Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 11 – A Big Catch

In a desperate attempt for a win, any win, Nishikata manages to find out from Takagi’s friend that she’ll be walking down a certain road at a certain time, and arranges for a game to guess the steps to a certain spot.

Thinking more than one step ahead for once, he correctly predicts she’ll call for a further target, but he’s such an open book she changes it again, demonstrating that thinking just two steps ahead won’t cut it if you want to beat Takagi!

Still Takagi had fun, and is flattered that Nishikata would go so far to win a game, and asks what he wants her to get him as a souvenir on her family vacation. Later, Takagi’s friend can tell from her face “something nice happened.”

When Takagi is back, she presents Nishikata with another great gift: a 100% Unrequited Love-themed curry kit. He also went on vacation, and surprises her with a gift of cookies. Little does she know they’re sour cookies. When she suggests they go to the shrine to enjoy their gifts together, it’s the perfect chance to see her distressed, puckered face…

…But on the way there, Takagi expresses her happiness so genuinely, Nishikata has no choice but to warn her ahead of time. Turns out the cookies are actually pretty good. Takagi also uses their shrine visit to tell him she had her family vacation shortened so she could go to the upcoming summer festival.

Nishikata isn’t planning to go with anyone, and neither is Takagi, so she tells him in no uncertain terms that if someone asked her to go, she would—someone she teases all the time, for instance. Knowing him all to well, Takagi provides him with everything he needs…all he has to do is, well, ask her out.

The subtle animation really shines in this scene, conveying Takagi’s nervousness as she adjusts her legs and stretches her trembling hands, matching Takahashi Rie’s superb voice work.

Asking Takagi out is one of the hardest things Nishikata has ever had to do, because it pretty much throws out the window the fiction that, as he’s so fond of saying, “it isn’t like that” between them. When the two run into each other on the street and he offers to carry her groceries in his bike basket, the atmosphere gets more and more awkward as he utterly fails to speak up and say the words that need to be said.

I really can’t overstate how much tension is built up as they walk up to her house and say goodbye and he starts to walk away, without asking her out. Her usual cheerful smile vanishes, replaced by a look of resignation…she tried her best. But then she hears his bike returning, and the shy sonofabitch finally, finally asks her if she wants to go to the summer festival with him.

The answer, of course, is yes, and in her elation she tosses more canned drinks into his arms before he heads off to fish with his mates. Nishikata doesn’t get to see her adorable quivering look of relief and joy as he pedals off. Now this is how you build anticipation for the twelfth and final episode!

While fishing, even when he gets a bite on his line he doesn’t notice, as he’s in a kind of trance state. Not surprising, as he’d already snagged the biggest catch of his life.

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The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

The Promised Neverland – 07 – An Uneasy Ally With One Hell Of A Creepy Doll

When Sister Krone asked the kids if they wanted to join forces, it didn’t sound much like a request…more like a threat, which the kids should imply is followed by an unspoken “…or else.” We’ve seen how crazy Sister is, so I can’t trust her as far as I can throw her, and I’m glad Emma feels the same way—both the reveal of what and where they are and Ray’s quasi-betrayal have helped her develop a healthy skepticism.

What’s interesting to learn is that Sister has a number on her neck. 12-year-old girls who meet certain criteria apparently get a choice: get shipped off with the boys, or train to become “Mamas” themselves. In exchange for not being eaten, they are given implants that stop their hearts if they ever leave the farm. In a way, they are given less freedom; some would rather be dead than never be allowed to leave.

Sister makes no bones about it: she’s willing to help them only so she can advance her career by becoming the new Mama. If the kids escape, Isabella is responsible, so helping them escape makes sense. During a late night visit, Norman and Emma get to see the tracking device monitor up close (it’s not that precise), but there’s a lot of questions Sister claims to be unable to answer. All she can say is there are humans out there not being eaten, and if they successfully escape, they’ll have to “mix in” with them.

Sister arguably gets more usable intel from the kids then they get from her; she learns that they knew about the tracking devices, where they were, and how to break them. Cut to Ray, receiving a Polaroid camera just like one I once got for Christmas, as a gift for his good service to Mama. He puts on an act about being fascinated by photography, but pointedly leaves behind the photo he took of her.

At this point I’m wondering how much Isabella suspects Ray of spying for her simply to lift any suspicion from himself, or whether she knows the camera contains parts he can use to defeat the devices. I would think so, although perhaps Ray, Norman, and Emma are the first ever truly significant threats to her control over the farm. Maybe she’s overconfident. Surely Ray knows, and will use whatever he can on that front.

As for Sister, it doesn’t take long for her to test her suspicions by searching Ray’s sleeping area. Instead of finding the camera or any other contraband, she finds a folded up note; one it would seem Ray left for her on purpose. We don’t get to read its contents, but they may be irrelevant, as Mama shows up right after she reads it with a second letter. Mama’s sayonara strongly implies it’s a letter dismissing Sister from the plant.

Did Ray play her? Will she really be gone and one less thing for the kids to worry about next week? Are there still other tactics in this chess game of their lives Isabella has yet to reveal, even to Ray? As their escape day gets moved up once again, the tension continues to mount.

The Promised Neverland – 06 – The Sting of Omission

Don and Gilda are extremely lucky it’s just Lil’ Phil who comes through that door, quickly defusing the cliffhanger from last week. But Don persists in creating increasingly tense situations for himself and Gilda, and is obsessed with learning the truth the other three won’t tell them, so he steals Mama’s key.

Meanwhile Norman, Gilda, and “Two-Face” Ray agree that in order to escape and survive they’ll have to gather as much info as possible about the outside world, and how they’ll be able to live out there. Emma “introduces” the guys to a potential ally on the outside, discovered by chance by Phil—that squirt’s dropping mad dimes! 

Within many books in the library there are bookplates bearing the name “William Minerva” and various words in morse code. If they can figure out the order of those words, they may be able to glean some kind of useful information Bill is trying to secretly relay to them. It gives the kids hope there might be other humans out there, resisting the demon hegemony.

As for Don and Gilda, they explore deeper and deeper into Mama’s secret chambers, finding all of the stuffed animals and toys (including Little Bunny) that not only confirm that what Norman said about the adults being bad was true, but make them suspect something far worse is going on. Again, a little kid ends up saving them by distracting Mama, who is this close to catching them red-handed.

Norman and Ray scold Don and Gilda, but they know they haven’t gotten the whole story. Norman decides to tell them the truth, and as expected, it’s a lot to take. Don takes out his frustration by slugging both Norman and Ray—the most violent exchange we’ve yet seen between the orphans.

But Don doesn’t hate them, he hates that he was so weak and useless they felt they had to shield him from the truth. After he cools off with Gilda’s help, the other three go outside to properly apologize for lying, and asking if they’re still with them even if failure means death. Without hesitating, Don and Gilda say they are.

Emma feels like a weight has been lifted, but it’s not as if their job has gotten any easier. It only means now there’s no further tension between the five orphans “in the know.” Don and Gilda help steal certain materials that Ray mentions in his report to Mama, detailing Norman’s plot to kill her.

But Norman tells Emma he’s having Ray feed Mama false intel, no doubt so she’ll ultimately be misdirected or otherwise distracted when they make their escape. During his report, Ray also learns that when the monthly shipment occurs in January, he will be the one being shipped out. His time grows short.

Only a week remains until the agreed-upon date of the escape, but the kids get a bit too careless in their open conspiring, and Sister Krone suddenly pops out from behind a tree to announce that she knows everything about what the five of them are plotting.

However, she isn’t angry, nor does she threaten them (not that she has to); instead, she suggests they “join forces” against Mama. I don’t know about the orphans, but I wouldn’t want to legitimately ally myself with any of the adults, particularly Sister, who’s kind of nuts. Then again, if they don’t play ball with her, she could rat them out to Mama. It’s quite the predicament. Where’s William Minerva—or hell, Lil’ Phil—when you need him?

The Promised Neverland – 05 – The Sheepdog

When Norman confronts Ray about being Mama’s spy, Norman stays calm. In fact, he’s even a bit amused he was found out, like he knew this time would come one day. Norman’s just too smart for his own good. For his part, Ray doesn’t deny anything, but he does explain that he did it because it had to be done.

If we’re to believe his explanations (and for now, at least, I do) Ray has been playing a very long game with Isabella, which has netted him information that would be vital to any possible escape plan. He knew someone would have to be in Mama’s pocket in order to learn what needed to be learned and gain her trust (as much as anyone can gain her trust).

Taking a page from Emma’s Book of Compassion, Norman agrees to forgive Ray as long as he agrees to be his spy as well. Ray agrees, but only if Norman tricks Emma into thinking they’re taking everyone. Other than Gilda and Don, the little ones will be a burden, both during and after the escape, and Ray didn’t spend years being Mama’s informant for everyone to get killed in a futile attempt to get everyone out.

