all he wants about Siesta; the fact of the matter is she’s effortlessly capable, charming, beautiful, and assertive. Kimi spends so much of the episode profusely rejecting Siesta’s assertions he is her sidekick, when he should really be asking himself why living a life with her would really be so bad?

His regular life and “Siesta Life” cross over at his cultural festival, the preparations for which he completely missed owing to the many past incidents into which he’s gotten tangled. Siesta shows up in his school’s uniform, and the two proceed to go on a date. All the while, Siesta is also investigating the Toilet-bound Hanako-san case, which she discovers to be a performance-enhancing drug dealing ring using the urban legend (and the festival) as cover.

She solves that case too, though the last we see of it is her jumping out a window carrying Kimi in her arms, both of them in wedding cosplay. She can survive for the same reason she was able to neutralize the hijacker: she possesses seven special items (you could call them magical) that enable her to achieve similarly special feats; in this case shoes with the ability to fly.

Kimi eventually deduces that Siesta doesn’t so much want a sidekick, but someone with his inscrutable ability to attract trouble, which she can then investigate and resolve. But he still gives in and agrees to become her “assistant” when she gives him a forthright pledge to protect him with her life whenever the trouble he attracts threatens him.

From what we’ve seen so far from Siesta, that sounds like a promise she can keep. So it’s both intriguing and a little sad when we learn from a final Kimi voiceover that, as the title goes, the Detective is already dead. Does this mean the Siesta we saw died, and is now a ghost? A vampire or other undead entity?

It’s the kind of WTF twist that was hanging out in plain sight (in the title) the whole time, but even in forty-six minutes, there’s no explicit answer to what that title means…only clues and theories. And after all those affable interactions between Kimi and Siesta, I am fully invested in learning what’s become of her. I’m also hoping this isn’t the last we’ll see her for a while.

At any rate, if you liked In/Spectre, you’ll probably like this too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s watching this too! Read his review here.

Tokyo Revengers – 13 – Crossing the Bridge

Why? Why is this show still going on? Why did Hina have to die, again, and in the most horrific, heart-demolishing way? What was Kisaki Tetta up to all this time? These were the unavoidable questions going into Revengers’ second cour, and this first episode of that cour had to do a lot of heavy lifting to convince me to stick around Takemichi’s tragic party, rather than executing a tactical Irish exit.

Rather than pass or fail, I must give Revengers…an “Incomplete”. This is purely a bridge episode, literally called “Odds and Ends”, though I appreciate that it’s a little rude to call Hina’s funeral a “loose end”. But the episode starts out by making us relive Hina’s final moments again, which I did not appreciate.

We know for a fact Takemichi isn’t going to let Hina’s death pass; not as long as he has the ability to go back and fix things. Where he and Naoto went wrong is thinking simply saving Draken would fix everything, all while pretty much forgetting about Kisaki Tetta…which was very weird.

Leaving Kisaki completely alone was never going to pay particularly positive dividends in the future, and even if we grant that Takemichi is an idiot who might well not consider Kisaki, Naoto let the joy of getting his big sis back distract him from the fact they had much bigger Toman fish to fry before they could secure a future for Hina.

Takemichi’s plan to become the leader of Toman and “bring it down” from within is an admirable one, but aside from being able to take the odd beating or stabbing we just haven’t seen the level of fighting ability, cleverness, or charisma needed to be one of the captains, let alone the boss. This isn’t something you can get by asking nicely with dog poop on your head.

Also, it’s been clear from the start that Takemichi has clear boundaries when it comes to being a gang member. But outside of murdering Kisaki Tetta (and possibly that Hanma guy too), I don’t’ see how you eliminate him as a threat. And since the days and months run parallel in the two timelines, Takemichi can’t go back any further in time to do what needs to be done.

So yeah, it was an uneven return to Tokyo Revengers, a judgment perhaps best exemplified by an extremely dull montage of Takemichi working and sitting around his still-messy apartment waiting for Naoto to call, all while extremely dramatic music is playing. This show has never been interested in showing its work, but Takemichi’s still just winging it doesn’t bode well for Hina’s future.

