Otherside Picnic – 12 (Fin) – No Longer Alone Together

Everyone opens up on the Kakandara, who is indeed a half-human, half-snake urban legend. She proves a nasty customer, using painful sound waves to cause everyone to drop their guns, but Sorawo refuses to break eye contact with the monster. Bullets aren’t of much use against the Kakandara, so she asks Toriko to find “something bigger” they can hit her with. That something is the modified MRAP.

Toriko launches the huge truck into the monster and strikes its true form repeatedly with the onboard robotic arm. Combined with focused firepower, the Kakandara shrivels up and vanishes. Sorawo asks Toriko to touch the now-unguarded offertory box, opening a gate back to Okinawa. As the elated marines walk through the gate, they salute and offer their thanks to “The Girls”. And just like that, it’s over; Mission Accomplished.

An exhausted Sorawo is steadied by Toriko, and starts to cry despite herself; perhaps just now feeling the magnitude of what they just pulled off. Sorawo says didn’t really care about the marines until Toriko brought them up in the café, but she summoned the courage to help rescue them for Toriko. When Sorawo says she’s only interested in herself and doesn’t care about others, Toriko begs to differ. On the contrary, Toriko feels that things she could never do herself are possible when she’s with Sorawo.

Back in Tokyo the girls are given an ultimatum from Kozakura to move the AP-1 off her property within three days. After a search around the vicinity for potential new gates, they luck out when Sorawo locates one right next to the machine, left behind by those unpleasant women who tried to break into Kozakura’s house. Sorawo figures how how to drive the thing, Toriko opens the gate, and they go on through just as Akari stops by to hang out.

After driving around for a while, Sorawo parks the AP-1 under a tree on a picturesque grassy hill, and Toriko asks the questions “Why do you hang out with me?” and “Are you alright with me having you all to myself?” To the first, Sorawo says it’s because they’re friends. To the second, she’s not interested in broadening her horizons or making lots of new friends if it means reducing their time together.

Sorawo wondered if anyone would notice if she was gone, and then before she knew it she was in Toriko’s “mystical, sparkly embrace.” Toriko admits that she once thought it would be okay if everyone in the world but Sasaki were gone, only to lose just Sasaki. When she did, she was afraid, but she’s not anymore…because she has Sorawo.

They cover the AP-1 in a tarp and return to Tokyo, where they end up treating Kozakura and Akari to a big dinner. It’s a warm, sweet way to end a series about two crazy kids who found each other and found courage, peace, and strength in one another. When it comes to exploring the Otherside with someone, no one but Toriko will do for Sorawo, and vice versa.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 11 – Return of The Girls

Sorawo and Toriko continue to exhibit positive change, as evidenced by their commitment to return to the Otherside and rescue the American marines they left behind. Simply saying “it’s not our problem” doesn’t enter into their thoughts on the matter.

It all comes down to whether their Lady Hasshaku hat trick will work again, and fortunately it does, transporting them back to the side of the train track. While they’re initially shot at on sight, Toriko fires off “SOS” in Morse, and the marines stand down, realizing they’re dealing with humans.

While Greg, their contact the last time around, was killed in the battle that continued after the girls transported away, the new guy in command speaks Japanese and is both friendly and grateful to “The Girls”, as they’re called, for coming back to help them. They’re also happy to provide all the weapons and ammo they need.

Toriko, whose mom was in the Canadian military and tought her how to shoot and maintain firearms, teaches Sorawo the proper way to hold and aim a rifle, getting all close and personal in the process. The two of them take their place atop one of the customized MRAPs the marines prepared, and the entire unit heads out, blowing up their improvised base behind them.

Sorawo, buoyed by the fact Toriko is right beside her, ably guides the convoy around glitches. Enemies first approach under the guise of fellow marines, but Sorawo’s eye sees through the illusion; they’re monsters, soon joined by the two boss-level beasts. Sorawo serves as spotter for the marines, but even after a successful headshot, the antler-branch monster’s head simply grows back.

When they reach the forest form which the marines first emerged upon arriving, their enemies suddenly cease their advance. After some driving through the woods they eventually come upon a roped-off glowing offertory box, perhaps the very gate through which the marines came. Their memories are hazy, clouded by the fear of the “nightmare” they endured upon arriving.

Sorawo and Toriko investigate, and spot a pale woman in tattered robes and blood-red toothy grin, whom Sorawo identifies as Kakandara—no doubt from another urban legend with which she’s familiar. Now that they’ve come so close to accomplishing their mission of bringing the boys home, hopefully The Girls can defeat, delay, or otherwise repel this Kakandara woman, and not give in to her fear-inducing aura.

Otherside Picnic – 10 – Tenth Floor Barbecue

Looking in the mirror without her glasses, Sorawo sees a longer-haired version of herself. She’s still clearly troubled by Akari’s comment about her perceived resemblance to Uruma Satsuki. That night she goes out for barbecue in Ikebukuro with the gang, and the American soldiers trapped in the Otherside come up for the first time since she and Toriko left them there.

That doesn’t sit right with either of them, particularly Toriko, and Sorawo wonders if Lady Hasshaku’s hat (which apparently still exists) can still provide them with a way to get back there to rescue them. But that’s put on hold when they get a call from Akari. She’d gone up ahead to get their table, but the elevator started strangely, and now she’s lost.

More worryingly, while on the phone with Toriko and Sorawo, she sees an illusion of them and assumes it’s them, drawing her even deeper into the rabbit hole. The other two conclude that the elevator of this Ikebukuro building operates the same way as the one in Jimbocho—as a gate to the Otherside. And Akari got off early.

They head to the elevator and go through the same process as in Jimbocho they’ve executed dozens of times, if not more. They’re joined at the last minute by Kozakura, who unlike them is not used to this stuff and is scared out of her wits the whole time, a far cry from the collected demeanor when she’s home.

Eventually the elevator opens on the floor where a monstrous girl tries to get on, but instead they see Akari. Sorawo decides to get off here to follow her, and Toriko and Kozakura follow her. Eventually they find Akari seated at a vanity mirror, only to vanish. Sorawo uses her eye and Toriko’s hand, but end up shattering the mirror.

That seems to take them from the In-Between world to the Otherside, which takes the form of a dark corridor full of shuttered stores. Sorawo finally gets Akari to turn around; from her perspective she was chasing them, not the other way around. Suddenly, Sorawo’s eye and Toriko’s hand start to tingle—call it their Othersidey Sense.

The white glowing form of a woman, probably Satsuki, appears from a distance, then creates a thick blue cloud of smoke. The four turn tail and run for it, initially finding themselves in a continuous loop before emerging at the In-Between. Kozakura starts to fall behind, but urges the others to keep running and not slow down.

The four manage to get to the elevator, and shoot the smoke until it retreats, but after a few moments of rest it comes back with a vengeance. Sorawo wakes up to find everyone else unconscious, and the elevator doors open to reveal Satsuki standing over what looks like a volcano…or possibly just a massive barbecue? Sorawo directs her eye and the unconscious Toriko’s hand at the two, and she’s out again.

This time, everyone comes to, and the doors open to reveal the barbecue restaurant; they’re back in the normal world. Akari heads over, having made a reservation for four in Sorawo’s name. When Akari asks her what the heck just happened, Sorawo says “Don’t ask me. I have no idea,” which is both fair and accurate.

But with stomachs growling impatiently, perhaps it’s best for everyone fill up with grilled meats, knock back a couple brewskis, and count their blessings. Whatever happened, they survived it together. And now they know that any building of ten or more floors could potentially be a gate to the Otherside.

Otherside Picnic – 08 – Ninja Cat Attack

One day while having lunch Sorao is approached by freshman Seto Akari, who has heard from the grapevine that Sorao has “the sixth sense” and specializes in supernatural incidents. Akari’s current problem is she’s being attacked…by ninja cats. Sure, why not?

This isn’t really something Sorao can laugh off, as they’ve experienced far worse in the Otherside. Sorao discusses it with Toriko at Kozakura’s house, only to be interrupted by the delivery of a “tobacco farming vehicle” the partners in crime ordered when they were super drunk together. Note to Sorao—Alcohol is a drug!

Sorao’s main concern in taking on Akari’s job is that she loves cats, and doesn’t think she’d be able to harm one if it came down to it. Toriko assures her she’ll do the violence this time, if necessary. While meeting with Akari at a (non-cat) café, the two ninja cats appear behind them as the three suddenly find themselves in what Sorao calls “Space-Time Man’s world.”

Before pulling their guns, Toriko says they’ll have to make Akari a fellow “partner in crime”, but Sorao objects, as that’s the term she’s landed on to describe their relationship. No one else can be their partner in crime, so they settle on Akari as a “victim” instead.

In this kind of conduit between their world and the Otherside, one of the ninja cats charges Sorao with a sharp blade, but Akari blocks it with a menu. The three flee the café, only to find a surreal “cat world” outside, and the ninjas still in hot pursuit.

When the ninja prove too quick for Toriko’s gun, Akari, who knows “some karate”, puts her purse down and busts out some moves. I didn’t expect any cool martial arts combat animation, but that’s what we get for a glorious sixty seconds or so. Unfortunately, Akari ends up hitting nothing but air, suggesting to Sorao that they may not have a truly physical form.

When she turns her blue eye on Akari, the girl’s personality suddenly turns twisted, and Sorao sees the source: some strange object inside her abdomen. Sorao lifts up Akari’s shirt, grabs Toriko’s hand, and plunges it into Akari, and Toriko produces a cat-themed good-luck charm, the true reason the cats were chasing Akari. Sorao tosses it away and the ninjas chase after it, leaving them alone.

Sorao wakes up back in the real world, not having had to hurt any kittys, Otherside or otherwise. When asked about the charm, Akari says she got it from her tutor, Uruma. Uruma Satsuki. It’s hardly going out on a limb to say that’s not a coincidence, considering Akari reached out to Sorao and Toriko.

Otherside Picnic – 07 – Queens of the Seaside

Those curious about what became of the American Marines get no answers this week, as the girls are on to their next adventure, this time on a beach. Sorao wakes up in a posh hotel room, having shared the bed with a naked Toriko. She can vaguely remember going shopping and bar hopping, and is proud of her drunk self for plugging in her phone.

While taking a taxi to the beach, both Sorao and Toriko nod off, and when they come to, the taxi is derelict and covered in plants and sand, as if it had been sitting there for years. It looks like they’re still in the Otherside, though with a very Spirited Away vibe with a lush blue and green palette.

The duo do a thorough search of a long-abandoned beach shop that, while creepy, contains no active threats, so on Toriko’s urging they change into the bikinis they bought yesterday(?) and proceed to have a fun time on the beach, drinking beer and practicing shooting. The Okinawan afterlife of Narai Kanai is also referenced as the two discuss the Alcatraz-like ruin on the horizon.

Sorao’s been letting her have her way so much, Toriko is worried Sorao could get sick of her, but that’s not the case. Indeed, Sorao again tries to bring up her feelings, only to miss her chance once again. Regardless, she’s happy to be having fun on the beach, a place she never felt was her scene. It’s also a welcome deviation from the standard Otherside aesthetic.

Their solitary fun is cut short when they hear odd noises and discover zombie-like punks beating up little kids. When Sorao and Toriko are rushed, Toriko freezes up, but Sorao shoots them all down before they can get to them. Toriko is impressed: Sorao can shoot and kill to protect herself and Toriko, but she credits Toriko with helping steel her resolve.

Sorao can also see with her eye that the punks weren’t human, but reanimated piles of washed-up beach detritus. Suddenly, the skies turn blue and brooding, which Sorao remembers the captive Toriko saying was the most dangerous time to be in the Otherside. A legion of creepy child-dolls bursts out of the beach shop while huge walrus-like beasts appear on the beach. The girls are well and truly freaked out.

