Dororo – 03 – Made to Live

The sun sets on a hillside by the sea, and a man is at work crucifying “rebels” with all the passion and intensity of a guy filling a vending machine. There’s a detached, workmanlike quality to his ghoulish work.

He’s finally snapped out of it when a woman arrives, perhaps his wife, pleading for him to stop. She is run through by a soldier and dies right in front of the man.  Whoever she is, he is now awake to the horrors he is committing, and decides to put an end to it, by leaping from the cliff into the sea.

Because this scene was in vivid color and the following scenes in monochrome, there’s some initial confusion as to which scene took place first—especially since he seemed to off himself. Here man, named Jukai, has a young apprentice in Kaname, who is also a recipient of one of his miraculous prostheses. Villagers and out-of-towners alike line up outside his workshop hoping he can help their loved ones live normal lives again.

We learn beyond a doubt the crucifying was a part of Jukai’s past when Kaname hears a rumor from one of the out-of-town beneficiaries of his services that Jukai once served Lord Shiba. Jukai didn’t die in the jump, but was picked up by a foreign ship and taken to their country, where he learned his prosthetic-making craft. He works not for forgiveness or atonement, but simply because he believes his life was spared so he could learn the craft and use it to help as many people as possible.

An honorable a notion that may be, but Kaname’s father was killed by Lord Shiba’s reign of terror. While he wants to kill Jukai for revenge, he lets him finish an arm for a young boy whose only crime was crossing paths with a samurai…then he sheds the artificial leg Jukai made for him and hobbles off, unable to live or work with Jukai anymore.

A bit later, while walking along a riverbank, Jukai, alone again, stumbles and discovers the boat bearing the newborn babe with no eyes, ears, limbs or skin…yet still clinging to life and clearly wanting to live. Jukai finds another reason to keep living himself, and builds all the parts necessary for Hyakkimaru to not just survive, but thrive.

As Jukai raises and trains Hyakkimaru (a name he gave him), Daigo’s healthy second son Tahoumaru is born, and grows into a highly skilled but also arrogant young man, who also rues the deserated diety his mother keeps around as a memento of her firstborn, of whom Tahoumaru probably knows nothing.

Jukai learns that whatever special gift Hyakkimaru possesses that enabled him to survive this long also draws demons to his vicinity. Hyakkimaru can’t feel pain, so he feels no fear, and dispatches each demon to cross his path with relative ease.

But when Hyakkimaru ends one specific demon and his left leg suddenly and miraulously grows back (ironically the same limb Kaname lost), Jukai concludes that someone made a terrible deal with the demons that resulted in Hyakkimaru losing almost everything. He’s seen firsthand that Hyakkimaru can retrieve those parts that were taken from him by fighting, so Jukai trains him to kill, even as he curses himself for doing so.

For while Hyakkimaru, like Jukai, was given the gift of survival under incalculable odds, Jukai laments that the boy is destined to spend that life mired in violence, blood, despair, and loneliness. But he lets him go anyway. He cannot choose for Hyakkimaru how to live the life he was given, nor can he accompany him on his quest without getting in the way.

Back in the present, Hyakkimaru explores his newfound sense of pain by stepping on the fire with his real foot, then stomping it, prompting Dororo to stop him. Pain is clearly so foreign to him that he’s not sure quite how to react to it; fortunately, he has friends in Dororo and Biwamaru to make sure he doesn’t get in too much trouble experimenting. Dororo, meanwhile, won’t soon forgive whatever scoundrel allowed so much to be taken from his friend.

Meanwhile, Jukai, alone once more, continues to ply the battlefields, fitting the living and the dead alike with his handmade prosthetic limbs, unable to go anywhere or do anything else, but still able to do at least this much.

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Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 02 – It’s Not as Simple as Win or Lose

As a show that blasts through a lot of rapid-fire dialogue and shifts from one scenario to another, tackling a wide variety of interpersonal and societal concepts, it would seem Love is War trusts the intelligence of its audience.

But if that’s the case, why spend the first four minutes of this episode repeating all of the introductory explanations of how things work in the show? Did they just need to fill time, or did the producers think this all had to be explained again in consecutive weeks with the exact same narration and animation? I got it the first time you yelled it at me, VO guy!

Fortunately, that repetition is followed by three more very solid segments that build on the ongoing (and extremely counterproductive) conflict between Kaguya and Miyuki, starting with the notoriously frugal StuCo Prez finally acquiring a smartphone.

Unbeknownst to him, Miyuki dug into her bottomless rich girl resources to make it so he couldn’t resist buying one, so that he’d have to ask her for her contact info, which she’d consider no different than a confession, which would be a win for her.

While he doesn’t know he only has the phone because Kaguya wanted him to get one, he knows he can’t ask her for her info carelessly, and instead tries to bait her into asking for his by sharing a cute picture of him in his youth to Chika, then announcing he’ll change it in three minutes.

It may seem like playing dirty to use Chika as such a transparent pawn, but it’s not like she hasn’t influenced (and will influence) many of their decisions anyway. In this case, she’s a tool to lure Kaguya, who has to play dirty right back by applying “Maiden’s Tears” and protesting simply that Miyuki is being “mean.” It’s not a tactic she can use every time, but it works here, thanks to the psychological “Barnum Effect.”

However, Chika inadvertently throws another wrinkle into the equation that results in a draw, or loss, for both parties. She believes Kaguya is crying because she can’t chat on Line with her and Miyuki, because her antiquated flip phone—which she’s had since Kindergarten—won’t support the app. For all her towering rich girl resources, sentimentality is her undoing (as is her being unaware she couldn’t get Line on her phone).

