Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 06 – Tae-Tae’s Big Adventure

Ookoba Shinta needs a big scoop to maintain his sanity in Saga, and he can’t quite take his eyes of the group of lookalikes of deceased famous people that is Franchouchou. He’s not a fan (though I guess he’s not not a fan either); he wants more answers about who they are and what their deal is.

Well, their deal is pretty simple: they’re 20 million yen in debt, all thanks to Koutarou (who brazenly ignores that fact, thus rejecting reality and substituting his own). They’re out of their creative slump due to the past few events that also didn’t cost them anything, but they still need to get that paper.

He even calls out Tae as someone who really should be at least trying to make some money, though Yuugiri simply sends her on a grocery errand. Ookoba encounters “Number Zero” in a crosswalk and decides to start following her. What he—and we—witnesses is a delightful day in the life of Yamada Tae!

A kind old lady gives her a snack. Some soccer kids give her a snack. She has a snack of edible offerings at the Yamada family ancestral grave. Then she shows up at the supermarket…where my favorite pint-sized bozozoku girl Amabuki Maria has a job trying to pay for a new bike for her mama. Maria can’t help but talk Zero’s ear off whenever they meet; probably because Zero is such a good listener!

Maria and her two BFFs have decided to “tear it up” in a new way, through dance, and invite Zero to a pharma-sponsored dance-off where they proceed to put on, shall we say, a heartfelt and upbeat but ultimately underwhelming performance. They’re no match for the five-time champion Cocco-kun, who is someone in a chicken suit.

Because Cocco-kun represents Tae’s ideal—a chicken big enough for her veracious appetite—she joins him in a breakdancing duel, scaring the shit out of the pharma PR exec but also blowing the top off the competition with her inhuman moves, including spinning on her head so fast her head looks motionless…because it is! Ookoba tries to snap a photo, but Romero ruins his shot.

Tae easily dethrones the fully human Cocco-kun and claims the ¥30,000 Grand Prize, but seems only interested in the Bonus Prize: a 10kg bag of onions—and tosses the cash in the trash. Fortunately, Maria fishes it out and tries to give it back to Zero-chan, attracting the attention of Saga Policeman A.

He recommends she spend it at the tracks…not the horseracing track, as he repeatedly pleads to his chief, but the boatracing regatta. There, like Maria and her little dance troupe, Korosuke’s princess Misa has also found a new way to tear it up, even though she’s yet to win a single race and wipes out almost every time. While the cop is busy, Tae places a bet, demonstrating how easy to use the machines really are.

Misa spots Maria in the grandstand and it lights a fire in her belly, because she’s a Misa on a mission, channeling Saki on her bike and pulling the legendary “eel goby turn” while shocking everyone who bet on her to DNF once more.

Maria and Misa’s Korosuke crew are elated, and then Maria takes a look at betting ticket and realizes to her shock that Number Zero increased her money over six hundredfold with a perfect trifecta (or something…I don’t know all the terminology!)

This means she turned her ¥30,000 into a cool ¥20 million—thus erasing all of Franchouchou (really Koutarou’s) debt in one day, while out on a little grocery errand. She either took Koutarou’s insistence she get out there and make some money, or it happened entirely by accident (after all, she did try to throw that ¥30K in the trash at first).

Zombieland Saga loves the fact that we both desperately want to know and don’t want to know more about Yamada Tae, and spent an entire Tae-centric episode proving that it really isn’t a detriment for her shroud of mystery to remain fully intact, even unto the end of the series. Tae more than proved she can carry an episode without singing, speaking, or her past being revealed, while Ookoba followed her all day only ended up with more questions.

Cheif among those crops up right at the end of his stalking session. When Tae’s head pops off and falls on the ground, Maria just happens to have her back turned, and Saki keeps it that way by pulling her into a romantic embrace. But Ookoba not only sees Zero’s head come off, he snaps a photo of it. Just when he was about to give up, his underling’s joke about those famous girls being revived as zombies suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched…

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of this episode here!

Wonder Egg Priority – 06 – Omelette Rice

Now that each girl and the group as a whole have had their spotlight episodes, it’s time to return to Ohto Ai’s story. While she’s exhausted and sore from her last battle, Ai’s mom insists she get out of bed for breakfast. Her mom also made her omelette rice for lunch and they’ll be having sukiyaki for supper. Ai notes that they usually only have sukiyaki on special occasions. Then her mom asks if she’ll have a “proper talk” with Mr. Sawaki today.

When Ai joins the others, it’s clear she’s in a mood. First of all, she’s skipping emphatically, then starts kicking a traffic cone around and then a sandwich board that she accidentally shatters. The other three are understandably curious what caused this change in her. The four visit the Accas, who inform them of a new threat: Haters, who disguise themselves as Seeno Evils but are far more powerful.

Haters are the result of the four girls “standing out” by their protecting the egg girls. “Those who stand out pay for it”, Acca says, reminding me of how conformity was also the best defense in Ikuhara’s Yuri Kuma Arashi. They present the girls with a different kind of defense: cute pendants that awaken when spoken to in Latin and imprint upon their owners.

Each girl finds somewhere private to awaken their “Pomanders”. Neiru’s is a snake, Rika’s a turtle, Momo’s is an alligator, and Ai’s is a chameleon. While envy and spite birth the Haters that attack Ai and her latest egg girl, those same qualities are like “bread and butter” to her Pomander, who proceeds to gobble one up. As a big fan of beast-taming in FFXIII-2, I like the extra boost they provide to Ai as the difficulty level increases.

In life, Yoshida Yae could see dead people and “strong grudges” no one else could. Because only she could, no one believed her, and she was eventually committed. The facility was full of the very thing only Yae could see, which do doubt led to her suicide. Ai tries to keep her safe by hiding her, but this time the Wonder Killer itself is invisible.

