Appare-Ranman! – 05 – Jockeying for Position

Kosame gathers up a sleeping Appare and Hototo for the pre-race banquet, where they are immediately turned away for not abiding by the dress code—something Xialian is doing thanks to her classy new dress. The code suddenly becomes more flexible when Thousand Three member TJ arrives in an outfit even more outlandish than Appare’s, carrying a turntable boombox playing anachronistic music.

Thanks to TJ the others gain entry (once Kosame puts on a necktie), and we soon learn that when it comes to fashion, Thousand Three members are extremely extra, judging by the arrival of the ruthless Gil and his lieutenant Chase. Hototo only came in order to ask Dylan about a snake tattoo. Dylan tells him it’s worn by Gil’s henchmen, but suggests that if he wants revenge (and not to die), he’ll have to be patient.

There are introductions of the B.I.G. BOSS car companies, the race cars, and their drivers (Kosame’s name is mispronounced and they’re given number 0), and then the pre-race lottery for pole position begins. TJ breaks up the ceremony by shooting the raffle box and declaring pole position for himself, which leads Dylan to challenge him. That sparks a very weird pistol duel, complete with unlimited ammo and acrobatic bullet-dodging moves.

The other drivers hash it out with duels ranging from kicking  to cucumber slicing. It’s all a little nutty and arbitrary, and it’s a miracle not one person was shot or even wounded by all the stray gunfire (though if the show takes such liberties with tech and fashion, it tracks that it doesn’t have a problem taking them with normal human ability and gun lethality as well).

That brings us to the next day and the start of the race, which we first saw in the first episode back in April. After five episodes of setup, the race has finally begun, and Appare has a steam-powered car in a race that favors gasoline-powered cars. No matter; he declares the car will never be finished because it will always be evolving, including during the race.

With Hototo as a guide and Kosame as…er, captain, they’ll no doubt take routes and make moves other racers are either too afraid or too sane—or both—to attempt. But even as the racers speed off into the wild, there are conspiratorial elements committed to turning the race into a “tragedy”.

Appare-Ranman! – 04 – Win With Something Else

While working diligently at the diner, Kosame learns how expensive automobiles are, and gets the idea to simply sell the car they won from Al Lyon. Even with just his half share he’s sure he can book passage back home. Alas, Appare has already dissected the BNW down to the last bolt, and is already preparing to integrate its components into his custom racer.

Meanwhile, Xialian’s boss turns her down simply because “women don’t race.” She just wants a chance to prove she’s capable, and thanks to getting into a fight with lead driver David, the team owner decides to allow an informal race before practice Wednesday. If Xialian loses, she’s fired.

The owner also lends Xialian the team’s infamous Number 0 car, which has engine gremlins so bad it doesn’t even make it to Appare’s garage. The odds are certainly stacked against her, but all the elements are present for an vital upset against the sexist good-old-boy club of racing.

When Xialian arrives pushing Number 0, laughing in the face of those odds, Appare recommends giving it acceleration mods so she can easily win the race, but she just wants it serviced normally. Appare, an engineer first and driver second, doesn’t see the point, but he has Al Lyon’s team work on the car.

Then he shows that while he’s not a driver first, he knows what it means to drive, and win, despite not having the best or fastest car. In the previous episode he used his technical know-how and the terrain. With no time for prototypes, he must visualize test driving his racer in his head, and Xialian follows along until the two are steering and shifting in unison.

Xialian takes the creatively-delivered advice to heart on the day of the race. David has his usual sexist comments ready, but she’s the one who gets of to a better start, which the men chalk up to her lighter weight. That may be the case, but no matter the gender a driver must exploit every advantage.

As Kosame, Hototo, Al and Sofia watch and cheer for Xialian, she lets David maintain a slim lead without letting him pull away. Since she started ahead of him, he wore his tires out aggressively driving to take that nominal lead. That puts her in his draft, so his car is displacing air hers doesn’t have to, lessening her fuel consumption and tire wear.

Xialian re-takes the lead and David can’t get it back, so on the last corner he makes contact with her car in order to take the lead. Her car spins, but she never loses control, keeping her foot on the gas and keeping the car out of the wall.

At the end, David is ready to celebrate his win while Xialian is ready to slug him. But to her shock, it’s the owner whose fist reaches David’s face first. He saw exactly what he did, and it nearly got two of his cars wrecked in an exhibition race.

