The Promised Neverland – 05 – The Sheepdog

When Norman confronts Ray about being Mama’s spy, Norman stays calm. In fact, he’s even a bit amused he was found out, like he knew this time would come one day. Norman’s just too smart for his own good. For his part, Ray doesn’t deny anything, but he does explain that he did it because it had to be done.

If we’re to believe his explanations (and for now, at least, I do) Ray has been playing a very long game with Isabella, which has netted him information that would be vital to any possible escape plan. He knew someone would have to be in Mama’s pocket in order to learn what needed to be learned and gain her trust (as much as anyone can gain her trust).

Taking a page from Emma’s Book of Compassion, Norman agrees to forgive Ray as long as he agrees to be his spy as well. Ray agrees, but only if Norman tricks Emma into thinking they’re taking everyone. Other than Gilda and Don, the little ones will be a burden, both during and after the escape, and Ray didn’t spend years being Mama’s informant for everyone to get killed in a futile attempt to get everyone out.

Immediately his meeting with Norman, Ray meets with Isabella, telling her the others continue to use tag as practice, but focuses Mama on Sister Krone as the primary threat. Ray is well aware Krone was brought in as an insurance policy on Ray, but if she’s not watched closely and her ambitions stamped out, Isabella may be in big trouble. For her part, she doesn’t seem to consider Krone that much of a threat. Ray might be able to use that.

As for Norman, Ray’s insistence not everyone can be saved triggers a nightmare for Norman, in which everyone, including Ray and Emma, are killed and have flowers sprout when they attempt the escape. Not the most confidence-building dream!

Still, Norman plays ball, even as Ray just comes right out and admits to Emma that he’s Mama’s informant. Rather than get mad at Ray, Emma is sympathetic to the burden he’s had to bear, allowing child after child to be shipped off as he played his role.

It’s notable that while Ray has “endured” six years of shipments, Conny alone was enough for Emma and Norman. She doesn’t ask Ray for details of exactly how many he allowed to be sacrificed to learn how to disable the tracking devices, but takes firm hold of his hand and tells (warns?) him not to do it again.

Gilda and Don feel left out of most of the private convos between the other three, but Gilda and Emma start observing Mama more closely, and Emma discovers there’s a secret room where she does…something (Ray suggests it’s where she contacts HQ). Don is itching to get in there, but Ray urges caution, and Norman agrees.

But Don doesn’t feel like caution. He doesn’t know Conny is actually demon food, and so he wants to escape and save her ASAP. To that end, he and Gilda enters Mama’s room, and Gilda slides a bookshelf aside to reveal a locked door…just as someone else is about to enter the room and catch them red-handed. Too rash by half, Donny!

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The Promised Neverland – 04 – The Merit in Betrayal

If there was any doubt that Isabella also considers this a game of chess against the smartest of her stock, she makes sure Sister Krone understands that her role doesn’t extend beyond that of her pawn. Informing her that she’s well aware of her behind-the-back plotting, Isabella  promises Krone that if she cooperates, she’ll be a Mama of her own. Predictably, Krone privately fumes and resolves to unseat Isabella rather than wait to be promoted. No doubt Isabella knows she could still be betrayed.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray continue escape practice thinly disguised as tag, only this time in teams led by older kids rather than everyone on their own. There’s a lot of attention paid to the hierarchy of the teams and the patterns of their movement; Ray insists Emma memorize all 100 formations he’s devised, and while Emma seems initially reluctant, she responds with “Easy Peasy,” because it most certainly will be easy peasy compared to escaping the farm for real.

It’s not lost on the trio that there’s a traitor in their midst, and they’ve already cast most of their suspicions on Gilda and Don. When Ray tells Emma to go against her kinder nature and suspect them, it isn’t long before everything they do looks suspicious to her. How will the escape ever succeed if they can’t trust everyone escaping?

It’s for this reason that Norman uses one card only they can play: the element of surprise, not in that they’re escaping, but when. With the pattern of the schedule, Mama has basically dared them to use all of the month-plus they have left until the next shipment. But Norman knows they can’t go by the schedule they’ve been handed; they have to escape sooner…much sooner, in just ten days.

To achieve that, they need to start filling in the other older kids, starting with Gilda and Don. The POV animation of the three slowly climbing the stairs to the library really transported me into their shoes and added to the tension and stress with each creaky footstep.

