To Your Eternity – 10 – The Grand Gugupest Hotel

When the Enemy is about to attack Gugu, Fushi springs into action and shields his brother from the twisting branches by creating a number of spears to parry them. I guess he has learned a few things since his last battle! Gugu wants fight beside him, but is very lucky to survive when the Enemy throws him across the forest.

It may just be the still Booze Man installed in his stomach that saves him, as he proceeds to barf out all of the liquor stored there. When his torch ignites the liquor-vomit, Gugu gets an idea for how he can help Fushi, and races home. On the way, he turns completely red, drunk off the liquor that escaped the still, while Rean is about to be carried off by her helicopter parents.

Drunk Gugu is naturally a less inhibited Gugu, so he doesn’t mince words about loving Rean more than anyone, no matter to whom she’s betrothed. In any case, he’s not there to solve her family drama, but to get a refill of Booze Man’s best booze.

Pioran, the only other person to have witnessed the terrifying power of Fushi’s Enemy, insists that Booze Man do as Gugu says. The old man fills Gugu up with his strongest stuff and sends him on his way, while Pioran stops Rean’s parents from taking her and leaving…because it’s not safe out there.

Gugu, having sobered up, arrives to find the Enemy has absorbed Fushi’s Giant Bear form, and there is no sign of Fushi. But it’s soon apparent that the Enemy, essentially being made of wood, is vulnerable to fire, and Gugu has a fresh bellyful of fuel to play with.

Using his boozy fire breah, Gugu burns the Enemy to the ground, freeing Fushi, who is only flowing light and energy before transforming into a rock, his first form. When Gugu picks him up, he transforms into a wolf dog, and the two tussle mirthfully…though Fushi keeps his promise to bite Gugu if he came back!

The next morning Gugu and Fushi return to the Booze Man’s house where everyone is very confused about what happened (though Pioran probably has a pretty good idea). Gugu celebrates his return by cooking up a feast so delicious, Rean’s parents deem him better than their professional chef.

Fushi, back in the same clothes and with the same rope as the boy when he died since he “reset”, greets his maker, whom no one else can see or hear, outside. The creator tells him in order to become stronger, he cannot be sedentary, but like Rean with her parents, Fushi protests. He wants to stay. The creator tells him that’s also an option.

Back inside, Rean prepares to leave with her folks, and Gugu dispenses some precocious wisdom: The people who keep us alive aren’t necessarily good people, but we aren’t so weak that we can’t endure it. Granted, he’s had to endure a lot more than Rean, but it’s all relative!

Fast forward…four years. Gugu is no longer a pot-bellied boy, but a swole young man, having never stopped his fitness regimen. He continues to assist the Booze Man and feed him and Pioran (who still starts eating before everyone comes to the table). Rean still “runs away” from home on the regular, to see Gugu and Fushi.

And Fushi, having watched Gugu and Rean grow, has himself grown “older”; his hair growing longer and even gaining a slight stubble on his face. He also speaks a lot more naturally, which isn’t surprising considering his teachers and how long he’s been with them. The tenth episode of a planned twenty ends on Fushi’s new family happily enjoying a meal together. If only that happiness could last…

To Your Eternity – 09 – Gugunrise Kingdom

Fushi has rescued, reunited and made up with Gugu, and for the first time he uses his powers…strictly for fun. For the sheer thrill of scaring the shit out of random townsfolk or thrill-seeking teenagers. Gugu has no intention of going back to the house of a man who put a still in his body without his consent, and Fushi doesn’t care either way s long as he’s with Gugu.

As time passes, the penniless Gugu grows hungrier and weaker. Fushi, obviously, needs no sustenance other than stimulation. But his stimulation thus far has prepared him for this eventuality, as he is able to create the pear-like fruit March fed him, along with dango and fish, thus saving Gugu from starvation.

When Meer, who obviously knows Gugu’s scent at this point, shows up at his tent, Fushi calls the sickeningly cute and good boy Joaan, the name the boy gave to his wolf-dog. Fushi describes to Gugu how “his first person” stopped moving and “became empty”, so he “became” him. Gugu hypothesizes that both physical and emotional pain affect his bizarre friend.

He posits that if he were to die and Fushi became upset, he would become him. Gugu thinks this is seriously cool…because, well, it is. But for him specifically, it would mean even if he died, Fushi would still think of him. Gugu describes a life where he had three square meals a day, a soft bed, twin older siblings to play with, a mother and father to care for him, and an older brother to look up to.

Gugu is describing his early childhood, when, for at least a few beautiful, fleeting years, he thought he was part of just such a family and living that kind of life, where a lot of people were thinking of him. As he grew older, he began to realize he and his brother were merely the children of servants to that family. When those servants moved on to a new job, they didn’t take Gugu or his brother with them.

Gugu asks Fushi, the only one who came for him and the only one he can call family, to become him if he dies, then passes out and stops moving. For a second there, I thought that was well and truly the end of Gugu—perhaps succumbing to the nasty side effects of having a still in your gut. Fushi even seems to contemplate absorbing Gugu’s form for a hot second.

For a certainty, To Your Eternity wanted you to think Gugu had died. Then Rean pokes her head into the tent, having finally found the two runaways, and Gugu springs back to life, blushing. Turns out Fushi wasn’t the only one thinking about him or the only one who came for him. Rean tries to drag Gugu out of his ragged tent and back to the Booze Man’s house, but Gugu doesn’t wanna.

Of course, Rean’s motivations aren’t 100%honorable. She says she, Pioran and Booze Man love Gugu, but really they need to bring someone back who knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. But you know what? As someone who likes to cook for my friends and family, I’m fine with part of the reason people love me is that I cook them good food. It makes me happy when they like my food!

Rean is also unconcerned with Gugu’s appearance, and insists that he show her what he really looks like. Gugu doesn’t acquiesce to this, which means Rean doesn’t get a real look at him. It may be because of this she can reveal her own horrible disfigurement and declare with a straight face that if he casts his gaze upon it he’ll see that his own wound isn’t that bad.

The thing is, Rean’s horrible wound is nothing more but a tiny, fading scratch on her arm no more than three inches long.

It is a rare show indeed that makes me laugh and cry with such intensity, but this might just have been the funniest episode of To Your Eternity yet. Of course, tragedy and comedy have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of storytelling itself, it’s just gratifying to see it so effortlessly pulled off here. Just like Fushi, the stronger and more diverse the viewer’s stimulation, the more is learned.

