Dororo – 09 – Not Letting The War Win

Dororo has never not known war, and it has taken everything from him but his life. But even that is threatened when he suddenly collapses with an apparent fever. Hyakkimaru has to carry him to find help, and eventually comes upon a kind priestess who takes them into the temple for Dororo to recover.

After a couple of lighthearted episodes—one in which the ghoul-of-the-week turns out to be not so bad, and one in which a boy and his big sis survive—the “party is over” this week, as we’re told the heart-wrenching tale of how Dororo became an orphan, and why he clings so close to Hyakkimaru and fears being left behind.

On two occasions, Dororo spots red spider lilies, which he hates, because they remind him of when his mama died in a field of them.

Dororo’s father Hibukuro was a big, strong leader of a band of brigands who unusually only targeted samurai, seeking retribution on those who destroyed their village. His mother Ojiya was his strong, kind wife. But it doesn’t take long to see that an age as cruel as the one in which they live wouldn’t allow such an arrangement to last for long.

Hibukuro is good at killing and good at bringing men to his side, but when his band gets strong enough, his right-hand man Itachi suggests they make a deal with a lord. It’s the smart, pragmatic move; one that has the best chance of ensuring the survival of his family. But neither of Dororo’s parents are willing to turn to the lords ever again…and young Dororo follows their lead.

Predictably, Itachi betrays them by making a deal with the samurai, who end up filling Hibukuro’s legs with arrows. Itachi takes the band for himself, leaving the wounded Hibukuro and his family to scavenge fields of the dead for scraps of food. Itachi and his treahery represented a natural element to this world, and Hibukuro and Ojiya simply lacked the pragmatism that would have enabled them to survive.

If he hadn’t betrayed them, Hibukuro’s stubbornness would have doomed him again anyway…and it does, when they happen upon another village the samurai are preparing to burn. One of them recognizes Hibukuro’s signature pole sword and seeks revenge for his fallen friends.

Hibukuro has an epic death by bear-hugging and impaling the man who impaled him, but the end result is that Ojiya and Dororo are now all on their own. You can see the moment Ojiya knows they’re somehow even more screwed than they were a minute ago, and their margin of survival henceforth is that much smaller.

It’s something of a miracle the samurai let Ojiya and Dororo go free, and we know from Dororo telling Mio that Ojiya never sold her body for money or food. But when she hears that samurai are handing out free soup, she gets in line, something she and her husband might not have done before things got so dire.

She’s even willing to cut in line, hold out her hands, and have the scalding soup poured in her hands (she has no bowl) so that Dororo can eat. And Itachi is there, in his fancy clothes, comfy with the lord, basically telling her “I told you so.” Dororo throws a rock at him—perhaps for the first time—but Itachi catches it easily.

When we see the mother and child walking slowly through a field of those damned red spider lilies (the show’s profound artistry on full display this week as usual), I knew that was going to be the end of Ojiya’s tether. She collapses from starvation, can’t get back up, and the life drains from her eyes as Dororo begs her not to, promising he won’t tell her he’s hungry anymore. It’s a brutal gut punch.

Time and time again, right until the moment of her death, Dororo’s mother told him not to let the war beat him, even though it claimed her and his father. When he recovers from his fever, we learn he had told the priestess this entire story. Thanks to her ministrations, he can keep going, keep fighting against the war that’s taken almost everything.

But as he continues his journey with Hyakkimaru, Dororo realizes when he smells his freshly-cleaned clothes that those clothes had to have been removed at some point. And the priestess told Hyakkimaru how difficult it must be to travel with “such a young girl.” That’s when I learned for the first time (I never watched the original show): Dororo is a girl.

The hints were there: her button-cute appearance, girlish eyelashes, and the fact she was voiced by a girl and not a boy. And surely it’s smart to dress as a guy and not a girl when you’re all alone in a cruel, merciless world like this. Now Hyakkimaru knows the truth, and I’m eager to see how that’ll change their dynamic as he continues to develop his voice.

Unfortunately, the days they still have to travel the lands together in search of ghouls and fortune may soon be interrupted by more huge developments: one of Daigo’s spies has informed him of a midwife who put a limbless infant in the river, and young warrior with prosthetic arms. Tahoumaru overhears as well. Soon, Hyakkimaru, the instrument of Daigo’s mounting misfortunes (due to the demons losing his parts one by one) will be the crosshairs of his father and younger brother.

And while Dororo is a capable fighter and thief, she’s far from invincible, as we’ve learned from the times Hyakkimaru has had to rescue her, including the first time he did. Like Hibukuro, the day may come when he’ll have to choose whether to fight those who have forsaken him, or focus on protecting Dororo. More limbs and senses, more problems…

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Dororo – 06 – Not Everyone Can Get It All Back

Anyone who thought things were going to work out with Mio and her group of orphans has not been paying attention: Dororo is about people losing more than they can bear and trying to press on, but not everyone gets to survive. Some, like Mio and the kids, become another loss for our protagonists, who are cursed with the luck of survival, and with bearing witness to those who aren’t so lucky.

Dororo may have stumbled upon what Mio is up to all night, but Take is still blissfully unaware, and Dororo keeps it that way. Take, like Mio, dreams of the day they have the money to plant a rice paddy that will be green in spring and golden in the autumn. It’s what keeps them going, and it no doubt prompts Dororo to wonder what keeps him going.

At Casa de Daigo, Tahomaru urges his father to let him fight in the army. His head is full of steam and dreams of making his parents proud, but both father and mother forbid his demand, because they know all too well how easy it is to lose your life, no matter how good at martial arts one may be.

Tahomaru takes out his frustrations on his mother, who he’s suspected for some time loves and cares about something more than him. He knows he was childish to guilt trip her, but he’s continually vexed by the mystery of who or what dominates his parents’ thoughts. If he and Hyakkimaru ever meet, it’s not going to be cordial.

Dororo and Mio have to watch Hyakkimaru like a hawk from going back to fight the antlion demon while his leg wound is healing. Mio is eager to hear the voice Hyakkimaru gained , but he only wants to hear her song, which she says she sings to forget the pain. She lives with the pain of both everything she’s lost and what she must deal with nightly.

She worries her soul looks “filthy” to Hyakkimaru, but we can see through his eyes and it’s not; she’s being far too harsh on herself. Dororo also admits after his initial reaction that Mio is only doing what she must to survive. He tells her his mother never did what she did, and she died for it.

But unlike Hyakkimaru and Dororo, Mio doesn’t get to survive anyway, despite going to such lengths. Daigo’s soldiers catch her working on both sides of the conflict, which was always a risk too great no matter the reward, and they punish her by killing her, slaughtering the orphans, and burning their temple shelter.

Worse still, Hyakkimaru’s need to finish his fight with the demon draws him away at the worst possible time. He successfully defeats the demon, and the leg it took from him last week is fully restored. But it wasn’t worth it. I will miss Mio terribly; Mizuki Nana really brought warmth and empathy to her role, but she was just too good for this world.

When Hyakkimaru takes out his hatred for the soldiers and anger at himself for not being there when it mattered, it is a terrifying sight to behold, and almost verbatim what Biwamaru had feared: that the beast that emerged from the cave would be a monster. He doesn’t just quickly, cleanly kill the murderous wretches, he evicerates them, ignoring their pleas for mercy.

Dororo manages to stop him from killing the last man, who escapes and will probably report Hyakkimaru to Daigo, officially ending his time in the shadows and putting him squarely in his father’s sights. That may end up being a very bad idea, but Dororo had to stop him from killing everyone, lest the darkness consume him. He shows Hyakkimaru the bag of rice seed Mio finally got for her services.

She was on the cusp of achieving her dreams and those of the orphans, but their idealized future was never going to be safe in this harsh brutal land of warring factions, whether Hyakkimaru stayed to protect them or not. He couldn’t be a hero to Mio and the kids. All he can do is accept his luck, keep surviving, keep fighting the demons both outside and within, with Dororo making sure to serve as a conscientious check when his aniki’s pain threatens to explode.

The Promised Neverland – 05 – The Sheepdog

When Norman confronts Ray about being Mama’s spy, Norman stays calm. In fact, he’s even a bit amused he was found out, like he knew this time would come one day. Norman’s just too smart for his own good. For his part, Ray doesn’t deny anything, but he does explain that he did it because it had to be done.

If we’re to believe his explanations (and for now, at least, I do) Ray has been playing a very long game with Isabella, which has netted him information that would be vital to any possible escape plan. He knew someone would have to be in Mama’s pocket in order to learn what needed to be learned and gain her trust (as much as anyone can gain her trust).

Taking a page from Emma’s Book of Compassion, Norman agrees to forgive Ray as long as he agrees to be his spy as well. Ray agrees, but only if Norman tricks Emma into thinking they’re taking everyone. Other than Gilda and Don, the little ones will be a burden, both during and after the escape, and Ray didn’t spend years being Mama’s informant for everyone to get killed in a futile attempt to get everyone out.

Immediately his meeting with Norman, Ray meets with Isabella, telling her the others continue to use tag as practice, but focuses Mama on Sister Krone as the primary threat. Ray is well aware Krone was brought in as an insurance policy on Ray, but if she’s not watched closely and her ambitions stamped out, Isabella may be in big trouble. For her part, she doesn’t seem to consider Krone that much of a threat. Ray might be able to use that.

As for Norman, Ray’s insistence not everyone can be saved triggers a nightmare for Norman, in which everyone, including Ray and Emma, are killed and have flowers sprout when they attempt the escape. Not the most confidence-building dream!

Still, Norman plays ball, even as Ray just comes right out and admits to Emma that he’s Mama’s informant. Rather than get mad at Ray, Emma is sympathetic to the burden he’s had to bear, allowing child after child to be shipped off as he played his role.

It’s notable that while Ray has “endured” six years of shipments, Conny alone was enough for Emma and Norman. She doesn’t ask Ray for details of exactly how many he allowed to be sacrificed to learn how to disable the tracking devices, but takes firm hold of his hand and tells (warns?) him not to do it again.

Gilda and Don feel left out of most of the private convos between the other three, but Gilda and Emma start observing Mama more closely, and Emma discovers there’s a secret room where she does…something (Ray suggests it’s where she contacts HQ). Don is itching to get in there, but Ray urges caution, and Norman agrees.

But Don doesn’t feel like caution. He doesn’t know Conny is actually demon food, and so he wants to escape and save her ASAP. To that end, he and Gilda enters Mama’s room, and Gilda slides a bookshelf aside to reveal a locked door…just as someone else is about to enter the room and catch them red-handed. Too rash by half, Donny!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 17 – Breaking Out of Her Shell

Ayado and Itou’s tearful reunion is prefaced by a brief foray into Ayado’s past, when her first love was a manga character (and not even a main character!) and she became invisible to 3D guys, with tastes that didn’t jive with the other girls. With kind, no-nonsense civil servant parents who left her to her own devices, before she knew it Ayado found herself locked in a shell.

Her new friends helped her break through and emerge from that shell, but her crush on Hikari and his subsequent rejection of her was a roller coaster of pain and embarrassment made her afraid to ever stray towards “that territory” again. That is, until her fear of Itou leaving her was greater than her fear of said territory.

When Ayado tearfully asks to be part of Itou’s life again, Itou tears up too, requiring them to share the handkerchief she borrowed from him. Ayado then reports what’s happened to Hikari and Iroha, and the next day Hikari is ready with a congratulatory cake. Longtime “Ayatou”shippers, Hikari among them, can now let out a sigh of relief and shed a tear or two of joy.

Meanwhile, Iroha finally gets to visit Hikari’s house again, and just when she starts to kiss him, his mom barges in to announce udon is for dinner. Hikari is astounded how quickly and naturally Iroha slips into his family’s rhythm, as if she was always meant to be there; his dad thanks her for all her help, while even Kaoru asks if he can call her big sister.

It’s certainly nice for Hikari to be done with soap opera stuff for the time being, but while Itou and Ayado quickly agree to go to a movie for their first date, Ayado experiences what’s best described as “joy overload.” Simply being near Itou, having his attention, and feeling the warmth of his hand has her fantasizing about doing much more serious things with him.

Because this is Ayado and Itou we’re talking about, her self-consciousness leads to her acting strangely, which Itou misinterprets as her having second thoughts about dating. But unlike past Ayado and Itou miscommunications, Ayado clenches her fists and sets the record straight before the day (and episode) is out.

Realizing she hasn’t actually verbalized how she feels, she starts by telling Itou he’s got it all wrong; far from not wanting to date him, she’s ecstatic beyond belief at the very idea, because she loves him. Then she does what she wanted to do all day and kisses him, and he kisses her back.

From there, no longer confined by any shell, Ayado asks if Itou would mind if she “hit him with the full force of her desires,” to which he wisely suggests they take things slowly. They may be a couple, but they still have a lot of learning about each other—not to mention themselves—to do. It’s a process we’ve already seen unfold with Hikari and Iroha with mostly good results. And so now Ishino and Takanashi are the only remaining singles in the group of friends.

Dororo – 05 – A Beautiful Soul in an Ugly World

Hyakkimaru may have his hearing back, but at least initially it’s more of a curse than a blessing. Even in an eerily quiet forest he’s assaulted by what he perceives as an intolerable din of creature sounds, not to mention Dororo’s voice. Determining that something has to be done until he gets used to hearing, Dororo wraps his ears in several layers of fabric to lesson the suffering.

When a bird monster suddenly attacks, it’s clear that Hyakkimaru’s newfound hearing is also messing with his ability to fight. He gets a few licks in, but the bird gives as good as it gets, seriously injuring Hyakkimaru. It it isn’t for Biwamaru showing up to finish it off, it probably would have been curtains for Hyakkimaru and Dororo.

Biwamaru fixes him up as best he can, but Hyakkimaru will need medicine to recover properly. He’s also being very stubborn about accepting the fact he can now hear. Biwa compares him to a beast holed up in its cave; he’ll have to come out sooner or later. The boys have run into Biwamaru because the old priest has had to turn around after entering lands in which a war is currently being fought between the Sakai clan and the ally it betrayed.

In the morning, Hyakkimaru hears a sound he’s never heard before: a woman singing a sweet and gentle song. He follows the song and finds its owner, a beautiful young woman, washing her kimono in the river. While some might find the sight of Hyakkimaru frightening, she is concerned…especially when he nearly passes out in her arms.

The songstress, who goes by Mio, invites the three to the ruins of a village where she cares for a group of small war oprhans, most of whom are missing limbs like Hyakkimaru. Dororo meets a lad near his own age in Takebo, who serves as Mio’s second-in-command of the little ‘uns. Takebo also insists Mio get her sleep, as she works all through the night and needs to have her energy. Dororo doesn’t ask Takebo to elaborate.

Meanwhile, Lord Kagematsu’s wife Nuinokata impresses upon her husband the seriousness of recent unfortunate events that have befallen them, from landslides to drought to the betrayal of the Sakai clan. Tahoumaru overhears, and probably thinks he can do something to ease his father’s troubles. Of course, we know that as long as Hyakkimaru keeps killing the demons who stole pieces of him, the demons will continue to seek reparations from Daigo.

As Biwamaru searches for a safe path along which to continue, Mio goes to work when the sun sets. When she returns in the morning, her kimono slightly askwer, Hyakkimaru is waiting for her. She gets the feeling he can not only see her, but see deeper than most; Dororo tells her she’s right; he can see souls.

In both her selfless actions, charity towards both the orphans and her new guests, and the beauty of the song she sings, Hyakkimaru is now able to ascertain with both sight and sound that Mio is a particularly good soul. He signs that wants to hear her song again, and she obliges.

Seemingly invigorated by the song, Hyakkimaru wastes no time heading off when Biwamaru informs them all that there’s a safe area to which to relocate, provided they can defeat the tough demon that dwells there. But with his wounds still held together with hope and still dealing with his new sense of hearing, Hyakkimaru loses a step. He defeats the demon, but loses his one real leg below the knee. Defeating this demon unlocks his voice, and he uses it to cry out in what must be excruciating pain, while Biwamaru looks at him like he’s already got one foot in the grave.

Later that night, while following Mio to town where she hopes to do business with both sides of the conflict to fund her little group’s relocation, Dororo loses track of her. When he finally finds her, it’s due in part because she’s singing, but the reason she’s singing gives Dororo pause: she’s singing while being raped by three soldiers.

Once again Dororo takes a cold hard look at the casual brutality and injustice of feudal Japan. It takes a particularly dim view of lords and the samurai they wield as tools of terror and death. In this time and place wars can pop up at the drop of an obi, leaving children without their parents or even their very limbs. They are only able to survive because poor Mio sells her body every night.

I would hope that Hyakkimaru, Dororo, and Biwamaru could do something to help them, but with Hyakkimaru’s new horrifying injury, it’s hard to believe he’ll be doing anything anytime soon.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 16 – Stuck On You

Hikari has Iroha prepared for the worst—that he’d move to Hokkaido with his mom. Even though the two have progressed enough in their relationship for her to know and openly admit that she’s not helping matters, she still can’t help yelling at him and running off in a tizzy.

I mean, she wouldn’t do either if she didn’t truly care for and love Hikari. But she’s super-frustrated that neither of them can do anything about it…which is why it’s auspicious that while walking home she crosses paths with someone who can: Hikari’s father.

Iroha uses the opportunity to introduce herself as Hikari’s girlfriend, and Dad apologizes for indirectly disrupting her life as well, but assures her he’s working on a solution, and seems encouraged by Iroha’s devotion to his son for all the right reasons.

The same time Iroha goes to Hikari’s house to apologize for her outburst, Kono, the woman Hikari’s dad is seeing, also pays a visit. They whisk her away to a family restaurant, and Iroha proceeds to lays into her by saying nothing that isn’t true.

She admonishing the 24-year-old Kono for crying when it’s she and Hikari who should be crying about this situation. Iroha would hope someone of Kono’s age would know loving someone is no excuse for destroying the lives of others.

As Kono gets told the riot act, eventually confessing that she didn’t think going out for a couple dinners would be that bad, both Itou and Ayado think about the last time they interacted. She approached him to apologize for ignoring him, and he told her she didn’t have to talk to him anymore, and apologizes himself for not being able to be her friend (since he can’t help but want more).

Ayado ends up moping on the roof, but thankfully, she’s not stuck in that inactive funk for long, because Ishino Arisa is on the case. When Ayado explains how she felt she had no right to fall for someone else so soon after falling for Tsutsui, Ishino delivers a swift slap to the face. Of course she has a right to be happy, and she has to take every opportunity she’s got to do so! If Itou has the wrong idea, she has to correct him!

When Hikari and Iroha realize his dad and Kono never actually did it, but only had dinner a couple times, Iroha is embarrassed for taking things too far, but Hikari is even more angry at his dad for not being clearer about the extent of his betrayal of Mom.

Hikari and Iroha take his dad to the restaurant (I swear high schoolers shouldn’t be able to afford this many trips to the famures, unless Pops is paying the second time around) to talk it through, and he proceeds to tell them the story of how he and his wife, Hikari’s mom, Kie met.

It all started with an act of kindness (not surprising, coming from a Tsutsui male): when one of Kie’s shoes broke, he fixed it with some of the glue he always had on hand (“I’m not a shoemaker, I’m a gluemaker” is a great line that actually sounds better in English).

Kie takes him out to dinner to thank him, and wonders why he’s so quiet. When she brings up the subject of glue, he talks her ear off, then apologizes for being such a “lost cause.” But Kie isn’t impatient; she’s charmed by this kind, awkward guy, and laughs.

When Kie is out with her drunk boss and that boss propositions her, telling her she’s incompetent and only kept around the office because of him, Hikari’s dad (who happened to be there) is there to comfort her. Even though he couldn’t run out and slug her boss, he is able to fix her shoe (again), and comfort her in her moment of vulnerability. He confesses his love to her, and notes how absurd that is considering they hardly know each other…but Kie doesn’t mind. She wants to know him better.

The rest is history…or would be history if Hikari’s dad continued to sit on the sidelines and do and say nothing to stop his marriage and family from becoming destroyed. Hikari has him seek Kie out at the playground to try to work things out, and he’s ultimately successful by being honest, forthright, and kind, the qualities that made her fall for him in the first place. Kie forgives her husband his transgressions, as not only were they not as severe as she initially believed, and that they served to rekindle his love for her.

With that crisis averted, the episode closes with Ayado calling out to Itou, who seemingly ignores her and boards the bus. But he ends up approaching her and asking what’s the matter, like he doesn’t know…and Ayado throws herself at him and tells him what’s the matter: he ignored her, he told her she didn’t have to talk to him anymore…and she can’t think about anything but him. Really great work by Ueda Reina here, as usual, and encouraging news on all dramatic fronts!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 15 – Glue Won’t Fix This

Hikari can’t believe how peaceful his life is, post-cultural festival. He didn’t say anything stupid to piss off Iroha, and things seem pretty five-by-five at home too, with his brother Kaoru asking for money to take Anzu on a date but promising to pay him back, while their mom has taken up yoga in an effort to get back some of her past splendor (I can relate to Hikari’s discomfort; my mom was also quite the looker in her youth, which is why I am a looker).

