Hamefura – 07 – A Dream of Long Ago

Sasaki Atsuko was a shy, quiet transfer student who suddenly found herself under a girl who’ fallen on her from a tree. We never learn this tree climber’s real name or see her eyes, but it’s the one who is reincarnated as Catarina. Atsuko introduces her to Fortune Lover, while she becomes Atsuko’s first real friend.

Of course, to be reincarnated, one has to die, and Atsuko’s friend falls victim to that most common of anime deaths, the car accident (I swear they should ban motor vehicles in Anime Japan!) For such a brief sequence, it packs an emotional wallup…especially when Sophia wakes up; it was all a sad dream. She rushes to the arms of Catarina. So Sophia is totally the reincarnated Acchan…right?

That day Catarina & Co. are split into two teams for the practical portion of their exams, which consists of a dungeon quest in some ancient ruins. It’s an atmospheric new setting and a prime venue for some Bakarina antics, but thanks to her cultivating such strong bonds with her more magically-inclined companions, every booby trap she sets off is successfully defended—with nice displays of magic by Gerald and Keith. One of those traps—a collapsing floor—even borrows it’s sound effect from Castle in the Sky!

Well, almost every trap. Catarina falls down a suddenly-opened hole in the wall and becomes isolated. She quickly becomes primarily concerned with securing food, but ends up harvesting what look for all the world like highly poisonous mushrooms. As her inner council freaks out over the prospect of her dying in a glorified sidequest, the Ascart siblings use their wind magic to track her voice—wisely assuming she’ll be using it!

Bakarina uses a suspiciously key-to-the-exam green crystal to cut the mushrooms growing from a yawning chasm, into which she immediately almost falls before Sophia grabs her hand. Suddenly, a gust of wind lifts them both up to safety, coming from a figure made of shadow who’d been following Catarina this whole time. Maria notably notices it too.

All’s well that ends well and the exam is passed thanks to Catarina finding the crystal…but whither the shadow? Someone else from Catarina’s life, who has yet to fully reincarnate as a character in the otome? Will Sophia continue to regain memories of the real world through her dreams? With no more roots headed to doom, Hamefura has gained a new layer of metaphysical mystery, and I’m here for it!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 07 – Video Games

Rikuo! Taking Haru Out! For DINNER! To celebrate his new job at a photography studio! Not just dismissing her as a convenience store clerk groupie in the alley, but treating her like…well, a lady! Hell, if I was Haru, I’d order a couple beers too, in hopes the universe wouldn’t card me.

With a third of the show in the books, we’re officially done with the introductions of the characters and their issues. The pieces are all arranged; all past and present love intersts accounted for…it’s officially time to play the game. And, well…as much as I love her, I fear it may be the beginning of Game Over for Haru…despite Rikuo’s newfound manners.

If Rikuo taking Haru out is meant to be both an olive branch after the business with his ex-girlfriend and a sign he’s finally taking her feelings seriously, an impatient Rou has decided to undermine Haru’s progress by essentially pushing Shinako closer to Rikuo.

Shinako has never had anything like boyfriend, but she knows she has no interest in Rou. She loved Yuu, but even that wasn’t necessarily romantic love. She loves Rou too, but as family member. Rou is simply barking up the wrong tree. He can wait and hope and try a “change of attitude” all he wants; Shinako ain’t interested!

It’s Rikuo Shinako goes to for council, wondering what she could or should be doing regarding Rou. Ironically, she states her believe Rou is “falling for an illusion”, while Haru has stated that all romantic love is is illusion (all while being hopelessly vulnerable to it all the same).

Rikuo’s advice doesn’t come from a place of moral superiority or jealousy or even lingering bitterness from being previously rejected by Shinako. He simply reminds Shinako that Rou isn’t a little kid anymore, that he knows life doesn’t always go the way you want, and if he wants to stress himself out, she should let him.

In not so many words, and regardless of whether it’s intentional, Rikuo is telling Shinako not to try to spare Rou the full force of Life Not Going Your Way. For whom does life always go right anyway? Rou has decided he’s rapidly approaching adulthood, and wants nothing else but to “catch up” to Shinako.

So Shinako tells him: she’s watching him; watching who he’ll become. It’s not a forceful rejection, but it still mostly sounds like one to Rou, who as Rikuo said is world-weary enough to read between the lines. Even so, it’s too gentle a gesture on Shinako’s part—as we’ll find out later.

Rikuo’s friend Fukuda visits him, and is happy to hear his progress in pursuing his interest in photography professionally. He even gives Rikuo a major boost by hiring him to photograph his upcoming nuptuals. Rikuo discusses it with a supervisor at lunch, and then after work, Haru is waiting outside the studio.