While it’s a little confusing at first, it becomes apparent that Ai’s defense of Yae and battle against an invisible foe comes after the “special occasion” for which her mom is making sukiyaki: Mr. Sawaki is joining them for dinner…and not to talk about school. While the sukiyaki is a clue, it still feels like an ambush, especially when Ai is still drying her hair from a bath when he basically invades her safe space.

Ai’s mom and Sawaki aren’t done with the surprises, as they announce to her their intention to start dating, if it’s okay with her. YIKES. Look, I get it, her mom is divorced and ready to find love again, and Sawaki seems on the surface to be a kind and decent guy. But your daughter’s teacher, who was a major presence in both her and her only friend’s lives prior to Koito’s sudden suicide?

The cynic, i.e. the Rika in me smells something rotten in the state of Denmark. Just as she supposed Ai’s mom used Ai’s need for counseling as an excuse to make Sawaki’s visits a regular occurance, leading to their growing closer, Rika has even darker concerns based on her own mother’s relationships. In her experience, live-in boyfriends always abuse their girlfriend’s kids—violently if it’s a son, sexually if it’s a daughter.

When Ai tells the other girls about this, Momoe is giddily over the moon, as it could mean she and Ai could be family someday. She does not take Rika’s aspersion casting well, and not just because Rika makes a distinction between how a boy or girl would be abused. Momo trusts her uncle, and believes Rika is letting her perspective curdle Ai’s. For him to use Ai’s mom as a decoy to get to Ai…she just can’t believe he’d be that way.

And yet…sometimes it’s the closest friends and family members who have a blind spot where their loved one is concerned—just ask anyone who was close to someone who has been #MeToo’d in the last few years. “[What they are alleged to have done] isn’t them” is a common refrain. The bottom line is, Ai seems most troubled by the fact she still doesn’t know what caused Koito’s suicide, and as long as the mystery remains unresolved, Ai will understandably feel uneasy.

And then there’s Neiru’s input, which is to draw in so close to Ai she can’t hide her face. She brings up Occam’s Razor—the simplest theory is the best—and wonders if the bottom line is that Ai likes Mr. Sawaki. From where they each stand, Momoe, Rika, and Neiru all have valid reasons for how they feel about Ai’s predicament. There simply isn’t enough information for anyone to be proven right or wrong.

All that is certain is that the uncertainty is extremely frustrating for Ai, so much so that after getting beaten by Yae’s invisible Wonder Killer, and Yae tosses her prayer beads that enable Ai to see it, Ai wastes no time taking out those frustrations on the Killer, kicking and smashing it into oblivion.

Before Yae also vanishes, she gets to experience the release and relief of having Ai embrace her and tell her in no uncertain terms that she believes her. For Yae, Ai was the only one. Upon returning home, she decides to name her new chameleon buddy Leon. It’s a bit obvious, but it feels right.

The next day, it pours. Ai’s mom comes home while she’s still in the bad, and scolds her for leaving her dirty clothes out. When she says she’ll turn out the pockets before putting them through the wash, Ai bursts out of the bath without drying off, dresses herself, and runs out the door into the torrential rain. When her mom asks where she’s going, she defiantly yells “SCHOOL!”

Ai keeps running, and by the time she reaches her school, the rain has let up and the sky has become clear and beautiful. She spots Mr. Sawaki as two other schoolgirls are saying goodbye to him. She runs up to him takes hold of his arm, and catches her breath. It looks for all the world like she’s about to confess her love, but she doesn’t. Instead, she brightly declares that she’s going to start going to school again, purposefully brushing the hair out of her face to reveal her blue eye.

Ai doesn’t give Sawaki an answer about whether its okay for him to date her mom. She also doesn’t have any satisfying answers about Koito; at least not yet. Depsite all that, she’s emerged from her cocoon after a lengthy hibernation, and to give ordinary school life another go. Not for Koito, not for her mom, and not for Mr. Sawaki…but for herself.

Perhaps she was “egged on” (I’m so sorry) by her mom and Mr. Sawaki’s announcement, but defending all the egg girls and hearing their stories, as well as those of her fellow egg defenders, and even Leon helped her put her own situation into relief.

Avoiding school hasn’t brought her all the answers she’s sought since losing Koito. Maybe by returning to school they’ll reveal themselves…or maybe not! Either way, she’s moving forward with her her life. I just hope she didn’t catch a cold running forward through all that rain!

Wonder Egg Priority – 05 – Scrambled

We hadn’t been privy to Aonuma Neiru’s Egg missions until this week; only the interludes between recovering from battles and purchasing new Eggs to protect. Her dream-battlefield is a majestic suspension bridge with a huge city nightscape as the backdrop; as bold and dramatic as Neiru herself is modest and unflappable.

Her egg this time is a runaway dealing with an abused, but Neiru has it covered, darting around the bridge like she’s in FLCL and defeating it with her compass-turned-gun with action movie fluorish, complete with the catchphrase “I’m going to blow your mind.” She means the words literally.

The runaway thanks her savior, but Neiru remains businesslike and aloof. She’s not doing this for her. She’s merely completing objectives, like a good operative. In a thematic transition only a eclectic show like WEP can pull off, we shift to real life, with Ai welcoming Neiru, Rika, and Momoe to her home.

Ai can’t contain how happy she is to have friends over, and neither can her adorable mom, who recognizes Momoe as Sawaki-sensei’s niece. Ai mentions that Koito seemed to have a thing for Sawaki. Rika, in true Rika form, stirs up a conspiracy that’s plausible enough to give Ai pause: What if Koito was dating Sawaki? What if she got pregnant? What if Sawaki only visits Ai regularly because he suspects she has proof of the affair?

The talk of Koito and Sawaki leads Ai to remember when Sawaki was sketching her for a portrait as his means of entry to a life of painting. In the memories Koito seems to be projecting envy in the way she tells Ai that if her heart isn’t in being Sawaki’s subject, she’d better bow out, as his “future is on the line”…as if an adult man’s future should be anyone’s responsibility but his own!

