Kokkoku – 03

Juri escapes death by strangulation when her eyes go white and she spontaneously gains the ability to expel “specters”, the jellyfish-like beings humans must merge with to be able to move in the Stasis. Before long, the three men in her house are stalled, and Juri escapes with The Stone, much to the chagrin of Majima.

Now that we’ve seen flashes of both Majima and Juri’s memory, it’s clear the two knew each other, and were both involved with specters during that time. Majima remembered, Juri didn’t, and now Majima is with the bad guys, working against Juri’s family. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Meanwhile, the Bad Guy leader (Sagawa) tests the abilities of the Herald on an expendable henchman, and learns that the monster is getting smaller, and thus his power isn’t limitless. Before long, they may even be rid of it, and able to do affect change in Stasis as they see fit.

Coincidentally, the specter within the now-dead henchman travels to Makoto and merges with him, enabling Ma-tan to wake up, much to the delight of Tsubasa.

With all the Yukawas now free except for Takafumi, Sagawa decides to try to talk man-to-man about ownership of the Stone. In the fact of such intimidation, I fully the gentle, passive Takafumi to fold like a cheap suit.

The tougher members of the family in Gramps and Juri thankfully reunite, but not before Juri gains another tail from a group of thugs who were looting a store when she walked past…not trying to hide herself or her movements in any way despite not knowing who may be around and after her. Baka Juri!

One of those guys appears and tries to keep up a story about simply being some guy who happens to be able to move as well, which lasts all of ten seconds before he and his friends start to rush Gramps and Juri.

With a series of short teleportations, the two are able to get away, and stick to the middle of the road to avoid ambush. However, they don’t take the extra and very obvious precaution of staying away from other people, regardless of if their motionless or not.

The huge goon in sunglasses doesn’t have to go anywhere to get his knife in a position to stab Juri to death; she strolls right up to him! I tell ya, I’m rooting for the Yukawas—there’s no one else worth rooting for—but they aren’t making things easy for themselves with these constant tactical blunders.

I get it; they’re merely civilians unaccustomed to being in this kind of situation, they’re way outnumbered, and they’re scared. But if they want out of it with their all organs still internal, they’ll have to do better.

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Kokkoku – 02

Kokkoku’s second “moment” delivers some welcome answers. The bad guys are part of some kind of religious cult, they want Grandpa’s stone, and the giant “Handler” (the cult calls it the “Herald”) stops anyone who tries to break the rules of the Stasis (crunching a hired goon’s head for trying to kill the “stalled” Makoto.

However, after a relatively nicely staged and directed opening action set piece last week, things kind of devolve into wandering around the drab frozen city, with Grandpa filling Juri in more on the details, while the bad guys send goons after them as they kinda stand around and wait.

One important new addition to the cast is Majima, a mysterious woman who seems to have assited the cult in finding the Yukawa family stone, which they call the “Master Stone” and is crucial for their plans.

A flashback seems to suggest Majima and Juri may have been friends at one time, and she witnessed the stone being used; this also explains Juri’s vague memories of being exposed to the time-stopping powers before.

There’s a funny moment when Gramps and Juri realize they left Takafumi behind, but in keeping with this family’s tendency to close ranks when shit hits the fan, there’s no question of rescuing him before using the stone again in hopes of escaping to a new Stasis, leaving the bad guys behind.

Just a few issues: One of the “jellyfish” turns Tsubasa from stalled to moving, and he’s very, very confused and flustered. When he finds Makoto unresponsive, he heads to the nearest hospital, where he’ll get no help whatsoever (and may even incur the wrath of the Handler).

So if they commit their plan without Tsubasa, they’ll never see him again. But even more detrimental to their plan is the fact Gramps didn’t know the cult was after the stone until he and Juri split up (never a good idea), with him going to free Takafumi and Juri going home to grab the stone.

Unfortunately, Juri simply ran there without trying to be sneaky at all. Even if she had been, the whole group of bad guys were staking the place out, waiting for someone to show up. Since it’s Juri, who they presume they don’t need to activate the stone, her death by strangulation is ordered, and she passes out before the credits roll.

Now, you and I both know Juri ain’t dying…but perhaps something more interesting will happen as a result of the goons’ attempt. Whatever that is, I think it’s time the Yukawa’s were allowed some kind of win. I also want to know what’s up with Majima; if and how she and Juri are connected, and why she’s okay with her being strangled.

Kokkoku – 01 (First Impressions)

I love shows about distinctive families, be they rich or down-on-their-luck, and the Yukawas definitely fit the bill in lacking in the luck department. 22-year-old Juri works tirelessly to secure a job that pays enough to enable her to move out, but for now she lives with her NEET brother Tsubasa, 31, her laid-off (and seemingly defeated) father Takafumi, her older sister Sanae, 25, a single mother to young Makoto, and last but not least, their retired grandfather.

There’s an immediate tension between those who work in the family and those who sit on their asses, but also a close-knit feeling that things aren’t so bad they’ll all one day turn on one another. Tsubasa may be a layabout, but Juri is able to sufficiently shame him into picking up his nephew from school.

There, another kid immediately calls him out as a suspicious character and Juri jokes about it over the phone. She’s having a little fun at Tsubasa’s expense, but is also proud he gave enough of a shit to actually do something for the family. It’s neat little family-centric details along with their general underdog nature, that quickly endear the Yukawas to me.

Just when you thought they had enough to deal with, circumstances thrust the family into a crisis situation straight out of the movies, when a gang of toughs kidnap Tsubasa and Makoto and ask the impossible: for 5 million yen to be delivered to the designated location in 30 minutes time.

Knowing they don’t have the time or the money, Juri grabs a knife and prepares to head to the kidnappers, presumably to take back her brother and nephew by force. Her dad Takafumi, suddenly awakened from his slumber by the emergency, deems only he as head of the house should go (with his dad’s savings).

It’s Grandpa Yukawa, however, who presents an alternative: that they use the mysterious, ancient stone that’s been in their family for years…to stop time.

And that’s exactly what Gramps, Juri, and her dad do. Once time slows, we’re treated to a number of fast moving things freezing in mid-air, along with strange “beings” made of light within the suspended time. Suddenly with all the time in the world, they strike out into the “stopped world”, and Gramps explains what he can as they head to the exchange spot.

Juri, for her part, experiences memories of the stone from when she was a young girl, while Gramps also points out that anyone who can move about in the “Stasis” too long ultimately becomes corrupted by the power they have over those who can’t move.

The inter-family banter is again a winner here, with Gramps expressing both affection and disappointment in his son, Juri’s dad, and when they find Tsubasa and Makoto among their now-frozen captors, it looks like they’re going to come out of this on top, thanks to a little hereditary time magic.

Of course, things don’t go that easily, because there are other people who can move in the stasis, much to the Yukawa’s shock and confusion. They’re assaulted, forcing Gramps to pull out another trick from his bag: instantaneous transportation from one spot to a spot a few feet away in either direction.

It’s not a game-changing power, however, and they can’t take their still-frozen family members along for the rides. When two bored-looking men in suits arrive with a band of henchmen, it becomes clear there’s more to this than careless kidnappers who decided to target a family with no money. One of those suits is jealous of Gramps’ power, so it’s likely this whole ordeal was set up to draw Gramps and the Yukawas out.

Just when it looks like the Yukawas are done for, a gigantic tree-like monster emerges from the sky and descends on the henchman holding a knife to Makoto. Is this tree-dude a friend to the Yukawas; some kind of guardian for Makoto, or an enemy to all of the humans in this bizarre static realm? I don’t know, but his appearance sure does pump up the supernatural vibe. In any case, I hope the Yukawas can get out of this mess.

Stocked with both very realistic human characters and said bizarre baddies, Kokkoku struck a good balance of show and tell, drama, peril, and dark comedy, and was bookended by fantastic opening and ending sequences. This one’s a keeper so far.

Inuyashiki – 11 (Fin)

Early in this final episode, I was deathly afraid Hiro would somehow repair himself and pay Ichirou and his family a visit, and there would be no way Ichirou would be able to fight Hiro off and save his family; indeed, they’d likely be part of the ample collateral damage of such a fight.

That fear was only amplified when Ichirou showed his entire family the machinery within him, confessing to them that he might not be their Ichirou, but a fake. When his wife asks him to describe their honeymoon, he recalls every detail with such emotion both she and Mari end up bawling and embracing him…of course he’s their Ichirou. Only his son stays away, still understandably weary of this shocking news.

As for Hiro, his arms aren’t coming back, and he seems to have given up on destroying Japan. He shows up in Andou’s room to read the latest Jump, but Andou can’t allow the charade to go on, and calls Ichirou. Hiro splits before he arrives, and later watches Shion and her grandmother from afar, not daring to get too close lest his awfulness infect them any further. Hiro is also constantly hearing desperate cries for him to just effing die already for all the horrendous shit he’s done. He’s not in a good place.

As for Ichirou, honesty proves to be the best policy, as his family quickly embraces him (I love how his office didn’t even acknowledge him as the healing god on TV). He takes the fam out to eat and they take a riverside stroll afterward, in a wonderful display of family camaraderie.

In an earlier talk with his boy while walking home, Ichirou tells him how death makes life precious, and that now that he’s a machine he realizes he took being human for granted.  Even so, you can’t deny his family is being a lot nicer to him now that he’s a machine, when before, only his dog Hanako seemed to care whether he lived or died.

At the same time, perhaps they weren’t ever as disdainful as the earlier episodes depicted; maybe we were just seeing things from Ichirou’s woe-is-me perspective. It wasn’t as if he was the only member of his family feeling underappreciated or downtrodden.

In any case, that odd ominous sense of finality to the family interactions is explained by President Donald Trump of all people on the TV: Remember that Giant Asteroid? It’s still headed to Earth, where it’s expected to wipe out all life in three days. Trump basically tells the losers of the world to pound sand; he has no regrets about his life.

Such a comforting voice in trying times, is the Trumpster’s. A good chunk of the masses respond by engaging in widespread illegal activity. Something has to be done, and we know who needs to do it.

While I know the asteroid has been mentioned for some time, the shift from the Ichirou-Hiro conflict to Stopping the Asteroidocalypse still feels very sudden, and once this episode ended, I felt a bit like an entire arc had been awkwardly squeezed into one episode.

That being said, the execution, while hasty, still made an impact, what with Mari’s tearful farewell of her father (who promises he’ll be back) and the gorgeous shots of Ichirou floating around space. Unfortunately, even his formidable arsenal is ineffective at altering the asteroid’s course.

Enter Hiro, who followed Ichirou into space, and who believes the course will shift if he self-detonates on the asteroid’s surface. As horrible as he is, Hiro doesn’t want Andou or Shion to die, so like Ichirou, he’ll do all he can to stop that from happening.

When the night sky turns to day for a few minutes, both Andou and Shion seems to sense their friend is gone. For all the hundreds of people he killed in various awful ways (and if looking at things dispassionately), sacrificing himself to save the entire population of earth seems like a sufficient means of redemption.

It’s too bad then, that Hiro alone can’t save earth; he only blew up part of the asteroid; to finish it, Ichirou has to blow himself up as well. While I’m sure he didn’t like breaking his promise to Mari, he’d have liked her being incinerated by a meteor even less.

Also neither Ichirou nor Hiro in their current states were anything that should have been anywhere near humanity; they were simply too powerful, on both the good and bad side of things. They should have died when that alien ship squashed them. Turns out they got some bonus time, but now that time has ended.

The simple, quiet epilogue of Mari learning her manga won the competition in Jump (to Andou’s surprise as well) is the product of Ichirou lovingly supporting his daughter’s creative dreams, and earning back her respect and affection in return. No doubt the next work she publishes will be dedicated to her father’s memory.

Inuyashiki – 10

Turns out the woman, father, and baby we met last week weren’t the ones in the plane that crashed. Hiro has taken control of dozens, many of which find targets on the ground below, but Ichirou is finally able to take action,  commandeering and soft-landing ten planes in the bay – including the one with the woman, father and baby.

But Hiro has already caused much carnage, and hundreds if not thousands of casualties. And perhaps more pressing to Ichirou, Mari calls him to say she’s trapped atop city hall in the observation deck, where there’s a fire raging and where oxygen is running out.

Ichirou could probably save Mari and the others in City Hall in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, but there’s a problem: Hiro has found him. In their first encounter, he bolted as soon as Ichirou got up from Hiro’s bang; here, he wants answers, and isn’t satisfied with the ones he gets.

Hiro is upset that he’s the villain, while the old man is the hero, and so lashes out like a child would, first by grappling with Ichirou, then by bang-bang-banging him mercilessly. Finally, Ichirou counters with a bang of his own, but Hiro is only momentarily stunned.

As previewed in the show’s OP, a no-hold-barred battle between Hiro and Ichirou, nobody wins or loses except the city crumbling around and below them. When they’ve finally beaten and blasted each other unconscious, their “fail-safe”/”autopilot” systems kick in.

It’s here where it’s indicated that for all of the carnage and mayhem Hiro has caused, Ichirou’s system may be the superior of the two, and not necessarily due to any mechanical differences. Rather, because the original human that was copied by the mysterious aliens was older and more experienced.

This enables Autopilot Ichirou to destroy the hapless $100 billion space station in orbit and use the falling debris as cover for a sneak attack. He essentially scalps and literally “dis-arms” Hiro, and both fall back to earth with a crash and a splash.

At this point, I didn’t have very high hopes for Mari’s survival, and indeed she looks to have succumbed to smoke inhalation and asphyxia by the time Ichirou finally arrives. We watch him quickly descend into a new sub-level of despair as Mari’s life flashes before his eyes, but after much perseverance he manages to revive her.

Mari reacts to learning her father came when she needed him most with a big hug and a lot of tears. There’s no time fo Ichirou to explain or try to hide what he is; he must save the rest of the sightseers atop the building, including Nao, and after sending Mari home, he’s all over the city, saving as many as he can as those around him call him “god”.

Meanwhile, Hiro’s in a bad way, but he’s obviously not dead. Two good Samaritans encounter find him in an alley, and when he manages to mutter “water”, they give him some juice from the nearby vending machine, unwittingly helping a potential country-destroyer get back in the game.

I hope Ichirou realizes it isn’t ovr between him and Hiro, and that he isn’t so caught up in helping strangers that he neglects his family’s safety.

Just Because! – 07

Things really come together in the Natsume-Izumi-Komiya love triangle this week, as both girls start to realize the feelings they have, things long left unsaid are finally said, nudging the narrative forward in a satisfying way.

Komiya clutching Izumi’s back was certainly a provocative image to leave use with two weeks ago—particularly in making Natsume bear witness to the display. As it happens, the embrace was instigated by a jubilant Komiya. We get to see what led up to that hug-from-behind, with Izumi saving Komiya from a run-in with a scary dude who thought she was snapping pics of him without his permission.

She blames Izumi for not giving her permission, but more importantly, finally tells him why it’s so important he give it: the photography club is a place where she finally belonged; if it’s gone, she’ll have nowhere.

While that’s not strictly true, I’m sure Izumi can relate to not having a true place to belong after being uprooted from his school and friends years back. And like Komiya, he’s working to preserve such a place, by trying to get into the same university as Natsume.

Izumi tellingly gets no sleep at all; perhaps he recognized Natsume last night when Komiya was on his back; and when it snows the morning of her test, all forms of transportation are snagged and delayed. It’s a common scenario for Natsume, as Izumi sees it: she’s always getting the short end of the stick; one could also call it plain ol’ bad luck.

It enabled her to see Izumi with Komiya at the worst (and most misunderstandable) possible time; it also caused it to snow the day of her big test, and to slip and fall right before the PA warning about the slippery floor.

But Izumi is on it; he does what he’s always done with Natsume; try to make up for her bad luck by being there with her; to help bear some of her burdens. After seeing him with Komiya, Izumi helping her off the cold wet ground was probably the last thing Natsume expected…and yet here he is.

Izumi also shields her on a crowded train, making things as comfortable as possible before her test. When she worries she’s forgotten all she’s studied, he throws history questions at her, which she answers with ease; she’s alright after all. She asks him to keep quizzing her.

Neither mentions what was up with Komiya last night, he’s just there, in the there and now, to offer his support, and it seems to work: Natsume arrives at the test center with a spring in her step and has a defiant, confident look in the testing room.

That train scene is my favorite of the show between the two; there’s so much quiet, gentle mutual affection there; both look so cozy and content. And it almost instantly turns Komiya—whom I was damn near ready to ship with Izumi last week, but who sneaks up on Izumi in a bookstore—into an interloper. Izumi barely has the time of day for her.

At the same time, I feel sorry that the timing of her “queasiness” is coming at about the same time Natsume is starting to realize her feelings for Izumi. After the test, Natsume watches a middle school couple interact on the train, with the boy carrying the larger load for the girl’s sake, albeit somewhat grumpily.

The boy reminds Natsume of Izumi, clearly carrying something too heavy but willing to do it for her. In that flashback, Natsume’s fellow council members skipped out on her, in another instance of her getting the short end of the stick, but Natsume’s quite right that Izumi got an even shorter end when he suddenly had to move away.

But now Izumi is back, and he’s still willing to go the extra mile for Natsume. Indeed, she’s not yet aware he’s aiming to go to the same university as her. I wonder how she’ll take that when she does learn? I guess it depends on whether he tells her or if she finds out.

Komiya does know; she saw the books Izumi was reading at the store. As such, and with her “queasiness” in mind, Komiya wastes no time asking permission again, this time asking Natsume if she can ask Izumi out on a date.

In baseball speak, this question to Natsume could be considered “chin music”, a fastball high and inside, meant to back the batter off the plate. It’s an aggressive move by a girl who has made many an aggressive move to get what she wants, though in a more pragmatic than selfish or hostile way.

Everyone is looking for a place to belong, and in Komiya’s case, that place might just be by Izumi’s side. Natsume may have been super-passive up to this point, but her response to Komiya is a swift and decisive “no, you can’t”, spoken almost under her breath, but from a higher physical point than Komiya, underscoring her precedence.

Those three words indicate so much: No, you can’t swoop in and take what would already be mine, if I’d realized and/or acted sooner. No, you can’t steal a march on me. You may be working through things faster, but that doesn’t mean I have to match your speed. I’m going to sit down, figure things out and talk with Izumi, and then we’ll see what’s what. Until then, REQUEST DENIED.

It’s an admirable first step and line in the sand for Natsume. Here’s hoping she keeps it up and has a good, productive conversation with Izumi very soon.

Just Because! – 06

Morikawa’s Sunday request to Souma for a chat goes unanswered into Wednesday. Why? Souma is weary of breaking the “stalemate,” unaware of what someone who outright rejected him could possibly want to talk about.

While that’s festering, Komiya continues her campaign to become Izumi’s friend, believing it will net her the benefit of him giving permission to use the photo. Rather than absense, she’s hoping her constant presence will make his heart grow stronger.

They have lunch in the depressing office where Izumi studies alone, and Souma catches him being fed by Komiya. “It’s not what it looks like!” Izumi protests. Maybe not, but things seem to be moving in that direction!

Souma and Izumi have a talk about Morikawa’s text, and Izumi suggests they settle it with baseball…again. If he hits a homer off Izumi, Souma must respond. If Izumi strikes him out, he’ll “be clear” with someone whose name he’d rather not say (though I’m assuming it’s Natsume; isn’t that why he’s studying; to get into a college near hers?)

Once more, Souma and Izumi’s two-man, one-out game becomes the focal point on which all others are focused, from Komiya (literally focused with her camera) and Natsume (who can tell Izumi’s doing his best) to Morikawa, who almost, almost breaks out her trumpet, remembering Souma liking it, even though she thinks she sucks.

The next day, Komiya gets some reasonable advice to back off from Izumi since getting closer isn’t working, but it becomes immediately clear Komiya isn’t capable of backing off in a realistic manner, and even if she did, it would have no effect on Izumi.

Natsume, inspired by both Izumi and Souma, gives Souma an eraser as thanks for him lending her one years ago. Souma is understandably confused, and unfortunately Natsume leaves it there without any further information, forcing Souma to, as Izumi says “figure it out for himself.”

Later, one of Natsume’s friends (one of three all rooting for her and Souma) asks straight-up if Natsume even likes Souma. Natsume doesn’t know anymore. She’s torn between the elation of that eraser lend in the past, and the presence of Morikawa in the present, and of course, the tests that will determine her future.

Souma, meanwhile, finally gets back to Morikawa, only for her to procrastinate over responding to him. These damn kids, I tellya! Fortunately, Inui kinda forces the issue by telling Souma where to find Morikawa, who is practicing trumpet by the river. She plays for him, and it only makes him repeat how much he likes her. Her playing! But her too.

Then Souma gets a victory (well, he’d call it that) he never saw coming: Morikawa wants more time to give him a final answer; he’s not rejected. His raw elation upon hearing this was palpable. They come to a detente; planning a celebration when Natsume’s tests are done. But they dare not hang out one-on-one…why, I don’t know.

Meanwhile, Izumi is jogging when he comes upon Komiya, who has been busted by the cops for taking photos of someone without permission. The sequence is chopped up a bit, but it’s apparent he came to her aid, and he offered to ride her home on her moped.

Natsume just happens to spot the two, looking every bit like a couple to the untrained eye, before they motor off. Could Izumi actually be warming to the more accessible girl? Or is he just being the good friend Komiya wanted him to be? Whatever the case, it’s pretty likely Natsume will see what anyone else would see: Izumi and Komiya looking very close.

Kizumonogatari I: Tekketsu-hen

I haven’t read any of the Monogatari novels, but I have seen the events of Kizumonogatari before—in extremely condensed form, in the cold open of Bakemonogatari way back in July of 2009.

That immediate Tsubasa upskirt, followed a dark, bloody, brutal, prologue was one hell of an introduction to the agony and ecstasy of the Monogatari Series. Ever since, I’d hoped we’d get a proper telling of those intense events. Seven-plus years (and a hell of a lot of Monogataris) later, we finally get that story; in the form of a three-part film, no less.

Right off the bat, I have to say the franchise has never looked or sounded better: Shaft and co-directors Oishi Tatsuya and Shinbo Akiyuki pull out all the visual and auditory stops to really give this story the weight (sorry Hitagi) and grandeur it deserves. Familiar buildings and vistas are given a bit of a makeover with no expense spared.

We start with that upskirt from the very beginning of Bakemonogatari, in which Araragi Koyomi happens to catch a good long look at the lacey undergarments of one Hanekawa Tsubasa.

Rather than react the way your typical anime character would after such an incident, Tsubasa laughs it off and discovers that it’s very easy—and fun—to talk with Koyomi, despite the fact he’s a loner-by-choice with no friends.

By the end of their encounter, she’s given him her contact info and declared herself his friend. Tsubasa’s friendly down-to-earth manner is infectious, and Koyomi is over the moon by his encounter, and gets so excited he ends up racing to the adult bookstore.

While talking with Tsubasa, she informs Koyomi of rumors going around town about a hauntingly beautiful blonde woman with piercing gaze. That prepares us for when he discovers a very long trail of blood that leads him deeper and deeper into a deserted subway station that feels like a descent into the underworld.

With Kubrickian precision, a marvelous tension is built up as signs of a horrendous struggle mar the otherwise pristine metal, tile, glass, and white of the station. And then he finds her: our favorite super-vampire, Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade, lying in a pile of her own blood, relieved of her limbs, and near death.

She beseeches, or actually more like commands Koyomi to give him her blood to save her—all of it will probably do—but the kid is understandably terrified beyond rational thought, and his first instinct is to run the fuck away screaming, even as she too screams and pleads for help.

Eventually, however, the thing we all knew was coming occurs: Koyomi has a change of heart, and decides to head back down and offer his blood, which he believes to mean his life, to the vampire, hoping to earn the right to have a next life that isn’t so horribly fucked up.

But that’s just the thing: his life doesn’t end; his ‘clock’ starts right back up in a revamped-for-film, more impressive than ever abandoned cram school. Beside him is a dozing little blonde girl who isn’t ready to wake up yet.

Koyomi steps outside, and we return to the dramatic cold open of the film in which he’s set ablaze. I thought at the time it was just a nightmare, but no, his flesh actually bursts into flames upon exposure to the sun, but is continually regenerated.

Kiss-shot runs out and brings him back inside, and warns him not to go out during the day now that he’s an immortal vampire, and her second and newest servant.

As Koyomi points out, she’s no longer as “mature” as she was when they met, but it’s to be expected: Koyomi’s blood alone was not enough to fully restore her; she must be content with her smaller form. And while she’s been reduced in size, her personality is as big and imperious as ever.

Kiss-shot has little power remaining, and so must rely on Koyomi to destroy her enemies: three specialist vampire hunters whom she initially underestimated and allowed to attack her all at once. She believes if Koyomi takes them on one-by-one it should be a simple matter.

Of course, Kiss-shot’s perspective is somewhat skewed by the fact she’s over 500 years old and did things like jump from Antarctica to Japan over three centuries before the Meiji Restoration. If Koyomi can pull it off and get Kiss-shot’s limbs back, she promises she’ll turn him back into a human.

Unfortunately, when Koyomi first encounters these three hunters: Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotine Cutter, not only does he have no idea how to fight the extremely tough customers, they come at him all at once just like they did Kiss-shot.

All Koyomi can do is crumple into a ball and wait for another inevitable end, but the universe ain’t done with him yet, because one particularly badass dude stops all three specialists in their tracks at once.

We know this guy, even if Koyomi hadn’t yet been introduced: he’s Oshino Meme, who describes himself as a keeper of “balance” between the worlds of humans and oddities (AKA monsters).

In this instance, at least, maintaining the balance means helping Koyomi and Kiss-shot get her limbs back so she can return to full strength and restore Koyomi’s humanity. And so off we go!

There’s a unique exhilaration in watching earlier versions of characters I’ve known for years meeting for the very first time, particularly a Koyomi who is new to all this oddity stuff and extremely out of his depth.

Prequels are notoriously tricky to pull off, but if the first of three parts is any indication, with a neat balance of levity and gravitas, Kizumonogatari is one of the rare ones that succeeds and excels; actually more powerful and engaging for arriving so long after the series it precedes.

Aho Girl – 11

This week Yoshiko intercepts Ruri lamenting another perfect “0”, and suggests that maybe studying and academics just aren’t in the cards for her…without suggesting what she should do instead. This leads Ruri to attempt to do a great many things—cooking, cleaning, riding a bike—and Ruri is terrible at all of them, which puts her into a state of depression no 11-year-old should have to deal with.

The next segment is one of the best in Aho Girl’s eclectic repertoire; when Ryuuichi helps Yoshiko try to find one of the last special banana frappuccino drinks in town, he is beaten up by toughs from “Dick High”. More importantly, they disrespect the bananas, which flips a switch in Yoshiko’s head from “Aho Girl” to “Badass One-Girl Wrecking Crew”. And every tough she defeats gets a banana in the kisser.

The final segment follows Dog when he gets loose from his chain. While trying to deliver a flower to Sayaka’s dog Pomi, he has to rescue a boy from the river, another boy from a car, and beat up some armed bank robbers, before finally giving the flower to a scared girl to brighter her spirits. Good Dog! Good Aho Girl, too…

Made in Abyss – 05

Riko and Reg’s first hours in the Forest of Temptation go easily enough—even the giant leaves point them in the right direction. But we knew the silkfang wasn’t going to be the only man-eating beast they encountered, and sure enough, rushing in the direction of what they think is a man yelling “help me” turns out to be the luring call of a corpse-weeper, who snatches up Riko with the intent to feed her to her young.

Reg’s extending arm’s aim is true, but other weepers knock it off course. In addition to being torn apart and eaten, ascending worsens the Curse and puts extra strain on Riko, who vomits in midair before passing out.

Even though I knew there was no way she’d buy it here, my heart was still in the pit of my stomach. When Reg’s arm doesn’t work and he’s swarmed by weepers, he changes tactics, firing his hand cannon at the weeper nest and obliterating all the weepers, including the one carrying Riko.

He then catches her in mid-air with his arm, gathers her into his arms, and soft-lands on an itty-bitty column of rock. Whew, that was close. but it’s also telling. Things are not going to get easier from this point on! It’s a dangerous place. Here, all humans (or robots that look like humans) are prey.

Riko is tough-as-nails, and doesn’t even mind that Reg took her top off (to check her for injuries) when she was out; because she knows full well that like any other ordinary human Red Whistle (or even above), she’d be silkfang, or weeper food, or simply a dark red spot on some rock face, without Reg’s help.

She calls his beam weapon “Incinerator” (even though he’s still weary of accidentally hitting her with it), and makes a meal of the meat from the weepers he killed. While the weepers eat the flesh of men, Riko doesn’t consider it any different than the times cave raiders brought Abyss meat to the orphanage. It’s just the Circle of Life, baby.

Another realistic detail about their quest for which I’m thankful so far is that Riko keeps losing things: first her seemingly useless (but probably not) Star Compass, and most recently her book of field notes, which she did not memorize. In both cases, they can’t risk trying to search for or retrieve such things; they can only press on.

And press on they do, to the bottom edge of the Second Layer, the Inverted Forest. I’ve been looking forward to them reaching this place ever since we got a glimpse of it in the OP (and since Sigy described it on the map). It does not disappoint, as it is not only a stranger and more fantastical landscape; it’s also darker, colder, more foreboding and treacherous. The waterfalls going up are also a nice touch.

Just as Riko is losing things, Reg’s foolproof extending arm is getting more and more flummoxed; first by the weepers, and here with the intermittent strong winds. They also run afoul of a colony of ape-like Inbyos, who are not interested in interlopers in their territory. So Reg has to get used to his arm’s more limited effectiveness while getting himself and Riko away from violent primates.

But even here, there is some small relief: the same reason it’s dark and cold is the reason most of the fauna is relatively peaceful, while the effects of the Curse are diminished (or at least more bearable) around the Seeker Camp, which they eventually arrive at.

When they don’t see a lookout and no gondola descends, Reg does what he does, using his arm to ascend to the camp. But something else unexpected happens: his arms don’t grasp any rock or wood: they are grabbed and held by the person Habo warned them of; the one who helped Lyza carry baby Riko back to the surface; who notes the “brat” is still alive.

She’s the one they call The Unmovable Sovereign: Ozen. Will she be a source of hope or despair for our adventurers?

 

Made in Abyss – 01 (First Impressions)

Just a minute or two into Made in Abyss and I was already thinking What have I been doing these last five weeks, not watching this? I don’t know how it goes from here, but you can scarcely do a first episode better than this right here. Grandeur. Wonder. And sure, a little cutesiness. Abyss offers it all in spades, plus one of the most surprising, badass anime soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time.

Abyss goes into Tell Mode, but not until the very end, once it’s showed a whole lot. Seriously, it gets the showing down pat in no time, as the ethereal soundtrack plays over an otherwise soundless montage during which the fantastical yet cozy world is unveiled, bit by tantalizing bit. This is after the heroine saved her friend by drawing a monster to her, only to herself need prompt rescuing from a mysterious “robot boy” she takes home.

Home is the Belchero Orphanage—Riko and Nat are orphans—a grand place that has vertical classrooms with desks nailed to the wall accessable by ladder. That right there is some good fantasy, along with the familiar and yet otherworldly scenery, architecture, and clothing.

But just as gorgeous as the scenery, vistas, and lived-in interiors is what’s going on between the characters. As I said, they’re little kids—and I’m most certainly not—and yet they are never for a second annoying. They remind me more of the Goonies or the kids in Stranger Things, because they’re so easy to watch and imagine ourselves at that age having adventures, getting one over on the stodgy adults (and older kids)…and stubbing our toes while running. And the android Regu is just the kind of friend you’d want if you were a little kid: one who shoots powerful beams and has extendable arms.

Having successfully escaped responsibility and punishment for causing a blackout in the orphanage, Riko takes Regu to the best spot to watch the sun rise over her magnificent city of Orth, which surrounds the kilometer-wide-diameter aperture of the titular Abyss, the true depth of which no one knows, and the depth of previously unknown relics and treasures seems to similarly know no bounds.

Riko wants to follow in her late mother’s footsteps by going as deep as a human has ever gone in that Abyss, and bring back something new and amazing. But she may have already stumbled upon that discovery in Regu, without even descending more than 100 meters. It’s a great start for her, and for Made in Abyss. I’m fully onboard.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 16

Action is the name of the game on this week’s Baha Soul, with thrilling chases, an intense arena battle, daring escapes, and high-altitude rescues. It all starts when Bacchus, Hamsa, and Nina start talking about how and why Bacchus left Heaven, mentioning the hippogriff. El waits for his chance.

As Alessand continues to side with Charioce and Dias holds out hope for their old captain, Kaisar is stuffed in a cage and released in the middle of the arena, where he must fight Azazel to the death. Azzy may not be quite clear about why he’s still alive, but he’s not just going to lay down for the fallen knight, who manages to hold his own even though he’s missing a hand. Jaime Lannister, eat your heart out.

Once Bacchus, Hamsa and Nina realize El is missing (with Nina wearing El’s clothes, suggesting El went to the unusual trouble of dressing her after stealing her clothes) and formulate a plan to retrieve him, using lots of wordless hand (and wing) signals but getting the timing all wrong, causing a startled El to take wing and fly off.

Just when Azazel is about to put Kaisar down, Favaro, in the stands all along in a very puffy disguise (and clean-shaven), throws him Rocky, and Kaisar quickly gets the upper hand and “runs Azazel through” (though his precise strike doesn’t really touch Azzy).

As Favaro’s matador-like theme plays, he unleashes his crafty bounty hunter arsenal of crossbow bolts and smoke bombs, giving the three lads cover to escape, as Charioce reclines in his throne, seemingly unconcerned.

Nina catches up to El in a hovering platform in a very pretty chase through Heaven, but when she tries to pounce on him in mid-air she misses and starts to fall down and through the celestial barrier. Naturally, El descends at top speed to catch her, because he’s still, in her words “Mugaro”, despite having changed “a little bit.”

The two of them are then saved by Bacchus and Hamsa, who called Hippogriff and skedaddled just when Heavenly guards surrounded them. Back to Anatae they go, where El intends not to fight, but to bring peace.

At a very picturesque meeting spot, Rita unites with Kaisar, Rocky, Favaro and Azazel. The latter tries to slink off, claiming “this is as far” as he goes; but Kaisar tells him if they all work together, they can save demons as well as humans and gods from Charioce’s havoc. I loved Rita’s smile when Azzy walks by her, Kaisar’s words having worked. And all it takes is a look to bring Favaro along for the ride.

Not long ago all of the main cast was imprisoned in some way. Now, suddenly, they’re all free (for now) and in strong groups (again, for now). Will the two groups stay apart, or combine to create a force even Charioce will have trouble with? Will Nina’s continued Charioce conflict jeopardize the whole enterprise? Can El succeed without using force (which we know is limited in its scope an duration before he collapses)? We shall see.

Renai Boukun – 08

Yuzu and Guri mount a daring rescue of Akane (armed with cosplay and retro dramatic music), only to find she doesn’t want to be rescued… naturally. The story is very standard issue, and on paper sounds like dozens of such rescue episodes. What makes Renai Boukun’s take on it fresh and watchable (if not outstanding) is its commitment to inserting punchy, often self-referential comedy wherever it can.

As the subtitle above demonstrates, Renai Boukun will often go to the trouble of pointing out the cliches it’s using, because characters like Guri are themselves knowledgable students of anime like the one they’re in. Guri’s status as a cupid, with her “love detection” ability, easily cuts through the stoic masks both Akane and her mother are wearing.

Akane’s mom may not ever break her stern, Vulcan calm, but when Akane herself has her blade pressed to Seiji’s neck, and he tells her he’d never be able to hate her no matter what, her eye highlights come back, and then some: shimmer, tears; the lot!

Renai is also shameless in its portrayal of Akane and Yuzu’s moms as aged-up versions of their daughters: they loved the same man, bearing the girls who now both love Seiji. Akane’s mom left her dad when her family calling beckoned, but she has to deal with the fact her daughter might not go down that very same path.

The moms are also even more powerful than their daughters, and their unhinged battle on the roof of Akane’s house surprises Seiji, even though at this point he’s used to getting stabbed (but likes the pain from Akane’s stabbing more than Shikimi’s).

As expected, by the end of the episode everything is back to the way it was, relationship-wise, only now Akane has the implicit approval to “do as she likes”, which is to keep loving Seiji. Seiji also feels closer to her now that he knows the whole truth about Akane and Yuzu’s family.

Akua got to fight some goons in suits. Coraly got to scare Akua shitless. Shikimi got to stab Seiji a bunch. Everybody’s happy! Well, until the very end, when Guri sees how close Seiji and Akane have grown, and no doubt ponders what, if anything, she can do to get Seiji to look at her the way he looks at Akane.