Akudama Drive – 03 – Ocean’s Seven

As the Black Cat continues to describe the plan to infiltrate Kansai Station, the Ordinary Person tries not to stand out too much, lest her Swindler persona be exposed as a fraud. She later admits alone (with the gorgeous skyline as a backdrop) she’s strayed quite far into the world of criminals, but as Courier tells her, he does what he does because it’s “where he belongs.”

Ordinary Girl probably hadn’t led a particularly interesting life up until now, and even though these are all insane criminals, they’ve collectively been nice enough to make her feel like she belongs too. It’s nothing groundbreaking, characterization-wise, but Kurosawa Tomoyo really brings a lot of brightness and personality to “Ordina.”

This week we watch the gang infiltrate the station, which earns the episode the title “Mission: Impossible” for good reason: this motley crew of crazy people will have to work together, and well, in order to have a chance at success. Not only that, Ordina plays a key role at several points in the episode. She’s no passive observer.

Once the split group reaches the two elevators, they rely on precise countdowns to time the pressing of two switches on two levels at the exact same time. The switches are protected by glass-like forcefields, which are defeated in different ways.

Brawler simply destroys the unshielded supports for the fields, while Cutthroat pierces through them one by one. Ordina has to borrow Hacker’s drone to deliver a decisive fastball into the line of suspended blades so the one at the front hits the switch just as Hoodlum’s temple hits the other.

Once they reach the Shinkansen platform, they activate an EMP provided by Black Cat, knocking out power for the entire city, but also Hacker’s connection. With Hacker unable to increase the allowed weight of the cargo to permit it to pass through the train’s plasma field, the only person lighter than him—Ordina—has to take his place in the cargo crate.

She makes it inside without incident and drops the field just in time to allow Courier to speed in on his bike; then everyone else boards right before the train’s emergency start kicks in. Again, the train actually moving wasn’t part of the plan, but it will have to be now. There’s no going back from this point.

While this episode only covers the first half of the Shinkansen heist, I’m glad it slowed things down so we could not only watch the details of the infiltration go down, but also have more fun interactions between the characters. Both the Kansai station and the music the heist is set to elevate the sense of occasion and importance to the mission, which is about to kick into a higher gear with next week’s “Speed”.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 02 – 1.5 Meters for a Billion

With all the players introduced, the robotic Black Cat reveals she’s the mastermind who had them all collared as an insurance policy. The mission to rescue Cutthroat was a test they all passed. Unfortunately for the lower-level Akudama Hoodlum and non-Akudama Ordinary Girl, the fact they’re still alive and played a role means they could prove useful, so they’re not allowed to walk away.

The cat suggests a change of venue to discuss their next job, which will pay a cool billion (100 million is already in everyone’s accounts, indicating the cat isn’t altogether untrustworthy. Brawler secures them some transport by hijacking a bus (all of which fly here) and Hacker handles the piloting. Their trip across town is just the latest in a nearly constant feast for the eyes. There’s too much detail to catch it all in one viewing.

The airbus trip also allows our colorful characters to interact a bit. Hoodlum and Brawler become fast friends, Courier and Doctor don’t, and Cutthroat is enamored of Ordinary Girl’s pink eyes, hair highlights, and clothes. Though pink isn’t as good as (blood) red, and his fixation on that color leads him to hit all the red buttons on the bus, resulting in the activation of its emergency afterburners.

After a quick history lesson with stick puppets about Kanto and Kansai (the former bombed and then totally rebuilt the latter), the gang emerges from the airbus, which has crashed into the upper level of a seven-star hotel. After disposing of all the human and robotic guards, they all gather in a suite so the cat can brief them on their next mission.

They are to infiltrate the Shinkansen, the only way to travel to Kanto from Kansai, and revered by most of the latter’s inhabitants as a “sacred entity”. There’s a 1.5-meter vault containing cargo the cat wants, but won’t disclose exactly what that cargo is. A successful attack of the Shinkansen has never been accomplished, but everyone gets $9 million if they can pull it off.

Their briefing is interrupted by the arrival of a pair of Executioners: a male Master and female Pupil who have a License to Kill Akudama. The Pupil takes the lead and goes after Brawler, and the suite’s trippy mood lighting is accidentally activated, making their brawl even more cool and stylish. Pupil proves at least an equal fighter to Brawler, and cuts Doctor’s throat, while Hacker and the cat escape.

Before Pupil or Master can determine why an Ordinary Person with no criminal record and a four-year Hoodlum are hanging out with a bunch of elite Akudama, Courier remotely calls in his bike, which flies up to the suite, crashes through the window, and fires its railgun at the Executioners. In the ensuing explosion, the Girl and Akudama get away, and Master and Pupil vow to get them next time.

