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

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 01 (First Impressions) – Her New Mission

We begin at the end, and I immediately deem it hilarious that “music” is one of the two genres MAL lists under this show, the other being “sci-fi”. With “music” in there I was certain I’d have to sit through at least theme park idol song, possibly with CG dancing. And while an idol is indeed walking down the tunnel to NiaLand’s main stage, the music starts up, and she begins to sing and dance…let’s just say the audience is indisposed.

For as the idol sings and dances, a horrific massacre is taking place, both in the stands and throughout the park. The AI hosts have gone berserk and are engaging in a festival of cold blunt force savagery upon the human guests. Splattered blood and little fires are everywhere. Like Skynet, the machines in The Matrix, and the hosts of Westworld, apparently the AIs have decided to do away with humans as the earth’s dominant species.

One of the park’s researchers manages to get to a place where he can activate a special emergency protocol involving an AI named “Diva”, all the while apologizing in advance for the terribly heavy burden he’s placing upon her and her alone. AI techs arrive and shoot the researcher dead, but not before he activates the program.

After some brief exposition on the fundamental “one single mission per AI” mandate that keeps the lives of AI “free of confusion”, we meet “Diva” (voiced by Tanezaki Atsumi – Chise from The Ancient Magus’ Bride), the world’s first-ever autonomous humanoid AI, who was given the mission “to make everyone happy by singing with all her heart.” But despite her massive potential, Diva seems relegated to a quiet corner of NiaLand singing to a bored crowd of two or three at best.

Diva has a fan and friend in the human girl Momoka, whom she helped when she got lost once and nicknames her “Vivy.” Momoka even gives Diva a teddy for her first birthday. At the moment Diva’s moments disallow her from getting anywhere near the vaunted Main Stage, but Momoka has her promise to “someday” sing there, where her powers of song can reach the most people.

Diva’s otherwise routine day is suddenly interrupted when an ominous timer that was in the top left corner finally reaches 11:35:00:00, at which point “Project Singularity” is executed. Diva’s consciousness is transferred from her body to a virtual construct called the Archive, where she meets a program in a floating cube that assumes the name of his developer, Matsumoto.

Matsumoto is here from 100 years in the future (and the massacre we witnessed) to ask Diva to join him in “destroying the Ais”. Diva immediately suspects some kind of virus or error, but all scans come up clean, and no matter how many times she asks Matsumoto to piss off, he refuses, and instead shows her imagery recorded from the future when Ais turned on humanity. In the first few minutes over 10,000 humans perished, and that’s only the beginning, if the future doesn’t change.

The next day, Diva goes about her routine, this time singing to an audience of no one, as Matsumoto predicted. Still, that’s nothing too unusual so it could have been a guess, so Diva has a human tech run a diagnosic that turns up nothing. Whatever Matsumoto is, she can’t be rid of him. He decides to tell her about another future event that will take place that very day: a bomb in a garbage can will seriously injure a pro-AI rights politician.

Once Matsumoto has given Diva this information, and less than a minute to respond, she chooses the next course of action quickly, and it underscores her unique nature as an autonomous AI—as opposed to the rest of the AI staff, who wouldn’t have been able to unilaterally break out of their primary directives. Diva is different, so she breaks into Terminator-style tromping run, pushes past the bodyguards with ease, and shields the politician from the blast—all in 45 seconds of real time.

The politician, Aikawa Yoichi, is grateful to Diva, and promises that next time he visits the park he’ll come watch her sing. But unfortunately, his dream of naming laws leading to equal human rights for AI will bring about humanity’s downfall in a century’s time.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the first bomb was only a warning, and those who want Aikawa dead will succeed in assassinating him. He’ll be labeled a martyr, speeding of passage of legislation in his name that will ironically doom humanity. So Diva’s next job is to prevent the assassination. Aikawa is ambushed in his office by SWAT-style operatives, but Diva jumps down from the ceiling just in time to shield him, and their bullets don’t damage her.

So begins the familiar but so-far compelling story of the reluctant heroine Diva’s new mission to stop a war between AI and humans that the humans will lose. The only way to do that is to slow or otherwise modify the particular explosive evolution of AI that leads to them to one day say in a single voice “we’re done with humans.”

This is an anime-original series, precluding any adaptation issues. It’s made by Wit Studio right on the heels of the first part of Attack on Titan’s final season, and created and written by Nagatsuki Tappei (Re:Zero), and scored by Kousaki Satoru of the Monogatari series. You can feel all that talent behind the confident, professional, polished production. This wasn’t on my initial Spring list, but it’s there now, and it’s not going anywhere.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 12 (Fin?) – Over Easy

Aragorn: Frodo’s fate is no longer in our hands.
Gimli: Then it has all been in vain. The fellowship has failed.
Aragorn: Not if we hold true to each other.

With Momoe and Rika seemingly completing their quests only to be met by fear and rage, respectively, Rika wants recriminations and revenge for Mannen, while Momoe simply wishes she never got involved with this business. Only Neiru and Ai remain beside each other while the other two seem lost.

Ai’s final egg is…herself. Or rather, as Acca puts it, an Ai from a parallel world who was also bullied for her eye but didn’t have a Koito, so she took her own life. Ai doesn’t judge—hell, she knows how Ai must feel, being herself and all—and doesn’t treat this other Ai any different than the other girls she’s saved from Wonder Killers.

