Mars Red – 01 (First Impressions) – On a Silver Platter

Tokyo, Japan, 1923: Major Maeda Yoshinobu is escorted to a maximum-security underground prison at Tsukishima Island housing a single inmate: Misaki, an actress who was performing Salome at the Imperial Theatre when she was turned into a vampire. When Maeda meets her through thick glass, she’s still reciting the lines of the play, as if she were still on stage.

Later on, a suspiciously vampiric-looking young man at the theatre tells Maeda that when the lights go out and the curtains rise, the audience is transported to the underworld. I can’t help but watch Maeda and his chatterbox underling’s journey deeper and deeper into the Tsukishima  facility and think they too are on a journey to the underworld.

While Japan and its military are rapidly modernizing and westernizing, it’s ironic that the covert vampire hunting unit Lt. General Nakajima has created deals with ancient monsters. The general reminds Maeda not to allow sympathy or pity to dull his blade, and Maeda assures him if Misaki cannot be brought to their side, he’ll promptly dispose of her.

Maeda visits the theatre, where the stage is still a mess of blood and ruined scenery, and he meets the inscrutable actor Deffrot, who played Jokanaan, AKA John the Baptist, whose head is served to Salome on a silver platter as payment for her Dance of the Seven Veils. In a very neat piece of “camera”work, the shadow of Maeda’s head is cast on the play’s poster, held in Salome’s hands.

Outside the theatre Maeda is approached by a young lady he mistakes for Misaki, but she introduces herself as Shirase Aoi, a reporter for the Nitto News. Maeda ignores her requests for comment and access to the theatre, and then Moriyama arrives by car to report that Misaki has escaped. For a second there, I wondered if Aoi was Misaki after all.

As Moriyama speeds Maeda back to Tsukishima, Misaki effortlessly smashes through all of the steel doors and barriers in her way, takes a bullet with barely a flinch, bleeds black blood, bites a neck, casually nudges a bullet away and dodges the others with her vampiric speed. Through it all she moves with a dancer’s grace, embodying the role of Salome—whom I learned was transformed by French writers from her biblical role to the “incarnation of female lust”.

A different dance ensues, with both Maeda and Misaki gradually making their way to the same spot: across the Nihonbashi bridge to Marunouchi Plaza at Tokyo Station. It’s the capper to an episode that serves as a Where’s Where of Taisho-era Tokyo.

Misaki gets closer and closer to Maeda, but when he grips his sword and prepares to draw, she places her hand over his, embraces him a little while longer, then steps aside and lets herself be consumed by the morning light, without further bloodshed. The same stigmata design on her tongue appears on the spot where she incinerated.

Back at HQ, General Nakajima promotes Maeda to Colonel and puts him in command of Code Zero, with the mission of apprehending or disposing of vampires in Japan. If I had to describe Mars Red in one word, it would be classy. Given another word, I’d use deliberate. As Maeda navigates a Tokyo in flux and deals with Misaki, every scene is given room to breathe.  Maeda is a bit of a stiff, but still…I’m intrigued.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 10 – Not So Black-and-White

Armed with her new Migurd blade, Eris has no trouble taking out the low-level beasts who roam the wasteland, leaving no one for Rudy or Ruijerd to fight. She’s taken to the adventurer’s lifestyle like a fish to water. Their first true test occurs upon entering their first demon city, Rikarisu, which I have to say is a looker of a city, with dramatic terraced blocks clinging to massive cliffs and a central palace seemingly made entirely of a strangely pristine material.

Rudeus buys Eris a new cloak with cat ears which she vows to treasure forever, then they head to the city’s adventurer’s guild to commence his scheme. Ruijerd was granted access to the city because Rudy dyed his hair Migurd blue. When he arrives at the guild and says he’s got a genuine Superd in his party, the guild members simply laugh, because Ruijerd’s hair is blue, not green, and he’s wearing the necklace Roxy gave Rudy.

