Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 12 – School’s Out for Winter

As the Dawn of Fold attack continues, the Dads are on the move. Vim Jeturk decides to pilot his Sol Dilanza rather than be Shaddiq’s puppet any longer. Delling finds Miorine, but true-to-character, his first words aren’t “Thank God you’re alright” but “What are you wearing?” since she’s not in an evac suit.

Poor Suletta is still shut off from the rest of the plant by the emergency bulkheads, but Sophie spots her, and shoots around her area to try to goad her into running off to the Aerial. When Dominicus tries to subdue her with Antidote, Sophie goes up to Permet Level Four … nearly killing herself in the process.

Like the bloody epilogue that got Witch from Mercury off to such a stirring start, this season one finale really accentuates the essential frailty of human beings. Delling is seriously wounded by a piece of errant shrapnel, while using his body to shield his daughter. For all his abuse and neglect, when the chips were down, he chose her over everything else.

When Norea spots GUND-Arm’s spaceship—with Earth House still on board—she takes aim and prepares to destroy it as part of the mission to keep anyone from escaping. She only stays her hand when Nika flashes the correct code with a signal light. Nika saves everyone on that ship, including herself, but Martin sees her signaling to the enemy. The gig is up.

When Guel overhears that a Gundam from Asticassia is on Plant Quetta, he pilots a mobile suit and heads out, determined to move forward “after Suletta”. But in the heat of his first real space battle, he almost loses it. He’s able to do what is necessary to survive—i.e. kill someone—but the one he ends up killing is his own father, Vim.

Suletta manages to crawl her way through the plant and make it to Hangar 78 where Aerial is—just as Lady Prospera knew she would. Mercury gets there first, and is about to be discovered by Dawn when Prospera arrives and kills them all. Mercury is shocked, but her mother lays out the calculus. All she did was move forward and gain two by killing others to save her.

There’s a beautiful, heartbreaking shot of Prospera and Suletta on opposite sides of a doorway, splattered blood between them. It can’t be any clearer: this is where moving forward means you can’t go back. Suletta, so easily manipulated by her mother and their credo, steps onto that blood and crosses the threshold.

When Sophie arrives to play, Suletta is already in Aerial’s cockpit and deflects her attacks with her Bits, then fires up her rockets and shoves Sophie the hell out of the hangar, scolding her for behaving in such a crass manner. That said, it’s my assumption Sophie may never have had a mother to scold her.

Suletta doesn’t know it, but as she scuffles with Sophie and then Norea, she’s buying time for the authorities to arrive with reinforcements. Once an entire patrol fleet enters the area, Naji gives the signal to retreat. While she complains, even Sophie doesn’t disobey, and hopes to see her “Big Sister” again. I’m sure she will.

Shaddiq gets word that the Dawn’s operation failed, and he doesn’t really react, wearing the same serene smile as usual. While I’m sure he’s been careful in trying to keep distance between himself and Earthian terrorists, the fact he doesn’t have Aerial and Delling isn’t confirmed dead will surely come back on him in some manner.

But there’s is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing more shocking and upsetting than the final scene of the season, in which Miorine is cornered by one straggling member of Dawn while pushing her injured father on a makeshift gurney. Before he can kill Delling, Suletta blasts through the bulkhead and smashes him with Aerial’s hand, turning him into a fine paste of blood and guts just inches from where Miorine stands.

Suletta hops out of the cockpit with her usual chipper demeanor, and even jokes about being such a klutz when she slips on the blood and guts. She reaches out her hand—which again, is covered in blood and guts of a man she just killed—to her bride. Miorine is quite rightly absolutely aghast and terrified at the Suletta before her. “How can you smile right now,” she asks, before declaring her groom a “murderer”.

All season Witch from Mercury had been lulling us into a false sense of security by showing us duel after bloodless duel at space high school. Well, graduation has come early for Guel, Nika, Miorine, and Suletta, in a cruel blast of twisted metal and a spray of blood. Nothing will be the same going forward for any of them. In other words, it’s Gundam being Gundam.

To be fair to Suletta, I’m not sure what else she could have done in that moment when it was either the shooter or Miorine. But now Suletta’s innocence is gone forever, Miorine will never look at her the same way again, and she isn’t even aware. For all she gained by following her mother’s motto to the letter, we’ve yet to see what she’ll lose. That will be revealed in season two this coming Spring.

