Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 03 – Like a Rock

This week is a very workmanlike training episode, what amounts to a lengthy montage in between scenes of Tanjirou writing journal entries to Nezuko describing all of the things Urokodaki teaches him over a year. That includes how to stand, land, hold a sword, breathe, hold your breath and more. All the while, Nezuko sleeps, and Tanjirou worries about her.

Tanjirou soaks it all up like a sponge in order for his master to clear him for the Final Selection that will determine if he can become a member of the Demon Slayer Corps. Once Urokodaki tells him there is nothing else to teach him, he offers him a final test: slice a giant boulder in the woods clean in half.

The varying environments (forest, mountains, waterfall) break up the repetition that is both a bug and feature of most training episodes, and despite how fast time passes you can really feel how hard Tanjirou is working and struggling, and how frustrated he is when he’s suddenly left on his own to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

For another six months Tanjirou tries and fails to slice the boulder, until he’s approached by a boy in a kitsune mask named Sabito and a cute girl named Mokomo. Sabito offers tough love and clichéd motivational patter as he wails on Tanjirou. In between their sparring sessions, Mokomo teaches Tanjirou how to properly achieve Total Concentration, which allows humans to fight on par with demons.

After six months of that, Tanjirou is ready to face Sabito, who wields a metal sword for the first time after using only wood before. Tanjirou uses Total Concentration, her and Sabito rush at each other, and his strike hits Sabito first, cracking his mask in two. With that, the orphans trained by Orokodaki smile and disappear, and all of a sudden Tanjirou is standing before the boulder, which is sliced in two.

As I said, this episode has some cool moments but gets the job done in a pretty matter-of-fact manner. I’ve seen training regimens last only half an episode or less, while I’ve also seen them last entire arcs or cours. In the case of Demon Slayer, Tanjirou’s training takes an episode an change, which seems about right. On to the Final Selection…and hopefully Nezuko wakes up soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 02 – The Scent of Kindness

After an emotional grind of a first episode, it was nice to start the second with some lighter comedy, starting with Tenjirou absolutely insisting on paying someone for materials he then expertly weaves into a basket for carrying Nezuko during the day. He may no longer have parents to answer to, but he was raised right.

There’s a lot of physical comedy inherent in Nezuko hiding in the darkest places she can find, even if she has to dig, as well as her neat trick of shrinking just enough to fit in the basket. Kitou Akari, well-known to me as a seiyu with a very precise and matter-of-fact meter, does a lot with little nonverbal sounds.

Her placid stare and bamboo gag conceal the smoldering demon within. While on the way to Mt. Sagiri they encounter a demon eating three humans, and Nezuko’s mouth waters profusely at the sight and smell of her new preferred food. Nevertheless, she doesn’t join, and has her brother’s back when the demon attacks him.

When characters are relatively still or moving slowly, we get beautiful backgrounds and vistas. When there’s action, the camera mixes frenetic 3D POV views with wide static or panning shots, to allow the motion to breathe. Every moment is a visually stunning spectacle, with a gorgeous cinematic score backing it up.

Tenjirou and Nezuko’s battle with the demon also blends action and comedy seamlessly, as Tenjirou deals with the peculiar circumstances of going toe-to-toe with a demon for the first time. What would’ve been a fatal hatchet to the throat is quickly-healed scratch, and even when the demon’s head and body are separated, the body still fights while the head grows arms and suddenly it’s as if there are two opponents.

Tenjirou is eventually able to disable the head, then tackles the body off a cliff before being caught by Nezuko. That’s when Urokodaki Sakonji arrives, to see if Tenjirou has what it truly takes to be a demon hunter. Unfortunately, taking forever to make decisions and showing empathy and kindness for your lethal foe are traits Tenjirou possesses in abundance, and are not ideal traits for a demon hunter.

That said, Tenjirou is clearly a tough kid with a head like a rock and keen sense of smell, and Giyuu respectfully asked Sakonji to train him as there’s just “something about” him and his sister, so Sakonji sets to work training him. The test begins with a grueling trek to Mt. Sagiri, with Tenjirou running while carrying his sis. Then he’s made to climb the mountain, and, as night falls, climb back down while avoiding a ridiculous number of punishing traps.

