Akiba Maid War – 01 (First Impressions) – Welcome Home, Master

We begin in Akihabara 1985, with a Mercedes Großer pulling up to a cafe. A maid gets out, opens the back door and a second, older maid gets out. A third maid approaches this older maid, and after a moment or two of acting nervous, she pulls out a gun and empties a clip into the older maid before fleeing. The older maid’s kohai shoots a look that promises vengeance.

Fourteen years later, in 1999, Wahira Nagomi has arrived in Akiba and is excited to start living her lifelong dream of being a cute café maid. When she arrives at the Oinky Doink Cafe just before opening, she’s initially greeted cheerfully like a customer, but when Yumechi learns she’s the new girl, the act drops immediately. No matter; Nagomi is just happy to be here.

Turns out she’s one of two new girls, the other being Mannen Ranko, who at 35 years old is clearly the maid with revenge in her eyes in the flashback. She and Nagomi join a team composed of the affable Tenchou, the two-faced Yumechi, and the ganguro Shiipon. There’s also a panda, despite the maid being pig-themed.

The rookies don’t get off to the strongest start. Ranko has all the lines and moves down, but delivers them in an uninspiring deadpan. Nagomi goes too far in the other direction, her ultra-enthusiasm and wordplay only overwhelming one of her masters. She’s also on the clumsy side, squirting omurice ketchup and drinks all over the place.

After closing, a suspicious-looking man arrives who treats Tenchou like someone who owes his bosses a lot of cash (which she does). As a compromise, Tenchou asks Nagomi to go on a little errand to a maid cafe owned by their parent company’s competitor. When Ranko offers to accompany her, I immediately felt better.

That opening scene in 1985 was ever in the back of my mind as the standard maid café stuff unfolded throughout the day, and I knew that Nagomi at least was totally unaware of the other side of Akiba café maiding. Ranko, on the other hand, knows the score. After ramen on Tenchou’s dime, Ranko gets a “doggy bag” and then leads the way to the space bunny-themed Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam.

After gaining access, they walk in on what is either an initiation of a new employee or a punishment for poor service: a girl being forced to cut off one of her pigtails. Their leader approaches Nagomi, immediately intimidating her. Nagomi presents her with the letter, which the lead bunny maid reads, then asks another maid to read it out loud. It’s an insult and a provocation.

After Nagomi gets smacked and slapped around a little, Ranko shoots through the paper bag from the ramen shop, putting a bullet right in the middle of the lead maid’s forehead. One, two, three blood fountains spurt out, landing conveniently on the paper apron a shocked Nagomi forgot to remove. From here…things get a little nutso.

The Wuv-Wuv maids, who suddenly number in the dozens are all mowed down and oblierated in a bloody ballet out in the streets of Akiba. The comically over-the-top bloodshed takes place while Yumechi is performing a J-pop concert for some rapt masters.

As someone who has never witnessed such violence, never mind committed it herself, Nogami is understandably no longer enthusiastic about being a maid in Akiba, and would just like to go home now if that’s all right, thanks!

When she and Ranko return to the Oinky-Doink,  Tenchou, Shiioin and Yumechi are amazed they’re still in one piece (Tenchou was already writing up want ads for new maids right after they left). Nagomi probably wants to scream after the horrifying sights she witnessed, but remains eerily calm and neutral, no doubt still numb from the experience.

In the room that’s been set up for her new live-in job, Nogami changes and then quickly packs up to get out of here while she’s still breathing, but that’s when she gets another surprise: Ranko is not only her new co-worker, but her roommate as well. She can’t go home. She already is home.

Will Nogami be able to maintain her sanity and innocence in this kooky scenario, or will her mature senpai train her to become as deadly as she is cute? I have no idea, but I can’t help but salute this show’s audacity and commitment to its bit, and will definitely keep watching to see where this goes!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 08 – Elfhunt

Bell joins Bors’ party as they descend to the 27th floor, and proves his Level 4 mettle by making quick work of both a lead merman and laser-shooting foes. He learns that some of the party members actually understand why Ryuu is going after those who caused the destruction of the rest of her familia…but the 80 million in bounty is far more pressing to all of them.

When he gets a chance, Bell breaks from the party to find the source of the singing everyone hears. He knows it’s Marie, who is extremely spooked when he encounters her. Something is down here that shouldn’t be, and it’s powerful enough to make huge holes in the Dungeon walls that don’t quickly heal.

Marie also helps lead Bell to Ryuu’s location, and their encounter is pretty cut-and-dried: Ryuu doesn’t want someone like Bell, a gentle soul from a gentler part of her life, to be anywhere near this place. Bell wants her side of the story but she has no time for him, and flies off.

Meanwhile on the 25th floor the rest of Bell’s party waits, which Cassie believes is the key to keeping everyone alive. That said, Turk, the werewolf who pinned the Rivira murder on Ryuu, insists on searching the floor for Ryuu. Some of the hunting party stay put per Bors’ orders, but Bell’s party decides to follow Turk’s, if only to keep an eye on him, as Bell asked.

Bell reunites with Bors’ party just as they end up afoul of Ryuu, who is targeting the last survivor of the Familia that contributed to the destruction of hers. Letting him survive simply isn’t an option to her. She makes quick work neutralizing everyone who comes after her, but Ryuu keeps up the chase, until it’s just him, Ryuu, and her prey.

For the first time, Ryuu raises her wooden sword, warning Bell that she won’t hesitate to cut him—even him—down to get to her target. Bell, who did not come to capture Ryuu or collect a bounty, simply wants everyone to get along and be happy. But it would seem he’s out of his element here. How can he hope to quell Ryuu’s murderous rage when he’s never experienced the trauma of losing his entire Familia?

Can he say he’d remain the kind-hearted live-and-let-live Bell Cranel if that fate befell him, as it does in Cassandra’s premonition? But with that giant evil snake slithering around, it’s looking more and more like Ryuu isn’t the cause of that particular “banquet of tragedy.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi IV – 07 – Cassandra Tries to Explain It All

Cassandra has another horrible premonition of doom: all the members of their party dead, Bell struggling, and Ryuu Lion looming like an angel of death. She awakes (partially nude, which is neither here nor there) to Daphne announcing that an adventurer has been murdered.

A witness of uncertain trustworthiness claims the Gale Wind Ryuu Lion did the deed. That’s enough for Bors to arrange a posse to hunt her down and bring her to justice.

Before Bell can say too much about his past dealings with Ryuu, Aisha escorts him somewhere where they and the rest of his party can talk in private. They agree to join the party with the purpose of getting to Ryuu first and getting to the bottom of things before needless blood is spilled.

Cassandra, having seen what happens when the party goes back down into the lower floors, doesn’t like this course of action one bit, but her method of trying to dissuade the rest of the party—simply telling them to stay behind—doesn’t fly. Even if he believes Cassandra, Bell trusts Ryuu and wants to help her. When Cassandra collapses from frustration, Daphne offers to stay behind with her.

Cassie says she’s coming with them after all, and resolves to find a way to save everyone on the way. Lili gets a letter to Hestia explaining the situation, and we learn from Miach that Cassandra indeed has an extraordinary gift of foresight. The hunting party is large and unwieldy, but when a herd of mammoths attacks, they’re dealt with rather swiftly.

As the party heads deeper into the Dungeon, Cassandra takes Welf aside and asks him a favor. We catch a glimpse of Ryuu running at full speed in the vicinity of the Great Falls with hate in her eyes. Then everyone starts feeling tremors that seem to be coming from the 27th floor, where Cassandra’s awful premonition took place.

Clearly recalling Aisha dying in that dream, she manages to keep her from joining the other adventurers down there, though Cassandra’s manner of convincing her involves exaggerating the difficulty inherent in carrying Haruhime. Instead, Bell goes down below, which is acceptable to Cassandra as he didn’t die in her dream.

That said, he did look very much the worse for wear, and all the talk of Ryuu being a superior Level 4 means he likely won’t have an easy go of it down there. Seeing things that even the gods don’t know will happen is clearly a terrible burden for Cassandra, not least because most people don’t want to believe their fates are predetermined.

Here’s hoping whatever she saw is only one possible dream, and that the steps she’s taken will help ensure a better outcome. Of course, a lot will depend on what Ryuu’s whole deal is.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 08 – The [REDACTED] is Already Dead

Engage Kiss does not care one single whit about your tonal or genre whiplash. After last week’s poisonous members and tentacle mech suits, we get what amounts to a hard-boiled detective procedural, and the results are…mixed.

While I appreciated the episode’s dedication to showing its work, that work is rarely glamorous. The monotony of what amounts to scene after scene of exposition as Detective Mikami, Miles, and Shuu try to piece things together is at least punctuated by the usual Kisara-Ayano sniping.

Last week’s MVP Sharon is tied to a chair behind bars this week, unable to unleash her full horny/trashy/sacred/profane shtick, but still wields power as someone who remembers crucial information Shuu forgot thanks to Kisara.

It’s pretty significant that Shuu thought Kisara would let him keep certain important memories, but Sharon says that it doesn’t work that way and he’s actually lost a lot more than he knows, and she’s not lying just for spite. All she offers “for free” about the identity of the big bad is an arsonist analogy.

Before Shuu can interpret the scant info Sharon gave him, Mikami has a eureka moment that seems primed to blow this case wide open…just as the trench-coated “Informant X” who’s been feeding Shuu shows up.

Mikami leaves a voicemail for Shuu, and during the recording he is confronted by someone and a gunshot rings out. By the time Shuu and Kisara arrive in the station lot, Mikami is dead, and Informant X tries to slink away. Shuu and Kisara show what a good pair they make by cornering and unmasking the guy…who turns out to be Mikhail.

I gotta say, that’s a pretty cheeky revelation—to dangle this oji-san like high school character who feels like he’s from another anime as the delusional third child in the family pecking order, only to reveal that he’s the mysterious General Director of Bayron City Police, from whom everyone gets their orders.

With his cover blown, Mikhail takes Shuu and Kisara down to his secret surveillance information center deep under the city hall, where he has over three million cameras going 24/7/365, (even on his sisters while they shower and sleep, an observation Shuu is quick to make and condemn).

