Arte – 01 (First Impressions) – Her Own Power

Arte, an artistic girl approaching marriageable age in sixteenth century Florence, loves nothing more than capturing the world around around her on paper. The “caged bird” metaphor is immediately put into play: with her father deceased and her noble family barely clinging to solvency, she’ll have to work hard to make a man like her enough to accept a modest dowry. Just one issue: Arte doesn’t want to marry and be caged for life. She wants to be an artisan.

As is the case of oppressed groups throughout history, Arte has to work twice as hard to be noticed half as much, if at all. The sheer difficulty of her task becomes clear when all eighteen of the workshops angrily dismiss her without so much as glancing at her drawings. She’s so frustrated she cuts her hair and threatens to cut off her breasts, but she’s stopped by Leo, who ends up being the first and only man to take a look at her art.

Leo miraculously agrees to let Arte be his apprentice (he currently has none), but sets her on a seemingly impossible task: cleaning, sanding, and priming a huge stack of wooden boards by tomorrow morning, something even he and his fellow masters would be hard pressed to pull off. Yet Arte doesn’t see it as an intentionally undoable feat, and spends all night doing the undoable, ruined noble hands be damned.

Leo, returning home from a bender, is shocked she actually finished the boards, and admits he never intended to give her a real chance. But rather than overt sexism, it’s classism that drives his dubiousness and resentment towards Arte. He became an artisan to avoid a live of begging on the streets, while this rich girl initially tells him she wants to become one because she “loves drawing.”

Then Arte comes clean and tells him that was just putting on airs. In truth, she wants to live through her own power—not just some rich dude’s—Leo realizes he read the girl wrong. After all, even a former beggar like him had a better chance of becoming an apprentice than even the richest girl in Florence. He decides to give her a chance.

With that, Arte moves out of her family’s estate, against her mother’s explicit wishes (we’ll see if there are consequences for that) and into a decided fixer-upper of a shed atop Leo’s workshop. She initially finds the level of repairs and cleanup needed daunting and draws herself to sleep as the walls barely keep out the cold night rain. But in the morning the rising sun peeks through the cracks in those walls and she opens the shutters to reveal a glorious view of the Duomo that would make any master jealous.

Arte is as straightforward and earnest as its heroine. Her situation isn’t sugar-coated; most artisans in Florence are insulted by the mere idea of a woman in their line of work. But nor is it punishingly bleak. It simply took one person giving her a chance…her relentlessly working her ass off, but she’s on her way.

Arte’s dogged determination and optimism is both compelling and inspiring. Komatsu Mikako is well-cast for the role. That her character is loosely based on the real-life female artisan Artemisia Gentileschi lends the show a measure of historical legitimacy. I’m looking forward to watching her tough but rewarding journey towards self-actualization and independence.

KonoSuba Movie: Legend of Crimson – Megumin’s Homecoming

First of all, it’s been some time since I’ve seen Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness in their original non-chibified form, so it’s a rare pleasure to see them in their regular proportions and setting. KonoSuba’s twenty episodes proved you can make an often over-the-top isekai comedy with genuine heart.

If you liked the TV show, you’ll love the movie (as I did), which delivers more of everything. Though it contains roughly a half-cour’s worth of story, the ninety minutes just breeze by. Officially a sequel to KonoSuba 2, we return to Kazuma’s party’s mansion, where notoriously involuntary loner Yunyun has an unusual request: she wants—nay, must—make a baby with Kazuma. She comes to this belief upon receiving a letter from her father, Chief of the Crimson Demon Village.

While that letter turns out to be a work of fiction written by one of her academy classmates, Yunyun is nevertheless compelled to return to her hometown to help fight the forces of the Demon King. Megumin and the others decide to follow her, and rely on Iz to teleport them there.

Unfortunately, they end up far from the village, and in the midst of a stampede of rabidly horny she-orcs (there are no more male orcs) after Kazuma. After Yunyun’s request, this marks the second instance of Kazuma being entangled in romance (for good or ill) which he comes to call his “popular phase.”

What better way to learn more about Megumin than to visit her home? Turns out she’s hardly an anomoly, the town is nothing but overly-dramatic chuuni dressed in cool outfits with an emphasis on reds and blacks. The orcs are scattered by their overwhelming offensive magical power, a quality Megumin also shares with her clan.

Megumin’s parents are each eccentric in their own ways, while her little sister Komekko is adorable as all-get-out. Her family is poor, so the moment her parents smell money on Kazuma (he’s in the process of a 300m-Eris deal with Vanir to sell his memoirs), Kazuma finds himself at the mercy of a mother who wants to pair him with Megumin with all due haste.

To this end, she locks Kazuma and Megumin (sleeping due to a recent Explosion) in a room together. She comes to when he’s about to kiss her after much hand-wringing about how to proceed, and she escapes through the window to spend the night at Yunyun’s, fearing further lecherous advances.

The next day, Megumin shows her friends around the village, including to her and Yunyun’s (very Hogwarts-y) magical academy. We learn that when goblins attacked Komekko, Yunyun sacrificed her amassed skill points to repel the enemy. Because Megumin hesitated, that meant she was able to preserve her points and attain Explosion magic she cultivates to this day.

Megumin finds herself locked in her room with Kazuma again, this time by ice. Kazuma assures her that he won’t do anything, and offers his apologies as well as thanks for all the things she and the others have gone through with and for him.

It’s a very nice heartfelt scene, and Megumin even ends up clinging to Kazuma under the covers, commenting on how he’s really a “wimp” when it comes to making a move. Unfortunately, their tender moment is interrupted by the return of Sylvia, the voluptuous Demon King who leads the attack on the village.

Kazuma managed to scare her and her goblin army off with bluster earlier, but when she learns he’s not really Mitsurugi of the Cursed Sword, she takes him hostage…and Kazuma lets it happen. First, because it’s more proof of his Popular Phase; second, because it’s comfy between Sylvia’s boobs; and third, he has an ax to grind with his comrades regarding his treatment.

