Summertime Render – 12 – The Kitchen’s Closed

Tokiko reveals Hiruko no Mikoti, Mother of Shadows and God of Hitogashima, also known as Haine, the form of the first human Hiruko copied. To the outrage and disgust of her friends and brother alike, Toki also reveals her family’s solemn duty to feed Haine the bodies of the dead to restore her power.

When Sou bristles, Toki hits back, saying she had no choice; with Sou “being the way he is” he could never be told about the fam’s secret, while feeding Haine is the only way to keep their mother, now a Shadow, alive. As for Ushio, Toki says she got herself killed sticking her nose where it didn’t belong out of her own sense of justice.

Among the two bodies presented for Haine tonight by Nurse Negoro is Ushio’s original corpse; a double was cremated and the bones printed. When Ushio frees herself and snatches up her original body, she’s able to repair her arm and fight at full strength, which is good because Haine transforms Nurse Negoro into a musclebound monster.

Shinpei tries to take advantage of the chaos to shoot Haine with his nailgun, newly printed from Ushio’s hair, but before he can shoot both the gun and his fingers are sliced off by Haine’s Shadow bodyguard, who is holding an unconscious Mio by her head and threatens to crush her skull if anyone moves.

The bodyguard shoots at Tokiko, who was unaware that Haine plans to kill and eat everyone on the island, but Sou takes a bullet for his sister. It doesn’t matter; the bodyguard simply shoots her dead too, now that she and the Hishigatas have fulfilled their duties to Haine.

As Tetsu finally encounters the wounded Hizuru and agrees to carry her deeper into the cave, Haine decides not to kill Ushio, but reprogram her brain and use her as another tool. She also snatches Shin’s time-looping eye—the one in which he “renders” different realities—but it soon disappears from her hand and returns to his socket; not even a god can take away his power.

But what Haine and her hulking bodyguard can do is restrain him and keep him alive until her plans come to full fruition. The bodyguard kills Mio, and Shin’s last chance to be killed and loop seems to rest with Tetsu and Hizuru, who arrive just in time. Tetsu distracts the bad guys with his boobery, giving Hizuru a clean shot at both the bodyguard’s head and Shinpei.

Alas, the bodyguard shields Shinpei and kills Hizuru, so Shinpei uses his last resort: drinking an entire bottle of mercuric chloride from the abandoned clinic, which will most definitely kill him, albeit slowly and painfully. He uses time it takes for the poison to do him in to promise Haine that he’ll defeat her and save everyone. At the same time, Ushio’s powers have advanced to the point she can not only resist Haine’s corrosion, but reverse it and free herself.

Ushio’s final effort is to lunge to where Ushio is dying and take his hand, and she goes through the time loop with him. As long as they’re together, Ushio promises to go anywhere with him, as many times as it takes. But lest we forget, every time he returns to a new loop—this newest being the fifth—he starts a little later. He and Ushio arrive hand-in-hand just as he’s telling Hizuru and Nezu that he’s a time traveler, her book in his hand.

Shinpei now has a lot more information about the bad guys and their plans, but less time to act. The good news is Shadow Ushio is with him, along with all of the amassed memories of the previous loop. Her powers may also already surpass those of the weakened Haine. This episode at the series’ halfway point delves into the bloody depths of despair but ends on a note of hope and optimism that Shinpei and Ushio can turn this train wreck around.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 09 – Too Much Is Different

Despite her priestess garb, Akari sticks out like a sore thumb among the aristocrats at the ball. Menou warns her not to eat or drink anything, then scouts around the castle grounds and ends up crossing paths with Princess Ashuna. Meanwhile, Momo again demonstrates her impeccable competence by knocking out the guard and gaining access to the Monstrine operation without breaking a sweat. Ashuna doesn’t know who Menou is (she hides her face with magecraft), but she can tell Menou is a strong fighter.

Unfortunately for Menou (but fortunately for us), that means Ashuna wants to fight her. A lusty battle ensues, with Ashuna hitting nothing but air and Menou showing her just how much more mastery over ether she has. Ashuna merely gets toyed with, but still has a blast…even when she’s almost literally blasted. Does Ashuna feels somewhat shoehorned in here just so she can spar with Menou? Maybe…but I don’t mind because even when she’s getting her ass kicked, Ashuna is awesome as hell.

Akari is lamenting how the ball is no fun alone when the big boom and column of flame occur. Then Lady Manon sidles up to her, wanting to know more about where Akari comes from. Akari tells the truth: there’s very little she remembers of Japan, but there’s something about the way Manon likens Akari’s hair her mom’s that suggests some kind of connection. After Manon leaves her, Akari Prime awakens, and is concerned: way to much is happening in Libelle that has not happened in previous loops.

Akari really wants Menou to kill her in this loop, but not having the advantage of knowing how the future will unfold will make that tougher than she’d like. Speaking of tough, Momo soon finds the Iron Maiden and lets her guard down when she frees the young bloodied girl inside.

Helping the girl—not opening the Maiden—springs an explosion trap, and Momo gets a poison spike to the side. Manon is alerted to the trap being set off, and revels in the possibility this could be the day she finally gets her revenge.

