Vinland Saga – 12 – The Face of a King

As Thorkell’s forces chases his, Askeladd sends a message across the Severn River, hoping for some reinforcements to even the odds. His “Ear”, an Asian-looking man with very good hearing, can tell the enemy is only a few days away, if that.

The men are worried, and Bjorn relays that worry, but Askeladd is content to leave everyone in the dark. He also hasn’t been quite the same since seeing Prince Canute’s face. It just doesn’t seem like the face of a king. To be fair, Canute is young…but so is Thorfinn.

A thick, brooding atmosphere of impending doom pervades the march of Askeladd’s men as they grow more fatigued and Thorkell draws closer, but takes on a more otherworldly hue once they arrive at the spot where Askeladd says the reinforcements will be waiting.

The rendezvous point is a Roman ruin, suffused in fog. The soundtrack starts to boom with synth bass and brash, punishing tuba as Askeladd draws near and bows in deference to the two figures in romanesque garb. Eventually, triremes come into view.

These aren’t representatives of the Roman Empire reborn, nor another world, but one of the stubbornly independent kingdoms of Wales. Any enemy of the English is a ally of theirs. Askeladd’s connections enable them to cross Wales to reach Gainsborough rather than deal with Thorkell.

It will be a long journey, and the lands of Wales are rough and unforgiving, so Askeladd appoints Thorfinn as Prince Canute’s bodyguard. Amusingly, the Welsh commander mistakes Finn as the Danish prince, and says the same thing Askeladd thought when he sees his face—just not king material…at least not yet.

Thorfinn’s job is to make sure Canute lives to fulfill his destiny, but despite being the same age the two couldn’t have more different paths to get to that age. Finn is cold to Canute, while the prince is frightened of Finn. We’ll see if putting the two together toughens Canute, softens Finn…or both. Of course, the challenge of just keeping Canute alive becomes painfully plain when their forces are lured into a trap, with archers from a neighboring Welsh kingdom raining arrows down on them.

In an odd aside, we see an aged, balding Leif Erikson arriving at a port, and spots one of the slaves being taken away. (S?)he looks a lot like Thorfinn: messy straw hair, brown eyes. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on here. Does this scene place some time after the ambush? I doubt Finn would be so easily captured. If you have any insight into that, let me know in the comments.

Otherwise, this was an interesting episode to mark the halfway point of the series. Thorfinn is protecting Canute mostly to get another duel out of Askeladd, a duel that’s sure to be the closest yet as he grows stronger and Askeladd gets older. But there’s a lot going on around him that threatens postpone or even deprive him of that duel, if for instance Askeladd doesn’t survive the ambush.

Cop Craft – 10 – Democracy in Action

On the way to an interview with Coal Mozeleemay, Kei is stopped by the reporter Kevin Randall, but insists he has no comment. In their meeting with Coal (definitely awkward due to his last encounter with Tilarna), he has no comment either, as his wife Marla handles all the questions, confirming to Tilarna that he’s no leader.

Turns out he’ll never have a chance to prove Tilarna wrong, as he’s shot during a speech. Kei pares down 92 potential suspects in the crowd down to three by eliminating anyone not acting like an assassin would, showing Tilarna that Kei’s pretty good at this detective stuff when all’s said and done.

Unfortunately for both of them, the black suit-wearing culprit won’t surrender or come with them without a lengthy chase, during which he demonstrates superhuman speed, agility, strength, and an uncanny ability to shrug off multiple gunshot wounds.

Again predicting he’d require more agility than a full-size car, Kei commandeers a tiny, quirky Messerschmitt KR200, which is naturally abused and badly damaged in the dust-up with the perp.

Kei and Tilarna have no choice but to put the guy down by whatever means, but before he dies, his appearance completely changes, revealing he wasn’t Semanian at all, but a human soldier using Semani magic. His gun was also disguised as a camera, made of ridiculously precise Vaifaht steel Tilarna claims even the best smiths back home couldn’t come close to creating.

So on one hand we have two dead candidates, and the only one left standing is in favor of kicking out all “aliens,” and on the other you have a highly-trained human soldier using immensely sophisticated magics in order to make it look like a Semanian killed his own.

Chief Zimmer instructs Kei and Tilarna to interview Tourte next; we’ll see if he knows anything about this apparent human-led conspiracy to make him the next mayor, which could well lead to the expulsion of all Semanians, many of whom might not go without a fight—either legal or physical.

Meanwhile all these murders of candidates have the public on edge, and well-organized anti-Semani demonstrations are already underway. Whether they popped up organically due to fear or something arranged by pro-Tourte partisans, we shall see, but in the meantime Kei urges Tilarna to keep her cool, even if what’s going on is both unjust and undemocratic.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 06 – Getting a Grip

When will Nishikata learn that no amount of training will prepare him for the mind games Takagi plays on him? Not this week, as he revives their gym challenge (which he also lost last year). The thing is, even though he sucks at toe touches and fails the grip test due to imagining he’s holding her hand, Takagi still technically loses. She just gets him to admit defeat before she tells him he has a higher score. Better luck next year, I guess!

With Nishikata’s after-school committee work done and the class camping trip looming, Takagi picks up on his desire to leave school together (even though he doesn’t want it to look like he wants to, she reads his mind) and they practice one-on-one dodgeball. Again, Nishikata’s proficiency with dodging does him no good, as Takagi first tricks him by making him turn his back, then gets into the weeds about whether he’ll dodge or catch, causing him to ask, again and again, “We’re talking about dodgeball, right?”

When the three girls stop at a sweets shop after work for some snacks, a black-and-white cat inexplicably swipes a piece of candy Mina just gave to Yukari after her stomach growled, and the girls give enthusiastic chase through various obstacles. The athletic Sanae is the only one able to keep up, but when she finds the cat giving the snack to three adorable kittens, she gives up and tells the others she lost track of her. Clearly, the mama cat needed it more than Yukari!

Takagi and Nishikata end up at the same sweets shop, where Takagi proceeds to buy the opposite of everything Nishikata picks out, so that they can exchange with each other later. After the dodgeball Nishikata is also hungry, so he buys a cup of noodles to eat in-store, and Takagi does the same. This marks the first time just the two of them are out to eat, which Takagi observes makes it a date—inducing a hot ramen spit take from Nishikata.

He’s confident he can deny to anyone who sees them that they are on a date (i.e. intentionally spending time and sharing a meal together one-on-one), but when his two nerdy friends enter the shop, they slink in, make their purchases, and slink out without saying a word, as if no denial from Nishikata would even matter. They know what they saw!

With that, Takagi expresses her excitement about the coming camping trip, implying it will be yet another new setting for new forms of teasing (i.e. flirting). Kudos to Takagi for finding new ways to expand their interactions despite his outward reluctance, as well as to Nishikata for inwardly admitting it probably was a date they were having then and there.

Cop Craft – 05 – A Brief Dream Before the End

Suddenly up against an ancient lauden neiven—vampire in the common tongue—Tilarna nearly finds herself outmatched, but gets some backup from her partner, who makes use of a fire extinguisher to disorient the baddie. Tilarna relieves the vampire of one of her arms and Kei fills her with bullets, but she still escapes.

Tilarna feels responsible for Chapman’s death, as she should have known sooner what they were dealing with; Kei does his best to assure her it’s not on her, it’s just the job. Using both K9 units and Tilarna’s excellent sense of smell (at least when it comes to latena), they continue the search.

After the vampire kills a truck driver, causing him to crash, witnesses recall seeing her wearing a dress that looked like black flames—Tilarna recognizes it as a magical illusion spell that provides clothing when naked (and scolds Kei for thinking about her demonstrating it). But it’s also clear the vamp has some of her power back.

The duo heads to the mall where she lies in wait. Kei ends up thrown off a high balcony into a fountain and gets knocked out, while Tilarna is captured. When she awakens both she and we get more of a feel for their adversary, who after all is extremely disoriented in this strange new place. However, she’s sharp enough to know of the “greater gate” in the “Book of Niba,” a prophecy that has apparently come true.

That being said, she’s still a vampire, which means she can’t resist an easy meal—particularly Tilarna’s delicious noble blood. Unfortunately she delays her dinner a hair too long, as Kei and a SWAT team storms the location and rescues Tilarna.

The wounded vamp once again gives the cops the slip, but Tilarna remain hot on her trail. Tilarna suggests they try to take her alive “if possible” so they can try to learn something from her, but Kei very much doubts they’ll be in a position to hold back.

