Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 03 – A Blue Coffin

After Sawa learns that Yoshinobu himself ordered Kuzuhara to have the Treasurer killed, Makoto suggests that Sawa drop the “sister act” and cut little Asahi loose. All of them in Nue have assigned roles to play, and none of them can afford to let sentiment dull their wits.

After recalling when Kuzuhara first showed her a slideshow of her family and village’s destruction and the person responsible, ordering her not to cry, Sawa puts up the hard front Kuzuhara aimed to teach her in dealing with Asahi. Sawa refuses to let Asahi kill her until she’s killed Janome, and tells her to be gone by the time she returns that night.

Sawa, Elena, and Makoto all confront Nue’s cleaner, whom they suspect is a traitor passing secrets to Kuchinawa, finding money in the coffin he’s pushing. He pleads his innocence, then sets off a bomb with a detonator in his hat. Sawa follows him down a secret tunnel hidden in a tomb, while Elena intends to head him off on the surface. Meanwhile, a dejected Asahi seeks comfort in her grandmotherly neighbor Yamazaki.

But the cleaner never went in the tunnel; he hid in the coffin. When Makoto, who lied to Elena about a twisted ankle, opens it and the cleaner pulls a gun. A shot rings out, and Makoto later reports that the cleaner killed himself. But at this point Makoto was already acting super suspicious.

While burying the cleaner themselves, Elena asks Sawa what coffin she’d want to be buried in, her preference being red. Sawa doesn’t answer at first, then says blue, like her blood and that of her clan. That said, she won’t be put into a coffin until Janome is in his.

Makoto meets with Kuzuhara, who reveals he is a woman by tearing his clothes to reveal her chest binding, warning her to never forget where she stands. But Kuzuharais seemingly in the dark about where Makoto actually stands. Before the Treasurer died, she gave Makoto a karuta card that serves as a treasure map. Makoto follows it and discovers a small book that the Treasurer said could bring down “Tokugawa, Nue…all of it.”

Sawa comes home to find Asahi gone, but on her desk is the piece of paper with “Yuki” written on it Asahi had reconstructed with paste. Sawa then sees that Asahi left the satchel she gave her containing cash and a boat ticket to her new home, and blood on the walls.

Her white crow comes to help her search for Asahi, but we find out where she is first: in the clutches of Janome, who had disguised himself as Yamazaki with an elaborate prosthetic suit. We also learn that Makoto is indeed in cahoots with Janome, serving as a double agent. Or maybe triple, if Kuzuhara knows she’s infiltrated Kuchinawa.

In any case, for Sawa, who’d prefer clarity and simplicity, nothing is simple or clear, and never really was. To whit: she aims to save her would-be murderer from the man who murdered her family, and with whom her fellow Nue agent is working. Not ideal!

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 01 (First Impressions)

Dark and brooding, stylish and cool, Jouran is the story of a small band of assassins under the employ of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In this alternate history, Tokugawa Yoshinobu is still in power in 1931 thanks in large part to the discovery of the energy source Ryuumyuaku, or Dragon Vein. As a result, Tokyo is a glamorous city where science and Edo-period tradition merge.

Among the assassins is Yukimura Sawa, our protagonist (voiced by Mimori Suzuko, Kamisama Hajimemashita’s Nanami). Sawa is a stoic, no-nonsense young woman who grudgingly shares her living space with the young orphan Asahi who cooks her meals, and is the type to threaten a flirting guy with murder and not be joking.

Her two fellow assassins are the sardonic Tsukishiro Makoto (the striking Shouta Aoi) and the seductive Hanakaze Elena (the musician Raychell), who refers to Sawa as “the little bitch”. Their group’s leader is grim man named Kuzuhara who believes the dissident group Kuchinawa will attempt to assassinate the shogun at a banquet celebrating the completion of the new Tokyo Castle.

Makoto and Elena go undercover as party guests and end up following a bigwig confirmed to be working with the dissidents on the sly. Sawa is notable for her absence from the party, while lil’ Asahi waits at the dinner table in vain.

Makoto and Elena follow the bigwig and his henchmen to a secluded warehouse where an exchange of materials is taking place, and the assassins quickly take down everyone there. Elena uses a rather unique umbrella crossbow, while Makoto uses what I’d describe as a lightsaber katana.

However, their true target, a kemono or “changeling”, is nowhere to be found. Makoto bombs the facility and he and Elena head to the eastern gate of the castle, where he knows one of the vast network of secret tunnels leads from their current position.

Sawa is there, ready to head off the changeling, doing so by transforming into one herself with the help of a white raven. It’s depicted as a volatile and extremely painful process, but once she’s transformed she resembles a serene yuki-onna.

