Jujutsu Kaisen – 24 (Fin) – Only So Many Open Seats

When Eso—who like his more monstery-looking brother Kechizu isn’t a cursed spirit but a physical being—unleashes his special attack Wing King, Yuuji grabs Nobara in a princess carry and uses his superhuman speed to flee Eso’s range of attack.

They’re then headed off by Kechizu, who douses them both with his blood. Eso then activates a cursed technique called Decay that ensures both Yuuji and Nobara’s skin will be rotted away until by morning nothing will be left but bones.

We learn that Eso, Kechizu, and their brother Choso comprise The Cursed Wombs: Death Paintings One through Three—the result of either failed or successful (depending on your point of view) experiments in cross-breeding humans and cursed spirits. The three see each other as one and are devoted to one another, as they are all they had when they were sealed away prior to Mahiru stealing and releasing them into the world.

Unfortunately, Eso and Kechizu fucked with the wrong jujutsu sorcerers. Nobara is one of the worst opponents they could have, as she can use her Straw Doll Technique Resonance on the blood splattered on her to turn their curse back on them. Yuuji is an even worse match, as thanks to being possessed by Sukuna he’s immune to all poisons and poison-like techniques.

Nobara makes clear that Yuuji still makes pain, but pain alone isn’t enough to stop the likes of Yuuji. Together the two bust out their own techniques and deliver crippling blows to Eso and Kechizu. Just as last week was Megumi’s time to shine, Jujutsu Kaisen saves its finale for some of Yuuji and Nobara’s most badass moments.

Eso can’t use Wing King unless he releases Decay, but when he fears his brother is near death he does just that, playing right into the sorcerers’ hands. Both he and Kechizu are killed—not exorcised—they are physical beings their bodies remain. Choso senses their loss while playing The Game of Life with Getou and Mahiru.

Yuuji and Nobara win the battle without suffering serious harm. Yuuji asks if Nobara is okay psychologically after killing a physical being. Nobara’s answer is superbly true to her character: when you’re a sorcerer, “these things happen.”

There are only so many people you can save, and as she puts it, only so many open seats in her life for people who will sway her heart. Yuuji just so happens to be the rare person in her life to bring their own seat and sit down. It’s her way of saying Yuuji is one of the few people she cares about, and it’s beautiful.

The two are initially distraught upon finding Megumi passed out under the bridge, and when he wakes up, they’re over the moon with relief. Megumi gives Yuuji the Sukuna finger he secured, but both of them are surprised when a mouth emerges from Yuuji’s hand and eats it. Thankfully, Yuuji’s body is able to withstand yet another finger. Then Nitta arrives and chastises them for not keeping in contact.

Yuuji, Nobara, and Megumi managed to defeat three Special-Grade curses, a feat for which Gojou claims credit for his diligent instruction as he chats with Utahime on her day off. Megumi and Nobara agree to keep the fact Yuuji “resonated” with Eso and Kechizu a secret to protect their bud. Toudou Aoi and Mei Mei officially recommend the three sorcerers—along with Maki and Panda—for promotion to First Grade status.

Maki and Panda spar together as Toge (who I assume is already a First Grade) keeps score; both of them determined not to get left in the dust by the three first year up-and-comers. Nobara then goes on a celebratory shopping spree with Yuuji and Megumi, using Yuuji as her pack mule.

Getou, Mahiru, Choso, and a host of other high-level baddies remain at large to be eliminated, while perhaps the greatest threat remains within Yuuji in Ryoumen Sukuna. A “To Be Continued” at the very end of the episode serves as a promise that at some point Jujutsu Kaisen will return to settle these matters with its trademark blend of bombastic action, heartwarming camaraderie, and rib-tickling comedy. I already can’t wait.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 13 – What Is a Proper Death?

Yuuji is in the fight of his life, but he’s also in the middle of a lecture. Nanami may not be a teacher, but he’s still going to coach up the young buck so he doesn’t get himself killed. Yuuji, for his part, pays attention. He’s not the kind of hero who’s going to defy his sensei because he thinks he knows better or thinks he’s strong enough.

Nanami’s plan with Mahito is simple: wait for an opening, then rain blows upon him with Yuuji. It takes a little under four minutes, but the two jujutsu sorcerers eventually get the timing right, and then it’s open season. That’s when Mahito plays dirty, unleashing a trio of deformed humans on Yuuji, knowing he doesn’t have the heart to kill them.

Only, to Mahito’ surprise, he does. It happens offscreen, but Yuuji deals with the humans before they kill him. That’s when Mahito decides to push all his chips into the pot with Domain Expansion, engulfing only Nanami while Yuuji is trapped outside. Nanami, all but certain this is the end for him, looks back on how he got back into sorcery in the first place.

We watch him live his life in a pinstripe suit stealing money from wealthy people in order to make other people wealthier. It’s a job he’s good at but gives him no joy, and he believes no one would miss him if he simply ceased to exist. Then, when a cute young woman at the bakery has a low-level curse on her shoulder, he exorcises it, she thanks him profusely, and he decides right then and there to give Gojou a call.

Of course, while more rewarding and a better use of his time and talents, jujutsu sorcery was always going to be a higher-risk proposition. Mahito thanks Nanami for getting him to unleash his domain, but Mahito isn’t interested in the gratitude of a curse. He’s gotten enough thanks from people like the bakery lady that he has no regrets.

Only before Mahito can do Nanami in, Yuuji successfully busts through the domain from the outside, which is far easier than trying to break out. Because Yuuji is the vessel for Sukuna’s soul and Yuuji is now within Mahito’s domain, Mahito touches Sukuna’s soul a second time, and Sukuna punishes him—a flick of his hand puts a gaping gash across Mahito’s chest.

With his cursed energy depleted from summoning the domain, Mahito puts everything he’s got left into making himself as big and fat as possible. Yuuji proceeds to put everything he has into a Divergent Fist, which pops Mahito like a balloon, but crucially does not kill him. He’s able to slip back into the sewers. Nanami has his colleague Ito try to track him down, while Yuuji passes out from exertion and his many wounds.

When Yuuji wakes up he’s back at the school, specifically the morgue, where he reflects on the human life he was forced to take, and how it led to the realization that while he’s been trying to ensure everyone gets a “proper death”, he has no idea what that is. Nanami has news for him: no one does. All he knows is there will be many more people like him who will need him, so he’d better not die improperly himself.

Back at the late Yoshino Junpei’s high school, the lead bully Itou is called out by his peers filling out surveys, and the ineffectual teacher who looked the other way for so long develops a spine. He knows both he and Itou bear the crime of killing Yoshino’s heart, and will have to keep bearing it the rest of their lives. While Junpei died far too early, his death wasn’t without purpose.

Meanwhile, Yuuji is back on his feet and above ground at Jujutsu High, meeting Nanami and Gojou in the hall as a full-fledged jujutsu sorcerer. While Mahito & Co. will surely go after him in hopes of releasing Sukuna (who Mahito believes can singlehandedly usher in the “Age of Curses”), his more immediate concerns are reuniting with Megumi and Nobara (at last!) and participation in the Kyoto Sister School Exchange Event.

As for this episode, I consider it the best of Jujutsu Kaisen yet, an absolute tour-de-force of combat animation and sakuga, staging, pacing, atmosphere, peril, and sweet, sweet near-victory. Nanami’s backstory was well-timed, efficient, and effective at giving the guy some dimension, while Mahito remained an entertaining adversary to the bitter near-end.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 12 – Shape of the Heart

Last week barreled through a rapidly-created friendship between Yuuji and Yoshino Junpei, yet despite that story being told at breakneck speed, it still worked; i was still emotionally invested, and like Yuuji was dearly hoping Junpei could be saved.

Granted, that wasn’t going to happen without a little bit of tough love in the form of a physical showdown between the two. At first glance Junpei seems as bad a matchup with Yuuji as Mahito vs. Nanami: he can use his jellyfish shikigami to dull Yuuji’s blunt-force blows.

Well…until he can’t, and Yuuji punches the shit out of the jellyfish. Junpei tries to explain while he fights why what he’s doing is right and just, but like myself Yuuji wasn’t really listening, and in any case isn’t buying what Junpei is selling about nobody having hearts, or people being free to kill those who wronged them.

But when Junpei breaks out the jellyfish cutlery, Yuuji fails to dodge on purpose, because he realizes he’s dismissing Junpei’s point of view from a place of ignorant privilege. Especially considering how short a time he’s known Junpei, Yuuji admits he doesn’t know the full story about what’s going on…which is why he stops fighting and asks Junpei to tell him.

Once he does, Yuuji suggests Junpei come to Jujutsu Tech with him, not only to hone his abilities, but to find out who cursed his mom and bring them to justice the right way. Junpei might even have been receptive to such an offer, as he’d no longer have to attend the school where he’s so horribly bullied. Alas, it’s not his call…it’s Mahito’s.

