Hell’s Paradise – 09 – Something’s Different This Time

Not content to sit around and think about how to proceed, Gabimaru leaves Sagiri, Senta, and Yuzuriha and heads through the mists to Horai on his own. When he reaches the gates, he’s met by one of the Tensen. He breaks its arm and neck, but it regenerates almost immediately. He burns it to a crisp with Ascetic Blaze, but its charred body still delivers a devastating blow.

Realizing he can’t fight this monster like he would a living thing, Gabimaru jumps into another gear and pulverizes it so quickly it cannot regenerate. Even then, its body sprouts flowers and it transforms into a giant plant monster that zaps him with electricity. He wakes up in his home with Yui, momentarily relieved he woke up from the nightmare that was the island, only to realize that this is the dream. Nevertheless, he’s glad he got to see and talk to Yui once more.

When the Tensen has him on the ropes, his body goes into instinctive self-preservation mode, enveloping his opponent in ninpo flames before collapsing into a heap. Before the monster can counter, Mei appears and puts up a shield around Gabimaru and herself. That morning, the others see both Gabimaru and Mei are missing and go looking for them. On the way, then encounter a “forest” of trees that were once humans—some of them Houko’s family.

The seven Tensen, including Zhu Jin, whom Gabimaru fought to a draw, assemble in their little gazebo in Horai. Their leader then distributes shots of the Elixir of Life that they all imbibe. Gabimaru wakes up beside a river with Mei, glad that the Tensen aren’t really gods, but demented monsters that can be killed. But first he’s going to have to deal with Tamiya Gantetsusai, who just happens to cross paths with him.

Gabi strolled right up to the front door of the final bosses, only to get his ass handed to him. But he still put up a decent fight, and makes the point that if he had two or three people helping him he might actually be able to score a victory. The thing is, neither the Yamada Asaemons nor his fellow prisoners have any reason to help him. None of them, that is, except for Sagiri, who earnestly hopes he’s okay as they search for him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Insomniacs After School – 07 – Inside a Dream

Anamizu, Kanikawa, and Momo show up to distribute flyers for Ganta and Isaki. Anamizu proves the most adept at placing them in the palms of passersby, but even she only manages to hand out half of her share. Such is the business of flyer distribution. Ganta heads into the market to hand out more, but thankfully Ukegawa is there to make sure he keeps his promise to watch the fireworks with Isaki.

Later in the evening, Ganta figures he must have nodded off and strayed into a wonderful dream. If that’s the case, that dream begins when he happens to spot Isaki on a bridge, looking desperately pretty and cute in a white ykata with purple flowers. The two proceed to have a perfectly adorable festival date.

There’s that ever-present excitement of being at school after dark as they walk through the dark hallways. Isaki learned to move quickly in the dark from when she and her friends in the hospital used to sneak out. On the way up to the roof she tries to hide and scare Ganta, but he sees her little hair tassle and spooks her instead.

Once atop the roof, Ganta tells Isaki how he used to get anxious in crowds, but feels better tonight. When Isaki jokes that it must be because he has a cute girl in a yukata sitting next to him, he says she’s right, causing her to blush. They look into each others eyes just as the first of the fireworks go off, but before they can say anything more, the others arrive.

While their romantic moment is interrupted, Ganta and Isaki proceed to have a blast on the roof with Anamizu, Kani, and Nono, and take a bunch of fun and beautiful photos. When the fireworks end, Isaki’s friends depart, while Ganta and Isaki head to the observatory.

There, Isaki opens up the telescope hatch to reveal the gorgeous starry sky and fill their clubroom with a magical blue light. While downloading photos, Ganta tells Isaki how he once used to lie in bed wondering why he was the only one suffering. But thanks to Isaki and her friends, he now realizes that everyone struggles with one problem or another.

When Isaki climbs into the hatch to get a better view, Ganta is worried she’ll fall, but she assures him “something like this” won’t kill her. She outlasted miniscule odds of survival, having been born with a heart condition that required surgery earlier in life.

While the surgery was a success and she’s now able to live a normal life, she lies in bed petrified that her heart will stop in the night and she won’t see the morning sun. Then a wind blows her off balance, she falls, and Ganta catches her. In the ensuing position, Ganta can hear Isaki’s heart. She says “only half of it moves, so it sounds imperfect”, but to Ganta it must be one of the most perfect sounds he’s ever heard.

Ganta tells Isaki that she doesn’t have to suffer with her anxiety alone in bed. She can call him any time and he’ll pick up and stay with her until she feels safe enough to sleep. She embraces him and cries into his chest, his shirt absorbing her cool tears of joy and gratitude.

She only pulls away and hides her face when she gets self-conscious about the tears making her look “ugly.” The next day at school, her friends don’t seem to notice the signs she’d been crying

The only hitch in Ganta’s plan is that Isaki isn’t able to carry on a regular phone conversation with the thin walls in her house and a mom who’s strict about staying up late. Ganta finds a workaround with a broadcasting app that enables them to softly talk to one another as if they were next to each other.

They talk about a little of everything, telling each other more about themselves. And it works…for both of them. While Ganta eventually hears Isaki yawning and then sleeping and laughs gleefully, he eventually falls asleep as well. Now they know they don’t need to be snuggling together to doze off…but I’m sure they still want to anyway!

