The Promised Neverland – 20 – Emma

Instead of being slaughtered for meat, Norman was introduced to Peter Ratri, his “new father”, and asked to assist with his research. No matter how much they up the difficulty of the tests, Norman always scores perfectly.

Peter is trying to wrest control of the farms from James, presumably his brother or father. Norman also observes how gently he’s treated compared to the other children at the Lambda facility, who undergo all manner of horrific surgery and used as fodder for experiments.

Norman eventually meets Vincent, and together they clandestinely plan a prison break, which is initiated when Norman grasps the king while playing chess. He gives the surveillance camera a blank look, immediately followed by the blast of an improvised bomb.

Norman and Vincent rush through the facility, now in total chaos, and save what humans are still able to be saved, like Cislo and Barbara, the latter of whom asks Norman if he’s a “god” when he frees them. Standing over his great victory, Norman tells the captured demons he won’t stop until their kind has “died out from this world”.

I’m glad we were shown these events, as in this case where it’s important to see the horrors he saw, showing is better than telling. I only wish Norman and his comrades hadn’t spent so much of the last couple episodes spouting so much exposition, which in hindsight feels redundant.

Still, we get a very foreboding shot of a robed Norman at sunset, looking quite a bit like Anakin Skywalker after being seduced by the dark side. He doesn’t care if he has to be a god or a devil if it means Emma and the other children will be able to live in safety and peace.

This episode suffers from a considerably less interesting middle act involving the four days and change Emma, Ray, Gilda and Don are searching for Mujika and Sonju. They basically trudge from one point of the forest to the other in their demon disguises, coming up empty until they reach final search area.

Naturally, this area is crawling with those giant creepy wild demons, and naturally Emma almost gets her head bitten off not once, but twice. The first time, Ray shoots the demon in just the right eye to bring it down. The second time, Sonju and Mujika arrive In the Nick of Time.

But before Emma can even get out how they need the two demons’ help, there’s a blast from afar: Norman has started the operation a day early. Bombs detonate all over the town, releasing the degenerative drug in a sickly purple cloud. It spreads and affects the demons precisely as Norman calculated, turning them into wild vicious beasts that rip each other apart.

This creates a horrifying situation in which demons watch their loved ones degenerate, but beg other demons of sound mind not to hurt or kill them, only to themselves be killed by those transformed loved ones. Soon the streets are full of the cries of terrified children, their mothers and fathers either dead or transformed and about to kill them. It is the scene of hell.

As his comrades stand atop brick columns watching their vengeance unfold with glee, Norman enters the town square and finds one of the young demon girls alone, scared, and crying. Norman, determined not to waver, prepares to kill her with a sword, but he’s stopped in his tracks when her grandfather—the same elderly demon who visited the kids’ hideout—calls out the girl’s name: Emma.

A fresh cloud of the drug falls over the square, infecting the little one but not the old man, who Norman suspects to have devil’s blood like Mujika, and is thus immune. He stabs the old man, but he has Emma drink his blood, reversing her degeneration, and begs her to run.

Before Norman can re-commit to killing the old man or the demon Emma, someone calls to himhis Emma, with Ray by her side. Thanks to Sonju’s horse they managed to make it back to town just in time. When Norman sees Emma he starts to tear up, and when Emma sees him she sees him as the little boy at Grace Field House, in whose hands a bloody sword just doesn’t look right.

While Norman has the intellect to know what exactly to do, and that it may be the only way to save Emma and the others, and he even possessed the will to do the horrible things that needed doing, he still doesn’t have the heart to follow through, at least not without the wavering we saw.

I’ve heard many rumblings about how dissimilar and inferior this second season is to the first due to the fact it’s passed over large swaths of the original manga’s story and basically doing its own thing. I’ve also learned that this was apparently the author’s choice to do this, so it isn’t as if his work was getting short shrift against his wishes.

Whatever the case may be, a second season that takes place after escaping the farm was always going to be a thoroughly different kind of show, despite the same title, and that’s certainly proven the case. But now that Norman, Emma, and Ray are reunited once more in the epicenter of his grand plan, I remain thoroughly engaged and excited to find out where in the world things go from here!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 20 here. They know their stuff!

The Promised Neverland – 19 – A Future Without Regret

By bringing up Mujika and Sonju, Emma clues Norman in on a major threat to his plan. He’s never met either, but heard stories about a mutation of demons who could maintain their human-esque form and intellect without eating meat. He thought they’d all been hunted down and killed by the Demon King and royalty committed to maintaining the status quo that lines their pockets.

With the “Evil-Blooded Girl” still out there, the demons presumably have a defense against his degenerative drug. Emma sees it the other way: instead of eradicating the demons, they can treat them all to be like Mujika and Sonju, so they won’t need to eat human meat anymore. But that misses the whole point: the Demons in charge would keep eating humans even if they didn’t have to, simply because they want to.

If that’s the case, then Emma thinks they should escape to the human world rather than committing demon genocide. Again, Norman has researched this, and the only gate he knows of is deep beneath…Grace Field House. It’s too dangerous and there are too many unknown factors, including whether the humans would even accept them.

Emma can’t accept a future she has to kill her friends and countless other innocents to achieve, in which she’d never be able to smile again. Norman knows the kind soul Emma is and always was, but here again they disagree: he says it isn’t “tough” to do what he’s doing, because he’s working towards the future he desires.

The debate would seem to be over, with the two sides at an impasse and Norman politely shuffling Emma and Ray out of there, but Emma proposes a deal: give her ten days to find Mujika and Sonju before proceeding with his plan. Norman gives her five…because he doesn’t expect her to succeed.

When Emma and Ray leave, Norman joins Cislo, Barbara, and Vincent in the bowels of their headquarters, and tells them that his siblings from the farm don’t want to annihilate the demons, and have also met with and are friends with the Evil-Blooded Girl. Just the thought of not eradicating the demons sends Barbara into a jar-shattering rage, leading to a “Lambda seizure”, which seem to be happening to her and the other two with increasing regularity.

They’re running out of time fast—just when Emma asked for more of it. Cislo is disgusted by Norman’s siblings’ “naive nonsense” but understands they’re good kids. So he asks Norman on behalf of the other Lambda survivors: Is Norman still on their side? Norman tells them he agreed to wait five days, but nothing else has changed. If Emma returns successful, Norman will kill the Evil-Blooded, but his plan will go forward without further alterations.

To show how far he’s come and why he can’t back down now, he shines his lantern on a massive Lilith-like demon, which he’s no doubt used for research and development of his anti-demon drug.

So now we know—if it wasn’t clear from the end of their conversation—that Norman has no intention of cancelling or changing his plan to commit genocide. Even if he wanted to, he has more than just Emma to think of. If the Lambda kids feel he’s betrayed them, he’s just as sure to die by their hands than demons’. And then there’s the matter of him doing what he did when he got shipped away: putting all of the burden on his own shoulders.

Of course, Emma thinks deep down the same Norman she knew and loved is still in there somewhere, and will honor his part of the bargain. Ray seems to want to trust Norman too; clearly being around Emma so much has blunted his cynicism. So they return to their mountain hideout, and there Emma presents her view and gets everyone onboard, even the terrified Gilda.

She uses the kids own grumbling bellies to drive home the point that killing all the demons would only spread more fear and hate, making the world a worse place. Emma can’t accept any other path but a peaceful one, but what she doesn’t yet grasp is that she’s already on the path Norman has paved for everyone—he just gave her five more days to pretend otherwise.

Back at Norman’s HQ, he suddenly coughs up blood into the same hand Emma took into hers when forging their doomed bargain. It would seem that whatever happened after he said goodbye to Emma to be shipped off, he didn’t fare any better than the other Lambda victims. His time grows short too, to the point even if Emma’s plan was most certain and logical, there wouldn’t be enough time to realize it.

Irina and Crow had a discussion on this episode. Check it out here!

 

 

The Promised Neverland – 18 – The Norman Invasion

After a recap week, Neverland is back, and as good as its been all season, although not for the reason you’d think. Norman’s back, and that’s great! Emma can’t believe it’s not a dream, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. This literally doesn’t seem real that their old friend is alive, well, and not just deep in the anti-demon resistance, but its leader. It changes everything.

Norman comes to the Temple where he receives a hero’s welcome from the other kids. Like Emma, they initially can’t believe it’s really him, but unlike her they weren’t in charge of ensuring everyone’s survival all this time. They see how they’ve fared, and how things aren’t going so well, and how now that Norman’s here everything will be fine.

Of course, they don’t consciously put it in a way that diminishes Emma’s leadership to this point. Instead, they see it as a great lifting of a weight from her shoulders she never should have had to bear alone. But with the lifting of that weight naturally means there will be a shift in power and authority.

That’s especially apparent when Norman regales the group with what he’s been up to since he left Grace Field House. Rather than processed for food, he was sent to Lambda, a facility for testing and experimentation. There, he made use of his superior intellect to wreck the place, freeing himself and many other captives who had suffered horribly.

Ever since then, he’s been developing a means of utterly defeating the demons: a drug that will cause them to degenerate into wild beasts who will turn against each other. In effect, it’s a biological weapon, and Norman intends for its widespread use in order to decimate their tormentors.

There’s no doubt that if the drug works as Norman claims, it will usher in a new era of freedom and peace for humanity. This is a big deal. And when you consider all he’s accomplished in the same amount of time Emma and her group have only barely managed to feed themselves, it really puts Emma’s relative lack of progress in relief.

Of course, Emma’s overwhelming concern with Norman’s plan is that it’s so barbaric, and renders humans as no better than the worst demons. Demons have names, thoughts, family. She wants a future where they don’t have to hate, fight, or kill. Ray can sense this, and he gets it out of her fairly easily, which means those so-called “secret” thoughts could have come out at a far worse time, in front of a far less receptive audience.

Ray doesn’t agree with Emma. He’s fine with annihilating the demons, but he also wants to make sure Emma makes her feelings known to Norman. They don’t know, for instance, if Norman knows about demons like Mujika who can maintain their intellects without human meat, so it could be an exchange of information that could help Emma better determine and articulate a more peaceful counterproposal.

As soon as they reach Norman’s holdfast and meet his fellow Lambda escapees, the immense scale of Emma’s task becomes clear. After what they and their friends both dead and alive endured at Lambda, Cislo, Vincent, and Barbara harbor a pure and intense hatred of demons. Cislo can’t wait for the high that comes from massacring demons, while the suspicious-looking haunch of meat Barbara is chomping on turns out to be demon meat.

That’s right: Barbara says her anger melts away when she eats their meat. She believes every single demon should suffer what they endured, and worse. The atmosphere wasn’t altogether welcoming at the beginning of the scene, but as the Lambda kids start talking about how much they hate demons, the mood of the scene turns that much more sinister, to the point I feared for Emma’s safety!

Indeed, when Barbara can see what she’s saying is disturbing Emma, she makes it clear that Emma better not have any disgusting ideas about changing Norman’s plan. Cislo and Vincent tell Barbara to take off and cool down, but they feel the same way: the demons must go. When they leave Emma and Ray to wait for Norman, Ray tells her there’s no stopping hatred like that once it’s begun.

I honestly couldn’t help but think of the current situation in Attack on Titan’s final season, in which the “good” and “bad” sides have long since melted away, and everyone arms themselves with enough hatred to commit any atrocity against anyone who stands in their way. I’m with Emma that this isn’t the right way to forge a future, but I’m also with Ray: in this climate she’ll be steamrolled by the hate long before she can come up with, let alone implement, an alternative plan.

When Norman is free, he sits down with his brother and sister, and shows them a bottle of the drug that will be used in the plan. Emma doesn’t even get to the part where she objects to that plan when Ray mentions the demons who didn’t eat humans. Norman reacts in a way neither Ray nor Emma expected: like someone who had staunchly believed their nemesis was dead and buried suddenly having to call that into doubt.

