DanMachi IV – 10 – Game Over, Man

When Marie hears the shouts of agony from the Dungeon itself, all she can do is stay below the water and cover her ears; later, she wishes she was by Bell’s side again. But unfortunately for most of this episode, Bell and Ryuu are simply standing around as they express outrage at what Jura has done.

Jura, in turn, laughs maniacally as he describes his diabolical scheme, then laughs some more. Rinse, repeat. It got to the point I actually said to the TV “Alright already, enough build-up…let’s get to it!”

Not helping matters is that the static, repetitive scenes of Bell, Ryuu, and Jura are interspersed with scenes of Ouranos delivering exposition to Fels via magic telephone. It’s all very dull and plodding, not what you want when trying to build tension for the Dungeon’s most vicious beast.

When Bell’s party starts to hear the screams from below, Lili prepares to head down to see if they can help, which is quite possibly the dumbest thing she has ever attempted. Thankfully, a weeping Cassandra stops her and tells them they’re only alive right now because they’re here.

The beast itself is…kinda weak looking? Like some kind of giant emaciated, skeletal horse-mutant. Maybe that’s the point; even Bell notes that it has barely any armor, even as a well-placed strike from his sword simply bounces off. It does kill a great number of the adventurers in the Ryu hunting party through slicing in half, dismemberment, and straight-up glomping, but the vast majority of its victims are nameless NPCs.

It isn’t until Bell says enough and charges at the beast that we truly learn just how deep into the shit everyone is. Bell is level four, and has learned a lot in his short time on these lower floors, but against the Juggernaut, as it’s known, he might as well be one of those scores of Bors’ adventurers getting cut in half. None of his attacks have any effect, and Juggs is far faster than he anticipated.

By the end of the episode, Bell’s right arm has been sliced off, he’s been thrown across the cavern like a ragdoll, and the life is fading from his eyes. Considering he may be the strongest adventurer down there, that’s not a good sign. He’s no longer in any condition to even dodge the Juggernaut’s next attack, which begs the question of who (or what) will come to save the day—or at least get him and Ryuu to safety?

Made in Abyss – S2 11 – Royal Awakening

Due to Reg’s “foolishness”—i.e. not wanting to kill a dear friend he’s only now coming to remember—Faputa ends up knocking him out, and asks Juroimoh to hold him down while she deals with her next target: Riko, the one who “made Reg this way”.

All White Whistled out, Riko is in no shape to stand, and Faputa could go right through her Hollow defenders. But even her best punch can’t go entirely through Gaburoon, who stops her from killing Riko in order to “protect her future”.

Gabu collapses, and Faputa reaches deeper into the darkness: if she simply destroys everything, then everything will end. Returning her attention to Riko once more, she is once more stopped by an outside force: this time Belaf, accompanied by a Nanachi resplendent in their new Mitty Armor.

Their weapon of choice? A purple goo that resides within Belaf and contains memories of Faputa’s mother. These “smelly” memories represent Belaf’s ultimate treasure, but instead of perishing with him, they seem to unlock something in Faputa.

Overwhelmed by the intense visceral power of the memories of people and things completely unknown to her, Faputa pauses her carnage. Wazukyan takes this opportunity to flee with Vueko, while Nanachi wonders if this was all part of Wazukyan’s plan to use Faputa’s wish-granting power to make a village of out Riko like he did with Irumyuui.

But then the consequences of Faputa’s more recent actions take center stage: with the barrier down, the layer’s beasts waltz right in and help themselves to a Hollow buffet. Left and right, Hollows are stalked, torn apart and gobbled up by the beasts.

Faputa attacks the beasts, justifying her protection of the surviving Hollows as merely not letting anyone else have her prey. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to, I say. But soon it’s clear her fight, while valiant (and bloody as hell), is as hopeless as the Hollows’ fight against her had been.

There are simply too many beasts, and they’re very big and strong. It takes one last blast from Gabu before he dies to deter a Turbinid Dragon from curb-stomping her, but she still gets flung over halfway across the village.

Her scuffles with the beasts have left her all chewed up, missing limbs, coughing up blood, and immobile. She passes out believing she has no value because she failed to do “what she was born to do.” But she wakes up surrounded by Hollows, each of whom chops off a a small piece of themselves for her to eat, until their unlikely savior is not only fully healed, but…I’ll go ahead and use the crude but apt term “souped up.”

