Isekai Quartet – 12 (Fin) – Not Too Bad At All

Class A agrees to fight the three teachers (Rerugen backed out, not wanting anything to do with the other three) while Ainz, Tanya, Subaru and Kazuma must deal with Destroyer. It’s a great realization of the potential of putting these four together, and an appropriate way to end the first of at least two seasons of this super-deformed super-crossover.

Tanya’s shield gives Ainz time to cast Effulgent Beryl, pushing the spider back, and he then summons an entire army of chibi undead soldiers, many of whom flock around a very uncomfortable Aqua as Emilia smiles cheerfully, happy everyone’s getting along.

Ainz leaves the rest to Tanya, who flies Subie and Kaz up into the air. Subaru volunteers to fall first, cleverly using his Return by Death to attract a column of undead that serve as a shield against Destroyer’s beam. Kazuma then jumps, casting “steal”, which actually works for once, only not on underwear, but on a bolt holding one of the spider’s legs.

Finally, Tanya swoops in and grabs Destroyer’s purple headband, earning them the victory and 100 million points…but pointedly not the reward of returning to their respective other worlds! Turns out Roswaal’s “maybe” meant just that…”maybe.”

That said, the class is in agreement that this new world and school life aren’t that bad. It’s a good attitude to have considering they’re in store for at least twelve more episodes there, with a fresh batch of “transfer students.” Will the likes of Clementine, Mary Sioux, Priscilla, and Wiz be among them? We shall see, next season.

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Isekai Quartet – 11 – Let’s Get Nuts!

Field Day starts orderly enough, with members of Class 2 and Class 1 exchanging pleasantries, and Yunyun, apparently from “Class 3” challenging Megumin to a battle (turns out she’s the only member of Class 3).

From there, a series of contests from tug-of-war to…donut grabbing(?), to the cavalry battle. The latter is worth 100 million points, rendering all the previous exercises and their somewhat random pointless.

Then the teachers join in, with Roswaal, Vanir, Pandora’s Actor, and a reluctant Rerugen wondering what he’s doing with these weirdos. Classes 1 and 2 decide to join forces to beat back the faculty, who then deploy their trump card, the Mobile Fortress Destroyer from KonoSuba.

While the show should be lauded for bringing in so many more familiar faces, it’s odd that Class 1 is only around half the size of Class 2 (though “Class 3” is a good joke), and for an episode with so much activity, there’s precious little action, which is to say…animation, only the suggestion of it through panning montages.

Isekai Quartet – 10 – Hootin’ an’ Hollerin’

When Roswaal announces that their Field Trip will be immediately followed by a Field Day with the “other” class, everyone looks around like he’s crazy. What other class? Sure enough, Subaru peeks into the next classroom (the one that didn’t exist before that day) and spots a whole other class of characters from the four shows.

This includes not only Ainz’s Combat Maids (which Subaru says is “a bit much” even though he’s surrounded by Demon Maids) but a Sword Saint of Subaru and Emilia’s world, Reinhard van Astrea. Hey, if you have all four shows at your disposal, you might as well use everyone you can!

KonoSuba’s Chris is also there, and warns Kazuma and the others from her world that if you die in this weird school world, you won’t come back. Why she specifically has that information is not explained, but there’s no reason to doubt it.

Still, Subaru successfully tests his “Return by Death,” and sound effects I hadn’t heard in a long time suddenly brought everything he went through back. It also makes a “mabeast” like Hamusuke come running, even though she’s not sure why.

The class leaders decide that victory over Class A is absolutely imperative:  winning means the possibility of returning to their respective worlds. Everyone in the class rallies together to ensure that victory…except for Kazuma, who would prefer to stay in this world and is too lazy to bother going back to defeat the Demon King.

His stubborn apathy brings out the worst in Tanya, who whips him into shape by going aerial with Puck and putting him through a brutal boot camp. Excited by the crystal bombardment, Megumin decides to join in the fun with an Explosion. Meanwhile, I hope either Class A or another class has Felt, Clementine, Enri, or Kyouya; it would be nice to see those guys again.

