Golden Kamuy – 32 – Living Too Long

In which Yoichirou the Manslayer waits for death at the land’s end

We knew Hijitaka, Ushiyama, and Nagakura would get an episode at some point, so here we are, all the way back down in Kushiro, as they search for another tattooed Abashiri inmate, Doi Shinzo. A local Ainu identifies their only clue as the beak of a puffin, so the trio learn Doi can most likely be found in Nemuro, on Hokkaido’s Pacific coast.

Ushiyama wonders if he really needs to be careful with a Doi Shinzo who, by now, must be a spent old men, but Hijitaka warns that Doi once went by another name: Yoichirou the Manslayer, a prolific murderer in the Shogonate’s final days, and thus someone to indeed be careful about approaching.

When we transition to Nemuro, Yoichirou’s wild hair remains, but all of the color has gone, as if washed away by the sea’s salty air. He’s very slow, clumsy, doesn’t work much, and wears Ainu dress, angering some of the  younger fishery workers. Even so, when he tries to walk into the waves to drown, he’s saved by one of his more decent co-workers.

Hijitaka’s is far from the only group looking for Yoichirou; numerous teams of detectives and assassins representing the families of those he killed are hunting him, and converge at the fishery’s canteen. One such team beats Hijitaka there, and let’s just say they aren’t careful about approaching the old man.

The moment they threaten Yoichirou’s life with steel, his present scenery is replaced by that of the past, and his fighting spirit awakens with a vengeance, stealing the weapon and using it to chop into his attackers’ feet. “Get in line”, he says to his would-be assassins, his cloudy eyes wide open. Then Hijitaka marks his arrival by shooting one of those assassins, and declares he’s at the head of that line.

Ushiyama bum-rushes the other assassins, while Yoichirou, who in his dementia imagines himself young again and back in a past with a blood-red sky, runs off, cutting down anyone in his way. Hijitaka, whom Yoichirou recognizes as the “man in charge” back then, gives chase. Yoichirou bows before what he sees as his sensei who betrayed him, but it’s only a deer.

The chase ends at the edge of the sea, where Yoichirou stops running. Hijitak says his piece about still having work to do, securing independence for Hokkaido to stem the tide of Russian incursion. Yoichirou, however, curses having “lived too long”; so long he had to contemplate walking into the sea before his mind became too addled to do so.

The two have a one-slash duel, with Hijitaka cutting Yoichirou down. As he sits down, dying, Hijitaka returns the puffin beak to him, which was a gift from Yoichirou’s Ainu wife she he wouldn’t forget Nemuro. He didn’t, as he broke out of Abashiri to be with her during her last days. Her face is the last thing he sees before passing away.

“Ainu”, he was once told, “means ‘human’.” After living as a tool—a killing machine for the imperial loyalists—he came to Nemuro to live as a human again, and was able to do so. His past caught up with him, but too late for it to matter. But at least in Hijitaka’s view his death had meaning, as the tattoos on his skin can be used to find the gold that will fund their New Hokkaido.

Golden Kamuy delivers yet another one of the character studies it is so damn good at, whether they relate to a main character or a one-off inmate like Yoichirou. I genuinely teared up at his last moments, when he finally reunited with his love, and his statement on Ainu way of life as better than what he’d had before also resonated.

The episode closes the book rather abruptly on Hijitaka and Yoichirou’s confrontation to send us all the way back up to Ako, where Ogata shoots a white whale for dinner, and Asirpa whips out the last of Sugimoto’s “poop” miso. The stew is so good, even Ogata can’t help but mutter “hinna, hinna”, surprising Asirpa. Kiroranke confirms to Shiraishi that their operation won’t just be to break Sofia out, but to release all 250 inmates of the prison, creating enough chaos to ease Sofia’s escape.

They’ll do so with explosives stored in the newer lighthouse mentioned by the old couple last week. This could be wishful thinking on my part, but perhaps while Kiroranke & Co. are in the midst of liberating Ako Prison, Sugimoto’s team will finally catch up with them. All I know is, as good as this third season has been, if it doesn’t end with an Asirpa-Sugimoto reunion, I’ll be vexed.

Golden Kamuy – 29 – The Way of the Sniper

Sugimoto & Co. put on that big show for nothing; Asirpa & CO. were, as was hinted by the closing poop scene, already far to the north. We don’t check in on Sugimoto this week, and the possibility of the two groups reuniting anytime soon remains remote.

On one level, that’s a shame, because the relationship of Asirpa and Sugimoto forms the emotional heart of Golden Kamuy. Put simply, I care about the two of them more than anyone else, and the prospect of them being apart all season is…frustrating.

So far, Golden Kamuy has ably tempered that lingering frustration to a tolerable trickle, because on another level, the two groups together would simply be too many characters in one place. Separate, the two groups and their unique dynamics have room to breathe.

Also, while the main duo are a critical piece of the whole, they are not the only piece of interest by a long shot. The two split groups also mean double the cultural education and immersion, as demonstrated when Asirpa & Co. enter the lands of the Uilta, whose traditions include suspending the coffins of their dead in the air with planks rather than bury them.

