Chainsaw Man – 02 – The Nutcracker

While Makima briefly has Denji wondering if she’s actually nice when she teases him about being her dog, she more than makes up for it by offering the jacket off her back and a free breakfast of udon and sausage—by far the most luxurious meal he’s ever had.

Being so isolated from normal life also means Denji is quick to fall in love with the pretty Makima, especially when she’s kind to him. Kusunoki Tomori lends an almost maternal gentleness to Makima, but there’s authority and even a hint of menace lurking just beneath.

Denji follows his new one true love through the busy streets of Tokyo to Public Safety headquarters, where he gets a rude awakening: his immediate superior isn’t Makima, but a stick-in-the-mud dude, Hayakawa Aki. When he protests, Makima tenderly ties his tie for him and says if he does a good job, maybe they will work together.

For now, Denji’s to shadow Aki, but his first question to him—whether Makima has a boyfriend—leads to Aki leading him to an alley where he slugs the shit out of him. He tells Denji to quit now; he’s already seen too many colleagues jump into this profession without thinking.

As Aki walks away, Denji comes up from behind and kicks him straight in the nuts, then keeps kicking without mercy. It’s a perfect distillation of who Denji is: he fights dirty because his life has been dirty; it’s how he’s lived as long as he has. And after tasting his first bowl of udon (soggy or no) and meeting Makima, he’s not giving up this life so easily.

The two proceed to brawl, but Denji gets the better of Aki with more nut kicks, and Denji helps him back to HQ, where Makima is glad they’re hitting it off. Aki then opens his home to Denji so he can keep an eye on him, and quickly regrets this decision when Denji predictably acts like a feral animal tasting normal life for the first time … which of course he is.

Denji’s first devil-hunting mission is an easy one: a low-level fiend (a human corpse possessed by a devil). Denji doesn’t even turn into Chainsaw Man to kill him, but lops his head off with a hatchet. When he gives the excuse that he wanted to give the fiend a peaceful death, Aki slams his head against the window and tells him to take this more seriously.

Aki matter-of-factly tells Denji his entire family was killed in front of him by fiends, while the other cops and public safety officers have spouses and children to protect. But Denji honestly doesn’t know what he should grasp onto as a motivating factor like Aki’s thirst for revenge.

That is, until he studies the dirty magazines he saved from a chainsaw’s blood spray. Striking a cool, Ichigo Kurosaki-esque pose, he dedicates his life from here on out … to boobs. Again, Denji can be forgiven; he is literally drunk on his suddenly extravagant new lifestyle.

The episode could’ve ended on that hilarious personal declaration and still be great, but thankfully it doesn’t, as it introduces Denji’s new partner for future patrols: Power, an “uncommonly rational” hornéd fiend who also happens to be a beautiful woman. She’s also completely nuts, though Denji notes that he doesn’t mind a little crazy.

Power is voiced with gusto by Ai Fairouz, sports shark teeth like Denji, and is a teeming ball of chaotic energy, chomping at the bit to kill some devils and drink their blood. She notes that she was notorious and feared in her devil days, and Denji wonders if Aki paired him with her so he’d fail to get the results needed to keep him alive (the higher-ups at HQ are dying to put an end to Makima’s experimental 4th Division project).

When Power does pick up the scent of a devil, she deals with it all by herself, parkouring across and off roofs, summoning a giant hammer made of her own blood, smashing the bejeezus out of the Sea Cucumber-themed baddie, and reveling in her kill. It’s clear if Denji wants to rack up his own kills he’s going to have to up his game. At the same time, while I’m sure Power finds Denji pretty dull so far, I bet she’ll get a kick out of his Chainsaw mode.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 02 – Hearing her out to the end

Jirou is having a lovely dream about Shiori visiting him in the night, only to be woken up by Akari wanting the same thing. Not so fast: she wants him to watch scary movies with her so they’ll earn points—while wearing matching PJs she’s comfortable enough to change into with him right there (with his back turned). When there’s a blackout, Jirou also learns Akari’s not great with storms or the dark.

Jirou may not learn here that Akari’s as inexperienced in love as he is, but her little vulnerabilities help bring her down to earth, as someone more approaching an equal to Jirou rather than someone to place on a pedestal and venerate (or resent her elite gyaru status). Between the close quarters and a sweet-smelling aromatherapy candle, a cozy chemistry emerges, with Jirou even admitting how cute Akari is and how hard she’s working, thinking she’s asleep when she’s not…and is very flattered!

As a result of spending the night together on the couch (avoiding the no-going-in-each-other’s-rooms rule) Jirou and Akari earn enough points to end up ranked 8th in their class. But both are shocked to find that Shiori and Minami are ranked 71st. If the other couple doesn’t make Rank A, all their efforts are for naught.