As with all of their disputes, this isn’t really one that had to take place at all, if only Kaguya and Miyuki weren’t so proud and petty. This is proven when they innocuously exchange contact info anyway.

In Round Two, it’s frigid outside but Chika is already looking forward to Summer, and warns Kaguya and Miyuki that if they continue to sit on their hands they’ll graduate school with “nothing happening.” Chika means having fun high school memories, but Kaguya and Miyuki clearly see it as ragging on their lack of progress due to simple stubbornness and embarrassment wrapped up in an overstuffed “Love is War!” cover.

Chika suggests a Summer trip together, and Miyuki’s imagination immediately turns to the mountains, where he’ll woo Kaguya under the stars (with the requisite mention of Deneb and Altair before she states her desire to be “Alpha Centauri Bb to his B”). Naturally, Kaguya’s suggestion is to go to the sea, not the mountains.

Miyuki can’t swim, which he knows Kaguya would find “cute”, but every excuse he has, from crowds and sun to sharks, is immediately shot down by Kaguya, who had an entire manual prepared with counterarguments to anything he’d say in such a situation. Miyuki curses her for being such a rich girl; all her arguments backs up by cold hard cash. Besides, Kaguya says, the mountains are full of bugs—something the bug-hating Miyuki didn’t think of.

So he relents and says he’ll have to buy a swimsuit. Kaguya has won; they’re going to the beach, right? Wrong. Chika mentions she also needs to get a new swimsuit…because she won’t fit in her old one. Kaguya enters a body spiral, fearing she’ll be the one called “cute” by Miyuki  he inevitably compares her “peashooter” bust to Chika’s “tank-class” physique.

Now at a stalemate, with both now having good reasons not to go to either locale, they leave it up to Chika. Bad Idea; they should have come up with a third place to go as a compromise. Chika picks the mountains, but due to her previously unmentioned obsession with death and the occult, she picks the creepy Mount Osore. The match ends in neither a win or loss for anyone, but is simply “ruined.”

The third segment was my favorite, because it shakes things up a bit by having a wild card element other than Chika: a classmate seeking romantic advice from Miyuki. The kid assumes, like most of the school, not only that Miyuki and Kaguya are a couple, but that Miyuki is an experience veteran in the ways of love.

The truth is, as we know, that he has ZERO romantic experience, and is a complete dilettante in matters of love. But due to his otherwise high opinion of himself, his intellect, and his ability to bullshit, Miyuki decides to sally forth and offer advice, well aware that if he messes up and his ignorance is exposed, it could ruin his reputation.

This has all the makings of a train wreck in slow motion, and Kaguya is lucky enough to be there to eavesdrop, because we’re treated to her hilarious commentary of the advice session, in which she internally contradicts pretty much every piece of advice Miyuki provides.

She’s certain the chocolate the guy received was obligatory, but Miyuki insists it was meant to show that she actually loves him. Even the guy thinks she was making fun of him with her friends for not having a boyfriend, but Miyuki insists all four girls are into him, and he’ll have to break three hearts to win the fourth. I just couldn’t stop laughing not just at Miyuki’s ridiculous advice, but Kaguya’s harsh critique of same.

Finally, Miyuki demonstrates to the guy how to confess and ask the girl out, by using a tactic he “invented” that is nothing more than cornering a girl and slapping the wall, something Kaguya privately points out has been around forever. The thing is, Kaguya is on the other side of the door when Miyuki slams it, so in a way, he unknowingly does a wall-slam (or “wall-down” as he calls it) on her…and it kinda works.

Miyuki also tells the guy not to engage in unsightly convoluted schemes with the girl he likes, and even he can’t ignore the irony of him making that kind of statement…convoluted schemes being his stock and trade.

The guy, whom Kaguya has concluded to be an even bigger idiot and naif than Miyuki, thanks him for his advice, and brings up the rumor that Miyuki and Kaguya are dating, which flusters both of them. Miyuki quickly denies, and furthermore relays his suspicion that Kaguya doesn’t even like him and may indeed hate him.

When the guy asks him how he feels about Kaguya, Miyuki lists all the things he doesn’t like first, irking her from behind the door, before launching into ebullient praise and declaring her the “perfect woman”. The fact is, Miyuki spotted Kaguya’s hair peeking out from behind the door and so said what he knew she wanted to hear—as well as something he truly believed about her, but wouldn’t suffer consequence since she “wasn’t there to hear it.”

Similarly, Kaguya can openly display her wonderful mood after having such nice things said about her without worrying about him getting suspicious about why; after all, she doesn’t know he spotted her. Still, while there’s no consequence there isn’t much benefit to Miyuki’s actions, as it’s not like he wasn’t able to get Kaguya to confess, so he’s the loser for expending so much effort. On the bright side, as I predicted, the guy’s wall-slam actually ended up working (for once), so go figure!

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 02 – Being Served By Power, Not Serving Power

Gaining Sayoko and Nozomi as friends only added both to the list of things Asuka has to lose and the things she must use the power she had laid down to protect. Iizuka admonishes her for battling in downtown Tokyo so brazenly, and repeats his desire for her to join Spec-Ops. Asuka isn’t budging; she’ll protect herself and her friends, but she won’t go back to that life.

As we learned last week, however, there’s no way to have one foot in this world and one foot out. You’re either all-in or not, and Asuka not using her power last week would have meant Sayoko buying it. For her part, Sayoko remains subconsciously traumatized by the terrorist battle; the magic that occludes ordinary peoples’ perception must not have worked on her 100%.

We also learn that unbeknownst to Nozomi, her “boring desk work” policeman dad is actually a top interrogator (read: torturer) with the National Police Agency, and is torturing the terrorist leader for info on future attacks. One such attack is being facilitated by a group of “bad” magical (badgical?) girls, who possess an enhanced Disas from the bad old days.

Sayoko’s incomplete memory wipe aside, she is feeling terrible about having not been able to do anything to help her fellow bystanders, which means while she got to go home safe and sound, some people didn’t. Asuka tells her it’s better to be cowardly than to pretend you’re stronger than you are. Naturally, Asuka’s not telling her friends she’s Rapture, and you can’t help but wonder how long she can keep them in the dark.

A call from Iizuka warns Asuka that a powerful Halloween-class Disas has been deployed by the terrorists, and “War Nurse” is the only active Magical Girl in Japan who can engage it. That doesn’t sit right with Asuka, who after all was the one who recruited War Nurse, AKA Mugen Kurumi. Kurumi was perhaps the weakest of the Magical Five, and her success in combat relied on the cooperation of the other girls beside her.

Kurumi is confident she can deal with the Disas herself—she doesn’t have any other choice—but it proves more powerful and dangerous than the Halloweens of yore, and it isn’t long until she’s in the same position as the mother and young daughter she saved: about to be slashed to bits by a giant evil plush bear.

While I maintain the resting states of the Disas are hella goofy, when this bear version gets serious it’s actually pretty goddamn creepy-looking, what with its giant claws, buzzsaw-like teeth, and the bloody carnage it unleashes. Fortunately, Asuka is Just In Time to bail Kurumi out.

While the bear is tough, it’s no match for Asuka, who dispatches it with ease, angering the badgical girl who lent it to the terrorists (she works out her anger by stabbing a passing policeman in the eye). As her catlike familiar fights pigeons for food crumbs, Kurumi tells Asuka that she has been and will continue to be a “terrible person” for recruiting her while knowing she wasn’t strong enough to fight alone, only to abandon her.

She’s not wrong. Sure, it was Kurumi’s choice to make, but she made it believing Asuka would remain by her side, and that hasn’t been the case of late. Still, she’s willing to forgive Asuka as long as Asuka keeps her promise “from now on.” When Kurumi then transfers to Asuka’s school and class, it’s apparent that Asuka has some trust to rebuild with her friend and comrade. She’s strong; stronger than Kurumi. Standing on the sidelines is no longer an option.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 04 – Snowing In April

Boogiepop switches gears completely to a new mysterious, twisting tale with a new batch of players; only Boogiepop herself is the constant from previous episodes. We seemingly begin at the end, as she confronts her new enemy and enemy of the world, “Imaginator.” But Imaginator (Hanazawa Kana) tells her endings are just beginnings. Jumping off the ledge, she says there’s “plenty of time” before she hits the ground for Boogiepop to find her.

From there, the POV switches to starving artist and guidance counselor Asukai Jin, who has a very unique ability to detect what is missing in the heart of virtually everyone he meets. The heart is depicted as a rose plant, either lacking root, stem, leaves, or buds. Everyone lacks something, and that lack can never be resolved, and Asukai can’t see his own heart, so he doesn’t know what he himself lacks. He does what he can with this ability, but he feels powerless to truly help people.

That’s when Imaginator finds him. Like him, she can see things no one else can; in her case, their deaths, or rather the possibility of their deaths. Living creatures generate a certain kind of energy before their lives burn out, and she can detect that. This makes her a valuable tool for anyone who would choose to manipulate death. She exists to “recreate the world” with that ability, but she could use some help, so she asks Asukai to assist her.

As Asukai has some dinner his cute neighbor prepared, suddenly the young woman is possessed by Imaginator and speaks with her voice. She reiterates her desire to join forces, indicating that the one thing Asukai definitely lacks is a “calling”; which she can provide.

Imaginator kisses him to show him that calling, in which he uses his right hand to “prune” the roses from people’s hearts like some kind of dark angel of death. The prospect frightens him, and he believes himself incapable of such brutality, but Imaginator tells him his calling is his calling, and he is capable of it, period. It’s ultimately up to him whether to utilize that capability.

As he wrestles with what Imaginator has said and shown him, Asukai is distracted from his work, even sketching her to perhaps make her feel more real and tangible, all the while considering what he could do with her “assistance.”

Fast forward to Asukai being questioned by police after an incident in which Imazaki Shizuko, a former student he counseled and drug addict and dealer, tried to rob him at knifepoint before committing suicide. We shift between the questioning, during which the police don’t suspect him at all, and the incident itself, when Imaginator possesses Imazaki’s body to further illustrate how their partnership will work.

She shows Asukai that Imazaki was at the end of her tether and would be dead anyway in a matter of months, likely alone and after more suffering. But she tells Asukai there’s something he can do for her, before plunging the knife into Imazaki’s neck. As she dies, he can see her rose, which he cradles in his hands.

Before heading home, one of the detectives asks if Asukai said anything to Imazaki before she died, since she seemed so peaceful, as if all the thorns had been pulled from her heart. Asukai tells the cop he said nothing, and he seems to be telling the truth. It’s not something he said, but something he did, along with simply being there.

In another incident in which three delinquents are harrassing a fourth boy who is protecting a girl they want to “have some fun with”, Asukai decides to experiment with his new “alliance” with Imaginator. He has the boy run off to safety with the girl, freezes two of the delinquents, then has the ringleader turn his knife on himself.

Back on the rooftop of Touka’s school, a girl named Komiya who was good friends with the late Minahoshi Suiko (the girl whose body Imaginator inhabits) prepares to leap off to “follow” her, but is stopped by Boogiepop, who tells her she be able to join her that way, then admits to killing Suiko, since she was an “enemy of the world.”

But hearkening back to the episode’s beginning, Suiko hasn’t “hit the ground” yet; she hasn’t reached the next world. Indeed, she’s working with Asukai to recreate this one. Will Boogiepop need help from a human (other than Touka that is) to defeat Imaginator?

Domestic na Kanojo – 02 – Not So Strange After All

When Rui interrupts Natsuo’s kiss, she silently judges him as she roughly drags her sister to her bedroom. In retrospect, kissing an unconscious Hina definitely wasn’t his finest moment, even if it was a kiss meant to put a lid on his crush on her now that they’re step-siblings.

The next day at school, a late, bed-headed Natsuo learns that Rui has transferred to his school, and she’s immediately the talk of the school due to her being cute. Natsuo isn’t clear enough with his words, and gets Rui to think he wants them to act like strangers.

But the mere fact they went off into the courtyard together to have a private chat is suspicious enough to Natsuo’s classmates, who are well aware both he and Rui snuck out of the mixer together. When he meets with Hina, she asks if she kissed him while she was drunk last night, and apologizes in advance if she’s too “relaxed” at home again.

Rui was surrounded by girls in the morning, but by afternoon she’s all alone; Natsuo knows something’s up and has a pretty good idea: Rui is socially awkward, standoffish and fairly tactless. It’s as difficult for her to make and keep friends as it is easy for her big sister.

Natsuo offers to help her by pretending to be a (girl) classmate, and Rui is still her usual self-defeatingly honest self, but the two end up engaged in a dialogue that soon captures the attention of the entire class, who think some kind of skit is going on. Suddenly, Rui doesn’t seem so hard to approach, now that they know who they’re dealing with.

That night, a nude Natsuo predictably walks in on Rui in the bath, but thank goodness for once it doesn’t result in a blood-curdling scream and/or punch. As Rui quite logically points out, there’s nothing he or she haven’t seen before (interesting considering she once said to “forget” their tryst ever happened).

Rather than send him out, Rui calmly invites him in, and it’s Natsuo who hesitates. First of all, she wants to thank him for giving her a helping hand in breaking the ice with her class. But she’s also curious about why he tried to kiss Hina.

At first she dismissed him as an indiscriminate womanizer, but spending the day at school changed her mind about that. So instead, she wonders if he was merely trying to cheer her up in light of her recent boyfriend troubles.

Obviously, Natsuo doesn’t know about Hina’s boyfriend troubles. After the three step-siblings have dinner alone together when their newlywed folks go out for dinner (with Rui emerging as the best cook of the sisters by far), Natsuo brings up the subject, and Hina just as quickly deflects.

In a spot of bad timing, her boyfriend Shuu calls and she goes out to the front of the house to talk to him, insisting Natsuo not go outside with her. Nearly a half-hour later she rushes in, shaking and clearly upset, but still refuses to admit to Natsuo that she’s hurting.

Then there’s a knock at the door and the doorbell rings repeatedly, and both Hina and Natsuo assume its Shuu. Rui ends up the one to get the door, and it’s just their folks, a little tipsy from celebrating their marriage becoming official.

In his first days as stepbrother to both Rui and Hina, Natsuo is already trying to help them with their troubles. Rui will probably be fine with making friends in class, but Hina’s problems will be tougher to tackle, especially since she’s so reluctant to be helped (and she’s well within her rights, as an adult, to not want to seek help from a kid).

Regardless of whether he can help Hina, the fact is Natsuo’s new family and living situation is not nearly as crazy as the initial premise indicated. Whatever he may have done with Rui in the past, and however he feels about Hina, a new and powerful element has been introduced to his relationships with both: he’s unconditionally there for them, and doubtless they’re there for him.

The Promised Neverland – 02 – Building a Boat Out of Mud

Learning the truth of their home has shaken Emma to the core. She has vivid nightmares of Conny being served up as a fancy main course, can can barely hide her look of terror upon hearing and seeing Mama for the first time since their discovery. But Norman tells her they have to keep smiling like nothing’s wrong. Mama may know someone was at the Gate to leave the bunny behind, but she doesn’t know who.

Or rather, if she does, Emma and Norman are too valuable to kill just for witnessing Conny’s “processing.” During playtime, Emma and Norman agree escaping through the forest is the safest way, but when they cross the short fence they soon encounter a massive, seamless concrete wall. Further complicating matters, when a little tyke is lost all Mama has to do is glance at her “watch” and she knows exactly where to find her.

So, now they know that security is rather lax because they have some kind of tracking device implanted somewhere in their bodies. Mama seems to make a big show out of wordlessly warning the likes of Norman and Emma. Back at the house, while having a private moment of grief for Conny, Mama suddenly appears before Emma, wondering why she’s been “less cheerful” of late.

All Norman can do is watch in horror around the corner as Emma puts on a cheerful front for Mama. Ray ends up bailing them both out when he rings the dinner bell (likely intentional on his part), but as Emma and Norman depart, Mama asks them straight-up if they were at the Gate the previous night. They cheerfully say of course not, that’s against the rules, and continue on…but Mama is definitely suspicious. You could cut the tension in the atmosphere with a knife.

Once they’re alone again, neither can hold in their sheer terror anymore. Emma even collapses to her knees, but Norman helps her up with a trembling hand, and Emma sees she’s not alone and all hope isn’t lost. They’re going to get out of here…they just need a plan.

That plan involves stashing a bunch of table linen in a tree hollow near the wall that they’ll use to make rope when the time comes to escape (Norman figures they have two months left before the next child is taken). But someone followed them out to the wall; fortunately for them, it’s their friend Ray, who wants to know what’s up.

They tell him, and to their amazement he believes it all without a hint of incredulity, because he knows Norman well enough to know he’d never lie about something like this (Emma being a different story). While Ray is willing to lend his not inconsiderable intellect to the big escape plan, he has a big problem with Emma’s insistence that all 37 children will be escaping.

