The Promised Neverland – 23 (Fin) – Easy Win

“It’s an ending, that’s enough!”—Marge Simpson

I thought of those sage words—spoken to end a discussion of whether another ending was happy or sad—after the end of The Promised Neverland. This finale was, without a doubt, a series of scenes where dialogue is exchanged and things happen.

Like the previous episode, in which every single thing that needed to go Emma’s way did go Emma’s way, not a lot of it holds up to even cursory scrutiny. Unlike the previous episode, it wasn’t packed with enough stuff to keep my mind from dwelling on just how goshdarn fast things are moving.

And yet, it’s also an episode that tends to drag and sag during lengthy dialogue scenes. Starting the episode with Peter’s backstory, such as it is, was an…interesting choice? It really did nothing to make me care about him one way or another; I’m not surprised in the least he had his own brother Minerva killed, or that he rejected Emma’s call to join her in building a new world.

Ratri would rather slit his own throat (which he does) then even try to live in such a theoretical world; going out as a “Ratri”, descended from those who originally negotiated the great pact that split the human and demon worlds in two. Isabella and the mothers, who all seem to speak with one united voice, are also initially reluctant to go with Emma, who manages to convince her to change her mind. All is forgiven!

Now for the journey to the gate to the human world. Wait, the elevator takes them right there? And the pen, already literal deus ex machina, also happens to unlock the completely unguarded gate? Oh, and Emma, along with Norman, Ray, and the Lambdas, decide not to go through that gate? I commend the composer for accompanying the gate scene with suitably epic music, but other than that it’s just a lot; all at once, and all too easily.

The decision to remain while Don, Hilda, the mothers and the kids all go ahead to the human world is simple: Emma’s job won’t be done until all the farms are shut down. With Mujika’s help, she intends to create a new pact that won’t allow demons to raise children for meat anymore. So I guess Sonju was just joking when he was hoping to eat some free-range kids in the near future?

I was also a little worried when Emma and the others not going through the gate simply left them without checking out if it’s even safe on the other side. Those worries were short-lived, as beyond the white void is…modern-day New York City, immediately followed by an unanimated slideshow of the kids gradually assimilating to life in such a world. Judging from the stills, they don’t have much difficulty at all!

We then switch to a slideshow of Emma & Co. on their crusade that for all I thought would take the rest of their lives. I mean, you’re talking about rescuing each and every child currently imprisoned in the demon world. It’s a herculean effort many times larger than the already ridiculous operation that liberated Grace Field House in a single night with zero casualties.

But nope, it only takes a couple years or so. Emma, Norman, and Ray just suddenly appear by Hudson Bay one day, their mission apparently accomplished. Phil’s happy about it, because he doesn’t have to make good on his promise to go back after her. It’s all a little sudden, and random, and rushed, and weird. All my goodwill was spent mindlessly enjoying last week’s all-too-easy victories.

So it’s a totally, completely, 100% happy ending for Emma and the kids, who’d basically ceased enduring serious hardship or encountering setbacks of any kind after being forced out of their bunker hideout. But for me, it just feels like an ending, and a blessed one, as my enthusiasm for the direction of the story was waning by the day. An ending is enough.


Read Crow and Irina’s discussion on the final episode of The Promised Neverland right here!

The Promised Neverland – 22 – Playtime Has Only Just Begun

First of all, Vincent is not a turncoat; I can’t see how someone otherwise proven as intelligent as him would think Ratri and the demons would honor any deal he made for them. Instead, Norman has Vincent leak one plan, knowing the farms will prepare for it, while executing an entirely different plan. And not a moment too soon, either, as that very day Phil and all the kids at Grace Field House are notified that they’re being shipped off.

Final preparations are made in Mujika and Sonju’s secret tunnels, and then everyone boards a fleet of hot air balloons—which presumably were part of Norman’s original “Kill All Demons” plan. When Ratri and the head demon spot the fleet proper approaching the farms and separating into small groups, the demon spearmen atop the walls shoot them down one by one.

Of course, the initial wave of balloons was only a feint; all of the ones that were shot down are armed with firebombs that soon set the forests within the farms alight. While the demons are busy putting those out, they’re suddenly ambused by the Lambda kids, while the other balloons land safely and the Farm’s administration facility is raided using Minerva’s blueprints. Soon Vincent has hacked into the system and shuts down all of Ratri’s surveillance and comms.

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to the mothers escorting their kids to the shipping area, each of the farms has been infiltrated by little kids sent by Emma, who uses the hacked comms to give the signal to “play tag”. Phil and the others obey and run for it while the gates are closed on the mothers, keeping them from pursuing. Everyone meets at the massive central elevator. Everything’s going according to plan…until the elevator refuses to budge.

The kids below look up in horror at dozens of mothers armed with assault rifles, led by Grandmother Isabella and smirking Gatekeeper Peter Ratri. “Playtime is over,” he tells the “lost” children. That certainly seems to be the case. How are the kids going to get out of this one? They brought bows and arrows to a gunfight, and they don’t even have the benefit of the high ground!

But what saves everyone, as usual, is Emma, or more precisely, her words and her indomitable will. When Peter tells her to give up and accept they were all born to be eaten, Emma refuses to do so. She and her suddenly huge family have a future they want, and she’s going to keep fighting for it no matter how many times she fails, so Peter can take his destiny and shove it.

