Call of the Night – 13 (Fin) – Let’s Talk About Love

While Nazuna plays video games alone (a typical night for her before meeting Kou), Kou is invited to Suzushiro Hatsuka’s apartment, where they’re greeted by three of Hatsuka’s offspring who are completely in her thrall, so much so that they simply stood around eagerly waiting for her return.

It isn’t until they’re ordered to leave and Hatsuka takes a shower and forgets a towel that Kou learns Hatsuka isn’t a woman, but a very, very pretty man. Suddenly Kou has a distraction from the night, which had been turned into a disappointment by his encounter with Anko.

Nazuna heads to the rooftop lounge vamps to report that she may not be turning Kou into a vampire after all. Niko tells her that wasn’t their agreement. Nazuna asks that they spare Kou’s life, but Niko is furious. It’s one thing for her and Kou to take their sweet old time, but to abandon the whole enterprise? Niko won’t stand for it—which means violence is sure to follow.

Hanging out with Hatsuka turns out to have a great deal of value, as he learns that just like humans don’t really know that much about humans, vamps don’t know much about vamps either. For what it’s worth, he doesnt’ believe Nazuna was withholding anything from her, but also doesn’t think it’s likely he’ll fall for her, being an adolescent kid and all.

So he proposes a compromise: Kou will become one of his offspring, so he won’t have to be killed and Nazuna won’t have to face consequences. As far as “falling” for him, Hatsuka will simply use his vampire power to “glamor” Kou, as he did with his other children. But this isn’t about gender for Kou—he simply only wants to fall for Nazuna.

As Kou gets up, Hatsuka asks him what he hopes to do by inserting himself betwen Nazuna and a clearly enraged Niko (the others text him a picture of a destroyed table). Kou simply says he doesn’t want Nazuna to be bored. He wants The Night to remain theirs.

When he arrives at the rooftop lounge, it’s clear a huge fight has taken place, but Nazuna just left. Niko declares ominously that Nazuna “won’t be capable of proper conversation for a while”, and doesn’t want to see Kou. Kou doesn’t care. He wants to see her, and he’ll brave any vampire fracas or cop-infested pedestrian bridge to track her down.

When he does, a forlorn Nazuna is buying a beer at the same vending machine where they first met, with their positions reversed: Nazuna lit by the machine’s greenish light, and Kou looking sinister as hell in the shadows. We learn that all Niko “did” to Nazuna was insist they talk about love, because that’s what Niko likes best.

Niko makes a deal with Nazuna: she and the others will go all out and root for her and Kou, and she’ll do whatever it takes to make Kou fall for her. As long as Nazuna can honor this, they won’t lay a finger on Kou’s feathery little head. And as proponents of vampire propagation, this works out better for them too.

Nazuna insists that “it’s over” but Kou takes her by the shoulders. He tells her he thought life was boring too until he ventured out into the night and met her. Even if she “acted like a know-it-all” who only knew how to have fun, masking her ennui, it doesn’t change the fact that the two of them had a heck of a lot of fun together.

Nazuna admits that she’s had so much fun she’d forgotten the boredom that had been gradually crushing her for decades.By dint of Kou being by her side, even things she’s done before feel new and exciting. Kou says they should then simply keep finding new things to do; he’s determined not to let her ever get bored again.

In response to this, Nazuna gives him a kiss—not a vampire’s kiss to the neck like usual, but an honest-to-god kiss on the lips like the climax of a romantic movie. She’s never been the most comfortable with romance, but in Kou she has a kindred spirit, and they can navigate those uncharted waters together as she vows in her head to become “a vampire worth falling for.” Of course, Kou would be the first person to say she already is.

While this episode could certainly serve as a series finale, I hope that’s not the case. Not only is there apparently plenty more manga to adapt from, but this was by all accounts a very popular and well-regarded anime. I’m hopeful it gets a second season where we’ll have more of Kou and Nazuna feeling their way through what it means to be together.

Call of the Night – 12 – Part of the Ordinary

Nothing like watching a starving vampire die with your friends to put a damper on your fun, huh? That tension pervades this episode as well. While Mahiru speaks alone with Anko in her very classic noir detective office, Kou twists and turns in bed, and when he goes to Nazunas and she prepares to feed, he finds himself pushing her away.

After talking things out (she promises him she’s in no danger of becoming like that starving teacher) they go on a walk, and Kou feels a little better, especially after Nazuna sucks his blood. He was suddenly confronted with the dark side of vampirism, but feels now that he’s identified that fear he can manage it.

I also like the subtle ways Nazuna’s new maid café pay allows her to buy a new top and shoes, switching up her usual all-black style. Switching up her wardrobe makes her feel more, well, human, and less of the evil villainous monsters Anko believes all vamps to be, who would of course always wear the same outfit.

