Kemono Jihen – 12 (Fin) – How to Melt a Frozen Heart

Nobimaru presses his attack on Yui, but learns he can’t even touch the nullstone without freezing and cracking his arm, as the thing literally feeds on life. Nobimaru, who is unquestionably loyal to Inari despite knowing full he’s nothing but a tool to her, allows himself a moment to stew in the knowledge that Inari knew about the damage the stone would do to him…and didn’t care.

But if Inari left him on his own to succeed or perish, Kabane won’t have it, and he steps in as Nobimaru’s flaming champion. The nullstone grabs still more power from Yui to give him an ice suit of armor, and just like that we’ve got a dazzling Ice Boy vs. Fire Lad duel. Kabane’s constantly burning and regenerating body provides some of the cooler images this vibrant series has yet offered.

Akira manages to use all the fog and steam the battle is creating to smash his ice cage and wastes no time coming between Kabane and Yui before either of them do any permanent damage. And it’s here where I must declare my undying love for any show whose MC crumbles into flaming pile of burning flesh and bones without anyone batting an eye.

Moments later, the nullstone has nearly sucked Yui’s life dry, and his own body begins to become brittle and crack. Fortunately, Kabane has regenerated enough to give Akira a hand pulling the nullstone out of Yui’s chest. Kabane then coughs up his lifestone, which merges with the other stone on contact, releasing it from Yui.

Right on cue, Inari arrives on the scene to snatch up the stone, but Inugami is right there to remind her that neither half of the stone is hers, so she an Nobimaru slink off. In yet another demonstration of empathy and fellow feeling, Kabane asks Nobimaru to go with them to the Ohana clinic where Aya can surely heal his ruined hand…only for Nobimaru to politely decline, intending to bear the wound as a warning not to get careless again.

As Yui recovers at the clinic (and Aya calculates the exorbitant bill), Kabane hangs around outside his door, waiting for him to wake up so he can ask him about his parents. Akira sees him out there and immediately apologizing for saying he hated him, which he obviously only did because he was afraid Yui would kill him. On the contrary, Akira reiterates his love for Kabane, and their little making-up dance in the hall is just precious as all get-out.

Yui eventually wakes up, and is ready to talk with Kabane, starting with the “Kemono Incidents”, a period of history forgotten by most humanity when kabane and humans were in devastating open warfare. An agreement was made to end the hostilities, and all the kabane higher-ups had stones like Kabane’s to maintain balance through the threat of force—the only way a group as fractured and ungainly as kemono could be controlled).

While this is a lot of exposition for a final episode, it provides welcome setup for a second season that, while not yet announced, seems likely due to strong manga sales and a studio that often produces sequels. It also includes Akira’s inner voice worrying about falling asleep during all this talking, which is a wonderful little moment.

As for the question of what’s to become of Yui, he’s content to shuffle off into the shadows and bear all of the horrible things he did. Akira won’t hear of it, and it takes a slap to Yui’s face to get him to listen when Akira says they’re brothers and twins and should share the burdens together. Yui is also heartened when Kabane forgives him, though the others know that’s just who Kabane is. He gives and forgives.

The gist of Yui’s stories (as well as Inugami’s contribution to the discussion) is that for Kabane’s parents to have had the lifestone meant they were either kemono chiefs themselves or found it themselves. The best way to learn more about his stone and all the others that are out there is to track down their owners, some of whom Inugami knows.

Meanwhile, Inari, in her appropriately noir-ish office at the police HQ, assures Nobimaru she’s not done trying to get her hands on either stone (now that they’re merged, which one she’d rather have is irrelevant). But she knows she can’t take from those the tanuki is protecting by force. So he tells Nobimaru to relay Kon’s next mission: to seduce Kabane and get him to give her the stone willingly.

While there’s nothing Inugami can do about that scenario, asking Kon to seduce anyone—particularly Kabane—seems doomed to failure. Neither Kon nor Kabane quite grasp the concept of love or romance quite yet, and Kabane clearly knows more since he now has more of it in his life.

But there’s no denying Kon is smitten on one level with Kabane, so it’s just as likely he’d seduce her to his side than she’d get him to give up the stone that—lest we forget—is crucial to keep him under control. As Akira goes on a trip with Yui and Shiki minds the shop, Kabane and Inugami prepare to head to Shikoku to meet the first of many stone-keepers.

Kon super-awkwardly inserts herself into their trip, and Kabane urges her to join them, which is fine with Inugami. He’s no fool, and so knows full well Inari sent Kon to try to steal the stone. But he also knows Kabane isn’t half as guileless and manipulative as he once was, and so he’ll probably do fine against Kon’s inept attempts.

The three board the shinkansen, bound for more adventures in search of answers to the mystery of Kabane’s folks. That should make for a heckuva second season, the announcement of which I eagerly await. Even if for some reason it never comes, I had a lot of fun watching this eclectic and lovable bunch of characters work through their dark pasts, and differences, grow closer as a family…and kick some monster ass together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 06 – Calculating Change

After a major shakeup last week, MT slows down as we remain in Roa for the duration. Rudeus learns that while he played a vital role in protecting Eris, Ghislaine is to be given all credit for reasons related to the intricate politics of the Greyrats and the land they rule. He meets Phillip’s father Lord Sauros, the ruler of the Fittoa region of the Asura Kingdom, which includes the city of Roa.

Rudy immediately sees how much Eris both takes after and imitates her grandfather, from their penchant for punching to the way they cross their arms. As for Eris’ mother, let’s just say she doesn’t seem too fond of young Rudy—particularly the way his gaze lingers on her bosom.