The messy can of worms Rika opens and stirs threatens to curdle the vibe of Ai’s friends’ visit. It also reinforces the fact that a great deal of mystery surrounds Koito’s death. When Rika asks why she doesn’t just ask her mom, who seems to be close to Sawaki, Ai voices her reluctance to make her mom worry more than she clearly already is about her string of recent unexplained injuries, which…fair enough!

Rika gets that. So do the other girls. No matter how nice and understanding her mom is, nothing good can come of Ai telling her she sneaks out at night to fight monsters in her sleep on behalf of youth suicides…it will only worry her more! That’s what re-knits the tentative bonds Rika’s speculation briefly frayed and lightens a conversation that had turned dark: the four of them can’t tell anyone.

It’s their story that no one else knows about. While before they were toiling alone, not even sure what the fuck was going on, now they have context through each others’ shared burden. They are seen by one another; they recognize the pain, guilt, and curiosity in one another. Then Rika and Ai compare mothers: Rika took one look after being born and thought “this lady wants to stay a woman her whole life and never be a parent.” Ai wonders if her perfect, imminently capable mom drove her dad away.

There’s an excellent exchange in which Rika looks Neiru’s way after stating that capable women can spoil men, both because she sees Neiru as capable, and because it’s her turn. They’re playing Jenga, and the way Rika steers the convo throughout makes the group dynamic almost feel like a Jenga game in and of itself: gradually removing blocks while maintaining integrity. In a similar fashion, Rika pounces on Neiru and tickles her. She doesn’t get the right spot at first, but when she finds it, Neiru can’t help but burst into laughter, while Ai and Momoe note how well the two opposites get along.

We can’t be sure if her battles on the bridge take place before or after the friends meet at Ai’s, but her latest egg is a real piece of work, criticizing Neiru’s hair while going off unbidden about the ephemeral nature of a girl’s beauty, and how dying while at one’s most beautiful is preferable to becoming an “ugly hag” in a pointless adult life.

The four girls meet up and break into a shuttered bowling alley and arcade. Acca tells them to get out of there and buy some damned eggs already, but they push back, declaring what they’re doing to be necessary “group therapy”. Ura-Acca lets them have a little fun, declaring that “soldiers” need R&R.

For a few blissful hours, four girls who have been battling monsters in their dreams get to live their lives as ordinary girls. Momoe talks about how at least six people have confessed to her—all girls—but only Haruka saw her as a girl. Remembering how she handled Haruka stripping before her, she wonders if she could have done things differently.

While Rika and Ai are off playing a different game, Momoe and Neiru have a chat while playing a racing game. Neiru points out that Momoe doesn’t necessarily hate being popular, even with girls. Neiru concedes that, adding that “sometimes you end up enjoying something even though you didn’t mean to.” That’s something Neiru needs to hear, especially as she’s enjoying hanging out with the others despite herself.

Later, in Acca and Ura-Acca’s garden, the four exchange contact info for future hangouts together, and Rika lies on her back, looks up at the sky, and asks a very fair question: Why don’t they stop buying eggs? Rika admits she got caught up in her mission, but at the end of the day Chiemi “died on her own”, and dying isn’t “playing fair”, so why should she bear responsibility? She asks the same questions of Ai, as Koito died without ever talking to her, and may not even want to come back to life.

What if their egg-protecting missions led to them meeting each other in real life, and now that they have new friends, they can ditch the eggs and dreams, move forward together, and live their lives? Again, this is all fair, and I’m glad Rika goes with her instinct to probe and prod and bring up hard truths regardless of how she’ll be seen by the group. It means she feels safe enough with them to to do.

The problem is, this isn’t just about bringing their respective friends back to life. That was never the case with Neiru, because her statue is of her sister. Her sister ran away and jumped off a bridge, but only after stabbing Neiru in the back, quite literally. To this day, the scar aches and keeps her awake, especially when she tries to forget her. It’s like a curse she’s trying to exorcise from her body. As she tells the eggs she protects, she’s not doing it for them…she’s doing it for herself.

In a similar way, Ai’s desire to keep going isn’t only couched in saving Koito or righting any wrong she might have done. It’s to crack the mystery; to feed her insatiable curiosity, like a splinter in her brain that won’t let up until she has the answers. As Ura-Acca puts it to the stricter Acca, the girls are in a state of teenage rebellion: they’ll stop if told not to stop, and will keep pushing boundaries to build up their own identities.

Back in the battle protecting the girl obsessed with the pure, inimitable beauty of youth, Neiru realizes the three pompom-like monsters aren’t the Wonder Killer’s true form, it’s the girl’s hair. After shooting it, Neiru notes that her sister (whose statue stands on the edge of the bridge) “tempted” her to die by stabbing her, before ending her own life.

Was her sister’s rejection of reaching adulthood an ultimate act of rebellion against What Is and What Should Be? As with Ai’s inquiries into Koito, it’s a question that may only be answered if they keep fighting—egged on by the Accas all the way. I just hope that the fact the four girls are not alone in this business will make their struggles a little easier to bear.

Kemono Jihen – 01 – (First Impressions) – Tokyo Dreamin’

Detective Inugami is on his way to a remote village to investigate strange instances of rotting livestock corpses. Yataro, the innkeeper’s son, is quick to show off to his friends, who all think Yatarou will be Tokyo-bound at some point.

Yatarou also warns Dorotabo—a boy working in the fields in lieu of school—not to go near the detective, lest the stench upset him. However, the detective, an eccentric sort named Inugami who wears a flashy suit and drives a vintage car, seems far more interested in Dorotabo than in Yatarou.

Yatarou plays the role of eager-to-please innkeeper’s son, hoping to make a good impression on a Tokyo resident, but soon after he talks to Inugami about Dorotabo in derisive terms, the detective dismisses him in favor of Dorotabo.

