Great Pretender – 03 – Burrowing Deeper

Makoto manages to win Eddie Cassano over by first spending the night watching his movies at a motel, then intentionally getting caught by Eddie’s men. Once he’s before Eddie himself, he flatters him by declaring his love for his movies—which he considers art rather than RedLetterMedia fodder—and likens it to his drugs, which are like precious children to him.

Eddie will pay $10 million not only for an exclusive license for Sakura Magic, but all of Makoto’s lab notes on the formula, enabling any chemist to make it themselves. Still, Eddie wisely withholds the exchange of cash until his lawyers have been to Makoto’s lab in Japan. Thankfully Makoto’s pals are there just in time to greet them and corroborate Makoto’s story.

However, it’s still too risky to hand over millions in cash at Eddie’s house, which is under LAPD surveillance, while Eddie himself has been hounded by Chief Inspector Anderson for over a decade. They try to give Anderson the slip with a false limo, but Anderson sends a decoy tail after it and chases Eddie’s shitty Malibu instead. A pretty nifty car chase ensues, though it’s marred somewhat by the clunky CGI car models.

Anderson turns out to be on Eddie’s payroll, and simply had to make it look good for both his team and the higher-ups. Eddie then shows Makoto, Laurent, and Abby to one of his top drug labs, presents Makoto with everything he needs, and asks him to whip up a batch of Sakura Magic right then and there.

Makoto never designed for his researcher story to endure under this level of scrutiny, and he’s able to save his skin for the time being by dismissing the lab as too filthy to work in. In response to this, Eddie vows to completely renovate the lab to Makoto’s exact specs. Each time he squirrels out of trouble the lie he uses ends up burrowing himself deeper into this increasingly lethal situation.

Pretty soon he’ll be out of moves, but that may not end up mattering. That’s because Anderson’s case has been suddenly taken over by infamous mob-buster FBI SA Paula Dickins. However, she’s not even after Cassano, but Laurent Tierry & Co., purveyors of international fraud. Getting arrested by the feds is far from ideal, but it’s probably better than whatever Eddie will do to Makoto when he finds out he’s being scammed.

Great Pretender – 02 – Sins of the Father

When Abby cuts Makoto down from the HOLLYWOOD sign, he falls quite a ways and gets knocked out, which is the perfect opportunity to get into his backstory. “Edamame” the con man used to be clean as a whistle, you see. All he wanted to do was make his bedridden mom proud, but he was hired by a company that turned out to be perpetrating consumer fraud. He just thought they were selling a quality health tea product.

The fuzz raid the office and he’s arrested with everyone else. No one believes he was unaware that a crime was being committed, thanks to the ages-old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Because his father was a convicted criminal, he’s suspected of simply following in ol’ dad’s footsteps. He goes away for eighteen months and his mom passes away. But since everyone in the world assumes the worst of him, the only thing to do is lean into the skid.

The newly conscious Makoto has a luxurious seaside lunch as Laurent explains that after spreading rumors of a hot new drug, Eddie Cassano wanted to meet the Japanese researcher who designed it. He hired the water filter lady he scammed as well as Kudou and his old crew to basically put Makoto through his con artist paces, and he passed with flying colors. He also knows Makoto’s past, and considers it an added bonus that beneath the hardened con man one is an innocent, pure-hearted mama’s boy.

That night, Laurent leaves Makoto at his swanky pad with Abby to keep an eye on him. Convinced that the plan will go south and they’ll all be killed, Makoto tries to sneak out, but Abby puts him in a bodylock. Despite this, Makoto is able to pick a bent gold medal from her pocket. She ultimately lets him go, believing him useless as long as he doesn’t want to be there, and warning him Cassano’s men will be watching both him and the airport.

Makoto ends up getting one over on both Abby and Laurent, as they assume they’ve lost him and have to start over at square one, only for Cassano to tell them Makoto’s already there and closed the deal for double the original price. It stung when Laurent said there were no good con artists in Japan, especially when he believes Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who rose from a peasant background to unify the country, to be the greatest con artist in history.

I’m still not a fan of the posterized photo-based backgrounds, but no one can accuse this show of not being colorful enough; that poppy pink-and-yellow lunch was pure Vice City. While neither Makoto’s past nor the trio’s present mission is nothing original, it still manages to be pleasantly diverting.

Great Pretender – 01 (First Impressions) – Sakura Magic

Edamura Makoto is the self-proclaimed “Best Con Man in Japan”, but when a lost wallet switcheroo goes wrong and the cops are at the door, Makoto leaves his buddy Kudou and happens to find the same foreigner who conned them out of 300,000 yen. Makoto should have known to try to con someone so slick-looking.

Makoto secures a ticket to LAX to follow his new nemesis, a Frenchman named Laurent Thierry, and even joins him for a good long sit in L.A. traffic in his imported Peugeot RCZ. He’s not letting Laurent out of his sight until he gets his cash back, but Laurent has a big scam to pull in Hollywood, and offers to let Makoto be his wingman.

After buying him a suit at Macy’s, they arrive at the mansion of a film producer with mob ties who just got out on bail. Laurent introduces Makoto as a pharmacological doctor from Japan and presents the “product” he’s willing to license for sale: “Sakura Magic”, a designer drug in the form of a piece of candy.

He has Abby, one of the beautiful bikini-clad women by the pool try the drug out, and let’s just say it gets the job done. In a chaotically animated sequence, Abby ecstatically bounces off palm trees and loungers. The producer’s interest is piqued.

Makoto takes one too, and realizes that Laurent used him as a drug mule. Not only that, Laurent never had the cash; Kudou has it, and is making it rain back home (at least I think that’s what went down…?)

After escaping the producer’s house, he rushes Laurent, only to get kicked crane-style by Abby, the swimsuited woman who tried the drug. Turns out she’s on Laurent’s team and was merely putting on a very convincing act using her impressive athleticism.

That’s when the episode ends at the beginning, with Makoto hanging upside-down from the “Y” in the Hollywood sign…I guess as a lesson that he’s not the top con dog in this town; that title goes to Laurent and Abby, who are clearly operating on another level.

That opening is reminiscent of the same kind of absurd, iconic image that started Breaking Bad: Walter White in his tighty-whiteys and a handgun. Funnily enough, Bryan Cranston would go on to co-create Sneaky Pete, which is all about…con artists!

Wit Studio/Netflix’s Great Pretender is bright, bold, brash, and looking to capitalize on the long-popular “in too deep antihero” trend, though in a clearly more lighthearted than Mad Men or, more recently, Ozark. Cons include an abundance of bad English in the first half (it thankfully switches to Japanese) and an abundance of digitized photos in place of hand-drawn or painted backgrounds, that, intentional stylistic choice or no, always come off as lazy to me.

Still, Laurent, Abby, and Makoto seem like a trio of people who will be entertaining to watch, and the premise, while common in live-action American TV, is something I haven’t seen a lot of in the anime medium. Oh yeah, the late great Freddie Mercury sings the cat-filled ED (Freddie loved cats)! To quote Pecorine, How crazy is that?

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 03 – Bugs are Best with a Squeeze of Lemon

Karyl spends the better part of a day observing from afar as Pecorine eats and eats and eats some more—all while her own stomach goes empty. This is just the vulnerability needed for Pecorine, Kokkoro and Yuuki to invite her to share a meal (of bugs) with them, and melt her icy heart just a little bit more. That said, she still outright refuses to join their Gourmet Guild, which makes the meek Kokkoro sad, as the gesture of officially signing everyone up is very important to her.

Thanks to Pecorine’s bottomless appetite, she’s soon out of cash, but the proprietor of her go-to restaurant offers her a part-time job. This further complicates Kokkoro’s plan as now some of Peco’s time is already taken up with work. However, Peco’s energy and passion for food makes her the perfect hostess and waitress, and even persuades some brand-new pint-sized patrons to try the bug menu when Karyl breaks cover to stop her.

Karyl has actually come because she has new orders from her apparent femme fatale boss: she’s no longer supposed to assassinate Pecorine, just observe her, so joining the guild now aligns with her objectives. Everything is interrupted by the sudden arrival by a huge ogre-like brute who will have the restaurant shut down if the food he’s served isn’t perfect.

