SAKUGAN – 03 – THAT LITTLE VOICE

Memenpu takes to the untamed Labyrinth like a fish to water, locking Gagumber out of the controls so she can try her hand at salvaging crystals to exchange for money. But while following the routes of the map jewel and taking some more perilous shortcuts pays off, her natural talents, intellect, and guile, if untempered by experience, could quickly spell the end of her.

Despite basically watching her best friend Lynda die, Memenpu doesn’t seem to be showing the Labyrinth the proper respect. She insists She’s Got This, and while Gagumber is initially willing to indulge her, when increasingly strong, mysterious earthquakes rend the aptly named base camp “Troll’s Palm”, playing it safe and getting some rest are the order of the day.

As a former elite Marker, Gagumber is someone Memenpu should really be listening to and trying to emulate, as the fact he’s still there annoying her is proof he knows what it takes to survive in the Labyrinth, a place whose beauty can lull you into a dangerous false sense of security or comfort. Memenpu literally leaps down a freshly-created crevice and lands on her inflatable goat doll in a dark frozen cavern.

She should be scared, all alone down there with no backup and no idea what lurks in the shadows. When those whats start lurking, shining their many red eyes at her, and then chasing her, Memenpu probably wishes she’d gotten a little more rest so she could run a little faster. The swarm of horseshoe crab-like creatures don’t care how smart she is, or how badly she wants to reach the “Dream Place.” They just want dinner.

It’s in Memenpu’s most dire hour of need, holed up in a cargo container the creatures are slowly but surely smashing into, that she finally calls out for her dad to rescue her. Thankfully, he does, even if it strains credulity a bit that he was able to find her in the nick of time. Suffice it to say, Memenpu needs Gagumber here in the Labyrinth, even if she didn’t in Pinyin.

At the same time, Gagumber needs Memenpu too, at least if they’re going to reach their destination, they’re going to have to take the occasional calculated risks or unorthodox routes. Their latest one ends with them parachute-dropping before Jolly Jolly Base Camp, where a debonair mad sips tea, nibbles cookies, follows up his earnest praise for the father-daughter pair with what sounds like a threat…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 02 – SEEKING STABILITY

Gagumber has to hit it a few times, but his dusty old Mark Bot shudders to live and he and Memenpu engage in a protracted chase against a kaiju that seems oddly drawn to them. While old and dusty, the Mark Bot is still highly tuned and modified for maximum performance, which means Gagumber and Memenpu are able to keep a step or two ahead of certain doom.

After last week established how deadly the kaiju are, that creates an excellent nervy tension throughout the chase, which combined with the diversity of the environs (from the underground Chinese-style city to the darker depths of the mines) and the top-notch Cowboy Bebop-esque soundtrack make for one hell of a crowd-pleasing 23 minutes.

Even when one pursuing kaiju becomes two, Memenpu soon finds her Mark Bot legs (even if they can’t quite reach the pedals) and uses her inventive genius both to plot the best course out of the colony, but precisely where to place charges around the trapped kaiju so it causes the ground beneath them to crumble in a neat circle shape, where they become fish in a barrel to shoot at…with fireworks that just happen to be stowed in the cabin.

Gagumber and Memenpu’s heroics end up on the radio, and someone we’re sure to meet sooner or later—possibly their ex-wife/mom?—hears the broadcast. The two pay their respects to Walsh and Lynda, and Gagumber impresses upon his wee daughter how shit is not going to get any easier, but when you’re out there in the Abyss Labyrinth you’ve gotta learn to roll with the punches…even if one of those punches is the death of someone you love.

With that, the two pack their bags, take care of the paperwork necessary to leave the colony, and then strike out into the Labyrinth proper. The scenery is stunning, like a dream you never want to leave, as well as highly reminicent of Made in Abyss. Suffice it to say I don’t mind SAKUGAN’s cosmetic similarities to an all-time masterpiece. Let the subterranean father-daughter adventure begin.

P.S. In a truly weird, random easter egg, one of the ramen cups says “Tubular Bells”, the name of the theme to The Exorcist by Mike Oldfield.

SAKUGAN – 01 (First Impressions) – SOMEDAY IS RIGHT NOW

The all-caps up top are no mistake—this is a big, loud first episode, starting with a father-daughter quarrel through an impossibly complex subterranean metropolis that’s shot like a Mission Impossible film. The precocious Memenpu wants to become a “Marker”, one of the elite group who trek through the Labyrinth to parts unknown. Her father Gagumber is content to keep her home and safe as they work menial jobs in the colony.

Their home, Pinyin, is basically one big nest where Memenpu’s father never wants her to leave…at least not yet. But Memenpu, despite being only nine years old, is already a college grad and distinguished inventor. It’s only a matter of time before Pinyin—and her dad—just can’t hold her back from grander, more dangerous future.

Memenpu finds inspiration in Lynda, a Marker who works side-by-side with her dad Walsh. Lynda is initially fine stoking that fire of adventure and discovery in Memenpu’s diminutive abdomen, acting as a big sis and role model and encouraging her little sis to dream big. As it so happens, Memenpu has dreams about and draws pictures of a surface with a boundless sky. A mysterious master Marker named Urorop seemingly eggs her on by leaving a photo at her door of that very surface.

While Memenpu and Lynda bond, Gagumber and Walsh drink. It’s pretty clear that Gagumber used to be a Marker like Walsh, and probably a good one,  but gave it all up (including all the esteem and preferential treatment) the moment his daughter entered his world, and then became it. But Walsh, as someone with an older daughter who has already been through this, tells his friend that there comes a time when a father has to put trust in their child to become their own person.

While I have no doubt that Gagumber is immensely proud of his little girl, that’s tempered by a great sadness that she grew up so damn fast. When he teeters home drunk as a skunk and she pretends to be asleep, he’s still lucid enough to make his thoughts clear. It’s not that he never wants her to grow up, only that he wishes she’d stayed a kid a little longer.

But it’s not just Memenpu’s natural intelligence and talent that is pushing her towards adulthood and independence, but seemingly Urorop as well. Along wih the photo of the surface, Memenpu is given a jewel that when its intricate cracks are projected on a larger surface reveals a map of the Labyrinth around Pinyin…and a route to the surface in the picture.

Then a kaiju bursts through the walls of the colony and wreaks havoc, sending Memenpo, Gagumber, and Lynda on a mad dash to safety. When they’re cornered, Gagumber draws his pistl and shoots the monster in the face, asserting that he won’t let it hurt his beloved daughter. Memenpo is shocked by her usually deadbeat-ish dad’s sudden change in demeanor.

Speaking of changes in demeanor…at first the kaiju chase is played as tongue-in-cheek; the kind of whimsical lunacy you’d find in Durarara!! or Gatchaman. But the kaiju threat is real, and even Lynda curtly orders Memenpo to keep back as she and her dad Walsh board their Mark Bot to do battle. Just as Walsh is complimenting Lynda on having grown up, the two of them instantly get blown up. Memenpo is frozen in shock…as was I. I did not expect shit to get so real so quick.

Fortunately, her dad’s composure isn’t so easily shaken, as he scoops her up and takes her to safety. But if this day’s events taught him anything, it’s that Walsh (RIP) was right: when “someday” becomes RIGHT FUCKING NOW, all a father can do—all a father must do—is trust in their child. But, again, she’s only nine.

So he compromises: she’ll let her strike out into the vast underground unknown towards her destiny—heck, he’ll even supply their transport in the form of his old Mark Bot—but he’s coming along for the ride to protect his little girl. So begins a father-daughter adventure for the ages. I can’t freakin’ wait to see where it goes.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 13 (Fin) – Stage of Dreams

I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, conferring on all who sat there, perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man to all the world, unstoppable, making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar.—Salieri, Amadeus

When it comes time for Sarasa’s turn at Tybalt, Andou-sensei doesn’t hold back his professional acting background. His Romeo is not just loud and forceful, but loud and forceful in all the right ways, drawing the crowd in, accentuating the most important parts of his soliloquy. It throws Juliet and the Nurse completely off…but not Sarasa.

Sarasa once again remembers when she was waiting for Kouzaburou and heard his master practicing in the next room. Sarasa joined in, as the Living Treasure indulged her desire, just for a few moments, to know what is was to be coached in kabuki projection by a master.

Being taught from such a tender age that acting is “no child’s play”, Sarasa is able to shake off Andou-sensei going full out, Sarasa embraces the Kabuki practice of mie, which basically amounts to focusing the audience on them and only them, and exhibiting how cool they are.

Sarasa’s Tybalt immediately captures the audience with her sudden shock, anger, sadness, and ultimately by letting his revealed true feelings for Juliet soften her performance. It’s the complete package, and it shows that she’s learned how to discern between mimicry and genuine individual performance. She tapped into her natural talent and blossomed before all.

After three agonizing days, the girls finally learn who won which role. Ai loses to Aya, and for a good reason, as her uncle explains: Juliet is simply more in Ayaka’s wheelhouse as an avatar of innocence, while Ai’s performance was a bit too mature. Hearing it logically explained doesn’t make the sting of defeat any easier to endure, however. That said, Ai doesn’t head home, but waits for her friend to learn her fate.

In what seems lke nothing more than another petty fuck you to Sarasa borne out of envy for her talent, Hijiri redirects her to hours of floor cleaning in Risa’s stead. Hijiri seems to be the rep for all of those Kouka students who mutter and whisper to each other in their mutual bitterness and inadequacy.

Ayaka hears that mutering when it’s revealed she’ll be Juliet, including false claims that her family got involved in her being chosen. Kaoru, who lose the role of Romeo to some complete rando (and we never even learned why!), stands up for Aya right there and then, telling the sore losers if they lost to her family they “lost to bread”. She then cries, not for Aya, but for herself, and Aya both thanks her and comforts her with her embrace.

It’s nighttime by the time Sarasa learns she’ll be Tybalt. Ai is struck how differently Sarasa reacts to this compared to how she reacted upon first being admitted to Kouka. No jumping or laughing or yelling, just cool reverent focus at the name on the wall. She stepped out of her comfort zone, embodied a dark villain, and won the day. With so much more to learn, possibilities for her seem endless.

Class Rep Sawa, meanwhile, tries her best to be a gracious loser, legitimately praising Sarasa’s Tybalt, but also going tothe faculty lounge to hear why she didn’t get it. The story of the musical and film Amadeus comes up, and Sawa bitterly admits she always identified with Salieri, who toiled in mediocrity while Mozart ran rings around him out of pure god-given genius.

Andou assures her that most actors are more like Salieri than Mozart, not at the top but always looking upward or outward at those better than them in some way. He also hastens to add that Sarasa did not mop the floor with her; the student vote was a tie, as was the faculty vote, until a single teacherr, Ohgi-sensei, voted for Sarasa out of pure “fangirl appeal.”

Having been so deeply cut by a single piece of paper, Sawa accepts the loss and takes it as a learning experience, as young raw students such as herself must. After all, both she and Sarasa still possess a multitude of shortcomings in their skills that will only be resolved in the terms and years to come, with hard work, practice, and rehearsal.

Sawa’s second-year counterpart Takei tells her in the meantime, the two of them will always be class reps, keeping their peers organized and focused; a crucial role not everyone can play. Sawa finally allows herself to cry, and Takei has a comforting hand for her shoulder.

With the first-year roles for the festival set, rehearsals are scheduled for the four winners before the actual performance. However, first comes an event involving the entire 100th Kouka class: a photo shoot to promote the school and recruit members of the 101st class. With Sarasa at the top and Ai at the heart of their symmetrical formation, they ask those future students to join them on the stage of dreams.

And that’s all we’ve got for Kageki Shoujo!! Sadly, it may end up being all we get, as no second season was announced and by some accounts may be a long shot due to its very specific (and thus not wide-ranging) appeal. The prospect of there being no more Kageki even as we never got to see Sarasa and Ai walk on that Silver Bridge is a bitter and sobering one, but I will hold out stubborn hope this is not the end of their anime journey.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 09 – Meringue

Wonder Egg Priority is back after an recap week, and everyone is wondering if Neiru is sick or something, because she’s inviting everyone to her place. The other three girls soon learn that her “place” isn’t remotely like any of theirs, and not because it’s a mansion.

In fact, Neiru seems to live at work. When the others arrive they sit in a theater and watch a video presentation of technology the Aonuma group is working on that can convert people’s dreams to video, enabling them to watch Neiru’s egg battle on the bridge.

The question rattling around everyone’s heads is “who is Neiru?” and her invitation to her home and workplace seem aimed at attempting to answer that question. Her assistant tells them she’s a literal genius and member of the Japanese branch of Plati, a MENSA-like genius organization.

We also learn that Neiru doesn’t know her parents because as far as she’s concerned, she doesn’t have any. She was born via artificial insemination of a member; a planned pairing with no emotional connection between the egg and sperm donors. Is it any wonder she’s such a logical person, in addition to being a genius?

The girls take an elevator to level B9 (presumably deep underground) where Neiru takes them to her habitation area, which is full of books and strewn with papers. There, Momo breaks out the takoyaki grill, and after they eat, she and Rika paint Momo and Neiru’s nails, with everyone getting the same purple accent on one finger so they match.

Momo is very skilled at painting nails, which leads to discussion of everyone’s futures. Momo wants to be a dietician; Rika wants to live abroad and marry a foreigner; Ai wants to try living alone. When they turn to Neiru, she changes the subject, and then leads them behind a curtain to show them the reason she invited them.

In the next room is a capsule containing a an albino girl. She’s Kotobuki Awano who like Neiru was a genius born at Japan Plati. She became a doctor of psychiatry, and in order to attempt to analyze “the mysteries of life” she conducted near-death experiences on herself. After one of these, she didn’t come back, leading to her present persistent vegetative state.

Neiru reunites with Kotobuki in an Egg Dream, on the bridge, when she’s being pursued by a Wonder Killer based upon a jealous rival scientist whose job he believes she stole. Neiru just wants to know why Kotobuki didn’t come back, and her friend’s response is poetic: it’s said you see a field of flowers in the moment before death; she wanted to pick one and bring it back to her.

Kotobuki levels with Neiru: the her in the normal world is already dead; her body is simply a container. But in exchange, she was able to confirm that parallel worlds do exist, like the ones in the fantasy stories she loved. She likens what happened to her as having her mind and body abducted by “innocent sorrow”.

Neiru is determined to go to the place where Kotobuki died and bring her statue back to life, but she’s not listening. Kotobuki died in an abstract place Neiru cannot go. Meanwhile, the government will soon come for her physical body, and she “doesn’t want adults touching it.” So she’s asking Neiru to do the thing she can’t do herself, now that her body and soul are separate: disconnect the life support.

Neiru really doesn’t want to do this, but Kotobuki says it will be fine; after all, Neiru made new friends, and she can tell they’ve already “softened” her a bit. Kotobuki wants Neiru to enjoy her life with those girls, while she’ll befriend them in another “world-line”.

Their talk is interrupted by the Wonder Killer, Dr. Seki, who’d always wanted to dissect Kotobuki, underscoring the importance of keeping her body out of adult hands. When he nabs Kotobuki, Neiru powers up her weapon and uses it to fly to where Kotobuki is and snatch her. Then Seki gives them a math question of all things that turns out to be a trick question.

After that, Kotobuki bids Neiru farewell, asking her to take care of her body in reality, and Neiru agrees. We pull back and see that Neiru’s assistant is watching the video of Neiru’s dream. Back in the present, as Neiru prepares to switch off Kotobuki’s respirator, she gets strong pushback from both Rika and Momoe, who think it’s “too much” to kill a person in the real world.

Neiru maintains her logical perspective, which is that Kotobuki is already effectively dead, and when Momoe pushes back by saying that as her friends they’re worried about the trauma or baggage she might incur. Neiru says she won’t get “sentimental” about stopping “a dead person’s respiration”.

At an impasse, Rika and Momoe storm out.  Ai, stuffing her face in her hood, follows them at first, then turns back. Momoe and Rika agree that perhaps Ai can get through to Neiru on her own, since she’s closest to her of the three of them.

Then Momoe and Rika walk in on a conversation between the Accas and Neiru’s assistant discussing how Neiru has gotten closest to “the truth behind the temptation of death,” and how they are the “root cause” of why they’re fighting. It’s not as if didn’t think the Accas were up to something underhanded, but it’s particularly chilling to hear them discuss it openly.

When Ai returns to Neiru, she’s sitting in the dark with a compact planetarium projecting stars on the walls and her body. Ai, armed with ample emotional intelligence in this instance, says she’s not there to convince Neiru to do or not do anything. She’s there to hear more about Kotobuki. Neiru says she didn’t want adults to touch her; Ai says if only she’d said that, Momoe and Rika would have better understood her.