Dorotabo has always been ostracized in the village for smelling bad and being generally creepy. He also wears a strange necklace that he was wearing when he was abandoned, but Inugami identifies it as a “lifestone”, which means whatever happened to his parents, they didn’t abandon him.

Yatarou, like the spoiled haughty little shit he is, tries to steal the necklace from Dorotabo, but when he does, Dorotabo transforms into a vicious demon; he’s just barely able to regain possession of the lifestone and transforms back into human form.

He’s hiding when Inugami tacks him down, warning him that he is the cause of the dead and rotting livestock. But Inugami while already has him pegged as the child of a human and a demon—a kemono like him—he knows Dorotabo isn’t responsible. Sure enough, other demon beasts appear as corrupted dogs and deer.

Inugami and Dorotabo are in time to save Yatarou from the dogs, but a giant demon buck with weirdly human teeth appears, and is a tougher customer. Inugami is only able to shoot through half of its thick neck with his gun (which he’s able to summon out of thin air), but Yatarou rips the rest of the demon’s head off with his bare hands.

Afterwards, Inugami reveals to Dorotabo that the innkeeper brought him to the village to kill him. He asks him his real name—Kabane—and asks once more if he wants to meet his parents. Kabane says no with a bright smile, and asks Inugami to kill him. Inugami shoots him in the head, and reports the kill to the innkeeper.

Kabane wakes up in the back of Inugami’s car, having been out for a day healing. A bullet to the head can’t kill what’s already dead, after all. Kabane now finds himself in the middle of the largest metropolis in the world—where that little punk Yatarou wanted to go—and Inugami sets him up with some cool new threads at the Inugami Strangeness Counseling Office, where two other kids—presumably also kemono—show up wondering who the heck he is.

I found Kemono Jihen (literally “Beast Incidents”) to be a fresh, fun supernatural series that immediately pulled me in with its picturesque village setting, and kept me engaged by having a bake-danuki like Inugami act with more human compassion than actual humans towards a kid who didn’t deserve their ire. The beasts are legit creepy, while there’s a palpable sense of excitement and momentousness to Kabane’s arrival in the big city. This looks like a keeper so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 10 – Leaving No Marks

Keiichi wakes up from a dream of beating Satoko’s Uncle Teppei to death with a metal bat, only to find Satoko is late for school. Keiichi doesn’ have any success asking Rika about her, and instead is approached by Ooishi for the first time in this arc. He asks about Satoko, grabbing Keiichi so hard on the shoulder it hurts despite not leaving a mark.

Dr. Irie rescues Keiichi from Ooishi’s piercing gaze, saying the locals call him “Oyashiro’s familiar” due to his obsession with solving all the crimes attributed to the curse. Irie also tells Keiichi about Satoko’s harsh home life ever since she and her brother Satoshi moved in with their aunt and uncle. Now, of course, it’s just Satoko and her uncle.

Satoko finally arrives, but looks depressed and sleep-deprived, and can barely keep up her peppy formal-speech act. After seeing this clearly-changed Satoko come and go without playing games with them, Keiichi, Mion and Rena finally get Rika to talk about what she knows.

Last night, Satoko didn’t come back from a grocery run until very late, only to tell Rika she had come to collect her things; she was moving back in with her uncle. This time the abuse is likely worse for Satoko, since Satoshi is no longer around to shield her. Mion mentions having called social services last year, but they offered only lip service.

The next day, Satoko is absent from school, and her friends rack their brains for how they can help her from what is clearly a worsening situation. They decide to go to an adult, Chie-sensei, and leave the matter in her hands, but when she visits Satoko’s house the Uncle stonewalls her, not even letting her see Satoko.

The excuse that she was in bed with a fever is repeated by a much more chipper and back-to-normal Satoko the next day, but while horseplaying during lunch Keiichi moves to pat her gently on the head, her hand reflexively slaps his away, and she vomits and has a complete mental breakdown, yelling how sorry she is and how much she “hates it.”

Not knowing exactly what kind of abuse Uncle Teppei is inflicting upon poor Satoko makes it particularly awful, since it forces us to contemplate the extent of it, but even worse is the fact that because Satoko lied about abuse to get her real father removed from the home, social services seems to be skeptical of any subsequent reports.

Satoko’s friends feel crippled by their inability to act, but know that if someone doesn’t do something, Satoko could end up dead. Will the violent events of his dream come to pass, or will he and his friends find another way?

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 09 – Never Make Her Cry

We reset back to before everything turns to shit, but as we’ve learned from the previous arcs, there’s plenty of shit lurking just beneath the shiny happy surface of Keiichi & Co.’s daily life in Hinamizawa. Having had Rika and Mion/Shion-centric arcs, now it’s time for the focus on Satoko.

When Mion brings in fancy leftovers, Mion and Keiichi agree to a cooking duel, but Keiichi is abysmally bad at cooking. Seriously, he’s so clueless he almost burns his house down. Luckily Satoko and Rika are there to not only put out the fire, but salvage his dinner, and Kei-chan is thankful for both.

As Rika puts it to Kei before biking home for the night, Satoko is in need of someone Rika can’t replace: her big brother Satoshi, who ran away from home under myterious circumstances. Despite, or perhaps because of their sibling-like combative manner with each other, Kei makes for the perfect surrogate nii-nii.

Simple things like shopping for ingredients, cooking them, and sharing meals together clearly brightens Satoko’s day immeasurably. Similarly, when Satoko needs someone to cheer her on in a crucial at-bat, Kei arrives just in time, and as a result, she hits the winning home run and wins her team free BBQ.

At this BBQ, during which everyone has fun, Kei meets someone new: Irie, who loves Satoko’s smile, and while he can’t adopt her for “various legal reasons”, has no qualms about citing his plans to eventually ask for Satoko’s hand in marriage when she comes of age. Shion is similarly enamored of Satoko, considering herself a big-sis figure.

