To Your Eternity – 09 – Gugunrise Kingdom

Fushi has rescued, reunited and made up with Gugu, and for the first time he uses his powers…strictly for fun. For the sheer thrill of scaring the shit out of random townsfolk or thrill-seeking teenagers. Gugu has no intention of going back to the house of a man who put a still in his body without his consent, and Fushi doesn’t care either way s long as he’s with Gugu.

As time passes, the penniless Gugu grows hungrier and weaker. Fushi, obviously, needs no sustenance other than stimulation. But his stimulation thus far has prepared him for this eventuality, as he is able to create the pear-like fruit March fed him, along with dango and fish, thus saving Gugu from starvation.

When Meer, who obviously knows Gugu’s scent at this point, shows up at his tent, Fushi calls the sickeningly cute and good boy Joaan, the name the boy gave to his wolf-dog. Fushi describes to Gugu how “his first person” stopped moving and “became empty”, so he “became” him. Gugu hypothesizes that both physical and emotional pain affect his bizarre friend.

He posits that if he were to die and Fushi became upset, he would become him. Gugu thinks this is seriously cool…because, well, it is. But for him specifically, it would mean even if he died, Fushi would still think of him. Gugu describes a life where he had three square meals a day, a soft bed, twin older siblings to play with, a mother and father to care for him, and an older brother to look up to.

Gugu is describing his early childhood, when, for at least a few beautiful, fleeting years, he thought he was part of just such a family and living that kind of life, where a lot of people were thinking of him. As he grew older, he began to realize he and his brother were merely the children of servants to that family. When those servants moved on to a new job, they didn’t take Gugu or his brother with them.

Gugu asks Fushi, the only one who came for him and the only one he can call family, to become him if he dies, then passes out and stops moving. For a second there, I thought that was well and truly the end of Gugu—perhaps succumbing to the nasty side effects of having a still in your gut. Fushi even seems to contemplate absorbing Gugu’s form for a hot second.

For a certainty, To Your Eternity wanted you to think Gugu had died. Then Rean pokes her head into the tent, having finally found the two runaways, and Gugu springs back to life, blushing. Turns out Fushi wasn’t the only one thinking about him or the only one who came for him. Rean tries to drag Gugu out of his ragged tent and back to the Booze Man’s house, but Gugu doesn’t wanna.

Of course, Rean’s motivations aren’t 100%honorable. She says she, Pioran and Booze Man love Gugu, but really they need to bring someone back who knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. But you know what? As someone who likes to cook for my friends and family, I’m fine with part of the reason people love me is that I cook them good food. It makes me happy when they like my food!

Rean is also unconcerned with Gugu’s appearance, and insists that he show her what he really looks like. Gugu doesn’t acquiesce to this, which means Rean doesn’t get a real look at him. It may be because of this she can reveal her own horrible disfigurement and declare with a straight face that if he casts his gaze upon it he’ll see that his own wound isn’t that bad.

The thing is, Rean’s horrible wound is nothing more but a tiny, fading scratch on her arm no more than three inches long.

It is a rare show indeed that makes me laugh and cry with such intensity, but this might just have been the funniest episode of To Your Eternity yet. Of course, tragedy and comedy have gone hand-in-hand since the dawn of storytelling itself, it’s just gratifying to see it so effortlessly pulled off here. Just like Fushi, the stronger and more diverse the viewer’s stimulation, the more is learned.

Rean goes on to tell a story that, for her, is a tragic tale of a girl who was never given agency or independence; a girl assigned a role and personality for which no expense was spared to maintain, despite the fact she had zero say in it. It is an obvious mirror image of Gugu’s sob story, told from the POV of the child of the employer, not the employee.

Even so, I do not doubt that from Rean’s perspective, she has suffered, because just like Gugu but through very different (and cushier) circumstances, she was denied the chance to be the best her she could be, which is the one she wanted to be. The grass is always greener, etc.

When Rean tells Gugu how she got her wound—saying that someone pushed her from behind out of malice—Gugu is crestfallen, as this girl misinterpreted him rescuing her from a runaway log as having assaulted her to get back at her family—simply because she never saw the log.

But just as Rean doesn’t care how it looks that someone as rtich and privileged as her is complaining that her life is too comfortable, she also doesn’t gcare whether Gugu is a monster or a human. To her, he’s just Gugu, a weird little boy she’s taken a liking to, so he should come out of the tent and enjoy the wind with her. And if he wants to cover his face, she brought him a pot with eye-holes to wear.

With Fushi having run off to find Gugu’s original mask, he and Rean agree to go looking for him. Their search takes them into town, where Rean is promptly snatched up by a goon hired by her family to retrieve her. Gugu, who later states he doesn’t care about his “circumstances” anymore, commits to simply being himself.

That happens to be someone who will barrel into someone twice his size, catch the falling Rean, and lead her by the hand to safety. As he does, Rean smiles, not just because Gugu is being Gugu, but because she’s living precisely the dream she hoped to live after running away from home. I am seriously loving this tender story of young love, which reminds me of Moonrise Kingdom, itself likely inspired by rom-com anime.

Fushi ends up finding them after retrieving Gugu’s old mask (it’s nice when you can transform into a wolf-dog, complete with a wolf-dog’s sense of smell) and locates Gugu and Rean, who is now wearing the pot to hide her identity from those sent to find her. It isn’t long before they come across a maid who is most definitely not fooled by Rean’s disguise.

It’s here where Gugu and Rean rely on Fushi to cover their retreat, which he does non-lethally by assuming the form of March and writhing on the ground before the maid, who sees the little girl’s arrow wound and has no choice but to tend to her before going after Rean.

While searching for Gugu’s mask, Fushi’s creator paid him a brief visit, warning him to keep his guard up. As the maid carries March!Fushi, he’s suddenly snatched up by a tentacle of the “unspeakable” enemy he was warned about. His creator even narrates that this was bound to happen, as Fushi has failed to gain any sophisticated tactical skills since his last scrape with the enemy, and thus the enemy was always going to strike first.

Even so, something happens that neither the enemy nor indeed the creator might have foreseen: Gugu coming to his rescue. I’m not sure what he can possibly do when he’s just a small human boy and even Fushi seems helpless before the enemy’s power. Indeed, as we’re reaching the halfway point of the 20-episode series, Gugu’s days are surely numbered. But even if resistance is futile, I’m glad he’s there for his friend and brother.

To Your Eternity – 08 – Gugu Unmasked

“Skip Intro” is a well-established and often useful feature to our world of streaming entertainment, but I make it a point to watch every second of To Your Eternity’s OP every week. I can’t not, and not just because “PINK BLOOD” fuckin’ whips. Every time I watch I go through the heartbreak of losing both the arctic boy and March as well as Parona’s trauma all over again. The OP continues to grow more powerful as Fushi progresses on his journey and we meet more of the faces it presents.

