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

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.

%d bloggers like this: