Sarazanmai – 06 – Inside the Circle

As a dejected Haruka watches the real Sara pull the same fortune as yesterday (“sachet”, due to the zombie not being beaten), Kazuki resigns himself to being a kappa for the rest of his miserable existence, unable to be seen by anyone.

But Enta and Toi aren’t ready to let him give up on himself for Haruka, and Keppi seems game to assist where he can. As Kazuki laments being “outside the circle”, he’s really in the middle of two of them: his family and his kappa crew.

Then Reo, one of the cops who is currently separated from Mabo, his partner, encounters Haruka feeding Nyaranko. Haruka assumes he’s to be arrested for theft of Kazuki’s smile; Reo decides to roll the dice and extract his desire, if it is indeed desire and not love, tossing the cat aside.

The cat lands on Enta as he’s pleading with Kazuki, and Keppi reports that Haruka has been kidnapped by the Imperial Army of the Otters, long-time enemies of the Kappa, and of which Reo and Mabo are soldiers. Kazuki resolves to rescue Haruka at any cost.

After a brief history lesson from Keppi (including use of a modified Alexander Mosaic), he and the lads descend into the Otters’ vast industrial facilities dedicated to extracting desire from humans (now that there are no Kappas left other than Keppi) and creating Zombie Kappas.

Kazuki locates the box in which Haruka has been stashed, but it’s already part of the production line, and keeping up with it on its unrelenting path to oblivion is tough, even with help from Keppi.

Ultimately, Kazuki comes up a little bit short, and Haruka’s box begins its long drop into the matrix that will turn him into a Zombie Kappa. This means the end of Haruka, and the lads learn for the first time that the Zombies they’ve previously defeated are not only gone, but ceased to ever exist (hence their disappearance from photos and memories).

Keppi presents one last chance to save Haruka: a Shirikodama transplant, with Kazuki as the donor. That will mean the brothers will swap fates, and Kazuki is fine with that, since he feels he was always “outside the circle” anyway.

Obviously, neither Enta nor Toi will allow him to make that kind of sacrifice. Toi uses his gun to reverse the winch sending him down, and Enta shows him the miçanga Haruka never threw away, because he never gave up on his big bro.

As a confirmation Haruka never gave up, his box is blocked from conversion to a Zombie Kappa because it reads as “love”, not “desire”; Otters are only interested in the latter, so he’s marked for return. The bad news is, he’s headed straight for a giant shredder (evoking memories of the “Child Broiler” in Penguindrum).

Keppi rolls up into a soccer-sized ball, and Toi and Enta pass it to Kazuki, who uses a bicycle kick to knock Haruka’s box off its fatal course. A sleeping Haruka pops out of the box, and Kazuki is there to catch him.

We learn that Haruka had the sachet because he encountered Kazuki’s real mom shortly after Kazuki took his leave of her, and noticed the sachet had been left behind. He pleaded with her not to take Kazuki away, and she assured him he didn’t need to worry about that.

With that, the Sachet Zombie Kappa is defeated, and the lads regain their human form. No mention of a Dish of Hope, nor any tearful reunion with a newly-awake Haruka, just the three lads in the small Kappa plaza, and Kazuki suddenly feeling different than the last time he had his human body, no doubt because now he knows he’s not outside the circle, but in the center of it.

The Otter Cops don’t seem too perturbed about their latest defeat, and will certainly have their eyes on the Kappa boys henceforth. The episode closes with a flashback to long ago when the two of them stormed the Kappa castle to kill Keppi, only for Mabo to be gravely wounded, which may explain why his heart is clockwork?

Who knows…lots of blanks left to fill, but at least now we know for sure this is a war between the very well-supplied Otters and the last surviving Kappa. This was an episode that effectively departed from the usual monster-o-f-the-week formulae of earlier episodes, and was a thrilling adventure to boot. With Kazuki in a much better place emotionally, the Kappa triad looks better equipped to handle the next challenge thrown their way.

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BokuBen – 05 – An Eventful Two Days in the Mountains

Ah, the mountains, where the weather can change on a dime…and compromising situations can come just as quickly! The whole class has arrived at a mountain retreat for two days of intensive study, but the thing Rizu seems to be studying more intensively than anything is Nariyuki’s face.

Rizu has probably never been in love, so isn’t sure what to do with the strange mix of emotions she feels whenever she looks at Nariyuki , and in the process of trying to figure them out, she just keeps starting.

In this high-stakes environment, even lending Nariyuki an eraser is an intense competition, with Fumino beating a hesitating Rizu, Nariyuki fumbling, and Uruka passing it to him under the desk—where her legs aren’t crossed. None of this is intentional, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s happening to Nariyuki .

Increasingly embarrassed over her reactions to his presence, Rizu lashes out and runs out for some air, breaking the rules. Once she’s calmed down, she starts collecting mountain udo as an apology, but is so into it she gets lost in the woods as a mountain rainstorm commences. When Sekijo Sawako asks Nariyuki where the hell Rizu is, he realizes she could still be out there.

Using flash cards she surreptitiously dropped, he manages to find her, just as she’s visualizing the mathematically highly unlikely possibility of him doing just that. The problem is, she’s on higher ground and has to come down. That results in her slipping and falling. As she falls, Nariyuki positions himself to catch her, and the their lips end up meeting. As his rice bowl cracks back home, Nariyuki wonders: was that his first kiss?

He gets neither clarity nor assurance from Rizu, who continues to avoid his face as they carry out their punishment for leaving school grounds: cleaning the girl’s bath. Unfortunately, Rizu neglected to hang the “cleaning in progress sign” on the door, so all the girls, including Fumino, Uruka, and Sawako, strip down and rush in before Rizu can stop them.

Rizu confidently declares she’ll take care of it, but immediately fails, is stripped down herself, and forced into a battle of endurance in the very sauna where Nariyuki went to hide. Uruka (surprisingly) is the first to give up, but Fumino’s in it for the long run. Meanwhile Nariyuki is past his limit…

He’s saved by an unlikely heroine: Sawako, who put together the fact that he and Rizu were cleaning the bath and he got caught in a situation not of his making. In exchange being in her debt, Sawako distracts the others so he can slip out.

But as he opens the door to complete his escape, Uruka is there, and the force of the door opening whips her towel clean off, revealing every bit of her non-tanned body. Fortunately for Nariyuki, Uruka is still so woozy from the sauna she assumes she was hallucinating the guy she’s into!

Rizu apologizes properly for putting Nariyuki in so much danger—to be caught peeping in the girls’ bath would probably torpedo his chances of VIP consideration—and they finally address the accidental kiss they both agree was not a real kiss, but an accident. When Rizu tries to ask if Nariyuki “saw anything” in the bath, he assures her his glasses were foggy, something another glasses-wearer might understand.

Back at school, Nariyuki is brought before Kirisu-sensei, Rizu and Fumino’s former tutor who the later described as “very…cold.” Indeed, Kirisu treats their meeting more like an FBI interrogation, and after he tells her he’s doing his best to improve their grades, she immediately brings up the incident of him accidentally kissing Rizu in the forest, something only he and Rizu should know about, but somehow she knows too!

Whether her motives involve ensuring Nariyuki fails to do what she failed to do with her cold methodology, are couched in some kind of repressed feelings for him (this is a harem rom-com), or she just wants Rizu and Fumino to give up on subjects contrary to their talents, Kurisu is poised to emerge as the single greatest threat to everyone else’s success and happiness.

The Rising of the Shield Hero – 15 – The Flag

This episode was not for the faint of heart. Once faced with her past tormentor, Lord Idol Rabier, memories and emotions from Raphtalia’s past start to flow out like water from a spigot. She remembers her village, and her best friend Rifana, as she has her sword pointed at Idol’s neck.

But Idol only cowers so long, and when he learns she’s one of the demi-humans he used to torture in his dungeon, he draws a hidden sword and puts up a fight. He ends up tripping on his own whip and falling backwards out a window to his apparent death. Raphtalia then decides to investigate the dungeon, and Naofumi, Filo, and Van accompany her.

As she walks with Raphtalia through the dungeon where she once spent an untold duration suffering pointless beatings at Idol’s hand, Melty is disgusted that such things went on in her kingdom right under her nose. Unfortunately, the truth is Idol is not the only one perpetrating such heinous acts.

Raphtalia, meanwhile, continues to dredge up memories, both of her village being raided by Idol, to being carted off to the dungeon with Rifana, to the beatings. Through it all, Raphtalia tried to obey her late father (killed in the Wave) and keep smiling, even in the hardest times. During the beatings, Raphtalia defiantly won’t cry out, but maintains a semblance of a smile.

Her friend Rifana doesn’t fare as well; she loses the will to eat and soon grows weak and feverish. While Raphtalia clings to her duty to smile in order to keep others’ spirits up, the one thing keeping Rifana going is her hope that they can return to their village and raise their flag, the flag that was proof that the demi-humans were able to build their own village.

All Raphtalia can offer her is a small flag made from a stick and scrap of cloth, but she’s grateful even for that. Then one day, the two are ripped apart, as Raphtalia is sold to a slave merchant, leading to her eventual purchase by her and Rifana’s favorite hero, that of the shield. Back in the present they find three survivors in the dungeons, the third being her old friend Keel.

After Naofumi heals him, Raph asks Keel where Rifana is, and he tells her. While she must have hoped the rest of her life that the Shield Hero would save her, he came too late; there’s nothing left of Rifana but her skeleton, still clutching the little flag Raph gave her not long before they were parted.

