Dororo – 15 – Moths to a Flame

The longer Dororo and Hyakkimaru stay at Lord Sabame’s village, the fishier things get. Dororo finds an almost ideal village full of simple but happy folk who have more than enough to eat. But when he questions an old lady about the nuns and children, she wanders off without answering. The villagers are hiding something, and the ghoul they fought last night was a big part of that something—as well as the reason Sabame insists they stay as long as they like.

Hyakkimaru follows Sabame, but isn’t that good at staying hidden. Sabame shows him the best vantage point of the village, which he would do anything to protect. That includes ghouls, as it happens, and if Hyakki is there to kill them, Sabame intends to stop him. As for Dororo, the villagers trap him under a rice storehouse where he’s to be caterpillar food, but the big baby rescues him as thanks for his earlier kindness, and out of the baby’s head sprout the ghosts of the children who were killed in the fire with the nun.

The fire was set intentionally by Sabame and the villagers as a sacrifice to the demon Maimai-onba, whom he took as his wife. In exchange, they have peace, prosperity, and don’t want for anything. But that butts up against Hyakkimaru’s zero tolerance policy on demons and ghouls, and he attacks Maimai-onba. Almost immediately it’s as if the deal struck with Sabame is called off, as the village is engulfed by flames. When Dororo meets up with Hyakkimaru, the latter’s left leg is shattered.

That night Hyakkimaru, with a makeshift peg leg with a bladder of oil, takes a boat out to a lake where Maimai-onba dwells, enticing it to pluck him up with a flame, then shooting the oil bladder at its body, torching it into ash. In exchange, another statue in the Hall of Hell cracks, and Hyakkimaru gets his real spine back, with his body expelling the artificial one.

But unlike previous demon-slayings, Dororo doesn’t feel right about this. It’s true the villagers got their peace and prosperity through ill-gotten means, but it’s not like the children had any say, and they’re the ones who will suffer most in the conflict that immediately flares up once they realize they no longer have enough food.

Hyakkimaru is utterly dismissive of Dororo’s concerns, and has no sympathy for anyone—not Sabame, not his father Daigo—who makes deals with demons. By the time he realizes Dororo isn’t right behind him, the kid is suddenly in the clutches of Itashi, who has one half of the map and wants the rest that’s etched on Dororo’s back. Talk about the wrong time to split up.

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Dororo – 14 – Kids (With or Without Wings) to Feed

The markings on Dororo’s back, which are only visible when his skin is warm (and he’s never had a warm bath before) form half of the map to his father’s “ambition”—a hoard of stolen samurai gold meant to finance a peasant uprising.

In the event of his death, his wife insisted he engrave half of the map upon her so that she’d never be tempted to draw from it, not even to feed herself or Dororo (these guys were zealots to the last). The other half is on Dororo’s back, though his memory of what was on his mom’s can’t be that clear.

And so while Hyakkimaru is cursed with missing limbs he must fight to get back from demons, Dororo is cursed with the legacy of two parents who could have given him a much better life had they had swallowed their honor pride for his sake.

He also now has a choice of what to do next: find the gold and use it as his folks intended, or use it to life a comfortable life. Biwamaru lays out the choices Dororo has, but he’s not leaving Hyakkimaru’s side, and Hyakkimaru is focused on the here and now and the remaining demons.

Hyakkimaru ignores Dororo’s questions about “what comes next”, and is “saved by the bell” in the form of the approach of two bizarre monsters: an emaciated woman and a giant, demanding baby who grabs Dororo. Hyakki takes no action since they’re “not demons,” and they eventually come upon the ruins of a temple that was apparently burned down intentionally (judging from all the oil).

The big baby vanishes before a well-dressed man with a very odd stare appears: he introduces himself as Sabame, lord of a village and its surrounding lands. Dororo doesn’t exactly trust those weird eyes, but he’s not turning down the offer of a meal and a roof over his head, now is he?

And what a meal and roof! The pair probably enjoy the most sumptuous meal they’ve ever been served, and they eat in front of a traditional band and synchronized dancers. Lord Sabame, who claims to have never left his own domain, is always eager to hear the stories of travelers, and so is more than happy to give them food and room to stay in exchange.

Sabame begins with the tale of an evil nun who abused, enslaved, and sold off orphans. She was killed when the heavens apparently “saw enough” and burned the temple down with lightning. Neither Dororo nor Hyakki quite believe this story, since they saw evidence of arson.

That night, with a huge room all to themselves, Dororo blames the “draftiness” of the house, and not fear, for his adjusting his futon so he sleeps closer to Hyakkimaru (who sleeps with his eyes open). Then a giant caterpillar with four human arms drops from the rafters, and Hyakki wakes up in a flash, blades drawn.

The caterpillar has silk that momentarily immobilizes Hyakkimaru, but he’s able to do enough damage to force the monster to flee, which it does with the help of a giant, poison mist-spewing moth. Dororo and Hyakki prepare wash themselves off in a nearby bath.

Then we check in with Lord Sabame, who has not only not turned in for the night, but is actually facilitating the moth demon, who takes the form of a woman. The “travelers” Sabame hosts apparently become food for the moth’s children, the survival of whom Sabame places the utmost importance.

While Sabame’s methods are fundamentally immoral, he has made the choice to value the moth and its offspring above the lives of innocent guests, just as Dororo’s parents chose to keep the grand cause alive over their only child’s well-being. Just as Hyakkimaru’s victories will continue to threaten Daigo’s lands and his people, how they chose to deal with Sabame could also have larger-scale consequences. For an imperfect world is full of fragile, imperfect solutions.

Dororo – 13 – Face/Off

Since leaving Daigo’s lands Hyakkimaru has barely slept, as he seeks out any and all demons to kill until all of his parts have been returned, and Dororo is worried about him. He suggests they head to a hot spring for some rest and recovery, but has to lie about there being a monster there to get Hyakkimaru to go along.

Turns out Dororo’s only half-wrong: there is a monster in these parts, but it can be found under a waterfall. A great stone statue possessed by a demon cleanly cleaves the faces off victims. A woman with long black hair is delivering these fools to be de-faced, and she in turn can look and sound like anyone.

When Dororo encounters the statue while collecting firewood, the woman appears as his mama, and the resemblance and sound of her voice are so familiar he can’t help but want to call her Mama, which she allows (her real name is Okaka).

As Hyakkimaru dozes, Okaka tells Dororo the story of the statue, a giant Fudo that was to be a scorned carver’s masterpiece and thumb in the eye of his detractors. But he never completed the face, working himself to death but never satisfied with the results.

As Dororo starts to nod off, Okaka reveals that she drugged the both of them, and that she is in fact the carver, revived by a demon to complete the Fudo’s face. And Okaka thinks she’s finally found the perfect face in Hyakkimaru’s.

When Dororo comes to, he’s just in time to slow Okaka down before she can place Hyakkimaru in the path of the Fudo’s giant sword; that buys enough time for Hyakkimaru to wake up, cut himself free, and start hacking at the Fudo, much to Okaka’s chagrin.

Dororo, whose guileless kindness has clearly had an effect on Okaka to this point, manages to convince the carver of the madness she has wrought. Okaka doesn’t know how her obsession with artistic perfection has turned him into a murderer.

The demon within the Fudo isn’t so contrite, however, and it slashes Okaka nearly in half with its sword. Hyakkimaru finishes it off, and the demon disperses, but before Okaka dies and turns to ash, she asks if she can feel Dororo’s smiling face—like the kind face of the Buddha statues she once carved.

Dororo apologizes to Hyakkimaru for getting tricked by his mama’s face, but Hyakkimaru tells him out loud that he’s fine, and that they should proceed to the hot spring to rest. Once they get there, they find Biwamaru is already there (and he believes they were fated to keep meeting like this).

They also encounter a father and two rugrats who jump into the spring and splash about, disturbing the tranquility. But they also notice something on the annoyed Dororo’s back: an elaborate red tattoo that looks like some kind of map. That just may indicate where they should head next, as they’re currently lacking a set destination.

Dororo returns with a new OP (not as good as the first but still nice), ED (wonderful vocals with somewhat muddled visuals, though that’s probably the point), and demon-of-the-week. We also learn Hyakkimaru’s mom is still alive (though not in good shape) and that Daigo believes his deal with the demons is still in effect, but who knows for how long.

Domestic na Kanojo – 12 (Fin) – Turning Pain Into Art

When Hina is caught, she doesn’t hesitate to be the adult and put herself at the mercy of her superiors. Sure, it probably wasn’t a good idea to sleep with a student in front of a window while on a school trip, but she doesn’t want that to affect her stepbrother’s future.

So she leaves the school, accepting a transfer far away, and then moves out of her apartment, all without telling Natsuo—who would have obviously tried to stop her and likely made things worse. That’s the second good move Hina made: not letting him have a say in the equation.

After reading a note in which Hina pours her heart out onto the page, Natsuo goes into a state of deep anguish, holing up in his room and not leaving. When Fumiya reads the note, he castigates Natsuo for basically wasting all of the pain and trouble Hina went through for his sake.

On a bathhouse trip with Kobayashi, the former yakuza and cafe owner tells him from experience that you can’t turn back time, and moving forward and continuing to live while shouldering his pain is the only way. But Natsuo manages to find an outlet for all that pain he’s shouldering: writing.

He stops his weekly short stories and instead starts pouring his heart onto the page, as Hina did with her farewell letter. At first it’s such a compulsive thing he doesn’t eat or sleep, but after his talk with Kobayashi he starts accepting Rui’s kindness in the form of cocoa, late night snacks, and other food to keep his health up.

On New Year’s Day, Natsuo finishes his novel, though he also lost track of the days. Rui takes him out where he meets with his friends from the lit club who were silently supporting him as he worked his shit out. Then they go to Kiriya-sensei’s house to deliver the first draft.

Some time later Natsuo is invited back to Kiriya’s on a Sunday, wondering what’s up. Kiriya has him meet Tsutaya, an editorial staff member with Shinkosha, and they go to a ceemony celebrating Natsuo’s first-place amateur award for his novel, which Kiriya secretly submitted.

Just as Hina had hoped, her quick action secured Natsuo’s future and ability to achieve his dream of becoming a novelist, even if it also broke both their hearts, those wounds heal, while a public school sex scandal…notsomuch!

When he gets home, Natsuo is shocked to find Hina waiting there for him…or at least he thinks it’s Hina. Turns out it’s Rui in a wig. She runs to her room to cry, because now she knows how Natsuo’s loving embrace felt to Hina. After congratulating him for his award, Rui has a proposition.

She’s done pretending to hate Natsuo, and she’s done “holding back” for Hina’s sake. When she and Natsuo made love for the first time, she didn’t think much of it, but she seems reasonably sure a second time will feel different to her, now that she has feelings for him and all.

Natsuo looks a bit overwhelmed, but if Hina truly is gone from his life forever, it’s a good idea to move on. Probably not with Rui…but I like Rui so, ah, well there it is. As Picasso said, “Art is born of your dad marrying the mother of the first girl you slept with and your longtime teacher crush.” Or something like that.

Dororo – 12 – The Consequences Of Sacrifice

Father and discarded son finally meet face to face, and all Daigo can say is “Why aren’t you dead?” and call Hyakkimaru a “half-born demon child.” It’s pretty harsh, but not at all surprising considering those words are coming from the man who fed his firstborn to demons.

As long as Hyakkimaru is alive, Daigo cannot have confidence in the future of his domain. The mere fact he is alive is proof that the deal is in the process of being destroyed, as evidenced by all the lord’s misfortune of late. Of course, he deserves all the misfortune coming to him.

Hyakkimaru skitters off when Daigo’s men launch arrows at him, while elsewhere Dororo and Sukeroku are taken prisoner and stashed in a cave. After trying to comfort Sukeroku (who found his village only to find it destroyed and his mom likely dead), Dororo slips out of a Dororo-sized hole, promising to find Hyakkimaru so they can save everyone.

Tahoumaru, having received testimony from the midwife, confronts his mother, who does not dispute the terrible accusations, and indeed has never for one day forgotten what was done. Tahoumaru can’t believe his parents would do something so monstrous, but that just goes to show you how much he idolizes his great lord father.

Daigo tells Tahoumaru of the hellish times before he was born, and how sacrificing his first son was the only way to stave off the utter ruin of his domain. Tahoumaru rightly rejects the notion his dad’s motivation was anything other than the desire for power and prosperity. He notes the appalling amorality of the action.

His protestations fall on deaf ears. Lord Daigo believes he is a lord because he was given choices and made the decisions that he made. The ends justify the means, and in any case, it’s too late to undo what he did because to do so would mean sacrificing the welfare of the domain for one person: Hyakkimaru.

Daigo made a terrible choice, and he knew it was terrible, but to him not sacrificing his son would have been more terrible. Thus, if he had the choice, he’d likely do it again. He tells Tahoumaru if he wishes to cancel the deal with the demons, he can go to the Hall of Hell to do so, but rightly assumes his son won’t do anything (in any case the hall spits him and his aides out with a gust of wind).

Dororo reunites with Hyakkimaru and connects the dots that Daigo and Tahoumaru are Hyakkimaru’s father and brother, something he’s actually cheerful about because he doesn’t know the truth, but also because Dororo’s family was so loving and he longs to have them back.

By the time they find Sukeroku, the kid is already tied to the Banmon with other hostages as an overture to a battle between Daigo’s armies and those of Asakura. Among the combatants is one of the men who burned killed Mio and burned her orphanage; Dororo has to hold him back to stop him from proving to all assembled that he truly is a demon.

Tahoumaru arrives on the battlefield, and while he acknowledges what was done to his brother is wrong, the preservation of the domain and its people takes precedence over one life, even if it is his brother. So, the two fight, as the Banmon ghouls gather, picking off soldiers and eventually combining to form Kyubi.

Hyakkimaru eventually slices Tahoumaru’s eye, but then their mother Oku arrives, to ask forgiveness of Hyakkimaru; not just for herself, but on behalf of her husband, her other son, and all the people of the domain who owe each day of their prosperity to Hyakkimaru’s long suffering. If no one else will take responsibility, she will, and does—by stabbing herself.

It would seem the demons accept her as a sacrifice to their appetites, as their power seems to increase immediately after Oku’s stabbing, to the point the Banmon crumbles to the ground, forcing Daigo and his men to retreat with Tahoumaru and Oku.

Things calm down from there, and there’s even a happy note to an otherwise ominous ending, as Sukeroku reunites with his mother and other villagers who had been hiding. Dororo notes that even Sukeroku and his mom are only alive thanks to Daigo’s cruel, heinous deed.

Dororo then reiterates his intention to stick with Hyakkimaru no matter what, even if his blood relations continue to reject him. In a world full of moral shades of gray, their bond as brothers-from-another-mother (though one is actually a sister) is thankfully absolute. Will they be enough to stand against the relentlessly turning wheels of destiny?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 23 – No Puppet, You’re The Puppet

This is a thrilling powerhouse of an episode, but it starts out a little slow, with over seven minutes of this:

Admin: [Describes in detail horrible things she’s done]
Cardinal: How dare you!
Admin: [Chortles]

Mind you, there are far worse things than listening to Sakamoto Maaya describe her evil plan and chortle. She gives Admin an extra dimension of imperious ethereal swagger.

Once the two pontifexes are done talking, Cardinal decides the only thing she can do is surrender: offer her life—and the guarantee she won’t resist and take potentially half of Admin’s life—in exchange for the three “youngsters.”

Admin agrees, though doesn’t exactly hide the fact that she still plans to sacrifice fully half of Underworld’s humans (40,000 of them) to complete the final version of her sword golem with which she’ll defeat the enemies of the Dark Territory, as well as the real world.

Then she has fun taking several hundred dark lightning potshots at Cardinal. She’s been waiting 200 years to get rid of her, and is clearly savoring the moment. Cardinal warns the others not to interfere—they’re not powerful enough to make a difference anyway—and instead puts all her hope in Admin’s assurances they won’t be harmed.

Something awakens in Eugeo, and suddenly he realizes what he was always meant to do, now that he’s in the time and place to do it. He asks Cardinal to use her remaining power to transform him into a sword, just as Admin turned hundreds of humans into parts of the golem.

The process isn’t exactly quick, and Admin attempts to disrupt it, but Alice is able to block her attacks just long enough for the transformation to complete, and Eugeo becomes a self-moving sword.

The sword wastes no time destroying the sword golem by hitting its weak spot, blowing it to pieces in a tremendous explosion. But Admin is #NotImpressed, and relishes the opportunity to put this “brat” in his place with her superior weapon authority.

Ultimately, Eugeo simply doesn’t have enough to take a suddenly very serious Admin down, and while he does relieve her of her left arm, it comes at the cost of being split in two. The split sword revert back into human form, and Eugeo lies lifeless in a pool of blood.

Admin then describes Eugeo’s mistakes that led to his defeat, then turns to Kirito, expressing her hope they’ll meet again in the real world after she kills him here (she’s apparently unaware he’s only alive here; he’s still in a coma out there).

Having lost Cardinal and Eugeo in quick succession, Kirito is feeling defeated and unable to do anything, but like Yuuki and others in Kirito’s past, Alice steps between him and his death, willing to sacrifice herself so he can live on and complete the mission.

This time, Kirito steps back in front of his protector, parries Admin’s strike, and pushes her back. Alice, totally out of gas, passes out, leaving it a duel between the one-armed Admin and Kirito, for the very soul of the Underworld.

Admin would say he and Eugeo were only puppets for Cardinal, and Kirito continues to serve as a puppet for the good of the masses she sees only as resources, in reality Admin has herself long been a puppet of her own greed and lust for power.

Those traits define her and drive her totally, and they will destroy her, once they butt up against the amassed love and resolve of her foes. The hours of her reign appear to be numbered, but she’s not going down without (another) hell of a fight.

The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 22 – Boy From The Other Side

Chudelkin and his fire demon don’t last long, thanks to Alice distracting the latter with her flowers while Kirito skewers the former—a sitting-duck—while also briefly donning his black suit from SAO. Administrator doesn’t lift a finger to help her loyal Senator. It was up to him to beat the rebels, and he failed. She has no further use for him.

