The Promised Neverland – 22 – Playtime Has Only Just Begun

First of all, Vincent is not a turncoat; I can’t see how someone otherwise proven as intelligent as him would think Ratri and the demons would honor any deal he made for them. Instead, Norman has Vincent leak one plan, knowing the farms will prepare for it, while executing an entirely different plan. And not a moment too soon, either, as that very day Phil and all the kids at Grace Field House are notified that they’re being shipped off.

Final preparations are made in Mujika and Sonju’s secret tunnels, and then everyone boards a fleet of hot air balloons—which presumably were part of Norman’s original “Kill All Demons” plan. When Ratri and the head demon spot the fleet proper approaching the farms and separating into small groups, the demon spearmen atop the walls shoot them down one by one.

Of course, the initial wave of balloons was only a feint; all of the ones that were shot down are armed with firebombs that soon set the forests within the farms alight. While the demons are busy putting those out, they’re suddenly ambused by the Lambda kids, while the other balloons land safely and the Farm’s administration facility is raided using Minerva’s blueprints. Soon Vincent has hacked into the system and shuts down all of Ratri’s surveillance and comms.

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to the mothers escorting their kids to the shipping area, each of the farms has been infiltrated by little kids sent by Emma, who uses the hacked comms to give the signal to “play tag”. Phil and the others obey and run for it while the gates are closed on the mothers, keeping them from pursuing. Everyone meets at the massive central elevator. Everything’s going according to plan…until the elevator refuses to budge.

The kids below look up in horror at dozens of mothers armed with assault rifles, led by Grandmother Isabella and smirking Gatekeeper Peter Ratri. “Playtime is over,” he tells the “lost” children. That certainly seems to be the case. How are the kids going to get out of this one? They brought bows and arrows to a gunfight, and they don’t even have the benefit of the high ground!

But what saves everyone, as usual, is Emma, or more precisely, her words and her indomitable will. When Peter tells her to give up and accept they were all born to be eaten, Emma refuses to do so. She and her suddenly huge family have a future they want, and she’s going to keep fighting for it no matter how many times she fails, so Peter can take his destiny and shove it.

That’s when Isabella—and all the other mothers and sisters she leads—turn their guns on Ratri. She tells Emma not to misunderstand; she claims not to be doing this for them—though she is proud of how well she raised them. She’s simply grown tired of how Ratri and the others run the farms, and now has the power to do something about it. And with the system hacked, the chips Ratri once could have used to blow them up no longer work.

Ratri still has one card left to play: the demon reinforcements from outside of the farms. The lead demon warns all of the children to be obedient and yield, as once those forces arrive there will be no more hope of victory, even with Isabella and the mothers on their side. Unfortunately both the lead demon and Ratri, another, much larger force of lower-class demons overwhelm those reinforcements before they can even arrive.

That’s right: thanks to a coordinated effort between Mujika and Vylk, a huge number of demons have been cured of their need for human meat, and they’re ready and willing to help overthrow the farm system that has oppressed them all these years. Mujika and Vylk enter the elevator room, surprising both Isabella and Ratri with their presence. For them it must be unthinkable to see demons standing in solidarity with these kids.

But again, it’s all about aligned interests. Just as Isabella is sick of the system, so are the demon masses. Ratri’s final threat—that the human-demon conflict resolved 1,000 years ago by his ancestors will start back up—is nullified by the presence of Mujika and the Evil Blood.

Suddenly fresh out of haughty remarks, Ratri falls to his knees in defeat, while Emma approaches him and holds out her hand, not asking for his surrender or ordering his death, but asking him to join them; to join the future they’re well on their way to realizing.

While I had to suspend an air balloon fleet-load of disbelief for much of “Operation Playtime”, I can’t deny it was loads of fun watching it unfold, as long I didn’t think about anything too much! Looks like we’re in store for a slightly rushed but hopeful and happy ending.

Check out Irina and Crow’s thoughts on the episode here!

The Promised Neverland – 20 – Emma

Instead of being slaughtered for meat, Norman was introduced to Peter Ratri, his “new father”, and asked to assist with his research. No matter how much they up the difficulty of the tests, Norman always scores perfectly.

Peter is trying to wrest control of the farms from James, presumably his brother or father. Norman also observes how gently he’s treated compared to the other children at the Lambda facility, who undergo all manner of horrific surgery and used as fodder for experiments.

Norman eventually meets Vincent, and together they clandestinely plan a prison break, which is initiated when Norman grasps the king while playing chess. He gives the surveillance camera a blank look, immediately followed by the blast of an improvised bomb.

Norman and Vincent rush through the facility, now in total chaos, and save what humans are still able to be saved, like Cislo and Barbara, the latter of whom asks Norman if he’s a “god” when he frees them. Standing over his great victory, Norman tells the captured demons he won’t stop until their kind has “died out from this world”.

I’m glad we were shown these events, as in this case where it’s important to see the horrors he saw, showing is better than telling. I only wish Norman and his comrades hadn’t spent so much of the last couple episodes spouting so much exposition, which in hindsight feels redundant.