Chainsaw Man – 09 – Crunch Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chainsaw Man – 04 – Three Squeezes

As Power reflects on her life as a feral devil in human form living meal to meal, she wonders why, when Meowy was taken, did she not only run after him but work with humans to try to save him?

It all comes down to the warmth of Meowy, like the warmth of blood, being like nothing else. The calls it a “foolish reason”, but one moment she’s in the stomach of the Bat Devil with Meowy, and the next, they’re both back in the sunlight—and in Denji’s arms.

Power’s first question is, no unreasonably, “Why” he saved her. His answer is simple, and just as “foolish” as her desire for Meowy’s warmth: he wants to cop a feel. Considering he repaid her deception by saving her and Meowy, she’s fine with him doing so.

But Denji dithers, and as he raises his arm in celebration, it’s swiftly chopped off by an even nastier devil than the bat. She’s “Batty’s” woman, but finds Denji cute enough that she’ll spare him if he flees. But the girl and cat? They die.

Power can’t move yet and Meowy is helpless in a cage, so it’s up to Denji to protect them, but he’s low on the blood that fuels the chainsaws, and only a single tiny Pochita-like blade emerges from his forehead when he rips his cord. No matter; he puts up his remaining duke and fights the giant leech monster with everything he’s got.

He drops potshots and makes spinning slashes while dodging the leech’s punishing blows. Eventually the Leech stops messing around and impales him with her tongue, but with one hand signal and one word from Hayakawa Aki, a giant fox demon appears and glomps the Leech stright back to hell.

Aki finds Denji’s arm and he makes a full recovery. When he wakes up, Aki is there, with perfect little apple bunnies he’s not ready to relinquish until Denji answers some questions. Having found a fellow pet-lover who, more importantly, will let him fondle her chest, Denji sticks to his guns and covers for Power.

Since no one died (and quite a few bystanders told him to thank Denji on their behalf), he lets it slide, and so does Makina when he makes his report. I love the way he neatens himself before entering her office, dude’s got it bad for the boss.

Aki lets everything slide on one condition: Denji has to do what he says. Makima also lets everything slide, but then has Power join him and Denji in his cramped but tidy apartment, which becomes far more cramped and less tidy.

The wordless sequence of Makima’s morning ritual and balcony serenity before all hell breaks loose was a thing of beauty, and while power wears clothes now, she’s still quite feral by human standards, and in dire need of domestic training.

But if her hygiene and diet leave much to be desired, her memory works just fine, as well as the importance of her word. She told Denji he could feel her up, but the Leech Devil interrupted them. Now that they’re living together, she wastes no time giving him the opportunity to collect his reward.

Shutting them in the bathroom, she allows him three squeezes: one for saving Meowy, a second for slaying Bat Devil, and a third for protecting her from “Topknot”. Power is a picture of cuteness and badassdom as she awaits Denji’s hand. The question is, now that he’s so close to his dream, will he actually be able to execute?

Chainsaw Man – 03 – Getting Attached

I was looking forward to an entire episode of Power, and I was not disappointed. This week is another combination of absurd action and gore and genuinely moving character drama. Turns out the devil Power slew belonged to a private hunter, which is a no-no and typically an arrestable offense.

But as Denji witnesses, Makima is like the mother who never yells or even raises her voice. She never has to. When Power insists Denji made her kill the devil and the two bicker, it only takes a couple softly spoken words from Makima to bring Power to nervous attention. She insists the two get along and work together from now on. No need for an “or else” either; that’s inferred.

When Denji mentions that even grabbing a drink from a vending machine is a dream come true for him, Power explains why she “fell into Makima’s clutches”: the possibility of rescuing her beloved cat, Meowy, from a demon. She’ll get along with Denji and even let him cop a feel if he helps her.

So Denji checks Power out for the day—she isn’t allowed to leave HQ on her own—and the two take a trolley and then bus out to where the demon who stole Meowy is located. Denji mentions that he had a pet devil he’s sad he can’t pet anymore, but who lives on in his heart.

Power tells him that’s nothing more than “miserable self-comfort”; she’s unaware that Pochita isn’t just in his heart, but is his heart. Meanwhile, their boss Makima goes before her bosses with a progress report. She mentions her new “pup” is “interesting” and they warn her not to get too attached to her hunting dogs.

Aki questions Denji’s utility relative to the amount of rope Makima is giving him, but Makima reminds Aki that the more powerful a devil’s name is, the more powerful the devil. A “coffee” devil isn’t that strong, but a chainsaw devil—especially one that can return to being a human—is most certainly interesting.

As soon as Denji and Power arrive at the outskirts of the city, I was already feeling apprehensive; such was the muted, incredibly bleak look of the place. But as Power closely followed Denji right up to the house and he asks if she should even be in sight considering the demon will use Meowy as a hostage, she pauses and then says she “misspoke”.

Denji draws his hatchet quickly, but still not fast enough to stop Power from summoning a sledge from her blood, with which she brains him. Meowy’s kidnapper is a giant bat devil, and Denji is the payment for getting Meowy back. The bat grabs Denji and squeezes him, as human blood will heal his wounded arm, but he tosses Denji aside when his blood tastes terrible.

I can’t really blame Power for making this deal, especially after getting a look at the adorable Meowy trapped in a birdcage, and after a flashback to a far wilder Power who saved a starving, shivering Meowy from a bear. Meowy became her constant companion, one of the only voices she heard that wasn’t screaming.

But just as she betrayed Denji, the bat devil goes back on his word, swallowing Meowy, cage and all. As he lets out a loud gulp, Power turns to the battered Denji and tells him now she understands how he feels, having lost her beloved pet. She’s so distraught, in fact, she doesn’t resist when the bat grabs her and tosses her down his gullet headfirst.

The healed bat devil then takes to the skies to have a multi-course meal of various kinds of humans in the city. But he notices Denji dangling from his leg, surprised he’s still alive as like Power he assumes he’s just a normal human. The terrible taste of Denji’s blood should have clued him in.

Denji recalls one night when he couldn’t find Pochita, and looked everywhere for him in a panic. He finally returned home to find him crying in the corner—just as scared and worried about their separation as he was—and he fell asleep with Pochita in his arms.

Just as Power had a moment of empathy for Denji before being swallowed, Denji considers how Power felt each and every night Meowy was in the devil’s clutches. He’s also frustrated by the lack of copping feels thus far, so he pulls his cord, transforms into Chainsaw Man, and tears the Bat a new one.

Landing in a school, Denji encounters the first of many innocent bystanders he must urge to run away (and not, ya know, reach out and touch them, which would tear them to shreds). While the show’s first big battle took place in a self-contained dark warehouse, it’s exhilarating to get a fight that takes place out in the open, first in the sky and then in the middle of a busy city.

Denji saves a driver from a car thrown his way by the bat devil, and then shoves the car right back in the bat’s face. The bat uses a supersonic attack that drives Denji several dozen feet back into a cloud of dust and rubble, but is again surprised when Denji emerges not harmed, but simply pissed off about not being able to cop any feels.

In a final bloody fluorish, Denji charges, one of his blades catches on the bat’s arm, and he cuts the arm clean in half, before delivering a spinning attack that sends the bat’s guts flying everywhere. Power, and hopefully an undigested Meowy, dwell within those guts, and maybe she won’t be so quick to betray Denji next time.

Chainsaw Man – 01 (First Impressions) – Exactly What It Says on the Tin

Denji has almost nothing. I say “almost” because he does have a couple of things. He has over 38 million yen (US$260K) in debt inherited from his dead dad, and he has Pochita a trusty pet chainsaw “dog”. The latter is called a devil, which Denji (voiced by Toya Kikunosuke in his debut) uses as a weapon to hunt other devils to pay back the debt.

But it’s never enough. The yakuza he works for squeeze Denji for every last finder’s fee and admin charge until a ¥400K job only nets him a measly $1,800 … which he has to stretch for a month. He’s sold all his redundant organs from his eye to his nut, but he’ll still eat a cigarette for a ¥100 coin … or at least pretend to eat one.

If that didn’t put you on this poor wretch’s side, his backstory would. His dad’s body was still warm in the ground when his debtors told Denji to get them ¥700K (almost $5K) by tomorrow, no matter what he has to do or have done to him. As he sits by his dad’s grave in the rain he first meets Pochita, who is mortally wounded. Pochita makes for a perfect fantasy animal, equal parts adorable and fearsome, and as sympathetic here as Denji.

Denji offers to let the little guy bite him (blood heals devils), if the devil agrees to let him use him as a weapon for hunting. The two have been inseparable ever since, and it’s a genuinely touching boy-and-his-mutant dog tale. He and Denji live off of slices of bread in a corrugated shed. Denji dreams not of having it all, but having enough—a normal life. Meals, a girlfriend, things of that nature. Then he coughs up blood, like his mom who died of a heart condition.

He’s too hungry to sleep, and even if he did, his yakuza master arrives to take him to his next job. As Denji puts it, they won’t even let him dream of a normal life. But after a beautifully depicted car ride to a remote dilapidated warehouse, Denji learns this isn’t another job, but the end of the line. The yakuza has decided to make a similar “deal with the devil”, only on a grand, grotesque scale.

He’s become a giant horrific monster with a horde of zombie devils at his beck and call. Denji is no longer needed, so he has the zombies stab and slice him to pieces and throw him in a dumpster. It’s a needlessly cruel and violent end, on the level of the martyrdom of a saint in one of the bloodier biblical tales. But on another level, maybe it’s for the best; maybe death is a welcome release from Denji’s lifelong torment.

In the dumpster, blood drips from Denji’s lifeless body … and into Pochita’s mouth. It heals the little devil enough for him to remember what Denji told him on a better day in the past, when they were felling trees and cutting logs. Denji knew he probably wouldn’t live to pay off his debt, but if he couldn’t have the normal life he dreamt of, he wanted Pochita to have his body, life that normal life, then die a normal death.

But Pochita doesn’t accept Denji’s sacrifice. From the gloomy day he was saved by Denji’s blood, Pochita owed Denji a solid. So instead of possessing Denji’s body, he heals it, and then becomes Denji’s new heart, replacing the defective one that was going to claim his life sooner or later. In a touching idyllic scene in the suddenly fully-lit dumpster, Pochita speaks (with Nanachi’s voice). In exchange for his heart, Denji is to show him his dream.

When Denji wakes up, he’s fully healed, and Pochita is gone. All that’s left is his familiar ripcord tail, which is now lodged in Denji’s chest where his heart once was. The zombie devils spot him and start shambling over to attack him again, but this time he’s not having it. He pulls the ripcord and vows to kill them all.

The zombies surround and pile on top of him as their zombie devil king assumes he’s being devoured and won’t come back. But then the muffled sound of a two-stroke motor emanates from that pile, which is suddenly shredded and turned into a messy blood fountain by Denji, sporting a chainsaw lodged between his eyes and on both arms.

This man of chainsaws—let us call him Chainsaw Man—goes to town on the hapless zombies, cutting through them like a Wüsthof through flan. They’re dumb, so they keep coming, so he keeps cutting through them, then turns his attention to their boss, who whimpers and cowers and lashes out with his gross fleshy tendrils to absolutely no avail.

Nothing made of flesh is any match for a chain of blades spinning at 10,000 RPM. Denji gives himself to the bloody gory spectacle, living in a state of pure vengeance. It’s a hard watch, but it’s also cathartic, and a long time coming. It’s a scene that would make Tarantino proud (and that he’d have to film in black-and-white to avoid NC-17 rating).

Dawn breaks, and a Toyota Century slowly pulls up to the warehouse. Three figures in long black coats make their way inside: two men with fedoras and a young woman with rose-colored hair. They see all the yakuza zombie devils already killed—the job they came to do.

Then they see who did it: Denji, still in Chainsaw mode, standing motionless in the middle of the bodies, spattered with their blood. The men posit that he’s another devil that’s still alive, but the woman says no; he doesn’t smell like a devil.

She approaches Denji, who lets out two words: “hug me.” The woman, named Makima (Kusunoki Tomori), obliges, giving Denji perhaps the first hug he’s ever been given by anyone. His chainsaw attachments melt away, reveailing he’s still human. Makima smiles and introduces herself as a member of Public Safety who came to do the job he already did.

She tenderly eases him into her lap, and gives her a simple choice: she can kill him like a devil, or she can keep him as a human. Keeping him means being fed properly. When he asks what that entails, she lists a whole bunch of foods he in his long-standing destitution would consider lavish: bread with butter, with jam; salad, coffee … dessert.

Makima just describing a normal meal. But for Denji, she’s describing a dream—a dream she can easily make true. Freed from the bondage of the yakuza, Denji has been offered a new life doing honest work for fair compensation. He’s been offered a chance to show Pochita his dream. And damnit, he’s going to take it.

* * *

Chainsaw Man is the best premiere of the Fall. It’s possibly the best premiere of the year. It’s about as flawlessly executed an episode of anime as one could ask for, and made me immediately want to watch it over again as soon as the credits ended. Its premise is so simple and elegant, yet contains multitudes of human suffering and redemption.

It explores the brutality and beauty inherent in humanity, the malice and the mercy. Earlier I likened Denji to a saint and a martyr. His new chainsaw body is a terrible miracle, and so is the show in which he stars. It gives you exactly what’s in its title, and so much more.

 

DanMachi IV – 11 (Part 1 Fin) – The Banquet Continues

When we last saw Bell he looked…pretty dead! Fortunately, Ryuu soon finds a pulse—the Goliath Scarf Lili and Welf gave him saved his life. Ryuu keeps him alive by tying off his arm and healing him, but he’s still unconscious when Bors and what’s left of his party arrive and become the Juggernaut’s next targets.

Ryuu saves Bors by coming between him and the beast’s initial strike, and she’s even able to kinda fight it, though she soon suffers too many wounds to continue. There also apparently isn’t adequate time to warn Bors & Co. that their magic will be reflected back onto them. When the dust clears, only Bors is still alive, and only thanks to a magic dagger that is now dust.

The force of the reflected magic sends Bell rolling into the river, where he’s found by Marie. Would it be nice if Marie were more than just a plot device with fins? Sure, but that will have to suffice, as she uses her magic mermaid blood to reattach his severed arm and heal him.

The last episode’s one saving grace is that it truly raised the stakes by having Bell taken out so easily. I thought he’d have to deal with having only one arm at least until he returned to the surface where it could be treated by higher healing. So while Marie’s healing powers have been demonstrated, this frankly feels like a cop-out.

Regardless, it at least puts Bell back in the fight, and this time he knows how to fight the Juggernaut: with numerous precise strikes to its legs to slow it down. Ryuu, who is still out of commission, can only watch and marvel at how much stronger “Cranel-san” has become since they last crossed paths.

She yells to him when it looks like he’s going to repeat his mistake of launching a Fire Bolt at his foe, but this time he uses the Goddess Blade to absorb all of the magic the Juggernaut reflects back, which he then uses for an all-or-nothing coup-de-grace.

Unfortunately, when the dust clears, the Juggernaut isn’t defeated; it’s merely stunned and wounded. Worse, this is exactly what Jura (remember him?) wanted, as it enables him to attach a beast-taming magic stone to Juggernaut. After a little more maniacal laughing, he cracks his whip, hoping to finish Bell and Ryuu off once and for all. But Juggernaut either can’t be tamed, or just can’t be tamed by someone of Jura’s level.

It turns on him immediately slicing him clean in half. Let it never be said that the Juggernaut never did anything right, and let us hope that’s the end of the maniacal laughing. Unfortunately, it’s far from the end of the ordeal, and Jura’s final whip-crack attracts a still-alive Lambton, who then proceeds to swallow up both the immobile Ryuu and a Bell lunging after her.

Back up at the 25th Floor, Cassandra is doing everything she can to keep Lili and the others from descending any deeper without spilling the beans about her premonition. But while her vision seemingly didn’t factor in Marie’s clutch assist, it turns out the banquet of tragedy is only getting started. The 27th Floor’s Boss, Amphisbaena, an impressively huge two-headed dragon, is now Lili’s crew’s new opponent, and there’s seemingly nowhere to hide.

As for Bell and Ryuu? He blasts them out of the Lambton’s stomach, but they only end up out of the frying pan and into the freezer. Remembering Eina Tulle telling him different parts of the Dungeon have different colored walls, he notices the walls here are white, which means the Lambton transported them all the way down to the Deep Floors, an area known as the White Palace where death is around every corner even for the most elite (and unwounded) adventurers.

So yeah, Bell and Ryuu are in deep shit, and Lili and the others aren’t that much better off. I honestly don’t know how they’re going to get out of this one, but I very much want to find out, so both cliffhangers can be considered an unqualified success!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. Looks like that’s it for this cour! DanMachi IV will continue in Winter 2023.

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

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