Made in Abyss – S2 06 – Gooey Tokusatsu

When Riko starts seriously considering giving up her eyes or legs (she reckons she needs more than half of her organs), Majikaja and Maaa stop her from striking any kind of deal with Belaf. Both Maji and a briefly lucid Nanachi warn her “it’s all over” if she does, and Maji and Maaa drag her out screaming.

Once back outside, Vueko turns their attention to the start of a “Luring”, when the Hollows, who cannot leave the village, lure creatures in so they can hunt them. Only in this case the Hollows bit off more than they could chew with this creature in question, and it starts methodically slaughtering them.

When the creature nears the shop where Prushka is being worked on, Riko races there, but to her surprise the shopkeeper freely offers the whistle back to its original owner, as that’s the whistle’s desire. (The shopkeep also mentions having come while polishing the whistle, but that’s neither here nor there…)

The big goopy purple menace is soon confronted by Juroimoh, one of the biggest Hollows in the village and also one of the Three Sages (presumably the one who replaced Vueko). While Juro is as big as his opponent and he fights boldly, his attacks don’t have much effect on the creature.

When the creature threatens to destroy the market district, Riko, armed with more knowledge from Moogie (the restaurant lady), prepares a gambt to save the district and neutralize the threat. It all starts by souping up Majikaja by offering her trademark twin tails.

She rides hot rod Maji as they lure their purple foe away from the market and into an open space, where Riko prepared for Hollows with fire affinity to ignite the creature, then called upon another group to create a restraining web around the stunned creature, and then yet another group to poke and stab it until it’s dead.

The entire village rises in celebration and applause for Riko, who proves she’d make a good strategist in DanMachi. When she describes why she decided upon the course of action she chose, it only further demonstrates just how bright, resourceful, and quick-thinking this girl can be when the shit hits the fan.

When the party is suddenly interrupted by the purple goo monster reviving and then reaching out with tendrils to grab a number of Hollows, Maaa is one of the victims. But before Maaa is destroyed, Riko cries out, and Prushka hears her, and tells her to use her.

The whistle reverberates throughout the village and the Abyss, and in the blink of an eye, Reg is there, his helmet and necklace white instead of their usual black. He tells Riko that the moment he heard the whistle, he knew where he had to go and what to do. He asks her to keep directing him.

The creature is either dead or gone before Reg can attack it again. Wazukyan arrives, and explains that the creature wasn’t a single entity but rather a massive collective organism, a floating nest composed of millions of individual males around a central queen. When Riko asks him how she can trade for Nanachi and Mitty, he says a part of Faputa would do the trick.

Back at their accommodations, Riko tells Reg how Belaf would only trade Nanachi and Mitty for something equal or greater than the value of a human child. Vueko, in her most loquacious state in literal ages, proceeds to tell Riko who she really is, and how due to the time distortion of this layer, she couldn’t tell her how long ago she and Ganja first set out on the journey that brought them here.

While telling her tale and also talking of Faputa, Vueko’s inner voice asks Irumyuui if she brought these children here. She also noted her surprise Wazukyan could still “get that scared”, clearly seeing beyond his static outward appearance.

She tells Irumyuui that the time has come for her to dredge up her “existence, memories, and desires”, as Reg sets out to meet with Faputa again. Whatever the strange item is that the episode closes on, it must be the “embodiment of value” that trumps all else; and it’s most likely somewhere inside Faputa. Is she a time capsule? A time machine? A nuclear bomb? Or all three, or neither? The mind races…

Made in Abyss – S2 05 – Within the Eye

After his encounter with Faputa Reg is not only lost, but being tenaciously pursued by a turbinid-dragon, who is able to read his moves and even chip his metal arm. Reg is rescued by a fellow robot—AKA “Interference Unit”—who gives him a ride home.

The unit doesn’t know why Reg was built, only that it’s unheard of for units to ever cross layers, and that he’d prefer if Reg left as soon as possible, as he worries he could lead to the ruin of this delicate place. He honestly might not be wrong!

After briefly meeting Wazukyan, who seems friendly if a bit spacey, Riko takes the opportunity to learn the basics of the Hollow language from the bilingual proprietor of the canteen. Being a child, Riko picks it up pretty fast. She learns, for instance, that the name of the village, “Iruburu”, means 50% “village”, 40% “cradle”, and 10% “mother”.

Her language teacher also directs her to Doguupu, AKA “within the eye”, a place at the edge of the village where Hollows can’t go, but non-hollows like Reg and Nanachi might. Riko and Maaa head there, descend into a pit of sticky mud…and encounter Vueloeluko, AKA Vueko.

