Akudama Drive – 09 – All Work and No Play

Brother is in custody atop Executioner HQ. Swindler, Sister and Courier are going to rescue him before he can be transferred to Kanto. It’s a wonderfully simple objective…if only it were so easy to pull off. Suffice it to say, they run into a few…obstacles.

One person who doesn’t get in their way this week is Doctor, who beds Hoodlum on a lark (hey, he’s pretty). He’s an audience for her increasingly unhinged monologue not about living forever, but gaining control over the life and death of all things.

Once her speech is finished, she and Hoodlum look out the window to see what the commotion is about: Swindler sent out crazy messages online about a “Akudama army amassing”, and massive Akudama lynch mobs have formed in the streets as a response.

Both the riots and the independent carnage caused by a loose Cutthroat serve as dual diversions for the authorities, giving Swindler & Co. a better shot of getting to Brother. The police chief sits on his hands regarding the riots, but Boss visits him to insist he use the police to restore order—by force if necessary. No doubt a Kansai on fire doesn’t reflect well on her.

Sure enough, security is light at Executioner HQ. Throughout their interactions with the ever-stoic Courier, Swindler and Sister have become a wonderful call-and-response duo, with Sister even resembling a composite of Asirpa and Enonoka from Golden Kamuy in her essential cuteness.

Unfortunately, the greatest threat to the success of their mission is Cutthroat, who has already “decorated” HQ for his beloved Swindler’s sake…with the dismembered bodies of dozens of Executioners. This is when the rescue mission turns into a straight-up horror movie befitting the episode title “The Shining”.

We learn that the source of Cutthroat’s inscrutable attraction to Swindler has nothing to do with her hair or eye color, but the “red halo” he sees above her head in only his vision. As time has gone on that halo has only grown larger, and serves as a tracking device. He’s been holding back, but now it’s time to kill her and bask in the beauty of the red halo.

In short, Cutthroat, like Jack Torrance, is freakin’ nuts. Overt references to the Kubrick film include the river of blood through which Courier’s bike skids, Cutthroat’s limp as he chases Swindler, and of course, chopping through the wooden door (though he doesn’t declare “Here’s Johnny!”). He even seems to calm down and returns to a measure of sanity when Swindler locks herself in a armory.

He sweetly announces he’s decided not to kill her, so if she could kindly open the door that would be swell. Of course, he’s lying, but Swindler is well aware—you can’t swindle a swindler. She took steps to end the stalemate by strategically tossing lightsabers around the armory floor so she’ll never be without one however the struggle unfolds.

I’ll admit I was waiting for either Courier or Sister to help her in the nick of time, but she ends up killing Cutthroat (or something very close to it) by her own hands. Courier arrives afterwards with Sister to finish the job brother gave him, but by the time they reach the room the airship he’s on is already flying away—they just missed him.

With Doctor talking about how control is everything and her plans to use the sibling research to control everything, Swindler would likely settle for just a little control over her life, which has spiraled out of control. She went from an unassuming civil servant who’d never hurt a fly to someone who has been forced to maim and kill in order to survive.

Perhaps thanks in part to both Sister and Courier, she’s able to preserve her core decency and morality, even as the uglier elements of society attempted to sell her off, and someone operating completely outside all human decency or sanity took his best shot at her. He missed, and Swindler, the no-longer-Ordinary-at-all-Person, somehow endures.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 09 – Estelles;Gate

Last week’s doll-and-face fetish episode, and the grape-stomping maiden episode before it, made for some particularly goofy Journeys of Elaina, making me wonder when and if show would get dark again. Sure enough, this episode arrives with an “Explicit Content” warning, opens on a starving, broke Elaina, and no OP! What the heck are we in for? At the time, I had no idea.

Elaina finds a flyer promising good pay for “ultra-short-term” work, and encounters a fellow Witch, Estelle. Through meeting her, Elaina is pleased to learn that while Estelle became an apprentice when she was younger, it took her longer than Elaina to become a full-fledged Witch. Wand-measuring aside, Estelle is offering a giant sack of gold coins for the job.

What is the job? Well, first, a sad story: Back while Estelle was training abroad, her dear childhood friend Selena’s parents were murdered in a robbery. Selena’s uncle took her in, and proceeded to abuse her. Selena eventually snapped, murdering her uncle, and then several others. It ultimately fell to Estelle to apprehend Selena…and execute her.