The next morning Momo wakes up in rough shape, but with a proud senpai standing over her and patting her head in gratitude. Either the spike or the poison would have surely killed weaker folk, but thanks to her massive stores of ether, Sicilia believes she’ll pull through. Menou, meanwhile, is fed up with half-measures. She wants the Fourth rounded up and their drug ring shut down.

Sicilia, noting how Flarette, unlike Flare, isn’t afraid to rely on others, grants an operation and goes to negotiate with the knights. The Fourth nobles are holed up in Manon’s castle, but suddenly they’re all frozen in time. Akari Prime emerges from behind a cabinet, intent on talking in private with the Lady of Libelle.

Is Akari trying to mitigate the fact she’s no longer sure what the future holds by securing an alliance with someone who can mess up her plans? We may not know what exactly Akari wants with Menou, but we do know her goal, and that she’ll stop at nothing to achieve it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 12 (Fin) – Exception to the Rule(r)

With Soljest marching on Marden at Delunio’s behest, Wein is facing his toughest challenge yet. Of course, there was never much doubt this season would end with another brilliant victory. It just takes a bit for it to come together. King Soljest simply wants a good fight, so Wein gives him one in the form of ambushes from small groups of Natran cavalry.

He plans for the battle to unfold in such a way that the earliest reports back to Delunio will arrive stating that the Natran army has been routed, which exactly what he needs Sirgis to hear when he needs him to hear it for his crazy negotiations to have actual teeth.

It’s a complicated gambit, but basically he gets Sirgis to believe it’s possible the yellow dye used in the clothes popular with his people is actually poison, and that he’ll unleash 800,000 Natran refugees into Delunio at the worst possible time, throwing the kingdom into chaos and allowing Soljest to swoop in.

It’s not clear whether Wein is aware that Sirgis’ true goal isn’t necessarily to regain lost Delunian territory within Marden—that’s just icing—but that he wants to become a Holy Elite. But if even half of what Wein tells Sirgis comes to pass, he can kiss a future where Delunio is the shining beacon of the continent goodbye.

The coup-de-grace of Wein’s diabolical bluff is that he has the “antidote” to the poison yellow dye, but will only offer it if Sirgis attacks Soljests’ army from the rear. By overwhelming Sirgis with a bevy of undesirable and downright nightmarish scenarios, he gets him to turn against Soljest.

King Gruyere, being an exceedingly experienced head of state, knows Sirgis’ betrayal was a possibility, and isn’t the slightest bit worried when his army is suddenly caught in a Natran-Delunian pincer. In fact, he was bored when his army was slowly pushing the Natrans back and threatening to take the Mardenian fortress.

What ultimately dooms Gruyere is his desire to blast through the Delunian lines, let the Natran forces merge with them and get embroiled in chaos, then circle around an eliminate both. His underlings’ first instinct is to beat a hasty retreat now that they’ve lost the advantage, but Gruyere needs to feed that Beast Within.

That proves to be his downfall when he finds himself distracted by Wein standing atop a high cliff. Wein’s top general and soldier then charge Soljest, but even they are merely a distraction for the much quicker and more nimble Ninym, who manages to gravely wound him.

Notably, however, Ninym doesn’t kill the good king, and he ends up convalescing at Castle Natra, during which time he slims down to a far more normal size. It’s here where he and Wein spar once more, with Gruyere threatening to let himself die in Wein’s custody rather than let him have his way, thus plunging Natra into all-out war against Levetian religion.

Wein is only saved thanks to Gruyere’s insatiable curiosity about the beast within Wein, saying he’ll go along with three-party talks if he tells him what that beast desires. We don’t hear Wein’s answer, but we already know it: just as it was in the beginning, he wishes to drag Natra out of debt enough so he can sell it off and live the slow life (no doubt with Ninym by his side).

The opportunity to see if Wein will get what he wants is enough to entice Gruyere to surrender. However, it’s not a perfect victory for Wein. While he avoided all-out war, by wounding and capturing the Holy Elite Gruyere, the influx of Levetian pilgrims has plummeted and the Mardenian-Natran economic bubble has burst.

While that means Marden won’t be a threat for independence anytime soon, it also means that Wein won’t be in a position to sell his kingdom anytime soon. Instead, it’s back to work negotiating, planning, and strategizing … with Ninym by his side.

What this show lacked in technical execution of battles (or any animation involving large groups) it made up for it with its thoroughly likeable core of characters and wonderfully cerebral plots. Whether we’ll get to see more of that in a second season, I don’t know…but I wouldn’t hate it!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Genius Prince’s Guide – 09 – The Princess Pride

At first, Wein thinks he’s arrived in Mealtars at the absolute worst time: just when Falanya has insisted that Demetrio seek Wein’s approval for his marriage to her. Wein, Ninym and Lowa exchange subtle nonverbal cues as he expresses his heartfelt approval for the union. After all, it will be the second—with Wein marrying Lowa, Natra’s Imperial influence will skyrocket!

This prospect causes Demetrio to agree to discuss it another day, which buys his sister time, but Wein assures Falanya that he won’t let her be married to such a man. Later, despite showing signs of fatigue, Wein joins Lowa for a secret clock tower meeting. Things aren’t going quite as Lowa planned, but she’s in a good position to snatch the throne, and promises Wein she will get him “all mixed up” in her “epic tale”.