Ai then recalls when she and Koito tried fortune-telling using Kokkuri. They asked if Koito’s crush (whom Ai assumed to be Sawaki-sensei) liked her back, and the coin said yes. Ai didn’t think she’d moved the coin, but when she saw how happy Koito looked, she couldn’t have moved it either. Ai wonders if she actually did move it without knowing to make her friend happy. That, she says, is fantasy.

Ai applies that same principle to Kotobuki’s life support system. She brings her finger right beside Neiru’s on the Shutdown button—their purple nails matching—and the button is pressed like the coin was moved: by one of them, by both of them…and by neither of them. Kotobuki in voiceover then recites famous quote by Baudelaire:

“It is the hour to be drunken! To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.”

Kotobuki Awano’s death wasn’t the result of contempt for her life or a desire to end it, but pursuit of the ultimate truth for which all people of science strive. She escaped her physical bonds and the yoke of the waking world, freeing herself to explore other worlds.

That said, Kotobuki was still sentimental about and protective of her physical body, and while she knew it was selfish and painful to ask her friend to stop that empty body’s functions, she also knew Neiru would do what she asked, then go on living and getting “ceaselessly drunk” on the enjoyment of that life with Ai, Rika, and Momoe.

The Promised Neverland – 20 – Emma

Instead of being slaughtered for meat, Norman was introduced to Peter Ratri, his “new father”, and asked to assist with his research. No matter how much they up the difficulty of the tests, Norman always scores perfectly.

Peter is trying to wrest control of the farms from James, presumably his brother or father. Norman also observes how gently he’s treated compared to the other children at the Lambda facility, who undergo all manner of horrific surgery and used as fodder for experiments.

Norman eventually meets Vincent, and together they clandestinely plan a prison break, which is initiated when Norman grasps the king while playing chess. He gives the surveillance camera a blank look, immediately followed by the blast of an improvised bomb.

Norman and Vincent rush through the facility, now in total chaos, and save what humans are still able to be saved, like Cislo and Barbara, the latter of whom asks Norman if he’s a “god” when he frees them. Standing over his great victory, Norman tells the captured demons he won’t stop until their kind has “died out from this world”.

I’m glad we were shown these events, as in this case where it’s important to see the horrors he saw, showing is better than telling. I only wish Norman and his comrades hadn’t spent so much of the last couple episodes spouting so much exposition, which in hindsight feels redundant.

Still, we get a very foreboding shot of a robed Norman at sunset, looking quite a bit like Anakin Skywalker after being seduced by the dark side. He doesn’t care if he has to be a god or a devil if it means Emma and the other children will be able to live in safety and peace.

This episode suffers from a considerably less interesting middle act involving the four days and change Emma, Ray, Gilda and Don are searching for Mujika and Sonju. They basically trudge from one point of the forest to the other in their demon disguises, coming up empty until they reach final search area.

Naturally, this area is crawling with those giant creepy wild demons, and naturally Emma almost gets her head bitten off not once, but twice. The first time, Ray shoots the demon in just the right eye to bring it down. The second time, Sonju and Mujika arrive In the Nick of Time.

But before Emma can even get out how they need the two demons’ help, there’s a blast from afar: Norman has started the operation a day early. Bombs detonate all over the town, releasing the degenerative drug in a sickly purple cloud. It spreads and affects the demons precisely as Norman calculated, turning them into wild vicious beasts that rip each other apart.

This creates a horrifying situation in which demons watch their loved ones degenerate, but beg other demons of sound mind not to hurt or kill them, only to themselves be killed by those transformed loved ones. Soon the streets are full of the cries of terrified children, their mothers and fathers either dead or transformed and about to kill them. It is the scene of hell.

As his comrades stand atop brick columns watching their vengeance unfold with glee, Norman enters the town square and finds one of the young demon girls alone, scared, and crying. Norman, determined not to waver, prepares to kill her with a sword, but he’s stopped in his tracks when her grandfather—the same elderly demon who visited the kids’ hideout—calls out the girl’s name: Emma.

A fresh cloud of the drug falls over the square, infecting the little one but not the old man, who Norman suspects to have devil’s blood like Mujika, and is thus immune. He stabs the old man, but he has Emma drink his blood, reversing her degeneration, and begs her to run.

Before Norman can re-commit to killing the old man or the demon Emma, someone calls to himhis Emma, with Ray by her side. Thanks to Sonju’s horse they managed to make it back to town just in time. When Norman sees Emma he starts to tear up, and when Emma sees him she sees him as the little boy at Grace Field House, in whose hands a bloody sword just doesn’t look right.

While Norman has the intellect to know what exactly to do, and that it may be the only way to save Emma and the others, and he even possessed the will to do the horrible things that needed doing, he still doesn’t have the heart to follow through, at least not without the wavering we saw.

I’ve heard many rumblings about how dissimilar and inferior this second season is to the first due to the fact it’s passed over large swaths of the original manga’s story and basically doing its own thing. I’ve also learned that this was apparently the author’s choice to do this, so it isn’t as if his work was getting short shrift against his wishes.

Whatever the case may be, a second season that takes place after escaping the farm was always going to be a thoroughly different kind of show, despite the same title, and that’s certainly proven the case. But now that Norman, Emma, and Ray are reunited once more in the epicenter of his grand plan, I remain thoroughly engaged and excited to find out where in the world things go from here!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 20 here. They know their stuff!

