Fabiniku – 01 (First Impressions) – Old Pal-idigm Shift

Life with an Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated into a Total Fantasy Knockout is a stupendously ludicrous title; honestly, even my horribly punny title would be better. Fortunately, the show seems to be far more clever and engaging than its name, and it all comes down to its nucleus of two old friends.

Ordinary but horny Tachibana Hinata and hot but woman-averse Jinguugi Tsukasa aren’t friends because they’re similar—they couldn’t be more different—but the fact of the matter is they’ve been friends for 25 of their 32 years, and you can feel that history in the way they act.

A combination of a typical night of drinking and the classic tongue-in-cheek serious-voiced narrator gives us the skinny on their attributes and internal thoughts about one another. Tachibana is trying to get Jinguuji married off, while Jinguuji is fine being with Tachibana forever.

The mixer they attend goes poorly for Tachibana as usual (all the women gave Jinguuji their contact info) and he gets so drunk he’s face down in the park wishing he could be a beautiful woman whom everyone fawned over. Then an exhibitionist goddess makes it happen!

Just like that, Tachibana and Jinguuji find themselves in a strange forest in the daytime. More concerning, Tachibana’s body melts into green goo than reconstitutes into the body of a petite blonde beauty (with very sharp teeth!) voiced by MAO.

As Tachibana so eloquently puts it, she’s gained stuff up top and lost stuff down below, but her speech patterns and mannerisms are still the same old Tachibana Jinguuji knows…and she’s honest, loves, either in the same way as the friends played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera in Superbad, or something more romantic in nature.

It’s not even that much in doubt that at least part of Tachibana feels the same way…and that’s before they insult and anger the naked Goddess of Love and Beauty while she’s trying to give them their mission to save the world that she casts some kind of mysterious curse on them.

The immediate effect of this curse seems to be that Tachibana and Jinguuji suddenly find each other even more attractive, something neither one wants the other to get wind of. Their brains simply are too used to each other as best mates to properly process what their hearts are doing.

To their credit, neither one immediately dismisses their feelings as a direct result of the curse. Maybe the curse increased their affection for one another, but it was always there. Only now Tachibana is a woman, and because she is still fundamentally Tachibana, she also happens to be the only woman the distrustful-of-women Tachibana could ever fall for.

This results in a Love is War style battle of wills, with the two trying to get the other to admit their attraction. As the the one with the cute girl’s body, Tachibana goes on the offensive, only to find Jinguuji irresistible simply by being Jinguuji.

Meanwhile, Jinguuji hides his outsized reactions behind his usual stoic calm—a skill well-honed throughout the years staving off all those women who fancied him. He’s never thought about his type, but now he knows it, and it’s his best friend in a girl’s body.

As the two struggle with their new reality, a seemingly harmless and cute-looking fluffy white bunny thing interrupts. No sooner do they call it cute than its face unfurls reveal a grotesque monster. Suddenly survival mode overrides scoring flirting points against one another.

Jinguuji instinctively gathers his suddenly much smaller, lighter, and pleasant-smelling best friend in a princess cary and shows off the fruits of leg day. The two fall down a cliff, enabling the monster to catch up, but rather than continue running, Jinguuji decides to make a stand. He never let some woman take away his best friend, and he’s certainly not about to let some nightmare-faced Gossamer do it!

That’s when he punches the monster right in its core, quite unexpectedly creating a huge hole in said monster’s body. Turns out while he doesn’t look any different, Jinguuji is actually a Level 70 badass. Yes, it’s revealed this world has RPG-style menu screens that pop up in front of one’s face.

Tachibana is a Level 1 Hero, by the way, making Jinguuji her ideal trusty knight. As for their castle, Jinguuji is able to summon what looks like the door to a modern Japanese apartment with one of his active skills; the proverbial rest and save point.

While all the isekai and RPG trappings and their quest to defeat the Demon Lord are sure to play a larger role as our two best friends continue to explore their new lives (and meet more people), I hope the focus remains on how the bond between those two old friends continues to morph and evolve due to a very new and unexpected development.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 04 – COLONY OF PASSION

We go from Gagumber and Memenpu parachuting into Jolly at the end of last week to the two in the custody of one Merooro of the Labyrinth’s “Bureau of Regulation.” They’re guilty of Crimes, and they will be Punished, but he doesn’t offer details about what either of those things were or are.

Instead, the father-daughter duo is set loose in Jolly Jolly pending the handing down of sentencing or some such. And Jolly Jolly is…fine. It’s fine! It’s one big Italian Disneyland, complete with canals filled with LCD “water”, a Leaning Tower Colosseum, and ristorantes galore. Memenpu, sick of noodles, decides to sightsee. Gagumber hits up the nearest bar.

After twelve straight rejections by women at said bar, Gagumber finally meets someone who’ll give him the time of day—the woman on the motorcycle we saw a couple episodes ago, whom I assumed was Memenpu’s mom and Gagumber’s ex. Turns out she’s neither, but she is voiced by Hanazawa Kana in Sultry Mode, demonstrating her considerable range.

Turns out this lovely lady, rather inelegantly named Zackletu (sounds more like the name of a kaiju, if I’m honest) is wanted by Jolly Jolly’s mafia, who shoot up the bar just as Memenpu arrives. Gagumber covers Zack and Mem’s escape, only to be captured and almost tortured by the mafia don, only to be saved by Zack because his cell conveniently has a window.

Numerous chases and shootouts ensue, which oddly require more suspension of belief than the action of previous episodes. For one thing, I am not a big fan of characters in like Jumbo who are too impossibly huge to be actual human in shows where everyone else is normal sized. For another, the mafia guys and their don are pathetically dull, and have suspiciously bad aim.

Once the mafia is predictably foiled thanks in part to Memenpu arriving to save her dad and Zack in Zack’s own motorcycle, Zack takes her leave, promising to be back one day for the million Gagumber promised her. Like Jolly Jolly as a concept, this episode was…fine…but after the first three episodes I was expecting something more adventurous than generic colony mob chases.

SAKUGAN – 02 – SEEKING STABILITY

Gagumber has to hit it a few times, but his dusty old Mark Bot shudders to live and he and Memenpu engage in a protracted chase against a kaiju that seems oddly drawn to them. While old and dusty, the Mark Bot is still highly tuned and modified for maximum performance, which means Gagumber and Memenpu are able to keep a step or two ahead of certain doom.

After last week established how deadly the kaiju are, that creates an excellent nervy tension throughout the chase, which combined with the diversity of the environs (from the underground Chinese-style city to the darker depths of the mines) and the top-notch Cowboy Bebop-esque soundtrack make for one hell of a crowd-pleasing 23 minutes.

Even when one pursuing kaiju becomes two, Memenpu soon finds her Mark Bot legs (even if they can’t quite reach the pedals) and uses her inventive genius both to plot the best course out of the colony, but precisely where to place charges around the trapped kaiju so it causes the ground beneath them to crumble in a neat circle shape, where they become fish in a barrel to shoot at…with fireworks that just happen to be stowed in the cabin.

Gagumber and Memenpu’s heroics end up on the radio, and someone we’re sure to meet sooner or later—possibly their ex-wife/mom?—hears the broadcast. The two pay their respects to Walsh and Lynda, and Gagumber impresses upon his wee daughter how shit is not going to get any easier, but when you’re out there in the Abyss Labyrinth you’ve gotta learn to roll with the punches…even if one of those punches is the death of someone you love.

With that, the two pack their bags, take care of the paperwork necessary to leave the colony, and then strike out into the Labyrinth proper. The scenery is stunning, like a dream you never want to leave, as well as highly reminicent of Made in Abyss. Suffice it to say I don’t mind SAKUGAN’s cosmetic similarities to an all-time masterpiece. Let the subterranean father-daughter adventure begin.

P.S. In a truly weird, random easter egg, one of the ramen cups says “Tubular Bells”, the name of the theme to The Exorcist by Mike Oldfield.