When he breaks the proprietor’s wrist, it’s up to Peco to whip up the bug menu…but it’s Karyl with the lemon juice assist that wins the ogre over. That is, until he decides to toss the rest of his food on the ground. That’s when Peco summons her “princess knight power” to toss the brute out on his can.

Having helped save a beloved business from being shuttered, Karyl accepts the invitation to the Gourmet Guild, in her typical tsundere way (“you’d better be grateful!” and such). With that, the quartet is now officially a guild, and they can commence their quest for unique culinary treasures.

Princess Connect continues to emanate thick waves of charm from each of its characters and this week shows an ability to balance its core party with a host of new characters, all deployed surgically rather than crowding the scene. The mysterious demon girl Yuuki feeds, the adorable would-be guild Little Lyrical, Karyl’s boss, all show promise, while it’s great that the guys who stole Peco’s sword are now best buds with her.

Honestly, anyone would be a fool not to be friends with her: we’ve yet to see anyone who can match her prowess in battle…or at the dinner table!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 02 – Friends are Delicious

Well, that didn’t take long. Princess Connect soundly beat Shironeko Project this week, and it wasn’t close. And it did it with a no-holds-barred charm offensive, introducing the fourth member of the party: a twin-tailed tsundere catgirl named Karyl (Kyaru).

We learn all we need to know about her as she observes three cats playing together while a fourth keeps its own company. Karyl identifies with this cat. Who needs friends?

Well, if your friend happens to be Pecorine, you don’t have to answer that question. The crusader lights up every scene she’s in, managing to be immensely powerful and a complete airhead without coming across as annoying or cliched.

That’s a fine line to walk, but she walks it extremely well, owing to her cool character design, fluid, lively movements, and of course great voice work from MAO. It’s just barrels of fun watching her wake up in a stable after a rager then win an eating contest for breakfast!

Karyl seems intent on making Pecorine acknowledge her power. She also has the ability to control animals, like an Orc just outside the city. Pecorine deals with the orc easily with her bare hands, and Karyl gets knocked out by that very flying defeated orc!

The reason Peco was in the right place was that she spotted the sword thieves (who are still around and still fun characters in their own right) and was attempting to catch up to them—not because they stole her sword (she thinks they’re just minding it for her as a favor!) but to deliver “Beriberi’s” medicine.

Karyl just so happens to witness the thieves get snatched up by a dragon, who was lured to them by Peco’s valuable sword. Since Peco, Yuuki and Kokkoro were nice to her, she decides to lead them to the dragon’s lair, but won’t lift a finger to help them separate the sword (or the thieves) from its clutches.

Karyl’s ulterior motive is to use her magic to control the dragon and demonstrate her power to Peco. Interestingly it’s not Peco but the amnesiac Yuuki who leads the charge against the dragon, defiantly standing before it, attracting it with his cloak like a matador, only to get hilariously snapped up as the dragon takes flight.

Peco tags along, first using her sword as a handhold and then the afro of one of the thieves. His roots eventually give way, sending Peco flying, but she manages to position herself above the dragon’s head and delivers a devastating blow, knocking it out of the sky and saving both Yuuki and the thieves from a sticky end.

Throughout all of this, Karyl is manipulating the dragon, having made it fly erratically to shake Peco off. However, on the ground she is helplesss against Peco’s luck, pluck, and brawn, the dragon proving to be no big deal at the end of the day.

Pecorine also ends up reunited with her sword, which is actually a good thing for Karyl, because the monsters she controls always have a tendency to land so close to her they manage to squash her. She’s saved by Peco and her sword, and Peco then goes into all-out Crusader Mode, cleaving the dragon’s fire breath then blowing it away with a devastating strike.

In the aftermath, all Karyl can do is gawk at Peco’s glowing magnificence…and you can’t blame her! This right here could have been the best battle of the season so far…something I did not expect, but for which I’m very grateful. The animation was smooth and sweeping and packed a huge punch, and underlining all of it is Peco’s God-Level energy an enthusiasm.

