Vlad Love – 09 – Nuts and Bolts

Going into this episode cold, I spent half the time wondering what the heck was going on and why there was little to know animation, and the other half luxuriating in the atmosphere of its unrelentingly hard-boiled, war-torn art style. And I think, like most who watched this, the whole point was to not quite know what was going on, but to simply let it all wash over you.

I say this because a message at the very end explains what the heck was going on: this entire episode was an homage to the works of rarely-translated avant-garde cult cartoonist Tsuge Yoshiharu. From 1955 to 1987 he was active in the world of gekiga—the precursor to modern graphic novels about mature themes.

His most famous work is Screw Style, which on its face has a simple plot: a boy washes ashore with an artery in his arm severed by a jellyfish, and he wanders war-torn Japan searching for a doctor. The original story is based on a dream Tsuge had during a rooftop nap, which tracks: everything is surreal and dreamlike.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Oshii Mamoru was both inspired and influenced by Tsuge’s work. Oshii was 17 when Screw Story was first published in 1968, serving as an allegory for his disaffected postwar generation (Oshii was also born just six years after the atomic bombings).

In place of the WWII-era machines of war, there are B-2s in the sky and Type 16s on the ground, and later, a Nimitz-class in the sea. For the boy, Oshii inserts a topless Mitsugu, who is desperate not necessarily to save her life, but to save the precious blood which belongs to Mai from flowing out of her arm and going to waste.

The homage—and general strangeness—fits the style of Vlad Love like a glove. Indeed, for those who’d seen the gekiga style without knowing what it was, the series’ backgrounds have always been done in this style, albeit with lighter color palettes. As Oshii cycles through three other Tsuge stories, the rest of Vlad Love’s cast have cameos.

Mitsugu finally meets up with Mai at an inn, who serves her castor oil in water instead of sake (since Mitsugu is underage) and mentions a delinquent (Satoru) who comes by the inn every day to terrorize her.

Mitugu’s odyssey leads her to a gynecologist (Chihiro). It’s heavily implied they sleep together, and Chihiro repairs Mitsugu’s artery with a metal bolt and valve. Mitsugu and Mai sail off with the sun and wind at their backs.

As I said before, I wasn’t clear what was going on for most of this episode, but I still liked it. It’s not only evidence of Oshii’s love of Tsuge’s work, but also a sign of his complete and utter creative control, a rare thing indeed in any form of entertainment. Vlad Love itself would not exist if Oshii wasn’t Oshii, much like The Snyder Cut wouldn’t exist if Snyder wasn’t Snyder.

Speaking of which, The Snyder Cut is a far superior film to the grotesquely cynical vivisection that was the theatrical Whedon cut precisely because of the strength, clarity, and purity and commitment of the artist’s voice. His unmarred vision shines through in every frame, no matter how dark and muddy those frames get.

This singularly bizarre and beautiful episode of Vlad Love taught me about the existence of Tsuge Yoshiharu, Screw Style, and other gekiga works. And it did so while existing as a unique piece of art all its own, integrating its characters and themes with the decades-old classics to which it paid homage. But I’m glad Oshii saved the explanation for the end, so I wouldn’t be influenced by the episode’s context out of the gate.

Tsuge hasn’t published a comic in 33 years. Ours is a world in which all art is borrowed or embellished version of what came before—an ongoing conversation across time. It’s episodes like this that keep that conversation going, brining awareness to younger generations so that they can make their own contributions. No doubt the next episode of Vlad Love will move on to, as John Cleese said best, “something completely different.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 10 – Not So Black-and-White

Armed with her new Migurd blade, Eris has no trouble taking out the low-level beasts who roam the wasteland, leaving no one for Rudy or Ruijerd to fight. She’s taken to the adventurer’s lifestyle like a fish to water. Their first true test occurs upon entering their first demon city, Rikarisu, which I have to say is a looker of a city, with dramatic terraced blocks clinging to massive cliffs and a central palace seemingly made entirely of a strangely pristine material.

Rudeus buys Eris a new cloak with cat ears which she vows to treasure forever, then they head to the city’s adventurer’s guild to commence his scheme. Ruijerd was granted access to the city because Rudy dyed his hair Migurd blue. When he arrives at the guild and says he’s got a genuine Superd in his party, the guild members simply laugh, because Ruijerd’s hair is blue, not green, and he’s wearing the necklace Roxy gave Rudy.

They don’t end up taking any jobs, but the guild visit is still a success … and not because Rudy got to leer at the three-breasted clerk (which blessedly the sum total of his perviness this week). He intended for the guild members to laugh at Ruijerd, as it give the impression he’s no one they have to fear. It’s the first step to rehabbing the Superd’s reputation.

After Eris marvels at the way the evening light turns blue when filtered through the crystal embedded in the stone cliffs, the party of three, calling themselves “Dead End” (which is one of the names for the feared Superd) heads to an inn. Another young adventurer takes interest in Eris, but she can’t understand him and ignores him. When he grabs her, the button of cloak Rudy gave her falls off, and she absolutely wails on the poor guy.

Rudy keeps the situation from escalating out of control (and incidentally getting kicked out of the inn or worse) by healing the party Eris attacked with his magic, impressing them and leading them to invite him into their party. Rudy politely declines, but he knows one thing for sure: the three of them can’t live off F and D-ranked jobs, the only ones newbies are allowed to take.

That night Rudy dreams he’s in his old body in that strange white void with the even stranger Man-God. The guy insists all of Rudy’s choices are his own, but strongly suggests he take the lost kitten job the next day. Rudy wakes up to find Eris is still up. She can’t sleep because she’s worried about whether they’ll ever get home.

Running around in the wastelands killing beasts is one thing, but I imagine once everything quieted down and Eris had a chance to think about their situation, I’m not surprised she’d get scared and worried. Rudy sits next to her and assures they’ll make it back, and Ghislaine and her grandpa will be waiting for them.

The next day Rudy takes the lost-kitten job as the Man-God recommended, which lead them to discovering another party of three running a pet-kidnapping racket. Rudy turns the ground beneath their feet into mud, then Eris and Ruijerd push them back against the wall so Rudy can bind them with earth magic.

When Rudy tries to question their insectoid leader, he gets shoved back hard, taking the wind out of him. Before he can get up, Ruijerd hacks the guy’s head off, and it rolls right beside Rudy. Ruijerd’s explanation for why he just killed someone: “he hurt a child.” This is when we and Rudy learn that Ruijerd is a  very black-and-white, good-and-evil type guy, especially where kids are concerned.

One side-effect of Ruijerd spilling blood so easily is that the other two adventurers’ lips are instantly loosned, and they spill the beans about kidnapping pets then claiming the rewards. When Rudy learns they’re a D-ranked party, he decides he’ll have them advance to C-rank, and use them to nab higher-paying B-ranked jobs.

Ruijerd is extremely opposed to teaming up with “villains”, and even grabs Rudy by the shoulder in protest, breaking his own don’t-hurt-kids policy. Eris punches and kicks him as hard as she can, reminding him he too did bad things in the past that don’t automatically make him evil, and that he should just shut up and leave it to Rudy, who only has his and her best interests at heart.

Ruijerd calms down, and reiterates that he won’t walk away from his promise to get the two of them home. They escort the D-rankers, a lizardman and bee-woman, to the guild, where they upgrade to C-rank. Rudy orders them to take a B-rank job, while he’ll take an F-rank job, with the understanding they’ll be swapping jobs. A nosy horse-man adventurer whom I’ll call Bojack for now almost catches wind of this plan, but assumes the lizard guy is just trying to look cool in front of the newbies.

The episode ends somewhat awkwardly right there, but that’s ultimately okay, as it accomplished a lot. We got to see Eris in action (and absolutely loving it) and saw our first demon city in all its glory. Rudy doesn’t grope anyone or make any gross comments, and is even thoroughly shaken when Ruijerd demonstrates his far-too-rigid code of morality. Now I look forward to their first monster-slaying quest. Here’s hoping Rudy can keep his green, now blue-haired friend in check.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 10 here!

Kemono Jihen – 01 – (First Impressions) – Tokyo Dreamin’

Detective Inugami is on his way to a remote village to investigate strange instances of rotting livestock corpses. Yataro, the innkeeper’s son, is quick to show off to his friends, who all think Yatarou will be Tokyo-bound at some point.

Yatarou also warns Dorotabo—a boy working in the fields in lieu of school—not to go near the detective, lest the stench upset him. However, the detective, an eccentric sort named Inugami who wears a flashy suit and drives a vintage car, seems far more interested in Dorotabo than in Yatarou.

Yatarou plays the role of eager-to-please innkeeper’s son, hoping to make a good impression on a Tokyo resident, but soon after he talks to Inugami about Dorotabo in derisive terms, the detective dismisses him in favor of Dorotabo.

Dorotabo has always been ostracized in the village for smelling bad and being generally creepy. He also wears a strange necklace that he was wearing when he was abandoned, but Inugami identifies it as a “lifestone”, which means whatever happened to his parents, they didn’t abandon him.

Yatarou, like the spoiled haughty little shit he is, tries to steal the necklace from Dorotabo, but when he does, Dorotabo transforms into a vicious demon; he’s just barely able to regain possession of the lifestone and transforms back into human form.

He’s hiding when Inugami tacks him down, warning him that he is the cause of the dead and rotting livestock. But Inugami while already has him pegged as the child of a human and a demon—a kemono like him—he knows Dorotabo isn’t responsible. Sure enough, other demon beasts appear as corrupted dogs and deer.

Inugami and Dorotabo are in time to save Yatarou from the dogs, but a giant demon buck with weirdly human teeth appears, and is a tougher customer. Inugami is only able to shoot through half of its thick neck with his gun (which he’s able to summon out of thin air), but Yatarou rips the rest of the demon’s head off with his bare hands.

Afterwards, Inugami reveals to Dorotabo that the innkeeper brought him to the village to kill him. He asks him his real name—Kabane—and asks once more if he wants to meet his parents. Kabane says no with a bright smile, and asks Inugami to kill him. Inugami shoots him in the head, and reports the kill to the innkeeper.

Kabane wakes up in the back of Inugami’s car, having been out for a day healing. A bullet to the head can’t kill what’s already dead, after all. Kabane now finds himself in the middle of the largest metropolis in the world—where that little punk Yatarou wanted to go—and Inugami sets him up with some cool new threads at the Inugami Strangeness Counseling Office, where two other kids—presumably also kemono—show up wondering who the heck he is.

I found Kemono Jihen (literally “Beast Incidents”) to be a fresh, fun supernatural series that immediately pulled me in with its picturesque village setting, and kept me engaged by having a bake-danuki like Inugami act with more human compassion than actual humans towards a kid who didn’t deserve their ire. The beasts are legit creepy, while there’s a palpable sense of excitement and momentousness to Kabane’s arrival in the big city. This looks like a keeper so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 09 – All To Themselves

Pictured: Not Ichika

Yotsuba approaches Fuutarou in the hall with Miku, excited about the upcoming School Camp and the campfire legend, but when it comes time for a study group, Yotsuba runs away and Ichika has a shoot, but not before giving Miku a wig so she can pose as Ichika at her class meeting. However, it turns out a guy in Ichika’s class lied about that meeting so he could ask her to dance with him at the campfire. “Michika” wasn’t ready for this level of acting!

Thankfully Fuutarou was listening in and intervenes when the guy suspects she’s not really Ichika. Miku then offers the excuse that she’s already dancing with Fuutarou at the campfire, and clings to him in order to convince the guy that they’re a couple. Miku even has the gall to ask the guy why one confesses. His answer is because you want that person “all to yourself.” But how does that work if you’re one of “five fifths together as one”?

With that matter settled, the quints (minus Ichika) surprise Fuutarou by taking him out shopping for school camp clothes, all their treat in exchange for serving as their model for their ideal guy getup. Their choices say a lot about their personalities, as Miku chooses traditional garb, Yotsuba chooses loud and gaudy, Itsuki chooses…her idea of tough and manly. Only Nino, who has pretty consistently good fashion sense, seems to take things seriously, choosing a stylish yet understated look.

But when Fuutarou checks his phone, he learns that his beloved Raiha is in bed with a fever. He stays by her side all night and into the morning. He misses the bus for camp, but he says it doesn’t matter. The heavily worn camp leaflet suggests otherwise, and both his dad and Raiha know it. Raiha contacts Itsuki, who comes to fetch Fuutarou.

To his surprise, the four other quints are with her; the six of them will head to camp by car (specifically the family’s custom six-door E-Class Benz). He reveals once they’re on the road (but stuck in traffic) that other than their place, he hasn’t spent a night away from home since elementary school, and all that pent up excitement seems to have bestowed him with a “traveler’s high,” combined with the scant amount of sleep he got due to watching over Raiha. That doesn’t save him from a savage backdoor flip-off from Nino!

They’re not able to make it to camp due to a winter storm, so Fuutarou and the quints shack up at a fancy hot springs inn. Nino warns her sisters how men can transform into wolves under such conditions, but since this is a harem rom-com there isn’t any other choice: the six of them have to share a single room intended for only four.

Before a sumptuous feast that will put tomorrow’s curry to shame, Miku informs Ichika of what she did to preserve her cover, namely say Ichika was going to dance with Fuutarou. Ichika, harboring her own feelings for the guy, is fine with the arrangement, especially if it’s okay with Miku, while Miku is fine with it because it was the result of her lie, and because she doesn’t consider Ichika a romantic rival. And considering how little she understands love and dating, it’s no wonder!

After dinner the sisters make avail themselves of the outdoor hot baths. Nino again implores everyone to remain vigilant, as Fuutarou’s traveler’s high makes him that much more of an unpredictable threat. In order to mitigate that threat, she gets them to all part their hair the same way so he won’t know who he’s sleeping beside. All this caution and planning are moot, as Fuutarou is totally passed out when they return to the room.

The next morning, which is bathed in heavenly light, Ichika finds herself dangerously close to a still-sleeping Fuutarou, having drifted there in her sleep. She’s happy to get another look at him asleep and draws even closer , admitting to herself that if this makes her lose her Ichika cool, she can’t exactly refer to him as “just a friend.”

When Itsuki pops in to announce breakfast, she catches a glimpse of Ichika looming over Fuutarou, though it’s such a short look before she retreats she’s not 100% sure which sister it was, only that it was one of them and she has no idea what to make of that!

Fuutarou’s Wardrobe by Nino

To summarize, Ichika’s becoming more honest with herself about Fuutarou and Miku may have just gifted her a crucial leg-up in that pursuit. Yotsuba is throwing out all kinds of hints, Itsuki wants to determine if Fuutarou is an “apt tutor” by maintaining proper distance, and Nino longs for Fuutarou’s bad boy “relative”, genuinely unaware the photo is of Fuutarou himself.

Finally, Ichika’s career is taking off, which means she may soon have to change schools to make it work. With all these emotions and developments swirling around the quints, this could prove to be a school camp for the ages: marking an end to some things and the beginning of others. In other words, buckle up!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 07 – You Mustn’t Become Boring

At the inn where he was extorted by Hitoha to take the Lit Club, Yamagishi-sensei is perfectly content to spend the evening with his folks, until he’s confronted by Hitoha in a particularly frisky mood. Forget her literary ambitions, she just wants to get with Milo-sensei, period. But thank goodness, he says four words that start to restore my faith in him: “Will you please stop?”

Sure, he’s pretty mean when he laughs at her inability to handle an imminent (but ultimately aborted) kiss when she was talking big about letting him lift her up by her thong and toss her to the floor. And when he tells her not to “bite off more than you can chew.” Hitoha may consider herself “a wretched sight,” but the alternative—if Milo-sensei had given in—would have been far, far worse.

As Momo withdraws from the baths, she can’t get the image of a totally naked and uninhibited Niina out of her mind, eliminating any doubt that she has a crush on her. Not only that, when Sugimoto RINEs her with a number of in-your-face stamps enthusiastically inquiring about how she’s doing, Momo almost seems resentful—how dare you, vapid boy, try to occupy headspace I’d rather have occupied by the fair Miss Sugawara?

Just before Momo returns to the bedroom, Rika is also exchanging innocuous texts with a boy—Amagi—the difference being Rika is loving every moment of it. Still, not so much that she’d let Momo know, as she rushes back to the brainstorming table. Momo muses that the idea of guys being simple and shallow is “an urban legend in itself,” and wonders why girls are supposed to couple with them instead of what she deems to be simpler girls she finds cuter.

Rika initially believes the two of them are far apart when it comes to how they feel, but in reality, they both liken how they feel to the bittersweet taste of a dark chocolate Pocky. They’re both interrupted by a rejected and thoroughly pissed-off Hitoha, who barges in with an urban legend about sweethearts wearing matching thongs…not knowing that might actually work for someone like Momo!

While the nature of the distance may vary, the love interests of all five girls are far away. Niina and Kazusa are unique in that they likely share the same love interest. It’s Niina who is there when Kazusa comes out of her overheated state, which is really for the best, as Niina gets to instigate the fight they really need to have in order to move forward, either as friends or something else.

The other three interrupt the fight, in part deeming it unfair due to Kazusa’s heat-fatigued state, but the five come up with a solution that serves everyone: a lively, no-holds-barred pillow fight. It’s a wonderful, semi-cathartic release, and thankfully Yamagishi-sensei has precisely no part in it whatsoever, keeping a distance and letting these girls in their savage season have it out with one another in an aggressive (fight) yet gentle (pillows) way.

The night Kazusa returns, she has dinner with Izumi’s family, but Izumi himself isn’t present. In another beautiful sequence, the two end up encountering one another from the windows of their respective bedrooms—a cliche to be sure, but an effective one in this case, especially as both had just been thinking of one another; specifically the fact they like one another.

Having learned a lot from her trip and gained quite a bit of confidence and courage, Kazusa draws on what she and only she knows—that Izumi is particularly into retro trains—and tosses him one in the form of a keychain. Izumi first thought of Kazusa as a girl when he could throw a baseball further than her. But this time, both the keychain and her feelings make it to him. It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Back at school, Kazusa makes sure to apologize to Niina for being presumptuous about her stealing Izumi, but does so under the impression Niina has no interest in Izumi, which is actually just another presumption on her part! Ironically, Kazusa takes another confident step in volunteering to be the role of the girl to Niina’s boy in the lit club’s cultural festival performance.

As Momo adjusts Niina’s costume and blushes at the sight of her nape, and Rika continues to flush her relationship with Amagi down the toilet, Kazusa continues to reiterate in her head how she loves Izumi, and has always loved and treasured him back when she was his big-sister figure. But while Kazusa has probably never been more at peace, that peace is built on shaky ground.

As Kazusa confides to Niina that she’s just about ready to confess her feelings to Izumi, Niina is not quite ready to concede Izumi to her so easily, though she might ultimately do so out of respect for their friendship. Where she goes wrong is seeking advice from her middle-aged pedophile former acting coach Saegusa, whom she visits just as he’s calling his latest prized talent “boring”…apparently for being so obedient.

Saegusa doesn’t want to witness obedience, on the stage or off it; he wants to see rapture; the explosive moment when a girl spreads her wings and takes off, transforming into a woman, even if that woman holds no interest for him beyond the “final moment” of transition.

With that in mind, and considering his loyalties lie nowhere else, he urges Niina not to be boring like his young student, but rather to damn the torpedoes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, not least because it’s quite likely Niina will do whatever her old mentor says, no matter how much it might hurt her and/or Kazusa.

But like Momo’s near-total disinterest in boys, Rika’s near-total inability to be the girlfriend Amagi wants, Hitoha’s near-total commitment to pursuing a forbidden affair, and Kazusa’s near-total confidence in her love for Izumi, Sugawara Niina is beholden to the road paved by the sum total of her life experiences thus far.

As much as she might want to, she has yet to escape Saegusa’s influence, and can no more turn off that road than Momo can start liking boys. And so, it seems a war with Izumi is inevitable—and no longer the kind with mere pillows.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 06 – Solo Sumo

The cultural festival committee, wanting to boost outside attendance this year, come to the lit club requesting they come up with a romantic urban legend. Little do they know how sensitive a subject romance is for all five of the girls, for very different reasons. And yet, just when the other four are ready for a vehement refusal from Rika, she quietly agrees to take the job.

Hitoha, meanwhile, feels like she’s in a sumo match all by herself, as she’s walking around in a cold, uncomfortable black thong, part of another example of her dangerous “indirect play” with Milo-sensei. It’s all about the fact she’s wearing it, he knows she’s wearing it, and she know he knows she’s wearing it, but he doesn’t seem that excited.

Instead, when the pretty (and age-appropriate) Tomita-sensei shows up, he leaves with her, and while flirting lets loose an important nugget Hitoha will use later. I still hold out hope Milo, the adult, will stop this before things go too far.

There’s a different match going on between Niina and Kazusa, and Momo is ill-equipped to referee. The problem is, the Niina and Kazusa girl are playing with different sets of rules. When Niina tells Kazusa to imagine how she’d want her love story with Izumi to start, Kazusa brings up how beautiful Niina is and how she lacks the same confidence over her looks.

When Niina presses, saying Kazusa is cute and in any case a relationship isn’t all about looking perfect, Kazusa flees. Momo tells Niina that she should clear it up with Kazusa that there’s nothing going on with Izumi, but Niina would rather exercise some “tough love.” For one thing, if there’s nothing to spur Kazusa or Izumi on, they’ll remain in limbo forever. Not to mention Niina is (rightfully!) mad at one of her supposed best friends Kazusa for assuming what so many others have—that she’s out to “steal their man.”

Rika, the one lit club member who has “won” her match and now has a boyfriend, has no idea what to do next. Amagi is eager to sing out their relationship from the rooftops, but she’d rather find a way to hide it in a forest. She wants to ask Amagi for a little more time to do so, but going public seems like something very important to him. This couple will need to learn to find a middle ground, lest it wither like an unpicked fruit on the vine.

Bereft of good ideas, Hitoha suggests a club field trip to an inn…the inn run by Milo-sensei’s family which she heard about while he was flirting with Tomita-sensei. Hitoha has since been given the run-around by her “editor,” saying erotica is no good and purer “young love” pieces are what’s hot now (the girl who published erotica ahead of her didn’t fare so well). Hitoha now finds herself perfectly positioned to draw from her own life for this new literary direction. She promises Milo she’ll thank him “with her body.”

The change of scenery doesn’t do much to get the creative juices flowing, particularly for Kazusa due to an incident on the train when Niina mentioned she had tea with Izumi. While Niina hoped being aggressive would spur Kazusa to action, it’s having an unexpected effect of making Kazusa retreat ever further into her burrow of self-loathing.

A break for baths is called when in the brainstorming session Kazusa suggests an urban legend about blowing up the school so you can be with the one you love in heaven forever. Dark. Shit. But even in the baths, Kazusa can’t escape her worsening inferiority complex, as Niina walks in without even trying to cover herself, showing off a body against which Kazusa doesn’t think she has any chance.

Niina is right to think neither Kazusa or Izumi will come out of their shells without external action. She’s also right to be hurt by Kazusa assuming she’s trying to steal Izumi, as well as the fact she believes Niina is the better choice because of her looks. But the difficulty level is way too high, and by episode’s end Kazusa has literally burned out in the bath. Whether Niina takes it down a notch for Kazusa’s sake depends on whether she honestly has zero interest in Izumi—the jury’s still out on that.

As for Momo, she’s mostly caught in between other conflicts this week. While there’s not much additional evidence this week to support viewers’ growing opinion that she’s into girls—and has a crush on Niina in particular—I would definitely welcome further exploration of that development. For now, she’s trying her best to keep the peace, because Niina vs. Kazusa could get ugly, fast.

Fruits Basket – 11 – Giving Everything

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Tooru is a giver. She gives and gives and gives, sometimes without thinking; sometimes with quite a bit of thought behind it; and always, always without regard for any consequences that might crop up as a result of that boundless generosity. The only one she’s not generous to is herself. As has been said about her, she plays by a different set of rules.

Two of the unintended effects of this: it’s hard for her to accept anything in return, and it’s hard for anyone else to give to her without her wondering if that’s really okay. But after Valentine’s Day, you have White Day. It’s tradition. It’s the rules of society. So she’s expecting something in return for her chocolates. She just wasn’t expecting a hot spring trip, courtesy of Momiji.

As with most things offered to her, she feels unworthy, or at least feels she’d be an expensive burden. An onsen is costly, no matter how you look at it! And this, despite the fact she spent so much of her own money buying ingredients for the chocolates she gave everyone, she’s fallen behind on school trip payments. Kyou, just barely moderating his temper, asks Tooru to go have a bath, then turns to the issue at hand: just how stupid is Tooru to be so selfless with her money?

Momiji regails Kyou and Yuki with a “Funny Story” from a book he once read in school, about an “idiot” traveler who was constantly being swindled and duped out of possessions, until she wandered the forest naked. There, a bunch of demons duped her out of her body, all except a head with no eyes (shades of Hyakkimaru), leaving her only a piece of paper that read “idiot.”

First of all, this is not a funny story, WTF is wrong with Momiji’s classmates? But secondly, the fact the traveler never despaired, but only wept with joy that the things she gave up went on to help people (even if they lied about needing them). Like Tooru, her warped perspective is just something that works for her, and you can either accept it or consider not hanging out with her anymore, because she’s probably never going to change!

For all of this shows’s demonstrations that the Soumas can transform into animals, Tooru may be the most bizarre creature of them all, and especially out of place in modern Japanese capitalist society. Yet like Momiji, Kyou and Yuki, what initially, by my own less lofty set of standards and different perspective, might seem like idiocy could also be described as nobility; of representing the best of what a person could be; someone who, if everyone emulated them, would make the world a so much better place.

The proprietor of the onsen, a woman of frail health whose off-camera son is the Monkey of the Zodiac, was initially suspicious of Tooru, an outsider, of being a potentially disruptive or harmful force to her cursed child. But that was before she met her, or saw her soaking in the spring with her dead mother’s picture in a plastic bag to keep her dry. She can tell she had no reason to worry; Tooru is One Of The Good Ones.

It’s amazing Tooru agreed to go at all, considering how kingly a gift she considers a hot spring trip. By blowing everything nice other people do for her out of proportion…it can be challenging, at times perhaps even trying, to contend with that. But everyone has fun at the onsen trip.

Tooru plays the quickest and funniest round of ping pong, gets a lovely hair ribbon from Yuki, along with his full-on Prince Act, and Momiji gets to sleep beside Tooru, even though she’s just a year younger than Kyou or Yuki. But the night before she learns this, Tooru simply lies in bed thanking her mother for making all this happiness with the Soumas possible.

That may seem macabre—essentially thanking your mom for dying—but like I said, Tooru doesn’t play by those rules. Everything that happens to her, and everyone she meets, good or bad, is a miraculous gift, and she takes absolutely nothing for granted.

 

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 03 – A Sucker for Kindness

“Even annoying things are cute if Horie’s doing them.” By the standards of Ao’s upbringing, Kijima’s intentions are virtuous almost to the point of chasteness. Even their male and female peers have less kinky ideas about the two than Ao’s twisted imagination.

This week, while on a class trip, Ao continues to realize the picture of Kijima in her head is not the same as the boy in front of him. When his hand ends up on her thigh, it’s because he’s reaching into a closet in which he has no idea she’s hiding.

When she stumbles and falls on top of him, of course everyone is there to witness her “attacking” Kijima. She insists that’s not the case, but when the group heads out for a test of courage, they make sure she’s with him.

Ao is not used to walking mountain trails alone at night, and so grudgingly agrees to Kijima accompanying her. While in the bathroom she sees a hand, and leaps out like a ninja; closer inspection, it’s just a latex glove on the floor (which…gross). But there’s a bigger issue: in her haste to flee, Ao’s skirt rode up her backside, and her panties are visible.

Kijima’s first instinct is to give Ao the news gently by dropping hints, because he doesn’t want to inadvertently hurt Ao. Of course, his efforts fail miserably, and his attempts to be firmer about her having  a problem “with her lower half” only skeever her out until she feels she has to run away from him.

She surrenders to his appetites, but of course she completely misunderstands: Kijima has no intention whatsoever of taking advantage of her, he was just trying to be kind, as he always is. Hopefully someday Ao can realize this…or at least realize when her panties are exposed!

3-gatsu no Lion – 38

3GL is delivered in chapters, not episodes, so it’s not unusual for chapters that go long to pour into the next episode. That can sometimes seem random, but it also keeps the rhythm of the show fresh. And while we get three very different chapters, they all contain the same theme: Rei getting over his match and subsequent evening with Souya and rejoining mankind.

The Chairman gives Rei a call and is relieved both that Rei is fine and that he’s taking care of Souya. The Chairman throws a little dig at Rei for being so good at caring for others for his age, but he doesn’t know how much of an affect the Kawamoto sisters have had on him, and Rei may not even know he’s paying their kindness forward.

 

The Chairman also lets Rei in on a little-known fact: Souya’s hearing comes and goes, and the doctors can’t pinpoint anything other than “stess” as the cause.

There’s a great melancholy in the Chairman saying “just leave [Souya] alone and he’ll be fine”, but he’s proven right the next morning, when not only has Souya taken off before Rei, but paid for his room as thanks for assisting him yesterday.

Rei has a tendency to see Souya as some kind of god roaming the earth, unaware of its strange customs; one could also call him (shogi) royalty; a young king who has never had to live in the real world.

And when Souya is gone, the storm is gone as well, replaced by an almost fake-looking blue sky. The blinding white light of his “Souya Storm” match is back up in the sky, hanging there as the sun. It all feels like a weird dream, and Rei gets lost in it.

The sounds of school and other people around him gets muffled, replaced by the crisp sounds of the shogi pieces smacking against the board…almost like a tinnitus.

With the epic “White Storm” over, we get a titular—literal—”Restart” that gives us a fresh dose of the always-wonderful Kawamoto sisters.

Their half of the chapter plays like an after-episode omake, as they give us step-by-step instructions on how to make the perfect pork juice-marinated soft boiled egg, accompanying delectably tender braised pork.

It was nice to check into the sisters’ warm little world—particularly now that Hana (her hair up in a mature bun) is over her bullying ordeal and looking forward to seeing Chiho soon. But I couldn’t help but feel a bit worried by Rei’s text declining the dinner invite.

The last thing we need is him starting to follow in Souya’s footsteps, making the Fausitan deal of shogi divinity in exchange for utter and profound lifelong loneliness as the sounds of the world around him fades out. Let’s not go there, please!

When the chapter returns to Rei, who is so deep in the notes of his match with Souya Shimada has to stop him from getting trucked, my weariness for such a development lingered. However, once Shimada brings up Nikaidou, I was pleased to discover I had nothing to worry about.

Rei is at first shocked Nikaidou is already out of the hospital and playing matches, then worried for his classically shaky health. Shimada also tells him it’s likely Nik is feeling depressed since his absences have forced him to forfeit some matches, making rank demotion a possibility.

But Nikaidou isn’t depressed; he’s right where he wants to be, and when Rei checks in on him, he’s defeated an 8-dan with an all-new move he’s hopeful they’ll name after him. Seeing Rei there only compounds Nikaidou’s manic joy, and when Rei sees how wrong Shimada was and how happy his friend is, he can’t help but smile and laugh—something Souya could never do. I reckon Rei will be fine!

3-gatsu no Lion – 37

Rei has known Souya for years, but like everyone else, has regarded him as some kind of shogi diety, floating above the ground on a higher plane of existence…and shogi. But thanks to his win in the Newcomer Tournament, here he is, sitting opposite Souya, a real, living, breathing human being. Rei isn’t sure if Souya has strayed into his world, or if he has strayed into Souya’s.

As their commemorative match progresses, it’s pretty clear it’s the latter. And you know what? Rei likes it in Souya’s world! It’s a pretty chill place where he doesn’t feel the same pressures or emotions when facing previous opponents.

He’s in the eye of the white storm, where all is quiet, and where there is nothing but shogi, the next move, and the moves after that. Calm, tranquil, and refreshing almost to the point where Rei feels bad for insulting an opponent who defeated him.

And Souya does defeat him, mostly due to an error Rei knows he made the second he placed the piece. In the review, he makes the right move instead, and the Meijin nods. When Rei looks at the palm of his hand, Souya speaks the words “that’s what it’s like.”

Whether Rei can now feel the game through his fingers, the fact remains it was a good match. I’m glad Rei didn’t pull out a miracle win, because that frankly would have not lined up with all we know about Souya, mostly that he’s nigh unbeatable.

Rei doesn’t like losing, but at least he knows when a win simply isn’t in the cards; the gap is too wide, and he hasn’t figured out how he’ll catch up, if that’s even possible. And it wasn’t by any means an embarrasing loss; his match with Souya engendered much lively discussion among their shogi peers.

Last week Rei got his first taste of Souya-attempting-to-act-human at the pre-match reception, and was somewhat troubled by the fact Souya has always been profoundly alone.

Rei, as we know, has a fair amount of Kawamoto in him, and so when the bullet train service is suddenly suspended, he takes care of a disoriented Souya, who proceeds to follow Rei around like a lost puppy.

That being said, Souya has been on this earth longer than Rei, and so whenever Rei can’t find what he’s looking for among the chaotic crush of the station, Souya always seems to quietly point out the proper way forward, be it the ticket booth, finding an inn for the night, and finding an exit that won’t get them drenched.

But yeah, if Souya isn’t physically deaf, he’s certainly close to it…as if he cast off the need to hear sounds because sound isn’t required in shogi.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody – 02

The battlemage whom Satoo saves is one Zena Marientail, who calls off her suspicious comrades and gives Satoo a ride to their mutual destination, Salue City, a lovely walled and terraced town with friendly faces and reputable businesses.

After securing proper papers (denoting him as Lv.1 despite his much higher level), he is snagged by Martha, the daughter of the keeper of the Gate Inn, where Zena’s comrade Iona recommended. Throughout these interactions, Satoo utilizes trickery, persuasion, bartering, and other skills he’s amassed.

The innkeeper tells him about a Demon King that a chosen Hero must defeat, but Satoo settles for some cold quiche and cabbage to sate his hunger. I for one have always lamented the fact one cannot taste all the different foods one finds in an RPG; watching Satoo enjoy it is the next best thing.

While Martha shows him around, Satoo learns about the strict caste system; commoners cannot use the public baths, and there are a good number of slaves, many of them demi-humans whom the other humans fear, distrust, and in some cases outright hate. When Satoo is nice to a couple of young demis, Martha seems confused, but quickly changes gears to other things.

Upon returning to the inn, Satoo happens to spot Arisa—who bears the inauspicious titles “Exiled Witch” and “Crazy Princess”—being ridden on a cart, presumably with other slaves. I’m sure he’ll see her again, but first, he has a hearty supper of veggie soup, wild boar, black bread and mead, which proves so tasty he has seconds against his better judgment.

As he tosses in bed with an upset stomach, he ponders his situation, and concludes it might not actually be a dream, but…something else. After all, the “game” he’s seen so far doesn’t really match any games he knows of or has helped to develop; rather it’s something unique.

As he rushes out into the night to explore the city some more—it’s very pretty at night—he decides that whatever is going on, it behooves him to soak up as much as he can, that he might become a better game developer by what he sees, hears, and experiences in this fantasy world.

I don’t really blame him; he’s flush with cash and overpowered to boot. I wonder how he’d fare right now against that Demon King. Of course, he’s nowhere close to encountering such an overboss; instead, he gets a surprise visit from Zena, who has come on her day off to thank him for saving her life by spending the day with him.

Desumachi continues to be nothing groundbreaking, but I cannot deny it scratches an itch; that of a fantasy slice-of-life that takes its time unveiling its world and not skimping on the details, be it currency, society, cuisine, and relationships. Basically, it’s comfily low-stakes and entertaining enough to keep watching for now, though my socks remain firmly un-knocked-off.

Kino no Tabi – 10

Kino is the kind of person who wants to go to the country where everyone else who’s been there says the locals were very rude and treated them like crap. So imagine her disappointment when the country turns out not to be full of assholes, but full of the kindest, most hospitable townsfolk you could ask for, including the sickeningly twee innkeeper trainee and tour guide, Sakura.

Kino takes in an outdoor play chronicling the people’s proud history of having found a haven after escaping oppression. She dons an apron during a barbecue (with Hermes ensuring she only grills; no seasoning). She even gets her persuader serviced by the local, er, persuadersmith, who performs the task for free.

The smith knows the gun as the kind one of Master’s students would use (even if Kino denies knowing her), and decides to gift her another gun, “The Woodsman”, a gun he once carried for protection while traveling, but has no more use of now that he’s too old and frail to travel. He’d rather it be put to good use.

By the time Sakura shows Kino the most beautiful spot in the city during a gorgeous sunset, Kino is completely charmed and no longer disappointed the people of the country aren’t rude jerks. Unfortunately, the three days she promised she’d stay are up, and the soldiers insist she leave immediately.

The town seemed so cloyingly nice I was almost constantly keeping my eyes peeled for little clues that might indicate what the “catch” with the place was, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Turns out the answer was staring me right in the face in the opening moments of the episode as Kino and Hermes neared the country: it is positioned at the foot not of a mountain, but a volcano.

The night Kino leaves, the volcano unleashes a pyroclastic flow that wipes out the country, killing everyone in it instantly. Even the normally stoic Kino is upset by this sudden, shocking development, especially when Hermes calmly explains there’s absolutely nothing she can do.

But Sakura and her mother did give Kino two packages, and in them are some mementos, along with a letter explaining that the country knew of their impending doom, had the choice to abandon their lands or stay and die, and chose the latter.

The reason they were so kind to Kino is that they knew she’d be their last guest, and wanted to try to repair the reputation as rude jerks they’d built up over the years. Turns out they weren’t rude or kind country so much as a Country of Self-Destructive Stubbornness.

Another note written by Sakura accompanies the seed she caught at a wedding (the last wedding in the country, and the couple was younger than usual because, well, they were out of time), stating that she wouldn’t need it. Sakura must’ve known of her fate after all, but like her parents and the rest of the adults, decided to stay and face her fate. Pretty heartbreaking stuff.

Re:Creators – 16

Those hoping for Re:CREATORS to deliver an action-packed episode after a two-week wait will be disappointed, unless their idea of action is more than half of the episode being spent lounging around a hot springs inn.

The reason everyone is at the retreat is to recharge and celebrate all their hard work, and is itself cause for celebration: it means that the Elimination Chamber Festival is finally, finally going to get started.

While there’s not a lot to note in the inn scenes, there are some nice character interactions between creators and creations alike, with particular focus on how the more time creations have spent in the human world, the more they come to appreciate it, as well as mundane things like the smell of the hot springs.

Also, Kikuchihara is a stern drunk.

At last, Nissan Stadium is filled up, Meteora and her comrades are powered up, and the grand premiere party of ECF is kicked off by animated versiosn Selesia and Rui’s real-life seiyus, Komatsu Mika and Amamiya Sora; a nice meta moment.

The team prepares and baits the birdcage, and Selesia is finally reunited with her Vogelchevalier (which I’m sure she prefers to a government-owned Toyota 86, as nice as that car is), and we cut to Altair and her crew, clearly ready to dive in.

Of course even promising, exciting build-up is just that: build-up. The pieces are in place, but we’ll have to wait yet another week to see how it all shakes out. I would be very surprised—and even disappointed—if everything goes according to the good guys’ plan.