While Jirou can’t deny he’s a little happy things aren’t going well with Shiroi and Minami, as he friend he wants to help, but can’t broach the subject, and then he’s out with a cold. Shiori’s best friend Mei, who is either overprotective or has a crush on her herself (maybe both!) cheers Shiori up with her piano play and a willing ear.

Just as Jirou admits to be being a little hurt Akari went out with her friends instead of taking care of him, while also dreaming of Shiori taking care of him, it’s Shiori who is at the door with a bag of stuff to nurse him back to health.

Rather than an angel sent by heaven, Shiori was asked by Akari to look after Jirou, both knowing Jirou is in love with her and that, most likely, Shiori feels the same way. I’m not sure how premeditated this was for Akari, but this results in us getting almost the full measure of Jirou and Shiori’s history together.

Shiori still cherishes the day she was sick in elementary school and Jirou came and replaced her forehead compress, and relishes the opportunity to repay the favor. Jirou also watches intently as Shiori puts on an apron like a pro to whip up some rice porridge for him.

He’s worried this sudden wife-like attention will “give him the wrong idea”, but he’s had that ever since they parted ways when she had to transfer schools in middle school. Before he could summon the courage to confess to her, she asked him if they could remain friends despite the new geographic distance.

Jirou thought he was being friendzoned, so he canceled the confession, but he was mistaken. Just as he needed to make a great effort to even consider voicing his feelings for her, so too did Shiori, and those were the compromised words that came out at the wrong time. These two have loved each other all along, but that misunderstanding kept them from getting what they both wanted.

Now they’re “married” to separate people for this ridiculous school training, but Jirou’s cold afforded them the chance to live out what life might’ve been like if they had gotten their confessions for each other out into the open. It broke my heart when Shiori’s voice broke after she said, quite genuinely, that she thought it would be better if he were her husband. But my heart was re-forged when Jirou took her hand and, without thinking, called her “Shiori”, which causes her heart to similarly swell.

Shiori remembers that day just as much as Jirou does as a missed opportunity. Shiori was mere words from asking him on a date to see fireworks, but since he believed that would be as “just friends” he made an excuse to part ways right then and there. When Jirou called her “Shiori”, her mind went blank from happiness.

Not only that, when she’s sure he’s asleep, she leans in to steal a kiss…just as Akari’s galfriends are teasing her about the possibility of Shiori stealing Minami away. Shiori doesn’t kiss Jirou, but still prays that one day he’ll hear her out to the end. If only he did, he’d know that she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her.

The thing is, things are no longer so simple. Despite her haughty gal front and enduring crush on Minami, the fact is Jirou is the one with whom she’s experiencing all these new things. It’s gotten to the point that even when Jirou thanks her when she gets home for asking Shiori to come by, and resolves to work his hardest so she can be with Minami, she’s actually annoyed, despite herself.

Shiori isn’t going to be falling for Minami anytime soon. Maybe we’ll get Minami-centric episode at some point, but for now he’s simply a placeholder. Ironically, the harder Jirou and Akari work to make Rank A, the more good times they’ll have and the more they’ll learn about each other that overwrites their shallow first impressions of one another. By the time they’re offered the opportunity to exchange partners, who’s to say they’ll want to?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Chainsaw Man – 01 (First Impressions) – Exactly What It Says on the Tin

Denji has almost nothing. I say “almost” because he does have a couple of things. He has over 38 million yen (US$260K) in debt inherited from his dead dad, and he has Pochita a trusty pet chainsaw “dog”. The latter is called a devil, which Denji (voiced by Toya Kikunosuke in his debut) uses as a weapon to hunt other devils to pay back the debt.

But it’s never enough. The yakuza he works for squeeze Denji for every last finder’s fee and admin charge until a ¥400K job only nets him a measly $1,800 … which he has to stretch for a month. He’s sold all his redundant organs from his eye to his nut, but he’ll still eat a cigarette for a ¥100 coin … or at least pretend to eat one.

If that didn’t put you on this poor wretch’s side, his backstory would. His dad’s body was still warm in the ground when his debtors told Denji to get them ¥700K (almost $5K) by tomorrow, no matter what he has to do or have done to him. As he sits by his dad’s grave in the rain he first meets Pochita, who is mortally wounded. Pochita makes for a perfect fantasy animal, equal parts adorable and fearsome, and as sympathetic here as Denji.

Denji offers to let the little guy bite him (blood heals devils), if the devil agrees to let him use him as a weapon for hunting. The two have been inseparable ever since, and it’s a genuinely touching boy-and-his-mutant dog tale. He and Denji live off of slices of bread in a corrugated shed. Denji dreams not of having it all, but having enough—a normal life. Meals, a girlfriend, things of that nature. Then he coughs up blood, like his mom who died of a heart condition.

He’s too hungry to sleep, and even if he did, his yakuza master arrives to take him to his next job. As Denji puts it, they won’t even let him dream of a normal life. But after a beautifully depicted car ride to a remote dilapidated warehouse, Denji learns this isn’t another job, but the end of the line. The yakuza has decided to make a similar “deal with the devil”, only on a grand, grotesque scale.

