Giant Beasts of Ars – 02 – Covenant of Convenience

With no time to waste, the Paladin Jirou performs the Covenant Ritual that allows him to become a vessel for the Cleric Kuumi’s godlike power. He wields that power in the form of an expandable spear, which he plunges into the eye of the beast to kill it, saving the town from devastation. After the battle, Kuumi returns to her normal state, and Jirou passes out.

The next morning the Imperial commander inspects the pier where Kuumi accidentally dusted some soldiers with her miasma. He deems the prototype successful and orders his underlings to leave no stone unturned in their search for her (or as he calls her, “it”). Clearly, this isn’t someone in whose clutches you want Kumi to be.

Jirou comes to inside Myaa’s airship, waking up from a dream from the past when his former cleric, whom he loved, died in battle. When he overhears Myaa talking about marriage to Kuumi, he makes it clear he only formed a covenant with her because there was no other choice in the matter. But as it was Kuumi’s first time, she’s rightfully confused.

When Kuumi won’t elaborate on why the Empire is after her, Jirou peaces out, not wanting to get involved. But he leaves his spear behind, so Myaa knows they’ll meet again. Once again, she and Kuumi show horrible judgment by walking around town in broad daylight and then having a meal at the tavern, where they’re quickly spotted by Imperial guards. When miasma starts emanating from Kuumi and she kills a guard, Myaa surrenders and the two are taken away.

Because Jirou’s spear is drawn to him like Mjolnir is to Thor, he soon locates them aboard the commander’s hovercraft. Because he’s a former elite Paladin, he has no trouble getting aboard the ship and neutralizing any hostiles. And because it would simply be rude to take his spear and leave the girls behind, he breaks them out of their cell.

He tells Myaa to ready his airship while he and Kuumi merge once more so he can disable the pursuing hovercraft. I wish we had gotten to see more of his ship, but after they get away the ending of the episode is very rushed and awkwardly edited, suddenly sapping the escape of energy and urgency. The animation in general did not impress this week, but I’m still sufficiently intrigued by this world and premise to keep watching for at least one more week.

The Eminence in Shadow – 15 – Riding the Wave

One thing that keeps me coming back to Eminence is that it’s just plain fun as hell watching Cid having fun. And with the Sanctuary arc all wrapped up and the Bushin Festival gearing up, he’s having a ton of fun this week in particular.

It’s also fun watching his idea of fun, which isn’t just to sign up for the festival and obliterate everyone. Nah, there’s an order to this, and he wants to build up some mystique. Gamma gives him a new face and identity for this purpose: the on-the-nose “Mundane Mann”.

Between his weak look, wan complexion, poor posture, he becomes an immediate target for stronger fighters to warn him off the festival, starting with the very polite and to-the-point Annerose, one of the favorites to win it all. She tells Cid to back out now to avoid permanent harm.

Cid asks her to kindly not judge a book by its cover, but when a much larger Quinton picks a fight, Cid exercises discipline and doesn’t show his hand. He lets the guy wail on him, which is free marketing for how unlikely a champion this Mundane Mann guy is.

Annerose asks Quinton to stop lest she step in, and apologizes to “Mundane” for letting things get so out of hand. She says it’s better for him to get his ass beat now than enter the Bushin Festival and suffer even greater pain from certain defeat.

But when Cid simply hops back up and strolls away, Annerose is confused; even after being beaten on by that guy for that long, he doesn’t seem hurt at all! It’s a subtle but very effective strategy by Cid to get Annerose thinking maybe there is something to this weakling.

Since Bushin is held in Rose’s hometown, she and Cid end up bumping into each other at a fountain, after Cid has a thorough chat with Skel regarding betting over “Tuna King” burgers. Rose reports that she, Beta (in her alias as Natsume Kafka) and Alexia have become fast friends.

She also says she has a prior engagement: her father is going to introduce her to her fiancé Perv Asshat (what a name). She’s not looking forward to it. But she’s determined to live her live as a dark knight, something she’s always wanted to be since she watched a younger cid fighting those brigands years ago. That’s right: Rose met and fell for Cid far earlier than she realizes—and she wouldn’t be the knight she is without him!

The next day, the preliminary matches begin, and Cid tags along with Skel as the latter continues to bore him with his betting strategies. Skel does end up attracting another fighter, Goldy Gilded, the Ever-Victorious Golden Dragon (Skel murders the name many times.)

Goldy tells Skel that he assesses fighters and assigns a “power level” to each of them. Cid slips away to take a dump, and moments later Mundane Mann arrives. Goldy doesn’t think much of Mundane, giving him a scant 33 versus over 1,300 for his opponent.

And yet, in the blink of an eye, Mundane’s opponent is out cold on the ground and Mundane is the winner, which means he’ll be Goldy’s next opponent. Goldy is confident, and Annerose is intrigued by what she (and likely no one else) saw—Mundane delivering a devastating double punch to the loser’s chin. All of this is just what Cid wants to create more anti-hype with a tinge of mystique.

The next morning, however, Cid’s fun looks destined to be curbed, as Skel bursts in with a newspaper article alleging that Rose stabbed her fiancé and ran off. I don’t think that’s what Cid meant when he suggested that she “relax”! I know Cid is pretty indifferent towards most people, but maybe it’s different with Rose? Will he try to track Rose down in time to make his match with Goldy?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

In / Spectre – 13 – Things That Go Thump in the Night

When In/Spectre last aired, I said I’d hope we’d get more of the adorable duo of Kotoko and Kurou as they investigate and resolve more supernatural cases. Thirty-three months later here we are. There’s a lot of expository dialogue between a ghost and two youkai that bring us back up to speed on what this show is about, and Kotoko and Kuro’s abilities.

This is the same old In/Spectre, which means it is absolutely packed with scenes of people doing nothing but sitting or standing and talking. If that was fine with you in the first season, it will be fine here, as it is with me. There are three things that makes this not only tolerable but enjoyable for me, and that’s Kotoko’s magnetic charm, Kitou Akari’s firm yet affable voice, and Manabe Akihiro’s beautiful accompanying score.

The spook-of-the-week initially seems to be artificial, Kotoko tells the ghost and youkai discussing it that the scary thumping in the night wasn’t a supernatural phenomenon, but the sounds of an escaped monitor lizard illegally owned by the building manager. The truth is that an ancien cursed sumo doll was making the sounds.

Kotoko not only works out a deal with the manager that gets Kurou a cheap new place for them to live, but she and Kurou take the doll out to the isolated woods. There, she instructs Kurou to fight with the four-armed, horned sumo demon that manifests. This doesn’t go well at first, with Kurou suffering a number of gruesome deaths.

Of course thanks to eating of both mermaid and kudan flesh, Kurou is immortal and can see and choose the future. In between death and revival, the future he picks involves basically pinning the sumo down, exposing his back and enabling Kotoko to stab him through the throat with her cane.

It’s a victory, but not an ideal one for Kurou, who had hoped Kotoko could have been kept out of harm’s way. But Kotoko remains steadfastly unafraid of dangerous situations, and knew she could score an easy blow against a being that would not attack her due to her goddess status.

All of the various supernatural beings that dwell in the woods come out not just to gaze upon their kawaii Goddess of Wisdom, but thank her for dealing with the sumo doll. They all still consider Kurou a terrifying monster, but as long as he’s by Kotoko’s side and she’s vouching for him, they’ll accept him.

As for me, I’ve long since accepted that this is one of the talkier anime out there, and that more often then not that’s an asset and not a liability. And with all the reintroduction out of the way, next week’s dialogue will be less about what we already know and more about what we don’t.

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 01 (First Impressions) – Glory…to Mankind

Nier:Automata Ver 1.1a is an anime adaptation of a video game sequel to a spin-off of another video game series dating back to 2003, but for me it might as well be anime-original. With this adaptation, A-1 Pictures gives us a polished sci-fi action flick set in a bleak and gritty world decimated by alien invasion. The aliens use “machine lifeforms” (retro-looking robots) to fight sleeker (read: sexier) androids developed by humanity.

Our protagonist is YoRHa B-Gata H-Kei 2-gou B-gata, AKA 2B, which is super easy name to remember. Sporting a silver bob, eye mask, dark maid/knight outfit, katana, and slick-as-shit mecha, 2B is voiced by Ishikawa Yui, channeling Mikasa with an appropriately stiff, mechanical vocal performance. I also thought of early Vivy.

2B has the baroque look of a late-stage Final Fantasy character, which contrasts nicely with the more bare-bolts industrial setting. At times I wondered if Yuuri and Chito from Girls’ Last Tour might come running through the mist. She’s supported by a float “Pod” companion that keeps her informed about her surroundings and conditions.

2B has a mission, and despite being the only one of her squad to make it to the factory where her Goliath-type target is located, she is determined to carry out the mission or die (or rather be destroyed) trying. She’s aided by a far more “human”-acting intelligence android, 9S, voiced by Hanae Natsuki as if he were an affable high school character.

9S hasn’t spoken to anyone in a while, and is happy to be teamed up with someone, being a typically solo unit. 2B is less enthused, especially with 9S’ loquaciousness (she tells him not to call her “miss” and cuts his exposition short). But he also saves the “brute-force-first” 2B’s ass. As for the Goliath, it appears as a massive oil platform-on-tracks, with a face resembling the boss from StarFox.

This Goliath is a tough customer, but 9S has it handled: diving into its computer brain in a trippy hacking sequence that’s a nice change of pace from the external twisted metal and rust, and smoke. His hacking ends up being incomplete and he’s ejected from his mecha and seriously maimed, and Goliath is able to reboot and regain part of its autonomy.

9S urges a suddenly very human-like 2B not to worry about him and complete the mission. She runs up the appendages of the Goliath and punctures its core with her katana. The good guys have seemingly prevailed and defeated the big level boss. But then it wakes back up, and four other Goliaths awaken and rise, surrounding them.

It looks like it’s going to be Game Over, Man for both 2B and 9S, so after she thanks him for saving her, the two take out their Black Boxes. When these boxes touch, they self-destruct in a massive explosion that consumes all of the Goliaths. Even with 9S by her side, this was always going to be a suicide mission as soon as 2B arrived without any of her fellow squad units.

But while that’s the end of her body, her mind, memories, and data are all transferred back up to the massive orbital human stronghold called the Bunker, and she wakes up in a new android body. It’s the first time we see her eyes, and because of that the sight of them really packs a punch.

When she reunites with a revived 9S, he confirms that the mission was complete, but that he must have only had time to transfer her data back to the Bunker. The 9S before him has no memories of their joint mission down on the surface. When this new 9S dutifully utters their motto—Glory to Mankind—2B clenches a fist and repeats the words …but grudgingly.

We don’t see a single human being or alien in this episode, only their tools. If we never see either, I probably won’t mind. Their absence contributes to quite a compelling atmosphere of loneliness, isolation, and even a tinge of resentment and brooding in the androids. They were built and programmed to say that motto and fight and sacrifice their bodies and minds, and while emotions are forbidden, they are also definitely there.

2B wonders if her unending cycle of life and death is a curse or punishment from the gods who created her. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but it is admirably executed, and looks and sounds awesome (Aimer sings the OP and the score is boss), which is why I’ll be continuing to watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 14 – The Start of a Legend

As soon as Cid opened his right eye at the end of last week’s episode, I knew that playtime would soon be over. Nelson can send his copy of the Great Hero Olivier—heck, he can send dozens of copies—at Cid, but it doesn’t matter. He’s the motherfucking Eminence of Shadow. When Olivier draws too close, he lets her impale him, missing his vitals, then bites her neck , severing a major artery.

The other copies soon fall by Cid’s sword, until he’s stabbed in the heart (and has to move said heart to avoid serious damage) and decides to wrap this up with his Atomic overkill move, which doesn’t just destroy the Olivier copies, Nelson, the sword in the stone, the chains, and the magical core. It obliterates the entire Sanctuary, and floods the city by displacing an entire reservoir’s worth of water. Alexia, Rose and Beta can only watch in awe (and in Beta’s case, knowing pride)

The end of the Sanctuary also spells the end of Aurora, or at least the walking walking memory version of her that befriended Cid. Their goodbye scene is genuinely moving, and even if, say, Aurora’s other name is Diabolos, she hopes that one day Cid will find her—the real her—if only so they can meet and “converse” again.

In the aftermath of their singular experience, Alexia takes the initiative and asks Rose and Beta to join forces with her, for the three of them working together will accomplish more than any of them independently. Of course, she doesn’t know Beta is a high-ranking member of Shadow Garden…but that’s okay! It just means Beta has just made inroads with not one but two prominent royal families.

Time progresses, and Gamma is able to buy up a bunch of property in the Velgalta Empire where she knows petroleum deposits dwell. The seller doesn’t even know what that is, but he will—the whole world will. You could say that while Nelson and his Sanctuary ilk suppressed the world’s technology, Shadow Garden is rapidly bringing it back. We see prototype automobiles and airships in the works.

Alpha looks in on her fellow Shadows with a sense of pride and accomplishment, remembering when it was just a handful of them in a modest Japanese-style house with Cid. And now they’re all poised to turn the wheels of the world from the shadows.

They’ll have another chance to demonstrate their power if they choose at the next tournament in Rose’s neck of the woods. Alexia’s sister will be gunning for them, while Rose appears to have contracted the Curse. There’s a lot to cover in the remaining six episodes.

The Eminence in Shadow – 13 – The Beast Girl, the Witch and the Wardrobe

In the white void, Alpha sits back while Delta does her think as the “token musclehead”, rejecting the fact that being closer to the center of the sanctuary makes them weaker and Nelson stronger, donning a skimpy slime bikini, and summoning a gargantuan meat cleaver with which she splats all of Nelson’s clones in one go. It’s good to finally see Delta in extended action.

Meanwhile, Epsilon’s group encounters a memory that she’s able to purify, and they discover a library that holds all the knowledge on the possessed children held in the Sanctuary, as well as the means to open an exit. Epsilon briefly loses her falsies, but her underlings know better than to say they saw it.

Finally, there’s Cid and Aurora, who are like two peas in a pod and gradually build a genuine bond as they continue to explore her dark memories. Cid continues to treat her like no one else, neither as an adversary, underling, or hassle, but as a pal.

The two buds end up dead ended at the door that leads to the magic core. Cid knows his sword can’t break the chains, and also knows it will require a descendant (presumably of Olivier) to pull the key-sword out of the floor, Excalibur-style.

But while they kill time playing tic-tac-toe and pondering their next steps, Delta’s unhinged violence manages to shatter Nelson’s white void, leaving him no choice but to summon Olivier herself. That’s when Epsilon’s group meets up with Alpha’s to report their findings, and Alpha orders a withdrawal.

It speaks to just how damn powerful Alpha is that not only was her slime outfit not visibly effected by the power drain, but one stern look at Delta instantly cows the beast girl into leaving her prey and coming along. Alexia and Rose accompany Alpha, Beta, Epsilon, and the others through the exit.

Nelson receives an alert about Cid and Aurora, and meets them where they are with Olivier by his side. He orders her to kill Cid and while she’s extremely strong and is able to draw blood, she fails to do so. Cid, meanwhile, wears an involuntary smirk on his face. Nothing like a worthy opponent to lift the spirits.

Only Cid doesn’t necessarily consider Olivier that worthy; after all, she lacks a heart, and is simply a tool Nelson is using to try to kill him. Nelson tries to cut a deal with Aurora that will save Cid, but he rejects it, asking them to kindly not decide the outcome of his battle with Olivier before it’s over.

Nelson says fine, and sends Olivier to deliver a killing blow through Cid’s chest. But again, he merely smiles, and finally opens the right eye he’s kept closed this entire time, and not just because that’s what many anime characters do: he was suppressing an even greater power within him, which he will likely use to neutralize Olivier and continue assisting Aurora.

The question is, is Nelson right when he says the witch is just deceiving Cid and she’ll lead him to his doom once her memories are all back? It’s worth thinking about considering the Aurora with whom he’s gotten along with so famously is missing large chunks of her former personality…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Chainsaw Man – 12 (Fin) – Not a Bad Life

Last week introduced a bunch of new fiends who will surely play a role in any future seasons, but this week stripped everything back to Aki and Himeno and Denji and his wretched childhood—with a bit if Power and Kobeni being themselves for garnish.

First up, the Ghost Devil actually disobeys Sawatari and does not choke Aki to death. Instead it releases him, and in the moments he’s out, he recalls the day Himeno offered him a cigarette for the first time. Since he was under age, she promised to save it for him.

The Ghost Devil reaches out one of its countless arms to produce that very cigarette, with “Easy Revenge!” written on it. How exactly the Ghost was tamed after Himeno died isn’t important; what is is that Aki is able to destroy the Ghost, and he and Kobeni take Sawatari into custody.

Denji and Power really are the brother and sister to Aki’s big brother in their little found family, and even on the elevator ride to meet with Katana Man they can’t help but bicker over something petty. Power then gets off on the wrong floor because it’s full of zombies, and Power fucking loves killing zombies.

Denji carries on to the floor where Katana Man is. Unlike Sawatari, he’s given an opportunity to voice his grievances to Denji. Whatever the circumstances were, he blames Denji for the death of his gramps and others he cared about, and wants satisfaction.

As has been established, Denji himself is a little unnerved by how easily he was able to get over Himeno’s death, as well as all the other terrible things that have happened of late. But in this case? He couldn’t care less. This guy’s gramps tortured and enslaved him as a child just because he could. He can burn in hell. Katana Man don’t like that, Denji’s game for a rematch.

The two blast out of the building, onto rooftops, and finally onto a moving train, making for a particularly fun and cinematic setting for the final big battle of the season. Unlike the dark warehouse there’s plenty of light and dynamic backgrounds to soak in along with all the sparks and blood.

Katana Man also at least tries to understand what Denji is after, and isn’t impressed when Denji tells him it’s simply to preserve his new comfortable (by his standards) life and be praised by his boss. There isn’t enough nuance in their talk for Denji’s opponent to sympathize with his plight and why that life is such a precious thing to him; no doubt Katana Man lived a damned comfortable life as the grandson of a yakuza.

Their fight spills into one of the train cars and the innocent bystanders scatter (since this isn’t guest directed by Paul Verhoeven, they all escape unharmed). Denji has improved, but he’s still supposed to be fighting with Power beside him, and Katana Man still has his samurai move where he wooshes past Denji and lops off both his arms.

When he tells Denji to yield if he wants a quick death, Denji says he still has a chainsaw on his head, and charged him. Katana Man aims for Denji’s head as he rushes him one last time, but that’s exactly what Denji wanted. Borrowing a lesson he learned from Kishibe, he tells a suddenly cleanly sliced in half Katana Man never to trust someone he’s hunting.

Katana Man eventually reverts back to human form, and Denji chains him to the stopped train to await backup. Aki is the first to arrive, and Denji, who is not quite satisfied with having simply captured their target, proposes a contest…of nutshots. Whoever can make the guy scream more wins.

Aki initially seems reluctant to play along—it’s against their mandate and he’s not sure Himeno would want it—then he takes out the cigarette that saved his life, puts it back away, and declares that he’s game after all.

In the beautiful, sublime, cathartic scene that follows, we cut from the aftermath of the successful operation to a positively giddy Denji and Aki kicking the shit out of Katana Man’s nuts. Aki asks if Himeno can hear the nutshot requiem they’re playing for her up in heaven.

After that, Makima delivers her report to the bigwigs: Sawatari was captured, but apparently automatically killed as part of her contract with the Gun Devil before any intel could be extracted. RIP Sawatari; we really barely knew thee, and I still maintain that’s a shame. On the plus side, the 4th Division now has enough Gun Devil flesh that it’s moving towards the main body. So now they generally know where to look.

As the low-key credits are displayed, we watch Denji, Power and Aki simply hanging out together like the three best roomies, chasing cats, swinging on the swings, and going to the grocery store to buy stuff for dinner. There’s no audio to these scenes, only music, which makes them feel more intimate and resonant. It’s also quite heartwarming to see that after all they’ve been through, they can still live life and have fun like three ordinary young people.

After the trio make dinner, eat it, and enjoy some down time around the table, Denji and Power fall asleep, and we get one last zen balcony moment with Aki as he lights up his “Easy Revenge!” cigarette and smokes it, providing a measure of closure and relief from his deep loss.

Denji, meanwhile, dreams a dream he says he always dreams and then forgets: walking through a dingy alley to a door, hearing Pochita on the other side of that door, then going for the doorknob, only for Pochita to say, with finality, he can’t open that door. The final scene is the most cryptic of all, with a heretofore unseen/unheard young woman with dark hair asking Denji what’s better: a city mouse or a country mouse.

Who this mystery woman is, how she’ll fit in to the ongoing search for the Gun Devil, and a host of other matters will provide fertile ground for a second season of Chainsaw Man. While none has been officially announced, I can’t see one not happening. But this was a pitch-perfect stopping point.

Chainsaw Man – 11 – Asking Nicely

“The Future Rules”, says the Future Devil, who resembles the Forest Spirit from Princess Mononoke, but is a lot more happy-go-lucky. The terms of his new contract with Aki are simple: he’ll reside in Aki’s right eye and lend him his power. In exchange, he’ll have a front row seat to Aki’s death, which he promises will also “rule.”

Kishibe’s tough love training of Denji and Power continues to a point where he’s satisfied they won’t embarrass themselves in the next battle, which will be against The snake woman (Sawatari) and the Katana Man (who is called “Samurai Sword” in the episode.

In his meeting with Makima, Kishibe posits that she knew the assault that claimed so many public safety officers (including his student Himeno) was coming and did nothing to stop it. He doesn’t really mind, as long as Makima shares his overarching directive to save as many people as possible in the long run.

I’m not entirely sure why Makima allowed such a devastating assault to take place, but intentionally allowed or not it led to her consolidating her power in Public Safety, amplifying the importance of her surviving underlings like Denji and Power, and revealing the identities of their enemies—among them Sawatari, who unfortunately has no character beyond “slightly bored baddie”. I kinda wish we knew more about her.

After contracting with the Future Devil, Aki gets a ride back to HQ from Kurose and Tendou. Kurose tries to press Aki’s buttons by telling him his shounen manga-style goal to take the Gun Devil down pisses him off, but Aki isn’t phased. If he can defeat the Gun Devil, he’ll be happy. If he dies, Kurose can laugh all he likes. But while Aki pisses him off, Kurose can’t help but root for the guy.

As for Makima, the less we know about her, the more mysterious and awesome she is. I could watch an entire episode of her politely chatting with a yakuza head. She isn’t the slightest bit intimidated by the soldiers surrounding her as she asks their leader to give up the names of the members of other yakuza families who contracted with the Gun Devil.

The yakuza head declines to snitch on his rival families as it would start a war that would destabilize the Japanese mob and invite foreign mobs to invade. That’s when Makima presents a little brown paper bag that she calmly describes contains the eyes of a loved one of everyone in that room. When one of them raises a hand to her, he’s stopped in his tracks, his nose bleeds, and he keels over dead.

After their brutal training, Denji and Power are excited to finally put what they’ve learned into action. Kobeni is not so enthused, but now that we can see what she’s capable of it’s a plain matter of motivation, not ability. Kishibe sends the three and Aki into the building where Sawatari and Katana Man are holed up.

As Kishibe explained to Denji and Power, this is an all-or-nothing, make-or-break operation. Either Division 4 will succeed in defeating Sawatari and Katana Man, or they’ll fail and be destroyed. They’re backed up by four new fiends: Shark, Violence, Spider, and Angel, all of whom feature cool designs and fighting (or in the case of Angel, non-fighting) styles.

While those four mop up the zombie army in the basement, Aki heads upstairs and meets non-zombie resistance in the form of yakuza soldiers. When he ends up in a four-on-one situation, his our opponents all get bloody noses and fall over dead. We cut to Makina striding confidently out of the yakuza head’s house, having gotten what she wanted. That gives Aki a clear path to Sawatari.

If Sawatari has any particular reason for siding with the Gun Devil and wanting to destroy Division 4, she doesn’t share them with Aki. She’s all business, summoning Himeno’s Ghost Devil to fight him, keeping her Snake Devil in reserve. It’s a pragmatic move that’s also definitely meant to rile Aki up, but he doesn’t take the bait.

Instead, he puts his new buddy the Future Devil to use by anticipating the movements of the Ghost’s arms so he can dodge and slice at will. Unfortunately, the Ghost’s arms regenerated and multiply, and Aki loses his time advantage when he starts to slow due to fatigue.

The Ghost eventually covers Aki in arms and grabs him, and Sawatari orders it to choke him to death. But something tells me this isn’t the awesome death the Future Devil foresaw. Will he find his second wind on his own, or will Denji, Power, and/or Kobeni bail him out?

Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 11 – Meet the Parents

I gave up on Bleach twelve or thirteen seasons or so into its run because it kept stalling on anime-only filler arcs, most of which were hot garbage and almost never masked the fact that they were meant to stall for time while the source material developed. Now that Bleach is back, it feels fresh, and something new happens in every episode.

Take this episode, one that finally begins to explore Ichigo’s parents’ past in detail. From the moment Isshin showed up at Ichigo’s boss Ikumi’s place in his shinigami garb and told his son the time has finally come to talk about this stuff, I was riveted. my only beef with Ichigo’s return is that we don’t get to see any Karin or Yuzu.

In the not-too-distant past, Shiba Isshin was the captain of the 10th Squad, with a short-haired Matsumoto as his lieutenant and Hitsugaya as his third seat (and heir apparent to the captaincy). Toshio delivers a report on soul eater deaths during patrols in Naruki City in the human world. Those deaths are part of hollowification experiments being run by Aizen, Ichimaru and Kaname, who are in the early stages of planning their takeover.

Kurosaki Masaki is a kind, capable, and somewhat lonely young woman. She’s lonely because she is the last surviving member of her Quincy clan, and has been taken in by the Ishidas. Uryuu’s father Ryuuken’s mom is not that crazy about this, no doubt being obsessed with maintaining a pure a bloodline as possible, while Ryuuken himself is a lot nicer to Masaki (probably because he sees himself one day marrying her).

Tying in Aizen & Co.’s slow-burn scheme with the origin story of how Masaki and Isshin met is a brilliant bit of retroactive continuity. Isshin comes to Naruki to investigate the source of the deaths, and meets Aizen & Co.’s eldritch abomination: a hollow whose hole has been filled, adn who fights like a soul reaper…a powerful one. Aizen even slashes Isshin in the back to give him a handicap.

As a Quincy, Masaki is extremely attuned to spiritual pressure, and knows something is wrong when she senses Isshin and the Hollow fighting. But she’s also an empathetic and caring person with a strong belief in noblesse oblige. When she starts to run towards the trouble, Ryuuken tries to stop her, saying the lower-level Quincy can put themselves in danger.

But Masaki tells Ryuuken something I could easily hear Ichigo saying: it’s one thing to stay safe so one has a future. But if she stands by while someone dies, she won’t be able to forgive her future self. She runs into town under the pelting rain and finds a soul reaper locked in mortal combat with a strange hollow, Isshin’s fire-based zanpakuto lighting up the night.

To his warm flames, Masaki adds her icy Quincy arrows in order to save Isshin’s life. When the hollow charges her, she disarms and allows it to bit her shoulder, which allows her to kill it from point-blank range. So not only is Masaki a Quincy, but comparable in skill and power to a Gotei 13 Captain, and even possesses a sense of style to her fighting.

When the hollow prepares to self destruct, Isshin sees Masaki is in trouble and uses his body and spiritual pressure to shield her. On the ground, battered and bloody, Isshin thanks Masaki for saving her. She in turn thanks him for saving her, and he laughs, saying that must make them even.

When Isshin asks her who she is, Masaki considers how a soul reaper would react to learning that she’s a Quincy. Perhaps since he just saved her, Masaki isn’t in the mood to lie or deflect, and comes right out and tells him she’s a quincy. Isshin’s reaction of casual amusement is definitely not what she expected, and it puts a big Kurosaki smile on her face.

So there you have it: a shinigami captain and the last surviving member of a Quincy clan have a meet cute, all thanks to the series’ big bad’s machinations. Forget flashbacks; I could honestly watch an entire separate season of Bleach centered on these two (and the ensuing love triangle with Ryuuken). You can plainly see how Ichigo became such an honorable and upstanding young scamp from watching these two.

The Eminence in Shadow – 11 – Good Conversation

Cid isn’t picky about most things, but he does love hisself a nice hot spring. Since there’s a hot spring in Lindwurm that’s where he spends some time. He happens to meet Alexia there (something I’m sure Rose might be upset about) and she ends up striking up a conversation that eventually leads to him warning her not to judge a book (or rather, his “Excalibur”) by its cover.

At the arena where the Goddess’ Trial takes place, Alexia is seated between Rose and the newest, hottest celebrity author, who is really Beta. Alexia is intimidated by Beta’s ample bust, while Beta is wearing a revealing, crowd-pleasing dress on purpose to piss of Alexia, whom she believes is out of her league when it comes to messing around with Lord Shadow.

The ensuing trials are pretty perfunctory; we watch a couple of warriors with weird names call for one of the legendary warriors of yore to emerge from the Sanctuary to fight them, but throughout the day and into the evening only one manages to actually summon one. Then, thanks to Rose, Cid Kagenou gets his turn.

Rather than run away or fight as Cid and blow his cover, Cid chooses a third way: sending up a big purple flare that distracts everyone. When they look back down at the arena, Shadow is there, and he ends up summoning Aurora, Witch of Calamity, someone so destructive in her time even the two princesses have never heard of her—because so few people were left to tell stories.

Of course, the Seven Shadows’ resident bookworm Beta knows all about Aurora, as does the acting Archbishop Nelson (who rejected Alexia’s request to run an investigation). Nelson has a low opinion of Shadow and believes he’s bit off more than he can chew. At least initially, Aurora’s staggering display of power seems to bear that out.

Of course, ol’ Violet Eyes and her tangled web of blood spears has absolutely nothing on our boy Mister Atomic, but she is the toughest opponent he’s yet faced, and he appreciates her shared commitment to treating their battle like a spirited, joyful conversation. The rules of the trial mean the version of Aurora he gets is only “equal” to his skills and power, after all.

Cid is having fun in this battle, as is Aurora, but eventually brings things to an end quite decisively, shattering Aurora’s web and delivering a fatal strike that sends her back to the hereafter from whence she came. Shadow doesn’t stick around for applause, but shortly after he skedaddles a new, elaborate magic circle appears.

Alpha, Delta, and Epsilon watch as that circle extends beyond the confines of the arena and envelops a large part of the city. And while Cid only engaged in battle on a whim, his Seven Shadows naturally assume he intended for this to happen, and that the Sanctuary is responding to his challenge. If tougher opponents than Aurora are on their way, I imagine he’s looking forward to another conversation or two.

Chainsaw Man – 10 – Toughening Up

In the aftermath of the attack on the 4th Division, Denji and Power are all healed up, and despite insisting otherwise, are by Aki’s side out of solidarity. They are, after all, three of the last surviving members. When the two leave shortly after Aki comes to, he asks the Curse Devil how long he has (two years), prepares to light a cigarette, and then can’t when he remembers Himeno.

Himeno gets her final wish: Aki lives to cry for her. As for Denji, he’s a little weirded out by how calm and cool he’s been about losing Himeno, the first person who wanted to be his friend. He wonders if he’d be just as indifferent if Power or Aki died. He even figures the loss of Miss Makima would only result in about three days of feeling bad, then he’d get back to living his life of meals and baths.

With Makima determined to strengthen what’s left of her now combined division, Denji and Power’s lives are about to get a lot less carefree. Deemed still too weak against the kind of devils they’ll have to hunt, Makima puts Himeno’s old sensei Kishibe (voiced by Tsuda Kenjirou) in charge of training them.

He immediately likes them, as neither are interested in revenge and will side with whoever will feed them (in Denji’s case) or whoever is winning (Power). They’re both the precise breed of fearless crazy needed to be effective devil hunters.

He pulls the two into a hug, and then casually breaks both their necks with his bare hands, leaving no doubt as to his toughness. After healing them with blood, he proceeds to kill or nearly kill the two again and again, deciding the best way to make them tougher is to hunt them until they’re capable of beating him.

While Denji and Power are enduring this, Kyoto’s Tendou and Kurose pay Aki a visit, and tell him it might be best if he quit while he’s still alive, like Madoka did. Unlike Denji and Power, Aki is still very much driven by the need for revenge against the devils that killed his family and Himeno. But to become strong enough to stay in the 4th Division, he’ll need to contract with stronger devils.

After Tendou and Kurose take their leave, a girl whose face we don’t see pays him a visit. While walking home from the graveyard, Denji and Power decide that the best way to defeat their new drunken teacher is to use their brains. Left unacknowledged is the fact that even if they put both their brains together they only end up with two balls of lint.

The next morning, they set up an ambush for Kishibe, all the while displaying a wholly unearned sense of confidence you can’t help but admire—they even wear glasses to look smarter. Kishibe easily defeats their surprise attacks, once again leaving them both on the floor, down for the count.

That said, he admired their attempt, and says he’ll give them the rest of the day off. The moment Denji drops his guard, he gets a thrown dagger to the forehead. Kishibe warns him and Power never to trust the words of someone hunting them. And so, the bloody trials continue.

Aki is escorted to the bowels of Public Safety headquarters by Tendou and Kurose, which serves as a prison for all of the devils captured alive. When Kurose asks if the girl at the hospital was Aki’s girlfriend, he says no; it was Himeno’s little sister, who brought letters Himeno wrote to her for Aki to read. Among them, Himeno discusses her unsuccessful attempt to get out of Public Safety with Aki.

As he contemplates his past, Tendou and Kurose take him to the cell of the Future Devil, one who took the eyes and sense of taste and smell from one human it contracted with and half the lifespan of another. Considering Aki has only two years left anyway (due to the Curse Devil), and his determination to destroy the Gun Devil, I’m certain the Future Devil can ask for whatever it wants, and Aki will sacrifice it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 10 – Pass/Fail

In the depths of Muken, Unohana takes Zaraki to the brink of death over and over and over again. She recalls their first encounter centuries ago, when she found herself beside a mountain of bodies that she didn’t create. A small, malnourished boy crawled atop like some kind of ronin Gollum.

The Unohana Yachiru of that time was bored out of her damn mind, but in this boy she finally found a challenge, a worthy successor to the title of Zenpachi, and dare I say, a bit of fun? Two weary souls at the top of their game found each other, and validated their existence.

While Yachiru lost that first fight, she could tell Zaraki was holding back, which is why she’s continually all-but-killing and reviving him in Muken: to awaken the true power he had repressed for so long he forgot he even possessed it. Suffice it to say, this titular “Battle” will go down as one of the best in Bleach history.

A lot of that comes down to restraint. Sure, Yamamoto’s flame party was gorgeous and terrifying and badass in equal measures, but here in the bowels of Soul Society where there is nothing but darkness, blood, and the spark of clashing blades, there’s a stripped down elegance and gravitas to the proceedings.

Once Zaraki’s power is sufficiently awakened, Unohana ends “playtime” and unleashes her bankai Minazuki, covering her sword in blood and creating a blizzard of deadly strikes through which he must cut through in order to defeat her.

After repeatedly passing out and coming to in the earlier stages of the battle, the imagery in Zaraki’s head becomes more concrete, as he imagines himself and Unohana as undead skeletons fighting in a white void instead of two flesh-and-blood soul reapers in the dark.

Only in this deep, dark place could Unohana draw Zaraki’s true strength from the other deep, dark place he had hidden it hundreds of years ago. Just as she learned how to heal herself so she could keep a battle going for eternity, he weakened himself intentionally for the same purpose.

But as the first and former Kenpachi, once Unohana had found someone with the potential to surpass and succeed her, she decided that her remaining purpose in life was to nurture that successor. It’s why Unohana smiles when Zaraki delivers a killing strike she doesn’t bother to heal. Her purpose is complete, and she couldn’t ask for a more joyful end.

She knows that losing her as an opponent may mean a return to boring, lonely battles, but with the arrival of the Quincy, the new fully awakened Zaraki will have no shortage of new opponents, some even stronger than her. His awakening also means he can finally hear the voice of his zanpakuto, who introduces herself to him (though her name is unfortunately cut off by the commercial bump).

Rest in Peace and Power, Retsu.

There was always going to be a fall-off from such an epic battle between two warrior behemoths to the goofiness of the Royal Palace, but clash makes for a good palate cleanser as Ichigo and Renji land in Hoohden, the entrance hall to which is half concert venue, half game show set.

Their host is the Blade King and inventor of the Zanpakuto, Nimaiya Oh-Etsu, and I gotta tell ya, it’s a weird feeling knowing this puffer-vest-wearing goofball surrounded by lovely honeys could probably defeat Unohana and Zaraki in his sleep.

Ichigo and Renji can’t really get on board with the vibes until they realize they have to if they want to get their swords back. We also meet Mera, Nimaiya’s no-nonsense right-hand woman who leads the two to the real Hoohden: an unassuming, ramshackle shed atop a promontory.

Ichigo and Renji step inside and immediately endure a ten-story drop. Like Zaraki in Muken, they’re surrounded by darkness. Unlike Zaraki, there’s stuff lurking in the shadows. Those things are Asauchi—the same “base” zanpakutos issued to every Soul Reaper student in academy.

As they progress through academy, a piece of the students’ souls pour into the zanpakuto, thus personalizing them into your Zabimarus and Senbonzakuras (btw, all the pretty ladies at the entrance hall were actually all zanpakutos themselves).

The trial before Ichigo and Renji is simple: fight the Asauchi and survive. Three days pass, and they do just that, but at the end of those two days, Oh-Etsu tells Renji that he’s passed, but Ichigo, who is on his back, fails. Ichigo insists he can keep going, but it’s not a matter of physical endurance, but emotional endurance.

Oh-Etsu flat-out tells Ichigo that he’s not a Soul Reaper. He’s a human who has no business in Soul Society. So not only has he failed, and won’t be getting a new Zanpakuto to replace Zangetsu, but Oh-Etsu transports him back home to the Kurosaki Clinic in Karakura Town. Ichigo is “no good” as he is now, having never fought with an Asauchi.

While there’s a finality to Oh-Etsu banishing Ichigo, he also leaves open the slim possibility of Ichigo one day becoming worthy again. To do so, he’ll need to not only go back to his “roots”, but learn what they are. The Blade King backed up his goofiness with some serious authority, and now our boy has some serious work to do.

While the Unohana/Zaraki battle was good for 4.5-5 stars, Ichigo and Renji’s Hoohden trial was only good for 3-3.5; my rating splits the difference.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Chainsaw Man – 09 – Crunch Time

Whoever ordered the coordinated surprise attack on the Special Divisions, it seems to be going going off without a hitch. There’s no time to mourn any of the dead yet, and Himeno’s last order to the Ghost Devil before they both vanish is to pull Denji’s cord. The bad guys, as Denji calls them, may want his head (i.e. Pochita) but they’ll have to fight him for it.

Katana Man is wounded from his scrape with the Ghost and the Curse, and the reinforcements Sawatari (hoodie girl) calls are just ordinary humans. But Denji makes the mistake of thinking Katana Man cares about subordinates, and as a consequence both he and his hostage are halved.

He’s not the only one who makes a fatal error this week. The train crew thinks Makima is dead, and she certainly looks dead, but in an unsettling sequence of shots, suddenly she’s not dead, but standing in the aisle behind them with that serene Makima smile.

Hunters Tendou and Kurose are waiting for her on the platform in Kyoto when they hear that all four divisions have been massacred. When the train arrives and the doors open, all of the passengers run out screaming—all of them, except for Makima, covered in blood but cool as a cucumber.

She assures her subordinates that she wasn’t shot, then orders them to borrow a bunch of life-sentence convicts and reserve the nearest, highest-altitude temple. We witness the product of those requests first, as Sawatari and Katana Man’s underlings suddenly get a weird feeling, then pop like balloons one after another.

At the temple in Kyoto, Makima uses the convicts as sacrifices, asking them to say the names of those she wishes to kill. Once they do, she puts her hands together in various positions, and all the way in Kyoto the enemies die horribly in hideous, concussive bursts of blood and gore. One of the men flees in terror and tries to take a hostage, but he only ends up coating her in…in him.

When all the convicts are dead, Makima tells Tendou and Kurose they can remove their blindfolds, as she’s “done all she can” from there. The three then hop on the next train to Tokyo. But while her part in the counterattack is over, another unexpectedly alive member of the 4th Division shows up where Denji is.

It’s Kobeni, who was saved when Arai took the bullets meant for her. She then killed the shooter and came across Sawatari and Katana Man as they’re trying to get half a Denji in their getaway van.

She doesn’t let them, and even Sawatari’s massive summoned snake can’t stop her advance. She parkours across the snake, dodges bullets, slices off Katana Man’s hand and then shoots him several times with his own gun. With both of him and her in bad shape (losing fingernails like that can’t be fun) they beat a hasty retreat.

Kobeni then starts to cry-laugh with Denji in her arms, a sure sign that she’s losing it. Part of it is the absurdity of apologizing for trying to kill him, but it goes without saying that her actions today make up for it, as he’d 100% be in the enemy’s clutches were it not for her intervention.

I’m sure Makima will thank her when she sees her, which should be soon. Upon returning to Tokyo she’s met by Madoka, who announces that all four divisions will be absorbed into the 4th, that Makima is now in command of the new combined unit, and he is resigning. It’s probably the right move, as he’s lucky he survived this incident and unlikely to survive another.

Before parting ways, he asks Makima if she knew that all of this was going to happen, but as he’s no longer a devil hunter but a private citizen she cannot possibly comment. She heads back to HQ flanked by Tendou and Kurose, who make sure she understands they’re not joining her outfit, but are only in the city to help with training. Without looking back, she says that’s a shame, as the dining’s to kill for in Tokyo.

Chainsaw Man follows up last week’s nearly perfect episode with one that’s as righteous and unnerving as the last one was heartbreaking. Makima and Kobeni have been hiding in plain sight all this time, but now we know what they’re made of—and why Kobeni is probably in the right line of work, despite not being psychologically suited for it.

Himeno is gone, but thanks to her Aki’s not, and thanks to her and Kobeni neither is Denji. Through all of this loss and bloodshed, Makima never changed her composure for a moment. That cool head is what makes her a good leader in a tough job full of bad, bloody choices. The others will need that steadiness as they pick up the pieces and try to move forward.

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