Chainsaw Man – 12 (Fin) – Not a Bad Life

Last week introduced a bunch of new fiends who will surely play a role in any future seasons, but this week stripped everything back to Aki and Himeno and Denji and his wretched childhood—with a bit if Power and Kobeni being themselves for garnish.

First up, the Ghost Devil actually disobeys Sawatari and does not choke Aki to death. Instead it releases him, and in the moments he’s out, he recalls the day Himeno offered him a cigarette for the first time. Since he was under age, she promised to save it for him.

The Ghost Devil reaches out one of its countless arms to produce that very cigarette, with “Easy Revenge!” written on it. How exactly the Ghost was tamed after Himeno died isn’t important; what is is that Aki is able to destroy the Ghost, and he and Kobeni take Sawatari into custody.

Denji and Power really are the brother and sister to Aki’s big brother in their little found family, and even on the elevator ride to meet with Katana Man they can’t help but bicker over something petty. Power then gets off on the wrong floor because it’s full of zombies, and Power fucking loves killing zombies.

Denji carries on to the floor where Katana Man is. Unlike Sawatari, he’s given an opportunity to voice his grievances to Denji. Whatever the circumstances were, he blames Denji for the death of his gramps and others he cared about, and wants satisfaction.

As has been established, Denji himself is a little unnerved by how easily he was able to get over Himeno’s death, as well as all the other terrible things that have happened of late. But in this case? He couldn’t care less. This guy’s gramps tortured and enslaved him as a child just because he could. He can burn in hell. Katana Man don’t like that, Denji’s game for a rematch.

The two blast out of the building, onto rooftops, and finally onto a moving train, making for a particularly fun and cinematic setting for the final big battle of the season. Unlike the dark warehouse there’s plenty of light and dynamic backgrounds to soak in along with all the sparks and blood.

Katana Man also at least tries to understand what Denji is after, and isn’t impressed when Denji tells him it’s simply to preserve his new comfortable (by his standards) life and be praised by his boss. There isn’t enough nuance in their talk for Denji’s opponent to sympathize with his plight and why that life is such a precious thing to him; no doubt Katana Man lived a damned comfortable life as the grandson of a yakuza.

Their fight spills into one of the train cars and the innocent bystanders scatter (since this isn’t guest directed by Paul Verhoeven, they all escape unharmed). Denji has improved, but he’s still supposed to be fighting with Power beside him, and Katana Man still has his samurai move where he wooshes past Denji and lops off both his arms.

When he tells Denji to yield if he wants a quick death, Denji says he still has a chainsaw on his head, and charged him. Katana Man aims for Denji’s head as he rushes him one last time, but that’s exactly what Denji wanted. Borrowing a lesson he learned from Kishibe, he tells a suddenly cleanly sliced in half Katana Man never to trust someone he’s hunting.

Katana Man eventually reverts back to human form, and Denji chains him to the stopped train to await backup. Aki is the first to arrive, and Denji, who is not quite satisfied with having simply captured their target, proposes a contest…of nutshots. Whoever can make the guy scream more wins.

Aki initially seems reluctant to play along—it’s against their mandate and he’s not sure Himeno would want it—then he takes out the cigarette that saved his life, puts it back away, and declares that he’s game after all.

In the beautiful, sublime, cathartic scene that follows, we cut from the aftermath of the successful operation to a positively giddy Denji and Aki kicking the shit out of Katana Man’s nuts. Aki asks if Himeno can hear the nutshot requiem they’re playing for her up in heaven.

After that, Makima delivers her report to the bigwigs: Sawatari was captured, but apparently automatically killed as part of her contract with the Gun Devil before any intel could be extracted. RIP Sawatari; we really barely knew thee, and I still maintain that’s a shame. On the plus side, the 4th Division now has enough Gun Devil flesh that it’s moving towards the main body. So now they generally know where to look.

As the low-key credits are displayed, we watch Denji, Power and Aki simply hanging out together like the three best roomies, chasing cats, swinging on the swings, and going to the grocery store to buy stuff for dinner. There’s no audio to these scenes, only music, which makes them feel more intimate and resonant. It’s also quite heartwarming to see that after all they’ve been through, they can still live life and have fun like three ordinary young people.

After the trio make dinner, eat it, and enjoy some down time around the table, Denji and Power fall asleep, and we get one last zen balcony moment with Aki as he lights up his “Easy Revenge!” cigarette and smokes it, providing a measure of closure and relief from his deep loss.

Denji, meanwhile, dreams a dream he says he always dreams and then forgets: walking through a dingy alley to a door, hearing Pochita on the other side of that door, then going for the doorknob, only for Pochita to say, with finality, he can’t open that door. The final scene is the most cryptic of all, with a heretofore unseen/unheard young woman with dark hair asking Denji what’s better: a city mouse or a country mouse.

Who this mystery woman is, how she’ll fit in to the ongoing search for the Gun Devil, and a host of other matters will provide fertile ground for a second season of Chainsaw Man. While none has been officially announced, I can’t see one not happening. But this was a pitch-perfect stopping point.

Akiba Maid War – 12 (Fin) – Bacon Bad

Before Ranko went cold, I had a pretty strong inkling which way Nagomi would break in response. She tried to turn the other cheek and live by Nerula’s example, but losing Ranko was a pig too far. As a result, while her fellow Oinky Doink maids don black to grieve the loss of their 36-year-old big sister, Nagomi dons black to announce that she’s gone to the dark side—the way of the gun. She intends to kill Ranko’s killer with Ranko’s revolver.

Nagi didn’t order Ranko’s death—rather, it was someone who, like Nagomi, wanted revenge for the death of her fellow Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam maids, so stylishly slain in the first episode. In that regard, Ranko reaped what she sowed, which is why she died with a smile on her face. She owned what she did, and was happy to have found a home and family at the Oinky Doink.

But with Ranko gone, it’s once again open season for the pigs, as Nagi has ordered their extermination. Nagomi is jumped in the street by the cow maid she shot in the foot and beaten to a pulp, and after the police release her, she goes through Ranko’s bag and finds little mementos that turn her away from the darkness and back to the light.