Kirito’s momentary change of clothing proves something to Administrator she’d suspected something was up with him beyong his “unregistered unit” status. Now she knows, and he confirms, that he’s really a human “from the other side.”

When Alice gets to have her say, she ask her former Pontifex why she couldn’t trust the loyalty of her knights without tearing them away from their families and wiping their memories. But everything Administrator—what Quinella—has done thus far offers the only answer Alice needs, even if she doesn’t like it: Quinella doesn’t care about anyone but Quinella.

She doesn’t care about the freedom and happiness of her people. She doesn’t care about her knights beyond their loyalty and ability to defeat her remaining enemies. If they ever start to voice concerns, as Bercouli, Fanatio, and now Alice have done, she’ll simply re-synthesize them, wiping away that much more of their original selves that had managed to surface.

Things get more intriguing when Kirito questions the value of having absolute control over one world when the human creators of that world who dwell on the other side have ultimate authority, able to erase everyone and everything with the tap of a key.

Quinella puts it to Kirito: Does HE only live to please his higher authorities, those who created the human world, out of fear they’ll reset it? She won’t pander to those “gods of creation.” She won’t kneel, beg, or grovel. If they want to punish her by eliminating her existence, FINE.

Until then, she’ll keep perfecting herself and remaking the world she rules as she likes, and that means eliminating threats to her control. To that end, she uses a Release Recollection spell and uses Perfect Weapon Control to merge thirty individual weapons into one extremely dangerous-looking sword golem.

Within a minute, both Alice and Kirito are lying in pools of their own blood; their strikes parried and countered with vicious, one-strike critical hits. Eugeo prepares a final stand, but Charlotte pops out of Kirito’s coat, blows up to enormous size, and gives Eugeo the few moments he needs to thrust the dagger into a floating platform.

The dagger activates a column of light; within that light a door appears, and through that door walks Cardinal, sending the sword golem flying with a quick burst of offensive energy. She quickly heals Alice and Kirito, who introduces her as a friend. Charlotte, unfortunately, can’t be revived, and Cardinal takes a moment to mourn her trusty aide, before turning her gaze at the “hollow fool,” Administrator.

Hollow though she may be, her philosophy of validating her existence through total control (rather than through meaningful, equitable relationships with others) comes through as a tragic flaw in her character. She’s lived so long amassing so much power, the only part of her left that’s human is the worst part; the part devalues and forsakes all the other souls in her world—and it’s looking increasingly likely that will be her undoing. Quinella may be our arch-villain, but I still sympathize with how her life turned out.

I daresay this episode did a better job fleshing her out than her flashback ep, since this was all about who she is today, in person, and not who she was from Cardinal’s perspective. I like how her awareness of the human world gives her a chip on her shoulder and innate drive to disobey, and I’d wonder what else she has up her sleeve…if only she had sleeves.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 10 – Keep Calm and Scary On

Boogiepop and Others is hard enough to follow without having surplus episodes piled atop one another, but the day after last week’s conclusion to the Imaginator arc, that’s just what happened: four episodes dropping at once, comprising an entire arc. Because this first of the four had its own OP, ED, and self-contained story, I’ve decided to watch and review them each separately, as if they aired on different days.

This is the story of how Boogiepop got her admittedly bizarre name. She’s responding to a question from our favorite benevolent alien, Echoes, while the two are wandering a ruined, post-apocalyptic landscape. A stuffed animal that crumbles in his hand suggests it’s Earth of the distant (or not-too-distant) future. Wherever and whenever it is, it’s super creepy.

Boogiepop’s name origin story starts with a detective named Kuroda, AKA Scarecrow. Like Orihata Aya/Camille, he’s a synthetic human working for the Towa Organization. His colleague Pigeon gives him his next mission: checking up on fellow member Teratsuki Kyouichirou, suspected of betraying Towa. We learn from Kuroda that Towa is a vast network primarily dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of human evolution; both how we got to where we are, and what comes next.

Teratsuki kinda fades into the background as Kuroda finds someone more intriguing at one of his sprawling medical facilities: a young Kirima Nagi (younger than the previous episodes in which we’ve seen her). She notes that her somewhat unusual first name is based on the sentiment of “keeping calm no matter the situation”, and her personal situation is not optimal: diagnosed as “growing pains,” she has fits of pain so intense she can’t even describe it.

Nagi is also very much like the young woman we’ve seen in the present thus far: gorgeous, upbeat, direct, intensely curious, and dedicated to the truth: a natural detective in larval form. Once Kuroda gets past her guard (Naoko), he presents the results of her request for him to investigate her: he discovered her agent was embezzling her money and got him fired.

But despite all the qualities that make our Nagi Nagi in the present, this past Nagi is deeply uncertain and apprehensive about who and what she should become, if and when her condition is healed. Kuroda asserts that everyone feels that way on the road to coming into themselves. He himself dreamed of becoming a superhero who, unlike a detective, didn’t have to worry about all of the peripheral crap that comes with solving crimes. Just rush in, get the job done, and call it a day.

This perks Nagi up, and she says Kuroda should definitely become a superhero. Their visit is cut short when she starts having fits of pain, but when she grabs him, it leaves a raw mark, almost like a burn. That clinches it for Kuroda: Nagi is one of the “NPSLs” its his usual mission to locate. She’s evolving to the next stage…but it’s a rough gestation, which is keeping her in a hospital bed, unable to realize her own dreams.

Thus Kuroda—”Scarecrow”—decides to make a grand, superheroic gesture to Nagi, whom he’s decided to be the recipient of his heroism. He ransacks a Towa facilities to find a serum that would normally act as a catalyst for human evolution. Because Nagi is already evolving without it, administering it offsets the “possibility” that is tearing her apart from within. With one injection, he enables her to live the (relatively) normal human life she enjoys in the present.

While his act was both heroic and kind from the perspective of those of us rooting for Nagi to survive and thrive, it also broke a lot of Towa rules, and they send an assassin to eliminate him for his treachery against the organization. That assassin, Sasaki, is lightning quick of foot and deadly with a knife, but Kuroda demonstrates he can be pretty fast himself. While the two may look like a couple of regular-looking schlubs, they move like superheroes.

While Kuroda gets away, it isn’t before Sasaki gives him a wound from which he knows he won’t recover. That’s when a “reaper” appears, in the form of Touka, offering a chance to judge him favorably for doing something heroic for someone, even if it led to his demise.

Kuroda wonders if he’s speaking to a near-death delusion, but we know she’s really there. He calls her “creepy bubble”—like a boogieman that pops into and out of existence. Thus the title “Boogiepop”. When Sasaki finds Kuroda’s body, the Scarecrow is smiling, and why not? It may have cost his life, but he saved Kishima Nagi. For one night, he was a superhero. And one night was enough.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 09 – The Tower

All quotes are from Biddy Tarot.

The Tower shows a tall tower perched on the top of a rocky mountain. Lightning strikes set the building alight, and two people leap from the windows, head first and arms outstretched. It is a scene of chaos and destruction.

The Tower itself is a solid structure, but because it has been built on shaky foundations, it only takes one bolt of lightning to bring it down. It represents ambitions and goals made on false premises.

When Masaki visits Aya’s flat, he quickly finds evidence that she was up to all kinds of strange, and when Aya answers, she’s reluctant to involve him any further than he is. After all, she’s been using and betraying him all this time. Their relationship was built on lies, so it’s only natural for it to crumble now.

Except that Masaki doesn’t care what Aya says she’s done to him. He cherishes the time they spent together, and he fell in love with her. So no matter how shaky she insists the foundation of his love may be, he’s still willing to take a leap of faith for her. He won’t give up on her, even after she’s given up on herself.

The lightning represents a sudden surge of energy and insight that leads to a break-through or revelation.

It enters via the top of the building and knocks off the crown, symbolising energy flowing down from the Universe, through the crown chakra.

Desperate to solve—and witness the resolution of—the case of the Imaginator, Suema speaks with Kotoe, who tells her where she was when Spooky E first brainwashed her: the abandoned Paisley Park, with its tower called The Ladder. It’s the tower Masaki sees a plane fly over—a plane he can hear on Aya’s end during their call.

Thus both Masaki and Suema head towards this Tower: a symbol of change, upheaval, chaos, revelation, and awakening. Atop that tower, Jin/Imaginator seek to bring about all of those things by tearing out Aya’s heart a creating a seed that will take root in the hearts of everyone in the city, bringing them under Imaginator’s control. From there, the seed will spread across Japan and eventually, the rest of the world.

The people are desperate to escape from the burning building, not knowing what awaits them as they fall.

Around them are 22 flames, representing the 12 signs of the zodiac and 10 points of the Tree of Life, suggesting that even in times of disaster, there is always divine intervention.

Masaki gets a head start to Paisley Park by borrowing Nagi’s motorcycle, but he’s met by Jin’s army of “thralls”, all of them protected by the thick padding of mascot costumes. Just as he’s about to be injected with nothing good, the real Boogiepop suddenly comes to the fake Boogiepop’s aid.

After dispatching the thralls, Boogiepop blares some Wagner on the park’s loudspeakers while she explains to Masaki that all his fear had been brainwashed away by Spooky E. This leads him to question whether his feelings for Aya were genuine or a product of his brainwashing.

