Elfen Lied – 04 – Remembering a Strange Dream

Poor Nana never had a chance.

Not just when it came to going toe-to-toe with Lucy, but throughout her tortured existence. All but brainwashed by Kurama to do his bidding as some kind of superhuman replacement daughter, Nana sought his approval any way she could, whether it was taking on the task of bringing Lucy in, to going beyond her mandate and trying to punish Lucy for the trouble she caused.

All the while, Nana and Lucy would be on the same side, as both are victims of the utterly inhuman research Kurama and his criminal ilk have been undertaking. Instead, Nana is Kurama’s puppet, giving Lucy no choice but to turn against her own kind to preserve her freedom.

Nana’s vectors may be longer, but Lucy’s pack a bigger punch, and she’s more experienced in their use. But none of her shortcomings matter to Nana: she has a job to do and she’s going to do it…or die.

Things reach a boiling point between Kouta and Yuka, with the latter sick and tired of him talking about nobody but Nyu, Nyu, Nyu. She slugs him and runs off, but later regrets it, considering Kouta is suffering and Nyu is little more than a young child in need of care and guidance, and definitely not a romantic rival.

Then there’s Mayu, whom Yuka sees getting her daily bag of free bread crusts on which to live. Mayu ends up witnessing the battle between Lucy and Nana and tries to get them to stop fighting. Nana, not willing to cause collateral casualties, withdraws her vectors from Lucy, giving Lucy an opening to relieve Nana of her arms and legs in what is, and is supposed to be, a sickening spectacle.

Kurama and his men arrive, surrounding Lucy, but she manages to slip away, leaving Kurama with a critically wounded but still conscious Nana. He can’t very well scold her for disobeying orders, since he knows all she ever wanted to do was please him and make him proud, like any daughter would.

While transporting her back to the lab, Kurama receives a summons from his boss, Secretary Shirakawa. Yuka manages to run into Lucy, who has transformed back into Nyu, and Yuka realizes she erred in being jealous of her.

Mayu, whom Lucy tossed into a tree for safety during the battle, ends up in the hospital, and calls Kouta to pick her up, since she clearly has no one else. The two arrive at Kouta’s house to find both Yuka and Nyu home, and the four have dinner together. Yuka and Kouta agree that the homeless Mayu should spend the night, considering they have plenty of rooms to spare.

Shirakawa orders Kurama to kill Nana, as she’s no longer useful to their plans. It’s a gut-wrenching scene, and I wept bitter tears for poor Nana, a gentle soul who was never given a chance. It’s apparent Kurama also grieves for Nana, but the fact is he played an active role in her lifelong bondage and suffering, as well as that of Lucy who knows how many others. I for one hope he pays for that at some point.

Perhaps Nana’s early exit was a mercy; who knows what further carnage and torment await Lucy and other Dicloniï, representing both the future of humanity and the manifestation of their collective sins.

Elfen Lied – 03 – Unlucky Number Seven

When Yuka walks in on Kouta undressing Nyu, a lot of things must run through her head. While it makes sense to get soaked clothes off someone before they catch cold, Nyu is also a beautiful woman, and one with serious mental differences. Yuka’s initial thoughts probably dwell on how bad it looks. But on a more basic level, Yuka doesn’t want Kouta doing anything with another woman, whether it’s harmless or not. As far as she’s concerned, Kouta belongs to her.

A lot of questions ran through my head during Chief Kurama’s encounter with Nana in her detention cell. Like “why is she naked?” or “why is she drenched in blood?”, or “how long has she been like this?”. The exact nature of her situation is kept pretty vague, but suffice it to say Nana has lived her whole life in the facility, enduring what amounts to unspeakable torture with a smile.

As such, Nana knows no other life, and no other comfort but Kurama as her “father”. So she’ll do anything for him…except kill. Instead, she’ll try to detain Lucy for him if she can. All she asks for in return is his necktie, which she uses to conceal her horns.

Yuka tries to stay away from the house where watching Kouta with Nyu causes her so much discomfort owing to her Deep Feelings for him (incidentally, the episode’s title). But when she drops off some of her clothes for Nyu, she finds Kouta has caught cold from his beach excursion, and Nyu is absolutely helpless to care for him.

Back at the lab, Kurama speaks to Bondo about undergoing castration…which is probably not what he should have started off with. He then describes who and what it was that Bondo lost so badly to, and the reason castrating him might save humanity: Lucy can “reproduce” through her vectors, causing the mutation in whomever she touches with him. In that way, she and her kind could one day overrun humanity as we know it.

Yuka decides that if Kouta won’t take Lucy to the authorities, then she’ll just move in to keep an eye on both of them. She puts Kouta to work cleaning up the house, and Nyu is eager to pitch in. That’s when Mayu, the runaway girl with the dog, shows up with Kouta’s umbrella. He has many questions about that night on the beach with Nyu and the soldier.

Nyu ends up slipping and falling, and whether due to the impact of the fall or the music box that plays the show’s theme song (or both…or neither), she reverts back to Lucy. She comes this close to killing Kouta with her Vectors before a flash of a younger Kouta stops them dead. Lucy runs outside, and for a moment the show makes us wonder if she killed Mayu’s cute puppy. It turns out she just set it free, but it soon runs back to Mayu.

As Yuka tries to talk to Kouta about whether he has any feelings at all for her (he seems to have lost a lot of the memories of the two of them that she cherishes), Lucy wanders off, eventually encountering Nana, whom she sensed was coming. Kurama’s underlings don’t think Nana is any match for Lucy, but Lucy’s problem is she never knows when she’s going to devolve back into Nyu…and Nyu isn’t a match for anyone.

Elfen Lied – 02 – One Or the Other

Things would have been so much easier—and far less bloodily—if Kouta hadn’t gotten angry and scared Nyu off. Instead, Bando and his tactical team arrive, and Bando is not particularly interested in anything other than killing the target. After the cops visit his house, Kouta somehow manages to get to Nyu first and tries to run away with her, but Bando gun-whips him and captures the target.

Yuka also briefly talks to the cops before tracking down Kouta, who is still dazed on the beach. Bando drags Nyu to another location, but when she won’t fight back he grows bored and orders his subordinate to kill her instead, since those are their orders. Instead, Nyu turns back into Lucy and does her thing, relieving the grunt of his chest, arm, head—you name it, she slices it off.

Suddenly intrigued, Bando tries to fight Lucy, but it’s really no contest; not when she’s tossing boats around and none of his bullets hit her. The fun ends when she closes the distance between them to the range of her telekinesis, and it’s seemingly game over, as she slices off his arm and gouges out his eyes. But Bando is spared when she suddenly turns back into Nyu.

Nyu runs off, and a young woman with a puppy finds the maimed Bando and runs for help. But when she returns, he’s gone. After a very brief stay in the hospital, Kouta takes a taxi and bids Yuka goodnight, only to find a soaked Nyu at his front door with a new shell to replace the one she broke.

Yuka returns just as Kouta is getting Nyu out of her wet clothes to keep her from catching cold, while the head researcher and his #2 prepare to deploy another human experiment like Lucy to go after her—a naked and bloody subject called “#7.”

Once again Elfen Lied delivers extensive blood and boobs, but if you’ve watched, say, True Blood (which didn’t premiere until four years after this show) you’re likely as desensitized as I am. What struck me more was just how much of a boorish asshole Bando was (and will likely continue to be, as he’s not dead yet), as well as the apparent heartlessness of the lab coats. Kouta may have messed up last week, but maybe now he understands how much Nyu needs him in her current state.

Elfen Lied – 01 – A Study in Extremis

The haunting opening credits feature Latin vocals and Klimt-inspired art, a blending of the sacred and the profane. A research subject breaks free of her industrial-strength restraints and goes on a harrowing homicidal rampage, lifting neither arm nor finger but utilizing a kind of telekinesis to relieve both guard and functionary of their heads and/or various limbs.

Every effort to stop or slow her steady march ends the same way: an abundance of blood and viscera staining an otherwise cold and sterile environment. She is finally seemingly neutralized by a shot to the head from an anti-tank round, and falls at least fifty feet into the inky ocean. But, of course this isn’t the end of Lucy…it’s only the beginning…of Elfen Lied.

Why am I watching and reviewing this show, which aired fifteen years ago in the season before Bleach premiered? Many reasons: A look at a show I missed because I wasn’t even into anime back then; a means of complementing today’s crisper, cleaner, and overall safer anime; and mere curiosity in a show notorious and controversial for its transgressive content; a show nearly as many people hate as love.

Also, it’s a show that gives you those first ten minutes, then follows it up by switching gears completely. What follows is a mundane, low-key romantic comedy without a hint of the supernatural horror or military intrigue of the prologue. College student Yuka meets up with her same-aged cousin Kouta in Kamakura, and end up on the beach reminiscing about his departed little sister, Kaede.

That’s when Yuka notices something, or rather someone quite out of place: a buck naked woman with pink hair: the research subject Lucy. Due to her head injury, she seems to have reverted to the developmental state of a young child, and can only say one word—nyu—which they eventually decide to name her.

Since Yuka and Kouta are decent folk, they do what anyone would do: offer Nyu clothes and then shelter at the otherwise vacant ten-room inn where Kouta and Yuka will be living. She confirms her developmental state by being unable to adequately communicate she has to use the bathroom, and relieves herself on the floor of the foyer.

As Lucy has profoundly changed and entered a profoundly different world than the lab where she no doubt lived and suffered for quite a while, her handlers are already planning an operation to hunt her down and eliminate her, as the lab’s chief researcher declares that an unbound Lucy in the outside world would spell the “end of mankind”.

Bando, the man they choose to lead the manhunt, is about as heartless and despicable as they come. He’s bored with simulated kills, slaps the shit out of unwitting assistants, and desires nothing but the opportunity to kill without restraint. In effect, he’s a “Lucy” by choice. In any case, he surely won’t hold his fire just because Lucy isn’t quite herself.

After sharing a meal of onigiri with Yuka and Nyu, Kouta takes out a shell that he keeps as a memento of his deceased sister, who died suddenly of an illness. Nyu interprets his connection to the shell as something making him sad (not necessarily wrong) and breaks it into pieces, throwing Kouta into a rage. He shouts and fumes and tells her to get out, and she does.

Returning to the now rain-soaked spot of beach where they found her, Nyu stares out into the ocean and tears start to fall from her eyes, as Bando & Co. close in on her via helicopter. Roll Credits.

* * *

Elfen Lied is a compelling blast from the past with a first episode that packs a vicious punch in its first act before easing into its more domestic latter two. It’s an exploration of extremes, be it between Lucy and Nyu, the research facility and the sleepy Japanese town, the blunt lethality of Bando and innocence of Kouta, and yes, the warmth of human flesh and blood and the chill of metal and concrete.

It sets things up superbly for one hell of a clash of worlds and personalities—between parties that seek to simply live their quiet little lives, and those who seek to end a life, before, as they claim, it threatens to end all life. Having no previous knowledge of Elfen Lied or where it goes, a great start is no indication of a great anime, but most definitely warrants further viewing.

Val x Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Love is the Source

This is the story of Akutsu Takuma, who is huge and scary-looking and thus is always likened to an akuma or demon and ostracized. In reality, Takuma is just as scared of people as they are of him, and prefers to live and study alone.

And yet, after a discussion among class boys about the school’s three most beautiful girls, Takuma comes home to find not just those three beautiful girls (in the middle of undressing no less) but five other women of various ages, all of whom have the same last name Saotome which isn’t his. He doesn’t like this situation, but it’s been this way for some time.

Val x Love makes an interesting choice to ease us into its supernatural elements by first presenting everything mundanely, and offering only hints as to what the Saotome sisters really are, why they alone don’t fear him, and why Takuma has allowed them to take over the house he inherited from his departed parents.

What is prevalent throughout the episode are references to a spate of recent “suspicious attacks” that many attribute to akuma; but until one actually appears, one could imagine people were only being superstitious (if you didn’t watch the OP, that is). In reality the attacks are being caused by summoned demons, one of which Takuma encounters when he’s out shopping with the second-youngest sister Natsuki, on the orders of the second-oldest, Ichika.

The other sisters gather on the roof to watch the result. Turns out the nine of them are Valkyries of Valhalla, brought to Midgard by Odin to save humanity. Because “love is the source of a maiden’s power”, the more they are loved, the stronger they are. Natsuki was chosen by the others to level up first, and after Takuma is wounded saving her from falling debris (not the first time that’s happened), she disrobes, has him massage her breasts, and kisses him.

In a massive flash of heavenly flame, the giant akuma is utterly eliminated, and for a few moments we see Natsuki in her Valkyrie form as Siegrune, The Blade, before passing out in Takuma’s arms. This makes Takuma Einherjar (named after those who died in battle and go to Valhalla), here the lover of the nine Valkyries appointed by Odin to raise their levels.

If that all sounds like a lot of poppycock, I’m here to tell you…it’s not the worst? I was expecting more comedy from a show that had it among its genres, but it mostly arose from the fact such a large brute as Akuma is so intimidated by everyone, and yet has what in his case is a case of very-unlucky lechery. The akuma designs are marginally striking, while the action was brief but convincing. High marks also go to Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund, who composed all of the music.

For those who see the Valkyrie angle as just another excuse for a lame harem, consider that Takuma’s strong reluctance to have in one feels more genuine than most harem MCs. His introverted personality and public perception that constantly feed his self-loathing make him a sympathetic lead. As he is the source of love that powers the Valkyries, they too could fuel a transformation in him from someone who only hopes to become a quiet, respectable person to something far greater.

The Promised Neverland – 05 – The Sheepdog

When Norman confronts Ray about being Mama’s spy, Norman stays calm. In fact, he’s even a bit amused he was found out, like he knew this time would come one day. Norman’s just too smart for his own good. For his part, Ray doesn’t deny anything, but he does explain that he did it because it had to be done.

If we’re to believe his explanations (and for now, at least, I do) Ray has been playing a very long game with Isabella, which has netted him information that would be vital to any possible escape plan. He knew someone would have to be in Mama’s pocket in order to learn what needed to be learned and gain her trust (as much as anyone can gain her trust).

Taking a page from Emma’s Book of Compassion, Norman agrees to forgive Ray as long as he agrees to be his spy as well. Ray agrees, but only if Norman tricks Emma into thinking they’re taking everyone. Other than Gilda and Don, the little ones will be a burden, both during and after the escape, and Ray didn’t spend years being Mama’s informant for everyone to get killed in a futile attempt to get everyone out.

Immediately his meeting with Norman, Ray meets with Isabella, telling her the others continue to use tag as practice, but focuses Mama on Sister Krone as the primary threat. Ray is well aware Krone was brought in as an insurance policy on Ray, but if she’s not watched closely and her ambitions stamped out, Isabella may be in big trouble. For her part, she doesn’t seem to consider Krone that much of a threat. Ray might be able to use that.

As for Norman, Ray’s insistence not everyone can be saved triggers a nightmare for Norman, in which everyone, including Ray and Emma, are killed and have flowers sprout when they attempt the escape. Not the most confidence-building dream!

Still, Norman plays ball, even as Ray just comes right out and admits to Emma that he’s Mama’s informant. Rather than get mad at Ray, Emma is sympathetic to the burden he’s had to bear, allowing child after child to be shipped off as he played his role.

It’s notable that while Ray has “endured” six years of shipments, Conny alone was enough for Emma and Norman. She doesn’t ask Ray for details of exactly how many he allowed to be sacrificed to learn how to disable the tracking devices, but takes firm hold of his hand and tells (warns?) him not to do it again.

Gilda and Don feel left out of most of the private convos between the other three, but Gilda and Emma start observing Mama more closely, and Emma discovers there’s a secret room where she does…something (Ray suggests it’s where she contacts HQ). Don is itching to get in there, but Ray urges caution, and Norman agrees.

But Don doesn’t feel like caution. He doesn’t know Conny is actually demon food, and so he wants to escape and save her ASAP. To that end, he and Gilda enters Mama’s room, and Gilda slides a bookshelf aside to reveal a locked door…just as someone else is about to enter the room and catch them red-handed. Too rash by half, Donny!

The Promised Neverland – 04 – The Merit in Betrayal

If there was any doubt that Isabella also considers this a game of chess against the smartest of her stock, she makes sure Sister Krone understands that her role doesn’t extend beyond that of her pawn. Informing her that she’s well aware of her behind-the-back plotting, Isabella  promises Krone that if she cooperates, she’ll be a Mama of her own. Predictably, Krone privately fumes and resolves to unseat Isabella rather than wait to be promoted. No doubt Isabella knows she could still be betrayed.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray continue escape practice thinly disguised as tag, only this time in teams led by older kids rather than everyone on their own. There’s a lot of attention paid to the hierarchy of the teams and the patterns of their movement; Ray insists Emma memorize all 100 formations he’s devised, and while Emma seems initially reluctant, she responds with “Easy Peasy,” because it most certainly will be easy peasy compared to escaping the farm for real.

It’s not lost on the trio that there’s a traitor in their midst, and they’ve already cast most of their suspicions on Gilda and Don. When Ray tells Emma to go against her kinder nature and suspect them, it isn’t long before everything they do looks suspicious to her. How will the escape ever succeed if they can’t trust everyone escaping?

It’s for this reason that Norman uses one card only they can play: the element of surprise, not in that they’re escaping, but when. With the pattern of the schedule, Mama has basically dared them to use all of the month-plus they have left until the next shipment. But Norman knows they can’t go by the schedule they’ve been handed; they have to escape sooner…much sooner, in just ten days.

To achieve that, they need to start filling in the other older kids, starting with Gilda and Don. The POV animation of the three slowly climbing the stairs to the library really transported me into their shoes and added to the tension and stress with each creaky footstep.

At first Don thinks it’s a big joke, but Gilda knows Emma well enough to know she’d never joke or lie about such things. Norman lies that the kids who left were victims of human trafficking, since the cold reality might just be too much. Gilda and Don ultimately both agree that an escape attempt is the only choice.

Ray doesn’t like how Norman left out the truth to Gilda and Don about all the kids dying and being eaten, but for Norman the escape must come first; he’ll deal with the backlash from bending the truth once that objective has been completed. He’s also set traps for Gilda and Don by giving them different locations for their escape rope.

That night, Emma pretends to sleep and watches Gilda sneak out of the bedroom. What Emma can’t see through the door is that someone I initially believed to be Gilda slips a piece of paper under Isabella’s door with the location of the rope: under Norman’s bed. It must be noted that Norman told Ray that he’d tell Don it was under the bed, not Gilda.

After the paper is delivered, Gilda visits Krone’s room, and Emma listens in from behind that door. Things get a little tense in there, with evidence wavering between Gilda being Krone’s informant and not, but in the end, Gilda does what Emma hoped for and refuses to give up any information.

The next day, Norman wonders out loud why someone would betray their family; Ray tell him there must be some kind of incentive, like being promised they’ll be allowed to live and grow up to become an adult.

Later, Norman asks Emma if she’d let the traitor escape with them even if they betrayed them; Emma predictably and quickly answers that of course she would. She wouldn’t consider the traitor a bad person, because none of them are bad people. Again Emma proves she’s the emotional and moral heart of this show.

But when Norman and Ray search the two spots where the rope was hidden, Norman says there’s nothing under the bed, and Ray says that must mean Don is the traitor. Only now Norman is convinced that Ray has been the real traitor all along. There’s certainly already a wealth of evidence to support that, but we’ll see if Norman’s right, and if so, how Ray will explain himself. Until then, things just got a lot more complicated.

The Promised Neverland – 03 – More Chess than Tag

Isabella is already well-known by her new assistant, Sister Krone, not only for being the youngest “Mama” of a “plant” for consistently producing the finest “product” available. But she’s no doe-eyed acolyte eager to learn Isabella’s ways. Her very first night there, Krone is already planning to usurp her boss, who gave her all the ammo she’ll need: Isabella isn’t reporting the two children who witnessed a “harvest.” That could get her fired or worse if the bigwigs find out.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray have just one more difficult variable to consider during their preparations for what’s already looking like a hopeless escape plan. When told to “think like the enemy” in finding a place where a tracking device could be implanted, she inspects Carol, the newest addition to the farm, and finds a red bump behind her ear.

I probably could have done without the demon business meeting (complete with some kind of steaming brew but no donuts), as it kinda detracts from their mystique, but at the same time, despite their frightful appearance these monsters carry on pretty banal lives; with the lower classes of demons serving the upper classes.

Perhaps the kids could exploit the inherent discord within such a strict caste system, but first things first: all the logistics required to get everyone off the farm safely. They agree that it’s too risky to attempt to destroy their ear trackers lest they trip an alarm, so they focus on getting everyone out first.

They know many of the kids will either be too young to understand or old enough not to believe a word of what they’re saying (everybody loves Mama after all), the trio decide to disguise the escape as a harmless game of tag. Emma sets to work improving the kids’ physical condition, while Norman and Ray coach them up on the proper way to survive…”tag.”

Unfortunately, their subterfuge doesn’t fool Sister Krone for one second. She’s suspicious of the three to start, and unlike Isabella intends to ship them out sooner than their official ship date so she can snitch on Isabella for breaking protocol and grab power.

Krone is also physically superior to all of the kids, being an adult in pretty good shape. She challenges the kids to a game of tag, betting she can capture them all in twenty minutes. She lures most of the younger kids out of their hiding spots by making cute cutout shapes in leaves.

Once she’s spotted Emma, it’s only a matter of exhausting her and forcing her to find a hiding spot. It’s a place where there are only so many such spots, and Emma has the disadvantage of having tried to run with two young ones in her arms. The moment when Krone’s voice suddenly grows louder and clearer as she suddenly looms over Emma was…well, pretty frightening!

Norman manages to give Krone the slip, and Ray is the one to announce that her time is up. She’s impressed by the trio of troublemakers, but only insofar as she’s impressed by prime livestock. Now that she knows the actors, their strengths and weaknesses, and that there’s more to their tag than mere play she’ll be keeping that much closer an eye on them.

Not to mention she’ll have an extra set of eyes in the form of a “traitor” in Gilda. When Norman and Ray put the pieces together to determine there’s such a traitor among them, you can see Emma’s spirits plummet. All this time she’s thinking of getting everyone out of the farm to spare them the stuff of nightmares, but the adults already have at least one kid—and it could be anyone—working against her efforts, as well as that kid’s own interests.

In any case, it’s clear this won’t be as easy as a game of tag. Emma, Norman and Ray will have to think two, three, four or more moves ahead of Krone and Isabella, and even make sure the mole doesn’t see or hear what moves they’ll make. What they’re playing, then, is a game of chess, in which checkmate spells death.

The Promised Neverland – 02 – Building a Boat Out of Mud

Learning the truth of their home has shaken Emma to the core. She has vivid nightmares of Conny being served up as a fancy main course, can can barely hide her look of terror upon hearing and seeing Mama for the first time since their discovery. But Norman tells her they have to keep smiling like nothing’s wrong. Mama may know someone was at the Gate to leave the bunny behind, but she doesn’t know who.

Or rather, if she does, Emma and Norman are too valuable to kill just for witnessing Conny’s “processing.” During playtime, Emma and Norman agree escaping through the forest is the safest way, but when they cross the short fence they soon encounter a massive, seamless concrete wall. Further complicating matters, when a little tyke is lost all Mama has to do is glance at her “watch” and she knows exactly where to find her.

So, now they know that security is rather lax because they have some kind of tracking device implanted somewhere in their bodies. Mama seems to make a big show out of wordlessly warning the likes of Norman and Emma. Back at the house, while having a private moment of grief for Conny, Mama suddenly appears before Emma, wondering why she’s been “less cheerful” of late.

All Norman can do is watch in horror around the corner as Emma puts on a cheerful front for Mama. Ray ends up bailing them both out when he rings the dinner bell (likely intentional on his part), but as Emma and Norman depart, Mama asks them straight-up if they were at the Gate the previous night. They cheerfully say of course not, that’s against the rules, and continue on…but Mama is definitely suspicious. You could cut the tension in the atmosphere with a knife.

Once they’re alone again, neither can hold in their sheer terror anymore. Emma even collapses to her knees, but Norman helps her up with a trembling hand, and Emma sees she’s not alone and all hope isn’t lost. They’re going to get out of here…they just need a plan.

That plan involves stashing a bunch of table linen in a tree hollow near the wall that they’ll use to make rope when the time comes to escape (Norman figures they have two months left before the next child is taken). But someone followed them out to the wall; fortunately for them, it’s their friend Ray, who wants to know what’s up.

They tell him, and to their amazement he believes it all without a hint of incredulity, because he knows Norman well enough to know he’d never lie about something like this (Emma being a different story). While Ray is willing to lend his not inconsiderable intellect to the big escape plan, he has a big problem with Emma’s insistence that all 37 children will be escaping.

He brings up the virtual impossibility of getting everyone away from Mama and off the farm without serious or even total casualties, and something I didn’t consider: beyond that wall, it’s a Demon’s world, not for humans. Escaping is just the first step. The young, small, and weak will have to be left behind to ensure any chance of the survival of the older, bigger, and stronger.

But Ray’s way isn’t going to work with Emma. She doesn’t care if it’s impossible; everyone is being saved, and that’s that. It may be foolhardy, but Norman is with her. When Ray asks why in his otherwise right mind he’d go along with Emma’s “mud boat”, Norman explains simply that he likes Emma, and wants her to keep smiling no matter what, and that if dried and hardened it’s possible for a mud boat to float.

I have to say, I’m kinda with Ray on this one: if the sole purpose is to survive, not merely escape, they can’t take everyone. But at the same time, you can’t eliminate emotion from the equation, because these 12-year-olds are going to have to be able not just to live, but live with themselves once they gain their freedom. So mud boat it is!

Yakusoku no Neverland – 01 (First Impressions) – Green Acres

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Look at how happy everyone is at this country orphanage! Clean white clothes, soft, warm beds, good food, plenty of friends, and fresh air…and a “Mama” that loves and cares for them all! What’s not to like?

Three 11-year-old “elite” orphans named Ray, Norman, and Emma distinguish themselves with their smarts and athletic ability. These three are the oldest at the “House”; everyone leaves the orphanage at age 12, but no one has a clear idea where they go and what they do.

All they know is, no one has ever written back. Ah well, they’re probably having too much fun, right?!

The boundaries of the orphanage are not particularly stout, but a warning from Mama is enough to keep even Norman, Ray and Emma from crossing them. And while she’s not yet 12, the day arrives when lil’ Conny is to leave the House, and she gets a warm sendoff. She promises she’ll write back.

Conny has already left the orphanage, escorted by a wordless and very creepily-lit Mama, when Emma discovers she forgot her stuffed bunny. Well that won’t do at all, will it? She has to reunite Conny with her treasure! Norman decides to tag along.

They will both come to regret doing so.

Once they cross the gate (Norman says they’ll “get scolded together” for the transgression) they come upon a truck; the first either of them has ever seen. And in the back of the truck is Conny, only she’s dead, and there are flowers sprouting out of her chest.

Utterly shocked, Norman and Emma just have time to hide under the truck when monsters arrive to collect Conny’s corpse, going on about how it’s “high quality human flesh for the rich.” That’s right: Norman, Emma, Ray, Conny and all the others are free-range children. The orphanage is a farm. And they’re meat.

Norman and Emma just manage to slink away before a monster smells and discovers them, but they leave the bunny behind, so Mama, AKA Isabella, knows someone was there. They’re alive for now, but along with Ray, they’re going to be the next kids to be killed and shipped off to be eaten by some kind of well-to-do monster gourmands.

Emma and Norman return to the House, forever changed and scared out of their wits. But Norman decides that he’s not going to let anyone else follow Conny’s fate. They’re going to get out of there, along with all the other orphans. It’s just a matter of strategy, and if any kids can do it, it’s the elite three. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and I highly doubt Conny is the last victim.

Even as little hints spring up here and there in the first half that Not All Is Well, Yakusoku no Neverland is masterful at holding us in suspense until the big horrifying reveal, mercilessly upending the world of three kids. Emma’s initial face mirrored my own upon seeing Conny.

That was one hell of a start, and it’s pretty easy to root for children to escape the fate of being killed and eaten. But of course, once such a bullet is shot, it is shot; the show will have to find new ways to shock us now that we know the gist. I’m guessing they have plenty more horrors in store for us.

Zombieland Saga – 02 – Headless Hip-Hop

A show in which Sakura was solely responsible for babysitting six brainless zombies while a manic Miyano Mamoru yelled at her would probably get old fast (though one should never underestimate Miyano’s ability to entertain with his flexible voice). So it’s good to see all of the young women, save Yamada Tae, “awaken”, since it means they now have personalities. And not all of them are fine simply going along with Tatsumi’s plan for them.

In fact, the two famous idols Konno Junko and Mizuno Ai head for the exit almost immediately, wanting not part of the Saga revitalizaiton plan (also, Tae bites and the zombie dog is scary). But like Sakura, they learn that as soon as a living human sees them, they freak out.

In the case of the local policeman, he shoots wildly at the girls, while the three rappers who were cruising for chicks wig out when they see them in the light. Tatsumi is right: if they’re going to live something like normal lives, they have to hide what they truly are. There’s no place in the world for zombies.

While the idols tried to passively avoid their duties, and Yuugiri and Lily are mostly neutral, biker boss Nikaidou Saki is more actively against the whole enterprise, and doesn’t like how readily Sakura takes Tatsumi’s commands while practicing.

Saki thinks that as zombies they should try to take over the country (even though there are a lot of ways to kill them humans are very familiar with). She, like most of the others, think it’s ludicrous to believe they’ll be able to function as an idol group, and don’t much care about the fate of Saga.

That attitude changes somewhat when Tatsumi works his Hollywood makeup magic, returning all of the young women to their “living” looks, much to their surprise and delight. For the next gig he’s also changed the name of their group to “Green Face.” Once again, they take the stage with very little in the way of a plan.

Sakura starts out, but Tae derails things and ends up losing her head, which the crowd takes to be some kind of magic trick. When Sakura and Saki start fighting over whether Tae’s head should be put back on her shoulders, they erupt into a lively rap battle, with Tatsumi providing the beatboxing, Yuugiri strumming her shamisen, and Lily getting the crowd involved.

It’s another instance of making something fun and entertaining out of nothing, and yet again legitimizes Tatsumi’s grand plans as less cockamamie as originally believed. But the two idols still seem awfully hesitant to involve themselves, while Yae and her biting pose a constant threat to their audience. On the plus side, they seem to have gained a couple of groupies!

Zombieland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – A Little Biting Never Hurt Anybody

Minamoto Sakura is your typical upbeat girl (and aspiring idol) starting her first day of high school. She’s so excited, in fact, she doesn’t look both ways before running into the street, and gets absolutely pulverized by a passing Hijet in a shocking needle scratch.

Just when I was thinking to myself this girl…is a bit much, the show immediately flips the script. Her flight through the sky in slo-mo as the bloodstained, death metal opening credits run definitely hint at a show with some Attitude, as well as one with surprises and a black sense of humor to boot.

Sakura wakes up in, a haunted-ass mansion in the middle of a rainstorm, and almost immediately comes afoul of not one but many zombies. Just as the show proved deft at setting a bubbly optimistic atmosphere that it then tore to shreds inside its first ninety seconds, it proves just as deft at setting a classic horror mood.

Dark and tingly and tense, it slowly reveals the monsters that dwell in that mansion and totally freak Sakura the fuck out. There’s no explanation as to what’s going on; we’re just along for the hell-ride, as she is.

Deciding the best plan is to run away as fast as she can, she encounters a partroling policeman, who pulls a gun on her when he gets a good look at her face. Turns out the rain washed off makeup that only made her look alive.

Her “benefactor”, the effortlessly eccentric Tatsumi Koutarou, saves her from the trigger-happy cop and brings her back to the mansion, where all is explained: Sakura died ten years ago, and he brought her and five other young women back in order to make the ultimate idol group, in hopes of saving Saga, the culturally declined city in which he resides.

His undead dream team consists of a former biker boss, Showa idol, courtesan, child actress prodigy, Heisei idol, Sakura…and Yamada Tae, who he calls “legendary” like the others, but does not explain why she’s legendary. But since Sakura is also far from legendary herself, she doesn’t have much room to complain, now does she?

The others haven’t “awakened” yet as Sakura has, so he decides to put them on stage as quickly as possible in order to “stimulate” them into doing so. He uses makeup methods he learned in Hollywood to make them look alive and ushers them into a packed death metal venue.

He gives Sakura your typical heartfelt pep talk…but Sakura still doesn’t think she can do it, because she has no idea what she’s supposed to do on stage with five zombies and no other direction, besides “trust her instincts.”

And at first, it is indeed extremely rough on that stage, as the impatient crowd awaits the music. Finally, it comes over the loudspeakers, and one by one the zombies start to scream and headbang in a way you only could if your neck was broken.

The assembled metalheads like this very much, especially the fact that the girls initially looked like an idol group ready to insult their beloved genre. It all goes swimmingly until the zombies start to bite the crowds, and the show is presumably shut down. But they certainly made an impression, which is what Tatsumi was surely after. You know, the impression of teeth into flesh!

The next day, more of the zombies have awakened, though Yamada Tae is still a mindless biter. It’s no longer only Sakura’s show, as there will be other lucid zombie characters in the second ep. But this was a great and wonderfully irreverent introduction to what looks to be a very bizarre—and funny—new Fall title.

Happy Sugar Life – 07 – What are Friends? What is Love?

Satou’s teacher sees her with Shouko and doesn’t like the fact that she seems to be sharing “dirty little secret.” Of course, Sensei is operating under the assumption that Satou’s parents died early and she was brought up by her aunt in an environment devoid of the love humans need to grow up to become “normal.”

He believes Satou snapped one day, murdered her aunt, chopped her into pieces, and gave the bags to him to incinerate. It’s as good a theory as any judging from the evidence he has…but he doesn’t quite have enough for the whole picture, and as a result, he’s dead wrong.

Satou doesn’t take Shouko to the apartment where she lives with Shio; she takes her to her aunt’s apartment. Her aunt turns out to be very much alive, and the cops are at her door answering reports of a “suspicious smell” emanating from the apartment.

Satou’s aunt may be alive, but to the horror of both Shouko and the cops, she’s completely whacked out of her gourd. Seiyu Inoue Kikuko, a grizzled veteran of anime who’s played dozens of mothers, balances the sweet kindness of her voice with an underlying malaise.

Everyone who enters her apartment, and sees horrid room in which she sleeps, immediately wants to leave and take a shower. But before the cops can leave, having found nothing law-breaking, she literally jumps on the male cop, senses he’s lonely, and tells him he can do whatever he wants to her and she’ll accept it—sex, violence, violent sex…anything.

This, Satou later tells Shouko, is how her aunt considered “love”, being a receptacle for whatever other people wanted to give her, good, bad, and ugly…all of it. And she’s never changed, and likely never will, as the cops (and you could say society at large) are neither properly equipped or empowered to “do anything” about her.

The female cop manages to wrest her partner away (and turns down the aunt’s invitation to her), and then turns to Shouko, who she also senses is “lonely” and is looking for her “prince.” Satou comes between them and ushers Shouko out of the apartment. Halfway to walking her home, Shouko expresses herself honestly; that she thought Satou’s aunt was hella weird.

When Satou asks if, now knowing the woman who raised her and how she sees love, if Shouko will still be friends with her. When Shouko hesitates to answer, Satou tells her they can go back to being “just friends at work.” and leaves. Shouko wanted to know the truth, and she only got a small taste, and it was way too much, but she’s still ashamed.

After shedding her tail, Sensei, with some properly dominating language, Satou leaves her aunt’s apartment’s front door, marked 305, and walks up to her apartment with Shio, number 1208, where she continues her Happy Sugar Life, untroubled by what went down with Shouko.

But then we flash back to the rainy day she didn’t want to go home to her aunt anymore. Someone chatted her up, invited her to their apartment (1208), and asked her to model for them (they were apparently an artist). Now we know who she murdered: that artist and 1208’s previous occupant.