The Ancient Magus’ Bride – S2 07 – The Good With the Bad

While doing wall climbing in P.E. class, Rian remembers when Philomena helped him climb a tree. She knew exactly how to do it, how to tell him how to do it, and did it faster. She still exhibits climbing prowess in the present, but she smile she wore when Rian praised her is gone.

We learn that Elias makes himself invisible to sit in on Chise’s classes, which is a bit creepy, but I’ll give him a pass since he still lacks a good grasp on human behavior and boundaries. His fellow faculty member Adolf (Stroud, not Hitler) is old enough to remember coming home to Dresden after it was bombed into oblivion in WWII.

Elias wonders if having such memories is good or bad. As Chise is his official master, Elias is loath to absorb knowledge from others, but Adolf suggests he still try if he wants answers to such questions. Meanwhile, Lucy and Chise seem to be hitting it off, while Veronica asks (but doesn’t order) Philomena to try talking to Chise more.

Any efforts to grow closer to Chise are interrupted that night when a magical messenger falcon summons Philomena home to a gloomy castle. There, she’s greeted by spooky faceless guards in hoods with echo-y voices, and also teased by other young people calling her the child of a usurper, and her time at the College worthless.

The towering maid Alcyone is friendlier, as Philomena reports that a girl at the College sensed her presence. Alcyone tells her that even though their kind can mask themselves almost completely, there are still some mages out there who can smell the emotions and very souls of others; Chise must be one of them. Philomena still wants a countermeasure.

Within two minutes of entering her “grandmother’s” study, Philomena is smacked in the face with a cane for simply raising her head when not told to do so. She does so at the mention of a gift that her grandmother was “planning” to give her, but perhaps won’t. She reminds Philomena that she’s only allowed to attend the College due to Veronica’s “charity.”

The P.E. teacher, who seems to have transformed himself into some kind a water elemental through over-experimentation, is a lot more encouraging and supportive of his charge, in this case an Alice who is working her butt off to show Renfred that she can be useful.

Adolf, who despite being much older than Renfred considers him a senpai, shares a drink with him, knowing that the more he pushes Alice away, the more she’ll resist being pushed. Renfred knows Alice isn’t a child to be ordered around anymore, but doesn’t want her to end up like him or his dad.

The episode ends with some home ec cooking, followed by a rather sharp transition to a camping trip. The College’s curriculum includes such classes on top of P.E. so its students know how to survive and thrive in what can be a harsh and unforgiving world.

Chise demonstrates that her curse has endowed her with stamina on top of strength, impressing Lucy. She may need both, as someone or something is watching her from the brush…

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 15 – The Swing Within

When Eve’s Orange Bullet holes the ball and gives them the win, Eve has to be told it happened; she must’ve gone into a trance when using Orange, which is probably why she hasn’t used it until now; it’s a last resort. As for Aoi, she passes out and remembers her father training her and telling her he wants her to not just win, but keep enjoying golf with a pure and innocent heart, for “hearts too sharpened by conviction can sometimes shatter”. That’s a great line.

Despite hearing news that her daughter is in the hospital and they can’t find anything medically wrong with her, Seira still can’t be bothered to cancel a business meeting to go see her. Real Mother of the Year shit! But she also knows that Aoi is going through the same “thing” as Kazuhiko, only earlier in life (he was in his 20s), which is concerning.

Fortunately for Eve, Aoi comes to in time to treat her to all the hamburgers she can eat, and the next day they watch Nadaminami’s Oikawa Kaede and Himekawa Mizuho trounce their semifinal opponent. Eve makes a throat-slitting motion to Mizuho, who is looking forward to facing off against a real opponent.

There’s no rest for the weary on the eve of the final against Nada, as Coach Reiya takes Aoi to the driving range, not to teach her anything per se, but simply to “put a spell”, which he accomplishes with three swings. Aoi recognizes his first as her mother’s then her father’s. She doesn’t know the third, but it comes with lots of sparkles, as any good spell should.

Reiya tells her the third swing is the one still within her, which has been waiting until now to be unlocked. Amane, watching from the bushes, notes that it’s far more advanced than even the most ideal swing Aoi’d been working on, and after just a few swings, she already has it mastered. After leaving Aoi to practice, Reiya himself collapses after just those three swings, and a concerned Kinue comes running.

On the subject of special golf attacks that take a lot out of you, Ichina has been over it over and over and can’t find a way for Eve and Aoi to beat Nada…unless Eve can pop off two more Orange Bullets. Eve, a picture of confidence as she lounges on her bed, tells Ichina she’ll shoot all the Oranges in Florida if that’s what it takes to win. And so we enter the finals with both out Gold Girls relying on new and unpredictable weapons.

