To Your Eternity – 03 – Bear Necessities

In last week’s episode, all March wanted was to grow up and become a mother. Hayase and her ilk tried to rob her of that future, but by the end of the episode March has grown in all ways but age and size. Now she has a child under her wing in the boy-shaped baby bird still known as It.

She’s also grown to realize that if she runs, others will die, and she can’t allow that. Being a grownup means nothing is simple anymore. But since she’s It’s surrogate mom, she tries to teach him how to say “thank you” and even gives him a name: Fushi or Fu-chan.

While March is headed back into Hayase’s clutches on purpose, Parona is captured but far from giving up on saving her little sister/wife. Stretching out her leg to produce a bone knife from her shoe which she uses to cut the ropes that bind her. Then Oniguma-sama appears, and it’s a harrowing race against time.

Parona, who is in effect the heroine this week (and that’s not a bad thing!), just manages to escape the lethal paw swipe of the giant spiked bear with bloodied eyes, and while she ends up running off a cliff, her fall is sufficiently cushioned that when she does finally hit the ground, she sustains no serious injuries.

Unfortunately, Parona is just too late to save March from being re-captured by Hayase. Fortunately, March inadvertently left a very clear trail of fruit and fruit remnants, at the end of which is Fushi, whom Parona can’t communicate with but can follow to March’s location.

March has had some great Asirpafaces in these past two episodes, but none better when she’s eating the weird black gelatin thingy Hayase orders her to eat, which eventually knocks her out cold. Hayase then re-applys the ink to her face—Oniguma-sama will only accept an unblemished youth—and carries her to the mountaintop altar.

I was surprised by the log fort that surrounds the altar, as I was expecting something much less grand. It’s instructive that before they reach said altar, Hayase’s underlings who saw the giant bear report that it could only have been Oniguma-sama, and she and the other guards react with disbelief.

That’s right: despite their utter devotion to carrying out this ancient custom, they believe Oniguma-sama is only a legend, and have never seen him actually claim any of the girls they’ve left on that bone-strewn altar. It’s not so much about belief in the actual entity as carrying out the job they were assigned to do.

That changes when Oniguma-sama arrives and busts his way into the log fort. Parona also arrives, and once again has to cut through ropes before the bear kills her and the still-unconscious March. Hayase is more intrigued than terrified by Oniguma-sama, and even tells her guards to stand down: If Parona wants to give the god a second meal, Hayase is going to let her.

When it’s clear that Parona isn’t going to finish cutting March’s ropes in time, it looks like it’s all over…and because this is To Your Eternity, I was fully prepared for both Parona and March to die. But someone…something was still missing from this scene, and that something finally arrives, I couldn’t help but cheer.

Parona is thrown clear of the altar by Fushi, who has come to protect the Giver of Fruits, AKA Mama, AKA March. He initially tries to take Oniguma on in his human form, but is torn to shreds and devolves into his wolf form, which is not only faster and more vicious but quicker to regenerate.

Despite being several dozen times smaller than Oniguma, Wolf!Fushi uses his speed, agility, and fast-healing, and with each attack learns something new about its adversary. Eventually it starts focusing on its soft spot—it’s nose—and eventually brings the great beast down.

Witnessing it all from a safe distance, Hayase wonders if this is just another act of the gods. And I guess there isn’t that much difference between what we’d call a god and a sufficiently advanced alien species.

With Oniguma-sama soundly defeated and nothing to which to offer a sacrifice, Hayase exhibits a slim modicum of humanity and makes a deal with Parona and March: she’ll report that the sacrifice was a success and March is dead, but in return, the two of them will accompany her and her guards back to Yanome. Either that, or they can die right there.

They choose to live (obviously), while Hayase also intends to bring along the very bizarre wolf who first appeared as a boy and was able to kill a deity. Parona is weary of the beast at first, but March offers it a fruit and it eats it in the exact same way as Fu-chan. Even more pointedly, it says “thank you”…as a wolf. It still has a lot to learn about the ways of this world, but it’s in just the right place to learn them.

