Re: Zero – 44 – Prediction of a Happy Future

Lil’ Lia is all alone when Pandora approaches her. With Kugimiya Rie’s soft, sweet yet oddly menacing voice, Pandora begins the mind games, thanking Lia for bringing the key to her at the opportune time. When Lia says she knows of no such key, Pandora goes straight to threatening to “turn over” the forest looking for it. Then Lia says she’ll be the key, and it appears in her hands, though only she can see it.

For all intents and purposes, Lia herself is the key—she always was—and protected as such by being kept in isolation away from the seal she unlocks. But unlike the inanimate object with which she shares a purpose, she’s a key that made a promise to Mother Fortuna. This is when Pandora tells her she must make a choice: keep the promise and invite conflict, or break the promise and resolve “all this” harmoniously.

Pandora makes it clear that should Lia decide to keep her promise, she has a promise of her own: to open the seal by any means necessary. As if rewarding Lia for standing firm, Fortuna returns to her side, thanking her for keeping her promise. I may have faked myself out in believing Fortuna was killed by Pandora off-screen, and that she’s Lia’s biological mom.

She’s neither, and Lia is again referred to as “the Witch’s Daughter”, implying her birth mom is one of the witches. That’s not answered, but suffice it to say Fortuna doesn’t possess the ability to kill Pandora and make it stick; as a witch, Every time she’s struck down, Pandora can resurrect her body instantly, calling into question whether she’s even physically there.

Her witch’s tricks also victimize poor Geuse, who arrives in the nick of time with plans to help Fortuna. It’s important to note that he hasn’t “changed sides” here; his bloodshot eyes simply cause him to see Fortuna as Pandora and Lia as Fortuna, so when he uses his newly acquired Unseen Hands, it is Fortuna who receives the full brunt of the attack, which proves fatal.

As Pandora assures Geuse that his “love was not wrong”, and nor was offering up his soul to save the one he loved. In her last breaths, Fortuna expresses regret for not being able to keep her promise to her sister-in-law, saying she’ll never forgive her. Lia forgives Fortuna in her mother’s place.

Fortuna isn’t dead for five seconds before Pandora says Lia is no longer bound by promises made to a dead woman. Not the most tactful witch, is she?! Lia removes her flower hairclips and replaces them with one of Fortuna’s, which resembles a snowflake. She then interrupts Pandora with a simple “Die”, exploding her with a giant snowflake.

Again and again Lia’s ice magic destroys Pandora’s body in the blink of an eye, and again and again Pandora returns a blink later, telling Lia it’s pointless to continue. As Lia gets more and more upset, her ice magic gets out of control, covering Fortuna, an emotionally wrecked Geuse, everyone in the village, and all of Elinor Forest.

Lia herself becomes encased in ice, and Pandora accepts that she’ll have to wait a bit longer to unlock the seal, but it will happen. Before taking her leave, she touches Lia’s face, removing all memories of their encounter and knowledge of her existence, telling her to “fill the emptiness” however she likes.

Before her breakthrough with Subaru, learning all of this may have broken Emilia, but she accepts everything she’s seen without complaint, or protest, or emotional breakdown. Because she’s able to part with her greatest regret and accepted her past self, she’s completed the first trial, just as Subaru did.

While she regrets she wasn’t strong enough to do more, Emilia is pleased to learn she never broke her promise to her mother to obey Fortuna. She never yielded to Pandora and even forced her to withdraw. She now has her gaze focused on the future, one in which the permafrost is lifted from Elinor and her friends awaken from their deep slumber so they can yell at her.

When (not “if”) that happens, she vows to keep apologizing until they forgive her, so they can all live in the world her mother, Fortuna, and Geuse loved. Echidna can rail against her all she wants about delusions, pushiness, insolence, egotism, selfishness, and hypocrisy, but she can’t deny the effectiveness of Emilia using her mother’s sacrifice as an “excuse” for her resolve, to see that the future she dreams of come true.

Echidna parts ways with Emilia, telling her that while two trials remain, because she’s now “fighting back” they shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Was that a backhanded compliment from someone who claims to despise Lia? I believe it was! With that, Emilia wakes up within the graveyard, still festooned with Subaru’s well wishes. As her eyes fill with tears, Emilia apologizes to her mother, and prepares for the second trial.

Meanwhile, Bilma and Ram help take Shima somewhere where she can rest, now that she’s successfully told Subaru the true purpose of the Sanctuary. Armed with this knowledge, he, Otto, and Garfiel pay another visit to Roswaal, who is again in full makeup and costume; his “war paint”, so to speak. Subie’s glad to see him taking their battle seriously, but brings Otto to point out that the Margrave’s carefully set up game board is already falling apart.

Roswaal doesn’t recognize Otto, because the prophesy in the gospel makes no mention of him. While this irks Otto, it’s actually good, because it meant he could act freely without the bounds of destiny licking at his heels. It was entirely thanks to Otto that Subaru was able to find the backbone he needed for this battle. Subaru and Otto virtually break the fourth wall in musing about a male character playing that role rather than the love interest.

Subaru has brought Otto, as well as the “tamed” Garfiel, to show Roswaal that the writing is on the wall—and he’s not talking about his encouraging messages he left for Emilia. With Roswaal’s game board quickly falling into ruin, Subaru has come to ask for his surrender. He probably won’t get it so easily, but like Pandora asking Emilia to unlock the seal for her, he had to ask!

Talentless Nana – 09 – Going Green

As expected, Nana doesn’t have Habu’s incriminating phone on her person anymore. She ditched it before she gathered the others to the cliff to tell her story. Specifically, she left it on and with the text ready to send with a zombie’s finger placed on the “send” button, knowing that as the afternoon sun rose the finger would melt, placing sufficient pressure to hit “send.”

With Kyouya proven wrong in sight of everyone, Michiru demands he apologize to Nana”-shan”, while Nana takes the high road and shakes hands to make up with him. Still, Kyouya still thinks something is off…he merely checkmated Nana too early. Now he’ll have the dual tasks of scrounging up sufficient evidence and rebuilding the trust of the others.

That night, while Nana would prefer to get some sleep, she remains on guard in order to keep up appearances as heroic class leader. She heads her inner debate off at the pass about who among the students is “good” or “bad”; she’s here to do her duty. Michiru visits her and insists she close her eyes and rest while she keeps watch for her. When Nana wakes up, she has a box-cutter at her throat…held there by Michiru.

Now represented by green light to Nana’s red and Kyouya’s blue, Michiru demands to know Nana’s real power. Nana uses her deductive skill to “read” Michiru’s mind, then snatches the cutter when she drops her guard for a moment. This only adds to the intrigue for Michiru, who now knows Nana has combat training and is “no ordinary girl.”

So yeah, Nana was fooled by sweet lil’ Michiru this whole time, huh? We all were, it would seem. The next day, Michiru tries to expose the fact Nana can’t really read minds, making her exhaust all of her excuses and picking away at her credibility in the eyes of the class. However, yet again Nana outsmarts her adversary, pinning a note on her back that everyone else is thinking about, proving she can read their minds.

Nana has Michiru meet her at the cliff to ask the question: Where is the real Michiru? For one thing, Nana has noticed she hasn’t been addressing her with the cutesy “-shan” article. For another, her hand is bandaged, while the real Michiru would have healed herself. With nothing to lose by doing so, “Michiru” then reveals his true identity: Tachibana Jin.

Jin is five years older than Nana and the others, having been part of a previous class on the island. Unlike the present class so far, Jin’s class gradually stopped going to class, split into factions, and fought a bloody civil war amongst each other, while the faculty simply fled the island as if to let it happen.

He tells her his backstory over coffee in a moonlit cove, how after the last of his classmates died he transformed into a bird and flew home, only to be approached by shadowy government officials who wanted him dead. He flew back to try to stop history from repeating, but now finds there’s a new variable in the equation: Nana, a serial killer hidden among the others.

Jin was the cat Nana saved from the burning shed, and he commends her for bringing Yuuka to justice, so in order to avoid a repeat of the civil war, he’d like to make a deal with her: she’ll tell him what he wants to know, and he’ll keep quiet about her true intentions on the island. Nana says no deal, as she’s loath to make them with people who don’t notice their coffee was poisoned.

As Jin apparently dies, Nana prepares to call the “Committee” to report his presence on the island when her phone is pulled out of her hand…by “Kyouya”. Moments later, it’s Michiru, telling Nana “a magician always fails at the start of the show to misdirect the audience,” citing Michiru’s bandage as a feint. He then transforms into Seiya to restrain Nana’s foot with ice.

Turns out Jin Talent isn’t just “playing dress-up”, but copying the Talents of those he copies as well. He reveals he won the battle royale by killing everyone else. If he can copy Kyouya’s appearance, it means he’s invincible…albeit only in Kyouya’s form. That slight loophole could be all Nana has against him—he can only be one person and have one Talent at a time.

It could also mean it’s time for Nana and the real Kyouya to join forces…if she’s able to even escape from Jin’s clutches and gaze. In any case, their deal is probably off. Jin has enough evidence to expose and convict her, but considering he killed his whole class to assert his superiority, they’d seem no better with him leading them!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 08 – Another Long Day

Nana may be rid of Yuuka, but her troubles are far from over. Shinji’s desiccated corpse and all of Yuuka’s zombies remain out in the open, and Nana will have been suspiciously absent from class when two more classmates died. Kyouya is the only one whose suspicions of her she must clear, so she devises a plan, using the class gyarus as pawns.

The tan Habu just happens to be out hunting frogs and snakes to eat in order to survive (her Talent is poisonous saliva), but Habu and her friend Kaori have had a falling out due to the latter’s missing blue contacts. Step One: Nana poisons Habu, gets her phone password, then deposits Habu’s body among the zombies.

Step Two: Nana informs Kyouya, Michiru, Moguo and Seiya that Yuuka is dead and explains the circumstances: Yuuka was the true necromancer, and an EoH possessed her to chase Nana with an army of zombies. Nana used Shinji’s thoughts to convince her to stand down, and she threw herself off the cliff. She uses Moguo’s fire Talent to burn Shinji’s body and the group of zombies—among which happens to be Habu’s body.

Kyouya lets the corpse-burning happen as a practical matter, but he’s not letting Nana out of his sight the rest of the day (hence the day’s longness for Nana). When he brings up the very fair point that Nana is always missing when someone ends up dead, suddenly there’s a scream from the dorms: Kaori has been found dead.

While this would seem to clear Nana as she was by Kyouya’s side, it’s clear Kaori died while clawing at her eye. He tastes the contact solution and detects poison (which doesn’t kill him, but isn’t pleasant either), meaning her murderer could have poisoned the solution at any time. Kyouya isn’t moved by Michiru’s constant pleas for him to lay off Nana.

When he searches the room again, he discovers the odd state of the window, which can only open one way, and recalls that when he was suffering the effects of the poison, Nana opened it without any trouble, as if she’d opened it before—which of course she did. It’s a major slip-up on Nana’s part, and no doubt the result of a lack of sleep and proper time to plan her murders of late.

When the ever-loyal-to-Nana Michiru produces Kaori’s phone (unlocked with Kaori’s fingerprint), she discovers a text sent while all of them were out with Nana as she told them about Yuuka and Shinji. But seeing the phone switches on a light bulb in Sherlock’s brain: he thinks he’s finally figured it out, and warns Michiru to get away from Nana.

First of all, he realizes that Nana had Muguo burn all of the zombie corpses because Habu was among them. Nana messed up her face and put her in a boy’s uniform so she wasn’t instantly recognizable, but it was Habu. Then he posits that Nana took Habu’s phone and used it to text an apology to Kaori, so she’d use the contacts Nana poisoned.

Nana’s last line of defense is the phone’s passcode; even with her mind-reading Talent she can’t ask “specific questions”. Kyouya swats that away easily: she just used the finger of Habu’s corpse to unlock her phone. Since he’s been watching her all day, he suspects she still has the phone in her pocket, which is how she sent the pre-written text while they were away from the dorms.

After Yuuka’s status as a worthy adversary fell apart due to her emotional attachments and general mental instability, Kyouya continues to possess unflappable physical and mental fortitude. It all comes down to what’s in Nana’s pockets.

Was she able to toss Habu’s phone—and/or her poison needles—in the odd moment Kyouya didn’t have his eyes on her; say, when he first started reacting to the contact poison? With Michiru and five other classmates present for the search of her pockets, she’d better have, or it’s Game Over!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 07 – Just Girl Talk

When Yuuka scoffs at Nana’s barb, Nana tries a different tack, stating “Humans don’t believe the truth. They believe people.” Even if Yuuka knows what Nana tried to do, Nana has the trust of the others, while Yuuka is someone who screws her dead boyfriend. So Nana proposes a deal.

She’ll keep Yuuka’s dirty secret and even read her beloved Shinji’s thoughts if Yuuka releases her. Because Yuuka is “a hopeless romantic” she falls for the ruse, and Nana says Shinji is thinking “Kill Nana”, which Shinji later confirms is the true, though Nana was again simply bluffing. Bottom line, she gets the hulking Shinji off her back and flees into the woods.

During the ensuing nighttime game of cat-and-mouse, Nana gains crucial intel on Yuuka’s powers. Yuuka needs a”relic” (an item the deceased has touched) to raise someone. This culminates in her having a whole pile of weird stuff under her bed, and Nana is chased not just by Yuuka and Shinji, but a whole zombie army composed of dead students and teachers.

The presense of so many dead people ont he island suggests that the “Committee” Nana serves didn’t tell her everything, but she’s too busy trying to survive to give that the thought it deserves. That brings us to Yuuka’s other weakness: her zombies, including Shinji, only “work” during the night.

Nana proves that theory by putting her life on the line, locking herself in Shinji’s cabin where zombies are lying in wait. They fall asleep once the sun rises over the horizon, so she’s safe for the time being, but then Yuuka locks her in the cabin for the day, content to finish the job once the sun is back down.

When Yuuka and Shinji return to the cabin after going to class (during which time Kyouya mentions how the clasp of Yuuka’s necklace is damaged and loose), Nana is nowhere to be found. There’s a nice double fake-out when I figured Nana was pretending to be the zombie girl with a similar hairstyle, but that was a red herring.

Nana not only managed to escape from the cabin, but gets the jump on Yuuka as she’s carrying a dormant Shinji during the next sunrise. Then she pulls the real relic Yuuka uses for Shinji from her back pocket. The necklace was a decoy; the scrap of a test is the real thing. And now that it’s in Nana’s possession, Yuuka is in her pocket.

Nana explains that while it looked like she was panicking and barricading the door to the cabin to seal herself in, in reality she was removing screws from the lock, then covering it with tape so Yuuka wouldn’t notice. That’s why she was able to escape the locked room…it wasn’t really locked. She then replaced the screws before Yuuka and Shinji returned.

When Yuuka offers to do anything for Nana, Nana is perhaps a bit too cruel in saying “I’m a cat person…I don’t need another dog,” referencing Michiru. She then has Yuuka return her needles, but drops the scrap of paper off the cliff anyway. With no more relic, Yuuka will be unable to revive her undead boyfriend…he’s gone forever. But that’s not the end of the story.

Nana is curious why Yuuka chose something so flimsy for a relic for someone so important to her. Breaking down the details of Yuuka’s story about their movie date and ensuing fire, she determines that Yuuka and Shinji were never boyfriend and girlfriend; that Yuuka was merely a stalker, and she set the fire to kill the girl he was going with.

This sends an already crazed, despair-ridden Yuuka fully off the deep end, but Nana doesn’t bother pushing her off the cliff. Instead, she kills her with a needle, and the phone confirms she saved 500,000 lives by doing so. Her greatest threat thus far has been eliminated, but in the process a lot has been revealed about just how little she knows about the people who hired her. She could well be struggling and fighting for the wrong side!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 06 – My Chemical Necro-mance

Convincing Michiru that the photo was just Tsunekichi’s dream is child’s play for Nana, who was ready to murder her if she showed any sign of being suspicious. Still, Nana knows that Talented’s abilities can evolve, and Michiru doesn’t mind sacrificing her lifespan to heal others, so she still plans to kill her later.

At Tsunekichi’s funeral—the first of those killed so far—Kyouya voices his intention to perform an autopsy, since the police aren’t coming to the island. Nana takes him aside and protests desecrating a classmate’s body, only for another classmate, the necromancer Kazama Shinji, pulls Tsunekichi’s corpse right out of the coffin, ready to ask it what really happened.

As Shinji declares he can draw out the dead’s memories and even use their Talent, his old friend Yuuka rushes to his side, arguing that he’s really a good guy. Nana then tosses a Hail Mary, declaring she can hear Tsunekichi’s soul suffering. This turns the class against the idea of continuing with the necromancy, and Shinji stands down.

Later that night Nana spots Shinji and Yuuka together, deeming them a close couple. Kyouya is also out patrolling, knowing that if there’s a serial killer out there they wouldn’t want someone with the Talent to make the dead incriminate them.

When Yuuka mentions a movie theater fire where Shinji’s hand was scarred by burns, Nana admits he’s probably a good guy, but “a mission is a mission”, so she kills him with a poison needle in his sleep the next day.

In order to do so without detection, she feigns exhaustion then slips out of the infirmary. While on her way back she discovers a cat stuck in a drain, which is actually lucky because Kyouya and Michiru are already in the infirmary before she can return to the bed. By putting the cat’s welfare first, she opens herself up to suspicion of killing Shinji, but also serves to further confuse Kyouya, noted cat-lover: how can anyone who helps cats be a serial killer?

Unfortunately, it’s again not Kyouya Nana has to worry about this week. When she tries to kill Yuuka with a needle in the night, she’s bashed on the head from behind…by Shinji. Turns out he doesn’t just look sickly; Shinji is an actual zombie, controlled all along by the real necromancer: Yuuka herself!

It’s a great twist because like Nana I assumed she was Shinji’s super strong tomboy girlfriend, and her seiyuu Tomita Miyu really sold that presumed persona well. Yuuka revises her story about her date with Shinji at the movie theater. She was able to escape the fire, but he died saving everyone else. So she used her Talent to “bring him back”.

Now we know what she meant when she said the two of them were “stuck with each other!” As Yuuka and Shinji go back and forth with each other, Nana labels Yuuka as “insane”, likening the situation to split personality disorder.

Crazy or not, Yuuka isn’t ready to kill Nana yet, but it doesn’t take her long to pin all of the deaths so far on her. It’s unlikely Nana’s “Amateur Theater Hour” is going to work this time. She’s in quite a spot! So what does she do? Smirk an admit to killing them all.

I doubt even she knows quite how to proceed—perhaps by somehow exploiting Yuuka’s mental instability?—but one thing’s for certain: the mission can’t end like this. It’s her toughest spot yet, and I’m very interested to see how she wriggles out of it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 05 – Photo Finish

As evidenced when he immediately blackmails Nana into being his girlfriend, Hatadaira Tsunekichi is clearly a scumbag, and thus not really worthy of any sympathy. Of her victims so far, he’s the one least interested in being a hero. But he’s also a big ol’ weirdo!

Perhaps due to a life lived knowing what the future holds via photography, he’s adopted a habit of having dialogues with himself as he holds up his two hands. It’s not his scumbaggery, but his mental instability that makes him such a wild card for Nana’s plans.

Nana could have reasonably expected Tsunekichi to try to make an unsolicited move on her their “first night” together. Instead, he’s primarily concerned with keeping her holed up until the time of the damning P.E. shed photo arrives. Since he’s still alive in the photo, he feels untouchable enough to fall asleep with Nana in his room.

That’s when Nana watches his precog photography in action—it happens when he’s asleep—and one of them in particular makes her do a double take. She seemingly hides that photo but Tsunekichi finds it on her person. And as soon as I saw it—depicting her being strangled—I assumed she staged it so he’d believe he’d turned the tables in their future scuffle.

But even with such a predictable development, thinks don’t go exactly as planned for Nana in that P.E. shed. That boils down to her not being certain that the fate of the photos is inescapable. Tsunekichi can only take five future photos at a time, so who’s to say there isn’t another limit he hasn’t revealed? Nana changes the time on his watch to make him ten minutes late for the fated encounter, but he manages to free himself from her jump rope hold.

It turns out he’s “hyper-aware” of time and knew she changed his watch, but he assumed he’d was the one to pill her top off based on the photo of her being choked. Sure enough, it was a selfie she staged, and Tsunekichi didn’t notice it wasn’t one of his. Due to her her position on the floor, she was able to grab a poison needle that was out of reach when he first entered—and stick him with it, killing him.

But what of the real fifth photo she replaced with her selfie—the one that gave her a double take? As Nana says, that’s where “the real ordeal begins.” It’s a photo of Kyouya and Michiru entering the shed and discovering her with Tsunekichi on the ground. Naturally, Nana plays the victim, using school scuttlebutt that day about Tsunekichi calling her his girlfriend.

When Michiru is unable to find a wound or heal Tsunekichi , Nana details his attempted blackmail of her with what she says were nude photos of her. With a reliable ally (and surrogate to the rest of the class) in Michiru beside her, Kyouya’s alternative theories can only go so far, not matter how close they are to the reality of what happened.

Even so, Nana is sloppy, returning to Tsunekichi’s dorm and being caught there by Kyouya. Fortunately, at no point does he see the incriminating photos, but as we learn from both his and Nana’s inner monologue, he’s sharp enough to latch on to even her smallest mistakes.

Under the circumstances, it’s impossible for her to be perfect, but going forward she has to be as close to perfect as possible if she’s to succeed in the mission. Before she commits to doing so, another imperfection reveals itself: she only has four of Tsunekichi’s five genuine precog photos…the fifth one—the one we saw last week in the cafeteria—is missing.

It’s the photo of Nana pushing Nanao off the cliff, and it’s not in Tsunekichi’s dorm, nor did Kyouya find it. Nope, it’s kind, trusting Michuru who finds it on Tsunekichi’s person while trying in vain to heal him! I was expecting her to find the puncture wound and extract the poison, but it looks like the book on Tsunekichi is closed.

Finding the photo now puts Michuru square in the crosshairs…unless Nana can somehow convince her to keep quiet about it. Considering how sinister Nana’s aura is when she walks into the shed, you could assume Michiru’s time on this world grows short—especially considering she’d already fulfilled her task of compiling a list of the other students’ Talents.

Will Nana have to get rid of Michuru earlier than scheduled—or will she find another way to spin straw into gold? As always, I’m eager to find out!

Talentless Nana – 04 – A Useful Idiot

Nana contemplates her next target when the two class Gals pick on Inukai Michiru, the meekest, most guileless member of the class, with a love letter Nana knows is just a fake. Michuru spots a scrape on Nana’s leg and proceeds to reveal her Talent: a tongue that heals all wounds. It’s a scene that happens so suddenly you almost overlook the yuri/BDSM subtext.

Nana also determines that Michiru could cause the deaths of 150k (still not sure how that algorithm works), and thus as good a next target as any. The only problem is, Kyouya is still breathing down her neck. Nana decides she’ll play her part, first in informing poor Michuru that her after-school rendezvous will be a bust (the love letter was fake), then cheer her up with some lunch.

That night, Nana arms herself with an icepick to do the deed, but finds Kyouya sitting right outside her door, “guarding”, i.e. watching her out of “concern”, i.e. suspicion. She then proceeds to play loud music and sneak out her window—which she should have done in the first place! It appears as though Nana is going to stab Michiru in the back, and Kyouya hears a scream from Michiru’s dorm…but when he arrives, it is Nana on the floor with a stab wound.

She claims she heard the Enemy’s inner-voice and raced to save its target, Michiru. Detective Kyouya can use this latest incident and connect it to past info however he wishes, but everyone else in the girl’s dorm is immediately united behind Nana when they see what she did for Michiru.

Kyouya later considers that Nana could have stabbed herself—which of course she did—but Nana presents to him and everyone else a lie (an invisible monster) more feasible than the truth.

Kyouya’s lack of concrete evidence to support his accurate suspicions to a class now fully trusting of Nana essentially paralyzes him. His theories remain in his brain, harmless to her efforts. She’s even able to get Ice Prince and Fire Thug to agree on something: that SHE should be their new leader in Nanao’s stead. Since her self-inflicted attack is accepted as an attack by an invisible Enemy of Humanity, she can use them as cover for all subsequent killings. Nana is flying high—ultimately too high.

Her arrogance gets the better of her when she instructs an enthusiastically willing Michiru to talk with all of the other students and record their Talents in a book. This would seem to be a no-brainer considering what a Chatty Kathy Michiru is (and she can be offed when no longer useful), but the benefits are quickly nullified by an unexpected setback: Michiru’s probing tips off Hatadaira Tsunekichi, a psychic photographer who has acquired a photo of her killing him in the future.

Whelp, there’s the concrete evidence Kyouya needs so desperately to prove his suspicions! Thankfully for Nana, Tsunekichi comes to her first. He demonstrates with devastating accuracy that every photo he takes ends up happening without fail. Even when Nana changes her order, she ends up with a face-full of soba. Then he pulls out one more dagger: a photo of her shoving Nanao off the cliff.

This would put Nana in check, but for the fact that, as far as we know, only she and Tsunekichi have seen these photos. Tsunekichi also seems to have doomed himself: If there’s a photo of him being killed, and everything in his photos happens, then he must be resigned to die. So, will Nana succeed in killing him before anyone else sees the photos? Or will they be leaked, forcing her to use all her leader capital to defend herself?

It’s definitely a tricky new corner she’s been pushed into. Like Michiru, Nana considers Tsunekichi an imbecile, and I definitely can’t rule out her managing to outwit him and turn him into another victim of the Enemy. But his power exposes a huge flaw in her execution of this mission: Why the heck did she start killing anyone before she learned the powers of everyone? Assuming she gets out of this fix, what other surprise Talents could compromise her, all because she killed too fast?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 03 – What’s This F-Boy’s Deal?!

With two enemies of humanity eliminated in short order, Nana knows she must be careful not to incite panic or draw suspicion upon herself. But that’s hard when Onodera Kyouya is snooping around, especially when he’s almost if not as good as her at deduction, as evidenced by how he knows the Ice Prince is dating.

She can’t have this guy breathing down her neck, so she makes him her next target, and begins the process of learning his talent and weakness. But following him leads her to discover he’s the kind of guy who goes out of his way to give warm milk to a stray cat.

As Nana tries to figure Kyouya out, he invites her into his dorm, which is a bit of a mess, but is also full of potentially useful clues. She seems to spot them, but she’s also consistently kept off balance by Kyouya, even going so far as to call him a “low-level f-boy”.

What’s fun about these two interacting when we only have access to Nana’s thoughts is that we’re not sure if Kyouya is putting on a big act for Nana, just as she’s putting on an act for him. This is only heightened when Kyouya produces an issue of the manga Humanity’s Girl, which is obviously Nana’s favorite, because she considers herself humanity’s savior.

Kyouya also pulls the power move where Nana thinks she’s about to leave scot-free, only for him to say “Oh, one last thing…” and then whipping out Nanao’s fancy Rolex. Nana can’t hide her true shock at seeing the Velben good in Kyouya’s hand, since it means Kyouya has been busy.

He also tells her about how it’s strange that the government set up a “training” facility where very little structured training goes on. Since agents like Nana are the Talentless’ last chance to get rid of the Talented, any Talented as curious and suspicious as Kyouya have to go.

Just to confirm her suspicions, we finally hear Kyouya’s inner voice. In a way, that’s a shame, since now we know for sure he’s not already 100% on to her. But he’s definitely getting there!

The next day, Nana sets a clever trap based on Kyouya’s weakness, gleaned by observing his dorm: he’s an anosmiac. That means the next time he heats up the milk in the abandoned janitor’s shed, he doesn’t detect the gas leak, or the closed window, until it’s too late. BOOM.

Bye-bye  Kyouya, right? Wrong. He may have no sense of smell, but that’s not a weakness one can use to kill him, due to his Talent: he’s freakin’ invincible. The explosion covers his body in burns, but he quickly heals, and when Nana runs to the wreckage, she all but confirms to him that she was the one who caused the explosion. Who else knew he was here but Nana, who mentioned the cat earlier?

Even so, Kyouya isn’t totally convinced, and so doesn’t retaliate against Nana…yet. After all, he can’t discount the fact she knew he was in the fire because she read his mind. His parting words to her—“I’m so glad we’re friends.”—is a clear threat. It’s almost like he could out her now if he wanted, but would prefer to keep their cat-and-mouse game going.

Now we know for certain that Kyouya isn’t a fellow Talented hunter like Nana. And Nana definitely has no taste for games; she’s here to do a job as quickly and efficiently as possible. The question is, how is she going to find his real weakness and kill him now that his defenses are up?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 02 – A Matter of Time

Talentless Nana let the cat out of the bag in its first episode, and while that was an excellent twist, it also made it much harder for subsequent episodes to deliver the same impact. We’re told about the history of the Talented in an infodump, and it’s not pretty: after a five year war that the Non-Talented won, remaining Talented were basically isolated on islands. Missing from this story is exactly HOW they won against an army of superheroes. Sheer numbers? Kryptonite?

Hiiragi Nana stood before a dark and foreboding Talentless government entity, and given the directive to eliminate the Talented on the island, and threatened with serious consequences if she failed. Not explained: That said, she chose to take the mission and is determined to carry it out. What we don’t quite know yet is why her and only her. Did Supes Talented kill her family?

I mention “Supes” because Nana is giving me some Hughie vibes from Amazon’s The Boys: an unpowered individual seeking to bring down the superpowered despite being at a overwhelming disadvantage. The difference is the Supes in The Boys are almost all horrible people; the kids at the school are arrogant but are ultimately innocent.

They could go bad when they grow up, like their forbears back during the war, but preemptively eliminating them before they’ve done anything wrong is ethnic cleansing, at best! That creates a conflict when it comes to routing for Nana, especially since we don’t know of any motivation she has besides a sense of loyalty duty to the Non-Talented race.

At any rate, the moment Nana pushed Nanao off a cliff, the show transformed completely. Right now, it’s about Nana identifying the most powerful Talented and rubbing them out one by one (though she’d probably take a twofer if conditions were right!) At first her next target would seem to be the Ice Prince, but Shibusawa Youhei is even more dangerous, since he can manipulate time.

Nana does the same thing she did to Nanao and gets friendly and bubbly with Shibusawa. The difference is, this week we get her full internal monologue. While I’m not opposed to this shift in the way the story is told, she withdraws into her thoughts a lot, and often what she has to say is obvious or redundant, like Icy Prince’s tell, or the threat Shubusawa represents.

Still, Nana is good at her job or she wouldn’t be alive, and manages to not only wrest the true nature of Shibusawa’s ability: he can only go back in time. But she soon attracts the attention of the ever aloof and suspicious Onodera Kyouya. He knows Nanao has disappeared because their dorms are adjacent and he never returned home, and he believes Nana was the last person who saw him.

Nana would seem to be in a bind when Kyouya asks Shibusawa if he could investigate Nanao’s disappearance by going back in time. But even as Kyouya caresses her pigtails, she manages to regain control of the narrative by delicately turning suspicions onto Kyouya. He even seems to realize what she’s done and makes a tactical withdrawal, but his business with her isn’t over.

For now, Nana has two objectives: prevent Shibusawa from discovering she killed Nanao, and eliminating him. Pretending to cooperate with his investigation, she learns more about his abilities. He becomes fatigued and short of breath whenever he jumps, and the further back in time he goes, the more pronounced the side effects. More than twelve hours makes him vomit.

Ultimately, Nana can’t stop Shibusawa from going back to the time when she and Nanao were on the cliff. Indeed, last week someone was hiding behind a tree nearby; now we know it was him. But there’s one other key limitation to his time traveling: if anyone from that time spots him, he’s automatically sent back to the present.

Nana can’t warn her past self, she can only trust that she’ll be diligent and observant regardless of the situation. Nanao may have been an easy win for her, but she still followed the best practices of all assassins, namely to make sure you’re not being watched when you do the deed. Sure enough, Shibusawa returns automatically; Nana noticed him after she held hands with Nanao, but before she let go and shoved him to his death.

Still, considering how Shibusawa initially harbored suspicions of Nana since she was the last one with Nanao, it’s odd how he all but drops those suspicions simply because he saw them lovey-dovey together. His abrupt exit from that scene before he saw it play out would seem to be a gaping hole Nana’s testimony—and that’s before considering questions like why he can’t go back again and again, in the off-chance past Nana doesn’t spot him.

Instead, Shibusawa’s satisfied she had nothing to do with Nanao’s disappearance and they call it a night, making it certain too much time will pass by morning for him to go back again. But of course, that’s only one of Nana’s two objectives is complete. To kill him, she devises a dastardly plot that utilizes everything she’s learned about him.

Later that night, Nana goes to Shibusawa’s dorm to tell him the full story: after visiting the cliffs, she and Nanao were ambushed by an Enemy of Humanity, and it ate him. She rushes out to show him where it happened so he can jump back in time to save Nanao, and Shibusawa, with his strong sense of justice, follows her…to the precise spot she prepared.

When he time jumps at that spot, too much time passes and he doesn’t come back, indicating he won’t be coming back. That’s because the spot is really a section of the lake Kori Seiya had frozen Nana covered with earth earlier in the night. She recalled that Shibusawa couldn’t swim, which combined with his shortness of breath after jumping, resulted in him drowning in the past, unfrozen lake, and his body was then entombed within the ice.

It’s an clever, elegant, poetic, and utterly diabolical assassination—and Nana’s superiors estimate she saved 800,000 lives by getting rid of Mr. Time Travel. I still have reservations about whether either Nana or TA can keep this up before things get truly ridiculous, but if they keep delivering fun yarns like this, I’ll keep coming back for more!

Talentless Nana – 01 (First Impressions) – Song of Ice, Fire, and Wits

Major plot spoilers follow. Proceed with caution!

“Watch Talentless Nana blind”, said ANN in their Fall 2020 Preview. I didn’t read any further than that, and followed that advice—and boy am I glad I did! We start with the introduction of protagonist Nakajima Nanao, who in a remote island school full of students with elite superpowers, he apparently has none. He is bullied and mocked by boorish fire-user and elegant ice-user alike…but if he is truly “Talentless”, then why is he on the island?

Some of the students believe he could be one of the dreaded “Enemies of Humanity” who have threatened mankind for fifty years (which seems like a really long time for neither side to have decisively won, by the way). Enter two new transfer students, the shifty, hostile Onodera Kyouya and his exact opposite, the ridiculously pink and adorable Hiiragi Nana.

Kyouya won’t reveal what his talent is, but Nana is immediately forthcoming: she can read minds. Upon being assigned the desk next to Nakajima, she senses he’s being bullied, but her mind-reading soon becomes a nuisance to Nanao, who’d rather simply fade into the background. Even so, she follows him after school and has him give her a tour of the island.

During an unexpectedly deep discussion of his past over lunch, Nanao tells Nana how he was the “dullest member of his family” but his father still urged him to “aim for the top” and seek leadership wherever he ended up. He was disillusioned when doing so in class made him an object of mockery.

On a dramatic cliff at sunset, Nana confesses to having had similar trouble making friends due to her mind-reading. No sooner are the Enemies of Humanity brought up than a mysterious gust of wind nearly pushes Nana off the edge. At the same time, Onodera is searching the student records.

Nanao rescues Nana, but later that night he pushes her away, calling her constant mind-reading “violating”. Even so, Nana believes that he should be the leader of the class. Alas, he’s shoved to the sidelines in the inevitable superpower duel between the Fire and Ice guys, and when the latter wins Nana seems to accept him and Nanao is disheartened.

The Fire guy is pissed that he wasn’t able to go all out to prove himself, and ends up going a bit too far, launching a huge fireball at the rest of the class, including Nana. That’s when Nanao springs into action and reveals his true power for the first time: the ability to neutralize anyone else’s power, much like Kamijou Touma’s Imagine Breaker.

After his triumphant coming-out party, Nanao goes up to the cliff with Nana at sunset, where she takes his hand and declares that she can’t hear his inner voice anymore, and it’s wonderful. Even so, she can still tell what he’s thinking: he’s so glad they’re friends.

Then she pulls his hands away so he’s off-balance and shoves him off the goddamn cliff.

The entire palette of the scene darkens, Nana’s eyes glow red, and Ookubo Rumi’s voice drops at least an octave. As Nanao hangs on to deal life to a frayed rope, she reveals that she never had mind-reading powers; and details all the ways she made him think she did by simply making deductions from his appearance and behavior. If she has a “power”, it’s her wits.

Just when Nanao is declaring that she’s an Enemy of Humanity, Nana flips the script once more: he is the true Enemy, and for humanity’s sake, she asks that he please die, and he falls. She checks her phone, which tells her Nakajima Nanao could have potentially been responsible for over a million deaths.

I love shows that seem like one thing (initially a fun cross between My Hero Academia and Assassination Classroom) and turns out to be something else entirely. This was such a well-constructed and executed fake-out. Your enjoyment may well depend on your level of gullibility, but the fact is even I knew something/someone was “off”, it was just a matter of not knowing exactly when and how that other shoe would drop. That tension and atmosphere was delicious.

Even better, the dull boy protagonist ended up not being the protagonist at all, but the unwitting enemy (if Nana is to be believed); the clue was right in the title: it’s Talentless Nana, not Nanao, after all. Nana’s early performance manipulated me just as masterfully as she manipulated her quarry, along with the rest of the class (except for Onodera, who is clearly suspicious about something).

Is he Nana’s ally, enemy, or a little of both? That’s just one of dozens of questions floating around in my thoroughly, beautifully blown mind. Unlike Higarashi and its gory cold open, Talentless Nana held its sinister cards close until the very end, and both methods worked. Here’s hoping it has more fun surprising twists in store.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. After remembering we first saw the phone instructing someone to “kill the Enemies of Humanity” and “save 10 million lives”, I believe both Nana and Kyouya are engaged in a competition to see who can save those lives fastest. Which means so far Nana has the early lead.

Appare-Ranman! – 12 – Showdown at Stone Hill

Holed up in a ghost town chapel, Gil once again demonstrates how ridiculously EEEEEEvil he is by forcing two of his three hostages to shoot the other if they want to go free, then shooting the “winner” in the back anyway. That leaves Sofia as his only hostage, warning her he’s the only thing standing between her and his men making sport of her. Meanwhile, the cars are all repaired thanks to a sharing of resources and skills.

The race as it was has been postponed, and the rules have changed: the ten of them vow to go into Stone Hill, rescue Sofia and take Gil out come hell or high water, which means they’re all on the same team until that’s all been done. Kosame’s wound is still tender but he decides to join the others, but it won’t be easy: Gill has one hundred men in that ghost town.

Even so, there’s never any doubt that the numbers advantage would be irrelevant, especially with two of the Thousand Three as the vanguard. For some reason Gil has his hundred men scattered randomly throughout the town, or his numbers would have worked a little better for him. Instead, the Ten Braves split up into complementary pairs and fight smaller groups of Gil’s men. Chase is the first to reach the chapel after pretending to be shot dead.

Everyone else gets their chance to shine, although it’s clear Al Lyon is the worst of the fighters in both firepower and good judgment. He allows Gil’s one woman fighter to goad him into charging her and almost gets killed. Thankfully that leads to an absolutely badass martial arts contest between Xialian and Gil’s henchwoman, a bout that’s sharp, focused, and simply fantastic fun to watch.

Appare has to use his trump card (an electrified net gun) early and Kosame’s wound reoopens, but most of the henchmen are dealt with by the time Chase sends up a flare, indicating where the others should head. But when they hear gunshots, they fear the worst as Gil learns the ransom is fake. He ordered his men to “slaughter” the racers, and the fact they didn’t obey him makes him extremely cranky. Hopefully the climactic rematch will go a little better for the good guys!

Vinland Saga – 21 – It Will Never Be Enough

It’s pretty amazing that Askeladd, who only a couple episodes ago was about to be assassinated by his own mutinying men, now finds himself taking a prominent role in maneuvering Prince Canute to the throne of the most powerful kingdom in Europe. Then again, it’s par for the course: Askeladd isn’t a mere pirate, he’s a tremendous diplomat, charmer, and spinner of yarns, all to aid his own interests.

Askeladd knows he’s sending his prince into a veritable hornets nest from which he may never come out…unless he plays his cards right. Sweyn wants Canute out of the picture, but he’s not reckless or bloodthirsty. He must match the king’s wits with his own. When Canute is shot in the chest by a sniper with a crossbow, the person actually shot was merely a slave woman serving as his body double.

Thorfinn goes after the sniper, and ends up in the arms of one Leif Erikson, a man he had probably not thought about in some time. Leif spots Askeladd first, and surely feels he owes Thors a heavy debt for saving them years ago. Leif remembers the cheerful boy on Iceland, and expects that he’s ready to leave the battlefield and go home; that he’s had enough of battle. He sure looks it, after all.

Of course, that’s not the case. Thorfinn betrays a moment or two of surprise upon seeing his old uncle again, but any talk of going home or seeing his mother and sister again, and he immediately puts his shell back up. It hasn’t been enough, and it never will be until Askeladd breathes his last, having been pierced through the heart with the blade of Thors, wielded by his son.

It’s entirely expected for Finn to act this way, but it hardly means he’s gone for good; he’s still so young after all. Just that he has his priorities. If he even considers himself the same person as the boy who has a mother and sister in Iceland, which is itself in doubt, returning comes home is entirely dependant on getting his father the revenge he believes he’s due.

That’s despite him knowing full well his father would have preferred he stop fighting and return home to family years ago, and not even bother with Askeladd.

That night, Askeladd visits an irreparably-wounded Bjorn, who arranges for his boss to fight and kill him tomorrow. Then Askeladd holds council with Canute, Thorkell, and Gunnar, and we learn just how much he’s thought through this York situation. He hired the assassin to attack the double, in hopes of making a big public show for the people of York that King Sweyn was playing dirty.

Indeed, we see rumors of varying degrees of accuracy spread across the city. Askeladd’s elite gut even sniffs out Gunnar’s treachery, and in Gunnar’s presence not only said only what he wanted Sweyn himself to eventually hear (that they’re not interested in a short-term battle, but in buying time), but has Finn follow Gunnar and his spy all the way to Sweyn’s house.

Canute doesn’t like how a woman had to give her life for a charade, but he can’t really complain when it’s put him in a far better position, increasing his available options while limiting those of his father.

The next day, Thorfinn asks Askeladd for yet another duel, and Askeladd once again accepts, with Canute and Thorkell acting as witnesses. But first, Askeladd has “a previous engagement” with Bjorn, who arrives and draws his sword for his last fight.

Before he dies, Bjorn tells his leader how much he looked up to him, but also pitied him for the loneliness he must experience. He paints Askeladd as someone who has risen to his present station (and indeed still breathes and stands, albeit with one so-so-leg) by rejecting everything and anyone.

Still, all Bjorn wanted to be his friend, and before delivering the blow that kills him, Askeladd grants him that wish before he passes. He allows him to hear those words, then turns Thorfinn, who may well succeed him as the next Askeladd. Scoring victories and glory left and right, but with nary a friend, family member, or lover to share it with.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 21 – Love Isn’t Control, But Friendship Is Power

One would think a duel as significant and built-up as the one between Kirito and Eugeo would last an entire episode, but that assumption gives Administrator too much credit. Eugeo’s hasty synthesis was willing, not by force, and it happened in a profound moment of weakness for Eugeo.

He and Kirito cross swords and give each other matching cuts, but once Kirito asks Eugeo to recall who gave him his Baltio-style moves, not to mention all of the people waiting for them to return home with Alice, Eugeo’s piety module is quickly exposed.

But while Eugeo wakes up and even says Alice’s name, there’s still something off about him, and I dreaded Kirito dropping his guard, and with good reason: Eugeo uses Enhance Armament to bury both Kirito and Alice in ice before returning to the top level.

There, a skeptical Chudelkin asks if Eugeo eliminated the rebels, to which Eugeo responds the Pontifex only ordered him to stop them, and stop them he did. That’s not sufficient for the Prime Senator, who heads down below to finish them off, thereby playing right into Eugeo’s hands.

Without Chudelkin, Eugeo is all alone with Administrator, who assumes that while his piety module was compromised, he’s still loyal to her. But when she removes it outright in order to recalibrate it, she’s only freeing him to recall more memories, which motivate him to break free of her emotional and magical hold and attack her with the dagger provided by Cardinal.

Administrator is taken aback, but her shielding is close to perfect, and tells Eugeo that no blade, even one fashioned by Cardinal, can pierce her skin. As we know from the OP and flashbacks, Administrator prefers to hang around in the nude, and once her “loving partner” gig is up, she dispenses with the clothes and provokes Eugeo by mocking Alice’s ordeal (her synthesis was forced over many agonizing days).

That’s when Chudelkin returns all beat up to warn his Pontifex that the other two are free, and Kirito and Alice arrive on the top floor. Eugeo intended to make up for his initial betrayal by taking care of Administrator alone, but she’s too strong. In fact, it will be a miracle if the three of them working in perfect harmony can overcome her knowledge of nearly every cheat code in the world.

Still, Administrator isn’t interested in fighting the three directly; not while she has one last subordinate standing in Chudelkin. She fires him up by agreeing to let him have every inch of her body for one night if he can eliminate the rebels, and he uses his fingers, toes, and eyes to summon his trump card: a monstrous fire genie.

Chudelkin has always been a wild card since his first appearance (which is only fitting as he looks like a Joker), so I honestly don’t know how Eugeo’s ice, Kirito’s black sword, and Alice’s scattering blades will hold up against this boss, but the important thing is that the three are finally fighting on the same side.

P.S. We get new OP visuals (same theme) as we’ve completed Alicization “Rising” and begun Alicization “Uniting” – featuring Kirito trying to hold his own against a very capable (and very nude) Administrator.