At first Don thinks it’s a big joke, but Gilda knows Emma well enough to know she’d never joke or lie about such things. Norman lies that the kids who left were victims of human trafficking, since the cold reality might just be too much. Gilda and Don ultimately both agree that an escape attempt is the only choice.

Ray doesn’t like how Norman left out the truth to Gilda and Don about all the kids dying and being eaten, but for Norman the escape must come first; he’ll deal with the backlash from bending the truth once that objective has been completed. He’s also set traps for Gilda and Don by giving them different locations for their escape rope.

That night, Emma pretends to sleep and watches Gilda sneak out of the bedroom. What Emma can’t see through the door is that someone I initially believed to be Gilda slips a piece of paper under Isabella’s door with the location of the rope: under Norman’s bed. It must be noted that Norman told Ray that he’d tell Don it was under the bed, not Gilda.

After the paper is delivered, Gilda visits Krone’s room, and Emma listens in from behind that door. Things get a little tense in there, with evidence wavering between Gilda being Krone’s informant and not, but in the end, Gilda does what Emma hoped for and refuses to give up any information.

The next day, Norman wonders out loud why someone would betray their family; Ray tell him there must be some kind of incentive, like being promised they’ll be allowed to live and grow up to become an adult.

Later, Norman asks Emma if she’d let the traitor escape with them even if they betrayed them; Emma predictably and quickly answers that of course she would. She wouldn’t consider the traitor a bad person, because none of them are bad people. Again Emma proves she’s the emotional and moral heart of this show.

But when Norman and Ray search the two spots where the rope was hidden, Norman says there’s nothing under the bed, and Ray says that must mean Don is the traitor. Only now Norman is convinced that Ray has been the real traitor all along. There’s certainly already a wealth of evidence to support that, but we’ll see if Norman’s right, and if so, how Ray will explain himself. Until then, things just got a lot more complicated.

The Promised Neverland – 03 – More Chess than Tag

Isabella is already well-known by her new assistant, Sister Krone, not only for being the youngest “Mama” of a “plant” for consistently producing the finest “product” available. But she’s no doe-eyed acolyte eager to learn Isabella’s ways. Her very first night there, Krone is already planning to usurp her boss, who gave her all the ammo she’ll need: Isabella isn’t reporting the two children who witnessed a “harvest.” That could get her fired or worse if the bigwigs find out.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray have just one more difficult variable to consider during their preparations for what’s already looking like a hopeless escape plan. When told to “think like the enemy” in finding a place where a tracking device could be implanted, she inspects Carol, the newest addition to the farm, and finds a red bump behind her ear.

I probably could have done without the demon business meeting (complete with some kind of steaming brew but no donuts), as it kinda detracts from their mystique, but at the same time, despite their frightful appearance these monsters carry on pretty banal lives; with the lower classes of demons serving the upper classes.

Perhaps the kids could exploit the inherent discord within such a strict caste system, but first things first: all the logistics required to get everyone off the farm safely. They agree that it’s too risky to attempt to destroy their ear trackers lest they trip an alarm, so they focus on getting everyone out first.

They know many of the kids will either be too young to understand or old enough not to believe a word of what they’re saying (everybody loves Mama after all), the trio decide to disguise the escape as a harmless game of tag. Emma sets to work improving the kids’ physical condition, while Norman and Ray coach them up on the proper way to survive…”tag.”

Unfortunately, their subterfuge doesn’t fool Sister Krone for one second. She’s suspicious of the three to start, and unlike Isabella intends to ship them out sooner than their official ship date so she can snitch on Isabella for breaking protocol and grab power.

Krone is also physically superior to all of the kids, being an adult in pretty good shape. She challenges the kids to a game of tag, betting she can capture them all in twenty minutes. She lures most of the younger kids out of their hiding spots by making cute cutout shapes in leaves.

Once she’s spotted Emma, it’s only a matter of exhausting her and forcing her to find a hiding spot. It’s a place where there are only so many such spots, and Emma has the disadvantage of having tried to run with two young ones in her arms. The moment when Krone’s voice suddenly grows louder and clearer as she suddenly looms over Emma was…well, pretty frightening!

Norman manages to give Krone the slip, and Ray is the one to announce that her time is up. She’s impressed by the trio of troublemakers, but only insofar as she’s impressed by prime livestock. Now that she knows the actors, their strengths and weaknesses, and that there’s more to their tag than mere play she’ll be keeping that much closer an eye on them.

Not to mention she’ll have an extra set of eyes in the form of a “traitor” in Gilda. When Norman and Ray put the pieces together to determine there’s such a traitor among them, you can see Emma’s spirits plummet. All this time she’s thinking of getting everyone out of the farm to spare them the stuff of nightmares, but the adults already have at least one kid—and it could be anyone—working against her efforts, as well as that kid’s own interests.

In any case, it’s clear this won’t be as easy as a game of tag. Emma, Norman and Ray will have to think two, three, four or more moves ahead of Krone and Isabella, and even make sure the mole doesn’t see or hear what moves they’ll make. What they’re playing, then, is a game of chess, in which checkmate spells death.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 03 – The Grateful and the Ingrates

Only a week has passed after the fight in the mines, but Naofumi and Raphtalia have leveled up to a respectable degree. The armorer says as much, and all the extra discounts and freebies the demi-human gets confirms to Naofumi that this world is full of lolicons.

Still, he seems pleased that Raphtalia is less timid and is now able to stand and speak up for herself. She even negotiates to get new custom-made armor for Naofumi that he thinks makes him look like a bandit, but also doesn’t want it going to waste.

It’s a good thing they mentioned the Waves to the armorer, because he points them in the direction of the church where the Dragon Hourglass counts down the time until the next Wave, which will come in less than a day.

Unfortunately the other heroes are there, and the Spear even tries to steal Raphtalia away, but she rebuffs him. They can mock him all they want and even bring up the “rumors,” but Naofumi won’t say a single word of attack or defense. He’s long since done talking with these assholes.

Raphtalia wants to know what happened between her master and the other heroes, but Naofumi isn’t ready to tell her. Regardless, when dawn breaks and they prepare to be transported to the location of the Wave, Raphtalia formally reiterates her undying loyalty to Naofumi. She is only alive because of him, and so she’ll be his sword and never leave his side.

After transport, Naofumi gets a close look at a Wave of Catastrophe for the first time. The other heroes rush ahead, but he notices they’re leaving a nearby village unprotected from the hordes of undead soldiers and swarms of giant wasps.

So he and Raph head there, he orders Raph to evacuate the villagers while he tries to kill as many monsters as he can. It’s tough work, as there are hundreds of them and he can’t seem to get their numbers down. Luckily the bulk of them mill around beneath a watchtower that Naofumi sets ablaze and brings down on top of them.

When the royal knights arrive and firebomb the place to mop up, they don’t bother to warn Naofumi, who gets Naphtalia under his shield just in time. When she hears the knights talking shit about her master, she threatens to take their heads off, and Naofumi has to order her to stand down.

Still, despite the knights’ utter disgust of Naofumi, he protects them all the same, and in turn, some of them stay behind to help him and Naphtalia even after their commander orders them to meet up with the other heroes.

With the knights’ help, Naofumi and Naphtalia are able to fend off the remaining monsters, while the other three heroes defeat the “boss”—a chimaera, from the look of it—with their much flashier-looking attacks. All of a sudden, the skies clear and the threat has passed. And Naofumi has passed his first Wave test.

A massacre of innocents such as that which claimed Naphtalia’s parents thus averted, the raccoon girl is overwhelmed by the relief and starts to cry, but Naofumi’s heart isn’t made of stone, especially where she’s concerned, so he puts his hand on her head to comfort her.

Naphtalia may have been a slave purchased to be used a a tool, but even Naofumi has to admit she’s much more than that. By not treating her like a slave but like any other person, he’s helped bring about her transformation into a formidable warrior with the heart of a true knight.

Naofumi has also gained the gratitude of the entire village, none of whom still harbor any animosity towards their hero. There are still a lot more people to convince that he’s actually not a rapist swine, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s not here to make friends or clear his name. He’s here to save this world from the Waves, then go back home.

The Promised Neverland – 02 – Building a Boat Out of Mud

Learning the truth of their home has shaken Emma to the core. She has vivid nightmares of Conny being served up as a fancy main course, can can barely hide her look of terror upon hearing and seeing Mama for the first time since their discovery. But Norman tells her they have to keep smiling like nothing’s wrong. Mama may know someone was at the Gate to leave the bunny behind, but she doesn’t know who.

Or rather, if she does, Emma and Norman are too valuable to kill just for witnessing Conny’s “processing.” During playtime, Emma and Norman agree escaping through the forest is the safest way, but when they cross the short fence they soon encounter a massive, seamless concrete wall. Further complicating matters, when a little tyke is lost all Mama has to do is glance at her “watch” and she knows exactly where to find her.

