Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 08 – Valhalla’s Gate

We open with Miyako, Satomi, the Shield Squadron, and the maintenance crew breaking through a barrier to reach a secret stash of equipment with which to continue the fight. Twelve hours earlier at Shimofusa Base, Satomi tells the Valkyries about this stash, located under Mt. Nokogiri in case of dire need.

Once again Azu is both frustrated and smitten with Miko’s determination to keep fighting despite the increasingly desperate odds. As for poor Sono, her last sortie and the loss of her Big Sis has rendered her too traumatized and distraught to get out of bed, let alone climb into a cockpit.

Satomi takes Azu aside to have her listen to a recording of General Okita’s last moments, during which Odin refers to such odd terms as “Valhalla” and “Asgard”. Azu isn’t familiar, but their resident Norther European Valkyrie and Odin’s favorite just might. Claudy, meanwhile, visits Lizbet, who recovers quickly, something she attributes to the blessing of Odin enduring even if his body was destroyed in the attack.

The bottom falls out of Lizbet’s heart when she hears Lily is dead, but tells Claudy that Yayoi’s last message to her was that Odin is hiding something and Claudy holds the key. Sure enough, when Azu asks her about it, Claudy recites something Odin once said about “Valhalla’s Gate” always being open to her. Sure enough, such a gate appears right there in the corridor.

The question now is should they move forward with trying to retake Takeyama with the Nokogiri stash, or go through the gate and explore Valhalla. The answer is, Why Not Both? Miko, backed up by her devoted Shield Squadron, volunteers to take Takeyama back on their own, while Azu and three escorts will accompany Claudy through the gate.

Just as they walk through it and it closes behind them, Sono appears, on her feet for the first time. At the sight of Miko she bolts but Miko chases her down. Sono is worried that every time she sees someone off it’s bad luck, but Miko takes hold of her and tells her not to think such things, and that there are ways for Valkyries to help even if they can’t fly.

As Claudy and Azu explore a grand, ornate and otherworldly corridor and Miko and the Shields prepare to sortie, Sono aids the civilian evac by helping out at the outdoor canteen. There, she’s approached by the two young pilots (lower-class Valkyries I imagine) from last week, who thank her profusely for, well, their lives, which they’re certain they wouldn’t have if not for her heroics. They vow to become “strong like her”, even though Sono breaks down after they leave, asserting she’s “not strong at all”.

Despite pushing back against the praise and gratitude of those pilots, hopefully it nevertheless helps nudge Sono closer to again stepping into a cockpit. It’s probably not a great idea at this point, but it may be necessary very soon, judging from what happens to her comrades. First, Claudy touches some rotating runes and starts to sing, then a nasty-looking golem appears, poised to attack.

As for Miko, she and her Shield take out a number of tertiary Pillars on their way to Takeyama, but there are simply Too Many Of Them, and they eventually clump together and coalesce into a secondary Pillar that totally envelops Miko’s Hero Wing. She’d flying through an otherwordly plane consisting of giant gears and strange eddies.

When the Gjallarhorn sounds, indicating the Pillars are heading towards Shimofusa, Sono urges the evacuees to remain calm, but one civilian woman collapses, having suddenly gone into labor. While the others have uphill battles with uncertain outcomes, Sono will have to do her best to help deliver the woman’s child. In other words, everyone is officially too busy to grief.

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 05 – Very Old Friends

In a flashback to two thousand years ago, Anos sends his most trusted subordinate Shin to defeat the Great Water Spirit Lignon, which he does easily. When Anos offers him a reward, Shin asks to be resurrected, even if his resurrected self loses his memories and experiences, he wants to remain by his lord’s side.

Back in the present, Emilia also announces a new transfer student, a prodigy known as the “Master of Magic Sword”, and that the class will start sword training with two Elder Demon Emperors. She also tries to pretend the specter has been “stolen” in order to deprive Team Anos of a perfect score, only for Anos to pull said scepter out of one of the students ordered to hide it.

Before he does, one white uniform comes to his defense: Misa Iriologue, a demon-spirit hybrid and member of the Unitarians, who work towards a more racially and class-equitable nation, one not dominated by “Royalty” who just happened to be born with pure blood.

Misa and her associates believe Anos is the Demon King of Tyranny. Not only does she want to join Team Anos, but she wants to tell them more of their efforts in hopes Anos will join the cause, as one Elder Demon Emperor already has.

