Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 23 – On the Mend

Now that’s more like it. After Shinazugawa Sanemi stabs her three times, cuts his own arm and lets the blood tempt her, Nezuko doesn’t take the bait. Memories of the past and her family flash through her mind. She turns away in disgust, Sanemi’s gambit fails, and the Master puts the matter to rest once and for all: Nezuko won’t hurt humans.

That said, Master understands that it won’t be easy for Tanjirou to convince everyone he encounters, so he’d better hurry up and prove he and Nezuko can slay demons by defeating a Twelve Kizuki. When Tanjirou goes one further and says he’ll kill Kibutsuji Muzan, the Master tells him not to aim so high so soon. When Tanjirou turns beet red, Kanroji Mitsuri has to hold back laughter. Also, like Tanjirou, the Master knows Tamayo, which is instructive.

With Tanjirou and Nezuko’s trial and business with the Hashira at an end, Shinobu summons two kakushi to escort the two to her family’s Butterfly Mansion for rehab. There, he meets Tsuyuri Kanao, who he first met at the Selection. Turns out she’s not Shinobu’s sister but her Tsuguko, or sword apprentice. Kanao notably doesn’t say a word to Tanjirou or the kakushi.

Instead, they’re led to the infirmary by another girl, where Zenitsu is already causing problems with his constant whining and screaming, while Inosuke is uncharacteristically quiet and depressed, recovering from a crushed throat. Tanjirou thanks them both, and later in Nezuko’s room he resolves to become stronger.

The episode ends by giving us a look at the evening Hashira meeting, where the Master tells them they’re the strongest unit of demon slayers ever assembled, and they’ll get Kibutsuji Muzan come hell or high water. It’s clear the master considers Kibutsuji a personal nemesis; I wonder if we’ll ever get any history about the two. Maybe his horrible facial scarring is Kibutsuji’s doing?

This episode was everything last week’s should have been, both introducing and resolving the trial in short order. Sure, last week introduced each of the Hashira we hadn’t met yet, but in the worst possible light, as only Giyuu, Shinobu, and Mitsuri didn’t come off as assholes. I’m glad they fell in line once Nezuko proved she’s harmless to humans, and it was good to see them in a more positive light here, united against their enemy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 22 –Nine Angry Hashira

This week we meet the seven remaining Hashira, a most colorful bunch in both appearance and personality. Unfortunately, when they’re all standing in one place they look a bit silly rather than intimidating, and they stand in one place this entire episode. Tanjirou is bound and lying on the ground the whole time, his voice of explanation drowned out by the competing egos of the entitled, arrogant Hashira.

This is an episode where nothing really happens. Everyone stands around, and for over half of the episode, they stand around talking about nothing in particular. This episode is meant to bring the Hashira up to speed about Tanjirou’s unique—and officially sanctioned—situation. We the audience are already up to speed. Thus, the Hashira look even more foolish for dominating the with their opinions despite being completely in the dark.

At the halfway point of this episode where nothing happens and nothing is said we didn’t already know, the venerable “Master of the Mansion” finally arrives. Where the hell were ya, buddy? He calmly explains to his “children” that Tanjirou’s traveling with Nezuko has been sanctioned by the Corps. Urokodaki, Giyuu, and Tanjirou have all vouched for Nezuko with their lives.

Considering the deference the Hashira show to the Master, the matter should be fucking CLOSED. And yet many of the Hashira won’t accept their Master’s decision. These are the same Hashira who only minutes before were barking and whining about Tanjirou and Giyuu “breaking the rules” all Demon Slayers were sworn to follow. Excuse me, but how is contradicting your boss and acting on your own following the rules?

Not all the Hashira are foolish. Giyuu is obviously on Tanjirou’s side. Shinobu is at least willing to hear him out. Kanronji Mitsuri, who seems to love everything and everyone, is fine with her master’s wishes. Tokitou Muichirou is indifferent, going whichever way the wind blows. But Hotheaded Wind Guy, Giant Weeping Monk, Everything Must Be Flamboyant Guy,  Snake Guy, and Hot Rod Guy form a caucus of dudes who have decided their Master’s word isn’t good enough.

Frankly, they are the ones who should be put in their place, for speaking and acting on matters they know nothing about. And yet, the Master gives them leave to make an argument convincing enough to overturn that of three people who have pledged to commit Seppuku if they’re wrong. Hotheaded Wind Guy (Shinazugawa Sanemi, yet another white-haired guy right on the heels of Rui & Co.) decides to make his argument by slicing his arm open and dripping it into Nezuko’s box to tempt her.

Leaving aside the fact Demon Slayer is playing fast-and-loose with these five Hashiras’ devotion to The Rules, as a practical narrative matter, you, I, and everyone else watching know full well that neither Tanjirou or Nezuko are dying anytime soon; they’re the goddamn co-protagonists, and this is not Gurren Lagann. So this is a big ol’ waste of time better spent formulating a plan for dealing with the real villain, Kibutsugi Muzan.

Akudama Drive – 07 – The Offering

As the elevator to Brother and Sister’s destination rises out of the debris, Hoodlum reunites with the others, proudly reporting to have stabbed the Apprentice to avenge his brother, Brawler, who didn’t make it. When Brother is flippant about there being casualties on the job, Hoodlum almost loses it, but Swindler once again plays the peacemaker, and his temper subsides.

At the end of the elevator’s descent they reach Expo Park, a sprawling abandoned underground amusement park. Bunny and Shark cut in to tell us it was built before the war to preserve the culture of Old Kansai, but ominously notes that “there are some things better left not known”. The siblings’ ultimate destination is a rocket that Brother says will convey him and his Sister to a base on the Moon, where they’ll be safe.

That’s when we learn from Brother that he and his sister are the result of human experiments at Kyushu Plant to create immortal humans. Between them they are the product of 5,555 other siblings who were sacrificed in one horrific way or another to make the two of them possible.

I’m reminded of any number of anime in which humans and innocent kids in particular are treated brutally by an unseen, unfeeling scientific villain. Brother wakes up in a lab in a puddle of blood that grows bigger and bigger until one day the gym once full of siblings is empty.

That’s when the “Headmaster” reports that he was a successful experiment. They go on to make one more, Sister, and the two of them will be sent to Kanto as an “offering”, with mass production to follow. But their “Professor”, an AI in an artificial cat body, took pity on them and allowed them to escape on the Shinkansen. The rest of their story we know.

With that, Brother deposits a billion yen in each of the surviving Akudama’s accounts and deactivates their bomb collars, and prepare to board the rocket. Swindler gives them a farewell hug with the wish that maybe someday they’ll see each other again and eat more yummy takoyaki together.

Then, as the siblings ascend to the rocket’s hatch, Sister is stabbed in the throat…with one of Doctor’s scalpels. She’s fine, but she grabs Brother, making her meaning plain: she’s sold them and everyone else out to the Executioners.

A huge contingent of them suddenly swarm the launch pad and surround the Akudama. When Swindler asks Doctor why, the Doctor coldly declares she doesn’t owe her or anyone a goddamn thing. In exchange for her delivering the “offerings”, Boss removes Doctor’s Akudama status; she’ll no longer be on the run. Boss also tells Brother that the “Moon” they see in the sky is a mere holo-illusion; the real moon was destroyed in the war.

Brother bites Doctors hand and breaks free, while Courier and Cutthroat fight off the swarming Executioners—the latter particularly concerned with Swindler’s safety. He gets cut up pretty bad (which spells trouble considering their medic has defected) but ultimately ends up buying time for Swindler and the siblings.

Brother takes hold of Swindler and leads her and Sister into the rocket just as the countdown reaches zero. The rocket successfully launches with Swindler and Sister inside. Brother probably feels better to have at least protected half of the 5,555 siblings who died for them than none at all.

As for where the rocket is headed, who can say? The episode ends with it trailing away from what’s left of the moon—though perhaps its course takes the earth’s rotation into account. Even if they reach the moon, there surely isn’t anything there but death…but that wouldn’t be any different from the Executioner-infested launch pad.

First Hacker split off, then Brawler died, and now Doctor has stabbed everyone in the back. It remains to be seen if the Executioners either claim or scatter the remaining team of Courier, Cutthroat, and Hoodlum. Much like the war shattered the moon, the show has blown its group dynamic to smithereens. We’ll have to wait and see where the pieces land.

Akudama Drive – 06 – Akudama Brawlliant Park

Even though the Boss has mobilized every Executioner to seek and destroy the Akudama, Master gets there first, driven by his need to redeem himself for past failure. An Executioner doesn’t execute, then what is his purpose, right?

He goes all out from the start, sending both Brawler and Cutthroat flying and tossing the police drone at Courier, knocking him and the kids off his bike. Then he slashes Doc across the belly…though I somehow knew she’d be fine.

When Hoodlum finds Brawler in a pile of rubble, he suggests they fall back and give the latter time to recover, but Brawler won’t hear of it. He’s never been in a brawl like this, and isn’t going to back down. His words and wholesome smile make Hoodlum blush…his brother is so cool!

Cutthroat ends up under rubble as well…but cuts his own legs off to continue protecting Swindler…and Swindler alone. Without any regard for the kid brother, he uses him as an (artificial?) human shield, then stabs right through him to wound Master.

Swindler laments Brother’s death, but the Sister tuges at her sleever and tells her to watch: Brother is fine; he has fully regenerative healing. He’s more miffed Cutthroat broke his backpack. Doctor, who stitched herself up, then stiches Cutthroat’s legs back on so he can fight at 100%.

It’s clear from the injuries both the Executioners and Akudama sustain that they’re something more than plain ‘ol human. Only Swindler and Hoodlum, whom we know to be “normal”, escape horrific injuries this week, likely because they wouldn’t recover from them so quickly. Everyone piles onto Couriers bike, then Brawler bursts back onto the scene like an uncaged beast.

The balance of the episode is taken up by their one-on-one decisive battle, which moves from a glitzy arcade to an old amusement park, their fighting and the lightning seemingly giving these abandoned places new life, if only for a short moment.

Here Akudama Drive really shows off its visual flair, taking the ridiculousness of the brawl the extra mile, and all the while both Master and Brawler feeding off their mutual joy over how much goddamn fun they’re both having. Before Master hid his scar with a mask; now he’s grinning like a schoolboy, just like Brawler.

The two continue to wear each other down until it comes down to one last punch that does them both in at the same time. Meanwhile, Apprentice, who had just received a somewhat momemtum-sapping infodump from Boss about why she started pairing up Executioners, arrives on the scene. Boss told her survival rates of Executioners increased dramatically when they had a “reason to live”, i.e. their partner.

But Boss is incorrect that this is what separates the Executioners from the Akudama, because this particular group, despite having been a collection of selfish loners, has also developed a sense of camaraderie, even family. Had they not, they would have surely fallen to Master one by one. Instead, he falls, while the Akudama just lose Brawler—a huge loss, to be sure, but a survivable one.

As Apprentice mourns her Master’s death, Hoodlum mourns his big bro’s…then picks up Master’s lightsaber and rushes an unready Apprentice. When next we see her she’s alive and back in the hospital; both lightsabers by her bed. Hoodlum is also alive in the preview, which means he only took her eye, not her life. But it’s a given Apprentice will seek revenge.

Meanwhile, Swindler drops the nice-girl act (as Doctor had been pleading) to slap Cutthroat across the face and call him “despicable” for valuing her “beautiful” life over that of the kid Brother. The message is clear: she won’t tolerate any more of that. No more cutting through others to protect her! Brother and Sister locate their next destination, which turns out to be the underground network where survivors of the bombing of Old Kansai still reside.

Akudama Drive – 05 – Damn Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 04 – The Kickass Express

As expected once the Shinkansen took off from Kansai Station, the action and difficulty level of the heist kicks into a higher gear. The train is hurtling towards an “Ultimate Quarantine Zone”, and if that doesn’t kill them, the sweep that eliminates all organic material before the Kanto gate certainly will. Oh, and the Master and Pupil have hopped aboard.

With so many different ways to die, the shrinking of the setting to a long but relatively narrow tube makes for some excellent action set pieces. Without a lot of space for lateral movement, there’s a lot of people punching, kicking, or tossing their opponents across the length of a carriage.

Brawler and Cutthroat fight Master and Pupil with Doctor offering occasional support and Hoodlum, um, cheering on his kyoudai. Ordinary Person and Black Cat watch Hacker’s back as he hacks one lock after another to reach the next carriage. Each lock gets more complex, so it feels like a game for him.

Indeed, everyone seems to take the unexpected setbacks and increased difficulty level in stride, thriving off the increased challenges. That’s with the exception of the lazy and childish Cutthroat, who just wants to see blood, but even Master can’t help but be impressed by his natural fighting skills.

Thanks to the weekly Bunny & Shark informational segments, we learn more about how and why the Shinkansen operates, while Hacker and Ordina’s progress reveals passenger carriages, meaning the train either used to transport people to and from Kanto, or once did and no longer does. After the mostly metal and mechanical freight carriages, the lavishly-appointed, wood-paneled carriages are a lovely visual change of pace.

Once Courier finally gets to his bike, he points its railgun forward to destroy the defense drones, then points it back at the Executioners, slicing their carriage off from the front of the train. This exposes everyone to the Zone briefly, but Doctor uses a quick-solidifying foam to seal the breach. Like last week, some members are more important roles than others, but everyone is needed and everyone contributes, with both actions and wry banter.

They finally reach the front carriage, which has an appropriate “final stage” aesthetic with its clean off-white bulkheads. Hacker breaks through all the locks he can, but the final one requires a seal he doesn’t have. That’s when the Black Cat disintegrates, revealing it was the seal all along. Ordina uses it to open the vault…where they find a young brother and sister in military uniforms.

The sister immediately plays a note on a flute which stops the train and puts up a protective shield. The brother speaks with the same voice as the cat’s (Maaya Uchida), while the sister is voiced by Ichinose Kana. So, Mission Accomplished—everyone’s super-rich, right? Seems that way; I don’t see the siblings double-crossing their own rescue team.

The question is, why were two human children being transported to Kanto like cargo? As the Black Cat implied with an earlier comment, Kanto is far from the wonderful Utopia Hacker believed it to be. Will our gang head back to Kansai for now, or will we get a glimpse of the not-so-perfect-after-all other side?

Akudama Drive – 02 – 1.5 Meters for a Billion

With all the players introduced, the robotic Black Cat reveals she’s the mastermind who had them all collared as an insurance policy. The mission to rescue Cutthroat was a test they all passed. Unfortunately for the lower-level Akudama Hoodlum and non-Akudama Ordinary Girl, the fact they’re still alive and played a role means they could prove useful, so they’re not allowed to walk away.

The cat suggests a change of venue to discuss their next job, which will pay a cool billion (100 million is already in everyone’s accounts, indicating the cat isn’t altogether untrustworthy. Brawler secures them some transport by hijacking a bus (all of which fly here) and Hacker handles the piloting. Their trip across town is just the latest in a nearly constant feast for the eyes. There’s too much detail to catch it all in one viewing.

The airbus trip also allows our colorful characters to interact a bit. Hoodlum and Brawler become fast friends, Courier and Doctor don’t, and Cutthroat is enamored of Ordinary Girl’s pink eyes, hair highlights, and clothes. Though pink isn’t as good as (blood) red, and his fixation on that color leads him to hit all the red buttons on the bus, resulting in the activation of its emergency afterburners.

After a quick history lesson with stick puppets about Kanto and Kansai (the former bombed and then totally rebuilt the latter), the gang emerges from the airbus, which has crashed into the upper level of a seven-star hotel. After disposing of all the human and robotic guards, they all gather in a suite so the cat can brief them on their next mission.

They are to infiltrate the Shinkansen, the only way to travel to Kanto from Kansai, and revered by most of the latter’s inhabitants as a “sacred entity”. There’s a 1.5-meter vault containing cargo the cat wants, but won’t disclose exactly what that cargo is. A successful attack of the Shinkansen has never been accomplished, but everyone gets $9 million if they can pull it off.

Their briefing is interrupted by the arrival of a pair of Executioners: a male Master and female Pupil who have a License to Kill Akudama. The Pupil takes the lead and goes after Brawler, and the suite’s trippy mood lighting is accidentally activated, making their brawl even more cool and stylish. Pupil proves at least an equal fighter to Brawler, and cuts Doctor’s throat, while Hacker and the cat escape.

Before Pupil or Master can determine why an Ordinary Person with no criminal record and a four-year Hoodlum are hanging out with a bunch of elite Akudama, Courier remotely calls in his bike, which flies up to the suite, crashes through the window, and fires its railgun at the Executioners. In the ensuing explosion, the Girl and Akudama get away, and Master and Pupil vow to get them next time.

We end up in an abandoned warehouse—what was to be the original site of the briefing before Cutthroat caused a detour to the hotel. Everyone is fine, even Doctor, who stitched up her own throat. All that’s left is to await the Shinkansen’s next stop in Kansai. They’ll only have twenty minutes until it starts back up for Kanto, so they should at least go in with a plan…even if the more chaotic members of the gang inevitably mess that plan up.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 08 – Big Trouble with Little Lyrical

As she enjoys a sumptuous post-rice planting repast courtesy of Pecorine, Karyl remembers “Her Majesty’s” orders to not only observe the always-hungry knight, but Yuuki as well, and introducing her to the Shadows.

Whenever this exchange took place relative to the Targum quest, it’s clear that Karyl continues to struggle with playing both sides, and that struggle only intensifies as the bonds between her and her guild-mates strengthen.

Other than that initial sobering scene, it’s all fun and games this week, as Little Lyrical, Landosol’s Most Adorable Guild, enlist the aid of the Gourmet Guild to help whip them into a fighting force as formidable as they are charming.

I’ll note that Karyl is the least enthusiastic about taking on an unofficial quest like this that won’t net them any cash (so far all their rewards have been food-related), but even she can’t resist the pleas of the pint-sized trio.

Not only that, Karyl puts her all into designing the perfect route for a training quest. She’s definitely the most meticulous and detail-oriented of the guild, and isn’t in the habit of half-assing anything.

Unfortunately, her best-laid plans are sabotaged when Misogi, Mimi, and Kyouka are left in Yuuki’s care for the quest while the other three observe. Yuuki’s sense of direction is no better than that of his charges.

That said, Peco’s monster costume is impressive and she ends up underestimating the trio’s offensive prowess. It’s when they continue to stay from the prescribed path and run into real monsters (all of which want to chew on Yuuki’s head, of course) that Karyl and Kokkoro must act quickly and quietly to vanquish said monsters lest Little Lyrical end up in big trouble.

Ultimately, the off-the-rails practice quest crosses with the quest to defeat a giant bird monster ruining rice paddies, as the bird carries Yuuki to her nest and Little Lyrical are all KO’d after a valiant attempt to rescue him. The peril is upped when Karyl and Kokkoro run out of magic (having defeated monsters all day) and Peco is not only trapped in her costume but too hungry to fight.

That is, until a well-placed strike from the bird frees Peco, she eats the lunch Little Lyrical packed, and Princess Strikes the bird into oblivion.

The quest thus complete, but with Little Lyrical nowhere near the actual designated goal, Pecorine offers a giant egg as their reward, only for it to hatch into a giant, adorable chick that immediately imprints upon the trio, becoming their new mascot and conveyance. With that, the Gourmet Guild returns to the paddies to plant rice, much to Karyl’s chagrin.

PriConne definitely takes the kawaii factor up a couple dozen notches with the focus on Little Lyrical, and your enjoyment of this episode will depend on your tolerance for cuteness. Everything about Misogi, Mimi and Kyouka screams Squeeee, from their play-acting outside the tavern and their initially clumsy tactics, to their instant bond with their new feathered friend.

I for one had a gas watching them, and the Gourmet Guild proved perfect teachers, letting them largely figure things out for themselves and offering aid when needed.

Kakushigoto – 07 – What They Grow Beyond

Hime voices interest in a puppy, and researches a bunch to prepare, she comes across the “ten commandments of dog ownership”, one of which is to spend as much time as possible with your dog, as chances are they’ll only live ten years. Having any lifetime put in such stark terms is particularly upsetting to Kakushi, who later equates it to the life of a manga artist.

Kakushi comes around to having a dog when he learns through Ichiko how having one will help an only child feel less lonely (though Ichiko is not an only child), just as Hime learns from some mothers in an alley that they (i.e. what she and Kakushi don’t have) are necessary to properly care for a dog. If they knew Hime’s situation they probably wouldn’t have said that within earshot. Meanwhile, the original litter of puppies all found homes, but Kakushi’s father-in-law produces one for Kakushi to present to Hime.

It’s not just any dog, but the descendent of the dog Hime’s mother had (and the subject of her father’s painting, which one of Kakushi’s assistants find at the ocean house). While the moms discouraged Hime a bit, the sight of the new puppy erases those doubts, and she vows to sleep beside the puppy on its first night home (though later ends up kind of between her dad and the puppy).

Kakushi’s father isn’t done with anonymous gifts for Hime: Kakushi comes home to find a baby grand piano has been delivered. Like the dog with the long and distinguished lineage, the piano is a kind of inheritance. That gets Kakushi and the assistants thinking about how assistants inherit some of their masters’ style, but because they end up doing most of the physical work, it’s more of a new synthesis. Similarly, as master age their skills often wane while their apprentices rise.

In the midst of all this talk of lineage, and inheritance in the present, some new clues are presented in the obligatory flash forward. Hime’s classmates tailed her to the seaside house, continuing their detective club from school, but also because they’re worried about her. Then Ichiko appears, shockingly not in a tracksuit, bearing “good news and bad news.”

This got me thinking: perhaps Kakushi isn’t dead yet in this timeline? Maybe he’s just ill, bedridden, and possibly near the end. Maybe during this time he told Hime about the house, finally revealing the hidden thing he’d kept hidden so long even at 18 she had no idea what he did for a living. And maybe the good and bad news relate to his present condition. Or maybe not.

In any case, the consistent trickle of future information is starting to create a conflict: While I’ve enjoyed the present-day adventures of Kakushi, Hime & Co. (and the ensuing comedy), I’m beginning to care more about these more drama-oriented future events. There are essentially two shows here running in parallel, with the future one by far getting the short end of the stick runtime-wise. We’ll see whether and how the show manages to bridge these two times.

Chihayafuru 3 – 20 – Sticking Around

On a luck-of-the-draw that would have sealed Dr. Harada’s victory, he faults, giving he win to Master Suo and forcing a fifth decisive match. It’s really the closest of close outcomes, but Harada tries not to let it get to him, and retires to his chambers to rest. But the moment Suo won, I knew not only that he’d win it all, but that he’d be back for more next year.

Between matches, Shinobu unties the tasuki Chihaya gave her and notices the bear motifs. Just as the cards ultimately decided to side with her, Chihaya’s good wishes were always there under her arms, letting her move freely and confidently. She says as much in her post-victory interview, giving Inokuma her fair due while also saying she won today because of those beside her.

As for Chihaya, she goes off on her own, cursing herself for not being born a man so she could teach that nasty Master Suo a lesson in her own arena. That’s when Arata arrives—at the exact moment Taichi finds her—resulting in Chihayafuru going into Full Soap Opera Mode for a few fleeting moments, as an enamored Oe and Sumire watch. Suffice it to say Chihaya is in no position to respond to Arata’s confession yet.

Harada’s best chance of becoming Master slipped thorough his fingers when the fourth match ended in a luck-of-the-draw, but he still had a chance if Suo played as lazily as he did in the first two matches. Yeah…that wasn’t gonna happen. Due in large part to the older Harada’s unrelenting intensity, Suo is shaken from his apathy, and after scarfing down a whole box of daifuku, ties his hair up and shaves his beard, getting correct before his swift and almost foregone victory to clinch his fifth win and successful defense.

Surely Harada saw how he gradually poked the karuta monster that is Master Suo awake simply by wanting to take his throne so badly. The sting of Harada’s defeat is softened by two factors: his wife never actually cared about him becoming Master, just in having fun; and the young bucks who watched his epic duel with Suo now have more ammo for going after him in the future. After all, Harada is a player, a teacher, and a mentor. You could even say he taught Suo a lesson by playing him so damn hard he almost won.

When Suo is phoning in his live interview, Arata beats Chihaya to the punch and loudly urges Suo not to retire, but return next year, so he can beat him. Suo doesn’t tell his interviewer how much goddamn fun he had playing Harada, but he sure as hell is thinking it, and Arata provides the little nudge Suo needed to reverse his decision to retire. This, after Taichi was expressing inner relief that he wouldn’t have to deal with Suo, in another stark contrast to Arata.

Inokuma Haruka is pretty sure she’s done too, and even comes to believe she’s finally carrying her first daughter after two sons (she told god a third son was fine as long as she won, but alas). But Sion’s grandmother isn’t buying it. From her perspective, Haruka is still a spring chicken, and it’s ludicrous to her to think she’s done with competitive karuta. It’s all about perspective.

After ten long hours of tense karuta, the Mizusawa gang rushes to catch the last Shinkansen out of Kyoto, but in their haste, Chihaya neglects to notice Taichi didn’t board the train with them. That’s because he’s staying behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup tomorrow. I guess his thinking is if Arata’s going to go behind his back and confess to Chihaya, he’s going steal a march on Chihaya to jump back on a different train: the train to karuta greatness.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Chihayafuru 3 – 17 – An Attractive Advertisement

Before the matches begin, Chihaya notices the people chosen to be the card boys and girls for the matches. She wonders whom she’d choose for her Queen match, and envisions that, should they let her choose guys, neither Arata nor Taichi would be available, for they’d be facing each other in the Master match.

It’s a beautiful dream, and we get a glimpse of it in her head. Part of me wishes Chihaya and Arata’s journey to their respective crowns were sidetracked, by Chihaya’s school trip and Arata’s loss to Harada. If I’m honest, Shinobu is the only one of the four players in these matches in whom I have any significant emotional investment.

That said, the two matches are still hella interesting, and made moreso by the airheaded Eternal Queen commentator, the online feed, and a truly legendary reader whose voice coats the environment in a rainbow light. The first round of karuta itself isn’t anything fancy, but is marked by the sheer closeness of the games.

Inokuma, being a former queen herself, puts up the best fight in a Queen match Shinobu has ever encountered, culminating in a luck-of-the-draw that Shinobu wins. She never doubted the cards would choose her. Is the mega-eyed Mama’s comeback tour about to come to an end? Haruka hedges her bets in the green room between games.

Suo also ends up in a luck-of-the-draw with Harada, by design, only Harada manages to defend the last card read to pick up a win, breaking Suo’s tournament winning streak at twelve. It would be the promising start of a huge upset, if Suo had any actual will to win; he seems to have lost interest. Poor Harada: working his ass off for decades to get here, and his opponent is goofing off.

As for poor Shinobu, it’s clear she’s wounded by her relative’s (assistant’s?) comment about her grandmother basically using her as a mannequin for the kimono made by one of her investments. Just when she’s feeling low, Chihaya comes in with Snowmaru dorayaki to share, but then pisses Shinobu off by saying she put her class trip ahead of Queen qualifying. After that roller coaster of a break, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka evens things up in the second game.