Still, we get a very foreboding shot of a robed Norman at sunset, looking quite a bit like Anakin Skywalker after being seduced by the dark side. He doesn’t care if he has to be a god or a devil if it means Emma and the other children will be able to live in safety and peace.

This episode suffers from a considerably less interesting middle act involving the four days and change Emma, Ray, Gilda and Don are searching for Mujika and Sonju. They basically trudge from one point of the forest to the other in their demon disguises, coming up empty until they reach final search area.

Naturally, this area is crawling with those giant creepy wild demons, and naturally Emma almost gets her head bitten off not once, but twice. The first time, Ray shoots the demon in just the right eye to bring it down. The second time, Sonju and Mujika arrive In the Nick of Time.

But before Emma can even get out how they need the two demons’ help, there’s a blast from afar: Norman has started the operation a day early. Bombs detonate all over the town, releasing the degenerative drug in a sickly purple cloud. It spreads and affects the demons precisely as Norman calculated, turning them into wild vicious beasts that rip each other apart.

This creates a horrifying situation in which demons watch their loved ones degenerate, but beg other demons of sound mind not to hurt or kill them, only to themselves be killed by those transformed loved ones. Soon the streets are full of the cries of terrified children, their mothers and fathers either dead or transformed and about to kill them. It is the scene of hell.

As his comrades stand atop brick columns watching their vengeance unfold with glee, Norman enters the town square and finds one of the young demon girls alone, scared, and crying. Norman, determined not to waver, prepares to kill her with a sword, but he’s stopped in his tracks when her grandfather—the same elderly demon who visited the kids’ hideout—calls out the girl’s name: Emma.

A fresh cloud of the drug falls over the square, infecting the little one but not the old man, who Norman suspects to have devil’s blood like Mujika, and is thus immune. He stabs the old man, but he has Emma drink his blood, reversing her degeneration, and begs her to run.

Before Norman can re-commit to killing the old man or the demon Emma, someone calls to himhis Emma, with Ray by her side. Thanks to Sonju’s horse they managed to make it back to town just in time. When Norman sees Emma he starts to tear up, and when Emma sees him she sees him as the little boy at Grace Field House, in whose hands a bloody sword just doesn’t look right.

While Norman has the intellect to know what exactly to do, and that it may be the only way to save Emma and the others, and he even possessed the will to do the horrible things that needed doing, he still doesn’t have the heart to follow through, at least not without the wavering we saw.

I’ve heard many rumblings about how dissimilar and inferior this second season is to the first due to the fact it’s passed over large swaths of the original manga’s story and basically doing its own thing. I’ve also learned that this was apparently the author’s choice to do this, so it isn’t as if his work was getting short shrift against his wishes.

Whatever the case may be, a second season that takes place after escaping the farm was always going to be a thoroughly different kind of show, despite the same title, and that’s certainly proven the case. But now that Norman, Emma, and Ray are reunited once more in the epicenter of his grand plan, I remain thoroughly engaged and excited to find out where in the world things go from here!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 20 here. They know their stuff!

Attack on Titan – 71 – Reshaping the World

Armin, desperate for answers, prepares to touch the crystal containing Annie, only to be scolded by Hitch, who is tasked with guarding her. But even if he had gleaned anything, it might not help solve the rapidly snowballing crisis in Paradis. Had Armin simply consulted the papers, he’d know the public is quickly losing faith in the military now that news of Eren’s imprisonment is out in the open.

A growing group of angry pro-Eren protestors surround military HQ, in support of a New Eldian Empire led by the younger Jaeger. When Hitch goes to help with crowd control, Armin meets with Mikasa and they head to Premier Zachary’s office, spotting three Scout recruits on the way.

Yelena tells Pyxis that it was she who met with Eren in secret to tell him “someone” had to light a fire under HQ to get the military moving against Marley. Of course, Eren himself. Just as Yelena and Zeke hoped, he delivered “divine retribution” the volunteers had wished upon Marley for years. Now Yelena plans to watch with great interests as the two brothers continue “reshaping the world”.

I’m not sure why Eren kept his plans from Mikasa and Armin, since now that he’s done everything he’s done all they want to do is ask him about it. But Premier Zachary forbids them from meeting with Eren, saying the situation is too delicate. After they’re dismissed, Armin comes to believe they’re not letting them talk to Eren because they’ve already given up on him and are preparing to pick the next Founding Titan.

They watch three soldiers enter Zachary’s office after them, and Mikasa wants to listen in to see if they can learn about their plans. Armin holds her back, telling her it’s too risky, and it’s a good thing he does, because moments later a bomb goes off in the office, sending the top half of Zachary’s torso flying out to the HQ’s gate. Armin and Mikasa survive the blast, but the crowd is even more whipped up.

In the immediate investigation that follows the bombing, it’s believed that Zachary’s special torture chair contained the bomb. While Mikasa and Armin didn’t see who exactly placed it there, the two did see those three out-of-place Scout recruits just before meeting with Zachary. This causes everyone in the room to develop those classic Titan face shadows.

Then more bad news for the military drops: Eren has broken out of his cell, likely to join up with Floch and 100 other soldiers and guards loyal to his cause who vanished from the prison. Nile labels this new group of insurgents “Jaegerists”. Now Eren is no doubt looking to secure both Zeke and Queen Historia.

