Golden Kamuy – 28 – Big Top, Big Turd

There’s no shortage of deep, dark, horrible stuff in Golden Kamuy (see: last week), but what keeps the audience from descending into despair is its well-integrated, irreverent, and sometimes gross comedy. Yet the comedy almost always serves and propels the more serious and dramatic central story, rather than simply serving as isolated points of relief.

Take Kiroranke introducing Asirpa to a opokay, a fanged deer that was her father’s first kill. He has her smell the musk glad, giving us another wonderful Asirpa Face (Ogata’s face, funnily enough, barely changes upon smelling it). Kiroranke tells the tale of how he and Wilk not just hunted this deer, but were called musk deer due to their wandering.

Our sense of smell is most closely tied to memory, so Asirpa remembers the beaded hohchiri her dad gave her to wear until her first kill (which is typically only for boys). This is how Kiroranke hopes to uncover the mysteries Wilk left in his daughter’s head: by continuing to familiarize her with the man her dad was, and that above all she can trust him, her father’s friend.

Comedy returns to the fore in a big way this week as Team Sugimoto ends up in Toyohara, the cultural capital of Karafuto, and fall victim to a circus acrobat who snatches bags in his spare time. Despite the kid’s speed and agility, Koito is up to the task of chasing him down with the Japanese equivalent of parkour.

When the circus’ ringleader Yamada hears the boy was thieving again, he whips out his sword and appears to cut his face, only for there to be no cut, only blood. Turns out the sword is part of Yamada’s show-stopping fake harakiri act, which was so good in Russia that he was declared dead in the newspapers.

This gives Sugimoto a fresh idea for reuniting with Asirpa: by performing his “Immortal Sugimoto” act in the circus, he’ll be putting himself out there in front of a huge crowd as well as the local media, meaning there’s no way Asirpa will miss him.

The other three soldiers also join the circus temporarily, as they are all united in the goal of finding Asirpa. Koito is an instant hit with Yamada and the girls for his considerable and effortless acrobatic feats. When asked what circus he came up in, he proudly proclaims “The 7th Division of the Imperial Army!”

Tsukishima and Tanigaki, who lack any acrobatic talent, are shunted off to join the dancing girls who perform between acts. Tanigaki reveals how sensitive he is to harsh criticism by the stern battleaxe of a choreographer, but is comforted by one of the older girls, Beniko, who cheers him on as she contemplates her final performance before the circus cuts her loose.

Then Sugimoto is taught the harakiri act by Yamada, who not only reveals what a good showman he is, but how damn big his nipples are! In truth, the sword has a grove containing red dye, and the water splashed on the body to “purify” it is really the liquid the dye turns red upon contact, leading the audience from afar to believe real cuts were made.

The day of the big show arrives, and the soldiers must before to a packed house, only with their natural or acquired artistic skills, not their fists. Koito performs almost perfectly until he finds a photo of his beloved Tsurumi on the tightrope.

Later, Tsukishima confesses he put it there worried Koito’s performance would overshadow Sugimoto’s, and thus their objective to find Asirpa. But Koito’s resulting improvisation ends up bringing the house down anyway. As for Tanigaki, he turns in a performance he can be proud of, and is finally acknowledged by the tough choreographer.

All that remains is the big closer: the Immortal Sugimoto Harakiri Show. His assistant Cikapasi (whom we learned received a hohchiri from Enonoka that he won’t be removing anytime soon) douses him with water in the right places, but Sugimoto soon learns that the sword he has is real—Koito switched out the fake as revenge for trying to sabotage him (before Tsukishima claimed responsibility).

Sugimoto shows he has a bit of a gift for showmanship by drawing the sword close and pulling it back with a chuckle, allowing the audience to let out the collective breath they were holding in. But this only works a couple times; they want to see blood. So after cutting his wrist, he cuts his leg, and prepares to cut his chest in a place where it will bleed a lot but not damage anything vital.

Right then, he’s bailed out from having to cut himself when one of a trio of suspicious Russians pulls a gun on him. He slices the assassin’s hand off then slashes him across the mid-section. He then takes out the other two, all to the rapturous delight of the crowd, who of course think this is all fake.

It’s delcious irony that just as Tsukishima’s attempt to sabotage Koito’s act made his act much better, the same happens when Koito tries to sabotage Sugimoto’s. More than that, if Sugimoto hadn’t had a real sword, he could have been in real trouble against those three Russians.

After the show, which was an undisputed hit, ringleader Yamada reveals that the Russians were likely hired to assassinate him, as he was an Imperial Army spy embedded in Russia before the war and provided intelligence to Japan.

Yamada’s intelligence bonafides also make him an ideal source of intel for their search for Kiroranke and Asirpa, as the newspaper only had two sentences mentioning Sugimoto. Yamada tells them about Alexandrovskaya Prison, where a large group of “eastern minorities” were recently transferred there for plotting a resistance.

As the four soldiers prepare to head further north to the prison, Sugimoto holds out hope Asirpa’s beautiful blue eyes will read those two sentences about him in the Toyohara paper, and learn that he is still indeed alive. Instead, in another irreverent comedy aside, we see that Asirpa is actually, in that moment, looking at poop she mistakes for that of big game, when it is actually the recent leavings of one Shiraishi Yoshitake.

Maybe it’s just as well she’s staring at a turd…what if the paper had erroneously reported Sugimoto’s death? In any case, the ED sequence in which both Sugimoto and Asirpa see the same snowflake glide by gives me hope that one of these days he’s going to finally catch up to her, and with some amazing new stories to tell.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 27 – The Woman With the Seaweed Hair

Asirpa arrives at the site of the village of her father’s birth to a Karafuto Ainu mother and Polish father. However, it was abandoned decades before the present fox-breeding farm was established. According to Kiroranke, Asirpa’s parents, grandparents, and all the Ainu of Karafuto were “crushed between two nations”—Japan and Russia. The same fate will befall the Hokkaido Ainu.

Wilk believed Asirpa to be the last best hope for her people’s future, but Kiroranke and Ogata only seem to care about in Asirpa for the knowledge locked in her brain that will unlock the secrets of the tattoos. Kiroranke is hoping to gain enough trust that, combined with the “further maturing” of Asirpa, will compel her to give up the information willingly.

Unfortunately, that’s all we get of Asirpa’s crew this week, which was initially a bummer, especially when followed up by some slapstick antics involving Lt. Tsurumi, a bedridden Nikaidou, and a new wooden hand that shoots out chopsticks. We already know Tsurumi is a strange cat; this wasn’t necessary.

Things, however, look up when we return to Sugimoto’s gang. The officer who is actually in charge is Tsukishima Hajime. He lets Gansoku Maiharu free to escape to Japan, with the warning that he’ll kill him if he ever sees him again. He also warns Sugimoto that he’ll kill him if he goes berserk again. He needs soldiers who can control themselves.

From there, we pause from where Tsukishima is going to where he’s been, namely death row. We learn how there was a woman with hair like the seaweed called igogusa with whom he fell in love and promised to elope with her upon returning from military service.

Back in his home village, Tsukishima was ostracized as the son of a murderer, and a thug in his own right. But in Igogusa he found love and solace, as she alone called him Hajime. But he never saw her again. Upon returning home, everyone assumed he was dead, and Igogusa disappeared ten days before he returned, and her sandals washed up on the shore.

Assuming his fiancée killed herself upon learning he died, Tsukishima determined that his rotten father created the lie that killed her. He beat his father to avenge her, but went too far and killed him, thus earning him a spot on death row. But Tsurumi, his commanding officer from his tour of duty, took it upon himself to investigate Igogusa’s disappearance.

He learned that a bigwig from Mitsubishi took a liking to Igogusa, who ended up marrying his son and moving back to Tokyo with them. Her suicide was faked so when the “thug” Tsukishima returned, he wouldn’t pursue her. Igogusa in tern assumed her Hajime had died in the war, and asked Tsurumi to bury a lock of the hair he loved at his grave.

Instead, Tsurumi used the lock of hair to motivate Tsukishima into learning Russian like his life depended on it—because it did. Tsurumi manages to get Tsukishima’s sentence commuted and recruits him into the 7th. Then, nine years later in a medical tent, a soldier from Tsukishima’s village tells him Igogusa did die, and her bones were found under his father’s house.

Right in the heat of the Battle of Mukden, an enraged Tsukishima confronts Tsurumi, who explains that he told him whatever he needed to hear to restore his will to live. The two are caught in a mortar attack, and Tsukishima pushes Tsurumi aside. Tsurumi’s scalp is burned off, but he and Tsukishima survive thanks in part to Sugimoto, who offers the second of two remaining sleds because his comrade is too far gone.

As Tsukishima and Tsurumi recovered together, Tsurumi further explained that he spread the story of Igogusa’s suicide to his village—which the inhabitants still believe—in order to get him out of jail without a trial. So he told him Igogusa was alive to motivate him, but told the village Igogusa was dead to get him out of prison. The gods’ honest truth is that Igogusa was still alive, married to the Mitsubishi son and living in Tokyo.

But as it had been well over a decade since they parted, Tsukishima decided to let Igogusa go forever, tossing her lock of hair into the inky, frigid waters of Otaru. In this way, Tsukishima and Igogusa were crushed between the same two nations as Asirpa’s father’s people. But he still chose to commit the remainder of his life to Tsurumi’s service—a loyalty that endures to the present day.

Now we finally have Tsukishima’s backstory, and see how his fate got interwoven in those of both Tsurumi and Sugimoto long before present events. It’s also another illustration of how deftly Golden Kamuy can spill one hell of an engrossing yarn, no matter on which character it chooses to focus.

 

 

Deca-Dence – 09 – Pushed to the Limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deca-Dence – 08 – Demolishing the Crap Factory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deca-Dence – 07 – Doing What You Can Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deca-Dence – 06 – The Shaw-Clank Redemption

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

Note the background cameo by…the Coronavirus?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deca-Dence – 05 – What the World Needs Now are Bugs Sweet Bugs

Squad 6 enters the Gadoll nest to find a gruesome mess of dead Gears floating in Gadoll alpha’s zone. Despite none of them being able to score a hit on the beast, an angry Natsume charges right in—and almost gets herself killed. She’s saved by her CO Mindy, who declares she was sick of seeing kids charge in and get killed.

Mindy ends up dying from her wounds seriously wounded and out of action, but Natsume charges right back in, and even manages to score a hit with some acrobatic harpoon action. Once again, she’s nearly killed but for plot armor a second savior in Kaburagi, who saw her boarding the transports on TV and rushed to her side, determined not to let her die.

That determination unlocks Kabu’s limiter, and he makes quick work of Gadoll alpha, despite the fact he and his veteran ranker comrades aren’t supposed to be in the battle until alpha has killed most if not all of the Tankers and Gears. He messes up the storyline, and then something even Commander Minato didn’t forsee: the giant Gadoll prototype Stargate emerges from its slumber.

Stargate is a genuinely creepy giant monster, with visual elements that call to mind the giant warriors in Nausicaa and the queen in Alien. It’s also as of yet incomplete, so despite its terrifying oxyone laser, Kabu is able to knock it off balance by attacking one of its spindly legs, which buys Minato time to maneuver Deca-Dence into position to punch it into oblivion. It’s all A+ large-scale spectacle, with hand-drawn and CGI elements seamlessly integrated.

Even when Natsume and the Tankers think the day has been won and the Gadoll are done, the very sky itself transforms from sunset to midday, and reveals at least three more gargantuan Gadoll looming on the horizon, and clouds of lesser Gadoll buzzing in their enormous eyes. A shocked look of defeat washes over Natsume as she remembers Kabu’s words about the war never ending.

Before she can ask if he knew all this would happen, he’s vanished—and reporting to Hugin, making his first appearance in the game world. When Kabu refuses to repeat that the world must be rid of all bugs—and instead says the world needs bugs—Hugin zaps him. Whatever punishment for Kabu follows, it looks like Natsume will be on her own for what’s to come.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 19

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I’d been waiting all Winter for an episode of Shirayuki to break out of its streak of polished and quietly competent 8s into 9 territory, and this action-packed conclusion to Shirayuki’s latest predicament did the trick nicely. Even better, it was a team affair, with everyone contributing to securing our heroine’s release.

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Raj is able to appeal directly to the masses and muster a merchant fleet to chase Umihebi, and then able to lead his flagship by the seat of his pants (with no seamanship, just will and pure dumb luck) in order to get past the “Blue Vortex” the pirates hoped to lose them in. Meanwhile, Umihebi marks her captive with her kusarigama, but Shirayuki’s gaze remains defiant.

Umihebi pays pretty quickly for cutting Shirayuki’s face by only being able to gloat about having gotten away for a grand total of, oh, about ten seconds, before Raj’s ship enters their “secret” cave and rams her ship, destroying it.

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Then Kiki takes advantage of the chaos and springs into action. Umihebi snags Shiayuki with her handy weapon once more, but it’s already the beginning of the end of the pirates having their way. First Mitsuhide jumps out of the shadows to aid Kiki, then Prince Zen himself, whose face is a sight for Shirayuki’s sore eyes.

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Shirayuki gets an opening in Umihebi’s hostage hold thanks to Obi, biting the pirate’s hand and then getting separated. As she and Kazuki are whisked away by Zen, the Lions of the Mountain surround the Claw of the Sea and start picking them off.

Kazuki soon joins his fellow Lions in the melee, giving Zen an unexpectedly early moment alone with his love, the first such moment in about five episodes. He doesn’t waste it, drawing Shirayuki in close as their mutual relief and happiness washes over them.

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After that, Zen rejoins the battle with the pirates until Umihebi is surrounded with just a handful of men on her side, and has no choice but to surrender. I wonder if this is the last we see of Umihebi (classically, pirates are hanged), who looked like a worthy adversary for a time but was ultimately not that huge a threat, at least against the unswerving dedication of Raj and Zen to get their girl back.

All’s well that ends well, but there’s one last twist this episode tosses our way. When Shirayuki gets her first good look at the leader of the Lions of the Mountain, she exclaims “Dad?” His hair is kinda reddish now, isn’t it? I personally like this and I’m interested to see how it shakes out: is he really her dad; if and how they’ll bond; what insights on her past he can provide.

There’s also the little matter of Zen telling his bro he intends to marry Shirayuki. After all, Zen didn’t drag his crown in the mud to rescue her, so Izana’s unlikely to ban her from the castle.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 18

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Having been held captive many times before, I fully expected Shirayuki to waste no time attempting escape, relying on her Ellie Sattler-like botanical knowledge and MacGyver-like resourcefulness…and the girl don’t disappoint. First thing she does is rip up her expensive ball gown to make it easier to move, then she discovers some seeds among the cargo that give off a thick smoke when burned.

They successfully misdirect and knock out their two guards, but once she and Kazuki are on the deck, in broad daylight, they’re instantly re-caught by Umihebi. I was actually glad about that, because while burning smoky nuts is clever, these pirates would look pretty incompetent if they let her get away so easily.

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Back at Raj’s castle, I’m a little surprised the princes haven’t set off yet, though I liked how Mitsuhide and Kiki give Zen (holding the broken watch he gave Shirayuki) a much-needed slap on the back to focus him and release all the stuff he’s holding in. Kiki also gives him a note from Obi that ends up aiding their search considerably.

Rather than damage her precious cargo Shirayuki, Umihebi punishes her by viciously whipping her crew members in front of her. Shirayuki, ever abhorring violence, only gains an even lower opinion of the pirate queen, and can’t help diagnosing their injuries, impressing Umihebi.

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Meanwhile, Zen finds Obi thanks to one of Kihal’s homing birds, drawn to the bell Zen meant for Obi to give to Shirayuki, but was never able to due to her kidnapping. Obi and Itoya had joined up with other members of the autonomous Lions of the Mountain.

It takes a little while to sort out what’s going on (Raj seems especially lost at moments), but the bottom line is that Kazuki was once a “decorative ornament” to nobles, then a member of the Claw of the Sea, but defected to the lions and made it his personal mission to rescue Shirayuki from what he (wrongly) believed was a similar fate.

Kazuki and Itoya were so intent on carrying out the mission, they never gave her a chance to speak for herself. So while Kazuki’s motives were pure, his assumptions were disrespectful, as well as wrong. All that aside, both the princes and the lions want their people back, so Zen and Raj form an alliance with their leader to rescue them from the Claw.

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It’s not a coincidence that right after the Lion leader mentions that the “half-hearted” shrink away when the Claw leader Umihebi glares at them with her cold eyes, we see Shirayuki glaring right the fuck back at her. Shirayuki’s no half-heart, but she’s not a hardened soldier either, so despite putting on a defiant face for Umihebi and a brave one for Hazuki, the latter still sees her trembling in fear, which is all to understandable, considering she’s on the cusp of being shipped off to God-knows-where, with no way to tell Zen where she is.

Except, at the close of the episode, she’s no longer alone with Hazuki. When considering all their options, Kiki volunteers to get herself arrested and thrown onto the Claw’s ship as another prisoner, so that Shirayuki can have a capable ally by her side both to protect her and give her hope. Kiki has always been a appallingly underutilized character – she’s essentially an onna-kishi – but I’m very glad she gets to shine here. I also like how Mitsu doesn’t like the idea of her going, but doesn’t stop her either.

As for where Umihebi’s ship is headed, another underutilized character who had just complained about being an outsider, Mihaya, thinks he knows the location of the Claw’s secret mansion, since his crooked dad and brother once did business with them. Shirayuki may still be in enemy hands, but the addition of Kiki spices up what could have been a monotonous captivity, and now that she knows Zen is on the case, she’s far less likely to lose heart, even if things get worse before they get better.

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Kill la Kill – 09

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Kiryuin appoints Gamagoori Ira as Ryuuko’s first opponent, due to him having defeated the least cannon fodder out of the Elite Four. Her scissor can’t penetrate the cloth armor protecting the life fiber within, so when he launches his regalia, she and Senketsu bite into his whips with his teeth, and get thrust inside his uniform. Senketsu transforms into “Senjin” mode, becoming covered in blades that tear Gamagoori’s uniform to shreds.

The first of Ryuuko’s battles with the Elite Four committee chairs was immensly fun to watch. It was well-established last week that Gamagoori wasn’t going to be a cakewalk, a notion reinforced by his flashback battle with the adorable Lil’ Kiryuin, in which he managed to snatch the scabbard of her sword to prevent himself from kneeling before her. Last week we saw what he was capable of tactically; this week we find out why he does it: his self-punishes as an example to the student body to correct their own behavior of their own accord. When Ryuuko refuses to do the same, he revokes her independence and threatens to mold her into a model student. Mold literally, like taiyaki, which is hilarious. We also like how the battle was initially delayed, another example of Gamagoori’s devotion to protocol.

But both the intensity of Gamagoori’s resolve and his dogged desire to impress his mistress form another shield: one of arrogance. He’s too busy getting the job done (and punishing himself) to realize Ryuuko and Senketsu have a plan; they adjust their tactics to the mechanics of this particular battle (she also ate Mako’s mom’s bento, ensuring victory!) Senketsu’s new look is even more ridiculous and extreme in keeping with the show’s escalatory nature. No doubt other transformations will reveal themselves as Ryuuko faces the other three. But we’re wondering why Mikisugi won’t tell her anything, doesn’t want her to fight the elite four, and isn’t “happy about it” when she beats Gamagoori. Will the truth implicate him in some way, or otherwise make Ryuuko even more angry and unsatisfied?

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Rating: 8 
(Great)