Referring to Mujika as the “Evil-Blooded Girl” while glaring and grasping his face dramatically, Norman shows a side of himself Emma has never seen, and part of the New Norman with whom the other Lambda kids are familiar and comfortable. No doubt Norman cast away those parts himself that weren’t relevant to The Cause. And now she and Ray may be the bearer of news that could ruin his intricate plan for demon eradication. Not the reunion anyone wanted!

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of the episode here.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 20 – Hard Time

Rika continues to bask in the spotlight of adoration at St. Lucia, to the point Satoko feels compelled to confront her in the main hall. Rika’s cronies come to her defense first, but Rika herself doesn’t suffer Satoko’s rudeness, and promises to “make time for her” later. When those cronies badmouth Satoko behind her back, Rika at least defends her friend, saying she’s in a foul mood because her grades have dropped and she’s doubting herself.

Rika believes Satoko will eventually pull out of her nosedive on her own, but that doesn’t happen. Satoko thinks implementing her metal pan prank on a grander scale will help Rika remember the past and their bond, but it all goes pear-shaped one of the pans bloodies a crony. Rika doesn’t rat Satoko out, but one of the cronies does, and Satoko is put in a orange jumpsuit and placed in solitary confinement. Yikes!

While there, all Satoko does is curse the fact she didn’t say “no” when Rika asked her to join her in attending St. Luica. She simply doesn’t fit there, and that’s reinforced when, upon being released, Satoko begins her second year in the “special class”, from which she knows there is no escape.

There’s finally a bright spot in Satoko’s dreary life when she gets a letter from Mion about having a Hinamizawa Country School Game Club Founders’ Reunion. Mion comes to pick Satoko and Rika up in a van, but if she senses the rift between them, she doesn’t mention it, nor do they.

Instead of using the trip to address or resolve that rift, Satoko uses it to forget about St. Lucia altogether. Perhaps she believes there’s no use in speaking to Rika at this point. When Rika finally lets out her trademark “Nipaaa!”, Satoko is both heartened and disheartened, as after everything that’s happened, it almost sounds mocking or patronizing.

Keiichi, Rena, and Mion seem to be exactly the same people, having simply moved their club from Hinamizawa to college they attend together. It’s clear that Satoko would have probably been much happier if she’d gone to high school with them, as she can’t be any less suited for St. Lucia.

After having fun with a card game that includes traps and pranks and penalties, the group heads to the cosplay cafe for a bite, but Satoko tells them to go ahead of her; she wants to have a walk alone in Hinamizawa. It may look pretty much the same, but so much has changed. The more she walks around, the more apparent it is that this is not quite her home anymore either.

Then Satoko comes upon the storeroom, and recalls sneaking in once and wondering if Oyashiro is still angry at her. A strange resonance starts to emanate from within, and when she touches the statue, it crumbles to reveal a broken horn, the source of the resonance.

When Satoko touches that, she’s transported to the same bizarre interdimensional plane where Rika ended up so often. She’s met by someone who looks to be a fully grown-up version of Hanyuu, who addresses Satoko as “child of man.” After punching the walls of her literal prison at St. Lucia wishing she could turn back time and do everything over, now she’ll have that chance!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 05 – All Ore Nothing

Seemingly telegraphing the fact that Tanjirou isn’t going to face any demons more powerful than the one he beheaded last week, DS lingers on the aftermath of the Hand Demon’s life and demise. He started out as a little kid who just wanted to hold his big brother’s hand, but one day he became a demon, and that was pretty much that.

Tanjirou has shown that no matter how evil a demon might seem, he wishes for them to be at peace or be reborn as humans again. That empathy isn’t just the result of a kind heart: surely the only ones who know if Nezuko can be changed back are demons. Alas, the ones he asks aren’t even high-level enough to be capable of speech.

The sun rises on the final day of the Fina Selection, and it seems only four applicants survived, all kids. Oddly, we still aren’t introduced to any of them, though since they all appear in the OP and/or ED, that will happen at some point. The creepy twin girls in charge of the selection assign the survivors crows, new uniforms, and have them pick the ore from which they want their Nichirin blades to be forged.

The three other survivors consist of Silent Pretty Girl, Crazy-Haired Guy who is constantly afraid he’s going to die, and Short-Tempered Prick, who grabs one of the twins by the hair to protest not being given his sword immediately (it will take 10-15 days). Tanjirou, friend of the weak, comes between the two, putting the jerk in his place.

With his uniform acquired and the sword in the mail, Tanjirou makes the trek back to Mt. Sagiri, though it’s far slower going this time due to his exertion during the Final Selection. Even so, a newly-awake Nezuko literally breaks down the door to meet him when he finally arrives, runs to hold him wordlessly in her arms…I couldn’t help but get a little cloudy-eyed at their touching reunion.

Urokodaki believes that Nezuko is sleeping so much in order to conserve energy since she’s not eating humans. Haganezuka soon arrives to present Tanjirou with his very own Nichirin katana, which turns an apparently unlucky pitch-black when he unsheathes it (not red, as Haganezuka hoped).

Finally, the Kasugai crow the twins assigned to Tanjirou arrives and speaks the human tongue, announcing his first assignment in a town where young girls have gone missing. No rest for those who’ve just been given a really, really nice sword for free!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Great Pretender – 23 (Fin) – How the Sausage is Made

In its penultimate episode Great Pretender pulled the wool over our eyes as well as those of con artists’ hapless targets. The finale opens with Liu, Chen, Suzaku, Ishigami, and a couple henchmen adjusting to their new reality: stranded on a deserted island with water and emergency rations.

There’s an absurd surrealism to seeing Liu, typically perched in his gaudy Shanghai tower, sitting on the beach looking defeated, or Suzaku lighting up a smoke in her ruined red throne, no longer surrounded by her lacquered and gilded office. They were well and truly conned like they’ve never been conned before.

The question is, how? After that quick check-in, we rewind back to the morning of the job. Before waking up, Makoto dreams of the time she gave her mom a wizard figurine, and she hoped it meant she’d see Seiji soon. Abby visits Makoto unannounced, urging him to hurry up and forgive himself, noting she was saved by doing the same.

From there, we follow Makoto as he clandestinely puts a sleeping drug in coffee he serves to Suzaku and Ishigami, while Laurent drugs the champagne he serves to Liu and Chen. This way, the targets are asleep while they are transported to the island where they’ll eventually be marooned.

We learn that while only Eddie Cassano is involved in this game as a favor to Laurent (they’re apparently on good terms now), the similarly reformed James Coleman and Sam Ibrahim also tagged along. Another character from a previous arc who plays a role is Shougo, who provides the air transport to the island.

On that island, Oz has led the construction down to the minute detail of a replica of Suzaku’s Tokyo HQ office. He had Makoto order the real thing re-painted recently so that the smell of fresh paint could be explained, while Suzaku herself is too woozy from her “nap” that she shrugs off the presence of cat sculptures Cynthia included because she thought they were cute, but weren’t in the real office.

The gun battle from which Liu, Chen, Suzaki and Ishigami escape was really just the “police” and Cassano’s “henchmen” firing their guns into the air, making enough noise to cover their escape down the elevator. As for Makoto’s “slashing?” The sword was real, but Oz only cut deep enough to break the blood bag inside Makoto’s jacket.

Fast-forward to the immediate aftermath of the successful completion of the job, the con artists party on what turns out to be Cassano’s boat. Makoto feels good about getting one over on Laurent (as well as following Abby’s advice to forgive himself), while Laurent tosses Dorothy’s ring into the ocean, satisfied she was properly avenged.

In the epilogue, Oz visits his wife’s grave, and we learn she knew what happened to him all along, but never told Makoto. Oz dedicates himself to finding homes for all of the rescued refugees, though Cynthia takes one of the older ones under her wing, giving him the choice of what to do with his life.

Abby reaches the top of a rock in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon and sends a bird-flipping selfie to Makoto; I really liked how their relationship progressed, how they remain in touch even though they’ve parted ways as con artists. Laurent, meanwhile, is still in the game, and picks the newly inaugurated U.S. President as his next target. Four Seasons, anyone?

Finally, in a feel-good surprise ending, it’s revealed Dorothy is still alive after all, having apparently washed up in Taiwan with amnesia (she could be faking it, but then why did she never reunite with Laurent?). One of her adoptive parents presents her with a ring he found in the stomach of a fish—her old good luck ring, which Laurent tossed into the sea.

And that about does it. What a ride this was! Every arc of Great Pretender had its strong points and a distinct atmosphere owing to their varying settings and types of cons. It’s a show that seemingly got better and better, and this longer final arc brought everything together quite nicely, with its usual stylish cheekiness. I’d highly recommend GP, especially as a gateway show for entering the world of anime.

Great Pretender – 22 – PRETENCEPTION

The preparations for the 100-billion-yen swindle are complete; all that’s left is to execute. Everyone on the team who isn’t Laurent or Makoto are wise to assume that one of them—if not both of them—are going to pull something unexpected that could throw the whole job in to chaos. Laurent has his vendetta against Liu, while Makoto may have found a new mom in Suzaku.

The thing we the audience need to watch out for is what twists the episode is going to throw our way, and the clues that precede those twists. Those don’t just include Chekhov’s Poison Ring and Chair Sword, but the very tight framing as everyone travels to the meeting…or the fact the hallway smells like fresh paint.

As these things tend to go, the meeting, while initially extremely tense, goes quite well. Suzaku doesn’t shake Liu’s hand, her survivalist instincts sensing the ring, while Liu seems to sense the concealed sword. Unfortunately, those instincts don’t serve either of them when they both realize something must have been lost in translation, because they’ve both brought 100 billion with them…

That’s when the fake SWAT unit bursts in—Laurent and Makoto’s co-conspirators in disguise—and confiscate both the check and the briefcase of cash (or stock certificates, it would seem). Suzaku and Liu are at the mercy of their interpreters who have suddenly clammed up. Suzaku smells something rotten: the timing of the police arriving is too perfect.

It would seem our crew have the baddies right where they want them, but then Laurent seemingly takes his revenge by sticking Liu with the poison ring. Liu panics, but notably does not die; either he was simply freaked out about being pricked or it contained some other drug that made him wig out.

When “Officer” Kudou tries to arrest Suzaku, Makoto whips out the sword and stops him, and orders the check and briefcase returned to the desk. Then an entirely new group of guys with automatic weapons (real ones, in their case) bust in, led by none other than American gangster Eddie Cassano.

Makoto apparently made a side deal with Cassano, with the sole purpose of finally getting one over on Laurent. He rants about everyone working together to avenge Dorothy while his mom rots in her grave, then points the sword at his dad and starts to stab him with it. Laurent tries to stop him, urging Edamame to stop “screwing up.”

Then something else unexpected happens, that shouldn’t have been unexpected: after Laurent disarms Makoto with a kick, Oz grabs the sword out of mid-air and slashes his son across the chest, creating a fountain of blood that makes Suzaku freak out. Did she just witness the demise of her beloved new surrogate son? Hard to tell; we’ve already been taught by the show not to accept any “death” at face value.

And all this is before things get truly weird. After Makoto is slashed, Cassano’s men open fire. Ishigami gets Suzaku the heck out of there, while Chen grabs Liu (who is okay after all). They wait in the hall for an elevator that never comes, and there’s curiously no cell reception. Then the sounds of the shootout abruptly end, and they carefully peek back inside the meeting room.

There, Suzaku spots a lever located where the windows were, and when she pulls it, the entire room begins to descend like one big elevator. Once it reaches the bottom, two large metal doors open on their own to reveal…the sea. The entire multi-story building was just an artifice, and soon crumbles into a pile of debris. The camera pulls back to reveal Suzaku and Liu’s crews are stranded on a small remote island.

W, T, and—I can’t stress this enough—F? This is the weirdest, wackiest development yet. Was Makoto’s ranting just an act, and his death faked via a fake sword and blood pack in his suit? Where did he, and Laurent, and Cassano, and Cynhia, and Abby, and everyone else who was in that room go? And why bring back Eddie at all?

Those are only a couple of the several dozen questions I have; I’m just glad the particulars of the job-within-the-job weren’t explained before it was pulled off. I’m sure the final episode will at least partially explain what the hell just happened and how, but one thing I’m confident of is that the job was a success for our con artists.

Great Pretender – 21 – Language Barrier

After learning how his last princess-trafficking job went south and cost Laurent the love of his life, we return to Cynthia’s island, probably not long after Makoto returned to Japan. There, Laurent informs Kim, Cynthia and Abby of the next job—perhaps their most dangerous yet—and introduces them to Oz the Wizard.

Naturally, no one elects to back out, and we watch what unfolds after Cynthia, Abby, and Oz are shot off Suzaku’s boat. All three were wearing bulletproof vests with squibs, and were retrieved from the sea by Kim apparently a diving expert even in her old age.

Why not simply tell Makoto about the whole plan? Easy; because he’s Makoto. They all know him from their previous jobs. The less he knows, the less chance of him accidentally messing up the job. And even then, he can be unpredictable.

Laurent heads to Shanghai to reunite with his old boss, Liu. Liu is happy his old Mahjongg opponent is back, while Chen believes the fortune teller was spot-on about an interpreter falling into their lap after the loss of Oz. Oz, meanwhile, visits Makoto, alive and well, and tries to explain that he abandoned him and his mom for their own safety. Makoto isn’t convinced.

While alone in his hotel room, Laurent is fiddling with Dorothy’s good luck ring when he’s suddenly visited by her ghost. This is the one job in which Laurent has the most personal stakes. Its success determines whether Dorothy is properly avenged. It’s akin to Worf & Co. trying to get Jadzia Dax into Sto-vo-Kor.

Makoto plays his role well, and as was the case with his father, the role he’s playing and the person truly he is have started to blur. Makoto seems to harbor legitimate affection for Suzaku, and as a son who lost her mother connecting with a mother who lost her son, there’s good reason for that.

The logic and legitimacy of their bond makes the con that much more convincing, but ultimately the entire job leans on the inability of Suzaku and Ishigami to understand Chinese, and the inability of Liu and Chen to understand Japanese.

In their remote video meeting, Makoto and Laurent are the interpreters, and they invent a fictional dialogue their bosses can only assume is an accurate interpretation of their adversaries’ words. As such, both bosses believe the other is about to pay them ¥100 billion in cash.

This is right on the edge of what either side can afford (especially Suzaku’s side), and if Laurent’s crew ends up handling that ¥200 billion, it won’t just be their biggest score ever and a worthy victory for Dorothy’s memory, but ruin both Suzaku and Liu’s organizations.

What definitely seems to not be part of Laurent’s plan is the fact that both Liu and Suzaku intend to murder each other when they meet in person. Ishigami had a sword concealed in Suzaku’s chair, while Chen has a ring that can inject poison into whomever’s hand is shaken.

Laurent probably included the potential for treachery on both sides in his calculations, considering both Suzaku and Liu have no qualms about selling kids (As Sloan once said to Dr. Bashir: “These are not nice people we’re dealing with here.”). If everyone plays their roles as expected, the job will succeed where it failed last time.

But will Makoto play the proper role? At the onsen in Japan where the rest of the crew is lying low, Abby worries he’ll go off-script as he has in the past—only this time it might cost him his life. One key question is whether Makoto is merely pretending to care about Suzaku or has come to truly care about her? She did gift him an adorable kitty tie (continuing this arc’s synergy with the end credits), after all.

Unlike his father, Suzaku is there for him, and has always been upfront about who she is. Meanwhile, Oz once told his son to “always be lawful”, “contribute to the world”, and “be a respectable person” while doing none of those things. We also see him making a mysterious phone call from his moonlit apartment. So we’ll see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 36 (Fin) – Not For Nothing

We were left hanging with the vicious knife fight between Kiroranke and Lt. Koito. Both use their arm or hand to block a knife from digging too deep into their vitals, but Koito gets a much-needed assist from Tanigaki and Tsukishima. Kiroranke, as dangerous as any wounded animal, produces one more bomb, but Koito is able to slice it away so it doesn’t blow everyone up.

They’re about to finish Kiroranke when Asirpa arrives in time to stop them; she wants to hear him explain why he shot her Aca. She doesn’t get an answer before he draws his last breath, but he dies happily, knowing Asirpa did indeed figure out the code, and their journey north wasn’t for naught. It’s also implied by Sofia’s reaction (prior to rejoining her fellow inmates) that she Kiroranke and Wilk formed a love triangle. Kiroranke’s body is buried in ice that will melt into the Azur river and flow back to his homeland.

Kiroranke and Asirpa try to go after Sofia, but find everyone’s favorite Stenka shoujo, Gansoku Maiharu. Kiroranke is the only one who ends up dying on the ice floes; Ogata remains alive and Tsukishima’s neck wound isn’t life-threatening. As Sugimoto returns Asirpa’s ceremonial knife to her, Sofia returns Kiroranke’s to him, confirming there was something going on between them.

Back at the Nivkh village in Ako, Tsukishima gets Svetlana to agree to write a letter to her parents which he’ll deliver as proof she’s alive, so that they can escape the black pit of uncertainty and know for sure their girl is okay. She heads to Russia with Gansoku, and the narrator indicates they’ll have a number of exciting adventures in the future.

This final Kamuy of the season wouldn’t be complete without another Ainu food session, so Asirpa explains mosu, a lucious-sounding treat made with fish skin, berries and seal fat. She describes the Nivkh, like the other tribes in Karafuto, as “a little bit different and a little bit the same”, and takes comfort in that.

Ogata is beyond Nivkh medicine, so everyone dresses up like Nivkh and reach out to the Russian doctor in Ako. He quickly recognizes Sugimoto’s Japanese, but still agrees to operate on Ogata. Unfortunately, no one thought to tie Ogata to the bed.

The moment he comes through post-op, he gets up, holds the nurse hostage, knocks Koito down, and escapes on a horse in nothing but his gown. Asirpa and Sugimoto are too late to catch him and the latter’s shots miss his horse, but Sugimoto is fine with that. He urges Ogata to get better so he can kill him fair and square later.

That need to do any and all dirty work, including killing, for Asirpa’s sake so she doesn’t have to bloody her own hands, defines Sugimoto. He withholds Wilk’s desire for Asirpa to be a guerilla fighter in the war between the Ainu and the Imperial enemies of Japan and Russia—but Sugimoto wants better than that for her. Maybe, with the gold, she can lead the Ainu into peace, not another horrible war that will claim her soul.

Sugimoto’s had his fill of war, but he’ll still fight all the battles needed to protect Asirpa. And as both of them are still in need of money to achieve their goals, Sugimoto renews their contract as partners, and Asirpa concurs. They remain on the same road together, with Sugimoto continuing to work with Tsurumi’s men per their agreement, and Asirpa hoping to learn who killed the Ainu and what ultimately became of her Aca.

So ends a another incredibly strong season of Golden Kamuy, a wonderful melange of a show that combines stylish, inventive, often brutal combat, enriching cultural and historical education, some of the best comedy of the season (with a prodigious side of beefcake), and many of the better characters and relationships. None were more compelling than Asirpa and Sugimoto, and now that they’ve finally reunited I look forward to a fourth season of their adventures together.

Golden Kamuy – 35 – Finding Warmth in the Shattered Ice

The reunion of old buddies Shiraishi and Sugimoto is appropriately gross, as the former’s nose snot ends up in Sugimoto’s eye. This is actually foreshadowing for another key reunion, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

These two men are still separated from Asirpa, just as Asirpa finds herself alone with Ogata—the only person who knows Asirpa has remembered the secret to Wilk’s code. Both groups have shattered on the ice floes, as Tsukishima finds Svetlana in the cold while Tanigaki and Koito are ambushed by escaped prisoners.

While Sugimoto uses his coat as a sail to steer their ice floe where they want (yet another lifesaving lesson Asirpa taught him), Tsukishima urges Svetlana to return home, only for her to tell him she willingly went with whoever would take her—anything to get away from the boredom of life in that lighthouse.

Live certainly isn’t boring for anyone on these ice floes, as Tanigaki and Koito successfully repel the bandits. However, an unlikely reunion occurs when Kiroranke emerges from behind an ice boulder. Tanigaki, who seeks revenge for the death of Inkarmat, gives Kiroranke his bone-handled knife back—by stabbing him with it.

As the skies seem to darken and the snow and wind intensify, so too does the tension between Ogata and Asirpa. He knows she’s figured it out, and asks her while they’re alone if she’ll tell him. He only wants a little gold; to have all of it would mean getting tangled up in war with all the parties who want it. He also believes she wishes to return home to her kotan and spend her days hunting in the woods.

When his methods of persuasion don’t work, he reveals that Sugimoto wasn’t quite dead when he saw him, and tells her his last words about giving some gold to his friend’s widow Tome for her eye surgery. Then Asirpa catches Ogata in a lie when she asks him if Sugimoto said anything about food, and Ogata says he wanted monkfish stew. Asirpa knows Sugimoto’s true final wish would be for dried persimmons.

She breaks Ogata’s grip and knocks her bow, but Ogata reminds her of when she stopped Sugimoto from killing him, and when she vowed never to kill for the gold or anything else. Ogata actually takes sick pride in trying to goad Asirpa into murdering him, since to him that would mean they were alike in their “impurity”. Sugimoto manages to arrive in time to shout out, but Asirpa is startled and looses the arrow straight into Ogata’s eye.

Sugimoto quickly administers first aid, purging the poisoned from the wound and bandaging it to slow the bleeding. He won’t let Ogata die. because he won’t let him make Asirpa a killer. When the ice floes split again, threatening to separate Asirpa and Sugimoto, he reaches his hand out, she leaps to grab it, and they successfully embrace. After an entire season of them apart, finally they’re together again, and it feels so good to see it!

Of course, this is Golden Kamuy, a show never afraid to follow up a tearful, touchingly cathartic reunion with some absurdly gross comedy. Asirpa says she “can’t let go”, but we soon learn she literally can’t, because her damn eyelid is stuck on Sugi’s frozen coat button! Shiraishi, who is holding Ryuu back from interrupting the lovebirds’ reunion, is quickly summoned for assistance.

As we learned, the best way to separate skin from cold metal is piss, and if there’s anything Shiraishi is always full of, it’s piss. This leads to perhaps the most hilariously fucked-up line in the entire Golden Kamuy series: “Piss on her face!” The snow lets up, the sky brightens, and the sun starts to peak through the clouds as Shiraishi, Sugimoto, and Asirpa revel in rainbow-making golden showers. It is utterly glorious.

The episode then jumps back a few minutes and returns to the darkness of the storm, as Tsukishima, Koito, and Svetlana find an injured Tanigaki, who tells them Kiroranke is wounded and on the run. While in pursuit, the two soldiers make the mistake of picking up Tanigaki’s rifle, which was rigged with a bomb by Kiroranke. Tsukishima’s neck is gashed in the blast, but Koito is relatively okay, and continues the chase.

He and Kiroranke eventually become locked in a bitter grappling match; Koito with his saber and Kiroranke with his rifle. Kiroranke has escaped worse scrapes in his long bloody history, but with Asirpa learning the truth about his treachery at Abashiri Prison and Sugimoto already knowing he’s bad news, whatever becomes of him, he can no longer hide his true colors.

As of this tremendous episode’s ending, Ogata, Tanigaki, Tsukishima, and Kiroranke are all seriously wounded, while Koito may be about to be. Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi are all fine. Sofia strangely plays no role in this episode, but I wonder where her loyalties will lie (I suspect with herself) while Svetlana just wants to go to St. Petersburg. Most importantly, Sugimoto and Asirpa are together again. That one fact makes my whole month.

Attack on Titan – 61 (S4 E02) – One Last Gasp

They’ve emerged from four years of war the nominal victor, but Marley can’t rest on its laurels. The generals are in consensus that their strategic advantage of the Titans hangs by a thread. Of particular concern is the quickly advancing aviation industry. They’re on the wrong end of history, and the entire episode is suffused with that bleakness and weariness.

Reiner actually survived the naval bombardment, but it’s just a taste of what the future will bring. We also meet his comrades Galliard (Jaws, who inherited his Titan from the imprisoned Ymir) and Pieck (Cart). Interestingly Pieck has trouble walking on two feet as a human since her Cart is a quadruped.

Back on his feet, Reiner tracks down Gabi and the other three Titan candidates, much to Gabi’s elation. When the funnel of a passing ship suddenly covers them in shadow, he briefly sees four of his comrades from back when he was their age, including Bertholdt and Annie.

Our quartet of kids consist of two goers-with-the-flow (Udo and Zofia), a True Believer in Gabi, and a Skeptic in Falco. On the train home to Liberio, Gabi is all too happy to accept praise for her prowess in battle and looks forward to being the next Armored. Falco take on that mantle in her place, but not for glory. You see, he simply wants Gabi to live past age twenty-seven. Braun isn’t altogether dismissive of Falco’s attitude.

Earlier in the episode we’re reminded that even decorated Eldians like Zeke and Reiner are still considered Less Than by their non-Eldian leaders, and as such they are not entitled to privacy. When we arrive in the ironically-named Liberio, the Eldian soldiers reunite with their families—one by one we see moments of unbridled love and joy (RABUJOI!)—from people who can use any and all such moments they can get.

Again, Falco zags while Gabi and everyone else zigs. Before joining his family, he checks in on a group of Eldian soldiers who are suffering severe PTSD. The supposed doctor even mimics the sound of a bomb to freak them all out, and only Falco tries to calm them down.

At the Braun family dinner, more praise than food is heaped upon Gabi’s plate, but when Reiner is asked about his time on Paradis with the descendants of the “evil” Eldians who fled there, his response becomes a rant in which he suggests there were “all kinds” of people there, not just monsters. The matriarch quickly insists that the Eldians on Paradis are the source of all “good” Eldians’ problems, and must be wiped off the earth.

At the next meeting of Zeke, Reiner, Galliard, Pieck and Colt (Zeke’s eventual replacement), Zeke announces that they’ll be launching a new offensive on Paradis, with the goal of conquering the island for Marley within a year—which is all Zeke has left in the Beast Titan. Their meeting is being monitored by non-Eldian Marley officials, who pick up on Zeke’s offhand “not in this room.”

As Reiner watches the young candidates spar, he dreads returning to the “pure hell” that was Paradis. But considering how he described Sasha stealing a potato to eat way back when (I believe that’s what he was on about), and his comment to Falco about taking over for him instead of Gabi, what he says to his family and what he believes may be very different. He’s just aware that those who weren’t on that island wouldn’t understand.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 10 – Moving Past the Hate

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.—Matthew 5:38-39

One day, a serious young woman named Hayama Chihiro approaches Makoto at his fruit stand, shows him a photo of a young man, and flatly asks him to ruin that guy’s knee. Makoto learns why: a year ago the young man, Otokawa Eiji, kneecapped her brother Tsukasa and robbed him.

For all of ¥3,000, Tsukasa’s dream of opening his own restaurant was crushed along with his knee. Since Eiji was a minor, he got seven months in juvie, and is now wandering free. Chihiro has been tailing “the beast”, as she calls him, ever since his release, and now wants him to suffer as her brother suffers. A knee for a knee!

Makoto remarks that if Chihiro were okay with Eiji’s knee being smashed, she’d be no less of a beast that her brother’s attacker. But as with so many other issues with Makoto becomes entangled, there is much more information to be learned before a final decision is made. To that end, he contacts one of his mates, Chief Rei.

When Rei calls back, Makoto has tracked down Chihiro, who is watching Eiji at an arcade. He lends her one of his earbuds and they listen together as Rei goes over the particulars of the crime. Eiji was being extorted by a group of bullies in high school, and was warned to secure the money (any amount) by the day after the attack, or they’d ruin his knee.

Eiji only attacked Tsukasa because he needed money to give to the bullies, but only he was convicted and sent to juvie for the attack, while the bullies only received a scolding. As Chihiro learns more about Eiji and the context of the attack, her once pure and unwavering hatred suddenly becomes diluted with pity for the kid’s situation, and guilt for nearly making it worse. Now she’s not so sure she wants Eiji attacked.

Now that Makoto knows Chihiro’s feelings on the matter, he wants to know those of Eiji’s victim, her brother Tsukasa. Makoto visits to their home under the guise of Chihiro introducing a new boyfriend. Chihiro’s reaction to Makoto’s suit is priceless. Tsukasa is voiced by Ishida Akira, a seiyu so very skilled at projecting the vulnerability of his characters and the weight they carry.

Tsukasa admits that for a long time he thought about finding and stabbing Eiji for what he did, but when he stops to think about what that would make him, his certainty and thirst for such revenge wavers just like his sister’s. Now he feels it would be better if he were to meet Eiji, look him in the eye, and talk to him about what happened.

If Tsukasa did that, he could learn whether Eiji was a “beast” or just a human (the vast majority of criminals being the latter). If he learned Eiji was the latter, his hatred would subside. Above all, Tsukasa doesn’t want to “stand in a  place of hatred” forever. He wants to move past it, and into “tomorrow.”

Tsukasa’s noble words move Makoto to arrange just such a meeting. In order to get Eiji to agree, he offers membership into the G-Boys. To both Eiji and Makoto’s surprise, Takashi shows up with a couple of his boys, as he’s curious to see how Makoto resolves this situation. He makes Eiji a G-Boy on the spot and promises he’ll never be hassled by his extorters again.

But first, Eiji must endure the trial of his life: sitting down across the table and looking the man he attacked a year ago in the eye. It’s a gloriously tense scene that grows more and more cathartic as Eiji and Tsukasa and Chihiro learn more about each other. The siblings learn that Eiji, like them, lost a parent at an early age, though they don’t sympathize with how he handled it. Eiji learns that his attack cost Tsukasa his dreams.

Finally, Eiji learns that nothing he says can undo or make up for what he did, any more than Tsukasa and Chihiro’s hatred or revenge exacted upon the pathetic Eiji will truly satisfy them. Chihiro’s description of how she “never gave in” to criminality as Eiji did due to her brother’s love and cooking is matched by Eiji’s description of all the un-scalable “high walls” he faced once outside of juvie.

Once the accusations and grievances have flown, the time comes for Eiji to accept that his wrongdoing will never disappear and think about what he can do from now on. Tsukasa reveals he knew all along Makoto was the famous troubleshooter, and thus had an inkling that a meeting like this was in the works.

The bottom line is, the meeting does work: Tsukasa has learned conclusively that Eiji is not a beast, and as such Eiji’s remorse will probably never disappear. Tsukasa then chooses to forgive him, and they shake hands while Makoto and Takashi exchange approving glances.

What Makoto accomplished by having the Hayamas and Eiji meet and talk things out amounts to what Chief Rei calls “restorative justice”, a reunion that serves both victim and perpetrator by aiding the former’s recovery and the latter’s rehabilitation. Knowing Makoto can pull such justice off without even knowing what it’s called, Rei is confident Ikebukuro can remain a safe and peaceful town.

Having passed his trial, Eiji is aided by the G-Boys, who convince his extorters to return all the money they stole from Eiji. No blows are landed or blood spilled, as the tacit power of the G-Boys community and its “King” is more than sufficient, proving the value of a well-balanced network of groups with shared interests as a deterrent to escalating violence.

Makoto continues to see the Hayamas, who plan to buy a food truck outfitted with equipment and modifications that will enable Tsukasa to stand less while cooking. They also plan to hire Eiji to work for them, since they’ll need help running the truck, and he needs a job. Who better to work for than the people you wronged, but ultimately forgave you? That cooperation will likely allow him to forgive himself one day.

That famous Matthew passage up top is highly instructive of how society can and often must go. In most cases, it isn’t productive for victims to vilify or dehumanize criminals who did them wrong, nor seek empty, self-defeating vengeance. Often there are humans on either side and beasts on neither, and understandings can be reached by direct interaction, learning from one another who they are and why things were done.

Often…but not always. Enter the unpleasant spectacle that follows the atmospherically moody but hopeful end credits. G-Boys and Red Angels are brawling in an alley, staining the streets with their blood. Still, I see this display not as a rebuttal or repudiation of the more peaceful and conciliatory tactics employed by Makoto.

Rather, this kind of scrimmaging is the inevitable other side of the double-sided sword: a scenario involving large groups of restless young people, each with their own histories. At some point they’ll grow large enough to butt up against the turf of another group, with the resulting enmity bringing out the beasts in everyone.

Yet even this can be mitigated by those who lead these groups, namely Takashi and Kyouichi, sitting across a table, with mediators observing. Even if wars can’t be outright avoided, their duration and the amount of blood spilled can be minimized, as long as all concerned parties remember that they are all human, and always were.

Great Pretender – 15 – The Brutal Return to Reality

It’s been four months since the Wit Studio-produced, Netflix-distributed Great Pretender closed the book on its satisfying London art dealing/Cynthia romance arc, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its return for its final and by far longest arc, involving the ever-mysterious Laurent. But at least in its first of nine episodes, it’s an almost completely Edamame-POV episode.

After a ~5-minute recap (as narrated to his mom’s grave) of his adventures so far, we learn Makoto considers his latest job with Laurent, Cynthia, Abbie, et al will be his last. He returns to Japan to seek honest gainful employment, and Laurent seems to wish him well, urging him to “do what feels right”.

While his criminal record would seem to be a massive obstacle to getting a job, Makoto snags a job at a “trading company”, with the very expressively-faced Ishigami as his immediate boss and mentor. Makoto proves a natural at the job, using the people-reading and interacting skills normally used to con people to instead sell them stuff.

He rises literally to the top of his company’s tower, where he and a select group of model employees await the arrival of their chairman, the cool and fearsome Suzaku Akemi. Her lazily muttering “do your best” to Makoto upon meeting him signifies her approval of him, making his employment official.

Not long after meeting the big boss, however, Makoto learns that while gainful, this employment may not be quite on the level. That’s made painfully clear when, while in Hanoi with Ishigami for a pickup, he learns that the merchandise freaking children.

That’s right: Suzaku Akemi, Empress of the Underworld, has a large controlling interest in human trafficking, buying orphans and refugees for cash and auctioning them off to the super-rich. And Makoto thought the art dealing business was cutthroat! It’s a wonder he doesn’t vomit in disgust as the poor kids are dressed up and paraded out like lambs to the slaughter.

Then it dawns on him: if this “Sacrlet Company” Laurent recommended to him is a front for the mafia, than Laurent has had Makoto infiltrate the company for a job….his biggest yet. While the focus is on Makoto for the lion’s share of the episode, the fact of the matter this is Laurent’s show, because Makoto went and did exactly what he hoped he’d do. The Puppet-master’s strings extend across oceans!

Laurent fesses up to this job to an outraged Makoto, who is as angry with himself as his French friend, having let himself be played yet again. But Makoto isn’t the only one Laurent has in mind for this job, which is presumably to bring Scarlet and Suzaku down while pocketing a tidy profit. Cynthia, Abbie, and Kim are in, as is a welcome face from the Singapore arc, Clark, the nicer of the Ibrahim brothers.

With the recaps over, the broad strokes of the new job drawn, and the awfulness of the mark made crystal clear, all that remains is to actually dig further into Laurent’s past, which this week only amounted to a brief but beautiful dream where he and an unknown lover gaze up at the Aurora Borealis. Eight eps should be more than sufficient to do that, and they’re sure to look just as fantastic as the previous fifteen.

Rating: 4/5 Stars