Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Your Eternity – 01 (First Impressions) – A Dog and His Boy

Happy Monday Everybody! Are you ready to…bawl your fuckin’ eyes out?! I know I am. Welcome to To Your Eternity, one of the Spring’s most anticipated series. As always, I enter completely in the dark, unsure of what’s in store for me. Yippee!

It is sent to Earth, a tabula rasa of an entity that can take the form of things it encounters. First it’s a small and basic white sphere, then a rock, then the moss on that rock, then a white wolf that dies on that mossy rock. Fantasia and 2001 came to mind. The visuals and music are epic, and given greater gravitas with Tsuda Kenjirou’s narration.

Then, the wolf reaches a small settlement. Of the handful of huts, only one is occupied by a single boy. The last boy. He knows the wolf; it’s his wolf, Joaan. He welcomes him home, glad he’s no longer alone.

The boy makes dinner and shows Joaan how to eat. He talks of the others who left the village to find “Paradise” but promised to return with gifts. He stayed to take care of the elderly. That was five years ago. Some days pass, and the boy decides it’s time to stop waiting, leave the village, and head to paradise himself, with Joaan in tow.

The boy leaves his home with a sense of finality, like he won’t be returning. He drew pictures of everyone who lived there to show others that they lived. He trudges through the snow, following helpful arrow markers, camps for the night. His nose and fingers gradually become raw and red. One day, he falls through the ice.

He manages to avoid hypothermia, but he has a nasty gash in his left thigh. He dresses it, but the wound swells and festers. Joaan can only watch. The boy speaks for Joaan, carrying on a conversation with himself to keep himself optimistic. But the frozen tundra and his wound continue to wear him down.

The boy is in a very bad way when he comes across a final arrow marker X’ed out with blood, and close by, a host of graves and the ruins of a wagon. With nothing but more frozen tundra everywhere he looks, the boy grapples with the fact the others never reached paradise…or maybe they did, but had to perish to do so.

With no further markers, the boy has no choice but to return home. The weather worsens, as does his health. He feverishly crawls back through the door he so confidently closed for good when he first set out. He manages to get one more fire going, but the cold outside and his leg have already decided how this ends. We’re now firmly in Grave of the Fireflies territory.

The final choice the boy has is how to die. He does so sitting in a chair with the faces of the village, along with himself and Joaan, drawn on the wall. With one final smile, he hunches over and dies, his suffering at an end, and his journey to paradise complete as he reunites with all the other villagers. Triggered by the boy’s death, It transforms from Joaan to the boy, in search of more stimulation. From death, rebirth. But rebirth to something not quite what it had been.

It’s a triumphant glimmer of hope after an episode that was largely watching a happy-go-lucky kid die in agonizing slow motion as his unrelenting environment ground him into dust. This show absolutely wrecked me, but I’m glad to have watched it. It isn’t often anime—or anything on a screen—moved me to this extent. I hadn’t gone through so many tissues watching a single episode in quite a while!

Was this perfection? No. The music is almost uniformly excellent (and the OP is an absolute banger) but there was one out-of-place track that sounded like it was from a far older and less serious show. As good as some of Joaan the wolf’s expressions were, the animal modeling was all over the place, esp. in wider shots. Finally, as invested as I was in the poor doomed kid, he talked a lot. More Cast Away-style silent storytelling would have been welcome. Then again, boundless optimism was literally keeping him alive.

But those are minor quibbles. To Your Eternity is primo prestige shit with the potential to be a classic. It made me feel just about fucking everything! It’s a hell of a neat concept: a completely neutral “entity” that observes, then meets the conditions for transformation—a kind of Kino’s Journey, only Kino is a full-on alien. Considering the next episode involves some kind of child sacrifice, I fear we’re in for more misery than jubilation. But it doesn’t matter…I must watch on.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 11 (S1 Fin) – Sharing the Load

Roxy comes upon a bulletin board outside of Roa (at least I think it’s Roa) and is relieved to find Rudy and his family’s names missing from the lists of the dead. She also finds a letter from Paul to Rudy, saying he’s not worried about him making it home, while asking anyone who knows his family or the members of their old adventurer group to help him find Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha (Norn is with him).