With Zachary dead, Pyxis is de facto in command, and true-to-form, he gives a rather unexpected order: as much as he hates it, he’s to let Zeke and Eren have their way…for now. It’s not quite surrender, but he acknowledges they’ve already been thoroughly outmaneuvered—especially with a lot of the public against them. This no time for a civil war; not with an enemy like Marley across the sea preparing to attack.

With most of the Jaegerist defectors coming from the ranks of the Scouts, Hange is on shaky ground with the other bigwigs, but they have no reason to believe Hange is in cahoots with Eren, so they remain in charge of the regiment. Of particlar concern now is the fact that Yelena strategically placed Marleyan prisoners in odd places like restaurants, as we saw with Nicolo serving Roeg and his men.

But there’s also the restaurant where the Blouse family is getting a fancy dinner. Gabi and Falco are with them, and we see Pieck has already snuck onto the island. Did she see the Titan recruits go in? Mikasa, Armin, Jean, and Connie find themselves on the opposite site of Eren’s movement, and Connie isn’t 100% sure Mikasa won’t choose Eren when all’s said and done (what can you say, he knows her).

Everything’s a big mess, but there is one constant this week: Eren, and Yelena, and Zeke are all getting their way so far. The fact the Jaegerists have worked so fast in this episode suggests Zeke knows Reiner will be launching a counterattack on Paradis sooner rather than later. The Rumbling test run must be implemented ASAP.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 61 (S4 E02) – One Last Gasp

They’ve emerged from four years of war the nominal victor, but Marley can’t rest on its laurels. The generals are in consensus that their strategic advantage of the Titans hangs by a thread. Of particular concern is the quickly advancing aviation industry. They’re on the wrong end of history, and the entire episode is suffused with that bleakness and weariness.

Reiner actually survived the naval bombardment, but it’s just a taste of what the future will bring. We also meet his comrades Galliard (Jaws, who inherited his Titan from the imprisoned Ymir) and Pieck (Cart). Interestingly Pieck has trouble walking on two feet as a human since her Cart is a quadruped.

Back on his feet, Reiner tracks down Gabi and the other three Titan candidates, much to Gabi’s elation. When the funnel of a passing ship suddenly covers them in shadow, he briefly sees four of his comrades from back when he was their age, including Bertholdt and Annie.

Our quartet of kids consist of two goers-with-the-flow (Udo and Zofia), a True Believer in Gabi, and a Skeptic in Falco. On the train home to Liberio, Gabi is all too happy to accept praise for her prowess in battle and looks forward to being the next Armored. Falco take on that mantle in her place, but not for glory. You see, he simply wants Gabi to live past age twenty-seven. Braun isn’t altogether dismissive of Falco’s attitude.

Earlier in the episode we’re reminded that even decorated Eldians like Zeke and Reiner are still considered Less Than by their non-Eldian leaders, and as such they are not entitled to privacy. When we arrive in the ironically-named Liberio, the Eldian soldiers reunite with their families—one by one we see moments of unbridled love and joy (RABUJOI!)—from people who can use any and all such moments they can get.

Again, Falco zags while Gabi and everyone else zigs. Before joining his family, he checks in on a group of Eldian soldiers who are suffering severe PTSD. The supposed doctor even mimics the sound of a bomb to freak them all out, and only Falco tries to calm them down.

At the Braun family dinner, more praise than food is heaped upon Gabi’s plate, but when Reiner is asked about his time on Paradis with the descendants of the “evil” Eldians who fled there, his response becomes a rant in which he suggests there were “all kinds” of people there, not just monsters. The matriarch quickly insists that the Eldians on Paradis are the source of all “good” Eldians’ problems, and must be wiped off the earth.

At the next meeting of Zeke, Reiner, Galliard, Pieck and Colt (Zeke’s eventual replacement), Zeke announces that they’ll be launching a new offensive on Paradis, with the goal of conquering the island for Marley within a year—which is all Zeke has left in the Beast Titan. Their meeting is being monitored by non-Eldian Marley officials, who pick up on Zeke’s offhand “not in this room.”

As Reiner watches the young candidates spar, he dreads returning to the “pure hell” that was Paradis. But considering how he described Sasha stealing a potato to eat way back when (I believe that’s what he was on about), and his comment to Falco about taking over for him instead of Gabi, what he says to his family and what he believes may be very different. He’s just aware that those who weren’t on that island wouldn’t understand.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 60 (S4 E01) – This One’s For All the Marbles

If you’re looking for Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha and the Scouts picking up where they left off on that beach, you won’t find them here, in the first episode of Attack on Titan’s final season, also the first by Studio MAPPA. But oddly enough, there’s a crew of young Marley soldiers who remind you of those main players: Falco, Gabi, Udo and Zofia.

Their armbands not only identify them as Eldians, but as Warrior (i.e. Titan pilot) candidates. Other Eldians aren’t so lucky, serving as cannon fodder or straight-up suicide bombers. Most look like they’re in this battle against their will, but their choice is between this and execution or worse.

Falco & Co., as well as the older Colt, have more freedom and privileges, and have fully bought into the idea that they can make a difference. The confident-bordering-on-arrogant Gabi (Ayane Sakura) even believes she can prove that “not all Eldians are bad”, even though their non-Eldian commanders refer to them as “spawn of the devil.”