Magia Record – 21 (S2 Fin) – Nor the Battle to the Strong

At first, Yachiyo and Iroha believe they failed to Connect with Tsuruno, but they end up basically inside her head, which takes the form of a theater where Iroha watches the past unfold, including the day Yachiyo and Tsuruno’s friend and comrade Meru became a witch. Because Tsuruno was working at her family’s restaurant, she blamed herself, and resolved to become not just stronger, but the strongest.

But she wasn’t strong. Against the Witches and Uwasa, no magical girl, is strong, really. It’s why they have to band together…though the Wings of Magius took it a bit too far into cult territory. As this episode demonstrates, small but close-knit groups can get it done. Thanks to Felicia, Sana, Mifuyu and Momoko, Yachiyo and Iroha are able to free Tsuruno.

Similarly, thanks to Kyouyko and Akemi, Madoka and Sayaka are able to free Mami. Like Tsuruno, she had been forced into believing she had to be strong enough for everyone even though in reality she wasn’t, leaving her exposed to Uwasa corruption…or something. I’m just glad Tsuruno and Mami are back…though the fact they were freed so easily somewhat blunts all of the built-up stakes.

It wouldn’t be a finale without Iroha Connecting with Madoka, and the two pink magical girls end up unleashing an attack so powerful, it disperses all of the assembled witches at the hotel/amusement park. With no witches their to lure it, Walpurgisnacht changes course for Mitakihara, somewhere Akemi pointedly doesn’t want Madoka to go because she knows it may well be the end of her.

But the OG gang soon says their goodbyes and heads to Mitakihara, leaving the Magia Record gang fully reunited. Tsuruno is a bit out of it but sure looks like she’ll make a full recovery, while all the bad blood between Yachiyo and Mifuyu seems to have dispersed along with the witches, which is good to see.

Less good to see is what becomes of poor Kuroe just as she exits the hotel and sees Iroha and the others celebrating their victory. Kuroe’s Doppel rises out of her shadow and stops her, saying she doesn’t belong with them. This must be at least a little meta, as Kuroe is an anime-only character.

Still, it seems almost cruel at this point for the show to torment Kuroe just as she seemed poised to deepen her bond with Iroha, and perhaps the other girls through Iroha. Her doppel clearly has other plans, though if Iroha & Co. could save Tsuruno, maybe they can save Kuroe too.

The only thing left to do is for Iroha to do what she came to Hotel Faint Hope to do: speak to Touka and Nemu. Touka, for her part, is recalcitrant and doesn’t even seem to recognize Iroha. She’s about to attack her when Nemu stops her. Nemu then reveals that she’s been keeping the truth about everything that’s happened so far from both of them. That said, she seems ready to come clean…in her way.

So ends the middle part of the three-cour Magia Record. This part had a nice focus and rhythm to it along with many satisfying badass magical girl moments, but still managed to end with me scratching my head, like the first cour. Not the worst thing, mind you; as long as the final third of the series helps alleviate that cranial itch with at least some solid answers.

Magia Record – 20 – Giving Their Best

In what are not their first rumblings of disagreement by any stretch, considering their very different personalities, Nemu voices her concern that she and Touka are hurting Magical Girls when they were supposed to be saving them. Touka, who has clearly drunk on power for a while now, says the only way they can do that is by becoming “gods.” If Nemu is going to stop her friend, the window is closing as that storm nears.

The bulk of those Magical Girls Touka is fine sacrificing are locked in battle with their respective friends-turned-opponents: Madoka’s crew dodging Mami’s impossible number of old-timey rifles while Yachiyo’s crew going toe-to-toe with the evil Tsuruno Aqua, who combines devastating attacks with creepy amusement park P.A. announcements.

Thanks to Sana and Felicia providing some cover, the two crews are able to withdraw for a spell, as it’s clear talking with Mami and Tsuruno is useless. When they’re in a safe place to regroup, Mifuyu contacts them via charmed origami, giving them a map of Chelation Land and the location of Touka and Nemu as well as Embryo Eye.