Estelle seeks to use magic to go back in time so she can save Selena’s parents and prevent the chain of events that lead to her having to kill her own best friend. Time-traveling requires more magic than any one witch has, so Estelle has been gradually draining her blood to augment the spell.

The other problem is that once they’re actually in the past, Estelle will be drained of all magic, which is why she needs Elaina. By wearing matching magical rings, Elaina will be able to share her magic with Estelle. This job is not without its risks and inconveniences—hence the generous payday.

Elaina, confident and cocksure as always, proudly proclaims herself to be a traveler, and so the next logical step in her journey is to travel through time and see how things used to be in the past. So she slips on the ring, Estelle activates the spell, and off they go.

The witches safely arrive ten years into the past, but only have one hour to do what needs to be done before being sent back to the present. Estelle makes it clear that the timeline in which she executes Selena has happened and can’t un-happen; changing events will create a tangent, but that’s enough for her, as long as there is a timeline in which Selena gets to live on.

Their broom-flight to Selena’s house is interrupted when Estelle spots young Selena walking down the street, and can resist giving her a big hug, no matter how much it weirds the girl out. Elaina notes that Estelle got quie the cold reaction from Selena, but Estelle insists that deep down Selena is very kind.

Estelle proceeds to get Selena’s parents out of the house under the guise that she’s Selena’s half-sister and has business with them. Elaina stakes out the house, waiting for the robber to arrive, but it dawns on her that the murder of the parents was too grisly for a mere robbery. Then her magic-sharing ring glows and shoots a red beam in Estelle’s direction: she’s engaged in battle.

When Elaina arrives, she finds a horrifying sight: Selena has viciously attacked Estelle, and has blood on her mouth just like her photo in the future papers. It turns out Selena’s parents abused her long before her uncle had the chance, twisting her into homicidal mania, even sadism. It doesn’t matter whether Estelle was her best friend or she and Elaina are trying to “help”—Selena is already beyond helping.

While the blood and gore on display in this scene is indeed explicit, I for one am glad we didn’t have to witness the abuse Selena suffered at the hands of her parents, and the warning was meant for the violence. And there is a lot of it—the most in the series’ run for sure.

When Selena prepares to attack Elaina, Estelle gets up and stops her in her tracks. Having worked so hard and sacrificed her own blood to try to save Selena, she is overcome by heartbreak and despair, and there’s nothing left but to kill Selena again before she can kill Elaina or anyone else.

Elaina tries to stop this by removing the ring, but Estelle simply sacrifices her memories of Selena in order to summon enough magic to explode her head off. The hour is up and the two witches return to the present. Sure enough, Estelle doesn’t remember Selena, and barely remembers Elaina. She’s a ruined husk of a witch, and Elaina is so upset by the experience she runs out of Estelles house, pointedly leaving the bag of gold behind.

That, and Elaina’s subsequent breakdown on the bench in front of the clock tower, shows that the effects of this particular journey will (or at least should) last beyond just this episode. Elaina weeps uncontrollably, her confident façade utterly shattered. She no longer thinks of herself as a special or exemplary; only an “ordinary” traveler and witch, inexperienced and unable to do anything.

She’s being a bit hard on herself, as who the heck could have handled that situation better? It was largely out of her hands. The best thing to do would have been to refuse the job, but she really needed money and was intrigued by the prospect of a different kind of traveling. The episode fades to black and the credits roll without images. Black Friday, indeed.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

Yuri Kuma Arashi – 04

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Framed as a day in which Yuri Court is not in session and narrated by Shaba-da-doo chief Judge Life Sexy (bear) himself, Yurikuma Arashi 04 is a past-tense heavy, backstory building, infodump.

In spite of that, it’s a wonderful episode full of tight storytelling and some fall on the floor giggling moments that I urge everyone who likes feeling happy to check out.

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Summing it up: Lulu was once a princess, who got all the attention from her bear kingdom. One day, on the day of shooting stars, an adorable little brother was born and her world came apart. No longer the heir, no longer doted on by her maids, Lulu became deeply jealous.

Unfortunately, her little brother loved her very much and, for the promise of a kiss, would go on ‘adventures’ to find her a falling star. I air-quote adventures here because Lulu convinces him to get into a box marked ‘love’ and kicks him off a cliff at the beginning of each.

