The Fire Hunter – 02 – Precious Goods

Maiden Train Arc

Touko’s adventure starts out rough, with her vomiting and passing out, no doubt due to the fact she’s never been on a moving vehicle. When she wakes she’s greeted by two kindly women, Hotaru and Benio, who are also getting a ride on the collection truck, to be married off.

Hotaru and Benio are resigned to their fate, which is the result of their villages believing sending them away will lift curses. But a third bride-to-be, Kaho, is manifestly not resigned and not taking it in stride. A shot of her right next to a window makes it obvious: if she finds an opportunity, she’s going to run for it. The forest may be full of fiends (and various ruined artifacts from before this world’s fall), but not an unwanted husband.

Unlike the brides who are confined to their car, Touko is given a brief tour of the truck and given toilet-cleaning duty. It’s hard work and it stinks, but Benio would prefer work to being cooped up and twiddling her thumbs. The episode is full of vividly-rendered postcard memories to accentuate certain scenes. When Touko is back in the brides’ car for lunch, Benio shows a growling Kanata who’s boss by basically asserting that she wont put up with his continued hostility.

That night, Kaho comes to Touko’s bed, telling her she’s talking and groaning in her sleep, but also to give her something he dropped. It turns out to be a spirit stone with her adoptive sister Rin’s name carved into it. Touko’s happy reaction to his indicates it was Rin’s intention, despite her harsh words, to send Touko off with a good-luck talisman, and the mask she wore was indeed to conceal her sad face.

Lightning in a Bottle

Nighttime is a good segue back to the Capital, where Koushi walks past unhoused orphans huddled together in the rain. Koushi may be apprehensive about his future with his mother dead and his father away, but this little shot is a good reminder that he is a lot better off than most.

Koushi makes his way to the ornate mansion of Yuoshichi, who knew his father, Haijuu—Haijuu, of course, being the fire hunter who was killed saving Touko’s life. Yuoshichi feels firmly indebted to Haijuu, and following the death of Koushi’s mother has decided to welcome both him and his little sister into his home, not as a servant or factory worker, but as members of his family.

Yuoshichi would rather Koushi focus on his studies, and begin research on the skyfire his father had collected over the years. The moment Yuoshichi mentions that the current government is on its last legs and that skyfire can be used as both a fuel and an explosive, I knew his intentions vis-a-vis Koushi weren’t entirely altruistic. When the winds change, he wants to be ready, and Koushi is key to that.

Runaway Bride

When the collection truck stops for “fuel”, the fire hunter onboard conscripts Kanata to work beside his own good boy, Izumo the hound. He doesn’t bother asking Touko for permission, and Kanata tentatively follows. When Hotaru reports that Kaho has gone missing and must have left the truck, Touko also exits to go look for her.

She finds Kaho in the clutches of a black beast that the fire hunter and dogs are in the midst of hunting. It’s a chaotic and frought scene of multiple perspectives all captured on the screen at once in the battle’s climax.

In the end, Kaho and Touko are fine, as are the dogs, and the truck has ample fiendfire from the slain beast. But Sakuroku tells Touko that her leaving the truck is unacceptable. He summarily decrees that he can no longer keep her on the truck, and will be dumping her off at the next village along with one of the brides (though which one isn’t revealed).

If Sakuroku doesn’t change his mind (and something about him tells me he won’t), it looks like Touko’s journey to the capital—and rendezvous with the son of the fire hunter who saved her—will be delayed. There’s also the possibility the village won’t accept her, or try to betroth her to someone.

In any case, this episode did a lot of heavy lifting showing how despite the apocalypse that has left the world in this state, humanity’s innate bad habits of using one another as currency and tools have not abated.

The Fire Hunter – 01 (First Impressions) – A Girl and Not Her Dog

Before any narration, we’re thrust right into a battle in the forest, or rather the end of one. A hunter has killed a great black beast to protect a girl named Touko, but at the cost of his own life. His last words are to tell Touko the name of his dog: Kanata, who is wounded. Touko takes the dog, the hunter’s sickle and warding stone back home to her village.

It’s then we learn that the people of this world no longer use naturally-occurring fire; to do so would cause them to spontaneously combust. The fire they use is sourced from the beasts killed by fire hunters. Touko is also living with neighbors after a fire tore through the tiny village. Touko’s “sister” Rin rejects her as cursed.

Neither Kanata nor the hunter’s effects are Touko’s to keep. She must take them back to his family in the capital. To travel there she must board the collection truck that comes periodically to the town twice a year. None of this would have happened if Touko hadn’t entered the black forest, but her adoptive mother knows Touko did it for her sake: to find medicine for her eyes partially burned by the fire.

I’m glad for the little moment of tenderness between Touko and her de facto mom. This is a harsh world where every seemingly innocuous action could carry disastrous consequences that can affect the entire village. Touko has a good heart—and clearly good luck—but is regarded as a burden by her adoptive sister Rin: an extra body taking up space; an extra mouth to feed.

The heavily-armored collection train arrives and sets up a two-day bazaar, the village comes to life. The day both it and Touko depart it’s raining heavily, adding to the brooding atmosphere. This is not just a quick trip to the big city. It’s a circuitous odyssey that will take Touko away from the only home she’s known for a minimum of two years, with no guarantee she’ll survive the myriad dangers along the way.

But when Touko is told about these risks—both in sugarcoated mode by the kindly Enji and in cold-hard-truth mode from his boss Sakuroku—Touko simply says, in her slightly trembling yet resolute voice (deftly provided by Kuno Misaki), that she’s ready to go. She goes up into the turret to watch her village and her family recede away, possibly never to see them again. Rin wears a mask—is it one last eff-you to Touko, or to conceal tears?

From here the story shifts to the capital Touko is heading to, where a young man named Koushi resides with his sister. Their mother has just passed away, poisoned by the toxic waste at the factory where she worked. Unlike the village that has basically regressed to ancient times, the capital is still in a semi-industrial state, but without fire disease and short lifespans are widespread.

If you like bleak yet meaty stories in beautiful environs, The Fire Hunter is for you, as it is for me. I was reminded of Attack on Titan, and especially the wonderful, and dark-as-hell From the New World. There’s a Girls’ Last Tour look to the capital. This is a fallen world, but the people endured, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

With a veteran cast led by Nishimura Junji and Oshii Mamoru, there’s a great sence of both competence and confidence in the story being told, while the visuals are stark yet lush. Whether the following episodes will chronicle Touko’s six-month journey to the capital, or fast-forwards to when she and Koushi meet, I’m excited to see where this goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Made in Abyss – S2 12 (Fin) – The Cradle Falls

As tends to be the case with momentous episodes of Abyss, I’m still a bit overwhelmed with emotion, but I’ll do my best here. As a resurrected, better-than-ever Faputa and a game Juroimoh prepare to battle the invading beasts, we’re taken back to simpler, more innocent times, when Faputa first found Gaburoon.

Buried and covered in flowers, Faputa brought bits of scrap to him to enable to repair himself, while he tought her language, specifically that of her mother Irumyuui. What looked like an upside-down person turns out to be the symbol for haku, or that which matters most to someone. We watch, this time from Faputa’s perspective, as she encounters Riko, Reg, and Nanachi.

Gabu teases Faputa for resorting to subtler, more indirect methods that only served to confuse our lead kids—call it a measure of the shyness she inherited from her mother. Back in the present, while Faputa presses the battle, a transformed Majikaja serves as an escape vehicle for Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, as well as Moogie, Pakkoyan, Maaa, and other Hollows.

Maji takes them to Wazukyan, from which Vueko has already escaped and who is near death. In his usual friendly way he warns Riko that there is nothing ahead for her but despair, but she tells him as he crumbles to dust that things won’t necessarily go the way he’s foreseen.

As Riko is reunited with another page from her mother’s journal, the freed Vueko ascends a staircase while thinking about the one solid decision she made in her life: the choice to become Irumyuui’s mother. Unfortunately, she forgets the Sixth Layer’s curse is loss of humanity.

A quick-thinking Pakkoyan sacrifices herself to keep Vueko from being killed, but she is still transformed into a non-verbal hollow. Nanachi takes Vueko and brings her aboard Majikaja with the others.

Reg shocks Faputa by joining him in battle—this time on the same side—and apologizing for challenging her. Riko blows Prushka once more (causing her to pass out with a bloody nose), and Riko goes into Overdrive, allowing him to dispatch one of the two turbinid dragons who pose the greatest threat to Riko and the others.

This also gives Faputa time to go to Moogie and the other surviving hollows with the goal of consuming them and their value so she can do what she came here to do: put her long-suffering mother to rest. Just as they had no problem giving parts of themselves to resurrect Faputa, they have no problem becoming the nourishment Faputa needs.

After sending the black-turned-white goo throughout the structure of IruBuru, causing it to crack and shatter, Faputa is drained of energy an no longer able to fight. A piece of falling rubble wallops her and she begins to fall. She thinks of Vueko, the one person she has no memory of. She also thinks that the end is near; that she’ll die when she reaches the bottom. But she doesn’t; Reg snatches her with his extend-o-arm.

The rubble does a number on Majikaja’s body, and when he can no longer move, his true, semi-gaseous form emerges and briefly possesses Faputa. When he too passes, Faputa is able to come face to face with Vueko, her spiritual grandmother, and while Vueko can no longer talk, Faputa can hear her lucid thoughts.

Vueko tells her the kind of girl Irumyuui was, how Faputa is similar and how she’s different, before passing away peacefully, full of nothing but love and gratitude for the little girl that changed her forever. Faputa sheds tears for Vueko, despite her not “belonging” to her, and Riko, Reg, and Nanachi gather around to offer comfort.

The village borne from Irumyuui is now a pile of rubble, and Faputa’s mother is finally free. Following the customs she learned from Gabu, Faputa gives Vueko a proper burial, then sets up some companions with some smooth rocks so she won’t be lonely. After this, Faputa seems unsure what to do next, freed from “value” and now having been given the choice to live her life as she sees fit.

Reg suggests she join them. While he still can’t remember her or the details of their promise, he still wants to know her now, and go on an adventure with her. Faputa isn’t at all opposed to this, but does not agree right then and there. That’s to be expected of someone who has only very recently discovered such a thing as free will beyond an now-fulfilled genetic duty.

What I’ve described so far are the myriad events that unfolded in this double-length season two finale, but there’s no substitute for experiencing this episode and all of its nuances for yourself. It was one of the finest episodes of anime I’ve had the privilege to watch, and like Vueko with Irumyuui, I’ll never forget it.

There is sure to be another film or a third season that will continue Riko, Reg, and Nanachi’s journey still deeper into the Abyss, into darkness warm and cold, cursed by love and longing. This sequel had large shoes to fill and filled them ably. So too will the next sequel.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Made in Abyss – S2 11 – Royal Awakening

Due to Reg’s “foolishness”—i.e. not wanting to kill a dear friend he’s only now coming to remember—Faputa ends up knocking him out, and asks Juroimoh to hold him down while she deals with her next target: Riko, the one who “made Reg this way”.

All White Whistled out, Riko is in no shape to stand, and Faputa could go right through her Hollow defenders. But even her best punch can’t go entirely through Gaburoon, who stops her from killing Riko in order to “protect her future”.

Gabu collapses, and Faputa reaches deeper into the darkness: if she simply destroys everything, then everything will end. Returning her attention to Riko once more, she is once more stopped by an outside force: this time Belaf, accompanied by a Nanachi resplendent in their new Mitty Armor.

Their weapon of choice? A purple goo that resides within Belaf and contains memories of Faputa’s mother. These “smelly” memories represent Belaf’s ultimate treasure, but instead of perishing with him, they seem to unlock something in Faputa.

Overwhelmed by the intense visceral power of the memories of people and things completely unknown to her, Faputa pauses her carnage. Wazukyan takes this opportunity to flee with Vueko, while Nanachi wonders if this was all part of Wazukyan’s plan to use Faputa’s wish-granting power to make a village of out Riko like he did with Irumyuui.

But then the consequences of Faputa’s more recent actions take center stage: with the barrier down, the layer’s beasts waltz right in and help themselves to a Hollow buffet. Left and right, Hollows are stalked, torn apart and gobbled up by the beasts.

Faputa attacks the beasts, justifying her protection of the surviving Hollows as merely not letting anyone else have her prey. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to, I say. But soon it’s clear her fight, while valiant (and bloody as hell), is as hopeless as the Hollows’ fight against her had been.

There are simply too many beasts, and they’re very big and strong. It takes one last blast from Gabu before he dies to deter a Turbinid Dragon from curb-stomping her, but she still gets flung over halfway across the village.

Her scuffles with the beasts have left her all chewed up, missing limbs, coughing up blood, and immobile. She passes out believing she has no value because she failed to do “what she was born to do.” But she wakes up surrounded by Hollows, each of whom chops off a a small piece of themselves for her to eat, until their unlikely savior is not only fully healed, but…I’ll go ahead and use the crude but apt term “souped up.”

Faputa also suddenly finds herself surrounded by things she didn’t know, from her mother to Gabu, to Reg, and this leads her to ponder just what else she might not know. What is beyond her duty, which she believed to be her only value? Well, as Belaf said as she absorbed the memories he willingly offered her as she destroyed him, the time would come when she’d decide her own value.

That time has now come, and it once again unlocks something in her as a weird green glyph glows in her golden eyes. The Scorching Sun, once a volatile may have just evolved into a more mature star, poised to defend her sundry satellites from the incursions from outer space with her golden light.