They also don’t have enough ammo to deal with all of these creepy monsters great and small, so Sorao arranges for their exit, using her eye, Lady Hasshaku’s hat, and Toriko’s hand to open a portal. A great light flashes from the dissolving hat, turning all of the monsters back into garbage, and the girls fall through.

They emerge back in the normal world, apparently still on the beaches of a populated, non-ruined Okinawa, and perhaps where they had their day and night of shopping and drinking. Before the portal closes, Sorao spots a woman with flowing black hair. Could it be Uruma Satsuki, mentioned by one of the monster boys as part of the “Queen of the Beach” urban legend?

If it was, Toriko didn’t see her, and Sorao doesn’t bring it up. Instead, they have some beers and enjoy the fireworks, even though they’re broke and not sure how they’ll get home. As always, because they’re living in the moment together, nothing else seems to matter as much.

With its fun girls trip to the beach-turned-freaky seaside monster convention, Urasekai Picnic again scores high marks for its mastery of mood and atmosphere, and the cozily-infectious chemistry of Sorao and Toriko.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 06 – Raiding the Pantry

As he tries to hide from the stunned kononba sister, the fear grips Shiki. He recalls little from his earlier life except that he lived happily with his mom, and at some point he didn’t. But when Kanabe contacts him, having easily taken care of one of the other sisters, and offers him words of encouragement, Shiki snaps out of it and gets to work.

When the kononba uses her super-sensitive detection ability, Shiki ensures she senses him everywhere, as he’s distributed his spider webbing and sweat all over the hallway. Essentially blinded by her own heightened perception, the sister ends up getting stuck in the webs, and Shiki delivers a satisfying kick to the face.

Kabane and Akira reunite with Shiki, and the sister Kabane captured is also restrained in his webs. That’s when the lead sister appears, and offers to let the kids go if they forget all this. When Kabane refuses (he has a job to do) she sucks the brains and organs out of her two sisters without a second thought and attacks him.

Proving too strong for him to overpower, Kabane’s mind races; if he can’t beat this monster, Shiki and Akira will surely be killed. He doesn’t want that. Mihai offers a bit of free advice, which is nice considering he got the kids in this mess to begin with: Kabane is only using his human strength; to defeat the monster he’ll have to summon instinctual power from his other half, which he accesses via his heart.

It works, and he tears the sister’s arms off, just as Inugami frees himself from Mihai’s room. He orders the kids to retreat and let Inari take care of the rest. Sure enough, Inari’s shiny new attendant Nobimaru arrives to do just that.

Nobimaru, another kitsune (technically a bake-gitsune) burns the three kononba sisters so there is no evidence of monsters for humans could discover. Kabane doesn’t like the idea of pretending the foes never existed, but doesn’t protest enough to stop Nobimaru (if he even could; for all we know he’s much stronger than Kon).

Nobimaru lets Kabane in on a couple of secrets: first, Inari hasn’t given up on stealing his lifestone, so he needs to watch himself. Especially if he ends up sufficiently manipulated (say, one of his friends is put in danger) to willingly offer it to Inaru, Inugami won’t interfere. He has to not only hold on to it tight, but not get tricked. His other secret? He really doesn’t like Inari. That’s interesting, because Kon basically regarded her as a deity.

Back at the agency, Mihai half-apologizes for his role in putting the ids in danger, but qualifies it by making the point that they won’t get stronger if Inugami only gives them easy missions. Even Akira agrees with that point, as he learned that he can’t make ice without water. He should keep some on him at all times, like Avatar’s Kitara. That night, Kabane compares the heartbeats of a sleeping Shiki and Akira and is glad they’re alive.

The next day Shiki is fine, but Kabane is still watching him like a mother hen. Then it dawn on Kabane: he completely forgot about poor Kon. He rushes back to the part, and Kon falls ungracefully out of the tree to greet him. Kabane doesn’t mince words even when he should, telling Kon that other things came up and he simply forgot about her. And after she’d caught a pair of koi for them to eat together…POOR KON!

