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

Otherside Picnic – 08 – Ninja Cat Attack

One day while having lunch Sorao is approached by freshman Seto Akari, who has heard from the grapevine that Sorao has “the sixth sense” and specializes in supernatural incidents. Akari’s current problem is she’s being attacked…by ninja cats. Sure, why not?

This isn’t really something Sorao can laugh off, as they’ve experienced far worse in the Otherside. Sorao discusses it with Toriko at Kozakura’s house, only to be interrupted by the delivery of a “tobacco farming vehicle” the partners in crime ordered when they were super drunk together. Note to Sorao—Alcohol is a drug!

Sorao’s main concern in taking on Akari’s job is that she loves cats, and doesn’t think she’d be able to harm one if it came down to it. Toriko assures her she’ll do the violence this time, if necessary. While meeting with Akari at a (non-cat) café, the two ninja cats appear behind them as the three suddenly find themselves in what Sorao calls “Space-Time Man’s world.”

Before pulling their guns, Toriko says they’ll have to make Akari a fellow “partner in crime”, but Sorao objects, as that’s the term she’s landed on to describe their relationship. No one else can be their partner in crime, so they settle on Akari as a “victim” instead.

In this kind of conduit between their world and the Otherside, one of the ninja cats charges Sorao with a sharp blade, but Akari blocks it with a menu. The three flee the café, only to find a surreal “cat world” outside, and the ninjas still in hot pursuit.

When the ninja prove too quick for Toriko’s gun, Akari, who knows “some karate”, puts her purse down and busts out some moves. I didn’t expect any cool martial arts combat animation, but that’s what we get for a glorious sixty seconds or so. Unfortunately, Akari ends up hitting nothing but air, suggesting to Sorao that they may not have a truly physical form.

When she turns her blue eye on Akari, the girl’s personality suddenly turns twisted, and Sorao sees the source: some strange object inside her abdomen. Sorao lifts up Akari’s shirt, grabs Toriko’s hand, and plunges it into Akari, and Toriko produces a cat-themed good-luck charm, the true reason the cats were chasing Akari. Sorao tosses it away and the ninjas chase after it, leaving them alone.

Sorao wakes up back in the real world, not having had to hurt any kittys, Otherside or otherwise. When asked about the charm, Akari says she got it from her tutor, Uruma. Uruma Satsuki. It’s hardly going out on a limb to say that’s not a coincidence, considering Akari reached out to Sorao and Toriko.

Otherside Picnic – 07 – Queens of the Seaside

Those curious about what became of the American Marines get no answers this week, as the girls are on to their next adventure, this time on a beach. Sorao wakes up in a posh hotel room, having shared the bed with a naked Toriko. She can vaguely remember going shopping and bar hopping, and is proud of her drunk self for plugging in her phone.

While taking a taxi to the beach, both Sorao and Toriko nod off, and when they come to, the taxi is derelict and covered in plants and sand, as if it had been sitting there for years. It looks like they’re still in the Otherside, though with a very Spirited Away vibe with a lush blue and green palette.

The duo do a thorough search of a long-abandoned beach shop that, while creepy, contains no active threats, so on Toriko’s urging they change into the bikinis they bought yesterday(?) and proceed to have a fun time on the beach, drinking beer and practicing shooting. The Okinawan afterlife of Narai Kanai is also referenced as the two discuss the Alcatraz-like ruin on the horizon.

Sorao’s been letting her have her way so much, Toriko is worried Sorao could get sick of her, but that’s not the case. Indeed, Sorao again tries to bring up her feelings, only to miss her chance once again. Regardless, she’s happy to be having fun on the beach, a place she never felt was her scene. It’s also a welcome deviation from the standard Otherside aesthetic.

Their solitary fun is cut short when they hear odd noises and discover zombie-like punks beating up little kids. When Sorao and Toriko are rushed, Toriko freezes up, but Sorao shoots them all down before they can get to them. Toriko is impressed: Sorao can shoot and kill to protect herself and Toriko, but she credits Toriko with helping steel her resolve.

Sorao can also see with her eye that the punks weren’t human, but reanimated piles of washed-up beach detritus. Suddenly, the skies turn blue and brooding, which Sorao remembers the captive Toriko saying was the most dangerous time to be in the Otherside. A legion of creepy child-dolls bursts out of the beach shop while huge walrus-like beasts appear on the beach. The girls are well and truly freaked out.

They also don’t have enough ammo to deal with all of these creepy monsters great and small, so Sorao arranges for their exit, using her eye, Lady Hasshaku’s hat, and Toriko’s hand to open a portal. A great light flashes from the dissolving hat, turning all of the monsters back into garbage, and the girls fall through.

They emerge back in the normal world, apparently still on the beaches of a populated, non-ruined Okinawa, and perhaps where they had their day and night of shopping and drinking. Before the portal closes, Sorao spots a woman with flowing black hair. Could it be Uruma Satsuki, mentioned by one of the monster boys as part of the “Queen of the Beach” urban legend?

If it was, Toriko didn’t see her, and Sorao doesn’t bring it up. Instead, they have some beers and enjoy the fireworks, even though they’re broke and not sure how they’ll get home. As always, because they’re living in the moment together, nothing else seems to matter as much.

With its fun girls trip to the beach-turned-freaky seaside monster convention, Urasekai Picnic again scores high marks for its mastery of mood and atmosphere, and the cozily-infectious chemistry of Sorao and Toriko.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 06 – To the Trained Eye

Lt. Blake takes Sorao and Toriko to Major Barker, the “current” commander of the unit, implying a previous commander was among the many casualties. Barker seems nice enough, but weary of the situation, and like Blake, isn’t sure how much longer things can stay “civilized.”

They are surrounded by “bear traps” (i.e. glitches) that either kill or transform whoever or whatever touches them. They are running low on diesel fuel and will soon be out of food. The girls are offered an empty tent that’s strewn with garbage. It’s empty because its previous occupants are dead. It’s just not a place you want to be, especially after a pleasant dinner and drinks.

Blake “advises” them not to use their phones, but it should have been an explicit order and explained that making a call, as the girls do to Kozakura, has an effect on the environment. Specifically, it calls the “Meat Train” to the station, and with it a frightening train of “face dogs”, on whom the soldiers’ mortars and gunfire have no effect.

Toriko hops onto a Humvee and whips out an M14 EBR, but even though Sorao spots the proper target for her, her shots never reach them. This gives Sorao the idea that the one perceiving the targets must be the one to pull the trigger, so she has Toriko anchor her so she can take the shot, all before the soldiers can stop them.

The face dog mass dissipates, but when firing the shot Sorao lost her contact, and the soldiers wig out. She and Toriko make a run for it, and are probably lucky none of the exhausted, extremely on-edge soldiers took any shots at them. Call it a win for Major Barker in keeping discipline under suboptimal conditions.

As the Meat Train approaches, Sorao has another hunch: even though it doesn’t look like it will stop, she belives they can board the train if Toriko reaches out and touches it with her translucent hand. Sorao repeats Toriko’s line about everything working out if they’re together, and take a leap of faith.

It works, and they’re on the train, but Sorao senses a great number of unspeakable, horrifying things on that train, the collective auras of which are enough to cause her to lose consciousness. However, when she comes to, Toriko is smiling from above, and a bright blue sky indicates that they successfully returned to their world, safe and sound.

That’s not to say they returned to Ikebukuro. The beach and palm trees indicate they could be in Okinawa, having used the same entry point to the Otherside the Americans used. Further weird details include the childish drawing of a train track in the sand, and a cut to Kozakura playing back her phone call with the other two, which is distorted and full of unsettling gibberish.

If they’re now in Okinawa, I’d think the next step for Sorao and Toriko is to report the whereabouts of Pale Horse Battalion. Yet even that carries some risk: Kozakura has never heard of such a unit, though the Dark Horse Battalion is stationed in Okinawa. Just what was that unit really up to in the Otherside?

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