Two of those faces are of Gugu (or rather his distinctive mask) and Rean, and the latter (voiced by Iwami Manaka, the voice of Honda Tooru) suddenly decides she’s going to live and work at Booze Man’s place from now on. Gugu isn’t sure what to think about this, because while it will be nice to see more of Rean, the fact she likes Fushi and not him will make things uncomfortable, if not painful.

Then again, pain promotes growth. When Gugu asks “what else” Fushi can do besides transform, he creates a spear. Gugu cuts him with a knife, and after healing, Fushi creates a duplicate knife. When Gugu burns him with a torch, Fushi can only create the stick, not the flame…at least not yet. In reaction to all this “experimentation”, Fushi produces a Marchface, indicating he doesn’t like this.

When Rean shows up bright and early, Fushi still hasn’t come in for work; we later see he’s assumed his wolf form and is sleeping away the day. Gugu asks Booze Man for something Rean can use on her wound, and the coot unexpectedly uncorks part of Gugu’s face and bumps out a strange liquid. When Gugu learns the Booze Man gave him a “new organ” where liquor is stored and ferments (hence his distended belly), Gugu is furious, and runs off.

As usual, the old people are only thinking about themselves. Booze Man wants the valuable booze inside Gugu back, while Pioran is worried about who will cook their meals. Rean is loath to go looking for Gugu since she’s not yet an established part of the “family”, while Fushi outright refuses, still sore over how Gugu treated him in the kitchen, and rightfully scared of the forest besides. He volunteers to cook, but ends up simply boiling a daikon with no salt.

Still, no one comes to look for Gugu, who returns to the tattered tent he and his brother once shared. He gets his job tilling the land back from a kindly father who even invites him to join his family. Unfortunately his kindness and empathy weren’t inherited by his sons, who know about the rumors around town that Gugu is a monster.

Gugu agrees with Chan that he can’t be in a family if the members can’t love one another, and removes his mask to determine if they’ll be able to love what they see. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Later that night while sulking outside, some older kids steal his mask and throw it in the stream, but after realizing the mask doesn’t actually do anything, he throws it right back in, walking through town the next day. Let the people gawk in horror…the faces they make are funnier than his!

Fushi’s attempts to cook, clean, mind the shop, and work the fields all end in failure, but when he asks Pioran (by name!) to teach him those things, she soundly refuses, not moved by the March-inspired dirt balls he offers as tribute. For one thing, she’s got better things to do with her time—sitting around drinking her lover’s excellent booze, for example. For another, she doesn’t want to spoil him, and the best teacher he could ask for isn’t her. It’s Gugu.

Gugu settles back into a routine and puts on a little muscle working in the field, but Chan visits his tent and splashes water on him, telling him not to come back, saying it’s because his dad is such a good man that he doesn’t want Gugu causing trouble with his freakishness. Without work, Gugu runs short on funds, but remembers he has the ring Rean gave him.

It’s clear from the look of the merchant that it is indeed worth enough to ensure Gugu never has to sell produce again, but Gugu can’t see what a monster like him would do with that kind of wealth. So when he discovers his drunk, emaciated brother lying in an alley, he gives the ring to him. Even in his current state he’s better off with the ring than a monster. But while he gives Shin the ring, he doesn’t acknowledge him as his brother. He doesn’t have a brother anymore.

Of course, that’s just not true…he has Fushi! Fushi needs Gugu, and as we see when Gugu is scooped up in the night by bandits prepared to sell him to people a taste for freaks and the cash to spend on them, it becomes apparent Gugu needs Fushi as well.

Fushi bowls into the bandit carrying Gugu in his wolf form, and when the guy and his partner stand their ground, he transforms into the Bear, who, let’s be honest, no one other than Hayase would ever think about fucking with!

With that, the Monster Brothers Gugu and Fushi are reunited. Gugu resented Fushi for being admired by Rean, while Fushi resented Gugu for cutting and burning him willy-nilly, but they’re able to get past that, because that’s what brothers do—well, good ones, anyway…

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 07 – Senpai Unleashed

Naoto knows there’s a summer festival going on, and he knows he wants to go with Nagatoro, but instead of simply texting or calling her, he plays video games and waits for something to happen. When that doesn’t work, he goes to the festival alone, hoping to run into her by chance.

For his passivity he is punished with Gamo-chan and Yosshi for company, though if you ask me, he lucked out, as the two of them are cuties in their own right, even if they insist on putting a literal leash on him. They send a pic of the captured Paisen to Nagatoro, knowing she won’t be able to resist rushing over to reclaim her “pet.”

Of course, “pet” is just a code word for “boy she likes”, and Gamo is well aware of this, making Nagatoro fight to get Paisen back by playing various festival games. While shooting corks at prizes, Nagatoro wonders out loud if Senpai was waiting for her to invite him, then says very directly that if there’s somewhere he wants to go with someone (her), he could always try asking them (again, her).

After Gamo doesn’t accept Nagatoro’s win “by quality” for winning the biggest prize, Nagatoro bribes Yosshi and the girls part ways for the evening. Really, Gamo and Yosshi are giving their friend some time alone with her pe…the boy she likes. She swipes some of his takoyaki; she pops some cotton candy in his mouth…it feels like a date.

Naoto thinks dating requires people to “go through the proper procedures”, but the only procedures are if the two people like each other and want to hang out alone together for the purposes of learning more about each other. That’s really it; it’s not complicated!

He’s saved by the bang of a firework from having to overtly take Nagatoro’s hand when she holds it out, but when she almost gets swept away by the crush of people, he takes her forcefully by the wrist and leads her to a viewing spot he remembers from elementary school, the last time he saw fireworks live. Nagatoro is surprised….and flustered.

When she tries to mess with him by accusing him of taking her somewhere dark to do “something”, Naoto, who knows she has a tendency to be shy at times, nails her down, asking what, pray tell, she might be insinuating, exactly. It’s the first time he counters her virgin-shaming by pointing out that she’s not exactly Gene Simmons either!

When she says “grabbing hold of her and kissing her”, it basically confirms her bark is stronger than her bite when it comes to sexual stuff. It’s a most welcome challenge from Naoto in what’s steadily becoming a more balanced relationship with each passing episode.

And just in case anyone thinks Naoto is mistaken about Nagatoro’s shyness regarding hanky-panky, when she moves in to force a kiss on him, a giant red heart-shaped firework reveals other couples fully making out, the two are equally scandalized and skitter away.

The final sequence involves Naoto passing by when he notices Nagatoro having lunch with her whole “family”, including the rarely-seen, also tanned Sakura. He observes them from behind a tree like David Attenborough watching jaguars, but then two eyeless guys roll in and try to get Nagatoro to go out. One even  puts his arm around her, and she’s clearly not into it.

Naoto tries to move in for a closer look, but steps on a twig, a sound all the others notice. While he initially wavers like a wind dancer at a car dealership when asked what he’s doing there, he steels himself, looks straight at Nagatoro, and says “Let’s Go!” When the guys try to get him to repeat himself, Nagatoro returns the favor for getting her out of an uncomfortable situation, and replies “Let’s go, Senpai.”

Gamo is also all about getting out of there, and Yosshi—who we see is also clearly not interested in those guys in the least—follow Nagatoro’s lead and head out. Sakura has no choice but to abandon the guys and follow her girlfriends.

Naoto may feel like he doesn’t “fit in” at all with these loud, brazen, slightly boorish girls. But it’s clear they don’t feel the same way. They’d much rather hang out with him—whether to mess with him or not—than those boring,  faceless goons. Even Sakura notes his weird “aura”, while Nagatoro goes along with all of the ragging on the boy the four of them explicitly chose over two others who weren’t as fun.

But all Naoto needs to really pay attention to is Nagatoro’s expression when their eyes meet. She couldn’t be happier he rescued her, and that he’s by her side right here and now. This was another instance of things just working out, but hopefully in the near future he works up the nerve to actually ask her to go somewhere. If she’s free, here’s no way in hell she’ll ever say no!

Episode 7 “Senpai” Count: 22 (+8 “Paisens”)
Total: 257

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 05 – Shaved Ice and a Haircut

While her feelings about Senpai have been abundantly clear, it’s still nice to get a look inside her head, this time courtesy of a dream she’s having while sleeping on her green sofa. She’s calling Senpai gross, but he’s suddenly stopped reacting. Then Gamo and Yosshi come in, shove her aside, and snatch him…and he’s fine with it!

She wakes up from this dream to a sign the real Senpai wouldn’t feel that way—he sweetly put a blanket over her so she wouldn’t catch cold! Still, it’s clear Nagatoro understands how far she can go without pushing Naoto away, and also genuinely fearful of her friends stealing him.

In the next segment, suddenly Nagatoro is less interested in not crossing lines, first by testing Senpai’s ticklishness, then once again stripping to reveal her swimsuit and inviting Senpai to tickle her if he dares. When it’s clear that he does and will dare, she aborts the bit. Something tells me she’s not ready for Senpai to hear how she sounds when tickled!

Nagatoro then reveals the intense satisfaction she gets from watching a video of a sheep being sheared, and wants to do the same with Senpai’s wooly hair, which is honestly in need of a cut. She whips out some electric clippers she borrowed from her bro, and gets those demonic eyes…but when Naoto makes clear he doesn’t want his hair shaved, she stands down.

What Naoto would be okay with, after he imagines it in his head, is for Nagatoro to give him a trim with scissors. Alas, before she can get started she gets an urgent call from Gamo and Yosshi about math notes. The fears expressed in Nagatoro’s dream are confirmed when it’s revealed Gamo and Yosshi were just trying to separate the lovebirds.

They grab the defenseless Naoto, hold him down, and prepare to shave him bald, but Nagatoro hears his cries and rescues him in the nick of time. Once again, rather than deal with a direct confrontation, Gamo and Yosshi run away. I’m guessing they know she can throw a kick when she needs to! With the interlopers gone, Senpai and Nagatoro settle into pure barber-ic bliss. When she’s done, Naoto is legit impressed how good it looks, and Nagatoro soaks up the praise.

As summer break approaches, the days become hotter and hotter. Nagatoro wants to take Senpai to a nice hole-in-the-wall shaved ice stand, only to find its popularity ballooned after it was featured on TV. Even so, Nagatoro most vociferously dismisses any suggestion of konbini ice cream, grabs Naoto’ arm and insist on waiting in the huge line as long as it takes, decalring it a battle of wills.

Surprisingly, the heat starts getting to Nagatoro before it gets to Naoto. When he spots two older guys leering at the back of her blouse, translucent with sweat and revealing her bra strap, he chivalrously blocks their view with his own person. When Nagatoro starts getting woozy and wobbly, it’s he who grabs her by the arm (for I believe the first time), finds a shady place for her to cool down, and buys her a sports drink to hydrate.

It’s the manliest he’s ever been, and Nagatoro doesn’t dislike it. She thanks him by going to the konbini and buys him a lemon Italian ice, surprising him by touching it to his neck, then offering him a bite from her spoon, which he refuses as it would comprise an indirect kiss.

Later, the two are walking together, and Nagatoro snatches his drink and drinks out of it, demonstrating she doesn’t mind an indirect kiss or two before handing it back to him. She mentions how most of her summer break will be taken up helping out with the swim club, but then asks for his contact info, which she claims is so she can send him a “Perv!” sticker in LINE whenever he’s thinking about something pervy. But we know better, and I think Naoto does too.

I mean, just look at her expression upon receiving his number! She wanted it so they can stay in touch, and so they can hang out when they’re both free, because they’re really no longer tormentor and tormented (or at least not just that). They’re two people who enjoy each other’s company and want to keep a good thing going. Hopefully they don’t spend the whole break apart.

Episode 5 “Senpai” Count: 25 (+1 “Paisen”)
Total: 192

Fruits Basket – 51 (S3 01) – There’s No Night that Doesn’t End

Where we last left off, Kureno had just revealed to Tooru that not only was Akito a woman. No matter how much he loved Arisa, he couldn’t leave Akito’s side, not even after being freed from the curse—or especially because of that. He further explains that Akito was raised a male from birth because it was decreed by her mother Ren, to whom we are finally introduced.

Ren still lives on the grounds, but as Kureno puts it she has “some…troubles, mentally and physically.” Akito freaks out when Ren even tries to touch Hatori, while Ren insists Akito’s belief that her bonds with the Zodiac animals are real love and eternally unchanging is nothing but fantasy.

Her cruel taunting of her daughter—whom she made into a sun by pure will—causes Akito to fly into a rage, but Ren wouldn’t mind being killed, because it would mean reuniting with Akira, Akito’s late father. In a flashback Akira tells Akito she was “born to be loved”, but to Akira that probably doesn’t mean being venerated as a god.

The thing is, Ren may question whether the Zodiac bonds are right or even real, Kureno, Shigure, Hatori, and Ayame all woke up in tears the same morning Akito was conceived. Before appearing in Ren’s belly, Akito came to them in a dream, and the four kids ran to Ren, who didn’t even know she was pregnant.

From that day, Kureno felt the other self that lived inside him, in his blood, and knew he could never betray her. Even if the bond was unnatural, or painful, he simply could never push away a crying Akito, and so can’t see Arisa. Because just as Akito wounds others, she herself is wounded.

Kureno said all of this to properly explain why he can’t leave Akito ever, and that the choice to stay with her is his alone, not guided by any curse. As he leaves her in the courtyard, the DVD falls out of Tooru’s hands and she cannot move for some time, frozen by the weight of this new information.

Her scarf flies away, she falls to her knees. Rin, her ally in ending the curse, watches this from afar. Kureno explains how he went out for fresh air, gets a vicious slap from Akito, and then the two gently embrace. Then, like a gothic fairy, Saki approaches Tooru, flanked by Megumi, and announces she is “here to save the day. Ta-da.”

After informing Yuki that Tooru is in her “custody” and will be her’s “all night” (phrasing!) Saki prepares a “Nightgown Festival” to soothe Tooru’s troubled soul. She tells Tooru that she was able to detect Tooru crying in a voice no one else could hear, but was deafening to her. Tooru explains how she tried to bring Kureno and Arisa together, to make up for all the things people like Arisa did to help her…but she failed, so she’s useless.

As we see Kyou spot Tooru’s scarf lying in the street, Tooru tells Saki how Kureno is someone who puts others’ feelings before his own. I’m glad Saki’s there to essentially say “look in the mirror…that’s you!”. Saki worries if Tooru keeps taking everyone’s feelings on her shoulders, it will crush her, and her smile will disappear. Arisa enters Saki’s room to add that if Tooru’s smile disappears, “it will be the end of the world.” Neither of them will let that happen.

Arisa sits with Tooru and says she’s “trash” for maing her cry. Tooru says she’s not trash, and Arisa in turn says Tooru isn’t useless. What she is is a dummy, just as Kureno is a dummy, and Arisa can’t help but love dummies. But because she loves them, she doesn’t want to cause problems for them, so she gathers Tooru in a hug and assures her she needn’t worry; she’ll be fine. With that, the Nightgown Festival commences in earnest, and Megumi’s heart pounds as he’s surrounded by older women, the little scamp!

Rin continues slinking around the Souma compound, only to be caught by Ren, who asks her if she wants any “help.” No doubt Ren would love to lift the curse, though it’s interesting that she only comes into the picture now.

Fatigued by their emotional exertions, Tooru and Arisa fall asleep early. Megumi asks Saki if she thinks it’s really hopeless for Arisa and Kureno. Who can say? Arisa may have said “that’s it”, but Megumi isn’t so sure. Sometimes it takes a long time for lovers to find each other.

The next morning, Tooru comes home, all cheered up, and becomes even more cheered up when she finds her scarf waiting for her, courtesy of Kyou, who even washed it (though some stains remain, which is apropos!) Tooru bops him with a pom-pom once more, then Yuki and Shigure bid her good morning. As Tooru gets on with her life—no mean feat after what she’s learned—she resolves to gradually think upon the thinks Kureno told her bit by bit.

With this beautiful, magical, heartrending-and-mending opening outing, Fruits Basket continues to prove it is the final word in supernatural romantic comedy/dramas. After two exquisite seasons of painstakingly introducing characters, delivering their backstories and developing and strengthening relationships, this third, The Final, will introduce and execute the endgame.

Some of the darkest and most painful episodes may be yet to come, but I’ll happily endure them with Tooru, Arisa, Saki, Yuki, Kyou, and everyone else to see how things turn out!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 02 – Narrowing the Mandate

The first episode didn’t so much end as pause, but because the second episode was immediately available, that wasn’t a concern. Diva is in time to take a bullet for Aikawa, but it’s only the first of dozens of time she’ll need to safe his life throughout this harrowing, pulse-pounding action-packed episode of Vivy, which due to the corporate skyscraper setting and terrorists could be called Die Hard: With a Vivy-engeance.

That is not a bad thing, as the people behind this production know what they’re doing and execute beautifully. Also, Aikawa’s pursuers are no two-bit op, but the well-trained and equipped anti-AI group Toak, represented by the younger, less-experienced Kakitani and the hulking Batou-like Kuwana. They’re not just there to kill AIkawa, but blow the whole damn building to kingdom come.

Diva conceals her identity by placing a disguising filter in Aikawa’s AR glasses, so all he sees is a generic AI drone. Diva and Matsumoto’s mission is simple: keep him alive. But between her tactical inexperience and the fact that she has the AI equivalent of free will with all its inherent unpredictability, Matsumoto soon decides it best to inject her with combat training a la The Matrix.

Diva severs the wire connection, angry that Matsumoto has only been offering a “slow drip feed” of the future and is now trying to override her singing mandate. But Matsumoto makes it clear there’s a reason he did that: he doesn’t quite trust her yet, even if the professor and researcher with whom he shares his name did.

In the midst of their quarrel, Kuwana gets the jump in her with a “Logical Bullet”, which scrambles her circuits and renders her inoperative. He then shoots Aikawa dead and shoots Diva for good measure, accidentally getting her blue “blood” on his boot. As the Toak team prepares to set the bomb timers, it looks like Diva failed her mission big time. At the same time, it soon becomes clear when Matsumoto hacks Toak bombs that Kuwana was tricked.

Matsumoto used his night-vision goggles to show him what he wanted to see: him killing Aikawa and destroying Diva. By the time Kuwana realizes there’s no blood on his boot, they’re already headed to the very Matrix-like imposing lobby. When they’re confronted by Kakitani, who clearly hates both AI and Aikawa with the hotness of the sun, Matsumoto detonates some of the bombs, bringing rubble down on him and the other Toak operatives.

But as a giant piece of concrete is about to smash Kakitani like a pancake, Diva runs under it and catches it, causing severe damage to her arm and tearing her jacket. Far from grateful, Kakitani seems disgusted and horrified an AI saves him, and later expresses that disgust verbally to Kurawa. Matsumoto, meanwhile, is frustrated that Diva continues to act erratically.

Of course, she isn’t: she’s acting according to her personal prime directive: make people happy with her singing. In order to do that, people have to be alive, so if a person needs rescuing—even a terrorist and her enemy—she’ll do what she can, as she does here. In the midst of all this chaos, Aikawa admits he doesn’t really care about AIs, but is paying lip-service to aid his political rise.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the professor was wrong to stake everything on her, but he had little choice. 100 years in the future, the only AI body that remained in complete form without evolution or modification was Diva’s, as her status as the first autonomous AI meant she was soon turned into a museum exhibit. This is a wonderfully awesome detail to me, as it has a parallel in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica: the human race was saved by an obsolete museum ship the evil Cylons couldn’t hack.

Matsumoto wants Diva to understand that even if she was originally programmed to be a singer, in the very near future she’ll be relegated to an inert, silent artifact, and become the longest of long shots of a researcher trying to prevent humanity’s destruction. He scolds her for letting “such a thing” as her singing mission jeopardize the Singularity Project.

But Diva tells him to take it back and defiantly shrugs the concrete off of her, and pulls off her torn jacket, saying it doesn’t matter for AIs how long they operate, but how they continue to operate. She still considers her mission is to sing. To accomplish that, Aikawa must live, but so must Kakitani. Also, she has to bring the whole building down.

So begins a rush from the lobby to the open observation deck near the top, where Diva takes Aikawa’s hand, breaks into a run as the bombs detonate (after all of Toak evacuates), and helps ensure Aikawa is able to leap from the one toppling building to the next. He lands hard, but he’s otherwise fine as Diva follows him with a bad-ass balletic leap. Kakitani catches her in midair with the full moon as a backdrop, shattered glass flying everywhere. Everything about this scene just owns so hard.

After Aikawa thanks her and they part ways, she asks Matsumoto if there’s a chance he could get the AI naming laws passed anyway, but Matsumoto assures her that won’t happen. Aikawa proved a more effective legislator in death than he’ll prove to be in life.

His career will flag and he’ll be voted out before any law sees daylight. And yet, the way Aikawa repeats to himself what Diva said about “not how long you live, but how you live”, I could almost see Aikawa suddenly growing a spine, thereby undermining Matsumoto’s mission.

While Diva’s mission is accomplished for now, Matsumoto playfully takes her to task for introducing far too many unpredictable variables, and strongly recommends she avoid “all or nothing” strategies when she’s all they—and humanity—have. Her “antics” in the Die Hard operation make him shudder to think what’s ahead for them. From a vantage point that overlooks the city, Matsumoto points out the colossal Arayashiki tower looming further out on the horizon.

He says the taller the tower gets, the more AIs in society will evolve. Call it a barometer of their progress; they want the tower to remain as short as possible—even bring it down if necessary. Diva and Matsumoto shake hands, and Diva agrees that she’ll continue helping him stave off the future war—but only as long as it isn’t in violation of her mission to make people happy through song.

Matsumoto is also quick to mention that while they did bring down a huge skyscraper tonight, the collapse caused no deaths and the overall changes to the timeline were within an acceptable range. He goes on to warn Diva that while they technically have the ability to alter history however they like, Diva’s actions will fall strictly within the limits of the Singularity Project.

When Diva looks as if she’s contemplating who and what else she can save in the present while also saving the future, Matsumoto commandeers an industrial power loader straight out of Aliens and, before even Diva can react, uses it to violently smash her against a far away wall. His tone becomes far more grave as he warn her “Let’s not do this.”

He cannot allow her “personal calculations” to unduly affect history or cloud the mission to prevent the excessive evolution of AIs, and that’s it. That means, despite seeing a newspaper article from a day from now in which a plane crash results in the death of her young friend Momoka, Diva is forbidden from tending to “every single accident in history.” Momoka looks out from her window seat and spots Diva moments before the plane explodes in a fireball, and all Diva can do is watch in horror and shed a tear.

Just when you thought Matsumoto would be a constant source of comic relief, he demonstrates his merciless devotion to sticking to the plan. It will be interesting to see if Diva remains cowed or if she finds small ways to rebel against Matsumoto’s—let’s face it, inhuman inflexibility. The future must be saved, but how it’s saved matters to Diva—just as how she continues to live is more important than how long she lives.

With this one-two punch of thrilling opening salvos, the curiously-titled Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song has already established itself as an early contender for Best Anime of 2021. I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 01 (First Impressions) – Her New Mission

We begin at the end, and I immediately deem it hilarious that “music” is one of the two genres MAL lists under this show, the other being “sci-fi”. With “music” in there I was certain I’d have to sit through at least theme park idol song, possibly with CG dancing. And while an idol is indeed walking down the tunnel to NiaLand’s main stage, the music starts up, and she begins to sing and dance…let’s just say the audience is indisposed.

For as the idol sings and dances, a horrific massacre is taking place, both in the stands and throughout the park. The AI hosts have gone berserk and are engaging in a festival of cold blunt force savagery upon the human guests. Splattered blood and little fires are everywhere. Like Skynet, the machines in The Matrix, and the hosts of Westworld, apparently the AIs have decided to do away with humans as the earth’s dominant species.

One of the park’s researchers manages to get to a place where he can activate a special emergency protocol involving an AI named “Diva”, all the while apologizing in advance for the terribly heavy burden he’s placing upon her and her alone. AI techs arrive and shoot the researcher dead, but not before he activates the program.

After some brief exposition on the fundamental “one single mission per AI” mandate that keeps the lives of AI “free of confusion”, we meet “Diva” (voiced by Tanezaki Atsumi – Chise from The Ancient Magus’ Bride), the world’s first-ever autonomous humanoid AI, who was given the mission “to make everyone happy by singing with all her heart.” But despite her massive potential, Diva seems relegated to a quiet corner of NiaLand singing to a bored crowd of two or three at best.

Diva has a fan and friend in the human girl Momoka, whom she helped when she got lost once and nicknames her “Vivy.” Momoka even gives Diva a teddy for her first birthday. At the moment Diva’s moments disallow her from getting anywhere near the vaunted Main Stage, but Momoka has her promise to “someday” sing there, where her powers of song can reach the most people.

Diva’s otherwise routine day is suddenly interrupted when an ominous timer that was in the top left corner finally reaches 11:35:00:00, at which point “Project Singularity” is executed. Diva’s consciousness is transferred from her body to a virtual construct called the Archive, where she meets a program in a floating cube that assumes the name of his developer, Matsumoto.

Matsumoto is here from 100 years in the future (and the massacre we witnessed) to ask Diva to join him in “destroying the Ais”. Diva immediately suspects some kind of virus or error, but all scans come up clean, and no matter how many times she asks Matsumoto to piss off, he refuses, and instead shows her imagery recorded from the future when Ais turned on humanity. In the first few minutes over 10,000 humans perished, and that’s only the beginning, if the future doesn’t change.

The next day, Diva goes about her routine, this time singing to an audience of no one, as Matsumoto predicted. Still, that’s nothing too unusual so it could have been a guess, so Diva has a human tech run a diagnosic that turns up nothing. Whatever Matsumoto is, she can’t be rid of him. He decides to tell her about another future event that will take place that very day: a bomb in a garbage can will seriously injure a pro-AI rights politician.

Once Matsumoto has given Diva this information, and less than a minute to respond, she chooses the next course of action quickly, and it underscores her unique nature as an autonomous AI—as opposed to the rest of the AI staff, who wouldn’t have been able to unilaterally break out of their primary directives. Diva is different, so she breaks into Terminator-style tromping run, pushes past the bodyguards with ease, and shields the politician from the blast—all in 45 seconds of real time.

The politician, Aikawa Yoichi, is grateful to Diva, and promises that next time he visits the park he’ll come watch her sing. But unfortunately, his dream of naming laws leading to equal human rights for AI will bring about humanity’s downfall in a century’s time.

