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.

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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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Kuromukuro – 26 (FIN)

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With Ken planning to leave Earth to help Zell and Muetta fight another battle, Yukina is forlorn, but she regains the will to do something about it thanks to her supportive circle of friends, who have always served as a kind of Scooby Gang, performing impressive feats by utilizing and pooling their individual talents. Akagi in particular takes one for the team, as ultimately Yukina’s happiness is more important to him than being her husband.

 

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When it comes time for Ken, Zell, and Muetta to make their move, trying to open a wormhole to Zell’s world with the Pivot Stone, Yukina and her friends descend on Kurobe lab armed with their wits, the press (so there are eyes on the military’s actions), and Yukina’s unyielding determination to accompany Ken on his journey, lest he go and get himself killed.

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Sebastian also lends Yukina, Sophie and Kaya a hand, while we learn with shock that Dr. Hausen is Kaya’s dad (good for a chuckle). It’s understood that Ken, Zell, and Muetta, along with Yukina and her friends, are violating international law through their actions, but neither Graham nor Scully are quick enough to stop them.

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Even when Scully corners Ken, Zell and Muetta, Yukina manages to pilot Medusa, bursting through the wall and giving Ken an open path to the Kuromukuro. And when she grabs a hold of Kuromukuro and Ken demands she let go, Yukina…doesn’t. She’s in this for the long haul, whether he wants her in danger or not. Ken accepts that Yukina (whom he calls his “wife”) won’t take no for an answer.

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Unfortunately for Yukina and Ken, Tom and Shenmei have orders to stop them at all costs, and while Ken ultimately succeeds in going through the wormhole, it isn’t with Yukina, and they are in an instant separated by perhaps thousands of light-years.

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Cut to a few years later, and thanks to the technology lifted from the Efidolg mothership, mankind has developed interstellar flight, and have built a spaceport a slightly older Yukina, Sophie and Sebastian utilize to finally meet up with Ken (whom Yukina knows is still alive thanks to a bauble given to her by Dr. Hausen).

After a tragic separation, this epilogue paints an optimistic future for Yukina as she says a temporary goodbye to her family and strikes out in the vast expanse of space to join the man she fell in love with. Like him, like the samurai, she is always going forward.

And that finally does it for Kuromukuro. The ending episodes weren’t quite as good as when all shit hit the fan and everyone had to deal with the aftermath in episodes 6-8, but they were still solidly entertaining.

P.A. Works took an offbeat, novel approach to the sci-fi mecha genre, but with lovable characters above-average animation and taut action, and a good helping of the all-important “not taking itself too seriously”, the studio churned out another winner.

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Kuromukuro – 25

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After some “sorta back to normal” scenes with Yukina and Ken back at school, we start to enter the full aftermath of Earth’s victory over the Efidolg mothership. A lot happens behind the scenes, like Yukina’s mom’s firing (which she kinda had coming after that whole mutiny thing).

But front and center is the fate of Muetta, who not only learns from the brainwashed Lefill that she was manufactured using Yukihime’s genetic information, but would have been disposed of as soon as the mission on Earth had been completed. It means if she hadn’t betrayed her allies, they would have eventually killed her off.

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Everyone also has time to sit around and listen to Zell complete the story of how he and a team of colleagues rammed an Efidolg ship, crashing both on Earth, and how of the Washiba clan, he only manged to save Yukihime and Ken. It sounds like Ken’s surviving came down to luck, but Ken is still determined to consider what Zell did a life debt he intends to repay.

As for Muetta, she learns from Zell’s description of his homeworld’s sky that she possesses memories from that world; possibly even those of his daughter who was killed by the Efidolg along with his wife. She’s heartened by the fact such a place actually exists, and wants to go there to see it for real.

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The humans in charge aren’t going to make that easy; again, Hiromi has been fired, Scully is back at the lab, and Dr. Hausen is given carte blanche to experiment not only with Muetta, but the surviving Efidolg pilot as well. I’m worried his fatigue-inducing “medication” could disrupt the nanomachines making Muetta and Ken “conditionally immortal.” To be continued.

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The recipient of the gut punch that ends the episode, however, is Yukina, who has not forgotten Ken’s earlier proposal (and has taken it seriously) and wants to stay by his side no matter what; even if he goes to Zell’s planet with Zell and Muetta.