We end up in an abandoned warehouse—what was to be the original site of the briefing before Cutthroat caused a detour to the hotel. Everyone is fine, even Doctor, who stitched up her own throat. All that’s left is to await the Shinkansen’s next stop in Kansai. They’ll only have twenty minutes until it starts back up for Kanto, so they should at least go in with a plan…even if the more chaotic members of the gang inevitably mess that plan up.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 01 (First Impressions) – Too Much is Not Enough

From its opening moments when it presents a stark futuristic urban landscape a la Blade Runner 2049, then the camera dives into an impossibly lively and kinetic future cityscape, I knew we’d be in for a lush eyefeast. The gaudy visuals are always on the cusp of causing sensory overload, but the direction wisely finds “rest spots”, such as when the camera angles stay level at an alleyway takoyaki stand.

It’s there where our unnamed female protagonist is grabbing a bite to eat, and the course of her night—and the rest of her life—is suddenly changed forever, all thanks to a ¥500 piece dropped by a gray taciturn young man on a purple Akira superbike. He refuses the coin from the girl, saying “dropped change is bad luck”. After what happens to the girl, I really can’t dispute that!

We learn Mr.Poutybike is really Courier, whose bike is equipped with omni-directional mobility gear to essentially Spider-Man his way over and through Kansai’s endless labyrinth of concrete canyons. We also meet Brawler creating an impressive, ever-growing pile of busted-up police bots; Hacker, hacking into the Kansai Central Bank; and sultry sadist Doctor performing an impromptu heart bypass in public transit airship.

These four super-cool, ultra-colorful characters (none of them named; their jobs are their names) each have centuries worth of estimated sentences for their myriad crimes. After they show off their stuff, each receives a mysterious text for a new job: Whomever of them rescues the murderer Cutthroat from his public execution later that night will be rewarded a cool ¥100 million.

The four criminals, designated S-Class Akudama, converge on Kansai Police HQ…where our Ordinary Girl ended up after being arrested for not paying for her takoyaki. The fact she didn’t pay when she had the ¥500 coin suggests to a police bot that she may be a Swindler. When Brawler starts throwing bots through windows, the Girl is caught in the middle of the fray.

When she spots a black cat—the same one she saved while almost getting hit by a car earlier—she chases after it and protects it, because between those selfless acts and not feeling right spending Courier’s ¥500, Ordinary Girl is a good person—maybe the only good person in this whole insane city!

That, however, doesn’t save her from the bad luck of picking up that dropped coin, which puts her literally in the crossfire of all four Akudama, who had been busy fighting each other until she presented them with a mutual target to kill. She manages to save herself (for the moment) by lying about being an Akudama like them named Swindler, so-called because she even tricked the computer system.

Before they start pressing her for proof, a giant police robot emerges from the elevator, missiles firing. Cutthroat was only a second or two from being beheaded by guillotine when the other four Akudama, the megabot, and Ordinary Girl all spill out into the public execution arena, much to the police cheif’s chagrin. They also end up destroying part of the underground prison, freeing, among others, the D-Class Akudama Hoodlum.

Courier leads the attack on the megabot, winding his bike around the giant overhead scoreboard display, sending it plummeting on top of everyone else. At first Ordinary Girl can just watch gobsmacked as all this chaos happens around her with the cat in her arms, but when she spots Courier about to be killed by the bot, she remembers her duty to get him back his coin.

She distracts the bot by pointing out Hoodlum, giving Courier enough time to activate his bike’s built-in railgun (but notably not activated with the coin—a missed opportunity to be sure). The bot is destroyed, the cops are in disarray, and all the Akudama are still breathing. Courier refuses to thank the Girl for helping him. Dick!

But how long will each of them be breathing? When Cutthroat emerges free from his binds and is given the briefcase by Courier, he immediately fits its contents (necklaces) on himself, the Akudama, and the Girl, and a guard. When the the guard tries to pry it off his head explodes, indicating the chokers are bombs. Then the theretofore silent cat finally speaks up—apparently the mastermind of this job and the scenario in which the criminals and Ordinary Girl find themselves.

You may not find a more indulgently EXTRA show than Akudama Drive (AKA “A.D.D.”) this Fall, and its first episode surpasses even K in pure delicious eye candy. I knew going in this had the same director as Persona, the character designer of Danganronpa, and Railgun’s composer.

Kurosawa Tomoyo (Sound! Euphonium’s Kumiko, Amaburi’s Sylphy) does a tremendous job infusing Ordinary Girl with a crisp, bright, expressive voice. So there’s a ton of talent here. One of my favorite unnecessary-but-awesome flexes are the transitions between parts of the city in which the different layers of the landscape are fitted together like Tetris pieces.

One thing that may turn some off besides the visuals that border on too cool and trying too hard: the fact there’s no attempt to give dimension to any of these characters, who basically start and end at their names and are embellished with their individual style and methods. No amount of intricate spinning signs can distract from the fact there’s not much below the surface.

That said, I found Ordinary Girl an effective and sympathetic audience surrogate, and whatever deadly game into which she’s stumbled backwards is one I can’t wait to watch unfold…even if it may be best to switch off the ol’ brain and enjoy the empty neon calorie airship ride.

Rating: 4/5

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 02 – Boy in the Sky

Nene finds herself worked to the bone cleaning bathrooms by Hanako, to the point it interferes with her modest attempts to snag a man. Still, the fact that same pursuit led to her turning into a fish means she still owes the apparition who saved her big-time, and Nene is nothing if not honorable.

