Insomniacs After School – 09 – Swimsuit Dates

Summer is here, and with it oppressive heat, but at least it dries the laundry faster. We meet Isaki’s older sister (voiced by Amamiya Sora), presumably home for break and bossing Isaki around while she luxuriates on a beanbag with an ice cream bar.

Ganta has big plans for an astrophotography training camp to Noto, but the astronomy club has no track record, so it has no funding. Not wanting Isaki to dip into her New Year’s money or ask his dad, he plans to obtain a summer job so they can fund the camp.

That night, Ganta broadcasts a radio show as he uses the telescope’s astronomy software to direct it at the heavenly body of his choosing; in this case the moon. He notes how life has suddenly gotten “pretty thrilling”, and he says what Isaki would say in response to his anxiety about getting a job (“go for broke!) the same time she says it, causing her to fall of her bed head first and get yelled at by her sis.

The next day, Ganta fails his job interview and is down in the dumps, but Ukegawa cheers him up and says it’s all part of the territory. Ganta heads to the arcade to find Yui apparently collapses, but she just overslept after pulling an all-nighter for an upcoming adult gaming event. While she heads to a hot spring to wash up (Yui’s life is my goal) he straightens up the arcade to her surprise.

When he mentions how he needs funding (for what she halfway-jokes is a training camp for his and Isaki’s “secret flirty time), she asks why he can’t just go to his family, assuming he’s rich because he has a high end camera. Ganta tells her his dad always takes things to the extreme, perhaps out of guilt that his mom isn’t around anymore. Yui decides to offer him a job at the arcade, and he’s so grateful he accidentally soaks her.

Isaki and Ukegawa stop by to congratulate Ganta on his new job, but then Isaki is off to the beach with her girlfriends. Predictably, Kana is the one whose heart is set on snagging some boys (or getting their attention and rejecting them gracefully).

Everyone has cute swimsuits, but Isaki wears a big tee over hers…perhaps to hide the scars from her operations? To Kani’s disappointment, there are no hot guys biting, while Isaki, Momo and Anamizu act like a bunch of little kids. Regardless, they’re all having fun.

When Ganta reports to work that day, Yui is relaing in a kiddy pool with shade, a watermelon, and other comforts, simply Living the Goddamn Life. He tells her his planned itinerary for the camp, and she tells him that it will probably cost a lot more than he thinks. She prepares a list for him of what he’ll need so he can recalculate.

As he goes through this list in her apartment, he realizes he badly underestimated the cash needed; even his summer job might not cover it. That’s when Isaki appears seemingly out of nowhere. After her beach trip, where she had no intention of meeting a guy, she decided to pay a visit to the guy she already has!

She also reports that she was hit on for the first time, waits for his jealous reaction, then qualifies her experience: it was grade schoolers who bought her shaved ice.

When Ganta relays to her their club’s dire financial straits and the need to seriously pare down his ambitious training camp plan, she fires the bullet she’d been saving for the right time: her grandmother has a house right smack dab in the middle of Noto. They can get there by bus for cheap, stay there for free, and cook their own meals.

Isaki’s crucial input makes the training camp doable and reignites Ganta’s excitement. In celebration, the two gently put their hands together and start dancing and singing like complete and utter dorks! Like what the hell, why are they so damn cute?! Then again, I get their enthusiasm. They’re essentially going to be playing house together. It should be bliss!

Alas, Isaki’s parade is rained on when her sister announces that she’ll be “tagging along” on her little training camp, presumably as a chaperone. That said, I imagine her sister has normal sleep patterns, which mean Isaki and Ganta should still have plenty of opportunities to be alone together. And oh yeah, take pictures of the stars or whatever. Sure, why not!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 21 – The Worst Course

Following Aoi’s stunning victory that unlocks her path to the pros, her biological father Reiya finally confirms her suspicions. Rather than mad or hurt, Aoi is filled with happiness, and remains committed to enjoying golf. She and Ichina take leaves of absence from school in preparation to focus on the tour.

Meanwhile, it’s now Eve’s turn to struggle, as the Women’s Europe Open is being held at the absolute worst course for someone with a game as aggressive as hers. She keeps shooting herself in the foot with her bullets, going from trap to trap and bogey to bogey, all while Leo’s new student Aisha Khambatta Vrooms and Booms her way to a comfortable lead.

In keeping with Birdie Wing being as dumb as possible while still being both endearing and amazing, Aisha runs up to the tee before smashing it like a cannon. And as Leo points out, a bullet can’t beat a cannon shell.

Aoi is excited to see Eve in an open, but disappointed she’s so far back in the rankings. She also leaves President Junguuji in her father’s care, and even gives her her blessing. Could the Prez end up being Aoi’s stepmom? Maybe! Meanwhile, after the first day Eve decides that her current Rainbow Bullet isn’t enough.

She has to further hone it into her own rainbow bullet. After the second day she’s made up a little of the gap between her and Aisha, and then that night she finally nails it: a Rainbow Bullet Burst so powerful that Ichina is thrown back by the sheer rainbow-smashing force.

On the third day, Eve wastes no time breaking out her new swing, which Leo initially thinks is just a rehash of her father’s, but is then actually encouraged to see that it’s an evolution of what both he and her father taught her. Her drive goes over 300 yards, and she uses the standard Rainbow Bullet in a bunker to score an eagle.

At that point, Vipere takes her leave, because she’s not only confident that Eve has this in the bag, but that no one can stop her. Not Aisha, at least, who seems thrown off her game by the force of Eve’s drive. And if she can win on this, the most anti-Eve of courses, she can really clean up on less difficult ones.

Of course, the main goal here is to go head-to-head with Aoi in a pro tournament, and now they’re both a lot closer than they were last week. Better still, they’re not related by blood, so the romance angle is still on the table!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heavenly Delusion – 08 – Behind the Curtain

Dr. Usami takes Kiruko and Maru past a gauntlet of people who want to ask him about their prosthetics and leads them to the room with the curtain. Beyond that curtain is a young woman being kept alive by machines, calling to mind shades of Akira. Usami wants Maru to try to kill her the way he did the dormant Man-eaters in the garage.

Why not just disconnect her from the machines? Because they’re not just keeping her alive—they’re keeping her from becoming a monster. This is how Maru and Kiruko learn that all Man-eaters began as humans. Maru places his hand on her heavily bandaged body, and discovers that she has a core. He can do what Usami wishes and end her pain. But what does she want?

Thanks to a tablet, the young woman Hoshio is able to communicate her final wish: to see the sky. She’s been in that dark, depressing room for God knows how long clinging to both life and humanity. Kiruko and Maru agree that they won’t do as Usami asks unless Hoshio can see the sky, so Usami makes it happen.

The episode lingers on the logistics and careful maneuvering needed to move her and all her machines and cables just a few feet to the balcony where a impossibly gorgeous azure sky opens up above them. She stares up at that sky with her single blue eye, takes a few breaths, and then Maru lets her finally rest. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever seen, and not by accident: this episode was guest story boarded by a KyoAni veteran.

After she’s passed, Kiruko and Maru discover that Hoshio left a few final messages on the tablet, thanking Usami for letting her die as a human, thanking him for giving her his eye, and for everything, and telling him she loves him. Usami’s mask slips and he breaks down in big sobbing tears.

As all this was going on, Mizuhashi was apparently killed hitting her head when a rock was thrown by an Immortal Order member. Liviuman storms the facility, and IO’s staff and patients evacuate. Kiruko asks the IO folks about the photo of their Dr. Usami and Robin, and they recognize Robin, much to Kiruko’s delight. They could be inching closer to finding him.

But just as Kiruko and Maru are getting ready to escort Usami after he buries Hoshio, he shoots himself in the head on the roof of the facility, cradling Hoshio in his arms. He’s also holding the same button as the kids’ uniforms in Heaven. Just as he no longer saw any reason to continue Immortal Order with Hoshio gone, he no longer wanted to live in a world without her.

Faced with a dead Usami with a dead Hoshio in his arms, Maru begins to despair, saying that unlike Usami or Robin, his hands “only bring death”. Kiruko hurries to him and takes his hands in theirs, telling him that’s not true. Those hands, my God. Countless people have been saved by him killing Man-eaters. He’s saved Kiruko more than once as well. That matters.

While what happened to Hoshio and Usami is tragic, I’m glad the episode ends on a less somber note, with Kiruko and Maru closer than ever. No matter what happens in this world, if they can just stay together and keep surviving, you get the sense everything will be okay.

Only the episode doesn’t quite end with them. It ends with Mimihime’s dream of being in a dark and scary place, before suddenly being joined by someone who offers their hand (probably her crush Shiro).

When Tokio sees her grinning on the balcony, she asks what the dream was about that made her so happy, and Mimihime says she’s already forgotten. But even if the details of the dream are gone, the emotions remain.

Similarly, the precise nature and timeframe of the “Heaven” where Mimi and Tokio reside remains shrouded in mystery and intrigue, but what matters is that I desperately want to learn whatever answers Heavenly Delusion is willing to provide in its final five episodes.


Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 19 – Let’s Fly

Eve’s mafia entanglements are at an end, which means her estranged grandfather is willing to give her the best of everything to make her a pro as fast as possible. Eve refuses it all, preferring to forge her own path, which means returning home to her family.

I love how her hard edges fall away as soon as she’s reunited with Klein, Lily, and the kids, and she’s no longer a serial golf murderer, but an ordinary young woman who’s happy to be home. Ichina is also relieved to learn that Eve is associated with more “normal”, less scary people. They still mistake her for a kid. Let’s face it: the infantilizing overalls were a bad move!

Speaking of golf murderers, 20-year-old Shikihima Reika is Japanese golf’s current Prize Queen and “It” girl, currently holding the record for youngest to go pro. She’s enjoying the spoils of her pro dominance, including modeling and product endorsement, but there are murmurs of her days at the top being numbered due to the rise of Aoi.