To Your Eternity – 02 – I Don’t Don’t Wanna Grow Up

I’ll tellya, you can have Tsuda Kenjirou read the friggin’ phone book paired with an epic Kawasaki Ryou score and I’ll be entertained, but TYE gives the man far more stirring things to say. It manages to achieve what the doomed poor boy whose form he assumed could not: escape the tundra and reach a lush, fertile land.

It doesn’t do so without incident, dying six times by starvation, exhaustion, or infection, and a seventh when it’s eaten by a giant white bear. But as Tsuda’s smooth, smoky voice proclaims: It died again…but that was not a problem. With each death, It regenerates faster and faster. It learns.

The episode becomes far more conventional than the first, by dint of featuring more than one character speaking. It’s also not a self-contained mini-film but the first part of an arc in this new green setting. Neither of these differences are bad things, mind you. In fact, it feels like Peak Ghibli a la Princess Mononoke.

A large part of that is due to March, the vivacious, instantly endearing heroine of this arc. Voiced by Hikisaka Rie with a nice balance of cutesiness and precociousness, March has a “family” of eight stuffed animal “children” with her “spouse” and big-sis figure Parona. But March wants to grow up ASAP so she can be a real mother.

Her village could use more mothers, too: she’s one of only three children, which makes her fate that much more maddening. One day, March hears a clanging bell, and Parona grabs her and runs off. They’re caught by an menacing, matter-of-fact warrior priest named Hayase and four guards who hide their faces with Beefeater hats.

Parona and March’s village has been chosen (I assume by the elders) to provide the next offering to Oniguma-sama, a god-beast who lives atop the nearby mountain and demands an untarnished female sacrifice every damn year. Seems like a bad idea if you, I dunno, don’t want to die out as a people.

March makes clear this is bullshit and she doesn’t want to die, because that means she’ll never grow up or be a mom. But both her reasonable words and her tiny punches fail to move Hayase from her absolute devotion to tradition. Hayase warns March that if she runs, Lalah will be killed in her place. If Lalah runs, they’ll use her infant sister. Real piece of work, this Hayase!

The preparations proceed, and while March’s parents hid their despair upon learning their daughter would be chosen, they don’t spare their grief and anguish when her procession commences its climb to the sacrificial altar atop the mountain.

Parona stood with the other villagers looking helpless, but that was only an act. While she is absolutely terrible at archery, one of her wayward arrows manages to smack Hayashitbag right on her haughty nose, and Parona uses the opening to tackle her. At the same time, March runs off as fast as her little legs can carry her, and is eventually aided by gravity.

She ends up face down in a pond, where she encounters It. It is also face down, and dead, and a mangled, decomposed corpse. But while Hayase’s pursuing guards turn tail upon seeing his grotesque form, March stands fast and watches with wonder as the husk of a boy reconstructs itself. March washes off the ink on her face—which in her village is done when a girl officially becomes a woman—and follows the wordless white-haired boy.

She grows increasingly frustrated with his complete lack of communication, but soon their speaking the same language: rumbling bellies. March climbs a tree and grabs him a fruit, which he proceeds to eat like he did when he was a wolf: ravenously and greedily. Every fruit March picks for herself ends up in his stomach until he’s had his fill and curls up to sleep.

After she eats and falls asleep beside her, March dreams of coming home, only to learn that Lalah and her baby sister Lisa were sacrificed to Oniguma-sama in her stead, and then, because this is To Your Eternity, we are shown the small child and infant being eaten by the great bearlike beast.

Upon waking, March heads back to her village, not willing to let the other kids die in her place. It knows to stay close to her if it wants an easy meal, so it follows her like a lost puppy.

Despite all the suffering and duress she’s had to endure the last few days, March can still maintain a sense of humor about things, turning around, flashing a gentle smile, and telling It “I’m not your mommy!” But she’s wrong: she is It’s mother. She became quite by accident what she’d always dreamed of becoming. How long will it last? Hopefully, as long as it can.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Otherside Picnic – 10 – Tenth Floor Barbecue

Looking in the mirror without her glasses, Sorawo sees a longer-haired version of herself. She’s still clearly troubled by Akari’s comment about her perceived resemblance to Uruma Satsuki. That night she goes out for barbecue in Ikebukuro with the gang, and the American soldiers trapped in the Otherside come up for the first time since she and Toriko left them there.

