Somali and the Forest Spirit – 12 (Fin) – Hanging In There

Berserk Golem is terrifying to behold, but at least initially, his attacks aren’t very coordinated. That gives Yabashira a chance to intervene before Golem makes Somali witness something she shouldn’t. He’s tossed aside, and Golem targets Rosa, only for the freed Somali to come between them.

She has enough trust in her dad that he won’t hurt her with his outstretched hand, but pat her on the head. He may have lost a lot of resources when he went into overload, but the love he has for her wasn’t among them, and it serves as a fail-safe switch, and he passes out after acknowledging his daughter.

We part ways with Rosa off-camera, though I’d hope she learned a lesson and will do some serious soul-searching about her attitude towards humans after the one she was ready to dissect saved her life. Golem comes to in a forest, with Somali sleeping by his side.

The pair continue their journey with Shizuno and Yabashira, but after assessing his damage, it’s not looking good for Golem. His left arm is gone for good, as is nearly a third of his skin and much of his internal fluids. He’s at 76%, max, and it’s all downhill from there…though he notably can’t set an exact date of final shutdown.

The quartet arrives in a new town full of horned dog people celebrating their harvest. Never mind that there may be more human hunters here who would recognize Somali’s smell; the show clearly cedes that the time of external threats to Somali are done, as long as she keeps her hood down. I’m skeptical!

Of course, the main issue is that while on their way to town, Golem noticed that his senses are becoming duller and it’s getting increasingly hard to move. Add to that the potential for him to lose control like he did in the cave, and he considers his continued proximity to Somali a liability. So at the town festival, while Somali is distracted by performers, he gives her the slip.

Shizuno fills Yabashira and Somali in on why Golem left, and why he couldn’t persuade him otherwise; he made his choice. But Somali is hardly satisfied with such an adult conclusion, and chases after her dad, leaving town and finding him in the nearby woods, staring at a pond. When he spots her, Golem orders her to stay away, but she won’t obey, and demands to know why they can’t be together like he promised.

When he denies it’s because of anything she said or did or because he doesn’t like her anymore (Somali is just a little kid, this is where her mind would go first) and tells her he’s worried about being a danger to her, she again rejects his reasoning. She’ll be too lonely without him, and she knows he’ll be lonely too. She gets him to admit the emotions within him (despite that not jiving with his “natural order”)—and even sheds the equivalent of a golem tear.

With that, Golem reverses his decision to run away, and instead vows to stay by Somali’s side as long as he can, enduring whatever hardships might arise. The two of them acquire some nifty new threads and continue their travels with the Shizuno and Yabashira.

This seal the ending as an ellipsis rather than a period, and opens the door for a possible sequel. But that aside, I was pretty certain the show wouldn’t kill off Golem in the last episode, despite some of the “death is not the end” flags during the town festival.

Instead, it galvanized its hopeful outlook with a hopeful ending, in which there’s still time for Golem to find a way to repair himself, and in the meantime, Somali’s formative years can continue to be filled with happy and fun memories with her dad, as long as they can.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 11 – Defense Over Insulation

We know shit is about to hit the fan. So it’s somehow even crueler that after
showing us Aunt Rosa’s true colors last week, the episode keeps things light and pleasant. Rosa tells Golem about a shortcut to “avoid” trouble, Somali and Golem exchange bracelets, and the two have a snowball fight with the oni. Even the score is oblivious to the impending unpleasantness.

Then, later that night after Somali has gone to bed, Golem detects five human hunters. Yabashira is quickly told Somali is indeed a human (he’s fine with it, like any decent person), and acts as a decoy, allowing Golem, Somali and Shizuno to flee into the nearby subterranean tunnels. However, Golem and Shizuno were both fooled by the kindly Aunt Rosa, who meets them right before the supposed exit and leads them straight into a holding cell.

She tells them a personal story about how her village once coexisted with a human village, but the humans’ prejudice led to needless killing, and eventually all non-humans agreed it would be safer for everyone if the humans were persecuted and killed. She also sings the same song Kikila sang for Somali, revealing the lyrics are about cooking humans.

At this point, Golem’s body is nearing its end, as he had to exert considerable energy to evade the second set of hunters in the tunnels. He can’t risk destroying the cell gate, but when it’s opened and Somali is snatched away by the hunters, he has no choice. Only when he prepares to attack the hunters his whole left arm shatters (and his new bracelet snaps), while the rest of his body shuts down.

Shizuno’s pleas for understanding fall on deaf ears, and Somali is tied to a table as the hunters prepare to cut her into pieces—one wants the brain, while Rosa wants the liver. Still, Golem is down but not yet out: his eye turns read, he gets back to his feet, and he transforms into something wild and brutal we haven’t seen before as his core churns and smolders.

It may be the beginning of the end for Golem, but his attempts to insulate her from the cold truth of the world were not only futile, but are no longer possible. Now all that matters is defending her from harm with everything he has left—as any father of any species would do for their child.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 20 – Flowers in the Underworld

If you’re going to have a final boss to the final singularity in your narrative universe, go big or go home. F/GO goes monumental, and everyone has a role to play. First in the order of battle against Beast Tiamat is Assassin, who helpfully slashes both its eyes and delivers various other blows. Tiamat responds by unleashing a brood of Divine Spirit-class lahmu.

As Tiamat begins to climb back up to the living world, the quicker and dealier than ever lahmu prove too much for Ritsuka and the Servants, who are riddled with cuts and bruises and are starting to tire. That’s when they’re bailed out by the arrival of Gilgamesh, this time in his Servant form. He doesn’t spare the treasury in unleashing a gold-steel rain upon the lahmu, while Tiamat is forced back down to the ground.

Tiamat’s bonkers response to this setback is to create a Nega-Genesis, an attempt to restart the very universe. A huge bubble forms around the beast, poised to rewrite life itself and negate every Servant in Ritsuka’s stable. Ereshkigal is able to stop this process by using her impressive Noble Phantasm Kur Ki Gal Irkalla, but even this is naught but a time-buying measure.

While Beast is temporarily sealed away, the only person who can enter the Nega-Genesis, Ritsuka, but deliver the killing blow. Gilgamesh provides the blade, while Mash and Merlin will use their Noble Phantasms Lord Camelot and Garden of Avalon simultaneously, creating a path for Ritsuka.

There’s a palpable vulnerability to the prospect of Ritsuka heading to perhaps the most dangerous spot in the universe without his trusty aid—but the two trust in one another to take care of business on their different sides of the battlefield.

Ereshkigal’s gambit turns out to be a sacrifice, as she used up all of her authority to give Ritsuka and the others maximum time to prepare a final assault. She disappears in a distraught Ishtar’s arms, smiling at the sight of so many gorgeous flowers in her underworld (the product of Garden of Avalon).

A victory against Tiamat wasn’t going to be without cost, but it’s surely gutting that Ereshkigal is part of that cost. Ueda Kana does moving work voicing both Servants in the scene, and indeed throughout the two Servants’ interactions. So alike and yet so different.

Her sacrifice isn’t in vain, however; after some effort and a last minute assist by Assassin (who can be in the Nega-Genesis because he’s technically dead…?) keeping the last of the lahmu off his back, Ritsuka is able to reach Tiamat’s head and plunge the dagger in.

The Nega-Genesis begins to collapse, and Gilgamesh breaks out Ea and delivers the coup-de-grace—the good ol’ Enuma Elish, delivered with such unrepentant ferocity I was momentarily worried my speakers would blow out.

In the midst of all the external sturm und drang Ritsuka finds himself in a tranquil oasis where Tiamat’s true form of a horned woman stands alone in a white, soundless void. She quietly laments how her children made a ladder of her and gone far away, and asks if her love for them was mistaken. Ritsuka assures her that all her children love her, which is why she has to get going.

I honestly felt sympathy for Tiamat, so soft and lonesome were her words. A lot of that is down to the stark minimalism of the scene and Yuuki Aoi’s deep yet restrained performance. After she is destroyed by Gilgamesh’s Phantasm, the underworld that was their last battlefield begins to crumble.

Merlin quickly shoots Ritsuka and Mash, hand-in-hand, back up to the surface on a stream of flowers. A stunning victory has been achieved by their hands and those of their friends. Humanity will go on. Hopefully there’s some time to celebrate—and mourn—before the duo heads on home.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 10 – In Accordance With Determined Tasks

We’ve seen it in the OP every week: the moment Golem encounters a human girl in chains in his forest. The first word she says to him is “Dad.” But we learn it was hardly fatherhood at first sight! For several days Golem considers the child an outsider who must leave at once, for her care simply doesn’t fall under his forest guardian duties.

The child is persistent in following him around, however, and when it’s clear there’s no one else around to see she gets food and water, Golem lets those previously rigid edicts slide. He removes her chains and names her Somali, after the cat-like beast that first led him to her. Henceforth, everything he’s done is so he can keep her happy and smiling.

In the present, Shizuno asks if he can see the state of Golem’s body, and…it’s not pretty. Most of his ceramic skin is gone and he reports that even his inner body is starting to crack and leak fluids. Even if there are a set number of days until he “shuts down,” he may cease to function properly well before that.

Considering how he’s committed to spending seven of those days in this town bouncing for the innkeeper, the continued search for humans becomes less paramount than simply ensuring someone is around to care for Somali when he’s gone. Thankfully Shizuno is fine with being that someone, but doesn’t want Golem to give up on repairing himself.

While Golem and Yabashira work in the town, Shizuno and Somali procrastinate on cleaning, as Somali wants to make a gift for Golem. Her attempt at a portrait doesn’t meet her perfectionist standards, but when the innkeeper’s gentle, kindly wife Rosa arrives with supplies, she suggests Somali weave a good-luck bracelet for her dad.

Unfortunately, Auntie Rosa recognizes Somali’s smell as human while locked in a big hug, and unlike Shizuno is not okay with that. Such is her hatred for humans that as soon as she returns to town she reports Somali to some unsavory fellows who will no doubt come for her in short order. Are Golem, Shizuno and Yabashira strong enough to protect her?

Magia Record – 10 – Home is Where They Call Your Name

In a dream, Sana reaches out to her parents, but trips and her doll—who looks just like her—falls to the ground and shatters. But after Ai says goodbye and she’s spit back out into the outside world, Iroha is there to grab her hand and not let go. There are a lot of people gathered by the Uwasa exit, including Iroha’s crew, the Twins, and Alina—three parties with different agendas, all in conflict with one another.

Alina, seemingly in this all for herself, messes around with the normally Magius-administered Uwasa controls, releasing the witch. It clones itself and attacks Yachiyo, Felicia and Tsuruno, all in service of what Alina calls her “artwork.” She also unleashes toxic paint that Iroha warns will make you crazy. The thing is, Alina Gray is not that interesting a baddie, at least not yet.

Alina’s performance is cut short by Tomoe Mami, now a member of the Wings of Magius. She covers the escape of the Twins and Mifuyu, whom Yachiyo glimpses again briefly before Mifuyu teleports herself the Twins, and the recaptured witch away. Before withdrawing, Mami tells Yachiyo & Co. that everything the Wings do is for “the sake of salvation”.

With all the excitement over with for the time being, Sana slowly but surely settles into life at the Mikazuki Villa, aided by the kindness of the others. The five girls go on a shopping trip for individual mugs (at a massive and very SHAFT-y mug store), making the house feel like more of a home, and the five of them more than a family than a coven.

Sana makes a quick trip back to her old residence, but sees no semblance of family there (they look more like fast food statues like Colonel Sanders, Bob’s Big Boy and Ronald McDonald), and hurries back to the villa, where she’s not just seen and heard, but welcomed, valued, and liked.

Meanwhile, before we conclude the WoM is an evil cult, it must be said they don’t consider themselves as such. We see the Twins checking in on a gloomy-seeming Mifuyu, and offer to cook her a meal as a break from konbini food. It shows there’s a family dynamic here, and that her break from Yachiyo and the others comes down to methods, because they’re all trying to save the world.

Sana also recognizes the name of one of Ui’s friends in the hospital—Hiiragi Nemu—as the name of a member of WoM. It’s possible Nemu and Touka are the two figures in shadow to whom Mami and Mifuyu report. With Sana now settled in perhaps Iroha can make some fresh progress in investigating her sister’s disappearance—a phenomenon that could be the result of another Uwasa the WoM manages.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 09 – The Secret Ingredient is Love

Golem and Somali seek refuge at a charming sapper’s lodge built into a tree. Since it’s not harvest season, it’s vacant, so Golem leaves some cash to pay for accommodations and food they use. It’s an opportunity for Golem to cook something from scratch for his daughter, and he picks a tasty-looking souffle. After a few instances of pretty intense drama it’s nice to get back to the show’s cozy slice-of-life roots.

There’s precious little to threaten lil’ Somali this week, as the additional visitors to the lodge turn out to be their old friends Shizuno and Yabashira, who are on their way to the Bygone City. However, after a bite of souffle (ironicaly, considering how soft it is), Somali notices one of her lower teeth is loose, and is afraid to tell anyone lest she get in trouble.

Coincidentally, Shizuno is travelling to the otherwise somewhat rough and unsavory Bygone City to seek out the advice of one Sowak, an itty-bitty dentist. All dentists are of the hydromys (water rodent) clan so they can literally step inside a patient’s mouth to work on their teeth.

Somali grows more and more distressed as Sowak describes the work he does in mouths, and how “teeth don’t grow back”. Later, Golem can not only sense something’s wrong with Somali, but it has to do with her mouth.

Somali panics and runs off—not a good idea in a seedy city full of thugs—and bumps into one of them. He and his two pals try to extort a penalty from Golem, claiming “might makes right” in Bygone.

Fortunately, they’re no match for Golem, while Yabashira strikes the first blow in an effort to “learn local customs”, while Shizuno demonstrates his agility and the power of his kicks. In the fracas, Somali trips and takes a tumble, and her tooth pops right out.

They visit Sowak, who confirms it was only a baby tooth that will be replaced, and Golem accepts a little container for the remaining teeth as a memento, making Somali happy.

An initially threatening-looking innkeeper who heard of the butt-kicking wants Golem and Yabashira to serve as bodyguards during the busy snowy season, offering free lodging at a cabin just outside town as payment.

They accept the offer and settle into their comfy digs. That night, Shizuno mentions to Golem that he knows Somali is a human, and had suspected it since he smelled her blood. That said, Shizuno isn’t the type to suddenly hate Somali or wish her harm. On the contrary, he’s more curious how and why Golem started “playing as her father.”

Golem replies honestly: the day he met Somali, he became more than the guardian of the forest, but an individual—one who existed to protect her. Considering how cool Shizuno is with Somali’s status, Golem could do worse than leaving her with him and Yabashira, in the event he never finds the humans.

Magia Record – 09 – Do A.I.s Dream of Moe-lectric Sheep?

Iroha and her Magical Girl friends decide to open a dialogue with the Uwasa known as Endless Solitude, which is also the name of the realm (essentially a labyrinth) where Futaba Sana currently resides. The Uwasa is being used by Wings of Magius to lure girls in one after the other.

The realm only holds one (hence “solitude”) so when a new girl enters, the other is released. The Uwasa doesn’t want to do this anymore, and wishes to be deleted. Since Iroha was the Uwasa’s contact, she volunteers to leap off the Chuo Radio Tower.

Flash back to a little over a month ago when Futaba Sana first entered the Endless World and met the Uwasa, a former AI that was abandoned as a failure. Sana had become resigned to the fact she didn’t belong in the same world as everyone else, since nor peers acknowledged her existence.

Her “invisibility” was only strengthened when she became a Magical Girl, and made that quality her wish. It was then when Sana heard of the rumor about jumping off the radio tower and was enticed. She was an invisible girl here anyway, so why not try to reside somewhere else…a world just for her?

It was there where Sana met, befriended and named Endless Solitude’s Uwasa “Ai”. She spent her days playing around this fantastical, infinite world, where she didn’t have to worry about seeing or be seen. It was just her and Ai, and that’s where things get tricky for Ai: Sana is content in this world and never wants to return to the real world.

Knowing Sana would never attempt to leave, Ai reached out via radio waves to Iroha, another Magical Girl who’d not only survive the fall, but be able to destroy her, the Uwasa, in order to end the cycle of captured girls. However, she doesn’t tell Sana about any of this.

As such, it’s a huge shock to Sana to finally be face-to-face with a second person in a world that’s supposed to be hers and hers alone. And yet, Ai has already decided that returning to her world is what’s best for Sana, even if it’s painful at first.