As we learn Prince Manfred to be an incredibly decisive and logical man, planning to assassinate someone as intelligent (and thus dangerous) as Wein, Falanya continues to spend much of her time in the Citizen’s Assembly. Not only does she soak up the discourse like a sponge, but garners the esteem and admiration for watching and listening so intently.

Demetrio welcomes Wein to further talks, but when a maid serves them tea, Wein asks, then demands the maid drink it herself. When she hesitates, Demetrio takes his cup, accuses Wein of cowardice, takes a sip…and collapses as blood trickles from his mouth. Ninym starts to chase the maid, but Wein orders her to find a doctor instead. They may never learn Manfred ordered the hit, but he’s not about to let an Imperial prince die…even the worst one.

Demetrio survives, but Wein is detained for questioning for several days, during which time Mealtars is surrounded by Bardloche and Manfred’s armies. No sooner is Wein free than news comes the Levitians, led by Caldmellia have also brought an army to the city’s doorstep. The increased strain on the besieged city will lead to unrest, riots, and eventually military intervention. But as Wein is calculating all of these variables, he suddenly passes out from exhaustion.

That means, surprisingly, that it’s once again up to Princess Falanya, and unsurprisingly, considering how much she’s learned in so short a time, she rises to the occasion and handles the shit out of it. As the Citizen’s Assembly threatens to devolve into every-man-for-himself chaos, she stands in the center of the assembly (who we already know to be enamored of her) and makes an impassioned plea for solidarity.

It works, and Mealtars manages to hold together even with three armies staring them down. Ninym scarcely leaves Wein’s bedside, so when he finally awakes, she leaps at him for a tearful hug that’s probably a little too tight for his current condition, but speaks to how he’s as much her heart as she is his.

With the entire city united behind their new idol Falanya, Wein has her lead them out of the city walls in a peaceful and orderly evacuation. Through her speeches, she’s able to convince them to leave it all behind in service of a better future for all of them. Strategically, of course, this has the effect of paralyzing all of the armies outside, who even combined are dwarfed by Mealtar’s sheer numbers.

Even Caldmellia and the Levitians weren’t prepared to take in and provide for so many, meaning whatever ulterior motives they had, they’ll have to put on hold. As Falanya tells the masses, Mealtars isn’t the walls or streets or houses; Mealtars is its people, and with the power of the people at her back, even the tiny, adorable little princess can stare down imperial armies and religious zealots alike.

I’m truly loving Falanya’s rapid ascent to greatness from her humble beginnings as the character who listens to exposition for the benefit of the audience…and if Wein is still hoping for a slow life down the road, I’m sure he is too!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Entertainment District Arc – 11 (Fin) – Into the Darkness Together

Gyuutarou’s auto-destruct causes a huge explosion, but Tanjirou survives, and Lil’ Nezuko wakes up to purge the poison from his body with her Blood Demon Art. She then puts the immobile Tanjirou on her tiny back and dashes him across the ruins of the district, eventually coming upon Zenitsu and Inousuke, whom she also heals.

Finally, Nezuko and Tanjirou find Uzui and his wives, who are bickering with each other rather than hearing the final words he has to say. But before any of them know it, Nezuko has sidled up and envelops him in her pink flames. The wives have no idea what is happening, but when Uzui’s poison wounds vanish and he pulls through, they envelop him in hugs and sobs of relief.

Nezuko and Tanjirou then search for the heads of Gyuutarou and Daki, and find them still alive, bickering with each other over their loss to the humans as their heads slowly dissolve. When their argument escalades into saying they aren’t brother and sister, Tanjirou intervenes, saying that even if the entire world is against them, they shouldn’t be against each other; not in these final moments.

Daki then directs her ire at Tanjirou for lecturing them, but an in-depth flashback narrated by Gyuutarou shows that Tanjirou was quite correct. Long before he became a demon, Gyuutarou was cursed for being an extra mouth to feed in the poorest part of the district. When his sister, whose original name was Ume, was born, he leaned into his ugliness, found his strength, and found work as a debt collector.

Sadly, once Ume turned thirteen she joined a run-down house where her body could be sold, and the defiant nature Gyuutarou baked into her backfired. She took the eye of a samurai she didn’t want to sleep with, and was bound and burned alive while Gyuutarou was out on a job. When he grieves over her body, he’s cut down by that same samurai, but not deeply enough, and Gyuutarou in turn kills the samurai and madam.

Gyuutarou always cursed the fact that for all of the misfortune he and Ume had to deal with, the world never once cut them a break and allowed them any good fortune. The nearest thing to providence came in the form of the former Upper Six, who gave Gyuutarou and Ume blood to drink, turning them into demons. Gyuutarou never regretted being one, but did regret that Ume could never live the life she should have. We see heartbreaking glimpses of that possible life.

Now in the void between worlds, Gyuutarou doesn’t want Ume to follow him any more, and is very mean about it, telling her to go in the opposite direction, towards the light, where perhaps she might be resurrected and have another chance at that possible life of comfort and fortune. But Ume won’t go that way. She pounces on Gyuutarou from behind and reminds him of his promise: they’d always be together. She’d rather follow him into the deepest darkness than step into the light alone.

While I’m usually not a fan of filling in character backstory after they’ve already met their fate, the postmortem backstory of Gyuutarou and Daki/Ume had ample emotional resonance, and gave this finale a quieter, calmer, yet still powerful rhythm, winding down the bombastic battle of previous weeks.

All’s well that ends well, with Uzui planning to retire and spend more time with his lovely wives, confident that Tanjirou is about to reach Hashira-worthy potential. Tanjirou, Nezuko, Inousuke, and Zenitsu also share a tearful group hug, reunited and in (mostly) one piece. Yet I’m sure Tanjirou’s joy is tempered by the “there but the grace of god go us” vibe from a brother-sister pair who weren’t as lucky as they are.

So ends the Entertainment Arc, where most other Winter shows have only hit their halfway point. What’s next for Demon Slayer? No official announcement follows end credits—an extended arrangement of the rippin’ good Aimer opening theme—but I can say with certainty the Demon Slayer anime will return (Update: it will!).

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Entertainment District Arc – 10 – (Be)heading for Trouble

As Tanjirou lies in the rubble, bloody and exhausted, he’s briefly transported back to his snowy home, where a pre, then post-demon Nezuko tells him to stop blaming himself (as if) and keep fighting. The vision is at least enough to wake him up, but he’s almost sorry he did.

That’s because the scene around him is a hellscape of flames, and among his allies, he’s the only one still conscious. Gyuutarou spends a good half of this episode taunting him and laughing at how “disgraceful” he is, especially to have to be protected by his demon little sister. It’s a welcome change of pace from the unrelenting battles of the past few episodes, with no score and only the flickering of flames accompanying the dialogue.

When Gyuutarou eventually falls, he’ll regret wasting so much time toying with Tanjirou, who was simply playing possum and waiting for a chance to stick a poison kunai in his opponent’s leg, then using Hinokami Kagura to attempt to slice off his head. When Gyuutarou counters with his blades, they’re deflected by Zenitsu, who while still asleep is back in the fight.

As Zenitsu continues to battle Daki, Tanjirou is bailed out by Uzui, who stopped his own heart to keep the poison from getting there, and can also double-wield even with just one hand. Daki, with his second wind, goes in for the win, having charted the musical “score” of Gyuutarou’s moves. Tanjirou keeps up as best he can as Uzui and Gyuutarou exchange slashes with increasing speed and ferocity.

When Tanjirou jumps into attempt another beheading, Gyuutarou stabs him through the jaw with his poison blade, meaning there’s just that much less time for Tanjirou to fight before succumbing that poison. Still, Uzui has him where he wants him, and Gyuutarou’s neck is exposed, so Tanjirou finds yet another higher gear, his scar seemingly spreading across his face in a flame pattern.

After a lot of screaming, Gyuutarou’s head is finally sliced off. At the same time, Zenitsu, with help from Inousuke (who moved his heart so it didn’t get impaled) slice off Daki’s head. The two siblings’ heads fly gracefully through the air, then fall to the ground, bounce, and roll to a rest right beside each other.

The battle is seemingly over, and the Demon Slayers have won…but then Uzui shouts “RUN!”, for Gyuutarou self-destructs, enveloping half the district in a massive fireball. As those flames die down the credits roll with a certain finality, until the post-credits omake is handled by pre-demon Nezuko.

Assuming Gyuutarou was destroyed in that blast, the question becomes who survived. Obviously Tanjirou, Nezuko, Inousuke, and Zenitsu. I find it hard to believe two straihgt arcs would end with the death of the Hashira, and the three wives haven’t quite gotten enough development (or screen time) for their deaths to make much of an impact…so we’ll see.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 20 – Arachnofamilia

It sure looked like Tanjirou beheaded Rui last week with his Hinokami Kagura Breathing, but alas; in the moment before Tanjirou’s strike hit Rui severed his own head with his threads, and soon reattaches it. He’s mad as hell, and Tanjirou is totally spent, but it’s okay that he can’t lift his hand, because Tomioka Giyuu arrives to finish Rui off with ease, using an eleventh form of Water Breathing.

From there we cut to the lone surviving member of the spider family, the elder sister, and we learn about how Rui built his family. Turns out all his family members were really weak demons with whom he shared his power—which also gave them the same spidery aesthetic. He used their fear to draw them in, an punished and even killed those who didn’t shape up.

The present-day sister once had an older sister who tired of Rui’s pointless charade, and vowed to run away, telling only her sister so she could join her. However, our present-day sister betrayed the other by leading her straight to Rui, who tortured her and strung her up to be burned away by the morning sun.

Back when Tanjirou saw Rui cutting his “sister’s” face, we didn’t know what was going on, but Sister’s face reverted out of fear once Mother and Brother were killed. It’s her first screw-up, but it isn’t her last. That honor goes to when she encases Murata in one of her yarn balls, which fills with digestive fluid that will liquify his clothes and eventually, him.

Murata is saved by one Kochou Shinobu, fresh off of curing Zenitsu. When Sister insists Rui made her kill the scant five people she’s killed, Shinobu has proof she’s lying, as she saw over a dozen of the yarn balls in which Murata is stuck, and estimates the Sister has eaten up to eighty humans. Shinobu agrees to be her “friend”, but only after she’s faced proper punishment for the people she’s killed.