Either later that night or on another night, Kou and Mahiru hang out, Kou finally meets Mahiru’s older friend, and Kou can’t take his eyes of her, despite her not being a vampire (as far as we know). But Mahiru’s true reason is to get Kou to reconsider becoming a vampire, asking him to at least explain why he needs to be one so bad.

Hearing his old friend say these things, and bring up the very frightening prospect of either him or Akira getting hurt, sends Kou’s anxiety and doubt rushing back. He’s so out of sorts, when he next visits Nazuna, he simply needs her to hold him quietly for a bit. Sensing a change of scenery might help, she invites herself to his house, where his mom is out (and his dad’s been gone).

As Nazuna performs at thorough porn search, Kou realizes she’s the first girl he’s had in his room and on his bed; Nazuna notes how the bed smells like him, adding to the raunchiness. But then they turn to real talk, and she tells him it’d be weird if he wasn’t unsure about being turned after what he witnessed.

Kou says he wants to become a vampire because he loves the night and all its freedom and strangeness. He also likes Nazuna, who acknowledges all his emotions and is at the end of the night a decent person, vampire or no. But he can’t discount the potential for hurting his friends, so he wavers. When he then adds that Nazuna is “that eager” to make him her offspring, her resulting expression makes it feel like an uncalled-for low blow.

Nazuna expands on Kou’s love of the night, believing he truly loves it because it’s out of the ordinary. She asks him to compare his first night out to his latest, and Kou can’t deny the excitement has waned some. Then she says that she’s lived for decades as a vampire and felt nothing but boredom (or to be more precise, ennui*).

Rather than try to convince him to be a vampire, Nazuna can’t help but discourage him, since in her experience it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. She tried to make things as fun and exciting for him because that’s how she wanted to be, and how she wanted him to think vampires were like.

These two are no longer strangers to setting jokes aside and  saying what’s in their heart, but in this case, the truth hurts. It’s also not altogether surprising; immortality is bound to get dull once you’ve seen and done everything and nothing is new or exciting; when everything becomes ordinary.

Just as Nazuna turns to leave, Kou trips on his chair, drops the remote to the light, and falls onto the bed, on top of her. The bleak light of his room becomes a deep, dark purplish blue, and motes of dust sparkle in the moonlight. Just one little stumble, and suddenly things are exciting and extraordinary again.

Nazuna rises as if to kiss him, but her lips pass his and go to his ear, asking if he thought she was going to kiss him, then licking his neck marks and disappearing through the window.

One night, Kou decides to meet with Anko, curious about how exactly she kills vampires and why, and to basically learn more about her. But Anko isn’t the kind of person who is easy to get a read on, especially if you’re a middle school boy. She batters him with faux flirting and deductive reasoning. She messes with him the way a cat messes with a mouse.

And like a cat, her end goal is to destroy: not Kou, but Kou’s designs on becoming a vampire. In the beige, drab night (I love how the environment changes when she’s around) she offers him a stark black and white choice: abandon his plans, or be killed by her hand as soon as he becomes one.

His attempts to counter her arguments by describing the vampires he’s met fall on deaf ears; Anko doesn’t want to hear it. Vampires are evil and shouldn’t exist, period, and any human traits or behavior they adopt is in the service of feeding on and killing humans.

When Kou asks how he’ll avoid being killed by the other vampires if he decides not to become one, Anko simply says she’ll kill every last one. It’s chilling to hear someone with such resolve speaking Nazuna’s name. When he refuses to choose, she simply plays dirty, calling the police and reporting a middle schooler hanging out late at night.

Kou runs from Anko, but it will be hard to run away from her will, and now the night is tinged with that fear he thought he could control: the fear of losing the night where he feels most free. When a cop car turns on its lights and sirens, bathing him in red light, the paranoia briefly takes over, and he seeks shelter in a playground slide.

It’s here, where he wants nothing more than to be with Nazuna, talking with her about nothing of import, where he’s approached by Suzushiro Hatsuka. Hatsuka doesn’t seem there to threaten or hurt him, but simply to talk, having possibly smelled Kou’s fear and/or anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong: vampires shouldn’t be allowed to go around murdering people, or drinking their blood without consent. But the world has more than enough people out there who would gladly offer their blood to vampires, as Kou does with Nazuna.

Dismissing peaceful coexistence while shrugging over the awful things humans do to each other seems not only reductive but hypocticial. Then again, she could simply be an anti-vamp zealot, perhaps after losing a loved one. In any case, she’s definitely got her hooks at least partially in Kou (not to mention Mahiru), and is unlikely to loosen her grip anytime soon.

DanMachi IV – 04 – The Seaweed’s Always Greener

When Bell first lays eyes on the mermaid who applauded his performance against the Iguazu, his first thought is probably that he really shouldn’t stare at her for too long considering she’s topless. His reaction spooks her, but it isn’t long before Marie (no “Miss!”) is offering the finger she bit for him to suck on (her blood has healing qualities).

