Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou – 01 (First Impressions)

Inaba Yuushi, newly graduated from middle school, intends to move out of his aunt, uncle, and cousin’s house, where he’s lived since his parents were killed in a car accident. When his high school’s dormitory burns down, he moves into a grand old apartment building that turns out to be populated by both humans and  youkai, which he didn’t know existed. Thus, Yuushi’s “first step toward independence” has landed him “somewhere incredible.”

That’s a pretty elegant premise, and the simplicity works in Youkai Apartment’s favor. The enjoyment of this premise is to be found in the details, like a seemingly normal, cute Kuga Akine who is actually an exorcist-in-training, or Yuushi’s favorite author being a resident, or his gradual realization that things in these apartments are something other than normal.

There’s a distinct Spirited Away atmosphere to the apartment, especially once the youkai start to appear, mill around, and interact with each other and Yuushi. But rather than not belonging in this nook of the “spirit world”, Yuushi and other humans (albeit weird ones) are welcome to coexist.

At the same time, while Chihiro learned what it meant to grow up, the message to Yuushi, who has always felt like a burden to his relatives, needs to relax and not worry about growing up too fast. He’s just a first-year in high school, after all!

The pleasant, easygoing, whimsical world of Youkai Apartment is, despite the presence of a few scarier youkai, a very warm and cozy place to spend time, and the slice-of-life nature of the narrative makes YA perfect Summer comfort food.

We’ll see how things go with Yuushi, his best friend/rival Hase Mizuki, Akine, and all the other characters human or otherwise we’re sure to meet in future episodes. This first one was an effective hook to draw us into its world.

16rating_7

WWW.Working!! – 05

www52

This newest version of Working!! just isn’t clicking for me anymore. It’s another episode full of little skits and running gags that doesn’t move beyond the ensemble’s individual quirks, which in most cases, remain muddled, and Hayashida is the most muddled character of them all.

Tha manager seems to have a seedy background, Muranushi has a handful for a mom, while Kamakura waves a katana around…but if you’re going to have a new cast, recycling jokes form the old one isn’t a confidence-inspiring move.

Perhaps the third season of Working!!, in which most arcs were wrapped up for the ensemble, was a good place to stop. A new cast was a bold idea, but it’s a risk that hasn’t really paid off after five episodes. Nearly all goodwill I started with for this new cast has been whittled away, and so unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be reviewing any more.

16rating_6

Ushio to Tora – 07

ushi71

When Umizatou mentioned that Ushio’s mother is still alive, Ushio obviously wanted to get the lowdown from his dad ASAP. After all, he’s been told all his life she wasn’t alive, and now that he’s grown up a lot more, wields the beast spear, is able to bend Tora to his will, and has slayed multiple high-level youkai, he believes he deserves the truth.

ushi72

However, his dad slinks away before he can get any, and from there we’re offered a look at what Aotsuki Shigure is typically up to when not chilling in the house: sealing youkai, saving lives, and conferring with a counsel of five elders who sit in a room made of light (seriously, doesn’t that light get annoying after, like, five minutes?).

ushi73

There, Sigure reports that the beast spear is out, in his son’s possession, and that the youkai Tora is haunting said son. The elders are taken aback by this news, certain that no mere child can wield the spear. Nevertheless, Shigure gets their leader, a female, to reluctantly allow him to personally test the competence of Ushio and Tora. If they fail the test, he’ll eliminate them both.

ushi74

That night, Shigure tells Ushio in a roundabout way (by pushing cash his way) that in order to learn about his mom, he’ll have to go on a journey to Hokkaido. Then he turns his staff on Tora and initiates the test. Ushio believes his dad is trying to kill Tora, but Tora realizes something else is going on. Things get more complicated when three monks from Shigure’s sect roll in to try to confiscate the Beast Spear.