Kabane is sure to continue his friendship with Kon, even though Nobimaru says from afar that it’s not wise. As for Shiki, his ordeal at Bugbite has psychologically prepared him to hear what he wasn’t ready to hear before: what became of his family.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 06 – To the Trained Eye

Lt. Blake takes Sorao and Toriko to Major Barker, the “current” commander of the unit, implying a previous commander was among the many casualties. Barker seems nice enough, but weary of the situation, and like Blake, isn’t sure how much longer things can stay “civilized.”

They are surrounded by “bear traps” (i.e. glitches) that either kill or transform whoever or whatever touches them. They are running low on diesel fuel and will soon be out of food. The girls are offered an empty tent that’s strewn with garbage. It’s empty because its previous occupants are dead. It’s just not a place you want to be, especially after a pleasant dinner and drinks.

Blake “advises” them not to use their phones, but it should have been an explicit order and explained that making a call, as the girls do to Kozakura, has an effect on the environment. Specifically, it calls the “Meat Train” to the station, and with it a frightening train of “face dogs”, on whom the soldiers’ mortars and gunfire have no effect.

Toriko hops onto a Humvee and whips out an M14 EBR, but even though Sorao spots the proper target for her, her shots never reach them. This gives Sorao the idea that the one perceiving the targets must be the one to pull the trigger, so she has Toriko anchor her so she can take the shot, all before the soldiers can stop them.

The face dog mass dissipates, but when firing the shot Sorao lost her contact, and the soldiers wig out. She and Toriko make a run for it, and are probably lucky none of the exhausted, extremely on-edge soldiers took any shots at them. Call it a win for Major Barker in keeping discipline under suboptimal conditions.

As the Meat Train approaches, Sorao has another hunch: even though it doesn’t look like it will stop, she belives they can board the train if Toriko reaches out and touches it with her translucent hand. Sorao repeats Toriko’s line about everything working out if they’re together, and take a leap of faith.

It works, and they’re on the train, but Sorao senses a great number of unspeakable, horrifying things on that train, the collective auras of which are enough to cause her to lose consciousness. However, when she comes to, Toriko is smiling from above, and a bright blue sky indicates that they successfully returned to their world, safe and sound.

That’s not to say they returned to Ikebukuro. The beach and palm trees indicate they could be in Okinawa, having used the same entry point to the Otherside the Americans used. Further weird details include the childish drawing of a train track in the sand, and a cut to Kozakura playing back her phone call with the other two, which is distorted and full of unsettling gibberish.

If they’re now in Okinawa, I’d think the next step for Sorao and Toriko is to report the whereabouts of Pale Horse Battalion. Yet even that carries some risk: Kozakura has never heard of such a unit, though the Dark Horse Battalion is stationed in Okinawa. Just what was that unit really up to in the Otherside?

Otherside Picnic – 05 – Pale Horse

After treating Kozakura to well over $100 worth of dinner as an apology for her unwanted excursion to the Otherside, Toriko and Sorao complete their making-up by ordering another $100 worth of grub and drinks. During the meal, Toriko whips out Lady Hasshaku’s hat, which turns out to be much more than bad table manners.

After the waiter starts acting very strange (muttering about “sublance” and “abardmont”), Sorao leads a tipsy Toriko out of the oddly empty café and to the station, but something is off about Ikebukuro: all the lights are out and there isn’t another soul in sight. Before long the pair find themselves in an unfamiliar field, and encounter a bizarre two-headed robot horse-like monster, carrying several hanging bound bodies.

Neither brought guns to dinner, so they have to make a run for it, with Sorao doing her best to scope out potential Glitches. They reach a train track, which they believe will eventually lead to a station (i.e. shelter), but they’re then chased by a frightening mass of glowing purple faces.

Suddenly, Toriko hits the deck and has Sorao do the same, and bullets fly over their heads—bullets from the guns of soldiers. Their leader identifies the girls as human in Japanese, but his men chatter in English. The bullets aren’t meant for the girls, but for a third monster: a towering Groot-like hulk with branches for antlers.

Eventually the tree man wanders off, while the robotic horse doesn’t continue its pursuit. The lead soldier introduces himself as U.S. Marine Corp Lieutenant Will Drake, commander of the Pale Horse Battalion, Charlie Company 1/2 out of Okinawa. (“Pale Horse” is a reference to Death, the fourth Horse of the Apocalypse.) He and his unit have been trapped in the Otherside for over a month, while their robotic pack mule was transformed into a monster that has claimed a number of his men.

Lt. Drake & Co. lead Sorao and Toriko to “February Station”, which Sorao identifies as Kisaragi Station from the real world, but the group keeps moving until they reach the company’s well-equipped base camp. The thing is, a lot of Drake’s men distrust the girls and aren’t convinced they’re not monsters in disguise. They obeyed his orders to stand down this time, but what if fear of the unknown, or additional illusions, cause them to lash out?

The introduction of American marines from Okinawa to the Otherside, as well as the new manner in which the girls ended up their themselves, brings a fresh new dynamic to their adventures. Toriko may have been joking about marine basic training, but now they find themselves unarmed and exposed in a potentially paranoid hornets’ nest. As Toriko is also fond of saying, as long as they stick together, things will work out. Here’s hoping.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 04 – Hey Little Sister, Shotgun

Sorao’s waffling over helping Toriko find Satsuki comes to a head when Toriko leaves in the middle of a very weird lunch to search on her own, thanking Sorao for her help thus far, but implying she can’t count on it anymore and that’s fine. To be fair, Sorao has every reason to fear the Otherside: one of its inhabitants, “Space-Time Man”, warns her she’ll be stuck there if she returns.

Unable to find Toriko to apologize, Sorao visits Kozakura, who inexplicably finds a photo of Satsuki on Sorao’s phone. When three strange people knock aggressively at her door, she whips out an enormous shotgun. Turns out it’s not overkill: the lead woman’s head swells to enormous size, threatening to swallow the two up.

In fact, maybe they do, because one moment the head is there, the next moment they’re in the Otherside. This is particularly distressing to Kozakura, a hermit who doesn’t do field work and is far from dressed properly for an Otherside excursion.

While searching for Toriko, Sorao tells Kozakura about her rather checkered past, involving a parent who was swallowed up into a cult (were those the folks at the door?), then tried to abduct her, only to end up being killed before Sorao could torch them with kerosene. She talks as if this is all the most normal backstory in the world…which it isn’t.

That said, it seems Kozakura was only included so Sorao had someone with whom to talke about her past, because Sorao soon ditches her when she starts using her special eye to discern what’s real and what’s fake. She ends up chasing another version of herself to a strange modern cell where Toriko, dressed in some kind of weird cult garment, is being held.

Toriko is entranced by a figure outside she sees as her “special someone” Satsuki, but in reality is some kind of Art Nouveau monster trying to lure her to God-knows-where. Luckily, Toriko shoots the shit out of the monster with the shotgun, causing it to collapse into itself. Toriko comes out of her trance, and the two make up.

The pace remains leisurely and the runtime is peppered with “wait, what?” moments, but the atmosphere of Otherside and the haunting music accompanying it remain a strong draw. Sorao’s still threatened by Satsuki and pretty generally scared besides, but at least now seems to realize that she and Toriko need to keep sticking together in this bizarre realm.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 20 – Starburst Scream

Asuna gets to use her avatar template Stacia’s special move (always a great sound effect) to create an earthen staircase with which to convey Alice to the World’s End Altar. She and Alice are able to get away because Gabriel Miller has to get past Kirito first.

When asked who he is, Kirito momentarily blanks, but Eugeo reminds him: he’s Kirito the motherf***ing Swordsman. A duel filled with bombastic bright lights and colors ensues. Kirito loses his lower half but fights on. Gabe transforms into a neon angel/demon entity.

This showdown has been built up for years, so why did it feel somewhat …  underwhelming? It was okay—it wasn’t great—and it did kind of…go on. I can offer several reasons. First, we’re epic dueled out. Second, while featuring some impressive visuals this fight wasn’t as good as the one between Subtilizer and Bercouli. Visually things got a bit abstract, muddled, and even a little dull. Kirito’s edge—the love amassed from everyone’s hearts—was always going to beat Miller’s hate and greed.

Mostly the lavish duel just felt superfluous; ceremonial. A formality for Kirito to get through, perhaps so that the final final threat can come to light. At least the fight was generously punctuated by beautiful callbacks to the very beginning of Alicization and cameos from both friends and former foes. I also appreciated seeing everyone wake up in the normal world hoping they did enough, providing a neat contrast to the fantastical environs of Underworld.

I also liked how…ho-hum the Worlds’ End Altar looked. Rather than a towering baroque basilica, it’s a relatively modest shrine in a pleasant, tranquil garden. When Kirito reaches it, Alice has already logged out…or has she? Whatever happened to her, she’s no longer in the Underworld, nor are Suguha, Shino, and everyone else.

Kirito assumes he’s the only one who didn’t make it out before the acceleration factor grew too high for fluctlights to bear. He gets on his hands and knees and starts to weep, lamenting how he’s alone again and separated from those who love him. That is, until, quite curiously, Asuna appears, with a reassuring smile.

We know she’s still beside him in the STL room at Ocean Turtle, and so weren’t subject to the logout failsafes of the other players. But whether they’re stuck in there or there’s (more likely) hope for them to get out in one piece, it’s clear Asuna won’t let Kirito face the latest, and possibly final trial of Alicization alone.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 11 – Artificial Ghost

After fruitlessly prostrating themselves before the bathroom mirrors, Hanako and Kou seek help from Spider-sensei, who directs them to the boundary of the former Second Wonder, Yako, which still exists but is simply no longer under her authority. She leads them to a mirror within her realm (which looks a lot nicer), which leads to the boundary of the Third Wonder.

By the time they arrive, a lot has happened in the Hall of Mirrors. Nene has been put to sleep after trying to stop Tsukasa from forcing Mitsuba to eat the remains of the Third Wonder, which he claims is the only way to keep him from disappearing altogether. Hanako is surprised to see his brother in the boundary, but not as surprised as Kou is to see the friend he thought was gone.

As it turns out, Mitsuba may look, talk, and act very much like the “old” Mitsuba ghost, they’re not the same entity. New Mitsuba is the result of Tsukasa taking the soul, or “reason” he stole from old Mitsuba and placing it in an artificial spirit body constructed from myriad lesser spirits. This new version of Mitsuba becomes the new Third Wonder after eating his predecessor. He also doesn’t seem to remember Kou at all, which is disappointing.

Interestingly, a big battle doesn’t ensue, which surely subverted my expectations. Instead, Mitsuba uses his newfound authority to send Hanako, Nene and Kou back to the living world via mirrors. He may not know Kou, but he knows Nene well enough now to not want harm to befall her, while Tsukasa made a point to be gentle with her earlier. I doubt Hanako can let Mitsuba the Third Wonder stand, but can Kou still find the Mitsuba he knew, or is he truly gone forever?

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 10 – Through the Very Rude Looking Glass

It looks like it’s back to business as usual in Hanako’s bathroom, as Nene reports disembodied arm lesser spirits infesting the school garden. They quickly learn the way to make them disappear is to fulfill their desires, i.e. play with them. Whether it’s arm wrestling or rock paper scissors, they dispatch the spirits one by one, and have a lot of fun in the process.

Unfortunately, the very last arm remaining, which has emerged from a bathroom mirror, is actually a snare for the living Nene. She’s grabbed and pulled through the mirror into the world behind the mirror; in other words, the boundary of a School Wonder. There, she meets someone she doesn’t remember, but whom we know intimately.

There’s no reason she would necessarily know Mitsuba, as she was barely present in the episode where he was the focus. But wait, back up a bit: Mitsuba is ALIVE?!? Well, not alive, but not in the horrible pathetic monstrous form Tsukasa left him in, which shook Kou to his very core. He’s a cute boy in this mirror, and he’s initially just as much of an asshole to Nene as he was with Kou.

However he’s back in this form, I’m glad to see him again. The thing is, he’s trapped in the boundary just like Nene, and it’s apparently his first, making her his senpai in more ways than one. She knows in order to exit the boundary they’ll have to find the rogue wonder’s yoshihiko, and spots it at the very top of the vast, spiraling Hell of Mirrors, the name of both the Wonder and its realm.

But on their way to the top they encounter a mirror that blocks their path, and the Wonder demonstrates its power to reflect a person’s fears—in Nene’s case, her distinctively stout ankles. While Mitsuba was just ragging on her based on observation and vanity, the Wonder shows her the face of everyone she knows in other mirrors—even the kind Aoi—and has them bully her until she’s virtually swimming in her tears.

Things take a sinister turn when the Wonder reveals his true, crow-like form and unleashes a legion of mannequin-like minions to “hunt the Ugly Daikon down” and replace her in the living world; the Wonder’s ultimate goal and why he didn’t really care about Mitsuba. When Nene is captured and about to be devoured, Mitsuba actually sticks his neck out to distract them.

While he has no real plan after that, he didn’t end up needing one since Tsukasa—not Hanako—appears to free Nene and beat the Wonder to a pulp, leaving both Nene and Mitsuba somewhat confused. I’m not sure yet what Tsukasa is up to, but I wager he’s far more dangerous than the Hell of Mirrors, with whom he kinda mopped the floor. More importantly, I hope Nene can find away to get herself and Mitsuba out of this boundary…but for that we’ll have to wait until Part II.

In / Spectre – 03 – From Snakes to Steel

Kotoko finishes explaining the Tanio Aoi case to the serpent guardian spirit’s satisfaction: Aoi wanted the police to find the remains of a fetus she miscarried and buried in the swamp after learning of Machii’s betrayal and then learned that he was innocent. Kurou escorts her to a taxi where she falls asleep on his shoulder after he admonishes her for taking such risks.

It was odd that the showrunners chose to end this case so quickly into this episode before a new case began; it might’ve been more elegant to simply wrap up the serpent case last week. At any rate, two years suddenly pass, and we’re re-introduced to Kurou’s ex Yumihara Saki, now a traffic cop but still haunted by the supernatural things she became aware of through Kurou.

A rumor has spread of Nanase Karin, a busty idol killed by a steel beam now using that beam to attack people as the faceless ghost “Steel Lady Nanase.” Saki heard a statement from one of her victims who survived a car crash but it was later discounted due to him being under duress/in shock. Saki doesn’t deny to her supervisor that whatever caused the accident, she believes there are “beings that surpass logic and reasoning.”

She also has a nasty flashback to her traumatic incident with Kurou and the kappa that led to her eventually breaking up with him. Saki still lives every day in fear and depression, and has only become more aware of youkai and such since the breakup. That’s when she encounters Iwanaga Kotoko, who just so happens to be battling Steel Lady Nanase on the hill Saki uses to get home.

Sick and tired of being ruled by fear, Saki charges Nanase recklessly, dodges her steel beam and punches her right in the gut, only for her fist do go right through the ghost. Kotoko swoops in, loses her false leg, and delivers a solid kick to Nanase, forcing her to withdraw. Saki, a cop, was just saved from a ghost by a petite amputee in a sun dress.

It’s a lot to take in, but Saki still does her duty, not letting Kotoko slink away without treating her wounds—and in the process, hopefully gain more answers about WTF just happened. That’s when she flashes her badge, Kotoko realizes the cop is Saki’s ex, and re-introduces her as Kurou’s new girlfriend.

As this is a bit much to take after such a harrowing incident, Saki gives Kotoko a good slug to the face for her lack of tact! But despite the bad vibes surrounding Kurou, who doesn’t yet appear after the two year jump, I think Kotoko is just the person Saki needs to know at this point in time. Not just for the Nanase Karin case, but for her own emotional benefit.