Sonny Boy – 10 – The Girl Who Knew Too Much

This week’s Sonny Boy experience comes from the POV of Tsubasa, AKA Sarah Plain and Tall With Broken Arm. We learn her power is “Monologue”—the ability to hear everyone’s inner voices. In order to not be ostracized, she’s kept the power a secret from everyone. She listens, but she doesn’t act in a way that would arouse suspicion.

Tsubasa likes Asakaze. She knows he’s kind of an ill-natured prick, but it doesn’t matter; she still likes him. But as she can read minds, she knows it’s unrequited; she also knows Asakaze likes Nozomi. He doesn’t like how close Nozomi is with Nagara. All the while, he’s unconsciously closer to Tsubasa than anyone; only she can hear his inner voice.

Tsubasa can’t help but like Asakaze, but while you’d think she’d try to use her power to try to make him feel the same way, all she does is quietly admire him from a distance. She hears all his thoughts about Nozomi, all the while dreaming of the day all his other romantic options will be exhausted and he’ll “land at her feet.” But between Nozomi (who doesn’t return his feelings) and Aki-sense (who is only wielding Asakaze like a tool), there’s too much competition.

Tsubasa and Nozomi end up accompanying Asakaze and Aki-sensei on the “grand task” he wishes to complete: defeating “War” before he can cause undue destruction. Tsubasa can’t fault Asakaze for liking Nozomi, because she knows that Inner Nozomi is just as wholesome and noble and honest as Outer Nozomi. Everyone practices some degree of deceit…except Nozomi. On the treacherous hike in “War’s” strange ceramic world, it’s Nozomi who comes to Tsubasa’s aid when she twists her ankle.

When they encounter “War” while falling down an endless gorge with a blood red bottom they never reach, he’s a student constantly falling and buffeted by the wind like the Maxell guy. Tsubasa can’t hear his thoughts; the guy is totally empty. Kinda like warD’YOU GET IT?!?!! Ahem…anyway, Aki-sensei (and apparently God AKA Dr. Strangelove) wants Asakaze to eliminate “War” from this world by creating “Death”, leading Nozomi to take him to task for trying to play God.

This causes Aki-sensei to retreat with Asakaze somewhere where she can bury him in her bust and keep him under her thumb. But as Tsubasa always knew since the drifting began, the only person who could truly change Asakaze was Nozomi. Nozomi won’t pretend to pander to him. Asakaze can probably sense that there’s never any deceit with her.

So when Nozomi says “Even if I’m dead, I can accept my own fate,” she means it. Maybe that’s why, after he turns “War” into a gun and the red into white, when the cliff crumbles and she falls, Asakaze doesn’t use his power to save her. Or maybe he can’t.

Meanwhile, Nagara picks up the mantle of island researcher from the long-departed Rajdhani, and continues to experiment with Mizuho’s powers. When he orders a chicken with Nyamazon and then kills it, it stays dead. When Mizuho orders one and he kills it…it comes back. Between having three wise talking cats protecting her and the potential power over life and death, I’m starting to wonder if Mizuho is the true God around these surreal parts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 09 – 3 Cats and a Kotatsu

I’m still thinking about Episode 8, so I knew it would be hard to top it…for anything to top it anytime soon. Episode 9 doesn’t come close…but it does begin with the three Nyamazon cats shooting the shit like three wise old farts under a kotatsu. It’s just the latest reminder that predicting what Sonny Boy will throw at you from one week to the next is like trying to predict every move in a chess game when you’re not in the same room.

The cats, famous lovers of warmth, are under the kotatsu because outside the kotatsu is a frozen, snowy world. Nozomi, Nagara, Yamabiko, and their human Mizuho have traveled there to try to settle a thousands-of-years-old battle between two twins over who has the most hairs on their head (one claims to have one more). But it’s also a look back at Mizuho, and how the white cat Sakura believes she can’t survive without the three of them.

Honestly, the twin story is a bit dull, but it at least ties into the concept of duplication, which we learn is to be Mizuho’s true power. Everything the cats deliver to Mizuho and the others is a copy of products from the original world they came from. While Mizuho’s inner circle certainly wouldn’t hold it against her, the cats, who have been with Mizuho since she was a kid and still believe her to be one, are determined to keep it under wraps.

It’s Yamabiko who approaches Sakura with his suspicion that everything the cats deliver is copies. Sakura then admits that Rajdhani had previously figured out that Mizuho had copied everyone from the world, and now they’re drifting as copies of the people they once were, both the same and different, like the twins. Mind you, this dawned on Rajdhani when two copies of a tick dating Game Boy game(!) arrived, even though he knows there was only ever one in existence.

Yet Rajdhani didn’t tell a soul, proving to the cats he had “a fine character, for being so hairless”. Two copies were made of Sou Seiji, like someone accidentally ordering two of something on Amazon by clicking twice.

Sakura is caught in a bear trap to be a sacrifice of one of the twins, but Mizuho and Yamabiko save her. When armed with a gold ray gun by the shit-stirrer Aki-sensei, the other twin ends up with another ray gun, resulting in a duel that ends with only one twin standing, only for that surviving twin to take his own life.

Mixed in with this is how Asakaze seems to be making a habit of lashing out at Nozomi for not liking him romantically, leading to her spending the night outside sulking. One of the cats keeps her company all night, and in the blood red morning Nagara joins them, thanking her for “showing him the light”, leading him to change.

In a world full of copies and sheep, Nozomi, Nagara, Mizuho and Yamabiko (not to mention Rajdhani) stand out as one-of-a-kind souls who all thank the likes of Aki-sensei or Asakaze to let them pick their own places.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Slime 300 – 08 – No Time to Get Boared

One aspect of Azusa now having a huge family is that there is literally never a dull moment. While trying to have a peaceful morning cup of coffee, her two dragons start going at it, competing in baking since they’re not allowed to fight.

Turns out they’re both suffering from fresh meat withdrawal (being dragons and all), but there just happens to be some trouble with vicious giant boars in the nearby forest.

Azusa, Laika, Flatorte and Rosalie travel to the forest, Rosalie locates the herd, and frustrated with getting her clothes caught on branches, Flatorte does away with her clothes altogether, demonstrating a complete lack of modesty her red cousin doesn’t share.

Even when her clothes end up in the river, she simply fights in the nude, while the other three help out. Beelz and Vania show up with Flatorte’s clothes from downstream and the leviathan prepares some sumptuous boar dishes that Azusa brings the whole family out to partake in.

The second half of the episode deals with an apparent impostor out in the world calling herself the Witch of the Highlands. Azusa has everyone split up to gather intelligence, taking Laika along with her to a town that features a rather unique bar where masochistic patrons revel in the verbal abuse of the barkeep.

She points them in the direction of the “witch” in exchange for them doling out some insults to the patrons, which in Laika’s case is very much sincere. While at first the impostor seems to be a tiny crone, it’s actually a disguise for Eno, a young and inexperienced witch trying to build up her image by “borrowing” Azusa’s title.

However, Eno doesn’t mean any harm, and apologizes profusely for what she did. She also expresses her desire to be well known only among those in the know but also generally known by the wider public as a lovely and excellent witch…in other words, like Azusa!

Being a dragon, Laika doesn’t understand Eno’s very human contradictions, but Azusa picks up on them right away, and helps Eno identify the steps she needs to take to achieve her goals. That results in Eno dressing up as a super-pink magical girl to peddle her medicines, which end up selling like hotcakes and attracting the attention of Halkara as a potential business partner.

While not nearly as strong as last week’s tangle with the Demon King, this outing was perfectly pleasant, as we learned a little more about dragons, vicariously shared in a great boar feast, and got to meet another witch. Nothing groundbreaking, but also nothing deserving of withering insults!

Slime 300 – 07 – Total Submission

Halkara is in trouble. Accidental or not, she assaulted the Demon King, who is still out cold, and the court is not forgiving about that kinda thing, so she’s on death row! Azusa and her new found family work to get themselves and Halkara out of the mess she made, because what is family for?

Laika reveals she can transform into a huggable mini-dragon, and flies off to gather some medicinal herbs. Azusa whips up an analeptic that is sure to wake Percora up—the only problem is how to get to her. Beelz sends Vania with the palace blueprints, and disguises Azusa in sexy demon doctor cosplay.

The courtiers and their burly guards are not convinced by the getup, but it matters little as the Witch of the Highlands is able to easily overpower everyone standing between her and Pecora’s bedchamber. She’s about to administer the medicine when Pecora suddenly wakes up and headbutts her.

Azusa insists the foul-smelling green liquid is not poison, but Pecora insists she prove her innocence by beating her in a duel and not killing her. The Demon King blows the side off her own palace and launches a fusillade of lightning-quick strikes, hitting nothing but air as Azusa expertly dodges.

When Peco taunts her opponent by saying an elf’s life is riding on the outcome, Azusa goes on the offensive, shooting herself high into the air, then striking Pecora’s giant sword with a satisfying BOOOONG, sending it flying out of her arms. When it comes down, it shatters into a thousand shards.

It’s at this point that the battle suddenly takes a turn for the amorous. Pecora lost the duel, but she actually won, because it was actually a test of Azusa’s strength and worthiness to be Pecora’s “Dear Sister”. For a while now, Pecora has yearned for someone stronger than her to worship and obey.

With this in mind, the Demon King makes Azusa touch her face and order her with a dignified big-sister tone to free Halkara. When Azusa does so, Pecora practically melts with satisfaction. Who knew the Demon King’s greatest ambition was to simp for a formidable domme?

When Azusa and Pecora have tea together, Pecora mentions how she read (perhaps in a yuri manga) about how an older sister kisses her younger sister, and wants to give it a try. They’re all alone, so Azusa doesn’t see the harm in giving the Demon King a chaste peck on the cheek.

The thing is, from the way the scene is animated and Pecora’s reactions, it hardly appears chaste to Halkara, Laika, the twins, and Rosalie. Halkara for one is ready to immediately accept her master’s preference for women and wish her well, but Azusa clears things up by giving her two daughters their first kisses, who then kiss her back. Kisses for everybody!

Pecora isn’t done with the surprised, as at the awards ceremony she not only welcomes Laika onto the dais with Azusa, but presents Flatorte, giving all three awards for peace. That’s when things again get a little kinky, as Pecora orders Flatorte to allow Azusa to touch her horns.

For a Blue Dragon, there is no more powerful gesture of total submission, but Flatorte allows it. Little does Azusa know that by doing so, she’s bound Flatorte to her for life, just as dragon knights once bonded with dragons they bested. On the ride home aboard Vania, the leviathan laughs about an old joke, sending honey water flying.

Flatorte proves her fealty and absolute devotion to protecting Azusa by shielding her from the honey water shower, necessitating a bath. There, Azusa gives Flatorte her one and only order: that she think for herself, act of her own free will, and stop awating her orders.

To Flatorte, an order to be free seems contradictory, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s an order from her master. She obeys, and later enjoys some quality time in Azusa’s lap, later broken up by an envious Laika.

A red and blue dragon living together under one roof isn’t going to be easy, but it’s not going to be dull either, and their shared love for their master should ensure their discord will only ever go so far, and may even soften into amity. However it goes, Azusa’s harem family has grown once more.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jujutsu Kaisen – 17 – Twinception

I think I’m in love. The opening act of this episode is all Zenin Maki, and at no point does she ever lack the upper hand in her duel with Miwa Kasumi. I like Kasumi just fine, but she got some bad advice from Mai about Maki’s limitations. “Grade Four” may be her official classification, but she’s a damn sight better than that, as Kasumi learns the hard way.

Overwhelmed by Maki’s superior strength and reach, Kasumi tries to draw her into her mini-domain in which she auto-attacks anything that comes within a just over two-meter radius. That plan fails when Maki snaps her polearm in two, throws the individual segments at her along with a hidden kunai Kasumi never saw. Maki ends up stealing Kasumi’s sword from right under her nose. All Kasumi can do is weakly ask if Maki will give it back (she won’t).

With that battle pretty much decided (seems someone kind and “normal” as Kasumi would take a sound defeat over having to kill anyone), we shift to Nobara vs. Momo AKA Ghibli Witch. While Kasumi kept things all business, Momo isn’t above trash talking Nobara for her lack of “cuteness”, a quality the Ghibli Witch believes is crucial for a female sorcerer.

Momo rants about the higher-ups demanding not strength from women, but perfection. Meanwhile, Momo can’t fight 100% against Nobara because a part of her is constantly distracted with using her cursed energy around her ears (to prevent a cursed speech ambush from Inumaki).

When Momo goes into Mai’s difficult upbringing, Nobara doesn’t want to hear it, because Maki—whom she comes right out and says she loves—suffered the same treatment. I love how there’s no love triangle between the two lead dudes and Nobara. Maki is light years better than either of them.

Nobara basically recites her mission statement as a person here: “I don’t give a damn about ‘men’ this and ‘women’ that! I love myself when I’m pretty and all dressed up, and I love myself when I’m being strong!” Realizing once she has her Straw Man Technique all lined up, she switches out her metal hammer for a plastic squeaky one and beats the stuffing out of her opponent, which is the kind of LOL/WTF absurdity I live for.

