The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 06 – Blessed Are the Weak

Just when this second season of Shield Hero was flagging and reminding me of another series that crashed and burned in its second season (cough-cough PROMISED NEVERLAND cough), it puts out one hell of an epic mid-cour finale. A lot is owed to the persistent mugging of Mid-Big Bad Kyou Ethnina, whom I thought was pretty generic at first—and kinda remains throughout—but there’s such a goshdarn charisma to him. Dude just loves being evil as shit and does not care.

Another welcome addition to an already packed stage? Queen Fitoria, AKA Tange Sakura in giant regal bird form, arriving in the nick of time to press the fight against the regenerated Spirit Tortoise. Through Filo, she tells Naofumi and the others to destroy the heart while she destroys the head. If they do it at the same time, the shield around the core will fall and it will be Bye-Bye Tortoise.

It’s a simple plan, but our boy Kyou isn’t about to let them pull it off without resistance. When Ost tries to open a way to the heart, Kyou stops them, and it’s a testament to his arrogance that he doesn’t bat an eyelash even when his fellow heroes from another world show up, having come up empty in finding the real heart, poised to team up with Naofumi’s party.

While L’Arc, Therese and Glass are deferent to their Vassal Weapons, Kyou treats his book like he stole it (which may be he did?). He doesn’t worry about being vastly outnumbered because he has the power of his book and the Tortoise and the other three heroes he captured at his disposal. With that power, he casts a supergravity spell that presses everyone to the ground. But as he gloats and stomps on Naofumi’s head, the seething magma within Rishia’s timid exterior finally erupts.

Rishia alone is able to rise to her feet and walk towards Kyou, mastering her ki manipulation just as her sensei knew she could. When her goofy bird costume gets burned away, she burst forth from the flames a dazzlingly cool avenging knight, taking the fight directly to Kyou embracing her weakness while exposing his, and then breaking the heroes free (though it must be noted they remain unconscious while Rishia does all this cool stuff).

Crucially, Rishia’s unexpected outburst buys the others time to move. Ost bestows the power of the Spirit Tortoise in Naofumi’s shield, allowing him to cast the all-powerful All Liberation Aura, freeing everyone from the gravity spell. Filo joins L’Arc & Co. to destroy the heart, while Naofumi prepares to use his Evil Shield, and the cost that comes with it. Ost repeats her wish for Naofumi to kill her…

A multi-cast spell, the destruction of the primary shield and the creation of an emergency backup shield later, and Naofumi can’t bring himself to summon any anger or hatred for Ost. But she played a little trick on him, already having embued and now fully awakening the Tortoise power within his shield. As the emergency shield and core are blasted away, Ost collapses, but the threat of the Tortoise is neutralized, and the lands are safe.

At this defeat, Kyou simply shrugs, as he’s kept “the bare minimum” of souls he collected within a vial that he uses to open a portal back to his home world. He tells Naofumi and Rishia “smell ya later” and hops. in. Ost, fading fast, tells Naofumi the Tortoise shield was only unlocked because he wasn’t swallowed up by rage or sorrow. He won’t have to use the evil shield anymore.

L’Arc, Therese, and Glass hop into the portal to chase after Kyou, but when Naofumi tries to follow, he’s stopped by “game rules” that say Cardinal Heroes can’t invade other worlds. However, Ost gives him one last boon by granting permission to go through the portal to help the others. Perhaps out of habit, Naofumi calls for Raphtalia and Filo to join him and tells Rishia to stay behind with Itsuki, but again she refuses.

She’s on the Shield Hero’s party now; they’re her comrades, and her rightful place is through the portal with them. Just like that, Naofumi has left one otherworld and is bound for another. It’s an unexpected but intriguing development here at the halfway point, and this episode just singlehandedly salvaged the season.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 05 – The Ost With the Most

Berg, Therese, and New-Look Glass are not in the bowels of the Spirit Tortoise to fight the Shield Hero and his party. No, they’re there to deal with one of their own: a fourth Hero from their world who is only causing shit for his own personal gain. Berg proposes a truce and team-up; Naofumi refuses, but says if they don’t want to fight, they can do whatever else they want.

Just like that, they part ways, even though both parties are looking for the Tortoise’s heart. Instead, Naofumi & Co. come upon a dragon hourglass. Ost recalls that it’s used to indicate how many souls the Tortoise has consumed and converted into the power that would create a barrier against the Waves. Berg & Co. seemingly find the real heart first.

Naofumi’s party soon finds what they believe to be the heart, but encounter the fourth Hero from Glass’s world, who clearly matriculated at Generic Anime Bad Guy U. Long, wild gray hair, glasses, a quasi-military uniform, and a devil-may-care attitude…he sucks, and I just want to punch him. But he is the wielder of the Book vassal weapon, and even Ost’s attacks go right through him.

When this guy doesn’t heed Naofumi’s order to release control of the Tortoise and give back the souls he stole, he lets the heart’s defense system kick in, forcing Naofumi to protect everyone with his Meteor Shield. Filo and Raph fan out and attack the heart, but as they do, they cause Ost to cry out in pain, and she eventually passes out.

This whole time inside the body of the Tortoise, Ost has been doing some serious soul-searching. Once her existence was so simple: collect souls with the greater good of protecting the world from Waves. But then why does she empathize and feel with the people whose souls she’s supposedly designed to take?

The answer, it would seem, is that she isn’t really the Tortoise’s familiar. Even with the Tortoise’s head and heart destroyed, she remains, and opens a path to its deepest depths.

The Book Wielder is there, annoyed they’ve made it this far, and reveals that Ost could be more accurately described as the Spirit Tortoise itself. She is its very core, which means if Naofumi & Co. are to succeed, they must kill her…which is exactly what she asked them to do when they first met.