Faputa also suddenly finds herself surrounded by things she didn’t know, from her mother to Gabu, to Reg, and this leads her to ponder just what else she might not know. What is beyond her duty, which she believed to be her only value? Well, as Belaf said as she absorbed the memories he willingly offered her as she destroyed him, the time would come when she’d decide her own value.

That time has now come, and it once again unlocks something in her as a weird green glyph glows in her golden eyes. The Scorching Sun, once a volatile may have just evolved into a more mature star, poised to defend her sundry satellites from the incursions from outer space with her golden light.

Summertime Render – 15 – Shadow and Flame

No sooner does Shinpei loop back to the kitchen does Ushio arrive with Mio to fill him in on what happened: the enemy got to Nezu and used his own sniper rifle to kill Shinpei. We also learn that the creepy vision Shin keeps having is a visualization of his situation.

The past is crumbling behind him, and should he loop back where there is no more solid ground, he’ll fall into nothingness. He figures he has one loop left, if that. If they’re going to make their stand against the Shadows, it’s now or never.

Shinpei’s plan involves using himself as bait, since Haine wants to kill him until he’s out of loops and no longer a threat to her plans. The part of Mio’s personality Shadow Mio copied can’t help but admire how cool her big brother is by doing this, but forgets that Ushio can transform into a watch.

Ushio transforms and runs with Shin in her arms as an angered Mio gives chase. The real Mio, Sou, and Tokiko block her path, with Tokiko using two Shadow Babies Ushio freed from Haine’s control for defense and offense. Hizuru gives herself over to Ryuunosuke, who takes on “Shiori’s” corrupted family and friends.

When Haine and Shide get involved in chasing after Ushio and Shinpei, Ryuunosuke takes a bullet for them, buying them enough time to regroup in the gymnasium. Back outside, Shadow Mio shows off just how graceful and diabolical she can be by merging her body into one of the babies, but ends up getting burnt by her original and shot with nails by Sou.

Back in the gym, Ushio narrowly avoids getting shot to shreds by Shide and his trusty revolver, taking the stage as Tetsu switches on the stage lights to keep Haine and Shide’s attention on her. Haine and Shide, always convinced they have the advantage, are sorely mistaken in this case.

Still floating just over them are Ushio’s hairs, which are transformed into six masses of gasoline that then fall and soak the two. Then Shinpei, who was lurking on he balcony above them, tosses a match that starts a conflagration, then brandishes a revolver of his own. It’s a very cool action movie scene.

Hell, everything in this episode is incredibly cool and cinematic. A great deal of time and effort went into the animation; clearly STR was holding a large chunk of its budget for this episode (and probably a couple of future ones). While some suspension of disbelief normal “civvies” in Shin’s group survive as long as they do, great care is taken to ensure the weaker (Shinpei, Tetsu, Sou, and Mio) are protected by the stronger (Ushio, Tokiko, Nezu and Hizuru).

Thanks to their preparation, coordination, and vast amounts of misdirection, along with exploiting the arrogance of the enemy, Ushio is on the cusp of deleting Haine…only for Haine to use Shiori’s face, voice, and tears as a psychological weapon that cause Ushio to hesitate for just a moment. In that moment, Shide, who was playing dead in the fire, shoots Shinpei in the chest several times, then grabs Ushio and pulls her into the flames.

Shide intentionally missed Shin’s vitals so that Ushio would die before he did, and all the information on the previous loops will die with her. But once again Ushio pulls a fast one on him, as the body he grabbed was just a dummy. The real Ushio, in shell pendant form, reforms into a human and stabs Shide through the heart, promising to delete him.

Shide is only saved by Haine pulling off the most impressive Shadow stunt to date: deleting all of the air in the gym, killing the fire, causing Shinpei and Tetsu to nearly asphyxiate, and blowing out all of the gym’s windows from the air outside, allowing Haine and Shide to escape.

When Ushio collapses, a distraught Shinpei rushes to her side, but she’s fine; she’s only exhausted from all the copying she did. Like Haine and Shide, Ushio laments that Shinpei has been mortally wounded by the gunshots and doesn’t have much time left, but he reveals that a homemade bulletproof vest under his shirt protected him.

At the sight of the vest and upon realizing her Shin is okay, Ushio pulls him into what must surely be a very painful (due to the bullet impacts) but also very welcome hug. It’s an incredibly sweet and moving hug, the reward for going through a literal trial-by-fire.

While Haine and Shide are still out there and sure to regain their strength soon, it’s about as good an outcome as you could ask for. None of Shinpei’s friends or family were killed, and they’ve even captured Mio, whom the real Mio says Ushio should hack so she can become one of them.

Along with Toki’s Shadow Babies, Ushio’s hacking looks to be the potentially decisive key to victory: being able to turn enough of Haine’s minions to their side so they can fight on more even terms. The only problem is time.

Summertime Render – 14 – Trouble Out of the Gate

As Shinpei and Ushio continue to watch Hizuru’s past interactions with Haine unfold, it’s clear Haine was not always evil incarnate, but more of a timid, frightened little girl Hizuru just couldn’t let be. Haine’s story of how the rest of her family starved is probably a big part of that; no doubt Hiruko inherited that story from the host body.

But the more Hizuru fed her, the more hungry Haine became, and she could no longer control herself. Hiruko’s instinctive drive to devour took over just as Ryuunosuke encountered a bloody Haine while looking for his twin sister. This is the day Ryuunosuke died, then in short order became a part of Hizuru.

Hizuru’s split personality wasn’t due to emotional trauma, it was an actual thing that happened as a result of Ryuunosuke’s copy bouncing off Haine (who is momentarily her former, innocent self) and imprinting onto Hizuru. Ryuu has powers similar to Ushio in the present, but by using them in his sisters body he puts immense strain on that body.

That said, he manages to kill two shadow babies and rescue Hizuru and a younger (but still old) Nezu. But Hizuru couldn’t do anything about the loss of her brother’s body, and her family soon moves off the island, much to Asako’s distress. As her boat departed, Hizuru spotted Haine wearing a patch where her right eye had been, promising the next time they meet she’ll kill her.

The memory ends abruptly, and Shinpei and Ushio end up back with Hizuru and Nezu about to confront Shiori. Ushio uses her memory transfer ability to bring the two up to speed, and they decide to regroup for now. Shinpei has Mio, Sou, Tokiko, and Tetsu meet him, Ushio, and Hizuru at the school, where he gives a speech about not wanting to run away, but to stand and fight…and for that he’ll need all their help.

Now knowing what awaits her by dutifully continuing her family’s practice of aiding Hiruko (betrayal and grisly death) even Tokiko agrees to help fight, leaving the cowardly holdout Tetsu no choice but to also agree. Nezu, keeping watch outside, ends up like Muldoon in Jurassic Park when he looks the wrong way at the wrong time and a “clever girl” kills him.

Just as Shinpei’s new plan is about to commence with everyone filled in and on board, there’s a flash and he loops back to when he was making sandwiches in the kitchen of his house. Clearly, one of Shiori, Shadow Mio or Shide (the four-armed one, embodiment of greed) killed him with Nezu’s sniper rifle. Shiori has realized that the starting points of Shinpei’s loops are getting later and later, so the faster she and her ilk make Shinpei die and loop, the faster he’ll run out of time.

That said, his starting point here is getting very late indeed with most of a second cour left; surely something in his favor has to happen soon. That is, unless, perhaps, reaching that point where there’s no time left is his natural next step on his journey…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 13 – The Rules Have Changed

When Ushio materializes beside Shinpei, she pounces on a confused Hizuru. Nezu prepares to aim his rifle at Ushio, but Shin asks him to stand down. Then Ushio takes Hizuru’s hand, sees everything she’s seen, and knows that even though she’s a Shadow, Ushio is their ally.

She’s always been their ally, ever since she printed the looping eye and brought Shin to the island. And since she’s a novelist, she’ll consider the incredible credible, and the unreal real. Shin believes their worst mistake last loop was splitting up, and having heard she died, Hizuru concurs.

They head to the Kobayakawa home just like before, only this time they have Ushio, and after Haine tried to corrupt her, she now believes she has the ability to erase a Shadow if she wants to. Since Shiori is Haine’s way of moving about outside the cave, she’s hoping erasing Shiori will eliminate that way at worst, and destroy Haine at best.

Hizuru cedes control to Ryuunosuke, who heads into the house…and gets their ass handed to them. The “four-armed one” smashes Hizuru’s head in with her own sledge, and Haine!Shiori reveals that thanks to the brand on Shinpei’s arm, whenever he shows up in a new loop, she can find him “lickety-split”.

With Hizuru already dead and Nezu following shortly thereafter, it looks very bad for our heroes. Then the four-armed one wraps those arms around Shinpei, and PreCure Ushio swoops in and beheads him with her hair. So ends the fifth loop; we hardly knew ye! In the timeless corridor between loops, Shinpei thanks Ushio (in wristwatch form) for her quick thinking.