When the Seenos chase the Ais up to the rooftop pool where the other Ai drowned, a horrifically repulsive Wonder Killer rises out of the chloronated water, and of course, it’s Sawaki-sensei, with tentacles of paint that eats away like acid on contact. Calling himself Ai’s “first love”, Sawaki says Ai was simply one more woman who was easy to fool because he’s handsome.

But Ai doesn’t see Sawaki in this monster; only the manifestation of her doubts and suspicions. She asserts the real Sawaki is “much nicer,” but the monster only says he had her completely fooled like all the rest. WEP has ensured that we can’t easily dismiss our own doubts and suspicions about Sawaki, who lest we forget, named a portrait of Ai…[Shudders] “Latent Heat”.

Ai won’t give up the fight, but between defending her doppelganger and the fact the battlefield is a pool, it isn’t long before both Ais plunge into the deep end. Much like the first episode of WEP, as we plunge deeper into dreams within dreams, the same feeling of not quite knowing what’s going on, but definitely wanting to know where the rabbit hole goes.

Our Ai, identified by her triangle hairpin (as opposed to the other Ai’s X) is pulled out of the pool by Koito in a version of the school blanketed by night. She kicks off her soggy shoes and socks and runs with Koito through the school as Sawaki Wonder Killer continues to taunt her.

On the same rooftop where Koito jumped to her death Sawaki is there, in his regular human form, but as the embodiment of the temptation of death. He tells her that her pure love for him betrays an innocence impossible for adults. Adult love is “dirty” and full of self-interest, which is why she should die before she grows up.

But as Ai stands at the edge of the roof holding hands with Koito, she remembers the words of her mom, who said ‘You only live once. Enjoy it.” The Ai who took her life expresses her regret, but our Ai smashes through the barrier between the light and dark rooftops and embraces her double.

The Sawaki Wonder Killer’s final gambit is to tell Ai how her own mother betrayed her by loving the same man she did, and “tried to put her own desires first.” But our Ai recalls to the other Ai how her mom never blamed her once when she stopped going to school, worrying about her where she couldn’t see, so she couldn’t know.

The Sawaki monster is barking up the wrong tree, because our Ai has already given her mom her blessing with the real Sawaki-sensei. When she was at her lowest, her mom supported her without judgment. Now that it’s her turn to support her mom, there’s no choice. Ai summons her multicolor pen mace and blasts the Sawaki monster into oblivion.

As Ai later tells Neiru on another rooftop, she thought she wanted to hear the truth from Koito, but maybe she didn’t need to, and she thinks she’s grateful she never did. Once the Sawaki monster is defeated, Koito is revealed and quickly vanishes, and a third AI created by Frill appears: one named Kirara Rodriguez Matured XVIII Evening Star SS Plum.

No doubt Kirara is there to kill Leon and stoke fear, rage, or something else in Ai, but Ai doesn’t rise to her provocations. As Rika is banished from the Accas’ domain as a cause lost to Frill, the other Ai basically takes a bullet for our Ai, as Kirara takes her blue eye.

Ai wakes up in her house, with both eyes intact, knowing the other Ai protected her. Unlike Momoe and Rika, she got out of her dream before Frill’s creation could cause any serious psychological damage. But before she parted with the other Ai, our Ai resolved to become a warrior of Eros, fighting Thanatos, the temptation of death.

It’s a hopeful, if somewhat confusing finish to what was for me, by far, the most visually and thematically ambitious and emotionally immersive series of Winter 2021. Rika and Momoe are in rough shape, but Ai seems to be stronger than ever, and Neiru seems…fine? Even more encouraging is that this is not the end; the story will be concluded in a special that’s scheduled to air June 30. It’s too early yet to declare the fellowship failed.

However it ends, Wonder Egg Priority was a deeply visceral, powerful, unforgettable ride that would have restored my faith in anime had I lost that faith in the first place. I’ll surely be revisiting this series somewhere down the road, and most definitely checking out whatever else director  Wakabayashi Shin and writer/creator Nojima Shinji make in the future.

Wonder Egg Priority – 11 – Deviled

Rika helps enough Egg Girls to free Chiaki, only for her to pass through her hands and vanish right after resurrecting. Rika then meets Dot, who like Hyphen is beholden to Frill. She brutally murders Mannen and destroys Rika’s weapon, causing her to cower in abject horror.

One night (or rather when the underground Wonder Egg compound is in night mode) Ai stops by Acca and Ura-Acca’s house. She finds an office filled with clippings of teenage suicides, as well as what looks like a family portrait: the two Accas in the human form, a woman…and a child whose face is concealed by black marker.

Ura-Acca, who had been waiting for Ai, proceeds to tell her a long and sorrowful tale of hubris and tragedy—to help her better understand her and the other girls’ true roles in their not-so-little game of Wonder Egg.

Some years ago when they had human form, Acca and Ura-Acca shared a living space and cloistered research facility. Constantly under surveillance, they decided to create something all their own together, “just for fun”. That something was an artificial girl of 14 who named herself Frill.

In addition to having the traits that “a father would want his daughter to have”, she also had character flaws built into her heuristic programming, as “being uncontrollable is the essence of femininity.”

The Accas and Frill became a happy family of three, and moments often happened when they forgot she was an AI. At a tech symposium, the Accas met Hoshina Azusa, whom both befriended and eventually developed feelings. Azusa ended up choosing Acca over Ura-Acca. They married and she became pregnant with a girl.

If the Accas are Dr. Frankenstein, Frill soon became their “Monster”. She didn’t take Azusa’s interloping well, hinting that she hated her for basically stealing Acca away. She also wanted a friend, and wanted to make one herself; they ended up letting her make two: Dot and Hyphen. Then one night while Azusa was in the bath, Frill switched on a hair dryer and threw it into the tub, killing Azusa.

An unspeakably bereft Acca threw Frill down the steps beats, her, and locks her in a cellar. While she exhibited no remorse for the murder, she still pleaded not to be left in the dark. But while Azusa died, her infant daughter Himari survived, and ended up “saving” Acca and Ura-Acca from the utter depths of despair as a new family unit was forged.

One day, a now middle school-aged Himari has a strange conversation with “uncle” Ura-Acca, promising to marry him  when she was old enough; a consolation for her mother choosing Acca. That night, they found Himari dead in the tub. It looked like she’d slit her wrists, but there was no suicide note.

Remembering how she popped her lips the way Frill often did, Ura-Acca goes down to the cellar to find Frill is not only still active, but surrounded by surveillance technology and whatnot.

Ura-Acca accuses her of using Dot and Hyphen to kill Himari, Frill simply replies “I’m not a monster. I’m Frill,” and asks him if he wants to know how the girl who loved her “uncle” so much died. Enraged, Ura-Acca takes her away and seemingly destroys her by burning her in a fire.

Ura-Acca concludes by telling AI that the “temptation of death” will cause more girls to “die when they don’t have to” unless it’s stopped…all because of their “mistake.” Dot and Hyphen have apparently already closed Momoe’s heart with fear and caused Rika to build walls of hatred—they both appear on monitors in a set up not unlike Frill’s—but the Ura-Acca decided to at least tell Ai the truth about everything.

Nearly smashing a Wonder Egg on the ground in anger and frustration, Ai decides against it, but clearly isn’t happy with the information she’s received. Heck, we never even found out what, if anything, Sawaki-sensei told her about Koito’s death! That egg may contain the last girl Ai needs to protect to free Koito. But if Dot and Hyphen come for her, and murder her animal friend, what will Ai do then? What can she do?

This episode pulled back the curtain on the pair of mysterious mannequins who seemingly gave up their human bodies after enduring too much tragedy while within them. No one should have to suffer what they suffered. The thing is, everything happened was their fault—the brutal consequences of playing God and rejecting their creation—and involving Ai and the others only compounded their offense.

Between the hubris they exhibited in committing the monstrously irresponsible act of creating a life for fun—who became twisted by jealousy and slipped completely out of their control—and the fact that they then deceived and used four teenage girls as tools to try to fix their mistake, I still can’t summon much sympathy for them. I just hope there’s some way Ai, maybe with Neiru’s help, can save Momoe and Rika from their respective fresh hells.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 15 – Scratch Off

After coming so close to a good ending only for a crazed Ooishi to kill everyone, Rika is buoyed by her friends to try five more loops before using the fragment of the weapon she can use to kill herself for good. I figured the loops would gradually unfold in the next few episodes. Instead, we get all but one in one go!

This new loop starts out promisingly, with Ooishi and Keiichi getting along famously over their shared love of mahjongg (stop trying to teach us mahjongg, anime!) Ooishi’s mahjong buddy also makes an appearance: Akasaka, who is introduced with a soft filter and angelic light.

Back in 1978, one of Rika’s predictions saved his wife Yukie’s life, and he’s come to return the favor. Rika asks him to stay for the entirety of the Watanagashi Festival, and he agrees. Rika is genuinely happy and hopeful about this development!

Then there’s a smash cut to her covered in stab wounds and bleeding out on a tatami mat. Akasaka is the crazy killer scratching his throat out. Even as she burns Rika laughs out loud at how whimsical fate is, puts up her hand, lowers one finger, and snaps.

The episode doesn’t bother with the lighthearted fluff; we just fast-forward directly to the killing, as Mion and Shion’s mother is this loop’s crazed slasher, and she uses her katana to behead her own daughter, vowing to erase their family’s blood for good. Rika lowers two fingers and snaps just as her shoulders are relieved of her head.

In the next loop, Kimiyoshi is the killer, and drags Rika by a rope, rows her into the middle of a swamp, and tosses her overboard with a rock to drown her as a sacrifice…but not before Rika has to endure way too much unhinged monologue and bad breath for her taste. As she sinks into the swamp, she lowers three fingers and snaps.

Just when we’re wondering what ridiulous hell-scenario Rika will end up in next, there are columns of riot police outside the cosplay cafe, where a very itchy Keiichi is bludgening everyone to death, including Rena, who can’t get him to wake up from the bad dream. Rika gets Keiichi to end her life quickly by telling him the secret to getting rid of the “maggots in his neck” is to bash her skull in and eat her brains. She lowers four fingers and snaps.