Hayami Saori voices Shinobu like she would any sweet, friendly, kindhearted young woman, only the words she says are anything but sweet. I’d even say Shinobu relishes the chance to show off her unique Insect Breathing ability, whereas Giyuu is much more stoic and businesslike. You can hardly blame her; both her graceful dance-like movements, her delicate blade, and clouds of butterflies make for a hell of a show.

When the Sister realizes she hasn’t been beheaded, that Shinobu lacks the strength to do so, she believes she still has a chance to gain the upper hand. But she’s wrong, because while Shinobu didn’t behead her, she did poison her with Wisteria, resulting in a slower and arguably more gruesome and painful death. She doesn’t burn to ash, either; she’s simply dead, and Shinobu can’t be bothered to do anything but leave her corpse to rot.

With that, we jump back to Rui’s final moments, when he looks back to how he tried to regain memories of his humanity by creating a pretend family. But by now it’s a bit late to engender any sympathy for the guy, nor his treacherous sister who led her sister to a horrible death.

Unlike Nezuko, who has yet to even accidentally kill a human, these demons have long since forfeited any chance of mercy by preying on untold numbers of humans. They were living on borrowed time, and that ran out when they ended up on the wrong end of Giyuu and Shinobu’s blades.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 18 – Big Bad Spider Daddy

Puppet Mama and Spider Boy were only a warm-up for two of the three remaining members of the Spider Demon Family: Father and Rui. Needless to say they are much tougher customers, which is as it should be; why would the difficulty level go down in a demon gauntlet?

Even with Water Breathing, Tanjirou isn’t able to slice through one of Papa’s arms, and Inosuke inarguably saves his life by parrying the counterattack. Even dropping a huge tree on Papa doesn’t kill him, it only seems to make him mad. As Tanjirou goes flying, he begs Inosuke not to die, but wait for him to make his way back to him.

Zenitsu defeated Spider Boy definitively, but continues to pay the price as the poison starts shutting down his limbs. He’s all but ready to step into the light when a series of butterflies appear before him, followed by Shinobu, one of the two elite Demon Slayers sent to salvage the mission.

Tanjirou manages to cushion his fall with water breathing, but he’s only thrown from the frying pan to the freezer. Due to his strong sense of family and morality, he objects to the Spider Brother Rui apparently punishing his sister by cutting her face with his threads as she cries out in pain. Demon or no, that’s not cool. The Brother doesn’t take well to being told his familial bond with his sister is nothing but a sham.

Rui threatens to carve Tanjirou up, but is momentarily distracted by another Demon Slayer who comes out of nowhere. While claiming to be taking the easiest path to higher ranks (and higher paydays), he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He rushes in without knowing a thing about Rui, who dices him into cubic chunks with his threads.

Finally, we have Inosuke, trying to hold out against Papa Spider. While he briefly starts “using his head” like Tanjirou, he shakes that off and follows his own primal instinct to charge the enemy without fear. He keeps hacking at the arm until he manages to slice through, and Papa flees…but only to molt his own skin, revealing a bigger, tougher, meaner skin beneath it.

Inosuke’s chipped blades shatter when he attempts Beast Breathing, and Papa grabs him by the head and squeezes. Inosuke’s life flashes before his eyes, including when his bloodied mother sent him away to avoid being killed, and the interactions with Tanjirou and Zenitsu which seems to value.

Just before his skull pops (and the foley is pretty ripe) Inosuke is rescued by Giyuu, who cuts off Papa’s arm with one slash and defeats him with a single elegant Water Breathing Form. It’s a pretty convincing and awesome demonstration of just how much more powerful Giyuu is than Tanjirou, Zenitsu, or Inosuke.

Inosuke is safe, and so too is Zenitsu, but Tanjirou is still out there on his own against Rui, and we get a cliffhanger of Rui’s vicious thread cutting straight through Tanjirou’s sword on a collision course with his face. It’s a big forest, so it could take a while for help to arrive. Could the sister demon be an unlikely ally to Tanjirou? And what about his own sister—when will she pop out of her box?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 17 – Lightning in a Bottle

Zenitsu would rather be anywhere than Mount Natagumo. He is literally shaking in his sandals, and that crushing fear is only compounded when he spots a shack and numerous bodies suspended from threads, the latter in various stages of gruesome transformation. It feels like a nightmare, and Zenitsu just wants to wake from it. Unfortunately, he’s already wide awake, and since he didn’t follow Tanjirou, he’s on his own.

It gets worse: the Spider Demon Brother’s lesser spider minions bit Zenitsu earlier, which means he’s currently doomed to transform into one of the hundreds of grotesque spiders with human heads that are currently chasing him. The Brother doesn’t see Zenitsu as much of a threat, mocking his cowardice. When Zenitsu notices his hair start to fall out, he faints in a tree.

If there’s anything we know about Zenitsu, it’s that he’s at his most effective when he’s unconscious. He recalls the day he was struck by lightning while hiding in a tree, turning his hair yellow. During his ensuing training he was only ever able to pull off the first of six Lightning Breathing Forms.

