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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 01 (First Impressions) – Song of Ice, Fire, and Wits

Major plot spoilers follow. Proceed with caution!

“Watch Talentless Nana blind”, said ANN in their Fall 2020 Preview. I didn’t read any further than that, and followed that advice—and boy am I glad I did! We start with the introduction of protagonist Nakajima Nanao, who in a remote island school full of students with elite superpowers, he apparently has none. He is bullied and mocked by boorish fire-user and elegant ice-user alike…but if he is truly “Talentless”, then why is he on the island?

Some of the students believe he could be one of the dreaded “Enemies of Humanity” who have threatened mankind for fifty years (which seems like a really long time for neither side to have decisively won, by the way). Enter two new transfer students, the shifty, hostile Onodera Kyouya and his exact opposite, the ridiculously pink and adorable Hiiragi Nana.

Kyouya won’t reveal what his talent is, but Nana is immediately forthcoming: she can read minds. Upon being assigned the desk next to Nakajima, she senses he’s being bullied, but her mind-reading soon becomes a nuisance to Nanao, who’d rather simply fade into the background. Even so, she follows him after school and has him give her a tour of the island.

During an unexpectedly deep discussion of his past over lunch, Nanao tells Nana how he was the “dullest member of his family” but his father still urged him to “aim for the top” and seek leadership wherever he ended up. He was disillusioned when doing so in class made him an object of mockery.

On a dramatic cliff at sunset, Nana confesses to having had similar trouble making friends due to her mind-reading. No sooner are the Enemies of Humanity brought up than a mysterious gust of wind nearly pushes Nana off the edge. At the same time, Onodera is searching the student records.

Nanao rescues Nana, but later that night he pushes her away, calling her constant mind-reading “violating”. Even so, Nana believes that he should be the leader of the class. Alas, he’s shoved to the sidelines in the inevitable superpower duel between the Fire and Ice guys, and when the latter wins Nana seems to accept him and Nanao is disheartened.

The Fire guy is pissed that he wasn’t able to go all out to prove himself, and ends up going a bit too far, launching a huge fireball at the rest of the class, including Nana. That’s when Nanao springs into action and reveals his true power for the first time: the ability to neutralize anyone else’s power, much like Kamijou Touma’s Imagine Breaker.

After his triumphant coming-out party, Nanao goes up to the cliff with Nana at sunset, where she takes his hand and declares that she can’t hear his inner voice anymore, and it’s wonderful. Even so, she can still tell what he’s thinking: he’s so glad they’re friends.

Then she pulls his hands away so he’s off-balance and shoves him off the goddamn cliff.

The entire palette of the scene darkens, Nana’s eyes glow red, and Ookubo Rumi’s voice drops at least an octave. As Nanao hangs on to deal life to a frayed rope, she reveals that she never had mind-reading powers; and details all the ways she made him think she did by simply making deductions from his appearance and behavior. If she has a “power”, it’s her wits.

Just when Nanao is declaring that she’s an Enemy of Humanity, Nana flips the script once more: he is the true Enemy, and for humanity’s sake, she asks that he please die, and he falls. She checks her phone, which tells her Nakajima Nanao could have potentially been responsible for over a million deaths.

I love shows that seem like one thing (initially a fun cross between My Hero Academia and Assassination Classroom) and turns out to be something else entirely. This was such a well-constructed and executed fake-out. Your enjoyment may well depend on your level of gullibility, but the fact is even I knew something/someone was “off”, it was just a matter of not knowing exactly when and how that other shoe would drop. That tension and atmosphere was delicious.

Even better, the dull boy protagonist ended up not being the protagonist at all, but the unwitting enemy (if Nana is to be believed); the clue was right in the title: it’s Talentless Nana, not Nanao, after all. Nana’s early performance manipulated me just as masterfully as she manipulated her quarry, along with the rest of the class (except for Onodera, who is clearly suspicious about something).

Is he Nana’s ally, enemy, or a little of both? That’s just one of dozens of questions floating around in my thoroughly, beautifully blown mind. Unlike Higarashi and its gory cold open, Talentless Nana held its sinister cards close until the very end, and both methods worked. Here’s hoping it has more fun surprising twists in store.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. After remembering we first saw the phone instructing someone to “kill the Enemies of Humanity” and “save 10 million lives”, I believe both Nana and Kyouya are engaged in a competition to see who can save those lives fastest. Which means so far Nana has the early lead.

Cautious Hero – 04 – Hairy Solutions to Hairy Situations

We pick up right where we left off, with Seiya categorically rejecting Mash and Ururu. He could be a little nicer about it, but the truth is he is far beyond them in power and they would slow him down. But for some reason, when Rista gains wings and tries to catch up to him, he takes his foot off the gas and comes back for her.

Sure, he then accelerates so fast her boobs pop out, but it seems he had a change of heart about having her around just minutes after saying he “so didn’t need her” any more than the Dragonkin. Did he simply appreciate the effort she made to chase after him? Or just remember that she as a goddess can still do things he can’t, like open portals?

In any case, Seiya arrives at the site of the advancing undead army and uses not one but two Meteor Strikes to eliminate them all at once. When he appears fatigued, Rista lets him lean on her, but she’s annnoyed when he states he’s actually very far from having used up all his MP.

With Seimul safe, Seiya holes himself up in room at the inn, mastering synthesis, in particular making use of Rista’s stray goddess hairs to synthesize a powerful sword, but wanting her to provide one thousand more hairs to make more; Rista for her part is not prepared to go bald!

Then they get a delivery: a looking glass through which the Heavenly King Deathmagla presents a captured and tortured Mash. When Mash is defiant rather than begging for his life, Seiya decides to rescue him and defeat Deathmagla in one trip.

After using his goddess hair-infused sword to slice off Deathmagla’s hand through dimensional planes, he quickly withdraws to the Divine realm where the ten or so seconds before Mash is killed is stretched out to fifteen or so minutes, using that time to brusquely ask an amused Ishtar to open a portal to Mash’s location.

Once there, Deathmagla claims to have prepared for every contingency in creating an invincible boss in Dark Firus. But detail-oriented as he is, Deathmagla can’t hold a candle to Seiya’s preparation, as the hero uses previously-unseen high-level blunt abilities and an ice-element bracelet (again, synthesized with Rista’s hair, making her wonder if she has a hair loss problem).

Whether it’s turning back for Rista in the air or choosing to rescue Mash so he can carry his equipment, Seiya seems most motivated by those who demonstrate maximum effort, as he does. With only two Heavenly Kings and the Demon Lord remaining and Seiya’s continued exponential growth, Rista seems poised to save her first world…barring something unexpected.

Sailor Moon Crystal – 03

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And then there were three.

Hino Rei AKA Sailor Mars is introduced quickly and efficiently, just in time to aid in the Guardian’s “toughest” fight to date, against one of the Four Kings of the Dark Kingdom, Jadeite, who is done delegating his work to underlings.

I hasten to note that the villains continue to be the most underwhelming aspect of this show so far, but there’s a certain retro appeal to their general ineptness. After all, who wants to see the Sailor Guardians lose, especially to these heels?

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Usagi meets Rei when Ami makes her aware of her existence, and Rei is so beautiful Usagi sets to work stalking her immediately. In this instance Usagi’s shallowness proves integral to not only recruiting Rei, but helping Rei discover why she was born with strange powers.

I liked how Rei sensed a “demonic atmosphere” when Usagi arrived at her shrine and acted accordingly. Usagi isn’t what I’d call “not trouble”, but it’s the good kind of trouble that protects the weak and punishes evil.

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Jadeite adopts a local legend of a “demon bus” that spirits people away, something for which the parents of one child blame Rei and her peculiar powers. But no, it’s just the bad guys taking loads of hostages to serve as Sailor Guardian bait, and it works like a charm.

You’d think Jadeite and his ilk would be able to sense Rei’s latent powers, but he treats her as another human hostage. Usagi’s impulsive, shortsighted nature leads to her discovering where the hostages are being held.

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Jadeite’s oversight proves poetically unfortunate. Moon and Mercury’s magic has little effect on him, but Rei’s fire easily cancels out his ice. Jadeite’s pal Nephrite talked big earlier, but he’s notably absent when Jadeite is suddenly outnumbered three-to-one.

With the introduction of the bad-ass Sailor Mars, we’ve got two more guardians to meet, plus they have to figure out who this “princess” is they’re supposed to protect, as well as locate the “Legendary Silver Crystal.” There’s lots more to do, but plenty of time to do it. Meanwhile, things are coming together nicely.

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