It also helps that Marie is friends with Xenos like Rei and Rido. I thought she might be the classic siren keeping Bell occupied while her Moss Huge ally picks of his party one by one, but it doesn’t seem to be like that. If anything, Marie is clingy because she’s lonely: her friends have wings and feet while she’s tethered to the water.

The Moss Huge doesn’t need Marie or anyone else’s help to create a huge shitshow for Bell’s party, led in his absence by Lili’s brains and Aisha’s brawn. It’s implied the Moss Huge has not only been stockpiling monsters but also influencing their movement patterns, such that the party ends up in the middle of a “pass parade”, when hordes of monsters are coming at them from all directions.

Despite overwhelming difficulty of avoiding getting flattened by the parade while still keeping the injured safe and mobile, Lili, Aisha & Co. manage to keep it together. Welf has to go through his magic swords like potato chips, but they’ve gotta do what they’ve gotta do.

Ouka proves masterful with his axe, while Makoto also whips out one of her new special techniques which splits a rampaging giant urchin clean in two, showing Aisha that she and Bell aren’t the only ones pulling their weight.

When Bell sufficiently promises neither he nor Marie will be killed if they leave the safety of her lagoon, she uses her song to locate a friendly monster and leads Bell back to his friends. When she runs out of water to swim in, Bell finally does what the show’s title has always promised and Picks Up a Girl in a Dungeon—and if it’s Wrong, I don’t want to be Right!

Even after their small victories and getting time for Cassandra to heal them, the monsters just keep coming in waves. Lili knows they can’t keep running without reducing the number of foes, so Aisha tells Haruhime that it’s time for her to unleash her Level Boost on everyone.

Hopefully that bullet isn’t used too early, and the resulting boost will keep the party afloat long enough for Bell and his new friend to arrive. But the fact that they’ve done so well without Bell for this long speaks to what a talented, coordinated, and resilient party they’ve become in a short time. You could say greatness is being forged in the watery crucible of these lower floors.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 03 – Meeting Their Mossy Match

Whelp, the fun and swagger didn’t last long, did it? Cassandra tries in vain to heal Chigusa and Luvis, but the parasitic plant that has infected them is beyond her abilities. Simply cutting them only speeds their growth. With time against them, Bell opens the floor to ideas, as he admits he’s best suited to combat.

Cassandra says they could retreat to the surface and enlist the services of a higher-level healer, or they could confront the enhanced monster in hope the plants within their people will wither and die if it’s defeated. Ultimately, the group goes with the latter plan.

I like Bell’s dedication to deliberation and consensus…in theory. In practice, it’s a little odd that Chigusa, Luvis, and his party members are able to survive as long as they are considering their bodies are being eaten from the inside by parasitic vines. Frankly, standing around talking about it saps (no pun intended) the urgency a bit.

When they find Luvis’ party mates, they’re clearly being used as bait. As Strategist, Lili delegates duties amongst the party members, with Bell and Asha focusing on the Moss Huge. But Moss is crafty, and arranges things so the weaker members of the party are closer to it, forcing Bell to leap in at the last minute to save them.

His Fire Bolt hits, and the Huge doesn’t seem to like it one bit, so it grabs him by the leg and dives into the water. Bell is about to run out of air when he is suddenly released by the Huge, and the current shoots him straight out of a massively high waterfall. Just like that, the party has lost its leader and strongest member.

Lili momentarily loses it and tries to rush after him, but Aisha reminds her of her duty as Strategist to keep a cool head. She also ruefully admits that Bell is stronger than her now, and has surely found a way to survive whatever fate has befallen him.

So Lili crafts a new plan: the party will head back to where they started on this floor: a high enough vantage point that they’ll avoid further ambush, but also an enticing spot for the Huge to attack them. Once the Huge is where they want him, Makoto will use her gravity magic to bring down the rocks and crush him.

It might work! Certainly Bell isn’t in a position to fight the Huge as he’s now several thousand feet below everyone else, but he is alive. No sooner does he get back on his feet than something slices him in the arm: one of the laser-quick Iguazu Eina warned him about.

At first he hides behind a crystal, which gets eaten away pretty quickly by the onslaught. So he considers what Ais would do in this situation, and then does it: faces the threat head on and fighting it off with his quick swordwork. He gets nicked more than a few times, but in the end he’s still standing and the Iguazu are gone.

For his efforts, he receives a surprise round of applause…from a mermaid he didn’t even know was watching! Hopefully she won’t try to kill or eat our dinged up Little Rookie.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 02 – Not-So-Laid-Back Camp

On the verdant final floor of the middle floors, Bell’s awesome mega-party makes camp. Haruhime was initially worried about whether Bell could still fight and kill monsters after his dealings with the Xenos, but Bell tells her he’s committed to being a “hypocrite hero”.

Bell’s performance against the monsters thus far earn him high praise from his comrades, though Lili worries he’s “drifting away”. Welf says it’s then the job of a supporter to keep chasing after him. Aisha also remarks that Bell is having a positive influence and looking like a true hero, not just dragging everyone along but making everyone around him grow stronger.