His master urged him not to be discouraged. If he could only unleash one form, then he needed to perfect that one form, just as a swordsmith hones steel into the hardest, strongest blade. Brother doesn’t expect and isn’t able to deal the fruits of Zenitsu’s rigorous training, and as a result, is beheaded.

While brother’s pocket watch breaks upon his death, his poison is still coursing through Zenitsu’s blood. Zenitsu attempts to slow his breathing and blood flow, the better to hold out if and when someone finds him.

While this episode spent a lot of time fleshing out Zenitsu’s character, it also continues the development of Inosuke as someone who detests being coddled or seen as weak. He laughs off his clearly serious bleeding wounds, and refuses to leave the mountain until the job’s done.

Tanjirou, obviously, isn’t going anywhere until he’s had his shot at the member of the Twelve Kizuki, whose blood could help cure Nezuko. Unfortunately his usually reliable sense of smell continues to be adversely affected by a distractingly acrid odor, such that he doesn’t even notice the presence of the Spider Demon Sister.

Sister gets Inosuke to chase after her, but she’s only posing as a lure for her Father, who looks to be the berserker (and possibly the Kizuki) of the family. Inosuke may end up learning the hard way not to leap headlong into a battle when you’re at less than 100%.

Great Pretender – 22 – PRETENCEPTION

The preparations for the 100-billion-yen swindle are complete; all that’s left is to execute. Everyone on the team who isn’t Laurent or Makoto are wise to assume that one of them—if not both of them—are going to pull something unexpected that could throw the whole job in to chaos. Laurent has his vendetta against Liu, while Makoto may have found a new mom in Suzaku.

The thing we the audience need to watch out for is what twists the episode is going to throw our way, and the clues that precede those twists. Those don’t just include Chekhov’s Poison Ring and Chair Sword, but the very tight framing as everyone travels to the meeting…or the fact the hallway smells like fresh paint.

As these things tend to go, the meeting, while initially extremely tense, goes quite well. Suzaku doesn’t shake Liu’s hand, her survivalist instincts sensing the ring, while Liu seems to sense the concealed sword. Unfortunately, those instincts don’t serve either of them when they both realize something must have been lost in translation, because they’ve both brought 100 billion with them…

That’s when the fake SWAT unit bursts in—Laurent and Makoto’s co-conspirators in disguise—and confiscate both the check and the briefcase of cash (or stock certificates, it would seem). Suzaku and Liu are at the mercy of their interpreters who have suddenly clammed up. Suzaku smells something rotten: the timing of the police arriving is too perfect.

It would seem our crew have the baddies right where they want them, but then Laurent seemingly takes his revenge by sticking Liu with the poison ring. Liu panics, but notably does not die; either he was simply freaked out about being pricked or it contained some other drug that made him wig out.

When “Officer” Kudou tries to arrest Suzaku, Makoto whips out the sword and stops him, and orders the check and briefcase returned to the desk. Then an entirely new group of guys with automatic weapons (real ones, in their case) bust in, led by none other than American gangster Eddie Cassano.

Makoto apparently made a side deal with Cassano, with the sole purpose of finally getting one over on Laurent. He rants about everyone working together to avenge Dorothy while his mom rots in her grave, then points the sword at his dad and starts to stab him with it. Laurent tries to stop him, urging Edamame to stop “screwing up.”

Then something else unexpected happens, that shouldn’t have been unexpected: after Laurent disarms Makoto with a kick, Oz grabs the sword out of mid-air and slashes his son across the chest, creating a fountain of blood that makes Suzaku freak out. Did she just witness the demise of her beloved new surrogate son? Hard to tell; we’ve already been taught by the show not to accept any “death” at face value.

And all this is before things get truly weird. After Makoto is slashed, Cassano’s men open fire. Ishigami gets Suzaku the heck out of there, while Chen grabs Liu (who is okay after all). They wait in the hall for an elevator that never comes, and there’s curiously no cell reception. Then the sounds of the shootout abruptly end, and they carefully peek back inside the meeting room.

There, Suzaku spots a lever located where the windows were, and when she pulls it, the entire room begins to descend like one big elevator. Once it reaches the bottom, two large metal doors open on their own to reveal…the sea. The entire multi-story building was just an artifice, and soon crumbles into a pile of debris. The camera pulls back to reveal Suzaku and Liu’s crews are stranded on a small remote island.

W, T, and—I can’t stress this enough—F? This is the weirdest, wackiest development yet. Was Makoto’s ranting just an act, and his death faked via a fake sword and blood pack in his suit? Where did he, and Laurent, and Cassano, and Cynhia, and Abby, and everyone else who was in that room go? And why bring back Eddie at all?

Those are only a couple of the several dozen questions I have; I’m just glad the particulars of the job-within-the-job weren’t explained before it was pulled off. I’m sure the final episode will at least partially explain what the hell just happened and how, but one thing I’m confident of is that the job was a success for our con artists.

Talentless Nana – 11 – Proper Ventilation

Nana arrives late to the latest murder scene with Detective Kyouya already working the case. He questions those in the adjacent room: Muguo and three acolytes, whose talents are voice mimicry, astral projection, and magnetism. They apparently didn’t hear a struggle in the Ryuuji’s room last night.

Ryuuji’s girlfriend, Sorano Fuuko, is the most suspicious to us because she’s in the opening credits and also just framed suspiciously. Fuuko demonstrates her power to focus atmosphere into a powerful weapon on a willing (and invincible) Kyouya. She does it outside because she finds it hard to focus in a closed interior space.

After the demo, Kyouya goes off to ponder, while Nana checks out the crime scene. If Fuuko needed air, that explains the open window and bugs that got in the dorm, as well as the messy state of the place. Michiru tags along, and Nana senses something has been off about her since last night.

Nana is also surprised to find she can’t hold back her emotions when Michiru thoughtlessly talks about how great her parents are when Nana told her about her parents’ fate the previous night. The fatigue could well be getting to them both, but then Nana thinks she’s figured out the reason for Nana’s off-ness when the teacher comes by with a fresh uniform.

Kyouya told him to deliver it, and Nana recalls she had a bottle of poison in it. Thus she suspects Michiru is off because she found it, and like the incriminating photo of her, is torn between their genuine friendship and suspicions of her own.

When Kyouya suddenly appears, her fears seem to be confirmed, but the detective only wants Nana to accompany him for an interview with Fuuko, hoping her mind-reading will help him determine if Fuuko is telling the truth. Interestingly, at no point during their time with Fuuko does Nana consider this is why Kyouya brought her.

When he asks about Fuuko’s thoughts, Nana tells the truth: she wasn’t focused enough, but for what it’s worth, she doesn’t think Fuuko did it…yet. But when Kyouya starts piecing together the night of the murder in intricate detail, he ends up starting to convince her that it could be Fuuko. It’s great procedural stuff.

That brings Nana back to Michiru’s, as she didn’t like where they left things the last time they were together (Nana yelled at her and stormed off). Michiru is in the shower, so Nana searches her dorm for the poison. Instead, she finds Michiru’s open journal, which is full of beautifully pure, earnest entries about how much she loves and admires Nana.

I should know better considering her conditioning prior to coming to the island and, ya know, all the people she’s murdered, but Nana seems…chastened by this journal…even a little guilty for ever suspecting Michiru? No doubt those suspicions were somewhat influenced by Jin’s fake “Dark Michiru”.

Right on cue, Jin appears. Turns out he took the potion from Nana’s clothes before Michiru or Kyouya could find it. He’s determined to allow Nana to “keep swimming”, i.e. continue her mission until he can draw out more about the people she answers to.

Jin then forebodingly mentions how Michiru has been in the shower quite a long time, and takes his leave. Nana suddenly panics and rushes in the bath, where Michiru is slumped over the side of an overflowing tub. Could this be the end of dear, sweet Michiru? Was Nana snapping at her really their last interaction?

Something else to consider: Is this the act of the one who murdered Ryuuji, or did that last terse interaction drive Michiru to kill herself? We don’t know, and at the moment neither does Nana. From the first episode she’s prided herself on being on top of things with regard to who is up to what; it’s what any serial killer needs to be to avoid ending up caught or dead.

But at the moment Nana herself is a bit “off”—both unsure of the second murderer and morally conflicted vis-a-vis Michiru. It’s an intriguingly uncertain place for her to be with just two episodes remaining.

Talentless Nana – 09 – Going Green

As expected, Nana doesn’t have Habu’s incriminating phone on her person anymore. She ditched it before she gathered the others to the cliff to tell her story. Specifically, she left it on and with the text ready to send with a zombie’s finger placed on the “send” button, knowing that as the afternoon sun rose the finger would melt, placing sufficient pressure to hit “send.”

With Kyouya proven wrong in sight of everyone, Michiru demands he apologize to Nana”-shan”, while Nana takes the high road and shakes hands to make up with him. Still, Kyouya still thinks something is off…he merely checkmated Nana too early. Now he’ll have the dual tasks of scrounging up sufficient evidence and rebuilding the trust of the others.

That night, while Nana would prefer to get some sleep, she remains on guard in order to keep up appearances as heroic class leader. She heads her inner debate off at the pass about who among the students is “good” or “bad”; she’s here to do her duty. Michiru visits her and insists she close her eyes and rest while she keeps watch for her. When Nana wakes up, she has a box-cutter at her throat…held there by Michiru.

Now represented by green light to Nana’s red and Kyouya’s blue, Michiru demands to know Nana’s real power. Nana uses her deductive skill to “read” Michiru’s mind, then snatches the cutter when she drops her guard for a moment. This only adds to the intrigue for Michiru, who now knows Nana has combat training and is “no ordinary girl.”

So yeah, Nana was fooled by sweet lil’ Michiru this whole time, huh? We all were, it would seem. The next day, Michiru tries to expose the fact Nana can’t really read minds, making her exhaust all of her excuses and picking away at her credibility in the eyes of the class. However, yet again Nana outsmarts her adversary, pinning a note on her back that everyone else is thinking about, proving she can read their minds.

Nana has Michiru meet her at the cliff to ask the question: Where is the real Michiru? For one thing, Nana has noticed she hasn’t been addressing her with the cutesy “-shan” article. For another, her hand is bandaged, while the real Michiru would have healed herself. With nothing to lose by doing so, “Michiru” then reveals his true identity: Tachibana Jin.

