The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 08 – Into the Western Woods

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent would prefer if we forget about Aira and whether or not she and Sei will ever actually speak to each other, and despite being somewhat frustrated by the sudden page-turn, I came to accept it in the spirit of enjoying watching Sei’s magic power continue to evolve, which all starts when she finally gains access to the forbidden section of the library.

Yuri Drewes might have the line of the night when he sidles up to her and asks if she’s thinking about murdering someone. But her interest in poisonous plants is obviously more honorable and altruistic. When her attempts to create holy water or imbue plants with magic fail, she learns from Yuri about “Saintly Conjury”, which is the closest analogue to the “blessing” of water of which she speaks.

At the end of the day, Sei more or less figures out how to perform Conjury quite by accident, simply because she’s concentrating very intently on her desire to help those who have helped her. An orb of magical energy appears just below her throat, and it lets out a little shock wave that imbues all of the surrounding plants with magic, just like she’d been trying.

While this is inarguably a huge breakthrough, Sei isn’t quite sure how she did it, and so isn’t sure how to repeat it. But then duty calls, as the knights request the institute’s best healer to accompany them on a dangerous expedition to the infamous Western Woods. Johan expects her to be very low on the prospect, but to his surprise, she’s fully prepared to do whatever she can to prevent or mitigate more casualties of the kind she treated before.

So early the next morning, she dons her durable, practical, yet stylish adventurer’s outfit and prepares to depart. She’s met by several surprises, first Jude and Johan seeing her off (though I don’t see why she’s surprised; they both adore her). Then she learns Commander Hawke will be joining the expedition in order to protect her. That goes for Yuri too, though a part of him is coming along just in case she pulls off Conjury again.

While Sei is wearing the hear ornament Albert gave her because she knew she’d want to keep her hair out of the way, he tells her that it’s actually enchanted, and will keep her safe come what may. His delicate, respectful, and above all dignified courtship of her has been one of the many surprise delights of this series.

But heck, even if her hairpin didn’t do jack, she’d still be fine, right? I mean, she’s got a Knight Commander and the Grand Magus protecting her. Well, maybe not so much, as the miasma becomes denser and the monsters grow stronger, Yuri and Albert’s hands are full stemming the tide of lesser beasts when a boss-type salamander appears.

When it spits its fire breath at Sei, she doesn’t have time to raise a magical shield, but her hair ornament has her back, raising an ice barrier in the blink of an eye that protects her from the flames. So yes, practical choice of hair accessory, but also a literal lifesaver. Though I suppose she could always heal herself if it came down to it…

But up to this point in the ongoing battle, Sei had been on her back foot and serving a support role as a healer and buffer, a role she knew well from the video games she’d play when not working her ass off. But when she witnesses a demon cat bite Albert in the shoulder, drawing blood and causing a deep wound, Sei just…reacts.

Whether it’s Saintly Conjury or simply Saintly badassery, Sei casts the same spell she cast the other night, but instead of simply imbuing nearby plants with magic, it eliminates all monsters and miasma across a vast area-of-effect, while fully healing Albert and everyone else’s wounds, right down to minor cuts and bruises.

Sei’s not just a healer or supporter. She also might just be the greatest weapon against evil alive. That aside, it was just hella fun to finally see her operating in the field, rising to the occasion as I expected she would.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Dropped

With a full slate of shows to follow this Spring, I needed Combatants to really knock one out of the park in its third week to justify keeping it around and…it just didn’t. It was a dull, dreary affair, full of sloppy character models, sketchy animation, unfunny comedy, and a cast that are rehashes of Konosuba characters, only less likeable. Agent Six it probably the show’s biggest misfire, as the show is well aware that he’s supposed to be an dishonorable bastard, but gives us zero reasons to want to watch him.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 02 – Assembling a Team

With far less exposition to dump on us, this week’s CWBD is an improvement, flowing much better structurally and focusing on its kooky characters, like the artificial combat chimera Rose and Grimm, archpriest of Zenarith, god of undeath and disaster.

While both are eccentric to say the least, Alice deems them two of the more powerful assets at their disposal. With their ultimate goal of defeating the Demon Lord in mind, they can’t be picky about personalities.

And just like KonoSuba, there’s nobody here whose personality you’d call “normal.” Alice comes closest, but she’s an android. Six continues to be a cad, racking up Evil Points. Rose is a timid glutton who has a sinister chuunibyou side. Grimm wants a man, and Six would seem to do. Grimm and Rose were both exploited by the military as frontline weapons.

The newly-formed party first tastes battle after harassing a demon lord army supply train, which distresses Snow because she wants more exciting frontline combat so she can affort to pay off her sword (the news she clawed her way to where she is from nothing makes her character more interesting).

Then two of the Demon Lord’s Elite Four arrive: the voluptuous Heine of the Flame (whose “cosplay” reminds Six of his comely bosses back home), and Gadalkand of the Earth, who straight up murders Grimm, just like that!

Even though his sole interaction with her was catching a glimpse of her thong, Six still wants to avenge Grimm, but Gadalkand and Heine both withdraw before he can fight them. Then he learns from Snow and Rose that due to her demon blood and position as Zenarith priest, she comes back to life no matter how many times she dies…which should prove quite handy!

While Six continues to be, for the most part, pretty scummy, he comes off far better this week, especially when he sits vigil over Grimm’s corpse in the temple of Zenarith. When she wakes up, she’s surprised he’s there because he didn’t want her to be lonely.

The episode closes on a sweet note, as Six orders her a spiffy new Kisaragi-brand wheelchair and the two go on an adorable date racing through the wastelands and breaking up couples in a village. This is still no KonoSuba, but I came away from this second episode feeling like it’s starting to find its own voice, and liking everyone just a little bit more.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched! – 01 (First Impressions) – Falling From Grace

With the director of Master Teaser Takagi-san (and this years excellent Those Snow White Notes!) and the creator of KonoSuba, you could say my hopes for this series were somewhat inflated from the get-go. So I regret to report that while this opening episode of Combatants Will Be Dispatched! was okay, it was not great. It didn’t come close to meeting those hopes.

We open with our (anti)hero Combat Agent Six meeting with two busty women in elaborate, skimpy fantasy cosplay and equally lofty names and titles. Everything is serious for the first few seconds as they inform Six of his mission to investigate an Earth-like planet. But then Six calls out Astaroth and Belial for their chuunibyou getup and dialogue.

While this knocking on the fourth wall is a common occurrence in KonoSuba, and it’s intriguing that Six’s two bosses have real Japanese names, his joking around felt premature and forced here, which can be said about a lot of the ensuing comedy. KonoSuba’s jokes based on Kazuma’s perviness and fish-out-of-water status was comparatively so natural and effortless.

It doesn’t help that right off the bat these characters are all some combination of generic, unlikeable, and inconsistent. Astaroth and Belial seem to be in a position of authority, yet Six apparently helped the two found the “Kisaragi Corporation” they all work for, and Astaroth even seems to be harboring a crush on him.

Why, then, does Six let the two women, along with generic “scientist girl” Lilith, boss him around by shoving him into a teleport tube to this random planet? Six is introduced to the “high spec pretty girl” android Alice and shoved in a teleport tube before there’s any satisfying explanation of what exactly is going on. The episode is waving its hands at us saying “just go with it,” but I’d have preferred something more solid to go with!

My initial theory, as Six and Alice are dispatched to the Earth-like world (appearing 30,000 meters above the surface) is that Astaroth, Belial, Lilith and Six are gamers in some kind of VR-RPG. That explains how they alternate between playing their roles as agents of universal domination and a group of regular human friends.

The remainder of the episode is all about Six landing in a vast ruddy alien wasteland, heading to a nearby city, and learning about his new android assistant. Alice’s primary feature is an apparently city-leveling self-destruct, which calls to mind KonoSuba’s Megumin’s all-or-nothing Explosion. Otherwise she’s just a little girl, and as such, when packs of dog-like beasts attack, it’s up to Six to defend them.

Alice also serves as a rather clumsy provider of exposition, explaining how Six amasses “Evil Points” by doing bad shit, which he can then spend on stuff by writing it on paper and scanning that paper with a gizmo on his wrist. While somewhat novel, it seems like a rather inefficient system. Also, while we know Six starts out with 300 Evil Points, we don’t learn how many he spends to put a shotgun in Alice’s arms.

The show seems to be full of decisions and details that force me to think about why those choices were made instead of just sitting back and enjoying the silliness. Alice just said she was physically just a little kid, yet we see her moments later wielding a shotgun without issue. And why just a plain-old shotgun? It’s a fantasy anime, why not come up with a more imaginative weapon?

After defeating the beasts, Six and Alice are approached by Snow, a female knight straight out of SAO. While initially both suspicious of the two but otherwise noble and dignified, Snow’s not-always-hidden “other side” is apparently extremely obsessed with recognition, money, and glory—in the same way Darkness is obsessed with being punished and ravaged.

Snow is also the personal knight for the Kingdom of Grace’s lovely Princess Tillis, and she’s apparently such a good bodyguard that she lets two total strangers—a highly-trained spy and his android assistant/bomb—into the same room with their weapons! Grace is also a land where real-world items like tanks are regarded as mysterious ancient artifacts.