I never thought MDKA would have been able to pull off sociopolitical worldbuilding with an Anos fan club full of bookworms who swoon and faint in his presence and consider the same air he breathes to be a direct kiss…but here we are!

The Unitarians seem like a nice bunch of hardworking girls who just want to make the world a more just and equal place, and while Anos has thankfully never come off as a horndog in want or need of a harem, their mission statement aligns with his own distaste for blood purity trumping merit.

During the sword training, Anos is the first and only student to successfully pull his sword out of the ground, Excalibur-style … until a second student does it with similar ease. He’s the new transfer student and sword prodigy, and my first thought was that he was the reincarnated Shin.

My confidence that this Ray Gransdori is Shin is reinforced when he shocks Emilia by declaring he’d rather have a competent leader giving him orders than lead a team himself. He also pays Anos’ “Misfit” label and white uniforms no mind; it’s clear he shares both Anos and the Unitarians’ belief that parentage isn’t as important as achievement.

Anos initially refuses Ray’s request to join his team because he doesn’t want to make it too easy for him. Both he and Ray have clearly been rearing for a good sword battle lasting more than a couple seconds, and no one else has proven a challenge to either. Anos issues a challenge: Ray will lead Misa and the fan club against Team Anos, which they get to join if they fare well.

With her new ice ring, Misha is able to build a giant ice castle in a matter of moments, while her and Sasha’s newly upgraded sources (due to the time travel stuff last week) mean they are now considerably more powerful, and when they join forces are able to easily bring down the fan club’s golem-like mobile castle.

While the “kids” play with castles and immensely powerful magic spells, Anos and Ray have a good old-fashioned sword duel, only Ray’s sword is dull and Anos’ sword is just a tree branch. The ensuing clash is everything both of them could have hoped for, and you can tell they’re having a ton of fun.

Anos obviously bests Ray, but Ray proved he’s worthy of joining the team. Ray also has a strange feeling that they’ve crossed swords before. Surely Anos could tell from the way Ray fought and the instinctive desire to serve him that he has his right-hand-man back.

Sometimes when a transfer student shows up they’re meant to be a rival or obstacle to the MC, but this was a nice subversion of that formula. It’s also refreshing to have a male character who isn’t Anos—or an asshole. Both he and Misa are welcome additions. On to the Magic Sword Tournament, in which Anos and Ray are clear favorites to make the finals.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 12 (Fin) – Hanging In There

Berserk Golem is terrifying to behold, but at least initially, his attacks aren’t very coordinated. That gives Yabashira a chance to intervene before Golem makes Somali witness something she shouldn’t. He’s tossed aside, and Golem targets Rosa, only for the freed Somali to come between them.

She has enough trust in her dad that he won’t hurt her with his outstretched hand, but pat her on the head. He may have lost a lot of resources when he went into overload, but the love he has for her wasn’t among them, and it serves as a fail-safe switch, and he passes out after acknowledging his daughter.

We part ways with Rosa off-camera, though I’d hope she learned a lesson and will do some serious soul-searching about her attitude towards humans after the one she was ready to dissect saved her life. Golem comes to in a forest, with Somali sleeping by his side.

The pair continue their journey with Shizuno and Yabashira, but after assessing his damage, it’s not looking good for Golem. His left arm is gone for good, as is nearly a third of his skin and much of his internal fluids. He’s at 76%, max, and it’s all downhill from there…though he notably can’t set an exact date of final shutdown.

The quartet arrives in a new town full of horned dog people celebrating their harvest. Never mind that there may be more human hunters here who would recognize Somali’s smell; the show clearly cedes that the time of external threats to Somali are done, as long as she keeps her hood down. I’m skeptical!

Of course, the main issue is that while on their way to town, Golem noticed that his senses are becoming duller and it’s getting increasingly hard to move. Add to that the potential for him to lose control like he did in the cave, and he considers his continued proximity to Somali a liability. So at the town festival, while Somali is distracted by performers, he gives her the slip.

Shizuno fills Yabashira and Somali in on why Golem left, and why he couldn’t persuade him otherwise; he made his choice. But Somali is hardly satisfied with such an adult conclusion, and chases after her dad, leaving town and finding him in the nearby woods, staring at a pond. When he spots her, Golem orders her to stay away, but she won’t obey, and demands to know why they can’t be together like he promised.

