NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 01 (First Impressions) – It’s That Kind of Night

I’ll give NIGHT HEAD 2041 this: it gives you bang for the buck. There’s a metric fuckton of stuff to look at in its 22 minutes, and a pulsing, pounding score by Yamada Yukata (Vinland Saga, Great Pretender) adds weight and dignity to every one of those minutes. The CGI modeling of most characters is akin to Knights of Sidonia, a show I enjoyed quite a bit, and like that show’s sci-fi setting, the sometimes off-putting style fits the cyberpunk milieu like a glove.

The thing is, it’s not just visuals and sound that NH2K41 has in spades; it’s characters, factions, and ideas. It’s not lacking in ambition, but it often feels scattered, like it’s trying to say too much to fast. I’m reminded of the 2004 live-action Casshern film, which my friends and I love, but also joke that it’s about “absolutely everything, all the time, only louder and faster”.

Perhaps that’s a side effect of having to introduce us to this world, its pair of protagonist brothers on opposite sides of a post-WWIII conflict between the hyper-atheist, rationalist powers that be and anyone and everyone who believes in higher powers, the supernatural or the occult, or any kind of fiction. That last part is a bit hard to chew; but fine.

I can totally believe that society has put all of its eggs in the pseudo-military police industrial complex that is Special Weapons Enforcement, to which the Kuroki brothers belong. There’s a distinct vibe to both them and their two comrades that made me think they were criminals going after other criminals a la PSYCHO-PASS. But the less this is compared to that, the better; at least for now.

P-P could go off the rails at times, at least had some focus to its bold brash ruminations on society. It was also anchored by my avatar of many years, Tsunemori Akane, one of my all-time favorite anime characters. Night Head has a lot of characters, including the aforementioned pair of brothers, but they’re not exactly brimming with personality or originality.

One thing I did like was how the episode suddenly changed gears after one of the Kuroki Takuya accidentally conjured an EMP to save his little brother Yuuya, basically committing a crime by doing something that shouldn’t be possible. That segues smoothly to the Kirihara brothers, Naoto and Naoya, a psychokinetic and a clairvoyant, respectively.

Freshly sprung from some kind of lab where they’d spend an untold portion of their lives and with a fast car and a stack of cash in their possession, Naoto continually assures his adorable little brother that the time is now, as in, for people like them to step out of the shadows and join the world community without fear of ostracization or oppression.

Unfortunately, when you and your brother are essentially X-Men, it’s hard not to make ordinary humans fearful, angry, or a combination of both simply by existing. That’s what happens when the brothers dare to grab a bite to eat—though it’s at least partially their fault for waltzing into a bar where there’s an obvious shit-starter lounging on a couch with his honey.

Weirdly enough, these two are rendered in the anime-standard two dimensions instead of the three of our superpowered brothers. I’d normally cry foul but it makes sense thematically, so I’m going to allow this. Still the interaction is awfully pat, and drags on a bit too long, such that I left the scene less worried about backlash for the brothers, and more upset that what was probably a pretty good pizza went to waste.

After the Kiriharas’ pub crawl, we return to the thought police in the aftermath of the EMP, which erased all records of what happened during the raid to capture “Miracle Mick”, who may just be a money-grubbing charlatan or could actually have powers. Heck, Takuya clearly has the power to create an EMP—a super useful ability if you don’t want anyone to know you have an ability, owing to the overreliance on electronic tech.

While it’s usually a good idea not to expect every episode to look as good at the first, both Sidonia and the more recent Akudama Drive are exceptions to that rule. But it’s not consistent production quality I’m worried about. I know Night Head 2041 is probably going to look and sound awesome every week. But will it ever get around to organizing its myriad ideas and scenarios?

Learning that the girl only the Kuroki bros saw during the raid astral projected into the future is the kind of hook that ensures I’ll be back next week and probably the week after that. I just hope there’s more in store than eye an ear candy…but some head meat and potatoes, too.

Wonder Egg Priority – 13 (Fin) – Deus Eggs Machina

Instead of being represented by an angel and  a devil perched on her shoulders, Neiru works through her indecision by giving voices to her bunny slippers. She determines it’s time to be “selfish”. She encounters Ai, and they have a listless conversation about the weather before going their separate ways.

Ai returns home to find Neiru’s pet rat Adam by her door, and a text from Neiru asking her to take care of him. That’s all Ai gets; she calls and the phone rings and rings, but Neiru never answers. In a way, Ai is a good part of the audience of Wonder Egg Priority who waited three months for some kind of definitive conclusion.

Unfortunately, this is not really that. Oh, it takes a turn or two in new directions, but very few loose ends are tied up. Indeed, the first half of this special is a recap. Like Ai listening to those droning tones on the phone, we never should have expected answers would be forthcoming. Instead, we get more questions; fresh avenues for contemplation.