Hell, watching these two listen to each other’s voices during these quiet, cozy, tender, extraordinarily sweet moments a night made me a little drowsy, in the absolute best way. Insomniacs After School reached new heights of romantic charm, while also alleviating my worries about Isaki’s fate. After this week, I feel like these two are going to be alright. Watching their gentle love blossom is a mesmerizing delight.

Heavenly Delusion – 08 – Behind the Curtain

Dr. Usami takes Kiruko and Maru past a gauntlet of people who want to ask him about their prosthetics and leads them to the room with the curtain. Beyond that curtain is a young woman being kept alive by machines, calling to mind shades of Akira. Usami wants Maru to try to kill her the way he did the dormant Man-eaters in the garage.

Why not just disconnect her from the machines? Because they’re not just keeping her alive—they’re keeping her from becoming a monster. This is how Maru and Kiruko learn that all Man-eaters began as humans. Maru places his hand on her heavily bandaged body, and discovers that she has a core. He can do what Usami wishes and end her pain. But what does she want?

Thanks to a tablet, the young woman Hoshio is able to communicate her final wish: to see the sky. She’s been in that dark, depressing room for God knows how long clinging to both life and humanity. Kiruko and Maru agree that they won’t do as Usami asks unless Hoshio can see the sky, so Usami makes it happen.

The episode lingers on the logistics and careful maneuvering needed to move her and all her machines and cables just a few feet to the balcony where a impossibly gorgeous azure sky opens up above them. She stares up at that sky with her single blue eye, takes a few breaths, and then Maru lets her finally rest. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever seen, and not by accident: this episode was guest story boarded by a KyoAni veteran.

After she’s passed, Kiruko and Maru discover that Hoshio left a few final messages on the tablet, thanking Usami for letting her die as a human, thanking him for giving her his eye, and for everything, and telling him she loves him. Usami’s mask slips and he breaks down in big sobbing tears.

As all this was going on, Mizuhashi was apparently killed hitting her head when a rock was thrown by an Immortal Order member. Liviuman storms the facility, and IO’s staff and patients evacuate. Kiruko asks the IO folks about the photo of their Dr. Usami and Robin, and they recognize Robin, much to Kiruko’s delight. They could be inching closer to finding him.

But just as Kiruko and Maru are getting ready to escort Usami after he buries Hoshio, he shoots himself in the head on the roof of the facility, cradling Hoshio in his arms. He’s also holding the same button as the kids’ uniforms in Heaven. Just as he no longer saw any reason to continue Immortal Order with Hoshio gone, he no longer wanted to live in a world without her.

Faced with a dead Usami with a dead Hoshio in his arms, Maru begins to despair, saying that unlike Usami or Robin, his hands “only bring death”. Kiruko hurries to him and takes his hands in theirs, telling him that’s not true. Those hands, my God. Countless people have been saved by him killing Man-eaters. He’s saved Kiruko more than once as well. That matters.

While what happened to Hoshio and Usami is tragic, I’m glad the episode ends on a less somber note, with Kiruko and Maru closer than ever. No matter what happens in this world, if they can just stay together and keep surviving, you get the sense everything will be okay.

Only the episode doesn’t quite end with them. It ends with Mimihime’s dream of being in a dark and scary place, before suddenly being joined by someone who offers their hand (probably her crush Shiro).

When Tokio sees her grinning on the balcony, she asks what the dream was about that made her so happy, and Mimihime says she’s already forgotten. But even if the details of the dream are gone, the emotions remain.

Similarly, the precise nature and timeframe of the “Heaven” where Mimi and Tokio reside remains shrouded in mystery and intrigue, but what matters is that I desperately want to learn whatever answers Heavenly Delusion is willing to provide in its final five episodes.


Heavenly Delusion – 06 – The King of Hotels

The bad news? This episode ends with Kiruko and Maru arguably no closer to reaching “heaven” than last week. The good news? Everything else. Upon reaching the “100% clean water” area of the map, a girl named Totori points them to the source of said water.

They end up finding a dead man, another who is badly-mauled but still alive, and a monster. Kiruko lets the beast chase them out into the sunlight, where they fire the Kiru-Beam at a concrete support that falls on the monster. Only Maru isn’t able to kill it with his Maru-Touch like he has other Hiruko.

It turns out this isn’t a monster at all—just a big, hungry bear with no fur on its head. They manage to escape atop a concrete pylon, but Kiruko drops the battery to the Beam, and Maru has to scramble down to get it. Kiruko can’t get down so easily, as they don’t possess anything like Maru’s physical skills.

Kiruko promises to let Maru touch their boobs if he climbs down to kill the bear, and he leaps off the pylon immediately. Kiruko jumps soon afterward and ends up doing the deed, telling Maru they always knew the Beam would fire, as it was recharged with Maru’s “horny energy.”

From there, this episode goes directly to Horny Jail—or I should say Horny Hotel—without so much as passing “GO”. Maru wants to collect the debt by groping Kiruko, and Kiruko ends up making a girly sound that surprises them both, but also attracts the attention of Totori, the hotel manager.