Irie’s words to Kei—never make Satoko cry—sound like his prime directive for this arc, which he’ll have to follow to avoid disaster. But that will surely come anyway, since Kei overhears two boys talking about how Satoko’s brother Satoshi was a victim of Oyashiro’s curse.

The destructively-curious Kei is eager to pick at this particular scab, and while Rena will have none of it, Mion tells him more: Satoko’s parents were the leaders of the pro-dam movement, as the gov’t offered big payouts to anyone who agreed to move out of the village. They died falling off an observation deck, which is super-suspicious, while Satoshi is believed to have run away to avoid the curse, but could also have been “demoned away”.

In any case, part of “not letting Satoko cry” means keeping all this under wraps, especially around her. And as we learn, and as I’ve suspected since that unsettling end credits image of her looking frightened as a man in a Hawaiian shirt looms over her, Satoko already has enough to cry about.

As we see the loud, drunk, boorish “Uncle Teppei” lead her into an isolated house, It’s almost a certainty some kind of physical and/or sexual abuse is taking place. For all the people who love Satoko and are watching over her, there’s clearly a huge gap in their blanket of protection. However explicit the arc gets about this, I hope Kei & Co. can manage a way to free Satoko from this particular hell…assuming they ever learn about it.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 08 – The Safest Place

Suddenly, not long after talking to Keiichi, Rika is missing. The class calls her name around the school grounds. Keiichi prepares to search the outhouse, but Mion asks him to search the roof. Then Mion suddenly grows agitated, declaring she has to “put an end” to Oyashiro’s curse.

Mion calls out Rika, one of the heads of the Three Great Families, for coming to carry the curse out. She’s is shaking the ladder so much it seems likely Keiichi will fall and hurt himself or worse, but their teacher Chie snaps her out of her agitation and sends them both home for the day.

It isn’t long before Mion invites Keiichi to her house, certain there’s something he has to say to her. Sure enough, he breaks down and confesses to entering the ritual tool storeroom. Mion already knows this, but now that he’s confessed, she feels she can trust him now, and asks him to trust her in turn as “the only one on his side.”

That’s because there are “some” in the village who believe anyone who disturbs that storeroom should be “punished”. She leads Kei deep into the bowels of Sonozaki family’s personal underground dungeon, torture chamber, and safe room, then locks Keichii in a cell…for his own protection.

She tells him she loves him, which is why she wants him to be safe while she…takes care of business. If she doesn’t come back, she tells him to say it was she who took him prisoner and locked him up. But especially when he watches Mion pull a giant revolver out of a drawer before she leaves, he can’t and won’t stay put.

He manages to bust himself free from the cell door, and the security monitors show a team of suspicious people in construction jumpsuits amassing on Sonozaki property. The safe room door proves far tougher, and Kei ends up knocking himself out trying to force it. He briefly wakes up to find himself on a gurney, with Ooichi looking down on him.

After Kei is discharged from the hospital, Ooichi meets with him again to give him some rather extensive bad news. The detective dispenses with any sort of tact and even seems to cruelly relish delivering the report, even laughing about the mess: there was a well in the Sonozaki’s dungeon.

At the bottom of the well were the bodies of Sonozaki Oryo, Kimiyoshi Kiiichiro, and Shion. Below them were the skeletal remains of at least three others. Rika was found in the septic tank of the outhouse Kei was going to check but didn’t because of Mion. As for Mion, she and Satoko were found in the Sonozaki mansion, dead from gunshot wounds to the head. Rena’s fate isn’t mentioned, but I assume she’s still alive.

Keiichi manages to survive thanks to Mion, with whom he finally came clean with his sins. But it was too late to save anyone else. The clues all point to Mion killing everyone involved in the rituals—including herself and her twin—in order to end the vicious cycle of Oyashiro’s curse.

Whether she ultimately succeeded, who can say. Kei is now all alone (aside from Rena), with a host of difficult questions that will probably never be answered. In any case, this is the end of the second arc. If we’re going by Rika’s final words, this “loop” ended in abject failure; another Bad Ending. Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Then again…perhaps not!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 07 – Mars (Enterprises) Attacks!

“Everyone’s so worried about me…What am I, a little boy?” I doubt the people warning Makoto are doing so because they think he’s a kid, but because there is much he has to lose by diving too deep into this latest mess. Like his mother, his newly adopted sister Shungui, the family produce stand, and his reputation as a neutral troubleshooter.

Unfortunately, we don’t see his mom or Shungui either this week or last, which is a shame, not just because they could put the impudence of Makoto’s words into relief and even offer him perspective, but because I like those characters, and Shungui in particular seemed like someone we would be and should be seeing more of. Alas, Makoto is on an island at the beginning of this episode.

Ikebukuro is on the knife’s edge; war could spill onto the streets at any moment…yet he still finds time to work on Toshiaki’s film at the video store. His police buddy informs him “Shadow” is a lone operator, while his Hidaka PR buddy Saru informs him that Mars Enterprises hired both the Shadow and the masked thugs to create imbalance as a preface for expanding into Ikebukuro.

Unfortunately, Takashi is once again ghosting him, and the minute Makoto is off the phone with Saru, he has the bunny mask thug’s knife to his neck, clarifying that he and his guys have a grudge with him and Takashi personally. Bunny Mask is also helpful enough to perform his scene right in front of the “making of” camera, which is just icing for the cake in terms of how sloppy the masked thugs are.

Makoto determines that the masked thugs are Yamamoto and his men, who worked for OK Holdings and were previously run out of town. He informs Hiroto personally, but the Knight is already on his horse, and his men are itching for a confrontation with Takashi for control of the G-Boys present and future.

He finally gets to meet up with Takashi, who notes that one piece his old friend has left out of the equation are the Red Angels. Whether Makoto simply took Kyouichi at his word or has a blind spot due to his officially neutral status, Makoto isn’t willing to entertain the possibility the Angels could exploit the G-Boys civil war to expand their own influence.

Finally, and apparently quite by chance, “Shadow” presents himself to Makoto in the park. He further clarifies matters, saying the only job he did was on Donglong, while the thugs did the jobs on Hiroto’s men. He adds that they did a crap job while both they and Mars used the “Shadow” brand without his consent. This caused Shadow’s reputation to take a hit, and he paid Mars back by beating up each of their board members.

Shadow seems to consider himself an underworld equivalent of Makoto: an independent troubleshooter who works for justice (Shadow works for money; justice is just gravy), and someone for whom “reputation is paramount”. In the interests of preventing war, Makoto decides to ask Shadow to take care of the “weak link”: the war-mongering Hiroto.

Makoto institutes this gambit as much out of a desire to prove he’s not “just some kid” or a “nice guy”, but someone willing to do whatever it takes to protect the peace and balance of his town. But the gambit backfires, as Hiroto’s men blame King for the beating of their Knight and begin the march to war.

After consulting with Takashi once more, Makoto gets Kyouichi to agree to back Takashi in order to “quell the disturbance”. Kyouichi proves himself an honest and honorable man by doing his part, marching his Red Angels between Hiroto’s men and Takashi and declaring an alliance with the latter, then getting Hiroto’s uneasy No.2 to drop his bat and back down with a mere look.

With war averted—arguably way too neatly, but averted all the same—all that’s left is to take out the trash, i.e. Yamamoto and his ragtag quintet of thugs, who end up coming to them as Takashi and Makoto film a scene in Toshiaki’s film. In the adult video section, Yamamoto & Co. surround the two, but suddenly Shadow appears to even the odds. He takes out two of the thugs, and Takashi takes out the remaining three including delivering a knockout blow to Yamamoto.

The excellent fight scene really underscored how overmatched Yamamoto and his thugs were. Once the masked thugs identities and motives were made clear, they never had a realistic chance to instigate a full-scale turf war, especially since revenge was Yamamoto’s primary goal. Hopefully he won’t need a third demonstration of the futility of seeking revenge.

Toshiaki finally finishes his film, and it’s a hit, so he plans to make more, and Makoto notes the firm dedication inherent in Toshiaki’s efforts. He saw that same dedication in Shadow’s no-nonsense way of operating, and in Kyouichi’s dedication to protecting the town he’s come to like. After dancing on a razor’s edge these last two episodes, Makoto seems content to continue dedicating himself to selling fruit. Gotta pay the bills!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 07 – Four Bad Kitties

Keiichi enters the storeroom with Shion Tanako Miyo, which not only contains an ornate statue of Oyashiro, but also a wide variety of very suspicious “ritual tools”. Clearly relishing every moment of freaking Keiichi the fuck out, Miyo tells them the tale of Onigafuchi, AKA “the demon’s abyss”—the original name of Hinamizawa.

When man-eating demons attacked the townsfolk, Oyashiro intervened, but not by killing the demons. Instead he gave them human forms so they could coexist with humans, and the gene pool of the town mixed from that point on through the generations.

Because the residents of Onigafuchi were descended in part from man-eating demons, they every so often went to other villages to kidnap human sacrifices for Oyashiro…making the “tools” in the storeroom more like…cooking utensils. We even learn the wata in watanagashi can mean both “cotton” and “entrails”…which is what were originally “drifted” back in the day.

It may be a couple weeks after Halloween, but Higurashi decided to whip out one of its spookier scary stories for this episode. Miyo herself is hard to read: is she legitimately overwhelmed by excitement upon discovering this motherlode of killing tools, or intentionally hiking up the creep-factor for the benefit(?) of Keiichi.

In any case, Shion touches the statue and its head slides off and splits in two…which was never going to be a good thing! Tokitake checks in on them, then leaves with Miyo to catch the end of the festival. Shion also takes her leave, making Kei promise not to tell anyone where they were or what they did. Kei reunites with Mion, Rena, Satoko, and Rika, who wonders if he saw her dance; he lies and says he did, but needlessly adds she made “no mistakes”, when in truth she apparently did.

Mion takes Kei by the hand and asks if he was hanging out with Shion, Tanako, or Tomitake. He lies again, and says he wasn’t. Finally, Detective Ooishi asks him if he’s seen Tanako or Tomitake, and mentions that Shion and Mion’s father is a prominent yakuza head. Kei lies once again…but Ooishi knows he’s lying.

Later that night Kei gets a call from Shion, telling him that Tanako and Tomitake have gone missing. While she claimed to be only joking about the four of them being the top candidates for Oyashiro’s curse, the call and her concern reveal otherwise. The curse is real, two of them are already missing, and they may be next. Kei lashes out, claiming he has “nothing to do” with any of this, and Shion hangs up on him.

Keiichi can plead ignorance and innocence all he wants; he did go inside that forbidden storeroom, learned the truth about the village and its deity, and has done nothing but lie about it ever since. It’s clear he’s freaking out to this degree because deep down he knows he fucked up.

The next day at school his friends note neither he nor Mion got much sleep last night—would you if you knew the curse could be coming for you? As Keiichi sulks, Rika comes to pat his head and ask what’s troubling him, and Kei finally owns up to what happened—albeit with a pathetic attempt to make it “rhetorical” and distanct himself by describing the four of them as “bad kitties”.

His story makes Rika laugh and speak in a voice Kei’s never heard from her before, and when he looks at her, her eyes are glowing red. She tells Kei not to worry, because there’s no point: he, she, the world, are all finished anyway. He should’ve just watched her dance…blissfully unaware that the cotton in the ceremony represents the entrails of human sacrifice.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 06 – Shadows in the Knight

Ikebukuro is a town of balance, and that balance ensures peace. But one otherwise ordinary night, a group from the G-Boys Hiroto Faction are pulled from their van and viciously beaten by toughs in animal masks. Makoto is busy acting in an indie film being directed by the clerk of a doomed video store.

It’s a fitting setting in which to begin for an episode about the wider downfall of Ikebukuro’s hard-fought peace. Also on the film crew is Crow, an underling of Hiroto, whose boys were hit by the animal maskers, apparently led by a mysterious figure called “Shadow”. Hiroto suspects the attack was a warning from his boss, “King” Takashi, to keep his ambitions in check.

Before Makoto can confer with Takashi, Hiroto’s boys are hit by the Shadow again, and hard. In lieu of any word from King, Makoto meets with another childhood friend, Saru, the Hidaka Group’s PR man. He knows that Shadow is apparently elite muscle-for-hire, and that Hidaka’s position is that balance should be maintained, using his ice cream to illustrate his point.

He also warns his friend Makoto to “know where to draw the line” in his involvement, lest he end up in trouble. That’s when Hiroto reaches out to Makoto through Crow, and Makoto learns Hiroto is now having his men call him “Knight”—a direct challenge to King. With command of a third of the G-Boys, among them some of the toughest fighters, his faction has been waiting for someone to “pull the trigger” at them for some time.

In other words, even if it is King sending Shadow against his men, it doesn’t matter. He wanted an excuse to move anyway, and he got it. The spark has been lit, and the Hiroto faction is a tinderbox. Makoto gets him to agree not to move against Takashi until he’s spoken to him, but Hiroto warns if his boys are attacked one more time, it will be war.

With Takashi still not taking his calls, Makoto has no choice but to meet with the Red Angels instead. Kyouichi says he isn’t attacking Hiroto’s boys, as he has no reason to start a war that will endanger his people. However, he hastens to add, should one drop of Red Angel blood spill from the crossfire of an imminent G-Boys civil war, they’ll show no mercy.

Makoto walks down a dark Ikebukuro alley late at night with Sunshine 60 looming in the background. The mass of the tower behind him makes him look that much smaller and more alone; the town’s chief diplomat who has yet to make contact with the leader of its most powerful gang. Even as he makes no progress, he is followed by a sketchy guy in the shadows whose face he never sees, perhaps as subtle and bloodless warning as he’s going to get to quit while he’s still neutral.

As timing would have it, Takashi calls him immediately after the frightening encounter, and they meet in West Gate to talk for the first time. King hesitated to answer his buddy’s calls because he didn’t want him involved, because he can’t guarantee his safety this time. This enrages Makoto, with good reason.

When you think about it, he is one of the strongest and bravest players in this town precisely because he works alone and has no sworn allegiance, except to Ikebukuro herself. He commits to finding out who the Shadow is and who sent him to attack Hiroto’s men. As if to answer that question for the audience, the camera lingers on Isogai as he and Kyouichi walk on a bridge as cop cars race past.

Makoto and King end up shaking hands, symbolically sealing Makoto’s fate as a declared ally of King and thus a legitimate combatant in the G-Boys war to come. Because it is coming; and Makoto is out of time to stop it. The Shadow attacked Hiroto’s boys a third time, and this time a group from Dongfeng were hit as well.

Hiroto justifiably doesn’t care about the attack on Dongfeng muddying the waters; too much of his boys’ blood has been spilt. Just as Makoto is confident he can keep both King and Knight at bay, Knight draws his sword: he’s quitting the G-Boys, and no longer taking orders from Takashi. Their meeting in the alley was but a mere formality.

Maintaining peace and balance is not Hiroto’s goal. He’s thirsted for power, and is now taking the opportunity to grab it. Once he’s in charge of the G-Boys, he dreams of expanding their influence across all of Tokyo. Obviously, this is folly, and Takashi tells Makoto that it’s a product of his lack of strategic experience (Lao Tzu would also have some criticisms of Knight’s approach).

The episode ends with another suspicious lingering camera shot at Kyouichi, who is apparently pleased with how things are going. Did he and/or Isogai hire Shadow to destabilize the G-Boys? Were they simply biding their time all along? Or are they just looking forward to their largest rival eating away at itself from the inside, poised to fill the vacuum that results?

Whatever the case, IWGP is on a certified roll, following up two strong case-of-the-week episodes with a headfirst dive into the central gang conflict. It may be too late to keep a war from starting, but perhaps Makoto can still find a way to end it before it causes too much damage.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 06 – There’s Something About Shion

Turns out Shion doesn’t have the power to draw allies to her; Hinamizawa just happens to be super tight-knit, and an attack on one of them is treated like an attack on all. Maybe the village should be called NATOmizawa, eh? Anywho, Shion changes on a dime from some kind of gangstress to a sweet lass when Ooishi and the cops arrive to take the punks away.

Keiichi is treated to a meal with Shion, who tells him the story about the dam project thwarted by that same village solidarity, weathering violent riots and legal wrangling. Later Keiichi gets a call to come be the guinea pig for the new dessert menu, and he defends Shion’s honor against two boorish otaku.

His ass is kicked, but for Shion the fact he defended her is what matters, and she begins to cling to him like a lover. They go out shopping together and end up at the shop where Mion works part-time, marking the first time we’ve seen the twins together and confirming there are in fact two of them, and that Shion was probably impersonating Mion at times.

Shion is the younger of the two yet more mature and refined compared to Mion’s rougher edges. Shion is also pretty blatant about basically stealing Keiichi out from under Mion’s nose, and whether it’s Shion getting Keiichi to buy a doll for her or talking with him after festival preparations the next day, Mion doesn’t seem too thrilled about her flirty twin sister-interloper.