Toilet-bound Hanako-kun‘s art is so goshdarn colorful, whimsical and immersive you can forgive that it’s quite light on actual animation. It looks like absolutely nothing else airing, lending it a certain specialness.

When rumors spread of a spirit that makes off with people’s stuff and will kill anyone who looks at them, Nene ends up cornered by just such a monster, and has to be saved once again by Hanako. The monster turns out to be a group of small, bunny-like apparitions called Mokke.

Nene learns the Mokke must conform to the rumors people spread about them to continue existing, be they good or evil. To that end, Hanako asks Nene on behalf of the Mokke if she’ll help change the rumors about them to something more positive and less murder-y…which she does!

Nene is just getting the hang of her new boss, to the point she starts considering him a friend and adding “-kun” to the end of his name, a more familiar way of addressing him. Enter eigth-grader Minamoto Kou, who while not the prince fallen from the sky Nene hoped for, is the bearer of a sacred, ancient art of exorcism…and Hanako is his latest target.

Exorcising Hanako, however, proves difficult for the relative newbie, as his unmastered lightning staff hurts him as well as his target. Still, Kou informs Nene (whom he finds rather cute, and who can blame him) that Hanako was a murderer when he was alive, and still carries the kitchen knife he used to do the deed.

Hanako-kun doesn’t dispute this, but asserts that God gave him a chance to redeem himself in his current role. While Kou is no match for him, in a gesture of good faith he only punches him out to end the fight, and looks forward to the “excitement” of having Kou around, sensing he’s destined to be a great exorcist…just not today!

Fire Force – 04 – Infernal, Know Thyself

Many scenes of this week’s episode (and indeed previous ones) reminded me of the work of Akiyuki Shinbo, whose work in turn reminds me of live action directors Kubrick and Anderson. Sure enough, Fire Force’s director Yase Yuki is a SHAFT vet, having worked on Monogatari, Madoka, Nisekoi, even Koufuku Graffiti. That means there’s a generous amount of artistry to each shot, even if said shots aren’t really doing that much for the narrative.

The three balloon-holding mascots against an azure sky is one example; the scene of Company 5 Captain Princess Hibana and her man-throne is another, the latter evoking religious iconography that is reflected in the brief scene of Iris in a stained glass-filled chapel, looking at the burned photo of what we gather to have been her family. It’s just a really pretty, stylish show, but if you’ve been watching you knew that already.

Despite the flashy visuals, the episode starts out pretty harmlessly, with Maki dispatching Shinra and Arthur to help get a dog—later revealed to be one of the firefighter mascots—out of a tree. He was “hooray”-ed up there by college kids. With a firefighter (distinct from the fire soldiers) named Miyamoto on trial for a string of murders, the profession is not as respected as it once was.

However, just after Miyamoto is declared not guilty (by reason of insanity) he spontaneously combusts and becomes an Infernal, and not just any Infernal, but one that is self-aware and can talk (and also reminds me a of a hollow from Bleach).

Company 8 deploys to deal with the threat (though Maki leaves out the part about her sending the boys to get a mascot out of a tree, so Hinawa thinks they’re on unauthorized leave. Meanwhile, Princess Hibana moblizes her Company 5 in hopes of grabbing a rare specimen for Infernal research.

Thanks to Shinra’s rocket feet, he and Arthur get there first, and make quite an acrobatic entrance, with the force of Shinra’s kick knocking Miyamoto back the exact same distance Arthur flies before arresting his momentum and showing Miyamoto the back of his fist.

Mika and the rest of the 8th arrives, but her Sputter Comet attack is immediately neutralized. Even so, Miyamoto puts up his hands and surrenders—another Infernal first—before making a quick getaway. Only Shinra is fast enough to chase him. Oubi understands the difficulty of sending off a self-aware entity, but Hinawa tells Shinra not to listen to anything it says.

The ensuing fight between Shinra and Miyamoto!Infernal involves the former kicking a Peugeot 405 at him, showing the guy he means business. Again Miyamoto pleads for the mercy of a nun’s prayer before being sent off. Shinra forgets what Hinawa told him and listens to the Infernal, which immediately double-crosses him by trying to attack.

That’s when Princess Hibana and the 5th arrive and start throwing their weight around. Shirna says this is his job, but Hibana outranks him and her company outnumbers the 8th. Shinra manages to resist having to lick the imperious Hibana’s shoes, and uses his rocket feet to free himself from three of her “5th’s Angels”

The standoff continues when the rest of the 8th catches up to Shinra, and Hibana looks down on her fellow captain Oubi for having no pyrokinetic powers—not to mention low breeding. Ultimately, it is Oubi who caves, deciding letting a better-equipped company use Miyamoto in their research to learn more about human combustion is for the best.

Before the two rival companies go their separate ways, Oubi promises Hibana that the flame of the 8th won’t go out so easily. Kinda sounds like a challenge the princess would be all too happy to accept. In the meantime, she’s got a new specimen for her research department to mess with.

Banana Fish – 12 – “Who am I?”

Ash continues his winning streak by knocking off one gang leader after another, with Arther getting more flustered as his subordinates report the losses.

Ash is also confident almost to a fault, whether it’s confronting Dino at the airport to tell him shit is ON, to meeting with the leader of a Harlem gang alone and even pulling a gun on him while completely surrounded. In both cases, Ash earns respect.

He and Eiji have also settled in to an idyllic domestic life at the fancy condo. Eiji is kept busy photographing everyone who goes in and out of the mafia property next door, as well as preparing a traditional Japanese dinner.

But while it’s all smiles and rainbows at home, Ash is spilling lots of blood on the streets, including by his own hand. While I’m sure opinions vary on its continued utility, I feel that instances in which protagonists come right out and ask themselves “Who am I?”  should be retired from drama forever.

That being said, I do enjoy the very natural chemistry and interactions between Ash and Eiji throughout the episode; they truly come off as a couple of people who care about each other a great deal despite very different backgrounds and skills.

Indeed, when they get into a fight when Ash comes home with blood on his shirt, Eiji basically has him pegged, and Ash lashes out not because Eiji is wrong about him, but because he’s right. Thankfully, they make up quickly the next day, when Eiji finds him at the library.

The Harlem gang leader (Bloody Cain) whom Ash impressed with their first meeting ends up as a go-between observer in Ash and Arthur’s full-on war, which I imagine will soon culminate in Ash and Arthur going at it mano-a-mano. In preparation for that, Ash is ready to send both Eiji and Ibe back to Japan…though one wonders if they’ll be safe there.

Meanwhile, Eiji’s photos and further research have uncovered a massive conspiracy between White House officials, congressmen, and military officers. Ash believes Banana Fish will be used to cause coups-de-etat in countries America wants kept in chaos.

As Max says, this is really big…too big, frankly. Just like Ash’s unspeakably awful past or the extent of the gang activity on Manhattan, the whole titular Banana Fish thing is just too comically huge and ungainly; it’s honestly hard to take seriously.

Golden Kamuy – 10 – Spring Thunder

Tanigaki, armed with only one bullet, uses the mountains to assist him in preemptively striking his hunters, using the kill of a bear and a fire to lure Nikaidou out.

The bear takes Nikaidou’s ear off and mauls him, while Tanigaki’s shot goes right through Ogata’s chest. The apparent success of his gambit leads Tanigaki to say “boner” in honor of Nihei.

When one of Tsurumi’s forward scouts finds Tanigaki, he’s sure he’s not involved with the lieutenant’s betrayers. However, Tanigaki’s shot was a little too right down the middle; it missed Ogata’s heart and lungs and he’s able to kill the scout.

Tsurumi and his men arrive in time to capture Nikaidou, with the sadistic L.T. taking off his other ear and eventually gets him to spill the name of the other betrayer by saying he’ll let him kill Sugimoto. Tanigaki uses the chaos to slip away unnoticed.

It’s amazing how gorey and gross this show can be one moment, and how lighthearted an slapsticky the next.  Case in point: Sugimoto, Asirpa and Shiraishi goofily note the blooming of the first flowers of spring as the snow starts to melt, and they come upon a lake where a fish called huchen can be found.

Unfortunately, Shiraishi’s penchant for getting bitten by animals applies to fish as well, as a massive legendary huchen pulls him under the drink right after Asirpa mentioned such a fish kamuy exists.

Shiraishi is saved by Kiroranke Nispa, an old friend of Asirpa’s father, and also a veteran formerly of the 7th (though not Tsurumi’s unit). He also has some shocking news: Nopperabo, the prisoner who tattooed all of the others, is Asirpa’s father; the one who stole all the Ainu gold.

This news is extremely distressing to Asirpa, not to mention it nullifies her entire reason for joining Sugimoto on the hunt for the prisoners—to avenge her father. She wants to learn the truth from Nopperabo’s own mouth, which means they’ll have to travel to Abashiri Prison on the other side of the island.

In their time with Kiroranke, Sugimoto and Asirpa give a lot away, but he seems to be someone they can trust for now; he may well have just been curious how many other tattoo map skins they had. His own goal is to give the gold back to the Ainu; if the others are fine with their fair share not totaling 100%, he’ll gladly join their mission to locate and retrieve it.

To that end, he suggests the group take horses and make for Sapporo in order to secure sufficient arms and other supplies with which to infiltrate the prison in one piece. Shiraishi gets a really little horse. But awaiting them in Sapporo on a stormy night is a very suspicious woman who runs a hotel. Looks like next week will be a murder mystery a la Clue…which will hopefully somehow tie into the search for the gold.

Golden Kamuy – 09 – Henmi’s Last Gleaming

While Golden Kamuy isn’t the prettiest anime around by any means, it excels at building tension, constructing intricate close shaves, and making coincidence feel more like providence.

Asirpa discovers Henmi’s victim just a hair too late to warn Sugimoto, who follows when Henmi sends him outside so they won’t be interrupted. When the 7th arrives, Henmi takes Sugimoto to the big shot’s mansion, and Asirpa spots them from afar and follows them.

When Henmi and Sugimoto go up the stairs, the two 7th soldiers they find already on the upper floor catch just enough of Sugimoto’s cap to know it’s him. Henmi improvises, using the trusty giant knife he brought to kill them, but gets shot by one before he dies.

Sugimoto assumes the man just defended himself, and is even willing to carry him out when they happen to bump into Lt. Tsurumi (asking the whaling tycoon for weapons factory funds). Even Tsurumi is caught off guard when the old man decides to take matters into his own hands and unleashes the power of his prized Maxim machine gun.

Sugimoto escapes with Henmi in the chaos; Henmi’s infatuation for the Immortal only deepens as they run along the beach hand-in-hand. He’s about to kill Sugimoto with a blow from behind when he’s shot with an arrow from…Asirpa, who had been hanging back and watching things unfold.

Sugimoto proceeds to stab Henmi several times, but their position on the beach makes them vulnerable to orca attack, with one particular specimen chomping up Henmi and taking him away.

Henmi couldn’t be happier with how he’s meeting his end; shot by an Ainu girl, stabbed by Sugimoto the Immortal, to be finished off by an orca. Who could ask for more?

But Sugimoto doesn’t let the orca have the last act; stripping down (as Asirpa kinda sorta averts her eyes) and diving into the ocean to rescue Henmi, depending once again on his apparent inability to die. It pays off, but Tsurumi learns he’s working with the Ainu, while Hijikata learns more about Siraishi’s “friends.”

Back at the Ainu village Tanigaki is back on his feet and has been accepted by elder and child alike, but enters the elder woman’s hut to find Ogata and Nikaidou there, essentially holding the two Ainu hostage. Tanigaki lies (badly), but ultimately Ogata says he’ll let him be—only to fire off a shot from outside, so as to kill only Tanigaki and not the innocent witnesses.

Ogata misses only because Osoma pulled Tanigaki’s head back at just the right time to avoid the bullet. Some cat-and-mouse ensues, with Tanigaki testing Ogata’s accuracy, then putting up a smokescreen to escape the hut.

After retrieving Henmi (whose whimsical insanity I’ll miss), skinning him for the tattoos, and having some dinner at the Yanshuu canteen, Sugimoto, Asirpa and Shiraishi are approached by an old man who turns out to be Hijikata, in a nice bit of up-close-and-personal observation. Shiraishi knows full well who the old man is, but Sugimoto and Asirpa are oblivious. But the message to Shiraishi is clear: copy the tattoos and report back.

Back at the village, Ogata and Nikaidou have retreated after the smokescreen gave Tanigaki the upper hand. But he’s still wounded, and Ogata has no intention of giving up the hunt. Only Tanigaki won’t be unarmed; Osoma presents him with the late Nihei’s rifle, which holds only a single bullet. But hey, one is better than none!

Golden Kamuy – 08 – Gone Whalin’

Needless to say, Uchiyama catches up to Shiraishi. However, their “little chat” is interrupted, both by soldiers of the 7th shooting at Uchiyama, and the fact that Uchiyama’s diversionary role is just one piece with the rest of Hijikata’s plan to rob a bank; specifically, to recover a katana that has a special place in his heart.

Say what you will about Tsurumi’s general sanity; the man knows how to smell out the truth of things, and manages to be in the right position to put a bullet through Hijikata’s hat before the old samurai escapes on the horse Tsurumi borrowed. Having met face to face for the first time, both men like what they see and look forward to the second.

Shiraishi has many tools for escape; here, he used confusion and Uchiyama’s duty to Hijikata. However, he makes sure to stop by the brothel to secure an article of Uchiyama’s clothing so that Retar can help him track the guy. When Asirpa says they’re not bothering the wolves anymore, Shiraishi settles for Ryuu, now a member of the party, who helps catch a plump tanuki Shiraishi let get away.

 

Ryuu leads Shiraishi to Uchiyama, but also makes enough noise to get Shiraishi caught. Hijikata orders his bodyguard not to kill the escape artist; instead, he wants his aid in retrieving the skin of a prisoner; a prolific murderer named Henmi Kazuo.

Shiraishi agrees, is freed, and confers with Sugimoto and Asirpa. He tells them about Henmi, and how he may be hiding amongst the yanshuu, contract herring fishermen who work the coasts.

Asirpa’s uncle is whaling in that same area, so out of worry for his well-being—what with a guy who literally gets off on killing on the prowl—the three head to the beach, leaping joyfully into the sand when they arrive.

The whaling sequence is another simply-yet-effectively realized scenes of Ainu culture, but when the whale takes a turn toward the herring fishing fleet, it drags the Ainu boats along, and Sugimoto, Asirpa, and her uncle must give up the chase to rescue a fisherman who falls overboard.

That fisherman turns out to be Himei Kazuo, whom we learn a lot about in a hurry through his inner monologue. While a relatively normal-looking, soft-spoken guy, his thoughts are anything but. He can smell the same “scent of a killer” wafting off his savior Sugimoto, and takes an immediate interest in him.

The more Himei learns about Sugimoto, the more his crotch starts to glow (subtle!) and the more badly he wants Sugimoto, whom he believes to be “jut like him”, to kill him. He knows that in order get Sugimoto to kill him, Himei will have to try to kill Sugimoto. But that’s a story for next week!

Until then, this was a solid introduction to yet another interesting and oddly likeable prisoner; a guy equal parts goofy and terrifying. Yet he’s not always a walking joke; his nigh unquenchable thirst for homicide stemming from a traumatic moment in his past when he heard his brother struggle in vain against a boar.

Meanwhile, this episode might’ve had the least Sugimoto and Asirpa yet (we don’t even see them until seven minutes in), but while I still like their quiet little story most of all, the show wasn’t hurt by their diminished screen time, as the dance between the 7th and Hijikata’s men commences.

Fate / Zero – 02

“OMG I LOVE MAPS!”

This first normal-length episode Fate/Zero leaves out a few faces so it can spend more time with others, starting with the first meeting between Waiver Velvet and his Servant, Iskandar (AKA Alexander).

The contrast in personalities is wonderful, as Iskander immediately pooh-poohs Waiver’s “small” goal to get people to treat him fairly and take him seriously despite not being from a grand old family.

Alexander, meanwhile, wants to re-conquer the world as soon as possible. That means winning the Holy Grail War first, so at least he’s motivated. He also enjoys reading atlases, as I do.

Illyasviel von Einzbern : Good Anime Kid

We return to The North, where Kiritsugu is enjoying his last hours with his young daughter Illyasviel, hunting for Chestnut buds. Saber watches from inside and can’t help but think she must’ve offended her Master in some way for his demeanor to be so different than it is with Ilya.

Iri, however, chalks it up to Kiritsugu and Arturia “never being able to see eye-to-eye”…because…she’s shorter than him? Both he and Iri expected a male King Arthur, after all; for the King of Kings to appear as young woman was a shock. But perhaps that’ll wear off and they’ll establish a rapport, in time.

You got KRAKEN’D

Meanwhile, in an episode where Sakura’s tormentor Zoukan is mercifully absent, we meet a new contender for Worst Guy in Zero: Uryuu Ryuunosuke, a serial killer who “prefers little boys and girls”, and has been using their blood to paint magical circles.

His grisly rituals end up ‘accidentally’ summoning Caster, who calls himself “bluebeard” after pretending to free one of Uryuu’s captives, only to jump him in the genkan with eldritch tentacles, teaching his new Master a lesson about the ‘dynamism’ of terror; Uryuu blushes with glee at his new Servant. Wonderful.

“There’s no such thing as TOO much hair gel.”

The last Master featured in this episode is Kirei, who I thought would be a little more discrete in his alliance with Toosaka Tokiomi, but wastes absolutely no time sending his Servant Assassin on an extremely ill-advised mission to eliminate Tokiomi.

I loved his ‘shrug, don’t worry about it’ when Assassin asked Kirei if he’s sure he wants to do this. Assassin shows off some moves in taking out and dodging various magical security devices, but before he gets near the house, he’s run through by a number of weapons belonging to none other than Gilgamesh, Tokiomi’s Servant, for whom Assassin was never anything other than a bug, squashed and left to die face down on the ground.

I had nothing against Assassin, but his quick exit was an unexpected surprise, to the point I wonder if he’s actually gone. As for Caster, he’s a sadistic dick but I still like him better than Uryuu, who looks to be another wild card. They’re both pretty grating, though.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 12 (Fin)

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Well, have egg on my face. Just when I thought the show had already reached its main resolution, just when I wasn’t in love with the direction I thought it was taking with Satoru’s new future, and just when I was a little impatient that last week seemingly ended in the same place as the week before, ERASED didn’t just ignore and then subvert my expectations; it pushed them off a school roof with gusto.

It all starts with a little necessary backtracking. Satoru isn’t calm and cool up on that roof alone with Yashiro because he’s content with the life he’s lived and the good he’s done for those around him. It’s because he has a plan. It’s a plan that we can only speculate about until it happens, but it was made with the help of Kenta and Hiromi, who are committed to helping Satoru again, if that’s what he wants.

They feel that way because when he, the superhero, needed help, he believed in them, and so they believed right back. Without that mutual belief in one another, the amazing things he achieved wouldn’t have happened…and Satoru would have likely been murdered up on the roof.

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Call it “One Last Job” for Satoru & Friends: the job that even their nemesis doesn’t see coming, because he’s so consumed with putting Satoru in a box with either jail or death as the escape routes, like a rat in a maze. He uses a fatal muscle relaxant IV on Kumi (with Satoru’s fingerprints on the bag) to create that awful choice, and keeps grinning with glee about finally besting the one who ruined all his plans.

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This is as superhero-y as you can get: the Villain thinking he has the Hero, his Nemesis, in his clutches and at his mercy, and just when victory as he sees it is in sight, the hero wiggles out. The hero wins, with a move way out of left field and yet deliciously awesome in its precision and timing.

Satoru says Yashiro the one who has lost, not only because he was able to save all those victims from him (including his mother in the future) and thwart all his attempts to frame him (including this one), but because for fifteen years—only an instant for him, but an agonizing crawl for Yashiro—while he slept, Yashiro didn’t kill him.

He couldn’t, because Satoru was the only one who knew who he was; that something that fills the void everyone has and needs to have filled. He can’t kill him because of that.

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And Satoru means that quite literally. Sure, Yashiro could let go, which he does, but if Satoru dies then, so does the one thing in his life that’s made him feel anything. The void returns. But Yashiro doesn’t die even when Yashiro decides to let go, because his friends arranged a cushion for him to land safely on, and they also serve as witnesses for Yashiro’s attempted murder.

Yashiro lost because he was alone; because the only person that could fill his void was someone he was committed to ruining; tormenting; erasing. And yet, Yashiro, who truly took fifteen years of Satoru’s life away from him, may have actually been doing him a favor, for the life Satoru lived when we met him was one of dark repressed memories, dead classmates and friends, and most importantly, a life where he had ceased “taking the bull by the horns”.

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It took more struggle to get there, but Satoru was, with his mom and his buddies, finally able to bring Yashiro to true justice. He was able to live on once his deep sleep had ended, and both his memories of heroic deeds, and the dramatic one he performed on the roof to put Yashiro away, filled a void in him that was present in the original timeline, before any Revivals.

This older Satoru keeps taking the bull by the horns. After being a real hero, he became able to write about heroes, compellingly enough to have anime made about them. He’s by all rights a great success, but when he returns back to the city after visiting all his old friends in Hokkaido (and I liked how they teased Misato as a possible love interest), a void still remains in him: one shaped like Kitagiri Airi, the wonderful soul who got lost in all the time-shifting…

…Or so we and Satoru thought. Or maybe he didn’t think that. Why else would he return to the bridge where he and Airi parted, with him in handcuffs and she in tears? Kayo was never meant to be the girl Satoru ended up with after all. When Airi appears, asking brightly if she could share some shelter from the snow with him, everything comes full circle.

It’s a bit cliche, but it’s true: believing in people leads them to believe in you; that’s how you gain allies and friends. It’s one big loop of believing and void-filling. And there you have it: a very nifty and moving ending to my favorite anime of the Winter! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 11

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Last week really wiped the show’s slate clean, as I truly had no idea what was going to happen after seeing Satoru about to drown in a freezing lake. Part of me expected another time-jump, but unlike the last time it happened, young Satoru was in mortal distress. He couldn’t very well jump back to his future self if his past self was drowning.

But at some point between then and this week, Satoru survived Yashiro’s attempt on his life. In fact, it seems to be Yashiro who saved him, because no one else was around. However, when he presumably returned Satoru to his mother, he was fast asleep, and when we rejoin him, he wakes up for the first time in fifteen years.

Wait…what?

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Satoru’s generally excellent physical condition in spite of that long slumber is credited to his mother, who spend four hours out of every day keeping him clean, well-fed and exercising his joints and muscles, all while making ends meet with a convenience store job. If I didn’t already consider Sachiko a Super-Mom—before this act of selfless devotion and hope absent any indication Satoru would ever wake up—I sure would now.

However, when he wakes up, Satoru’s memories are scrambled, and he has no idea what put him in the comatose state in the first place, though he does remember Kenya and Hiromi, and wastes no time trying to walk again as a young cancer patient watches. However, Satoru can’t shake the feeling (as his older self narrates, suggesting even this isn’t the present day of the show) his old friends are being kept from bringing up certain things, perhaps at his mothers’ request.

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I harbored pretty neutral feelings about this situation, and the fact that Yashiro may have well let Satoru live only to wait for him to wake back up so he can finish what he started. But for some reason, it just didn’t sit right for me when an older Kayo appeared with an infant in her arms, and we later learn she married Hiromi and they started a family while he was asleep.

Satoru takes this a lot better than I do, and I say that knowing it was silly to think Kayo and Hiromi would put their lives on hold—the way Satoru’s mom did—in the off-chance he woke up. But it still stinks—a lot—that Satoru missed his shot with Kayo because he saved her, and that she ended up with one of the other two kids he saved. An unavoidable but still raw and frankly pretty disappointing deal to the shipper in me.

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But Satoru, happy he was able to save Kayo and Hiromi (along with Aya, the older version of whom we don’t see), is content to be the honored hero, and knows he still has vast stores of motivational power for the young cancer patient, Kumi, who is as amazed by everyone else by his quick recovery.

Satoru proves he’s his selfless, loving, heroic mother’s son, by offering Kumi advice on how to have courage: starting with simply picturing the people you care about in your head.

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Then Yashiro shows up, and it’s only a matter of time before he says or does something that triggers Satoru’s memory of who he really is and what he did to him fifteen years ago. I’m not that sure why Yashiro befriended Kumi (another victim?), but he actually seems to enjoy how his relationship with Satoru returns to the way it was, if only briefly.

Satoru seems to recall everything when Yashiro starts tapping the handle of his wheelchair, and now we’re right back where last week left off: a virtually helpless Satoru all alone in the clutches of Yashiro. Only in this timeline, Kayo had no choice but to pass Satoru by and choose someone else. Not saying that will be undone, but I wouldn’t rule out another time-leap back to the past now that Satoru is conscious and knows the score.

Nor would I mind such a development. I know, one shouldn’t push their luck, but surely he could create a future where he (and his mother) don’t have to sacrifice a significant chunk of their lives and happiness so that Kayo, Hiromi and Aya could be saved. But first thing’s first: Satoru has to somehow survive his latest encounter with Yashiro.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 10

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With Kayo safe in her new home and Hiromi hardly ever alone, Satoru has successfully taken two of the serial killer’s potential victims off the board. All that’s left is Aya, who Satoru confronts with Kenta and Hiromi.

When Kazu jumps in to defend boys’ hideouts it only seems to make things worse, but turns out he charmed her enough for her to come visit them not long after their first meeting.

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Aya befriends the boys, Kazu in particular, and suddenly she’sno longer alone, making Satoru 3-for-3. But when Hiromi notices Misato (the girl Satoru blew up on for accusing Kayo of stealing) is now a class pariah and often alone, Satoru catches up with my thinking last week: depriving the killer of his original choice of victims will make him seek out a substitute.

In his thought process, Satoru is careful not to make it the same thing as Yashiro-sensei using candy as a cigarette substitute. Little does he know at the time that he’s on to something with that comparison, and that I was on to something with all those nagging suspicions about the young educator.

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Satoru follows the lonely Misato to the hockey rink, pondering how to approach her (which will be tougher since he’s could be considered partly responsible for her ending up ostracized). When she goes to the bathroom, and takes a little too long, Satoru starts to worry.

Then Yashiro appears from the back door, sucking on a lollipop. And that was it; I knew something was wrong, and there’d be no more explanations that would dissuade me from the truth: Yashiro is the killer. Satoru finds out far too late, after he’s already willingly in Yashiro’s car, having asked him to follow Yuuki’s father’s truck, believing Misato was kidnapped by him.

Before the truth hits Satoru (and boy, does it pack a wallop), he and Yashiro have a somewhat innocuous conversation about the nature of Satoru’s recent acts of heroism, and how they “fill a hole” in the hearts of those he helps, as well as his own. He’s doing—and done—something he’d always yearned to do: fix things from the past that were broken and haunted him since.

The discussion then turns a bit darker when Yashiro says the essence of good and evil deeds is the same, and that he and Satoru share the need to fill a void in their heart; to make up for a defect in himself. But “evil” is the operative word here; Satoru is good; Yashiro is not.

Satoru finally gets it when he sees Yashiro tapping his finger on the steering wheel more and more forcefully, and reaches for the glovebox to get him some candy…only there’s no candy in there, only laxatives he gave to Misato, who he used to bait Satoru into entering his clutches willingly.

Once they enter the tunnel and reddish flashing lights adorn Yashiro’s true face, it’s as if Satoru is in the presence of the devil himself.

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Satoru taking the bait was the last thing Yashiro needed to confirm they were enemies. And yet, Yashiro is amazed and impressed, not bitter or angry, that Satoru managed to anticipate his thinking and destroy his plans for Kayo, Aya and Hiromi. Of course, he’s also driving Satoru out into the middle of nowhere, so it’s not like he’s just going to let him go.

After the wheels start turning in Satoru’s head, he laments he couldn’t see the glaringly obvious. It’s just that he let both his past, present, and future trust in Yashiro blind him from all of the factors that incriminated him. I too was kept in a state of ambiguity about Yashiro in the end, since the various evidence was never incontrovertible until this week. It was only hinted at through little gestures, glimpses, and asides.

As we’re given glimpses of the fruits of Satoru’s labor—his mother alive; Aya and Hiromi with friends; Kayo in her new safe home with her grandma—the only thing left for hi to do was to find and stop the killer. Yashiro simply got to him first, exploiting his blind spot to the hilt.

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So just like that, by trying to go beyond saving the three original victims, Satoru ends up in the clutches of The Killer. The man who not only killed those three kids in a previous timeline, but also murdered his mom and framed him for it. The same carefulness is on display here in 1988 with his multiple cars and fastidious preparation.

That preparation leads them to a half-frozen stream at a campground, where Yashiro uses a basketball on the gas pedal to send the car into the drink with Satoru strapped inside with a seatbelt that just won’t become un-stuck. Yashiro concedes defeat in terms of the the kids Satoru saved, and the peace he won for the town. But he’s still going to kill Satoru; by “my hands and for my sake.” And then he’ll go to another town and start anew.

Even when Satoru tells him he can see Yashiro’s future, Yashiro doesn’t jump in and pull him out of the car. The episode ends with Satoru, as far as we know, drowning, and there’s a finality to the fact that even the abstract visualization of the various timelines shatters and breaks down. Of course, everything can’t be over for Satoru yet, since this whole show is from his point of view, and there are two whole episodes left…right?

Regarding the unambiguous confirmation that Yashiro is the show’s Big Bad, in all timelines: On the one hand, I’m a little sad now that one the central mysteries is over. On the other hand, I’m glad that it was the most logical choice based on the evidence provided. Anyone other than Yashiro would have been too far out of left field.

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