Immediately his meeting with Norman, Ray meets with Isabella, telling her the others continue to use tag as practice, but focuses Mama on Sister Krone as the primary threat. Ray is well aware Krone was brought in as an insurance policy on Ray, but if she’s not watched closely and her ambitions stamped out, Isabella may be in big trouble. For her part, she doesn’t seem to consider Krone that much of a threat. Ray might be able to use that.

As for Norman, Ray’s insistence not everyone can be saved triggers a nightmare for Norman, in which everyone, including Ray and Emma, are killed and have flowers sprout when they attempt the escape. Not the most confidence-building dream!

Still, Norman plays ball, even as Ray just comes right out and admits to Emma that he’s Mama’s informant. Rather than get mad at Ray, Emma is sympathetic to the burden he’s had to bear, allowing child after child to be shipped off as he played his role.

It’s notable that while Ray has “endured” six years of shipments, Conny alone was enough for Emma and Norman. She doesn’t ask Ray for details of exactly how many he allowed to be sacrificed to learn how to disable the tracking devices, but takes firm hold of his hand and tells (warns?) him not to do it again.

Gilda and Don feel left out of most of the private convos between the other three, but Gilda and Emma start observing Mama more closely, and Emma discovers there’s a secret room where she does…something (Ray suggests it’s where she contacts HQ). Don is itching to get in there, but Ray urges caution, and Norman agrees.

But Don doesn’t feel like caution. He doesn’t know Conny is actually demon food, and so he wants to escape and save her ASAP. To that end, he and Gilda enters Mama’s room, and Gilda slides a bookshelf aside to reveal a locked door…just as someone else is about to enter the room and catch them red-handed. Too rash by half, Donny!

The Promised Neverland – 03 – More Chess than Tag

Isabella is already well-known by her new assistant, Sister Krone, not only for being the youngest “Mama” of a “plant” for consistently producing the finest “product” available. But she’s no doe-eyed acolyte eager to learn Isabella’s ways. Her very first night there, Krone is already planning to usurp her boss, who gave her all the ammo she’ll need: Isabella isn’t reporting the two children who witnessed a “harvest.” That could get her fired or worse if the bigwigs find out.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray have just one more difficult variable to consider during their preparations for what’s already looking like a hopeless escape plan. When told to “think like the enemy” in finding a place where a tracking device could be implanted, she inspects Carol, the newest addition to the farm, and finds a red bump behind her ear.

I probably could have done without the demon business meeting (complete with some kind of steaming brew but no donuts), as it kinda detracts from their mystique, but at the same time, despite their frightful appearance these monsters carry on pretty banal lives; with the lower classes of demons serving the upper classes.

Perhaps the kids could exploit the inherent discord within such a strict caste system, but first things first: all the logistics required to get everyone off the farm safely. They agree that it’s too risky to attempt to destroy their ear trackers lest they trip an alarm, so they focus on getting everyone out first.

They know many of the kids will either be too young to understand or old enough not to believe a word of what they’re saying (everybody loves Mama after all), the trio decide to disguise the escape as a harmless game of tag. Emma sets to work improving the kids’ physical condition, while Norman and Ray coach them up on the proper way to survive…”tag.”

Unfortunately, their subterfuge doesn’t fool Sister Krone for one second. She’s suspicious of the three to start, and unlike Isabella intends to ship them out sooner than their official ship date so she can snitch on Isabella for breaking protocol and grab power.

Krone is also physically superior to all of the kids, being an adult in pretty good shape. She challenges the kids to a game of tag, betting she can capture them all in twenty minutes. She lures most of the younger kids out of their hiding spots by making cute cutout shapes in leaves.

Once she’s spotted Emma, it’s only a matter of exhausting her and forcing her to find a hiding spot. It’s a place where there are only so many such spots, and Emma has the disadvantage of having tried to run with two young ones in her arms. The moment when Krone’s voice suddenly grows louder and clearer as she suddenly looms over Emma was…well, pretty frightening!

Norman manages to give Krone the slip, and Ray is the one to announce that her time is up. She’s impressed by the trio of troublemakers, but only insofar as she’s impressed by prime livestock. Now that she knows the actors, their strengths and weaknesses, and that there’s more to their tag than mere play she’ll be keeping that much closer an eye on them.

Not to mention she’ll have an extra set of eyes in the form of a “traitor” in Gilda. When Norman and Ray put the pieces together to determine there’s such a traitor among them, you can see Emma’s spirits plummet. All this time she’s thinking of getting everyone out of the farm to spare them the stuff of nightmares, but the adults already have at least one kid—and it could be anyone—working against her efforts, as well as that kid’s own interests.