They don’t end up taking any jobs, but the guild visit is still a success … and not because Rudy got to leer at the three-breasted clerk (which blessedly the sum total of his perviness this week). He intended for the guild members to laugh at Ruijerd, as it give the impression he’s no one they have to fear. It’s the first step to rehabbing the Superd’s reputation.

After Eris marvels at the way the evening light turns blue when filtered through the crystal embedded in the stone cliffs, the party of three, calling themselves “Dead End” (which is one of the names for the feared Superd) heads to an inn. Another young adventurer takes interest in Eris, but she can’t understand him and ignores him. When he grabs her, the button of cloak Rudy gave her falls off, and she absolutely wails on the poor guy.

Rudy keeps the situation from escalating out of control (and incidentally getting kicked out of the inn or worse) by healing the party Eris attacked with his magic, impressing them and leading them to invite him into their party. Rudy politely declines, but he knows one thing for sure: the three of them can’t live off F and D-ranked jobs, the only ones newbies are allowed to take.

That night Rudy dreams he’s in his old body in that strange white void with the even stranger Man-God. The guy insists all of Rudy’s choices are his own, but strongly suggests he take the lost kitten job the next day. Rudy wakes up to find Eris is still up. She can’t sleep because she’s worried about whether they’ll ever get home.

Running around in the wastelands killing beasts is one thing, but I imagine once everything quieted down and Eris had a chance to think about their situation, I’m not surprised she’d get scared and worried. Rudy sits next to her and assures they’ll make it back, and Ghislaine and her grandpa will be waiting for them.

The next day Rudy takes the lost-kitten job as the Man-God recommended, which lead them to discovering another party of three running a pet-kidnapping racket. Rudy turns the ground beneath their feet into mud, then Eris and Ruijerd push them back against the wall so Rudy can bind them with earth magic.

When Rudy tries to question their insectoid leader, he gets shoved back hard, taking the wind out of him. Before he can get up, Ruijerd hacks the guy’s head off, and it rolls right beside Rudy. Ruijerd’s explanation for why he just killed someone: “he hurt a child.” This is when we and Rudy learn that Ruijerd is a  very black-and-white, good-and-evil type guy, especially where kids are concerned.

One side-effect of Ruijerd spilling blood so easily is that the other two adventurers’ lips are instantly loosned, and they spill the beans about kidnapping pets then claiming the rewards. When Rudy learns they’re a D-ranked party, he decides he’ll have them advance to C-rank, and use them to nab higher-paying B-ranked jobs.

Ruijerd is extremely opposed to teaming up with “villains”, and even grabs Rudy by the shoulder in protest, breaking his own don’t-hurt-kids policy. Eris punches and kicks him as hard as she can, reminding him he too did bad things in the past that don’t automatically make him evil, and that he should just shut up and leave it to Rudy, who only has his and her best interests at heart.

Ruijerd calms down, and reiterates that he won’t walk away from his promise to get the two of them home. They escort the D-rankers, a lizardman and bee-woman, to the guild, where they upgrade to C-rank. Rudy orders them to take a B-rank job, while he’ll take an F-rank job, with the understanding they’ll be swapping jobs. A nosy horse-man adventurer whom I’ll call Bojack for now almost catches wind of this plan, but assumes the lizard guy is just trying to look cool in front of the newbies.

The episode ends somewhat awkwardly right there, but that’s ultimately okay, as it accomplished a lot. We got to see Eris in action (and absolutely loving it) and saw our first demon city in all its glory. Rudy doesn’t grope anyone or make any gross comments, and is even thoroughly shaken when Ruijerd demonstrates his far-too-rigid code of morality. Now I look forward to their first monster-slaying quest. Here’s hoping Rudy can keep his green, now blue-haired friend in check.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 10 here!

