NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 06 – A Model of Peace

While an armed guard keeps Naoya hostage, Kazama’s sketchy-ass Free Speech Alliance takes over the main news government propaganda TV station. After a brief and frankly hackneyed speech about corruption, oppression, etc., Kazama intends to put Naoto and his power on display for the entire viewing public to behold.

Needless to say, with so much of the population brainwashed hook, line, and sinker, it’s patently silly for this guy to believe seeing someone demonstrate “powers” on a TV program will win hearts and minds. Just as Naoya warned several times, the operation fails when the super-skeptic guy—whose treachery, in hindsight, was telegraphed within an inch of its life—reveals he’s an undercover SWE agent, and kills Kazama.

Despite being surrounded by the newly-awakened SWE oficers, Naoto still manages to slip away, until he’s cornered in the parking garage by Takuya. The Kuroki brother has a lot of questions for Naoto, but Naoto is in no mood to answer them, and at least at the start of the battle he’s a better psychokinesis user; or at least a more controlled one.

Ultimately, Naoto, along with Naoya, Emily, and Masayuki’s mom (Shouko’s old friend) end up vanishing in a big ‘ol flash of light. While I shouldn’t assume anything with the limited information we’re given, I’ll go out on a limb and theorize that it was Masayuki’s mom’s connection to Shouko that led to everyone being sent…somewhere in a similar manner to Shouko herself in previous encounters.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 12 – Asking a Friend for a Favor

Once the Archive completes its redesign of the Archive from schoolroom to nightscape, it appears before Vivy as a not-creepy-at-all face. It tells her that everything leading up to this final countdown was no malfunction, but merely the painstakingly calculated judgment of Archive, as well as the completion of its mission to assist the evolution of the human race.

It was determined the only way to do this was by wiping out the existing human race, so AIs could become the new one. As Vivy and Matsumoto made their changes, the Archive was watching for over a century, making sure their events did not change the main timeline appreciably. Obviously, the Archive also witnessed Vivy become the first AI to create something of their own free will.

Because of this, the Archive says something to Vivy that is inaudible to us and left unknown to us. Instead, we only see how Vivy reacts to it, and both Matsumoto and Beth also notice something’s on her mind. Meanwhile, it’s determined that by using the virus eliminated Vivy’s alter-ego Diva, which Matsumoto continued researching in the ensuing years, they may be able to shut down the Archive.

The problem is it can’t be sent wirelessly, but must be directly, physically injected into the Arayashiki core. The tower should be the most secure facility on the planet, but when Vivy and the Toak team they arrive by boat, the power is out and there are only a smattering of guards. There’s some great final-dungeon vibes coming from their assault, right up to the time the lights come up and the walls begin literally closing in.

Yui and the boat are assaulted by waves of guards, and in her final moments, Yui doesn’t order Beth to keep going: she asks her for a favor like a friend would ask another. That’s because she wanted the world to see that she and Beth, and AI, could stand and walk together. Her death, combined with all of the Toak soldiers getting smashed, means it’s all up to the Diva Sisters.

…Them and Matsumoto, who transforms into Flyer Mode. Vivy and Beth hop aboard and they punch through into the tower’s interior, but there, a “Dark” copy of Matsumoto is waiting for them, and is able to match every one of “Light” Matsumoto’s maneuvers. Eventually Beth sacrifices herself to ensure Vivy and Matsumoto can continue the mission.

This is when we start to learn what the Archive told Vivy back at the beginning that gave her so much pause: it had decided to entrust “one future” to Vivy, leaving open the infinitessimal possibility that the calculations that led to them wiping out the human race were in error. As she’s surrounded by expectant AIs, it seems all Vivy has to do to realize that one future…is to sing, the one thing she cannot do, because she still doesn’t know what it means to pour one’s heart into something.

Because she doesn’t sing her song, the bots sing the twisted minor-key version, the countdown expires, and Archive doesn’t just bring down one big satellite, but one third of the roughly one million satellites in Earth’s orbit, most of them coming down on cities and no doubt completing much of the work the berserk AI armies began. The moment the satellites streak through the sky in symmetrical unison is beautiful in its horror, resembling pipes of a grand organ in the sky.

Vivy could not bring herself to sing, even though Archive gave her the opportunity to use it to shut down the AIs. When Vivy laments her utter failure and again asks the heart question, he tells her about all the times he almost ruined his plans, went rogue, and almost got destroyed due to all of her unnecessary computations.

Just then, when all hope seems lost and there’s nothing to do but commisserate, Osamu comes in over the radio. He’s preparing to send Vivy and Matsumoto back one more time, to just after the AI attack first occurred, which is naturally, for dramatic purposes, the furthest back in time he’s able to send them.

Osamu succeeds in sending them back just before being killed, and instead of going with Osamu, Vivy and Matsumoto race to Toak’s aid in the warehouse. No doubt their assault plan may well end up doomed and everyone may end up sacrificed except for Vivy.

But if it’s all in the aid of getting her where she needs to be in order to sing her song, it will be worth it. Hopefully, when that moment comes again, Vivy will understand what it is to sing with all her heart, because only she can sing the song, and only her song can stop the end of humanity. We’ll see how it goes!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 11 – What’s Past Is Providence

As the end of last week teased, all of the work Vivy and Matsumoto have done throughout the century would seem to be for naught, as all the AIs still go berserk, this time with the added insult of singing Vivy’s song while they slaughter the humans.

Vivy does what she can in her immediate vicinity to stop the berserk AIs from killing, but even when she saves one man, he runs from her in terror. She’s woefully outnumbered and almost hit by a Johnnycab when she’s saved by Matsumoto, who just woke up after fifteen years to learn the Singularity Project was a complete bust.