ushi75

After Ushio came between his dad and Tora when they fought, it’s his dad and Tora who work together to fight off the monks. But Tora doesn’t kill them, explaining to Shigure that Ushio forbade him from killing or eating humans, and as long as Ushio has that spear, Tora will obey. So Ushio and Tora pass Shigure’s test, but Shigure may have made enemies of his sect by preventing them from doing their duty.

ushi76

But Shigure will deal with all that. For now, he wants Ushio to start that journey to learn more about his mom, with Tora in tow. I kinda wish Asako was going with them too (indeed, neither girl appears at all this week), but even without her I’m sure Ushio and Tora will provide ample entertainment and action in their traveling adventures to come.

8_mag

Ushio to Tora – 06

ushi61

U2T turns in yet another beautifully balanced blend of action, supernatural peril, comedy, drama, and even a little quiet romance in it’s beach episode. And hey, what do you know, the girls aren’t wearing string bikinis! They do run into an urchin who likes tossing sand on people’s stuff, and Ushio smacks him upside the head because it’s the kind of shit he hates, because he used to do it.

Meanwhile Tora is enjoying the ocean—the one thing in the world that hasn’t changed in 500 years!—and comes upon its guardian, Umizatou, who wants assistance dealing with an ayakashi, a kraken/leviathan/Monstro-like superbeast made from the souls of those lost at sea. Tora is game for a challenge, but Aya-tan is in a much higher weight class.

ushi62

Back on dry land, Asako chases down Tatsuya, the little kid Ushio smacked, having known a kid who lost his mom and acted out. He runs afoul of some toughs, but the badass Asako makes quick work of them (God, I love her) comforts Tatsuya, and fixes the toy phone his mom gave him. They then decide to go out in a boat…

ushi63

…Just when the ayakashi draws closer to the shore. He swallows up Tora, who tells Umizatou to summon Ushio, and then the ayakashi swallows up Asako and Tatsuya, boat and all. Interestingly, cell phone signals aren’t effected by the beast’s tough skin or ethereal barrier, and she gets in touch with Ushio, who tells her he’s on his way. Tatsuya is freaked out, but Asako is (quite understandably) scared too.

ushi64

Yet she teaches him an important lesson there: one can’t think about how scared they are when they’re scared. Fear is the mindkiller and all that, so even if she’s acting less scared than she is, she’s going to put on the act to keep hope alive. When things start attacking them, hope arrives in the form of Tora, who isn’t rescuing them out of the kindness of his heart per se, but only fears harsh reprisal if Ushio learns he let them die. I believe this is also the first time Tora talks directly to Asako, after interacting with Inoue last week (Inoue kinda gets this week off, but that’s okay).

ushi65

When Ushio finally arrives, the ayakashi proves a tough customer, and everyone ends up precariously dangling from it’s digestive wall and hanging on for dear life. When Asako passes out, it’s up to Tatsuya to forget about his fear long enough to climb down Ushio and Tora and grab hold of her before she’s sucked down into the stomach.

Ushio then tears a piece of his spear’s cloth, and the spear homes in on the ayakashi’s internal eye and stabs it. Thus weakened, Ushio and Tora (with the others in tow) combine spear and lightning to tear the ayakashi a new one, releasing a huge number of trapped souls in the process. It’s a great sequence, full of carefully-orchestrated chaos.

ushi66

The beast thus vanquished, Ushio, Asako and Mayuko head back home, having made friends with Tatsuya, who learned a lot from them (I continue to enjoy Ushio and Asako’s semi-flirtatious repartee). Ushio told him what Asako’s dad told him years ago, which is why one day he showed up looking from her perspective like he’d “grown up” a little bit: his mom is always watching, so not only shouldn’t he act out, but he shouldn’t ever feel scared or alone.

But what’s this? Umizatou knows the name Aotsuki Ushio, and apparently thinks his mom is still alive, and warns Tora to cut all ties with him as soon as possible. Is he merely talking youkai-to-youkai, and not understand the friendship growing, or will Ushio one day be unable to stop either himself, the Beast Spear, or both from whacking his increasingly loyal, empathetic tiger-like buddy?

9_mag

Ushio to Tora – 05

ushi51

It was only a matter of time before one of the characters from the OP we haven’t seen yet comes out of the woodwork, drawn out by Ushio and Tora’s very highly-televised appearance a couple weeks back, the fallout for which I’d been waiting for. This new character, Hyou the Exorcist, is probably the most interesting “monster”-of-the-week thus far, because he’s not merely pure evil, nor does he immediately target Ushio’s girlfriends. He’s a breath of horribly-scarred fresh air.

ushi52

Hyou gave up his name and his old life after his family, most of that life, was viciously murdered by a demon, so he trained his mind and body towards avenging them. Hyou could only have gotten the slightest glimpse of the demon in the dark that tragic night years ago (with his one non-blood-filled eye), but the fuzzy image on the TV is enough to convince him that Tora is the culprit.

When he comes to Japan to kill Tora, he inevitably meets Ushio, whom he trusts is not his enemy because he wields the Beast Spear. That being said, Ushio is immediately conflicted by the situation before him. He can either tell Hyou the truth—Tora has been locked in a cellar for 500 years and couldn’t possibly have killed his wife and daughter—or simply let Hyou kill him, so he doesn’t have to do it.

ushi53

Ushio decides on the latter, and Hyou begins to battle Tora fiercely while Ushio…washes dishes, not at all confident that the choice he made was the right one. At school the next day the girls immediately pick up on his quandary and the fact he’s not acting like himself. Mayuko imagining an imminent shouting match that doesn’t pan out is a nice way of showing how off he is.

Asako, showing how deep and strong their friendship goes, isn’t about to let him be. While Hyou is a great new introduction and his history is a sad one, but it’s the deepening of Asako’s character, who might feign dislike for Ushio most days but won’t hesitate to leap out and try to pull him out of his funk, that forms the emotional heart of the episode.

ushi54

That heart is fully bared as Asako follows Ushio home at sundown, keeping her distance at first, then rushing and attacking him, hoping he’ll lash out and snap out of whatever is going on with him. Ushio isn’t about to hit her, funk or no, but Asako’s passion, concern, love, and physical blows do shift Ushio from his stasis, and inspire him to right the wrong he made. Komatsu Mikako really pulls out all of the stops for the multi-dimensional Asako.

ushi55

Meanwhile, Hyou has been battling Tora for two days and two nights, and he’s on the brink of victory, which he believes will quell his boiling rage and give him peace. And it would have, had Ushio kept his mouth shut. But that ain’t how Ushio works. If it’s within his power to correct an injustice, he must act, much like the Road Runner must run on the road.

Tora may be an evil jackass sometimes, but he didn’t kill Hyou’s family, and killing him, or rather killing Ushio, who decides to protect him, will make Hyou a murderer, not an avenger. And that isn’t even the only reason Ushio is doing this. Not only did Tora save his life (and the lives of his friends), but if anyone is going to ultimately defeat Tora, it has to be Ushio. Just as Tora fights off others to preserve his prey for himself, Ushio fights off Hyou to preserve his.

ushi56

In keeping with shonen-style romances, Ushio doesn’t thank Asako face-to-face (meaning no blushing or near-kissing; though it’s a long show; who knows what the future holds). Instead, he thanks her by delivering a gigantic beauty of a watermelon that puts a big smile on Asako’s face, not just because she knows Ushio is feeling better and got over whatever was bothering him, but because she was the one able to help him out.

Ushio likely didn’t want to freak Asako out by appearing before her anyway, as his face is a swollen, scarred mess and he’s recovering from multiple stab wounds at home, all the marks of defending Tora. Tora performs his usual stalking maneuvers over the snoring Ushio (calling to mind Hobbes’ pouncing routine), but seeing those marks stays his paw, as does remembering how good Mayuko’s cheeseburgers tasted.

9_ses

Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi – 02

sunday21

Pardon our use of such a tired term, but there was so much win in this episode. It put poor Ai through more hell as we learn along with her the harsh truths of the world from the immortal but not infallible Hampnie. Hampnie is initially so cold and cruel to her not because he bears her personal malice (as the hunter Yuri bears him), but because he doesn’t think she can cut it in the real world, which is always malicious and preys on the ignorance.

We could do with less of Hampnie slugging Ai in the face, but we can’t deny he knows more about what’s out there than Ai, and he may well be right in a lot of what he says to dissuade Ai from pursuing a life of gravedigging, even if he was wrong about her not being one; that was a great moment when Scar tells him Ai did a bang-up job. And for all of the dark philosophizing, there’s still a lighter element of comedy weaved into the pair’s interactions.

sunday22

There’s a great chemistry between the two “messed-up” beings: the gravedigger with emotions born three years after it supposedly wasn’t possible, naive but learning fast; and an immortal albino who has been hardened by his life. Ai wants to help the living wherever they may be; Hampnie tells her it won’t be that simple. People like Yuri cling to their dead loved ones, who eventually become twisted into zombies. Not everything is black and white, but some black does exist.

That brings us to the 47 villagers. He said what was going on there is a mystery Ai herself must solve, but it seems logical to us that the village was already dead when he got there. He destroyed their bodies to prevent them from becoming zombies. Ai didn’t know they were dead, but clung to them all the same; had Hampnie not showed up they might’ve eventually turned on her. In any case, past gun-pointing aside, we’re excited by the prospects for Ai leaving the cocoon and finding her place in the world. She has a lot to learn from Hampnie and others, but we reckon they have a lot to learn from her too.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi – 01

sunday11

This past summer was one of our busiest seasons, with fourteen shows to keep track of. We decided not to watch a few series that we probably would have enjoyed, including Sunday Without God. A friend suggested we take a look, so we’re taking advantage of the gap between Fall and Winter to do so. After just the first episode, we’re not sorry we did. Sunday Without God has a lot going for it.

Ai (Toyosaki Aki…Hi Uiharu/Fam!) is a 12-year-old serving as the village “gravekeeper” in a world where no one can die or reproduce due to God forsaking the world on Sunday. Like Yuna in FFX, she “sends” the dead to a peaceful rest, something she’s been doing since she was seven, when her mother died. While she’s not alone (a couple adopted her and the town heaps affection and sweets upon her), we know immediately that she carries a tremendous burden for someone so young. She’s tough; moreover, she’s highly confident and proud of the work she does.

sunday12

Madhouse is an aptly-named studio simply because, a lot of the series they’ve put out are…a bit mad. Here, it’s an Alice in Wonderland mad: whimsically disorienting with an ever-present tinge of malice. “Hampnie Hambart” drops by Ai’s idyllic village and slaughters everyone there save Ai. He then shatters her facade of certainty and efficacy, causing her to question everything she’s ever known or been told by the village, like whether she’s a gravekeeper at all, and whether the villagers were ever alive to begin with.

The episode deftly juggled the harsh imagery of village massacre and an undead townsperson missing part of his head (then having it blown the rest of the way off before Ai’s eyes) with lighter moments like Hampnie and Ai’s first meeting, where she contends he’s her father. Whether he is or isn’t, whether Ai’s true gravekeeper, and exactly what the heck’s going on in general; these are some of the many mysteries we look forward to exploring moving forward.

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Ao no Exorcist 25 (Fin)

Shura, Triple A, Yukio, and Rin join forces to attack the Gehenna gate, but there are too many small fry in the way. Bon, Izumo, Renzo and Co. execute a plan to telegraph sunlight from the Vatican in Rome to Japan, in order to weaken the demons. Rin and Yukio ride Kuro up to the now-cleared gate and envelop it in flames, closing/destroying it. One month later, things have returned to normal at the True Cross Academy, though Rin is more proactive in interfering in higher-ranking exorcist operations. They also visit their mother’s grave – their birthplace – in the forest.