After the frankly obnoxious recap (the second, as the first was a necessary evil when the pandemic and time constrained production could not keep up with cruelly unrealistic deadlines), we learn that Ai and the others actually did bring their dead people back to life, only now they have no connections to them. Koito treats Ai coldly and even joins in bullying her.

Worse, when Ai calls Neiru’s office and meets her on the ground floor, Neiru tells her she won’t be her friend and walks away. Ai is so frustrated she tosses her phone, shattering the screen, and even buys a pack of cigarettes…though one sniff of one and she reconsiders actually smoking one.

It’s little moments like that, and all of the angst and depression and panic that sets in as Ai realizes the people closest to her have suddenly drifted away, that reminds me of the best this show could offer. Those painstakingly rendered quiet moments that really brought Ai, the others, and their world to vivid life. Ai decides to vent her frustrations into the mic, singing the ending theme (badly) at karaoke with Rika and Momo

Rika doesn’t like how Neiru just up and left, and suggests they return to the Accas to investigate. Momo doesn’t want to go. She, quite justifiably, doesn’t want to be hurt (anymore than she already has, of course). Rika calls her a coward, but Ai tells her how sad she’d be if Momo got hurt. Rika then says she’d just go and save her all over again.

It, and the scene of the three on the train, exemplifies the highs and lows of friendships. Sometimes we get on each others’ nerves, or have fundamental disagreements, but the bonds endure. Then Ai gets a call from Neiru’s secretary admitting that the cold, dismissive Neiru she encountered earlier wasn’t really Neiru, but Neiru’s sister Aira.

They are invited to Neiru’s house, which was once Kotobuki’s before she died…and becomes Kotobuki’s again when she is revived. Or, to be more precise, she and the other girls’ dead people aren’t the same people because they came from alternate timelines.

That whole can of worms has always been a hard pill of magical realism to swallow, and the more detail given to it, the more it starts to fall apart, so it’s to WEP’s credit they mostly wave their hands and say “it’s fine, just go with it.” Ditto Ai and Rika watching the last dream Neiru recorded, and essentially learning that Neiru…was never human, but an AI???

Rika, always quick to anger and saying things she might not mean, says she’s not willing to “risk her life for a machine.” But what is a sophisticated AI but an infinitely less complex version of the Real McCoy? We are just machines; machines we’ll probably never be able to perfectly replicate no matter how many shows and movies explore the possibility.

When Neiru does finally call Ai, Ai decides to be the one not to answer. She throws her phone over the balcony of her apartment building, then cries into her loving mother’s lap. Not all friendships are forever, and even when turning the page is in one’s best interest, it’s often far more difficult and painful than simply ripping a band-aid off of a hairy arm.

Time passes, and Ai not only leaves Neiru, but drifts away from Momo and Rika as well; sadly we don’t get to see them again. Ai changes schools, since Koito isn’t her Koito anymore, and seems to be adjusting and adapting just fine.

But then one day she walks past a familiar storefront with capsule dispensers, and suddenly all the memories of her friends and of Neiru rush into the foreground of her mind, and she decides to do what Rika wanted to do back at Karaoke: return to the Accas and get cracking. Not all friendships are forever, but not all friendships that end necessarily stay over forever.

Wonder Egg Priority – 12 (Fin?) – Over Easy

Aragorn: Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.
Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.
Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.

With Momoe and Rika seemingly completing their quests only to be met by fear and rage, respectively, Rika wants recriminations and revenge for Mannen, while Momoe simply wishes she never got involved with this business. Only Neiru and Ai remain beside each other while the other two seem lost.

Ai’s final egg is…herself. Or rather, as Acca puts it, an Ai from a parallel world who was also bullied for her eye but didn’t have a Koito, so she took her own life. Ai doesn’t judge—hell, she knows how Ai must feel, being herself and all—and doesn’t treat this other Ai any different than the other girls she’s saved from Wonder Killers.

When the Seenos chase the Ais up to the rooftop pool where the other Ai drowned, a horrifically repulsive Wonder Killer rises out of the chloronated water, and of course, it’s Sawaki-sensei, with tentacles of paint that eats away like acid on contact. Calling himself Ai’s “first love”, Sawaki says Ai was simply one more woman who was easy to fool because he’s handsome.

But Ai doesn’t see Sawaki in this monster; only the manifestation of her doubts and suspicions. She asserts the real Sawaki is “much nicer,” but the monster only says he had her completely fooled like all the rest. WEP has ensured that we can’t easily dismiss our own doubts and suspicions about Sawaki, who lest we forget, named a portrait of Ai…[Shudders] “Latent Heat”.

Ai won’t give up the fight, but between defending her doppelganger and the fact the battlefield is a pool, it isn’t long before both Ais plunge into the deep end. Much like the first episode of WEP, as we plunge deeper into dreams within dreams, the same feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on, but definitely wanting to know where the rabbit hole goes.