Gabi strips down to her slip to pose as a surrendering civilian so she can get close enough to an enemy armored train to blow it up with a cluster of grenades. It works perfectly, but it’s also reckless as hell, as she ends up under heavy machine gun fire in no-mans-land. Falco exposes himself to that fire to rescue her, but she doesn’t really need rescuing because she’s so badass. Or lucky. Maybe both?

They’re both saved by “Jaw”, a super-quick Titan piloted by a guy named Galliard. Gabi struck me as a Mikasa analogue, albeit one driven by personal ambition and not devotion to a person (i.e. Eren). Falco gives off a lot of early ineffectual Eren vibes, as he tries to tend the wounds of a maimed enemy soldier only for that soldier to insist he not touch him. You know, devil’s spawn and everything.

As Falco and Gabi stand by in the trenches, the second phase of the assault on Fort Slava commences with the drop of dozens of paratroopers who look like they’d rather be anywhere else. With one shout from Zeke Yeager, they all transform into lesser Titans, and those that survive the drop eat everyone in sight.

With the Titan version of cannon fodder unleashed and the fort sufficiently softened up, the two Heavies of the operation spring into action: Reiner Braun AKA the Armored Titan, and Zeke Yeager AKA the Beast Titan. Braun jumps first and quickly learns the enemy has ordinance powerful enough to pierce his armor, as well as a second armored train.

He wastes the train and most of the cannon but not before losing a hand. That’s when Zeke drops in as Beast, picks up a handful of shells, and lobs them baseball-style at the enemy fleet just offshore. The fleet manages to let off a salvo in his and Braun’s direction before getting decimated by the rain of fire.

Colt, Gabi, Falco, Udo, and Zofia watch in awe as their senpais and nation’s greatest weapons do what they do. The enemy is defeated and the fort is taken, but at great cost: the fleet’s final salvo seemingly killed the Armored Titan. If Reiner died too, that means one of the kids will succeed him. Gabi thinks that should be her. It might end up being her. But that’s a story for another episode.

The main takeaway from this episode, meanwhile, is that as previous Titan seasons have successively done, it aims to reinvent itself by further expanding the world far beyond the confines of the Walls of Paradis. Marley wins the day and remains power in this world, but a decidedly fading one due to the steadily crumbling advantage the Titans provide.

Then there’s Marley’s whole policy of enslavement and oppression of the Eldian minority at every turn. Even those Eldians who believe they’re on the right side of the war and of history, like Gabi, come off as naive and even deluded. Hers may be the last generation of Warriors to pilot Titans—assuming they even get that far. In other words, the cruel, brutal, individual-crushing pessimism that has marked most of Titan’s run remains in fine form. Welcome to the beginning of the end.

Great Pretender – 09 – Shock & Awe

In Singapore Sky we’ve had two storylines running in parallel: the Thierry gang’s efforts to bilk the Ibrahims out of their fortune through air racing, and the slow reveal of Abby’s Dark Past and her apparent ongoing death wish. While the two plotlines bear little in common, this week it’s starting to become clearer why they occupy the same arc.

The biggest issue for Laurent and Cynthia is whether Abby can stay alive long enough for their scam to pay off. Makoto proves he’s a born con man by effortlessly luring Sam and his millions into the phony underground casino, but Abby’s continued deteroiration concerns him, and not in terms of whether she’ll cost him money. He wants to learn more about Abby’s story, and help if he can.

It’s what sets Makoto apart from his more emotionally detached partners, but they haven’t gotten as far as they have with their conning if it weren’t for that commitment to detachment, or at least compartmentalization. Laruent and Cynthia may well care a great deal about Abby, but they have a job to do, and trying to break down Abby’s walls could threaten that job and Abby herself.

Meeting Luis Muller was a catalyst for Abby’s continued descent into her traumatic memories. While she had loving parents and early success in ballet, the 2003 bombing of Baghdad claimed those parents’ lives, and Abby channeled her physical talents into what from her perspective was freedom fighting. Unfortunately, this ended in abject defeat, and while her comrades died all around her she was cursed with the good luck to survive.

Back in the present, Makoto has Sam eating out of his hand, getting him to bet 2.5 million on a race he then loses because, deliciously ironically, Cynthia is able to successfully seduce the baby-faced young pilot he bets on, which lets Abby slip a compound into the engine that causes his plane to stall out.

Since this was the first time Sam trusted Makoto to wager his cash (having been banned from the casino by Laurent after “discovering” his secret identity) you’d understand Sam suspecting Makoto of being In On It. But when he points his gun at Makoto’s head, it’s not because he suspects Makoto at all—he’s just pissed off in general.

The gang may have made millions off him already, but Makoto didn’t lose his trust, so they can still milk him for more, knowing his frustration and insatiable greed for winning and money will continue to drive his actions.

Abby, meanwhile, quietly does her job when she needs to, and one night she goes out for a walk with Luis Muller so she can confirm what she suspects: he was one of if not the fighter pilot who dropped the bombs on her hometown, killed her parents, and ruined her life. Her knife is literally out when she broaches the topic, which means whether Luis denies it or not, she’s ready to exact revenge.