Riko is astonished to find another human, but Vueko is so out of it she’s initially not sure if she even is human. After all, can a human really live the 1,900 years since they found the island where Orth would one day be built? The fact she’s restrained by several tendrils also suggests to Riko she’s a “bad person”, and Vueko can’t really deny that.

She tells Riko a tale of how the origins of Iruburu “aren’t very nice”, and she was blinded by greed wanting to become somethng beyond human. So she leads her quiet dreary existence in this mud pit, naming the hollows who enact the “balancing”, singing, and basically just straight chillin’.

She also says that however awful its beginnings were, the village is now a relatively peaceful place full of children who lost their human bodies but whose souls remain carrying on. But bottom line, Riko wants to find her friends, so she frees Vueko, brings her up to the village, and gets her some clothes.

Vueko leads them to Belaf’s cave, but doesn’t go in there with them; clearly there was a falling-out between them and the present Belaf would probably prefer if Vueko stayed imprisoned in black goo forever. Belaf doesn’t threaten Riko—indeed, he’s in awe of a human child in this place—but he doesn’t spare her the weight of the present situation.

Nanachi is there, but they’re unconscious, put to sleep by “smoke”, as a distraught Majikaja puts it. He had no idea how important Mitty was to Nanachi, you see, so could not have predicted this would be the end of Nanachi’s journey. When Nanachi saw Belaf eating Mitty (who can be eaten infinitely and not die, but simply remains forevermore), they “sold” themself in exchange for Belaf giving him Mitty.

Riko recognizes Mitty and stares her in the eye like the time, and credits Mitty and her haunting eye in particular with saving her life when she was in a very bad way medically. Since this is a place of buying, selling, and negotiation, Riko asks Belaf what she’d have to offer in exchange for Nanachi and Mitty.

At first Belaf says he wants her entire body, but Riko reminds him how tremendously valuable she is in this place. Unfortunately, his final offer is for her to choose which of three things to give him that will satisfy him: both her eyes, both her legs, or half of her innards. Let’s just say I do not envy Riko’s predicament. I can’t help but think force (i.e. Reg) will be needed to free Nanachi…but then, do they even want to be “freed”, or are they free already?

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 11 – The Prince

Before Shikimori, Izumi was in a dark place. He tried to keep a brave face, but his propensity for misfortune isolated him. He prayed to God, asking if things would ever get better, and if not, if God could give him the strength to endure the pain and sadness, adding that he wished a hero would appear before him.

It’s as morose and heartbreaking as the show has ever gotten with Izumi’s condition, which has evolved from a joke to something more akin to a legitimate curse without cause. But if there’s no cure, there is a hero, and she comes with pink hair and the best Face Game this side of FLCL.

Shikimori and Izumi haven’t been able to hang out as a couple what with all the festivals, so Izumi suggests an amusement park. The ad he shows Shikimori shows a couple leaning in for a passionate kiss, so she’s in, in the worst way.

The question is, what to wear? Not that it matters; Izumi would think Shikimori was cute no matter what she wore. Shikimori’s older brother Fuji drives her to the mall, but doesn’t accompany her shopping. Indecisive about what to buy, she leaves the stores empty-handed and finds Fuji nervously sandwiched between two interested women.

She reluctantly rescues him from the situation, noting how he’s much shyer than he looks, and how maybe he’s the one who needs his hand held, after he teased her about when she needed to hold his. We’re then treated to some lovely Shikimori backstory, with a short-haired Micchon kicking older boys’ asses at karate.

Back home there’s an unnerving tension between her and her strict-seeming mother about whether she’ll be continuing with karate in middle school, even though she only started it because her brother did. Shikimori decides she’ll stick with it and lists the pros, and her mom smiles approvingly.

Shikimori starts being referred to as the “Prince” by boys who know they’d better not mess with her or the other girls. She rises to the top of the karate rankings, and even has the potential for the nationals come high school, but the one opponent she can never come close to beating is Fuji, who one rainy day suddenly announces he’s quitting.

Her karate friends are excited for her high school karate future, but she tells them she’s quitting too. Not because Fuji quit before, but because she discovered the magic of love through shoujo romance manga, and has decided to stop following others and choose for herself who she should be, which is a cute girl who will fall in love with a kind, handsome boy.

AND SO IT CAME TO PASS…but obviously not right away. First, Shikimori applies the same ferocious, focused work ethic to becoming a cute girl that she applied to become good at everything else she’s ever tried—she’s an extraordinary person—and is prepared to completely rebrand herself at high school, starting with entrance exams.

