Saving 80,000 Gold in Another World – 02 – Sweating the Details

Once Mitsuha determines the products from her world that would do well in the new one, and learns that the village is ruled by a local lord, she decides it’s time to move on to bigger and better things. That means saying goodbye to Colette and her bone-crushing hugs, but she promises she’ll return someday.

While aboard the horse-drawn carriage out of the village, Mitsuha realizes that not only is she not appropriately dressed to credibly pass as a merchant, she also stinks from having not bathed in while, so she returns home, washes up, slips on her business suit, and gets down to business.

Before Mitsuha even starts wheeling and dealing in another world, she’s determined to be prepared for any threat that might befall her. To be fair, that’s the right move; she’s all alone in that world, and fairly petite besides. So she uses her cash savings (which she’ll be able to replenish with gold coins) to get the best self-defense and marksmanship training money can buy.

The show really goes into intricate detail describing and animating the types of weapons she’ll be handling, which I guess speaks to the fact the original creator is a gun otaku. At no point does Mitsuha explore non-lethal forms of self-defense, and even gets into a philosophical debate with the memory of her brother, a stalwart pacifist.

After more gun training and research on feudal societies, Mitsuha procures a scooter with which to get to the village more efficiently, but is almost detected by a group of adventurers. She transports back into her room, scooter and all. I enjoyed how the episode got into the nitty gritty with details like this.

And while I wish Mitsuha weren’t so gung-ho about labeling enemies she doesn’t even have yet as less than human and vowing to eliminate them without mercy by pumping them full of lead, the fact that she’s a stranger in a strange and unpredictable land (and the last surviving member of her family) still stands.

Once she prepares a selection of goods from her world and procures a bespoke wardrobe that’s appropriate to the style of the other world, Mitsuha transports over and is finally ready to do business. So far her charm, humor, practicality, and ambition make her an appealing lead. Hopefully would-be thieves or brigands will steer clear, because they are not going to want her smoke!

Akiba Maid War – 12 (Fin) – Bacon Bad

Before Ranko went cold, I had a pretty strong inkling which way Nagomi would break in response. She tried to turn the other cheek and live by Nerula’s example, but losing Ranko was a pig too far. As a result, while her fellow Oinky Doink maids don black to grieve the loss of their 36-year-old big sister, Nagomi dons black to announce that she’s gone to the dark side—the way of the gun. She intends to kill Ranko’s killer with Ranko’s revolver.

Nagi didn’t order Ranko’s death—rather, it was someone who, like Nagomi, wanted revenge for the death of her fellow Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam maids, so stylishly slain in the first episode. In that regard, Ranko reaped what she sowed, which is why she died with a smile on her face. She owned what she did, and was happy to have found a home and family at the Oinky Doink.

But with Ranko gone, it’s once again open season for the pigs, as Nagi has ordered their extermination. Nagomi is jumped in the street by the cow maid she shot in the foot and beaten to a pulp, and after the police release her, she goes through Ranko’s bag and finds little mementos that turn her away from the darkness and back to the light.

The head maids under Nagi’s employ don’t want to shed any more blood lest they attract too much police attention, but Nagi wants this done, and she kills the head Bear and Cow maids to impress upon the others the price of questioning her orders. The next morning Nagomi, rejoins her fellow Oinky Doink maids in her normal maid outfit

They’re ready to join her in taking a last stand right there at their home against the other Creatures, and she tells them they’ll give their enemies a real “maid war.” They tuck into what may well be their last supper at the ramen joint below them, buying an extra bowl for Ranko and each of them taking a slurp from her bowl. Meanwhile, Nagi and her army are on the march.

When Nagi enters the ramen joint and the owner gets a little too sentimental, she kills him. He was one of the few people who knew her when she was an orphan taken in by Miss Michiyo, and who ordered a hit on her adoptive mother when she went non-violent … due in no small part to the arrival of young Ranko.

I thought we’d get one more elevator gag, but Nagi is all business as she walks down the hall to the entrance of Oinky Doink, her soldiers standing at attention. But even though she envisions herself being shot in the head before opening the door, she’s met by an entirely non-violent and very moe Oinky Doink welcome.

Following Nagomi’s lead, the Oinky Doink maids treat Nagi and their would-be murderers just like any other masters or mistresses who walk through that door: like they’ve come home to the pigsty. And to most of the maids’ shock (including Ranko’s killer), Nagi actually humors them, ordering everyone to sit down.

The main event of their hospitality is a song-and-dance by Nagomi that embodies the gentle, immortal spirit of moe moe kyun from which she, Ranko, and Michiyo all believed the maids of Akiba had strayed. Watching Nagomi perform…not so greatly reminds Nagi of Ranko when they were still sisters. She shoots Nagomi in the side, but it’s apparently only a grazing shot, because Nagomi keeps on going.

Nagomi’s performance briefly captures the enthusiasm of the crowd, but when it comes to a close it’s met by cold silence and a light smattering of applause. Nagi responds by shooting one of her own Dazzlion maids in the hands. Nagomi tries to get through to Nagi with sentiment and words, even telling Nagi that if she ever feels lonely she’ll always find cozy companionship at the pigsty. But Nagi simply doesn’t want to hear it.

The fact is, she’s seen and heard enough, so she fires the rest of her bullets at an off-camera Nagomi. But then something happens that she never expected in a million years: the former Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam, now Axolotl maid, who killed Ranko, shoots Nagi in the head.

Apparently, Nagomi got through to her. And getting through to one among the dozens was enough. Okachimachi finishes the job by throwing Chekhov’s sharpened bamboo spear through Nagi’s gut. We didn’t get any more Hirano Aya, but the panda had her day.

After a credit sequence altered to include visuals of and vocals by Nagomi, we flash forward to 2018, where we learn that in the end, Michiyo, Ranko, and Nagomi won. As it was when I visited, Akiba is a vibrant but peaceful place, where the maids are no longer packing heat. In a final welcome surprise, a wheelchair-bound but alive Nagomi carries on Ranko’s legacy at the New Oinky Doink Café—as a 36-year-old maid everybody wants to meet.

Akiba Maid War was exactly what was advertised on the tin, and more. At times totally ridiculous and bonkers and at others genuinely moving and compelling, it held true to its weird and novel premise to the end, framing those bloody times we witnessed as a dark chapter in the history of animal-themed café maids. The doves beat the hawks, not with swords or bullets, but with the boundless power of moe moe kyun.

Akiba Maid War – 11 – Reservoir Hogs

Business at Oinky-Doink is booming thanks to Nagomi’s Lady Omoe status—call it the Michelin Star of Akiba Maid Cafés—but just when things seemed to be looking up, the maids find their Panda (or rather the empty suit) strung up on the iconic Radio Building sign.

On the panda suit’s head is a letter from Creatureland formally disowning the Oinky Doink—an almost certain death knell for the Café, and possibly its staff as well. The outside of the Café is covered in slanderous flyers, and higher-ranked maids come to scare off customers.

This is an untenable situation, but Ranko believes it to be entirely her fault; her former sister Nagi, the head of Creatureland, has a beef with her, so she’ll go to Nagi and settle it once and for all, even if it means her death. The other Oinky Doink maids except this, except for Nagomi. It takes Ranko pulling a gun on Nagomi to make clear that where she’s going, Nagomi can’t follow.

But while everyone seems grimly resigned to letting Ranko sacrifice herself, the next morning they’re waiting for her at the entrance, ready to throw down right beside her. Ranko issues a heartfelt thanks that is interrupted by the elevator door closing on her head (this has been a very good running gag).

The plan is pretty simple: Yumechi, Shiipon, Zoya, Tenchou and Okachimachi storm Dazzlion and take their top maid hostage while Ranko and Nagomi infiltrate Creatureland HQ. Nagi sends an army of maids who have no compunctions about killing their hostage.

Ranko and Nagomi initially believe that leaves the coast clear for them, but HQ is also packed with maids, who escore them to Nagi’s office. Nagomi returns the Lady Omoe statue and sash and apologize for taking them, but in response Nagi simply smashes Omoe on Nagomi’s head.

Surprisingly, Nagi would rather not kill Ranko, just as Ranko would rather not kill her. Unfortunately, her one and only compromise is completely out of the question: she’ll give Ranko a leadership role if she kills all of the Oinky Doink staff.

Ranko instead prostrates herself and offers her life in exchange for letting Oinky Doink off the hook. Nagi stabs her in the hand, and she draws a pig with her blood, explaining to Nagi that she’s enjoyed her time with the Oinky Doink maids and wouldn’t trade their lives for anything.

When Nagi threatens to slash Nagomi’s throat, Ranko does something we’ve never seen her do: cry and beg, not for her life, but for Nagomi’s and the others’ (who are besieged at Dazzlion). She admits that Nagomi reminds her of their old gentle boss Miss Michiyo, the kind of maid Akiba needs.

When offered the chance to shoot Nagi before Nagi kills Nagomi, Ranko chooses neither; both women are too dear to her, while Oinky Doink is her cherished home. Her display seems to finally get to Nagi, who loses interest in the whole situation and withdraws the order of disownment…in exchange for ten times the sweets money.

When Ranko and Nagomi reunite with the other Oinky Doink maids, Tenchou asks why they couldn’t haggle, but the bottom line is everyone escape with their lives and the café is still in one piece, so it’s a win. They’ll find a way to make all that extra money. They wouldn’t have been able to do anything if they were dead.

But just when my guard was down, and Ranko and Nagomi are shopping for a hairpin to replace the one Nagomi lost, a pink maid assassin drives a blade through Ranko’s gut from behind. She knew what she was doing, as Ranko quickly bleeds out and dies in Nagomi’s arms while stunned bystanders refuse to call an ambulance, as that would be interfering in Akiba maid affairs.

Whether Nagi changed her mind and sent someone to kill Ranko, or someone acting on their own had a score to settle (Ranko did kill a lot of maids in her thirty-six years), her sudden death is a gut punch. The question is, what happens next? Will Nagomi hew to the nonviolent ideals that endeared her to Ranko, or will she seek to find and take revenge on her friend’s murderer?

Chainsaw Man – 09 – Crunch Time

Whoever ordered the coordinated surprise attack on the Special Divisions, it seems to be going going off without a hitch. There’s no time to mourn any of the dead yet, and Himeno’s last order to the Ghost Devil before they both vanish is to pull Denji’s cord. The bad guys, as Denji calls them, may want his head (i.e. Pochita) but they’ll have to fight him for it.

Katana Man is wounded from his scrape with the Ghost and the Curse, and the reinforcements Sawatari (hoodie girl) calls are just ordinary humans. But Denji makes the mistake of thinking Katana Man cares about subordinates, and as a consequence both he and his hostage are halved.

He’s not the only one who makes a fatal error this week. The train crew thinks Makima is dead, and she certainly looks dead, but in an unsettling sequence of shots, suddenly she’s not dead, but standing in the aisle behind them with that serene Makima smile.

Hunters Tendou and Kurose are waiting for her on the platform in Kyoto when they hear that all four divisions have been massacred. When the train arrives and the doors open, all of the passengers run out screaming—all of them, except for Makima, covered in blood but cool as a cucumber.

She assures her subordinates that she wasn’t shot, then orders them to borrow a bunch of life-sentence convicts and reserve the nearest, highest-altitude temple. We witness the product of those requests first, as Sawatari and Katana Man’s underlings suddenly get a weird feeling, then pop like balloons one after another.

At the temple in Kyoto, Makima uses the convicts as sacrifices, asking them to say the names of those she wishes to kill. Once they do, she puts her hands together in various positions, and all the way in Kyoto the enemies die horribly in hideous, concussive bursts of blood and gore. One of the men flees in terror and tries to take a hostage, but he only ends up coating her in…in him.

When all the convicts are dead, Makima tells Tendou and Kurose they can remove their blindfolds, as she’s “done all she can” from there. The three then hop on the next train to Tokyo. But while her part in the counterattack is over, another unexpectedly alive member of the 4th Division shows up where Denji is.

It’s Kobeni, who was saved when Arai took the bullets meant for her. She then killed the shooter and came across Sawatari and Katana Man as they’re trying to get half a Denji in their getaway van.

She doesn’t let them, and even Sawatari’s massive summoned snake can’t stop her advance. She parkours across the snake, dodges bullets, slices off Katana Man’s hand and then shoots him several times with his own gun. With both of him and her in bad shape (losing fingernails like that can’t be fun) they beat a hasty retreat.

Kobeni then starts to cry-laugh with Denji in her arms, a sure sign that she’s losing it. Part of it is the absurdity of apologizing for trying to kill him, but it goes without saying that her actions today make up for it, as he’d 100% be in the enemy’s clutches were it not for her intervention.

I’m sure Makima will thank her when she sees her, which should be soon. Upon returning to Tokyo she’s met by Madoka, who announces that all four divisions will be absorbed into the 4th, that Makima is now in command of the new combined unit, and he is resigning. It’s probably the right move, as he’s lucky he survived this incident and unlikely to survive another.

Before parting ways, he asks Makima if she knew that all of this was going to happen, but as he’s no longer a devil hunter but a private citizen she cannot possibly comment. She heads back to HQ flanked by Tendou and Kurose, who make sure she understands they’re not joining her outfit, but are only in the city to help with training. Without looking back, she says that’s a shame, as the dining’s to kill for in Tokyo.

Chainsaw Man follows up last week’s nearly perfect episode with one that’s as righteous and unnerving as the last one was heartbreaking. Makima and Kobeni have been hiding in plain sight all this time, but now we know what they’re made of—and why Kobeni is probably in the right line of work, despite not being psychologically suited for it.

Himeno is gone, but thanks to her Aki’s not, and thanks to her and Kobeni neither is Denji. Through all of this loss and bloodshed, Makima never changed her composure for a moment. That cool head is what makes her a good leader in a tough job full of bad, bloody choices. The others will need that steadiness as they pick up the pieces and try to move forward.

Chainsaw Man – 08 – Cry For Me

Chainsaw Man seemed to be setting up something quite scandalous last week when a wasted Himeno seemed poised to bed an underage and disoriented Denji. We rewind a bit this week to when she first enters her apartment, and watch it from her POV as she plops Denji on the bed, takes a shower, then grabs a beer.

Denji is conscious and lucid enough to question whether he should lose his virginity to Himeno after she already puked in his first kiss. One look at Himeno’s face after she pulls his shirt off and he decides that yes he should. But when she pulls a Chupa Chuos out his pocket—the one Makima gave him when he was out getting air.

In addition to representing his still-intact virtue, it was also his first indirect kiss, since it had been in Makima’s mouth before his. Thus it reminds him of his vow for Makima to be his first, and passes on Himeno, who promptly passes out.

The next morning, the two have breakfast on her high-rise balcony, another new luxury for Denji. Himeno admits she was so blackout drunk last night she claims not to know if she took advantage of him, and is relieved to learn she didn’t since people can get locked up for that kinda thing.

When Denji insists that he only has eyes for Makima, Himeno proposes that they form an alliance. She’ll help him get with Makima, if he helps her get with Aki. Denji agrees, and just like that, he and Himeno are no longer merely co-workers, but friends.

At this point I’d simply been enjoying the lush camerawork, the gorgeous night and morning lighting, and the overall nice post-drinks vibes. Little did I know this was the final calm before a storm that would turn Chainsaw Man on its head.

From Himeno’s apartment we’re on a train, and the claustrophobic camerawork creates a sense of paranoia. Makima, for her part, isn’t looking forward to meeting with her superiors in Kyoto, but admits she had fun at drinks the previous night.

Then the two passengers in the rows in front of and behind her and her assistant suddenly drop out of view, produce guns, point them at Makima and her assistant, and shoot them both in the head and chest. You can imagine this non-manga reader was quite shocked by this development.

But aside from the near-impossibility a main character like Makima would end up dead in the eighth episode, the fact that her eyes look far from dead when the camera pulled in close on her bloodied face. Rather than fade the way most anime characters’ eyes do upon dying, they seem to smolder. So maybe she’s not really dead?

Arai and Kobeni are also assassinated, seemingly by ordinary people who suddenly have guns and are being controlled by devils—or aren’t, and are simply working together to take out the 4th Division. When the shots that take out the rookies ring out, Denji, Power, Aki, and Himeno are at a ramen joint having lunch, still firmly in calm mode.

Even the vigilant Aki wonders if it was fireworks from a celebration. Then a man starts talking across the restaurant from them, produces a photo of his uncle, the yakuza who Denji worked for, then pulls out a gun and shoots Denji and Himeno. Aki dodges and Power gives the guy an uppercut.

Aki then summons Kon, who sardonically declares that he just made her swallow up something neither human nor devil—in other words, like Denji. But instead of a Chainsaw Man, he’s more like a Katana Man, with wide, razor-sharp blades protruding from the same places as Denji’s.

