Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War – 03 – Special Threat

After crippling the Tres Bestia with ease, Quilge Opie seems happy to see Ichigo, and unlike Ichigo, he knows all about him. His king has designated him a “special threat” that he’s to neutralize with all due haste. When Ichigo demonstrates he can catch and deflect Quilge’s projectiles, he levels up to a stronger form.

Ichigo hangs in there while Inoue shields Chad, Loly, and Menoly, but Quilge blocks his Getsuga Tenshou. In the midst of gloating, he’s suddenly coldcocked by a giant fist: the Tres Bestia have come to, and each sacrificed their left arms to create Ayon, a massive berserking brute of an Arrancar. It pummels Qulge into the sand, arresting the degregation of Inoue’s shield.

In the living world, Ishida pores through the books in his father Ryuuen’s library, and is scolded for doing so. He then rifles through Ryuuen’s desk, and finds an old black Quincy tome with some manner of secrets that aren’t disclosed to us, but give Ishida great pause.

In Soul Society, the Gotei 13 prepare for war, not waiting the five days indicated by the initial Quincy invaders. The Sixth seat of the 13th Squad tells the two scrubs that while Shinigami are all about balancing souls, Quincy utterly destroy them, resulting in an imbalance that will eventually destroy both worlds.

How exactly this benefits the Quincy is unknown, at least to me. Do they dwell in some realm beyond both worlds, or do they have no intention of surviving those worlds’ annihilation as long as Soul Society pays for their genocide? Revenge at any cost?

Whatever the case, Captain Kurotsuchi blames Head Captain Yamamoto-Genryuusai for this whole mess, for failing to kill the Quincy King when he had the chance centuries ago. Kurotsuchi, by the way, is the one responsible for the deaths of 28,000 denizens of Soul Society, all in order to balance the scales of souls

The Tre Bestia stand over the fallen Quilge, but when a gloating Apacci approaches him, he runs her through with a sword of light, then uses his Quincy powers to absorb and merge with Ayon to become what he deems an unattractive but ultimately necessary monster. He’s ready to kill one and all of the assembled Arrancar and humans, but then Ichigo intervenes in his Bankai form, ready to rumble once more.

But ultimately, Ichigo has already fallen right into the Quincy King’s trap. While he’s busy fighting Quilge in Hueco Mundo, the King and the other Stern Ritter (the equivalent of Captains or Espada) arrive at Soul Society and waste no time slaughtering the hapless lower-level Shinigami.

Pillars of blue flame erupt from all over, resulting in looks of concern from all the Gotei 13 captains and lieutenants you’ll already know if you’ve watched a sufficient amount of Bleach like I have throughout the years. I’m overjoyed to report that among them is our girl Kuchiki Rukia, who finally makes an appearance. I just wish it was under happier circumstances.

Urusei Yatsura – 02 – Ataru’s Girl

You would think that having an alien babe as a wife would be pretty sweet, but lest we forget, Moroboshi Ataru is a pathologically unlucky young feller, while Lum is either ignorant or uncaring of Earther concepts such as personal space, privacy, or not wanting to be electrocuted. Almost every waking moment involves Ataru fighting off Lum’s cuddling, getting daggers from every other girl in his life, and then getting shocked into near-oblivion.

The cold open does a very effective job portraying just how ridiculously stressful and intolerable the situation actually is, rather than it being a case of Ataru being sour despite clearly hitting the jackpot. This is legit not fun for him, so he runs away from home. But it’s not long before Lum, Shinobu, and his parents are on TV begging him to come home.

On his way out he meets Sakura (via accidentally copping a feel), a beautiful but sickly shrine maiden who immediately pegs him as the single most accurséd person she’s ever met. Sakura she invites him to her home/shrine for an exorcism, which her mom (who looks exactly like Cherry’s sister, because she is!) promises she’s very good at.

It certainly doesn’t start off good, as Sakura (Sawashiro Miyuki, clearly having a blast) enters sporting a canker sore the size of a golf ball, and then her chanting (much of it food ingredients and condiments) causes scores of tiny little demons to manifest and surround Ataru. But Sakura persists, and before long, all of the miasma in the room vanishes, and she finds herself feeling healthier than ever.

Ataru and his horrible fortune were no doubt the lure that drew them all out of Sakura, but since they all represent various maladies from which she suffered, she finishes the job and exorcises them, demonstrating that her mom wasn’t lying about her competence. That said, there’s an unexpected visit from the Grim Reaper, who seemingly comes for Ataru.

A distraught Shinobu, Lum, and his parents surround him on his apparent death bed…until a pretty nurse walks in and Ataru sits up in bed and chats her up. A moment ago they were praying for him to wake up, and now they wish he was dead all over again. Lum, one to hold a grudge, continually punishes him with electrocutions, from which there is no escape because she can fly and he can’t.

After witnessing just how bad Ataru has it, Cherry prepares a yelow ribbon for Ataru to tie around Lum’s horns. Once tied, only he can untie it, and Lum’s powers of flight and electricity are nullified. Ataru plays it off as giving her a new accessory so his wife can look her best, but when she leaps out the window and takes a tumble, he knows it really works.

The grounded Lum feels heavy and disoriented, so she grabs the first person she meets on the street—one of Ataru’s horny friends—to test her elecrocution power, only to find that’s not working either. When Shinobu catches her clinging to Ataru once more and hears about the ribbons, she charges Lum to try to get them off, but Ataru comes between her, so she takes the baked treats she made for him, kicks him in the face, and storms off.