One such artifact used to make it rain in the kingdom, but is malfunctioning. Alice shows her worth by fixing it, only for Six to insist on resetting the activation password to “Dick Festival”. He helpfully explains that making Princess Tillis say those words will net him Evil Points, and I can’t argue with him there.

The problem is, Tillis’ father, who I’ll call “King Santa” for now, would also have to say those words, so Six and Alice end up tied up. Even so, the King is grateful the artifact was repaired, and Tillis, citing her country’s desperate need for warriors to fight beasts, decides to make Six one of her knights. Snow is dubious, but Six reminds her she said she’d take “full responsibility” for whatever happened with the rain-making machine.

As a result, Snow essentially gets demoted to Sir Six’s XO in their interceptor group. Along with Alice, the three-person party has been set—I just wish I was more excited about it! Not helping matters is the fact that while overall the series looks fine, there are some glaring off-character model moments that are less excusable in a first episode whose job is to impress.

But mostly, Dispatched! is too similar to KonoSuba not to invite unfavorable comparisons to the older series, which not only aired first but crucially also aired at a time when I frankly had more of a stomach for Kazuma / Six / Rudy’s pervy antics. If I’m sick of Six’s schtick one episode in, it does not bode well for the future.

The next-episode preview is presented as a broadcast on a TV in Kisaragi Corp.’s break/club room as Astaroth, Belial and Lilith have tea and snacks, adding credence to my theory the “corporation” is more of a gaming club formed in high school. We’ll see if the show can redeem itself next week.

Kemono Jihen – 09 – Kabane the Casanova

After she was born and learned to control her golden webbing, Aya had been treated like a tool, and when she was insolent she’d be beaten “like banging on a piece of malfunctioning equipment”. Still, she knew Akio needed her so she was able to live in relative comfort with dresses and books. When Aya learned she had a brother, she imagined him to be like the Prince Charming in her book, taking her and their mother away to live happily ever after.

While a happy ending was deferred, it is still possible. Aya learns this when Shiki welcomes her into the hospital room where their mother is resting. Aya may think she’s a bad seed that should be “done away with” like the other kemono Akio created, but thinks Shiki won’t kill her simply because she looks like a little girl and speaks. But that’s not the reason.

Shiki does not detest Aya, he’s grateful to her for being with their mother and keeping her alive, even though she was all on her own while her big brother had run away and was living in comfort. When she hears Shiki and Aya talking together over her, she wakes up and opens her eyes, and the Tademarus are a family united for the first time. It’s perhaps the sweetest and most moving scene in the entire show, and it was the perfect payoff to the emotional stakes built up the last couple weeks.

Of course, Kumi now being alive and awake means Shiki has some things to think about, and is away for a week, causing Akira to frets and Kabane to bear an all-too-forced smile when asked how he feels about it. Shiki may have his family back and will need to help support them, he promises Kabane he won’t leave the agency before he helps Kabane find his family.

Unbeknownst to Shiki, Aya followed him to the agency and we see that her own style is quite a bit more…modern and mature (read: jailbait) than the frilly dresses Akio gave her. Her precociousness extends beyond wardrobe, however: she’s already planning to work with Granny at her clinic, with plans to start her own “kemonopathy” clinic using her healing webbing.

When Shiki begs Kabane to talk his sister out of this, as she’s only eight, he simply responds “If she has a power shouldn’t she use it?” It’s that cold, certain, honorable logic that draws Aya to Kabane’s side, and she declares him her boyfriend. Then Kon shows up, armed with the absolute worst timing—she had a week to see Kabane alone!

Just like that, Kabane has not one but two would-be lovers, who immediately exchange lightning glares. Inugami interrupts the spat to announce that they do have actual business to attend to: there have been reports of an invisible kemono ripping pieces of women’s faces off in stylish Harajuku.

The three who will go investigate are Kabane, Aya, and Kon, the latter relaxing her no-working-with-tanuki policy by declaring herself a mere “observer”. Really, she wants to closely observe Aya to ensure nothing happens, but it’s also never a bad idea to bring some kitsune muscle as backup.

After Kon’s failed attempt to impress Kabane by trying to order a cop around (Inari’s power doesn’t extend to her anymore), Aya ends up being the kemono’s next victim on accident when she pulls on her hair. Taking the form of a black smoke cloud filled with floating pieces of women’s faces she collected, the kemono’s story is pretty simple: she fell in love with a man who works in the area and wanted to look more human so he’d notice her.


When Kabane says love is about giving, not taking, the kemono is unconvinced, because Kabane has a girl on his arm. Instead she appeals to Kon, who looks like she’s in pain like her. She’s not wrong; ever since watching Kabane and Aya together she’s felt all “mushy” in the chest.  Being with Kabane has always been fun until now, and Kon blames Aya for making it not fun anymore.

Taking on her kitsune form, she tries to eat Aya, but only ends up biting Kabane’s arm. Then she runs off in tears. Aya uses her webbing to create a human body for the kemono, and referred her victims to the clinic where she’ll be able to heal him. Back at the agency, Akira is threatened by Aya’s frightening competence, while Aya thanks Kabane for protecting her with a smooch on the cheek.

Kabane may not quite understand love, romance, or jealousy, but he knows he and Kon didn’t leave things in a good place, so he rushes to the park where she lives and shakes her out of the tree (the gag about her never landing on her feet never gets old). Sure enough, Kon’s face is a mess of big soppy tears. She thinks Kabane must hate her for trying to eat the “bug-smelling girl.”

To Kon’s surprise, when Kabane takes her cheek in his hand, all the chest-mushiness goes away instantly. She sees that Aya wants to be Kabane’s “number one” because in Aya she sees herself having worked tirelessly to become Inari’s number one. Well, Kon wants to be Kabane’s number one, and asks what she should do to do that?

The obvious answer is to kiss Kabane, but not only does Kon not know that, but even if she did kiss him neither of them might understand what it means. They’re basically the most adorkably hopeless couple ever and I will never stop shipping them. I won’t deny Aya is both cute and capable, but she’s also way way way too young for Kabane. Also, Kon was first!

We get a nice scene of closure where Inugami helps Kumi arrange a memorial for all of her children who were killed. She ask him to keep it secret from Shiki and Aya, but in truth I think they’d understand her need to honor all of the life she created, as they’re in that group too.

Kon is realigning her primary allegiance from Inari to Kabane, but Aya once again beats her to Kabane’s arm at the agency. The two stare each other down once more, with Aya even telling Shiki he shouldn’t mind if she and Kabane married, since that would make them brothers. Akira, the Best Boy, finally steps in to break it down for Kabane: he can only have one lover, so he has to choose.

For Kabane, “lover” simply sounds like “one you love”, which he extends out to the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”. As such, the one he chooses is Inugami, again failing to grasp the difference in kinds of love, and also shocking both Aya and Kon with his apparent confession to “preferring older men”. Inugami, meanwhile, obviously wants no part in a Kabane love polygon!

Kemono Jihen – 08 – A Sister Richer

Right in the middle of Shiki considering killing his Uncle Akio with neither Inugami nor Nobimaru not standing in his way, a filthy Akira emerges from the woods having pissed himself with fear. Then a whole mess of Akio’s kemono creations arrive, surrounding the area. Akio informs Shiki that while none of them can produce the golden webbing, they’re still smart and can even speak—in Kumi’s voice.

When the monsters start to rush everyone, Inugami steps in, but his arm is poisoned, keeping him from producing a gun. Hearing his mother’s voice tell him she loves him through all the monsters paralyzes Shiki. Kabane’s lights up as he draws close to Shiki and asks once more “How can I help?” Inugami has Akira freeze his arm, but they’re saved from the charging kemono by the little girl Aya, whom they listen to.

When we cut back to Kabane, he’s already demolished all of the dozens of kemono protecting Akio, leaving Shiki free to kill him, or otherwise ask Kabane to kill him. Kabane is simply “happy to help”, as there’s apparently zero psychological cost to the carnage he causes.

The thing is, Shiki no longer wants his uncle to die. He wants him to live with the torment of all the things he meant to leave behind erased, and dying many years from now a forgotten man with no legacy. Aya doesn’t want Akio killed either, and not for sentimental reasons: he knows the location of a certain cocoon.

A bitter Akio refuses to tell her, but fortunately for her Inugami & Co. are detectives. Aya has no leads, but with one call to Mihai, they get a location: the same secluded spring in a patch of skunk cabbage where Aya had Inugami heal his arm. Aya prepares to plunge in, but Shiki goes in her place; she’s just a little girl after all.

At the bottom of the spring, Shiki finds something he’d never expected: his mother, still alive, encased in the cocoon. A bodyguard kemono attacks him but he defeats it and surfaces with his mom. Aya reveals that she herself is the golden webbing, and created the cocoon to keep their mother alive.

When Akio tries to rant more about “nearing mass production”, Shiki knocks him out with a slug to the face. Aya and the still-unconscious Kumi pile in the car with Shiki, Inugami, Kabane and Akira and they head back to Tokyo. Kabane noticed Nobimaru slipped away at some point, but Nobi doubles back give Akio at taste of his kitsune flames.

With his mom alive and suddenly possessed of a little sister in Aya, Shiki’s had a considerable turnaround in his fortunes. But Kumi still won’t wake up, so Inugami takes her to a clinic in Tokyo run by a diminutive ohana-basan—who doesn’t seem to mind the after-hours visit when she learns it’s Inugami.

If Kumi woke up fully restored, she could presumably pick up where she left off before falling into Akio’s foul enterprising web. That could mean Shiki and Aya would go live with her, either in their hometown or Tokyo. If the latter, Shiki could still work at the agency and hang out with Kabane and Akira. But this is all academic. First Kumi must be revived.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 07 – Queens of the Seaside

Those curious about what became of the American Marines get no answers this week, as the girls are on to their next adventure, this time on a beach. Sorao wakes up in a posh hotel room, having shared the bed with a naked Toriko. She can vaguely remember going shopping and bar hopping, and is proud of her drunk self for plugging in her phone.

While taking a taxi to the beach, both Sorao and Toriko nod off, and when they come to, the taxi is derelict and covered in plants and sand, as if it had been sitting there for years. It looks like they’re still in the Otherside, though with a very Spirited Away vibe with a lush blue and green palette.

The duo do a thorough search of a long-abandoned beach shop that, while creepy, contains no active threats, so on Toriko’s urging they change into the bikinis they bought yesterday(?) and proceed to have a fun time on the beach, drinking beer and practicing shooting. The Okinawan afterlife of Narai Kanai is also referenced as the two discuss the Alcatraz-like ruin on the horizon.

Sorao’s been letting her have her way so much, Toriko is worried Sorao could get sick of her, but that’s not the case. Indeed, Sorao again tries to bring up her feelings, only to miss her chance once again. Regardless, she’s happy to be having fun on the beach, a place she never felt was her scene. It’s also a welcome deviation from the standard Otherside aesthetic.

Their solitary fun is cut short when they hear odd noises and discover zombie-like punks beating up little kids. When Sorao and Toriko are rushed, Toriko freezes up, but Sorao shoots them all down before they can get to them. Toriko is impressed: Sorao can shoot and kill to protect herself and Toriko, but she credits Toriko with helping steel her resolve.

Sorao can also see with her eye that the punks weren’t human, but reanimated piles of washed-up beach detritus. Suddenly, the skies turn blue and brooding, which Sorao remembers the captive Toriko saying was the most dangerous time to be in the Otherside. A legion of creepy child-dolls bursts out of the beach shop while huge walrus-like beasts appear on the beach. The girls are well and truly freaked out.

They also don’t have enough ammo to deal with all of these creepy monsters great and small, so Sorao arranges for their exit, using her eye, Lady Hasshaku’s hat, and Toriko’s hand to open a portal. A great light flashes from the dissolving hat, turning all of the monsters back into garbage, and the girls fall through.

They emerge back in the normal world, apparently still on the beaches of a populated, non-ruined Okinawa, and perhaps where they had their day and night of shopping and drinking. Before the portal closes, Sorao spots a woman with flowing black hair. Could it be Uruma Satsuki, mentioned by one of the monster boys as part of the “Queen of the Beach” urban legend?

If it was, Toriko didn’t see her, and Sorao doesn’t bring it up. Instead, they have some beers and enjoy the fireworks, even though they’re broke and not sure how they’ll get home. As always, because they’re living in the moment together, nothing else seems to matter as much.

With its fun girls trip to the beach-turned-freaky seaside monster convention, Urasekai Picnic again scores high marks for its mastery of mood and atmosphere, and the cozily-infectious chemistry of Sorao and Toriko.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 06 – Raiding the Pantry

As he tries to hide from the stunned kononba sister, the fear grips Shiki. He recalls little from his earlier life except that he lived happily with his mom, and at some point he didn’t. But when Kanabe contacts him, having easily taken care of one of the other sisters, and offers him words of encouragement, Shiki snaps out of it and gets to work.

When the kononba uses her super-sensitive detection ability, Shiki ensures she senses him everywhere, as he’s distributed his spider webbing and sweat all over the hallway. Essentially blinded by her own heightened perception, the sister ends up getting stuck in the webs, and Shiki delivers a satisfying kick to the face.

Kabane and Akira reunite with Shiki, and the sister Kabane captured is also restrained in his webs. That’s when the lead sister appears, and offers to let the kids go if they forget all this. When Kabane refuses (he has a job to do) she sucks the brains and organs out of her two sisters without a second thought and attacks him.

Proving too strong for him to overpower, Kabane’s mind races; if he can’t beat this monster, Shiki and Akira will surely be killed. He doesn’t want that. Mihai offers a bit of free advice, which is nice considering he got the kids in this mess to begin with: Kabane is only using his human strength; to defeat the monster he’ll have to summon instinctual power from his other half, which he accesses via his heart.

It works, and he tears the sister’s arms off, just as Inugami frees himself from Mihai’s room. He orders the kids to retreat and let Inari take care of the rest. Sure enough, Inari’s shiny new attendant Nobimaru arrives to do just that.

Nobimaru, another kitsune (technically a bake-gitsune) burns the three kononba sisters so there is no evidence of monsters for humans could discover. Kabane doesn’t like the idea of pretending the foes never existed, but doesn’t protest enough to stop Nobimaru (if he even could; for all we know he’s much stronger than Kon).

Nobimaru lets Kabane in on a couple of secrets: first, Inari hasn’t given up on stealing his lifestone, so he needs to watch himself. Especially if he ends up sufficiently manipulated (say, one of his friends is put in danger) to willingly offer it to Inaru, Inugami won’t interfere. He has to not only hold on to it tight, but not get tricked. His other secret? He really doesn’t like Inari. That’s interesting, because Kon basically regarded her as a deity.

Back at the agency, Mihai half-apologizes for his role in putting the ids in danger, but qualifies it by making the point that they won’t get stronger if Inugami only gives them easy missions. Even Akira agrees with that point, as he learned that he can’t make ice without water. He should keep some on him at all times, like Avatar’s Kitara. That night, Kabane compares the heartbeats of a sleeping Shiki and Akira and is glad they’re alive.

The next day Shiki is fine, but Kabane is still watching him like a mother hen. Then it dawn on Kabane: he completely forgot about poor Kon. He rushes back to the part, and Kon falls ungracefully out of the tree to greet him. Kabane doesn’t mince words even when he should, telling Kon that other things came up and he simply forgot about her. And after she’d caught a pair of koi for them to eat together…POOR KON!

Kabane is sure to continue his friendship with Kon, even though Nobimaru says from afar that it’s not wise. As for Shiki, his ordeal at Bugbite has psychologically prepared him to hear what he wasn’t ready to hear before: what became of his family.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 06 – To the Trained Eye

Lt. Blake takes Sorao and Toriko to Major Barker, the “current” commander of the unit, implying a previous commander was among the many casualties. Barker seems nice enough, but weary of the situation, and like Blake, isn’t sure how much longer things can stay “civilized.”

They are surrounded by “bear traps” (i.e. glitches) that either kill or transform whoever or whatever touches them. They are running low on diesel fuel and will soon be out of food. The girls are offered an empty tent that’s strewn with garbage. It’s empty because its previous occupants are dead. It’s just not a place you want to be, especially after a pleasant dinner and drinks.

Blake “advises” them not to use their phones, but it should have been an explicit order and explained that making a call, as the girls do to Kozakura, has an effect on the environment. Specifically, it calls the “Meat Train” to the station, and with it a frightening train of “face dogs”, on whom the soldiers’ mortars and gunfire have no effect.

Toriko hops onto a Humvee and whips out an M14 EBR, but even though Sorao spots the proper target for her, her shots never reach them. This gives Sorao the idea that the one perceiving the targets must be the one to pull the trigger, so she has Toriko anchor her so she can take the shot, all before the soldiers can stop them.

The face dog mass dissipates, but when firing the shot Sorao lost her contact, and the soldiers wig out. She and Toriko make a run for it, and are probably lucky none of the exhausted, extremely on-edge soldiers took any shots at them. Call it a win for Major Barker in keeping discipline under suboptimal conditions.

As the Meat Train approaches, Sorao has another hunch: even though it doesn’t look like it will stop, she belives they can board the train if Toriko reaches out and touches it with her translucent hand. Sorao repeats Toriko’s line about everything working out if they’re together, and take a leap of faith.

It works, and they’re on the train, but Sorao senses a great number of unspeakable, horrifying things on that train, the collective auras of which are enough to cause her to lose consciousness. However, when she comes to, Toriko is smiling from above, and a bright blue sky indicates that they successfully returned to their world, safe and sound.

That’s not to say they returned to Ikebukuro. The beach and palm trees indicate they could be in Okinawa, having used the same entry point to the Otherside the Americans used. Further weird details include the childish drawing of a train track in the sand, and a cut to Kozakura playing back her phone call with the other two, which is distorted and full of unsettling gibberish.

If they’re now in Okinawa, I’d think the next step for Sorao and Toriko is to report the whereabouts of Pale Horse Battalion. Yet even that carries some risk: Kozakura has never heard of such a unit, though the Dark Horse Battalion is stationed in Okinawa. Just what was that unit really up to in the Otherside?

Kemono Jihen – 05 – Don’t Let the Bugs Bite

While Kabane is cleaning the back room, he’s pulled into a room Inugami told the kids never to enter. That’s because the room is the domain of Mihai, a vampire. As with other anime, he’s defined by immense strength and cunning equaled only by his crushing ennui and desire to be both served entertained.

Kabane is tailor-made for both, going right along with it when Mihai declares him his slav—er, waitperson. Shiki protests, so Mihai says they’ll settle it with an arm wrestling contest. He beats both Shiki and Kabane easily, causing Kabane to mope in the park about not being strong enough.

That’s when everyone’s favorite kitsune good girl Kon falls out of a tree. She’s not there to take his head again; when she presented the last one to Inari, the lady didn’t even look in her direction. Thus shunned, she’s hung out in this park, eating small prey.

Feeling a little self-conscious after losing to Mihai, Kabane challenges Kon to a fight in a totally non-aggressive way. Kon goes all out, but she ends up flat on her back with a bloody nose.  Tears well up in her eyes and she starts to sob, but Kon takes her hand and stays with her until nightfall.

When she wakes up, he proposes she come live with him at Inugami’s, but she rules that out because I guess kitsune and tanuki classically don’t get along. Instead, she proposes Kabane move to the park with her. He still needs to buy stuff for dinner at Inugami’s, but he promises he’ll be back before too long.

Unfortunately that’s all we see of Kon, whom I adore, as Kabane is drawn into a new case that Mihai says Inugami is letting the kids take on alone. We then find that Mihai has locked Inugami in his lair. The case involves a sudden drop in suicides at an electronics factory from over a dozen to zero in an unnatural time.

In this very Foxconn-style facility, we learn that whenever the workers have had their fill of the repetitive, monotonous labor, they are escorted to the “employee counseling office” where their damn brains are sucked out by one of the three Kaga sisters, who are kanonba, or mosquito kemono.

Shiki, who has learned how to use his silk as camouflage, infiltrates the factory along with Kabane and Akira. Mihai determiens the kanonba sisters are only sucking brains, not organs or blood, thus keeping their automaton-like workers alive. Having gotten the intel, Shiki tries to sneak back out, but Mihai intentionally rams his RC recon car against the door of the womens’ office, causing a racket.

Shiki is discovered by one of the sisters, but the RC car she picked up electrocutes her; Shiki was just serving as bait for Mihai. When Mihai observes Shiki totally losing it with fear, he deduces that Shiki’s cautious, rational, boring way of doing things is a front for deep-seated trauma. Being an eternally-bored vampire, Mihai is way too excited to continue messing with him.

I’m hoping Inugami can break out and put a stop to Mihai’s sadistic mischief, but even if he doesn’t, perhaps Kabane, Shiki, and Akira can wrap this case up on their own, despite the high level of difficulty. In any case, he’s another colorful addition to the cast. I just hope Kon doesn’t worry about Kabane taking longer than expected…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 05 – Pale Horse

After treating Kozakura to well over $100 worth of dinner as an apology for her unwanted excursion to the Otherside, Toriko and Sorao complete their making-up by ordering another $100 worth of grub and drinks. During the meal, Toriko whips out Lady Hasshaku’s hat, which turns out to be much more than bad table manners.

After the waiter starts acting very strange (muttering about “sublance” and “abardmont”), Sorao leads a tipsy Toriko out of the oddly empty café and to the station, but something is off about Ikebukuro: all the lights are out and there isn’t another soul in sight. Before long the pair find themselves in an unfamiliar field, and encounter a bizarre two-headed robot horse-like monster, carrying several hanging bound bodies.

Neither brought guns to dinner, so they have to make a run for it, with Sorao doing her best to scope out potential Glitches. They reach a train track, which they believe will eventually lead to a station (i.e. shelter), but they’re then chased by a frightening mass of glowing purple faces.

Suddenly, Toriko hits the deck and has Sorao do the same, and bullets fly over their heads—bullets from the guns of soldiers. Their leader identifies the girls as human in Japanese, but his men chatter in English. The bullets aren’t meant for the girls, but for a third monster: a towering Groot-like hulk with branches for antlers.

Eventually the tree man wanders off, while the robotic horse doesn’t continue its pursuit. The lead soldier introduces himself as U.S. Marine Corp Lieutenant Will Drake, commander of the Pale Horse Battalion, Charlie Company 1/2 out of Okinawa. (“Pale Horse” is a reference to Death, the fourth Horse of the Apocalypse.) He and his unit have been trapped in the Otherside for over a month, while their robotic pack mule was transformed into a monster that has claimed a number of his men.

Lt. Drake & Co. lead Sorao and Toriko to “February Station”, which Sorao identifies as Kisaragi Station from the real world, but the group keeps moving until they reach the company’s well-equipped base camp. The thing is, a lot of Drake’s men distrust the girls and aren’t convinced they’re not monsters in disguise. They obeyed his orders to stand down this time, but what if fear of the unknown, or additional illusions, cause them to lash out?

The introduction of American marines from Okinawa to the Otherside, as well as the new manner in which the girls ended up their themselves, brings a fresh new dynamic to their adventures. Toriko may have been joking about marine basic training, but now they find themselves unarmed and exposed in a potentially paranoid hornets’ nest. As Toriko is also fond of saying, as long as they stick together, things will work out. Here’s hoping.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 04 – The Iceboy Cometh

The next case with Kabane and now Kon on board involves Yoruno, a young man who has fallen in love with a woman who is actually a nekomata or cat youkai/kemono. In addition to learning the basic concept of love, Kabane also learns that Inugami’s former partner once ran the bar, and that it’s a somewhat sensitive subject. Inugami has Akira sit this one out, knowing he’ll have trouble with the dirty alleys and rodents.

Kabane and Shiki soon track down Mao-chan in her cat form, and learn she’s transformed other men into her cat servants. Kon ends up pouncing on Mao and neutralizing her, Mao ends up releasing the servants and starting a new life with Yoruno, and Kon leaves with Kabane’s head as payment from Inugami—or rather an orange given the appearance of Kabane’s head. Let it never be said Kon isn’t a good girl.

After Kabane rescues Akira from a roach in the bath, he decides to start serving as Kabane’s apprentice. Inugami doesn’t hesitate to give them a case with the potential to be far more disgusting than the first, but Akira is insistent. This leads to him suiting up in full hazmat gear for the trip into the sewers below Shibuya, though later downgrading to a chic mac and wellies.

There, where the original river is being broken up and diverted, various frog kemono have forgotten reason and become feral, monstrous man-eaters. A tanuki appears to lend a helping paw, but once dozens of the frogs appear, Kabane has his hands full while Akira is overwhelmed and freezes up…until he freezes OUT.

We learn officially that Akira is a yuki-otoko, the incredibly rare male version of the yuki-onna tribe who live in the snowy mountains of Aomori. We also learn Akira came to Inugami searching for his twin brother, who always told him to leave things to others because he’s so weak.

Akira is tired of being the weak one who only screams kya while the others do something, so with a sudden summoning of his powers of ice, he ends up taking out all of the rabid frog kemono at once. The tanuki turns out to be Inugami, who is thanked by the super-chill frog elder, while the social media-obsessed Akira celebrates his first great success with, what else, a selfie.

So far I’m digging the case(s)-of-the-week interspersed with downtime that shows us a wide variety of critters while also providing the opportunity to learn more about the cast, in this case Inugami and the always-adorable Akira. While not as battle-oriented as Jujutsu Kaisen or epic as Demon SlayerKemono Jihen is the cozier, comfier, more mellow of the three monster shows I’m watching. Its understated charm and likeable cast keeps me coming back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 04 – Hey Little Sister, Shotgun

Sorao’s waffling over helping Toriko find Satsuki comes to a head when Toriko leaves in the middle of a very weird lunch to search on her own, thanking Sorao for her help thus far, but implying she can’t count on it anymore and that’s fine. To be fair, Sorao has every reason to fear the Otherside: one of its inhabitants, “Space-Time Man”, warns her she’ll be stuck there if she returns.

Unable to find Toriko to apologize, Sorao visits Kozakura, who inexplicably finds a photo of Satsuki on Sorao’s phone. When three strange people knock aggressively at her door, she whips out an enormous shotgun. Turns out it’s not overkill: the lead woman’s head swells to enormous size, threatening to swallow the two up.

In fact, maybe they do, because one moment the head is there, the next moment they’re in the Otherside. This is particularly distressing to Kozakura, a hermit who doesn’t do field work and is far from dressed properly for an Otherside excursion.

While searching for Toriko, Sorao tells Kozakura about her rather checkered past, involving a parent who was swallowed up into a cult (were those the folks at the door?), then tried to abduct her, only to end up being killed before Sorao could torch them with kerosene. She talks as if this is all the most normal backstory in the world…which it isn’t.

That said, it seems Kozakura was only included so Sorao had someone with whom to talke about her past, because Sorao soon ditches her when she starts using her special eye to discern what’s real and what’s fake. She ends up chasing another version of herself to a strange modern cell where Toriko, dressed in some kind of weird cult garment, is being held.

Toriko is entranced by a figure outside she sees as her “special someone” Satsuki, but in reality is some kind of Art Nouveau monster trying to lure her to God-knows-where. Luckily, Toriko shoots the shit out of the monster with the shotgun, causing it to collapse into itself. Toriko comes out of her trance, and the two make up.

The pace remains leisurely and the runtime is peppered with “wait, what?” moments, but the atmosphere of Otherside and the haunting music accompanying it remain a strong draw. Sorao’s still threatened by Satsuki and pretty generally scared besides, but at least now seems to realize that she and Toriko need to keep sticking together in this bizarre realm.