Kazuma accompanies Sylvia to the Crimson Demon Village’s underground storage facility, and inadvertently unlocks the chamber where Mage Killer, the one weapon he can’t let a demon king get ahold of, is stored. While he doesn’t intend to make things worse for the village, Kazuma’s so out of it he doesn’t realize punching in the classic cheat code on the Nintendo-style control pad would unlock the weapon.

He manages to lock Sylvia in the chamber, but once she has the Mage Killer and absorbs it into her artificial body, she blows the entire facility to kingdom come, then heads to the village to start blowing it up. Megumin leads Kazuma & Co. to more underground caverns, where they find Japanese carvings that explain the origin of the Crimson Demons, and why they’re so “pretentious yet nerdy”

Turns out their culture was basically created by another Japanese man sent there by the goddesses. He also built the Mage Killer, but also created a countermeasure for it: something he tentatively called “Railgun” that Kazuma previously noticed being used as a backyard clothesline in the village.

When Crimson Demons march out to defend their town, Sylvia engulfs them in an “Ancient Dispel” field that nullifies all of their magical power. They’re “saved” by a suddenly cool and confident Yunyun, finally taking up the mantle of her father the chief and luring Sylvia away.

Turns out she’s acting as a lure to bring Sylvia in firing range of the Railgun. Aqua fills it with magial energy, but it still fails to fire. That’s when Megumin unleashes an Explosion meant to his Sylvia directly, but is instead shunted into the rifle, which her little sister Komekko then fires.

Sylvia is killed, and ends up in the same place as fellow defeated Demon Kings Verdia and Hans. She merges with them an is resurrected into a huge, bizarre four-legged beast. Turns out her old comrades Wiz and Vanir have arrived in the village on an unrelated errand, and join in the fight, but even they are barely able to keep Sylvia at bay.

That’s when Kazuma decides to use his Popular Phase for good; by appealing to Sylvia’s innate need to be loved and wanted by somebody other than her adoring hordes of goblins. Kazuma, his luck boosted by Aqua’s blessings, is that person, and stands before her unarmed and ready to be taken into her arms…or tentacles…or whatever.

I never thought I’d empathize with a Konosuba villain so much, but Sylvia turns out to be one of the most dynamic and sympathetic of Demon Kings KonoSuba has served up. Her feelings, and specifically her romantic longing, isn’t entirely played for jokes, but portrayed as a very human side of her that turns out to be the Achilles Heel Kazuma must betray her heart to exploit.

He succeeds in gaining her trust and becomes one with her as Wiz gathers the magical energy from all of the villagers and transfers it to Megumin and Yunyun, who combine their powers to unleash a gargantuan Explosion beam that, combined with Kazuma breaking her heart, destroys Sylvia and ends the threat to the village for good.

Back home in Axel, Kazuma receives a hero’s welcome, proving his Popular Phase still has a bit left in the tank. While having a picnic with Aqua and Darkness, Megumin asks Kazuma to allow her to learn advanced magic, setting aside her Explosion magic so she can be of greater use to the party.

Kazuma may have long railed against her utter lack of versatility and durability in battle, but spending so much time in close quarters with her and meeting both her family and the villagers who shaped her, Kazuma suddenly isn’t so quick to deprive her of her “Explosiveness”. Whatever he does to her skill card, she’s still able to cast a beautiful Explosion that creates a heart-shaped cloud. And for that, Megumin is happy.

Did Aqua and Darkness get the short end of the stick in this movie? Perhaps, but that meant a lot of great development for Megumin, Kazuma, and their unique bond. They may get on each others nerves at times, but at the end of the day they’ll always be there for each other: Megumin blowing up something that needs blowing up, and Kazuma carrying her home on his back.

It’s quite simply KonoSuba at its absolute best, firing on all cylinders with confidence, comedy, and chemistry. My main gripe with this movie is that it makes me long that much more for KonoSuba 3!

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 08 – Forward March!

There’s a palpable sense of anticipation in the sight the Eizouken putting the finishing audio touches on the cultural festival preview of SHIBA8 vs The Pistol Crabtle, lit only by a single office lamp and the editing monitor. As director Midori displays a uncanny knack for knowing when to time music and sound effects to the visuals.

Unfortunately they didn’t have time to record the voice actors so they’ll be doing it live in the auditorium, adding another set of things that could go wrong, from both technical and personnel-wise. But the show must go on, and it will. The main challenge is to create sufficient buzz at the festival to lure a sufficiently large audience.

Throughout this episode from start to finish, Tsubame’s rich actor parents loom large, but not as villains ready to undermine the Eizouken, but rather as parents who find they’ll have time to visit their daughter’s school festival. They almost seem eager to do so, well aware of how their careers have made it tough for her to get a fair share of time with them throughout her childhood.

Like just about every shot in this episode before the festival starts, the scene of Tsubame’s mom discovering she never came home is lit so beautifully, with the light of dawn just behind the horizon but already lending a hazy blue color to the sky.

Even more magical is the scene of the Eizouken trio tucking into campfire ramen outside their ramshackle studio. The warm firelight dancing off their relaxed figures as the ethereal purple dawn rises in the background. There’s an intoxicating combination of comfort, coziness, and a sense of impending drama.

The three don’t seem to notice how gorgeous and almost iconic their surroundings are, but that goes without saying: they’ve been working without sleep for who-knows-how-long and are in strict ramen-scarfing mode. Will they remember this meager fireside feast before the premiere of their first large scale effort, or will the day’s excitement cloud these quiet, delicate, hauntingly gorgeous earlier moments? I hope not.

Just as the Eizouken’s robot project dwarfs their gas mask short in size and complexity, Shibahama’s Cultural Festival’s unrestrained chaos makes the earlier budgetary committee look quaint by comparison. Competition ferocity is on par with the Serengeti, and one could see Midori and/or Tsubame getting absolutely lost in the stampede.

Fortunately, both Sayaka and the Robot Club have taken care of everything and are prepared for virtually every eventuality. The Robot Club also breaks a few school rules, using water rockets and megaphones to amplify their cause. This draws the ire of the StuCo and Security Clubs, who initially target Tsubame as the amateur-model-ringleader for arrest.

Thanks to the expert distribution of similar-looking cardboard robot costumes and Sayaka’s birds-eye-view of the premises, Tsubame is able to take direction from Sayaka via walkie-talkie and gradually navigate her way to the designated auditorium where the screening will take place—and where her notoriety is key to drawing a big chunk of the crowd.

Sayaka also successfully blackmails the normally untouchable HVAC club (all of whom are caught wasting A/C on a hot day) into ensuring the auditorium will be enticingly cool for audience members coming in from the outside. Sure, Tsubame enough could be a good draw, but the A/C draws in even those few who don’t know her or about robots or anime.

In another impressive demonstration of intricate planning, logistics, timing, and luck, Robot Club’s Ono takes a zipline across the breadth of the campus, with a huge banner trailing behind him notifying the gawking masses of the impending screening.

Like Tsubame, the cat-and-mouse chase between him and those who would shut them down takes on the feel of a madcap video game, complete with platforms, mazes, obstacles, and end-goals. It’s just a tremendous amount of fun and imagination—and all before we see a single frame of the movie!

Everything goes off without a hitch. The auditorium is nice and cool and the crowd is huge. Even Tsubame’s parents attend, eager to see what their daughter has been up to (turns out using MIBs to discourage her from anime pursuits was her dad’s idea). There are no technical difficulties with the video or audio or the live-voicing setup.

The crowd watches the robot-crabtle battle with stunned looks, the screen glowing in their eyes. Tsubame’s parents admire the animation with prime, and are able to see Tsubame’s love of capturing motion through art in this manner. Pride washes over their faces. They realize this, not live-action acting, is what their daughter loves and excels at.

After the screening, and a brief autograph/handshake session, Tsubame is dispatched to get lunch for Midori and Sayaka, and runs into her parents. The three have a cordial mini-lunch together, and Tsubame draws upon her parents’ careers as artists for perhaps the first time, asking if they’re ever satisfied after a performance.

She’s relieved to hear neither of them are, because neither is she…and we no neither is Midori. They’re relieved Tsubame has been off doing her own thing, and it’s something they’re not going to try to hold her back from anymore. To do so would be to prevent her from “performing” the way she knows best: with pencil and paper.

Finally, her parents poke their heads in a shed where the Eizouken 3 are taking a break from all the hubbub, and about to scarf down the lunch Tsubame brought. Her parents ask if these are her friends; Midori responds that they’re comrades. The bonds of comrades, joined not by blood but by common cause and common fate, surpass mere friendship, for even the best of friends can have vastly different goals.

It’s no surprise Midori is donned in full camo combat fatigues. The cultural festival was the Eizouken’s greatest battle yet, and victory was achieved. Not flawlessly, mind you—Midori estimates she’s only 20% satisfied with the product they presented—but enough to get the job done.

The fact Tsubame’s parents can no longer be counted among their enemies is both strategically advantageous and a timely boost to unit morale. On to the next battle!

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 04 – Despair, Deferred

In what seems to be a recurring practice of presenting then defusing potential threats to Somali, the wolfman turns out to be good people. He is Muthrica, one of the force that patrols the vast underground, and whom Kikila calls “shishou.” 

As we’ve seen, the underground is no place for children, but that hasn’t stopped Kikila from making regular trips and getting caught roughly half the time by Muthrica.

Despite his gruff appearance and manner, Muthrica can sense how desperate Somali is to have a wish granted, so he guides her and Kiki to a tree where she’ll be able to harvest a bloom that will survive the trip back to the surface. In the process, a giant “tsuchilizard” confronts her.

Kiki protects her with his body, but when Somali explains her reason for needing the flower—so she can continue being with her dad—the lizard, being a parent of two offspring itself, understands, and trudges off.

They make it all the way back to the restaurant with the flower intact, but as it is after dark, Golem has nothing for Somali but scolding. Somali drops the flower on the ground and runs off to her room in tears.

Later, both Muthrica and Kokilia gently admonish the Golem for being so strict and inflexible, rather than hearing the reason Somali didn’t follow his orders to the letter. It’s good to hear them both saying what I was thinking last week—he just needs to learn to lay off sometimes!

Then, Kikila finds Somali has collapsed from a fever. In as much of a panic as a Golem can be, Golem spends all of his amassed pay on a rare medicine that “works on all clans”, unwilling to betray her true species to the apothecary.

He and Kikila then stay with her as she slowly recovers, and Kokilia gives him some advice as a parent to know when you’ve instilled too much fear, when to take your child in your arms and apologize, and to make sure they know they’re loved and wanted.

When Somali awakes in slightly better shape, Golem, who regrets pushing her so hard to exhaustion then piling emotional distress on top of that, and does indeed apologize. He also does something he may not have done even a few days ago, before he received advice from other parents: he makes a promise to Somali to be with her forever.

As a Golem entering his final days, keeping such a promise may well be impossible. But Golem understands that now is not the time to say that to her. Somali’s emotional health must be looked after in the here and now, and that means postponing hard truths.

In the scenario that Golem does die, hopefully Somali will keep living, growing, and learning about mortality, both her dad’s and her own. What seemed like broken promise at the time may prove not to be, as long as the memory of him remains in her heart.

Or heck, maybe the superstition proves to be true, and Golem’s life is extended. In any case, postponing her despair even a little bit longer is worth everything.

P.S. Yoshimata Ryou’s epic fantasy score is on point, particularly when Somali locates the tree from which she plucks her flower. It called to mind the theme to the Sacred City of Aquios in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time—Not a bad track to be reminded of!

Astra Lost in Space – 09 – Beyond Vicarious

Before announcing Zack’s findings to Quitterie, Funi, and the rest of the crew, Kanata dreams about a training session with his father, who was also an athlete but was denied by injuries the opportunity to attain greatness. Kanata knew his father was trying to realize his own dream through Kanata; attempting to live vicariously through his healthy young son.

But knowing what he knows now, Kanata now realizes why his father was so intent on training him to become virtually the same person he wanted to be: because when it comes to DNA, they are the same person. That’s right: It isn’t just Quitterie and Funi who are clones of their mother; everyone on the ship is a clone of their parents.

Needless to say, this explains quite a bit: Why most of them had distant or loveless parents who drove them to follow in their footsteps, but also, more importantly, why they’re titularly lost in space: cloning is a felony, and a new law mandating the collection of everyone’s DNA would expose their clones—and thus, their crime.

If the theory sounds thin aboard the Astra, it’s confirmed by the parents themselves back home, as they all commiserate about how their dreams of extending their lives was thwarted. They bicker quite a bit more than their younger clones and don’t seem to have any remorse in sending them off to their deaths to save themselves.

Back on the Astra, everyone is in shock, and for some like Quitterie, it turns to despair. As for Aries, she learns she was almost certainly adopted by her loving mother, as they don’t look alike and, well, her adoptive mother actually loved her. Kanata, good captain that he is, tells them to lift their heads, and revises their mission: not just to get home, but get home and put their rotten folks in prison for what they’ve done.

After that, everyone gradually processes the news that they’re a clone in their own ways. On the whole, once calmed down from the initial horribleness, the overarching emotion is that of relief: that there was a reason they ended up in space, or that their parents were the way they were.

Charce left his family long ago so he wasn’t that messed up by the news. Luca is proud of who and what she is, and is determined to move forward as an individual beholden to nobody. Yunhua is happy she can now step out of the shadows and do what she loves. Aries loves her mother and knows her mother loves her, regardless of what person she was cloned from.

Finally, even Quitterie and Funi find comfort in the knowledge that nature and nurture essentially play a 50/50 role in determining a person. Quitterie, Funi, and their mother are three different people with distinct personalities based on their experiences, not just their DNA. The two of them are good people; their mom’s a goddamn monster.

And that’s what truly underscores the nefariousness, the straight-up evil of their parents for marooning them in space. Cloning yourself is one thing; to deny those clones their individuality and even their humanity by discarding them like used tissues is quite another, and the ultimate in delusion. Did they think they made clones so perfect, their experiences wouldn’t make them different people? If that’s the case they’re as stupid as they are evil.

In any case, kudos for the crew members to get over the pain of their asshole parents’ deep, profound betrayal, and their ability to come together as the new and loving family they are. Case in point: Quitterie and Zack announce their wedding plans to an ecstatic crew that’s also a bit flabbergasted in the wake of Zack’s talent for hiding his true emotions behind a granite facade.

After their party celebrating their escape from Icriss, the discovery of Polina, and congratulating the soon-to-be newlyweds, Zack activates the Astra’s long-range telescope, which he repaired using parts from the Ark VI, and for the first time in three months, the crew lays eyes on their home planet: a planet of blue oceans, white clouds, and green land.

But here’s the thing, and it’s not revealed until Polina notices the landmasses are all wrong: the crew’s home planet isn’t Earth. It is Polina’s home, but none of the crew have ever heard of “Earth,” and look at her like she’s either crazy or still suffering the effects of her long slumber. In any case, their home planet is called Astra, which means Polina didn’t just lose twelve years, but perhaps her entire universe.


Astra Lost in Space – 05 – The Kids Are Alright…Right??

Even after last week’s harrowing ordeal, the crew is not yet ready to pack up and leave Shummoor—not until they’ve gathered enough food. Thanks to a successful hunch from Charce, they learn that the pole trees, once their nemesis, are actually the yummiest food on the planet, and with the stores filled, the Astra departs from Planet #2.

The crew are also grateful to Yunhua, whose voice had both physical and psychological healing effects for all who were poisoned. That gratitude quickly shifts to straight-up admiration when they learn she’s the daughter of the superstar singer Lucy Lum. She then enlists Luca to give her a haircut, and Quitterie bristles as all the guys swoon.

Meanwhile, back home, Aries’ mom Emma listens to her daughter’s last video message to her, saying all is well—and probably isn’t watching it for the first time. It’s been over forty days since Team B5 was last seen on McPa, and Ulgar’s father has gathered all the other parents to decide whether to call off the search and declare their children permanently lost.

Emma is not ready to make that determination, and even correctly conjectures that the reason there’s neither remains nor luggage on McPa is because their kids are somewhere in space, still alive. But many of the parents are past the “denial” phase of loss (or don’t love their kids as much as her) and are ready to give up.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, many thousands of light years away, not only are their kids perfectly fine…they’re living it up on a tropical beach.

Planet #3 is Arispade – which is 99% water with one tiny islet that features a wealth of food and a sugar-white beach on which to break out and show off one’s swimsuit. It’s paradise. It’s so paradise, Quitterie almost loses it; after all they’ve been through, why are things suddenly so easy and comfortable that she can totally see herself living out the rest of her days on that beach?

Since this is, in fact, Kanata no Astra‘s beach episode, it wastes no time delivering the goods, as Quitterie insists on comparing boob sizes with Aries and Yunhua, and also assures Aries she’ll have no problem attracting Captain Kanata with her “spicy” bikini. The implication flusters Aries.

Back on the ship, there’s more good slice-of-life, with Quitterie pressing her attack upon Aries, urging her to go ask Kanata out, or at least find out if he already has a boyfriend. Aries actually musters the courage to ask him if he’s popular with girls (he says he’s popular with “all humans”) and then asks if he has a girlfriend (he says all girls are his friends). Neither Aries or Quitterie are happy with Kanata’s lame replies. Quitterie exacts swift punishment by sticking Kanata’s toothbrush up his nose; Aries goes to bed early; dejected.

Meanwhile, Luca thinks he’s making progress becoming friends with Ulgar, having fashioned a bow, arrow, and fishing poles for him to do what he apparently does best: shoot and hunt. Yet Ulgar remains aloof and hostile, and becomes…something else entirely when he learns that Luca’s last name is Esposito, and that he’s the son of a senator back home.

Ulgar’s reaction—like a switch had been flipped in his head, combined with the image of the gun we saw a couple weeks back, spell nothing but dread for the final scene of the episode, an otherwise placid sunset repast among the crew members, with only one person absent: Ulgar.

After waxing romantic about the time they have and how neither photos nor medically secured memories will ever adequately convey the emotions they’ve felt in the last fifty-or-so days, and Luca remarks that he doesn’t even believe there’s an enemy among them, that enemy finally reveals himself, and points his gun at Luca’s head, warning he’ll shoot if he moves.

And that my friends is how you go from a solid “8” episode that lacked any danger or difficulty for twenty-two minutes, to a solid “9” in the twenty-third. The good-old cliffhanger. It doesn’t even matter if the most likely of the crew to be the bad guy is the bad guy (unless he isn’t, and there are more twists afoot); that was marvelously done.

Fruits Basket (2019) – 01 (First Impressions) – Anywhere Can Be Home

Honda Tooru’s backstory is almost comically tragic: her father died of an illness when she was three, and one day her mother was killed in an auto accident. The only relative who’d bring her in was her pensioner grandfather, for whom she didn’t want to be a burden.

Then his house needed months of renovations, so he told her it might be best if she moved into a friend’s house…only she felt too bad about staying at her one friend’s tiny apartment or to be another mouth to feed at her other’s. So she started living in a tent she bought on sale.

Unbeknownst to her, this tent is on private property belonging to the Souma family, one member of which, Yuki, is in her class. When they cross paths while she’s exploring her tent’s surroundings, she meets Yuki’s older cousin, Shigure.

When Yuki and Tooru walk to school together, his fan club, “Prince Yuki” aren’t having it, and give her a multi-pronged verbal attack. She’s saved by her yankee BFFs, Uotani and Hanajima, who you’ll remember, are not aware that their lovely friend is essentially homeless. But they have her back. In exchange, she helps them ace Home Ec by doing all the cooking, which she’s of course happy to do.

After school, Yuki walks with Tooru and they discuss the Zodiac (a subject first broached when she saw Shigure’s Zodiac knickknacks). In particular, Tooru voices her love of the Cat, even though it has no official place in the Chinese Zodiac. Tooru declares the Cat an “idiot” and that the math was never there for it to begin with. Before Tooru rushes off to work, Yuki tells her to look out for her health—no doubt sensing how thin she’s stretched.

After Tooru gives her appalling sad life story so far, through which she’s remained strong, upbeat, and committed to taking care of herself and burdening no one, we see her working so hard at her job that her older co-workers consider her a godsend.

Later that night, as she’s walking (or more accurately teetering) “home”—to her tent—she’s spotted by Yuki and Shigure, on a stroll of their own. That’s when she first learns she’s squatting on Souma land. Shigure can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of a high school girl living in a tent…but as Yuki says, it’s not that funny. And it isn’t! It’s heartbreaking!

It’s doubly heartbreaking because no one, not even someone as strong-willed and determined as Tooru, can go to school, keep up with her studies, and work as many jobs as she can to pay for that school, all while living in a tent. When Shigure hears a wolf howling, that indicates to him that there was a landslide nearby; possibly near her campsite.

They rush there to find her tent buried under a huge mound of earth, but because the photo of her mother is in there, she starts clawing at it, despite the fact she’s already running on fumes and about to keel over from fever and exhaustion. Shigure makes sure she’s in bed at their place while Yuki employs thousands of rats to help him dig out Tooru’s effects.

Wait…thousands of rats? What’s that about???

Before falling asleep, Tooru tells Shigure about how her mom only had a middle school diploma, and wanted her daughter to experience high school life rather than go right into the labor force. Tooru also recalls the last morning her mother was alive. She’s haunted by the fact she was studying all night and so slept in and didn’t get to say “itterasshai.” 

It was the one and only time she never said it, and that was the day she was killed in the accident. Like I said, Tooru’s story would be ridiculous if it weren’t presented to straight-forwardly and soberly. Once she’s out, Yuki admits that compared to her, he’s spoiled beyond belief.

After a dream of her mom that has her waking up with tears in her eyes, her first thought is to recover the picture, only to find Yuki outside, picture in one hand, and her other stuff in the other. He says there’s an extra bedroom on the second floor, and she’s welcome to stay there until the renovations at her grandfather’s are complete.

True to form, Tooru doesn’t want to be any trouble to them…but she isn’t. Besides, he and Shigure were just talking about how their household is in dire need of someone who is good at cooking and cleaning; Tooru likes doing those things—she even cooked for her mom! So it’s not like she’s going to be a freeloader.

All she has to do, Yuki says, is be Tooru and “go at her own pace.” That moves Tooru, because her mom said those same words to her.

It doesn’t take long for Tooru to learn that she’s not going to be the main source of trouble here, nor a source of strangeness. There’s plenty of that in the Souma family, as while they’re airing out her new room, a guy named Kyou who was lurking in a tree bursts through the ceiling and picks a fight with Yuki.

In the ensuing chaos, Tooru trips on a piece of wood and lands in Kyou’s chest in a kind of pseudo-hug. Kyou instantly transforms…into a cat. Her first thought is to rush him to a hospital, but a piece of wood falls on her head, and she falls into both Shigure and Yuki, transforming them into a dog and rat, respectively.

So there you have it; the secrets out: the Soumas are a family of animals representing the Chinese Zodiac, who normally have human form, but transform when hugged. Shigure understanding the wolves’ howling; Yuki’s inherent hatred of cats, it’s all explained. But more importantly, Tooru is no longer on her own.

There are people—strange, supernatural people, but people all the same—who have opened their home to her, and won’t hear of her roughing it any longer as she works herself into another fever. And while neither Yuki or Shigure represent a pig, their place is a mess, which is where Tooru’s skills come in. It’s a mutually beneficial situation.

I’m happy for Tooru, and can’t wait to see how her new housemates handle her discovering their secret. I may have gotten into this show nine weeks late, but it’s right up my alley, with a winning premise reminding me a lot of Kamisama Hajimemashita. Of course, that show is based on a manga first published seven years after the original anime adaptation of this show, so this has the older pedigree.

In any case, there’s a lot of warmth, moving drama, lighthearted comedy, and plenty of potential for romance here, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the rest of the anime-watching masses on what looks like one of the Spring’s consensus best.

Dororo – 18 – Demon Shark, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo

(Source of this post’s title here. You’re welcome ;)

This week is a clash of numerous parties with conflicting interests, first among them Crazy Shark Boy, whose shark brother Jiroumaru eats the other shark and becomes a demon with legs. Dororo seems totally hosed until Hyakkimaru arrives in the nick of time to save him.

This demon Jiroumaru is a nasty customer, but no where near the toughest Hyakki has had to deal with, and so he’s able to dispatch him without much trouble.

I love his reunion with Dororo, pinching his cheek and touching foreheads as a sign he’s glad he’s okay. Dororo’s many morphing facial expressiosn and tsundere reaction (“took you long enough!”) are all priceless. Hyakki also gains back his left leg.

With the dynamic duo back together, the next item of business is catching up with Itachi and his crew before they find and steal Hibukuro’s treasure. But they run into a snag: the entrance to the cave containing said treasure is booby trapped.

If this weren’t enough going on, a small Daigo flotilla suddenly arrives at the cove with Tahoumaru, Mutsu and Hyougou ready to wreck up the place. Dororo and Itachi put their heads together (literally), but Hyakkimaru suggests they use explosives to divert the Daigo samurai.

Itachi and what’s left of his men escape as Hyakkimaru battles Tahoumaru and Hyougou (at close range) and Mutsu (long range) at once; and before he knows it his right arm blade has been snapped off. Itachi becomes a pincushion for arrows shielding Dororo behind some Buddha statues, which Dororo accidentally topples onto advancing samurai.

If anyone held out any hope Hyakki and Tahou could work out their differences, well…hope no longer. It ain’t happening as long as the latter consider’s the former’s mere existence a threat to the people of Daigo.

Crazy Shark Boy comes back into play when he stands atop a cliff with a pile of grenades, setting them off in a final suicide blaze of glory to destroy those who killed his beautiful sharks.

The blast injures Hyougou gravely, and Tahou, Mutsu, and the Daigo samurai withdraw, while Dororo and Itachi fall into the very cavern where Hibukuro’s treasure is located. Itachi gets the glimpse he wanted, then dies with a smile on his face.

With all immediate threats either eliminated or temporarily withdrawn, Hyakki finds Dororo in the cavern, but Dororo doesn’t yet know what to do with the gold his father entrusted to him. That’s not surprising; he’s still a kid, and a kid who has never seen so much money. So he takes only as much as he can comfortably carry (for spending money), and continue his adventures with Hyakkimaru until he does.

The two arrived at that god-forsaken cove separately, but leave it together once more; a family of two, surviving the myriad dangers wrought by the greed and treachery of Itachi, the holier-than-thou hypocrisy and military precision of Tahoumaru & Co., and the pure insanity of Crazy Shark Boy (RIP). Meanwhile, Hyakki’s restored parts grow more numerous, no doubt the fortunes of Daigo will continue to fall.

Sarazanmai – 05 – A Nostalgic Scent

Not long after Haruka was born, Kazuki gleaned from his grandfather’s dying words that his mother wasn’t his biological mother, and ever since felt disconnected from the family as a non-member, despite all the love they gave him.

It’s not so much that he hated his brother, as he said last week, but he hated the whole situation of him and his brother not actually being related by blood. Why it matters so much to him that they are connected by blood, but there it is.

In the present, Toi captures Sara’s manager and escorts her away from her fan meet-up event, but finds she’s not quite human, and thus capable of transforming into a little critter who can squeeze out of any confinement.

Kazuki fares rather well as Sara’s double, at least where Haruka’s concerned, but things go pear-shaped fast when both the manager and the real Sara arrive in the hall and the former removes Kazuki’s wig. And that’s it: his secret is out. Now Haruka knows all those texts were just from him.

As all this is going on, the Otter Cop Duo wrings the desire from a man obsessed with sachets of a very specific smell, creating a new Kappa Zombie boss.

The three kappaboys do their song-and-dance, but when the Sarazanmai comes, and Kazuki’s memory of finally reuniting with his true mother in secret, the smell of her sachet he remembers is the same as the sachet Haruka always carries.

Whatever that means, the three kappaboys are ripped out of the tunnel of water, their work to extract the shirikodama still incomplete.

Keppi is so mad he can boil tea on his belly, and asserts to the boys that they won’t get their human forms back or get a dish of hope until they defeat the Sachet Zombie. Kazuki shares more about his meeting with his mother with Toi and Enta, culminating in him deciding to stay with Haruka and his non-biological parents.

Even so, before he returns to them, Haruka runs (that’s right runs on his functioning legs) to beg Kazuki to come back, fearing he’s going away. Kazuki spurns him rather harshly and walks off, but Haruka follows him…and gets hit by a car.

Now, every time Kazuki sees Haruka in his wheelchair, he’s reminded of what he did to him, and simply can’t bear it, which is why he adopted the Sara clone routine to make a faux connection with him from a safe distance. But odds are Haruka already forgave Kazuki a long time ago, and couldn’t care less if they have different mothers.

Dororo – 17 – They’re Still Eating

After a Dororo-centric episode, we switch to Hyakkimaru’s POV as he slays a demon that was about to kill the man who gave him a body, Jukai, who continues to provide the dead with limbs and eyes on the battlefield.

He embraces Hyakkimaru like long-lost family, and is amazed to learn that his former charge can now hear, talk, and feel. But he’s also somewhat scared of the person he helped to make—like a Dr. Frankenstein regarding the Modern Prometheus he hath wrought.

At first, Hyakkimaru regards this fortuitous encounter with the utmost practicality: he’s missing a leg and needs a new one, and Jukai can provide him what he needs. But Jukai would prefer it if Hyakkimaru took it easy, sat down and had a meal with his old guardian.

Even when a landslide closes the entrance to Jukai’s cave home, Hykkimaru is all business trying to open up a new hole. The demons who took everything from Hyakkimaru—with his father’s consent—are still feeding. There’s no time to waste.

Throuhgout the episode, we sometimes cut from Hyakkimaru’s time with Jukai to Tahoumaru, who both Mutsu and Hyougo agree has changed since his encounter with his older brother. Even as his mother awakens, recovered from her injuries, Tahoumaru is more concerned with the latest ghoul threat.

Taho is singularly committed to protecting his people—in other words, the best son Lord Daigo could hope for. But there’s a sadness in Mutsu and Hyougo’s reckoning of this new, colder Tahoumaru.

Even as he admits that he is well within his rights to reclaim his body, Jukai weeps over what Hyakkimaru has become as a direct result of his handiwork. He believes all he did by restoring the boy’s body is allow him to continue travelling down the River of Hell.

He is comforted when he learns that Hyakkimaru isn’t navigating that river alone—there is someone close to him, not an enemy, who can keep him human—and when Hyakkimaru calls him “mama,” well…there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the room!

Jukai doesn’t give Hyakkimaru a new leg, but he doesn’t condemn him for fighting to take back what’s his, even if it will cause great pain, suffering, and misfortune for the people of Daigo’s domain. All of this falls on Daigo’s shoulders, not Hyakkimaru’s or Tahoumaru’s or Nuinokata’s.

And yet Tahoumaru is taking up the mantle of lord of a realm whose prosperity is owed to a single young man who had no say in the matter at the time. But thanks to Jukai, Hyakkimaru does have a say. And once he tracks down Dororo at that cove, he’s no doubt going to continue contributing his “two cents.”

Dororo – 16 – Nobody Listens to Dororo

I wish that instead of a large trove of gold that continues to paint a literal target on Dororo’s back, his dad’s “lifelong ambition” could have been something as simple as giving his daughter he raised as a son a safe and comfortable life. That would have meant setting aside larger ambitions like rebelling against the samurai, but it would prevented Dororo from living such a hard life, and from being in his current predicament: captured by his dad’s former No.2, Itachi.

Itachi dug up Dororo’s mother’s remains and found half of the map, and he believes her son has the other half, if not on his back then in his head. To that end, he takes Dororo to the cove where the treasure was stashed, and makes his latest in a long line of mistakes: trusting a crazy-eyed one-armed sole survivor of a village, whose self-proclaimed family consists of two giant sharks. Did I mention he fed them his arm, and has made a habit of feeding him live humans?

Dororo warned Itachi not to trust the kid, and of course, Dororo turns out to be right. One of the two boats carrying half of Itachi’s men is capsized, and its occupants eaten by one of the sharks. He promises to return at sundown to finish off the other half, including Itachi and Dororo, and orders one of the sharks to keep watch.

Itachi—now a brigand again after being double-crossed by the samurai he double-crossed Hibukuro to join—quickly loses hope in getting out of this alive, but Dororo loudly admonishes him, using his own shit life so far as an example of the importance of keeping one’s head up and not giving up even when death seems close. Itachi notes that Dororo sounds like his old man.

If he spoke too many words “for a little runt”, Dororo decides to be the first to take action. He dives fearlessly into the sea to lure the shark guarding them, then leads him to leap up by the side of the boat where Itachi and his men are ready with swords.

It’s an audacious gambit to be sure; not sure quite how Dororo doesn’t get himself killed in six different ways, but hey, I guess that’s why he’s lived so long without parents up to this point: he’s good at surviving. Unfortunately, the sharks are often somewhat poorly drawn and animated, which blunts the impact of the action.

When the shark’s “brother” returns and finds the shark slain on the coast of the cove, he’s caught in an ambush and then viciously beaten. His life is only spared because Dororo insists, but that could prove a bad move if the guy, who is let go and vows revenge, considers Dororo to be one with the brigands who killed half his family.

Meanwhile, Itachi insists Dororo spill the beans about the exact location of the treasure. When Dororo lets slip that even if he knows where it is he doesn’t want to reveal it (believing whatever Itachi does with it beneath his father’s legacy) Itachi has him stripped down and learns that he’s biologically a she. The heat of the fire then reveals the map on Dororo’s back, and Itachi traces it and heads off with his men, leaving Dororo tied up.

Where is Hyakkimaru in all this? While he sees the trail Itachi’s horses made, his makeshift leg slows him considerably. So it’s fortuitous he comes across a stranger who tells him there’s someone around who makes new limbs for those who have lost them. That’s right: Jukai’s back. Assuming Dororo and Hyakkimaru remain separated most if not all of next week, I suspect Hyakkimaru will be reuniting with the man who first gave him a functional life—the closest thing to a father he ever had.

YU-NO – 01 (First Impressions) – Time is Reversible but Cliches are Innumerable

Howdy, and welcome to the Spring 2019! Our first entry is YU-NO, a bright, brisk show about an easygoing orphaned high school dude named Arima Takuya who is suddenly tangled up in all this curious business of time travel, parallel universes, and various other things he did not expect, including the discovery that his folks aren’t dead after all.

Takuya is a bit of a cad, acting as both quasi-casanova and class clown. He has a jovial sidekick who calls him “boss.” He draws both the ire and likely fancy of the class idol, Shimazu Mio (an always welcome Kugimiya Rie). His hot teacher wears an outfit perhaps better suited for…not school.

His guardian, whom I’m guessing is his older sister, cousin, or aunt judging by the same last name, is in charge of some kind of construction project. His dad, a researcher believed to have died in a cave, is survived by his colleague Ryuzoji, whom I immediately suspected was a bad guy due to his suite and beard. Oh, and Ryuzoji’s secretary used to teach at Takuya’s school, and they may have slept together in the past. Neat!

The episode starts with Takuya interacting with one attractive woman after another, establishing the various players I saw on the promo art. Perhaps that was a mistake, but the fact his interactions feel so regimented lends each of the female characters a kind of mysterious significance anyway.

When Takuya gets home, the tangling begins, with a mysterious package arriving in the mail containing a weird relic of the type Ryuzoji was looking for, followed by a call on the phone with no one on the other end. If that isn’t enough weirdness for one evening, Takuya switches on the news and a strange lightning strikes very near his guardian when she’s giving an interview.

Takuya rushes to her, and she’s fine, but also encounters his sidekick and Shimazu, who have just finished investigating the shrine near the construction site. They all encounter a blue-haired girl in their school uniform—no doubt the transfer student his sexy teacher mentioned—and this student, Hatano Kanna, warns Takuya both there and the next day after her intro to the class to convince his guardian to cancel all construction at the site, warning that it’s “dangerous.”

That’s a pretty vague warning to someone who is not directly responsible for the construction site, but that night, Takuya gets another mystery package that contains a weird book labeled “Parallel World Constitutive Theorem” and “Reflector Device Construction” containing a drawing of this weird relic thing, and a letter form his dad telling him to go to the shrine at a certain time with the device.

Takuya does as the letter instructs, and there he finds a naked blonde young woman with fairy-like ears who only says one thing to him—”Yu-no”—before kissing him and then de-materializing into glow-dust. Takuya is rightly a bit freaked out by this series of events!

They only get stranger, as both his guardian and Ryuzoji appear at the site, only for Ryuzoji to pull a gun on Takuya and demand he hand over the device, as it enables its bearer the ability to “cross Neumann space.” His dad intended it for him, but I guess Ryuzoji has other plans? In any case he has a beard so he’s bad news.

Fortunately, more weird gold lightning strikes, and one of the bolts hits Takuya while he’s holding the device. Instead of getting fried, he’s shot through some kind of tunnel in spacetime, travels through various twisted  hyper-dimensional pathways, and spat out right where he began. Only, as he learns when he returns to school to find both his guardian safe and sound and a cheerful, gun-less Ryuzoji, he appears to have traveled a day into the past. Dun-dun-dunnnnn!

If this introductory episode left me with a bunch of questions, it’s because it wanted it to be that way. That’s fine, as we’re closely following the MC, who’s as much in the dark as we are, especially when Ryuzoji starts blurting out weird lingo. That said, there were an awful lot of familiar cliches that didn’t really bring much to the table. It’s all very by-the-numbers and didn’t once ‘wow’ me. I’ll at least give this another week to see where this goes, but color me unimpressed so far…

Dororo – 09 – Not Letting The War Win

Dororo has never not known war, and it has taken everything from him but his life. But even that is threatened when he suddenly collapses with an apparent fever. Hyakkimaru has to carry him to find help, and eventually comes upon a kind priestess who takes them into the temple for Dororo to recover.

After a couple of lighthearted episodes—one in which the ghoul-of-the-week turns out to be not so bad, and one in which a boy and his big sis survive—the “party is over” this week, as we’re told the heart-wrenching tale of how Dororo became an orphan, and why he clings so close to Hyakkimaru and fears being left behind.

On two occasions, Dororo spots red spider lilies, which he hates, because they remind him of when his mama died in a field of them.

Dororo’s father Hibukuro was a big, strong leader of a band of brigands who unusually only targeted samurai, seeking retribution on those who destroyed their village. His mother Ojiya was his strong, kind wife. But it doesn’t take long to see that an age as cruel as the one in which they live wouldn’t allow such an arrangement to last for long.

Hibukuro is good at killing and good at bringing men to his side, but when his band gets strong enough, his right-hand man Itachi suggests they make a deal with a lord. It’s the smart, pragmatic move; one that has the best chance of ensuring the survival of his family. But neither of Dororo’s parents are willing to turn to the lords ever again…and young Dororo follows their lead.

Predictably, Itachi betrays them by making a deal with the samurai, who end up filling Hibukuro’s legs with arrows. Itachi takes the band for himself, leaving the wounded Hibukuro and his family to scavenge fields of the dead for scraps of food. Itachi and his treahery represented a natural element to this world, and Hibukuro and Ojiya simply lacked the pragmatism that would have enabled them to survive.

If he hadn’t betrayed them, Hibukuro’s stubbornness would have doomed him again anyway…and it does, when they happen upon another village the samurai are preparing to burn. One of them recognizes Hibukuro’s signature pole sword and seeks revenge for his fallen friends.

Hibukuro has an epic death by bear-hugging and impaling the man who impaled him, but the end result is that Ojiya and Dororo are now all on their own. You can see the moment Ojiya knows they’re somehow even more screwed than they were a minute ago, and their margin of survival henceforth is that much smaller.

It’s something of a miracle the samurai let Ojiya and Dororo go free, and we know from Dororo telling Mio that Ojiya never sold her body for money or food. But when she hears that samurai are handing out free soup, she gets in line, something she and her husband might not have done before things got so dire.

She’s even willing to cut in line, hold out her hands, and have the scalding soup poured in her hands (she has no bowl) so that Dororo can eat. And Itachi is there, in his fancy clothes, comfy with the lord, basically telling her “I told you so.” Dororo throws a rock at him—perhaps for the first time—but Itachi catches it easily.

When we see the mother and child walking slowly through a field of those damned red spider lilies (the show’s profound artistry on full display this week as usual), I knew that was going to be the end of Ojiya’s tether. She collapses from starvation, can’t get back up, and the life drains from her eyes as Dororo begs her not to, promising he won’t tell her he’s hungry anymore. It’s a brutal gut punch.

Time and time again, right until the moment of her death, Dororo’s mother told him not to let the war beat him, even though it claimed her and his father. When he recovers from his fever, we learn he had told the priestess this entire story. Thanks to her ministrations, he can keep going, keep fighting against the war that’s taken almost everything.

But as he continues his journey with Hyakkimaru, Dororo realizes when he smells his freshly-cleaned clothes that those clothes had to have been removed at some point. And the priestess told Hyakkimaru how difficult it must be to travel with “such a young girl.” That’s when I learned for the first time (I never watched the original show): Dororo is a girl.

The hints were there: her button-cute appearance, girlish eyelashes, and the fact she was voiced by a girl and not a boy. And surely it’s smart to dress as a guy and not a girl when you’re all alone in a cruel, merciless world like this. Now Hyakkimaru knows the truth, and I’m eager to see how that’ll change their dynamic as he continues to develop his voice.

Unfortunately, the days they still have to travel the lands together in search of ghouls and fortune may soon be interrupted by more huge developments: one of Daigo’s spies has informed him of a midwife who put a limbless infant in the river, and young warrior with prosthetic arms. Tahoumaru overhears as well. Soon, Hyakkimaru, the instrument of Daigo’s mounting misfortunes (due to the demons losing his parts one by one) will be the crosshairs of his father and younger brother.

And while Dororo is a capable fighter and thief, she’s far from invincible, as we’ve learned from the times Hyakkimaru has had to rescue her, including the first time he did. Like Hibukuro, the day may come when he’ll have to choose whether to fight those who have forsaken him, or focus on protecting Dororo. More limbs and senses, more problems…