Higehiro – 03 – Fated Encounters

Sayu has a dream about a past night she spent with a man in exchange for a place to stay. She lies under him passively, her eyes devoid of their usual glimmer, making no noise except to say “yeah” when he asks if it feels good. It’s not a love scene; it’s a transaction scene, depicted in all its awkward frankness. Sayu wakes up in her own bed as Yoshida dozes away in his. The glimmer is back in her eyes, but there’s also worry.

When Yoshida heads off to work, all Sayu has are household chores and her thoughts. And her thoughts are constantly asking why Yoshida won’t touch her. Shouldn’t he want to, at least a little? All the other men did, and took what they could. We learn Yoshida turned down a business trip, and his male co-worker assumes it’s because he has a girlfriend.

That prospect upsets Mishima, who asks him out to a movie after work. On the way out he and Gotou nearly walk into each other. Seeing him leave with Mishima, Gotou wears a look I’d describe as…left out?

Long before Yoshida returns home, Sayu is simply out of things to do around the house, so she has nothing but those lingering, worrying thoughts. Even though Yoshida hasn’t touched her like all the other men, she still believes he’ll kick her out when he doesn’t want her anymore.

When he texts her that he’s going out for a movie with a colleague, Sayu decides to stalk him…just a little. She happens to be watching just as Mishima finished talking to Yoshida about fated encounters, both the ones in the sad movie and ones in reality. Mishima is certain it’s better to realize that it’s fate the moment it happens, rather than months or years later.

While Yoshida isn’t 100% with her on this line of thinking (one, because he considers her a co-worker and friend first; two, he’s a bit dense), Mishima thinks she’s having such an encounter with him now, and doesn’t want to let it go. He’s taken aback when she hugs him, but the hug is all Sayu sees when she rushes off.

She doesn’t see Yoshida rebuff Mishima; not that she’s going to give up on him anytime soon. When Yoshida comes home to find Sayu’s phone but no Sayu, his first worry is that she was kidnapped, not that she ran away because she saw him with Mishima.

Even though I knew her running away would be a distinct possibility, I was still hugely relieved to see she didn’t go far; just to a nearby park to think. Heavy on her thoughts is how Yoshida looked when Mishima hugged him, how different it was from how he is with her. It made her jealous, but also reinforces her worry that once a guy as kind as him finds a girlfriend, she’ll be abandoned.

But this episode deals with three fated encounters: Yoshida and Sayu, Yoshida and Mishima…and Sayu and Mishima, who happens to find Sayu in the park looking forlorn (and out of place!) before Yoshida does. She sits with her so she can think without being bothered by a cop, and asks what’s troubling her. She’s not in a fight with her “parents”—i.e. Yoshida—as “they’re unbelievably nice”.

Rather, there’s something Sayu can’t tell “them”, or they might abandon her. Mishima tells her that fear can freeze you in place, but it can also spur forward action. In her book, the latter way is the better one. From what she’s heard, Mishima thinks whoever this is believes in Sayu, so she should believe in them and say This is who I am! This is part of me! Will you stay with me anyway?

Of course, Mishima is speaking from her experiences with Yoshida, who just happens to be the same person Sayu is talking about. Mishima learns this when Yoshida arrives at the park. And from the way he treats Sayu—like a worried-sick guardian would treat his lost kid—it’s clear Sayu and Yoshida have some “family stuff” to discuss. So she takes her leave, but insists that Yoshida explain himself later.

I love how low-key and empathetic Mishima’s reaction is to learning Yoshida is looking after a teenage runaway. She knows she doesn’t have the whole story, and while she very much wants to hear it, it’s not the time or place, so she’ll wait until it is. She doesn’t jump to conclusions or express premature outrage.

When Yoshida and Sayu comes home, Sayu takes Mishima’s advice, stops standing in place, and steps forward … in her black underwear … towards Yoshida. She refuses to dress before they talk. She again mentions how her breasts are big for someone in high school. She presses against Yoshida, and asks again if he wants to have sex her, like all the other men wanted to.

When pressed (literally) by Sayu, Yoshida admits that of course he finds her extremely cute and attractive. Sayu is flattered by his praise, and explains that this is the way she decided on to be able to live without going back home. She knows there are disadvantages to an adult having a teenage girl around, and so thought there must be some kind of advantage way to make up for that.

At first, she hated using her body in that way. But while she was doing it with someone she also felt she could be herself; that she was needed. The advantage she provided to the other men made her feel fulfilled. Maybe in her dream, when she said ‘yeah’ when asked if it felt good, she wasn’t lying. It felt good emotionally for there to be what she saw as a balanced give-and-take; something for something.

