Spy x Family – 25 (Part 2 Fin) – The Front Line

Disguised as a professor, Loid assesses the current situation as the Eden College Social Gathering commences. There is no way to infiltrate the gathering without actually belonging there. Since Anya earning enough Stella to become an Imperial Scholar is probably out, that leaves Plan B.

Like Loid, Damian longs to be in the presence of his father (for obviously very different reasons). But while his older brother says he’ll tell their dad Damian wants to see him, he also tells Damian not to get his hopes up. Damian probably doesn’t need to be told this. But he has to try.

Anya has to try too. She can read Loid’s mind since he’s in range, and doubles her efforts to be close to Damian so that she can face the “final boss.” Of course, this gives both Damian and Becky the impression she’s stalking him. And she’s not not stalking him.

Loid, who is far better than Anya at staying hidden, watches Damian head to the place where he said he’d be waiting for his father. But when Damian reconsiders since he’s so sure his dad won’t show, he can’t do anything about it.

But Anya can. She tells Damian she can tell he’s scared (and he suspects she can read his mind…which he can…) just as she was scared to show her dad her low test scores. But she also knows her dad loves her, even when he’s mad at her, so she’ll keep showing him her tests scores. While he tsunderes Anya off, Damian gets her, and heads to the meeting place after all.

Anya waits with him from afar, and Becky waits with her, assuming she’s in love with Damian and wants to meet his dad. But Anya soon falls asleep. As Becky has Martha carry her to the car to take her home, Loid walks past in his professor disguise, carrying the same keychain she has on her backpack.

It’s that keychain that provides Loid the excuse to speak to Damian. He planted it in the meeting place for Damian to find, then takes the opportunity to take a knee and profusely apologize on behalf of his daughter, being nothing but submissive and deference.

While he’s apologizing, Desmond shocks his son by arriving. Loid then introduces himself formally apologizes. In these first critical moments, he takes as much of the measure of Desmond as he can, while formulating the right conversational path to get the most out of their encounter.

Once, then twice, Desmond cheerfully tells Loid that he needn’t go so far to apologize for a trifling quarrel between children. Loid knows not to push further against such a man as cautious and wily as Donovan, so he doesn’t. But Damian is another matter.

Loid proceeds to elegantly and expertly make use of Damian and his justified daddy issues as a conduit to open a meaningful dialogue and make himself memorable and appealing enough for Donovan to take notice. Damian is angry his dad isn’t angrier, but Loid and Donovan bond over their shared inability to truly know or understand what their kids or thinking.

Loid doesn’t really agree, but Donovan’s comments help him to better understand Donovan’s political philosophy, which is the first step to steering him towards one less likely to lead to the East-West cold war going hot. He even gets a solid dig in by assuming Donovan makes time for Damian when he’s never done any such thing.

Even so, Donovan notes that this is an oversight he hadn’t considered, but acknowledges. After Loid showers praise on Damian for a report about his father that he claims Anya really liked, he prepares to take his leave. His final request to Damian is that he try to be friends with Anya, as she likely wants to be his friend. In an unguarded moment, Damian says he feels the same way…before turning beet red and rejecting the idea.

Once Loid departs, Donovan turns to Damian and asks what he wanted. Damian says it’s nothing, but then remembers Anya’s words about having to show your test scores, and stops his dad to tell him all of the good things that have happened to him so far in class.

Then, to Damian’s surprise and boundless elation, his father says “well done, keep at it.” Simple and boilerplate they may be, hearing his father say them absolutely makes Damian’s year. And if he’s on better terms with his dad in no small part thanks to words from both Anya and her dad, then perhaps in future he’ll be less inclined to call her a stubby-legged uggo stalker.

That helps Loid’s cause. But what’s so great about his discussion with the Desmond is that he’s not simply operating as a heartless agent of the state trying to manipulate an enemy VIP and his son. I mean, he kinda is, but he’s also uses his experiences as Anya’s father, not a spy, to actually improve the relationship between Damian and Donovan.

It works like a charm, and it was thrilling to watch. As for Anya, she must’ve needed to catch up on some sleep, since she’s still out cold when Loid comes home, her having been delivered there like a package by Becky earlier that afternoon.

The long-awaited first meeting of Twilight and his primary target marks the end of Spy x Family Part 2, ending on a high note. Whenever Part 3 comes around there will be plenty to chew on, from the continued development of the Forget family and Anya and Damian’s friendship, to the potential for the family’s mutual secrets to be revealed to one another. I shall eagerly await Part 3—and hopefully not fall asleep on a stoop as Anya did while staking out Damian.

To Your Eternity – S2 06 – The Church of Heavy Metal

When Parona!Fushi mentions how they’ve been reading up on the concept of marriage and the “fluffy feeling” she gets from Kahaku and others, he embraces them, and that’s when Fushi becomes nauseous. As it happens, even if Fushi were open to becoming Kahaku’s wife, that’s not something Parona would tolerate. The very touch of Kahaku repels Parona, who was murdered by Hayase. Bon orders Kahaku to stay away from Fushi for the time being.

The campaign to gain Fushi followers continues in the next city, but this time many of the townsfolk have heard rumors that Fushi can now resurrect the dead. While true in the case of Anna, this comes as a surprise to Fushi, since Bon never told them. Fushi is shunted off into an alley, where a Bennett priest warns them that Bon is to be arrested and executed for heresy, but if Fushi surrenders willingly, their friends will be spared.

Fushi agrees, but neither Kahaku nor Todo buy what the Church is selling. Bon, when approached by Bishop Cylira, he grudgingly agrees to give Fushi up in exchange for a recommendation from the Church that Bon ascend to the throne of Uralis. It’s not what he wants, but it’s what’s best for his kingdom, and also what he’s been working for his whole life.

Todo whips up the crowd, and a town guard captain seemingly has Team Fushi’s back when he insists the church prove Fushi is a demon and not a servant of God. Cylira does so by giving Fushi a test: if they can’t revive a recently-deceased bishop, the church will have its proof.

Fushi, who at this point is still convinced they can’t revive anyone, copies the bishop’s corpse but is unable to revive him. They’re seized, and when Bon, Todo, and Kahaku try to intervene, Todo is stabbed by a sword and Bon is knocked out.

Bon comes to in an open-air cell suspended above a canyon, stripped of his gramps’ heirloom armor. Fushi is arguably worse off, as they’ve been sealed in a solid iron box. Fushi transforms into Gugu and breathes fire on the circular hatch, but can’t quite get it hot enough to melt the iron. After several attempts, Fushi starts to feel winded and nauseous.

The Beholder tells him he’s missing something they need (I’m guessing fresh air), and no matter who he transforms into, the bad feeling doesn’t subside. Then the hatch opens and molten metal starts to pour on them. The Beholder starts counting to see how long Fushi can last in a constant state of immolation and regeneration.

Of Team Fushi, only Kahaku and a handful of Guardians remain free. When they try to free Fushi from the cell in the dead of night, Pocoa emerges from her barrel and urges caution, and asks Kahaku to have faith in Bon and Fushi’s luck.

She might not be wrong, either! Todo, at least, survived the sword strike thanks to her embroidery stopping the blade before it could pierce her. Bon and Todo realize they’re in adjacent cells; perhaps they can work together. And even after over 100,000 seconds (over 27 hours), Fushi the immortal’s body still has form. All we can do is wait and see if that’s enough.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 12 (Fin) – Happier Than Any Dream

Shikimori closes out its 12-episode run by pulling out all the adorable romantic stops en route to one of the sweetest, most heartwarming date episodes ever animated. It’s starts off with Shikimori revealing her very cool suit and coat she wears to the date, not wanting to be hampered by a skirt.

The two totally geek out over the Disneyland-style theme park, and while other people around them start to express their impatience over a 90-minute line for a ride, the two lovebirds pass the time effortlessly by just chatting and laughing with one another.

By the time they’re almost to the end of the Sleeping Beauty-themed ride, Izumi-hime nods off, and Shikimori-ouji leans in for the kiss to wake him. She’d have done it too, if not for a spot of Izumi-style bad luck where the exit doors open at precisely the wrong moment.

From there, Izumi suggests a shorter line next, to which Shikimori says she’ll wait in any line of any length, since being with him makes everything more fun. She takes his hand and runs to the next amusements, then he runs ahead and takes the lead, and the two just generally have the absolute time of their lives, firmly ensconced atop cloud nine.

When there’s a hiccup involving Izumi’s dinner reservation, the restaurant makes it up to them by giving them a choice table with a gorgeous view of the Venice-styled cityscape and a lavish multi-course meal complete with fancy redundant cutlery.

Izumi adorably orders an orange juice, while Shikimori gets a ginger ale, and looks at Izumi through it. She notes how everything around her looks prettier when she’s with him, and makes her wonder how beautiful the world is through Izumi’s eyes. The two hold hands and just gaze at each other as the waitress looks on, no doubt amused by how goshdarn cute these kids are.

While Izumi mistakes the “thing in the commercial” Shikimori wants them to do as escorting her, by the time they’re aboard a nighttime gondola ride together, Izumi realizes she meant smoochin’. Just before they take a photo together, the entire park goes dark from a freak power outage. Izumi curses his luck…but again, it works out to their advantage here.

With nothing but darkness around them and only the light of his phone, their situation is a distillation of how they already are: they have eyes for nothing and no one but each other. If this was a dream, Shikimori wouldn’t want to wake up. For a few glorious minutes the gondola becomes their entire world. There, Shikimori plants a princely kiss upon Izumi’s hand, and then Izumi one-ups her by delivering a peck on the cheek.

I hasten to add that all of these gestures, as the interactions and expressions between these two have been throughout the show’s run, are impeccably, lovingly lit and animated. The compositions, direction, and underlying feelings are enough to carry scenes like this, but the production values really propel them to another level.

Just before the lights come back on, Izumi gets the chance to look and sound cool as he brings up how worried she was about them drifting away a while ago, but he confidently re-confesses his love to her, and promises he’ll never leave her side. The power of Izumi’s cool face and cooler words is so much for Shikimori she has to melt into him for a little while, even after the lights come back on. Forget about dreams; what she’s feeling right here and now in reality is far better than any dream.

The episode could have ended right there and still been an easy five stars, but we get curtain calls for Shuu, Kyou, and Yui as they try to suss out of Izumi and Shikimori “what happened” on their date. Izumi twists himself into a work of modern art of embarrassment, whle Shikimori’s blushing over a kiss on the cheek is not the heavy details Inspectors Nekozaki and Hachimitsu were trying to get out of the pink-haired perp.

Still, as long as Shikimori and Izumi are happy—and they sure seem to be the happiest couple around—it doesn’t matter if a kiss on the actual lips is beyond their abilities. They have all the time in the world to take little or big steps forward in the future. The episode ends on a pitch-perfect note, reiterating how Shikimori is incredibly cute and cool by spin-kicking an errant can about to hit Izumi into a garbage can twenty feet away, then continuing on her way.

I’m honestly still pretty deep into the “warm and fuzzies” after this sweet and gooey masterpiece of a finale, but that’s what a great romantic anime does: it sweeps you up completely in the same kind of feelings of love and excitement its lead couple is experiencing. It’s a cozy, comforting blanket that, like the shoujo manga that changed Shikimori’s life, reminded you how amazing love is.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 10 – A Better Snowman

Dang photo bombers…your ruining the shot!

Knowing it would be hard-pressed to top last week’s full-length Takagi x Nishikata wonder-date, this week’s episode doesn’t bother; instead it returns to the warm, cozy, less dramatic flow of the couple’s interactions. Last week wasn’t an official acknowledgment that they’re dating now, but such a formality isn’t needed with these two. They’re fine just existing beside one another, fitting like, well, gloves!

To whit: the two didn’t plan to meet at the shrine visit; their families just happened to come at the same time. It sure looks like those two married couples were their parents, doesn’t it? I feel like at some point they’ll have to meet each other’s parents, but that they don’t mean we get more time with these two. hen Takagi is called back to her folks, Nishikata says they should do it again next year…which she says happened to be her shrine wish. Who’s to say it wasn’t?

Yes, that’s right…make that ball bigger…

The next segment is classic Master Teaser, with Takagi up to her old tricks in cornering Nishikata into a snowman-building contest knowing full well that he’ll get to ambitious. While he’s sweatily rolling dirty lumpen mounds trying to build a Snow Titan, Takagi puts a lot of time and care and quite effortlessly builds the cutest lil’ snowman in all the land…so cute Nishikata doubts he’d have won. even if he’d finished…which Takagi helps him do.

NGL, from a distance this looks like a confession…

After Nishikata’s friends and the three girls have their little mini-scenes talking about the new year, we come to “Advice”, when Houjou takes Nishikata aside and asks him what he thinks Hamaguchi might like for his birthday. Yuuki Aoi is masterful at sounding both mature and incredibly hot-and-cold. For his part, Nishikata is both thoughtful and helpful. Then Houjou asks him to keep their chat a secret.

Little did Nishikata know that Takagi spotted him talking with Houjou, and asks him what about. When Nishikata demurs, she guesses correctly on the first guess, and pretty much knows, but Nishikata still won’t break his secret. Takagi’s facial expressions are so subtle here, but you can tell she’s a little mad Nishikata is keeping something from her…even if she knows what it is with 99.99% certainty!

Takagi expresses her jealousy by trying to stoke Nishikata’s, saying she wants to know what to get a “15-year-old boy”—not a Chihuahua, but a third-year middle schooler. This does affect Nishikata, who doesn’t want to give advice for some other guy…even though these two spend so much time together he would know of such a guy!

Of course, this time, Takagi is referring to Nishikata on his next birthday. He’s quite relieved, and apologizes for not being able to break his promise. Takagi apologizes too, owning up to the fact she did do something a little mean. When Nishikata asks her why she doesn’t always think that, she says this and her usual gentle teasing are two different things!

When Nishikata flat-out asks Takagi why she teases him, her answer is as expected…“Who knows?” But she knows, and so does Nishikata, and it’s the same reason they’re already making plans for spending next year together.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 02 – Sink or Swim

The morning before their first day of actual classes, Ai deigns to attempt to wake Sarasa up…in the gentlest and most ineffectual way possible. But their class rep Sawa personally wakes Sarasa the hell up, because the people they’re facing this morning are far more fearsome than the JSDF: their second-year advisors, AKA “Big Sisters”.

The students of the centennial class have already demonstrated their capacity for ill-natured backbiting, but it’s the same way in the classes above them. We learn that Risa and Hijiri, Sarasa and Ai’s Big Sisters, are bitter rivals who usually hide their contempt for each other behind smiles and niceties.

When Risa flat-out tells Sarasa she’ll never be Lady Oscar, she makes the poor tall girl sob into the floorboards. When she asks why not through the tears, Risa mentions the curse of the tree, and in doing so gives Sarasa all the ammo she needs. If everyone believes the tree is cursed, she’ll just have to prove the curse is fake!

While Risa admires Sarasa’s innocence and drive (as does Sarasa’s childhood friend and kabuki actor-in-training, Akiya), Hijiri reports that “Naracchi” has “zero motivation” for Kouka. But just as Hijiri’s barbs about Risa only being suited for villainess roles have led her to strive towards greatness, she tells Hijiri they can’t know what future winds may lift Ai’s sails.

I can take a stab at the identity of that wind: she’s somewhere around 5’10” with green-tipped twin tails! But it won’t just be Sarasa’s bottomless confidence and enthusiasm gradually wearing down Ai’s apathy: she also isn’t just gong to sit back and take abuse, passive-aggressive or otherwise, from her classmates.

During class introductions (which are wonderful shorthand for the various girls’ personalities) Ai at first gives a curt description of herself, but Kaoru, the big shot legacy musume-yaku-in-waiting says everyone knows “that’s not all”. So Ai stands back up and says she’s there because she was forced to quit JPX48. It’s an important step for Ai standing up for herself against damn fools.

During a tour of backstage, Sarasa sees a dramaticaly-lit door and goes through it, leading to the main stage of the Kouka Revue. Andou-sensei warns her to get off the stage and under no circumstances walk out onto the “Silver Bridge”, the part of the stage where only Kouka’s top stars are permitted to stand.

Sarasa doesn’t break that taboo, but she also takes her sweet time leaving that stage! That’s because as soon as she stands on it, it’s clear she feels she’s where she’s supposed to be. As if by divine providence, a spotlight is cast upon her. Ai can feel that belonging too, dazzled as she is by Sarasa’s stage presence.

Incremental progress is made on several fronts. We’ve got a huge cast of young women, some sympathetic, some clearly villains, and some who are just kind of there. But as long as the spotlight stays on Sarasa and Ai most of the time, I’ll be a happy camper. As Ai’s stalker arrives in Kobe, we’ll likely learn next week how close he ends up getting to Ai, how she deals with that, and where Sarasa (or other classmates) might factor into the forthcoming confrontation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 07 – If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em

Felicia is escorted by Black Feathers to a pair of higher-ranked White Feathers of the Wings of the Magius, Amane Tsukuyo and her twin sister Tsukasa. True believers in their organization, they are committed to the “salvation” of magical girls, though let’s be honest, that could mean anything!

Nevertheless, their goal of destroying all witches is very much enticing to the vengeful Felicia, as is the prospect of free room and board for an essentially homeless orphan. Kyouko also likes how all of the things she’d rather not worry about are taken care of, freeing her to do what she loves: defeat witches and collect grief seeds.

However, the longer they stay in the company of the Wings of the Magius, the worse and worse the deal looks. Yachiyo has a GPS fix on Felicia, so she, Iroha, and Tsuruno follow after her, prepared for anything. They are blocked by the Amane twins, who are polite and inviting, but also very clear that Felicia and Kyouko are now new members, while the other three are intruders.

With Kyouko already questioning why she’d have “no need” for Grief Seeds (I guess as long as she drinks the Owl Water her luck will keep her Gem clear?), Felicia suddenly feels betrayed when the Amane twins unleash a huge group of captive witches on Iroha, Yachiyo and Tsuruno. She doesn’t care if the Wings “control” them with magic or not; she hates witches!

When the witches are mostly defeated, the Amane sisters’ gems become very murky, but they were apparently hoping for that, and undergo a transformation similar to what happened to Iroha, when a witch-like version of herself emerged from her gem and went berserk. This happens to the Amanes, and then it happens to Iroha, who manages to defeat the Uwasa’s core all by herself.

Turns out she’s not so weak after all…but controlling her “witchy side” won’t be easy. As for the Amanes, thy seem worried about how their boss will react to their failure, and that boss turns out to be Mifuyu, the real version, not the Seance Shrine echo. She claims to have been “left behind”, insinuating Yachiyo and the others had something to do with it, but Yachiyo has no intention of joining the Wings, so they part ways with the rift intact.

With the consequences for running out of luck now gone, Iroha offers Felicia a place to stay, even though she’s about to move herself. Yachiyo offers a room at her empty boarding house, and Iroha cooks everyone a nice meal; Felicia’s first. Then the last lucky happenstance occurs: the boarding house Iroha’s parents assigned to her is…Mikazuki Villa, Yachiyo’s house.

This episode ends with the magical girls learning a bit more about their Wings of Magius rivals and in a comfy, amicable new living situation that’s conducive to further cooperation and bonding. It’s a shame Mifuyu may be lost to the cult of Magius, but at least Felicia seems to be on firmer ground, now that she’s starting to understand that she is her own most important client for her “mercenary” work.

Magia Record – 06 – Dark Wings, Dark Deals

After waking up to breakfast at Yachiyo’s sad, lonely, empty boardinghouse, Iroha decides to do a little more exploring around Kamihama before heading home. Her unyielding desire to find Ui literally leads her down the wrong road, in this case a sketchy underground market populated by witch-like beings.

Yachiyo warned Iroha to be cautious and hide her magical girl identity, but within a minute of arriving at the market, she meets another magical girl, Felicia Mitsuki, and the two drink a mysterious “Lucky Owl Water” offered for free by the beings, which they market as a “distillation of joy” to anyone who drinks it.

The Felix Felicis-like bevvy sets in immediately, with Felicia easily dispatching a witch, Iroha treating her to ice cream, and both of them getting good luck messages on the sticks. They hit the arcade and casino to let that good luck ride, winning at everything they play and raking in the cash.

Cash that Felicia needs, by the way, as she was orphaned by witches and must take care of herself. She labels herself as a mercenary, offering her not inconsiderable witch-hunting skills in exchange for cash money. As the two celebrate their luck, numbers everywhere gradually count down from 24, portending doom.

Meanwhile, there’s another new old face in Kamihama: Sakura Kyouko, from the original series. She’s still fond of perching on roofs and is looking to kill some witches. Yachiyo, who encounters her, tells her there’s plenty of witches to hunt as long as she abides by the rules: no harming other magical girls, and no poaching.

Both Felicia’s on-again, off-again party and Yachiyo learn through Yakumo of a new rumor of Lucky Owl Water, as well as the catch: after 24 lucky things happen to the drinker, they start experiencing bad luck, at least until they drink more Owl Water. It’s basically an addictive drug, only instead of affecting your body or mind, it affects your luck.

Yachiyo and Tsuruno meet up with Iroha and Felicia in order to find a way to cancel the effects of the water, which Yachiyo believes can be achieved by destroying the main body of the Uwasa, or rumor. But first they have to find it, which means returning to the market where Iroha and Felicia first encountered the water pushers.

Predictably, they offer nothing but more Owl Water as a corrective, and Felicia loses her temper and lashes out at them, causing them to disperse. Yachiyo laments that Felicia didn’t just drink more water for now, in order to buy them more time to find the Uwasa.

Instead, Felicia and Iroha are down to 13 lucky events before shit starts going down. The quartet are soon surrounded not by witches, but mysterious girls in black cloaks who all finish each other sentences and call themselves “Wings of Magius.” Like the magical girls, they want to destory all witches, but they go about it in a very different way.

When these Wings fail to recruit the magical girls, they appeal to Felicia’s constant need for income and offer to hire her as a mercenary. Her reward will be what her wish to Kyuubey probably was, but is naturally yet to be achieved: revenge.

Iroha had already hired Felicia to help her find Ui, offering her a home-cooked meal, but I think she just got outbid, and Yachiyo is proven correct about the dangers of getting involved with someone who puts their own desires before the safety of her peers.

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.

Vinland Saga – 14 – The Luck of the Wicked

I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light. —Maximus, Gladiator

Forget about Thorfinn for a moment. He’s not the protagonist this week, Anne is. Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is large, poor, and devoutly Christian. But even if Rome was once “the light”, it has long since fallen, while the world remains as brutal and cruel and dark as ever, if not more so.

Anne has a secret: she’s come into possession of a beautiful ring. We later learn she’s not sure how much it cost, because she didn’t buy it; she stole it from the market. By doing so, she broke one of the Ten Commandments, which her pious father has no doubt drilled into her means a one-way ticket to hell.

Anne understands she’s sinned on one level, because she keeps the ring hidden from her family in the hollow of a tree. But on another level entirely, she’s just so goddamn delighted to have this gorgeous ring! It seems to give her no end of pleasure. At present, her love for the ring overrides her fear of God’s judgment.

Two of Askeladd’s men, whose banter we’ve seen during various marches and battles, are trying to understand the drunk priest’s concept of “love.” Does the longstanding brotherly bond between the two constitute that kind of love? The priest doesn’t know.

Does whatever amount of silver would break that bond constitute that love? Is the priest’s own veneration of booze love? He wouldn’t call it that; needing booze due to addiction and loving it are far from the same thing.

Ultimately, the warriors can’t understand the priest’s words, but they can remember another “weirdo” who used to talk in strange, seemingly contradictory riddles. Thors said “a true warrior didn’t need a sword”. Thors may not have been Christian, but to the drunken priest who never met him, Thors may as well have been describing Jesus.

Still, most warriors in this cruel dark world still carry swords, like Askeladd. He’s a man like Askeladd, who would probably be the first to say he owes a lot amount of his success as a warrior and a commander to luck. Even all the skill and experience he has, he could not have gathered without luck.

But his luck seems to have hit a snag: the countryside has been beset by harsh wintry weather that threatens to kill his men long before he reaches his destination. Ragnar believes Askeladd’s luck has run out altogether, and that nothing he does will be able to change that.

But Askeladd isn’t out of luck; not really. If he were, they wouldn’t have encountered a village to plunder for food…Anne’s village.

When Anne’s large, devout Christian family sits around the table for a meager (but very much appreciated) repast, her father says the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, and explains to the younger children why it is important to say it, and to obey the Commandments. When the day of judgment comes—and father believes it will comes soon—the faithful and righteous will ascend to heaven, while the sinners will descend into hell.

This is enough to frighten the little ones, but when Anne quietly excuses herself from the table to “go pee,” it seems more out of discomfort than fear. Outside, as the cold winds and snow lash, she recovers her precious ring, puts it on her raw, rough hand, and revels in its beauty. And while she’s out by the tree, Bjorn bursts into her family’s house.

Askeladd still has luck, but it isn’t perfect, and isn’t without cost. When he learns there’s only enough food in the village for fifty villagers to last the winter, the choice is plain: either he and his men starve, or they kill the villagers and take their food. He decides on the latter, making use of what luck he was given.

The villagers—men, women and children—are rounded up and slaughtered. Anne survives that slaughter, because she’s hiding behind a tree. You could say she was lucky, at least in terms of being able to stay alive, in spite of the fact she broke one of God’s commandments. If she hadn’t stolen the ring, or gone out to admire it, she’d have met her family’s fate.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God—Matthew 5:8

Was Anne’s father’s heart pure? Her mother’s? The hearts of her younger siblings and other relations? Did they ascend to heaven upon being murdered, leaving her alone in the cruel dark world below? Was her luck merely a curse, keeping her bound to cruelty and darkness her family will no longer have to endure?

Anne wanders off, neither spotted nor followed by Askeladd’s men, and the winter storm passes. She reaches a spot where the crescent moon looms large. She asks God if her family made it to heaven, but declares that she’s “elated” not to be sent there herself.

Shocked to have witnessed what Askeladd and his men did without fearing God’s punishment in the slightest (since, of course, they believe in entirely different gods), she’s as elated in that moment staring at the moon as she was when she stole the ring.

Maybe she sees in those wicked men, and in her own wickedness, a different kind of purity—of a kind she can’t quite describe, but which bestowed upon those wicked men the luck to find food, and upon her the luck to survive at least one more harsh winter night.

Juuni Taisen – 12 (Fin)

 

In the finale, we spend virtually the entire time inside Nezumi’s head as he ponders which of the one hundred wishes he has will be the one he asks Duodecuple to grant as a reward for his winning the Juuni Taisen.

For all that inner monologue, we don’t learn anything about Nezumi’s past, only his very mundane present, in which he attends high school and stands out mostly due to how antisocial he is.

We see his ability in action on more than one occasion as he weighs his options, and early on these are mostly frivolous, such as wishing for everyone in his class to die, or for the skirt of only girl who talks to him to flip up in front of him.

But the more he wracks his brain trying to think of a proper wish, the more rationales he comes up with to render those wishes undesirable—living forever; remaining young forever; making everyone happy; gaining the ability to survey a thousand possibilities instead of a hundred—they all have their cons that leads to their dismissal.

He considers the wishes of the other, now-slain warriors, which is interesting because throughout his ninety-nine failed attempts to win, he manages to interact peacefully with each and every one of his eleven adversaries. In a way, that’s rather apropos, since at one point or another everyone has to deal with rats.

In one of those deleted possibilities, Tora tells him how her wish is to fight beside (or possibly against) Ushii; it’s a wish that’s actually granted in the timeline Nezumi ultimately goes with. Tora turned out to be my favorite of the twelve warriors, so it’s gratifying to hear that despite losing the competition, her wish was fulfilled and she died without regrets.

If there’s one thing this final episode makes clear, it’s that Nezumi’s ability is a curse, since he remembers everything that could have happened but didn’t. So the wish he ultimately comes up with—to be able to forget everything that’s happened, or might’ve happened—seems like the best way to go. After all, his memories of all those countless deleted possibilities hampered his ability to choose any other wish.

By the time he’s counted up to 99, he’s an exhausted fellow seemingly on the verge of mental breakdown. Being allowed to forget it all is a tremendous relief even his classmates notice when he’s happily dozing at his desk.

With a RABUJOI Score well under 7.5 and a MAL Score of barely 7, Juuni Taisen was never in danger of winning any “Anime of the Year” awards. Of the shows we haven’t dropped this Fall, it’s the lowest-rated.

The reason I stuck with JT was its efficient and reliable structure: twelve episodes, twelve characters, eleven all-but guaranteed deaths, and one winner. Many of those characters and their backstories were serviceable, particularly those of Niwatori, Sharyu, and Tora. The CGI-assisted combat was also a strong suit (though IMO there wasn’t enough of it).

I wish Ushii and Usagi had gotten proper backstories. The wish-granting ability of Duodecuple was way too broad. Nothing really came of the silly oligarch gambling angle. But Juuni Taisen was still a fun, if flawed, ride.

 

Juuni Taisen – 11

After giving Tora a proper death to deny her corpse from becoming another one of Usagi’s slaves, Ushii ponders how best to deal with a necromantist so hell-bent on victory, he somehow managed to enslave himself before dying.

“Burning him to ash with fire” is as good a plan as any, but Usagi, or rather, the grotesque undead creature crudely reconstructed by Zombie Sharyu, catches up. When Ushii tries hacking Usagi to bits again, Sharyu jumps out from inside Usagi’s body to pin Ushii down.

It’s as devious a tactic as it is fucked up, and Ushii knows he’s hosed, and has been hosed since the moment Usagi turned Sharyu.

Ushii would prefer death to becoming a part of  Usagi’s menagerie, and Nezumi, appearing at precisely the perfect moment, grants him that preference, using Hitsujii’s bomb to blow up Usagi, Sharyu and Ushii to win the Juuni Taisen, just like that.

It turns out that “perfect moment” was no coincidence, but rather the only “route” Nezumi could have taken in order to win; the other 99 out of 100 ended with him getting killed and losing.

This week we learn that he possesses the skill “Hundred Paths of Nezumi-san”, but to the episode’s credit, we’re shown how it works before it’s explained, in a bizarre, Groundhog Day-style sequence in which Nezumi keeps refusing to submit to a post-victory interview with Duodecuple and ends up killed in various, often grisly ways, only to reset back in Duo’s office.

It’s apropos for a warrior of the rat—one of the ultimate survivors on earth—to not only have more than the “nine lives” of the cat, but be able to look at one hundred different routes in order to pick the one that will lead to his continued survival. Even weirder, he remembers all of the routes he “deleted” by “locking in” to the “winning” route.

After sitting down and talking with Duo about Sharyu’s role in creating a route for Nezumi to live (which he repaid by killing her as she requested down in the sewer), his alliances with Tiger and even Usagi in other deleted routes, and other matters, before the sun comes up and Nezumi is excused to rest and come up with a wish to be granted.

As is his style, Nezumi will come up with 100 wishes, then go through each one as Duo grants them to determine which one would be most beneficial. That should make for an intriguing finale.

Kino no Tabi – 06

This week is spent “up in the clouds” and barely involves Kino at all—she and Hermes only bookend the episode. In their stead, we get a lovely, beautiful, and heartwrenching semi-allegorical tale up in the mountains involving a new character, an orphan girl (voiced by Minase Inori, who is everywhere), sold into servitude, constantly treated like crap by her merchant owners, adult and child alike.

The episode wastes no time portraying those owners as a complete waste of life; they never let off the gas pedal of abuse, both verbal and physical, and the girl just…takes it all. They ask if she hates them, and she says she doesn’t. She doesn’t hate, resent, or wish harm on anyone; to do so would be a sin. They mock her piety, believing only humans who act inhuman survive in this ugly world.

Of course, part of the title of this show is The Beautiful World, with the understanding that the world is beautiful because it isn’t…but the mountaintop environs are ironically utterly gorgeous. If only the girl had better company.

She realizes too late that the herbs she picked and added to the soup for dinner were poisonous, and all attempts to warn her owners fall on deaf ears. She steels herself to drink the soup and die with them rather than live as a murderer (however unintentional), but a boy seals his fate by knocking her bowl out of her hands; she’s later hit with a rock and knocked out.

When she wakes up, the merchants are still alive, and the boy has convinced his father to sell him the girl so he can take his time killing her in order to “become a man”, which is what we’d call overkill. What the hell is this kid, the Devil’s Spawn? In any case, the poison kicks in and they all die before the girl’s eyes.

The only survivor is the man who told his younger colleague, essentially, that the girl being a slave while they’re free comes down to luck; “there but for the grace of God go I” kinda deal.

He believes that until his death, which is semi-self-inflicted, as he pretends to instruct the girl on how to use his rifle to kill herself, but fixes it so she shoots him instead. Before he dies, he unchains her, and with his last breath, tells her to live her life; she’ll understand someday why things happened this way.

To the girl’s shock, there’s a voice coming from one of the wagons. It’s a talking motorrad (in the form of an adorable Honda Motocompo) who has been listening to everything going on, and congratulates the girl on her freedom.

The girl still wants to die, but in the same vein as the last man to die, the motorrad tells her the only way to die is to live life. No one knows how or when death will come, but it comes for everyone. The circumstances that led to the girl’s current position shouldn’t be considered grounds for immediate death. Indeed, it was clearly her fate to survive, escape the shackles of bondage, and strike out on her own. Why else would she meet a talking motorrad immediately after her last captor died?

We see Kino and Hermes arriving at the camp where the bodies of the merchants remain; not much time has passed since the girl and the motorrad left. But as the credits roll we learn what became of her: she was accepted as an immigrant in a new country after telling them her story, took up photography, and became successful and esteemed.

She took on the name Photo, and kept her first friend, the motorrad whose name is Sou, close by the whole time. Sou believes she’s happy. She certainly looks content. I wonder if she’ll ever meet Kino…

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