Inuyashiki – 03

As soon as Hiro realizes the old man he killed wasn’t effected by his “air gun”, he bolts, and by bolt I mean launch into the sky and scream off like a fighter jet. Thus, the big standoff between him and Ichirou is postponed. But as he wakes up from a nightmare of the death he witnessed, Ichirou knows he’ll have to find and confront him sometime.

This boy is like him, but whether his powers have twisted him into a monster, or he was always a sociopath and only now has the means to do as he pleases, Ichirou knows he’s the only one who can stop him. Essentially, some whippersnapper needs an ear-boxing.

Hiro isn’t the first evil, nor is he the only evil in the world, or even in the vicinity of Ichirou’s home and work; far from it. You don’t need to be killed and reconstructed by an advanced alien race to be a dickbag that doesn’t care about anyone or anything, as evidenced by the kids who attacked a homeless man, or a group of athletic young toughs who plan to kill a man for daring to tell them to wait in line.

Like any and every great hero, Ichirou doesn’t buy into a world where the strong unrelentingly prey on the weak. Why should he? He may be one of the two strongest beings on the planet. No, with strength comes not carte blanche, but noblesse oblige. Just as Hiro was a bad person before getting reconstructed, Ichirou was always a good and just man.

It’s only now, like Hiro, that he’s able to act on his kind and virtuous nature. When it looks bad for the poor man surrounded by much larger ones, Ichirou takes out the trash. But he doesn’t kill anyone, nor is there any malice in his actions; only a desire to stop a great wrong from being committed, and ensure the safety of those who cannot ensure it themselves.

Once his “Grampy-sense” detects a family struggling to escape a house fire, he wills the machinery within his back to come out and propel him to the danger in time to save them. He does so by singing the theme to Astro Boy.

At first, his built-in jetpack is a little too much to handle; he screams bloody murder as he’s flung every which way, a scene that’s as awesome as it is frikkin’ hilarious. In a show that gets as intense as this one, it’s nice to know we’ll always have some moments of levity.

He gets the hang of it pretty quickly, and manages to save not only the crying children’s father, but their grandmother as well. Instead of thanks and praise, he asks that they not mention him to the authorities, and having just been miraculously saved by him, one hopes they would respect his wishes.

Ichirou is an unconditional hero to all, not because he can, with his wondrous new powers, but because he feel he must. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he stood by and did nothing when his actions can make a positive difference in the world. Compare this to his pre-transformation, when he was just trying to maintain, and was diagnosed with terminal cancer for his trouble. A man of inaction, no longer is he.

Hiro, while a monster, seems to remain tied to his humanity through his best friend Andou, whom he finally convinces to come to school, promising to protect him. He is, or at least is trying to be, a hero of one…unfortunately for the rest of the world, not to mention Andou.

When the bullies return to Andou’s desk and threaten him, Hiro wastes no time taking the wrist of their strongest and squeezing it hard enough to make him cry, apologize, and insult himself and his friends.

I can’t tell whether Hiro is using laser-sharp precision to apply just enough pressure to the guy’s wrist, or struggling as hard as he can not to squeeze to hard, snap his arm off and expose himself at school. I like how there’s uncertainty in something like that.

Hiro takes Andou to the roof where the bullies initially told them to meet, but they already left with some girls. Hiro gives Andou some binoculars and starts pointing out into the distance and saying “BANG.” Eventually, Andou pans to where Hiro was “shooting”, and finds the four bullies dead, all shot in the head with invisible bullets that leave no trace; the scared-shitless girls having no idea what just happened.

It’s too far. Andou is a gentle soul; he can’t take this shit, and wastes no time rejecting Hiro and warning him to stay away when Hiro refuses to turn himself into the police. All of the things Hiro did to that point to impress Andou—humiliate then kill bullies, boast of his ability to nuke China with US missile, steal thousands of dollars from the ATM—only serve to disgust Andou and push him further away.

Their friendship is over, but Hiro reacts the same way he does to everything, save his brief encounter with Ichirou: calmly. Too, calmly, if you ask me. Without Andou to provide even a semblance of a tether, Hiro’s monstrous acts may only increase in scale and scope.

Inuyashiki likes to punch below the belt, as when an adorable mama cat and her kitten walk past a charmed Ichirou, only for the mom to get hit by a car right in front of him. Exhibiting uncommon goodness that makes one’s eyes well up, he takes the cat into his arms, even though he can’t do anything for her…then learns that he actually can.

Ichirou scans that dead cat and fixes her right up, and she and her kitten stride off like nothing ever happened, giving Ichirou the one thank-you he wished he always got: no thank-you at all. Ichirou is overcome with joy and gratitude for the gift he has been given, and immediately stops by a hospital to heal as many people as he can.

And yet, as he’s been going around left and right saving lives, his opposite Hiro is out there taking them, as if the universe itself were maintaining the balance from suddenly having two such immensely powerful beings in such close proximity. If both were evil killers, humanity would be toast, but Ichirou is as good as Hiro is bad.

Witness the ending, in which the camera mercifully doesn’t follow Hiro inside another house for another routine family-killing. It just stays there, frozen, and we realize just how goddamn quickly Hiro purges the house of all life before walking out, spotting two passing boys—clearly friends—running past, and thinks long and hard about killing them too.

By holding his fire, was he trying to prove to himself that he can control himself when he needs to even without Andou? Perhaps he still has a degree of restraint, owing to the same sense of self-preservation that induced him to escape from Ichirou. But that restraint can’t last.

The first two episodes introduced our characters: the third explored their powers further and illustrated how far they can take those powers—in both moral directions. Hiro seems to be on the path to ruin; Ichirou, on the path to sainthood. But in a universe of balance, perhaps neither will ever reach their destination.

Inuyashiki – 02

Last week I watched with intense interest and wonder as Iyunashiki suddenly received a new lease on life out of nowhere; this week we get to know the other person who was killed and reconstructed by the alien ship: Shihigami Hiro. Ironically, he’s not the hero, but the villain, as is made quite clear by the end of this episode.

With a calming, pleasant lilt to his voice (he is excellently voiced by live action actor Murakami Nijirou), and on a mission to convince his recently beat-up friend “Chakkou” to come back to school, at first Hiro doesn’t seem that bad…but when he mentions there’s a slasher who’s killed eight people, I knew immediately he was talking about himself, well before he opened his face to show Chakkou what he’s become.

Hiro demonstrates his new powers to a shocked, amazed, and slightly freaked-out friend: he kills a bird by pointing at it and saying bang; then makes all the TVs in an Ikebukuro electronics store broadcast porn. Harmless fun, right? Well, no…harming animals for no reason is a telltale sign of sociopathy, which  I’m willing to bet our lad had before his transformation.

The only thing that’s changed is that with his new body, he now has the ability to make his twisted impulses a reality. He can make dozens of cars crash into each other, and he can kill anyone by pointing at them and saying bang. He’s like a far more efficient Yagami Light, only without even a hint of justice.

His only glint of humanity is that he considers friends and family off-limits (at least for now), even if he couldn’t care less about anyone else, and offers to kill the one(s) who beat Chakkou, which Chakkou, not being a sociopath, obviously doesn’t want. Unfortunately, he has little choice in the matter; Hiro is a force of nature now and his appetites are formidable.

Case in point: in one of the grisliest, most fucked-up scenes I’ve seen in an anime in a long time, Hiro randomly picks a house and goes room-to-room executing its occupants: a mother by the stove, a father bathing with his young son (his body pins the boy under him so he drowns in the bath…just awful), and finally, the teenage daughter upon coming home.

The father and daughter have time to beg for their life, but Hiro gives them an order they can’t obey—don’t cry or beg for your life—and punishes them with death. First, he asks the girl his age if she reads any manga, and is momentarily excited that she likes One Piece and has a favorite character he approves of.

The casualness with which he carries out his rampage leaves no doubt: Hiro is an irredeemable monster that needs to be put down before more families suffer his wrath.

But with that body and the weaponry and defenses it contains, there’s only one person who can be the hero to slay this beast: Iyunashiki, the titular “Last Hero.”

Upon coming home, Ichirou can hear the last screams of the daughter Hiro is torturing, but the fact he still doesn’t have much luck is demonstrated when he gets stuck in traffic and is too late to save her. Clearly, he hasn’t explored the extent of his own abilities yet, or he would have, i dunno, run really fast or flown to her aid (unless his body doesn’t actually allow that).

In any case, upon inspecting the house and the family of victims, Ichirou discovers Hiro is still lingering there. Hiro assumes he’s the grandpa, and shoots him in the head before leaving, but Ichirou isn’t the grandpa, and while he was knocked down, the bang didn’t seem to cause any other damage.

I’d hope that with our hero meeting the villian, the slaughter of innocents will cease…or at least slow. But who am I kidding? These two are, at worst, equally matched, and with Ichirou’s clumsiness and Hiro’s give-no-fucks attitude, quite a bit of collateral damage will be in order. Hiro believes he’s a god. He won’t give that up easily. But neither will Ichirou.

P.S. While I love the visuals of the OP, the rap metal theme (which may owe a bit to Rage Against the Machine) and its English lyrics is a bit cheesy. Ah well. 

Inuyashiki – 01 (First Impressions)

Inuyashiki Ichirou has, at least to me, a pretty impressive name, but his life is depicted as…less impressive. Like Japan, he’s old. It’s worse: even though he’s just 58, he looks more like he’s in his 70s or 80s. His kids are in high school, and they’ve never been that impressed by him.

He finally makes enough money to buy his family a new house, and they’re underwhelmed by its size and the fact it’s next to (and in the shadow of) a much bigger house owned by their neighbor Oda, a successful manga artist.

Ichirou’s family abandons him and has dinner at a family restaurant (ironic) while he’s stuck with all the boxes.

Speaking of boxes, Inuyashiki Ichirou would seem to have checked off a lot of the ones he was expected to: got an education, a salaried job, a wife and two healthy kids. He finds a tossed-away dog and names her Hanaka, but the family just sees her as a nuisance and a burden.

He’s alone. So alone, when he’s cavalierly diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and given three months to live by a doctor with one of the worst bedside manners I’ve ever seen, not one member of his family answers his phone calls.

He doubts they’d even cry if he told them; they’d probably just curse him for being so weak and frail and ineffectual. His daughter tells her friends he’s her grandfather, for Christ’s sake. This is a sad man on every level; thank god he has Hanaka to hug.

But while out walking her, he and another younger man with dark hair we only catch a glimpse of are apparently flattened by a crashed alien ship. Willing to take responsibility despite their tight schedule, Iyunashiki is painstakingly reconstructed with non-organic material.

He looks exactly the same, but Ichirou doesn’t feel right. He’s very thirsty; he no longer needs glasses; oh, and his arms, back, and head all retract to reveal various types of bizarre machinery, scaring the heck out of Hanaka.

I couldn’t help but think of the changes the MC of Parasyte went through, only rather than being infected with an alien parasite, Ichirou is only alive because the aliens were nice enough to rebuild his body, and mind, in perfect detail…only better.

One could say he’s been given great power, and with that comes great responsibility. When he encounters a gang of youths attacking a homeless man (who they call a “cockroach” with fireworks and with metal bats at the ready, Ichirou steps in to stop them.

First of all, I sorely hope roving gangs of kids beating up the homeless isn’t, like, a thing in Japan. That’s doubly distressing considering how much respect elders are supposed to be shown by youth in Japan, and how large a proportion of the population the elderly are becoming.

Ichirou is quickly beaten into the ground by the kids, who believe they’ve killed him and figure they might as well kill the homeless guy too. Honestly, this is the scum of the earth.

But in a hilariously, thoroughly satisfying, absolutely righteous climax to this sad tale of an old, weak, ineffectual man, his body acts on its own; targeting all the bad eggs Terminator-style, plotting firing solutions, and launching a non-lethal barrage of “fireworks” that spook the kids into scattering before they do any more harm.

Even better, his body’s OS uses its scan data to discover the identities of the young assailants and broadcasts a posted video of their activities on every screen in the city. They’re eventually found out and likely to be caught by the police and punished for their crimes. It’s probably better than they deserve; I was fully prepared for Ichirou to kill them.

But he’s not a killer. What he has become is a hero. More importantly, by risking his life to save another and becoming emotionally overcome by the weight of that sequence of events, Ichirou cries tears of joy. He may still look like a spent old man, but he’s never felt more alive, and I sincerely doubt this will be the last of his heroic acts.

Inuyashiki paints a pretty bleak picture of Japanese society, to the point it was pretty damn unpleasant to watch how Ichirou was treated by everyone in his life. The show is clearly on his side, and, well, so am I, even if I agree with his kids that the house he chose is a little depressing. It’s refreshing to see an anime for once not focusing a bunch of teenagers, instead starring a family man desperate to catch a break.

Due to the extreme nature of his transformation, he’ll likely be keeping this a secret from his family and everyone else, which means he’ll still have to play the role of the man he used to be. Hey, every hero has to have an alter-ego, right? They also have to have an arch-nemesis; my money’s on that younger man at the sight of the alien crash serving that role.

My Hero Academia – 01 (First Impressions)

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A world where humans develop superpowers and a government-sanctioned hero industry that battle villains? With a comedic bent? We’ve seen this premise before. We’ve even seen this art style applied to this premise before, with One Punch Man, a bona-fide future classic covered by Zane last Fall.

Of course, that might be a dumb statement: most premises of new anime are premises we’ve seen before. Anime’s been around a while, and there are some premises that endure and continue to be relevant as long as there are talented people to put a new twist or their personal touch to them.

Does the well-worn familiarity hamper the freshness of My Hero Academia a little? Yes; that’s unavoidable. But if it doesn’t contribute anything new or groundbreaking, is it at least diverting entertainment? Most assuredly; and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

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We’ve seen weird heroes fighting weird villains before (and heroes fighting each other for the credit). But we haven’t seen these weird heroes and villains, vying for attention through the use of brute strength, speed and maneeuverability, or plain ol’ sex appeal.

The most “conventional” superhero also happens to be the top hero in the business, All Might, an amusingly grotesque Superman caricature who is blonde, burly, and perpetually grinning from ear to ear. This is the guy who inspires our protagonist, the pint-sized, “quirkless” Midoriya”Deku” Izuku.

He wants to be like All Might. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the genes. A third-year in middle school, he still has no powers, and doctors have told him not to hold his breath. Still, he takes careful notes of all hero/villain clashes and studies hard in hopes that he can enroll at the prodigious U.A. High (which no longer prohibits quirkless).

Izuku doesn’t just have his lack of powers to contend with, but also the universal general awfulness and cruelty of his peers, chief among them Bakugo Katsuki. Your typical bully with his corps of toadies, Katsuki wants to be the only one from his school to get into U.A. High, so threatens Izuku to forget about following him.

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That’s a nakedly petty position that is sure to set up a scenario in which Izuku somehow ends up with the power to oppose/surpass his Katsuki (or possibly lead to the two developing a grudging friendship).

The first brick in the foundation of Izuku’s rise is laid by an unexpected (and thoroughly disbelief-suspending) encounter with All Might himself. Izuku is wobbly-kneed in his presence, but is still able to grab on for dear life as Might flies away to his next gig.

Here, we see All Might cough up some blood, suggesting A.) his heroing days may be numbered and B.) Izuku is uniquely positioned to possibly succeed him. We must be content with this first brick, for My Hero Academia chose not to convert its loser MC to hero status in the first episode. But it’s a very promising first brick in what looks to be a fun Spring romp.

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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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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 10

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Haru’s party takes to the mines, and their skills and teamwork shine in their efficient dispatching of the first level’s lesser kobolds, which aren’t really much tougher than gobs. Sure, Ranta spends a bit too long fighting one-on-one without asking for help, which irks Haru, but so far so good!

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Actually, as they trek deeper into the mines, Ranta goes off about how he’s a badass dark knight who doesn’t subscribe to ideals or morals they way everyone else does, because at the end of the day no one can escape death’s cold embrace, or something. Like most Rantaness, it’s irritating, butnot harmful to the party.

Still, Haru simply doesn’t like it. The lack of respect for the dead kobolds, all the talk about being amoral and beholden to no one, saying it’s lame when they back out of the mine after a good day’s hunting. Ranta is a skilled warrior, Haru can’t deny; but he remains as bad a team member as ever.

It doesn’t help Ranta that everyone else is “on board” the way Haru is; considering the party to be more than just a collection of soldiers doing their jobs, but a family of people who care about each other. Ranta doesn’t seem to care, or at least is always talking about how he doesn’t.

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As leader, Haru knows he has to at least try to address this, as much for himself as anything. He thinks Manato would have similarly tried to do something as the leader, though he doesn’t know what. In fact, he remembers Manato didn’t seem to like Ranta much either.

In his one-on-one talk with Ranta that night, he learns Ranta went to the trouble to take a kobold on alone because he’s preparing for the very real possibility he’ll have to, say if the rest of the party is injured or busy with other foes. It’s a smart move, but he did it without saying anything. “Doing things his way” means not communicating, just acting.

Haru wants to communicate, but isn’t able to get remotely all of what he wants to say out, so it’s almost irrelevant. Ranta also says the “I’m not here to make friends” speech to Haru, which has got to hurt because Haru has been operating under the assumption that they are all friends.

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Not to mention just because Ranta says he doesn’t want to be “pretend friends” with the party, doesn’t mean that he isn’t friends. After all, they consider him more than just a party comrade, and Ranta is well-known for saying overly-harsh things he may not mean.

I liked the contrast between Ranta stalking off and Haru waking up under a blanket provided by Yume, who then practice knife-throwing. His exchange with Yume—and their exchange with Moguzo—is the day to Ranta’s night. But maybe, Haru thinks, there’s simply no way around that.

The clash with Ranta is nothing particularly new, but it’s at least not the whole story: there’s also the fact that Mary is doing pretty well in the mines despite her past trauma there, and Haru is thankful that everyone (save Ranta) has learned valuable new skills in order to help each other out.

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Before long, they’re able to reach the lower levels of the mines, where they’re surprised to find subterranean crops and livestock. Here, Haru executes his plan going forward with Ranta in miniature: when Ranta points his sword at a rat mole-like animal, Haru backs off, accepting Ranta’s line of thinking, and moves on.

Confronting him on every little thing or trying to bend him to his way of thinking is a waste of time, effort, and focus. Better to let him be who he is. Haru has to realize he’s not a bad leader just because one of this comrades isn’t the best fit.

Of course, Ranta’s carelessness with his surroundings end up sounding the alarm for the kobolds, and the same giant kobold that Mary’s team failed to defeat makes its appearance.

As Mary goes through any number of emotions—shock, fear, guilt, regret, panic—I was hoping Haru’s hand would come down on her shoulder to calm her. It doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean Mary’s alone in this.

Considering they haven’t gone over how to tackle a beast like that yet, I’d think retreat would be the best option, though that might not be possible now. But if the party sticks together, and Mary watches her magic level, things can and will be different.

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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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Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

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A revitalized Suruga returns home from her awesome mini-road trip with Araragi to find she has a package: a mummified monkey head, with a note from Kaiki telling her to do with it what she will. Armed thus with the Pièce de résistance of the devil, she returns to the gymnasium to find Rouka there. Both she and I now see her in a different light, now that we know she’s a ghost.

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Even so, Suruga challenges that ghost to another one-on-one match, this time consisting of just one play. If Rouka prevents Suruga from making a basket, she wins, and can have the head. If Suruga makes the basket, Rouka loses, and has to give up being a collector of misfortune and a gatherer of the devil. If Rouka refuses the challenge, Suruga will destroy the head, essentially ending Rouka’s quest anyway.

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Admitting it’s not much of a choice, Rouka accepts, warning she won’t hold back this time, though we know at this point Suruga has a plan to defeat her. Rouka doesn’t quite comprehend what Suruga aims to get out of this, but it’s clear to us: she wants to save her friend from becoming the devil. It’s also apparent to Suruga that Rouka doesn’t know she died and became a misfortune-collecting apparition/oddity. This delves into a common but poignant phenomenon in fiction where the dead don’t know they’re dead and keep living their lives as if they weren’t.

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I loved how the gym was dark and the court markings were backlit as Suruga brought forth the challenge, lending a very “final boss” atmosphere to the setting. When Rouka goes to the locker room for some shoes, the gym enters “Showtime Mode”, with the grandstands extending, the retractable roof opening to reveal the azure sky (Naoetsu is one swanky high school!), and a few inches of water flooding the court – perhaps a reference to Rouka’s “swampy defense” but also a metaphor for cleansing and renewal.

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The thrilling, intricately built-up duel between the two is over almost as soon as it starts. Suruga rushes ahead as usual, but then does something Rouka could never have predicted: she passes the ball to her, quickly stealing it back before she has full possession. In the moment of confusion she created, Suruga elevates and dunks over Rouka’s rushed block attempt. The two end up laughing in a heap on the (now dry) floor, with Suruga now on top of Rouka (the opposite of their last such encounter). Here, Suruga realizes how cute Rouka is, and considers kissing her.

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Rouka, in accepting defeat, voices her surprise, and ultimately, is grateful that Suruga passed to her, considering how rarely anyone on her team passed to her due to her choice to focus on defense, a choice not made due to lack of talent or skill, but to appease those less talented, just as she sought misfortune from those as unfortunate (or more) than her. Rouka also tells Suruga to stop drifting and get back on the active roster as soon as she can. With that, she vanishes into the aether while Suruga is crafting a comeback with her back turned, leaving behind the mummified monkey parts she had collected.

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Before the duel, Rouka and Suruga agreed on one thing: that it’s better to regret the lack of action than to regret what you’ve done. But Suruga tells her it’s better still to do something and not regret it. If there’s an overarching moral to be had from this story, that’s as good as any. Whatever else Kanbaru Suruga has been, she’s been a doer; on the offense. Sometimes, Suruga’s actions are reckless and/or lead to regrets, like wishing to the monkey paw, for instance. But her most recent actions freed Rouka from her torment. In a dream, she and her mother converse more as equals, as Suruga puts forth her own opinions rather than simply absorb those of others.

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Suruga wakes up from that dream to find Araragi in her room. As she sleeps in the nude, she’s taken aback for a moment, but Araragi isn’t there for “that”, but to help her clean her room, something she requested during the road trip. She also has him cut her hair, as she plans to return to basketball. Between the yellow bug, not being turned on by Suruga, and hairdressing, one might wonder if the producers are trying to say something about Araragi, but these are merely cosmetic characteristics that happen to match a certain stereotype, but aren’t meant to be read too much into, so I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the dude is good at setting up dominoes!

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As he shears off her flowing purple locks, returning her to the way she looked when we first met her in Bakemonogatari (a rare aesthetic rewind) he offers some closing words of solace to Suruga (It’s also worth mentioning that Suruga’s other idol, Senjougahara, also sports a short hairstyle when last we saw her). He tells her not to worry about what she did and whether it was right or wrong…because it was neither: It was just adolescence.

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Hanamonogatari – 04

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Because Suruga insists, Rouka tells her the full story: how she met Kaiki, who told her about apparitions, and how she acquired her first piece of the devil: her left leg. It once belonged to another girl named Rouka; a high-schooler who her older boyfriend had knocked up, and whose family wanted her to abort it. With this devil’s leg, Rouka-2 almost beat her mother to death, mirroring what happened to Suruga with her arm.

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The day after hugging Rouka-2 and saying she’d take the problem from her, the devil leg had replaced her crippled old one. Rouka has since replaced almost a third of her body with devil parts, and plans to “collect them all” so she can take control of the devil altogether, even though doing so will mean losing all of her body, head to toe. With that heartrendingly bleak goal announced, Rouka says farewell to Suruga, asking her to go out and “do all the human things” she can no longer do.

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That night, Suruga gets a call from Karen who informs her that Rouka committed suicide three years ago, presumably from a combination of her broken leg and her “bad” family situation. Now we’ve reached nadir of Suruga’s arc: she’s been talking with a ghost all this time. Shaken and never more uncertain, Suruga simply goes out and runs. She runs and runs across landscapes until collapsing in an intersection; a crossroads (subtle!). Then a car pulls up and honks at her, and holy shit, it’s Araragi!

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Like Kaiki, Araragi’s appearance couldn’t have been timed better, or be any more awesome. He now has long hair, a resplendent yellow VW New Beetle Suruga can’t help but hilariously gripe about (“What’s with this round car?”), a Shinobu keychain, and a little more life experience behind his belt. But Suruga gradually realizes once they talk that it’s the same old Araragi she’s leaned on, looked up to and missed so dearly. If anyone can help give her the guidance she needs at this point in her story, it’s him. A gorgeous, art-filmy all-night “road-trip” segment ensues.

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Also like Kaiki, Araragi isn’t interested in steering Suruga in a particular direction or in doing her own legwork for her, but he’s much nicer and more caring about it. He helps her realize she’s fee to obey the opinions of Rouka, Kaiki, of her mother if she wants, but she’s just as able to fight those opinions if she’s not convinced. Rather than go along with what those voices have said or done, she decides to strike out on her own path. Araragi asks if she needs any more help, and she says no, which pleases him. Suruga’s back, and she’s going on offense.

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Hanamonogatari – 03

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So, Rouka isn’t just gathering the misfortune of others, but also gathered Suruga’s devilish left arm, and shows it to her in Suruga’s classroom. Then she invites Suruga to join her for some one-on-one basketball, and whatever the extent of her career-ending leg injury, it certainly doesn’t seem to affect her anymore, as she puts up more than a fight against Suruga (who is herself understandably rusty).

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Suruga is still troubled by Rouka’s present existence, and wants to know what she’s been up to these last three years. After she agrees to tell her own story of how she came upon the monkey paw (which is skipped over, since that’s mostly covered in Bakemonogatari), Suruga fights back Rouka’s amorous advances and insists she tell her the story of how she became the Devil Lord. Rouka was always someone who learned to hide the full extent of her talents to avoid being hated by her less talented peers, which is how she became a defensive specialist.

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But once she was injured, people only ever looked down on her, even though she was doing the same to them. She remarks that when she was hospitalized for her leg, she wanted to talk to those as unfortunate and pitiable (if not more) than she was, so she could tell them she understood exactly how they felt (the truth) and that she’d solve it all (a lie), sending them on their way. When her first “client” returned, her problems were indeed gone (though ostensibly more as a result of time), and Rouka’s Collection of Misfortune began from there.

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The basketball match is brief but adds a welcome touch of action to what is essentially another long monologue with occasional commentary by Suruga, but that doesn’t mean the setting of that conversation is any less visually interesting. I especially dig the very upscale gymnasium with way more markings than it needs, and the court of is made up of the kind of wood you’d find in the Kia K900. Rouka’s appeal to Suruga’s bisexuality is also good continuity. But the fact remains, Rouka has only told half of her story. The other half centers on how she started gathering parts of the devil – a story she warns doesn’t have a happy ending.

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Hanamonogatari – 02

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This act begins with unbridled elation, as Suruga almost revels in the fact her regular human arm is back. She goes for a giddy run on a beautiful day, and the very air she breathes seems to smell better. But the new arm totally throws off the balance she had achieved with the hairy one, which tempers the elation somewhat. She’s initially happy by the fact the arm is gone, but now she’s troubled by how it might’ve happened.

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Suruga may not be the most classically bright of the Monogatari cast, but even she’s able to connect the dots between her arm and her encounter with Rouka. But her sources say the Devil Lord has ceased operations and disappeared, so Suruga heads to the train station to search for her out of town. There, she comes afoul of a wan but impeccably dressed and magnificently bearded Kaiki Deishuu. And as I for one am aware, adding Kaiki to the mix always makes things better.

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There’s a dark, predatory air to Kaiki early on as he chases Suruga throughout the station and outside into the streets. This reinforces all of the bad things her senpais have said about the man. They told her to run if she ever encountered him, and she does, not having any other information to work with. That changes when Kaiki, grabbing her by the scruff of her shirt like a helpless kitten, cordially offers to treat her to a cup of tea.

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That tea turns into an all-out sumptuous korean bbq feast. Who among those who include meat in their diet wouldn’t be elated at being in her shoes here? As Kaiki grills the succulent cuts of meat and organs and serves her, Kanbaru’s opinion on him becomes muddled. Moreso, when he states his business with her, it reveals a humanity she’d heretofore thought impossible for her senpais’ nemesis: Kaiki loved and admired Suruga’s biological mother, and promised to look after her daughter.

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To that end he gives her his card and tells her to contact him if she’s ever in a pinch, even though he admits its probably if she doesn’t. He also tells her to expect a “collector” to come and take her mummified monkey paw. That merges this present encounter with Rouka’s, leading Suruga to ask the simple question that wason all our minds form the start: how Kaiki knew Suruga would be at the station. He says the collector told him…a girl named Numachi Rouka.

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That’s not an unexpected twist, considering we certainly weren’t done with Rouka in this series, but still nicely staged. The atmosphere of the elaborate yet intimate korean bbq (contrasting with the huge open space where Suruga met Rouka), and the vaguely paternal way in which Kaiki seems to be upholding his promise to Suruga’s mom again shows us his softer side. But he isn’t about to tell Suruga everything. It’s up to her to investigate further.

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Zankyou no Terror – 07

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In preparation for more English dialogue from Five this week, I decided to come at it from another angle: if English is her character’s second language, then her thick accent is totally acceptable. But such realignments and caveats weren’t even necessary this week. There was so much going on I didn’t have time to give a shit how bad the English was or wasn’t.

Just about absolutely everything that went on this week was fantastic. Last week’s ending promised an intricate, precise game of Haneda Airport Bomb Chess between Five and Sphinx. It also hinted that Shibazaki and his colleagues were going to take action of some kind after sitting on their hands too long, and that Lisa would play some kind of role too. , The episode delivered everything we could have hoped for and then some.

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I remain confident in my assertion last week that Five is a cliched villain with a lame personal vendetta and all-but-unchecked autocratic power over the authorities. This week she’s taken down a peg just as Nine and the police were last week. The show sensed that we needed to see Nine land a blow, even a glancing one, on Five, and made it happen. But this episode was much, much more than just a duel between Five and Nine.

Shibazaki & Co. arrive at Haneda faced with the lofty challenge of finding a bomb in a massive, busy airport, but the more he wanders around, the more something smells rotten to the veteran detective. But even he couldn’t have predicted he’d end up helping the very terrorist he’s been chasing for six episodes stop the bombing, while unwittingly providing cover for their escape.

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That last bit is part the genius of this episode. When Shibazaki bursts into the control room and orders the bomb plane turned around, Five tells him he’s being Sphinx’s lap dog, and she’s not 100% wrong. But Shibazaki is also saving lives by picking the lesser of two evils. Five seems to be trying to appeal to his pride and ego, but after both have been trampled on so much throughout his career (most recently by Five herself), he’s not listening anymore. He’s the anti-Five, and thank God he’s here.

It’s a good thing he can, otherwise Nine, Twelve, and Lisa would’ve been SOL and lots of people would have died. Shibazaki is Nine’s trump card; he calls him to explain everything, and Shibazaki decides to believe him, because unlike the higher-ups and spooks, at least Nine is talking to him; letting him in on the loop. And once he’s in, he’s a potent ally. One great scene is how he even gets up the tower: by depending on his police colleagues to open a hole for him in their scrum with security.

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Also terrific was how Nine threw out Five’s book by placing an extra piece on the board, namely Lisa. Yes, Twelve pushed for her involvement, but she herself made the choice to participate. Both she and Nine and Twelve’s plan revolves around turning all of Five’s ample surveillance against her. Ironically, it’s not Lisa, but Nine who’s the decoy—playing chess with Five and keeping her eyes on him.

Meanwhile, Twelve makes use of every camera blind spot to sneak through the airport, while Lisa sets off a flare in the bathroom to set off the fire alarms, which create a blip in the video feed. During that blip—unbeknownst to Five until it’s too late—the real-time footage becomes footage recorded minutes earlier. It’s a full team effort by Sphinx, and as I said, a satisfying setback for the irritatingly haughty Five.

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But Five doesn’t stay down long, because, as she correctly remarks, Nine and Twelve’s new friend Lisa is a weakness, as illustrated when she’s picked up by Five’s henchman and tossed onto an otherwise empty plane with the bomb on board. I’ll admit, the moment Lisa is caught and when we realize how much trouble she’s in, I was crestfallen. But the show’s not going to kill Lisa today…so How Do They Get Out Of This One?

Very Carefully. The thrilling action set piece that concludes the episode brings everything together: Twelve’s fondness for Lisa; Nine’s sense of honor that has him helping Twelve save her; Lisa’s ability to follow directions and quickly make a cloth rope, and Nine’s ability to drive away from the plane before the explosion can engulf them. It’s some spellbinding, superbly directed stuff, and the Kanno soundtrack playing over everything really takes it to the next level, as her tunes tend to do.

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In return for his help, Shibazaki only gets a passing glance at the masked Sphinx No. 1 through a window before driving off into the night. And Five is Not Happy, and has Lisa’s student ID in hand. Which means even if Lisa remains safe and hidden with Sphinx (not a sure thing at all), her mother, wretch that she is, is now at risk.

Can Lisa throw her life away completely? Can Sphinx continue to stay a step ahead of Five? Can Shibazaki get back on the case and reign Five in? What about the plutonium? When’s the beach episode? If there’s no second cour, only four episodes remain to tackle these questions and more. We await them with bated breath.

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