Eris asked Lord Sauros to ask Rudy to teach her magic, but Rudy insists that Eris learn to ask for things on her own, and Sauros agrees. Rudy is shocked when the “proper” manner of asking him is for Eris to hold her hair like drooping beast person ears and say “nyan” after every sentence!

A month of tutoring passes. Eris learns to summon fire, and is all about sparring with Rudy, since she always mops the floor with him. Honestly, the animation is so good I could watch her beat him up all day. Her reading, writing, and math lessons, on the other hand, leave much to be desired. Whenever she’s tired of learning, she runs away; when he catches her, she punches him.

One of these times, she falls asleep in a barn, and Rudy sees fit to try to assault her by copping a feel and then attempting to steal her underwear. After two straight episodes of behaving himself, it’s disappointing to see him reverting to his baser ways. At least he gets immediate comeuppance: a brutal beating from Eris in the barn, and again when they spar and she doesn’t hold back.

One day during lessons, Eris simply snaps, and it dawns on Rudy: he hasn’t given her any time off. So the two of them and Ghislaine head out to Roa to see the sights and shop. While Rudy takes notes about the prices of goods in different parts of the market, a merchant who can tell he’s from the Lord’s manor presents him with across a fancy aphrodisiac that costs the equivalent of a million yen.

Rudy also checks out the magical tomes, and Eris, feeling generous, offers to buy him one. When he learns she’d simply get the money from her gramps, he offers her another lesson: only give gifts with money you earned. She learns how little he makes compared to her Sword King bodyguard, while he says they’ll ask her dad to start giving her an allowance.

As the sun starts to set, an odd shadow dances across the buildings and streets, and for the first time since arriving in Roa, Rudy spots a massive floating fortress in the sky. Eris and Ghislaine tell him it’s the fortress of the Armored Dragon King Perugius, hero of humanity who along with twelve servants defeated the Demon-God Laplace over four centuries ago.

It’s a lot of world lore suddenly dumped on us at once, but it’s nevertheless intriguing, and I hope we one day get to explore that fortress with Rudy. Until then, the tutoring continues back at the manor. Eris casually presents him with the vial of aphrodisiac which she bought with her allowance as a gift to him. The catch is, she doesn’t know what it is, and insists he tell her.

Once he lets slip that it’s an aphrodisiac, Ghislaine is on to him, and has no qualms about restraining him while Eris tries to tickle it out of him. The vial eventually breaks, and it’s a good thing too—I was dreading either Ghislaine or Eris suddenly becoming love-drunk. Still, my distaste for the insistence on keeping Rudy a pervert affected my score.

Check out Crow’s episode 6 review here!

Attack on Titan – 64 – Parting Ways with False Honor

Back when Reiner was with Bertholdt and Annie on Paradis, a man they met prefaced his eventual suicide-by-hanging by telling them a story. The three wondered if the man did so seeking forgiveness—which Annie felt they had no right to give after losing Marcel—or merely wanted to be judged.

Now in the present day, face-to-face with Eren Yeager for the first time in four years, it’s Reiner who wants to be judged, and as someone who witnessed his crimes firsthand in Paradis—not the propaganda Marley peddles—Eren is uniquely suited to do so.

Still, as he urges Reiner to sit down and listen to Tybur’s speech with him, he also insists Falco stay put and listen, both to the speech and to his and Reiner’s concurrent chat. Meanwhile, Porco and Pieck are told to accompany an escort for an undisclosed matter.

Tybur really went all out with the theatrical production, as his speech begins with the story the entirety of the assembled crowd already knows: how the Eldians conquered the world a hundred years ago and then turned on their own people, and how Helos and the Tyburs fought together to free the world of the Eldian hegemony.

Porco and Pieck’s escort is a non-Eldian and doesn’t wish to speak with them en route, but Pieck runs into other non-Eldians who are members of the Panzer division, i.e. soldiers whose lives depend on the Cart Titan over all other groups and thus have a soft spot in their heart for her, even though she’s an Eldian.

Pieck can’t help but think she’s seen the anti-Eldian escort before—perhaps on Paradis?—but she and Porco are led into a house and fall down a trap door into a narrow well in which they cannot transform. Clearly someone wanted them out of the way…but who?

Willy’s speech takes a sudden turn when he reveals that the story of Helps and Tybur saving Marley was nothing but a lie crafted by the Eldian King Fritz, whose plan was to flee to Paradis with as many Titans as possible and stay there, neither attacking nor being attacked by any force. We learn the tripartite walls themselves are composed of countless Colossal Titans and built with the power of the Founding Titan.

Fritz intended to fully enforce the renouncement of war with those walls and never emerge from them. We learned that he inspired the generations that came after to follow suit. But then Eren came into possession of the Founding Titan, and Fritz’s dynasty fell (when Historia rose to power). Thus even though the King had saved Marley by allowing himself to be their most hated enemy, that King’s legacy can no longer be relied on.

The Founding Titan has the ability to convert the walls back into an army of Colossal Titans who would then go on to literally trample the world. If Eren didn’t know this before, he knows it now. As his leg regenerates Falco realizes he was duped into delivering mail to Eren’s allies—who I’m guessing trapped Porco and Pieck in the well.

As they listen to Tybur, Eren asks Reiner why the walls were breached and why his mom was eaten, and Reiner, nearly mad by now with grief, replies that it was because he fucked up. The others were willing to abort the mission when Marcel died, but Reiner wanted them to press on. He doesn’t want to be forgiven for what ended up happening, he wants to be judged and executed by Eren, one of his first victims.

But Eren isn’t here to judge Reiner, any more than he’s here to judge Falco, or Porco and Pieck, or Colt, Gabi, Zofia, or Udo. They were all just kids, after all, told just like he and his friends were told that The Other Side were evil demons, when in reality both sides were mostly just regular people. Those responsible for the atrocities in Marley and elsewhere were long gone, though they were still ruled by their descendants.

So no, Eren won’t blame or judge brainwashed kids past or present for the state of his family, people, or homeland. What he will do is put the blame squarely where it belongs: on Willy Tybur, who seems to successfully unite his diverse audience into joining forces to defeat the demons across the sea once and for all. But his big shining moment is stolen by Eren, who transforms into a Titan and bursts out of the building nearest the stage.

A new war has been declared, and it seems that Tybur specifically chose the Internment Zone as its first battlefield, luring leaders from all over the world there in order to witness the ensuing carnage the Titans can cause, perhaps hoping they’ll return and sway their people into joining his cause. In seeking judgment of Tybur, Eren may have played right into his hands…

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 07 – Matrimonial Proof

As she and the maids observe the happy couple from a bush, Chitose declares without evidence that Tsukasa and Nasa’s honeymoon will end in divorce. Each time she believes the first crack in the armor has appeared, Tsukasa and Nasa quickly make up and continue being lovey-dovey.

TONIKAWA is many things: cute, endearing, heartwarming, pure…but is also very often quite funny, consistently delivering some of the better jokes of a Fall 2020 season that’s light on comedies. For instance, I enjoyed Tsukasa scolding Nasa for settling for a chain restaurant at the food court while ordering something local and bold, only to be thoroughly disappointed in her choice.

Does Nasa gloat to her? Nope! He tastes it (she feeds him) and agrees with her, then snaps a cute photo of her sour face after biting into a lime. Even when she’s cross about this and demands he “regain her favor”, he proceeds to do just that. As the maids observe, the couple’s micro-arguments only serve to make them a closer, cuter couple.

With the passive approach not working, Chitose reveals her presence to Tsukasa and reprimands her for being “in such a place” and falling for “such a guy”. Tsukasa retreats back to the bus with Nasa, but not because of Chitose; she wants to avoid appearing in the same morning show that burned her with the lime udon.

In a nice bit of irony, the maids enjoy the honest grub of the food court as much as Tsukasa and Nasa, and are in no hurry to pick up the chase (their luxury car can easily catch up to the bus). In the payoff of the morning show joke, someone declares the lime udon to be great…even though it wasn’t anything special!

Still, the words Nasa heard Chitose yell: “Why did you marry that guy?” still ring in Nasa’s ears. Tsukasa chalks it up to a marriage rarely involving only the two people getting married, but with the insinuation that you can’t please everyone; particularly Chitose.

The next morning Nasa wakes up on Tsukasa’s shoulder to find they’ve arrived in Kyoto. Calculating that they have a half-day of sightseeing in Kyoto before taking the train to Nara, Nasa asks Tsukasa where she’d like to go first, and she suggests a bakery or café. In a fun reversal, Nasa is as passionately opposed as she was to him ordering chain beef bowl at the rest area.

He beseeches her to avail herself of Kyoto’s unique attractions, which leads to her suggestion of visiting the Manga Museum, so he resorts to rapping to tell her Kyoto’s all about the history and culture. She relents, and decides to look the part by dressing traditionally. Unsurprisingly considering her still-unknown true age and origin, she knows exactly how to put on the kimono without assistance.

Just when she and Nasa are ready for sightseeing, Chitose arrives, flanked by her maids, resembling a trio of old-timey anime villains (which anime I am not sure). If Chitose’s goal is to judge Nasa’s worthiness to be married to Tsukasa, Nasa suggests they have a talk so he can provide what she needs. Charlotte and Aurora agree to take Tsukasa to the cafe and Manga Museum.

While going into the episode I was dreading the constant interruption of the happy couple’s honeymoon by an interfering brat, I’m actually really glad Chitose showed up in Kyoto! For one thing, it shows that Tsukasa and Nasa can and really should split off at times and do their own thing; independence is key to a lasting marriage.

More importantly, Nasa is able to demonstrate to Chitose that Tsukasa didn’t choose him on a whim; he truly is a prepared, thoughtful, and positive fellow, i.e. precisely Tsukasa’s type. The fruits of his extensive research of Kyoto leads to an enjoyable fake date for Chitose…even if she doesn’t openly admit it to him.

Charlotte and Aurora aren’t particularly tactful in asking Tsukasa about why she married Nasa, but they’d prefer to stop hounding her, so anything that will get Chitose off her back would help. Tsukasa starts by blushing up a storm and simply saying Nasa is “just…really cute”, and as she describes Nasa the maids realize that yup, he’s exactly her type.

But that’s not enough for Chitose, who knows a whole lot more about Tsukasa than he does, and ultimately feels it comes down to her having been in Tsukasa’s life first, and it’s not fair that an interloper should “claim” her. Yet even when Nasa learns for the first time that Tsukasa is athletic, he isn’t disheartened; he’s delighted!

When Nasa tells Chitose that Tsukasa saved his life, Chitose replies that Tsukasa saved hers as well—whether she means literally and how remain to be seen. Then Nasa tells her he felt—and feels—lucky, not because she saved his life, but because he met her. Then he launches into a monologue about math—but not to prove his love of Tsukasa to Chitose!

The Drake Equation, used to determing the likelihood of extraterrestrial planets, was modified to express the likelihood of finding the person you’re “fated to be with”. In both cases, the likelihood is 0.0000034%. But the moment he met her, he knew he’d beaten the odds. He’d found someone he felt he’d been searching for since before he was born.

