Fruits Basket – 25 (First Season Fin) – Fighting Their Way Forward

Kyou quickly came to love Kazuma not just as a foster parent or guardian or shishou, but as a father, but because of the stigma carried by his status as the Cat, he always felt he didn’t have the right to call him one. Kazuma took Kyou in in part as an act of penance after even he treated his kind grandfather with cruelty and revulsion, only to be forgiven with a smile.

Then Kazuma began to love Kyou like a son, but found himself never quite able to say so. Matters weren’t helped when Kyou would forcefully insist he was no son of his when he (often) got into trouble. Kazuma also feels it would be too selfish to continue to see Kyou as a son after forcing him to reveal his true form to Tooru, so he leaves without saying goodbye.

But Kyou is glad what happened last week happened, and it could not have happened without Kazuma…or Tooru. After years of sparring with his shishou, the two finally connect on an emotional level and acknowledge that they are, in every way that matters, father and son. Tooru is the bridge that makes that possible…and in a neat touch, that connection happens on a bridge!

While everything is peaches in Kyou-land, and he is committed to becoming more independent and tempering his fiery nature when needed, the rancor between him and Yuki has not ceased. Judging from Yuki’s body language, part of that may be due to Kyou’s recent “monopolization” of Tooru.

In this regard he’s going through something similar to Saki, who had to fight back the notion of Tooru spending less time with her and more with the Souma’s as something bad, since constant possession isn’t love. Heck, Kagura is experiencing the same thing, only with Kyou.

While Tooru’s attention—and her heart—is split among many different parties, she’s not alone in worrying about Yuki. Haruhatsu, one of the more emotionally intelligent Soumas, also notices something’s off, and so makes sure to remind Yuki that just because Tooru’s been busy with Kyou of late doesn’t mean she’s forgotten about him or worries about him any less.

Yuki then seeks Tooru out on the stairs, thanks her for her continued worrying, and commits to spend more time outside doing things with people this summer…and with Tooru in particular, even breaking out a modified wall slam in semi-jest!

It’s clear the second season will likely involve the continued push-pull of Tooru between Yuki and Kyou, but both have become categorically better people with her in their world, so it’s all good in the Soumahood.

While the show makes it clear that it will be far from smooth sailing all the time in the second season, those hoping for the first season to end on a hopeful positive note can breathe a sigh of relief. One after another Soumas gather at Shigure’s for a big celebratory meal with Tooru; the only major players missing being the two yet-to-be-introduced Zodiac animals, and Shigure, who is meeting with Akito.

Before joining the others, Hiro meets with Rin, perhaps one of those two  animals, while the other could be the faceless guy with the faceless female friend who spots Yuki at school. But there’s no devastating cliffhanger that upends everyone’s lives or threatens Tooru’s marvelous little world.

Instead, she’s looking forward to a fun-filled Summer with everyone. I hope, after all she and the Soumas have been through, they’ll be allowed at least some of such a Summer before the next storm(s) arrive. With quite a bit of source material yet to be adapted, we can reasonably expect plenty more of this wonderful show well into 2020 and beyond. I can’t wait!

Fruits Basket – 24 – The Rosary

When Kyou’s mother committed suicide, everyone blamed him because he was cursed with the Cat spirit; everyone but Souma Kazuma, who took him under his wing and trained him without judgment. It was Kazuma’s grandfather, after all, who carried the spirit before Kyou, so even though he himself didn’t know what it was like, he was close to someone that did, and had empathy for them both.

Now Kazuma is back, and while he doesn’t show it around the others, Kyou is elated. He assumes he’s to go back to living with his shishou and continue his training. But Kazuma is there for something else. He’s seen Kyou with Tooru, and believes it’s time to tell her the truth about what Kyou is, even if Kyou would prefer to keep running away from that truth.

Kazuma doesn’t see much point in dragging things out. After informing Tooru, he takes Kyou’s arm and removes the rosary of red and white beads that never leaves his arm. Once it’s off, his true form is revealed, and it’s a truly terrifying, monstrous form with a smell to match. Throughout the transformation, Kyou recalls how Akito reacted (how you’d expect Akito to react—with utter disgust and rejection).

He expects the same reaction from Tooru, and while she’s initially frozen in shock, and later nauseous from the sight and smell of him, she still dutifully chases after him, completely forgetting that she just got over a cold!

Assuming she’s only there to have pity on him and offer hollow comfort, both things he’s sick to death of, he tosses her aside, hoping to hurt her enough so she’ll never forgive him. This strategy fails, of course, because we’re talking about Tooru here.

Kyou is weary of Tooru’s comfort (the “lukewarm bath” in which he’d gotten too pruny) because that’s what he got from his late mother: she gave him the rosary, checked his arm dozens of times a day to make sure he was wearing it, and wouldn’t let him outside. He could never trust or accept the love she insisted she had for him because she worked so tirelessly to hide his true form, sweeping it under the rug like it didn’t exist.

Even though his mother told him all the time that she’d die for him, that wasn’t what Kyou needed, or needs. What he needs, and what Tooru ultimately provides, is not an assurance she’ll die for him, but that she’ll live life with him. She doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she won’t look away or turn away from him, even in his true form.

Tooru fears Kyou never returning to Shigure’s house more than the reality of his true form, so she takes hold of his misshapen limb and doesn’t let go, until he transforms back into human form, and then into his cute Zodiac cat form, and they return to the house together triumphant and to Kazuma’s relief.