At first, Tenjirou is overwhelmed by exhaustion, the thin air, and his lack of early progress. But he hunkers down, slows and controls his breathing, and uses his nose to detect the traps and avoid…most of them. Just before dawn he arrives at Sakonji’s front door, the mountain having thoroughly chewed him up and spit him out.

It’s enough for Sakonji to accept him as his student. But the true challenge will be whether Tenjirou can learn to switch off his kind heart when it becomes a threat to his safety or an obstacle to his duty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spark in the Gloom

When the immensely popular and critically acclaimed ufotable series Demon Slayer aired between April and September of 2019…I missed out. Being highly susceptible to FOMO, when it first appeared on my Netflix home screen, I decided to dive in, buoyed by going back and catching up on the currently airing Jujutsu Kaisen.

With the first episode in the bag, I can confidently say that this is right up my alley, and I really should have cracked it open back in Spring 19. In my defence, back then I was busy watching the excellent Dororo reboot, Part 2 of Attack on Titan’s third season, and the second cour of the promising Rising of the Shield Hero, so I wasn’t just twiddling my thumbs.

That said, I’m glad I went back to check this out. While the number of characters and storylines are sure to balloon before long, I loved how simple it starts out: a boy carrying a wounded girl through a bleak wintry forest. I can’t stress that “bleak” part enough—once Kamado Tanjirou returns home to find his entire family slaughtered but one sister, I couldn’t help feel like we were entering Grave of the Fireflies territory.

I won’t spoil Grave for those who haven’t seen it; suffice it to say it’s by far the darkest and bleakest Ghibli film and one of the saddest films ever, and things don’t end well for its pair of siblings. Demon Slayer differs in that while Tanjirou and Nezuko suffer horrendous tragedy, the opening episode ends with a spark of hope that breaks through the unyielding cold.

Granted, that hope is a spark and only a spark, made possible by a titular demon slayer named Tomioka Giyuu staying his hand when it comes time to execute Nezuko. Did I mention demon blood got into her wounds, thus transforming her into a demon? Well, that’s the sitch, because it wasn’t enough that Tenjirou lose his mother and other siblings.

While this could easily have descended into tragedy porn, there’s a sense that things can’t get any worse, and that it’s always darkest before the dawn (though Tenjirou is warned to keep Nezuko out of direct sunlight). That fact is reflected in the stunningly gorgeous wintry mountain landscape, which at least started out bright and cheerful before the clouds amassed.

Tomioka admits he shares part of the blame for Tenjirou’s plight; if he’d arrived a few hours earlier he could have stopped the demons before they attacked. But he didn’t get where he is today by dwelling on the past. What keeps him from killing Nezuko is that despite most likely starving for human flesh, rather than eat her knocked-out brother, she shields him from Tomioka. Instead he places some kind of pacifier in her mouth that seems to calm her (and give her a very cute surprised expression).

So the story so far is simple and familiar: kid loses almost everything, and seeks to find and kill (or…slay) the demons responsible, and save his sister. Naturally, he’ll need to become stronger to do that, and Tomioka tells him to head to Mt. Sagiri to find a man named Urokodaki Sakonji.

ufotable, renowned for its action sequences, wows with the landscapes first, but is no slouch when it comes to the showdown with Tomioka and the Kamado siblings. The action is beautiful and precise, but not overly flashy or show-offy. Tomioka is so quick it’s as if he can teleport. Tenjirou is a lot more clumsy in his movements, as befits his desperate mood, while the demonic Nezuko is both beast-like and balletic in her strikes, leaps and lunges.

All in all, Demon Slayer is off to a stirring, enticing start, front-loading the tragedy but also presenting its hero with a chance to claw back from the brink and salvage what remains of his shattered life. I’m glad Tenjirou isn’t left all alone, and while Nezuko is a demon, and that sucks, there seems to be enough of her left that she’s not an immediate threat to him. As their quest begins, so does my quest to cover it. Better a bit late than never, eh?

DanMachi II – 12 (Fin) – A Goddess’ Love

While last week’s cliffhanger, in which Bell, Hestia, and Ais literally fell off a cliff, hinted at more action and peril in the finale, we end up with no such thing. My expectations were duly subverted; thank you, DanMachi! The episode skips to the part where Ais has already effortlessly saved everyone, and Hestia is in bed recovering from a fever.

They end up in a gorgeous mountain village, whose mayor Karm and daughter Rina are more than happy to host a goddess. When Rina proves more than capable of taking care of her, Hestia puts Bell to work helping the villagers prepare for their harvest festival. Ais joins him, donning some very fetching village garb.

So…what’s the twist? Isn’t everyone in this village a bit too kind? When does the other shoe drop? Well, it doesn’t. Bell and Ais never encounter any more enemies, be they Ares’ children or anyone else. The village doesn’t even have a dark secret; the scales of the legendary Black Dragon are on proud display for all to see, their mere presence keeping monsters away and enabling the village to prosper. Ais gives them the stink-eye, but that’s all.

The lack of any classic conflict allows the episode to be a meditation on the goddess-child relationship, represented in the present by Hestia and Bell, and in the past by Karm and his goddess Brigid. Once a brash young adventurer himself, he and Brigid loved one another, so much so that she saved his life at the cost of returning to heaven.

Filled with grief and regret, he swore never to take a wife and instead adopted Rina, who keeps him going. But as his life continues to wind down, he impresses upon Bell the importance of honoring and protecting his goddess at all costs.

Bell takes that to heart when a recovered Hestia joins him and Ais at the festival. Rather than bookending DanMachi with Bell-Ais dances, Bell remembers Karm’s words and how he spurned Hestia last week by saying the wrong thing, and formally asks her for a dance.

The fun is interrupted by Rina, who brings Hestia back to speak to Karm, who is very near death. While everyone around her is weeping, Hestia maintains an ethereal calm about the whole thing, keeping things light and upbeat as she speaks to Karm.

Turns out she and Brigid were best friends (though, like Loki she used to call her a shrimp), and she lets her hair down so Karm can see her as Brigid with his failing eyes, calling him to join her in heaven. Bell can’t help but weep as Hestia shuts the departed Karm’s eyes—he can’t help but see his own future in the scene.

Bell wanders off on his own, but is soon found by Hestia, who suspects he’s worried about their very lifespans and resultant perspectives on time. But she tells him not to overthink things. If he wants to be with her—and he very much does—then there’s nothing to worry about. She’ll be with him, all throughout his life, even when he grows old.

Even when his soul rises to heaven, is wiped clean, and returns to earth as someone else. She’ll simply find that person and ask them to be in her Familia. There’s no need to fear their love for each other, because even if his body isn’t eternal, she, and that love, most certainly are.

With that, Bell, Hestia, and Ais return to Orario. They vow to return to the village—I can’t blame them, place was super-cozy—and Ais has Bell promise to bring her along, inviting Hestia’s ire. Haruhime invites it too when she welcomes bell home with a big hug.

As action-packed, world-changing finales go, this…wasn’t that. In a way, it was something better—or at least far truer to what a goddess like Hestia is all about: the warmth and comfort of the hearth, and the kindness and love of a happy home.

BokuBen – 05 – An Eventful Two Days in the Mountains

Ah, the mountains, where the weather can change on a dime…and compromising situations can come just as quickly! The whole class has arrived at a mountain retreat for two days of intensive study, but the thing Rizu seems to be studying more intensively than anything is Nariyuki’s face.

Rizu has probably never been in love, so isn’t sure what to do with the strange mix of emotions she feels whenever she looks at Nariyuki , and in the process of trying to figure them out, she just keeps starting.

In this high-stakes environment, even lending Nariyuki an eraser is an intense competition, with Fumino beating a hesitating Rizu, Nariyuki fumbling, and Uruka passing it to him under the desk—where her legs aren’t crossed. None of this is intentional, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s happening to Nariyuki .

Increasingly embarrassed over her reactions to his presence, Rizu lashes out and runs out for some air, breaking the rules. Once she’s calmed down, she starts collecting mountain udo as an apology, but is so into it she gets lost in the woods as a mountain rainstorm commences. When Sekijo Sawako asks Nariyuki where the hell Rizu is, he realizes she could still be out there.

Using flash cards she surreptitiously dropped, he manages to find her, just as she’s visualizing the mathematically highly unlikely possibility of him doing just that. The problem is, she’s on higher ground and has to come down. That results in her slipping and falling. As she falls, Nariyuki positions himself to catch her, and the their lips end up meeting. As his rice bowl cracks back home, Nariyuki wonders: was that his first kiss?

He gets neither clarity nor assurance from Rizu, who continues to avoid his face as they carry out their punishment for leaving school grounds: cleaning the girl’s bath. Unfortunately, Rizu neglected to hang the “cleaning in progress sign” on the door, so all the girls, including Fumino, Uruka, and Sawako, strip down and rush in before Rizu can stop them.

Rizu confidently declares she’ll take care of it, but immediately fails, is stripped down herself, and forced into a battle of endurance in the very sauna where Nariyuki went to hide. Uruka (surprisingly) is the first to give up, but Fumino’s in it for the long run. Meanwhile Nariyuki is past his limit…

He’s saved by an unlikely heroine: Sawako, who put together the fact that he and Rizu were cleaning the bath and he got caught in a situation not of his making. In exchange being in her debt, Sawako distracts the others so he can slip out.

But as he opens the door to complete his escape, Uruka is there, and the force of the door opening whips her towel clean off, revealing every bit of her non-tanned body. Fortunately for Nariyuki, Uruka is still so woozy from the sauna she assumes she was hallucinating the guy she’s into!

Rizu apologizes properly for putting Nariyuki in so much danger—to be caught peeping in the girls’ bath would probably torpedo his chances of VIP consideration—and they finally address the accidental kiss they both agree was not a real kiss, but an accident. When Rizu tries to ask if Nariyuki “saw anything” in the bath, he assures her his glasses were foggy, something another glasses-wearer might understand.

Back at school, Nariyuki is brought before Kirisu-sensei, Rizu and Fumino’s former tutor who the later described as “very…cold.” Indeed, Kirisu treats their meeting more like an FBI interrogation, and after he tells her he’s doing his best to improve their grades, she immediately brings up the incident of him accidentally kissing Rizu in the forest, something only he and Rizu should know about, but somehow she knows too!

Whether her motives involve ensuring Nariyuki fails to do what she failed to do with her cold methodology, are couched in some kind of repressed feelings for him (this is a harem rom-com), or she just wants Rizu and Fumino to give up on subjects contrary to their talents, Kurisu is poised to emerge as the single greatest threat to everyone else’s success and happiness.

Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

Golden Kamuy – 07 – #NotExtinctYet

Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi end up in a good old-fashioned standoff with Nihei and Tanigaki, ending with Tanigaki racing off with Asirpa so she won’t hear the screams of Sugimoto and Shiraishi’s deaths. But because Shiraishi is an escape artist, he and Sugimoto are able to slip out of their paltry binds and pursue Tanigaki.

Nihei underestimated Shiraishi, and Tanigaki underestimates his surroundings, tripping a deer trap that puts a wolfsbane-dipped arrow in his leg. He has no choice but to release Asirpa so she can cut the poisoned flesh out (gross), but when she’s done Nihei catches up with them and uses Asirpa as bait for Retar.

However, Retar was simply no match for Nihei, because Retar had backup, in the person (well, in the wolf) of his mate, who delivers the fatal bite to Nihei’s jugular. When Sugimoto and Shiraishi arrive, Nihei has basically bled out, while Retar rejoins his family, something Asirpa (not to mention nobody else) had any idea he had.

So, reports of the Ezo Wolf’s extinction were grossly exaggerated. Seeing Retar with his family brought tears to my eyes. I also felt for poor Ryuu, who lost his master, but thankfully Asirpa insists on taking Tanigaki to the village, lest the loyal-to-a-fault Ryuu stay with him until he dies then starve to death.

In the village, the young Ainu get another good look at a Japanese fellow with weird ears in Shiraishi, while he and Sugimoto tuck into some deer stew and something I’m going to call “salmonsicles”. When the village elder speaks of how the gold sullied the rivers that brought them fish, she mentions how Ainu from all over Hokkaido squirreled away a hoard of gold far larger than even the prisoners know about.

Tanigaki, wounded but conscious, basically corroborates the old woman, and adds the story of his commander, Lt. Tsurumi, who had to lead a forward advance that led to the deaths of half the 7th. The chief of staff committed suicide in disgrace and left the entire division in disgrace, unpaid and unawarded for their valor. From there, Tsurumi vowed to seize Hokkaido for the 7th and open a weapons factory so that their families could work and be provided for.

Tanigaki’s story paints Tsurumi in a more sympathetic light, but it doesn’t sway Sugimoto from his goal to find the gold and keep it away from Tsurumi and men like him.

Speaking of ‘men like him’, the group led by Hijikata goes into town, mostly so that Ushiyama, a raging hulk of a man, can sleep with some women lest he go even more berserk than he usually is. Then Shiraishi, in his infinite bad luck (why else would he be so good at escaping?), ends up face to face with the man-beast, and unwisely tries to run from him.

Ushiyama will have his “little chat” with Shiraishi, and he bowls through four people like they’re ninepins, shakes off being buried by rocks, tosses a horse-and-sleigh aside like they were nothing, and is generally an cartoonishly unstoppable monster of a man. Shiraishi finally finds some soldiers of the 7th—four of them—but what are a few bullets to Ushiyama? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Golden Kamuy – 06 – Be Born Again and Hear Pleasant Sounds

No bloodthirsty samurai or touched-in-the-head military commanders this week, just two pairs of hunters pursuing their prey. In Nihei Tetsuzou Tanigaki finds someone who both respects and can relate to his Matagi heritage. When it comes to hunting, he knows his stuff.

Nihei’s also a rude old man obsessed with boners, and nothing makes him more erect than the prospect of killing the one remaining wolf in Japan, considering how clever such a wolf would have to be to escape extinction thus far.

Meanwhile, in those same mountains, Sugimoto and Asirpa continue to track the buck he wounded, but the damn thing manages to have the speed and stamina to force them to give up for the day and seek refuge in a felled tree.

While dining on Nihei’s bear delicacies, Tanigaki decides to toss his cap in the flames, abandoning his military life. While returning home may be difficult, showing up with the head and pelt of a great white wolf will certainly help matters.

Elsewhere, Sugimoto is in perfect position to kill the buck, but freezes when he sees the bloodcicle sticking out of its rump, and sees himself: an immortal beast doing everything it can to stay alive. Sugimoto woke up that morning from a PTSD nightmare, but can help but see his own indomitable spirit staring back at him.

Thankfully, Retar is around to bring the buck down once and for all. Asirpa cuts it open and has Sugimoto place his freezing hands inside its still-steaming warm body. It’s heat is becoming his heat, and when they feast upon its brains and other parts (and wash it down with sake) its death sustains their life.

Nihei and Tanigaki stake out the buck carcess, believing the white wolf will return for the meat, but the next morning they only find its droppings, which Nihei burns to further anger the beast. He gets tantalizingly close to putting a bullet in Retar’s brain, but this time Asirpa and Sugimoto have the wolf’s back, startling it off with an arrow.

With that, Sugimoto the Immortal comes face to face with Nihei, who wishes to become part of the mountains, but only when he’s good and goddamn ready, meaning he’ll put up a hell of a fight before he surrenders his tattoos, especially since his wolf hunt was interrupted.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 16 – Embrace the Smelliness

So yeah, Akira is a member of the Central Elite Ten now (one seat above Erina, no less) after defeating his senpais to fill the vacancy. His ostensible reason for his decision to sense which way the wind is blowing is that he desires the very top spot at Totsuki, at any cost, and apparently that includes surrendering to the Azami administration.