But ultimately the disadvantages would win out, and she’d get kicked out. However many times this happened to Sayu, she’s now of the mind that her crushing uneasiness won’t be quelled unless Yoshida sleeps with her. So she asks once more, if it won’t upset him, if he’ll do so. Yoshida gathers Sayu into a solid but thoroughly platonic hug, and make it clear that sleeping with someone he’s not in love with would upset her, so the answer is no.

Once she’s dressed again and they’re seated at the table, Yoshida calmly rejects Sayu’s assertion that she “hasn’t done anything” for him in return to justify keeping her around. Again, he tries to reorient her belief that only sex can pay for the roof under her head and make up for the disadvantages of having her there.

He admits he’s changed since she came. He takes better care of himself. They eat and talk about nothing special. His apartment feels like a real home with her there, and a place he wants to hurry back to after work. Just having her there has made his life more fun and more rewarding. She doesn’t have to do or say anything special to maintain that atmosphere; she just has to be there. That’s it.

Saying this moves Sayu to tears. Yoshida realizes that he wasn’t doing himself or Sayu any favors by thinking he could change her back into a “normal teenage girl”, and that there was nothing more to it than that. Denying her transactional mindset and sexuality only heightened her anxiety about properly paying him back for his kindness.

Acknowledging the role of sex in Sayu’s life up to this point was a crucial step in acknowledging Sayu herself, just as making it clear that sex with her is neither wanted nor required establishes firm boundaries. It sets him apart from all the other men, thank goodness.

Thanks to Mishima, Sayu was able to break their stalemate of unspoken tension, and was able to learn from Yoshida not only why he didn’t want to sleep with her, but why just being there was enough for him. Now that they’ve bared their hearts and cleared the air, they can begin truly living together, like a family. It’s an honest, beautiful, and heartwarming catharsis between two lonely souls who claim to be pathetic, but are actually inspiring!

Akudama Drive – 02 – 1.5 Meters for a Billion

With all the players introduced, the robotic Black Cat reveals she’s the mastermind who had them all collared as an insurance policy. The mission to rescue Cutthroat was a test they all passed. Unfortunately for the lower-level Akudama Hoodlum and non-Akudama Ordinary Girl, the fact they’re still alive and played a role means they could prove useful, so they’re not allowed to walk away.

The cat suggests a change of venue to discuss their next job, which will pay a cool billion (100 million is already in everyone’s accounts, indicating the cat isn’t altogether untrustworthy. Brawler secures them some transport by hijacking a bus (all of which fly here) and Hacker handles the piloting. Their trip across town is just the latest in a nearly constant feast for the eyes. There’s too much detail to catch it all in one viewing.

The airbus trip also allows our colorful characters to interact a bit. Hoodlum and Brawler become fast friends, Courier and Doctor don’t, and Cutthroat is enamored of Ordinary Girl’s pink eyes, hair highlights, and clothes. Though pink isn’t as good as (blood) red, and his fixation on that color leads him to hit all the red buttons on the bus, resulting in the activation of its emergency afterburners.

After a quick history lesson with stick puppets about Kanto and Kansai (the former bombed and then totally rebuilt the latter), the gang emerges from the airbus, which has crashed into the upper level of a seven-star hotel. After disposing of all the human and robotic guards, they all gather in a suite so the cat can brief them on their next mission.

They are to infiltrate the Shinkansen, the only way to travel to Kanto from Kansai, and revered by most of the latter’s inhabitants as a “sacred entity”. There’s a 1.5-meter vault containing cargo the cat wants, but won’t disclose exactly what that cargo is. A successful attack of the Shinkansen has never been accomplished, but everyone gets $9 million if they can pull it off.

Their briefing is interrupted by the arrival of a pair of Executioners: a male Master and female Pupil who have a License to Kill Akudama. The Pupil takes the lead and goes after Brawler, and the suite’s trippy mood lighting is accidentally activated, making their brawl even more cool and stylish. Pupil proves at least an equal fighter to Brawler, and cuts Doctor’s throat, while Hacker and the cat escape.

Before Pupil or Master can determine why an Ordinary Person with no criminal record and a four-year Hoodlum are hanging out with a bunch of elite Akudama, Courier remotely calls in his bike, which flies up to the suite, crashes through the window, and fires its railgun at the Executioners. In the ensuing explosion, the Girl and Akudama get away, and Master and Pupil vow to get them next time.

We end up in an abandoned warehouse—what was to be the original site of the briefing before Cutthroat caused a detour to the hotel. Everyone is fine, even Doctor, who stitched up her own throat. All that’s left is to await the Shinkansen’s next stop in Kansai. They’ll only have twenty minutes until it starts back up for Kanto, so they should at least go in with a plan…even if the more chaotic members of the gang inevitably mess that plan up.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 01 (First Impressions) – Too Much is Not Enough

From its opening moments when it presents a stark futuristic urban landscape a la Blade Runner 2049, then the camera dives into an impossibly lively and kinetic future cityscape, I knew we’d be in for a lush eyefeast. The gaudy visuals are always on the cusp of causing sensory overload, but the direction wisely finds “rest spots”, such as when the camera angles stay level at an alleyway takoyaki stand.