Matsumoto tells Diva that the first bomb was only a warning, and those who want Aikawa dead will succeed in assassinating him. He’ll be labeled a martyr, speeding of passage of legislation in his name that will ironically doom humanity. So Diva’s next job is to prevent the assassination. Aikawa is ambushed in his office by SWAT-style operatives, but Diva jumps down from the ceiling just in time to shield him, and their bullets don’t damage her.

So begins the familiar but so-far compelling story of the reluctant heroine Diva’s new mission to stop a war between AI and humans that the humans will lose. The only way to do that is to slow or otherwise modify the particular explosive evolution of AI that leads to them to one day say in a single voice “we’re done with humans.”

This is an anime-original series, precluding any adaptation issues. It’s made by Wit Studio right on the heels of the first part of Attack on Titan’s final season, and created and written by Nagatsuki Tappei (Re:Zero), and scored by Kousaki Satoru of the Monogatari series. You can feel all that talent behind the confident, professional, polished production. This wasn’t on my initial Spring list, but it’s there now, and it’s not going anywhere.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Promised Neverland – 23 (Fin) – Easy Win

“It’s an ending, that’s enough!”—Marge Simpson

I thought of those sage words—spoken to end a discussion of whether another ending was happy or sad—after the end of The Promised Neverland. This finale was, without a doubt, a series of scenes where dialogue is exchanged and things happen.

Like the previous episode, in which every single thing that needed to go Emma’s way did go Emma’s way, not a lot of it holds up to even cursory scrutiny. Unlike the previous episode, it wasn’t packed with enough stuff to keep my mind from dwelling on just how goshdarn fast things are moving.

And yet, it’s also an episode that tends to drag and sag during lengthy dialogue scenes. Starting the episode with Peter’s backstory, such as it is, was an…interesting choice? It really did nothing to make me care about him one way or another; I’m not surprised in the least he had his own brother Minerva killed, or that he rejected Emma’s call to join her in building a new world.

Ratri would rather slit his own throat (which he does) then even try to live in such a theoretical world; going out as a “Ratri”, descended from those who originally negotiated the great pact that split the human and demon worlds in two. Isabella and the mothers, who all seem to speak with one united voice, are also initially reluctant to go with Emma, who manages to convince her to change her mind. All is forgiven!

Now for the journey to the gate to the human world. Wait, the elevator takes them right there? And the pen, already literal deus ex machina, also happens to unlock the completely unguarded gate? Oh, and Emma, along with Norman, Ray, and the Lambdas, decide not to go through that gate? I commend the composer for accompanying the gate scene with suitably epic music, but other than that it’s just a lot; all at once, and all too easily.

The decision to remain while Don, Hilda, the mothers and the kids all go ahead to the human world is simple: Emma’s job won’t be done until all the farms are shut down. With Mujika’s help, she intends to create a new pact that won’t allow demons to raise children for meat anymore. So I guess Sonju was just joking when he was hoping to eat some free-range kids in the near future?

I was also a little worried when Emma and the others not going through the gate simply left them without checking out if it’s even safe on the other side. Those worries were short-lived, as beyond the white void is…modern-day New York City, immediately followed by an unanimated slideshow of the kids gradually assimilating to life in such a world. Judging from the stills, they don’t have much difficulty at all!

We then switch to a slideshow of Emma & Co. on their crusade that for all I thought would take the rest of their lives. I mean, you’re talking about rescuing each and every child currently imprisoned in the demon world. It’s a herculean effort many times larger than the already ridiculous operation that liberated Grace Field House in a single night with zero casualties.

But nope, it only takes a couple years or so. Emma, Norman, and Ray just suddenly appear by Hudson Bay one day, their mission apparently accomplished. Phil’s happy about it, because he doesn’t have to make good on his promise to go back after her. It’s all a little sudden, and random, and rushed, and weird. All my goodwill was spent mindlessly enjoying last week’s all-too-easy victories.

So it’s a totally, completely, 100% happy ending for Emma and the kids, who’d basically ceased enduring serious hardship or encountering setbacks of any kind after being forced out of their bunker hideout. But for me, it just feels like an ending, and a blessed one, as my enthusiasm for the direction of the story was waning by the day. An ending is enough.


Read Crow and Irina’s discussion on the final episode of The Promised Neverland right here!

Otherside Picnic – 12 (Fin) – No Longer Alone Together

Everyone opens up on the Kakandara, who is indeed a half-human, half-snake urban legend. She proves a nasty customer, using painful sound waves to cause everyone to drop their guns, but Sorawo refuses to break eye contact with the monster. Bullets aren’t of much use against the Kakandara, so she asks Toriko to find “something bigger” they can hit her with. That something is the modified MRAP.

Toriko launches the huge truck into the monster and strikes its true form repeatedly with the onboard robotic arm. Combined with focused firepower, the Kakandara shrivels up and vanishes. Sorawo asks Toriko to touch the now-unguarded offertory box, opening a gate back to Okinawa. As the elated marines walk through the gate, they salute and offer their thanks to “The Girls”. And just like that, it’s over; Mission Accomplished.

An exhausted Sorawo is steadied by Toriko, and starts to cry despite herself; perhaps just now feeling the magnitude of what they just pulled off. Sorawo says didn’t really care about the marines until Toriko brought them up in the café, but she summoned the courage to help rescue them for Toriko. When Sorawo says she’s only interested in herself and doesn’t care about others, Toriko begs to differ. On the contrary, Toriko feels that things she could never do herself are possible when she’s with Sorawo.

Back in Tokyo the girls are given an ultimatum from Kozakura to move the AP-1 off her property within three days. After a search around the vicinity for potential new gates, they luck out when Sorawo locates one right next to the machine, left behind by those unpleasant women who tried to break into Kozakura’s house. Sorawo figures how how to drive the thing, Toriko opens the gate, and they go on through just as Akari stops by to hang out.

After driving around for a while, Sorawo parks the AP-1 under a tree on a picturesque grassy hill, and Toriko asks the questions “Why do you hang out with me?” and “Are you alright with me having you all to myself?” To the first, Sorawo says it’s because they’re friends. To the second, she’s not interested in broadening her horizons or making lots of new friends if it means reducing their time together.

Sorawo wondered if anyone would notice if she was gone, and then before she knew it she was in Toriko’s “mystical, sparkly embrace.” Toriko admits that she once thought it would be okay if everyone in the world but Sasaki were gone, only to lose just Sasaki. When she did, she was afraid, but she’s not anymore…because she has Sorawo.