The other fake-out in play is that Mikhail didn’t murder Mikami, and the camera footage proves it. The person who did is the one for whom Mikhail is merely a puppet, the second human agent who is coordinating the creation and destruction of demonically possessed.

Mikhail’s sudden major player turn takes a backseat to the emotional fallout from Mikami’s sudden murder, and it’s a good reminder of how good the show can be at occasionally taking the goofy/horny elements down a notch and letting these people be humans.

This culminates in Mikami’s funeral, always a solemn affair, followed by Shuu being picked up by his foster father and old pal Miles, who can’t believe Mikami is gone. When Miles talks about Mikami as the rare natural police who was also softhearted and guillible, Shuu drops the hammer: he knows Miles murdered Mikami.

Sure enough, a tattoo on Miles’ arm glows. While I’m hardly enthused by the only brother in the cast being the big bad, his villainous turn isn’t altogether unearned. Like us, Shuu’s had a huge blind spot for the guy, in his case due to the events and conversations he’s forgotten because his contract with Kisara takes away much more than he thought.

Shuu’s been trying to piece together a mystery when his own memory has been crumbling behind him in real time. Now he’s lost a true ally in Mikami and another main ally has turned out to be false. It’s safe to say things are going to get worse before they get better for Shuu.

Engage Kiss – 06 – Sixpence Nun the Richer

It was only a matter of time before an Index-style battle nun showed up on Engage Kiss, which is fortuitous because it comes at a time when there’s been a significant power shift in the Ogata Shuu love/possession triangle. Ayano is back in his home cooking and cleaning (memory loss or not you’d think dude should be able to help out with chores).

If Kisara insists on sapping Shuu of his memories of her, this is just her making more, while enjoying the time she still has with Shuu. Kisara, understandably shaken by Ayano’s manipulation of her dynamic with Shuu, is skulking in the streets, but knows she’s unable to stay mad at Shuu, who after all has no recollection of cheating on her with his ex.

Kisara remembers back to when she first met Shuu, when he had apparently traveled to an arctic wasteland to find her frozen in stone. When he pulled the demon slayer from her and she attacked him, he told her he wasn’t there to fight, but because he needed her. But does he still need her now?

Ayano twists the knife and keeps Kisara away (and into Gasai Yuno yandere mode, if only visually) with a mocking Insta post flaunting her return to domestic bliss with Shuu. I must say considering what Kisara has done to Shuu (even if he let her do it), Ayano deserves to hot-dog a little on her victory lap.

The need to enjoy oneself while one can is underscored by the arrival of Nun Lady, who immediately demonstrates her power when she gets the jump on The Justice of GUTS while they’re responding to a D-Rank Hazard. Not only did she dispatch the demon before they could with her bare hands, she’s able to toy with one of the toughest exterminators in the city with ease.

At Inspector Mikami’s urging, Shuu finally sets up a clandestine meet with his informant who must have government connects. Indeed, this unidentified person presents him with GUTS getting beaten up by the new nun in town. As Mikami and Miles listen in on Shuu’s bug, the informant nails the fact Shuu was egged on into this meet, and would rather Shuu simply continue wasting demons and not looking a gift horse in the mouth. But Shuu is warned to “be careful of the Celestial Abbey”.

After the next exterminators’ meeting, Shuu tells Akino that the a nun attacking GUTS, and she momentarily forgets that Shuu doesn’t remember the Abbey due to his contract with Kisara. So she fills him (and us) in on the fact the Celestial Abbey has been doing what their little companies in Bayron have been doing, only worldwide and for over a thousand years. They also have zero tolerance when it comes to demons—including demons that are helping humans exterminate other demons like Kisara.

That night, Akino is confronted at her office by the nun, but isn’t afraid. Instead, as she’s on the phone with Ayano when the nun appears, she keeps the line open in her pocket and stalls. The nun is clear about what she wants—info on the whereabouts of the pink demon—but Akino ain’t talking.

Before the nun resorts to the hard way, Ayano crashes through the window in full Action Daughter mode. Akino doesn’t even flinch as Ayano’s bullets search for the nun while avoiding her mom entirely. Alas, the nun soon kicks her gun out of her hand, and her hand-to-hand skills are superior to Ayano’s.

The nun also exacts psychological warfare by observing that Ayano fights like Shuu, whom she apparently knows. This gets Ayano all flustered due to her recent tumble with her ex, and once the nun accepts that neither Yuugiri will say anything, she just snatches Ayano’s phone and peaces out.

The nun uses it to spam Kisara’s phone with messages and a selfie asking if she remembers three years ago. Kisara does, and remembers her name too: Sharon.

Ayano uses her mom’s phone to warn Shuu, but he doesn’t listen when told not to go in his office. Sharon blasts through the door, shoves him out the window, and the two fight in the alley. Since Shuu indeed fights the exact same way as Ayano, Sharon makes quick work of him and is soon straddling and choking him with her garterbelt-festooned thighs.

Sharon tells them they last met three years ago and insinuates that they were lovers at some point. Naturally, Shuu doesn’t remember due to Kisara, but Sharon considers it a personal affront and starts pummeling him. That’s when Kisara swoops in to get Sharon off Shuu, thereby accomplishing what Sharon was after all along: Kisara’s location.