He’s become a giant horrific monster with a horde of zombie devils at his beck and call. Denji is no longer needed, so he has the zombies stab and slice him to pieces and throw him in a dumpster. It’s a needlessly cruel and violent end, on the level of the martyrdom of a saint in one of the bloodier biblical tales. But on another level, maybe it’s for the best; maybe death is a welcome release from Denji’s lifelong torment.

In the dumpster, blood drips from Denji’s lifeless body … and into Pochita’s mouth. It heals the little devil enough for him to remember what Denji told him on a better day in the past, when they were felling trees and cutting logs. Denji knew he probably wouldn’t live to pay off his debt, but if he couldn’t have the normal life he dreamt of, he wanted Pochita to have his body, life that normal life, then die a normal death.

But Pochita doesn’t accept Denji’s sacrifice. From the gloomy day he was saved by Denji’s blood, Pochita owed Denji a solid. So instead of possessing Denji’s body, he heals it, and then becomes Denji’s new heart, replacing the defective one that was going to claim his life sooner or later. In a touching idyllic scene in the suddenly fully-lit dumpster, Pochita speaks (with Nanachi’s voice). In exchange for his heart, Denji is to show him his dream.

When Denji wakes up, he’s fully healed, and Pochita is gone. All that’s left is his familiar ripcord tail, which is now lodged in Denji’s chest where his heart once was. The zombie devils spot him and start shambling over to attack him again, but this time he’s not having it. He pulls the ripcord and vows to kill them all.

The zombies surround and pile on top of him as their zombie devil king assumes he’s being devoured and won’t come back. But then the muffled sound of a two-stroke motor emanates from that pile, which is suddenly shredded and turned into a messy blood fountain by Denji, sporting a chainsaw lodged between his eyes and on both arms.

This man of chainsaws—let us call him Chainsaw Man—goes to town on the hapless zombies, cutting through them like a Wüsthof through flan. They’re dumb, so they keep coming, so he keeps cutting through them, then turns his attention to their boss, who whimpers and cowers and lashes out with his gross fleshy tendrils to absolutely no avail.

Nothing made of flesh is any match for a chain of blades spinning at 10,000 RPM. Denji gives himself to the bloody gory spectacle, living in a state of pure vengeance. It’s a hard watch, but it’s also cathartic, and a long time coming. It’s a scene that would make Tarantino proud (and that he’d have to film in black-and-white to avoid NC-17 rating).

Dawn breaks, and a Toyota Century slowly pulls up to the warehouse. Three figures in long black coats make their way inside: two men with fedoras and a young woman with rose-colored hair. They see all the yakuza zombie devils already killed—the job they came to do.

Then they see who did it: Denji, still in Chainsaw mode, standing motionless in the middle of the bodies, spattered with their blood. The men posit that he’s another devil that’s still alive, but the woman says no; he doesn’t smell like a devil.

She approaches Denji, who lets out two words: “hug me.” The woman, named Makima (Kusunoki Tomori), obliges, giving Denji perhaps the first hug he’s ever been given by anyone. His chainsaw attachments melt away, reveailing he’s still human. Makima smiles and introduces herself as a member of Public Safety who came to do the job he already did.

She tenderly eases him into her lap, and gives her a simple choice: she can kill him like a devil, or she can keep him as a human. Keeping him means being fed properly. When he asks what that entails, she lists a whole bunch of foods he in his long-standing destitution would consider lavish: bread with butter, with jam; salad, coffee … dessert.

Makima just describing a normal meal. But for Denji, she’s describing a dream—a dream she can easily make true. Freed from the bondage of the yakuza, Denji has been offered a new life doing honest work for fair compensation. He’s been offered a chance to show Pochita his dream. And damnit, he’s going to take it.

* * *

Chainsaw Man is the best premiere of the Fall. It’s possibly the best premiere of the year. It’s about as flawlessly executed an episode of anime as one could ask for, and made me immediately want to watch it over again as soon as the credits ended. Its premise is so simple and elegant, yet contains multitudes of human suffering and redemption.

It explores the brutality and beauty inherent in humanity, the malice and the mercy. Earlier I likened Denji to a saint and a martyr. His new chainsaw body is a terrible miracle, and so is the show in which he stars. It gives you exactly what’s in its title, and so much more.

 

Made in Abyss – S2 09 – Edge Part is NOT Fine

Reg heads back to the Hollow Village we now know to be Irumyuui, while her daughter rides atop his head and asks for pats. Riko is there to greet him at the boundary Faputa cannot go past, but she sits just outside that entrance, glaring and quietly growling at the sight of Riko and the White Whistle she bears. Shortly after Reg enters with Faputa’s severed arm, the Balancing goo starts going nuts.