Isekai Quartet – 09 – Chibis in Bikinis

The beach trip is finally here, which means fans of the four series see the characters in modern swimsuits for the first time, albeit in chibi form. Still, the animation definitely seems to make Darkness more proportional as she does a thousand push-ups under Cocytus’ orders just so she can be gawked at by Tanya’s men. This, in turn, draws the ire of Ram and Visha, condemning the lads as scumbags for indulging the masochist with their stares.

The daytime events are pretty dull, but things heat up at night when the class splits up into groups for the big test of courage. Tanya is paired with Subaru, Ainz, and Aqua, and loses her cool when Aqua explains that she’s a goddess. Tanya initially mistakes her for Being X and prepares to launch when Ainz estimates to be Level 8 magical power on Yggdrasil.

Subaru stands between Tanya and Aqua, and along with Ainz all agree that Aqua is too much of a lightweight loser to be the Being X she’s talking about.  A couple of Tanya’s own men fall ill due to what she deems “lack of mental discipline”, but Ainz is duly impressed that Subaru took that wave of power in the face at point-blank range like it was nothing. Ainz asks himself what kind of mental stress Subaru is used to living under…If he only knew!

Isekai Quartet – 06 – The Committees

Next up in the Cavalcade of High School Cliches? Selecting a Class Rep and other class positions. Albedo immediately lobbies for her beloved Ainz-sama, but Aqua won’t accept an undead rep; Albedo challenges that position by calling Aqua ugly.

Things don’t descend into bloody magical chaos only because Roswaal has a steady hand at the wheel of the class, and because Emilia comes forward as a nominee everyone can live with (Tanya, for her part, doesn’t want the job).

Ainz and Albedo are co-vice reps, and while the various committee members are selected among rest of the class. This splits up the four “factions” quite evenly, which Demiurge thinks Ainz sees an opportunity for the Guardians to manipulate the other factions (in truth, Ainz sees…nothing of the sort). 

Kazuma perhaps gets the worst grouping, as he’s the odd man out in a trio that also contains Tanya and Demiurge, who go together like peanut butter and jelly—not to mention possess various means of physically controlling people.

Demiurge’s words make Kazuma lie on the ground; Tanya’s stare, makes him stand straight as a board. He writes to his parents in his head: he’s thinking about not coming to school…again!

Out in the schoolyard the gym committee convenes, led by Cocytus by default (since he appears to be the strongest). But because Darkness is also on their team, things get weird fast, as she gives her enthusiastic masochistic delusions a P.E. theme. Dysfunction and hilarity appears primed to persist!

Isekai Quartet – 05 – A Talent Show of Ice and Fire

No more messing around: it’s time for the class talent show, with participants chosen at random by Roswaal. First up is the TA, Mr. Rerugen, whose tortured rendition of his country’s national anthem evokes pity and disgust to a degree Darkness deeply envies.

Subaru thinks he can do better with a cat’s cradle shaped like Tokyo Tower, but if the other Japanese are impressed they don’t mention it, while nobody else (including Rem) knows what the heck a Tokyo Tower is. Rem, meanwhile, impresses Cocytus with her flail skills.

Poor Lt. Grantz learns the hard way never to get involved in a talent show skit with Darkness, who urges him to punish her with a whip in front of a mortified class, all of whom label him a scumbag despite the fact he didn’t do anything. When it’s Aqua’s turn, she almost takes out Ains’ crew with a Turn Undead spell, but Kazuma stops her.

The KonoSuba theme continues, including three distinct riffs on the KonoSuba bumper card, only they say “IseQuar!”, and with Megumin doing what we all knew was coming: showing off her Explosion magic to a legitimately impressed (not to mention power-obsessed) crowd. The KonoSuba contingent may be the smallest at four persons, but they’re no slouches in the magical department.

Of course, while Megumin’s Explosion even impresses Ains Ooal Gown, she can only do it once a day, which gives Ains the opportunity to end the talent show not with a bang, but with icy briskness, summoning a shitload of magic circles and changing the weather from a temperate spring/summer day to clouds and snow flurries.

I enjoyed how everyone, well, enjoyed the sudden coming of snow…and Subaru for his part doesn’t bring up the fact that Lia beheaded him in similar weather once upon a time, in a different timeline. Mostly, everyone came away knowing each other and their abilities (or lack thereof) that much more.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 17 – Angelic Gibberish

Two former Aztec comrades come to kill Etzali, apparently independent of anything else going on in this episode. Thankfully this tangent doesn’t drag on too long, since I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be about or why. Like last time with Xochitl, Etzali seems to hang around the fringes of the show only to be suddenly confronted by old comrades who want to kill him, but always end up failing.

Moving on! Kinuhata uses a bottle of nitrogen she always keeps on her person in case someone tries to neutralize her powers by filling the combat space with flames, as Stephanie Goofyname does. The nitro enables Kinuhata to rush at Steph and punch her in the face, thus defeating her (?) and allowing Hamazura to escape with Takitsubo.

But Kinuhata is immediately arrested by SWAT under the command of the Girl in the Dress. She informs Kinuhata that the chase isn’t over for Hammy, as apparently all of Academy City’s forces are after him. He’s an unpredictable element that Aleister Crowley would rather eliminate than worry about mucking up his carefully-laid plans (whatever they are).

Next Up: Accelerator. His fight with Koga doesn’t last long, since whatever clever trick Koga tried on him ended up getting flipped around by another clever trick by Accelerator involving his electrode and walking cane.

I won’t get into the technical details because frankly I forgot what they were, but suffice it to say, as expected, Mr. Random Smoking Dude is not the one to do in everyone’s favorite unhinged Index antihero.

GROUP reunites and tries to get Shiokishi to spill the beans about what DRAGON is, when DRAGON itself appears, knocking everyone out but Accelerator. Appearing as a brightly-lit angel-like being, DRAGON reveals his real name is “Aiwass”, and he’s a being that was both summoned by and mentor to Crowley.

The two are now pitted in some kind of supernatural philosophical debate about the value of people’s independent actions versus the efficiency of using people, or something to that effect. Honestly it’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo that purports to get closer to the core of what exactly Crowley is up to, but doesn’t seem to have much to do with the events of the last couple episodes, except that Crowley and Aiwass were able to observe different kinds of heroes in action.

Did I mention the show brought back Mugino, mostly so she could tell Hamazura that Kakine Teitoku is still alive too, and so could kill her again in an aircraft testing chamber. Hamazura and Takitsubo escape on a military plane headed out of Academy City, while Accelerator grabs Last Order and boards a train out of Academy City.

Accelerator is headed to Russia, where Touma has just arrived, and seems to be a bit underdressed for the climate. Perhaps Hamazura will head there too. All three guys have gals they want to protect, while all three gals are in danger of having their lives snuffed out by current events. Perhaps we’ll find more clarity and focus in Russia…or maybe Etzali will run into more friends while Aiwass speaks to them in tongues…

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 16 – Something Pretty Substantial is Happening

Hamazura uses all the guile and resourcefulness he can muster to get to Takitsubo, settling on commandeering a helicopter (the pilot basically agrees to drop him off, but has to report it as a hijacking). In doing so, he ignores Takitsubo’s warnings about Spark Signal being too heavily armed for Hamazura to rush in recklessly.

Of course, since Hamazura is classically a rush in and figure out everything later kinda dude, that’s what he does. When he finds Takitsubo, Accelerator is looming over her, but has no real ill will towards either of them until Hamazura picks a fight.

Accelerator uses minimal effort to beat the crap out of Hamazura before leaving him to be comforted by Takitsubo. Neither of the former ITEMers are in particularly good shape, but they’re at least better off together as they search for Kinuhata.

Meanwhile, Stephanie has made Kinuhata her present primary target, urging her to make peace with the fact she’s going to take her life for what happened to Sunazara.

Shortly after the subject of DRAGON comes up in the RV, it’s targeted and destroyed by a missle, and the electricity in Accelerator’s gear is cut. He eventually wakes up in the car of the guy whose beloved teacher he saved, proving that even villains are paid back for their good deeds, even if Accelerator didn’t expect it.

The other members of GROUP having survived, Tsuchimikado sends Accelerator to talk with Director Oyafune for political help in bringing down Shiokishi after he betrayed GROUP. Her bodyguard insists she’s no longer involved in the fight against the Dark Side of Academy City ever since her daughter was taken hostage.

But when one of the little kids Accelerator saved from Spark Signal demands to come and fight alongside him (he calls Accelerator a “hero”, the opposite of what he constantly calls himself), Oyafune is done being a coward who does nothing to stop the darkness.

Hamazura and Takitsubo finally locate Kinuhata, but she’s been driven into the metro by Gorgeouspalace, who sets the whole station aflame with explosions in an attempt to rob Kunuhata of the nitrogen she needs to fight. Will she, a Level 4 after all, yet be able to fight Steph off?

With Oyafune in tow, Accelerator and Musujime infiltrate Shiokishi’s “fortress”—the guy is a war hawk after all—and are quickly separated from Oyafune by blast walls. Musujime is then knocked out by poison administered when Shiokishi’s boyguard Koga lights a cigarette. Accelerator will have to deal with the man—part of an age-old family of tough, troublesome thieves—on his own.

As for Oyafune, she looks particularly vulnerable trying to negotiate with a guy so paranoid he’s wearing a mech suit. When negotiations break down Shiokishi prepares to kill her, but she reveals she’s not Oyafune at all, but Etzali in disguise. She may be in a safe(r) place at the moment, but she still had to sacrifice the skin on her arm so he could take her form. Now the negotiations will continue, as Etzali demands to know what DRAGON is.

They’re interrupted by two more guards Shiokishi sends in, only for them to pull of their skin masks to reveal they are two members of Etzali’s old group, Return of the Winged One. As if there weren’t enough tangled interests involved in this arc. I tell ya, it’s as if you can’t trust any face you see on this show!

Golden Kamuy – 24 (Fin) – Skin in the Game

As Hijikata defeats Inudou by playing dirty (tossing the blood from his arm he let Inudou cut to blind him), and Tsurumi mows down the inmates with a Maxim gun (channeling Tony Montana), A heavily-wounded Sugimoto happens to cross paths with the very person everyone’s been looking for since before episode One: Nopperabo (AKA Wilk). There’s no mistaking those eyes, but it’s confirmed when he recognizes the makiri he made for his daughter.

Nopperabo won’t say anything about the gold until Asirpa is brought to him, but Sugimoto has a non-gold-related question first: Why? Why involve his innocent daughter in what he knew would be a horrible blood-drenched mess that would stretch beyond his life and possibly hers? Sugimoto could sense the fear and apprehension she felt about the possibility Nopperabo turned out to be her father. Why put her through this?

The answer doesn’t quell Sugimoto’s pain, and perhaps that’s because he has no children of his own. Nopperabo was entrusting Asirpa with the future, believing she’d become the leader of the Ainu in that future. All of the time he had with her, he spent teaching her the ways of the Ainu, how to take care of herself, and how to defeat overwhelming foes. Before she turned ten, Asirpa was able to kill a giant red bear all by herself.

When Inkarmat hands the binoculars for Asirpa and she lay eyes on her father for the first time in a long time, she weeps, and perhaps not because she doesn’t understand her aca’s motivations. After all, she knows she’s an Ainu Woman of The Future. Perhaps she’s weeping more for the simpler life she knows her father wanted for her, but could not afford to provide; weeping for the time she and their aca were apart.

Then, to everyone’s utter shock, Nopperabo and Sugimoto are both shot through the head and fall, both shots carrying the very familiar sound of Ogata’s rifle. Tanigaki later rushes in and saves them from further shots (getting shot in the wrist himself) then finds Inkarmat lying in her own blood, a silver dagger in her belly. She tells Tanigaki that Kuroranke was giving someone a signal once the shots were fired.

Shiraishi manages to get Asirpa safely away, but Tanigaki and the wounded Inkarmat are captured by Tsurumi and his men. After all that planning and getting so tantalizingly close to the answer to the location of the Ainu gold, everything seems to have unraveled, and the lives of key players are either gone or in hanging from threads.

Ogata and Kiroranke meet up with Shiraishi and Asirpa, and Ogata confirms that Sugimoto and Nopperabo are dead, sending Asirpa into a frenzy of grief. However, less than a minute later we see Sugimoto, heavily bandaged and resting in bed, scarfing down onigiri. Both his life and Inkarmat’s were saved by the expert ministrations of Ienaga (who may have removed and eaten some of Sugimoto’s brains – channeling Hannibal Lector).

Now “brain damage pals,” Sugimoto is back in Tsurumi’s custody, along with Tanigaki. Inkarmat tells them that Kiroranke and Ogata’s likely next destination is Karafuto, which is where they turn out to be. The two are also well aware that Sugimoto may yet still be alive (he is Immortal Sugimoto after all) and that he’ll surely want to kill them both the moment he sees them again.

As for why Kiroranke stabbed Inkarmat, it wasn’t what I initially thought. Turns out, it was an accident. Kiroranke was merely threatening her with a knife, but in the ensuing struggle he fell and stabbed her. Kiroranke’s intent was to share the location of the gold with his former guerrilla comrades in the far east. And with Nopperabo dead, Asirpa is a vital key in discovering that location.

That’s not to say she’s the only key, however. Before leaving Abashiri, Tanigaki manages to find a consolation prize inadvertently left to him by Inudou: information relating to the tattoos no one else has. With none of the interested parties having the complete puzzle, there will surely have to be more confrontations alliances, and/or betrayals for any one of the parties to find the gold (if it even still exists).

Tsurumi sends Sugimoto to Karafuto to find Asirpa. He’s accompanied by Tsukishima, Koito, and his transport provided by Vice Admiral Koito, the lieutenant’s father. The Admiral had seemed to be only a means to an end up to this point, but he shares insights crucial to Sugimoto’s understanding of why Nopperabo did what he did.

Being a father himself, Koito knew that he could not ask the fathers of those beneath him to sacrifice their sons, nor ask those sons themselves to die, if he did not have skin in the game. Whether he liked it or not, the success of the battles being fought required that he put aside a life of safety and comfort he wanted for his son to legitimize the sacrifices of other sons.

He believes it was the same for Nopperabo. He didn’t simply cynically using her to help craft his ideal of the future for the Ainu. He simply could not ask the Ainu to pay for it with only their blood. Honor, obligation, justice, and an eye toward the future: these are the things parents in positions like Nopperabo and Koito must consider when raising their children.

Still, Sugimoto also happens to love Asirpa, and as long as he’s alive, he will see to it she doesn’t become a murderer like him and his ilk. Indeed, the kamuy may well be helping Sugimoto stay alive in order to serve as her guardian, and a check to the designs of both her father and the unceasing tides of history.

Asirpa comes to believe this in a dream with Sugimoto, in which he promises he’ll come for her again. The Dream Sugimoto insists it isn’t the kamuy speaking to her through him, but him, Sugimoto himself. He hasn’t joined the ranks of the kamuy yet, and nor has she.

Upon waking, Shiraishi share’s Asirpa’s insistence they haven’t yet seen the last of that big unkillable lug. Sure enough, he’s aboard a ship, with a bearing brimming with purpose and resolve, steaming to their location to reunite with them.

Until Golden Kamuy Season 3.

Golden Kamuy – 23 – Ainu Nothing Like The Real Thing

Turns out Inkarmat was working with Lt. Tsurumi…which is why Tsurumi has arrived with a flotilla of four-stack destroyers. With the prison alarms sounded, she declares Sugimoto and Shiraishi to have failed, and Tsurumi is the only one who can get Asirpa and Nopperabo out now.

When a shocked Tanigaki says that means he’ll get the Ainu gold, she tells him neither she nor he particularly care who gets the gold, further unsettling Tanigaki. The ships open fire, blasting holes in the wall, but also collapsing the entrance to the tunnel where Tanigaki and Inkarmat flee. Tsurumi and his large platoon of around sixty men get into small boats and arrive on the beach, fully armed and ready to rumble.

When Inkarmat is trapped by rubble, Tanigaki forgets who she was working for and bursts every button on his shirt to save the woman he loves. Fortunately for both, Ushiyama arrives to save the both of them, and just when you think it’s goodbye for Ushiyama, he casually tosses away the entire roof of the collapsed structure, then dusts off his jacket.

Tsurumi and his men storm the prison and kill everyone in sight…until he spots Sugimoto with “Nopperabo,” promising to kill him if they don’t lay down their arms. When the fake Nopperabo warns the others of a growing fire in the cell with loud grunts, they mimic the grunts. Like Tanigaki’s buttons, the show effectively tempers all the action and drama with moments of absurd, often pitch black comedy.

Meanwhile (there’s a metric F*CKTON of moving pieces in this episode) Toni Anji promises to take Asirpa to Nopperabo’s true location, but not without meeting up with Tanigaki Genjirou, whom Toni was always loyal to. Sugimoto realizes that Tanigaki wanted him out of the picture lest he cause trouble down the road.

On top of that, Nikaidou disobey’s Tsurumi’s order not to shoot, unknowingly hitting “Nopperabo” in the head, killing him. Shiraishi starts sawing through the floor so they can slide down into the crawlspace below. A wounded Kadokura releases all 700 deadly prisoners, unleashing them on Tsurumi’s outnumbered platoon, and, well, all hell breaks lose.

As soon as Asirpa sees that Warden Inodou is keeping Nopperabo in the chapel, she waits for another volley from the ships to escape from Toni and Hijikata (who applauds how tough the young woman is). But he still has the photos he had taken of himself with Asirpa to show Nopperabo.

It isn’t long before she runs into Kiroranke, and then Shiraishi runs into them, having dislocated his shoulders to exit the prison crawlspace. Kiroranke uses grenades to get Sugimoto out (as he has no clue how to dislocate his shoulders) and Sugimoto tells Kiroranke to meet the others at the front gate, while he takes the dagger Asirpa gave Kiroranke (and which was made by her aca) and heads to the chapel.

He’s stopped by Nikaidou, and the two have a vicious, bloody duel, with Sugimoto taking a blade through his mouth and left cheek and a bullet to the leg from the gun hidden in Nikaidou’s false leg. He manages to wrest that leg away and beat Nikaidou half(?) to death with it. I must say, if he survives this, Nikaidou might deserve the “Immortal” title as well…

In the chapel cellar, Inudou orders the real Nopperabo out of his cell, but Hijikata and Toni are waiting for him upstairs. Toni and Inudou shoot each other, but the latter plays dead so he can shackle Hijikata and lock him into a duel with katanas.

This allows Nopperabo to slip away. Outside the chapel, Sugimoto, crawling on the ground, spots him, and his unmistakable big, blue eyes. If only he could get Nopperabo to the front gate, where Asirpa and the others await.

All this time, mind you, Tsurumi and his men are completely occupied trying to fight off the wave of violent inmates. Like I said, a lot going on. One could even accuse it of being too busy, but I for one loved the sense of building chaos, with every character the show fleshed out playing a role.

It just worked, and was yet another example of the payoff tasting doubly sweet thanks to all the painstaking setting-up. After such a powerhouse penultimate episode, next week’s finale will have some big shoes to fill.

Golden Kamuy – 22 – And Finally, on a Black, Moonless Night…

For twenty-one weeks Golden Kamuy has been slowly building to this: the night Asirpa and Sugimoto finally infiltrate Abashiri Prison and meet with Nopperabo, to see once and for all if the one who killed the Ainu and stole the gold is her father. Now that the show has set up all of the various players and their various histories and motivations, it’s finally time to set things in motion.

Thanks to the salmon spawning, Kiroranke and Huci’s sister’s people can build a hut beside the wall of the prison. They can bribe the guards with fish, and within the hut they begin digging a tunnel under the wall to a precise distance indicated by Hijikata.

Before the big night, the whole crew settles under one roof an enjoys the bounty of the river: chitatap made from salmon gills, cartilage, and other normally harder-to-eat parts the Ainu never waste. Sugimoto is stoked to be having true chitatap, and Asirpa is delighted to hear not only Hijikata but even the normally mirthless Ogata not only make chitatap, but say “chitatap” while doing so. There’s also mouth-watering grilled salmon and side dishes laced with tasty roe.

During the meal, Ushiyama asks Inkarmat if she has a man, and Cikapasi forces the issue by giving Tanigaki’s half-eaten meal to Inkarmat, which is a kind of Ainu betrothing. Tanigaki leaves the hut, but Inkarmat follows him, and tells him she’s not hoping to reunite with Wilk for any romantic reason, but simply to settle her past. Tanigaki is the one she wants to spend her future with; he feels the same way about her, and once he gets Asirpa back home to Huci, he’ll give her his half-eaten bowl for real.

When the tunnel is complete it ends right in the quarters of Chief Kadokura, whose father fought beside Hijikata and thus feels loyalty to the old samurai, and will help the group achieve their audience with Nopperabo.

When a moonless night arrives, Asirpa, Sugimoto and Shiraishi, the infiltration team, relies on Toni Anji to guide them through the darkness to Noppy’s cell block. So naturally, they’re caught immediately, as in the first ten feet of their infiltration. The first play of the big game, and they fumble it.

No matter; the guards who spot them are dealt with relatively quietly, and they continue on, accessing the prison ward interior the only way they can: from the roof. The interior is a loving reproduction of the real Abashiri Prison, now a museum and Important Cultural Property—right down to the ceiling and cell latch designs.

Asirpa is lowered in (in a somewhat undignified manner), Shiraishi picks the lock to cell 66, and just like that, Asirpa is face-to-face with Nopperabo…or who she thought was Nopperabo. While the inmate’s face is indeed burned off, she can tell: this is not her aca (father). It’s an impostor; and they’ve been set up.

The fake Nopperabo starts screaming and a prison-wide alarm is sounded. Warden Inodou wakes up and mobilizes his men, and Sugimoto has Toni Anji pull Asirpa out of there, the two separating at the worst possible time. Still, Toni intends to take Asirpa to the real Nopperabo before they escape.

After that, the shit truly shits the fan, as Tsurumi, possibly tipped off by Inkarmat, arrives at the prison at the head of a flotilla of navy destroyers, blowing up the only bridge to the prison island. He orders his men to capture both Nopperabo and Asirpa, and will presumably need that gold in order to pay for such a lavish assault.

So a plan that had so many capable players involved goes pear-shaped almost immediately, scattering those players and leaving many wondering who among them betrayed them. But one way or another, this story is going to end in just two episodes. Here’s hoping Asirpa and Sugimoto and a few others make it out of this mess in one piece, hopefully with some of that Ainu gold…

Golden Kamuy – 21 – The Naked Truth

While visiting Asirpa’s relatives, the crew learns of a band of blind bandits who were once sulfur miners on Mount Iwo. Those who weren’t killed by the acid ended up sightless, and attack anyone they can in the dark. They’re led by a former Abashiri inmate, Toni Anji, who also has tattoos. They head to a local hot spring, but while all the guys are relaxing in the bath, the blind bandits snuff out all the light and attack.

As a result, Sugimoto, Tanigaki, Ogata, Kiroranke, and Shiraishi have to fight an enemy they can’t see with their dicks out. The enemy can “see” them just fine thanks to echolocation by tongue-clicking; a clever tactic that also creates an unsettling atmosphere.

As with the aphrodisiac sea otter incident, the beefcake is strong with this episode, with tasteful angles and shadows preventing everyone’s manhood from being exposed. Only Asirpa and Inkarmat remain clothed. Golden Kamuy has proven quite adept at creating compelling action set pieces, and taking away both the clothes and eyesight of the combatants is yet another example of that proficiency. It’s also pretty hilarious.

While she’s still weary of Kiroranke, Inkarmat still joins him and Tanigaki on a boat to try to escape the bandits, but Toni and his cohorts toss stones to gauge distance before he opens fire, shooting Tanigaki and capsizing the boat. Inkarmat can’t swim, and starts to sink, and even has a vision of a circle of bears coming to claim her soul.

But Tanigaki, who was only shot through the butt, dives into the lake and rescues her, and she rewards him with a kiss. She thought for sure she was a goner, but he showed her that the fate her fortune-telling portends can be changed.

As dawn starts to peek out of the horizon, Sugimoto and Ogata (the only one of them with a gun) infiltrate the bandits’ hideout, but soon find the windows are all nailed shut, and another ambush ensues in the pitch black. Toni goes after Sugimoto, and the two grapple and come to a standoff.

That’s when Hijikata suddenly appears to greet his old fellow inmate, and Ushiyama tears through the walls to let the sun in. The threat is over, with Sugimoto & Co. leaving Toni Anji to Hijikata & Co., provided he can get a copy of the tattoos he bears.

As the now fully-reunited supergroup heads into town to take their pictures taken, of all things, Tsurumi “punishes” his Abashiri mole, Private Usami, by drawing stick figures on his symmetrical face moles (a mole with moles, heh heh). Usami, like so many young men, is so smitten with the Lieutenant that it’s hardly punishment at all.

As for Sugimoto, he is compared to a young Hijikata by the old man’s photographer friend: “like a demon, but also kind.” But while locked in battle in the darkness, Toni Anji said sensed something else those with sight couldn’t: that Sugimoto could never return to who he was. I guess we’ll find out.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 01 (First Impressions)

When we first meet Hatori Chise—who both resembles and sounds like the heroine Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, or perhaps her long-lost, much-maligned sister—she’s pretty much at rock bottom, having seemingly lost the will to live, signing away her human rights so that she can be chained and presented as an object to be purchased at an auction before some Eyes Wide Shut-ass muhfuckahs.

But holding true to the episode title “April showers bring May showers”, as well as the axiom “it’s always darkest before the dawn”, in this, her darkest hour, she is met by, and purchased with a winning bid of five million pounds, by an imposing man in a black cloak wearing a big antelope skull on his head (unless…that is his head).

Chise, fully prepared for whatever horrible fate might befall her upon being purchased (let’s face it, the kind of guys who would buy teenager girls in an auction are likely to be…not so great!), quickly finds that despite his fearsome appearance, her buyer Elias Ainsworth doesn’t want her to be his toy, but his apprentice. He’s a mage, you see; the “real deal”, and he believes Chise, who is what in his trade is called a “sleigh beggy”, can live a fulfilled life of purpose as the newest member of a dying breed of mages like him.

Teleporting her to his super comfy-looking country estate, swapping her chains for an protective adder stone, and showing her kindness she’s never known, Chise ever-so-gradually starts to learn that despite all of the hatred, abuse and suffering she’d endured her entire life up to this point, this place just might be different.

For the first time, she’s told she has a home and actually feels welcome there, and is told she’s family and someone to be protected and nurtured rather than spat upon and discarded.

Thus, when Chise is lured out for a midnight stroll by faeries who later show their true colors by trying to further lure her into their realm, Chise repays Elias’ kindness—and in doing so decides to trust someone for perhaps the first time in her life—by resisting the faeries until Elias arrives to shoo them off.

It’s then when, while princess carrying her home, Elias also confesses he doesn’t aim to merely make Chise his apprentice, but his bride as well. Her reaction to this information, as well as other instances of lighthearted humor, provide a nice ice-breaking contrast to the darker themes initially at play, giving way to a hopeful future in a real home with a real family that cares for them; things every child deserves. A very strong opening.