It is here where she and Izumi first meet, the latter’s exam ticket having been caught by the wind and lodged on a high tree branch. Shikimori was worried about mussing her hair not 30 seconds before, but when she sees Izumi’s distraught face (similar to the face he wore while praying for a hero) she climbs that tree and gets him the ticket. He expresses his heartfelt gratitude, but she’s too worried he thinks she’s weird to accept it.

The two meet again on the first day of high school, having both passed the exams. He thanks her again, and proceeds to explain why what she did mattered so much to him, explaining how he’s always been unlucky. He also says he’s glad he got to see her again just as the sunlight and wind and cherry blossoms make him look extra kind and handsome, and Shikimori asks for his name with a face so intense it kinda frightens him.

Of course, Izumi come to love those faces of hers, to the extent that he’ll feel a little jealous when others get to see them. But it’s so nice to finally see what Shikimori was like in her earlier years, how she and Izumi met, and how they were so perfect for one another right from the start. Fuji surprising her with the lipstick she liked was a perfectly heartwarming closing note. She’ll wear it to look cute, but also to give her courage.

Vanitas no Carte – 24 (Fin) – Je l’ai choisi pour me tuer.

Last week’s cliffhanger is promptly resolved, as Vanitas ends up on top of Noé, but just can’t quite kill him. His blade remains an inch from Noé’s throat, which may as well be a mile, for it is a distance Vanitas simply cannot move, despite having just hypnotized himself to kill all vampires.

Because Noé won’t drink Vanitas’ blood and Vanitas won’t kill Noé, Misha decides to use his book to zombify more random Parisians, but things go pear-shaped when the book seemingly overloads and starts to devour Misha himself. He’s like the kid who stole his dad’s car, and ends up putting it in a ditch.

The clear unsung hero of this whole ordeal is Dominique, whose strongest side is able to overcome Misha’s control over her weakest side. The one thing she’d never do is hurt Noé, which means she can’t let herself die, since that would hurt him deeply. With color returned to her life, Domi flashes her gorgeous ice magic powers and neutralizes the zombified people and is even able to briefly restrain Misha.

Vanitas draws nearer when Misha calls for his big brother, but it’s just a trick to lower Vanitas’ guard. Fortunately, Noé is faster than Misha, blocking his killing strike, breaking his prosthetic blade and slashing his face, sending the boy into a tantrum. That’s when daddy comes…or rather granddaddy.

Of course, this gramps isn’t Misha or Vanitas’ gramps, but Domi and Louis’—the former Marquid de Sade, AKA The Shapeless One, AKA the Comte de Saint Germain (who is, of course, a real dude from history…and also, judging from the eyes, might be Murr?!). He’s the one who saved Misha’s life and gave him both a metal arm and the idea he could bring his father back. He’s apparently not done with him, as he takes Misha away through a tear in reality.

After that, the opening theme plays as an insert, and Noé awakens in bed to a cheerful Amelia informing him everybody’s safe and sound, and Vanitas is, of course, perched up on the roof. Noé goes up to meet him, and the two are soon joined by Misha and his metal dog. Vanitas says he, not Misha, was responsible for Luna’s death, and it was a mercy killing, for Luna was about to go completely out of control.

When Misha reaches a hand out to once again ask Vanitas to join him in trying to bring Luna back, Vanitas declines. He doesn’t care if using the books is slowly changing them into “something not human”; if he’s going to be killed, he chooses Noé to be the one to do it.

Misha makes sure to tell the two that Domi didn’t kill anyone—Domi is kind, and Misha likes kind people and thus doesn’t want her unjustly punished for her actions at the fair. Then he bounds off on his metal dog, leaving Vanitas, Noé, and the morning sun peaking through the Parisian clouds.

Vanitas is eager to investigate what Saint Germain is up to, but other than that it’s business as usual, with him continuing to serve as a doctor curing vampires of their curses. But while he’d performed these duties for years without anyone by his side (save those dhampirs from whom he’s kept a certain distance), now he has Noé, Jeanne, Domi, and others willing to help him help others…and keep him alive.

While it didn’t hit quite as hard for me as the conclusion of the previous Chloé d’Apchier arc, this was still a strong finale that helped Vanitas take a step out of his dark past and into a more hopeful future, while galvanizing his bonds with those who wish to share in that future. And there seems to be plenty of potential story material for a third season if Bones so desires.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 21 – Jetez un Coup d’oeil sous la Peau

This week segues nicely from the parting reveal of Domi as the culprit in the latest vampire attacks to the heartbreakingly tragic past events involving her, Louis, and Noé, this time from her perspective. In the aftermath of the bloodbath that claimed both Mina and Louis, Domi weeps at Noé’s bedside, blaming herself for involving Noé in trying to save Mina. Her sister Veronica lives up to the family name, pretending she never had a brother, and revealing that Domi and Louis were twins.

Veronica further twists the blade by saying the twin chosen to live was made on a whim, and thus wonders whether the right (i.e. more useful) twin was spared. Noé comes to and mistakes Domi for Louis, inadvertently compounding her belief that everyone would’ve preferred if she had died instead of Louis. She cut off all her hair and started dressing like Louis, trying to be what everyone wanted. Seeing her in this sorry state, Noé vowed to protect her at all costs from the darkness of their past.

Unfortunately, that past has re-surfaced thanks to the cheerful and mysterious white-haired lad, who introduces himself as Mikhail when Domi is out searching for Jeanne (presumably while Jeanne and the others were in Gévaudan, though I may not be right about that). Mikhail seems uniquely suited to bring out the pain in others, and uses it to take control of Domi.

Noé receives a note from Mikhail and arrives at the grounds of this world’s 1889 Exposition Universelle after dark, and finds Mikhail in front of a carousel and Domi standing atop a Ferris Wheel—two machines invented to imbue their riders with fun and joy. A third machine: a metal dog automaton, guards Mikhail, and he whips out his version of Vanitas’ book. Mikhail says if anyone harms him, Domi will jump, and introduces himself as Vanitas’ little brother, AKA Number 71.

Mikhail is here for one thing: Vanitas’ memories. He used Domi as bait to bring Noé to him, and will now use Noé to drink Vanitas’ blood and thereby gain those memories, including learning why Vanitas killed “father that day”. That Vanitas killed his dad comes as a shock to Noé; Mikhail can tell and concludes that even after all this time Noé must not know a damn thing about Vanitas. That’s hard to argue: it could be everything Noé knows is simply what Vanitas wants him to know.

Mikhail remedies that by pulling his shirt down (revealing the same spreading blue  malady that affects Vanitas) and offering his own blood for Noé to drink, making it a demand when Noé hesitates. When Jeanne learns Domi hasn’t been seen in three days she rushes to find her, but by then Noé’s fangs are already in Mikhail.

We flash back to Mikhail’s past, when she was in custody after her mother, a prostitute was found dead. Mikhail’s mom presented him as a girl and offered him to her best customers. He runs into a badly-wounded but still chipper Roland, who tells Mikhail he has a new home from this day. Roland is called away by Olivier, and Mikhail is suddenly grabbed and chloroformed.

When he comes to, he finds himself before the Marquiss Machina, and a boy he calls “Number 69″—a young Vanitas. Thus begins Noé’s long-awaited journey into his best friend’s murky past…but will they still be friends when Noé returns from that god-forsaken place? I see now why last week was so pleasant and lighthearted—it was a momentary breather the torrent of sadistic dread dished out in spades by this episode…and it’s only the beginning.

Vanitas no Carte – 20 – Juste Comme Vous Etes

This week is mostly an epilogue to the now-concluded Gévaudan arc, with both Vanitas’ and Jeanne’s associates dealing with the sudden reality that the two are now madly in love with each other. But because Noé is a big pretty dummy, he assumes something awful has happened to Vanitas, like a curse.

Vanitas’ half of the episode plays out much like one of my favorite bits from Kaguya-sama: Love is War (as reviewed by Zane) in which Kaguya is utterly convinced she has holes in her heart causing plain old lovesickness; her brain unable to comprehend what the heck her heart is even doing.

When a panciked Noé lists Vanita’s familiar symptoms, Orlok and his attendants throw them both out of his office without explanation—why bother explaining if these two are so dense they can’t see what’s blindingly obvious?

Vanitas runs off to contemplate things on a bridge, wallowing the whole time in unceasing affection for Jeanne. When a man walks past, explaining to his lover the very same symptoms Vanitas has, he still doesn’t quite get it, and runs of in a huff.

While running he happens to trip on a man sitting outside a café, who happens to be Roland, who invites him for a cup of joe and introduces him to Olivier. Desperate for advice, Vanitas asks Roland if he has any romantic experience; Roland says the guy he wants is Olivier, whom women love and men want to be. The two off-duty Chasseurs humor Vanitas by accepting that he’s talking about “a friend of his.”

This “friend” is experiencing this unyielding aching in “their” heart, preventing them from sleeping or thinking straight. But Vanitas is so out of sorts he dispenses with the “my friend” thing altogether. When Roland suggests that from what he’s heard, the woman feels the same way for him, Vanitas believes that to be ridiculous…why would anyone love him?

Meanwhile, back at Oriflamme Castle, Jeanne gives her report to Master Luca, hastening to add she left Gévaudan without learning where Chloé was bound, in case she were questioned later. She also reports that she now knows the sort of person Vanitas is, and how she can’t get him out of her mind. Just as she shines for him, he shines for her, the revulsion totally gone.

Luca can’t believe what he’s hearing, and is also quite a young man inexperienced in such matters, so he drags the blushing Jeanne to Domi, who is just aghast by this heretofore unseen version of Jeanne. Domi can understand her falling for her Noé…but Vanitas? She and Luca take her to the garden to discuss things “rationally”, but the more Jeanne speaks on the matter, the more it’s absolutely clear she loves Vanitas.

She even makes it quite clear she might not be able to stop herself from pouncing on him and consummating their love the moment she sees him again. While older than Luca, this passion is far beyond Domi’s tender slow-burn romance with Noé. Domi, true to her upbringing, says letter-writing is the first step to courtship, but Vanitas and Jeanne have already gone further than that.

Jeanne is also taking after her mother, and the way she kept pushing her dad down until he was hers, like a lioness bringing down a wildebeest. As shocked as Domi is, she is glad to see this side of Jeanne; a Jeanne that doesn’t need to be protected; who got back up after being trodden upon by her past. But her thoughts also go to a darker place without warning…more on that later.

That night, Noé joins Vanitas on the rooftop watching Paris glimmer and sulking. He tells Vanitas that Orlok’s attendants reported a new string of vampire attacks in the city that might spell a new curse-bearer on the loose. Alas, Vanitas is still in no emotional state to think about the next “case study”.

That said, Noé feels he has to say something, and that this time is the right time to say it: back in Gévaudan he met someone (Astolfo) who hated vampires with all his heart. He believes here but by the grace of God—or “the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings—goes Vanitas. He’s just glad Vanitas wasn’t the vampire-hating Chasseur he had to face down in that forest. He likes Vanitas “just the way he is”. And if Vanitas can be liked, he can be loved…and is, by Jeanne!

As for that weird moment when Domi got fixated on Noé in her thoughts, well…looks like she’s the culprit in the nighttime attacks. But it isn’t by her will: she’s being controlled by a young-looking cheerful curse-bearer with short white hair. This person is frustrated that Domi has not brought them Noé, and so is moving on to Plan B: using Domi as bait. Looks like we have our setup for the remaining episodes of the cour.

While the Gévaudan arc was a nifty and action-packed piece of time and reality-bending drama, I’ve been on record as saying I’m just as happy (if not moreso) by looser episodes like this where everyone is simply hanging around. Vanitas’ obliviousness and the reactions of the people he and Jeanne interact with make for great comedy. Of course, as the last moments show, the fun could only last so long…

Vanitas no Carte – 19 – Quelqu’un avec qui se Blottir

The prison Chloé has found herself in for centuries was never entirely of her own making. Its bars were forged in part by her love of her father, and his lifelong devotion to returning her to human form. As much as she loved her father, the human Chloé d’Apchier he loved was gone and could never come back. Because of this, the vampire Chloé always felt alone, even before her father and the rest of the d’Apchiers died.

Astolfo is also in a prison, albeit one that doesn’t also hold everyone else: his anger over being betrayed and grief over the slaughter of his sister and family set him on a laser-stright “Kill All Vampires” path. Noé may have suffered equal or greater torment, but has Vanitas by his side to tell him not to lose himself in that rage, even if he can’t back down.

…But back to Chloé, who only got more and more sympathetic and compelling as her arc progressed. Within the prison built in part by the loneliness of a father who couldn’t accept or love what she’d become, she chose to stay there, but now that it’s crumbling around he she has a choice: stay within its bars and vanish into oblivion, or take the hands of the two people who do love her for who she is—Jean-Jacques and Jeanne—and let them pull her to freedom. Chloé wisely chooses the latter.

As J-J and Jeanne pull her from the black cage, Vanitas uses the book—and begs for Luna’s strength—to obliterate that cage and the false world of endless winter around it, as well as reveal Chloé’s true name: Canorus, “she who makes music with snow flowers.” As the cursed world vanishes to reveal blue skies and patches of astérique flowers, Astolfo finds some relief in the arms of his senpai, Roland.

Chloé finds herself in one of these astérique patches, and her first action is one of anger, slapping and then uppercutting J-J for letting himself get so brusied and bloodied. But once that passes, her eyes fill with tears of relief and joy. The flowers remind her of when she looked up at the sky with lil’ Jeanne, thinking if she could die, it would be on that day. But now she wants to live, and J-J is there to love, accept, and be there for her, warts and all.

Seeing Chloé and J-J embrace, Jeanne’s thoughts turn to Vanitas, and when she finds him, she can’t hold back her relief, gratitude, or joy. Their relationship may have started out fraught, but all Vanitas has done since then is what he said he’d do. She thought Chloé was beyond saving, but he showed her there was another way. He also saved her from the regret of not having saved Chloé befoe. Jeanne celebrates by lustily drinking Vanitas’ blood, and then planting a pure yet passionate kiss on his cheek.

Nobody may yet live happily ever after. There’s the looming threat of Ruthven’s control over Noé to kill Vanitas, Vanita’s spreading affliction, and the consequences for Chloé, Jeanne, and others by the powers that be. But right now, none of that matters. Jeanne’s radiant smile says it all—Everyone can relax, at least for a little while, with the clear blue sky above them the pale blue flowers below, and the ones they love beside them.

When Vanitas and Misha were little, Luna told them that everyone, be they human or vampire, is alone, and most of them go their entire lives never understanding themselves. That’s why they reach out for someone to snuggle with and keep them warm in a cold world; who will accept and love them for who they are, and thus no longer feel as lonely. Chloé and Jean-Jeaques have each other, while Vanitas now has two such someones in Jeanne and Noé.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 03 – Free as a Cloud

Akebi Komichi isn’t trying to stand out, she’s just being the best damn Akebi Komichi she can be. That Akebi is bereft of guile, devoid of ego…and runs fastest while barefoot. So fast, in fact, she posts the best time in P.E., and attracts three upperclassmen who want her to join their sports clubs.

Those upperclassmen burst in on Akebi’s class just before the bell, and have to be set straight by the class president, Tanigawa Kei. When she comes over to thank her, Akebi mentions how beautiful Tanigawa’s legs and skin are. Tanigawa isn’t sure what to make of Akebi quite yet, but she knows one thing: Akebi keeps talking to her.

After Akebi’s other three friends head home, she runs into Tanigawa again, and shares her earbuds with her as they listen to her favorite idol’s music, music Tanigawa is amazed Akebi can dance to. But Akebi doesn’t think anything she does is amazing; just the product of hard work, practice, and love of Fukumoto Miki-chan.

Tanigawa is amazed though, by how easily Akebi can do things she wants to do. It makes her want to come out of her shell a little, if only for Akebi. When they exchange numbers, Tanigawa even considers sending her new friend a selfie of her legs…and torso. She even ends up sending this rather risqué pic, albeit accidentally when her mom startles her. But Akebi is ecstatic to receive it, and believes Tanigawa has a real talent for photos. It’s another lovely new friendship forged.

Due to Akebi’s considerable athletic attributes, a sports club seems like a no-brainer. But after spending the day with Kojou checking out all the clubs,  she’s still not able to pick one.

She and Kojou are caught in the rain, and upon finding shelter, Kojou gives Akebi her warm blazer, which her thin sailor uniform lacks. Akebi finds one of Kojou’s book in a pocket, and decides to read to Kojou like she does to her little sister as they wait out the rain.

Kojou is impressed with Akebi’s ability to bring the characters in the book to life—she even does all the distinct voices like a rakugo performer—but it’s been a long day and she eventually nods off. She wakes up with her head resting in Akebi’s lap, looks up and sees Akebi wearing her glasses, and for a moment thinks it’s her mom.

The next day, Akebi learns Tanigawa has chosen the photography club, while Akebi announces that she’s joined the drama club. It’s a place where she’ll be free to employ all of her acquired talents, while utilizing her innate ability to draw attention and admiration.

Just about every frame of Akebi is a joy to watch, and not just due to the intense love, care, and detail put into the production by Cloverworks. I can’t stop watching because Akebi is such a gregarious, magnetic presence. She really is Cardcaptor Sakura without the card capturing!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo 24th Ward – 01 (First Impressions) – The Third Way

Aoi Shuuta, Suidou Kouki, and Akagi Ran were once-inseperable childhood friends, with Shuuta in particular training to one day become a “hero”. Then one horrible night the school burned down, and Kouki’s sister Asumi died saving the life of a classmate. When he most needed to be a hero, Shuuta was too late to save her.

Fast-forward a year, and RGB have graduated and gone their separate ways, only to reunite for the memorial held at the one-year anniversary of the fire. We learn Ran leads a guerilla multimedia group, standing in cheeky defiance of the cold order represented by Kouki’s wealthy businessman and politician father, the 24th Ward’s mayor. Shuuta…helps out at his folks’ bakery, but is otherwise listless.

When the three end up convening by chance at their mutual friend Mari’s for okonomiyaki, the three lads’ phones suddenly ring at the same time. It’s no ordinary call, traveling up into their ear canals and “hacking” their brains with the voice and image of the dearly departed Asumi, who tells them to “guide the future”, showing them two scenarios: allowing a runaway train to kill someone caught on the tracks, or switch the track and derail the train, killing 150 people. Classic Trolley Problem.

In an added instance of the universe being particularly cruel, the person who ends up caught on the tracks is Mari, who was taking her puppy to the vet when she got caught up in the crowds surrounding the ceremony celebrating the new fully-automated train. The pup got free and ran straight onto the tracks, and Mari loses her phone while pursuing it.

Suddenly realizing they feel lighter and tasks come easier to them, the team of RGB pools their skills and resources to avoid either of the futures not-Asumi presented, and instead create a third in which no one is hurt. Suidou, the politician’s son and intern for the 24th’s emergency service SARG, relies on his dad’s trusty underling Tsuzuragawa to track him down and give him a motorcycle so he can rush to his father and make sure he decides not to risk derailing the train.

Ran, the hacker of the trio, chugs a dozen energy drinks and manages to activate the train’s emergency brakes, which are designed to stop in 600 meters no matter what—an instance of the artist actually saluting government efficiency and rules. He’s helped by Kinako, a chipper member of his guerilla art/media team.

Finally, there’s Shuuta, who is simply extremely fast and strong; the muscle of the group. Whatever not-Asumi’s call did to them, it enhanced his already considerable athletic ability, enabling him to basically Spider-Mans/Neos his way to the train long before anyone else can. Kouki and Ran know this of their friend, and after they do everything they can, they leave the rest to him.

Shuuta is very nearly derailed form his mission himself when he’s suddenly dropped back in the middle of that hellish night when he was too late to save Asumi. But he shakes it off, accelerates ahead of the train, then kicks off and launches himself at Mari, plucking both her and her dog out of harms way. Before Mari even knows what the heck is going on, Shuuta runs off, asking her not to tell anyone he was there.

After this first heroic mission dropped in their hands by the mysterious not-Asumi, the three visit the real Asumi’s grave to pay their respects, only to end up in an argument that highlights how far apart they’ve become in the ensuing year. Shuuta wants to believe Asumi is still alive, but just saying that makes Asumi’s brother Kouki want to punch him. Ran, the artist who nevertheless isn’t about to believe in magic, agrees with Kouki; Asumi is gone. But then…what the heck was that call?

We return to the opening moments of the double-length episode, where something is going on involving the somehow-preserved brain or soul of Asumi … or something. The framing device with the strange, fantastical machinery appeals to me less than the prospect of watching three scarred old friends who couldn’t be more different come together to make their beloved 24th Ward a better place…and possibly solve the Asumi mystery. This was a strong start to an intriguing new winter series.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 09 – First Job

Lugh may be busy planning his first official assassination job, but his mom Esri is thinking bigger-picture. For instance, she’s excited by the fact that he’s “growing up” as dutifully reported to her by Tarte, and also has some fine young noble ladies lined up, one of whom she hopes he’ll marry and giver her grandchildren before she’s too old.

This is historically typical aristocratic mom stuff, but it’s also clear this isn’t just duty for Esri. There’s no one she loves more in this world than her son Lugh, and she only wants happiness for him. If that means not marrying a noblewoman and having a family with Tarte, so be it. She becomes a granny either way.

While Esri is looking forward to Lugh’s future as a Zaddy, Lugh and Tarte pay a visit to Pisear, the second-largest merchant town after Milteu and also the prime market for Count Azba Venkaur’s drugs. They both detect that the innocent girl selling gooseberry jam in a dark alley is actually being forced to sell the drug-laced jam to pay for drugs for her addicted mom.

Lugh and Tarte beat up the low-level thugs controlling the girl, and Lugh uses magic to lift the girl’s mom’s physical dependence, but he knows he can only do so much without dealing with the root cause of this drug problem: the Count bringing in the drugs to begin with.