Haru wants to be someone Rikuo can confide his problems in and seek advice and help. At first Rikuo is dubious, but eventually comes out and remarks how it almost feels like the “universe is nagging” him, asking “what do you want to become?” after a period of not asking, and him not caring or trying. It’s kind of stressful, but Haru tells him to keep stressing out…”it’s how everyone gets to be who they are.” She’s such a gift…

Haru doesn’t realize the universe isn’t just nagging Rikuo about his career or calling. Fukuda knows how terrible Shinako is at dating and romance, and all but assures Rikuo that he can’t assume she’ll make the next move.

Fukuda’s wedding comes, and Rikuo snaps photos…including candids of Shinako, who was also invited after all. He tries to take both Fukuda and Haru’s advice, but chickens out at the last moment, using the need to return his boss’ camera to take his leave.

His hesitation doesn’t really matter, as without trying Rou once again causes memories of Yuu to surface in Shinako. She tries to leave his place, but he can sense the tears welling in her face before he sees it, and follows her as she flees. When he bared his arm in front of her, it looked just like Yuu when he’d receive shots. Shinako never looked away from Yuu’s arm, thinking if he was being so strong, she’d have to be strong too.

Rou takes this opportunity to wrap his arms around Shinako’s, but her impulse isn’t to sink into that embrace, but to ask—clearly and more than once—for him to let her go. Rou being “the only one who knows how important” his bro was to her isn’t the secret weapon he thinks it is. It is, in fact, anathema, as Rou is a constant reminder of that which Shinako knows she has to move past.

Shinako knows she’s being selfish and presumptuous, but waits for Rikuo anyway. After a calming soft drink at a family restaurant, he walks her home, but she’s frustrated that all they’re talking about is her and Rou, when the thing she can’t deal with she really wants to talk about goes unsaid. She proceeds to explain why she initially rejected him, citing an inability to forget Yuu and a fear of being alone.

Rikuo then reiterates that he was willing to wait for her, to which she replies that maybe she was waiting too. Maybe she can’t move on until somebody—somebody not Rou—pulls her. When they’re briefly interrupted by her neighbor, Rikuo suggests they find a place to talk more in private.

Then Shinako invites him into her apartment…“although it’s messy.” You got THAT right, Ako-chan!

P.S. There’s a new ED for Yesterday this week (with a new song by Sayuri) depicting an arcade game featuring an 8-bit Haru and her crow flying around town defeating enemies and launching relentless love attacks at Rikuo. It ends with Game Over, as Rikuo walks off-screen with Shinako while poor Haru is surrounded and pelted by foes. Yikes!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 06 – The Great Destroyer

“Why are you enjoying this so much?”
“Because it’s not my problem.”
—Rikuo and Kinoshita on why I love this show

Just as things were attaining a semblance of balance, enter Yuzuhara Chika, Rikuo’s high school ex-girlfriend, her hair now kissed by bottled fire and voiced by the often fiery Kitamura Eri. She’s behind on rent and happened to be passing by, and asks if she can crash at Rikuo’s until she’s back on her feet financially.

That’s right, YwU is not quite done introducing new characters at the expense of the core trio. That’s probably in part due to the fact we’re now only a third through an 18-episode series, not halfway through a 12-parter.

Kinoshita warns Rikuo that Chika is a serial destroyer of bands due to her penchant for ginning up relationshop drama among the members. There’s every indication Chika came to Rikuo because she tends to use usable people and he’s an easy mark, but she proves to be a model freeloader, cooking, cleaning, welcoming him home, all things he’s used to doing alone.

One day while readying dinner, Chika mistakes Rikuo collapsing from fever for a sexual advance, and her eyes narrow as she consents…only Rikuo isn’t propositioning, he’s ill. And so the time arrives when Rikuo is in need of being nursed back to health, and Haru is nowhere to be found, because Rikuo hasn’t told her about Chika.

When they find out from Kinoshita that Rikuo is sick, it’s because Minako accidentally wandered to the konbini after drinking with her friends (who wouldn’t leave her alone about not ever being in a relationship) while Haru is already loitering there.

Whether due to her guilt about him “setting up her wires—i.e. relying on him when it’s convenient—or because she’s knocked back a few, or both, she accompanies Haru, and they share in the utter shock of a third pretty woman at Rikuo’s apartment that late at night.

Haru is NOT okay with this—Rikuo is as good as a cheater in her book—but while Minako is also upset, she says she only has herself to blame for rejecting him. Hearts are fickle, and expecting Rikuo to keep standing still and waiting for her wasn’t realistic.

After being confronted by a steamed Haru (and saying precisely the right thing to have a milk crate thrown in his face), Rikuo stops by Minako, but the sight of her expression…frightens him (in a nice touch, we never see the face he sees). Minako is angry too.

During another homemade meal, Chika and Rikuo talk more about why things ended and who they are. Chika plays the piano for a living and was always good at it, but at first it was because she was forced to play. She’s always wanted to be liked, and saying no can make people not like you, even if she’s never fallen in love or been “deeply invested” in anything. Sound familiar?

She also breaks it to Rikuo that telling him he didn’t understand her was just an excuse she gave to break up with him so she could date a new guy she liked more. “Understanding” her more, then or now, wouldn’t have made any difference, so there’s nothing for him to regret regarding that. I’m not sure if he should feel better or worse about that!

Minako stops by Rikuo’s again, and Chika finally clears the air, assuring her that she simply asked for help from a guy she knew would help, and doesn’t want “things to get ruined” because of her (again, allegedly). Yet again, Minako feels bad, because she’s not actually Rikuo’s girlfriend, as Chika initially assumes.

Chika dated Rikuo for just four months in high school, but Minako straight up turned him down! I’m sure her relief Chika is not interested is mixed with guilt that she has some kind of claim on Rikuo. But, well, she clearly does, doesn’t she? She never dismissed Haru’s declaration of war, and Chika’s sudden appearance on the battlefield put things in perspective.

I can harp on precious little time spent on the Haru/Minako/Rikuo triangle so that a new player could take the stage, but honestly I found Chika’s brutal honesty with her feelings and motivations refreshing, right up to her polite goodbye-and-thanks note, prompting one more charge of selfishness from Rikuo.

She came and went like a storm, but before she left she looked out into the sunset while smoking on the balcony (in a beautifully drawn and lit scene), with what seemed to be an internal debate in her head.

Should she stay, keep enjoying cooking and eating with the nice guy she once dated at the risk of blowing something up that was there before? Or should she leave, and later on look back fondly on those few days when she played house with an old flame? She chose to leave, but I wouldn’t mind if she wasn’t gone for good.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 05 – Miss Never Number One

Rikuo ends up at a new part-time job at a photography gallery, only to encounter co-worker Minato Kouichi, who was in the same third-year class as Haru before she dropped out. He joins them for lunch and exhibits how pretentious he is about photography. Rikuo takes an instant dislike to him.

That leads to yet another coincidence in which Minato is walking Haru home at the same time Rikuo is walking a slightly tipsy Shinako home. Both Haru and Rikuo are irritated by what they see. Shinako tells Rikuo that she’s done walking in circles, while Minato not to subtly hints that he had a crush in Haru in high school, only for her to be completely oblivious.

Minato visits Haru as often at the bar at least as often as Haru visits Rikuo, and eventually asks if she’ll spend a day with him. He formally asks her out, and while she replies with a rant about how much of an asshole Rikuo is, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if she’s “just the backup”, or she’d be lying to herself. Minato expected a rejection, and reveals he dropped out of college to pursue a life of freelance photojournalism.

When Haru says of her pet crow “I kept feeding him, and he got attached to me,” I couldn’t help but notice how similar that is to her approach with Rikuo, intentional or not. Rikuo so often comes off as irritated or annoyed with her (or is so often spotted with Shinako after dark), Haru’s adopted the misconception that he doesn’t care how she feels.

In reality, her reliable and persistent “feeding” of her charming personality to him has made him attached to her, to the extent he’s jealous when he sees her with Minato and even gets into an artistic competition with him. It’s fitting that while Rikuo loses, it’s because Minato’s photo was simply more compelling.

The photo depicts Haru in high school, which stands in contrast to Minato’s earlier screed against portraiture as the photographer forcing his feelings on the viewer. Sure enough, Minato’s affection for the subject suffuses the image, and even Rikuo can’t resist the portrait’s candid beauty and longing. It’s a Haru Rikuo had never seen before, and can never unsee.

One could also look at this photo as a portent for Haru’s eventual dropping out. She looks restless, and her gaze is pointed elsewhere—somewhere more painful yet more rewarding, scarier yet inevitable: adulthood and independence.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 04 – His Lingering Shadow

After three episodes Hayakawa Rou is by far the weakest of the characters, but only because all we’ve known is that Shinako loved his late older brother Yuu, and Rou loves Shinako. She tries to be a good big sis to Rou by cooking him meals, but she can’t give him the one thing he wants from her most. In his frustration, he blames it not necessarily on his faults as a person, but because she can’t let go of a dead guy.