He laments how he let his naivete get Hizuru and Nezu killed so quickly and let another loop go to waste…but there’s no time for sulking. Ushio reports that when she tried to scan four-arms she found no data, but he “smelled” like Haine. She also believes Haine is using the brand to pull her along with him through the loops.

Both agree that in the next loop they’ll have to be a lot smarter and more careful, since they no longer have much of the element of surprise. But to their surprise, they appear not on the 22nd as usual, but in front of their family restaurant, in the rain. Two students walk past—the twins Hizuru and Ryuunosuke.

Shinpei follows them inside with Watch!Ushio and learn that this is most definitely the past; back when the restaurant was celebrating ten years, and both of Shinpei’s marine archaeologist parents were still alive. Hizuru tells Asako and Ryuu that she’s met a friend…up at the clinic on the mountain.

Shinpei/Ushio follow the three (he’s not visible to anyone in this projection, which is one of Hizuru’s memories), and when Hizuru’s friend doesn’t appear, Ryuu and Asako split. Then the light in the window comes on as usual, and Haine (with two identical red eyes) greets Hizuru.

I thought we were going to spend some time in the fifth loop, but it’s smart for the second cour to subvert expectations and up the ante when it comes to the dangers Shinpei and his family and friends face as they continue to meddle. Even more ominous, Sou’s dick of a dad is aware of Shinpei and Hizuru snooping around where they shouldn’t, and also knows Ushio’s shadow is causing trouble.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S., The new OP is…fine, and I even find myself not skipping it for future episodes, but it’s no first cour OP, which really captured the heat and bittersweet longing of summer. This new theme (and the ED, for that matter) sound a lot more generic.

Summertime Render – 12 – The Kitchen’s Closed

Tokiko reveals Hiruko no Mikoti, Mother of Shadows and God of Hitogashima, also known as Haine, the form of the first human Hiruko copied. To the outrage and disgust of her friends and brother alike, Toki also reveals her family’s solemn duty to feed Haine the bodies of the dead to restore her power.

When Sou bristles, Toki hits back, saying she had no choice; with Sou “being the way he is” he could never be told about the fam’s secret, while feeding Haine is the only way to keep their mother, now a Shadow, alive. As for Ushio, Toki says she got herself killed sticking her nose where it didn’t belong out of her own sense of justice.

Among the two bodies presented for Haine tonight by Nurse Negoro is Ushio’s original corpse; a double was cremated and the bones printed. When Ushio frees herself and snatches up her original body, she’s able to repair her arm and fight at full strength, which is good because Haine transforms Nurse Negoro into a musclebound monster.

Shinpei tries to take advantage of the chaos to shoot Haine with his nailgun, newly printed from Ushio’s hair, but before he can shoot both the gun and his fingers are sliced off by Haine’s Shadow bodyguard, who is holding an unconscious Mio by her head and threatens to crush her skull if anyone moves.

The bodyguard shoots at Tokiko, who was unaware that Haine plans to kill and eat everyone on the island, but Sou takes a bullet for his sister. It doesn’t matter; the bodyguard simply shoots her dead too, now that she and the Hishigatas have fulfilled their duties to Haine.

As Tetsu finally encounters the wounded Hizuru and agrees to carry her deeper into the cave, Haine decides not to kill Ushio, but reprogram her brain and use her as another tool. She also snatches Shin’s time-looping eye—the one in which he “renders” different realities—but it soon disappears from her hand and returns to his socket; not even a god can take away his power.

But what Haine and her hulking bodyguard can do is restrain him and keep him alive until her plans come to full fruition. The bodyguard kills Mio, and Shin’s last chance to be killed and loop seems to rest with Tetsu and Hizuru, who arrive just in time. Tetsu distracts the bad guys with his boobery, giving Hizuru a clean shot at both the bodyguard’s head and Shinpei.

Alas, the bodyguard shields Shinpei and kills Hizuru, so Shinpei uses his last resort: drinking an entire bottle of mercuric chloride from the abandoned clinic, which will most definitely kill him, albeit slowly and painfully. He uses time it takes for the poison to do him in to promise Haine that he’ll defeat her and save everyone. At the same time, Ushio’s powers have advanced to the point she can not only resist Haine’s corrosion, but reverse it and free herself.

Ushio’s final effort is to lunge to where Ushio is dying and take his hand, and she goes through the time loop with him. As long as they’re together, Ushio promises to go anywhere with him, as many times as it takes. But lest we forget, every time he returns to a new loop—this newest being the fifth—he starts a little later. He and Ushio arrive hand-in-hand just as he’s telling Hizuru and Nezu that he’s a time traveler, her book in his hand.

Shinpei now has a lot more information about the bad guys and their plans, but less time to act. The good news is Shadow Ushio is with him, along with all of the amassed memories of the previous loop. Her powers may also already surpass those of the weakened Haine. This episode at the series’ halfway point delves into the bloody depths of despair but ends on a note of hope and optimism that Shinpei and Ushio can turn this train wreck around.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 11 – Let’s Get Nuts!

Pandemonium is the ultimate agent and wielder of chaos. None of the Jokers have anything on this mirthful, pint-sized Giallo buff. Haruno Anzu typically voices her with a singsong child’s meter with a healthy share of “Maa’s!”, which rides the line between ironically effective and annoying, but also makes it that much creepier when ‘Moni speaks more quietly and seriously.

While Menou expends all of her ether on a mere warm-up fight with Moni, Akari seemingly heals Momo with her power, which made me think Momo would possibly play a role in the battle. Ashuna also gets reports of around a hundred people in town suddenly melting into red goo, making the princess primed to get involved in whatever’s up on the island.

I’ll tell you what: nothing good! Giant four-eyed rats with human legs sticking out of their backs? No freakin’ thank you! But it’s par for the course for the B-movie-obsessed Moni. She’s not trying to take over the world. She’s just trying to be as entertained as she can possibly be watching humans try their absolute best…then die horribly.

When Menou does run out of her own paltry stores of ether, Moni shoves her out of the castle with a giant hand, but that’s when Ashuna officially joins the battle, pretending she’s meeting Menou for the first time and offering her own seemingly unlimited stores of ether for Menou, who is far better-equipped to use it.

The duo of Menou and Ashuna proves extremely successful, at least at first, as Menou connects the earthly and heavenly veins, builds a massive Pseudo-Cathedral atop the castle isle, and sucks Moni into a bloody singularity, then an endless loop of detainment. Logically, the battle should be over. It’s not.

That’s because with Moni around, chaos reigns. Kill her once or a hundred times, it may not even be the real one you’re killing. Moni not only survives, but summons a gigantic eldritch abomination from the fog in order to show just how tough a cookie she is.

The kaiju obliterates the castle isle in one blow (which is sad, that was a hell cool-looking isle; reminded me of Ico) but the dashing Princess Ashuna saves Menou with a princess carry—just before that, she showed genuine affection and concern for her reluctant bae Momo.

So the giant monster is out there, but Menou soon determines it’s not a real threat; it’s still basically trapped in its current location by the fog, and that fog soon starts advancing on both the monster and Moni. While all this is going on, Akari is kept from joining Menou and Ashuna in battle by another Moni, who prefers mind games to blood and gore.

Moni felt like chatting with a fellow Japanese. Moni knows Akari can only use her Pure Concept of Time so much before it starts to degrade her soul into nothingness. There’s also the side effect of losing your memories from your previous life, but Akari, who was bullied at school in her old life, is only concerned with keeping her memories of Menou.

Akari destroys Moni with one shot from her fingertip, but Moni soon comes back and continues to mess with Akari, telling her that there’s a reason she’s failed so many times. Someone more powerful is impeding her efforts—someone with access to something called the “Astral Archive”, an entity composed of all the collected memories of the planet, the source of the power of ether, and the origin of the lord written in the scriptures of the Faust.

In other words, it’s probably Flare. So as Moni threatens to wear out her welcome by transforming into a CGI centipede girl (which while creepy and menacing, lacks visual mass and weight and is thus less impressive than the kaiju she summoned), she’s looking more and more like an intermediate boss on the way to the true big bad: Menou’s mordant mentor.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 10 – From Letdown to Taboo

Manon isn’t that surprised or intimidated by Akari Prime’s time magic, while it’s Akari who keeps getting surprised by this current iteration of the world. Manon was the child of a Lost One, a Japanese woman who was not intentionally summoned but simply appeared. Lord Libelle, Manon’s father, married the woman to bolster his power with her pure concept, but ended up never forcing her to use it, because he fell in love with her.


Manon is right that it’s a lovely story, but it has a cruel ending, as one day Flare executed Manon’s mom right in front of her, and didn’t even bother to kill her too. Manon grew up with everyone having great expectations for the child of a Lost One, only for her to have no magical power whatsoever. Branded a great letdown, Manon became mired in a life of uselessness an ennui…until she decided to embrace the dark side and become taboo.

This is why Manon doesn’t fear Akari in the least, nor Menou when she shows up to save Akari from certain death by Chaos magecraft. Not because she’s particularly powerful—Menou basically freezes her with her gaze then lops her arm off—but because, in short, Manon isn’t greedy. She’s had fun as a rebel and a taboo, but ultimately she’s just a vessel and sacrifice for something much, much worse…the little girl in the Iron Maiden who almost blew Momo up.

This girl is creepy and frightening as fuck, successfully toeing the line between twee and terrifying. Menou slits her throat, and she simply sheds her old skin and pops out of her dead body good as new. Then she twists her own head around dozens of times and stretches it vertically until it pops off to create a fountain of blood.

Out of that blood, multiple eldritch beasts emerge, and feast upon her corpse. Then she pops out of one of the monster’s mouths, once again whole. It’s an atmosphere-upsetting enough incident for Ashuna, still getting over Momo standing her up (though to be fair, Momo is bedridden), to sense from the mainland.

Yes, the girl herself is the Human Error Pandemonium, having escaped her prison of fog and is now ready to finish off the world she almost destroyed once before. Like Menou’s conundrum with Akari, how can you kill someone that won’t die when you kill them? We’ll surely find out in what’s looking like a season-capping final battle that’s sure to include more than just Menou as it progresses.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 16 – Escaping the Doom

In the fifth and final loop before Rika calls it quits, Satoko wakes her up in bed as usual, but she has a heavy fever and hurts “all over”. Turns out she’s already dead right out of the gate—she just doesn’t know it yet. In this loop, Satoko is the neck-scratcher, and has already killed everyone else. The Oyashiro-sama in her head has told her the priestess-hood must pass from Rika to her.

What awful sin has caused Satoko to be compelled to disembowel a conscious Rika and hack away at her guts with a ceremonial staff? The simple reason that Rika wished and dreamed of leaving Hinamizawa, abandoning Oyashiro-sama and everyone she knows for a sophisticated life elsewhere. There is no greater sin for a priestess than to forsake their deity thus.

But before she dies, Rika expresses her sorrow and guilt and essentially begs for forgiveness, which Satoko is sure Oyashiro-sama will bestow upon her if she’s serious in her contriteness. The younger and older Rikas converse in an idealized Hinamizawa and wonder why their dreams ever strayed from the village. Then, as Satoko embraces her, hopeful that things will be better next time, Rika closes her pinky and snaps.

Satoko wakes Rika up as usual, only this time outside. Rika’s guts are where they belong, inside her body, and the whole gang is in their bathing suits for a day of summer fun in the river. It’s Higurashi’s version of a beach episode, portraying the Sonozaki twins in bikinis and the other girls in school swimsuits.

As the sun goes down, Rika talks to Satoko about a realization she hand about two very long, very different dreams she was having. One dream was painful while she was liviing in it, but looking back knows it was full of “shining wonders”. In her other dream, she never noticed those wonders, and was punished for clinging to an “ungrateful” dream (the one where she leaves town for a fancy school).

Rika concludes by saying she loves Hinamizawa, and everyone in it, and Satoko, almost serving as a proxy to Oyashiro-sama, embraces her once more, glad to have heard Rika speak such words. With Rika no longer dreaming of being anywhere else, her curse is seemingly lifted. No one gets the neck itch, nobody kills or dies, and everyone watches her perform the Watanagashi dance.

Then Rika spots Tomitake wandering into the woods and she stops him to say something about her and Takano, only for Takano to emerge from the trees. She wants to talk to Rika too. I wonder what about, and if and how this latest loop, so ideal and peaceful so far, will suddenly go sideways.

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

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 14 – Parting Gift

In the previous episode Rena informs Keiichi that they’re the only two survivors among their circle of friends, but this week we have the dubious honor of watching Ooishi’s rampage unfold in real time, and I’m not sure I needed that.

Watching the crazed detective choke Rika while scratching out his throat (due to the itch of Oyashiro’s curse, no doubt) and shooting anyone who comes near (including the Sonozaki twins and Satoko) before beating Rika’s head in with a bat is not my idea of a fun time.

When Rika wakes up, it’s in the strange space filled with pieces of a temple and glowing shards, and she’s welcomed by Hanyuu once more. Rika’s apparently been at this for over a century, trapped in Hinamizawa, but every loop ends the same: with her and plenty of others dying.

Only now, apparently, Hanyuu (or rather the “echo” of her) has used “the last of her power” to ensure Rika retains the memories of her past loops so she can learn from them. This sounds like absolute torture of Steins;Gate proportions to me. What kind of friend is this Hanyuu?!

Hanyuu also informs Rika of the Onigari-no-ryuou, a sacred sword that can kill a looper. She calls it a parting gift, because after telling her where to find it (the shed) she bids Rika adieu, and Rika wakes up in a fresh new loop.

Now that she knows of a weapon that can kill her for good, Rika, who looks for all the world to have had her fill of all this, can’t quite hide her depressive state from the others. She picks hide-and-seek for their club game, with the caveat that she’s the only one hiding. Sundown arrives and they can’t find her…but they don’t give up.

Rika has given up, however, and after briefly cry-laughing from the cruelty of the sword not being where it should be (inside the statue of Oyashiro), she digs a little deeper and finds a small shard of it, which she deems adequate to “do the job.”

Just as she’s about to open her Carotid with the shard, her friends call out for her from outside, having finally located her at the shed. She decides not to kill herself after all. Now that she knows she can, she can go on a little longer—five more loops, to be exact.

While this is an intriguing new twist on the formula we’ve seen so far, as a practical matter I’m starting to have trouble overlooking the clunky, inconsistent character design of Higurashi, especially as I begin new and far better-looking Winter shows. This week’s score reflects my growing disappointment in the visuals.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 13 – Fate Pushes Back

Thanks to the support of Sonozaki Oryou and other adults, most of Hinamizawa and parts of neighboring towns have come out in support of Keiichi’s efforts to save Satoko. The crowd is so large, Ooishi lumbers over to tell them they have to disperse. They don’t have a permit to demonstrate, and the CWS isn’t subject to mob rule.

The same laws meant to protect Satoko seem destined to torpedo Keiichi’s last gasp efforts, as any group dispersed now will surely be smaller next time around. Fortunately those in the highest positions of power have Keiichi & Co.’s backs, including Mion and Shion’s uncle, prefectural assemblyman, and another Sonozaki who’s a powerful lawyer.

The coup-de-grace that ends the CWS siege is Oryou herself, who pays a personal visit to the prefectural mayor along with her daughter to request the crowd’s demands be met. The mayor wouldn’t dream of going against Oryou, and so Keiichi and his friends are allowed inside. There, the cowardly director sends his assistant to confront Teppei. Ooishi gives him a ride to his house.

Later that evening, Keiichi gets a call from Satoko, who is safe and sound—if ominously framed throughout the call. She says learning about the extent to which Keiichi and others did for her sake, she stopped thinking it was best to keep enduring the pain, and cried out for help. When Teppei threatened her, he was arrested and detained. Satoko is now free from his clutches.

The next night is the Watanagashi festival, and the reunited group of friends decides to engage in a far more enjoyable battle than the one they just won: determine who can have the most fun! Festival food eating, target shooting and goldfish scooping ensue in a subsequent montage.

When Rika takes the stage for her sacred dance, Satoko pulls Keiichi aside. In a secluded spot, she asks if it’s okay if she calls him “nii-nii” from now on, making him officially her new big brother. He agrees, and she leads him to her house to give him an additional gift. It was at this point, with these two walking around the dark, that I started to worry about the curse.

Sure enough, the moment Keiichi switches on a lamp in Satoko’s house, Teppei comes at him from behind with a baseball bat. How the hell he escaped from jail isn’t explained, just that Keiichi suddenly snaps, wrests the bat from Teppei, and beats him to a bloody pulp. The uncle’s blood and brains splatter all over the room, Keiichi, and Satoko, and Keiichi then passes out from his own head wound.

The next morning, Keiichi is visited by Detective Kumagai, Ooishi’s colleague. He asks what happened last night at Satoko’s, but due to his head injury Keiichi simply can’t remember. Days pass, and no one comes to visit him except for Rena. He later learns there’s a reason for that: everyone else—including Satoko—are dead.

Rena tells him it’s a good thing he left the festival early, because Ooishi ran into the crowd and started firing his gun wildly, killing Mion, Shion, Rika and Satoko. I would guess that Satoko returned to the festival after running out of her house.

It’s an instance of Keiichi and everyone doing absolutely everything right on their way to a good ending, only for cruel fate to yank everyone back into not just a bad ending, but one of the worst possible. I honestly don’t know how Keiichi could have avoided disaster here. The curse appears to be more powerful than even a whole town united in its desire to protect a young girl whose parents supported the dam.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 09 – Estelles;Gate

Last week’s doll-and-face fetish episode, and the grape-stomping maiden episode before it, made for some particularly goofy Journeys of Elaina, making me wonder when and if show would get dark again. Sure enough, this episode arrives with an “Explicit Content” warning, opens on a starving, broke Elaina, and no OP! What the heck are we in for? At the time, I had no idea.

Elaina finds a flyer promising good pay for “ultra-short-term” work, and encounters a fellow Witch, Estelle. Through meeting her, Elaina is pleased to learn that while Estelle became an apprentice when she was younger, it took her longer than Elaina to become a full-fledged Witch. Wand-measuring aside, Estelle is offering a giant sack of gold coins for the job.

What is the job? Well, first, a sad story: Back while Estelle was training abroad, her dear childhood friend Selena’s parents were murdered in a robbery. Selena’s uncle took her in, and proceeded to abuse her. Selena eventually snapped, murdering her uncle, and then several others. It ultimately fell to Estelle to apprehend Selena…and execute her.

Estelle seeks to use magic to go back in time so she can save Selena’s parents and prevent the chain of events that lead to her having to kill her own best friend. Time-traveling requires more magic than any one witch has, so Estelle has been gradually draining her blood to augment the spell.

The other problem is that once they’re actually in the past, Estelle will be drained of all magic, which is why she needs Elaina. By wearing matching magical rings, Elaina will be able to share her magic with Estelle. This job is not without its risks and inconveniences—hence the generous payday.

Elaina, confident and cocksure as always, proudly proclaims herself to be a traveler, and so the next logical step in her journey is to travel through time and see how things used to be in the past. So she slips on the ring, Estelle activates the spell, and off they go.

The witches safely arrive ten years into the past, but only have one hour to do what needs to be done before being sent back to the present. Estelle makes it clear that the timeline in which she executes Selena has happened and can’t un-happen; changing events will create a tangent, but that’s enough for her, as long as there is a timeline in which Selena gets to live on.

Their broom-flight to Selena’s house is interrupted when Estelle spots young Selena walking down the street, and can resist giving her a big hug, no matter how much it weirds the girl out. Elaina notes that Estelle got quie the cold reaction from Selena, but Estelle insists that deep down Selena is very kind.

Estelle proceeds to get Selena’s parents out of the house under the guise that she’s Selena’s half-sister and has business with them. Elaina stakes out the house, waiting for the robber to arrive, but it dawns on her that the murder of the parents was too grisly for a mere robbery. Then her magic-sharing ring glows and shoots a red beam in Estelle’s direction: she’s engaged in battle.

When Elaina arrives, she finds a horrifying sight: Selena has viciously attacked Estelle, and has blood on her mouth just like her photo in the future papers. It turns out Selena’s parents abused her long before her uncle had the chance, twisting her into homicidal mania, even sadism. It doesn’t matter whether Estelle was her best friend or she and Elaina are trying to “help”—Selena is already beyond helping.

While the blood and gore on display in this scene is indeed explicit, I for one am glad we didn’t have to witness the abuse Selena suffered at the hands of her parents, and the warning was meant for the violence. And there is a lot of it—the most in the series’ run for sure.

When Selena prepares to attack Elaina, Estelle gets up and stops her in her tracks. Having worked so hard and sacrificed her own blood to try to save Selena, she is overcome by heartbreak and despair, and there’s nothing left but to kill Selena again before she can kill Elaina or anyone else.

Elaina tries to stop this by removing the ring, but Estelle simply sacrifices her memories of Selena in order to summon enough magic to explode her head off. The hour is up and the two witches return to the present. Sure enough, Estelle doesn’t remember Selena, and barely remembers Elaina. She’s a ruined husk of a witch, and Elaina is so upset by the experience she runs out of Estelles house, pointedly leaving the bag of gold behind.

That, and Elaina’s subsequent breakdown on the bench in front of the clock tower, shows that the effects of this particular journey will (or at least should) last beyond just this episode. Elaina weeps uncontrollably, her confident façade utterly shattered. She no longer thinks of herself as a special or exemplary; only an “ordinary” traveler and witch, inexperienced and unable to do anything.

She’s being a bit hard on herself, as who the heck could have handled that situation better? It was largely out of her hands. The best thing to do would have been to refuse the job, but she really needed money and was intrigued by the prospect of a different kind of traveling. The episode fades to black and the credits roll without images. Black Friday, indeed.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

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