Totori takes Maru to his separate room, where she then attempts to seduce him in exchange for cash or a solar light—whichever works for her. Horny as he is, Maru isn’t at all ready to go all the way with this girl, but when she places his hand on her breast, he “gets in” in the same way he does when using Maru-Touch on Hiruko.

We even see a pinkish-red “core” that is similar to the ones he’s crushed in Hiruko…and which was left behind when Tarao was cremated.  Unfortunately, both his phrasing and the position he’s in with a naked Totori on the bed cause quite a bit of misunderstanding.

Back at “Heaven”, Tokio is told there’s no sign of an illness; her nausea may have been caused by stress and fatigue, and she rests in the infirmary. While there, she has a dream with the ghost of Asura, who floats in the air, has an alien-like face, and asks Tokio what she’s good at.

Back at the hotel, Totori lets Maru off without any fuss, as she admits she came on to him. She also, completely unbidden, reveals the depths of her own horniness by declaring that by offering the cleanest, comfiest futons and having sex with the customers she likes, she intends to become the “King of Hotels”.

You have to admire the spirit, but the next morning Totori’s mood has changed completely, as the Boss, the maimed man Kiruko and Maru found, has passed away. Kiruko asks if Totori wants to join them on their journey, but she declines, so Maru tells her to instead become the King of Hotels she wants to be.

I don’t know if this is the last we see of Totori, or if Maru touching her boob indicated she was a kind of proto-Hiruko, but she was certainly a fun, complex, and compelling side character.

But saying goodbye to Totori does not end the horniness. While one of the adults confirms that Tokio’s footprint was on the wall in the creepy mutant baby nursery, Tokio slips out of the infirmary (she continues to not show up on surveillance video) to see Kona.

While previous instances suggested Tokio wasn’t a party to all the sexy shenanigans going around, here we see both she and Kona are ready to get down. As they disrobe, Kona admits he liked Asura, but assures Tokio it was different than his love for her.

Whether you’re an orphan in the care of a cute bodyguard or an orphan in a bizarre cloistered medical facility, there’s apparently no suppressing that basic human need for close, even intimate connection. The revelation that she and Kona are knocking boots lends some vital context to her vomiting last week, as it’s possible she’s already pregnant.

Skip and Loafer – 04 – Stop and Smell the Gyoza

Kanechika-senpai shows Mitsumi some episodes of a TV show Shima acted in when he was a kid, and gets her to agree to talk to Shima about joining the drama club. Kanechika notes that Mitsumi as an extreme pushover, but this is too important to go easy on her.

The thing is, saddling her with this task ends up distracting Mitsumi so completely that she utterly fails at every other task on what was to be a perfect day of school. She spaces out during a 15-minute quiz and ends up getting a volleyball to the face in P.E.

Shima spots her in the nurse’s office window and the two have a nice easy chat together, demonstrating once more how effortless their chemistry is. Mitsumi is able to talk about her “mission” to Shima, which lessens her mental load, and Shima is able to explain that acting isn’t his passion, it’s just something he did to make his mom happy.

He then steers their talk to Mitsumi, because he’s genuinely interested in her and her dreams. When she speaks about how underpopulated her home is and how she wanted to come to Tokyo to attack the problem at its core. When she laughs if off, he tells her she doesn’t need to, because it’s an admirable goal.

That said, Shima admits he’s not sure he’d be able to deal with all the hopes and expectations that come with such a lofty goal, all but admitting he believes Mitsumi is far more amazing than him. She goes on to say she wouldn’t be in Tokyo if it weren’t for her best friend Fumi.

When Mitsumi studied so hard for entrance exams she forgot to sleep or eat, Fumi was there to watch over her and make sure she actually did get some food in her belly. She also promised that pass or fail, they’d go out for gyoza again. Mitsumi tells Shima if he ever finds a new goal for himself, they’ll do the same and go out to eat, succeed or fail. They pinky promise, and Mitsumi’s pinky tingles even afterwards, as sign that it’s a real one.

In the second half, Mitsumi meets with Hanazono-sensei (her homeroom teacher upon whom she barfed on her first day) in the faculty lounge, worried about “losing control” of herself now that she’s in high school. Hanazono listens, but inside she’s thinking how big of a square this girl is. Her grades are excellent for someone who doesn’t go to cram school.

That said, if Mitsumi wants to know how she can develop more discipline, Hanazono points her in the direction of Takamine-senpai, the student council treasurer. Mitsumi is in awe of Takamine’s strict daily schedule and complete lack of wasted time and energy.

But like everyone on Skip & Loafer, Takamine is hardly a one-note character. To Mitsumi she may seem perfect; a badass CEO-type who is headed nowhere but up. But internally, Takamine is a surging ball of anxiety. Her intricately-detailed schedule book can be a millstone around her neck. One missed train or bus means an entire day of productivity is ruined.

It’s only when Takamine spends and afternoon with Mitsumi that Takamine begins to question whether she’s really doing things in a proper, balanced way. Mitsumi injects some much needed spaciness to Takamine’s day, such that when things go wrong or there’s a lapse in focus, it’s mitigated by something worthwhile, like a cute cat, or a gorgeous sunset.

Takamine probably often suffered from dreams in which she’s always chasing buses she’s late for, but the night after hanging out with Mitsumi, she meets a fuzzy black cat in her dream, and another bus arrives immediately, one that takes her up into the dazzling starry sky.

In addition to being particularly Ghibli-esque, it’s so lovely to see such a normally stressed out Takamine enjoying herself in her dream, embracing the “space”, i.e. spaceiness of taking the time to smell the roses or gaze at the stars.

Takamine’s dream, and Mitsumi’s example, inspire her to loosen her grip on her oppressive schedule and negelect to check her wristwatch every five minutes. When an ornery soccer club president presents his report to her, she accepts it with a warm smile that causes him to flee lest she see him blushing.

Takamine also makes sure to tell Mitsumi not to follow her example to the letter, but determine her own pace and style and way of doing things. That’s definitely something Shima wants her to do, since Mitsumi stayed up all night preparing her own oppressive schedule and has the eye bags and yawns to prove it.

She assures Shima that such condition is temporary and she’ll “get used to it”, but Takamine gives her permission not to force herself too hard. After all, days where a little time is wasted aren’t too bad in moderation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Swordsmith Village Arc – 02 – The Boy Who Had No Tact

When a young swordsmith’s apprentice is seemingly being bullied by Tokitou Muichirou, Tanjirou intervenes. Unfortunately, while Tokitou is younger and of much slighter build than Tanjirou, he’s also a damn Hashira, so he’s going to get what he wants to get.

What Tanjirou can’t abide is that Tokitou is so tactless and insulting in his explanation of wanting what the boy won’t relinquish: the key that starts a 300-year-old, six-armed mechanical doll used for combat training called Yoriichi Type Zero.

Tokitou interrupts Tanjirou’s righteous speech by knocking him out, then takes the key and starts training with the doll. When Tanjirou mentions that the doll resembles someone from his dream, Tokitou’s equally annoying crow tells him that’s preposterous, but the apprentice boy tells him it could be an instance of an inherited memory.

The boy can’t bear to watch the mechanical doll break down, since his parents have passed away and he doesn’t possess the skills to fix it. He runs off to sulk in a tree, but Tanjirou uses his nose to find him, and gives him a stirring, motivational speech that lifts the boy, named Kotetsu, out of his funk.

When Tokitou is done with the doll, he’s ripped one of the six arms off since it cracked his own sword. They’re able to start the doll back up, and Kotetsu resolves to train Tanjirou to the point he can give Tokitou a piece of his mind (even if perrential good boy Tanjirou objects to that motivation).

Kotetsu proves a harsh taskmaster, withholding food and even water from Tanjirou unless he’s able to score a strike on the doll. Considering a Hashira considered it a useful training doll, it makes sense that Tanjirou has trouble with it, and Kotetsu keeps the difficulty level uncomfortably high.

This ends up paying off, as Tanjirou discovers that he can smell the moves the doll is about to make before he can sense the Opening Thread (his usual manner of predicting moves). This, combined with Kotetsu letting him drink and eat, thus restoring his stamina, leads to Tanjirou finally being able to defeat the Type Zero.

When he does, its head crumbles into shards, revealing a 300-year old Nichirin sword—perhaps the very blade that once belonged to the ancestor from his dream. While Tokitou comes off as a big old jerk compared to the affable Mitsuri, his sour introduction is tempered by Tanjirou’s fast friendship with the more pleasant (but still tough) Kotetsu.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Swordsmith Village Arc – 01 – Less Sizzle, Please

I am often intimidated by double-length episodes because they often contain double the content. Not so with the premiere of this newest season of Demon Slayer. A full fifteen minutes is given over to a Bad Guy Meeting scene that could have easily taken less than five. The overly indulgent soaring shots of the Escher-like Infinity Castle, and the dramatic musical stabs whenever anyone says anything, get old fast. This had no business being a double episode – the content just wasn’t there.

This is overwrought, inessential Demon Slayer at its worst, and while it sucks it occurs at all, things are made worse by the fact it’s what starts an otherwise standard easing-back-in episode. For the first time in 113 years, the Upper Moons have been summoned because one of their own has been saved. Kibutsuji Muzan berates them and tells them to do better. As they (probably) say in Texas, it’s a 3-ounce steak with a whole cow’s worth of sizzle.

Thankfully, what follows is much better. There’s some immediate intrigue as the episode switches gears to someone that looks like an adult Tanjirou with a wife and babe, but it’s more likely this is an ancestor, since he has a different name, Sumiyoshi. This ancestor is hosting a guest wearing the earrings that will be the Kamado heirloom.

Tanjirou wakes up from a two-month coma, and the first person he sees is a surprised and tearful Tsuyuri Kanao, who manages to utter quite a few words to mark the occasion. She’s soon joined by the three tiny stretching girls, a relieved Aoi, the Kakushi who rescued him and his friends (and who gets a brief POV monologue).

Inosuke also appears, though it seems he had been hanging from the ceiling for over a day and no one noticed him until Tanjirou, who is lying face up. He makes his usual enormous ruckus about Tanjiou worrying him, and he and the Kakushi bicker until Tsuyuri yells at them.

