To Your Eternity – 16 – What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

Fushi just won a huge victory, aided in no small part by Tonari’s crew and other people of Jananda. He has March, Gugu, and Oniguma back, a group I’d call family but his creator calls his “past.” By the way, that’s the last time I call him “the creator”, as some guy calls him “the asshole in black” and that’s a much better name for him!

With the Nokkers out of the picture for the time being (but those OP images of Tonari’s crew Nokker-ified still fresh in my mind) it’s nice to see Fushi simply relax, drink some blood, drink some more blood, then conjure a sumptuous feast for his new compatriots. Unfortunately, the food he conjures is from the night March and Parona were drugged by Hayase using Morning Glory-based sedative. Talk about foreboding foreshadowing!

Tonari is the first to wake up from her food coma, and notices Fushi wandering off, as is his wont. For what I believe to be the first time, she apologizes to Fushi for bringing him there. That said, Fushi glimpsed an entry in the big red book that contains her thoughts, her dreams; specifically the entry where she says she’s going to invite him to share a meal with them.

Tonari starts writing in the book again, and regales us with her story so far. She’s always dreamed of “surprising” her dad, who was wrongly accused of killed her mom and sent to Jananda. Faced with the choice of being an orphan and going with her father, she chose the latter.

Eventually, however, her dad got caught up in the leader tournament, and warned his daughter that it wouldn’t be safe to be around him. That turned out to be true, but more to the point, in participating and eventually winning the tournament, Tonari’s father became someone that her seven-year-old self simply couldn’t recognize as her father anymore.

By the time they met at the port as they promised, he was already succumbing to the poison he was given by his rivals in the unending struggle not to lead the island, but simply to have control. Her father’s parting gift to her on her birthday was the book she writes in to this day. The years went on, and she met her found family and eventually, Fushi.

Speaking of Fushi, with March back in his repertoire, he’s able to easily scale the wall and enter Pioran’s cell. While she had urged him to leave her be earlier, now she can’t mask how happy she is that he’s there.

While he could smash the prison walls with one swipe of Oniguma’s paw, he intends to win the tournament, become the leader of the island, and leave the island with Pioran, their heads held high. It’s a good plan, and Pioran is right that he’s become much more reliable.

All he has to do is win the tournament final. Now armed with a reason for fighting, he walks down the corridor to the arena without hesitation. Tonari is there to see him off, worried he wouldn’t show but very glad he did. The two honestly don’t interact much this week, but this is the most tender moment they’ve shared yet. It figures that this comes right before yet another huge setback for Fushi, though fortunately not one that involves the Nokkers.

Then again, who needs the Nokkers when you have the evilest, most badass villain in the whole show in Hayase? Turns out she’s the one who urged Tonari to get Fushi on a ship to Jananda, all so she could eventually face him…and, incidentally, lick his face.

Fushi already has plenty of reason to hate Hayase considering she killed poor little March with an arrow to the back. But Hayase wants to make sure Fushi also understands that his Parona form is “her gift” to him: she tracked Parona down and murdered her by sloppily beheading her so she suffered. This riles Fushi up, and he comes at her with everything he’s got…but it’s not enough.

As Hayase puts it, Fushi is immortal, but feeble. His murderous intent is just one more simulacrum; it can’t hold a candle to her ruthlessness. Also, if we’re honest, Fushi hasn’t had much of a challenge in the tournament thus far, and all of his past opponents had no idea what he was. I guess Hayase doesn’t either, but she knows how he operates, and she knows his gentle nature.

She also knows that when he’s in human form he can succumb to a poison just like any regular human. She sticks him with some morning glory sedative (like I said, simply devastating foreshadowing), and just like that, she is the new leader of Jananda—presumably free to lick him all she wants. At the end of the day, Hayase isn’t the kind of villain who wants to destroy Fushi. Rather, she intends to possess and control him completely. I Imagine Tonari and her crew will have a couple things to say about that!

Meikyuu Black Company – 04 – Shiacalypse Now

Shia leads Ninomiya and Wanibe on a training expedition on the second floor, armed not just with a sword, those lovely star-filled eyes, and those diamond highlights, but a filled-to-brimming tank of enthusiasm for Being a Good Corporate Drone and Doing One’s Duty The Right Way.

Ninomiya has even less energy for this nonsense than usual because he has to produce five million gold in a month or his loan shark will take his life. He doesn’t have time to do things by the book. With his literal life at stake, one can’t begrudge him embracing methods some might call…unsound.

The team encounters a Majin, the monster of legend that causes a “Death March”—treated by Raiza’ha as an unavoidable but potentially profitable natural disaster. Turns out Shia’s employers set her up to be the latest in a long line of powerful human sacrifices to appease the Majin.

What they didn’t count on is that one of the grunts with her is Ninomiya Kinji, who has an ant army at his disposal and soon starts farming monster parts for gold.

As for the Majin, it’s too tough even for the great Shia (its laser beams really pack a punch), so Ninomiya suggests they retreat. Unfortunately the emergency magic crystal dagger used to transport back to the surface only works on one person.

Naturally, Shia gives it to Ninomiya, but her ensuing melancholy goodbye melts his cold cold heart and he not only stays behind with her, but throws the dagger at the Majin, transporting it to the surface where it becomes the company’s problem, as it should be.

The Majin, drawn to Shia’s considerable mana, eventually makes his way back down into the dungeon, where Ninomiya is ready for him in the form of a giant pit trap into which the Majin falls. Ninomiya then has his ant minions fill the pit with cement, and has Shia dry it with her wind magic. When that isn’t enough, he sets the whole thing on fire. Shia can’t argue with Ninomiya’s ends, but the means disturb her.

When the Majin still won’t die, Shia resolves to defeat it, as is her “duty and destiny”, even at the cost of her life. It’s here where Ninomiya unfortunately decides grope her, losing a lot of goodwill he’d built up recently. He admits he looked up her family history, and how her father was of the absentee adventurer variety.

He deduces that Shia has been “brainwashed by thoughts that benefit Raiza’ha”, in part because she was happiest once she joined the company. But just because it improved her life doesn’t mean that life is theirs to throw away and call it “duty”. Raiza’ha isn’t a nation, and Shia isn’t a soldier. She’s just a damn at-will employee.

After being rescued in the nick of time by Rimu, who then quickly dispatches the Majin she reports was “incomplete”, Ninomiya claims victory…for himself, continuing to cement his role as an incorrigible sonofabitch. But he made some good points to Shia about casting aside the corporate conditioning and determining what she wants to do with her life.

If that’s continuing to work hard, fine. If it’s working hard for a company that just tried to sacrifice her to an eldritch abomination, that’s not fine. We’ll see if Ninomiya’s core message gets through to Shia, despite the messenger being a cad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 61 – The Cat Was Right

Totally Invincible

When Tooru leaves the hospital and first sees Kyou, whom she loves, nothing goes as planned. Even as her mind and heart want to go to him and smile, her body runs away as fast as it can…which is, of course, not nearly fast enough to lose the rather athletic Kyou! While Yuki visited, the mere mention of Kyou’s name brought tears to Tooru’s eyes that she quickly slapped away, risking further damage to her head.

Yes, Tooru isn’t running from Kyou because she’s afraid of him, but because of the usual: she’s afraid of being a burden; being unnecessary; causing people pain simply by being around them. She’s afraid of Kyou being disappointed in her. This is what happens when you say your piece and flee like Kyou did. It was a shit move, especially when he knew full well Tooru would take every one of those harsh words to heart.

So it’s as heartlifting to see Kyou get down on one knee and apologize and take back what he said as it was heartbreaking to hear him say those things in the first place to a desperately vulnerable Tooru who was ready to bear her heart but was met with a wall of stone. Kyou has learned a lot from being with Tooru, and one of those things he learned is being more aware of how his words and behavior affect people.

He knows how lucky he is to see Tooru again to apologize, and humbly asks for one more chance with her, because if he’s going to live, he wants to live with her by his side, because he loves her. Tooru responds by asking if it’s really okay for her to stay by his side, and hold his hand, and he points out she’s already holding it, gently places his hand on her face, and gives her her second kiss—the first being when he wasn’t sure he’d have this second chance.