The Promised Neverland – 19 – A Future Without Regret

By bringing up Mujika and Sonju, Emma clues Norman in on a major threat to his plan. He’s never met either, but heard stories about a mutation of demons who could maintain their human-esque form and intellect without eating meat. He thought they’d all been hunted down and killed by the Demon King and royalty committed to maintaining the status quo that lines their pockets.

With the “Evil-Blooded Girl” still out there, the demons presumably have a defense against his degenerative drug. Emma sees it the other way: instead of eradicating the demons, they can treat them all to be like Mujika and Sonju, so they won’t need to eat human meat anymore. But that misses the whole point: the Demons in charge would keep eating humans even if they didn’t have to, simply because they want to.

If that’s the case, then Emma thinks they should escape to the human world rather than committing demon genocide. Again, Norman has researched this, and the only gate he knows of is deep beneath…Grace Field House. It’s too dangerous and there are too many unknown factors, including whether the humans would even accept them.

Emma can’t accept a future she has to kill her friends and countless other innocents to achieve, in which she’d never be able to smile again. Norman knows the kind soul Emma is and always was, but here again they disagree: he says it isn’t “tough” to do what he’s doing, because he’s working towards the future he desires.

The debate would seem to be over, with the two sides at an impasse and Norman politely shuffling Emma and Ray out of there, but Emma proposes a deal: give her ten days to find Mujika and Sonju before proceeding with his plan. Norman gives her five…because he doesn’t expect her to succeed.

When Emma and Ray leave, Norman joins Cislo, Barbara, and Vincent in the bowels of their headquarters, and tells them that his siblings from the farm don’t want to annihilate the demons, and have also met with and are friends with the Evil-Blooded Girl. Just the thought of not eradicating the demons sends Barbara into a jar-shattering rage, leading to a “Lambda seizure”, which seem to be happening to her and the other two with increasing regularity.

They’re running out of time fast—just when Emma asked for more of it. Cislo is disgusted by Norman’s siblings’ “naive nonsense” but understands they’re good kids. So he asks Norman on behalf of the other Lambda survivors: Is Norman still on their side? Norman tells them he agreed to wait five days, but nothing else has changed. If Emma returns successful, Norman will kill the Evil-Blooded, but his plan will go forward without further alterations.

To show how far he’s come and why he can’t back down now, he shines his lantern on a massive Lilith-like demon, which he’s no doubt used for research and development of his anti-demon drug.

So now we know—if it wasn’t clear from the end of their conversation—that Norman has no intention of cancelling or changing his plan to commit genocide. Even if he wanted to, he has more than just Emma to think of. If the Lambda kids feel he’s betrayed them, he’s just as sure to die by their hands than demons’. And then there’s the matter of him doing what he did when he got shipped away: putting all of the burden on his own shoulders.

Of course, Emma thinks deep down the same Norman she knew and loved is still in there somewhere, and will honor his part of the bargain. Ray seems to want to trust Norman too; clearly being around Emma so much has blunted his cynicism. So they return to their mountain hideout, and there Emma presents her view and gets everyone onboard, even the terrified Gilda.

She uses the kids own grumbling bellies to drive home the point that killing all the demons would only spread more fear and hate, making the world a worse place. Emma can’t accept any other path but a peaceful one, but what she doesn’t yet grasp is that she’s already on the path Norman has paved for everyone—he just gave her five more days to pretend otherwise.

Back at Norman’s HQ, he suddenly coughs up blood into the same hand Emma took into hers when forging their doomed bargain. It would seem that whatever happened after he said goodbye to Emma to be shipped off, he didn’t fare any better than the other Lambda victims. His time grows short too, to the point even if Emma’s plan was most certain and logical, there wouldn’t be enough time to realize it.

Irina and Crow had a discussion on this episode. Check it out here!

 

 

The Promised Neverland – 18 – The Norman Invasion

After a recap week, Neverland is back, and as good as its been all season, although not for the reason you’d think. Norman’s back, and that’s great! Emma can’t believe it’s not a dream, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. This literally doesn’t seem real that their old friend is alive, well, and not just deep in the anti-demon resistance, but its leader. It changes everything.

Norman comes to the Temple where he receives a hero’s welcome from the other kids. Like Emma, they initially can’t believe it’s really him, but unlike her they weren’t in charge of ensuring everyone’s survival all this time. They see how they’ve fared, and how things aren’t going so well, and how now that Norman’s here everything will be fine.

Of course, they don’t consciously put it in a way that diminishes Emma’s leadership to this point. Instead, they see it as a great lifting of a weight from her shoulders she never should have had to bear alone. But with the lifting of that weight naturally means there will be a shift in power and authority.

That’s especially apparent when Norman regales the group with what he’s been up to since he left Grace Field House. Rather than processed for food, he was sent to Lambda, a facility for testing and experimentation. There, he made use of his superior intellect to wreck the place, freeing himself and many other captives who had suffered horribly.

Ever since then, he’s been developing a means of utterly defeating the demons: a drug that will cause them to degenerate into wild beasts who will turn against each other. In effect, it’s a biological weapon, and Norman intends for its widespread use in order to decimate their tormentors.

There’s no doubt that if the drug works as Norman claims, it will usher in a new era of freedom and peace for humanity. This is a big deal. And when you consider all he’s accomplished in the same amount of time Emma and her group have only barely managed to feed themselves, it really puts Emma’s relative lack of progress in relief.

Of course, Emma’s overwhelming concern with Norman’s plan is that it’s so barbaric, and renders humans as no better than the worst demons. Demons have names, thoughts, family. She wants a future where they don’t have to hate, fight, or kill. Ray can sense this, and he gets it out of her fairly easily, which means those so-called “secret” thoughts could have come out at a far worse time, in front of a far less receptive audience.

Ray doesn’t agree with Emma. He’s fine with annihilating the demons, but he also wants to make sure Emma makes her feelings known to Norman. They don’t know, for instance, if Norman knows about demons like Mujika who can maintain their intellects without human meat, so it could be an exchange of information that could help Emma better determine and articulate a more peaceful counterproposal.

As soon as they reach Norman’s holdfast and meet his fellow Lambda escapees, the immense scale of Emma’s task becomes clear. After what they and their friends both dead and alive endured at Lambda, Cislo, Vincent, and Barbara harbor a pure and intense hatred of demons. Cislo can’t wait for the high that comes from massacring demons, while the suspicious-looking haunch of meat Barbara is chomping on turns out to be demon meat.

That’s right: Barbara says her anger melts away when she eats their meat. She believes every single demon should suffer what they endured, and worse. The atmosphere wasn’t altogether welcoming at the beginning of the scene, but as the Lambda kids start talking about how much they hate demons, the mood of the scene turns that much more sinister, to the point I feared for Emma’s safety!

Indeed, when Barbara can see what she’s saying is disturbing Emma, she makes it clear that Emma better not have any disgusting ideas about changing Norman’s plan. Cislo and Vincent tell Barbara to take off and cool down, but they feel the same way: the demons must go. When they leave Emma and Ray to wait for Norman, Ray tells her there’s no stopping hatred like that once it’s begun.

I honestly couldn’t help but think of the current situation in Attack on Titan’s final season, in which the “good” and “bad” sides have long since melted away, and everyone arms themselves with enough hatred to commit any atrocity against anyone who stands in their way. I’m with Emma that this isn’t the right way to forge a future, but I’m also with Ray: in this climate she’ll be steamrolled by the hate long before she can come up with, let alone implement, an alternative plan.

When Norman is free, he sits down with his brother and sister, and shows them a bottle of the drug that will be used in the plan. Emma doesn’t even get to the part where she objects to that plan when Ray mentions the demons who didn’t eat humans. Norman reacts in a way neither Ray nor Emma expected: like someone who had staunchly believed their nemesis was dead and buried suddenly having to call that into doubt.

Referring to Mujika as the “Evil-Blooded Girl” while glaring and grasping his face dramatically, Norman shows a side of himself Emma has never seen, and part of the New Norman with whom the other Lambda kids are familiar and comfortable. No doubt Norman cast away those parts himself that weren’t relevant to The Cause. And now she and Ray may be the bearer of news that could ruin his intricate plan for demon eradication. Not the reunion anyone wanted!

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of the episode here.

Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun – 01 (First Impressions)

Morita-san is taciturn. Tanaka-kun is listless. Sakamoto is…Sakamoto (haven’t you heard?). And Aoyama-kun…is a clean freak. He’s also a elite young soccer talent who was selected for the national team’s under-16 squad.

But unlike Tanaka in particular, there’s not much to Aoyama beyond those dual main qualities. His constant scrubbing, and the adoration of his legions of mostly-female fans, becomes tedious pretty fast.

His soccer senpai (and advantaged rich kid) Zaizen also grows weary of Aoyama’s shtick pretty quickly. We get it; dude’s a germophobe…though even that’s arguable, since he doesn’t wear surgical masks everywhere and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem being outside.

We learn in the cold open, and it is confirmed when the team practices against a rival elite team led by the washboard abs-bearing Takechi (who is trying to poach Aoyama) that Aoyama is indeed a singular, if bizarre, soccer talent; applying his obsessive “cleanliness” with a gameplan completely devoid of physical contact, combined with sharpshooter precision on passes and shots. But look to someone else for checks and headers.

Admiring Aoyama from afar (and possibly content to keep it that way) is the very cute but also clearly fixated Gotou Moka, who would like to think she’s locked in on what Aoyama thinks and does, since they’re soulmates or something.

But ostensible side characters like Zaizen, Takechi, and even Moka herself are all more dimensional characters than Aoyama, simply because they have more to say and we see things from their perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: Studio Hibari has rolled out a very good-looking anime in Keppeki Danshi; many of Aoyama’s moves in slow motion are cinematic in their presentation. The character design is clean and crisp. Overall the production is competent. The comedy is well-timed if unexceptional so far (the abs-bearing guy is particularly lame). Colorful—if still shallow—personalities abound.

But the main problem so far is the titular character. Aoyama is little more than cleanliness and soccer ability, and he’s always observed from a distance. He has to develop as more of an actual human being if the audience is going to be expected to connect with and keep rooting for the guy.

There’s a slight but promising glimmer of that when Aoyama suddenly comes to life with five minutes to go, even getting dirty in service of winning the game because he really hates losing.

But if we don’t see more of stuff like that, and continue in the vein of “OMG look at what clean-freak thing Aoyama’s doing now!” ad nauseum, Aoyama-kun won’t just be a “Cleanliness Boy”…he’ll be a Boy I’m Not Watching.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 07

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This week Saikawa and Moe have very interesting encounters and conversations; I just wish the vehicles for those conversations weren’t, in the case of Moe (at least initially), an overly aggressive otaku researcher Shimada, and in the case of Saikawa, what felt like fifteen years of Kase Yasuyuki and Kaida Yuuko speaking in very rough English. Hey, Anime: If the seiyu isn’t fluent, don’t make them play a fluent character. This. Never. Works.

It’s ironic that Moe ends up plunging into a sensory deprivation chamber, where she’s closed off from the outside world, because the bad English pulled me right out of the world of Subete ga F. It was painful, but I don’t blame the seiyuu; at the end of the day the producers and director have to step in and say this isn’t going to work. I get it; Miki is from America…but why can’t she just speak Japanese? People speak a lot of languages in America.

I don’t want to belabor the point any further; I just hope there’s little to no more such dialogue in the final four episodes. Because the content of the conversation was actually pretty poignant and enlightening. By talking with Saikawa, Miki is able to summon a memory of when she hurt herself, and Shiki told her the human body is only a container for the brain; a mechanism; a doll.

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Miki also suspects that while they never met, Shiki and Saikawa would have gotten along, because she thinks they’re probably pretty similar people, hiding intense emotions behind a cold, sterile exterior. Shimada actually likes how “cold” Saikawa seems, even if Moe says he’s actually very nice. Shimada also likes how warm Moe is, and while she says Moe doesn’t have a chance with someone she deems the opposite “temperature”, it’s not like hot-cold relationships are impossible. Opposites can attract and compliment each other.

Once the English conversation is over, we dive into Moe’s mind, no longer receiving signals from her senses in the deprivation tank. This is what Shiki was getting at: in the tanks, humans shed their bodies and shed the physical world, and the brain takes over, creating worlds from the stuff stored inside. Moe’s dreamscape starts by chasing Saikawa around campus, defying gravity and physics in the process. It’s very light and fun…until Saikawa’s office turns into the room where Moe spoke to Shiki.

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This is where Moe’s trip to the tank seems more than a mere lark by Shimada to see her in a bikini, but a legitimately profound, eye-opening experience. A “dream Shiki” purports to have been “called there” by Moe, where they continue their past conversation. Moe’s parents died in a plane crash, Moe was distraught, and the purple dress she wore that day was thrown out because it had become bloodstained.

Shiki helps Moe remember where that stain came from, which is the same reason Moe was able to survive despite losing everyone dear to her in her life. The blood came from Saikawa, who was there for her. Mad with grief, she struck him in the face, but that didn’t stop him from doing what had to be done, which is simply to hold her and allow her to let it all out. Moe wasn’t alone; she had Saikawa.

Now we know for a certainty why Moe cares for him so much, and stays by his side, and why he won’t reject her, but feels uncomfortable taking things in a romantic direction. Her flashback is a gorgeous sequence that made my heart hurt more than a little, and made up for all the Bad English earlier.

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Shiki seems to be happy for Moe, but at the same time, she pities her and everyone else in the “restricted” physical world, where she’d clearly accomplished everything she thought she could. As more pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the possibility arises that Magata Shiki found a way to leave her physical body behind, and still exists somewhere in or about that lab, or possibly in the digital either. The end credits have been hinting at that all along.

On the other hand, everything Moe experienced was more likely all in her own straying mind. The Shiki she conversed with was really just herself. Sure enough, fifteen years ago, after taking the first steps towards freeing herself from the restrictive world by killing her parents, Shiki predicts that she and Shindo will one day be killed. All they can to in the meantime is “live righteously, believing in human pride.”

Is she speaking of her own pride and Shindo’s, or the pride of those who will eventually kill them?  If it’s the latter, than I imagine Shiki, tired of the physical world, wanted someone to kill her and send her to some other, immortal realm; to true freedom. But is that just death, or something more? And if no one could get in or out, did she kill herself, her body possessed by one of her three alternate personalities?

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 06

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With five episodes behind us and five ahead, we’ve reached the middle of Subete ga F, and it’s predictably a crossroads of a kind. Last week ended with a disagreement between Saikawa-sensei and Moe, as well as the introduction of a knife and Shiki likely bringing Shindo into her plan to murder her parents.

Saikawa and Moe have had access to numerous clues, but haven’t solved anything yet, so they return to the campsite, if anything just to get some distance from all the messed-up shit they experienced at the lab.

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Alone on the beach, Saikawa goes over what they’ve learned so far, while Moe does the same in front of her educational colleagues, who wrongly assumed from her demeanor that she confessed and Saikawa rejected her.

She drowns her frustrations in non-alcoholic beer, but somehow, amusingly, gets drunk anyway. Some “non-alcoholic” beer can still be 1% ABV or more, but the can says 0.00%, so I don’t think that’s the case here? As for the can, it seems to be a cross between Sapporo (with the red star) and Kirin Free (white and green can). In any case, Moe is apparently a mean drunk.

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Things get seedier on Saikawa’s end when Yamane offers him a bribe to be a party to conspiracy. They have a big NASA contract coming up, and the police discovering Magata would ruin over a year of work. Saikawa is disgusted, and returns to the other campers.

Later that night, after Moe’s slept off the NAB, she and Saikawa have a nice moment where Saikawa lights a sparkler and talks about how he used to fear fireworks and not comprehend how people could enjoy doing something he perceived as so dangerous.

That’s enough for Moe to deduce that Saikawa’s not leaving the island after all, which means neither is she. She doesn’t care how dangerous it is, she wants answers. She’s close to this, after all. And as long as Saikawa is by her side, she believes she’ll be fine. They go to Yamane and agree to stay quiet for a week if he gives them unfettered access to the lab.

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United by their desire to see this through to the end and discover the truth for themselves, they restart their investigation with a full head of steam. Saikawa believes the killer wrote the three messages on the computer.

Moe discovers a change of elevator positions during the emergence of Magata’s body on the cart. Saikawa observes that all the encyclopedias on Magata’s bookshelf only go up to fifteen, the number of years she lived there. Is “fifteen” the “F” that one message said “everything becomes”?

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Then the final kicker: we watch how the murder of Shiki’s parents goes down. When Shindo hesitates, she takes the knife she gave him and stabs her mother herself. He grabs her from behind, and they essentially plunge the knife into her father together, getting blood all over her and the doll in the process. She spares her aunt, who witnessed everything, and she looks extremely satisfied with how everything went down.

So there we have it: we now know how Shiki killed her parents, and maybe one of the reasons why as well (to free Shindo from the shame of their becoming lovers). It’s yet to be determined how much the details of this incident informs how and why Shiki and Shindo themselves were murdered, but as Moe—who like Shiki, is into an older man—said: Shiki seemed “overcome” by death.

But did she really go “mad” as a result of that? What is “madness” to someone with such a towering intellect? In the second half to come, I imagine we’ll find out; and hopefully it will be an elegant unveiling.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 05

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It was probably present before, but this week more than others I noticed the common theme between the two “couples” in Subete ga F: Shiki and Shindo in the past; Saikawa and Moe in the present. In both cases, the men are unfulfilled, wanting more freedom but being tied down; fearing the very freedom they crave because of what it might cost.

And by the end of the episode both couples arrive at a turning point, as well as a philosophical impasse of sorts. The apparent murder case, so prominent last week, takes a back seat to how being in the Land of Magata Shiki is affecting Saikawa and Moe, even as they act out a very similar scenario to that of the now-dead couple.

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Suffering vivid dreams of the day her own parents died, Moe ends up pumping Shindo’s still-in-shock widow for information. Losing her husband has left her untethered, floating free; but she doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she bakes too many cookies and is happy to tell Moe whatever she wants to hear about the day Shiki’s parents were killed.

But no matter how many details Moe learns, she comes no closer to understanding Shiki or her crimes, to say nothing of accepting them. It’s when she confers with Saikawa that a rift starts to form between them: the playful flirting replaced by increasingly harsh debate over who and what Shiki was.

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Bright as she is, Moe wears her heart on her sleeve and owns herself. She doesn’t feel “tied down” by having one personality she settled on as she grew and matured as a human. Saikawa, however, feels more trapped, both by his job and by the decision most all people make when they grow up to eliminate the contradictions and choose one personality with which to interact with the world…and fit in.

He admires Shiki for never doing that even as she grew up; he even believes she was fulfilling more of her potential as a human than he or Moe or hardly anyone else. He even goes so far as to call her “pure”, which considering her murders and fooling around with her uncle, would sound strange to anyone with conventional ideas of love and ethics…ideas Moe happens to have.

To Moe, when Saikawa starts waxing poetic about Shiki, even though he’s making no direct judgments on her, she feels rejected; it’s as simple as the guy she likes liking another girl more than her. But Moe does have one variable in her favor Shiki lacks: she’s still alive.

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The bookend-ing of flashbacks completes with Shiki purchasing a survival knife for Shindo, calling it “a tool to free oneself.” That could mean many things. Shiki’s parents clearly are unaware of the affair she and her uncle are engaged in. “Freeing oneself,” in that case, would mean making sure that affair stayed secret. Cutting the ropes that tie you down, to be with Shiki, the one who glides over all.

That knife could be the weapon that killed Shiki’s parents, and the doll in the room is Machiru, one of the personalities she carries. By gifting him the knife, Shiki is also forcing Shindo’s hand one way or another; asserting her authority over all these adults in her life by the primacy of her intellect, not things like familial bonds dictate who’s in charge.

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Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider – 04

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Another week, another episode with more questions than answers. More than once I conjured in my head those words from Alice in Wonderland: Curiouser and curiouser. There is so much that is curious and suspicious about this whole situation.

Saikawa and Moe explore Magata Shiki’s quarters and find quite a few more clues with which they start to piece together a narrative, sticking with practical matters like how the killer dismembered Shiki, stuffer her limbs down the garbage chute, cleaned up the quarters, and got to the roof to kill Shindo in the helicopter.

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But with each new strange discovery they have to amend their working theory, while remaining ignorant to the identity of the one whose actions they’re trying to construct. On her PC, Shiki left three separate notes of farewell and good luck, one of which states the show’s title, “Everything is F”…in lieu of Wonderland’s “Eat Me” or “Drink Me.” But there’s nothing else on the hard drives, just the latest version of Red Magic – two whole versions beyond what the staff had.

The night turns to morning, but there’s no way to know with no windows in the quarters, as if they’d either abandoned by or released from time, depending on who you talk to. As Moe inhabits the space where Shiki once sat and talked to her via video conference,  talking about Shiki’s wedding dress, Saikawa recalls a dress Moe used to wear when she was young, that made her look like a doll.

Dolls are both unfettered by time (as they do not age) and by conventional existence (they lack free will, and can only be manipulated by outside forces). Shiki seems to have built a robot: a kind of doll that thinks and moves on its own, but for a seemingly very limited purpose (locking or unlocking her bedroom door). And I can’t overlook the fact parallels are being drawn between Shiki and Moe, not just in their doll phases, but the fact both lost their parents when they were young.

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The show returns to the past with Shindo in a room with a young Shiki who wants him to touch her, after carrying on conversations between herself and her other personalities. Shindo appears flabbergasted and ashamed, but somehow powerless to cease this strange, alarmingly bright young woman’s whims. He says he’s “falling down a slope”, just as Alice went down a rabbit hole into a completely different world.

And at the end of the day, everything Moe and Saikawa find themselves tangled in that same world. It’s Shiki’s world, and they’re just living in it. She was presented as a doll on a robotic cart, and even before that seemed to invite manipulation from others like Shindo. But the good professor and his bright young protege could now be dolls under her control. Furthermore, she may not be fully gone; though her body is dead, Mahiru and Red Magic Version 6.0 invite so many intriguing possibilities.

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