In the end, the quartet returns to Landosol (bathed in the light of another gorgeous golden sunset) and tucks into onigiri made from leftover lunch rice. Pecorine proposes the four of them create a “Gourmet Guild”, the object of which is to discover the tastiest dishes in the realm. Yuuki and Kokkoro are all about it, but Karyl reverts to tsundere mode and huffs off, offended that Peco would think she’d be happy about being included in such nonsense.

However, Karyl has a change of heart when she spots the three cats now playing with the lonely fourth. She takes a bite of the onigiri, made with love by Kokkoro for her companions, and thus tasting better. And while she claims to still not need friends, her recent escapades indicate otherwise. There’s no question of her eventually joining the guild.

Princess Connect Re:DIVE looks and sounds great, has an infectiously upbeat tone, and is legitimately funny. Kokkoro’s expression whenever Yuuki is suddenly injured is growing on me, while Peco is never not entertaining, whether she’s kicking serious ass or being a charming space cadet. I also like how food will be the focus of the party’s efforts going forward. It took two episodes, but I’m sold!

Tower of God – 01 (First Impressions) – They’re Just Like You

This is the story of Rachel, the girl who climbed the tower so she could see the stars, and Bam, the boy who needed nothing but her.

I like it—Succinct and concise. Efficient and elemental. Stark, yet beautiful. Before we’re tossed into the present, we get a brief look at the past: the last time Bam saw his beloved Rachel. Rachel is bound for the greater heights (literally) of the Tower, and Bam can’t go with her, so it’s farewell.

Rachel’s intolerance of the darkness of their world, and desire to see the stars at the top of the Tower, meant more than remaining with Bam. Meanwhile Bam can’t tolerate living in a world without Rachel; she’s his Eureka to his Renton. So when the opportunity to climb the Tower presents itself, he takes it.

That means dealing with the Tower’s caretaker, Headon, who presents the first test: avoid a giant steel-clad eel and break a black sphere. Two other challengers appear in Princess Yuri (who gives off strong Tohsaka Rin vibes) and her attendant Evan. They lend him a “Pocket” that translates their speech and does other things.

Yuri isn’t impressed by the frail-looking Bam, but the point of the test isn’t to defeat the giant eel, but simply to stare death in the face and not flinch. Needing to be with Rachel more than he fears deah, Bam passes that first part of the test. And because he has a cute face, Yuri lends him an heirloom of her family, a sword called Black March.

Bam lets the eel swallow him and then wounds it from within, but the black sphere proves too hard, even for Black March. That’s because Bam is trying to use his own strength without asking Black March to lend him hers. Yuri is again skeptical it will listen, but like her Black March likes his cute face.

The sword is also moved by Bam’s story of being saved by Rachel some time ago, when he was trying to break out of a dark place rather than cutting into one. Rachel told him about the stars in the sky.

He comes to see her as one of those stars, which means to climb the Tower and reach the sky is to return to where she belongs. He, in turn, wants to return to her warm, celestial light. Black March stuns the eel and shatters the black sphere, and Bam is transported to the second level for the next test.

Yuri, initially surprised by Bam, now knows the score, and decides that she and Evan will follow. Because there’s something she loathes more than she fears death, and that’s boredom. Not a princess to live within the walls of the palace, she seeks adventure, excitement, and entertainment, which Bam looks primed to provide.

The second test takes the first—facing death and not withering—and adds a new challenge: summoning the will to take life, not just preserve one’s own. It’s a battle royale involving 400 “regulars” (Bam is non-regular) that quickly drops below 300. Bam realizes what he must do and prepares to do it, but ends up locked in a firing circle with three other combatants, including a blue-haired student and a lizardman-like hunter.

Tower of God is disciplined, refined, and concise in its themes and crystal clear, if relatively shallow, in the motivations of its characters. It balances the simplicity of those elements with solid, confident execution. I dug the Bones-style character design and the rough old-school line work, and of course, Kevin Penkin’s gripping, eclectic score; he’s a composer who instantly elevates any work he’s tied to. Hayami Saori soars as Rachel in a role perfect for her.