But that peace suddenly shatters, and not due to anything on the girlfriend or school side. All this time Hikari’s family was just humming along in the background, but we barely saw his dad. Turns out, they barely saw him too. And while Hikari and Iroha are at a family restaurant they overhear a young woman telling an older man that it would be wrong to keep seeing each other. The older man turns out to be…Hikari’s Dad.

Hikari keeps what he knows from his mom, but she finds out when his dad tells her, and all of a sudden his family life has become a soap opera. Hikari wants his dad to stand up for himself or at least offer some kind of defense beyond a flaccid “I’m sorry”, to no avail. Hikari has a dessert picnic with Iroha to get out of the house, but when he returns things have escalated and divorce papers are literally on the table.

If his mom divorces his dad, she’ll take one of the two kids all the way up to Hokkaido with her, which means some serious upheaval for that kid, not to mention being separated from their girlfriend. When Hikari meets with Itou, the latter is still twisted up in a knot over what went down after the festival with Ayado (she ran off after he said what he said and can’t even make eye contact with him now). But even Itou recognizes that Hikari’s also in big trouble.

Hikari is cursed with a little brother who, despite still being in grade school, already possesses logic that meets or exceeds that of a full-grown adult. Hikari is honest with him that he can’t move to Hokkaido because of Iroha, but his bro has Anzu, so there’s no simple answer of which kid should go.

Hikari has one-on-ones with both his dad and mom, and learns that his dad still loves his mom but isn’t sure he deserves her anymore (mirroring Hikari’s own frequent feelings vis-a-vis Iroha). His pops also gets quite poetic, noting the irony of a glue researcher being unable to keep the bonds of matrimony together. But isn’t that because, like Hikari with friends, he’s just not trying hard enough?

When his mom leaves a note saying she’ll be out of the house for a while, Hikari is the one to track her down, insisting she reconsider as he doesn’t want the family broken up at all. But all he seems to do is convince her that he’s the son she should take with her to Hokkaido. Unless Iroha is willing to move with him, it’s going to be the dreaded long-distance relationship. So much for peace!

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari – 02 – Surviving Together

Shunned by virtually every human in this new world, Naofumi turns to a demi-human slave in Raphtalia, sold to him by the slave merchant for 30 silvers; a bargain. The little raccoon girl is terrified with good reason: she’s been through a lot in her short life and she has no reason to believe Naofumi won’t be cruel and awful to her.

But despite his scary face and bad attitude, Naofumi isn’t awful to Raphtalia. I mean, he wouldn’t be much of a rootable MC if he did. Sure, she’s bound by her contract not to defy him and gets shocked if she does, but he makes sure she has proper clothes and a dagger. She’ll provide the offense he needs to become powerful enough for the next Wave of Catastrophe.

Raphtalia soon learns that she not only need fear Naofumi, but that it’s okay to have things she wants. He’ll take care of her, but she has to fight for him. Of nights Naofumi learns the “mental illness” her buyer warned him about: she has PTSD and nightmares from having witnessed her parents sacrifice themselves to a Cerberus so that she could live during the First Wave.

In a montage made all the more satisfying and significant (like the show itself) by the wonderful score by Kevin Pankin (Made in Abyss), Raphtalia learns to trust and even become fond of her master, who treats her more like a ward than a slave. The more monsters she defeats, the more the two of them level up, and the more money they make.

Raphtalia butts up against adversity when a rabbit attacks Naofumi and she has to draw blood, which she’s quite justifiably afraid of considering her traumatic past. But when Naofumi lays out the stakes vis-a-vis the impending Waves, Raphtalia’s resistance (which causes the shocks) fades away, and she resolves to fight and kill for Naofumi, for both their sakes.

Naofumi discovers he has a knack for medicine-making, and he and Naphtalia travel to a smaller town to sell their wares—popular due to the trying times. In a nice bit of good luck for a change, merchant he deals with apparently doesn’t know he’s the Shield Hero, and thus isn’t automatically against him like everyone in the city. He even points the pair to a mine where they’ll be able to make a lot of quick money harvesting ore.

The catch is that since the First Wave the mines are crawling with monsters, and a two-headed dog very similar to the one that killed Naphtalia’s parents attacks them, she freezes in terror. Naofumi grabs her and escape the beast, but they have to kill it if they’re going to have any chance against future foes. When things seem to be going south and he offers to buy time so she can escape, she recalls her folks doing the same thing and getting killed for it.

So rather than let Naofumi repeat their sacrifice and leave her all alone once again, she draws her sword and plunges it into the beast. When it lunges at her in response Naofumi is ready with a shield to protect her, and she’s able to finish it off. When the fight is over they’ve gained a buttload of EXP, and she collapses crying into his arms, calling him “Naofumi-sama” for the first time.

I’m glad that after a double episode’s worth of Naofumi getting beaten down, he’s found something pure and good to protect, as well as the means of progressing in this game-like world while appreciating that it isn’t really a game, it’s a matter of life and death. It doesn’t hurt that Naphtalia is adorable as all get out, but also tough and capable when she needs to be. No doubt when and if he encounters the other heroes they’ll get the wrong idea, but this looks like the beginning of a lovely partnership.

Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari – 01 (First Impressions) – The Kingdom’s Most Hated Man

After a string of isekai anime in which the MC is ridiculously, along comes a show that flips the script, and it’s pretty refreshing. When Iwatani Naofumi thrust into a different world due to a summoning on the other side, absolutely nothing goes right. 

Of the four young men summoned, he’s by far the weakest, and isn’t even given a real weapon, only a shield. But he’s still optimistic he’ll be able to fight once supplied with a party of elite warriors.

…Only none of those warriors join his party. Eventually, one of them finally does, and she just happens to be the one he considers most attractive. This adventurer, Myne Suphia, seems to embody a stark reversal of fortune for Naofumi.

He’s given more cash than the others due to his smaller party, and Myne shows him a good shop to buy armor for the two of them. They fight a few low-level balloons out in the field, return to town, and make a modest profit.

It’s a confidence-building first day for Naofumi, to say the least. But that night, after refusing to drink any wine with Myne, he goes to bed and wakes up seemingly in, well, yet another world.

Not literally, mind you, but he’s been robbed of all possessions, summoned to the palace by knights, and then Myne, hiding behind one of the other summoned heroes, accuses him of attempting to rape her. When no one’s watching, she indicates screwing him over was her goal all along.

And boy, did it ever succeed: Naofumi now disgusts both his fellow heroes, the king, and everyone in the kingdom (news and rumors travel at lightning speed, despite the renaissance-esque tech-level). There’s no disputing the accusations against him, so Naofumi decides to take all the hate and loathing in stride.

If this world and its people are going to hate him despite the fact he didn’t do anything, so be it. The merchant he dealt with before seems to see the injustice in his eyes and sells him a cloak at a steep discount, which he wears when leveling up all by his lonesome…a slow and laborious process.

When some goons in the tavern mockingly offer to join his party, Naofumi won’t get fooled again; he’s been thoroughly jaded by this new world, and scares them off with some of the monsters he kept alive as a haggling tactic. A strange, squat little fellow in top hat and tails notices him and takes him to view his wares; he deals in demi-human and beastman slaves, revealing another distasteful part of this world.

Naofumi spots one sick demi-human— a girl with bear ears—and looks poised to buy her. But likely not to use as a slave, but as a companion on his quest to save a world that hates him, because no full-on humans want anything to do with him. Weak in power, scant in equipment, and victim of false intrigue and injustice…looks like we have ourselves a good old-fashioned underdog.

Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

Golden Kamuy – 16 – Climbing Out of the Swamp

Shiraishi rather carelessly falling into the custody of the 7th Division is one more detour on the increasingly complex road to meeting Nopperabo. Hijikata cannot act when so outnumbered by armed soldiers, but he can lie in wait at a fragile hanging bridge that causes them to bottleneck.

Hijikata cuts the bridge, sending the soldiers and Shiraishi into the river, and Kiroranke is waiting to pick him up in a boat. But Shiraishi remembers his nightmare of being killed by Sugimoto for his betrayal, and hesitates to grab Kiro’s arm, and ends up right back in his captors’.

After imagining his annoying self in their heads, everyone kind of shrugs at the prospect of losing him, but decide that his know-how is worth traveling to the 7th Division base, infiltrating it, and rescuing him.

Meanwhile, we learn a little more about how Tsurumi intends to carry out his grand plan: Lt. General Arisaka’s top-quality weapons will sell like hotcakes; those weapons will be used to kill and maim in war after war; opium from Tsurumi’s cold-weather poppies will supply the drugs to sooth those who survive the battles. But he needs capital for his venture, hence the need to find the Ainu gold.

Tsurumi also had Arisaka built Nikaidou a new leg, all but assuring one more rematch between him and Sugimoto, who himself finally puts two and two together and realizes that Shiraishi was feeding info to Hijikata. Asirpa urges him not to kill anyone unless necessary, implying Shiraishi isn’t that.

On the contrary, he’s crucial enough to their plan for Hijikata to reach out to a fellow inmate at Abashiri, Suzukawa, who is a master of disguise. They’ll have him impersonate Abashiri’s warden Inudou Shirosuke in order to infiltrate the 7th’s base. Sugimoto accompanies him, also in disguise.

There’s now a lot going on, with the Hijikata/Sugimoto alliance (more like a truce) just barely covering up the fact that there are nearly as many competing motives as there are characters. The crowded field also means Asirpa gets another short shrift, with only one line that I recall. Sidelineing my favorite part of the first season—Sugimoto and Asirpa’s blooming friendship—had better bear some compelling fruit.

Golden Kamuy – 15 – The Brains are Always Delicious

I think the mad taxidermist exited stage right at just the right time; before his antics grew repetitive and boring. His legacy is briefly carried on by the Nikaidou brother who lost an ear to Sugimoto, and is part of the contingent that attacks the house to destroy evidence of how to identify the fake skins.

In the ensuing fracas, Sugimoto ends up saving Ogata’s life, while Nikaidou ends up losing an ankle and a foot to Hijikata’s blade. The cat watches the house burn, and its meow either signifies “good riddance to bad rubbish” or “feed me.”

The newly-formed Hijitaka alliance splits in two, ultimately to rendezvous at Ashibetsu. Both parties have a camp dinner, with Asirpa trying to get everyone to like woodcock brains and Hijitaka and Nagakura reminiscing on when the latter discovered the former was in prison, when both were younger men.

One man who can tell fake skin from real is Nopperabo, and so Hijitaka plans to utilize Shiraishi’s Escape King skills to break in and meet with him. Only two problems: Shiraishi is worried about getting killed by Sugimoto for discovering he’s been passing intel to Hijitaka, and when he tries to peace out, he’s surrounded by troops.

Golden Kamuy is staying fresh and nimble by serving up new character dynamics as a result of the shifting alliances, but draw quite a bit of value from the resulting banter. Asirpa and Sugimoto aren’t featured as prominently this season, but that’s not really an issue as the show has such a deep and strong bench.

Banana Fish – 11 – Ashilles Heel

Turns out leading a gang is like riding a bike: you never really forget how to do it. Ash slides right back into his simpler life, and Eiji sees, for the first time, Ash the Leader, and how all his subordinates hang on his every word and breath.

They’re also impressed that Eiji isn’t scared of waking Ash up from a two-hour nap. But once Ash is up, he sends them all off on an intelligence-gathering mission, leaving him and Eiji alone to enjoy a simple meal of takeout together.

It’s there that Eiji sees yet another side of Ash, as for the first time ever in their friendship they can just relax. He also learns that Ash has cucurbitophobia (fear of pumpkins) and teases him for it, eliciting a very boyish pout.

That night we see the contrast between the two young men: Eiji sleeping soundly and Ash waking up from nightmares that will probably never go away. Ash lets himself be vulnerable with Eiji and cries into his lap; it’s how they both end up falling asleep.

Ash gets up at dawn, letting Eiji sleep in, and sets to work on his laptop. Having spent his jade earring buying guns from “The Fly” yesterday, Ash hacks into Golzine’s stocks, using the spyware he implanted on Dino’s computer while Dino was having fun with him.

So not only is Dino’s favorite mansion in ruins, but so are his finances, and those of the mafia organization he’s a part of. He’ll have to answer to the dons now, which means his life is a lot more complicated and fraught with danger. From what we know of Dino, no one deserves it more…though Arthur is trying to make a case for himself.

Ash uses his influx of cash to buy an $8 million condo right next to a building owned by the Corsican organization, showing he’s still a fan of bold moves. He has Max pretend to be his dad to cosign on the purchase. But Max is worried that for all Ash has accomplished since gaining his freedom, he still has one potentially crippling weakness: Eiji.