They cover the AP-1 in a tarp and return to Tokyo, where they end up treating Kozakura and Akari to a big dinner. It’s a warm, sweet way to end a series about two crazy kids who found each other and found courage, peace, and strength in one another. When it comes to exploring the Otherside with someone, no one but Toriko will do for Sorawo, and vice versa.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 11 (S1 Fin) – Sharing the Load

Roxy comes upon a bulletin board outside of Roa (at least I think it’s Roa) and is relieved to find Rudy and his family’s names missing from the lists of the dead. She also finds a letter from Paul to Rudy, saying he’s not worried about him making it home, while asking anyone who knows his family or the members of their old adventurer group to help him find Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha (Norn is with him).

The Fangs of the Black Wolf to write back to him care of the adventurer’s guild in Millis. Roxy happens to encounter two former Fangs—a she-elf and a dwarf—forming party of three in search of Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha. Meanwhile, Rudy’s party of three are taking jobs and starting to make money, thanks to their arrangements, thanks to the cooperation of the two remaining pet kidnappers, Jalil and Vizquel.

Their first high-ranked job is to investigate a monster in the Petrified Forest—a suitably dark and spooky venue—but they find the job has been triple booked, both by Kurt and his two young comrades and a third group led by an older orc. The three groups go their own ways, but Kurt & Co. immediately run into trouble.

Rudy sees an opportunity to improve Ruijerd’s rep by rescuing them, but wants to wait for the right moment. While delaying Ruijerd from charging in to save them, one of Kurt’s buddies is brutally killed; his body flying gracefully through the air before hitting he ground with a horrific splat. Ruijerd and Eris don’t wait for Rudy’s signal, and deal with the two monsters themselves.

Rudy explains he thought it would “work out better” for them if they waited, but Ruijerd is furious. Instead of Eris, it’s Kurt who grabs Ruijerd’s arm, insisting that neither he nor his dead buddy are “kids”; they’re adventurers who knew this job could mean their deaths. As the leader of his party, it’s his fault.

When Ruijerd sees Kurt take responsibility and weep for his fallen friend, his hand hovers over the kid’s head before resting on firmly on his shoulder, demonstrating that Ruijerd acknowledges Kurt as a full-fledged warrior, and apologizes for treating him like a child.

The monsters Ruijerd and Eris weren’t the monster the job mentioned. That turns out to be the forest boss, a redhood cobra, who has already killed all of the orc’s party but himself. Ruijerd manages to slash along one side of its body, but when Eris’ blade bounces off its thick skin, she’s blasted backwards. Fortunately she’s able to use her own sword to cushion the impact, and recovers quickly.

Rudy launches magical attacks that lure the cobra to him, and Ruijerd stops it in its tracks before it can swallow the boy. Eris then tries again with her sword, launching a devastating attack from above that called to mind Haruko smashing away with her Rickenbacker bass in FLCL. She manages to slice clean through the cobra’s body, allowing Rudy to blast a hole through its hood, finishing it off.

Unfortunately, they’re too late to save the orc adventurer’s life, and when they return to town to claim the reward, Bojack Horseman is there to tell them he knows they switched jobs with Jalil and Vizquel, and unless they pay him half of all their earnings monthly, he’ll make sure their licenses are revoked. After lowering his head in frustration, he raises it, as if to ask the heavens themselves why everything he’s done since coming to the city has gone so wrong.

Eris can tell he’s troubled and takes his hand in concern, and he tries to reassure her with a fake smile. She reminds him of his solemn duty: to get her home to her family. He’ll bring down the whole goddamn city if he has to. His staff begins to glow through its cover, and storm clouds begin to gather…then Ruijerd dumps a jug of water on his head, revealing his green hair, and he then threatens a thoroughly terrified Bojack to back off before fleeing the city on his own.

Rudy and Eris leave the city to search for Ruijerd, and eventually find him. To Rudy’s surprise and shame, Ruijerd apologizes to him, when he thinks it’s he who should be apologizing. He was so focused on making money as efficiently as possible and improving his reputation that it became too much to juggle and got away from him.

But Ruijerd doesn’t hold it against him. He sensed Rudy’s resolve to kill Bojack, and could tell Rudy was trying to protect something—someone, in Eris—which makes him a warrior, not a child. To Ruijerd, warriors protect children and treasure their comrades. Helping Rudy out back there was more important than his tribe’s reputation.

The two shake hands, which of course leads Eris to add her hand to the pile so as not to be left out. The next morning, Ruijerd shaves his head so it will be easier to move around, and the three wear matching head/armbands to denote their status as members of Dead End.

Going forward, Rudy stops trying to figure out everything on his own, and trusts both Ruijerd and Eris to help share the load on their mutual quest to reach the Asura Kingdom. As the credits roll, we watch them camp and travel on a ground dragon, watch Ruijerd pull Rudy away from snooping on a bathing Eris, and Eris punching Rudy when he opens a dressing room curtain before she’s dressed (she acquires some super-cool knight’s armor for heavy-duty battles).

Eventually they reach a new port city…which I believe happens to be the same port city at which Roxy and the two Fangs arrive via ship. Whether Rudy & Co. are still in the Demon continent or have reached Millis isn’t clear, but one thing’s for certain: there’s potential for a tearful reunion of master and apprentice, and should that happen, they’ll be an even more formidable party of six.

Unfortunately, as Mushoku Tensei is a split-cour series, we’ll have to wait until July for the continuation of the story, just as it’s getting seriously awesome. Not that it wasn’t before. MT completed a masterful transformation from excellent fantasy isekai slice-of-life in a sleepy rural setting to an excellent grand-scale fantasy adventure romp packed with colorful characters, gorgeous locales, and breathtaking action. The finale could not have done a better job getting me pumped up for season two!

Read Crow’s review of episode 11 here!

The Promised Neverland – 22 – Playtime Has Only Just Begun

First of all, Vincent is not a turncoat; I can’t see how someone otherwise proven as intelligent as him would think Ratri and the demons would honor any deal he made for them. Instead, Norman has Vincent leak one plan, knowing the farms will prepare for it, while executing an entirely different plan. And not a moment too soon, either, as that very day Phil and all the kids at Grace Field House are notified that they’re being shipped off.

Final preparations are made in Mujika and Sonju’s secret tunnels, and then everyone boards a fleet of hot air balloons—which presumably were part of Norman’s original “Kill All Demons” plan. When Ratri and the head demon spot the fleet proper approaching the farms and separating into small groups, the demon spearmen atop the walls shoot them down one by one.

Of course, the initial wave of balloons was only a feint; all of the ones that were shot down are armed with firebombs that soon set the forests within the farms alight. While the demons are busy putting those out, they’re suddenly ambused by the Lambda kids, while the other balloons land safely and the Farm’s administration facility is raided using Minerva’s blueprints. Soon Vincent has hacked into the system and shuts down all of Ratri’s surveillance and comms.

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to the mothers escorting their kids to the shipping area, each of the farms has been infiltrated by little kids sent by Emma, who uses the hacked comms to give the signal to “play tag”. Phil and the others obey and run for it while the gates are closed on the mothers, keeping them from pursuing. Everyone meets at the massive central elevator. Everything’s going according to plan…until the elevator refuses to budge.

The kids below look up in horror at dozens of mothers armed with assault rifles, led by Grandmother Isabella and smirking Gatekeeper Peter Ratri. “Playtime is over,” he tells the “lost” children. That certainly seems to be the case. How are the kids going to get out of this one? They brought bows and arrows to a gunfight, and they don’t even have the benefit of the high ground!

But what saves everyone, as usual, is Emma, or more precisely, her words and her indomitable will. When Peter tells her to give up and accept they were all born to be eaten, Emma refuses to do so. She and her suddenly huge family have a future they want, and she’s going to keep fighting for it no matter how many times she fails, so Peter can take his destiny and shove it.

That’s when Isabella—and all the other mothers and sisters she leads—turn their guns on Ratri. She tells Emma not to misunderstand; she claims not to be doing this for them—though she is proud of how well she raised them. She’s simply grown tired of how Ratri and the others run the farms, and now has the power to do something about it. And with the system hacked, the chips Ratri once could have used to blow them up no longer work.

Ratri still has one card left to play: the demon reinforcements from outside of the farms. The lead demon warns all of the children to be obedient and yield, as once those forces arrive there will be no more hope of victory, even with Isabella and the mothers on their side. Unfortunately both the lead demon and Ratri, another, much larger force of lower-class demons overwhelm those reinforcements before they can even arrive.

That’s right: thanks to a coordinated effort between Mujika and Vylk, a huge number of demons have been cured of their need for human meat, and they’re ready and willing to help overthrow the farm system that has oppressed them all these years. Mujika and Vylk enter the elevator room, surprising both Isabella and Ratri with their presence. For them it must be unthinkable to see demons standing in solidarity with these kids.

But again, it’s all about aligned interests. Just as Isabella is sick of the system, so are the demon masses. Ratri’s final threat—that the human-demon conflict resolved 1,000 years ago by his ancestors will start back up—is nullified by the presence of Mujika and the Evil Blood.

Suddenly fresh out of haughty remarks, Ratri falls to his knees in defeat, while Emma approaches him and holds out her hand, not asking for his surrender or ordering his death, but asking him to join them; to join the future they’re well on their way to realizing.

While I had to suspend an air balloon fleet-load of disbelief for much of “Operation Playtime”, I can’t deny it was loads of fun watching it unfold, as long I didn’t think about anything too much! Looks like we’re in store for a slightly rushed but hopeful and happy ending.

Check out Irina and Crow’s thoughts on the episode here!

Otherside Picnic – 11 – Return of The Girls

Sorawo and Toriko continue to exhibit positive change, as evidenced by their commitment to return to the Otherside and rescue the American marines they left behind. Simply saying “it’s not our problem” doesn’t enter into their thoughts on the matter.

It all comes down to whether their Lady Hasshaku hat trick will work again, and fortunately it does, transporting them back to the side of the train track. While they’re initially shot at on sight, Toriko fires off “SOS” in Morse, and the marines stand down, realizing they’re dealing with humans.

While Greg, their contact the last time around, was killed in the battle that continued after the girls transported away, the new guy in command speaks Japanese and is both friendly and grateful to “The Girls”, as they’re called, for coming back to help them. They’re also happy to provide all the weapons and ammo they need.

Toriko, whose mom was in the Canadian military and tought her how to shoot and maintain firearms, teaches Sorawo the proper way to hold and aim a rifle, getting all close and personal in the process. The two of them take their place atop one of the customized MRAPs the marines prepared, and the entire unit heads out, blowing up their improvised base behind them.

Sorawo, buoyed by the fact Toriko is right beside her, ably guides the convoy around glitches. Enemies first approach under the guise of fellow marines, but Sorawo’s eye sees through the illusion; they’re monsters, soon joined by the two boss-level beasts. Sorawo serves as spotter for the marines, but even after a successful headshot, the antler-branch monster’s head simply grows back.

When they reach the forest form which the marines first emerged upon arriving, their enemies suddenly cease their advance. After some driving through the woods they eventually come upon a roped-off glowing offertory box, perhaps the very gate through which the marines came. Their memories are hazy, clouded by the fear of the “nightmare” they endured upon arriving.

Sorawo and Toriko investigate, and spot a pale woman in tattered robes and blood-red toothy grin, whom Sorawo identifies as Kakandara—no doubt from another urban legend with which she’s familiar. Now that they’ve come so close to accomplishing their mission of bringing the boys home, hopefully The Girls can defeat, delay, or otherwise repel this Kakandara woman, and not give in to her fear-inducing aura.

Otherside Picnic – 04 – Hey Little Sister, Shotgun

Sorao’s waffling over helping Toriko find Satsuki comes to a head when Toriko leaves in the middle of a very weird lunch to search on her own, thanking Sorao for her help thus far, but implying she can’t count on it anymore and that’s fine. To be fair, Sorao has every reason to fear the Otherside: one of its inhabitants, “Space-Time Man”, warns her she’ll be stuck there if she returns.

Unable to find Toriko to apologize, Sorao visits Kozakura, who inexplicably finds a photo of Satsuki on Sorao’s phone. When three strange people knock aggressively at her door, she whips out an enormous shotgun. Turns out it’s not overkill: the lead woman’s head swells to enormous size, threatening to swallow the two up.

In fact, maybe they do, because one moment the head is there, the next moment they’re in the Otherside. This is particularly distressing to Kozakura, a hermit who doesn’t do field work and is far from dressed properly for an Otherside excursion.

While searching for Toriko, Sorao tells Kozakura about her rather checkered past, involving a parent who was swallowed up into a cult (were those the folks at the door?), then tried to abduct her, only to end up being killed before Sorao could torch them with kerosene. She talks as if this is all the most normal backstory in the world…which it isn’t.

That said, it seems Kozakura was only included so Sorao had someone with whom to talke about her past, because Sorao soon ditches her when she starts using her special eye to discern what’s real and what’s fake. She ends up chasing another version of herself to a strange modern cell where Toriko, dressed in some kind of weird cult garment, is being held.

Toriko is entranced by a figure outside she sees as her “special someone” Satsuki, but in reality is some kind of Art Nouveau monster trying to lure her to God-knows-where. Luckily, Toriko shoots the shit out of the monster with the shotgun, causing it to collapse into itself. Toriko comes out of her trance, and the two make up.

The pace remains leisurely and the runtime is peppered with “wait, what?” moments, but the atmosphere of Otherside and the haunting music accompanying it remain a strong draw. Sorao’s still threatened by Satsuki and pretty generally scared besides, but at least now seems to realize that she and Toriko need to keep sticking together in this bizarre realm.