Meanwhile, he also saw how Xialian handled herself, both during the race and when David hit her, and he’s impressed. His “hate the culture, not the owner” stance regarding a woman pro racer is still a cop-out, but he won’t deny she’s a true racer. He also decides to lend her Number 0 for the Trans American Race, while the similarly impressed mechanics offer to help outfit the car for cross-country racing.

The scenes in which Dylan and his ambitious business friend discuss the players in the upcoming race, and in which the press only has time for one hasty photo of Kosame shielding his eyes from the camera flash, feel out of place at the end of this episode, and more like a prologue of the next.

Nevertheless, Appare-Ranman! emerges from its three-month hiatus having not skipped a beat. It was cool to see two conventional race cars go at it on a track, and I’m glad Xialian’s hard work paid off. Appare was mostly his usual passive self, but his “mind-driving” session with Xialian was beautiful. It looks like we’ll be out of L.A. and on the road soon!

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 06 – Bye-Bye Loneliness

After Karyl returns “30% better” (and a certain additional % traumatized) the Gourmet Guild departs from the big city for their first real quest. They’re headed to a village called Targum to harvest a treasured spice of the same name. There’s a palpable sense of adventure and occasion to leaving the walls of the city thanks to the heroic direction and stirring overworld score.

When they make camp for the night and Karyl is unsuccessful in catching any fish in the “useless” lake, she dreads a supper of bugs or frogs. Pecorine comes to the rescue with a plump fowl she caught in the forest, and slow-cooks in a pit for maximum juiciness. She also found some sweet ripe fruits, one of which Kokkoro is about to eat when the other three start acting drunk. Unsurprisingly, Pecorine isn’t that different drunk, while Karyl is sloppier and more sentimental.

The next day while everyone’s guard is down, Yuuki is suddenly captured by a mischievous behemoth, but he’s rescued by a forest elf archer named Aoi, who is a self-professed “lonely soul” so desperate for friends she made one out of a small log. Hanazawa Kana provides the voice for both Aoi and her woody friend, whose bizarre antics and monologuing even make Yuuki a little weirded out.

The others eventually find Yuuki, and Aoi leads the guild to Targum, where they meet Misato, who along with her sister and Hatsune form the group called Forestier. She’s glad for the spice harvesting help, and announces that a third group, Elizabeth Park (to which llama-girl Rima belongs) is also on their way to the village. The Gourmets eventually encounter the eccentric Hatsune sleep-flying…a term I didn’t know I needed in my life until I witnessed it!

Unfortunately, Elizabeth Park encounters a lot more trouble than a Yuuki-glomping behemoth. Rima and her three comrades (including Hatsune’s ill sister Shiori) encounter strange “dark doppelgangers” of themselves (just like a woodsman did earlier in the episode). Liz-Park proceeds to fight them to a stalemate until a powerful warrior named Christina blasts the foes away and challenges them to a fight.

Shiori is separated from the others, and her dark double returns and appears to consume her in a ball of dark energy, leaving no trace. Even though I’ve just met Shiori (and her very extra sister), her fate represents the most genuine unknown peril we’ve seen befall someone. I imagine spice harvesting won’t be at the top of Forestier’s list of priorities next week…they’ve got a sister to save!

Appare-Ranman! – 03 – Taking Flight

Thanks to Dylan, Kosame and the native boy Hototo are saved. Appare repays him by promising he’ll be in the car ahead of him one day, to which Dylan says bring it on. Appare makes a lot of promises to a lot of  people, but considering how far he’s come on his ingenuity, he’s yet to make a claim he can’t back up. Kosame is learning that he’s not as crazy as he looks.

As for Hototo, he’s on a quest of vengeance, aiming to find the man who killed his father. In him Appare sees someone with knowledge of the terrain to the east, which will be part of the race. Like Appare and Kosame, Hototo has nowhere else to go, so he accepts their hospitality.

Their ability to offer Hototo a place to stay is disrupted when the young, rich BNW scion Al Lyon arrives in town with his kind Chaperone Sofia (Orisaka Fumiko…RUKIA!) and buys all the storehouses from the sea captain, including Appare and Kosame’s.

Al says he needs all of the space he’s bought, so Appare suggests they race in their respective machines in 10 days. If Al wins, he’ll get Kosame’s prized swords—which you’ll remember he can’t draw when he’s in a pinch. If Appare wins, they get the storehouse.

Appare knows he doesn’t need to build a machine that will beat Al’s sleek BNW in every aspect of performance. Al let him choose the course, so all he has to build is something that will achieve the objective of the race, no more or less. It can crumble to dust immediately after, as long as they win.