Jin is five years older than Nana and the others, having been part of a previous class on the island. Unlike the present class so far, Jin’s class gradually stopped going to class, split into factions, and fought a bloody civil war amongst each other, while the faculty simply fled the island as if to let it happen.

He tells her his backstory over coffee in a moonlit cove, how after the last of his classmates died he transformed into a bird and flew home, only to be approached by shadowy government officials who wanted him dead. He flew back to try to stop history from repeating, but now finds there’s a new variable in the equation: Nana, a serial killer hidden among the others.

Jin was the cat Nana saved from the burning shed, and he commends her for bringing Yuuka to justice, so in order to avoid a repeat of the civil war, he’d like to make a deal with her: she’ll tell him what he wants to know, and he’ll keep quiet about her true intentions on the island. Nana says no deal, as she’s loath to make them with people who don’t notice their coffee was poisoned.

As Jin apparently dies, Nana prepares to call the “Committee” to report his presence on the island when her phone is pulled out of her hand…by “Kyouya”. Moments later, it’s Michiru, telling Nana “a magician always fails at the start of the show to misdirect the audience,” citing Michiru’s bandage as a feint. He then transforms into Seiya to restrain Nana’s foot with ice.

Turns out Jin Talent isn’t just “playing dress-up”, but copying the Talents of those he copies as well. He reveals he won the battle royale by killing everyone else. If he can copy Kyouya’s appearance, it means he’s invincible…albeit only in Kyouya’s form. That slight loophole could be all Nana has against him—he can only be one person and have one Talent at a time.

It could also mean it’s time for Nana and the real Kyouya to join forces…if she’s able to even escape from Jin’s clutches and gaze. In any case, their deal is probably off. Jin has enough evidence to expose and convict her, but considering he killed his whole class to assert his superiority, they’d seem no better with him leading them!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 08 – Another Long Day

Nana may be rid of Yuuka, but her troubles are far from over. Shinji’s desiccated corpse and all of Yuuka’s zombies remain out in the open, and Nana will have been suspiciously absent from class when two more classmates died. Kyouya is the only one whose suspicions of her she must clear, so she devises a plan, using the class gyarus as pawns.

The tan Habu just happens to be out hunting frogs and snakes to eat in order to survive (her Talent is poisonous saliva), but Habu and her friend Kaori have had a falling out due to the latter’s missing blue contacts. Step One: Nana poisons Habu, gets her phone password, then deposits Habu’s body among the zombies.

Step Two: Nana informs Kyouya, Michiru, Moguo and Seiya that Yuuka is dead and explains the circumstances: Yuuka was the true necromancer, and an EoH possessed her to chase Nana with an army of zombies. Nana used Shinji’s thoughts to convince her to stand down, and she threw herself off the cliff. She uses Moguo’s fire Talent to burn Shinji’s body and the group of zombies—among which happens to be Habu’s body.

Kyouya lets the corpse-burning happen as a practical matter, but he’s not letting Nana out of his sight the rest of the day (hence the day’s longness for Nana). When he brings up the very fair point that Nana is always missing when someone ends up dead, suddenly there’s a scream from the dorms: Kaori has been found dead.

While this would seem to clear Nana as she was by Kyouya’s side, it’s clear Kaori died while clawing at her eye. He tastes the contact solution and detects poison (which doesn’t kill him, but isn’t pleasant either), meaning her murderer could have poisoned the solution at any time. Kyouya isn’t moved by Michiru’s constant pleas for him to lay off Nana.

When he searches the room again, he discovers the odd state of the window, which can only open one way, and recalls that when he was suffering the effects of the poison, Nana opened it without any trouble, as if she’d opened it before—which of course she did. It’s a major slip-up on Nana’s part, and no doubt the result of a lack of sleep and proper time to plan her murders of late.

When the ever-loyal-to-Nana Michiru produces Kaori’s phone (unlocked with Kaori’s fingerprint), she discovers a text sent while all of them were out with Nana as she told them about Yuuka and Shinji. But seeing the phone switches on a light bulb in Sherlock’s brain: he thinks he’s finally figured it out, and warns Michiru to get away from Nana.

First of all, he realizes that Nana had Muguo burn all of the zombie corpses because Habu was among them. Nana messed up her face and put her in a boy’s uniform so she wasn’t instantly recognizable, but it was Habu. Then he posits that Nana took Habu’s phone and used it to text an apology to Kaori, so she’d use the contacts Nana poisoned.

Nana’s last line of defense is the phone’s passcode; even with her mind-reading Talent she can’t ask “specific questions”. Kyouya swats that away easily: she just used the finger of Habu’s corpse to unlock her phone. Since he’s been watching her all day, he suspects she still has the phone in her pocket, which is how she sent the pre-written text while they were away from the dorms.

After Yuuka’s status as a worthy adversary fell apart due to her emotional attachments and general mental instability, Kyouya continues to possess unflappable physical and mental fortitude. It all comes down to what’s in Nana’s pockets.

Was she able to toss Habu’s phone—and/or her poison needles—in the odd moment Kyouya didn’t have his eyes on her; say, when he first started reacting to the contact poison? With Michiru and five other classmates present for the search of her pockets, she’d better have, or it’s Game Over!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

%d bloggers like this: