Appare-Ranman! – 03 – Taking Flight

Thanks to Dylan, Kosame and the native boy Hototo are saved. Appare repays him by promising he’ll be in the car ahead of him one day, to which Dylan says bring it on. Appare makes a lot of promises to a lot of  people, but considering how far he’s come on his ingenuity, he’s yet to make a claim he can’t back up. Kosame is learning that he’s not as crazy as he looks.

As for Hototo, he’s on a quest of vengeance, aiming to find the man who killed his father. In him Appare sees someone with knowledge of the terrain to the east, which will be part of the race. Like Appare and Kosame, Hototo has nowhere else to go, so he accepts their hospitality.

Their ability to offer Hototo a place to stay is disrupted when the young, rich BNW scion Al Lyon arrives in town with his kind Chaperone Sofia (Orisaka Fumiko…RUKIA!) and buys all the storehouses from the sea captain, including Appare and Kosame’s.

Al says he needs all of the space he’s bought, so Appare suggests they race in their respective machines in 10 days. If Al wins, he’ll get Kosame’s prized swords—which you’ll remember he can’t draw when he’s in a pinch. If Appare wins, they get the storehouse.

Appare knows he doesn’t need to build a machine that will beat Al’s sleek BNW in every aspect of performance. Al let him choose the course, so all he has to build is something that will achieve the objective of the race, no more or less. It can crumble to dust immediately after, as long as they win.

Grateful that he was able to repair her company’s car, Xialian gives Appare access to spare parts, which he picks up in his hastily-built Segway-like self-balancing scooter. Still, Xialian hasn’t driven since the incident, her team has no intention of entering, and she is certain Appare can’t beat BNW.

The day of the race in the dusty, rugged outskirts of L.A. finally comes. Appare and Kosame arrive a bit late in an ungainly (and above all very slow looking) contraption, fueling the fires of doubt in Xialian. Al is certain he’s got this, and amends the deal once more: he gets the swords, the Segway, and the car.

Al gets off to a quick lead with his straight-line speed, but has to go around a cliff that Appare’s car can leap over. Still, Al is closer to the finish when Appare has Kosame pull a lever that launches half of the car—and Kosame—ahead of Al. All Kosame has to do is run to the tree and touch it before Al, which he does. Notably, while racing Appare’s personality changes completely, to something more in line with his appearance.

Impressed by the win and acknowledging his complacency, Al takes the loss in stride, giving Appare his car and use of the storeroom to his heart’s content. Appare in turn is a good winner, and offers Al the Segway so he doesn’t have to walk home. Al refuses, but Sofia accepts, and you can’t blame her—that’s a long walk in a stuffy dress!

The win over Al lends further credibility to Appare’s capability, along with stability, as losing use of their garage is no longer a possibility. He must now set to work on a much more complex machine that will endure over the myriad terrains and conditions America will throw at them. He may have also convinced Xialian not to give up on her own dream to race.

With that, our three-part intro to Appare-Ranman! is complete, and we’ll have to wait a while for the rest of the story. It’s looking like other drivers will be more traditional good-natured rivals, while all of them will share a common enemy: a steam baron intent on squashing the automobile in its infancy to continue his hegemony.

Whatever the case, it’s a well-made, entertaining show and I’ll be looking forward to its return!

Appare-Ranman! – 02 – Even if the World Won’t Allow It

Note: Due to covid-19 the broadcasts of Appare-Ranman after the third episode have been delayed indefinitely. We’ll be reviewing future episodes if and when they become available.

It dawns on Kosame that returning to Japan (something he’d very much like to do) is no easy matter, and could take as much as “ten years of toil” to manage. Fortunately, his fighting skills are readily street-applicable skill than Appare—his fighting skills—and Appare puts him to work showing them off.

Then Appare picks up a flyer for the Trans-America Wild Race and stumbles upon the speedway where state-of-the-art driving machines are pitted against one another. While drivers like Dylan enjoy celebrity status, “the cars are the stars” here. It dawns on Appare he’s exactly where he needs to be: in a position to do something people say can’t be done. He’s going to enter the race and he’s going to win it.

A win will net him a cool 1.51 million dollars—them, if Kosame sticks by his side in this crazy venture. As they sit in an anachronisitc Art Deco diner(!) the samurai can’t deny that his share of the purse could solve many of his problems—his fiancee won’t wait ten years!—but he’s still skeptical, and rightfully so. Appare may have a dream, but they both just got there, and barely earn enough at the moment for food. They’re staying in a storeroom for free, and have no budget for a race car, let alone one that can beat the big manufacturers.

But absent a viable alternative (and fearful of FOMO), Kosame follows Appare, who breaks into the racetrack that night to check out the machinery. There they encounter Jing Xialian is already racing there, and almost accidentally runs a fearless Appare over. She damages the car—whih isn’t strictly hers—and when Kosame approaches her she exhibits her own martial arts prowess. In an effort to de-escalate, Kosame lets himself get hit by her kick.

As he recovers in the garage, Appare and Kosame learn more of Xialian’s story: she’s always loved cars and racing and joined the team as a chore girl. She’s good enough to race herself, but due to the sexism of the time she’s told she can’t be, and has come to believe it. Someone like Appare is clearly a good influence, as he doesn’t let the world tell him his limits, and doesn’t see why she should either. If you can do it, do it; don’t worry about the world’s rules. It’s hard to argue with him considering how far that attitude has gotten him so far.

Xialian’s story is not a particularly original one, but she’s another fun, colorful character I’m compelled to root for, even if she becomes Appare’s competitor in the race. Then there’s the celebrity driver Dylan, who saves Appare and Kosame when the latter is trying to help a young Native American kid from a group of racists. Notably, Kosame cannot physically draw his katana due to PTSD from a bloody incident in his past, so he needs the save. Dylan may well only be intervening because his peace is being disturbed.

There’s a lot of disbelief to suspend in Appare-Ranman from the total lack of language barriers, to the anything-goes dress code and futuristic technology/architecture. But once you let all that go, it’s a tremendously entertaining ride that’s just getting started. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to see much more of it due to delays. I just know I’ll definitely be tuned in when it returns.

 

Appare-Ranman! – 01 (First Impressions) – Across the Sea, Beyond the Sky

P.A. Works’ latest anime original focuses on the brilliant but eccentric engineer and inventor Sorano Appare, and Isshiki Kosame, his reluctant, timid samurai companion. We begin in Los Angeles as the two, along with a cute little assistant, are about to embark on an epic “Trans-America Wild Race” with an eclectic bunch of equally eccentric drivers from all over the world. It’s packed with anachronisms, but the spirit of adventure and getting movin’ is strong with this opening scene.

From there, AR! rewinds to a year ago in Japan, when Appare was in prison for crashing a steam-powered vehicle into the prized garden of the local lord. The lord appoints Kosame Appare’s “overseer”, assuming Appare survives a stay in the jail cell where major criminals are kept.

But it’s clear no simple cell lock can hold Appare, any more than his stodgy family business or his status as second son can keep him from setting out to find out how far his dreams and considerable technical skill can take him.

Kosame doesn’t realize how much bigger this is until it’s too late, as Appare escapes in his custom-made mini-steamship docked in a secret berth. Appare’s sister, who it seems is closest and most understanding of him among his family members, manages to bid him farewell with a good luck charm.

As for Kosame, the lord’s threat that he’ll share Appare’s fate should things go south, sticks by Appare, even though their little shakedown cruise takes them out to the open sea, with neither food nor water. It’s apparent Appare will need someone whose head isn’t always either in a mess of gears or up in the clouds if he’s going to survive his self-imposed journey.

When the ship runs out of fuel and the sea becalmed, Appare has time to finally explain to Kosame what he’s trying to do. It’s clearly around the turn of the century, when the steam engine have revolutionized industry and transport and Japan has been opened to the technologically-superior West.

Ever since first seeing steamships when he was four, Appare has never stopped absorbing the math and technical know-how needed to built devices of his own. He’s been tinkering for fifteen years, his own dreams fueled by the stories of Jules Verne which, as we know, would eventually become reality. Appare isn’t going to be left out. If anyone’s reaching the other side of the moon, he’s determined to be the first!

But first things first: surviving their current predicament. The ship is in need of repairs and fuel, but they’re getting nowhere fast, until Appare’s sister’s good luck charm pays dividends in the form of a passing American steamship. Even luckier, it’s captained and crewed by what seem to be kind, decent folk who are happy to tow Appare’s ship and even rap with him on some engineering problems.

I guess it’s time to talk about one of the most glaring problems with AR!, which is Appare’s look. I understand they wanted to give him a distinctive, eccentric look to match his personality and contrast sharply with the drab aesthetic of Koname everyone else, but IMO they went a bit too far; a 7 or 8 would have done fine, but they took things up to 11 or 12. Fortunately, he sounds far less crazy-goofy than he looks.

Also, that’s not a major problem here, and as more of those eccentric (and suitably weird-lookin’ for the timeline) racers appear, it will be less of a problem. Suffice it to say, Appare is Modernity Incarnate, while Kosame represents the old fashioned past being dragged along kicking and screaming. When they finally arrive at the port of Los Angeles bursting with technology and activity, it’s clear which of the two are now firmly in their element.

Appare-Ranman! starts strong and has a lot of potential for greatness, what with the odd couple, transcontinental road trip, and race-with-huge-reward stakes dynamics. Appare’s zany look is tempered by seiyu Hanae Natsuki, while Yamashita Seiichirou livens up a samurai who is clearly not your usual stoic warrior (though I wouldn’t quite call him a “coward” as the promotional synopsis did).

Evan Call (Violet Evergarden) classes up the joint with the score, and the animation quality you’d expect of P.A.’s better Works is present. Considering how sedentary most of us will be for the remainder of this year, I’m excited to live vicariously through the show’s enterprising, trailblazing characters as they embark on the adventure of their lives.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 06 – Can’t Find a Butterman

Saitou Soumei’s an odd duck. He claims to follow bushido, and that his role as a samurai is to “protect the weak”, and yet in this bout he fights for the oppressive Azami administration, against the weaker rebellion fighting to preserve individual culinary creativity.

This week, while it doesn’t quite explain his siding with Central, we at least learn why he became the samurai chef he is. His mom was a great sushi chef in her own right, but her spirit was crushed by sexist traditionalists, leaving him to keep her restaurant going. Everything he did, and the heights he attained, were to prevent anyone else suffering his mom’s fate.

Soumei considers his match with Souma to be a duel between two samurai, each armed with a katana. And as such, his seafood rice bowl with salmon, roe, and squid delivers a strong and decisive strike to the judges. It’s a dish they can’t stop scarfing down, and the richness of the butter is balanced by using citrus juice (rather than vinegar) for the sushi rice.

It is a particularly scrumptious-looking dish on a show full of them, but at the end of the day, Soumei only uses one blade, and relies upon a single strike. In his mock Shokugeki against Mimasaka (who traced Soumei), Souma knew playing by Soumei’s rules and relying on a single blade and strike would never work; his blade was shattered every time.

So Souma pulls out all the stops, relying not just on all of his culinary training he received both from his father and at Totsuki, but most importantly all of the various tips, tricks, and techniques he learned from everyone he’s ever cooked with and fought with and against at Totsuki. As he said in the first episode, Totsuki is a “stepping stone”, but he is and always has been a sponge: never failing to soak up the knowledge and wisdom gained in his many battles with friends, rivals, and foes alike.

The culmination of that takes the form of Yukihira-Style Toasted Butter Pilaf Inari Sushi, which everyone thinks would be far too rich and heavy, but contains so many complementary qualities, it results in a multi-pronged, multi-weapon attack upon the judges, in stark contrast to Soumei’s single strike, which almost seems quaint by comparison. Souma throws blade after blade at Soumei, then switches to other weapons like guns and even his fists to gain the upper hand.

With his all-inclusive method, and an exemplary dish that honors and elevates all of what he’s learned, Soumei graciously concedes defeat, just before the judges name Souma the unanimous winner. Now it’s on to the final bout.

Assassins Pride – 03 – A Fight in the Museum

What initially appeared to be a rest episode following the excitement of the tournament suddenly becomes much more in a well-structured, satisfying outing that elevates the series and makes me excited to keep watching.

The foreshadowing for what’s to come is right there at the start, as Melida echoes our curiosity about Kufa’s mysterious past. She rightly points out that there’s almost nothing he doesn’t know about her, so she wants to learn more about him. He even casually mentions he hails from “the land of eternal night”, beyond any safe human habitations.

That exploration has to wait, as Melida has a festival to attend, in which all the girls in her class wear the same dresses handed down by their senpais. Melida is looking forward to wearing the same dress as Elli, and vice versa, but Elli’s maid Othello has other ideas, and hand-makes a garment that, while gorgeous and of higher quality, brings bitter tears to Elli’s eyes as she has to run from her classmates’ harsh gazes and comments.

Melida and Elise aren’t just related, they’re the best of friends going way back, so it’s heartbreaking to see the adults (other than Kufa) treat them as if they’re enemies and pawns in the struggle for control of the Angel family. Neither of them want to fight one another; they want to support each other and have good times together. Is that so much to ask in a world of eternal darkness?

When the two are kidnapped by the Grimface Guild, their bond is tested once more when the shady man with the bandaged face announces his plan to forcibly take Elise’s Paladin Class and graft it onto Melida, overwriting her current Samurai Class. A dastardly plan, but good thing the guy isn’t too great with details.

While he sealed the mana of both girls, he failed to realize that the materials in Elli’s fancier outfit and tiara are packed with mana. Applying Kufa’s lesson about using whatever you can to survive, Melida fashions a torch with which she dispatches the low-level Lancanthropes of the kind Elli has always been afraid.

Melida’s pluck and resourcefulness buys time for the big guns to arrive and mop up, and it’s in his fight with Bandage-face that we learn that Kufa Vampir is, well, a half-vampire, or half-the strongest of Lancanthropes. It’s great to finally get a smirk out of the guy, and now I know why he had such a sedate performance in earlier episodes; he was repressing his true vampiric nature.

It could also explain why Melida is so smitten with him (since vampires can glamour humans), though I chalk that more up to the fact that among adults, he’s the only one to actually put faith in her abilities and not treat her like a pawn to be discarded if she doesn’t shape up. He’s also handsome, well-spoken, kind, and doesn’t forget that the one festival thing Melida was looking forward to most (other than being with Elli in the parade) was have a dance with him, so they do.

He also reiterates his undying commitment to her, having told the bad guy earlier that even if she ends up surpassing him and will set about hunting him, he’ll gladly stick his neck out. He’s all in on Melida, and I can’t blame him; the girl hustles and never gives up. She’s got nowhere to go but up…as long as Kufa can keep other assassins off her back!

P.S. Elli eventually changes into the same dress as Melida. Daaaaaaaaw.

Assassins Pride – 02 – The Right Time to Shine

In a welcome scene of student and teacher bonding, Melida learns that despite his stoic look and manner he’s both embarrassed to have to examine her body (her being a girl and all) but has been trained to hide his true emotions. While that was implied last week, it’s good to hear him actually voice it, as well as voice his sincere hope for her success.

While Melida’s mana has awakened, she’s not a Paladin, but a Samurai class, like Kufa. Kufa warns her to keep her awakening secret and forbids her from using mana against anyone but him. Since he estimates she’s currently only able to summon half of her mana, she’ll rely on the element of surprise to win in the school tournament.

Keeping cards close to one’s vest, and waiting for the opportune time to reveal them, are all part in parcel of what Kufa is all about. But he learns something about her too when she defends him against the mocking words of her “friend” Nerva: she’ll more readily summon what strength she has for others before herself.

When the tournament begins, even Melida’s allies aren’t aware she can use mana, and she doesn’t use it until Nerva is at the very height of her arrogance. Thankfully it’s not a one-sided affair, as there’s a lot of back-and-forth as Nerva ups her game. But in the end, there’s a card in Melida’s hand she kept even from her tutor, taking a page from his book.

That card is a phantom-blade technique he only demonstrated to her once, meaning she either learned it from that one time, or trained a bunch on her own. She thought mutliple moves ahead in her fight with Nerva, making it seem like she was totally out of mana, only to summon the rest of it when Nerva opened herself up to finish her.

In the end, Melida surprised Nerva to the point that after their match she returns the book she took from her and apologizes, apparently continue to value the “friendship” she said they’d have no matter what happens. I appreciated that extra dimension to Nerva, who isn’t just a sneering, bullying bitch after all.

Melida also addresses her father and master of the house, and as Kufa remarks, just the fact her father responded to her (by basically telling her not to get too cocky until she’s accomplished more) is another victory. If she continues to improve, it’s looking less and less likely Kufa will have to kill her, or worry about getting killed himself for failing.

But even with a chastened Nerva and an semi-acknowledging father, Melida faces a lot more adversity, both from her overachieving Paladin cousin Elsie to some unsavory lancanthropes lurking in the shadows.

Dororo – 21 – Dororo Has a Bad Feeling About This

The title of this post says it all: Dororo has stayed alive as long as he has for two reasons: She’s pretended to be a he, and he’s had very good instincts for danger. Sure, he’s gotten himself into innumerable tough spots, but has had the luck to slip out of them, thanks to Hyakkimaru, Biwamaru, and other allies along the way.

So when Dororo says he has a bad feeling about heading to Daigo, Hyakkimaru should use those new ears of his and listen. He doesn’t, and grave misfortune follows, just as Daigo is dealing with the worst misfortune since before he made his demon pact. As epidemics and blights plague his lands, Asakura has fielded a 2,000-strong invasion army, far larger than anything he can muster.

As such, what few troops he has left are forced to recruit any able-bodied men and boys from the healthy villages (leaving too much work for the women and children, which will have serious consequences) and burning the infected villages and shooting anyone who tries to escape. It’s time for desperate measures all around, and not a place Hyakkimaru and Dororo should go anywhere near.

Short-handed as he is, Lord Daigo cannot refuse his son’s demand to hunt down Hyakkimaru with no one but Mutsu and Hyougou—there’s no talking Tahoumaru down—but still assigns his “fixer” to follow them. Speaking from experience when their village was raided, their parents slain in front of them, and taken captive by samurai, Mutsu and Hyougou voice their extreme dislike of war in all its forms. More distressingly, Mutsu’s malady is worsening, and can no longer be hidden.

Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru’s mother also laments that despite being the wife of a great lord, she is helpless to stop the path of destruction upon which both of her sons have set themselves. Nothing Dororo says can convince Hyakkimaru to reconsider his quest to get all of his body back, not matter how much death and destruction it might cost; not matter how much it might change him into someone Dororo can no longer walk beside.

Hyakkimaru counters by saying he wants to see Dororo with his own eyes and touch him with his own hands, but in the grand scheme of human suffering, it doesn’t seem enough to justify his actions, no matter how unjustly he was treated.

Those looking for two-dimensional heroes or villains will find none in this episode. People may be fighting for or against Hyakkimaru’s interests, but everyone has good motives for doing so. In Mutsu and Hyougou’s case, their loyalty to Lord Daigo and Tahoumaru in particular is the consequence of Lord Daigo having saved them from both from a fate worse than death: to starve as captives among corpses.

I couldn’t help but cheer when Daigo entered that pit of hell and dragged the feral, mangy kids out of there. Yes, he put them to work as Tahoumaru’s official friends and protectors, which might not have been their choice, but theirs are still infinitely better (and longer) lives than they’d have lived had Daigo not saved them. Both have long since made peace with the fact that they won’t always like the orders their lord gives them, or the choices their young master makes, but their loyalty is absolute all the same.

So Mutsu and Hyougou join Tahoumaru in their latest confrontation of Hyakkimaru, as their master’s right and left hands. In a bout of sickening irony, those are the same hands Hyakkimaru chops off of the two of them, now more powerful and enraged than ever. It is Tahoumaru who has to save his own bodyguards from his wrath, and receives a nasty gash on his brow for his trouble.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about thorughout Tahoumaru’s efforts to rid the world of his older brother is that how does he know killing him will solve anything? The demon pact was broken, full stop. Those parts of Hyakkimaru they took were taken from a living baby; killing him won’t necessarily automatically return those parts to them. All of Tahoumaru’s rage and single-mindedness on his destruciton, and it may not end up making any difference. His father’s lands may simply be doomed regardless.


Things look bad for Tahoumaru, but we were never meant to forget about Lord Daigo’s fixer, who arrives on the back of a prized white horse named Midoro stolen from one of the villages and pressed into military service. What does the fixer do with this splendid horse? He blows it up in a cynically efficienty attempt to kill Hyakkimaru.

Yet even this fixer is not an evil man. He’s obeying his lord’s orders, protecting his lord’s son, and defending his lord’s domain and its people the only way he knows how.

Even if it means using Dororo as a hostage, something the maimed Mutsu and Hyougou strongly protest (no doubt because the child reminds them of themselves—and of history repeating itself—neither of them have an alternative for dealing with Hyakkimaru, who is still alive at the bottom of a gorge.

About that gorge: it is filled with the corpses of samurai and their armor, as well as the parts of poor Midoro the horse, all of which undergoes some kind of demonic transformation down there. Like Dororo said: he had a bad feeling about this. Maybe next time someone will listen…if there is a next time.

One parting nitpick: the quality of the horses this week is iffy at best, suggesting limited skill and experience rendering them on the part of the animators. Considering the importance of one particular horse, that was a rather distracting shortcoming, though not a deal-breaker.

Dororo – 20 – Red Autumn

Even with its often subdued, earthy palette, Dororo is a looker of a show, its gorgeous, painterly and serene natural environments forming a backdrop for all the grittier, brutish human-on-demon (or human-on-human) interactions. When the autumn season arrives, it provides a burst of colorful splendor that further elevates the setting.

Of course, Dororo points out that red is also the color of demons for Hyakkimaru. The vivid foliage is foreshadowing for the carnage to come, as the two meet a ronin who is hunting a demon who killed his ma. The fall also represents the beginning of the end of prosperity for Daigo and Tahoumaru’s lands.

When our duo meets the beast—a nue or chimera—we learn the ronin is actually helping it by serving up victims, since when others are dying it helps him forget about the gaping void in his heart after the loss of his mother. It’s just that the victims aren’t usually as tough as Hyakkimaru, who only doesn’t defeat the beast because he and Dororo take a spill of a crrumbling stone cliff.

As Daigo ponders his next move now that the deal with the demons seems to be off (remembering his wife mention the one demon who didn’t claim a part of their son’s body), Dororo wakes up from the fall with his arm trapped under rocks, and my thoughts immediately went to the grisly resolution in 127 Hours.

Worse, the spot where he’s stuck is riverbed, and the water starts to rise. Hyakkimaru can’t get any leverage on the rocks with his false arms, and as Dororo’s head slips below the waterline, Hyakkimaru resorts to slamming his head against it in desperation, screaming in desperation. It’s a sickening scenario, even if we know Dororo will somehow survive it.

That’s thanks to Biwamaru, whose continued following of the duo seems to indicate he still has a role to play with regard to Hyakkimaru. Biwa rescues Dororo, but Hyakkimaru is devastated by the fact that Dororo would have died had Biwa not been there, all because Hyakkimaru’s arms were stolen by demons.

He rushes to the nue to take back what’s his, and as the ronin watches him fight we see the truth of his story with his ma: he sought the nue out to defeat it and prove his worth both to his ma and his village. But things went south, and when the nue grabbed his ma, his ma grabbed him.

In a panic, the ronin cut his own mother’s arm off so he could flee. After that, the village ostracized him, but he ended up filling that hole in his chest by either killing them or feeding them one by one to the monster. As he watches Hyakkimaru fight, he sees the samurai he had hoped to be.

Realizing it’s too late for that, or anything else, he offers himself to the nue, which proceeds to heal the face Hyakki maimed and then sprouts wings.

By the time Dororo catches up, the sun is low, turning the surroundings suitably, intensely red. He sees the aftermath of Dororo’s vicious battle with the nue, walking past various parts of the monster sitting in pools of blood. Before Hyakkimaru kills what’s left of him, it dawns on the ronin why this man doesn’t have any fear: because he’s not entirely human.

Hyakkimaru finishes him off, but receives no new body parts in return, leading him to fume and hack at the monster’s body as Dororo tries to calm him down before he goes too far and loses himself. But Hyakkimaru believes he’ll always be lost as long as the demons have the rest of his body.

So he’s heading to the source of it all: back to Daigo, once again opening up the moral can-of-worms in which he is both justified in taking back what was taken, and Daigo is justified in wanting to stave off the destruction of his people.

Surely another clash with Tahoumaru and his retainers is imminent, all with little Dororo in the middle, doing what he can to keep his bro a human with whom he can walk through the gorgeous autumn woods, and who can live with himself and his actions.

Dororo – 06 – Not Everyone Can Get It All Back

Anyone who thought things were going to work out with Mio and her group of orphans has not been paying attention: Dororo is about people losing more than they can bear and trying to press on, but not everyone gets to survive. Some, like Mio and the kids, become another loss for our protagonists, who are cursed with the luck of survival, and with bearing witness to those who aren’t so lucky.

Dororo may have stumbled upon what Mio is up to all night, but Take is still blissfully unaware, and Dororo keeps it that way. Take, like Mio, dreams of the day they have the money to plant a rice paddy that will be green in spring and golden in the autumn. It’s what keeps them going, and it no doubt prompts Dororo to wonder what keeps him going.

At Casa de Daigo, Tahomaru urges his father to let him fight in the army. His head is full of steam and dreams of making his parents proud, but both father and mother forbid his demand, because they know all too well how easy it is to lose your life, no matter how good at martial arts one may be.

Tahomaru takes out his frustrations on his mother, who he’s suspected for some time loves and cares about something more than him. He knows he was childish to guilt trip her, but he’s continually vexed by the mystery of who or what dominates his parents’ thoughts. If he and Hyakkimaru ever meet, it’s not going to be cordial.

Dororo and Mio have to watch Hyakkimaru like a hawk from going back to fight the antlion demon while his leg wound is healing. Mio is eager to hear the voice Hyakkimaru gained , but he only wants to hear her song, which she says she sings to forget the pain. She lives with the pain of both everything she’s lost and what she must deal with nightly.

She worries her soul looks “filthy” to Hyakkimaru, but we can see through his eyes and it’s not; she’s being far too harsh on herself. Dororo also admits after his initial reaction that Mio is only doing what she must to survive. He tells her his mother never did what she did, and she died for it.

But unlike Hyakkimaru and Dororo, Mio doesn’t get to survive anyway, despite going to such lengths. Daigo’s soldiers catch her working on both sides of the conflict, which was always a risk too great no matter the reward, and they punish her by killing her, slaughtering the orphans, and burning their temple shelter.

Worse still, Hyakkimaru’s need to finish his fight with the demon draws him away at the worst possible time. He successfully defeats the demon, and the leg it took from him last week is fully restored. But it wasn’t worth it. I will miss Mio terribly; Mizuki Nana really brought warmth and empathy to her role, but she was just too good for this world.

When Hyakkimaru takes out his hatred for the soldiers and anger at himself for not being there when it mattered, it is a terrifying sight to behold, and almost verbatim what Biwamaru had feared: that the beast that emerged from the cave would be a monster. He doesn’t just quickly, cleanly kill the murderous wretches, he evicerates them, ignoring their pleas for mercy.

Dororo manages to stop him from killing the last man, who escapes and will probably report Hyakkimaru to Daigo, officially ending his time in the shadows and putting him squarely in his father’s sights. That may end up being a very bad idea, but Dororo had to stop him from killing everyone, lest the darkness consume him. He shows Hyakkimaru the bag of rice seed Mio finally got for her services.

She was on the cusp of achieving her dreams and those of the orphans, but their idealized future was never going to be safe in this harsh brutal land of warring factions, whether Hyakkimaru stayed to protect them or not. He couldn’t be a hero to Mio and the kids. All he can do is accept his luck, keep surviving, keep fighting the demons both outside and within, with Dororo making sure to serve as a conscientious check when his aniki’s pain threatens to explode.

Dororo – 05 – A Beautiful Soul in an Ugly World

Hyakkimaru may have his hearing back, but at least initially it’s more of a curse than a blessing. Even in an eerily quiet forest he’s assaulted by what he perceives as an intolerable din of creature sounds, not to mention Dororo’s voice. Determining that something has to be done until he gets used to hearing, Dororo wraps his ears in several layers of fabric to lesson the suffering.

When a bird monster suddenly attacks, it’s clear that Hyakkimaru’s newfound hearing is also messing with his ability to fight. He gets a few licks in, but the bird gives as good as it gets, seriously injuring Hyakkimaru. It it isn’t for Biwamaru showing up to finish it off, it probably would have been curtains for Hyakkimaru and Dororo.

Biwamaru fixes him up as best he can, but Hyakkimaru will need medicine to recover properly. He’s also being very stubborn about accepting the fact he can now hear. Biwa compares him to a beast holed up in its cave; he’ll have to come out sooner or later. The boys have run into Biwamaru because the old priest has had to turn around after entering lands in which a war is currently being fought between the Sakai clan and the ally it betrayed.

In the morning, Hyakkimaru hears a sound he’s never heard before: a woman singing a sweet and gentle song. He follows the song and finds its owner, a beautiful young woman, washing her kimono in the river. While some might find the sight of Hyakkimaru frightening, she is concerned…especially when he nearly passes out in her arms.

The songstress, who goes by Mio, invites the three to the ruins of a village where she cares for a group of small war oprhans, most of whom are missing limbs like Hyakkimaru. Dororo meets a lad near his own age in Takebo, who serves as Mio’s second-in-command of the little ‘uns. Takebo also insists Mio get her sleep, as she works all through the night and needs to have her energy. Dororo doesn’t ask Takebo to elaborate.

Meanwhile, Lord Kagematsu’s wife Nuinokata impresses upon her husband the seriousness of recent unfortunate events that have befallen them, from landslides to drought to the betrayal of the Sakai clan. Tahoumaru overhears, and probably thinks he can do something to ease his father’s troubles. Of course, we know that as long as Hyakkimaru keeps killing the demons who stole pieces of him, the demons will continue to seek reparations from Daigo.

As Biwamaru searches for a safe path along which to continue, Mio goes to work when the sun sets. When she returns in the morning, her kimono slightly askwer, Hyakkimaru is waiting for her. She gets the feeling he can not only see her, but see deeper than most; Dororo tells her she’s right; he can see souls.

In both her selfless actions, charity towards both the orphans and her new guests, and the beauty of the song she sings, Hyakkimaru is now able to ascertain with both sight and sound that Mio is a particularly good soul. He signs that wants to hear her song again, and she obliges.

Seemingly invigorated by the song, Hyakkimaru wastes no time heading off when Biwamaru informs them all that there’s a safe area to which to relocate, provided they can defeat the tough demon that dwells there. But with his wounds still held together with hope and still dealing with his new sense of hearing, Hyakkimaru loses a step. He defeats the demon, but loses his one real leg below the knee. Defeating this demon unlocks his voice, and he uses it to cry out in what must be excruciating pain, while Biwamaru looks at him like he’s already got one foot in the grave.

Later that night, while following Mio to town where she hopes to do business with both sides of the conflict to fund her little group’s relocation, Dororo loses track of her. When he finally finds her, it’s due in part because she’s singing, but the reason she’s singing gives Dororo pause: she’s singing while being raped by three soldiers.

Once again Dororo takes a cold hard look at the casual brutality and injustice of feudal Japan. It takes a particularly dim view of lords and the samurai they wield as tools of terror and death. In this time and place wars can pop up at the drop of an obi, leaving children without their parents or even their very limbs. They are only able to survive because poor Mio sells her body every night.

I would hope that Hyakkimaru, Dororo, and Biwamaru could do something to help them, but with Hyakkimaru’s new horrifying injury, it’s hard to believe he’ll be doing anything anytime soon.

Golden Kamuy – 03 – An Ainu Girl for a New Era

We begin this week with another demonstration of Ainu field cuisine, with Asirpa whipping up a sumptuous soup out of rabbit meatballs, mushrooms and leeks. All it needs, in Sugimoto’s opinion, is a bit of miso paste, but when he takes it out Asirpa mistakes it for poop—a perfectly reasonable reaction considering she’s never seen it before!

After that light fare, the morning brings heavier troubles: Asirpa spots something else she’s unfamiliar with—the glint of binocular lenses—and she and Sugimoto find themselves on the run from the 7th Division, who close in on them quickly thanks to their skis. Sugimoto decides he and Asirpa will split up, and if caught she’ll not resist and pretend to know nothing.

Asirpa is caught, and as Sugimoto assumed, the soldier isn’t interested in harming a little Ainu girl…until he learns she was hiding treasure maps and can understand Japanese (her initial dialogue with him involved telling the soldier in Ainu that the man she was with puts poop in his soup and eats it). Fortunately, Asirpa’s Ezo wolf buddy Retar comes to her rescue.

Meanwhile, three men surround Sugimoto, who has no choice but to bet on his Immortal status and believe Asirpa’s assertion that a bear won’t kill a man who enters its den by diving right in. When the soldiers fire into the opening, the bear pops out and mortally wounds them all before dying.

While both the bear and wolf CGI stand out in a not-so-good way, it’s not enough to pull me out of the action; both seem very much ferocious threats to the humans.

Sugimoto emerges unscathed and reunites with Asirpa (giving Retar a nice belly rub for his assistance), but he’s worried she won’t let him keep the orphaned bear cub he carried out of the den. Rather than eat it like he fears, she decides they’ll take it to her village, or kotan, where they often raise orphan bears.

There, Sugimoto finally steps out of the wilderness and into a different world entirely—the world of the Ainu. Asirpa’s grandmother is the most venerable member of the kotan, and the villagers are more curious about Sugimoto than scared of him.

Granny promptly asks him to take Asirpa for his wife so she can die happy…but she says it in Ainu, and her interpreter, Asirpa herself, does not translate for him.

Asirpa further explains the way of life of her people, which is largely shaped by their belief in kamuy, or gods, coming to them in various forms, including animals. If they come across a baby bear, for instance, they take it as a sign that the bear should be loved and cared for, and eventually “sent back” to where the kamuy reside.

In exchange for the sending, they get the bear’s meat and pelt, while the care they gave the bear prior to the ceremony is to convince the kamuy to keep returning and providing resources. In this way, it’s not a matter of offerings or sacrifice, but of merely assisting the kamuy in their travels back and forth between the two planes. It’s all quite fascinating and engrossing.

I just hope that Asirpa’s village will survive what could well be a good deal of collateral fallout from her and Sugimoto’s dealings with the 7th Division, as well as the prisoners themselves who seek the treasure of gold.

There’s a lot of competing interests in play, and among their rivals are characters with colorful personalities, from Tsurumi (missing the front of his skull, but otherwise a picture of health) to Hijikata (still a boy with a sword at heart, with no qualms about interrupting his comrade’s, er…lovemaking). Sugimoto and Asirpa will certainly have their hands full.

Golden Kamuy – 02 – Something They Carve Together

As Asirpa prepares traps to ensnare delicious nut-fed squirrels for dinner, Sugimoto determines the prisoners will avoid small villages where they’d stand out. The pair head into the booming port and commercial city of Otaru to canvass the places where they’d expose their tattooed skin: the baths and the brothels.

While questioning sex workers, the tiny Asirpa gets nabbed by the brothel owner, but quickly demonstrates she’s not worth his trouble, considering her skill with a knife handle and the “immortal” company she keeps.

Ultimately, they manage to snag their first prisoner the same way they catch squirrels: with a snare that traps him by the neck. Asirpa is adamant that they’ll kill nobody needlessly, and instead uses the pencil and paper acquired in Otaru to draw their captive’s tattoos. Fun little human moments like Asirpa drooling over squirrel meat or her shock at Sugimoto’s “rubber pencil” trick are effective at keeping the mood from getting too heavy.

This prisoner escaped from the others when they suddenly started killing each other, not realizing that absent drafting skills (or pencils), completing the map meant quite a bit of skinning. However, before this prisoner can give them any more information, he’s shot right through the brain, darkening the mood anew.

Sugimoto tracks down the gunman and identifies him not just as a fellow soldier, but one of the much-feared and respected Hokkaido 7th Division, known as the Guardians of the North for their tenacity in even the toughest battles. In other words, a division Sugimoto would be right at home in, had he not been dishonorably separated from the army.

The two share a couple moments as fellow soldiers to prepare for battle, and when the soldier asks if Sugimoto is tracking down the prisoners for money, he corrects him by saying it’s for love…which isn’t far off. After all, the money is for the family of the friend he loved, not for himself.

This time, Sugimoto’s foe is too tough to go easy on, and when the choice becomes letting him go to inform his superiors and stopping him, Sugimoto tosses the butt of his rifle at the guy, hitting him in the head and sending him tumbling off a cliff and into the freezing river, where he and Asirpa presume he’s dead but rather sloppily refrain from confirming it.

That error could be a result of hunger, but “We’re alive, so of course we get hungry” Asirpa has the solution for that when they return to her hunting tent, which is also her kitchen, There, she skins the squirrels they caught and lets Sugimoto eat the brain of one raw, which is supposedly the best part.

She finely minces the remaining meat and bones into chitatap, a kind of dish that sounds like the way you make it (incidentally, one should say “chitatap” while chopping the meat). In a concession to Sugimoto’s Sisam tastes, she forms balls with the meat and cooks them in broth for a sumptuous meal, and uses the Ainu saying “Hinna, hinna!” instead of “Itadakimasu!” to give thanks.

There’s no such thing as eating too much out here in The Grey, so after nabbing and sketching their second prisoner in as many days, Asirpa gets a bead on a rabbit and pounces on it. Unfortunately, this prisoner is an escape artists who coughs up a razor with which to cut himself free.

While chasing him down, he and Sugimoto end up tumbling down a cliff and falling into the drink, which is a death sentence for those who don’t get their freezing clothes off and warm up in front of a fire within ten minutes.

There’s a black comedy of errors as the prisoner succumbs to the various symptoms of hypothermia, but once he gets Sugimoto’s assurances he’ll spare his life, he coughs up a bullet they can use to spark a life-saving fire.

Having survived their dance with death, the two bond, casting aside their conflict, and the prisoner, Shiraishi, shares more intel with Sugimoto, including the fact that the leader of the prisoners is a grizzled and immensely-skilled samurai veteran from a war fought thirty years prior.

Meanwhile, the 7th division private also survived his hypothermia (perhaps Sugimoto’s immortaliy rubs off on people) and soon wakes up, meaning his commanding officer, who himself  seems to have survived having a large part of his face peeled off. As tough and resourceful as Sugimoto and Asirpa are, the characters they’ll have to deal with to achieve their goal are no slouches!

Golden Kamuy has established itself as one of the best best of the Spring, despite taking place in a bitterer Winter than the one we’re still struggling to escape in real life. So far it’s sported some great characters of almost mythical ability, offered some creative combat and survival skills, integrating elements of Ainu culture wherever possible. The OP and ED are also tight as hell. More than anything, Golden Kamuy has attitude, but isn’t so serious it won’t crack jokes where appropriate.

Onihei – 01 (First Impression)

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The Gist: a gritty historical crime anime, which nails the mood of swords and samurai Japan, all the way down to the jazzy saxophone music. Heizo Hasegawa is chief of Arson Theft Control, a title that makes about as much sense as his personal blend of torture-love to get criminals to turn over a new leaf does. Learning that the chief’s daughter isn’t biological, but rather adopted from a thief, ATC’s most recent tortured prisoner decides to turn over a new leaf and join them.

The Verdict: the pacing is terrible, lurching right into a lengthy period of non-action before giving the viewer a reason to care about the characters, followed by lengthy exposition and spoken backstories by guards and the protagonists. It doesn’t look great, it doesn’t have much music after the opening roll, and the lethargic pace make this a pure skip.

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