This week we learn why Rou is the way he is. This goes a long way towards making his character more sympathetic—even if he remains the least interesting of the four leads. Since Yuu was always the center of not just Shinako’s but everyone’s attention, Rou had to seek attention elsewhere: by being “the kid who can draw” in his class. Only now he’s in a tougher class in which everyone is that person.

Hell, I was that person in high school, then went to art college and got a rude awakening. It’s an understandable hit to the ego of someone who’d taken for granted one’s superiority in a smaller pool. Still, Rou worked hard to be as good at art as he is, so he’s going to rely on that work ethic to pull him through this phase.

One thing he wants to avoid at all costs is ending up like Rikuo, whom he still can’t believe Shinako even gave the time of day to. Worse, he learns of Haru and Rikuo’s “deal” rudely labeling her a “backup” when the two meet in context at the konbini. Kinoshita insists Rikuo help out in the back, so it falls to Rou to walk the young lady home.

Haru, who it must be said still sees love as in illusion, wonders what Shinako is doing so differently that she is so beloved by both Rou and Rikuo. Ruo rebuts by pointing out how not interested in him that way Shinako really is, but Haru doesn’t want Rou discouraged.

If Rou were to find a way to win Shinako’s heart, that frees Rikuo up for Haru, so she’s firmly on team Rou X Shinako, so gives him a supportive back on the back and runs off with her pet crow, which leads Rou to call her a weirdo.

Rou returns to find his dad and Shinako have already returned to Hanazawa. Once there, his dad informs Shinako that he’ll be renting out the house where they lived with Yuu, and presents her with a box of Yuu’s assembled belongings. In the room where she tended to him until the day he died, Shinako breaks down when she finds the eraser he lent her the first day they met, with the message “baka” concealed by its sleeve.

Outside cheery blossoms glow and she catches a glimpse of Yuu as a student, and she transforms into her younger self to approach him, only for him to disappear behind the tree. In a heartwrenching scene Shinako weeps bitter tears of loss, the shadow of Yuu still looming. It may be “okay to forget” as Yuu and Rou’s dad puts it, but Shinako can probably never fully erase Yuu’s shadow—nor would she want to.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 23 – No Puppet, You’re The Puppet

This is a thrilling powerhouse of an episode, but it starts out a little slow, with over seven minutes of this:

Admin: [Describes in detail horrible things she’s done]
Cardinal: How dare you!
Admin: [Chortles]

Mind you, there are far worse things than listening to Sakamoto Maaya describe her evil plan and chortle. She gives Admin an extra dimension of imperious ethereal swagger.

Once the two pontifexes are done talking, Cardinal decides the only thing she can do is surrender: offer her life—and the guarantee she won’t resist and take potentially half of Admin’s life—in exchange for the three “youngsters.”

Admin agrees, though doesn’t exactly hide the fact that she still plans to sacrifice fully half of Underworld’s humans (40,000 of them) to complete the final version of her sword golem with which she’ll defeat the enemies of the Dark Territory, as well as the real world.

Then she has fun taking several hundred dark lightning potshots at Cardinal. She’s been waiting 200 years to get rid of her, and is clearly savoring the moment. Cardinal warns the others not to interfere—they’re not powerful enough to make a difference anyway—and instead puts all her hope in Admin’s assurances they won’t be harmed.

Something awakens in Eugeo, and suddenly he realizes what he was always meant to do, now that he’s in the time and place to do it. He asks Cardinal to use her remaining power to transform him into a sword, just as Admin turned hundreds of humans into parts of the golem.

The process isn’t exactly quick, and Admin attempts to disrupt it, but Alice is able to block her attacks just long enough for the transformation to complete, and Eugeo becomes a self-moving sword.

The sword wastes no time destroying the sword golem by hitting its weak spot, blowing it to pieces in a tremendous explosion. But Admin is #NotImpressed, and relishes the opportunity to put this “brat” in his place with her superior weapon authority.

Ultimately, Eugeo simply doesn’t have enough to take a suddenly very serious Admin down, and while he does relieve her of her left arm, it comes at the cost of being split in two. The split sword revert back into human form, and Eugeo lies lifeless in a pool of blood.

Admin then describes Eugeo’s mistakes that led to his defeat, then turns to Kirito, expressing her hope they’ll meet again in the real world after she kills him here (she’s apparently unaware he’s only alive here; he’s still in a coma out there).

Having lost Cardinal and Eugeo in quick succession, Kirito is feeling defeated and unable to do anything, but like Yuuki and others in Kirito’s past, Alice steps between him and his death, willing to sacrifice herself so he can live on and complete the mission.

This time, Kirito steps back in front of his protector, parries Admin’s strike, and pushes her back. Alice, totally out of gas, passes out, leaving it a duel between the one-armed Admin and Kirito, for the very soul of the Underworld.

Admin would say he and Eugeo were only puppets for Cardinal, and Kirito continues to serve as a puppet for the good of the masses she sees only as resources, in reality Admin has herself long been a puppet of her own greed and lust for power.

Those traits define her and drive her totally, and they will destroy her, once they butt up against the amassed love and resolve of her foes. The hours of her reign appear to be numbered, but she’s not going down without (another) hell of a fight.

The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 22 – Boy From The Other Side

Chudelkin and his fire demon don’t last long, thanks to Alice distracting the latter with her flowers while Kirito skewers the former—a sitting-duck—while also briefly donning his black suit from SAO. Administrator doesn’t lift a finger to help her loyal Senator. It was up to him to beat the rebels, and he failed. She has no further use for him.

Kirito’s momentary change of clothing proves something to Administrator she’d suspected something was up with him beyong his “unregistered unit” status. Now she knows, and he confirms, that he’s really a human “from the other side.”

When Alice gets to have her say, she ask her former Pontifex why she couldn’t trust the loyalty of her knights without tearing them away from their families and wiping their memories. But everything Administrator—what Quinella—has done thus far offers the only answer Alice needs, even if she doesn’t like it: Quinella doesn’t care about anyone but Quinella.

She doesn’t care about the freedom and happiness of her people. She doesn’t care about her knights beyond their loyalty and ability to defeat her remaining enemies. If they ever start to voice concerns, as Bercouli, Fanatio, and now Alice have done, she’ll simply re-synthesize them, wiping away that much more of their original selves that had managed to surface.

Things get more intriguing when Kirito questions the value of having absolute control over one world when the human creators of that world who dwell on the other side have ultimate authority, able to erase everyone and everything with the tap of a key.

Quinella puts it to Kirito: Does HE only live to please his higher authorities, those who created the human world, out of fear they’ll reset it? She won’t pander to those “gods of creation.” She won’t kneel, beg, or grovel. If they want to punish her by eliminating her existence, FINE.

Until then, she’ll keep perfecting herself and remaking the world she rules as she likes, and that means eliminating threats to her control. To that end, she uses a Release Recollection spell and uses Perfect Weapon Control to merge thirty individual weapons into one extremely dangerous-looking sword golem.

Within a minute, both Alice and Kirito are lying in pools of their own blood; their strikes parried and countered with vicious, one-strike critical hits. Eugeo prepares a final stand, but Charlotte pops out of Kirito’s coat, blows up to enormous size, and gives Eugeo the few moments he needs to thrust the dagger into a floating platform.

The dagger activates a column of light; within that light a door appears, and through that door walks Cardinal, sending the sword golem flying with a quick burst of offensive energy. She quickly heals Alice and Kirito, who introduces her as a friend. Charlotte, unfortunately, can’t be revived, and Cardinal takes a moment to mourn her trusty aide, before turning her gaze at the “hollow fool,” Administrator.

Hollow though she may be, her philosophy of validating her existence through total control (rather than through meaningful, equitable relationships with others) comes through as a tragic flaw in her character. She’s lived so long amassing so much power, the only part of her left that’s human is the worst part; the part devalues and forsakes all the other souls in her world—and it’s looking increasingly likely that will be her undoing. Quinella may be our arch-villain, but I still sympathize with how her life turned out.

I daresay this episode did a better job fleshing her out than her flashback ep, since this was all about who she is today, in person, and not who she was from Cardinal’s perspective. I like how her awareness of the human world gives her a chip on her shoulder and innate drive to disobey, and I’d wonder what else she has up her sleeve…if only she had sleeves.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

The Promised Neverland – 09 – Let’s Get Cracking

By the end of last week, four episodes of The Promised Neverland remained for the kids to escape the farm and survive the aftermath of casting aside their old lives, and all the protections and amenities therein. Even if their lives wouldn’t last much longer than if they’d  stayed put, at least they’d die free.

Alas, for all of the kids’ careful preparation up to this point, the situation has never been more dire. Any hope of Emma escaping on her own two feet has been dashed thanks to Mama’s act of appalling brutality (“clean break” indeed) while Norman is due to be shipped out in a day’s time.

Norman puts on a brave face for Emma, but when he fetches water he betrays a look of paralyzing fear and despair. And yet, once that moment has passed, there’s a decidedly defiant look on his face, like he’s decided and committed to his next move.

When he returns, Ray is with Emma, and they’ve already decided something as well. When Norman proposes they proceed with the escape plan without him once he’s gone and Emma is healed, they reject him in unison. Their counter-proposal: Norman will deactivate his tracker with the device Ray has just completed (using parts from all the various discreet rewards he got over the years), and hide out until Emma heals. Then they’ll all escape together.

Norman is fine with this plan, except for the fact that if he goes missing, they may ship Ray out in his stead. In that case, Ray says he’s willing to have his arm broken so, like Emma, he won’t be suitable for shipping. When Norman asks how Ray found out about the truth of the House, he says he’s always known, since he has memories of his life going back to when he was still in the womb.

Norman agrees to the plan, and the next morning, Norman executes his escape, running to the wall with the backup rope Don and Gilda made, while Emma and Ray stick close to Mama. The music that plays while Norman is running to freedom is epic, hopeful and triumphant.

After he attaches the rope, he holds it taut as he runs up the wall, and manages to grab hold of the top ledge and hoist himself up. A vast forest unfolds in all directions on the other side; a forest full of possibility. If they could get everyone into that forest, the adults would be hard-pressed to find them.

When Mama finally notices Norman is not around, she checks his tracking device, and her expression makes it clear it’s not working. But to Emma and Ray’s horror, she smiles and closes the device, and Norman emerges from the forest, looking like he’d just been drugged or hypnotized.

Turns out it was neither, but simply the look of utter, complete defeat. Only while atop the wall and looking over the other side could he discover the truth: there is a vast, yawning, sheer CLIFF between the wall and the forested land, of a distance they can’t hope to surmount.

Just when the kids’ spirits were at their highest, everything is cruelly snatched away, and their doom feels more inescapable than ever. What an emotional roller coaster; a symphony sorrow; a triptych of tribulation. Those poor damn kids…what are they going to do now?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 18 – The Sword That Cut Through Time

Bercouli Synthesis One isn’t like the other Integrity Knights have Eugeo and Kirito have faced to this point. He’s not in a rush to fight; he agrees not to kill since they didn’t kill his apprentice Fanatio; he calls Eugeo “shounen” rather than “boy-o”; he doesn’t look down on Eugeo or question his existence, or curse his sinfulness.

Yes, Bercouli is a “friendly opponent”, the guy who, inadvertently or not, seems to lull less focused opponents into a false sense of security with his casual, charming manner. But there’s no doubting the guy can bring it, thanks to his Time-Splitting Sword that was once the hand of an earlier Cathedral’s clock.

He’s also more than happy to explain how his move works…but not until he’s already used it and Eugeo has fallen victim to it. Eugeo sees that he can’t make this a close-range fight, but also knows Bercouli wants him to think long-range for his next attack.

Eugeo does indeed go long range—there’s no alternative—but when Bercouli stops and shatters his ice, Eugeo uses the shards to obscure the fact he’s tossed his sword away and made a false one, which also shatters. In Bercouli’s moment of wondering what’s going on, Eugeo releases his real sword from the ceiling, catches it, and stabs Bercouli with it in a smooth sequence of moves.

Kirito would be proud: it’s an Aincrad combo if ever there was one, not only making full use of the surroundings and anything else to gain an advantage, even if the opponent thinks it’s unfair or underhanded. For his part, Bercouli is amused and even impressed by the sheer audacity of someone throwing their sword away in the middle of a fight.

He’s in good spirits because the Eternal Ice didn’t finish him, and he starts to break out of his frigid binds, but Eugeo summons the second memory of his divine object: The Rose, which slowly drains both of their lives. The reason this isn’t suicide for Eugeo is that being a character near the peak of his maximum life, he’s confident that his life will outlast that of Bercouli, who was turned into an integrity knight much later in life.

Bercouli wonders what he’s talking about, miffed that Eugeo presumes to know anything about his past. That response in turn angers Eugeo, who hates how all of these Integrity Knights believe they’re divine beings summoned from the heavens by the Pontifex, when they’re really human beings; their mothers gave birth to them; they lived their own lives.

Even if most of the people in those lives don’t remember the knights, Bercouli is different because the heroic deeds of his life are immortalized in the oral tradition of Rulid Village. It’s as if, in his case, Administrator overlooked the potential means of her first knight recovering his lost memories and thus regaining his humanity.

This is all very good stuff, so it’s a little jarring for a new party to arrive on the scene quite suddenly, especially when that party is of the “goofy carnival clown/jester-class” disposition. Before The Rose fully takes Bercouli’s life, this asshole, one “Prime Senator Chudelkin”, rolls in like a ball, then scolds Bercouli for his “treasonous” act of not going all-out against Eugeo.

Bercouli bristles at this and asks Chudelkin to stay out of the affairs of swordsmen, to no avail. Chuddy puts Bercouli in a Deep Freeze—far deeper than even The Rose—after informing him that both he and Fanatio will be “reprocessed” by the Administrator in due time, and that they’ve found a new pawn to replace him…in Eugeo, calling for Kirito’s help before he freezes over.

That would have been a perfectly respectable, even boss way to end the episode, but SAO:A wasn’t done. We check in with Kirito and Alice resting on a ledge, waiting for more light to keep climbing. Kirito complains about being hungry, assuming Integrity Knights don’t, but he’s shown to be mistaken when Alice’s stomach grumbles.

At that point, he produces the buns Cardinal had given him, and prepares to toast them with a fire spell. Alice snatches them away, and uses a much more appropriate combination of water and air to properly steam the buns right there in her hand. She even jokes about eating them both before handing one to Kirito.

This may seem overly sweet and lightweight after such a comparatively heavy and serious end to Eugeo (which worked despite Chuddy’s horrid design) but I for one enjoyed it, since it’s likely next week won’t have any time for such moments. Kirito, impressed with Alice’s cooking skills, recalls that her little sister Selka is also so skilled, and Alice grabs him like he’d just delivered a grave insult.

She wants to know what he’s on about, and depending on how honest she judges his story, she might kill him on the spot. I had assumed they’d get right back to fighting as enemies once they reached the open floor, but with Eugeo now incapacitated and only Chuddy and Administrator herself left to face, that might not be the case.

It’s possible Alice believes Kirito’s story about her, the memory block is ejected from her head, and the two fight side by side to safe Eugeo and defeat Administrator. But hey, that’s just one possible route; I don’t possess a blade that cuts through time to the show’s future…AKA the LN.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 17 – The Ascent

Considering the Rising Arc has consisted of “climb a few levels, fight a boss, repeat” structure, SAOA has managed to mix things up by demonstrating both the variety of integrity knights and varied ways in which they fight and think, and the variety of ornate settings in which they fight within the cathedral.

Things get shaken up even more when Kirito and Alice end up outside the Cathedral’s quickly-autohealed walls. All of a sudden things get a lot more simple and minimalist, both in where they are—Dangling from Kirito’s sword, with death beneath them—and who they are to each other: enemies who must work together to survive.

Interestingly, Alice inititally wants Kirito to let her plummet to her death, for she wouldn’t be able to live with the shame of being saved by “such a sinner.” Kirito actually has to remind her that as a knight, her life is not her own, but belongs to the church, and to her Pontifex. Whether she has to bear shame or not, it is her duty to live on and protect humanity from the incursion of the Dark Territory.

He even makes the case that his and Eugeo’s “invasion” of the cathedral is the will of the gods and of Stacia, since Alice herself cites that their will is revealed through the actions of her servants. So Alice holds on, lets Kirito raise her up so she can put her sword in the wall just as his slips out, and then she returns the favor and lifts him up.

A Truce it is, then: they will work together to climb to the open-air Morning Star Lookout on the ninetieth-fifth-floor, at which time the truce will terminate and Alice promises to slay him. Kirito soon learns he’ll be doing most of the work on this climb, as apparently Integrity Knights are a pretty specialized sort, and Alice neither has the athleticism (not to mention outfit) to do the gymnastics necessary to climb.

As Kirito climbs in the virtual Underworld, Asuna and Rinko are having lunch when they a Japanese escort ship on the horizon changing course in a maneuver that catches one of Ocean Turtle’s officials off-guard. In a neat little transition from Asuna piercing her salad tomato to Kirito piercing the wall of the cathedral, we return to the climb. I’m not sure what else to say about the brief trip to the real world, except that it’s possible the easy peace Asuna and Rinko of enjoyed may not last.

With the sun setting, Kirito is finding it harder to generate wedge objects, so Alice makes one of her own (gold and fancy-looking, of course), revealing she was letting him make them this whole time even though she could have chipped in earlier.

Eventually they can see a ledge above them where some kind of statues sit, but they begin to transform into dark territory minions, which start to attack the two. And just like that, what had been a tough enough job of climbing the sheer wall is made that much more perilous with these flying beasts.