The change in Aoi is instant and shocking to everyone watching, from her suddenly frustrated Nada opponents, to her mother (who finally deigns to arrive to watch after her daughter already finished eight holes), and Leo and Date watching on TV. Klein and Lily are also tuned in at their classy bar. But just when they’re just one hole from beating Nada, Aoi can fell that she has just one more swing left in her.

After taking it, she’s unsteady on her feet, but Eve is there to support her and to take it from there…but won’t commit to a kiss, which is important due to what comes next. As expected, when Eve begins to execute another Orange Bullet she experiences a mental shock, and suddenly her long-buried memories of her childhood, and the identities of her parents, are suddenly unlocked.

Just as Aoi changed as a golfer after Reiya’s spell, after the rush of memories and emotions triggered by Orange, Eve unleashes a Rainbow Shot, identical to that of the late, great Kazuhiko. A rainbow shot means the club is swung without any hint of uncertainty in one’s heart.

An astonished Aoi, still conscious and leaning on her golf bag, approaches Eve after her shot, and Eve declares her real name: Evangeline Burton; her mother’s name, Eleanor Burton…and her father’s name: Hodaka Kazuhiko. Since that’s the same father Aoi has, that makes these golf girls half-sisters by blood.

And while I’m glad Eve finally knows who she is, and I love the postcard memory of her family to close the episode, I am a little disappointed, since this revelation confirms that Aoi and Eve will never be a romantic item. Unless, ya know, Birdie Wing goes and does something weird and crazy, which, as we know, it has never done in the past.

Or hey, maybe Kazuhiko isn’t actually Aoi’s dad. Hey, one can hope. And even if Eve x Aoi isn’t to be, there’s always Eve x Vipere!

The Ancient Magus’ Bride – S2 01 (First Impressions) – Freedom in Her Heart

Not going to lie: I don’t remember a ton about Mahoutsukai no Yome which first aired over five and a half years ago. That was a lot of anime ago. But I do remember that I really enjoyed it, and even if it felt more or less complete after 24 episodes, I’m not going to complain about having Chise and Elias back in my life this Spring.

When alchemist Adolf Stroud invites Chise to attend the English College, Elias is wary, but both she and Adolf get something out of it. He’ll be able to study a Sleigh Beggy carrying two distinct curses up close, while she’ll get to go back to school, so she can learn how to be helpful without sacrificing or destroying herself.

So they’re not separated for too long, Adolf arranges for Elias to come on as a visiting magic instructor. The College is a huge underground complex consisting of seven towers dedicated to various functions (classrooms, dorms, etc.) The computer model is a bit stiff, so after Chise is oficially welcomed by College President Liza Quilly, Adolf takes her on a tour.

When they reach the infirmary, its head doctor, a caterpillar woman named Alexandra Heath, tosses Elias and Adolf out so she can have a candid conversation with Chise. Alexandra is aware of Chise’s extremely colorful medical history, but Chise informs her that Cartaphilus’ eye is giving her flashbacks to a thousand years of his memories, threatening to overwhelm and change her personality.

Alexandra promises to keep a compound eye on her. If there are going to be adverse changes, the College is in the best possible place to be treated. Chise then heads to the dorm tower and is greeted by four talking cats, the dorm mothers. She chooses Rose-Lyn because of the “freedom in her heart” the dragon Nevin once spoke of.

When Chise reaches the door to her dorm, she is anxious about disturbing her roommate if she’s sleeping inside. By the time she finally musters the nerve to open the door, she opens it right into that now-awake roomie’s nose; not the auspicious first meeting she’d hoped for. The roommate, one Lucy Webster, shakes Chise’s hand and shows her where her stuff is, but makes clear she isn’t interested in chatting or being friends. I’m sure once she gets to know Chise she’ll reconsider!

Chise tries to be quiet as she changes into her College uniform, but Renfred’s apprentice Alice texts her, summoning her to the training center ASAP. When Chise arrives, Alice is nowhere to be found, but she and Ruth (her Grim familiar) only find a silver haired girl who faints as soon as they arrive. Chise catches her in her arms, but isn’t sure what to do next, as usually it’s her in this girl’s position. I’m sure she’ll figure it out!

Even as I watched this episode, which was full of callbacks to the previous season, I gradually regained some knowledge of the whos, whats, and wherefores. Funny how memory works. The switch from Wit to Kafka Studio doesn’t seem to have had any ill effects on the production values, which are considerable. I’m really looking forward this one!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – 06 – Do Androids Dream of Electric Lambs to the Slaughter?

Lily keeps shooting looks 2B’s way, and this week we learn why. She once met an android that shared 2B’s face: No. 2, an previous-generation model. 2 was a lot more animated in their speech, and she led an early YoRHa squad that, like the resistance, had been hung out to dry by Command. Back then, Lily’s resistance squad was led by Rose, who decided to join forces with No. 2 for a mission that neither of their groups could accomplish alone.

While there was initial distrust on both sides, Rose’s decision to cooperate rather than fight paid off and the “family” thus grew. There’s both an 86 and Iron-Blooded Orphans vibe to this group of misfit fighters who got the short end of the stick. Their familial chemistry and rapport with one another felt lived-in and genuine; everyone supporting one another and staying in good spirits to distract from their unfair plight.

One day, Lily was not looking well at all, and her eyes suddenly turned red: a sign her data has been overwritten by a logic virus. This is actually the first time I realized that Lily and the other members of the resistance were also androids (unless they aren’t, it’s not made crystal clear). But Lily definitely is, and even though Rose’s first instinct is to kill her before the virus spreads, No.2 deflects that bullet, and eventually everyone helps hold Lily down so No. 21 can purge the virus.

But saving Lily delayed the combined unit’s plan to infiltrate the target server facility, which is overrun by hundreds of thousands of enemies when they arrive. The Bunker will not provide backup, but the mission must be executed no matter what, so one by one Lily’s comrades sacrifice themselves so she can get to the server. She does, but at the cost of her entire family, including her big-sister figure Rose.

In the present Lily is far calmer, more composed and confident, but she remains haunted not by dreams—as 2B says, androids don’t dream—but memories of the things that happened, and regret about what could have happened to possibly save some of the people she cared for. In lieu of dreams or souls, androids are who they are due to their accumulated memories and experiences.

2B leaves Lily with a comforting rhetorical question: what if someone from her family were still alive out there, somewhere? And sure enough, a long-haired woman with the same beauty mark as No. 2 and 2B is revealed to be still out there fighting the good fight. Will Lily and her savior No. 2 unite, and what will happen when 2 and 2B meet? Whatever happens, I hope they can all be allies. Nothing can happen in this world without them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 17 – An Convenient Ideal

Ryuu not only once believed she could save everyone without sacrificing anyone, but that doing so was the will of their familia’s goddess, Lady Astrea. She believed this so forcefully, she almost came to blows with her more pragmatic (and possibly jaded) colleague Kaguya. She told Ryuu that Astrea’s ideals cannot be 100% applied in the real world. The time will come when all of them will have to make a hard choice.

No doubt Bell’s attitude reminds Ryuu of her former, more idealistic self. While there may be doubt, he has no intention of surviving the Deep Floors without Ryuu surviving with him. But the upped difficulty level of the floors has sapped his confidence.

Ryuu tenderly takes his finger in hers and delivers a fine motivational speech, telling him to stop being so hard on himself—it’s hard down here!—and giving him a number of tips to help him have an easier time.

Ten floors up, Welf’s new adamantine magic sword shows no signs of wear—in fact, it only seems to be getting more powerful with each use, as if it’s absorbing the energy from the foes it extinguishes. Its wielder is a different story, as using the sword is taking a physical toll on Welf. Tsubaki’s party isn’t far away, but in the meantime Welf & Co. face a nearly constant onslaught of tough customers.

On not one but two occasions, Ryuu forces Bell to drink something gross: first a really old moldy potion (which still heals him) and then the boiled remains of a potable ooze, lending levity to the bleak proceedings. Ryuu also shows her bashful tavern maiden side, as she stops herself from drinking from the same thermos as Bell when he mentions he had his mouth on it. Lest we forget: Ryuu has had a bit of a thing for Bell for a while now.

It’s very encouraging to see how far Bell and Ryuu have gotten since emerging from a Lambton’s belly with their clothes and bodies in tatters. They’re both healed enough to walk and fight; they have five blazebombs left for emergencies, and they reach the third ring of the floor, which Ryuu recognizes from its chalk-white color, so they now know the proper way back up.

Bors leads Lili, Welf & Co. to the chamber where he last saw Bell, and the giant hole made by the Lambton indicates Bell could be much deeper down then anyone thought. But they have bigger problems, like being cornered by extremely tough beasts, and a Welf who is out of gas.

Fortunately reinforcements finally arrive in the nick of time. Tsubaki’s team being close was a misdirect—it’s the Xenos sent by Fels who get to them first, ready, willing and eager to pay Bell back with their support. Now continuing their descent feels a lot more realistic.

As for the party of two that is Bell and Ryuu, they’ve made progress but are still along way from from the stairs, and thus still far from out of danger, and at the moment Ryuu is determined to sacrifice herself if it means saving Bell. She bitterly remarks to Kaguya that she’s finally on her side. All I know is, if the show ends up killing Ryuu off just because she deems Bell more worthy of living, I’ll be as devastated as Bell for sure!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 16 – What Must Be Done

After another Astrea Familia flashback where Alise sparks a spirited discussion of what justice is, we’re back in the White Palace with Bell and Ryuu, who has recovered enough magic to heal her leg. In a similar argument she had with her late colleague Kaguya, she agrees to disagree with Bell on whether it would have been better to heal him.

I’m with Bell: Ryuu needed to be able to at least walk on her own for them to survive. As for Welf, he gets started, but after taking the adamantine out of his portable forge, he finds he can’t shape it. He wonders if he’s simply overestimated his ability to forge a sword in the Dungeon while his comrades battle desperately to keep the hordes of monsters at bay.

If Ryuu and Bell are to get to the 36th floor, they’ll need supplies and some kind of direction. They get both, by doing something neither of them want to do: looting the dead adventurers around them. Ryuu ensures she has top coverage, and they find potions, weapons, and a partial map scrawled on the dead’s familia banner. Bell vows to survive in order to honor the memory of those who died to save him and Ryuu.

Welf finally snaps out of his funk and the sound of his hammer makes a much louder, brighter sound—all because he remembered that he was making this sword for his friends. I’m a little surprised he didn’t know that all along…but whatever! He completes the sword, and with an extra magic assist from Cassandra, they manage to blast away all the monsters bothering them—with the very “light of daybreak” from Cassie’s vision.

With his new shatterproof magic sword, forged to last a lifetime, Welf has given the party a new lease on life as they continue their descent to find Bell and Ryuu. He gives the lives that were given to him right back to their owners. They still have a long way to go, but like Bell and Ryuu, they at least have the tools to do so—acquired by doing what had to be done, not matter what.

DanMachi IV – 15 – Hope Reforged

As Ryuu sleeps and dreams of the past, DanMachi is content to gradually inch us along a tale of unfathomable woe. Ryuu can only watch as her comrades—her family—decide to head down to the Lower Floors to investigate, unaware it’s an Evilus trap. Meanwhile, Bell successfully scares a skull sheep away. They may be ugly bastards, but they’re intelligent.

The reinforcement squad composed of Tsubaki and Ryuu’s former co-workers Anya, Runoa, and Chloe reach the 24th Floor and find it in shambles. Tsubaki correctly suspects a Floor Boss rampage, but whatever happened, they believe they’re too late to help. That doesn’t stop Anya from leading the charge to scale down the walls to the lower floors in order to meet up with any survivors.

Speaking of survivors, other than Bell and Hestia Familia, Bors is the only survivor of the Ryuu elfhunt. Aisha, Welf & Co. rescue him, but he is the bearer of bad news: he fears even Bell and Ryuu were among the massacred. Lili more than anyone won’t accept this, but it’s Aisha who calmly gets Bors to admit he didn’t see Bell’s corpse, and indeed saw Ryuu healing him. So the mission objective remains the same: find Bell and Ryuu.

But they’ve already met heavy resistance from all manner of lower-floor baddies, and Welf is down to one slash from his fire dagger. Remembering Hephaistos’ pep talk, he decides to set up an ad hoc workshop in a dead end where the familia is catching their breath. He uses the last swipe of his dagger to light his portable hearth and prepares to hammer out some adamantine he found along the way.

All everyone else has to do is guard the entrance to the area they’re in and make sure nothing gets to him, as he’ll obviously be a sitting duck while crafting. But considering they don’t have the weaponry to continue much further anyway, the best move they’ve got is to stay put and let Ignis cook.

DanMachi IV – 14 – Towards the Sunrise

As she and Bell take turns keeping watch, Ryuu begins to experience flashbacks to when she met Alise and was part of Astraea Familia. It’s a reminder of all the people she’s lost, but also a rallying point for her: she’s going to make sure Bell survives this, even if it costs her her life. It very nearly does too soon when three beasts attack, but Bell wakes up in time to kill the one Ryuu isn’t able to.

Meanwhile, much further up, both Mikoto and Haruhime announce that not only are they not dead, but their spells give their comrades the opportunity and power boost they need to finish of Amphisbaena. Mikoto demonstrates what a fool I was to think being underwater and surrounded by piranhas would be enough to do her in, by casting her biggest spell yet: Futsu no Mitama, which freezes the boss in place.

While it’s not clear how Haruhime survived the brunt of the boss’ breath attack, she’s able to dig deep and cast Uchide no Kozuchi. Ouka, who had used an ice ramp created with the last Welf’s magic sword to climb up into the ceiling of the chamber, brings his axes down on one of the boss’ heads and slices it clean off with Kokuu, while Aisha leaps right up to the remaining head’s mouth and unleashes a mega-Hell Kaios.