When he denies it’s because of anything she said or did or because he doesn’t like her anymore (Somali is just a little kid, this is where her mind would go first) and tells her he’s worried about being a danger to her, she again rejects his reasoning. She’ll be too lonely without him, and she knows he’ll be lonely too. She gets him to admit the emotions within him (despite that not jiving with his “natural order”)—and even sheds the equivalent of a golem tear.

With that, Golem reverses his decision to run away, and instead vows to stay by Somali’s side as long as he can, enduring whatever hardships might arise. The two of them acquire some nifty new threads and continue their travels with the Shizuno and Yabashira.

This seal the ending as an ellipsis rather than a period, and opens the door for a possible sequel. But that aside, I was pretty certain the show wouldn’t kill off Golem in the last episode, despite some of the “death is not the end” flags during the town festival.

Instead, it galvanized its hopeful outlook with a hopeful ending, in which there’s still time for Golem to find a way to repair himself, and in the meantime, Somali’s formative years can continue to be filled with happy and fun memories with her dad, as long as they can.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 11 – Defense Over Insulation

We know shit is about to hit the fan. So it’s somehow even crueler that after
showing us Aunt Rosa’s true colors last week, the episode keeps things light and pleasant. Rosa tells Golem about a shortcut to “avoid” trouble, Somali and Golem exchange bracelets, and the two have a snowball fight with the oni. Even the score is oblivious to the impending unpleasantness.

Then, later that night after Somali has gone to bed, Golem detects five human hunters. Yabashira is quickly told Somali is indeed a human (he’s fine with it, like any decent person), and acts as a decoy, allowing Golem, Somali and Shizuno to flee into the nearby subterranean tunnels. However, Golem and Shizuno were both fooled by the kindly Aunt Rosa, who meets them right before the supposed exit and leads them straight into a holding cell.

She tells them a personal story about how her village once coexisted with a human village, but the humans’ prejudice led to needless killing, and eventually all non-humans agreed it would be safer for everyone if the humans were persecuted and killed. She also sings the same song Kikila sang for Somali, revealing the lyrics are about cooking humans.

At this point, Golem’s body is nearing its end, as he had to exert considerable energy to evade the second set of hunters in the tunnels. He can’t risk destroying the cell gate, but when it’s opened and Somali is snatched away by the hunters, he has no choice. Only when he prepares to attack the hunters his whole left arm shatters (and his new bracelet snaps), while the rest of his body shuts down.

Shizuno’s pleas for understanding fall on deaf ears, and Somali is tied to a table as the hunters prepare to cut her into pieces—one wants the brain, while Rosa wants the liver. Still, Golem is down but not yet out: his eye turns read, he gets back to his feet, and he transforms into something wild and brutal we haven’t seen before as his core churns and smolders.

It may be the beginning of the end for Golem, but his attempts to insulate her from the cold truth of the world were not only futile, but are no longer possible. Now all that matters is defending her from harm with everything he has left—as any father of any species would do for their child.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 10 – In Accordance With Determined Tasks

We’ve seen it in the OP every week: the moment Golem encounters a human girl in chains in his forest. The first word she says to him is “Dad.” But we learn it was hardly fatherhood at first sight! For several days Golem considers the child an outsider who must leave at once, for her care simply doesn’t fall under his forest guardian duties.

The child is persistent in following him around, however, and when it’s clear there’s no one else around to see she gets food and water, Golem lets those previously rigid edicts slide. He removes her chains and names her Somali, after the cat-like beast that first led him to her. Henceforth, everything he’s done is so he can keep her happy and smiling.

In the present, Shizuno asks if he can see the state of Golem’s body, and…it’s not pretty. Most of his ceramic skin is gone and he reports that even his inner body is starting to crack and leak fluids. Even if there are a set number of days until he “shuts down,” he may cease to function properly well before that.

Considering how he’s committed to spending seven of those days in this town bouncing for the innkeeper, the continued search for humans becomes less paramount than simply ensuring someone is around to care for Somali when he’s gone. Thankfully Shizuno is fine with being that someone, but doesn’t want Golem to give up on repairing himself.

While Golem and Yabashira work in the town, Shizuno and Somali procrastinate on cleaning, as Somali wants to make a gift for Golem. Her attempt at a portrait doesn’t meet her perfectionist standards, but when the innkeeper’s gentle, kindly wife Rosa arrives with supplies, she suggests Somali weave a good-luck bracelet for her dad.

Unfortunately, Auntie Rosa recognizes Somali’s smell as human while locked in a big hug, and unlike Shizuno is not okay with that. Such is her hatred for humans that as soon as she returns to town she reports Somali to some unsavory fellows who will no doubt come for her in short order. Are Golem, Shizuno and Yabashira strong enough to protect her?

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 09 – The Secret Ingredient is Love

Golem and Somali seek refuge at a charming sapper’s lodge built into a tree. Since it’s not harvest season, it’s vacant, so Golem leaves some cash to pay for accommodations and food they use. It’s an opportunity for Golem to cook something from scratch for his daughter, and he picks a tasty-looking souffle. After a few instances of pretty intense drama it’s nice to get back to the show’s cozy slice-of-life roots.

There’s precious little to threaten lil’ Somali this week, as the additional visitors to the lodge turn out to be their old friends Shizuno and Yabashira, who are on their way to the Bygone City. However, after a bite of souffle (ironicaly, considering how soft it is), Somali notices one of her lower teeth is loose, and is afraid to tell anyone lest she get in trouble.

Coincidentally, Shizuno is travelling to the otherwise somewhat rough and unsavory Bygone City to seek out the advice of one Sowak, an itty-bitty dentist. All dentists are of the hydromys (water rodent) clan so they can literally step inside a patient’s mouth to work on their teeth.

Somali grows more and more distressed as Sowak describes the work he does in mouths, and how “teeth don’t grow back”. Later, Golem can not only sense something’s wrong with Somali, but it has to do with her mouth.

Somali panics and runs off—not a good idea in a seedy city full of thugs—and bumps into one of them. He and his two pals try to extort a penalty from Golem, claiming “might makes right” in Bygone.

Fortunately, they’re no match for Golem, while Yabashira strikes the first blow in an effort to “learn local customs”, while Shizuno demonstrates his agility and the power of his kicks. In the fracas, Somali trips and takes a tumble, and her tooth pops right out.

They visit Sowak, who confirms it was only a baby tooth that will be replaced, and Golem accepts a little container for the remaining teeth as a memento, making Somali happy.

An initially threatening-looking innkeeper who heard of the butt-kicking wants Golem and Yabashira to serve as bodyguards during the busy snowy season, offering free lodging at a cabin just outside town as payment.

They accept the offer and settle into their comfy digs. That night, Shizuno mentions to Golem that he knows Somali is a human, and had suspected it since he smelled her blood. That said, Shizuno isn’t the type to suddenly hate Somali or wish her harm. On the contrary, he’s more curious how and why Golem started “playing as her father.”

Golem replies honestly: the day he met Somali, he became more than the guardian of the forest, but an individual—one who existed to protect her. Considering how cool Shizuno is with Somali’s status, Golem could do worse than leaving her with him and Yabashira, in the event he never finds the humans.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 08 – Two Hearts at a Time

Thanks to Praline’s library guide and the Head Librarian’s own voice, Golem and Somali are able to locate Isolde Nebsolv, who not only was the last person to check out Chronicles of Haraiso, but actually wrote it. One of her head guards, Leigle, is suspicious of the intruders, but Isolde is glad to see them and all too happy to tell them the story from the now-destroyed book, the events of which took place many centuries ago.

Isolde’s ancestor Feodora was flying on her broom and got caught by dragon twister winds that blew her off course and wrecked her on an island. She’d later learn that Haraiso is not only the name of the island, but its “god”, a skinless golem. The rest of the island’s population are humans, who distrust all other “grotesques” except Haraiso.

Knowing this, and knowing of humans’ nature to fear the unknown and exterminate anything that is too different, Haraiso assures them the witch Feodora is actually a human and they have nothing to fear. Feodora quickly befriends Miya, the little girl who rescued her, and the rest of the villagers, as she slides into a pleasant, idyllic daily life.

The golem Haraiso eventually determines that Feodora will be able to fly home by riding the dragon twisters as they circle north to her home, but she’s hesitant to leave such a lovely place full of such kind people, and Miya doesn’t want her to go either. That’s when a “grotesque” appears: a large, two-headed beast that insists he has no quarrel with them.

The humans don’t believe or listen to their pleas for mercy, and they tie up, stone, beat, and cut the beast to death without mercy as Feodora watches. Even Miya tosses a stone. It’s clear now that her secret is a knife at her throat; she has to get out of here before she ends up like the beast.