When she realizes her changeling opponent is the young man who flirted with her at the bookstore, she hesitates momentarily, and is wounded, but ultimately takes care of business, slicing off the changeling’s hand and finishing him off with a haunting poem that matches Sawa’s icy beauty and that of the scene:

Amidst the pitiless white snow
A fleeting dream is scattered
The path back leads only to Hell
I have no regrets

Makoto and Elena arrive just after she returns to human form and passes out. The threat to Yoshinobu would seem to be dealt with, but the next day at the official opening ceremony of Tokyo Castle, we witness scenes of carnage involving more changelings, presumably within its walls.

Sawa is recovering at home, but even in sleep she gets no rest, as she’s transported back to when her brother was murdered along with the rest of her family, by Janome, Kuchinawa’s executioner. She’s vowed not to die and join her family until she gets revenge on Janome, but Asahi seems prepared to kill her in her sleep with a kitchen knife. I guess she doesn’t like being kept waiting for dinner, huh?

Like Sawa, Jouran and its familiar-yet-bizarre alternate Tokyo carries itself with a quiet, assured dignity, but just as Sawa is tormented by trauma and tragedy, corruption, suffering, and death lurk beneath the gleaming Shogunate capital, much of it delivered by monsters in suits and with claws.

Assuming Sawa survives her tiny assassin’s attack, I’m excited to watch her continue to walk the line between her official duty and blood debts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 12 (Fin) – Good Trouble

You could sense this was going to be a particularly intense finale when it starts with Swindler, Courier, and the kids surviving a violent Shinkansen derailing. Brother thinks it’s all over, but Sister still believes in her big sis. Swindler may have a badly broken leg, but she’s not ready to give up.

She produces the 500-yen coin that started her run of “bad luck” (putting it quite mildly) and places it on Courier’s chest. It’s payment for one last job: ensure the kids get to Shikoku safely. Through their prickly, foul-mouthed repartee, Courier too can sense that Swindler is cashing out.

After wishing the kids godspeed, Swindler limps out into the open and almost immediately spotted and surrounded by police drones. But she finally gets her own official Akudama intro sequence (this show’s version of the magical girl transition) as she pulls off one last Swindle.

At first, it seems like nothing other than stalling the Executioners—whose mundane banter in the midst of such carnage only heightens their monstrousness. She pretends to be an ordinary civilian caught in the crossfire, but she’s quickly identified as Swindler, and is stabbed through the chest by one of the Executioners.

That woman Executioner thinks it’s creepy that the Akudama wears a bright smile even in death, but Swindler has every reason to smile: not only did she succeed in buying crucial moments for Courier and the kids, but also sparked something even the Executioners won’t be able to contend with.

Oh, they certainly put on a show of force in surrounding Courier’s bike with seemingly every Executioner, drone, and airship in the city. A feisty Executioner is even able to lunge at Courier, but Brother comes between them an ensures the wound isn’t deep enough to kill Courier yet.

That’s key, because they still need Courier to help them out of this mess. Of course, Courier isn’t enough, especially in his battered state and woefully outnumbered and outgunned. That is, until, the fruits of Swindler’s Last Swindle are borne. Her execution, ruthlessly carried out while pleading she was just an ordinary person? That was caught on video.

The girl whose parents were killed last week steps between the Executioners and Courier and the kids, and even shoots one of them with a gun she found. She’s not alone. Soon the Executioners and their arrogant Boss are surrounded by a far larger force of ordinary citizens rising up against the violence. Even Bunny & Shark’s message is retooled: the Executioners are the Akudama now.

The resurgence of public unrest keeps the Executioners busy enough that Courier is able to charge up his bike railgun and not only bring down the Police station and its looming tower, but uses the tower wreckage as a goddamn ramp to escape with the kids.

He follows the train tracks towards Shikoku until his bike warns him it’s running low on juice, and in any case there are three Executioner airships still in pursuit. Courier stops near a windswept tree, the kids alight from the bike and continue on foot while he’ll go back and stop the airships…at any cost.

Akudama Drive has never had a problem with absolutely bonkers action sequences, but as expected the finale takes them to entirely new heights, reaching Synthwave Music Video levels of serene awesomeness. Courier dances on his bike to dodge enemy fire as long as he possibly can, but is eventually swallowed up by a railgun beam and seemingly vaporized, all while Brother and Sister run away as fast as their little legs can carry them.

BUT…it turns out Courier isn’t quite dead yet after being turned into a black-on-white sketch—usually a death sentence for most characters, but Courier and the Akudama aren’t “most”! He uses his metal arm to replace one of the two prongs on the bike’s railgun that melted away, focusing the beam enough to land a direct hit on the third and final airship pursuing the kids, and destroying it.

With nothing and no one else chasing Brother and Sister, Courier slumps over wearing a smile of relief and satisfaction as the morning sun washes over him. He just managed accomplished his final delivery mission. Before parting with the kids, he gave them the 500-yen coin Swindler gave him, making his last job technically gratis.

Aside from a parting shot showing the wreckage of the police tower, the remainder of the episode is given over to Brother and Sister continuing on to Shikoku as the end credits roll. They reach a tunnel through which there is nothing but light, and walk through it while holding hands, vanishing into the blinding white.

What Shikoku is like and what becomes of them is left ambiguous; suffice it to saw they are safe and free. So is Kansai, it would seem, with the fall of the murderous Executioners. Swindler’s heroic death made her a martyr, and caused the spark that lit the match that brought about the downfall of the region’s old, unjust order—what the late John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Hey, I never thought I’d be quoting a civil rights icon in a show about goofy Danganronpa-style archetype criminals on the run, but here we are! In its finale Akudama’s lyrical action sequences, heart-wrenching character moments and operatic soundtrack all combined to elevate a previously goofily over-the-top series to an epic cinematic experience. And like any great movie or series, I’m holding myself back from immediately watching it all over again.

Akudama Drive – 11 – Their Little Dream

Suddenly, we’re back where we began: Ordinary Person gets off work on time and spots a takoyaki stand. Instead of being accused of not paying, she pays without interacting with Courier and the two go their separate ways. Of course, if this is how things had gone down in the first episode, there wouldn’t be a story.

This is clearly not reality. What is reality is Pupil waking up in a hospital bed to find that not only have nearly 6,000 ordinary people been marked as Akudama, but nearly a third of them have been executed, and his senpai seems perfectly fine with it, as is their Boss, who is praised by Kanto. Order in Kansai has been restored—even if the odd orphan has to be tossed off their parent’s corpse into the cold.

Swindler at first revels in the comfort of her ordinary apartment, and could presumably continue living there as if all of the crazy events in which she participated was all just a very weird dream. But this is the dream, just as a young Courier discovering his mentor, the previous (and female) Courier murdered is a dream.

Bunny and Shark—in crisp HD for the first time—deliver their latest lesson with Swindler and Courier as an audience: they explain the “Butterfly Dream” in which one asks themselves if they’re dreaming of a butterfly or the butterfly’s dream. Apparently, in Kanto, it doesn’t matter: you can be both or neither.

The animal stick puppet characters assert this is where Swindler and Courier “truly belong”: a place where they can dream of whatever and whenever they want and live in their happiest moments forever! Swindler even has a little Shoujo Manga moment with Courier…before both he and the takoyaki stand beging to digitally degrade and evaporate, leaving only the interior of the Shinkansen.

Swindler and Courier escape this world of coddling and restraining illusion thanks to Hacker’s Haro bot, with which the real Hacker is able to interface and which serves as a kind of dream totem for Swindler and Courier; their means of realizing they’re in a dream. The Bunny & Shark program is a form of brainwashing meant to separate body from mind (and free will) when entering Kanto. It is the effect of the Decontamination Zone.

Why would Kanto insist anyone who enters have their mind separated from their body? That becomes clear when Hacker leads them outside of the train to see something even stranger than their dreams: an endless deep blue sky full of eternally floating wreckage of old Tokyo.

As for Kanto, its true form is that of a complex quantum computer with a morphing geometric black structure resembling an Angel from Eva. Everyone in Kanto converted their consciousness to data and stored it in this structure (again, like Eva’s Human Instrumentality Project). Hacker turns back and cheekily breaks the fourth wall, commenting on how crazy a twist this is!

Swindler’s first priority is the kids, whom Hacker points out are currently being restrained by the Kanto structure. It’s presently breaking down, and the siblings were always meant to be Kanto’s new and everlasting vessels. All of Kanto’s data is being transferred to them.

Needless to say, Swindler isn’t cool with the kids being used once more as mere tools. She’s long since completely devoted her mind and body ensuring brother and sister’s one “little dream”—to be alive, safe, and together—is fulfilled. Whatever else they are and whatever Kanto perceives their use to be, she insists they’re ordinary kids who deserve and ordinary life.

Unfortunately, her attempts to physically attack Kanto are repelled by its gravitational wave defense system, which means it’s up to Hacker to go into Kanto and play the toughest—and most fun—game of his life. That’s just fine to him, as the whole reason he’s helping Swindler and Courier comes down to profound boredom. If he can die doing what he loves, he’s okay with that.

This is definitely Akudama Drive at its most baroque and psychedelic, and even though The Day I Became a God had a quantum supercomputer and trippy virtual hacker fight first this season, Akudama is able to put a different spin on both. Hacker’s battlefield resembles FFXIII’s final dungeon, Orphan’s Cradle, while the floating wreckage reminded me of FFXIII-2’s final dungeon, Labyrinth of Chaos.

Hacker ends up succeeding in freeing the siblings, but only by sacrificing his digital self, which is all that’s left of him. He lies about being “just fine” to Swindler and offers her a final token of gratitude for returning his Haro drone intact: coordinates to “a mystical place nobody’s heard about, let alone been to,” which he deems a “perfect place” for them.

He then urges everyone to hurry aboard the Shinkansen, which he programs to return to Kansai, and from there they can presumably head to those coordinates. As Sister surprises Brother with her new street smarts (and potty mouth—”You were shit at protecting me!”), Swindler thanks Courier for all his help. Of course, for Courier, finishing the job wasn’t a choice, but a necessity.

That’s when we return to Kansai where the approaching Shinkansen is placed in crosshairs. Three choppers open fire on it, knocking it off the tracks in a huge fireball as Pupil and New Pupil look on. Here’s hoping Swindler and the kids alighted before the train blew up!

Assuming they did, there are likely to be more hardships—and a likely final showdown with the Executioners—before they can reach their promised haven. Whatever happens in the finale, this episode was a master class in twisty, surreal, mind-bending, truth-dropping, beautifully batshit fun.

Akudama Drive – 10 – Just Like She Taught Him

Courier, Swindler, and Sister leap off Executioner HQ in pursuit of the helicopter carrying Pupil, Guy Pupil, and Brother. They’re headed to Kansai Station to put the kid on the next Shinkansen. Doctor is also headed there aboard a flying bus whose other passengers she murdered, with a terrified Hoodlum thoroughly wrapped around her little finger.

While en route, Pupil, Guy Pupil and Brother watch a newsfeed showing that the civil unrest has intensified, with large mobs ready to storm police and government buildings.

Courier, Swindler, and Sister learn of the extent of the unrest firsthand when their path to the station is blocked by a civilian-established checkpoint. Unfortunately for these intrepid vigilantes, Boss straight-up strong-arms the ineffectual police chief to declare all rioters to be Akudama.

This has the unintended side effect of allowing Courier, Swindler, and Sister to pass through the checkpoint, as the police bots begin arresting the civilians. As the bus flies over the hotel where he and Brawler had so much fun, Hoodlum wonders just what the hell he’s doing.

Armed with police authorization, Boss sics her Executioners upon the mob, resulting in a bloodbath she deems necessary to restore law and order in Kansai; her primary concern is how this reflects on her to Kanto. Courier reveals he always knew Swindler wasn’t a real Akudama until she became one, which makes her happy.

Then it starts to snow much earlier than is usual in Kansai, almost providing a little bit of hope and cheer to an awfully tense and uneasy situation for all involved parties…except Doctor, who doesn’t even look up to see the snow.

Pupil and Guy Pupil arrive at the station and enter the elevator just as Courier railguns through the doors. He manages to blast his way down to the platform, but by then the Shinkansen has arrived and Brother is in a cargo vault on its way to the train. That’s when Doctor appears and things get way more complicated and intense.

With the quickness of a cat she sticks Guy Pupil straight through the heart with a needle to make a “string of life” that she holds in her hand. Since she’s still not technically an Akudama anymore, the Executioners can’t touch her. Doctor uses that immunity and the string to force Pupil to go grab Brother for her.

Hoodlum, still thoroughly in Doctor’s thrall, holds a scalpel to Swindler’s carotid artery, while Doctor gasses Courier. She revels in having the lives of everyone around her in her hands, but underestimates the “nauseating woman” Swindler’s gift of gab.

By talking to Hoodlum about Brawler and their mutual respect and love for each other, and how disappointed his big bro would be to see him now, Swindler is able to get Hoodlum into lowering his scalpel. Doctor, in turn, is disappointed that Hoodlum is now useless to her, and brings up the fact she stitched Brawler up so he’d bleed to death.

Doctor orders Pupil to execute Swindler and Hoodlum, but before she can bring her lightsaber down on them, a revived Courier shoots it out of her hand. Then things get even more chaotic as this entire standoff is crashed by hundreds of rioters who broke into the station to pray before the sacred Shinkansen for salvation.

In the ensuing confusion, Hoodlum pounces on Doctor and slits her through “just like she taught” him, though she’s still able to slit his and whip out her emergency surgery tools. Only this time it doesn’t work, as the Shinkansen seemingly answers the rioters’ prayers and opens its doors for them. This starts a stampede, and before Doctor can stitch herself up, she’s trampled to death.

The train also completes the loading of Brother’s vault, so with no time to spare Courier, Swindler and Sister hop on the bike and board the train, meaning their next stop will be Kanto. After the credits, Bunny and Shark say this was Shinkansen’s purpose all along; to bring people to Kanto. For what purpose we don’t know, as they’re suddenly cut off. But hey, it can’t be good, can it?

Then again, it could yet be good for Swindler, Courier, and the Siblings. For one thing, Hacker is in Kanto now (as far as we know). For another, they no longer have to worry about Doctor stalking them. I’m a little sad she went so completely heel, but she was always the most calculatingly treacherous of the original group, and the undignified, ignominious end she meets was in ironically stark contrast to her lofty goals.

Akudama Drive – 09 – All Work and No Play

Brother is in custody atop Executioner HQ. Swindler, Sister and Courier are going to rescue him before he can be transferred to Kanto. It’s a wonderfully simple objective…if only it were so easy to pull off. Suffice it to say, they run into a few…obstacles.

One person who doesn’t get in their way this week is Doctor, who beds Hoodlum on a lark (hey, he’s pretty). He’s an audience for her increasingly unhinged monologue not about living forever, but gaining control over the life and death of all things.

Once her speech is finished, she and Hoodlum look out the window to see what the commotion is about: Swindler sent out crazy messages online about a “Akudama army amassing”, and massive Akudama lynch mobs have formed in the streets as a response.

Both the riots and the independent carnage caused by a loose Cutthroat serve as dual diversions for the authorities, giving Swindler & Co. a better shot of getting to Brother. The police chief sits on his hands regarding the riots, but Boss visits him to insist he use the police to restore order—by force if necessary. No doubt a Kansai on fire doesn’t reflect well on her.

Sure enough, security is light at Executioner HQ. Throughout their interactions with the ever-stoic Courier, Swindler and Sister have become a wonderful call-and-response duo, with Sister even resembling a composite of Asirpa and Enonoka from Golden Kamuy in her essential cuteness.

Unfortunately, the greatest threat to the success of their mission is Cutthroat, who has already “decorated” HQ for his beloved Swindler’s sake…with the dismembered bodies of dozens of Executioners. This is when the rescue mission turns into a straight-up horror movie befitting the episode title “The Shining”.

We learn that the source of Cutthroat’s inscrutable attraction to Swindler has nothing to do with her hair or eye color, but the “red halo” he sees above her head in only his vision. As time has gone on that halo has only grown larger, and serves as a tracking device. He’s been holding back, but now it’s time to kill her and bask in the beauty of the red halo.

In short, Cutthroat, like Jack Torrance, is freakin’ nuts. Overt references to the Kubrick film include the river of blood through which Courier’s bike skids, Cutthroat’s limp as he chases Swindler, and of course, chopping through the wooden door (though he doesn’t declare “Here’s Johnny!”). He even seems to calm down and returns to a measure of sanity when Swindler locks herself in a armory.

He sweetly announces he’s decided not to kill her, so if she could kindly open the door that would be swell. Of course, he’s lying, but Swindler is well aware—you can’t swindle a swindler. She took steps to end the stalemate by strategically tossing lightsabers around the armory floor so she’ll never be without one however the struggle unfolds.

I’ll admit I was waiting for either Courier or Sister to help her in the nick of time, but she ends up killing Cutthroat (or something very close to it) by her own hands. Courier arrives afterwards with Sister to finish the job brother gave him, but by the time they reach the room the airship he’s on is already flying away—they just missed him.

With Doctor talking about how control is everything and her plans to use the sibling research to control everything, Swindler would likely settle for just a little control over her life, which has spiraled out of control. She went from an unassuming civil servant who’d never hurt a fly to someone who has been forced to maim and kill in order to survive.

Perhaps thanks in part to both Sister and Courier, she’s able to preserve her core decency and morality, even as the uglier elements of society attempted to sell her off, and someone operating completely outside all human decency or sanity took his best shot at her. He missed, and Swindler, the no-longer-Ordinary-at-all-Person, somehow endures.

Akudama Drive – 08 – Fly Me Almost to the Moon

Poor Swindler, who has possibly the worst luck of all the Akudama, not least because she really isn’t one. The old rocket runs out of fuel long before reaching the ruins of the moon, and she and Sister come crashing down in a field of sewage…not a soft field of green grass and flowers, which apparently doesn’t exist anymore.

Miraculously, Swindler survives a rocket crash thanks to pulling the emergency ejection lever, and Sister is fine because she’s invulnerable, but their troubles have only begun. They can’t stay put, because they made one hell of a conspicuous return to the earth. Absent any other ideas, they head back to Kansai.

Doctor, officially no longer an Akudama, is able to infiltrate a research lab and learn more about the blood of the Siblings. It’s clear she’s going to use her new freedom and wealth to do what she’s always done; play with the human bodies, both of others and herself.

As for Apprentice, her name is poised to change to Master (or at least Senpai) as Boss assigns her a eager new junior male partner. She wants none of this, and Boss can tell from Apprentice’s remaining good eye that she seeks death like her Master did.

Swindler and Sister return to the city and go to the takoyaki stall where her whole whirlwind adventure began, fulfilling a promise to Sister I never thought would be fulfilled so soon. Alas, as soon as she uses her seal, Wanted alerts pop up everywhere. The Internet of Things is terrifying.

As they try to outrun the fuzz, Hoodlum wallows on the seedier side of town, missing his kyoudai Brawler and not knowing what to do next. When he’s recognized as a wanted Akudama, his moments on the earth seem numbered…until Doctor appears. Hoodlum just happened to slip a tracker in Lil’ Brother’s charm, but the position of the charm isn’t Executioner HQ, which is intriguing to Doctor.

Swindler and Sister find shelter from the pelting rain in the office of a vast junkyard, and are finally able to fill their empty bellies with canned goods, bathe, and change their soiled clothes. Swindler seems to relish suddenly having a little sister to care for, while Sister mimics Swindler in everything, even burping after eating her fill. Swindler also snips off all her hair to appear less like her Wanted picture.

Unfortunately, their shelter is already claimed by three thugs, who arrive and immediately consider selling the Sister (who they hope is under ten) and Swindler (if she’s a virgin) into slavery or some such awfulness. Swindler, having clearly learned a few things besides swearing from her criminal comrades, bides her time, then stabs two of the thugs and shoots the other. When one of them gets back up, he’s taken back down…by Courier.

Overwhelmed by the violence she had to exact in order to survive and protect Sister, Swindler passes out, but when she comes to, she and Sister are safe. Turns out Courier only tracked them down to complete one last job given to him by Brother before his capture: deliver the charm to Sister. With that done, he’s ready to move on, but Swindler is able to convince him to help them rescue Brother. Not with her billion yen share (which he calls “chump change”) but with her desperate plea that “this is all she has left”.

Swindler can no longer be an Ordinary Person; the incident in the city proved that. No one will stand around, not kill her, and listen long enough for her to explain what happened to her, and in any case they would never believe her. She is Swindler now, and perhaps the only way she’ll ever be free from the pursuing Executioners is if the entire Executioner system oppressing her is taken down in its entirety.

Meanwhile, Cutthroat is still alive, searching for his Angel. With Doctor and Hoodlum headed towards the charm’s tracker signal, an Akudama reunion is in the cards. Will it be cordial, or will they be at each other’s throats? What was once a cohesive group has been ground down into the mud and blood. I don’t think any of them have a chance without each other.

Akudama Drive – 07 – The Offering

As the elevator to Brother and Sister’s destination rises out of the debris, Hoodlum reunites with the others, proudly reporting to have stabbed the Apprentice to avenge his brother, Brawler, who didn’t make it. When Brother is flippant about there being casualties on the job, Hoodlum almost loses it, but Swindler once again plays the peacemaker, and his temper subsides.

At the end of the elevator’s descent they reach Expo Park, a sprawling abandoned underground amusement park. Bunny and Shark cut in to tell us it was built before the war to preserve the culture of Old Kansai, but ominously notes that “there are some things better left not known”. The siblings’ ultimate destination is a rocket that Brother says will convey him and his Sister to a base on the Moon, where they’ll be safe.

That’s when we learn from Brother that he and his sister are the result of human experiments at Kyushu Plant to create immortal humans. Between them they are the product of 5,555 other siblings who were sacrificed in one horrific way or another to make the two of them possible.

I’m reminded of any number of anime in which humans and innocent kids in particular are treated brutally by an unseen, unfeeling scientific villain. Brother wakes up in a lab in a puddle of blood that grows bigger and bigger until one day the gym once full of siblings is empty.

That’s when the “Headmaster” reports that he was a successful experiment. They go on to make one more, Sister, and the two of them will be sent to Kanto as an “offering”, with mass production to follow. But their “Professor”, an AI in an artificial cat body, took pity on them and allowed them to escape on the Shinkansen. The rest of their story we know.

With that, Brother deposits a billion yen in each of the surviving Akudama’s accounts and deactivates their bomb collars, and prepare to board the rocket. Swindler gives them a farewell hug with the wish that maybe someday they’ll see each other again and eat more yummy takoyaki together.

Then, as the siblings ascend to the rocket’s hatch, Sister is stabbed in the throat…with one of Doctor’s scalpels. She’s fine, but she grabs Brother, making her meaning plain: she’s sold them and everyone else out to the Executioners.

A huge contingent of them suddenly swarm the launch pad and surround the Akudama. When Swindler asks Doctor why, the Doctor coldly declares she doesn’t owe her or anyone a goddamn thing. In exchange for her delivering the “offerings”, Boss removes Doctor’s Akudama status; she’ll no longer be on the run. Boss also tells Brother that the “Moon” they see in the sky is a mere holo-illusion; the real moon was destroyed in the war.

Brother bites Doctors hand and breaks free, while Courier and Cutthroat fight off the swarming Executioners—the latter particularly concerned with Swindler’s safety. He gets cut up pretty bad (which spells trouble considering their medic has defected) but ultimately ends up buying time for Swindler and the siblings.

Brother takes hold of Swindler and leads her and Sister into the rocket just as the countdown reaches zero. The rocket successfully launches with Swindler and Sister inside. Brother probably feels better to have at least protected half of the 5,555 siblings who died for them than none at all.

As for where the rocket is headed, who can say? The episode ends with it trailing away from what’s left of the moon—though perhaps its course takes the earth’s rotation into account. Even if they reach the moon, there surely isn’t anything there but death…but that wouldn’t be any different from the Executioner-infested launch pad.

First Hacker split off, then Brawler died, and now Doctor has stabbed everyone in the back. It remains to be seen if the Executioners either claim or scatter the remaining team of Courier, Cutthroat, and Hoodlum. Much like the war shattered the moon, the show has blown its group dynamic to smithereens. We’ll have to wait and see where the pieces land.

Akudama Drive – 06 – Akudama Brawlliant Park

Even though the Boss has mobilized every Executioner to seek and destroy the Akudama, Master gets there first, driven by his need to redeem himself for past failure. An Executioner doesn’t execute, then what is his purpose, right?

He goes all out from the start, sending both Brawler and Cutthroat flying and tossing the police drone at Courier, knocking him and the kids off his bike. Then he slashes Doc across the belly…though I somehow knew she’d be fine.

When Hoodlum finds Brawler in a pile of rubble, he suggests they fall back and give the latter time to recover, but Brawler won’t hear of it. He’s never been in a brawl like this, and isn’t going to back down. His words and wholesome smile make Hoodlum blush…his brother is so cool!

Cutthroat ends up under rubble as well…but cuts his own legs off to continue protecting Swindler…and Swindler alone. Without any regard for the kid brother, he uses him as an (artificial?) human shield, then stabs right through him to wound Master.

Swindler laments Brother’s death, but the Sister tuges at her sleever and tells her to watch: Brother is fine; he has fully regenerative healing. He’s more miffed Cutthroat broke his backpack. Doctor, who stitched herself up, then stiches Cutthroat’s legs back on so he can fight at 100%.

It’s clear from the injuries both the Executioners and Akudama sustain that they’re something more than plain ‘ol human. Only Swindler and Hoodlum, whom we know to be “normal”, escape horrific injuries this week, likely because they wouldn’t recover from them so quickly. Everyone piles onto Couriers bike, then Brawler bursts back onto the scene like an uncaged beast.

The balance of the episode is taken up by their one-on-one decisive battle, which moves from a glitzy arcade to an old amusement park, their fighting and the lightning seemingly giving these abandoned places new life, if only for a short moment.

Here Akudama Drive really shows off its visual flair, taking the ridiculousness of the brawl the extra mile, and all the while both Master and Brawler feeding off their mutual joy over how much goddamn fun they’re both having. Before Master hid his scar with a mask; now he’s grinning like a schoolboy, just like Brawler.

The two continue to wear each other down until it comes down to one last punch that does them both in at the same time. Meanwhile, Apprentice, who had just received a somewhat momemtum-sapping infodump from Boss about why she started pairing up Executioners, arrives on the scene. Boss told her survival rates of Executioners increased dramatically when they had a “reason to live”, i.e. their partner.

But Boss is incorrect that this is what separates the Executioners from the Akudama, because this particular group, despite having been a collection of selfish loners, has also developed a sense of camaraderie, even family. Had they not, they would have surely fallen to Master one by one. Instead, he falls, while the Akudama just lose Brawler—a huge loss, to be sure, but a survivable one.

As Apprentice mourns her Master’s death, Hoodlum mourns his big bro’s…then picks up Master’s lightsaber and rushes an unready Apprentice. When next we see her she’s alive and back in the hospital; both lightsabers by her bed. Hoodlum is also alive in the preview, which means he only took her eye, not her life. But it’s a given Apprentice will seek revenge.

Meanwhile, Swindler drops the nice-girl act (as Doctor had been pleading) to slap Cutthroat across the face and call him “despicable” for valuing her “beautiful” life over that of the kid Brother. The message is clear: she won’t tolerate any more of that. No more cutting through others to protect her! Brother and Sister locate their next destination, which turns out to be the underground network where survivors of the bombing of Old Kansai still reside.

Akudama Drive – 05 – Damn Kids

“Mission Impossible” is accomplished…or is it? Brawler is ready to head back to Kansai to fight Master, who is the first opponent to ever scare him and thus more important than the money. Hacker wants to head the other way to Kanto, and even managed to deactivate his bomb collar. Just as Brawler lives to fight, Hacker lives for excitement, and there’s nothing back in Kansai but boredom.

They’re both right: their job should be complete; the Black Cat didn’t say anything about smuggling two kids back to Kansai. And yet that’s the job. The brother offers to double the reward to ¥2 billion, but as Doctor points out (as perhaps the most intellectually shrewd of the Akudama) it’s not about the money for any of them—except Courier, who is ready to complete whatever mission the kids want.

Still, with no bomb collar the kids can’t force Hacker to keep working for them, and he’s doubtful he’ll ever get as good a chance to see Kanto than now, so he’s going to take it. He gives one of his Haro to Swindler as a parting gift, but she fully intends to return it when they meet again.

Doctor isn’t prepared to go any further until she learns more about these mysterious siblings, which is where Swindler comes in—and I’ll just call her that from now on because she herself seems to have gotten used to it. She accuses Doc of bullying little kids (whose hands she can see are trembling). Brawler and Hoodlum scold Doc, and she backs down.

The brother does at least tell them where they’re headed in Kansai—Expo Park—and when everyone’s tummies start to rumble, he produces a special bento box that creates whatever food someone wants out of thin air. I’d call it magic, but the Kanto and Kyushu Plant are capable of some pretty spiffy tech. Bunny is clear to shark that Kyushu can manufacture anything—meaning it’s not outside the realm of possibility the brother and sister are themselves manufactured.

Both can feel their stomachs are empty but don’t register it as hunger, and when they eat some of Swindler’s takoyaki they can’t tell if it’s good or not, just that it makes their bellies warm. It’s fun to learn of each Akudama’s favorite food (Brawler, meat; Hoodlum ramen, then onigiri; Doctor, wine, bread and cheese; Cutthroat, marshmallows), and that Courier and Swindler share a love of takoyaki. 

With a considerable and likely intentional pause in the action this week, we get to watch these colorful personalities mingle and clash. Doc for one believes Swindler is putting on an “innocent act” that she’s not buying. And hey, it remains to be seen if Swindler really is hiding something from us as well as her comrades.

We also learn more about the Executioner Division structure, with a Boss (named “Boss”) answering to Kanto in the form of three Noh masks atop a traditional shrine-like structure. They aren’t just elite cops, but Kanto’s muscle in Kansai and a form of society control. Akudama, after all are the only people from Kansai who could threaten Kanto’s hegemony.

Boss is given an ultimatum to find and destroy the seven Akudama who raided the Shinkansen at all costs, but the hospitalized Master and Apprentice are suspended indefinitely for twice failing in their mission—something virtually unheard of up to this point.

Meanwhile, in a nice moment between Swindler and Courier as the skies clear and reveal a gorgeous sunset, she tries to give him back his dropped ¥500 piece, which she almost slips up by saying it’s what “got her in this mess.”

The Executioners’ Boss gives a rousing speech to all members, including trainees, to find and eliminate the seven Akudama, and their faces pop up all over town video boards. Frankly, while Boss talks about law, order, and justice, there are more than generous hints of fascism and hyper-conformity in both her rhetoric and the division’s uniforms.

Apprentice is frustrated she and her Master can’t take responsibility for their failures by participating, only to find that Master has given her the slip. The next we see him he’s already located the Akudama, who attempted to clandestinely enter Kansai through the drainage and sewage network. They failed, but is the Master and a single security drone really enough against the six Akudama—even if the little sister doesn’t provide defense via her flute shield? We’ll find out.

Not every episode is a bullet train heist, nor should it be, nor would I want it to be. This was just the kind of follow-up I wanted, using the calm between storms to give a little more depth and seasoning to the players and their relationships.

Whether Swindler is just an ordinary girl in over head or secretly and/or unconsciously the most powerful of all of them (due in large part to her ability to “move hearts”), the true nature of the siblings, and the all-hands manhunt add up to plenty of juicy material for the remaining episodes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars