One Punch Man 2 – 10 – Stating the Obvious

Saitama may be bored with a life of beating everyone with one punch and never losing, but thanks to King he’s able to forget about that for a little while, as he is beaten over and over again in a Street Fighter-esque combat game, to his unending frustration. “THIS GAME IS SHIT!” is his only defense. Reminds me of me when I play video games!

As for the Monster Association infiltrating the executive board room, the eyeball that serves as a conduit through which King Orochi’s adjutant, Gyoro-Gyoro, can mess with the humans by offering an olive branch than shooting the first taker. Thankfully for the other suits, resident Class-S hero Superalloy Blackluster—basically Luke Cage—has no trouble dispatching the baddies.

Still, shots have been fired, and the Monster Association officially declares war on the Hero Association. It’s in all the papers and on all the news channels. Over at MA HQ, the amassed monsters aren’t impressed with Gyoro-Gyoro’s motivational speech, but actions speak louder than words, as Orochi demonstrates when he eats Cockroach for losing.

Speaking of losing, a badly-wounded Garo wakes up, assuming it was King who knocked him out, while Genos gets a shiny new upgraded metal body from Dr. Kuseno, who only asks that win or lose, Genos is careful enough to live on and fight another day.

As the top heroes debate the merits of the HA’s plan to storm MA HQ , the news spreads to independent monsters, who pour out of City Z full of piss and vinegar, eager to join up with the MA. Unfortunately, they’re all obliterated by Saitama while he’s taking out the trash.

Garo ends up healing up in a shack that happens to be used by the brat with the hero guide he’s encountered in the park. That brat is the runt of his circle of friends, so he has to go in to see who’s in their secret hideout. Garo offers some obvious advice—the kid should become stronger, duh—but before sending him on his way, the shack is surrounded by eight Class A and B heroes led by Death Gatling, who tracked him there.

Even having unknowingly been recently pummeled by Saitama, Garo could probably take on, say, four of these heroes, but not eight, and certainly not all at once. Thanks to the brat’s guide, he at least gets some intel on all of them, and learns that they possess quite the diverse and complementary skill set.

The heroes marvel at his ability to dodge their attacks, but as he gets tired cracks in his defense start to form. Worse, the guy he worried about the least, Megane, is actually a hand-to-hand specialist with a lot more stamina and endurance than he currently has. Gatling demands he surrender and let them take him alive. How’s he going to get out of this one? Does the brat have a role to play in rescuing him from a bad end?

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Attack on Titan – 38 (Start of Season 3) – Behind the Curtain

Season 3 of Shingeki no Kyoujin begins with a question long pondered by Eren: If beyond the wall is a sea…what’s beyond the sea? Wizard of Oz will always be a favorite movie of mine, but I doubt I was alone when I first saw the curtain get pulled back to reveal the “Great and Powerful” Oz was just a flimflam man with a budget.

Titan has never pulled the curtain back; not entirely. It may show us glimpses that alter or expand our way of thinking about this bizarre and mysterious world, but the central mystery of how all of what is going on came to be remains tightly guarded.

I found it notable that this season’s OP contains not one bit of anyone actually fighting a Titan. Indeed, the entire episode only features one Titan: Eren, briefly, in a controlled experiment. That’s because the true enemy of mankind is, not surprisingly, mankind.

Titan Season 3 looks like it will further explore the depths of the secrets of the walls, detail the lengths to which the Powers that Be will go to protect them, and impress upon us the importance of revealing or exposing those secrets for the salvation of humanity…if that’s even what the “good guys” are actually doing.

That’s what’s intriguing; even someone as sharp and resourceful as Levi only has bits and pieces to work off of regarding their “enemy.” All he knows is that he was entrusted with the Titan Coordinate (Eren) and the heiress to the throne (Historia), two assets that, properly utilized, could blow this whole thing wide open.

But those Powers are working against him, and brazenly; no longer in the shadows. The secret behind the curtain remains, but forces have come from behind it to shoo nosy interlopers away. With Scout Regiment activity suspended, Pastor Nick murdered, Commander Erwin arrested, and Levi’s squad on the run, the episode adopts the feel of a cat-and-mouse conspiracy thriller.

And yet, for all of the brisk plot development, the ep still takes the time to re-introduce the cast still stinging from their respective recent ordeals. There’s painfully forthright Eren; eternally badass Misaka; strategic Armin; hungry Sasha; resentful Jean; weary Connie; non-good-girl-y Historia; crazy Hange; no-BS Levi. I left plenty out but you get the gist.

When the government demands the Scouts hand over Eren and Historia, Levi takes a gamble by sending his squad to Trost district, the site of the Pastor’s torture and murder, and bring Eren and Historia before Pyxis. They enter the district in broad daylight wearing their gear, and Eren and Historia are quicky snatched up by kidnappers.

Only the “Eren” and “Historia” they snatch are actually Armin and Jean posing as body doubles. Led by Mikasa, Levi’s scouts rescue them and capture the kidnappers, who prove so laughably amateurish that it sets off alarm bells in Levi’s head. Could they—could HE have fallen for a larger chess game in which the kidnapping was only a diversion?

The feeling of dread only grows worse as Levi observes from a rooftop as the wagon containing the real Eren and Historia getting blocked by a large crowd. The suspicion of being in the middle of a trap crystallizing, Levi asks Hange’s scouts Nifa if she’s ever heard of the serial-killer Kenny the Ripper, then reveals he used to know and live with him.

Levi identifies the true kidnappers too late, as Kenny gets the jump on him, takes Nifa’s head off with his huge guns, and gives Levi a warm greeting as his very large and professional-looking crew swoops in to surround him.

What had started oh-so-modestly with the scouts cleaning up their farmhouse hideout escalated in a damned hurry. Eren and Historia are in deep trouble if Levi could be ambushed so easily. I didn’t imagine the show could make the government as existentially scary as a Titan attack, but…here we are.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 08

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Hwelp, I’m an idiot. I was pretty darn sure the end of last week was the beginning of the end of Kayo–again–but I was mercifully mistaken: it was only a very, very close call. That’s not to lessen the seething tension of the episode’s first moments when Kayo isn’t sure what’s going to happen, but a lot of that weight I talked about (not all, but a lot) was lifted. Who the shit cares if I read the scene wrong, or the show “tricked” me by deviating from its usual pattern? Kayo’s still free and breathing!

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This means Satoru gets to see Kayo again, and is able to provide her with lunch thanks to his mom, who was up even earlier than he was preparing meals. One for him, another for “lunch”, but really for Kayo, as the note in the bento box confirms. At this point, Kayo’s mom has a pretty good idea what her son is up to, and is letting him keep his secret for now, having faith he’s doing the right thing and silently supporting him.

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At school, Kayo’s consecutive absences draw the attention and conjecture of the whole class, and Satoru asks the Yashiro of this timeline to act once more. Turns out he already has contacted social services, and accompanies them to Kayo’s home.

Kayo’s mom managed to sneak out just as they arrived, meaning it’s not yet time to rest easy, but at least the proper authorities are aware of the situation and intend to get Kayo away from her mother as soon as they can.

Satoru, Kenya and Hiromi keep Kayo company that night, giving her the opportunity to present Satoru with his belated birthday present: a pair of mittens she knit for him. Considering what became of the mittens back when Satoru failed to save her, I’m not surprised Satoru can’t help but tear up with joy and relief at the sight of them.

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The previous night’s intrusion didn’t result in Kayo’s demise, but it did spell the demise of the bus as a viable hideout, especially when they discover the contents of the backpack the man left behind, which Satoru instantly recognizes as the tools of the serial murderer, including that damnable spray bottle used to accelerate hypothermia.

I don’t think he noticed future first victim in Nakanishi Aya as he walked past her that morning, but with Hiromi as the second victim, it’s abundantly clear the bus and its environs are the nexus of the tragedy he hopes to avoid. They all have to get the hell out of there. But where will he stash Kayo? Why, at his house, of course.

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Such is Satoru’s knowledge of and faith in his loving mother, he knows bringing her there is the right move, and a move she’ll gladly accept. She’s seen Kayo and knows the miserable, loveless life she’s been forced to lead until meeting her son.

Nowhere is it clearer how raw her wounds from that life still are when Kayo instinctively recoils at the sight of Satoru’s mom’s approaching arm. Were it her own mom’s arm, it would have meant a strike; instead, her head is gently patted.

After feeding everyone and sending Kenya and Hiromi home, Sachiko calls Yashiro to inform him of what he expected – Kayo is safe and sound with Satoru. When she asks if Kayo really has to go away, I thought about the possibility of Sachiko adopting her, so she could have some constancy in her life.

Sachiko then goes out of her way to make sure Kayo feels as loved as possible on this night. The hot dinner with friends, a hot bath, having her hair washed, being given new, fresh pajamas, drying her hair properly, and sharing a warm futon with Satoru and his mom (lying strategically between the two) – everything is a new and wonderful experience for Kayo.

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That morning, Sachiko cooks her a hot multi-course breakfast, so far removed from the lazy, thoughtless breakfasts of cup ramen, bread, or spare change her “mom” provided, and Kayo can’t hold it in anymore.

She starts bawling at this attention and care and love she’s never gotten before. The 11-year-old Satoru might’ve taken this kind of treatment from his mom for granted, but the 29-year-old knows better, and understands Kayo’s tears as well as his own good fortune.

Later, Kayo knocks on her own apartment door, and her furious mother, who was in the process of trashing Kayo’s room, answers, winds up for a vicious slap, but stops in her tracks when she notices Kayo isn’t alone. Kayo and Sachiko flank her like bodyguards. Hopefully Kayo will never have to be alone with her pathetic coward of a mother ever again.

This was a generous episode not just because it didn’t kill Kayo in the beginning, but because it ends not on a note of uncertainty or imminent disaster, but on a note of potential triumph. Certainly, a lot of setbacks can occur in the four remaining episodes, but for now those possible troubles feel far away.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 19

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I’d been waiting all Winter for an episode of Shirayuki to break out of its streak of polished and quietly competent 8s into 9 territory, and this action-packed conclusion to Shirayuki’s latest predicament did the trick nicely. Even better, it was a team affair, with everyone contributing to securing our heroine’s release.

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Raj is able to appeal directly to the masses and muster a merchant fleet to chase Umihebi, and then able to lead his flagship by the seat of his pants (with no seamanship, just will and pure dumb luck) in order to get past the “Blue Vortex” the pirates hoped to lose them in. Meanwhile, Umihebi marks her captive with her kusarigama, but Shirayuki’s gaze remains defiant.

Umihebi pays pretty quickly for cutting Shirayuki’s face by only being able to gloat about having gotten away for a grand total of, oh, about ten seconds, before Raj’s ship enters their “secret” cave and rams her ship, destroying it.

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Then Kiki takes advantage of the chaos and springs into action. Umihebi snags Shiayuki with her handy weapon once more, but it’s already the beginning of the end of the pirates having their way. First Mitsuhide jumps out of the shadows to aid Kiki, then Prince Zen himself, whose face is a sight for Shirayuki’s sore eyes.

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Shirayuki gets an opening in Umihebi’s hostage hold thanks to Obi, biting the pirate’s hand and then getting separated. As she and Kazuki are whisked away by Zen, the Lions of the Mountain surround the Claw of the Sea and start picking them off.

Kazuki soon joins his fellow Lions in the melee, giving Zen an unexpectedly early moment alone with his love, the first such moment in about five episodes. He doesn’t waste it, drawing Shirayuki in close as their mutual relief and happiness washes over them.

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After that, Zen rejoins the battle with the pirates until Umihebi is surrounded with just a handful of men on her side, and has no choice but to surrender. I wonder if this is the last we see of Umihebi (classically, pirates are hanged), who looked like a worthy adversary for a time but was ultimately not that huge a threat, at least against the unswerving dedication of Raj and Zen to get their girl back.

All’s well that ends well, but there’s one last twist this episode tosses our way. When Shirayuki gets her first good look at the leader of the Lions of the Mountain, she exclaims “Dad?” His hair is kinda reddish now, isn’t it? I personally like this and I’m interested to see how it shakes out: is he really her dad; if and how they’ll bond; what insights on her past he can provide.

There’s also the little matter of Zen telling his bro he intends to marry Shirayuki. After all, Zen didn’t drag his crown in the mud to rescue her, so Izana’s unlikely to ban her from the castle.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 07

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As expected, shortly after Satoru is arrested he’s able to activate another revival (there wasn’t much he could have done in a jail cell), but despite knowing it was going to happen an infectious wave of relief still washed over me, just as it washed over Satoru upon realizing he was back in the museum with a very alive Kayo. This time he thinks out loud and means it, and starts responding to Kayo’s “Are you stupids” with “Yeah!”

This time Satoru is doing away with all pretense and restraint. If he’s suddenly acting strangely for a kid of his age to people around him, so be it. No matter what the consequences are for him, he won’t let Kayo die again…and he’s operating under the assumption this is his last revival, having already been given an unheard-of third chance.

As such, the relief soon washes away, replaced with the weight and suspense of everything he must accomplish in the next couple of days; a weight that never lets up.

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For a moment at school, I thought he was in trouble again, because I still can’t bring myself to fully trust Kenya, but again I was all but proven wrong for suspecting him of anything but the noblest of intentions. He’s simply a good enough friend to know when Satoru has completely changed.

When he asks Satoru “Who are you?”, Satoru gets to think out loud on purpose again: “A superhero.” He hopes to become one, anyway, but as far as Kenya’s concerned, he already is one, even if he doesn’t have the results yet.

I loved how Satoru’s plight is filtered through the prism of two kids talking about friends and heroes. It doesn’t feel like material that should be over the kids’ heads because we know Kenya isn’t your typical 10/11-year old, and Satoru is an adult.

Another tense scene was with Satoru at Yuuki’s place, where he probes Yuuki in preparation to give him an alibi, so that whatever happens, his life won’t be ruined by the events to come. What’s striking, and highly disturbing in its ambiguity, is Yuuki’s initial reaction to hearing that Kayo is in Satoru’s group of friends now.

This was the first time since siding with Satoru on Yuuki that I thought both of us might be being overly naive, and that Yuuki’s odd interest in Kayo could have been something going on for a while now.

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Regardless, Satoru takes Yuuki’s secondary reaction – one of joy – to mean he’s still good, so he proceeds to duck out on his birthday party to toss a rock through Yuuki’s dad’s window so that the cops will come, securing Yuuki’s alibi.

After that, Satoru spots Kayo’s mom, and seriously considers pushing her down a flight of steps to her death, but he’s stopped by Kenya, who has been following him. Kenya agreed to help him out, and he realizes he may have to get his hands dirty, but killing Kayo’s mom will only create new problems, and Satoru was too close to the situation to see that.

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From there, Satoru starts walking Kayo to her house as before, but this time, in another magical little back-and-forth, he announces his intent to “abduct” her, and she consents to let him. Satoru takes her to an abandoned bus hideout with a heater and blankets.

I understand the plan: simply keep Kayo out of the equation altogether; away from those who might kill her. But unless someone is with Kayo the entire time, it also looks like the perfect place to kill her where no one would notice. What makes it a great hideout also makes it a great grave.

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The first time she’s left alone, however, that doesn’t happen, allowing me to lower my guard just a little. She’s knitting away when Satoru calls on her, and they have a hot meal and fall asleep huddled together (something they’re embarrassed about upon being woken up by Kenya in the morning…they are kids, after all.)

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It worked for a day…but so did Satoru’s first plan. And that crushing weight I was talking about didn’t go away just because Satoru brought not just Kenya but Hiromi into the hideout. Kayo makes a neat little adjustment Satoru hadn’t though of: that she was the one who instigated all of this, thus absolving everyone involved of blame whatever may happen.

Rather than pick Satoru’s Joker, she takes an Ace to match her last card. She wins here, but the foreboding at this point is almost unbearable. I couldn’t help but wonder why the guy smirking under the umbrella in the present was so emotionally invested in Satoru’s downfall, or Yuuki’s bizarre reaction, or the ominous scenes of Yashiro noticing Kayo gone in class, then making a phone call in the faculty lounge.

It’s also just the seventh of twelve episodes, so it’s clearly not all smooth sailing form here. Sure enough, when an adult with a backpack pays a visit to the bus, not knocking the way Satoru would or saying a word, but just entering, Kayo under her blanket already looks like a body under a shroud, and the bus a cold, dark tomb.

Once again, the show mercilessly cuts to credits just before confirming that Kayo has in fact been lost to us once more. That leaves us simmering with a tiny shard of irrational hope for another week, knowing we know that hope is irrational, but not being able to let it go.

In reality, all I can realistically hope is that Satoru can engage revival and try again. Because if I put my heart aside and use my head, this isn’t going to go well for Kayo.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 18

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Having been held captive many times before, I fully expected Shirayuki to waste no time attempting escape, relying on her Ellie Sattler-like botanical knowledge and MacGyver-like resourcefulness…and the girl don’t disappoint. First thing she does is rip up her expensive ball gown to make it easier to move, then she discovers some seeds among the cargo that give off a thick smoke when burned.

They successfully misdirect and knock out their two guards, but once she and Kazuki are on the deck, in broad daylight, they’re instantly re-caught by Umihebi. I was actually glad about that, because while burning smoky nuts is clever, these pirates would look pretty incompetent if they let her get away so easily.

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Back at Raj’s castle, I’m a little surprised the princes haven’t set off yet, though I liked how Mitsuhide and Kiki give Zen (holding the broken watch he gave Shirayuki) a much-needed slap on the back to focus him and release all the stuff he’s holding in. Kiki also gives him a note from Obi that ends up aiding their search considerably.

Rather than damage her precious cargo Shirayuki, Umihebi punishes her by viciously whipping her crew members in front of her. Shirayuki, ever abhorring violence, only gains an even lower opinion of the pirate queen, and can’t help diagnosing their injuries, impressing Umihebi.

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Meanwhile, Zen finds Obi thanks to one of Kihal’s homing birds, drawn to the bell Zen meant for Obi to give to Shirayuki, but was never able to due to her kidnapping. Obi and Itoya had joined up with other members of the autonomous Lions of the Mountain.

It takes a little while to sort out what’s going on (Raj seems especially lost at moments), but the bottom line is that Kazuki was once a “decorative ornament” to nobles, then a member of the Claw of the Sea, but defected to the lions and made it his personal mission to rescue Shirayuki from what he (wrongly) believed was a similar fate.

Kazuki and Itoya were so intent on carrying out the mission, they never gave her a chance to speak for herself. So while Kazuki’s motives were pure, his assumptions were disrespectful, as well as wrong. All that aside, both the princes and the lions want their people back, so Zen and Raj form an alliance with their leader to rescue them from the Claw.

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It’s not a coincidence that right after the Lion leader mentions that the “half-hearted” shrink away when the Claw leader Umihebi glares at them with her cold eyes, we see Shirayuki glaring right the fuck back at her. Shirayuki’s no half-heart, but she’s not a hardened soldier either, so despite putting on a defiant face for Umihebi and a brave one for Hazuki, the latter still sees her trembling in fear, which is all to understandable, considering she’s on the cusp of being shipped off to God-knows-where, with no way to tell Zen where she is.

Except, at the close of the episode, she’s no longer alone with Hazuki. When considering all their options, Kiki volunteers to get herself arrested and thrown onto the Claw’s ship as another prisoner, so that Shirayuki can have a capable ally by her side both to protect her and give her hope. Kiki has always been a appallingly underutilized character – she’s essentially an onna-kishi – but I’m very glad she gets to shine here. I also like how Mitsu doesn’t like the idea of her going, but doesn’t stop her either.

As for where Umihebi’s ship is headed, another underutilized character who had just complained about being an outsider, Mihaya, thinks he knows the location of the Claw’s secret mansion, since his crooked dad and brother once did business with them. Shirayuki may still be in enemy hands, but the addition of Kiki spices up what could have been a monotonous captivity, and now that she knows Zen is on the case, she’s far less likely to lose heart, even if things get worse before they get better.

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