Mifuyu even does them one better and has the origami stream her meeting with Mitama, in which she attempts to get her to break her neutrality. Thanks to Momoko, the two learn that Mitama has been neutral all this time because she’s too weak to fight on her own; too full of shadows and despair. Were she ever dropped into a battle she’d become a witch immediately, but Momoko gives her a hug and assures her that she’ll help her carry those burdens.

Thankfully we check in on poor Kuroe, who is still being chased by Magius girls and is all alone except for her needy Doppel, who wants very dearly to help her out…no doubt at the cost of sanity and control. With only one episode left, it remains to be seen if Kuroe will reunite with Iroha and Connect with her and Yachiyo, as they do in the OP…or meet her ultimate fate in this cour.

Once Mitama tells them the best way to save their friends is to attempt to Connect with them (and Iroha & Co. tell Madoka and CO. what “Connecting” even is) The two groups head back out into the chaotic battlefield to attempt to do just that to Mami and Tsuruno. We’ve got big bold boss music as the projectiles and bodies fly.

But once the dust settles, Tsuruno falls from a great height, her human body is mangled, and the Uwasa she fused with seemingly takes over full control. If the Tsuruno Iroha and Yachiyo love is dead, her body is still being made to move like a marionnette by the Uwasa within.

Combined with the fact Madoka & Co. make little progress with Mami, and the eighth and final installment of Magia Record’s second cour will be a very busy and impactful affair. As penultimate episodes go, this was solid, but not groundbreaking. Hopefully the best Magia madness will be saved for last.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 19 – Not a Bad Fate

While Kuroe struggles with trying to keep her Doppel under control so she can get back to Iroha, Yachiyo encounters Madoka, Sayaka, and Akemi…and it’s just an extremely cool game-recognize-game moment.

This is what good fanservice looks like: pleasing the crowd without compromising the story. And the story is that Iroha and Yachiyo are going to need every independent thinking magical girl on their side if they’re going to stop Touka and Nemu from scorching the world.

After being shaken out of her state of despair and fatalism by Sana and Felicia (who themselves regret letting Magius lead them by the nose for so long), Mifuyu chooses friends and bonds both living, frayed, and dead over loyalty to Magius, and pleads with Touka to terminate the operation before too much damage is done.

But that’s the thing: Touka is determined to involve everyone in the world, as she’s convinced humanity has only advanced to its present state of development on the backs of suffering and dying magical girls. Nemu then siccs the reprogramed, aqua version of Tsuruno on Mifuyu.

Down in the bowels of the hotel she meets Alina, who seems to be neutral now. She’s not interested in “partying” with a bunch of sheep, but also not quite willing to help out Mifuyu more than the minimum, which is to toss her a grief seed.

As they all have people they want to save and know their best chance is to work together, Yachiyo, Madoka, Sayaka and Akemi pile into a pickup truck headed to the absolute bedlam that is the hotel fused with an amusement park. Couintless witches are battling the Magius witches, creating chaos and discord.

But as Yachiyo is busy driving the truck, the O.G. girls show what a well-oiled machine they are, dispatching all comers. When Madoka and Sayaka are sent flying, Akemi stops time and saves them. No doubt that ability, so crucial in the films, will play a pivotal role in the final battles to come.

As for Iroha, who is already inside the gates, she’s not content to wait for Kuroe or for Yachiyo to break through the gates from the outside; she’s going to smash them from the inside. When borrowing Kyouko’s white Magius robe doesn’t work and gets her surrounded, Kyouko saves her out once again.

Rather than retreat, Iroha asks Kyouko to Connect with her, resulting in the fusing of her crossbow and Kyouko’s spear into the perfect gate-smashing weapon. Teamwork inside the gates and out not only makes the dream work, but keeps Iroha’s and everyone else’s wishes alive. The moment when Iroha and Yachiyo embrace, finally reunited again, is definitely the most heartwarming moment of the episode.