Mahito arrives with all his usual immaturity, vivaciousness and swagger that make him Gojou’s cursed spirit counterpart. Without hesitation, he uses Idle Transformation on Junpei, transforming him into a grotesque monster that called to mind both Made in Abyss Attack on Titan, and of course Parasyte: The Maxim.

It was one thing to see a curse sneak up on Junpei’s mom; her death happened off-camera. But to see Yuuji’s new friend, someone who was just a kid being led down the wrong path by a literal curse, cruelly disfigured beyond repair was f-ing hard to watch. The transformed Junpei attacks Yuuji, who tells Sukuna that he’ll do or give up anything if only he heals him…and Sukuna refuses.

This shocks Mahito, whose entire plan (or rather Getou’s) was to back Yuuji into a corner so he’d have no choice but to form a pact with Sukuna, whereupon Mahito and his friends would introduce themselves to the King of Curses and seek an alliance in the war against humanity. Instead, Yuuji remains Yuuji, and Junpei dies (from the shock of the transformation) while clutching his friend.

From that point on, Yuuji has HAD it with Mahito, explodes with shounen energy and starts whaling on the guy. Of course, physical attacks are of limited efficacy against a curse that can change his physical shape at will, but that first punch makes Mahito’s nose bleed, which is something.

Unfortunately, Mahito has something for Yuuji too; part of being able to change his shape means he can transform into any number of frightening weapons, from a chain of razor-sharp blades to piercing spikes large and small that riddle the reckless Yuuji with holes.

Throughout this fight, in which Mahito hangs in there in a rather bemused state, still feels he can salvage the plan. Yuuji made clear he doesn’t want to exorcise Mahito, he wants to kill him, so if he can’t kill him alone, he’ll have no choice but to switch out with Sukuna.

Mahito is even fully prepared to transform every student in the school until Yuuji is enraged enough to switch out. However, when Mahito gets an opening, he can’t resist trying to use Idle Transformation on someone who is “aware of the outline of their soul”, as Yuuji is.

It doesn’t go well. Rather than touch Yuuji’s soul and transform him, Mahito is shunted to Sukuna’s Innate Domain, where Sukuna sits upon his giant throne of bones, looks down on a frightened Mahito, and gravely warns the “fool” to “know his place.” He’ll let him off with trying to touch his soul once, since they both shared a laugh at Yuuji and Junpei’s expense. But ther won’t be a second time.

Mahito ends up back in the outside world, and his failed technique opens him up to a series of brutal skull-crushing headbutts from a committed Yuuji. Mahito stops playing around and slips out of Yuuji’s hold, and is about to bash him with a giant cudgel arm when Nanami swoops in to absorb the blow.

Next, Nanami asks for a report from Yuuji, and is irritated when Yuuji reports that he couldn’t save two people (Junpei and his mom) before reporting on his own physical status. To Nanami and many other sorcerers, looking after oneself trumps worrying about others. I’m sure he hopes it’s something he can exorcise from Yuuji, but for now, he recognizes that he’s still just a kid. A kid full of holes.

Now that a capital-A Adult has arrive at the scene, we’ve arrived at the beginning of the endgame to the Mahito battle. Nanami has already determined his attacks are ineffective, but he is able to limit his movement. Combined with Yuuji’s ability to make him bleed, hopefully the two of them working together can defeat the patchwork curse…or at least force him to retreat. If not, heck…maybe they’ll get a surprise assist from Gojou.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 11 – Let the Hate Flow

Nanami has no intention of working further “overtime” than he needs to, so he executes the attack that has the best chance of disabling Mahito and then retreats when he has the upper hand. He does this by basically removing the limiter to his cursed energy and then depositing it into a wall, which crumbles atop Mahito after his right foot is sliced off.

Nanami recognizes that Mahito is a threat that requires more than just his abilities to contend with; Gojou, who doesn’t appear this week, would seem to have been proven right that the old fogeys in charge of sorcery have been caught flat-footed. For now, a lightly wounded Nanami calls for Ijichi to come pick him up.

It’s then that he learns Yuuji isn’t with Ijichi, but went off to talk to Yoshino Junpei. Unable to reach Ijichi for further instructions, Yuuji simply swings from the hip, asking Yoshino if he has any other info about the theater incident. The two start immediately bond over their love of movies, then Yoshino’s mom passes by and invites Yuuji to dinner.

For one lovely evening, Yuuji and Yoshino are friends, joking around about movies while Yoshino’s mom joins in the fun but drinks too much beer and falls asleep at the table. Yoshino asks if Yuuji is a Jujutsu sorcerer, and if he’s ever killed anyone.

Yuuji has a very eloquent reason for not wanting to ever kill: if it ever becomes an option for him, it will be too easy for it to turn into the only option, clouding the value of life and tainting his soul in the process. Alas, Yoshino’s mom wakes up to find one of Sukuna’s fingers on the table, and is then visited and then killed by a cursed spirit.

That spirit may well have been human once, and the creation of Mahito. Later he and Getou admit they placed the finger there to lure the curse, as they never intended for Yoshino to be anything other than a lure with which to bait Yuuji. Yoshino suspects one of his bullies to be responsible for killing his mom, and so lets Mahito drops a cursed veil over the school.

Dressed in black that mourns both his mom and his old life, Yoshino steps around all the other students who are passed out to get to his long-time tormentor, then lifts him into the air with cursed energy and starts beating and torturing him right back. Yuuji arrives in time to witness Yoshino’s apparent heel-turn. Everything is going according to Getou’s plan: forcing Yuuji to draw on his pact with Sukuna in order to stop Yoshino.

Just like that, I’ve only got one more episode of JK’s Fall cour. This week’s omake reinforces that there are currently two shows running in parallel, but we’re only privy to Yuuji’s show while Nobara and Megumi’s training proceeds off-camera. I imagine this Yoshino situation will reach some kind of conclusion in the Fall cour’s twelfth and final episode, and only after that will Yuuji reunite with the others.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Gleipnir – 11 – Like Nothing Ever Happened

This episode is full of one-on-one visits to the alien, the first of which is Elena. It’s clear she’s tired of this nightmare, wants it to end, and when the alien gets a little too cute marveling at her sister’s group’s recent ingenuity, threatens to kill him. The alien tells her he’s as mortal as his human form suggests, but killing him won’t undo everything that’s already happened, nor everything she’s done.

Following the slaughter of Madoka’s crew by poison fire, Sayaka’s group decides to let things cool for the time being, and return home for now. Shit just got a bit too real. As Sayaka laments to Aihara (while also declining an offer to comfort her), her lofty ideals led to the same carnage and destruction she’d hoped to avoid all along. Isao remarks to Yota how frighteningly calm Claire and Shuuichi were; as if they were used to doing such things.

As Shuuichi walks home with Claire, he wonders if everyone in Madoka’s group was really dead. He’s come around to thinking if it means keeping her and the rest of the group safe, it’s better if they’re all dead, so no one will come for revenge.

Claire pulls Shuuichi into an apologetic hug, but Shuuichi doesn’t blame her for getting him into this. In fact, Shuuichi’s been feeling a stronger and stronger desire to use his power to fight, not just to get his memories back, but to truly become one with her.

Clair tries to lighten the mood by suggesting they go see a movie, or alternatively renting one, watching it at her place, and fooling around. Time was this would sound like Claire teasing him, but she genuinely loves and cares about him. If they’re going to hang on to their humanity together, well…one assumes they’d become one the conventional way at some point.

Shuuichi returns to school and his normal life, and the first day goes by without any threats upon his life or those of the group’s. He and Claire finally notice Chihiro attends their school, and Shuuichi warns Chihiro to pretend they don’t know each other in case any of Madoka’s guys are also classmates.

And then there’s his friend Abukawa, whom he saw hanging with unsavory looking sort a while back. He’s been absent since the fire, and Shuuichi’s classmate Izumi tells him she heard about his burned body being found by the river. Shuuichi grapples with the realization that in order to save Claire and the others, he may have inadvertently murdered his friend.

Shuuichi stops by the alien’s spot (a rare daytime visit) eager for answers he’s certain the alien has. Whether Sayaka’s desire to preserve their humanity or Madoka’s desire to create a tight-knit misfit family, he knows people have come to the alien seeking the power to make their lives and those of others a little bit better.

The alien admits that the current form of the “game” wasn’t what “they” imagined, but now it’s a force of nature that can’t be stopped, only observed until it reaches its conclusion on its own. Shuuichi is welcome to try to take back his lost memories and the normal lives he and Claire once had, but the alien can only provide the raw materials; it’s up to Shuuichi to determine precisely how to pull that off.

It’s a testament to Shuuichi’s evolution that he so calmly allows himself to be watched and followed from the alien’s spot to a junkyard, his keen sense of smell making him aware of a potential enemy. It turns out to be the only surviving member of Madoka’s crew, who is eager to avenge his boss and brother.

This guy assumes that without the girl inside him, Shuuichi will be a pushover…but ever since the fire in the forest, he’s been a whole new Shuuichi, capable of handling himself even against a katana specialist. He tells Shuuichi he must not have known who Abukawa truly was; everyone has at least two faces; Shuuichi only ever saw the kind one.

Just as the last Team Madoka member urges Shuuichi to finish him off, Claire calls him on the phone, worried. Shuuichi assures her everything’s fine; he’s got this. And then he kills the guy.

The third alien visit of the week is from the past. A high schooler named Honoka is his very first visitor. Honoka proposes he ask other humans to help him find his companions, and set up a vending machine to grant their wishes as a reward.

Honoka is hesitant to provide a wish of her own for the alien to grant, but shows him a photo of her five friends, telling him they’re good people who would be willing to help him collect coins. Among those friends are Shuuichi and Elena, along with two other guys and a third girl.

It’s the clearest picture yet of Shuuichi’s social situation prior to gaining his powers and losing his memories. As the alien reflects back in the present on how kind and ruthless humans are, we cut to the lion-haired lad from the photo in the present, along with Honoka, who clearly gained powers at some point despite her initial hesitation. He uses her power to kill a group of gatherers, declaring this his story.

It’s a late introduction to two more of Shuuichi’s old circle of friends, but a fascinating one, especially considering Elena, like everyone else, was drawn into this mess by a well-meaning Honoka. The show is steadily gathering momentum and I’m looking forward to the final two episodes filling a few more gaps in Shuuichi’s memory, as well as further developing his bond with Claire.

Darwin’s Game – 02 – Infodate

As I suspected, Shuka doesn’t want to have Kaname’s baby. She’s only naked because she was too tired to change into PJs after carrying him home and dressing his wounds. Fair enough…

As for the “family” she seeks, after a long time playing (and winning) solo, she now wants to create a guild of sorts within the game. Kaname is eager for allies (not to mention the saying about keeping your enemies closer) so he’s all for joining forces, much to Shuka’s delight.

Shuka believes the first step to being good partners is to become good friends, so she suggests a date in Shibuya the next day, when she wears the same red dress (she either really likes the dress or the show lacks the budget to put her in too many other outfits for too long).

In between doing date-y things, Shuka feeds Kaname more exposition about Darwin’s Game, or “D-Game” as it’s called in public (spreading info to non-players is a heinous breach of the rules). The episode kinda drags throughout the date…it’s just so talky and bland.

Even as a countdown begins for a special D-Game Treasure Hunt Event, Kaname is challenged to a fight by Inukai, a high school student a grade below him who is interested in fighting the noob who defeated the Undefeated Queen.

Kaname uses a stun gun and Inukai’s own warning about taking care of one’s phone, not to mention intervention from Shuka, to force Inukai to surrender. Then the Treasure Hunt begins, and since there are more players (300) than treasures to find, not everyone is going to survive.

Darwin’s Game – 01 (First Impressions) – Quick Study

After a quick look at someone standing on an I-beam high above the city, we begin with a chase that isn’t quite as thrilling as the music would want us to believe. But the chase kinetically, succinctly presents and answers questions about the nature of the titular game.

Will you be relentlessly pursued by a baseball panda with a cloaking device and a cleaver? Yes you will! Can you call for help? Sure, but it will cost you, with no assurance anyone will respond. What if you lose? You die. So far so good. All we need is a protagonist more likable than the guy who just died.

Enter Sudou Kaname, friend of the deceased, who was one of the people the guy texted before he died. That text is an invite to a free-to-play mobile game. Before his other friend Kyouda can stop him, Kaname accepts, and a goddamn snake pops out of his phone’s screen and bites him.

Now that he’s an official player in the game, he almost immediately ends up in his first battle, not knowing the rules or that the stakes are all too real. The baseball panda Banda-kun is his first opponent, and the bear apparently notorious for beating up on rookies like Kaname.

Fortunately for Kaname, his “Luck” stat in the game must be pretty high. After a frightful chase during which Banda kills a cop, Kyouda intervenes but is injured, and Kaname gets a basic grasp of some of the game’s rules, Banda is hit by a car and Kaname gets the win.

The catch? Both Banda and Kyouda are killed in the most unnatural way: being blinked out of existence one cube at a time. Kaname has lost two friends and narrowly escaped with his life. When he checks the loot from his win, a handgun appears at his door. He doesn’t like this game. You can’t really blame him.

Still, as far as inescapable Battle Royale scenarios go, it could be far worse for Kaname. His first battle is a fluke win, while an experienced player in Karino Shuka reaches out with an offer to teach him more about the game, and she’s gorgeous. Shuka’s also not very trusting, so when Kaname reveals he brought weapons to their meeting, she initiates a battle between them.

Despite having air superiority and knowing the warehouse location back to front, Shuka’s mistake is not achieving her objective of eliminating a potential threat without dilly-dallying. Their battle only stokes Kaname up, awakening his inner sense of self-survival at any cost—even shooting a gun at a woman, something he’d never do. That gun is conjured by his previously-unknown “sigil”, or special skill.

Yet as exhibited when he cared for Kyouda, Kaname is a nice, well-adjusted guy. He doesn’t end up having to kill Shuka, as she surrenders instead, and promises to obey Kaname henceforth. That’s a surprising wrinkle in what had been presented as a “win-or-die” scenario, but not an unwelcome one, as Darwin’s Game had already killed off a fair number of characters and Ueda Reina is too good a seiyu to only bring in for one episode.

This show is full of battle royale and shounen cliches, one of them being the hero suddenly collapsing from exhaustion moments after victory. Another is his one-time-opponent seemingly falling for him on the spot. It yet another spot of luck (or possibly horror), he wakes up Shuka’s bed, with a naked-as-a-jaybird Shuka dozing beside him.

In addition to T&A, Shuka offers an abrupt proposal for Kaname: she wants to “make a family” with him. Huh. BIT random, but not altogether out of the blue. It’s clear Shuka, nicknamed the “Undefeated Queen”, has been doing this for a while. It’s likely been lonely game, and she likely hasn’t met someone quite like Kaname before: someone who risked himself to trust and spare her.

At this point I’d like it more if this was some long game to exploit his kindness to use and dispose of him, or perhaps it’s the start of an earnest romance in the making. Either way, this was a diverting and intriguing enough opening double episode to warrant further viewing.

Vinland Saga – 07 – Getting a Head in France

The Danish King Sweyn orders his armies’ English advances halted to give them time to rest for the winter. That means Askeladd’s crew’s contract work with the army ceases, which means they have to do as the birds do: migrate south in search of food.

It turns out there are already various factions within France fighting one another, including a siege on the Loire river in which a numerically superior Frankish force is unable to take a fort held by only a handful of their enemies. Askeladd sends in Thorfinn, older but still a kid, to make a deal with the besieging army.

Their general—who has a distorted cartoony design that resembles a fat toad, and with a weird voice to match—reluctantly agrees to ally with Askeladd’s men for the siege. The general’s out-of-place appearance is another sign that while Vinland Saga can be very realistic when it wants to be, it’s still depicting a highly stylized version of history and reality.

A more overt sign is when Askeladd’s men join the Frankish general’s armies in the siege the next morning, they come lugging their three boats on their shoulders and running at full speed; at least 25mph (the current record for human speed is Usain Bolt’s 27.8mph; he was not carrying a viking ship).

So yeah, even if the Vikings did carry their ships around on occasions when it was necessary to take land shortcuts, they certainly didn’t carry them that quickly, and I imagine when they were done carrying them they didn’t have enough energy remaining to not just fight a battle, but absolutely dominate in it.


Of course, challenging realism in this show is a slippery slope, so I’ll stop there, as it’s more plausible that after however many years Thorfinn has trained and killed for Askeladd, he’s become a finely-honed, ninja-like killing machine. There’s a long line of soldiers between him and their commander, but he cuts through them all like butter. Unfortunately, when he beheads the commander, the head falls into the lake, and the whole reason he went up there was to claim their leader’s head.

The Frankish general/prince was planning to betray Askeladd when it made the most sense to do so, but Askeladd betrays him first, pillaging the village of all treasure and leaving the worthless empty fort, and the victory, for the general.

Presenting the head of the commander, Thorfinn formally challenges Askeladd to the duel he’s owed once more, and Askeladd formally accepts…but only after they’ve escaped to safety. That means rowing their three big viking ships—likely overladen by treasure and other spoils—down a steep waterfall. Not only do the ships make it down without a scratch, but not a single gold coin spills out.

Despite all the action in this episode, it still felt rather static, in that Thorfinn and Askeladd’s unresolved conflict hung over everything, and the fact it was once again delayed despite Finn meeting the requirements feels like another artifical delay, for which their French excursion felt like so much window dressing. The comic-relief buffonish toad man and questionable physics further undermined the outing.

Vinland Saga – 06 – Engulfed by the Quarrels of Men

On November 13, 1002, King Æthelred II of orders all Danish immigrants in England killed. The Danish respond by sending troops across the sea, and the Vikings—Danish pirates—serve as the “army’s army.” Askeladd’s crew are right in the middle of this.

When English archers ambush their camp, Thorfinn gets a crash course in mass death, killing, and living with it, taking his first life and letting out a cry of vicious despair that carries through the forest, while Askeladd observes in quiet approval.

The battles with the English continue, and Thorfinn continues to kill and gets better at it, with his enemies continually underestimating him due to his size and youth. Askeladd starts using him as a scout, and he manages to kill two foes who come at him, gaining a second dagger with which he dual-wields henceforth.

While on another scouting mission he takes an arrow to the shoulder and washes up on a branch in a river in East Anglia. A kindly, God-fearing mother and her daughter take him in, clean him up, and feed him. The daughter worries (rightfully) that he’s a Dane, their enemy; but her mom doesn’t think any women or children should be bothered with the quarrels of men.

The mother even combs the fleas and lice from Thorfinn’s unruly hair, with the same comb she used to use on her son, who died of a cold two years ago. An English soldier arrives looking for a pint-sized scout, but the mother covers for Finn.

That night, while the daughter continues to argue with her mother about harboring him, Finn abruptly takes his leave, saying just one word to them in English: Run. He then sets a cottage on the beach aflame; the signal to Askeladd to make his landing.

The mother doesn’t run as Finn urged her; she comes to the beach and sees for herself the boy she nursed back to health and harbored: a rabid killing machine. When Finn spots her among the crowd, tears streaming down her cheeks, guilt momentarily washes across his face, as he remembers his own mother and older sister.

Then the mother is simply gobbled up by the charging viking horde, Finn takes a deep breath, and the guilt is replaced by cold detachment as he too gets lost in the crush, joining his fellow fighters in the latest retaliatory raid on a relatively well-off English village. The comb the mother used on him is trod upon and broken, and perhaps with it any possible chance of Thorfinn turning back from his current, blood-soaked path.

Fire Force – 03 – Hero or Devil

Enen no Shouboutai took a week off out of respect for the victims of the Kyoto Animation fire. There was probably never going to be an ideal way to return to regularly scheduled programming, but it felt particularly awkward to frontload the first episode back with repeated accidental gropings of poor hastily-introduced Kotatsu Tamaki, the show’s new resident Revealing Outfit Girl. I could forgive the empty fanservice if the episode had better points to focus on…but sadly, it didn’t.

What this disjointed episode did have was a whole lot of plot and table-setting. The Rookie Fire Soldier Games begin with all the fanfare of a quaint high school sports festival, but the episode abandons the games almost as quickly as it introduces them, by taking a sharp right onto the tired “Evil Clownlike Villain” road, introducing “Joker,” a name I think we can all agree is not the most imaginative.

When Shinra enters the building, Joker is assaulting two fire soldiers. He also threatens to kill Shinra, but also offers him the chance to join him, becoming a “devil” instead of a “hero.” This doesn’t fly too great for Shinra, partly due to his lifelong dream to become a hero (not a devil) and partly because the Joker assaulted two of his comrades. The two duel (Shinra’s no match for Joker), Arthur and Tamaki pitch in a bit (neither are they) and Joker fills the building with highly explosive ash.

Shinra grabs Arthur, Tamaki and the two injured soldiers and flies out of a hole in the roof. Tamaki’s captain praises Shinra, but doesn’t offer any more info on the circumstances of the fire twelve years ago. Joker hoped to lure Shinra to his side by sharing “the truth,” including the claim his brother, just one year old when he died, is actually still alive.

Some lengthy still shots filled with exposition from Captain Oubi later (seriously; the last five minutes are barely animated), we now learn the 8th Company has a mandate to investigate the other seven as part of an effort to uncover the truth of spontaneous human combustion, the explanation for which may already be known. Whatever their mission, Shinra wishes to remain on the hero’s path. We’ll see how hard Joker makes that.

Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.

Violet Evergarden – 12 – The Train Has Left The Station

As Violet flies south from her mission, her intended destination is not home, but the town of Distery. That’s where Cattleya, Benedict, and a group of peace envoys will travel north to Gardarick via the completed transcontinental railroad. The military puts Gilbert’s brother Captain Dietfried Bougainvillea in charge of security for the mission. The troops Violet encountered up north were only the tip of an Anti-Peace spear that is not as decimated as the south believes.

This means that at some point Violet and Dietfried, her harshest critic despite knowing very little of who she’s become, will cross paths. Before that happens, he interacts with Cattleya and [], who bristle at his harsh words for Violet, who like everyone is doing her best…and her best means letters that “slip right into people’s hearts”. Diets can’t believe it.

Violet and her pilot are among the first to notice the first stages of the Anti-Peace faction’s plan, involving fires along the railroad. Their next stage involves infiltrating the envoy train with troops. When Violet spots the train halted in Distery, she has the pilot drop her off.

Vi reports what she saw to Dietfried and requests orders, rejecting the notion that doing so means she’s still just a military tool that needs orders to follow. She’s doing what she wants, and what she knows she can do: avoiding war and protecting her friends.

Once the Anti-Peacers execute their plan to separate the front and backs of the train (a nice microcosm of their larger goal to keep the continent divided), Violet is a half-step ahead…fortunately for Dietfried, who must rely on her in the absence of his troops. He heads for the engine to regain control, and orders her to protect the civilians. Atop the moving train, she encounters the very same unit that she encountered in the forest.

Their commanding officer bears the physical and emotional scars of the fall of Intense, the battle where Violet lost Gilbert. He wants the fort back, and while his monologue to Violet is tinged with the thirst for vengeance and the burning of the world, he argues his side’s case well. He and his comrades have been abandoned. Everything was taken from them. Under those circumstances, you can’t blame them for wanting to burn everything down.

Violet resolves not to kill ever again, no matter what, in doing so making her battle atop the railcar that much trickier. Between the need to refrain from fatal blows, keep fallen opponents from falling off the train, and her attachment to the green pendant Gilbert gave her, there’s simply too many variables working against her.

She’s eventually subdued by the general’s superior numbers. But before he can behead her, his saber is shot away by Dietfried, who proceeds to dispatch the bulk of the troops and their general, using deadly force Violet wouldn’t.

Upon saving her, Diets is furious that she attempted to stop the troops without killing. “What’s the use of a battle doll that won’t kill?”, he fumes, blaming that kind of foolish thinking for his little brother’s demise. No doubt he gifted Gilbert Violet so that someone (something in his mind) would always be by his side to protect Gilbert in his stead.

Diets can holler all night about Violet being the one who killed Gilbert for failing to protect him, but he’s the one who decided that Violet was a tool and nothing else. Gilbert didn’t see his dynamic with Violet as user and tool, or brother and protector. He made it his goal to make amends for what was done to Violet; to restore the humanity, individuality, and emotions he knew still resided within her. Her orders were to live, not kill.

In the middle of this spat, a suriving enemy soldier gets a shot off before falling off the train, and Violet dives in front of Diets, deflecting the bullet with her metal arm. The ricochet causes an explosion, which in a crucial railroad tunnel connecting the north and south, may mean Vi inadvertently did the Anti-Peace faction’s work for it, but the ramifications will have to wait.

For now, Violet is committed to following Gilbert’s last orders. And considering she intends to stay alive, she might as well keep putting her skills to use keeping others alive. If she couldn’t protect him, then she’ll protect Dietfried…even if he never stops hating her.

A lot of great reflected themes swirled around this episode. The war between north and south reflecting the war between Dietfried and Violet; in each case with a latter party that doesn’t want to engage. The fragility of the peace efforts reflecting the fragility of the railroad, tunnel, and bridge that peace must travel on.

Making Dietfried and Violet temporary allies of necessity was a great move to get them together, while the train setting gave the episode an excellent surging momentum—as train episodes tend to do.

It’s clear that deep down Dietfried indeed blame himself for getting his brother killed, but keeps using Violet as a scapegoat. That Violet was capable of moving on from the past makes him even angrier, because he hasn’t figured out a way. But if he can’t forgive himself and move on, he’s no different than the Anti-Peace faction, and their general was right: the war will never end.