Zombieland Saga – 09 – True Guts

Aw, HELL yeah! Saki is probably my favorite idol in Zombieland Saga, so I’ve been awaiting the telling of her backstory with great anticipation. That telling finally comes this week which opens with her and her right-hand woman Kirishima Reiko having just finished conquering another rival bike gang way back in 1997.

Fast-forward to the present, and Tatsumi deploys Franchouchou to a public park to practice the Kashima dance with some old folks. Since the elderly make up the vast majority of Saga’s population, gaining them as one of their fanbases is key. And as the idols discover, the fogies have quite the moves once they switch on the cassette tape.

Their dancing actually attracts the attention of one Kirishima Maria, who along with her two henchgirls, wears the same long red coats as Saki and Reiko back in the day. It would seem Saki’s bike gang Dorami is still alive and well, but in a kind stunted, pee-wee state (even Lily critiques Maria’s ride, a pink scooter, as lame).

Against Sakura and Lily, who don’t want any trouble, Maria and her goons believe they have the upper hand…until Tae bites one of Maria’s buns. Then Saki shows up, and all it takes is a glare and grunt to scare Maria off. After all, Saki’s the genuine article and they’re just wannabe poseurs.

Maria almost gets herself in some real trouble with Dorami’s perennial nemesis Korosuke, and Saki jumps out of Tatsumi’s van just in time to break up the fight, though predictably Maria is furious that Saki interfered in her business. The leader of Korosuke also promises this isn’t over and will be settled “soon.”

Maria’s eyes remind Saki of Reiko’s, and that connection is confirmed when Maria comes home. Reiko is no longer in the game, having gotten married and had Maria as part of wanting to live a “normal life”, something Saki never knew anything about, and never got to experience.

Saki died riding her bike off a mountain road while playing a game of chicken with Korosuke’s then-leader. She won the game, since she never hit the brakes, but paid for it with her life, and Reiko lost her best friend.

When Reiko discovers Maria has snuck out of the house to answer a fresh challenge from Korosuke (which involves an identical game of chicken) she dusts off her steed and hits the road to stop it. She doesn’t care how embarrassed her daughter gets; she’s not going to let her end up like Saki.

Saki also heads out to intervene (hilariously all she has is a bicycle, so she’s a little late), and ends up reuniting with Reiko, but when she recognizes her as Saki, she pretends not to know who she’s talking about.

Saki appoints herself “Captain for a Day” and assumes the Korosuke challenge, sparing Maria from participating. And since she’s already dead, she can replicate the fiery crash that made her a legend. When she emerges unharmed from the flaming wreckage, Reiko slugs her, showing a side Maria had never seen. Turns out she has guts after all…and always did.

Only she wasn’t a legend; not really. All the dangerous stuff Dorami and Korosue are doing is nothing more than cheating death, and it’s only a matter of time before Death decides to settle the score. Instead, Saki invites Maria, Korosuke, and the old folks to a concert where she and the rest of Franchouchou put on a dynamic biker gang-themed show.

Juuni Taisen – 03

Is it just me, or have the POV warriors gotten progressively more interesting with each episode? After Boar and Dog, we now learn more about Chicken (Niwatori), who had spent last week showing Dog one side only to turn on him and show her true one.

Niwatori’s childhood was…rough, to put it comically mildly. We find her where the cops do: malnourished and filthy in an apartment filled with garbage and blood. It’s not her blood; it’s that of her parent(s), which, considering her “pecking” specialty, she killed by repeatedly pecking bits out of hem with an egg topper.

Her own memories of this time are quite foggy; she spent some time at a facility after a hospital visit, and after regaining her physical health, she was adopted by the Niwa family, whose matriarch was interested in utilizing her special ability to speak to birds.

They trained her into a soldier and assassin who can hide in plain sight and deceived and betrayed so many people, she had no idea who was a friend or enemy.

Back in the present, Niwatori has successfully fooled Dog unto his death, and makes quick work of Zombie Boar with a swarm of birds under her control, who peco their prey to pieces and pick flesh from bone.

Feeling peckish herself, Niwatori enters a convenience store and encounters Rat, who has no quarrel with her, and leads her to the sewers to meet Monkey.

Niwatori finds herself unusually affected, even moved by Shuryuu’s seemingly catch-less kindness and earnestness, and believes Dog’s One Man Army poison has heightened her emotions as well as her body.

Even though she finds herself perfectly capable of killing Monkey and Rat right there and then, and knows that is the best course of action to ensure victory in the Zodiac War, she just…can’t do it. She withdraws…and when she does, she’s so busy cursing herself for making such a dumb move, she doesn’t realize Ox is right there, ready to kill her.

Naturally, because Niwatori is the POV character this week, she has to die, and she’s not even the first warrior Ox kills this week (that honor goes to Horse, whom we don’t learn much about before his demise).

Still, she faces her imminent death standing tall, with a defiant look in her eye, and after sacrificing so many of her beloved birds to defeat Zombie Boar, there’s a poetry to her giving up her body to feed still more of those birds.

I won’t say that she came out of the hell of her childhood—in which she was no doubt pecked away at to the brink of death—to live a life of honor or morality. Indeed, she saw herself as an instrument—another weapon in the Niwa family’s arsenal—and little else.

We don’t know what wish she’d have asked for had she won the Zodiac War. But I will say that for the brief time I got to know her, I emphasized and liked Niwatori, and the show feels a little smaller without her, as I’m sure it will continue to feel as more POV characters meet their maker.

Juuni Taisen – 02

Poor Boar is now a puppet of Rabbit’s along with Snake; he’s in the lead. Turns out Monkey (Shuryuu) interrupted her own attempt to form a pacifist alliance by smashing the floor. In doing so, she thwarted a preemptive strike she sensed from one of the others, though apparently she doesn’t suspect the sleepy Rat (Nezumi).

Having holed up in an underground parking garage, Dog (Dotsuku) is our primary POV character this week, and we hear more of his inner thoughts than the words of anyone else. Upon meeting Chicken (Niwatori), he believes he’s better off agreeing to her request to team up, as she possesses a valuable skill by which she can see through the eyes of all of the birds in the city; pretty handy.

Unfortunately for Dog, he’s too confident he can control Niwatori, to the point he’s drugging her with a supersoldier “poison” that powers her up and leads to her crushing his face. Whether Chicken was putting on a meek innocent act all along until then or really couldn’t control the strength Dog gave her, it looks like Dog is now out of the game, marking the second straight POV character who fell by spending too much time in their head and not enough time being very careful.

I don’t know if the same pattern will be followed next week or the week after that, but I got an odd, satisfying feeling of finality from both Boar and Dog’s stories this week; they went as far as they could go, even if they didn’t know they were at the end of their respective roads until it was too late to turn back. There’s a super-abridged version near the end of Horse seeking out Ox as a fellow “moderate”, only to be charged at by Ox like the train behind him.

The only alliance that seems reliable is the one between Rabbit, Snake and Boar, and you can’t really call it that since Snake and Boar no longer have free will, heartbeats, or jewels in their chests. Nevertheless, I liked the parting shot that combined bloody horror of an undead Boar with a Hitchcockian mass of birds surrounding her.

Considering the ominous calculation of this parting scene, I’d wager SuperChicken is primed to peck somebody.

Bakuon!! – 02

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Week two of Bakuon!!starts by delving into the past of Suzunoki Rin, whose father instilled in her a passion for motorcycles and in particular Suzukis. One Suzuki he always coveted was a Yoshimura-tuned 1135R Katana, but after he breaks many bones in an accident, the dream seems distant…until Rin writes the necessary essay extolling her passion for the bike and ended up getting it for her dad.

Meanwhile, in the present, Rin has her license and is about to take her dad’s old 400cc Katana for her first official ride, and her dad has the temerity to poo-poo the very bike he once rode, even as he’s riding a bike he wouldn’t have without his daughter. What a jerk! But hey, at least he didn’t die in that accident. That would have been a bit too dark… :/

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Speaking of dark, the dark, frizzy-haired Onsa just can’t seem to get alone with Rin, and Suzukis are at the core of their conflict. Rin is already satisfied that Onsa is an “anti-Suzuki Fascist”, and while Onsa wants to at least cultivate the fiction that she likes Suzukis (so Rin will join the club), far too often her big mouth gets her in trouble when she reveals her true feelings within earshot of Rin.

Of course, we can’t just have Onsa and Rin going at it every episode as Hane referees and Lime…just stands around not talking. Enter Minowa Hijiri, a rich girl who is obsessed with experiencing what it is to be bad; and what better way than to join a bike club?

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Hijiri makes an immediate impact on said club, suggesting that rather than bicker in the club room or thumb wrestle, they determine who is the most courageous, and thus forge bonds of shared danger, by playing chicken with their motorcycles, a la Rebel Without a Cause.

Of course, being a rich girl, she doesn’t actually pilot said bike (she’s unlicensed, besides); that task falls to her butler, Hayakawa, who sees these girls, particularly Lime, mean business and gives the challenge his all. Onsa and Rin break at the same time very early, showing how alike they are despite their different make preferences.

As for Hayakawa, he simply doesn’t break at all, plunging his Ducati 750SS Imola Replica and Hijiri-occupying sidecar into the river. But it’s all good, becaue Hijiri feels like a true delinquent.

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In “part three” of the episode, Hane completes her training and testing phase, despite the fact the school switched out older Hondas like Baita for newer model that won’t talk to her. Baita also reveals she used to be a man, but was “neutered” and thus became a woman when prepared for lower-performance school duty.

Hane’s four friends watch wearily as Hane seems destined to fail her exam, forgetting everything Baita taught her and being over-distracted by the silence of her new ride, but Hijiri devises the plan to cheer for Hane from a high vantage point, forcing her to keep her head up. It works, and Hane manages to pass, meaning next week she gets to ride. But what (Honda) will she choose?

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Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko 3

Makoto goes on a date with the almost sickly-cute Ryuushi and really enjoys himself (although dude…you can’t handle fizzy drinks? wtf…), but he finds himself distracted by thoughts of Erio. What is her deal? Meme tells him (in a rather awkward bedroom scene) not to pry, just leave Erio be, like she does – she just wants to be left alone. While that may be true – Erio is in a futon most of the time – Mako simply can’t let her be. He wants to snap her out of it.

To crush her delusions, he decides to go on a bicycle ride with her in the same bike she rode off a bridge, essentially repeating the incident that caused her present trauma and memory loss. He makes her promise to renounce her claim of being alien if she can’t make them fly in the bike. Not surprisingly, they fail to fly, though they fall spectacularly into the sea and the bike is lost. This seems to awaken Erio a bit; her manner of speaking is much more normal, and she concedes defeat. Mako and Erio re-introduce themselves, as Mako believes this is the true beginnning of their friendship. Even though he didn’t mean to take the game of chicken so far (physics had other ideas), he seems quite happy with the result.

This series is really good with close-ups, particularly those of the female characters of the show. But I noticed some really crappy animation mixed in, as well as lots of poorly proportioned limbs, still shots and other instances were corners were clearly cut, which is a shame, especially when Puella Magi Madoka Magica looked consistently superb throughout. Also, the opening theme is easily the worst I’ve ever heard, and the ending isn’t much better (Etsuko Yakushimaru’s songs all sound the same to be now). Depsite these shortcomings, I’m confident the story and characters will continue to do the heavy lifting here. Rating: 3.5