When Riko asks what’s up with the arm, he says Faputa gave it to him and promised to five him all of her if he kept his promise. Reg wants to try to use the arm to bargain for Nanachi and Mitty, but Vueko warns him that showing Belaf that arm might “break” him, only making things worse.

Wazukyan shows up, and despite having heard the things he did, Riko admits she likes the village and how she feels like she’s with her brethren: those who descended beyond the point of no return are a rare breed. Wazukyan also isn’t fooled by Vueko’s disguise, but is happy to see her.

However, Wazukyan only seems to be stalling, for Juroimoh eventually bursts out of the ground (named, we learned, after the “piece of trash” who took Vueko in long ago). As the guardian and will of the village, he lashes out at Reg and Faputa’s arm, which he sees as direct threats (he’s not wrong).

When Juroimoh melds with the Balancing goo and envelops Reg, Riko, and all the Hollows in the vicinity, he has no choice but to try to cut through it with his Incinerator, which can “change the laws of the Abyss”. He unleashes an attack that neutralizes Juroimoh, but also blasts a hole through the village walls.

And waiting just outside that wall that now has a gaping hole is Princess Faputa. Reg, who is minutes from passing out, won’t be conscious for what’s to come, but it’s clear Faputa is happy that he “made the choice” to grant her access to the village, even if she doesn’t know it was (mostly) unintentional.

It’s here where Kuno Misaki breaks out her creepiest, most eveil “REDRUM” voice as Faputa gives a little speech about how she won’t forgive one single iota of what the Hollows were, are, or have done, remarks how long she’s been waiting for this moment, and promises that there will be nothing left but dust of the lot of them. I assume that doesn’t mean Reg, but what’s worrying is that he’s not awake to make the case to save, say, Riko.

Juroimoh’s Balancing attach surrounds Faputa, but she changes the black goo to white and ends up completely healed from her previous self-mutilation. She then launches herself at the mass of Hollows, likely to cut through them like a hot knife through butter. Even Nanachi wakes up from their bliss to observe the roof of Belaf’s cave has been blown off.

Belaf tells Nanachi that it’s time to awaken, for starting now, it’s no longer a dream, and the episode ends with a new haunting Kevin Penkin piece, seamlessly blending modern synths with orchestral bombast and a lot of neat dissonance and syncopation. Trust me, I’m no musical expert, so suffice it to say it sounded awesome. But I fear for what’s to come.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 13 (S1 E01) – The Play’s the Thing

After an efficient recap of where the four girls currently stand in the story, we return to Kazuya’s filthy flat (seriously dude, clean it the fuck up!), lamenting the “countdown to ruin”—Chizuru’s big acting break that will lead to her being discovered by a big-deal director and quitting her rental girlfriend gig.

He decides to buy a ticket to Chizuru’s play as “moral support”, but also wonders if he simply wants to watch the beginning of the end of his relationship with her. Sumi spots him, but before she can say anything the lights go down, the curtain comes up, and Kazuya gets a lot more than he bargained for.

Watching Chizuru perform as a completely different person—in this case a puckish kunoichi—is a revelation for Kazuya. He’s taken on an emotional roller coaster as Chizuru grabs the entire audience in her hand and doesn’t let go. She’s magnetic, clearly the “MVP” of the play. He’s so stunned by the end he doesn’t move from his seat for a while. Sumi, who can probably tell why, leaves him be.

But while he, Sumi, and indeed I truly thought Chizuru stole the show in which she wasn’t even the lead, her performance doesn’t lead to the opportunity she’d planned. Turns out the famous director is basically the lead actress’ damn uncle, and gives her the role. Even though she was a victim of nepotism, Chizuru thinks she wasn’t good enough.

Kazuya leaving the theater in no particular hurry combined with an upset Chizuru skipping the wrap party means the two inevitably bump into each other on the streets. Kazuya quickly owns up to coming to see her perform, and is extremely effluent in his praise. He also accepts the fact that this probably means the end of their rental dating.

When Chizuru explains that things didn’t work out and then puts on a brave happy face, Kazuya at least realizes that she’s trying to keep her frustration bottled up. But he’s not going to let her say she’s “just like him” in getting “too worked up” about acting, because her rental girlfriend gig is proof she does have talent, and plenty of it.

Chizuru’s attitude suggests she’s ready to throw in the towel and face reality, but Kazuya suspect she doesn’t want to, and also doesn’t think she should. If she needs to keep funding her dream of acting, then he’s going to keep hiring her to be his rental girlfriend, getting a job to pay the fees.

Chizuru is recalling Kazuya’s words when she comes home and sits in the dark, and then she gets a call from the lead actress who got the role thanking her for “warming up the crowd”, twisting the dagger and sending the cork on the bottle of her tears shooting across the room.