Cue victory fanfare…or rather a few blessed moments when the party is able to catch their breath. Aisha tends to Haruhime and Chigusa and Ouka tend to Mikoto, who are unable to walk. Then tremors begin, and the entire cavern threatens to collapse on top of them: the “coffin” from Cassandra’s premonition is still in play. Aisha and Daphne urge the party to flee up to the 24th floor like Turk and his team.

Cassandra, however figures out that “towards the life-giving sun” doesn’t mean a person or a place, but a cardinal direction: East, the direction of the sunrise. That happens to be through a recently opened tunnel down to the 26th floor. Daphne doesn’t believe Cassandra’s premonitions, but after Cassandra pleads with her and sheds tears, Daphne decides to believe Cassandra, the person.

Lili and Welf were already prepared to descend in order to locate Bell, so now everyone is in agreement. And with absolutely no time to spare, either, as the party witnesses what would have happened if they had gone the way of Turk & Co. The branches they were climbing collapsed, and then they were buried in stone, crystal, and plant debris.

It’s the rare instance where the 26th floor is a lot safer than the 25th, because it’s the place where they’re all still alive. They’ll have to keep descending quite a bit to get close to where Bell and Ryuu are. Perhaps they can meet in the middle? But I don’t want to forget what an impressive boss victory the party managed to pull off without Bell.

That win should give them confidence that, even in their weakened, battered state, as long as they stick together, they have a chance to find Bell and Ryuu and make it out of there.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 13 – The Beast Girl, the Witch and the Wardrobe

In the white void, Alpha sits back while Delta does her think as the “token musclehead”, rejecting the fact that being closer to the center of the sanctuary makes them weaker and Nelson stronger, donning a skimpy slime bikini, and summoning a gargantuan meat cleaver with which she splats all of Nelson’s clones in one go. It’s good to finally see Delta in extended action.

Meanwhile, Epsilon’s group encounters a memory that she’s able to purify, and they discover a library that holds all the knowledge on the possessed children held in the Sanctuary, as well as the means to open an exit. Epsilon briefly loses her falsies, but her underlings know better than to say they saw it.

Finally, there’s Cid and Aurora, who are like two peas in a pod and gradually build a genuine bond as they continue to explore her dark memories. Cid continues to treat her like no one else, neither as an adversary, underling, or hassle, but as a pal.

The two buds end up dead ended at the door that leads to the magic core. Cid knows his sword can’t break the chains, and also knows it will require a descendant (presumably of Olivier) to pull the key-sword out of the floor, Excalibur-style.

But while they kill time playing tic-tac-toe and pondering their next steps, Delta’s unhinged violence manages to shatter Nelson’s white void, leaving him no choice but to summon Olivier herself. That’s when Epsilon’s group meets up with Alpha’s to report their findings, and Alpha orders a withdrawal.

It speaks to just how damn powerful Alpha is that not only was her slime outfit not visibly effected by the power drain, but one stern look at Delta instantly cows the beast girl into leaving her prey and coming along. Alexia and Rose accompany Alpha, Beta, Epsilon, and the others through the exit.

Nelson receives an alert about Cid and Aurora, and meets them where they are with Olivier by his side. He orders her to kill Cid and while she’s extremely strong and is able to draw blood, she fails to do so. Cid, meanwhile, wears an involuntary smirk on his face. Nothing like a worthy opponent to lift the spirits.

Only Cid doesn’t necessarily consider Olivier that worthy; after all, she lacks a heart, and is simply a tool Nelson is using to try to kill him. Nelson tries to cut a deal with Aurora that will save Cid, but he rejects it, asking them to kindly not decide the outcome of his battle with Olivier before it’s over.

Nelson says fine, and sends Olivier to deliver a killing blow through Cid’s chest. But again, he merely smiles, and finally opens the right eye he’s kept closed this entire time, and not just because that’s what many anime characters do: he was suppressing an even greater power within him, which he will likely use to neutralize Olivier and continue assisting Aurora.

The question is, is Nelson right when he says the witch is just deceiving Cid and she’ll lead him to his doom once her memories are all back? It’s worth thinking about considering the Aurora with whom he’s gotten along with so famously is missing large chunks of her former personality…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Chainsaw Man – 12 (Fin) – Not a Bad Life

Last week introduced a bunch of new fiends who will surely play a role in any future seasons, but this week stripped everything back to Aki and Himeno and Denji and his wretched childhood—with a bit if Power and Kobeni being themselves for garnish.

First up, the Ghost Devil actually disobeys Sawatari and does not choke Aki to death. Instead it releases him, and in the moments he’s out, he recalls the day Himeno offered him a cigarette for the first time. Since he was under age, she promised to save it for him.

The Ghost Devil reaches out one of its countless arms to produce that very cigarette, with “Easy Revenge!” written on it. How exactly the Ghost was tamed after Himeno died isn’t important; what is is that Aki is able to destroy the Ghost, and he and Kobeni take Sawatari into custody.

Denji and Power really are the brother and sister to Aki’s big brother in their little found family, and even on the elevator ride to meet with Katana Man they can’t help but bicker over something petty. Power then gets off on the wrong floor because it’s full of zombies, and Power fucking loves killing zombies.

Denji carries on to the floor where Katana Man is. Unlike Sawatari, he’s given an opportunity to voice his grievances to Denji. Whatever the circumstances were, he blames Denji for the death of his gramps and others he cared about, and wants satisfaction.

As has been established, Denji himself is a little unnerved by how easily he was able to get over Himeno’s death, as well as all the other terrible things that have happened of late. But in this case? He couldn’t care less. This guy’s gramps tortured and enslaved him as a child just because he could. He can burn in hell. Katana Man don’t like that, Denji’s game for a rematch.

The two blast out of the building, onto rooftops, and finally onto a moving train, making for a particularly fun and cinematic setting for the final big battle of the season. Unlike the dark warehouse there’s plenty of light and dynamic backgrounds to soak in along with all the sparks and blood.

Katana Man also at least tries to understand what Denji is after, and isn’t impressed when Denji tells him it’s simply to preserve his new comfortable (by his standards) life and be praised by his boss. There isn’t enough nuance in their talk for Denji’s opponent to sympathize with his plight and why that life is such a precious thing to him; no doubt Katana Man lived a damned comfortable life as the grandson of a yakuza.

Their fight spills into one of the train cars and the innocent bystanders scatter (since this isn’t guest directed by Paul Verhoeven, they all escape unharmed). Denji has improved, but he’s still supposed to be fighting with Power beside him, and Katana Man still has his samurai move where he wooshes past Denji and lops off both his arms.

When he tells Denji to yield if he wants a quick death, Denji says he still has a chainsaw on his head, and charged him. Katana Man aims for Denji’s head as he rushes him one last time, but that’s exactly what Denji wanted. Borrowing a lesson he learned from Kishibe, he tells a suddenly cleanly sliced in half Katana Man never to trust someone he’s hunting.

Katana Man eventually reverts back to human form, and Denji chains him to the stopped train to await backup. Aki is the first to arrive, and Denji, who is not quite satisfied with having simply captured their target, proposes a contest…of nutshots. Whoever can make the guy scream more wins.

Aki initially seems reluctant to play along—it’s against their mandate and he’s not sure Himeno would want it—then he takes out the cigarette that saved his life, puts it back away, and declares that he’s game after all.

In the beautiful, sublime, cathartic scene that follows, we cut from the aftermath of the successful operation to a positively giddy Denji and Aki kicking the shit out of Katana Man’s nuts. Aki asks if Himeno can hear the nutshot requiem they’re playing for her up in heaven.

After that, Makima delivers her report to the bigwigs: Sawatari was captured, but apparently automatically killed as part of her contract with the Gun Devil before any intel could be extracted. RIP Sawatari; we really barely knew thee, and I still maintain that’s a shame. On the plus side, the 4th Division now has enough Gun Devil flesh that it’s moving towards the main body. So now they generally know where to look.

As the low-key credits are displayed, we watch Denji, Power and Aki simply hanging out together like the three best roomies, chasing cats, swinging on the swings, and going to the grocery store to buy stuff for dinner. There’s no audio to these scenes, only music, which makes them feel more intimate and resonant. It’s also quite heartwarming to see that after all they’ve been through, they can still live life and have fun like three ordinary young people.

After the trio make dinner, eat it, and enjoy some down time around the table, Denji and Power fall asleep, and we get one last zen balcony moment with Aki as he lights up his “Easy Revenge!” cigarette and smokes it, providing a measure of closure and relief from his deep loss.

Denji, meanwhile, dreams a dream he says he always dreams and then forgets: walking through a dingy alley to a door, hearing Pochita on the other side of that door, then going for the doorknob, only for Pochita to say, with finality, he can’t open that door. The final scene is the most cryptic of all, with a heretofore unseen/unheard young woman with dark hair asking Denji what’s better: a city mouse or a country mouse.

Who this mystery woman is, how she’ll fit in to the ongoing search for the Gun Devil, and a host of other matters will provide fertile ground for a second season of Chainsaw Man. While none has been officially announced, I can’t see one not happening. But this was a pitch-perfect stopping point.

The Eminence in Shadow – 12 – Through the Red Door

That big red seal-looking thing? It’s a door; a door that won’t stop following Cid no matter where he flies. Since it won’t go away, he decides to go through it. His Shadow Garden maidens have the same idea, and make their appearance at the arena before Alexia, Rose, and Archbishop Nelson.

Beta does a terrible job pretending to be her comrades’ hostage, while Nelson’s assassin Venom attacks Epsilon but only manages to slice off her fake boobs. She quickly re-forms them with her slime suit, and in any case everything happens too fast for the princesses to notice. Shadow Garden jump through the door, and Alexia and Rose follow, bereft of anything better to do.

They arrive in a strange and oddly futuristic sci-fi place that is the true Sanctuary the church has hidden from the rest of the world. In this inter-dimensional space there’s a statue of the real Great Hero Olivier, who was not only a woman, but looked just like Alpha (since they share blood). Alexia and Rose are rightfully very confused.

Rather than meeting up with Shadow Garden, Cid ends up in a different “section” of the Sanctuary, in which the real legendary witch Aurora has been incarcerated for centuries (she’s also voiced by Eureka herself, Nazuka Kaori, who possesses one of the more ASMR-triggering voices).

After exchanging pleasantries and freeing her from her straitjacket (she’s nude underneath but he doesn’t so much as blush), Cid agrees to help Aurora get out of this place, which is apparently constructed out of stored memories, among them a young Aurora crying, whom the older Aurora slaps.

Meanwhile the ladies find themselves in the main research facility of the Sanctuary, where the Diabolos Cult experimented on children with “Diabolos Cells” in order to create “Diabolos Beads”, a drug that can make members of the cult immortal and invincible.

Olivier was one of the few who survived the experimentation, a brutal affair carried on with the banality of a congenial modern office. One of the lead researchers was the not-so-good Archbishop himself, Jack Nelson. Alexia wrongly but hilariously surmises that hair loss was a side effect of the beads.

Alpha correctly surmises that Jack Nelson is one of Diabolos’ twelve Knights of the Round, which rings a bell for Alexia since her betrothed longed to become one of them. With no further need to hide his identity, Nelson starts to gloat, only to be impaled and cast into a pool by Delta.

Delta is ready to be scolded by Alpha for disobeying orders not to kill him, but turns out Nelson is made from stiffer stuff. He wipes away the reality of the research facility, leaving a white void where he proceeds to create copies of himself. But both Alpha and Delta are more than game for a fight.

This episode was a mind-bending trip and a half, introducing a real sci-fi underbelly to the fantasy surface world where Cid ended up after dying. It’s notable that much of the episode doesn’t involve him at all. It makes one wonder how much longer he’ll insist this is all a game!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 41 – Ainupocalypse Now

We’re back with the main gang in the present day, and with time to kill before Tsurumi meets up with them, Sugimoto and Asirpa hang out in the woods while she performs Ainu rituals and hopes a wolverine will come her way so she can taste its brains. They then encounter something completely new: a two-man film crew with a cinematograph.

When a wolverine pounces on the back of one of the men, Sugimoto and Asirpa spring into action with bow and rifle, and the cameraman captures it all. Asirpa gets to taste her wolvy brains (and watch Sugimoto taste them too), but they probably didn’t think much of the little wooden box with the crank until its owner takes it back into town.

There, he explains it’s a relatively new French invention to which he owns the Japanese rights. He then proceeds to play some of the footage of Aniu he’s taken, and everyone is unexpectedly amazed by the dancing pictures. Asirpa, who is of late extremely preoccupied with preserving her culture, decides to don a director’s cap, and Sugimoto reminds the filmmakers that she saved their asses.

Everyone chips in on the ensuing production, which starts with simple folk stories involving dicks and dick copycats (the copycat always dies in the end like the moron he is; Asirpa’s casting of Shiraishi as said moron is an inspired choice).

When she’s not satisfied with how the production is going she shifts from comedy to drama and a story of three brothers, one of whom turns into a bird kamuy. The seriousness is somewhat undone by a nearly-naked Tanigaki bursting out of the bird suit, but Asirpa is happy with the shoot.

Koito arranges for them to screen Asirpa’s masterpiece in a theater, and seeing themselves in the moving pictures is surely an invigorating experience. Then the filmmakers decide to surprise Asirpa with some footage they took ten years ago. In it, she gets to see her father Wilk before his face was lost, and also gets to see her mother for the very first time.

While I laughed during the goofy dick-filled filmmaking scenes earlier, I teared up when I saw Asirpa’s family, and especially her desperately beautiful and powerful mom, from whom she inherited so much without ever knowing her. Kiroranke also makes an appearance in the footage, but it’s her mom who seems to cast a spell on her and everyone in the theater.

But then, as was a not-so-uncommon occurrence in the early days of cinema, the projector light set the film on fire and burned it, not only destroying the all the footage Asirpa & Co. took that day, but also the only images of her mother to ever exist. The first time she saw her was also the last. Utterly dejected, Asirpa walks out into the cold night alone.