He brings up the virtual impossibility of getting everyone away from Mama and off the farm without serious or even total casualties, and something I didn’t consider: beyond that wall, it’s a Demon’s world, not for humans. Escaping is just the first step. The young, small, and weak will have to be left behind to ensure any chance of the survival of the older, bigger, and stronger.

But Ray’s way isn’t going to work with Emma. She doesn’t care if it’s impossible; everyone is being saved, and that’s that. It may be foolhardy, but Norman is with her. When Ray asks why in his otherwise right mind he’d go along with Emma’s “mud boat”, Norman explains simply that he likes Emma, and wants her to keep smiling no matter what, and that if dried and hardened it’s possible for a mud boat to float.

I have to say, I’m kinda with Ray on this one: if the sole purpose is to survive, not merely escape, they can’t take everyone. But at the same time, you can’t eliminate emotion from the equation, because these 12-year-olds are going to have to be able not just to live, but live with themselves once they gain their freedom. So mud boat it is!

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari – 02 – Surviving Together

Shunned by virtually every human in this new world, Naofumi turns to a demi-human slave in Raphtalia, sold to him by the slave merchant for 30 silvers; a bargain. The little raccoon girl is terrified with good reason: she’s been through a lot in her short life and she has no reason to believe Naofumi won’t be cruel and awful to her.

But despite his scary face and bad attitude, Naofumi isn’t awful to Raphtalia. I mean, he wouldn’t be much of a rootable MC if he did. Sure, she’s bound by her contract not to defy him and gets shocked if she does, but he makes sure she has proper clothes and a dagger. She’ll provide the offense he needs to become powerful enough for the next Wave of Catastrophe.

Raphtalia soon learns that she not only need fear Naofumi, but that it’s okay to have things she wants. He’ll take care of her, but she has to fight for him. Of nights Naofumi learns the “mental illness” her buyer warned him about: she has PTSD and nightmares from having witnessed her parents sacrifice themselves to a Cerberus so that she could live during the First Wave.

In a montage made all the more satisfying and significant (like the show itself) by the wonderful score by Kevin Pankin (Made in Abyss), Raphtalia learns to trust and even become fond of her master, who treats her more like a ward than a slave. The more monsters she defeats, the more the two of them level up, and the more money they make.

Raphtalia butts up against adversity when a rabbit attacks Naofumi and she has to draw blood, which she’s quite justifiably afraid of considering her traumatic past. But when Naofumi lays out the stakes vis-a-vis the impending Waves, Raphtalia’s resistance (which causes the shocks) fades away, and she resolves to fight and kill for Naofumi, for both their sakes.

Naofumi discovers he has a knack for medicine-making, and he and Naphtalia travel to a smaller town to sell their wares—popular due to the trying times. In a nice bit of good luck for a change, merchant he deals with apparently doesn’t know he’s the Shield Hero, and thus isn’t automatically against him like everyone in the city. He even points the pair to a mine where they’ll be able to make a lot of quick money harvesting ore.

The catch is that since the First Wave the mines are crawling with monsters, and a two-headed dog very similar to the one that killed Naphtalia’s parents attacks them, she freezes in terror. Naofumi grabs her and escape the beast, but they have to kill it if they’re going to have any chance against future foes. When things seem to be going south and he offers to buy time so she can escape, she recalls her folks doing the same thing and getting killed for it.

So rather than let Naofumi repeat their sacrifice and leave her all alone once again, she draws her sword and plunges it into the beast. When it lunges at her in response Naofumi is ready with a shield to protect her, and she’s able to finish it off. When the fight is over they’ve gained a buttload of EXP, and she collapses crying into his arms, calling him “Naofumi-sama” for the first time.

I’m glad that after a double episode’s worth of Naofumi getting beaten down, he’s found something pure and good to protect, as well as the means of progressing in this game-like world while appreciating that it isn’t really a game, it’s a matter of life and death. It doesn’t hurt that Naphtalia is adorable as all get out, but also tough and capable when she needs to be. No doubt when and if he encounters the other heroes they’ll get the wrong idea, but this looks like the beginning of a lovely partnership.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 14 – Festival of Conviviality

Hikari and Itou are alone in the classroom painting and sewing late at night, and falling behind, but Ishino arrives with a squadron of classmates to help out. They thought she was a ghoul at first, so unaccustomed to being assisted in things that were foisted upon them. Things have certainly changed for the better with these two.

The day of the festival arrives, and Itou goes all out for the class, cross-dressing and wearing a wig. To the surprise of male and female classmates alike, he’s stunning, and even Ayado can’t help but take a break from her own busy day to check in on Itou, and is similarly enchanted.

When Ishino asks Itou why he’s working so hard, Itou tells her: because someone helped him get the lay of the land maid cafe-wise, and it would be an insult to her not to give it his all. Ayado happens to hear this from the other side of the wall, and she’s both glad her advice went to good use and flattered it was taken to heart with such conviction.

As the preliminary beauty contest vote comes in, Takanashi tries to joke around with Ishino about not having a chance…until she starts legit crying. Knowing he went way too far, he course corrects by giving her his honest opinion, with no joking around: she is pretty, and was cute in the maid outfit, and for what it’s worth, she has his vote. Frankly, his vote is probably all she wanted anyway!

Iroha’s main rival tries to rattle her, and when it’s time to give a little speech on stage, that rival’s voice is suddenly an octave higher and much more playful. While Iroha played around with the idea of winning this thing, her own attempts to sound stupid and cute ultimately fail when she gives up in the middle and instead tells the assembled student body that she’s plenty satisfied that the friends she has love her for reasons other than her looks, and she doesn’t really give a crap about anyone else, especially if they don’t know her.