Made in Abyss – S2 10 – The Scorpion and the Frog

Belaf can sense it: the storm that is Faputa has come to finally punish him and the others for what they did to her mother. In preparation for this, he entrusts all of his memories and value to Nanachi, and then releases them. However, he warns Nanachi that once they take Mitty past the barrier of the village, she will disappear, like all things born within it.

While Nanachi loves Mitty and wants to be with her forever, they still aren’t prepared to sit by and do nothing for the rest of their life, especially if it means abandoning Riko and Reg. So Nanachi decides to say goodbye (or at least “see you later” to Mitty on their own terms, in hope that one day Mitty’s soul will return to them.

The little Hollows who had taken a liking to Nanachi and Mitty follow them outside to their doom, but not before presenting Nanachi with a new headpiece that resembles Mitty, so in a way, Nanachi can always carry her with them. This entire harrowing, heartrending, tearjerking scene takes the place of the OP, so I knew right away this episode was going to be special.

Reg wakes up to find that he, Riko, Maaa, and Moogie are being protected by the giant Interference Unit from the carnage going on inside the village proper. We aren’t spared the visuals of said carnage, as Faputa darts around like a lethal fluffy spear, making bloody mincemeat out of every hollow in sight. They try to protect one another from her wrath, but it’s abundantly clear they haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell against her.

Reg knows that he is the only person strong enough to stop the mayhem. He also understands that he might be the only person Faputa cares enough to listen to, especially in her hopped-up state. Their clash in the present is intercut with the day they met centuries ago, when Faputa was grieving the then-damaged Gaburoon (the big robot).

Eventually, Faputa came to trust Reg because he wore a helmet similar to the Gabu’s design, and protected her until Gabu self-repaired. In the present, she thrashes whales on him, trying everything to get him to remember. When she thrust her extremely malleable limbs into his mouth and began to inflate him, I feared for the worst.

All hail Kuno Misaki, who turns in a tour-de-force of a vocal performance as the two Faputas, making her a wide-eyed, bubbly, joyful figure in the past and a bitter hateful one in the present.

What she’s never not is sympathetic, both due to the circumstances that led to her birth and the life she led up to that point. So when Riko blew into Prushka, Reg transformed, and it looked like this would be over soon, I was fully prepared to weep for Faputa’s imminent demise.

That demise never comes, but the tears did. That’s because Reg never stopped being kind to the point of foolishness. It isn’t in his nature to kill anyone or anything, most especially someone who he is only still starting to learn played such a crucial role in his earlier days.

As their increasingly violent (and beautifully animated) duel continues, we witness the day Reg began the ascent from the Abyss find his “HAKU”, or “number one precious thing”, when he promises to return to her. But then, as now, Faputa wasn’t just a lonely girl who took a liking to Reg. She was rage and vengeance incarnate.

Just like the scorpion couldn’t help but sting the frog before they crossed the river, Faputa cannot help but carry out the mission she was created for: to be the feet and arms and claws and teeth her mother had lost ages ago, all of them to be turned onto those who hurt her again and again to save themselves.

Reg and Faputa both being unable to fight what they are means that at episode’s end, she has the upper hand against him, and seems poised to put him down for good. The questions that abound: Can Riko blow the whistle again to give Reg a boost? Is there any reasoning with Faputa? Will Nanachi and their new headpiece and inherited memories and value save the day? Is saving the day even an option?

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Senryuu Shoujo – 04 – A Very Sketchy New Friend

Eiji gets the feeling he and Nanako are being followed. When Amane suggests it could be a cute girl stalking him, Nanako springs into action to “protect” him. Turns out Amane is half-right: it is a cute girl, but she’s not stalking Eiji. She’s been trying to return his student handbook, but could never find the right time to approach him.

Making matters trickier? Kino, like Nanako, is too shy to talk, but instead of senryu, she draws what she wants to say, like a live manga. The ensuing totally silent conversation between Kino and Nanako is a delight to behold, and Kino turns out to be quite the chatterbox (speaking abstractly). Her inner voice is provided by the immensely talented Kuno Misaki, making this a mini-reunion of Kawamoto sisters.

Because Kino makes it look so fun (not to mention easy due to her skills) the whole club has a drawing session, and we learn the sketching styles of Amane (everything is naked), Eiji (everyone looks sinister) and Nanako (everyone looks adorable).

When Eiji stares at Nanako to draw her she becomes bashful, but when she tells him she hardly has to look up from her sketchbook because she knows his face so well from seeing it every day, he gets bashful, much to Amane’s amusement!

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