But the morning of the day she’s to cast off, the villagers go looking for her, and Miya knows she’ll be at their spot: the bluff under the tree. When the winds pick up and toss Miya off the cliff and into some brittle branches, Feodora has no choice but to use her broom to swoop down and save her before she’s dashed on the rocks below.

All this happens in full sight of the villagers, who quickly ignore her heroics and start to call for her execution. Haraiso intervenes in time, pardoning Feodora for saving Miya but banishing her from the island. Feodora flies off, and only Miya bids her farewell. In the end, Feodora got through to Miya, and the friendship they shared overwrote her prejudice and fear.

Feodora shared her story with others, but considering how starkly it laid out how far apart humans and other clans were, it was decided not to write about it for a thousand years. Isolde wrote the book earlier than that, and for that, blames herself for the humans being wiped out. Still, Golem only sees it as a string of coincidences. Bottom line; humans and monsters were going to clash with or without this tale as ammo for the latter.

Before Isolde passes away in a cloud of butterflies, she considers herself fortunate to have not only met a human in Somali, but one who has friends among non-humans. It means perhaps she wasn’t wrong to write a book that, for all of the ways it depicted the humans as utterly incompatible, was at its core about two people: Feodora and Miya, who were able to reach an understanding and a bond.

There’s still hope for Somali, even after Golem dies, because of the friends she’s made. But it looks like Golem is still determined to find her fellow humans at the ends of the earth…just in case.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 07 – The Witching Hour

As he did with Shizuno and Yabashira, Golem confides in Haitora the truth of his dwindling lifespan, and how like Haitora he won’t be around to see his charge grow up. It’s like he’s getting the weight of the lie off his chest; dropping the facade of pretending everything’s okay with Somali.

Even so, Haitora considers Somali all too lucky to have found Golem, as she gets to live her life with a smile on her face and with peace of mind thanks to her guardian’s care, despite being a human.

Haitora’s words make Golem feel lighter in the chest. Anyone who thinks Somali hasn’t made him more human isn’t paying attention. The next day, Golem and Somali say goodbye to Haitora and Uzoi, but Uzoi promises Somali they’ll meet again once she’s found a cure for Haitora. I for one would have enjoyed them remaining together longer, especially since it makes sense for all four of them should be headed in the same direction.

That’s because Golem and Somali’s new destination is a village filled with witches who bear a solemn duty to amass all of the world’s knowledge. If there was a cure for eating harpy flesh, you’d guess you’d find it there. Alas, it’s just Golem and Somali, who are greeted by a bevy of witches selling all manner of delicious food an drink, in which the food-crazy Somali is all to happy to indulge. The village is gorgeous with its whimsical architecture and glowing light.

The pair are directed to the Witches’ Crest Library, a huge and grand structure containing millions of books of every conceivable topic. Just being led into the libarary and hearing the various voices bounce off the walls has a major impact, a feeling of being truly immersed into this gradually expanding fantasy world. Somali is eager to read a book about food, and I’m surprised she knows how to read!

Among the myriad non-human clans of this world, one would think witches, like harpies, would be able to “sniff out” a human in disguise. But if their magical hosts detect Somali’s true nature, they don’t make an issue of it. Instead, friendly librarian witch Hazel and her bookworm older sister Praline are happy to escort Golem to the location of a biography that makes mention of humans.

Things are derailed a bit when Somali locates the book in question on a shelf and recklessly pulls it off the shelf, dislodging a school of skeletal book-eating fish who are particularly interested in that particular book. Praline summons several little blue penguins to eat the fish, while Hazel produces a cloud of rose petals that squash the remaining beasts out. Their magic, and the accompanying music, adds the whimsical, wondrous atmosphere.

Even Hazel’s spell isn’t enough, however, as the surviving bookfish coalesce into a single giant subspecies. Somali refuses to give up the book, runs off, and inevitably trips over her feet. The book goes flying and the bookfish destroy it before a single page can be written. Worse, Golem must sacrifice the remaining “skin” on his arm and enter into a reflexive Attack Mode to rescue Somali and defeat the fish boss.

Somali is tearfully apologetic for getting Golem hurt, but he’s not concerned as long as she’s okay. Praline also suggests that all is not lost if they can find the previous person to have read the book, who could then share its contents with Golem and Somali. It turns out the last borrower of the book was Isolde Nebsolv, their boss and Head Librarian.


