Vanitas no Carte – 12 (Fin) – The Beast Lives

Vanitas and Jeanne end their bloody makeout session, neaten their clothes, and return to the streets, and Vanitas asks why she was permitted to spend the day with him, it becomes immediately apparent that Jeanne was unknowingly serve to distract him while Ruthven helping himself to a Caffè Noé. Specifically, he keeps Noé alive so that one day, he can give him a command and he’ll obey it without question…even slaying Vanitas.

Roland may have lived his entire life beliving that vampires were an enemy to be eliminated, but his encounter with Noé has changed his mind about that, and we find him digging into books in a cozy little church library. His comrade Olivier warns him against digging too deep into forbidden topics, but then Roland warns Olivier that there isn’t really anyone to stop him from discovering the truth. He can’t believe in things he knows not to be true.

Speaking of which, upon returning to the hotel to fine Noé right where he left him, Vanitas and he are visited by Dante with news: The Beast Lives. Specifically, the Beast of Gévaudan, a wolf-like abomination that slaughtered women and children in the Gévaudan region in the 18th century. The belief is it’s a curse-bearing vampire, so Vanitas is just the man to hunt the beast down.

While Vanitas and Dante chat, Noé is distracted by Vanita’s ridiulously sweet-smelling blood. Combined with his fatigue and hunger, he begins to ask if he could have but a small taste. Vanitas responds deadly seriously by promising Noé that if he ever tries to drink his blood (and therefore see the memories from his past), he’ll kill him. Daaaaamn.

This creates a friction between the two that lasts through the night until the next day, when the two head out to board the train to Gévaudan. Noé apologizes, Vanitas half-jokingly offers to let him lap up any blood he spills (he can only read memories from blood straight out of the taps) and the two share an easy laugh and are thus made up, just in time for a train ride that Noé is super excited about the way a kid—or me—would be about such a train!

After the credits, we get a lovely but ominous birds-eye view of a snowy landscape not too dissimilar from the countless wintry vistas we were treated to in Golden Kamuy. Only here there aren’t bears or naked Russians: there’s Charlatan’s apparent Boss: an ethereally beautiful lass with silver hair and piercing azure eyes poetically delcaring how she’ll “make my song of vengeance echo across the land”. My guess? She’s the Beast!

While there were some nice tense scenes between Noé and Ruthven and Noé and Vanitas, and their little fight and make-up sequence was a subtle, quiet little marvel of character work, but I’m not gonna lie: not a lot actually happened this week. It was but table-setting for a feast that won’t take place until Winter 2022. But the dishes and silverware look great…just in time for a giant wolf to smash it all!

Meikyuu Black Company – 06 – Meteoric Rise, Temporary Escape

Ninomiya celebrates his promotion to the Demon Lord Army’s Western Invasion Force Director with a trip to a hot spring with Ranga and Rimu. He revels in the fact that at this pace of advancement he’ll soon be a board member who can meet the Demon Lord face-to-face, and possibly return to Japan.

Little do the three know that they’re under surveillance from a camera owned by one of the Three Ravens, high level corporate executives who feel threatened by Ninomiya. One is an old fart who’s always spitting and wearing out the phrase “kids these days”; one is a voluptuous meatheaded amazon, and one is a four-eyed calculating perv.

Knowing what we know about Ninomiya, Rimu, and Ranga, it was a foregone conclusion that their petty schemes would fail one by one, much like Wile E. Coyote is always defeated in his efforts to capture Road Runner. Meathead unleashes a giant worm which Rimu quickly deals with; the worm even joins Ninomiya’s team!

When it’s the old fart’s turn, he challenges Ninomiya to cultivate some barren land, which is easy thanks to giant worm tilling and Ranga’s growing magic. Finally, the four-eyed perv tries to take unconsensual photos of Ranga nude, only to be defeated by the revelation he’s a boy.

If the first half is all about Ninomiya continuing to rise due to his ability to assemble a powerful and talented team, the second half is all about one of its members: Ranga. In what is clearly a dream in the style of Alice in Wonderland, Ranga witnesses the drudgery of unending labor in the form of a group of rabbits turning a wheel to power the Queen’s fountain.

When he laments that she can’t get them more tolerable hours or paid time off, he suddenly shrinks to a tiny size. While escaping the horde of evil rabbits (very Re:Zero-esque, that) he falls through a chute down into a massive underground…internet café.

If the rabbits toiling above ground represented one extreme of the labor spectrum, this café represents the other: all the mole people there have no goals other than repeating the same actions over and over again, calling into question whether life is even worth living.

From corporate grunts to NEETs, oppression and stagnation, Ranga finds himself trapped, both spiritually and physically (in a cage). His ancestor Belza, the Queen of this world, insists that he take her place by her side. That’s when the real Ninomiya stomps the White Rabbit Ninomiya and head-butts Ranga back into reality.

Apparently, the team was on a mission to defeat a Mobile Suit-like giant robot when it shot a strange beam into Ranga’s head, placing him in that dream prison that drew upon his own fears and insecurities. When he asks Ninomiya if always running away is bad, he tells him perhaps usually, but there’s always the useful phrase “strategic retreat”.

As long as Ranga’s overall goal hasn’t changed, he’s free to run away as many times as he needs to for the sake of future victory. Of course, Mobile Suit Gundam, the source of inspiration for their defeated mecha, was packed with those kinds of strategic retreats.

Defeating the mecha means Ninomiya can finally meet the Demon Lord…and she (or he) appears to be a Bahamut-like dragon in human form, like Rimu. Like Ranga last week, s/he asks Ninomiya to “save this world”. I know what he’ll probably say: Assuming he does, can he go home?

Meikyuu Black Company – 05 – The Rise of General Ninomiya

After a very nervy and fun fakeout in which Ninomiya dreams he’s back on Earth but Rimu followed him and is wreaking havoc on the city, he wakes up somewhere else entirely…or rather somewhen else. He was summoned to save humanity, who have been living in the underground town of Marcia for the last three centuries. This appeal is initially clumsily made by Marcia’s “Priestess”, Ranga (voiced with great verve by M·A·O), whom Ninomiya discovers is a boy…by grabbing his crotch.

This is obviously a despicable act, but not shocking considering it’s long since been established that Ninomiya is a slimebag. The “cute girl is really a boy” trope is also particularly outmoded and tone-deaf, especially for a show spouting progressive socioeconomic theories. It also isn’t dwelled on for too long, so I won’t either. Suffice it to say Ranga is determined to make his “Lord Messiah” fall for him—Why, I cannot say—but also is mainly on board so he can get to the surface; he can’t stand living underground.

When Ninomiya bristles at helping a bunch of needy losers, Marcia’s mayor Zazel pulls an old 9mm pistol on him, only for the gun to get chewed on by Rimu. Ninomiya, a constantly snacking Rimu, and Ranga travel across the surface by motorcycle. There, Ninomiya learns this isn’t a different world, but the same old Amuria, just in the future.

Raiza’ha Mining Corp. basically destroyed human civilization and made it ripe for conquest by the Demon Lord. Now the monsters rule the surface. Ranga directs the trio to what is “probably” the Demon Lord’s castle, but turns out to be home to the Demon Lord’s deputy assistant section chief, General Ant.

This ant turns out to be Ninomiya’s old friend and comrade Ant A, who treats them to a feast while he unburdens himself with the monsters’ current troubles. These are put into relief when one of the conquered humans bursts in complaining about the horrific conditions under which he works.

These conditions are, hilariously, the norm in both Japan and America: 8 hour days, only two days off (AKA the weekend), and a scam called insurance. While it’s a pretty on-the-nose critique of our present late-stage capitalist dystopia in which we live, there’s definitely something to plainly listing all the ways it sucks through the voice of someone acting like it sucks, rather than it being the norm.

Of course, this and many of the other humans aren’t aware that it could be much worse than the status quo; it could be like the state of Raiza’ha at the height of its power, when employees were treated like dispensable slaves. Seeing which way the wind is blowing and reunited with his good friend Ant A, Ninomiya decides to ditch the mission he was summoned for and join Team Demon Lord.

By employing more draconian labor practices upon the conquered surface humans while at the same time incentivizing rule-followers and hard-workers with the ability to boss other humans around, he quickly reorganizes the entire social structure of the human subclass, while increasing efficiency, output and earning favor with the big guy.

This results in Ninomiya returning to Marcia in a gaudy Captain Harlock outfit. As the Demon Lord’s newest deputy assistant section chief, General Ninomiya declares that he’s going to be running Marcia from now on. Flanked by Ant A, Cerberus, Rimu, and a Ranga who is simply going with the flow at this point, I’m not sure the underground humans have any choice but to submit, desperately short on supplies as they are.

At any rate, Ninomiya Kinji has once again climbed to the top of his situation by being nothing more or less than the asshole he is and always will be. We’ll see how long it lasts and what form his likely inevitable downfall takes.

Elfen Lied – 07 – Let’s Be Friends

It’s fitting that the seventh episode of Elfen Lied is all about #7, or Nana, back from the (near-)dead. Shichi is another way to say seven in Japanese, but because shi means “death”, nana is more commonly used. In western culture seven is considered lucky, yet Nana is unfortunate enough to immediately cross paths with Bando on the beach.

He has a few new anti-Diclonius tactics—social distancing(!) and harder bullets—but his new arm crumbles from his gun’s recoil, and their duel ends in a stalemate. When he learns they both consider Lucy an enemy, he tries to give her his number (the same one he wrote for Mayu) but she doesn’t know what a “number” is, so he gives up.

Mayu doesn’t know much of anything about the outside world, but she is hungry. She watches people exchange coins for crepes, but doesn’t realize the stacks of paper in her bag are hundreds of thousands of yen. It’s another scene that comments on the dearth of general kindness and empathy in this society, as the crepe guy tells her to buzz off and the other women comment on her clothes. No one asks if she’s okay.

Even if Dicloniï didn’t possess the potential for lethal mayhem, they’d be ostracized simply for looking different. Nana understands this is not her world and never will be, so she considers destroying it and making a new one where she does belong. But for the time being, that’s beyond her abilities, and she could settle for a meal.

Nana isn’t done with chance encounters, as #2 involves Wanta leading Mayu to the spot where Nana and Nyu fought, and finding Nana there, warming herself by a fire made from the money. Most people in this town might be assholes, but Mayu certainly isn’t, and has very recently been in Nana’s shoes: nowhere to go and unsure what to do.

Mayu notes that at least someone (Nana’s “dad”) cared enough about her. They agree to become friends, and Mayu notes how Nana and Nyu both have horns. That makes it the second episode in a row where Mayu has told someone something she couldn’t that puts Kouta, and Yuka in danger…not to mention herself.

Sure enough Mayu invites Nana to her house, where Nana has her third change encounter of the day: one with her self-appointed nemesis. Notably, she cannot sense Nyu’s presence the way she can sense Lucy’s; her personality shift to Nyu apparently has the effect of nullifying her Diclonius signature.

The second she spots Nyu, Nana goes into attack mode, shocking Kouta and Mayu. Will Mayu’s hastily forged friendship with Nana be enough to calm her? Will Lucy wake up and just make things worse? Whatever the case, it looks like it’s going to be another long night for everyone.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 18 – The Sword That Cut Through Time

Bercouli Synthesis One isn’t like the other Integrity Knights have Eugeo and Kirito have faced to this point. He’s not in a rush to fight; he agrees not to kill since they didn’t kill his apprentice Fanatio; he calls Eugeo “shounen” rather than “boy-o”; he doesn’t look down on Eugeo or question his existence, or curse his sinfulness.

Yes, Bercouli is a “friendly opponent”, the guy who, inadvertently or not, seems to lull less focused opponents into a false sense of security with his casual, charming manner. But there’s no doubting the guy can bring it, thanks to his Time-Splitting Sword that was once the hand of an earlier Cathedral’s clock.

He’s also more than happy to explain how his move works…but not until he’s already used it and Eugeo has fallen victim to it. Eugeo sees that he can’t make this a close-range fight, but also knows Bercouli wants him to think long-range for his next attack.

Eugeo does indeed go long range—there’s no alternative—but when Bercouli stops and shatters his ice, Eugeo uses the shards to obscure the fact he’s tossed his sword away and made a false one, which also shatters. In Bercouli’s moment of wondering what’s going on, Eugeo releases his real sword from the ceiling, catches it, and stabs Bercouli with it in a smooth sequence of moves.

Kirito would be proud: it’s an Aincrad combo if ever there was one, not only making full use of the surroundings and anything else to gain an advantage, even if the opponent thinks it’s unfair or underhanded. For his part, Bercouli is amused and even impressed by the sheer audacity of someone throwing their sword away in the middle of a fight.

He’s in good spirits because the Eternal Ice didn’t finish him, and he starts to break out of his frigid binds, but Eugeo summons the second memory of his divine object: The Rose, which slowly drains both of their lives. The reason this isn’t suicide for Eugeo is that being a character near the peak of his maximum life, he’s confident that his life will outlast that of Bercouli, who was turned into an integrity knight much later in life.

Bercouli wonders what he’s talking about, miffed that Eugeo presumes to know anything about his past. That response in turn angers Eugeo, who hates how all of these Integrity Knights believe they’re divine beings summoned from the heavens by the Pontifex, when they’re really human beings; their mothers gave birth to them; they lived their own lives.

Even if most of the people in those lives don’t remember the knights, Bercouli is different because the heroic deeds of his life are immortalized in the oral tradition of Rulid Village. It’s as if, in his case, Administrator overlooked the potential means of her first knight recovering his lost memories and thus regaining his humanity.

This is all very good stuff, so it’s a little jarring for a new party to arrive on the scene quite suddenly, especially when that party is of the “goofy carnival clown/jester-class” disposition. Before The Rose fully takes Bercouli’s life, this asshole, one “Prime Senator Chudelkin”, rolls in like a ball, then scolds Bercouli for his “treasonous” act of not going all-out against Eugeo.

Bercouli bristles at this and asks Chudelkin to stay out of the affairs of swordsmen, to no avail. Chuddy puts Bercouli in a Deep Freeze—far deeper than even The Rose—after informing him that both he and Fanatio will be “reprocessed” by the Administrator in due time, and that they’ve found a new pawn to replace him…in Eugeo, calling for Kirito’s help before he freezes over.

That would have been a perfectly respectable, even boss way to end the episode, but SAO:A wasn’t done. We check in with Kirito and Alice resting on a ledge, waiting for more light to keep climbing. Kirito complains about being hungry, assuming Integrity Knights don’t, but he’s shown to be mistaken when Alice’s stomach grumbles.

At that point, he produces the buns Cardinal had given him, and prepares to toast them with a fire spell. Alice snatches them away, and uses a much more appropriate combination of water and air to properly steam the buns right there in her hand. She even jokes about eating them both before handing one to Kirito.

This may seem overly sweet and lightweight after such a comparatively heavy and serious end to Eugeo (which worked despite Chuddy’s horrid design) but I for one enjoyed it, since it’s likely next week won’t have any time for such moments. Kirito, impressed with Alice’s cooking skills, recalls that her little sister Selka is also so skilled, and Alice grabs him like he’d just delivered a grave insult.

She wants to know what he’s on about, and depending on how honest she judges his story, she might kill him on the spot. I had assumed they’d get right back to fighting as enemies once they reached the open floor, but with Eugeo now incapacitated and only Chuddy and Administrator herself left to face, that might not be the case.

It’s possible Alice believes Kirito’s story about her, the memory block is ejected from her head, and the two fight side by side to safe Eugeo and defeat Administrator. But hey, that’s just one possible route; I don’t possess a blade that cuts through time to the show’s future…AKA the LN.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 11 (Fin) – What We Like Never Changes

We begin the finale of what is likely only the first of two (if not more) seasons of a solid Working!!-like anime that focuses on young working adults and their relationships, with Koyanagi and Kabakura in a kind of domestic bliss, just enjoying a day off reading manga and drinking tea as a couple.

Narumi wants that kind of normalcy in her partnership with Hirotaka, so she decides she’ll arrive at his house unannounced. Neither of the welcomes she comes up with in her head come to pass; instead she finds the door unlocked and Hirotaka all but passed out, exhausted and starving as a result of playing games and doing nothing else.

Before getting into a bickering match with Kabakura about BL and finally getting him to agree to try it out, Koyanagi has a phone chat with Narumi, who is in the act of doing “the girlfriend thing” of taking care of her man like his mother would have earlier in life. It’s an outmoded dynamic, but there is no doubt it is the norm in Japan, and America as well.

Narumi quickly learns that her boyfriend will walk around his apartment naked after bathing in search of a towel, and that even the few articles of food in the house were brought there by Naoya, who performs the girlfriend duties Narumi wants to do whenever he sleeps over.

Kou’s route with Naoya inches ever so slightly forward, with it seeming far more likely Nao is unaware she’s a girl than not; perhaps we’ll see more (slow, steady) progress there in sequels. Meanwhile, Narumi takes Hirotaka out on a mandatory walking “date,” before remembering that not only is her favorite seiyu on a variety show, but that she specifically wants to see it with Hirotaka.

In other words, she wants to share what she likes with the person she likes. Who doesn’t? Hirotaka then puts actual effort into his running in exchange for another girlfriend-cooked meal, just as Hirotaka wants to just Netflix and chill with her after dinner. A very chill ending to a show that I suspect has a lot more stories big and small to tell down the road.

Ushio to Tora – 05

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It was only a matter of time before one of the characters from the OP we haven’t seen yet comes out of the woodwork, drawn out by Ushio and Tora’s very highly-televised appearance a couple weeks back, the fallout for which I’d been waiting for. This new character, Hyou the Exorcist, is probably the most interesting “monster”-of-the-week thus far, because he’s not merely pure evil, nor does he immediately target Ushio’s girlfriends. He’s a breath of horribly-scarred fresh air.

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Hyou gave up his name and his old life after his family, most of that life, was viciously murdered by a demon, so he trained his mind and body towards avenging them. Hyou could only have gotten the slightest glimpse of the demon in the dark that tragic night years ago (with his one non-blood-filled eye), but the fuzzy image on the TV is enough to convince him that Tora is the culprit.

When he comes to Japan to kill Tora, he inevitably meets Ushio, whom he trusts is not his enemy because he wields the Beast Spear. That being said, Ushio is immediately conflicted by the situation before him. He can either tell Hyou the truth—Tora has been locked in a cellar for 500 years and couldn’t possibly have killed his wife and daughter—or simply let Hyou kill him, so he doesn’t have to do it.

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Ushio decides on the latter, and Hyou begins to battle Tora fiercely while Ushio…washes dishes, not at all confident that the choice he made was the right one. At school the next day the girls immediately pick up on his quandary and the fact he’s not acting like himself. Mayuko imagining an imminent shouting match that doesn’t pan out is a nice way of showing how off he is.

Asako, showing how deep and strong their friendship goes, isn’t about to let him be. While Hyou is a great new introduction and his history is a sad one, but it’s the deepening of Asako’s character, who might feign dislike for Ushio most days but won’t hesitate to leap out and try to pull him out of his funk, that forms the emotional heart of the episode.

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That heart is fully bared as Asako follows Ushio home at sundown, keeping her distance at first, then rushing and attacking him, hoping he’ll lash out and snap out of whatever is going on with him. Ushio isn’t about to hit her, funk or no, but Asako’s passion, concern, love, and physical blows do shift Ushio from his stasis, and inspire him to right the wrong he made. Komatsu Mikako really pulls out all of the stops for the multi-dimensional Asako.

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Meanwhile, Hyou has been battling Tora for two days and two nights, and he’s on the brink of victory, which he believes will quell his boiling rage and give him peace. And it would have, had Ushio kept his mouth shut. But that ain’t how Ushio works. If it’s within his power to correct an injustice, he must act, much like the Road Runner must run on the road.

Tora may be an evil jackass sometimes, but he didn’t kill Hyou’s family, and killing him, or rather killing Ushio, who decides to protect him, will make Hyou a murderer, not an avenger. And that isn’t even the only reason Ushio is doing this. Not only did Tora save his life (and the lives of his friends), but if anyone is going to ultimately defeat Tora, it has to be Ushio. Just as Tora fights off others to preserve his prey for himself, Ushio fights off Hyou to preserve his.

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In keeping with shonen-style romances, Ushio doesn’t thank Asako face-to-face (meaning no blushing or near-kissing; though it’s a long show; who knows what the future holds). Instead, he thanks her by delivering a gigantic beauty of a watermelon that puts a big smile on Asako’s face, not just because she knows Ushio is feeling better and got over whatever was bothering him, but because she was the one able to help him out.

Ushio likely didn’t want to freak Asako out by appearing before her anyway, as his face is a swollen, scarred mess and he’s recovering from multiple stab wounds at home, all the marks of defending Tora. Tora performs his usual stalking maneuvers over the snoring Ushio (calling to mind Hobbes’ pouncing routine), but seeing those marks stays his paw, as does remembering how good Mayuko’s cheeseburgers tasted.

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Ushio to Tora – 04

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Ushio to Tora continues its run of Very Good-ness serving up meaty portions of unsettling supernatural baddies-of-the-week, the gradual forging of something resembling a friendship between the titular characters, and exciting action with high stakes laced with hearty comedy.

There’s something both frightening and funny about the giant floating heads called the Gamin-sama, not to mention the fact they’re released by the greed of developers for whom there are no sacred cows. Frightening because they tear humans to pieces like wild dogs; funny because, well, they’re giant floating heads with extremely expressive faces and voices.

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They’re out for the blood, flesh, and bones of the beautiful shamaness Hizaki Mikado, who sealed them in the Meiji era, according to an old man who pleaded with the construction teams not to lift up the “keystone” that kept the demons sealed. When Ushio gets a look at Hizaki, he finds she bears more than a slight resemblance to his old friend Inoue Mayuko.

Mayuko just happens to be on a shopping trip into the city on her own, which was a situation that immediately spelled dread. But her doomed trip crosses with Tora’s own excursion into the city, for the first time, where he’s flummoxed by glittery skyscrapers, annoying cars, and those magical transparent barriers known as windows. It’s a great fish-out-of-water situation for a youkai out of his time.

Best of all, Tora is in town to eat someone, so he’ll have the strength to kill Ushio once and for all. But the smells of perfume and hair products and the presence of “anti-youkai trinkets” (i.e., accessories) on their bodies nearly puts him off his lunch…until he finds the soft, clean, nice-smelling Mayuko (who conveniently told Asako she’s not one for accessories).

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Not only is it clever to make Ushio target the same food as the giant heads, thus bringing them together in conflict, but Ushio chooses her specifically because she’s a more traditional human that looks and smells like the humans he’s used to. Kinda like Hizaki Mikado, whom the heads mistake her for (we’ll see if in turns out they’re actually related).

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Regardless, Mayuko puts up a pretty good fight, in that she’s able to successfully run away and evade the Gamin (and her death) for a good long time; she’s partly fueled by primal fear, sure (who wouldn’t be) but there’s a toughness to her refusal to be glomped up, not to mention put bystanders in harm’s way. That buys enough time for Ushio and Tora to show up and save her; Ushio because she’s a dear friend; Tora because he won’t let these moronic heads eat his food; the same reason he won’t let anyone else kill Ushio.

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It’s selfish altruism, but it’s altruism, and Tora is making more an more exceptions to his evil youkai ways and doing ever more semantic gymnastics to explain away what are, essentially, good deeds that make him more than just a monster and Ushio and Mayuko more than just dinner.

Once the five heads are squished, sliced, and speared into oblivion, Mayuko gets up, dusts herself off, and, realizing Ushio told her who Tora was, offers a cheeseburger in gratitude for his help. And it’s perhaps the most proportionally amazing feat anyone pulled off this week that despite everything she went through, she managed to hang on to those burgers!

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