Tower of God, the first big-league anime from Lee Jong-hui (AKA SIU) and animated by the venerable Telecom studio, has apparently been hugely anticipated by fans of his webtoon (which has amassed 4.5 billion views worldwide). Speaking as a newbie, I can see why. Everything in this episode conspires to create a gravitas that’s hard to fake—an atmosphere of seriousness, significance, and auspiciousness that calls to mind shows like Steins;Gate and Attack on Titan, which have their own massive fan legions.

To quote the space rabbit Headon, “I’m interested in seeing what’s next.”

P.S. Read Crow’s review of Tower of God Episode 01 here.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 16 – It’s About Family

It’s About Family—It’s a line that became a meme when the late Carrie Fisher used it to describe her journey in the Star Wars saga, and often used mockingly or in jest. I decided to use it here without cynicism, because it fits quite well. Family isn’t just about blood, but shared time and experiences, and being changed by that proximity.

After six singularities and change, Fujimaru and Mash are the brother/sister-esque duo (see also: Valerian and Laureline) responsible for saving the human race, aided by Big Bro Romani and Big Sis da Vinci. Servant “cousins” from far and wide have joined their fight, each with their own unique bond with Ritsuka. As for Gilgamesh? Well, he’s everyone’s Daddy, naturally.

This ragtag fam is up against another kind of family entirely: neither of blood nor circumstance, but mud—the primordial kind. Kingu was the proud firstborn of Mother Tiamat, but as he finds himself stabbed through the heart by a chaotic, impudent younger sibling, he probably longs for the days he was an only child.

The Lahmu who stabs him ends up extracting the Holy Grail, which was Kingu’s heart all along. It uses the Grail’s power to instantly evolve and gain wings with which to fly back to Mother, deliver the grail, and seal humanity’s doom. It’s all Ishtar can do to keep up with it with Maana, and Quetzelcoatl summons her Pterodactyls to join the chase. Neither make much progress slowing the Lahmu down.

Kingu, despite missing his grail-heart, attempts to flee his traitorous, sadistic sibings, who relish hunting him down and laughing at his inferiority and obsolescence. They eventually corner him in the woods, but just as one of them is about to kill him, it is killed instead by one of its own.

Siduri, as it happens, was part of the group chasing him, and decided the time was right to make her move. While she kills the other Lahmu, she suffers a mortal wound herself. Before she turns to dust, she thanks Kingu—referring to him as  Enkidu—for all the good times they had together and with Gilgamesh, and begs him to seek a life of happiness.

Gilgamesh and Siduri were a family Enkidu forgot when Mother used his body as the basis for Kingu. With the grail gone and Siduri managing to resist Tiamat’s authority, the memories come rushing back, and even though he doesn’t consider himself Enkidu, tears stream from his cheeks, mourning the twisting of his once happy family in Uruk.

Thanks to some persistence and teamwork, Kuku and Ishtar manage to ground the flying Lahmu, only for it to vanish without a trace. In its place, the long-awaited DARK USHIWAKAMARU emerges from the sea with one goal: to kill them all for abandoning her to wallow in hell. To his credit, Ritsuka doesn’t waver, and delivers the order to defeat the black sheep of the family.

Kuku jumps at the chance to cross swords with Dark Ushi, but can’t quite take her on alone. When Ishtar fires her last bullet before running out of magical energy, Kuku tag-teams with Mash, in one of the better-animated and most exciting lightning fast hand-to-hand battles in a show packed with ’em. I wouldn’t be surprised if F/GO took a week off in order to make sure scenes like this were done right…and they were.

With so much time passing between Good Ushiwaka’s fall and now, and all the buildup in between and speculation about when she’d return, it was going to be tough to give her the sendoff she deserved. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super-terrifying when she starts laughing maniacally (Hayami Saori’s performance turns wonderfully dark too) and suddenly multiplies into an army of dark Ushiwakas.

Mostly it’s just good to see her again, even if not under the best circumstances. But she’s gone almost as soon as she arrives, as Ishtar uses Ritsuka to recharge her energy stores and blasts all of the Ushiwakas into oblivion.

While I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be coming back around to the good side, I’m a little miffed she didn’t get the same sendoff as, say, Siduri or Merlin…or Ana. Instead, she dies gloating that her mission to act as a diversion was a success. While Ritsuka’s party was fighting her, the flying Lahmu arrived and delivered the grail to Tiamat, a huge setback.

Look at that, a cheeky Star Wars reference from the King of Heroes. Having both analyzed the primordial mud and invented a holo-imager, Papa Gil reports his findings to the team, and it’s not good: the parts of the sea now blackened by Tiamat contain her authority, and sea levels are rising. They threaten to flood humanity’s one and only bastion of civilization, and the forces of Uruk will only hold out another hour or so against the Lahmu.

With Game Over so close, the team’s only play is to head to the Spirit Origin signature in the Persion Gulf that is sporting magical energy of over seven Holy Grails. Ritsuka, Mash, Ishtar, and Kuku will have to be enough, barring the return of Ereshkigal…or a change of alliance by Kingu. Mother Tiamat is waiting in the middle of the gulf, butterfly eyes and all. Which family will win out?

P.S. Driving that family theme home, as well as adding to the special nature of this episode, is a new ending sequence featuring beautifully-rendered snapshots of Enkidu, Siduri, and Gilgamesh during happier days in Uruk, set to a soulful new song by milet, who has one hell of a voice.

Dororo – 04 – Tears In Rain

Osushi is a merchant who used to be far better off, but her parents died and her brother Tanousuke went off to fight for his lord. She’s prayed for his safe return every day since…for five years. Dororo, not exactly master of tact, tells her that’s…pretty long.

But Dororo is also a master of reading people, and he can immediately tell she came from money despite her tattered clothes. Osushi’s prayers are answered, but the brother who left her to uphold his honor and loyalty is not the same man anymore.

When Hyakkimaru, standing in the rain, “listening” to the drops fall, rushes towards the red sword he sees in the distance, he and Dororo find an entire convoy of people slaughtered. The swordsman tells them his blade thirsts for blood, always.

To Hyakkimaru, it’s just another demon, even if it’s using a human as its instrument. He makes good use of his prostheses by taking having his fake leg run through then tossing it aside, separating it from the man. But when Dororo runs to retrieve the leg (as he always does) and touches the sword, he becomes its new servant.

Like the One Ring, the sword bends its holder to its own twisted will, putting Dororo in a trance when he tries to resist. Back in the village, Osushi has retrieve the sword’s original holder, who turns out to be her brother Tanousuke. While initially elated by his return, he was accompanied by so much blood and death and won’t speak to her, so she knows something’s not right.

Filling out the broad strokes of the cold open, we see Tanousuke’s lord order him to use a dull, rusty sword he’d pulled out of storage to behead a captive. But with each captive he kills, the sword, called Nihiru grows sharper…and thirstier. Eventually Tanousuke turns the blade on his lord (serves the lord right, really) and massacres the entire camp.

Needless to say, if there’s any part of Tanousuke left, that part probably laments still being alive and being used only to quench Nihiru’s thirst. But the part of him the sword twisted into its service only wants Nihiru to return to him, hence his utter ignoring of Osushi’s tearful pleas to stay with her.

Nihiru has Dororo bring the sword to Nihiru, but is intercepted by Hyakkimaru. For a moment, Dororo isn’t sure Hyakkimaru knows he’s not a foe, and attempts to dodge his strikes, but there’s no doubt who’s the superior warrior. Thankfully, Hyakkimaru merely knocks the sword out of Dororo’s hand without harming him.

Unfortunately, Tanousuke is there to pick Nihiru back up, but the sword has taken its toll on his body and mind, and he can’t quite keep up with Hyakkimaru, who kills Tanousuke and breaks Nihiru’s blade. Her brother’s imminently peaceful expression upon dying, as if he’d finally been released from an extended stay in hell, is little consolation for poor Osuhi, who is alone once more.

Nihiru, being one of the demons in the Hall of Hell with which Daigo made a deal, releases another part of Hyakkimaru upon its defeat: his real ears and sense of hearing. The first things he hears in his life are the steady falling of rain and Osushi’s weeping.

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Hell, Daigo is now aware that someone out there is killing off the demons he made a deal with. Even if the demons haven’t double-crossed him yet (why would they uphold their end of the deal once they got his son’s parts? They’re demons), the good fortune he’s enjoyed is unlikely to last if Hyakkimaru continues knocking them off.

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.

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.

Dororo – 01 (First Impressions) – Oldie but Goldie

If I haven’t seen it, it’s new to me…so said NBC back in 1998. Indeed, through the eyes of new generations, the old can become new again, and draw strength from its venerability.

That certainly seems to be what we have with Winter 2019’s Dororo, a re-imagining of an anime from Spring 1969, based on a Tezuka Osamu manga began in Summer of 1967. That makes the anime a cool fifty years old—golden—and ripe for a good dusting-off by Tezuka Productions and MAPPA.

Impatient and distraught by the withering of his lands and his people, a samurai lord named Kagemitsu Daigo forsakes Buddha and makes a deal with the demons of the Hall of Hell: he’ll get victory, prosperity, and power, and the demons get…whatever they want.

When his first son is born without limbs, facial features, or even skin, Daigo rejoices, for he knows the demons have accepted the deal. A midwife takes pity on the cursed child, placing it in a boat rather than drowning it in the river, but as its father rises in significance, the babe slips into obsurity.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and the young, Aladdin-like boy thief Dororo has swindled a man of burlier frame but punier intellect. Dororo takes his beatings but won’t let anyone tell him what to do. His mark is on the cusp of drowning him when their exchange is interrupted by the appearance of a strange young man with a doll-like face, seemingly looking beyond them.

He’s actually looking at some kind of sludge demon that emerges from the river and starts eating Dororo’s marks, but Dororo himself is saved by the young man’s rather unorthodox fighting with multiple prostheses. It’s pretty obvious who he is by the time jump and false limbs: the child survived, and has become strong enough to handle himself.

This young man, whom we learn is named Hyakkimaru, is still mourned by his mother, the wife of Kagemitsu Daigo, though she now has a healthy, fully-limbed son who is no doubt being groomed to succeed his father. As for Dororo, he just thinks it’s hella cool that Hyakkimaru can do what he does. He also gets to witness something quite unusual (well, more unusual): upon defeating the sludge demon, Hyakkimaru regains his skin.  

And so the stage is set: a lad lacking many body parts, itching to get them back from the demons who took them, and his plucky sidekick who takes shit from no one. It’s a stylish new interpetation of a literally classic pairing. Dororo’s seiyu is solid, the OP is frikkin’ bad-ass, and the action is swift and satisfying. Very encouraging start.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 05

As Chekhov’s Teddy looms in the background, Sakura prepares for a day of delicious lunches and beautiful flower petals that share her name.

Kero-chan teases her a little, her brother teases her a little, but she’s off nevertheless high in spirits.

Ain’t nothin’ bad gonna happen today! And how can it, with such sweeping, majestic, upbeat music playing as she walks to the park?

If I rated episodes purely by the quality of the soundtrack, this would easily be a 10 out of 10.

Upon meeting up with Tomoyo, the only thing that seems amiss is a slight feeeling that something has a hold of Sakura’s leg, but it’s only momentary, and engenders her smallest of “ho’es?”

The girls arrive earlier than the meet-up time to find their friends already waiting for them, having arrived even earlier.

It’s pastoral perfection and universal punctuality in perfect harmony, and it couldn’t be a prettier day to relax, eat good food, and enjoy the cherry blossoms.

But those little feelings of being pulled become more frequent and more forceful, until Sakura is being pulled away from the picnic and across the park (though she’s able to get her boots back on, somehow).

The weather turns dark and gloomy, and her destination comes into view: a gargantuan sakura tree with glowing purple blossoms that looks particularly sinister, especially with its whipping vines.

Obviously, it’s a card. Boss music plays, Sakura releases her staff, and tries to use a flexible Siege Cube to arrest her momentum, to little effect.

Still, all this card seems to be doing is pulling her towards itself, so it’s really just a matter of pointing her staff at the epicenter and yelling “Secure” from just the right distance without hitting the tree.

