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.

In / Spectre – 05 – A Ghost Born from a Wiki

very cross Saki arrives just in time to witness her ex go toe-to-toe with the vicious steel beam-wielding ghost of an idol. Saki had seen Kurou’s cuts heal immediately and even saw his detached finger regenerate, but had never seen him die, which is what happens when Nanase whacks his head off.

I was surprised Saki didn’t let out a scream upon witnessing such a  horrifying sight, but in possibly an even more unsettling sight, Kurou’s head is whole again and he’s alive and well just a minute or so later.

Having taken her best shot, Nanase can’t really do anything else other than try to kill Kurou again. Kurou is also able to predict her generally mindless movements, but even when he snaps her neck she’s back as quickly as he was. Perhaps sensing a stalemate, Nanase disapparates to fight another night.

We learn through Kotoko that Kurou is the result of his insane grandmother performing human experimentation on members of the Sakuragawa clan and the flesh of the immortal mermaid and future-seeing kudan. Kurou was the first to consume both and not immediately keel over and die, but in gaining the abilities of the monsters he ate, he naturally became less human.

This is no doubt a large part of why Kotoko is so enamored of Kurou—they both inhabit the space between humans and the supernatural, and who else would be able to deal with either of them? But while Kotoko is determined to make Kurou her husband, Kurou seems to be less enthusiastic and even fatalistic about the prospect of such an often annoying brat being his only hope at happiness.

Kurou’s reunion with Saki is pleasantly cordial, underscoring how there’s still love there for both of them and things ended so abruptly as to lack closure, and thus cause emotional confusion upon seeing one another again. The reason Kurou is there is because some of the monsters in the city sought out his aid without using Kotoko as a go-between, demonstrating effectiveness of her efforts to make him less frightening to her supernatural pals.

Meeting in Saki’s apartment, where Kotoko must endure Kurou staring at his ex (who says she lost weight due to her police job, not depression), Kotoko explains how a “monster of the imagination” like Steel Lady Nanase comes into physical existence. It’s essentially a matter of humans playing a game of telephone with each other regarding a rumor, which is spread, embellished, and refined until it is given name and a form.

Typically monsters of imagination aren’t grave threats to humanity, but Steel Lady Nanase clearly is, and the rumor that eventually gave her form was essentially supercharged by the power of the internet to reach more people and gain viral status. Thus, the wiki Saki found wasn’t created in response to Nanase, Nanase was created because of the wiki.

Kurou can fight Nanase all night long, every night, but she’ll never be defeated for good until a new rumor, one simultaneously more enticing to people and less lethal to people than the current iteration. That won’t be easy, but Kotoko is already a powerful conduit for human-supernatural networking, which means no one’s better suited for the job.

SSSS.Gridman – 12 (Fin) – Power of the Finite

“Anyone who can make kaiju is a kaiju themselves,” says Alexis Kerib, after transforming Akane herself into an enormous monster that wails out a terrible lament as it destroys what’s left of the city. Still temporary allies, Gridman (dwelling in Yuuta) asks Anti to deal with the Akane-kaiju, as he and Rikka have something else they need to do.

Akane isn’t feeling particularly good about herself, which is probably what enables Alexis to transform her and control her so easily: he thrives in the corruption of the heart, in hatred, disgust, and aloofness. He chortles when Rikka calls Akane “her friend” not because Rikka is only Akane’s programmed creation, but because he doesn’t believe there even is such a thing as friends.

Right on cue, Rikka’s friend Yuuta-Gridman picks her up in Sky Vitter (to Alexis’ bemusement), and they return to the hospital to snap Shou out of his funk. Regardless of how useless or normal he thinks he is, Yuuta tells him that Junk needs everyone there to work. The Gridman Alliance is more than just a cool nickname for their little circle, it’s the key to unlocking Gridman’s full power.

Anti succeeds in freeing Akane from her kaiju prison (which seemed to be filled with some kind of clear LCL), but Akane wonders why he bothered with someone as terrible as her. Anti fully owns his “failed creation,” since the fact he failed meant he’s more than just a kaiju, but a human.

Alexis makes no distinction between kaiju and human, or anything else, since to him it’s all below him. Because Akane is still in a bad state, he exploits her negative emotions and literally consumes her to become a kind of “Alexisman”—but the Alliance are back at the Junk Shop, and when they activate the new acceptors that appear on their wrists, a new, final form of Gridman appears: less armored and more like, well, a giant guy in a suit.

This new Gridman fights Alexis in order to free Akane once more, and has some success…until the halved Alexis simply auto-repairs. He is immortal and infinite, so however many times Gridman tries to destroy him, he will just keep coming back forever. Since Alexis has everything “of value” in Akane’s world—that is, Akane herself—he decides to head back to his realm…after killing Gridman.

But before he can skedaddle or kill Gridman, Gridman discovers a new power, and possibly his most important: The pink Grid Fixer Beam, which repairs not only the city Akane created and then destroyed, but succeeds in rescuing Akane’s heart from Alexis’ clutches. The Fixer Beam basically deletes him from the world.

Finally, free, Akane worries about what comes next. “A big world’s too much for me!” she laments, because she’s such a weak, pathetic coward. Rikka, Yuuta, and Shou tell her that no one’s perfect, which is why they—which is why everyone—relies on others.

Her world afforded her godhood and a kind of immortality, but it’s run it’s course, and now it’s time to return to the world of mortality and the finite. Akane’s grateful to Rikka for saving her, but also wracked with guilt over the things she’s done that cannot be undone with any Fixer Beam.

Rikka tells her not to sweat it, and gives her the gift of a wallet that matches her own (and also happens to be the same color as Akane’s hair). Rikka wants Akane to stay in the world and be together with her, but tells Akane not to let that wish come true. No one can force Akane to leave; she has to want to do it; to return to her real life.

With that, Akane disappears from Rikka’s side. Gridman & Co. say their goodbyes to Rikka and Shou before returning to the Hyper World, and not long after that Yuuta wakes up in the junk shop, the Gridman Alliance now just a friendship of three kids. The puckish humanoid kaiju who once guided Yuuta heals Anti, who is grateful, and now sports both a human and a kaiju eye—his past and present.

Finally, in the real world—as in, a live action world—a girl with long black hair much like Rikka’s slowly wakes up and rises from the bed, the Akane-colored wallet on her dresser. This, it seems, is the Real Akane, who left the world where she was a god (i.e., her dreams) and returned to the world she thought she couldn’t handle.

Now the ending with Rikka and Akane makes more sense: Akane made the purple-haired Akane to be her ideal avatar, and made Rikka, who more closely resembled her real-life self, to love her. Ergo, in her world, she loved herself. But Rikka taught her the power of friendship, and the need to wake up from dreams and not sink into Alexis-like abysses of darkness and despair.

A lot of this might sound corny, but the show expresses these well-worn ideals so earnestly and powerfully, it all comes together and works pretty well, which can be said of the show as a whole. Despite only catching a tiny portion of the references to Gridman and Gridman-esque works, SSSS was never not a pleasure to watch and listen to.

The ending could be said to be too neat and tidy, squandering a universe of potential alternate directions. But at the end of the day the lesson holds: just as friendships have value because we aren’t infinite or immortal beings, an imperfect finite ending will do just fine.

Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

Golden Kamuy – 16 – Climbing Out of the Swamp

Shiraishi rather carelessly falling into the custody of the 7th Division is one more detour on the increasingly complex road to meeting Nopperabo. Hijikata cannot act when so outnumbered by armed soldiers, but he can lie in wait at a fragile hanging bridge that causes them to bottleneck.

Hijikata cuts the bridge, sending the soldiers and Shiraishi into the river, and Kiroranke is waiting to pick him up in a boat. But Shiraishi remembers his nightmare of being killed by Sugimoto for his betrayal, and hesitates to grab Kiro’s arm, and ends up right back in his captors’.

After imagining his annoying self in their heads, everyone kind of shrugs at the prospect of losing him, but decide that his know-how is worth traveling to the 7th Division base, infiltrating it, and rescuing him.

Meanwhile, we learn a little more about how Tsurumi intends to carry out his grand plan: Lt. General Arisaka’s top-quality weapons will sell like hotcakes; those weapons will be used to kill and maim in war after war; opium from Tsurumi’s cold-weather poppies will supply the drugs to sooth those who survive the battles. But he needs capital for his venture, hence the need to find the Ainu gold.

Tsurumi also had Arisaka built Nikaidou a new leg, all but assuring one more rematch between him and Sugimoto, who himself finally puts two and two together and realizes that Shiraishi was feeding info to Hijikata. Asirpa urges him not to kill anyone unless necessary, implying Shiraishi isn’t that.

On the contrary, he’s crucial enough to their plan for Hijikata to reach out to a fellow inmate at Abashiri, Suzukawa, who is a master of disguise. They’ll have him impersonate Abashiri’s warden Inudou Shirosuke in order to infiltrate the 7th’s base. Sugimoto accompanies him, also in disguise.

There’s now a lot going on, with the Hijikata/Sugimoto alliance (more like a truce) just barely covering up the fact that there are nearly as many competing motives as there are characters. The crowded field also means Asirpa gets another short shrift, with only one line that I recall. Sidelineing my favorite part of the first season—Sugimoto and Asirpa’s blooming friendship—had better bear some compelling fruit.

Golden Kamuy – 15 – The Brains are Always Delicious

I think the mad taxidermist exited stage right at just the right time; before his antics grew repetitive and boring. His legacy is briefly carried on by the Nikaidou brother who lost an ear to Sugimoto, and is part of the contingent that attacks the house to destroy evidence of how to identify the fake skins.

In the ensuing fracas, Sugimoto ends up saving Ogata’s life, while Nikaidou ends up losing an ankle and a foot to Hijikata’s blade. The cat watches the house burn, and its meow either signifies “good riddance to bad rubbish” or “feed me.”

The newly-formed Hijitaka alliance splits in two, ultimately to rendezvous at Ashibetsu. Both parties have a camp dinner, with Asirpa trying to get everyone to like woodcock brains and Hijitaka and Nagakura reminiscing on when the latter discovered the former was in prison, when both were younger men.

One man who can tell fake skin from real is Nopperabo, and so Hijitaka plans to utilize Shiraishi’s Escape King skills to break in and meet with him. Only two problems: Shiraishi is worried about getting killed by Sugimoto for discovering he’s been passing intel to Hijitaka, and when he tries to peace out, he’s surrounded by troops.

Golden Kamuy is staying fresh and nimble by serving up new character dynamics as a result of the shifting alliances, but draw quite a bit of value from the resulting banter. Asirpa and Sugimoto aren’t featured as prominently this season, but that’s not really an issue as the show has such a deep and strong bench.

Golden Kamuy – 14 – Mine Madness

Tsurumi’s new pet insane taxidermist Edogai has completed the fake skins for his master, and even found the time to create a Tsurumi “doll” with “spare parts”, much to the consternation of his two minders, Maeyama and Tsukishima.

Things shift from lighthearted fun with body parts to real danger when Ogata kills Maeyama while Tsukishima is away. Edogai makes use of one of his bearskins to disguise himself and escape, making for quite the spectacle. We know Edogai doesn’t get out much, which explains why he remains in the bear outfit throughout his escape.

As a result, it doesn’t take long for Ogata to spot and catch up to him, but Tsukishima is very good at his job (keeping Edogai safe despite himself) and snatches him up in a mine cart. Sugimoto and Shiraishi, who arrived to inspect Edogai’s house (and where Ogata met Shiraishi in the room of corpses and reminded him of his obligations to Hijikata), give chase in another mine cart.

They catch up, but become separated again when the tracks split. Ogata himself follows in a third card, but after some dynamite, the release of firedamp, and several gas explosions, the entire mine becomes even more of a deathtrap than when it was functioning normally. Edogai’s leg is crushed under rocks so he gives his humanskin bag to Tsukishima, entrusting him with getting the fake skins back to Tsurumi.

Sugimoto tries his damndest to break through the wooden barriers the miners made to stop the airflow, but lacks the strength. Fortunately, none other than Ushiyama spotted Sugimoto and Shiraishi heading into the mines via cart, and when things turn pear-shaped, he rushes in to save them both, to Asirpa’s relief.

With that, you have two of the three major factions of the show suddenly sharing a meal together, Last Supper-style: Hijikata and Sugimoto are officially introduced, Ogata is revealed as having betrayed Tsurumi (which doesn’t sit well with Sugimoto, who is, after all, a soldier himself), and Shiraishi’s secret of passing info to Hijikata is not exposed…for now.

As for Tsukishima, he makes sure Edogai didn’t die in vain. The skins reach Tsurumi, as well as Edogai’s last word: “iron.” Tsurumi learns that you can tell a fake skin by the tannins Edogai used, which make the skin turn black when wet and in contact with iron—an interesting parallel to the Huki leaves Asirpa and Sugimoto munched on last week.

Unfortunately for those two, Tsurumi is the only one who knows what’s fake and what’s real. He’s achieved his goal of making life far more difficult for anyone else seeking the treasure.

Golden Kamuy – 13 – The Taste of Spring

I take over Golden Kamuy reviewing duties from Preston as the last vestiges of summer fade and the colors start to turn, but it’s springtime in Hokkaido. It’s in the town of Yuubari where Lt. Tsurumi (himself very odd) meets perhaps the oddest and most colorful character yet on a show full of ’em: Edogai Yasaku. Whomever conceived of such a character has a twisted mind. Edogai seems normal at first, but it’s gradually made clear he’s anything but.

For instance, he doesn’t live with his mother, or anyone else, despite him hearing voices from a number of people in the back room. In fact, he’s just hearing voices, and the “people” are corpses he, a master taxidermist, has stuffed. He’s got a whole goddamn Signing of the Declaration of Independence in there. Is Tsurumi freaked out about this? Quite the contrary; he’s ecstatic: this guy is just who he needs to add more chaos to the tattoo hunt for his opponents.

After indulging Edogai in a hilariously macabre “human skin fashion show”, he tells him the plan: to create clever copies of the tattoo map skins he’s brought, covered in “nonsense” that will lead its readers astray. Edogai is eager to please his newest client, but when he can’t get the color of the skin just right (since its not fresh skin), he has a bit of a temper tantrum, riding his stuffer polar bear in one of his pieces of couture and exposing his arrested development.

So yeah, Edogai isn’t the most stable individual, but Tsurumi only needs him until the job’s done, even if it’s not done to Edogai’s exacting standards. Meanwhile, Asirpa and Sakamoto immediately avail themselves of the lush bounty of spring vegetables and fresh salmon, along with Shiraishi and Kuroranke.

But in Asirpa’s village where Tanigaki is still recovering, Inkarmat arrives with ill tidings: Asirpa’s life is in danger. Someone in her party will betray her, and it’s looking like it’s Kuroranke (if Shiraishi doesn’t do it first, of course). She joins Tanigaki on a mission to warn Asirpa, or to protect her from the threats she faces.

In her dreams, Asirpa remembers her father before his face was ruined, telling her she’d not only be a new kind of Ainu woman (which she certainly is), but one day be their outright leader. For that second prediction to come true, she’ll have to remain alive in an increasingly dangerous Hokkaido. But I wouldn’t bet against her.