A strange voice leads the vamp down into the subway tracks—the voice of a wizard, who like Tilarna wants to extract some knowledge from the vamp if he can. But between the feeling she finds herself in hell to the belief she comes to that she’s merely in a brief and very bizarre dream before her end, she’s not interested, and instead drains the wizard dry to recharge.

Tilarna and Kei arrive, and once again have a hard time bringing her down. She pounces on Kei, warning him no man has ever walked away from three battles with her, unless he’s some kind of prophesied warrior. Ultimately, the vamp’s ignorance of the fatal effect of a subway train hitting her leads to her demise, while Tilarna leaps to Kei’s rescue at the last second.

Naturally, Kei doesn’t properly thank Tilarna for saving him again, which really steams her beans, so she starts viciously kicking him in the back. It’s an oddly perfunctory ending to what had been to that point a rather thoughtful and intriguing story.

After all, the vamp wasn’t necessarily pure evil—a gal’s gotta eat—but as the episode progressed, she was more a subject of pity than disdain. She simply didn’t belong, it would have been extremely hard for her to try, and she didn’t even seem to want to stay, almost preferring oblivion to such an unfamiliar land.

Cop Craft – 03 – Tilting at Windmills

We soon find out where Tirana went—to O’Neill in order to get her into the Pioneer Club run by Elbaji. O’Neill makes sure she looks the part with a skimpy cocktail dress, hose and heels, and attempts to walk like an Earth Girl are unsuccessful. But it doesn’t take long for her to find Elbaji, because he comes right up to her at the bar to make a pass.

Once they’re alone in Elbaji’s office (with two of his guards) and he learns who she is and what she’s after, the chatting is replaced with fighting. Tirana pulls a sword out of her purse and relieves the guards of their hands in the blink of an eye, but Elbaji has a sword too, and soon overpowers her (she left her good sword with Kei, after all).

As Kei learns though Wikipedia (natch), a Knight of Mirvor leaves their sword behind when they are taking a temporary step away from their chivalric code, be it temporary or permanent. But it isn’t long before Kei is on Tirana’s trail as she’s captured and brought to some abandoned temple ruins in an undeveloped district of the island.

Chief Roth tells him to hold his position and wait, but things down at the temple are moving very fast. After Elbaji gives Tirana to Zelada for questioning, Zelada, a supposedly otherwise venerable wizard, leaves her alone with disposible guards, which she quickly dispatches and follows Zelada to his horrifying workshop, where she finds thousands of jars containing fairies in various stages of dismemberment.

Elbaji confronts her there, and as before, he shows off some of the noble background he shed in order to find his own fortune in America: the Land of Opportunity where Money is God. Tirana looks like she’s in trouble again with nothing but a stick to fight with, but Kei arrives in the nick and tosses her her knightly sword.

In a wonderfully-drawn fight full of bold flourishes, Tirana shows what a Knight of Mirvor can do, particularly one who was taught swordsmanship from Lord Verada Vreideni. And just like that, a bad guy I thought she and Kei would have to deal with for some time dies right there on the ground in a pool of his blood.

Unfortunately, the “psychic bomb” Elbaji had on him is a dummy; the “fairy” inside is just a doll. Now reunited, Kei and Tirana find a passage out of the temple and track down Zelada, but the arrest is interrupted by the arrival of Chief Roth, which is very confusing for Kei, considering Zelada sure looks like the guy who killed his whole unit in The War.

Roth shoots Tirana and orders Kei to let Zelada go. Turns out he’s a hardcore xenophobe who wants to use the threat of the psychic bomb to re-separate the two worlds, politically and culturally. Never mind if many humans have adapted; he doesn’t want coexistence, period.

But like Elbaji, Chief Roth doesn’t last long, as Tirana’s sword caught the bullet, and her getting back up is enough distraction for Kei to pull a second gun from his ankle holster to kill Roth, who up until tonight had been like a father to him. Roth’s grand plot also seemed a bit too sprawling and ambitious for a man of his relatively humble station. We’ll see if anyone else in his unit or the department harbors similar positions and goals.

The chase for Zelada continues, leading to the tallest building in the city, Forest Tower. The results would be disastrous if a psychic bomb were detonated there. While on their way to the roof, Tirana notices that Kei’s sidearm has a faint hint of latena, created from feelings put into an object or weapon. Thus, he might not be entirely useless in the impending fight with the red wizard.

This was another strong entry from the great-looking and sounding Cop Craft, which really gets its world-building, little details, and combat right. It’s villains have a tendency to drop pretty quick, but its not like Elbaji or Roth were particularly compelling (though Elbaji’s forsaken noble past wasn’t nothing). More than anything, it’s fleet, fast-paced, and fun, and the central partnership is starting to gel nicely.

DanMachi II – 02 – White Rabbit Howl

Apparently, Apollo’s sole reason for challenging Hestia to a War Game between their familias is his infatuation with Bell, but Hestia flatly refuses and storms out of the banquet with Bell. Of course, the matter is far from over, as Bell and Hestia wake up to a full scale ambush of their home.

Woefully outnumbered and without the high ground, they only have one choice: run. If there’s a silver lining in this chase for Hestia, it’s that she gets to be princess-carried by Bell for most of it.

Their destination is the neutral guild, though Eina and her boss lament that no amount of fines will deter the ridiculously wealthy Apollo from doing what he wants. Daphne warns Bell that Apollo will never stop pursuing that which he wants, while one of his strongest lieutenants in Hyakinthos has added incentive to capture Bell, believing Bell stole his god’s affections.

Even Ais’ hands are also tied for the duration of the chase, as it would not be proper for her to be seen as assisting the Hestia Familia (plus Finn plain won’t allow it). Bell is no match for Hyakinthos, and gets severely slashed up.

He’s only saved from having a limb removed by the scornful Hyakinthos by sniper arrows from Miach Familia’s Naaza, along with last-minute backup by the Takemikazuchi Familia and the arrival of Welf, Lili, and Miach, who heals Bell’s wounds. Able to run again, Bell takes Hestia and continues to flee while their allies fight Apollo’s forces.

But there’s something strange going on: some of the fighters are wearing Soma Familia’s emblem, and when Welf and Lili are briefly separated, we learn why: Zanis has come to bring her back into the fold, and either due to brainwashing or some other psychological trauma (why not both?), Lili obeys him, leaving Welf behind.

As Bell and Hestia stop to rest under a bridge, still far from the guild, Hyakinthos announces from the rooftops that no matter what happens, Apollo won’t stop until he has Bell.

Hestia tries to get Bell to return her romantic feelings for him, but when he says he “respects” instead of “likes”, she gives away their position by screaming her displeasure, and they’re nearly blasted away by Apollo mages.

Rather than keep going for the guild, Hestia has Bell turn southwest, and they arrive at Apollo’s palace. There, she throws Prum’s glove in Apollo’s face and officially accepts the war game. Apollo calls off his attack forces and declares that the details will be forthcoming as adventurers come out of the woodwork to celebrate the first War Game in a long time.

Bell is going to have a tough time fighting all of Apollo on his own, but knows where he can receive the training he needs to get stronger. When he’s turned away at Loki’s gate by Tione, but not before she mutters something to him under her breath.

Those words lead him to a more secluded spot where Ais and Tiona are waiting. Neither are able to be seen with him in public, but in the interests of a fairer fight against Apollo Familia, both are eager to help train him. With the added need to rescue Lili from Soma before the War Game begins, Bell suddenly has a lot on his place, and will need all the help he can get.

This was a thrilling chase episode, starting with a bang and continuing to escalatie until poor Hestia had no choice but to give in. The weather turned from a morose cloudy gray to a more hopeful golden sunset as the chase ended, with Inai Keiji’s stirring score lending both urgency and majesty to the proceedings. I can’t wait to how Bell avoids becoming the latest part of Apollo’s collection—and who else pitches in to help him.

Fairy Gone – 02 – Wherein Things Happen

This episode doesn’t start on the sunniest of notes, dropping back a few years to chronicle the history of people near Mariya meeting their ends because she sees herself as something of a talisman of bad luck. We also witness a younger Free being bailed out by his friend Jet, who takes a blade to the gut in his place. It’s almost as if both he and Mariya are bad luck to those closest to them.

Thankfully the dreary, muddy browns and grays give way to the greens and blues of the present as Mariya settles into Dorothea and distinguishes herself in target practice. She accompanies Free to some ruins where it’s believed a large-scale “artificial fairy”transaction involving the mafia is about to go down. Mariya seems mostly resolved to honoring her former friend and big sis Ver, who told her the Ver she knew is gone. She also meets Serge, who has a sniper fairy, and Clara, who has a recon fairy.

Free’s old comrade Wolfran Row shows up, apparently now a mercenary hired by the mob to ensure the deal goes down, but Dorothea is there to interdict. Like Ver with Mariya, Wolfran doesn’t hesitate against Free for a second, and while Mariya’s fairy protects her, it loses both of its arms in the process, which means she can’t summon it again the rest of the episode. Thankfully, Serge is able to bail her out and force Wolfran to fall back.

Free and Mariya catch up to Wolfran again, who sics three artificial fairies at them. Once they’re dealt with, Free and Wolfran go one-on-one again, but it basically ends in a stalemate with Wolfran fleeing in a very bizarre transport that uses legs instead of wheels. By the time Free catches up, not only is Wolfran nowhere to be found, but he’s killed everyone on his side, leaving no trail for Dorothea to follow.

This is all still…fine, just fine…but I can’t help but feel like Fairy Gone isn’t leaving much of a trail for me. A lot happened this week, but for the second straight week I didn’t really come away actually caring about any of it. Ichinose Kana does her best, but Mariya is bland…as are her Dorothea comrades, and her and Free’s flashbacks did nothing to change that. Meanwhile the soundtrack, apparently all done by the same band that did the OP, is hit-or-miss.

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin has some good ideas but lacks the production values to do them justice; Fairy Gone has the production values (better than MOK, anyway) but lacks compelling ideas and characters. I’m not sure how much more I need to watch.

Shoumetsu Toshi – 01 (First Impressions) – High on Vespa Chases, Low on…Everything Else

Shoumetsu Toshi is the latest in a long string of anime in which mysterious phenomena put giant holes or voids in a city. After a brief flashback to the Akira-like mini-cataclysm, we’re suddenly in the present, and a guy named Takuya with a yellow Vespa straight out of FLCL is preparing to rescue Yuki, a blue-haired maiden from lonely confinement.

It goes without saying he meets some resistance, as those holding Yuki would rather she stay put, and a hectic chase ensues. The chase, involving esper monks and Apache helicopters, is at least exciting in its execution, but one does get the feeling the show is trying to use that excitement to occlude the fact we have no idea who anyone is or why anyone is doing anything.

Takuya is also capable of doing things with his Vespa a normal Vespa probably couldn’t do, but fine, perhaps it’s modified. He ollies the scooter into the back of a truck lab, where his researcher client(?) is pleased he’s delivered the “sample” (his rather inconsiderate name for Yuki, last survivor of that big boom in the beginning).

Yuki doesn’t take well to being treated like a scientific sample, and isn’t sure anyone has her back, so she wanders off alone. Fortunately, she doesn’t cover much ground, and Takuya is able to catch up to her and reaffirm his commitment to doing the job he’s been given.

That job is to get her safely to the site of the phenomenon, known as “Lost” (also the name of a popular former mystery series on ABC). Takuya also calls an apparent friend who is quick to betray him, as right behind her is a bad dude in a black trench coat and hood listening in.

Yuki gets back on Takuya’s scooter, choosing to stick with him, and another unlikely scooter chase ensues, which while packed with more Apache monk, and guy-with-dozens-of-submachine-guns action, left me scratching my head more than pumping my fist. Ultimately, there’s not enough behind the action to form much of a connection to anyone.

Had they reached the boundary of Lost, there might’ve been a feeling of something having been accomplished, but it’s not to be, as the hooded trench coat guy knocks both Yuki and Takuya off the bike, leaving the latter in very bad shape. I wish I cared where things go from here…but I can’t in good conscience say that I do. And that makes two duds to start my Spring. Not encouraging…

The Promised Neverland – 04 – The Merit in Betrayal

If there was any doubt that Isabella also considers this a game of chess against the smartest of her stock, she makes sure Sister Krone understands that her role doesn’t extend beyond that of her pawn. Informing her that she’s well aware of her behind-the-back plotting, Isabella  promises Krone that if she cooperates, she’ll be a Mama of her own. Predictably, Krone privately fumes and resolves to unseat Isabella rather than wait to be promoted. No doubt Isabella knows she could still be betrayed.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray continue escape practice thinly disguised as tag, only this time in teams led by older kids rather than everyone on their own. There’s a lot of attention paid to the hierarchy of the teams and the patterns of their movement; Ray insists Emma memorize all 100 formations he’s devised, and while Emma seems initially reluctant, she responds with “Easy Peasy,” because it most certainly will be easy peasy compared to escaping the farm for real.

It’s not lost on the trio that there’s a traitor in their midst, and they’ve already cast most of their suspicions on Gilda and Don. When Ray tells Emma to go against her kinder nature and suspect them, it isn’t long before everything they do looks suspicious to her. How will the escape ever succeed if they can’t trust everyone escaping?

It’s for this reason that Norman uses one card only they can play: the element of surprise, not in that they’re escaping, but when. With the pattern of the schedule, Mama has basically dared them to use all of the month-plus they have left until the next shipment. But Norman knows they can’t go by the schedule they’ve been handed; they have to escape sooner…much sooner, in just ten days.

To achieve that, they need to start filling in the other older kids, starting with Gilda and Don. The POV animation of the three slowly climbing the stairs to the library really transported me into their shoes and added to the tension and stress with each creaky footstep.

At first Don thinks it’s a big joke, but Gilda knows Emma well enough to know she’d never joke or lie about such things. Norman lies that the kids who left were victims of human trafficking, since the cold reality might just be too much. Gilda and Don ultimately both agree that an escape attempt is the only choice.

Ray doesn’t like how Norman left out the truth to Gilda and Don about all the kids dying and being eaten, but for Norman the escape must come first; he’ll deal with the backlash from bending the truth once that objective has been completed. He’s also set traps for Gilda and Don by giving them different locations for their escape rope.

That night, Emma pretends to sleep and watches Gilda sneak out of the bedroom. What Emma can’t see through the door is that someone I initially believed to be Gilda slips a piece of paper under Isabella’s door with the location of the rope: under Norman’s bed. It must be noted that Norman told Ray that he’d tell Don it was under the bed, not Gilda.

After the paper is delivered, Gilda visits Krone’s room, and Emma listens in from behind that door. Things get a little tense in there, with evidence wavering between Gilda being Krone’s informant and not, but in the end, Gilda does what Emma hoped for and refuses to give up any information.

The next day, Norman wonders out loud why someone would betray their family; Ray tell him there must be some kind of incentive, like being promised they’ll be allowed to live and grow up to become an adult.

Later, Norman asks Emma if she’d let the traitor escape with them even if they betrayed them; Emma predictably and quickly answers that of course she would. She wouldn’t consider the traitor a bad person, because none of them are bad people. Again Emma proves she’s the emotional and moral heart of this show.

But when Norman and Ray search the two spots where the rope was hidden, Norman says there’s nothing under the bed, and Ray says that must mean Don is the traitor. Only now Norman is convinced that Ray has been the real traitor all along. There’s certainly already a wealth of evidence to support that, but we’ll see if Norman’s right, and if so, how Ray will explain himself. Until then, things just got a lot more complicated.

The Promised Neverland – 03 – More Chess than Tag

Isabella is already well-known by her new assistant, Sister Krone, not only for being the youngest “Mama” of a “plant” for consistently producing the finest “product” available. But she’s no doe-eyed acolyte eager to learn Isabella’s ways. Her very first night there, Krone is already planning to usurp her boss, who gave her all the ammo she’ll need: Isabella isn’t reporting the two children who witnessed a “harvest.” That could get her fired or worse if the bigwigs find out.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray have just one more difficult variable to consider during their preparations for what’s already looking like a hopeless escape plan. When told to “think like the enemy” in finding a place where a tracking device could be implanted, she inspects Carol, the newest addition to the farm, and finds a red bump behind her ear.

I probably could have done without the demon business meeting (complete with some kind of steaming brew but no donuts), as it kinda detracts from their mystique, but at the same time, despite their frightful appearance these monsters carry on pretty banal lives; with the lower classes of demons serving the upper classes.

Perhaps the kids could exploit the inherent discord within such a strict caste system, but first things first: all the logistics required to get everyone off the farm safely. They agree that it’s too risky to attempt to destroy their ear trackers lest they trip an alarm, so they focus on getting everyone out first.

They know many of the kids will either be too young to understand or old enough not to believe a word of what they’re saying (everybody loves Mama after all), the trio decide to disguise the escape as a harmless game of tag. Emma sets to work improving the kids’ physical condition, while Norman and Ray coach them up on the proper way to survive…”tag.”

Unfortunately, their subterfuge doesn’t fool Sister Krone for one second. She’s suspicious of the three to start, and unlike Isabella intends to ship them out sooner than their official ship date so she can snitch on Isabella for breaking protocol and grab power.

Krone is also physically superior to all of the kids, being an adult in pretty good shape. She challenges the kids to a game of tag, betting she can capture them all in twenty minutes. She lures most of the younger kids out of their hiding spots by making cute cutout shapes in leaves.

Once she’s spotted Emma, it’s only a matter of exhausting her and forcing her to find a hiding spot. It’s a place where there are only so many such spots, and Emma has the disadvantage of having tried to run with two young ones in her arms. The moment when Krone’s voice suddenly grows louder and clearer as she suddenly looms over Emma was…well, pretty frightening!

Norman manages to give Krone the slip, and Ray is the one to announce that her time is up. She’s impressed by the trio of troublemakers, but only insofar as she’s impressed by prime livestock. Now that she knows the actors, their strengths and weaknesses, and that there’s more to their tag than mere play she’ll be keeping that much closer an eye on them.

Not to mention she’ll have an extra set of eyes in the form of a “traitor” in Gilda. When Norman and Ray put the pieces together to determine there’s such a traitor among them, you can see Emma’s spirits plummet. All this time she’s thinking of getting everyone out of the farm to spare them the stuff of nightmares, but the adults already have at least one kid—and it could be anyone—working against her efforts, as well as that kid’s own interests.

In any case, it’s clear this won’t be as easy as a game of tag. Emma, Norman and Ray will have to think two, three, four or more moves ahead of Krone and Isabella, and even make sure the mole doesn’t see or hear what moves they’ll make. What they’re playing, then, is a game of chess, in which checkmate spells death.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 11 – A Blatantly Obvious Explosion of Suspiciousness

After that harrowing flight (during which Touma never answered the “beef or fish”, resulting in Index being served no food at all), Kaori and Knight Leader escort the pair to an audience with the British royal family, led by the very laid-back Queen Elizard (who carries herself more like a mafia don and would rather do business in a track suit) and her three daughters: Rimea, Carissa, and Villian.

The assembled individuals lay out the threats to Britain, both external (from France) and internal (a four-woman group called “New Light”). Index has been summoned to assist in the analysis of the magic used so that they can more properly locate the threats. As for Touma? Kaori doesn’t want civilians involved, but unless he wants to pay room and board in Buckingham Palace, he’s strongly “encouraged” to actively serve the interests of British peace.

That night (or thereabouts) New Light springs into action, which involves the four of them splitting up and taking up positions while carrying checkered magical storage cases. The clumsiest of the quartet, Lessar, nearly mixes her case up with that of a drunk at a pub where she’s enjoying a repast of fish and chips (good thing Index wasn’t watching), and ends up being chased by the always lovely Oriana Thompson, backed up by Touma.

Meanwhile, the New Light leader is cornered by Amakusa then chased through the London Underground by Itsuwa, before brandishing the weapons of Thor (though not his famous hammer) and slipping away. The two other members are taken down, so Touma and Oriana believe they only have to deal with two more.

They then learn that the four were carrying out a relay, magically transferring the true contents from one to the other. Before the relay can be broken by Oriana and Touma, Lessar completes it to a fifth case, which is held by Knight Leader, working for the second princess, Carissa.

The box contains “Curtana Original”, the powerful ceremonial sword wielded by Britain’s sovereign which contains the power of the Angel Michael (her mother only has “Curtana Second”, which presumably isn’t as powerful).

And so, Touma finds himself in the middle of a battle between British princesses and their allies for control of the kingdom, and with both Curtana and the legendary Norse ship Skidbladnir, Carissa seems to have the upper hand, having used New Light as glorified couriers.

It’s an exciting, action-packed romp in a vibrant new London setting where none the players, not even the royal ones (I liked their selfie with Touma) take themselves or anything else too seriously. This is all a bit goofy and ridiculous, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun!

Golden Kamuy – 12 (Fin) – Tricked by a Fox While Betting on the Ponies

GK’s first season decides to go out with a bit of a whimper rather than a bang, though there was a bang in last week’s far livelier episode. Shiraishi blew up all of the explosives the group bought for Abashiri. Somehow, Ienaga survived the blast, and has something to tell Ushiyama and Shiraishi.

Now they need more explosives, but are low on cash. Asirpa and Kiroranke recommend hunting for furs in the forest. There, Asirpa learns the money she lent Shiraishi was spent at the racetrack, where he promptly lost it all. Then, at her relatives’ camp, they meet a fortune teller, Inkarmat.

Inkarmat is a shrewd woman and knows how to trick those who let themselves be tricked; Shiraishi is one of those people, but Asirpa isn’t. She’s committed to being a “new kind of Ainu woman”, though when Inkarmat speaks of her father, Asirpa perks up a bit.

Inkarmat knows who the mark is among the party, and so goes to the horse races with Shiraishi, uses her fox skull to correctly predict the winner a few times in a row, and gets her cut in the form of selling various trinkets to Shiraishi. By the time Asirpa shows up, he’s acting like a big shot.

Kiroranke, who has been around horses his whole life and helped care for them with during the war, could probably predict the winners better than Inkarmat…if the races were fair. He learns the trainers are up to all manner of dirty tricks, drugging the horse they want to win and getting the one Kiroranke thinks should win to drink too much water.

Kiroranke is in luck; the jockey meant to ride the losing horse took off, so he takes his place, is determined to win, and does win. Shiraishi loses everything, but one of the tickets was for Kiroranke’s horse—a parting gift from Inkarmat—that Asirpa no doubt uses to re-procure their explosives.

With that, Shiraishi continues to make himself useful by telling Sugimoto and Asirpa what a “cutie” (really Ienaga) told him: of a fellow in Yuubari who has taxidermied human corpses bearing tattoos they’re interested. Sugimoto takes stock of their situation: they have five skins, Tsurumi at least one.

Meanwhile, he’s still unaware of the third player in this hunt for the gold, Hijikata Toushirou, to whom Ogata offers his services as bodyguard. There was way too much story left to tell before all’s said and done, so this week was a bit of a punt; taking stock, and some light comedy involving Shiraishi, Kuroranke, and the horses. A second season is coming this Fall, which should provide ample time and space to complete the story.

Golden Kamuy – 11 – And Now, Some Light Eyeball Licking

It all starts with a coincidence, as Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Kiroranke decide to spend the night at the Sapporo World Hotel, where Ushiyama also happens to check in. Both Ushiyama and Shiraishi are immediately smitten with the comely proprietess Ienaga Kano; unbeknownst to them, she’s running a murder hotel.

Ienaga takes an interest in Ushiyama due to his superhuman strength, and so dangles him along as she settles Sugimoto & Co into their room. While pursuing Ienaga, Siraishi almost crosses paths with Ushiyama, but doesn’t, thanks to a trap door that leads to Ienaga’s torture and dismemberment chamber.

More importantly, the Immortal Sugimoto and Undefeated Ushiyama finally meet, and test one anothers’ prowess with Judo, leading to this hilarous quote from Ushi: “At this rate, we’ll end up killing each other…I like you. Drinks are on me.” With that, Ushiyama treats Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Kiroranke to drinks and dinner, including a dish Asirpa believes to be poop, leading to another one of her priceless faces.

They all get ruinously drunk; Asirpa and Kuroranke pass out, but fortunately Sugimoto can hold his alcohol enough to stop Ienaga when she starts licking Asirpa’s eyes. Shiraishi remembers who “Ienaga Kano” really is: a fellow prisoner from Abashiri, a mad doctor who believed he could achieve perfection by taking the best parts from others.

It’s left up in the air is whether Ienaga is simply posing as a woman or has actually completed full gender reassignment as a result of their quest for perfection. One thing’s for sure, Ushiyama doesn’t care who Ienaga was or is; he’s just committed to screwing them.

That doesn’t happen, as Ienaga triggers the hotel self-destruct system, blowing the whole place to kingdom come. Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Kuroranke escape in one piece (albeit lightly singed) and decide to continue their journey to Abashiri to meet Nopperabo.

They assume they lost not one but two tattooed prisoners in Ushiyama and Ienaga in the blast, but after the credits Ushiyama emerges with an apparently alive (or at least intact) Ienaga, which means Team Hijikata just became one tattoo closer to completing the map.

This episode managed to move the overarching story forward while confined within one crazy kooky hotel and threw together a lot of strong personalities to see how they’d mingle. And it was an absolute riot.