When Kon is wounded and checks out, Aki turns to Curse, a devil he summons by piercing Katana Man three times. When it comes out, it certainly looks like Game Over for the baddie, as it looks like an instant-kill kinda situation.

And Curse does seem to do the trick, as Katana Man ends up on the ground, motionless and defeated. Then an unassuming young woman with short dirty-blond hair appears, revives him, and asks him why he lost. He says he grossly underestimated Aki. Then the woman tells him to kill him next time.

Katana Man’s next attack is so quick, no one, even Power, sees it. One moment he’s on one side of Aki, the next he’s on the other, and a massive blood flower blooms from Aki’s chest. Himeno, who is gravely injured but still conscious, summons Ghost, who is hesitant to enter the fray as the dirty blond woman is nasty AF.

But Himeno is not about to watch yet another partner (particularly one she loves) die, so she offers everything she’s got so Ghost can give her everything she’s got.

As Himeno’s arms and legs vanish one by one like glitches in a video game, Ghost grows larger, more powerful, and more monstrous. Katana Man seems to be on the back foot once again, but the cost of such a victory was always going to be too high.

In her few episodes, I’d become quite fond of Himeno, and Ise Mariya’s voice work throughout has been outstanding as expected. I’d have never guessed that morning she and Denji had breakfast on her balcony would be her last morning ever, but here we are.

Himeno’s final words are an extension of her previous refrain: “Don’t die on me, Aki”. Among the partners she’d worked with Aki was one who cried for each and every one of the rookies under him who were killed. In her last moments, all she wants is for Aki not to die, so if she dies, he’ll cry for her.

To add insult to grievous injury, Himeno’s sacrifice doesn’t defeat the enemy. Kitana Man may be in trouble, but one word from the blond woman summons a mammoth snake that lops Ghost’s head clean off. When Aki looks over at where Himeno had been, only her suit and trademark eyepatch remain.

I cannot overstate what a gut punch this entire sequence is, or how masterful sunlight, darkness, and silence are employed to create a sense of hopelessness and despair. If it sticks, the butcher bill of this episode, and how it came out of absolutely nowhere, puts it right up there with the Red Wedding for pure horrific shock and distress.

And yet, this didn’t come out of nowhere. Throughout the drinks the previous night there was talk of some hunters who didn’t make it there because they’d been killed. Himeno had already lost numerous partners. We already knew that each day in a hunter’s life could be their last. I knew all that going in. I just didn’t know the end would come for these hunters. All that foreshadowing didn’t lessen the hurt.

Now you’ll excuse me while I go have a cry.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Akiba Maid War – 07 – RocknPorkRolla

A week has passed since Nerula was gunned down in an alley, and Nagomi has run away from the Oinky Doink. The others, particularly Ranko, are worried about her, especially since Manami and the Maidalien war hawks aren’t finished. While Ranko is out distributing flyers, she spots a pink ninja who claims not to be Nagomi, but clearly is.

Since Nagomi insist’s she’s not Nagomi, Ranko tells this “mystery ninja” the situation: she and the Oinky Doink maids are worried about her. But if Nagomi fled out of fear to the oddly safer ninja café business, it wasn’t fear of being hurt or killed. It was fear of standing by and doing nothing while another friends of her dies.

This is a typical action movie protagonist pattern: after a great defeat, the hero withdraws, suffering a crisis of purpose. But outside forces, like Nerula’s grieving fans, conspire to bring her back to where she needs to be: at Oinky Doink, as the new kind of Akiba maid Nerula knew she could be.

But how? The ramen guy gives Nagomi the other piece of the picture to bring her around. It’s something he’s learned being in the ramen business with the reputation as someone whose ramen never changes: staying the same actually requires change. So Nagomi returns to the dojo and considers what that means.

That night, Manami and over two dozen of her henchmaids advance on Oinky Doink, outnumbering them over two-to-one. I knew Ranko and Zoya were worth ten of the average maid in fighting ability, but that’s still a lot of maids and a lot of bullets. The pig maids make use of homefield advantage and the element of surprise as much as they can, diverting and splitting up Manami’s maids.

This is the first time we see Shiipon and Yumechi in sustained action (their attack on the Sheep happening off-camera) but they handle themselves well. Even so, eventually the Maidaliens surround the Pigs, and Manami’s machine gun looks like a decisive advantage.

Ranko prepares to make a desperate charge to take Manami out or die trying (as far as she’s concerned protecting the café is worth it) but suddenly the elevator opens and a cloud of smoke gets off. Dozens of smoke bombs explode and disorient both sides. And through the smoke, Nagomin appears, prepared for battle.

With her almost preposterously hastily-acquired ninja skills, within seconds she’s disarmed Manami and claimed the machine gun for their side. Manami switches to her trademark bat, but once she’s in the pigsty, the maids of Oinky Doink and their ninja maid savoir are ready for her.

True to who she is, through the ensuing chaos, many bullets fly, but none of them from a gun held by Nagomi. Instead she uses the tools of the ninja trade, like kunai and nets, which buy her co-workers time to go on the offensive.

When the dust clears it’s just a wounded Manami and her lieutenant Miyabi, surrounded by the bodies of their fallen comrades. Miyabi gets Manami to retreat before they too are killed, but after Miyabi dresses Manami’s leg, Manami dismisses her and she departs in shame.

Nagomi shows up with Ranko as backup, and despite her sorry state Manami is still ready to throw down. But Nagomi isn’t there to fight. Nor is she there as a ninja. She’s a maid, and she reminds Manami what maids are truly all about: not dying in glorious battle, but serving their masters with moe moe kyun.

When Manami rises to shut the young whippersnapper up, Nagomi again uses her new ninja skills to lay the smackdown on Manami. Again, Nagomi demands that Manami feel the moe moe kyun, and she finally relents, deciding that pig hunting time is over.