In any case, it’s clear this won’t be as easy as a game of tag. Emma, Norman and Ray will have to think two, three, four or more moves ahead of Krone and Isabella, and even make sure the mole doesn’t see or hear what moves they’ll make. What they’re playing, then, is a game of chess, in which checkmate spells death.

The Promised Neverland – 02 – Building a Boat Out of Mud

Learning the truth of their home has shaken Emma to the core. She has vivid nightmares of Conny being served up as a fancy main course, can can barely hide her look of terror upon hearing and seeing Mama for the first time since their discovery. But Norman tells her they have to keep smiling like nothing’s wrong. Mama may know someone was at the Gate to leave the bunny behind, but she doesn’t know who.

Or rather, if she does, Emma and Norman are too valuable to kill just for witnessing Conny’s “processing.” During playtime, Emma and Norman agree escaping through the forest is the safest way, but when they cross the short fence they soon encounter a massive, seamless concrete wall. Further complicating matters, when a little tyke is lost all Mama has to do is glance at her “watch” and she knows exactly where to find her.

So, now they know that security is rather lax because they have some kind of tracking device implanted somewhere in their bodies. Mama seems to make a big show out of wordlessly warning the likes of Norman and Emma. Back at the house, while having a private moment of grief for Conny, Mama suddenly appears before Emma, wondering why she’s been “less cheerful” of late.

All Norman can do is watch in horror around the corner as Emma puts on a cheerful front for Mama. Ray ends up bailing them both out when he rings the dinner bell (likely intentional on his part), but as Emma and Norman depart, Mama asks them straight-up if they were at the Gate the previous night. They cheerfully say of course not, that’s against the rules, and continue on…but Mama is definitely suspicious. You could cut the tension in the atmosphere with a knife.

Once they’re alone again, neither can hold in their sheer terror anymore. Emma even collapses to her knees, but Norman helps her up with a trembling hand, and Emma sees she’s not alone and all hope isn’t lost. They’re going to get out of here…they just need a plan.

That plan involves stashing a bunch of table linen in a tree hollow near the wall that they’ll use to make rope when the time comes to escape (Norman figures they have two months left before the next child is taken). But someone followed them out to the wall; fortunately for them, it’s their friend Ray, who wants to know what’s up.

They tell him, and to their amazement he believes it all without a hint of incredulity, because he knows Norman well enough to know he’d never lie about something like this (Emma being a different story). While Ray is willing to lend his not inconsiderable intellect to the big escape plan, he has a big problem with Emma’s insistence that all 37 children will be escaping.

He brings up the virtual impossibility of getting everyone away from Mama and off the farm without serious or even total casualties, and something I didn’t consider: beyond that wall, it’s a Demon’s world, not for humans. Escaping is just the first step. The young, small, and weak will have to be left behind to ensure any chance of the survival of the older, bigger, and stronger.

But Ray’s way isn’t going to work with Emma. She doesn’t care if it’s impossible; everyone is being saved, and that’s that. It may be foolhardy, but Norman is with her. When Ray asks why in his otherwise right mind he’d go along with Emma’s “mud boat”, Norman explains simply that he likes Emma, and wants her to keep smiling no matter what, and that if dried and hardened it’s possible for a mud boat to float.

I have to say, I’m kinda with Ray on this one: if the sole purpose is to survive, not merely escape, they can’t take everyone. But at the same time, you can’t eliminate emotion from the equation, because these 12-year-olds are going to have to be able not just to live, but live with themselves once they gain their freedom. So mud boat it is!

THE REFLECTION – 02

This week’s THE REFLECTION didn’t so much move the plot forward as provide voices and context to the various players we saw in action last week. But I couldn’t help but wonder if most (or all) of the new information presented this week could have filled in all of the long pauses last week, adding pace and urgency to what was, if I’m generous, a slog.

Upon inspecting Red’s Baltimore apartment, X-On concludes that she’s stalking him. She wants him to teach her how to use her powers properly so she can use them for good like him, but he’s “not feeling it” and would rather she redirect her focus on someone else…say “Wraith.”

Meanwhile, after his little battle in New York Ian saves some suit fuel by hitching a ride on a jetliner’s wing before landing in his very Tony Stark-like Malibu beach mansion, where a team of men (rather than robots in Tony’s case) disassemble his suit to reveal a bearded old musician who had one big hit, “SKY SHOW”, in the 80s. The Reflection gave him a new life as a hero, a mantle he’s comfortable staying in the suit to nurture.

While the bad guys, seemingly led (or at least counseled) by a guy who looks just like Stan Lee, ponder their next move, eager to gather more ability users to their side, Red researches “Wraith” and notices something on the NYC camera footage (though the zoom-in-and-enhance only reveals a larger blurry black blob to us).

Then there’s that group of high school girls in Japan we saw in last week’s cold open. As their classmates talk about NYC, they prepare to decide on a name for their “group”, suggesting they have powers and are ready to work together to use them. It’s no coincidence that the ED consists of four Japanese girls in what looks like school uniforms singing and dancing.

But again, due to the questionable animation (gutsy in theory, lazy-looking in execution), and inefficient use of time, I’ll have to qualify last week’s “watchable” 7 with this week’s “niche appeal” 5, as this is certainly an acquired taste. Put together, THE REF is an underwhelming 6 so far…but I still want to know what happens next.

THE REFLECTION – 01 (First Impressions)

THE REFLECTION immediately sets itself apart from the rest of Summer with several distinct visual qualities: highly graphic animation, an understated, rather drab palette, no gradients, and a very thick black line work. Like the animation, the sound is sparse and atmospheric…until it’s not; in quick flashes of intense action, sound, and Henry Jackson/Alan Silvestri-style superhero music.

It is very much a superhero comic book brought to life on the screen with as little modification as possible. It’s as if there are beats and pauses where nothing happens, just as if you were lying on the floor, your eyes going from panel to panel. Only word bubbles are missing, though the vast swaths of LCD and LED panels visualize some sound effects, Batman-style.

It’s not quite explained what’s happening; things just kinda unfold, and I’m thankful for that. And it’s pretty easy to see what’s happening: people with powers, aligned on both the good and bad sides, are battling each other, causing a fair amount of collateral damage (though nothing like The Avengers).

The focus is on an Iron-Man like powersuit hero and a more ground-based red masked guy in a tight bodysuit with a big X emblazoned on his face, calling to mind Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Deadpool.  He’s able to absorb the powers of anyone he touches.

A photojournalist gets lots of nice shots of X-guy’s fight, but when she ends up caught by a bad guy, she uses her own pretty slick teleportation power to escape, thus not having to be saved.

After a lot of back-and-forth, both X-Guy and the Caped Robot Guy prevail in their battles, each using big loud, devastating finishing moves with authority. Robot Guy then reluctantly introduces himself as “I-Guy”, and is very stingy with answers, except that he probably won’t be able to save NYC every time, since he’s based in L.A.

All four bad guys are placed under arrest by suits and SWAT officers belonging to a S.H.I.E.L.D.-style organization “higher than the FBI”, but while in transit, all four are released by stronger bad guys, though one is apparently killed, presumably for failing. Those two bad guys meet atop one of the Chrysler Building’s chrome eagle gargoyles, adamant that things have only just begun.

Later, the photographer returns to her exposed brick apartment in BALTIMORE, MARYLAND (a very specific American city for an anime) and watches some video on her computer that serves as exposition: three years ago the mysterious “Reflection” incident gave many humans (like her) superpowers. Some went good, some went bad.

What no one knows is how or why. While we’re not sure Red has taken a side yet, and is content to document battles between “The Reflected”, it’s clear she’s not with the metal-manipulating woman or the flame-wreathed “Russian Ninja,” and she’s attracted the attention of someone who seems to be her favorite hero: X-On…who has followed her to BALTIMORE, MARYLAND.

THE REFLECTION is a bit of an odd duck. It features very straightforward heros-vs.-villains story, and a relatively straightforward introduction to the world and its various players, and the potential for some rip-roaring action. And yet it made the choice to eschew an overly flashy visual presentation for very sparse, elemental aesthetic, all thick lines and solid colors.

While perhaps not the prettiest or most precise, and even a bit sluggish at times, I enjoyed the show’s unique (for this Summer season) look and feel, and am interested to learn more about this Baltimorean woman and her role in all this.

P.S. Marvel’s Stan Lee himself announces the next episode. Whether he’ll do them all, or they’ll be done by a new famous comics world player each week, we will see. UPDATE: He’s involved in the production, so it’ll probably be him every week. 

P.S.S. MAL apparently HATES this show, with a dismal rating hovering just above 5. It’s a small sample (a little over 1,000 users) but still surprising to me.