It’s a sickeningly awful sight to behold, and it causes Raph to break down into a fit of despair and self-hatred. She curses herself for not being able to protect anyone, and deems herself unworthy of standing beside the Shield Hero.

Of course, Naofumi has something to say about this, and assures her she did nothing wrong. On the contrary, the only reason he didn’t fall into his own pit of despair and run away from his duty as hero is because he met her, the first person he could really trust, and which led to meeting Filo and Melty.

On another plane, Raphtalia says goodbye to Rifana before gathering her earthly remains for a proper burial. Then she and the others return to the surface, where not only is Idol still alive (they really should have checked to make sure he wasn’t), but is in the process of summoning a monstrous beast sealed away by past heroes…for revenge, I guess?

Once summoned, the T.Rex-like monster promptly steps on Idol, reducing him to a flat film of pulp. It’s a fittingly unceremonious, darkly comic end for a character who was never anything more subtle than sniveling evil incarnate—good riddance! As for our dino-pal, I’m sure he’s a tough customer but likely nowhere near as formidable as, say, Glass, so I’m confident Naofumi, Raph and Filo can take care of it.

But damn, what a dark past Raphtalia had. Hopefully her unplanned trip to the site of the worst times of her life, and putting Rifana to proper rest, will give her some closure and end the nightmares. Not to mention she was able to rescue Keel and two other demi-humans, who would have certainly shared Rifana’s fate were it not for her.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 26 (Fin) – Grasping Rays of Light, Holding Them Tight

Accelerator’s technobabble solution to saving Last Order works, and she wakes up to her guardian’s warm embrace. But it doesn’t last long, as Accelerator leaves her in Worst’s care (worst babysitter ever?), literally spreads his newly-formed angel wings, and heads to the Star to eliminate another threat to his charge.

Turns out he and Touma never cross paths in this finale. The telesma overload turns out not to be as powerful as Fiamma hoped for, and all he gets for all his planning and scheming is a devastating haymaker from Touma that leaves a fist-sized crater in his cheek.

In his generosity (and unwillingness to kill, even a supervillain) Touma gives the sufficiently cowed Fiamma the last escape pod off the Star. When Misaka finally arrives to rescue him in a fighter jet (sadly without exclaiming “It’s not like I wanted to save you!”), he refuses her outstretched hand.

He’s thankful she came all the way out her to help him in his time of need, but he’s not ready to leave the Star yet; not without locating Index’s remote control, which Fiamma dropped and which Touma finds almost too easily.

A projection of the awakening Index appears before him, and he confesses to having kept her true nature a secret all this time. Of course, Index doesn’t particularly care about and perceived wrongs he may have perpetrated against her; she’s just glad to see him and wants him to come home safe.

Touma’s final heroic acts of both the arc and the season involve smashing three specific points in the Star in order to ditch it somewhere no one will be harmed: the Arctic Ocean. He even manages to collide with an out -of-control Gabriel/Sasha, driving her into the icy depths before punching her in the face. Yes, Archangel Puncher is another possible title for that right arm. I also must applaud Touma’s ability to survive in near-freezing waters as long as he does.

The new ITEM is quickly surrounded by Academy City forces, led by…Celty Sturluson’s sister? I honestly don’t know, but she’s there to take Takitsubo away to further augment her. Hamazura turns the tables thanks to the arrival of villagers he helped earlier, who kill all of not-Celty’s pals and enable him to ask the masked stranger about the “Parameter List” she mentioned.

Accelerator is also captured by Academy City, but either tricks them into turning his switch on, or he just isn’t governed by that switch anymore. He’s not going back to compromise or negotiate, but to issue demands and then make sure they’re carried out. A “triumphant return”, in his words. The time of the City forcing him to work in the underworld, and using the Sisters or Last Order for their bidding, are over. To which I say Amen, brother!

We’re then treated to a very rare cameo by Mr. Aleister Crowley himself, delivering some poetic justice to Fiamma by claiming his arm while chiding him for scratching the surface of something he didn’t adequately understand. Always neat to see Al in action; he’s more like Aiwass than a human in his speed and movements.

Misaka searches for Touma in the frigid sea, but all she can find is his Gekota strap. While “it’s not as if she’s worried or cares what happened to him!”, she’s obviously worried and cares what happened to him. I presume she’ll just have to wait for Index IV. We, meanwhile, get a sneak peek at his fate: he’s rescued up by another character I didn’t recognize, and had to consult the forum to identify: Leivinia Birdway.