That’s when Isabella—and all the other mothers and sisters she leads—turn their guns on Ratri. She tells Emma not to misunderstand; she claims not to be doing this for them—though she is proud of how well she raised them. She’s simply grown tired of how Ratri and the others run the farms, and now has the power to do something about it. And with the system hacked, the chips Ratri once could have used to blow them up no longer work.

Ratri still has one card left to play: the demon reinforcements from outside of the farms. The lead demon warns all of the children to be obedient and yield, as once those forces arrive there will be no more hope of victory, even with Isabella and the mothers on their side. Unfortunately both the lead demon and Ratri, another, much larger force of lower-class demons overwhelm those reinforcements before they can even arrive.

That’s right: thanks to a coordinated effort between Mujika and Vylk, a huge number of demons have been cured of their need for human meat, and they’re ready and willing to help overthrow the farm system that has oppressed them all these years. Mujika and Vylk enter the elevator room, surprising both Isabella and Ratri with their presence. For them it must be unthinkable to see demons standing in solidarity with these kids.

But again, it’s all about aligned interests. Just as Isabella is sick of the system, so are the demon masses. Ratri’s final threat—that the human-demon conflict resolved 1,000 years ago by his ancestors will start back up—is nullified by the presence of Mujika and the Evil Blood.

Suddenly fresh out of haughty remarks, Ratri falls to his knees in defeat, while Emma approaches him and holds out her hand, not asking for his surrender or ordering his death, but asking him to join them; to join the future they’re well on their way to realizing.

While I had to suspend an air balloon fleet-load of disbelief for much of “Operation Playtime”, I can’t deny it was loads of fun watching it unfold, as long I didn’t think about anything too much! Looks like we’re in store for a slightly rushed but hopeful and happy ending.

Check out Irina and Crow’s thoughts on the episode here!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 08 – Wabi-Sabi Worrywart

Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena take the episode off this week, as aside from a sprinkling of Sakura it’s a totally Nadeshiko & Rin show, and every moment of it is superbly sublime. It may be my imagination, but this is also an episode that gets a little more creative with camera angles and techniques.

We start with a very cinematic opening shot of Nadeshiko walking through a tunnel. It almost appears like Nadeshiko is walking down the tunnel to enter a Space Shuttle, but the drama is nicely subverted by her singing to herself about towns and the foods they’re known for.

In the middle of her uphill trudge, she stops to soak up the gorgeous view, only to stop herself lest she spoil the view from the campsite. Once she’s arrives, she revels in the wide open space, inspects the clean facilities, and says hi to a camping dad and his two kids.

Nadeshiko gets swept off her feet while laying out her ground cover, and bends one of her tent pegs (just like Rin did once), but is otherwise able to get her tent up without any trouble. She then breaks out all the groceries she bought and prepares for some culinary experimentation. The older of the two camping kids is bemused by this “loner girl”.

Meanwhile, Rin fakes out the audience by first lamenting another path closed for the winter (with another cool camera angle), but it’s a tunnel she already knew would be closed, which coincidentally leads to the Yashajin Pass, where she met the tea shop lady. After arriving in famously scenic Hayakawa and attempting to cross the suspension bridge over the lake, she continues on the Rindou Ikawa Amehata Line to the hot springs.

This also marks the first time a character in the show has uttered the term wabi-sabi, an aesthetic philosophy centered around the “acceptance of and appreciation for transience, imperfection, and incompletion”. In its depictions of Japan’s infrastructure and nature, Yuru Camp and its characters have been uniformly enthusiastic devotees of this worldview.

We get a Sakura sighting as she’s at a store that sells wild game considering whether to buy some deer or some bear paw, but after a quick Googling reveals a far-too-laborious process for cooking said paws, she goes for the easier deer. The final shot in the store is a novel fish-eye surveillance camera filming her from behind and at a distance.

After soaking in the pleasantly not-too-hot spring, Rin enjoys a spell in a massage chair, which must feel especially heavenly after all those hours in the moped saddle. She notices that Nadeshiko hasn’t texted her anything since the photo of her at the Tomato Mart, and decides to give her a call, only to get an automated “phone turned off or out of range” message.

That would be that, except that Rin is both a caring friend and feels responsible for Nadeshiko’s safety after getting her so interested in solo camping. Try as she might to put worries out of her mind, she instead envisions how she’d worry about her at various stages of her own camping trip.

She decides the only way to allay those fears is to take a slight detour and go check on her. Sakura seems to be on the same wavelength as Rin, as she uses the Find My Family app to discern Nadeshiko’s precise location.

Nadeshiko is actually doing just fine, having wrapped all of her veggies in foil and roasted them in a campfire she made inside the cooking pavilion. But when the two camping kids go to the pavilion to heat up their konbini dinners, again the older sister is bemused and a bit weary. Nadeshiko breaks out a little old country granny, further adding to the witch-like aura.

The little brother is the first to approach her, and learns that if she is a witch, she’s a good and kind witch, and one that’s great at outdoor cooking! She roasts a little bit of everything, with the tomato, potato, eggplant and sweet potatoes being particularly successful, the avocado less so, and the carrot gets over-charred.

Nadeshiko not only makes friends of the family, but also inspires the kids to cook next time they go camping, after finding out how easy it can be—literally just wrap a cheap sweet potato in foil, toss it into the flame, and wait! As they part ways, Rin arrives at the campsite to find that Nadeshiko is find, and cell phones just get spotty reception.

When she returns to the parking lot she encounters two glowing eyes and is scared shitless, but it’s just fellow worrywart Sakura, secretly checking in on her sister. The two decide, while they’re there, they might as well go up to the top to see the famously awesome nightscape. I mean, it’s a nightscape!

They do so—and the view is indeed awesome—but are almost caught but for the fact they could hear Nadeshiko coming from her singing to herself. They dash into the tall grass as Nadeshiko beholds the nightscape, takes a selfie, and then wanders around the area trying to find a bar with which to send it.

Rin and Sakura make it out of there without being seen, and as they drive off together, Sakura gets the selfie from Nadeshiko and has Rin stop so she can see it too, then offers to buy her dinner in town. As for Nadeshiko, she sets herself up in her cozy, toasty caterpillar-like sleeping bag on a bench overlooking the nightscape.

I for one am glad she didn’t spot Rin or Sakura, as it preserves the spirit, if not the letter, of the “solo-ness” of her trip, since she didn’t actually ask anyone to stop by and check on her, and there was no need to do so as she was perfectly fine on her own. That said, I’m sure she would have felt good knowing her friend and sister wouldn’t hesitate to do so, even if it diverted them from their own plans. That’s love, baby!

TenSura – 30 – The Shizu Hits the Fan

Rimuru bids goodbye Ingrassia and to the kids, leaving them with parting gifts: Chloe gets Shizu’s mask, while everyone gets cool cloaks made by Shuna. He’s about to teleport home with Ranga when the Great Sage announces a massive barrier is in place preventing that. Huh…that’s odd!

One of Souei’s clones appears telling his master to run. Rimuru orders Ranga into his shadow, and another barrier goes up: he’s unable to use skills. He casts Resist successfully, but all magic skills are severely limited, which is just what his opponent wants.

Back in Tempest, things do not go well for Rimuru’s strongest generals. Hakurou steps in to save Gobta , but due to the effects of the barriers, he’s easily defeated by Kyouya. Shion hangs in longer than Shougo expected, but in her weakened state she too is no match for the otherworlder.

Falmuth’s vanguard of knights arrive in the city, and Shougo immediately accuses Shion of attacking him, leading the knights to invoke “human law” and essentially sack the city. It is truly gutting to see children crying in allies, the capital in flames, and a bloody shoe in the streets.

Rimuru needs to get back, but that’s just not going to happen anytime soon. His opponent is Sakaguchi Hinata, Chief Knight of the Imperial Guard and Captain of the Holy Knights. Titles aside, her only master is the god Luminous. Rimuru tells Hinata he’s Japanese too, but she’s not there to listen to a monster, she’s there to avenge Shizu, her dearest friend.

Both we and Rimuru soon learn Hinata is not all talk, and is not fucking around. It’s been ages, if ever, since we’ve seen Rimuru so consistently on his back foot. Hinata’s attack and defense is so quick and precise, Rimuru feels like he’s fighting the Great Sage herself—who helpfully points out that seven strikes from Hinata’s Dead End Rainbow will kill him…and she’s already struck him four times!

Rimuru’s crucial error was walking so recklessly across the Holy Field, the Western Holy Church’s “ultimate anti-monster barrier.” Even a high-level spiritual monster such as himself has most of his strength sapped, and much of what’s left is spent sustaining his existence within the barrier. When Rimuru summons Ifrit to even the odds, Hinata uses her unique skill Usurper to try to frikkin’ steal him, forcing Rimuru to call him back.

Her Usurper reminds him of his final trump card, Gluttony. Great Sage accepts his Awaken! order just before Hinata runs him through, so while he’s not dead, because he’s given way to Gluttony, he loses consciousness, which he describes as sinking into darkness.

That’s not good! None of this is good! Rimuru, his generals, and his capital are all in serious trouble, and he never saw any of it coming, while the baddies are only just getting started. If ever a Milim ex machina were needed, it’s now!

TenSura – 28 – A War Full of Holes

From Dwargon Rimuru returns to Ingrassia where he announces his five students have passed the exams and will move on to the next grade…but Tiss-sensei will be their teacher from now on. I know Rimuru is doing this because he trusts Tiss with their further education and is a busy slime leader, but as the other events of this episode prove, it’s probably a good thing that he’s returning to Tempest soon.

Youm returns to Tempest before Rimuru, and Clayman’s spy Myulan (AKA Mjurran) soaks up the place like a sponge. You can see she’s somewhat unnerved at how nice everyone is to her. When it’s Youm, she can call him stupid, but even powerful Kijin are offering her friendship. To her eyes, the Federation is a direct threat to many other nations, but only because she cannot yet see any other way forward.

Rimuru is diving into the deep end of the commerce and trade pool by making deals left and right while his nation becomes an all-too-enticing potential new hub of trade. He fails to realize that this is an aggressive act in and of itself, even if not intended to be, especially considering his is a nation of “monsters” the human nations simply do not trust.

And because, say, the Kingdom of Falmuth sees Tempest as a direct threat to their very survival, let alone their continued future as an economic powerhouse, the King and his royal council devise a plan to subjugate Tempest. This is done during your typical “dour guys sitting at a table planning shit” scene.

Archbishop Reyheim announces that the Western Holy Church has already recognized the monster nation as an affront to their God, giving them religious cover. They can call it a Holy War to stoke the support of the masses, most of whom already fear the monsters.

In an interesting wrinkle, Falmuth’s advance attack will inlclude their stable of three Offworlders from in Shougo, Kyouya, and Kirara. Unlike Rimuru, they’ve retained their regular Japanese forms and look down on this new world with contempt as vastly inferior to theirs. Kirara in particular misses cosmetics and the internet.

I believe we’ve heard murmurs about others like Rimuru from Japan, but that we meet them in the flesh for the first time really drive home the fact that Rimiru is about to face the biggest challenge to great experiment, as like him they all possess insanely powerful abilities.

At the same time, there’s a pettiness, complacency, even laziness about the attitudes of these three. This world didn’t have manga, so Rimuru created it, along with the onsen and all the other things inspired by his world. It seems these three would rather bitch and complain than put in the effort to create homes away from home.

At least Kyouya seems the least content with their situation, and intends to use the coming war with Tempest as a vehicle to gain his freedom from Falmuth. They call Shougo “Berserk”, while Kirara’s deemed the scariest of all of them, so it seems easier for them to spread chaos, hatred, and destruction—the polar opposite of Rimuru’s designs for peace, love, and cooperation.

Rimuru wants to create a happy, prosperous world for all races; the other three just want to watch the world burn. After all, it’s not their world, so who cares? Speaking of chaos, Milim Nava makes her first appearance of the season, standing in Clayman’s office. Yeah, Rimuru really doesn’t have time to continue teaching the kids!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 63 – Bread and Circuses

Mister “Kruger” (*cough*-Eren-*cough*) has developed enough of a rapport with young Falco that he’s comfortable asking him to deliver mail to his family from outside the Internment Zone.

Meanwhile, Commander Magath welcomes Willy, head of the Tybur family—and thus the head of Marley’s military. He recognizes that Marley needs a new hero, in the image of Helos of a hundred years ago, and intends to make the IZ the site of a speech he’ll deliver that will change Marley’s course.

As preparations for his speech commence, planning for the invasion of Paradis continues, with the Marleyan commander dismissing Braun’s dilligent and nuanced intelligence of the island to be a waste of time. Braun, Pieck, and Porco (who is briefly freaked out by Pieck’s tendency to crawl like her Titan) watch as their young successors train.

It’s a big day for Falco, who beats Gabi in a full-kit footrace. Gabi has a blind spot when it comes to Falco’s crush on her and desire to save her from the curse of being the next Armored Titan, so when he comes right out and tells her he “cares about her”, she’s utterly confused and angry rather than touched.

Gabi is the kind of wide-eyed dreamer who believes if the Tyburs bring people from all over the world to the IZ, they’ll be able to see that the present generations of Eldians are nothing like their demonic forebears, and aren’t anyone to fear (or systematically eradicate).

Unfortunately, Gabi is ignorant not just to the true attitudes of other nations, but also the fact that most Marleyans will never accept Eldians as equals or even real humans. Tybur’s seminal speech could praise her people or it could condemn them.

When Falco visits Mr. Kruger at the hospital, he now has a baseball and glove. After he leaves, an old man sits beside Kruger and introduces himself as “Dr. Yeager”. He warns Kruger not to get Falco, a promising Eldian, into trouble, and talk of lifelong regrets come up, including “that day” when his son (Grisha?) took his sister outside the walls.

While I pondered whether Eren just met his grandfather (later carried away by orderlies when he starts screaming uncontrollably), day turns to night and we’re at a fancy banquet honoring Tybur and his upcoming speech. Falco, Gabi, Udo and Zofia are put to work as waiters, underscoring their status as second class citizens no matter how hard they fight.

Things get tense when Udo overhears foreign guests lobbing slurs at them, but thankfully when he spills wine on a woman, she happens to be from Hizuru, “a country in the Orient” which may well be more tolerant of Eldians. She lies about spilling the wine on herself, sparing Udo harsh punishment.

The next day, Gabi wakes up to find the IZ has been turned into a busy, colorful festival town, and joins her mates and senpais for a day of sampling every kind of food they can. It’s a rare montage of pure fun and joy, which almost surely means it’s probably the last fun they’ll be having for a while.

That night, minutes before Tybur gives his speech, Falco asks Braun to follow him somewhere. He takes him down into a secluded basement where Mr. Kruger is waiting…only his name, as expected, isn’t Kruger. He greets Braun for the first time in four years, and Braun immediately recognizes him as Eren Yeager.

After episodes that give the “bad guys” of previous seasons more depth and illustrating how much the world sucks no matter where you live, we’re finally approaching something resembling the Attack on Titan with which we’re most familiar: Eren and Braun in the same room.

That said, who knows what Eren wants, how he lost his leg, why he’s posing as a wounded Eldian veteran, or what he intends to get out of Braun. Regardless, I remain intrigued.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 62 – Looking Past the Hell

If you like Reiner Braun, you’ll love this episode. If you’re an anime-only watcher wondering where the hell Eren, Mikasa and Armin are, well…you’ll have to settle for flashback cameos for now. When Reiner saw the latest (and possibly last) generation of Titan candidates as his own candidate circle last week, that was a prelude to the episode we get this week, in which the story of his generation of candidates unfolds.

