Sonny Boy – 10 – The Girl Who Knew Too Much

This week’s Sonny Boy experience comes from the POV of Tsubasa, AKA Sarah Plain and Tall With Broken Arm. We learn her power is “Monologue”—the ability to hear everyone’s inner voices. In order to not be ostracized, she’s kept the power a secret from everyone. She listens, but she doesn’t act in a way that would arouse suspicion.

Tsubasa likes Asakaze. She knows he’s kind of an ill-natured prick, but it doesn’t matter; she still likes him. But as she can read minds, she knows it’s unrequited; she also knows Asakaze likes Nozomi. He doesn’t like how close Nozomi is with Nagara. All the while, he’s unconsciously closer to Tsubasa than anyone; only she can hear his inner voice.

Tsubasa can’t help but like Asakaze, but while you’d think she’d try to use her power to try to make him feel the same way, all she does is quietly admire him from a distance. She hears all his thoughts about Nozomi, all the while dreaming of the day all his other romantic options will be exhausted and he’ll “land at her feet.” But between Nozomi (who doesn’t return his feelings) and Aki-sense (who is only wielding Asakaze like a tool), there’s too much competition.

Tsubasa and Nozomi end up accompanying Asakaze and Aki-sensei on the “grand task” he wishes to complete: defeating “War” before he can cause undue destruction. Tsubasa can’t fault Asakaze for liking Nozomi, because she knows that Inner Nozomi is just as wholesome and noble and honest as Outer Nozomi. Everyone practices some degree of deceit…except Nozomi. On the treacherous hike in “War’s” strange ceramic world, it’s Nozomi who comes to Tsubasa’s aid when she twists her ankle.

When they encounter “War” while falling down an endless gorge with a blood red bottom they never reach, he’s a student constantly falling and buffeted by the wind like the Maxell guy. Tsubasa can’t hear his thoughts; the guy is totally empty. Kinda like warD’YOU GET IT?!?!! Ahem…anyway, Aki-sensei (and apparently God AKA Dr. Strangelove) wants Asakaze to eliminate “War” from this world by creating “Death”, leading Nozomi to take him to task for trying to play God.

This causes Aki-sensei to retreat with Asakaze somewhere where she can bury him in her bust and keep him under her thumb. But as Tsubasa always knew since the drifting began, the only person who could truly change Asakaze was Nozomi. Nozomi won’t pretend to pander to him. Asakaze can probably sense that there’s never any deceit with her.

So when Nozomi says “Even if I’m dead, I can accept my own fate,” she means it. Maybe that’s why, after he turns “War” into a gun and the red into white, when the cliff crumbles and she falls, Asakaze doesn’t use his power to save her. Or maybe he can’t.

Meanwhile, Nagara picks up the mantle of island researcher from the long-departed Rajdhani, and continues to experiment with Mizuho’s powers. When he orders a chicken with Nyamazon and then kills it, it stays dead. When Mizuho orders one and he kills it…it comes back. Between having three wise talking cats protecting her and the potential power over life and death, I’m starting to wonder if Mizuho is the true God around these surreal parts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 20 (Fin) – Goodbye For Real

It’s a quiet, contemplative finale for To Your Eternity, as Fushi tracks down Pioran and finds that she’s barely scraping by. Yet he’s reluctant to reintegrate himself into her life, as he fears she’ll simply be the next victim of the Nokkers, as Uroy, Oopa, and Mia became.

Fushi happens to have assumed all three of their forms, and he’s in Mia’s when Pioran finally gets wise to his, well, tentative stalking. He may be in the form of a girl, but Pioran immediately identifies him as Fushi, her old immortal friend. Just when he was trying to say goodbye for real, Fushi ends up back in Pioran’s orbit.

The creator narrates that he’s watched over Fushi, Pioran, and the donkey for a good while, and watched as Fushi continued to develop a full sense of self. When Fushi asks what Pioran wishes more than anything else, Pioran says she’d like to be young and beautiful as she once was. Fushi feels a nobility in Pioran, and being by her side is a noble enterprise.

But eventually the Creator’s warning comes to pass: eventually all mortal things wither and die. Pioran develops short-term memory loss and dementia, periodically cursing Fushi while begging him to kill her or leave her behind. Fushi doesn’t; he simply continues caring for her as they travel nowhere in particular. One day, Pioran is nearing death, but lucid enough to call out “the one following Fushi around”—the Creator.

She begs him to let her be reborn into something “that can be more useful to Fushi.” One thing I’ve always wondered is who is the girl in the OP with the purple-grey hair strolling on the beach. Now we learn, it’s Pioran, made young and beautiful again by the Creator, if only for a brief time before dying…and being transformed into an orb like Fushi.

Fushi mourns the loss of Pioran, and when he conjures the paper and pencil he uses to document his days, he comes across a parting note from the departed Pioran: “Do what you want to do, like I did!” He seems to take those words to heart as several decades pass. We encounter an adult Fushi having apparently just defeated a Nokker and laughing over his victory.

This is the end of the story of Fushi…but apparently only until Fall 2022, as a second series is planned for that time. We’ll see how his struggle with the Nokkers progresses, who else he meets who changes him and whose form he eventually assumes, and how many other ways this show will make me cry like a baby. If Pioran is still around in some form, it would be great if they could reunite. Fushi and Nokker!Hayase…less so.

While many episodes suffered from an untenable schedule and pinched production budget, and the Jananda arc was ultimately the weakest, this final episode marked a successful return to the series’ exploration and reflection on mortality, morality, and family, and made me excited for what’s to come.

To Your Eternity – 19 – Killing With Kindness

We begin the penultimate episode of To Your Eternity with Hayase…doing a good deed?! That’s right, she’s using her not inconsiderable combat prowess to defeat the Nokker Zombies before they can kill innocent men, women or children. When a Nokker tries to infect her, she flexes—both literally and figuratively.

The Nokker stops in Hayase’s arm and seems to listen when she tells it that appearing before Hoshi in such a gross, unpleasant form is Doing It All Wrong; if it wants Fushi as she does, it will have to treat it with kindness. Their little confab is broken up when Oniguma!Fushi steps on Hayase…but once again stops short of killing her.

While Fushi doesn’t kill her, he’ll wish he had restrained her in some way before the day is out. Perhaps he’s distracted by the fact Tonari and Sander are in mortal danger. He bails them out of a bad way by using his Gugu form to burn the entire corpse pit. But while the bulk of the immediate Nokker threat is neutralized in those flames, his Creator tells him three Nokkers still remain on the island.

Those Nokkers were once Oopa, Uroy, and Mia, but you can’t really say it’s them anymore, as we already saw them chilling in Paradise last week. Nevertheless, it won’t be easy for Fushi to put their overthrown bodies out of their misery.

That’s when Hayase, who as I said wasn’t sufficiently neutralized, scoops up both Tonari and Sander, drugs them both, and threatens to toss them into the flaming corpse pit…unless Fushi accepts her offer. You see, she wants to keep him “clean” and “pure” as a being who can neither kill nor be killed. She’ll gladly kill and sully herself for him.

But Hayase never picked up on the fact that her go-to sedative doesn’t work on Tonari for long, and Tonari decides to pull Hayase down into the flames with her. With three of her friends dead and what she perceives as a lifetime of missteps to answer for, ridding Fushi of his greatest adversary in exchange for her life seems like a square deal.

Fushi disagrees, swooping out to save both Tonari and Hayase from certain death. And for once, he’s the one to knock out Hayase with the same poison he once accidentally knocked out the others.

Speaking of the others, when Tonari gingerly picks up a sword with tears streaming down her eyes, ready to put down the husks that were once Oopa, Uroy and Mia, Fushi steps in to do it, having both summoned the courage and not wanting Tonari to have to do the deed.

During a solemn private memorial, one of the elder islanders asks their ostensible leader if she has any words for the people. Tonari says to stop the killing…especially after everyone saw what became of them making piles of corpses.

After wandering the island offering foot and supplies to anyone who needs them, Fushi takes his leave from the island, knowing it’s only a matter of time before the Nokkers return again. He bids Tonari and Sander an very understated farewell, if you consider how many pitched emotional moments they shared previously. Maybe that’s the point; they’ve been through, and lost, a lot. They’re tired.

One person who is tireless in her obsession with Fushi is Hayase, who wakes up elated to find she’s sharing a boat with Fushi. She confesses to Fushi how much she loves him and has always loved him ever since she first saw him, and offers to show him what that love means.

Fushi is understandably repulsed by Hayase and her offer, and pulls a trick I’d say would be cruel for anyone other than Hayase, considering the shit she’s pulled these last nineteen episodes. Fushi clones the rowboat and paddles away, leaving a tied-up Hayase stranded in a becalmed sea nowhere near land.

But as he returns to the mainland (and to Pioran) guided by Tonari’s owl, a Nokker core—perhaps the very one who spent some very formative minutes inside her arm—hops onto her boat and attacks her. Is this finally the end of Hayase? I’m loath to predict that, but the preview suggests the fighting may be over, even if the dying isn’t. But then death, like pain, breeds growth.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 18 – Paradise Bound

Tonari, who has become somewhat fond of Fushi beyond his utility as a tool for advancing her interests, wasn’t about to leave him to the tender ministrations of the “hag” Hayase. So she rows back to the island to save him, only to discover he already freed himself from the pit, which wasn’t half as deep as Pioran’s prison wall was high. Faced with having to explain why she’s there, Tonari tries out her best tsundere act.

The seas aren’t suitable for heading back out by boat, so Tonari and Fushi spend the night in a cave beside a campfire. Tonari asks about what exactly the man in black is. Is he a thoughtful god, trying to stave off the world’s destruction by creating Fushi? Or is he a demon, and the Nokkers are the servants of the real God(s) tasked with stopping him?

She also owns up to her father having been a murderer, and how she came to see him no differently than any other lowlife on the island: deserving of death. But she doesn’t see herself any differently, as in her mind she kills anyone she doesn’t like. She believes the island has poisoned her heart.

Fushi tries to cheer her up by saying that even if both their “parents” are or were demons, the two of them still do what they want to do. Being in that cave is proof of it: Tonari wasn’t about to let herself be saved at the cost of Fushi, while Fushi wasn’t about to let himself live out his existence as Hayase’s toy.

That night, Tonari dreams a familiar dream of a happy home with a living mother and father proud of her for the books she writes. Upon waking up, Tonari decides she’ll need to come up with a new dream, a new story less grounded in the past. She envisions herself, her crew, Fushi, and Pioran all relaxing and loving life on the beach.

It’s a lovely, idyllic image, and also the last upbeat image to appear in the episode; it’s all downhill from there. That morning when about to cast off, the Creator notifies Fushi that the Nokkers are attacking the town. Despite everyone worth saving on the island already off of it, Fushi heads towards danger, turning his back on an exasperated Tonari.

To his credit, Fushi isn’t doing this because the Creator is goading him to do it—it was Fushi who asked him to warn him when the Nokkers returned. It’s just that Fushi always has and probably always will blame his existence for the death of all the people who’ve died around him. If he can lesson that even a little, he must try.

The thing is, Fushi is cursed to be just too goshdarn likable to be left alone by those who enter his orbit. When he arrives at a hellish scene of corpses being reanimated into zombies by the Nokkers and wreaking havoc, it isn’t long before Tonari comes to help, and the rest of her crew also show up to help the both of them.

It strains credulity just a bit that they not only returned to the island so soon, but knew exactly where Fushi and Tonari were. What should be a devastating emotional climax is once again undermined by the fact barely any of it is animated, as with two episodes left the show is blatantly running on fumes.

Finally, the fact we’ve seen Mia, Oopa, and Uroy as Nokker zombies every week leading up to this episode, so we knew exactly what would become of them. Thile their souls may have passed to a paradise similar to the one in Tonari’s new dream, their bodies remain on Jananda; shambling nightmares Fushi isn’t strong enough to put down.