Somali and the Forest Spirit – 06 – Love Never Lies

When Uzoi tells Somali what she’s doing and why, Somali doesn’t take it lying down. She screams so hard she hurts Uzoi’s sensitive ears and runs. While fleeing, Somali falls off a cliff into a pond, and Uzoi jumps in and saves her.

As Somali whimpers, soaked and cold, Uzoi extends one of her harpy wings around her, inverting its previous use as the prelude to an attack. When Golem and Haitora arrive, Somali protects Uzoi from her dad, while Uzoi crumbles into her dad’s arms, lamenting that she just couldn’t do it.

As we gathered last week, Haitora is nothing but glad she couldn’t do it, and we learn why when he delves into his past to explain to Golem why he’s not deserving of Uzoi’s love. For he was once in her position, after he and his wife and daughter were forced to flee their small human settlement when it was raided by “grotesques.”

Trapped in a cave with no food or water for days, a desperate Haitora happens upon an adult harpy—Uzoi’s mother. And because he and his family is starving and there’s no other option, he kills the harpy without a moment’s hesitation, then drags the body back to the cave. “We have to be like them” to survive, he gravely tells the family in his failing voice.

They all tuck into the raw harpy meat, and within a few minutes, both his wife and daughter suffer unspeakably agonizing deaths before his eyes. This is the kind of graphic horror I came to expect of Made in Abyss, and it’s just as unsettlingly naturalistic in its depiction here.

As we’ve learned, Uzoi has great hearing, so she hears Haitora’s confession to Golem and learns her whole life with him was based on lies. Even after Somali lazily forgives her friend for trying to kill her and drain her blood, Uzoi (whose name sounds a lot like usoi, Japanese for “lying”) faces existential despair and emptiness in the wake of Haitora’s words.

She’s so depressed, in fact, that when they come across a dragon twister while traversing the desert, and the winds pick her and Somali up, she takes one last pained look at Haitora and lets go, in that moment preferring death to living a terrible lifelong lie any further.

The moment also confirms to Haitora that Uzoi heard him last night. He wants to rush out to save her, but Golem insists they stay put until the storm subsides, using his fancy eye to calculate where the girls are likely to survive grave injury by landing on the soft sand.

When Golem spots the girls later, they’re being attacked by an aggressively territorial canterbird. He quickly formulates a plan wherein he serves as a decoy to allow Haitora to get the girls to safety, but Haitora quickly adopts his own plan, hoping to give what’s left of his wretched life leading the canterbird away. To his surprise, upon being cornered the canterbird is stopped…by Uzoi.

Unwilling to let him die without talking to her, Uzoi would much rather he stay alive with her, proving true Somali’s earlier words that “love doesn’t lie.” Love isn’t always happy, or clean; even Somali is aware of this if she doesn’t know her father is dying. Sometimes those who love each other wound each other, but the scars can’t be ignored, even if they’re deepened by confronting them.

Hayami Saori puts on a clinic performing this scene, which comes as no surprise if you follow her voice work. When you need a character to deliver dramatic dialogue movingly and convincingly, Saori-chan is someone you can always count on. Even so, she never ceases to amaze me with her remarkable vocal talent.

Haitora, realizing he was only trying to take the easy way out, re-commits to living with Uzoi as long as he humanly can. Not out of obligation to atone for his past sins and lying about them, but for a more important reason: he and Uzoi are family, and they love one another, period.

But even if he’d been persuaded to drink Somali’s blood (something he’d never do after what happened with his family) it likely wouldn’t have worked. Harpies are magical creatures, so it’s likely magic is needed to heal him. If you need magic, you’ll need witches, whom we glimpse in the preview.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 05 – Sun of the Harpy

With Somali fully recovered, she and Golem bid farewell to their kind shurigara hosts and continue their journey. Upon arriving in Winecup Village, dramatically nested in the caldera of an extinct volcano, they meet a very similar pair of travelers: the harpy Uzoi and her guardian Haitora.

Like Golem, Haitora is dying, but he’s a human in disguise like Somali. Uzoi is not only aware Haitora is dying, but the purpose of their journey is to seek a cure for his illness. Finally, someone has finally sniffed out Somali: Due to her heightened harpy senses, Uzoi can tell from Somali’s smell she’s no minotaur.

After a brief clash over last serving of sweet corn ice cream, Uzoi enthusiastically offers free passage through the desert on their wagon if Golem and Somali assist with loading their baggage. They take her up on her offer, but later that evening, Uzoi reveals her ulterior motive to Haitora.

This is the first important scene in painting Uzoi as more than a malicious villain. The clock is ticking on the one and seemingly only other person in her life, for whom she clearly harbors deep affection. She’s run out of time and options, and may never come across another human again.

While she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save Haitora, it’s clear throughout their ensuing desert journey that Uzoi is conflicted and not at all happy about what she believes must be done. She and Somali quickly form a sororal bond, that between an older and younger sister.

All the while, both Uzoi and Haitora shift in their seats, knowing they’re on the cusp of doing something terrible to good people for selfish reasons. Hayami Saori’s kind, soothing, gentle voice is the perfect choice for the conflicted Uzoi. Whenever Haitora tries to dissuade Uzoi from carrying out her plan, he suffers a coughing fit, underscoring the urgency of their plight.

When the four seek shelter in a cave full of flowing crystals and light-bearing torchbugs, Uzoi makes her move, going off with Somali to fetch water, pouncing on her, and spreading her wings to reveal her full harpy form. She feels bad about killing Somali so her blood can save Haitora, but she’s still going to do it.

That is, unless Golem can stop her in time. Haitora finally speaks up to Golem about his human status, and begs him to help him stop the misguided Uzoi. Haitora wants no part of making someone so young suffer and die so he can live a little longer. Like Golem, he’s struggling to prepare Uzoi for a life without him, which to both her and Somali must seem as unthinkable as living without the sun.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 04 – Despair, Deferred

In what seems to be a recurring practice of presenting then defusing potential threats to Somali, the wolfman turns out to be good people. He is Muthrica, one of the force that patrols the vast underground, and whom Kikila calls “shishou.” 

As we’ve seen, the underground is no place for children, but that hasn’t stopped Kikila from making regular trips and getting caught roughly half the time by Muthrica.

Despite his gruff appearance and manner, Muthrica can sense how desperate Somali is to have a wish granted, so he guides her and Kiki to a tree where she’ll be able to harvest a bloom that will survive the trip back to the surface. In the process, a giant “tsuchilizard” confronts her.

Kiki protects her with his body, but when Somali explains her reason for needing the flower—so she can continue being with her dad—the lizard, being a parent of two offspring itself, understands, and trudges off.

They make it all the way back to the restaurant with the flower intact, but as it is after dark, Golem has nothing for Somali but scolding. Somali drops the flower on the ground and runs off to her room in tears.

Later, both Muthrica and Kokilia gently admonish the Golem for being so strict and inflexible, rather than hearing the reason Somali didn’t follow his orders to the letter. It’s good to hear them both saying what I was thinking last week—he just needs to learn to lay off sometimes!

Then, Kikila finds Somali has collapsed from a fever. In as much of a panic as a Golem can be, Golem spends all of his amassed pay on a rare medicine that “works on all clans”, unwilling to betray her true species to the apothecary.

He and Kikila then stay with her as she slowly recovers, and Kokilia gives him some advice as a parent to know when you’ve instilled too much fear, when to take your child in your arms and apologize, and to make sure they know they’re loved and wanted.

When Somali awakes in slightly better shape, Golem, who regrets pushing her so hard to exhaustion then piling emotional distress on top of that, and does indeed apologize. He also does something he may not have done even a few days ago, before he received advice from other parents: he makes a promise to Somali to be with her forever.

As a Golem entering his final days, keeping such a promise may well be impossible. But Golem understands that now is not the time to say that to her. Somali’s emotional health must be looked after in the here and now, and that means postponing hard truths.

In the scenario that Golem does die, hopefully Somali will keep living, growing, and learning about mortality, both her dad’s and her own. What seemed like broken promise at the time may prove not to be, as long as the memory of him remains in her heart.

Or heck, maybe the superstition proves to be true, and Golem’s life is extended. In any case, postponing her despair even a little bit longer is worth everything.

P.S. Yoshimata Ryou’s epic fantasy score is on point, particularly when Somali locates the tree from which she plucks her flower. It called to mind the theme to the Sacred City of Aquios in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time—Not a bad track to be reminded of!

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 03 – When Their Journey is Over

It’s clear Golem has been made more human by having Somali around. Heck, he only got her near the very end of his millenium-long life, meaning he’s already been bestowed the limited mortality of a human. He’s been good at keeping her safe and her true identity hidden, but he still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining her emotional welfare.

This is evidenced by the sudden speed and urgency of their journey, which leads to the gorgeous, fantastical Anthole City. Golem learns the meager loot he carries fetches only a modest price. To keep Somali fed and to gather the supplies needed to continue the journey, he needs more money.

He finds a source when Kokilila, the owner of a cafe, needs a waiter. Golem institutes a strict agreement with Somali: she’s to stay within the cafe, under his supervision, at all times while he’s working. Even with Kokilila’s son Kikila as a fluffy playmate, she gradually grows bored and restless (as does Kikila).

However, for Golem the need to make as much money as possible overrides Somali’s need for recreation stimulation. He knows it’s not ideal for her to be cooped up in the cafe all day, but as he doesn’t trust anyone else to watch her and isn’t certain others will be okay at all with the fact she’s a human, there’s no choice.

Even when Golem isn’t working, his tendency to count his earnings is not lost on Somali either, and absent any explanation for her dad’s haste, she begins to believe he wants to end their journey and part ways with her as soon as possible. Sure, it might well trouble her more to learn he’ll be dead in less than two years, but at least she’d know it wasn’t because he didn’t want her around.

Because that’s what she gleans from his behavior, when Golem finally allows her to join Kikila on a simple errand, Somali grasps onto the city legend about yozame flowers and their ability to grant a wish. That leads the two kids (and fast friends finally sprung from their cafe prison by their guardians) to the city’s majestic but perilous subterranean caverns.

Of course, the moment Somali left Golem’s supervision, a knot formed in my stomach. This early in the show I’m still not sure how far it will stray to the dark side and present situations in which Somali is in true peril (like, say, Abyss, which was merciless to its young characters). We get a slightly clearer picture here, as Somali’s innocent plucking of a flower awakens an toothed eyeball mushroom monster.

She is rescued from said monster not by Golem or Kikila—who let us just say truly failed in his mission to keep her safe—but by a big, gruff, crossbow-wielding wolf-man who may be able to tell she’s a human from her smell. He could even be a member of the clan that originally put her in chains before she got separated and found by Golem.

In any case, Somali is now in serious danger. I just hope Kikila can keep the wolf at bay until Golem can find them.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 02 – An Unusual Golem, A Contented Child

While chasing a horned rabbit who stole her mushrooms, Somali falls and skins her knee. Golem is low on medicine, but they’re fortunate to have caught the attention of Shizuno, a Dwarf Oni healer who is happy to dispense first aid. Two neat points: Golem can converse with any animal or plant, while the black-eyed Shizuno is depicted as kind and friendly despite being a “demon”.

Shizuno even invites Golem and Somali to his house in the forest (I want to go to there) where they meet his assistant and skilled baker Yabashira. Indulging a curious request from Shizuno, Golem agrees to part with a small piece of his crumbling “skin” in exchange for lessons on how to make medicines.

Somali, meanwhile, keeps busy helping Yabashira with daily chores; to the assistant’s surprised. This can-do attitude has a darker side. When we first saw Somali she was in chains; perhaps humankind are more servile in this particular world.

Still, Somali’s love for Golem is plain to see for Yabashira, while Golem basically decribes to Shizuno a similar affection, as he never wants to see her in pain again. Not addressed? Whether either of the oni would change their tune if they knew Somali wasn’t really a minotaur child.

That could be tough, following the revelation that explains Golem’s deterioration: he has precisely one year and 112 days left before his life functions cease. His goal is to return Somali to her parents within that time frame, but with no leads whatsoever—and the high likelihood her parents are dead—that is a tall, probably impossible task.

Thankfully, he hasn’t told Somali about this, and Shizuno and Yabashira both admit that she seems pretty content without her parents whom she most likely never knew. With that in mind, they likely see Golem’s frantic journey to be a futile one that will only take time away from the two of them enjoying what time they have left.

Still, it’s Golem’s journey to make, and Somali will follow no matter where he takes them. She’s almost certainly too young to be taught everything needed to survive in just a year and change, so we’ll see whether he makes any progress tracking down her folks, for if he devises a Plan B, such as leaving her with trustworthy friend like Shizuno.