That said, her tear-filled eyes are suddenly reflecting the light of her phone, which just alerted her to a whole slew of new bookings from Kazuya, putting his money where his mouth is and adding financial support to his moral support. While she calls him a dumbass as usual for going to such lengths for her sake, the gesture doesn’t fail to bring a smile to her face and color to her cheeks.

I said in my review of the first season finale that if a sequel of RaG was made, it would be the girls who’d bring me back, since Kazuya was mostly an infuriating pest of an MC. Well, that sequel has now arrived two years later, and while Kazuya continues to keep a pigsty of a place and harbor a lot of misunderstandings, he’s…not that bad in this episode!

Ruka would probably disagree, seeing as how he continues to utterly ignore her, but that’s for another episode. Here Chizuru clearly stole the show, and Kazuya did what he could to make her feel better and encouraged her not to stop dreaming after one setback. He was a pretty good fake boyfriend! Now, keep it up!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 07 – A God This Delicious

When Tachibana ends up a captive of the squid worshippers, such is the Premier’s vanity that she commits herself entirely to a beauty contest between her and Tachibana regardless of the fact the winner will be sacrificed to a giant squid. Even so, she loses to Tachibana.

Jinguuji and a village trader (who develops a thing for him) soon find and free the Premier, and they discuss strategy over her first hot meal in days (she’s been through some shit). The Premier agrees to work with Jinguuji to kill the Giant Squid God and save Tachibana.

Alas, any admiration or affection she might’ve been developing for Jinguuji is dashed when he uses her as literal floating bait for the squid, whom we learn is very particular about the girls he eats. After a whole day, the squid finally takes the bait at dusk. All the while, Jinguuji has noticed his strength has been sapped of late.

As Tachibana is carried in a cage litter for the seaside sacrifice, she curses the fact she and Jinguuji chose now to have another big fight. She remembers the first one, when she (or rather he at the time) fell behind in his studies and got mad at Jinguuji for not being an easy tutor.

The “useless eggplant” moniker was born, and the two friends didn’t speak for days. However, present-day Tachibana isn’t about to die before she can make up with Jinguuji, so she busts out of the cage and manages to wrest loose her tiara, thus instantly charming the men holding her captive.

This plan backfires when the wives and lovers of those men threaten to kill Tachibana before the squid can. Jinguuji tries in vain to pull the giant squid out of the water with his diminished strength, but regains that strength and then some when he hears Tachibana give an honest and heartfelt rant to the villagers about not judging people by appearances and taking responsibility for themselves.

Jinguuji rips the giant squid out of the water and impales its head on the statue of itself where Tachibana is clinging to dear life. Wounded but still alive, the squid notices Tachibana and attempts to eat her, and the Premier, soaked in black ink, almost helps by pulling Tachibana in.

But then Jinguuji tosses her his trusty Damascus steel kitchen knife, and the Premier, who you thought could sink no lower, pulls what in Demon Slayer parlance could be called a “Sleeping Zenitsu”, which is to say that for a brief moment she does something incredibly impressive and cool—in this case lopping off the squid’s tentacles and rescuing Tachibana in style.

The timing couldn’t be better, because up until this point the Premier had been little more than a walking joke and punching bag. Here, she plays a crucial role in ensuring Tachibana is safe…and goes a step further by grilling the village’s god and having a feast. Her actions are so audacious, the villagers agree to give up their power struggle make her their new leader.

Naturally the Premier isn’t interested, and as she runs from the villagers, Jinguuji and Tachibana make up. It’s not surprising that Tachibana even forgot she was mad at him, considering how much happened to her over the course of a day.

The episode ends with them basically exchanging vows: Jinguuji is to never take his eyes off Tachibana, while Tachibana is to never leave him again. Unfortunately, the Demon Lords generals have now learned that Jinguuji’s power is diminished when he and Tachibana are separated. Their vows will be more important than ever as they draw closer to the capital.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fabiniku – 06 – Cellophane Squid

When Schwartz summons the sleepy and adorable Goddess of Night (Noto Mamiko), the Lord, Lucius, and the town guard all bow their heads, while the goddess notices Tachibana, shrinks to human size, removes Tachibana’s pink coat, and reveals the tattoo that identifies her as a hero of the Goddess of Love and Beauty.

We not only learn that Jinguuji could be considered Tachibana’s “weapon”, as Gram is (or rather was) to Schwartz. They also learn that Tachibana’s charms affect different people in different ways. The lord hopes to enter into a mutually beneficial political marriage with Tachibana, which she seems to be receptive to owing to the promise of three meals and a nap per day.

Jinguuji proves to be more than just her weapon in this world, but also an important devil’s advocate. Tachibana is only looking at the surface benefits and ignoring the disadvantages of the arrangement with the lord. Chief among them is the fact that she and Jinguuji  have been having fun traveling the world rather than staying and working in one place. Rather than let the town become their next office, the two decide to continue their vacation.

While resting in the apartment between towns, Tachibana unearths a composition book from when she and Jinguuji  were in elementary school. Tachibana wrote that her dream of the future was “cellophane tape”, which Jinguuji admits made so little sense he was actually afraid. But it’s instructive that in response to the question “if you could only take one thing on an island with you, what would it be?” The young Tachibana wrote “Jinguuji”.

As for Jinguuji’s dreams for the future, he doesn’t let Tachibana read that part, scribbling over it with permanent marker. This results in a spat between the two, with Tachibana huffing as she walks ahead of him and calling him a useless eggplant. It’s this state of rancor in an unfamiliar land that contributes to Jinguuji losing track of Tachibana.

In the process of looking for her, he finds the same cart in which they briefly spotted the captive elf premier. She’s been taken prisoner to be used as a sacrifice to their deity, which demands only the most beautiful people. The vain she-elf tries in vain to use her “allure” to get her captor to free her.

To add insult to injury, the squid vendor shows up with a captured Tachibana, claiming she’ll be an even more beautiful sacrifice. Obviously Jinguuji will show up in time to save both beautiful women, but until then it looks like we’re in store for a lot more chaotic, irreverent comedy. I’m here for it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love of Kill – 05 – A Pest On Land and Sea

Hou takes Chateau hostage and sticks her in the back of a car with a bomb, but as soon as she spots the bomb, she’s able to escape the car before it explodes. Despite being only about ten feet from the explosion the most she suffers is some glass in her leg, which I’d call a win.

Song wins his duel with Hou, but it’s not much of a fight, as the main issue is that Hou’s “nerves are fried”, which means it just takes a couple of minutes for his body to realize its riddle with bullets. In those minutes, Song manages to get himself pretty torn up, but he too doesn’t succumb to his wounds until he’s seen Chateau out of the burning warehouse and into his car.

Chateau may be extremely irritated by this guy most of the time, but she still follows a code that won’t allow her to let the man who saved her life bleed out. Thanks to her co-worker Jim (who is the actual most irritating character in the show—like, why no mouth, and why does he talk like that?), she gets him to a mob doctor who stitches him back together.

Chateau sits by his bed and “sleeps”, giving him a chance to slip out. It’s a cute little exchange. The next day she wakes up from a recurring dream where a man, whose hair kind of looks like Song’s covers her face to keep her from seeing his. Then her phone rings that horrible incessant ring, and it’s Song, announcing he’s going on a trip.

It happens to be the same trip Chateau goes on with her boss and Jim after she once again begs his forgiveness for getting into trouble during her suspension. That suspension is apparently suspended for the mission on the megaliner Artemisia, where their job will be to pose as tourist while protecting a VIP.

Along with Chateau and Song, there’s a third assassin aboard: your bog-standard childish happy-go-lucky murderer type. I mean, since he reminds me of Souma Momiji he’s at least a little more interesting than Hou, whose most distinctive feature was his dumb face tattoo. More interesting still will be whatever hijinx Song and Chateau get up to, and how they’ll team up to thwart this kid.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – Sweet Dreams are Made of Tease

My dreams were answered: Master Teaser Takagi-san has returned for a third wonderfully warm, fuzzy season; the perfect balm for the bracing cold of a mid-Atlantic winter. After last season ended with Nishikata taking Takagi’s hand, this newest outing starts with them holding hands almost right away! After sensing she intended to beat him at the grip exercise tool, rather than hand it to him he took her hand instead.

Suddenly, Nishikata and Takagi are transported back to the steps of the shrine on that night. Then Takagi vanishes, and then he finds himself at the pool, with Takagi taking a dip. Then a number of his friends pretend to be Takagi. Then the main couple from their favorite manga/anime transfer to their class, and Takagi falls for the MC. Then Takagi in cowgirl cosplay shoots him with her six-gun. I believe she also appears in cow-full-stop cosplay, complete with moos.

Turns out the show was teasing us; it was all a dream. Nishikata hasn’t even been back to school since his festival date with Takagi; it’s still summer break. For a few moments, Nishikata panics: what if the festival, and with it all the good times he had with Takagi, was a dream too? He sees the robot mask he bought at one of the stalls and breathes a sigh of relief. It’s a welcome moment of honesty for Nishikata: He doesn’t want that night to be a dream. It happened, and he’s glad it did.

In the next segment, it’s the last day before school re-opens. Nishikata shows off the tan he got from going to the beach, remembering too late that his back was sunburnt and that Takagi would be quick to pat said back if she found out. Not only does she find out instantly, but challenges Nishikata to a guessing game: if he can tell her the reason she asked him to join her today, he wins. For each incorrect guess, he gets a pat on the back.

Nishikata eventually guesses that it was just so Takagi could tease him, but he’s only half-right. She gives him a telling hint: they’ve already been doing what she wanted to do. Even a simpleton like Nishikata can put two and two together: she just wanted to see him. But the challenge is to say the reason, and Nishikata is just too gosh-darn bashful to say it out loud, even if he’s secretly quite happy about it!

After an interstitial involving the trio of girls (who also got tanned and contemplate being three wrinkly grannies together due to the skin damage), the third segment announces itself as the first day of the new semester…yet both Nishikata and Takagi’s tans are gone, which I found odd. What isn’t odd is that Takagi is able to deduce that Nishikata wanted to spook her with a new dino-themed jack-in-the-box he meticulously hand-crafted rather than doing his summer homework.

When she finally opens it, she lets out a little yelp of surprise, thus handing Nishikata one of his only true wins against her! Then the two are transported onto a beach full of fireworks, and then to those same shrine stairs Nishikata dreamed of. Takagi holds out her hand, and as Nishikata reaches out to take it, they’re once more transported to a grove of cherry trees. Then Nishikata seemingly confesses to Takagi…and then she wakes up in her bed.

She throws open her window and basks in the morning sun and summer breeze, happy Nishikata said what he said in her dream, but also hopeful he’ll someday say it to her for real. I may have dreamed for a third season of the sweetest romance committed to television; little did I know dreams would play such a large role in the premiere.

Takagi and Nishikata are well and truly in each other’s heads, but I’m looking even more forward to watching their tender love continue to grow in the waking world in this season to come.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 23 (Part 2 Fin) – Be Strong and Wait

My interpretation of Eris’s reasons for deciding to sleep with Rudy and then run off with Ghislaine is twofold: First, she wanted her first time to be with Rudy, whom she loves more than anyone else. Second, her note about not being “well matched” should be taken literally: she is overmatched by him. Their encounter with Orsted proved it. So off she goes.

She couldn’t have imagined this would cause Rudy to revert to his old self, the one who, once shamed at school in one of the worst ways possible, could no longer leave his room, despite being surrounded by love, understanding, and kindness—first his parents, and later his neighbors. He rejected them out of paranoia they were all laughing at him. So in he stays.

This episode seems to hint that the isekai world is merely in Rudy’s head, and that he wasn’t actually hit by a car as he would have us believe. If that’s the case—I have no idea, and I’m also fine if it’s meant to be ambiguous—the isekai world is no longer an escape. He may have been reincarnated and given a second chance, but he’s the same depressed, paranoid, emotionally stunted man he was in the old world. Eris leaving him and him not being able to understand why was the straw that broke the ground dragon’s back.

He may not be surrounded by the same support system as the old world, but things are definitely looking up in Fittoa. I realize that part of why it looked so wasted and bleak last week was because Rudy and Eris (and we) were comparing it to how it once looked before the disaster. But also the bleak washed-out look reflected Rudy’s post-Eris leaving mood. But color is slowly returning to the land, and there’s hope in the voices of the survivors as they plant new crops.

As they  toil and sweat, the people of Fittoa long for a “return to normal”, but the old normal is gone and never coming back. That’s true for everyone, as Ruijerd confirms that the curse that makes humans afraid of him is gone. I’m so glad we got to see the big guy one more time, and his exchange with the three friendly townsfolk is one of som many scenes this week that moved me to tears.

Another one of those scenes is where Eris confirms my interpretation of why she left Rudy (not that it was very much in doubt), with touching details like observing how the hands of the one she relied on for so long were smaller than his. The wind blows her cat-hood off her freshly short-cropped hair as she climbs atop a rock to shout out her love of Rudy to the mountaintops, and her resolve to become strong enough to protect him when next they meet.

We also get brief check-ins with Tona, Zoruba, Geese, and the young adventurers they met in the Demon Continent. Everyone is moving forward, with their experience with Rudy and Dead End being something they’ll always treasure, even if they never see them again. Roxy, meanwhile, inadvertently becomes Kishirisu Kishirika’s newest savior when she pays the tiny troublemaker’s bar tab from the rowdy night before.

love how we get the briefest peeks of that party that pack a punch when we see how drunk Roxy got and how bad her hangover must be. But she’s rewarded for her generosity to Kishirika by learning that Paul, Lilia, Norn and Aisha are safe and sound and reunited in Millishion. We get to see—and cry from—this reunion scene. But Norn still wants to know where her mama is, and we learn that Zenith is alive somewhere in the Labyrinth City of Rapan on the Begaritt Continent.

Roxy also learns from Kishirika that Rudy is in emotional turmoil, but rather than go to his student, she trusts that he’ll pick himself off and be able to move forward without her assistance. She and her party are headed to Begaritt. At the same time, it’s a beautiful memory of Rudy, taking over the end-of-the-evening chores for Zenith when he sees she’s tired, that finally gets Rudy to sit up, get out of bed, and step outside his tent with his cloak and spear.

He’s able to push past the fear of everyone laughing and mocking him, because Zenith is family, alone, and in need of help. Unaware that Roxy is also headed there, almost ensuring a reunion, he has to go find her. For that, he has to get up and take one step, and then another, past the pain of being left alone.

In the real world, Rudy does the same thing, and while it’s a mystery whether this is symbolic look back at his past life or his actual life running parallel to his fantasy life, it’s a major breakthrough for our protagonist. Like the people of Fittoa planting new crops, Rudy doesn’t give in, stays strong, and looks toward a future where his family is reunited.

Meanwhile, at Ranoa Magic Academy, Sylphiette, sporting Oakleys and whose hair is now white, makes the case for the academy recruiting Rudy. It’s clear he too will need to be stronger if he’s going to defeat the Dragon God. But with Sylphy here and Eris working to become stronger, he won’t be alone in that effort. He just doesn’t know it yet, but hopefully he can follow the advice of his original parents and continue to be strong and wait, just as we must all be strong and wait for Part 3.

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 22 – Home Alone

Following his extremely close brush with death by Orsted’s hand, Rudeus has a series of disturbing dreams while unconscious, which are something of a culmination of his journey and his yearning. All this time he’s not only sought to keep his beloved Eris safe and restore Ruijerd’s rep, but to return home to his family. These dreams give him a glimpse of what that might look like, but also show him his old reality of being alone in a dark, cluttered room, only to be impaled once more by Orsted.

He awakes to find Eris dozing peacefully beside him as usual, and Ruijerd sitting by the fire keeping watch. Ruijerd is still trying to wrap his head around a Man-God and the fact the Seven Gods of ancient times are still kickin’ it. For a second, I thought Rudy was going to tell him that he came from another world. Instead, he says the Superd curse has been fading since Ruijerd shaved his head, and is all but gone; this moves Ruijerd to tears. Ruijerd!

After many travels and trials and tribulations, Dead End have come to their destination, Rudy and Eris’ home, only to find it a grey, dreary ruin, lacking all the green vitality it had before the disaster. As Rudy walks pasts spots where he, his mom, dad, Roxy and Sylphie once shared simple moments made so much more meaningful by the fact those moments are no longer possible; only in memory. Again, it feels like the series summing things up.

Now that Rudy and Eris are home, and no longer children, Rujierd declares them them as no longer needing a babysitter. He treats them like children once more by patting them on the head, then says goodbye, hoping they’ll meet again someday. It’s a perfect farewell for Ruijerd, as there’s little more he can teach Eris. Now that she and Rudy are back home in their new, more adult-ish form, it’s time for them to stand on their own, just as Ruijerd must walk on his own, after Rudy helped him take the first step.

The good news: Ghislaine is in town, as is Alphonse, both alive and well. The bad news: Eris’ family is dead. We know her gramps was executed, but her parents passed away after being teleported. Alphonse is primarily concerned with the future of the Boreas family and the fate of their lands and people. To that end, he mentions an alliance whereby Eris becomes the concubine of a neighboring lord in order to secure that future. Ghislaine is against it. Eris needs time alone…not even Rudy can stay by her side.

Later that day Rudy learns that Sylphie is among the missing, but not confirmed dead, so she’s out there somewhere. That was the first hint that his and Eris’ paths would diverge, but it didn’t come into focus until later that night when Eris visits Rudy in his tent wearing a flowing nightie. Eris mentions that she just recently turned fifteen—of age in her society—and for her birthday she wants a family. She wants Rudy to be that family; she wants them to sleep together.

Rudy hesitates, his head swimming with all the reasons he shouldn’t; Eris is feeling hopeless and needs connection; he’s not fifteen yet…but then Eris draws closer and tells him all the reasons they should, and so they do. What ensues is one of the more tasteful lovemaking scenes you can pull off considering the ages of the participants. In any case, it’s a long, long time coming, considering how much these two have come to love each other.

Alas, that night was just another dream. In the morning, Rudy only gets a few magical moments of having “gotten it made” as a normie before he realizes Eris isn’t in the bed, has chopped off her hair, and left him a note stating “You and I aren’t well-matched right now. I’m going away.” Rudy learns from Alphonse that Eris set out on a journey with Ghislaine, and told him not to tell Rudy where.

So Rudy finds himself back home, totally alone but for Alphonse, with whom he never had the closest or warmest relationship. No more Ruijerd, and more devastatingly, no more Eris, on whose proximity day and night he’d become so accustomed. He wanders the tent city aimlessly, wondering what Eris meant in her note. I suspect she meant for it to sting so he wouldn’t follow, as she has things she needs to do without him at her side to rely on.

But Rudy doesn’t know. He’s not back in his smelly apartment in Japan, but he’s just as alone now as he was then. The question is, what will he do and where will he go next? His mother and Sylphie, for instance, are still missing; does he set out alone to search for them? Does he rejoin his dad and Norn and aid their efforts?

His possibilities are as endless as the horizons of this sprawling world, but just right now he’s paralyzed with sudden, crippling loneliness—the end of one journey marks the start of a new and far more difficult one.

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