RWBY: Ice Queendom – 04 – Her World, Her Rules

If you’re going to go three weeks between episodes (since the first three were available in week one) following with a character-centric bottle episode is probably the way to go. We don’t see how Weiss is discovered or how the rest of her team takes her before Shion; instead we’re right beside Ruby inside Weiss’ nightmare world as she tries to find her bearings and rescue her still-new comrade.

She arrives in a harsh winter wonderland with an psychedelic sky, but at least she can use her weapon as a snowboard, and spends coins in order to communicate with Shion, create shortcut doors, and bring up the map of where she’s been. Considering she only has a finite amount of coins, I’d say she’s actually way too liberal with their use early on.

After witnessing a Schnee-brand train being attacked and derailed by White Fang, Ruby follows the tracks to an Orwellian nightmare of a city, packed with statues and portraits of Weiss’ father. The city is populated by a bunch of patrolling robots who salute with “Big Nicholas” (instead of Big Brother) and laborers who might as well be automatons with their highly structured, joyless days working to fatten their boss’ pockets.

When blending in doesn’t work (I mean look at her), Ruby tries to climb the vast walls of the city’s central tower, but is pushed back by magical brambles. She then encounters a “Silly Prison” for “dummies” depicted as members of JNPR who meow kind of like cats a a pet shop. Ruby is a little disappointed Weiss sees their comrades like this.

As for Weiss herself, she’s been given an Esdeath-like makeover. Her sister is a bat who alerts her to Ruby’s movements, while her always-looming father orders her to take care of the intruder. Wanted posters appear instantaneously, and before long Ruby is cornered and finally comes face to face with Weiss.

As you’d expect, Weiss isn’t in any hurry to go anywhere, and in any case regards Ruby with nothing but disgust and contempt. Seeing all this trippy shit inside Weiss’ head, Ruby is compelled to believe that all the time Weiss was trying to make nice, she was actually harboring hatred for everyone else, including her.

Shion tells her it’s not that easy; that the Nightmare itself casts a sinister shadow over everything. Ruby is an intruder, and so the Grimm will use everything at its disposal from Weiss’ mind to throw Ruby off her game. But it’s clear that Weiss’ existence prior to joining the rest of RWBY has been harsh, cutthroat, and above all devoid of love and warmth. Hopefully Ruby can heat things up a little and bring the ice princess back from the brink.

Call of the Night – 02 – Not Just Any Neck Will Do

Kou and Nazuna met quite by chance, so it’s not surprising the next night when Kou looks everywhere and can’t find her. They set neither a time nor a place. Fortunately fortune smiles upon him as Nazuna eventually drops in on him, saying she was busy looking for some rando to drink blood from.

Since Nazuna told Kou before that drinking blood is like eating and “copulating” at the same time, he’s a little miffed that she’d copulate with just anyone, but she tells him that’s just what vampires do. Different necks are like different kinds of food to them.

What matters is they found each other, and Kou wants to make sure it’s easier next time, so asks if they can exchange numbers. Only problem is, Nazuna doesn’t have a phone. Well, she does, but she apparently bought it in the 80s, because it’s almost the size of her boombox.

Nazuna led Kou to her place to find said gigantic phone, and once they’re there, she soon plops into bed after a long night of searching for necks to bite. Kou isn’t sure what to do until she opens the covers so he’ll join her. But the prospect of her sucking other necks sticks with him.

That’s when Nazuna confesses she was looking for him all night too…she was just too embarrassed to say it. Kou accepts her apology, and unlike the last time when he whipped out his neck willy-nilly, here he gets the timing right, and she leans in for a drink.

Both the character design and Amamiya Sora’s voice acting really nail that combination of predation and vulnerability has always made vampires so fascinating. As she dozes next to him, happy as a clam, Kou is relieved and happy not that she finds his blood tasty, but because they both felt the same way: they wanted to see each other again.

The next night they have an equally hard time finding each other, but the inevitably do, and Kou presents her with a solution to her problem that avoids her having to buy a (new) cell phone: a pair of receiver watches. While a desperately dorky thing, I’m not surprised that Nazuna is into it and wants to play with them.

This leads to Kou telling her a story of how he bought a pair when he was younger, even though he didn’t have a friend. Instead of making one, he hid the watch hoping someone would find it, but while it was eventually taken, he never worked up the courage to use it to call that person (or rodent).

Nazuna is right that it’s a bleak story on its face, but Kou is also right that being around people can make some people more lonely than being on their own. The two dorks proceed to have a grand old time communicating and laughing together on their watches, culminating with Kou remarking that they’re like a couple that just started out.

Nazuna puts the perfect capper on the evening by giving Kou another aerial ride over the city lights, this time to a new insert song. At times, the pair look like they’re dancing in the sky, ’cause they kinda are. The puppy love is strong here, and these two are simply the cutest.

Nazuna lands them on the school roof, and even though Kou hates school during the day and has not been going, the night makes it a more enjoyable place to be. Nazuna walks up to him and casually sucks his blood for the first time outside her apartment—and at school, no less! As she puts it, “Talk about indecent behavior!”

But while Nazuna is super casual about drinking his blood, showing a lot of skin, and saying “copulate”, Kou soon picks up that when it comes to love and romance, she gets super-embarrassed, which is how Kou “gets back” at her stolen neck bite by calling her by her first name and adding “-chan”, which turns her beet-red and has her covering her face with her awesome cloak.

On the way home just before daybreak, Kou wonders if the blue receiver watch he left atop the mailboxes is still out there somewhere. Just as he’s dismissing that idea, he gets a signal from his red receiver watch, and a girl in a school uniform and messy dark hair calls him by his name…

Call of the Night – 01 (First Impressions) – Carpe Noctem

Now that’s what I’m freakin’ talkin’ about! Call of the Night is a pitch-perfect vampire rom-com from start to finish with a keen understanding of how to set tone and atmosphere, and the entire episode takes place over a single night—one of my favorite settings, being a night owl myself.

The infrequent scenes from Yamori Kou’s ordinary middle school life are shot relatively normally, but the light (and indeed, normalness) of those scenes feels oppressive, while the sprawling, shimmering night feels like a release. Kou doesn’t get things like “crushes” and “confessions”, but this place? This time? He gets it.

Surfing the web for remedies to his insomnia, many bring up booze as a surefire way to eventually lose consciousness, so he walks up to a very brightly-lit beer vending machine, and just as he’s making his selection, a sinister figure wreathed in shadow sidles up to him, questioning his legal age to purchase alcohol.

But the girl is only playing around; she has no intention of snitching. Indeed, she tags along with Kou as his night continues, passing by three older dudes who took the advice of the internet and got rek’d. Kou is awed by how she can so casually high-five strangers, but that’s what the night is all about: it’s a time of freedom; of casting off inhibitions and living.

When Kou is starting to feel a little tired, the quirky lilac-haired girl invites him up to her place, a sparse studio with a futon on the floor. The girl disrobes—as in, removes her robe, not all her clothes—but reveals, well, a revealing crop top, which catches the romance-averse Kou off-guard and makes him wonder what this girl’s intentions are.

She tells him: there’s nothing in the world wrong with two people simply sleeping in the same bed together. Even though the weird girl remains very much awake and basically stares at him the whole time, Kou can’t help but feel far more relaxed with her beside him than no one at all.

Kou is also good at pretending to be asleep; so good that the girl assumes he is, the light suddenly changes from deep purplish blue to warmer fuchsia, she bares her fangs and sinks them into Kou’s neck. For those not paying attention, yes: this chick is a vampire.

If a series is going to spend so much time at night, it had better know what to do with light, shadow, and color, and boy does Call of the Night ever know. Some scenes even reminded me of Fantasia. When Kou wakes up with blood on his neck, her fib about a giant mosquito doesn’t hold water (or blood).

That said, he keeps his head as the girl causally admits what she is, though he wonders why he hasn’t become a vampire. Here’s where the two find they share something in common, besides a love of the night: while some vampires go around making a whole mess of offspring, she’d…rather not. Just like Kou would rather not participate in all the junior high drama.

Perhaps it’s because she feels as comfortable around him as he does around her, the girl lets slip a truth about vampires: one way to become one is to have your blood sucked by a vampire you’re in love with. One thing I love about this girl is that she can get just as frazzled talking about this stuff as Kou.

She redirects the conversation to ask him how his first night “taking a step outside the norm” felt, out here in the place furthest he can hope to get from the things he thinks are a pain. He asks her formally to let him fall in love with her, but she promises nothing. She’ll just keep sucking his blood; if he wants to fall for her, he can go right ahead.

Now that they’re in agreement, they exchange names—her’s is Nanakusa Nazuna—and she resolves to “infuse more night” into him and his blood, which she maintains tastes best at night, just before going to bed. To that end, Nazuna kicks him off the roof of her high-rise apartment building…only to catch him in the blink of an eye long before he hits the pavement.

Thence, Nazuna princess carries Kou on aerial tour of the late night cityscape, flipping him upside down for an even more unique perspective. As he simply sits there in her arms in quiet but intense awe at what’s happening, Nazuna seems to take a great deal of pleasure from it as well.

And that’s the key to this: for as traditionally horny as vampires are depicted and as revealing as Nazuna’s garb is, this is a surprisingly sweet and innocent love story in the works. It’s about two outsiders in their happy place, staying up late and embracing the freedom of the night. With this banger of a premiere, the summer season has finally kicked off in earnest!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 20 – Odd Man Out

Back when the explosion that shatters the Greyrat family occurred, Lilia has the foresight to grab Aisha and hold her tight for the expanding blast. She ends up teleported into the water, but manages to swim to the surface before she and her daughter drown. She makes her way on foot to Shirone, only for Prince Pax to capture and imprison them once he learns Lilia knows Roxy.

While Rudeus intends for the Ruijerd figurines he’s crafted to improve the Superd’s reputation, this week they actually come in handy rescuing him from Pax’s clutches. Pax’s older brother Prince Zanoba, you see, happens to be a figurine otaku the likes of which Rudy knows well from his old life. Wisely Rudy only owns up to being the artist once he realizes Zanoba wants to praise him and become his apprentice.

Zanoba doesn’t care about Roxy like his perverted brother does, just the figurine of her, which we learn has a detachable clothes. As such, he cares nothing for Pax’s plots, and so is immediately an ally to Rudy by default. Meanwhile, we see Ruijerd, Eris, and Aisha’s side of things as they work with Shirone royal guards to free their families, whom Pax has hostage to secure their loyalty.

That shortsighted strategy backfires as expected, first when Rudy tells Zanoba to lower the barrier and Zanoba grabs Pax out of bed by the head and presents him to Rudy, revealing Zanoba is a “Blessed Child” with superhuman strength. Ginger is Pax’s last line of defense, but when she learns her family is safe, she turns on Pax, informing him she first swore loyalty to Zanoba to begin with.

Shortly after Zanoba and Ginger free Rudy, Ruijerd returns from freeing Ginger and the soldiers’ loved ones, along with Lilia, who is immensely happy to be reunited with both Rudy and Aisha. Basically, Rudy didn’t actually have to do anything to get out of his latest predicament, other than make that figuring of Roxy years ago. Everything else kind of fell into place.

Later, Lilia gives Rudy a big hug, along with the box containing Roxy’s underwear and a pendant Sylphiette made for him. Also, Aisha wants to join the “Kennel Master” on his continuing adventures, thus saving her from the “perverted clutches” of her half-brother.

After Rudy gives her his Dead End head protector, she either connects the dots about him actually being her half-brother, or decides to drop the charade. Either way, with Zenith and Sylphiette still missing, Rudy can go forward knowing at least one of his little sisters likes him!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 19 – The Man-God’s Fast One

Rudeus appears once again in his original form from his own world before the Man-God  Hitogami, a year after their last meeting. Rudy decides once again to let the Man-God guide him to his next objective, agreeing to trust him in exchange for helping find Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha. While we can’t yet say Hitogami has steered Rudy wrong, his true motivations remain unknown. Is he earnestly trying to help Rudy, or just seeking entertainment?

After much vomiting over the side of a ship, Rudy, along with Eris and Ruijerd, arrive at last at the Central Continent, and the capital of the kingdom of Shirone. As has now become commonplace, the “OP” consists of a sequence of vistas of the new land, along with a new song to accompany it. It’s big, it’s grand, and it’s awesome. It’s a city I’d love to spend weeks exploring.

Of course, Rudy doesn’t have time for that; he has a family to locate and rescue. Going off the vision Hitogami gave him, he searches the city for Lilia and Aisha, and finds the latter, now six years old, being bothered by city guards. Rudy uses his incantation-less magic to bear both him and Aisha away from the guards, and just like that, he’s reunited with a sibling who was only a baby when last he saw her.

Unlike Norn, Aisha is friendly with Rudy…but only because she’s not aware that he’s actually her older brother, whom she’s certain is an awful pervert due to Roxy’s underwear he’d been keeping that she found one day. It’s a little sad that Lilia taught her daughter not to rely on his brother, but Rudy follows the Man-God’s advice to use an alias rather than reveal his true connection to Aisha.

With Aisha safely under Eris and Ruijerd’s careful watch, Rudy accepts the invitation of Ginger York, a member of the seventh prince of Shirone’s royal guard, who escorts him to the castle of Shirone. He’s under the impression Ginger is taking him to see Roxy, who has been serving the prince, and is excited to see his master for the first time in seven years.

Alas, it’s only a trap. Lilia is indeed in the Shirone castle, the captive of Pax, the seventh prince.  But Rudy ends up falling down a hole into a king-class barrier meant for Roxy. Pax is determined to lure Roxy back so he can capture and have his way with her. Since Lilia wasn’t sufficient bait, he’ll use Rudy instead.

It’s understandable that, now that he finds himself in this predicament after following Hitogami’s instructions pretty much to the letter, Rudy considers the possibility the Man-God played a trick on him. But to what end? Is Rudy really trapped? I doubt it; a trap intended for Roxy means Rudy, who has far surpassed Roxy in magical ability, should have no trouble escaping it.

The problem is, Lilia is currently Prince Pax’s hostage. Rudy can’t act carelessly lest any harm come to Aisha’s mother. I don’t foresee Pax being a credible threat for long—I mean look at him—but at the moment Rudy does seem to be in a rather sticky situation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 06 – Gettin’ Tsige With It

Tsukimichi starts out rather dry with some TenSura-style sitting around talking, but last week’s cliffhanger is nicely solved as Rembrandt gravely underestimates Makoto. But even here Tsukimichi pulls off a nice trick, as Rembrandt isnt a haughty blowhard but just a guy who is desperate for the materials to make the Ambrosia that aids his cursed wife and daughters. When his employees hear that Makoto has enough Ruby Eyes for all three, they all rush in to tearfully congratulate him.

Makoto’s productive visit to Rembrandt leads to him officially signing up for the Merchant’s Guild, for which there is both a written and practical exam. Fortunately, the education in this isekai is far below the modern Japanese standard, so Makoto aces the written exam with ease. He also has no problem producing the rare items he’s tasked with procuring in the practical exam, thanks to his high-level wagon fellowship.

Just as Makoto is trying out what looks like a beer but turns out to be…banana, we abruptly cut to Tomoe’s little excursion in errantry, exposing her bandaged bosom as she poses over a massive Gain Crab she slaughtered with as much ease as Makoto slaughtered the Merchant’s Guild tests. It’s good to see that she’s not always thinking about where Makoto is or what he’s doing, but perfectly happy doing her own thing out in the isekai.

Tomoe is vibeing so hard on her historical drama reenactment, she returns to the Demiplane without so much of an “FYI” message to Makoto—who is telepathically linked, after all. Her giant crab feast is interrupted by a summons to the library from Emma, who wants her and Mio to work on translating Makoto’s many memories. In doing so, Mio becomes an anime and tokusatsu otaku, just as Tomoe became a historical drama otaku.

But despite Tomoe and Mio being like oil and water, they both agree on one key thing: the Young Master needs to get laid. Makoto is resolutely disinterested, averting his eyes from the two loosening their robes on the two inn beds and content with sleeping on what looks like Fushi’s chair from To Your Eternity. Perhaps it’s because, as the ED seems to indicate, they remind him so much of his sisters back home.

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 05 – Ruby Eyes and Caveman Meat

With Zetsuya left utterly destroyed by Tomoe and Mio’s OP one-upmanship, they, along with Makoto, Toa, Rinon, and a “fellowship” of other adventurers (an elf, a dwarf, and a dude) pile into a wagon and head for the next human town, the less feral Tsige.

While stopping at an guild outpost Makoto manages to convince Tomoe of the merit of becoming a “knight-errant”, or ronin, and she heads off on her own, never to be seen again!

Tomoe would be a huge loss if the other characters both old and new couldn’t hold their own, but they totally can. Toa’s penchant for graphically dissecting defeated monsters while looking exactly like Hasegawa haunts Makoto, while a Mio without a Tomoe to snipe at is still jockeying for her master’s attention…though she deems Rinon “a charming little girl” for assuming Mio and Makoto are dating.

Makoto and his new friends are reluctant to part once arriving at Tsige, so they have a big celebratory feast at a blue-collar tavern of Toa’s choosing. Perhaps due to him being served one too many orders of  Brazen Youngster-Style Primeval Meat, Mio’s dreams of a steamy night alone with Master are dashed when he hits the hay and falls right to sleep. There’s also the fact that he’s just a kid, and has eyes only for Hasegawa or her isekai equivalent.

Thanks to the use of Mist Gates, Makoto and Mio return to the Demiplane where a far more confident and forthright Emma is waiting for them, along with Mini-Tomoe, who also has no idea where her counterpart is. I like how Makoto obviously isn’t worried about Tomoe (except perhaps whether she’ll destroy any other towns), but he does seem to miss her towards the end.

So did I towards the end, but like Makoto I was sufficiently distracted by the lively goings-on quickly of his expanding Demiplane empire, including that one grizzled dwarf who is absolutely hell-bent on creating a garment or accessory that will kill Makoto instantly. He’s got a long way to go!

On the way to Tsige Makoto uses his trusty bow to swiftly deal with some pretty rare monsters, who drop valuable ruby eyes that the Rembrandt Trading Company is looking for. The only problem is, Makoto has heard some ill rumors about misfortune befalling anyone who deals with Rembrandt.

Thankfully, this does not dissuade Makoto from doing a deal with them anyway, though as soon as he arrives he is summarily rebuffed. Perhaps he needs a bit of Tomoe’s memory-altering powers…or maybe he’s going to try to negotiate his way to a profit without the many OP tricks at his disposal. Either way, Makoto & Co.’s journey has never not been extremely fun, zippy, and more often than not, hilarious.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S., the show has now cycled through three distinct EDs. This one went back to showing Makoto and his sisters growing up, which is very sweet and uplifting. My favorite, however, continues to be Tomoe and Mio’s shred-tastic power metal cover of the first episode’s Enka-style ending, as seen below:

That’s the good shit.

To Your Eternity – 05 – A Family

Parona frees March, Fushi, and the old lady Pioran, but before they escape the prison, she wants to cut off a chunk of “Oniguma-sama” as proof to Ninnanah he was defeated. She even has a wolf toy ready to placate March, along with the justification that it will save the lives of many girls.

But March, who had just washed the great bear’s wounds and watched him die, won’t allow it. So Parona reconsiders. She’ll convince the villagers some other way—one that doesn’t require another life.

Parona proves as bad a wagon driver as she is an archer, but thanks to her asking March what she wants to do when she becomes a grown-up, it offers March a chance to set a death flag or three. Right on time, the casually relentless Hayase and her Yamone warriors close in on their fleet donkeys.

Hayase assures them she’ll spare their lives if they give up the dog, but Fushi is family, so that ain’t gonna happen. Parona gives a valiant effort to fight them off, but she has to be saved from an arrow by March, who declares “I can do something too” before saving her beloved husband.

Immediately after March is shot, Fushi leaps towards Hayase, transforming in mid-air from wolf to giant bear, wounds and all, and rakes her across the face. Then we take a look back at how Parona and March met. Parona watched from a distance as March played with her fingers in the dirt, imagining them as her kids.

When March approached her wondering why she was always alone, Parona presented her with a doll she made, and March returns the favor with a “thank you meal” that, while inedible, Parona still “eats” and voices how delicious it is. March suggests they become a family; her new doll can be their kid, she’ll be Mommy, and Parona will be Daddy.

Fast-forward back to the wagon, and March is fading fast. Parona finds another “thank-you meal” with which March was going to surprise her. March asks Parona to become a mommy in her place, then asks if Fushi is near, and as he causes a rampage in the city, Parona says that he is. Then March draws her last breath.

Between this and Fruits Basket’s tearjerker earlier today, I’ve gone through half a big box of tissues crying my eyes out. But Parona wears a smile as she approaches Fushi and tells him to stop; there’s no longer any need to fight.  He returns to human form, while Parona finds Hayase lying in a pile of rubble, wounded but alive. She picks up a nearby broken blade, telling March “Let’s go home together.”

In the space between life and death, March envisions returning to her village with Parona and leaping into the arms of her elated parents. She dreams of growing into a beautiful young woman with lots of stuffed “kids” made by Parona. But then March notices this isn’t really happening, and that she’s not really there, or anywhere. She doesn’t want to be nowhere, not when there was so much more she wanted to do.

She sees Parona with the blade, seemingly pointed at Hayase, but Parona, who is unwilling to live in a reality where she outlived March, turns the blade on her throat and prepares to plunge it in, thus “going home together” with her little wife. She can’t hear the spectral March pleading for her to stop…but Fushi does hear her, and stays Parona’s hand, all the while pouting like March. He takes her by the arm and transforms into Oniguma, and the two ride back to Ninnanah.

Once there, Parona approaches March’s parents and presents them with the “letter” containing only March’s handprint, which Parona translates as “March is doing great.” That, along with Parona’s demeanor tells the parents all they need to know. But rather than shun her like her parents did when she dared to live, March’s mother embraces Parona, thanking her for everything she did—and tried to do—for their March.

As the watch announces the Yanome are coming, Parona tells a suddenly far more expressive Fushi to flee before the enemy arrives. After all, life is never merely given, it must be won. He transforms into a wolf and departs.

Using an arrow that’s served her well for more than half a year and a heavy bow borrowed from a watchman, Parona takes aim at Hayase as she aims at Fushi, and her arrow goes right through Hayase’s hand. Even so, Hayase merely smiles, and Parona admits she missed her intended target, which was no doubt meant to be fatal.

As for Fushi, as the narrator says: “In meeting its mother and parting with her, its humanity increased.” Not only that, he can now take March’s form, and does so in order to grab one of the fruits his mommy once so generously fed him. So ends the most moving episode of To Your Eternity yet, in my books surpassing even the sublime first episode.

If I’m honest, I always knew March would be a goner and probably end up another one of Fushi’s forms. And yet the show kept serving up hope she might have a future, right up to her act of self-sacrifice. Parona may not have to live with the loss of March and her sister, but she’ll keep living all the same. It’s what her wife would have wanted.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

To Your Eternity – 04 – Put to Good Use

Parona remembers when her big sister hid her away in a tree hollow, only to learn her sister had taken her place as an offering to Oniguma-sama. Lil’ Parona had to learn when she tripped over her dead and buried sister’s foot. She wakes up in a wagon with March and Fushi, headed to Yanome, bastion of the enemy. Also in the wagon is the shamaness who turns out to be a fake and a captive in her own right, admitting she only chose March because she was the prettiest.

Through the shamaness Parona and March learn that the Yanome are envious of Ninnanah’s lush lands and are using the ritual to exert control. When Fushi wets himself, the wagon stops at a lake for everyone to bathe, and Fushi remembers the boy and re-assumes his form. Hayase treats her captives gently as they enter the bustling Yanome city of which she’s clearly proud. But as soon as March, Parona, and Fushi eat, they’re all knocked out; Hayase drugged their meals.

She then presents Fushi to other Yanome officials, declaring the immortal creature a weapon essential to Yanome’s future. As two prisoners hack at Fushi, who regenerates almost instantly, he learns a new phrase: “It Hurts”, and then attempts to flee by changing back into a wolf. Hayase leaves him in March’s care, while Parona, in the cell above her, plans their escape, not content to spend one more day than necessary in their prison.

Hayase also puts March to work tending to Oniguma-sama, whom she learns is just a really big bear covered in arrows and spears from various attackers throughout its life. Once she’s removed them all, the bear dies in peace.

Once she has sufficient rope, Parona commences her escape plan, but nearly almost slips and falls to her death at least three times before landing in a storage room. There, a Yanome guard threatens to rape her, but she kicks the shit out of him, steals his uniform, and arrives at March and Fushi’s cell to announce they’re getting the hell out of there, vowing to put the life her sister gave her to good use.

Parona basically owns the episode, taking on the mantle of the classic Ghibli heroine who is refreshingly not perfect in everything she does. She’s as charming and lovable as the much-more-perfect Hayase is loathsome and despicable. I really hope she and March, maybe with Fushi’s help(?) are able to come out on top, or at least make a good fight of it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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…

Golden Kamuy – 02 – Something They Carve Together

As Asirpa prepares traps to ensnare delicious nut-fed squirrels for dinner, Sugimoto determines the prisoners will avoid small villages where they’d stand out. The pair head into the booming port and commercial city of Otaru to canvass the places where they’d expose their tattooed skin: the baths and the brothels.

While questioning sex workers, the tiny Asirpa gets nabbed by the brothel owner, but quickly demonstrates she’s not worth his trouble, considering her skill with a knife handle and the “immortal” company she keeps.

Ultimately, they manage to snag their first prisoner the same way they catch squirrels: with a snare that traps him by the neck. Asirpa is adamant that they’ll kill nobody needlessly, and instead uses the pencil and paper acquired in Otaru to draw their captive’s tattoos. Fun little human moments like Asirpa drooling over squirrel meat or her shock at Sugimoto’s “rubber pencil” trick are effective at keeping the mood from getting too heavy.

This prisoner escaped from the others when they suddenly started killing each other, not realizing that absent drafting skills (or pencils), completing the map meant quite a bit of skinning. However, before this prisoner can give them any more information, he’s shot right through the brain, darkening the mood anew.

Sugimoto tracks down the gunman and identifies him not just as a fellow soldier, but one of the much-feared and respected Hokkaido 7th Division, known as the Guardians of the North for their tenacity in even the toughest battles. In other words, a division Sugimoto would be right at home in, had he not been dishonorably separated from the army.

The two share a couple moments as fellow soldiers to prepare for battle, and when the soldier asks if Sugimoto is tracking down the prisoners for money, he corrects him by saying it’s for love…which isn’t far off. After all, the money is for the family of the friend he loved, not for himself.

This time, Sugimoto’s foe is too tough to go easy on, and when the choice becomes letting him go to inform his superiors and stopping him, Sugimoto tosses the butt of his rifle at the guy, hitting him in the head and sending him tumbling off a cliff and into the freezing river, where he and Asirpa presume he’s dead but rather sloppily refrain from confirming it.

That error could be a result of hunger, but “We’re alive, so of course we get hungry” Asirpa has the solution for that when they return to her hunting tent, which is also her kitchen, There, she skins the squirrels they caught and lets Sugimoto eat the brain of one raw, which is supposedly the best part.

She finely minces the remaining meat and bones into chitatap, a kind of dish that sounds like the way you make it (incidentally, one should say “chitatap” while chopping the meat). In a concession to Sugimoto’s Sisam tastes, she forms balls with the meat and cooks them in broth for a sumptuous meal, and uses the Ainu saying “Hinna, hinna!” instead of “Itadakimasu!” to give thanks.

There’s no such thing as eating too much out here in The Grey, so after nabbing and sketching their second prisoner in as many days, Asirpa gets a bead on a rabbit and pounces on it. Unfortunately, this prisoner is an escape artists who coughs up a razor with which to cut himself free.

While chasing him down, he and Sugimoto end up tumbling down a cliff and falling into the drink, which is a death sentence for those who don’t get their freezing clothes off and warm up in front of a fire within ten minutes.

There’s a black comedy of errors as the prisoner succumbs to the various symptoms of hypothermia, but once he gets Sugimoto’s assurances he’ll spare his life, he coughs up a bullet they can use to spark a life-saving fire.

Having survived their dance with death, the two bond, casting aside their conflict, and the prisoner, Shiraishi, shares more intel with Sugimoto, including the fact that the leader of the prisoners is a grizzled and immensely-skilled samurai veteran from a war fought thirty years prior.

Meanwhile, the 7th division private also survived his hypothermia (perhaps Sugimoto’s immortaliy rubs off on people) and soon wakes up, meaning his commanding officer, who himself  seems to have survived having a large part of his face peeled off. As tough and resourceful as Sugimoto and Asirpa are, the characters they’ll have to deal with to achieve their goal are no slouches!

Golden Kamuy has established itself as one of the best best of the Spring, despite taking place in a bitterer Winter than the one we’re still struggling to escape in real life. So far it’s sported some great characters of almost mythical ability, offered some creative combat and survival skills, integrating elements of Ainu culture wherever possible. The OP and ED are also tight as hell. More than anything, Golden Kamuy has attitude, but isn’t so serious it won’t crack jokes where appropriate.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 11

In “CULTURE”, as Yuu feeds the “cut” bullets of increasing size, the girls roll into an armory, but Chito is far less interested in the tanks than a book lying on the ground. Titled “War and Human Civilization”, it’s written in English, which means even Chito can’t read it, calling them “letters from an old, far-off place.”

Considering the state of civilization in this show, that would seem to be something of an understatement. We build taller and taller buildings; Saudi Arabia is building one that will be 1km tall when finished. But we’re a long way from stacking cities on top of other cities like so many pizza boxes.

The book and its language, like the elaborate giant whirligig, are elements of human culture that should be preserved and understood if lessons are going to be learned by future generations.

It’s all well and good to feed an animal bullets, but to possess a book about how and why that animal can eat bullets—or detect where radio waves are originating—is even better.

Lessons of being mortally injured by falling objects or stray bullets led to the development of helmets, and in “DESTRUCTION” Chito gets and object lesson on why they still wear them even though there’s no one else around: their environment can be extremely hazardous at the drop of a hat…or bolt.

That bolt is the vanguard of a hail of shards of metal and machinery, as a gargantuan robot that could be a flesh-less warrior from the Seven Days of Fire plummets into a heap. The girls explore, and the cut shapes its body into a key of sorts to activate the robot. Yuu activates the first lever she sees, and a cruise missile is launched and detonates a few thousand feet away.

She presses another button, and the robot emits a laser beam that causes even greater destruction and widespread fires just off in the distance. Yuu starts laughing uncontrollably, saying it’s “fun”, but Chito gives her a closed-fist punch, telling her that nothing about this is funny. Yuu apologizes.

If they didn’t before, a first-hand demonstration of the destructive capabilities of civilization helps the girls to understand a little better why so much of the world is abandoned and in tatters. And yet there’s stuff all over the city and its environs that is still on, long after humans disappeared.

In “THE PAST”, Using their new pet as a guide, Chito and Yuri traverse a forest of windmills in, and come across a nuclear submarine. Again the animal creates a key out of its body, granting them access. The submarine may be beached, but it’s in working order, to the girls’ amazement.

It’s nuclear reactor seems to still be generating power (though I worry about radiation), while the girls traverse another forest within the sub on foot: a forest of what look like ICBMs.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 10

This week, the girls find a train, a radio signal, and a furry companion. As usual, they are absolutely dwarfed just by the vertical scale of the train, to say nothing of its length. Judging by the number of “robot corpses” strewn across its interior, it seems the design had to accommodate robots far bigger than humans.

After Yuuri experiences the boredom of waiting for the train to reach the destination, she and Chito do what I do when possible—head to the front. Yuuri points out that they’re going faster than usual because they’re moving on a moving train. It starts a fun discussion about the rotation of the earth and relative speed.

If there’s a commonality to these little talks it’s that it reveals both that Chito is very bright and just doesn’t have all the words needed to describe the scientific principles she understands, and Yuuri, while perhaps less bright, nonetheless comes to some perceptive conclusions of her own, despite having even less vocabulary than Chito.

At the end of the line they alight from the train and continue through another vast expanse of infrastructure. For a moment, Yuuri picks up something on the radio: what sounded like a sad song.

They look for a way to ascend to where the waves will be stronger, and happen to stop right on an ascending platform…only it either needs maintenance or wasn’t meant to convey humans and kettenkrads, because it moves extremely fast and stops on a dime.

That leads to a great bit of physical comedy as the girls and rig keep moving even when the platform stops; naturally, Yuuri lands on her feet. They’re met at the top by an eerily red sunset and a much clearer and more consistent transmission of the song, which is indeed sad, albeit very beautiful and moving in general, especially combined with the sad sunset.

I especially liked when the graininess of the radio feed gave way to a clear, crisp performance of the song. I just wished they could’ve tuned the radio to something more upbeat; they could’ve used some cheer after that last song.

When they come upon a massive hole—with another massive hole in the level above—Yuuri wonders if it was caused by the battle all the broken weaponry around them was used for. Chito surmises the hole predates the weapons, and that the hole was more recently merely a venue for a later battle. In any case, the image of a tank being repurposed as a fountain by nature and gravity is a sight to behold, especially when Yuuri literally soaks her head.

In what looks like a rocket tube, Yuuri finds a strange creature that neither she nor Chito can quite place, and so settle on “cat.” While they don’t mention it themselves, it very much also resembles those tall white idols they’ve encountered here and there. When the animal makes noise, the radio seems to translate it, even though the animal only seems to be repeating the girls with slight variation.

While the end of the train line and the sunset provided suitable ending points for the first and second vignettes, the third looks poised to continue, as the “cat” follows the girls, who decide to keep it with them for now. As Chito puts it, they’re always throwing things away or using them up, it’s nice to add something for a change.

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