When Tanjirou asks the 3 girls if he got his repaired sword back, they present him with Haganezuka’s letters to him while he was out, which grew increasingly disturbing and threatening with time. He must travel to the Swordsmith Village to make amends and get his chipped sword fixed.

The process for traveling to the village is extremely complex due to the intense secrecy of the location, so he’s blindfolded, ear and nose-plugged, and carried on the backs of a sequence of crow-guided Kakushi. Xhibit would surely be proud of the sight of Tanjirou, carrying Nezuko on his back, being carried on someone’s back.

As soon as he arrives in the Swordsmith Village and thanks his last Kakushi, his gesture of gratitude is heard by the keen ears of the Love Hashira, Kanroji Mitsuri (Hanazawa Kana), who is having a nice soak in the village’s healing waters. Mitsuri runs down the steps and flies into his arms in tears, because someone at the hot spring ignored her when she greeted him. He later learns this is his former fellow recruit Genya, who has no desire to speak to him either.

Mitsuri, on the other hand, is a warm and bubbly presence throughout Tanjirou’s first night. After his bath they have a meal together (in her case, a very very big meal), and she and Nezuko hit it off like sisters. Tanjirou learns that she joined the Demon Corps and worked her way up to Hashira for nothing more complicated than wanting to find her future husband, figuring it had to be someone stronger than her.

When someone reports to Mitsuri that her sword repairs are complete, she heads off to attend to another matter, but wishes Tanjirou the best. As both she and the Mist Hashira Tokitou Muichirou are both in the OP with him, I’m sure she’ll be back soon, for which I’m glad. Over-the-top her design may be (like Uzui) but she’s just a fun-as-hell character, and I can’t wait to see her get serious in battle.

Before bidding him good night, Mitsuri tells Tanjirou about a secret weapon that could help Nezuko. The next day, Tanjirou and Nezuko strike out to look for it, and run into what sounds like a heated argument between Tokitou Muichirou, a young swordsmith, and most puzzling of all, the man with the earrings from Tanjirou’s flashbacky dream.

From a frozen forest to a train and through the Entertainment District to here in the Swordsmith Village, Tanjirou’s been through a lot, and he’ll go through a lot more, but with not one but two Hashira by his side, I’m sure it will all work out. And hopefully future episodes will be a tighter 20-odd minutes, with fewer forays into the infinite CGI castle…

Heavenly Delusion – 01 (First Impressions) – The Outside Beyond

Heavenly Delusion doesn’t start with any stern narration of the current political or ecological state of this world. In fact, it hardly has any infodumps at all. The exposition is flawlessly weaved into dialogue that feels natural and in rhythm with the story. No, we’re tossed right into the thick of things, at a strange white facility for kids who may have latent (or yet to awaken) skills, taught by robots and embracing various hobbies.

It is safe, comfortable, and more than a little sterile. But one girl Mimihime seems to be attuned to something beyond, and her friend Tokio’s tablet briefly glitches with the question “Do you want to go outside of the outside?” I couldn’t help but think of The Promised Neverland with this setting, and The Matrix’s invitation to both Neo and the viewer to Go Down the Rabbit Hole.

The other side of this world’s coin is the majority of the world, which seems to be in a state of post-apocalypse, recent enough that adults chide children for having never lived in the “before.” Kikuru (Senbongi Sayaka, fresh off what should be an award-winning performance as Princess Anisphia) is a strong, capable young woman serving as a bodyguard for Maru, a kid who wouldn’t look out of place in the facility.

Just watching Kukuru and Maru trudge through the twisted, rusty remains of civilization is a delight…until of course they find the corpses of a couple in their bed. But Production I.G. gives the entire episode the quality and style of animation you’d normally see in high-tier feature films. It is a gorgeous show, and the direction, lighting, and camerawork all excels.

Kikuru and Maru make an immediately rootable pair, especially when three old farts are hoping to take them to “heaven”. Fortunately, they have quite a trump card in the “Kiku-Beam”, as Kikuru calls it. While it looks like a kid’s toy gun, the thing fires a lethal, white-hot particle beam that melts anything in its path. Maru also shows of some really slick combat moves.

Thankfully, things don’t get out of hand, and the would-be bandits/rapists take Kikuru and Maru to their camp peacefully. Kikuru is even able to trick them into letting her charge the battery for her laser gun. There’s a sense that as desperate and horrible as conditions are for people, there’s still an unwritten code that most humans follow. That said, Kukuru is tough as nails, and implies there are far worse humans out there they need to watch out for.

Kikuru is looking for two people: someone named Inazaku Robin, and an old man whose name she doesn’t say. But she’s also looking for a place she knows only as “Heaven.” Heaven is different for everyone, both spiritually and literally, but there’s definitely a heavenly vibe to the facility where those school kids live. Tokio asks the director (who is quick to offer sleeping drugs) if there really is an Outside. The director doesn’t lie, and says there is indeed.

On their way to the next place that could be Heaven, Kiruko and Maru end up finding a habited and functioning inn; something that would have been ubiquitous in the before times but is clearly a lavish luxury today. Its keeper catches Kiruko trying to kiss her reflection; we also see scars covering her body, providing visual bonafides of her badass-ness, past trauma…or both.

When Kiruko spots a gun bag on the wall, the innkeeper says it’s for hunting monsters, and then starts acting very suspicious when Kiruko talks about monsters. There’s a wonderful sense of tension and dread in these moments, otherwise filmed in an idyllic household scene.

Kiruko and Maru are given a little more depth to their whole deal with the innkeeper teases them about the dangers of incest. Kiruko (who is ~20) assures her that Maru (~16) is nothing but her mission. This seems to anger Maru as he pushes his futon further away than she set it up that night, then instantly falls asleep.

While they were both exhausted enough from their travels to plausibly pass the ef out as soon as their heads hit the pillow, part of me wonders (dreads, really) if they were drugged so that the gun-toting innkeeper can appease the giant winged eldritch monster with their meat.

However this plays out, it’s a hell of a stinger for the next episode. The director of “Heaven” isn’t wrong about the outside being a kind of hell by comparison. But it’s also a place of freedom, where that facility looks like a bastion of control and potential for abuse. It seems inevitable for the heaven and hell of this world to bleed into one another before long.

Vinland Saga S2 – 10 – Getting Ahead in the World

We open with a couple of bare-chested swole lads chopping wood and shoving trunks. Three years of hard work have honed Thorfinn and Einar’s muscles, and the result of all that labor is that they have turned a forest into a wheat field. What felt impossible by design when a newly-enslaved Einar arrived has become reality. And yet, at brink of gaining their freedom, and both men seem…tentative.

As much as being a slave sucks, it steered a bloodthirsty hate-filled warrior Thorfinn was from a certain early grave and into a transformational brotherhood of two with Einar. Just still being alive is a gift; will freedom lead him back down darker roads? Einar’s reticence is simpler: he can hardly be over the moon about winning his freedom when Arnheid will remain slave. Even if he and Thorfinn could afford to buy her, Ketil wouldn’t sell.

What Ketil does offer is to give Thorfinn and Einar their freedom once they’re done sowing their latest crop. But first he and his son are headed to Jelling to see King Harald, who has taken ill. Also returning to Denmark is our boy King Canute, who day by day is carrying himself not just more like king, but more like the king.

When he spots childrenin town playing a ball game, he remembers how his brother Harald used to play with him, and trusted him to get up even when he fell. His brother was a strong, kind young man, the kind of person who would, and did, make a good king. The pleasant dream is interrupted when the kids’ ball rolls towards Canute’s feet. But he doesn’t see a ball. he sees the severed head of his slain father Sweyn.

Canute’s demeanor is solemn as he greets Harald, who is barely able to speak and lift his hand. Their sister Estrid is also there, trying to stay in good spirits. With what little strength he has left and with his court as witnesses, Harald offers the crown of Denmark to Canute without conditions. Canute refuses it, urging his brother to rest up and get better.

But King Harald won’t get better. He’s been poisoned. Canute is the one who had him poisoned. We learn this from Sweyn’s head, which only we and Canute can see. Sweyn mocks Canute’s show of sympathy, modesty, and above all innocence when yet more royal blood of his family stains his hands. Sweyn promises his son that with the dual crowns of England and Denmark on his head, he stands to endure twice the weight and torment.

That night in the room prepared for him, which overlooks the spot where he and Harald used to play, King Canute reclines in his chair, the head of his dead father his one and only true confidant. A serving woman knocks with refreshment, but Canute, who has poisoned all of his political rivals, is not about to accept a drink from uncertain source or purpose.

Sweyn’s head says he is a curse, and if he’s appearing in the afternoon, it’s getting worse. The head is the manifestation of Canute’s amassed trauma and guilt, always there to remind him how he comes to wear one crown and is poised to wear another.

Canute wants to build a peaceful utopia, and he may be right that such a wish is impossible with two kings hanging around. But ambition and ruthlessness have crept into his once gentle heart. If he keeps down this path, he’ll surely end up in that godforsaken place Thorfinn narrowly escaped…or worse.

Vinland Saga S2 – 09 – Climb of Atonement

It was all a dream. So thinks a clean-shaven Thorfinn, lounging in a grassy meadow when a lamb wakes him. Uemura Yuuto voices this carefree version of him in a way we’ve never heard Thorfinn speak, or if we have, it was so long ago he might as well have been a different person. In reality, Einar is just finishing up a fight with the retainers that he wins, because he won’t stop getting back up and his opponents are tired of fighting.

Thorfinn’s dream turns quickly when his father Thors appears and says he smells blood. Thorfinn looks down to find the dagger Thors gave him for protection thrust into the neck of a young Einar, who transforms into the older Einar he knows. As corpses sprout out of the ground to grab the father and son, it is only the son who falls through the resulting fissure. Before he falls, Thors repeats the philosophy he held to until his death: nobody has any enemies, so there is no worth in hurting others.

Thorfinn’s drop is long and painful as he continually smacks against the sharp stone walls. It takes most of his fingernails, but he manages gain a grip just before falling off an edge into what looks like the nether-regions of hell. MAPPA really goes all out with the nightmare fuel here. Askeladd is there, and he’s still himself. This is not Valhalla. Instead, it’s where fallen warriors really go: to fight a pointless, everlasting battle…and laugh.

As Thorfinn’s grip begins to fail, a column of ghouls reach him and start to grab his feet. Askeladd tells him to stop kicking them and listen to their complaints, for they are all the people he has killed. Thorfinn starts to shed tears and apologizes to them. When ghouls down below start firing arrows, Askeladd jumps down and fights them, then tells Thorfinn to start climbing, taking those he killed with him. That is his true battle.

With a gut-wrenching cry of determination, Thorfinn stretches and reaches upward, and suddenly finds himself propelled all the way back to Ketil’s farm, under a cloudy but open sky. He’s awake, and Einar is alive. As he lends a hand taking Einar back to their barn, Thorfinn once again weeps, telling Einar he’s renouncing violence from now on. Even waking up a slave on a ravaged farm with punishment on the way for the brawl is preferable to that nightmare land he experienced.

Only, thanks to Pater, there is no punishment for Thorfinn or Einar. He found a button from one of the retainer’s coats on the ravaged farm, and decides that the face-saving story will be that wild boars ruined it. The retainer submits to his master’s wishes, and Sverkel oversees Thorfinn and Einar re-hoeing the land his son gave them. Like his father, Thorfinn has turned a page in his life. That punch was his last, his warring days done; he is reborn a new, better man. No longer a taker, but a maker.

The Fire Hunter – 05 – New Hunters and Hounds

Touko, Kaho, Shouzou and Kanata are drawing closer to the nearest village when they and the treefolk are attacked in the forest by the ninja-like Spiders. They’re bailed out by Akira (Sakamoto Maaya), a redheaded, ponytail-wearing, no-nonsense hunter, and her white Chihuahua hound, Temari.

In exchange for a sheet of Touko’s muku paper, she and Kaho, stay, rest, and bathe in the village. The dogs also get baths, as does Akira, who had seen the remains of the collection truck the others came from. In exchange for Touko and Shouzou’s kindness towards her, Kaho decides to accompany them back to the capital. Akira agrees to escort them there—in exchange for some muku paper.

In the capital, Shouzou is still on edge after dreaming of a vial of skyfire exploding in Hinako’s hand. He’s also just generally not used to the hoity-toity parties his new adoptive father holds regularly. Kira can sense this and takes him to meet with the dogs of all the hunter guests. Roroku, a hunter who was stopped at the gate for trying to sell skyfire introduces himself to Koushi. Koushi is eager to learn more about skyfire from someone who hunts fellbeasts, and Roroku suggests he join him on a hunt.

While cutting through the forest to a bay where a boat for hunters is available, Akira & Co. encounter a young boy wearing a flame fiend pelt—a dead giveaway that he’s from the Spiders. When they reach the beach, hunters, hounds, and fiends are all burnt to a crisp, as if with real fire. Kun tells them that all of his people ate some kind of “bug” that allowed them to harness the normally fatal natural fire.

Then a horde of extra-vicious fire fiends attacks the group. Akira and the hounds have their hands full, so Kanata is a beat late to stop Shouzou from being badly gashed along the face and neck. Kaho and Kun are saved by Touko, using Haijuu’s sickle to slash the saber-toothed bear fiend before it can harm them. It marks the first instance of Touko making a choice for herself.

Once everyone is safely on the boat, Touko asks if Haijuu’s family will be mad she used his weapon. Akira, clearly impressed with her performance, says hunters share and share alike to get by. Shouzou has lost a lot of blood but is stable for the boat ride to the capital. But while they don’t have to worry about the land-based fire fiends while at sea, the appearance of a massive whale beneath the boat could bode either ill or well, depending on said whale’s disposition.

While the animation issues of past episodes (and also frequent lack of animation) remain here, this is over all a better-looking and more dynamic episode, fueled as ever by a strong score and convincing seiyu performances, Sakamoto’s Akira being a welcome addition. Unfortunately, I can’t say this is my favorite Misaki Kuno role; Touko more often than not sounds too whiny.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 06 – On the Same Wavelength

If like me you can’t get enough of watching Hayase and Naoto fumble their way through what is clear as day to everyone around them—that for all intents and purposes, they already are a couple—this was another episode for you (and me).

Christmas Eve is coming, and both are on the same wavelength: Hayase asks her sister what would make a good gift, while Naoto not only already has one bought and wrapped, but dreams of a perfect scenario in which he gives it to her under a Christmas tree.

Both bring their gifts for each other to the last day of school before the break, but they’re both pulled into a meeting of Hayase’s friends, who are split between those with guys and those who aren’t. Deny it all they want; the simple fact is Hayase does have a guy.

Naoto awkwardly excuses himself to get something from the art club room, giving Hayase cover to flee from having to admit she’d rather spend time with Senpai than go to singles karaoke night. Before they can exchange gifts, they’re interrupted by a buck-naked Sana “letting the room soak into her skin” as it’s the last time she’ll see it for a while. Such a delightful weirdo!

While running around the school hand-in-hand, avoiding necking classmates and strict faculty, Hayase and Naoto end up having what they usually have when hanging out together: a lot of fun. And even if their ultimate location of the rooftop is also populated by couples making out, when a cold wind sends a chill through Hayase, Naoto decides to give her her gift.