Things get downright sinister when Tanako Miyo and Tomitake Jirou appear for the first time in this arc. Turns out Miyo’s a bit of a sicko, going on about the death and dismemberment kicking off an annual “curse” of one person in the village being murdered and another “sacrificed” (as opposed to “demoned away” in the last arc). Mion tries to get Keiichi away from the “lame story” but is unsuccessful.

Keiichi’s morbid curiosity and susceptibility to peer pressure rear their ugly heads again the night of the Watanagashi festival, when instead of watching Rika he is pulled away by Shion to the location of the shrine storehouse, where they catch Tanako and Tomitake breaking in. Shion and Keiichi decide to be partners in crime and have a look inside, as it supposedly contains “old ritual tools” that might fascinate Keiichi.

When he agrees, Tanako tells him “you’ve made your choice”, which is really what you want to hear when about to break and enter a dark creepy storehouse. I guess it was Shion’s goal all along to lure Keiichi into this very situation, but why she’s doing so, and what things await him remain tantalizing mysteries.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 04 – Chin Up

After his last encounter with Rena, Keiichi is hesitant to return to class. How can he pretend everything’s normal and peachy after what she said, and after his nightmares of her watching him through the door? He tries to feign a fever, but the only clinic in town is suspiciously undergoing “remodeling”, so he heads to school, where things were always going to be awkward.

Rika takes Keiichi aside at lunch, in a scene where I thought maybe our blue-haired time-looping shrine maiden will offer some kind of assistance to our lad. Nope, she just gaslights him, saying if he thinks something’s wrong with Rena, it’s only because there’s probably something wrong with him. Keiichi tries to follow her advice to keep his chin up and “win”, but I’m wondering why she couldn’t say more. Is Rika simply resigned to the events that follow?

When Keiichi comes home to an empty house, as both parents were called away to Tokyo for work, completing the perfect horror story scenario when Rena comes to his door with food for dinner and there’s a voice inside telling him it’s a really bad idea to let her in. Both Rika’s words and Rena’s sweet talk finally persuade him to grant her access, but her giant stack of bento trays don’t contain food, but the tools of murder.

Compulsively scratching her neck bloody, Rena brandishes a knife and declares that in order to “protect her dad” she must kill Keiichi, then get demoned away and disappear. Then she enters a sort of fugue state of homicidal mania, rushing at Keiichi with the knife. When he strikes back, she plays dead, and when he draws in close, she stabs him dozens of times in the gut. Keiichi grabs a clock radio, but no matter how many times he smacks her in the head, she keeps stabbing and laughing maniacally.

I cannot underscore how unsettling and horrific this scene is, or how perfectly the tension was set up until all hell broke loose. Rena, apparently under the influence of Oyashiro’s curse, is legitimately terrifying, and I really felt Keiichi’s terror at what both what she was doing and what he was doing to try to stop her.

After a brief glimpse of the aftermath, with both Keiichi and Rena lying in a huge pool of blood, Keiichi wakes up in a hospital bed, first to his worried parents, then to Ooishi, and finally to Mion, who comes with a fruit basket and bad news: Rena couldn’t be saved, while Rika and Satoko were found dead in their home, apparently the victims of a robbery gone wrong or even suicide.

But with the next episode preview marking the start of a new arc, I imagine Rika had to die, since this was another instance where she wasn’t able to prevent the bloodbath that happened. Will events reset back to the start, before Keiichi started having suspicions about Rena and the town?  Or will we get a taste of Keiichi’s life post-Rena/Rika/Satoko, in which he is now suffering from an itchy throat that could indicate he has the curse? All I can tell you is I’m fully on board for this sinister, bloody ride.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 03 – Floating Cotton and Questions

After watching Rika’s dance, Rena shows Keiichi how to perform the cotton-drifting ritual on the river to honor Hikamizawa’s local deity, Oyashiro-sama. Then she heads off on her own, and Keiichi spots Tomitake talking with a blonde woman. He doesn’t interrupt in case it’s something romantic, but we see that Rena is staring them down from the woods.

The next day Keiichi is called out of class to meet with Ooishi, a prefectural detective investigating the recent disappearance of both Tokitake and the woman, Takano. Turns every year out of the last four, people have died from what the locals believe to be Oyashiro’s curse on the day of the festival. He asks Keiichi to keep his eyes and ears open and to report anything strange that happens.

The next day, June 21, Keiichi does just that, overhearing Mion and Rena talking about Tokitake’s disappearance and whether he was “demoned away”. He and Ooishi go to a cosplay cafe, where the detective tellls him the village believes in a form of spiriting away involving demons—not those of hell but the kind that eat people alive. Every year, someone falls victim to the curse and someone is demoned away.

While walking with Rena on the afternoon of the 22nd, Keiichi tries to pry further into what she and the others might be hiding with him, and her cheerful personality drops and turns the accusations on him. Accusing him of lying and hiding things she witnessed him doing, including hiding the magazine at the junkyard and talking with a random stranger. She eventually returns to “normal”, telling Keiichi to admit they both have things they want to keep hidden and leave it at that.

Keiichi is still well and duly spooked. That night, he gets a call from Ooishi, who has been digging into Rena’s past. While she claims to be new to Hinamizawa, it turns out she and her family are originally from the village. She also had an incident at her old school in which she smashed all of the windows, was diagnosed with neurological and psychological conditions, and prescribed medicine and therapy.

In those sessions, Rena would often speak of Oyashiro-sama appearing as a spirit in her room every night. The phone call is then interrupted by Keiichi’s dad, who has a tea set for him and his visitor…he assumed Rena had come to hang out with Keiichi, but she snuck in and eavesdropped on his call. That can’t be good!

Just as the ending sequence starts with beautiful happy moments between the five friends only for the imagery to turn traumatic and bloody, so too is the bucolic affableness fading away. Rena isn’t afraid to show her dark side to keep Keiichi in line, but now it’s a good bet he now Knows Too Much, which means he must be…Dealt With.

Rating: 4/5 Stars