When Kyou laments that being with him means suffering because of his “weird body” (let’s not forget, without that rosary he’s an odd, smelly beast), but Tooru simply tells him she loves him, that that love is “totally invincible”, and he starts thinking maybe he’s invincible too. They hug, both fully expecting him to transform. But he doesn’t, because the curse has been broken.

The Original Promise

It broke because Tooru was able to make a new connection with Akito, and show her that it was going to be okay even if it broke, and that it ultimately be better for everyone, including Akito, if it broke. We thankfully get to see a bit of Akito visiting Tooru in the hospital, where she confesses it all came down to her being jealous of Tooru and how goshdarn pure and pretty she is.

Rather than rightfully reply with a “guilty as charged”, Tooru is Tooru, saying she’s neither pure nor pretty, and if it isn’t too much trouble she’ll thank Akito not to sort people into categories based on “things like that” and use them to keep her distance. If Akito thinks Tooru is pure, then she believes Akito is pure too, and never more than she was when she approached in the rain.

As Tooru and Kyou hug without him transforming, Akito thinks about that visit, and how Tooru repeated her heartfelt desire to be her friend, and Akito’s willingness to be that, resulting in a new beginning, something she never thought possible all her life until meeting Tooru. She feels the hand of the original God on her head, and we’re sent back to time immemorial, and the genesis of the Curse, which was originally not a curse at all.

What it was originally was an effective coping mechanism for the crushing loneliness of the original God, living in his house on top of a mountain, too strange and different to interact with the humans below. The first being to ever visit him was the Cat, who promised to stay by his side and kept that promise.

The cat taught the God that perhaps others who were “different” would be willing to be his friends. He sent out invitations, and twelve other animals responded. The moon quietly watched over the banquets shared by those who were different—what a beautiful collection of words—but eventually the first of them, the Cat, became ill and neared death.

The God enchanted a sake cup that would make the bonds between him and the thirteen animals eternal; that even if they died, they’d be reborn and reunited. But the dying cat neither needed nor wanted eternity, which the other animals saw as a rejection and admonished the Cat.

But the cat was on to something, even back then, at the very first collection of the Zodiac. He beseeched God that they accept that things end, that mortality, while scary and lonely, is what makes life life, and makes love love. The Cat said to God he was fortunate to be with Him for even a moment, but after he died, the other animals ignored his calls for acceptance.

Still, they were still mortal, and one by one died, until only God was left, his house a ruin reminiscent of one of the deserted huts in the Boy’s village in To Your Eternity. Then God died, but was reborn with the others and the eternal banquet resumed. This original memory, which occurred so long ago, was forgotten by all…until it was told to us by the incomparable Iwami Manaka, whose voice moved me to tears on several occasions this week.

Cry With Me

But the promise endured, until present events now have Akito asking the original God if it’s okay for her to stop being special or a god, and just become Akito…to end the eternal, set down the extinguished torch, and begin her life.

As she asks this of her progenitor, the answer is revealed, as one by one the remaining Zodiac members are released from their eternal bonds. For many, like Kisa and Rin, it happens beside Hiro and Haru, respectively—those who already felt the pang of intense and all-encompassing sadness and loneliness that comes with the breaking of the curse. But Kisa has Hiro, Rin has Haru, Ayame has Mine, and Kyou has Tooru.

The coping mechanism is no longer needed. Both the animals and the god are now free to live among one another and with humans who love them and want to live with them. Free to make new beginnings and free to create new bonds. To commemorate this moment, Kyou rips the rosary off his arm and nothing happens. He’s now free to be Kyou, not the Cat, and free to love Tooru, who loves him more than she loves anyone else.

Thank You

All Akito asks as the curse is lifted is for everyone to “cry with her”, but they do more than that. Still sore from the breaking of their bonds, they are actually drawn to her—to Akito, not the God of the Zodiac—and when they do file in one by one, what had been a cold, foreboding, oppressive Souma compound is bathed in warm light.

As the original God states, it would be a long, long time before the cat’s words about eternity not being the answer and the preciousness of mortality became true. But they finally did. Akito may not be a god anymore, but she’s not alone. Tooru makes sure she knows that when she visits with Kyou and the others.

It’s telling that the first person for Akito to embrace post-the breaking of the curse isn’t a former Zodiac member, but the first and best friend of her new non-divine existence: Honda Tooru, who it turns out freed Akito as much as everyone else from bonds none of them ever asked for, and never needed. It is true we mortals must accept that things end, even if that thing is Fruits Basket. But I can’t think of a better or more satisfying ending than the one we’re getting.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Fruits Basket – 60 – Moving Toward that Someone

After starting with Shigure wishing he could be less of a meddling shitstain (fat chance), we thankfully shift to two of my very favorite Fruits Basket characters in Arisa and Saki. Upon visiting Tooru in the hospital they meet Akito for the first time, who claims responsibility for Tooru’s injuries. Saki, the true God of Fruits Basket, says Tooru doesn’t believe anyone is to blame.

Then there’s the matter of Kureno, whom Akito confesses to have stabbed , after emotionally tying him down and trampling on him for years. She’s at a loss about what to do, since neither Tooru nor Kureno will blame her for anything, and that’s when all the years of being raised as a boy are shattered by Saki, who causally, correctly identifies Akito as female. Then Arisa gives Akito a hug, because Akito needed one.

It doesn’t change the sting of Arisa now knowing that she’s been nothing more than a brief blip in Kureno’s life up to this point; that she’s been “polishing a single day’s memories like they were some diamond”, which, goddamn that’s some pretty writing right there. But here’s the thing…what if they were some diamond?

When Arisa visits Kureno in the hospital room, and he says he thought she wouldn’t come because he didn’t deserve her, nothing matters to Arisa anymore but the love she’s feeling. Whatever Kureno wants to do; wherever he needs to go to “leave the sight” of Akito as one final kindness, Arisa will be by his side without fail. She’s done not being a participant in his life. The diamond is nice, but she wants the mine, and she’ll have it, because she’s Uotani Fucking Arisa.

The screen is once more soiled by Shigure’s presence as he and Yuki encounter Haru at his house. Haru notes how Rin has been “impressively worried” about her BFF Tooru, but he’s likely there because he’s worried about Kyou, who hasn’t once visited Tooru in the hospital and is rarely seen leaving his room.

Yuki admits Kyou has “his own pain and his own reasons”, but he also doesn’t give a shit about them. He’s done being Mr. Nice Ratboy, and storms upstairs, where he’s even more incensed to find Kyou packing to leave before Tooru comes home. Kyou says listlessly that his being there would hurt her, that he can’t protect her, and that she’s better off with Yuki.

Yuki then kicks Kyou through the damn door, mocking him for thinking he has to be some kind of superhero plucking Tooru out of midair or save her from getting hit from a car. Of course he’s not that—he’s just a stupid cat—but he doesn’t need to be a superhero.

Kyou admits to Yuki that he always wanted to be him, which in turn causes Yuki to admit that he always wanted to be him. Of course, neither of these facts comes as a surprise to us, but Yuki and Kyou have been so mired in playing out their respective Zodiac roles they failed to notice how much they admired and envied one another.

But here’s the thing, Kyou can’t be Yuki and Yuki can’t be Kyou; Kyou has to be Kyou and Yuki has to be Yuki (though Shigure should probably stop being Shigure). From how Yuki’s seen it, Kyou has protected Tooru just fine by being Kyou; by simply loving her being the one she loves; by being the only one of the two of them to make her truly smile.

Yuki leaves a stunned Kyou with the words “Get your damn act together!”, and Kyou is moved, though not, at first, to the hospital. He has to take care of something first, namely standing up to his grotesque, loathsome creature of an audiophile father. As he heads to his dad’s place, we get a cute little scene of Hiro and Kisa discussing how Hiro breaking the curse hasn’t changed their affection for each other.

When Kyou quietly concedes that his mom’s death was his fault as his “dad” claims, said “dad” tells his maid to call the main house to have him dragged away to the Cat’s Cottage. Kyou, tasting the stew of hatred, fear, and grief he’s got going, refuses to go there. He’ll live outside, because there’s someone he wants to be with.