That moment is immediately followed up by another one of the coolest and most satisfying: when Iroha and Madoka come face to face. The closest analog I can think of is in Avengers: Infinity War when Thor meets the Guardians of the Galaxy, making the crossover official. Madoka, Sayaka, Akemi, and Kyouko are no longer token cameos, but pivotal players in this newly-merged, exciting, and purposeful Madoka universe.

The good girls are amassing fast, and when Kuroe (who is hopefully okay), Sana, Felicia, Mifuyu, and maybe even Alina join their ranks, tit’s looking like they have a fighting chance, even against two very challenging sub-bosses in the Re-programmed Mami and Tsuruno. That’s not to say it will be easy, or devoid of sacrifice.

But as Madoka said in the back of the truck, if anyone can turn this situation with Embryo Eye and Walpurgisnacht around, it’s magical girls. So she’s glad she’s a magical girl, and her friends old and brand-new concur. It’s time to get to work!

Magia Record – 18 – The Future They Chose

Not content to sleep beside Kaede’s isolation bubble, Iroha sneaks out to meet with Nemu, not wanting to further burden the others with her problems. Once more, it’s great to see Iroha really driving the narrative. Kuroe, poor thing, thinks she and Iroha were only friends in Iroha’s dream, but that’s not the case, and when she follows Iroha and wishes to help her in any way she can, Iroha is grateful for the help.

As Iroha and Kuroe take charge like the blossoming Magical Bosses they are, Tsuruno Rui is slowly losing it, and we also check in on Felicia and Sana, who are naught but grunts performing menial labor for Magius at Hotel Faint Hope. They, in turn, meet Sakura Kyouko from the original series, who’d saved Felicia once before.

While Kyouko is ostensibly there to steal grief seeds/soul gems (one or the other), she along with the other two stumble upon the witch factory none of them knew anything about, especially the scale of it, while Touka announces to all of Magius that “Operation Embryo Eye” is about to commence.

It’s named after their prized “Artificial Witch” Embryo Eye, who ravenously feasts on the farm-fresh witches—the trains going straight into it’s creepy live-action human mouth. Felicia and Sana are not okay with any of this. Yachiyo, having forced the Amane sisters to withdraw, also overhears of Touka’s plan.

So do Iroha and Kuroe, and it doesn’t sound liek the Touka or Nemu she knew. They’re no longer not just bent on liberating magical girls everywhere, but on executing their grudge against the rest of humanity who aren’t magical girls. They will suffer as all of them have suffered, and Touka won’t forgive anyone.

But despite how dastardly this plan is—and how far gone her former friends must be to be going forward with it—Iroha still wants to try to talk with them. And who knows, maybe she can make a difference! Before that, however, she and Kuroe have to get past hordes of Magius security on high alert.

At first Iroha leads the fight, deflecting the feathers’ weapons with her crossbow without flinching. But Kuroe doesn’t want to sit back and let Iroha do all the work, so after her very cool and elegant transformation sequence, she builds a huge wall between them and their opponents, then blasts a hole through the wall for Iroha to escape.

Iroha only leaves because Kuroe promises she’ll catch up to her. When Kuroe says this, she’s not just talking about this present situation; she wants catch up to Iroha in general. If you ask me, she’s already well on her way; she was a rock star this week, right up to when she unleashes her very distinctive Doppel.

Touka and Nemu move Hotel Faint Hope to Daito Ward, then implement the operation. All of the witches in Kamihama City and within a 200-kilometer radius are gathered up to be fed to Embryo Eye, which I’m assuming they’ll use against the “Big One” they end up reeling in, which arrives like a giant typhoon: Walpurgisnacht.

Is this what happens when two of the most powerful and intelligent magical girls ever created develop a vendetta against the world and systems that made them? Was Iroha naïve to think that her visits to them and Ui would be enough to preserve their humanity and morality? It certainly looks that way…but you never know. A lot can happen in the remaining three episodes, plus the third and final season still waiting in the wings.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 09 – Qui Chasse Les Chasseurs?

As soon as Noé blurts out Vanitas’ name, Roland Fortis not only treats Vanitas gently and warmly, but with pity. Roland is as immune to Vanitas’ barbs as he is to the idea that a vampire who trespassed in these catacombs shouldn’t be slain. And while Roland proves he’s a tough opponent in a battle thanks to his ability-enhancing drugs and a Durandal that’s full of tricks, he’s no match for the duo of Vanitas and Noé.

Even when they’re almost constantly bickering like an old married couple, the two manage to slip away from one of the church’s most powerful chasseurs. But it isn’t Roland’s power, but his personality that rubs Vanitas entirely the wrong way. Noé can see why: Vanitas has met his match: someone who will not for one second stop being the person they are. The only difference is Roland still works within the structure of the church while Vanitas is his own master.

As they evade Roland and his underlings, Vanitas reveals why he knows his way around the labyrinthine catacombs: he basically grew up there after vampires killed his parents and the Chasseurs took him in. While they intended to train him, he caught the eye of one Doctor Moreau—yeah, that one—and became his guinea pig.

That’s a pretty dark past for our boy, and explains a lot about his reluctance to get to close to anyone, Noé included. But when Vanitas keeps making “that face”, and then decides to take one of the Chasseurs hostage, Noé objects, the two have a fight, Vanitas says more than he should, gets Noé angry enough to use him as a hostage.

Noé’s plan, while hastily hatched, ends up working perfectly, as tossing Vanitas into the air for Roland to catch ensures Roland is exactly where he wants him when he wants him there. But rather than deal a potentially killing blow, Noé holds back: and not just so he doesn’t kill Vanitas.

As Noé said before, he kinda liked the cut of Roland’s jib. So do I, now that I know his airhead act wasn’t really an act, but that he can flip a switch and enter Serious Badass Mode whenever he feels like it. Noé intentionally doesn’t seriously injure Roland because he’s hoping he can be reasoned with and a truce can be struck…and he’s right!

Despite his underlings’ objections, Roland not only decides to sit down and listen to Noé and Vanitas, but even agrees to be friends with Noé. After a lifetime of hunting and killing dangerous, insane, or downright evil vampires, Noé is a breath of fresh air, so much so that Roland can’t believe he’s really a vampire.

As for the reason Vanitas is there in the first place, Dr. Moreau is up to his old tricks, operating right under the Chasseurs who cast him out. Moreau himself seems to have a screw or two loose, and looks like Dr. Robotnik’s cousin to boot. It’s an odd choice to introduce someone who clearly traumatized Vanitas as a goofy eccentric, but that kinda also adds a layer of menace to the guy. Hes so caught up in his experimentation he’s long ago abandoned all notions of human morality.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 17 – Back Into the Lions Den

In a usual cour, there’d be time and space for a cooling off episode, but with only eight episodes to work with, this lean, mean second season of Magia Record has no time to waste. And you know what? That’s just fine with me!

Not only did the entire first season feel more like an introduction and explanation of this world and its expansive cast, but it just makes sense to the flow of the story that once Iroha got caught up on what’s going on, she’d make a beeline for Nemu and not spend half the episode tidying up Mikazuki Villa with Yachiyo and Kuroe.

It also totally tracks that Iroha is almost fanatically eager to do her part in this story. Last week’s dreamy rescue mission got the ball rolling, but this week is where Iroha reasserting herself as the protagonist of this story really picks up momentum. Yachiyo is certainly weary of Iroha jumping right back into the dangerous realm of Magius, while Kuroe is a follow-not-lead sort.

So it’s really quite exhilarating to see Iroha take the initiative, get her friends aligned and on board; she’s both the glue bringing everyone back together and the lodestar guiding everyone to what’s good and right while Kuroe guides them through the fanciful book-filled caverns below Hotel Faint Hope. Unfortunately, in order to get those two through the portal, Yachiyo had to stay behind to keep the Amane sisters at bay.

Fortunately, it’s not long that due either to fate or coincidence—hell, why not both?!—Iroha encounters the ena, who is on her way out after deciding to defect from Magius. She has a very weak and vulnerable Kaede in tow, whose Doppel looks ready to pop out and kill everyone.