In addition to being So Hot Right Now, Reika also happens to be Amane’s aunt. When Amane provides Reika with a USB drive with all the data on Aoi, it’s not meant to help her, but to show her just how good Aoi is, and that she’s coming for her.

This is also (I believe) the first time we’ve learned that Amane is basically being forced to be Aoi’s caddy in exchange for tuition and living expenses; after her father died, her family was penniless, and Reika’s was not any better off. So Amane made a deal with Seira to stay by Aoi’s side until she went pro.

Seira summoned Amane to Tokyo to pick up a new set of Athens clubs for Aoi. But these aren’t just any clubs: they’re the Shining Wings, painstakingly designed by Amuro Reiya for Aoi and only Aoi, to optimize her skills. When Amane presents the clubs to Aoi, she’s over the moon, taking in the new club smell.

From driver to wood to iron, Aoi can immediately sense these clubs are like an extension of her body, and they improve her stats on the course accordingly. However, tragedy strikes when, in the midst of watching Aoi with paternal pride admiration, noting that the Shining Wings are the “one and only gift” he and Seira will ever give her, Reiya collapses.

At the hospital, Reiya is in stable condition but unconsious. His diagnosis is a rare variant of tuberous sclerosis complex, but for the purposes of this show let’s call it what it is: golf cancer. Amane tells Aoi to leave Reiya in President Jinguuji’s care, but Aoi hesitates. She wants to stay with the man she now believes to be her real father.

Back in Nafrece, Ichina takes to her new life with Eve’s family like a fish to water. While training with Eve, she looks up the results so far of the Japan Women’s Open, in which Aoi is competing for a shot at the pros. Both Ichina and Eve are gobsmacked that Aoi is tied for 89th place with a +4 score. Reika presumes that the pressure crushed her. Amane knows better.

On her call with Seira, Amane notes that Aoi’s slump is directly tied to Reiya’s collapse, along with the searing uncertainty of her paternity, is leading to a lack of focus and one mental error after another. It’s news to Seira that Aoi suspects Reiya to be her father (which is a correct suspicion).

Seira offers to head to the open in Chiba immediately, but in perhaps the boldest display she’s ever made to Seira, Amane tells her stay away and not make Aoi suffer any more. Instead, Amane tells Aoi that Reiya designed her clubs, and that they’re filled with his love and his hope she’ll go pro. This motivates Aoi to go to be early, but Amane hates herself for “putting a chain around her heart to keep her from running away.”

The next day, all of the previous opponents Aoi has defeated (with Eve) are watching her crash and burn. She puts another ball into the rough, and starts to ask herself why she’s even playing golf. She (accurately) imagines how Eve would react to seeing her in this state. But bottom line, when her maybe-dad is still unconscious in the hospital, golf is simply not fun.

But then Amane sees someone in the gallery and beckons for Aoi to turn to look. There, in a wheelchair, is Reiya, conscious and smiling. Right then and there, Aoi resolves to win and become pro so she can ask him if he’s her real father, while Reiya is ready and willing to answer her truthfully. With this revelation, Aoi bears down, unfurls her Shining Wings, and blasts her ball from the rough to inches from the cup.

Amane admits that she once resented and even hated her lot in life: to be caddy, second fiddle to Aoi in order to make ends meet. But with Aoi’s first shot of conviction in the tournament, Amane revels in finally getting to see Aoi’s true golf. Yes, she was a servant, but now she’s a friend, a fan…even a sister of sorts. She’s happy Aoi is having fun again. She wants Aoi to go pro, but also learn the truth so her heart and golf can fly free.

When Reika hears that Aoi has begun an unprecedented rise in the rankings, she suspects the girl got over whatever it was that was holding her back, and credits some kind of Amane “magic” with the comeback. Aoi has a deep hole to climb out of, but on gossamer wings she’s well on her way, watched closely by the people who love her.

Tomo-chan Is a Girl! – 13 (Fin) – No Complaints

The twelfth episode was so good, thirteen was going to be all gravy…as long as it didn’t undo what twelve started. That’s the one fatal mistake it could make that would sour the entire season for me. At the same time, I didn’t want the epilogue to be too fluffy. This show was so good at really digging into its characters and making them think and act in believable and compelling ways.

The episode delivered on both of these conditions, and then some. Yes Tomo and Jun are on the same page regarding their feelings, but they don’t just ease straight into a GF/BF situation at the drop of a hat. This is a transitional period, with all its excitement for what’s to come, and a few speed bumps along the way.

Jun is so relaxed, she’s so nervous, and she and Jun are getting along so well, Tomo confides to Misuzu and Carol that she feels like she lost to Jun for harboring anxieties. when they know all too well he’s harboring them to but sometimes better at hiding them. She wants to throw him off balance to even the playing field. Misuzu suggests they see a romantic film.

Now that the confessions are out of the way, it’s great to really see Jun take to boyfriend mode with aplomb. He may be self-critical, but his direct honest manner is part of what made Tomo fall for him, and that’s on display as he praises her cute look, gives her “T” earrings for Christmas, and immediately dons the muffler she knitted for him.