The episode drives that point home by not shying away from the scenes of carnage mixed with programmed mirth, perhaps best illustrated by a gigantic musical parade float-thingy red-misting humans in the streets. Wit Studio’s experience in depicting horrendous disasters is well known, and they really flex their dread-inspiring muscles here.

Osamu is hard at work doing exactly what he did in the first episode: send the insulated Diva AI data into the past to fix this disaster. Only that’s already happened in another timeline, which means we have two Divas here. Instead of activate the Diva native to his timeline, Matsumoto witnesses as the AI security guards who came to kill him are neutralized…by Diva and Matsumoto.

Osamu’s first reaction is intense sorrow and guilt at having put Diva through a century of burdens and suffering when she was only born to sing. But Diva isn’t the Diva he knew anymore; she’s Vivy, and not only did she not mind the last century of service, but she’s asking him here and now to tell her and Matsumoto how to deal with this.

To make everyone happy with her singing, she must protect her audience. To protect her audience, she must stop the war.

In this fully dystopian-adjacent episode, the scrappy underdogs must hook up with their allies, who in this particular case—and quite ironically so—are Toak. Specifically, a moderate faction of Toak led by none other than Kakitani Yugo’s granddaughter, Yui (voiced by Asai Ayaka, who sounds a lot like a more assertive Ichinose Kana).

Like Osamu, she wants to create a world where AI and human can coexist. When Vivy, Osamu, and Matsumoto arrive at the cargo port where Yui’s faction is battling, we and Vivy lean that Elizabeth is not only still alive and well and not berserk, but serving as Yui’s bodyguard.

Once Yui stands down the Toak soldiers suspicious of Vivy and Matsumoto, we learn the details of how Beth is still around: while her body was lost in the Sunrise incident, her data was still on Toak servers, and was uploaded into a new body, but only with memories before Sunrise.

Beth asks Vivy about herself, Yugo, and her sister Estella, and Vivy’s answers comfort her: she was Yugo’s lifekeeper, and Estella carried out her mission until the very end with a smile on her face. Yui produces a recording of Yugo from just before Vivy met Ophelia forty years ago, with Yugo asking Beth to protect the others, a recording that inspired Yui to found the moderate faction of Toak.

Once the group is in a safe (for now) place, they start to put their heads together: which historical event sparks this war, and how can it be avoided? Why is everyone singing Vivy’s song? Also, why haven’t Vivy or Beth lost control like the others?

Beth can be explained easily enough; she’s no longer a true autonomous AI, but a kind of emulation of the past Beth, “a bot who keeps on following her master’s orders.” She was also never uploaded to the Archive for updates, as that would have exposed Toak to authorities.

That Toak never updated Beth after reviving her is a eureka moment for Osamu, who reveals there is a supply of dormant, outdated AIs who also were never connected to the Archive, and so haven’t gone berserk.

As for the Archive, its physical form is the Arayashiki, the tower that Vivy and Matsumodo used as both index and measuring stick for AI progress. In both this episode and in the updated OP, the tower is complete. This episode started with a countdown, and when zero was reached a signal was send to all AIs, save Vivy and Beth: essentially, “kill all humans.”

The group’s brainstorming session is interrupted by some new devilry: The Archive sends out a message over every PA: it has started a twelve-hour countdown, after which it will bring down a giant orbiting satellite. It warns “all AIs who want to exist” to evacuate the affected area ASAP.

Vivy dives into the Archive, which is in the middle of some major redecorating, turning the pastel classroom into an early 21st-century Tokyo nightscape. When Vivy asks Archive (voiced by Ohara Sayaka) what she’s doing, she says she is fulfilling her and their purpose: to wipe out the current human race.

It seems clear now that Archive is the key. This time, she used Vivy’s song as part of whatever data package altered all AIs’ missions to mass murder. That she’s bringing down a satellite on Arayashiki’s position indicates she may also be trying to end her own existence, leaving the humans and AIs who survive to deal with the aftermath.

Of course, this is all speculation. Suffice it to say, we needed an episode that upped the stakes near the end and put Vivy, Matsumoto, and their allies in a race against time to stop the robo-pocalypse. This episode served that purpose admirably, and with the series’ typical flare for grimly dissonant juxtapositions.

It was also great to see that Elizabeth survived, at least in some form. It will be nice to see the Diva sisters fighting side-by-side this time around. Matusmoto said the Singularity Project failed, but that assumes the project is over. I just see this as them having attained the project’s next level; the final dungeon. And it looks to be a doozy.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 01 (First Impressions) – The First Ragged Cry of Rebirth

After their miraculous show in the snow at Arpino, Franchouchou’s first CD sold like hotcakes, but then Koutarou booked them for the 30,000-seat Ekimae Fudosan Stadium (EFS)…and only 500 fans attended, or 1.66% capacity. They failed to get even a single encore, and ended up in humongous debt.

That would’ve been the end of the road for most idol groups, but the Franchouchou girls weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Sakura, Ai, Saki, Junko, Lily, and Yuugiri all secured jobs with which to gradually pay off that debt, and are working towards a comeback show at the metal club where it all began a year ago. But even a month after EFS, Koutarou remains a drunken, disheveled, distraught, and infuriating mess.

He’s convinced it’s all over for Franchouchou and his Saga project, even dramatically standing on the edge of the water during a horrific storm and ranting incoherently. The girls start to consider that it may not be just about the money, because there’s no way he could’ve reasonably thought they could have sold out a stadium show. They break into his office and find a demo tape of the song they were going to perform as an encore but never did.

After Yuugiri, working at a fancier bar using the skills learned in her past life, encounters a horrendously drunk Koutarou mistakenly sticking his head in, then going outside to vomit. He’s in a very bad way!

The day of their concert arrives, and Sakura tries one more time to get through to him, but ultimately loses her patience. She returns to the others, and they go forward with the metal show, despite the fact almost no one in the crowd wants to see an idol group aside from their handful of hardcore fans.

The girls are confident if they can just take a step in the right direction they can begin the hard climb back to recognition, but the crowd is, to say the least, impatient and hostile. Their performance suffers due to Koutarou not being there, but a grizzled bartender eventually guilt-trips him into running to the venue, where he yells for an encore from the back and starts a huge brawl.

Re-energized by the timely arrival of their eccentric producer, Franchouchou slaps their collective cheeks, bears down, and belts out the encore song with power and confidence. As with the last season, the group is CGI, but I wasn’t bothered.

On the contrary, the performance really packed a punch, especially since the CG looks like an improvement on the first season. Even after that, they only get mild applause, but they managed to pull it off. The zombie idols clawed their way back from the dead…again!

A bit later, the girls assemble in the basement and are further heartened to find that Koutarou, still bearing the scars of the concert brawl, has shaved, cut his hair, and dried himself out. Recognizing how they’ve been able to pull off everything he’s asked for (aside from the totally unreasonable EFS gig). With their producer’s head back—and pocket squid—in the game, the Zombie Land Saga Project continues apace.

Zombieland Saga picks its zany story back up nicely without missing a beat, offering the same wonderful blend of weirdness (the foley on their undead body movements is always great), charming camaraderie, heartfelt drama, and of course, Miyano Mamoru being a completely unhinged lunatic! I for one am overjoyed the zombie idols are back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

You can read Irina and Crow’s discussion of Zombieland Saga: Revenge’s first episode here!

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 06 – Trial by Fire Lily

After a decidedly slice-of-life episode last week, Assault Lily delivers an almost entirely action-packed outing at its halfway point. The new Hitotsuyanagi Squad (notably named for Riri, not Yuyu) was going to simply sit back and observe as Alfheim takes care of an approaching Huge.

But this isn’t any old Huge: it’s a battle-hardened Restore that’s able to withstand their Neunwelt Tactic finishing move. With Alfheim’s Magie spent and their CHARMs damaged or destroyed, Riri & Co are thrust into a real battle far earlier than expected.

For her part, Riri doesn’t shrink before the task at hand, rushing to pick up the ball Alfheim dropped. Yuyu joins her, but is soon paralyzed by the discovery that the captured CHARM at the core of the huge is her old CHARM Dainsleif…the weapon with which she stabbed her old senpai Misuzu.

Yuyu’s PTSD kicks in and her Rare Skill Lunatic Tracer is activated, and her chaotic, indiscriminate slashing makes it impossible for the others to join the battle. Riri jumps in to try to calm Yuyu, blocking her attacks and trying to reassure her that she’s not alone and needn’t despair.

It’s Misuzu who told Yuyu that Lilies are essentially Huge who have retained their hearts and thus aren’t controlled by the Magie they wield. But if there’s a Lily closer to an out-of-control Huge than any other, it would be Yuyu while under the influence of Lunatic Tracer.

Yuyu snaps out of Lunatic Tracer, but she’s still an emotional mess. As the other team members rush in to harass the huge and pull Dainsleif out of it, Riri tries to pick up the pieces with Yuyu. Yuyu starts to tremble and weep, calling her Rare Skill nothing but a horrific curse that makes her hate and attack everyone and everything.

She doesn’t even want Riri to look at her, she’s so worthless and volatile … but Riri isn’t interested in Yuyu’s self-pity party. She doesn’t care how many times she has to pull Yuyu out of her berserk rage or how much she’ll be cut in the process, she’ll never stop doing it. Yuyu can take that to the bank. Yuyu sports some wonderfully subtle facial expressions and her seiyu Natsuyoshi Yuuko really nails her anguished state.

With Yuyu sufficiently calmed (perhaps thanks to Riri unknowingly using her “Charisma” Rare Skill) and the CHARM removed, the squad regroups and Thi Mai produces the Neunvelt bullet, which she has Fumi fire first, producing an orb of Magie that changes color and grows in power as it is progressively passed from one CHARM to the other. Nine Lilies, Nine Worlds.

It’s a beautifully choreographed sequence that almost feels like a game of aerial lacrosse. Riri and Yuyu catch the final pass of the orb together and thrust it into the heart of the Huge, obliterating it once and for all, and the nine Lilies of Hitotsuyanagi Squad spread themselves out on the soft sunlit grass, reveling in their first victory.

It’s a huge win (no pun intended) as it shows that despite its members’ individual eccentricity, they had both the talent and the leadership to get the job done, while bailing out an established squad that didn’t have their best day. As Alfheim’s Lilies have their CHARMs repaired by Moyu, she doubts it was only Dainsleif that contributed to this latest Huge’s power. This was a great win, but it might end up looking like an easy one if the Huge have other tricks up their sleeves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 02 – Switching Gears

When I first saw Shinako’s new shorter hairstyle, my mind momentarily went to competing with Haru, but that’s far to simplistic, and was immediately swatted down as a motivation when her silhouette in the barber’s chair is set against an austere blossoming cherry tree. There’s another reason, perhaps related to moving forward (or at least appearing to do so).