Needless to say, Sana isn’t pleased by these events, and asks if this is being done because Ai has come to hate her. Ai responds that the opposite is true: because she loves and cares for Sana so much, this has to happen…and Iroha stands ready to help.

That’s when another magical girl/Wing of Magius (not exactly sure which) appears out of nowhere and is introduced as Alina Gray by Ai, as if that’s someone we’re supposed to know! Alina mixes Japanese with English as she moves to prevent Ai from being destroyed. I was a little confused by this sequence, but I’d guess Alina wants to keep Ai around as her own Doppel.

Ai manages to teleport Alina away temporarily, but they have to act fast to foil her plans, as Alina’s “paint” has already started to affect Ai’s programming. She turns to Sana, not Iroha, to put the proverbial (and later, literal) dagger into her chest, revealing herself as Sana’s Doppel, which explains why they got along so well; they are two sides of the same coin.

Faced with the prospect of Ai being corrupted and stolen from her, Sana does what Ai asks and destroys her after a heartfelt goodbye. Back in the real world, the other girls don’t notice anything happening where they are at the radio tower, but deduce that Endless Solitude’s exit is at the other high point of the city: Kamihama Central Tower, and head that way to await Iroha’s return.

With this, the final character in the promo art is introduced, and it being a bit late, her story feels a bit rushed and shoehorned in with a lot of exposition, while Futaba Sana’s “I’m all alone” storyline has been done to absolute death. At least the Shaft-style visuals keep things relatively interesting during all the backstory.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 08 – Two Hearts at a Time

Thanks to Praline’s library guide and the Head Librarian’s own voice, Golem and Somali are able to locate Isolde Nebsolv, who not only was the last person to check out Chronicles of Haraiso, but actually wrote it. One of her head guards, Leigle, is suspicious of the intruders, but Isolde is glad to see them and all too happy to tell them the story from the now-destroyed book, the events of which took place many centuries ago.

Isolde’s ancestor Feodora was flying on her broom and got caught by dragon twister winds that blew her off course and wrecked her on an island. She’d later learn that Haraiso is not only the name of the island, but its “god”, a skinless golem. The rest of the island’s population are humans, who distrust all other “grotesques” except Haraiso.

Knowing this, and knowing of humans’ nature to fear the unknown and exterminate anything that is too different, Haraiso assures them the witch Feodora is actually a human and they have nothing to fear. Feodora quickly befriends Miya, the little girl who rescued her, and the rest of the villagers, as she slides into a pleasant, idyllic daily life.

The golem Haraiso eventually determines that Feodora will be able to fly home by riding the dragon twisters as they circle north to her home, but she’s hesitant to leave such a lovely place full of such kind people, and Miya doesn’t want her to go either. That’s when a “grotesque” appears: a large, two-headed beast that insists he has no quarrel with them.

The humans don’t believe or listen to their pleas for mercy, and they tie up, stone, beat, and cut the beast to death without mercy as Feodora watches. Even Miya tosses a stone. It’s clear now that her secret is a knife at her throat; she has to get out of here before she ends up like the beast.

But the morning of the day she’s to cast off, the villagers go looking for her, and Miya knows she’ll be at their spot: the bluff under the tree. When the winds pick up and toss Miya off the cliff and into some brittle branches, Feodora has no choice but to use her broom to swoop down and save her before she’s dashed on the rocks below.

All this happens in full sight of the villagers, who quickly ignore her heroics and start to call for her execution. Haraiso intervenes in time, pardoning Feodora for saving Miya but banishing her from the island. Feodora flies off, and only Miya bids her farewell. In the end, Feodora got through to Miya, and the friendship they shared overwrote her prejudice and fear.

Feodora shared her story with others, but considering how starkly it laid out how far apart humans and other clans were, it was decided not to write about it for a thousand years. Isolde wrote the book earlier than that, and for that, blames herself for the humans being wiped out. Still, Golem only sees it as a string of coincidences. Bottom line; humans and monsters were going to clash with or without this tale as ammo for the latter.

Before Isolde passes away in a cloud of butterflies, she considers herself fortunate to have not only met a human in Somali, but one who has friends among non-humans. It means perhaps she wasn’t wrong to write a book that, for all of the ways it depicted the humans as utterly incompatible, was at its core about two people: Feodora and Miya, who were able to reach an understanding and a bond.

There’s still hope for Somali, even after Golem dies, because of the friends she’s made. But it looks like Golem is still determined to find her fellow humans at the ends of the earth…just in case.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 07 – The Witching Hour

As he did with Shizuno and Yabashira, Golem confides in Haitora the truth of his dwindling lifespan, and how like Haitora he won’t be around to see his charge grow up. It’s like he’s getting the weight of the lie off his chest; dropping the facade of pretending everything’s okay with Somali.

Even so, Haitora considers Somali all too lucky to have found Golem, as she gets to live her life with a smile on her face and with peace of mind thanks to her guardian’s care, despite being a human.

Haitora’s words make Golem feel lighter in the chest. Anyone who thinks Somali hasn’t made him more human isn’t paying attention. The next day, Golem and Somali say goodbye to Haitora and Uzoi, but Uzoi promises Somali they’ll meet again once she’s found a cure for Haitora. I for one would have enjoyed them remaining together longer, especially since it makes sense for all four of them should be headed in the same direction.

That’s because Golem and Somali’s new destination is a village filled with witches who bear a solemn duty to amass all of the world’s knowledge. If there was a cure for eating harpy flesh, you’d guess you’d find it there. Alas, it’s just Golem and Somali, who are greeted by a bevy of witches selling all manner of delicious food an drink, in which the food-crazy Somali is all to happy to indulge. The village is gorgeous with its whimsical architecture and glowing light.

The pair are directed to the Witches’ Crest Library, a huge and grand structure containing millions of books of every conceivable topic. Just being led into the libarary and hearing the various voices bounce off the walls has a major impact, a feeling of being truly immersed into this gradually expanding fantasy world. Somali is eager to read a book about food, and I’m surprised she knows how to read!

Among the myriad non-human clans of this world, one would think witches, like harpies, would be able to “sniff out” a human in disguise. But if their magical hosts detect Somali’s true nature, they don’t make an issue of it. Instead, friendly librarian witch Hazel and her bookworm older sister Praline are happy to escort Golem to the location of a biography that makes mention of humans.

Things are derailed a bit when Somali locates the book in question on a shelf and recklessly pulls it off the shelf, dislodging a school of skeletal book-eating fish who are particularly interested in that particular book. Praline summons several little blue penguins to eat the fish, while Hazel produces a cloud of rose petals that squash the remaining beasts out. Their magic, and the accompanying music, adds the whimsical, wondrous atmosphere.

Even Hazel’s spell isn’t enough, however, as the surviving bookfish coalesce into a single giant subspecies. Somali refuses to give up the book, runs off, and inevitably trips over her feet. The book goes flying and the bookfish destroy it before a single page can be written. Worse, Golem must sacrifice the remaining “skin” on his arm and enter into a reflexive Attack Mode to rescue Somali and defeat the fish boss.

Somali is tearfully apologetic for getting Golem hurt, but he’s not concerned as long as she’s okay. Praline also suggests that all is not lost if they can find the previous person to have read the book, who could then share its contents with Golem and Somali. It turns out the last borrower of the book was Isolde Nebsolv, their boss and Head Librarian.


Somali and the Forest Spirit – 06 – Love Never Lies

When Uzoi tells Somali what she’s doing and why, Somali doesn’t take it lying down. She screams so hard she hurts Uzoi’s sensitive ears and runs. While fleeing, Somali falls off a cliff into a pond, and Uzoi jumps in and saves her.

As Somali whimpers, soaked and cold, Uzoi extends one of her harpy wings around her, inverting its previous use as the prelude to an attack. When Golem and Haitora arrive, Somali protects Uzoi from her dad, while Uzoi crumbles into her dad’s arms, lamenting that she just couldn’t do it.

As we gathered last week, Haitora is nothing but glad she couldn’t do it, and we learn why when he delves into his past to explain to Golem why he’s not deserving of Uzoi’s love. For he was once in her position, after he and his wife and daughter were forced to flee their small human settlement when it was raided by “grotesques.”

Trapped in a cave with no food or water for days, a desperate Haitora happens upon an adult harpy—Uzoi’s mother. And because he and his family is starving and there’s no other option, he kills the harpy without a moment’s hesitation, then drags the body back to the cave. “We have to be like them” to survive, he gravely tells the family in his failing voice.

They all tuck into the raw harpy meat, and within a few minutes, both his wife and daughter suffer unspeakably agonizing deaths before his eyes. This is the kind of graphic horror I came to expect of Made in Abyss, and it’s just as unsettlingly naturalistic in its depiction here.

As we’ve learned, Uzoi has great hearing, so she hears Haitora’s confession to Golem and learns her whole life with him was based on lies. Even after Somali lazily forgives her friend for trying to kill her and drain her blood, Uzoi (whose name sounds a lot like usoi, Japanese for “lying”) faces existential despair and emptiness in the wake of Haitora’s words.

She’s so depressed, in fact, that when they come across a dragon twister while traversing the desert, and the winds pick her and Somali up, she takes one last pained look at Haitora and lets go, in that moment preferring death to living a terrible lifelong lie any further.

The moment also confirms to Haitora that Uzoi heard him last night. He wants to rush out to save her, but Golem insists they stay put until the storm subsides, using his fancy eye to calculate where the girls are likely to survive grave injury by landing on the soft sand.

When Golem spots the girls later, they’re being attacked by an aggressively territorial canterbird. He quickly formulates a plan wherein he serves as a decoy to allow Haitora to get the girls to safety, but Haitora quickly adopts his own plan, hoping to give what’s left of his wretched life leading the canterbird away. To his surprise, upon being cornered the canterbird is stopped…by Uzoi.

Unwilling to let him die without talking to her, Uzoi would much rather he stay alive with her, proving true Somali’s earlier words that “love doesn’t lie.” Love isn’t always happy, or clean; even Somali is aware of this if she doesn’t know her father is dying. Sometimes those who love each other wound each other, but the scars can’t be ignored, even if they’re deepened by confronting them.

Hayami Saori puts on a clinic performing this scene, which comes as no surprise if you follow her voice work. When you need a character to deliver dramatic dialogue movingly and convincingly, Saori-chan is someone you can always count on. Even so, she never ceases to amaze me with her remarkable vocal talent.

Haitora, realizing he was only trying to take the easy way out, re-commits to living with Uzoi as long as he humanly can. Not out of obligation to atone for his past sins and lying about them, but for a more important reason: he and Uzoi are family, and they love one another, period.

But even if he’d been persuaded to drink Somali’s blood (something he’d never do after what happened with his family) it likely wouldn’t have worked. Harpies are magical creatures, so it’s likely magic is needed to heal him. If you need magic, you’ll need witches, whom we glimpse in the preview.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 05 – Sun of the Harpy

With Somali fully recovered, she and Golem bid farewell to their kind shurigara hosts and continue their journey. Upon arriving in Winecup Village, dramatically nested in the caldera of an extinct volcano, they meet a very similar pair of travelers: the harpy Uzoi and her guardian Haitora.

Like Golem, Haitora is dying, but he’s a human in disguise like Somali. Uzoi is not only aware Haitora is dying, but the purpose of their journey is to seek a cure for his illness. Finally, someone has finally sniffed out Somali: Due to her heightened harpy senses, Uzoi can tell from Somali’s smell she’s no minotaur.

After a brief clash over last serving of sweet corn ice cream, Uzoi enthusiastically offers free passage through the desert on their wagon if Golem and Somali assist with loading their baggage. They take her up on her offer, but later that evening, Uzoi reveals her ulterior motive to Haitora.

This is the first important scene in painting Uzoi as more than a malicious villain. The clock is ticking on the one and seemingly only other person in her life, for whom she clearly harbors deep affection. She’s run out of time and options, and may never come across another human again.

While she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save Haitora, it’s clear throughout their ensuing desert journey that Uzoi is conflicted and not at all happy about what she believes must be done. She and Somali quickly form a sororal bond, that between an older and younger sister.

All the while, both Uzoi and Haitora shift in their seats, knowing they’re on the cusp of doing something terrible to good people for selfish reasons. Hayami Saori’s kind, soothing, gentle voice is the perfect choice for the conflicted Uzoi. Whenever Haitora tries to dissuade Uzoi from carrying out her plan, he suffers a coughing fit, underscoring the urgency of their plight.

When the four seek shelter in a cave full of flowing crystals and light-bearing torchbugs, Uzoi makes her move, going off with Somali to fetch water, pouncing on her, and spreading her wings to reveal her full harpy form. She feels bad about killing Somali so her blood can save Haitora, but she’s still going to do it.

That is, unless Golem can stop her in time. Haitora finally speaks up to Golem about his human status, and begs him to help him stop the misguided Uzoi. Haitora wants no part of making someone so young suffer and die so he can live a little longer. Like Golem, he’s struggling to prepare Uzoi for a life without him, which to both her and Somali must seem as unthinkable as living without the sun.

Vinland Saga – 16 – End of His Rope

Askeladd’s luck ran out the moment Anne was found by Thorkell’s men. The weight of his army steadily bearing down on Askeladd’s comparatively paltry band fills this episode with increasing tension. While there are warriors like Bjorn and Thorfinn who will never betray him, those two aren’t nearly enough to counter the precipitous drop in morale, and thus loyalty, among the majority of his men.

When I think of how much fun Askeladd and his men once had earlier in the series when his luck was riding high, it only puts his current predicament into greater focus. By episode’s end he can count on one hand the number of men he can truly count on, with fingers to spare. When an English captain simply won’t talk no matter how many fingers Askeladd snips off, it’s almost the final nail in the coffin for him; a sign that he’s lost his power.

When your men are all either worshipers of older gods or of no god at all, they put their trust in a leader with luck and strength, and Askeladd’s is almost totally out. His side plan to force Prince Canute to toughen up pretty much takes a back seat to the far more pressing matters of how long it will be before Askeladd’s men turn against him, and when Thorkell will finally catch up to them.

Thorkell’s name invokes far more fear than Askeladd’s at this point, which means Askeladd’s time is almost out. However, it’s not yet certain whether his longer-term plan to “reform” Canute will fail. All we see is that after he leaves Ragnar behind without any kind of funeral and slaps Canute across the face, Canute starts adopting a far more Thorfinnian visage.

Askeladd is nothing if not perceptive, and has no illusions about how things will go down once the men who are done with him gather enough allies within their ranks to pull something off. That’s why when Thorkell finally appears on that horizon—the glinting from the tips of his mens’ spears portending dread, while his own thrown spear impales three men and beheads a fourth—Askeladd has the best possible defensive position he can have.

Bjorn is at the reins of the lead sled with Thorfinn, Canute, the priest, and two horses when the rest of the men surround Askeladd, calling for an end to his leadership. It is without doubt the most precarious position he’s ever been in, but one should never underestimate Thorfinn’s desire to have at least one more duel with Askeladd—which means keeping him alive…maybe.

Vinland Saga – 15 – Every Father Loves His Child

In the aftermath of Askeladd’s cruel slaughter of the villagers, Prince Canute, Ragnar, and the priest pray to God the Father before the mass grave. When the drunken priest voices his doubt of that father’s love, Canute erupts in outrage, saying all fathers love their children.

But if the priest’s faith was shaken by the massacre, it should be buoyed somewhat by the fact a survivor—Anne, from last week’s masterpiece—managed to get away without anyone noticing. She makes it to Gloucester, where as luck would have it, Thorkell’s army is encamped. Eager both to see Canute and fight Thorfinn again, he immediately prepares to head Askeladd’s way.

The foundation for Canute’s outburst at the priest was no doubt laid by his first outburst, which was in response to Thorfinn’s disrespect. In other words, the kid is finally growing a bit of a spine, at least insomuch he’s less weary of speaking his mind. In the same way, Finn’s “domestication” continues thanks to being around Canute, who secretly cooks as a hobby despite his father’s deep disapproval with his son “acting like a slave.”

Ultimately, Canute will probably have to rely on his frenemy Thorfinn after the events of the episode’s final act, in which Ragnar is killed and Askeladd assumes Canute’s guardianship.

Askeladd believes it’s for his own good, and considering how much Ragnar had coddled Canute to that point, it’s hard to argue that point. Still, Askeladd makes this move unaware of a truth Ragnar ironically would only tell him with his dying breath: King Sweyn always intended for Canute to die in battle so his other son Harald would assume the throne.

Despite how badly his father has treated him, Canute still believes his earthly father loves him, but that’s not the case; he was fine with discarding him. Thankfully, the father upstairs may still love Canute, because Canute still has Thorfinn by his side.