While Lugh and Tarte took a street-level view of how bad things were, Maha used her not inconsiderable intelligence resources on Venkaur’s operation. Then she accompanies Lugh-as-Illig Balor as the directors of Orna, which just so happens to be the Count’s wife Bridgette’s favorite brand. On the wagon ride to the Venkaur estate, Maha asks Lugh if he’s made any “progress” with Tarte.

A month on her own has made Maha even more confident and direct, and she makes it clear to Lugh that she and Tarte don’t see Lugh as just a brother, friend, or young master any more, and it’s time for him to look at them in a different way. Maha, for one, is biding her time until she becomes utterly indispensable to Lugh, at which point she’ll be on equal footing to negotiate an arrangement. Call it the “To Big to Fail” strategy.

They arrive to find Countess Bridgette to be an exceedingly warm and lovely woman for someone of such high station, and Lugh gets to shake the hand of his target, Count Azba. As the evening rolls on and he charms his mostly female guests of the Orna-branded party, Lugh catches glimpses of both Azba and Bridgette. He really gets to know the people whose lives he’s going to ruin.

Azba is a bad guy who sells drugs that destroy people and families and the very social fabric atop which he stands. He doesn’t deserve the pure love of his wife Bridgette, but he has it anyway. Lugh doesn’t want to hurt Bridgette, who never hurt him and knows nothing of her husband’s dealings. But he has a job to do for the betterment of the kingdom.

Mind you, he doesn’t do it because it’s his job. He’s no longer the finely-honed but ultimately will-less tool he was in his past life. He chooses who to kill, and after seeing what his crimes do to people, he’s chosen Azba as his first target. Moments after taking the shot and ending his life from several hundred meters away, Lugh’s magnifying vision lingers on the balcony until he sees a heartbroken Bridgette run out, grab Azba’s lifeless body, staining her face (covered in Orba-brand cosmetics) and her fancy clothes with the blood of the man she loved most in the world.

And Lugh feels something, after having never felt anything after assassinating in his old life. A distinct and strong pang of pain. He hastens to clarify he won’t regret this first kill, but he won’t forget it either. When he one day looks deep into the eyes of his sons and daughters—whoever their mother may be—a part of him will always see the blood-stained face of the poor Countess Bridgette Venkaur.

The World’s Finest Assassin – 08 – The Only Way to Live

Last week aptly documented Lugh’s happy and successful life as Illig Balor with his right-hand women Tarte and Maha. Now two years have passed. While before Maha was powerless to save her friends from criminals, here she keeps an eye out for them when they’re out late and dispatches their would-be muggers with ease.

Lugh has learned that given a chance (and adequate resources), Maha has not only become someone who can protect herself and her friends, but thrive as a merchant. We learn that the shop purchased as the HQ of his now booming cosmetic brand was the first shop Maha’s father opened when he was a merchant. Both Maha and her friends are eternally grateful for Illig’s help giving them their new happy and successful lives.

But for Illig, this life is now over and it’s time to return home and to being Lugh Tuatha Dé. He leaves his thriving business in Maha’s capable hands, while Maha asks that if her Prince can spare a day a month for Dia, surely he can come see her sometime as well. Maha and Tarte also leave on warm, happy, and mutually respecting terms. They don’t see themselves as rivals for Lugh’s heart, because in their view there’s plenty of that heart to go around.

On the wagon ride home they run into some wolf monsters, which Tarteuses the skills Lugh taught her to easily defeat without Lugh having to lift a finger. Once they reach Tuatha Dé lands and he sees the new soybean fields, he gets out of the wagon to receive a warm welcome—and a big basket of produce—from his adoring people.

Unlike Maha and Tarte, they may not know there’s a lot of calculation in his behavior, but even if they did, like Maha and Tarte it’s his actions, not the motivations behind them, that would likely matter most to them.

Has the assassin from our world who is now Tuatha Dé become more sentimental now that he’s been in this world for fourteen years? It’s hard to say, but if he has, it hasn’t softened his edge one bit. When his father reveals that one of the most important reasons for sending him to be a Balor was to give his son the choice he no longer has: to walk away from the thankless life of an assassin anyone in the kingdom could betray and abandon at any time.

Lugh’s answer is a firm no, for the simple reason that he isn’t a Balor, or a merchant: he’s an assassin and a Tuatha Dé. Honor and duty to the kingdom mean nothing to him, but the happiness of the people he cares about means everything. Also, he mentions that he’s in love with Dia, and can’t marry her if he abandons his noble station to be a merchant. It’s another calculated move, but one that doesn’t preclude that he is in love with Dia, and simply calling it something more pragmatic.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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