To Your Eternity – 17 – Her Pet Immortal

After knocking Fushi out with her Morning Glory potion, Hayase gives a somewhat baffling speech to the throng about how she’s going to build a new army to protect the immortal boy from the Nokkers, and immediately ceding the leadership of Jananda she won to Tonari. This immediately makes Tonari a target, and she and the other kids make themselves scarce.

Despite having no interest in ruling Jananda, Hayase very much seems to want to control Fushi, who is clearly more valuable than the entire rest of the island. Her repeated licking of his face is akin to marking her new precious property, and by disrobing she seems intent on becoming one with him. It’s very twisted…and very Hayase.

Her fun is interrupted by Tonari & Co., who come to Fushi’s rescue only to be met by Hayase’s Yanome guards and Captain Skyfish, who can see which way the wind is blowing and knows he probably shouldn’t be on the wrong side of someone as evil, dangerous, and unhinged as Hayase. In fact, he’s probably there specifically to makes sure Tonari and the other kids don’t throw away their lives in a futile effort to save their immortal friend.

Fortunately, the kids inadvertently buy time for Fushi to sneak up on Hayase with a sword to her neck, having created an empty husk of himself for the guards to carry away. Hayase is unmoved, but agrees to his proposal to remain on Jananda with her if she lets the kids and Pioran leave safely. New Leader Tonari announces to the rest of the island that all small children will also be boarding the ship, to grow up somewhere where they’ll have more choice in their lives.

Tonari is among those on Skyfish’s ship, though of course Hayase can’t resist drugging her and her friends to keep them from getting up to something. Interestingly, Tonari’s body is extremely efficient at filtering out poison, as she’s the first to come to, hours before the others. Enlisting the help of her boss (with an assist from Skyfish), she boards a dingy with Ligard, who apparently wasn’t badly injured by Hayase’s arrow.

Determined to add to the story within the thick tome tied to her belt, Tonari is resolved to rescue Fushi, alone if she has to, so he can be a part of her future. Watching Parona!Fushi get so mad at Hayase over killing the real Parona showed Tonari that Fushi wasn’t just a peculiar immortal thing, but a peculiar immortal thing with a measure of humanity she saw in herself.

While it was great to see evil old Hayase throw her weight around, this was the first episode where I couldn’t not notice the frequently cruddy character modeling, sketchy animation, and use of still images that all spell budgetary and time constraints. Between that and Hayase’s rather scattershot actions and intentions, this episode just barely held together…but it definitely had its moments.

To Your Eternity – 16 – What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

Fushi just won a huge victory, aided in no small part by Tonari’s crew and other people of Jananda. He has March, Gugu, and Oniguma back, a group I’d call family but his creator calls his “past.” By the way, that’s the last time I call him “the creator”, as some guy calls him “the asshole in black” and that’s a much better name for him!

With the Nokkers out of the picture for the time being (but those OP images of Tonari’s crew Nokker-ified still fresh in my mind) it’s nice to see Fushi simply relax, drink some blood, drink some more blood, then conjure a sumptuous feast for his new compatriots. Unfortunately, the food he conjures is from the night March and Parona were drugged by Hayase using Morning Glory-based sedative. Talk about foreboding foreshadowing!

Tonari is the first to wake up from her food coma, and notices Fushi wandering off, as is his wont. For what I believe to be the first time, she apologizes to Fushi for bringing him there. That said, Fushi glimpsed an entry in the big red book that contains her thoughts, her dreams; specifically the entry where she says she’s going to invite him to share a meal with them.

Tonari starts writing in the book again, and regales us with her story so far. She’s always dreamed of “surprising” her dad, who was wrongly accused of killed her mom and sent to Jananda. Faced with the choice of being an orphan and going with her father, she chose the latter.

Eventually, however, her dad got caught up in the leader tournament, and warned his daughter that it wouldn’t be safe to be around him. That turned out to be true, but more to the point, in participating and eventually winning the tournament, Tonari’s father became someone that her seven-year-old self simply couldn’t recognize as her father anymore.

By the time they met at the port as they promised, he was already succumbing to the poison he was given by his rivals in the unending struggle not to lead the island, but simply to have control. Her father’s parting gift to her on her birthday was the book she writes in to this day. The years went on, and she met her found family and eventually, Fushi.

Speaking of Fushi, with March back in his repertoire, he’s able to easily scale the wall and enter Pioran’s cell. While she had urged him to leave her be earlier, now she can’t mask how happy she is that he’s there.

While he could smash the prison walls with one swipe of Oniguma’s paw, he intends to win the tournament, become the leader of the island, and leave the island with Pioran, their heads held high. It’s a good plan, and Pioran is right that he’s become much more reliable.

All he has to do is win the tournament final. Now armed with a reason for fighting, he walks down the corridor to the arena without hesitation. Tonari is there to see him off, worried he wouldn’t show but very glad he did. The two honestly don’t interact much this week, but this is the most tender moment they’ve shared yet. It figures that this comes right before yet another huge setback for Fushi, though fortunately not one that involves the Nokkers.

Then again, who needs the Nokkers when you have the evilest, most badass villain in the whole show in Hayase? Turns out she’s the one who urged Tonari to get Fushi on a ship to Jananda, all so she could eventually face him…and, incidentally, lick his face.

Fushi already has plenty of reason to hate Hayase considering she killed poor little March with an arrow to the back. But Hayase wants to make sure Fushi also understands that his Parona form is “her gift” to him: she tracked Parona down and murdered her by sloppily beheading her so she suffered. This riles Fushi up, and he comes at her with everything he’s got…but it’s not enough.

As Hayase puts it, Fushi is immortal, but feeble. His murderous intent is just one more simulacrum; it can’t hold a candle to her ruthlessness. Also, if we’re honest, Fushi hasn’t had much of a challenge in the tournament thus far, and all of his past opponents had no idea what he was. I guess Hayase doesn’t either, but she knows how he operates, and she knows his gentle nature.

She also knows that when he’s in human form he can succumb to a poison just like any regular human. She sticks him with some morning glory sedative (like I said, simply devastating foreshadowing), and just like that, she is the new leader of Jananda—presumably free to lick him all she wants. At the end of the day, Hayase isn’t the kind of villain who wants to destroy Fushi. Rather, she intends to possess and control him completely. I Imagine Tonari and her crew will have a couple things to say about that!

To Your Eternity – 15 – A Victor Without Victims

Having Parona’s form brings Fushi nothing but grief, for the fact he has her form almost certainly means she died, like March, far to young. His Creator tells him not to get so worked up every time someone dies—literally everyone in the world except the two of them will die, after all—but Fushi tells him to piss off, and to the very hands-off Creator’s credit, he does.

As for Fushi’s new self-appointed bestie Tonari, she’s absolutely jazzed by Fushi’s new form, complimenting his hair and skin, glomming on him like she wants to possess him. She claims to want to be the bow to his arrow, but her constant spewing of half-truths and false faces remains extremely disorienting to Fushi. Combined with the whole kidnapping Pioran thing, he insists she leave him alone. She doesn’t.

As for the Creator’s credo of Pain Promotes Growth, Fushi replaces it with his own: Fuck Pain. On a island where the intricate social organization of humanity is blended with inhuman savagery, Fushi may be the most human one there, thanks to the quintessentially human people who helped shape him into the good and kind orb he is. It’s why he wants to save Pioran, his family, even though she insists she’s where an old criminal belongs.

So dedicated is Fushi to the cause of honoring Parona and Gugu’s memory by putting himself to good use protecting others, as she did, he even protects his own opponent in the third round from the arrows of impatient staff and spectators. This flummoxes the fighter to no end, but after he’s laid up with an arrow back home, both we and Fushi learn he too is a human in this place that is both inhuman and as human as humanity gets.

Some veteran islanders come by to protest Fushi’s way of doing things, insisting that he brings dishonor to everyone he fights by not killing them. Tonari shields Fushi from them, only to get punched in the face by a man who is then shot with a poison dart by one of Tonari’s crew.

But far greater than the threat of the islanders are the Nokkers, who rise out of the ground, stab Fushi, and steal Gugu away so he can’t use fire on them. Now down to the boy, the wolf, the crab, Parona, and the mole, and with a shitload of potential bystander deaths, Fushi runs, and warns Tonari and the others to run in the opposite direction. They don’t.

Fushi tries to burrow into the Nokkers as the mole, but he’s quickly tossed out and loses that form. Tonari grabs Fushi by the scruff of his coat, beaming widely and in absolute awe of the giant stone bear, while her crew launch diversionary attacks.

Tonari has a meta moment, asking Fushi who he thinks she is: “a side character who just runs away?” Then the earth opens up and it looks like Tonari is history, but Fushi grabs her and pulls her back onto land, where she orders her crew to execute a certain plan.

This plan involves explosive arrows. That works perfectly for Fushi, since his Parona form is quite comfortable with a bow. He can also infinitely create more bows and arrows when the crew runs out. The islanders, once rearing for a fight with Fushi and Tonari’s crew, restrain the bear with huge ropes and join the fusillade.

In the end, the Nokkers are defeated, and Fushi is able to regain both the form and memories of March, Oniguma-sama, and Gugu. It is an unqualified victory, but he could not have done it without help from Tonari’s crew and the islanders, all of whom he hated when the sun came up that day, but now probably has a new appreciation for, seeing as he got his forms, his family back.

For the first time, Fushi reacts to Tonari’s constant goofing around and bullshitting with a genuine thank you, which catches the girl completely off guard. Tonari repeats to him that to change fate, sometimes you have to work with others, and their victory today was proof of that.

It looks like Fushi, Tonari, and the crew will get to enjoy a bit of rest and celebration after quite an impressively action-packed episode imbued with ample emotional weight due to the stakes—and eventual spoils—of victory. But the final round of the tournament lurks, and crazy-ass Hayase lurks along with it, so that rest probably won’t last long.

To Your Eternity – 14 – Hail to the Chief

Fushi finds himself ensnared by the mysterious Tonari, who pushes him into a arena battle royale before he even knows what a battle royale entails. Once he realizes it’s kill or be killed, he decides not to kill, and since he can’t be killed, he ends up winning when the last non-immortal fighter standing passes out from a hangover.

Fushi wins the adoration of the crowd, as well as an entourage in Tonari and her young friends. In the episode’s very expository second act, Tonari and the others explain The Way Things Are on this prison island now essentially run by the convicts. The island burns through chiefs, but Tonari sees potential in an “eternal” chief to bring some kind of stability and dignity to her home.

Fushi is mostly disgusted by this island full of death and enslavement, and wants nothing to do with Tonari and her pals who he says aren’t “normal” if they can laugh, smile, and joke in such a place. He asks the Creator to take him to Pioran, but the Creator won’t do anything for him that won’t help him grow.

The creator tells Fushi that a plain fact of living with mortal humans is that sometimes they’ll choose how and when to die, as Gugu did, and as the arena combatants do. Fushi can already be said to have caused the deaths of many humans so far, so what’s a few more who have already chosen to die? As for one life he wasn’t able to take—Hayase of Yanome—she’s on the island, and marks her quarry in the night by licking his face.

The day of the second round of the arena tournament, Fushi has little interest in participating despite Tonari’s prodding. He turns into his dog form, accidentally kills a mole, then becomes the mole so he can dig underground. But he’s snatched up by an owl and dropped right in the middle of Tonari’s posse.

Forced into a one-on-one battle, Fushi tries to intimidate his opponent, but as the Creator told him, that opponent has already decided on only one of two paths: victory or death. Neither becoming a wolf-dog or a flame-spitting Gugu has any effect. That’s when Fushi suddenly remembers Parona, transforms into her (despite her still being alive, as far as we know), and is amazed at how light and nimble he’s become.

He’s able to defeat his opponent and move on to the third round. The crowd goes while, and Hayase licks her chops in preparation for a confrontation in the near future. Whatever Hayase’s intentions, Fushi is about to be tested like never before, as the Nokkers have surely followed him to this island. They’ll either take more of his memories and forms, or he’ll reclaim the ones they stole.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 10 – How It Started / How It’s Going

After spending two weeks in the Meiji era with the exception of the final act of last week, when Yuugiri led Franchouchou in one of their best performances yet—and oh yeah, Saga is apparently an extremely long-lived person—we find ourselves a mere year in the past, before the EFS fiasco.

The idols are riding high on their success in the snow at Arpino, but that was only a crowd of five hundred people. But Koutarou, no less high on success, decides that Franchouchou have proven themselves legendary enough to fill the same stadium where Ai died. Her feelings about performing there aside, Ai knows right from the get-go it will be nigh impossible for them to scale up so much so fast.

Despite that, the girls put their faith in their manager and in their own considerable abilities, and even pros like Ai and Junko are swept up in the boundless optimism. Then, as we know, it all goes completely and utterly to shit. Because Koutarou didn’t bother to pre-sell any tickets, the amount of concert-goers who show up manage to fit what would be the soccer field’s penalty area.

While we’ve already been told this tale of woe before in super-abbreviated form, there’s something to be said for watching the disaster unfold in real time. Not even Saki can fight through the sheer dread of playing before a mostly empty venue, while their top fans decide not to call for an encore after the girls shamble off the stage, as it would be just too cruel.

You can really feel the pain of being on that stage in that stadium. They would never have been able to put on their best performance there. Koutarou really screwed the pooch on this one, and he initially reacts to the disaster by going on a weeks-long bender.

During these dark times, Franchouchou are splintered, then exchanged some recriminations, before Yamada Tae comes in and shocks everyone by not only buying her own dried squid with Koutarou’s cash, but doing her own makeup. Just by being Tae, she shows the others that they’ve been relying on Koutarou on everything for too long, and if they have to do non-idolly work to get out of their immense debt, then so be it.

That brings us up to speed. Fast forward nearly a year, and Koutarou announces to the girls that they will once again be performing at EFS for their revenge show. This time, they’re in a far better position to command a larger crowd: there’s the audience of Saki’s radio show, Lily’s inroads with the younger kids, Yamada’s legion of fans, Maimai’s high school, and the fact Iron Frill considers them rivals.

It almost feels like history repeating, but Koutarou is determined to properly promote the concert (and hopefully allowing pre-sales of tickets, for gosh sakes), and gives the others a pep talk worthy of Gurren Lagann. Unfortunately, there’s a huge potential snag in this plan: the reporter Ookuba knows he’s somehow revived seven dead girls and is profiting off their performances. When he learns of the revenge show he’s determiend to stop it.

Frankly, this feels like a little bit of eleventh-hour antagonism for its own sake, and I’m more than a little disappointed that Ookuba is taking such a hard stance rather than letting the idols whose unlives he’s trying to upheave have their say in the matter. By going straight to Koutarou he’s stripping them of their agency. Considering how much they’ve achieved, they’ve earned the right to decide to perform, not for Koutarou, but for each other and for Saga.

That brings us back to the bar where Old Man Saga works. Years ago, Koutarou was “gloomy and half-crazed”—instead of full-crazed like he is now—and thus bought into Saga’s claims that he was an immortal being who can revive the dead and has been fighting a curse that’s been at work in Saga for thousands of years.

Turns out everything that Koutarou has done with Franchouchou has been to prevent Saga’s prophesy—of a cataclysm that will make everyone forget Saga—from coming true. It’s why he flew to close to the sun with EFS the first time, but it’s also why he’s determined to make EFS II a success that no one will ever forget, weaving their past failure into the narrative.

But as the idols prepare for their show tomorrow, Saga is pelted with increasingly harsh rains, and the wind eventually knocks out power throughout the prefecture, just as Ookoba is about to publish his exposé.

But, of course, there are larger problems than whether he saved a copy; a building that looks like Koutarou’s run-down mansion seems to sink into the saturated earth, presumably with our zombie idols inside. While I’m sure they’re safe—they’re zombies—Saga is another question entirely. Are we past the point of singing and dancing  being able to save Saga, or will we simply not see them at their most legendary until the shit has truly hit the fan?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 09 – The Legend Continues

As those who share Kiichi’s views grow in number, he still finds time for tea with Yuugiri, who whips up a medicine for his ailing grandfather. Kiichi and Itou pose with Yuugiri for a photograph, which for me meant that somewhere in the present day there’s a very old black-and-white photo of the Legendary Courtesan out there—assuming it survived the war.

However, those who have joined Kiichi don’t necessarily want a new Saga for all; they want their old Saga back, and as many of them are veterans of the war lost eight years ago, they’re willing to take up arms and spill blood to do it, which is far beyond the peaceful return of Saga of which the idealistic Kiichi dreams.

Itou, in between ripping down Kiichi’s flyers and passing messengers disguised as vagrants, gives his friend one final warning to give up his crusade now that it is poised to become a violent one beyond his control. But Kiichi isn’t quite ready to give up on Saga, either for himself or the comrades he’s gathered.

Unfortunately, those comrades armed themselves and planned an armed rebellion behind Kiichi’s back. On the snowy night when they spring into action, Itou meets them in a quiet street…and cuts them all down on orders from the government.

By the time Kiichi catches up to his comrades, Itou has already slaughtered them all. It turns out he was watching out for spies all along, and while he knew Kiichi didn’t mean for things to turn out this way, he’s crossed a line he can’t un-cross, and now it’s Itou’s duty to kill him.

Yuugiri doesn’t let him, whipping a katana out of her shamisen to meet his, saving Kiichi’s life. When the local police approach with whistles blaring, Itou flees one way while Yuugiri and Kiichi go another. All the while, Kiichi’s gramps is having some kind of attack and collapses before he can reach the medicine.

After losing the fuzz, Kiichi starts to sob and whine, and Yuugiri slaps him, telling him he’s come this far for Saga’s sake and can’t give up now. As we saw in a previous scene, she’s already written to some of her many powerful friends who have sworn to protect Kiichi until things cool down. Kiichi doesn’t want to leave the Saga he loves, but he listens to the legendary savior whom he loves.

By the time Itou finds a casually smoking Yuugiri, Kiichi is long gone. Yuugiri forewarns that she was trained by someone called the “Sheathed Kichiemon”, whom Itou knows as “The Demon of Hibiya,” and thus knows he can’t go easy on her. In the ensuing one-slash duel, Yuugiri bests Itou, killing him, but is shocked that he let himself be killed.

No doubt if Itou failed to kill Kiichi, he was as good as dead anyway; he simply let Yuugiri take care of him for him. And with the snow ceasing and the clouds opening up to reveal a majestic full moon, Yuugiri accepts her fate. The next morning, Gramps wakes up and finds a letter from Yuugiri amongst the medicine.

In it, she says by the time he reads it she’ll likely be dead; beheaded by the military in a unilateral execution for killing Itou, a government official. Interspersed with her beautifully lit and solemn execution scene, she tells Gramps that if he’s truly “Saga” (as in, the human embodiment of Saga) as claimed, he’ll guide the new Saga Kiichi creates.

The following spring, May 1883, Saga re-gains independence from Nagasaki thanks to a peaceful appeal from supporters in the prefecture, and by August, unilateral execution was banned, and just nine days after that, Kiichi’s dream officially came true, as the first Saga prefectural assembly is held. Yuugiri’s death, and that of Kiichi’s comrades, weren’t in vain.

With that, we find ourselves back in the present, as Yuugiri takes center stage in a bopping swing-style concert, resplendent in period-inspired garb as her fellow idols support her. This particular concert hits different now that we’ve seen everything Yuugiri’s been through to come to this part of her (after)life.

In a very cheeky epilogue, she has some very nice whiskey in a very classy bar tended by a man who looks and sounds like a younger version of Kiichi’s gramps. He is aware that Yuugiri was alive in the Meiji era, and the black-and-white photo of her with Kiichi and Itou is behind the bar, so this guy must really be the immortal Saga.

Not only did this two-parter give the legendary Yuugiri the epic backstory he deserved, in which she was revealed a hero, martyr, and unsung founding mother to the new Saga—it also expands the mythos of the show by introducing an undying character who has been on the margins of this whole story all along, and may well be behind the necromancy that brought Yuugiri and the other idols back. In any case, I’m eager to see where this goes!

Crow and Irina talk episode 9 here!

Slime 300 – 01 (First Impressions) – Living La Vida Slow-ca

Isekai Series #48,763, the obnoxiously titled I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, starts out super-dark (albeit tempered with kiddy art) with its workaholic protagonist Aikawa Azusa literally dying at her desk. She encounters an angel in heaven who reincarnates her as an immortal in some nice relaxing highlands.

Azusa is pleased with her forever-17 looks and witch getup—complete with a hat big enough to make Elaina blush. She’s also glad that the only enemies in these lush, verdant highlands are harmless slimes, which she decides to defeat at the rate of ~25 per day in order to fund her knew laid-back life.

Azusa goes on to live a slow, peaceful life in her secluded cottage, tending her field, making medicines from herbs, and basically just kicking back…all while defeating around 25 slimes a day, exchanging the crystals they drop for coin at the nearby village’s adventurer’s guild. This goes on…for three hundred years.

Before she knows it she’s the oldest and most venerable person in the village. The episode intentionally underplays this massive passage of time, comprising over three average human lifespans, but also underscores just how badly Azusa needed a long, long vacation from her hellishly busy past life.


When a guild clerk checks Azusa’s stats for the first time in three centuries, they learn she’s reached Level 99—slow and steady truly has won the race. When rumors spread of the power of the “Witch of the Highlands”, adventurers visit her wanting to test their skills against the best.

Of course, Azusa doesn’t really want to engage in such sparring, any more than she wanted to make a name for herself. She’s always been content to live her slow, peaceful life. But when the adventurers insist, she quickly dispatches them without breaking a sweat, and before she knows it a big red dragon is at her door, looking for a fresh challenge.

A short but sweet aerial battle ensues, with Azusa easily countering the dragon’s fire breath with her ice magic, which she then uses to fuse the dragon’s mouth shut. It plummets to the ground and then does exactly what Azusa had hoped it wouldn’t do: trash her beloved house, which in 300 years had gotten just the way she liked it.

Adding a slug to the face for good measure, Azusa makes the dragon promise to fix her house up, and it sheepishly departs to collect the gold it’s been hoarding in its mountain lair. Azusa’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi carries the episode with her highly versatile voice that darts from charming and sweet to annoyed and threatening at the tip of a giant witch’s hat.

While her house is in ruins, Azusa stays at a complementary guest room at the village office, and due to all of the goodwill she’s earned from the villagers and their descendants—from staunching a plague to protecting them from the red dragon—she never has to pay for a room, a drink, or a meal in that village ever again.

Azusa is surprised then, when a cute redhead with horns pays her a visit the next day and introduces herself as Laika, the red dragon she defeated. Laika has brought the gold, and begs Azusa to let her be her pupil. Azusa isn’t sure what she can teach her, but she does like the sound of someone to do all the housework, so she agrees. Laika gets to work building a larger dwelling from scratch that will accomidate them both.

When the sun begins to set, Laika assures her new master that she can work through the night to finish the house, but Azusa takes her face in her hands and delivers a “hard no” to that offer. As someone who literally died from working too hard, she’s not about to let her pupil threaten her health by doing the same. Too often “working hard” is overused in a positive light.

Instead, she tells Laika to watch the darkening sky, which is telling them she’s done enough for the day. That said, Laika is incredibly industrious, and the new larger house they’ll share is soon completed. Rather than kick Laika into the kitchen to make supper, Azusa takes her by the hand and they head into the village to celebrate.

While I wish Slime 300 had a more imaginative title, I am glad slimes were more of a means and not an end to Azusa’s story. I find her dedication to living a quiet peaceful life quite admirable, and it’s a nice contrast to more ambitious witches like Elaina, who starred in an more ambitious but ultimately uneven series.

By comparison, Slime 300’s wonderfully simple plot, lush idyllic land-and-townscapes, competent magical combat, and the all-star voices of Yuuki Aoi and Hondo Kaede (Maple from Bofuri) make it well-positioned for a low-stakes, high-comfort isekai viewing experience. It also featured more frequent and effective comedy and a more interesting heroine than The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent, so if I end up picking only one to watch, 300 has the early edge.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 02 – The Strong, Sad Type

Inugami introduces Kabane to his new roommates and colleagues at the “kemonoist” agency: Shiki, a fellow hanyo one year older than Kabane who adopts a hostile attitude towards him early on, and the beautiful Akira, who looks like (but isn’t yet confirmed to be) a yuki-onna with one key difference: he’s a boy, and Kabane gets off on the wrong foot by mistaking him for a girl.

Last week Kabane was surrounded by people who hated him and wished he’d go away until Inugami showed up. But neither Shiki nor Akira hate him, nor treat him as badly as the humans in his village treated him. Shiki even offers him pizza, which he’s shocked to learn Kabane has never tried, which means he’s never really lived. He’s also intrigued when his flesh-rending silk cuts Kabane’s ankle, but it heals immediately.

Before the new home dynamic of Kabane, Shiki and Akira can be further explored, Inugami gets a call and it’s off to the next case. The police let the “specialists” get through simply because they’re stumped about what to do about a woman and her child being completely engulfed by swarms of bloodthirsty bugs…beyond burning the whole house down and leaving the other two kids orphans.

That’s…obviously not ideal! Inugami prepares to harden his skin in order to go in the room and deal with the bugs, and it seems like the only other choice when Shiki’s silk is just eaten by said bugs. But then Kabane volunteers to head in, and while the bugs swarm and crawl all over him, he has no blood for them to drink, and he feels neither pain nor revulsion after a life of ostracism.

As Inugami tells Shiki and Akira, Kabane’s unflappable nature means he never wavers, which combined with his immortality makes him plenty strong…but it’s also sad that living with humans has sapped much of the boy in him. That said, Kabane gets the job done, separating the item causing guilt that summoned the bugs: a pair of new shoes shoplifted by one of the mom’s sons because he felt bad about her worn ones.

After being thanked for saving his mom and sibling, Kabane is officially accepted by Shiki, who was only putting him through his paces to learn more about him. Kabane gets a hammock in the bedroom with Shiki and Akira, while Inugami calls a fellow kemono colleague about having found an immortal half-demon hanyo—who could be a threat, but could also be all their salvation.

While the departure from the sleepy village sapped a bit of this episode’s lush natural beauty, the bright and straightforward personalities of Akira and Shiki, along with Tokyo’s endless lights, helped illuminate Kabane’s world, while the first case-of-the-week was an appropriately creepy intro into the kind of work the agency does on the regular. Surely more challenging cases lie ahead, and we’ll meet more kemono, but as an establishment of Kabane’s new life, this episode got the job done.

Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul – Trials Make Love Stronger

I finished the first season of Made in Abyss three years and a week ago, commenting that while I ached to know what would happen next, a long rest was in order, so that I might recover from the emotional wounds throughout that first run, culminating in the shockingly brutal story of Mitty and Nanachi.

Turns out no amount of time would heal those wounds to the extent they wouldn’t be re-opened and—very soul freshly re-crushed—upon watching the continuation of the Abyss story. That’s because the deeper Riko, Reg, and Nanachi descend, the more acute and devastating the horrors they encounter.

This is the third of three Made in Abyss films; the first two were a retelling of the first season, while the third is a direct sequel As such, spoilers throughout.

Case in point: upon arriving at one of her mother’s favorite spots in all of the Abyss, the Garden of Flowers of Fortitude, they encounter one of Bondrewd’s delvers, the Umbra Hands, harvesting tissue from other delvers who have been infected by a parasite that not only feeds off you while you’re still alive, but feeds itself to you in order to keep you alive. Lovely!

Few anime do soaring vistas like Abyss, and there’s something just so otherworldly and dread-inducing about the sight of the Fifth Layer’s Sea of Corpses, along with Idofront, Bondrewd the Novel’s domain. But as cold and unyielding and inhospitable as the spinning ghost city seems on the outside, within resides one of the sweetest, warmest, most human souls they’ve yet encountered: an adorable little girl named Prushka.

Prushka is Bondrewd’s daughter (voiced by Minase Inori), who is initially suspicious of outsiders coming to help her dad when she thinks she should be enough. But once she meets Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, they open for her a whole new world of questions and information about the Surface (she was born in the Abyss).

It’s so strange to see Prushka acting so lovey-dovey with Bondrewd, perpetrator of countless acts of sickening biological crimes, especially since he and his Umbra Hands resemble evil robots. And yet that evil robot still has a strange gravitational pull Nanachi finds hard to resist. Nanachi can’t forgive Bondrewd, but something still draws them toward him. Nanachi was something of a child figure to him, after all, so Nanachi sees Prushka as a younger self.

Bondrewd has bad news for Riko: while she may have her mother’s White Whistle, only the person for whom the whistle was made can use it to activate the altar that will take her down to the Sixth Layer. He offers them accommodations to “think things over”, but there isn’t any doubt his intentions for them are about as far from harmless as they’re all far from the Surface.

Despite her cozy room, soon Riko wakes up alone, and upon exploring, finds that she’s trapped in a small area with the only exit being a stair Prushka warned will cause “strains of ascension” if climbed. When Riko attempts to climb them anyway, she loses all sense of touch and balance, grinds her baby molars away and falls down the stairs, gaining cuts here and there. But she hallucinates far worse: as the very concepts of what and where are gradually eaten away by white light.

Ultimately, the reason Bondrewd does anything all comes down to curiosity and the aspiration to reach the bottom of the Abyss and learn its infinite secrets, same as Riko. It’s just a matter of scope and scale. Riko has managed to retain her humanity throughout her descent. But while has the affable dad voice and general form of a man, there is simply nothing left of Bondrewd’s humanity.

After Nanachi offers to stay with him and help him continue his research in exchange for Riko and Reg’s safety, Bondrewd tells them that, uh, unfortunately, he’s already tossed Reg to his Umbra Hands, who restrain him, slice off his right arm (along with Incinerator) and start collecting his bodily fluids. That’s when Riko, who was helped up to the upper level by Prushka, intervenes, and Prushka learns the truth about her father for the first time.

With Bondrewd showing his true horrific colors loudly and proudly, Nanachi, the most experienced with how he operates, comes up with a plan to take him out. This involves luring him into a nest of giant seven-tailed scorpions, trying to infect him with parasite larvae, and finally Reg crushing his body with a giant boulder.

Naturally, Bondrewd praises both Reg and Nanachi every time they toss a new tactic at him, saying things like “wonderful” and “I’m surprised.” After all, Nanachi is one of the creations of which of which he is most proud, one who unlike Mitty and the others was able to receive the “Blessing” of the Abyss rather than fall victim to the Curse. You’d could mistake it for fatherly pride if, again, Bondrewd had a shred of humanity. But his willingness to offer love and pain and suffering in equal measure disqualifies him as both from being either a parent or a human.

None of the tactics against him end up working, because the Umbra Hand who escorted Prushka simply takes the mask off of the crushed Bondrewd and places it on his head, thus transforming into a new, untouched Bondrewd. Turns out all of his Umbra Hands are him—and his immortality is tied to a relic called Zoaholic. The fight ends for now, and Bondrewd returns home with Prushka.

If Zoaholic didn’t make Bondrewd insane, the act of splitting his soul and essence into multiple bodies still removed what was left of his empathy or humanity, which is why he ends up having Prushka cruelly vivisected just like all of the other orphan children before her. He’s satisfied her experiences with Reg, Riko, and Nanachi helped “perfect” her, and this is the natural next step. She is never told this would happen, and never asked if it’s okay.

Her body is marked with “X’s” to signify the parts that will be cut away and discarded (most of it) until all that is left is a mass of “fleshy curse repellant” to be placed within a suitcase-sized cartridge. It is in this way that Bondrewd staves off the curse; using the pain and suffering of still technically-living children as his strength.

It’s truly skin-crawling, horrible, horrible stuff, and even though I had a reasonable suspicion that Prushka was doomed to a Mitty-like fate, I was still not ready to see even a little of that fate carried out, nor would I ever be. No one would!

By the Riko, Reg, and Nanachi return to Idofront to rescue her they’re way too late, while the sight of the “processing” room brings back Nanachi’s memories of assisting with said processing. When Bondrewd arrives, Riko and Nanachi they buy time for Reg, who hooks himself up to Idofront’s power supply and ends up rebooting in Berserk Mode.

Bondrewd tells Riko that his own White Whistle is the result of sacrificing his own body and soul, and that all White Whistles are made in this way—with a willing human sacrifice, not carved stone.

It’s then when Berserk-Reg arrives and fights on the same level as Bondrewd, ultimately blasting a huge sphere-shaped chunk out of Idofront. He lands in a pit of Mittys—material for Bondrewd’s cartridges, and we’re reminded of all those lights on the wall representing their lives are labeled: he remembers the name of every child, their unique qualities, and how cute they were. Shudder…

As Bondrewd and Reg are locked in an epic battle, we hear Prushka’s disembodied voice as she recounts her life with Bondrewd, starting as a failed subject. He decided to raise her as his daughter, gave her Meinya as a pet, and gave her a fun and happy childhood, ultimately culminating in her helplessly watching as pieces of her are removed one by one on the operating table.

We hear Prushka because she’s now a cartridge that Bondrewd is currently using in his fight, and ends up being his last cartridge. Even after what he did to her, she still wants to help her dad achieve his dreams—even if it means helping him fight against Reg, Riko, and Nanachi.

Thus aided by Bondrewd, Reg can’t defeat him with one arm, which is why he was buying time for Riko to retrieve his other arm. Even disconnected from his body, she’s able to aim it at Bondrewd and fire it, blasting him to pieces.

As this is happening, Prushka pleads with everyone not to fight, because they’re all going to have adventures together. An image of that dream appears in the climax of the battle, and is pretty much the most heartbreaking goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.

Then Bondrewd falls to the ground, finally beaten, and Nanachi stand over him. True to form, Bondrewd isn’t bitter about losing; on the contrary: he’s never been happier to find someone with stronger aspirations, will, and love defeat him. It means they, not him, are worthy of exploring the greater depths of the Abyss, and all the curses and blessings therein.

Riko holds the spent cartridge of what’s left of Prushka, simply red liquid that spills everywhere, and very understandably begins to bawl in absolute despair. But then she notices an object lying in the puddle of liquid: a White Whistle. Turns out Prushka’s soul willingly became the sacrifice necessary for Riko. Now her dream of going on adventures together can be realized.

With that, Riko gains the means to make her Last Dive, along with Reg (who learned a great deal about what his relic body can do) and Nanachi (who found a degree of closure in her vendetta with Bondrewd). Bondrewd, oddly enough, is still alive (after a fashion), but no longer a threat to them, and indeed is happy to see them off as they enter the “elevator” that will take them to the Sixth Layer, that much closer to Riko’s Mom, whatever’s become of her.

Quite appropriately, the end credits pull double duty as an illustration of that elevator descending ever deeper  into the Abyss, accompanied by an achingly gorgeous song that is a collab between MYTH & ROID and Kevin Penkin. Penkin, of course, also contributed the score and outdoes himself in the task; his music has been and continues to be a vital piece of what makes Abyss so unique an special.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to end this in less than 1500 words, but whatever; this was basically four episodes of the anime comprising a Fifth Layer arc, enshrining Bondrewd the Novel as one of anime’s all-time most monstrous and compelling villains, exploring the ways ambition can mutate “love” into a heartlessly destructive force.

It also ably reinforced Abyss’ uncanny ability to tear its viewers’ hearts and souls to bloody shreds before painstakingly sewing them back together with delicate threads of hope. And with a second season in the early stages of production, the story of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi is far from over.