Sugimoto follows her to ensure she’s alright, but she’s not. Film, she says, is a wonderful invention, but it’s not nearly enough to keep her people’s culture alive. And she’s right. Literally seeing it through a lens is totally different from learning and living it from other Ainu. The footage was enlightening, but also cold, especially relative to her warm memories of her father telling her stories.

Asirpa is definitely putting far too much of a burden on her slender shoulders to save the Ainu from certain cultural oblivion, and yet she can’t stop. Sugimoto calls it a “curse”, for while much of it is her own will, she can’t deny that will was shaped in her formative years by the likes of Wilk and Kiroranke, who all but forced her to carry on their legacies.

Whatever she has to do to achieve her goals, Asirpa knows it will require gold, and lots of it. But Sugimoto knows that with gold comes blood. He admits to her that part of him wants to preserve the innocence he lost by protecting her, but he also knows that he already inhabits a kind of hell of his own making; a hell he assures Asirpa she won’t like. Nothing will change her more from what she should be than killing.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to gradually build up our Sugisirpa withdrawl for three straight weeks and then pounce on our back like a wolverine with a gem of an episode that’s both bawdy and fun, and part heartbreaking and redemptive.

Summertime Render – 25 (Fin) – Good Karma

After all the trials, blood, death, loss and increasingly complicated “rules” of the Shadows that Shinpei has endured, it all culminates in a hard reset to the beginning, with him on that boat with Hizuru. From her perspective, they’ve never met, but she’s clearly intrigued (and a little disturbed) that he somehow knows her pen name.

When Shinpei arrives on the pier, he feels a sense of deja vu. When Mio comes streaming towards him on her bike, he instinctively prepares to catch her…but her brakes work fine. Mio’s fine, as are Tokiko and Sou. Shinpei knows he felt worried about them, but doesn’t quite know why; they’re understandably confused and a little hurt by him saying this!

And then there’s Ushio, who remains very much alive, because a Shadow never copied and replaced her. In this timeline there are no Shadows, and never were. He was brought back to the island by a voicemail from Ushio, which he somehow could sense had the same sense of uncanny worry he himself was experiencing.

He stops by the Kobayakawa konbini, which Shiori is minding (and yelling at the other kids to shut the dang ice cream chest). It’s just good to see her not as an instrument of dismemberment and death, ya know? She also says Ushio has been talking about him for a while now, insisting he was coming this year. The kids also note that the upcoming festival is lining up with “Haine’s” birthday.

After visiting the shrine, where an elderly (and not unnaturally youthful or evil) Karakiri is passing the role of fire-lighter to his son Yamato, Shinpei heads to the beach, where Ushio happens to be standing in a long white dress, looking lonely. When she spots him, Shinpei promptly apologizes for how he suddenly left the island.

Ushio admits that she too didn’t handle things right, and that the voicemail she sent was sent because she was suddenly desperately worried about him. Their making-up session is capped off by Shinpei fortuitously spotting her lost shell pendant in the sand. Ushio lets him tenderly tie it around her neck. All is well with the two now; water under the bridge.

At the Kofunes’ café, which is not Shinpei’s home and never was, since his parents are still alive, he discusses his “dream” with Hizuru, who is the only one on the island weird enough to think there might be something to it, like a shared memory of the island or memories from parallel worlds (in truth, it’s a little of both).

It’s here where we meet Haine, who is a grown Ryuunosuke’s daughter and friends with Shiori. Mio comes down in her yukata and Ushio in her portable shrine garb, and the whole gang poses for a photo. Many among the group throw up peace signs, but they could also be victory signs.

That night at the festival, Hizuru is typing up a storm while laughing creepily and stuffing rice into her maw; Shinpei’s regaling of his “dreams” have cleared her writer’s block; we see her writing a novel called Summertime Render. Sou works up the nerve to confess to Mio—again—while Toki watches from the shadows. This time, Mio doesn’t automatically say no?

Shinpei meets Ushio on the beach with the takoyaki she ordered him to bring. When she sees he only brought two trays for the two of them, she recalls a promise he made when they were trying to “get through the little gap in the hospital”—something that might not have even happened in this world. They recite the promise in unison, that he’d “buy her 10 or even 100 pieces”, and a galaxy of fireworks erupt around them.

Whether in that moment they suddenly remember everything they went through to get to this time and place, or they’re simply glad they’re together again after two years in this timeline, they lean into one another in elation and relief. After lifting a three hundred year curse, they goshdarn earned a happy ending as a reward. They deserve it, and I couldn’t be happier that they got it.

%d bloggers like this: