To Your Eternity – S2 04 – The Prince of Ghosts

The morning after their little talk, Parona!Fushi is still not sure what to do, so she decides to stick around for the time being—but only for a day. She conjures a bed to lie on out in the wastes, but a concerned Prince Bon brings builders to help her build walls around the bed (she conjures the bricks, they provide the grout and grunt work).

While construction proceeds, Prince Bon asks “Mister Black” (i.e. the Beholder) what he’ll do once Fushi accomplishes his mission. The Beholder appears to say he’ll give Fushi his “freedom.” Bon isn’t sure what to make of such a vague promise. “Freedom” could mean anything, after all … and not all of it good!

The next morning, Parona!Fushi wakes up in her makeshift house and Bon’s sister Pocoa accompanies her to the stables to find a horse to ride for their  ensuing travels. They hear screams of anguish from Bon and come running to find that his handkerchief was caught by the wind and came to rest on a pile of shit in the cesspool. One intrepid attendant fishes the hankie out of the shit, and Fushi learns his name is Todo.

Having been told to find friends and a lover by Bon, and seeing something fly out of Todo’s “essence”, she asks if Todo is in love with Bon; him running away and denying it says it all. Fushi then asks Kahaku if a boy can love another boy; Kahaku says whatever needs to be said to stay in the lover running. Though he previously said he wouldn’t try to seduce Fushi, that was before he met Parona!Fushi.

One thing that’s certain about Prince Bon is that he commands the unswerving love and devotion of the vast majority of his father’s subjects. He’s even able to spin the Church’s tack about Fushi being a menace, using the kingdom’s press to build him up as a holy warrior and savior against the Nokkers. As they ride out in a grand parade, Bon reminisces on how he got to this point.

Bon’s ensuing backstory, while somewhat shoehorned into this episode, is nevertheless fascinating—and also quite sad. Bon has always been able to see people no one else could. Whether these people were ghosts, spooks, specters or shadows was immaterial; they taught him a lot and made him who he is.

As for his precious hanky, we learn it was sewn by a girl who doesn’t appear to be one of the ghosts he sees, judging by the fact she doesn’t glow white like them, and the hanky is a physical object others can see (even if she slipped away before anyone else could see her).

Pocoa assumes the girl was just another instance of Bon’s “usual thing”, which is seeing dead people. His mother, who doesn’t like this one bit, hires some kind of “healer” to cure him of the malady through bloodletting. Bon’s usual ghost companions are joined by Tonari, who tells Bon bedside stories about Fushi, the immortal one, and tells him how he’ll find him.

One day Bon finds his father the king’s will stating his little brother will usurp him for the throne. When he demands an explanation, his father’s is relatively reasonable: Bon spends all his allowance on trifling things like clothes and accessories, while Torta selflessly gives to the people.

Not being the kinslayer sort, Prince Bon instead resolves to change his father’s mind and name him the future king. He eventually decides he’ll be able to do that by finding and capturing the wanted Fushi. Tonari told him to look for someone with an “enormous shadow”, and sure enough Bon finds Fushi walking through a city with the ghost of Oniguma-sama lumbering behind him, as well as ghost March, Gugu, Tonari, and others.

Prince Bon’s “affliction” isn’t mere schizophrenia, but something real; the ability to see all of the departed companions Fushi has absorbed into his being. He may be an insufferable fop, but there’s no discounting the fact that this ability is truly wondrous, and the very reason they were drawn together. If anyone is going to help Prince Bon regain his throne, it’s Fushi, and if anyone is going to help Fushi take the next crucial steps towards humanity, it’s Bon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 09 – Demon’s Due

Yuugiri Akino’s AAA wins the auction by one dollar to take out the latest Demonically Possessed: Miles Morgan. Mikhail, it would seem, is trying to get rid of every trace of Asmodeus, including Akino and Shuu. We also get to see Mikami put the pieces together just before dying by Miles’ hand.

When Miles drives Shuu to the middle of a big park, he tells him Asmodeus is his benefactor whom he can never repay. Shuu wants him to apologize to everyone, including him but Miles has no regrets, and transforms into a Demon Hazard.

As a giant demonic monster, Miles proves too much for Ayano and her AAA troops, but luckily Shuu struck a deal for Sharon to lend a hand in taking down Miles in exchange for her freedom from police custody and for the memories of Asmodeus’ puppet, Miles.

In what is otherwise a very dry and dour episode, Sharon at least adds a bit of flair and ridiculousness by throwing a running motorcycle Miles’ way. Ayano repays Sharon saving her life by putting a gun to her head, but grudgingly accepts her help.

While Shuu and Kisara initially stand back and watch what happens, it soon becomes apparent Kisara needs to get involved, even if it ends up killing Shuu’s foster father. So Shuu tells Kisara what she needs to take from Miles and gets to smooching.

Hot Topic Kisara relieves Ayano and Sharon and has a proper rough-and-tumble brawl with Miles eventually piercing him from behind with her sword and putting him in a position to be shot by Shuu’s demon gun.

Shuu’s off-camera shot is followed by a rundown of the events that led to Miles breaking bad. It boils down to his daughter Melissa having a terminal illness and Asmodeus, who possessed the body of Shuu’s mother Sayuri (either always or at some point).

Miles did what Asmodeus told him, betraying Shuu’s family, while the mine explosion was caused by Shuu’s dad detonating a bomb. Miles’ daughter made a miraculous recovery, Miles took in Shuu as a mercy, and as he said, his debt to Asmodeus remains active and unending.

Kisara sucks up all of these memories swimming in what’s left of Miles’ human brain, either killing him or putting him at death’s door. Meanwhile, Kisara’s latest kiss has rendered Shuu so devoid of memories he had to refer to a note on his hand to recall that Miles killed Mikami.

Miles is defeated, but no one looks happy as the sun gets low over the scene, while Shuu looks distraught, but also quite lost. Sharon warned that at some point his contract with Kisara would render him unable to remember or even feel anything. We’ll see if Shuu can escape that cruel fate in the final four episodes of the series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Made in Abyss – S2 01 – The Light No One Else Has Found

Nearly years after had Dawn of the Deep Soul and nearly five years after the season one finaleAbyss is a-back. Rather than pick right up with Riko, Reg, and Nanachi as they continue their dive, we get a fresh perspective from a new character, Vueko, who in the first damn minute of the episode is being horribly abused by the man who took her in.

At least she’s recounting her past; in the present she’s one of the “Three Mages”, bearer of the Star Compass, and currently very seasick aboard a ship in a fleet led by the bug-eating eccentric Wazukyan. They’re part of a Ganja, a suicide team of exiles and misfits united in their desire to find the Golden City, which we know to be on the Sixth Layer of the Abyss.

In addition to having immediate sympathy for what Vueko has gone through, and relief that she’s now being treated well and even relied on (the little scene where her comrade Belaf calls her “lovely” in every way that matters is sweet as hell), my feelings were also of dread, because this is Made in Abyss. Vueko and her team are most assuredly doomed, and were likely doomed long before Riko’s time.

Still, Vueko is doing what she wants to be doing, and eventually her team comes upon an island with an entrance to the Abyss (the same island on which the city where Riko lived was eventually built), a tribe of suspicious but ultimately non-hostile natives, and one little girl who is banished by said tribe and serves as their guide.

She and Vueko soon become tied at the hip (not literally…yet) as the group makes their way into the Abyss and descend the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth layers, to the very eyeball-shaped elevator Riko & Co. enter at the end of the movie.

Just as Vueko makes a leap of faith through the elevator’s gooey doorway, it’s Riko who emerges from the other end, followed by Reg and Nanachi. The message is clear: many have passed through that green goo throughout the ages, but once you’re on that elevator going down, you’re never going back up.

Adding a little levity to what had so far been an quietly awe-filled but also rather dour outing is the fact the elevator ride down is so long that Riko can’t hold it in any longer. Not just No. 1 either, but No. 2. So she goes, and because it’s so quiet (no Kevin Penkin elevator music) Reg and Nanachi hear it all.

But no matter, shortly after Riko’s done her business, the darkness of the ocean around them is soon broken by a golden light. They alight from the elevator on the Sixth Layer, in the Capital of the Unreturned. It’s a terrifyingly gorgeous sight, and a sight very few human beings have seen (and remained human).

Will our friends encounter Vueko & Co. somewhere in this gnarly, chaotic, beautiful capital? Or…more likely, their bones? Is there a chance Riko’s mother could still be down here somewhere, most likely even further below? Many wonders and horrors await, all of them most likely to be expertly presented. The Promised Neverland and Shield Hero showed how not do do a second season; I’m confident Abyss can deliver the goods.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 11 – The Prince

Before Shikimori, Izumi was in a dark place. He tried to keep a brave face, but his propensity for misfortune isolated him. He prayed to God, asking if things would ever get better, and if not, if God could give him the strength to endure the pain and sadness, adding that he wished a hero would appear before him.

It’s as morose and heartbreaking as the show has ever gotten with Izumi’s condition, which has evolved from a joke to something more akin to a legitimate curse without cause. But if there’s no cure, there is a hero, and she comes with pink hair and the best Face Game this side of FLCL.

Shikimori and Izumi haven’t been able to hang out as a couple what with all the festivals, so Izumi suggests an amusement park. The ad he shows Shikimori shows a couple leaning in for a passionate kiss, so she’s in, in the worst way.

The question is, what to wear? Not that it matters; Izumi would think Shikimori was cute no matter what she wore. Shikimori’s older brother Fuji drives her to the mall, but doesn’t accompany her shopping. Indecisive about what to buy, she leaves the stores empty-handed and finds Fuji nervously sandwiched between two interested women.

She reluctantly rescues him from the situation, noting how he’s much shyer than he looks, and how maybe he’s the one who needs his hand held, after he teased her about when she needed to hold his. We’re then treated to some lovely Shikimori backstory, with a short-haired Micchon kicking older boys’ asses at karate.

Back home there’s an unnerving tension between her and her strict-seeming mother about whether she’ll be continuing with karate in middle school, even though she only started it because her brother did. Shikimori decides she’ll stick with it and lists the pros, and her mom smiles approvingly.

Shikimori starts being referred to as the “Prince” by boys who know they’d better not mess with her or the other girls. She rises to the top of the karate rankings, and even has the potential for the nationals come high school, but the one opponent she can never come close to beating is Fuji, who one rainy day suddenly announces he’s quitting.