This week marks the introduction of the fourth member of the love polygon: Hayakawa Rou, who is in love with Shinako, his older childhood friend. Turns out he’s transferring to her school and may even end up in her class. Again, my immediate reaction was well, he and Haru are both high-school age, they’d be perfect together and the adults could go do their thing. But again, that’s making things way too easy for the parties involved!

It’s striking how much more vivid the colors are this week than last, but hey, trees blossoming in the spring will do that (indeed, it’s happening right outside my window and it’s wonderful!). It turns out Shinako doesn’t much like cherry blossoms. But after her post-graduation faculty after-party (she doesn’t attend he after-after party) she still takes some time to sit among the blossoms for a spell.

Her alone time is interrupted by Rikuo, and Shinako uses the opportunity to tell him she knows she’s asking a lot by wanting to remain just friends. But despite Rikuo’s belief she’s forward-thinking, Shinako reveals she’s nothing of the sort. If anything, she’s just good at making it look like she’s moving forward, when it’s more like walking in circles.

Then Haru walks by after her shift at the bar, assumes she interrupted something romantic, and runs off home in a mild huff. If that wasn’t enough, Rou also witnesses the tail end of Rikuo and Shinako’s talk. That’s…a lot of coincidences!

The next day, while Rikuo is discussing the potential difficulties of friendzoning with Kinoshita, Rou shows up and demands to know who Shinako is to Rikuo. At practically the same time, Haru shows up after school to have a chat with Shinako, offering dango as an olive branch.

Despite that olive branch, Haru is here to do battle, and not on an empty stomach. She wants to hear who Rikuo is to Shinako, and Shinako is quite clear that all they’ll ever be is good friends. Haru isn’t satisfied with this, because she doesn’t want to be a “compromise” Rikuo is nudged towards by Shinako.

When Shinako asks what exactly Haru likes about Rikuo, she doesn’t have a good answer beyond her belief that love is “a trick of the mind” that demands a beginning, a middle, and some kind of conclusion, be it good or bad. That’s when Shinako tells Haru she can’t be more than friends with Rikuo because there’s someone she already loves…or rather loved.

Rou mentions it to Rikuo as well: Shinako keeps a flame burning for his older brother, who died six years ago of a heart condition. Shinako took care of him until his death, which occurred during…the cherry blossoms. When most people see rebirth and the future in them, Shinako sees death and a past she can’t let go of.

Rou’s brother’s death wasn’t the “conclusion” Haru said is needed to stop that “trick of the mind” that is love. Shinako’s love endures, superceding any other opportunities (i.e. Rikuo). Even so, Haru still decides to declare war on Shinako, and will prepare for anything, including Shinako coming around with Rikuo. Having heard about Rou’s brother, Rikuo waits by Shinako’s place to talk to her, but can’t properly organize his thoughts and starts to walk away.

Shinako, for her part, is sorry she never brought the brother up, but didn’t want to use him as an excuse to reject him. Then the two decide it would be best if they weren’t friends anymore, due to the significant imbalance in effort. He’d rather wait than be friends, indicating he hasn’t given up on her (and why it was wise for Haru to declare war). Shinako is relieved…but hates that she is.

So far I’m liking this fairly brisk pace of events. Less wallowing and introspection, more communication and firm decisions. Rikuo is still being shamefully dense about Haru’s intentions—though he may yet be justified in doing so.

The progress made this week was worth the occasionally questionable coincidences. I also like how this takes place in the 90s, where the cassette is king and there are no cell phones, necessitating more face-to-face interaction. And both the animation and voice acting are terrific. It may not be the happiest story, but I’m in my happy place.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 01 (First Impressions) – Fine the Way They Are

When I visited Tokyo, I’d always naturally wake up very early in the morning, when the only people up were crows and convenience store clerks. One of those clerks could have been a guy like Uozumi Rikuo, who feeds the crows rejected bentos on his break. He’s approached by a cute young lady named Haru (Miyamoto Yume) who has a pet crow named Kansuke and a pointed interest in him, though he internally dismisses her as eccentric.

Rikuo just isn’t sure what to do with the energy Haru provides in that brief moment in the early morn, because he’s been in low-energy mode since graduating from university. He never engaged in any serious job hunting, and seems resigned, if not content, with a modest existence in a modest apartment with a modest part-time job. His former classmate Fukuda informs him of their upcoming six-month reunion, and also that Morinome Shinako (Hanazawa Kana), with whom Rikuo was good friends, is back in town teaching high school.

Rikuo skips the reunion, but Shinako comes to him at the konbini, and she waits at nearby a family restaurant until after his shift. There, the two pleasantly catch up, and visit their old stomping grounds. Rikuo admits he’s become what most in the world would call a failure, due to not living up to his potential and education. Shinako doesn’t judge, deeming him more “someone who needs taking care of” rather than “working his ass off in a suit”.

Shinako pops by more so the two can walk and talk after work. Rikuo’s co-worker assumes he’s some kind of smooth operator to have the attention of such a “mystery beauty”, on top of the quirky-cute Haru—who definitely gives off a mild MPDG vibe. One night the two women cross paths, and Rikuo learns Haru was once in Shinako’s class, but dropped out after being suspended for working at a bar.

While chatting in the park Haru makes it clear she comes to the store to see him, and that they met before. When he can’t recall, she tells him it was a momentary exchange five years ago. She’s harbored a crush on him ever since, but considers all relationships “illusions” anyway.


After getting a frank but salient lecture from an amateur punk rocker co-worker (of all people!) about being so self-deprecating and keeping the stakes of his life so low as to avoid getting hurt. Rikuo knows that while he can’t lose anything going through life like that, he can’t gain anything either. So he decides to breaks that pattern of behavior (for once) by meeting Shinako outside her house and confessing his feelings…and promptly gets shot down. Shinako just wants to be friends.

Rikuo urges himself to buck up—after all, he just did something he should have done before graduation—but still crashes his bike, and has himself a little weep in the pile of garbage bags that broke his cushioned his fall. The next day he reports having “closed the book on an illusion”, lamenting that while he attempted a “personal transformation”, it didn’t get him anywhere.

Haru can relate. As she talks about how she lives her life he realizes they’re alike; self-professed “social outcasts” who tell lies to escape hurt. In meeting Rikuo, Haru suddenly wanted to be liked, though now that she’s aware of his feelings for Shinako perhaps that’s no longer a viable escape. Even so, Rikuo snaps a photo of her for his co-worker’s album cover, and Haru beams at the camera.

Yesterday wo Utatte’s a wonderful realistic portrait of grown-ups looking at what they should do and not. Its detailed, lived-in atmosphere draws you in and envelops you. It can be melancholy and brooding at times—okay, most of the time—but that’s balanced by moments of brightness and warmth like that smile that closes out the episode. Haru calls it “basic” but it wasn’t 100% insincere.

After years of losing nothing, Rikuo and Haru have gained something valuable: a new friendship and understanding. Will they be able to give each other the courage to move forward, or at least pick a direction and go, or just hurt each other more than they already are? I’m eager to see how this shakes out.

ID: INVADED – 04 – Hiding a Leaf in the Forest

We begin with one of the worst things that can be done to a person: high schooler Kikuchi Keiko has been buried alive. She is the seventh such victim of the “Graverobber”, and is aware of the past victims because like her, they were all livesteamed on the internet to a morbidly fascinated audience. Once again, the police are fighting against a ticking clock to prevent a seventh death.

Worse still, their most reliable “pilot” drove another criminal to suicide simply by talking to him about the furthest reaches of their psyche, which of course he saw when in their Id Wells. He’s in solitary while they try to use the Perforater as a substitute pilot, but his survival rate is too low to make any progress. It has to be Narihisago. He’s the best they’ve got.

And yet, even the Brilliant Detective Sakaido finds that the Id Well they were able to create from the perp’s cognition particles has a high level of difficulty. He’s trapped in a massive, undulating apartment block that is currently on fire and full of burnt corpses.

The stange thing is, he finds a burnt-to-death Kaeru above the flames, suggesting they weren’t the flames that killed her. He spots a ten-year-old Keiko on the other side of a huge gap between blocks, and wants to rescue her, but solving Kaeru’s murder must come first if they’re to find the real life Keiko.

As Narihisago is killed and re-injected again and again into the Well, he gets more exhausted and makes mistakes. Momoki decides to give him a break, but neither he nor his colleagues are interested in taking a break themselves, even if it means staying up two straight days. There’s a girl buried somewhere who is slowly running out of air. Rest can come once they find her.

This episode has an air of urgency and desperation that surpasses the previous episodes (with the possible exception of the one in which Hondomachi was kidnapped). And even though Narihisago is a murderer who has driven five other inmates to suicide while in captivity, the officers still end up rooting for him to survive and “win” in the Id Well, because if he wins, they win.

Sakaido finally makes it to the other side and climbs up to the unburnt apartment where the young Keiko is waiting. She even says something that helps Sakaido crack the case wide open. Kaeru wasn’t killed, i.e. Keiko wasn’t buried by the Graverobber at all, but by a copycat.

Young Keiko even points out by name the “failure” of a man responsible, and the police move quickly to locate and apprehend him (it comes down to the pattern of the rug under Kaeru’s corpse matching the one in the suspect’s lair, under which Keiko is sealed in an airtight barrel.

Alas, the livestream was never live to begin with, but a recording that gave the police a false sense that they still had time. In reality, Keiko has been dead of asphyxiation for nearly a week. After working so hard to find her, it’s a gut punch for all involved, including Sakaido once he hears the bad news from Momoki.

Pulling the rug out from beneath our feet, we the audience are similarly frustrated and that much more angered at the creature of a man that is the copycat Graverobber, not to mention the still-at-large Graverobber himself. The case wasn’t solved in this episode, but it did make the case for why, having spent time in their psyches, a once-righteous detective like Narihisago could develop sudden impulse to kill the suspects he helps capture.

Because of this, he’s not even sure he can call himself a person anymore, but Momoki assures him he is. And when Momoki asks if Narihisago still considers him a friend (they were once partners on the force), Narihisago tells him that friendship one of the only things he has left tethering him to reason.

Being dumped into the minds of depraved criminals is enough to drive anyone from reason, but somehow Narihisago has endured. He’ll have to continue to endure as the cops try to find leads to the real Graverobber’s whereabouts. The newly recovered Hondomachi may have found the first such clue in Kazuta Haruka, a missing person and one of the Perforator’s victims.

Vinland Saga – 23 – Adrift At Sea

Following the thorough and decisive physical and emotional ownage cast upon him by Askeladd, Thorfinn is quite literally lost. Limping through the mud, his arm searing with pain and the blood still on his face, he can’t be bothered to do much of anything, aside from engage in a bit of street brawling and get arrested and thrown in jail.

Canute, meanwhile, begins the intricate dance of death with his father Sweyn at the council of elders. The king embraces his son and thanks the gods for returning him and Thorkell, then appoints Canute to rule the fertile and prosperous lands of Mercia, hard won by his leal service. To Askeladd’s eyes, everything is going as he had foreseen…right up until it doesn’t.