These loops have become the most unbearably hellish torture for Rika, who is trapped in the goriest version of Groundhog Day ever. It is by far the bloodiest and hardest-to-watch episode of Gou to date. Those scratching sounds…Jesus. If Rika keeps to her plan, she’ll only have one more life to endure before ending it by her own hand. But will that really work?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 14 – Parting Gift

In the previous episode Rena informs Keiichi that they’re the only two survivors among their circle of friends, but this week we have the dubious honor of watching Ooishi’s rampage unfold in real time, and I’m not sure I needed that.

Watching the crazed detective choke Rika while scratching out his throat (due to the itch of Oyashiro’s curse, no doubt) and shooting anyone who comes near (including the Sonozaki twins and Satoko) before beating Rika’s head in with a bat is not my idea of a fun time.

When Rika wakes up, it’s in the strange space filled with pieces of a temple and glowing shards, and she’s welcomed by Hanyuu once more. Rika’s apparently been at this for over a century, trapped in Hinamizawa, but every loop ends the same: with her and plenty of others dying.

Only now, apparently, Hanyuu (or rather the “echo” of her) has used “the last of her power” to ensure Rika retains the memories of her past loops so she can learn from them. This sounds like absolute torture of Steins;Gate proportions to me. What kind of friend is this Hanyuu?!

Hanyuu also informs Rika of the Onigari-no-ryuou, a sacred sword that can kill a looper. She calls it a parting gift, because after telling her where to find it (the shed) she bids Rika adieu, and Rika wakes up in a fresh new loop.

Now that she knows of a weapon that can kill her for good, Rika, who looks for all the world to have had her fill of all this, can’t quite hide her depressive state from the others. She picks hide-and-seek for their club game, with the caveat that she’s the only one hiding. Sundown arrives and they can’t find her…but they don’t give up.

Rika has given up, however, and after briefly cry-laughing from the cruelty of the sword not being where it should be (inside the statue of Oyashiro), she digs a little deeper and finds a small shard of it, which she deems adequate to “do the job.”

Just as she’s about to open her Carotid with the shard, her friends call out for her from outside, having finally located her at the shed. She decides not to kill herself after all. Now that she knows she can, she can go on a little longer—five more loops, to be exact.

While this is an intriguing new twist on the formula we’ve seen so far, as a practical matter I’m starting to have trouble overlooking the clunky, inconsistent character design of Higurashi, especially as I begin new and far better-looking Winter shows. This week’s score reflects my growing disappointment in the visuals.

Talentless Nana – 12 – Off Her Game

I like Michiru. She’s just so damn nice and good! So like Nana, I’m glad she’s not dead, only feverish and dehydrated. Unlike Nana, I don’t think liking or caring about Nana makes me weak or disrupts my Talented murdering spree.

Despite the trained, hardened killer in Nana lamenting how much time she wastes tending to Michiru while Kyouya is distracted by the new killer, she simply can’t and won’t leave Michiru’s bedside, even when Sorano offers to take her place there so she can rest.

Michiru eventually comes to, and we learn her mishap in the shower wasn’t the result of foul play, but the limits of her own Talent. While Nana was gone, two cats came to Michiru’s dorm. One, unbeknownst to her, was really Jin, while the other had a nasty cut on its neck. Shortly after healing the cat, Michiru took a shower and suddenly blacked out.

When Michiru spots the cut on Nana’s hand from breaking into the cafeteria to help her, she tries to lick the wound away, but Nana stops her, angry that Michiru didn’t learn her lesson about overuse of her Talent. In the precious subsequent moments when the two girls are making fun of each other’s unkempt hair, Nana isn’t a killer and Michiru isn’t a target…they’re just good friends.

Meanwhile in the woods, Jin encounters Ishii’s killer, who remains a dark silhouette to us. Without judging their murders, Jin requests that they at least stop hurting animals. We also check in with the committee that sent Nana to the island. She has apparently exceeded their expectations, and they praise the man who trained her, Tsuruoka.

When Nana goes off to clean herself up, she struggles with her sudden conflict not just over whether she should kill Michiru, but whether Michiru is remotely deserving of death. At the same time, she fears what Tsuruoka’s reaction would be if he could see how far off her game she currently finds herself.

When Michiru insists Nana stick around so they can play shogi, Nana brings up the name “Hitomi” she saw in Michiru’s journal, saying she “heard Michiru’s inner voice”—which is true to a degree! Hitomi was a delinquent-ish classmate back on the mainland whose dog Michiru healed. Hitomi, in turn, protected Michiru from bullies.

Hitomi once asked Michiru if she could help her sick “mom”, and Michiru explained she couldn’t heal illnesses. That said, she realize she can help a lot more, so she starts going to the hospital and healing people until passing out like she did most recently in the shower. That’s when Hitomi visits her and reveals she was asking for herself; she has terminal cancer; her orange hair was only a wig.

Michiru feels terrible for “making” Hitomi come to school to rescue her again and again, but Hitomi assures her she did it because she wanted to—and because like everyone, even she felt lonely and afraid sometimes. She likens leaving the hospital to help Michiru to Michiru risking her health to heal people—”we know it’s bad for us, but it’s okay to live a little.”

Shortly after reuniting in the hospital, Hitomi passed away, but Michiru promised herself to never stop healing and helping others—better a short life full of good deeds than a long life of cautiousness. Nana is so overwhelmed by this story, she has to excuse herself.

Out in the hall, she collapses from the weight of what is now the greatest single threat to her resolve. She keeps staring at the text indicating Michiru’s “Potential Death Count” of over 150,000 souls, partly hoping seeing that number will snap her out of her conflict, and partly hoping it will go down or disappear entirely.

She didn’t want to get this emotionally invested in one of her targets, but she is. She didn’t want to doubt the committees estimates, but she does. There’s still time for the show to reveal that Michiru is a supremely deceptive, evil, nasty piece of work after all. I sure hope they don’t go there.

That would let Nana off the hook too easily. I, like her, want to believe Michiru is exactly who she seems to be. Not only that, Munou na Nana created something truly beautiful in Michiru the pure, irreproachable, virtuous angel puppy. I’d hate to see that beautiful thing destroyed.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 11 – Proper Ventilation

Nana arrives late to the latest murder scene with Detective Kyouya already working the case. He questions those in the adjacent room: Muguo and three acolytes, whose talents are voice mimicry, astral projection, and magnetism. They apparently didn’t hear a struggle in the Ryuuji’s room last night.

Ryuuji’s girlfriend, Sorano Fuuko, is the most suspicious to us because she’s in the opening credits and also just framed suspiciously. Fuuko demonstrates her power to focus atmosphere into a powerful weapon on a willing (and invincible) Kyouya. She does it outside because she finds it hard to focus in a closed interior space.

After the demo, Kyouya goes off to ponder, while Nana checks out the crime scene. If Fuuko needed air, that explains the open window and bugs that got in the dorm, as well as the messy state of the place. Michiru tags along, and Nana senses something has been off about her since last night.

Nana is also surprised to find she can’t hold back her emotions when Michiru thoughtlessly talks about how great her parents are when Nana told her about her parents’ fate the previous night. The fatigue could well be getting to them both, but then Nana thinks she’s figured out the reason for Nana’s off-ness when the teacher comes by with a fresh uniform.

Kyouya told him to deliver it, and Nana recalls she had a bottle of poison in it. Thus she suspects Michiru is off because she found it, and like the incriminating photo of her, is torn between their genuine friendship and suspicions of her own.

When Kyouya suddenly appears, her fears seem to be confirmed, but the detective only wants Nana to accompany him for an interview with Fuuko, hoping her mind-reading will help him determine if Fuuko is telling the truth. Interestingly, at no point during their time with Fuuko does Nana consider this is why Kyouya brought her.

When he asks about Fuuko’s thoughts, Nana tells the truth: she wasn’t focused enough, but for what it’s worth, she doesn’t think Fuuko did it…yet. But when Kyouya starts piecing together the night of the murder in intricate detail, he ends up starting to convince her that it could be Fuuko. It’s great procedural stuff.

That brings Nana back to Michiru’s, as she didn’t like where they left things the last time they were together (Nana yelled at her and stormed off). Michiru is in the shower, so Nana searches her dorm for the poison. Instead, she finds Michiru’s open journal, which is full of beautifully pure, earnest entries about how much she loves and admires Nana.

I should know better considering her conditioning prior to coming to the island and, ya know, all the people she’s murdered, but Nana seems…chastened by this journal…even a little guilty for ever suspecting Michiru? No doubt those suspicions were somewhat influenced by Jin’s fake “Dark Michiru”.

Right on cue, Jin appears. Turns out he took the potion from Nana’s clothes before Michiru or Kyouya could find it. He’s determined to allow Nana to “keep swimming”, i.e. continue her mission until he can draw out more about the people she answers to.

Jin then forebodingly mentions how Michiru has been in the shower quite a long time, and takes his leave. Nana suddenly panics and rushes in the bath, where Michiru is slumped over the side of an overflowing tub. Could this be the end of dear, sweet Michiru? Was Nana snapping at her really their last interaction?

Something else to consider: Is this the act of the one who murdered Ryuuji, or did that last terse interaction drive Michiru to kill herself? We don’t know, and at the moment neither does Nana. From the first episode she’s prided herself on being on top of things with regard to who is up to what; it’s what any serial killer needs to be to avoid ending up caught or dead.

But at the moment Nana herself is a bit “off”—both unsure of the second murderer and morally conflicted vis-a-vis Michiru. It’s an intriguingly uncertain place for her to be with just two episodes remaining.

Talentless Nana – 10 – Just Your Typical Little Girl

When Nana breaks free of her icy anklet, Jin uses Moguo’s fire Talent to stop her in her tracks, but apologizes for going too far. Still, her phone’s “potential kill count” messages cause him to suspect she’s a “crusader” like someone from his class who believed he was sent to kill the “minions of Satan.”

Jin isn’t interested in using others’ Talents to force Nana to talk. He wants to patiently build trust with her, human to human, something he wasn’t able to do with his class, whom he dehumanized all too easily when he used their own Talents to kill them.

Badly burned and about to lose consciousness, Nana gives Jin a little of what he wants: insight into who Hiiragi Nana is. She tells him she had an older brother she was too young to remember, and a mother and father who were murdered one night by an Enemy of Humanity.

Before passing out, she smiles when he asks if she sees Talented as Enemies of Humanity, then he carries her back to the dorms, warning her that now that the bodies are starting to pile up, the psychopaths among the current class will soon “come out of the woodwork”. Basically, she’s not the only murderer on this island.

When Nana comes to it’s in Michiru’s dorm; Jin left her at her dorm and Michiru did what Jin knew she’d do: take Nana in and heal her. Michiru also mentions that an impostor went to class when she was too tired to go (due to Jin drugging her). Nana realizes if she’s more open with her traumatic past, her reckless actions will be more easily explained by her “noble vendetta.”

Michiru wants Nana to know she’s always there if she wants to talk. As Nana talks to her about how her house was broken into and her parents killed, Michiru exhibits all the qualities of an empathetic, caring, even loving friend. But after revealing Yuuka’s true colors, she can’t help but still wonder if even sweet Michiru has a dark side.

In the meantime, memories of that horrible night well up and haunt Nana. As she ponders her next move in her dorm, Jin pays her a visit. He agrees to return her phone to her if she’ll “share more of her soul” with him via more information about her past. Then Michiru shows up , and Jin disguises himself as the kitty Nana saved.

Michiru and Kitty!Jin listen as Nana gives details about what kind of “typical little girl” she was. She loved games of skill like Chess, Shoji, and Go, and was so good at them that other kids didn’t want to play her. She also made a mess of all the games in her rooms, and played long into the night, often slipping out past midnight to go to the konbini to buy manga, another passion.

Her parents always told her to make sure her window was locked, but one night she fell asleep without doing so, and that was all a burglar needed to gain entry. The next morning she found her parents brutally murdered, and she carried her father’s head out in public. Nana begins to break down over the guilt of being the reason the murderer targeted their house and got inside, but Michiru offers her hand in support.

At some point, Nana falls asleep at her desk, and wakes up the next morning to find Michiru sitting on her bed, awake and oddly alert. Before she can say anything, Kyouya bursts in and asks the two girls to come with him. There’s been another murder: a male student’s throat has been slashed, apparently by a sliding dorm window.

It’s clear Nana didn’t do it this time, which means there is indeed another murderer on the island. But who? The camera lingers on a girl with bangs and a pony tail whose eyes are always shut—according to MAL, her name is Sorano Fuuko. It could be her—whoever she is—or it could be someone else.

For all we know, it could even be Michiru, who may have left Nana’s dorm to kill after Nana fell asleep. That goes against everything we’ve learned about Micchy so far, but if this show has taught me anything, it’s not to trust anyone or anything!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 09 – Estelles;Gate

Last week’s doll-and-face fetish episode, and the grape-stomping maiden episode before it, made for some particularly goofy Journeys of Elaina, making me wonder when and if show would get dark again. Sure enough, this episode arrives with an “Explicit Content” warning, opens on a starving, broke Elaina, and no OP! What the heck are we in for? At the time, I had no idea.

Elaina finds a flyer promising good pay for “ultra-short-term” work, and encounters a fellow Witch, Estelle. Through meeting her, Elaina is pleased to learn that while Estelle became an apprentice when she was younger, it took her longer than Elaina to become a full-fledged Witch. Wand-measuring aside, Estelle is offering a giant sack of gold coins for the job.

What is the job? Well, first, a sad story: Back while Estelle was training abroad, her dear childhood friend Selena’s parents were murdered in a robbery. Selena’s uncle took her in, and proceeded to abuse her. Selena eventually snapped, murdering her uncle, and then several others. It ultimately fell to Estelle to apprehend Selena…and execute her.

Estelle seeks to use magic to go back in time so she can save Selena’s parents and prevent the chain of events that lead to her having to kill her own best friend. Time-traveling requires more magic than any one witch has, so Estelle has been gradually draining her blood to augment the spell.

The other problem is that once they’re actually in the past, Estelle will be drained of all magic, which is why she needs Elaina. By wearing matching magical rings, Elaina will be able to share her magic with Estelle. This job is not without its risks and inconveniences—hence the generous payday.

Elaina, confident and cocksure as always, proudly proclaims herself to be a traveler, and so the next logical step in her journey is to travel through time and see how things used to be in the past. So she slips on the ring, Estelle activates the spell, and off they go.

The witches safely arrive ten years into the past, but only have one hour to do what needs to be done before being sent back to the present. Estelle makes it clear that the timeline in which she executes Selena has happened and can’t un-happen; changing events will create a tangent, but that’s enough for her, as long as there is a timeline in which Selena gets to live on.

Their broom-flight to Selena’s house is interrupted when Estelle spots young Selena walking down the street, and can resist giving her a big hug, no matter how much it weirds the girl out. Elaina notes that Estelle got quie the cold reaction from Selena, but Estelle insists that deep down Selena is very kind.

Estelle proceeds to get Selena’s parents out of the house under the guise that she’s Selena’s half-sister and has business with them. Elaina stakes out the house, waiting for the robber to arrive, but it dawns on her that the murder of the parents was too grisly for a mere robbery. Then her magic-sharing ring glows and shoots a red beam in Estelle’s direction: she’s engaged in battle.

When Elaina arrives, she finds a horrifying sight: Selena has viciously attacked Estelle, and has blood on her mouth just like her photo in the future papers. It turns out Selena’s parents abused her long before her uncle had the chance, twisting her into homicidal mania, even sadism. It doesn’t matter whether Estelle was her best friend or she and Elaina are trying to “help”—Selena is already beyond helping.

While the blood and gore on display in this scene is indeed explicit, I for one am glad we didn’t have to witness the abuse Selena suffered at the hands of her parents, and the warning was meant for the violence. And there is a lot of it—the most in the series’ run for sure.

When Selena prepares to attack Elaina, Estelle gets up and stops her in her tracks. Having worked so hard and sacrificed her own blood to try to save Selena, she is overcome by heartbreak and despair, and there’s nothing left but to kill Selena again before she can kill Elaina or anyone else.

Elaina tries to stop this by removing the ring, but Estelle simply sacrifices her memories of Selena in order to summon enough magic to explode her head off. The hour is up and the two witches return to the present. Sure enough, Estelle doesn’t remember Selena, and barely remembers Elaina. She’s a ruined husk of a witch, and Elaina is so upset by the experience she runs out of Estelles house, pointedly leaving the bag of gold behind.

That, and Elaina’s subsequent breakdown on the bench in front of the clock tower, shows that the effects of this particular journey will (or at least should) last beyond just this episode. Elaina weeps uncontrollably, her confident façade utterly shattered. She no longer thinks of herself as a special or exemplary; only an “ordinary” traveler and witch, inexperienced and unable to do anything.

She’s being a bit hard on herself, as who the heck could have handled that situation better? It was largely out of her hands. The best thing to do would have been to refuse the job, but she really needed money and was intrigued by the prospect of a different kind of traveling. The episode fades to black and the credits roll without images. Black Friday, indeed.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 04 – Knowing the Whole Story

Last week was a half-baked and tedious exploration of the online content culture featuring an unlikable YouTuber. But that was just one episode of a show that can be about a lot of different thing. The first two episodes were decent, and this fourth happens to be the best yet. It’s also the heaviest emotionally, starting out the night of Christmas Eve with Makoto encountering an old man named Nanjou at the very spot where his son Toshi was killed five years ago.

Nanjou raised Toshi alone, and couldn’t keep him out of trouble, but considered him a fundamentally kind boy. His appeal to Makoto is simple: find out what happened to Toshi and who is responsible. As thanks in advance, he gives Makoto a ride home in his Jazz Taxi, which sounds like just about the perfect way to get a ride home on a snowy Christmas Eve night in they city.

Thanks to Takashi, Makoto learns that Toshi started a gang in Ueno called Team Apollo. As a mediator of note with powerful friends, Makoto walks through the territories of various gangs with confidence, but he’s initially regarded by Apollo as a trespasser trying to stir the shit. They refuse to tell him anything about Toshi, and when he doesn’t give up, they beat the shit out of him.

But it seems clear to Makoto that he wouldn’t get anything at all out of Apollo if he didn’t let them beat him up a little, then come right back with no hard feelings…and Toshi’s dad. Makoto’s mom assures Nanjou that Makoto gets in scraps all the time, but he’s tough and can take it, and she’s right! Makoto ends up meeting the current Apollo leader, Rintarou, who reveals that Makoto beat his girlfriend Harumi, as well as her eventual husband, Kouji.

That leads Makoto to meet with Harumi, whose son Akihiro is treated by Nanjou like his blood grandson. In truth, after suffering brutal beatings by Toshi, Harumi found comfort, safety, and eventually love in Kouji, and Akihiro is his son. She was already pregnant with Akihiro when she told Toshi she was leaving him.

Harumi’s story is familiar and sadly all-too-common: at one point she loved Toshi and he her, but he became increasingly twisted and violent towards her, yet the love was still there, mixed with fear. That’s why Harumi followed Toshi when he ran out of the house that night, only to find him dead. She felt horrible about his death, but also relieved, since it meant he could no longer hurt her, Kouji, or Akihiro.

The question remained: Who killed Toshi? It turns out the answer was right there in the opening scene when we first met Nanjou and Harumi. Makoto contacts his police friend who gives him the details of Toshi’s unsolved murder case. Turns out a young couple was on the scene, and the woman was fairly tall; only 5cm shorter than the man.

When Makoto calls his police friend, that friend is about to go on a date, and he can hear that Makoto is troubled and asks what’s wrong. Makoto ends the call soon thereafter, but his friend was right: this “case” definitely took its toll. Makoto should be with friends or family on this night, but instead he’s all alone in the cold, learning more and more about a story that can only further hurt everyone involved.

Still, he promises Harumi he won’t tell Nanjou that Akihiro isn’t his blood grandson, nor drag Toshi’s memory in the dirt. Aside from the harm it could do, it isn’t his place as an outsider. That’s why it’s gratifying that when Makoto meets with Nanjou to feed him a fake story, not only is Harumi there to tell the truth about Toshi’s violence, but so is the couple who were present for Toshi’s death.

Turns out in his rage, Toshi assaulted the husband, and when the wife shoved away him he fell awkwardly down the steps and suffered a fatal head injury. It was an accident caused in self-defense, but the couple never turned themselves in, and now the wife is with child, making things more complicated. They promise Nanjou that once their kid is born and older they’ll turn themselves in.

Nanjou doesn’t seem eager to let them do that, as it would only ruin their lives and that of their child. Instead, he turns all the blame in on himself; had he raised Toshi better, he wouldn’t have hurt Harumi, not to mention put himself in the position where the young wife pushed him to his death. He apologizes to Toshi, and Makoto, whose father is gone, can’t help but feel pride for the poor old man.

This episode got downright noir-y and hardboiled, and Makoto showed off his detective chops, much of which come down to his considerable people skills (and ability to take a beating). The setting of snowy Ikebukuro adds to the brooding atmosphere, as does Makoto’s early comment about how some spots in the city feel like they’re devoid of air—like the otherwise unexceptional spot where Toshi died.

At least now Nanjou can breathe knowing the truth of what happened and why, and if he doesn’t want to dwell on it, he can always turn up the jazz in his taxi.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 27 – The Woman With the Seaweed Hair

Asirpa arrives at the site of the village of her father’s birth to a Karafuto Ainu mother and Polish father. However, it was abandoned decades before the present fox-breeding farm was established. According to Kiroranke, Asirpa’s parents, grandparents, and all the Ainu of Karafuto were “crushed between two nations”—Japan and Russia. The same fate will befall the Hokkaido Ainu.

Wilk believed Asirpa to be the last best hope for her people’s future, but Kiroranke and Ogata only seem to care about in Asirpa for the knowledge locked in her brain that will unlock the secrets of the tattoos. Kiroranke is hoping to gain enough trust that, combined with the “further maturing” of Asirpa, will compel her to give up the information willingly.

Unfortunately, that’s all we get of Asirpa’s crew this week, which was initially a bummer, especially when followed up by some slapstick antics involving Lt. Tsurumi, a bedridden Nikaidou, and a new wooden hand that shoots out chopsticks. We already know Tsurumi is a strange cat; this wasn’t necessary.

Things, however, look up when we return to Sugimoto’s gang. The officer who is actually in charge is Tsukishima Hajime. He lets Gansoku Maiharu free to escape to Japan, with the warning that he’ll kill him if he ever sees him again. He also warns Sugimoto that he’ll kill him if he goes berserk again. He needs soldiers who can control themselves.

From there, we pause from where Tsukishima is going to where he’s been, namely death row. We learn how there was a woman with hair like the seaweed called igogusa with whom he fell in love and promised to elope with her upon returning from military service.

Back in his home village, Tsukishima was ostracized as the son of a murderer, and a thug in his own right. But in Igogusa he found love and solace, as she alone called him Hajime. But he never saw her again. Upon returning home, everyone assumed he was dead, and Igogusa disappeared ten days before he returned, and her sandals washed up on the shore.

Assuming his fiancée killed herself upon learning he died, Tsukishima determined that his rotten father created the lie that killed her. He beat his father to avenge her, but went too far and killed him, thus earning him a spot on death row. But Tsurumi, his commanding officer from his tour of duty, took it upon himself to investigate Igogusa’s disappearance.

He learned that a bigwig from Mitsubishi took a liking to Igogusa, who ended up marrying his son and moving back to Tokyo with them. Her suicide was faked so when the “thug” Tsukishima returned, he wouldn’t pursue her. Igogusa in tern assumed her Hajime had died in the war, and asked Tsurumi to bury a lock of the hair he loved at his grave.

Instead, Tsurumi used the lock of hair to motivate Tsukishima into learning Russian like his life depended on it—because it did. Tsurumi manages to get Tsukishima’s sentence commuted and recruits him into the 7th. Then, nine years later in a medical tent, a soldier from Tsukishima’s village tells him Igogusa did die, and her bones were found under his father’s house.

Right in the heat of the Battle of Mukden, an enraged Tsukishima confronts Tsurumi, who explains that he told him whatever he needed to hear to restore his will to live. The two are caught in a mortar attack, and Tsukishima pushes Tsurumi aside. Tsurumi’s scalp is burned off, but he and Tsukishima survive thanks in part to Sugimoto, who offers the second of two remaining sleds because his comrade is too far gone.

As Tsukishima and Tsurumi recovered together, Tsurumi further explained that he spread the story of Igogusa’s suicide to his village—which the inhabitants still believe—in order to get him out of jail without a trial. So he told him Igogusa was alive to motivate him, but told the village Igogusa was dead to get him out of prison. The gods’ honest truth is that Igogusa was still alive, married to the Mitsubishi son and living in Tokyo.

But as it had been well over a decade since they parted, Tsukishima decided to let Igogusa go forever, tossing her lock of hair into the inky, frigid waters of Otaru. In this way, Tsukishima and Igogusa were crushed between the same two nations as Asirpa’s father’s people. But he still chose to commit the remainder of his life to Tsurumi’s service—a loyalty that endures to the present day.

Now we finally have Tsukishima’s backstory, and see how his fate got interwoven in those of both Tsurumi and Sugimoto long before present events. It’s also another illustration of how deftly Golden Kamuy can spill one hell of an engrossing yarn, no matter on which character it chooses to focus.