After a meal ’round the campfire, everyone retires to their tents, where we get some nice combinations of characters chatting. There’s Mikoto swearing to be Haruhime’s shield (any shippers?), Daphnie praising Lili for her Strategist performance thus far (Daphnie is so cool!), to an increasingly agitated Cassandra warning a drowsy Chigusa about her premonition about a creepy Green Moss that covers everything.

We also have nice moments between Bell and Welf as well as Bell and Aisha when he relieves her for the change of watch. It’s a welcome reminder that as affable as things have gone so far, they are still in dangerous territory. And Aisha warns that it’s going to get a lot more gnarly as they descend into the lower floors. If Bell gets himself killed, he’ll likely take the whole party with him. To Aisha’s delight, Bell doesn’t flinch at these words.

The landscape turns from green to a vivid blue as the party descends to the 25th Floor and the Great Falls of Water City. DanMachi puts out some serious Abyss vibes here, as our heroes are absolutely dwarfed by the massive waterfalls and rock formations.

Their first encounter with monsters (blue crabs) is relatively uneventful, but just walking a bit too close to the water’s edge nearly costs Haruhime her life. Thankfully, Mikoto isn’t just talk, and impresses all when she dispatches the giant piranha.

When Welf spots an extremely rare and valuable material, even the level-headed Lili decides it’s worth the risk (especially considering how expensive this expedition is costing the Familia). Part of a Strategist’s job is deciding when the risk is worth the reward, and even when another monster ambushes Mikoto in mid-air, she shows how much her training paid off by delivering a dazzling somersault kick.

The haul of expensive material and Mikoto’s heroics leave the party feeling confident about descending just a bit lower before heading back to their 24th Floor camp…and then Cassandra’s premonition begins to come true. They spot a wounded Luvis emerging from the darkness, and right behing him is the most formidable monster yet.

Bell rushes ahead to take it on, but it seemingly reads all his moves, and he identifies it as an “enhanced species”. When it unleashes a hellish fusillade of woody projectiles, everyone does their best to avoid them, but Chigusa gets caught by one—only one—and her resulting shoulder wound is infected by a rapidly growing plant that no doubt threatens her life.

Proof positive that adventuring in the Dungeon is all fun and games…until one of your party gets struck down. Now comes the true test of Bell’s leadership, Lili’s guidance, and the other party members’ physical mental fortitude. Can they overcome this setback, or is it only the first of the dominoes?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 03 – A Grand Ooting

Yor arrives at her new home and the Forger family is complete. Loid is surprised by how little luggage she has and how quickly and efficiently she puts it away; Yor is surprised by how clean the place is and how good a cook Loid is. Anya almost opens up Yor’s box of death, but is warned by Yor’s own thoughts not to.

While the three get along just fine to start, once they actually have to start practicing the Eden interview, things go sideways fast. Anya’s answers are too honest (she’s ordered to stay home and watch TV all day) while Yor’s are all over the place (and strangely bloody). Loid begins to doubt if this mission can work.

That said, they all go out for the kind of outing (mispronounced “ooting” by Anya) that upper class families go on. They certainly look the part. First up is the opera, then a museum (where Anya gets a kick out of the classical nudity while Yor digs the guillotine). In the kids section Anya scribbles her parents’ true identities (which, again, they don’t know she knows), but since they’re just that—kid’s scribbles—Loid and Yor chalk it up to her vivid imagination.

When a political rally turns out to be too much for Anya (she’s overwhelmed by the combined negative thoughts of the hundreds of people assembled)  the three head to a café for some lunch. There, Loid’s doubts about the viability of the mission resurface, as Anya has terrible table manners for a purported upper class child, and Yor is again way too blissed out on cutlery.

Yor suggests they have a nice after-lunch rest at a quiet park with a great view of the city (I got a kick out of Anya saying the people look like “tiny bits of trash”—now that’s upper class thinking). But when one of those people turns out to be a thief stealing a purse from an elderly woman, Yor springs into action, though quickly loses the culprit in the crowds.

Anya scans those crowds for the thoughts of the thief, and when she finds him, rather than expose her power she simply points at a restaurant near to where the thief is, and Loid does the rest. Yor watches Anya while he chases him down and retrieves the wallet. Then they take the grandma, who has quite a strong handshake to the hospital to be checked out.

When the three start interacting naturally in front of the granny, she remarks what a lovely family they are. That’s when Loid starts to think that maybe, just maybe they can pull off this academy admission plan. That, and after a day full of upper-class activities (and one citizen’s arrest), Anya’s answers in the next mock interview are a lot more convincing.

They may be an odd family who are keeping profound secrets from one another (with only Anya knowing the truth about everyone), but they also happen to be adorable, and their interactions throughout this episode were a pure joy to watch unfold as they take their first tentative steps to being a family.