Scarlet Nexus – 01 (First Impressions) – Sisters and Brothers Fightin’ the Others

From Sunrise comes a new Railgun-esque sci-fi action show centered around a group of young, elite psionic soldiers pooling their various abilities to defeat the invading Others, who are straight out of Madoka. Yuito is our young rich boy rookie with something to prove, Nagi is his designated horny best mate, Hanabi is his cute childhood friend, while Kasane and Naomi Randall are two sisters who are a lot better at their jobs out of the gate than the guys.

Character designs are crisp, clean, consistent, and pleasant to look at. A true strength of the series is an easy chemistry among the various introduced characters, a slick wardrobe in which everyone wears something different but they’re united in their black, gray an red palette, and the brain-eating CGI Others are the right kind of unsettlingly uncanny. The OP and ED whip.

Demerits include generic personalities and nothing much in the way of originality in its premise or execution. It’s a very solidly by-the-numbers. affair. After going the whole episode without, the ending resorts to narration by Yuito, portending some kind of grand conspiracy on the horizon. My guess is that the Others are being made or drawn to Earth by bad guys.

Tokyo Revengers – 12 – Hina We Go Again

I knew two things going into this twelfth episode of Tokyo Revengers: this wasn’t the last episode, and Hina was most likely doomed…again. I was hoping to be proven wrong, but when nearly half of the runtime is spent watching Takemichi and Naoto very gradually make their way to Hina’s place, it didn’t bode well.

It was very in character for Takemichi to reconsider seeing Hina at the last second, thinking that it would just be odd for someone she dated twelve years ago to show up one night with her little brother. Fortunately, fate smiles on our crybaby revenger, as he bumps into Hina and she recognizes him instantly.

Once his tears finally subside, their reunion is painfully awkward; so much so that Naoto prepares to ditch them to figure things out themselves—they are adults, after all. Then Takemichi clings to Naoto’s leg, and for some reason Naoto gets it in his head that taking the two out on a drive will be a better idea than keeping Hina away from any and all cars, considering how she died in the previous timeline.

No, instead, as a very obvious and extremely menacing black Hummer follows them, Naoto drives Hina and Takemichi around until he’s called away by the station, so Hina has to take over driving duties alone with Takemichi. Takemichi, meanwhile, notices she’s wearing the four-leaf clover necklace he gave her twelve years ago…yet inexplicably chalks it up to some kind of coincidence.

They park at the Tokyo waterfront, where she has a memory of being with “the one she loves”. Takemichi learns that it was he who dumped her twelve years ago. Considering how easily he almost ended up sleeping with Emma, you’d think he’d remember what a jerk his past self was. Hina, meanwhile, often said how it felt like there were two Takemichis, and the one she fell for was really his future self.

Even so, this is apparently too much for Takemichi, who runs off to the public bathroom, where he thankfully steels himself to confess to her, no matter how badly he’s afraid it will go. It will and does go bad, but not the way he expected—otherwise, he would never have left Hina alone, let alone tell her to go back to the car.

On his way out of the bathroom he bumps into someone he recognizes is the present-day Hanma, who promised Valhalla would ensure Toman never had any peace. He’s confused why Takemichi “isn’t in the car.” Uh-oh…

Turns out Akkun is behind the wheel of the Hummer that tailed them, and he drives right into the back of Naoto’s car with Hina—and only Hina—inside. A bloodied, tearful Akkun says he’s sorry, but he couldn’t go against Kisaki—any more than his alternate present-day self could. He even repeats a lot of the same lines he said, further torturing Takemichi.

He’s able to get the door of the burning car off, but Hina can’t get out; the front of the car has crushed her legs. Takemichi hugs her and says he’s always loved her, which makes her happier than he can imagine, but shortly after that she pushes him out of the car, which then explodes.

It’s extremely shitty to find Takemichi back at square one, with the added tragedy of having to witness Hina’s horrific demise this time. It’s also extremely annoying and lame that Hina once again has to suffer and die so our protagonist can grow (…again). While he managed to avoid one possible route that would lead to Hina’s death, now he knows there are others, and it will take at least another trip back to eliminate them.