Reiner, Annie, Bertholdt, Pieck, and the Galliard brothers Marcel and Porco make up that previous generation. Back in the day, Reiner was extremely unsure of himself and his talents, much like Falco is in the present, and was bullied by Porco. Marcel kept his bro in check, but Annie is too busy smushing grasshoppers into goo to get involved in the scraps.

Unlike Falco, Reiner towed the company line without hesitation, and the Marleyan commanders valued his loyalty. To Reiner’s shock and Porco’s outrage, Reiner ends up inheriting the Armored Titan. He and the others (minus Porco) end up in a parade, which he leaves when he spots his Marleyan dad. Unfortunately, his dad wants nothing to do with him.

The new Titan Warriors are sent by Commander Magath to Paradis, and on their first night there, Reiner learns that Marcel set things up so Reiner would get the Armored Titan instead of his brother. Like Falco intends to do with Gabi, Marcel wanted to protect his brother and give him a longer life. That morning the group is ambushed by Ymir, but Marcel saves Reiner at the cost of his own life.

When Reiner stops running later that morning, Annie and Bertholdt eventually catch up with him, and he’s a blubbering wreck. Annie has no time for his cowardice and starts to beat the shit out of him, insisting that their new priority should be to retrieve the Jaw Titan and head home.

As she beats him, Annie says both Marleyans and Eldians are a bunch of lying bastards, so who gives a shit, but Reiner rises like a creepy zombie from behind her and puts her in a chokehold. He insists they continue the mission. If they tried to go home now, they’d be fed to their successors.

After this scuffle, we know what happens: Reiner, Bertholdt, and Annie attack Shiganshima as the events from Titan’s very first episode are repeated from the Titans’ POV.

The three mix with the district’s refugees and join the 104th Cadet Corps with Eren & Co. We know that story too. Fast forward five years, and Annie tracks down Kenny Ackerman, but is unable to get any info about the Founding Titan (i.e., Eren) from him, and he doesn’t buy that she’s his long-lost daughter.

Annie wants to head back to Marley, certain that the intel they’ve amassed these five years will be sufficient, but Reiner knows better: They don’t have the Founding Titan, which means their mission isn’t complete, which means they won’t be welcomed back.

As Reiner’s memories of his undercover mission on Paradis progress, we see watch present-day Reiner prepare to commit suicide by placing a rifle in his mouth. He only hesitates when he overhears Falco, probably the candidate most like him in his candidate days, discussing his problems with one of the wounded veterans at the hospital (who, judging from his black hair and green eyes, could…could be an older Eren in disguise).

Falco could be one of the last Titan warriors, and he needs all the help he can get from those who served before him. Reiner decides he won’t end his life today. His life might be hell right now, but he’s still able to look beyond that hell to, in this case, the hell that awaits Falco and his comrades. If he can stop them from reliving that hell, remaining alive will have been well worth it.

Attack on Titan – 61 (S4 E02) – One Last Gasp

They’ve emerged from four years of war the nominal victor, but Marley can’t rest on its laurels. The generals are in consensus that their strategic advantage of the Titans hangs by a thread. Of particular concern is the quickly advancing aviation industry. They’re on the wrong end of history, and the entire episode is suffused with that bleakness and weariness.

Reiner actually survived the naval bombardment, but it’s just a taste of what the future will bring. We also meet his comrades Galliard (Jaws, who inherited his Titan from the imprisoned Ymir) and Pieck (Cart). Interestingly Pieck has trouble walking on two feet as a human since her Cart is a quadruped.

Back on his feet, Reiner tracks down Gabi and the other three Titan candidates, much to Gabi’s elation. When the funnel of a passing ship suddenly covers them in shadow, he briefly sees four of his comrades from back when he was their age, including Bertholdt and Annie.

Our quartet of kids consist of two goers-with-the-flow (Udo and Zofia), a True Believer in Gabi, and a Skeptic in Falco. On the train home to Liberio, Gabi is all too happy to accept praise for her prowess in battle and looks forward to being the next Armored. Falco take on that mantle in her place, but not for glory. You see, he simply wants Gabi to live past age twenty-seven. Braun isn’t altogether dismissive of Falco’s attitude.

Earlier in the episode we’re reminded that even decorated Eldians like Zeke and Reiner are still considered Less Than by their non-Eldian leaders, and as such they are not entitled to privacy. When we arrive in the ironically-named Liberio, the Eldian soldiers reunite with their families—one by one we see moments of unbridled love and joy (RABUJOI!)—from people who can use any and all such moments they can get.

Again, Falco zags while Gabi and everyone else zigs. Before joining his family, he checks in on a group of Eldian soldiers who are suffering severe PTSD. The supposed doctor even mimics the sound of a bomb to freak them all out, and only Falco tries to calm them down.

At the Braun family dinner, more praise than food is heaped upon Gabi’s plate, but when Reiner is asked about his time on Paradis with the descendants of the “evil” Eldians who fled there, his response becomes a rant in which he suggests there were “all kinds” of people there, not just monsters. The matriarch quickly insists that the Eldians on Paradis are the source of all “good” Eldians’ problems, and must be wiped off the earth.

At the next meeting of Zeke, Reiner, Galliard, Pieck and Colt (Zeke’s eventual replacement), Zeke announces that they’ll be launching a new offensive on Paradis, with the goal of conquering the island for Marley within a year—which is all Zeke has left in the Beast Titan. Their meeting is being monitored by non-Eldian Marley officials, who pick up on Zeke’s offhand “not in this room.”

As Reiner watches the young candidates spar, he dreads returning to the “pure hell” that was Paradis. But considering how he described Sasha stealing a potato to eat way back when (I believe that’s what he was on about), and his comment to Falco about taking over for him instead of Gabi, what he says to his family and what he believes may be very different. He’s just aware that those who weren’t on that island wouldn’t understand.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 05 – Damn Kids

“Mission Impossible” is accomplished…or is it? Brawler is ready to head back to Kansai to fight Master, who is the first opponent to ever scare him and thus more important than the money. Hacker wants to head the other way to Kanto, and even managed to deactivate his bomb collar. Just as Brawler lives to fight, Hacker lives for excitement, and there’s nothing back in Kansai but boredom.

They’re both right: their job should be complete; the Black Cat didn’t say anything about smuggling two kids back to Kansai. And yet that’s the job. The brother offers to double the reward to ¥2 billion, but as Doctor points out (as perhaps the most intellectually shrewd of the Akudama) it’s not about the money for any of them—except Courier, who is ready to complete whatever mission the kids want.

Still, with no bomb collar the kids can’t force Hacker to keep working for them, and he’s doubtful he’ll ever get as good a chance to see Kanto than now, so he’s going to take it. He gives one of his Haro to Swindler as a parting gift, but she fully intends to return it when they meet again.

Doctor isn’t prepared to go any further until she learns more about these mysterious siblings, which is where Swindler comes in—and I’ll just call her that from now on because she herself seems to have gotten used to it. She accuses Doc of bullying little kids (whose hands she can see are trembling). Brawler and Hoodlum scold Doc, and she backs down.

The brother does at least tell them where they’re headed in Kansai—Expo Park—and when everyone’s tummies start to rumble, he produces a special bento box that creates whatever food someone wants out of thin air. I’d call it magic, but the Kanto and Kyushu Plant are capable of some pretty spiffy tech. Bunny is clear to shark that Kyushu can manufacture anything—meaning it’s not outside the realm of possibility the brother and sister are themselves manufactured.

Both can feel their stomachs are empty but don’t register it as hunger, and when they eat some of Swindler’s takoyaki they can’t tell if it’s good or not, just that it makes their bellies warm. It’s fun to learn of each Akudama’s favorite food (Brawler, meat; Hoodlum ramen, then onigiri; Doctor, wine, bread and cheese; Cutthroat, marshmallows), and that Courier and Swindler share a love of takoyaki. 

With a considerable and likely intentional pause in the action this week, we get to watch these colorful personalities mingle and clash. Doc for one believes Swindler is putting on an “innocent act” that she’s not buying. And hey, it remains to be seen if Swindler really is hiding something from us as well as her comrades.

We also learn more about the Executioner Division structure, with a Boss (named “Boss”) answering to Kanto in the form of three Noh masks atop a traditional shrine-like structure. They aren’t just elite cops, but Kanto’s muscle in Kansai and a form of society control. Akudama, after all are the only people from Kansai who could threaten Kanto’s hegemony.

Boss is given an ultimatum to find and destroy the seven Akudama who raided the Shinkansen at all costs, but the hospitalized Master and Apprentice are suspended indefinitely for twice failing in their mission—something virtually unheard of up to this point.

Meanwhile, in a nice moment between Swindler and Courier as the skies clear and reveal a gorgeous sunset, she tries to give him back his dropped ¥500 piece, which she almost slips up by saying it’s what “got her in this mess.”

The Executioners’ Boss gives a rousing speech to all members, including trainees, to find and eliminate the seven Akudama, and their faces pop up all over town video boards. Frankly, while Boss talks about law, order, and justice, there are more than generous hints of fascism and hyper-conformity in both her rhetoric and the division’s uniforms.

Apprentice is frustrated she and her Master can’t take responsibility for their failures by participating, only to find that Master has given her the slip. The next we see him he’s already located the Akudama, who attempted to clandestinely enter Kansai through the drainage and sewage network. They failed, but is the Master and a single security drone really enough against the six Akudama—even if the little sister doesn’t provide defense via her flute shield? We’ll find out.

Not every episode is a bullet train heist, nor should it be, nor would I want it to be. This was just the kind of follow-up I wanted, using the calm between storms to give a little more depth and seasoning to the players and their relationships.

Whether Swindler is just an ordinary girl in over head or secretly and/or unconsciously the most powerful of all of them (due in large part to her ability to “move hearts”), the true nature of the siblings, and the all-hands manhunt add up to plenty of juicy material for the remaining episodes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – 01 (First Impressions) – Moe Horror Done Right

Higurashi: When They Cry wastes no time establishing that this story will not have a pleasant ending, as it opens on a boy beating a girl to death with a bat with at least one other corpse in the room. It’s not played off as a nightmare, either, as protagonist Maebara Keiichi wakes up in that same room some time before that bloody spectacle takes place.

While some horror anime that hold their powder until the end of the first episode (Gakkou Gurashi! comes to mind) Higurashi isn’t interested in keeping you in suspense about whether shit will hit the fan in this suspiciously idyllic village, but rather when, how, and why, and how bad…I’m guessing pretty bad!

We haven’t had much good horror on RABUJOI lately aside from Hannah’s great retro reviews of 2004’s Elfen Lied, but that same cute girl horror DNA is evident in Higurashi. This is actually a reimagining of an identically-titled series from 2006. I’ve personally only seen half of When the Seagulls Cry, a family murder mystery, but never finished, so consider me a Higurashi Novice.

That said, one of the changes that’s quite evident in the remake is the new character design by Watanabe Akio of Monogatari fame. The way he draws eyebrows and mouths in particular were a dead giveaway, and I’m a big fan of Watanabe-san’s work here. “Easy on the eyes” is an apt description; “as pleasant as the ending won’t be” is another.

We’re gradually introduced to Keiichi’s friends, starting with the meek but extremely good cook Rena, the green-haired “big-sis”-type Mion, and a pair of younger girls in the mischievous Satoko and adorable Rika. They’re all so cute and have such great chemistry with Keiichi and each other, you almost want to forget that things will go sideways without fail.

It’s a testament to Watanabe’s designs, the veteran voice talent, and the beautiful setting of Hinamizawa village that despite the bloody cold open we’re invited to enjoy some good times with this group first, and are thus lulled into a false sense of security and safety. The multilayered traps Satoko sets at school are a useful metaphor for what Higurashi does in this episode: the first trap you see is merely a decoy.

Case in point: As soon as the sun started to set and the crisp blue sky turned a simultaneously gorgeous and menacing orange and red, dread started to amass around me, even as Rena kept things light and breezy. She leads Keiichi to a sinister-looking junkyard and climbs over the junk with zero regard for tetanus, looking for treasure and finding it in a buried Kenta-san.

While Rena is scrounging around, Keiichi meets a photographer who comes out of nowhere, identifying himself as Tomitake. The fact he’s the first adult we see other than Keiichi’s mom is disorienting, but then he mentions an unpleasant “incident” involving the loss of someone’s arm in the area. When Keiichi askes Rena about it later, her cutesy voice immediately shifts to a curt and dead serious “I don’t know.”

While I was certain something awful was going to happen in that junkyard (and the show most certainly wanted me to think that), Keiichi and Rena come out unscathed, though you could say Keiichi has now been “marked” by suspicion over surroundings that must now feel a tinge more threatening.

The next day after school, Keiichi asks Mion about the aborted dam construction project, and Mion offers him some information: the developers tried to ram the project through, but the village was spared from flooding and relocation thanks to some help from politicians in Tokyo. That said, when Keiichi asks about any violence, Mion has the same curt response as Rena.

Keiichi heads back to the junkyard as the sun once again falls, but Rena forgot he offered to help her unearth the statue. It’s clear she wasn’t prepared for him to show up, and heads home to grab them some tea. While waiting, darkness falls, in more ways then one, and Keiichi finds an old magazine detailing the story of a dam construction worker who was lynched, murdered, and dismembered.

As he reads, Rena creeps up on him, wielding a huge, curved, and very sharp-looking blade, while cute lil’ Rika stands behind Rena with glowing red eyes, suggesting she might be controlling Rena’s body. Roll credits, complete with an ending theme that absolutely slaps. Now that got dark quick, didn’t it?!

Higurashi is not for everyone, as those without the stomach for bloody horror will be joined by those who insist the franchise didn’t need rebooting. That said, had it not been rebooted, I would never have checked this out, and then find it right up my alley as a casual (and sufficiently-desensitized) horror fan. I’m looking forward to watching Keiichi and the town’s slow descent into madness and murder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Re: Zero – Memory Snow

Firstly, this OVA/Movie isn’t new: it was released back in October 2018…but it’s new for me! And frankly, after one and a half seasons of watching the cast of Re:Zero in chibi form sharing the screen with the casts of 3-4 other isekai shows, it’s a rare pleasure to finally see Subaru, Rem, Ram, Emilia, Roswaal, and Beako in their normal proportions, in a more slice-of-life setting.

While these initial screenshots are disconcerting, one can be rest assured that neither Subie nor anyone else goes through anything horrible or traumatic in this Memory Snow side story; the worst thing that happens is he wakes up to an increasingly cold manor. Turns out the cold is emanating from Puck, who is undergoing Hatsumaki, a periodic semi-controlled bleeding-off of mana. It’s fun to learn that Ram shares Subie’s extreme dislike of the cold.

Subaru’s first date with Lia is postponed until the Hatsumaki is over, but he makes the best of a chilly situation by taking a page from his homeland and organizing a snow festival on the manor grounds. Everyone makes a snow sculpture while Subie, the village elder and Roswaal serve as judges. Even Beako gets in on the action, while Ram and Rem’s collaboration of a Subaru-Roswaal hybrid statue gets middling scores for being so creepy.

At the post-festival banquet, Roswaal cracks open a stash of booze hidden under the floorboards of Subaru’s bedroom. This results in what I believe is our first taste of both Tipsy Emilia and Tipsy Rem, who while unassailably adorable in their playful drunkenness, have limited energy stores and it’s not long before both are using Subie’s lap as a pillow. Ram, on the other hand, can mostly hold her liquor.

The group migrates outside, where Puck expands the Hatsumaki to give the villagers and surrounding lands a lovely late night snowfall; the spirits soon appear, thousand points of light dancing around the sky. Beako and Rem deliver their barbs to Subaru regarding his being named after a star of all things, but by night’s end everyone can jump in bed content after a very full, fun day spearheaded by Barusu.

With Puck’s Hatsumaki waning, the story closes with Subaru and Emilia finally having their date—and Lia unveiling her adorable outfit for the occasion. While this outing lacked its parent anime’s sadistic bite or any measurable stakes, it was a strong affirmation of the real reason why I kept watching Re:Zero, and will be tuning in to its second season: the characters. Subaru, Rem, Emilia & Co. are eminently fun to watch, whether they’re chibis in a high school or playing in the snow without a care in the world.

Kabukichou Sherlock – 06 – Cuttin’ The Sun

No mystery to be solved nor rakugo to be performed this week, just a heaping helping of Kabukichou slice-of-life featuring former yakuza Kobayashi and the Irregulars, a gang of kids with nowhere else to go that he helps to keep fed, even when they steal his clothes and draw on him when he passes out from overdrinking. There’s a connection with those two things: Kobayashi left the yakuza because he was too nice.

“Nice” isn’t how you’d describe his former associate, a mid-level thug named Sugimoto who is always in and out of prison. More like, Sugimoto is a deeply weird dude, as demonstrated when the kids find him trying to “cut the sun,” and a lot of other erratic behavior.

He also has an affinity for rapping about himself and “Tama”, as he calls Kobayashi (i.e. “kitty”, referencing his kind heart). When one of the kids steals Sugimoto’s protection money, Sugimoto and his massive brawny pal go after the kids.

Moriarty manages to locate the kids’ HQ, an old bowling alley, and Kobayashi rushes in under another moniker: Torataro. The night Kobayashi “betrayed” his fellow yakuza was when he took pity on a struggling mangaka who owed money.

He was just happy someone in the world cared enough to dream about something bigger. That inspired Kobayashi to become a detective, while his kindness inspired the mangaka to write a story that got published, featuring Kobayashi-like character who protects the weak.

Kobayashi ends up in a potential self-sacrificing spot, but he’s bailed out by Moriarty, Watson, Sherlock, and Kobayashi’s former boss Kaneko and his men, who put Sugimoto in his place. It’s chaotic elements like Sugimoto that underscore the fragile equilibrium of Kabukichou.

That balance of crime and kindness, of trouble and fun, is something that must be protected and maintained lest it slide too far to one end to the other. It’s why Kobayashi intends to give the candy shop owner his protection money back and treat the kids to whatever they want…even if they steal his clothes and draw on him again. You can’t cut the sun, but you can shine a little into the shadows.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 15 – Books and Covers

This is an episode of jumping to conclusions with regard to one’s opponents…or is it? Eugeo and Kirito are seemingly caught off guard when the two young Axiom nuns plunge their paralyzing poison daggers into their chest and back, respectively. Linel and Fizel are not merely nuns, but Integrity Knights in their own right. And they both revel in having been seen as nuns just long enough to draw in close enough to attack their prey.

The girls drag the paralyzed guys up to the fiftieth floor Hall of Ghostly Light, where the Four Whirling Blades and Vice Commander Fanatio Synthesis Two are waiting. The nun knights, the last two sheltered survivors of one of the Ponfex’s resurrection experiments, don’t want the other knights stealing their thunder, but still need witnesses when they behead the criminals.

Unfortunately for them, Kirito only mistook them for harmless kids for an instant; far less time than they thought. When he noticed apprentices were disobeying orders (an impossibility in the cathedral) and wearing ruby oak sheaths (for poison daggers), he quietly recited a poison-dissolving art, which completed in time for him to stop them and give them a taste of their own medicine.

He cures Eugeo, then tells him to quietly recite a perfect weapon control art when he can and wait for his signal. Then he drives past the Four Whirling Blades and crosses swords with Fanatio one-on-one. Perhaps impressed by his cheek, Fanatio orders the subordinates to stand back as they duel.

Fanatio learns that despite a sword that contains the reflective power of the sun itself, Kirito and his black sword are no slouch. He chips off a piece of Fanatio’s helmet, endures the heavenly sword’s beam-like strikes (to non-vital areas) and eventually knocks her helmet off. That’s right: Fanatio is a woman. The look of momentary shock in Kirito and Eugeo’s faces pisses her off to no end; they’re faces she’s seen all her life.

But the one who seems most upset that Fanatio is a woman is…Fanatio herself. It is Fanatio reading her own book by its cover, and reading Kirito’s cover as Just Another Guy who won’t fight her with everything he has. As with Zel and Nel, Kirito quickly moves beyond his instinctive surprise and fights her on equal terms; as he says and we know, he’s no stranger to being beaten by swordswomen.

A splendid duel ensues; one that Fanatio almost seems grateful for, as for once she isn’t being underestimated or not taken seriously, despite her “detestable” face. Kirito asks her if she thinks she’s so detestable, why does she doll herself up so; it’s strongly implied she loved/loves Commander Bercouli Synthesis One.

But there’s no room for love, or anything else, for Integrity Knights. Only “glory” through obedience to the Pontifex. And so even when Eugeo unleashes his Blue Rose Sword upon her, he can’t quite finish the job. Part of that is that he trying to beat her with his hatred, and as Kirito calls for his own weapon enhancement, he corrects Eugeo’s thinking.

They’re not there to kill the enemies they hate, but to save the people they love—as well as those enemies themselves—and end the tyranny of Axiom so humans can live normal lives. And he’s going to do it or die trying.