Vinland Saga – 12 – The Face of a King

As Thorkell’s forces chases his, Askeladd sends a message across the Severn River, hoping for some reinforcements to even the odds. His “Ear”, an Asian-looking man with very good hearing, can tell the enemy is only a few days away, if that.

The men are worried, and Bjorn relays that worry, but Askeladd is content to leave everyone in the dark. He also hasn’t been quite the same since seeing Prince Canute’s face. It just doesn’t seem like the face of a king. To be fair, Canute is young…but so is Thorfinn.

A thick, brooding atmosphere of impending doom pervades the march of Askeladd’s men as they grow more fatigued and Thorkell draws closer, but takes on a more otherworldly hue once they arrive at the spot where Askeladd says the reinforcements will be waiting.

The rendezvous point is a Roman ruin, suffused in fog. The soundtrack starts to boom with synth bass and brash, punishing tuba as Askeladd draws near and bows in deference to the two figures in romanesque garb. Eventually, triremes come into view.

These aren’t representatives of the Roman Empire reborn, nor another world, but one of the stubbornly independent kingdoms of Wales. Any enemy of the English is a ally of theirs. Askeladd’s connections enable them to cross Wales to reach Gainsborough rather than deal with Thorkell.

It will be a long journey, and the lands of Wales are rough and unforgiving, so Askeladd appoints Thorfinn as Prince Canute’s bodyguard. Amusingly, the Welsh commander mistakes Finn as the Danish prince, and says the same thing Askeladd thought when he sees his face—just not king material…at least not yet.

Thorfinn’s job is to make sure Canute lives to fulfill his destiny, but despite being the same age the two couldn’t have more different paths to get to that age. Finn is cold to Canute, while the prince is frightened of Finn. We’ll see if putting the two together toughens Canute, softens Finn…or both. Of course, the challenge of just keeping Canute alive becomes painfully plain when their forces are lured into a trap, with archers from a neighboring Welsh kingdom raining arrows down on them.

In an odd aside, we see an aged, balding Leif Erikson arriving at a port, and spots one of the slaves being taken away. (S?)he looks a lot like Thorfinn: messy straw hair, brown eyes. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on here. Does this scene place some time after the ambush? I doubt Finn would be so easily captured. If you have any insight into that, let me know in the comments.

Otherwise, this was an interesting episode to mark the halfway point of the series. Thorfinn is protecting Canute mostly to get another duel out of Askeladd, a duel that’s sure to be the closest yet as he grows stronger and Askeladd gets older. But there’s a lot going on around him that threatens postpone or even deprive him of that duel, if for instance Askeladd doesn’t survive the ambush.

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Vinland Saga – 11 – A Valkyrie in Midgard

Thorkell leads his 600 men through the forest with his new hostages: Prince Canute, his master-at-arms Ragnar, and a drunken priest, all Christians. The men start to mock the Christian faith and Jesus as a weakling with lame magic powers, but the priest starts to yell and scream about “seeing Him,” leading Ragnar to urge his captors to give the poor man more booze.

When Thorkell asks the priest which god is best, he responds “whichever god created booze!” Canute, perhaps the most passive character of the Summer 2019 season, having neither said nor done anything in any of the episodes in which he appears, simply sits in stoic silence. This suggest that his faith is so strong, if he simply lets the cards fall where they may, he’ll ultimately be saved.

Sure enough, his forces catch up to Thorkell and demand they return the prince, claiming they outnumber them nearly four-to-one. Thorkell can smell a bluff, but lets them have Canute anyway. His magnanimity is matched by his ability to effortlessly provoke Canutes men into resisting Ragnar’s orders for surrender and place their own honor above the well-being of their prince.

In the ensuing melee, Thorkell learns his opposing force numbers no more than 400. But then he smells something; something other than blood and guts: charcoal. A third party—Askeladd’s crew—has set fire to the forest in order to confuse both sides.

Askeladd, still trusting Thorfinn implicitly as long as he still owes him another future duel, soaks the kid in water and orders him to ride in and rescue Prince Canute. The confusion caused by the flame and smoke is plainly demonstrated when one of Ragnar’s own men attacks without ensuring his target is the enemy.

That soldier, in turn, is killed by Thorkell’s men, who used Ragnar’s method of communication against him by pretending to be friendlies. They never get close to the prince, however, as a flaming horse separates the two sides, and a hard-looking boy in a cloak appears between them. Thorfinn is ready to take on the whole group coming after Canute, but they are interrupted by a cheerful-as-ever Thorkell, happy to see another “true warrior.”

Thorkell knows Thorfinn is a true warrior because he is the son of Thors, whom he says is the only man stronger than him. Finn is surprised Kell not only knows his father’s name but his mother’s, Helga, but his father’s fame precedes him, even after death. Kell decides to play nice this time, letting Finn have Canute, certain they’ll meet and fight again soon.

Just as Bjorn is voicing doubts about Finn’s ability to get the job done, the kid arrives with Canute, Ragnar, and the priest in tow. Askeladd and Bjorn pledge their fealty as his new escorts, and Ragnar has no choice but to accept it.

Askeladd only asks if he can see Canue’s face, and the prince slowly removes his helmet to reveal a ethereally beautiful, feminine visage—like a Valkyrie in Midgard. With their new royal charge, Askeladd’s men are poised to rejoin King Sweyn’s main force…the same force Thorkell’s men are eager to fight, assuring them a place in Valhalla.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 12 (Fin) – Using the Same Words on a Train with No Brakes

The girls might be referring to the hostage situation, but the real train with no brakes each one of them is on is adolescence. It’s a crazy chemical, biological train where bodies take off before minds are ready; where feelings are felt before the words to express them can be found.

The reaction of Tomita-sensei, the principal and vice principal to the girl’s act of rebellion couldn’t be any appropriate: they shrug and go back home, hoping things will cool off by morning, or in about a day or so. They’re not looking down on their students or mocking their seriousness.

Instead, all they have to do is remember when they were that age to know that in this case, anything they try to do or say in this situation can only make things worse. Better to let the crazy kids work things out; to find the brakes. Also, Tomita will be by in the morning with McDonalds breakfast! She’s an angel.

What Tomita also does is call Rika, the person for whom the girls kidnapped Yamagishi-sensei, and who arrives with Amagi by her side. But this isn’t just about Rika anymore; it’s about settling things among each other, so they don’t let Rika or Amagi in.

Rika contacts Izumi, who contacts Kazusa to tell her he’s coming. He sneaks in to find Niina tangled up on the floor with Momoko as Kazusa looks on. Niina thinks it the best time to confess her feelings to Izumi, but Momoko doesn’t accept Kazusa “giving her permission”, and she sure as hell doesn’t have hers.

Izumi somehow makes things far worse by declaring he’ll clearly state how he feels about both of them, then proceeding to say that he loves Kazusa but is sexually attracted to Niina, words so lacking in nuance and open to interpretation they end up satisfying no one.

No one, that is, except Niina, who we’ve known for a while now is too far removed from traditional “love” to value it as much as the pure physical attraction she can make better sense of, since she’s experienced it herself, most powerfully on the train when, as she says “he touched her.”

Those words also lack nuance and serve to stir the shit further, until Kazusa suggests they simply dispense with further words and make it a pure neolithic fight, like their pillow war at the bathhouse. Rika, who arrived with Amagi in time to castigate Izumi for his harsh and imprecise words, laments that her girls have been “driven mad by lust” but doesn’t think abandoning language is the answer.

The only adult in the room, Yamagishi, free of his binds, suggests that they combine some kind of “fight” with language: color tag. By having those who aren’t “it” look for a color the person who is “it” describes in a very personal way, it will enable them to reach beyond mere words to find the thoughts and feelings behind them.

Momoko fails to find Hitoha’s “gray sigh,” but when she just blurts out “peach-colored Momoko” despite not knowing what it is at the time, Niina still runs at full speed to find it.  Niina wants to understand Momoko’s feelings so they can continue being friends. Happy that Niina feels that way, she embraces Niina, declaring she is now “it.”

Niina tells the others to find the “Blues of our youth,” which leads Kazusa to a dark hall, where she thinks about how she’s felt like she’s been lost in that darkness ever since Niina fist mentioned sex during club, confused about romance, sexual desire, and everything in between. But once her eyes adjust and the moon peeks out of the clouds, she and the hallway are bathed in blue light—the blues of their youth.

Izumi ends up right there with Kazusa, and manages to use the opportunity to put how he’s feeling into better, more useful words. To Kazusa’s dawning realization and delight, he’s finally using the same words she would use to describe how she feels. Now they both have a useful tool to fall back on if they ever get anxious in the future. Neither of them are experts on what they’re headed into, but they’re speaking the same language, so they won’t be walking that path alone.

On the other fronts, in addition to Niina and Momoko making up, Hitoha notes Milo-sensei’s dedication to the advisor role even in such an unusual situation. When he plays the “you’re nothing if not entertaining” card on her, she proudly warns him not to “attempt to satisfy me with half-hearted platitudes,” as that isn’t entertaining.

Finally, with things calming down around them, things aren’t as bad as Mom-Mode Rika initially feared. She’s more concerned about Amagi’s experience kissing other girls. But Amagi isn’t that experienced after all, as he’s never kissed anyone on the forehead before, as he does with Rika, and which he states makes his heart race more than any past kiss. Dawwww.

The other girls find them before they’re able to start making out, and Amagi, Izumi, and Milo are all dismissed so the five girls can finish working things out without further interruption from members of the opposite sex.

Their group catharsis takes the form of a massive poster and banner-painting project that leaves the facade of the school plastered in revolutionary slogans and the girls sleeping in their clubroom, spattered in paint of all colors.

Those literal colors represent the proverbial colors that color the blank white canvas of youth as one goes through one’s savage season. To be so colored is no curse, nor anything of which anyone need be ashamed. They are necessary and inevitable—as much as a train with no brakes will, after enough distance with the throttle pulled back, eventually slow down and become more manageable.

After some time passes, it seems all of these young women are managing fine with the bevy of new colors that have been splashed across their canvases. Jujou sends Rika a photo of her, her boyfriend, and their new baby, aged two months. Rika is on a date with Amagi. Hitoha is working on a performance for Milo and Tomita’s wedding. Niina and Momoko are hanging out and having fun.

And Kazusa and Izumi are holding hands, in public while taking a train together. In a marvelous callback to an earlier episode when their train enters a tunnel, she thinks to herself with a placid smile, “It fit.”

O Maidens satisfied my desire for a candid and genuine teen romantic drama that didn’t rely on cliches and didn’t hold back. It was packed with richly-rendered, distinctive, and ultimately lovable characters, and didn’t hesitate to put them—and us—through the wringer, but also didn’t keep us or them in that wringer, and balanced drama and comedy with aplomb. It looked great, too.

Finally, while that ship was built on stormy seas, it managed to sail the ship I wanted! It would have been a dealbreaker if it hadn’t, but that makes all the difference between simply liking or admiring a show, and actually loving it. O Maidens just…fit.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 11 – No Time to Take Things Slow

Rika truly was transformed by her love of Amagi. Far from being disappointed or feeling betrayed by Juujo for going and getting herself knocked up, Rika is firmly in her corner. When Hitoha argues the other side too far, Rika almost calls out Hitoha’s own relationship before storming off, leading Hitoha to declare it’s “wrong to stop in the middle of things”—a glorious line considering its subtext.

Kazusa and Momoko are out of the loop, and so ponder and worry together right up until Momoko asks her who’d she’d rather sleep with to keep the world blowing up: her, or Milo-sensei. When Kazusa says she’d pick Milo because she’d “have to go with a guy,” then goes in for a “best friends!” hug, Momoko dodges, warning Kazusa to watch out for Niina before storming off herself.

Hitoha has noticed her interactions with Milo have become “softer and warmer” since their semi-cathartic encounter. She believes it’s because he interpreted her childish tears as being “overwhelmed by his kindness” when in reality, she felt so pathetic it actually felt good. With that in mind, she’s not quite ready to give up on him.

Meanwhile, Niina has never felt hatred about her present self, or more determined to eliminate that self as soon as possible. With Izumi unwilling to play ball, she arranges a meeting at a hotel with Saegusa, who is, unlike Milo, perfectly willing to follow through, the pervert.

But as he starts to touch her, Niina discovers something about that self she hates so much: it won’t be killed so easily. When Saegusa’s gross face and gross mouth and gross white nose hairs get too close, she instinctively slugs him, and flees.

The next morning, the only two who show up for lit club are Kazusa…and Niina. After a beautiful monologue that begins with her being lost in the haunted forest of those nose hairs, she tells Kazusa straight up that she’s in love with Izumi and plans to confess to him, even if he loves Kazusa.

To Niina’s shock, Izumi doesn’t react in anger, but in understanding, love, and gratitude. She wouldn’t have had the courage to confess to Izumi were it not for Niina’s help, so what kind of friend would she be to deny her the opportunity to do the same?

Niina and Kazusa go into the “best friends” hug Momoko wouldn’t, and everything seems hunky-dory…until we see Kazusa racing home in an absolute panic. She’s not sure what else she could have done in that situation, but she sure as shit isn’t happy about it!

In this episode full of people who believe they’re running out of time, Kazusa believes the only thing to do to stave off the threat of Niina is to put her mark on Izumi immediately. It just so happens his folks aren’t home, and she invites herself up to his room.

Her sexy underwear didn’t arrive in time, but she intends to make do, presenting herself for him to kiss, and when he expresses confusion, she declares her desire to do it with him, straight up. He tells Kazusa he wants to “treat her right” by taking things slow, but he also brings up Niina, souring the mood and leading to Kazusa’s early exit.

To add insult to injury, the underwear arrives, but Kazusa is so flustered by their presence she quickly snips them to tiny shreds with scissors. We segue from that particularly childish display to a very mature and elegant phone conversation between Rika, who is growing increasingly weary of herself (calling herself “a shameful disgrace”, and Amagi, warning her not to badmouth the girl he likes.

Their bliss is rudely interrupted by her mother bursting in the room. The next day there’s an all-school assembly where the principal and vice-principal announce that all “non-platonic interaction between the sexes” is banned with immediate effect. Rumors fly through the student body, including that Sonezaki and Amagi were spotted outside a love hotel and will now be expelled.

The scene of Rika being guided into a cab by her mom, like some kind of criminal, possibly never to return, is witnessed by Kazusa, Niina, Momoko and Hitoha, in an unlikely but very welcome reunion. It’s the start of the girls deciding to put aside their differences for Rika’s sake, their sakes, and the sake of the entire school.

Hitoha, who (rightly) blames herself for putting Rika and Amagi in that place at that time, is ready to confess, but Milo-sensei beats her to it, albeit keeping her name out of it (though he refers to her as “someone he’s considering a future with” in his lie). But the principals won’t budge; after Juujou, they’re prepared to make an example of Rika and Amagi.

Later, in the clubroom, Milo assures Hitoha he’ll keep fighting for Rika, but also admits he doesn’t quite have a plan for doing so at the moment. That’s unfortunately not good enough for these maidens in their savage season, who must make the most of this time and can’t afford to endure the oppression of the school’s new ban.

So, after Kazusa gives Izumi a solemn call telling him she’s about to commit a “grave sin,” she joins her sisters in kidnapping Milo-sensei, beating and tying him up, and using him as a hostage. The school staff is sent their demands, and when they arrive at the school the four girls are there to repeat them: lifting of the ban, reinstating of Rika, and an apology, or else.

No negotiations, no retreat: the maidens have spoken! As amazingly awful as it was to watch them nearly destroy each others’ friendships, this latest emergency of injustice has brought them back together, at least for now. Watching them use their powers to save one of their own another is an inspiring sight to behold, though I can’t see there not being serious consequences. Still, what’s done is done—and they did it together.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 14 – Unfinished Business

Despite being aware of her elder daughter’s movements and actions through her Shadows network, the queen still sees fit to let Malty run wild—and run she does, setting a massive goddamn wildfire and informing all the local lords that the “Devil of the Shield” is responsible. I’m not sure what the queen’s game is, but she seems content to wait for Naofumi to come to her. The fire blocks him from Siltvelt, so they head the other direction.

That takes them to the domain of Seyaette once ruled by a lord who was sympathetic to the plight of the demi-humans (as well as Raphtalia’s homeland). That lord was killed in the First Wave, and his efforts went to waste. Indeed, Raphtalia and her family and friends were all victims of the resulting oppression and enslavement of demis under the orders of…Melty’s dad, the king. Again, presumably the Queen was fine with all of this…I guess?

The new lord of the domain, Van Reichnott, is thankfully a friend of Melty’s, and invites them to his mansion where he agrees to harbor them. Naofumi warns that they can’t stay more than a night lest they get sniffed out by those loyal to Malty and the king.

So they have one night of tasty meals and soft beds, taking turns keeping watch. Melty thinks she should be doing something, anything other than continuing to run and hide, but Naofumi tells her her life and safety must come before any of that, and in time she’ll do what must be done; what only she can do.

Naofumi also tries to comfort Raphtalia, who is suddenly having the nightmares she suffered when she was small. Being so close to her home where she witnessed and endured so much is affecting her on both a psychological and a visceral level.

As Naofumi feared, they are found out the next morning, as a neighboring lord, Idol Rabier, accuses and arrests Reichnott for harboring the “Devil.” Naofumi hides with Raphtalia (who has an itchy sword hand at the sight of Idol) as Melty says what needs to be said to get rid of Idol and enable Naofumi, Raph and Filo to escape.

They do so, but while Melty believes her name and title will protect her from Idol and that he’ll safely deliver her to father for a proper dialogue, her determination to clear the Shield Hero’s good name probably strikes the wrong tone with a lord who is a member of the church that considers Naofumi the Devil himself.

Naofumi wavers at the opportunity to get away thanks to Melty’s gambit, abandoning her in the process…but only for a brief moment. At the end of the day, bad rep or not he can’t call himself a hero (not to mention look Raph or Filo in the eye) if he left Melty to mercy of that lord. So the trio infiltrates his castle start methodically taking out his guards.

They arrive in the nick of time, as Idol has tired of Melty’s refusal to disclose where Naofumi is and declares her to be in league with the Devil, which makes her fair game to torture and worse, even taking a nasty pleasure in threatening her and “making her face warp.” This dude and Malty truly deserve one another.

But Melty is rescued, and despite her “plans” being “ruined”, she still thanks Naofumi for coming for her. Naofumi then leaves Lord Idol to Raphtalia to do with as she pleases. He has a lot of demi-human blood on his hands.

We’ll see if she gives in to her rage and takes revenge (for which she’d be entirely justified), or if she stays her hand out of a desire not to go down that road. Like Naofumi with his Rage Shield, there are places you can’t come back from.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 05 – Magical vs. Badgical

War Nurse reattaches Nozomi’s arm, heals her abdomen wound, and gets her to safety, but Abigail catches up to her and transforms into a full-fledged Badgical girl, with razor-sharp barber’s scissors.

As for Asuka, once she expends a great deal of her magic to destroy the Russians’ water spirit, the mercs are no match for her, even when she’s out of practice…which is as it should be. Asuka wouldn’t have survived this long letting herself get beaten by lightweights like these guys.

However Abigail came upon her magical gifts, she proves quite the challenge to War Nurse, especially when she summons not one but two Halloween-class Disas at her (her dominatrix getup certainly stands in stark contrast to Kurumi’s good witch garb).

Kurumi takes one of the Disas out, but Abby presses her attack with the other. Kurumi has to be bailed out by M Squad, who keep Abby occupied until Asuka can relieve them. As Iizuka says, you need a magical girl (or girls) to fight a magical girl.

Now Abby’s against the wall, until she’s rescued by her “Queen”, in masked badgical girl form, who then retreats. While Asuka couldn’t defeat Abby or the Queen, the fact they destroyed two Halloweens and recovered Nozomi makes this a victory.

But there’s a cost: Nozomi may be physically fine, but her PTSD is so bad she can’t look at Asuka or Kurumi for more than a second before going into a paroxysm of terror before passing out. But hey, it’s all good: Kurumi can heal her PTSD too—she just needs to erase all of Nozomi’s memories of the last week to do so.

With that procedure carried out, Asuka and Kurumi wait for her to rest and recover, with Asuka lamenting that she can’t protect anyone or anyting. Kurumi begs to differ, as neither she, Nozomi, or the M Squad would be breathing were it not for her, to say nothing of the bystanders saved when she stopped the terrorists. Suddenly convinced once and for all, Asuka informs Iizuka of her intent to officially join the Spec-Ops M Squad.

Iizuka reports to his superiors, who tell her the powers that be want Nozomi to stay at her current school where she’ll continue to serve as potential bait for their enemies. Kinda harsh, but they’re banking on Asuka and Kurumi continuing to protect her.

Meanwhile, Nozomi seems to be fine; she’s just forgotten their fun pool trip…not the greatest sacrifice if you ask me (Sayoko’s complete absence from this episode was puzzling…if she was there, wouldn’t she have corrected Nozomi?). Even when Asuka resolves never to go see that movie, letting the wind take her ticket, as soon as she turns around Nozomi is there to invite her all over again.

So basically, they got their first good  look at the bad guys and what they’re capable of, but the battle resulted in a draw, while hitting the reset button on Nozomi reduced her horrible suffering to a motivating cautionary memory for Asuka. It’s all rather neat-and-tidy, but at least she’s no longer in denial about having to fight in order to protect those she loves.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 04 – Taking the Bait

Asuka has a recurring dream where she’s too late to save her leader Fracine from her injuries. Before she dies, she names Asuka to succeed her, and assures her that while the world has a lot of problems, it is also full of beautiful things worth protecting.

Asuka apparently needed to be taught this lesson in the worst way  possible, as one of the current problems plaguing the world (groups who wish to use magic to hurt people and gain power) takes one of the beautiful things (her friend Nozomi) hostage.

Nozomi’s father is to blame for her capture, not Asuka. It would seem that terrible things need to be done in the name of national security, but it’s clearly better if the ones doing the terrible things didn’t have such lightly-protected family.

In a further display of cynical pragmatism that borders on comical, Nozomi’s dad is told his daughter will be a “sacrifice” that will give Public Safety the budget and mandate they need to go out there and really bust some heads.

Since no police or military unit will mount a rescue, it falls to Asuka. With Francine’s words still ringing in her head she doesn’t spend much time mulling over whether going into action to save Nozomi is the right thing to do.

Considering how sweetly and adorably portrayed as Asuka’s friends were, it was fairly inevitable that one of them would end up in some real shit. But while Sayoko was merely caught in some crossfire, Abigail and her twin Russian sorcerer mercenaries spare no cruelty as they burn Nozomi’s skin off and simulate drowning, all while the cameras roll.

You get the feeling even if Kurumi can heal her many physical wounds, unless she can also remove all memory of the ordeal, Nozomi is going to be severely scarred by the torture. But first thing’s first: she has to be rescued. Asuka and Kurumi have no trouble getting past the initial waves of guards, but Abigail isn’t remotely concerned they’ve arrived. In fact, she’s delighted they took the bait. She feints “freeing” Nozomi, but slices one her arms off.

Unfortunately for her, in such close quarters Abigail has the disadvantage, which Kurumi exploits by impaling her with a giant needle, after which she and her familiar Sacchuu grab Nozomi and rush her to safety while Asuka keeps the Russians busy with a grenade.

She knows that won’t be nearly enough to kill them, but is still confident in her abilities to handle the three mages alone. But she underestimates the Russians’ magic, getting smashed into a wall and allowing Abigail to go after Kurumi (who hasn’t even started getting serious yet).

Overall, the stakes were succinctly set: poor Nozomi’s life and many other lives will be lost in gruesome fashion if Asuka and Kurumi (and whatever other magical girls/guys wish to participate) can’t get the job done. I would hope that whenever this is all over, Asuka will cool it with the “not my fight” attitude, and Nozomi’s dad will quit torturing people. Bad guys are going to do bad guy stuff regardless…so don’t give them any excuses!

Banana Fish – 11 – Ashilles Heel

Turns out leading a gang is like riding a bike: you never really forget how to do it. Ash slides right back into his simpler life, and Eiji sees, for the first time, Ash the Leader, and how all his subordinates hang on his every word and breath.

They’re also impressed that Eiji isn’t scared of waking Ash up from a two-hour nap. But once Ash is up, he sends them all off on an intelligence-gathering mission, leaving him and Eiji alone to enjoy a simple meal of takeout together.

It’s there that Eiji sees yet another side of Ash, as for the first time ever in their friendship they can just relax. He also learns that Ash has cucurbitophobia (fear of pumpkins) and teases him for it, eliciting a very boyish pout.

That night we see the contrast between the two young men: Eiji sleeping soundly and Ash waking up from nightmares that will probably never go away. Ash lets himself be vulnerable with Eiji and cries into his lap; it’s how they both end up falling asleep.

Ash gets up at dawn, letting Eiji sleep in, and sets to work on his laptop. Having spent his jade earring buying guns from “The Fly” yesterday, Ash hacks into Golzine’s stocks, using the spyware he implanted on Dino’s computer while Dino was having fun with him.

So not only is Dino’s favorite mansion in ruins, but so are his finances, and those of the mafia organization he’s a part of. He’ll have to answer to the dons now, which means his life is a lot more complicated and fraught with danger. From what we know of Dino, no one deserves it more…though Arthur is trying to make a case for himself.

Ash uses his influx of cash to buy an $8 million condo right next to a building owned by the Corsican organization, showing he’s still a fan of bold moves. He has Max pretend to be his dad to cosign on the purchase. But Max is worried that for all Ash has accomplished since gaining his freedom, he still has one potentially crippling weakness: Eiji.

Banana Fish – 10 – Wounded Tiger

The youngest Lee brother sat out last week’s unpleasantness, but returns to Ash to tend to his wounds and also decides to lend him a hand in escaping from Dino’s mansion. Dino is away for the night demonstrating Banana Fish on a woman who is forced to kill her husband, a presidential candidate. Meanwhile Ash’s gang has joined forces with Shorter’s Chinese crew, led by Sing, and after gathering some intel, they hit the mansion the same night Dino is out.

Ash makes use of the key Lee slipped him by doing a bit of gymnastics, then frees Max and Ibe, head to the armory full of military-grade weapons. From there, Ash becomes the “devil himself”, mowing through Dino’s men on one side of the house while his allies burst in and take care of business from the other. Lee leaves Ash with one more gift: injecting Abe Dawson with a paralytic.

That means, after meeting up with his men, Ash tells them to all get the hell out before Dino’s cavalry arrives, then heads down to the lab, where Abe had been busy extracting Shorter’s brain. Dawson begs for his life, but Ash responds by emptying a mag into him, then burns Shorter’s body so he can pass over in peace.

That gesture leads to a misunderstanding with Sing, Shorter’s subordinate, who heard that Ash killed Shorter (but doesn’t know why). He picks the wrong time to demand vengeance against Ash, who makes quick work of Sing, but lets him run away.

Sing ends up running right into Lee, who takes him away in a helicopter and spots Ash in his red Italian sports car heading back into Manhattan. It was an ugly one, and came at a high cost, but it was good to see a win for Ash, even if it just meant getting his freedom back.

Banana Fish – 09 – Dino’s Inferno

If it wasn’t clear last week, it certainly is now: things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Ash is in custody, on his way to New York. Eiji and Shorter are already there. Shorter is injected with Banana Fish and comes to think of Eiji as the manifestation of all his worst fears.

Eiji just manages to escape becoming just another one of Dino Golzine’s sexual conquests (he’s called away by Ash’s arrival). Yut-Lung, like Ash, is far more willing to get on with it for the sake of survival, and tells Eiji he should start thinking that way if he likes breathing.

Dino has a bit of a flair for the theatric, and so dresses up all of his hostages in black tie for a sumptuous dinner before getting to the “main event”, Ash having to watch Shorter kill Eiji with a knife. This is all just thoroughly unpleasant, especially with the younger Dawson brother doing his Mad Scientist thing and Arthur smirking and laughing through it all, having a blast.

The only—and I mean only—two glimmers of hope for any of the “good guys” are Yut-Lung escaping from the bedroom (though he doesn’t do anything this week, he only watches) and Shorter’s and Ash’s gangs deciding to join forces to spring their leaders.

But those glimmers of hope are too little, too late, as Ash’s chains are loosened and he’s given a gun with one bullet. He shoots Shorter before Shorter can kill Eiji, and to add insult to injury, Dawson drags Shorter’s body away to dissect his brain.

If it wasn’t already obvious, Ash and his misfit friends are so far out of their depth it’s not even funny (except to Arthur, who finds all of this hilarious.) It sucks to see Shorter go, and awful to see it happen by Ash’s own hand.

Now he, Eiji, Ibe and Max will have to hope either Yut-Lung makes a move on Dino, and/or Ash and Shorter’s men can turn the tables. But it is not looking good at all for our brash, handsome, precocious young gangster.

Banana Fish – 08 – A Very Bad Trip

I won’t mince words: this was a mostly thoroughly unpleasant episode to watch. While it’s not a deal-breaker when things never seem go the protagonist’s way, you have to throw the audience a bone once in a while. BF’s eighth episode did not oblige. Pretty much everything sucks for everyone.

Take the hostage situation involving JessicaJennifer and Michael. Lee’s thugs demand Max hand Ash over if he doesn’t want his family killed, but when they show up, the thugs are gone, replaced by police. Michael is fine, and Jennifer is alive (though it’s implied she was raped by one of the thugs).

While Ash and Max are gone, Yue-Lung makes his move, incapacitating both Ibe and Eiji and preparing to take the latter to his brothers in Chinatown. While paralized, Ibe can still see and hear, and so knows Shorter betrayed them, something Shorter is not proud of.

While he may have officially turned his coat against Ash, Shorter makes it his personal mission to see no harm comes to Eiji…which will be a tall order, as the Lees plan to hand him over to Golzine where he’ll be sold into sexual slavery just like Ash was. I’d point out that Eiji is not a “boy” but a 20-something adult, but the show is keen on him being the damsel-in-distress, while the paralytic completes his total loss of agency.

No, it will be up to Shorter to try to keep him safe (he vows to kill him and himself if/when that’s no longer possible) and Ash and his friends to rescue him from the clutches of the Lees and Golzine. But first, Alexis, the older brother of Abraham Dawson (and owner of the house where Yue-Lung was essentially squatting) shows up out of nowhere to inch the mystery forward.

Lex shows Ash and Max his hidden research room and the info they get from him indicate Golzine is doing a deal with the US Government to weaponize Banana Fish, which can be used to perfect soviet-era drug hypnosis. Then Lee’s men show up at Lex’s house, capture him, Ash, Max, and a recovered Ibe, and prepare to ship them all off back to New York.

Going to Los Angeles may have netted some answers for Ash & Co., but their presence there got Jennifer raped, Michael traumatized, and Lex’s lab torched. This is way bigger than revenge now where Ash likes it or not, but even assuming he frees himself from captivity and gets his .45 back, fighting Golzine and his government co-conspirators won’t be easy; perhaps the goal should be exposing them to the public.

We’ll also have to keep an eye on Yue-Lung, whose two half-brothers killed his mother in front of him when he was six. Despite his talk about it being in the past, it’s also in his back pocket, and he’s willing to go down himself if it means taking Hua-Lung and Wang-Lung with him. Perhaps he’ll eventually join Ash and Eiji to form a bad-guy-busting bishounen triad?

Trickster – 04

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Just when Twenty Faces surfaces with a new intricate plot into which to lure Akechi and the Boy Detective’s Club, Hanasaki is stuck at school, attending his compulsory school day a month. That hardly sounds like enough to make a difference, but Akechi insists, keeping Hanasaki out of this week’s action.

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As for Twenty Faces’ plot, well…it leaves a bit to be desired. The most impressive feat he accomplishes is when recorded video of him correctly predicts Akechi’s responses, making for an unexpected bit of dialogue between the two that initially sours Akechi’s interest in taking on the case, which involves a police officer Twenty captured. He changes his mind when Kobayashi exhibits some fire, then pairs him up with Inoue Ryou.

The clashing personalities make for a promising dynamic, but all they really do is trudge through some dark hallways, try to hide using the lamest tactic imaginable (a stealth umbrella, not bothering to move to the edge of the room), and get trapped in a chamber, the doors to which Kobayashi can’t bust through even as it starts to fill with water.

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Throughout the episode we get flashbacks of Ryou and the mission that led to his paralysis and his partner, classmate and tennis star Katsuda, to quit the club. But this backstory seems shoehorned in and doesn’t really gel with the present events in any meaningful way, other than for Katsuda to warn Hanasaki “always listen to Akechi.”

All that aside, I can hardly feel apprehensive about Kobayashi being trapped in a chamber filling with water when it’s already been established he can’t die. That, and backup will probably be on the way before they have to worry about Ryou drowning.

In previous episodes I could at least look forward to a case beginning and then ending within the space of twenty-odd minutes, but the cliffhanger tries my already thin patience. I’ll see how things are resolved, I guess, but after that…likely Dropsville.

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UPDATE (27 OCT): After further deliberation, I’ve decided to summarily drop Trickster, effective immediately. To fill the gap it leaves, I’ll be taking over reviews of Fune wo Amu from Zane.

91 Days – 12 (Fin)

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With Avilio’s grand revenge plan all but complete (but for Nero), this final episode is not a lot more than an extended epilogue in which the remainder of the Vanettis are wiped out, Avilio is captured by Nero, and the two kind of dance around each other until Nero finally does what he needs to do.

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I’ll be honest: I’ve never been fully emotionally invested in any of the characters, even Avilio, and was never all that big a fan of Nero, so watching all of the underlings, whom I often couldn’t tell apart from each other, was a bit of a bore. Not to mention the tommy guns in this show were way too reliable (not a serious criticism, just sayin’).

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I’ve also expected for a while now that Avilio would eventually end up succeeding but feeling utterly unfulfilled, in the same way Vincent was when he killed the Lagusas seven years ago, so the campfire confrontation isn’t all that impactful. These are two people who have been set up from the start to be unhappy and alone, and they’ve done too much to each other for there to be any outcome but one or both of them ending up dead.

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The bottom line: any and all hope this show had was wiped out back when Avilio killed Corteo, believing that last shedding of his humanity would be worth it, but it wasn’t. Avilio and Nero have a pleasant final road trip to the seaside, but only Nero gets back in the car and drives away, and we have no reason to believe he’ll be alive long with the new Don Strega and the long arm of the Galassias after him.

As their two pairs of footsteps are washed away by the waves, the lesson of 91 Days is clear: if you’re going to kill a family in a mafia coup, make sure you get all that family’s members. Nero can blame Avilio all he likes, but it was his nervousness/mercy that kept Angelo alive, leading to a life spent—wasted—planning only revenge.

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