That’s when the arrival of Sharon has Kisara looking back to that time in the arctic cave when Shuu released her from her stone prison and asked for a contract. Turns out that wasn’t all that happened, as not long after Shuu frees her, Sharon stabs her in the back with the slayer. When Kisara fights with Sharon, Shuu shoots her, all but proving that at this point in time the two were at least partly on the same side.

From contracting with ancient demons to allying himself with international exorcists, there’s nothing old Shuu wouldn’t do to clear his family’s name and find his sister. Now that Sharon is back, I imagine it will take Shuu, Kisara, and Ayano working on the same side to neutralize the threat she presents. Considering what’s gone down between Kisara and Ayano, that’ll be no mean feat.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 05 – Not Done Being Down Bad

An unarmed and out-of-sorts Ayano is a sitting duck against Maria Swordhands, but thankfully Kisara is able to catch up and save her life. They end up losing the Demon in a convace mirror in front of a konbini, and when Kisara tries to follow she gets most inelegantly stuck halfway. That said, the gun she tossed Ayano was delivered C.O.D.

The police and AAA get Ayano to a secure location where she can dress down and snack to her hearts content. Detective Mikami buys Shuu a katsu bowl and fills him in on at least part of the true story behind the accident that led to his parents dying and being vilifed as traitors. Ayano’s mom tells her the same story, making sure not to make eye contact since Maria can travel through reflections.

In reality, Ogata Isamu was actually trying to get word out that mining the Orgonium that would eventually give Bayron City its wealth would eventually turn it into a haven for demons and the demonically possessed. The actual cause of the accident remains unknown even to the sole survivor (Shuu) but it sure seems like his dad was silenced.

Hearing about this injustice, and how Shuu resorted to consorting with a demon and shaving his memories and life away for answers, eats Ayano up to no end. She’s in a sympathetic mood when Shuu surprises her with a visit to her little quarantine warehouse (which inexplicably has lots of glass windows and puddles of water from which Maria could emerge any moment).

While she can’t abide him seeing her in her leisurewear, he stays with her through the night and the two get cozy. When she brings up the possibility he only dated her so he could get what he wanted with AAA—then dumped them both when he did—he retorts that dating her almost got him fired by her mom. There was no ulterior motive to being with her…just love.

Ayano is understandably happy to hear this, and laments that the two of them could have started a company together if he had been fired. Later that night, Shuu reveals the true reason he’s going so far to discover the truth of that day: his dreams are telling him his sister Kanna is still alive.

Ayano relents, telling him that she won’t try to interfere or stop him from his work anymore, then leans in for “one last kiss” before leaving him alone forever. She covers his eyes so their eyes meeting won’t create a conduit for Maria, and then things start getting more hot and heavy.

It’s only a bit after their liaison that Maria finally makes her appearance, emerging from Chekhov’s Warehouse Puddle (seriously, there could have been a place to stow Ayano with no reflections at all).

Kisara has once again arrived to take care of the Demon, but you can tell from the tears in her eyes she’s not happy about what Shuu and Ayano were up to. She, in turn, tells Shuu she’s going to go full strength to defeat Maria, and then makes out with him, and transforms into Hot Topic Girl.

A dazzling fight in the dark ensues, with Maria more than holding her own. When Ayano brings up what just happened between her and Shuu, Shuu doesn’t know what she’s talking about, indicating Kisara took his most recent memories of what they did on the couch.

Whether Kisara is flailing due to being upset about those memories, or simply because she needs her usual backup from Shuu, he rolls in all shirtless and elbows Maria in the side just as she’s about to deliver a critical blow. He then disrupts her travel by splashing a puddle and tosses the fang into her heart, which Kisara then uses to pierce her through and destory her.

In the aftermath, Detective Mikami, our infodump cop, tells Shuu that the murder of Hanamura Junya wasn’t by the possessed Maria; he was killed, silenced by humans. He also believes that whoever’s been informing Shuu is working based on a demon’s will. From now on Mikami hopes Shuu will trust him going forward, as they want the same thing: to clear his family name by finding out the truth.

As for Ayano, it’s her win this week, as Kisara took the very memory she intended her to take. Since Ayano told Shuu she was done with him permanently in the same memory where they fooled around, Ayano is now free to go back on that since Shuu doesn’t remember. She’s going to keep “interfering” i.e. supporting Shuu whenever she can—whether Kisara likes it or not.

This has me feeling slightly better about the situation than last week’s gloomfest, as Ayano has resolved not to wallow in despair over losing Shuu, but is focused on doing what she can. After all, if he loses his memories of her from the past, they can just make new ones, and maybe there’s a way he can find Kanna and stay himself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 04 – The Last Girl

Ayano and her AAA strike force go in guns blazing to deal with a D-level Demon Hazard, but she recognizes one of the men tangled up in the incident, who is then carted off to the hospital as his lover cries out in the crowd. Ayano then meets with Linfa to again ask for her help out with the police, and we learn that they’re old friends to the extent Linfa can tease her about dating the “younger” Shuu, literally tripping Ayano up.

The next day, Kisara snaps a picture of what looks like Ayano meeting some dude at a love hotel, but she and Shuu learn that Ayano is working with an Anti-Demon Bureau detective to learn more about the whereabouts of the mafia member Tony Rossi, who then ended up murdered in his bed in an apparent gang war retribution.

That night, Shuu tracks down Ayano and suggests they pool resources and work together, apologizing when it seems she’s pissed about something, but that’s the straw that breaks the camels back. Ayano unloads about how Shuu is always apologizing without compromising or listening to her opinions or feelings, and only seems to trust the demon girl.

Ayano also brings up the night of his birthday when she was preparing a party but waited all night and he never showed, eventually doing his apology schtick when he finally did. When Shuu apparently can’t recall this clearly important memory, an exasperated Ayano runs off in tears.

It isn’t Shuu who tracks her down, but Kisara, who has decided it’s time to tell Ayano that Shuu is the way he is now because those precious memories only exist in her head due to his contract with her. During a sober but cordial meal, Ayano laments how Shuu is now someone without a past or a future, and if he keeps this up, he won’t be Shuu anymore.

Indeed, that’s already happening, as he has lost the memories that tied him more closely to Ayano, and is stuck having to apologize for things he can’t remember, all due to the supernatural factor of his new “relationship.” Ayano is committed to not letting Shuu die (either in body or soul) while Kisara is not only fine having a partner who will never love her like he loved Ayano, but fine being his “last girl” at the end, when Shuu can no longer even be called Shuu.

The main draw this week isn’t the gang war between the Italian and Hispanic mafia, both of whom seem to be using demons in their scuffles and causing even more chaos than they normally would…although it’s a good story with lots of clues and twists, especially when it turns into something totally different, stemming back to that woman crying out for Tony in the cold open.

Instead, it’s the dynamic between Shuu and his “first” and “last” women in his life, the impossible choices he made to fulfill his dream of avenging his parents, and the present and future fallout of those choices. He, Ayano, and Kisara form a truly tragic trio where no one will really come out 100% happy.

To add insult to injury, the fact that Tony’s lover Maria has become a demon with blades for arms and is looking to murder everyone involved in Tony’s death creates a parallel tragic romantic route between our protagonists and the ostensible antagonist. The show also makes excellent use of mirrors and reflections to highlight how there are multiple perspectives in play and no one is 100% right or wrong (it also looks cool, especially in the mirror-filled bathroom).

Ayano and Shuu’s work and life are now colliding rapidly, as Ayano is Maria’s next target for elimination. In a testament to the complex yet tight writing, it makes thematic sense that an Ayano distraught over hearing the horrible truth about a man for whom she still cares a great deal, has isolated herself and is thus more vulnerable to attack than she otherwise would be.

While Ayano is clearly in a pickle here, I don’t expect the show to take her off the board just five episodes in. That said, Shuu may well have to give up even more of himself (and memories of her) to save her next week. It continues to be a shitty deal for all involved. This is a much darker and more brooding series than I thought it would be (especially with the upbeat OP and ED) but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 02 – Taking a Step Back

At night I’m driving in your car
Pretending that we’ll leave this town
We’re watching all the street lights fade
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you’re nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night’s rain…
—”Shadow”, Chromatics

After he is brutally murdered by an evil copy of his adoptive sister Mio, Shin ends up back on the boat to Hitogashima, in the warm embrace of the bespectacled woman’s bosom. Back on July 22nd. The day repeats itself much the way it did before, with Mio ending up in the ocean. This time, Shin notices that her brakes were cut—likely intentionally.

After the funeral and dinner unfold much as they did the first time, Shin switches things up by staking out the front of the Kofune household. He witnesses Mio’s copy killing the cop Totsumura, then getting a glimpse of the shadowy alien/whatever that then assumes Totsumura’s form.

Thus the Totsumura we saw in the diner last week wasn’t Totsumura at all. Unfortunately, Mio spots Shin hiding, then kills him in gruesome fashion. But now we know: Mio’s copy tried to kill her by cutting her brakes, and these evil copies have plans.

…But yet again, Shin doesn’t die, and even observes his dead self before his Return by Death-style resurrection repeats. In the in-between space/time between loops, Shin both hears the voice and feels the embrace of his sister Ushio, urging him to protect Mio.

Back on the dock on July 22nd, Shin follows Ushio’s edict, putting himself between Mio and the sea to prevent her from falling ino the drink. Like Subaru, he is trying to take a long view of the situation and understand as much as he can while also trying to change enough to prevent further tragedy from befalling his family.

Meanwhile, the bespectacled lady is recording a message for someone we know not whom while inverted on a tree branch so she can maximize blood flow to her brain. Both of these odd practices and her dark suit reminded me of Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, and indeed, the talk of “shadows” led me to go back and watch the closing minutes of the second episode of Twin Peaks’  third season, when Chromatics performs “Shadow.”

It occurs to me there’s a distinct Twin Peaks-y vibe to Summertime Render, in that an isolated, seemingly idyllic community is suddenly beset by an unspeakable, inscrutable evil force that can take the form of its inhabitants, like Ushio and Mio. Perhaps this lady was sent here to investigate.

Unfortunately, in the first loop she is killed by said evil copy of Mio. But with each loop Shin learns more and takes measures to keep both Mio and himself safe. He deletes most of the data on his phone and hooks it up to an external battery in order to record the copy of Mio outside the house without actually being outside the house, then makes sure Mio is safe by barging in on her while she’s bathing.

Smacking him with the shower wand seems to be adequate punishment, since Mio doesn’t hold a grudge against Shin the next morning when he comes in to present her with footage of her own shadow. Knowing that an evil copy of her is roaming around, and that she and Ushio both saw a copy of Ushio, it’s pretty easy to deduce that Ushio’s copy may well have murdered Ushio.

At least for the moment, Ushio seems dead for good, as Shin can only reset back to the day he arrived on the island, which was well after she died. Can he, Mio, and Dahlia Cooper collaborate to neutralize the shadow threat? Perhaps, but I imagine it will take a few more loops—and unfortunate murders—to pull that off.

Summertime Render – 01 (First Impressions) – Beware the Shadows

After a suitably creepy dream that seems to set the tone, Summertime Render then suddenly seems to stumble, with Ajiro Shinpei waking up with his face all up in a woman’s chest. Soon after arriving on his home island for the first time in over two years, his little sister Mio flashes her shimapan as she flips into the water. So what are we doing here?

It was later in the episode that I realized—and even appreciated—the earlier moments of levity. That’s because much of the rest of the episode is simply dripping with grief, regret, sadness, and longing. Shinpei’s other sister Ushio is dead, and he’s here for the funeral. She died successfully saving a little girl from drowning. Her sudden loss casts a heavy pall over the entire island.

One of Shinpei’s friends, whose father is the island’s doctor, assures him that an actual full autopsy wasn’t performed, but that his dad was brought in to examine strangulation marks on Ushio’s neck. While her death was ruled an accident, those marks loom large. But not as large as seeing Mio—seemingly a different Mio—ominously standing outside her own home.

Inside, after a dinner of curry Shinpei made—which he said he’d make for Ushio again before leaving but never got to (he also leaves a serving at her empty place at the table) and the call from his friend, Mio embraces him and starts to bawl her eyes out, though promising they’re the last tears she’ll shed, not wanting to worry Ushio.

The next day, Shinpei, Mio, and their dad Alan start the process of moving forward and getting through their grief by keeping as busy as possible at the family diner. But a drunk customer makes a strange comment about a large-chested lady looking for Shinpei, while the island’s sole cop informally reports that the girl Ushio saved and her entire family have vanished from the island.

Mio is so upset by this she runs out of the diner, and Shinpei follows. When he finds her sitting against a wall covered in shadow, she tells him that she and Ushio saw a double of Ushio, just as the little girl Ushio saved saw a double of herself. A passing old hunter tells the kids the old story about a “shadow sickness” on the island that causes people to see their shadows.

Back in the old days, people with this affliction would be cleansed at the island’s shrine, so Shinpei and Mio head there, and Mio spots someone she thinks is the little girl Ushio saved in the woods. Instead, they find the large-chested woman gravely wounded by a gunshot. Before she can tell Shinpei who did it, she’s shot through the head…by Mio’s shadow, who then headshots Mio and then Shinpei.

Cut to black, then some static, and suddenly Shinpei is back on the boat, with his face in the woman’s chest. So we have Groundhog Day with murderous doppelgangers on a sleepy island cloaked in dark old legends and mysteries. I’m in. From the depths of grief and loss to a violent bloodbath, Rendering escalates quickly and ends with an exclamation point of a reset button. However many times that button gets pressed, I’ll be here to watch what unfolds.

Love of Kill – 06 – Death On Denial

Chateau isn’t aboard the Artemisia long before she encounters Song, and immediately takes him aside to ask what he’s up to. He’s his usual coy self; his target may well be her client—who also happens to be her boss Euripides’ wife, the billionaire tycoon Hawk Ritzland…(these names). But he does offer Chateau this: he won’t do anything on this cruise as long as she keeps her eyes on him.

This results in the two being practically inseparable for the remainder of the voyage. After clearing it with Euripides and setting up surveillance cameras, she agrees to share a stateroom with Song. While she initially insists on sleeping on the couch, her inability to fall asleep results in him carrying her to the bed, where he promises he won’t try anything.

The next day Song takes Chateau to one of the many shops aboard the ship where she’s fitted for a proper evening gown, the better to blend in with the other passengers. She remarks how she feels weird having her shoulders exposed and would prefer something “more modest”, but Song assures her that it’s about as modest as evening gowns get.

I’m still not buying the “love” half of Love of Kill, owing to the complete and utter dearth of romantic chemistry between the two leads. While she’s learned to trust Song more, Chateau still merely tolerates his presence as a necessary condition of her mission.

Euripides reaches out to Song through Chateau’s phone, ostensibly to meet and talk about Chateau’s past as Chateau Noble. However, before they can meet Euri gets a butterfly knife to the throat. Song, who we last saw putting a gun in his tux, is clearly not the sneaker-wearing culprit, who is the boy assassin we met last week and didn’t see at all this week.

I can’t say I’ll really miss Euripides, who didn’t make much of an impression the last five weeks other than “long-suffering boss with a goofy name”. But even though his marriage to a billionaire* came out of nowhere, his death surely heightens the stakes aboard the Artemesia.

*It’s entirely possible Hawk Ritzland is worth ten billion yen, or $86 million US, though if the whole damn boat is hers, she might well be worth ten billion dollars. In any case, she’s down a husband.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Entertainment District Arc – 03 – Something is Rotten in Yoshiwara

After a noir-ish monochrome stinger and the new OP (which fuckin’ whips) we join Inousuke as he tries and utterly fails to conduct a discreet investigation of the woman who won’t come out of her room. He goes inside, feels wind even though the windows are closed, and provokes…whatever is hiding in the rafters to go on a wild and destructive chase through Ogimoto house. He’s like a boar in a brothel.

Over at Kyougoku House, Zenitsu puts down the shamisen, opens his ears, and comes to the aid of one of the young attendants, whom he finds with a brusie on her cheek in an absolutely trashed room. As he comforts her, the presence of a demon suddenly appears behind him. She is the courtesan Warabihime Oiran…and the arc’s main antagonist.

Sawashiro Miyuki is perfectly cast as the two-faced, two-voiced, but always imposing and imperious Warabihime, whom we learn was responsible for the murder of the madam of Ogimoto House. The minute the madam blurted out that she didn’t think Warabihime was human, her life was forfeit, as she is dropped from a great height and not eaten by the demonness, who is ranked Upper Moon Six. I’ll go on record as saying I love the character’s design, both in Courtesan or Demon Mode.

No sooner do we see her cruel and murderous side than we get a glimpse of her submissive and tender side, as Muzan makes a surprise appearance to both praise her (“keep up the evil work”) and warn her of potential Demon Slayer Corps interference. We learn her real name is Daki, and Muzan has big plans for her…as long as she keeps killing. I wonder if that’s what she really wants?

Fast forward a couple of days, and shortly after punching “Zenko” through two walls, Daki identifies him as a Demon Slayer, if only a weak one. Still, she restrains herself from attacking him further in order to maintain her cover, even as Zenitsu has blown his simply by not getting as hurt as he should have.

The cute little attendant Zenitsu saved and her two colleagues nurse Zenitsu back to health, and they comment on how they’ve never met anyone in this house who isn’t simply looking out for herself. It looks as though the episode is about to end on a sweet note…but then Daki’s snake-like obi instantaneously curl, whip, and envelop our yellow-haired crybaby.

Just like that, she has two captives, with neither Tanjirou nor Inousuke particularly hot on the trail and Suma and Hinatsuru still at large.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 02 – Done Running

MPD Sergeant Tachibana Naoto has been busy since Takemichi told him the day and manner of his and Hinata’s deaths. At first Takemichi think the kid has gone off the deep end, until he remembers that Naoto is only here because he can, in fact, travel back in time. If he’s a Hinata-saving, gang-stopping time agent, Naoto takes up the mantle of his operator, briefing him on what actions should be taken once he returns to the past.

Naoto’s first task is simple: try to cut off the head of the Tokyo Manji Gang in the past before its the big deal it is in the present. That means Takemichi needs to make contact with its two founders—Sano Manjirou and Kisaki Tetta—and ensure they never meet.

As for how he’ll get back to the past, that’s solved pretty quickly: he just has to shake hands with Naoto again and he’s back in his middle school body, just in time to take a knockout punch to the face. Honestly, the “science” of his time travelling is unimportant, so I’m glad Revengers doesn’t dwell on it.

Unfortunately, the meat grinder doesn’t end with that single punch. Older delinquents like Kiyomasa and his henchmen had money riding on their “slave” putting up more than a fight, so they punish him by beating him again. Takemichi then makes things worse for himself by mentioning the two names Naoto said he had to meet. Kiyomasa takes a wooden bat, beats him bloody, and threatens to kill him if those names come out of his mouth again.

Having suffered three brutal beatdowns in less than a day, part of me wonders exactly what kind of high-strength alloy Takemichi’s bones are made of…but then this is a shounen series, and as such carries with it a heightened sense of reality with an appropriate suspension of disbelief.

More to the point, Takemichi is emotionally beaten, and all he wants to do now is run back to the present. His life there might suck, but it doesn’t involve the regular beatings of his tortured youth. He goes to the Tachibana residence so he can shake hands with Naoto and end this charade…but Hinata greets him instead.

Their exchange goes pretty much the way it did the other day, with her scolding him for fighting (not understanding that it’s the last thing he wants to do), but this time she laments not being a boy, because she’s sure she’d be stronger than him. In fact, since she knows karate, she probably is stronger than him, regardless of gender.

Knowing she’d go to bat for him soothes Takemichi’s bruised heart, and he thrusts his fist out promising to protect her, he accidentally blurts out the shortened form of her first name—Hina—causing them both to blush. Hinata tells him to call her that from now on, and insists that she’ll be the one to protect him.

Considering how Takemichi’s interaction with Naoto saved the guy’s life and set him on the path of law enforcement, part of me hopes these new exchanges with Hinata he never had in his first go-around may similarly influence Hinata’s actions and choices. If he can just stay with her, protect her, and let her protect him, maybe her death can be prevented.

But for now, Takemichi still has to at least try to meet the founding members of the Tokan Gang, and after meeting with Hinata, he no longer wants to run; he wants to fight with everything he has, even if it’s not much. He’s further inspired to action when he watches his friends offer emotional support to Takuya, whom Kiyomasa has chosen to fight next despite (or maybe because of) his frail constitution.

When he first arrived in the past, Takamichi thought his pals were as pathetic and lame as he was when he first saw that bright hair in the mirror. But now he sees he was lucky to have such good friends, whose bonds never broke no matter how much the older kids stomped on them.

Takamichi interrupts the conspicuously in-the-open fight club match (where are the cops? I guess there are lookouts) before Takuya has to fight, and challenges Kiyomasa himself to a fight, billing it a “king vs. slave” match. Crying and running has gotten him nowhere but a shitty life and a dead ex-first-and-only girlfriend. He’s done with both. He has to be: for his sake, his friends’ sakes, and for Hina’s sake.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 01 (First Impressions) – Keen on the Grindstone

“We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity.”
― H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Hanagaki Takemichi, 27. Former delinquent, peaked in middle school. Virgin. Aimless. Menial employee, prone to mistakes. Too used to the mess in his apartment. Too used to apologizing and having it not be enough. A pebble worn smooth and shiny, the better to be carried by the whims of the river.

Then a news bulletin arrests Takemichi’s listless flow: gang violence has claimed innocent lives, including Tachibana Hinata, his first and only girlfriend, and her brother Naoto. That name from his past makes him look at his present and wonder Where Things Went Wrong.

Then Takemichi falls—no, is pushed—onto the track as a train approaches. There’s a flash of light, and the first image in his head is of Hinata, shamefully blurry for someone he was once so close to—a symptom of the dreary inertia of the ensuing twelve years.

Before Takemichi knows it, he’s not under a train, but on one. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror: open collar, bleached hair, baggy pants. To his contemporary eyes it’s all too brutally lame…and yet this is when he says he peaked. When he was a delinquent in middle school. When he was Hinata’s boyfriend.

Sensing that his life must be flashing before his eyes, those times twelve years ago slowly come back to him, making him realizing how easily he forgot them. By the time he realizes he and his four delinquent friends are walking into an ambush by third-years and his tough-talking cousin is merely their errand boy, it’s too late to avoid the beatdown by the hands of the Tokyo Manji Gang—the same group responsible for killing the Tachibana siblings.

And yet, as Wells quote above makes clear, it is only through adversity and failure, personal or collective, that we are compelled to change and improve. The beatdown is a wake-up call to the adult Takemichi. He splits off from his friends and rushes to Hinata’s apartment.

When he rings her doorbell, Hinata answers, and her first reaction is concern that he’s been fighting again, asking if he needs help. Takemichi is so happy to see Hinata’s face clearly for the first time, and so ashamed that he forgot it and his love for her, he begins bawling.

Hinata, in turn, doesn’t believe for a second that nothing is wrong, and tells him to come out with it. After all, she’s his girlfriend, and she wants to know everything about him. Seeing her face and feeling her hands on his serve as another wake-up call—another turn on the grindstone—in twelve years, this wonderful person will die needlessly.

As Takemichi contemplates his present situation, a small boy is being hassled for changed by three slightly older kids. They’re interrupting the moment Takemichi is trying to have, something in him snaps, and suddenly all of the worries and questions that flooded his head earlier when he first realized he’d be getting into a fight disappear.

He slugs one of the harassing kids, then breaks a bottle in half and threatens to kill the other two if they don’t piss off. He’s left with the small boy, whose first instinct isn’t to thank him for saving him, but to say it’s dangerous to just throw the broken bottle on the ground.

After properly disposing of the glass, Takemichi gives the kid some pointers about having confidence and resolve—things he never had—before learning that the kid is Tachibana Naoto, Hinata’s little brother. Takemachi goes for broke and tells Naoto how he’s travelled back in time, and Naoto, possessed of the open, curious mind of youth, believes him: on July 1, 2017, he and his sister die. But now that he’s warned him, Naoto can protect her.

If this is real, then I want to change the future, Takemichi thinks to himself before shaking on it with Naoto. Upon that handshake, an odd spark runs through Takemichi, and next thing he knows he’s coming to in the train station infirmary, very much not dead, on July 4, 2017. He’s told a man saved his life at the last second, who is there to speak to him.

That man is none other than Tachibana Naoto, who credits Takemichi with changing his fate. Thanks to his warning twelve years ago, he worked hard to become a cop so he could protect Hinata, and survived the gang attack so he could save him in turn. Despite all that, in this timeline, Hinata is still dead. Which means Takemichi’s quest is far from over.

While no one can mistake this for a fully or even remotely original affair (with elements of Erased, ReLIFE, and Steins;Gate, along with Groundhog Day and Back to the Future), its straightforward, confident execution and blooming emotional resonance count for a lot.

And while even his 27-year-old self is a bit of a wide-eyed baby-face (some weight gain and scraggly beard would better sell his plight) Takemichi makes for a surprisingly likable protagonist, ready and willing to make the most of the second chance the universe has given him. It remains to be seen if he can change enough of the future to save Hinata, but I’m committed to watching him try.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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