Kemono Jihen – 03 – Good Fox Girl

This week Inugami sends Kabane to the woman he spoke to at the end of last week: Police Superintendent Inari Yoko, performed by Kana-Hana in her most imperious ojou-sama voice. Inari may as well be Empress of the Police, as she has every officer in her thrall.

Shiki and Akira escort Kabane to the Shinjuku police station, but the desk officer claims not to know about their appointment. Then a blonde girl their age with a fox-ear hoodie comes for Kabane and only Kabane, then takes him to a waiting Inari, who immediately asks to see his lifestone necklace.

Once Inari has the stone, she has the girl, Kon, slice Kabane’s head off, then has police officers seal the head in a case and take the body away for disposal. When Kabane returns to the lobby with the case, Akira and Shiki sense something is off about him.

Kon, voiced by Hanamori Yumiri (who often voices maids or other dutiful characters) lives only for Inari to tell her she’s a “good girl”, disguises herself as Kabane to shoo the other boys away. But when Shiki insults her beloved Inari-sama, she drops the disguise and prepares for a fight.

Because Kon, like her mistress, is a kitsune, she can shoot fireballs from her tail, and does so…a lot. Shiki uses his silk to pull a bunch of furniture together to form a shield, then snatches the case from Kon, who’s too concerned with burning everyone and everything to keep a firm grip on it.

Shiki opens the case to reveal the real Kabane’s head, the shock of which causes Akira to faint. Kabane instructs Shiki to throw him at Kon, and he’ll deal with her. Shiki is dubious, but sure enough Kabane is able to disable the enraged fox girl with a bite to the shoulder.

With Kon out cold, the lobby returns to normal; all the fire was just an illusion. Free from the case, Kabane grows his body back from his neck down in a very cool (but far more casual) Titan-style transformation. Shiki can’t deny Kabane got the job done and saved him and Akira, and after giving him his jacket to cover up, offers his fist for Kabane to bump…which he does wrong of course.

Inari, who thinks she just pulled off a neat little theft, watches the lifestone transform into a tanuki figurine in her hand, then gets a call from Inugami, who has just picked up the kids. He’s not surprised things went down like they did, and says she owes him for her treachery. He also warns her that the lifestone is Kabane’s, and if she tries to take it again she’ll have to deal with him.

I for one like how Inari and Inugami never got into a fight, or even showed their true forms; handling things on the phone like regular humans and threatening with words is enough to maintain their territorial balance. That said, Kon didn’t get the memo, and is still wandering the streets trying to retrieve Kabane’s head for her mistress.

Kon ends up approaching the others after they have a Kabane-welcoming meal of Chinese and pancakes, only to immediately pass out from exhaustion and hunger. Inugami brings her into the agency and feeds her pizza, but at the first sight of Kabane she lunges at him with a beheading strike.

Inugami, realizing the proper way to deal with her, tells Kon that Inari wouldn’t be happy if she knew her “good girl” wasn’t minding her manners. No standing on the table, no leaving leftover food out, and no beheading hanyos. While not technically in her thrall, Kon’s daughterly devotion to Inari is absolute, and so she behaves herself.

This episode was a lot of fun, giving the three kids more time to gel in both casual and hectic situations, introducing the adorably dutiful Kon (who is a lot like Kabane) and her haughty mama figure. I like how Shiki is slowly warming to Kabane, and if Akira had a real Twitter I’d definitely follow. This is the kind of show where your protagonist gets beheaded one afternoon, but you know he’ll probably be fine and ready for pancakes that evening.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 15 – Scratch Off

After coming so close to a good ending only for a crazed Ooishi to kill everyone, Rika is buoyed by her friends to try five more loops before using the fragment of the weapon she can use to kill herself for good. I figured the loops would gradually unfold in the next few episodes. Instead, we get all but one in one go!

This new loop starts out promisingly, with Ooishi and Keiichi getting along famously over their shared love of mahjongg (stop trying to teach us mahjongg, anime!) Ooishi’s mahjong buddy also makes an appearance: Akasaka, who is introduced with a soft filter and angelic light.