In this regard, Tooru has emerged as his new proverbial rosary; one that doesn’t hide what he is but accepts it and is committed to living with him anyway. And however dark the future gets, he’s able to move past his dark past because she’ll be right there facing that future beside him.

Fruits Basket – 23 – Back to Basics

After episodes introducing various new Soumas and episodes that delved into the pasts of Arisa and Saki, this week’s Fruits Basket refocuses on the core of Tooru, Kyou and Yuki and the imperfect but effective dynamic between them that makes this whole thing work so well.

As we know, Tooru has a bit of a complex when it comes to valuing herself, and setbacks like failing a test Yuki helped her study for only acts as a catalyst for her self-loathing, as she repeatedly calls herself a “disgrace.” Then she catches a cold, only adding fuel to that fire.

Once the Soumas finally get her to lie down and rest—the only way she’ll get better—Kyou prepares rice porridge for her unbidden, and provides an open ear who’ll listen to her troubles. Turns out she’s worried about breaking her promise to her mom to graduate high school.

Kyou tells her not to sweat it—she can take makeups—nor to worry about putting Yuki out—he’s happy to help her and provides more notes. Ultimately, Kyou just wants her to feel better so she can get back to being the bright, cheerful, dottering Tooru they all know and love.

Kyou manages to cheer her up, and thanks to Yuki’s notes, she passes the makeup tests. While walking home in the rain (which makes Kyou uncharacteristically sluggish) the camera cuts to an unfamiliar figure whose face is obscured by an old-fashioned umbrella.

But the real storm is back home, where Kagura is lying in wait to see Kyou. Shigure manages to get the two out of the house to buy groceries with a minimum of property damage, which he bills to Kyou and Kagura’s bank accounts. Tooru learning that all the Soumas have these interconnected accounts reminds her how much she has yet to learn about them.

We’ve seen Kyou and Kagura “interact” (read:brawl) before, but never in a public place, where Kagura mentions “that thing” he hasn’t yet told Tooru, and he erupts at her without regard to the fact they’re in the middle of a crowded supermarket.

Kagura may be overbearing and clingy but you’d think Kyou would learn that being an ass to her won’t make her stop loving him, so he might as well make the best of the situation. He has his moments, as when he agrees to hold hands home, but alas, only half of the way.

Tooru’s weathered old ballcap and Kyou’s secret are enticing callbacks issues lingering under an otherwise pleasant slice-of-life outing, and one more wrinkle is added at the very end when Kyou encounters the umbrella guy at the front door, and refers to him as Shishou, indicating this is the man who trained him in martial arts.

I wonder what he wants with just two episodes left in the season?

Fruits Basket – 22 – An Answered Prayer

Or: Why Kids Are Total and Complete Trash, Volume #3,692

Present-day Hanejima Saki’s “Waves” aren’t just a rumor about her, or some kind of occult quality she happens to believe in. They are an actual power, like ESP. I shouldn’t be surprised—this is a world where people turn into adorable animals when hugged by the opposite sex—and seeing how much a younger Saki suffered from the inability to control those powers really puts the person she now is into perspective.

But here’s the thing: she didn’t become a different person. She’s always been the same person: quiet, kind and gentle, and loyal to those who love her. Her problem in the past was, she feared her powers, and when human laws couldn’t be employed against her, she decided that whatever horrible bullying she received was punishment she was due.

Kids bullied the hell out of Saki, and it wasn’t until two shitty boys were holding her down to make her eat a live newt that she finally thought I want this boy to die that her ability had a physical effect, knocking the kid out for hours.

While its understandable for her to fear her power and even hate herself for it, that position totally ignores the fact that the little shit instigated things, and bears most of the responsibility. If he’d simply treated her with kindness, he wouldn’t have been hurt.

This week we also learn the extent to which Hanejima’s family loves her. It would be all too realistic for her mom and dad to one day reach their breaking point, but that never happens, and their love, protection, and desire for her to be happy never fades for an instant, even when she starts considering herself nothing but a burden to be discarded.

When the environment at school gets too bad—she has to sit and be burned and fight with everything she’s got not to fight back lest she hurt her bullies—the entire family moves, and urge her not to give up. Her devoted little brother Megumi wears all black in solidarity, and prays that one day someone will come who will love Saki as he does and end her crushing loneliness.

That day comes at her new school, where there’s no black in the uniforms, so she paints her nails black as a “mark of sin”, that original sin of harming the boy that she’ll never forget or forgive herself for. While in line for lunch, Honda Tooru chats her up. Little does Saki know that Megumi’s prayer has been answered in the form of this odd, ditzy, extremely polite and upbeat girl.

Of course, back then Tooru and Arisa were already hella tight, so they invite Saki to lunch with them, and won’t hear any objections based on her low self-worth. They make it clear to her that no matter how strange she may think herself to be, they’re just as strange, and welcome her company.

For the first time, a peer tells Saki “see you tomorrow,” and to her delight, they say “good morning” to her the next day, another first. As much as Saki tries to stick with her M.O. of staying away from people, she finds herself with Tooru and Arisa all the time, until even the once-oppressive sun seems to take on a gentler color.

All her progress with her new friends is suddenly threatened when two classmates ask her about her old school, having heard nasty rumors. But while Saki isn’t the one who burned a girl’s arm, she does own up to almost killing that boy, and for that reason, she believes Tooru and Arisa should distance themselves from her before they get hurt.

Needless to say, Tooru and Arisa..don’t do that. Not two minutes go by after Saki flees that Tooru catches up and declares that no matter what she does or doesn’t know about Saki, she loves her, and doesn’t want to stay away. Arisa joins them and asks simply: Does Saki want them to stay away? Of course, she doesn’t, and so they won’t.

The rest is history! In time, and probably in large part to emotional support not just from her family and two BFFs, Saki learns how to control her power, and the voices vanish. Now, as we know, she only uses it “a bit” to teach shitty people a lesson, but isn’t in any more danger of losing control.

But even if she’s more or less cured from a malady that was as life-debilitating as it was mysterious, she still wears all black, as it keeps her calm, while Megumi keeps wearing black for the same reason. His prayer was answered, but more importantly, Saki never gave up.

Astra Lost in Space – 06 – U for Vendetta

Each mortal threat the young crew of the Astra has faced falls into one of two main categories: threats from without—be they the perils of space or the planets they visit—and threats from within—i.e., the unknown enemy among them who sabotaged their comms and is believed to be on a suicide mission to wipe the rest of them out.

Last week’s cliffhanger of Ulgar pulling a gun on Luca fits in the first category, but not at all the way I expected. Perhaps I was too naive to so quickly conclude Ulgar was the aforementioned enemy, because he isn’t: his quarrel is personal and is with Luca alone—or rather, with the Esposito political family of whom Luca is the eldest son and heir.

During a long monologue with flashbacks to his past that rather kill the momentum and urgency of the standoff, Ulgar tells everyone about his belief that Luca’s father killed his brother, a freelance journalist and the only person in Ulgar’s family who was actually kind to him. Killing Luca is about revenge; about getting Luca’s dad to feel how Ulgar felt when he lost his brother.

There are multiple problems with Ulgar’s position, not least of which the complete lack of evidence that Marco Esposito had anything to do with his brother’s death. But Luca also tells him that killing him won’t change anything, because he’s not the heir; his younger brother is. When Ulgar accuses him of lying to save his skin, Luca disrobes and reveals that he’s intersex.

As the member of a family that values strong male heirs above all, as soon as Luca’s younger brother was born and the truth of his intersexuality was discovered, he became persona non grata, and his brother was named the heir instead. So Luca knows all too well Ulgar’s pain and isolation. Hell, he probably knows it much better than Ulgar. Luca wishes that killing him would make his dad sad. With that, Ulgar drops the gun and the standoff ends.

Naturally, this being Kanata no Astra, it isn’t one minute after one threat is extinguished than another arrives, of the external variety: a massive tsunami that may or may not be an homage to the famous giant wave scene in Interstellar.

Everyone rushes aboard, but Ulgar and Luca are furthest from the ship, and Kanata isn’t able to grab them when the wave arrives. Still, the fact the three of them survived at all indicates the wave was not as huge as it initially looked, even though it appears to swallow up the entire sandbar on which the Astra had landed.

Despite Ulgar having just pointed a gun at him, Luca doesn’t hesitate to extend a helping hand to him, now that he’s confirmed through telling him more about himself that the two are more alike than different and actually friends whether Ulgar knew it or not. But Ulgar lets go rather than let Luca use the last of his strength trying to save them both.

Fortunately, Ulgar’s sacrificial move doesn’t end up costing him his life, as Kanata is lowered down to the water’s surface via bungee cord. With no further earthquakes or tsunamis, Ulgar, Luca, and the rest of the crew are safe and sound.

Ulgar apologizes to Luca and the rest of the crew, and Luca even teases him a bit by acting a little more feminine. Ulgar (rather abruptly) decides that he’s decided to become a journalist like his brother, perhaps a path that had up to that point obscured by his blind desire for revenge. He’s going to find the truth about Marco Esposito. Zack, for one, wonders if it wasn’t simple political corruption Ulgar’s bro found, but something much bigger … maybe even something worth sending them all into space.

Having weathered one big internal and one big external threat, you’d think the crew could enjoy the rest of the episode in peace without further problems, but alas. Since it’s feeling more likely to Aries that Kanata is far too dumb to realize she likes him, she decides to learn more about Charce, and asks a seemingly harmless question about what classes he was in. Charce says he was in biology, but Aries was in that class too; if Charce was in it, she’d remember, what with her photographic memory.

So the episode ends with the prospect of Charce being the enemy. But after what happened with Ulgar, such possibility should be taken with a sizable grain of salt (that is, won’t get fooled again). For one, would someone who’s so carefully blended in make so blatant an error as saying he was in a class he wasn’t actually in? Maybe Aries’ memory is messed up. Maybe Charce is being framed somehow. Heck, even Aries could be the damn enemy. So we’ll see.

Astra Lost in Space – 05 – The Kids Are Alright…Right??

Even after last week’s harrowing ordeal, the crew is not yet ready to pack up and leave Shummoor—not until they’ve gathered enough food. Thanks to a successful hunch from Charce, they learn that the pole trees, once their nemesis, are actually the yummiest food on the planet, and with the stores filled, the Astra departs from Planet #2.

The crew are also grateful to Yunhua, whose voice had both physical and psychological healing effects for all who were poisoned. That gratitude quickly shifts to straight-up admiration when they learn she’s the daughter of the superstar singer Lucy Lum. She then enlists Luca to give her a haircut, and Quitterie bristles as all the guys swoon.

Meanwhile, back home, Aries’ mom Emma listens to her daughter’s last video message to her, saying all is well—and probably isn’t watching it for the first time. It’s been over forty days since Team B5 was last seen on McPa, and Ulgar’s father has gathered all the other parents to decide whether to call off the search and declare their children permanently lost.

Emma is not ready to make that determination, and even correctly conjectures that the reason there’s neither remains nor luggage on McPa is because their kids are somewhere in space, still alive. But many of the parents are past the “denial” phase of loss (or don’t love their kids as much as her) and are ready to give up.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, many thousands of light years away, not only are their kids perfectly fine…they’re living it up on a tropical beach.

Planet #3 is Arispade – which is 99% water with one tiny islet that features a wealth of food and a sugar-white beach on which to break out and show off one’s swimsuit. It’s paradise. It’s so paradise, Quitterie almost loses it; after all they’ve been through, why are things suddenly so easy and comfortable that she can totally see herself living out the rest of her days on that beach?

Since this is, in fact, Kanata no Astra‘s beach episode, it wastes no time delivering the goods, as Quitterie insists on comparing boob sizes with Aries and Yunhua, and also assures Aries she’ll have no problem attracting Captain Kanata with her “spicy” bikini. The implication flusters Aries.

Back on the ship, there’s more good slice-of-life, with Quitterie pressing her attack upon Aries, urging her to go ask Kanata out, or at least find out if he already has a boyfriend. Aries actually musters the courage to ask him if he’s popular with girls (he says he’s popular with “all humans”) and then asks if he has a girlfriend (he says all girls are his friends). Neither Aries or Quitterie are happy with Kanata’s lame replies. Quitterie exacts swift punishment by sticking Kanata’s toothbrush up his nose; Aries goes to bed early; dejected.

Meanwhile, Luca thinks he’s making progress becoming friends with Ulgar, having fashioned a bow, arrow, and fishing poles for him to do what he apparently does best: shoot and hunt. Yet Ulgar remains aloof and hostile, and becomes…something else entirely when he learns that Luca’s last name is Esposito, and that he’s the son of a senator back home.

Ulgar’s reaction—like a switch had been flipped in his head, combined with the image of the gun we saw a couple weeks back, spell nothing but dread for the final scene of the episode, an otherwise placid sunset repast among the crew members, with only one person absent: Ulgar.

After waxing romantic about the time they have and how neither photos nor medically secured memories will ever adequately convey the emotions they’ve felt in the last fifty-or-so days, and Luca remarks that he doesn’t even believe there’s an enemy among them, that enemy finally reveals himself, and points his gun at Luca’s head, warning he’ll shoot if he moves.

And that my friends is how you go from a solid “8” episode that lacked any danger or difficulty for twenty-two minutes, to a solid “9” in the twenty-third. The good-old cliffhanger. It doesn’t even matter if the most likely of the crew to be the bad guy is the bad guy (unless he isn’t, and there are more twists afoot); that was marvelously done.

Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.

Carole & Tuesday – 13 – Army of Two Steps Back

I’m not sure why every episode of Carole & Tuesday needs to begin by reminding us about the “Miraculous Seven Minutes” that haven’t happened yet, as if we forgot. We get it: they’ll set it into motion! It will change Mars forever! Shut up about it, would ya?!

For now, all C&T get for not winning, but also not quite losing, Mars Brightest is a lot of notoriety, not all of it welcome. They muddle through talk shows and interviews, while Angela, owner of a new contract with a 20 million Woolong singing bonus, has already released her first single.

It features such stirring slogans as “breaking chains”, “keep moving”, “taking control”, “today’s a new day”, and “find my heaven,” collections of words no one has ever thought to put together before! New day, same crappy lyrics.

C&T’s new fame is earning them zero Woolongs but plenty of headaches. At a laundromat, Tuesday is surrounded by brusque gents, and is only saved further harassment by the intervention of a fellow clothes-washer who is probably Carole’s long-lost father (or at least, we’re supposed to wonder if that’s who he is).

When Gus and Dahlia cross paths, they’re all smiles and passive aggression, but Angela cuts through the crap: C&T better get their heads out of the clouds and start making hits soon, or else she’s going to leave them in the dust come Mars Grammy time. Heck, she’ll probably leave them in the dust anyway, but like Mars Brightest, she still wants a fair fight.

There’s nothing fair about the contract meeting at Brightest Records, the studio run by Catherine. As Tuesday’s suddenly very Trump-like mom starts talking about deporting illegal immigrants (which makes one ask the uncomfortable, what exactly is Carole’s official immigration status?) Gus rejects Cathy’s offer without consulting the girls, taking money out pockets and food out of their mouths without any guarantee of alternate sources of income.

Daddy Gus has simply decided, unilaterally, that C&T are going to be an indie group, selling their songs online to “boost their commercial value” and make their negotiating position better. And the girls just…allow it. It’s baffling; they’re just not developed enough as a group to be turning down reasonable offers; not when it’s really past time they started, you know, earning money to “live” and “eat”.

And don’t get me started on Gus dragging them to the rougher side of town to play an impromptu concert no one there asked for, all to lure out a “genius producer” who loves swinging a goddamned ax around. But hey, I guess it will all work out. Those Miraculous Seven Minutes are coming, or so they say! I just don’t know if I’m going to make it there…

Vinland Saga – 03 – It’ll Pull You In

Askeladd immediately shows both Floki and us what kind of dudes we’re dealing with, as he manages to double the bounty for Thors’ head from five to ten pounds of gold. Floki is a very shrewd man with good instincts, but he also has a solid right-hand-man in Bjorn, who spears a Jomsviking who was hiding behind a tapestry and passes it off as an innocent accident.

As for Thors, he doesn’t leave at the break of dawn, but is seen off by the whole village. Before they leave, all five of the young men he’s bringing along have designs on asking Ylva for her hand in marriage upon their return and presenting her with spoils of war; all Ylva wants is a little more shuteye.

When a young lass who likes Ari (one of the guys who tried to propose to Ylva) is cruelly rebuffed, Leif assures her none of the five greenhorn lads will come to any harm; Thors will see to it they’re dumped off in Norway before they see any battle, and Leif promises he’ll ship them back to Iceland, disappointed, but with their organs still very much internal.

Seemingly the only member of the village not seeing them off is Thorfinn, who is nowhere to be found and presumed by both Thors and Ylva to still be off skulking, angry about being scolded. We get a little more comedy when the five guys line up on one side of the boat, while Thors is on the other side all on his own with one hell of a huge oar. Leif bangs out the pace on the drum, and the ships are off.

It isn’t until they’re already out in the open sea that Thorfinn reveals he stowed away. While peeing over the side (he really needed to pee) he suddenly notices where he is, and his smile is so wide and bright, Thors can’t help but smile back, despite the fact his son just ruined his plans to try to keep him safe.

He later paints Finn’s back door red for his insolence (pretty tame discipline from a viking in the 11th century), as the gears turn in Askeladd’s head. He chats with Bjorn about the bounty deal not seeming quite right; he’s quite sure Floki reached out to them independently and his superior didn’t order Thors’ execution.

Askeladd also believes Floki is afraid of incurring a great loss of his own men, and so hired someone else. This tells Askeladd that this Thors fellow shouldn’t be a pushover, even if Floki says he’s “not a warrior” anymore.

As night falls, Thors warns Ari not to stare at the moon in the sea, lest it “pull him in,” a common nautical hazard. As Thorfinn dozes contently in his lap, Thors tells Ari more about his first child, the woman Ari says he’s in love with.

It was a difficult birth for Helga, the daughter of the leader of the Jomsvikings, but Thors was about to head out on another mission, and was annoyed he got a daughter instead of a son. He’s about to leave when Helga asks him to name her.

He says he’s “busy”, but Helga insists—the first time he ever saw her truly angry. So he named her Ylva, after his mother. And that, he tells Ari, was the first time he started to feel afraid of battle…which makes sense, as dying in battle meant abandoning his newborn child and wife to an uncertain future.

The next day they arrive at the Faroe Islands—the usual rest stop between Iceland and Scandinavia. They row into a cove that leads to a trading village, but the high walls immediately spell foreboding, and Leif notes that there are fewer structures in the village itself.

By the time they start rowing out of the cove, it’s to late—Askeladd’s men start dumping huge piles of debris onto their ships, blocking their only exit. Then another drum can be heard: the drum of Askeladd’s two ships rowing towards them.

Ari and the other men bristle and claim to be ready for battle, but Thors knows better; the boys will be no match for these hardened foes. So he takes a deep, “I’m getting too old for this shit” breath, pulls out his sword, and hands his dagger to Thorfinn, warning him only to use it in time of absolute need.

Before Askeladd’s men know it, Thors has leapt onto one of their ships. He takes out the first man with one punch, two others with two more, and then three with three; six skilled men downed without even drawing his sword. It’s then that Bjorn and Askeladd know: they’re going to have to work their asses off to earn every ounce of that gold.

Each of the first three Vinland Sagas have been very different affairs—from an introduction to Thors and Thorfinn and live in Iceland, to the arrival of a new old threat, to the swashbuckling adventure that begins in this episode. But all three of kicked all kinds of ass in their own way.

Like Thors himself, it doesn’t glamorize violence or killing, and Ari and his four hotshot friends are presented as the naive fools they are. As for Thorfinn, he may not have pissed himself while hiding in that barrel, but yeah…he’s now somewhere that’s absolutely no place for a six-year-old. I just can’t see how this ends well for anyone…but nor dare I look away.

Vinland Saga – 02 – Nobody Has Enemies, but Everybody Loves War

As the English launch an ambush on their Danish occupiers during their Saturday bath (note to self: switch up bath days for this very reason) in Northumbria—slaughtering men, women and children indiscriminately—the children in Thors’ village, Thorfinn inluded, participate in mock battles using blunted wooden swords and spears.

It’s a simple but effective juxtaposition of the ideation of war as a grand, noble, and honorable venture, and all it really boils down to: people ending the lives of other people, often without even the slightest hint of grandeur, honor, or nobility.

Thors ended many lives as a warrior, but those days would seem to be over, as he now takes smithing classes not to make weapons, but to make cooking pots. But his old comrades, the elite Jomvikings, have other ideas. A warship captained by Floki land at the village, their mere presence a transparent threat.

It’s revealed Thors essentially deserted when he jumped into the ocean and cast away his sword. The Jomsvikings don’t take kindly to desertion, but they’re giving Thors one chance to repent because he is a skilled warrior. Floki gives him an offer he dare not refuse, because now that they know of his village, it’s the villagers—and his family—who will suffer if he does.

As Floki makes the announcement that Thors has agreed to join their campaign and will need volunteers to crew his warship, the entire village erupts into celebration: finally, a war! But the only one who has actually seen war—Thors—is the very picture of gloom.

As they drag the village warship out of mothballs and prep her for the voyage to Jomsberg, Thorfinn gets a bit overzealous during the mock battles, injuring a couple of kids four to five years older than him, breaking one of their arms with his wooden sword.

When he gets home he tosses that sword aside, because he wants—he thinks he needs—a real weapon. Snooping around the storage room, he soon finds a stately chest, full of Thors’ old regalia and weapons (minus the sword he tossed).

When Thorfinn takes a dagger in his hand, unsheathes it, and holds it up to the light to admire, his father’s huge hand closes upon it, as powerful and concise an image as Vinland Saga has conjured thus far. Thors isn’t the kind of dad to rage or even raise his voice to his kids, so when he asks his son who he plans to kill with these weapons, it carries even more weight.

Thorfinn, all naivete and bluster, says he plans to kill “the enemy,” but Thors asks him who that is, knowing he has no idea. In his many brutal bloody battles, Thors gradually learned that fighting and killing is ultimately pointless, which is why he cast it aside. But his son has already been influenced by his peers and by the presence of the Jomsvikings.

Thorfinn also thinks his father is being hypocritical, as he’s heading out to war. Never does it occur to him that he shouldn’t be thinking about fighting in any battles anyway simply because…he’s six damn years old.

As Helga stoically cleans the dagger wound on his hand, Thors tells her to take care of Thorfinn. The next morning, Leif, who is joining Thors, tells him the conditions are right to begin the voyage, and Thors takes one last look at his sleeping son before departing.

Meanwhile, on one of the Faroe Islands, Floki is meeting with someone named Askeladd, who has been contracted by the Jomsvikings to kill Thors, in exchange for five pounds of gold. Thors is sailing into a trap, to his death, and there’s no guarantee the village will be left alone if and when he’s taken out.

The question is, is he as reluctant and morose about having to mobilize simply because he thought he was done with this shit…or because he knows it’s a trap, has no choice but to sail into it, and can no longer guarantee his family’s safety?

Vinland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – Hard Times in a Hard Land

Fresh off the heels of Attack on Titan’s third season, Wit Studio brings us something just as harsh and bleak and serious, but with its roots in real history; specifically, Vikings. We’re immediately thrust into a melee aboard a longship in the middle of a huge naval battle, as the stoic warrior Thors is rudely awakened from a pleasant daydream of greener pastures and his wife Helga by an attacking foe.

Thors easily defeats his opponent, then carves through dozens more in a very businesslike fasion before anyone lays a finger on him—or in this case, an arrow to his shoulder. Still, he pulls a warrior into the freezing sea with him to even the odds, kills him, and eventually comes ashore, none the worse for wear. The battle is an impressive display of mixed 2D and 3D animation, particularly the sudden storm of hail.

Fifteen years later, in the harsh colds of Iceland, Thors lives with his wife Helga, his daughter Ylva, and his young son Thorfinn, who longs to go on adventures like another village member, the gregarious Leif Erikson (who discovered North America, which he called Vinland, half a millennium before Columbus).

Donning a headpiece and smoking a pipe from the natives he met, Erikson evokes both awe and skepticism from the kids, but Thorfinn is mostly among the former. He doesn’t like Iceland, and would rather be anywhere. I can’t blame him; while an achingly gorgeous land, surviving there is a constant battle, and the spirit of a warrior like his dad Thors is paramount in such an exercise.

As Thors talks with Leif long into the night about the worsening winters in Greenland and Iceland, and how his family’s battles are only going to get tougher, Thorfinn dreams of captaining a grand longship on a westward journey.

Unfortunately they run into the legendary Jormungand, who proceeds to squeeze Thorfinn until he awakes. Turns out Jormungand was Ylva, sharing his warm bed (a “hot” commodity in such a cold land). Vinland Saga wastes no time showing that while life is hard, this family has endured by sticking together.

Ylva, it seems, would still prefer if they bought a slave, since her mother has grown weaker, something to which her dad seems morally opposed. But when she falls off the roof they’re clearing of snow (a scary moment), she lands on something strange, and after some digging, she finds a runaway slave.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn, probably not doing his fair share of chores considering he’s just hanging around Leif, wants to start adventuring at once, not waiting until he grows into a man. Leif warns him of the dangers of the sea, particularly so far north, and how he was once the only survivor out of a crew of seven whose ship was crushed by ice floes.

When Thorfinn asks why they all live in such a hard place, Leif doesn’t sugarcoat it: their forbears once lived in Norway, but when a king rose there and demanded the people choose fealty or exile, they left. Thorfinn is angered and doesn’t believe Leif, seeing this fleeing of his ancestors as cowardly.

The slave gains consciousness after Thors warms him by the fire gives him a kind of primitive CPR, and is awake long enough to tell him he doesn’t want to go back to Halfdan’s household. We soon learn why when Halfdan suddenly shows up at the village, causing a standoff. Still, the chain-obsessed Halfdan is looking for a slave, not a fight, so even when one of his own men tries to attack a villager, he flays the skin from his face himself. Talk about lawful evil…

Upon entering Thors’ house, he demands they return the slave to him. Thors offers to buy the slave instead, for more than Halfdan paid for him—over four times more, when the negotiations conclude. The whole time, Ylva can’t believe her dad is making such a deal, which isn’t a good one in any century.

Sure enough, the slave dies soon after the deal is struck, leaving Thors’ family short eight goats. But I know why Thors did it. The slave had already suffered enough, and Thors wasn’t going to be the one to return him to his earthly torments. Better to die peacefully, which is what he did. It was a bad deal, but it was the right thing to do.

That night, as the family watches the Northern Lights from a dramatic promontory (it really is a shockingly gorgeous land), presumably after burying the slave, Thorfinn asks his dad if Leif was telling the truth about their people running away. Thors quietly confirms that “that’s what they say.” To which Thorfinn asks, if one wanted to run away from here, where would they go?

The answer, it seems, will likely drive Thorfinn from this sleepy, cold, and often cruel village, no doubt after whoever is smirking in a longship attacks his village…at least that seems to be the likeliest sequence of events. Not being well-versed in Norse history (and never having read the manga), his journey will be new to me.

While a mostly quiet and understated beginning, Vinland Saga built a strong foundation for the coming twenty-three episodes (the following two of which I will review soon) by showing us Thorfinn’s roots, and why his wanderlust is so strong. I can assure you if Leif Erickson regailed us with tales of his travels every night, I’d probably want to head out too.

Carole & Tuesday – 12 – Setting the Stage to Stardom

As a dejected Carole tells Gus and Roddy what just happened, Tuesday is briefly scolded by her mother upon returning to her mansion. Her mom couldn’t give to shits about her beyond how her actions reflect on her, and she basically says as much before locking her daughter in her room for a week.

You’d think for a politician worried about the scandal of a runaway daughter, subjecting that daughter to solitary confinement might not be the best look! Anyway, what follows is an effective montage of the two girls suddenly ripped apart becoming more and more morose. They are both The Loneliest Girl all over again.

Gus, who had a similar falling-out with a loved one that in hindsight he believes he could have salvaged, offers some sage advice to Carole about not letting things fester too long without making amends. Carole, eating her feelings in the form of a double Whopper, is way ahead of him: She needs Tues, and she thinks Tues needs her. Gus agrees, which means it’s time to plan the rescue mission—which, yes, may technically involve kidnapping!

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s only non-robot visitor is Spencer, who is as supportive as Gus about getting the duo back together, and letting his sister pursue her dreams. He reveals to her he saw her in the club, and while he admits he never thought his sis was capable of running away to the big city or getting into music, he can relate (having once pursued music but gave up, likely under pressure from mom).

I like Spencer. He’s a good brother! He didn’t give in to their domineering mother when it mattered most. Mom’s too self-involved and distracted by politics and toy boys to realize her hold on him is not as strong as she thinks. And while he couldn’t make it, he can tell she’s got what it takes, and so will do everything to free her from her gilded prison.

That night—the night before the finals, as Carole, Gus, Roddy take the train to Tuesday’s district—Angela is at the Artience Lab with Tao, asking him why the AI lyrics seem to be almost reading her mind. His answer is that, well, the lab itself has been reading her mind all along, as well as her body. It’s been listening and watching and writing, and perhaps even drawn out words from her subconscious she’d never be able to draw out alone.

In this regard, Angela is not a solo act, despite appearing alone on stage. Tao is her collaborator, since he’s the one who developed the AI. After getting into singing to please Dahlia, she can’t sing the final song to her Mama, so she asks Tao to indulge her and look at her and only her throughout the performance.

Tao agrees, but only this once. Like Carole and Tuesday, there’s nothing overtly or explicitly romantic in play here, but it’s also not like there’s nothing there.

The next morning, the rescue attempt, in which Spencer aids Carole, Gus and Roddy without even knowing it by unlocing her door and holding back a security robot so she can run away in her very inappropriate-for-running fancy shoes. They also catch a bit of luck when a driver in a car that’s faster than the cops recognizes them and offers them a ride to the station.

Gus and Roddy are arrested, but the mission is complete: Carole & Tuesday are on their way to their destiny. On the train, Carole apologizes to Tues for the things she said, and the two make it clear to each other that they want nothing more than to by each other’s side. Carole also finally manages to give Tues her birthday gift: a shiny acoustic guitar pin.

When the two return to Alba City, the grandeur of the first episode in which Tuesday arrives for the first time returns, only now she’s not alone and unknown, but running hand-in-hand with her new bestie as the throngs of people recognize and cheer them on. The only problem is, they’re very late; the season finale of Mars Brightest has already started, and as promised, Tao is in the back of the hall, his gaze locked on Angela.

Angie takes that gaze and runs with it, turning in another lovely performance. The vocals are good, but as usual I’m just not that impressed with the lyrics. She sings two identical verses without any change, which makes me wonder, are they that deep and sophisticated as to make Angela believe the AI was reading her mind? I don’t know, but as usual I have to grade on a curve and for this show, it’s a damn good song, well performed.

The judges agree, and are ready to crown Angela a winner until the sudden belated appearance of Carole & Tuesday. Catherine whips out the rulebook and states that any performers not present at the start of the show will be disqualified. Despite this, Carole, Tuesday, Benito, the crowd, and even Angela all compel her to allow them to perform anyway.

Since they had no time to write or practice a new song, they go with their very first song, Loneliest Girl, the song that marked the beginning of their friendship, the end of their loneliness, made them a viral sensation (thanks to Roddy) and put them on the road to musical greatness.

While we’ve heard the song a few times throughout the series, it’s never been performed so powerfully as this time, and with both this and Angela’s finals performance, Mars Brightest finally sounds and feels like a genuine reality TV competition, breaking through the walls of mere imitation.

That’s carried forward with the deliberation of the judges afterwards. Even DJ Ertegun is moved to tears! Catherine initially holds her “rules are rules” ground, but allows an exception that satisfies everyone from the crowd, to Angela (who wanted a fair-and-square fight) to Gus and Roddy (still stuck in jail): Angela is the official winner, but both acts will be permitted to make their pro debuts.

They earned it, and Angela is cordial in congratulating them. She, Carole and Tuesday have come a long way, and many challenges remain. Will their continued chilly rivalry curdle into outright hostility? Will Cybelle break out of prison and finish what she started? Will Tues’ mom take harsher measures, despite the blowback from the duo’s growing legion of fans? We’ll find out in the second half of the series. I’ll be on board!

Carole & Tuesday – 11 – Plucked from the Jaws of Success

Tuesday’s hand is badly burned, and once bandaged, she cannot play the guitar. As the MC delays by appealing to the boundless ego of Ertegun, Gus tries to find the culprit with the security cams, with no success. We know that it was Cybelle, but everyone in the show has to play catch up, which leads to more interpersonal problems.

What I didn’t know? Whether Cybelle was sicced on Tuesday by either Katie or Dahlia, whether it was egging on her anger or giving her access to the dressing room. When Katie mentions who has motive, Angela suspects her mama. but Dahlia seems too proud for that kind of trickery. Katie has been very shifty the last couple episodes, and her “dumb assistant” act seems almost too practiced.

Whent C&T take the stage, the judges immediately note Tues’ injury and lack of a guitar. Carole passes it off nicely by saying they’e going to show they’re more of a guitar-and-piano duo; which isn’t really lying, since they may well want or have to branch out without either of those instruments at some point.

Carole is also asked about being a refugee and her family. She’s not sure what she’d say if her parents were watching, just “I’m here.” There’s not much of a crowd reaction to her background, so they move on with the song. It’s…fine, again. No ear bleeding thankfully, but the lyrics are reliably trite, sparse, and poorly structured. We see Cybelle is still somewhere in the building, watching on.

Ertegun starts the judge’s review by stating that someone who gets injured just before a performance has no business being a musician, and as harsh as he sounds, he’s not wrong. If Tuesday wants to make the big time, she’s got to learn how to protect herself, speak up, say no, and be a better judge of character. Unable to do all of the above led directly to her burns.

That said, the other judges loved them, and the woman who was introduced as the Simon Cowell of the trio states that the duo “stole her heart.” All the Insta followers in the world can’t keep Pyotr from losing this one, but like GGK he’s a good sport about it, happy he gained even more followers and has a bright future.

The final, then, is set: Carole & Tuesday vs. Angela. This leads Gus, absent any hard evidence, to accuse Dahlia of sabotaging Tuesday, just as Angela initially did. But when the culprit is described as “a slender young woman”, Angela’s suspicions shift immediately to Katie, and she reams her out for doubting her ability.

Katie, who we previously see smelling Angela’s lipstick, is either a very good actor, or legitimately devastated by her favorite artist’s accusations. Thankfully, the cops find Cybelle while she’s trying to flee, all thanks, incidentally, to Roddy spotting her in one of Pyotr’s many video posts. During her perp walk, Cybelle blows up at Tuesday, telling her she got what she deserved.

Like Ertegun, Cybelle isn’t the most tactful here, but she’s right. Though even a firm rejection at the start may have caused Cybelle to go after her, leading someone like her on was playing with fire…or in this, case dry ice. Carole tells her as much outside the hospital, where Tues was told she could play again in a week.

Carole doesn’t hold back in telling Tuesday she needs to not only learn how to handle people better, but also seemed unfocused in their performance, and that perhaps her commitment is less serious because she has a big fancy home to go to if this doesn’t pan out. It’s definitely the most distant these two have been for a while.

But things could always be worse…and they become worse almost immediately after Carole’s shots are fired, as burly goons sent by Tuesday’s family roll up and roughly toss her into the car. Carole gets punched when she tries to interfere, and when she manages to jump onto the fleeing car, the driver switches to manual mode and she’s thrown from it, though she suffers no serious injuries due to good rolling form.

Still, just like that, the duo has been severed, moments after cracks started to form due to their deeply different backgrounds. The timing is horrifically cruel, almost as if it was meant to be. But as we’ve seen, Tuesday is, like a young princess out in the world, not quite equipped to survive in it, and her injured hand was clear for all the millions of viewers to see.

A lot of those viewers are voters, so it behooves Tuesday’s pragmatic mom to put her house in order. I smell a rescue mission in the works.