So, now they know that security is rather lax because they have some kind of tracking device implanted somewhere in their bodies. Mama seems to make a big show out of wordlessly warning the likes of Norman and Emma. Back at the house, while having a private moment of grief for Conny, Mama suddenly appears before Emma, wondering why she’s been “less cheerful” of late.

All Norman can do is watch in horror around the corner as Emma puts on a cheerful front for Mama. Ray ends up bailing them both out when he rings the dinner bell (likely intentional on his part), but as Emma and Norman depart, Mama asks them straight-up if they were at the Gate the previous night. They cheerfully say of course not, that’s against the rules, and continue on…but Mama is definitely suspicious. You could cut the tension in the atmosphere with a knife.

Once they’re alone again, neither can hold in their sheer terror anymore. Emma even collapses to her knees, but Norman helps her up with a trembling hand, and Emma sees she’s not alone and all hope isn’t lost. They’re going to get out of here…they just need a plan.

That plan involves stashing a bunch of table linen in a tree hollow near the wall that they’ll use to make rope when the time comes to escape (Norman figures they have two months left before the next child is taken). But someone followed them out to the wall; fortunately for them, it’s their friend Ray, who wants to know what’s up.

They tell him, and to their amazement he believes it all without a hint of incredulity, because he knows Norman well enough to know he’d never lie about something like this (Emma being a different story). While Ray is willing to lend his not inconsiderable intellect to the big escape plan, he has a big problem with Emma’s insistence that all 37 children will be escaping.

He brings up the virtual impossibility of getting everyone away from Mama and off the farm without serious or even total casualties, and something I didn’t consider: beyond that wall, it’s a Demon’s world, not for humans. Escaping is just the first step. The young, small, and weak will have to be left behind to ensure any chance of the survival of the older, bigger, and stronger.

But Ray’s way isn’t going to work with Emma. She doesn’t care if it’s impossible; everyone is being saved, and that’s that. It may be foolhardy, but Norman is with her. When Ray asks why in his otherwise right mind he’d go along with Emma’s “mud boat”, Norman explains simply that he likes Emma, and wants her to keep smiling no matter what, and that if dried and hardened it’s possible for a mud boat to float.

I have to say, I’m kinda with Ray on this one: if the sole purpose is to survive, not merely escape, they can’t take everyone. But at the same time, you can’t eliminate emotion from the equation, because these 12-year-olds are going to have to be able not just to live, but live with themselves once they gain their freedom. So mud boat it is!

Yakusoku no Neverland – 01 (First Impressions) – Green Acres

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Look at how happy everyone is at this country orphanage! Clean white clothes, soft, warm beds, good food, plenty of friends, and fresh air…and a “Mama” that loves and cares for them all! What’s not to like?

Three 11-year-old “elite” orphans named Ray, Norman, and Emma distinguish themselves with their smarts and athletic ability. These three are the oldest at the “House”; everyone leaves the orphanage at age 12, but no one has a clear idea where they go and what they do.

All they know is, no one has ever written back. Ah well, they’re probably having too much fun, right?!

The boundaries of the orphanage are not particularly stout, but a warning from Mama is enough to keep even Norman, Ray and Emma from crossing them. And while she’s not yet 12, the day arrives when lil’ Conny is to leave the House, and she gets a warm sendoff. She promises she’ll write back.

Conny has already left the orphanage, escorted by a wordless and very creepily-lit Mama, when Emma discovers she forgot her stuffed bunny. Well that won’t do at all, will it? She has to reunite Conny with her treasure! Norman decides to tag along.

They will both come to regret doing so.

Once they cross the gate (Norman says they’ll “get scolded together” for the transgression) they come upon a truck; the first either of them has ever seen. And in the back of the truck is Conny, only she’s dead, and there are flowers sprouting out of her chest.

Utterly shocked, Norman and Emma just have time to hide under the truck when monsters arrive to collect Conny’s corpse, going on about how it’s “high quality human flesh for the rich.” That’s right: Norman, Emma, Ray, Conny and all the others are free-range children. The orphanage is a farm. And they’re meat.

Norman and Emma just manage to slink away before a monster smells and discovers them, but they leave the bunny behind, so Mama, AKA Isabella, knows someone was there. They’re alive for now, but along with Ray, they’re going to be the next kids to be killed and shipped off to be eaten by some kind of well-to-do monster gourmands.

Emma and Norman return to the House, forever changed and scared out of their wits. But Norman decides that he’s not going to let anyone else follow Conny’s fate. They’re going to get out of there, along with all the other orphans. It’s just a matter of strategy, and if any kids can do it, it’s the elite three. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and I highly doubt Conny is the last victim.

Even as little hints spring up here and there in the first half that Not All Is Well, Yakusoku no Neverland is masterful at holding us in suspense until the big horrifying reveal, mercilessly upending the world of three kids. Emma’s initial face mirrored my own upon seeing Conny.

That was one hell of a start, and it’s pretty easy to root for children to escape the fate of being killed and eaten. But of course, once such a bullet is shot, it is shot; the show will have to find new ways to shock us now that we know the gist. I’m guessing they have plenty more horrors in store for us.

Overlord III – 13 (Fin) – Another Easy Triumph

Gazef Stronoff knows there’s no way he can win, but he’ll fight Ains Ooal Gown anyway. As Head Warrior he is the sword of his kingdom; if he doesn’t face their greatest foe, who will? All other considerations are secondary.

While an argument could be made there was far more Brain, Climb, and other warriors of the kingdom could have learned from Gazef, staying alive to teach them would have meant some kind of surrender against Gown, which his code simply would not allow.

Gown defeats him easily by stopping time and casting True Death upon him. It’s pretty anticlimactic, but it’s also efficient, and Gown had no real reason to do further bodily harm to such an impressively stalwart opponent.

Emperor El-Nix is driven half-mad by the results of his new “ally’s” overwhelming victory over the royal armies. Climb surmises that Gazef may have given his life as a message to him, Brain, and others not to bother fighting the likes of Gown and instead building a future. Brain ain’t hearin’ it; after drinking with Climb, he’s jumping right back into the fight.

As for King Ramposa, with his eldest son gone too long and his second son already jockeying, he agrees to cede E-Rantel to Lord Ains. Princess Renner has a simple task for Climb: to deliver her handpicked roses to the memorial of the fallen armies, flashing her trademark evil smirk once his back is turned to her.

Ains’ dark forces march into E-Rantel without resistance, save a pebble thrown from an angry little boy whose father died in the recent battle. Albedo, who hates humans, prepares to execute the whelp for his disrespect, but she’s blocked by Momon.

Even weirder, however, is that Lord Ains appears behind Albedo to offer Momon a job as their law enforcer in the city. No harm will come to the innocent, as long as Momon makes sure to deal with the guilty. I imagine either Ains simply used a cloning spell or Demiurge disguised himself as Momon or Ains.

Whatever the deal was with two alter-egos of Momonga being in the same place at the same time, the effect is the same: the townsfolk see Momon as their protector, sacrificing his honor for their sake. I’m sure they’d much rather have an adventurer like him enforcing laws than the myriad undead beasts under Ains’ command.

With that, Sorcerer King Ains Ooal Gown takes a seat in the throne room of E-Rantel’s royal palace, all the Floor Guardians and Battle Maids assembled and offering him congratulations on his triumph. But as usual, he didn’t have to actually do much, and a lot of the plan that was just executed wasn’t even his, but Demiuge’s.

Still, as far as Demiurge, Albedo, or anyone else in that room is concerned, everything that happened happened because their lord and sorcerer king made it happen. E-Rantel is now the capital of his new “Sorcerer Kingdom”, Ains Ooal Gown.

No doubt OverLord IV will deal with the political transition and administration of the city, dealing with any resistance that crops up, and perhaps further expansion of the new kingdom. I’ll be here to watch, as always.

Overlord III – 12 – No Chance

In giving Lord Gown the task of giving the signal to start the battle against the Kingdom with one of his magic spells, Emperor El Nix plans to observe how Gown fights in hope of determining a strategy for fighting him, a fight he knows is on the horizon. But as we know, no NPCs, or humans for that matter, have a snowball’s chance in hell against the undead Gown and his minions.

To demonstrate just how hopeless it is to resist his might, Gown takes the ball El Nix gives him and runs with it. The “signal” spell, Tribute to Dark Fertility, Ia, Shub-Niggurath, is actually an offering to one of the game’s dark deities. The Empire is outnumbered 240,000 to 60,000, but the tribute ends up massacring seventy thousand of the kingdom’s forces in one fell swoop.

Both sides of the battle tremble in fear at what they witness, and anyone with a head screwed on right starts running like hell, including Marquis Raeven. But the tribute was only the beginning of the spell; a great black sphere floats over the masses of corpses and absorbs them in black goo.

Five gigantic, many-mouthed beasts Gown calls “adorable baby goats” are summoned, which he believes to be a new game record. As they’re “goats”, the beasts do what goats do: devour everything in sight. Only they’re twenty-story-high goats with more legs and mouths, so they make quick work of the remaining kingdom forces that haven’t fled.

Among those who don’t run are whom I imagine to be three of the four individuals Gown has ordered his dark forces not to kill: Climb, Brain, and Gazef. Climb and Brain are prepared to lead a decoy force in order to facilitate the king’s safe return to E-Rantel.

When King Ramposa asks Brain what he would ask in return, he wants Climb to be able to marry Renner, which the king approves, though it will mean giving Climb a worthy title. Meanwhile, Gazef tries to take on one of the “goats”, and gives one of them his best shot, but even his badass blue sword can’t make a dent, and he’s sent flying—though not fatally.

Climb and Brain end up with Gazef as the goat being ridden by Lord Gown arrives. Gown and Gazef exchange pleasantries, and Gown cuts to the chase: he wants Gazef as a subordinate. If he agrees, Gown will spare the rest of the army. But to agree would mean betraying his king, and as we know Gazed would never do that. Instead, he challenges Gown to a duel.

Gazef would rather go out in a blaze of glory than forsake his monarch, but honestly I don’t think it will go well for him…after all, he’s mortal.

Devilman: Crybaby – 01 (First Impressions)

So begins my foray into the venerable Devilman franchise, which dates to 1974, its latest iteration available on Netflix at the same time in America as Japan. It’s actually been available for a while now, but I didn’t get around to cracking it open until now.

The first episode of Crybaby is brisk, starting with some heady philosophizing, giving us a quick glimpse of friends Asuka Ryou (a cold realist even in his youth) and Fudou Akira (the titular crybaby, who has enough empathy for both of them).

It isn’t long before the mundaneness of P.E. (and the somewhat head-scratchiness of a random attack by beatboxing rappers) is left behind in a cloud of Ryou’s Mitsuoka Orochi exhaust and the innocent, sensitive Akira finds himself in a debaucherous orgy of hedonism in which drugs and sex reign supreme, the escape of the young, rich, and bored.

Ryou brought Akira here to pop his cherry…in a sense. Ryou’s experience abroad has led him to believe a human can merge with a devil/demon and gain its power while maintaining their humanity, and Akira is the perfect vessel to test that theory.

However, the orgy isn’t, well, bloody or gory enough to draw out any devils, so Ryou rectifies that by wrecking up the place. He and Akira are very nearly beaten to death in the fracas, and before long devils start sprouting from the orifices of women and what were once areas of pleasure become weapons of evisceration.

It’s a huge mess, but Ryou gets what he came for: the demon Amon possesses Akira and merges with him, resulting in the titular Devilman. Perhaps because of how good and pure Amon’s human vessel is, Devilman is particularly powerful, and dispatches the other nasties without too much trouble, and with quite a bit of satisfaction.

And there you have it! Oh wait, why is Ryou doing this? For SCIENCE, I suppose; humans aren’t evolving fast enough for him; perhaps he believes it’s time to shake things up by nurturing such mergings as Akira with Amon. Or maybe that one merge was all he cared about, in hopes his friend, always a crybaby, would benefit in some way.

Yuasa Masaaki’s unique style is unmistakable here, and though this is certainly more violent than the only other work of his I’ve seen. As I said, it’s a brisk and relatively straightforward episode with a decent hook: what the hell will become of Akira now that Ryou has condemned him to share his existence with a demon?

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 06

After sustaining a head injury when Zapp punts him into a bad guy, Leo has the same dream he always has: Michella sacrificing her sight and legs for his sake while he stands around doing nothing. We’re reminded of the prime reason Leo is in Hellsalem’s Lot: to cure her.

He shows Dr. Estevez his eyes, but neither she nor Director Grana have ever heard of a case of them being removed. It’s not a medical procedure; more a termination of a contract, which won’t come without considerable cost. Leo laments that he feels as powerless to save Michella as he was the day he arrived. Klaus told him there’s always light, but he can’t see it.

Then the magic, intensity, and downright insanity of simply living in the HSL, not to mention being affiliated with Libra, eventually restokes his hope of saving his sister, thus becoming the “turtle knight” who protects the princess in Michella’s drawings.

How specifically does he get inspired? A lockout!

While Steven is hacking computer systems to stop criminals from bringing down earthshaking beings who rain destruction upon the city, an old foe believed to have been incarcerated surfaces, and all of Libra goes out to deal with it, when only Steven was needed.

Only Anila remains at Libra HQ, and a single crane fly who had infiltrated the interior soon turns into a massive swarm, and one of them evolves into a humanoid of increasing intelligence and power. He sets Defcon 2, turning Libra into an impregnable fortress, with the bulk of Libra’s members trapped outside.

Klaus calls Yurian, a Ghostbuster-looking “locksmith” to override the lockout, but it will be slow going. Meanwhile, the team can’t prevent Chain, entering HQ in her usual way, from getting blasted by the building’s defense systems.

She’s fine, and even caught a glance at the bugs, whose leader becomes more and more sophisticated in speech as he talks to Klaus over the phone, basically saying he’s borrowing HQ until he becomes a god.

The delay of Bugman’s evolution could spell the end of the city, as a particularly large Earthshaker begins to descend, adding far greater stakes to the emergency than simply being locked out of a house when the oven was left on.

However, Klaus doesn’t panic; he turns to his training and his ability, has Yurian open the tiniest of holes in the defense system, and climbs the tower with blood pitons, using Leo’s eyes to discern when to avoid the security grid. Demonstrating he’s not quite ready for godhood, the Bugman idiotically goes outside to see what’s up and gets blood-lanced.

Steve tracks down the hackers controlling the Earthshaker and take them out before it touches the ground, saving tens of thousands. And thus, having watched Klaus not giving up while riding on his back, Leo resolves not to despair or give up on saving Michella. After all, you never know what this city will throw at you.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 03

Just after daydreaming about that horrible day Michella went blind, an out-of-it Leo bumps into a big bully who takes his wallet containing Michella’s allowance. Chain witnesses Leo in a bind, but apparently has other matters to attend to.

Steven and his maid Veded prepare a super-classy dinner soiree, while Zapp is recruited by Tracy to find her oriental shorthair cat Mizaria…or she’ll cut his dick off with magic.

So yeah…lot’s going on this week! But hey, it’s not Hellsalem’s Lot if every day that ends in “-day” if a lot’s not going on. Did I mention Count Gigagigafutmassif is on the move…and that he’s taller than any skyscraper in the city?

What has always enhanced the already lush texture of KS&B’s great variety of stories is how they intertwine in interesting ways, much like Durarara!!. The fortunes of the various Libra POV characters this week also vary wildly as the episode progresses.

Zapp immediately runs into problems trying to find Tracy’s cat, and while Leo arms himself with a stun baton to get his wallet back, the bully just slugs him and uses his own baton on him. Of course, Leo can defeat him at any time with his eyes, he just doesn’t feel right using them for self-serving purposes…even when failure means Michella going without.

As for Steve, his snobby dinner party goes positively swimmingly…until he goes into the kitchen alone, turns around, and every one of his guests is pointing a biological gun at him. Fortunately, Steve is not one to get so easily ambushed, and took steps to ensure he could use his ice magic to get the upper hand anytime he wanted.

Steve also doesn’t bother handing his guests over to Libra, instead relying on his own special squad to “take care” of them in ways of which Libra’s leader wouldn’t necessarily approve. Bottom line: You come at Starphase, you best come correct.

These amateurs did not. Steve also rethinks whether he’s been enjoying ordinary life too much, considering his duties and the nasty enemies those duties can sometimes create.

Chain clearly saw Leo getting tossed by the bully, but takes a backdoor approach to getting Leo’s wallet back: she turns on her charm (wonderful stuff from Kobayashi Yuu here), promises a good time if the brute can beat her in shots, then drinks him under the table with ease, grabbing not just Leo’s wallet, but the bully’s toady.

It was nice to see a baddie put in his place with something other than brute force, even though Chain could have obviously dropped the guy anytime she wanted. This way was more fun for her!

Alas, Chain did Leo’s work for him, which means he never managed to get one over on his bully. It’s just as well; considering the handicap he demands of himself (no use of the eyes), he’s just not a fighter, nor should he be.

Since his toady was robbed by Chain, the two have to pay their bar bills with…their bodies, leaving them as nothing but heads hopping about in glass bulbs, to be attacked by…Mizaria!…who is then picked up by…Veded!, who finds her way back to Steve just as a united Leo and Zapp pass by.

Speaking of fortunes, we never see Zapp actually retrieve the cat and return it to Tracy, leaving the status of his manhood in tongue-in-cheek doubt. The closing shot—of Chain paying for her big night with a long prayer to the porcelain god—was pitch perfect way to close this fun, diverse outing.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 02

Zapp is gravely injured and Leo is beside him on the helicopter, and suddenly a strange hospital comes into view. They land on the helipad and a pint-size doctor with a team of burly assistants take care of Zapp.

Klaus and Steven fill Leo in on the significance of this place: Bradbury Hospital was where both of them were three years ago during the Great Collapse. Back then the pint-sized doctor, Luciana Estevez, was normal-sized.

When a baddie shows up at the hospital and looses a blood breed “dog” to feed on Estevez’ patients, Klaus and Steven must split up, not an easy proposition considering the strength of their opponent.

The dog gets in, Estevez and her patients are attacked, and a giant building is about to fall on Steve, Klaus and the enemy, but is suddenly stopped by the Casters’ magic. When Klaus and Steve wake up, they’re in Hellsalem’s Lot, and the hospital has vanished.

Now Bradbury Hospital is back, but everything in it, like New York, has been partially transformed. The hospital is for humans and non-humans alike, while Estevez has gained her tiny appearance in exchange for the ability to clone herself and perform tasks with terrific speed.

Klaus and Luciana recognize each other, and are ready for round two with the Blood Breed and his “owner,” still threatening all of the patients Estevez placed in medically-induced comas to protect them.

After slicing and dicing the dog with her clones, Estevez is challenged by its owner, but Klaus steps in to shield her. While their battle three years ago had an uncertain result, he’s able to hold out the 133 seconds needed for Leo to text him the baddie’s true name, and seal him in a prison.

The threat to the hospital and its patients ended, Klaus and Dr. Estevez pick right back up on the friendship they started in the middle of a crisis three years ago, both of them having fared well in that time.

Kekkai Sensen continues to deliver compelling stories large and small with indelible images and fast-paced, creative combat, and an eclectic musical sense. It may be tough to check back in on her with so many other stories to tell in HL, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Dr. Estevez again.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 01 (First Impressions)

Kekkai Sensen returns with quite a few literal bangs, launching straight back into high gear in a feverishly action-packed opening salvo; a colorful ballet of bizarre blink-and-you’ll-miss it sights.

In the middle of all this chaos is Leonardo Watch, delivering pizzas as Femt unleashes a swarm of vicious flesh-eating monsters on Hellsalem’s Lot; a swarm the superpowered agents of Libra quickly pacify…while yelling the longwinded names of special moves over one another. Klaus von Reinherz is always good for an epic coup-de-grace, and we get one in the very first minutes. Sometimes more is more.

Leo finally has a home all his own, and is about to fire up his much-awaited (and very expensive) X-Station Double X video game sconsole when his pals Zapp and Zed toss a metal box through his window containing none other than the disembodied head of American Presidential Envoy Franz Ackerman, who far calmer about being just a head than I would be.

Within a few minutes of meeting Ackerman(‘s head) Leo finds himself caught up in another multi-vector, high-powered battle between the various criminal factions after the head, and his new home and video game console are destroyed. IN the first episode. Poor guy. Fortunately, he’s got powerful friends who are more than a match for his pursuers.

All Leo has to do is keep running towards Federal Hall, where Ackerman’s address will take place, and Libra takes care of him. That’s easier said than done, as the constant outrageous attempts on his life by more and more dangerous monsters and artillery take their toll on Leo’s psyche until he’d rather simply curl up in a ball.

It’s Ackerman, who again, is a head relieved of his body, who manages to instill a sense of hope and duty in Leo, asserting that “willingly backing down while any possibility remains is unreasonable beyond reason!”

Leo borrows his co-worker’s pizza delivery bike, head and body are reunited, the address promotion rapprochement between the two worlds takes place, and Libra can score another victory in maintaining balance. Unfortunately, Leo doesn’t get reimbursed by the government for his lost home and video games, as Acky promised. Hey, politicians can inspire, but they also often lie to achieve their ends!

It’s a rousing return to one of my favorite series in recent years, owing to it’s strangeness, its bizarre beauty, its bumping soundtrack, and its wide storytelling potential. More of this, please!