That’s because it’s a scarf! A tartan scarf, no less, that is indeed adorable on Hayase, in addition to being warm. So what’s her gift to him? Also a scarf! Of course these two crazy kids decided on the exact same gift for each other. It’s more than just a consumable like candy or soaps, because they wanted something that would last longer.

The day before New Years, Hayase calls Naoto and asks what he’s doing for tomorrow, then creating an elaborate mental picture of Naoto as a hairy caterpillar sleeping in. Instead, he says he might be making a shrine visit, and she recommends the Ishido Shrine. They don’t agree to meet there, but Naoto takes a leap of faith.

Not only is he not disappointed, as Hayase is there, but she’s also working there, and as such is dress like a dang shrine maiden. Since even passersby remark how cute she looks, Naoto has no choice but to concur. She shows him how to wash his hands and cleanse his mouth, then they get fortunes: hers is great; his is simply “bad”.

But there’s one aspect of his fortune Hayase doesn’t spot that concerns him: under “Romantic Matters”, it says “won’t happen unless you take action.” So after saying “later” to her awkwardly and shuffling off, which genuinely disappoints her, he surprises her by appearing in line to buy a good luck charm.

Not only that, he’s there to try to tell her in a normal way that he’ll wait up for her to be done so they can go to the shrine and pray together. He imagines himself too cool for school (a rare moment for Yamashita Daiki to do his suave voice) but what comes out (I’ll be waiting) just sounds creepy and stalkerish.

He realizes this after he leaves the line, and Hayase is totally in sync as she texts him that he sounded creepy and stalkerish. Even so, she says she’ll see him in twenty minutes. They meet at the sake barrels, and when he suggests go to the shrine and pray, Hayase grins and blushes profusely.

Naoto remembers too late that this is a matchmaking shrine, which means he and Hayase are in line with a bunch of lovey-dovey couples. Hayase uses this situation to mess with Naoto as usual, getting a rise out of him by asking if he’s going to wish for them to go out together.

To this, Naoto actually comes up with a cool-as-hell comeback that makes Hayase swoon: in a “hypothetical scenario” in which they’re going out, he doesn’t want to rely on the gods, but make it happen himself. When he later says he merely prayed for family health, Hayase tells him she wished to one day become his bride.

She says she’s kidding, and maybe it wasn’t that specifically, but I’ve no doubt her actual prayer was some form of “may Senpai and I continue to grow closer this year—and may it be full of more opportunities to toy with him!”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 05 – Senpai Down!

Naoto and Hayase aren’t fooling anyone. Certainly not their friends, who catch them red-handed—or rather, holding hands with fingers intertwined. It doesn’t matter if it was technically an accident; it was the result of them messing around trying to grab one anothers’ sleeves. This isn’t one-sided teasing, it’s just plain PDA!

Last week portended a reversal of Naoto’s house visit to Nagatoro, and sure enough, Naoto wakes up one morning feeling like crap. His mom (whom we meet for the first time) has a work trip but offers to stay home for his sake, but he says he’s not a little kid anymore. Now we know where he gets his fuwafuwa hair!

When Hayase can’t find Naoto at school and texts then calls him, she learns that Naoto is home, having caught her cold. Two shakes of a black cat’s tail later, she’s ringing his doorbell. Then, worried he might’ve passed out (just like he was about her) she enters his yard and presses against the screen door. Once she’s in his room (which he notes is weird), she immediately begins searching for porn, as you do!

When he protests and starts coughing uncontrollably, Hayase calls of the search…for today. She’s here not just to return the favor, but because she wants to care for and pamper her senpai. This is the perfect scenario for her to get closer to him in any number of ways, including tenderly touching foreheads to check his temperature.

She cools him down with a cold compress, then makes him some rice porridge, which he allows her to feed to him without protest. At this point Naoto is very dizzy and out of it, and his dream of Hayase in a business suit acting as his doting wife bleeds into real life, to the point he thanks her and casually calls her by her first name, Hayase.

This obviously flusters Hayase to no end, but she’d probably been hoping he’d do it ever since he learned it from her sister. In fact, she wants to hear him call her Hayase again, but he’s fallen asleep again. This gives her the idea to kiss him, and she gives him every opportunity to stop her if he’s playing dead, drawing closer and closer…

until Naoto’s mom comes home. Hayase’s loafers are in the genkan, so even with her athletic ability, jumping out the window isn’t a viable option. So she heads down, encounters Senpai’s mom, and explains that she heard he was sick and came by to check on him. Like Hayase’s friends, Naoto’s mom wasn’t born yesterday! The next morning, Naoto is right as rain, and his mom asks about the flustered cutie.

When they meet up for the walk to school, Naoto and Hayase are uncharacteristically shy and awkward towards each other, and Hayase overcompensates by piling on the mock judo-kicking. Naoto grabs her leg to halt her attack, just when her upskirt is in full view. That’s the scene when Gamou, Yoshi, and Sakura approach, once again remarking how the lovebirds it again first thing in the morning.

I don’t ask much. I don’t need much. As long as Hayase and Naoto are being a delightfully sweet, playful, and adorable couple, I’m a happy camper! With the exchange of house visits, Don’t Toy with Me 2 continues to offer that in spades. I’m firmly ensconced in rom-com Laid Back Camp!

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