The Fangs of the Black Wolf to write back to him care of the adventurer’s guild in Millis. Roxy happens to encounter two former Fangs—a she-elf and a dwarf—forming party of three in search of Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha. Meanwhile, Rudy’s party of three are taking jobs and starting to make money, thanks to their arrangements, thanks to the cooperation of the two remaining pet kidnappers, Jalil and Vizquel.

Their first high-ranked job is to investigate a monster in the Petrified Forest—a suitably dark and spooky venue—but they find the job has been triple booked, both by Kurt and his two young comrades and a third group led by an older orc. The three groups go their own ways, but Kurt & Co. immediately run into trouble.

Rudy sees an opportunity to improve Ruijerd’s rep by rescuing them, but wants to wait for the right moment. While delaying Ruijerd from charging in to save them, one of Kurt’s buddies is brutally killed; his body flying gracefully through the air before hitting he ground with a horrific splat. Ruijerd and Eris don’t wait for Rudy’s signal, and deal with the two monsters themselves.

Rudy explains he thought it would “work out better” for them if they waited, but Ruijerd is furious. Instead of Eris, it’s Kurt who grabs Ruijerd’s arm, insisting that neither he nor his dead buddy are “kids”; they’re adventurers who knew this job could mean their deaths. As the leader of his party, it’s his fault.

When Ruijerd sees Kurt take responsibility and weep for his fallen friend, his hand hovers over the kid’s head before resting on firmly on his shoulder, demonstrating that Ruijerd acknowledges Kurt as a full-fledged warrior, and apologizes for treating him like a child.

The monsters Ruijerd and Eris weren’t the monster the job mentioned. That turns out to be the forest boss, a redhood cobra, who has already killed all of the orc’s party but himself. Ruijerd manages to slash along one side of its body, but when Eris’ blade bounces off its thick skin, she’s blasted backwards. Fortunately she’s able to use her own sword to cushion the impact, and recovers quickly.

Rudy launches magical attacks that lure the cobra to him, and Ruijerd stops it in its tracks before it can swallow the boy. Eris then tries again with her sword, launching a devastating attack from above that called to mind Haruko smashing away with her Rickenbacker bass in FLCL. She manages to slice clean through the cobra’s body, allowing Rudy to blast a hole through its hood, finishing it off.

Unfortunately, they’re too late to save the orc adventurer’s life, and when they return to town to claim the reward, Bojack Horseman is there to tell them he knows they switched jobs with Jalil and Vizquel, and unless they pay him half of all their earnings monthly, he’ll make sure their licenses are revoked. After lowering his head in frustration, he raises it, as if to ask the heavens themselves why everything he’s done since coming to the city has gone so wrong.

Eris can tell he’s troubled and takes his hand in concern, and he tries to reassure her with a fake smile. She reminds him of his solemn duty: to get her home to her family. He’ll bring down the whole goddamn city if he has to. His staff begins to glow through its cover, and storm clouds begin to gather…then Ruijerd dumps a jug of water on his head, revealing his green hair, and he then threatens a thoroughly terrified Bojack to back off before fleeing the city on his own.

Rudy and Eris leave the city to search for Ruijerd, and eventually find him. To Rudy’s surprise and shame, Ruijerd apologizes to him, when he thinks it’s he who should be apologizing. He was so focused on making money as efficiently as possible and improving his reputation that it became too much to juggle and got away from him.

But Ruijerd doesn’t hold it against him. He sensed Rudy’s resolve to kill Bojack, and could tell Rudy was trying to protect something—someone, in Eris—which makes him a warrior, not a child. To Ruijerd, warriors protect children and treasure their comrades. Helping Rudy out back there was more important than his tribe’s reputation.

The two shake hands, which of course leads Eris to add her hand to the pile so as not to be left out. The next morning, Ruijerd shaves his head so it will be easier to move around, and the three wear matching head/armbands to denote their status as members of Dead End.