Had Kiseki or Hanma known that Naoto is the one who enables Takemichi to travel back in time—or that he’s even able to do that—they would probably have made sure Naoto was in the car too. But the fact they carried out the plan without Takemichi in the car means they too left a loose end hanging, and that loose end is bent on exacting revenge by becoming the damn leader of Toman.

Tokyo Revengers – 11 – Everybody Breathe

After a number of horrifying twists and turns and some truly epic beatings, Takemichi and his friends finally catch a goddamn break. The bad guys hear sirens and decide to flee, while Hina and Emma arrive with EMTs. Takemichi rides in the ambulance with Draken, who is not out of the woods, and even seemingly breathes his last breath asking Mitchy to take care of Mikey for him before going into cardiac arrest.

Draken enters emergency surgery, and Takemichi, the girls, the boys, Mitsuya, Peh-yan, and Mikey can do nothing but try to keep it down and wait. Everyone’s on pins and needles until that “operation in progress” red light goes out, two suregons step out and report the good news: Draken will live.

Everyone celebrates, Mitsuya tells Peh-yan that Draken visited Pah-chin every day at juvie, and he’d better apologize for trying to kill him. When everyone heads home, Takemichi goes looking for Mikey and finds him having a private cry alone, finally able to drop his tough stoic guy façade.

A few days pass, and Takemichi is the toast of the school, looked up to for the first time in his life and loving every minute of it. He even looks the part with his wide-open bowling shirt, red “OUTLAW” shorts, purple shades, and wide, pompous strut.

An on-the-mend Draken has no time for any of that nonsense when Takemichi visits him the hospital, but Takemichi pushes back against his disapproval, basically telling him to let him have this, just for a little while. Draken bows and thanks him properly for saving him, and presents him with the first Toman jacket Mikey ever wore, a kingly garment that’s a gesture of his gratitude.

On the rooftop, Mikey ominously wonders out loud how Takemichi knew inner Toman strife was going to go down before anyone else did, but drops it and offers his hand for the kid to shake.

Takemichi only has one last handshake to make. He stops by the Tachibanas unannounced, asks Hina to bring out Naoto, then presents her with a four-leaf clover necklace—the same one adult Hina wears (and kisses) in the ED. Takemichi doesn’t give it to her just to make things up to her, but because he wants to leave something behind before going back to the future.

With that, he shakes a very confused Naoto’s hand and ends up back in the present-day, only not in Naoto’s apartment. He doesn’t even have Naoto’s phone number! Instead, he’s back at the video store being taken to task by his younger manager. He gets an alarm for salon appointment, and when he picks up his dropped phone, he notices he now has a scar from when he was stabbed through the palm.

Suspecting he was finally successful in changing the future for the better, one of the three people he saved turns up alive, well, and looking much healthier and happier than the previous present-day Akkun. He’s an assistant at the salon and about to start being allowed to cut hair. He wants to cut Takemichi’s first, since that was their promise.

Then Takemichi gets a call from Naoto, who confirms that he was successful in changing the future. He invites Takemichi to join him in going to see Hina. The question is, will Tokyo Revengers’ twelfth episode rip the rug out from under Takemichi’s (and our) feet once more with some kind of new twist related to Hina’s fate?

With Hanma promising his new gang Valhalla will never allow Toman a moment’s peace before fleeing the sirens at the start of the episode, as well as the total and inexplicable absence of Kisaki Tetta throughout the last few weeks, there may be plenty left for Takemichi to do in the past. Still, I hold out hope Hina is alive, well, and not already spoken for.

Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train – All Aboard

In 2020, and what I believe to be the first time ever, the highest grossing film of the year wasn’t American. It wasn’t Chinese, either, which one could reasonably expect to be the first non-American film to take the crown. No, it was Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train. That’s an achievement that may never be matched. It also broke the record for home box office gross, now reigning over both Spirited Away and Your Name.

$500 million gross is a lot of cash to rake in, especially during a global pandemic. But after finally getting around to watch Mugen Train, which is essentially “Season 1.5” of the series, I totally understand why: it is an absolute crowd pleaser stuffed with action, comedy, and drama. I laughed; I cried; I may have pumped my fist and shouted “Fuck yeah!” once or twice.

But! Mugen Train is merely a very good movie. It is certainly a very good movie watching experience. What it is definitely not is a great film, and falls far short of the masterpiece status of the anime films whose records it broke. There is no single big reason for that, but several smaller ones which become evident throughout its prestigious 117-minute runtime.

* * * * *

First, as we know from the end of the first season (yes, you really should watch it), a Kasugai crow ordered Tanjirou (with Nezuko on his back), Zenitsu, and Inosuke to join Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou aboard the titular Mugen Train, which has a demon problem. Rengoku is, as most high-ranking warriors in these kinds of shows, a bit of an eccentric, but has heard about Tanjirou and Nezuko and is even willing to train him.

Their demon opponent is Enmu, a member of the Lower Six and the group’s resident “gross body horror” expert, a niche occupied by the likes of Bleach’s 12th Captain, Kurotsuchi Mayuri (or more recently, Jujutsu Kaisen’s Mahito). Enmu spends much of the movie standing atop the front of the train, talking about how much he’s looking forward to devouring its 200 passengers but never actually doing so despite having ample opportunity. Ya know, typical big bad behavior.

Enmu’s preferred way of rendering his prey helpless is by putting them to sleep. He has made four regular human passengers plus the conductor into his minions: the tickets the conductor punches contain a bit of his blood which is used to put the slayers to sleep along with everyone else. In exchange, the minions are promised wonderful dreams in which to lose themselves.

With all the demon slayers asleep, we take a look into the dreams they’re having, none of which come as much of a surprise. Tanjirou’s is a very happy dream in which he’s reunited with his family, who act like they were never slaughtered by a demon. Suffice it to say, it’s an easy dream to get lost in.

Zenitsu’s dream involves frolicking through forests and fields with Nezuko, which would be touching were his relationship with her in the show not so easily boiled down to “one-sided obsession” or simply “toxic.” Inosuke’s dream is aggressively weird and surreal, like him, but like Zenitsu and Tanjirou’s doesn’t offer any further insight into the character.

Rengoku’s does, but only because aside from a couple of brief scenes last season, we don’t really know who the guy is. What we do get is pure hero boilerplate: following in the footsteps of a former Hashira father who gave up the life and doesn’t care anymore, while having to be both big brother and father figure to his younger brother to keep him from falling into despair. Also, their sainted mom is dead.

Ultimately the dreams aren’t supposed to be particularly enlightening to us, as long as they keep the dreamers occupied and distracted. The minions then go in, find the edges of their dreams, tear them open with what look like icepicks provided by Enmu, and pass into the subconscious where their spiritual cores lie. Obviously, none of the minions succeeds.

Tanjirou already has an inkling he’s in a world of illusion, since his default thoughts are that his family is dead and Nezuko is a demon, so his senses must be wrong. His subconscious actually reaches out to him through a reflection in the water, telling him he needs to wake up, even if it’s being made very difficult to do so because it means running away from his confused and upset family.

His minion, by the way, sought relief in his dreams because in the waking world he was wasting away from Tuberculosis. When he reaches Tanjirou’s gorgeous (and very Spirited Away-esque!) subconscious, he doesn’t have the heart to go through with destroying his core. Tanjirou ends up waking up by slashing his neck with his own sword—call it the equivalent of the “kicks” in Inception that wake you up from dreams (or dreams within dreams).

Tanjirou is the first to wake up. Rengoku’s survival instinct kicks in and he chokes his minion before she can destroy his core (a very graphic depiction of violence against a woman that’s very oddly scored as triumphant) but he remains asleep. Tanjirou sees that Nezuko burned away the rope connecting him to his minion, and asks her to burn away the others’ ropes while he goes topside to meet the boss.

After exchanging some standard big-bad/hero dialogue, Tanjirou manages to behead Enmu, but of course his head isn’t really his head, nor his body his real body. Turns out he’s merged with the train, meaning the entire train his his body, with his head hidden…somewhere (the head of the train).

Enmu then continues to put Tanjirou to sleep, taking the same route as the Farscape masterpiece “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, turning the dreams into increasingly disturbing nightmares to throw the hero off his game. Tanjirou counters this by continuously slashing his neck as soon as he enters his dream.