Grateful that he was able to repair her company’s car, Xialian gives Appare access to spare parts, which he picks up in his hastily-built Segway-like self-balancing scooter. Still, Xialian hasn’t driven since the incident, her team has no intention of entering, and she is certain Appare can’t beat BNW.

The day of the race in the dusty, rugged outskirts of L.A. finally comes. Appare and Kosame arrive a bit late in an ungainly (and above all very slow looking) contraption, fueling the fires of doubt in Xialian. Al is certain he’s got this, and amends the deal once more: he gets the swords, the Segway, and the car.

Al gets off to a quick lead with his straight-line speed, but has to go around a cliff that Appare’s car can leap over. Still, Al is closer to the finish when Appare has Kosame pull a lever that launches half of the car—and Kosame—ahead of Al. All Kosame has to do is run to the tree and touch it before Al, which he does. Notably, while racing Appare’s personality changes completely, to something more in line with his appearance.

Impressed by the win and acknowledging his complacency, Al takes the loss in stride, giving Appare his car and use of the storeroom to his heart’s content. Appare in turn is a good winner, and offers Al the Segway so he doesn’t have to walk home. Al refuses, but Sofia accepts, and you can’t blame her—that’s a long walk in a stuffy dress!

The win over Al lends further credibility to Appare’s capability, along with stability, as losing use of their garage is no longer a possibility. He must now set to work on a much more complex machine that will endure over the myriad terrains and conditions America will throw at them. He may have also convinced Xialian not to give up on her own dream to race.

With that, our three-part intro to Appare-Ranman! is complete, and we’ll have to wait a while for the rest of the story. It’s looking like other drivers will be more traditional good-natured rivals, while all of them will share a common enemy: a steam baron intent on squashing the automobile in its infancy to continue his hegemony.

Whatever the case, it’s a well-made, entertaining show and I’ll be looking forward to its return!

Appare-Ranman! – 02 – Even if the World Won’t Allow It

Note: Due to covid-19 the broadcasts of Appare-Ranman after the third episode have been delayed indefinitely. We’ll be reviewing future episodes if and when they become available.

It dawns on Kosame that returning to Japan (something he’d very much like to do) is no easy matter, and could take as much as “ten years of toil” to manage. Fortunately, his fighting skills are readily street-applicable skill than Appare—his fighting skills—and Appare puts him to work showing them off.

Then Appare picks up a flyer for the Trans-America Wild Race and stumbles upon the speedway where state-of-the-art driving machines are pitted against one another. While drivers like Dylan enjoy celebrity status, “the cars are the stars” here. It dawns on Appare he’s exactly where he needs to be: in a position to do something people say can’t be done. He’s going to enter the race and he’s going to win it.

A win will net him a cool 1.51 million dollars—them, if Kosame sticks by his side in this crazy venture. As they sit in an anachronisitc Art Deco diner(!) the samurai can’t deny that his share of the purse could solve many of his problems—his fiancee won’t wait ten years!—but he’s still skeptical, and rightfully so. Appare may have a dream, but they both just got there, and barely earn enough at the moment for food. They’re staying in a storeroom for free, and have no budget for a race car, let alone one that can beat the big manufacturers.

But absent a viable alternative (and fearful of FOMO), Kosame follows Appare, who breaks into the racetrack that night to check out the machinery. There they encounter Jing Xialian is already racing there, and almost accidentally runs a fearless Appare over. She damages the car—whih isn’t strictly hers—and when Kosame approaches her she exhibits her own martial arts prowess. In an effort to de-escalate, Kosame lets himself get hit by her kick.

As he recovers in the garage, Appare and Kosame learn more of Xialian’s story: she’s always loved cars and racing and joined the team as a chore girl. She’s good enough to race herself, but due to the sexism of the time she’s told she can’t be, and has come to believe it. Someone like Appare is clearly a good influence, as he doesn’t let the world tell him his limits, and doesn’t see why she should either. If you can do it, do it; don’t worry about the world’s rules. It’s hard to argue with him considering how far that attitude has gotten him so far.

Xialian’s story is not a particularly original one, but she’s another fun, colorful character I’m compelled to root for, even if she becomes Appare’s competitor in the race. Then there’s the celebrity driver Dylan, who saves Appare and Kosame when the latter is trying to help a young Native American kid from a group of racists. Notably, Kosame cannot physically draw his katana due to PTSD from a bloody incident in his past, so he needs the save. Dylan may well only be intervening because his peace is being disturbed.

There’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in Appare-Ranman from the total lack of language barriers, to the anything-goes dress code and futuristic technology/architecture. But once you let all that go, it’s a tremendously entertaining ride that’s just getting started. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to see much more of it due to delays. I just know I’ll definitely be tuned in when it returns.

 

Appare-Ranman! – 01 (First Impressions) – Across the Sea, Beyond the Sky

P.A. Works’ latest anime original focuses on the brilliant but eccentric engineer and inventor Sorano Appare, and Isshiki Kosame, his reluctant, timid samurai companion. We begin in Los Angeles as the two, along with a cute little assistant, are about to embark on an epic “Trans-America Wild Race” with an eclectic bunch of equally eccentric drivers from all over the world. It’s packed with anachronisms, but the spirit of adventure and getting movin’ is strong with this opening scene.

From there, AR! rewinds to a year ago in Japan, when Appare was in prison for crashing a steam-powered vehicle into the prized garden of the local lord. The lord appoints Kosame Appare’s “overseer”, assuming Appare survives a stay in the jail cell where major criminals are kept.

But it’s clear no simple cell lock can hold Appare, any more than his stodgy family business or his status as second son can keep him from setting out to find out how far his dreams and considerable technical skill can take him.

Kosame doesn’t realize how much bigger this is until it’s too late, as Appare escapes in his custom-made mini-steamship docked in a secret berth. Appare’s sister, who it seems is closest and most understanding of him among his family members, manages to bid him farewell with a good luck charm.

As for Kosame, the lord’s threat that he’ll share Appare’s fate should things go south, sticks by Appare, even though their little shakedown cruise takes them out to the open sea, with neither food nor water. It’s apparent Appare will need someone whose head isn’t always either in a mess of gears or up in the clouds if he’s going to survive his self-imposed journey.

When the ship runs out of fuel and the sea becalmed, Appare has time to finally explain to Kosame what he’s trying to do. It’s clearly around the turn of the century, when the steam engine have revolutionized industry and transport and Japan has been opened to the technologically-superior West.

Ever since first seeing steamships when he was four, Appare has never stopped absorbing the math and technical know-how needed to built devices of his own. He’s been tinkering for fifteen years, his own dreams fueled by the stories of Jules Verne which, as we know, would eventually become reality. Appare isn’t going to be left out. If anyone’s reaching the other side of the moon, he’s determined to be the first!

But first things first: surviving their current predicament. The ship is in need of repairs and fuel, but they’re getting nowhere fast, until Appare’s sister’s good luck charm pays dividends in the form of a passing American steamship. Even luckier, it’s captained and crewed by what seem to be kind, decent folk who are happy to tow Appare’s ship and even rap with him on some engineering problems.

I guess it’s time to talk about one of the most glaring problems with AR!, which is Appare’s look. I understand they wanted to give him a distinctive, eccentric look to match his personality and contrast sharply with the drab aesthetic of Koname everyone else, but IMO they went a bit too far; a 7 or 8 would have done fine, but they took things up to 11 or 12. Fortunately, he sounds far less crazy-goofy than he looks.

Also, that’s not a major problem here, and as more of those eccentric (and suitably weird-lookin’ for the timeline) racers appear, it will be less of a problem. Suffice it to say, Appare is Modernity Incarnate, while Kosame represents the old fashioned past being dragged along kicking and screaming. When they finally arrive at the port of Los Angeles bursting with technology and activity, it’s clear which of the two are now firmly in their element.

Appare-Ranman! starts strong and has a lot of potential for greatness, what with the odd couple, transcontinental road trip, and race-with-huge-reward stakes dynamics. Appare’s zany look is tempered by seiyu Hanae Natsuki, while Yamashita Seiichirou livens up a samurai who is clearly not your usual stoic warrior (though I wouldn’t quite call him a “coward” as the promotional synopsis did).

Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) classes up the joint with the score, and the animation quality you’d expect of P.A.’s better Works is present. Considering how sedentary most of us will be for the remainder of this year, I’m excited to live vicariously through the show’s enterprising, trailblazing characters as they embark on the adventure of their lives.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 11 – Ripples of Peace

With 45 days until their deadline, the Eizouken creatives are working furiously while Sayaka conducts business in the same space, giving her the idea for partitions in the future. Things get even more lively when their studio hosts a raid by the Security Club.

The StuCo arrives and expels the president of the Transcription Club for “arranging deals using school funds without permission.” Eizouken is not affected, but the Secretary warns Sayaka not to let something like this happen to her. Sayaka responds with a bill for the property damage. Touche!

While working on the weekend—as they must for all weekends—the trio finally notices their adviser is supervising them at all times, even without overtime. As their adviser, he advises them not to work so long and have some fun from time to time, for “the best work comes from a sense of play.”

This permission to goof off is his highly inconvenient for Sayaka, who is just barely keeping Midori and Tsubame on schedule, but the three go on a fun trip anyway. An underground tunnel leads to a sheer cliff, and the promise of a tire swing leads them to an abandoned, flooded “Solar City” that gives Midori all kinds of ideas about underwater civilizations.

One day, Midori and Tsubame arrive to find a sign posted on the studio entrance strongly warning against acquisition of outside-of-school funds. Sayaka is home sick(!) so Midori and Tsubame catch a train to visit her. We learn how Sayaka and Midori met: they were the only two loners in middle school P.E.

Having endured partnering up with a stranger, Midori follows Sayaka around and even makes money collecting special leaves for a restaurant that serves grilled fish on them (a very Kanamori Sayaka hustle), and even rides a train for the first time. Sayaka’s thoughts about how people temporarily allying for mutual benefit doesn’t automatically denote friendship.

It’s probably why Midori to this day considers both Sayaka and Tsubame “comrades”, not “friends” (or, in Japanese, nakama, not tomodachi). More importantly, it gets to the heart about how people see things in different ways. Where once she saw leaves, Midori now she sees cash, thanks to Sayaka.

When Midori and Tsubame show Sayaka the threatening sign, she tells them not to worry about it; she’s secured another checkmate against the commerce-ruining adults of the school in the form of widespread and overwhelmingly supportive publicity for their Shibahama film project. They’re now virtually bulletproof against the school’s retaliation.

That again underscores the concept of people seeing things in different ways; the school sees the Eizouken’s activities as “anti-educational”; Sayaka considers them the exact opposite. Then, when asked about her progress with the story and ending, Midori is ready with a full rundown of the film, which she gives in a gorgeous illustrative scene.

In the process, Midori utilizes the concept of different perspectives by having the human and kappa societies be a mirror of one another. She also integrates all of the weird and seemingly unrelated ideas she came up with during their adventures! Ironically, the skeptical vice principal planting Cosmos (a symbol of peace) may have been the spark Midori needed to tie everything together.

It looks like an exciting film with no shortage of action and battles, but the central theme of peaceful coexistence and understanding will certainly play well with the city officials. Making the humans and kappa so visually alike is both thematically on-point and a time-saver, indicating the creatives have gotten better at managing their creative ambitions and embracing shortcuts when appropriate.

Armed with a strong story and all the leeway they’ll need to execute, the Eizouken gets to work, and even manages to complete the animation with time to spare (though not much). That’s when they hit an unexpected snag: the music track they acquired for the film’s score is nothing like the demo they heard, and doesn’t match the animation at all.

Assuming there’s no time to draw anything new, they’ll need a musical miracle. Maybe one of them knows someone who knows someone who could bail them out…

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 10 – Watch the Tan Lines…and the Tangents

You can’t get much past Kanamori, her business sense forged as it is in the fires of her family’s past failure. Eizouken relies almost solely on Tsubame’s fame right now…but her sock has created a tan line on her leg, and she hasn’t been taking any modelling jobs recently.

Neither Tsubame nor Midori see what the big deal is, but thankfully they have Kanamori to explain it to them: if Tsubame’s star dims, so will the Eizouken’s. She has to take on the occasional job to keep her star bright.

As if Kanamori didn’t have enough problems herding creative cats, the StuCo stops by the studio personally to drag them before a conference with the teachers, who have found out about the festival they’re attending and the Eizouken’s intentions to turn a profit.

Kanamori, head turned arrogantly skyward at all times as a sign of protest and disdain, tries her best to justify the model, but the decision has already been made by the adults. As a school club, they can attend and participate in Comet-A, but they can’t accept any payment.

In the following montage, the Eizouken carries on with their big, complex  Shibahama-funded project. As Tsubame indeed continues modelling (though her face almost betrays a certain annoyance about it), Midori churns out drawings and paintings, sounds are recorded, and all of it cataloged on the computer.

I just hope they don’t run into any technical problems wherein they lose vast chunks of work. This fortunately doesn’t seem like the kind of show to drop cheap sandbags like that. Instead, the challenge comes in Midori actually being able to craft a cohesive and satisfying story from her myriad crazy concepts, and is able to “perform” her intentions to the team they’ll need to pull it off.

One key player is Doumeki, who finds herself napping for the first time—and making amazing weapon beam noises while she’s doing it! This leads to the four comrades meeting up on bikes for a “sound hunting” trip.

Kanamori (stunting AKIRA-style) is dubious about Midori tagging along when she has so much work to do, but I’m with Midori when she says it’s a director’s job to sometimes witness the work she’d normally delegate firsthand.

Besides, the resulting trip pays more dividends than simply collecting the sounds Doumeki wanted, including the latest iteration of the town’s famous bell across the water. Like the trip to the undergound restaurant, the trip fills Midori’s head with new ideas.

Some of these ideas are unrelated and can be filed away for future projects, irking Kanamori, but still other ideas help her to connect her disparate concepts into something resembling a story. That only Midori knows what that’s shaping up to be also irks Kanamori. She wants to see concrete results, and soon.

Still, she can’t put a price on the bonding that takes place between the Eizouken members on a trip that’s equal parts work, wonder, and fun. As the sun starts to fall, Midori gets one more crazy idea about the early origins of human clockwork mechanisms, and the StuCo secretary is along for the ride.

I particularly enjoyed seeing this girl, who seems very much like Kanamori, simply sitting by the river with her, asking how she’s dealing with the new restrictions. She doesn’t seem there to gloat or shove the Eizouken’s problems in their faces. Indeed, it even brings a smile to her face to watch one of Midori’s patented flights of fancy, which again isn’t immediately related to their current project.

The secretary (whom I assumed was the president until this week) had just warned Kanamori that the school is its own world, with special protections for its students, and to leave that behind. But when they’re creating, Midori and Tsubame are in a third world, neither inside nor outside the school; a world of their making. As for Kanamori, she can handle the outside world. It’s really more a question of whether it can handle her!

P.S. As pointed out by ANN’s Zac Bertschy, the Eizouken is basically an early Studio Ghibli analog. Midori is Miyazaki (hence the beard), Tsubame is Takahata Isao, and Kanamori is Suzuki Toshio. Love it!

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 06 – Though Our Battlefields Differ

Other episodes of F/GO have presented bigger earth-(and history)-shattering events, but this was the first one I felt best brought all of the series’ myriad elements together. All the adventure, history, action, comedy, and romance levels were set just right so that they complemented each other rather then got in each others’ way.

This was also the episode in which I most felt the humanity of the characters. It’s apropos the cold open should feature the origin of the current Ishtar. It also had the most one-on-one interaction between Ritsuka and Ushiwakamaru. She’d always seemed drawn to him, and I should have known it was because they’re both Japanese.

Among the many servants with whom he interacts, Ushiwakamaru is the only one Ritsuka sang songs of as a kid, something that both astounds and flatters her. He was a real person, after all, and his story is an amazing one. One of the low-key great things about Fate is that it nudges you to learn more about these historical and legendary figures.

As such, wonderful to see these two countrymen assert their bond of friendship as people, not any Master-Servant contract. Ushiwakamaru also sports one of the more awesome costumes in a show positively bursting with them. Like this episode, it’s a satisfying balance of elements—a little cute, a little sexy, all bad-ass. Not to mention Hayami Saori is perfectly cast as Ushi’s voice—warm, caring, and determined.

Another thing I’m enjoying about F/GO is that while there is a larger overarching story arc, it doesn’t get in the way of smaller, more self-contained episodic stories. Last week felt like a road trip with Gilgamesh; this felt more like a good old-fashioned fantasy quest. Their mission couldn’t be simpler: go to the city of Kutha and recover the Tablet of Destinies.

(In a well-placed moment of comedy, Ritsuka asks why Gilgamesh doesn’t remember what he himself wrote on said tablet; Gilgamesh response is Pure Gilgamesh: “Why do I have to retain in my memory a clairvoyant premonition I wrote in a dream?” #DemigodProblems)

Sadly Ushiwakamaru can’t join them, but the party of Ritsuka, Mash, Merlin and Ana is more than adequate. On the way to the city, whose entire population seemingly died peacefully in their sleep, the party encounters the collateral damage caused by Ishtar’s Cautious Hero-style demonic beast extermination, and she’s been making off with the gems of those she “saved.”

The night before they enter the city, Ritsuka has a nice chat with Merlin about how even though he’s just an ordinary human, he has to do what he can to the best of his ability, which means a strict workout routine to stay in shape. From her tent, Mash seems disappointed Ritsuka thinks she only chose him because he was virtually “the last man on earth.”

Once in Kutha, the party splits up to look for the tablet…simple enough, though Mash was weary of Ritsuka going off with only Fou for protection. Turns out her intuition was correct: Ritsuka suddenly strays into the Underworld, which in this age is a very real place people stray into all the time (and in Gilgamesh’s case, even went on a quest there).

The hostile undead who surround Ritsuka are eventually dismissed by a man Ritsuka seems to recognized named Ziusu-dra, who castigates Rituska for entering the Underworld while still alive; a big no-no. Still, he sees Ritsuka is a nice guy and so lets him off this time, sending him back to Kutha.

He awakes to find Mash shedding tears of joy and relief after she shed tears of panic and worry for his safety; going back to what he said to Merlin last night, Ritsuka may well not quite grasp just how much Mash cares for him, and is not merely resigned to serving him. And what do you know, the Tablet of Destinies is in his hands. Looks like he was meant to stray into the Underworld, if only briefly.

Of course, the mission was never going to be quite that simple: Ishtar suddenly arrives like a fighter jet; Chaldea only warns the party four seconds before she attacks. She’s there to “save” them just like she saved the ranchers whose lands she ravaged and pockets she picked, and intends to collect payment in the form of the tablet.

Ritsuka’s not about to fail Gilgamesh, so they must fight. And what a fight. From Ishtar’s concussive kicks to Mash’s shield and her graceful gliding through the sky, to Ana’s decisive chain-assisted counterattack, we’re treated to a beautiful, deadly dance. My only complaint is that it’s over too fast, but I’m also glad it didn’t go on too long.

Going back to the cold open, we learn Ishtar was summoned using ahuman girl as a vessel. Despite nearly all Mesopotamian gods being blonde as a rule, Ishtar retained her vessel’s black hair, since the human girl’s will merged with Ishtar. That goes a ways towards explaining her peculiar behavior that both saves and hurts humans.

It may also explain why she’s willing to cooperate when she wakes up finding herself tied up, surrounded by Ritsuka’s party demanding answers. She explains that the other two goddesses were drawn there by Gilgamesh’s Holy Grail. The three of them decided to enter a competition whereby the first to defeat Gilgamesh and claim the Grail shall rule his lands. They also entered a three-way non-aggression pact, so Ishtar won’t go so far as to tell Ritsuka the true names of the others.

The party fails to connect the ease with which Ritsuka entered the Underworld to Kutha’s status as a place where undead congregate and dwell…until they’re surrounded by massive horde of skeletons. With the tablet in hand they make a run for it, but not before Ritsuka frees Ishtar from her binds. Having been treated so kindly despite her hostility (and perhaps motivated by her human half), Ishtar returns the favor by obliterating all of the skeletons with a single all-out arrow burst, sparing the party a tough battle.

When Ritsuka earnestly thanks her before turning back to Uruk, the blonde goddess half of Ishtar wonders if perhaps he’s “a sacrifice too good for the other goddesses.” I enjoyed the ambiguity of that line, just I enjoyed the entirety of this splendidly balanced episode.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 03 – A Blurry Reflection

Having met nearly everyone in this “mirror world”, Koyomi takes stock of the different ways the people he knows have changed, and acknowledges that this is far from simply a matter of left becoming right, or even right becoming wrong.

Black Hanekawa is his Tsubasa’s alter ego. Rainy Devil’s hatred lurks within his Kanbaru. The happiness of her alternate dwells deep within his Sodachi. Kuchinawa is an inseparable part of Nadeko.

These seemingly different or opposite people are really much the people he knows as the people he knows, only in his world these are the sides hidden, suppressed, lurking beneath the everyday surface, for good and/or ill. As Mayoi has him consider where his alternate might be, he contemplates Oshino Ougi being in his world while he’s here.

But Mayoi also tells him to sleep on it, and take what opportunities might come. To Koyomi’s surprise, Sodachi is his bunkmate, and after lights-out offers some sleepy insight into mirrors—which typically only reflect about 80% of the light that hits them. The rest is absorbed, meaning the only way to truly see ourselves is to see a “blurry reflection”, something less than 100% the reverse of what you put into it.

That opportunity Mayoi mentioned might come comes in the form of Ononoki, but there’s something different about her, which is to say there’s something the same about the way she’s supposed to be. Her expressions and emotion and tone are all back to normal.

She reports that when she saw Koyomi’s reaction to her as she was (including not removing her “bottoms” as is supposedly his alternate’s dirty habit), she essentially rebooted and updated her personality—something among all the others she’s uniquely equipped to do.

Ononoki tells Koyomi she’s arranged to have the former Kiss-shot meet with him, and takes him on a journey to see her. I say journey when it’s more of a dazzling odyssey. As she lets the withering insults of her twisted personality fly freely, the surroundings of their trip to Shinobu fluctuate between dreamy hyper-realism to intricate 8-bit nostalgia.

Very few shows excel better at distracting you from long conversations with diverse dynamic visuals and eclectic music. This culminates in the most lavish setting yet: a classic Disney-style castle at the site where Koyomi expects the cram school to be; which he assumed might not have been destroyed by the Tiger like it was last Summer in his world.

As he and Ononoki let themselves into the magnificent edifice and walk through its vast moonlight-bathed halls, he contemplates what kind of person Shinobu might be. Did the other Koyomi never meet her bleeding to death in the subway, and never made a pact to save her life and made him a vampire? Is she Full-Power, Non-Former Kiss-shot and all the rest?

Well, once he enters her ethereal bedchamber, spots her silhouette, and hears her old-fashioned, polite salutations, it dawns on him: she’s not a vampire at all; she’s human. Judging from her castle, perhaps she still goes by the name Princess Rola?

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.

TenSura – 03 – Making Goblinville Great

Rimuru’s time as an OP Slime continues to go quite well. After healing all the goblins injured from wolf attacks with the potions within him, he gets the others to build fences and prepare defenses. When the direwolf pack arrives with a full head of steam, Rimuru is ready for them with “Steel Thread.” When their leader fights through it he gets caught in “Sticky Thread”, and Rimuru beheads him with Water Blade, then uses Predator to absorb his abilities. Mimicking a direwolf, he gets the rest of the pack to yield. Victory!

With both a village of goblins and a pack of direwolves at his command, Rimuru learns that none of them have names. He begins to name them all, starting with the goblins, unaware that “naming” a monster as low-level as a goblin takes up magicules. Soon he’s depleted, and must enter Sleep Mode for three days. When he awakens, to his surprise both the male and female goblins have evolved into larger, stronger, more human (read:sexier) forms, a direct effect of naming them.

While he was only able to name one Direwolf before passing out, because they function as a single unit, they all evolved along with their new leader, Ranga, whose tendency to eagerly whip his tail into a whirlwind is never not amusing. With everyone bigger and better, Rimuru lays down three rules: Don’t attack humans, don’t fight amongst one other, and don’t belittle other races.

He also learns that they’re not that great at building shelter or making clothes, and so on the now-swole elder Rigurd’s advice, he decides to take a delegation of goblins and wolves and journey to the Dwarven city of Dwargon, where he’ll find builders and tailors with which to trade.

Upon leaving the cave I’m sure Rimuru didn’t think he’d be in the position he is now, or with the responsibilities with which he finds himself. However, he also seems to be enjoying himself and the unexpected effecrts of his actions. And if he’s also doing a pretty good job, why stop now?

TenSura – 02 – A Slimy New Hope

When some initial attempts to free Veldora the Storm Dragon fail, Satoru decides to envelop him in his stomach, but not before they give each other names: with Satoru being named Rimuru Tempest and the dragon Veldora Tempest. It works: the dragon is no longer a prisoner of the spell, but nor does he have physical form anymore. Rimuru, however, knows he’s in there somewhere.

For the next few weeks Rimuru sets to work gaining new skills, some of which he gains just by performing a new task; some of which he takes from the various beasts he defeats. It’s a very procedural sequence but it’s well-paced and always satisfying when he slays a new foe with the skills of the previous one.

In this way he gathers quite a bit of power, and eventually reaches the front door of the cave, which to his surprise opens to reveal three human adventurers. Rimuru slips out without them noticing, and the “disappearance” of Veldora changes the balance of power in the entire region.

For instance, Rimuru assumes Veldora, or at least his power, kept direwolves away from a village of (non-rapey!) goblins, whom are extremely frightened of the slime due to the intense magical aura he’s emitting. It seems even sealed away Veldora cast a big shadow in the area.

Rimuru hears out the goblin elder and decides to help out, considering how hopeless their fight is (there are only 60 goblins to 100 wolves, each of which requires an average of ten goblins to defeat, so they’re at least 940 short). In exchange, the villagers offer him their undying loyalty.

And so, not long after befriending and then absorbing a tsundere storm dragon, the Slime has now become a goblin leader. Never a dull moment here on TenSura.