Going forward, Rudy stops trying to figure out everything on his own, and trusts both Ruijerd and Eris to help share the load on their mutual quest to reach the Asura Kingdom. As the credits roll, we watch them camp and travel on a ground dragon, watch Ruijerd pull Rudy away from snooping on a bathing Eris, and Eris punching Rudy when he opens a dressing room curtain before she’s dressed (she acquires some super-cool knight’s armor for heavy-duty battles).

Eventually they reach a new port city…which I believe happens to be the same port city at which Roxy and the two Fangs arrive via ship. Whether Rudy & Co. are still in the Demon continent or have reached Millis isn’t clear, but one thing’s for certain: there’s potential for a tearful reunion of master and apprentice, and should that happen, they’ll be an even more formidable party of six.

Unfortunately, as Mushoku Tensei is a split-cour series, we’ll have to wait until July for the continuation of the story, just as it’s getting seriously awesome. Not that it wasn’t before. MT completed a masterful transformation from excellent fantasy isekai slice-of-life in a sleepy rural setting to an excellent grand-scale fantasy adventure romp packed with colorful characters, gorgeous locales, and breathtaking action. The finale could not have done a better job getting me pumped up for season two!

Read Crow’s review of episode 11 here!

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!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 09 – A New Adventure Begins

Rudeus wakes up in a white void and in his original human form, and assumes his time in a fantastical new world was finally at an end. Why wouldn’t someone with his experience in failure and disappointment think otherwise? But it’s not the end, just the end of the beginning.

First of all, as he’s told by the very sketchy looking and sounding “Man-God”, he’s not dead; this is simply his mental image. It’s only a dream, and when he wakes up he’ll be back in lil’ Rudy’s body. The concern is where he wakes up: the mana disaster transported him to the Demon Continent.

The Man-God tells Rudy to rely upon and help the man he’ll meet upon waking up. That man turns out to be a Superd, the demon tribe feared and loathed by all. Rudy is initially fearful himself, especially wiht a sleeping Eris nearby. But when the man shows no sign of hostility, Rudy decides to make use of his Demon-God language skills and politely introduce himself.

The man is named Ruijerd Superdia, and tells Rudy they’re in Biegoya, in the northeast of the Demon Continent, quite a trek back to the Central Continent from which he and Eris came. Ruijerd tells Rudy he’ll escort them safely back to their homeland; to abandoning children would damage the Superd tribe’s reputation. Of course, as an awakening Eris’ over-the-top yet quite normal reaction to Ruijerd confirms, the Superd’s rep is already crap.

Rudy serves as mediator, and within minutes, Eris and Ruijerd are friends, and Eris is all smiles about the prospect of going on an adventure in a strange land full of unknown dangers. It’s precisely the opposite of the prim, proper, fancypants existence cooped up in the Boreas mansion in Roa, where Eris so often acted like a caged animal.

Biegoya’s gorgeously-rendered landscape is downright alien, from the lighting and colors to the texture of the terrain and, naturally, the wildlife, which includes massive tortoises that call to mind a grand Final Fantasy overworld.

I also hasten to add that the three make for a neat adventuring party, with Ruijerd as the spearman, Rudy as the mage, and Eris as the swordswoman. The only problem is Eris lacks a sword, and Ruijerd wouldn’t think it right for children to protect him. I’m sure he’ll soon learn Rudy and Eris are not your typical helpless kids!

After the better part of a day of trudging through hot and barren wastes, the party comes upon a village that uses the giant tortoise shells as dwellings. When the guard at the gate sees two humans with Ruijerd he bars them from entering—human-demon distrust goes both ways—but Ruijerd asks him consult with the elder, which he does through telepathy.

Once the elder and other villagers appear, all of them with a familiar cornflower blue hair, I knew Rudy was about to experience “Small World” phenomenon, as the guard, Rowin, recognizes the green stone around Rudy’s neck. When Rudy says he got it from his master Roxy Migurdia, Rowin proclaims he is Roxy’s father!

Roxy apparently left the village 20 years ago and they haven’t seen her since. Hearing she’s alive and well in the Central Continent brings tears to Rowin’s eyes. He also estimates Roxy to be around 44 years old; demons enjoy over double the lifespan of humans, and keep their youthful looks well into middle age. I believe that officially makes Rudy’s goddess a MILF.