Back in 1978, one of Rika’s predictions saved his wife Yukie’s life, and he’s come to return the favor. Rika asks him to stay for the entirety of the Watanagashi Festival, and he agrees. Rika is genuinely happy and hopeful about this development!

Then there’s a smash cut to her covered in stab wounds and bleeding out on a tatami mat. Akasaka is the crazy killer scratching his throat out. Even as she burns Rika laughs out loud at how whimsical fate is, puts up her hand, lowers one finger, and snaps.

The episode doesn’t bother with the lighthearted fluff; we just fast-forward directly to the killing, as Mion and Shion’s mother is this loop’s crazed slasher, and she uses her katana to behead her own daughter, vowing to erase their family’s blood for good. Rika lowers two fingers and snaps just as her shoulders are relieved of her head.

In the next loop, Kimiyoshi is the killer, and drags Rika by a rope, rows her into the middle of a swamp, and tosses her overboard with a rock to drown her as a sacrifice…but not before Rika has to endure way too much unhinged monologue and bad breath for her taste. As she sinks into the swamp, she lowers three fingers and snaps.

Just when we’re wondering what ridiulous hell-scenario Rika will end up in next, there are columns of riot police outside the cosplay cafe, where a very itchy Keiichi is bludgening everyone to death, including Rena, who can’t get him to wake up from the bad dream. Rika gets Keiichi to end her life quickly by telling him the secret to getting rid of the “maggots in his neck” is to bash her skull in and eat her brains. She lowers four fingers and snaps.

These loops have become the most unbearably hellish torture for Rika, who is trapped in the goriest version of Groundhog Day ever. It is by far the bloodiest and hardest-to-watch episode of Gou to date. Those scratching sounds…Jesus. If Rika keeps to her plan, she’ll only have one more life to endure before ending it by her own hand. But will that really work?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Elfen Lied – 05 – Good People are Hard to Come By

Kurama looks out at the ocean, perhaps grieving the loss of Nana, while Kouta and Yuka wake up to find Mayu has run away. The episode delves into her past, and not surprisingly for this show, it’s horrific. Habitually sexually abused by her stepdad and shunned by her mother, one night she refuses to undress, and runs.

She doesn’t stop until she reaches the ocean, and seems poised to walk in and not come back. She’s stopped only by the dog Wanta, whom she assumes was discarded like her. Back in the present, Wanta (AKA James) is claimed by his owner, leaving Mayu alone again. She hides among crates in the cold, dark night, utterly miserable.

Some cops find her, but thankfully so do Yuka and Kouta, who remembered she hung around the beach a lot. They bring her back to the house, but she’s not sure why, because no one in her life has ever given a damn about her except to use her. It never occurred to her that good people existed.

While his penchant for “collecting girls” continues to irk Yuka, she doesn’t protest when he decides to let Mayu stay with them indefinitely. Mayu’s mother all too easily signs away guardianship to him. Wanta comes back to her (his old owner was not a good person, it seems) and she returns to school with a smile on her face, now in a much better place.

Kouta and Yuka return to college classes too, but inexplicably take Nyu with them. I understand how they might be worried about her wandering off again, but it just seems like a really, really bad idea considering how much they don’t know about her situation.

Sure enough, the professor of their new class is Dr. Kakuzawa, son of the head of the research facility where Lucy was being held. He takes Kouta and Yuka aside, warns them of the laws they’re breaking by having the girl in their custody, and makes Kouta agree to leave Nyu with with him.

Fearing the consequences and cowed by an authority figure, Kouta ignores Nyu crying out his name (she’s learning more words than just “nyu”), and later can’t help but shed tears over their separation. Yuka reproaches him for crying (“You’re a man!”) but then starts crying herself.

They get home and tell Mayu, who plants the seed in Kouta’s head that maybe the professor wasn’t telling the truth when he said Nyu’s family was worried and wanted her back. Gee, ya THINK?

Sure enough, Kakuzawa’s intentions with Nyu are anything but honorable. He strips her down, ties her up, and injects her with drugs. But while he’s still undressing in preparation to rape her, Nyu wakes up as Lucy, and plainly asks him who he is and what he wants.

Kakuzawa tries to give her his spiel about replacing the human race with superior Dicloniï, revealing his own sorry horns. Lucy plainly ain’t buyin’ it, and helpfully relieves him of his head, causing a fountain of blood and saying she doesn’t need someone like him.

Truer words have never been spoken. Like Mayu, she needs good people like Kouta and Yuka, particularly when she reverts to Nyu. It’s just a shame those good people aren’t the brightest…

Cop Craft – 12 (Fin) – Forgivable Evils

What had the makings of some kind of grand conspiracy is ultimately boiled down to A Wizard Did It in the exceedingly tidy Cop Craft finale. Captured last week, Tilarna ends up in a penthouse with that wizard with her hands and feet both cuffed. It’s also one of the only instances I can recall where she’s not wearing her Semani cape, revealing an elegant midriff-bearing top.

She has to sit and listen to Zelada drone on about how he believes decadent Earth culture will eventually overwhelm destroy Semani culture: weapons, tools, sex…and that awful, awful rock music. Despite it seeming an awful lot like that ship has sailed, he’s working to make two societies to hate each other…or something. The nerve of someone in Carmen Sandiego pimp cosplay decrying decadence!

Meanwhile, the FBI agent rather ineptly attempts to extract Kei’s iPhone password so he can destroy the last photo of Marla and the assassin (Randall is killed off-camera). Kei, ever the smartass, starts to give it to him: “F-U-C-K-Y…” Hee-hee.

While the camera made sure to show us that Tilarna’s legs were cuffed, Kei’s legs are completely free, and his arms are cuffed to a flimsy folding chair that isn’t even bolted down. All it takes is for Mr. FBI to get too close, and Kei has him in a leg headlock. It demonstrates less how badass Kei is (and he is), and more how excruciatingly dumb Mr. FBI is.

Meanwhile, after ranting virtually all night, Zelada senses that Kei has gotten free and is killing his puppets. After all this time, and with little reason to keep Tilarna alive, Zelada nevertheless takes his sweet old time before finally deciding that yup, he should kill Tilarna. It’s like he’s waiting for Kei to arrive and save her, because that’s what the plot demands!

Even with arms and legs cuffed, Tilarna is also a badass, and manages to dodge Zelada’s attacks until Kei bails her out. Zelada’s invisibility is overcome by activating the sprinkler system (how ’bout that!), but the weakened Tilarna can’t handle the sword, so she and Kei switch weapons, with Tilarna pumping Z full of lead while Kei beheads him with her sword.

With that, our buddy cop odd couple waits for backup that will be late because the town is rife with violent protests. Kei leaves it up to Tilarna whether to give the photo of Marla to the police as evidence of her role in the assassinations, and after weighing the options, decides to do so.

Donald—er, Domingo Tourte wins the mayorship after Marla is arrested, but things eventually cool down as Tilarna thought they would, because for all its warts, San Teresa is still a good town filled with mostly good people. That’s why, as she writes to her father back home, she’s decided to stay put, serving as Kei’s partner in stylish crime-fighting.

And there you have it! A rushed ending, perhaps, which did itself no favors with the idiocy of its villains, but far from eye-gougingly terrible. I’d say Cop Craft would have benefited from another twelve or even six more episodes to give the conspiracy and photographer arcs a little more fleshing-out, but honestly the show probably would have found a way to squander them and be forced to end just as abruptly.

I will say that even if I wasn’t always in love with what Cop Craft did with the episodes it had or the world it built, it was still a neat world, with a solid core duo of likable characters, a smattering of cool supporters, and a fun soundtrack. It wasn’t flawless, but it wasn’t all bad either—much like the situation Tilarna and Kei find themselves in when the end credits roll.