Her no-BS honesty probably ended up helping her cause, as all it would’ve taken is a vote from her boyfriend to win. But because she told him she wasn’t really all that interested in winning, Hikari votes for the other girl instead. Iroha predictably takes her defeat in stride, and is consoled by hearing some (but not all) of the many reasons Hikari likes her besides her looks.

That night, as the festival winds down, Iroha’s class rep serves her some soup from their cafe, knowing she probably didn’t have an opportunity to try it, while she insists he use the opportunity at the bonfire to talk to the girl he likes.

Itou finds Ayado still hard at work cleaning up, and when he tries to lend a hand, that hand ends up touching Ayado’s hand, spooking her. She runs off to collect/admonish herself, even giving herself a slap and calling herself stupid. She feels she has no right to have any feelings for someone she turned down.

But Itou, worried about her, heard every word, and doesn’t care; if holding his hand helps her to see him as someone she could love, then he wants her to hold it as much as possible. Iroha and Hikari almost intrude upon this tender moment, but thankfully don’t. So maybe it’s not as hopeless for Itou as he thought last week!

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari – 01 (First Impressions) – The Kingdom’s Most Hated Man

After a string of isekai anime in which the MC is ridiculously, along comes a show that flips the script, and it’s pretty refreshing. When Iwatani Naofumi thrust into a different world due to a summoning on the other side, absolutely nothing goes right. 

Of the four young men summoned, he’s by far the weakest, and isn’t even given a real weapon, only a shield. But he’s still optimistic he’ll be able to fight once supplied with a party of elite warriors.

…Only none of those warriors join his party. Eventually, one of them finally does, and she just happens to be the one he considers most attractive. This adventurer, Myne Suphia, seems to embody a stark reversal of fortune for Naofumi.

He’s given more cash than the others due to his smaller party, and Myne shows him a good shop to buy armor for the two of them. They fight a few low-level balloons out in the field, return to town, and make a modest profit.

It’s a confidence-building first day for Naofumi, to say the least. But that night, after refusing to drink any wine with Myne, he goes to bed and wakes up seemingly in, well, yet another world.

Not literally, mind you, but he’s been robbed of all possessions, summoned to the palace by knights, and then Myne, hiding behind one of the other summoned heroes, accuses him of attempting to rape her. When no one’s watching, she indicates screwing him over was her goal all along.

And boy, did it ever succeed: Naofumi now disgusts both his fellow heroes, the king, and everyone in the kingdom (news and rumors travel at lightning speed, despite the renaissance-esque tech-level). There’s no disputing the accusations against him, so Naofumi decides to take all the hate and loathing in stride.

If this world and its people are going to hate him despite the fact he didn’t do anything, so be it. The merchant he dealt with before seems to see the injustice in his eyes and sells him a cloak at a steep discount, which he wears when leveling up all by his lonesome…a slow and laborious process.

When some goons in the tavern mockingly offer to join his party, Naofumi won’t get fooled again; he’s been thoroughly jaded by this new world, and scares them off with some of the monsters he kept alive as a haggling tactic. A strange, squat little fellow in top hat and tails notices him and takes him to view his wares; he deals in demi-human and beastman slaves, revealing another distasteful part of this world.

Naofumi spots one sick demi-human— a girl with bear ears—and looks poised to buy her. But likely not to use as a slave, but as a companion on his quest to save a world that hates him, because no full-on humans want anything to do with him. Weak in power, scant in equipment, and victim of false intrigue and injustice…looks like we have ourselves a good old-fashioned underdog.

Dororo – 02 – The Telltale Bell

Try as Dororo might to communicate as he travels with his new companion, it’s pretty clear Hyakkimaru can neither see nor hear, at least not in the conventional sense. Rather, he depends on a different kind of “sight” in which he can see the souls of objects, and lets Dororo stay close because his soul’s color denotes him as non-threatening.

Dororo, in turn, starts a fire for him so he doesn’t have to eat the fish he catches raw. Between his adept fishing skills and ability to slice up demons, Dororo is sticking with this guy because he knows there’s both people to be saved and money made slaying monsters. One such apparent monster lurks in the forest, ringing a bell.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru end up in a village, where Dororo does the talking, claiming they’ll root out the monster that’s harassing them. But something isn’t quite right: the village has too much money to throw around for guests considering they don’t seem to have rice paddies or any other source of such income.

In the night, the bell-ringing monster appears, but Hyakkimaru won’t budge, which can only mean one thing: whatever that big-headed thing is, it ain’t a threat. The next morning the interim chief introduces them to Bandai, the bedridden chief. Dororo, being a little boy with eyes, is immediately smitten by the woman’s otherworldly beauty.

Hyakkimaru…isn’t. He draws his arm-sword, and Dororo has to hold him back from attacking Bandai. Clearly, she’s the monster, but the villagers are protecting her.

They toss Hyakkimaru and Dororo in a storeroom, where they meet an old blind priest, who explains to Dororo how both he and probably Hyakkimaru “see.” When the lights suddenly go out, Dororo becomes the blind one, while Hyakkimaru goes after a demonic limb that peeks out of a hatch.

The hatch leads outside Bandai’s house, and Hyakkimaru busts in and recommences his attack. Bandai reveals her true form as a giant green demon, whose soul the priest senses as a blood-red; the most dangerous kind.

Hyakkimaru chases Bandai into the bamboo forest, and eventually slices it to pieces and stabs it through the “woman’s” head. The interim chief confesses to having fed Bandai travelers who came to the village so it wouldn’t attack them. The big-headed bell guy turns out to be some kind of youkai that leads Dororo to the gold the village took from their eaten guests. Dororo reprimands them for being worse than monsters for letting one prey on others for profit.

Moving on to their next destination, Hyakkimaru finally introduces himself to Dororo by writing his name in the dirt. Dororo can’t read the characters, but the blind priest can. The priest also recognizes Hyakkimaru as the poor cursed babe he encountered in the river.

With the demise of Bandai, another statue in the Hall of Hell is cleaved in two, and Hyakkimaru gains another part of him that was taken by the demons: his nerves and thus his ability to feel pain. Considering the wounds he sustained in the fight with the demon, he ends up with a lot of pain. But at least he’s not alone; his new friend Dororo will help him in any way he can.

It’s fun watching Dororo learn more about his new friend as we learn beside him, and as he gradually collects more parts of himself. The spunky kid is never not fun to watch. The show aptly balances the friendship-building with quick, brutal action once Hyakkimaru is in Go Mode. It’s also starting to look like with each part he regains, Daigo may lose a bit of the good fortune the demons bestowed upon him. Ah well…that’s why you don’t make deals with demons.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 01 – The First to Confess Loses!

Here it is: perhaps the romantic comedy of the Winter. All dramatic theatrical staging, lighting, and musical stabs, Kaguya-sama: Love is War elevates something as deceptively simple as mutual romantic interest between two high schoolers into a grand operatic life-and-death affair.

Part of that is because the two in question aren’t ordinary high schoolers: are the top two students at the most prestigious school in the country. StuCo Vice President Shinomiya Kaguya’s family owns a good chunk of Japan, while President Shirogane Miyuki, while a commoner by comparison, possesses unsurpassed academic prowess.

Let’s get one thing straight: these two like each other, but would never ever say as such, let alone confess it. To do so would be to surrender the upper hand, shift the power dynamic, and become the supplicant, ceding dominance to the confessee. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Kaguya and Miyuki have too much pride and dignity to let that happen.

As such, while the rest of the student body sees them as the perfect couple who may even already be secretly dating, the two exist in a constant state of war, with the StuCo office serving as the battlefield. The neutral party between them, the far less brainy secretary Fujiwara Chika, often serves as a wild card in the pair’s ensuing battles.

In the first sequence, she’s also a pawn: Kaguya planted movie tickets in Chika’s mailbox, knowing she wouldn’t be able to go and would offer them to her and Miyuki. This creates a scenario in which Miyuki asks Kaguya if she wants to know, knowing that boy-girl pairs who go to this specific movie tend to end up as couples.

Their battle of wills is a chess game of moves, counter-moves, and counter-counter-moves, but when Chika also points out the tickets are also valid for an innocuous kids movie, a chaotic element is added to the pair’s already complex calculations, overheating their brains. Worse, Chika snatches the only source of sugar in the office that they could use to recharge and rally. Thus, the first battle we witness, both Kaguya and Miyuki lose.

In battle #2, Kaguya receives an anonymous love letter, and makes it known to both Miyuki and Chika that she fully intends to go, hoping it will provoke Miyuki into slipping up and demanding she not go…because he loves her. Miyuki knows what Kaguya intends, and attempts to dissuade her not as a man, but under his authority as StuCo President to discourage illicit relationships. He even considers tattling to the teacher, a risky move, but one that won’t expose his true feelings.

Kaguya counters by declaring that if it’s true love, she will risk suspension or even expulsion to give her body and soul to the writer of the letter, which almost causes Miyuki to slip up. He turns things around by asking, very speifically for the sake of argument, if she’d still go on the date if he were to confess to her. Kaguya’s true feelings are momentarily exposed, and she admits, too easily, that she’d reconsider before coming to her senses and preparing to go through with the date.

Ultimately Chika again intervenes in the battle of minds, grabbing Kaguya and tearfully declaring she won’t let her get expelled for a date, because she loves her too much to let such a thing happen. And so, with a crucial but unintentional assist by Chika, Kaguya loses this round.

The theme of the third and final battle of the episode (which packs a lot of bang for the buck!) is lunch. Specifically, Kaguya’s desire to taste a good old-fashioned classic Japanese school lunch with all the standbys: omelettes, hamburger, white rice, miso, plum, and most important, octopus wieners. The lunches she gets are prepared by a team of professional chefs, but Miyuki’s got the stuff she wants.

Of course, she can’t simply ask for a taste. But Chika certainly can, and does, compounding Kaguya’s anguish. She brings in an extra-fancy lunch, hoping to entice Miyuki to trade, but he doesn’t bite. Miyuki even makes Chika an identical lunch just for her, and with every bite (and indirect kiss) Kaguya’s opinion of Chika gets lower and more sinister. Miyuki can sense Kaguya’s negative aura this whole time, but assumes she’s looking down on his meager commoner repast, when quite the opposite is true.

Miyuki suspects Kaguya is up to something, even though this time she just wants a taste of his lunch, and ends up retreating from the office for StuCo business rather than find out what that might be, to live another day. However, since he fled, and Chika ends up offering her a cocktail weiner unbidden, Kaguya wins this last round, bringing her and Miyuki’s week one record to 1-1-1 each (or 1-2 if the first battle is a loss for both; I consider that a draw).

And there you have it! Despite all their constant scheming and wheel-spinning, I found Kaguya and Miyuki to both be likable, rootable characters, even if they remain doomed to remain in a stalemate as long as they maintain their stubborn positions of waiting for the other party to make the first move. The closed-off, bottle-like nature of the StuCo office gives the episode a compactness and laser-focus, and while one more StuCo member has yet to be introduced, I hope the cast stays this small.

Full of lively competitive energy, but with underlying mutual affection and respect, I’m looking forward to watching Kaguya and Miyuki spar in the future, with Chika in the middle demonstrating that they could make things so much easier for themselves if they just lightened up!

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 03 – A Little Bit More Good than Evil

All of the various knots Boogiepop tied the first two eps are laid bare this week and then gradually unraveled, bringing the three-part arc to a satisfying conclusion. It starts with Tanaka Shirou searching for his girlfriend Kamikishiro, unaware she’s already dead. Class Rep Niitoki Kei joins him in the search, as does Saotome Masami.

Of course, we know Saotome is up to no good, and his true goal is to draw out both Echoes and Kirima Nagi. And his plan works…kinda: when they send a PA message summoning Nagi to the broadcast room, she shoes up, but not before cutting the lights, taking all three of them down, and tying them up before presenting them to Echoes to determine if any of them are Manticore.

When Nagi frees the three, Kei wants to know what’s going on, but Nagi doesn’t want to involve them, as they’re “too normal” for what they’re up against. This rankles Saotome, still sore over Nagi rejecting him for the same reason. He reveals his treachery by stabbing Echoes with a pen loaded with poison that will keep him from regenerating, just when Manticore arrives.

He also slits Nagi’s throat, an event that was a horrifying to behold in the moment, even if I knew there were supernatural means of bringing her back. Echoes escapes to the roof with Nagi, and Manticore follows, while Tanaka runs away screaming, leaving Kei alone with Saotome, who liked how it felt killing Nagi and wouldn’t mind doing it again.

Echoes and Manticore engage in a kind of aerial parkour duel, the animation for which is crude, but effective. Manticore eventually bests Echoes, slamming him to the ground where Saotome and Kei are. This is where Manticore explains all the horrible things she’s going to do, including taking Nagi’s form and turning Kei into a soulless slave.

But as Kei holds him upright, Echoes has other ideas. He transforms himself into data and shoots himself into space. Saotome pushes Manticore out of the way, but gets vaporized himself. Denied her prey Manticore starts to go a bit loopy, and prepares to kill Kei in her rage, but her hand is stayed—nay, her whole left arm cleaved off—by none other than Boogiepop, who has come to the rescue.

After suspending Manticore with magical threads, Tanaka makes a triumphant return, shooting an arrow through Manticore’s head, killing her and ending the threat. Turns out his act of cowardice was just that—an act; Boogiepop told him earlier that the opportunity to “shoot through the truth” would come if he wished to…and he decided to do so. In this case, to avenge his beloved and defeat the demon that claimed her.

Turns out in his brief time with the bloodied Nagi, Echoes gave her a little of his life force, allowing her to heal with no ill effects (which is why Manticore thought he was a bit too weak, even with the poison). Tanaka thanks Nagi and Kei for their help on Kamikishiro’s behalf. Boogiepop further explains that Echoes was sent to judge whether humanity was worth living; thanks to Kamikishiro, with assists by Tanaka, Nagi, and Kei, the verdict was favorable.

Kei also wants to thank Boogiepop, but with the threat lifted, Boogiepop is gone. Still, Nagi suggests she thank the next best thing: Miyashita Touka, despite Touka having no idea what happened. This brings us full circle to the end of the first episode, when Nagi and Kei encounter Touka and Kensuke walking home. All in all, I really enjoyed this intricate little mechanism, and I’m looking forward to the next crisis that will necessitate Boogiepop’s return.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 01 (First Impressions) – Voice of Destiny

Three years ago the Disas invaded Earth, but thanks to a treaty with the Spirit Realm, nine select human girls were transformed into Magical Girls. Four were killed defeating the Disas, and five remained…and went their separate ways.

The ostensible leader of the Magical Girls, one Ootorii Asuka, lives her life as a normal high school student, though whenever she sees any kind of animal mascot, she thinks back to the bad old days. Magical trappings aside, Asuka is a traumatized combat veteran trying to move on from the horrors she experienced.

But at school, she’s the cool mysterious transfer student. She stands out by dint of her physique and apparent aloofness. And when her classmates are accosted in the street, she rushes to their aid…and has to remember not to kill the guy.

The beneficiaries of small act of heroism, Nozomi and Sayoko, thank Asuka and announce their intention to befriend her. Nozomi wants her to join track since she’s in great shape; Sayoko wants her to join the lit club because she sees her reading.

But while Sayoko reads because she loves it, Asuka does it to escape; to keep her mind busy so it doesn’t go back to those bad old times of blood, sweat, and tears. When her guardian Iizuka arrives to tell her about a new squad being assembled, she passes on his offer without hesitation.

Back when she was in middle school, she came home to find two Disas had already killed her parents and were prepared to “give them back” to her one piece at a time, which is why Iizuka ended up her guardian.

Her takeaway was that while she fought to save the world, those around her suffered and died. Now that she has two new adorable friends, she doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Of course, Asuka she puts it, despite all the effort she’s put in to escape her past, battles keep finding her, because “a Magical Girl’s battle never ends”.

Whether it was a minor incident like the asshole who shoved Nozomi (who dared to call him out on his assholery), or an escaped terrorist leader and his kill squad with Sayoko in the crossfire, when duty calls, she’ll always answer. Once a Magical Girl, always a Magical Girl.

While Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is almost painfully straightforward in its premise, the Disas are super goofy-looking, and the show lacks anything resembling originality, I found Asuka’s emotionally-wounded vet profile resonant, and the show is crisply designed and animated and accompanied by a cool Square Enix JRPG-style soundtrack.

The idea of Magical Girls moving on to more conventional military operations after the Magical enemy has gone is also intriguing, as Asuka is not alone and we’ll soon see what became of the other four of the Magical Five. Both the bloody action and the lighter school life scenes are executed with aplomb. Definitely entertaining enough to stick with for now.