The head maids under Nagi’s employ don’t want to shed any more blood lest they attract too much police attention, but Nagi wants this done, and she kills the head Bear and Cow maids to impress upon the others the price of questioning her orders. The next morning Nagomi, rejoins her fellow Oinky Doink maids in her normal maid outfit

They’re ready to join her in taking a last stand right there at their home against the other Creatures, and she tells them they’ll give their enemies a real “maid war.” They tuck into what may well be their last supper at the ramen joint below them, buying an extra bowl for Ranko and each of them taking a slurp from her bowl. Meanwhile, Nagi and her army are on the march.

When Nagi enters the ramen joint and the owner gets a little too sentimental, she kills him. He was one of the few people who knew her when she was an orphan taken in by Miss Michiyo, and who ordered a hit on her adoptive mother when she went non-violent … due in no small part to the arrival of young Ranko.

I thought we’d get one more elevator gag, but Nagi is all business as she walks down the hall to the entrance of Oinky Doink, her soldiers standing at attention. But even though she envisions herself being shot in the head before opening the door, she’s met by an entirely non-violent and very moe Oinky Doink welcome.

Following Nagomi’s lead, the Oinky Doink maids treat Nagi and their would-be murderers just like any other masters or mistresses who walk through that door: like they’ve come home to the pigsty. And to most of the maids’ shock (including Ranko’s killer), Nagi actually humors them, ordering everyone to sit down.

The main event of their hospitality is a song-and-dance by Nagomi that embodies the gentle, immortal spirit of moe moe kyun from which she, Ranko, and Michiyo all believed the maids of Akiba had strayed. Watching Nagomi perform…not so greatly reminds Nagi of Ranko when they were still sisters. She shoots Nagomi in the side, but it’s apparently only a grazing shot, because Nagomi keeps on going.

Nagomi’s performance briefly captures the enthusiasm of the crowd, but when it comes to a close it’s met by cold silence and a light smattering of applause. Nagi responds by shooting one of her own Dazzlion maids in the hands. Nagomi tries to get through to Nagi with sentiment and words, even telling Nagi that if she ever feels lonely she’ll always find cozy companionship at the pigsty. But Nagi simply doesn’t want to hear it.

The fact is, she’s seen and heard enough, so she fires the rest of her bullets at an off-camera Nagomi. But then something happens that she never expected in a million years: the former Wuv-Wuv Moonbeam, now Axolotl maid, who killed Ranko, shoots Nagi in the head.

Apparently, Nagomi got through to her. And getting through to one among the dozens was enough. Okachimachi finishes the job by throwing Chekhov’s sharpened bamboo spear through Nagi’s gut. We didn’t get any more Hirano Aya, but the panda had her day.

After a credit sequence altered to include visuals of and vocals by Nagomi, we flash forward to 2018, where we learn that in the end, Michiyo, Ranko, and Nagomi won. As it was when I visited, Akiba is a vibrant but peaceful place, where the maids are no longer packing heat. In a final welcome surprise, a wheelchair-bound but alive Nagomi carries on Ranko’s legacy at the New Oinky Doink Café—as a 36-year-old maid everybody wants to meet.

Akiba Maid War was exactly what was advertised on the tin, and more. At times totally ridiculous and bonkers and at others genuinely moving and compelling, it held true to its weird and novel premise to the end, framing those bloody times we witnessed as a dark chapter in the history of animal-themed café maids. The doves beat the hawks, not with swords or bullets, but with the boundless power of moe moe kyun.

Akiba Maid War – 10 – Swine and Punishment

“Romance is a no-no”, it’s right there in the opening theme. But while forbidding maids and masters from dating is a matter of professional boundaries, in this mobbed-up Akiba, a maid falling in love can lead to disownment, even death. It’s in this context that we watch Ranko, finally finding someone she likes, and who likes her, in Suehiro.

Sure that man happens to be a maid assassin, and it’s heavily implied from the start that she’s his next target, but we can’t choose who we love, can we? While Nagomi wants to cheer Ranko on, she’s opposed in principle due to the danger involved. But Tenchou is fine with Ranko going on one date—especially if it’s with a banker who might loan her money (fat chance).

The next day all the girls pitch in to help make Ranko look her best, and she wears, and what do you know, it’s the noir-y outfit she dons in her the Enko ED. The one member of Oinky-Doink resolutely opposed to the date is Okachimachi, blocking her way and even going so far as to speak up.

But Ranko wants to go on the date, and she and Suehiro have a great time in and around Ueno. They stroll the market, visit the zoo, and brings omelet rice and a ketchup bottle with which to draw on it.

The date only reinforces that the two would be quite comfortable and happy together, sharing a love of heater fans and dreaming about getting cozy under a kotatsu. He’s as upfront and earnest as she is, and loves the stoic way she talks. He had been worn out emotionally from his job (as an assassin) but at Oinky Doink Ranko gave him a place of peace and solace.

Something to look forward to. He wants to experience that every day, so he proposes that they take tomorrow’s night train and leave Akiba behind together. When the wind catches Ranko’s hat and she reaches out towards him to catch it, he instead takes her hand and shoulder and kisses her, leaving her with the train ticket in her hand.

After he leaves, Okachimachi shows up again, and speaking in Hirano Aya’s voice (such a great casting choice). She’s holding a gun, and has a story to tell about a maid who came to Akiba to be a maid and was disillusioned until she befriended one of her Masters … our trench coat-rockin’ Suehiro.

Eventually Okachimachi was ordered to assassinate a rival maid cafe’s manager—Ranko’s Miss Michiyo. She was nervous and terrified when she killed her, but Okachimachi ran away thinking she finally had it “maid” in this cuthhroat town.

She was wrong. Suehiro had only grown close to her so her guard would be down when the time came to eliminate her after she killed Michiyo. Okachimachi was lucky a cop entered the ally before Suehiro could kill her, but ended up getting hit by a car while on the run. She survived, and from that point on, decided she’d live life as a panda, eventually being brought in by Tenchou.

This is, needless to say, quite a damn twist: for the murderer of Ranko’s beloved matron to have been hiding under her nose all this time as the café mascot. Okachimachi brings Ranko a warning—that Suehiro will kill her too—as well as a pistol, so Ranko can take the revenge she’s owed. Ranko seemingly doesn’t hesitate for a moment in “sending her off.”

But as the kill happened off-camera, I wasn’t confident it was really a kill. Sure enough, we see that she only shot the panda mask in the head, no doubt correctly assessing that Michiyo wouldn’t want her to spill more blood for her sake. Ranko loves Michiyo more than she wanted revenge.

She also loves Suehiro, which is why it gives her no pleasure to wait for him at the train station with a gun in her pocket, ready to take him out before he can take her out, but perhaps also hoping against hope that no one has to be taken out; that there could be a happy ending.

Unfortunately, Ranko’s mercy has an unintended side effect: Okachimachi is still alive to take matters into her own hands and protect Ranko, both physically and emotionally, by killing Suehiro for her.

But here’s the thing: as we learn after we see Okachimachi shoot him, he called Nagi to tell her he wouldn’t be going through with killing Ranko. In fact, when Okachimachi shoots him, he’s not taking a weapon out of his coat, but a case containing a ring—a pearl ring, for his pig bride.

That’s a gut-wrenching end, especially as it unfolds while Ranko is waiting in the rain and growing more and more miserable. When she returns to the cafe drenched, she sees Okachimachi beat her there. Okachimachi tells her that Nagi isn’t just the one who ordered the hit on Ranko, but on Michiyo too.

While Okachimachi was merely a tool in Michiyo’s hit, Ranko likely won’t be so merciful of her former friend and colleague. Aside from the panda costume, this episode played everything straight, and was better for it due to the dissonance of the bizarre costumes and serious themes that make AMW so great.

While Michiyo abhorred violence—and so did Ranko—against a foe as unrelenting as Nagi, is there any choice but blood? Will Ranko have to lose another piece of her humanity to keep Nagomi and the others at Oinky Doink safe?

Akiba Maid War – 08 – Maid-jor League

Akiba Maid War’s opening stingers can be misleading, but this week’s made it abundantly clear it would be a baseball episode. I’ll go on record here: I love baseball, but I’m not really into anime that are predominantly about baseball. The occasional standalone baseball-themed episode of AMW? Oh hell yeah. Sign me up and play ball!

Honestly any old conceit would do, but the leader of Creatureland (and the recently absorbed Maidalien) visits Manami’s funeral, picks up her red bat, and decrees that Oinky Doink will play a game of baseball against the former Maidaliens (now Axolotls) to bury the hatchet. No one on either side is as enthusiastic about this as Nagomi.

But while she’s excited to honor Nerula’s memory with a nice clean game, everyone else either doesn’t want to be there or have no intention of playing a nice or clean game. The first casualty is Manami’s bat, which proves too old and worn out to withstand even one Zoya fastball. The next blow is struck by the Axolotls, who plunk Yumechi hard on the bum.

Despite being the most obnoxious taskmaster and cheerleader, Nagomi proves rubbish at the plate, while everyone else is decently talented, save the three random Venezuelan tourists manning the outfield—who ironically are terrible at baseball. When Oinky Doink builds a good lead, an Axolotl batter smacks Nagomi on the head.

Nagomi turns the other cheek even as Shiipon trips her assailant, and from there on things start to unravel. Tagging out runners with brutal punches, hard slides and trips, and ample trash talk are the order of the day, and the Axolotls soon take over the lead.

When Nagomi protests the game’s descent into violence, even her own teammates tell her she’s the only one playing baseball here. Everyone else is acting like maids—Akiba maids—and treating this not as a simple pasttime, but a battle in a war—an Akiba Maid War!

Despite this, Nagomi doesn’t stoop to everyone else’s level. Even if no one else will, she’ll honor Nerula by playing fair, even taking first without protest after getting plunked in the face. One by one the top Axolotl players see Nagomi, develop a measure of shame and admiration, and decide to start playing fair themselves.

By this time, Oinky Doinks have retaken a slim lead, but Zoya’s nail is split and she can only continue pitching if she rips the nail off—something she’s all too ready and willing to do! This is when Ranko, who has baseball experience from being in the joint, takes over. We also learn that she’s a southpaw, like me, which only endears her to me more.

At this point, an increasingly frustrated Uzaki steps in to pinch hit for one of her fair-playing colleagues, and after taking one pitch she charges the mound to take a swing at Ranko. Zoya takes her out and threatens her, incurring the rage of the other Axolotls.

It looks like Nagomi’s dream of a clean fair game will be dashed after all … and then Uzaki is stabbed in the back by the Axolotl mascot that had been sitting in the stands until then. The Axolotl removes its head to reveal it’s Miyabi, Manami’s disgruntled right-hand-maid.

One of the other Axolotls stabs Miyabi, and suddenly there are two corpses on the field. Rather than end the game without an official result, the other Axolotls, seeing that their only obstacle to playing a fair match have been removed, insist on completing the game, pretending Miyabi and Uzaki aren’t dead and carrying them back to the dugout.

While the two dead maids start to decompose, the Axolotls attempt a last-ditch rally and come of just short. That said, they admit it was a good-ass game. An elated Nagomi hopes her dearly departed sister is smiling down on the victory they won in her name.

After singing an Oinky Doink-themed alma mater, the two teams depart without any further violence. As Ranko washes the blood from her battered left arm, she’s approached by a maid she knew as Uzuko in the past, who now goes by Nagi and has risen to the very top echelon of the Akiba underworld.

Nagi notes that Ranko didn’t kill Manami, just as she didn’t act with lethal force to save their old senior maid back in the day. She warns Ranko that her reluctance to kill when required could spell the end of her one day. Nagi knows what Ranko can do with her hands, she just has to do it. But just like Nagomi wouldn’t resort to violence, perhaps there are boundaries past which Ranko simply won’t go out of personal honor and principle.

Ominous ending aside, as someone who is never not extremely there for any and all standalone baseball episodes, this was a triumph. Not only was it a sweet spiritual sendoff for Nerula and a way of Nagomi finding closure, it was packed with excellent sports animation, postcard memories, adorable uniforms, and tons of great little details. Like the Oinky Doink crew, AMW has proven it can pull off anything it puts its mind to.

Engage Kiss – 05 – Not Done Being Down Bad

An unarmed and out-of-sorts Ayano is a sitting duck against Maria Swordhands, but thankfully Kisara is able to catch up and save her life. They end up losing the Demon in a convace mirror in front of a konbini, and when Kisara tries to follow she gets most inelegantly stuck halfway. That said, the gun she tossed Ayano was delivered C.O.D.

The police and AAA get Ayano to a secure location where she can dress down and snack to her hearts content. Detective Mikami buys Shuu a katsu bowl and fills him in on at least part of the true story behind the accident that led to his parents dying and being vilifed as traitors. Ayano’s mom tells her the same story, making sure not to make eye contact since Maria can travel through reflections.

In reality, Ogata Isamu was actually trying to get word out that mining the Orgonium that would eventually give Bayron City its wealth would eventually turn it into a haven for demons and the demonically possessed. The actual cause of the accident remains unknown even to the sole survivor (Shuu) but it sure seems like his dad was silenced.

Hearing about this injustice, and how Shuu resorted to consorting with a demon and shaving his memories and life away for answers, eats Ayano up to no end. She’s in a sympathetic mood when Shuu surprises her with a visit to her little quarantine warehouse (which inexplicably has lots of glass windows and puddles of water from which Maria could emerge any moment).

While she can’t abide him seeing her in her leisurewear, he stays with her through the night and the two get cozy. When she brings up the possibility he only dated her so he could get what he wanted with AAA—then dumped them both when he did—he retorts that dating her almost got him fired by her mom. There was no ulterior motive to being with her…just love.

Ayano is understandably happy to hear this, and laments that the two of them could have started a company together if he had been fired. Later that night, Shuu reveals the true reason he’s going so far to discover the truth of that day: his dreams are telling him his sister Kanna is still alive.

Ayano relents, telling him that she won’t try to interfere or stop him from his work anymore, then leans in for “one last kiss” before leaving him alone forever. She covers his eyes so their eyes meeting won’t create a conduit for Maria, and then things start getting more hot and heavy.

It’s only a bit after their liaison that Maria finally makes her appearance, emerging from Chekhov’s Warehouse Puddle (seriously, there could have been a place to stow Ayano with no reflections at all).

Kisara has once again arrived to take care of the Demon, but you can tell from the tears in her eyes she’s not happy about what Shuu and Ayano were up to. She, in turn, tells Shuu she’s going to go full strength to defeat Maria, and then makes out with him, and transforms into Hot Topic Girl.

A dazzling fight in the dark ensues, with Maria more than holding her own. When Ayano brings up what just happened between her and Shuu, Shuu doesn’t know what she’s talking about, indicating Kisara took his most recent memories of what they did on the couch.

Whether Kisara is flailing due to being upset about those memories, or simply because she needs her usual backup from Shuu, he rolls in all shirtless and elbows Maria in the side just as she’s about to deliver a critical blow. He then disrupts her travel by splashing a puddle and tosses the fang into her heart, which Kisara then uses to pierce her through and destory her.

In the aftermath, Detective Mikami, our infodump cop, tells Shuu that the murder of Hanamura Junya wasn’t by the possessed Maria; he was killed, silenced by humans. He also believes that whoever’s been informing Shuu is working based on a demon’s will. From now on Mikami hopes Shuu will trust him going forward, as they want the same thing: to clear his family name by finding out the truth.

As for Ayano, it’s her win this week, as Kisara took the very memory she intended her to take. Since Ayano told Shuu she was done with him permanently in the same memory where they fooled around, Ayano is now free to go back on that since Shuu doesn’t remember. She’s going to keep “interfering” i.e. supporting Shuu whenever she can—whether Kisara likes it or not.

This has me feeling slightly better about the situation than last week’s gloomfest, as Ayano has resolved not to wallow in despair over losing Shuu, but is focused on doing what she can. After all, if he loses his memories of her from the past, they can just make new ones, and maybe there’s a way he can find Kanna and stay himself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 04 – The Last Girl

Ayano and her AAA strike force go in guns blazing to deal with a D-level Demon Hazard, but she recognizes one of the men tangled up in the incident, who is then carted off to the hospital as his lover cries out in the crowd. Ayano then meets with Linfa to again ask for her help out with the police, and we learn that they’re old friends to the extent Linfa can tease her about dating the “younger” Shuu, literally tripping Ayano up.

The next day, Kisara snaps a picture of what looks like Ayano meeting some dude at a love hotel, but she and Shuu learn that Ayano is working with an Anti-Demon Bureau detective to learn more about the whereabouts of the mafia member Tony Rossi, who then ended up murdered in his bed in an apparent gang war retribution.

That night, Shuu tracks down Ayano and suggests they pool resources and work together, apologizing when it seems she’s pissed about something, but that’s the straw that breaks the camels back. Ayano unloads about how Shuu is always apologizing without compromising or listening to her opinions or feelings, and only seems to trust the demon girl.

Ayano also brings up the night of his birthday when she was preparing a party but waited all night and he never showed, eventually doing his apology schtick when he finally did. When Shuu apparently can’t recall this clearly important memory, an exasperated Ayano runs off in tears.

It isn’t Shuu who tracks her down, but Kisara, who has decided it’s time to tell Ayano that Shuu is the way he is now because those precious memories only exist in her head due to his contract with her. During a sober but cordial meal, Ayano laments how Shuu is now someone without a past or a future, and if he keeps this up, he won’t be Shuu anymore.

Indeed, that’s already happening, as he has lost the memories that tied him more closely to Ayano, and is stuck having to apologize for things he can’t remember, all due to the supernatural factor of his new “relationship.” Ayano is committed to not letting Shuu die (either in body or soul) while Kisara is not only fine having a partner who will never love her like he loved Ayano, but fine being his “last girl” at the end, when Shuu can no longer even be called Shuu.

The main draw this week isn’t the gang war between the Italian and Hispanic mafia, both of whom seem to be using demons in their scuffles and causing even more chaos than they normally would…although it’s a good story with lots of clues and twists, especially when it turns into something totally different, stemming back to that woman crying out for Tony in the cold open.

Instead, it’s the dynamic between Shuu and his “first” and “last” women in his life, the impossible choices he made to fulfill his dream of avenging his parents, and the present and future fallout of those choices. He, Ayano, and Kisara form a truly tragic trio where no one will really come out 100% happy.

To add insult to injury, the fact that Tony’s lover Maria has become a demon with blades for arms and is looking to murder everyone involved in Tony’s death creates a parallel tragic romantic route between our protagonists and the ostensible antagonist. The show also makes excellent use of mirrors and reflections to highlight how there are multiple perspectives in play and no one is 100% right or wrong (it also looks cool, especially in the mirror-filled bathroom).

Ayano and Shuu’s work and life are now colliding rapidly, as Ayano is Maria’s next target for elimination. In a testament to the complex yet tight writing, it makes thematic sense that an Ayano distraught over hearing the horrible truth about a man for whom she still cares a great deal, has isolated herself and is thus more vulnerable to attack than she otherwise would be.

While Ayano is clearly in a pickle here, I don’t expect the show to take her off the board just five episodes in. That said, Shuu may well have to give up even more of himself (and memories of her) to save her next week. It continues to be a shitty deal for all involved. This is a much darker and more brooding series than I thought it would be (especially with the upbeat OP and ED) but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 10 – From Letdown to Taboo

Manon isn’t that surprised or intimidated by Akari Prime’s time magic, while it’s Akari who keeps getting surprised by this current iteration of the world. Manon was the child of a Lost One, a Japanese woman who was not intentionally summoned but simply appeared. Lord Libelle, Manon’s father, married the woman to bolster his power with her pure concept, but ended up never forcing her to use it, because he fell in love with her.


Manon is right that it’s a lovely story, but it has a cruel ending, as one day Flare executed Manon’s mom right in front of her, and didn’t even bother to kill her too. Manon grew up with everyone having great expectations for the child of a Lost One, only for her to have no magical power whatsoever. Branded a great letdown, Manon became mired in a life of uselessness an ennui…until she decided to embrace the dark side and become taboo.

This is why Manon doesn’t fear Akari in the least, nor Menou when she shows up to save Akari from certain death by Chaos magecraft. Not because she’s particularly powerful—Menou basically freezes her with her gaze then lops her arm off—but because, in short, Manon isn’t greedy. She’s had fun as a rebel and a taboo, but ultimately she’s just a vessel and sacrifice for something much, much worse…the little girl in the Iron Maiden who almost blew Momo up.

This girl is creepy and frightening as fuck, successfully toeing the line between twee and terrifying. Menou slits her throat, and she simply sheds her old skin and pops out of her dead body good as new. Then she twists her own head around dozens of times and stretches it vertically until it pops off to create a fountain of blood.

Out of that blood, multiple eldritch beasts emerge, and feast upon her corpse. Then she pops out of one of the monster’s mouths, once again whole. It’s an atmosphere-upsetting enough incident for Ashuna, still getting over Momo standing her up (though to be fair, Momo is bedridden), to sense from the mainland.

Yes, the girl herself is the Human Error Pandemonium, having escaped her prison of fog and is now ready to finish off the world she almost destroyed once before. Like Menou’s conundrum with Akari, how can you kill someone that won’t die when you kill them? We’ll surely find out in what’s looking like a season-capping final battle that’s sure to include more than just Menou as it progresses.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 09 – Too Much Is Different

Despite her priestess garb, Akari sticks out like a sore thumb among the aristocrats at the ball. Menou warns her not to eat or drink anything, then scouts around the castle grounds and ends up crossing paths with Princess Ashuna. Meanwhile, Momo again demonstrates her impeccable competence by knocking out the guard and gaining access to the Monstrine operation without breaking a sweat. Ashuna doesn’t know who Menou is (she hides her face with magecraft), but she can tell Menou is a strong fighter.

Unfortunately for Menou (but fortunately for us), that means Ashuna wants to fight her. A lusty battle ensues, with Ashuna hitting nothing but air and Menou showing her just how much more mastery over ether she has. Ashuna merely gets toyed with, but still has a blast…even when she’s almost literally blasted. Does Ashuna feels somewhat shoehorned in here just so she can spar with Menou? Maybe…but I don’t mind because even when she’s getting her ass kicked, Ashuna is awesome as hell.

Akari is lamenting how the ball is no fun alone when the big boom and column of flame occur. Then Lady Manon sidles up to her, wanting to know more about where Akari comes from. Akari tells the truth: there’s very little she remembers of Japan, but there’s something about the way Manon likens Akari’s hair her mom’s that suggests some kind of connection. After Manon leaves her, Akari Prime awakens, and is concerned: way to much is happening in Libelle that has not happened in previous loops.

Akari really wants Menou to kill her in this loop, but not having the advantage of knowing how the future will unfold will make that tougher than she’d like. Speaking of tough, Momo soon finds the Iron Maiden and lets her guard down when she frees the young bloodied girl inside.

Helping the girl—not opening the Maiden—springs an explosion trap, and Momo gets a poison spike to the side. Manon is alerted to the trap being set off, and revels in the possibility this could be the day she finally gets her revenge.

The next morning Momo wakes up in rough shape, but with a proud senpai standing over her and patting her head in gratitude. Either the spike or the poison would have surely killed weaker folk, but thanks to her massive stores of ether, Sicilia believes she’ll pull through. Menou, meanwhile, is fed up with half-measures. She wants the Fourth rounded up and their drug ring shut down.

Sicilia, noting how Flarette, unlike Flare, isn’t afraid to rely on others, grants an operation and goes to negotiate with the knights. The Fourth nobles are holed up in Manon’s castle, but suddenly they’re all frozen in time. Akari Prime emerges from behind a cabinet, intent on talking in private with the Lady of Libelle.

Is Akari trying to mitigate the fact she’s no longer sure what the future holds by securing an alliance with someone who can mess up her plans? We may not know what exactly Akari wants with Menou, but we do know her goal, and that she’ll stop at nothing to achieve it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 08 – Better the Watermelon You Know

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Giving up on killing Akari in Libelle for now, Menou instead takes her target to the bustling marketplace, which is not only a festival of new sights, smells, and tastes for Akari, but establishes both ancient etheric tools as vessels for ether and the penchant of this new arc’s villain for using food as a means of control.

That villain, Lady Manon, is standing not ten feet from Menou when some members of Fourth attack and take Akari hostage, but Menou can only sense their boorish intent on attacking her. She dispatches them easily, but they soon transform into vicious monsters the knights have to then put down.

Libelle’s chief Faust Pastor Sicilia isn’t happy with Menou’s expense reports talking of delivering the still un-executed Lost One to the “Sanctuary”, and isn’t willing to spend further church funds on such vague and dubious promises. Instead, she’ll fund Menou’s pilgramage if she investigates a new drug called “Monstrine”, which the Fourth members took and turned them into monsters.

After delegating part of this investigation to Momo (who is all too happy to make life easier for her beloved Menou) and Menou defensively leaping out of bed when Akari tries to curl up with her, Lady Manon tightens her grip on the city’s elite by informing them she laced their food with Monstrine, then has one of them transform and strangle heself to death. The child she put in the iron maiden provides the Sin Magecraft source of the drug.

I’ll admit I was disappointed by the dearth of Princess Ashuna last week, but while her scenes with Momo are very choppily edited and suggest possible animation issues or shortfalls, it’s still great to see our swole queen, who can’t help but compete with Momo (whom she clearly likes) on the Monstrine investigation. Just seeing them having drinks at the bar…they just look right together, even if Momo’s heart belongs to another.

Speaking of, when Ashuna brings up an evening ball Lady Manon is holding tomorrow night, Momo learns in her next meeting with Menou that her mistress also got a ticket. Momo won’t let her pose as a simple priestess, but instead uses the opportunity to dress Menou up to the nines. To Momo’s later envy, Akari also tags along in an elegant priestess clothes.

As soon as Menou spots the hostess Lady Manon, I would hope she’d be extra-careful about what she eats or drinks. That said, Menou has no idea the lengths and depths to which Manon has gone specifically to take her revenge against Flare for killing her mother.

I imagine Akari’s presence at the ball may portend the use of time magic should Manon succeed in killing Menou. In any case, these two episodes did an adequate job setting the table. Knowing this series’ ability to ramp up at the drop of a hat, the resulting meal should be a good one.

P.S. Manon is voiced by Iwami Manaka, whom I will always remember as the voice of Honda Tooru, one of the kindest, gentlest characters in all of anime-dom. Lending her voice to an evil villainess must have been fun.

TenSura – 48 (S2 Fin) – Complacent No More

Last week hinted that Round 2 with Clayman might not be a cakewalk, but that was not the case, as not only does he end up defeated, but straight up executed by Rimuru. That’s fine with me, good riddance, really. If can’t keep track of how many times Clayman says “Okay, NOW I’m going to get serious”, it’s happened too many damn times!

Rimuru dealt with Clayman in the time it took to roll the opening credits, leaving the remainder of the episode the boring part of Walpurgis, in which I got scary flashbacks to the opening six (seven?…eight?) episodes of this season that were nothing but people discussing things while seated in a circle. At least it’s a little more interesting here due to the new characters.

The business of Walpurgis is as follows: Clayman is defeated, Guy Crimson officially recognizes Rimuru as a Demon Lord with no objections, Roy Valentine’s maid turns out to be the real Demon Lord, Luminus (whose name Veldora couldn’t remember). Frey and Carrion, having seen the strength Rimuru demonstrated, decide to resign their Demon Lordships and become disciples of Milim.

Finally, after Guy draws very close to Rimuru and insists he do so, Rimuru gives the Former Ten Demon Lords a new name, something that was apparently took up an entire Walpurgis last time they needed one. I kind of like the idea that these guys are so powerful that they don’t have much to do, and that they take something like naming their group so seriously. Rimuru comes up with Octogram: The Eight-Star Demon Lords, which everyone likes.

While Rimuru is over being a big hit with his new fellow ‘Lords, Roy Valentine returns home just in time to encounter Laplace, who was sneaking around Luminus’ mansion until he encountered Sakaguchi Hinata (Hi Hinata!) and double-timed it out of there.

But while the Harlequin is afraid to even face Hinata in battle, he eliminates Roy quite easily, apparently unaware he isn’t the real Demon Lord Valentine. Doesn’t matter; Laplace is pissed that Clayman is dead. No doubt he’ll seek revenge on Rimuru.

Rimuru, however, won’t be so naïve or vulnerable next time. Out of the crucible that was the coordinated attack on his domain and his people, Demon Lord Rimuru Tempest was forged. This Rimuru is a little harder, a little more cognizant of the big dangerous world he lives in, and a lot less complacent. That said, I’m sure he’ll allow himself a few days of celebration, rest, and relaxation back home.

With the three remaining members of the Harlequin Alliance, Kazalim, Hinata, Yuuki, and who-knows who else (I imagine there are still some fiercely-powerful beings we’ve yet to meet) still out there, Rimuru has plenty to be vigilant about and prepared for.

As for TenSura, looks like it’s getting a movie in Fall 2022. Until then, the second part of this second season got a bit rough at the start there, but led to some fine payoffs. TenSura is nothing if not consistent.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 12 (Fin) – Not Leaving It Up to God

ZSR’s totally epic saga of a finale starts out very stodgily, at the Saga Prefectural Office’s Special Task Force HQ. There’s a wonky procedural flavor to the proceedings reminiscent of the underrated Shin Godzilla, in that it mirrors the real life Japanese collective spirit of 1.) This Is The Problem; 2.) This Is What We Do About It; and 3.) We’ve All Got Matching Jumpsuits. Honestly I think it’s ultra badass that in dire times, even the government officials start dressing like a bike gang. Or is it t’other way ’round?

It is into this disaster CIC that Tatsumi Koutarou insinuates himself, and despite being held back by police, makes sure Saga’s governor hears his pleas to prioritize restoring the infrastructure around the Tosu area—where EFS happens to be located. Koutarou knows what Saga needs is a pure, uncut injeciton of reassurance into the hearts of every Saga resident. Something to unify them so they can all defeat this horrible disaster together.

That something is, obviously Franchouchou, who are enjoying a well-deserved bath prior to the biggest show of their lives that they’re still not even sure will happen due to the ongoing calamity.

While they rest up and make sure they’re prepared come what may, Koutarou is risking imprisonment to plead his case to the people who decide what happens in Saga, while Ookoba uses all of his media connections not for Koutarou’s sake, but for those girls who give everything their all, no matter how dead they are.

Sakura may get the day of the week wrong—and there were a good eight to ten months during Covid when I lost track too!—fate smiles on the group over at Saga FM, which is not only operational and on the air, but in dire need of personalities to fill that air time. Saki then proceeds to give a vulnerable and impassioned pep talk—one of the best monologues of the whole show—and Tano Asami absolutely nails it.

The next morning, Franchouchou, the Legendary Seven, strike out from the mall shelter they’ve called home the past few days and make the trek to EFS on foot. This offers them and us an opportunity to view both the devastation and the enduring beauty of their home.

When they arrive at EFS, it again seems to mock them with its cavernous emptiness. But instead of oppressive, I saw the venue as brimming with potential. Sure enough, people who love Franchouchou and whose lives they’ve touched start to trickle in, starting with their two first and most loyal fans, the metalheads.

Maria and the delinquents past and present file in, followed by Maimai and her classmates, Iron Frill and their followers, Oozora Light and his encourage, Hisanaka Pharmaceuticals, NHBK Fukuoka news chopper who has followed the group’s story since discovering them at the mall shelter, White Ryuu and a contingent of American troops, possibly from Yokozuka. Even the Dancing Chicken Man shows up!

It’s a beautiful and heartwarming reunion of everyone from Zombieland Saga, and their numerous powerful allies and fans combined with the might of both print, TV, and social media, ensure that this time—even in the midst of what could possibly be Saga’s worst disaster in its history—a packed and positively rocking Ekimae Fudosan Stadium.

The governor’s chief of staff reminds Koutarou that all they did was “choose to prioritize the most effective strategy, after logical consideration”, which is politicspeak for “the people need this right now and we’re going to do everything in our power to see that they get it”—”it” being nothing less than the biggest and best Franchouchou show yet.

No, the zombie idols aren’t coursing with electricity and crazy laser lightshows. Their outfits aren’t over-the-top, but call to mind seven angelic figures dedicated with every fiber of their undead being to make the people of Saga not simply forget their troubles, but to give them the courage to face and defeat them through surpassingly catchy song and dance.

This is not an episode satisfied with one climactic song. It opens with a big-league build-up to the energetic first song, then some call-and-response with the Legendary Yamada Tae (whose gibberish eventually coalesces into a franchouchou chant), which transitions into a slower and more contemplative piece.

Sakura, Saki, Ai, Junko, Yuugiri, Lily, and Tae are all at the top of their games, and the crowd—no doubt still traumatized by current events—are well and truly into it. And while not as important as the revitalizing impact they have on the people of Saga, the group gets their revenge and then some.

Not only is every seat and the entire field packed this time, but while the piddling crowd of their first disastrous EFS show didn’t call for any encores because they thought it would be just too cruel, this time there’s nothing that can stop Franchouchou from heading back out onto the stage after a quick breather.

Before they do, Koutarou prostrates himself before them and despite being a “grown-ass man” starts tearing up at the sheer restorative power of the zombie idols. Silly, Koutarou, being open with your emotions is what makes men grown-ass! As they head back out to hit the crowd with their collective soul, Koutarou tries to scrub out his blood from the floor; a truly ill omen.

Franchouchou’s final song is interspersed with scenes of Saga rebuilding and people overcoming adversity together, echoing their own personal struggles as well as their struggles as a group. Let it be said that both Franchouchou and Zombieland Saga as a series left absolutely everything on the stage in its finale.

In fact, if Saga were to, say, be destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day, immediately after the concert wrapped, I don’t think a single person on or off EFS’s stage who’d deny that they went out on a good note.

That’s a good thing, because immediately after the concert wraps, Saga is in fact apparently destroyed utterly by an alien warship reminiscent of the City Destroyers from the 1997 blockbuster Independence Day. It’s kind of a downer, but it’s also the kind of irreverence and absurdity I’ve come to know and love from Zombieland Saga, and why I will miss it and each and every member of Franchouchou so damn much. What a frikkin’ ending!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Head over to Crow’s World of Anime for the latest discussion on our beloved zombie idols with Irina from I Drink and Watch Anime. Always a great read!

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 11 – Mall Zombies

Sakura wakes up in the morning to find she’s not feeling quite right, but it’s not due to her deteriorating zombie body, it’s because the mansion is literally adrift at sea. Yuugiri, master of understatement, declares things seem to have “taken a turn for the troublesome”.

Ookoba, who was about to publish an exposé that could have potentially shut Franchouchou down, is among those Saga residents wandering the muddy flooded streets in a daze. The goofiness of the floating mansion aside, this week takes a frank look at an all-too-realistic disaster befalling a part of Japan.

But when disaster hits, people tend to come together. After the mansion beaches itself and collapses (as flashes of their fun life there flash heartbreakingly by), Ai’s factory co-worker Machiko invites the girls to the Kaiton Mall, which has been set up as an emergency shelter. She finds a quiet spot for the girls to stay at the top of the stairs.

But the girls have no intention of sitting around idly. Even without Kotarou’s masterful human makeup at their disposal, they don’t shirk from pitching in wherever they’re needed, from helping out with cooking and distributing meals, to assisting with the sandbagging, to keeping the kids’ minds off their situation by having fun with them.

When night falls, many of the kids are scared and want to go home, but their tears dry up fast when Lily starts up her infectious scat-singing and dancing routine. The way Lily likes up the kids’ faces, even Saki can’t help but be wowed by Shrimpy’s idoly power.

The next day Ookoba finds himself at the mall, where NBK is interviewing the families who lost their homes and likely everything in them. To a person everyone keeps their chin up and stays upbeat and positive, both for their own sakes and for their children’s. That’s when Ookoba overhears a man being interviewed mention “the girls” who have been doing so much for the shelter.

On a makeshift stage lit by car headlamps, Franchouchou put on a show every night both to entertain the hell out of the kiddies (who are unassailably adorable) and soothe the adults’ hearts. There was more than one occasion when I teared up, their good works were so heartwarming.

The Grinch-like Ookoba was all gung-ho about exposing Koutarou’s “exploitation” of the idols for profit, but being in that dark mall full of people trying to avoid letting their minds stray to dark places, and seeing the light and joy Franchouchou give both on and off the stage, and he finally starts to understand why Koutarou brought them back to life.

And whither Koutarou, you might ask? Like the girls were initially on the S.S. Mansion, he’s in a somewhat ridiculous situation: the underground bar is completely flooded and both he and an ailing Gramps are just barely keeping their noses and mouths above water. Fortunately Policeman A finds them, making the first time Policeman A has done something useful!

Koutarou is freed from Davy Jones’ Locker none too soon, as the girls’ hastily applied makeup finally begins to chip, flake, and crumble. Before long all of them are in full zombie mode, and with a show to put on that night, their options are limited. An eavesdropping Ookoba spots them all with their natural looks, astonished more than anything else.

Koutarou is on his way to reunite with Franchouchou (thanks to a ride from Misa, using her boat to transport releif supplies) but won’t make it in time to help them. No matter; Junko comes up with a rather ingenious solution, using the materials she brought to make Ozaki dolls to make masks for everyone.

Unfortunately, while they’re able to sell the masks to the kids, who notice their resemblance to the dolls, as soon as the idols leap into the air and come back down, the masks crumble and fall away, and the crowd gets a good hard look at their dead gray skin, scars and bandages.

But here’s the thing: the kids are more confused than anything else. When the idols come clean and say they’re zombies, the kids dispute this. They define zombies as being scary. Franchouchou aren’t scary to them, they’re fun and cool and cute. Ergo, they’re not zombies, they’re Franchouchou.

Ai and the others go for it, hardly able to believe their luck. But in a way, it’s only appropriate that their hours of tireless, selfless hard work at the shelter, doing what they can taking care of others because it’s the right thing to do, be rewarded with a pass on their zombie “disguises.”

Ookoba can also hardly believe how lucky the girls are, but now appreciates how many risks they take every day of their existence. Koutarou sidles up to him and declares, simply, that Franchouchou are the [dis]”embodiment of pure idols”, and Ookoba is in no position to disagree.

As he lovingly reapplies each of the girls’ proper makeup to make them look alive again, Koutarou declares that their revenge concert at EFS will go on as planned in sixteen days, with little or no practice. It has to go on, especially now. Saga was hit by catastrophe, but came out all the stronger and closer for it.

As he takes his leave, Sakura tracks him down and thanks him for making her in idol from the bottom of her no-longer-beating heart. Sakura’s words cause Koutarou to recall flashes of his own failed past trying to make it big  when he attended Sakura’s funeral and held her battered, un-mailed audition package. While he knew he couldn’t save Saga on his own, he reached out to Gramps to bring back Sakura and the rest of the best of Saga throughout history.

For what I believe is the first time ever, he fully acknowledges Sakura, telling her she has “it”. She and the others have the potential to become “eternal idols loved around the globe, and being Franchouchou’s manager, he’ll eternally have “it”, too. It all starts with their revenge!

Irina and Crow talk episode 11 here. Check it out!

Tokyo Revengers – 10 – Stand Your Shaky Ground

Takemichi finds Draken stabbed in the kidney area by Kiyomasa, but everyone else is busy brawling, including Mikey with the surprisingly formidable Hanma. So it’s all up to Takemichi whether Draken bleeds out or gets to a hospital.

Despite being half his size, Takemichi puts the hulking Ken on his back and sloooowly trudges his way to the hospital. Thankfully, Hina and Emma catch up to him, and have already called an ambulance.

While they wait longer than usual due to the festival and the rain, Kiyomasa’s crew tracks Takemichi and Draken down. Thankfully none of them threaten to do anything to Hina or Emma, but Kiyomasa is going to have to insist that Takemichi take them and fuck right off so he can finish Draken off.

But Takemichi is done running. He doesn’t care how absurd it is to try to go up against a beast like Kiyomasa, he has to make the most of his second chance. So he rushes the guy, shrugs off a stab wound to the hand, leaps onto his back, and refuses to let go.

Eventually, Kiyomasa passes out from lack of oxygen, and comes crashing down on Takemichi like a damn felled tree. But just because Kiyomasa’s down doesn’t mean his buddies are going anywhere. They advance on Draken and Takemichi, both of whom are barely able to stand and losing lots of blood.

They’re rescued at the last moment by Akkun and the rest of Mizu Mid’s Ferocious Five, who are even goofier and more embarrassing than Takemichi…but it doesn’t matter. Victory for them is buying enough time for the ambulance to get there, and when that happens, Kiyomasa’s pals have lost. Takemichi is free to savor the win, but the work to salvage his future has still only just begun.

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