Rean goes on to tell a story that, for her, is a tragic tale of a girl who was never given agency or independence; a girl assigned a role and personality for which no expense was spared to maintain, despite the fact she had zero say in it. It is an obvious mirror image of Gugu’s sob story, told from the POV of the child of the employer, not the employee.

Even so, I do not doubt that from Rean’s perspective, she has suffered, because just like Gugu but through very different (and cushier) circumstances, she was denied the chance to be the best her she could be, which is the one she wanted to be. The grass is always greener, etc.

When Rean tells Gugu how she got her wound—saying that someone pushed her from behind out of malice—Gugu is crestfallen, as this girl misinterpreted him rescuing her from a runaway log as having assaulted her to get back at her family—simply because she never saw the log.

But just as Rean doesn’t care how it looks that someone as rtich and privileged as her is complaining that her life is too comfortable, she also doesn’t gcare whether Gugu is a monster or a human. To her, he’s just Gugu, a weird little boy she’s taken a liking to, so he should come out of the tent and enjoy the wind with her. And if he wants to cover his face, she brought him a pot with eye-holes to wear.

With Fushi having run off to find Gugu’s original mask, he and Rean agree to go looking for him. Their search takes them into town, where Rean is promptly snatched up by a goon hired by her family to retrieve her. Gugu, who later states he doesn’t care about his “circumstances” anymore, commits to simply being himself.

That happens to be someone who will barrel into someone twice his size, catch the falling Rean, and lead her by the hand to safety. As he does, Rean smiles, not just because Gugu is being Gugu, but because she’s living precisely the dream she hoped to live after running away from home. I am seriously loving this tender story of young love, which reminds me of Moonrise Kingdom, itself likely inspired by rom-com anime.

Fushi ends up finding them after retrieving Gugu’s old mask (it’s nice when you can transform into a wolf-dog, complete with a wolf-dog’s sense of smell) and locates Gugu and Rean, who is now wearing the pot to hide her identity from those sent to find her. It isn’t long before they come across a maid who is most definitely not fooled by Rean’s disguise.

It’s here where Gugu and Rean rely on Fushi to cover their retreat, which he does non-lethally by assuming the form of March and writhing on the ground before the maid, who sees the little girl’s arrow wound and has no choice but to tend to her before going after Rean.

While searching for Gugu’s mask, Fushi’s creator paid him a brief visit, warning him to keep his guard up. As the maid carries March!Fushi, he’s suddenly snatched up by a tentacle of the “unspeakable” enemy he was warned about. His creator even narrates that this was bound to happen, as Fushi has failed to gain any sophisticated tactical skills since his last scrape with the enemy, and thus the enemy was always going to strike first.

Even so, something happens that neither the enemy nor indeed the creator might have foreseen: Gugu coming to his rescue. I’m not sure what he can possibly do when he’s just a small human boy and even Fushi seems helpless before the enemy’s power. Indeed, as we’re reaching the halfway point of the 20-episode series, Gugu’s days are surely numbered. But even if resistance is futile, I’m glad he’s there for his friend and brother.

To Your Eternity – 08 – Gugu Unmasked

“Skip Intro” is a well-established and often useful feature to our world of streaming entertainment, but I make it a point to watch every second of To Your Eternity’s OP every week. I can’t not, and not just because “PINK BLOOD” fuckin’ whips. Every time I watch I go through the heartbreak of losing both the arctic boy and March as well as Parona’s trauma all over again. The OP continues to grow more powerful as Fushi progresses on his journey and we meet more of the faces it presents.

Two of those faces are of Gugu (or rather his distinctive mask) and Rean, and the latter (voiced by Iwami Manaka, the voice of Honda Tooru) suddenly decides she’s going to live and work at Booze Man’s place from now on. Gugu isn’t sure what to think about this, because while it will be nice to see more of Rean, the fact she likes Fushi and not him will make things uncomfortable, if not painful.

Then again, pain promotes growth. When Gugu asks “what else” Fushi can do besides transform, he creates a spear. Gugu cuts him with a knife, and after healing, Fushi creates a duplicate knife. When Gugu burns him with a torch, Fushi can only create the stick, not the flame…at least not yet. In reaction to all this “experimentation”, Fushi produces a Marchface, indicating he doesn’t like this.

When Rean shows up bright and early, Fushi still hasn’t come in for work; we later see he’s assumed his wolf form and is sleeping away the day. Gugu asks Booze Man for something Rean can use on her wound, and the coot unexpectedly uncorks part of Gugu’s face and bumps out a strange liquid. When Gugu learns the Booze Man gave him a “new organ” where liquor is stored and ferments (hence his distended belly), Gugu is furious, and runs off.

As usual, the old people are only thinking about themselves. Booze Man wants the valuable booze inside Gugu back, while Pioran is worried about who will cook their meals. Rean is loath to go looking for Gugu since she’s not yet an established part of the “family”, while Fushi outright refuses, still sore over how Gugu treated him in the kitchen, and rightfully scared of the forest besides. He volunteers to cook, but ends up simply boiling a daikon with no salt.

Still, no one comes to look for Gugu, who returns to the tattered tent he and his brother once shared. He gets his job tilling the land back from a kindly father who even invites him to join his family. Unfortunately his kindness and empathy weren’t inherited by his sons, who know about the rumors around town that Gugu is a monster.

Gugu agrees with Chan that he can’t be in a family if the members can’t love one another, and removes his mask to determine if they’ll be able to love what they see. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Later that night while sulking outside, some older kids steal his mask and throw it in the stream, but after realizing the mask doesn’t actually do anything, he throws it right back in, walking through town the next day. Let the people gawk in horror…the faces they make are funnier than his!

Fushi’s attempts to cook, clean, mind the shop, and work the fields all end in failure, but when he asks Pioran (by name!) to teach him those things, she soundly refuses, not moved by the March-inspired dirt balls he offers as tribute. For one thing, she’s got better things to do with her time—sitting around drinking her lover’s excellent booze, for example. For another, she doesn’t want to spoil him, and the best teacher he could ask for isn’t her. It’s Gugu.