Since dealing with the minions isn’t going to work of Kirito has to hold Alice up, he decides to hoist her up to the ledge above, in a move that catches her entirely by surprise, but does add some stability to their situation. Once she’s on solid ground, she hoists him up in the same way, though he hits the wall back-first and upside-down.

Detaching the chain so they can both move freely, Alice dispatches two of the three beasts with one slash, then waits for Kirito to take care of the third, asking if he needs any help. He doesn’t, and once he finishes his foe off, she likens his weird Aincrad style to a kind of dance that would be performed on stage at the summer solstice festival.

That’s an odd thing to note, because when Alice thinks about it more, her head starts to hurt. She’s never actually been to the festival, as she initially said, but heard about it from monks…apparently. Or maybe the Alice buried in the Synthesis is starting to claw its way back to consciousness, due to all of her interaction with her old friend Kirito.

Regardless, throughout the climb Alice’s opinion of Kirito seems to soften more and more, until she even offers her handkerchief to the “criminal” to wipe minion blood off his face. Perhaps she doesn’t want him at any externally-forced disadvantage for their 95th-floor duel. But even as an integrity knight Alice doesn’t like the fact their were minions in such a sacred place…it means someone in the church wanted them there.

Cut to Eugeo, who is without Kirito by his side for the first time in quite a while. He continues climbing, and makes it to a hall on the ninetieth floor, which appears to be a bathhouse. There he encounters a man bathing there, covered in muscles and scars: not just any Integrity Knight, but Commander Bercouli Synthesis One. He asks for Eugeo to give him a little time to relax, as he just arrived from a long dragon ride.

Will Eugeo be able to defeat or at least get past Bercouli without help from Kirito? Will Kirito manage to defat Alice, or possibly turn her to their side once and for all before they face Administrator? Either way, their epic climb is almost at an end.

Golden Kamuy – 20 – Inkarmat Holmes

Ah, the seaside. Warm breeze, giant sunfish, sea otter meat, and…swarms of locusts?! Golden Kamuy brings a lot of people together, but then immediately splits them apart, both with the swarm, and with sudden clashing stories about who is dangerous and who is (still) working for Tsurumi.

When Sugimoto, Shiraishi, Ogata and Tanigaki seek refuge in a building and proceed to cook the sea otter stew, they all start to get very horny and see sexier versions of each other (including the latecomer Kiroranke), resulting in a ridiculous sumo orgy. There’s more serious activity afoot outside, as a highly suspicious Asirpa demands Inkarmat tell her how she knows her father.

According to Inkarmat, Nopperabo they’re seeking isn’t her father at all. Her father is a man named Wilk, whom Inkarmat befriended and even fell for (though he only regarded her as a child). Wilk, Inkarmat tells her, was murdered by his best friend…Kiroranke.

That night, just as the others are coming down from the sea otter, Inkarmat mounts Tanigaki and disrobes. While there are any number of reasons she decided to sleep with him (including genuine attraction, which is definitely there) she later attributes the lay with the sea otter’s legendary aphrodisiac effects.

Once everyone is reassembled on the beach, Asirpa immediately confronts Kiroranke with what Inkarmat just told her. When Kiroranke plays innocent, Inkarmat produces evidence in the form of fingerprint matching.

Then Ogata draws his rifle on her, accusing her of working for Tsurumi, but she says she was only using Tsurumi. Tanigaki puts himself between Inkarmat and Ogata’s gun, and Ogata accuses him of letting himself be seduced.

It’s a big mess, with multiple people suspecting each other of murder, or conspiracy, or some such foul play. This week Sugimoto not only gets the horny sumo orgy started, but also plays the role of peacemaker (after all, no one is pointing any fingers at him for anything).

He tells everyone that their mission remains the same: go to Abashiri and meet with Nopperabo for answers. He half-jokingly warns that whoever “makes their move”, resulting in another member of the group suddenly meeting their maker, will share the fate of their victim. Call it Mutually Assured Justice.

Tsurumi’s intel network is formidable, and he is informed the moment the reunited group is headed to the prison. He even has a mole there, posing as a greenhorn noob. His superior officer is ordered by the warden to “feed him to the pigs” when his duplicity is uncovered, but the young lad make quick work of the two inmates who ambush him. Looks like our friends are heading straight into a hornet’s nest. What else is new?

As for the post-credits sequence in which a wagon is robbed in the night by a crack shot with a pistol…not enough info to form an opinion one way or another, except to assume the able gunman in question will probably cross paths with either Tsurumi, Hijikata, or Sugimoto & Co.