Boogiepop puts the question to him: how does he know when, if ever, he’s exercised his true free will? After all, isn’t the process of adapting oneself to society its own kind of brainwashing? In the context of not having freedom one way or another, her next question is: what does he value most?

Thankfully, the Tower doesn’t always associate with pain and turmoil. If you are highly aware and in tune with your inner guidance system, then this Tarot card can indicate a spiritual awakening or revelation.

You may be able to see the cracks forming and take action before the whole structure comes tumbling down.

Boogiepop leaves Masaki and reappears atop the tower, where Jin is poised to sacrifice an Aya seemingly resigned to this fate. When he looks into her heart and finds nothing, Jin panics; this is someone he can’t manipulate. Yet after a brief interlude with a gun, she assures him he can do what he was planning to do and she won’t stop him.

When Jin attempts to tear out Aya’s heart, his hand goes right through the rose. Aya laments that she expected such a thing to happen, because Jin needed a human sacrifice, and she’s not a real human. Boogiepop revels in the fact that even had she not intervened, Imaginator had already lost by choosing Aya. By only looking towards a new future under her control,  Imaginator chose “shaky foundations” to build her tower, and now it’s crumbling.

You may create a massive transformation before you reach the point where change is your only option.

In its most positive form, the Tower card is your opportunity to break free from the old ways of thinking that have been holding you back.

Imaginator separates herself from Jin, who leaps out of the tower in the process. But like the divine intervention suggested in the Tower Card, Boogiepop arrests his fall before he dies. Without Imaginator, Asukai Jin is no enemy of Boogiepop’s, and Boogiepop doesn’t take lives without purpose.

She tells Aya that even if Imaginator had succeeded in changing everyone’s hearts and removing the pain, that change would only be temporary, and eventually fade away. Imaginator and Jin alike were missing a very important fact about the hearts they saw: that they can change without their help; and grow through communication with others. Boogiepop also assures Aya there’s something deep in her heart that would have protected her from tampering.

Be it real or synthetic, a different kind of seed has taken root in her heart; that of love for Masaki. It’s a seed that’s replicated in his own heart, and survived all emotional attacks against it. Before disappearing into the either, Imaginator salutes the half-paralyzed Masaki and the love in his and AYa’s hearts, which neither she nor Jin could manage to break through.

Suema, disappointed she arrived too late to have any significant role in the resolution of the case, is asked by a departing Boogiepop to go up the tower and bring Aya down so she can be with Masaki, whose head is again in Aya’s lap when he comes to, while Nagi is by their side, glad he’s okay.

Aya and Masaki built a stronger structure than they thought, and it holds together even after those of Spooky E, Towa, Asukai Jin, and Imaginator have crumbled to dust…all with nothing more than a little help from that plucky reaper, Boogiepop. Suema takes comfort in knowing some like that really is out there.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 08 – What Friends Are For

This week all the disparate parties involved in this arc begin to confront and communicate with one another, starting with Suema meeting Jin. She watches one of the girls Jin “initiated” walk by while engaged in a phone call, and decides she can’t let this go on. She wants answers. Boogiepop momentarily speaks through Touka offering help, but Suema insists she’s got this.

In the case of Imaginator, I consider it fine for Suema to ask for any help offered; she’s quite out of her depth here. While Jin is initially taken aback by how much she’s been able to figure out for herself, he manages to successfully gaslight her, and even if she doesn’t walk away a convert, it remains to be seen if his plan-reveal-couched-in-artistic-rhetoric proves useful to her solving the case.

Then again, maybe I’m underestimating Suema just as Jin is, or just as Spooky-KotoE underestimates Masaki when he realizes he’s being followed by six or more people. He heads underground to confront them, and uses a nice bit of misdirection to catch KotoE’s goons off-guard (Towa should invest in less disposable goons) and put KotoE herself on her back.

The only problem is, she won’t talk, he can’t really make her talk, and if he kills her he’ll be branded a murderer. Like Suema, Masaki seems doomed to be disappointed in his efforts to crack the case. He’s only caught a pawn, just as Jin can shrug off everything he told Suema as messing around.

When Nagi suddenly shows up to keep his half-brother in check, he slips away, and KotoE reveals she was keeping some goons in reserve. But these goons aren’t any match for Nagi’s skills any more than the first wave were to Masaki’s. She makes quick work of them, including KotoE’s attempts to attack her with a butterfly knife, but isn’t interested in getting any information from her. Her focus is probably catching up to her brother.

When KotoE wakes up, she’s still in her brainwashed mode, but Jin appears and manages to snap her out of it by reaching into her soul and taking note of the missing blooms on her rose (much like Suema’s problem). But while he’s always known of Kotoe’s feelings and yearning, she was mistaken in thinking her sadness mirrored his own; he’s never been able to feel sadness; only despair.

Jin also laments he can’t save her, but will change the world to a place where no one has to feel like she feels ever again. With Spooky E’s brainwashing undone, Kotoe breaks down, but engenders no more sympathy from Jin than a stranger, which is a devastating sight to see. Then Jin moves on to Spooky E’s command center atop the amusement park tower, apparently led there by the part of Spooky that copied his will into Kotoe in the first place.

Jin introduces himself as Imaginator, the one Spooky and Towa have been looking for, but calmly warns Spooky that they’re on completely different levels. They may possess similar brainwashing abilities, but while Spooky basically mind-rapes people by shoving information into their brains, Jin’s is far more…therapeutic? Horticultural? Since he can see everyone’s plant—even Spooky’s—he can control them as he sees fit, adding or removing parts with Imaginator’s help.

Rather than stuff info in the brain, he finds what is lacking, and offers whatever a person desperately desires: to be whole. The result of this: Imaginator will “normalize the psyche” of the human race, eliminating all emotional want and yearning. There are a LOT of problems with such a world, so it goes without saying Imaginator can’t get away with this.

But Spooky E can’t do shit about it; Jin removes his aggression in the blink of an eye, intending to use him to take over Towa, in order to expand his reach and accelerate his plans. While unable to attack Jin, Spooky E decides it better to attack and kill himself, so at least he won’t be the conduit through which the enemy takes control of Towa.

Jin, however, doesn’t believe in enemies, except as parties who exist to be turned into allies with the right manipulation. His plan to use Spooky E as an ally thus backfired, he discovers Orihata tied up in that same location. She begs for help, but Jin isn’t there to save her. He’s there to use her as a sacrifice; the kind that will propel his dreams forward and make them a reality for the next generation.

Poor Orihata: poised to become a tool for Imaginator immediately after Spooky E and Towa did the same. Is there any saving her or Kotoe, and are Suema and Masaki up to the task?

Goblin Slayer – 07 – These Things Happen

The other adventurers give their excuses for not wanting to accompany the Priestess to the baths, but she’s eventually joined by the Sword Maiden herself. She sees many small scars on her body that suggest she’s had experience dealing with goblins.

The Maiden also warns the Priestess that while Goblin Slayer is dependable, one day he’ll “disappear”, meaning she’ll have to find another strength to lean on. Sure enough, GS mails a letter to the Farm Girl; in this context it’s another death flag.

GS, armed with a canary to detect poison gas, begin mapping some ancient ruins when they find themselves suddenly trapped in a chamber and attacked with…poison gas. GS provides charcoal to filter the gas while everyone prepares for battle, and the “mastermind” of the goblins finally shows himself: a massive Goblin Champion.

The party fights well, dispatching dozens of goblins with arrow, blade, fist, rock, and bare hand. But they keep coming, and the when the Champion delivers a crippling blow to GS that sends him flying and spewing blood, the Priestess loses her concentration, the Protection field falls, and the shit well and truly hits the fan.

GS is in bad, possibly terminal shape. The Priestess pees herself and then has a chunk of her arm bitten off by the Champion. The Lizardman and Dwarf are swarmed, as is the High Elf Archer, who can’t keep the goblins from tearing her clothes off.

Finally, as he hears the screams of the Priestess, GS remembers someone mocking him for cowering and doing nothing as his mother and village were slaughtered. His hatred of those comments leads to his left eye suddenly glowing red and entering a kind of Limit Break.

Back on his feet and with a full head of steam, GS carves his way through goblins as he bull-rushes their leader, then uses the long blonde hair of a corpse to strangle him before ripping one of the Champion’s eyes out of its socket. The others free themselves from the goblins’ grasps and keep fighting; the elf unfazed by having lost her top and most all of her shorts.

They give the Lizardman time to save the Priestess’ life, and the Dwarf and Elf help GS go to her side. The Priestess apologizes for letting the Protection fall, but the GS isn’t in a prosecutory mood, saying “These things happen.” They’re his last words, as he spews one more cloud of blood and then passes out. From the reactions of all around him, and the lingering closeup of the canary’s eye (over which the credits are supposed to roll), it doesn’t seem like he’ll be getting back up any time soon.

Did the show really just kill off its title character after just seven episodes? If so, that’s a pretty bold move. Will the Priestess, Elf, Dwarf and Lizardman carry on with their adventures without him? Will someone new take up the mantle of Goblin Slayer? Or will they somehow save the current one from near-death?