In any case, Central has ceased “dirty tricks” and simply given Souma an opponent they’re confident can beat him in a fair fight, even if Souma is unlucky enough to be locked in his third straight battle requiring mastery of spices against, well, someone with more mastery of spices than he. It’s a BEAR BATTLE, boys and girls!

This episode doesn’t go into detail about what sacrifices if any Akira has or will have to make now that he’s a Central puppet; he seems to shoo away Azami’s handpicked testing team pretty quickly. Perhaps Azami is relaxing his rules on strict orthodoxy where Akira is concerned simply because even he cannot deny the kid’s preternatural talent, or perhaps likens his godly sense of smell with his daughter’s sense of taste.

Meanwhile, Souma is starting to sweat when he receives aid from an unusual place: Kuga-senpai, flanked by his loyal army of baldies. Kuga says he wants Hayama’s seat, but wants Souma to take it from him first in a Shokugeki, so he can then crush Souma and re-take the seat he lost. That makes him an ally, at least for now, and Souma can’t refuse allies right now.

Souma gets it into his head that the only way to get the full measure of understanding of bear meat is to head into its mountainous habitat and learn from a hunter who guides him and Kuga. They aren’t able to locate a bear, but Souma soaks up the knowledge like a sponge, and a chance tripping into a tree gets him thinking about using the medicinal schisandra berries to counter the intense gaminess of the meat.

He succeeds, but he’s only one rung higher on a ladder Akira finished climbing years ago, and Akira has no qualms about showing up in the test kitchen with his superior, Cajun-inspired spiced bear meat to intimidate his opponent. Kuga and his men can’t help but smell the gap in skill.

Souma is going to need his scrappiest effort yet to beat Akira, because he’s already failed twice, and the show has always been pretty adamant that he’s just plain better than Souma. It’s almost as if something will have to go wrong with Akira in addition to everything going right for him!

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 04

Step by step, episode by episode, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho keeps building up the anticipation while continuing to build up the stories of its characters and their growing friendship as they embark on a life-changing adventure…but they still need permission from their parents!

That’s when we learn Mari hasn’t so much as mentioned this life-changing adventure to her mother, who has to find out from the neighbors. The slasher film-esque scen in which Mari tries to break the news she senses her mother already knows is a tour-de-force of tension and comedy.

Mari gets permission…but only if she passes all of her tests at school, meaning she’s going to have to study her ass off, and nobody is going to help her, because if she can’t do this much, how is she ever going to make it in the Antarctic?

The quartet meet up to be whisked off to their mountain training retreat, and while they’re underwhelmed by the beat-up HiAce, their instructor Maekawa (Hikasa Yoko) notes they’ve got to pinch every penny (she also mentions that Shirase still has her million yen, and in the next sentence, the fundraising needs of the expedition).

She also remarks that those outside of the expedition team have always been concerned about its viability and whether the ship will even leave port. But Maekawa tells the girls they tell those people to shut up. Back at school Shirase doesn’t even do that; she’ll show everyone up when they least expect it, leading to this golden exchange between her and Mari:

Mari: You’re kind of a jerk, you know.
Shirase: I certainly am. You mind?
Mari: Nope!

Once they arrive at the mountain training course, they are quickly given an overview of the basics, and then Maekawa introduces the expedition’s leader Toudou Gin (Noto Mamiko in her tough lady voice) whose no-nonsense demeanor and stirring oratory intimidate and inspire Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki in equal measure.

What about Shirase? Well, she reacts differently; clearly they know each other, and Mari senses that, but leaves it be for the time being. That night, as the girls bone up on Antarctic exploration in what feels like a field trip sleepover, Maekawa and Toudou share a solemn moment outside.

Toudou didn’t want Shirase on the trip, but Maekawa didn’t help her; she got there by her own efforts (with the help of Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki, but she befriended them on her own). Toudou accepts this, but the fact she know Shirase’s mother weighs on her.

The next morning, the quartet is sent off to plot a route with a compass, GPS, and marker flags. They start out a little rough and off course (as everyone does at first), but Mari turns out to have a knack for the compass, and soon they’re on the right track, make camp, and settle down for bed.

Mari doesn’t want to sleep yet, thinking this is like any other camping trip, but getting enough sleep is crucial to survival, so the other girls promptly rebuke her attempts to converse. Only Yuzuki flubs her words, leading Hinata to start giggling, which leads Hinata and Mari to start laughing.

Things turn a bit somber when Mari asks a clearly preoccupied Shirase how she knows “Captain” Toudou, and Shirase’s answer is heartbreaking in its brevity: “Toudou and my mother were friends in high school. They both went to Antarctica. Toudou returned. My mother didn’t.”

After a quick by-the-book radio check in with base, the four go to sleep, but Mari, who opened her bag in her sleep, is the first to awaken, and is greeted not only by a gorgeous pre-dawn, but Toudou, almost standing guard out there. Mari asks her about Shirase’s Mom, Toudou says she was “very strange” (sound familiar?) and that her daughter is her spitting image in stubbornness and conviction (not surprising).

Shirase, like her mom, is “trouble”, but Mari says “Isn’t trouble the best?” Indeed, it’s Shirase’s trouble(s) that got Mari to this point, where she’s finally realizing her goal of making the most of her high school years. She didn’t want them to end “the way they were going”, and so decided to join Shirase of her own free will.

This is Peak Awesome Tamaki Mari right here, clearly expressing her intention, desire, and excitement for the impending expedition. And when you see that conviction on her rising sun-washed face, you know she’s going to pass all of those tests. She has to.

Before the sunrise is complete, Mari wakes up the others (none of whom are morning people), and they all climb up a rock face and admire the beauty of the glowing mountains; just a small taste, mind you, of the jaw-dropping, otherworldly majesty they’ll experience way down south.

And in one of the more surprising ways to end the episode, Mari sends a picture of the sunrise to her friend Megumi, who looks incredibly lonely and left out. It occurs to me that Mari never once asked if she wanted to come along. Is this closing scene meant to convey that Megumi is proud of Mari, or dejected over Mari not even considering her participation?

Alderamin on the Sky – 09

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For a show in which some people are aided by pocket-size elemental spirits, Alderamin is fairly down to earth. And if it was glorifying, say, the daring rescue and return of Princess Chamillie in its early episodes, it is just as careful to downplay whatever glory and honor is to be had in the Sinack campaign, which is precious little.

Indeed, Ikta and his pals are lucky to have a commander unwilling to order them to participate in the wholesale slaughter of the enemy, instead making them burn their villages and march them to new homes. It’s also a show whose heroes may not agree with the horrible strategy they’re a part of, but are either unwilling or currently unable to do anything about it.

When a little kid starts attacking Ikta, he flicks him in the nose. I doubt he intended to draw blood, but the noble knight Deinkun immediaely punishes him for striking the child, doling out a degree of justice so the other villagers don’t riot.

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Suya, who has clearly gained not only respect but affection for Ikta, is angry that Ikta let himself be punched like that, but Ikta takes responsibility for his error. Sometimes one can separate oneself from undesirable actions to such an extent, one can forget that there are things that can be done to lesson suffering, whether it’s taking a punch, or burning a village after it’s been evacuated. Not big things, but things.

When Matthew asks Ikta and Torway how they’ve been dealing with their sexual “needs” on the front, Ikta puts men into two columns: “heroes” who need bonds, and solitary “warriors”, avoiding any details about his own persuasion. But it’s just as true of the two ways knights go through life. Deinkun, a warrior, prefers to put as much on his broad shoulders as possible.

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Ikta may be a rare bird when it comes to strategic or tactical thought, but he’s no hermit. He needs bonds, not just to survive and keep himself in check (See Yatori) but to acknowledge and define his existence. He dosn’t care if his personal honor is besmirched by a punch to the face; he does care when he’s too late to say what he wanted to say to Kanna or protect her when she needed him.

Yatori may want to be a solitary knight like Deinkun, but the fact she goes into a berserk-like state only Ikta can bring her out of denies her that status. She too is a hero, whose brawn, along with Ikta’s brains, and the various talents of the others in their circle, comprise perhaps their empire’s best hope at avoiding self-destruction, which people like General Safida are inadvertently hastening.

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But still, neither Ikta nor Yatori have any designs of overthrowing Safida’s leadership. Indeed, Yatori’s Igsem heritage and conditioning make such a choice unthinkable, even if Ikta was pondering such a rebellion. No, these heroes, must work within the system into which they were recruited; play with the hands they were dealt. It’s yet not their turn to decided how the game is played.

So Yatori saves Safida from an ambushing Nanaku Daru, who learned how to fight from Mugen in Samurai Champloo. Yatori bests her, only to let her go when a group of shady assassins takes advantage of the chaos. They fail to kill the general, but slay Deinkun in the attempt.

He joins Kanna and the scores of other Imperial soldiers who gave it their all despite having to serve under a terrible general in a ridiculous war that isn’t quite over yet.

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Alderamin on the Sky – 08

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A splendid victory, brought about by his command, and a bitter conclusion brought about by his choice.

The show, courtesy of narrator Princess Chamille, provides a concise but accurate synopsis of this episode. It’s an episode loaded with the consequences of the stupid decisions of Ikta’s superiors, all in the name of a show of force.

The General has completely bungled this “punitive” campaign against the Sinack, and due to the chain of command Ikta & Co. can only do too much to mitigate the damage that has been done. But Ikta & Co. still doe what they can, which does make a difference.

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Ikta’s splendid victory to come is prefaced by a splendid defense of their camp in which the attacking force is totally annihilated without a single casualty on his side. But things would have gone far differently—and badly—had Ikta not been there to put orders in the commander’s words.

While he’s on a resupply mission to a position that’s been taken by the Sinack, Kanna Temari, in a different unit led by an even dumber commander, learns just how tough she is. In a scene riddled with death flags, she waxes nostalgic about the liberating, expanding power of books, and the fact Ikta is like a book, and someone she’s looking forward to seeing again.

But as sad as it made me, the fact that her unit made camp in a fortress deliberately abandoned by the Sinack, and the commander fell for an obvious trap, made me doubt Kanna and Ikta would ever meet again. The events of the episode all but eliminated that possibility, and it followed through with the threat it presented.

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Even Ikta can only do so much about the incompetence of the military leadership. But he engages his CO in such a way that he gets what he wants: a chance to score a victory. He gets it thanks to the prototype rifles designed by his mentor; in other words, thanks to science.

But the science that won him such an easy, splendid victory, also ended up dooming Kanna. For Ikta makes his unit rest for two days in order to avoid suffering altitude sickness, which is what Kanna and her comrades are going through thanks to their dimwitted superiors.

For the record, Ikta makes the right choice. Even if he knew Kanna, a girl he liked (and whom he suspected liked him back) was in danger, he wouldn’t endanger his entire unit to rescue her, especially after seeing what the altitude has done to the health of the army.

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Of course, making the right choice doesn’t make it any easier to choke down the bitter result of following science to the letter. The fortress wasn’t able to hold out long enough for his platoons to relieve them, and all they find is a fortress full of corpses, including Kanna’s.

It’s a gut punch, both for me, and for Ikta, who is often so laid back and casual and jokey that when he finally gets serious, it’s that much more powerful. This wasn’t just some girl he had fun teasing or flirting with; this was a kindred spirit; someone for whom science resonated; someone he could both teach and learn from.

She was looking forward to seeing him a third time, and so was he. Instead, she joined her late husband in the afterlife, leaving Ikta in a recklessly ignorant world. To be fair, it wasn’t just his choice that doomed her—the brunt of the blame falls on the superiors—but that’s woefully inadequate consolation for a character who left us far too soon.

It will be interesting to see how Ikta deals with this loss. Will he shrug it off in a few days, or resolve himself to pushing ever harder against the morons who caused it?

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