This was a somewhat disappointing finale. I was having a hard time staying invested in the face of a lack of any significant peril, and lots of strange, random things. I mean, wtf was the deal with those mirrors? Where did that come from? Throughout the episode, you see swarms of small black demons flying around, but not attacking their prey, but simply flying by as people yell “there’s too many of them!” With Shiemi out of harm’s way and Yukio back to his old self, no characters were in immediate mortal danger this week. No suspense. Also, Yukio is suddenly able to hear Rin’s cat now, and transforms like his bro when he unsheathes the sword? Huh?

The “everything’s back to the way it was” epilogue wasn’t the best move either. It only reinforces the fact that nothing that happened in that big climax was any big deal. Even visiting the place where their mom gave birth to them fell flat for me; I mean how is someone who slept with Satan a “wonderful person?” Offspring bias, I suppose. And while Kuro is proof that some demons can be tamed, why is Rin rushing headlong into battles he’s not authorized to fight? Or, more to the point, if he’s capable of taking care of demons, why’s he still in school? I dunno…not a great ending to what was a pretty decent series.


Rating: 2.5

Ao no Exorcist 22

Ernst overthrows the existing bureaucracy and names himself Pope, and rises Yukio to the rank of Paladin and head of the Japanese branch. Rin and all the other members of True Cross Academy are armed and given a new edict: kill as many demons as possible. The weapons absorb demon blood for a ritual to open the Gate of Gehenna and destroy Satan for good. Rin is the sacrifice to unlock the gate, while Yukio transforms into a demon himself.

This episode covered a lot of ground. One could almost say the series is now in a hurry to wrap things up. Ernst showed up a couple episodes ago, and we have no idea who he is or what made him so evil; all we know is, he’s a Bad Guy with plans for world domination, and he’s ensnared an extremely naive (and stupid) Yukio with a promise to save Rin by restoring his full humanity. The force of all the sudden change is so great this week it sweeps everyone up before they can even complain.

This episode also sets a firm morality concerning the fundamental role of exorcists. They’re supposed to slay demons, but not all demons. There are good ones, like Kuro the Cait Sith, Izumo’s foxes, and countless demons who protect forests, rivers and the like. In this regard, our protagonists should be on the side of Princess Mononoke. Like humanity, there is an entire spectrum of demonhood stretching from good to bad. What Pope Ernst has ordered upsets the balance of things. He’s bad, and our ragtag group of students – and Rin, if he’s still alive – must stop him.


Rating: 3

Ao no Exorcist 20

The attacker of Rin and Yukio’s monastery is a masked stranger who writes in Polish and uses a nasty spider-web like silk to envelop his victims. When Rin gives chase he immediately has his ass handed to him, and has to be saved by Yukio, who continues the chase and runs into Professor Neuhaus, originally believed to have retired.

After a “rest” episode, it was good to get back to the main story, but I feel like most of this episode was simply rehashing what’s already been said, done, and/or established. Rin should know by now he can’t just rush headlong into threats he doesn’t understand. He almost gets killed in the first five minutes thanks to his impatience and hardheadedness. He should know by now he can’t just do what he pleases – the Vatican has him on a tight rope as it is. All this just…seemed to have slipped his mind this week. At least later in the episode he finally gets the candle training right, and uses his flames like a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, to remove the webbing from his allies.

The enemy-of-the-week is also pretty boring at first. I mean, spiders crawling across his face? Seriously? Rin has already fought the Paladin and the Earth King…after those bosses this guy never seems like much of a threat. Things do get a little more interesting when a hostage standoff ends with the Paladin arresting Pheles for suspected illegal research, while Neuhaus shows up again, claiming the then un-masked woman is his wife. Yukio, getting more angsty for not being able to protect Rin, is suddenly summoned by…his grandfather, of all people. One we didn’t know he had…


Rating: 3

Ao no Exorcist 19

*Clicks tongue*…surprise birthday party episode. But hey, I didn’t mind it nearly as much as the previous filler ep, the one with the kitchen demon. Perhaps because, like the best episodes of any series with a vibrant ensemble cast, it gives everyone something to do and allows for some very nice character interactions. Considering how much everyone’s been through the last three weeks, a break was inevitable, but also far better than expected. Also, by this point, we know everyone a lot better, making them more fun to watch even during filler.

When else would we learn that Bon is good at papercraft? Or that Konekomaru could work out his awkwardness with Rin by helping him bake? Or that Renzou and Paku have such great chemistry? The party is being planned for Izumo, who then keeps bumping into her friends as they plan. Most distressing is when she keeps seeing her best friend on an apparent date with Renzou, and her ill-fated undercover spy mission is cute, if misguided. I enjoyed the increased role of Paku; she may not exactly stand out, but she was fun to watch this week.

There are a whole lot of nice character moments in here, and I’m not going to pretend the episode was much more than that…but it did have at least a minor twist: the surprise was ruined (thanks to Izumo’s spying), so the party becomes one for everyone, not just her, by her request. Meanwhile, Yukio observes the festivities from a far, still having told no one about his ominous, worsening malady. Just to segue back to business, the episode ends with a report Rin and Yukio’s monastery is under attack. Wash down that X-mas cake and get movin!


Rating: 3

Ao no Exorcist 18

Konekomaru’s fear of Rin leads him to reluctantly make a deal with a crow-like demon called Gale to kill him. Honestly I didn’t think Koneko had it in him. Frankly I didn’t think he had anything in him, since he is one of the more underused supporting esquires, although not as mysterious as puppet kid.

Here’s hoping there will be no more doubts about Rin’s loyalties. Even after Konekomaru tries to kill him more than once, and makes it look like Rin’s attacking him, all but trashing whatever trust Bon had in him, Rin still comes to Koneko’s rescue, wasting Gale and catching him in mid-air. I’ll admit I’d be pretty annoyed if Rin was my classmate, but deep down he’s a nice guy, and as he says, it isn’t like he got to choose his father.

Heck, Rin even lets Koneko save face when he finds him at a bus stop ready to quit and take off. The bald shrimp fails to realize that fear is necessary in this line of work, and while it can be used to protect you and it can work for you in other ways, it can and should never be totally eliminated. Those without any fear whatsoever are the ones who can’t be trusted.


Rating: 3.5

Ao no Exorcist 17

Ao no Exorcist keeps impressing, to the point where I almost wish it were a series the length of say, Soul Eater. The chemistry between characters – both positive and negative – is that good. And it would only get better with time…like wine. This week the big cliffhanger is resolved relatively quickly – Rin wakes up and is reunited with his sword and quickly dispatches Amaimon.

But while the Vatican is willing to go along with Phele’s gamble for now, Rin is going to have to win back the trust of some of his friends, namely Bon and Konekomaru. I like how everyone reacts differently to this new truth about Rin, and those reactions fit their characters. Particularly good is Izumo’s little pep talk at the end, which hints that she too may be half-human.

There’s even some nice moments between Yukio and Shura (no, not that nice), as the two were siblings of a kind in the past. Yukio has a lot on his plate: not only will his brother be killed if he goes berserk again, but he also has to make sure Rin passes the Exorcist’s exam six months from now, or…be killed.

Even better is Bon’s complex reaction. He did a lot to save Rin, but that doesn’t mean he won’t kill him hesitationless if he hurts anyone he cares about. The people most uneasy about Rin are those who lost loved ones to Satan. Can they trust his son? Can Rin control his powers? Hopefully, they can. We’ll see.


Rating: 3.5