I didn’t dive into who she is or what group she’s with, since that’s also a matter for Index IV, whenever it should rear its magical head. While a bit dense and meandering in its second half with the final waves of exposition, in all it was an entertaining wrap-up.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 16 – My Dad’s A Kaiju

Boogiepop is on the job…they just aren’t sure what the job is, at least not yet. Niitoki Kei assumes that because Boogiepop is there, there is a threat that requires elimination, but Boogiepop isn’t detecting a threat worth acting on, only that whatever is at work in the Moon Temple is trying to “draw some kind of reaction out of people.” She then offers Kei the lunch Touka made for Keiji, which Kei doesn’t feel right eating, but eventually starts to eat anyway.

Kei recalls what Suema said to her about dissociative identity disorder of the kind Touka might be suffering; about how it was merely a theory, and that there was no ironclad proof that anyone claiming to have DID isn’t simply acting. Furthermore, those multiple personalities are born out of a person’s desires, and because everyone has desires, everyone can conjure multiple personalities as conditions warrant.

In the Moon Temple, that other personality is manifested as the King of Distortion, be it Kei and Saotome, Sakiko and the Hinako who never was…or Makoto and the giganic kaiju “Zooragi.” That last one is creating a lot of problems.

Even though not everyone can see him, the fact of the matter is no one’s King of Distortion as grown as powerful and separate than Zooragi from Makoto. He apparently once drew him as he imagined his dad was, which is interesting since his mother suspected Teratsuki to be his father.

As for Keiji, he’s just worried about Touka, whose own alternate personality of Boogiepop may be a product of her desire to protect humanity from existential threats. As the ground around the Temple buckles (due to the invisible Zooragi), Keiji runs towards the danger, in order to help his girlfriend.

Boogiepop finally finds something to do when they meet Makoto, who is about to be eaten by his own alternate personality made flesh. They actually relish the opportunity to fight a kaiju for the first time.

Holding Makoto close to protect him, Boogiepop uses her trusty wire and vaunted nimbleness to spin around Zooragi’s neck and garrote its head clean off—a superhero move if ever there was one.

Relieving Zooragi of its head causes Makoto to pass out, then reveals a second head beneath, a Zooragi that’s more Stegosaurus than Tyrannosaurus. But a portion of Zooragi’s power still manages to “cross the boundary”, putting the Moon Temple structure—and everyone still in it, both asleep and awake—in mortal danger. A Boogiepop’s work is never done…

Dororo – 08 – Black Skies Are Gonna Clear Up

There’s no shortage of accursed demons out there, and this week’s nasty customer happens to periodically terrorize a village by casting a giant black cloud of miasma and then threatening to eat everyone unless they provide it a “bride” in the form of a young woman…willing or not.

In this case, the young woman is willing to sacrifice herself for the rest of the village, but her “brother” (from another mother) Saru doesn’t agree. Dororo and Hyakkimaru agrees to help him deal with the monster, so they can free his sister, even though she’s already resolved to die.

When the demon, a giant centipede called Nokosaregumo, casts its black cloud, it presents a unique challenge to Hyakkimaru: the entire cloud reads to him as a demon, so he’s completely blind when he’s inside it. While he tries in vain to locate it, the monster goes after Saru, but his sister pushes him out of the way and gets swallowed up, defiant smile and all.

Saru is devastated; other than his deceased mother, no one other than his sister ever treated him with as much kindness. Dororo assures him he and Hyakkimaru will stick around, though due to the latter’s blindness in the cloud, the two boys will have to get the job done without the most skilled warrior.

Again Dororo demonstrates his ease at making friends, especially those around his age, though after hours of casting rocks at the same spot, Hyakkimaru checks on the lads and discovers that both of them are crying in their sleep.

The next day, Dororo poses as a bride, tricking the Nokosaregumo and drawing it into an area of flammable gas that Saru ignites with a lit arrow. However, the centipede’s carapace protects it. It’s up to Hyakkimaru to take care of the rest, using arrows and then the sound of his and Dororo’s voices to locate the proper direction to rush at the monster and take out its eyes with his arm-sword.

With one of the heads destroyed, the second head on the other end snaps Hyakkimaru up whole, but he simply slices the guy clean in half from within, completing yet another imaginative, unique battle that required overcoming his inability to properly see while using his still-new hearing.

As an added bonus to the demon being defeated, Hyakkimaru gets his sense of smell back—just in time to enjoy the harsh stink sulfur. Saru’s sister also survived—they killed the monster before it could digest her—and the two decide they’ll live together in the village from now on, after both being alone for so long.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru’s payment may be modest—a small nugget of gold, some grubs, and a flower from the woman—but the flower proves quite the treasure for Hyakkimaru, considering he’d never smelled anything like it before. He’s so excited, he actually says Dororo’s name when he passes it to him, bowling Dororo over. Here’s to Hyakkimaru finally adding to the conversation on their future wanderings.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 11 – You Can’t Have Alicization Without Alice

Any hope of Saber Alice looking upon Eugeo and Kirito and remembering her past is thrown out the window when she clobbers Eugeo for getting too close, and threatens to have his hand off if he does it again. It may look and sound like Alice, but the personality has changed, whether it was overwritten or wiped and rewritten.

She merely fulfills her duty of sending them to the Central Cathedral dungeons via dragon—a pretty short trip, but I guess traditions are important in the Axiom Church. Tiese and Ronie tearfully send their mentors off with their swords, apologizing for their role in getting them in trouble. Eugeo, for his part, tells them they did nothing wrong: it was right to try to help their friend, despite the risks.

Back in the real world, Asuna watches the unconscious Kirito, wishing she could dive in to the Underworld to rescue him—and has me wondering why that hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’s still too soon to pull him out without killing him?

In any case, Asuna at least has Rinko to keep her company. She also meets one of Higa’s latest inventions: a robot that is the prototype for the kinds of artificial bodies into which they’ll eventually be downloading fluctlights, which is ethically all kinds of iffy, no matter how lighthearted Higa seems.

In the dungeon, Kirito and Eugeo learn that their chains are the same level, which means when they smack them together hard enough, they shatter. And since the chains are stronger than the bars of their cell, they’re able to knock that down too. It’s a good thing the guard is a very heavy sleeper.

From this point on, the two know they’re openly defying the church: no more hesitation. The plan is to find out why Alice has lost her memories, then find a way to undo whatever was done with her so the three can go home to the village together, just like old times.

They make it into the cathedral’s hedge labyrinth, which is bursting with gorgeous rose bushes, but are stopped by Alice’s student, Integrity Knight Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-One.

Alice expected Kirito and Eugeo to escape, and thus stationed Eldrie where she did. He’ll send them back to the dungeon, but not without doling out some kind of harsh punishment—something neither of them are about to take lying down.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 10 – Heinous Crimes Lead to a Shocking Reunion

When Tiese and Ronie are late for their cleaning duties (why do they clean every day? How messy are Eugeo and Kirito?) Kirito leaps out the window to go find them. Then Eugeo receives Frenica at the door, telling him the other two have already gone to Raios and Humbert on her behalf.

Eugeo rushes to their pad, where they already have Tiese and Ronie tied up on the bed and are preparing to rape them as punishment for insulting and defaming them under their judicial authority as high-ranking nobles, which supersedes any academy laws. So, as I predicted, the villains of the moment have escalated to rape and must thus be dispatched as brutally and righteously as possible by the good guys.

But their escalating awfulness makes me wonder: if high-ranking nobles can get away with such heinous crimes, why isn’t this practice more clearly widespread? Why hasn’t such a glaring loophole, which places the most authority in the least moral individuals, not led to chaos and the destruction of the utopia?

Are the fluctlights of Raios and Humbert unique in their horribleness, so that combined with their high stations in the “game” they and they alone will abuse their power to such an extent?

Never mind; for now Tiese and Ronie are in an intolerable situation, and Eugeo has to help them…but initially, he can’t: a lawful command from Raios all but paralyzes him. He has to remember what Kirito said about some laws having to be broken sometimes, because to not break them would allow worse crimes to be committed.

So Eugeo struggles until a System Alert appears in his right eye, an eye that eventually explodes when he finally lunges at Raios and Humbert, snipping some of the former’s golden locks but relieving Humbert of his left arm. Fittingly, when he begs Raios for some of his life in order to heal, Raios demurs.

What Raios takes great pleasure in, however, is having witnessed such a heinous crime be committed in his presence. He prepares to behead Eugeo for that crime, as is his right as a noble, but Kirito jumps in at the last second, with his new sword. The two duel on the spot, with Raios becoming more and more demonic as he assures himself he’ll win…and then both his hands and forearms are sliced clean off by Kirito’s coup-de-grace.

The tables thus turn: Raios begs Humbert to help him at the cost of his own life, and Humbert cites the Taboo Index as the reason he can’t help, sorry. As he bleeds profusely from the floor, he whips himself into a frenzy, and his body starts to distort like a malfunctioning hologram, before all of the life is drained out of him. Good riddance Mr. Rapist.

As Kirito and Eugeo comfort their thoroughly traumatized pages, the Mr. Clean head pops out of the ceiling and says all the same stuff he said when Alice had crossed the boundary. They’re thrown in Jail, but the next day released by Ms. Azurica, though she’s just handing them over to their Axiom Church escorts. But not before praising them for what they did.

They broke rules that had to be broken, something she couldn’t do—which again calls to mind how widespread sexual abuse is between the higher and lower classes. But because they did something she couldn’t, it also means they’ll be able to go places she can’t. In this case, they’re brought before an Integrity Knight in the Central Cathedral. And that knight turns out to be Alice.

Does she recognize her old friends? Has she been totally reconditioned and drained and sentiment? Were they brought there to be killed…or to take the place in the chuch they earned through their valiant actions, despite them being against the Taboo Index?

Golden Kamuy – 21 – The Naked Truth

While visiting Asirpa’s relatives, the crew learns of a band of blind bandits who were once sulfur miners on Mount Iwo. Those who weren’t killed by the acid ended up sightless, and attack anyone they can in the dark. They’re led by a former Abashiri inmate, Toni Anji, who also has tattoos. They head to a local hot spring, but while all the guys are relaxing in the bath, the blind bandits snuff out all the light and attack.

As a result, Sugimoto, Tanigaki, Ogata, Kiroranke, and Shiraishi have to fight an enemy they can’t see with their dicks out. The enemy can “see” them just fine thanks to echolocation by tongue-clicking; a clever tactic that also creates an unsettling atmosphere.

As with the aphrodisiac sea otter incident, the beefcake is strong with this episode, with tasteful angles and shadows preventing everyone’s manhood from being exposed. Only Asirpa and Inkarmat remain clothed. Golden Kamuy has proven quite adept at creating compelling action set pieces, and taking away both the clothes and eyesight of the combatants is yet another example of that proficiency. It’s also pretty hilarious.

While she’s still weary of Kiroranke, Inkarmat still joins him and Tanigaki on a boat to try to escape the bandits, but Toni and his cohorts toss stones to gauge distance before he opens fire, shooting Tanigaki and capsizing the boat. Inkarmat can’t swim, and starts to sink, and even has a vision of a circle of bears coming to claim her soul.

But Tanigaki, who was only shot through the butt, dives into the lake and rescues her, and she rewards him with a kiss. She thought for sure she was a goner, but he showed her that the fate her fortune-telling portends can be changed.

As dawn starts to peek out of the horizon, Sugimoto and Ogata (the only one of them with a gun) infiltrate the bandits’ hideout, but soon find the windows are all nailed shut, and another ambush ensues in the pitch black. Toni goes after Sugimoto, and the two grapple and come to a standoff.

That’s when Hijikata suddenly appears to greet his old fellow inmate, and Ushiyama tears through the walls to let the sun in. The threat is over, with Sugimoto & Co. leaving Toni Anji to Hijikata & Co., provided he can get a copy of the tattoos he bears.

As the now fully-reunited supergroup heads into town to take their pictures taken, of all things, Tsurumi “punishes” his Abashiri mole, Private Usami, by drawing stick figures on his symmetrical face moles (a mole with moles, heh heh). Usami, like so many young men, is so smitten with the Lieutenant that it’s hardly punishment at all.

As for Sugimoto, he is compared to a young Hijikata by the old man’s photographer friend: “like a demon, but also kind.” But while locked in battle in the darkness, Toni Anji said sensed something else those with sight couldn’t: that Sugimoto could never return to who he was. I guess we’ll find out.

TenSura – 06 – Fire and Slime

Kaval, Eren, and Gido are the adventurers who Rimuru briefly encountered. We learn their guildmaster is quite the taskmaster, sending them back out to Jura to further investigate the disappearance of Veldora after just three days of rest. They are accompanied by a raven-haired young woman in white cape and mask named Shizu.

Meanwhile, Rimuru surveys the fruit of his overpoweredness, as the Dwarves he brought to the village immediately begin to make a big impact on the goblins’ development. He also names 500 more goblins to evolve them so they won’t be wiped out in the power vacuum caused by Veldora’s vanishing.

The adventurers soon get in over their head, and end up getting chased by a pack of giant ants. Shizu uses her mastery of fire and not inconsiderable combat skills to destroy the ants and save her comrades, but ends up missing one, and almost fainting just before she can kill it.

That ant is destroyed by Rimuru’s Black Lightning, and he introduces himself to them all, including Shizu, whose mask came off in the hubbub, revealing a face Rimuru saw in the crystal ball; the person he’s “destined to be with.”

Rimuru takes them back to the village where the goblins put them up in a hut and feed them meat, and they have their introductions. Shizu is putting out all kinds of Japanese vibes, and turns out there’s a reason for that: she was summoned to this fantasy world from the same real world as he was, only in her case, it was during an bombing raid in WWII, just after her mother was killed by debris.

While the details are scant, Shizu was apparently summoned (by at least 30 mages, according to Veldora) to serve as a weapon. At first the big cheese in charge of bringing her there doesn’t think anything of her, but then has none other than Ifrit use Shizu as a vessel.

Shizu seems glad to have met a fellow Japanese, and even happier when he shows her his memories of how well the country has fared since she left. But there are times when she collapses; perhaps a symptom of the “curse” she bears. And then there’s the whole reason she’s there: to serve as a weapon formidable enough to defeat, say, a dragon…or even, perhaps, a slime that ate a dragon? Whatever her motives, I’m glad we’ve finally been introduced.

Attack on Titan – 45 – Her Next Duty

The bad news? Rob Reiss transforms into an utterly massive Titan, far larger even than the Colossal. The good news? He’s no immediate threat to anyone in particular, just the structural integrity of the cavern and the chapel above it.

While neither of those two things survives the episode, everybody who set out to rescue Eren and Historia does. All the damage he causes allows Levi & Co. to escape Kenny’s trap and access the chamber where Eren and Historia are.

Even while free, Eren is lost. He was fully prepared to be eaten by Historia (and we later learn Historia momentarily considered transforming him and eating him so as not to be hated by her Dad). Between his antics and the sins of his father, Eren initially just sobs about being so worthless. His friends aren’t enthused. They risked their necks to get to him; the least he can do is not want to die, rendering their efforts in vain.

So Eren bucks up a bit, and bites down on a vial labeled “Armor.” The result of ingesting the serum within allows the Eren Titan to use the same Titan Hardening ability as the Armored Titan, building an avant-garde yet sturdy cage around his friends in order to save them from the growing Rob-Titan, which Levi dubs the “Big-Ass Titan.” It’s accurate!

Once they free Eren from his still fully-hardened Titan (sorry if that sounds a bit dirty), Levi & Co. take him and Historia and ge tthe hell out of there. As Armin and Moblit got the injured but stable Hange to safety earlier, the Scouts suffer no fatalities.

But there is that tricky matter of the Big-Ass Titan, which is a sight to behold; like something out of a Miyazaki film (Nausicaä, to be precise), yet like those Giant Warriors, not quite complete, and so it crawls awkwardly on its belly. Still, it’s so damn huge even in its current state it will reach the wall by dawn—and likely incinerate it.

When the initial plan to let Eren feed himself to Rob is shot down (there’s no guarantee Rob will return to being a human even if he eats Eren), the plan becomes “Stop the Big-Ass Titan at all costs.” Since Eren now has the Hardening Ability, there’s now a decent shot of repairing Wall Maria, but no repairs can take place until Rob is dealt with.

However, we do learn that Rob’s story about Eren’s father was naturally biased; in reality, Dr. Yaeger was trying to save humanity by destroying the line of the First King and the Reiss reliance on brainwashing. There’s also fresh mentions of the secrets in Eren’s basement, so there’s that.

Levi adds to Historia’s burdens by informing her that Erwin has insisted that once the latest battle is over, she will have to take up the mantle of Queen in order to give the regiment coup legitimacy and appease the public. Both Connie and Jean rightly pipe up that that shit ain’t fair, Historia has only just turned the page and gained as sense of individuality, only to be thrust into yet another duty.

I’ve really enjoyed Tori’s rise to prominence since her true identity was revealed; she’s basically a co-protagonist alongside Eren, and watching her decide her course in life in a world where such a thing’s a great luxury, has been a delight.  She’s grateful for their defense, but she agrees without complaint…but with one request: If she’s to be queen, she’s going to give it all she’s got in the battle that proceeds her coronation.

That means donning the uniform of the Scout Regiment, strapping on her ODM gear, and taking her place beside her comrades—her friends—her true family—to whom she owes not only her life, but her sense of self. Rob isn’t her dad anymore; he’s the enemy. It’s time to go to work.

Banana Fish – 02 – Nothing But Trouble

Ash seems like a do-things-for/by-himself kinda guy, so he goes after Skip and Eiji’s kidnappers all on his own…which is not smart. He’s captured immediately, unable to make a move lest the captors (Arthur and Marvin) kill either of their hostages.

While Ash may not possess the strongest strategic mind, he is able to outsmart Marvin, whom he convinces he’ll roll in the hay with but takes the guy down and steps over him. When he, Skip, and Eiji hit a dead end, Eiji reveals his hidden talent: he’s a pole-vaulter. LOL WUT.

He gets over what looks like a 14′-15′ wall, which is pretty good (the all-time record is 20′) but with no padding, Eiji is injured and eventually passes out in the street from blood loss. When he comes to, he gets word to the cops of Ash and Skip’s location, but Ash’s buddy Shorter and his friends make it there first.

In the ensuing fray between Dino’s guys and Ash’s, Marvin puts two bullets in lil’ Skip, and just like that, the kid I thought would be a mildy-annoying recurring sidekick is gone. A couple minutes later, at the end of a chase, so is Marvin—but not by Ash’s hands. He’s framed for murder by Dino’s many minions.

He’s wrapped in a neat-little murder package, what with the overwhelming motive of wanting to kill Marvin. A dirty cop owned by Dino happens to preside over the jurisdiction where Ash was arrested, and sees fit to play videos of porn involving Ash as a child (definitely not NYPD protocol), filling in the blanks of his past quite devastatingly concisely.

Ash knows he can plead innocence all he likes, but the bottom line is Dino has too many people in his pocket. Ash is refreshingly self-aware in his ineptness at staying on top of the game (even if he spent time there due to sheer will and charisma). Also, he fully admits even if he was framed and someone else killed Marvin, that person merely kept him from doing something he’d planned to do one day anyway.

Eiji is deployed by the cops in an attempt to get Ash to blab about Dino & Co., but Ash isn’t having it. He may hate his “dad’s” guts, but he still has his personal integrity to consider. Yet he doesn’t blame Eiji for being the transparent pawn he is; instead, he’s still goddamned impressed Eiji was able to vault himself over that huge wall!

Things continue to not go particularly swell at all for young Ash, as Dino gets a judge he’s friendly with to make Ash’s process as undue as possible, transferring him to a state prison where plenty of Dino’s men are waiting to kill him. (On the subject of men- unless I’m being grossly unobservant, I have yet to a single female character in these two episodes. I’m wondering if we’ll ever see one…)

The cops prepare to reach out to Max Lobo, the convict Eiji’s boss was planning to interview, who’s in the same slammer. I’m sure Ash would like to think he can take care of himself, but particularly in prison I hope he avails himself of any and all assistance offered him. In any case, dude’s an elite-level trouble magnet.

Hinamatsuri – 12 (Fin) – Losing Your Balls is Snow Big Deal

Hinamatsuri ends on a hell of a high note, with two stories that while not very closely connected to one another, nevertheless ruled so hard. We pick up on Hina, Hitomi, and their two male classmates’ predicament of being lost in the snowy mountains. With Hitomi in charge, they soon have an igloo built, but unless they get help, they could die up there. Hina takes a rather casual view of their sitch (the “snow big deal” being a pun she seems particularly proud of)…until they tell her there’s no food.

Right then and there, Hina decides that this is one of those times when her telekinetic powers will be needed, and commits to finding a way to get fed rescued. She goes out to fly around and finds a light, but when she tells the others her secret, they think the cold has gotten to her. She eliminates all doubt by floating before them, then making Hitomi float.

The kids take this well, most likely because in as dire a situation as they are, she’s their only hope, and, well, she’s not crazy, her powers are real. After they try to recharge her powers by attempting to create the illusion of being in a cafe that serves ikura rolls, she makes a giant one out of snow.

A rescue helicopter easily spots the sculpture, and is extremely confused by it, but not so confused they crash! Hina and the others are picked up, and the next we see her, she’s safe in a hospital bed with a very relieved Nitta by her side. His nonchalance to the phone call about Hina was just putting on a tough-guy act; he really does care about her.

After that, and a montage of everyone in the city going on with their lives, we jump three years into the future and across the western sea to China, where Mao has lived and trained with a martial arts school. When she first arrived by raft, she scrapped together a living on the streets much as Anzu did, until taken in by the martial arts school’s master.

The rockstar dude who Hina once performed saw Mao’s feats of telekinesis on YouTube and has come along with many others to “learn the secrets”, even if it’s just a sham to sell regular old martial arts training. Mao is also still talking to handmade dolls representing Hina and Anzu.

Just when she was getting restless living such a regimented life as the golden goose for opportunist martial artists. Rocky reveals that he knows Hina, the girl with the same blue hair as her doll. Mao is overjoyed she finally has a lead.

Her handlers don’t want her going anywhere, however, so they chase her into the street and attempt to apprehend her. That’s when Hinamatsuri turns into a straight-up martial arts action show, with some of the best animation of the entire series as Mao takes down her ochre-suited opponents one-on-one and all at once.

While the latest-introduced and least utilized magic girl, with her Cast Away episode and now this extended segment, Mao has definitely had some pretty awesome adventures that have allowed her to efficiently demonstrate what a badass she is (as if we needed any reminders). It’s the best fight since Hina took on the whole of the rival yakuza organization.

Their master agrees to let Mao go with Rocky to Japan…if she can defeat a “metal man” that’s basically two rapidly spinning shafts no ordinary human could ever stop or even slow down, lest they get pulverized. Mao stops the thing dead with her powers, but makes sure to make it look like she used her martial arts to do it, positioning her arm and leg right where she stopped the shafts.

Her handlers buy it, and she and Rocky are off on a plane. Rocky to help Mao open new branches of the school (another stipulation of her release), and Mao so she can report to Ikuruga about losing the transport balls, and, more importantly, be reunited with her friends Hina and Anzu.

Things end so abruptly that I suspect the adventures of Mao, Hina, Anzu, Hitomi, Nitta, and the others aren’t over. I certainly hope not, anyway. A second season would be most welcome, especially if the show continues to be inventive in how it uses both the girls’ superhuman powers…and their humanity.