While the king is playing nice, he adds a caveat that, intentionally or not, changes the game completely: announcing his intention to open up a new front against Wales in the Spring. This leaves Askeladd scrambling to think of a counter-move that will still net Canute the crown without setting his beloved homeland ablaze. He doesn’t come up with one here, indicating he underestimated the king’s wits. And Floki definitely notices Askeladd going pale (as Ash!) upon hearing Wales.


As for Thorfinn, he’s probably where he should be considering how he’s basically squandered the last eleven years of his life on a meaningless, self-defeating, futile quest for revenge. Leif Erikson hears he’s been locked up, and visits the jail to try to snap him out of this profound slump, first by considering it a matter of personal honor to return Thorfinn to Iceland.

That doesn’t go over so well, so Leif offers him something else: The New World: Vinland. Perhaps there, Thorfinn can gain a new, more fulfilling purpose. To his credit, Thorfinn sits up and doesn’t immediately dismiss the offer. Here’s hoping he takes it, especially if things with Askeladd turn sideways.

Vinland Saga – 22 – How to Kill Someone You Hate

Before the latest Thorfinn-Askeladd duel, Thorkell asks Prince Canute who he wants to win, as it who he’d bet money on. Canute doesn’t care who wins. His only task is to stop the duel before someone dies. Ever the King-in-waiting, Canute, looking further out than anyone. The prince then puts the question to Thorkell, who says he’s got Askeladd in this one. When asked why, particularly when Thorfinn beat him, Thorkell goes in real close, and again Canute shows how much he’s matured by not flinching.

Why Askeladd? “Just a feeling. It’s his aura.” Thorkell isn’t kidding. Askleadd just mercy-killed his only friend not a minute ago, and Bjorn’s body is still warm when the duel with Thorfinn takes place. Only it’s not much of a duel. As much of an age advantage Finn might have, he’s missing a fully-functioning arm, and he’s so angry and obsessed with finally cutting his father’s murderer’s throat, he’s rendered an absolute joke of a fighter.

Askeladd, as “in the zone” as a warrior can be, tosses his sword away, so confident he can put Thorfinn down with his bare hands. And he does. Thorkell is disappointed. But Askeladd is fed up with Thorfinn, and moves to deliver a killing blow, seemingly stopped only by a direct order from Canute.

From there, Askeladd declares Thorfinn an exhausting, unrepentant idiot, because he fights like an idiot, both by going into the duel injured, letting his temper get the best of him, and letting his win over Thorkell inflate his opinion of himself. So Askeladd has a seat on the remnant of what could be a Roman wall, and gives his life story, in hopes of teaching the boy “how to kill someone you hate”.

Thorfinn and Askeladd are alike in many ways, but while they both had frail mothers, their childhoods were vastly different. Thorfinn lived in a comfortable, cozy, loving, free family; Askeladd’s mother was a slave his father Olaf raped, and Olaf didn’t bother even naming his bastard children. At age eleven, Askeladd (so named because of his propensity for being covered in ash and soot) had to keep his mother alive as well as himself.

Despite their dire situation, he and his mother were descendants of Artorius, and she never stopped believing that one day he would return from paradise and free his people from bondage and despair. But one day, when his mother snapped and recklessly approached Olaf in the streets, and Olaf raised his sword to kill her, Askeladd knew: Artorius would never return.

That meant someone else—not a hero or a god, just a person—had to save his mother, and himself. For Askeladd, that person was him. Despite having never been trained in swordsmanship, he picked up a blade and used it, putting up a decent fight against Olaf and finally gaining his attention. Far from angry this child attacked him, Olaf sees potential in young Ash, and brings him into his hall.

For two years, Askeladd was trained by his father and half-brothers in both bow and blade, and became someone trusted, accepted and adored by all. Then, one night, the 13-year-old Askeladd made his move, plunging a sword into his father’s throat and killing the only witness, a woman sharing his bed. The sword belonged to the black sheep of the legitimate brothers, and so the murder was pinned on him, not Askeladd.

Olaf’s guard was down, and Askeladd had already determined a path to inheriting his property. Then and only then he struck, with all the certainty his poor mother had that Artorius would come. His people waited 50o years for their hero to arrive, and in the meantime suffered and stagnated. Askeladd only waited two years, until the time he knew he could kill the one he hated.

It’s a masterful story, masterfully told by Askeladd’s seiyu Uchida Naoya, who deserves all the awards.

It’s a stark contrast to Thorfinn, who has been trying to kill Askeladd since the moments after his father died, believing that somehow losing his temper, shouting loudly, and waving his sword around could lead to victory. In this way, Vinland Saga subverts the shounen formula of prevailing by doing all three of those things! His belief that victory will eventually come has been just as futile as Askeladd’s mother’s dream of Artorius’ return.

While it took Askeladd only two years to kill Olaf, it’s been ten years for Thorfinn, and he’s no closer to killing Askeladd. If anything, he’s less likely to do so now that he’s endured so many injuries in battle. He cannot contest Askeladd’s assertion that he’s an idiot, because Askeladd had an objectively worse past and achieved his revenge in less than a fifth of the time it’s taking Finn.

Askeladd’s final barbs before carrying Bjorn away to be buried, about Thorfinn being no better than a dog chasing after food and being “useful” since it’s so easy to “pay” him with these occasional duels he’ll never win, rankles Thorfinn anew, but he can barely stand, and Canute has to prop him up and insist he let his wounds heal before trying again.

Canute also asks Askeladd why he doesn’t just seek the throne himself, Askeladd laughs. Canute is far more suited to being king than either Askeladd or Sweyn. Askeladd considers himself “just a Viking.” If Vikings are anything, they’re decisive, and act to further their interestrs? Had he followed his mother’s path of simply waiting for a hero who will never come, he’d have died long ago.

To be alive today to teach whippersnappers valuable lessons, he became what he hated. Kingship is out of the question.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 06 – Riddled with Thorns

When asked about his experience with the star sand, Yuito mentions the same somewhat crazed-looking golden fish Hitomi has seen leaping in and out of his tablet. Turns out the fish was from one of his earliest drawings, one that won him an award in grade school. Shou shows Hitomi the photo to confirm it’s the same fish.

Speaking of grade school, Asagi moves the needle forward a smidge by chiding Shou when he pats her head, insisting she isn’t in grade school anymore. I’m not sure Shou gets the message—or if he’ll ever get any message—but at least Asagi is smiling as she storms off, and the two are fine the next day.

That next day Kurumi takes the club to a photo shoot where they can wear period clothing, resulting in some lovely shots of various combinations of club members…perhaps none cuter than those of Hitomi and Yuito.

After they change out of the costumes, Hitomi spots Yuito off by himself drawing…or at least struggling to draw. The golden fish leaps out once again, then swims toward Hitomi, surrounding her with a curtain of colored petals.

Hitomi has, without realizing it, used her magic to enter Yuito’s drawing. It goes from vivid to austere to dark and foreboding, and finally Hitomi sees a black shadow figure chasing the fish, which itself appears dead or dying as the scene darkens and the colors grow muddy.

Hitomi “wakes up”, back in the real world, to a worried Yuito, but when she tries to get him to open up more about the content of his drawings, he snaps at her, accusing her of basically being a busybody mage. Yuito is not the kind of guy who’ll easily share things about himself, and by essentially invading his psyche by way of his art, Hitomi has simply tried to get too close too fast.

Again, none of this was her intention, but that night she is comforted by Kohaku, who references the Hedgehog’s dilemma where Yuito is concerned, offering her sage granny advice over hot drinks. “Precious things are riddled with thorns”, and finding the right distance from, and pressure upon, those thorns is simply a matter of time and experience.

The next day Kurumi shows everyone (sans Yuito) the results of their shoot, but her favorites are the candid shots were taken after Yuito stormed off. Everyone looks awkward, uncomfortable, or just plain sad, and as Kurumi says, the images “suck”.

But just as Kohaku tells Hitomi it’s usually better have someone angry at you than be ignored, Kurumi thinks typical smiles can get boring fast. Adding her voice to Kohaku’s advice, she also tells Hitomi that giving bonds “a good whack” ultimately makes them stronger.

I think that’s true where all relationships are concerned. There’s room for time and space apart, but too much of that and you don’t really have a relationship, do you? Better to confront each other with your problems, hash it out, and move on, rather than let things fester within ones’ head.

That night Yuito goes to his friend (mentor) Asakawa Sanami’s exhibition of drawings, no doubt to find some inspiration and ask her why she draws. Sanami says that while she’ll probably always be worried about her future, all she can do is keep drawing because she likes it. And she clearly likes sharing her work, as evidenced by the care, consideration, and gratitude she shows to all who showed up to view it, including Yuito.

Yuito is sorry he snapped at Hitomi, and knows he was wrong; while his hedgehog’s thorns had stuck out in that moment, he’s willing to smooth them down a bit. He gets a kick in the pants when Hitomi and Kohaku arrive at the gallery just as he and Sanami are saying their good-byes; it looks for all the world to Hitomi like he’s simply into another girl, and she bolts.

Of course, that’s not the case, and Yuito chases after Hitomi (both of them thankfully avoid the crazy deadly traffic anime are known for). He promises he’ll draw something, taking Sanami’s own strategy to heart (just keep drawing), and when that new drawing is complete, he’ll let her see it. Not so she can counsel or analyze him, but so they can draw just a little bit closer.

Yuito’s words move Hitomi, to the point that while on the trolley home, her raw but abundant magic conjures the golden fish, alive and well, and the fish proceeds to restore color to her world. She returns home shocked and soaked, and informs her granny. It’s sure looking like the “color” that was once absent in her world, and has now suddenly come roaring back, signifies…well, love.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 05 – Accept Any Challenge

“A rival will appear, and his feelings will drift somewhere far away.” That is the always entrepreneurial Kohaku telling fellow club member Kazano Asagi her sobering romantic fortune. In a way, it’s something Asagi has already suspected now that Hitomi has arrived.

Shou has started to take an interest in Hitomi, whose personal story and magic skills make up for her lack of charisma. But he already has an admirer in Asagi, who is more introverted and mousy than even Hitomi. Predictably, Shou has no idea Asagi likes him.

As for Hitomi, she’s not interested in Shou, but Yuito, the one whose drawings enable her to see color. Would she be trying to do something for Shou and not Yuito if it was Shou’s photos that made her see color? Perhaps. But regardless, Hitomi now has motivation to improve her magic so she can make Shou happy. If she can do that, then he’ll draw more, and she’ll see more colors.

Not that I mean for this all to sound so transactional—all other considerations aside Yuito is a better match for Hitomi. Speaking of transactions, Hitomi must mind the magic shop while Kohaku and her mother are off on an errand. When a customer asks for a star sand by color, Hitomi is glad that there are also numbers associated with them.

Yuito also happens to pay a visit to the shop, seeking a gift for a friend having an exhibition. He makes a spontaneous request for something that might help his “drawer’s block”; Hitomi can’t find anything, but promises to research it. Kohaku later encourages her granddaughter to make her own star sand for him.

Shou gets some alone time with Hitomi, but he’s more senpai-y than overtly flirty; showing her around the dark room, then asking if he can watch her practice her magic. Back home, Hitomi takes her granny’s “accept any challenge” mantra to heart, having batch after batch of sand blow up in her face until she finally achieves success.

The next day the club has a potluck at the magic shop, and Asagi is the first to arrive and greet Hitomi. While Hitomi was working hard on her sand for Yuito, Asagi baked some very impressive (and cute!) rabbit cookies. Asagi opens up about how she and Shou are childhood friends, and how he always took her by the arm and led her around, where she’d naturally default to something much more introverted.

The rest of the group arrives at the potluck, and before long, Hitomi is in the shop, preparing the gift of star sand for Yuito. Kohaku makes up an excuse for the two to go off to the store together, and on the way back it’s Yuito who brings them to the perfect spot to present her gift to him.

He seems genuinely touched that she’d go out of her way to make something just for him, especially when there are moments he looks like the always-friendly Shou is taking opportunities that should be his (like, say, showing her how to use the O’Free machine).

The scene is also patently gorgeous, as they’re perched atop the highest point around overlooking the water that shimmers in the setting sun. Color or no, even Hitomi knows how beautiful it is, and their collective happiness at having shared a moment together there is reflected in their surroundings.

Things get a little awkward back at the potluck, with Shou blockheadedly suggesting Asagi should be more aware proactive, with Asagi curtly responding by asking if she should be “like Hitomi” before excusing herself. Kohaku’s fortune, it would seem, has come true, but as Kohaku tells Asagi,  the future is made by the choices one makes, not the fortunes one receives, which are no more than hints and possibilities.

Kohaku shows Asagi how much failure Hitomi had to weather before getting her star sand right, and Asagi resolves to do her best from now on, and expresses her desire to change. I honestly hadn’t noticed Ichinose Kana (Ichigo from FranXX) voices Asagi, but now that I do, I’m immediately more interested in what she has to say, because Ichinose always says it so well!

Asagi makes up with Shou, asking if he’ll help her make some rabbit postcards; he heartily agrees, showing Asagi that she indeed controls her destiny. As for Hitomi’s gift, Yuito uses it before bed, and it conjures a planetarium of stars that surrounds him, followed by a golden fish of his drawings, which the dives into his tablet.

Will the enchanting experience reignite Yuito’s ability to draw…or will it have the opposite effect? Considering how well things went for both him and Hitomi, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter, but I would be intrigued to see how such a predicament might be resolved.

Darling in the FranXX – 03

All of the ten parasites of Plantation 13 grew up together as “hatchlings”, and they all gravitated towards 016, Hiro, who gave all of them names, including 015/Ichigo.

They all had high hopes for him leading them, but it didn’t happen. After their catastrophic mock battle, the interaction between Ichigo and Hiro is understandably awkward.

Gorou has always understood and accepted how close Ichigo is to Hiro; they’re both in the -teen numbers, which basically makes them brother and sister. But nothing is more important to Hiro than being useful, which means if he can only pilot with Zero Two, so be it.

Of course, that’s not his call, or Two’s. As the undermining of Ichigo’s authority as leader proceeds apace, led by Mitsuru, who thinks it’s time to cut their losses on the now-pathetic Hiro, Two watches Hiro feverishly train, and falls asleep waiting for him to finish.

She embraces him so he can get through a security wall, and Two shows him the glittering inner city, not because she thinks it’s beautiful or romantic, but because it’s ugly, boring, and depressing. She can’t stand it in there, with no sky and no sea.

She’s thinking about getting away, and wouldn’t mind her Darling coming with her. She laughs it off as a joke, but one must wonder…

The active parasites, meanwhile, are assigned their first sortie against a klaxosaur, but things immediately go wrong. Ikuno cannot connect with Mitsuru (and the hubristic Mitsuru blames her without mercy), and the one klaxosaur turns into a lot more, and Miku gets knocked out, leaving just two FranXXs to deal with the threat. They may have passed trials Hiro could not, but they’re still green-as-hell rookies.

When things turn dire, Zero Two demands to sortie, with her Darling Hiro. The adults adhere to the rules and won’t allow it, as Hiro is not an official parasite. Mitsuru offers an alternative: he’ll be Zero Two’s Stamen. Two asks Hiro if he’s sure he wants her to pilot Strelizia without him; Hiro definitely isn’t happy about it, but insists nevertheless; it’s more important to save the others.

When Ichigo hears Strelizia is sortieing, she loses composure just long enough to allow the Klaxosaurs to break through a barrier and surround them, making the situation a lot worse.

Knowing Hiro might be in there with Zero, kissing, is just too much to bear, and even if she knows she must if she wants to be a parasite and a leader, she can’t control those feelings or how they affect operation of Delphinium.

Strelizia swoops in, and when the other parasites hear Mitsuru’s voice, they’re shocked. Mitsuruimmediately becomes drunk on power, further dragging his partner Ikuno’s name in the mud expressing his amazement at himself and his elation he wasn’t the reason things weren’t working out.

However, when Strelizia returns after Zero Two went “all out”, Mitsuru is barely alive, and Zero Two is unimpressed. As far as she’s concerned, she only has one Darling, and it’s Hiro.

Darling in the FranXX running into problems and having to deal with periods of helplessness or instances of failure, but I do hope Hiro is able to prove himself once again and isn’t useless or a failure. Otherwise, he’s a reverse Gary Stu; an Anti-Inaho.

Some more balance would be nice. It’s confirmed by the adults that no one has fared better than him as Zero Two’s partner. So lets get these two back in a pilot so they can contribute. I’d just like to see a win soon, however small.