Our Ai, identified by her triangle hairpin (as opposed to the other Ai’s X) is pulled out of the pool by Koito in a version of the school blanketed by night. She kicks off her soggy shoes and socks and runs with Koito through the school as Sawaki Wonder Killer continues to taunt her.

On the same rooftop where Koito jumped to her death Sawaki is there, in his regular human form, but as the embodiment of the temptation of death. He tells her that her pure love for him betrays an innocence impossible for adults. Adult love is “dirty” and full of self-interest, which is why she should die before she grows up.

But as Ai stands at the edge of the roof holding hands with Koito, she remembers the words of her mom, who said ‘You only live once. Enjoy it.” The Ai who took her life expresses her regret, but our Ai smashes through the barrier between the light and dark rooftops and embraces her double.

The Sawaki Wonder Killer’s final gambit is to tell Ai how her own mother betrayed her by loving the same man she did, and “tried to put her own desires first.” But our Ai recalls to the other Ai how her mom never blamed her once when she stopped going to school, worrying about her where she couldn’t see, so she couldn’t know.

The Sawaki monster is barking up the wrong tree, because our Ai has already given her mom her blessing with the real Sawaki-sensei. When she was at her lowest, her mom supported her without judgment. Now that it’s her turn to support her mom, there’s no choice. Ai summons her multicolor pen mace and blasts the Sawaki monster into oblivion.

As Ai later tells Neiru on another rooftop, she thought she wanted to hear the truth from Koito, but maybe she didn’t need to, and she thinks she’s grateful she never did. Once the Sawaki monster is defeated, Koito is revealed and quickly vanishes, and a third AI created by Frill appears: one named Kirara Rodriguez Matured XVIII Evening Star SS Plum.

No doubt Kirara is there to kill Leon and stoke fear, rage, or something else in Ai, but Ai doesn’t rise to her provocations. As Rika is banished from the Accas’ domain as a cause lost to Frill, the other Ai basically takes a bullet for our Ai, as Kirara takes her blue eye.

Ai wakes up in her house, with both eyes intact, knowing the other Ai protected her. Unlike Momoe and Rika, she got out of her dream before Frill’s creation could cause any serious psychological damage. But before she parted with the other Ai, our Ai resolved to become a warrior of Eros, fighting Thanatos, the temptation of death.

It’s a hopeful, if somewhat confusing finish to what was for me, by far, the most visually and thematically ambitious and emotionally immersive series of Winter 2021. Rika and Momoe are in rough shape, but Ai seems to be stronger than ever, and Neiru seems…fine? Even more encouraging is that this is not the end; the story will be concluded in a special that’s scheduled to air June 30. It’s too early yet to declare the fellowship failed.

However it ends, Wonder Egg Priority was a deeply visceral, powerful, unforgettable ride that would have restored my faith in anime had I lost that faith in the first place. I’ll surely be revisiting this series somewhere down the road, and most definitely checking out whatever else director  Wakabayashi Shin and writer/creator Nojima Shinji make in the future.

Wonder Egg Priority – 11 – Deviled

Rika helps enough Egg Girls to free Chiaki, only for her to pass through her hands and vanish right after resurrecting. Rika then meets Dot, who like Hyphen is beholden to Frill. She brutally murders Mannen and destroys Rika’s weapon, causing her to cower in abject horror.

One night (or rather when the underground Wonder Egg compound is in night mode) Ai stops by Acca and Ura-Acca’s house. She finds an office filled with clippings of teenage suicides, as well as what looks like a family portrait: the two Accas in the human form, a woman…and a child whose face is concealed by black marker.

Ura-Acca, who had been waiting for Ai, proceeds to tell her a long and sorrowful tale of hubris and tragedy—to help her better understand her and the other girls’ true roles in their not-so-little game of Wonder Egg.

Some years ago when they had human form, Acca and Ura-Acca shared a living space and cloistered research facility. Constantly under surveillance, they decided to create something all their own together, “just for fun”. That something was an artificial girl of 14 who named herself Frill.

In addition to having the traits that “a father would want his daughter to have”, she also had character flaws built into her heuristic programming, as “being uncontrollable is the essence of femininity.”

The Accas and Frill became a happy family of three, and moments often happened when they forgot she was an AI. At a tech symposium, the Accas met Hoshina Azusa, whom both befriended and eventually developed feelings. Azusa ended up choosing Acca over Ura-Acca. They married and she became pregnant with a girl.

If the Accas are Dr. Frankenstein, Frill soon became their “Monster”. She didn’t take Azusa’s interloping well, hinting that she hated her for basically stealing Acca away. She also wanted a friend, and wanted to make one herself; they ended up letting her make two: Dot and Hyphen. Then one night while Azusa was in the bath, Frill switched on a hair dryer and threw it into the tub, killing Azusa.

An unspeakably bereft Acca threw Frill down the steps beats, her, and locks her in a cellar. While she exhibited no remorse for the murder, she still pleaded not to be left in the dark. But while Azusa died, her infant daughter Himari survived, and ended up “saving” Acca and Ura-Acca from the utter depths of despair as a new family unit was forged.

One day, a now middle school-aged Himari has a strange conversation with “uncle” Ura-Acca, promising to marry him  when she was old enough; a consolation for her mother choosing Acca. That night, they found Himari dead in the tub. It looked like she’d slit her wrists, but there was no suicide note.

Remembering how she popped her lips the way Frill often did, Ura-Acca goes down to the cellar to find Frill is not only still active, but surrounded by surveillance technology and whatnot.

Ura-Acca accuses her of using Dot and Hyphen to kill Himari, Frill simply replies “I’m not a monster. I’m Frill,” and asks him if he wants to know how the girl who loved her “uncle” so much died. Enraged, Ura-Acca takes her away and seemingly destroys her by burning her in a fire.

Ura-Acca concludes by telling AI that the “temptation of death” will cause more girls to “die when they don’t have to” unless it’s stopped…all because of their “mistake.” Dot and Hyphen have apparently already closed Momoe’s heart with fear and caused Rika to build walls of hatred—they both appear on monitors in a set up not unlike Frill’s—but the Ura-Acca decided to at least tell Ai the truth about everything.

Nearly smashing a Wonder Egg on the ground in anger and frustration, Ai decides against it, but clearly isn’t happy with the information she’s received. Heck, we never even found out what, if anything, Sawaki-sensei told her about Koito’s death! That egg may contain the last girl Ai needs to protect to free Koito. But if Dot and Hyphen come for her, and murder her animal friend, what will Ai do then? What can she do?

This episode pulled back the curtain on the pair of mysterious mannequins who seemingly gave up their human bodies after enduring too much tragedy while within them. No one should have to suffer what they suffered. The thing is, everything happened was their fault—the brutal consequences of playing God and rejecting their creation—and involving Ai and the others only compounded their offense.

Between the hubris they exhibited in committing the monstrously irresponsible act of creating a life for fun—who became twisted by jealousy and slipped completely out of their control—and the fact that they then deceived and used four teenage girls as tools to try to fix their mistake, I still can’t summon much sympathy for them. I just hope there’s some way Ai, maybe with Neiru’s help, can save Momoe and Rika from their respective fresh hells.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 10 – Fried

The cold open is so idyllic and beautiful that’s it’s obvious it’s only Momoe’s dream, but it’s an instructive one, for it shows us Momoe as she sees herself and as she wants to be seen: a lovely girl, going on a regular date with a boy who likes her as a girl.

Momoe wakes up to the sound of the end credits of what was likely a romantic movie she was watching before nodding off, the flowery soundtrack of which accompanied her lovely dream, and then gets ready for the real thing.

This week, under questioning the Accas come clean about not only being affiliated with Plati, but having founded the Japan chapter. Neiru shows Ai and Rika what they looked like before they abandoned their physical bodies and placed their minds in mannequins.

But in an inspired interruption of what was shaping up to be an exposition-heavy Q-and-A, something more important comes up: Momoe reports that went on a date…with a boy. Reminding us that the garden where the Accas are always seated at their board isn’t outside but underground, Ai, Neiru and Rika hurry head up to meet with Momoe and engage in some Girl Talk.

Describing the boy as her “follower” (presumably on social media), he asked her out a week ago, but when she arrived for their date in a dress, he was horrified…because he thought he was asking out a boy. That’s been the story of Momoe’s adolescent existence: a round peg being hammered into a square hole by a society that refuses to see and know her the way she sees and knows herself.

She tells her crocodile friend Panic, who is of unknown gender, that it must be nice not to be judged by appearance. Panic obviously doesn’t respond with words, but by curling up in Momoe’s arm like a dog, simply being there with Momoe. No judgment, no projection…only love.

Perhaps emboldened by Momoe’s courage in putting her true self out there, Ai pays a visit to Sawaki-sensei, who confirms that he’ll be leaving school soon to pursue his career as a professional artist. He gives her a postcard for his first solo exhibition, titled “Latent Heat”, and tells her that it was a portrait he painted at school that got him noticed. Ai, of course, assumes it was a portrait of Koito. She has a statue, Sawaki has a painting.

Momoe’s next Egg Girl, Kurita Kaoru, immediately establishes himself as unlike anyone she’s ever encountered, as he isn’t a girl, but a trans boy. Kaoru instantly sees through the “Momotaro” façade, and sees a tall, cool girl—totally his type. Unlike Haruka, Kaoru isn’t a girl who loves her. Unlike her recent date, he doesn’t misgender her, and she does him the same courtesy without thinking. He even wears a jacket of light blue, pink, and white.

Momoe is more popular with the girls, who see in her the perfect man. Kaoru’s kendo club advisor—whom he once trusted and sought advice from—saw and desired him as a girl. The advisor raped Kaoru, who then became pregnant. It was as if both he and the world were denying Kaoru his true self. He took his own life, unable to live in that world.

Having heard this story and met the advisor in his grotesque Wonder Killer form, Momoe is unspeakably enraged, and prepares to stab the shit out of him. The Killer shoves her back, declaring he’ll “kill any man who makes passes at his Kaoru,” whom he’s encased in a heart-shaped glass case.

He prepares to crush Momoe, but as she summons all of her strength to lift him off of her and toss him aside, she forcefully corrects him by saying “I’m a girl!”, ripping her boyish clothes to reveal her sports bra, then launching a decisive attack on the Wonder Killer, shattering the case and catching Kaoru out of the air.

In the few moments they have after the battle is over, Kaoru covers Momoe with his jacket, thanks her and says that next time he’s reborn he’ll be the one to protect her. Momoe is flattered, but points out that not all girls want to be protected; a fair point. Kaoru then calls Momoe a lovely girl and asks if she likes younger men. Kaoru then leans in to kiss her before vanishing in a puff of smoke, turning Momoe beet red.

Kaoru turns out to be the final egg Momoe needed to protect in order to “clear the game”, and after a countdown, a curtain falls to reveal Haruka, no longer a statue. When she runs towards Momoe’s open arms, she passes right through her and fades away. Momoe says “it’s really over!”, but above her a part of the ceiling lets out a slow drip-drip-drip of water, suggesting it might not quite be over.

The Accas report that Momoe “won’t be coming anymore”, as she’s more or less cleared the game. This news compels Ai to take her leave from Rika and Neiru in order to take care of something. She comes home, bathes, pins her hair back to reveal her blue eye, and wears a dress and heels, then takes the train to the gallery where Sawaki-sensei’s exhibition is being held.

She finds the painting that launched his fledgling art career…and it’s not Koito, it’s her, heterochromia and all. Only it isn’t exactly her, and as Sawaki approaches he asks her if it resembles someone else: her mother. That’s because it’s a portrait of Ai “grown up” into a “wonderful, adult woman” like her mother; “kind, strong, and beautiful.”

Because Ai is the daughter of that woman—the woman he admits he’s in love with—he says she should have more faith in herself. Then Ai asks Sawaki something she’s wanted to ask him since Koito died: Why did she die?

We don’t get the answer, and who knows if Sawaki will be forthcoming, elusive, or abstract in his response. We also don’t know if any potential answer will satisfy Ai—for all we know, Koito took her life after being rejected by Sawaki. All we know is, like Momoe’s attempt to go on a date with a boy as a girl, she’s all the more stronger for actually asking. And Sawaki is still creepy and inscrutable as fuck.

As for Momoe, her hard-won physical and moral triumphs are all too fleeting, as the dripping water precedes the arrival of a strange entity with Haruka’s body, a Wonder Killer-like head, and a giant scythe. The Accas lament that their plans to create “warriors of Eros” to confront “Thanatos” may end up going off-course with Momoe’s recent experience of “the overwhelming fear of death.”

The Haruka-bodied entity tells Momoe she’s like to let her go out of respect for how she risked her life for friendship, but that someone named “Frill” would get mad if she found out. Unfurling her head to reveal butterfly wings, the entity proceeds to gruesomely murder Panic right before Momoe’s eyes, then takes a chunk of meat from Panic’s body, eats it, and stuffs some in Momoe’s mouth.

Back in the real world, Momoe can’t dispatch the horror of tasting Panic’s meat out of her mind, and vomits into the sink during dinner with her mom. She cowers at the foot of her bed, trembling in a blanket, unable to sleep. As expected, the Accas only ever offered a bitterly sore deal, with victory only bringing more trauma and suffering.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 03 – Childhood Friend

Thanks to Roxy, Rudy is no longer a shut-in, which means he can now freely explore the boundless natural beauty beyond the Greyrat residence. Paul tells his son that a man’s strength isn’t for pushing people around, but protecting and befriending the weak—and if some girls are impressed in the process, it’s all gravy.

It’s the first of several moments Paul talks to his son as if he were much older, even though he tells him he worries about the ways he doesn’t act like the kid he is. This only makes sense: Rudy is Paul’s first kid, while Rudy’s emotional and social development was profoundly stunted by bullying and harassment. They both have plenty to teach each other.

As for making friends, the first three kids his age Rudy meets are bullying a weaker boy, and uses his water magic to disinterest them off. He learns they were picking on the boy for having green hair and thus resembling the hated Superd. In reality, he’s the son of a human and half-elf; the green hair is just a harmless genetic trait.

At first glance it’s clear to Rudy that Sylph (delicately voiced by Kayano Ai) is a drop-dead gorgeous bishounen. Having acted on his father’s advice to be a friend to the weak, his decision is also routed in his baser desire to meet hot babes, who will surely flock to this prettyboy. Sylph is delighted to have a friend, as Rudy is his first as well. They agree to meet up soon so he can teach him how to use the magic that got rid of the bullies.

But Rudy comes home late to find an angry Paul at the front door. He heard from the mother of one of the bullies that Rudy punched him. Rudy tries to explain the way an adult would to another, but Paul doesn’t want to hear excuses. When Rudy is insolent, he’s slapped, but instead of crying, Rudy becomes even more adult and logical.

He tells Paul how he’s worked hard to earn his father’s trust, and had hoped that would have in turn earned him the chance to explain his actions. He then assures Paul that next time he sees three boys picking on another, he’ll either ignore it or join in, as befits the “Greyrat Family Way.” Paul, knowing he’s been rhetorically beaten, apologizes and asks Rudy to tell him what happened.

Like I said, Paul is as new to being a dad as Rudy is to being a kid in this world. Both are going to make mistakes. What’s so wonderful about the exchange here is that virtually equal time is given to their respective analyses and growth as a father and a son. Paul thought he needed to be hard on a son who is already a saint-level mage, even though part of him was glad he finally did something childish.

Paul knows he wasn’t practicing what he preached and furthermore, Rudy was fully capable of exposing that hypocrisy. That said, their “fight” expand beyond the night, as Paul is contrite and reflects not only upon how he’ll parent going forward, but whether his own father felt the things he’s feeling. That he does this while nestling his head in Zenith’s shoulders also underscores that he’s not walking this path of parenthood alone.

Six months pass, and it’s summertime. Rudy and Sylph are still targeted by the bullies, but Rudy fights back every time. He gets the distinct impression that one of the bullies’ moms is using her son as an excuse to see Paul, whom she fancies. Rudy has also been training Sylph in magic, and he turns out to be an excellent student.

When Sylph asks Rudy to teach him how to cast a spell without incantation, Rudy wonders if, like the public myth about set mana levels, it’s easier to do than people let on. As someone in a new world, Rudy wants to be special in at least one or two things, but either it is indeed relatively easy to do incantation-less casting, or Sylph is pretty special himself.

The moment he pulls it off, Sylph practically blooms with joy, dancing and spinning with the water he conjured, then running as fast as his fair legs can carry him through golden fields. Rudy can only keep up and share in the pure, unadulterated joy. As they lie together in the reeds, catching their breath, Rudy reiterates how goddamn pretty Sylph is.

Then a pop-up storm starts to drench them, and they make haste for shelter at Rudy’s house. Rudy leads Sylph to the bath that Lilia already prepared, strips down to his birthday suit, and sets to work stripping an extremely reluctant Sylph down as well, urging him not to be bashful—they’re both boys!

Only…they’re not. As was fairly evident from the start, Sylph is a girl, and was never able to get out her full name: Sylphiette. For once, Rudy isn’t turned on by a naked girl. In fact, he feels awful, as well as stupid for not realizing sooner. As he bathes with his dad, Paul makes sure that even as his son starts getting more interested in girls that kind of thing, he needs to listen and heed them when they say “no”.

Again, Paul is glad his son is acting like the kid he appears to be—and emotionally, still is—in this situation. He knows his son will “make good use” of his failure, only to watch Rudy “apologize” by saying he honestly thought she was a boy the whole six months they’ve hung out, causing her to cry even more. At that, Paul wonders if his son is dumber than he thought!

A day or a few pass, Rudy can’t concentrate on sparring with Paul, and Paul knows exactly why. What he doesn’t know is that the 30-year-old in Rudy is similarly depressed about having seemingly pushed away the lovely childhood friend was hoping to meet someday. Rudy showed his whole ass (literally!), Paul is certain they’ll make up. He assures Rudy that women love men’s strengths and weaknesses, and showing your vulnerable side can help mend fences.

His dad later admits he’s getting into some pretty advanced romantic advice for his still-very-young son, but it’s all good advice, from someone who is clearly a good man who, while hella strong, understands his own weaknesses and flaws, be it as a father, a husband, or a man.

Sylphiette shows up right after Rudy and Paul talk, and Rudy approaches her weary and contrite. He tries a dating sim line about “missing her beauty”, all while on the verge of tears, fearing permanent rejection. Instead, Sylphiette tenderly takes his hands in hers, tells him she “doesn’t hate him or anything”, and asks him to just “act normal,” giving him a pat on the head for good measure.

That she’s forgiven him so easily baffles Rudy, but he’s also obviously relieved beyond belief. He admits to not knowing how to get along with her, even though that’s what he’s been doing the last six months. His adult brain looks outward into the future when he’s a man in need of a good woman, but for now, the gender of the first friend his age shouldn’t matter. They’re still young, and have all the time in the world.

Rudy and Sylphiette will learn together how to continue get along with each other. There will be times they’ll make each other angry, get into fights, and maybe not talk or want to look in each other’ faces. But they’ll also run through golden fields together, laughing, playing, doing magic, and simply reveling in each other’s proximity. They’ll falter and forgive together—that’s what friendship is all about.

P.S. Read Crow’s write-up here!

Null Peta – 02 (Second Impressions)

Null is not a morning person. Her alarm clock is a brick of C4, followed by being mechanically dumped out of bed into a shoot, and dropped onto the floor by the breakfast table.

Peta is not a breakfast person. She is in fact a robot. After projecting a fake-out holographic breakfast, complete with color control sliders, Peta offers Null deep-dark-fried-rice. Also a bamboo shoot.

For the next 3 minutes, Peta tries to feed this clearly evil slop to Null and Null tries to DESTROY HER ROBOT SISTER. There are explosions, mecha, more bamboo shoots, and another missed day of school.

Null Peta may only be 5 minutes long, and more than a minute of that is taken up by opening credits! However, the script is packed with verbal timing humor, silly ideas, and good enough visuals to make those 5 minutes enjoyable.

Null Peta – 01 (First Impressions)

A little girl builds a robot to replace her missing older sister. For some reason, she also installs weapons and a bamboo shoot. While ‘Peta’ does not boot up right away, she does eventually, before engaging rockets and blasting off to take Null to school.

Cute, charming, a little weird and well timed humor carries this short-format show across the finish line. If it were a full length episode, it could even be worth following. Who are Null and Peta? Did something tragic happen to the older sister? Will something tragic happen next because weapons?? (I probably won’t be watching)

Kino no Tabi – 10

Kino is the kind of person who wants to go to the country where everyone else who’s been there says the locals were very rude and treated them like crap. So imagine her disappointment when the country turns out not to be full of assholes, but full of the kindest, most hospitable townsfolk you could ask for, including the sickeningly twee innkeeper trainee and tour guide, Sakura.

Kino takes in an outdoor play chronicling the people’s proud history of having found a haven after escaping oppression. She dons an apron during a barbecue (with Hermes ensuring she only grills; no seasoning). She even gets her persuader serviced by the local, er, persuadersmith, who performs the task for free.

The smith knows the gun as the kind one of Master’s students would use (even if Kino denies knowing her), and decides to gift her another gun, “The Woodsman”, a gun he once carried for protection while traveling, but has no more use of now that he’s too old and frail to travel. He’d rather it be put to good use.

By the time Sakura shows Kino the most beautiful spot in the city during a gorgeous sunset, Kino is completely charmed and no longer disappointed the people of the country aren’t rude jerks. Unfortunately, the three days she promised she’d stay are up, and the soldiers insist she leave immediately.

The town seemed so cloyingly nice I was almost constantly keeping my eyes peeled for little clues that might indicate what the “catch” with the place was, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Turns out the answer was staring me right in the face in the opening moments of the episode as Kino and Hermes neared the country: it is positioned at the foot not of a mountain, but a volcano.

The night Kino leaves, the volcano unleashes a pyroclastic flow that wipes out the country, killing everyone in it instantly. Even the normally stoic Kino is upset by this sudden, shocking development, especially when Hermes calmly explains there’s absolutely nothing she can do.

But Sakura and her mother did give Kino two packages, and in them are some mementos, along with a letter explaining that the country knew of their impending doom, had the choice to abandon their lands or stay and die, and chose the latter.

The reason they were so kind to Kino is that they knew she’d be their last guest, and wanted to try to repair the reputation as rude jerks they’d built up over the years. Turns out they weren’t rude or kind country so much as a Country of Self-Destructive Stubbornness.

Another note written by Sakura accompanies the seed she caught at a wedding (the last wedding in the country, and the couple was younger than usual because, well, they were out of time), stating that she wouldn’t need it. Sakura must’ve known of her fate after all, but like her parents and the rest of the adults, decided to stay and face her fate. Pretty heartbreaking stuff.

She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 04 (Fin)

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You’re lonely? Get a cat. They live thirteen years, then you get another one. Then another one after that. Then you’re done. —Katherine Olson, Mad Men

The devoutly-Catholic Kathy may only be telling her daughter this in response to learning she and her boyfriend have moved in together with no promise of marriage, but there’s a grim practicality to her advice, and it’s also oddly prescient of the events that close Everything Flows.

To whit: “She”, whom we learn is called Miyu, is lonely after her friend moves out and gets married. Miyu is so lonely and uncommunicative, in fact, her mother fears the worst when she gets a hang-up phone call from her daughter, and races over, which turns out to be a false alarm.

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It would seem a concerned Daru inadvertently dialed Mom’s number, but the effect of the happenstance is profound: Miyu’s mother is relieved. Miyu sees her mother for the first time in a while. They share a laugh. Daru is relieved too: Miyu is going to be alright. He was hanging onto life until he could confirm that. When he has, he passes away, quietly, in her arms.

Then, a psychic explosion destroys Tokyo and initiates World War III. Just kidding! But that’s kinda what it looked like. That would have been quite the genre shift!

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Naturally, there’s a mourning period for Miyu, whose eye-bags and fetal position recalls another famous, devastating film (only without the drugs). She even feels Daru rub up against her back, the way he did countless times in his life. It’s only a phantom rub, but it doesn’t plunge Miyu into further despair. Instead, she sits up, smiles, and moves forward.

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Not wanting to worry Daru any further, she cleans up her place, finds a job, and faces the world with a smile once more. Then Daru apparently reincarnates as a white abandoned cat, which Miyu finds under a bridge and takes in.

But unlike Peggy Olson in her mom’s scenario of a life with three cats to ward off lonliness, Miyu will either need more than three—to combat the formidable longevity of the Japanese—or find a human. Either way, she’ll be fine. The world still moves, and we still travel upon it.

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She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 03

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Daru had a rough youth, about which he remembers only bits and pieces: he was a stray along with his mom and three siblings, but after a bird attacked, he was suddenly all alone.

And while the girl may have Daru now, Daru is getting old. Looming over this episode is the fact that one day he won’t be around, and the girl really will be alone in her apartment for two, which she’s seriously let go due to being so exhausted after work.

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But more than that, Daru can only offer his particular cat breed of unconditional love and wordless support. But it doesn’t change the fact that the girl was always conflicted about moving out and leaving her mother alone, and now that Tomoka moved out to get married, she feels even more alone and lost.

She has no career, only part-time jobs; no romantic aspirations as she draws closer to the age people marry; and her cat is too old to even jump on the bed to comfort her as she stews in her depression, pleading for help, but with no one who can hear her.

Sure, it could be worse—her sociopathic crown prince brother hasn’t locked her in the palace dungeon—but she’s not doing so hot, and Daru seems like naught but a band-aid on a gaping wound.

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She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 02

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This was a brief but lovely, emotionally rich, gently-told story of how the girl and Daru met. A lonely, morose girl who just transferred to school, her busy mother thought it would be a good idea for her to have a companion for all those hours home alone.

Like everything at this point in the girl’s life, she’s initially skeptical. After all, even Daru knew then she had a large hole in her heart he wasn’t sure he’d be able to fill.

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Still, Daru does his best to cheer her up, in a very catlike way: presenting her with a still-alive lizard, while breaking a mug her (apparently dead) father gave her. When the girl sees the cat take up precious few moments she has with her mother, she decides it would be best if both she and the cat were alone.

She puts him in a box with some toys and leaves him by the river…only to come right back when some schoolboys spot the box; she just couldn’t go through with abandoning the poor thing. And her change of heart is rewarded when Daru becomes a conduit for her to meet her first friend in her new town, who likes her cat.

A sunset in the present day reminds both the girl and Daru of the day they met. And now, though they can’t understand each other verbally, they’ve gotten to the point they know what they’re thinking.

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She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 01

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This is the first installment of a compact four-part short-form anime, and the title says it all: this is about a female junior college student and her fluffy black pet cat. Specifically, the story unfolds from Daru the cat’s perspective, and he does the narrating (In a nice bonus, Hana-Kana is the voice of the girl).

Aside from the furry narrator, the show is highly naturalistic, with both time and space flowing much as it does in our own world. But by giving Daru a human voice (which the girl doesn’t hear, by the way), we are told that his love is not unconditional: there’s actually a good reason he loves his owner.

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When we first enter their lives, the girl’s roommate is moving out to be with her boyfriend, leaving her alone with an apartment she can’t afford. She also struggles to find a job to pay the bills, and doesn’t consider moving back home an option. She’s not always happy and chipper. Sometimes, she’s downright depressed.

While Daru thinks there’s nothing he can do to quell her pain, I suspect that’s not true, because pets are a great comfort to their owners. What I’m not so sure about is whether my own cat or my roommates respect or love us for working hard and standing up straight and going out to face the world everyday (more likely they love us mostly because we feed them!) However, Daru does love his owner for those very reasons.

In any case, this was a short, sweet look into the life of a girl and her cat. A heartwarming little watch if you own or like said small furry idiosyncratic carnivorous mammals. Oh, and this may interest Hannah: The girl doesn’t get eaten by monsters at the end…so there’s that!

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