That night, Lum wants to sleep together with Ataru, as she’s still out of sorts and wants to be close to her darling. Indeed, she wants to be by his side for life! Realizing the ribbon is a double-edged sword, he tries to remove it, but she won’t let him…until Cherry’s note is one of the things she throws at his interfering friends, and one of them reads it, revealing Ataru and Cherry conspired to ground and de-electrify Lum.

Lum proceeds to show that she doesn’t need her powers to kick Ataru’s ass, and when he removes the ribbons, she’s got a whole day of electricity stored up to discharge all at once. How this doesn’t stop Ataru’s heart or burn him to a crisp fifty times over I have no idea, but one thing’s for sure: it hurts like heck!

Ataru isn’t the typical rom-com protagonist you simply envy for lucking out on his situation. He’s a womanizing scumbag, sure, but factoring in how and swiftly and often he receives his just desserts for being said scumbag—and even for simply existing—he strikes the fine balance between loathsome and sympathetic. And he’s about to have company in the form of an ultra-rich parachuting pretty boy!

Summertime Render – 17 – Hands Not for Hurting

Since we’re now only 17 episodes into a 25-episode series, it was only a matter of time before the momentum slowed a bit and our intrepid band of shadow hunters took a bit of a rest. This week we get a calm-before-the-storm episode that allows for moments that deepen our understanding of these characters, as well as give them an opportunity to bond more, for better or worse.

Ushio worries she may go crazy like Haine did in the memory of Hizuru’s she saw, but Hizuru promises she’ll kill her if that happens. Shadow Mio, who knows all the little ways Mio Prime hates herself, urges her to tell Shin her feelings before it’s too late. Sou’s pops hid the truth from him because he knew his son’s heart was too good to bear the darkness. Tokiko suggests that Shin, who has developed pronounced bags under his eyes, to catch some shut-eye while he can.

That night Nezu tries to sneak out but Ushio catches him and insists on accompanying him. Turns out Nezu is putting the last of his affairs in order before shit starts going down. Ushio learns that he keeps the Shadow of his wife Kaoru pinned in his garage, having not had the heart to kill it until now.

Shadow Kaoru is beastly like so many of the Shadows, but Ushio urges Nezu to hold his fire, as her hacking might be able to restore her. Nezu’s not interested; Ushio may still be Ushio, but his wife is gone; this is his “wife’s enemy” who copied her body. So Ushio gives Nezu his privacy, and sheds tears for two more lives among the countless ruined by Haine’s appetites.

The next morning the group splits up to investigate various family homes in hopes of reducing the number of Shadows as much as possible before the festival. The two Mios are put in the same team, and Shadow tries to egg Mio on, but she clutches onto Sou as a sign she won’t let Shadow push her buttons.

Mio also has a thoughtful gift for Ushio: hairs from her original body that she found around the house. Ushio is able to use them to restore the length of her hair (adorably done with a Sailor Moon-like aesthetic) and, perhaps all too death-flaggy, tells Shin she has something to say to him when he and Ushio return.

Shinpei and Ushio end up having to kill the Shadow of their old teacher, nicknamed Bucchi, and Ushio remembers when she beat up a couple of bigger boys teasing her for her blonde hair. Bucchi, ever the gentle soul, told Ushio her hands weren’t for hurting people, but for holding hands, patting heads, and the like.

Unfortunately, Ushio doesnt’ really have a choice in her present scenario, though it’s arguable that the Shadow’s are “people” so much as unrelenting killing machines bent on wiping out the village. So she and Shin work together to save three kids from Shadow Bucchi and her two Shadow sons.

The little kids mock Ushio and Shinpei for looking like a classic couple, to which they respond in unison that it’s “not like that.” Isn’t it though?

In a creepy moment, Ushio seems to be taken over by…someone, neither Haine nor Shide, but maybe another deity observing what’s going on and briefly using her as a vessel. The two teams then regroup and report on their investigations. Turns out the Shadows don’t seem to be preparing a direct attack on them, but are primarily focused on the upcoming festival when the great slaughter and feast is to commence.

Naturally, if the festival can be cancelled, there won’t be a convenient huge group of people ripe for the picking. To that end, Shin heads to the shrine maintained by Karikiri—a place where he just happened to die the first time. Karikiri welcomes Shin warmly, but whether he’s a friend, foe, or neutral party in this struggle remains to be seen. I just hope that’s Ushio on Shin’s wrist, and he’s not really alone up there.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E04 – The Traveler King

With Gabriel promising to return tomorrow, Maou and his generals and frenemies adopt a fortress mentality, sending the normal human Chiho off while Ashiya and Urushihara stay on stanby at Suzuno’s. That leaves Maou and Emi together with Alas Ramus at his place.

While Emi is weary of this arrangement, and can’t commit to allying herself with the devil, she will do what it takes to keep Alas out of harm’s way, so in that regard her and Maou’s interests are aligned. When they turn in for the night, Alas makes sure to grab both of them close.

While initially uncomfortable with the proximity, Maou and Emi bask in their “daughter’s” unbridled love and exuberance, while Emi is genuinely moved by Maou’s bittersweet improvised tale of a traveler who became a king.

Emi gets a literal rude awakening around 5:00 in the morning from Gabriel, who was simply lying in the room waiting for them to wake up (ambushing a sleeping couple is beneath him). Gabriel continues to be a paragon of reasonableness, but makes it quite clear: he’s leaving with either Emi’s sword or Alas Ramus.

We learned from further explanation form Suzuno earlier that as the Guardian Angel of the sephira Yesod of the Tree of Life, Gabriel has a claim to both sword and Alas, as they are shards of Yesod. But that doesn’t matter to Maou, who planted and nurtured the seed that became the apple that became his near-as-makes-no-difference daughter.

When saved from death and reborn (you can see himself in his bedtime story), Alas was a symbol of hope he gained, so Maou offers his head in exchange for letting Alas at least stay with Emi.  Gabriel laughs at Maou and Emi in marital synch one minute, and is choking out Maou the next. He’s out of patience.

But while Emi’s sword can’t do much against Gabriel, and Maou is far to weak to stand against him, Alas is more than up to the task. All it takes is hurting her Papa to send her glowing with rage and blasting out the side of the wall, taking ol’ Gabe for a violent aerial tour of the city at near-dawn.

Emi gives chase, and when she gets her sword shattered by Gabriel, Alas backs her up—as long as Emi tells her she and Papa will be together with her forever. After Urushihara cows Gabe’s Angel guards with the sheer power of his former archangel status, Suzuno takes Maou on a ride to where Emi and Alas are an unceremoniously lobs him at Gabriel.

While grabbing and restraining Gabe, Maou tells Emi to hurry up and kill the two of them, something Emi isn’t going to do even without Alas being right there watching. So Gabe shakes free, leaving Maou to fall. No one can get to him to stop his fall…except for Alas.

Emi then whips out a fresh sword and her armor (complete with a partial maho onna-kishi transformation sequence) to warn Gabriel to get lost, even managing to slice his cheek and make him bleed. But before he goes, he makes it a point to admonish Emi and tell her to reflect on “what sort of being she is”.

Emi returns to earth exhausted but none the worse for wear, but the damage is done: Alas is gone. After saving Maou, she said she wanted to be with them forever she’d have to say goodbye “for now”. Maou is devastated, but as Chiho learns while having coffee with Emi, by “for now” Alas meant only for a short while, as she has now fused with Emi’s sacred sword (now a dagger).

Emi presents Chiho with her very unique predicament of wanting to defeat the Devil King someday, but not being able to do it with a weapon that’s also his child! Emi’s fine with that; she’d rather Maou and Emi simply continue to get along, even if watching them grow kinda-sorta closer thanks to Alas leaves her out in the cold romance-wise.

Alas also insists Emi not let Papa suffer longer than he needs to, and has them reunited that evening. To Emi’s surprise, seeing Alas again actually brings tears to Maou’s eyes; Chi-sis explains to Alas that people also cry when they’re happy.

We find out that Gabe told Emi he hoped she’d prioritize the world’s safety, and then learn that Lailah, Emi’s mother, was the one stole Yesod in the first place. Could Emi’s mom be the woman who saved Maou’s life? There’s a lot of intrigue (and potential dread) on the horizon, but Alas wielding her innate power has at least bought this little pop-up family a little more time to be happy.

Summertime Render – 16 – One Mio, Two Mio, Red Mio, Blue Mio

Once successfully hacked by Ushio and disconnected from Haine’s control, Shadow Mio is no longer a killbot, but retains her distinct deadpan delivery (in contrast to the real MioCoy’s higher, more bubbly lilt). As with Hikasa Youko and the two Minakatas, credit is due to seiyu Shirasu Saho for producing two distinct Mios.

Times may be desperate, but there’s still room in STR for a little bit of comedy as the two Mios act like opposing twins (and seriously throw off Sou, who as we know is in love with Mio). Mio II offers further insight into the nature of Shadows. Since she’s a “child”, she can only birth one child Shadow, and if Mio I doesn’t die in six days, Mio II will revert to black goo, essentially dying.

Mio II also has a little fun with Shinpei, whom she’s killed perhaps dozens of times, but points out she hasn’t killed him nor does she wish to. She also knows that Mio I is in love with him, and almost spills the beans but for the arrival of the truck. It’s interesting how there are aspects of Mio I’s personality baked into II, but she’s also her own person. She even asks Shin if he has a girlfriend in Tokyo, something Mio I could never ask.

Bottom line, Mio II is now on the good guys’ side, which is certainly a boon, and she promises she’ll keep her original safe. Shin decides their next objective is to track down Tokiko and Sou’s father and confront him about Haine’s true plan. That means heading to the clinic, which is also the Hishigatas’ home. They find all the furniture has been erased, as if the Shadows were trying to hide something.

While the Mios, Tetsu, and Nezu wait in the truck, the rest of the group heads deeper into the bowels of the dark abandoned hospital, freaking out Ushio even in Wristwatch Mode. These scenes have a great atmosphere and dread; if last week was a gory thriller, this is a slithering horror movie where you never know what might creep up behind you.

They find Tokiko and Sou’s mom’s wheelchair, but in the basement morgue where Ushio’s body is supposed to be, the body has vanished, and along with it the possibility of Ushio recovering fully from the battle. They follow an alternate underground tunnel to Haine’s nest, and find Tokiko and Sou’s mom lifting their dad by the neck and choking him out…never something kids need to see their parents doing.

Ushio runs up to the mom and hacks her, releasing her from Haine’s control, and she passes out, but the dad isn’t breathing. Tokiko and Sou show they’re doctor’s kids by administering CPR, and for their trouble their dad knocks the little Derringer out of an enraged Sou’s hand and shoots Tokiko with it for being disloyal. At first I was like “Oh no, they didn’t kill Tokiko again…”, but turns out it isn’t Tokiko…it’s Mio II.

Tokiko let Mio copy her, probably well aware her dad might pull the very shit he tried to pull. Back in the truck, Tokiko tells Mio that when a Shadow copies you they copy everything—right down to the depths of a person’s heart—but she’s fine with it. She’s done with secrets and hiding things. She’s lkely glad that one of the Mios truly understands just how much she means to Tokiko.

Having saved everyone, Mio II asks Shinpei if he trusts her now. He says he does, and if she doesn’t believe him she can copy him. But there’s no way Mio II would do that, as learning the inner depths of Shin’s heart would confirm to her that while he loves both Mio and Ushio, he’s only in love with Ushio.

Even after he’s been defeated, Sou’s dad keeps ordering no one in particular to kill for him. Then Mio tries to copy him but fails, because he’s already had a Shadow of himself made and died, giving him immunity. This comes as a shock to him. Then his assistant Negoro appears deeper into the cave, carrying Ushio’s body.

Ushio wants to go after her, but Shinpei tells her to stop, as she’s clearly trying to bait them on behalf of Haine and Shide. Shin’s been through enough that he’s not going to fall for the usual tricks anymore. Now that Tokiko and Sou’s dad knows the Haine have released the Hishigatas from her service, he has no further reason to hide anything, and reveals the location of a buried safe, which they dig up.

Back in the morgue, Ushio gives both of Tokiko and Sou’s parents all of the amassed information from the loops, as she did with everyone else. Now the mom finally knows she’s a Shadow. Pops reveals Haine’s ultimate goal is to “go home” with her amassed Shadow family, to a place far beyond the ocean where time doesn’t exist. He and his wife, and eventually Tokiko and Sou were to all become Shadows and join her in that eternal country.

He also tells Shinpei that if he achieves his goal of killing Haine, all Shadows will die, including Ushio. In response to this, Ushio says she’s ready to die if it means eliminating the threat to her family, friends, and island. She considers the time she’s lived since being killed to be “bonus time” anyway. It’s such a noble, selfless, and brave sentiment that Shinpei is ashamed for thinking his Ushio would feel any differently. It’s probably a big part of why he loves her.

Dr. Hishigata’s wife Chitose tells him that even if she dies, he still has his children and the people of the village to care for. Dr. Hishigata also isn’t done revealing secrets. Inside the safe is a list of all the people he diagnosed with “Shadow Sickness”, but actually became food for Haine. That list includes Shinpei’s parents, who discovered Haine’s cave and were killed for threatening to expose it.

Finally, Pops also knows the true identity of Shide: he was once his ancestor Hishigata Shidehiko, the founder and first director of the Hishigata clinic. Family ties, indeed. One Mio stronger in number and armed with all this information, it’s going to be an interesting final nine episodes spanning the final two days before the Shadowpocalypse.

Summertime Render – 15 – Shadow and Flame

No sooner does Shinpei loop back to the kitchen does Ushio arrive with Mio to fill him in on what happened: the enemy got to Nezu and used his own sniper rifle to kill Shinpei. We also learn that the creepy vision Shin keeps having is a visualization of his situation.

The past is crumbling behind him, and should he loop back where there is no more solid ground, he’ll fall into nothingness. He figures he has one loop left, if that. If they’re going to make their stand against the Shadows, it’s now or never.

Shinpei’s plan involves using himself as bait, since Haine wants to kill him until he’s out of loops and no longer a threat to her plans. The part of Mio’s personality Shadow Mio copied can’t help but admire how cool her big brother is by doing this, but forgets that Ushio can transform into a watch.

Ushio transforms and runs with Shin in her arms as an angered Mio gives chase. The real Mio, Sou, and Tokiko block her path, with Tokiko using two Shadow Babies Ushio freed from Haine’s control for defense and offense. Hizuru gives herself over to Ryuunosuke, who takes on “Shiori’s” corrupted family and friends.

When Haine and Shide get involved in chasing after Ushio and Shinpei, Ryuunosuke takes a bullet for them, buying them enough time to regroup in the gymnasium. Back outside, Shadow Mio shows off just how graceful and diabolical she can be by merging her body into one of the babies, but ends up getting burnt by her original and shot with nails by Sou.

Back in the gym, Ushio narrowly avoids getting shot to shreds by Shide and his trusty revolver, taking the stage as Tetsu switches on the stage lights to keep Haine and Shide’s attention on her. Haine and Shide, always convinced they have the advantage, are sorely mistaken in this case.

Still floating just over them are Ushio’s hairs, which are transformed into six masses of gasoline that then fall and soak the two. Then Shinpei, who was lurking on he balcony above them, tosses a match that starts a conflagration, then brandishes a revolver of his own. It’s a very cool action movie scene.

Hell, everything in this episode is incredibly cool and cinematic. A great deal of time and effort went into the animation; clearly STR was holding a large chunk of its budget for this episode (and probably a couple of future ones). While some suspension of disbelief normal “civvies” in Shin’s group survive as long as they do, great care is taken to ensure the weaker (Shinpei, Tetsu, Sou, and Mio) are protected by the stronger (Ushio, Tokiko, Nezu and Hizuru).

Thanks to their preparation, coordination, and vast amounts of misdirection, along with exploiting the arrogance of the enemy, Ushio is on the cusp of deleting Haine…only for Haine to use Shiori’s face, voice, and tears as a psychological weapon that cause Ushio to hesitate for just a moment. In that moment, Shide, who was playing dead in the fire, shoots Shinpei in the chest several times, then grabs Ushio and pulls her into the flames.

Shide intentionally missed Shin’s vitals so that Ushio would die before he did, and all the information on the previous loops will die with her. But once again Ushio pulls a fast one on him, as the body he grabbed was just a dummy. The real Ushio, in shell pendant form, reforms into a human and stabs Shide through the heart, promising to delete him.

Shide is only saved by Haine pulling off the most impressive Shadow stunt to date: deleting all of the air in the gym, killing the fire, causing Shinpei and Tetsu to nearly asphyxiate, and blowing out all of the gym’s windows from the air outside, allowing Haine and Shide to escape.

When Ushio collapses, a distraught Shinpei rushes to her side, but she’s fine; she’s only exhausted from all the copying she did. Like Haine and Shide, Ushio laments that Shinpei has been mortally wounded by the gunshots and doesn’t have much time left, but he reveals that a homemade bulletproof vest under his shirt protected him.

At the sight of the vest and upon realizing her Shin is okay, Ushio pulls him into what must surely be a very painful (due to the bullet impacts) but also very welcome hug. It’s an incredibly sweet and moving hug, the reward for going through a literal trial-by-fire.

While Haine and Shide are still out there and sure to regain their strength soon, it’s about as good an outcome as you could ask for. None of Shinpei’s friends or family were killed, and they’ve even captured Mio, whom the real Mio says Ushio should hack so she can become one of them.

Along with Toki’s Shadow Babies, Ushio’s hacking looks to be the potentially decisive key to victory: being able to turn enough of Haine’s minions to their side so they can fight on more even terms. The only problem is time.

Summertime Render – 14 – Trouble Out of the Gate

As Shinpei and Ushio continue to watch Hizuru’s past interactions with Haine unfold, it’s clear Haine was not always evil incarnate, but more of a timid, frightened little girl Hizuru just couldn’t let be. Haine’s story of how the rest of her family starved is probably a big part of that; no doubt Hiruko inherited that story from the host body.

But the more Hizuru fed her, the more hungry Haine became, and she could no longer control herself. Hiruko’s instinctive drive to devour took over just as Ryuunosuke encountered a bloody Haine while looking for his twin sister. This is the day Ryuunosuke died, then in short order became a part of Hizuru.

Hizuru’s split personality wasn’t due to emotional trauma, it was an actual thing that happened as a result of Ryuunosuke’s copy bouncing off Haine (who is momentarily her former, innocent self) and imprinting onto Hizuru. Ryuu has powers similar to Ushio in the present, but by using them in his sisters body he puts immense strain on that body.

That said, he manages to kill two shadow babies and rescue Hizuru and a younger (but still old) Nezu. But Hizuru couldn’t do anything about the loss of her brother’s body, and her family soon moves off the island, much to Asako’s distress. As her boat departed, Hizuru spotted Haine wearing a patch where her right eye had been, promising the next time they meet she’ll kill her.

The memory ends abruptly, and Shinpei and Ushio end up back with Hizuru and Nezu about to confront Shiori. Ushio uses her memory transfer ability to bring the two up to speed, and they decide to regroup for now. Shinpei has Mio, Sou, Tokiko, and Tetsu meet him, Ushio, and Hizuru at the school, where he gives a speech about not wanting to run away, but to stand and fight…and for that he’ll need all their help.

Now knowing what awaits her by dutifully continuing her family’s practice of aiding Hiruko (betrayal and grisly death) even Tokiko agrees to help fight, leaving the cowardly holdout Tetsu no choice but to also agree. Nezu, keeping watch outside, ends up like Muldoon in Jurassic Park when he looks the wrong way at the wrong time and a “clever girl” kills him.

Just as Shinpei’s new plan is about to commence with everyone filled in and on board, there’s a flash and he loops back to when he was making sandwiches in the kitchen of his house. Clearly, one of Shiori, Shadow Mio or Shide (the four-armed one, embodiment of greed) killed him with Nezu’s sniper rifle. Shiori has realized that the starting points of Shinpei’s loops are getting later and later, so the faster she and her ilk make Shinpei die and loop, the faster he’ll run out of time.

That said, his starting point here is getting very late indeed with most of a second cour left; surely something in his favor has to happen soon. That is, unless, perhaps, reaching that point where there’s no time left is his natural next step on his journey…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 13 – The Rules Have Changed

When Ushio materializes beside Shinpei, she pounces on a confused Hizuru. Nezu prepares to aim his rifle at Ushio, but Shin asks him to stand down. Then Ushio takes Hizuru’s hand, sees everything she’s seen, and knows that even though she’s a Shadow, Ushio is their ally.

She’s always been their ally, ever since she printed the looping eye and brought Shin to the island. And since she’s a novelist, she’ll consider the incredible credible, and the unreal real. Shin believes their worst mistake last loop was splitting up, and having heard she died, Hizuru concurs.

They head to the Kobayakawa home just like before, only this time they have Ushio, and after Haine tried to corrupt her, she now believes she has the ability to erase a Shadow if she wants to. Since Shiori is Haine’s way of moving about outside the cave, she’s hoping erasing Shiori will eliminate that way at worst, and destroy Haine at best.

Hizuru cedes control to Ryuunosuke, who heads into the house…and gets their ass handed to them. The “four-armed one” smashes Hizuru’s head in with her own sledge, and Haine!Shiori reveals that thanks to the brand on Shinpei’s arm, whenever he shows up in a new loop, she can find him “lickety-split”.

With Hizuru already dead and Nezu following shortly thereafter, it looks very bad for our heroes. Then the four-armed one wraps those arms around Shinpei, and PreCure Ushio swoops in and beheads him with her hair. So ends the fifth loop; we hardly knew ye! In the timeless corridor between loops, Shinpei thanks Ushio (in wristwatch form) for her quick thinking.

He laments how he let his naivete get Hizuru and Nezu killed so quickly and let another loop go to waste…but there’s no time for sulking. Ushio reports that when she tried to scan four-arms she found no data, but he “smelled” like Haine. She also believes Haine is using the brand to pull her along with him through the loops.

Both agree that in the next loop they’ll have to be a lot smarter and more careful, since they no longer have much of the element of surprise. But to their surprise, they appear not on the 22nd as usual, but in front of their family restaurant, in the rain. Two students walk past—the twins Hizuru and Ryuunosuke.

Shinpei follows them inside with Watch!Ushio and learn that this is most definitely the past; back when the restaurant was celebrating ten years, and both of Shinpei’s marine archaeologist parents were still alive. Hizuru tells Asako and Ryuu that she’s met a friend…up at the clinic on the mountain.

Shinpei/Ushio follow the three (he’s not visible to anyone in this projection, which is one of Hizuru’s memories), and when Hizuru’s friend doesn’t appear, Ryuu and Asako split. Then the light in the window comes on as usual, and Haine (with two identical red eyes) greets Hizuru.

I thought we were going to spend some time in the fifth loop, but it’s smart for the second cour to subvert expectations and up the ante when it comes to the dangers Shinpei and his family and friends face as they continue to meddle. Even more ominous, Sou’s dick of a dad is aware of Shinpei and Hizuru snooping around where they shouldn’t, and also knows Ushio’s shadow is causing trouble.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S., The new OP is…fine, and I even find myself not skipping it for future episodes, but it’s no first cour OP, which really captured the heat and bittersweet longing of summer. This new theme (and the ED, for that matter) sound a lot more generic.

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.

Summertime Render – 10 – A Leaf in the Forest

This week is a no-holds-barred Scooby-Doo adventure almost from start to finish. After watching what Ushio went through to warn Shinpei, there’s no way Sou isn’t going to tag along as they head to his family’s old abandoned clinic up in the mountains. Ushio also struts her Shadow Power stuff, able to transform into a shell necklace Shinpei wears, and explaining how her swimsuit is her armor.

Her abilities combined with Shinpei’s courage and Sou’s loyalty make them the perfect team to investigate a creepy haunted hospital. One great detail is a rare statue of the ancient Japanese deity Hiruko-sama, in the form of a limbless leach-like fertility idol. The fact that legend suggests it was heteromorphic creates an enticing connection to the clearly equally-ancient Shadows. Shinpei, Ushio and Sou end up in what seems to be a Shadow nursery.

Turns out there’s something even more terrifying than a Shadow … a baby Shadow, one that seems docile and harmless enough right up until Shinpei tries to shoot it with a nailgun. It dodges and rolls and bounds all over the place until Sou hits it with his baseball bat.

But then it wraps around the bat (again, Shadow) and very nearly kills him, only Shinpei has been practicing his nailgunning and gets three shots into the Shadow. Ushio finishes it off with her Shadow hair, and cue Victory Fanfare for the Scooby Gang. As much as I fear for their safety, it’s a hell of a lot of fun watching these three old friends get shit done.

At the end of the battle, Ushio gives Sou a playful shove forward as the three continue their investigation, but her arm starts bleeding, like the injury that occurred to a previous copy of the arm has returned. After her powers are essentially a cheat code for most of the episode, it’s good for the episode to self-level and demonstrate she’s far from all-powerful.

Shinpei knows this, and he also stands by his promise to always protect her (which made her blush earlier), and his foreknowledge of the nightmares to come even make a dark cave full of Shadow babies seem…not that bad? He knows firsthand it can always be worse! That said, considering how much effort it took to defeat one baby, the trio have their work cut out for them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 06 – Killing Her Properly

A part of me was disappointed with how relatively cleanly Menou’s path to redemption became when Orwell went full Genie Jafar levels of evil. But I shouldn’t have worried; Virgin Road pulls off a rip-roaringly epic mid-cour finale that’s both ass-kicking and heartwarming.

While Menou fights Orwell down below, Akari’s “blanching” is interrupted by an automated time magic spell, which revives who I’ll call Akari Prime, who knows everything that has happened in all the previous time loops she’s experienced.

It’s thrilling to see this knowing Akari easily dispatch her captors, as well as to learn that she knows Menou has been trying to kill her, but she loves her so much that if she must die, she wants no one but Menou to kill her.

Akari ZAPs herself back to a simpler, earlier version of herself, but keeps a sense of deja vu and her love for Menou, which is clearly the most important part of her existence. No wonder Akari fell for Menou so hard in such a brief time together. Akari Prime also does something pretty “mean”, but also necessary to defeat Orwell.

In the bowels of the castle, Momo and Ashuna are stalemated against the demon and red dragon. But then Akari remotely ages Momo’s most prized possession: the ribbons Menou gave her when she was little. Now, we know Menou is excellent at wielding ether but has a very short supply. But her aide is no slouch in the ether-wielding department, and possesses vast stores of the stuff.

She is so freaking pissed when the dragon’s flame burns away what’s left of her ribbons, she goes absolutely ballistic, unleashing an attack that brings half of the castle down on top of her. For one terrible moment I thought she’d ethered Ashuna, but not, the swole princess not only escapes, but has never had more fun.

Following Momo’s lead, she whips out a mega-blade to defeat the demon with no regard for the corrupt castle where she was brought up. Then it’s Game Over for Orwell at the halfway point of the episode, because Akari and Menou are reunited. That means Menou’s ether supply is no longer of any concern.

That said, it’s her against Orwell and her Red Angel automaton, but the advantage doesn’t last long when Momo, still super pissed, brings down the cathedral’s barrier and beats the red angel to a pulp. Momo takes advantage of her competent aide’s distraction to create a diversion of bubbles…and etheric camouflage.

By appearing as Flare, she’s able to make Orwell hesitate for just the few moments she needs to throw a knife at her unguarded head. But it still is guarded, as the apparently not-too-judgey cathedral itself protects her simply due to her position as Archbishop. This even surprises Orwell, who thought for a second she was a goner.

She isn’t, which means she’s still quite a handful for Menou what with her RGB wand, and Menou knows it. In order to defeat her she’ll have to use Akari’s Pure Concept and delve deeper than she ever has into Akari’s subconscious.

I lit up when I heard that, because that means Menou is going to catch a glimpse of Akari Prime, who is still in there somewhere. A trippy dream sequence ensues as Menou enters Akari’s mind while dealing with her own subconscious, which admits she was never able to become the villain Flare taught her to be.

Just as Akari always has Akari Prime in the back of her mind ready to protect her, Menou always harbored a desire to be a non-sarcastically pure, just, and strong priestess. And in a way, she has remained that, as she didn’t go along with Orwell’s scheme.

Subcon Menou is ready to take her own life with her blade when she’s stopped by Akari in the classroom of her school. There, Akari tells her she’ll be her best friend, no matter what happens.

This acknowledgement of their bond allows Menou to unlock her and Akari’s combined powers, against which Orwell’s RGB wand is absolutely no match. The white beam overwhelms the rainbow beam, and rather than her planned de-aging, Orwell’s aging is ultra-accelerated to just a few moments before her death.

She almost seems to regret having cast aside all that was just and pure for her own path, and considering it led to her ruin, I can’t blame her. But this isn’t her story, it’s that of Menou and Akari, and of Momo and Ashuna, the latter of which finds the former sleeping off her berserkness. She tells the slumbering Momo that she genuinely enjoyed fighting by her side.

In the aftermath of the battles that claimed both the Noblesse’s castle and the Faust’s cathedral, the public report is that Orwell died in battle, her heretical crimes never to be revealed. She wasn’t too big to fail, but the Faust are, which means Menou still has a job, and still has values to uphold.

In a beautiful callback to last week’s shopping, which feels like a dang year ago, Menou instantly cheers a contrite, weepy Momo up with twin red scrunchies, which immediately become her new most prized possessions. Menou also explains how the Akari now among them is a regressed version of one from a distant future, but despite “resetting”, she maintained her affection for her. As we saw, that’s a feature, not a bug, of Akari’s magecraft.

Menou decides she’ll stay by Akari’s side in order to find a way to kill her. After all, Akari is still an existential threat to the world, something Prime Akari is aware of. Because of that and her love for Menou, she not only doesn’t hold it against her, but welcomes the day Akari will kill her.

We catch a glimpse of that future in the form of a nightmare non-Prime Akari has before waking up in her hotel room with Menou. It’s definitely a nightmare for Akari Prime, because it’s the day Menou dies before she can kill her, leaving the deed to Flare.

All Akari Prime can do is keep going back, making adjustments, and maintaining her faith that one of these times around, her beloved Menou will kill her properly.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 05 – Old Age Having a Go at Youth

Having seen where Menou came from and who trained her, it’s entirely possible her bonhomie is merely a carefully practiced act. Hell, even her sense of style, which Akari admires, was developed as one more arrow in her executioner’s quiver. But gosh darn it all if she and Akari have the most adorable date in Garm on the eve of Akari’s ethering.

I honestly didn’t know why so much attention was spent on Menou delegating her investigation mission to Momo, but now we know: because as Menou skips around town with Akari, Momo is scouring Garm’s massive underground tunnel network. There, she not only finds forbidden Faust tech under the Noblesse royal palace, she also finds Ashuna, who is conducting an investigation of her own.

Ashuna and Momo’s dynamic continues to get better and better, especially here where they don’t take up arms against each other but simply co-exist as two people with a shared goal: uncovering the truth, whatever it is. Meanwhile, the absolute truth that Menou feels nothing for Akari starts to show its cracks the closer they get to zero hour in the creepily white ceremonial hall.

As the apparent magecraft to eliminate Akari starts up, Menou’s scripture lights up, indicating a call from Momo. Momo, along with Ashuna, have already discovered that there are Faust conspiring with the Noblesse for some dark purpose. Menou is just a little too late to realize it, for Orwell is right beside her when she does, and she can tell Menou’s figured out she’s doin’ some dirt.

So no sooner does Menou know than Orwell knows she knows, and after that, Menou finds herself in a hopelessly lopsided battle against the Archbishop of the Faust. Her most powerful attack is leisurely swatted away by Orwell, who then unleashes a terrifying counterattack that destroys Menou’s book. She tosses it at Orwell like a bomb, but ends up falling through the hole Orwell makes below her, leaving Akari on her own against eight priestesses.

Orwell follows Menou to the space below the hall, where Menou finds all of the missing women who have literally had the life and vitality sucked out of them. Orwell’s face game is epic, as she gives her bad guy speech about how she’s sick of helping people and wants something in return: her youth back. She’s planning on using Akari’s Pure Concept to make that happen, and was willing to conspire with the Noblesse to do so.

The scripture-less Menou is probably already toast in a one-on-one battle with Orwell, but Orewell still decides to make it interesting by summoning a red automa in angel form to do her dirty work. It’s not just Akari she wants for her Pure Concept, but Menou she wants as a catalyst, revealing she’s played the long game for ten years.

The title of the episode is “Goodbye”, but it’s not about Menou saying goodbye to Akari. It’s about her saying goodbye to the righteous life she thought she was living. With Orwell not just turning heel, but having been a heel all along, the bottom has dropped out from Menou’s world. She and Akari are down, but they’re not out…not as long as Momo and Ashuna are still out and about.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 04 – The Only Bad Guy

You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy’.—Tony Montana

As Akari naps on her shoulder, Menou reflects on how she got to this point, on a train to the execution of what seems like a perfectly ordinary and nice young woman but for her potential to end the world with her unchecked powers of time manipulation.

We’ve seen where Menou’s old life ended and where Flare found her; a haunting blanched world of pure white destruction. The first half of this episode expounds upon that scene, and how the landscape was very much reflecting Menou’s own state at that time: a blanched, blank slate.

Like Fushi in To Your Eternitythis Menou didn’t feel anything; she was simply there…until Orwell assigned Flare to look after her. Her first words to Flare were “who are you?” which might as well been a question to herself. Flare’s response, that she’s a “pure, just and strong” priestess, is delivered with a villainously twisted face and dripping with sarcasm Menou takes at face value.

Menou came to learn that Flare was an executioner of otherworlders and other enemies of the Faust, and is eventually taken to an entire continent of nothing but salt slowly dissolving into the sea, the result of one of the Four Human Errors. Upon learning the solemn duty of people like Flare, Menou decided on the spot that she wanted to be one of those people.

To this request, Flare warns Menou that executioners like her are little more than villains to be loathed and discarded when at the end of their usefulness, someone willing to do anything to anyone, good or bad, man or woman, in order to keep the world safe. Someone strong, but bereft of purity or justice. A tool.

When Menou says she wants to be one anyway, Flare takes her to a monastery to train with other young girls. They learn how to fight and kill, and also learn about the otherworlders and how they influenced this world and threatened its very existence at least four times in history. The iconography on display in the classroom is wonderfully dark and medieval.

It’s here where Menou learns that she must “speak of friendship, whisper words of love, be dirty and underhanded” in order to kill one’s targets. She also meets the younger Momo, who like some other girls is not taking the indoctrination into merciless killing machines smoothly. Menou comes to Flare, who seems to be sleeping uneasily in her dark and musty chambers.

There, Menou asks her to make her “the only bad person” so the girls who don’t want to don’t have to be. It’s clear their hesitance is a result of past experiences Menou no longer has due to the calamity she survived. Flare proceeds to evaulated Menou’s strengths and weaknesses, adding up to a “slightly below average” candidate for such a role.

Then Menou surprises Flare (something I’m sure doens’t happen often) by  taking her face in her little hands and asking her not to make her like her, but to make her her. A little Flare. A Flarette.

Flare, long ago resigned to her fate as a loathsome villain who will never find vindication or peace, is half-lamenting and half-admiring in stating that a “twisted personality” has emerged from Menou’s “blanched out soul”, and that one day she’ll surpass her when all of it is destroyed by happiness and she still survives.

That segues nicely into the present, with Akari waking up from her nap to see Garm growing larger through the window. She’s too distracted by the big shiny capital city to noticed Menou’s pained expressions, the result of having time to herself to reflect on her past and present. Flare knew Menou would come to this point, when happiness threatened to destroy the villain she’d become.

Menou promises to go on a sightseeing date with Akari, but they first pay a visit to the Faust cathedral (which is right next to the Noblesse’s fortress…keep your enemies close). The ceremonial hall that will “take Akari home” is there, and Akari meets Archbishop Orwell, who says the hall will be ready in two days.

Akari is apologetic and appreciative, the only person not in on what is really going on. Orwell plays the role of kindly grandmother figure to a T, while Menou does not flinch in the presence of this deeply upsetting charade. She also agres to take on a side job for Orwell investigating missing women in the city in exchange for funds for taking the pilgrimage route once her business in Garm is finished.

The fact that this job conflicts with the promise Menou made to Akari to go sightseeing together, and also looks ahead to the time when Akari is back “home”, irks Akari to no end, and she makes her anger plain once the two are set up in a fancy hotel room. She storms back inside to take a bath, slamming the door behind her.

Menou is seemingly taken aback by Akari’s anger, forgetting that while she’s always kept a professional remove due to her ultimate mission to eliminate her, Akari considers Menou a friend, and for Menou to treat her like a “stranger who will be gone soon” truly hurts, even if Akari is being a little immature about it.

While Akari bathes, she has a chance to reflect on how she reacted, and concludes she was indeed too harsh on Menou, who has many responsibilities to juggle. To whit, while she’s in the bath Menou meets with Momo on the balcony, and basically delegates the investigation job to her.

As she was on the train, Momo is obedient to the big sister she loves more than anything, but also very weary of Menou’s continued interactions with someone she deems an extremely dangerous otherworlder. Menou laments forcing “the messy stuff” on Momo’s plate, but still does it, because she needs and wants to keep Akari happy.

Upon going back into the room, Akari meets her there, having emerged from the bath in a towel, and apologizes for how she acted, saying she’ll sightsee on her own while Menou takes care of her duties. Menou in turn says their sightseeing date is back on, and Akari embraces her, loing her towel in the process.

As much as Akari may like Menou, the fact of the matter is she’s being lied to, and proverbial knives are being sharpened for her demise, not her return to Japan. Menou is using their nascent friendship to keep Akari docile and content until the knife can be slipped in. It’s heartbreaking, compelling character drama.

Next week’s episode is titled “Goodbye”. Will it mark the departure of Akari, or Menou’s departure from villainy? Judging from her past, the latter seems more likely. But then again, she’s never met an otherworlder quite like Akari.

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