Ranko lets Manami withdraw, and welcomes Nagomi back into the pigsty. But Manami gets a rude awakening back at Maidalien HQ. Not only did the boss Ugaki refuse to commit any more forces to this silly war, but she got all the Maidalien brass to agree to a merger with Creatureland.

Manami could not change like Nagomi did, and ends up gunned down by her former allies who are sick of her bloodlust. They want to make money, and they’ll make more if she’s dead than running around shooting people. So she meets her end in a swirling puddle of her own blood. Unfortunately for Oinky Doink, their next foe looks to be their own Creatureland masters.

This was a great step forward for Nagomi, but it wasn’t perfect. I kinda wish Manami had stuck around a bit, as small a chance as redemption for someone her would have been. Also, the animation of the raid, aside from some fun moments, was also surprisingly underwhelming, considering what I know the show is capable of from the premiere and the MMA episode.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 15 – Shadow and Flame

No sooner does Shinpei loop back to the kitchen does Ushio arrive with Mio to fill him in on what happened: the enemy got to Nezu and used his own sniper rifle to kill Shinpei. We also learn that the creepy vision Shin keeps having is a visualization of his situation.

The past is crumbling behind him, and should he loop back where there is no more solid ground, he’ll fall into nothingness. He figures he has one loop left, if that. If they’re going to make their stand against the Shadows, it’s now or never.

Shinpei’s plan involves using himself as bait, since Haine wants to kill him until he’s out of loops and no longer a threat to her plans. The part of Mio’s personality Shadow Mio copied can’t help but admire how cool her big brother is by doing this, but forgets that Ushio can transform into a watch.

Ushio transforms and runs with Shin in her arms as an angered Mio gives chase. The real Mio, Sou, and Tokiko block her path, with Tokiko using two Shadow Babies Ushio freed from Haine’s control for defense and offense. Hizuru gives herself over to Ryuunosuke, who takes on “Shiori’s” corrupted family and friends.

When Haine and Shide get involved in chasing after Ushio and Shinpei, Ryuunosuke takes a bullet for them, buying them enough time to regroup in the gymnasium. Back outside, Shadow Mio shows off just how graceful and diabolical she can be by merging her body into one of the babies, but ends up getting burnt by her original and shot with nails by Sou.

Back in the gym, Ushio narrowly avoids getting shot to shreds by Shide and his trusty revolver, taking the stage as Tetsu switches on the stage lights to keep Haine and Shide’s attention on her. Haine and Shide, always convinced they have the advantage, are sorely mistaken in this case.

Still floating just over them are Ushio’s hairs, which are transformed into six masses of gasoline that then fall and soak the two. Then Shinpei, who was lurking on he balcony above them, tosses a match that starts a conflagration, then brandishes a revolver of his own. It’s a very cool action movie scene.

Hell, everything in this episode is incredibly cool and cinematic. A great deal of time and effort went into the animation; clearly STR was holding a large chunk of its budget for this episode (and probably a couple of future ones). While some suspension of disbelief normal “civvies” in Shin’s group survive as long as they do, great care is taken to ensure the weaker (Shinpei, Tetsu, Sou, and Mio) are protected by the stronger (Ushio, Tokiko, Nezu and Hizuru).

Thanks to their preparation, coordination, and vast amounts of misdirection, along with exploiting the arrogance of the enemy, Ushio is on the cusp of deleting Haine…only for Haine to use Shiori’s face, voice, and tears as a psychological weapon that cause Ushio to hesitate for just a moment. In that moment, Shide, who was playing dead in the fire, shoots Shinpei in the chest several times, then grabs Ushio and pulls her into the flames.

Shide intentionally missed Shin’s vitals so that Ushio would die before he did, and all the information on the previous loops will die with her. But once again Ushio pulls a fast one on him, as the body he grabbed was just a dummy. The real Ushio, in shell pendant form, reforms into a human and stabs Shide through the heart, promising to delete him.

Shide is only saved by Haine pulling off the most impressive Shadow stunt to date: deleting all of the air in the gym, killing the fire, causing Shinpei and Tetsu to nearly asphyxiate, and blowing out all of the gym’s windows from the air outside, allowing Haine and Shide to escape.

When Ushio collapses, a distraught Shinpei rushes to her side, but she’s fine; she’s only exhausted from all the copying she did. Like Haine and Shide, Ushio laments that Shinpei has been mortally wounded by the gunshots and doesn’t have much time left, but he reveals that a homemade bulletproof vest under his shirt protected him.

At the sight of the vest and upon realizing her Shin is okay, Ushio pulls him into what must surely be a very painful (due to the bullet impacts) but also very welcome hug. It’s an incredibly sweet and moving hug, the reward for going through a literal trial-by-fire.

While Haine and Shide are still out there and sure to regain their strength soon, it’s about as good an outcome as you could ask for. None of Shinpei’s friends or family were killed, and they’ve even captured Mio, whom the real Mio says Ushio should hack so she can become one of them.

Along with Toki’s Shadow Babies, Ushio’s hacking looks to be the potentially decisive key to victory: being able to turn enough of Haine’s minions to their side so they can fight on more even terms. The only problem is time.

86 – 22 – Somewhere Left to Go

Remember 86? The show left us hanging, but it’s finally back to give us a conclusion. Shin succeeds in defeating Kiri, but is knocked out by the blast of Morpho’s self-destruct. He dreams of those who died before him, from his brother to his fellow Eighty-Six who thank him one by one.

I don’t think Shin’s interested in thanks, or for the gratitude of scores of people who died before him. Rather, he’s tired of being the one to survive; for everyone to fight till the end, only for their ends to come before his. This is someone who never thought of the future because the only future he could see was one of soul-crushing solitude.

But when the Legion flak fly away en masse, revealing a vivid bed of funereal higanbana, a solitary female soldier appears and makes contact. We know it’s Lena, but since Shin has never actually seen her, he’s not sure at first. The two exchange cordial words as Lena draws closer, teasing the long-awaited in-person meeting between these two seeming soulmates…

That said, a part of me prepared for the possibility Shin and Lena actually wouldn’t actually come face-to-face, despite being so close…and being kind of oddly okay with that, despite how cruel it felt. Seeing Lena alive and well, in the flesh, and unwilling to run from the war restores Shin from his doldrums. Seeing her hold Theo’s drawing of her as a pig and a photo of Spearhead in her hands, and hearing her say she wants to catch up to him, brings a rare smile to his face.

We learn that Lena is the commander of what’s left of San Magnolia’s forces, which isn’t surprising at all considering she was one of the only soldiers who took her job (and the threat of the Legion) seriously. We also learn that the Giad Federacy will be assisting San Magnolia with rescue efforts.

Shin expected his trip would be a one-way variety, while he would be the last person standing against the overwhelming might of the Legion. And yet here we are, Morpho gone, the Federacy still intact, and, to his delight, Kurena, Raiden, Anju and Theo are still alive, as are Frederica and Wenzel. In Frederica’s case, it was Kiri who protected her from his own explosion.

When the Spearhead gang is back together in the briefing room, everyone is eager to hear Shin describe what the Major looked like. He lies and says he couldn’t see her, but it’s clear to them Lena has grown quite a bit, and that Shin always had a soft spot for her.

More importantly, the universe decided to cut Shin a break for once. Be it Lena or his Spearhead colleagues, those he thought dead weren’t dead after all, but fought and survived. Lena, not knowing she was talking to the Reaper, said that’s something to be proud of…and for the first time in his life, Shin was.

86 – 21 – Good Knight

As expected, 86 gets right down to it with continuing the pursuit of Morpho. Shin seems to have gotten the hint that it’s to be a team effort, but then in the first five minutes he loses Anju, Theo, Kurena and Raiden in short order. They got him as far as they could take him; the rest is up to him.

Frederica, who had been riding with Raiden, transfers to Fido, whom Shin then orders to hide with Frederica confined in the cargo hold. He wants her, at least, to survive to try to do something about Kiriya, especially should Shin fail.

As Shin and Kiri/Morpho stare each other down, there’s a distinct epic “final showdown” atmosphere to the proceedings, which is all too appropriate considering how close we are to season’s end. It’s not as if this isn’t going to be resolved one way or another within these last episodes.

Taking out all of Shin’s comrades in such short order raises the stakes to a ridiculous degree; now most of the pieces are off the board. Shin is still flashing his gallows smirk, but isn’t in any hurry to commit suicide, and shows off his full complement of talents and skills as he draws ever nearer to Morpho.

Raiden, who we last saw with quite a bit of shrapnel in his arm, manages to gather himself enough to save Shin from what could have been a fatal attack, but it’s ultimately Frederica breaking free from Fido and contacting Kiriya directly that truly gives Shin the opening he needs.

It also gives Frederica the opportunity she’s always desired to try to bring her trusty knight back from the darkness. Alas, all that is left for him is the battlefield, even as his princess stands right there before him. Killing his fellow Nouzen Shinei remains a top priority, but when Frederica puts a gun to her own head, he’s suddenly very distracted from that priority.

Not for long, mind you, but long enough for Shin to reach Kiriya’s cockpit and put his very last round through his head. This final boss battle is 86 combat at its very best, with visuals at moments approaching the lyrical or profound. Fancy words aside, it’s very awesome looking, and accompanied by some top-notch SFX and that always excellent Sawano Hiroyuki score.

In the end, Kiri’s demise is immediately preceded by Frederica looking upon him, Shin, and Rei together in royal Giadian military attire, before Kiri joins Rei walking into the light, leaving Frederica and Shin. Seconds after Kiri dies, Morpho self-destructs, seemingly enveloping both Shin and Frederica and leaving us to wonder who, if anyone, will still be breathing next week. Until then, I need to catch my breath.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 04 – Blue Moon in Her Eye

Huh…well that was…something? I dunno, there’s something very odd and random about just running into an idol concert and randomly wandering around until you realize the bad guy can hear you even through all the noise…and the bad guy gives away his position for no reason. Also, both the crowd of weird shadow people who all have identical green light sticks (why not…blue?), Yui’s performance, and the general sound mix left a lot to be desired.

I’ll, admit, while I suspected Yui made that threat letter, I didn’t think the giant sapphire would her false left eye. That’s odd in more a cool way than a head-scratching one. Still, the entire concert scene that culminated in Kimizuka leaping to push Yui out of the path of a crossbow bolt lacked suspense and the appropriate level of production value.

Matters aren’t helped when Yui explains why her eye is a sapphire and while I obviously sympathize with her losing her parents at such an age, only to inherit a giant mansion, immense fortune, and oh yeah, a sapphire eye that SPES is apparently trying to steal.

That brings us to the most contrived part of the episode: that Yui was manipulated by SPES into trying to kill Kimizuka and Nagisa by rigging a bomb in the jewel vault. This is indeed a twist, but Kimizuka’s manner of deducing it makes no sense. Also her eye has x-ray vision…so I guess it’s not just a sapphire, and Yui is part cyborg?

It’s all moot, as despite the fact Yui pulls a gun on Kimizuka and Nagisa, five minutes later she’s lowering it and crying about not wanting her jewel eye stolen. This begs the question of why is SPES only now trying to steal it. It also seems strange that a secret evil organization would choose such a public and audacious manner of trying to steal it as shooting a crossbow bolt through a beloved idol’s eye.

These are the kind of questions I’d rather not have, but because this episode is only interested in conclusions and twists and not doing any of the work to set them up properly, my mind wandered often.

In any case, Yui is now a friend and compatriot of Kimizuka and Nagisa, fellow targets of the nebulous Bad Guys. The next day, as news of Kimizuka rescuing Yui plasters the city’s video screens, another person from Kimizuka’s past arrives: a blonde bombshell named Char whom we learn—in a flashback in the most obnoxiously expositiony way possible—is the brawn to Kimizuka’s brains.

Siesta insisted that the two learn to get along and cover for each others’ weaknesses. Either that never happened or it never had a chance to happen, because that day on the boat with Kimizuka and Char was Siesta’s last. I foresee next week focusing on Char’s return to Kimizuka’s life, the two trying and failing to get along, but not giving up on trying in honor of their mentor…whose heart is alive and well in Nagisa.

Hear what Crow has to say about episode 4 here.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 12 (Fin) – The Troublesome Troubleshooter

With Takashi out of commssion the G-Boys are rudderless and eager for revenge, and Kyouichi isn’t above acquiring guns from the yakuza in order to gain the advantage in an otherwise bats-and-clubs fight. Meanwhile, we meet one of the usually unseen victims of the fighting, a young girl whose brother was injured who will play a larger part in the episode’s climax.

Makoto remains in the shadows, relying on his trusted friends in Saru and Lin to get a bigger picture about what’s going on. He learns the Kyougokukai Group from Kansai is trying to make a move against Ikebukuro and the Hidaka Group, providing firearms to both Red Angels and G-Boys. The kid gangs will soften each other out, and Kyougokukai, will stomp them all out and take over.

Makoto still has allies in the G-Boys, including Masaru, who owes him a debt for helping him save Mizuki, only for Mizuki to end up in trouble and missing now. When some less friendly G-Boys spot him and give chase, he’s saved by a more unlikely ally in the recently banished Hiroto.

Hiroto is setting up new turf outside Ikebukuro, but can’t stand by and let his old turf go to shit, especially if it’s due to the machinations of outside yakuza groups. We later learn he and his men, like the little girl, have a crucial role to play in the endgame.

Then there’s Isogai, quite obviously the mastermind behind everything based on clues from last week’s episode. Makoto gives him a call still believing he’s someone who can be trusted, and they meet by a secluded shrine. Isogai gives him a new phone, which Makoto quickly checks for the spying app that confirms Isogai is indeed the mastermind.

Isogai goes on to explain his motivations. A native of Ikebukuro, he was bullied in school and had to stop going to classes. He ended up joining the Kyougokukai, and knowing their interest in Ikebukuro, volunteered to serve as a sleeper agent until the conditions were right to blow everything up.

For all his hatred of punks both red and blue, Isogai still sees value in Makoto as a good guy and troubleshooter, and asks him to join him, Makoto refuses, there’s a scuffle, and Isogai ends up putting five bullets in him. At the same time, Takashi wakes up in the hospital, wondering what’s keeping Makoto.

The two sides form battle lines in West Gate Park, and Takashi not only makes a surprise appearance, but starts a fight with Kyouichi despite still bleeding through his bandages. It would seem all the pieces are arranged on the board the way Isogai and his Kyougokukai superior Yoshimatsu want (the latter, Glasses Guy from last week, even watches the battle from his car).

The G-Boys and Angels are about to slam into each other when suddenly a video starts playing on the park’s Jumbotron: a video expertly recorded by Makoto’s film director buddy, capturing Makoto’s entire incriminating conversation with Isogai, exposing him as a traitor to the Angels and Ikebukuro itself. Everyone stops fighting, takes in the scope of Isogai’s treachery…and stews.

Isogai responds by pulling out his gun and shooting Makoto again, but as with the last time he shot him, it was with harmless blood rounds (lent to him by his director friend). Makoto switched the guns out when they scuffled at the shrine. Kyouichi delivers a  devastating, balletic kick to Isogai’s head and threatening to dance on him until he’s a pile of crushed bones—but Makoto begs him not to go too far.

As Hiroto’s men deal with Kyougokukai’s Yoshimatsu, who is invited to a nice chat with Saru of Hidaka Group, Makoto tries to do what he does best: call for all the warring parties to stand down, go their separate ways and think about whether they really want to fight a battle they were manipulated into fighting. Also, the riot cops are about to come in an arrest everyone.

He urges everyone to remember that while can sometimes lie and hurt each other, they also have the capacity to forgive. Everyone stands down…except that wild card little girl whose brother was injured. She isn’t satisfied until she’s able to stab Takashi, and he lets it happen, drawing her into a hug even after she sticks him in the kidneys.

Because Takashi is so gentle with his would-be killer, the avenging girl must sense that he had forgiven her before she even stabbed him, and thus can forgive him and those who cause her brother’s injury. Before passing out, Takashi tells Makoto to take over the G-Boys if he doesn’t make it.

While that would have been an thoroughly interesting development, Takashi pulls through, and even has the sister and her recovered brother visit him, completing the cycle of forgiveness and healing. Kyouichi disbands the Red Angels and moves into a house his parents left him just outside the Yamanote Line.

Makoto’s mom re-opens the produce stand, where Guo continues to help out. And finally, Makoto sits in West Gate Park when he’s approached by someone who has a problem that needs solving. In other words, life goes on in the town he loves. It’s not often a series concludes by bringing together most of its previous narrative elements into a satisfying whole, but IWGP pulled it off beautifully.

Don’t believe the low MAL score or lack of ANN reviews: IWGP was a strong Fall 2020 dark horse candidate. ambitious in its concept, resourceful with its protagonist and setting, involving at every turn (one iffy Youtuber episode aside), and realistic in its depiction of the complex social structures that make up a town, and the importance of maintaining relationships and balance.

No Guns Life – 02 – Brand Loyalty

As promised, Juuzou finishes the job, derailing the train, disabling Karen by deactivating the sub-brain that governs her Extensions, and rescuing Tetsuro, after he gets the kid to act like a kid and have a temper tantrum, using Harmony to yell through one of Karen’s Extended goons.

Juuzou takes the still-unconscious Tetsuro to his friend/associate Mary, who is a whiz when it comes to installing/repairing Extended equipment. We also learn Tetsuro is the son of Berühren’s CEO.

We don’t learn how they met, but it certainly behooves Juuzou to know someone not Berühren-affiliated who can fix him, and he probably keeps the non-Extended Mary safe.

I liked Mary’s slightly ratty character design, and seiyu Numakura Manami finds the perfect voice for her: youthful, sarcastic, and confident. She agrees to let Juuzou know the second the kid’s awake so she can determine what’s keeping him in his coma-esque state.

Thus the rest of the episode features Juuzou basically playing the waiting game, which is doubly irritating to him due to his complete inability to track down his preferred brand of cigarettes.

Turns out there’s a reason for that: a very well-spoken Berühren stooge named Cunningham has acquired every pack of that brand in the city. He believes Juuzou needs the special “active ingredient” in the bran to move properly, and he’ll only part with them in exchange for Tetsuro.

Juuzou dismisses Cunningham’s presumption—he just likes the brand’s taste is all—and wastes all of the guy’s goons, forcing him to flee. And while a masked Mary tracked Juuzou down to tell him Tetsuro is awake, she also provides a key assist by removing the arms of Cunningham’s sniper.

No Guns Life remains a show I’d recommend now that the cast is expanding. Mary’s tinkerer type complements the  more world-weary Juuzou, while her prediction he’ll make the “freed” Tetsuro his partner in resolving doesn’t feel too off the mark.

Above all, both Juuzou and Mary seem like people doing what they want, not acting as tools for a corporation, and want to afford Tetsuro that same freedom to choose his path. Berühren won’t make it easy.

No Guns Life – 01 (First Impressions) – As the Cylinder Spins

No Guns Life is a somewhat awkwardly-titled cyberpunk noir series centered on Inui Juuzou, private detective-type guy called a resolver who also happens to have a gun for a head. That concept pays immediate comic dividends when we first see him lighting up a cigarette in his dingy office, or when we see a super-simplified version of his face when he expresses bashfulness over being kissed by a woman he helped out.

Juuzou may be an Extended with his gun head, indicating a past life as a tool of war, but seiyu Suwabe Junichi imparts a world-weary, warm and irreverent humanity to him—a heart of gold beneath all the gunmetal. The modifications made to his once fully-human form are the work of Berühren, a military megacorp whose monolithic headquarters called to mind Wallace Corp.’s in Blade Runner 2049.

Juuzou’s latest client is a seemingly “renegade” fellow Extended accused of kidnapping a boy named Tetsuro from an orphanage, but the scary-looking Extended’s meek disposition has Juuzou suspecting there’s more to it than that. Juuzou takes the job and custody of the unconscious Tetsuro while the Extended lures the Security Bureau away.

This scene hits all of the usual noir detective story points: a messed up office that wasn’t that nice to begin with, an immediate sense of peril, a new client who isn’t what they seem, and a job Juuzou can’t pass up if it pays, since he’s barely making rent. One key downside to the scene is that no one has any facial expressions, so the voices have to pull double duty.

We finally do see some facial expressions when Juuzou encounters Karen, a meek (but oddly not fearful) nun from the orphanage searching for Tetsuro. Juuzou doesn’t buy her cover, so she removes most of them to reveal she’s an evil badass Berühren operative tasked with retrieving a vital R&D asset, with a mean gun and an Extended eye that can see through his smoke bomb.

The Oni-faced Extended reappears to help Juuzou out, but Karen makes quick work of him, leaving Juuzou with no choice but to abandon Tetsuro as she shoots him, causing to fall down a very high ledge (also reminiscent of Blade Runner in its general dinginess and great height).

When he comes to, Oni-face has dressed his wounds, but is at the end of his rope. Then comes the twist: Oni-face was never an independent entity: it was being remote controlled all along by Tetsuro using something called Harmony. When Berühren, who rendered him incapable of escaping on his own legs, he manipulated the unoccupied Extended to aid his escape.

Before his remote Extended shuts down, Tetsuro thanks Juuzou for trying to help him, but is resigned to end up back in Berühren’s pokey-proddy clutches. Juuzou is not so resigned. Resolved to “finish the job” even if it ends up being pro bono, he locates Tetsuro (with a tracking device in his ear) aboard a train, and puts his Extended body to use stopping it in its tracks.

Comparisons to Cop Craft are there, only instead of a human-alien odd couple undertaking fairly conventional police missions, we have a cyborg P.I., in a world where his breed of cyborg isn’t particularly celebrated, trying to protect the weak in a world that will otherwise chew them up more viciously than our own. It swaps Cop Craft’s slick Range Murata design with the grittier style of Shino Masanori (Black Lagoon) and Iwasaki Taku’s soundtrack with Kawai Kenji’s (Gundam 00).

It’s a very fun (if sometimes dark and depressing world), again thanks to Juuzou’s irreverent attitude, and the story seems headed in a finite direction with confidence, something that definitely didn’t end up happening in Cop Craft. One episode’s not enough to judge whether it will succeed where that show failed, but that curiosity is thankfully not the only reason to keep watching.

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