Gugu settles back into a routine and puts on a little muscle working in the field, but Chan visits his tent and splashes water on him, telling him not to come back, saying it’s because his dad is such a good man that he doesn’t want Gugu causing trouble with his freakishness. Without work, Gugu runs short on funds, but remembers he has the ring Rean gave him.

It’s clear from the look of the merchant that it is indeed worth enough to ensure Gugu never has to sell produce again, but Gugu can’t see what a monster like him would do with that kind of wealth. So when he discovers his drunk, emaciated brother lying in an alley, he gives the ring to him. Even in his current state he’s better off with the ring than a monster. But while he gives Shin the ring, he doesn’t acknowledge him as his brother. He doesn’t have a brother anymore.

Of course, that’s just not true…he has Fushi! Fushi needs Gugu, and as we see when Gugu is scooped up in the night by bandits prepared to sell him to people a taste for freaks and the cash to spend on them, it becomes apparent Gugu needs Fushi as well.

Fushi bowls into the bandit carrying Gugu in his wolf form, and when the guy and his partner stand their ground, he transforms into the Bear, who, let’s be honest, no one other than Hayase would ever think about fucking with!

With that, the Monster Brothers Gugu and Fushi are reunited. Gugu resented Fushi for being admired by Rean, while Fushi resented Gugu for cutting and burning him willy-nilly, but they’re able to get past that, because that’s what brothers do—well, good ones, anyway…

To Your Eternity – 07 – What’s Lost is Lost

Note: This episode was originally mislabeled as episode 6. It is episode 7. Apologies for the mix-up!

To Your Eternity simply knows how to spin a damned good yarn, no matter the characters or setting. This week shifts the focus to Gugu: a cheerful, energetic, enterprising young lad who lives in a tent with his brother down by the river. The two save up money to one day live in a big mansion they can see in the distance.

While working at a produce stall in the town market, Gugu notices a cute young lady wandering around, looking for something…or someone. That evening an adorable powder-puff of a doglet approaches him and he offers half his dinner to the little guy.

For his generosity, the dog approaches him the next day at the market, and just happens to be who the wealthy girl was looking for. She rewards him with a ring she got as a gift from her father which she says he can sell and never work at a produce stall again.

Gugu clearly appreciates her taking his hand in hers and looking right at him with her stunning amethyst eyes more than any trinket. When he trots home on cloud nine with the ring and a bag full of coins from selling produce, he finds his brother has gone off with all of their money to “pursue his fate”—one of which he clearly didn’t consider Gugu a part.

Crestfallen and suddenly alone, Gugu continues on, but as he watches a primitive train loaded with logs pass, he contemplates—just for a moment—jumping in front of that train in order to “change”. He immediately dispels that thought as madness, but just then one of the logs flies off, and misses hitting him by an inch.

When the train driver runs off to get help, he asks Gugu to watch the log, but the shrub holding it in place gives way and it starts to roll down the hill, where the girl in the green dress happens to be picking flowers by the riverbed. Somewhat incredibly, she hears neither the log nor Gugus yells of warning.

He manages to shove her out of harm’s way, though she takes a tumble and loses consciousness. The log comes right down on his head, smashing it…but miraculously, he doesn’t die. He just changed…just as he wanted to, only not like this!

The spirited old coot who asked Gugu for seeds at the market discovers him some time later, and takes him to his home—ironically, the giant mansion Gugu and his brother envied so. Gugu wakes up on a slaughtering table, with a variety of masks and a helmet staring back at him.

He looks in the mirror and sees that he’s become disfigured. He has a pot belly now, and his nose and face are ruined and grotesque. But the old man, a brewer, says he can still eat, and is incredibly lucky, so he should keep on living. He offers the expressive helmet to Gugu, who slips it on and becomes “a kind of monster” that isn’t him.

Three months later, Fushi and Pioran arrive at the Brewer’s house, and we are where last episode left off. Despite the episode only spending half of its time on his backstory, at this point I was already fully emotionally invested in Gugu as a character, and eager to see how he’d help Fushi change and evolve…until inevitably dying and having his form copied by said Fushi.

But before the pain , some joy, as Gugu revels in meeting a new brother figure, even though he seems to possess the intelligence of a baby and his clothes stick to him in a very odd fashion. Gugu teaches Fushi the ropes as he goes through his busy yet oddly fulfilling routine of hard work leading to a warm and cozy family dinner.

Amusingly, both “Booze Man” and Pioran are eager to profit on Fushi’s uncanniness, but Gugu won’t let them sell or exploit him, and they seem to respect the kid’s wishes, likely glad he’s found a friend.

Then something happens that was always inevitable, but comes as a shock to Gugu: the return of the girl in green, for whom he gladly sacrificed his face to save, even though she hasn’t the slightest clue she was saved by the same boy who found her dog, or that that same boy is manning this shop.

Blushing through his helmet the whole time, Gugu recommends some non-alcoholic provisions that could help the girl with the wound she’s still nursing from three months ago. When the girl blushes in return and asks for his name, he tells her, before she says “not you, him”, referring to the tall, light, and handsome Fushi she proceeds to flirt with. Her name, incidentally, is Rean.

Poor Gugu can’t ever seem catch a break! He also never gives up, but just keeps on grinding. Even if he feels he can never show his face to a girl like Rean, he’ll at least try to make the rest of him attractive, so he starts anm intensive fitness regimen.

Fushi joins in, because he doesn’t sleep and has nothing else to do, and the Brewer laughs his old man laugh, glad that once more Gugu is shaking off heartbreak and pain, and should grow into a good man. Fushi picks up on the old man’s laugh and mimics it, until the two of them and Pioran are all laughing together.

In an arc that’s almost certain to end in tragedy like its predecessors, I will surely take the joy with which this episode ended while I can. March and Parona are still my Mommy and Daddy, respectively, but this new arc will do just fine. It felt like wrapping oneself in a new blanket with a slightly different smell and feel than the old one you were used to. One gets used to the change, just as all of us must.

To Your Eternity – 06 – A Grand Objective

Note: This episode was originally mislabeled as episode 5. It is episode 6.

The original March may be deceased, but she lives on in Fushi, in the same way parents live on in their children…only different, because it’s Fushi, who can take on the physical form of his found mama. Thankfully, it’s not just her climbing ability he’s inherited, but a measure of her profound humanity.

There’s no doubt that March taught him generosity and gratitude, which he pays forward when he reunites with a stranded and hungry Pioran quite by chance. Pioran is her usual sardonic self, but isn’t beneath trying to take a literal bite out of Fushi in his boy form, causing him to switch to his defensive wolf form.

Eventually he becomes March again, climbs a tree, tosses Pioran some fruit, then says “Thank you” in a way that sounds like “This is what you say.” Pioran, in turn, starts to teach him more words, as well as how to write his name, as well as her own, March’s, and Parona’s.

The two make a good traveling team, and Fushi learns more and more, so by the time they arrive at a port town and board a boat to Pioran’s homeland, he’s able to communicate in a more-or-less conversational manner, a far cry from crudely mimicking sounds out of context. The youthful vigor of the late March as well as the seasoned wisdom of Pioran have quickly made Fushi more human than ever.

So it’s terrifying when he’s ambushed one night in the woods by mysterious tree golem-like monster who literally steals Fushi’s boy form, along with most if not all memory of the boy’s life. The narrator arrives and tells Fushi the score: the tree monster is the enemy, and if he wants the boy back, he’ll have to fight…and win.

Fushi transforms into the wolf, but the monster steals the wolf. He transforms into the giant bear, but the monster steals that too. In terms of corporeal forms, he’s down to just March, who while tiny and relatively weak, is quick and agile enough to dodge the monster’s bear form, enter its hollow chest, and grab the core that enables the golem to move.

This is a simply breathtaking action scene, marred only by the low light, which isn’t even that big a deal since it leds a great gloomy atmosphere to Fushi’s building panic at losing his forms. Like the drawings in the boy’s hut (which are updated in the card between the A and B parts), they are Fushi’s family, and he’s clearly distressed about losing them.

Fortunately, his March form is enough to grab the core, give it a good squeeze, and the wolf, boy, and bear flow back into him. He smiles in relief, and the mysterious cloaked narrator introduces himself as Fushi’s creator. He created him with a grand objective in mind: preserve the world before “the coming end”. The tree monster was their enemy, unable to take a true animal form and bent on impeding their objective.

That said, the Creator can tell Fushi can’t quite understand these concepts, and so parts ways with him until later, when he’s lived a little more in the world, and gained a few more forms. Pioran takes him to her hometown and the house of her lover, who is apparently a scholar who might be able to make heads or tails of Fushi. The house is also home to a boy wearing a distinctive mask that hides his face. Pioran rather rudely introduces Fushi as an “immortal freak.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 09 – Estelles;Gate

Last week’s doll-and-face fetish episode, and the grape-stomping maiden episode before it, made for some particularly goofy Journeys of Elaina, making me wonder when and if show would get dark again. Sure enough, this episode arrives with an “Explicit Content” warning, opens on a starving, broke Elaina, and no OP! What the heck are we in for? At the time, I had no idea.

Elaina finds a flyer promising good pay for “ultra-short-term” work, and encounters a fellow Witch, Estelle. Through meeting her, Elaina is pleased to learn that while Estelle became an apprentice when she was younger, it took her longer than Elaina to become a full-fledged Witch. Wand-measuring aside, Estelle is offering a giant sack of gold coins for the job.

What is the job? Well, first, a sad story: Back while Estelle was training abroad, her dear childhood friend Selena’s parents were murdered in a robbery. Selena’s uncle took her in, and proceeded to abuse her. Selena eventually snapped, murdering her uncle, and then several others. It ultimately fell to Estelle to apprehend Selena…and execute her.

Estelle seeks to use magic to go back in time so she can save Selena’s parents and prevent the chain of events that lead to her having to kill her own best friend. Time-traveling requires more magic than any one witch has, so Estelle has been gradually draining her blood to augment the spell.

The other problem is that once they’re actually in the past, Estelle will be drained of all magic, which is why she needs Elaina. By wearing matching magical rings, Elaina will be able to share her magic with Estelle. This job is not without its risks and inconveniences—hence the generous payday.

Elaina, confident and cocksure as always, proudly proclaims herself to be a traveler, and so the next logical step in her journey is to travel through time and see how things used to be in the past. So she slips on the ring, Estelle activates the spell, and off they go.

The witches safely arrive ten years into the past, but only have one hour to do what needs to be done before being sent back to the present. Estelle makes it clear that the timeline in which she executes Selena has happened and can’t un-happen; changing events will create a tangent, but that’s enough for her, as long as there is a timeline in which Selena gets to live on.

Their broom-flight to Selena’s house is interrupted when Estelle spots young Selena walking down the street, and can resist giving her a big hug, no matter how much it weirds the girl out. Elaina notes that Estelle got quie the cold reaction from Selena, but Estelle insists that deep down Selena is very kind.

Estelle proceeds to get Selena’s parents out of the house under the guise that she’s Selena’s half-sister and has business with them. Elaina stakes out the house, waiting for the robber to arrive, but it dawns on her that the murder of the parents was too grisly for a mere robbery. Then her magic-sharing ring glows and shoots a red beam in Estelle’s direction: she’s engaged in battle.

When Elaina arrives, she finds a horrifying sight: Selena has viciously attacked Estelle, and has blood on her mouth just like her photo in the future papers. It turns out Selena’s parents abused her long before her uncle had the chance, twisting her into homicidal mania, even sadism. It doesn’t matter whether Estelle was her best friend or she and Elaina are trying to “help”—Selena is already beyond helping.

While the blood and gore on display in this scene is indeed explicit, I for one am glad we didn’t have to witness the abuse Selena suffered at the hands of her parents, and the warning was meant for the violence. And there is a lot of it—the most in the series’ run for sure.

When Selena prepares to attack Elaina, Estelle gets up and stops her in her tracks. Having worked so hard and sacrificed her own blood to try to save Selena, she is overcome by heartbreak and despair, and there’s nothing left but to kill Selena again before she can kill Elaina or anyone else.

Elaina tries to stop this by removing the ring, but Estelle simply sacrifices her memories of Selena in order to summon enough magic to explode her head off. The hour is up and the two witches return to the present. Sure enough, Estelle doesn’t remember Selena, and barely remembers Elaina. She’s a ruined husk of a witch, and Elaina is so upset by the experience she runs out of Estelles house, pointedly leaving the bag of gold behind.

That, and Elaina’s subsequent breakdown on the bench in front of the clock tower, shows that the effects of this particular journey will (or at least should) last beyond just this episode. Elaina weeps uncontrollably, her confident façade utterly shattered. She no longer thinks of herself as a special or exemplary; only an “ordinary” traveler and witch, inexperienced and unable to do anything.

She’s being a bit hard on herself, as who the heck could have handled that situation better? It was largely out of her hands. The best thing to do would have been to refuse the job, but she really needed money and was intrigued by the prospect of a different kind of traveling. The episode fades to black and the credits roll without images. Black Friday, indeed.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

DanMachi III – 03 – The Fam Meets Xenos

The Guild hall is overrun by enraged humans and beastmen demanding to know what’s going to be done about the monster in the city that threatened a child. Tulle is pulled away by her boss, who has a very special task for her: she’s to deliver a Mission for Hestia Familia. It’s a simple directive: Take the “dragon girl” and go to the twentieth floor of the Dungeon. Unlike a quest, it cannot be refused.

Once the entire Fam is aware of the sitch, Bell apologizes for getting all of them into this, but Haruhime won’t hear of it. No matter what, he mustn’t regret saving Wiene. She herself was saved, and knows how happy it made her, and Wiene surely feels the same way.

Even mini-stick-in-the-mud Lili concedes that they’re a family, damnit, so they’ll support each other in this too. They come up with a plan for surviving a trip to the Twentieth, where they’ve yet to venture. For her part, Wiene is scared to go to the dungeon, but as long as Bell and everyone is with her it will be fine.

The guild letter also features a very ornate border that catches Hestia’s attention. It turns out to be a hidden message only she could read, directing her to be at a certain place at a certain time. After seeing off her Fam, she follows the letter’s instructions and is approached by a grim reaper-looking person who is actually in disguise.

The reaper leads Hestia through a twisting secret labyrinth until they come to a staircase, and from there on Hestia is on her own. I feared for our beloved flip-flop wearing homebody’s safety, but turns out all this rigamarole was so that Ouranos could meet with her as privately as possible.

Meanwhile, thanks to Haruhime’s buffing ability, the Fam is able to reach the Twentieth floor. When they arrive at the spot indicated on the map, it appears to be a dead end, until Wiene hears singing that leads them to a crystal, which when broken reveals a new route.

The party trudges into a pitch-dark cave, which Bell scans with a torchlight until stopping on a massive Lizardman wearing armor and wielding swords. He’s not alone, and the party is soon surrounded by similarly armed and armored monsters, something they’ve never encountered before.

It’s a tough fight—this is their first time on the twentieth—and the show takes care to make that evident. There’s just so many foes, and not only are they strong, but they’re using weapons! Haruhime prepares to sacrifice her body to shield Wiene, but Makoto and Welf arrive in time to parry the Lizardman’s blade.

That gives Bell enough time to summon his Bell-Fist Attack, which he uses to punch the everloving shit out of the Lizardman’s face, sending him flying. Then something odd and wonderful happens…the Lizardman laughs a monstrous laugh that gradually turns into a human voice! He stands up, dusts himself off, and is joined harpy Bell and Welf first met in the woods.

The lizardman and harpy have names—Lyd and Ray—and the battle was merely a test to see if Bell and the others would turn tail and abandon Wiene when things got rough for them. They didn’t, and so they pass and are welcomed as friends of Xenos: a new and growing race of intelligent monsters.

Turns out Ouranos didn’t summon Hestia as some kind of nefarious plan, nor does it seem he’s a villain (at least not yet). On the contrary, Hestia Familia has already done with Wiene what he intends to do with all of Xenos: protect them. He very carefully reached out to Hestia because he believes she and her Fam can help bridge the gap between the species.

Not all monsters are monsters anymore. It’s a massive paradigm shift, and if not managed properly, it could spell doom for Xenos. I just hope Ouranos’ intentions are as honorable as they seem to be so far.

DanMachi III – 02 – An Adorable Bomb Waiting to Go Off

After consulting with gods she can trust, Hestia determines her Familia will only find answers about Wiene back in the Dungeon. However, Makoto and Haruhime stay home to keep Hestia and Wiene safe. Bell, Welf, and Lili manage to recruit Aisha, who just happened to be passing.

Ryuu initially didn’t want to take off work but is determined to protect Bell’s honor from Aisha, so she comes too. Whether it’s because Wiene is somehow sapping his power or the mere fact the monsters they face resemble Wiene, Bell’s fighting just isn’t up to snuff, something both Ryuu and Aisha find strange.

While Lili keeps the other two women busy, Bell and Welf return to the wood where they found Wiene. They don’t really learn anything, but they do encounter another talking monster, who has feathers and asks them if it’s possible to coexist rather than killing each other. They also cross paths with the gang-like Ikelos Familia, led by Dix.

Back on the surface, Ikelos is sent by Dix (he’s the odd god who is given errands, rather than issuing them) to investigate the missing vouivre, and Bell isn’t able to mask his shock about being asked about a talking one. Fortunately Hermes happens to be passing (seems to happen a lot with Bell while in Orario) and bails Bell out, while warning Ikelos he’d better not be up to no good (he is).

Back home, while Wiene plays hide-and-seek with Haruhime, Lili tells Welf, Mikoto and Hestia her earnest belief that their Familia should cease harboring Wiene. Taking emotion out of the equation, Wiene is no better than a bomb going off, so even if she’s despised for it, Lili knows they, and not Bell, must decide before it’s too late. Wiene overhears everything, is devastated, and flees.

As if to underscore Lili’s very legitimate concerns, it only takes a couple of minutes for Wiene to cause havoc, by no fault of her own. When she saves a little girl from falling cargo after a rope snaps, she uses one of her wings to do so. When the girl turns around, she doesn’t see her hero, just a vicious monster. A mob soon gathers and starts stoning her. Before Bell leaps out to save her, Lili goes ahead of him in Elf Mode.

Meeting back in the secret room of Hestia’s old cellar, their original home, Bell holds Wiene and tries to comfort her. But neither he nor anyone else can ease the pain of knowing that on the possibility of her being able to stay with Bell and the others, it’s not looking good at all!

This season of DanMachi is taking a good hard look at the long-established structure of society in its world, tossing an adorable bluish-gray wrench into the works. Yes, monsters have always been mortal enemies of humans and demihumans. But Wiene clearly isn’t. She doesn’t belong in either world right now, but not we know she’s not the only one.

That means either she and her brethren will be destroyed, or the world will have to change to accommodate their existence. Whether Lili likes it or not, Bell and their Familia has been chosen as the ones who will either keep the cycle of hatred and death going, or herald a new era of coexistence.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 01 – Monster in the Family

Cranel Bell and the Hestia Familia are riding high after their recent victories, but all that could be threatened by one chance meeting in the woods of the nineteenth floor of the Dungeon.

Bell happens upon a naked and positively terrified little monster called a vouivre, who is being attacked by humans and stronger monsters alike. With a heart as soft as his hair, Bell protects the monster, covers her up, and brings her along when the party returns to the eighteenth.

The problem is, once the monster trips and reveals she’s a monster (and not another girl Bell has picked up in a Dungeon) everyone but Bell pulls out their weapons and orders Bell to step away. That’s because monsters and human/demihumans have never and will never get along. It’s just The Way Things Are.

While Bell doesn’t dispute that basic truth, the fact is it’s possible there are exceptions to that truth, and that this monster could be one of them. For one thing, she starts to say words, something nobody has ever heard a monster do. More importantly, she’s not trying to kill them. She seems far more frightened of them than they should be of her.

The other Familia members allow Bell to bring the monster home where Hestia can issue a ruling, but despite being a goddess this is uncharted territory for her as well. For now, she has Bell take responsibility for something that looks like monster but is acting like a human girl, and has him name her Wiene.

From there, Bell spends all his time with Wiene, showing her the ways of the human/demihuman life goes. Haruhime assists and organically comes to take a very maternal tack in caring for her, making sure she’s clothed, fed and happy.

Then there’s an scary, heartstabbingly sad moment when Wiene is just having fun roughhousing with Bell, and her monster claws accidentally dig deep into his arm, causing a spray of blood. After hours of harmless fun, everything seems poised to go sideways in a split-second.

But ultimately what matters isn’t the act of scratching Bell, but the intent—there was none; it was an accident—and her reaction—she’s shocked and terrified to tears. More importantly is how Bell responds, not with anger, but with a warm smile and assurance that everything’s okay. When he smiles, Wiene knows she can smile too.

Mikoto admits to being afraid of Wiene despite how harmless she seems—it’s hard to overcome millennia of instinct. Even so, when Wiene praises Mikoto’s cooking, she gradually joins Haruhime in the Wiene Fan Club.

Even Welf files her claws down into stylish black nails, allowing her to playfully poke Bell’s face without hurting him. It seems the entire Familia is chipping in to take care of the poor girl—and they’re starting to see her as one of their own.

When the whole Familia is relaxing in the living room, Wiene learns the word “love”, and Haruhime leads the charge in declaring her love for Bell. Hestia, Welf, and Mikoto echo the words, leaving Lili as the sole holdout, who finally relents and admits she loves Bell too when Wiene flashes those big orange eyes in her face. Bell in turn tells everyone he loves them too, because that’s what a family is.

But later that night, as she lies wearily on the couch, Lili tells Welf that something isn’t sitting right. If they play their cards wrong and word gets out they’re harboring a monster, it could mean the ruin of Hestia Familia. That aside, she just can’t trust a monster, even an obviously adorable one in Wiene. Things can’t stay the way they are.

Bell and Hestia likely realize this as well, but Wiene’s well-being, comfort, and happiness are coming first because they are kind-hearted, nurturing people who will protect the weak and help those who need help. Is Bell getting too emotionally attached?

Wiene’s disturbing “dreams” where she’s “very angry” and everything “gets dark and red” seem to support Lili’s worries about her; she may not be a monster now, in bed with Bell and Hestia, but they have no idea if or how the monster within could emerge.

It’s a complicated development to open the third season. Both Bell and Lili’s positions have their merits, but hopefuly a compromise can be made that doesn’t end up hurting Wiene (if she doesn’t end up being a threat). Meanwhile, Hermes’ Fam is searching for monsters being smuggled as well as chasing rumors about talking monsters; maybe others like Wiene?

In addition, we’ve a harpy character waiting in the wings (no pun intended), a dragon dude who can make a stone clone of himself (I think!) and a moment in the ED when Ais points her sword at Bell—will they end up on opposite sides of this issue after getting along so well last season? We’ll soon find out. DanMachi is back, and it’s humming as usual.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Deca-Dence – 12 (Fin) – A New Grand Process

When Jill tells Natsume that Kaburagi has connected with Deca-Dence to become Kabu-Dence, Natsume is momentarily bewildered by her Boss’ constant changing forms. But change is at the heart of this episode, and ultimately the salvation of free cyborgs and humans both.

Everyone rallies behind Kabu and Minato, with the Gears logging in en masse to participate in the game’s climactic “Final Mission” while Donatello fills in Kurenai and the Tankers.

Minato and Jill are concerned that despite a successful connection, Deca-Dence isn’t doing anything. That’s because Kaburagi first has to deal with something very similar to Neo in The Matrix Reloaded when he meets The Architect. In this case, it’s The System itself, telling him that even bugs are a part of the system, meaning anything he does will be within the System’s calculations.

But if that were the case, why try to stop him? Kabu doesn’t buy that cog-in-the-machine crap anymore; he’s living his life by the precepts gained through Natsume: push yourself to the limits in order to help create a better, freer world. With that declaration, and Natsume simultaneously smashing her arm to pieces “waking” Boss up, Kabu-Dence finally stirs to life.

With glowing tendrils it reaches out at all the hunks of debris throughout its surroundings, which were brought back to life thanks to the Gears and Tankers topping them off with oxyone. To Kabu’s distress, one of the people helping is Natsume, initially trying to push a huge part all by herself before being joined by Kurenai and her Tanker comrades.

With less than ninety seconds until total spacial displacement, Minato orders the now charged and upgraded Kabu-Dence cannon to fire upon Gadoll omega, the beam of which Donatello deflects by sacrificing his Gear avatar. It fires, and there’s a big boom but…it doesn’t work. The beam wasn’t strong enough to break through omega’s adamantoise-esque shell.