Dimension W – 03

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After their first big job together (which nets Mira a cool ¥6 million cash) DW slows down a little, giving us a largely slice-of-life episode that still nudges some plot points forward. It also happens to be a slice of the lie of an android who thinks she’s a human and really might as well be one, since she has the same need for a place to live, relax, and heal her body.

After being paid and praised, Mira’s excited about interacting with society and carving out her little corner of it. I like how we first see Kyouma having bad dreams, then refuse to accept Mira in his house – too much gloom in there for her, plus he doesn’t want to lose privacy. Mira is plenty elated by the purchase of her very own trailer.

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However, that trailer doesn’t have a bathroom, so she has to use Kyouma’s. When he inevitably walks in on her, she doesn’t slap him, but just explains that for various reasons related to her unique specifications, she needs the damn toilet too sometimes, so they’ll just going to have to work out a system, whether it’s a door lock or simply knocking.

Kyouma, who hates all things Coil, seems to be (inadvertently or not) denying or at least limiting Mira’s humanity at every turn. He certainly has his reasons, but it’s not exactly nice that he doesn’t even bother saying goodbye before leaving, or help her transport her furnishings to her trailer (which she then has to carry herself, quite conspicuously!).

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He also leaves Mira to her own devices (tehe) in dealing with the snoopy neighborhood kids. Mira figures it out, being firm but not too strict with the youngins’, the most inquisitive of which, a girl named Shiora, asks if Mira is Kyouma’s new wife, and whether they’re “doin’ it” (complete with the vulgar Japanese gesture for sex I first saw in Shimoneta). Kids!

When the kids get a little rough in playing with Kyouma’s stacked car wrecks, and disaster is imminent, Mira springs into action like a superhero, putting the kids’ lives above worries about being exposed. She also scares the shit out of the kids, who assumed she was human.

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Man, I love the composition of first-person POV of Kyouma arriving at his place to see what chaos has been wrought in his absence. That clever camerawork is also used to reveal, in a way that’s both hilarious and heartbreaking, that Mira’s head popped off in the ruckus, and she’s been sheepishly sitting in her trailer all along, holding her head in her lap.

She’s worried that those kids will think she’s a monster, and also knowing she may have taken things a little far, since New Tesla could have easily discovered her, meaning the death of Kyouma, Mary, Koorogi, and probably others. Kyouma may see the beheaded Mira as proof she’s just a robotbut to do so would miss the fact that head aside, she’s acting like a human. The reality is, she’s much more than some robot.

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As for where Kyouma was while Mira was getting into trouble: he gets some info on the “Numbers”, which are mini-coils that draw from deep within Dimension W for their power, and which have caused bizarre accidents like the art museum, which NTE is always quick to cover up.

The incident with the cars has Kyouma brought to the Police department for questioning, but he’s soon released and summoned to the roof of NTE 47, where the COO, Clair Skyheart, is waiting for him.

Kyouma assumes she bailed him out for some reason, but it’s just a matter of her granddaughter Shiora telling her what happened and putting a good word in for him. Claire also wanted to meet another “beast of Grendel”, having been told about him by another apparent former beast, Albert.

Shiora whispers to Kyouma that she and the other kids didn’t tell anyone about Mira’s secret, and hope she feels better. The kids later pay a visit to Mira, who is glad they don’t hate or fear her. Of course they don’t; unlike Kyouma, technology has only ever been a force of good. On the other side of the spectrum, I could have done without Kyouma kicking her butt and calling her junk…

This was a fun episode that explores how far Mira’s come, how far she has yet to go, and how much more Kyouma has to learn about the right way to treat her, in addition to learning a little more about the Numbers. The teaser at the end is more of a preview for the next episode, which suggests Kyouma and Mira’s next mission will take them to a remote island castle where Robo-Murder Most Foul is afoot. Talk about a change of scenery!

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