That night over dinner (of which Rudy is apparently not a fan), the Migurd elder mentions numerous shooting stars last night, the result of the mana disaster that brought Rudy and Eris to their lands. When Ruijerd tells him of his plan to take them home, the elder is weary, as it will be hard for a Superd like him to enter cities.

The elder is aware of Ruijerd’s goal to dispel the Superd tribe’s poor reputation, which Rudy knows isn’t going to be easy. Rudy then accidentally angers Ruijerd by telling one of the biggest lies: that the Superd just naturally kill everybody and anybody who looks at them the wrong way. He tells Rudy the truth: the Superd were betrayed…by Laplace.

Just as Sauron corrupted men with powerful but ultimately cursed rings, Laplace corrupted the Superd with powerful but ultimately cursed spears. Spears are a vital part of the Superd tribe, as they represent their very souls. At first the new spears Laplace gave them seemed like a great deal, but before they were aware of it they had become a violent and brutal tribe killing everyone they could see, including their own families.

Ruijerd raises his spear, which is the soul of his son, who sacrificed himself to free him of the curse. The Superd’s “curse of infamy” is punishment for trusting Laplace, but he’s committed to fight to repair his tribe’s reputation to his last breath. As he looks into the fire Rudy contemplates what 400 years of guilt and regret felt like for Ruijerd, likening it to the misery he felt in his old world, albeit for a much briefer, human-scaled duration.

Rudy makes up his mind right then and there: he will help Ruijerd redeem the Superd in the eyes of the world. Ruijerd, genuinely touched by the offer, accepts, and the next morning the three of them are off, after a very cute scene where Rudy asks if he can call Rowin “father-in-law” (he can’t), compliments his would be mom-in-law (who is 102!). Even Eris is polite for once, saying thanks and goodbye with a proper curtsey (despite not wearing a dress).

As thanks for relaying the news that their Roxy is well, her parents give Rudy a purse of what looks like demon currency and a very cool-looking demon sword, which he gives to Eris. He reiterates the choice he made to help Ruijerd after empathizing with his suffering and acknowledging his goodwill towards him and Eris—all while Eris is in the background practicing her swordsmanship!

It’s an all-around good arrangement: Rudy will let Ruijerd protect him and Eris outside of the cities, while they’ll protect him within them. So ends a particularly strong episode, made all the stronger by drawing upon the parts of Rudy’s original life besides his perversity (it’s the lightest episode yet on that front), and the fact that Eris is clearly super-pumped to be on an adventure.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 05 – Any Gift Will Do

This week’s AL:B takes on a distinct slice-of-life flavor, no better illustrated than Yoshimura Thi Mai napping in the shade of a tree so peacefully, a cat Andou Tasuza was chasing curls up on her belly. The episode tries to draw out the uncertainty of Thi Mai and Tasuza being the two final pieces of Riri’s nine-Lily Legion, but the OP already erased any doubt.

Rather than focus on Riri, Kaede, and Fumi’s attempts to woo Thi and Taz, the episode pivots to Yuyu. She learns by chance when Fumi fires up a vintage tablet that Riri’s birthday is tomorrow. Between the spinning 3D model of Riri and the continued use of name tags for characters, it’s clear AL:B wants to sell some figures, but it was still fun to watch Riri try to run from her AR stats.

Yuyu thinks Riri has given her so much, it’s time to give back, especially on her birthday, but is concerned about giving too random or modest a gift. She talks with everyone but Riri, who has since gotten to know her better, and two facts become clear: that she’ll be happy with any gift Yuyu gives her, and that Riri loves Ramune. Only problem is, the store only sells Ramune candy; Yuyu would prefer to get some of the genuine article.

This leads to Yuyu taking a solitary odyssey to Riri’s hometown the next day. The dialogue-free traveling sequence is gorgeous to behold, and captures both the beauty of the world and, finally, the general peril of ordinary citizens, as Riri’s town is in a constant state of evacuation. Still, there are cold Ramunes for sale at the konbini, and when Yuyu samples one, it’s like learning a little more about her Schild.

Yuyu buys two more and keeps them chilled in a mini-cooler, but when she encounters two thirsty little kids at a station, she gives them both away like the kind and generous Lily she is. Upon returning to the station nearest the academy, she runs into Thi and Tax chasing cats, but can’t very well go lecturing them considering her trip.

Then they notice something glintnig behind some ivy, and discover a hidden Ramune vending machine that was in power-save mode. Now Yuyu can give Riri some Ramune. She might think her whole day-long trip was for nothing, but she ends up clinching Thi and Taz’s decision to join the Legion.

The nine Lilies assemble to celebrate Riri’s birthday, and as expected, she’s elated by Riri’s gift, but amusingly assumes she just went down by the station to buy it, rather than all the way to her hometown. The only other thing Riri wants is, well, Yuyu, and Yuyu offers herself up for a hug, before Yuyu shows how inexperienced she is at hugging back.

With nine members to the Legion and Riri happy on her birthday, Yuyu is flying high that night…until her roommate brings up the fact that the academy is investigating whether Riri’s Rare Skill is “Charisma”, an ability that draws everyone towards her and makes her a natural leader.

This doesn’t sit well with Yuyu, who contemplates whether what she feels for Riri is simply a matter of eating out of Riri’s hand as a result of some power, and not her genuine feelings. With a huge Huge battle coming up, her lingering conflict is sure to be as much a factor as the cohesion of the new Legion.

Appare-Ranman! – 01 (First Impressions) – Across the Sea, Beyond the Sky

P.A. Works’ latest anime original focuses on the brilliant but eccentric engineer and inventor Sorano Appare, and Isshiki Kosame, his reluctant, timid samurai companion. We begin in Los Angeles as the two, along with a cute little assistant, are about to embark on an epic “Trans-America Wild Race” with an eclectic bunch of equally eccentric drivers from all over the world. It’s packed with anachronisms, but the spirit of adventure and getting movin’ is strong with this opening scene.

From there, AR! rewinds to a year ago in Japan, when Appare was in prison for crashing a steam-powered vehicle into the prized garden of the local lord. The lord appoints Kosame Appare’s “overseer”, assuming Appare survives a stay in the jail cell where major criminals are kept.

But it’s clear no simple cell lock can hold Appare, any more than his stodgy family business or his status as second son can keep him from setting out to find out how far his dreams and considerable technical skill can take him.

Kosame doesn’t realize how much bigger this is until it’s too late, as Appare escapes in his custom-made mini-steamship docked in a secret berth. Appare’s sister, who it seems is closest and most understanding of him among his family members, manages to bid him farewell with a good luck charm.

As for Kosame, the lord’s threat that he’ll share Appare’s fate should things go south, sticks by Appare, even though their little shakedown cruise takes them out to the open sea, with neither food nor water. It’s apparent Appare will need someone whose head isn’t always either in a mess of gears or up in the clouds if he’s going to survive his self-imposed journey.

When the ship runs out of fuel and the sea becalmed, Appare has time to finally explain to Kosame what he’s trying to do. It’s clearly around the turn of the century, when the steam engine have revolutionized industry and transport and Japan has been opened to the technologically-superior West.

Ever since first seeing steamships when he was four, Appare has never stopped absorbing the math and technical know-how needed to built devices of his own. He’s been tinkering for fifteen years, his own dreams fueled by the stories of Jules Verne which, as we know, would eventually become reality. Appare isn’t going to be left out. If anyone’s reaching the other side of the moon, he’s determined to be the first!

But first things first: surviving their current predicament. The ship is in need of repairs and fuel, but they’re getting nowhere fast, until Appare’s sister’s good luck charm pays dividends in the form of a passing American steamship. Even luckier, it’s captained and crewed by what seem to be kind, decent folk who are happy to tow Appare’s ship and even rap with him on some engineering problems.

I guess it’s time to talk about one of the most glaring problems with AR!, which is Appare’s look. I understand they wanted to give him a distinctive, eccentric look to match his personality and contrast sharply with the drab aesthetic of Koname everyone else, but IMO they went a bit too far; a 7 or 8 would have done fine, but they took things up to 11 or 12. Fortunately, he sounds far less crazy-goofy than he looks.

Also, that’s not a major problem here, and as more of those eccentric (and suitably weird-lookin’ for the timeline) racers appear, it will be less of a problem. Suffice it to say, Appare is Modernity Incarnate, while Kosame represents the old fashioned past being dragged along kicking and screaming. When they finally arrive at the port of Los Angeles bursting with technology and activity, it’s clear which of the two are now firmly in their element.

Appare-Ranman! starts strong and has a lot of potential for greatness, what with the odd couple, transcontinental road trip, and race-with-huge-reward stakes dynamics. Appare’s zany look is tempered by seiyu Hanae Natsuki, while Yamashita Seiichirou livens up a samurai who is clearly not your usual stoic warrior (though I wouldn’t quite call him a “coward” as the promotional synopsis did).

Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) classes up the joint with the score, and the animation quality you’d expect of P.A.’s better Works is present. Considering how sedentary most of us will be for the remainder of this year, I’m excited to live vicariously through the show’s enterprising, trailblazing characters as they embark on the adventure of their lives.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 10 – Sirius Pride

Willard & Co. make good use of their Dogville Detour, locating some kind of magical item that Willard believes Yuliy will find useful once he’s found the Ark of Sirius, which is a Very Big Deal.

As his friends support him from afar, Yuliy and Bishop make quick work of Klarwein’s modified cyborg vampire soldiers. Turns out Yevgraf’s lack of confidence in Klarwein’s plans was justified!

While he may be dressed like a goofy cartoon villain and has a ridiculous (and awesome) airship to boot, Yevgraf is looking more and more like a more complex villain, someone who is backed into the corner.

He’s walking talking proof that maybe it’s better to have never become a immortal vampire than to become one and then, many centuries later, find out that hey, he’s not immortal after all!

Once past Klarwein (which again, wasn’t hard), Yuliy and Bishop enter the cavern where the Ark is believed to be sealed. Where Mikhail’s vampirism kept him from passing the barrier, Yuliy gets through.

There he bears witness to a very thorough flashback of the events that led to his father Alexei leaving one day and never returning. When Mikhail and Yuliy were attacked by a bear, Akasaka (the soldier, presently a hermit, who was seeking the Ark) saved them, and befriended Alexei.

Alexei wanted to reform the ways of his people in order to coexist better with humans like Akasaka, who were proof to him that they weren’t all bad (and hey, they’re not). But he could not escape his blood, which demands that someone of royal blood basically sacrifice their soul and corporeal freedom in order to seal and thus protect the Ark.

It’s heartbreaking to see what a vibrant and prosperous town Dogville was in its heyday, as well as seeing Yuliy and his family all alive and well and together. But it’s perhaps even more heartbreaking to find that his father is still conscious within the Ark itself, basically keeping it sealed with his soul.

Just as his father sought a new way for his people to live—a “new Sirius pride”—his son seeks a way to free his father; a new way to seal the Ark. That way might well be in Willard’s possession.

Alexei isn’t totally against Yuliy doing what he can, but not at the cost of his life, soul, or freedom. Even after everything that’s happened in the world since he was sealed away, he doesn’t see it as a burden; he sees it as vital to keeping the world peace.

The problem is, when it’s time for Yuliy to say goodbye to his father, a great pillar of light erupts from the once dark red pool in the chamber, alerting Yev and the twins in the airship that Yuliy has finally arrived there and done what he’d hoped he’d do. Yuliy’s intentions are noble, but now there are matters both more pressing…and more competent than Klarwein!

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 09 – The Look of Those Eyes

The vamp twins are tough customers, but Yuliy manages to get the upper hand on one of them…yet he sees a glimmer of fear in her eyes and hesitates for a split-second, allowing her to escape. Bishop arrives to force their retreat, but the fact remains: Yuliy isn’t just a Jaeger anymore. If he was, he would have surely dispatched her.

Yuliy and Bishop then encounter the hermit and former captain in the Imperial Army who was sent to look for the Ark, but doesn’t spill the beans about where it is. But they do think he knows. He also knew Yuliy’s dad Alexei, who may still be alive; but the hermit won’t surrender any more info. Bishop decides the best thing to do is head back into town and get a good meal before giving the old man another go.

In the process, he and Yuliy cross paths with Major Iba and Ryouko, who met on the train. Meanwhile, as the twins laugh and tease, Mikhail (whom they call Misha informally) sulks aboard Yevgraf’s airship. Having shown he can’t break the seal to the Ark, Yev is gunning for his little brother, who might have better luck.

Iba reveals his mission to Yuliy and Bishop, while Ryouko simply hangs around because…she feels like it? That’s good enough for me! You do you, girl. She even has a nice warm moment on a balcony with Yuliy, talking about what a father is, at least to her. When she describes it, Yuliy can’t help but think of how his brother tried to fulfill that role.

If it weren’t for Mikhail, Yuliy would be dead, and he knows it. And he’s still trying to protect Yuliy, as we see when Yev and the twins catch him trying to leave the airship, likely to warn his bro. The confrontation is interrupted when one of the twin’s slaves becomes violently ill, transforms into a beast, and has to be put down.

It’s another sign the vamps aren’t just looking for the Ark just because they’re evil and want to dominate mankind (though both those things are probably true); they’re fighting for their very survival.

Iba and Ryouko join Yuliy and Bishop on their second trip to the mountains, and this time Yuliy has more luck getting through to the old man, inadvertently channeling his father, with whom the captain was good friends. He provides a map to the Ark’s location and wishes him good luck.

Yuliy slips away with Bishop without coordinating with Iba, but Iba memorized the map in the short time he saw it (there’s a reason he’s a major at such a young age) and he and Ryouko won’t be far behind.

However, once the snow picks up and Yuliy and Bishop continue on foot, they come afoul of yet another familiar face: Klarwein, who seems to have up to a (dozen or more) of his experimental modified soldiers at his command—ones far less plodding than his first Frankensteiny attempt. Despite Yev’s lack of explicit blessing, Klarwein is still trying to come through for his beloved boss.

Tenrou: Sirius the Jaeger – 08 – Aligned Interests, Allowed Journeys

It’s official: the vamps have total air superiority in this show. I guess it can pay to be immortal! Mikhail is whisked to Sakhalin by Klarwein (the mad scientist) in a floatplane that wouldn’t be out of place in Porco Rosso. Yevgraf’s splendid airship has already docked atop a mountain. Where are the Jaegers’ toys?

Mikhail learns this was the birthplace of the Ark of Sirius, and an ancient sanctuary built by the Sirius sanctuary is where his father brought the Ark to be safe. Yevgraf believes because Mikhail has noble Sirius blood, he’ll be able to break through the barrier his father created at the cost of his life.

However, it’s not that simple. Mikhail also has a blood pact with Yev (formed when he turned him when Dogville fell) that not only prevents him from fully penetrating the barrier, but also prevents him from attacking his master. And now we know for sure: Mikhail wants the Ark so he can kill Yev. Instead, Yev decides he’ll try to use Yuliy.

Despite being about as gracious and simpering a thrall as a master could want, Klarwein is utterly ignored by Yev in every instance where he’s in his presence. While I don’t see the mad scientist’s loyalty wavering, it’s worth keeping an eye on what other “research” he’ll cook up in isolation.

Willard informs his team of Yuliy’s solo departure, and Fallon, Dorothea and Phillip all want to help him if they can, even if he left without them specifically to keep them out of something that could get them killed. But these are Jaegers; they’ll decide how they’ll be killed, so Willard announces they’ll make “a stop” before heading to London.

And in case you were wondering, the show isn’t done with Ryouko just because the Jaegers are no longer staying at Baron Naoe’s. She books passage to London, leaving a loving note to her pops about her duty as next head of the family to further investigate the attack on their manor. The Baron is content to allow his daughter her journey, but he’s coming too.

Finally, as soon as Yuliy arrives in Sakhalin, he picks up a tail, but it fortunately turns out to be a fellow Jaeger in Bishop, who I’m guessing is American from his attire. Yuliy and Bishop both want Yevgraf dead and the Ark out of the hands of the vamps, so they decide to work together. The first step is meeting with a recluse in the mountains who has info on the Ark.

Bishop is a bit of a walking cautionary tale for Yuliy; his entire team of Jaegers, which was more like a family to him than his own blood, was wiped out, leaving only him. Yuliy can smell the blood on him, almost as if he were a vamp himself, something Bishop explains is something that simply happens if you hunt them long enough and enough of the people you care about are lost.

By the time they arrive at the codger’s, he’s already being ambushed by vamps led by the twin sisters Larissa and Tamara, who have a flair for the theatric what with their sentence finishing and echoing laughter. But they can also handle themselves in combat. Once again Yuliy has to fight high-level vamps while keeping them from killing someone. Hopefully Bishop finds parking and lends him a hand fast!

Darling in the FranXX – 24 (Fin) – A Word They Were Never Taught

Despite the hope from their Squadmates that they’ll one day return victorious, there is every indication that Zero Two and Hiro’s insane odyssey through space is a one-way trip, at least in their current forms/lives. As they near the VIRM homeworld and fight off wave after wave of their warships, Hiro becomes a little more Zero-y, and Zero Two becomes a little more Hiro-y.

Back on Earth the gang returns to Mistilteinn, where they find things are growing again, and set to work rebuilding their food supply in order to survive without magma energy they relied on for so long. With Zero Two and Hiro’s lessons, as well as their own experiences, everyone ends up changing and growing up. Kokoro has the baby. The rejected parasites are brought out of hibernation, including Naomi.

Goro sets off on a journey of exploration on Earth seeking supplies and other lost children, making sure to kiss Ichigo before he leaves. After two years, the constant onslaught of VIRM has exhausted Hiro, allowing the enemy to “caress his consciousness” and knock him out, leaving Zero Two vulnerable.

They’re both saved not just by their own love, but by the fruits of those whom they inspired: Ai, the daughter of Kokoro and Mitsuru, named for the Japanese word for love, a word humanity had all but forgotten and which the children were never taught.

When the gang realizes the stone statute of Zero Two is a conduit through which both Zero and Hiro can hear them, they join hands and pray as loudly as they can for as long as they can, until their prayers get through to the two out in space. Hiro wakes up, green-eyed and blue-horned, rejects the pooh-poohing of the VIRM, and becomes even more one with Zero than they were before.

Apus is destroyed, but a new entity emerges; a total merging of Zero Two and Hiro, and they rend the VIRM homeworld asunder in a light that manages to reach Earth. The Klaxosaur fleets return to the earth and become one with it, and the green returns with it. Zero Two’s statue, no longer necessary, crumbles, leaving a small tree sprout.

While still hoping their friends will one day return, Squad 13 doesn’t assign them any time table, and instead begin writing their own stories. They help rebuild human civilization, without magma energy, while building families. Ikuno manages to slow their rapid aging, even though it’s too late for her. Ichigo and Goro have a kid. Futoshi finds another to love and has several kids. Zorome and Miku…continue to bicker with one another.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.

Then, centuries pass, Zero Two’s cherry tree grows larger and ancient, and a huge futuristic city rises around it, only no longer hidden within a plantation dome, and no longer populated by emotionless humans. It’s in this city built by love, the thing never taught its founders, where a boy and a girl one day meet who look an awful lot like our starring pair. Circle of life, baby.

And that’s a FranXX wrap. These last few episodes sure got BIG, as in expansive in both time, scale, and theme, culminating in a resolution for all of Squad 13 and an ending a franchise like Evangelion may never give us; instead of the story stopping before it ends, the book is closed on Hiro, Zero Two, and the others, and a new story begins, built upon what they started.

The VIRM may one day return, but mankind is in a much better position to oppose them, thanks to Hiro, Zero Two, and Squad 13 not living to fight, but fighting to live…and love.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.