Lycoris Recoil – 06 – Striking a Balance

“You come at the [Lycoris Queen], you best not miss.”—Omar, Probably

When LycoReco learns that the DA’s Lycoris are being targeted by a terrorist, Takina is immediately on the phone with Chisato as she heads to her place. Takina tells Chisato they’ll be living together and switching off nights for security reasons until further notice. Chisato is not just fine with that, she’s delighted she and Takina get to work and live under one roof together, and that it was Takina’s idea.

When Takina sees the state of the place and sets up a chore chart, Chisato inceptions the idea to decide who does what with rock-paper-scisssors. Chisato proceeds to kick her ass at it and Takina gets all the chores. Takina should have known her friend’s preternatural instincts are put to use even in non-bullet-dodging scenarios.

As for Majima, whom ANN’s reviewer has called “Joker” due to his green hair, he’s not satisfied with the progress of eliminating Lycoris. He wants to bring DA down, he wants Robota to find their HQ, and isn’t above using threats and violence against the hacker to make him hack harder.

The thing is, Robota has two masters right now: Majima, and the Alan Institute, with whom he communicates with Shinji’s secretary. He tries to get Majima interested in Chisato as the “chief Lycoris”, but Majima doesn’t care about pawns. Unlike the Joker, he’s not a big fan of chaos either, but wants balance, which to him means terrorists able to operate without being disappeared by the DA.

When Robota gets help from a fellow hacker, that hacker is quickly found out and arrested for being so blatant and reckless. Robota then sends two goons to break into Chisato’s apartment, but they’re not aware she lives below the apparent apartment in a safe house, and when they trip her silent alarm, she dispatches them with ease. All is not lost though, Robota uses footage of Chisato going wild to convince a fed-up Majima she’s worth targeting.

When Kurumi suggests that the terrorists are able to target Lycoris due to their distinctive uniforms, Chisato disguises herself with a huge yellow poncho and believes she’s safe enough to do a solo LycoReco delivery job.

It isn’t until she’s off on her own that Kurumi discovers that the terrorists targeting Lycoris—who got their guns from the deal that Takina got fired—also have footage showing the faces of the Lycoris they assassinated…as well as Chisato’s.

The fact that Kurumi (as Walnut) was hired to hack the DA that day is set aside for now, as the more pressing matter is Chisato’s safety. Takina calls her just in time for Chisato to get hit by Majima’s yellow Nissan GT-R and then menacingly surrounded by his underlings.

Fortunately, Chisato’s injured state is only an act, and she plays possum right up until Majima gets in her face, whereupon she unloads with her non-lethal gun. The rubber bullets actually put her at a severe tactical disadvantage, extending the fight far longer than if she’d used lethal ammo.

Nevertheless, principles are principles, and Chisato tries her darndest to escape her attackers, and even though she’s on foot and they’re in vans chasing her, she manages to even the odds by shooting the drivers and causing them to crash, and sending Majima flying.

Majima must’ve done work as a stuntman, since he’s able to shake off getting thrown from a car and shot in the face with rubber bullets. She turns the tables on Chisato (who again screws up by getting too close to her opponent; a clear act of arrogance on her part) by spitting either blood or liquified rubber bullet (or both) in her faces, rendering those special eyes usesless.

Majima proceeds to beat the stuffing out of Chisato as his underlings circle them and cheer, and while Majima admits that Chisato is “interesting”, he still seems pretty ready to shoot her…until his gun is shot out of his hand by  Takina, who has arrived just in time (thanks to Kurumi locating Chisato with her drone) and neutralizes all of the baddies.

Mizuki and Mika arrive at the scene in the escape car, and Chisato and Takina pile in. There’s still the matter of Robota chasing them in a remotely-controlled car, but Mizuki’s driving prowess is able to shake it off. The baddies’ last gasp is an RPG, but Kurumi is able to slam her drone into the guy at the last minute.

While the RPG fires, the grenade hits not the LycoReco car, but the car Robota hacked and Majima was about to comandeer. Somewhat unplausibly, the grenade blast doesn’t kill Majima, but throws him into the nearby water. Seriously…is this guy a Terminator? If Takina were to chop him up with a sword, would the pieces just turn into little Majima clones?

That said, with the assassination of Chisato thwarted, attention turns to Kurumi, who did hack the DA the day of the arms deal, but was ignorant to the arms deal itself (I wonder if it was Shinji who hired her to hack the DA). She prostrates herself and apologizes to Takina, but Takina doesn’t blame her for getting her thrown out of the DA…she blames her own actions.

Also, if Kurumi is indirectly responsible for the arms falling into terrorists’ hands, she’s equally responsible for Takina finding a new home, new family, and growing so close to Chisato. As for whether the two girls continue living together, Takina says they’ll settle that with one more game of rock-paper-scissors.

This time, Takina takes Mika and Mizuki’s advice and skips the “rock first” part of the game. When she finally beats Chisato for the first time, her elation and giddy little celebration was one of the highlights of an episode that struck just the right balance between over-the-top cinematic spy action and cute girls with guns having each other’s backs and bums.

Made in Abyss – S2 03 – The Ruthlessness of Value

Nestled deep within the Golden City lies an entire village full of hollows like Nanachi, only those who chose to become so in order to endure in the Sixth Layer. Majikaja takes Riko, Reg, and Nanachi on a tour, and show them where Prushka ended up. While initially it looks like a hollow is chipping away harmfully at the whistle, Riko can sense that Prushka “doesn’t mind” and Majikaja confirms that shaving the whistle down to a purer form increases its “value.” And in the hollow village of IRUburu, value is everything.