In this part of the island reindeer are the main game, and Ogata immediately commits a cultural faux pas by shooting one. It was a kept Reindeer that, along with the rest of its herd, comprises the sum total of a Uilta family’s material wealth. Their first contact with the Uilta consists of an apology followed by a cooperative reindeer hunt to make up for the lost property.

Kiroranke was hoping for just such an encounter, because Asirpa’s father Wilk made the same mistake as Ogata back in the day. Watching the Uilta’s way of hunting wild reindeer—using their own reindeer as a decoy to mask their approach—awakens more childhood memories for Asirpa and her aca.

Ogata impresses the Uilta elder with his prowess with a three-shot rifle, killing the entire herd of wild reindeer without letting any escape. The Uilta only have a single-shot bolt-action rifle, but as they put it following Ogata’s success, if he lived there then there soon wouldn’t be any reindeer left to hunt!

That night Asirpa gets to satisfy her brain-tooth (and give us a Hinna Face) with the reindeer brains—which taste just like those of the southern deer she’s accustomed to. They also partake of freshly-baked bread and the equivalent of reindeer butter—no part of the animal is wasted, of course.

The nomadic Uilta may be nominally Ainu, but in their game, hunting methods, dwellings, and cuisine, they’re very distinct from their southern cousins, accentuating the cultural diversity that still endured during that time in one of the more remote parts of the world.

The group lucked out by making contact with the Uilta and helping them take down a herd. Hiring the dogsleds to take them north left them broke, but the Uilta don’t care about money, only reindeer. Kiroranke also knows that nomadic tribes are tacitally allowed to cross the Japanese-Russian border, so they disguise themselves as Uilta to cross the border by reindeer sled.

Things go pear-shaped due to an unforeseen development. Turns out Lt. Tsurumi’s maccinations can reach northern Sakhalin from Otaru, and he has no intention of letting Kiroranke move freely. Tsurumi learned that a young Kiroranke was one of the revolutionaries responsible for the assassination of Russian Emperor Alexander II in St. Petersberg back in 1881.

The Russians very much want to catch everyone involved in the regicide, so Tsurumi tips them off that one of them will be crossing the border in Sakhalin. Sure enough, border troops are  hiding in the woods, and a sniper shoots the Uilta elder in the head. Ogata realizes he wasn’t the one shot because he’d switched rifles with the elder, lending his new three-shot model to him.

This also tells Ogata that the sniper who fired isn’t just a good shot, but a suspicious one. Asirpa and the others hide behind sleds and reindeer, but they’re well and truly pinned down. Even so, Kiroranke exposes himself to fire in order to grab the wounded but still breathing elder, and the Russian sniper, Vasily, lets him, later citing “respect for someone risking their life for a comrade”.

That moment of Vasily’s hesitation gives Ogata the opening to shoot Vasily’s comrade, Ilya. He doesn’t shoot him fatally in the head, but in the stomach, which ensures the Russians will be slowed down in caring for him enough for them to give them the slip into the woods. Ogata also seems invigorated and even a little giddy at the prospect of a serious playmate with which to fight a two-man “Part Two of the Russo-Japanese War.”

What follows is an intricate and fascinating chess match between Ogata and Vasily. While the cultures of Russians and Japanese are wildly different, the mind and disposition of a sniper is pretty much the same no matter where you’re from: whoever has the colder ice water in their veins will prevail. Ogata knows the ideal sniper will only be interested in “murder and pursuing their prey”, and so Vasily would soon split off from his unit and wounded comrade for that second thing.

It dawns on Vasily it wasn’t respect that kept him from shooting Kiroranke, but the lack of agency: a sniper kills at a time of their choosing, not when the target says so. Similarly, when Vasily’s men fall for a simple gunpowder trap set by Kiroranke, they start screaming in pain, but Ogata isn’t surprised his opponent doesn’t react—a good sniper can listen to his comrade’s screams all night and not be fazed.

When Kiroranke, Asirpa and Shiraishi double back to the wounded Russian Ilya, he presents the wanted poster featuring a sketch of a young Kiroranke, shocking Asirpa and Shiraishi. But Ogata and Vasily are in their own little Sniper World, waiting for one another to make the first move. Vasily thinks he has the cloaked foe in his sights, but it looks for all the world like a decoy.

The episode ends leaving us in that suspenseful moment before Ogata presumably emerges from an angle Vasily didn’t expect and does him in, clearing their path to the prison where Kiroranke’s comrades are imprisoned. But how will Ogata, Asirpa and Shiraishi react to that wanted poster? And will this incident at the border slow their group down enough for Sugimoto & Co. to gain a little ground?

Golden Kamuy – 28 – Big Top, Big Turd

There’s no shortage of deep, dark, horrible stuff in Golden Kamuy (see: last week), but what keeps the audience from descending into despair is its well-integrated, irreverent, and sometimes gross comedy. Yet the comedy almost always serves and propels the more serious and dramatic central story, rather than simply serving as isolated points of relief.

Take Kiroranke introducing Asirpa to a opokay, a fanged deer that was her father’s first kill. He has her smell the musk glad, giving us another wonderful Asirpa Face (Ogata’s face, funnily enough, barely changes upon smelling it). Kiroranke tells the tale of how he and Wilk not just hunted this deer, but were called musk deer due to their wandering.

Our sense of smell is most closely tied to memory, so Asirpa remembers the beaded hohchiri her dad gave her to wear until her first kill (which is typically only for boys). This is how Kiroranke hopes to uncover the mysteries Wilk left in his daughter’s head: by continuing to familiarize her with the man her dad was, and that above all she can trust him, her father’s friend.

Comedy returns to the fore in a big way this week as Team Sugimoto ends up in Toyohara, the cultural capital of Karafuto, and fall victim to a circus acrobat who snatches bags in his spare time. Despite the kid’s speed and agility, Koito is up to the task of chasing him down with the Japanese equivalent of parkour.

When the circus’ ringleader Yamada hears the boy was thieving again, he whips out his sword and appears to cut his face, only for there to be no cut, only blood. Turns out the sword is part of Yamada’s show-stopping fake harakiri act, which was so good in Russia that he was declared dead in the newspapers.

This gives Sugimoto a fresh idea for reuniting with Asirpa: by performing his “Immortal Sugimoto” act in the circus, he’ll be putting himself out there in front of a huge crowd as well as the local media, meaning there’s no way Asirpa will miss him.

The other three soldiers also join the circus temporarily, as they are all united in the goal of finding Asirpa. Koito is an instant hit with Yamada and the girls for his considerable and effortless acrobatic feats. When asked what circus he came up in, he proudly proclaims “The 7th Division of the Imperial Army!”

Tsukishima and Tanigaki, who lack any acrobatic talent, are shunted off to join the dancing girls who perform between acts. Tanigaki reveals how sensitive he is to harsh criticism by the stern battleaxe of a choreographer, but is comforted by one of the older girls, Beniko, who cheers him on as she contemplates her final performance before the circus cuts her loose.

Then Sugimoto is taught the harakiri act by Yamada, who not only reveals what a good showman he is, but how damn big his nipples are! In truth, the sword has a grove containing red dye, and the water splashed on the body to “purify” it is really the liquid the dye turns red upon contact, leading the audience from afar to believe real cuts were made.

The day of the big show arrives, and the soldiers must before to a packed house, only with their natural or acquired artistic skills, not their fists. Koito performs almost perfectly until he finds a photo of his beloved Tsurumi on the tightrope.

Later, Tsukishima confesses he put it there worried Koito’s performance would overshadow Sugimoto’s, and thus their objective to find Asirpa. But Koito’s resulting improvisation ends up bringing the house down anyway. As for Tanigaki, he turns in a performance he can be proud of, and is finally acknowledged by the tough choreographer.

All that remains is the big closer: the Immortal Sugimoto Harakiri Show. His assistant Cikapasi (whom we learned received a hohchiri from Enonoka that he won’t be removing anytime soon) douses him with water in the right places, but Sugimoto soon learns that the sword he has is real—Koito switched out the fake as revenge for trying to sabotage him (before Tsukishima claimed responsibility).

Sugimoto shows he has a bit of a gift for showmanship by drawing the sword close and pulling it back with a chuckle, allowing the audience to let out the collective breath they were holding in. But this only works a couple times; they want to see blood. So after cutting his wrist, he cuts his leg, and prepares to cut his chest in a place where it will bleed a lot but not damage anything vital.

Right then, he’s bailed out from having to cut himself when one of a trio of suspicious Russians pulls a gun on him. He slices the assassin’s hand off then slashes him across the mid-section. He then takes out the other two, all to the rapturous delight of the crowd, who of course think this is all fake.

It’s delcious irony that just as Tsukishima’s attempt to sabotage Koito’s act made his act much better, the same happens when Koito tries to sabotage Sugimoto’s. More than that, if Sugimoto hadn’t had a real sword, he could have been in real trouble against those three Russians.

After the show, which was an undisputed hit, ringleader Yamada reveals that the Russians were likely hired to assassinate him, as he was an Imperial Army spy embedded in Russia before the war and provided intelligence to Japan.

Yamada’s intelligence bonafides also make him an ideal source of intel for their search for Kiroranke and Asirpa, as the newspaper only had two sentences mentioning Sugimoto. Yamada tells them about Alexandrovskaya Prison, where a large group of “eastern minorities” were recently transferred there for plotting a resistance.

As the four soldiers prepare to head further north to the prison, Sugimoto holds out hope Asirpa’s beautiful blue eyes will read those two sentences about him in the Toyohara paper, and learn that he is still indeed alive. Instead, in another irreverent comedy aside, we see that Asirpa is actually, in that moment, looking at poop she mistakes for that of big game, when it is actually the recent leavings of one Shiraishi Yoshitake.

Maybe it’s just as well she’s staring at a turd…what if the paper had erroneously reported Sugimoto’s death? In any case, the ED sequence in which both Sugimoto and Asirpa see the same snowflake glide by gives me hope that one of these days he’s going to finally catch up to her, and with some amazing new stories to tell.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Re: Zero – 38 – The Starting Line of Resolve

Just as Subaru is dealing with Echidna’s apparent heel turn, along with the antics of all the other whimsical witches, Satella shuffles back into his presence, forever enrobed in black miasma, loving him and wanting him to love her. But for the first time, Satty has more to say about love, specifically begging him to love himself more.

Subie isn’t about to be lectured by a bunch of witches. The way he does things and saves those he loves is his business, and if he has to keep suffering and dying, so be it, as long as he doesn’t lose anyone else like he lost Ram. He’s had so much of his fill of these witches he decides to peace out by biting his tongue and bleeding out.

But when it comes down to it, he doesn’t want to die, or even be hurt. Minerva can sense this, and so heals him with a headbutt. The witches share the sentiment that Subaru is someone worth keeping alive and watching, and so he acknowledges that each one of them has helped him in some form or another.

Heck, if not for Satella, he wouldn’t have Return by Death, his only means thus far of doing anything in this world. Yet when Echidna holds out her hand for Subaru to take, promising him she’ll take him to whatever future he desires, he rejects it. If he’s going to find his value to others beyond his continued death, he feels he must look for it himself.

Before parting, he does take the hand of the most unexpected witch: Satella’s, promising he’ll endeavor to love himself a little more, and also that one day he’ll honor her wish to return and “kill” her.


Of c0urse, even if Subie is proceeding without direct witch assistance, he’s still going to need allies. He awakens outside for once; Otto tells him Patrasche entered the graveyard to retrieve him. When Subaru asks why, Otto mocks his denseness; clearly, it’s because Patrache loves him and cares about him. And despite his tsundere reaction, Otto clearly feels the same way.

But while Subaru has loving friends in Otto and Patrache, he’ll find no such affection from Roswaal, beyond his role as the margrave’s avatar of hope. He insists on Subaru following his recommendations to put Emilia first and everyone else second; Roswall sees Subie as a tool to save only one and no one else. Doing everything for Emilia’s sake, to him, means ignoring everything she wants.

That said, Roswaal believes Subie has yet to find his resolve, and indeed is only barely on the starting line on the road to that resolve. So he forces the issue, copping to having ordered the assassins at the mansion. By creating a situation where even someone with Return by Death can only be in one place at one time, he’s forcing Subie to make a choice: Emilia, or the others.

And I thought Echidna was bad! She’s only true to her nature as a witch of greed; Roswaal is, and fully admits to being, completely insane, and has been so ever since he first saw the witch’s eyes. But to him, insanity is a requisite, not a liability, to achieving his goals, and he wants Subie to be just like him.

Subaru runs out, determined not to be anything like him, but the shock of learning he’s been set up in this way by Roswaal for just that purpose sends him into another uncontrollable fit of despair, running through the forest until he trips and takes a tumble, then repeating over and over what he should do, and coming up blank.

When in such a state, there’s nothing for it but for someone to pull him out, and Otto happily takes up that mantle by punching Subaru in the face. Subtle it ain’t, but it was what Subie needed, when it was needed. Otto scolds him for continuing to put up a brave face right up until he’s on the edge of madness-by-despair.

Hopefully Subaru has gotten the hint that yes, doggone it, people like him, and with our without the witches’ help or Roswaal’s hindrance, they’ll find out what to do together. Unfortunately, we won’t find out what until part two in January 2021, when hopefully things will be looking up a bit in our own world!

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens – 01 (First Impressions)

Three percent of the population of Fukuoka’s Hakata district is hitmen. In the first Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens, we meet a number of them…and I don’t like any of them. They’re either dull, or assholes, or both.

One of the assholes is a cross-dressing dude who is trying to kill his way out of debt for his little sister’s sake. He’s hired to murder an employee at a club who was skimming profits to the tune of 10 million.

Many hours later, a shaggy detective is tasked with discovering the club employee’s murderer…only to be the cross-dressing hitman’s next target.

Another asshole is the son of the mayor, who has a habit of abducting women, taking them to hotels and beating them to death if they won’t let him have his way with them.

This horrific monster is the spawn of Hakata’s mayor, who suggests minimizing his own exposure by giving the brat women with no families who have recently been brought into the country via human trafficking.

Meanwhile, the brat’s friends lynched a foreigner who is now in a coma, and the foreigner’s foreigner friend wants revenge, so calls upon some hitmen, which includes a little blonde girl, because sure, why not.

They end up mistaking another hitman hired to kill the attacker, who is on his first job since being transferred to Hakata from Shinjuku by the professional killing company he works for, RED RUM (har har).

Mr. Shaggy Detective has some conversations and does some snooping around the club, which leads to the aforementioned cross-dressing hitman to come after him. However, the cross-dressing hitman isn’t very good at his job, and the detective is able to make the first move.

This is all very dreary and unappealing so far. An entire city of hitmen is obviously ridiculous, so this show scaled it back to “three percent”, which is probably an abnormally large proportion but it doesn’t sound like a lot, it just sounds kinda limp.  And it doesn’t really matter how many hitmen reside in Hakata if none of them could create a single positive impression on me. Pass.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 04

It’s a Chain episode! I love Chain. She’s my hero. She’s so badass, and her perching game is unsurpassed. She’s one of the five members of the Werewolf Squad, whose relativistic superhuman power to alter matter (including their bodies) at the subatomic level make them perfect covert operatives and infiltration specialists.

After a mission to intimidate a general who wants to create a Blood Breed army (something Libra can’t allow), Chain is overjoyed to get a supportive phone call from her long-time crush, Steven A. Starphase.

Chain seriously needs a maid (or a maid squad), but she seems to have a pretty nice life, bounding from skyscraper to skyscraper, helping Leo’s friend remember things with a notepad, getting into drinking contests with bullies.

But all that seems to be at risk when we see a shadowy figure in contact with the pro-BB-weaponization generals, apparently willing to screw up the Werewolf Bureau and Libra’s plans to maintain balance.

The Chain slice-of-life also includes office life, in which she uses Zapp as a surfboard when he tries to go for the breakfast she got for Gilbert. Zapp yells at her and threatens to use her boobs as punching bags, and gets a LOOK that freezes him in his tracks. As tough as Zapp is, Chain’s tougher, and you can tell he respects her power.

The Werewolves are suddenly pressed into service when the bureau catches wind of a plan to launch a missile armed with what could be a Blood Breed Virus-tipped warhead. It’s a Mission Impossible homage with a BBB twist…Mission Chainpossible.

That mission begins with the five wolves emerging from the full moon, carrying out a high-altitude freefall penetration. When the missile already launches, their mission changes to telling the missile to ditch in the sea. Once in the building, the wolves phase through ceilings, floors, walls, piping, wiring, and all the lasers and sensors that comprise the security network, which would work just great against ordinary humans.

Once in, the five set to work hacking the five redundant computer systems that guide the missile. Everything is going swimmingly…until Velved, a disgruntled former member of the Werewolf Squad, intervenes.

Having teamed up with one of the 13 Kings who specializes in “hypersensitivity”, Velved manages to locate and restrain four of the five wolves. Chain, however, is a cut above the others, and no matter how many levels of sensitivity Velved kicks things up, she cannot find Chain, who keeps diving deeper and deeper into physical obscurity.

The other wolves worry Chain could go too far and not be able to return after diluting her existence so much. But that hardly matters to Chain, who clearly feels she must do everything she can to assure the success of the mission, which she does. She materializes her gun, shoots Velved, and the four freed wolves shut the missile down. Crisis averted!

But what of Chain? Is she gone for good? Ha, hardly. But there is a very specific protocol to “bring her back”, which is different for every werewolf. It’s called a “token”, the one thing in the world that will always draw them back to their life; kind of like the totems in Inception that tie people to reality.

In Chain’s case, the token consists of Steven A Starphase (who has no idea what’s going on) knocking on her door and announcing he’s come to visit her. Chain reappears instantly, which is unfortunate for her, because her place is still a nightmarish mess!

So as thanks for restoring her existence, Steve gets the same thing Zapp did – a smack in the face. But later, we see she’s cleaned her place up, and still happy Steven stopped by.

Shoukoku no Altair – 04

Mahmut’s first posting as a newly-demoted Binbashi is his home village of Tughril, rebuilt since its destruction twelve years ago in the last war. Mahmut still carries emotional scars and has nightmares of that night, but he’ll no doubt have to overcome or refocus those fears if he wants another shot at Pasha.

Using the Pyramis crystal at the water shrine, we and Mahmut quickly find ourselves deep in the intricate spy world of Turkyie. Barbaros, an old man who once carried the flag for Halil Pasha, now kulak of the village, serves as go-between between Mahmut and Zaganos’ spy in the area.

That spy turns out to be Suleyman Kara Kanat, who along with Mahmut are the last survivors of the previous Tughril village. Like Mahmut, he cursed himself for not being in the position to save his village, but for a different reason: while Mahmut was just a wee kid of five, Suleyman was off eating, drinking and cavorting in far-off Florence.

Consumed by despair and self-hatred and pity, Suleyman ended up raised up by one Zaganos Pasha, who would later visit him the first day of his promotion and offer him a job in his new spy network, one to rival the splendid information system that was the real power of Florence. Given purpose and a goal again, Suleyman gladly entered Zaganos’ service.

Meanwhile, after a scene of Minister Louis drawing up some dastardly scheme, his Rod Orm assassins arrive in the village and attempt to knock off Barbaros, who turns out to be as spry as Yoda and gives them a fight.

Mahmut and Suleyman join the fight, but Mahmut makes a couple of potentially fatal mistakes when he underestimates the assassins’ ability to adapt to his tactics and use some of them against him, as well as misjudge their weaponry.

After a literal cold shower (to get the eagle-luring blood off his clothes), he puts his trust in Suleyman and Barbaros, and the three re-confront the female assassin and run her out of town, destroying her mask in the process.

When called upon, Altair can execute action competently, albeit at a slower pace than most shows in the genre muster. That said, it’s good to see Mahmut’s usual tricks countered, suggesting a worthy foe. This is all a valuable learning experience for the next stop on his spy-world itinerary: Phoenicia.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 09

So far ACCA has proven a success in the school of the classic slow-burn, in which those patient enough to stick around are lushly rewarded, like the high one gets when about to complete a huge, elaborate jigsaw puzzle (don’t judge).

Last week laid out the details of the show’s central mystery of what’s up with Jean and Lotta, and this week deals with the consequences for everyone once the truth is officially out there, and decide on a course of action. It also allows some previous bit players on the margins play significant roles.

Oh yeah, and a shared love of sandwich bread of all things proves absolutely vital in preventing Lotta’s assassination by the First Princess’ goons. The food isn’t just window-dressing.

As soon as Magie hears from the prince that the knives may be out for Lotta, he makes a call to his comrade-in-bread, Rail, who makes Lotta’s protection his top priority. Rail has his suspicions, but doesn’t know the whole picture, but that doesn’t matter, because he’s a decent dude, trusts his fellow bread-lover’s warning.

As for poor Lotta, no one’s told her anything, and with both Jean and Niino away, a part of her already feels vulnerable. So as out-of-the-blue (or blonde) as it seems, she seems happy to have Rail (a sworn ACCA officer) by her side.

Jean is away because he’s on a sprawling three-district trip starting in Peshi (the port district) and moving on to Yakkara (the casino district, and another instance of ACCA imitating Sonic The Hedgehog levels)And Jean is no longer oblivious like Lotta.

He knows what the score is, and even understands what all those cigarettes on his past inspection visits were about. It’s need to see the change in Jean’s overall demeanor. He seems more focused, alert, and suspicious…as he should. Peshi’s chiefs drop the pretense and pledge their support for Jean’s ascension, unaware that Jean himself has no such plans.

I like how ultimately, it’s only a matter of time before Rail, a good kid but not a professional bodyguard, and Lotta finally get surrounded by the ominous goons and shoved into a car. Unfortunately for the goons, the traffic in Badon flares up just when they need to make their getaway.

Also unfortunately for them, pure dumb luck is on Lotta’s side, as Chief Owl (whom Jean asked to keep an eye on her) happens to lean on the open window sill of the goons’ car, sees Lotta, and secures her and Rail’s release.

Like Rail, Owl doesn’t have the whole story, and unlike Rail, he isn’t a sandwich bread fanatic (though we’ve seen him indulge in the office treats du jour) but he does have Jean and Lotta’s bests interests at heart, and it’s gratifying to see how competently (yet without undue violence) Owlmanages to wrest the crazy kids from certain doom.

With Lotta and Rail nicely rescued, Owl suggests they—what else—go to grab a bite with his ACCA staff. Coups and assassination plots be damned—you gotta eat.

With Lotta out of immediate danger and surrounded by friends, we move on, somewhat relieved but still troubled, to the other major storyline of the episode: Grossular coming clean to the other chiefs, which takes such a crazy turn I’d have nearly fell out of my chair, had I not already been sitting on the carpeted floor.

Grossular lays out the plan that’s been in motion since the beginning, with the ultimate goal of instigating an ACCA-led coup d’etat to prevent Schwan from becoming King, thus preserving peace, democracy, an, well, ACCA itself.

Grossular has known about the danger of a King Schwan for some time, but gained a powerful barometer (whom he observed through Crow) for the attitudes (be they pro- or anti-coup) of the districts in Jean, which is why his inspection department was suddenly saved from oblivion.

Once it was clear a majority of districts were in favor of a coup, the time grows near for that coup to commence, but a coup led by ACCA, as an extreme expression of their ‘protect & serve’ credo. The coup will, Grossular promises, “pose no danger” to ordinary people. Allowing Schwan to dissolve ACCA and create an autocracy might.

Grossular asks his four colleagues whether they stand with him or not, and everyone to a man is with him, all thanks to Lilium, who speaks first in response.

Because Lilium and Grossular have never, to the others’ knowledge, ever agreed on anything before, it’s all the proof they need to know the right course (on top of their pride in their roles as leaders of ACCA, along with their existing awareness that, ya know, Schwan is bad news). This is to be an act of patriotism, not treason.

Later, we learn that Lilium and Grossular’s constant disagreements in front of the others masks the fact that Grossular is, in fact, Lilium’s servant. Always a fairly inscrutable guy, we finally see a hint of subservience when Lilium grabs him by the hair and promises him in a threatening tone that “he will manage” in his next objective: do something about Director-General Mauve.

It’s this huge, sudden, surprising, yet still well-supported (by both plot and character) shift in character dynamics, as well as the timely utilization of Rail and Owl, that propelled this episode into the ’10th district.’ It’s also a interesting episode in that many cards have been played, but many choice ones remain in the show’s hand.

It’s that ‘floating potential’, as it were, that makes episode nine feel special. Hopefully it can be properly harnessed in the tenth, which I eagerly await.

Tales of Zestiria the X – 16

zest161

Rose has just learned the location of someone she’s been looking for for years, Prince Konan. She was betrothed to him as part of a deal for peace, but Konan betrayed her and her father Brad, and killed most of the Windriders. Now it’s time for justice, and Rose drops everything to seek it.

zest162

It’s her duty, both as daughter, scorned bride, and leader of men. Not to mention, killing people “who deserve it” comes naturally to her, having been trained to do so from a shockingly young age. If Prince Konan is “in sight”, unlike “unreachable ideals”, she’s going to take her shot…unless someone stops her.

zest163

Sorey sent Mikleo to follow and watch Rose’s “guardian devil” Dezel, and Edna accompanies him. Once they learn what Rose is up to, Mikleo rushes to get the Shepherd over there before Rose can succeed.

Prince Konan may be another dull, scenery-chewing villain, but it’s Sorey’s and the seraphims’ firm belief that no one deserves to be killed, and more to the point, no one deserves to have to kill. Considering all the malevolence flying around ruining shit, it’s hard to argue with them.

zest164

Somehow Rose fails to kill Konan in her first attempt, but the credits roll before we can see for certain whether she succeeded in her second, or if Sorey & Co. are able to stop her. If Sorey can’t save Rose—whom I’m sure he considers a friend despite not knowing about her other side until now—he may start to wonder who he can save.

16rating_8

Tales of Zestiria the X – 14

zest141

After a night of storming a church, putting knights in the hospital, and assassinating the bishop, Rose plays things super-cool. She’s up early for more Sparrowfeathers trading, and has breakfast laid out for Sorey.

When General Sergei stops by to apologize, she teases him. Sorey saw her trudge home late but says nothing about it, because it’s unlikely he’d get anything from her…so it just hangs there.

zest142

From there, Sergei is called into town when there’s a suspicious sinkhole; Sorey & Co. believe it’s caused by malevolence, and tag along. From the time Sorey uses Lailah to light the way with her flames to his impressive purification ceremony with Mikleo, Sergei is quickly and efficiently brought up to speed on Sorey’s abilities, and has no choice but to believe, even if it’s a lot to take in.

He also mentions to Sorey that the capital of Rolance has been beset by unending rain, which would seem to be this land’s “calamity” the way the dragon was in Hyland. Sorey sees that there’s a similar situation here with malevolence primed to blow, but neither he nor Sergei can get through the Blue Storm knights. The Church has secrets it doesn’t want to reveal to anyone outside their circle.

zest143

Rose and the Bones’ operation last night was meant to save lives by taking out the Bishop, but in the process, a dear friend and comrade was lost, and Rose, rightly so, feels responsible. She’s let her emotions in and they’re running wild, even though she pledged like everyone else in the Bones to put them aside for the good of those who need them.

zest144

It’s perhaps because she allowed he emotions out that Dezel, who it seems has always come to her side at various times in her life, starts to act on his own, either fueled by that emotion or perhaps simply with Rose’s lack of a strong “No.” Dezel has been watching Rose for a long time. He trusts her and knows her to be a virtuous person, so he’s willing to go out there and do the things she can’t do, at least without involving or losing more friends.

So a wind storm arrives around the secret-hoarding Church, poised to crack it open like an egg. That may not be the best approach for the root problem in Rolance – the building malevolence – so we’ll see if Sorey and his seprahim pals are able to stop him and get the job done the right way.

16rating_8

Tales of Zestiria the X – 13

How to they keep up with the news like that?
How to they keep up with the news like that? And I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy…

Ready for more Zest in your life? I am, after getting needlessly concerned that the first twelve episodes were merely an elaborate advertisement for the game it’s based upon. Turns out the anime has more stories to tell, and to its credit, assumes we’re caught up. Only the Fall season separates its cours, after all; not five-plus years like Preston’s Blue Exorcist.

zest132

Jumping right back in to its gorgeous, detailed world, Zest goes right back to building it. The Seraphim usually just sit around this week, only active when Sorey is doing his Shepherd training. But that allows us much more time with Rose, and both we and Sorey watch her present her many facets: trader, negotiator (both with figures and kicks), and allegedly “noble” assassin.

She can not only try to get a good price on herbs, but is able to determine on her own that her trading partners are actually thieves. She also sees the profit in Sorey performing his feats before audiences, though she knows Alisha (also not present here) probably wouldn’t like that.

zest133

Focusing on Rose gives the episode more, well, focused, with the Seraphim more of a subtle spice whose running commentary isn’t overused. As Sorey enters Rose’s home base of Lastonbell, a lively trading city that isn’t yet feeling the Age of Calamity, he’s also introduced to Mayvin, a centenarian and explorer of the world whose goal in life has been to share his experiences and knowledge with the rest of the world – in a way, preserving it from the oblivion of lost memory/history.

zest134

We’re also (re-)introduced to General Sergei Storelka of the Platinum Knights of Rolance, who have been sent to “escort” Sorey; where, they don’t say. Rose confronts him in her own building and brings up the rule of law that says Sorey can’t simply be abducted; the General says Sorey is a unique threat that demands vigilance, and a bending of said laws. Mayvin diffuses the situation with ample amounts of wine, and he, Sorey and Sergei drink and talk peacefully long into the night.

zest134a

Mayvin is old enough to remember the last Shepherd, Michael, whom Lailah was contracted with before Sorey. Michael seemed like a broodier, more cynical lad than the bright-eyed Sorey. He spoke of everyone having a heart tainted by malevolence, “slumbering deep inside”, even him. Still, what vexed him most were questions about morality that never seem to have simple answers, or answers at all.

zest135

Questions like sacrificing one or few to save or benefit many, or whethr accepting necessary evil makes people malevolent. The same night Mayvin shares these stories with Sorey, Rose goes into town, meets up with her band of Scattered Bones, and assassinates a bishop who is hoarding a mass fortune and a mass grave beneath his cathedral. Unlike the pure Seraphim (or the pure Alisha), Rose is the personification of those hard questions Sorey, like Michael before him, must wrestle with as Shepherd.

16rating_8

Alderamin on the Sky – 09

ald91

For a show in which some people are aided by pocket-size elemental spirits, Alderamin is fairly down to earth. And if it was glorifying, say, the daring rescue and return of Princess Chamillie in its early episodes, it is just as careful to downplay whatever glory and honor is to be had in the Sinack campaign, which is precious little.

Indeed, Ikta and his pals are lucky to have a commander unwilling to order them to participate in the wholesale slaughter of the enemy, instead making them burn their villages and march them to new homes. It’s also a show whose heroes may not agree with the horrible strategy they’re a part of, but are either unwilling or currently unable to do anything about it.

When a little kid starts attacking Ikta, he flicks him in the nose. I doubt he intended to draw blood, but the noble knight Deinkun immediaely punishes him for striking the child, doling out a degree of justice so the other villagers don’t riot.

ald92

Suya, who has clearly gained not only respect but affection for Ikta, is angry that Ikta let himself be punched like that, but Ikta takes responsibility for his error. Sometimes one can separate oneself from undesirable actions to such an extent, one can forget that there are things that can be done to lesson suffering, whether it’s taking a punch, or burning a village after it’s been evacuated. Not big things, but things.

When Matthew asks Ikta and Torway how they’ve been dealing with their sexual “needs” on the front, Ikta puts men into two columns: “heroes” who need bonds, and solitary “warriors”, avoiding any details about his own persuasion. But it’s just as true of the two ways knights go through life. Deinkun, a warrior, prefers to put as much on his broad shoulders as possible.

ald93

Ikta may be a rare bird when it comes to strategic or tactical thought, but he’s no hermit. He needs bonds, not just to survive and keep himself in check (See Yatori) but to acknowledge and define his existence. He dosn’t care if his personal honor is besmirched by a punch to the face; he does care when he’s too late to say what he wanted to say to Kanna or protect her when she needed him.

Yatori may want to be a solitary knight like Deinkun, but the fact she goes into a berserk-like state only Ikta can bring her out of denies her that status. She too is a hero, whose brawn, along with Ikta’s brains, and the various talents of the others in their circle, comprise perhaps their empire’s best hope at avoiding self-destruction, which people like General Safida are inadvertently hastening.

ald94

But still, neither Ikta nor Yatori have any designs of overthrowing Safida’s leadership. Indeed, Yatori’s Igsem heritage and conditioning make such a choice unthinkable, even if Ikta was pondering such a rebellion. No, these heroes, must work within the system into which they were recruited; play with the hands they were dealt. It’s yet not their turn to decided how the game is played.

So Yatori saves Safida from an ambushing Nanaku Daru, who learned how to fight from Mugen in Samurai Champloo. Yatori bests her, only to let her go when a group of shady assassins takes advantage of the chaos. They fail to kill the general, but slay Deinkun in the attempt.

He joins Kanna and the scores of other Imperial soldiers who gave it their all despite having to serve under a terrible general in a ridiculous war that isn’t quite over yet.

16rating_8

GATE – 22

gate221

This week everything inches incrementally toward some kind of final confrontation in the capital, where it’s quickly becoming clear to everyone interested in peace that Zolzal can’t be allowed to rule much longer. The Rose Knights continue to fight for his bedridden father, against men who don’t at all want to slaughter the women they respect, who were allies until today. But it’s either the Roses or their families.

gate222

As for Lelei, the assassination attempts continue as she attempts to make a presentation for her promotion to master; a cat-woman under the apparent influence of the Pied Piper. This time, the attack is foiled by Lelei’s fellow mages, watching her back and prompting Itami to wish the JSDF had magic.

gate223

Of course, it’s good old-fashioned dagger in the chest by someone unexpected that seems to get Lelei, as the opportunity for Shandy to strike presents itself, and she takes it.

Meanwhile, as the low-morale Imperial soldiers continue to be beaten back by the knights, Tyuule tells the Oprichnina leader to either gather more men and get the job done, or kiss his own position and life goodbye. All the while, the SDF awaits official orders to intervene in the Jade Palace siege.

gate224

Speaking of inching along, Pina is a “free captive” for all of a day or so before Zolzal’s henchmen clap her in irons and a burlap shift and toss her roughly in a cell, dispensing with her status as a member of the royal family.

Tyuule takes great pleasure in seeing Pina wearing the same shift she wore, occupying the same cell she once spent an inordinate amount of time…perhaps enough time to drive her to her crazy, power and revenge-hungry state.

The thing is, she hasn’t referred to Zolzal as her ultimate enemy in some time; all she seems to be doing is doing his bidding, perhaps all in the name of bringing down the empire. Right now her priority seems to be remaining in power and taking sadistic pleasure in throwing her new-found weight around.

gate225

Shandy, it turns out, was not under the Piper’s spell, but heard that Pina was in mortal danger and believed the only way to save her would be to bring Zolzal Lelei’s head. This is an incredibly naive and shortsighted strategy, so I’m glad she was foiled. But at least she’s able to relay the fact Pina is in a very, very bad way, and needs rescue before something terrible happens to her.

Fortunately, the SDF gets their orders, and a paratrooper unit is quickly mobilized for an operation to save the Japanese citizens and pro-peace asylum seekers. At the same time, Itami and his gang races to the Imperial Palace to free Pina.

Everyone still in play is moving into position, and hopefully their efforts will bear fruit in terms of stopping Zolzal/Tyuule’s reign of terror, which is benefiting no one.

7_brav2