The only problem is, Ken doesn’t want her to go, and marrying her is no longer possible, because repaying his life debt must take precedence. Ever the samurai, Ken. We’ll see if Yukina lets things stay this way, or if she decides what future she wants and reaches out and grabs it.

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Kuromukuro – 24

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Muetta officially joins the good guys, fighting against her former allies, a contrite Graham reinstates Sophie, and Ken offers the crummiest marriage proposal Yukina could ask for—it’s a busy episode of Kuromukuro this week, in contrast to the previous episode’s leisureliness, and that’s before the giant battle to retake Kurobe Lab and deactivate the Pivot Stone.

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There are no cliffhangers for this counterattack: it’s presented in its entirety this week, ending in a near-total victory for the good guys, which is surprising, almost to the point of implausibility. Kuromukuro, the surviving GAUS 1, Zell, Liddy, and his Glider, and Muetta’s Medusa seem an awfully raggity force to take down Mirasa, Yoruba, Imusa, and Refill, but they get it done in mostly convincing fashion thanks to two things the Efidolg don’t seem have: teamwork and a sense of their own mortality.

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It’s teamwork that splits the Efidolg forces, teamwork that keeps them off balance, and teamwork that brings their glonguls down one by one. It’s another exciting battle that really pops thanks to the now-wintry backdrop of the Lab’s environs, and the clashing personalities, like Muetta and Mirasa, pop even more.

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As for Sebastian surviving, well, I’ll just say I would have preferred if he’d stayed dead. I have nothing against the guy, but his heroic death put much-needed weight and a human face on the capture of Kurobe. Heck, he’s the only character of note among the good guys who actually died in the first place. Others were brainwashed, but they seem to be okay as well, provided the implants can be extracted.

 

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Once Yoruba and Mirasa are killed (at least I think they’re killed), Imusa’s glongur combines with his commander Refills to make One Huge Super Mecha that starts tearing everyone up with its four flexible blade-tentacle thingys. This battle had the progression of an RPG, with the good guys having to defeat foot soldier-level foes, moving up to the elites, and finally the big bad boss with multiple points of attack.

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At this stage of the battle, everyone is wondering how much longer they can hold out, until Yukina takes it upon herself to direct the action, calling for a simultaneous attack on each of the four blades while she and Ken blast through their swipes. Ken gets to yell a lot, but this time Yukina gets to as well, seeming to connect with the Kuromukuro in a new way in the process.

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Completing the team effort, and escaping Refill gets stabbed in the back by Zell, who unmasks him to reveal…one of this own kind; at least a brainwashed clone of one. While under Zell’s own brainwashing microbot, Refill warns that if the Pivot Stone remains inactive, another, larger Efidolg fleet will be sent to Earth, a journey that will take 224 years but will happen.

That may sound like a long time, perhaps even enough time for Earth to reverse engineer enough Efidolg tech to build a defense. But it’s also just over half the time that’s passed since the Washiba Clan were wiped out. So while this particular crew of bad guys has been knocked out and the immediate danger would seem to have passed, there’s still much to be done to protect Earth for the long run.

As for Yukina, she seems shaken by her most recent experience co-piloting Kuromukuro. Is she, as Zell warned Tom, starting to feel the effects of the the permanent change “giving oneself” to a glongur enacts? I’m intrigued by the fact so much has gotten done with two whole episodes remaining. Should be an interesting finish.

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Kuromukuro – 20

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Now this is the kind of episode that fully delivers on the promise of Kuromukuro from the start. No more teasing: Yukina is finally stuck aboard an alien mothership, and while before we were only given bits of dialogue from the bigwigs sitting on their thrones on the bridge, here we get a grand tour of the massive vessel, with Yukina as our guide.

Lighting, sound, and visual design get top marks here, creating a suitably alien and oppressive but still wondrous atmosphere. Yukina also benefits, at least initially, from the ship (and its various automated crewmen) believing she’s Muetta. I say initially because it isn’t long before Mirasa finds Yukina and tries to kill her, laughing maniacally the whole time.

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A little less exciting, but still important, is Sophie’s continued chat with Zell, who reveals he’s third world that was conquered and dominated by the Efidolg. He doesn’t want what happened to his world (nothing good) to happen to Earth, and he’d also like some retribution along the way.

At the same time, Major Graham discovers the director’s “mutiny” and acts to restrain her, but as she says, she’s “already won”, because Ken is up in orbit, trying to save her daughter. All anyone down there can do, from Graham and Hiromi to Yukina’s sister, uncle, and friends…is wait.

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Yukina manages to find a hiding place where Mirasa can’t see her, then digs into the ship’s records to try to figure out a way off, to no avail. She also finds what looks either like a clone or artificial “Yukihime head,” disturbingly enough. I appreciate her determination to help herself out, sticking true to what she said to herself in the beginning of the episode: “I can’t have him protect me all the time.”

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When she finally finds some clothes and a weapon, she remembers the gruelling training she went through, and it serves her well, at least in terms of the stamina she no doubt developed, as well as her sword skills, which keep her alive against a Mirasa who may well be compromised from the stress of “Muetta” returning to announce her treachery.

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Little does Mirasa know, until the last possible moment, that Muetta arrived on the ship separately. She reports to her superiors, but can’t keep up the fiction that nothing’s amiss when the ship’s sensors detect Ken roaming the corridors looking for Yukina.

Muetta is immediately treated and attacked as a traitor, which is probably what she expected all along. I for one am glad she doesn’t try to turn Ken and/or Yukina over in exchange for essentially keeping her job and having her past mistakes forgiven. Then again, she’s never actually given the choice to betray Ken, because bringing him here in the first place is all the bigwigs need to condemn her.

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Eventually, Ken finds Yukina, steps in on her fight with Mirasa, and along with Muetta they hurry back to the hangar to make their getaway. Yukina allows herself to cry and embrace Kennosuke with relief and heartfelt gratitude, and her continued thanks makes Ken blush. Sure you were only “fulfilling a promise.” Right.

The Efidolg try to snatch both the Kuromukuro and Muetta’s glongur, but fail when the Ogre flies up into orbit to snatch them out of the enemy tractor beam, allowing them to return to earth. All’s well that ends well…except for the little matter of the Efidolg ship preparing to descend to the Earth’s surface. No rest for the weary…or recently-half-naked.

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Kuromukuro – 19

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Now that’s more like it. The last episode kinda dragged on, building to the surprise abduction of Yukina. But this episode takes full advantage of the severity of that cliffhanger: the Kuromukuro is grounded, Earth is more vulnerable than ever, and everyone is on edge, but powerless to do anything in the immediate present. After all, Yukina is in space.

Their only consolation, and hope, as it happens, is the fact they retrieved the wounded Muetta, whom Dr. Hausen determines has identical DNA to Yukina and Hiromi. They’re definitely related, though Muetta is very old.

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Hiromi is in full-on Mom Panic Mode, Sophie is given mandatory leave by the commander, and Ken is disgraced by how useless he feels. Sophie doesn’t have any sympathy for him moping in the canteen, but that’s for the best, as shortly after she’s alone, she’s contacted by the Ogre, who promises an encounter soon.

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Dr. Hausen is the only one truly happy this week, as he gets to study an Efidolg—or, at least, a human who’s had their memories altered and their body populated by advanced nanomachines. He determines that Ken’s blood is the best way to counteract the effect of Mirasa’s weapon, and after a quick transfusion, Muetta is awake and as feisty and combative as ever.

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The Ogre rudely invades Sophie’s apartment, but properly apologizes, and explains that she was the only person he felt safe contacting. His comment about cosplay culture making it easier to move around modern Japan was pretty amusing, but the fact he’s finally here, with Sophie, ready and willing to explain all (or at least some) is very exciting.

He, or I should say, Zell, is absolutely an enemy of the Efidolg, but not yet an ally of the earthlings. Here’s hoping that will change, becaue the earthlings need all the help they can get.

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Ken knows he can’t do squat about Yukina without the Kuromukuro, and so breaks into Muetta’s cell to try to bargain with her. She agrees to co-pilot it with him, with the story that she stole it and captured him. It’s really the only play they have, and it gets them both what they want: Muetta, freedom from this place, and Ken, a chance to save Yukina.

