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!

Higurashi: When They Cry – 01 (First Impressions) – Moe Horror Done Right

Higurashi: When They Cry wastes no time establishing that this story will not have a pleasant ending, as it opens on a boy beating a girl to death with a bat with at least one other corpse in the room. It’s not played off as a nightmare, either, as protagonist Maebara Keiichi wakes up in that same room some time before that bloody spectacle takes place.

While some horror anime that hold their powder until the end of the first episode (Gakkou Gurashi! comes to mind) Higurashi isn’t interested in keeping you in suspense about whether shit will hit the fan in this suspiciously idyllic village, but rather when, how, and why, and how bad…I’m guessing pretty bad!

We haven’t had much good horror on RABUJOI lately aside from Hannah’s great retro reviews of 2004’s Elfen Lied, but that same cute girl horror DNA is evident in Higurashi. This is actually a reimagining of an identically-titled series from 2006. I’ve personally only seen half of When the Seagulls Cry, a family murder mystery, but never finished, so consider me a Higurashi Novice.

That said, one of the changes that’s quite evident in the remake is the new character design by Watanabe Akio of Monogatari fame. The way he draws eyebrows and mouths in particular were a dead giveaway, and I’m a big fan of Watanabe-san’s work here. “Easy on the eyes” is an apt description; “as pleasant as the ending won’t be” is another.

We’re gradually introduced to Keiichi’s friends, starting with the meek but extremely good cook Rena, the green-haired “big-sis”-type Mion, and a pair of younger girls in the mischievous Satoko and adorable Rika. They’re all so cute and have such great chemistry with Keiichi and each other, you almost want to forget that things will go sideways without fail.

It’s a testament to Watanabe’s designs, the veteran voice talent, and the beautiful setting of Hinamizawa village that despite the bloody cold open we’re invited to enjoy some good times with this group first, and are thus lulled into a false sense of security and safety. The multilayered traps Satoko sets at school are a useful metaphor for what Higurashi does in this episode: the first trap you see is merely a decoy.

Case in point: As soon as the sun started to set and the crisp blue sky turned a simultaneously gorgeous and menacing orange and red, dread started to amass around me, even as Rena kept things light and breezy. She leads Keiichi to a sinister-looking junkyard and climbs over the junk with zero regard for tetanus, looking for treasure and finding it in a buried Kenta-san.

While Rena is scrounging around, Keiichi meets a photographer who comes out of nowhere, identifying himself as Tomitake. The fact he’s the first adult we see other than Keiichi’s mom is disorienting, but then he mentions an unpleasant “incident” involving the loss of someone’s arm in the area. When Keiichi askes Rena about it later, her cutesy voice immediately shifts to a curt and dead serious “I don’t know.”

While I was certain something awful was going to happen in that junkyard (and the show most certainly wanted me to think that), Keiichi and Rena come out unscathed, though you could say Keiichi has now been “marked” by suspicion over surroundings that must now feel a tinge more threatening.

The next day after school, Keiichi asks Mion about the aborted dam construction project, and Mion offers him some information: the developers tried to ram the project through, but the village was spared from flooding and relocation thanks to some help from politicians in Tokyo. That said, when Keiichi asks about any violence, Mion has the same curt response as Rena.

Keiichi heads back to the junkyard as the sun once again falls, but Rena forgot he offered to help her unearth the statue. It’s clear she wasn’t prepared for him to show up, and heads home to grab them some tea. While waiting, darkness falls, in more ways then one, and Keiichi finds an old magazine detailing the story of a dam construction worker who was lynched, murdered, and dismembered.

As he reads, Rena creeps up on him, wielding a huge, curved, and very sharp-looking blade, while cute lil’ Rika stands behind Rena with glowing red eyes, suggesting she might be controlling Rena’s body. Roll credits, complete with an ending theme that absolutely slaps. Now that got dark quick, didn’t it?!

