Magia Record – 20 – Giving Their Best

In what are not their first rumblings of disagreement by any stretch, considering their very different personalities, Nemu voices her concern that she and Touka are hurting Magical Girls when they were supposed to be saving them. Touka, who has clearly drunk on power for a while now, says the only way they can do that is by becoming “gods.” If Nemu is going to stop her friend, the window is closing as that storm nears.

The bulk of those Magical Girls Touka is fine sacrificing are locked in battle with their respective friends-turned-opponents: Madoka’s crew dodging Mami’s impossible number of old-timey rifles while Yachiyo’s crew going toe-to-toe with the evil Tsuruno Aqua, who combines devastating attacks with creepy amusement park P.A. announcements.

Thanks to Sana and Felicia providing some cover, the two crews are able to withdraw for a spell, as it’s clear talking with Mami and Tsuruno is useless. When they’re in a safe place to regroup, Mifuyu contacts them via charmed origami, giving them a map of Chelation Land and the location of Touka and Nemu as well as Embryo Eye.

Mifuyu even does them one better and has the origami stream her meeting with Mitama, in which she attempts to get her to break her neutrality. Thanks to Momoko, the two learn that Mitama has been neutral all this time because she’s too weak to fight on her own; too full of shadows and despair. Were she ever dropped into a battle she’d become a witch immediately, but Momoko gives her a hug and assures her that she’ll help her carry those burdens.

Thankfully we check in on poor Kuroe, who is still being chased by Magius girls and is all alone except for her needy Doppel, who wants very dearly to help her out…no doubt at the cost of sanity and control. With only one episode left, it remains to be seen if Kuroe will reunite with Iroha and Connect with her and Yachiyo, as they do in the OP…or meet her ultimate fate in this cour.

Once Mitama tells them the best way to save their friends is to attempt to Connect with them (and Iroha & Co. tell Madoka and CO. what “Connecting” even is) The two groups head back out into the chaotic battlefield to attempt to do just that to Mami and Tsuruno. We’ve got big bold boss music as the projectiles and bodies fly.

But once the dust settles, Tsuruno falls from a great height, her human body is mangled, and the Uwasa she fused with seemingly takes over full control. If the Tsuruno Iroha and Yachiyo love is dead, her body is still being made to move like a marionnette by the Uwasa within.

Combined with the fact Madoka & Co. make little progress with Mami, and the eighth and final installment of Magia Record’s second cour will be a very busy and impactful affair. As penultimate episodes go, this was solid, but not groundbreaking. Hopefully the best Magia madness will be saved for last.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 19 – Not a Bad Fate

While Kuroe struggles with trying to keep her Doppel under control so she can get back to Iroha, Yachiyo encounters Madoka, Sayaka, and Akemi…and it’s just an extremely cool game-recognize-game moment.

This is what good fanservice looks like: pleasing the crowd without compromising the story. And the story is that Iroha and Yachiyo are going to need every independent thinking magical girl on their side if they’re going to stop Touka and Nemu from scorching the world.

After being shaken out of her state of despair and fatalism by Sana and Felicia (who themselves regret letting Magius lead them by the nose for so long), Mifuyu chooses friends and bonds both living, frayed, and dead over loyalty to Magius, and pleads with Touka to terminate the operation before too much damage is done.

But that’s the thing: Touka is determined to involve everyone in the world, as she’s convinced humanity has only advanced to its present state of development on the backs of suffering and dying magical girls. Nemu then siccs the reprogramed, aqua version of Tsuruno on Mifuyu.

Down in the bowels of the hotel she meets Alina, who seems to be neutral now. She’s not interested in “partying” with a bunch of sheep, but also not quite willing to help out Mifuyu more than the minimum, which is to toss her a grief seed.

As they all have people they want to save and know their best chance is to work together, Yachiyo, Madoka, Sayaka and Akemi pile into a pickup truck headed to the absolute bedlam that is the hotel fused with an amusement park. Couintless witches are battling the Magius witches, creating chaos and discord.

But as Yachiyo is busy driving the truck, the O.G. girls show what a well-oiled machine they are, dispatching all comers. When Madoka and Sayaka are sent flying, Akemi stops time and saves them. No doubt that ability, so crucial in the films, will play a pivotal role in the final battles to come.

As for Iroha, who is already inside the gates, she’s not content to wait for Kuroe or for Yachiyo to break through the gates from the outside; she’s going to smash them from the inside. When borrowing Kyouko’s white Magius robe doesn’t work and gets her surrounded, Kyouko saves her out once again.

Rather than retreat, Iroha asks Kyouko to Connect with her, resulting in the fusing of her crossbow and Kyouko’s spear into the perfect gate-smashing weapon. Teamwork inside the gates and out not only makes the dream work, but keeps Iroha’s and everyone else’s wishes alive. The moment when Iroha and Yachiyo embrace, finally reunited again, is definitely the most heartwarming moment of the episode.

That moment is immediately followed up by another one of the coolest and most satisfying: when Iroha and Madoka come face to face. The closest analog I can think of is in Avengers: Infinity War when Thor meets the Guardians of the Galaxy, making the crossover official. Madoka, Sayaka, Akemi, and Kyouko are no longer token cameos, but pivotal players in this newly-merged, exciting, and purposeful Madoka universe.

The good girls are amassing fast, and when Kuroe (who is hopefully okay), Sana, Felicia, Mifuyu, and maybe even Alina join their ranks, tit’s looking like they have a fighting chance, even against two very challenging sub-bosses in the Re-programmed Mami and Tsuruno. That’s not to say it will be easy, or devoid of sacrifice.

But as Madoka said in the back of the truck, if anyone can turn this situation with Embryo Eye and Walpurgisnacht around, it’s magical girls. So she’s glad she’s a magical girl, and her friends old and brand-new concur. It’s time to get to work!

Vanitas no Carte – 06 – His Lordship’s Guests

We learn the amorphous distorted-voiced monster isn’t named Charlatan, but is someone named Naenia who is merely part of Charlatan, when Noé is broken out of his jam by Vanitas, while Luca is protected by a no-longer-thirsty Jeanne.

The three-monster team of Charlatan decides to skedaddle before “The Queen’s Fangs” show up, and Domi rips her dress to provide protection for Vanitas while he deals with the remaining curse-bearers in the palace. One of them, a young girl, is to far gone, and Vanitas has to turn her to ash.

Here little old me I thought Domi was flamboyant; turns out she’s scared shitless of her big sister Veronica, who is the aforementioned Queen’s Fangs. Easily wearing three times her mass in fabric and a black fox mask, she unilaterally decides that the stinky mortal Vanitas is responsible for this fiasco, and decides to literally put him on ice.

Nothing and nobody can stop her and her crazy eyes…except the timely arrival of one Lord Ruthven, who cracks her mask with one tap of his pimp cane, then chides her for such an “unbecoming show of power.” Just like there’s always a bigger fish, there’s always a stronger vampire, huh?

Ruthven is ready to dispense some quick justice upon the on-ice Vanitas for turning the little girl into ash, but Noé comes between them and calls Ruthven out for not knowing remotely the whole story. Rather than angry, Ruthven is amused, but also chastened by the young buck.

He introduces himself a a member of the Senate in service of the Queen, then melts the ice to free Vanitas. But after his ordeal with Naenia and the attack from a Veronica who was not holding back, Noé finally collapses from exhaustion.

In his dream Noé’s tucked into bed, holding the hand of his Teacher, and curses himself for forcing his hopes and ideals upon Vanitas and feeling betrayed when he didn’t live up to them. The Teacher clarifies the mission he bestowed upon his student: not to determine if the book of Vanitas is a threat, but to meet those whose paths cross it, and judge it on his own terms—terms in which the Teacher clearly trusts.

When Noé wakes up he finds Vanitas perched atop a clock tower like a gargoyle, sulking. When Noé mentions how sometimes Vanitas looks like he’s “given up on something”, Vanny pulls a knife on him and says he wants nothing to do with him. Noé comes back by saying he’s never remotely liked him.

But as the sun rises between them, Vanita’s anger turns to more brooding, and Noé, feeling like he just might understand his companion a bit more, gives Vanitas a cool smile and says he’ll be remaining by his side for the time being. This comes as no surprise, as we know someday Noé will kill Vanitas…or will he?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 05 – Getting to Noé You

Charlatan takes hold of Noé and instigates a trip into his memories; specifically, back to when “Teacher” (not “Master”) brought Noé to live with his two grandchildren, Louis and Dominique in a mansion not too dissimilar from Bocchan’s. The siblings quickly become his first and dearest friends. The three of them, in turn, befriend four kids from the nearby village.

We’ve seen flashes aplenty of Louis—though I assumed she was a girl due to being voiced by one—but here we finally meet the kid, who while withdrawn and aloof does find comfort and even occasional joy in both Domi and Noé’s constant company. The three are inseparable, even sharing a bed during a thunderstorm, and during the blue moon the Teacher seems to indicate to Louis that he brought Noé there to raise him to eventually befriend someone like Vanitas.

That’s key, as Louis is isolated because he is a curse-bearer-in-waiting. He believes Dominique was born to replace him as the heir to the de Sade clan. Things take a turn for the super-dark when one of their village friends is scheduled to be executed, but goes berserk, leading to Louis beheading her to save Noé and Domi. However shitty his situation, he never blamed his sister and adpotive brother for it.

But when Louis himself succumbed to the curse, the Teacher steps in to behead him—right in front of Noé, who could not do what Louis wished and kill him himself. Left with nothing but a chest full of hand-carved stakes, Noé falls in despair for not being strong enough to save Louis or even put him out of his misery.

It’s Noé’s misery and regret upon which Charlatan feeds and tightens its hold on him, ready to curse him as he did Louis. And after reliving his tragic past, Noé definitely seems to be in a bad way…until Vanitas, having not been sucked dry by Jeanne—and possibly even made stronger by her drink—arrives just in time to disperse Charlatan and rescue his new friend Noé.

While lengthy flashbacks can sap present momentum, in this case it feltjustified, as we lacked the full emotional context of Noé’s relationships and motivations. We learn how close he got to Louis and how that made him reluctant to get too close to Vanitas. We see how adorable and sweet Domi was (Kayano Ai is so good at voicing the younger, more innocent versions of her characters), but how Louis’ fate and her family’s plan transformed her.

Finally, we understand why the Teacher sent Noé to befriend Vanitas, as the Teacher seems to be the rare vampire who understands the true value of those born under the blue moon. But then if Vanitas can save the vampires from the curses of Charlatan, why is Noé destined to kill him? Is that the Teacher’s ultimate plan for him, or does it just…happen? For that, we’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 11 (Fin) – All Over but the Crying

We arrive at October 30th, the day the five remaining members of Spearhead get into a scrap with the Legion and lose Fido as well as all but Shin’s Juggernaut. Things are getting desperate and they’re running low on ammo, fuel, and food, which means soon their recon mission will be at an end. All of them know what that means, but rather than dwell on that, they simply keep living their lives until the time fate decides to take them.

This means taking shifts piloting the ‘naut while the others rest or watch the rear from the remaining cargo bot. Thanks to Shin’s instincts and a rainstorm they manage to evade another Legion patrol, but the Legion become more legion by the day. The group finds an abandoned town and decide to take shelter in a school—the first school Kurena’s ever been to. They take a final roll call, and “graduate” the next day.

When they hit a literal wall of sheer rock, Shin suddenly asks to switch with Anju, who is piloting, claiming he’s bored. Once they switch, he cuts the tether to split off from the others and uses his grappler to bring down some rocks so they won’t follow. He sensed more Legion were coming; Legion they wouldn’t escape unless he lured them away. The others aren’t okay with this. Raiden, Anju, Kurena and Theo all agree to go after him.

With no Juggernauts, they have to go on foot, and arrive just as Shin’s ride is trashed and a Legion prepares to crack it open like a tin of sardines and claim his head. Only the weakest of the charging Legion are susceptible to their small arms, and even then only headshots, and there are too many of them. First Theo, then everyone else goes down fighting. The light of the Legion prepares to take Shin’s head—but he has his sidearm. Does it succeed?

We finally check in on Lena, who is under house arrest for her little stunt with the mortars. Even so, she pays a visit to the front lines, and to Spearhead’s HQ. A new group of 86 are being processed. The cycle continues.

Lena is greeted by Lt. Albrecht, who reveals he’s an Alba like her whose wife and daughter were 86 and died in battle. Thanks to Shin, he was given a measure of solace in knowing they didn’t become Legion, as Shin never heard them call Albrecht’s name.

Lena then walks through the now abandoned living space like a ghost looking so out of place after having been in essentially another world the whole time. It’s just so heartbreaking that by the time she was finally able to make it here, everyone she spoke to over the Para-RAID was already gone.

While the cycle of using 86 as cannon fodder continues, there was at least a crucial change. Lena and Shin forged a genuine connection, and it rubbed off on the others too, as they left her a memento: Theo’s drawing of her with handwritten notes from him, Shin, Raiden, Kurena, and Anju. More importantly, they left a Polaroid of the whole group, helpfully labelled by Theo “so she wouldn’t cry” about not being able to tell who was who.

In the end, as a practical matter, all Lena was able to do by breaking protocol and getting in trouble was extend the five’s lives by a few more days. Instead of dying on one battlefield, they died on another. But with Fido gone and his records destroyed, Lena now holds some of the last remaining artifacts of their existence—other than the wrecks and bodies they left behind somewhere out there, after reaching their final destinations.

Lena will surely treasure these things, as well as the cat left in her care, but they’re also primed to fuel her continued rebellion against the broken evil system she’s blindly served for too long. She couldn’t end the injustice for Shin and the others, but perhaps with enough allies and some luck, she can end it for others. Or maybe not. But like them, she’ll fight until fate comes for her.

Maybe then they’ll all get to finally reunite…for the first time.

So ends the first cour of 86. What a powerful show. We’ve known since the start there would definitely be a second one, but now we know there will be a “Special Episode” in between the two. What I’m a little fuzzy on is what exactly became of Shin.

I’d like to hope he managed to shoot himself in the head, and that seems to be supported by the fact he reunites with his brother, whom we know he freed from the Legion. We also see Shin’s headless body. But nothing is certain, which is why I’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

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…