What I’m glad about is that Ken needs help, and lots of it. He may be a samurai, but he can’t whisk Yukihime out of a high-security international installation on his own. The other civilian lab employees clear a path for them, ending with Hiromi herself giving Ken her blessing (and making him swear he’ll bring her Yukina back).

This is because Hiromi’s superiors told her to give up on Yukina. They proposed using Muetta to pilot Kuromukuro, with Dr. Hausen minutes from administering some dread medication that would likely not give her a choice in the matter.

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to place Yukihime in the “Good Guys” column just yet, but I’ll pencil her in for now. The bottom line is she had few choices to get back to where she belonged other than going along with Ken’s plan, and once they’re up in orbit, Ken is at the mercy of her “people.”

But what makes be believe Yukihime might not bretray him immediately is the recording of…herself she sees once they fire up the Kuromukuro, which she’s amazed powers up so quickly even though it’s her first time. Only it isn’t: she recognizes herself in the recording. There’s an opening here, however small, for her to start entertaining the idea that Ken is right about her.

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That brings us to poor, poor Yukina. The only moment sadder than seeing her sister and mother despair at her abduction is seeing her look down on earth and call for Kennosuke…after asking for some clothes, of course. The Efidolg brought her there not as a hostage, but because they thought she was Muetta.

Mirasa quickly took it upon herself to try to finish what she started, but it seems Yukina was able to escape her stasis chamber in time. Despite her call for her samurai buddy, something tells me she ‘s not simply going to wander the ship, catching her death of cold, waiting for Ken to rescue her. She’s going to have to help herself out, and stay alive and free until help arrives.

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Kuromukuro – 18

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It’s a little detail, but I appreciate the fact that we see Yukina and Ken finally getting paid by the UN for their services. Everyone else working there seems to be. It also lets us know it’s been about three months since they started working together. The sudden influx of funds leads to Yukina taking her family to a hot spring inn. Mika catches word, unilaterally invites anyone who will come, and we’re off to the races.

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The hot spring inn isn’t the most luxurious—no food service and not even any close hot springs—but the ten attendees make do, and Ken uses the $400 pot he bought online to make curry (with Yukina’s help). The centerpiece of the episode is a long dinner scene that to its credit looks like a really fun place to be, unless of course you’re Carlos.

He tried to be clever about announcing he’s transferring but his cosplay video editing job was universally panned, and the announcement (and his on-screen plea not to be forgotten) is ignored in favor of other myriad conversations. The scene has a great energy, jumping from one discussion to another with several interruptions and interludes, just the way a big group dinner works in real life.

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Once it becomes time to check out the actual hot springs the next morning, Yukina happens to forget her towel, and she and Ken happen to go the wrong way and find a different hot spring than the others, where an injured Muetta just happens to be hiding.

We are tipped off to Muetta being at a hot spring before the encounter, and we actually catch a glimpse of her life as a child back home, a gorgeously alien world with crazy sky colors and celestial alignments. It makes her argument that she is not Ken’s princess a lot easier to buy. At least, she’s not lying when she says she has no memory of being Yukihime.

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Not long after Yukina and Ken find Muetta, men in black show up to secure the location…only for Yukina and Ken to end up separated again, and in that moment, Yukina is snatched up by an Efidolg robot and rises up into orbit, leaving her robe behind.

I wasn’t a fan of all the coincidences necessary for that ending to be achieved. This also smells like yet another case of Poor Defenseless Yukina being kidnapped—while naked, no less—and the Dashing Samurai having to find a way to rescue her. Not the most innovative storytelling. Also, while the emphasis on him is played mostly for comedy, I just don’t really care about Carlos, or whether he ceases to be on the show or not. Why should I, when no one else does?

Still, I liked the slice of life vacation elements, and I did not expect things to end so badly, so quickly, for Yukina and Ken. Yukina suddenly being up in orbit, at the mercy of those thoroughly unpleasant Efidolg knights, is a huge turning point—As is finally having Muetta in custody. I don’t doubt that in his desperation to quickly save his new princess, he’ll try to enlist the help of the old one. Pulling that off should prove even tougher than salvaging Carlos’ hack job.

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