The new card she gains is “Gravitation”, which will come in handy if any future cards try to play hard to get. And sadly, Tomoyo once more fails to record Sakura’s heroics; I might be crazy, but this seems like it could be recurring gag.

Sakura is actually full of recurring interactions that differ in the details. We get out latest Lovey-Dovey Sakura x Syaoran Scene in which Syaoran initially says he just ate, then remembers Sakura made a lunch for him and eats that as well (I mean, he would’ve been a jerk not to).

Following some of Yamazaki’s patented Nonsense-Spewing and Sakura-, Syaoran- and now Akiho-Believing, and something, we get something new: everyone pipes down and listens to Tomoyo sing—and she sings beautifully.

There are no weird dreams with the hooded figure who may or may not be Akiho this week, nor any shadowy talks between Syaoran and Eriol; just a nice, idyllic spring picnic with just a brief interruption by a card that was more bark than bite.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 04

So, the pretty new transfer student Shinomoto Akiho is totally the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, right? Someone her same height (and even a similar-sounding name) shows up way too concurrently with the arrival of the cloaked figure in the real world at the tail end of last week’s outing.

If Touya doesn’t let on like he knows anything concrete (for now), he certainly seems to sense Sakura is out of sorts the morning after her disturbing vision of the figure. As for Sakura, she and Tomoyo are bowled over by Akiho’s beauty and eager to make friends with her ASAP.

Whatever, I say, could go wrong here?!

Syaoran certainly seems suspicious of Akiho, even if the others are just as charmed by the newbie as Sakura (then again, remain suspicious of Syaoran…what a tangled web we weaved). Akiho seems singularly invested in making Sakura like her as much as possible, flattering her when they’re alone in the hall, and again when Sakura gets an answer right in class (apparently not a common occurrence!).

After giving that answer, Sakura notices the trees getting up and walking around outside, setting off a series of Sakura’s patented all-purpose catchphrase, HOEHHH! At this point I always look forward to every time she does that, and hearing all the subtle variations on that exclamation. Tange Sakura is a treasure.

It’s Tomoyo to the rescue, having the class believe Sakura is not feeling well. Of course, she also has ulterior motives, and has prepared a Chinese-style costume for Sakura to don during her next card-capturing escapade.

Sadly for her, Tomoyo doesn’t get to film much of the spectacle, as Sakura encloses the runaway trees within Siege, then floods the cube with water from Aqua to immobilize their scampering roots.

Every action sequence thus far in CSS has been a delight to watch, from the novel ways in which Sakura achieves victory, to even the more repetitive elements like her chants and pose-striking (week-to-week variety to which is achieved by the varying costumes).

Her next card, “Action”, thus secured, Sakura takes it to Yukito, whose alter-ego Yue inspects it and concludes that it also seems to lack magical power; it’s all, apparently, in Sakura’s key and staff. The visit gives us the opportunity to see both sides of Yukito/Yue, and learn more about the interesting dynamic he has with Sakura.

Then Syaoran calls, and we’re treated to another heart-melting romantic exchange between the two, with Syaoran accepting Sakura’s offer to make him a lunch sometime, then asking her to call him if anything unusual happens, and Sakura taking it further and asking if she can call him even if it isn’t something unusual.

While Sakura is calling from Yukito’s porch, bathed in gorgeous light of the setting sun, Syaoran is holding the phone at arms length, holed up in the shadows, because he is clearly up to some shadowy shit. He immediately calls Eriol, who isn’t returning Sakura’s calls, and reports on Sakura, Akiho, and the new card, before these words are exchanged:

Eriol: I’m sure it’s hard on you, but this is not the time.
Syaoran: I came here to be ready for that time, when it comes.

All the while, the true mastermind, the dreaded teddy bear, looks knowingly, menacingly on.

I kid, but seriously, what is Syaoran’s deal? Has he been deceiving Sakura with a fake lovey-dovey act (I won’t forgive him), or is there a less sinister explanation, like he’s working in the shadows to protect her? While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, things are not looking good…and that’s not an accident.