With every surface of the train suddenly erupting with reddish-purple goo, suddenly all 200 passengers have to be protected at once. Fortunately, thanks to Nezuko burning their ropes the others start waking up, starting with Inousuke, who is ready to rumble. Nezuko slashes at the tentacles attacking passengers, but is quickly overwhelmed and restrained.

Enter Zenitsu, who gets to have a seriously badass moment with his thunder breathing assault, rescuing her from her doom. Let it be said this film does nothing to make Nezuko more than the bit character/mascot she devolved into in the anime, and outside of Tanjirou and Zenitsu’s dreams, she never speaks, which remains odd as there are plenty of demons who can talk.

All the commotion caused by Zenitsu’s thunder and lightning finally wakes up Rengoku, who has does his whole “how have I been sleeping through all this” line, and fills the cars with tentacle-burning flames (which naturally don’t affect the passengers). He orders Tanjirou and Inousuke to find Enmu’s head while he protects the passengers in five of the eight cars and Zenitsu and Nezuko handles the remaining three.

When his best water breathing technique can only tear away the flesh of Enmu’s “neck” to reveal the bone, Tanjirou employs his dad’s Hinokami Kagura breathing, which does the trick. Enmu’s real head is separated from his body (the train) and in his death throes, the train is derailed and crashes…which really should kill a lot of the passengers, yet doesn’t.

During his struggle with Enmu the minion conductor stabbed Tanjirou in the abdomen, but Rengoku quickly teaches Tanjirou how to use Total Concentration, Constant to staunch his broken blood vessel. Even so, Tanjirou is in no condition to fight anymore, with more than forty minutes left in the film. Enmu slowly disintegrates after lots of whining, including about how he was never able to enjoy his meal (which was all his fault) or rise to the ranks of the Upper Ten.

Right on cue, one of the members of that Upper Ten shows up completely out of the blue: the Upper Three, Akaza, covered in tatts and slightly resembling an evil Tanjirou with his short-cropped red hair. And while the ensuing duel between Akaza and Rengoku is pretty cool, the combat animation isn’t appreciably better than that of the TV show. More importantly, Akaza and the battle feel tacked on rather than a natural escalation of the conflict.

It also begs the question of if an even bigger demon big bad could show up willy-nilly, why couldn’t the same be true of other Hashira? The answer is, because the movie needs Rengoku to die, even though he was being set up as Tanjirou’s new mentor and big brother figure. At the end of the day, Akaza can regenerate almost instantly, while Rengoku is a mortal human of flesh and blood, and the wounds he suffers prove fatal.

The climax of the film also plays with the timing of the rising of the sun, which begins to light Akaza’s face as Rengoku tries to hold him in place so he’ll disintegrate. Instead, he flees into the forest to fight another day and provide Tanjirou with a future opponent with whom to avenge Rengoku. Like Demon Slayer reinforcements, the sun doesn’t show up when you’d think it should.

The final act consists of Rengoku providing Tanjirou the same encouragement as his little brother in his dream (and presumably in real life), as well as meeting his force ghost sainted mother, who tells him she’s proud of him (he did reject Akaza’s repeated offers to turn him into a demon, after all). Tanjirou is naturally very upset over losing another important person in his life.

As for the impact it had on me…the film just didn’t do the adequate legwork to make Rengoku anything more than a passing guest star. He had a few goofy moments, a few badass moments, and a very long and melodramatic death scene, and then he was suddenly gone, seemingly as soon as he arrived.

So as much of a funny, thrilling and sometimes genuinely moving crowd-pleaser as Mugen Train was, as a sequel to the series it fulfilled a merely utilitarian role, establishing how tough the Hashira can be, while establishing that the most powerful demons are even tougher, on the biggest screen possible. There’s not much else that’s new here.

It also gave Tanjirou both further motivation to fight the demons, though considering what he’s lost so far, I’d say he already had plenty, as well as the direction to the next nugget of info about his pop’s Kagura, which he’ll surely pursue in the second season. Mugen Train had no shortage of faults to go with its merits, but one thing at which it unassailably succeeded was making me excited for the second season, for which my ticket is already punched.

Rating: 4/5 Stars