With under forty seconds on the clock, Kabu seems resigned to oblivion…until stored memories of Natsume’s best and most formative moments flash before his visual interface. Natsume herself was drawn within Kabu-Dence’s machinery, and her presence seems to snap Kabu out of giving up.

Kabu-Dence’s limiter is suddenly removed, enabling a far more powerful attack even with the oxyone stores depleted. The blast is enough to destroy Gadoll omega, but completes the destruction of Deca-Dence as a mobile fortress in the process.

Whether due to the strain of the limit break attack or damage to his body caused by falling debris, Kaburagi concedes that his time has finally come. The System was right about one thing—that he was going to die either way. Left out of that statement is the fact he wouldn’t die until after he successfully broke that system, with the help of his friends.

When Natsume finally finds Kabu’s cyborg body, his face is broken and the one light remaining behind is about to go out. Natsume lets some tears fall, but she doesn’t lose it; she merely expresses gratitude to her boss and assures him she’ll be okay on her own from now on. He gave her and every human and free cyborg a chance.

Three Years Later, and Deca-Dence is now a bustling city surrounded by verdant farmland, where humans and cyborgs peacefully coexist. Under “Supreme Administrator” Minato’s leadership and Jill’s scientific prowess, the game has changed: no longer a brutal battle in which Tankers were cannon fodder and servants, now cyborgs share in the labor and betterment of the new civilization beside their human friends.

Natsume has started a business taking cyborg tourists out on exploration and adventure trips. Her new arm can become a helicopter rotor, which is pretty awesome and also makes her a kind of unique conduit between the human and cyborg experience. As she promised, she made a life for herself and thrived without boss around. But that doesn’t mean when Jill eventually manages to bring Kaburagi back, using his backup data and a new avatar body, she isn’t glad to see him again!

It’s a fast, focused ending and the epilogue-over-end-credits is perhaps a bit rushed (I’d have loved to spend more time in this lush, just new world). But seeing Natsume’s face light up once more as she recognizes him emerging from the glaring sunset is as fitting image as any on which to close the book on the tremendously entertaining and unflinchingly relevant Deca-Dence.

Season Average: 9.17

Deca-Dence – 11 – Being a Mistake is What Makes It Right

Spoilers: Natsume does not meet her maker by Hugin’s hand this week. Instead she’s saved by two things: Hugin’s momentary distraction with the new Gadoll bug, and Kabu managing to log back in as the orange Gear and shoot Hugin through the chest, thus logging him out of Deca-Dence. It’s a bit convenient and plot-armory, but fine, it’s not like I wanted Natsume’s story to end in that trailer.

After that, Natsume must quickly wrap her head around the fact that the Boss she knows who is lying dead on the ground is just an empty avatar, and the Boss himself is in the orange Gear body. Minato’s crew determines the massive Gadoll to be a bug that survived the GGS. The System designates it Gadoll Omega, and orders Deca-Dence to take it out.

But while this Gadoll bug isn’t that much larger than the largest Gadoll they’ve fought and defeated in the past, it’s much tougher, not only absorbing Deca-Dence’s fist blow in its crab-like claws, but shoving Deca-Dence back, doing critical damage to its movement apparatus. When Solid Quake’s orbital HQ uses its Solid Cannon from orbit, the Gadoll meets that beam with its own red one…and wins.

It’s the first time we’ve seen the pristine Solid Quake HQ ship damaged, and it’s enough to spook The System into pure Self-Preservation Mode. To that end, the entire Deca-Dence program is being shut down. Hugin is replaced by Munin, who politely announces to Minato that all Deca-Dence facilties are to be reverted along with Omega via the spacial decompression device—a fail-safe in case the game ever threatened the System.

Suddenly, there’s six hours until the end of everything on the planet surface, including what remains of humanity. But Jill, reestablishing contact with Kabu, says there’s still a way for a user to log in with Deca-Dence itself as their avatar. She knows this because prior to being designated a bug, she helped build Deca-Dence’s core.

Kabu and Natsume go their separate ways, but Natsume assumes they’ll meet up again at some point, while Kabu is ready to not return, as he’s volunteered to take the reins of Deca-Dence. His jeep passes Natsume, marking the first time she’s seen his cyborg form. Of course, she only gets a brief glimpse and has no idea it’s him.

At the epically huge and cool-looking core, Minato confronts Kabu, telling him there’s still time to run, to which Kabu asks where to? When Minato admits he has no idea what he should believe or do anymore, Kabu tells him he was once the same way, and simply waiting to be scrapper, until he met Natsume the Tanker Bug, who taught him he can make his own choices.

Then the best thing ever happens: Natsume meets Kabu’s cyborg comrades…and after a few moments of profound confusion, accepts it, finds them adorable, laughs, and introduces herself. Now Jill sees why Kabu has gone so far for a human bug’s sake. Jill herself has a bug still within Deca-Dence she’s hoping will make a difference.

Minato decides to help Kabu log in as Deca-Dence after all. While it’s true Deca-Dence is an absolute wreck, perhaps being under Kabu’s direct control (rather than the System’s) combined with Jill’s surprise bug, could conspire to unlock heretofore unseen abilities.

They’ll need everything they can get in the forthcoming finale, as the twin existential crises of the still-evolving Gadoll (and its brood) and the countdown to self-destruct will both have to be dealt with if anyone is to survive.

Deca-Dence – 10 – Not All Right At All

When Kaburagi tries to tell Natsume the truth in a masterfully-directed scene in which we feel her disorientation, Natsume passes out, much like Neo when Morpheus first tells him he’s in the real world (though she doesn’t vomit). Could it be her status as a bug depended on her believing the lie? Did Kabu break her with the truth?

We’re left in suspense after she faints, as the episode cuts to the three techs evacuate the Gadoll Factory. The director tells his subordinate to simply leave the tiny cute Gadoll, as it’s already dying, and the Gadoll sticks two little tendrils into him. By the time he notices they left red welts on his green belly, the elevator goes out of control.

As Kaburagi drives Natsume back to Deca-Dence, she wakes up yelling and he puts the brakes on. Once he calmly explains to her what’s going on, she takes hold of the part about him deceiving her. She’s not shocked anymore so much as betrayed and disappointed. She also wishes Kaburagi never told her the truth—saying this through broken glass is a nice touch, as her world is now thoroughly shattered.

After what is no doubt a wordless trip home, Kabu returns to find Pipe has disintegrated along with the other Gadoll as he expected (it’s an absolutely gutting scene, and perfectly staged and lit). Natsume hangs around the elated Tankers celebrating the apparent end of the war, but when she’s approached by Kurenai, she runs off.

In a way the truth as told to her by Kabu did break her. Wallowing in a dark alley, she no longer knows what to do, who to trust, or if any of her efforts ever mattered in the first place. Having pushed herself to her limits, she finds herself in the same position as Mei when Natsume became a soldier: why couldn’t things stay the way they were?

It’s only when Kaburagi is about to log out when he notices the note Natsume wrote him still lying unread on his desk. It’s a simple message, with the part about letting her know when he’s back crossed out, but still readable. Kabu decides the best way to apologize is to hand-write a letter of his own to her.

The Tankers may be celebrating, but the revolution is not over, and they’re far from free. The cyborg admins basically put Deca-Dence on pause for all Gears, and Hugin stalks around the Tank searching for Natsume. This is especially chilling since Kabu logs out after writing his letter, leaving Natsume alone and exposed.

As for the little Gadoll that could, it is reborn within the dead green factory director’s belly (he and his team don’t survive the elevator drop) It bursts out, Alien-style, then proceeds to devour the three bodies, and begins to…grow.

With the prison overrun by police when Kabu logs out, he, Jill, Donatello and the surviving inmates flee in a jeep, which I believe is the first time we see cyborgs interacting directly with “human” machinery. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition to say the least! When Kabu learns Hugin is in Deca-Dence he races to get to Jill’s hideout so he can log back in.

Hugin hasn’t quite found Natsume, but Kurenai does, and allowing Natsume to talk about how she feels (or doesn’t feel) without judgment. Asking questions about what she should think or feel or do, Kurenai tells her simply that she’s glad she’s back and unharmed, and everything else is up to her; the opinions of others are ultimately only supplementary to her choices. It’s a lovely, elegant scene between the two women in which Kaburagi doesn’t even come up.

That said, when Natsume returns to her home and finds and read’s Kabu’s heartfelt letter, she learns a lot more about him, how he was about to off himself when he met her, and how she changed him for the better. The words of his letter are beautifully accompanied by a montage of the moments in his and Natsume’s lives that he mentions.

With this, Natsume rushes to Kabu’s trailer, and just happens to whack him in the head when she throws open his door; he had just logged back in; great timing! Natsume gets everything he’s said now, but doesn’t like the connotations in the letter that suggest that he’s leaving again. If he is resolved to breaking all the rules, as she says with certitude: “he’ll have her help”.

It’s an absolutely heartwarming reunion and reconciliation of our co-protagonists, and Deca-Dence knows it…which is why it chooses the very moment Kaburagi agrees to let her keep helping him that he’s impaled through the chest by Hugin, who expected him to return to his trailer.

In his haste to reconcile he completely forgot the danger he and Natsume were in. His life’s blood splatters across a shocked Natsume’s face, and back at the hideout Jill tells the logged-out Kabu he can’t return to the Kaburagi avatar. Natsume is all alone with his lifeless avatar, and a sinister, smirking Hugin tells her she won’t escape, for The World Must Be Rid Of Bugs.

If that weren’t enough, our little Gadoll friend has grown quite a bit…into something that looks bigger than all of Deca-Dence; perhaps the largest Gadoll ever. Kabu and Jill watch as it rises over the horizon, no doubt still hungry and ready to devour everything and anyone it can get its hands on.

This giant Gadoll, sole survivor of the GGS, may even be out of the control of Hugin and the system, unless that ship in orbit has some serious space-to-ground firepower. If that’s the case, perhaps the Gadoll can be somehow used to help break the system, instead of just everyone.

Stay with me here…but what if the Gadoll, with their potential for collective intelligence, know that Kaburagi and Natsume were kind to Pipe? That’s all I’ve got for now, because as audacious as Deca-Dence continues to be, I can’t see this ending with the heroine being unceremoniously killed off.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 13 (Fin) – Lost and Found

Pecorine tells Kokkoro that they’re in Landosol Castle, and that the painting is of her, Eustania von Astrea, Princess of Landosol. When she came of age, her parents sent her off on a solo adventure to see and hear her people firsthand and return a better, wiser leader from the ensuing experiences.

However, upon returning home, Eustania found that an impostor—Karyl’s mistress—assumed her identity, and no one in the castle, not even her parents, know who she is. Barely escaping the cat woman’s magical attacks, Eustania left the castle once more and became friends with Kokkoro, Yuuki, and Karyl, and the rest is history.

Even so, her past trauma made Peco believe that one day she’d lose her new friends just like she lost everyone else before; that the closer she got, the more distance they’d keep from her. Kokkoro immediately puts that assertion to bed with a long nurturing hug and head-pat, assuring Peco that whatever her name or past, their time together has formed an unbreakable bond.

Karyl was listening in to all this through the doorway, and feels the same way, even though she feels wrong for defying her “Majesty”, who it’s clear took advantage of Eustania’s adventures away to steal her throne and alter everyone’s memories.

Karyl doesn’t know what to do about that any more than Peco, but here and now she’s going to help her friend by facing the Shadow Boss. Of course, when Karyl’s about to be killed, Peco swoops in to protect her and selfishly continue to ask that she fight by her side.

The Shadow Boss is more powerful than any one member of the Gourmet Guild—even Peco—but once Yuuki returns from a protective null space created by Labyrista, and gathers a few more memories as well as the powers within him, the four friends create a united front and defeat the monster in a gloriously colorful and chaotic final battle.

When it’s over, the quartet is transported back to the tavern where all of their friends are hugely relieved and ecstatic to see them after fearing the worst had happened. The false Eustania still reigns as Princess, but rather than press her claim, Pecorine is content to let the impostor hold her throne, at least for now.

I too would be loath to give up the life she found outside the castle walls: full of loving friends, a cozy home, exciting adventures, and of course, delicious food. And from the look of Karyl when Peco pulls her into a big hug, the others are just fine with things the way they are too. When the time comes to get back what’s hers, I’m sure the Gourmet Guild won’t hesitate to support her.

Princess Re:Dive was similarly content to tell small, fun cozy stories throughout much of its run, but like our heroes proved that when things start getting more dramatic and perilous, it could deliver the goods, and then some!