Spy x Family – 02 – Put a (Grenade) Ring on It

The world Loid and Anya live in is extremely paranoid and treacherous, with people fucking each other over as easily as breathing. Kind, innocent souls like Yor risk getting reported simply for being single, since its believed such spinsterism threatens the nation’s birth rate. So when one of her bitchy co-workers invites her to a party, she’d better have a man on her arm.

It speaks to how dark and unpleasant this world is that even otherwise decent people like Loid and Yor are spies and assasins, respectively. Yor in particular really sells the “Thorn Princess” persona with an absolutely killer costume. Indeed, Yor’s penchant for wearing elegant headbands, along with Hayami Saori’s soft, warm voice, instantly endear me to her.

Obviously, these two kids simply have to meet; their interests and departure from the norms of shitty society align too perfectly. It’s just a matter of when, and sure enough, it’s at a clothier. Loid needs to buy fancier clothes for Anya, while Yor needs her only nice dress, torn during her killings, repaired for the party.

Loid is struck by how easily Yor sneaks up on him and how she can feel his gaze, while Anya uses her mind-reading to clear Yor’s misunderstanding about Loid being married, thus facilitating an arrangement between the two. Loid will attend the party as Yor’s boyfriend, while Yor will attend the meeting at Eden as Anya’s mom.

Unfortunately, the party is on Saturday night, the same night Loid is ordered to steal art from some smugglers. He tries to fit both obligations in, which is a recipe for disaster, and while he’s able to take out 38 thugs without too much trouble, a 39th and 40th ram him with their car. Meanwhile, Yor has to endure the party all alone, exposing her to her co-worker’s scorn and mockery.

When Loid shows up at the last minute and accidentally introduces himself as Yor’s husband, he’s bloodstained from a “violent episode” from a patient, saying he’s a psychiatrist. Camilla is so pissed that Yor has such a hot partner that she tries to toss piping hot gratin on Yor, only for Yor’s catlike reflexes to kick in and not only avoid getting burned, but saves the food.

When Camilla brings up rumors about Yor going to the hotel rooms of gentlemen for “massages”, Loid simply says it’s splendid for someone to endure such trials and sacrifice for the sake of someone they love—in Yor’s case, her little brother Yuri. He may not know she’s an assassin, but she knows she’s better people than trash like Camilla and her ilk.

After taking their leave from those preening assholes, Loid ends up getting Yor tangled up in the leftovers of his art-stealing mission, as the smugglers try to kill them both. When Loid is nearly stabbed by one thug leaping down from a fire escape, Yor saves his damn life and impresses the hell out of him by kicking the baddie into the next zip code.

Reveling not only in how well they “work” together but that this Loid fellow clearly understands what it means to not be “normal” (i.e., what everyone else is and expects them to be), she ends up asking for the very thing Loid needs: marriage to a woman to seal Anya’s admission.

It truly is a mutually beneficial partnership, and it’s commemorated in the most spy/assassin-y way imaginable: the diamond ring Loid nicked fell through a hole in his pocket, so he uses the ring of a grenade on her finger instead. And just like that, we’ve got ourselves a Spy Family.

Spy x Family – 01 (First Impressions) – Toupees are a No-Go

The master spy Twilight never wanted a family. He’d sworn such emotional connections off when he decided to become a master spy. Connections would only slow him down or compromise him. But now his latest mission is to gather intel on a man who only attends school related social functions. So he crafts the name Loid Forger, gets an apartment, all-too-easily adopts a 4-to-6-year-old  girl named Anya, and begins to craft the illusion that he is a father.

As you’d expect, someone who’d sworn family off does not make the best dad out of the box, and he’s clearly thrown off by Anya’s chaotic behavior, so he raids the library for parenting books. But at the end of the day, he’s like every other new parent out there: on his own, and needing to stay on his toes. He’s now responsible for a life other than his own.

Little does he know that his secret about being a spy isn’t a secret, nor are any of his thoughts. That’s because Anya is an esper, able to effortlessly read his mind and those of anyone else she chooses. This is the result of shadowy human experimentation project from which she fled and has been in and out of foster families and orphanages ever since.

Anya’s built-in struggles with family stability create instant pathos and sympathy for her, on top of her being someone you want Loid to protect at all costs. That said, she really makes it harder than it needs to be by messing with Loid’s spy stuff while he’s out, and ends up getting kidnapped by the same people Loid worked with in his previous mission (I love their leader’s insistence politicians can pretend they’re not bald).

Loid is jumped by several thugs, but while it looks like he’s had his head stove in by a pipe, when he’s brought before the thugs’ boss, he’s not the man with the sack on his head; he switched himself out somewhere along the way. He rescues Anya in disguise and tells her to run to the nearest police station, as he’s decided his mission is to dangerous to involve a little girl. But after he deals with the boss, Anya is still there waiting for him, and makes it clear she wants to remain a family.

Loid relents, and then helps Anya study for the entrance exam needed to be accepted to the academy where his target’s kid also goes, thus giving him the access he needs. It’s a good thing he helped her memorize the answers, too, because none of the minds of the kids around her know them! When Loid finds her number on the board of accepted students, he can’t contain his genuine joy, and is suddenly hit by all the built-up exhaustion of the last few days.

He manages to get home and passes out on the couch. Anya gets the mail (telling the mailman “her mother doesn’t exist”) then sees Loid asleep and vulnerable, and decides to curl up under his arm, finally with a home and parent to her name after so much heartbreak and pain. When Loid wakes up to read the mail that arrived, he learns that having a daughter won’t be enough: he’ll need a wife in order to pass the second admission test. How hard could it be?

Spy x Family is a taut, brisk, and thoroughly charming and heartwarming story of a spy’s ice cold heart gradually melting in the presence of the world’s cutest telepathic orphan. Will he really abandon her like all those others once his mission is complete, or will the fake family he’s building (and will soon complete with a fake wife) convince him he can have “conventional happiness”?

Mieruko-chan – 08 – Let Sleeping Moths Lie

While shopping with Kyousuke for a birthday gift for their mom, Miko comes across a very cute dress and decides to try it on, since she and her mom are pretty much the same size. Unfortunately, a ghoulish store rep who says “It looks great on you!” kinda ruins the mood…not to mention Miko wears the dress out of the store, basically nixing it as a gift for mom.

While she and Kyousuke find another gift, the trip home is less than stress-free, thanks to a spectral axe murderer walking down the subway car, swinging its axe right into peoples’ heads. Miko has every right to be scared about what the axe might do to someone like her who can see them.

Thankfully, the axe only hurts other ghouls, and goes right through her head without incident. We don’t see Miko and Kyousuke giving their mom the gift of couple mugs. Rather, we watch as their mom makes two cups of tea with them: one for her, and one for her dearly departed husband.

The balance between creepy/gross/spooky/sinister ghosts and benevolent ones continues when Miko and Hana see off their pregnant homeroom teacher, learning that the child she’s carrying is her second try. This explains the odd white specter that’s so interested in the teacher’s belly: it’s the ghost of her dead child.

This was one of the best and most powerful segments of Mieruko-chan to date, because it once again subverts expectations. At first I thought the ghost was a threat like Miko did. But when we see how it interacts with his mother’s hand, it’s as if we and Miko can see the healing love emanate from her. I was well and truly choked up.

Contrast that with just regular choking due to one of the grosser ghouls Miko has come across. With a dozen slithery three-nostriled tusks leaking snot and some unsettling googly eyes, this particular specimen is not the first ghost Miko decides to face “head-on”. Perhaps she’ll face a less gross one later. For now, Miko joins Senpai’s Futaba as a Fall 2021 character who is partial to canned oshiruko.

The final segment brings back two very different cat people. First, Miko and Hana’s substitute homeroom teacher is Toono Zen, the guy Miko wouldn’t let adopt the stray kitten. Between those nasty demonic cats surrounding him and his blood red eyes, I wonder if he has “the sight” like Miko and Yulia, and knows that Miko can see too?

Whatever his deal, homeroom is not going to be pleasant for Miko for the foreseeable future. As for the tough yakuza-looking guy, he takes his time finding just the right cat food and cake to celebrate his late wife’s life, their anniversary, and the lives of their two beautiful white cats, who continue to watch over his new fuzzy companion as benevolent spirits. Mieruko-chan continues to spook me out and melt my heart.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mieruko-chan – 07 – Tunnel Visions (of Horror)

Things are only getting spookier for Miko, and it’s largely Hana’s fault! When Hana’s photo gets a lot of likes on Instagram (666, to be exact) she believes it’s her calling to be a photographer, and buys a Polaroid to take more. Yulia, waiting for an opening to exact her revenge on Miko for humiliating her/choking her out, eggs Hana on by suggesting a bus trip to the mountains for some prime photo spots.

Yulia’s motivations aside, this is the first time in a long time, maybe ever, she’s gone on a trip with friends. That said, she sticks to her mission, getting Hana to enter a tunnel known to be haunted so Miko will have no choice but to admit she also sees ghosts, and deal with them. Of course, at first it’s normal stuff that gets Hana spooked: the darkness and a sudden drop of water falling on the back of her neck.

When Miko trips in the dark, then dusts off her hands, Yulia believes her rival is setting up some kind of supernatural barrier. Because of the discrepancy between the types of ghosts Yulia and Miko can see, Miko’s gestures seem to coincide with the ghosts Yulia can see shriveling up and vanishing, as if Miko exorcised them. But Yulia can’t bigger and much more horrifying monster that is devouring the ones she can see.

Yulia makes things worse by trying to get Miko to admit she can see the ghosts too, totally unaware the biggest and baddest instantly reacts to the sensation that the humans can see them. Miko has been operating under the assumption that this is, as Egon once said, “very bad”. The monster prepares to swoop down on the three girls, but is stopped and defeated by the shrine spirits, who once again protect Miko.

Hana takes Miko and Yulia’s defeated, exhausted expressions on the ride home as shared disappointment in not getting to the end of the tunnel to the photo spot. So she gathers the two close for a selfie. That ends up making Yulia’s day, as it’s established her belief in ghosts cause other classmates to ostracize her, but she’s finally found new friends.

As for Miko, she’s just trying not to overthink why some spirits protect her while others want to kill her, Hana, and now Yulia, or what one of the ones protecting her meant by “three times”. But as the preview says, things are going to get spookier before they become less spooky, so Miko will likely need all the spectral allies she can get!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 11 – Return of The Girls

Sorawo and Toriko continue to exhibit positive change, as evidenced by their commitment to return to the Otherside and rescue the American marines they left behind. Simply saying “it’s not our problem” doesn’t enter into their thoughts on the matter.

It all comes down to whether their Lady Hasshaku hat trick will work again, and fortunately it does, transporting them back to the side of the train track. While they’re initially shot at on sight, Toriko fires off “SOS” in Morse, and the marines stand down, realizing they’re dealing with humans.

While Greg, their contact the last time around, was killed in the battle that continued after the girls transported away, the new guy in command speaks Japanese and is both friendly and grateful to “The Girls”, as they’re called, for coming back to help them. They’re also happy to provide all the weapons and ammo they need.

Toriko, whose mom was in the Canadian military and tought her how to shoot and maintain firearms, teaches Sorawo the proper way to hold and aim a rifle, getting all close and personal in the process. The two of them take their place atop one of the customized MRAPs the marines prepared, and the entire unit heads out, blowing up their improvised base behind them.

Sorawo, buoyed by the fact Toriko is right beside her, ably guides the convoy around glitches. Enemies first approach under the guise of fellow marines, but Sorawo’s eye sees through the illusion; they’re monsters, soon joined by the two boss-level beasts. Sorawo serves as spotter for the marines, but even after a successful headshot, the antler-branch monster’s head simply grows back.

When they reach the forest form which the marines first emerged upon arriving, their enemies suddenly cease their advance. After some driving through the woods they eventually come upon a roped-off glowing offertory box, perhaps the very gate through which the marines came. Their memories are hazy, clouded by the fear of the “nightmare” they endured upon arriving.

Sorawo and Toriko investigate, and spot a pale woman in tattered robes and blood-red toothy grin, whom Sorawo identifies as Kakandara—no doubt from another urban legend with which she’s familiar. Now that they’ve come so close to accomplishing their mission of bringing the boys home, hopefully The Girls can defeat, delay, or otherwise repel this Kakandara woman, and not give in to her fear-inducing aura.

Otherside Picnic – 10 – Tenth Floor Barbecue

Looking in the mirror without her glasses, Sorawo sees a longer-haired version of herself. She’s still clearly troubled by Akari’s comment about her perceived resemblance to Uruma Satsuki. That night she goes out for barbecue in Ikebukuro with the gang, and the American soldiers trapped in the Otherside come up for the first time since she and Toriko left them there.

That doesn’t sit right with either of them, particularly Toriko, and Sorawo wonders if Lady Hasshaku’s hat (which apparently still exists) can still provide them with a way to get back there to rescue them. But that’s put on hold when they get a call from Akari. She’d gone up ahead to get their table, but the elevator started strangely, and now she’s lost.

More worryingly, while on the phone with Toriko and Sorawo, she sees an illusion of them and assumes it’s them, drawing her even deeper into the rabbit hole. The other two conclude that the elevator of this Ikebukuro building operates the same way as the one in Jimbocho—as a gate to the Otherside. And Akari got off early.

They head to the elevator and go through the same process as in Jimbocho they’ve executed dozens of times, if not more. They’re joined at the last minute by Kozakura, who unlike them is not used to this stuff and is scared out of her wits the whole time, a far cry from the collected demeanor when she’s home.

Eventually the elevator opens on the floor where a monstrous girl tries to get on, but instead they see Akari. Sorawo decides to get off here to follow her, and Toriko and Kozakura follow her. Eventually they find Akari seated at a vanity mirror, only to vanish. Sorawo uses her eye and Toriko’s hand, but end up shattering the mirror.

That seems to take them from the In-Between world to the Otherside, which takes the form of a dark corridor full of shuttered stores. Sorawo finally gets Akari to turn around; from her perspective she was chasing them, not the other way around. Suddenly, Sorawo’s eye and Toriko’s hand start to tingle—call it their Othersidey Sense.

The white glowing form of a woman, probably Satsuki, appears from a distance, then creates a thick blue cloud of smoke. The four turn tail and run for it, initially finding themselves in a continuous loop before emerging at the In-Between. Kozakura starts to fall behind, but urges the others to keep running and not slow down.

The four manage to get to the elevator, and shoot the smoke until it retreats, but after a few moments of rest it comes back with a vengeance. Sorawo wakes up to find everyone else unconscious, and the elevator doors open to reveal Satsuki standing over what looks like a volcano…or possibly just a massive barbecue? Sorawo directs her eye and the unconscious Toriko’s hand at the two, and she’s out again.

This time, everyone comes to, and the doors open to reveal the barbecue restaurant; they’re back in the normal world. Akari heads over, having made a reservation for four in Sorawo’s name. When Akari asks her what the heck just happened, Sorawo says “Don’t ask me. I have no idea,” which is both fair and accurate.

But with stomachs growling impatiently, perhaps it’s best for everyone fill up with grilled meats, knock back a couple brewskis, and count their blessings. Whatever happened, they survived it together. And now they know that any building of ten or more floors could potentially be a gate to the Otherside.

Otherside Picnic – 09 – Grease Monkey

While on the train to Kozakura’s Toriko notices Sorawo’s hair has gotten longer since they met, and how she thinks it’s cute. Sorawo’s obviously chuffed, but seeing “Karateka” at Kozakura’s takes the wind out of her sails somewhat, while that farm equipment just sits outside the front door.

Akari has another case for Sorawo and Toriko, and it involves Sannuki Kano, another urban legend popular online with which Sorawo is already familiar. This time Akari isn’t the one afflicted, but her good friend Ichikawa Natsumi, a mechanic at a garage. Natsumi initially mistakes Toriko for Sorawo, then acts…odd upon learning she’s the black-haired one.

It’s also clear she and Akari are super close; one could say they have eyes only for one other. But Natsumi failed to follow the instructions the monkey stipulated regarding Sannuki Kano, and many a mishap has occured since, from an old woman hanging herself in her yard to both her parents being hospitalized.

Sorawo inspects the vicinity and they find a cremation urn full of teeth buried near the tree where the lady hung herself. They also find Natsumi’s family Shinto altar buried on the grounds. While searching with Sorawo, Natsumi admits that in the brief times she saw Akari’s tutor Uruma Satsuki, she had a very creep aura, as if she was about to take Akari far away from her.

Natsumi also worried when she heard about Sorawo and assumed it was Toriko that she wouldn’t have been able to compete with a “babe like that”, and was relieved to learn it was the…plainer? Sorawo. Just then, Sannuki Kano appears in spectral form and immediately claims one of Natsumi’s teeth, ripping it out with telekinesis.

Sorawo inspects Sannuki with her eye as Akari adopts a karate stance, and Sannuki pulls one of Akari’s teeth out, calling her “Karateka”, which is odd because that’s Sorawo’s nickname for her. Sorawo orders Toriko to put her gun away, yelling “Stay!”, lest she become the next tooth extraction target.

Sorawo holds eye contact on Akari and tells her not to hold back, as Sannuki is not human like the cat ninjas. She also says “Your karate will work on any monster you face”, which suddenly puts Akari into some kind of trance. Akari tilts her head funny and smirks maniacally, saying she is indeed a badass and rushing Sannuki.

The old lady dodges a couple of strikes, but before long the crazed Akari has her on the ground and is just raining blow after devastating blow. Toriko can sense Sorawo did…something to Akari, and tells her to call it off. When Sorawo calls her name, it’s as if a light switch goes off, and Akari is back to her normal self.

With Sannuki destroyed, Akari and Natsumi hug, both relieved they’re okay, and start to repeatedly say each other’s names like the adorable couple they are. Toriko asks Sorawo if she indeed did something to Akari, but it wasn’t intentional. Then Sorawo decides she’ll grow her hair out, leading Toriko to take her bangs lovingly into her transformed hand.

Back at Kozakura’s, Akari admits something happened to her after Sorawo said “I’ll be watching you.” Akari thanks Sorawo profusely once more, glad that she’s such an expert on urban legends, but Sorawo decides to dispel for everyone present the belief she’s “into” urban legends. What she’s actually into is what she calls real-life horror stories: not unsubstantiated popular rumors but documented incidents with witnesses and/or victims and detailed reports.

For Sorawo, scary stories, strange tales, and unexplainable events of this nature are clues that lead “somewhere beyond our world”, i.e. the Otherside, which is where those stories led her, and where she met Toriko, for whom she cares so dearly.

That’s when Akari makes a parting observation: that with her silky black hair and glasses, she somewhat resembles Uruma Satsuki. It’s something Sorawo never considered, but thinking about it transports her right back to that pond in the Otherside she was lying in when she first met Toriko. Is the reason Toriko and Sorawo haven’t been able to find Satsuki because…Sorawo IS Satsuki??

It’s now been established she can cause ordinary bullets to kill monsters and put someone like Akari into a monster-beating trance. She also can sometimes drink too much and forget what she did the previous night. And Toriko thinks would look cuter with longer hair. Heck, the mystery surrounding how Sorawo first reached the Otherside demands we at least consider the possibility she’s the woman she’s considered a rival—and for whom Toriko has searching—all along. 

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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