While listening to his ranting, Kyou comes to recall that his dad said horrible things to his mother, so while Kyou might still claim some responsibility for her depression, it’s much more likely his dad was the one who put her into a state where she decided to “throw herself away.” Well, Kyou won’t do the same thing. He’s going to live.

Akito gets the call, but tells the long-serving attendant to ignore it. She’s decided to free Kyou of his impending sentence, tear down the cottage, and quit this wretched place forthwith (hopefully to go stay with Shigure, as the two unassailably deserve each other). The attendant laments how unlike all these young people, poor old her can’t just start over in the outside world. Oh, cry me a fucking river, you deeply despicable woman. Akito certainly won’t…and good for her!

Kyou has adopted the philosophy of continuing to stand on your own two feet, accepting what you are, and moving toward something—or in his case, someone. After his pep talk with Kyou, Yuki is sulking in the dark when he gets a call from his someone, Machi. It doesn’t matter what she wants, he just wants—needs to see her. Tooru? More like Toor-who?!

Just as Arisa’s anxious racing thoughts of how insignificant she was in Kureno’s life melted away at the sight of him, the gears of Kyou’s feline brain are also spinning furiously with questions like Will she still accept me? Do I still love her? Why? How much? The answers are: Yes (eventually), Yes, Because, and A Lot.

Those questions are meaningless as soon as he spots her leaving the hospital and thos big brown eyes. But then, because this is not a show afraid to crack a joke even in a moment like this, Tooru gets spooked and gives Kyou a taste of his own running away medicine. Unfortunately for her, Kyou can run much faster than her, and quickly gives chase as Arisa and Saki look on approvingly.

Everywhere you look, love is in the air, and I am here for it. And let me reiterate: I’ve never read the source material, so I have no problem with the direction or pace of the adaptation. The way I see it, I’ve been invested in this anime for sixty episodes totalling twenty-five hours over three years, and so far this is the ending I both want and deserve. Keep it up, Furuba!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

86 – 06 – Just a Question of When

Now that the ghostly, ghastly sci-fi horror elements of 86 have been introduced, we look back to worse times when Shin found the headless  corpse of his brother in a once-grand bombed-out city (shades of Osgilliath) four years ago.

Then we look back to better times four months ago, when the ranks of Spearhead were a lot larger and livelier. Anju and Daiya began a kind of tender courtship while Shin lets it all soak in, perhaps knowing full well that it isn’t a matter of if things will go to shit, but when, and for whom.

In the present day it’s a hot July day, and everyone is baking in their metal coffins. They engage in a battle in which they are at a distinct disadvantage without mortar support, which the Republic hasn’t and won’t ever provide. The lighter mood caused by reminiscing about four months ago is shattered when Rikka gets into trouble and Daiya tries to rescue her.

Rikka’s mech is wrecked, and a Legion mech approaches her, she shoots herself in the head, her final words hoping Shin will “take care of things” from there. Daiya is surrounded by horrifying suicide bomber bots, and his last word is Anju who must quickly get over the shock of his loss and continue the battle.

Later, Shin ensures for Daiya what Rikka ensured with her self-inflicted headshot: that neither of them will join the ranks of the undead Legion. He gives Lena the opportunity to shut off the Para-Raid, but she considers it her duty to hear the shot being fired.

Down another two soldiers, Spearhead now has only sixteen soldiers left, and those lost will not be replaced before the next battle. Both the grieving Anju and the others try to hide how much this sucks with protective smiles and cheerfulness. Shin collects two more metal shards to remember Daiya and Rikka, then recalls how his brother hasn’t forgiven him for getting him and their parents killed. His search for his brother’s head continues.

Unlike past episodes that better mixed up Lena and Shin’s experiences, we’re back to one section being all Spearhead and the other being all Lena. It’s Lena’s birthday when Daiya and Rikka die, and Annette makes her a cake and gives her a present. She also casually talks about how 86 are dissected like lab animals if there’s a problem with the Para-Raid, while of  course Republic soldiers are treated far more humanely.

There’s been a tension building for some time between these two between idle chatter about Annette’s suitors and cake ingredients. It doesn’t seem the thoroughly jaded and complacent Annette will ever come around to Lena’s increased empathy for the 86.

Lena’s isolation is further reinforced in her briefing with her uncle. She suggests the Republic deploy the mortars in order to protect the lives of the 86. He responds by again warning her not to “side with the 86”, and that under no circumstances would Republic soldiers ore resources be spent to aid them. As Handler she’s merely responsible for making sure they follow their orders.

But Lena has obviously started to do far more than that. Unlike her uncle and Annette, whom I’m sure believe are “doing all they can”, her threshold for what “what she can” entails continues to expand. She has a corkboard with hand-drawn sketches of the remaining Spearhead soldiers on her desk, while by the window is a crystal case containing those who have been lost.

After signing off with everyone else, Lena is kept on the line by Shin, who voices concern for her because sounds on edge. He suggests she eat some sweets and use the evening to take a break from all these troubles. To Lena, he sounds just like his brother, who gave her chocolate when things were bad. She remarks on how important she regards her memories of him, while also letting slip how important she considers her time talking with with Shin.

When she realizes how that sounds, she turns red as a beet, a color that intensifies when she unwraps the fortune chocolate to reveal a heart. Of course, as she’s an Alba and a Republic Handler while he’s an 86 Processor and it’s a very bad idea to fall in love with him, I won’t go so far as to say nothing good can come of it.

One day, he’ll be the only member of Spearhead left, and then he’ll die. But Shinei Nouzen still won’t die alone, and he won’t be forgotten. It’s not nearly enough, but we can be assured, when that time comes, Lena will do everything she possibly can, even if it makes her a pariah in her world. There’s no going back.

86 – 05 – Ghosts In the Machines

This week we learn the details of how Shin’s brother saved Lena’s life when the helicopter she and her father were on crashed. Despite having everything taken from him by the Alba, Shourei was still a proud soldier of the Republic, and saving Lena—and giving her chocolate to eat—was his solemn duty.

Lena had seen and heard from her father how her people had done horrible things to the 86, so when Shourei’s stomach grumbled, she split the chocolate with him. It’s just that by the end of this episode, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier for Lena if that approaching Legion had killed her, though even then, it wasn’t a sure thing she’d remain dead.

The morning after reliving the most traumatic experience of her life, Lena is once again approached by Annette, who once again has a tasty dessert for her to try, and shifts the talk to party dresses for the upcoming Revolution Festival. Even Annette’s “memorial” to all her past suitors on the wall remind Lena of the actual memorial she just visited, as well as Shin’s undertaker role.

Even Shin tells Lena to go have fun; she’s not expected to spend all her time with Handler duties. As she talks to Shin, she encounters two other soldiers flirting on the stairs and gets a little flustered herself, but any thoughts of kicking back and partying are dashed when Shin announces out of the blue that the Legion are coming—despite there not being any warnings on Lena’s end.

Shin also makes the unprecedented request that Lena switch off her Para-Raid for the coming battle, as there are a lot of “Black Sheep” approaching. Lena resolutely refuses to disconnect, and Shin makes it clear that he warned her. As Shin and the others engage, Lena starts to hear strange voices among the static: the sounds of peoples’ last moments…including Kaie’s “I don’t want to die.”

The voices keep repeating and echoing in Lena’s head, and immediately it becomes clear why so many other Handlers went mad; even in her bedroom with the Para-Raid deactivated, merely reaching for it causes all the voices to rush back into her head. But while no previous Handler ever called back after hearing the voices, Lena still calls Shin back. She had to; she needs answers to what the hell just happened.

Shin is happy to provide the answers, but they’re all horrific downers. He can always engage the Legion before Lena even gets an alert because he can always hear the voices of ghosts of those who have died, but are still there.

Despite the Republic’s official stance that the war will end in two years when the Legion’s AI will shut down, Shin knows better: the Legion have been taking the brains of fallen 86 and copying them to replace the function of the AI due to shut down, thus extending their operating time—and thus the war—indefinitely.

This means the Republic, whose Alba citizens are so keen to hold swanky parties and get drunk and bang, believe they have the war in the bag when in reality, their defeat is almost assured. Not only will the Legion not shut down, but they’ve been building up their numbers, all while the 86 have dwindled to a smattering of children. Soon, Shin says, all of them will be dead.

When that happens, will the Alba fight in their place? Shin doesn’t think it likely. Even if they did, they’d be outmatched, since some of the brains recovered by the Legion were undamaged enough to create “Shepherds”—ghost commanders who make their Legion units significantly more powerful and adaptive.

Lena says if all that is the case, they simply need to wipe out the Legion before the 86 are wiped out, and before Shin’s service time expires. She wants the two of them to win and survive. But as Shin reveals a huge scar around his neck and recalls his brother choking him and saying “It’s your fault!”, it doesn’t seem Shin is interested in surviving. It’s also looking like his brother’s brain is one of those Shepherds.

Lena’s struggle to bring justice and dignity to the 86 seemed quaint and woefully insufficient before we learned the Republic are actually massive underdogs in this war, which won’t end when they expect it. With all this new information, it almost seems like Lena attending that party with Annette and getting blackout drunk would be equally as productive as anything else she could do.

Maybe that’s why Annette warned Lena not to get too close to the 86: because she too knows the truth (or a measure of it), and that there’s nothing left for them to do but enjoy life while the living’s good.

86 – 04 – Your Names.

After Theo lays into Lena for her hypocrisy, Raiden asks that she cut the connection for now. While Theo went too far, no one is in the mood for another “friendly chat” with her. Theo ends up regretting his rant for “tainting” Kaie’s death, making him no different from the white pigs.

After Anju, Kurena and Rekka grab Theo and mend his jacket button, he heads to the hangar to ask Shin what the “Fox commander” would have said to the Handler, a white pig who thinks she’s a saint for getting all buddy-buddy with them. As he secures a scrap of Kaie’s Juggernaut, Shin simply says the commander wouldn’t have said that.

While Theo’s comrades help him to process his grief and rage, all Lena’s “best friend” Annette has for her is pudding and platitudes. I’m not here to say Annette is a coward or a monster—it’s not that simple—but she is an unapologetic cog in a monstrous machine, believes there’s “nothing she can do” to change that, and strongly suggests Lena give up on the 86, and join her at the lab.

It also seems like her patience with Lena’s idealism is wearing thin. Even if she’s not a true believer and sees the injustice in their world, she resents Lena’s continued insistence the worlds can and should be bridged. “There’s pudding here, and not there” is as chillingly banal a defense of slavery ethnic cleansing as I’ve ever heard.

Not satisfied to eat away her pain, the evening light from the windows of HQ  calls to Lena’s mind a memory of riding with her father in a helicopter over the 86 concentration camps. She doesn’t remember much of what happened afterwards, but we can see the chopper was shot down and he tried to protect her from an attacking Legion mecha.

Lena tells her uncle about that memory, and how it allowed her to hold the ideals that the Republic threw away (as she says this, we see the statue of the gorgeous Wagnerian Valkyrie representing those ideals, while the fountain below is fouled with empty bottles and trash. 86’s visuals are rarely subtle, but they are damned effective!

Her uncle dispenses with the pudding analogies and tells Lena straight up that her father was a kind man and a good father, but at the end of the day he was doing nothing more than watching and talking about making it a better place. All he ended up achieving was getting himself killed and planting a potentially equally fatal seed of idealism in Lena. Her uncle probably wishes his niece wasn’t so intent on making those ideals real, as her father was, because the whole point of ideals are that they are unattainable, and trying to achieve the impossible is “foolish and cowardly.”

Still, she refuses to step down as Spearhead’s Handler. Her talks with Annette and her uncle leave her as frustrated as ever, and as she overhears another propaganda report on the public monitor, she hears Theo’s truer words over the reporter’s, reaches a breaking point, and initializes synchronization with Undertaker.

Lena runs to the War Casualties Cemetery, where not a single one of the 86 who have fallen has a grave. She begins by apologizing to Undertaker, then asking if she can learn the names of the members of Spearhead. Shin assures her that what Theo said wasn’t what they all thought, and they realize she didn’t create this world and can’t fix it on her own, so she doesn’t have to blame herself for “not doing the impossible”.

He continues by asserting that callsigns are used and Processor files locked so that Handlers won’t get too attached to them, or become overwhelmed by all the inevitable loss. But Lena doesn’t care; she doesn’t want to be a coward anymore. She asks again for their names, and writes them down as Shin gives them to her.

Then she hears him carving into the scrap of metal for Kaie, and he explains his duty of ensuring those who have been lost are remembered through the ritual, which is partly how he got the name “Undertaker”. He tells her Kaie was the 561st person for whom he’s carved a name, meaning he’s faced each and every one of the people who died beside him. Lena laments having never faced the deaths that occurred under her watch—only felt vaguely bad about them.

Lena then asks for Shin to broadcast her to everyone in the unit so she can apologize to them for not treating them as humans and not even realizing it. She learns from Theo that the previous Laughing Fox was an Alba like her. He was one of them, but as long as she’s inside the walls, they’ll never accept her as one of theirs. Raiden adds that while they’re sorry for thinking she was a “wannabie saint” and “hypocrite pig”, he still doesn’t think she’s cut out to be a Handler.

In a private chat with Shin later, Lena gets his name: Shinei Nouzen, and asks him if he knew a Shourei Nouzen, AKA Dullahan. Shin’s memories of Shourei (with his face scratched out) flood his head, leading him to crack an exceedingly rare smile as he tells her he was his brother.

Throughout all of this, we see the past structure of the series begin to break down, with far more cuts back and forth between Lena and Shin’s worlds. Now that she knows the real names of her unit, she’s rejected the cold complicity of her so-called best friend and jaded uncle.

They told her to extricate herself from this mess, but she decided to dive in deeper, and the more frequent cuts between the worlds is a sign of that fresh devotion to living a more honest life and not giving up on the ideals everyone else has. This episode lacked any battle action and was essentially a simple sequence of discussions.

Despite that, I was never once bored by the visuals that accompanied those talks, which more often than not were arresting both in the reality of the images presented and the interplay between them and the subject matter. I said last week Lena would have to do more to reconcile her ideals and actions, and she took the first steps here. A hard road lies ahead, but as her father’s daughter she’s determined to walk it. She’s had enough of pudding.

Attack on Titan – 74 – A Whole New Ballgame

First, a recap of what transpired in the final act of last week’s episode, which was cut short: We check in on the training corps, with Keith Sadies delivering another tough-love drill sergeant speech while some young trainees are muttering about why they’re even talking about fighting Titans. One of them, Surma, blurts out what a lot of them are thinking: they should align themselves with Eren and the Jeagerists in order to secure a future for Eldia.

Right on cue, Floch arrives with the captive Hange, and asks any and all trainees who wish to join them to step forward. He then orders them to prove their loyalty by beating the shit out of Sadies until he can no longer stand…and they proceed to do just that. Looks like the next generation of Eldian fighters are on board with the change of leadership.

Eren looks on from a window as his former comrades sit in a jail. We then check back in on Levi, who successfully captured Zeke. Just as he’s coming to, Levi informs him the detonator for the lightning spear lodged in his chest is connected to Zeke’s neck with a rope, so no quick movements.

He then starts hacking away at Zeke’s feet and ankles, ensuring his Titan healing will keep him from moving around too much. Zeke asks a seemingly mundane question: whether Levi happened to know what happened to his glasses. We learn the distinctive specs once belonged to a Mr. Ksaver, with whom Zeke used to play catch.

That brings us to the next episode, in which Zeke takes his mind off the pain he’s currently experiencing and looks back on his life, starting with the first day his parents took him outside the walls of Liberio. An initially friendly Marleyan janitor tosses his bucket sludge on Zeke and his parents when he spots their Eldian armbands, claiming they’re defiling the clock tower and cursing them for daring to procreate.

Marleyans shout epithets as the Yeager family walks through the streets. Turns out Zeke’s parents intended to show him that his is what it’s like on the outside world, and why Eldians need to fight so their children and children’s children won’t be thus oppressed. Their plan involves making Zeke a warrior candidate…but it doesn’t go well.

Zeke is undersized for his age and not particularly athletic, so despite his best efforts, he falls behind and risks washing out, ruining his father’s plans. Their relationship sours and Zeke falls into depression as someone shunned both by his candidate instructor and his parents. Meanwhile, his father never once just played with him; it was always about business…about the grand plan.

There was only one person in Zeke’s life who didn’t shun him for not shaping up: Tom Ksaver, who happens to be the Beast Titan. Zeke caught Ksaver’s eye when he was struggling with training, and Ksaver reached out to him with nothing but a baseball and the offer to play some catch whenever he wanted.

In Zeke, Ksaver saw a kindred soul; one not inclined for military duty but thrust into it nonetheless. While he’s the Beast Titan, he’s also a researcher, and didn’t seek glory in becoming the Beast, but answers to the mysteries of the Subjects of Ymir, which to him make all the hatred and war in the world seem trivial.

Ksaver impresses upon Zeke that there’s nothing wrong with him just because he can’t walk the path his parents laid out for him. The two of them are simply “decent people, a real rarity” in their world. And because Zeke is constantly overhearing his parents engaging in seditious activity and won’t heed his wish that they stop “doing dangerous things”, Zeke comes to Ksaver with the knowledge his folks are Restorationists.

Zeke was right to trust Ksaver, who tells no one else what he hears, but he also tells Zeke there’s no choice but to turn his parents in. If Zeke does that, he’ll save himself and maybe his grandparents. Ksaver makes it clear that it’s not Zeke’s fault; his parents chose their traitorous paths and there was no saving them. Had they acted a little more like his parents and less like operators, maybe Zeke wouldn’t have done it. But by the time he fingers them and they’re sent away, Ksaver has already been more of a father than Grisha.

That relationship continues as Zeke grows up, and he learns how Ksaver once made the mistake of trying to live his life without an armband. When his wife found out he was Eldian, she slit their son’s throat and then her own. Ksaver has been “running from his sins” ever since, all the while believing it would have been better to have never been born at all. Hearing his Ksaver’s story, and his desire to retake the Founding Titan and save the world, Zeke resolves to inherit the Beast Titan from his mentor.

Near the end of his term, Ksaver shares his findings regarding Zeke’s function as the key to the lock that can break the Eldian vow renouncing war. Before passing the Beast to Zeke, he tasks him with finding that lock: the Founding Titan. Zeke also inherits Ksaver’s distinctive glasses, which is why they were so important to him that he asked Levi about them.

Time passes, and after the scouting mission to Paradis, Reiner and Bertholdt inform Zeke of the identity of the Founding Titan—Eren Yeager, Zeke’s own half-brother. He learns Grisha wasn’t turned into a Titan upon reaching Paradis, but remarried and had another son in hopes of salvaging his plan.

More years pass, and Zeke finally meets his half-brother at the hospital in Liberio, where Eren is posing as a wounded veteran. Eren already heard the gist from Yelena previously, but Zeke reiterates his plan for Eldian euthanization, in which the Founding Titan’s power will be used to sterilize all of the Eldians in the world. If successful, within a century there will be no more Eldians for the rest of the world to hate, and no more Eldians who will have to suffer that hatred.

It’s the equivalent of taking the ball and going home, only the “ball” is their very existence as a race of people. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but history hasn’t been kind to any of the alternatives, to say the least. Eren tells Zeke how he experienced the memories of Grisha slaughtering the wall’s royal family, and could even feel the heads of the children his father killed in his hand.

But where both his father and he (at the time) were wrong is that those children were killed so that they could live. Eren, like Zeke and Ksaver, would rather Eldians didn’t live than have to suffer under the heel of the Marleyans. So he agrees to help Zeke end two millennia of Titan domination. Rather than shake hands to arouse suspicion, Zeke simply tosses Eren a baseball.

Zeke wakes up in a cart driven by Levi through the pelting rain and mutters “Eldia’s sole salvation is its euthanization”. Zeke’s final words are “Mr. Ksaver? I hope you’re watching!!” before triggering the thunder spear detonator and blowing himself up.

Even if Levi survived the blast, he’s probably in pretty bad shape. Meanwhile, I could just make out Zeke’s torso falling to the ground. If there’s enough of him left for the Titan healing to work its magic, and Levi is too injured to keep him restrained, then there’s no longer anyone standing between him and Eren; between the royal blood and the Founding Titan.

The question is, will Eren really carry out Zeke’s monstrous, genocidal plan to relieve Eldia of the “injustice of life?” Or does he have something else in mind? One thing’s for sure: final episode of the final season will be a busy one.

Wonder Egg Priority – 07 – Oyakodon (Parent-Child Bowl)

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”—The Dread Pirate Roberts

It’s Rika’s birthday. On one level, that’s a good thing: a cause to celebrate with her new friends, while also celebrating Ai’s retirement from shut-in-dom. Ai describes her sudden change of heart as having realized beating herself up at home wouldn’t solve anything.

On another level, Rika’s birthday also a reminder that she is one year older, one year closer to possibly becoming her lonely, alcoholic mom, and no closer to learning who her father was. Her mom agreed to tell her when she got into middle school, but she doesn’t know herself, and gives her five possible candidates. It could be one of them or none of them.

It’s instructive that Rika lives above a bar her mom owns. That bar has not only been the place where her mom no doubt met these many men over the years to try to quell her loneliness (and drown it in booze when she failed) but before Rika could enter her home she always had to walk past a gauntlet of drunk men.

Rika takes her birthday celebration as a chance to air some grievances, albeit with her usual irreverent tone that implies she doesn’t care. In truth, meeting her real dad is almost all she cares about. She believes her mother never wants her to meet him, since they might get along.

She calls her mom a “tragic heroine with a persecution complex” who has never apologized for anything and has nothing but her own pride. She thinks her mom believes she could have been happy if only she didn’t have her. Neiru, ever calm and logical and correct, asks rather tactlessly if Rika hates her mom too, and if “that’s what they call co-dependence.”

This angers Rika, who storms off, but she fully expects Ai to chase her, and she does. Ai is ready to continue the mom-insulting session, calling the two of them the “Single-Mother Girls”. As they wander the abandoned entertainment center and Rika swings and misses at the batting cages, “Serious Rika” comes out of her shell to talk about all the bad stuff that she remembered at once. As Ai listens, Rika wonders what the hell is even up with adults, who presumably bang and marry because they like it, yet end up like her mom.

Neiru and Momoe are worried about Rika, but when they hear her yell they’re confident she’s okay. Neiru wonders whether she’s too honest and direct for “female society”, but Momoe tells her she’s fine that way, as she hates when everyone pretends to agree. Neiru cops to being a straight-up orphan who never knew either parent, and notes it seems to have spared her “a lot of trouble.”

On the rooftop, Rika asks Ai about her dad, who she sees at least once a month, and thus is still her daddy even though her parents broke up. Rika can’t even remember her dad’s face—only his gentle voice when he once told her “a beautiful woman never needs a wallet.” After shedding a few tears of frustration from wanting to see him and not being able to, Rika declares “Moping Time” over and takes off.

The episode then shifts between Rika’s latest Wonder Egg battle and the battle she fights every day by having to cross a gauntlet of drunk men and her mom to gain access to her home. This Egg Girl and her family were members of a suicide cult, but still loves her Wonder Killer and wants Rika to join them in cosmic bliss.

She gives Rika the hard sell, telling her how her family was cursed by karma from their past lives, so they abandoned their attachments to the physical world. The Wonder Killer, whom the girl calls “the teacher”, talks of a flawed world “fixated on worthless appearances and hierarchies” in which the haves grow arrogant and the have-nots envious.

Once up in her dark room, Rika pulls out her box-cutter and draws it close to her arm. In the battle, the Egg Girl notices the sleeve on Rika’s arm covering her scars and tells her to “erase herself”, revealing more of the same scars on her own arm as a show of solidarity. The Egg Girl was once like her, hating, envying, and drowning in pain and despair, before becoming one with the teacher and becoming part of a “vast energy.”

Normally Rika might not be so easily taken in by this new age gobbledygook from the child of parents who bought into what someone was selling, but it’s her birthday, and “all the bad stuff” is still foremost on her mind. The pain of still not knowing her dad, the fear of becoming just like her mom; they weigh on her, and the Egg Girl and teacher’s offer to “erase her karma” sounds like a good one in the there and then.

In this psychologically vulnerable state, the Egg Girl and Wonder Killer are tag teaming her towards her doom. Aca and Ura-Aca even worry that they could lose her. Ai, Momoe and Neiru, sensing she’s in trouble, use their pendants to snap Rika out of it, but their voices fade out as the Wonder Killer tells her to relax and surrender herself to his “hug of life.”

The only thing that saves Rika from oblivion is the fact she too is a mother; a fact she’d forgotten in the haze of the cult proselytization. Her turtle guardian-child, Mannen, grows to full size and blocks the Killer’s hug, saving Rika. She realizes because he imprinted on her, he thinks she’s his mom, and that she almost turned into a “selfish, piece-of-shit” mother by giving up and abandoning her child.

Declaring death to all fake men who ask women for money, and partners with Mannen to give the teacher the “slice of death.” The Egg Girl is devastated, asking why Rika, who like her cut her own arm to endure the pain of life, turned down a chance at sweet release. But Rika wasn’t buying what the teacher was selling. Dying isn’t the answer; not for her. Even if it means hurting herself, she’s going to live.

Rika reunites with her extremely worried and relieved friends. Neiru doesn’t join in the group hug but makes it clear she’s glad Rika is okay. Later that night Rika goes downstairs, after the bar has closed, where her mom is where she always is, drinking herself to sleep. Rika takes the cake out of the fridge and has a bite, confirming her mom’s worry the cream has dried out.

Her mom laments having gotten “old” before she knew it. Rika points out she’s only 40, and her mom corrects her; she’s 38. She says she’s sure Rika will abandon her, too. Rika concurs, but after a pause, sais “…but not now.”

* * * * *

This episode shines as a heartwrenchingly sober examination of the duality of parents and children as both curse and blessing to one another, how they hate, blame, and envy or resent one another, and how society only seems to make things worse. And yet, life and all its pain is presented as preferable to the bleak, defeatist alternative rapacious charlatans have offered since time immemorial.

Rika may not know how to win, if winning is possible, or even what victory looks like in this painful, fucked-up world. But no matter how many cuts she receives—by her own hand or otherwise—or batting cage balls she swings through, one thing she won’t do is stop playing. If she does, she knows she’ll lose, and she wouldn’t be the only one losing.

If this is all feels a bit heavy and complex for a cold cloudy Tuesday afternoon…well, I can’t blame you. I’m just glad a show like this exists, frankly presenting such ideas about these girls’ lives juxtaposed with the mundane heartaching beauty of the world in which it’s lived. It’s the kind of breathless ambition and thematic richness all too many anime would rather not adopt, instead pursuing the easy buck and assured popularity.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a time and a place for that stuff too!—but it’s shows like Wonder Egg Priority that confirm that murmurs regarding the decline of anime are grossly exaggerated. This isn’t just the best anime on the air. It’s the best television show, period.

Horimiya – 07 – Downpour

I. The Coffee Stain

Yuki would never say so, but Hori falling for Miyamura worked in her favor. It meant Tooru would have to give up on Hori and look for love elsewhere. Yuki makes an effort to hang out with Tooru more frequently, in hopes they’ll grow closer. She doesn’t let little opportunities like carrying the class trash out together slip away.

Unfortunately for Yuki, this backfires when, while she’s teasing Tooru, he bumps stright into Kouno Sakura, who is presently crushing on him hard. Coffee from the trash spills on Sakura’s top, and when Tooru runs off to grab his gym jacket for her to wear, Sakura asks Yuki if she and Tooru are dating. Yuki tells the truth: they’re not. But she also leaves out the truth: she’d like to.

Sakura takes Yuki’s reply as cause for relief. In the StuCo office she asks Kakeru about why he likes Remi. He gives a very heartfelt response about how despite him not being that strong, he feels compelled to protect Remi, which inspires him to become stronger, so Remi really protects him too…and Sakura.

Buoyed by these words of support, Sakura returns Tooru’s washed jacket and gives him a bag of homemade cookies. He genuinely loves them, especially the sakura colored ones, so Sakura gets him to repeat “I love Sakura”, which is wonderfully devious on her part!

II. Smiles and Cupcakes

Hori watches something play out in the bookstore that’s a microcosm of Yuki’s tendency to withhold how she really feels or what she wants: she reaches for the last issue of something just as someone else is, and lets that person take it. “The things she loves or wants tend to escape her.”

The more upset she is, the more she’ll smile to hide it. So Yuki is beaming when Tooru goes out to the hall to talk with Sakura, and smiles even wider when Sakua offers her cookies, after initially refusing them under her breath. The trash is right there in which to toss them, but they’re too damn good to waste.

Not wanting to give up on what—on who she wants, Yuki reaches out to Miyamura for cake-baking advice. He assures her he wasn’t born a baker, and nobody’s good at anything when they first start out. If she messes up, she should just give it another shot.

Yuki takes that advice to heart in both baking and Tooru. She has Horimiya try her first (failed) attempt, but to her horror Tooru joins them, eats an entire burnt cupcake, and smiles his big smile saying that while it was utter crap, he looks forward to the next batch. The Yuki-Tooru-Sakura love triangle is official!

III. FIVE DAYS

After two very strong segments focused on secondary characters, this felt like it would be an entire episode in which Horimiya’s romance would be placed on the back burner. O me of little faith! On the contrary, the latter two segments are all Horimiya, All the time, and greatly advance their relationship.

This segment is the epitome of the adage absence makes the heart grow fonder, as Hori and Miyamura are separated almost the whole time. Miyamura is away with family in Hokkaido for five days (a funeral from the looks of it). It’s he longest period they’ve been apart since they became a couple, and to make matters worse, Miyamura’s phone dies and he left his charger back home!

While those sound like the ingredients for another rom-com cliché, in which a lesser show would milk the misunderstanding around his lack of replies, by now we know better. Hori never feels like Miyamura is avoiding her, it just sucks ass that he’s away. She also carries out functions as if he were there, like getting him a drink at school or setting a place for him at the table at home. She counts the days off on her hand.

Five Days is a little masterpiece of brooding atmosphere and steady crescendo-ing anticipation of Horimiya’s eventual reunion; anyone who’s had to endure time alone with a new love knows full well what they’re feeling.

When Miyamura finally gets home and plugs his phone in. we don’t get to see the message that greets him, only his reaction: to run to Hori’s. Hori, meanwhile, can’t wait any longer, and rushes to Miyamura, and the two end up meeting in the elevator.

I breathed a sigh of relief, having been conditioned by countless other anime for the two to just miss one another another couple times. Hori’s tearful look of elation really is a sight to behold, and as she steps back to welcome him back, we see the message on Miyamura’s fallen phone: “Hurry up and get back here, dummy.”

IV. FEELING THE HEAT

That brings us to the final most stunning segment of the entire series. It starts out so simply, innocently, and comically, with Yuki, Sakura, and Remi taking Hori to task for loving horror and slasher movies and making Miyamura watch them. They insist that’s weird and could even push him away.

The next time Horimiya watch a scary movie, Hori tries to follow his friends’ advice, first by pretending to act scared as an excuse to draw closer, which scares the bijeezus out of him. Then she tries to surreptitiously take his hand, only causing him to recoil in terror. He apologetically goe off to be alone for a minute, and Hori retires to her room, devastated that what Yuki said has come true, and he wants nothing more to do with her.

Naturally, nothing could be further from the truth, and before long Miyamura joins Hori in her room where she’s sulking about “not being cute”, because she doesn’t and can’t get scared. Miyamura realizes she was doing that stuff for him, and reminds her he didn’t fall for a “normal girl”, but for “her”, just like she fell for him and all his quirks, among them his tendency to be a scaredy-cat.

Miyamura suggests they go back and watch the rest of the movie, but instead Hori calls him Izumi and slides off the bed and into his arms. She puts her ear to his chest to listen to his heart; he does the same. As the rain continues to fall in sheets outside, they move to the bed. Hori notes Miyamura’s cold ears and hands, says he can’t go home in such a downpour.

In her head Hori says “There was a heat within me, and I wanted Miyamura to feel it too.” And so Hori and Miyamura make love for the first time.

At some point after that, Miyamura has some real talk with Souta, who is worried about losing his big sister. Miyamura assures him he won’t take his big sister away, but asks if he can have Kyouko, to which Souta assents. Poor Souta! Still, he’s really not losing anyone; he’s gaining a big brother.

In a post-credit, post-coital sequence, the two are naked together and Hori proudly declares she’s bitten Miyamura on the neck, so he’d better grow his hair back to hide it. So there you have it! Going from a stolen candy kiss and a make-out session interrupted by Hori’s dad, to going all the way.

There’s no doubt that being apart for five days, and the joy they felt upon reuniting, was another milestone in their relationship, something they couldn’t reach without experiencing being apart. But it was also a matter of it simply happening—effortlessly, organically, just like so many other important moments in this series. Nothing is forced; everything just makes sense.

By being in Hori’s room they had the privacy; by reiterating that why they love each other has nothing to do with anyone else, they had the intimacy; and heck, the fact it was cold out, and there was the soothing sound of that rain…I can’t stress enough how simply, beautifully and tastefully this scene was composed. It’s rare for an anime to depict a loving couple earnestly taking the next step—one of the best, Kare Kano, is twenty-two years old—but if any contemporary series could do it, it’s Horimiya, and it did.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 19 – The Unseverable Fire

Shinobu praises Zenitsu for holding out administers the antidote to the spider’s poison, Giyuu ties the injured Inosuku up for his own good, and that’s literally it for those four characters. The remaining runtime is spent exclusively on Tanjirou, Rui, and Nezuko, resulting in Demon Slayer’s finest episode to date.

After getting his head cut by Rui’s threads, Tanjirou tries to get close once again, refusing to take back what he said about Rui’s familial bonds being false. Rui reveals he is one of the Twelve Kizuki and unleashes a web of threads, forcing Nezuko to leap out of her box to shield her brother from wounds that would surely kill him.

This changes the entire complexion of the battle, as Tanjirou is no longer on his own, and now that Rui knows that Tanjirou actually does have such an unassailable bond with his sister, he carries her with him even though she’s now a demon. Naturally, Rui wants that kind of bond, but knows no way of attaining it except by stealing Nezuko.

When both Tanjirou and Nezuko protest and fight back, Rui suspends Nezuko in a web of threads that squeeze her limbs so tightly they threaten to slice her into bits, pulling tighter when she won’t settle down until she passes out.

Of course, Tanjirou can’t bear to see his sister so viciously treated—especially under the guise of Rui asserting his newly-established familial “bond” with her. Tanjirou digs deep into his Water Breathing and manages to unleash the Final Form, which is just enough to slice through Rui’s threads.

The only problem is that the threads are not at their maximum strength, and even if they were, they’re not as tough as Rui’s skin. Tanjirou simply cannot spin the water fast enough to be a considerable threat to Rui; worse, the attempt only makes Rui grow tired of the battle, and he strengthens his threads with his own blood to ensure Tanjirou will get sliced.

With Nezuko out cold and those deadly threads about to close around Tanjirou, his life flashes before his eyes, something Shinobu told Zenitsu earlier could be a person’s way of trying to find some way, any way, of delaying death by looking back on one’s life.

In Tanjirou’s case, he looks back to when he and Nezuko were happy little kids, both watching and imitating their father’s Hinokami (fire god) Kagura dance. Despite being frail, their dad was able to dance beautifully in the freezing cold thanks to a specific type of breathing which, along with his distinctive earrings, he vowed to pass to his eldest son.

Tanjirou only remembers that he has inherited Hinokami Kagura Breathing now because he has to; because otherwise death is imminent. Blue water turns to red fire which Tanjirou uses to slash away Rui’s reinforced threads on his way to the demon’s neck. However, he needs one more push, courtesy of a familial bond Rui doesn’t have, and thus could never truly defeat the Kamados.

That bond is expressed when Tanjirou and Nezuko’s mom urges the unconscious Nezuko to wake up, because she has to save her brother. In another first, Nezuko unleashes her own Blood Demon Art, “Exploding Blood”, which is exactly that. Her blood travels along the threads until it reaches Rui just as Tanjirou makes contact with his neck.

The combined powers of true loving brother and sister successfully decapitate Rui, who never knew what hit him. ufotable pulls out all of the visual and musical stops, from dad’s fluid Kagura dance to the climactic decisive strike. It all plays out like the crescendo of a full-length feature film, complete with epic orchestral score, and transitions into a unique credit sequence with images of the Kamado family united as one.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 18 – Big Bad Spider Daddy

Puppet Mama and Spider Boy were only a warm-up for two of the three remaining members of the Spider Demon Family: Father and Rui. Needless to say they are much tougher customers, which is as it should be; why would the difficulty level go down in a demon gauntlet?

Even with Water Breathing, Tanjirou isn’t able to slice through one of Papa’s arms, and Inosuke inarguably saves his life by parrying the counterattack. Even dropping a huge tree on Papa doesn’t kill him, it only seems to make him mad. As Tanjirou goes flying, he begs Inosuke not to die, but wait for him to make his way back to him.

Zenitsu defeated Spider Boy definitively, but continues to pay the price as the poison starts shutting down his limbs. He’s all but ready to step into the light when a series of butterflies appear before him, followed by Shinobu, one of the two elite Demon Slayers sent to salvage the mission.

Tanjirou manages to cushion his fall with water breathing, but he’s only thrown from the frying pan to the freezer. Due to his strong sense of family and morality, he objects to the Spider Brother Rui apparently punishing his sister by cutting her face with his threads as she cries out in pain. Demon or no, that’s not cool. The Brother doesn’t take well to being told his familial bond with his sister is nothing but a sham.

Rui threatens to carve Tanjirou up, but is momentarily distracted by another Demon Slayer who comes out of nowhere. While claiming to be taking the easiest path to higher ranks (and higher paydays), he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He rushes in without knowing a thing about Rui, who dices him into cubic chunks with his threads.

Finally, we have Inosuke, trying to hold out against Papa Spider. While he briefly starts “using his head” like Tanjirou, he shakes that off and follows his own primal instinct to charge the enemy without fear. He keeps hacking at the arm until he manages to slice through, and Papa flees…but only to molt his own skin, revealing a bigger, tougher, meaner skin beneath it.

Inosuke’s chipped blades shatter when he attempts Beast Breathing, and Papa grabs him by the head and squeezes. Inosuke’s life flashes before his eyes, including when his bloodied mother sent him away to avoid being killed, and the interactions with Tanjirou and Zenitsu which seems to value.

Just before his skull pops (and the foley is pretty ripe) Inosuke is rescued by Giyuu, who cuts off Papa’s arm with one slash and defeats him with a single elegant Water Breathing Form. It’s a pretty convincing and awesome demonstration of just how much more powerful Giyuu is than Tanjirou, Zenitsu, or Inosuke.

Inosuke is safe, and so too is Zenitsu, but Tanjirou is still out there on his own against Rui, and we get a cliffhanger of Rui’s vicious thread cutting straight through Tanjirou’s sword on a collision course with his face. It’s a big forest, so it could take a while for help to arrive. Could the sister demon be an unlikely ally to Tanjirou? And what about his own sister—when will she pop out of her box?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 06 – It’s Getting Hot in Here

It’s still rather cold in these parts, so it’s refreshing for this week’s Horimiya to take place in the middle of summer. But even if it didn’t, it still radiates warmth and good vibes from every angle. Hori’s dad sees Miyamura in his school look for the first time and momentarily wonders who the hell he is.

Once he realizes it’s Miyamura, he insists they take a bath together to wash off the day’s heat. Coincidentally, Hori is watching a TV show wherein a lecher is about to assault a young woman, only for that woman to reveal she’s a skilled MMA fighter and kicks his ass.

In addition to being an amusing prism to Miyamura and Kyosuke’s dynamic, it also foreshadows a number of wonderful subversions of typical high school rom-com clichés, which like the warm and cozy aura of its main couple has fast become Horimiya specialty.

After dinner and past 8:30, Miyamura assumes he’s “worn out his welcome”, but that’s not for him to decide. Hori’s suggests he spend the night, though it’s Hori’s dad he’ll be sleeping beside. Kyousuke doesn’t interrogate him that night, only asking what Miyamura likes about his daughter. His response: she doesn’t judge people by appearances.

While this is primarily the story of Hori and Miyamura’s understated yet potently blossoming love, it’s also the story of Miyamura being accepted for who he is by his new friends at school, as well as flat-out becoming a member of Hori’s family.

It’s in this scenario he gets to see something no one else could: Hori wearing her middle school gym uniform as pajamas (when she stomps on her father to open the blinds that morning). It’s also so goddamn lovely when Hori’s mom corrects him when he’s headed out the door. He’s family, not a guest, so he should say ittekimasu, not ojamashimashita. My heart just about burst right there, but Horimiya was just getting started!

Unfortunately, most of the kids at Miyamura’s school either don’t know what a sweet guy he is and are all too willing to judge him by his “emo” appearance. When a couple guys spot him leaving the same house with Hori, it sets off a torrent of rumors at school that they’re dating.

I like how we get a little shot of Tooru and Yuki legitimately upset by this development, with Yuki actually weeping at the prospect of things turning sour just when Miyamura and Hori got their act together. I like more how despite the unsolicited attention and rumor-mongering, Hori takes everything in perfect stride. By now she’s quite comfortable confirming that Miyamura is her boyfriend, and doesn’t need to explain that relationship to anyone.

Miyamura, however, doesn’t fare as well. A common refrain in the halls is “wait…that Miyamura?”, as Hori is both hugely popular and has rejected a number of more “conventional” suitors. So Miyamura apparently decides that if the school wants a prettier cover, they’ll get it: he arrives the next day having cut his hair short, revealing his piercings and eyelashes.

It’s an interesting and complex choice by Miyamura that instantly changes the conversation, as he becomes an immediate sensation with the ladies. Rather than do it because he’s worried about adversely affecting Hori’s reputation (though that could be part of it) it feels more like an act of empowerment. It indicates that Miyamura is well aware he’s got the goods, he’s just never flaunted them at school.

Rather than passively keeping his chin up or not listening to the murmurings, Miyamura took an active step in the realignment of the conversation around him and Hori. With his new ‘do and the striking beauty it reveals, “wait…that Miyamura?” turns to “oh, that Miyamura!”. 

As one would expect, Hori isn’t used to Miyamura getting the added attention and adoration, and her reaction is to create a cold enough atmosphere around her that it shoos away the newcomers. When a girl snaps candid pics of Miyamura with their phone (without asking him, WTF!), Hori gets right in his face with a DSLR!

Despite the increased liveliness at school, what I love more than anything about both the news of Horimiya dating and Miyamura’s new look is that it doesn’t really affect their core relationship. Hori doesn’t seem hurt that Miyamura cut his hair without consulting her, and seems content with his prefab excuse that it’s summer and long hair is hot.

Hori may grow possessive at school—Miyamura is her bf; so she has every right to be!—but not so much so that she makes a federal case out of his makeover. Hori has Miyamura, and vice versa, and it’s no longer important that no one knows he’s a hottie or that they’re dating.

Since they’re the usual Horimiya, Miyamura comes home with Hori as usual, and has the unlikely but hilarious distinction of having a third distinctive look in three straight encounters with Hori’s dad. Before long, they’re answering an invite from Shindo to come to his place and help him eat bizarrely flavored hard candy.

It’s here where Miyamura again demonstrates his whimsical timing with romantic gestures, as he asks Hori how her candy tastes, then leans in and steals it from out of her mouth. She sheepishly says “he stole my candy” the way Jujutsu Kaisen’s Kasumi sheepishly says Maki stole her sword, but what he really stole was their first kiss….just like that! For the record, that candy tasted like clay, which should make the kiss that much harder to forget!

Horimiya lets that kiss simmer on the back burner a bit as we return to school, where the novelty of Miyamura’s new look has thankfully worn off…with one exception: a diminutive girl with similarly black hair and similarly blue eyes seems to be watching, following, straight-up stalking Miyamura.

When Hori and Yuki encounter her in the hall, she asks if Hori and Miyamura are dating, Hori says yes, what of it?!, and the girl beats a hasty retreat, seemingly intimidated. Miyamura’s sudden popularity bounce perfectly sets up this latest high school rom-com cliché, the new love rival, second-year Sawada Honoka.

Before long, Sawada is striding up to Miyamura and flat-out telling him to break up with Hori already, in earshot of others. But in another excellent subversion, it’s not Miyamura Sawada likes…it’s Hori. Thanks to the rumors, she’s learned Miyamura stole a march on her. But she declares she liked Hori first, and won’t accept Miyamura dating her.

This turns into a physical tug-of-war between Sawada and Miyamura, with a flustered Hori as the rope. Tooru can only watch with other classmates in amusement at the spectacle before them, and even texts Yuki to hurry over to watch. Miyamura, clearly no longer hiding who he is at school, finally forcefully grabs Hori into his arms and declares “she’s mine!”, echoing her own words when Remi prodded her about him.

After school, Sawada seemingly follows Miyamura home, only for them to realize that not only are they both heading home in the same direction, they are goddamn next-door neighbors! This is the kind of twist a show that’s built up as much goodwill and credibility as Horimiya can get away with all day long, in my book.

It also marks a further expansion of Miyamura’s relationships, as it’s clear these two aren’t going to just ignore each other from here on out. Sawada forgot her key, so he does what any decent person would do and invites her over to sample some cake from his family’s bakery. Their ensuing conversation starts with, but is not dominated by, Hori, as Sawada learns Hori rarely visits Miyamura’s place since he always goes to her place.

Sawada also assumed that Miyamura had a little brother or sister, since he’s clearly good at taking care of people. Miyamura laughs at that comment, which reminds Sawada of the older brother she says she “had”—past tense—before laughing it off herself. She’s saved by the bell when her folks come home, so she heads out, but Miyamura says she’s always welcome to stop by for some cake.

Miyamura isn’t fooled by Sawada’s last-second fakeout. Sure enough, he learns from his mom that the Sawadas lost their eldest son some time last year, who attended a different school from Izumi but was “such a nice boy”.

At first I wondered why the character designer took such pains to make Sawada so closely resemble Miyamura—was she his long-lost little sister? When we learned she liked Hori, I abandoned that theory as a bridge too far for this show, but it isn’t lost on me how quickly and easily Miyamura is portrayed as a potential surrogate big bro.

Sure enough, the next day Sawada is hounded by three boys, and she retreats to Miyamura, digging her head in his back. It only takes a momentary glare from Miyamura to disperse the lads, but it can’t be understated how glad Sawada must’ve been to have him in that moment. Naturally, when Hori shows up they’re back to competing over who likes Hori more.

Finally, in another wonderful use of what Hori’s watching on TV as a reflection of what goes on in the Hori household, she is forcing both Miyamura and, more pointedly, her dad, to watch a horror movie in which a daughter kills her father. It underscores both Hori’s taste in cinema and the tactics she’ll use to try to get her dad to leave the room, which he eventually does.

Almost the moment her dad’s gone, Hori brushes her knees together and tries her hand at Miyamura’s patented casual romantic utterances, stating “you never make any moves on me, huh.” When Miyaura responds by asking “do you want me to?” she turns red with embarrassment, causing him to chuckle over how cute she looks. Then he asks what kind of moves she wants him to make, then leans in to kiss her.

Kyousuke barges back in asking for change to buy his smokes, and the two lovebirds immediately separate, invoking her dad’s cheeky suspicion, and causing Hori to attempt to reenact the dad-murdering scene from the movie. While I’d hoped they could have shared their first kiss in which both of them were aware a kiss was going to happen here and now, at least they didn’t chicken out; they were simply interrupted. They’ll soon learn to seek places with a bit more privacy!