That doesn’t sit right with either of them, particularly Toriko, and Sorawo wonders if Lady Hasshaku’s hat (which apparently still exists) can still provide them with a way to get back there to rescue them. But that’s put on hold when they get a call from Akari. She’d gone up ahead to get their table, but the elevator started strangely, and now she’s lost.

More worryingly, while on the phone with Toriko and Sorawo, she sees an illusion of them and assumes it’s them, drawing her even deeper into the rabbit hole. The other two conclude that the elevator of this Ikebukuro building operates the same way as the one in Jimbocho—as a gate to the Otherside. And Akari got off early.

They head to the elevator and go through the same process as in Jimbocho they’ve executed dozens of times, if not more. They’re joined at the last minute by Kozakura, who unlike them is not used to this stuff and is scared out of her wits the whole time, a far cry from the collected demeanor when she’s home.

Eventually the elevator opens on the floor where a monstrous girl tries to get on, but instead they see Akari. Sorawo decides to get off here to follow her, and Toriko and Kozakura follow her. Eventually they find Akari seated at a vanity mirror, only to vanish. Sorawo uses her eye and Toriko’s hand, but end up shattering the mirror.

That seems to take them from the In-Between world to the Otherside, which takes the form of a dark corridor full of shuttered stores. Sorawo finally gets Akari to turn around; from her perspective she was chasing them, not the other way around. Suddenly, Sorawo’s eye and Toriko’s hand start to tingle—call it their Othersidey Sense.

The white glowing form of a woman, probably Satsuki, appears from a distance, then creates a thick blue cloud of smoke. The four turn tail and run for it, initially finding themselves in a continuous loop before emerging at the In-Between. Kozakura starts to fall behind, but urges the others to keep running and not slow down.

The four manage to get to the elevator, and shoot the smoke until it retreats, but after a few moments of rest it comes back with a vengeance. Sorawo wakes up to find everyone else unconscious, and the elevator doors open to reveal Satsuki standing over what looks like a volcano…or possibly just a massive barbecue? Sorawo directs her eye and the unconscious Toriko’s hand at the two, and she’s out again.

This time, everyone comes to, and the doors open to reveal the barbecue restaurant; they’re back in the normal world. Akari heads over, having made a reservation for four in Sorawo’s name. When Akari asks her what the heck just happened, Sorawo says “Don’t ask me. I have no idea,” which is both fair and accurate.

But with stomachs growling impatiently, perhaps it’s best for everyone fill up with grilled meats, knock back a couple brewskis, and count their blessings. Whatever happened, they survived it together. And now they know that any building of ten or more floors could potentially be a gate to the Otherside.

The Promised Neverland – 17 – Living On Grace

It’s been almost a year since the children escaped from Grace Field House. Rumors of how they have yet to be hunted down spread in a demon city, but more often than not they’re dismissed as having died long ago. All the while, those same children who escaped a year ago are walking among the demons who’d do almost anything for their high quality meat.

Neverland does a lot of efficient world building this week, and this opening scene lays bare the general social strata of the demons. Ordinary demonfolk who shop in the street markets will never see, let alone taste Grace Field meat. As for the kids, they’re older and wiser and more capable and resourceful than ever, but food is still scarce. The struggle for survival is constant.

While each and every one of the younger kids are absolute troopers, not even complaining about eating only thin soup day after day, the decision to leave the farm weighs heavily on Emma each night. When she can’t sleep in the night, she faces a wall, cursing her shortsightedness and arrogance.

Ray reminds her they all made the right choice—the only choice—to leave. If they hadn’t, Ray would be dead, and the others would soon find themselves on the wealthier dinner tables of the demon world. Better underfed than dead.

Their hilltop temple hideout is periodically visited by a solitary demon, who is blind and walks with a cane. He knows there are children there, but it’s left up in the air whether he knows whether they’re human. Perhaps he can’t smell so well anymore, or perhaps he’s just a very nice demon.

For the first time, Emma helps him when he drops his offering, and he thanks her before leaving. Gilda scolds her recklessness, but even if the old man is a human-eating demon, she couldn’t let him continue to fumble in the dark.