Were it just Nobara vs. Momo, the former might’ve claimed the win, but the subject of Momo’s sympathy Mai ends up retiring Nobara with a rubber bullet from maximum range. Since Maki is done with Kasumi, she hops into the treetops to face off against her twin, minutes-younger sister.

Through flashbacks we learn that Mai was a scaredy-cat around demons and would’ve been content to accept the Zenin family higher-ups’ estimate of the twins as ultimately good for nothing but servitude at the household. Among the two, only Maki fought against the menial destiny laid out for her and sought out her own, leaving Mai behind. Ultimately, Mai resented her sister not just for lying about remaining by her side, but forcing her to put i the effort to be a Jujutsu sorcerer—something she never wanted to be.

While I sympathize for the way both sisters were treated simply for being women, twins, and lacking the usual qualities of Jujutsu sorcerers, I maintain that Mai is being a whiny little brat. Once she’s fired all six bullets from her revolver, Maki thinks she’s won, but Mei uses her secret ability “construction” that turns her cursed energy into matter—in this case, a seventh bullet.

Just when it looks like Maki is about to get shot in the face, she reaches out and catches the bullet with her bare hands, revealing that she has a unique talent too. In what is essentially the opposite of Mechamaru’s situation, she was was bestowed with superhuman strength in exchange for having no cursed energy whatsoever.

Since Mai can only create one bullet per day, she loses…but doesn’t go quietly, ranting about what was so bad about being ordered around back home, and why Maki didn’t “stay at the bottom” with her. Maki doesn’t mince words: if she did that, they’d still be together, but she’d hate herself. Instead, they’re apart, and Mai hates her instead.

P.S. In this week’s Juju Stroll omake segment, Kasumi gets out of bed for a midnight snack, only to find Momo and Mai eating her edamame. Momo proposes an alternative snack in the form of a seafood ramen cup that’s given richness and an extra kick with milk and red chilies snipped in with scissors. It is indeed tasty…but perhaps a bit too heavy for a midnight snack!

Jujutsu Kaisen – 16 – To Panda or Not To Panda

The new Bromance for the Ages is off to a good start, with Toudou eager to teach his new best friend how to use one’s mind, body, and soul as one, in order to eliminate the lag inherent in Divergent Fist.

Yuuji proves a quick study, much to Toudou’s delight, as it means he doesn’t have to use kid gloves. At this point it seems unlikely Toudou will carry out Principal Gakuganji’s order to kill Yuuji, or even allow anyone else to do so. What kind of friend would he be if he did?

From Yuuji vs. Toudou we shift briefly to Panda/Nobara vs. Momo, who looks for all the world like Kiki’s buddy and is voiced by Lil’ Taiga herself, Kugimiya Rie. The odds are evened when Ultimate Mechamaru emerges from the soon-to-be-felled trees. Panda estimates the robot to be somewhere in the Grade 2 range like him, but Mechamaru corrects him, saying he’s more of a semi-Grade 1.

It’s appropriate for the two most different sorcerers from among their peers would go up against each other, but throughout their hard-hitting battle, Mechamaru continues to look down on Panda as “just another Cursed Corpse”, when in reality, Principal Yaga created the first CC with emotions.

Mechamaru, meanwhile, is merely the robot remote-controlled by a human born with profound physical disabilities. He lies in a tub surrounded by tubes and covered in bandages, virtually immobile and in constant pain. The trade-off for such an existence is a ridiculous level of cursed energy that can be used at range.

Panda has a couple other secrets that give him the upper hand in their battle. First, unlike most CCs he has not one but three cores in his body: his “panda” core, his brother’s “gorilla” core, and his “bashful” sister’s core, represented by a flash of light. Mecha disables two of the three, but Panda is still going strong in Gorilla mode, and manages to trash the robot before it learns the location of his last core.

On the one hand, this was a fun battle between two extremely quirky characters that pulled double duty in explaining who and what they are and what makes them tick. On the other, part of me was perfectly fine with neither of these characters being explained beyond “one is a panda and one is a robot.” Now that the show has answered a bunch of questions about the two, there’s less mystique there.

Finally, the Panda vs. Mechamaru duel was the one I was least invested in compared to the three others that bookend the episode: Yuuji vs. Toudou, Nobara vs. Momo, and Maki vs. Miwa. I’m probably not alone in this, which may be why the show chose to resolve this battle first.