Throughout the date, Tomo notices that Jun is incredibly focused. He softens when saying that he never really connected with romance movies before, and considers that falling for Tomo made them resonate more. When they’re about to part ways, Tomo has to make a move, and she does: inviting herself to Jun’s house.

What ensues is a wonderfully awkward and all-too-relatable scene of two people who like each other, but have never been in this type of situation, kinda freezing with nervousness and self-consciousness. Tomo again asks to sit next to Jun on his bed, but eventually snaps and tells him she came there for a sole purpose: to kiss him.

Jun admits he wants to to that stuff too, but her father told him he couldn’t go out with her until he defeated him. This is an entirely unfair bargain, as even Jun is no match for Tomo’s dad, a legit master and gigantic dude. Even her dad seems to know he kinda fucked up royally, but you can tell he did it out of love and not a desire to control her life.

But miserable as he is (Tomo confronts him and then tells him she hates him—perhaps a first in their relationship as father and daughter) he can’t take back what he said. A warrior’s word being their bond aside, Jun has heard the challenge and can’t ignore it.

While Tomo was being coy about her intentions to, in so many words, “spice things up” by trying to “beat” Jun to a kiss, Jun makes a rookie BF mistake by keeping something extremely important (her dad’s challenge) from her. Everyone (including her dad) erred, but she and Jun are well-developed enough that you totally understand why they erred.

In the midst of all this relationship turmoil, Misuzu and Carol are left out of the lurch, as Tomo doesn’t contact them for all of winter break. Again, this is rookie relationship behavior, getting so involved that your time with your friends dwindles or vanishes. It’s something Tomo can learn from, and in the meantime, both the girls and Kousuke are willing to hear her problems and offer possible solutions.

Misuzu suspects that Tomo isn’t content to watch the two most important men in her life slug it out while she waits passively. No, if Jun thinks he has to do this, he needs all the encouragement he can get, so she comes to the dojo in the middle of their fight.

This gives Jun a far bigger boost than Tomo realizes, because while he no longer regards her from a high pedestal, there’s still a good amount of that adoration for her, such that he believes he can’t stand still for a moment lest she get too far away from him.

His inferiority issues don’t magically disappear now that they both know each others’ feelings. Instead, he holds himself to an even higher standard. Jun, despite not being the sharpest tack on the board, realizes her dad is leaving openings on purpose to compel him to come in close to deliver a crushing blow, at great risk to himself.

Tomo’s dad knows Tomo will rush ahead. He wants to make sure Jun is someone who won’t just watch adoringly, but run beside her, and back her up in this rhetorical hero scenario. Jun doesn’t know if he can put his life on the line for a stranger, but for Tomo? He’ll walk through the gates of hell.

Jun wins the duel with Tomo’s dad by delivering what would have been a knockout punch if his opponent had been anyone else. But when her dad still won’t go down (even though his hand touched the ground), her mom finishes him off with a brutal smackdown. Jun is the winner, and Tomo leaps into his arms with abandon.

With that symbolic hurdle out of the way, Tomo and Jun are free to go out. When Jun interrupts Tomo to tell her he loves her and asks her to go out with him, she curses him for beating her to it. Her punishment is to take things a step further, so she gives him a big old smooch on the lips, in the perfect time and place.

Their kiss mirrors the poster of the movie they saw, and while they’re still far from ready for some of the later steps the movie couple took after the kissing, this is still a huge deal for these two. The floodgates of love are open, some initial stumbling blocks have been overcome, and they’re poised to begin a race that will continue for the rest of their lives together: the race to make each other’s hearts race faster.

In / Spectre – 23 – The Merciless Protector of Order

Kotoko’s Columbo-style “One More Thing” involves the remainder of her interrogation of Fubuki, the yoko with whom President Otonashi contracted to murder Sumi. At the end of their chat, Kotoko deduces that Fubuki didn’t actually kill Sumi. He was about to, but someone beat him to it. He kept this secret from Otonashi so that he’d hold up his end of the bargain.

Fubuki also transformed into Sumi to scream out that the killer was a man in black in order to obscure the true killer: Kaoruko. She was able to fake the time she broke her leg after all, and made it look like a burglary. She now points out that Koya knew about Kaoruko’s role in the murder before this meeting, which is why Kaoruko wasn’t present, and yet Koya was willing to let his father-in-law take the fall.

When Koya scoffs and reminds Kotoko that Sumi screamed that a man attacked her. Kotoko can’t mention that a yoko actually screamed that, but it’s just as plausible that Sumi was protecting her daughter and the Otonashi brand. As Koya gets more agitated, Kotoko gets him to slip up and confirm Kaoruko wasn’t able to confirm Sumi’s death—a combination of her inexperience with murder and the gloves she wore that wouldn’t have been able to detect a pulse or faint breath.

As all of this unfolds, Rion realizes Kotoko guided her to the wrong answer in order to corner Koya and Kaoruko. Now that she has achieved this, awakened the truth, and protected the order of things, Kotoko starts to take her leave. But then Koya pulls a gun, and when Kurou approaches him, he shoots him in the head then aims for Kotoko’s. He can believe his family won’t tell a soul, but doesn’t trust her or Kurou.

As you’d expect, Kotoko doesn’t flinch for a moment. The following exchange is a standout of this arc:

Koya: Now there’s no turning back for me. You and that boy were wrong.

Kotoko: I am correct, and you can still turn back.

When the resurrected Kurou comes from behind and disarms him, Koya, like the others, is somewhat shocked. Kurou’s half-assed period drama explanation doesn’t hold water, and Kotoko saying they’re “people who live in a daydream” for which normal laws and reality don’t apply, isn’t any more reassuring.

Some time passes, and Rion narrates the aftermath of Kotoko’s awakening of a long dormant truth. An always guilt-ridden Kaoruko tried to take her own life, but failed, and Koya remains steadfastly by her side. Her father and Susumu have become closer, something she deems to be a saving grace.

Her grandfather the president’s health took a turn for the worse, as he deals with both his cancer and wrestles with his own guilt and doubt over whether it was the right thing to even approach Kotoko. She and Kurou actually visit him at his bedside, where he admits he’s always both believed in and been fascinated by the supernatural. That’s how he came into contact with the person who referred him to Kotoko and Kurou: none other than Sakuragawa Rikka, who told him they’d be able solve his problem.

This new kernel of information irks Kotoko, who wonders if Rikka was merely trying to bully her. Kurou thinks it could be Rikka wanted Kotoko to get all tangled up in this case to distract her from whatever Rikka was planning. He also believes Rikka wanted him to see Kotoko at work, and in particular how jealously and mercilessly she would protect order by revealing a truth, no matter the cost to her audience.

Kurou silently recalls Rikka telling him he still hasn’t realized how “terrifying” Kotoko is, and as he remembers this, Kotoko falls asleep beside him, looking like the very picture of an innocent angel. Whether this case was meant to be a diversion for Kotoko or not, it is true that Kurou learned more about his girlfriend. But I don’t think it hurt his opinion of her like Rikka probably wanted.

Quite the contrary: it’s surely better for one’s partner to be terrifyingly just than boringly corrupt!

In / Spectre – 22 – Squirrel Lion

During a brief recess when Goichi’s heirs get some air, Kurou lies down, but doesn’t get to rest long as a frisky Kotoko pounces on him with the full force of her 90-ish pounds (which is to say, not much). It’s another fun reminder of how close they’ve become, and it’s also a prime opportunity for Kotoko to confer with Kurou on her progress baiting the heirs into admitting their murder plans, which adequately prepares them for the false solution she’s prepared.

Of the three “contestants”, she believes Rion will be the first one to come upon that conclusion, as early as that night, and that proves to be exactly the case. While Susumu and Koya were successfully baited, the genuinely innocent Rion was also given everything she needed to craft a solution. A phone call with her dad is the catalyst that helps Rion organize and connect the clues swimming in her mind.

Missing from the meeting’s revelations is the true nature of Otonashi Sumi’s motivations. She wasn’t simply a tyrant bent on success at any cost, but was herself a puppet of her father Denjiro’s machinations. Denjirou laid out an intricately detailed plan, Sumi carried it out, and it resulted in the company’s success. Under that kind of pressure, it was virtually impossible for Sumi to disobey Denjirou even after he passed, even if she knew his plans were fracturing her family and eventually even the company.

That’s when Rion remembers how Kotoko phrased it—success sometimes harms people and leads them to their own destruction—and eureka, she has the solution: Sumi committed suicide. Trapped between her family’s happiness and the success of her company on one side an Denjiro’s orders on the other, Sumi took herself out of the equation.

Rion even surmises that Sumi made it look like a murder knowing her family had alibis to avoid harming the brand or their reputations. Kotoko looks happy with Rion’s answer—not necessarily because it’s the correct one, but because it’s the one she wanted Rion to come upon. Kotoko even softens the tension between them by saying her name is cute and brave, like a squirrel and a lion.

I like how that led to Susumu saying if Rion were a boy she’d be named Reo, since his big bro loved lions. It’s enough to suggest that amends between the brothers is possible. When the time comes to deliver the group’s answer to Goichi, Rion is the one to present it. Not only does Goichi accept it, and accept the even distribution of the inheritance, but laments that he didn’t do something like this sooner.

To do so would have saved his children undue guilt. While Susumu, Koya, and Kaoruko feel they’ve sinned, Goichi points out that there’s a very wide space between wishing to kill someone—and even holding a knife to someone’s neck—and actually going through with it. In doing his part to manipulate Sumi into commiting suicide, he believes himself the sole culprit in her death, and plans to pay for it by foregoing medication and dying a painful miserable death.

In this way, Goichi hopes to powerfully impress upon his heirs the lesson that one should never expect success as a result of murdering someone. The cost may have came late for him, but it will come all the same. That would wrap things up, except that Kotoko isn’t done. She rejects Rion’s theory of suicide, and provides valid reasons why.

The most important of these reasons is simply that making a suicide look like a murder carried far too much unnecessary risk and complexity. Engineering an accidental death, on the other hand, would have precluded the need for any alibis and prevented any police investigation.

Also, Goichi can claim he’ll pay for his crime, but the fact his family was protected by this solution means he doesn’t regret the choice he made or the success it led to. No, Otonahi Sumi didn’t commit suicide, she was murdered, and next week Kotoko will reveal the identity of the true killer. The question is, will that really be the fox ayakashi, or still someone else?

The Fire Hunter – 09 – The Demonstration

Hinako is ecstatic that Kanata is back, and even though Yuoshichi’s wife hates animals, he agrees that the hound can stay, which she says makes three strays Yuoshichi has brought in. He and Koushi then meet with Roroku and Akira, who reports that the Spiders are on the move and can use the old fire.

Akira also requests that a new collection truck be sent to the villages to replace the one destroyed by the dragon. Hibari, spymaster of the Divine Wind Clan, visits Koushi in secret and adds to Akira’s warning: the Spiders will assault the Capital in nine days. He also makes clear he won’t allow anyone to hunt the Flickering Flame, AKA the Millennial Comet.

The next day, Koushi and Yuoshichi meet with other bigwigs and engineers who have made the construction of the Lightning Cannon of yore possible. Koushi had it modified from an anti-aircraft style weapon to one that can effectively deal with forces on the ground. They perform a test outside of city limits, and the destructive result is quite compelling.

Koushi also learns that Yuoshichi has had Roroku bury skyfire charges in and around the Divine Palace, in hopes of accelerating the fight between the gods and Spiders. He then meets with Akira and Roroku and takes them to the archive to see the book, which was last accessed by Akira’s brother of all people.

That night, Akira returns to Shouzou’s house where he’s steadily recovering. She invites Touko up to the roof to look at the stars, and also inform her that a collection truck is being prepared that she should board in order to return to her village.

She adds that the Divine Clans killed her brother for trying to warn everyone about the Flickering Flame too soon for their taste, and she now needs Touko’s muku paper to make a direct appeal to the divine palace. Akira doesn’t care who becomes “lord of the fire hunters”, but Touko wants her to assume that title.

I’m still not convinced the title won’t go to Touko herself, especially if she accompanies Akira like she wants. In any case, even with grave and possibly existential danger descending upon the Capital, Touko isn’t ready to go home quite yet.

Vinland Saga S2 – 09 – Climb of Atonement

It was all a dream. So thinks a clean-shaven Thorfinn, lounging in a grassy meadow when a lamb wakes him. Uemura Yuuto voices this carefree version of him in a way we’ve never heard Thorfinn speak, or if we have, it was so long ago he might as well have been a different person. In reality, Einar is just finishing up a fight with the retainers that he wins, because he won’t stop getting back up and his opponents are tired of fighting.

Thorfinn’s dream turns quickly when his father Thors appears and says he smells blood. Thorfinn looks down to find the dagger Thors gave him for protection thrust into the neck of a young Einar, who transforms into the older Einar he knows. As corpses sprout out of the ground to grab the father and son, it is only the son who falls through the resulting fissure. Before he falls, Thors repeats the philosophy he held to until his death: nobody has any enemies, so there is no worth in hurting others.

Thorfinn’s drop is long and painful as he continually smacks against the sharp stone walls. It takes most of his fingernails, but he manages gain a grip just before falling off an edge into what looks like the nether-regions of hell. MAPPA really goes all out with the nightmare fuel here. Askeladd is there, and he’s still himself. This is not Valhalla. Instead, it’s where fallen warriors really go: to fight a pointless, everlasting battle…and laugh.

As Thorfinn’s grip begins to fail, a column of ghouls reach him and start to grab his feet. Askeladd tells him to stop kicking them and listen to their complaints, for they are all the people he has killed. Thorfinn starts to shed tears and apologizes to them. When ghouls down below start firing arrows, Askeladd jumps down and fights them, then tells Thorfinn to start climbing, taking those he killed with him. That is his true battle.

With a gut-wrenching cry of determination, Thorfinn stretches and reaches upward, and suddenly finds himself propelled all the way back to Ketil’s farm, under a cloudy but open sky. He’s awake, and Einar is alive. As he lends a hand taking Einar back to their barn, Thorfinn once again weeps, telling Einar he’s renouncing violence from now on. Even waking up a slave on a ravaged farm with punishment on the way for the brawl is preferable to that nightmare land he experienced.

Only, thanks to Pater, there is no punishment for Thorfinn or Einar. He found a button from one of the retainer’s coats on the ravaged farm, and decides that the face-saving story will be that wild boars ruined it. The retainer submits to his master’s wishes, and Sverkel oversees Thorfinn and Einar re-hoeing the land his son gave them. Like his father, Thorfinn has turned a page in his life. That punch was his last, his warring days done; he is reborn a new, better man. No longer a taker, but a maker.

The Fire Hunter – 08 – A Good Boy Comes Home

Koushi takes Touko to the tree beneath which the capital’s Treefolk dwell. When the rusted door won’t open, Kanata senses one of the Treefolk, a young child, who beckons for them to follow when Touko requests medicine.

Unfortunately, these Treefolk don’t make medicines, nor can they even go out into the forest. Calling themselves failed experiments, they live out their cursed lives under this tree, possibly hoping a couple kids come by so they can deliver an infodump about the relationship of gods, humans, and beasts.

We learn more about Tayurahime, the Lady Goddess, and Tokohanahime, her sister and the first Fire Hunter, and how the flame fiends were an effort to pass the flame that made both gods and humans combust on to wild animals.

On their way out of the tree they’re attacked by a spy familiar, but Akira arrives out of nowhere with Temari to keep them at bay. When two more spies appear, a god arrives to stop the fighting and tell Akira, Touko, and Koushi to beat it.

After that, Koushi takes Touko and Akira to his home, where Touko says goodbye to Kanata. Koushi tells Touko to hang on to the sickle, as she may find more use for it than he will. Suddenly separated from Kanata, and with quest suddenly complete, Touko can’t hold back her tears, and Akira carries her home, where Kaho gathers her in a hug.

But between the fact you can’t spell Toukohanahime without “Touko” and the fact she still has a fire hunter’s sickle tells me Touko’s role is far from complete. The Flickering Flame is up there in orbit, a massive and sinister-looking weapon that might just have a mind or will all its own. And if it can be mastered, humans will no longer have to fear the forest…or something?

Honestly, I’m still a little uncertain what the heck is going on, and the animation ranges from barely animation to no animation at all, but the shot of the satellite made me intrigued for how this is all going to play out, so I shall press on.

The Fire Hunter – 07 – Lamp Child

This episode stands out as the first one where Touko and Koushi finally meet, but that doesn’t happen instantly. Kira and Touko part ways when the latter says the dog Kanata knows where to go, but when Koushi returns from his excursion with Roroku, Kira tells him about the girl and hound…and also that while she loves her dad, she’s not ecstatic about him treating Koushi like a piece of property.

While Koushi left the city and went into danger with a roving hunter Yuoshichi doesn’t trust, Koushi explains that the experience lent him crucial information for his research and the entire operation, including the fact that Spiders don’t combust before natural flame, and that Roroku can help them bury bottled lightning around the palace and factory in preparation for the battle to come.

Back at Shouzou’s family’s house, Kaho continues to stay by his side, and delcares to Touko and Akira that she’s decided to marry him. Ever since she was sent away by her village she’s thought only of death, but not that everyone, even Touko, have stepped up to help keep her alive, she believes it’s her turn to protect someone: in this case, Shouzou. Also…the Spider kid Kun might be able to warg into bugs?

When Akira declines to take Kanata on a hunting trip, Touko decides to have the hound lead her back to his master’s house in hopes of finding his family there. They only get as far as the front door when a strange ghostly figure appears in the street. That figure is distracted and then neutralized via skyfire by Koushi, and he and Touko run through the rain from what he calls a spy of the gods.

When they find a resting spot, Koushi tells Touko how Kira told him about her and Kanata, and introduces himself as the son of the hunter who saved her. Touko prostrates herself and sheds tears of apology, but neither is needed; for Koushi, this is welcome news. He feared his dad abandoned him and his mom and sister, so it’s comforting to learn he died saving someone’s life.

When Kanata catches the scent of something, Touko spots who she thinks is one of the Treefolk who live in the Forbidden Quarter. Koushi promises to take her there, if she tells him everything she knows about the Spiders’ fire. Little do they know that a spy of the gods is still tailing them. But hey, at least Touko and Koushi have finally crossed paths. With her objective completed, what’s next for the Lamp Girl?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vinland Saga S2 – 07 – The True Master

When Einar and Arnheid are at the well for a few minutes each morning, they’re in their own little world. Neither is a slave, they are just a kind man and a kind woman making a connection that transcends the brutal, merciless world they were unfortunate enough to be born in. When Arnheid returns to the house, Ketil’s wife slaps her across the face for chatting. Arnheid’s dark expression shows she’s back in that world. Back in the darkness.

Einar and Thorfinn are faring quite well so far. Wheat seedlings have sprouted. Einar insists they pray and pray hard to a god…it doesn’t matter to which. As slaves, they have nothing to offer but their prayer. The dream of buying their freedom is alive and well. But Einar wonders if Arnheid has a similar arrangement (I assume she does not).

In the cold open, Snake and his mercs are investigating petty food theft, and declares that the culprits must be punished. When Ketil returns to the farm with his eldest son Thorgil (who is as terrifying and capable as Olmar…isn’t), they encounter Snake, and the two thieves in tow: mere children.

Tired from their journey, Ketil and his son sit down for a meal before dealing with the thieves. Thorgil regales his father and younger brother with “glorious” tales of battle and plunder, and also informs Ketil how well now-King Canute has done for himself, meaning maybe there’s hope for Olmar.

But Olmar hurts his case when Thorgil gives him a necklace of ears, and once he realizes they are ears, Olmar freaks out. Like a a normal, well-adjusted human would. Thorgil also tells Olmar that their father was once a legend on the battlefield, bare-chested, bare-fisted berserker his peers nicknamed the “Iron Fist”.

That brings us to Ketil’s sad duty as master of the farm to mete out justice against those who stole from him. If he doesn’t, it will encourage more theft, and he’ll be seen as soft to his retainers, the mercs, and his sons. But as soon as Ketil learns their names (12-year-old Sture and his younger sister Thora) and circumstances (ill mother, likely dead father), the man still lauded as the Iron Fist develops leaky eyes.

Thorgil quickly recommends each kid lose an arm. Sture says he’ll take both punishments, so Thorgil is fine taking both of Sture’s arms. Pater almost bails out Ketil by suggesting the kids work off both what they stole and what their father owed in rent. Ketil cannot mask how happy he is a non-violent solution is agreeable to all.

…But it isn’t. Ketil may be the master of this farm and an immensely wealthy and powerful individual, but even he is beholden to an even higher master in this world: the master that is burning through England. That master is violence and it demands its tribute.

Ketil must even go against his better nature in the number of stokes of an axe handle, going from five to ten. Sture again protects his sister, and will take all twenty. Thorgil volunteers, but his first stroke almost kills Sture, and Ketil, almost in a panic, takes the handle and completes the beating.

That night, Thorgil feasts with Olmar the mercs, while Ketil retires to his bed—a bed warmed by Arnheid. He weeps into her lap, confiding in her that the “Iron Fist” legend is a complete lie he made up. In reality, he’s as much a “coward” as Olmar, which is to say he would simply rather not commit violence to further his aims. Further, he fears Thorgil, his own son, for committing it so easily.

Arnheid, with a neutral expression, tells him what he needs to hear in that moment: that admitting to being a kind man can’t be a bad thing. But it is a bad thing in this world where his ultimate master demands payment for the life he lives. And lest we forget, Arnheid is not in that bed or on the farm willingly, she’s a slave, and slavery is a vicious form of violence.

That makes Ketil a hypocrite, and even if he’s a repentant one, if he wishes to maintain his wealth and power, he’ll have to continue to be a hypocrite. Notably absent from this episode was Sverkel, the first person on the farm who treated Einar and Thorfinn as humans, not property, paying them for their chores with his horse and plow.

Of the three generations represented by Thorgil, Ketil, and Sverkel, only the latter both talks the talk and walks the walk. Like Ketil, he’s long lost the taste for the kind of life currently enjoyed by Thorgil. But unlike Ketil, Sverkel trying to live an honest life free of trinkets and exploitation. In the waning years of his life, he has rejected the master that currently tortures Ketil and flatters Thorgil.

Vinland Saga S2 – 06 – Too Much Wealth

Cutting down trees was the easy part. Pulling the stumps with just two human bodies is a grueling labor, and threatens to make setting up an actual farm a virtually Sisyphean task. Einar declares that they need a horse. It’s not a matter of convenience. They friggin’ need one. He swallows his pride and tries to ask the retainers, to no avail.

Then grizzled old man named Sverkel overhears Einar talking to Thorfinn about their predicament, and invites the two to two clear his field of rocks, then chop firewood and draw water for him. Einar wonders if the old man is simply using them because he can, but Sverkel is a man of his word.

Einar gets his horse, and the stumps are cleared in a jiffy. In exchange, every time they pick up or drop off the horse, they do some chores for Sverkel. Nothing is easy when you’re a slave, and it’s a lot of hard work to do more hard work but men like Sverkel who at least give them a chance to put themselves in a position to one day buy their freedom.

When the retainers asks where Einar got the horse (which they don’t recognize), he says Sverkel’s name, but the retainers don’t know it. Then they describe the man, and they say that the man who lent his horse to them is none other than the “old master”, Ketil’s father.

Ketil is at Sverkel’s house arguing with him to stop being a stubborn mule and come live with him again, but Sverkel digs in his heels. Living under Ketil’s roof would only cause more arguments. If he’s going to die soon, he’s going to die where he feels independent and at peace. We also see that Snake hangs out at Sverkel’s, and the four men have a meal, almost as equals, as both Einar, Thorfinn, and Snake all listen to Sverkel’s lectures.

Snake is playfully adversarial towards Sverkel, but there’s a reason he hangs out there: Sverkel is a font of wisdom, and people like Snake got where they were by listening and learning from their elders. Sverkel also feels it’s an affront to decency that Ketil is so wealthy and his lands so vast he must hire and handsomely pay men like Snake to defend his land for him.

Once the stumps are pulled, Einar and Thorfinn use plows to grade and till the land, and by the time fall arrives, they’re ready to seed the fields with wheat. Both are now sporting the goatees they have in the OP, and Thorfinn acknowledges, at least privately, that he and Einar have indeed become friends.

Einar, a lifelong farmer, and Thorfinn, a lifelong warrior. Quite a pair. Thorfinn may be out of his element, but Einar will make him a farmer yet. After all, being someone who can make food is a lot more rare and valuable than someone who can take life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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