Higurashi is not for everyone, as those without the stomach for bloody horror will be joined by those who insist the franchise didn’t need rebooting. That said, had it not been rebooted, I would never have checked this out, and then find it right up my alley as a casual (and sufficiently-desensitized) horror fan. I’m looking forward to watching Keiichi and the town’s slow descent into madness and murder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 09 – No Need For Theatrics

Ensign Mariner is in the midst of helping lizard people overthrow their oppressive masters (who also have a habit of eating them) and earnestly thinks she’s finally done something worthy of praise from her mom/captain, but Freeman isn’t having it, accusing Beckett of going against the Prime Directive.

Mariner vociferously protests in front of the aliens, and her mom orders her back to the ship, where she’s to report not to the brig, but somewhere even worse (to Mariner): therapy. Predictably, she makes no progress other than trashing a bonsai.

But when Boimler shows her a holodeck program of the Cerritos and near-perfect (and privacy-violating) approximation of its crew for the narrow purpose of practicing for an interview with the captain, it dawns on Mariner that the simulation could be used to work out her anger over her mom.

This results in one of the sendupiest good-natured sendups of Trek yet, this time focusing on the feature films. Appropriately, black letterbox bars appear to accommodate the wider aspect ratio and there’s suddenly a film grain and much more dramatic lighting and music. Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford are all along for the ride, but only Mariner knows the script.

What’s hilarious is that interwoven within Mariner’s unofficial holo-therapy session, Boimler still tries to use the modified simulation to determine what to say to the captain during their interview, even interrupting her birthday jet-ski session reserved only for senior staff.

But when the Cerritos is given a mission (which Mariner notes would normally be given to the Enterprise), we get the full Star Trek: The Motion Picture dramatic starship flyaround, with some truly epic beauty shots of the ship in spacedock, while the bridge and corridors are also more cinematically lit (a contrast to the usual TNG-style even TV lighting).

The impostor ship the Cerritos investigates suddenly decloaks off their bow; it’s a klingon ship crewed by Mariner in her vengeful villainess persona “Vindicta” (a clear reference to Captain Proton’s Chaotica from Voyager).

Tendi somewhat reluctantly portrays an Orion pirate (as she’s not your usual Orion IRL), Rutherford is similarly unconvincing as a baddie, while Mariner simply replaced Boimler (still on the Cerritos) with a knockoff she quickly vaporizes (the first of many grisly deaths) to show she means business.

Vindicta & Co. board the Cerritos and a corridor firefight ensues. Boimler is about to learn from Ransom what the captain is allergic to, cookie-wise, when he’s shot and killed before he gets the words out.

As Mariner seemingly takes more and more sadistic glee in massacring simulations of actual Cerritos crew members, Tendi is put off and leaves the holodeck (as well as the letterboxed format!) Tendi does not think it’s okay for Mariner to play up the Orion pirate/slave stereotype, especially if it means offering her Shaxs’ Bajoran earring as a trophy…with part of his ear still on it.

Still very much reveling in her Vindicta character, Mariner has the Cerritos crippled and it careens through the atmosphere of the nearby planet and crash lands in some snowy mountains, a truly epic scene that references both the saucer crash in Star Trek: Generations (albeit at a differen saucer angle) and the crash from Voyager‘s excellent 100th episode, “Timeless”.

Rutherford, who like Tendi really isn’t into this whole villain thing, instead decides to use the program the way Boimler intended, to get more insight into his engineering chief. He even manages to create a program that systematically transports the entire crew to safety before the ship crashed, impressing his superior.

Vindicta ends up in the climactic fight with Captain Freeman, but it’s not as satisfying as she’d have liked, since Freeman character has no idea who Vindicta is. That’s when we get a very cinematic twist and the “real” Beckett Mariner appears to beam her mom to safety and duel Vindicta (shades of Kirk fighting himself in Star Trek VI). 

Out on the planet surface, Boimler presents Freeman with some chocolate chip cookies on a blind gamble, but it turns out the captain is allergic to chocolate, and when Jet accuses him of trying to assassinate her, Freeman recommends Jet, not Boimler for promotion.

The two-Beckett fight ends in an apparent stalemate, but the one created by Boimler’s program never meant to win, only to buy time while the rest of the crew escapes and the self-destruct counts down. Vindicta (AKA the real Mariner) realizes that while sometimes she feels like blowing up the ship and stabbing her mom with a metal pole, at the end of the day she loves her mom, her friends, and her ship.

The self-destruct of the Cerritos ends the program. Mariner ends up making up with Tendi, Rutherford is unable to reach out to his superior, and most importantly, Mariner properly apologizes to her mom for how she acted with the Prime Directive-breaking. The movie transitions to a standard Trek All’s Well That Ends Well conclusion.

But that’s not all: when holo-Captain Freeman honors Ensign Mariner for sacrificing herself saving them, she no longer has any reason to conceal the truth: Mariner is her daughter. Believe it or not in all these nine episodes this is the first Boimler has learned of this! Unsure how to process the bombshell, he forgets his preparation and totally bombs in the interview with the captain. So he’ll remain an ensign for a little while yet.

As for Mariner’s movie, it ends a lot like Star Trek II, with a soft-landed photon torpedo tube in a lush jungle. But rather than a baby Spock, Vindicta rises and prepares for another round of bloody vengeance…only to be shot dead by holo-Leonardo da Vinci! That irreverent ending is followed by a more heartfelt homage, as the Lower Deckers’ signatures fly across the screen like those of the cast of Star Trek VI. 

It all makes for a marvelously-detailed, deliciously indulgent homage-parody of Trek movies while still moving forward the serialized character elements in preparation for Lower Decks first season finale.

Stray Observations:

  • The cold open’s statue-toppling is a reference to the fall of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad following the capture of the capital by coalition forces in 2003.
  • The vehicle used to pull down the statue is an ARGO, first seen in Nemesis.
  • The Cerritos therapist wears civilian clothes but has a Starfleet commbadge. He is also apparently a green hyperchicken, similar to the attorney in Futurama.
  • Voyager’s Captain Janeway often visited da Vinci’s workshop for advice and inspiration. He was played by Jonathan Rhys Davies, better known as Gimli (and the voice of Treebeard) from the LoTR trilogy.
  • That said, I love how the Cerritos’ Lower Deckers just do skeet shooting with him!
  • Mariner’s messing with Boimler’s program is reminicnet of Tom Paris and the Doctor’s dueling holo-novels in the Voyager episode “Author, Author”.
  • Mariner fills Vindicta’s early viewscreen dialogue with quotes from The Tempest, which is a nod to Klingon General Chang’s similar tendency throughout Star Trek VI.
  • The Cerritos’ warp effect is given more bells and whistles for the movie treatment, while there are numerous lens flares, a nod to J.J. Abrams’ lighting style in 2009’s rebooted Star Trek.
  • Shaxs mentions Pah-Wraiths, who were the evil version of the Prophets introduced in DS9.
  • In his engineering technobabble, Rutherford mentions both “sativa” and “indica”, the two major strains of marijuana.
  • Rutherford also explains how he was able to transport the whole crew to safety as the ship was crashing with the hand-waving line “It’s a movie! We can do whatever we want!” For good or worse, many of the movies did just that.
  • Due to technical difficulties, I had to take screenshots…with my phone.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 06 – Not-So-Hollow Pursuits

For its latest not-so-glamorous mission, the Cerritos is in a standoff with alien junk traders attempting to salvage 100-year-old Starfleet debris (you know it’s old when the registries are only three digits long). The cold open features Commander Ransom attacking the Lower Decks when he walks past as they all attempt to imitate the hum of the ship’s engine sounds (I myself used to do this as a kid). 

Then the Cat doctor tears into Mariner after she accidentally makes her spill her nachos. Both Doc and Ransom both hold the Lower Deckers in generally low regard in the opening minutes. We also meet Fletcher, Boimler’s academy classmate who feels like a third wheel throughout the episode.

This is also the second straight episode where the Lower Deck Four are split down the middle, with Mariner and Boimler in one plot and Rutherford and Tendi in another. While it makes a certain sense that non-command crew would hang out more, I’d still like to see more of the four interact, or end up in different combinations, something TNG, DS9 and Voyager did so well.

That said, it’s good to see the Rutherford/Tendi friendship continuing to grow. Tendi confesses she never completed a successful spacewalk at the academy, leading Rutherford to show her his holodeck spacewalk simulator. Tendi is so green in magboots hers end up sticking to his, leading to an inadvertent romantic embrace with a shimmering galaxy as a backdrop.

We also meet the Starfleet equivalent of the Microsoft Office Assistant Clippy, a cheerful and worryingly buggy anthropomorphic comm badge named Badgey.

When Mariner and Boimler leave Fletcher to complete their busywork so they can attend the “Choo Choo Dance”, something for which Boimler made special shirts for, we see that these two have clearly become more than bunkmates and colleagues, but genuine friends who make a point to hang out together when off duty.

Unfortunately Fletcher is not like them. When they return from the dance they find him passed out and one of the doohickeys they were working on missing. After initially blaming Delta Shift, Fletcher claims alien intruders could be involved, but as conditions on the Cerritos suddenly go south due to the junk dealers using their tractor beam to sling wreckage at the Cerritos, the doohickey turns up…in his bunk.

Fletch assures his crewmates he meant well, trying to hook the component to his brain in order to become smarter (shades Barclay in TNG’s “The Nth Degree”), but now they have a new problem: the component is now gobbling up all pieces of technology in its reach and becoming a huge menace.

Up on the bridge, Shaxs implores Captain Freeman to let him target the junk traders’ warp core (Worf almost always advised using the phasers and/or photon torpedoes). But here is where the true Starfleet spirit shines through better in Lower Decks than in either of the extant live-action series: Starfleet doesn’t just not shoot first; they prefer not to shoot at all. Freeman orders Shaxs hold on weapons while she tries to figure out a peaceful solution.

Due to the damage from the tossed junk, main power is compromised and the holodecks are locked and safeties disengaged. Also, the buggy Badgie turns evil and homicidal. When his suit is ripped Rutherford changes their environment to a Bajoran marketplace where Badgie proceeds to literally tear bystanders apart.

As they climb the seemingly endless steps up to the main Bajoran temple (also seen in so many a matte painting establishing shot on DS9) Rutherford apologizes for putting them in such a mess. He knew the program wasn’t ready yet but wanted to impress Tendi, whom it’s clear by now he likes.

The good vibes continue as Mariner and Boimler acknowledge they make a great team, restraining the mechanical monster Fletch made so they can transport it into space. When it grows even larger and harder to drag, they toss it out the nearest airlock instead.

The Cerritos shields eventually fall, but it takes forever, underscoring how unnecessary force is in this situation. The junk traders are ultimately a super-low threat, even to a not-state-of-the-air Starfleet vessel. But Freeman waits so long to finally order Shaxs to return fire, the weapons are offline too.

Luckily, the now space-bound tech-devouring monster soon attaches to the junk traders’ ship and disables it before it can lob any more junk at the Cerritos. In the aftermath of their accidental victory, Fletch begs Mariner and Boimler to cover for him—again—and they grudgingly do, following the adage Lower Deckers Stick Together.

When he notices Badgie laboring up the steps, Rutherford realizes his creation is not invincible, and changes the environment to a frozen waste. A brutal fight between Rutherford and Badgie ensues as Tendi escapes, but Badgie eventually freezes to death before he can kill his creator.

Shortly afterwards main power is restored, and with it holodeck safeties and control. Rutherford (harmed) and Tendi (unharmed) return to the holodeck grid to find a rebooted Badgie who is friendly again. But once they leave, Badgie admits he’s “always there”, which is creepy but also demonstrates that he’s attained a level of sentience not unlike Voyager’s doctor.

Due to Mariner and Boimler’s story about Fletcher intentionally creating the doohickey monster to disable the junkers’ ship, Fletcher is promoted to lieutenant and given a transfer to the Titan (the brand-new ship Riker commands after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis).

Titan transfer is something Boimler has always been working towards, but he’s oddly okay with it. Not only is this a factor of how hanging out with Mariner has softened his hard edges a bit, and that he doesn’t altogether dislike thatbut he also hopes it’s a learning experiment for Fletch.

Alas, it isn’t; he’s fired and demoted after just six days on the Titan (they clearly have a higher standard” and Mariner and Boimler are forced to fake interference to hang up on him. Like them, I won’t miss Fletch. He may have worn the uniform, but he wasn’t Starfleet.

Stray Observations:

  • There are some pretty relaxing YouTube videos of Star Trek engine sounds.
  • Something Boimler has in common with Picard? Both were once hassled by Nausicaans. They stabbed Picard in the heart, but just spat in Boimler’s face.
  • Frozen/in-stasis princess-like characters are a surprisingly common occurrence on the various Treks.
  • Probably everybody knows this, but flip phones (back when they were a thing) were inspired by the clamshell design of The Original Series communicators.
  • Rutherford runs down a litany of holodeck personalities with whom one can interact in the holodeck: Holmes, Freud, Einstein, Da Vinci, and Hawking all showed up at somepoint in Trekdom, while Picard and crew were sent to the world of Robin Hood by Q in “Qpid”, while Barclay played Cyrano de Bergerac in “The Nth Degree”.
  • I honestly don’t know what “Choo Choo Dance” is a referance to, if anything.
  • Jacket flaps were a bit thing in Star Treks II through VI. You undo that, and you’re either ready to rumble…or ready for a pot of black coffee.
  • “FUCK YOU!”: Best Viewscreen Sign-off line, or Bestest?
  • The captain’s yacht keychain sports a tiny, hopefully fake tribble.

Elfen Lied – 02 – One Or the Other

Things would have been so much easier—and far less bloodily—if Kouta hadn’t gotten angry and scared Nyu off. Instead, Bando and his tactical team arrive, and Bando is not particularly interested in anything other than killing the target. After the cops visit his house, Kouta somehow manages to get to Nyu first and tries to run away with her, but Bando gun-whips him and captures the target.

Yuka also briefly talks to the cops before tracking down Kouta, who is still dazed on the beach. Bando drags Nyu to another location, but when she won’t fight back he grows bored and orders his subordinate to kill her instead, since those are their orders. Instead, Nyu turns back into Lucy and does her thing, relieving the grunt of his chest, arm, head—you name it, she slices it off.

Suddenly intrigued, Bando tries to fight Lucy, but it’s really no contest; not when she’s tossing boats around and none of his bullets hit her. The fun ends when she closes the distance between them to the range of her telekinesis, and it’s seemingly game over, as she slices off his arm and gouges out his eyes. But Bando is spared when she suddenly turns back into Nyu.

Nyu runs off, and a young woman with a puppy finds the maimed Bando and runs for help. But when she returns, he’s gone. After a very brief stay in the hospital, Kouta takes a taxi and bids Yuka goodnight, only to find a soaked Nyu at his front door with a new shell to replace the one she broke.

Yuka returns just as Kouta is getting Nyu out of her wet clothes to keep her from catching cold, while the head researcher and his #2 prepare to deploy another human experiment like Lucy to go after her—a naked and bloody subject called “#7.”

Once again Elfen Lied delivers extensive blood and boobs, but if you’ve watched, say, True Blood (which didn’t premiere until four years after this show) you’re likely as desensitized as I am. What struck me more was just how much of a boorish asshole Bando was (and will likely continue to be, as he’s not dead yet), as well as the apparent heartlessness of the lab coats. Kouta may have messed up last week, but maybe now he understands how much Nyu needs him in her current state.

Elfen Lied – 01 – A Study in Extremis

The haunting opening credits feature Latin vocals and Klimt-inspired art, a blending of the sacred and the profane. A research subject breaks free of her industrial-strength restraints and goes on a harrowing homicidal rampage, lifting neither arm nor finger but utilizing a kind of telekinesis to relieve both guard and functionary of their heads and/or various limbs.

Every effort to stop or slow her steady march ends the same way: an abundance of blood and viscera staining an otherwise cold and sterile environment. She is finally seemingly neutralized by a shot to the head from an anti-tank round, and falls at least fifty feet into the inky ocean. But, of course this isn’t the end of Lucy…it’s only the beginning…of Elfen Lied.

Why am I watching and reviewing this show, which aired fifteen years ago in the season before Bleach premiered? Many reasons: A look at a show I missed because I wasn’t even into anime back then; a means of complementing today’s crisper, cleaner, and overall safer anime; and mere curiosity in a show notorious and controversial for its transgressive content; a show nearly as many people hate as love.

Also, it’s a show that gives you those first ten minutes, then follows it up by switching gears completely. What follows is a mundane, low-key romantic comedy without a hint of the supernatural horror or military intrigue of the prologue. College student Yuka meets up with her same-aged cousin Kouta in Kamakura, and end up on the beach reminiscing about his departed little sister, Kaede.

That’s when Yuka notices something, or rather someone quite out of place: a buck naked woman with pink hair: the research subject Lucy. Due to her head injury, she seems to have reverted to the developmental state of a young child, and can only say one word—nyu—which they eventually decide to name her.

Since Yuka and Kouta are decent folk, they do what anyone would do: offer Nyu clothes and then shelter at the otherwise vacant ten-room inn where Kouta and Yuka will be living. She confirms her developmental state by being unable to adequately communicate she has to use the bathroom, and relieves herself on the floor of the foyer.

As Lucy has profoundly changed and entered a profoundly different world than the lab where she no doubt lived and suffered for quite a while, her handlers are already planning an operation to hunt her down and eliminate her, as the lab’s chief researcher declares that an unbound Lucy in the outside world would spell the “end of mankind”.

Bando, the man they choose to lead the manhunt, is about as heartless and despicable as they come. He’s bored with simulated kills, slaps the shit out of unwitting assistants, and desires nothing but the opportunity to kill without restraint. In effect, he’s a “Lucy” by choice. In any case, he surely won’t hold his fire just because Lucy isn’t quite herself.

After sharing a meal of onigiri with Yuka and Nyu, Kouta takes out a shell that he keeps as a memento of his deceased sister, who died suddenly of an illness. Nyu interprets his connection to the shell as something making him sad (not necessarily wrong) and breaks it into pieces, throwing Kouta into a rage. He shouts and fumes and tells her to get out, and she does.

Returning to the now rain-soaked spot of beach where they found her, Nyu stares out into the ocean and tears start to fall from her eyes, as Bando & Co. close in on her via helicopter. Roll Credits.

* * *

Elfen Lied is a compelling blast from the past with a first episode that packs a vicious punch in its first act before easing into its more domestic latter two. It’s an exploration of extremes, be it between Lucy and Nyu, the research facility and the sleepy Japanese town, the blunt lethality of Bando and innocence of Kouta, and yes, the warmth of human flesh and blood and the chill of metal and concrete.

It sets things up superbly for one hell of a clash of worlds and personalities—between parties that seek to simply live their quiet little lives, and those who seek to end a life, before, as they claim, it threatens to end all life. Having no previous knowledge of Elfen Lied or where it goes, a great start is no indication of a great anime, but most definitely warrants further viewing.

Goblin Slayer – 02 – Not a Man’s Man, but Maybe a Goblin to Goblins

This week begins from the perspective of a rose-haired farm girl who is going off to the city. She gets into a fight with her childhood friend, a boy who can’t go with her. Jump forward to the present, and the farm girl is a very buxom farm woman who prefers to sleep in the nude.

She’s friends with the Goblin Slayer, who rents a place to stay at the farm. He has a routine of inspecting the entire area for signs of goblins, keeping her and her dad uncle safe for no charge. He never removes his mask—not even for breakfast—but it’s clear the farm girl knows who’s behind it.

When they go into town, she can see that while she admires the Goblin Slayer a great deal, neither he nor his singular task of goblin slaying are particularly well-regarded. His fellow Silver-rank adventurers look down on his shoddy arms and armor and his weak chosen opponent, while the Porcelains wonder if he’s really worthy of Silver.

And yet, while they’re all jockeying for position to get the highest-paying or most dangerous quests, he waits until the end, when all the goblin-slaying requests remain unclaimed. The priestess is there too, and will stay by his side even though he refuses to go to the aid of another party of rookies.

Turns out those rookies come back alive, well, and victorious; it’s often just the roll of the dice out there. As for Goblin Slayer and his new companion, together they bring down an entire mountain goblin fortress. The priestess uses a new miracle, “Protection”, but to trap the goblins to choke and burn in the flames.

The Priestess doesn’t much like using the Earth Mother’s miracles for such heartless slaughter, but as the guild admin opines, the Goblin Slayer is doing something that needs to be done. There has to be someone out there culling the herds of the weakest rung of foes, or else they won’t be so weak for long. That makes him, and anyone who aids him, a net good for society, methods be damned.

The farmer’s daughter niece knows this, and also is simply glad her childhood friend is still by her side, even if he never takes off his mask. Her father uncle warns her not to get too involved with the guy, whom he believes “lost it” ever since their village was raided by goblins, introducing the GS’s motivation.

While certainly unglamorous, the GS’s adventures are known by at least one bard in a city, who tells the tale of how even after he saved the fair maiden from the goblin king, he left her to keep wandering the wilds the rest of his days, slaying and slaying and slaying some more goblins.

A tough-looking she-elf approaches the bard after a performance to ask if it’s all true, and he answers in the affirmative, letting her and her party (an old dude and some kind of lizard-man, also tough-looking) know where they can find him. Do they seek a fight with our tortured, single-minded slayer…or a team-up?

Goblin Slayer – 01 (First Impressions) – Shoulda Leveled Up More…

A young priestess and healer is eager to start adventuring, and registers with the guild. She’s quickly recruited by a party of three: a swordsman, a hand-to-hand warrior, and a wizard of the mage’s college. All are Porcelain-ranked, the lowest.

They’re all very gung-ho about going into a cave and hunting some goblins who recently raided a village, but they don’t have any plan, and it’s clear from the worried look of the guild registrar that they’re in over their heads with such a mission.

At no point do the members of the party take the threat of the goblins seriously, or not overestimate their skills. The swordsman even boasts he could slay a dragon if he wanted, even as his long sword hits the roof of the cave, showing just how out of his element he is.

Predictably, the low-level rookies get their asses handed to them, and it’s not pretty. This show promptly shows the folly of underestimating goblins, who are all too willing to exploit the many weaknesses of their human opponents.

The party manages to kill a couple of goblins, but the wizard is stabbed with a poison blade and the priestess’ healing spell is useless. The swordsman nicks the cave roof at the wrong time and gets overrun and gutted; and the hand-to-hand specialist is over-matched by a larger hobgoblin, who tosses her to the other goblins.

That’s when we learn one more little detail that takes the threat of the goblins to a new and darker depths: they’re quite fond of raping the women they manage to overpower.

They don’t even have a problem about raping the half-dead wizard. The depiction of bestial rape was apparently (and understandably) controversial in both the LN and this adaptation. The helpless, fear-petrified Priestess is shot in the shoulder with an arrow and looks to be their next victim…until the titular Goblin Slayer shows up.

The Slayer is as effective, ruthless, and cunning as the noobie party was ineffective, overconfident, and foolish. He keeps a running tally of his goblin kills (like Gimli and his orc-count), puts the wizard out of her misery, and with the Priestess’ Holy Light assists, takes out the two biggest threats: the goblin shaman and the hulking hobgoblin.

He also finds the goblin children and slaughters them, saying they’ll learn from their elders’ mistakes and hold grudges for life. The Goblin Slayer may be more the manifestation of an concept (namely, goblin slaying) than he is an actual character, there’s no disputing his skills…nor his respect for his enemy, something that doomed the rookies.

The hand-to-hand warrior’s adventuring days are likely over, at least for the time being, as she’s carted off to recover from the trauma she endured. The swordsman and wizard both died in the cave.

That leaves the Priestess the sole survivor of her first ill-fated party, but to her credit she’s not discouraged from continuing her life as an adventure; it’s just who she is. Indeed, she takes her first fiasco of a quest as a valuable lesson: don’t go in to any quest half-cocked. As soon as she returns to town she procures some chain mail.

The hand-to-hand warrior’s adventuring days are likely over, at least for the time being, as she’s carted off to recover from the trauma she endured. The swordsman and wizard both died in the cave.

To survive the next quest, she must also gain strong allies—allies like Goblin Slayer. She may only be able to heal or cast holy light three times, but those three times will make his job of slaying goblins that much easier, so he’s happy to have her by his side for his next session. And so, a new party of two is born.

Like other White Fox works like Akame ga Kill!, Re:Zero and Steins;Gate, Goblin Slayer knows how to pile on the suspense and dread and doesn’t hold back when it comes to torturing its characters. It also features some pretty solid soundtrack, including a thoroughly badass battle theme during the end crawl.

It’s a desperately simple show—something I believe works in its favor—and while its protagonist is pretty much an Index clone looks a lot like Index, at least the episode ends with her in a good position to succeed…though she’ll have to get stronger for the day or moment when the Slayer won’t be there to bail her out.

Tokyo Ghoul:re – 12 – Say My Name

Eto, AKA The One-Eyed Owl, decides to join the fray on the rooftop, siccing Kanae on Sasaki, and the two combine to beat him up enough to send him into his head, where a young Kaneki Ken waits for him. I wonder if that was the whole point: for Eto to re-awaken the Ken in the Sasaki; to rid the Doves of one of their most durable weapons.

The Sasaki inside his mind comes to think of all the sweet dreams he’s had as a corrupting agent; deluding him into thinking “it’s okay to want.” He discards those dreams, and returns to reality with all of Ken’s power, but while seeming to remain Sasaki Haise. He dispatches Kanae, then attacks Shuu as an enemy, forcing Eto to intervene personally, her various puppets bested.

Back in the building, Shirazu summons previously unsummoned powers in order to create an opening for Urie to kill Noro, but in the process, Shirazu is mortally wounded and slowly dies in front of Urie, Mitsuki and Saiko, without doubt the toughest blow the young Quinx Squad has ever had to face.

Saiko can’t stop sobbing, but the loss might hurt Urie most of all…not to mention someone has to make sure Shirazu’s poor little sister is taken care of. Back on the rooftop, Sasaki fights Eto to a draw and forces her to retreat in pieces, leading her to confess her love for Kaneki Ken, who is honored, using her other name, Takatsuki-sensei. This is surely not the last we’ve seen of Eto.

The Sasaki Haise who emerges from the battle turns back into the model CCG investigator once his superior Ui arrives, claiming Shuu for himself while ceding Kanae to him. Sasaki throws Shuu off the building, but Kanae jumps off right behind him, revealing her true identity as Karen and confessing her love for Shuu before saving him from falling to his death at the cost of her own life.

The hardened Sasaki who meets back up with his Quinx Squad, now one man shorter, has no mercy for a crying Urie, blaming him for not being strong enough to keep Shirazu safe. With the loss of Shirazu and Sasaki’s transformative rooftop battle, the fun times are most certainly over. On the bright side, Shuu is still, somehow, alive, and is picked up by Tooka and Chie.

Needless to say, this felt less like an ending and more like a mid-season wrap-up, because Tokyo Ghoul re: will be back in the Fall. I’ll be sure to tune back in.