Chainsaw Man – 11 – Asking Nicely

“The Future Rules”, says the Future Devil, who resembles the Forest Spirit from Princess Mononoke, but is a lot more happy-go-lucky. The terms of his new contract with Aki are simple: he’ll reside in Aki’s right eye and lend him his power. In exchange, he’ll have a front row seat to Aki’s death, which he promises will also “rule.”

Kishibe’s tough love training of Denji and Power continues to a point where he’s satisfied they won’t embarrass themselves in the next battle, which will be against The snake woman (Sawatari) and the Katana Man (who is called “Samurai Sword” in the episode.

In his meeting with Makima, Kishibe posits that she knew the assault that claimed so many public safety officers (including his student Himeno) was coming and did nothing to stop it. He doesn’t really mind, as long as Makima shares his overarching directive to save as many people as possible in the long run.

I’m not entirely sure why Makima allowed such a devastating assault to take place, but intentionally allowed or not it led to her consolidating her power in Public Safety, amplifying the importance of her surviving underlings like Denji and Power, and revealing the identities of their enemies—among them Sawatari, who unfortunately has no character beyond “slightly bored baddie”. I kinda wish we knew more about her.

After contracting with the Future Devil, Aki gets a ride back to HQ from Kurose and Tendou. Kurose tries to press Aki’s buttons by telling him his shounen manga-style goal to take the Gun Devil down pisses him off, but Aki isn’t phased. If he can defeat the Gun Devil, he’ll be happy. If he dies, Kurose can laugh all he likes. But while Aki pisses him off, Kurose can’t help but root for the guy.

As for Makima, the less we know about her, the more mysterious and awesome she is. I could watch an entire episode of her politely chatting with a yakuza head. She isn’t the slightest bit intimidated by the soldiers surrounding her as she asks their leader to give up the names of the members of other yakuza families who contracted with the Gun Devil.

The yakuza head declines to snitch on his rival families as it would start a war that would destabilize the Japanese mob and invite foreign mobs to invade. That’s when Makima presents a little brown paper bag that she calmly describes contains the eyes of a loved one of everyone in that room. When one of them raises a hand to her, he’s stopped in his tracks, his nose bleeds, and he keels over dead.

After their brutal training, Denji and Power are excited to finally put what they’ve learned into action. Kobeni is not so enthused, but now that we can see what she’s capable of it’s a plain matter of motivation, not ability. Kishibe sends the three and Aki into the building where Sawatari and Katana Man are holed up.

As Kishibe explained to Denji and Power, this is an all-or-nothing, make-or-break operation. Either Division 4 will succeed in defeating Sawatari and Katana Man, or they’ll fail and be destroyed. They’re backed up by four new fiends: Shark, Violence, Spider, and Angel, all of whom feature cool designs and fighting (or in the case of Angel, non-fighting) styles.

While those four mop up the zombie army in the basement, Aki heads upstairs and meets non-zombie resistance in the form of yakuza soldiers. When he ends up in a four-on-one situation, his our opponents all get bloody noses and fall over dead. We cut to Makina striding confidently out of the yakuza head’s house, having gotten what she wanted. That gives Aki a clear path to Sawatari.

If Sawatari has any particular reason for siding with the Gun Devil and wanting to destroy Division 4, she doesn’t share them with Aki. She’s all business, summoning Himeno’s Ghost Devil to fight him, keeping her Snake Devil in reserve. It’s a pragmatic move that’s also definitely meant to rile Aki up, but he doesn’t take the bait.

Instead, he puts his new buddy the Future Devil to use by anticipating the movements of the Ghost’s arms so he can dodge and slice at will. Unfortunately, the Ghost’s arms regenerated and multiply, and Aki loses his time advantage when he starts to slow due to fatigue.

The Ghost eventually covers Aki in arms and grabs him, and Sawatari orders it to choke him to death. But something tells me this isn’t the awesome death the Future Devil foresaw. Will he find his second wind on his own, or will Denji, Power, and/or Kobeni bail him out?

Chainsaw Man – 10 – Toughening Up

In the aftermath of the attack on the 4th Division, Denji and Power are all healed up, and despite insisting otherwise, are by Aki’s side out of solidarity. They are, after all, three of the last surviving members. When the two leave shortly after Aki comes to, he asks the Curse Devil how long he has (two years), prepares to light a cigarette, and then can’t when he remembers Himeno.

Himeno gets her final wish: Aki lives to cry for her. As for Denji, he’s a little weirded out by how calm and cool he’s been about losing Himeno, the first person who wanted to be his friend. He wonders if he’d be just as indifferent if Power or Aki died. He even figures the loss of Miss Makima would only result in about three days of feeling bad, then he’d get back to living his life of meals and baths.

