Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 04 – Above the Wisteria Line

We learn that Tanjirou was able to defeat Sabito, i.e. cleave the giant boulder, by sensing the “thread” of his target by smell, made possible during Total Concentration. After a celebratory dinner when Urokodaki gives him the cloud-emblazoned tunic like his and a kitsune warding mask, Tanjirou bids his master and still-sleeping sister goodbye and heads to Mount Fujikasane, which is replete with gorgeous glowing wisteria blooms.

The year-long blooms aren’t just for show, as the creepy twins who administer the Final Selection explain: demons hate wisteria, and so they are trapped above the elevation where the blooms don’t grow, making the top half of the mountain a demon prison. The applicants must survive seven days in order to pass. There are many other applicants, but we don’t meet any of them, which is was an unexpected but welcome choice.

Instead of introducing potential rivals and allies, the focus remains on Tanjirou, who decides he’ll stay as far east, where the sun rises earliest, as he can, and use the daytime when the demons aren’t active to rest. He smells his first two demon opponents before he sees them, and is initially a little uneasy, but remembers his training and defeats them both with relative ease (they had been fighting each other over terf, after all).

The third demon is a different story, as it is on a level unlike anything else he’s encountered. A giant grotesque mass of sinewy, veiny hands like something straight out of Akira, Tanjirou is again taken by fear at the mere sight of it, especially as it already has a human applicant in one of his many hands, and drops him into his maw.

Urokodaki told Tanjirou that the more humans a demon has eaten the stronger they are, and when Tanjirou confronts his Hand Demon, he helpfully tells him he’s eaten over fifty “brats” in his extremely long life (dating back to the Edo period).

Not only that, but this “morphed” demon has a particular grudge against Urokodaki, who imprisoned him on Mt. Fujikasane. He’s gotten his revenge by eating no fewer than thirteen of Urokodaki’s students—including Sabito and Momoko, who it’s now confirmed interacted with Tanjirou in some kind of spiritual form.

The demon successfully throws Tanjirou off the game on which he very critically needs to stay by describing in detail how the two others were killed, and our boy ends up smacked against a tree hard, his protective mask shattering. He avoids being killed only thanks, I believe, one of his departed little brothers shouting for him to wake up…just in time to dodge the demon’s killing blow.

Not about to let himself become Urokodaki’s fourteenth dead student (with that track record I can see why he was reluctant to train anyone else), Tanjirou re-centers himself, attains Total Concentration, and uses his specialized water-based attacks (which are beautifully rendered like Ukiyo-e waves) to slash the demon’s neck, defeating him.

So far Demon Slayer has been incredibly efficient, getting its protagonist from losing his family to meeting his master to training to reaching the final test that will make him a demon hunter. And yet even though I’m semi-binging, none of it has felt rushed in the least. Events pass as slowly or quickly as I’ve felt they should. Finally, this episode featured the most dazzling combat to date. As expected, ufotable knows what they’re doing.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 08 – The Safest Place

Suddenly, not long after talking to Keiichi, Rika is missing. The class calls her name around the school grounds. Keiichi prepares to search the outhouse, but Mion asks him to search the roof. Then Mion suddenly grows agitated, declaring she has to “put an end” to Oyashiro’s curse.

Mion calls out Rika, one of the heads of the Three Great Families, for coming to carry the curse out. She’s is shaking the ladder so much it seems likely Keiichi will fall and hurt himself or worse, but their teacher Chie snaps her out of her agitation and sends them both home for the day.

It isn’t long before Mion invites Keiichi to her house, certain there’s something he has to say to her. Sure enough, he breaks down and confesses to entering the ritual tool storeroom. Mion already knows this, but now that he’s confessed, she feels she can trust him now, and asks him to trust her in turn as “the only one on his side.”

That’s because there are “some” in the village who believe anyone who disturbs that storeroom should be “punished”. She leads Kei deep into the bowels of Sonozaki family’s personal underground dungeon, torture chamber, and safe room, then locks Keichii in a cell…for his own protection.

She tells him she loves him, which is why she wants him to be safe while she…takes care of business. If she doesn’t come back, she tells him to say it was she who took him prisoner and locked him up. But especially when he watches Mion pull a giant revolver out of a drawer before she leaves, he can’t and won’t stay put.

He manages to bust himself free from the cell door, and the security monitors show a team of suspicious people in construction jumpsuits amassing on Sonozaki property. The safe room door proves far tougher, and Kei ends up knocking himself out trying to force it. He briefly wakes up to find himself on a gurney, with Ooichi looking down on him.

After Kei is discharged from the hospital, Ooichi meets with him again to give him some rather extensive bad news. The detective dispenses with any sort of tact and even seems to cruelly relish delivering the report, even laughing about the mess: there was a well in the Sonozaki’s dungeon.

At the bottom of the well were the bodies of Sonozaki Oryo, Kimiyoshi Kiiichiro, and Shion. Below them were the skeletal remains of at least three others. Rika was found in the septic tank of the outhouse Kei was going to check but didn’t because of Mion. As for Mion, she and Satoko were found in the Sonozaki mansion, dead from gunshot wounds to the head. Rena’s fate isn’t mentioned, but I assume she’s still alive.

Keiichi manages to survive thanks to Mion, with whom he finally came clean with his sins. But it was too late to save anyone else. The clues all point to Mion killing everyone involved in the rituals—including herself and her twin—in order to end the vicious cycle of Oyashiro’s curse.

Whether she ultimately succeeded, who can say. Kei is now all alone (aside from Rena), with a host of difficult questions that will probably never be answered. In any case, this is the end of the second arc. If we’re going by Rika’s final words, this “loop” ended in abject failure; another Bad Ending. Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Then again…perhaps not!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Deca-Dence – 10 – Not All Right At All

When Kaburagi tries to tell Natsume the truth in a masterfully-directed scene in which we feel her disorientation, Natsume passes out, much like Neo when Morpheus first tells him he’s in the real world (though she doesn’t vomit). Could it be her status as a bug depended on her believing the lie? Did Kabu break her with the truth?

We’re left in suspense after she faints, as the episode cuts to the three techs evacuate the Gadoll Factory. The director tells his subordinate to simply leave the tiny cute Gadoll, as it’s already dying, and the Gadoll sticks two little tendrils into him. By the time he notices they left red welts on his green belly, the elevator goes out of control.

As Kaburagi drives Natsume back to Deca-Dence, she wakes up yelling and he puts the brakes on. Once he calmly explains to her what’s going on, she takes hold of the part about him deceiving her. She’s not shocked anymore so much as betrayed and disappointed. She also wishes Kaburagi never told her the truth—saying this through broken glass is a nice touch, as her world is now thoroughly shattered.

After what is no doubt a wordless trip home, Kabu returns to find Pipe has disintegrated along with the other Gadoll as he expected (it’s an absolutely gutting scene, and perfectly staged and lit). Natsume hangs around the elated Tankers celebrating the apparent end of the war, but when she’s approached by Kurenai, she runs off.

In a way the truth as told to her by Kabu did break her. Wallowing in a dark alley, she no longer knows what to do, who to trust, or if any of her efforts ever mattered in the first place. Having pushed herself to her limits, she finds herself in the same position as Mei when Natsume became a soldier: why couldn’t things stay the way they were?

It’s only when Kaburagi is about to log out when he notices the note Natsume wrote him still lying unread on his desk. It’s a simple message, with the part about letting her know when he’s back crossed out, but still readable. Kabu decides the best way to apologize is to hand-write a letter of his own to her.

The Tankers may be celebrating, but the revolution is not over, and they’re far from free. The cyborg admins basically put Deca-Dence on pause for all Gears, and Hugin stalks around the Tank searching for Natsume. This is especially chilling since Kabu logs out after writing his letter, leaving Natsume alone and exposed.

As for the little Gadoll that could, it is reborn within the dead green factory director’s belly (he and his team don’t survive the elevator drop) It bursts out, Alien-style, then proceeds to devour the three bodies, and begins to…grow.

With the prison overrun by police when Kabu logs out, he, Jill, Donatello and the surviving inmates flee in a jeep, which I believe is the first time we see cyborgs interacting directly with “human” machinery. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition to say the least! When Kabu learns Hugin is in Deca-Dence he races to get to Jill’s hideout so he can log back in.

Hugin hasn’t quite found Natsume, but Kurenai does, and allowing Natsume to talk about how she feels (or doesn’t feel) without judgment. Asking questions about what she should think or feel or do, Kurenai tells her simply that she’s glad she’s back and unharmed, and everything else is up to her; the opinions of others are ultimately only supplementary to her choices. It’s a lovely, elegant scene between the two women in which Kaburagi doesn’t even come up.

That said, when Natsume returns to her home and finds and read’s Kabu’s heartfelt letter, she learns a lot more about him, how he was about to off himself when he met her, and how she changed him for the better. The words of his letter are beautifully accompanied by a montage of the moments in his and Natsume’s lives that he mentions.

With this, Natsume rushes to Kabu’s trailer, and just happens to whack him in the head when she throws open his door; he had just logged back in; great timing! Natsume gets everything he’s said now, but doesn’t like the connotations in the letter that suggest that he’s leaving again. If he is resolved to breaking all the rules, as she says with certitude: “he’ll have her help”.

It’s an absolutely heartwarming reunion and reconciliation of our co-protagonists, and Deca-Dence knows it…which is why it chooses the very moment Kaburagi agrees to let her keep helping him that he’s impaled through the chest by Hugin, who expected him to return to his trailer.

In his haste to reconcile he completely forgot the danger he and Natsume were in. His life’s blood splatters across a shocked Natsume’s face, and back at the hideout Jill tells the logged-out Kabu he can’t return to the Kaburagi avatar. Natsume is all alone with his lifeless avatar, and a sinister, smirking Hugin tells her she won’t escape, for The World Must Be Rid Of Bugs.

If that weren’t enough, our little Gadoll friend has grown quite a bit…into something that looks bigger than all of Deca-Dence; perhaps the largest Gadoll ever. Kabu and Jill watch as it rises over the horizon, no doubt still hungry and ready to devour everything and anyone it can get its hands on.

This giant Gadoll, sole survivor of the GGS, may even be out of the control of Hugin and the system, unless that ship in orbit has some serious space-to-ground firepower. If that’s the case, perhaps the Gadoll can be somehow used to help break the system, instead of just everyone.

Stay with me here…but what if the Gadoll, with their potential for collective intelligence, know that Kaburagi and Natsume were kind to Pipe? That’s all I’ve got for now, because as audacious as Deca-Dence continues to be, I can’t see this ending with the heroine being unceremoniously killed off.

Deca-Dence – 09 – Pushed to the Limit

After a cool Kaburagi warns Kurenai not die before he returns, calling her the “strongest, finest woman alive”,  he and Natsume take advantage of the chaos of the latest Gadoll battle to slip through and on to the factory’s barrier unnoticed.

On top of wondering if all the parts of their intricately constructed plan to break the system move how and when they’re supposed to, Kabu is dealing with a crucial unknown: how Natsume will actually react when she learns the truth about the Gadoll, the world, and him.

But when they reach the barrier, before Kabu can tell her anything she urges him to keep up, walking straight through the barrier without any problems. Both impressed with her resolve and realizing he shouldn’t be clouding her focus, he remains silent, and the operation proceeds.

And what an operation! Deca-Dence has been carefully preparing both the practicalities of the plan, the geography of the prison and factory, while also fleshing out all of the players involved. It’s an absolute treat to watch this episode wind up the sum product and let ‘er rip.

Turk initially performs his part of the plan, leading the inmates in a full-on riot in which they toss explosives into the piles of Gadoll shit and create a massive cloud of pollution that not only infects the lake’s clear water the Gadoll need to maturate, but causes to activate their natural defense systems, i.e. Zones.

The pollution of the lake and the berserk Gadoll and their Zones conspire to create utter havoc within the factory, allowing Kaburagi and Natsume to slip in without any of the preoccupied staff noticing. But upon entering a compartment that leads to the “Gadoll Genocide System” they must activate, they’re stopped dead in their tracks…by Hugin, tipped off by Turkey.

A desperate battle between Kaburagi and Hugin ensues, with Jill using her hacking prowess to make it appear that not only are their several dozen Kaburagis to target, but the “Natsume” whom Hugin impales with his hand (causing my heart to skip a beat or two in horror) is really just a hologram, and the real Natsume is safe behind a bulkhead.

Turk sits back and watches his betrayal bear rotten fruit as enhanced security forces start mowing down inmates. When Sarkozy asks Why? Turk simply laughs and tells him that’s how the cookie crumbles, and if he doesn’t like it, tough. Sark understandably feels betrayed by Turk, but still lacks the willpower to do anything about it.

When Jill discovers they’ve been betrayed and Turk and Sark are the culprits, she yanks Donatello (fighting one last Gadoll battle as a Gear) out of Deca-Dence and has him hunt Turk down, ultimately tossing him in the giant churning vat to drown in rotting Gadoll shit—a fitting end for someone “fine with the way things are.”

Turk’s comeuppance comes just after he left a wounded Sarkozy for dead, ultimately only interested in getting a pardon and rejoining the outside world. But as he suffers a lethal oxyone leak, he remember’s Kabu’s words about taking himself to his very limits.

Rather than lie around and die, Sark decides to take himself to his limits as well, and in doing so becomes the hero he was so intent on becoming. By injesting a tube of super-concentrated oxyone liquor (the titular “super charger”) he essentially becomes a walking bomb whose body is the fuse. Leaping into the vat after Turk, he detonates the Gadoll shit within.

The resulting explosion takes out the factory’s reactor, meaning Jill and Kabu’s plan is still viable. The fouled water starts bursting through vents and walls, including in Hugin’s face at a crucial moment that gives Kabu and Natsume time to escape.

They reach the room containing GGS controls, Kabu hits a couple buttons, and he and Natsume pull two levers in tandem. The GGS works instantly, as Gadoll everywhere spontaneously burst into clouds of black ash, much like victims of Thanos’ Snap.

This confuses Natsume, as the control screens glow within her puzzled eyes: there was no main nest to destroy, just levers to pull…what’s that all about? Injured, possibly seriously, by his scrap with Hugin, Kabu decides to simply come out and say it: the world, the Gadoll, and even his body are manufactured.

Just like that, Natsume’s world is changed forever, and with it the status quo of Deca-Dence. And it was all perfectly set up and executed. Now we await her reaction—and learn whether these revelations end up pushing her sanity past its limits.

Deca-Dence – 08 – Demolishing the Crap Factory

When Kaburagi announces his plan to destroy the Gadoll Factory to his fellow inmates, they think he’s touched. Their cyborg forms are trapped in the underground poop prison; their avatar forms in Deca-Dence have chips that instantly log them out if they touch the shield surrounding the factory.

Well, not every avatar has a chip: Kaburagi’s original avatar doesn’t, so all they have to do is log in and steal it from the avatar deep storage. That means a heist, though if we’re honest the most useful member of his team by far is the sardonic super-hacker Jill.

And what a heist it is! Watching our robot inmate friends in slick human forms with Skittle colors dart around the storage facility just as Hugin responds to a tip that Minato is illegally hoarding the very Kaburagi avatar they’re after.

The speed and complexity of the storage module tracks, their precise timing, and Hugin’s agile menace, combined with how loud and clumsy Sarkozy is being (Turkey has to snap his neck, causing him to log out)—it all conspires to kick the tension up to 11.

Thankfully, Kaburagi and Donatello manage to secure the avatar before it reaches its destination, replacing it with a sex toy that Hugin will let slide as long as Minato “enjoys it alone and in private.”

While Donatello gets the other inmates on board with destroying the poop factory (aided by Jill telling them the poop they clean up is recycled, refined and injected right back into them—a literal toxic cycle) Kaburagi decides to reunite with Natsume and Kurenai in the creepiest way possible: by sidling up to them from behind and reaching out to touch her shoulder.

While the ladies hit him, when they realize who he is they’re both elated. Natsume doesn’t even bring up the fact he left without saying anything, as she knew it had to be something important…and it was: finding the source of the Gadoll.

Just as all avatars with chips cannot cross the factory shield, it will also terminate all Tankers. But since Natsume is a Tanker Bug who is already considered dead, Kabu is confident she’ll be able to pass through with him, which is important, since he can’t bring the factory down alone.

When Kabu brings up the fact it may well be a one-way mission with no guarantee either of them will survive, Natsume urges him to dispense with such talk. She’s not quite the same kid Kaburagi left behind. She’s stronger, wiser, and braver…and she’s coming with him, no matter what. It isn’t even a question.

During their chat, Kabu gets a call from Minato asking to meet him in the prison immediately. Minato has been a good and loyal friend to Kabu, but like Fei with Natsume, had placed limits on how far that friendship can go. Like Fei wanted things to stay the same, Minato wanted Kabu to keep his head down. Threatening to blow up the Gadoll Factory and bringing down the entire system…ain’t that.

He’ll admit he wasn’t following a command of the system when he saved and helped Kabu, but that’s one thing; destroying the system is another. Whether due to the privilege of his position, emotional distance from the human beings in the Tank, or effective conditioning from the system (or all three), Minato believes there must be a system for there to be order.

Where did freedom for all get humanity? Bought out and treated as livestock by their own creations. Having never met someone like Natsume to transform his way of thinking, or instill a sense of envy for humans’ innate ability to think for themselves and choose their own path, Minato can’t see what Kabu sees. He may not immediately report Kabu, but Minato isn’t a bug.

I’m not sure that’s that—Minato may well change his mind—but Donatello’s sidekick Turkey is already forging his own path, believing Kabu’s plan to be folly and the only option is to make a deal with the authorities and save Kabu and Don “from themselves” as he sees it.

Sarkozy seemingly falls for Turk’s plan, so now Kabu and Natsume will face threats from all directions. No matter; obeying the system is no longer an option, and can no longer be called true living. They’re going to break it or die trying.

Deca-Dence – 07 – Doing What You Can Do

Before Kaburagi dives back into Deca-Dence on a rogue account, Jill tells him there aren’t any battles going on, but he returns to the tank to find there’s an absolutely gigantic hole through which Gadoll are attacking, taxing the Tanker fighters. It’s hard for Kabu to move and fight in his new novice Gear avatar, but he quietly does what he can to defeat the invading monsters.

The interior of the Tank is not usually a battlefield, which means this is the first time Natsume’s former classmates Fei and Linmei have seen her in action; they’re about as slack-jawed as you’d expect after she singlehandedly brings down a big Gadoll and gets thanked by an admiring little kid.

Kabu also witnesses Natsume’s heroics, but considering he looks like a completely different person, actually approaching her as Kaburagi is a tricky proposition, so he keeps his distance. Instead he makes contact with Commander Minato, who doesn’t want Kabu to risk getting into any further trouble…but also wants to help him.

We also learn from Minato that the hole was “stagecraft”—a means of “tactfully culling” the growing human population. With the Gadoll threat over for the time being, Kurenai and the Tankers ponder how they’ll be able to patch such a massive hole in the armor. Natsume proposes they try to enlist the help of the rest of the people in the Tank, and gather their house repair kits.

At first, Natsume’s mission seems hopeless. Even if she gets everyone’s kits and they all agree to help, the hole may not be patched before the Gadoll return. But rather than anyone agreeing to help, everyone turns her down, declaring they’re already doing all they can and can’t do any more. She tries to convince Fei, but Fei resents the fact Natsume ever wanted to change; Fei liked things the way they were.

Discouraged and exhausted after canvassing the entire town, Natsume returns to find some people changed their minds and decided that they actually could do a bit more: even the gruff butcher, Fei, and Linmei. Honestly, it’s pretty silly for them to go about their jobs when the Gadoll could come back through the open hole at any time.

Instead, in such a time of crisis, everyone steps outside their normal duties and routines and come together for a single cause. After Natsume gives Fei a grateful hug, repairs commence and the Tankers make enough progress to gain the attention of the command center. Minato orders his crew to let the Tankers be; there’s no way they’ll be able to fully repair the wall. But Minato isn’t human, so he’s probably underestimating them.

That night, a tired Natsume returns home to play with Pipe, and is approached by a strange and somewhat handsome orange-skinned Gear who offers her a skin of her favorite milk. At first Natsume is freaked out—especially at the prospect of a Gear seeing Pipe—but when she sees how the guy interacts with Pipe, she momentarily sees Kaburagi. Alas, he doesn’t open the can of worms that he actually is Kabu here; he just says he’s a good friend.

Drinking the milk outside as the sun sets, Natsume laments that Kaburagi isn’t around, but knows that someone as amazing as him is surely needed elsewhere. Kaburagi mentions how he saw her running around all day, never giving up, and wonders if that part of her isn’t what ultimately saved Kaburagi.

Natsume starts to cry as she states how weak she still is and how much more “useful” she has to be, but the tears fall even harder when she wonders if Kabu was right and the fighting will never end; that peace will never come no matter how strong everyone is. I honestly thought Kaburagi was going to pull Natsume into a comforting hug and reveal who he really is and how. Instead, he simply stews.

When he logs out and returns to the prison, he announces to Donatello and his crew his intention to eliminate all the Gadoll by destroying the factory that produces them. He doesn’t tell them his ultimate reason, but it needn’t be anything other than so Natsume can live, and won’t have to fight or cry anymore.

Deca-Dence – 06 – The Shaw-Clank Redemption

When Hugin zaps Kaburagi, it doesn’t result in his death; he’s not even sentenced to be scrapped, despite becoming one of the bugs Hugin loathes so. Instead, he’s sent right back down to the surface to spend the rest of his existence in a Bug correctional facility. From the moment he gets there, all of Kaburagi’s thoughts are bent getting back to Natsume—if she’s still alive.

Note the background cameo by…the Coronavirus?!

One minute I thought the hand-off to Natsume—the “true protagonist” of Deca-Dence and “hopeful future of bugs” personified—was complete, and the next we have an episode entirely dedicated to Kaburagi’s time in prison. Mind you I’m not complaining, as the show has shown a penchant for subverting expectations in clever and satisfying ways.

There’s also a wonderful symbolism in Kaburagi having to reach rock-bottom—in this case a prison underneath a lake—before he can rise again to reunite with and support Natsume. There actually is a time when Kabu seems to lose heart, but he knows exactly what to do to restore hope: listen to a stored recording of Natsume telling him she’ll push herself to the absolute limit. He can do no less.

The warden says to work hard and you’ll be treated well, and so that’s what Kabu does: even if all he’s doing is shoveling rock-hard Gadoll shit into a giant hole, he’ll stand tall and proudly and diligently do that duty without complaint…even when other inmates tell him no one ever leaves.

One of those complacent inmates is also his bunkmate, Sarkozy, who tells Kaburagi that not only is Natsume probably still alive, but the Gadoll attacks have paused. We later cut to the Gadoll factory to see Gear-like scientists growing and raising a fresh batch of Gadoll.

All Natsume and Kurenai can do back at Deca-Dence is keep doing their jobs, stay alive, and hope Kabu is alive and will come back soon. Sure enough, he’s on his way to doing just that, as thanks to Sarkozy he encounters a group of hard inmates with access to a contraband Deca-Dence terminal.

The leader of those inmates is his old comrade and fellow ranker Donatello, who initially regards Kabu with contempt and distrust, as he chose to obey the system rather than being imprisoned. Kabu declares the past is past, and he’ll do and risk anything necessary in order to get back to Deca-Dence.

Even though Donatello and the others find Kabu’s attachment to a “novelty” Tanker is laughable, he agrees to give his old friend a chance, but first he must defeat him in a “death dive”, a duel in which the two will fight with shovels and try to knock each other into the giant vat of Gadoll dung.

I have to say, it’s an immensely entertaining fight, with Donatello attempting to use brute force and familiarity with the surroundings to overpower Kabu, and Kabu using his speed and agility to get onto Don’s head so he can rip off his horn and threaten to stab him with it.

The two end up both falling into the poo, but survive thanks to Kabu’s operational jet-packs. Donatello accepts defeat and agrees to give Kabu access to the equipment—after the two wash off all the poop. He’s warned that he won’t be the old Armor Repairer Kaburagi anymore, but inhabiting an avatar who will likely be a stranger to Natsume.

Kabu doesn’t care. This is his only chance, so he’ll take what he can get, as he always has. The episode ends with him selecting to start a New Game on the main menu, leaving us hanging until next week to learn who he’ll ultimately become, where he’ll end up, and whether he can stay under Hugin’s radar this time.

Re: Zero – 28 – Desirable Existence

Subaru agrees to join Echidna for her “tea party” and brusquely gulps down the contents of the cup, which she identifies as “a body fluid of mine.” From there, the two proceed to have a spirited yet affable back-and-forth, with Subaru evoking quite a bit of amusement from the Witch of Greed. Echidna strikes a lovely balance between cool menace and warm feline playfulness.

For a few terrifying moments she transports them into an eerie void where she mentions all of the witches and what they were all about before the Witch of Envy killed them all. She then reveals the tea strengthens his resistance to the magical power that would already have caused most others to vomit or go mad.

Subaru is only able to chat with Echidna thanks to the “Sloth Witch Factor” that made him its new vessel after Betelgeuse died. The ruins in the forest are the Witch’s Graveyard, where Echidna’s soul is held prisoner. She grants him the right to face the trial of the Sanctuary, no doubt in hopes she can use him to free her soul. Before he leaves she licks her hand like a cat and warns Subaru: “I’m a very, very evil magic user.”

Subaru then finds himself out of the freezer and into the frying pan, with the fiery Garfiel about to pummel him into dust (having already done the same with Otto and the ground dragon). When Subaru mentions Frederica, with whom Garfiel shares hair color and tooth sharpness, Garfiel stands down.

Emilia is safe and sound in the wagon, and when she comes to, she adorably, belatedly shields Subaru from Garfiel. Still, her crystal grants her (relatively) safe passage to the Sanctuary, and Garfiel sees to that. Turns out the Sanctuary is a bit of a dump, with an ill-favored aura neither Lia nor Subie can shake.

Still, Ram is a sight for sore eyes, and welcomes Subaru with a Barusu rejoinder. Roswaal’s dulcet voice is also a sound for sore ears, but he looks sore all over, covered in bandages as a result of failing the trial of the Sanctuary. He had to try, you see, for neither he, Ram, the villagers of Arlam, or even Lia or Subie are allowed to leave the Sanctuary…at least not until someone passes the trial and breaks the barrier.

Subie and Lia address the villagers, in that order. While they’re happy to see the former, they’re weary as always of the latter. But again Emilia shows her growth by telling them how she feels, what she intends to do for them, and why. It boils down to her wanting families to be able to stay together.

She isn’t asking for their support in the royal selection in return, but even though she still feels unworthy, she’d appreciate the villagers’ friendship. An impressed Ram wonders what Barusu said to Emilia to enact this change; Subaru says Emilia figured it out for herself.

That night, Emilia stands before the entrance to the Witch’s Graveyard, and it glows with light in a sign that it accepts her as a valid challenger for the trial. Naturally, something soon goes wrong: the light goes out, even though it’s supposed to stay on for the duration of the trial. Subaru approaches the ruins, the light returns, and he rushes in to find Emilia passed out again.

He’s stopped in his tracks, but not by Return by Death. A voices says “first you need to face your own past”, and he wakes up in a bed. His bed…in his world. A world not depicted since he was transported away from the konbini parking lot. Before he can get his bearings his muscular dad rolls in and jumps on him as a wake-up call.

Like his otherworldly meeting with Echidna who definitely has Big Plans for him, Subie’s journey to the home of his past may only last a third of an episode, or it could be the whole episode, or the entirety of a mini-arc. Whatever the duration, this development gives me, to quote Echidna, “such beautiful expectations.” I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Great Pretender – 06 – Earning His Wings

After an enticing stinger in which a terrified Makoto is along for the ride in a plane piloted by a crazed-looking Abby—which then blows up—we rewind a bit to see Makoto serving the remainder of his sentence at a Japanese penitentiary. The warden notices he’s good with a wrench, and decides to put in a good word for him with Nakanoshima, a grizzled old mechanic who runs a successful garage.

Makoto’s prison sentence really has changed his perspective on things. He no longer believes it’s justified to scam people, whether they deserve it or not. He wants to pay his debt to society and live life on the straight and narrow, rejecting any further collaborations with Laurent’s crew. Of course, that stinger of him in a plane with Abby indicates he will ultimately fail.

From there, we shift to a woman being fired by her boss for refusing his advances, and that same boss meeting Cynthia (AKA “Jennifer”) at a bar in Las Vegas. Jen clues the man in on unlicensed underground fights where the real money can be made, and even spots him cash to wager.

She tells him to put the money on Abby, who ends up winning despite her opponent being twice her size. Jen tells the businessman the outcome of the fight—and subsequent fights—was rigged so Abby would win, getting him to bet more and more of his own cash on a sure thing, night after night.

Meanwhile, far from his past con man life, Makoto works his ass off for two months, learning his way around his boss Nakanoshima’s true passion, propeller planes. Eventually Nakanoshima informs him of a racing team that needs a mechanic, encouraging him to “leave the nest.”

This mention of a racing team, along with the abrupt shift to working on planes, should have tipped Makoto off in some way, but perhaps his con man instincts were dulled by prison and his focus on “breaking good”.

As for Mr. Businessman, he ends up withdrawing all of his liquid assets and wagering them on another Abby victory. Only this time, Abby doesn’t win…though after taking a couple of blows to the head, she tries her damnedest not to lose, going into MMA punishment machine mode against her hulking opponent.

Ultimately she loses, as there are no rules to break to achieve victory. Businessman loses everything, and in a very Robin Hood move, Cynthia ends up delivering his duffel of cash to the very woman he fired. She may be a ruthless con artist, but she still has a sense of honor, and isn’t above pulling off jobs to right injustices.

Shortly thereafter (and once Abby’s battle damage heals) is when Makoto finds himself on an island that gives him quite a bit of deja vu, and before he knows it he’s being introduced to the plane racing team for whom he’ll serve as mechanic: Cynthia, Abby, and Laurent. They paid

The next scam involves a race in Singapore, where they’ll work to take everything a pair of oil magnate heirs for everything they have—two hundred million dollars, or double what they made in the LA job. Makoto wants nothing to do with them or any more crimes, so Laurent insists he’ll be on the level as a mechanic, and not be involved in anything else.

Abby, who will apparently be the team’s pilot, goes up with Makoto in a plan he himself serviced, returning us to the events of the stinger. That’s when we learn Laurent and Cynthia paid Nakanoshima to train Makoto just enough to pass as a plane mechanic, but obviously there’s only so much he can learn in two months, right?

Even so, the plane Abby and Makoto are in blows up (they’re able to safely eject) not because Makoto didn’t service it correctly, but because Laurent sabotaged it, in order to convince Makoto that he’s not a mechanic, but a con man.

I’ll give Great Pretender credit: it closed the book on the LA job before it got stale and then immediately shifted gears to something entirely new, fresh and exciting, with ever higher stakes and moral implications in store for Makoto. Just when he thought he was out…

Dropped: Kabukichou Sherlock – Case Closed

This was a tough one, but as we always say, when you know you’re done with a show, you just know. Sherlock seems content to continue its lighthearted and zany cases-of-the-week while, meanwhile, a teenager is in prison for murdering a monster who tore out and ate his invalid twin sister’s reproductive organs.

The tonal dissonance has grown too intense. I can’t enjoy the new cases while I know Moriarty is being abused behind bars. I realize there’s no getting around the fact he committed a murder himself, but he deserved a break. Sherlock shoulders some of the responsibility for getting a child and a victim so involved in the case, but when it came time to deal with the culprit, he lost control.

Even if Sherlock reckons with that failure and Moriarty is given early release, the show’s fast-and-loose attitude towards narrative seriousness has poisoned my emotional investment in the show beyond repair. It was a decent enough first cour; I just wish the show had ended with one.—Preston

ID: INVADED – 04 – Hiding a Leaf in the Forest

We begin with one of the worst things that can be done to a person: high schooler Kikuchi Keiko has been buried alive. She is the seventh such victim of the “Graverobber”, and is aware of the past victims because like her, they were all livesteamed on the internet to a morbidly fascinated audience. Once again, the police are fighting against a ticking clock to prevent a seventh death.

Worse still, their most reliable “pilot” drove another criminal to suicide simply by talking to him about the furthest reaches of their psyche, which of course he saw when in their Id Wells. He’s in solitary while they try to use the Perforater as a substitute pilot, but his survival rate is too low to make any progress. It has to be Narihisago. He’s the best they’ve got.

And yet, even the Brilliant Detective Sakaido finds that the Id Well they were able to create from the perp’s cognition particles has a high level of difficulty. He’s trapped in a massive, undulating apartment block that is currently on fire and full of burnt corpses.

The stange thing is, he finds a burnt-to-death Kaeru above the flames, suggesting they weren’t the flames that killed her. He spots a ten-year-old Keiko on the other side of a huge gap between blocks, and wants to rescue her, but solving Kaeru’s murder must come first if they’re to find the real life Keiko.

As Narihisago is killed and re-injected again and again into the Well, he gets more exhausted and makes mistakes. Momoki decides to give him a break, but neither he nor his colleagues are interested in taking a break themselves, even if it means staying up two straight days. There’s a girl buried somewhere who is slowly running out of air. Rest can come once they find her.

This episode has an air of urgency and desperation that surpasses the previous episodes (with the possible exception of the one in which Hondomachi was kidnapped). And even though Narihisago is a murderer who has driven five other inmates to suicide while in captivity, the officers still end up rooting for him to survive and “win” in the Id Well, because if he wins, they win.

Sakaido finally makes it to the other side and climbs up to the unburnt apartment where the young Keiko is waiting. She even says something that helps Sakaido crack the case wide open. Kaeru wasn’t killed, i.e. Keiko wasn’t buried by the Graverobber at all, but by a copycat.

Young Keiko even points out by name the “failure” of a man responsible, and the police move quickly to locate and apprehend him (it comes down to the pattern of the rug under Kaeru’s corpse matching the one in the suspect’s lair, under which Keiko is sealed in an airtight barrel.

Alas, the livestream was never live to begin with, but a recording that gave the police a false sense that they still had time. In reality, Keiko has been dead of asphyxiation for nearly a week. After working so hard to find her, it’s a gut punch for all involved, including Sakaido once he hears the bad news from Momoki.

Pulling the rug out from beneath our feet, we the audience are similarly frustrated and that much more angered at the creature of a man that is the copycat Graverobber, not to mention the still-at-large Graverobber himself. The case wasn’t solved in this episode, but it did make the case for why, having spent time in their psyches, a once-righteous detective like Narihisago could develop sudden impulse to kill the suspects he helps capture.

Because of this, he’s not even sure he can call himself a person anymore, but Momoki assures him he is. And when Momoki asks if Narihisago still considers him a friend (they were once partners on the force), Narihisago tells him that friendship one of the only things he has left tethering him to reason.

Being dumped into the minds of depraved criminals is enough to drive anyone from reason, but somehow Narihisago has endured. He’ll have to continue to endure as the cops try to find leads to the real Graverobber’s whereabouts. The newly recovered Hondomachi may have found the first such clue in Kazuta Haruka, a missing person and one of the Perforator’s victims.

