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.

Otherside Picnic – 03 – It Takes a Village

It’s just Sorao and Toriko this week, as Otherside Picnic sticks to a simple formula: the two meet up, go to the Otherside, encounter something dangerous, then make it back safe and sound. Rinse, repeat. Throughout each of the three visits we’ve watched, Sorao wonders if she really should keep hanging out with Toriko, but hasn’t been able to keep herself from doing so—in large part because Toriko is fun and pretty.

This week while searching for the supply point where Toriko first found her gun, the two go into the nitty-gritty of how to search for glitches along their path. Wide shots of the two give a sense of scale of their surroundings, but because they’re rendered in clunky CG it pulls me out of those scenes every time.

The “Big-Heads” who inhabit the village are initially creepy, but as soon as there are dozens of them rendered in CGI, they look more goofy than anything else. And while they end up chasing the girls, one could argue they had a right to be mad about their friends getting shot by intruders.

During the ensuing chase, the girls stop numerous times while Big-Heads don’t, yet they’re never caught.  Also, both Sorao and Toriko stumble, but neither of them help the other up. They end up escaping back to their world through a miniature shrine, showing that there are many different ways in and out of the Otherside.

It’s somewhat deflating that even after Toriko expresses genuine affection for her, Sorao ends up in the precise same headspace as the beginning of the episode: wondering whether she should rethink continuing these excursions with Toriko. The kids chasing each other in masks that were the same colors as the Big-Heads was a neat little detail. Otherwise, three episodes in I must admit I’m getting a little bored with this.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 01 (First Impressions) – A Troublesome Curse

Itadori Yuuji, the necessary third member of his school’s Occult Club, is a freakishly talented athlete, but he fends off demands from the track team coach because he’s done with Occult Club activities by 5 PM.

Yuuji wants to be done club as soon as possible so he can spend more time with his grandfather in the hospital. Little does Yuuji know that by requesting a certain item, his fellow club members Sasaki and Iguchi are playing with some very ancient and dangerous proverbial fire.

Unfortunately, we only get to spend one afternoon with Yuuji’s delightfully cranky gramps before he kicks the bucket. In what ends up being a dying wish, he tells Yuuji, who is strong, not to die alone like him, but help and save as many people as he can so that when he dies, he’s surrounded by those people.

When Fushiguro from “Jujutsu Tech” asks Yuuji about a certain cursed item, Yuuji only produces the box; the actual item is a finger being unwrapped of its ancient, no-longer effective seals by Sasaki back at school. Once she does, the finger attracts a horde of grotesque (and thankfully not CGI) “Curses”, or monsters.

After a fairly goofy shounen anime start with no shortage of exposition (especially from Fushiguro), we get some properly creepy monster action, as both Sasaki and Iguchi are in the process of being slowly swallowed up when Fushiguro arrives with his two wolf shikigami.

Unfortunately, Fushiguro apparently isn’t that great at exorcising Curses? He needs to be bailed out by Yuuji, who is close to death due to his grandfather’s recent passing and thus can see both the Curses and shikigami, and proceeds to blast through the window to kick the shit out of said Curses and save his friends.

Fushiguro explains a little more, then Yuuji prepares to hand over the finger, but before he can the Curse boss arrives, grabs Fushiguro, and smashes its way out of the school. It’s not looking good for Fushiguro, so Yuuji does something very stupid, yet in keeping with honoring his gramps’ wishes: he swallows the cursed finger, thus gaining its power and enabling him to obliterate the boss with ease and style.

The boss may be gone, but now Ryoumen Sukuna, a particularly evil demon who was the original owner of the finger, has hijacked Yuuji’s body. Sukuna, however, is surprised to find Yuuji is not entirely suppressed, but fighting to get control of his body back from the demon. Fushiguro prepares to exorcise Yuuji as if he were a garden variety Curse, which is a fine way of thanking the person who saved your life…

I’m an entire season and change late to Jujutsu Kaisen, the top-watched anime in 71 countries (topped only by Black Clover, which I will not be watching). I missed it when the Fall cour aired, but wanted to know what made it so popular, and I can see the appeal.

The protagonist is a likeable enough so far, the demons are super creepy and the production by MAPPA is of above-average quality. It gets demerits for Fushiguro’s excessive exposition and a silly detour to the athletic fields for a shot put competition. I also like the idea that Yuuji’s overarching “curse” was bestowed by his grandfather: the curse of helping others. I’m thinking this is worth catching up to.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Promised Neverland – 14 – Bless Us for These, Thy Gifts

This week the kids catch two key breaks. First, they weren’t captured or killed by the farm trackers or the wild forest demon. Second, Mujika and Sonju, the two demons who rescued them, don’t eat humans and have no intention to harm them. In fact, it’s been so long since they’ve encountered humans they’re happy to show them ample hospitality.

Sonju later tells Emma and Ray that after endless war and killing, humans and demons agreed stop hunting each other and split to the world into segregated halves. All the humans on the demon side were “gifted” to the demons and vice versa. With hunting forbidden, farms like Grace Field were established. And, oh yeah, the great split happened over a thousand years ago.

At first Emma and Ray are gobsmacked by the amount of real time that has passed, but then literally jump for joy. The fact that demons only rule half the world and humans are free on their half is a huge boost to their outlook. Even if Sonju says no one has ever crossed the boundary between worlds, well, Emma and Ray will simply be the first, that’s all!

The pair relay the news to the others and rallies them to their suddenly more concrete cause. The good demons, who practice their religious faith by not eating human flesh, show the group the proper way out of the tunnel network under the forest to eventually reach the spot indicated in Minerva’s pen.

On the way, they teach them all of the things they need to learn to survive on their own, from building fires and cooking to medicinal plants and archery. Gilda and the little ones harshly scold both Emma and Ray for being so reckless earlier. They can’t afford to lose either of them, so they have to start being more careful and speaking up if they’re hurt.

When Sonju heads to the surface to scope out the area for threats, Emma accompanies him, but not for a change of scenery. She wants him to teach her something he hadn’t to that point: how to kill a living thing. Sonju acquieses, and while Emma initially hesitates to loose her bow on an unassuming bird, she eventually does so, and hits the bird right in the head.

While a clean strike, the bird is not yet dead, so Sonju shows Emma the Gupna, a ritual that takes place to give thanks and show respect for the kill.. By plunging a vampiric Vida branch into the heart of the still-living bird, when the plant blooms it means the meat is safe to eat. It also means the gods have approved the meat for consumption

When Emma remembers the same plant being used on her family members, she retches, but completes the ritual, adding her own prayer: “We don’t want to be eaten. We want to live. But we’ve been eating others too. And if we can’t keep eating, we can’t survive.” When she returns to the caverns with Sonju, the kids notice something different about Emma. Indeed, while out in the forest, making her first kill, she was changed irrevocably. You can see it on her face, and in the haunting way she whispers “I’m okay.”

I for one am glad the kids not only caught a couple breaks this week, but were blessed with a path forward. Not only that, for a few days they were able to stop being runaways or survivalists and simply live like the kids they are, being fed and taught and not having to worry about running for their lives. Emma took an important step into the new normal by officially becoming an active rather than passive participant in the food chain.

P.S.Check out Crow’s Episode 2 review here.

Otherside Picnic – 02 – Beware the Slenderwoman

This week’s Picnic starts with a wall slam, but that’s misleading: Toriko isn’t seeking to ask Sorao out, but to suggest they visit a researcher acquaintance. Toriko seeks answers about her newly-transparent hand and Sorao’s newly-deep blue eye, both marks of the Otherside that remain with them even in the normal world.

The researcher, the somewhat unkempt Kozakura, pays Toriko for another mirror cube, and Toriko splits the cash with Sorao 50/50, is astonished the two women survived “close contact of the fourth kind” with beings from the Otherside, but when asked about their marks she simply tells them she’s no medical doctor.

However, Sorao learns more about what seems to be self-evident about the Otherside: people who enter there (a group that doesn’t include Kozakura) can potentially become irrevicably addicted to it and the strange entities therein, and never return. Such was the fate of Toriko’s friend and mentor Satsuki.

Toriko asks Sorao to accompany her back to the Otherside, and while Sorao initially balks at the idea of further visits, she still meets up with Toriko the next day. Sorao seems both pushed towards Toriko’s companionship and the wonders of the Otherside, but when Toriko remarks that Satsuki is “more important than anyone else” to her, Sorao sulks.

There’s a sense of jealousy, yes, but also annoyance that Sorao even came upon Toriko, as she tells herself things were just fine when she had the Otherside “all to herself”. Toriko picks up on the sulking and confronts Sorao about it, but before they can get into it a man pulls a machine gun on them.

Turns out he doesn’t wish to harm them, but warn them not to move so freely and recklessly. Turns out there are invisible “glitches” all over the landscape of the Otherside (which he calls the “Zone”) that serve as dimensional traps, scorching whatever touches them into ash. Like Toriko, he’s looking for someone seemingly spirited away into the Otherside: his wife.

Toriko agrees to accompany this Mr. Abarato to search for their missing people, while Sorao hangs back, even more annoyed that now a third person has invaded her once solitary space. Of course, it should be clear to her by now that the Otherside never was “all to herself”, she just hadn’t yet come across other visitors.

The three follow very inhuman footsteps into a large, creepy building surrounded by thick, eerie fog. Inside, Sorao sees an abnormally tall, skinny woman dressed in white—the urban legend Lady Hasshaku, but Toriko and Abarato see their missing persons. When Abarato approaches the lady, she shows her face, lashes out, and he suddenly blinks out of existence.

When Sorao chases after Toriko to keep her from vanishing too, suddenly Toriko is grabbing her hand from behind; Lady Hasshaku used Sorao’s feelings against her to lure her in. Sorao figures out that while she can see the lady’s true form with her blue eye, their bullets won’t defeat her until Toriko’s translucent hand is in physical contact with that form.

It works, Hasshaku dissipates, and the pair are transported back to the real world through the same torii in the Chichibu mountains through which Abarato had first entered. The episode ends on a comic note, with the pair having insufficient funds for the bus home, but considering Abarato is seemingly gone forever, the tone seems a bit…flippant?

Now that Toriko and Sorao know about the glitches, I’m hoping they’ll exercise even more caution in future Otherside visits. It may well be that Toriko’s friend Satsuki suffered the same fate as Abarato, his wife, or the dead(?) guy we saw last week near the river.

This was decent if not overly inspiring “case-of-the-week” that introduces two new players (one on-screen, one missing), a concrete goal for Toriko (find Satsuki) which causes some discord with Sorao. While last week suggested she was glad to meet a friend, Sorao continues to oscillate between between wanting to be with Toriko (and only Toriko) and wanting to be left alone.

The Promised Neverland – 13 (S2 01) – Freedom! Horrible, Horrible Freedom!

When the first season of The Promised Neverland wrapped at the end of March 2019, none of us could have imagined what life would be like a year from then: a pandemic unprecedented in modern times spreading death, chaos, and uncertainty across the globe. Now it’s January 2021, and things are looking up in the U.S., a nation that has handled the pandemic the worst proportional to its size and wealth.

A new president will be inaugurated in just two weeks, joined by the first woman vice president. Just today we learned he may have a cooperative Senate on his side. Vaccines to tackle the virus have arrived. Now that the second season of Neverland has arrived and picked up right where it left off, I can’t help but relate to Emma, Ray, and the other kids who escaped the farm.

Like them, we are getting the first taste of freedom in what feels like far more than four years. Also like them, it is far too early to celebrate or rest easy. Yes, elections were won by reasonable, non-sociopathic, non-authoritarian people, and the vaccines are being shipped. But the winners must still implement policies to heal the nation, and the vaccines must still be distributed while maintaining the necessary safety guidelines that have caused so much economic harm.

As for the escaped kids, they are free, and freedom is sweet, but also terrifying. The Grace Field House sheltered, clothed, and fed the kids, but now all their survival needs are up to them, and the threat of being caught or killed by forest monsters is constant. And of the fifteen or so kids, only four (Emma, Ray, Gilda, and Don) are old enough to keep the group organized, and even these four are mere tweens. They’ve had to grow up in a hurry.

Fortunately, the kids have an ally out there somewhere in William Minerva, whose smart pen serves as a map and guide for those who have his books to decipher the code. That code points them to a particular spot on the map; they just need to get there and they’ll (presumably) be safe, though I won’t rule out the possibility Minerva could be dead or this could all be another cruel trap.

But potential threats on the horizon are of far less concern than those more immediate, starting with the giant monster that chases them in the cold open. The forest is very Nausicaä-esque with its giant trees, whimsical plants and creatures, but the kids have inserted themselves into a food chain that would be glad to avail themselves of easy prey.

It’s a good thing the kids practiced “playing tag” so much, because those organizational skills prove crucial to their survival. The group branches off twice, first with Gilda and the slower kids, then with Emma and the rest. Ray volunteers to lure the monster into a vine trap they find on the forest floor. But before he can implement his plan, the monster is beheaded by a sword-wielding demon pursuer, aided by bloodhound-like demons seekers who detect Ray’s scent.

If Neverland stretched credulity a bit by having all the kids run fast enough to elude the beast, and only one little kid stumbles (and happens to do so right beside Emma), it restores that credulity by not forgetting about the fact that Emma is missing an ear, and a wound like that can and does open up if you run around too much.

The blood loss becomes too much and Emma faints at the worst possible moment, but they are met by an unlikely ally—a mysterious cloaked figure—at the best possible moment. Meanwhile, Ray runs as fast as he can as far as he can, but ultimately collapses from exhaustion, at the complete mercy of the demons bent on returning the product to the farm.

Thankfully, their task is made harder by the fact that killing or harming such prime stock would defeat the purpose of catching it. A second mysterious cloaked figure on demon-horseback exploits this by snatching up Ray and riding off, leaving smoke bombs in his wake that confound the seekers.

Ray wakes up in a serene cave, safe and sound, and more importantly not tied up or otherwise restrained. He explores the caves and finds Emma also safe and sound, her ear wound re-dressed. They are approached by the female cloaked figure, who has apparently never heard of Minerva. She leads them to the other kids, who are about to be fed.

Then Ray notices the figure isn’t human, but a demon, based on her clawed bare feet. The second figure, the one who saved Ray on horseback, also appears. Emma and Ray have every right to be suspicious considering recent events (along with their upbringing, obviously). Do these two represent a faction of “good demons” opposed to the ones running the human farms?

Maybe. Then again, this sounds too good to be true. It could be these demons simply have different plans for the kids. For now, I’ll hope that’s not the case, and the fact the kids can roam free after waking up is a sign they don’t have to fear their rescuers, and could even regard them as allies in their ongoing struggle for freedom.

I just hope that we, as well as Emma, Ray, and the kids, don’t end up like the poor space ants who provided the title for this review:

P.S. Crow is reviewing Neverland too.

Otherside Picnic – 01 (First Impressions) – Sharing is Caring

Kamikoshi Sorao (Hanamori Yumiri) is a solitary young woman who has found her way into another world, but when we find her, she seems to be in a bit of a fix. She’s floating in a pond like Ophelia from Hamlet (and a famous Klimt painting) and not only does it seem like she’s about to drown, but she’s not particularly upset about it, admiring the beauty of the light through the water as she sinks.

Then Sorao is suddenly pulled out of the water in a princess hold by Nishina Toriko (Kayano Ai) clearly a far more cheerful and gregarious young woman. There’s also a strange monster that makes you nauseous if you even look at it, but thanks to Sorao looking at it just long enough and Toriko tossing some rock salt at it, it is defeated, leaving a curious reflective cube.

Having felt a rush of danger and accomplishment from their joint defeat of the “thing”—called a Kurekure or “Wiggle-Waggle”—Sorao and Toriko retreat back to their own world. There, Toriko refers to where they were as the “Otherside”, and asks Sorao for her contact info, wanting to meet again.

Sorao only feels comfortable telling Toriko where she attends college, and to her shock, Toriko shows up while she’s eating alone in the dining hall. Toriko has a backpack full of rock salt and wants to return to the Otherside to hunt some Wiggle-Waggle, and she wants Sorao to come with.

Their subsequent journey to the Otherside via a different portal makes for another pleasantly weird, creepy, and atmospheric sequence, aided by Watanable Takeshi’s nervy ambient score and both dreamlike and nightmarish visuals. They must press the elevator buttons in the right order, stopping at a certain sequence of floors, on some of which lurk frightening monsters both white and black.

But once on the Otherside, we see that it is something of an alternate, fallen version of where they came from. Between this ruined yet eerily beautiful setting and the two very different personalities who explore it, I was immediately reminded of 2017’s excellent Girls Last Tour, with more conventional character design and the fact these girls aren’t stuck in the ruined place, but can come and go as they please.

Predictably, Wiggle-Waggle Battle No.2 doesn’t go as planned, as neither Toriko’s rock salt or her handgun seem to have any effect on the beast. Sorao goes over how things went down before and remembers that she maintained eye contact with the thing as Toriko attacked. This time, doing so is an even more harrowing and trippy experience for Sorao, who hears layered voices as the dragon-like beast descends upon her.

Still, she only has to stare at the thing long enough to make it vulnerable to Toriko’s bullets—too long, and she’ll go mad, she’s told. Toriko keeps that from happening by giving Sorao a well-timed slap, while pulling the weird blue tendrils that started to grow out of Sorao’s face (and which apparently killed another explorer nearby).

Toriko puts some caps in the Kurekure’s ass, and their reward is another magic cube, the true purpose of which eludes both of them. Then they realize just how close they came to utter ruin, and run like crazy people to safety, settling on the roof of the building where the portal home is located. Toriko suggests they go out and celebrate when they return, after a short rest. Sorao betrays an easy smile and concurs.

In the beginning, Sorao preferred to keep the Otherside to herself, but after meeting Toriko and becoming “partners in crime”, she now realizes the value and novelty of sharing the place with someone. She may call Toriko a “weirdo”, but only because she knows she’s a weirdo too. As different as the two of them are, Sorao had fun being weird in a weird place with Toriko.

And you know what? I had fun watching them too! This is no Girls Last Tour—at least so far—but it has a wonderful stripped down quality, an otherworldly mood and atmosphere, and just the right amount of potential peril. It’s just enjoyable to spend time watching these two explore this strange place while simultaneously exploring each other. Looks to be a fun ride.

DanMachi III – 09 – Paying the Price

As reported by Hermes to Ouranos, the expulsion of Ikelos from Orario and the scapegoating of his Familia quelled public uproar for a time, but with Ikelos gone they have turned the blame for the recent destruction on the Little Rookie. Bell isolates himself in his room, upset not about all the scorn he’s receiving, but the fact it affects his Familia and his Goddess.

Hermes visits Casa de Hestia to report that even though Bell is the “city’s most hated person”, both he and Ouranos intend to continue supporting the Xenos. Right now they’re holed up in various locations under Daedalus Street. Finn and Loki’s other Children are combing the area, and Hermes is confident that even if Loki went along with their plan, her Children would never accept the idea of “mercy toward monsters”.

That means Bell is destined to remain persona non grata for the time being. Bell insists on paying a visit to Daedalus Street to experience the hate firsthand, and is almost ashamed that Hestia covers for him by explaining to all in earshot that all he did was to help her with her debt. They cross paths with Ais, who says nothing to Bell—though it’s not like she was ever the talkative type—and Loki, who like fellow trickster god Hermes seems amused by how lively Bell’s foolishness has made things.

And then there’s Syr Flover, who spots Bell in the street and insists on walking with him, fully acknowledging she knows what people are saying about him. Syr (and by extention Freya) doesn’t give a shit what other people say or think; she knows Bell, loves Bell, and will always be there for him. She has him rest his head on her lap as she pets his head, telling him not to worry about others, but to lean on the “true things” that will remain by his side.

As Asfi fills Ryuu and Aisha in on another request involving the protection of Xenos (something they can’t quite wrap their heads around but don’t reject out of hand), Hestia Familia receives word from Fels and has a meeting to determine their course of action. Bell comes right out and tells his family that he’s going to help the Xenos get back to the Dungeon.

The others—even Lili—are all in agreement with him. They’re all in this together. Welf even slaved away in the forge for five days to make four magical swords, to go along with the magical goodies Fels prepares for them. With six doors in and out Knossos and only four Loki guard teams, they definitely have a chance to pull it off, even if they don’t know which doors Loki’s children control.

That said, Loki’s Finn knows Bell is going to be used as a decoy, and urges his comrades, including Ais and Lefiya—Hey Lefiya!—not to hold back against the Xenos…or anyone who helps them. After years of cooperation and mutual respect, the Loki and Hestia Familias will be on opposite sides of a battle.

DanMachi III – 08 – Suffering Fools

Every season of DanMachi has come with one or two absolute bangers that are both the culmination and transcendence of every preceding episode to that point; a climax that feels epic and cinematic in scope; that pulls out all of the stops. This season’s banger has arrived, and it simply rules.

Bell, foolish as he is, is able to create just enough deniability to not be branded an enemy of humanity on the spot: the vouivre is his catch, and he won’t let anyone else touch it. That said, when Wiene slithers away, crashing into every other stone building and causing it to topple, it doesn’t inspire much confidence he has his quarry under control!

When other Xenos emerge from Knossos, Loki Familia is ready, with Bete, Tione, and Tiona making quick work of Gros, Lyd, and various small fry. It’s especially fun to see the two Amazon sisters in action again. They’re ordered only to disable, not to kill, but it’s clear they could kill easily if they needed to.

Fels summons an Adamantite Golem, but Tiona cuts it down with one swing from her massive two-sided sword, as if to say “That all you got?” As it turns out, it isn’t: the Xenos’ least talkative but most powerful member, the Black Minotaur Asterius, arrives fresh from killing Dix in the halls of Knossos, that’s when Loki’s vanguard starts to have some problems.

The Minotaur proves a worthy match to all three active combatants, then pulls out a magical axe that shoots them so full of lightning they become numbed and paralyzed. That’s Finn’s queue to send in their heavy hitter, the War Princess herself and Bell’s would-be girlfriend…Ais Wallenstein.

After ethereally floating down to street level, Ais unleashes an Aerial Tempest combo, and suddenly the Minotaur is down an arm. The moment Ais takes the field, you know shit’s getting real, but that’s by far the most damaging blow she’s able to land, as in the ensuing fight Asterius is able to keep up with and defend her lightning-fast attacks. He’s no slouch!

But when the Minotaur slashes her left shoulder, Gareth and Finn step in to relieve her and prepare a pincer when Hermes’ chienthrope child Lulune covers the area with smoke bombs, allowing Asterius to flee. It’s clear Hermes wants Ouranos—and Bell—to succeed.

As for Bell, he continues to chase a berserk, raging Wiene as she leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. When adventurers and guards try to attack her, Bell launches Firebolts in their general direction (but without intent to harm them). Little does he know their arrangement through the city blocks is no accident.

Wiene ends up being led straight into the amphitheater, where she’s surrounded by more than two dozen mages who fire lightning attacks at her in unison. One of Dix’s henchmen delivers the coup-de-grace before being crushed to death by Gros. The arena floor collapses and Wiene and Bell take a tumble.

With Wiene now near death and no longer thrashing about, Bell is able to replace her jewel, but while she regains her “humanity”, it seems too late to save her, as she begins to turn to dust, like someone snapped away by Thanos. As tears well in her eyes, Wiene smiles. She had a dream that no one saved her, but it was just a dream. In reality it’s Bell, whom she loves, who saved her, and for that she is happy and grateful.

It’s obviously heartwrenching to see her vanish in a cloud of black dust while Bell embraces her, but thankfully we don’t have to endure the despair for long, as Fels decides to whip out a spell he’s been attempting for 800 years and long since condemned as useless: Dia Orpheus, which essentially rewrites the rules of the universe to return Wiene to life and to Bell, back in her humanoid child form.

This time it works; Fels achieves a miracle. And one could hope that this time it worked because it had to in order to restore hope of humans and Xenos coexisting. That’s only possible because of Bell, who, foolish as it was, rushed headfirst to protect them when they were being unjustly demonized and oppressed.

After Wiene is returned to the other surviving Xenos in their hideout, Bell returns to the surface, and the city is half-destroyed, due in large part to his chasing Wiene around. Eina asks him if it’s true he exposed the city to danger and allowed other adventurers to suffer injury. When he responds in the affirmative, she slaps him…then hugs him, not wanting it to be true.

But there’s no overlooking the destruction around them, nor the injuries of the adventurers involved in the incident. Bell likely has a lot to answer for. Hesita & Co. stayed out of the fighting, and I doubt Bell will be expelled from the Guild with Ouranos in charge. But surely some measure of sanction or reckoning awaits him. As he couldn’t let Wiene die—and she didn’t—it will have been worth it no matter what. But that doesn’t mean Everything’s Going to Be Okay.

DanMachi III – 07 – A Beast’s Dream

I respect Bell’s moxie, but I was hoping for something a bit more clever than trying to go toe-to-toe in a melee fight against an opponent two full levels higher than him. Sure, Dix is in a weakened state due to the curse, but that won’t last. At least we get some clarity via his ranting: he’s been able to calm his raging Daedalus blood—and nullify the urge to keep building Knossos—by killing Xenos.

It’s the specific fact they cry and scream like humans that makes it work. So yeah, Dix has been suffering a horrible curse for which not even the bloodshed in the dungeon could lift his entire life. It’s not surprising he’d take whatever form of release that came along; moral implications be damned. But still, he’s one sadistic bastard!

Meanwhile, outside Knossos, the Ganesha Familia have almost finished capturing the Xenos when they are ambushed by a giant minotaur. Everyone is either killed or injured, including Aisha and Asfi. Ryuu manages not to die by dumb luck, as the minotaur hears a wolf howling and departs before finishing her. So much for Bell getting some help from these three!

He’s on his own when Dix shows him the chained Wiene, then rips the stone off her head. Wiene undergoes a horrifying (and no doubt excruciating) transformation into a full adult vouivre, screaming and lashing out mindlessly.

Bell attempts to reach the Wiene he knows by refusing to fight her and letting her grab his shoulder (after swatting him back a couple times). She remembers the first time she accidentally cut him, and actually manages to say his name and weep tears of despair. But it doesn’t last long, and soon Wiene is back to going berserk.

Dix is super pissed that Bell almost succeeded in proving him wrong about Xenos just being monsters by any other name, and they continue their one-on-one battle, but despite being pretty beaten down (both physically and emotionally) he seems to find his second wind, even breaking the blade of Dix’s spear. Then Lyd breaks free of Dix’s curse and fights beside Bell, allowing him to land his Bell Punch square in Dix’s chest.

Unfortunately, regardless of Dix’s status, the damage is done, and he opens a door to allow the berserk Wiene direct access to the surface, where she’s sure to be “dealt with” by adventurers. Bell races after her, stopping only to be healed by Fels’ kick-ass magic. Gros joins Lyd and Rei in going after Bell to help him, even if he can’t admit he can probably trust the Little Rookie at this point.

Wiene emerges first on Daedalus Street, which just happens to be where Welf led Hestia Familia on a hunch. She was immediately vilified by citizens on the surface when she was a cute little kid; I can’t imagine her new form will do her any favors.

Bell follows shortly thereafter, but Wiene is stabbed by a spear thrown by Loki Familia, who are perched on a roof, ready to swoop down and eliminate the threat. Bell then does something that could condemn him, his goddess, and his Familia forever: he shields Wiene from the Lokis, a half-defiant, half-mad look on his face.

This pits him against Ais and every other member of the Lokis who have just been ordered to dispose of the vouivre. It’s an extremely volatile situation where there just isn’t time to explain what needs to be explained, and even if there was, orders are orders. One just hopes Bell won’t have to fight his friend, and cooler heads in Lyd, Rei, and Gros can arrive in time to restrain Wiene and bail Bell out. But I gotta say, things are not looking good for Argonaut-kun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 06 – Sagrada Familia

As Ikelos smirks his smirk atop a great tower…somewhere, Ganesha’s suppression force engages the armed monsters. Ryuu, Aisha, and Asfi arrive but cannot find Bell, who is in disguise. That disguise doesn’t last long, however, as he eventually crosses blades with Lyd, who admits his kind destroyed Liviria as revenge for poachers killing their kin.

Lyd can’t quell the rage of Gros or his other kin, which means any hopes for peace between their races has been all but dashed. But if Lyd really wanted Bell to return to the surface and separate himself from this business, he wouldn’t have mentioned that Wiene was among the Xenos captured.

Ryu, a good friend in a tight spot, comes between Lyd and Bell, but when it’s clear Bell isn’t about to head home with her, she provides him with something he might find useful. Of course, that something becomes useful immediately after they part ways, and when Bell encounters Fels.

The orb acts as a key to heretofore unknown man-made passages to the Dungeon, which lead to a labyrinth built by Daedalus centuries ago. Out at the entrance of Babel, the rest of Hesita Familia can only watch from the bushes and wait…until Lili gets the idea to ask her former captor about the network of smugglers.

Lyd, Gros, and the Xenos take a different route through the labyrinth with a another key, but both they and Bell/Fels end up in the same place: a staging area where the captives are imprisoned. They start breaking cages and chains, but they’re interrupted by Ikelos Familia and Dix, who have homefield advantage.

Dix reveals he’s a direct descendant of Daedalus, who went mad trying to surpass the Dungeon by his own hands. His monumental work, Knossos, remains unfinished to this day (like Sagrada Familia in Barcelona), but monster and Xenos smuggling is one of their revenue streams for continuing construction, and Dix & Co. are bound to continue the work Daedalus started…even if he doesn’t seem like a big fan of his ancestor

After activating a curse that has a Confuse and Berserk effect on the Xenos, Fels tells Bell their only choice is to defeat Dix in order to lift said curse. Oh, and by the way…Dix is Level 5. Nevertheless, if Bell wants to save Wiene, he’ll have to get through Dix.

The arrival of an arrangement of the DanMachi main battle theme is welcome, but I wish this episode didn’t feel like so much overly clunky plot mechanics engineered to put Bell in a duel with Dix. The duel itself, however, should be a lot of fun, even if there’s not much to Dix other than he’s, like, a bad dude. Hopefully Fels can provide some magey support to help even the odds…