With Makima determined to strengthen what’s left of her now combined division, Denji and Power’s lives are about to get a lot less carefree. Deemed still too weak against the kind of devils they’ll have to hunt, Makima puts Himeno’s old sensei Kishibe (voiced by Tsuda Kenjirou) in charge of training them.

He immediately likes them, as neither are interested in revenge and will side with whoever will feed them (in Denji’s case) or whoever is winning (Power). They’re both the precise breed of fearless crazy needed to be effective devil hunters.

He pulls the two into a hug, and then casually breaks both their necks with his bare hands, leaving no doubt as to his toughness. After healing them with blood, he proceeds to kill or nearly kill the two again and again, deciding the best way to make them tougher is to hunt them until they’re capable of beating him.

While Denji and Power are enduring this, Kyoto’s Tendou and Kurose pay Aki a visit, and tell him it might be best if he quit while he’s still alive, like Madoka did. Unlike Denji and Power, Aki is still very much driven by the need for revenge against the devils that killed his family and Himeno. But to become strong enough to stay in the 4th Division, he’ll need to contract with stronger devils.

After Tendou and Kurose take their leave, a girl whose face we don’t see pays him a visit. While walking home from the graveyard, Denji and Power decide that the best way to defeat their new drunken teacher is to use their brains. Left unacknowledged is the fact that even if they put both their brains together they only end up with two balls of lint.

The next morning, they set up an ambush for Kishibe, all the while displaying a wholly unearned sense of confidence you can’t help but admire—they even wear glasses to look smarter. Kishibe easily defeats their surprise attacks, once again leaving them both on the floor, down for the count.

That said, he admired their attempt, and says he’ll give them the rest of the day off. The moment Denji drops his guard, he gets a thrown dagger to the forehead. Kishibe warns him and Power never to trust the words of someone hunting them. And so, the bloody trials continue.

Aki is escorted to the bowels of Public Safety headquarters by Tendou and Kurose, which serves as a prison for all of the devils captured alive. When Kurose asks if the girl at the hospital was Aki’s girlfriend, he says no; it was Himeno’s little sister, who brought letters Himeno wrote to her for Aki to read. Among them, Himeno discusses her unsuccessful attempt to get out of Public Safety with Aki.

As he contemplates his past, Tendou and Kurose take him to the cell of the Future Devil, one who took the eyes and sense of taste and smell from one human it contracted with and half the lifespan of another. Considering Aki has only two years left anyway (due to the Curse Devil), and his determination to destroy the Gun Devil, I’m certain the Future Devil can ask for whatever it wants, and Aki will sacrifice it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Chainsaw Man – 07 – Loosening the Screws

When Kobeni accidentally stabbed Aki, Himeno started to lose it, because she felt like she was going to lose the latest in a long line of unfortunate partners. But while she despaired, Denji scoffed. He didn’t ask Aki to save him, and is done owing anybody anything, so he happily dives into the fell eldritch mass that is the Eternity Devil and pulls his ripcord.

It doesn’t take long for Denji to start losing some serious blood, but once he starts drinking the devil’s blood, he basically becomes a self-healing “perpetual motion machine”, boasting that he, not Power, will be the one to win that Nobel Prize.

In a flashback, Himeno visits her parents’ graves with her master; like Aki, she lost them to the Gun Devil, which is why she joined the force. But her master warns that a devil hunter cannot be too earnest straight-laced—devils know exactly how to fuck with and kill those kinds of people. All of Himeno’s previous partners died because they were too sane, and feared the devils, and devils love fear.

Her master “loosened the screws” by drinking heavily on occasion. Knowing that Aki is another upstanding lad, she tried to get him to quit the force and follow her into the safer private sector, but he refused. But as she watches Denji, Himeno sees what the ideal devil hunter is like: window-lickingly insane, unpredictable, and immune to the devil’s mind games.

When Denji’s motor cuts out, Himeno uses her ghost arm to pull his cord, and for three days he tears at the Eternity Devil until he finally reaches its core. By then, it is pleading for its life, but Denji slices it in two. Just like that, the hunters are off the eighth floor and out of the hotel.

No sooner do they leave the hotel than Denji passes out, but Himeno is there to carry him on her back to the hospital. Later, during a mission with Aki, Himeno proposes the whole squad go out for drinks to break the ice … to loosen the screws. Also, bury the hatchet vis-a-vis everyone trying to kill Denji.

Leave it to Chainsaw Man to make the izakaya where the 4th division meets up look like just the place I want to be on a Friday night. The beers are tall, cold, and frosty, and the snacks look delectable (so much so that Power systematically hoards them).

We meet a couple other division members, one of whom recently lost his rookie subordinate, just like that. A haunted look washes over Kobeni as she reckons with the fact that people in their line of work live short lives.

Denji brings up the kiss Himeno promised, but she tells him she needs to drink more first. Things get complicated for Denji when Makima arrives fashionably late wondering what all this talk of kissing is about.

When Aki asks Makima straight-up why she’s so interested in Denji, she says she’ll answer, but only if he can outdrink her. As expected, he can’t, as both he and Himeno fall to her indomitable tolerance. At this point, Himeno’s screws have been sufficiently loosened that she decides to bestow her promised kiss upon Denji’s lips.

It’s his first kiss, with tongue … and also with Himeno’s vomit. Turns out she loosened the screws a bit too much. Denji swallows some of it and gets ruinously drunk (it shocks everyone to learn he’s only 16). He and Arai have a bonding moment when he helps Denji boot—Arai having experience helping his alcoholic mom.

With the hour growing late and everyone sufficiently lubricated, the 4th division departs from the izakaya. Himeno manages to sneak of with Denji, and when he comes to, it’s on her bed, underneath her. She gives him another kiss—this time of beer, not barf—and proposes that they bone. Denji is growing up fast in the 4th Division.

The soft bluish-purple light, Himeno’s fluid movements, and her seiyu Ise Mariya’s gently seductive voice lend an almost sacred beauty to an otherwise profane scene. But it’s also a sad one, because Himeno is clearly compensating for her crippling grief and loneliness, not to mention her part-familial, part-romantic feelings for an Aki who only has eyes for Miss Makima.

Then again, maybe Himeno just figures she could die tomorrow—or later that night—such is the fate of all devil hunters. That being the case, one must take their fun when and where they can get it.

P.S. Every episode of Chainsaw Man has a unique ED and theme, and this one might’ve been my favorite, as it’s a 4:3 standard-def retro-gasm. Reminded me of one of the best OPs of all time, the retro Koimonogatari OP “Kogarashi Sentiment”.

Chainsaw Man – 06 – Endless Eight

After battles that took place in spacious warehouses and the open city streets, Chainsaw Man shifts to an initially innocuous but increasingly menacing and claustrophobic hotel floor. All stairs, windows, and floors lead to the same place: where they are.

Kobeni loses it almost immediately, convinced they’re all going to starve and die in this closed, timeless place. When she falls to pieces saying how the 4th Division wasn’t her choice (apparently it was this or sex work), Power laughs it up, because human fear fuels devils.

Himeno is a lot more calm and collected, as this isn’t her first rodeo. Also, she has cigarettes. But as she lights up her last one, she tells Denji how she “taught Aki the taste” of cigarettes, being intentionally suggestive with the phrasing.

When the family member of one of her past partners took it out on her by slapping her, Aki followed the person and stuck gum to their clothes as payback. From that point on Himeno knew she had someone special. She finally got Aki to smoke a cigarette, which he said would be his first and last, but as we see in the present, that’s far from the case.

Himeno’s point was that no Devil Hunter lives a long life, so you might as well enjoy the little pleasures like cigarettes. But Aki doesn’t intend to die anytime soon, which comforts Himeno. Their host, the “Eternity Devil”, appears in the form of a horrific mass of faces and limbs, and offers the hunters a deal.

If they give it Denji, dead or alive, it will let everyone go. Kobeni, whom Himeno had knocked out when she tried drinking toilet water, comes to just in time to hear this, and rushes Denji with a knife. To his surprise, Aki stands in front of him and kicks the knife out of her hand. As far as he’s concerned, no one’s killing Denji. Himeno has his back.

But time passes, and Power eats all of the food they’d scavenged from the abandoned rooms. When Himeno tries her ghost limbs she’s able to injure the Eternity Devil, but it simply grows larger and then chases them through the halls, making the spaces they occupy even smaller.

Finally, the angles of the hallways (which are really the walls of the devil’s stomach) start to shift, adding to the increasing sense of disorientation and dread. With the devil closing in, it’s time to either give it Denji or die. There is another option: the sword on Aki’s back. But when he goes for it, Himeno paralyzes him with her ghosts.

Her reason is that using the sword shortens Aki’s life, and he has “too much to live for”. Also, Himeno clearly cares for (if not outright loves) Aki and doesn’t want to outlive yet another partner. But her plan backfires, as Aki manages to overpower the ghosts and takes Kobani’s knife to the ribs to protect Denji. His reason is that he can’t kill the Gun Devil without people like Denji.

As he starts bleeding out, Himeno finally loses it, making Aki, Denji, and Power the only ones with their heads on their shoulders. Power uses her blood manipulation power to try to keep Aki alive (even though she’s best at controlling her own), while a panicked Himeno asks Aki what the plan is.

Finally Denji, who never asked Aki to take a knife for him, decides to bite the bullet and jump into the devil’s gullet. Only once he’s in he’ll break out his chainsaws. He figures the one thing the devil is scared of most is him, which is why it wanted the others to kill him first. That ain’t happening; Denji’s going in on his own terms, and I like his odds.

This dark and nervy Chainsaw Man really showed how a hopeless situation can bring out the devil in anyone. Kobeni is probably a nice enough girl, but in a situation like this has no qualms about murdering another to save her own skin. Even Himeno abandons the tenets of her profession due to her personal affection for Aki. Aki keeps his composure, but he’s fueled by vengeance. But as horrible and nightmarish as this place is, it’s not that bad compared to what Denji’s already been through.

The beds in the hotel are so nice he curls up and naps in one like nothing’s the matter. All the talk of starvation must sound extremely quaint to someone who barely ever had enough to eat. Maybe that’s why Kobeni turned on him so fast: despite being a fellow human, his attitude was so different form hers in this situation that she became able to see him as an other, a devil to be sacrificed.

Engage Kiss – 11 – Last Kiss Goodbye

When Kisara is stabbed with Demon Kanna’s spear and she touches it, she suddenly gets a rush of her memories, which include a young Shuu. Kisara tells Shuu to flee at once, Sharon grabs him and grabs hold of the runner of Ayano’s chopper to take them away.

Kisara charges at Kanna, but at the last minute is stopped dead by another memory of Kanna as an innocent child. In that instant of hesitation, Kanna strikes Kisara down and she falls into the sea. Kanna soon follows her down there when Mikhail fires the satellite beam at her twice.

Kanna is dormant on the sea floor, but could reawaken at any time. Meanwhile Kisara is in hospital and won’t wake up or heal at her usual speed. All Shuu and Ayano can do is sit there, wait, and contemplate what comes next. Sharon makes clear that as far as her bosses are concerned Kanna is an S-Class Demon that must be destroyed.

The problem is, none of the contractors in Bayron City are sure they can deal with an S-Class even with a united front, and instead place their hopes in Kisara, who they don’t know is in a bad way. While alone with Kisara that night, Shuu makes a heartfelt plea to her for what he should do, and she wakes up and kisses him.

Unlke previous kisses, this one seems to transfer Shuu’s memories back to him. Starting with his sudden breakup with Ayano and resignation from AAA, to teaming up with/seducing Sharon, to finding Kisara, whom we learn is a distant blood relative of his, thus making their contract possible.

Forming a more efficient and practical contact with Kisara involves a lot of trial-and-error, along with an actual paper contract that’s several hundred pages long. Before they make things official, Kisara reads the whole thing through and, unbeknownst to Shuu, makes a couple of changes.

For one, she makes a kiss the means by which the limits of her demonic power are unleashed. This wasn’t how the contract was initially written up, but the kissing gesture was inspired by how Shuu “formed contracts” (i.e., bedded) previous humans like Ayano and Sharon. And once she kisses him, there’s no going back.

That brings us to the other thing she changed: if they kiss while their hands are intertwined just so, their contract will be terminated. That’s what she seems to do in their present-day kiss in the hospital, and unless I’m totally misjudging things, this results in all of Shuu’s memories returning to him.

This also means all the memories leave Kisara (they were moved without being copied), so when their lips part and Shuu asks her what the hell she just did, her first words are “Who are you?” Kisara believes Shuu has fought enough and wants him to leave the island and live the rest of his life in peace.

Breaking their contract is how she believes that happens. How she’ll deal with Kanna without a contract remains to be seen. But if Shuu indeed has all his memories back, that means all the drive and motivation to carry out his original mission must have returned as well. In any case, I highly doubt he’s about to abandon Kisara, Ayano, and Bayron City.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spare Key for Victory

From the fact his apartment lacks gas and electric when his pink-haired companion lets herself in to try to make dinner, to the fact his ex-partner Ayano foots the bill for his first meal in three days, Ogata Shuu is what is known in Japan as binbou—destitute. Regardless, he seems adamant about living his own life his way, even if his new independent business is not off to a strong start.

His companion, Kisara waits for him in the dark back home, having prepared a pretty impressive feast despite the lack of utilities. When he says he already ate, and vaguely smells of another woman, Kisara goes down a spiral of self-deprecation until he eats the cold repast. When he asks Kisara for the last of her savings for a cash-on-delivery, she posts an Insta of the two of them about to send themselves to heaven with sleeping pills.

But all is not lost. Poor as he is, Shuu still has a seat at the table of companies who bid over contracts to rid their floating city (in the water, not air) spelled either Veyron or Bayron of “Demon Hazards.” There’s a mid-level one wreaking havoc in a central casino, and Shuu ends up with the lowest dollar amount by far (less than $40K, vs. the second-lowest being $112).

The other bidders leave the virtual meeting in disgust, but Ayano’s mom’s company agrees to support him (with Ayano herself) in exchange for a hefty share of the extermination fee. Shuu shows up late for his own operation, but Ayano and her soldiers are consummate professionals as they mow down the demon’s minions.

The demon turns out to be tougher than its estimated C-Class level, putting Shuu’s back against the wall, but then Kisara, having forgiven him, arrives by passing through the floor. The only problem is, while her sword packs a punch, she only gets one good swing, which is deflected by the demon.

Kisara tells Shuu she’s out of power, and needs to recharge. The way she does that is by making out with Shuu, something he both seems to find uncomfortable and enjoys, but also causes him to pass out due to the exchange of energy. During their kissing, Kisara not only shows tongue, but fangs.

If passing through floors wasn’t enough of a giveaway, Kisara isn’t human; she’s a demoness who happens to be a higher level than the opponent in the casino. But initially she’s angry at Ayano for being another woman that exists in Shuu’s world and the two constantly launch attacks at each other that only hit the demon’s multiplying minions.

Their battle is the best part of the episode, but Shuu gets between the two, and Kisara declares she’ll finish his job if Shuu gives her an important token of their contract: his spare key. It doesn’t matter if she can walk right through his door; she wants to be able to unlock and open it whenever she wants, as a sign of his love and his trust in her.

Shuu relents, and upon receipt of the key, Kisara’s attack power reaches 11. The two count down together from ten, with Kisara blasting through the demon hazard’s shields and Kisara delivering the final coup-de-grace with a shot from his pistol. Their mission accomplished, Kisara ends up on top of Shuu and leans in for a celebratory kiss…

But unfortunately both of them went a little too far with the power, compromising the structural integrity of the entire skyscraper, which is actually crucial to keeping the entire city afloat. While I’m sure Veyron City is in no danger of sinking, Kisara flies around the skyscraper, apparently trying to keep it level, while Ayano remarks that B-Class or C-Class, the Demon Hazard they fought never had a chance against Kisara, who is a Super A-Class who happens to be on their side, possibly only due to her liking Shuu.

Part badass demon-hunting, part workplace romantic comedy, and part abject lesson in proper budgeting, Engage Kiss’ first episode is nothing if not…ahem…engaging. Shuu comes off as a useless mooch most of the time but comes through when it matters, while Kisara and Ayano should prove to be strong clashing personalities for Shuu’s attention and the spoils of demon-hunting victory. All in all, a fun and energetic start, but we’ll see if it will make the final Summer cut.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 02 – Do It, Then Think Later

Remember when the latest season of TenSura started with a bunch of long, boring meetings? Well, in the first half or so of this episode Shield Hero takes the same tack, putting Naofumi and Queen Mirellia in a room full of crotchety generals bickering over who should take command or lead the forces against the rampaging Spirit Tortoise. It’s all…a bit dry?

It seems more fun outside as Filo and Rishia are joined by Elrasla, noted tough old broad, and Eclair, whose dignity and decency I admire even as I rack my brain trying to figure out who voices her (I’m sure ANN will list it eventually). They’re basically at the kids table on standby while the brass talks things out.

That brass is soon joined by the same woman voiced by Hanazawa Kana who asked Naofumi to please kill her last week before suddenly disappearing. We learn her name is Ost Hourai, and while everyone knows her as the concubine of the now-deceased king of the Tortoise Kingdom, reveals that she’s actually one of the Tortoise’s familiars in human form.

She was created to seduce her way to the highest levels of human political power, and then use that power to get them to start wars. The Spirit Tortoise, ya see, uses human souls to stop the Waves. But someone has gone and unsealed the Tortoise itself, and its resulting rampage is not by choice.

Ost is there to help in any way she can, but rather hilariously, none of the advice she offers is anything anyone in the room doesn’t already know. I love how offbeat and quirky she is, it really spices up the otherwise dull meeting scenes (as does the Kevin Penkin score, as always). Also nice is Raphtalia meeting Naofumi on a moonlit bridge that night, telling him if the other generals will follow a good plan, they just need to come up with one.

Naofumi thinks he has one, and will utilize the unique qualities of the various allied kingdoms to pull it off. Manpower, siege machines, mages, and explosives, there’s a wealth of resources with which he will stop, pin down, and eventually behead the Spirit Tortoise. Everyone pitches in, even Rishia and Ost pulling Tortoise research duty at the library.

One night while Naofumi’s suddenly much bigger party is gathereda round a fire, Ecliar mentions that she brought some new weapons and gear from Elhart in Melromarc, including a new sword for Raph, a new gauntlet for Filo…and a stat-boosting Filo mascot suit for Rishia, which is pretty adorable.

It’s while she’s in that bird suit that Ost picks up on Rishia being in love with the Bow Hero, and encourages her to “get intimate as soon as possible” and not overthink things. Honestly I can’t imagine what Rishia sees in that stuck-up prick, but hey, you can’t choose who ya love!

While a bit stronger than last week owing to Ost’s weirdness (and Eclair’s profound uprightness), this was still a table-setting episode packed with exposition and information leading up to the trip to the Tortoise-beheading fireworks factory…and is thus scored accordingly.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 01 – The Tortoise and the Hero

lot has happened in the real world since the last Shield Hero aired in late July 2019. It actually feels like much more than three years ago…more like thirty! And that’s even taking into account we saw Naofumi, Raphtalia and Filo in Isekai Quartet, the last episode of which aired just when shit was starting to go down in 2020.

Anywho, this episode marks a relatively understated, workmanlike return to the world of Shield Hero, with Naofumi settling in as lord of Lurolona Village, where the old and young, strong and weak alike train for the next Wave of Catastrophe, including his newest party member, Rishia, who rather comically must wear a penguin mascot suit to up her stats.

The relative peace of the status quo is rocked by the sudden arrival of a flock of monstrous bats. Raphtalia and Filo make quick work of them, but Naofumi’s HUD identifies them as “Spirit Tortoise Familiars.” Also, the next Wave countdown has cirously…stopped.

Naofumi and the other Cardinal Heroes are summoned to Melromarc where Queen Mirelia explains what’s happening: the Spirit Tortoise has revived and is starting to wreak havoc on the kingdom that bears its name. However, the other three heroes aren’t interested in assisting. After the meeting Rishia beseeches her former boss Itsuki, who tells her she’s not strong enough to fight for him.

After Naofumi gets Rishia a new sword at the weaponsmith’s, Raphtalia suggests they head to the slave merchant to make Rishia one of Naofumi’s slaves so that she can be stronger than Itsuki’s party members. Naofumi bristles at the idea, as he believes only Raph would volunteer to be a slave.

However, Rishia wants to become stronger, and she’s willing to be tattooed on her decolletage and endure the pain of forming a contract in order to do it. Rishia may be convinced she’s a failure, but if Naofumi and his party can offer her a chance at redemption and to prove herself to Itsuki and her former colleagues, she’s game.

With that, Naofumi’s party loads up the Filo-drawn wagon and journey to the Spirit Tortoise Kingdom to meet this latest non-Wave-related threat. While stopping to camp for the night, Filo reveals her ahoge serves as an antenna for direct communication with her queen, Fitoria.

She tells Fitoria they’re headed for the kingdom, and Fitoria responds that Naofumi will now face the choice she spoke of before: do something about the Spirit Tortoise, but also learn to get along with the other three heroes, or she’ll personally kill them all. Yes Rishia…even Itsuki!

They arrive at the capital of the kingdom as it is already under siege by massive swarms of bat monsters in the air, primate-like beasts on the ground, and scores of refugees running for their lives. They hear rumors that three of the four heroes were already killed going up against the Tortoise.

Filo’s two-way connection with Fitoria pays off again when the queen confirms that none of the three are actually dead; they were just rumors, thus calming Rishia down. Filo and Raphtalia then get to work eliminating the baddies while Rishia leads the people back to the safety of the capital’s walls.

Naofumi ends up using one of his many abilities to lure a huge host of enemies in his direction, then uses Dark Curse Burning to eliminate them all in one fell swoop, though not without bearing a physical cost he can’t hide from the trusty Raphtalia. In the aftermath of the battle, a mysterious, slightly pious-looking woman flat-out asks him to “please kill” her. To quote Rishia … Kweeeeh?

Love of Kill – 02 – Slow Road Ahead

When two of the four shows you’re reviewing are Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer, you tend to have a higher baseline when it comes to production values. Love of Kill did not impress with its visuals this week, and oftentimes, especially when a car model was involved, it downright stunk.

But I’ll watch an ugly show if it has something else to grab my interest. Alas, this episode doesn’t move the needle all that much with the weird quasi-romance between Song and Chateau. He gives her the location of a dead target and a living woman, but a mysterious motorcyclist starts shooting at her, and before she knows it, she’s driven off a cliff.

The woman dies, and Chateau survives. First the motorcyclist pays her a visit and shoots her phone, then Song arrives and takes her to a hotel, where she’s running a fever. She still doesn’t trust him, but she’s in no condition to reject his help. Despite how little the show is giving us and how terrible it looks, part of me still wants to see this through…but I should probably resist that urge.

Love of Kill – 01 (First Impressions) – With a Song in Her Heart

Bounty Hunter Chateau Dankworth (Oonishi Saori) comes afoul of a killer more skilled than she: Song Ryang-ha (Shimono Hiro). He overpowers her, but it’s not her life he wants to steal; it’s her heart. So he lets her go in exchange for her name and number.

While Chateau’s options were limited that night, she quickly comes to regret the one she chose. Song proceeds to constantly text, call, and even send her a video of a target of hers he caught first, and is willing to offer her in a trade.

They meet at a juice bar Song digs, but as you’d expect, Chateau wants to get down to cold, logical business, not juice. Her gambit involves surprising and then stunning him with a taser, but he’s to quick, and almost seems to predict her movements. It’s gotta be frustrating for a skilled killer like Chateau to more than meet her match.

Song’s terms for giving her her target are nothing monetary. Rather, he wants to go on a date with her for Christmas Eve. Chateau, who distrusts anything free but can’t pass up the opportunity to cross a name off her list, goes along with it, showing up an hour late doing the bare minimum needed for their encounter to be interpreted as a “date”.

Song takes thing to a fancy hotel room with a gorgeous city view, complete with dinner and a 1982-vintage wine. Chateau wisely remains at a remove, wondering out loud how Song plans to “use her” and why she’d be “of interest” to him. To Song’s credit, he doesn’t try anything truly vile, and when Chateau wants to leave, they check out.

Before parting ways at the station, Song does get in a quick farewell hug to “confirm” something: her “scent” doesn’t bother him, while everyone else smells “putrid”. We end with a cryptic voiceover portending a “final stop” in their romance “ending in tears”, then a flashback to a young Chateau in the back of a car, presumably her parent murdered in the driver’s seat.

Love of Kill had me feeling a lot of things. Contempt for Song, mostly, and sympathy for Chateau, who couldn’t escape his clutches if she tried. I love stoic, logical characters like Chateau; even though she doesn’t really say or do much, she exudes a wonderfully cool detached aura, which makes Song’s stalking that much more upsetting.

The thing is, as someone rather desensitized to antiheroes (Soprano, White, Draper, and Dexter to name a few), I didn’t despise Song, and even kinda sorta came to understand why he decided to pursue Chateau with such gusto. If everyone in the world “smelled” terrible to you and made you sick, what would you do if you suddenly found someone who didn’t?

So far I can’t really see Chateau falling for this guy, but at the very least they seem to be kindred spirits: killers keeping themselves at an expansive remove from the rest of humanity. Regardless, I definitely want to see where this goes.

Shin no Nakama – 08 – Happy Wife Happy Life

For the second straight week Shin no Nakama wades deeper into plots, false identities and shadow players. But what keeps me engaged and coming back is the wonderfully tender and naturally progressing romance between Red and Rit. The double bed has arrived, and while both blush like beets, they still jump into bed together.

They almost go too far with their flirting (considering the walls are thin and Al’s a guest). Between gestures and facial expressions, the animators put a lot of love into the scene, and I love the detail about Rit being self-conscious about her hand callouses, only for Red to say he likes them, or how both display catlike reflexes when they hear Al stirring.

The scene carries a lot weight, both emotionally and critically, especially considering all the external forces tugging on these lovebirds. Are we being set up for heartbreak? I don’t know; all I know is I’m just not the biggest fan of…any of the show’s various plots, other than Red and Rit’s romance and the plight of Ruti and her party.

Whether it’s the axe murderers ending up as the pawns of axe demons forming contracts with them due to the drug (or something) or Bighawk capturing Al so he can use him as pawn to spark a rebellion against the powers that be in Zoltan…it’s all very meh and distant, in stark contrast to all the good relationship stuff.

Mind you, with the OP and ED this show has, I was fully ready for a show that didn’t have a central plotline, but instead focused on the main couple’s growing love and the details of their new slow life. As new characters and villains are introduced and more things happen in Zoltan, the less interested I become. It’s a weird contradiction.

Take Albert: I knew he laid claim to the strongest adventurer in Zoltan, and had the Champion blessing, but I still didn’t know him well enough as a character to care about the many twists and turns he goes through this week. This more dramatic stuff like Albert saying Red joining him will change the course of the entire world…it mostly just rings flat.

I care about Red, Rit, and Ruti, and that’s pretty much it. Normally that’s not enough for me to stick with a show, but I’m genuinely curious to see how far their romance goes, just as I’m constantly worried for their future.

That’s a tension the show could lean into, but it genuinely seems more interested in Bighawk turning into a goofy white goat man, breaking Albert out of jail, then meeting with Ruti. The show wants to keep expanding the world, while I just want to soak in the warm tub with a cup of mead!

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 07 – Incidental Income

Makoto brings to Rembrandt a talented alchemist in Hazal, but he’s super-nervous, which makes him clumsy. Fortunately, Makoto is able to parkour himself into a position to catch the precious vials of ambrosia medicine. When it comes time to administer them to Rembrandt’s wife and daughters, Makoto employs the same Judo his sisters used on him to put the women into restraining holds without injuring them.

Makoto leaves the Rembrandt manor having cured his beloved family, and Tomoe and Mio are waiting for him. Unfortunately, so is a band of adventurer assassins. Makoto dodges, but Tomoe and Mio intentionally don’t, so as to gauge their adversaries’ power. Turns out it’s nothing to worry about. That’s when we learn that Makoto now has a system for employing his ultra-powerful retainers.

In this situation, that system involves Mio pretending to take the gold of the lead adventurer—named Lime Latte, which does sound like a gross Starbucks drink—and simply sitting this one out. She, Tomoe, and Makoto coordinate via telepathy, making it look like Mio is betraying Makoto for a quick buck. In reality, she has every confidence Tomoe and/or her Young Master can handle Lime and his crew without her.

And they do—obviously—but while there’s no tension about who will emerge victorious, some actual nuance emerges with regards to their adversary. While Lime and his crew agreed that Rembrandt needed to be taught a lesson, he just thought they’d be putting his wife and daughter into a harmless deep sleep. The witch doctor who approached him duped him into something far more sinister.

Our of gratitude and respect for Makoto, Rembrandt spares Lime’s life when he profusely apologizes. Later, Tomoe even gives Lime the katana the dwarves made her—which she deems “imperfect” but is without doubt the most valuable thing Lime has ever touched—and even takes him on as a squire of sorts. Looks like we’ll be seeing more of Lime.

Lime, who unlike the baddies in the previous town is not a manifestly bad guy, but Tomoe, who Sees All, eavesdrops on Rembrandt and his trusty butler Morris talking about the possibility of taking hostile action against the Young Master should his trading company continue to prosper.

This week, the bad guy turned out to be not that bad, while the apparently good guy with the recently cured wife and daughters may not be too good after all. I for one welcome this infusion of shades of grey!

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 03 – The Sorrows of Young Master

~Moonlit Fantasy~ is scratching all the right irreverent isekai itches as Makoto comes to terms with the fact he now has not one but two gorgeous and horrifyingly powerful women in who are also a lot to deal with. That said, no one can blame them for their personalities considering one is a ravenous spider monster and the other was a freaking dragon.

While they’re ever deferent to their master (and grateful for the names he gives them, which also makes them even stronger), things never get skeevy the way they often can in these scenarios, and more admirably, Makoto has no desire for things to take that turn.

Makoto also learns that while Tomoe and Mio are essentially his retainers, they themselves have their own personal armies of dragon men and spider people, respectively. Combined with elder dwarves and orcs, Makoto quite suddenly finds himself at the nexus of a burgeoning multicultural nation-state that would make Rimuru Tempest take notice.

Still, Makoto isn’t primarily interested in statecraft or harems, but in following his parents’ path in this Isekai. Combined with being a bit demi-humaned out, he soon sets off for a human settlement. Unfortunately, the first human he spots—a lovely lass with flowing golden locks—runs away from him like he’s some kind of monster, and when he approaches the town, they’re ready for battle and loose a cloud of arrows at him!

Makoto thinks it’s because he’s ugly, but it’s really because his immense aura appears to humans like he’s being accompanied by several demon lords; plus he doesn’t speak the common tongue, only demi languages, thanks to the Goddess. So over a month or so, Makoto learns Common while an elder dwarf crafts a ring that can absorb and compress his aura.

Armed with this ring (plus many more—a delightful sight gag), a mask, and flanked by Tomoe and Mio, he heads back into town…which is unusually expensive. He also pays a visit to the adventurer’s guild, where Tomoe and Mio’s levels are 1,320 and 1,500, respectively, but despite his power, his is still only 1.

He and his retainers cause a big ruckus at the guild, resulting in them being followed by those adventurers who aren’t tolerant of boisterous newcomers. Makoto assigns Tomoe the task of guarding their wagon while he and Mio go out for dinner. While Tomoe is eventually approached by a group of baddies, Makoto and Mio encounter a little girl in rags…and then the episode ends!

While the baddies will no doubt regret going up against Tomoe very soon, I’m more intrigued by this girl. Whoever she is, and for whatever reason she approached Makoto, she’s prominent enough in the OP for me to presume she’ll play a larger role in the near future. For now, her appearance is little more than a tease, but it wrapped up a very brisk, fun episode.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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