Extremely strict Singaporean laws notwithstanding, murdering Luis is most definitely not on the list of things Laurent and Cynthia want to happen just as they’re ready to finish cleaning the Ibrahims out. And while we saw what she did to a dummy with her knife, I believe we’ve yet to witness Abby definitively kill anyone, even in the past where the fog of war throws all in doubt.

That would make Luis her first, and who knows how that will affect her in or out of a cockpit. As Cynthia tells Makoto, knowing someone’s story is different from understanding how they feel. Well, it looks like we’re poised to find out just how Abby feels about a great many things, and what if anything Makoto can do.

ID: INVADED – 03 – A Gawker Just Enjoys the Scene

I don’t believe we’ve been told who precisly Sakaido killed or how to land him in prison, but regardless of his crime it’s awfully hard not to sympathize with the guy. For one thing, he’s always dreaming of his wife and daughter, the good times always turning to bad before he wakes up. They weren’t just murdered, they also suffered terribly.

The pain and regret of not being there to protect them probably broke a sizable chunk of the Sakaido That Was. His investigative work within the Mizuhanome, psychologically invasive as it is, would seem to be not just a welcome respite, but a necessity for keeping what’s left of him intact and carrying on.

The things he did to end up with such a job are also the reason Matsuoka discourages Hondomachi from considering a similar line of work in no uncertain terms. When visiting her in the hospital. She’s missing frontal lobe matter but is already bouncing off the walls, desperate to get back to work, and romanticizes “The Great Detective” a pilot like Sakaido plays within Id Wells. But Matsuoka warns her: it’s a sacrifice tantamount to suicide.

As I said, one Sakaido went into this line of work, and another came out. Hondomachi doesn’t feel she’s loved or even valued by her family, while Sakaido’s family was murdered. Both detectives seek solace and purpose through work, creating their own value. Hell, Hondomachi could be a mirror to Sakaido’s past, when his work kept him away from the family he loved until one day they were gone.

This week’s Id Well is nothing like the previous two, demonstrating that we’re in for a new trippy psychological ride every week or so. This time he and roughly 70-80 random people standing on a giant turret surrounded by infinite waterfalls on all sides…very Myst Uru. This is the Id Well of “The Pyrotechnician”, who is responsible for very public, very meticulous bombings.

Kaeru is there too, already dead, while the others start falling one-by-one to rounds fired by a sniper hiding in the waterfalls. Like the stylized “Brilliant Detective” role Sakaido plays, Kaeru is a stylized version of his daughter, helping him remember himself, grounding him in whatever crazy dreamworld in which he ends up.

Sakaido is good, but not so good he doesn’t get killed a couple of times, requiring his handlers to quickly extract and re-inject him, resetting the scenario but allowing him to learn from the previous dives. But trial and error is only the start of his investigation. He eventually determines that there is only one sniper, but the turret on which his victims stand is turning, allowing the sniper to make quick successions of kills.

Sakaido eventually successfully hides from the shooter until there is only one man remaining other than himself—and it’s always the same man. He also happens to have a handsome but somehow artificial-looking face, which means the Pyrotechnician altered his face with plastic surgery. That is enough for the cops to track him down and for Mitsuoka to apprehend him.

In what seems like going a bit too far with the ironic punishment, the people Sakaido helps to apprehend end up his prison mates, occupying adjacent cells and enabling them to have a dialogue. The Pyro explains that his acts, which netted photos like the ones he took of people gawking and holding up their phones at the destruction and carnage, “exposed the emptiness of humanity” by showing that neither life or death matter.

Sakaido turns it around on Pyro. Just as he was in the Id Well, and in the bombing four years ago when he was a war photographer, Pyro always desired to be the Last Man Standing. He was the ultimate gawker, producing scenes of hell and watching the masses take it in, knowing humans can’t resist.

Then Sakaido tells Pyro his days are over, and that he’ll never see hell again, except in his memories, always a pale shadow of reality. The Pyro can’t really dispute anything Sakaido is saying, because the guy was in his unconscious, where truths are plain to see.

It’s enough to drive Pyro to suicide in the middle of the night. I’m not sure if Sakaido intended that, but he’s doubtless a man who abhors killers, and was none too happy about Pyro mentioning his daughter. ID:INVADED is proving to be a dense, nervy, and captivating depiction of crime-fighting from within the minds of the criminal.

TenSura – 06 – Fire and Slime

Kaval, Eren, and Gido are the adventurers who Rimuru briefly encountered. We learn their guildmaster is quite the taskmaster, sending them back out to Jura to further investigate the disappearance of Veldora after just three days of rest. They are accompanied by a raven-haired young woman in white cape and mask named Shizu.

Meanwhile, Rimuru surveys the fruit of his overpoweredness, as the Dwarves he brought to the village immediately begin to make a big impact on the goblins’ development. He also names 500 more goblins to evolve them so they won’t be wiped out in the power vacuum caused by Veldora’s vanishing.

The adventurers soon get in over their head, and end up getting chased by a pack of giant ants. Shizu uses her mastery of fire and not inconsiderable combat skills to destroy the ants and save her comrades, but ends up missing one, and almost fainting just before she can kill it.