Jujutsu Kaisen – 15 – My Best Friend

The first group battle of the Exchange Event begins, and is ultimately notable not just for its various character pairings, but for what it lacks: Sukuna, the ultimate target of the Kyoto sorcers, barely makes a peep, and the only demon that’s slain is a small frey that got in the way of Toudou’s fist, and incidentally, saved Yuuji’s life. Even Gojou is only appears at the beginning to start the battle and at the end of the omake.

That means the episode belongs to the Tokyo and Kyoto students, and both as complete groups and once split up, they very ably and entertainingly carry the day with scene after scene of badass and/or hilarious interactions, starting with Toudou Aoi and Yuuji. Yuuji lucks out by having the same type (tall, large posterior), which temporarily sents Aoi into a kind of idyllic school drama daydream in which he gets shot down by Takada-chan but comforted by Yuuji.

They are now best friends, so when Aoi’s Kyoto classmates, led by Kamo Noritoshi, converge on Yuuji with the goal of assassinating him, Aoi uses a cursed technique to make Yuuji and Noritoshi switch places, then tells Nori and the others to buzz off. This is his fight, he’ll say when he’s done, and he’ll decide—not Nori, not the principal—whether Yuuji dies.

It’s clear the Principal has more to contend with than the threat of Sukuna if his own elite students are in such disarray. Much to Yuuji’s confusion, they scatter as Aoi commands, while their witchy comrade Momo’s air superiority is suddenly nullified by Megumi’s Nue. They were counting on her for the actual group battle part, involving locating and defeating demons.

Once the Tokyo kids realize the Kyoto kids are trying to kill Yuuji, they rethink his use as a decoy. Inumaki is sent to start exorcising, Panda and Nobara keep Momo busy, and Maki ends up with Miwa Kasumi, by far my favorite and the most “normal” person in perhaps either school.

Yuuji takes off the kid gloves and demonstrates to Aoi’s boundless joy that despite being way skinnier he packs a lot more raw power. Of course, Aoi’s gotten to the point where he can focus that power a lot better than Yuuji, and in any case has a whole bag of cursed tricks at his disposal. Aoi is having fun until his thoughts linger on how Yuuji’s Divergent Fist feels, and decides, quite loudly and emphatically, that it is WRONG.

Kasumi would really rather not kill Yuuji or anyone else, and makes it known to Maki that she’s not an asshole like the others; she just wants to do well in this event so she can get good recommendations, ascend the ladder to a well-paying position, and move out of the poorhouse with her two brothers. Maki is both admiring of Kasumi’s wholesomeness and mortified by the fact Kasumi must spend considerable time with Mai.

As for Aoi’s problem with Yuuji, he flat-out tells him it won’t be enough to defeat him, cool name, signature move or no. As soon as it starts, their BFFship is threatened. Yuuji doesn’t really care about that, but he does care about winning. He was never going to be satisfied simply buying time for his comrades. If he could hold out against a monster like Mahito, than he should be able to beat a fellow human.

I’m looking forward to more of their forest sparring, which was superbly directed and animated, as one expects of Jujutsu Kaisen by now. But the mood-lightening omake ends this week’s episode on a funny note, going through everyone’s different romantic types. Kasumi seems to put the most thought into it, and she’d be absolutely over the moon to learn that she’s exactly Gojou’s type! Great stuff.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 09 – Estelles;Gate

Last week’s doll-and-face fetish episode, and the grape-stomping maiden episode before it, made for some particularly goofy Journeys of Elaina, making me wonder when and if show would get dark again. Sure enough, this episode arrives with an “Explicit Content” warning, opens on a starving, broke Elaina, and no OP! What the heck are we in for? At the time, I had no idea.

Elaina finds a flyer promising good pay for “ultra-short-term” work, and encounters a fellow Witch, Estelle. Through meeting her, Elaina is pleased to learn that while Estelle became an apprentice when she was younger, it took her longer than Elaina to become a full-fledged Witch. Wand-measuring aside, Estelle is offering a giant sack of gold coins for the job.

What is the job? Well, first, a sad story: Back while Estelle was training abroad, her dear childhood friend Selena’s parents were murdered in a robbery. Selena’s uncle took her in, and proceeded to abuse her. Selena eventually snapped, murdering her uncle, and then several others. It ultimately fell to Estelle to apprehend Selena…and execute her.

Estelle seeks to use magic to go back in time so she can save Selena’s parents and prevent the chain of events that lead to her having to kill her own best friend. Time-traveling requires more magic than any one witch has, so Estelle has been gradually draining her blood to augment the spell.

The other problem is that once they’re actually in the past, Estelle will be drained of all magic, which is why she needs Elaina. By wearing matching magical rings, Elaina will be able to share her magic with Estelle. This job is not without its risks and inconveniences—hence the generous payday.

Elaina, confident and cocksure as always, proudly proclaims herself to be a traveler, and so the next logical step in her journey is to travel through time and see how things used to be in the past. So she slips on the ring, Estelle activates the spell, and off they go.

The witches safely arrive ten years into the past, but only have one hour to do what needs to be done before being sent back to the present. Estelle makes it clear that the timeline in which she executes Selena has happened and can’t un-happen; changing events will create a tangent, but that’s enough for her, as long as there is a timeline in which Selena gets to live on.

Their broom-flight to Selena’s house is interrupted when Estelle spots young Selena walking down the street, and can resist giving her a big hug, no matter how much it weirds the girl out. Elaina notes that Estelle got quie the cold reaction from Selena, but Estelle insists that deep down Selena is very kind.

Estelle proceeds to get Selena’s parents out of the house under the guise that she’s Selena’s half-sister and has business with them. Elaina stakes out the house, waiting for the robber to arrive, but it dawns on her that the murder of the parents was too grisly for a mere robbery. Then her magic-sharing ring glows and shoots a red beam in Estelle’s direction: she’s engaged in battle.

When Elaina arrives, she finds a horrifying sight: Selena has viciously attacked Estelle, and has blood on her mouth just like her photo in the future papers. It turns out Selena’s parents abused her long before her uncle had the chance, twisting her into homicidal mania, even sadism. It doesn’t matter whether Estelle was her best friend or she and Elaina are trying to “help”—Selena is already beyond helping.

While the blood and gore on display in this scene is indeed explicit, I for one am glad we didn’t have to witness the abuse Selena suffered at the hands of her parents, and the warning was meant for the violence. And there is a lot of it—the most in the series’ run for sure.

When Selena prepares to attack Elaina, Estelle gets up and stops her in her tracks. Having worked so hard and sacrificed her own blood to try to save Selena, she is overcome by heartbreak and despair, and there’s nothing left but to kill Selena again before she can kill Elaina or anyone else.

Elaina tries to stop this by removing the ring, but Estelle simply sacrifices her memories of Selena in order to summon enough magic to explode her head off. The hour is up and the two witches return to the present. Sure enough, Estelle doesn’t remember Selena, and barely remembers Elaina. She’s a ruined husk of a witch, and Elaina is so upset by the experience she runs out of Estelles house, pointedly leaving the bag of gold behind.

That, and Elaina’s subsequent breakdown on the bench in front of the clock tower, shows that the effects of this particular journey will (or at least should) last beyond just this episode. Elaina weeps uncontrollably, her confident façade utterly shattered. She no longer thinks of herself as a special or exemplary; only an “ordinary” traveler and witch, inexperienced and unable to do anything.

She’s being a bit hard on herself, as who the heck could have handled that situation better? It was largely out of her hands. The best thing to do would have been to refuse the job, but she really needed money and was intrigued by the prospect of a different kind of traveling. The episode fades to black and the credits roll without images. Black Friday, indeed.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 20 – A New Challenger Has Appeared!

Everybody Loves Sakura, right? Why wouldn’t they? Easy: if you thought she was trying to steal your fiancee! That’s where we’re at with Syaoran’s cousin, Meiling, who transfers not just to his school, but his very class and immediately shoots daggers at Sakura at every turn. Syaoran, meanwhile, just looks exhausted and defeated.

It’s clear Sakura isn’t used to people not liking her (again, why wouldn’t they?) but let’s get real: she is a bit of a goody two-shoes, so I’ll admit to finding Meiling’s ruthless single-mindedness refreshing. It doesn’t matter whether Sakura thinks she’s in the fight of her life for Syaoran’s heart, that’s what Meiling believes, so she’s going to do everything she can to defeat her.

Sakura is just happy that the new trimester has started, her dad made her a yummy bento, and then prepares a steak feast with Yukito joining her fam. During dinner she learns more details about a serial assaulter who is targeting martial artists by challenging them to fights and then winning. My first thought is that it was Meiling taking her frustrations out on unwitting bystanders, but it’s a Clow Card.

That means Tomoyo is on the scene with a new pink battle costume for Sakura and a fully-charged camcorder. The card, Fight, is one of the cooler-looking designs, but Sakura isn’t sure what to do since she doesn’t know any martial arts. Enter Meiling in her battle costume, who decides to take Fight on all by herself. At the start of the fight, Meiling makes it look easy, and the strikes, kicks, and dodges are all beautifully animated.

Eventually, however, Fight ups her game and Meiling has to be bailed out by Syaoran, who is furious she stole the compass to locate the card and fight it by herself. You see, unlike most members of the Li clan, Meiling has no magical powers, so she can’t detect Clow Cards without help. Turns out even Syaoran isn’t a match for Fight; I was certain this was one card the Lis were going to collect running away.

What Sakura lacks in martial arts knowledge, she makes up for by releasing Power after Tomoyo suggests it. The result is that while she flails about in a far less graceful and controlled way than the Lis, it’s the punch her staff packs that matters, and it only takes one well-placed blow to the head to knock Fight out cold, netting her another useful offensive card.

Meiling is extremely frustrated to have lost this round with her new rival, but she clings to Syaoran to make clear that she won’t have green-eyed hussies stealing her fiancee. Sakura ends the episode with an exasperated HOEEE, clearly preferring if everyone simply got along, while Tomoyo notes that the relationship chart has gotten a bit more complicated.

I, for one, really like Meiling; she had a hell of an entrance and can’t wait to see more of her!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 13 – No One Card Should Have All That Power

This week is I believe our second look at the Tomoeda summer uniforms, and Sakura is feeling good about the day. Her class is going on a field trip to the zoo, she wakes up without anyone calling her, her dad makes her a huge and sumptuous lunch, and she even encounters Yukito—on his own for once—on her way to school!

The only potential fly in the ointment is a morning news report of how a giant (and very heavy) “King Penguin” slide at the local park was completely inverted by some unknown force. When similar loud noises, shaking, and destruction of animal enclosures occur at the zoo, Sakura (and Kero-chan, who stowed away in her bag) assume it to be a Clow Card.

Not just any card, but Power, a deceptively tiny and weak-looking card who never the less packs a punch, even lifting an elephant high into the air (Sakura rescues the beast with Windy). Power then turns on Sakura and won’t stop chasing her until she decides on a test of strength, and Sakura picks the first thing to pop into her head: a tug-of-war.

Even with the grateful elephant helping out, Sakura is losing the battle until Syaoran shows up and uses Time to freeze everyone but himself and remove the rope from Power’s clutches. When he restores time to normal, Sakura has won the challenge, and Power allows herself to be secured quietly. She’s a powerful and showy card, but also an honorable one!

Tomoyo puts Sakura to work immediately restoring the penguin slide to its proper orientation, and snaps a picture for her own amusement. When a gust snatches it away and Yukito catches and sees it, Tomoyo explains that it’s a “composite photo”, so no harm, no foul.

Knowing what I know about Yukito from Clear Card, its interesting to see him outside the “circle of trust” that currently consists of Sakura, Kero, Tomoyo, and Syaoran—not to mention his role as Sakura’s primary crush!

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 05 – The Eve of Reckoning

With a title like “The Night Before Battle”, it was clear there would be one more calm-before-the-storm episode before that battle took place, but in this case, it was not only earned, but welcome. After all, there a lot of reunions that need to happen before battle is joined. That starts with Alice’s protege Eldrie and her “uncle” Bercouli.

Eldrie is concerned about the dead weight that is Kirito, but Bercouli demonstrates that he’s still capable of defending himself through sheer willpower. That means he may yet come back to them, hopefully in their hour of greatest need. That’s coming soon, by the way—their forces are outnumbered more than 16-to-1.

Alice considers that perhaps Kirito can’t hear or react to her voice because she’s still suppressing her feelings, and that maybe a gesture of those feelings may finally wake him up. She comes close, but is interrupted by Tiese and Ronie, who heard Kirito was at the camp. I suppose kissing him wouldn’t have mattered; the conditions haven’t been met for him to come back yet.

The pages are beside themselves upon learning of Kirito and Eugeo’s fates, and Alice can’t help but notice they act as if they loved the boys. They rebut that assertion by saying they don’t deserve the right to say they love him, citing their traumatic experience that led the boys to break Axiom law to save them. Alice rejects their position, transforming to “peacetime” Alice Zuberg that would have been had she not been kidnapped.

Her lesson to the two is that bodies are unimportant compared to the hearts and their souls. If they feel they love someone, or that they can and should do something, they need not be ashamed to carry those feelings with pride. It’s something she learned from Kirito and Eugeo and is happy to pass on.

Alice is less enthused by Lady Fanatio carrying such feelings with pride, especially when she asks to see Kirito so she can “try various things” in an attempt to revive him. Alice betrays her own personal feelings for Kirito by barring Fanatio from seeing him. But such bickering has to wait; it’s time for the war council.

Administrator truly screwed the Human Empire in her management of their military forces. The remaining Integrity Knights must make do with what little they have and pursue a strategy of bottle-necking the enemy’s superior numbers in a narrow, barren ravine, hoping that location will also prove challenging to dark mages, who require material in order to cast their arts.

After saying what could be her final goodbyes to Kirito (leaving him in the pages’ care) and Eldrie, Alice mounts her dragon and the forces move into the ravine. The gate resolves, heralding the “Final Load Test.” The good guys are at a huge disadvantage against Miller’s massive forces.

I don’t doubt they’ll need to rely on a last-minute intervention from…someone; maybe Kirito answering the call in their greatest need, maybe Asuna, finally arrived in Underworld and ready to fight to save her fiancee. As for Alice…we just saw a lot of death flags… :(

Chihayafuru 3 – 03 – Up to Fate and The Times

Sorry for doing these out of order, but I wasn’t aware Chihayafuru 3 was airing two episodes at a time last week (and this week!). Nevertheless, it’s instructive to see the match that came before Chihaya’s promising quarterfinals match, because it’s when she truly gets her groove back.

Same with Taichi, who has a pre-match brush with Arata that, while cordial and even friendly, still steams his beans just because…Arata just does that. He’s in Taichi’s way on two fronts: karuta and Chihaya (whether he knows it or not), and hearing that he wants to start his own school club is yet another thorn in Taichi’s side.

Few know Chihaya’s game as well as Porky, so even when she seems to be doing well, he can tell, for instance, if she hasn’t quite come back from her injury. He’s also a great analyst of her game, and when she is up against a former Master runner-up (Takemura, who lost badly to Master Suo), he notices that there’s a reason she seems slower and less forceful, and it’s not because she’s still recovering her game.

In fact, Chihaya has absorbed a lot of pointers from Shinobu, Rion, and others that it’s not all about power. Playing left-handed also turned out to be beneficial to her, as it gave her more experience and insight into a side of the cards she was weakest against. Since she could never move as fast with her left hand as her right, she compensated with accuracy and efficiency, which she’s carried into her right-handed game.

Taichi has some trouble with his quirky opponent, Shiroyama from Hokuo, and is particularly irked by his opponent’s ability to take cards despite being, well, slow. He eventually realizes Shiroyama is playing a true team match, focusing on wearing Taichi down rather than winning quickly. Once Taichi realizes what’s going on, it’s like a weight off his shoulders, and he puts Shiroyama away.

Chihaya beats Takemura, who is admittedly out of practice after taking a whole half-year off following his brutal defeat. But he sees how big a mistake that was, as youngins like Chihaya are no longer nipping at his heels, but surpassing him with relative ease. Contrast that with mother of two and former Queen Inokuma Haruka, whose passion is such that even two kids, including a still-nursing newborn, can’t keep her out of the tournament.

While no one questions her prowess in previous years (nor the shape of her eyes, which give Chihaya’s a run for their money), there are questions about whether she can make a comeback; questions that are answered in the positive in this round. But during the match, both she and Chihaya snatch the “Impassionate” card at the exact same time, such that their cards collide. That incident is all too fateful, as they end up facing off in the quarterfinals.

Before the match, Miyauchi asks Sakurazawa if Chihaya has what it takes to be Queen. She’s worried about the future of an academically average-at-best student, but would be less worried if she knew Chihaya could ascend to the top of karuta. All Sakurazawa can tell Miyauchi is that in order to reach that height, Chihaya will have to do what she could not; defeat someone like Inokuma Haruka.

P.S. Yamashita Kousuke’s music continues to be one of the many great things about this show. Earbuds don’t really do it justice; I’d recommend watching on a system with some nice powerful speakers for full effect. I continue to be amazed by how exciting watching kneeling people swiping at cards can get, and the music is a big part of that.