Jujutsu Kaisen – 23 – Swinging for the Fences

The good news: this week gets right down to the business of kicking some cursed spirit ass. The bad news: Nobara gets swallowed up again! It’s like every other battle with Megumi and Yuuji this happens. At least it reveals there’s a third baddie the three sorcerers have to contend with…and this one fancies himself a Chippendale’s dancer.

Megumi sends Yuuji in after Nobara and finishes off the “whack-a-mole” bridge curse by himself…or so he thinks. Its final form is a “bodybuilder” demon that looks identical to the one he and Yuuji faced way back when; the one that required Yuuji to bring Sukuna out to defeat.

Megumi looks back to a recent training session with Gojou, who tells him bunts are all well and good in baseball, but in jujutsu sorcery you’d better swing for the fences. Megumi does using Domain Expansion, imagining a future self you surpass his present limits. While it’s incomplete, he’s able to defeat the spirit with some help from his shikigami.

With the curse defeated, Megumi’s surroundings revert to the river under the bridge. About to pass out from overexertion, he remembers the “live and let live” code he used to live by at middle school. He hated bad people for obvious reasons, but was also disgusted by good people for always forgiving bad people.

His sister Tsumiki was one of those “good people” who disgusted him, but he’s revised his opinion of her since she was cursed, and now simply wants her to wake up. We also learn in an older flashback that Megumi’s father intended him to be a trump card against the Zenin clan, but Gojou stopped his sale to the clan and arranged for him to be trained and work as a sorcerer in exchange for financial support for him and his sister.

While the added dimension to Megumi’s backstory is welcome, it does have the side-effect of stopping the action dead in its tracks. As a result, there’s barely any time left for Nobara and Yuuji’s battle against the cursed spirit “brothers”—one of whom is very self-conscious about his back.

That fight will bleed into next week. The flashbacks and character work on display here suggest Jujutsu Kaisen is content to close out its second cour with this case. With Megumi in no condition to help them, hopefully Nobara and Yuuji can get the job done. Maybe Nitta Akari will show up to lend a hand…

Jujutsu Kaisen – 22 – Crossing the River

Yuuji, Nobara, and Megumi are driven by Asst. Supervisor Nitta Akari (a new face) to Saitama to investigate a string of curse-related deaths involving a malfunctioning automatic door. They arrive at the home of an acquaintance of one the three victims to find they’ve become the fourth victim. With that lead lost, they head to the school all the victims attended.

Nobara is super-excited about beating up a couple punks, who suddenly shrink not in her or Yuuji’s presence, but Megumi’s—turns out he attended the middle school and already beat up all the punks and gang members. A school staff member Takeda arrives and tells the sorcerers that all four victims once bungee-jumped from the Yasohashi Bridge, something of a school custom. Yuuji and Nobara also learn about Megumi has a big sister, Tsukimi.

As Mahito feeds some poor bastard one of the special-grade cursed thingies stolen from Jujutsu High, Yuuji, Nobara and Megumi go to the bridge, but after a nightlong stakeout turns up nothing curse-related, they hit up the konbini for some breakfast, and bump into one of the school delinquents, who has his big sister with him, whom Megumi recognizes is Fujinuma.

It turns out she too went to Yasohashi Bridge one night, and has started to notice the doors of their family’s shop malfunctioning whenever she’s near them. Megumi notes that at least two weeks pass between the four victims first noticing something and their deaths, which means they still have a chance to save Fujinuma, who also tells them that Tsukimi was with them then.

Megumi recedes from the other two to ask Ijichi to have his sister guarded, but the supervisor laments that there’s no one available stronger than second-grade. The only way to deal with the curse affecting the victims both dead and alive is to exorcise it right away, before it activates a cursed technique from within the still living-Fujinuma and Tsukimi.

Naturally, he returns to the bridge alone in order to do this, literally shoving Yuuji and Nobara back into the car with Akari. But they show up beside him anyway, scolding him once again for holding too much back about himself. Megumi doesn’t protest their help, but informs them that the curse won’t appear unless they themselves become potential  victims by “crossing over” the river below the bridge, which symbolizes crossing over into the afterlife.

Once they do so, they’re suddenly confronted with a whack-a-mole-like curse emerging from the stone, along with several other orifices from which other curses could emerge. Then the curse unrelated to the bridge, which Mahito had fed to that poor dude, arrives on the scene. Yuuji volunteers to take it on while Megumi and Nobara handle the bridge curse.

It’s hard to believe this week marks the first time ever our three sorcerers worked on a curse case together. While the case that dominates the runtime seems more like the of-the-week type, I didn’t mind because the three young sorcerers are never not fun to watch bounce off each other, while Nitta “Ding-Dong!” Akari made for an entertaining new chaperone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 05 – Scrambled

We hadn’t been privy to Aonuma Neiru’s Egg missions until this week; only the interludes between recovering from battles and purchasing new Eggs to protect. Her dream-battlefield is a majestic suspension bridge with a huge city nightscape as the backdrop; as bold and dramatic as Neiru herself is modest and unflappable.

Her egg this time is a runaway dealing with an abused, but Neiru has it covered, darting around the bridge like she’s in FLCL and defeating it with her compass-turned-gun with action movie fluorish, complete with the catchphrase “I’m going to blow your mind.” She means the words literally.

The runaway thanks her savior, but Neiru remains businesslike and aloof. She’s not doing this for her. She’s merely completing objectives, like a good operative. In a thematic transition only a eclectic show like WEP can pull off, we shift to real life, with Ai welcoming Neiru, Rika, and Momoe to her home.

Ai can’t contain how happy she is to have friends over, and neither can her adorable mom, who recognizes Momoe as Sawaki-sensei’s niece. Ai mentions that Koito seemed to have a thing for Sawaki. Rika, in true Rika form, stirs up a conspiracy that’s plausible enough to give Ai pause: What if Koito was dating Sawaki? What if she got pregnant? What if Sawaki only visits Ai regularly because he suspects she has proof of the affair?

The talk of Koito and Sawaki leads Ai to remember when Sawaki was sketching her for a portrait as his means of entry to a life of painting. In the memories Koito seems to be projecting envy in the way she tells Ai that if her heart isn’t in being Sawaki’s subject, she’d better bow out, as his “future is on the line”…as if an adult man’s future should be anyone’s responsibility but his own!

The messy can of worms Rika opens and stirs threatens to curdle the vibe of Ai’s friends’ visit. It also reinforces the fact that a great deal of mystery surrounds Koito’s death. When Rika asks why she doesn’t just ask her mom, who seems to be close to Sawaki, Ai voices her reluctance to make her mom worry more than she clearly already is about her string of recent unexplained injuries, which…fair enough!

Rika gets that. So do the other girls. No matter how nice and understanding her mom is, nothing good can come of Ai telling her she sneaks out at night to fight monsters in her sleep on behalf of youth suicides…it will only worry her more! That’s what re-knits the tentative bonds Rika’s speculation briefly frayed and lightens a conversation that had turned dark: the four of them can’t tell anyone.

It’s their story that no one else knows about. While before they were toiling alone, not even sure what the fuck was going on, now they have context through each others’ shared burden. They are seen by one another; they recognize the pain, guilt, and curiosity in one another. Then Rika and Ai compare mothers: Rika took one look after being born and thought “this lady wants to stay a woman her whole life and never be a parent.” Ai wonders if her perfect, imminently capable mom drove her dad away.

There’s an excellent exchange in which Rika looks Neiru’s way after stating that capable women can spoil men, both because she sees Neiru as capable, and because it’s her turn. They’re playing Jenga, and the way Rika steers the convo throughout makes the group dynamic almost feel like a Jenga game in and of itself: gradually removing blocks while maintaining integrity. In a similar fashion, Rika pounces on Neiru and tickles her. She doesn’t get the right spot at first, but when she finds it, Neiru can’t help but burst into laughter, while Ai and Momoe note how well the two opposites get along.

We can’t be sure if her battles on the bridge take place before or after the friends meet at Ai’s, but her latest egg is a real piece of work, criticizing Neiru’s hair while going off unbidden about the ephemeral nature of a girl’s beauty, and how dying while at one’s most beautiful is preferable to becoming an “ugly hag” in a pointless adult life.

The four girls meet up and break into a shuttered bowling alley and arcade. Acca tells them to get out of there and buy some damned eggs already, but they push back, declaring what they’re doing to be necessary “group therapy”. Ura-Acca lets them have a little fun, declaring that “soldiers” need R&R.

For a few blissful hours, four girls who have been battling monsters in their dreams get to live their lives as ordinary girls. Momoe talks about how at least six people have confessed to her—all girls—but only Haruka saw her as a girl. Remembering how she handled Haruka stripping before her, she wonders if she could have done things differently.

While Rika and Ai are off playing a different game, Momoe and Neiru have a chat while playing a racing game. Neiru points out that Momoe doesn’t necessarily hate being popular, even with girls. Neiru concedes that, adding that “sometimes you end up enjoying something even though you didn’t mean to.” That’s something Neiru needs to hear, especially as she’s enjoying hanging out with the others despite herself.

Later, in Acca and Ura-Acca’s garden, the four exchange contact info for future hangouts together, and Rika lies on her back, looks up at the sky, and asks a very fair question: Why don’t they stop buying eggs? Rika admits she got caught up in her mission, but at the end of the day Chiemi “died on her own”, and dying isn’t “playing fair”, so why should she bear responsibility? She asks the same questions of Ai, as Koito died without ever talking to her, and may not even want to come back to life.

What if their egg-protecting missions led to them meeting each other in real life, and now that they have new friends, they can ditch the eggs and dreams, move forward together, and live their lives? Again, this is all fair, and I’m glad Rika goes with her instinct to probe and prod and bring up hard truths regardless of how she’ll be seen by the group. It means she feels safe enough with them to to do.

The problem is, this isn’t just about bringing their respective friends back to life. That was never the case with Neiru, because her statue is of her sister. Her sister ran away and jumped off a bridge, but only after stabbing Neiru in the back, quite literally. To this day, the scar aches and keeps her awake, especially when she tries to forget her. It’s like a curse she’s trying to exorcise from her body. As she tells the eggs she protects, she’s not doing it for them…she’s doing it for herself.

In a similar way, Ai’s desire to keep going isn’t only couched in saving Koito or righting any wrong she might have done. It’s to crack the mystery; to feed her insatiable curiosity, like a splinter in her brain that won’t let up until she has the answers. As Ura-Acca puts it to the stricter Acca, the girls are in a state of teenage rebellion: they’ll stop if told not to stop, and will keep pushing boundaries to build up their own identities.

Back in the battle protecting the girl obsessed with the pure, inimitable beauty of youth, Neiru realizes the three pompom-like monsters aren’t the Wonder Killer’s true form, it’s the girl’s hair. After shooting it, Neiru notes that her sister (whose statue stands on the edge of the bridge) “tempted” her to die by stabbing her, before ending her own life.

Was her sister’s rejection of reaching adulthood an ultimate act of rebellion against What Is and What Should Be? As with Ai’s inquiries into Koito, it’s a question that may only be answered if they keep fighting—egged on by the Accas all the way. I just hope that the fact the four girls are not alone in this business will make their struggles a little easier to bear.

Appare-Ranman! – 10 – Snakes on a Train

Their respite over, it’s time for the racers to get back to work, this time racing a train out of Nebraska with Big Boss hoping to prove the era of the automobile has come. Richard is Sofia’s companion aboard the train, and every moment they chat is skin-crawling, because we know Richard is Gil T. Cigar just waiting to strike like the snake he is, and Sofia has no idea, thinking she’s pegged “Richard” as too kind to stay in the race.

When the train baron calls Gil back to his ornate caboose to lecture him like an employee, Gil casually throws him and his chair out the side of the train before returning to the car and telling Sofia her prayer for a safe race won’t be answered. With that, his henchmen rise up from among the passengers and slither through the train, killing the crew and marshals, tossing bombs, and taking hostages.

Gil brings the train to a stop on the bridge over the Missouri River, then runs out to confront the racers he’s blocked. He runs towards them in a fake panic as “Richard”, but Dylan & Co. soon realize something’s not right. They’re too late, as Gil reveals who he is and produces Sofia’s hat, stained with blood, to indicate his cruel intentions.

Nobody, not even TJ and Dylan, can hang with Gil long in a fight. His demands are simple: he wants the 1.51 million in prize money for the winner of the race, and he’ll let the hostages on the train go. Chances are even if they get him the cash, more if not all of them will die anyway; we’re dealing with a butcher, after all. When Appare tries to voice his outrage at Gil’s villainy, Gil shoots him—but it’s Kosame who takes the bullet.

After trashing all of the cars, Gil and his crew take off on the train. Al chases after Sofia in vain. Xialian tries to stop the bleeding, and Appare tries to start his car, but both fail, and a very wan Kosame passes out after declaring proudly that he’s glad his buddy is okay.

You could scarcely ask for a more extreme shift in mood and stakes than from last week’s joyful rest episode to now, when Kosame may be dead, Sofia is a hostage, and the racers have nothing to drive. But like Kosame, I’ll put my faith in Appare: surely he can use parts of all the damaged cars to build something that can get them moving again.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 12 – The Lost Princess

It’s been pretty clear since the start that Pecorine was a runaway princess, but chose to conceal that from her guildmates, no doubt so as not to burden them. But as we see from her dark dream in which her royal mother and father don’t recognize her before disappear, there’s a lot more going on in her head than the next meal. With the Shadows literally amassing, it’s only a matter of time before she must take up the mantle of her nation’s protector.

You—not to mention Yuuki, Kokkoro and Karyl—would never know that judging from Peco’s bubbly breakfast attitude. Still, Karyl notes the unforgivable lack of bread, which Peco uses to segue to a quest to defeat a monster that’s blocking the flow of supplies into the city. Karyl (grudingly) lures it away from the bridge and Peco finishes it off with a Princess Strike. Easy Peasy!

While Yuuki is filling out the activity reports at the main guildhall, he inadvertently writes part of his name in Japanese, confusing the others but proving that his memories of another life are in there somewhere. The gang celebrates the completed quest with crepes from the very first stall Yuuki and Kokkoro visited, which also now employs Yuuki’s “sisters”.

That night, memories and possible pasts and/or futures continue to surface Yuuki’s dream, including visions of past and present comrades falling before the might of an evil cat lady. Ames, the guide at the gate to the world of PriConne who still knows Yuuki better than he knows himself, makes another appearance to cite her trust in him and encouraging him to stay strong when the time comes.

Yuuki asks Peco to train him in swordsmanship, something she’s both eager to do and very much up to the task. But in the middle of a large “training” meal, the Mega-Shadow Karyl saw her master create attacks the town. Peco springs into action, but to her shock, even Princess Strike isn’t enough to bring the monster down. And while Peco doesn’t seem to notice it, Karyl hesitates when she’s asked to support her, not wanting to make that master angry.

Faced with two roads, Karyl stands still, but Peco doesn’t read anything into it, and just assumes Karyl is injured and/or terrified, and continues to attack the monster while protecting Karyl from harm, even giving her a shoulder guard for extra defense. Peco’s ultimate attack cleaves the shadow in two, but she loses consciousness before she can defeat it. Yuuki steps forward to take over, and chaos—and several powerful magical attacks—ensue.

When Yuuki comes to and the smoke clears, he finds himself in a field of wreckage, and is confronted by none other than the red-headed crepe stall lady, Labyrista. She stopped the monster from killing him and transported his friends to safety, so perhaps she’s on their side against the Cat Lady and her Shadows? One can hope, because she’d be a powerful ally!

The ultimate fate of Pecorine and Karyl is left up in the air, but Kokkoro ends up in the royal palace at the center of town, and comes across a portrait of the Eustanian royal family: the king and queen and their daughter…who looks just like Pecorine.

This must be a shock for Kokkoro, who had thought of the Princess as a fairy tale only to learn she was beside her all along. This episode had a little of everything, with the usual adventure comedy fare dotted with foreboding visions and transitioning into awesome no-holds-barred action and the potential for some serious character drama. We’ll see how things shake out in the finale—and see if there’s a second season in store.

Vinland Saga – 17 – Not Everyone’s Afraid to Die

The normally cautious Askeladd lashes out at his mutineers, throwing them off balance and allowing Bjorn to escape on the sled with Thorfinn, Prince Canute, and the Priest. But as he contemplates what could be the last moments of his life, he remembers a moment from his childhood when his dying mother told him about King Arthur, who is not only still alive and recovering in the mythical land of Avalon, but will return someday. When he does, she told Askeladd to serve him.

Mutineers manage to catch up to the sled, and realize that there’s no bargaining with Bjorn; if they want the Prince, they’ll have to kill him. Thus, they take the less sporting route by killing his horses, sending the sled and its occupants flying. Finn kills one of the pursuers and mounts his horse, abandoning the prince because killing Askeladd is more important. If Askeladd should die by someone else’s hands, I doubt Finn would ever forgive himself.

Askeladd fights of many of his men, who fall back and shoot him with several arrows, none of which immediately threaten his life (though infection could set in if his wounds aren’t tended soon). Then his life is saved…by Thorkell of all people, who has arrived, and orders his men to kill everyone but Askeladd. The mutineers reluctantly pick up their weapons and die as something resembling warriors, but Thorkell pushes Torgrim too far, and Torgrim simply…goes bye-bye.

That’s when Thorfinn rides in, plowing through mutineers and English alike with his horse and charging towards Thorkell, who without hesitation charges up and uppercuts the goddamn horse like it was nothing. I’ve harped in the past about some of the more supernatural feats of Thorkell and others, but in this case the silliness is a good complement to the seriousness of the situation. Finn tells Thorkell that he’ll kill him if he doesn’t give him Askeladd, and Thorkell is all to eager to let Finn try. Here’s hoping for Finn’s sake this isn’t like London.

Vinland Saga – 16 – End of His Rope

Askeladd’s luck ran out the moment Anne was found by Thorkell’s men. The weight of his army steadily bearing down on Askeladd’s comparatively paltry band fills this episode with increasing tension. While there are warriors like Bjorn and Thorfinn who will never betray him, those two aren’t nearly enough to counter the precipitous drop in morale, and thus loyalty, among the majority of his men.

When I think of how much fun Askeladd and his men once had earlier in the series when his luck was riding high, it only puts his current predicament into greater focus. By episode’s end he can count on one hand the number of men he can truly count on, with fingers to spare. When an English captain simply won’t talk no matter how many fingers Askeladd snips off, it’s almost the final nail in the coffin for him; a sign that he’s lost his power.

When your men are all either worshipers of older gods or of no god at all, they put their trust in a leader with luck and strength, and Askeladd’s is almost totally out. His side plan to force Prince Canute to toughen up pretty much takes a back seat to the far more pressing matters of how long it will be before Askeladd’s men turn against him, and when Thorkell will finally catch up to them.

Thorkell’s name invokes far more fear than Askeladd’s at this point, which means Askeladd’s time is almost out. However, it’s not yet certain whether his longer-term plan to “reform” Canute will fail. All we see is that after he leaves Ragnar behind without any kind of funeral and slaps Canute across the face, Canute starts adopting a far more Thorfinnian visage.

Askeladd is nothing if not perceptive, and has no illusions about how things will go down once the men who are done with him gather enough allies within their ranks to pull something off. That’s why when Thorkell finally appears on that horizon—the glinting from the tips of his mens’ spears portending dread, while his own thrown spear impales three men and beheads a fourth—Askeladd has the best possible defensive position he can have.

Bjorn is at the reins of the lead sled with Thorfinn, Canute, the priest, and two horses when the rest of the men surround Askeladd, calling for an end to his leadership. It is without doubt the most precarious position he’s ever been in, but one should never underestimate Thorfinn’s desire to have at least one more duel with Askeladd—which means keeping him alive…maybe.

Vinland Saga – 09 – London Bridge is NOT Falling Down

Turns out that huge warrior leading the defence of London from its famous bridge is not even an Englishman, but a Norse giant named Thorkell. King Sweyn’s armies will make little progress until he’s out of the picture, so Askeladd sends Thorfinn to work out some of his frustration. Thorfinn makes him promise for yet another duel in exchange for Thorkell’s head.

Floki and the Jomsvikings beseech Thorkell to abandon his contract with the English and re-join the Danish army, and he’ll be paid double. But like Askeladd’s right hand man Bjorn, it’s not about themoney. Unlike Bjorn, who likes easy wins, Thorkell doesn’t want to fight the English; they’re too weak. He’d much rather fight the tougher Vikings.

As the Vikings continue their siege of the Thames, Thorkell makes any ship or soldier who comes too close regret it, sending a hail of arrows from his archers, or just heaving a massive boulder or tree trunk into the Viking ships, sinking them. He’s a bit superhuman, but heck, so are a lot of Vikings, chief(tan) among them the late Thors and his giant oar.

When Thorfinn leaps onto the bridge to face Thorkell, it’s immediately apparent the latter has a huge advantage in size and strength, and isn’t that much slower. One wonders if it would have been better for Askeladd to send Bjorn instead—preferably on his berserker mushrooms. Then again, I’m sure Askeladd values Bjorn far more than Thorfinn.

Thorfinn hangs in there about as long as you’d expect, considering the moment Thorkell gets a grip on any one of his arms or legs, it’s basically game over. Thorkell blocks Thorfinn’s dagger with his hand, then slams him back and forth against the bridge like a ragdoll.

To Thorkell’s surprise and delight, Thorfinn hasn’t lost any of his will to fight, and when Kell’s guard is down Finn claims two of the fingers from his stabbed hand before plunging into the Thames. Thorkell lets him go, hoping for another fun fight in the future.

It is clear King Sweyn bit off more than he could chew, and isn’t going to get the quick victory he wanted, so he redirects the bulk of his armies to Wessex in the west, where they’ll hopefully have more luck. He leaves the continued siege of London, and just 4,000 men, to his son Prince Canute, despite protests from Ragnar, whom the king blames for making the lad “faint of heart.”

Whether Canute succeeds in London will probably determine whether he succeeds to the throne, but as we haven’t heard a word from him, who knows how that’ll go. Perhaps at some point he’ll get some lines and we can see what kind of person and warrior he is beyond what others say about him.

As for Thorfinn, he’s washed down the river westward and meets back up with Askeladd’s crew, now headed to Wessex. After popping his dislocated shoulder back in, he joins the march, remembering the words of the “madman” Thorkell talking about how fun fighting is. But it’s not fun for Thorfinn. It never was, and probably never will be.

The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 07 – The Bodyguard

Like a jargon-heavy book that keeps making you flip to the glossary in the back, the Academy City Underworld arc was so laden with groups, individuals, motives and goals that I had to refer to the Index wiki on more than one occasion just to find out who the hell some of the people were. As a result, it was hard to sit back and just enjoy the action.

So thank goodness this week is a far simpler Index episode (even though it takes a number of turns), featuring a straightforward plot and familiar, beloved  characters. It certainly starts out where Kamijou Touma would prefer to be, at school, where the most fraught action is being chased by a burly teacher when he and Tsuchimikado are the only two able to escape school to get to the convenience store for the lunch they want.

For all the misfortune swirling around him, Touma does catch a break every once in a while. In this case, a very lovely break in the person of Itsuwa, who mistakes Saigo for a hostile and takes him out for Touma. She’s come to A.C. to serve as Touma’s bodyguard due to stirrings that the powerful Saint Acqua of the Back (or Rear) is going to target him.

The rest of Amakusa is there to back Itsuwa up, as well as to try to get her to pull the trigger on Touma, whom she apparently likes. In this venture it’s Itsuwa who is more unfortunate, since she must contend with the jealousy of Biribiri, who makes a welcome return to the show. Misaka was actually concerned that Touma had amnesia, only to catch him deep in Itsuwa’s bust. Thankfully, Touma manages to keep Itsuwa from mistaking her for a hostile…even though she kinda is!

This also marks the rare Index III episode that actually has sizable portions of Index in it, as she watches with concern as Itsuwa enters her and Touma’s home, buys the loyalty of Sphinx with some high-quality bonito, and starts making dinner.

Like living a simple high school life with occasionally exciting lunch runs, just seeing a girl in his kitchen making dinner gives him no end of joy. The fact that Itsuwa is acting like a proper house guest and helping out exposes how comparatively little his other guest Index does.

Of course, the reason Index doesn’t help out is that her help often only causes more work, such as when she pours an entire bottle of drain cleaner down the shower and almost causes a fire.

Itsuwa cuts off their ensuing dust-up, rents a motorcycle and sidecar, and takes Touma and Index to a splendid public bathhouse in the 22nd School District, which is entirely underground yet has a giant screen in its “sky” projecting the real sky. It’s a really beautiful motorcycle ride that shows yet another side of the sprawling city.

Naturally, Misaka ends up in the same bath as Index and Itsuwa, and as Itsuwa clumsily tries to explain how Touma came to end up in her breasts she then becomes the target of Index’s ire, while Biribiri stews until she overheats and a medical team with a stretcher has to be called.

I presume Misaka had to be temporarily taken out of comission in order to lend more peril to the final act of the episode. Touma and Itsuwa go on what could be construed as a romantic evening constitutional, but once they reach the bridge (Touma and bridges don’t mix!), Acqua suddenly appears, and wastes no time mopping the floor with the both of them.

Itsuwa is a strong and honorable bodyguard, but she simply has no chance against a Saint, and her restoration spells have limited effect on Touma due to his right arm. About that arm: Acqua will let him live if he cuts it off and gives it to him. He couldn’t care less about Kamijou Touma, he wants Imagine Breaker taken out of the equation of church and global affairs.

In his surpassing charity, Acqua doesn’t simply take what he wants, even though he’s certainly capable of doing so (unless Imagine Breaker somehow prevents the arm from being separated from Touma’s body). He gives Touma one day to decide whether he’ll give it up willingly, or die. And since Itsuwa is his sworn bodyguard, she and the rest of Amakusa will certainly die defending him before he does.

So yeah, a Saint with the Right Hand of God either wants Touma’s arm or his life, and Itsuwa alone won’t be enough to stop him. Like I said, straightforward! I imagine one needs a Saint to fight a Saint, so we’ll see if Kanzaki enters the fray…not to mention Misaka once she recovers from overheating in the bath.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 06 – Game Over IRL

Kabbadi Club captain Kushitori Madoka is missing, but it doesn’t take Chio and Manana long to find her. While she acts as if she’s training “in the mountains”, she’s really just been camping in a city park, and her “master” is just a old creep who used to be successful but gave it all up thanks to his obsession with high school girls’ infectious “energy.” Yikes!

Needless to say, this is a situation in which neither Chio nor Manana want to get involved…so Chio launches Manana into the situation while she continues to hide.

Madoka wanted to rid herself of her “wicked thoughts” but after hearing the creepy dude’s life story she abandons that venture and pursues the “you do you” philosophy instead…which involves groping the butts of Chio (who Manana sells out as revenge) and later Yuki.

With all the groping out of the way, the next segment deals with Chio being influenced by an American combat game she played by treating every blind corner as a potential hazard (a passing mother seems to pity Chio, but the mother’s little boy things she’s hella cool).

When Chio spots Manana on a bridge that looks very much like a part of the game, she decides to try to ambush her from below, utilizing her surprising athleticism. However, things do not go as easily or as well for Chio IRL as they did in the game.

She ends up having to abandon the ambush and call out for help. Manana knows Chio too well, and knows she was trying to pull a prank. Her hesitation to help causes Chio to find untapped well of strength, which she uses not to raise herself up but to pull Manana down.

A lot of awkward positioning ensues, until both girls are so tangled up and exhausted they need a Good Samaritan to assist them. When he asks the students their names (he knows which academy they attend) the two friends give each others names.

Chio and Manana may seem intent on destroying each other most of the time, yet at the end of the day remain the good friends they’ve always been, and no one, be it a gropy upperclassman, uptight disciplinary officer, or former bike gang leader, can come between them.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 03

This week on Girl’s Last Trip, something amazing happens; something perhaps more amazing than finding all the elements one needs to build a makeshift hot tub: Chito and Yuuri meet another survivor, a young man named Kanazawa.

The lit cigarette portended something potentially perilous, but Kanazawa is harmless. He has no gun and no vehicle, and has been making maps, but that’s about all we and the girls ever learn about him. Where he came from and how he survived are left a mystery.

While he doesn’t have a gun, he does have dynamite, which he uses to knock a building over so they can use it as a bridge across a gorge. His maps help lead them to a fueling station, and then they finally reach their destination: one of the mammoth towers that must lead to a higher level, where maybe there will be more people…or at least more food.

SSR excels at portraying just how tiny humans are before all this gargantuan infrastructure; Kanazawa offers some insight regarding the fact more contemporary civilizations couldn’t fully figure out the more ancient, yet in some cases, more advanced structures. At any rate, they’re very big and impressive.

Anyone who doesn’t like heights—like Chito—might just feel a bit of vertigo or tingling in the back as the elevator, which has no chain link fence, slowly rises higher and higher. Just as Chito is worried about what would happen if the elevator tilted, the elevator tilts, and Kanazawa’s sachel of maps slips off.

He nearly slips off as well trying to catch it, but he can’t. His maps are gone; scattered hundreds of feet above a level they may never return to. As he had earlier declared the maps were his life (i.e. the only thing keeping him going), he wants the girls to let him fall. They do not let him fall—Yuuri may be a book-burning glutton but she’s not evil.

They manage to fix the elevator and reach the top, and their seeming reward is the activation of all the streetlights around them, and a great light in the distance that is the girls’ next destination.

After Yuuri uncharacteristically shares her rations with Kanazawa (and Chito rewards her by giving her half of hers), Kanazawa heads North on his own. Looks like he was only ever going to be a temporary party member. Now on to that great light…whatever it is.

Sagrada Reset – 10

We are made to hear the Witch’s parting words to Kei one last time so we can see his reaction later on: tears of joy. In the last two years, the one thing that has driven Kei is the hope that some day, in a city full of what would be considered miracles in the outside world, he would find the means to bring Souma Sumire back to life.

The Witch essentially confirms that this was the right and proper course all along, because he is destined to meet Souma again, and Souma runs a test to see if he can bring something from a photo world into the real world without that thing vanishing.

The test is a success; a cherry petal from the photo remains even after ten minutes—ironic, considering the nature of sakura. They are something both joyful (because of their stirring beauty) and morose (because they are ephemeral).


But before we get that confirmation the test worked, we’re taken back to the past once more; this time, to when Kei was in the sixth grade and a relative newbie to Sakurada. Even as a little kid he’s a smart cookie, determining before the Bureau rep has to say it that his memory retention ability would work even outside of Sakurada.

Because of this, the Bureau offers him a comfortable life and livelihood in Sakurada…but he can never leave. In effect, Asai Kei is the one ability-user (aside from those who could copy or steal his ability) who could most threaten the city’s very existence by exposing it to the outside world, breaking its Shrödinger’s Cat-like status.

Kei loves this city, so he quickly agrees—discarding his past in the process. Then he experiences a Reset for the first time, and if anything, he’s more excited than ever to be in such a place and such a position. He’s won the lottery, basically.

As Kei sets up the Save Point in the same place where Souma appears in the photo, Haruki resigns herself to the fact Kei will make her and the others forget everything henceforth. As she’s dedicated herself to following his lead, she’s fine with everything, but does wonder if, like Mari, the Souma they save will be the “real” one.

It doesn’t really matter to Kei, but he knows that whoever he revives may not enjoy a “peaceful” life due to her ability. Even so, he must bring her back; follow the script Souma laid out for everyone. He sees the MacGuffin as proof of this: the one who holds it (i.e. Kei, now) will have “all the abilities in Sakurada.”

It was the object whose power was created through rumor and never was anything other than an ordinary stone, and yet it drove Kei to become the protagonist of this story by gathering the ability-users he needed to bring Souma back from the dead.

When the time comes to actually do that, the tension is palpable, and all the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood up, as the feeling that something momentous was about to take place washed over me. (The show grossly underestimates how hard it is to tear a Polaroid, but no matter.)

Once in the photo, everything happens with a quiet but purposeful haste. Kei doesn’t even run over to Souma, but waits for Sakagami and Murase to do their stuff, then tells Haruki to reset. He’s that sure this will work, even though I wasn’t.

And so it does: by utilizing the abilities of the others, Kei wielded the MacGuffin, rose to become the protagonist of the story, and brought Souma back to life, just as she was sure he would—she shows no surprise in seeing him. Kei hides his delight at having succeeded, in part because he’s a reserved guy and in part because he doesn’t know how the future will progress past this point.

For now, it’s enough that Souma is back. She comments on how he’s grown, both in stature, ability, and in his friendship with Haruki. He also reports how much Haruki has grown, and that he’s come to want her to keep making progress on the road to finding a sense of self, even if it breaks the “pure goodness” he may have fell for earlier.

Souma even set things up with Tomoki so that if she was really Souma and not some kind of copy, she’d receive a voice message meant for her two years in the future. She receives that message, then asks Kei which Souma he’d like to meet, confident he’ll make the correct choice. He is the protagonist, after all. She made him so.