He then mentions concepts like prime numbers and gravitational waves, which were intuited by scientists long before they were scientifically proven. In that same vein, he didn’t marry Tsukasa because he’d already proven his love for her, but because he intends to spend his entire life proving it, day by day. Chitose may yet still be swayed by the bitterness of “losing” Tsukasa to Nasa, but after that presentation she doesn’t have much of a logical argument to oppose the marriage.

Nasa’s worthiness to be with Tsukasa and vice versa is not in question, except for those like Chitose who are driven by personal interest and emotion. And Nasa assures Tsukasa that if his parents aren’t sure about their marriage, then he’ll simply convince them. It’s all part and parcel of his lifelong effort to prove his love is real. Anyone doubting his commitment or discounting his track record do so at their peril!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 07 – Walls Were Meant to Fall

Elaina fondly remembers a story from the Travels of Niké about a country separated into two halves by a wall. She shows the chiefs on both sides how to market themselves as the superior side: by having tourists and visitors etch their praise into the wall with blades.

Seeing Niké in this flashback resembles Elaina, I’m inclined to consider it further evidence her mom and Niké were one and the same, especially as her mom encourages Elaina to visit the country to find out who won the contest.

The thing is, over a decade later it’s Saya who makes it to this split country before Elaina. By then the outer coating of the wall has been weathered away by tourist praise, but the chiefs want to shake things up. Saya ends up etching her undying love for Elaina into the wall, and suggests that the townsfolk on both sides should do the same…it’s their wall, after all!

A little later, Elaina finally arrives, eager to see the wall and the results of the ongoing contest of the two sides…only to find a giant heap of rubble where the wall was. Turns out all that etching and erasing of messages by the townsfolk on both sides eventually causes the two sides to break through and meet each other.

By then no one remembered the source of enmity, and so decided to finish demolishing the wall.. This is great, right? Witches of two different generations (Niké and Saya) ended up being the catalyst for reunifying the country. The wall may be in ruins, but everyone looks happy. The sole exception is Elaina, who is disappointed she never got to see the wall, and also that the final score was an exact tie.

In a way, you could say Saya ruined Elaina’s childhood dreams. And in a final mark that the two are fated to reunite someday, the piece of rubble Elaina claims as a souvenir just happens to be a piece Saya etched “ELAINA” into!

A community separated by enmity is the basis of the second story, though instead of tracing history back to Niké, Elaina’s story is being told by a village chief who met her to his young son, while his wife stomps grapes in the background. Back when Elaina visited, the village was split into two: This and That. A bit on the nose, but fine!

Now of legal age, Elaina visited to sample the area’s famously delicious wine, but learns that That has begun dominating sales with a new label featuring Rosemary, a beautiful, buxom Grape-Stomping Maiden, and declaring the wine in the bottle to be made from grapes “lovingly stomped” by her.

Simply put, the villagers (or rather the male villagers) of This wish to recruit Elaina as a rival Grape-Stomping Maiden. Why don’t they just pick one of their own maidens? That’s never explained, though the women of the village are always in the background stewing ruefully (I imagine if they all agreed to withhold sex from their men, this childish nonsense would stop pretty quick!)

Elaina is given a charming red outfit to counter the green of Rosemary’s, but when she stops by the This side with a retinue of loyal That men carrying her on a litter, she most heartily laughs at Elaina’s “childish”, “thin” figure, deeming her unsuitable to lovingly stomp on grapes. That’s when Elaina’s confidence and competitive spirit kick into gear.

Technically, Rosemary is right: Elaina doesn’t lovingly stomp on the grapes…she hatefully stomps on them while screaming “DIE!”, as if she were stomping on Rosemary’s head. After a whole day of stomping, Elaina’s legs and feet are a wreck, but she only stomped enough grapes for maybe half a cask.

That’s when she becomes Witch Detective Elaina, thinking it fishy that That’s wine sells in so much higher numbers. Even if Rosemary stomped all day, every day (and she clearly doesn’t, since she had time to stop by This and trash talk them) she wouldn’t be able to stomp enough grapes. Elaina and the This Chief discover she’s sitting back and relaxing while all the men stomp the grapes at factory scale.

With Rosemary’s verbal barbs still stinging in Elaina’s side, she has a little revenge by tying up Rosemary and exposing the scam. But as she samples That’s wine for the first time, she admits it is indeed delicious. Then has another glass…then another, and before long, she’s drunk.

By this point the villagers of This and That have begun a grape-tossing fight, and when she’s hit in the grapey crossfire, she responds by launching a magical counterattack. Surely there are regulations against witching-while-intoxicated, but thankfully Elaina’s “grape bullets” only knock everyone out; no one is killed!

The morning after the grape fight, Elaina is gone, but the villagers of This and That eventually reconcile. The chief of This and Rosemary fall in love and marry. In the present-day where he’s telling the story to a kid, Rosemary is still stomping grapes, as beautiful as ever, and the grape-tossing festival is a tradition.

While Saya ended up essentially tearing down walls with her intense and heavy love, Elaina does so by getting lit and escalating an epic food fight. The grape maiden fetishism aspect is pretty gross all round, but both tales are lightweight, fun, and the visuals, as always, were beautifully executed, earning the episode an extra half-star.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s Episode 7 review is here!

Akudama Drive – 03 – Ocean’s Seven

As the Black Cat continues to describe the plan to infiltrate Kansai Station, the Ordinary Person tries not to stand out too much, lest her Swindler persona be exposed as a fraud. She later admits alone (with the gorgeous skyline as a backdrop) she’s strayed quite far into the world of criminals, but as Courier tells her, he does what he does because it’s “where he belongs.”

Ordinary Girl probably hadn’t led a particularly interesting life up until now, and even though these are all insane criminals, they’ve collectively been nice enough to make her feel like she belongs too. It’s nothing groundbreaking, characterization-wise, but Kurosawa Tomoyo really brings a lot of brightness and personality to “Ordina.”

This week we watch the gang infiltrate the station, which earns the episode the title “Mission: Impossible” for good reason: this motley crew of crazy people will have to work together, and well, in order to have a chance at success. Not only that, Ordina plays a key role at several points in the episode. She’s no passive observer.

Once the split group reaches the two elevators, they rely on precise countdowns to time the pressing of two switches on two levels at the exact same time. The switches are protected by glass-like forcefields, which are defeated in different ways.

Brawler simply destroys the unshielded supports for the fields, while Cutthroat pierces through them one by one. Ordina has to borrow Hacker’s drone to deliver a decisive fastball into the line of suspended blades so the one at the front hits the switch just as Hoodlum’s temple hits the other.

Once they reach the Shinkansen platform, they activate an EMP provided by Black Cat, knocking out power for the entire city, but also Hacker’s connection. With Hacker unable to increase the allowed weight of the cargo to permit it to pass through the train’s plasma field, the only person lighter than him—Ordina—has to take his place in the cargo crate.

She makes it inside without incident and drops the field just in time to allow Courier to speed in on his bike; then everyone else boards right before the train’s emergency start kicks in. Again, the train actually moving wasn’t part of the plan, but it will have to be now. There’s no going back from this point.

While this episode only covers the first half of the Shinkansen heist, I’m glad it slowed things down so we could not only watch the details of the infiltration go down, but also have more fun interactions between the characters. Both the Kansai station and the music the heist is set to elevate the sense of occasion and importance to the mission, which is about to kick into a higher gear with next week’s “Speed”.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 02 – 1.5 Meters for a Billion

With all the players introduced, the robotic Black Cat reveals she’s the mastermind who had them all collared as an insurance policy. The mission to rescue Cutthroat was a test they all passed. Unfortunately for the lower-level Akudama Hoodlum and non-Akudama Ordinary Girl, the fact they’re still alive and played a role means they could prove useful, so they’re not allowed to walk away.

The cat suggests a change of venue to discuss their next job, which will pay a cool billion (100 million is already in everyone’s accounts, indicating the cat isn’t altogether untrustworthy. Brawler secures them some transport by hijacking a bus (all of which fly here) and Hacker handles the piloting. Their trip across town is just the latest in a nearly constant feast for the eyes. There’s too much detail to catch it all in one viewing.

The airbus trip also allows our colorful characters to interact a bit. Hoodlum and Brawler become fast friends, Courier and Doctor don’t, and Cutthroat is enamored of Ordinary Girl’s pink eyes, hair highlights, and clothes. Though pink isn’t as good as (blood) red, and his fixation on that color leads him to hit all the red buttons on the bus, resulting in the activation of its emergency afterburners.

After a quick history lesson with stick puppets about Kanto and Kansai (the former bombed and then totally rebuilt the latter), the gang emerges from the airbus, which has crashed into the upper level of a seven-star hotel. After disposing of all the human and robotic guards, they all gather in a suite so the cat can brief them on their next mission.

They are to infiltrate the Shinkansen, the only way to travel to Kanto from Kansai, and revered by most of the latter’s inhabitants as a “sacred entity”. There’s a 1.5-meter vault containing cargo the cat wants, but won’t disclose exactly what that cargo is. A successful attack of the Shinkansen has never been accomplished, but everyone gets $9 million if they can pull it off.

Their briefing is interrupted by the arrival of a pair of Executioners: a male Master and female Pupil who have a License to Kill Akudama. The Pupil takes the lead and goes after Brawler, and the suite’s trippy mood lighting is accidentally activated, making their brawl even more cool and stylish. Pupil proves at least an equal fighter to Brawler, and cuts Doctor’s throat, while Hacker and the cat escape.

Before Pupil or Master can determine why an Ordinary Person with no criminal record and a four-year Hoodlum are hanging out with a bunch of elite Akudama, Courier remotely calls in his bike, which flies up to the suite, crashes through the window, and fires its railgun at the Executioners. In the ensuing explosion, the Girl and Akudama get away, and Master and Pupil vow to get them next time.

We end up in an abandoned warehouse—what was to be the original site of the briefing before Cutthroat caused a detour to the hotel. Everyone is fine, even Doctor, who stitched up her own throat. All that’s left is to await the Shinkansen’s next stop in Kansai. They’ll only have twenty minutes until it starts back up for Kanto, so they should at least go in with a plan…even if the more chaotic members of the gang inevitably mess that plan up.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Appare-Ranman! – 02 – Even if the World Won’t Allow It

Note: Due to covid-19 the broadcasts of Appare-Ranman after the third episode have been delayed indefinitely. We’ll be reviewing future episodes if and when they become available.

It dawns on Kosame that returning to Japan (something he’d very much like to do) is no easy matter, and could take as much as “ten years of toil” to manage. Fortunately, his fighting skills are readily street-applicable skill than Appare—his fighting skills—and Appare puts him to work showing them off.

Then Appare picks up a flyer for the Trans-America Wild Race and stumbles upon the speedway where state-of-the-art driving machines are pitted against one another. While drivers like Dylan enjoy celebrity status, “the cars are the stars” here. It dawns on Appare he’s exactly where he needs to be: in a position to do something people say can’t be done. He’s going to enter the race and he’s going to win it.

A win will net him a cool 1.51 million dollars—them, if Kosame sticks by his side in this crazy venture. As they sit in an anachronisitc Art Deco diner(!) the samurai can’t deny that his share of the purse could solve many of his problems—his fiancee won’t wait ten years!—but he’s still skeptical, and rightfully so. Appare may have a dream, but they both just got there, and barely earn enough at the moment for food. They’re staying in a storeroom for free, and have no budget for a race car, let alone one that can beat the big manufacturers.

But absent a viable alternative (and fearful of FOMO), Kosame follows Appare, who breaks into the racetrack that night to check out the machinery. There they encounter Jing Xialian is already racing there, and almost accidentally runs a fearless Appare over. She damages the car—whih isn’t strictly hers—and when Kosame approaches her she exhibits her own martial arts prowess. In an effort to de-escalate, Kosame lets himself get hit by her kick.

As he recovers in the garage, Appare and Kosame learn more of Xialian’s story: she’s always loved cars and racing and joined the team as a chore girl. She’s good enough to race herself, but due to the sexism of the time she’s told she can’t be, and has come to believe it. Someone like Appare is clearly a good influence, as he doesn’t let the world tell him his limits, and doesn’t see why she should either. If you can do it, do it; don’t worry about the world’s rules. It’s hard to argue with him considering how far that attitude has gotten him so far.

Xialian’s story is not a particularly original one, but she’s another fun, colorful character I’m compelled to root for, even if she becomes Appare’s competitor in the race. Then there’s the celebrity driver Dylan, who saves Appare and Kosame when the latter is trying to help a young Native American kid from a group of racists. Notably, Kosame cannot physically draw his katana due to PTSD from a bloody incident in his past, so he needs the save. Dylan may well only be intervening because his peace is being disturbed.

There’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in Appare-Ranman from the total lack of language barriers, to the anything-goes dress code and futuristic technology/architecture. But once you let all that go, it’s a tremendously entertaining ride that’s just getting started. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to see much more of it due to delays. I just know I’ll definitely be tuned in when it returns.

 

Appare-Ranman! – 01 (First Impressions) – Across the Sea, Beyond the Sky

P.A. Works’ latest anime original focuses on the brilliant but eccentric engineer and inventor Sorano Appare, and Isshiki Kosame, his reluctant, timid samurai companion. We begin in Los Angeles as the two, along with a cute little assistant, are about to embark on an epic “Trans-America Wild Race” with an eclectic bunch of equally eccentric drivers from all over the world. It’s packed with anachronisms, but the spirit of adventure and getting movin’ is strong with this opening scene.

From there, AR! rewinds to a year ago in Japan, when Appare was in prison for crashing a steam-powered vehicle into the prized garden of the local lord. The lord appoints Kosame Appare’s “overseer”, assuming Appare survives a stay in the jail cell where major criminals are kept.

But it’s clear no simple cell lock can hold Appare, any more than his stodgy family business or his status as second son can keep him from setting out to find out how far his dreams and considerable technical skill can take him.

Kosame doesn’t realize how much bigger this is until it’s too late, as Appare escapes in his custom-made mini-steamship docked in a secret berth. Appare’s sister, who it seems is closest and most understanding of him among his family members, manages to bid him farewell with a good luck charm.

As for Kosame, the lord’s threat that he’ll share Appare’s fate should things go south, sticks by Appare, even though their little shakedown cruise takes them out to the open sea, with neither food nor water. It’s apparent Appare will need someone whose head isn’t always either in a mess of gears or up in the clouds if he’s going to survive his self-imposed journey.

When the ship runs out of fuel and the sea becalmed, Appare has time to finally explain to Kosame what he’s trying to do. It’s clearly around the turn of the century, when the steam engine have revolutionized industry and transport and Japan has been opened to the technologically-superior West.

Ever since first seeing steamships when he was four, Appare has never stopped absorbing the math and technical know-how needed to built devices of his own. He’s been tinkering for fifteen years, his own dreams fueled by the stories of Jules Verne which, as we know, would eventually become reality. Appare isn’t going to be left out. If anyone’s reaching the other side of the moon, he’s determined to be the first!

But first things first: surviving their current predicament. The ship is in need of repairs and fuel, but they’re getting nowhere fast, until Appare’s sister’s good luck charm pays dividends in the form of a passing American steamship. Even luckier, it’s captained and crewed by what seem to be kind, decent folk who are happy to tow Appare’s ship and even rap with him on some engineering problems.

I guess it’s time to talk about one of the most glaring problems with AR!, which is Appare’s look. I understand they wanted to give him a distinctive, eccentric look to match his personality and contrast sharply with the drab aesthetic of Koname everyone else, but IMO they went a bit too far; a 7 or 8 would have done fine, but they took things up to 11 or 12. Fortunately, he sounds far less crazy-goofy than he looks.

Also, that’s not a major problem here, and as more of those eccentric (and suitably weird-lookin’ for the timeline) racers appear, it will be less of a problem. Suffice it to say, Appare is Modernity Incarnate, while Kosame represents the old fashioned past being dragged along kicking and screaming. When they finally arrive at the port of Los Angeles bursting with technology and activity, it’s clear which of the two are now firmly in their element.

Appare-Ranman! starts strong and has a lot of potential for greatness, what with the odd couple, transcontinental road trip, and race-with-huge-reward stakes dynamics. Appare’s zany look is tempered by seiyu Hanae Natsuki, while Yamashita Seiichirou livens up a samurai who is clearly not your usual stoic warrior (though I wouldn’t quite call him a “coward” as the promotional synopsis did).

Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) classes up the joint with the score, and the animation quality you’d expect of P.A.’s better Works is present. Considering how sedentary most of us will be for the remainder of this year, I’m excited to live vicariously through the show’s enterprising, trailblazing characters as they embark on the adventure of their lives.

LISTENERS – 01 (First Impressions) – The Day After the Music Died

In a world where “Players” pilot “Equipment” and fight “Earless” with music, Echo Rec lives in the sleepy town of Liverchester, which shuns all of that—or at least the grouchy Mayor does. That’s probably due to the massive crater of destruction left by Players ten years ago.

Echo is content to sift through the mountains of junk, looking for treasures he uses to build his own Equipment as a hobby. One day, he finds a sleeping young woman partially buried in the junk with an input jack in her lower back—the mark of a Player.

Echo takes her home—a bar called Oasis run by his big sister Swell—and after being yelled at by the mayor, he takes her upstairs. When he tells her he’s fascinated by her she momentarily thinks he’s coming on to her, but he’s actually geeking out about her status as a Player, even if she doesn’t remember that, or even her name.

When he tells her his dream of building an Equipment that a Player can use to fight the Earless, she wonders why he doesn’t just stand up and live that dream. But Echo doesn’t think that’s possible; for his young age, he’s an old soul and a pragmatic one who, dreams aside, has set limits for himself.

The girl is put off by his lack of ambition, and heads to the train station (where she spends all night outside?) while Echo falls asleep finishing his Equipment (which has the resting form of a VOX amp, prized by professional rockers). The next morning, the Earless attack—giant versions of the black shadow monsters of ICO—Echo races to the station.

The girl has already saved the Mayor’s life, then dives in to a pit of junk Echo trips and falls down. Rather than dying, she hooks the amp into her jack and it transforms into a somewhat retro mech. With the girl and Echo riding on its shoulders controlling it, the mech defeats all of the Earless.

Echo’s dream thus realized in record time, he gives the girl a name—Myuu—and the two jump on a train bound for more interesting places than quiet Liverchester, without any luggage or supplies. The giant “Monument of Admonition” topples, the Mayor somewhat awkwardly reiterates the themes of the show to no one in particular, and one of three sinister Player sisters declares that she’s “found” Myuu, setting up a Player clash next week.

LISTENERS has an interesting setting but a somewhat confusing premise: there’s no concept of music in this world? Like, at all? I’m not sure that was that clearly explained, or even accurately depicted. This wasn’t A Quiet Place territory where any sound would attract monsters. There was music playing on the TV-jukebox thingy at Oasis!

Stylistically speaking I kinda liked the clashing of Eureka Seven futurism with industrial north-of-England dinginess, but in both look and sound I’ll admit I found Echo a bit annoying while his and Myuu’s wardrobes were overly baggy. Dialogue is oftentimes overly hoaky, wholesome, or repetitive. The CGI…looked like CGI, competently rendered but lacking weight and inventiveness and pulling me out of the fantasy rather than in.

I’m also not what you’d call a music buff; it’s always been something in the background to either help me dance or work. I also gave up on Carole & Tuesday when I just couldn’t do it with the sappy English lyrics anymore. But unless I’m missing something, this first episode’s connection to music, and rock-in-roll in particular seemed…tenuous? It’s a good-looking (if a bit gray) and fun enough opening. I just wasn’t convinced I need Listeners in my life.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 01 (First Impressions) – Back to Fantasy Basics Done Right

Golem, Guardian of the Forest, never once doubted his purpose in life: to observe and protect the natural processes of the forest with a minimal of interference. Enter Somali, a human girl in chains he encounters. Suddenly, the parameters of his purpose have changed dramatically, and lacking emotions, he isn’t quite sure why.

What if, a fantasy anime didn’t start with a guy being transported from Japan to a new world? Or if, humans weren’t in charge, and monsters and demi-humans weren’t an oppressed minority? Somali and the Forest Spirit provides a welcome return to classic meat-and-potatoes fantasy slice-of-life, in the best traditions of Studio Ghibli—not to mention Disney.

The premise couldn’t be more elegant: Stoic Golem meets Exuberant Kid. While he teaches her how to live, she teaches him how to feel. But the fact said kid is a human is a big deal in this world. There was a legendary war between humanity and monsters, and the monsters won. Humans became a source of food, then curiosity before all but dying out.

Somali, therefore, is endangered in more ways than one. The sense of dread and imminent danger of revealing her lack of horns (sewed into her hood), as well as when Somali strays from Golem to follow a not-quite cat, brings a nice sharp-but-not-too-sharp edge to the proceedings. So does the fact the Golem’s arm is damanged; he may not be able to protect her from everything.

Still, while there are certainly dangers in store (though they may or may not reach the level of Made in Abyss craziness), the heart of Somali is the never unhumorous repartee between the two leads. Somali talks, well, like a kid should talk (Minase Inori is right in her wheelhouse), while Golem is much more verbose and robotic, as one would expect from a Golem.

With rich and lovely visuals, an appropriately otherworldly yet conventionally-orchestrated soundtrack, a strong central duo with fun dialogue, and just the right amount of inherent danger, Somali and the Forest Spirit checks all the boxes for a MagicalChurlSukui-Approved anime. Onward!

Chihayafuru 3 – 09 – Luck of the Draw

As Chihaya desperately watches her phone for updates from the Master qualifiers, her friend Michiru hits her limit, snatches Chi’s phone, and removes the battery. Good for you, Michiru! The only reason Michiru is even at the Hundred Poets Museum is because she hoped Chihaya would teach her a few things.

Chihaya, having come back to earth, apologizes profusely, but as we know, her own knowledge of the poets is pretty limited. It falls to the incomparable Kanade Oe to school them both, demonstrating that she could be a decent history teacher today if she wanted to—and kick Chihaya’s ass at it!

Back at the East qualifiers, Taichi also hits his limit, losing to the goof-prone but still focused Koshikawa Shusaku of KU. In a tense back-and-forth game that comes down to a luck-of-the-draw he loses, Taichi curses himself for not taking the “Impassionate” card, which will never not remind him of Chihaya. It’s almost as if Koshikawa eliminated him from qualifying and stole his girl!

Sumire watches the whole thing through the window, but when she starts to rush to Taichi’s side, she’s stopped by Tsukaba, who tells her that the last thing Taichi wants is company, because it’s the last thing he’d want after such a tough, close loss.

Dr. Harada, old crab meat knees and all, manages to avenge Taichi by defeating Koshikawa in the semifinal, which also ends in a luck-of-the-draw which Harada wins largely because he’s been playing for forty-five years, longer than Taichi or Koshikawa. He has a pretty good idea which cards aren’t going to be read at the end—the so-called “Eternal Maids”—a confidence borne out when he claims victory.

He’ll face Sudo in the East Master qualifiers final, while Yamamoto and Inokuma will face each other in the Queen qualifiers final. Back in the West, Arata ends up in the final with his own society-mate, Murao Shinichi, and is disappointed—and a little relieved!—to learn Taichi won’t represent the East.

Finally, Suo wants to win a fifth-straight crown so he can retire, while Shinobu is vexed by her gramps worrying about her having no friends, which is none of his business. Is it just me, or to both of these monarchs seem a teensy bit…vulnerable?

Astra Lost in Space – 10 – Snowball’s Charce in Hell

Polina knows something’s up when the blue planet on the screen isn’t Earth, and that none of the kids know what “Earth” even is, because their home planet is Astra. Kanata jokes that Polina might be an alien, but he and the crew decide it best to compare histories.

That’s when they learn where their two histories diverged: in Polina’s, 1962 was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis; in the crew’s, that crisis precipitated World War III, which resulted in half of humanity perishing. When it was over, countries and weapons were abolished, and a united planet rebuilt.

That brings us back to Polina’s history: there never was a World War III, but a little while before embarking on the journey that would strand her on Icriss, astronomers detected a 300-kilometer asteroid on a collision course with earth. That necessitated humanity packing up and migrating to a new world.

When Polina was on her mission aboard the Ark VI, they were still looking for planets, but six years before the present—and five years after she went into hibernation—the asteroid must have struck. By then, humanity had managed to successfully migrate…to Astra. The next generation, of which the Astra’s crew is composed, were told a vague alternate history and raised not to dwell on the past.

How, you ask, did they manage to move so many people? Why, with miniature artificial wormholes (duh), the very phenomenon that sucked up the crew in McPa and dropped them in orbit of an icy planet…a planet that turned out to be Earth itself, having gone into an ice age after the asteroid impact.

Now that they know the basic how of their predicament, Aries suggests the crew not dwell on the why, lest it bring down morale at a crucial time. Life returns to normal for the duration of the trip to the final planet, Galem. When they land on the planet to resupply one last time, Polina is duly impressed by the efficiency and know-how the crew demonstrates—this is not their first planet rodeo, after all.

Kanata and Aries reflect on everything that’s happened and how they’ve become stronger people during this whole adventure, no matter what the goal of the enemy was. Kanata also asks if he can walk Aries home to reunite with her mom; Aries accepts the offer. Maybe there’s hope for this couple after all, eh?

But while off on his own on Galem’s surface, a wormhole appears and starts chasing Kanata, who ends up finding refuge in a cave where Aries is gathering supplies. Later, Kanata confides in us, the audience, by stating he knows who the enemy is now, that the enemy doesn’t know he knows, and that he intends to make the first move before they can kill them all.

Kanata meets secretly with Charce and Zack and informs them that Ulgar is the enemy, and outlines the plan to entrap and capture him, with Charce serving as the bait. But when the plan of action is executed, Charce is alone with Ulgar, Ulgar pulls his gun but it misfires, and the wormhole is activated, it’s not Ulgar who Kanata takes down…it’s Charce.

Charce is the one who controls the wormholes. Charce is the one whose mission was, and is, to kill all the others….along with himself. It’s a thrilling, brilliant set piece of misdirection, and some impressive cunning on Kanata’s part.

The entire crew except Charce was in on the plan, and they are there when Charce is captured. A tearful Aries wants him to tell them that they’re, that she’s mistaken; earlier in the ep Kanata meets with Aries in her quarters, but he wasn’t there to confess. He wanted to know, in detail only Aries’ photographic memory could provide, who was sucked into the wormhole last. It was Charce, ensuring everyone else went in before him.

While his mission was to transport himself and everyone else from McPa to space to die, he didn’t count on everyone getting their helmets on in time to survive the transition, nor the pure dumb luck of the Astra, formerly the Ark XII, being in orbit so close to where they materialized.

As for who he really is, well, Charce is a clone too, but has always known he’s a clone…and not a clone of just anyone, but of Noah Vix, king of the Vixia Royal Quarter. Of course there could only be one king. One wonders if his friend Seira was a factor in his agreeing to complete this mission, and also make me wonder if, considering their resemblance, arieS is Seira’s clone.

Not only that, but what will happen now that his mission has failed, and the clones are returning to Astra? Not that things were ever not interesting on this show, but things are really starting to more interesting. And to think I initially thought this was a show that would kill its characters off one-by-one on a weekly basis…