The Eminence in Shadow – 09 – Doing What They Must

It doesn’t take long for Sherry to tune the control unit, and she opens a hidden passage in a bookshelf to use the secret tunnels to get to where the artifact is so she can shut it down. She’s doing all of this for her father Ruslan, who took her in when her mother was brutally murdered.

She thanks Cid for all his help, and they go their separate ways. Once she reaches the balcony of the auditorium she finds out how bad things have gotten: the invaders are now simply picking off students for sport from above. Sherry wastes no time deactivating the anti-magic field, and when she does, Rose is ready.

Within seconds of getting her magic back, she slices the nearest invader to ribbons with a flourish of her drill-like ojou ringlets, and encourages everyone else to rise up and attack their captors; after all, they outnumber them. She tries to reach their armored boss man, whom even she isn’t sure she can defeat, but is soon surrounded and running low on magic.

Still, she fights on, confident others will fight if she dies, and eager to live up to the love Cid felt for her that led him to die for her. Things look dire until Shadow himself crashes through the ceiling and dispatches everyone around her. He’s not alone: his army of Shadows are with him, and mop up the invaders.

But the boss slips away, then hikes up the pressure of the oil lamps school-wide, causing an massive inferno. While I don’t hear a single cough from the ensuing smoke and flames, nor does anyone seem to be getting burnt by said flames … eh, whatever, maybe they’re special isekai flames.

The invader boss proceeds to start burning everything in Ruslan’s office, but Cid is there waiting for him, and knows who the boss is: Ruslan himself. Once he’d reached the absolute highest summit of swordsmanship, he became ill, and sought out a radical cure.

That’s how he ended up meeting Sherry’s mother. When she warned against using the artifact, Ruslan murdered her in a elaborate, grisly way, and while Sherry was present for that, it’s been established that she’s not very observant, and so never knew her adoptive father killed her mother.

Ruslan never gets into why he took the academy hostage, or why he set the academy on fire, but never mind, now that Cid’s there he’s not going to accomplish anything else. There’s a fun little fakeout when Cid lets Ruslan slash him right out the office window to his apparent death, only to reappear Batman-style in his Shadow form.

Ruslan fuses with the artifact in order to augment his power—as one does—but as you’d suspect, fighting him is still child’s play to Mr. Atomic, who doesn’t really have to break a sweat parrying his opponents’ lightning-fast fusillade of attacks.

When Cid has had enough, he ends Ruslan’s life in the exact same grisly way he ended Sherry’s mom’s … and just like that traumatic event, Sherry arrives just in time to witness a parent’s demise. Shadow departs as she screams out in anguish, not having the heart to tell her who Ruslan is and why he deserved this end. Knowing how much her dad meant to her, she most likely wouldn’t have believed him anyway.

While Ruslan was as two-dimensionally eeeevil as villains come (why else hire Oostsuka Houchuu to voice him?), he was never anything but a loving, supportive father to Sherry, and I was devastated watching her experience a repeat of her mother’s death. No one should have to face that. And now she’s an orphan again.

At the same time, I don’t blame Cid, because he did what he had to do. Even though Ruslan promised him that he arranged things so the real Shadow Garden would be framed for this entire terrorist attack, he shrugs that off. He never claimed he and his garden were walking the path of righteousness, but nor do they walk the path of evil.

Instead, they walk their own path. This comes as news to Alpha, who thought they were being righteous, but accepts Cid’s interpretation without hesitation, as does the rest of the organization. If Shadow is now the number one most hated and wanted fugitive in the kingdom, so be it—they’ll continue to do what they must.

As for poor Sherry, she and Cid share a muted farewell scene where she regrets not getting to know him better before heading abroad to a prestigious research institute. Before they part, perhaps forever, Cid asks her what she thinks she needs to do. A kaleidoscope of emotions fall over Sherry’s face as she’s momentarily unable to hide her emotions with a sad smile.

But she won’t tell Cid; it’s a secret. Does she, unlike so many others, know Cid and Shadow are the same person, and thus Cid is the one who killed her father? If that’s the case, is she going abroad in order to plan her revenge against him, or simply to start the next phase of her life as a researcher? It’s pretty ambiguous, and I like that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Chainsaw Man – 08 – Cry For Me

Chainsaw Man seemed to be setting up something quite scandalous last week when a wasted Himeno seemed poised to bed an underage and disoriented Denji. We rewind a bit this week to when she first enters her apartment, and watch it from her POV as she plops Denji on the bed, takes a shower, then grabs a beer.

Denji is conscious and lucid enough to question whether he should lose his virginity to Himeno after she already puked in his first kiss. One look at Himeno’s face after she pulls his shirt off and he decides that yes he should. But when she pulls a Chupa Chuos out his pocket—the one Makima gave him when he was out getting air.

In addition to representing his still-intact virtue, it was also his first indirect kiss, since it had been in Makima’s mouth before his. Thus it reminds him of his vow for Makima to be his first, and passes on Himeno, who promptly passes out.

The next morning, the two have breakfast on her high-rise balcony, another new luxury for Denji. Himeno admits she was so blackout drunk last night she claims not to know if she took advantage of him, and is relieved to learn she didn’t since people can get locked up for that kinda thing.

When Denji insists that he only has eyes for Makima, Himeno proposes that they form an alliance. She’ll help him get with Makima, if he helps her get with Aki. Denji agrees, and just like that, he and Himeno are no longer merely co-workers, but friends.

At this point I’d simply been enjoying the lush camerawork, the gorgeous night and morning lighting, and the overall nice post-drinks vibes. Little did I know this was the final calm before a storm that would turn Chainsaw Man on its head.

From Himeno’s apartment we’re on a train, and the claustrophobic camerawork creates a sense of paranoia. Makima, for her part, isn’t looking forward to meeting with her superiors in Kyoto, but admits she had fun at drinks the previous night.

Then the two passengers in the rows in front of and behind her and her assistant suddenly drop out of view, produce guns, point them at Makima and her assistant, and shoot them both in the head and chest. You can imagine this non-manga reader was quite shocked by this development.

But aside from the near-impossibility a main character like Makima would end up dead in the eighth episode, the fact that her eyes look far from dead when the camera pulled in close on her bloodied face. Rather than fade the way most anime characters’ eyes do upon dying, they seem to smolder. So maybe she’s not really dead?

Arai and Kobeni are also assassinated, seemingly by ordinary people who suddenly have guns and are being controlled by devils—or aren’t, and are simply working together to take out the 4th Division. When the shots that take out the rookies ring out, Denji, Power, Aki, and Himeno are at a ramen joint having lunch, still firmly in calm mode.

Even the vigilant Aki wonders if it was fireworks from a celebration. Then a man starts talking across the restaurant from them, produces a photo of his uncle, the yakuza who Denji worked for, then pulls out a gun and shoots Denji and Himeno. Aki dodges and Power gives the guy an uppercut.

Aki then summons Kon, who sardonically declares that he just made her swallow up something neither human nor devil—in other words, like Denji. But instead of a Chainsaw Man, he’s more like a Katana Man, with wide, razor-sharp blades protruding from the same places as Denji’s.

When Kon is wounded and checks out, Aki turns to Curse, a devil he summons by piercing Katana Man three times. When it comes out, it certainly looks like Game Over for the baddie, as it looks like an instant-kill kinda situation.

And Curse does seem to do the trick, as Katana Man ends up on the ground, motionless and defeated. Then an unassuming young woman with short dirty-blond hair appears, revives him, and asks him why he lost. He says he grossly underestimated Aki. Then the woman tells him to kill him next time.

Katana Man’s next attack is so quick, no one, even Power, sees it. One moment he’s on one side of Aki, the next he’s on the other, and a massive blood flower blooms from Aki’s chest. Himeno, who is gravely injured but still conscious, summons Ghost, who is hesitant to enter the fray as the dirty blond woman is nasty AF.

But Himeno is not about to watch yet another partner (particularly one she loves) die, so she offers everything she’s got so Ghost can give her everything she’s got.

As Himeno’s arms and legs vanish one by one like glitches in a video game, Ghost grows larger, more powerful, and more monstrous. Katana Man seems to be on the back foot once again, but the cost of such a victory was always going to be too high.

In her few episodes, I’d become quite fond of Himeno, and Ise Mariya’s voice work throughout has been outstanding as expected. I’d have never guessed that morning she and Denji had breakfast on her balcony would be her last morning ever, but here we are.

Himeno’s final words are an extension of her previous refrain: “Don’t die on me, Aki”. Among the partners she’d worked with Aki was one who cried for each and every one of the rookies under him who were killed. In her last moments, all she wants is for Aki not to die, so if she dies, he’ll cry for her.

To add insult to grievous injury, Himeno’s sacrifice doesn’t defeat the enemy. Kitana Man may be in trouble, but one word from the blond woman summons a mammoth snake that lops Ghost’s head clean off. When Aki looks over at where Himeno had been, only her suit and trademark eyepatch remain.

I cannot overstate what a gut punch this entire sequence is, or how masterful sunlight, darkness, and silence are employed to create a sense of hopelessness and despair. If it sticks, the butcher bill of this episode, and how it came out of absolutely nowhere, puts it right up there with the Red Wedding for pure horrific shock and distress.

And yet, this didn’t come out of nowhere. Throughout the drinks the previous night there was talk of some hunters who didn’t make it there because they’d been killed. Himeno had already lost numerous partners. We already knew that each day in a hunter’s life could be their last. I knew all that going in. I just didn’t know the end would come for these hunters. All that foreshadowing didn’t lessen the hurt.

Now you’ll excuse me while I go have a cry.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

The Eminence in Shadow – 08 – A Terribly Flawed Scenario

This week starts off by replaying the start of the invasion of the academy by Fake Shadow Garden (Shamdow Garden?) this time from Cid’s perspective, and man is he excited to be involved in a terrorist attack! The moment he realizes Rose is in serious trouble, he launches himself into the path of the baddie’s blade, as that’s the role of the background character. In doing so, he (posthumously) wins the heart of Rose, who remembers how hard he fought against her in the tournament and now sees his selfless sacrifice as proof that he loved her.

Rose and all the other students are rounded up in the auditorium, but Cid is left behind, as he’s just a corpse. Or IS he? After punching himself several times in the chest, Cid starts his heart back up, having successfully pulled off the risky “Ten-Minute Death—Heartbreak.” Considering what Cid did to himself to reach this other world, it’s no surprise he’d put his life on the line to best inhabit the role of Eminence in Shadow. Meanwhile, Sherry is researching away when one of the bad guys’ top lieutenants drops in.

She’s saved by one of the school’s elite swordsman who is still able to fight despite the lack of magic, but he falls to the bad guy’s blade soon enough. He only manages to buy a bit of time for Sherry to shuffle away in her flip-flops. After sniping several dozen of the enemy and plummeting dramatically off the school roof, Cid senses Sherry is being pursued and not doing a great job of being stealthy, so he serves as her protective shadow, killing anyone who gets close to her.

Sherry’s refrain of “it’s just my imagination” is one of many comedic highlights, and when she finally trips and nearly falls down the stairs, Cid is there to catch both her and the artifact and recommend she stop thinking out loud, stop trying to decipher the artifact while moving, and ditches slippers. He escorts her to her father’s office, where she finds unpublished research of the artifact she’s been charged with, which is the control unit for the Eye of Avarice that’s created the anti-magic field.

But the Eye isn’t just neutralizing magic, it’s absorbing it. Given enough magic, it will eventually reach its full capacity and release in one huge explosion that will level the school. So it’s a magical bomb threat. Sherry is game to fine-tune her artifact so they can shut the Eye down, but to do that Cid has to head back to where Sherry was to fetch the tuning instruments. After righteously toying and fucking with the lieutenant guy, he encounters Nu, who finds her ex-betrothed dying in the room where Sherry was working.

Nu reports that the real Shadow Garden have arrived on the scene and are ready to go on Cid’s orders. The only downside to that is that Gamma, the clumsiest of the Seven Shadows, is in command. Cid then fills Nu in on what he and Sherry plan to do, and he describes the plan so nonchalantly it basically reinforces her belief that Cid is a mastermind of unsurpassed brilliance, when he’s actually just been wining it all along and doesn’t even believe any of this is real.

But of course, it is, and the lives of  the whole school are in his, Sherry’s, and Shadow Garden’s hands. Watching him cut through the bad guys and have tons of fun doing it was immensely entertaining; watching him and his allies save the day should prove the same or moreso.

Chainsaw Man – 02 – The Nutcracker

While Makima briefly has Denji wondering if she’s actually nice when she teases him about being her dog, she more than makes up for it by offering the jacket off her back and a free breakfast of udon and sausage—by far the most luxurious meal he’s ever had.

Being so isolated from normal life also means Denji is quick to fall in love with the pretty Makima, especially when she’s kind to him. Kusunoki Tomori lends an almost maternal gentleness to Makima, but there’s authority and even a hint of menace lurking just beneath.

Denji follows his new one true love through the busy streets of Tokyo to Public Safety headquarters, where he gets a rude awakening: his immediate superior isn’t Makima, but a stick-in-the-mud dude, Hayakawa Aki. When he protests, Makima tenderly ties his tie for him and says if he does a good job, maybe they will work together.

For now, Denji’s to shadow Aki, but his first question to him—whether Makima has a boyfriend—leads to Aki leading him to an alley where he slugs the shit out of him. He tells Denji to quit now; he’s already seen too many colleagues jump into this profession without thinking.

As Aki walks away, Denji comes up from behind and kicks him straight in the nuts, then keeps kicking without mercy. It’s a perfect distillation of who Denji is: he fights dirty because his life has been dirty; it’s how he’s lived as long as he has. And after tasting his first bowl of udon (soggy or no) and meeting Makima, he’s not giving up this life so easily.

The two proceed to brawl, but Denji gets the better of Aki with more nut kicks, and Denji helps him back to HQ, where Makima is glad they’re hitting it off. Aki then opens his home to Denji so he can keep an eye on him, and quickly regrets this decision when Denji predictably acts like a feral animal tasting normal life for the first time … which of course he is.

Denji’s first devil-hunting mission is an easy one: a low-level fiend (a human corpse possessed by a devil). Denji doesn’t even turn into Chainsaw Man to kill him, but lops his head off with a hatchet. When he gives the excuse that he wanted to give the fiend a peaceful death, Aki slams his head against the window and tells him to take this more seriously.

Aki matter-of-factly tells Denji his entire family was killed in front of him by fiends, while the other cops and public safety officers have spouses and children to protect. But Denji honestly doesn’t know what he should grasp onto as a motivating factor like Aki’s thirst for revenge.

That is, until he studies the dirty magazines he saved from a chainsaw’s blood spray. Striking a cool, Ichigo Kurosaki-esque pose, he dedicates his life from here on out … to boobs. Again, Denji can be forgiven; he is literally drunk on his suddenly extravagant new lifestyle.

The episode could’ve ended on that hilarious personal declaration and still be great, but thankfully it doesn’t, as it introduces Denji’s new partner for future patrols: Power, an “uncommonly rational” hornéd fiend who also happens to be a beautiful woman. She’s also completely nuts, though Denji notes that he doesn’t mind a little crazy.

Power is voiced with gusto by Ai Fairouz, sports shark teeth like Denji, and is a teeming ball of chaotic energy, chomping at the bit to kill some devils and drink their blood. She notes that she was notorious and feared in her devil days, and Denji wonders if Aki paired him with her so he’d fail to get the results needed to keep him alive (the higher-ups at HQ are dying to put an end to Makima’s experimental 4th Division project).

When Power does pick up the scent of a devil, she deals with it all by herself, parkouring across and off roofs, summoning a giant hammer made of her own blood, smashing the bejeezus out of the Sea Cucumber-themed baddie, and reveling in her kill. It’s clear if Denji wants to rack up his own kills he’s going to have to up his game. At the same time, while I’m sure Power finds Denji pretty dull so far, I bet she’ll get a kick out of his Chainsaw mode.

Chainsaw Man – 01 (First Impressions) – Exactly What It Says on the Tin

Denji has almost nothing. I say “almost” because he does have a couple of things. He has over 38 million yen (US$260K) in debt inherited from his dead dad, and he has Pochita a trusty pet chainsaw “dog”. The latter is called a devil, which Denji (voiced by Toya Kikunosuke in his debut) uses as a weapon to hunt other devils to pay back the debt.

But it’s never enough. The yakuza he works for squeeze Denji for every last finder’s fee and admin charge until a ¥400K job only nets him a measly $1,800 … which he has to stretch for a month. He’s sold all his redundant organs from his eye to his nut, but he’ll still eat a cigarette for a ¥100 coin … or at least pretend to eat one.

If that didn’t put you on this poor wretch’s side, his backstory would. His dad’s body was still warm in the ground when his debtors told Denji to get them ¥700K (almost $5K) by tomorrow, no matter what he has to do or have done to him. As he sits by his dad’s grave in the rain he first meets Pochita, who is mortally wounded. Pochita makes for a perfect fantasy animal, equal parts adorable and fearsome, and as sympathetic here as Denji.

Denji offers to let the little guy bite him (blood heals devils), if the devil agrees to let him use him as a weapon for hunting. The two have been inseparable ever since, and it’s a genuinely touching boy-and-his-mutant dog tale. He and Denji live off of slices of bread in a corrugated shed. Denji dreams not of having it all, but having enough—a normal life. Meals, a girlfriend, things of that nature. Then he coughs up blood, like his mom who died of a heart condition.

He’s too hungry to sleep, and even if he did, his yakuza master arrives to take him to his next job. As Denji puts it, they won’t even let him dream of a normal life. But after a beautifully depicted car ride to a remote dilapidated warehouse, Denji learns this isn’t another job, but the end of the line. The yakuza has decided to make a similar “deal with the devil”, only on a grand, grotesque scale.

He’s become a giant horrific monster with a horde of zombie devils at his beck and call. Denji is no longer needed, so he has the zombies stab and slice him to pieces and throw him in a dumpster. It’s a needlessly cruel and violent end, on the level of the martyrdom of a saint in one of the bloodier biblical tales. But on another level, maybe it’s for the best; maybe death is a welcome release from Denji’s lifelong torment.

In the dumpster, blood drips from Denji’s lifeless body … and into Pochita’s mouth. It heals the little devil enough for him to remember what Denji told him on a better day in the past, when they were felling trees and cutting logs. Denji knew he probably wouldn’t live to pay off his debt, but if he couldn’t have the normal life he dreamt of, he wanted Pochita to have his body, life that normal life, then die a normal death.

But Pochita doesn’t accept Denji’s sacrifice. From the gloomy day he was saved by Denji’s blood, Pochita owed Denji a solid. So instead of possessing Denji’s body, he heals it, and then becomes Denji’s new heart, replacing the defective one that was going to claim his life sooner or later. In a touching idyllic scene in the suddenly fully-lit dumpster, Pochita speaks (with Nanachi’s voice). In exchange for his heart, Denji is to show him his dream.

When Denji wakes up, he’s fully healed, and Pochita is gone. All that’s left is his familiar ripcord tail, which is now lodged in Denji’s chest where his heart once was. The zombie devils spot him and start shambling over to attack him again, but this time he’s not having it. He pulls the ripcord and vows to kill them all.

The zombies surround and pile on top of him as their zombie devil king assumes he’s being devoured and won’t come back. But then the muffled sound of a two-stroke motor emanates from that pile, which is suddenly shredded and turned into a messy blood fountain by Denji, sporting a chainsaw lodged between his eyes and on both arms.

This man of chainsaws—let us call him Chainsaw Man—goes to town on the hapless zombies, cutting through them like a Wüsthof through flan. They’re dumb, so they keep coming, so he keeps cutting through them, then turns his attention to their boss, who whimpers and cowers and lashes out with his gross fleshy tendrils to absolutely no avail.

Nothing made of flesh is any match for a chain of blades spinning at 10,000 RPM. Denji gives himself to the bloody gory spectacle, living in a state of pure vengeance. It’s a hard watch, but it’s also cathartic, and a long time coming. It’s a scene that would make Tarantino proud (and that he’d have to film in black-and-white to avoid NC-17 rating).

Dawn breaks, and a Toyota Century slowly pulls up to the warehouse. Three figures in long black coats make their way inside: two men with fedoras and a young woman with rose-colored hair. They see all the yakuza zombie devils already killed—the job they came to do.

Then they see who did it: Denji, still in Chainsaw mode, standing motionless in the middle of the bodies, spattered with their blood. The men posit that he’s another devil that’s still alive, but the woman says no; he doesn’t smell like a devil.

She approaches Denji, who lets out two words: “hug me.” The woman, named Makima (Kusunoki Tomori), obliges, giving Denji perhaps the first hug he’s ever been given by anyone. His chainsaw attachments melt away, reveailing he’s still human. Makima smiles and introduces herself as a member of Public Safety who came to do the job he already did.

She tenderly eases him into her lap, and gives her a simple choice: she can kill him like a devil, or she can keep him as a human. Keeping him means being fed properly. When he asks what that entails, she lists a whole bunch of foods he in his long-standing destitution would consider lavish: bread with butter, with jam; salad, coffee … dessert.

Makima just describing a normal meal. But for Denji, she’s describing a dream—a dream she can easily make true. Freed from the bondage of the yakuza, Denji has been offered a new life doing honest work for fair compensation. He’s been offered a chance to show Pochita his dream. And damnit, he’s going to take it.

* * *

Chainsaw Man is the best premiere of the Fall. It’s possibly the best premiere of the year. It’s about as flawlessly executed an episode of anime as one could ask for, and made me immediately want to watch it over again as soon as the credits ended. Its premise is so simple and elegant, yet contains multitudes of human suffering and redemption.

It explores the brutality and beauty inherent in humanity, the malice and the mercy. Earlier I likened Denji to a saint and a martyr. His new chainsaw body is a terrible miracle, and so is the show in which he stars. It gives you exactly what’s in its title, and so much more.

 

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury (Prologue) – Rise and Shine

This prologue for the newest full-length anime installment in the venerable, 43-year-old Gundam franchise is a perfect balance of worlds small and large. In the former, the Samaya family (mother Elnora, father Namid, and their four-year-old daughter Elricht) are just living their lives, trying to make  space more habitable for humans through the development of the newest Gundam suit Ifrith (i.e. Ifrit).

Their asteroid base home’s name has mythic resonance: Folkvangr, the field ruled by Freyja where half of those who die in war go, the other place being Valhalla). It’s a small, tight-knit group, and it’s little Eri’s fourth birthday. But beyond this little haven that may just hold the hope for mankind, the larger world is scheming to eliminate them and their efforts—the classic Ominous Circle of Old Dudes in a Dark Room.

The Samaya family are cought between a council that has ruled that further development of Gundams must cease immediately. To his credit, the leader of this effort, Delling Rembran, believes that merging man and machine the way Gundams do is an affront to the natural order of things. He does not celebrate violence, murder, or war, but insists that human hands do the killing.

Of course, in his condemnation of Gundams as a technology that claims the lives of its users as well as its targets, he kind of elides humanity’s history of necessary sacrifice, on scales both large and small, for the benefit of scientific advancement. Regardless of how lofty his ideals, the bottom line is he’s sugar-coating a plain old massacre of civilians at Folkvangr.

Mother, father, and child are all separated when the siege commences, with Delling’s Dominicus (i.e. dogs of God) units carrying out the slaughter. Elnora, the pilot of a still-in-progress Ifrith, reunites with Eri in the cockpit, where Dr. Carbo Nabo, Elnora’s savior, mentor, and Gundam project lead (as well as Eri’s “granny” had been showing Eri around.

Eri’s dad Namid sorties in a less sophisticated LF suit and is soon followed by Wendy, who wishes to avenge her colleague who was murdered in the Dominicus raid. We see how the GUND tech takes a physical toll on their bodies, and the enemy’s ace mobile suit Beguir-beu is has a power-draining ability that leaves Wendy’s suit powerless before blowing her up.

Delling’s ultimate goal is to blow Folkvangr out of the stars, and with it all of Carbo Nabo’s new Gundam tech. But the raiders miss the most important target: Ifrith itself, where mother and daughter reunite. To her mother’s surprise and horror, her little Eri’s biological signature is able to “awaken” Ifrith to Level 33, enabling full functionality.

Using Ifrith as an escape pod, Elnora sorties with Eri, and the show’s flagship Gundam dazzles the stage. Eri, who considers Ifrith her “little sister” is just happy that sister finally turned in bed woke up—on Eri’s birthday, no less—but once leaving the warm, safe confines of the asteroid, Eri and Ifrith are officially in the crossroads between big and small worlds.

Thanks to Eri’s inadvertent input, Ifrith puts on a show, making quick work of the enemy’s less mobile suits. When Beguir-beu draws in close and starts to do its power-drain thing, Namid comes between them and goes into fatal overdrive to force Beguir-beu away, giving his wife, his child, and maybe the only hope for sustained human survival in space a chance to escape.

It’s the kind of noble heroic sacrifice ordinary people make every single day in our world, even if it will end up robbing Elricht Samaya of her father so early in her life, the alternative would have seen Eri dying too. Namid tearfully singing “Happy Birthday” and Eri singing along, provides a heartbreaking capper to this, the first act of what felt like an epic, operatic film.

A glance at the MAL page shows that the show proper will likely pick up with Eri a woman grown, carrying on her parents’ and granny’s legacy. This isn’t about developing weapons, which the likes of Delling believe are the only good, right, or just use for Gundam tech. Without this tech, Elnora would have died and Eri wouldn’t be born.

No doubt Eri will be the champion of the underdog, the little guy in the little world, the engineer or scientist who just want to make life better, even if the costs are excruciatingly high. And no doubt she’ll butt up against that big yet small-minded world trying to stamp that out to protect their own narrow and ultimately self-defeating ideals. In other words, it’s an all-new Gundam, and I am hyped up.

Made in Abyss – S2 11 – Royal Awakening

Due to Reg’s “foolishness”—i.e. not wanting to kill a dear friend he’s only now coming to remember—Faputa ends up knocking him out, and asks Juroimoh to hold him down while she deals with her next target: Riko, the one who “made Reg this way”.

All White Whistled out, Riko is in no shape to stand, and Faputa could go right through her Hollow defenders. But even her best punch can’t go entirely through Gaburoon, who stops her from killing Riko in order to “protect her future”.

Gabu collapses, and Faputa reaches deeper into the darkness: if she simply destroys everything, then everything will end. Returning her attention to Riko once more, she is once more stopped by an outside force: this time Belaf, accompanied by a Nanachi resplendent in their new Mitty Armor.

Their weapon of choice? A purple goo that resides within Belaf and contains memories of Faputa’s mother. These “smelly” memories represent Belaf’s ultimate treasure, but instead of perishing with him, they seem to unlock something in Faputa.

Overwhelmed by the intense visceral power of the memories of people and things completely unknown to her, Faputa pauses her carnage. Wazukyan takes this opportunity to flee with Vueko, while Nanachi wonders if this was all part of Wazukyan’s plan to use Faputa’s wish-granting power to make a village of out Riko like he did with Irumyuui.

But then the consequences of Faputa’s more recent actions take center stage: with the barrier down, the layer’s beasts waltz right in and help themselves to a Hollow buffet. Left and right, Hollows are stalked, torn apart and gobbled up by the beasts.

Faputa attacks the beasts, justifying her protection of the surviving Hollows as merely not letting anyone else have her prey. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to, I say. But soon it’s clear her fight, while valiant (and bloody as hell), is as hopeless as the Hollows’ fight against her had been.

There are simply too many beasts, and they’re very big and strong. It takes one last blast from Gabu before he dies to deter a Turbinid Dragon from curb-stomping her, but she still gets flung over halfway across the village.

Her scuffles with the beasts have left her all chewed up, missing limbs, coughing up blood, and immobile. She passes out believing she has no value because she failed to do “what she was born to do.” But she wakes up surrounded by Hollows, each of whom chops off a a small piece of themselves for her to eat, until their unlikely savior is not only fully healed, but…I’ll go ahead and use the crude but apt term “souped up.”

Faputa also suddenly finds herself surrounded by things she didn’t know, from her mother to Gabu, to Reg, and this leads her to ponder just what else she might not know. What is beyond her duty, which she believed to be her only value? Well, as Belaf said as she absorbed the memories he willingly offered her as she destroyed him, the time would come when she’d decide her own value.

That time has now come, and it once again unlocks something in her as a weird green glyph glows in her golden eyes. The Scorching Sun, once a volatile may have just evolved into a more mature star, poised to defend her sundry satellites from the incursions from outer space with her golden light.

Made in Abyss – S2 08 – The Child

Reg wants to know what he promised Faputa long ago, and in response, she rips off one of her arms and ears and tells him she’ll “offer up her all” if it’s for the promise…which doesn’t really help Reg understand what it was, only how important it is.

From there we return to Vueko’s torrid tale. Wazukyan shows her what Irumyuui has become: a sedentary pink juggernaut that gives birth every day to larger and larger doomed young. Wazukyan now slaughters them live and they cure everyone of the effects of the living water.

While Vueko has more or less recovered fully, Belaf fares much worse, racked with guilt over eating Irumyuui’s young (and finding them tasty), and he always looks like he’s about to pull his face off. Wazukyan offers to show her how to prepare and cook the young, but she can’t bear it.

What follows is Vueko’s first attempt to kill herself, but Irumyuui is still in that hulking mass of flesh somewhere, and she convinces Vueko not to do it with her warm embrace. Eventually Irumyuui grows too large for the caves where they dwell. Vueko and the others follow her as she finds a spot out in the open, sheds her skin, and starts to devour the flying monsters they find there.

While at least one Ganja member gets carried off by one of the flying monsters, the end result is Irumyuui creates a green portal not unlike the lift that bore them all there from the higher Layer. Belaf, truly at the end of his physical and emotional tether, steps through the membrane and is instantly transformed into the snakelike creature of the present.

The others follow, one by one, shedding their human bodies and being transformed into the hollows that define their innermost desires. The only holdout is Vueko, who would rather jump off a cliff, but Wazukyan still has plans for her, and grabs her with an arm reinforced by one of the many Cradles of Desire he’s instructed the Interference Units to find.

When Vueko next wakes up, she’s naked, restrained, and kneeling in the mass of dark mud-like goo where Riko would discover her centuries later. Wazukyan tells her she’s now within Irumyuui’s brain, where she can commune directly with her. She accepts her new task of naming, singing to, and caring for the countless “children” of Irumyuui, deep in the warm darkness.

But gradually, quietly, Irumyuui was growing a different kind of child, a creature who we learn to be Faputa. When Faputa hatches, she goes on a rampage, for which Vueko is glad, since Faputa embodies all of the pent-up resentment and despair of her mother, who can no longer speak or move.

Back in the present, Vueko tells Riko that she believes Faputa’s ultimate goal is to destroy the village and free her mother, who, as it turns out, physically became the village. If and when I ever rewatch, those earlier episodes when Riko & Co. first find the village will hit different.

Did Reg promise long ago to help Faputa carry out her goal? We’ll obviously find out soon. In the meantime, Riko finds herself in the middle of a very volatile situation. Vueko’s only desire is that she not forget who Irumyuui was, and I don’t believe she’d miss it if it were Faputa’s (and thus Irumyuui’s) will for the village to die.

Made in Abyss – S2 07 – A Warm Darkness

After spending a good long while in the present with Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, we go back to when Ganja and the Three Sages first arrived in what would eventually become Iruburu. They used a Mitty-like hollow to activate the lift that took them down to the Sixth Layer, but soon learned that they would never be able to ascend again.

Faced with having to live down there the rest of their lives, they set out to find water. They also find a docile mammalian-like creature, showing them that living things can live down here. But while fighting off beasts, the creature, to whom Irumyuui had been incredibly attached, dies.

Of course, things soon get worse…much, much worse. That water they found? Not water, but an organism containing countless eggs or seeds. One by one, people come down with fevers and severe diarrhea and become bedridden. Then some begin to morph into bizarre forms.

Irumyuui, one of the first to get sick, is clinging to life when a glowing gold egg relic is found, and the Interference Units they befriended tell them it’s basically a wish-granting egg. It’s also apparently more effective if used by a juvinille as opposed to a more world-weary adult.

Vueko asks Wazukyan, and he agrees, that Irumyuui should have first dibs on the egg. In fact, he welcomes it being used on her, as he believes she will be the savior to everyone there. Vueko, looking deep into his eyes, believes him, because she believes him to be a divine prophet.

One morning, Vueko hears Irumyuui’s voice, and it’s full of mirth. Despite gradually metamorphosing into a hollow, she apparently feels no pain, and always has a wide smile on her face. Vueko is happy, but the others continue to grow ill, lie down, and never get back up.

One day, Irumyuui gives birth…after a fashion. But the “child” has no organs for taking in nutrition, and so it soon dies in her arms. She gives birth to another, and another, and another…all in fun colors, but all meet the same fate.

As Vueko can only be there and comfort Irumyuui in her continued moments of grief and loss, she also rues the day she gave the egg to Irumyuui. While it technically granted the girl’s wishes, it also twisted them, like a Monkey’s Paw, into something awful.

Then the day comes when Vueko becomes ill and can’t even get up to comfort Irumyuui. She seems resigned to her fate—the same fate countless others faced in this beautiful godforsaken place. But then suddenly she’s being fed a tasty-smelling stew, and before she knows it, she’s ambulatory and free of illness.

She walks out onto a promontory, where Wazukyan greets her warmly. As he promised, Irumyuui would end up saving everyone, and so she did. Was that stew made of Irumyuui’s body? Her stillborn offspring? I don’t know, but when you find yourself living within a legend, finding and keeping a foothold means making choices one might not have made on the surface.

This was one of the tougher watches of Made in Abyss’ run, but also a crucial one, lending us insight into the desperate choices a ragtag group of exiles made simply to continue existing. Vueko is right that she technically started this by putting Irumyuui and the wishing egg together.

In the present she might think she’s a “bad person”, but just like someone isn’t choosy about the “water” they drink when they’re dying of thirst, she, Irumyuui, and everyone else were doomed if they did and doomed if they didn’t in this place. Given the choice of death or chance, in the intrepid spirit that brought them this deep into the Abyss, they chose the latter. Only those others who’d been through what they did can stand in judgment.

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

Engage Kiss – 03 – What He’s Losing

Before greeting the day, Shuu has a dream about his parents and sister Kanna being killed by demons—Kanna while begging her brother to save her. This is apparently a frequent dream, and he reacts to it as he probably always does: with a kind of grim gratitude. Clutching a photo of his family, he tells them it’s alright: he still remembers them.

There’s a new caterpillar-like demon crawling around Bayron City’s ever-important energy production sector. They mayor’s office learns of this prior to any auction, while Shuu receives a photo of the demon to show Ayano. They meet in a park of some significance, and she makes a point to dress as cute as possible, but also points out all the times he’s betrayed him when asked.

Nevertheless, she recognizes that Shuu should have leave to take this new demon out. He wins the auction to do so by underbidding everyone, but his winning bid is nullified when new info suddenly comes in stating that because the demon is holding a core equivalent to a week’s worth of the city’s electricity, it is not to be eliminated.

Since Shuu doesn’t have the resources to capture, the job falls to AAA. Through Miles explaining the situation to detective Mikami Tetsuya, he once fostered Shuu, and Shuu became the city’s best and only true hope at demon extermination thanks to his contract with a demon. That said, the government only grudingly recognized his new company.

Ayano leads the AAA operation, but the effort to capture the demon goes pear-shaped when the huge caterpillar transforms into a huge moth that shoots powerful lasers. One by one, Ayano’s support is wiped out. Shuu calls Ayano’s mom, who quickly signs him to a contract to clean up the mess. To do so, we see that Shuu has to do more than simply make out with Kisara.

For one thing, we learn definitively that Shuu doesn’t love Kisara; even she knows that. We also learn that due to how “troublesome” this foe is, Kisara’s going to need something extra. Shuu thus decides to sacrifice another set of memories—the ones from when he an Ayano happily lived together—to give Kisara the power she needs.

The kiss is merely a conduit through which Kisara receives and consumes his memories. No sooner do their lips part does a mass of rubble start descending upon an injured Ayano, only for Kisara to save her at the last moment. The soundtrack gets down to business as she takes the fight to the big moth, dodging its laser beams and delivering brutal blows to its thorax.

Shuu wakes up very out of it, but is reoriented by a note on his hand (“Aim at Kisara”) and a locket containing a photo of the family he lost. He readies his rifle, aims and fires where his note told him, which is at the core Kisara already cracked open. It takes not one but two of his fang-bullets to shatter said core and defeat the demon.

In the aftermath of the battle, Ayano limps to where Kisara is inspecting the corpse of the demon moth, asking if she has to thank her for saving her life. Kisara says no…but she feels she should apologize to Ayano. After all, she took Shuu’s happiest memories of him and Ayano together, which he willingly sacrificed in order to keep Ayano safe (and to further his objective). Watching flashes of these memories hit me hard.

Earlier, we learned from Kisara that the outfit Ayano wore at the park meeting was the same one she wore on her and Shuu’s first date. As the keeper of Shuu’s stolen memories, these latest ones related to her “rival” Ayano, it’s no surprise Kisara has adopted a kind of vicarious romance with him. This is not your usual love triangle, and I really dig this dynamic.

The last two episodes established what an unappealing, miserable wretch Ogata Shuu is, while this latest one went a long way towards explaining, if not excusing, why that is. He’s not only “the worst”; he’s the product of a lot of shitty circumstances: the loss of his family, the city government’s combined dependence on and disdain of him, and most importantly, the fact he’s just not the same Shuu anymore.

He’s lost more than his family; he’s lost parts of himself. I daresay I sympathize with the guy. He, Ayano, and Kisara are tragic figures: him because of what he’s lost and will continue to lose, Ayano because she in turn lost (most of) the man she loved, and even Kisara because Shuu will never love her. It’s kind of a bummer, but I respect the show going to these dark places while also delivering top-notch action.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 09 – A Tale of Two Ushios

The video on Ushio’s unlocked phone shows both the original Ushio and her Shadow delivering a joint message to Shinpei. The original assures him her Shadow isn’t evil like the others, but an ally, then proceeds to tell the story of how she ended up dying, and why that’s not the end of her story, because ultimately she is her Shadow and her Shadow is her.

It started with Shiori telling Ushio about seeing her own Shadow and asking her for help, since no one else will listen to her. Then, while Ushio and Mio were cleaning up the beach, there was a flash from above and just like that there was a second Ushio, who runs away before she can learn anything more.

Ushio comes home for a bath to find the other Ushio is already in the tub; she went home because it’s her home, same as Ushio’s. Once she determines that this other Ushio isn’t a threat, the two join forces to seek out Shiori’s Shadow on Mt. Takanosu, the locaiton of Sou’s family’s old clinic, believed by most of the island to now be haunted. It is haunted, but not by ghosts…by a monster.

A Shadow in its black goo form copies Ushio’s copy and tries to kill her, but Shadow Ushio figures out on accident that the copy’s weakness is not its body, but its shadow, and that she can use her own body—like her hair—as a weapon to slice through that Shadow. She can also repair her physical body, and tells Ushio that the instinct to kill her original “fills her brain”, even though she has no intention of doing so.

The two Ushios return to the beach to record a message for Shinpei, and after the present-day Shadow Ushio watches it with Shinpei and Sou, she suddenly regains her memories and knowledge of her power. She uses that power and her phone to “transport” the three of them into a recording of the tragic events of July 21st on the private beach where original Ushio breathed her last.

Original Ushio had Shadow Ushio turn into a seashell necklace and wore her, so that when Shiori was washed out to sea, not one but two Ushios were there to rescue her. However, under those waves Shadow Shiori kills her original and drowns the original Ushio—the one Sou was unable to revive and ended up being cremated.

Struck by her original’s sacrifice for both Shiori’s sake and her own, Shadow Ushio vowed to help Shinpei wipe out the Shadows when he returned to the island. As Sou and Shinpei weep over what they witnessed, Shadow Shiori suddenly grabs Shin’s arm and transforms into Haine, who promises he won’t escape her next time.

Shadow Ushio switches of the recording so she, Shin and Sou are back in the present, but Shin now has a sinister black mark on his arm where Haine touched him, proving that it wasn’t just part of the recording, and that Haine is apparently capable of transcending time and space like he can.

That adds an extra layer of difficulty and dread to Shinpei’s task, but the recordings he and Sou watched proved one thing: Shadow Ushio is indeed their ally, and they need all the allies they can get against an increasingly menacing enemy.

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