The aquatope on white sand – 22 – Dearly beloved

As last week’s transcendent finish showed, Fuuka doesn’t have to actually do anything to cheer Fuuka up, clear her head, and ultimately make her decide to return to Tingarla and get back to work. Whether it’s when Kukuru first spots her at the hatching, takes Kukuru’s hand and shakes her head when Kukuru says she’s only causing trouble for everyone, or just sleeping peacefully beside Kukuru, being there is what matters.

The next afternoon, Kukuru is with Fuuka on the ferry home, but not before thanking Misaki for taking care of her. During this time, Fuuka learns that sea turtles are endangered, in large part due to man-made harm. Considering I learned about this stuff when I was still in school, I was a little surprised by Fuuka’s ignorance, but it’s never too late to learn.

Back at the office, Kukuru’s boss Suwa responds to her deep bow of apology by thrusting the marked-up wedding proposal into her hands and telling her if she finishes this, deal or no deal, he’ll recommend her for an opening in the attendant department, allowing her to do what she’s always loved and come naturally to her. Karin wants that attendant job too, and Kukuru doesn’t really seem to dread the possibility of losing!

That’s because learning more about Misaki’s conservation efforts inspired Kukuru to do her part—not as an attendant, but as a marketer—to spread the word about how things are and what can be done about it. If she needs to make compromises to the wedding planner Miura, so be it: the more people walk through Tingarla’s doors, the more people will fall in love with it, and do more to help protect it.

That includes the curt and impatient Miura, who initially cuts Kukuru’s tour short to get down to business. Kukuru and Suwa show her the wedding venue, and this time Kukuru has more quick (and satisfying) answers to Miura’s rapid-fire questions. The first meeting wasn’t a failure, because it gave her the knowledge she needed to make the second presentation successful.

After accepting Kukuru’s “Wedding Under the Sea” proposal, Miura’s demeanor softens considerably, and she’s eager to continue the tour. She even leaves with a big jellyfish plushie, having enjoyed herself much more than she thought she would. And what do you know, Suwa finally praises Plankton! Sure, all he says is “Well done” and walks away, but for this guy, it’s huge.

Kukuru’s mood thus immensely improved and the job done, she finally gets to relax with her friends at Ohana, and is all smiles and laughs. But she has to be reminded that she’s in the running for an attendant position, because she was so focused on the wedding task before her. There’s a scene where she also makes Kai take a rain check on talking about something, and it’s here at the restaurant both we and Kukuru learn what: Kai’s dad collapsed, and the attendant opening is due to his departure.

Kukuru bails on the celebration, tries to call Kai, then lucks out to find him still at the aquarium. Kai confirms his dad needs surgery, so he won’t be able to work for a while, but doesn’t want to see Kukuru make sad faces. He’s not leaving permanently, after all; just going on leave until his family’s alright.

Ever since getting her drive back and then knocking the wedding proposal out of the park, Kukuru has no doubt considered simply staying in marketing. Will she reconsider now that she knows Kai will feel most safe knowing she’ll be tending to the animals in his place? If it’s just a temporary thing, then why not?

The aquatope on white sand – 21 – Don’t wallow…struggle!

The way Kukuru simply disappeared last week was extremely worrying, but it turns out she simply needed to get away. Asking herself over and over “What am I doing?”, the answer is clear: work got to be too much, so she needed a break. She takes the ferry to sleepy Yamenura Island, where she soon runs into Umi-yan’s wife Misaki, a professor specializing in sea turtles.

Kukuru did the right thing by eventually responding to an understandably worried Fuuka by telling her she’s safe and everything’s fine, she just needed time off. Fuuka tries to cover for Kukuru like a good friend and co-worker, but Suwa sees right through the ruse, and tells Fuuka not to interfere with matters that aren’t her job. The way Suwa phrases it makes Fuuka so mad she starts shadowboxing like Kukuru, and almost accidentally slugs Kai in the face!

While there’s always a measure of underlying worry and stress one gets while playing hooky, it’s largely neutralized by the extremely chill vibes of Yameruna. Misaki, a wise woman, tells Kukuru she’s going to get yelled at later, but no point being sad about it now. She should enjoy the time she’s taken…and she does, by sleeping in, taking a leisurely stroll to the tiny island aquarium, and watching one of her gramps’ protégés in action.

Even if she knows Kukuru is fine, a part of Fuuka still wants to be with Kukuru during this time. When she learns from Gramps that Choko will be joining Tingarla soon, she wants to text Kukuru, but hesitates, worried the timing of such a text would be wrong.

She’s distracted, and shortly afterward an overly curious penguin gets badly pecked and scratched up by territorial peers. Fuuka blames herself, but both her boss says penguins fight all the time. The vet tells Fuuka not to wallow, but struggle. There’s no time for regretting when you’re carefully watching over living things.

The night arrives when Misaki’s quarry, a huge nest of sea turtle eggs, finally hatch, and it’s probably the event of Yameruna, which I may have mentioned is usually super laid back and tranquil. Much like the baby penguin’s first dip, the tension of this event is extremely nicely built up, then released when the adorable baby turtles emerge from the sand in droves.

Kukuru looks both awed and honored to be present for such an event, then overhears someone behind her saying “It’s amazing.” She recognizes the voice, because it’s Fuuka, who learned through Umi-yan that Kukuru was on the same island as his wife.

Instead of running into each other’s arms, Kukuru and Fuuka stand apart and continue to quietly observe the magic of nature. The hugs, tears, laughter, and scolding will come later. For now, they’ll keep a close eye on the animals.