Again, alacrity demands that this reunion eschews the usual pleasantries; after all, all four girls are in a hurry with good reason: Nemu says she’s dying, while Kaede looks close to death, or a fate worse than it. But with the portal Iroha and Kuroe used closed, the four decide to team up for now.

What I’m glad there is time for is to check in with the Puella O.G. (including yours truly), who appear to have arrived in Kamihama City judging from the Alina Gray posters and Magius recruitment flyers. Besides it always being great to see these girls, it’s even more gratifying to know that there’s an actual reason for their inclusion here.

They’ve essentially crossed the dimensional barrier to find their beloved Mami, whom we know to be in way too deep with Magius. I like how their fish-out-of-water status is accentuated by the fact their colors are so much more muted than those of “native” magical girls like Iroha & Co. I can’t wait for if and when Madoka and Iroha meet and join forces.

But while on the way to the main exit (Rena and Kaede) and Nemu (Iroha and Kuroe), Iroha follows Little Kyuubey to another inconvenient truth about Magius: they’re farming witches. Knowing full well how fuzzy the line between magical girl and doppel, and goppel and witch, Iroha demonstrates why she’s the beating moral heart of the show, as she declares her distaste for this whole enterprise and questions what could possibly justify it.

Mind you, Iroha is not infallible in her role, and in fact her strong sense of what is right and what just seems wrong clashes with the real-world realities and wholesale suffering not only of less fortunate magical girls who lacked both the strength to defeat Kamihama witches and the support network to make up for their weaknesses. Iroha’s no Yachiyo (no one is) but she’s no slouch in terms of power or friends. Her moral certitude comes from a place of privilege.

But its that certitude and that privilege that make Iroha so well suited to leading the charge. When the girls are attacked by some kind of Uwasa sentry, Kuroe ends up cornered and her soul gem blackened, and almost takes the easy way out by using her doppel for perhaps the last time.

But Iroha won’t let her; instead, she clears Kuroe’s gem, and then the two Connect and their combined power obliterates the sentry. Magius is an organization that is hoping magical girls like Kuroe give up. Iroha’s selflessness and refusal to sacrifice anyone is anathema to them, because it’s explicit proof that their way isn’t the only way.

A new crisis emerges right on the heels of the defeated sentry, as Kaede has hit her limit. Her doppel emerges and goes berserk, and in another positively virtuoso battle sequences, Iroha, Kuroe, and Rena fight together to tame their gentle friend—turned chaotic monster.

As is usually the case with anime like this, stills just don’t due the battle animation the slightest bit of justice. Suffice it to say that in terms of artistry, grace, eclecticism and pure uninhibited style, there are few series out there that can match Magia Record. The benefits of putting 12-13 episodes worth of budget into 8 are on full display here.

Another estranged member of Team Mikazuki Villa, Momoko, arrives with Mitama shortly after the other thee girls manage to neutralize Doppel!Kaede. Mitama seals Kaede a big glass sphere, then wheels it into a gallery absolutely filled with similar spheres: an isolation ward for troubled doppels.

The other girls are not okay with this situation any more than what Magius is doing with witches. But Mitama is unmoved by their outrage, reminding them with almost Kyuubey-esque haughtiness that she warned them not to overuse their doppels.

She also reports that Kaede the other afflicted girls likely won’t wake up—let alone return to normal—until Magius’ “plan has succeeded”—an objective Iroha, Yachiyo, and now Rena and probably Momoko are committed to thwarting.

Again, Iroha serves a focusing and uniting role, corralling and calming the hotter heads and offering a possible Other Way. Even after all that has happened since returning to Faint Hope, her mission is the same: meet with Nemu, find out what’s going on, and find a way to save her.

Iroha has already demonstrated what can be accomplished by bringing the “family” together in a single, clear effort. Why can’t it be so with this? After all, unlike Touka, Nemu remembers Iroha, and the bond they shared. He’s hoping Big Sis gets to meet with her soon.

 

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.

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