ID: INVADED – 03 – A Gawker Just Enjoys the Scene

I don’t believe we’ve been told who precisly Sakaido killed or how to land him in prison, but regardless of his crime it’s awfully hard not to sympathize with the guy. For one thing, he’s always dreaming of his wife and daughter, the good times always turning to bad before he wakes up. They weren’t just murdered, they also suffered terribly.

The pain and regret of not being there to protect them probably broke a sizable chunk of the Sakaido That Was. His investigative work within the Mizuhanome, psychologically invasive as it is, would seem to be not just a welcome respite, but a necessity for keeping what’s left of him intact and carrying on.

The things he did to end up with such a job are also the reason Matsuoka discourages Hondomachi from considering a similar line of work in no uncertain terms. When visiting her in the hospital. She’s missing frontal lobe matter but is already bouncing off the walls, desperate to get back to work, and romanticizes “The Great Detective” a pilot like Sakaido plays within Id Wells. But Matsuoka warns her: it’s a sacrifice tantamount to suicide.

As I said, one Sakaido went into this line of work, and another came out. Hondomachi doesn’t feel she’s loved or even valued by her family, while Sakaido’s family was murdered. Both detectives seek solace and purpose through work, creating their own value. Hell, Hondomachi could be a mirror to Sakaido’s past, when his work kept him away from the family he loved until one day they were gone.

This week’s Id Well is nothing like the previous two, demonstrating that we’re in for a new trippy psychological ride every week or so. This time he and roughly 70-80 random people standing on a giant turret surrounded by infinite waterfalls on all sides…very Myst Uru. This is the Id Well of “The Pyrotechnician”, who is responsible for very public, very meticulous bombings.

Kaeru is there too, already dead, while the others start falling one-by-one to rounds fired by a sniper hiding in the waterfalls. Like the stylized “Brilliant Detective” role Sakaido plays, Kaeru is a stylized version of his daughter, helping him remember himself, grounding him in whatever crazy dreamworld in which he ends up.

Sakaido is good, but not so good he doesn’t get killed a couple of times, requiring his handlers to quickly extract and re-inject him, resetting the scenario but allowing him to learn from the previous dives. But trial and error is only the start of his investigation. He eventually determines that there is only one sniper, but the turret on which his victims stand is turning, allowing the sniper to make quick successions of kills.

Sakaido eventually successfully hides from the shooter until there is only one man remaining other than himself—and it’s always the same man. He also happens to have a handsome but somehow artificial-looking face, which means the Pyrotechnician altered his face with plastic surgery. That is enough for the cops to track him down and for Mitsuoka to apprehend him.

In what seems like going a bit too far with the ironic punishment, the people Sakaido helps to apprehend end up his prison mates, occupying adjacent cells and enabling them to have a dialogue. The Pyro explains that his acts, which netted photos like the ones he took of people gawking and holding up their phones at the destruction and carnage, “exposed the emptiness of humanity” by showing that neither life or death matter.

Sakaido turns it around on Pyro. Just as he was in the Id Well, and in the bombing four years ago when he was a war photographer, Pyro always desired to be the Last Man Standing. He was the ultimate gawker, producing scenes of hell and watching the masses take it in, knowing humans can’t resist.

Then Sakaido tells Pyro his days are over, and that he’ll never see hell again, except in his memories, always a pale shadow of reality. The Pyro can’t really dispute anything Sakaido is saying, because the guy was in his unconscious, where truths are plain to see.

It’s enough to drive Pyro to suicide in the middle of the night. I’m not sure if Sakaido intended that, but he’s doubtless a man who abhors killers, and was none too happy about Pyro mentioning his daughter. ID:INVADED is proving to be a dense, nervy, and captivating depiction of crime-fighting from within the minds of the criminal.

Kabukichou Sherlock – 13 – Holes in Their Hearts

A dreary pall of despair is immediately cast on the second half of Kabukicho Sherlock as Watson, Sherlock, and Mrs. Hudson visit James in prison. He’s trying to keep a brave face, but there are clear signs he’s receiving beatings from other inmates.

It’s gut-wrenching to see such a bright kid of such potential to help people behind bars, but he doesn’t try to run away from the fact he chose to murder Jack, and this was the consequence.

Mycroft pays a visit to Holmes’ house and thoroughly examines it, while a client-of-the-week arrives with a murder case. As Sherlock starts to unravel the case on the spot, Watson is happy his friend is able to stay busy.

Mycroft tells Watson how Holmes left his accomplished family for Kabukichou because he was missing something very profound at home. It was a void he was able to at least partially fill in his new role as detective and performer of mystery-solving rakugo.

It turns out that rakugo was James’ idea, suggested to Sherlock soon after the two met quite by chance (the fact that Sherlock’s brother was James’ father’s secretary for five years was mere coincidence). When his mother took her life and even before losing his twin sister to Jack, James had a similarly large hole in his heart that Kabukichou and the people in it managed to fill.

Now he feels alone again, as his attackers in prison grow more brazen and one of his protectors being beaten half to death and being released early. It’s just a horrible situation all around. No matter how many cases Sherlock solves, as long as James is in prison (and danger) the emptiness and despair will always creep back into the spaces between the cases.