Majikaja, whose automaton body we learn is actually only a vessel (their real form is sloshing around in the body’s central tank), takes our delvers to the hollow market, where everything is assessed, bought, and sold. Majikaja makes it clear that human children are among the most valuble, but Riko puts her foot down: she’s not here to sell pieces of herself.

That said, when one of the hollows squeezes Meinya too hard and almost kills her, it is punished by a “balancing”, which is the power of the village taking the hollows possessions and finally tearing off bits of it until the damage it did is paid in full. All hollows here, who have taken the form of their desires, know that this is how things go down.

Thankfully, Meinya is tougher than she looks and survives the accidental squishing, and Riko is able to spend the money given to her in reparations to buy lodging and food. Riko is eager and excited to taste food one would never be able to taste anywhere else in the world…but since this is Abyss and there’s no bodily function it won’t explore, she ends up in intestinal distress.

Nanachi and Reg prepare to further explore the village, but there’s a big boom, and suddenly a huge procession of hollows start racing towards it. Majikaja tells them it’s Faputa, “embodiment of value”, who “can go anywhere and will never perish.” Majikaja calls Faputa a lady of high status, which Nanachi translates to “princess”. While doing recon, Reg encounters this princess.

Faputa bears a striking and completely non-coincidental resemblance to Irumyuui, the little native girl Vueko took under her wing during Ganja’s descent into the Abyss in the distant past. Here the present and past once again collide, as we watch Ganja encounter the bizarre, whimsical, and terrifying power of the Golden City and its hollow denizens for the first time.

Unsurprisingly, Kevin Penkin’s score is up to the task of capturing the combination of wonder and danger; the guy is a master of orchestral crescendos that perfectly express the emotional and physical scope and scale of the city as first viewed by Vueko & Co. I must admit I replayed the final few minutes of the episode just to get swept up in the awe.

But as Vueko remarks, as awesome and beautiful as this place is, what is most assuredly is not is safe...at least for humans. It’s both heartening and heartrending to consider that just as Irumyuui evolved into Faputa, all of the members of Ganja are probably still around in hollow form. They may even have already met Riko, Reg, and Nanachi. They may have had to cast off their human form, but the intelligence remains, and at least they are finally at peace after what they endured as people.

Heroines Run the Show – 03 – Princely When it Counts

It was only a matter of time before LIPxLIP warmed up to Hiyori’s wholesome country charm. Yuujirou and Aizou were hostile towards her initially simply because they didn’t know her. That’s rectified by Uchida, who tells Yuujirou (who then tells Aizou) that Hiyori came to Tokyo to run, and took a job to live.

The boys call each other out on being okay with this girl among all the others (in Aizou’s case) and having no qualms about showing his true self (in Yuujirou’s). Knowing how hard she works, they can’t help but show grudging respect; at least from afar.

Closer in, they’re much more comfortable messing with her, though when they learn that she failed her midterms and is desperately crunching for the finals so she can compete in athletics, they eventually close the distance and give her some pointers on what to study for in the little time she has left.

What good boys! And here I was calling them assholes last week. They were, and often still are, but it’s goot to see their sharp edges softening due to Hiyori not only being someone you want to support and protect, but also someone you admire for not giving up no matter how high the hurdles.

Going to school together and working together, these three high school-age people were always going to gradually become friends, I just didn’t expect it to come so fast and yet so organically. But that rapidity is facilitated by a catalyst when the three are on a music video shoot for their song “Nonfantasy”.

Their co-star in the video is the up-and-coming amateur model Yumeru-chan, whom we meet in an elegant red dress. She’s a big fan of LIPxLIP, so when she spots the boys goofing around with Hiyori, she gets right pissed off. She wants to be their clothing tree, dagnabit!

Fishing for juicy rumors and looking to put a rival in their place, Yumeru takes Hiyori aside and asks her straight-up what her relationship to the others is. Hiyori deflects and is clearly uncomfortable, and why wouldn’t she be? This world of desperately beautiful people dressed like royalty isn’t her world; they’re stars, and she’s just a bit player.

And while yes, Yumeru is meant to be more “classically pretty”, Hiyori is a far more beautiful person, because she’s not looking to put others down to lift herself up. She just wants to run, and make her friends and family happy they gave her their support.

During a dinner break, Yuujirou and Aizou laugh when Hiyori’s stomach grumbles, and happily offer her some of what looks like an epic craft services spread. Yumeru, again both mystified and enraged, trips Hiyori while she’s walking away, and coffee spills on her dress. The boys apologize profusely for their “staff member.”

Hiyori hides under the lectern of a wedding chapel, but the boys soon track her down, clearly concerned with her. Yumeru shows up and asks for their numbers, but they don’t give them out; company policy. Then Yumeru spots Hiyori in the shadows and asks why they’re fine with her?

Yumeru has the nerve to warn them that Hiyori may have just taken the job to get closer to them—right after she took this job tried to get closer to them. Aizou—not Yuujirou—drops the idol mask and points out this hypocrisy. Yuujirou then adds that he saw Yumeru trip Hiyori.

When she claims she didn’t, he says they can check the security cameras to be sure. He then praises her fake crying but suggests she doesn’t take up acting as she “lacks imagination” to realize messing with their staff would piss them off. After Yumeru storms off, Aizou tells Yuu he might’ve gone too far, but Yu isn’t concerned. If Yumeru wants to start a shit fight, he can sling it with the best of them.

The bottom line is, the risk of exposing their mean sides was worth it if it meant telling someone that Hiyori may be a somewhat plain, simple country girl staff member, she’s also not someone they’ll tolerate being abused. Yumeru made Hiyori an enemy for no reason, and when the boys saw that, it likely reminded them of their shitty attitudes when Hiyori was first hired, thus compounding their irritation.

I’m happy to report that while they will likely continue to mess with Hiyori because she’s such an easy target, they’re also doing it good-naturedly, because they’ve come to like her, and anyway wouldn’t mess with someone they didn’t. They’re also genuinely concerned about how her exams turns out, and flash their best idol smiles upon learning she barely passed.

The power of those idol smiles is enough  to make even Hiyori blush. After all, even after they took off their prince costumes for the music video, they still looked pretty damn princely to Hiyori, because they defended her against someone who didn’t know her. Now that they do, they’ll slay any dragon for her.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 02 – Sending Good Vibes

It’s sports festival time – the perfect opportunity for Shikimori and Izumi to cheer each other on. Unfortunately, his soccer game and her volleyball match start within ten minutes of each other.

Shikimori is disappointed, but while outwardly a weenie, her bae still has the confidence and earnestness to take her hand and assure her he’ll be cheering for her even if they’re apart, sending good vibes her way through hand contact.

And Izumi’s just as capable of making her blush as vice versa. Last week showed that an imbalanced relationship could be okay; this week shows us that it’s not unbalanced at all, but quite equitable. While catching the first few minutes of his game with Neko and seeing things aren’t going well, Shikimori sends a bit of those vibes back to Izumi.

It seems to work, but only a little bit: the ball ends up right by Izumi’s foot, but he still ends up tripping and missing the kick that was lined up for him, then gets belted in the face by a header. Even though it’s about time for her match to start, Izumi is more important, and Shikimori runs to his aid.

If her good vibes didn’t help Izumi in the soccer department, it ends up helping both of them in the boyfriend-girlfriend department, as they share a beautiful tender scene in the nurse’s office with soft guitar strumming. Shikimori compliments Izumi’s hair—which for the record is legit pretty, as are his eyes.

She also notices a scar on his forehead, and he tells her how he has a lot on his body, not from his dark past as an assassin, but simply due to his famous bad luck (Truck-kun hit his house, for gosh sakes!). Shikimori worries about him and again asks him to stay by her side as mnuch as possible. But before she leaves, he says he can protect her too, which causes her to almost climb under the covers with him.

We later see her bump her head out in the hall, cursing herself for coming on too strong it wasn’t originally a tease, but she passed it off as one. It’s moments like this when it’s just Shikimori and her thoughts that she truly does feel like a real human being—not just a pedestaled ideal of one.

That self-flusteredness appears to affect her volleyball game, at least at first, which can’t happen when Neko says that Kamiya, the volleyball ace is on the other team and giving her A-game. But when Izumi cheers as loud as he can from the upper balcony, Shikimori moves her ponytail from the side to the back and makes a face so cool and serious, everyone in the gym takes notice and swoons.

It’s here where Doga Kobo flexes its animation muscles while continuing to provide an immensely strong Shikimori Face Game. Her spikes and volleys are things of beauty, and there’s no doubt that Shikimori is only playing at this high a level—and wins the match—primarily because Izumi is watching and cheering her on.

She won’t allow herself to let him down, and doesn’t. Even so, I could have totally seen an alternate scenario where her team came up short and she was distraught about failing, and Izumi would tell her the result didn’t matter. Just as she thinks he looks cool trying his best on the soccer pitch, she looks even cooler giving her all, win or lose.

Of course, Shikimori and her team do win (and beat that ace Kamiya, who was putting out strong “Izumi’s childhood friend/betrothed” vibes) and the whole school sees her cool side, once reserved only for Izumi. The next few days are a whirlwind, with hordes of fangirls lining up to shake her hand and get pictures.

Just like his cheers that inspired her to play harder and the potential for him to comfort her if she lost comprise the ways Izumi protects her, he is frustrated that he can’t literally protect her from her sudden and intense celebrity. (I also wanted to mention that when complimenting her Izumi says she “constantly radiates athleticism” and “you’re so cute” in the same breath, because those things aren’t mutually exclusive.)

The by-product of her new school hero status is that she and Izumi are isolated: her on an island and him behind an impenetrable wall of fans. This means her duties protecting him from projectiles and other pratfalls fall to his friend Izunuka.

When Shikimori flashes a look of unfiltered anger at the sight of Izumi helping Izunuka up after he caught a ball to the side of the head, the reasons are twofold: jealousy that Izunuka is protecting her bae instead of her, and anger at herself for not being there for Izumi.

This looks like a potential for a widening rift between the lovebirds, but by episode’s end everything is resolved in a way that is both beautifully presented, emotionally earned, and true to the characters. Izumi is seemingly on his way home alone, lamenting how others know of Shikimori’s cool side. When he inevitably almost falls down the steps, Shikimori catches him from behind and delivers the killer line “Who said you could go home alone?”

When Izumi tells her he didn’t want to get in the way of her newfound celebrity, she leans against the wall morosely and delivers another banger of a line: “You know you’re the only one I want to walk home with.” Izumi admits he wasn’t leaving, but was just going to wait by the front gate for her, since he’s been missing her too the last few days.

Upon hearing this, Shikimori’s face becomes a masterpiece of shifting expressions, one moment on the verge of tears, but with a smirk of relief and jubilation the next. Even if everyone knows Shikimori’s not just a cutie, there are still myriad sides only Izumi will ever see, and no fangirl army in the world can keep these two apart for long.

This spring keeps belting out one awesome rom-com episode after
another. I don’t know what’s going on, but I like it!

Heroines Run the Show – 02 – Oh My Crêpe!!

At first it looks like CEO Tamura and LIPxLIP manager Uchida have played a cruel prank on an unwitting Hiyori (whom Uchida misnames as “Hiyako”…maybe on purpose?!). Aizou and Yuujirou unleash a barrage of insults on her, but she absorbs them and fires back with some extremely rude and accurate retorts, and all three kids learn why the adults put them together: Hiyako’s got guts, and doesn’t care that they’re idols.

That she’s literally in their class is icing on the cake. In a rather oddly dimly-lit scene where her teacher Akechi-sensei offers her candy (don’t do it Hiyori!) and Hiyori climbs on top of the desk to whisper in his ear (what a dang goof!) she also gets an easy approval of her new job (thanks to Tamura) and also an assurance he’ll keep quiet about it. Hiyori, lovable hayseed that she is, is in awe of what most Tokyo kids would think was a humdrum teacher. He’s there to support her and everyone else in his class and make sure they enjoy their high school life.

She soon learns her job is to further support Aizou and Yuujirou on the idol side of their lives. This means, yes, being a personal assistant to a pair of pretty but ill-mannered cads-and-a-half. We feel every hour of Hiyori’s day that stretches out like the deserts in “Ozymandias”, waking up, studying, running, and then being a human coatrack and vending machine. Still, the pay is good, so while Hiyori hardly sails through her duties she does tough it out with a stiff upper-lip and some lovely withering inner dialogue about how much these two disagreeable fops grind her freakin’ gears.

While the idols suck, Hiyori at least initially isn’t all that good at her job, rendering some of their criticism valid, if indelicately expressed. For one thing, she simply allows girls to swarm the boys during a break, and even gets up to hang out with her friends when Yuujirou artfully reminds her it’s her job to get them out of these situations. That’s when she learns that Aizou is uncomfortable around girls, making him that much more amazing an actor. She knew Yuujirou can be apocalyptically surly, but Aizou confirms that it’s Yuujirou’s normal state.

Even so, Hiyori’s entire life, not even school life, is busied up playing LIPxLIP Service. We watch her steadfast determination to get to the lunch rush early, unto almost breaking the no-running-in-the-halls rule (a truly dastardly and prejudiced rule for, ya know, a runner!). We see her meeting up with Juri, who gives her good advice that nets her her first non-mooched lunch, which she savors accordingly. Then Chizuru casually asks Hiyori what shes been up to, and Hiyori has to lie (badly) because part of her job is keeping her job secret.

We also get a peek at Hiyori’s track life, as her senpai Hina is warm, supported, and extremely protective of her first-year, especially when her friend Koutarou narrowly keeps Hiyori from getting brained by a soccer ball. Hina quickly and expertly extorts free crêpes out of Koutarou, and by doing so inadvertently sparks one of Hiyori’s most heartfelt desires of coming to the big city. Alas, she cannot enjoy crêpes with her senpais … because she has work.

When the boys’ next gig takes them to a podcast recording by Rio and Yui, two members of an established rival idol group AT4, Aizou and Yuujirou play things safe with their sugary smiles and empty platitudes. They’re so perfect and dull that Yui goes off-script and tells them they’re lying about simply wanting to entertain people and make their fans happy. He might be on to something, but Rio stops recording and disciplines Yui. But while he apologizes to Aizou and Yuujirou, he also offers them candid advice: hollow smiles will only get them so far in this business.

Back at school, Hiyori is minding her own business when she hears hollerin’, and spots Aizou and Yuujirou at each others’ throats again. Since Uchida is paying her handsomely even while she’s at school, Hiyori comes between the two. When she stumbles on her landing, the easy play would have been for Hiyori to end up falling onto the boys, but instead she falls into them like a missle, shoving them back. When she warns them that they risk getting suspended, neither seem to care. In fact, attending school was the condition they had to agree upon in order to become idols.

Hiyori, who has always dreamed of going to a big Tokyo school, laments how it hasn’t turned out anything like she expected. That being said, she could quit anytime she wanted; her parents didn’t insist she work to pay for her living expenses (about that: let’s just assume Shibuya is far more affordable in the world of this show, shall we?). But of course, she’s not giving up, no matter how crêpe-deprived she gets.

Back at the studio, Hiyako is put to work sorting a huge box of fan mail and gifts, and she discovers cute hand-made letters from a particular fan, for both the boys and their manager. She delivers it to Uchida, who immediately identifies it as Chutan-san, one of LIPxLIP’s oldest and biggest fans…so big, she writes multi-page letters in perfect 10-point print on custom coorespondence stock for their manager. Inspiring that level passion and devotion is the power of idols, and shows Hiyori that they must have something.

As Hiyori watches the boys sweat, and fight, as they practice choreography in the next room, Uchida tells her that she’s doing fine if they show her their true selves. As to why they’re idols, Uchida tells her all they said at their audition is that they want to be on stage, with no further detail. But by watching them work their asses off in that studio, Hiyori comes to see that bein’ idols means to them what runnin’ means to her. There’s something all three of them want to do, and they’re never going to give up or back down.

Just when Hiyori is having more charitable feelings about the boys do they let her down once more by spurning her peace offering of food and their favorite drinks. But again, they’re quite correct that a manager should be offering water or sports drinks after their practice. So while Aizou and Yuujirou continue to piss Hiyori off, she at least understands them a little better, and appreciates that they’re being their true selves around her.

As for her true self…Suzumi Hiyori looks like a shoo-in for Best Girl of the Season. While I understand totally if her squeaky voice isn’t everyone’s cup of matcha, anyone who doesn’t want to protect her with their life might just be The Grinch. Just two episodes in and I’m completely in love with both her and her show, which as the title confirms, she runs.

Kemono Jihen – 12 (Fin) – How to Melt a Frozen Heart

Nobimaru presses his attack on Yui, but learns he can’t even touch the nullstone without freezing and cracking his arm, as the thing literally feeds on life. Nobimaru, who is unquestionably loyal to Inari despite knowing full he’s nothing but a tool to her, allows himself a moment to stew in the knowledge that Inari knew about the damage the stone would do to him…and didn’t care.

But if Inari left him on his own to succeed or perish, Kabane won’t have it, and he steps in as Nobimaru’s flaming champion. The nullstone grabs still more power from Yui to give him an ice suit of armor, and just like that we’ve got a dazzling Ice Boy vs. Fire Lad duel. Kabane’s constantly burning and regenerating body provides some of the cooler images this vibrant series has yet offered.

Akira manages to use all the fog and steam the battle is creating to smash his ice cage and wastes no time coming between Kabane and Yui before either of them do any permanent damage. And it’s here where I must declare my undying love for any show whose MC crumbles into flaming pile of burning flesh and bones without anyone batting an eye.

Moments later, the nullstone has nearly sucked Yui’s life dry, and his own body begins to become brittle and crack. Fortunately, Kabane has regenerated enough to give Akira a hand pulling the nullstone out of Yui’s chest. Kabane then coughs up his lifestone, which merges with the other stone on contact, releasing it from Yui.

Right on cue, Inari arrives on the scene to snatch up the stone, but Inugami is right there to remind her that neither half of the stone is hers, so she an Nobimaru slink off. In yet another demonstration of empathy and fellow feeling, Kabane asks Nobimaru to go with them to the Ohana clinic where Aya can surely heal his ruined hand…only for Nobimaru to politely decline, intending to bear the wound as a warning not to get careless again.

As Yui recovers at the clinic (and Aya calculates the exorbitant bill), Kabane hangs around outside his door, waiting for him to wake up so he can ask him about his parents. Akira sees him out there and immediately apologizing for saying he hated him, which he obviously only did because he was afraid Yui would kill him. On the contrary, Akira reiterates his love for Kabane, and their little making-up dance in the hall is just precious as all get-out.

Yui eventually wakes up, and is ready to talk with Kabane, starting with the “Kemono Incidents”, a period of history forgotten by most humanity when kabane and humans were in devastating open warfare. An agreement was made to end the hostilities, and all the kabane higher-ups had stones like Kabane’s to maintain balance through the threat of force—the only way a group as fractured and ungainly as kemono could be controlled).

While this is a lot of exposition for a final episode, it provides welcome setup for a second season that, while not yet announced, seems likely due to strong manga sales and a studio that often produces sequels. It also includes Akira’s inner voice worrying about falling asleep during all this talking, which is a wonderful little moment.

As for the question of what’s to become of Yui, he’s content to shuffle off into the shadows and bear all of the horrible things he did. Akira won’t hear of it, and it takes a slap to Yui’s face to get him to listen when Akira says they’re brothers and twins and should share the burdens together. Yui is also heartened when Kabane forgives him, though the others know that’s just who Kabane is. He gives and forgives.

The gist of Yui’s stories (as well as Inugami’s contribution to the discussion) is that for Kabane’s parents to have had the lifestone meant they were either kemono chiefs themselves or found it themselves. The best way to learn more about his stone and all the others that are out there is to track down their owners, some of whom Inugami knows.

Meanwhile, Inari, in her appropriately noir-ish office at the police HQ, assures Nobimaru she’s not done trying to get her hands on either stone (now that they’re merged, which one she’d rather have is irrelevant). But she knows she can’t take from those the tanuki is protecting by force. So he tells Nobimaru to relay Kon’s next mission: to seduce Kabane and get him to give her the stone willingly.

While there’s nothing Inugami can do about that scenario, asking Kon to seduce anyone—particularly Kabane—seems doomed to failure. Neither Kon nor Kabane quite grasp the concept of love or romance quite yet, and Kabane clearly knows more since he now has more of it in his life.

But there’s no denying Kon is smitten on one level with Kabane, so it’s just as likely he’d seduce her to his side than she’d get him to give up the stone that—lest we forget—is crucial to keep him under control. As Akira goes on a trip with Yui and Shiki minds the shop, Kabane and Inugami prepare to head to Shikoku to meet the first of many stone-keepers.

Kon super-awkwardly inserts herself into their trip, and Kabane urges her to join them, which is fine with Inugami. He’s no fool, and so knows full well Inari sent Kon to try to steal the stone. But he also knows Kabane isn’t half as guileless and manipulative as he once was, and so he’ll probably do fine against Kon’s inept attempts.

The three board the shinkansen, bound for more adventures in search of answers to the mystery of Kabane’s folks. That should make for a heckuva second season, the announcement of which I eagerly await. Even if for some reason it never comes, I had a lot of fun watching this eclectic and lovable bunch of characters work through their dark pasts, and differences, grow closer as a family…and kick some monster ass together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ – 04 – Go-Go Outclub Rangers!

The newly three-member Outclub kicks into gear with preparations for their first camping trip together, starting with trying to keep the budget as tight as possible. While experimenting with different forms of insulation for an otherwise useless-in-the-winter summer sleeping bag, Nadeshiko repeatedly runs into the school and back to retrieve materials they need, like an eager puppy.

Nadeshiko and Aoi are able to make Chiaki warm, but at the cost of being all packed up and ready to ship to Abu Dhabi, like Nermal. They ultimately decide to buy winter sleeping bags, ensuring they each get a unique color. Nadeshiko will be Outclub Red, Aoi Outclub Blue, and Chiaki Outclub Yellow.

Meanwhile, Rin prepares to kick into literal gear of her moped, now that she’s gotten her license. We also learns she works part-time at at bookstore to fund her solo camping obsession. What a good kid! Nadeshiko texts her a photo of Chiaki all packed up, leading Rin to wonder just what the heck those weird girls are up to!

The Outclub picks a campground and a date, and hit up the store to buy all of the stuff they don’t already have. My one wish is that we’d have gotten an exact figure for the total cost of their supplies, but that’s okay. As for Rin, by God is she inspiring, heading out in the early morn with her little bike packed to the gills with gear.

The next day, Nadeshiko misses a bus, but it’s no big deal. The three of them aren’t in any rush; the whole point of their excursion is to relax! Chiaki and Aoi note that Nadeshiko is carrying all her gear on her back, while they have more convenient dollies. They worry she won’t be able to make the four-kilometer hike from the station to the campground.

In what should come as no surprise, Nadeshiko’s energy stores prove inexhaustible. She’s not just a puppy, she’s a pack mule! Speaking of cute animals, Rin encounters a puppy in the back window of a van that moves to whatever side of the lane on which she stops. When the van turns off, Rin is sad, only to find another van ahead of her filled with many dogs!

When the Outclub reaches a famous vantage point at Fuefuki Park, Nadeshiko can’t resist a photo shoot, which she shares with Rin via LINE-like app. The three decide to hit up a café for some sugary treats to recharge their batteries, each sharing one another’s desserts and making me wish I could safely go to cafés with my friends! Maybe someday…

Rin gets Nadeshiko’s message about the apple soft just as she’s pulled into a rest stop at Kirigamine, and decides to stop in to warm up a bit; the closer she gets to her destination of Nagano, the colder it gets, but it’s clear she’s not afraid of a challenge. She picks a cozy spot by the iron wood stove in a room she has all to herself.

Recalling she has some cash to spend from her job, she decides to splurge on a Borscht lunch set with a Caramel Macchiato, and does not regret it, as the Slavic soup quickly distributes warmth to every corner of her body. She texts her feast to Nadeshiko, who asks where she’s headed, and rather than simply text back “Nagano”, Rin chooses a unique way to respond: by sending Nadeshiko a link to a live webcam then waving to her in real time.

The Outclub unanimously decided to stop by the Hottokeya Hot Springs before continuing on to the Eastwood Campgrounds, but as soon as they enter the lounging area, they worry about relaxing so damn hard they won’t be able to leave and go do what they came to do…camp!

This Yuru Camp felt like the best of both worlds: the Outclub’s more spirited and boisterous three-girl journey, cross-cut with Rin’s more Zen solo trip. Both look like a lot of fun! There’s also a wonderful shifting between hot and cold; between exertion and relaxation. Every Outclub member is a ton of fun, but Rin remains the show’s undisputed MVP and my personal hero.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 04 – The Bodyguard

When the Prince and Adel arrive at the Kingdom of Light, the show isn’t quite sure what to do with them, so an interminable amount of time is spent in a standoff with Faios. While en route Adel decides he’ll play the role of envoy while the Prince plays his bodyguard, concerned that if the spotlight is on the air to the Black Throne he’ll be the first one cut down.

Adel may be a better talker, but shunting the Prince off to the side was misguided, in my view. We’ve seen him go through a lot in a short time, but now that he’s aligned with the snail’s pace of the Kingdom of Light, I’d hoped he and Iris would have some things to say. Instead, Adel takes the lead. There’s an increased sense of occasion when they finally meet, yet it almost immediately fizzles out when they go their separate ways.

More maddeningly, time that could have been spent with, say, the Prince and Iris conversing over a meal or some such, is instead utterly wasted on pointless side characters: a quartet of identical brothers goofing off in the hold of the skyship that ferried the Prince to the Kingdom of Light. I honestly don’t know what the point of this was other than some comic relief, but I would have preferred more A-plot for this comedy to relieve.

The Prince asks Faios about Iris only to be shot down, as his stated status as a mere commoner bodyguard makes him unworthy of even speaking the Queen’s name, in Faios’ eyes. The night passes, and the next morning Iris asks the Prince directly about the regular people of Black. The Prince’s response is barely an answer, but repeats Adel’s initial entreaties: this is about establishing a united front against Bahl, who is destruction incarnate.

In other words, this felt like a wasted opportunity, not helped by a host of iffy production values that are increasingly hard to overlook. The ending in which the Prince and Iris are so lovey-dovey almost felt mocking in the wave of such inconsequential first impressions. Iris has very little to go on other than the Prince seems to be reasonable. But they could have interacted a little more.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 03 – What a King (and Queen) Need

Well, SPZC has one thing going for it for sure: the story ain’t hard to follow! As with last week, a lot less happens on the light side that has to be stretched out. Queen Iris is troubled by the recent violence, but looks back to the time when she and Cima were still candidates.

Back then she managed to dispel a cloud of darkness on her own when the Rune answered her call. The look back reminds her of her duty not just to protect her people, but maintain the balance of Black and White, even if no one else understands that bit.

Indeed, the only person she can probably relate with on the matter of balance (as opposed to simply eliminating one’s enemy completely) is the Dark Prince. As I said, more happens to him, as he has yet to succeed the present King. However, this week eliminates the obstacle of competition for his spot as successor.

Like Iris, the prince’s commitment to balance causes him to act in a way the other candidates fight inexplicable, like helping one of them rather than letting them die. But the prince remembers the horrors that befell his village and has determined he’ll be a king who doesn’t just look after himself and his own power.

The competition is quick and efficient: after the larger group is whittled down in a beast battle, the last two standing duel each other, with the Prince beating Adel, who like Cima takes the loss very well and is willing to befriend the winner.

Groza bestows upon the Prince the symbol of his right of succession—the unimaginatively named Greatsword of Black—and his first mission: for him and Adel to go to the Kingdom of White as official envoys and deliver the news of their succession to the Queen of Light.

It looks like the fourth episode will be the one when Iris and Prince (God I wish he had a name) finally meet. I wish these first three episodes had delved a little deeper into who these two characters are besides their very simplified archetypes and shared ideals, but this isn’t that kind of show.

Instead, Iris and Prince are more symbols of hope in the idea that a lasting peace beneficial to all could be struck if they can come together. The stage is now set for that encounter. Will Cima and Adel stand by their friends throughout these efforts, or undermine them, more confident in the strength of their side than with the prospects of balance?

P.S. Here’s the poppy ED. It rips!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 02 – Marking Time

As befits a show shows central message is balance, this episode is evenly split between White and Black. First the White: elemental spirit-summoning Elf mage Alantia leads the defense of Metis against a Bahamut-style dark boss named Bahl. Queen Iris eventually shows up and puts on quite a light show, but isn’t really able to put a scratch on Bahl, which is concerning to say the least. She’s worried the Progenitor Rune is being taxed to its limit, and her kingdom can’t afford to lose it.

The would-be Prince of Darkness’s story is progressing at a much faster clip. This makes sense, as Iris is already Queen of Light so he has some catching up to do. Still, the difference in the pacing of the light and dark halves is noticeable…and not necessarily complementary. Valas impresses upon the young prince that becoming king is about more than just being good with a sword. It means learning how to govern and pitching in when needed (as presented in a montaaaage).

This “king of the people” angle is seemingly at odds with the present King of Darkness, who is little more than a smoke monster with a Sauron-like “cover everything in darkness” policy. He considers future generations like the prince to be unnecessary. Where “Egoism of the world” Bahl fits into this isn’t quite clear yet.

One assumes from the OP and ED that the prince and queen will meet someday, but for now, the prince settles for meeting Princess of Black Groza, AKA the “Gray-Green Demoness.” She’s a bit spoiled what with her squad of loyal troops, but when the Prince rescues her from a stray monster, she proves quite amiable to the lad, and tells him of the official competition with other potential successors in which he must participate in order to become an official Prince of Darkness.

After two episodes Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE remains perfectly watchable, if unexceptional and a bit sluggish. I continue to be driven to watch by the simple premise, Iwasaki Taku score, and promise of the eventual meeting of Iris and the Prince. Mainly I’m neither turned-off nor busy enough to drop it!

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 01 (First Impressions) – The Desperate Pursuit of Balance

In the Kingdom of Darkness, an unnamed young lad (Kaji Yuki) flees from his village with younger children when monsters attack. Neither the villagers nor the children survive, leaving the lad alone. Not knowing what else to do, he digs a huge hole for the dead, but also for himself, because he comes to like how the sun pours in, coating everything in the hole equally.

He encounters an old but stout knight named Skears, who urges the kid to come out of the hole and direct his energies elsewhere. He manages to inspire the kid into having a little duel with him, and he shows a bit of skill. That’s apparently enough for Skears, who by the way is dying, to name the kid his successor as well as the next Prince and future King of Darkness, a title Skears himself failed to gain.

Meanwhile, high above the clouds in the Kingdom of Light, Queen Iris (Horie Yui) leads an attack on an encroaching darkness that is expanding in both size and density, making each battle tougher. Shironeko Project takes pains to accentuate the stark contrast between the kingdoms of darkness in light.

Obviously, there’s more light, but more saturation, richer hues, and an ethereal vividness. It’s as squeaky clean and gleaming up here as it is muddy and brooding down there. And just as important as the visuals are the sounds, and Iwasaki Taku’s lavish orchestral score is excellent, featuring distinct leitmotifs for the two kingdoms: more orchestral and soaring in the sky; more grungy and metal down below.

The Lad makes it to the capital where he’ll become stronger and challenge the current King, but he’ll need allies. He gains his first in Valas, a knight friendly with Skears (and possibly his former student). Valas presumes the kid is a thief, but after flashing some skill and more importantly Skears’ words, Valas changes his tune, pledges his loyalty to the kid’s claim, and takes him to Skears’ mansion.

This all happens rather fast, but as the Bard said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” If you’re using my viewing time wisely and efficiently I’m rarely going to be mad, as long as you don’t run out of story or worse, the speed hurts my ability to get engaged with the material. Neither is the case here…at least not yet.

Back in the Lightdom, we get to know Queen Iris’ top officers, like the knight Faios and mage Sima. They know their queen is more concerned with maintaining balance than achieving a total victory. Interestingly, Sima was once a candidate for Queen but lost to her best friend. Refreshingly, she seems to hold no hard feelings, and wants only to serve her queen as best she can.

Iris’ commitment to minimizing fighting and death is noble, but the expanding darkness is forcing her hand, and a report comes that the Western capital is under attack, she must immediately head back into battle. Even so, she sees this latest incursion as a sign it’s time for the King of Darkness to be replaced. She’s confident his successor will work with her to maintain the balance.

I first approached SPZC with skepticism—with so many fantasy anime out there (isekai or no) any newcomer would have to make quite the impression. I wasn’t encouraged by the breakneck speed and simplicity of the early scene of the kid and Skears, but once I saw both sides of this dark-light coin, and heard more of that sweet, sweet Iwasaki sound, this gradually grew into something I’d tentatively recommend.

I’m also a sucker for star-crossed love stories in the midst of warring nations, and a big fan of both Horie and Kaji, so the inevitable meeting of Prince and Iris is a built-in reason to keep watching. SPZC is telling a very old story with very basic elements, but telling it reasonably well. We’ll see if it can elevate that material.

In / Spectre – 01 (First Impressions) – An Eye and a Leg

Two years ago, Iwanaga Kotoko saved Sakuragawa Kurou‘s life by catching him as he fell backwards. All she asked in return was that he remember his savior for the rest of his life. Kotoko later learned Kurou had a girlfriend, but they recently broke up. Having harbored a one-sided affection the last two years, Kotoko now approaches Kurou with her intentions to date him with eventual plans for marriage.

If Kotoko sounds like an unusual girl, she is: when she was eleven she was kidnapped by various youkai who asked if she would consent to serving as their “God of Wisdom”, one who could both mediate issues between youkai and between youkai and humans. In exchange for agreeing to help them, Kotoko lost her right eye and left leg, but considers becoming a god who can commune with youkai to be a fair trade.

When a particularly nasty ayakashi troubles a local library, youkai go to Kotoko to ask for aid. But as she’s outgunned in this particular case, she asks Kurou to accompany her. While youkai everywhere fear him like some kind of bogeyman, including a kappa whose reaction to seeing him led to his breakup with his girlfriend, Kotoko sees the value of having someone like him in her corner.

Thus, their “first date” involves confronting the giant beast in the library, and while Kotoko’s words fail, Kurou’s actions don’t. Only even Kotoko is surprised by how Kurou deals with the beast: he lets it rip his arm off, only for it to immediately regenerate, and the beast shortly dies, poisoned by Kurou’s flesh. Kurou confesses that something happened to him when he was eleven too: he ate youkai flesh.

While lacking in action until the final  minutes, the introduction of the forthright, no-nonsense, charming Kotoko and the inscrutable, unflappable Kurou is very well-handled and their dialogue never drags. They sport instant chemistry, owing in no small part to the voice talents of Miyano Mamoru and Kitou Akari, and I’m eager to see not just how they work together but how they become closer going forward.

Dororo – 15 – Moths to a Flame

The longer Dororo and Hyakkimaru stay at Lord Sabame’s village, the fishier things get. Dororo finds an almost ideal village full of simple but happy folk who have more than enough to eat. But when he questions an old lady about the nuns and children, she wanders off without answering. The villagers are hiding something, and the ghoul they fought last night was a big part of that something—as well as the reason Sabame insists they stay as long as they like.

Hyakkimaru follows Sabame, but isn’t that good at staying hidden. Sabame shows him the best vantage point of the village, which he would do anything to protect. That includes ghouls, as it happens, and if Hyakki is there to kill them, Sabame intends to stop him. As for Dororo, the villagers trap him under a rice storehouse where he’s to be caterpillar food, but the big baby rescues him as thanks for his earlier kindness, and out of the baby’s head sprout the ghosts of the children who were killed in the fire with the nun.

The fire was set intentionally by Sabame and the villagers as a sacrifice to the demon Maimai-onba, whom he took as his wife. In exchange, they have peace, prosperity, and don’t want for anything. But that butts up against Hyakkimaru’s zero tolerance policy on demons and ghouls, and he attacks Maimai-onba. Almost immediately it’s as if the deal struck with Sabame is called off, as the village is engulfed by flames. When Dororo meets up with Hyakkimaru, the latter’s left leg is shattered.

That night Hyakkimaru, with a makeshift peg leg with a bladder of oil, takes a boat out to a lake where Maimai-onba dwells, enticing it to pluck him up with a flame, then shooting the oil bladder at its body, torching it into ash. In exchange, another statue in the Hall of Hell cracks, and Hyakkimaru gets his real spine back, with his body expelling the artificial one.

But unlike previous demon-slayings, Dororo doesn’t feel right about this. It’s true the villagers got their peace and prosperity through ill-gotten means, but it’s not like the children had any say, and they’re the ones who will suffer most in the conflict that immediately flares up once they realize they no longer have enough food.

Hyakkimaru is utterly dismissive of Dororo’s concerns, and has no sympathy for anyone—not Sabame, not his father Daigo—who makes deals with demons. By the time he realizes Dororo isn’t still right behind him, the kid is suddenly in the clutches of Itashi, who already has one half of the map and wants the rest that’s etched on Dororo’s back. Talk about the wrong time to split up.

Suddenly throwing Itashi into the mix at the end of a monster-of-the-week (spread across two weeks with mixed results), basically immediately after Dororo lagged behind Hyakki out of anger, definitely upped the stakes for next week. On the other hand, Itashi’s appearance felt almost too abrupt and coincidental here. We’ll see how next week pans out.

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