Returning to the pair of demons from the market, we see that they are trying to keep two starving demon children from degenerating to wild (and presumably vicious) state. But the low-grade, vat-raised human hand is hardly enough. When one of them reminds them of the Grace Field stock is still at large, they start to seriously consider searching for them.

These aren’t the plans of evil monsters who kill for sport, they’re desperate adults trying to save children with no other options in sight. This is the state of the demon side of the world a thousand years on. While there are certainly bad actors, demons are no longer homogenously “evil”, any more than the humans on the other side. There have no doubt been generations living under this system, and know of no other system.

It’s in this newly expanded picture of this world that we find Emma and the Kids fighting against the long-established norm, daring to sneak into towns to collect enough food to keep everyone alive. This week Thoma and Lannion convince Emma to accompany her, Ray, Gilda and Don, but they end up bumping into that desperate demon pair, and a stiff wind fills the demons’ noses with the scent of humans.

An tense and intricate chase ensues, one that demonstrates just how extensively the kids have trained and practiced evading pursuers. Emma and Ray end up luring the pair away while the others melt into the crowd, only to end up cornered by the pair and a group of other demons who have taken interest.

Then one of the other demons kills the pair who were chasing Emma and Ray, and a blue-cloaked demon lifts his mask to reveal none other than Norman. HI NORMAN! Not only is he still alive, he’s got some friends. Looking back at the beginning of the episode, he’d already  spotted Emma & Co. Months after losing their blessed shelter and on the cusp of losing hope for survival, the universe has graced Emma and the kids with a blessed break.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

See Also: Irina’s review of episode 17, via Crow

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.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 05 – A Familiar Face in a New Place

The show’s commitment to depicting all the facets of Elaina’s world, not just the pleasant ones, is admirable, but after three straight unsettling or cautionary tales, I imagine the primary refrain of viewers this week was “Could we get segment that’s not, like, a total bummer?”

Elaina wastes no time abiding: look, a town full of living people! The beautiful land of Royal Celesteria is just what the witch doctor ordered, but Elaina’s curiosity with the city’s Royal Magic Academy seems to get her in trouble, as she ends up being chased by a pack of magic students.

As a full-fledged Witch, Elaina is able to easily avoid capture and exhaust her pursuers, whose professor turns out to be Elaina’s own magical mentor, Fran, whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. Once she heard the Ashen Witch was in town, Fran thought it would be both good training and good fun for her students to go up against catch such a talented witch—tooting her own horn as well as Elaina’s!

Back in her academy chambers, Fran tells Elaina she should stop by home, as her mother is worried about her. Fran assumes Elaina’s mom was the reason she became a traveler, but Elaina tells her it was more the stories of Nike. Turns out the two share the same favorite story: of Nike passing the torch to her apprentice Foula.

I’m not sure how heavily we’re supposed to read into this, but it’s definitely hinted at that Nike and Elaina’s mom were the same person, and Fran was her “Foula”. Once she taught Fran everything she could, she became an “ordinary woman” and lived out her days at home.

Fran also tells Elaina about her own attempts to write a book about her journeys. While she wasn’t proud of her manuscript and lost it when she sold the bag it was in, Fran encourages Elaina to make full use of her diary, so that she too can hear about her apprentice’s fun memories someday (of course, we know they’re not always fun.)

The next day, Elaina joins Fran as a guest lecturer and assistant. After deftly handling silly questions about her (no, she doesn’t have a boyfriend!),  Elaina has a ton of fun helping to teach the young students how to calmly manipulate balls of water. It’s the first time she’s passing on the knowledge and wisdom passed to her from Fran, and she clearly finds passing it to the kids uniquely rewarding.

The evening before the day Elaina plans to leave, Fran takes her to her favorite view of Celesteria. When Elaina asks what will become of the students when they graduate, Fran says they’ll work in various jobs around the city, which we saw as Elaina explored earlier. But whether they deliver packages or taxiing people about, or performing magic tricks in the square, they’re all doing what they like, just as Fran is teaching—and Elaina is traveling—because they like it.

When asked what else Elaina likes, Fran gets her to say that butterflies are “okay” and that she likes flowers too. The next morning, Fran is late to see Elaina off, but Elaina is worried that if they have an extended goodbye she’ll have sad feelings about it later. Before she leaves, Fran appears with her students and gives her a shower of flowers, some of them flying like butterflies. It’s a fitting farewell to the wandering witch, who will surely have fond memories of her time in Celesteria.

I mean, considering where else she’s been and what she’s witnessed, I’m sure she was as eager for a joyful destination as we were! That leaves the framing device of the episode: Elaina finding Fran’s book in published form six months later, in a town not only full of Fran merchandise, but a prominent statue of the her in what Elaina thinks might be too cool a pose! In any case, next time she sees Fran—and she fully plans to—she’ll have a fun story to tell.

Some words on the episode from Crow here.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 01 (First Impressions) – Just a Simple Fruit Vendor

In an Ikebukuro full of rival gangs like the G-Boys, Majima Makoto is a neutral mediator to whom anyone can come with a problem to solve. Thus he is one of the people helping to maintain a delicate balance in the town and keep it from descending into violence.

I’ve been to Ikebukuro, and perhaps due to watching a lot of Durarara!! prior to visiting, I got a very cozy, familiar feeling walking its streets. But aside from the Sunshine 60 building’s super-fast elevator, there’s nothing all that flashy about the town. It’s most prominent feature is a 600-foot…incinerator chimney.

Like the town where it’s set, IWGP is similarly restrained, un-flashy and ordinary. After a more theatrical cold open in which G-Boys leader Takashi is on a literal stage knocking out a junkie his gang has surrounded, things unfold relatively straightforward manner.

Takashi visits his old friend Makoto (who runs a fruit stand with his mom), and presents him with the 12-year-old Kurashina Mion, who tried to burn a whole building down because it was the hideout of a drug addict who hit her mom with a car. He’s hopeful Makoto can get Mion justice without violence.

Practically speaking, Makoto’s case is composed of a number of sit-down meetings in restaurants. That’s not very interesting, but it gradually emerges both to us and to an initially skeptical Mion that Makoto knows everybody who’s anybody in Ikebukuro, from gang higher-ups to cops, making him the best person to help her.

The fact Mion insists on tagging along even when Makoto cases a suspicious smoke shop, leading to her panicking and smashing a jar of “high grade herbs” and resulting in a chase. It’s here where Makoto’s encyclopedic knowledge of his town and its rooftops comes in handy, as he makes sure Mion can manage their escape route.

Makoto naturally also knows a super-hacker rather embarrassingly named Zero One, and once he gets the leads he needs from the official police, he relies on Zero and Takashi’s G-Boys to help stake out the smoke shop owner’s various properties.

Once they learn he’s almost certainly dealing illegal drugs, Makoto and Takashi discover the apartment is a marijuana-filled grow-house and drug lab. It’s here where I must assume that weed is still illegal in Japan (in many U.S. states you buy it legally for medical or recreational use), and that there are harder drugs than weed being made/sold by these guys.

Mion sticks her neck out to delay the smoke shop clerk from discovering Makoto and Takashi in the apartment. The clerk chases her down and nabs her, but Makoto comes to her rescue by delivering a devastating kick. It’s clear he prefers to avoid violence unless absolutely necessary, which makes sense as this is not a “stylized” version of Ikebukuro or Japan where anything goes.

In the end the bad guys are arrested for their illegal deeds, and Mion’s mom is released from the hospital with a clean bill of health. In the titular Ikebukuro West Gate Park, Mion thanks Makoto while introducing her mom. Thanks to him she knows that “some grown-ups are cool” and that she wouldn’t mind if someone like him was her dad.

Makoto and Takashi are confident the drug bust won’t come back on them since no one knows they’re involved…but their assumption is incorrect: someone is watching them, so there may be consequences that may threaten Makoto’s neutral status in the near future.

IWGP isn’t a show that will dazzle with its visuals, over-the-top action, or outrageous characters. It looks like it aims to be a more down-to-earth and realistic version of Durarara!! in which we’re presented with a complex tapestry of relationships and loyalties, with Makoto in the middle.