That ant is destroyed by Rimuru’s Black Lightning, and he introduces himself to them all, including Shizu, whose mask came off in the hubbub, revealing a face Rimuru saw in the crystal ball; the person he’s “destined to be with.”

Rimuru takes them back to the village where the goblins put them up in a hut and feed them meat, and they have their introductions. Shizu is putting out all kinds of Japanese vibes, and turns out there’s a reason for that: she was summoned to this fantasy world from the same real world as he was, only in her case, it was during an bombing raid in WWII, just after her mother was killed by debris.

While the details are scant, Shizu was apparently summoned (by at least 30 mages, according to Veldora) to serve as a weapon. At first the big cheese in charge of bringing her there doesn’t think anything of her, but then has none other than Ifrit use Shizu as a vessel.

Shizu seems glad to have met a fellow Japanese, and even happier when he shows her his memories of how well the country has fared since she left. But there are times when she collapses; perhaps a symptom of the “curse” she bears. And then there’s the whole reason she’s there: to serve as a weapon formidable enough to defeat, say, a dragon…or even, perhaps, a slime that ate a dragon? Whatever her motives, I’m glad we’ve finally been introduced.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 04

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After each episode, and after announcing the next, a character thanks us for our “continued support,” and my continued support of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has never gone unrewarded.

Case in point: another absolute gem, combining lovely family slice-of-life (with a very unique and cool family), the clouds hanging over Yakumo’s head, and Konatsu getting to do something, out of the blue, she never dreamed of actually doing.

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That adorable little kid up there is Konatsu and Yota’s kid. Some time has passed, but not too much: he’s only in kindergarten, and yet, he’s already surprising and delighting all, even his parents, with his nascent rakugo skills. They may have a genius on their hands.

He’s every bit as charismatic as Konatsu was. Even Yakumo can’t stay mad, going quickly into Grandpa Mode. By the way, how often does a show come around where so much time passes, we get to watch both Konatsu and her son at the same age? It’s a generational show.

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It’s generations that Higuchi Eisuke wishes to discuss with Yakumo, who grudgingly gives him a ride home and his ear for the five or so minutes. Eisuke doesn’t waste them, almost going too far in proclaiming he won’t let Yakumo kill rakugo off, or even define it as something dead or dying. With Yota, Eisuke aims to keep it alive, changing to suit the mood of a generation, just as it always has.

Ever the rigid bamboo, Yakumo won’t hear of any of that, nor will he have any part in Eisuke’s project. And when Yakumo says rakugo is dead, he’s not just talking about how it would die with him, but perhaps how it already died with Sukeroku, someone Yakumo has always believed to be better than him.

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Yota is very much the progressive, without even being that aware of it, because he knows how good “Sis” is at rakugo and thinks if she loves it so much she should just do it. What’s the harm in going out there and trying it? Such an idea is unspeakable to Konatsu, however, and considering the man who raised her, her attitude is hardly surprising. Instead, she’s being trained in shamisen, so she can play her husband and others in and out.

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But when they both go to their kid’s school to perform, Yota gets inspired by the scenario, warms the crowd of mostly little kids up, and then…hands the show over to Konatsu. All of a sudden, she’s doing something she hasn’t done since she was a pint-sized urchin, living with her father.

While initially flustered and overwhelmed, a switch flips and all of a sudden Konatsu us that urchin in the bar, without skipping a beat. Scratch that; after years with Yakumo as a father, she’s gotten better, despite having never performed in public. She’s also, in my opinion, better than Yota, at least in terms of better differentiating between the characters she voices (all kudos to the great Kobayashi Yuu here).

“Jugemu” is a simple story that’s not too raunchy or complicated for the kids, and it involves quite a bit of linguistic limberness to repeat the overly-long name of the titular child over and over at increasingly faster speeds. But it’s a cakewalk for Konatsu. She’d have brought down the house no matter what the makeup of the crowd was.

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And holy crap, the surging of emotions going through Konatsu before, during and after her impromptu performance were just a delight to behold, right up until she embraces her hubby with tears of relief and joy, and he essentially says “See? Rakugo’s hella fun, right?”

The next morning, Konatsu’s back to “usual”, and despite Yota’s protests, she still won’t commit to ever doing rakugo again. It just doesn’t seem right to her to crash something that’s been a “boy’s-only” affair for so long.

It’s an old-fashioned view of a very old-fashioned art, but par for the course for someone with her upbringing, which may have been laissez-faire with Sukeroku, but got real conservative real fast with Yakumo. So while, like Yota, I’m disappointed, and think it’s a waste, I understand why she feels the way she does.

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Yakumo, meanwhile, holds Sukeroku’s fan – old Sukeroku’s; not Yota’s. And as he holds it, a figure appears behind him – Sukeroku’s ghost, I presume. There’s no hint of arrogance or superiority in this moment, as Yakumo seems haunted by the fact a someone as loathsome and untalented as he is “all that’s left” of rakugo.

Yota will probably never be able to impress him, just as he won’t be able to impress himself. Eisuke may be right that rakugo needs to evolve, and Yota may be right that someone of Konatsu’s talent should be a part of that evolution. But you’ll never convince Yakumo of that, and Konatsu will never think it’s appropriate to be anything but musical accompaniment.

That leaves the youngin’. Who knows what future he’ll see that no one else will be around to see. What I hope we do see is Yota’s rakugo continuing to be popular, and that rakugo continuing to grow into something his son can inherit. But Yakumo’s warning about how quickly a fall can come makes me weary of too many good times to come.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 03

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The fireworks fly in this episode of SGRS2, both in the night sky and later, in the private room of a restaruant where Konatsu worked before she went on maternity leave, run by a friend of her mother Miyokichi.

But first, we get to soak up a gorgeous, festive night, with Konatsu, the baby, and the mistress relaxing on a bench while Yota practices his ranting on a boat with his patron.

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When the mistress and Konatsu rush to the restaurant Yota follows—as does Eisuke, hungry for details about rakugo life, which he learns is surprisingly similar to thug life. Yota finds his old mob boss, as well as that boss’ boss, who happens to be close to the mistress.

Yota decides to intrude, and after making courteous, verbose apologies, kinda lays into the old man, seemingly unconcerned that he has the power to kill him if he doesn’t like him.

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Fortunately, the big boss is not only a fan of rakugo, but Yota’s rakugo in particular. Even when Yota picks a fight, and even wonders out loud whether the boss is the father of Konatsu’s child, the boss merely tosses him into a koi pond to “cool off”; he doesn’t rough him up.

Yota doesn’t back down, instead belting out an elaborate rant he was practicing before, only customized for the boss, who is entranced and charmed. Yota is starting to realize he’s not just some punk anymore; he’s a shin’uchi…and he’s a father.

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After a night where some doubted if Yota was going to be able to keep his promise to outlive his master, and some goldfish scooping with Eisuke, he returns home, having quite accidentally found “his rakugo” with his elaborate, animated ranting style.

Mind you, Yakumo hasn’t heard it yet,  but agrees to do a family performance, if Yota learns and masters “Inokori,” a Sukeroku classic. To inspire him, Yakumo performs it himself, seemingly flipping a switch and channeling Sukeroku. Yota is spellbound. When he’s finished, Yakumo looks like he’d just climbed twenty flights.

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Yota scared the crap out of Konatsu by confronting the father of her child, but everything worked out for the best. The episode’s parting shot is what Konatsu wants in a nutshell: to live in a comfortable house, to hear Yota’s/Sukeroku’s rakugo, and to have her son hear it as well.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 02

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Yotarou gets what he wants: the whole family under one roof (a trial period, at least). But he also gets something he doesn’t: a scandal related to the very old news that he once had yakuza ties. The timing couldn’t be worse: Yotarou is already out of sorts due to the pressures of family he put on himself and the burden of having to innovate beyond Yakumo’s rakugo.

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As for Konatsu, she sometimes feels she’s taking care of three children, not just her own. Yotarou means well but he’ll have to deliver or the trial period ends with his expulsion from the house. And when the baby barges into Yakumo’s room while he’s playing music, it’s Yakumo who throws a mini-tantrum with his inimitable Yakumo pissiness.

When he tries to pawn the kid off on Konatsu, he finds her sleeping, with tears streaming down as she dreams. Here Yakumo the Tender comes out, even if reluctantly, reciting one of her father’s stories that always used to put her to sleep (in a good way!).

It’s an especially beautiful moment that isn’t taken away from simply because Yakumo gets more pissy afterwards about having to stay alive so Konatsu’s kid can hear his rakugo (which is also the main reason she hasn’t killed him as she’s promised to do.)

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As for Yotarou, earlier in the episode he seems to be letting all the Yakuzagate stuff slide off his line-tattooed back, but the pressure is clearly building for that back to be revealed to his audience, and after his colleague bombs, the pressure finally bursts.

Listening to an extended scene of rakugo in this show can be an almost hypnotic experience, much like BBC’s Shipping Forecast, but with the added visuals of every little hand gesture, shift of a foot, bead of sweat on the head, or other ways humans try to stay sitting in one place.

In this case, his story, which isn’t going over that well with the paltry crowd anyway, builds to an exceedingly misguided attempt to diffuse the tension by stripping to reveal that tattoo, getting up, and dancing around. This wasn’t just bad rakugo…it wasn’t rakugo.

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When Yotarou and Yakumo cross paths with Higuchi in the middle, we learn that the writer, like Konatsu, wants Yakumo to stay alive, so that they can work to keep his rakugo alive. It’s stiking to see the lengths to which people go for a true master’s own rakugo, contrasted with just how damn far Yotarou has left to go.

But rather than pile on, Yakumo takes a more gentle tack, forgiving Yotarou for his impropriety and advising him to embrace his past, and not try to hide it, with or without outlandish stunts. The more pressing problem, however, is whether doing that will bear fruit.

Yakumo is, to be blunt, on the way out, and seems content to let rakugo die with him; at least the rakugo he knew. But Yotarou needs to find a way to get the crowds to trust him again; to see the character he plays and not just an ex-yakuza. Because he’s got a family to provide for now. Breadwinning must come before soul-searching…unless you can get one with the other.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 31

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Even Takaki can feel it: something’s not right. Something hasn’t been right since Chad was injured, Radice took over, and Galan was brought on. But that “something” is impossible for him to grasp, at least to the point it alters the course he and the other Earth Branchers of Tekkadan, which is precisely the course Galan wants them on: the path to ruin.

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As such, Takaki finds himself very nearly back to where this all began: human tools of CGS; cannon fodder for endless, pointless battles between Arbrau and the SAU. And it’s all in service of weakening McGillis’ position and reputation. As he stares in his coffee, McGillis knows exactly what’s going on, as he’s probably been expecting concerted resistance to his reform movement. It’s strange to see him on his heels, almost forced to make a move.

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I’m not yet sure if McGillis is being played here, but Takaki and Aston are being played like fiddles. Galan treats them decently, but behind their backs calls them dogs he’s helpfully trained for Rastal. He tells Takaki again and again that this is it; the last battle; just one more push and he can go back home to his normal happy life with Fuka and Aston. Only they’re just words, and in reality there is no end to the war in sight.

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That’s just how Galan, Radice, and Rustal want it. It’s another case of the adults getting one over on the kids; manipulating their emotions to keep them pliable. Galan even goes out of his way to save Takaki’s life, not just to keep up the charade but to build more trust; trust Galan has every intention of betraying when the time is right.

It’s an episode that establishes a terrible situation for Earth Branch, and makes me question the wisdom of splitting Tekkadan’s forces across two planets in the first place. Mika, Kudelia, Eugene & Co. are on their way, and may be able to provide some relief but Galan won’t make it easy for them to interfere in his plans. Will it be too little, too late to save Takaki?

Meanwhile, McGillis takes the stage in his mobile suit, determined after a matter of weeks to nip this sprawling yet low-boil conflict in the bud. A rematch with the masked Gaelio seems imminent.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 30

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Note Orga tucking his tie to keep it clean – nice little detail
With so much opportunity for prosperity and stability on the horizon, Orga’s not one to go soft: When he’s late for dinner, he doesn’t ask Atra to heat it up, preferring to “deal with whatever’s in front” of him, be it food, work, or trouble.

Mika, always one to both notice and speak up about things no one else does, notices Orga is looking a little skinny, and drops some of his weird nut things on top of Orga, who isn’t a fan of the taste. But by episode’s end, Mika’s coat lint-garnished snacks are the least troublesome thing he must deal with.

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Julieta and Iok report their failure back to Rastal, who already has plans to open a front against McGillis on Earth, using some “bearded gentleman” Iok isn’t comfortable with but Julieta seems to be fine with, as long as he serves her master ably.

Julieta also meets with Mask Gaelio, who seems to be trying to warn her about trusting someone, even a superior, too closely. After all, all he and Carta ever were to McGillis were loyal and admiring, and he repaid them by screwing them royally. His only mistake was not making sure Gaelio was dead.

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McGillis’ enemies are joining forces out of a shared desire to see him fall, and McGillis’ enemies are now Tekkadan and Admoss Co.’s enemies. They reaped the benefits in last week’s battle, but Tekkadan’s Earth Branch represents its soft, vulnerable underbelly, and Radice has already given up on the ragtag Tekkadan Earth crew he deems “uneducated animals”.

Mere minutes before a commencement address, Makanai’s office is bombed, and Radice is in on it. Chad is injured along with Makanai, leaving Radice in charge of Tekkadan Earth, and he wastes no time showing his contempt for his underlings in keeping them in the dark.

Radice is having a drink with the “bearded gentleman” when the bomb goes off, and this is only the beginning, as rumors start to swirl everywhere that the SAU is responsible for the incident, and Gjallarhorn is brought in to arbitrate.

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It’s a chaotic situation and the last thing Orga, Chad, and Takaki wanted. Takaki, the ostensible leader of Tekkadan Earth with Radice having turned against them (still unbeknownst to them), must way everyone’s selfish desire to avenge Chad with Chad’s actual orders to keep things under control. It’s a lot for the gentle-hearted Takaki to take on, and just when he was hoping he could give Fuka a better life on Earth.

He at least has Aston on his side, who may share the others’ thirst to avenge Chad but considers his duty to his superior more important. What ticks Takaki off is that in interpreting his duty to him, Aston goes straight to fighting or dying for him.

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Tekkadan was supposed to be moving past such desperate measures, but McGillis’ and their foes are determined to keep them dragged down in the mire. On a hunch, Orga rushes the delivery of weapons and new mobile suits to Earth, and sends Eugene and Akihiro to make sure they get there.

Mika and Kudelia also tag along for the journey, and with such big names it looks like Earth is going to play a bigger role than I thought…once they get there. It’s a three-week trip, and a lot can happen on the ground in that time.

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Like Orga, Takaki isn’t fully aware of the depths of Radice’s betrayal when he shakes the hand of Arbrau Defense Force’s new commander, the hulking “bearded gentleman” Galan Mossa. But he’s certainly uneasy about the future, and his future self narrating admits this was the time a trap began closing around Tekkadan; one that they could not escape from without more fighting and dying. It’s a cold dinner, but all they can do is deal with it.

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