Her karate friends are excited for her high school karate future, but she tells them she’s quitting too. Not because Fuji quit before, but because she discovered the magic of love through shoujo romance manga, and has decided to stop following others and choose for herself who she should be, which is a cute girl who will fall in love with a kind, handsome boy.

AND SO IT CAME TO PASS…but obviously not right away. First, Shikimori applies the same ferocious, focused work ethic to becoming a cute girl that she applied to become good at everything else she’s ever tried—she’s an extraordinary person—and is prepared to completely rebrand herself at high school, starting with entrance exams.

It is here where she and Izumi first meet, the latter’s exam ticket having been caught by the wind and lodged on a high tree branch. Shikimori was worried about mussing her hair not 30 seconds before, but when she sees Izumi’s distraught face (similar to the face he wore while praying for a hero) she climbs that tree and gets him the ticket. He expresses his heartfelt gratitude, but she’s too worried he thinks she’s weird to accept it.

The two meet again on the first day of high school, having both passed the exams. He thanks her again, and proceeds to explain why what she did mattered so much to him, explaining how he’s always been unlucky. He also says he’s glad he got to see her again just as the sunlight and wind and cherry blossoms make him look extra kind and handsome, and Shikimori asks for his name with a face so intense it kinda frightens him.

Of course, Izumi come to love those faces of hers, to the extent that he’ll feel a little jealous when others get to see them. But it’s so nice to finally see what Shikimori was like in her earlier years, how she and Izumi met, and how they were so perfect for one another right from the start. Fuji surprising her with the lipstick she liked was a perfectly heartwarming closing note. She’ll wear it to look cute, but also to give her courage.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 12 (Fin) – You Bring Me Peace

Aharen can tell that Ooshiro is shadowing her more than usual of late, so when Raidou parts ways with her after school, Aharen tells Ooshiro the score: she and Raidou aren’t going out. After training her mind and body to kill him, Ooshiro issues an official challenge…in Reversi. Ever since they were younger, Ooshiro has always treasured Aharen as a friend and the only person who told her she was cute. She isn’t about to let anyone hurt her.

The thing is, while Aharen isn’t going out with Raidou, it’s not because he rejected her. Turns out, her tears were only a result of her not being able to tell him her feelings. As soon as Raidou figures out what this Reversi challenge is really about, he rallies from behind to beat Ooshiro, then very publically declare that he likes Aharen…just as Aharen appears. Buoyed by his words, she finally declares that she likes him too, and Ishikawa and Satou spring forth from the bushes to join the celebration.

Aharen and Raidou confessing to one another and becoming an official couple is the best gift this cozy little show could give us, and it’s that much more gratifying how little the dynamic of the two changes now that the mystery of Aharen’s camping tears have been solved. Raidou still jumps to the strangest conclusions (mistaking Lupinus for Cassava), while Toubaru-sensei happens to witness their confessions and suffers an “eruption of esteem”.

Raidou’s worries about their relationship hitting a “cold spell” and needing spicing up turns out to be nothing, as Aharen invites him, Ooshiro, Ishikawa, Satou, Toubaru-sensei and Miyahara-sensei to a little tea party. She never imagined that her high school life would be so full of fun and happiness, and she wanted to show her gratitude.

She’s also anxious about second year and whether she’ll be alone in her new class, but Raidou assures her that both he and the others will always be there for her regardless. There’s no amount of “messing up” she can do to change that. While this was pretty much a pitch-perfect finale, I certainly wouldn’t mind a second cour of these two esteemed weirdoes down the road.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 11 – It’s Kyou Ethnina’s World, We’re Just Living In It

The Shield Hero Gang is finally reunited, only with Filo sporting a steep decline in attack power due to her change of species and Raphtalia donning an adorable miko outfit. Kizuna also reunites with her comrades L’Arc, Therese, and Glass for the first time in years.

The warm feelings of those reunions are chilled somewhat by the sight of Kazuki, whose two improbably loyal and devoted aides are trying to stich him back together. Unfortunately, he jumps the gun and his top half ends up separated from his bottom half, hopefully fatally.

Oh, and Kyou Ethnina also has an improbably loyal and devoted aide? A samurai girl who is going to kill his enemies? (Throws hands up) Ok, Shield Hero, why not?!

Glass is so happy and relieved to see Kizuna she doesn’t want to stop hugging her, even if Kizuna finds it hard to breath; it’s Peak Endearing Glass, though you could argue she had a lot more edge when she was a baddie. The group ends up in Sikul Castle, where we learn…L’Arc is the young king of Sikul. The hits keep coming!

Naofumi, Kizuna, and their super-sized mega-party are determined to kick Kyou’s ass, but they need equipment. Kizuna hits up her longtime midriff-bearing blacksmith Ramona and gives her the unenviable task of doing a week’s worth of work in a night’s time.

After placing the order, the group is suddenly ambushed by Kyou’s samurai aide, who is determined to end all of them, scolds them for outnumbering her, and bears a creepy sword with an eyeball.

Needless to say, while she has no shortage of spirit, the girl is no match for the combined power of Naofumi and Kizuna’s parties, and when she’s disarmed, the sword takes on a mind of its own, restrains her with tendrils, and seemingly sucks up her energy.

Therese, L’Arc, Kizuna, Naofumi, and Glass all work together to separate the sword from the girl and send it high up into the sky, where it self-destructs, taking with it the girl’s undying loyalty for the guy who almost blew her the ef up!

Her name is Yomogi, and as befits a hero who cannot kill another person, Kizuna decides to take her to her party’s home and headquarters, where she herself hasn’t been in years. Naofumi protests such light treatment of an ally of Kyou, but doesn’t stop Kizuna from doing things her way.

Sending everyone else away to prepare for the fight with Kyou, Kizuna removes Yomogi’s restraints, asks her to sit down and relax, and serves her tea. In exchange, she learns that Yomogi and Kyou are childhood friends, that he was always a little off, but apparently in a less evil way at first, such that even someone with a rock for a brain like Yomogi was drawn to the knowledge he possessed and dispensed.

However, in the midst of her discussion of her childhood friend, Yomogi concludes that if Kyou has indeed gone off the deep end behind her back, then she’ll help stop him, while also sharing in whatever punishment is chosen for him, even death. While I doubt Kizuna will take her up on that, I’m sure she’s happy for another strong fighter on her side.

Alas, the next day when the mega-party picks up their completed equipment from Ramona’s, Kyou’s big scheme kicks into gear. The countdown rapidly drops to zero, Waves of Catastrophe appear in the skies, and Naofumi and Kiuna’s parties are separated via warping.

Whatever semblance of positive feelings Yomogi might’ve had for her childhood friend are dissolved in the midst of this spectacle. All this time she thought he was occasionally going a little too far in order to stop the waves, but his actual goal was to summon them. Dude’s gotta go!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 07 – The Reaper of Oyafuko-dori

Green Gelato, AKA Todoroki Daigo, is regarded as the unflappable psychological rock of Gelato 5. But when he delivers a home-cooked meal to Fudou and sees he is writing an exchange diary for his girlfriend and hears her full name—Magahara Desumi—he suddenly goes into convulsions and collapses. When he comes to he tells Fudou why: Desumi was the monster he created.

So begins a tale of regret and trauma, as Daigo recounts how he regarded himself as the top karate student in the prefecture (both of them were Hataka natives). Then a pint-sized, seven-year-old Desumi showed up one day, his sensei assigned him, a middle schooler, to look after her…and she nearly killed him with one punch.

Each time she nearly one-shotted him, he refused to do anything but save face and look cool, which of course only made Desumi more enthusiastic about training. Within days, she’d defeated Daigo’s master, who closed the dojo and became a hermit. But Daigo kept training her, even as it seemed likely to shorten his life considerably. No doubt he simply couldn’t turn his back on such a talented (yet cute and innocent) fighter.

His face-saving delusions that she always bought aside, Desumi didn’t so much surpass Daigo as was always superior. She developed a reputation as “The Reaper of Oyafuko-dori” as a middle-schooler, eviscerating all challengers and developing the thick lonely, bored shell which Fudou would eventually help her break out of.

Daigo’s parents divorced and he had to move to Tokyo, he met her one last time on the riverbank, and despite going all out, was put on his back easily. Now that Young Desumi is back in his life, Daigo feels he must put his trauma aside and do his duty as Gelato 5’s recruiter by bringing Desumi into the fold. Of course, he’s still oblivious to the fact she’s already a Gekko executive.

 

Fudou can’t help but admit that having Desumi as Black Gelato would mean spending a lot more time together, so he arranges a meeting with her and Daigo. After some reminiscing, Daigo gets down to brass tacks and offers her a job with Gelato 5. Like Fudou, it’s an enticing offer, but she thinks about her family and comrades and respectfully declines.

She’s happy where she is and is worried if she was any happier she’d open herself up to karmic retribution. But seeing this older, gentler, somehow cuter Desumi flirt with Fudou like an ordinary girlfriend gives Daigo the completely wrong impression that she’s gone soft, and calls her out to a riverback to fight once again.

He sets the stake of their duel: if she wins, he’ll give up on recruiting her. If he wins, she’ll join Gelato 5 and end her relationship with Fudou, mentioning to her for the first time that Gelato forbids workplace relationships. While Desumi would have likely beaten Daigo (even in his Gelato suit, which his survival instinct activates without thinking), she gets super-fired up about winning when her relationship with Fudou is on the line.

Just as in the past when she’d very nearly killed him, Daigo plays it cool, saying he couldn’t go all out against his beloved pupil after so long, and grudgingly accepts defeat, with some final words of warning: whatever she ends up doing with her immense power, don’t go over to the dark side of Gekko. Whoops…

After parting ways with Daigo, Fudou and Desumi agree that they’ve gotten a bit too loose and comfortable being a public couple, and vow to take steps to being more careful. This includes Fudou pulling her off him should she take him by the arm in public, though that might prove both emotionally and physically impossible.

Regardless, they are still being watched and photographed in the shadows by someone I assumed at first to be Misaki, but might actually be a heretofore unseen character. Looks like Fudou and Desumi are in store for more drama and adversity…

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 04 – Part of the Gang

The night after the battle, Rishia tells the rest of the party how she and her parents lived happy unassuming lives as poor nobles until a neighboring noble abducted her as payment for debts unfairly levied against her family. She thought she was a goner, but was rescued by Itsuki, who exposed the evil noble. Ever since, Rishia has vowed to repay the Bow Hero (also, she’s probably in love with the guy…I mean look at that face.)

Naofumi’s party, along with Ost, Eclair, and Elrasla, take it upon themselves to finish off the Spirit Tortoise by traveling onto its headless body and finding its weak spot. On the way, Ost wonders why all of the soldiers are saluting and praising her when she’s technically a servant of the Tortoise. The answer is simple: because she fought alongside them, and saved their lives.

After hours of traveling through dense fog with no weak spots in sight, Naofumi decides to stop and camp for the night. While Raph and Filo sleep together, Rishia admits to Ost that she’s a little jealous of their sisterly bond as she was an only child. But throughout the episode and especially here, Ost serves as a big sister figure.

Ost assures Rishia that even though she’s no longer in the Bow Hero’s party—and maybe precisely because she isn’t—she’s able to accomplish something for his sake. The next morning, when they meet up with Queen Mirelia at a village decimated by the Tortoise awakening, Ost provides a soothing presence for Rishia, who is not used to being around such death.

After being comforted by Ost, Rishia pays it forward by telling an also-distraught Raphtalia that she doesn’t have to “get used to” death an destruction. That’s after Mirelia leads Naofumi’s gang to a large dilapidated shrine further within the Tortoise’s back, into which they all brave despite the constant risk of total collapse.

Once there, and there is an ancient language written on the wall to translate, Rishia really comes into her own, both in enthusiasm and competence. Naofumi wonders if from now on she should focus on honing her scholarly skills, but Elrasla tells Naofumi that might yet be a waste of Rishia’s potential, which remains as yet untapped. She then comes upon some writing she can’t ready easily, which Naofumi immediately identifies as Japanese.

Mirelia calls it the “hero’s alphabet”, and while some of it is worn away or obscured, he can make out something about breaking a seventh seal. When the shrine collapses, Ost finally remembers something important: the key to defeating the Tortoise is to travel within its body.

Naofumi prepares to head in with Raph, Filo, and Ost, asking Eclair and Elrasla to keep the armies together should thinkgs go sideways. He’s ready to ask Rishia to stay behind as well, but she refuses: she’s a member of his party; where he goes, she goes.

It’s a brave, bold gesture by someone who, along with Ost, have become my favorite characters in this second season. That said, when she heads into the dark and spooky “large intestine” of the Tortoise, she still needs Ost by her side to keep her wits about her.

That’s when the party suddenly encounters what appear to be three adventurers who claim to have been sent by the queen. Nobody buys that, and when Raph uses anti-mirage magic to nullify their disguises, they’re revealed to be Naofumi’s old pals L’Arc, Therese…and Glass. Now they’re not a trio you come across any ol’ day in a giant turtle colon!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 04 – The Only Bad Guy

You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’.—Tony Montana

As Akari naps on her shoulder, Menou reflects on how she got to this point, on a train to the execution of what seems like a perfectly ordinary and nice young woman but for her potential to end the world with her unchecked powers of time manipulation.

We’ve seen where Menou’s old life ended and where Flare found her; a haunting blanched world of pure white destruction. The first half of this episode expounds upon that scene, and how the landscape was very much reflecting Menou’s own state at that time: a blanched, blank slate.

Like Fushi in To Your Eternitythis Menou didn’t feel anything; she was simply there…until Orwell assigned Flare to look after her. Her first words to Flare were “who are you?” which might as well been a question to herself. Flare’s response, that she’s a “pure, just and strong” priestess, is delivered with a villainously twisted face and dripping with sarcasm Menou takes at face value.

Menou came to learn that Flare was an executioner of otherworlders and other enemies of the Faust, and is eventually taken to an entire continent of nothing but salt slowly dissolving into the sea, the result of one of the Four Human Errors. Upon learning the solemn duty of people like Flare, Menou decided on the spot that she wanted to be one of those people.

To this request, Flare warns Menou that executioners like her are little more than villains to be loathed and discarded when at the end of their usefulness, someone willing to do anything to anyone, good or bad, man or woman, in order to keep the world safe. Someone strong, but bereft of purity or justice. A tool.

When Menou says she wants to be one anyway, Flare takes her to a monastery to train with other young girls. They learn how to fight and kill, and also learn about the otherworlders and how they influenced this world and threatened its very existence at least four times in history. The iconography on display in the classroom is wonderfully dark and medieval.

It’s here where Menou learns that she must “speak of friendship, whisper words of love, be dirty and underhanded” in order to kill one’s targets. She also meets the younger Momo, who like some other girls is not taking the indoctrination into merciless killing machines smoothly. Menou comes to Flare, who seems to be sleeping uneasily in her dark and musty chambers.

There, Menou asks her to make her “the only bad person” so the girls who don’t want to don’t have to be. It’s clear their hesitance is a result of past experiences Menou no longer has due to the calamity she survived. Flare proceeds to evaulated Menou’s strengths and weaknesses, adding up to a “slightly below average” candidate for such a role.

Then Menou surprises Flare (something I’m sure doens’t happen often) by  taking her face in her little hands and asking her not to make her like her, but to make her her. A little Flare. A Flarette.

Flare, long ago resigned to her fate as a loathsome villain who will never find vindication or peace, is half-lamenting and half-admiring in stating that a “twisted personality” has emerged from Menou’s “blanched out soul”, and that one day she’ll surpass her when all of it is destroyed by happiness and she still survives.

That segues nicely into the present, with Akari waking up from her nap to see Garm growing larger through the window. She’s too distracted by the big shiny capital city to noticed Menou’s pained expressions, the result of having time to herself to reflect on her past and present. Flare knew Menou would come to this point, when happiness threatened to destroy the villain she’d become.

Menou promises to go on a sightseeing date with Akari, but they first pay a visit to the Faust cathedral (which is right next to the Noblesse’s fortress…keep your enemies close). The ceremonial hall that will “take Akari home” is there, and Akari meets Archbishop Orwell, who says the hall will be ready in two days.

Akari is apologetic and appreciative, the only person not in on what is really going on. Orwell plays the role of kindly grandmother figure to a T, while Menou does not flinch in the presence of this deeply upsetting charade. She also agres to take on a side job for Orwell investigating missing women in the city in exchange for funds for taking the pilgrimage route once her business in Garm is finished.

The fact that this job conflicts with the promise Menou made to Akari to go sightseeing together, and also looks ahead to the time when Akari is back “home”, irks Akari to no end, and she makes her anger plain once the two are set up in a fancy hotel room. She storms back inside to take a bath, slamming the door behind her.

Menou is seemingly taken aback by Akari’s anger, forgetting that while she’s always kept a professional remove due to her ultimate mission to eliminate her, Akari considers Menou a friend, and for Menou to treat her like a “stranger who will be gone soon” truly hurts, even if Akari is being a little immature about it.

While Akari bathes, she has a chance to reflect on how she reacted, and concludes she was indeed too harsh on Menou, who has many responsibilities to juggle. To whit, while she’s in the bath Menou meets with Momo on the balcony, and basically delegates the investigation job to her.

As she was on the train, Momo is obedient to the big sister she loves more than anything, but also very weary of Menou’s continued interactions with someone she deems an extremely dangerous otherworlder. Menou laments forcing “the messy stuff” on Momo’s plate, but still does it, because she needs and wants to keep Akari happy.

Upon going back into the room, Akari meets her there, having emerged from the bath in a towel, and apologizes for how she acted, saying she’ll sightsee on her own while Menou takes care of her duties. Menou in turn says their sightseeing date is back on, and Akari embraces her, loing her towel in the process.

As much as Akari may like Menou, the fact of the matter is she’s being lied to, and proverbial knives are being sharpened for her demise, not her return to Japan. Menou is using their nascent friendship to keep Akari docile and content until the knife can be slipped in. It’s heartbreaking, compelling character drama.

Next week’s episode is titled “Goodbye”. Will it mark the departure of Akari, or Menou’s departure from villainy? Judging from her past, the latter seems more likely. But then again, she’s never met an otherworlder quite like Akari.

Magia Record – 22 (Final Season E01) – Collect, Transform, Manifest, Despair

Magia Record’s final season begins where it all began: with the Hospital Girls Satomi Touka, Hiiragi Nemu, and Tamaki Ui. Ui’s big sister Iroha would always visit the three, and they all led a happy, if sheltered and delicate life. They even created uwasa together, but as places that would soothe hearts, not corrupt them.

Then Ui took a turn for the worse, and Kyuubey was ready to pounce on Iroha’s desperation. When Ui was near death, Iroha made a hasty deal that would save her little sister. In exchange, she became a magical girl. At the time, it didn’t matter. If it meant saving Ui, Iroha would do anything.

The three girls took notice of Iroha’s changed behavior and far less frequent visits. Being innately curious, they decided to follow her when she suddenly rushed out on them, and were horrified by what they saw: Iroha battling and ultimately defeating a witch, but clearly suffering a great deal in the process.

Having ensnared Iroha in his little web, Kyuubey decides to try to recruit the three girls, saying he can give them the power to save Iroha. But instead of hastily taking the deal, Touka, Nemu, and Ui science the shit of of this, doing in-depth research and determining the precise wishes that will maximize their ability to do the most good for the most people.

Kyuubey is right that he never lies, but is quite content to mislead, omit, or create misunderstandings his victims will regret far too late. He may have never encountered a trio of such inquisitive would-be victims as these three, peppering him with so many questions they get a far clearer picture of what’s really going on than any of the emotionally compromised girls he turned Magical over the years.

The conclusion the girls come to at the end of their research is to essentially steal Kyuubey’s powers of collection, transformation, and manifestation. They become magical girls, but rather than being on their own and having to make gradual or uneasy alliances, they’re a cohesive unit right from the beginning, setting up an automated corruption purification system on a grand scale.

This ingenious system goes swimmingly for all of five minutes until Ui’s collection power collects too much corruption too fast for the others’ abilities to keep up with. She is transformed into a witch—the first artificial witch—which attracts the attention of another magical girl: Alina Grey, who accepts the role of muscle for the nascent Wings of Magius.

As for poor Ui, Nemu manages to salvage her damaged soul and places it into the only suitable vessel: the deadified Kyuubey, thus bringing about Lil’ Kyuubey. Now we know why the little fella liked Iroha so much; it’s Ui in there!

As for why Touka is so indifferent to Ui’s loss, it’s not because she let power get to her head, but because by placing her soul into Kyuubey, Ui’s existence was erased from the world. Erased from pictures, name tags, and memories. But Nemu remembers.

Thus concludes a thoroughly heartbreaking demonstration of how Kyuubey’s manipulation corrupts even most intelligent and resourceful girls who only want to do as much good as they can, and to help the big sister they loved so dearly. It’s a dark and tragic story, but again, it’s only the beginning. Maybe the ending will be brighter.

Vanitas no Carte – 22 – Période Bleue

And so we descend into the heretofore untold story of Vanitas, AKA Number 69. He’d already been one of Dr. Moreau’s child experiments/torture victims when poor little Misha arrived. But rather than keep his head down and endure Misha’s screams, he volunteered to undergo the procedure in Misha’s place. Moreau, the quintessential mad scientist, is moved by his gesture.

So is Misha, who is pretty well-adjusted for someone who had already endured untold sexual assaults by his mother’s wealthier clients. Despite his aloof demeanor, Vanitas becomes a reluctant protective big brother to Misha. In a first act full of darkness and unspeakable cruelty and evil, it was nice to see these two children could find a moment’s warm relief under their dingy blanket.

I’ve long not been a fan of Moreau for always looking like the extra-stylized/simplified/cartoony version that other characters sometimes slip into for moments of levity. But after watching him this week do the things he does with a smile, it absolutely adds to the terror surrounding the character. He is an unhinged Mad Hatter with a Cheshire Cat grin. To his eyes, this grim, brutal world is a magical paradise of innovation.

I also felt a deep pressure in my stomach watching the “ordinary” human researchers doing Moreau’s bidding without emotion. You get the feeling they’re not under any duress (i.e. Moreau keeping their families hostage) but simply doing their jobs and following orders like good proto-Nazis. Moreau is outwardly mad, but they must be too to be able to do what they do to Vanitas and Misha.

Fortunately, they receive swift justice when Moreau’s procedure to convert the boys into “quasi-members” of the Blue Moon Clan so he can open the two Books of Vanitas. The resulting explosions kill everyone and leave Moreau crippled, and the mysterious black-skinned, white-haired vampire who claims responsibility for the chaos is primed to leave…until Misha begs them to take them with them…and when given the choice, Vanitas agrees to go with them too.

When the mysterious person introduces themselves as the Vampire of the Blue Moon, Vanitas’ chasseur training kicks in, asking them what they’re doing. They simply reply that they are helping them, since they asked for help. All of the exhaustion and the stress of the procedure catches up to Vanitas, and he passes out.

He comes to in a comfy bed of one of the vampire’s human acquaintances. When Vanitas asks how that’s possible, the vamp makes it clear that the more occult-aligned folks have always preferred consorting with vampires than the church. When the vamp asks Vanitas why he was calling out for his mother, he tells the story of what happened to his parents.

He was the bastard child of a successful doctor who abandoned his old family for his mother, a performer at some kind of traveling show. He says his mother died giving birth to him, and when vampires attacked, his father died protecting him. When the church and then Moreau took him in, he learned that humans were far more terrifying monsters than the vampires he’d spent his life loathing.

More importantly to understanding Vanitas’ character through all that tragedy and pain is the fact that he never tried to escape Moreau’s clutches for the same reason he tried to protect Misha: because he didn’t want someone else to experience that pain and trauma in his place. He is, as the vampire says, “a truly kind child”.

And yet even in the present Vanitas believes he’s no one who should be loved. In this act, we see the vampire who will later be known as Luna, Vanitas, and Misha becoming a family. We learn that Vanitas soon surpassed cooking and cleaning skills, while they made sure Vanitas and Misha got both an education and the opportunity to be boys and have fun.

But Luna knew that it couldn’t last like this for long, as both Vanitas and Misha would one day succumb to the strains against the natural world caused by Moreau’s experiments on them. So they offered their adoptive sons a choice: die as humans when the time comes (which could be in days or years), or become official members of the Blue Moon Clan when Luna turns them.

We know that Vanitas chose to live his remaining days as a vampire, even if it meant dying tomorrow. This, despite saying humans are the ultimate monsters. It’s as if he knows he could only right the wrongs of humanity by remaining a human as he began his crusade of healing curse-bearers, thus bearing his own self-imposed curse, a product of his deep-seated kindness.

As for Misha…whether he is still human or not isn’t as important as what he’s after, and how he’s willing to hurt Vanitas to get it. Misha’s already done far more than Vanitas would typically forgive, sharing memories of their past with Noé. Noe and Vanitas’ relationship has been irrevocably altered. How will Vanitas respond to these actions by his long-lost kid brother?

Vanitas no Carte – 18 – Souhaiter de L’aide

Things start out strong this week, as Vanitas professes his love for Jeanne as he breaks her out of her prison of despair and asks her what she wishes for. The sight of her parents’ heads on stakes instilled in her a self-imposed ban on hopes, dreams, and prayers, but it’s not too late for her, or Chloé. All she has to do is tell Vanitas what she wants…and she wants help.

From there, we’re taken back in time yet again to cover the backstory of—Astolpho Granatum? Is that his name again?—who once had a kind heart and, encouraged by his little sister, even helped a wounded vampire in the woods. His mother told him that his kind streak was a strength and not a weakness, and the fact he and his sister become friends with the young vamp lad seem to bear that out…

…Until the vamp lad and his friends murder and eat Astolpho’s whole family. Ahh, so that’s why he hates vampires so much he’ll try to kill them even if he has no context about who they are or what they’re trying to do…like Noé in the present situation. I appreciate the attempt to make Astolpho’s position more understandable, but I’d be lying if I said an Astolpho backstory was a priority in this arc.

As for Chloé, she seems to be enjoying her new existence outside of her corporeal body, merging with the closed world she created. If everyone in that closed world ever wants to get out, they have to reverse it somehow. That task falls to Vanitas, the only one who can apparently figure out her organ-like Alteration Engine, while Dante and Johann track down his book, which he’ll need to close the deal.

Vanitas’ gambit succeeds, as he manages to play the same tune Chloé used to turn Naenia tangible, thus returning Chloé to the physical world. Jean-Jacques seals the deal by embracing Chloé, telling her all she’s doing to make the world safe for him is for naught if she’s not there to share it with him. Just as Vanitas loves Jeanne, J-J loves Chloé, an won’t allow her to sacrifice herself for his or any other greater good.

Speaking of Jeanne, she comes crashing through the walls of the already shattered library just in time for Vanitas to catch his titular tome and begin the process of saving someone who can still be saved. Whether the drugged-up Astolfo will try to interfere remains to be seen, but I for one hope Chloé isn’t cured of her curse just to be slain by his hand.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Entertainment District Arc – 11 (Fin) – Into the Darkness Together

Gyuutarou’s auto-destruct causes a huge explosion, but Tanjirou survives, and Lil’ Nezuko wakes up to purge the poison from his body with her Blood Demon Art. She then puts the immobile Tanjirou on her tiny back and dashes him across the ruins of the district, eventually coming upon Zenitsu and Inousuke, whom she also heals.

Finally, Nezuko and Tanjirou find Uzui and his wives, who are bickering with each other rather than hearing the final words he has to say. But before any of them know it, Nezuko has sidled up and envelops him in her pink flames. The wives have no idea what is happening, but when Uzui’s poison wounds vanish and he pulls through, they envelop him in hugs and sobs of relief.

Nezuko and Tanjirou then search for the heads of Gyuutarou and Daki, and find them still alive, bickering with each other over their loss to the humans as their heads slowly dissolve. When their argument escalades into saying they aren’t brother and sister, Tanjirou intervenes, saying that even if the entire world is against them, they shouldn’t be against each other; not in these final moments.

Daki then directs her ire at Tanjirou for lecturing them, but an in-depth flashback narrated by Gyuutarou shows that Tanjirou was quite correct. Long before he became a demon, Gyuutarou was cursed for being an extra mouth to feed in the poorest part of the district. When his sister, whose original name was Ume, was born, he leaned into his ugliness, found his strength, and found work as a debt collector.

Sadly, once Ume turned thirteen she joined a run-down house where her body could be sold, and the defiant nature Gyuutarou baked into her backfired. She took the eye of a samurai she didn’t want to sleep with, and was bound and burned alive while Gyuutarou was out on a job. When he grieves over her body, he’s cut down by that same samurai, but not deeply enough, and Gyuutarou in turn kills the samurai and madam.

Gyuutarou always cursed the fact that for all of the misfortune he and Ume had to deal with, the world never once cut them a break and allowed them any good fortune. The nearest thing to providence came in the form of the former Upper Six, who gave Gyuutarou and Ume blood to drink, turning them into demons. Gyuutarou never regretted being one, but did regret that Ume could never live the life she should have. We see heartbreaking glimpses of that possible life.

Now in the void between worlds, Gyuutarou doesn’t want Ume to follow him any more, and is very mean about it, telling her to go in the opposite direction, towards the light, where perhaps she might be resurrected and have another chance at that possible life of comfort and fortune. But Ume won’t go that way. She pounces on Gyuutarou from behind and reminds him of his promise: they’d always be together. She’d rather follow him into the deepest darkness than step into the light alone.

While I’m usually not a fan of filling in character backstory after they’ve already met their fate, the postmortem backstory of Gyuutarou and Daki/Ume had ample emotional resonance, and gave this finale a quieter, calmer, yet still powerful rhythm, winding down the bombastic battle of previous weeks.

All’s well that ends well, with Uzui planning to retire and spend more time with his lovely wives, confident that Tanjirou is about to reach Hashira-worthy potential. Tanjirou, Nezuko, Inousuke, and Zenitsu also share a tearful group hug, reunited and in (mostly) one piece. Yet I’m sure Tanjirou’s joy is tempered by the “there but the grace of god go us” vibe from a brother-sister pair who weren’t as lucky as they are.

So ends the Entertainment Arc, where most other Winter shows have only hit their halfway point. What’s next for Demon Slayer? No official announcement follows end credits—an extended arrangement of the rippin’ good Aimer opening theme—but I can say with certainty the Demon Slayer anime will return (Update: it will!).

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