It’s a show with a quiet, confident competence. If that sounds like “boring”, it might be for some. But I for one enjoyed its relative subtlety and nuance, and will be back next week for more.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 53 – Tour de Dash

Sakura’s chronic fatigue is such that it’s starting to interfere with her daily life, from staying awake during class to being able to sweep the yard without passing out. Fortunately (from her perspective) there’s kind, refined Eriol to the rescue, helping her complete her outdoor chores before dinner. Little does she know that Eriol is behind all the strange goings-on lately. This time he puts a spell on Touya’s bike, something he notices immediately.

Until now Sakura had been content to convert the Clow Cards to Sakuras as needed, but when she feels the Clow Cards and they’re not warm as usual, she becomes very concerned with their well-being, and decides the best thing to do is to convert them all to Sakuras…at the same time! Somehow she stays awake after the exertion, but the last card she converts, Dash, is released without a clear target, and so panics, dashes outside, and possesses Touya’s bike.

During the a thrilling nighttime rollerblade chase that ensues, Sakura makes sure to keep her promise to Tomoyo and Syaoran to call them if she’s in trouble. Tomoyo’s phone goes to voicemail, but Syaoran is Johnny-on-the-spot, saving Sakura from suffering a serious fall after using Jump fails to catch up to the bike. Syaoran moves to shock the bike with lightning, but Sakura doesn’t want to hurt Dash or make it more riled up than it already is.

Instead, she makes clever use of Loop to let Dash basically run to its heart’s content until it realize it can’t escape Sakura’s embrace. Once she has Dash, she’s able to calm it down enough to return it to card form, having learned a valuable lesson about only invoking cards when she needs them, not willy-nilly!

While she’s encouraged that she’ll eventually be able to convert all of the Clows to Sakuras, it’s not long before she’s once again fallen asleep from using far too much magical power. Tomoyo arrives too late, having been in the bath when her phone rang, and when she tries to salvage the night by filming Sakura’s sleeping face, her camcorder’s battery is dead. Shake it off, Tomo—everyone has the occasional off-night!

Appare-Ranman! – 07 – People Aren’t Machines

From what I gather, Gil’s car catches up to the others, mows through the debris, and detonates rocks in the valley, forcing everyone else to take a detour. But thanks to some highly questionable editing we’re shown events out of order, and in some cases more than once, adding needless confusion to the sequence.

Appare’s car manages to make it through the explosion only to break down; eventually Xialian and Al either catch up to them or backtrack and offer to take turns towing him. Neither want an easy win, which leaving Appare behind would cause.

They end up camping for the night, with Appare proving useless at hunting, fishing, and cooking. Kosame dreams of his mother being murdered protecting him and wakes up screaming. Appare is starting to act more human as he realizes people aren’t engines driven merely by logic and science.

By the time the three drivers make it to Eli, Nevada, Gil has already been their eight hours and is ready to go, but they block him. Hototo wants answers about what happened to his father.

When the crowd starts to stone him, Appare, Xialian, Al, and even Sophia shield him with their bodies. Finally, Gil removes his mask and speaks, revealing he and his big brother were merely impersonating Gil, which means they had nothing to do with Hototo’s dad.

 

 

Appare-Ranman! – 06 – Outside the Box

At the start of the rave, favorites Dylan, TJ and Al are in the front, with Appare’s thrown-together contraption just barely keeping up with the second group of Xialian and Richard Riesman. Al stops at a railroad crossing, but daredevils Dylan and TJ jump the track a moment before the train crosses, showing they’re willing to put their lives on the line for this race. Since they’re the first into the first supply town of Lancaster, they’ll be the first allowed to leave.

As teams rest and resupply, Al finds himself feeling discouraged and insecure. He wonders if it would be better for Sofia to go ahead by train and meet him in New York, since the race will only get hairier.

Sofia reminds him that he’s not supposed to be putting his life on the line for the race; he has a future with her and the company to think of. After Kosame spars with Al (and continues to exhibit a kind of “block” keeping him from his best swordsmanship) he buys Appare, Hototo and Xialian a nice dinner.

Appare’s team is scheduled for a 12:07 am departure from Lancaster, but Hototo, having seen Gil’s henchmen all over town, decides to split off in order to “take care of something.” He overhears Gil’s team planning to sabotage the entrance to Death Valley via the Valley of Despair and dynamite the entrance behind them.

Hototo doesn’t do a great job of staying hidden, and one of those henchmen finds him. They tie him up and stuff him in a box. When the start time arrives, Appare pretends the car needs more work to buy Kosame more time to find Hototo.

Hototo finally breaks out of his box prison by the side of the road and runs back into town to reunite with Kosame. Appare betrays a brief smile at the sight of their return, and off they go. Fortunately, all the cars that left ahead of them were stopped in their tracks by Gil’s men blocking the entrance with junk, so the delay doesn’t hurt them.

Appare is confident his newly “reborn” engine, improved during the downtime in Lancaster, can catch up to the group, overcome the junk and the dynamite, and remain in the running for the win. He’s tired of relying on shortcuts; he wants to win with his machine, not in spite of it, or all of this is for nothing.

The God of High School – 01 (First Impressions) – Stand Tall, Smile Big, Strike Hard

Fresh off the heels of Tower of God—which Hannah enjoyed, though admitted frustration that it was essentially just an extended prologue—comes The God of High School, another Korean webtoon-based anime with “God” in the title and an appealing blend of action, comedy and drama.

After a ominous, cryptic cold open that doesn’t even pretend to explain what’s going on (suffice it to say some guy on an island with designs on blackmailing the prime minister is literally wiped off the map), we dive straight into one of three main would-be Gods of High School, Jin Mori, resident of Seoul.

Waking up from a dream in which he was encouraged by his gramps, Mori realizes he smashed his alarm in his sleep, and must race to the GoHS preliminaries at KORG Arena. He takes a shortcut by riding his bike off a cliff, and immediately it’s apparent that these are no normal humans.

There’s a lot of influence from Durarara!! in the ensuing action, and not just because there’s a purse thief on a motorcycle whom Mori feels compelled to chase (he makes up a sob story about the elderly woman who needs the cash for her grandson’s surgery or some such). The mere fact Mori can keep up with a motorcycle on his bike, and the reasons for doing so, are great shorthand for the kind of character he is: as relentless as he is just.

His first encounter with fellow GoHS contestant Yu Mira is kinetic, to say the least: while she’s admiring the ample muscles of some martial artists who failed to make the cut, she’s absolutely obliterated by Mori (accidentally, of course). Mori attempts a quick apology, but Mira uses her trusty wooden sword to stop him in his tracks.

When she hears he’s chasing a thief, Mira tags along, and provides more offense against the biker as Mori keeps up. She’s about to deliver a decisive blow to the baddie when a road sign jumps out at her and her face is driven so deeply into the metal it creates a ghoulish mask.

The cartoonish amount of punishment these characters can take is matched by the utter hilarity of the way the violence and various acrobatics are rendered. I suddenly realized the episode was almost half-over, but things were so non-stop from the moment Mori jumps on his bike, events fly by effortlessly and breathlessly, evoking shades of Mad Max: Fury Road.

While Mira and Mori fall behind, the motorcyclist’s face ends up meeting the fist of a third GoHS contestant in part-time convenience store employee Han Daewi, and the impact of his punch is akin to the superhuman strikes of Durarara!!’s Shizuo. Daewi knows who to punch and why thanks to a roving rapper live-streaming the chase online.

With the chase finally complete, the three contestants head to the locker rooms of the arena and formally introduce each other, having already demonstrated from their actions in the streets that they’ll be tough competition in the prelims—and perhaps useful allies as well.

The preliminary is wonderfully simple: a battle royale of all the assembled fighters, and the last people standing move on to the tournament proper. There isn’t really any doubt that Mori, Mira, and Daewi will advance, but when a convict with the title “King” enters the battle late, the three seem to meet their match, with Mira giving her best shot and Mori answering the challenge.

This is a show that is deliciously simple in premise, wonderfully energetic with its trademark Studio Mappa action, and as moves along at a rapid clip without causing whiplash. The three main characters look poised to complement one another, while the way the episode ends in mid-fight guarantees I’ll be back for more rock-em, sock-em madness.

All that said, I do find it odd how red everyone’s noses and ears are in closeups…it’s like they’re all suffering from colds!