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The little prince always returns, beaten up a bit, but holding a wonderful pot of honey in exchange for a Lulu kiss — and every time Lulu freaks out and throws his pot of honey out the window and kicks him off the cliff again.

Until one day, the prince dies and Lulu gets what she wants. Years later, surrounded by wonderful things and chased by endless suitors, she is empty inside and, only after meeting Ginko (who’s retrieved one of the lost honey pots) does Lulu find purpose again. Her kisses are gone, her happiness too, but she will be a criminal bear and help Ginko find happiness and cross the wall into Human lands.

The episode closes with Lulu and Ginko under their mushroom-hat tree. Lulu holds her dead brother’s honey pot and Ginko a golden star on a ribbon… which matches the one worn by Kureha’s late mother!

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What earned it a 9: the card-style storybook flashbacks were charming, the backgrounds beautiful, and the added context for the male court-bears in Lulu’s past and the reasons for Lulu being devoted to Ginko were all deftly handled and well integrated.

And Judge Life Sexy’s “Shaba-do-doo’ing along with the background music almost earned it a ten on it’s own.

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Why it didn’t a 10: it’s an infodump episode. Pure and simple. All the elements were integrated very well but the info dumping wasn’t integrated with the current events in any way.

Most importantly, this means nothing really happened in ‘current events’ part of the narrative.

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I’m on the fence over the castle, the bear-infused decorations and architectural elements being a good break from the hard edge, pattern heavy ‘current events’ style or if its general lack of action and ‘otherness’ was distracting.

The art style was beautiful regardless and I especially liked the bonnet-wearing bear maids in waiting.

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 03

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Verdict: Action, drama, sharp brightly colored art with a strong sense of personal style, and a rocking trancey-pop sound track catapulted Yurikuma to the top of its game, and all anime’s game this week and I don’t see any sign of it slowing down any time soon.

If you haven’t started watching it, stop what you are doing and go watch it. Then watch it again because, I promise you, the lovely details are layered on thick here and something new will hop out of you each chance you give it!

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What didn’t work: is entirely dependent on your sense of taste. If the absurd, pure love of yuri-love message this show presents doesn’t mesh with your personal view, I can see why you may want to run for the hills.

Otherwise, this is a technical masterpiece and an emotionally touching piece of psycho-storytelling.

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What pushed it up to a 10: was the superior integration of visuals and sound track. Also, the pattern making, which has been strong in weeks past, finally hit its groove. The Escher bird-to-mountain design appears everywhere, fading in when the emotional need to achieve conformity is brought up by the story, and fading away when the personal view is the center.

I don’t even know what all the symbolism stands for, but it is very strong and it feels legitimate, regardless of what I can bring to the table.

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Summing up the story: Yurizono really did eat Sumika, and she quickly positions Kureha to follow. Using easily manipulated girls of the classes, she makes Kureha the next target of the invisible and sends the storm, which appears to be some sort of cyber-bullying over the phone, or text or something.

However, Ginko has decided she wants to save Kureha (or just wants her to eat herself) and, with Lulu’s loving help, gets the yuri-court to approve her love, her love for Kureha, and thus bolstered, Kureha is able to shoot Yurizono in their final show down.

Then Ginko and Lulu eat another girl, this time the one who organized Kureha’s invisible… storming.

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Lesbearian Storm bashed my skull in this week and it was awesome. I can hardly make sense of what it all meant but, between the crazy, trippy visuals and the throbbing, Emiliani Torini style sound track, man was I hooked.

Yuri Kuma Arashi – 02 (Second Impressions)

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Lesbearian Storm continues its march towards pure crazy with two giggle inducing bear-reveals, another I-can’t-even-describe-it court session, and a double homicide for its second outing.

It’s packed with content, wild twists, and over the top yuri action. I will do my best to avoid spoilers but, if you haven’t seen it yet, turn away now and come back later!

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To sum up: it turns out Yurizono really did witness the bears eating Sumika, and not some random girl as I expected. So Sumika is dead and Kureha is in emotional shambles.

Yurizono is also devastated, though possibly because she’s infatuated with Kureha or possibly because she knows Ginko and Lulu are bears. Regardless of which, Yurizono admits to her jealous lover that Kureha is most likely the next to be eaten…

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Then Lulu and Ginko invade Kureha’s house under the pretext of needing a bath. Then Lulu takes a bath and Ginko licks Kureha’s face and then Yurizono shows up with a rifle and saves the day…

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Later, the bears face another trial before Judge Sexy and are Yuri-approved, which is followed by Kureha’s emotional showdown with a bear, Yurizono killing a bear, and a bear eating another, apparently less tasty student.

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The good: killing off Sumika, the girl who stands at the center of Yuri Kuma’s promotional art, was a fantastically bold move. That said, this show is so many layers of crazy and populated by unreliable narrators that I don’t even know if she really is dead, or may re-materialize later in some form.

I’m not even sure if that would be a bad thing? This show is so wacky, and pokes so much fun at it’s own twists, that I may just accept such a return.

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This week also managed to stuff in plot developments, important reveals, secret identities, action and maintain a strong connection with Kureha, who is essentially the most human and emotional center to the show.

Quality of the animation aside, this was Yuri Kuma’s greatest victory: I felt bad for Kureha and empathized with her confusion at the nonsense whirlwind of crazy unfolding around her.

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However: if extreme sexualization of young characters creeps you out, this week we got grinding, licking, wet kisses, (bear) butt holes, ass-sniffing and a whole lot of skin. If tasteful can be used in that context, I think Yuri Kuma did a decent job integrating it (to the point that nothing needed a censor-shape over it) but the raw lust can not be overstated.

Also, on a production note, it was strange to see some of the animation recycled from last week. Sure, that honey-lapping scene with the three girls is dripping with wet appeal but…I hope it isn’t a sign that we’re in for serious budgetary issues later on?

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Second Impression: my biggest issue with Yuri Kuma is not how silly it is or how casually provocative its yuri yuri yuri all the time wants to be… it’s that I have a really hard time telling Kureha and Yurizono apart!

No seriously! The hair color and shape and the fact they both carry rifles makes it hard to tell who is on screen at each scene swap! Goodness, it’s almost as if one of them is doomed to join poor dead Sumika soon!

Growl! Growl! Yum! Yum!

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Yuri Kuma Arashi – 01 (First Impressions)

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Lesbian Bear Storm, as it shall be henceforth translated, is best described as a stylish, soft-touch yuri-infused stylistic mashup of Dangan Ronpa and Bakemonogatari… with a little Evangelion and retro-ness anachronistically sprinkled in to spice things up.

The first episode makes a sort of insane self-contained logic that I found equal parts baffling and exciting. At once we know everything about the world and about it’s characters and their motives, yet the world is so completely insane, we understand nothing. I can’t even tell if the show is serious or an absurdist comedy!

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To sum up: One day the bear star exploded over earth and rained shooting stars upon us and made the bears stand up and attack man all at once. The survivors built an ‘extinction wall’ and hide safely behind it. Except two bear-chans transform to look like human girls, tanuki-style and infiltrate human all girls high school and maybe eat someone.

That some one possibly wears glasses and is the love interest of a gun-toting blonde girl who’s got a bear-based tragedy in her past and did I mention everyone is female and a yuri? Even the bears!

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You will like this if: you like either of the shows I mentioned. The art is fantastically bizarre sharing the odd-spaces of the ‘Gatari series and the weird black/red/white CGI design and camera work of Ronpa. Likewise, it has ‘Gatari-style philosophical monologues and one-on-one character meandering character interactions and Ronpa-style violence and weirdness. (like the bears’ teeth-grinding animation and audio that sounds like jackhammers) It even has a court session that I won’t even begin to try and explain!

And if deeply weird psycho-dramedy isn’t your cup of tea, Yuri Kuma is beautiful to look at. Dare I say, to the point of being creepy, given the subject is dominated by the love of little girls for one another and plausible social commentary of society trying to keep them apart.

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You may not like this show: if you want simple escapist anime entertainment. To be clear, this is a challenging show to make sense of and, girl-love aside, there’s nothing easy to latch onto here. I don’t even know what the show is about — is it a wacky love story? Social commentary? Sci-fi?

It may not be as frantic as Kill La Kill or Sensei-despair, but it also isn’t as clear-cut about its goals as those shows were from the beginning.

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First Impression: Yuri Kuma is right up my alley. It’s quirky, fantastical and stylish. It’s also mysterious without seeming overly serious. However, and most importantly, it’s unique and the dialogue and events were not so densely packed or frantic that I couldn’t keep up.

Yuri Kuma will certainly give me a ton to say each week!

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