It’s there where our unnamed female protagonist is grabbing a bite to eat, and the course of her night—and the rest of her life—is suddenly changed forever, all thanks to a ¥500 piece dropped by a gray taciturn young man on a purple Akira superbike. He refuses the coin from the girl, saying “dropped change is bad luck”. After what happens to the girl, I really can’t dispute that!

We learn Mr.Poutybike is really Courier, whose bike is equipped with omni-directional mobility gear to essentially Spider-Man his way over and through Kansai’s endless labyrinth of concrete canyons. We also meet Brawler creating an impressive, ever-growing pile of busted-up police bots; Hacker, hacking into the Kansai Central Bank; and sultry sadist Doctor performing an impromptu heart bypass in public transit airship.

These four super-cool, ultra-colorful characters (none of them named; their jobs are their names) each have centuries worth of estimated sentences for their myriad crimes. After they show off their stuff, each receives a mysterious text for a new job: Whomever of them rescues the murderer Cutthroat from his public execution later that night will be rewarded a cool ¥100 million.

The four criminals, designated S-Class Akudama, converge on Kansai Police HQ…where our Ordinary Girl ended up after being arrested for not paying for her takoyaki. The fact she didn’t pay when she had the ¥500 coin suggests to a police bot that she may be a Swindler. When Brawler starts throwing bots through windows, the Girl is caught in the middle of the fray.

When she spots a black cat—the same one she saved while almost getting hit by a car earlier—she chases after it and protects it, because between those selfless acts and not feeling right spending Courier’s ¥500, Ordinary Girl is a good person—maybe the only good person in this whole insane city!

That, however, doesn’t save her from the bad luck of picking up that dropped coin, which puts her literally in the crossfire of all four Akudama, who had been busy fighting each other until she presented them with a mutual target to kill. She manages to save herself (for the moment) by lying about being an Akudama like them named Swindler, so-called because she even tricked the computer system.

Before they start pressing her for proof, a giant police robot emerges from the elevator, missiles firing. Cutthroat was only a second or two from being beheaded by guillotine when the other four Akudama, the megabot, and Ordinary Girl all spill out into the public execution arena, much to the police cheif’s chagrin. They also end up destroying part of the underground prison, freeing, among others, the D-Class Akudama Hoodlum.

Courier leads the attack on the megabot, winding his bike around the giant overhead scoreboard display, sending it plummeting on top of everyone else. At first Ordinary Girl can just watch gobsmacked as all this chaos happens around her with the cat in her arms, but when she spots Courier about to be killed by the bot, she remembers her duty to get him back his coin.

She distracts the bot by pointing out Hoodlum, giving Courier enough time to activate his bike’s built-in railgun (but notably not activated with the coin—a missed opportunity to be sure). The bot is destroyed, the cops are in disarray, and all the Akudama are still breathing. Courier refuses to thank the Girl for helping him. Dick!

But how long will each of them be breathing? When Cutthroat emerges free from his binds and is given the briefcase by Courier, he immediately fits its contents (necklaces) on himself, the Akudama, and the Girl, and a guard. When the the guard tries to pry it off his head explodes, indicating the chokers are bombs. Then the theretofore silent cat finally speaks up—apparently the mastermind of this job and the scenario in which the criminals and Ordinary Girl find themselves.

You may not find a more indulgently EXTRA show than Akudama Drive (AKA “A.D.D.”) this Fall, and its first episode surpasses even K in pure delicious eye candy. I knew going in this had the same director as Persona, the character designer of Danganronpa, and Railgun’s composer.

Kurosawa Tomoyo (Sound! Euphonium’s Kumiko, Amaburi’s Sylphy) does a tremendous job infusing Ordinary Girl with a crisp, bright, expressive voice. So there’s a ton of talent here. One of my favorite unnecessary-but-awesome flexes are the transitions between parts of the city in which the different layers of the landscape are fitted together like Tetris pieces.

One thing that may turn some off besides the visuals that border on too cool and trying too hard: the fact there’s no attempt to give dimension to any of these characters, who basically start and end at their names and are embellished with their individual style and methods. No amount of intricate spinning signs can distract from the fact there’s not much below the surface.

That said, I found Ordinary Girl an effective and sympathetic audience surrogate, and whatever deadly game into which she’s stumbled backwards is one I can’t wait to watch unfold…even if it may be best to switch off the ol’ brain and enjoy the empty neon calorie airship ride.

Rating: 4/5

Golden Kamuy – 22 – And Finally, on a Black, Moonless Night…

For twenty-one weeks Golden Kamuy has been slowly building to this: the night Asirpa and Sugimoto finally infiltrate Abashiri Prison and meet with Nopperabo, to see once and for all if the one who killed the Ainu and stole the gold is her father. Now that the show has set up all of the various players and their various histories and motivations, it’s finally time to set things in motion.

Thanks to the salmon spawning, Kiroranke and Huci’s sister’s people can build a hut beside the wall of the prison. They can bribe the guards with fish, and within the hut they begin digging a tunnel under the wall to a precise distance indicated by Hijikata.

Before the big night, the whole crew settles under one roof an enjoys the bounty of the river: chitatap made from salmon gills, cartilage, and other normally harder-to-eat parts the Ainu never waste. Sugimoto is stoked to be having true chitatap, and Asirpa is delighted to hear not only Hijikata but even the normally mirthless Ogata not only make chitatap, but say “chitatap” while doing so. There’s also mouth-watering grilled salmon and side dishes laced with tasty roe.

During the meal, Ushiyama asks Inkarmat if she has a man, and Cikapasi forces the issue by giving Tanigaki’s half-eaten meal to Inkarmat, which is a kind of Ainu betrothing. Tanigaki leaves the hut, but Inkarmat follows him, and tells him she’s not hoping to reunite with Wilk for any romantic reason, but simply to settle her past. Tanigaki is the one she wants to spend her future with; he feels the same way about her, and once he gets Asirpa back home to Huci, he’ll give her his half-eaten bowl for real.

When the tunnel is complete it ends right in the quarters of Chief Kadokura, whose father fought beside Hijikata and thus feels loyalty to the old samurai, and will help the group achieve their audience with Nopperabo.

When a moonless night arrives, Asirpa, Sugimoto and Shiraishi, the infiltration team, relies on Toni Anji to guide them through the darkness to Noppy’s cell block. So naturally, they’re caught immediately, as in the first ten feet of their infiltration. The first play of the big game, and they fumble it.

No matter; the guards who spot them are dealt with relatively quietly, and they continue on, accessing the prison ward interior the only way they can: from the roof. The interior is a loving reproduction of the real Abashiri Prison, now a museum and Important Cultural Property—right down to the ceiling and cell latch designs.

Asirpa is lowered in (in a somewhat undignified manner), Shiraishi picks the lock to cell 66, and just like that, Asirpa is face-to-face with Nopperabo…or who she thought was Nopperabo. While the inmate’s face is indeed burned off, she can tell: this is not her aca (father). It’s an impostor; and they’ve been set up.

The fake Nopperabo starts screaming and a prison-wide alarm is sounded. Warden Inodou wakes up and mobilizes his men, and Sugimoto has Toni Anji pull Asirpa out of there, the two separating at the worst possible time. Still, Toni intends to take Asirpa to the real Nopperabo before they escape.

After that, the shit truly shits the fan, as Tsurumi, possibly tipped off by Inkarmat, arrives at the prison at the head of a flotilla of navy destroyers, blowing up the only bridge to the prison island. He orders his men to capture both Nopperabo and Asirpa, and will presumably need that gold in order to pay for such a lavish assault.

So a plan that had so many capable players involved goes pear-shaped almost immediately, scattering those players and leaving many wondering who among them betrayed them. But one way or another, this story is going to end in just two episodes. Here’s hoping Asirpa and Sugimoto and a few others make it out of this mess in one piece, hopefully with some of that Ainu gold…

Golden Kamuy – 21 – The Naked Truth

While visiting Asirpa’s relatives, the crew learns of a band of blind bandits who were once sulfur miners on Mount Iwo. Those who weren’t killed by the acid ended up sightless, and attack anyone they can in the dark. They’re led by a former Abashiri inmate, Toni Anji, who also has tattoos. They head to a local hot spring, but while all the guys are relaxing in the bath, the blind bandits snuff out all the light and attack.

As a result, Sugimoto, Tanigaki, Ogata, Kiroranke, and Shiraishi have to fight an enemy they can’t see with their dicks out. The enemy can “see” them just fine thanks to echolocation by tongue-clicking; a clever tactic that also creates an unsettling atmosphere.

As with the aphrodisiac sea otter incident, the beefcake is strong with this episode, with tasteful angles and shadows preventing everyone’s manhood from being exposed. Only Asirpa and Inkarmat remain clothed. Golden Kamuy has proven quite adept at creating compelling action set pieces, and taking away both the clothes and eyesight of the combatants is yet another example of that proficiency. It’s also pretty hilarious.

While she’s still weary of Kiroranke, Inkarmat still joins him and Tanigaki on a boat to try to escape the bandits, but Toni and his cohorts toss stones to gauge distance before he opens fire, shooting Tanigaki and capsizing the boat. Inkarmat can’t swim, and starts to sink, and even has a vision of a circle of bears coming to claim her soul.

But Tanigaki, who was only shot through the butt, dives into the lake and rescues her, and she rewards him with a kiss. She thought for sure she was a goner, but he showed her that the fate her fortune-telling portends can be changed.

As dawn starts to peek out of the horizon, Sugimoto and Ogata (the only one of them with a gun) infiltrate the bandits’ hideout, but soon find the windows are all nailed shut, and another ambush ensues in the pitch black. Toni goes after Sugimoto, and the two grapple and come to a standoff.

That’s when Hijikata suddenly appears to greet his old fellow inmate, and Ushiyama tears through the walls to let the sun in. The threat is over, with Sugimoto & Co. leaving Toni Anji to Hijikata & Co., provided he can get a copy of the tattoos he bears.

As the now fully-reunited supergroup heads into town to take their pictures taken, of all things, Tsurumi “punishes” his Abashiri mole, Private Usami, by drawing stick figures on his symmetrical face moles (a mole with moles, heh heh). Usami, like so many young men, is so smitten with the Lieutenant that it’s hardly punishment at all.

As for Sugimoto, he is compared to a young Hijikata by the old man’s photographer friend: “like a demon, but also kind.” But while locked in battle in the darkness, Toni Anji said sensed something else those with sight couldn’t: that Sugimoto could never return to who he was. I guess we’ll find out.

Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

Juuni Taisen – 05

Juuni Taisen has so far worked best when it’s focused—say on one character or one battle. This week gets off to an uninspiring start involving a big meeting room full of literally faceless VIPs and a unsolicited speech by Duo-whasisface.

He says the Zodiac War is a proxy for far costlier global conflict, but I’m not buying it; there’s clearly plenty of war in this world, both that which Monkey cannot prevent through negotiation and in which all of the other warriors fight when they’re not in a battle royale.

The “no betting until half the field is gone” rule made no sense to me either. In a a horse race, every horse is bet on, not just the half of the field that pulls ahead halfway in. This was just needless babbling that took me away from the actual battle, involving nobody I cared about.

Next up is the start of the much-anticipated duel between Usagi and Sharyu, which turns out to be a bit of a stalemate, as every blow or zombi bird Usagi sends Sharyu’s way is parried or otherwise countered, as Sharyu continues to ask Usagi to reconsider her offer of cooperation. I know she’s Monkey, but I fear she’s barking up the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, her fight with Usagi not only comes to any kind of resolution, but what we do see of it comes in fits and spurts, constantly interrupted by the episode’s A-plot involving Sheep, his backstory, and his plan for victory involving partnering with mid-level warriors (unaware of who has died besides Snake).

Bouncing between his admittedly impressive tale of his life as a warrior (including fighting a previous Juuni Taisen aboard a space station—why couldn’t we watch that?) and the Sharyu-Usagi duel serves neither storyline. I fail to see why they had to be intertwined in this way rather than have one flow into the other.

Much of Sheep’s time is spent looking at and sorting toy versions of the animals that represent the other warriors. Considering the thrust of the duel happening concurrently, it almost feels like stalling, especially when he’s working with less info than we have regarding the remaining players.

As if the episode weren’t packed enough, we have the subplots of Nezumi being chased by Zombie Snake (great band name, BTW) and Ox resuming his battle with Horse, which he presumably left temporarily to kill Niwatori, and can saunter right back and continue wailing on Horse because Ox is just badass like that.

It’s just another case of staggering the storylines for little to no narrative gain.

We’ve now gone two episodes without anyone else being killed, adding to a sense of stagnation throughout the episode. Nezumi and Sharyu may as well be running/fighting in circles. When Ox suddenly comes after Sheep, Sheep withdraws, and the first warrior he encounters turns out to be Tiger, ranked the weakest (and likely tied for the most scantily-clad with Usagi).

The way this episode ended—with everything just kind of pausing in the middle—was more frustrating than satisfying. I look forward to learning more about the next warrior next week, and I’m really not opposed to the show mixing things up or jumping from warrior to warrior within an episode…just not for its own sake.

There’s a right and wrong way to doing these things, and it wasn’t done quite right this week.

Juuni Taisen – 04

Only a quarter into Juuni Taisen, at least four warriors had fallen (we learn Horse may still be alive; maybe Ox left his fight with him to take care of Niwatori last week). This week, we get Monkey/Sharyu’s backstory, indicating she may be next.

But she’s not…at least not this week. The four front-loaded kills so far give the show a chance to slow down and paint the picture of who the Warrior of the Monkey is, where she comes from, and why she does what she does.

Yuuki Misaki, as she is also known, was trained by a triad of monkey elders who never argue in the art of changing the state of whatever she wills. While that’s demonstrated as turning stone to sand, she uses her skills to turn war into peace.

Responsible for hundreds of ceasefires and prevented civil wars, Sharyu can honestly state she may well have saved more people than anyone else in the world. Nezumi at least knows her as this, and even believes it was Sharyu’s unblinking optimism that “weakened” Niwatori to her death.

On the flip side, having saved so many means she’s also failed to save more than anyone else alive. Things don’t always go as she plans, and the result is often bloodshed and other atrocities, in some cases more intense then had she not intervened or held negotiations.

What does she do? Well, Misaki doesn’t seem to blame or torture herself, for one. She takes the defeats in stride, along with the victories. She retires to her perfectly normal home life with her husband, who wishes she’d just give up the fight and live a full life with him. Misaki understands, but makes it clear: he knows what he got into, and if he truly loves her, he must fight his own battle as she fights hers.

Back in the present, after scolding Nezumi to not “sell platitudes short, little boy” (he thinks she’s a naive idealist, but she thinks he’s naive, since he’s seen so much less of the world than she has), Sharyu spots a zombie bird; necromanced by Usagi along with all the other birds Niwatori killed last week. The flock chases Sharyu and Nezumi, forcing them to the surface.

Waiting there is Usagi, proving Niwatori right in her assertion he and Ox are the most dangerous warriors. Were it not for Sharyu’s quick reflexes, mobility, and speed, Zombie Snake would have sliced her in two as soon as she emerged from the manhole.

Instead, Nezumi takes on Snake while Sharyu accepts Usagi’s challenge. She may be a pacifist, but she’ll fight if she must, and she really must here. Will Usagi’s reign of terror continue? Will Sharyu and Nezumi end up as macabre additions to Usagi’s collection of zombie thralls? Or is there hope, however small, that Sharyu can end the fighting with words? If anyone pull it off, it’s her. On the other hand, Usagi’s pretty psycho…

Juuni Taisen – 03

Is it just me, or have the POV warriors gotten progressively more interesting with each episode? After Boar and Dog, we now learn more about Chicken (Niwatori), who had spent last week showing Dog one side only to turn on him and show her true one.

Niwatori’s childhood was…rough, to put it comically mildly. We find her where the cops do: malnourished and filthy in an apartment filled with garbage and blood. It’s not her blood; it’s that of her parent(s), which, considering her “pecking” specialty, she killed by repeatedly pecking bits out of hem with an egg topper.

Her own memories of this time are quite foggy; she spent some time at a facility after a hospital visit, and after regaining her physical health, she was adopted by the Niwa family, whose matriarch was interested in utilizing her special ability to speak to birds.

They trained her into a soldier and assassin who can hide in plain sight and deceived and betrayed so many people, she had no idea who was a friend or enemy.

Back in the present, Niwatori has successfully fooled Dog unto his death, and makes quick work of Zombie Boar with a swarm of birds under her control, who peco their prey to pieces and pick flesh from bone.

Feeling peckish herself, Niwatori enters a convenience store and encounters Rat, who has no quarrel with her, and leads her to the sewers to meet Monkey.

Niwatori finds herself unusually affected, even moved by Shuryuu’s seemingly catch-less kindness and earnestness, and believes Dog’s One Man Army poison has heightened her emotions as well as her body.

Even though she finds herself perfectly capable of killing Monkey and Rat right there and then, and knows that is the best course of action to ensure victory in the Zodiac War, she just…can’t do it. She withdraws…and when she does, she’s so busy cursing herself for making such a dumb move, she doesn’t realize Ox is right there, ready to kill her.

Naturally, because Niwatori is the POV character this week, she has to die, and she’s not even the first warrior Ox kills this week (that honor goes to Horse, whom we don’t learn much about before his demise).

Still, she faces her imminent death standing tall, with a defiant look in her eye, and after sacrificing so many of her beloved birds to defeat Zombie Boar, there’s a poetry to her giving up her body to feed still more of those birds.

I won’t say that she came out of the hell of her childhood—in which she was no doubt pecked away at to the brink of death—to live a life of honor or morality. Indeed, she saw herself as an instrument—another weapon in the Niwa family’s arsenal—and little else.

We don’t know what wish she’d have asked for had she won the Zodiac War. But I will say that for the brief time I got to know her, I emphasized and liked Niwatori, and the show feels a little smaller without her, as I’m sure it will continue to feel as more POV characters meet their maker.

Juuni Taisen – 02

Poor Boar is now a puppet of Rabbit’s along with Snake; he’s in the lead. Turns out Monkey (Shuryuu) interrupted her own attempt to form a pacifist alliance by smashing the floor. In doing so, she thwarted a preemptive strike she sensed from one of the others, though apparently she doesn’t suspect the sleepy Rat (Nezumi).