The aquatope on white sand – 20 – Outside the tank

Kukuru has hit a wall again. There’s too much work to do, and not enough time to do it with the organizational skills she currently possesses. Her boss Suwa remains as unfeeling as a Vulcan. He doesn’t say it, but it’s implied every time he barks his catchphrase “That’s all from me”—which he didn’t actually say this week! What he’s really saying is “If you can’t cut it, I’ll find someone who can.”

Kukuru’s a free spirit, and being wound up so tight in that fish-less office is wearing on her. She seeks any relief, whether it’s pressing her face against the main tank (her sole interaction with Kai. Sorry Kai!) or going out to a lagoon to observe a lost baby dolphin, whom she names Ban-chan. She doesn’t just love how cute Ban-chan is, she also envies his freedom.

This is one of many excellent images that show rather than tell how things are going for Kukuru this week…she’s behind literal bars! She wakes up from a dream that she’s drowning! On top of all the other projects that keep her in the office well past office hours, Suwa orders her to prepare a presentation for a wedding planner for ceremonies at Tingarla. Kukuru gets to it … but is never into it.

Back home, her Gramps and Tingarla’s boss Hoshino discuss things at Udon-chan’s mom’s restaurant, which Udon-chan’s mom has to run instead of drinking because Udon-chan ain’t there. Hoshino says Kukuru is doing her best in marketing…no “but”! Gramps knows Kukuru and so knows how hard it must be, but still believes being “outside the tank” she grew up in will ultimately prove to be a “good experience.”

Perhaps it’s because Kukuru has no mom or dad to guide her during this crucial time when she’s just started adulting that he believes tough love is the solution. Kukuru gives it the old college try with the wedding presentation, but the show wasn’t fooling anyone. I knew she was going to bomb, and that Suwa wasn’t going to console her. That said, he seems neither mad nor disappointed in Kukuru’s first big presentation. I just wish we could have gotten something from the guy…maybe hear about his first presentation.

The wedding project isn’t ruined, it just needs a fairly substantial redo. But the cost of the presentation (whether it went well or not) is much steeper for Kukuru. She misses out on Fuuka going diving with Ban-chan, and she returns to Tingarla too late to see Airi, the girl in the hospital who came to visit. Karin tells her not to feel bad; she had work. But now work is taking up so much time and energy it’s denying Kukuru a lot of the things give her joy and happiness.

While working overtime again, Kukuru snaps—but softly; more like a stalk of kelp than a hard branch. As her eyes blur, she asks herself Why was I trying so hard again? So she could get more work and see less of the things and people she loves? That can’t be right!

Then she remembers her Gramps telling her Gama Gama was going to be demolished soon, so if she wanted to see it one last time, she’d better hurry. But work kept her from saying goodbye to Gama Gama while it was still whole. When she arrives by taxi late at night, it’s just a pile of rubble.

Kukuru’s already tattered spirit shattered into a thousand pieces at the sight of that rubble. There’s no melodramatic tears; I was reminded of Titus Andronicus when he said “I have no more tears to shed.” She just looks…defeated. Spent. The next day, Kukuru skips work, but work goes on without her.

There’s a parallel between Kukuru’s arc and Ban-chan’s. Both have been set loose—the dolphin got separated from his family, Kukuru got thrown out of the tank to either succeed or fail. Even though I know the show is not going push Kukuru to suicide, she is definitely not having a “good experience”.  Her absence from the office is frankly chilling, and I just hope she’s somewhere safe and close to loved ones.

Bokutachi no Remake – 11 – You’re Amazing, I Promise!

After having to watch Eiko endure their boss’s sustained verbal abuse, Kyouya storms up to him and tells him How Things Are Going To Be if Eiko’s team, and the company, are going to get out of the hole into which they’ve dug themselves. Each time Kyouya says something the boss objects to or is taken aback by, he has an answer that pacifies him. In the end, he’s able to give Eiko’s team the time, the resources, and the goals they need to start crawling out.

You’ll notice I didn’t get too granular with regards to all the things Kyouya said, and in fact, it’s almost a little unbelievable that he’d have quite so many moves and countermoves all lined up to convince a boss who had seemed quite unmovable from his positions just last week.

But hey, this is Kyouya; this is what he does. As a kind of curtain call, he stops by Minori Ayaka and manages to inspire her into illustrating again by showing her some original art from HaruSora, the game that got her excited about creating to begin with.

It’s the second time HaruSora saved Ayaka from abandoning her life of art, which means if Kyouya hadn’t worked so hard to make it the success it was, Ayaka wouldn’t be an illustrator and this new company wouldn’t have her talent to draw upon. And yet, when Kyouya hears that Eiko is getting on the next flight to Okinawa, he fears he’s Done It Again—pushed someone into giving up their “proper” futures in his desperate efforts to remake his own.

When Eiko finds him quite by chance, she insists she’s not running away, just going on a little trip. But when she hears from Kyouya how he regrets what happened with the other creators, Eiko hastens to tell him none of that is really his fault…after smacking him with her purse a couple of times.

Eiko questions all of the things Kyouya has been feeling so depressed about, telling him he’s done nothing wrong. Eiko is so fired up she even lets slip that she loved him in addition to looking up to him for his steadfast ability to get things done, causing quite a scene in the airport and cementing her position as Best Woman in this series.

Eiko takes a trip to Okinawa anyway, but promises she’ll be back, just as she promised Kyouya that he’s amazing, and doesn’t have to feel bad about how the futures of others have turned out. That said, as her plane departs Kyouya can’t help but pine for the “good old days” of the share house where he resolved and succeeded in remaking his life.

That’s when Tomioka Keiko, who it’s been clear for a while now wasn’t just a short-statured senpai from his school, appears before him, looking the same as she did a decade ago. If she isn’t “God”, she seems to be the entity who has either sent Kyouya back and forth through time or is there to observe and guide him.

Honestly, however the mechanics of his time jumping are explained, I hope it doesn’t take up the majority of the final episode. For me, Bokutachi no Remake was far less about the sci-fi elements and more about the interaction of its characters. I want to at least see some version of the original gang plus Eiko hanging out once more, making creating something new and exciting.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 12 (Fin) – Good Trouble

You could sense this was going to be a particularly intense finale when it starts with Swindler, Courier, and the kids surviving a violent Shinkansen derailing. Brother thinks it’s all over, but Sister still believes in her big sis. Swindler may have a badly broken leg, but she’s not ready to give up.

She produces the 500-yen coin that started her run of “bad luck” (putting it quite mildly) and places it on Courier’s chest. It’s payment for one last job: ensure the kids get to Shikoku safely. Through their prickly, foul-mouthed repartee, Courier too can sense that Swindler is cashing out.

After wishing the kids godspeed, Swindler limps out into the open and almost immediately spotted and surrounded by police drones. But she finally gets her own official Akudama intro sequence (this show’s version of the magical girl transition) as she pulls off one last Swindle.

At first, it seems like nothing other than stalling the Executioners—whose mundane banter in the midst of such carnage only heightens their monstrousness. She pretends to be an ordinary civilian caught in the crossfire, but she’s quickly identified as Swindler, and is stabbed through the chest by one of the Executioners.

That woman Executioner thinks it’s creepy that the Akudama wears a bright smile even in death, but Swindler has every reason to smile: not only did she succeed in buying crucial moments for Courier and the kids, but also sparked something even the Executioners won’t be able to contend with.

Oh, they certainly put on a show of force in surrounding Courier’s bike with seemingly every Executioner, drone, and airship in the city. A feisty Executioner is even able to lunge at Courier, but Brother comes between them an ensures the wound isn’t deep enough to kill Courier yet.

That’s key, because they still need Courier to help them out of this mess. Of course, Courier isn’t enough, especially in his battered state and woefully outnumbered and outgunned. That is, until, the fruits of Swindler’s Last Swindle are borne. Her execution, ruthlessly carried out while pleading she was just an ordinary person? That was caught on video.

The girl whose parents were killed last week steps between the Executioners and Courier and the kids, and even shoots one of them with a gun she found. She’s not alone. Soon the Executioners and their arrogant Boss are surrounded by a far larger force of ordinary citizens rising up against the violence. Even Bunny & Shark’s message is retooled: the Executioners are the Akudama now.

The resurgence of public unrest keeps the Executioners busy enough that Courier is able to charge up his bike railgun and not only bring down the Police station and its looming tower, but uses the tower wreckage as a goddamn ramp to escape with the kids.

He follows the train tracks towards Shikoku until his bike warns him it’s running low on juice, and in any case there are three Executioner airships still in pursuit. Courier stops near a windswept tree, the kids alight from the bike and continue on foot while he’ll go back and stop the airships…at any cost.

Akudama Drive has never had a problem with absolutely bonkers action sequences, but as expected the finale takes them to entirely new heights, reaching Synthwave Music Video levels of serene awesomeness. Courier dances on his bike to dodge enemy fire as long as he possibly can, but is eventually swallowed up by a railgun beam and seemingly vaporized, all while Brother and Sister run away as fast as their little legs can carry them.

BUT…it turns out Courier isn’t quite dead yet after being turned into a black-on-white sketch—usually a death sentence for most characters, but Courier and the Akudama aren’t “most”! He uses his metal arm to replace one of the two prongs on the bike’s railgun that melted away, focusing the beam enough to land a direct hit on the third and final airship pursuing the kids, and destroying it.

With nothing and no one else chasing Brother and Sister, Courier slumps over wearing a smile of relief and satisfaction as the morning sun washes over him. He just managed accomplished his final delivery mission. Before parting with the kids, he gave them the 500-yen coin Swindler gave him, making his last job technically gratis.

Aside from a parting shot showing the wreckage of the police tower, the remainder of the episode is given over to Brother and Sister continuing on to Shikoku as the end credits roll. They reach a tunnel through which there is nothing but light, and walk through it while holding hands, vanishing into the blinding white.

What Shikoku is like and what becomes of them is left ambiguous; suffice it to saw they are safe and free. So is Kansai, it would seem, with the fall of the murderous Executioners. Swindler’s heroic death made her a martyr, and caused the spark that lit the match that brought about the downfall of the region’s old, unjust order—what the late John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Hey, I never thought I’d be quoting a civil rights icon in a show about goofy Danganronpa-style archetype criminals on the run, but here we are! In its finale Akudama’s lyrical action sequences, heart-wrenching character moments and operatic soundtrack all combined to elevate a previously goofily over-the-top series to an epic cinematic experience. And like any great movie or series, I’m holding myself back from immediately watching it all over again.

Akudama Drive – 11 – Their Little Dream

Suddenly, we’re back where we began: Ordinary Person gets off work on time and spots a takoyaki stand. Instead of being accused of not paying, she pays without interacting with Courier and the two go their separate ways. Of course, if this is how things had gone down in the first episode, there wouldn’t be a story.

This is clearly not reality. What is reality is Pupil waking up in a hospital bed to find that not only have nearly 6,000 ordinary people been marked as Akudama, but nearly a third of them have been executed, and his senpai seems perfectly fine with it, as is their Boss, who is praised by Kanto. Order in Kansai has been restored—even if the odd orphan has to be tossed off their parent’s corpse into the cold.

Swindler at first revels in the comfort of her ordinary apartment, and could presumably continue living there as if all of the crazy events in which she participated was all just a very weird dream. But this is the dream, just as a young Courier discovering his mentor, the previous (and female) Courier murdered is a dream.

Bunny and Shark—in crisp HD for the first time—deliver their latest lesson with Swindler and Courier as an audience: they explain the “Butterfly Dream” in which one asks themselves if they’re dreaming of a butterfly or the butterfly’s dream. Apparently, in Kanto, it doesn’t matter: you can be both or neither.

The animal stick puppet characters assert this is where Swindler and Courier “truly belong”: a place where they can dream of whatever and whenever they want and live in their happiest moments forever! Swindler even has a little Shoujo Manga moment with Courier…before both he and the takoyaki stand beging to digitally degrade and evaporate, leaving only the interior of the Shinkansen.

Swindler and Courier escape this world of coddling and restraining illusion thanks to Hacker’s Haro bot, with which the real Hacker is able to interface and which serves as a kind of dream totem for Swindler and Courier; their means of realizing they’re in a dream. The Bunny & Shark program is a form of brainwashing meant to separate body from mind (and free will) when entering Kanto. It is the effect of the Decontamination Zone.

Why would Kanto insist anyone who enters have their mind separated from their body? That becomes clear when Hacker leads them outside of the train to see something even stranger than their dreams: an endless deep blue sky full of eternally floating wreckage of old Tokyo.

As for Kanto, its true form is that of a complex quantum computer with a morphing geometric black structure resembling an Angel from Eva. Everyone in Kanto converted their consciousness to data and stored it in this structure (again, like Eva’s Human Instrumentality Project). Hacker turns back and cheekily breaks the fourth wall, commenting on how crazy a twist this is!

Swindler’s first priority is the kids, whom Hacker points out are currently being restrained by the Kanto structure. It’s presently breaking down, and the siblings were always meant to be Kanto’s new and everlasting vessels. All of Kanto’s data is being transferred to them.

Needless to say, Swindler isn’t cool with the kids being used once more as mere tools. She’s long since completely devoted her mind and body ensuring brother and sister’s one “little dream”—to be alive, safe, and together—is fulfilled. Whatever else they are and whatever Kanto perceives their use to be, she insists they’re ordinary kids who deserve and ordinary life.

Unfortunately, her attempts to physically attack Kanto are repelled by its gravitational wave defense system, which means it’s up to Hacker to go into Kanto and play the toughest—and most fun—game of his life. That’s just fine to him, as the whole reason he’s helping Swindler and Courier comes down to profound boredom. If he can die doing what he loves, he’s okay with that.

This is definitely Akudama Drive at its most baroque and psychedelic, and even though The Day I Became a God had a quantum supercomputer and trippy virtual hacker fight first this season, Akudama is able to put a different spin on both. Hacker’s battlefield resembles FFXIII’s final dungeon, Orphan’s Cradle, while the floating wreckage reminded me of FFXIII-2’s final dungeon, Labyrinth of Chaos.

Hacker ends up succeeding in freeing the siblings, but only by sacrificing his digital self, which is all that’s left of him. He lies about being “just fine” to Swindler and offers her a final token of gratitude for returning his Haro drone intact: coordinates to “a mystical place nobody’s heard about, let alone been to,” which he deems a “perfect place” for them.

He then urges everyone to hurry aboard the Shinkansen, which he programs to return to Kansai, and from there they can presumably head to those coordinates. As Sister surprises Brother with her new street smarts (and potty mouth—”You were shit at protecting me!”), Swindler thanks Courier for all his help. Of course, for Courier, finishing the job wasn’t a choice, but a necessity.

That’s when we return to Kansai where the approaching Shinkansen is placed in crosshairs. Three choppers open fire on it, knocking it off the tracks in a huge fireball as Pupil and New Pupil look on. Here’s hoping Swindler and the kids alighted before the train blew up!

Assuming they did, there are likely to be more hardships—and a likely final showdown with the Executioners—before they can reach their promised haven. Whatever happens in the finale, this episode was a master class in twisty, surreal, mind-bending, truth-dropping, beautifully batshit fun.

Akudama Drive – 10 – Just Like She Taught Him

Courier, Swindler, and Sister leap off Executioner HQ in pursuit of the helicopter carrying Pupil, Guy Pupil, and Brother. They’re headed to Kansai Station to put the kid on the next Shinkansen. Doctor is also headed there aboard a flying bus whose other passengers she murdered, with a terrified Hoodlum thoroughly wrapped around her little finger.

While en route, Pupil, Guy Pupil and Brother watch a newsfeed showing that the civil unrest has intensified, with large mobs ready to storm police and government buildings.

Courier, Swindler, and Sister learn of the extent of the unrest firsthand when their path to the station is blocked by a civilian-established checkpoint. Unfortunately for these intrepid vigilantes, Boss straight-up strong-arms the ineffectual police chief to declare all rioters to be Akudama.

This has the unintended side effect of allowing Courier, Swindler, and Sister to pass through the checkpoint, as the police bots begin arresting the civilians. As the bus flies over the hotel where he and Brawler had so much fun, Hoodlum wonders just what the hell he’s doing.

Armed with police authorization, Boss sics her Executioners upon the mob, resulting in a bloodbath she deems necessary to restore law and order in Kansai; her primary concern is how this reflects on her to Kanto. Courier reveals he always knew Swindler wasn’t a real Akudama until she became one, which makes her happy.

Then it starts to snow much earlier than is usual in Kansai, almost providing a little bit of hope and cheer to an awfully tense and uneasy situation for all involved parties…except Doctor, who doesn’t even look up to see the snow.

Pupil and Guy Pupil arrive at the station and enter the elevator just as Courier railguns through the doors. He manages to blast his way down to the platform, but by then the Shinkansen has arrived and Brother is in a cargo vault on its way to the train. That’s when Doctor appears and things get way more complicated and intense.

With the quickness of a cat she sticks Guy Pupil straight through the heart with a needle to make a “string of life” that she holds in her hand. Since she’s still not technically an Akudama anymore, the Executioners can’t touch her. Doctor uses that immunity and the string to force Pupil to go grab Brother for her.

Hoodlum, still thoroughly in Doctor’s thrall, holds a scalpel to Swindler’s carotid artery, while Doctor gasses Courier. She revels in having the lives of everyone around her in her hands, but underestimates the “nauseating woman” Swindler’s gift of gab.

By talking to Hoodlum about Brawler and their mutual respect and love for each other, and how disappointed his big bro would be to see him now, Swindler is able to get Hoodlum into lowering his scalpel. Doctor, in turn, is disappointed that Hoodlum is now useless to her, and brings up the fact she stitched Brawler up so he’d bleed to death.

Doctor orders Pupil to execute Swindler and Hoodlum, but before she can bring her lightsaber down on them, a revived Courier shoots it out of her hand. Then things get even more chaotic as this entire standoff is crashed by hundreds of rioters who broke into the station to pray before the sacred Shinkansen for salvation.

In the ensuing confusion, Hoodlum pounces on Doctor and slits her through “just like she taught” him, though she’s still able to slit his and whip out her emergency surgery tools. Only this time it doesn’t work, as the Shinkansen seemingly answers the rioters’ prayers and opens its doors for them. This starts a stampede, and before Doctor can stitch herself up, she’s trampled to death.

The train also completes the loading of Brother’s vault, so with no time to spare Courier, Swindler and Sister hop on the bike and board the train, meaning their next stop will be Kanto. After the credits, Bunny and Shark say this was Shinkansen’s purpose all along; to bring people to Kanto. For what purpose we don’t know, as they’re suddenly cut off. But hey, it can’t be good, can it?

Then again, it could yet be good for Swindler, Courier, and the Siblings. For one thing, Hacker is in Kanto now (as far as we know). For another, they no longer have to worry about Doctor stalking them. I’m a little sad she went so completely heel, but she was always the most calculatingly treacherous of the original group, and the undignified, ignominious end she meets was in ironically stark contrast to her lofty goals.

Akudama Drive – 09 – All Work and No Play

Brother is in custody atop Executioner HQ. Swindler, Sister and Courier are going to rescue him before he can be transferred to Kanto. It’s a wonderfully simple objective…if only it were so easy to pull off. Suffice it to say, they run into a few…obstacles.

One person who doesn’t get in their way this week is Doctor, who beds Hoodlum on a lark (hey, he’s pretty). He’s an audience for her increasingly unhinged monologue not about living forever, but gaining control over the life and death of all things.

Once her speech is finished, she and Hoodlum look out the window to see what the commotion is about: Swindler sent out crazy messages online about a “Akudama army amassing”, and massive Akudama lynch mobs have formed in the streets as a response.

Both the riots and the independent carnage caused by a loose Cutthroat serve as dual diversions for the authorities, giving Swindler & Co. a better shot of getting to Brother. The police chief sits on his hands regarding the riots, but Boss visits him to insist he use the police to restore order—by force if necessary. No doubt a Kansai on fire doesn’t reflect well on her.

Sure enough, security is light at Executioner HQ. Throughout their interactions with the ever-stoic Courier, Swindler and Sister have become a wonderful call-and-response duo, with Sister even resembling a composite of Asirpa and Enonoka from Golden Kamuy in her essential cuteness.

Unfortunately, the greatest threat to the success of their mission is Cutthroat, who has already “decorated” HQ for his beloved Swindler’s sake…with the dismembered bodies of dozens of Executioners. This is when the rescue mission turns into a straight-up horror movie befitting the episode title “The Shining”.

We learn that the source of Cutthroat’s inscrutable attraction to Swindler has nothing to do with her hair or eye color, but the “red halo” he sees above her head in only his vision. As time has gone on that halo has only grown larger, and serves as a tracking device. He’s been holding back, but now it’s time to kill her and bask in the beauty of the red halo.

In short, Cutthroat, like Jack Torrance, is freakin’ nuts. Overt references to the Kubrick film include the river of blood through which Courier’s bike skids, Cutthroat’s limp as he chases Swindler, and of course, chopping through the wooden door (though he doesn’t declare “Here’s Johnny!”). He even seems to calm down and returns to a measure of sanity when Swindler locks herself in a armory.

He sweetly announces he’s decided not to kill her, so if she could kindly open the door that would be swell. Of course, he’s lying, but Swindler is well aware—you can’t swindle a swindler. She took steps to end the stalemate by strategically tossing lightsabers around the armory floor so she’ll never be without one however the struggle unfolds.

I’ll admit I was waiting for either Courier or Sister to help her in the nick of time, but she ends up killing Cutthroat (or something very close to it) by her own hands. Courier arrives afterwards with Sister to finish the job brother gave him, but by the time they reach the room the airship he’s on is already flying away—they just missed him.

With Doctor talking about how control is everything and her plans to use the sibling research to control everything, Swindler would likely settle for just a little control over her life, which has spiraled out of control. She went from an unassuming civil servant who’d never hurt a fly to someone who has been forced to maim and kill in order to survive.

Perhaps thanks in part to both Sister and Courier, she’s able to preserve her core decency and morality, even as the uglier elements of society attempted to sell her off, and someone operating completely outside all human decency or sanity took his best shot at her. He missed, and Swindler, the no-longer-Ordinary-at-all-Person, somehow endures.

Akudama Drive – 08 – Fly Me Almost to the Moon

Poor Swindler, who has possibly the worst luck of all the Akudama, not least because she really isn’t one. The old rocket runs out of fuel long before reaching the ruins of the moon, and she and Sister come crashing down in a field of sewage…not a soft field of green grass and flowers, which apparently doesn’t exist anymore.

Miraculously, Swindler survives a rocket crash thanks to pulling the emergency ejection lever, and Sister is fine because she’s invulnerable, but their troubles have only begun. They can’t stay put, because they made one hell of a conspicuous return to the earth. Absent any other ideas, they head back to Kansai.

Doctor, officially no longer an Akudama, is able to infiltrate a research lab and learn more about the blood of the Siblings. It’s clear she’s going to use her new freedom and wealth to do what she’s always done; play with the human bodies, both of others and herself.

As for Apprentice, her name is poised to change to Master (or at least Senpai) as Boss assigns her a eager new junior male partner. She wants none of this, and Boss can tell from Apprentice’s remaining good eye that she seeks death like her Master did.

Swindler and Sister return to the city and go to the takoyaki stall where her whole whirlwind adventure began, fulfilling a promise to Sister I never thought would be fulfilled so soon. Alas, as soon as she uses her seal, Wanted alerts pop up everywhere. The Internet of Things is terrifying.

As they try to outrun the fuzz, Hoodlum wallows on the seedier side of town, missing his kyoudai Brawler and not knowing what to do next. When he’s recognized as a wanted Akudama, his moments on the earth seem numbered…until Doctor appears. Hoodlum just happened to slip a tracker in Lil’ Brother’s charm, but the position of the charm isn’t Executioner HQ, which is intriguing to Doctor.

Swindler and Sister find shelter from the pelting rain in the office of a vast junkyard, and are finally able to fill their empty bellies with canned goods, bathe, and change their soiled clothes. Swindler seems to relish suddenly having a little sister to care for, while Sister mimics Swindler in everything, even burping after eating her fill. Swindler also snips off all her hair to appear less like her Wanted picture.

Unfortunately, their shelter is already claimed by three thugs, who arrive and immediately consider selling the Sister (who they hope is under ten) and Swindler (if she’s a virgin) into slavery or some such awfulness. Swindler, having clearly learned a few things besides swearing from her criminal comrades, bides her time, then stabs two of the thugs and shoots the other. When one of them gets back up, he’s taken back down…by Courier.

Overwhelmed by the violence she had to exact in order to survive and protect Sister, Swindler passes out, but when she comes to, she and Sister are safe. Turns out Courier only tracked them down to complete one last job given to him by Brother before his capture: deliver the charm to Sister. With that done, he’s ready to move on, but Swindler is able to convince him to help them rescue Brother. Not with her billion yen share (which he calls “chump change”) but with her desperate plea that “this is all she has left”.

Swindler can no longer be an Ordinary Person; the incident in the city proved that. No one will stand around, not kill her, and listen long enough for her to explain what happened to her, and in any case they would never believe her. She is Swindler now, and perhaps the only way she’ll ever be free from the pursuing Executioners is if the entire Executioner system oppressing her is taken down in its entirety.

Meanwhile, Cutthroat is still alive, searching for his Angel. With Doctor and Hoodlum headed towards the charm’s tracker signal, an Akudama reunion is in the cards. Will it be cordial, or will they be at each other’s throats? What was once a cohesive group has been ground down into the mud and blood. I don’t think any of them have a chance without each other.

Akudama Drive – 07 – The Offering

As the elevator to Brother and Sister’s destination rises out of the debris, Hoodlum reunites with the others, proudly reporting to have stabbed the Apprentice to avenge his brother, Brawler, who didn’t make it. When Brother is flippant about there being casualties on the job, Hoodlum almost loses it, but Swindler once again plays the peacemaker, and his temper subsides.

At the end of the elevator’s descent they reach Expo Park, a sprawling abandoned underground amusement park. Bunny and Shark cut in to tell us it was built before the war to preserve the culture of Old Kansai, but ominously notes that “there are some things better left not known”. The siblings’ ultimate destination is a rocket that Brother says will convey him and his Sister to a base on the Moon, where they’ll be safe.

That’s when we learn from Brother that he and his sister are the result of human experiments at Kyushu Plant to create immortal humans. Between them they are the product of 5,555 other siblings who were sacrificed in one horrific way or another to make the two of them possible.

I’m reminded of any number of anime in which humans and innocent kids in particular are treated brutally by an unseen, unfeeling scientific villain. Brother wakes up in a lab in a puddle of blood that grows bigger and bigger until one day the gym once full of siblings is empty.

That’s when the “Headmaster” reports that he was a successful experiment. They go on to make one more, Sister, and the two of them will be sent to Kanto as an “offering”, with mass production to follow. But their “Professor”, an AI in an artificial cat body, took pity on them and allowed them to escape on the Shinkansen. The rest of their story we know.

With that, Brother deposits a billion yen in each of the surviving Akudama’s accounts and deactivates their bomb collars, and prepare to board the rocket. Swindler gives them a farewell hug with the wish that maybe someday they’ll see each other again and eat more yummy takoyaki together.

Then, as the siblings ascend to the rocket’s hatch, Sister is stabbed in the throat…with one of Doctor’s scalpels. She’s fine, but she grabs Brother, making her meaning plain: she’s sold them and everyone else out to the Executioners.

A huge contingent of them suddenly swarm the launch pad and surround the Akudama. When Swindler asks Doctor why, the Doctor coldly declares she doesn’t owe her or anyone a goddamn thing. In exchange for her delivering the “offerings”, Boss removes Doctor’s Akudama status; she’ll no longer be on the run. Boss also tells Brother that the “Moon” they see in the sky is a mere holo-illusion; the real moon was destroyed in the war.

Brother bites Doctors hand and breaks free, while Courier and Cutthroat fight off the swarming Executioners—the latter particularly concerned with Swindler’s safety. He gets cut up pretty bad (which spells trouble considering their medic has defected) but ultimately ends up buying time for Swindler and the siblings.

Brother takes hold of Swindler and leads her and Sister into the rocket just as the countdown reaches zero. The rocket successfully launches with Swindler and Sister inside. Brother probably feels better to have at least protected half of the 5,555 siblings who died for them than none at all.

As for where the rocket is headed, who can say? The episode ends with it trailing away from what’s left of the moon—though perhaps its course takes the earth’s rotation into account. Even if they reach the moon, there surely isn’t anything there but death…but that wouldn’t be any different from the Executioner-infested launch pad.

First Hacker split off, then Brawler died, and now Doctor has stabbed everyone in the back. It remains to be seen if the Executioners either claim or scatter the remaining team of Courier, Cutthroat, and Hoodlum. Much like the war shattered the moon, the show has blown its group dynamic to smithereens. We’ll have to wait and see where the pieces land.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 07 – Mars (Enterprises) Attacks!

“Everyone’s so worried about me…What am I, a little boy?” I doubt the people warning Makoto are doing so because they think he’s a kid, but because there is much he has to lose by diving too deep into this latest mess. Like his mother, his newly adopted sister Shungui, the family produce stand, and his reputation as a neutral troubleshooter.

Unfortunately, we don’t see his mom or Shungui either this week or last, which is a shame, not just because they could put the impudence of Makoto’s words into relief and even offer him perspective, but because I like those characters, and Shungui in particular seemed like someone we would be and should be seeing more of. Alas, Makoto is on an island at the beginning of this episode.

Ikebukuro is on the knife’s edge; war could spill onto the streets at any moment…yet he still finds time to work on Toshiaki’s film at the video store. His police buddy informs him “Shadow” is a lone operator, while his Hidaka PR buddy Saru informs him that Mars Enterprises hired both the Shadow and the masked thugs to create imbalance as a preface for expanding into Ikebukuro.

Unfortunately, Takashi is once again ghosting him, and the minute Makoto is off the phone with Saru, he has the bunny mask thug’s knife to his neck, clarifying that he and his guys have a grudge with him and Takashi personally. Bunny Mask is also helpful enough to perform his scene right in front of the “making of” camera, which is just icing for the cake in terms of how sloppy the masked thugs are.

Makoto determines that the masked thugs are Yamamoto and his men, who worked for OK Holdings and were previously run out of town. He informs Hiroto personally, but the Knight is already on his horse, and his men are itching for a confrontation with Takashi for control of the G-Boys present and future.

He finally gets to meet up with Takashi, who notes that one piece his old friend has left out of the equation are the Red Angels. Whether Makoto simply took Kyouichi at his word or has a blind spot due to his officially neutral status, Makoto isn’t willing to entertain the possibility the Angels could exploit the G-Boys civil war to expand their own influence.

Finally, and apparently quite by chance, “Shadow” presents himself to Makoto in the park. He further clarifies matters, saying the only job he did was on Donglong, while the thugs did the jobs on Hiroto’s men. He adds that they did a crap job while both they and Mars used the “Shadow” brand without his consent. This caused Shadow’s reputation to take a hit, and he paid Mars back by beating up each of their board members.

Shadow seems to consider himself an underworld equivalent of Makoto: an independent troubleshooter who works for justice (Shadow works for money; justice is just gravy), and someone for whom “reputation is paramount”. In the interests of preventing war, Makoto decides to ask Shadow to take care of the “weak link”: the war-mongering Hiroto.

Makoto institutes this gambit as much out of a desire to prove he’s not “just some kid” or a “nice guy”, but someone willing to do whatever it takes to protect the peace and balance of his town. But the gambit backfires, as Hiroto’s men blame King for the beating of their Knight and begin the march to war.

After consulting with Takashi once more, Makoto gets Kyouichi to agree to back Takashi in order to “quell the disturbance”. Kyouichi proves himself an honest and honorable man by doing his part, marching his Red Angels between Hiroto’s men and Takashi and declaring an alliance with the latter, then getting Hiroto’s uneasy No.2 to drop his bat and back down with a mere look.

With war averted—arguably way too neatly, but averted all the same—all that’s left is to take out the trash, i.e. Yamamoto and his ragtag quintet of thugs, who end up coming to them as Takashi and Makoto film a scene in Toshiaki’s film. In the adult video section, Yamamoto & Co. surround the two, but suddenly Shadow appears to even the odds. He takes out two of the thugs, and Takashi takes out the remaining three including delivering a knockout blow to Yamamoto.

The excellent fight scene really underscored how overmatched Yamamoto and his thugs were. Once the masked thugs identities and motives were made clear, they never had a realistic chance to instigate a full-scale turf war, especially since revenge was Yamamoto’s primary goal. Hopefully he won’t need a third demonstration of the futility of seeking revenge.

Toshiaki finally finishes his film, and it’s a hit, so he plans to make more, and Makoto notes the firm dedication inherent in Toshiaki’s efforts. He saw that same dedication in Shadow’s no-nonsense way of operating, and in Kyouichi’s dedication to protecting the town he’s come to like. After dancing on a razor’s edge these last two episodes, Makoto seems content to continue dedicating himself to selling fruit. Gotta pay the bills!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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