Having holed up in an underground parking garage, Dog (Dotsuku) is our primary POV character this week, and we hear more of his inner thoughts than the words of anyone else. Upon meeting Chicken (Niwatori), he believes he’s better off agreeing to her request to team up, as she possesses a valuable skill by which she can see through the eyes of all of the birds in the city; pretty handy.

Unfortunately for Dog, he’s too confident he can control Niwatori, to the point he’s drugging her with a supersoldier “poison” that powers her up and leads to her crushing his face. Whether Chicken was putting on a meek innocent act all along until then or really couldn’t control the strength Dog gave her, it looks like Dog is now out of the game, marking the second straight POV character who fell by spending too much time in their head and not enough time being very careful.

I don’t know if the same pattern will be followed next week or the week after that, but I got an odd, satisfying feeling of finality from both Boar and Dog’s stories this week; they went as far as they could go, even if they didn’t know they were at the end of their respective roads until it was too late to turn back. There’s a super-abridged version near the end of Horse seeking out Ox as a fellow “moderate”, only to be charged at by Ox like the train behind him.

The only alliance that seems reliable is the one between Rabbit, Snake and Boar, and you can’t really call it that since Snake and Boar no longer have free will, heartbeats, or jewels in their chests. Nevertheless, I liked the parting shot that combined bloody horror of an undead Boar with a Hitchcockian mass of birds surrounding her.

Considering the ominous calculation of this parting scene, I’d wager SuperChicken is primed to peck somebody.

Juuni Taisen – 01 (First Impressions)

“My, such a new building, completely abandoned.” A curious opening line, as the entire city surrounding the building is similarly abandoned. The building, and the city, have been prepared for the Holy Grail Zodiac War, and this lady, “The Boar”, is one of its twelve participants, all with an animal aesthetic matching a certain sign of the Chinese Zodiac.

My immediate thought was this is a Fate-style Battle Royale, with anthropomorphized Zodiac signs instead of historical figures. There’s a (mostly) civil opening ceremony (only one person is dead before the official start) with an “Observer” named Duodecuple. Rather than command seals, each warrior gets a black jewel they must swallow. Whoever collects all eleven jewels (presumably by cutting them out of people) will get one wish of their choice.

We’re even introduced to The Boar as her backstory cuts in and out of the present-day festivities, explaining how she, and not the little sister her abusive asshole father chose, is the Ino Family representative in the Juuni Taisen. Basically, she ordered her sister to kill more and more people in more gruesome ways until she finally went mad and killed herself. So we know this Boar lady is someone who won’t even let blood get in the way of achieving her goals. She’s also, well, pretty goddamn evil.

We only get the slightest bits and pieces from the other eleven members, (whose character designs range from boring and obvious to outrageously wacky) through Boar’s lens, though she clearly has it in for Monkey, who has a Class Rep aura about her, and asks if anyone will help her win so she can wish to bring everyone back. Ultimately only the narcoleptic and the singularly crazed, half-naked Rabbit-Boy (who already killed someone) join her.

Then the ground literally opens up around the twelve, resulting in a bit of chaos Boar thinks she’s prepared for, what with her dual automatic rifles with unlimited ammo. However, she didn’t consider that Bunny killed the guy so he could turn him into a zombie thrall, which is what he does because he’s a necroman”tist” (not “cer”).

All of a sudden, the one character we’ve spent any meaningful time with, and the only one whose thoughts we’ve heard, is on the edge of death at the very beginning. She pegged herself as one of the top 3 challengers in this battle, but…here we are.

Juuni Taisen is, in a word, serviceable. It looks very nice, with imaginative and often just-plain-weird design by the creator of Arakawa Under the Bridge and some very smooth and competent combat animation.

Cons include the Boar not being that likable a character and there being nothing about this premise that’s particularly original or exciting. But as it airs on Tuesday, which is, in my experience, usually a light day for anime, so…we’ll see.

Koi to Uso – 12 (Fin)

Ririna doesn’t simply say she’s willing to abandon their arranged marriage for Yukari and Misaki’s sake; she lays out in a very detailed and realistic way exactly the way it’s going to happen, and it involves her and Yukari pretending like they hate each other’s guts—in other words, lying.

Yukari doesn’t like the sound of that one bit, as he doesn’t want to even pretend he doesn’t like Ririna. But Ririna appeals to Yukari’s deep and inspiring love for Misaki—without which Ririna would never have come out of her shell—and is able to get him to agree to her plan.

That means, at some point, if all goes as planned, Ririna will have herself “recalculated” to find another partner to marry, and asks Yukari to ‘show her what to do’, so to speak. The practical excuse aside, both Ririna and Yukari are lying here as well.

Ririna loves both Misaki and Yukari, so she doesn’t want to hurt either. What she fails to realize is that Misaki and Yukari have the same exact reason they don’t want to hurt her: they love her too. Forget about levels or tenure; love is love, and especially during one’s youth it can be extremely hard to distinguish one form for another.

As a result, Yukari initially stays away from the wedding dress fitting, convinced he’s hurt both Ririna (by agreeing to her plan) and Misaki (by kissing her in the chapel), and not wanting to cause any more pain to either. Nisaka shows up and lays it out as only Nisaka can: people who are hurt by loving him is not his problem; it’s theirs.

Nisaka speaks from experience here; he knows he’ll never have Yukari or even get him to look at him the way he wants…but he’s not going to bother him about it. He tells Yukari that when it comes to love, you have to look out for number one.

In Yukari’s case, he doesn’t feel comfortable living life without Misaki or Ririna. At the chapel, Misaki assures Ririna that her plan is impossible, because she, Misaki, loves both Ririna and Yukari. She couldn’t let Ririna drop her marriage to Yukari any more than Yukari or Ririna wanted to hurt Misaki by getting married.

It’s quite the conundrum! And certainly one for which there are no long-term answers. Presumably, Ririna and Yukari will one day marry, just as Misaki will marry her match (we finally learn definitively that she hasn’t received her notice yet). It would seem that love is not a problem for any of the three; it’s just a matter of learning what kind of love that is, and how that will (or won’t) jibe with cultural and societal norms.

Is this finale a cop-out that lets everyone off the hook by delaying a concrete decision on who marries whom? Sure is. But I asked for someone to win last week, and it would seem that, for now at least, everyone wins…Except Nisaka!

Ultimately, this show lacked the teeth that I had expected of a premise in which people were, if not outright forced, very strongly nudged into arranged marriages. As I’ve stated in earlier reviews, Japan’s appallingly low birth rate is a crisis that threatens the nation’s very existence. Drastic societal measures are needed that the notoriously unreliable bureaucracy likely won’t even begin to tackle until it’s too late.

Koi to Uso was initially, and could have remained, a fascinating look into the “what-if” scenario. But ultimately, The Yukari Law was little more than window dressing for a watchable but otherwise by-the-numbers youth-love-polygon show. It could have been much more, but would have had to go to darker places it clearly wasn’t interested in going.

Koi to Uso – 11

With Yukari, Ririna, and Misaki making little progress in discerning who’s going to end up marrying whom, the three (plus Nisaka) end up at…a wedding. Subtle. Ririna and Misaki are also recruited by the ceremonial hall’s marketing rep to model wedding dresses. Also subtle.

The wedding itself is highly scripted and a bit stiff, with all the usual traditions and nothing in the way of really breaking the mold. The individuals actually getting married seem a bit lost in the procedure of the thing.

Still, a wedding is a wedding, and Misaki and Ririna have a blast, and are glad they were able to attend together. Misaki echos Arisa’s assertion that Ririna has become more open and easier to talk to, and Riri attributes this to her time with Misaki and Yukari.

Misaki also says she’d love to see Ririna’s wedding, all but surrendering Yukari to her. But Ririna can probably sense the lack of conviction in those words, especially when she peeks in on Yukari comforting a crying Misaki with a big long kiss.

I’m sorry, but at this stage, Yukari is being a big fat jerk here. I’m sure Yukari didn’t like seeing Misaki cry, but kissing her will only provide the briefest relief if he ends up marrying Ririna, which, that’s the case, he shouldn’t be kissing other girls. Get your fucking shit together, man!

Ririna seeing Yukari kiss Misaki casts a pall over the rest of the episode, as Ririna and Yukari’s families join forces to mudge their betrothed kids a little closer together at a splendid hot springs inn, even putting them in the same room together.

Their tour of the town demonstrates their easy chemistry with one another, and the fact they both genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They’re not exactly setting the world on fire with their romantic passion, but who cares? They’re a nice, cute couple!

So after witnessing Yukari and Misaki kiss, and Yukari telling her how he’s the person he is today because he followed Misaki and admired her from afar like a goddess…in the night, Ririna decides to tell Yukari she thinks he should choose Misaki over her.

If Ririna and Misaki weren’t such good people and good friends, they wouldn’t be falling over each other trying to sacrifice their happiness for that of the other’s, but Yukari’s persistent indecision—and his appalling indiscretion where Misaki is concerned—has also led us to this point.

The only satisfying way Yukari can respond to this by either accepting or rejecting Ririna’s concession. I’m fine with both, honestly. I may have sounded like a Ririna x Yukari shipper of late, but I’m fine with either girl “winning.” As long as someone wins, dammit!

Oh, and throughout all of this, why haven’t Misaki and Nisaka received their notices? Are Yukari and Ririna really that much older than them? The fact we have no idea who their assigned spouses are leaves me worried the show’s withholding that info for a last-episode cliffhanger—perhaps even a prelude to a second season I neither want nor need.