Kabukichou Sherlock – 04 – Animals at the Public Bath

Moriarty lures Sherlock out of his filthy apartment to go to the public bath house with the promise of a rakugo performance later in the night; Watson is also invited, perhaps so the three can do a little bonding. Instead, Moriarty spends most of the time telling Watson what he’s doing wrong (there are a lot of rules and practices in a bath house, after all). Things start to get weird when Watson spots one animal-headed guy after another.

Turns out they’re members of a band that wears animal masks, and one of them is missing, which…I guess is the mystery here? The cold open shows two band members getting into an alteraction, and we eventually learn that “Pheasant” punched “Peach” (the missing guy), and wasn’t aware that he later died. “Dog” then hid the body, leaving “Baboon” the only band member who didn’t know about the body.

I have to say, there isn’t much for Sherlock to do here, and his Rakugo: Nude Variation and Watson’s fish out of water antics at the bath can’t really save this episode from being a bit of a snooze-fest. You’d hope with a show that features Sherlock would have more interesting mysteries, but right now they’re the least interesting part of the show, after the setting, colorful characters, and rakugo. Kabukicho remains a weird, cool place to spend time, but I hope some of that time is better spent in future episodes.

Kabukichou Sherlock – 03 – The Ghost Behind the Mirror

When Moriarty’s 16th birthday party is interrupted by the arrival of one Tanaka Pu, on the run from the police, Mrs. Hudson (a weird but clever adaptation of the original landlady character) hears him out.

When Lestrade arrives to arrest him for murdering his Uncle Cosmos, Hudson intervenes by bribing Lestrade and giving the assembled detectives a job: prove Pu’s innocence.

Sherlock and Watson visit Pu’s house and interview his mother, but Holmes is really there to get the measure of who Pu and his family are by studying their living space. Kyougoku Fuyuto is also on the case, mostly because he’s a huge fan of Pu’s uncle’s “legendary rocker” friend B-zou, who says every eighth word or so in English.

It’s nice to see another side of the usually very uptight Fuyuto, but when he insists Pu is indeed the murderer based on the preponderance of evidence, Sherlock voices his disagreement, and delivers an alternative possibility based on the information he’s gathered.

In his now-trademark rakugo style, Sherlock deduces that Uncle Cosmos isn’t dead at all, but faked his death as a murder committed by his nephew. The charred remains weren’t him, but his brother, Pu’s father. In fact, this whole time Cosmos has been hiding inside a mirror mounted above the bed in his penthouse.

It’s another fun and zany enough case, though somewhat predictable; I was pretty certain the murderer was either B-zou or a faked death situation, and I’m usually terrible at such predictions. Watson’s cold-open narration of the events that led to him seeking out Sherlock felt tacked-on and somewhat clumsy.

Now that they’re officially roommates, perhaps he’ll soon get a chance to bring up his case.  As for Moriarty’s pressed clovers and the giant moth he kills…I got nothing, though someone on a forum suggested they represent Jack the Ripper’s victims. All I know is, classic Moriarty (AKA Ratigan) is Holmes’ arch-nemesis.

Kabukichou Sherlock – 02 – A Star Isn’t Born

Another day, another case for Detective Row, a loose collective of private dicks like Sherlock who compete for jobs. Sherlock doesn’t let the fractured leg he suffered when Watson hit him with a car slow him down—though he does exploit Watson’s guilt (and need for his services, though the exact nature of his personal case is still not known) by essentially making him his servant.

This time it’s not murder-most-foul, but a case of a florist named Fujiko who fell victim to an apparent scam. She was convinced she was scouted by an idol agency for her distinctive symmetrical beauty marks, but after a week of strenuous training, the agent vanished without a trace on the day of her big audition.

Upon taking the case, Sherlock puts Watson to work cleaning his house, then puts on a disguise (that doesn’t fool any of his fellow detectives) and heads to the florist’s to meet Saori the part-timer who was watching the store while she was practicing for the idol audition.

There is loud music playing when he comes in, which he abruptly cuts off, after which there are strange banging noises. Saori comes out from the back room, her skirt covered in a strange powder. Sherlock later declares he’s found the culprit, but is furious when he learns one of his rivals, Mary Morstan, also knows…thanks to Watson.

Being from the West Side of Shinjuku, Watson is an easy mark, as evidenced when his wallet was stolen last week. But when he chats with the pretty Mary, she puts a bug in his clothes. That’s how she learns what Sherlock learns…and Sherlock tosses Watson out, warning him never to return.

Watson is almost victimized once again by a gang of little kids who know how to turn on the charm (and turn it right back off at the drop of a hat). He’s saved by the same high school-age lad who recovered his wallet, and a frequent visitor of Sherlock’s.

As for Sherlock, he manages to catch Saori and her accomplice, and when they ask how he knew, he has another one of his wonderful impromptu rakugo sessions, explaining how when Fujiko was off practicing for a non-existent audition, Saori hacked away at the wall between the florist…and the vault of pawn shop containing gold bars.

Sherlock didn’t account for a third thief in The Cobra showing up, but he’s bailed out thanks to the high school lad—whose name we later learn is none other than James Moriarty—telling Watson where Sherlock was. The bank rewards Sherlock a cool 20 million, on top of the million he got for uncovering Fujiko’s scammers. I’d say Watson earned a cut of that this week!

Kabukichou Sherlock – 01 (First Impressions) – Catching Cases in the Sleepless Town

What was originally a swamp grew into a thicket of neon lights, bars, clubs, hotels, and nightclubs, and in the middle of all this churning, chaotic humanity resides a detective agency.

Moving Sherlock Holmes‘ digs from London to Tokyo’s entertainment and red-light district is an inspired move, and having him one of a group of detectives competing to see who will catch Jack the Ripper first makes for an effective combination.

While I know who Sherlock is (as most people do), I have seen more adaptations of his work than read the actual Doyle books, from The Great Mouse Detective and Wishbone to the meh Robert Downey Jr. mini-franchise and the better BBC series starting Benedict Cumberbatch.

It’s nice to see a fairly radically different Holmes here. He’s still a brilliant eccentric with antisocial tendencies here, but the difference in the nice little details. For once, the fact characters have famous names doesn’t really detract from my absorption into the show.

Among the more surprising and amusing differences is Sherlock’s performative breakdown of a murder case that turns out not to involve Jack the Ripper, which takes the form of an impromptu rakugo show with an audience of only two: Dr. Watson (just arrived and already contributing with his medical knowledge) and a young lad whose name I didn’t get.

The fact that it’s not particularly good rakugo is immaterial; the content of the conclusions is what matters.

Sherlock lives in a characteristically messy flat above a drag bar, consumes baffling combinations of food and drinks (how about some fried rice with canned pears, or a glass of alcohol with chili oil?) and has at least two or three people in his head talking things through with him.

It’s fascinating to watch Watson first figure out which detective actually is Holmes, then see the droll, taciturn detective grow more and more lively as he draws closer to solving the case. He’s equally reckless in confronting the killer, yet it’s Watson, not the culprit, who hits him with his own car (thankfully a tiny Fiat).

There will be twenty-four episodes of Kabukichou Sherlock, and however the various cases they encounter are organized within those episodes, I’m confident in its ability to tell a compelling tale in each one of them, building towards something bigger (and yes, the inevitable clash with Moriarty).

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 02 – Another Bang for Another Buck

After two episodes, one thing that stands out about MOK is the quality of animation…or rather lack thereof. There’s a number of things drawn in a fast, iffy, haphazard way that all combine to distract from a story that probably needs better production values to hold my interest.

Which is a shame, because MOK is as strong with the Japanese mythology as it is weak in actually showing it, from the nekomata Yuki who reunites with Arata (who thought Yuki was just a regular cat years ago) to a mysterious nine-headed kishi that threatens to cause further Another disturbance.

Arata and the other midnight occult civil servants are putting in overtime to investigate a string of recent burglaries involving very particular magical objects. Arata, with his “Ears of Sand” that can understand Anothers, is immediately one of the more in-demand members of the office, as if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t be able to gather the information they need to connect the dots.

There’s also a weird tension between Arata’s desire to reason with all Anothers through dialogue and his co-worker’s belief that’s naive and even reckless. They maintain that Anothers are distinctly another, and that they and humans just aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on things. I tend to side with Arata on this; after all, the position of the others is due largely to the inability to ever properly communicate prior to Arata’s arrival.

Still, Arata manages to do something stupid and touch a magical circle of some kind before determining whether it’s safe. He and Kyouichi are teleported deep beneath a mountain, where the “oni” who was riding the kishi, stole all the magical objects, and created the magical circle, is there to welcome “Abe no Seimei” with a horde of kyoushi, or Japanese zombies.

That last-minute reveal finally introduces some serious peril to what had thus far been a mostly harmless job; the kyoushi can’t be talked to or reasoned with, so Arata had better hope he can convince their master to make them stand down. I bet Arata wishes he’d listened to his grandpa more…

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 01 (First Impressions) – Believe What You See

MOK’s first episode takes place entirely at night, as Miyako Arata reports to his first shift at the Shinjuku Ward Office “Nocturnal Community Relations Division”, the exact nature of which is something Arata himself is a little fuzzy about.

He meets two of his new colleages, the bishounen scientist Himezuka Seo and their bespectacled shift leader, Sakaki Kyouichi. They’re both warm and friendly, and inform Arata most of his shifts will take place outside, which only compounds his confusion with what their division does.

Kyouichi and Seo take him to the entrance to Shinjuku Gyoen, unlock the gate, and head inside for a “rite of passage” that involves spraying a “helper spray” that makes fairies and other supernatural creatures visible to those who aren’t able to see them.

Arata meets a tiny (and somewhat surly) pixie, a giant, cuddly Cu Sith, and more, and learns that it’s the NCR Division’s job to maintain good relations with the various supernatural beings that inhabit the forests. It’s most comforting to learn that Tokyo’s ultra-urbanization over the decades hasn’t resulted in the destruction of these beings.

Rather, they exist much like conventional city animals—pigeons, crows, raccoons and squirrels—they’ve adapted to exist beside humans, albeit out of sight to most. Only occasionally, they can cause a disturbance, such as a fight breaking out between angels and tengu.

Arata discovers that an angel and a tengu are lovers who wish to elope, but neither the angel’s older sister nor the tengu’s father approve, and since the two races just naturally don’t get along, it isn’t long before their bickering spills outside of the park and into the city proper.

While Arata can tell the angels and tengu mean no harm, Kyouichi and Seo both seem to ignore them and present a defensive posture, ready to use gas grenades and the like to disperse them. However, Arata informs them that he can hear what they’re saying, and manages to defuse the situation by being the one person who can have a calm dialogue with everyone.

Arata’s colleagues are amazed that Arata can understand what the angels and tengu are saying—it’s a rare if not impossible gift for a mere human, and sure enough when an elder tengu appears and addresses Arata as Abe no Seimei, it’s all but confirmation Arata isn’t a mere human at all.

MOK follows a long tradition of night-oriented Tokyo-set shows like Tokyo Ghoul and Durarara!! in creating a rich and lived in animated version of the Eastern Capital. It also follows the latter of those two shows with a usually laid back, upbeat tone, helped in no small part by the jazzy score by Evan Call (previously of Violet Evergarden and currently of YU-NO). I found MOK—or Midnight Occult Civil Servants—clever, cozy, and cool.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.

Owari no Seraph – 10

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A bunch of vampires go up against a bunch of humans this week, and in a show that I’ve felt for a while now has only eight or nine tenths of the budget it should, the seams were more visible than usual this week.

Showing everyone posing and looking menacing is all well and good, but once the action actually starts, much of it is slow and choppy, or simply not animated at all. The pans of still shots with moving scratches on either side is an old trick when you can’t animate everything you want, but they looked cheap.

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Since there’s a flashback to when Mika first proposes “doing something” about his and Yuu’s family escaping (something Yuu thinks is inconceivable, calling Mika a weirdo), we knew the reunion between the two brothers was imminent. However, several events delayed that…and worse, they kind of felt like stalling.

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After Yuu and Shinoa drop the corporal off at the hospital, Yuu hears that a unit of three Demon Moons are in trouble. Assuiming it’s Shiho, Yoichi and Mitsu, he ignores Guren’s standing orders to help them out. Shinoa follows, because like him, she cares about her new family.

Their friends turn out not to even need their help (while Yuu and Shinoa both save Shiho and Mitsu from attacks from behind, they were the ones who distracted them in the first place). But Yuu tells Shiho it’s not that he doesn’t trust them to carry their weight or survive their fights. It’s the fact that they’re family, and if he hears they’re in trouble, his first priority is to them.

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Helping them and ensuring they’re safe has not become as if not more important to him as killing vampires. But you can’t help but think one or more of his new family will lose their lives at some point, and it’s important not to fall into a cycle of love and despair; that’s no kind of life.

The more elite Demon Moons are having a little trouble with Ferid’s similarly elite squad, and Guren has trouble with the incredibly strong (and arrogant) Mikaela. Again, the battle is made more underwhelming thatn it should have been with the same technical problems I mentioned earlier. Guren resigns himself to the fact he’ll need to take two pills; I was left wishing the show had taken two pills.

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And while Mika, Ferid, and a lot of other vamps and humans spent a lot of this episode standing around talking about fighting rather than actually doing so, Mika decides not to give Guren twenty seconds for his pills to kick in, and stabs him in the chest.

Before he can land the killing blow, more humans arrive, and when Mika turns around and sees Yuu’s face, he freezes. Yuu stabs Mika in the heart with full force, but half a beat later, recognizes him. And just like that, childhood friends and adoptive brothers, reunited with blood and steel. Considering the casualties on both sides, I imagine a mutual retreat next week.

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Owari no Seraph – 09

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Owari no Seraph brings the action this week, starting with a gloriously ridiculous cold open in which a squadron of Vampire Apaches are taken out by a line of Demon Army archers, before two higher-ranking Vamps fly a C-130 into Shinjuku’s barrier wall, blasting a huge hole in the humans’ defense.

It looked for all the world like a suicide attack, but not only do the two co-pilots survive without a scratch, but they even carry on a casual, Joss Whedon-style dialogue, like it’s just another day at the office.

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Things are a bit tenser for our young Moon Demon Company members, as the war literally comes to them and doesn’t ask if they’re ready. Thankfully, they are, and we get to see the whole gang flying and slashing through the air in a brilliant sequence that captures the tense chaos. Unlike many action blockbusters, the relatively steady camera makes it pretty easy to see what’s actually going on, which I appreciated.

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As I said last week, the setting of all this fighting couldn’t be more gloomily appropriate: the ruins of Shinjuku are a constantly unsettling reminder of what’s already been lost and how little is left. Particularly striking is the shot of a school—once the site of silly clubs and laughter and columns of teammates chanting “Fight-o”—converted to a field hospital. Even if all the vampires were to drop dead, we’re not even sure humanity’s gene pool is diverse enough for the species to survive. And many humans will die before this new offensive is over.

I also liked the contrast between the urgency of Yuu & Co. with the relative calm of Guren and his immediate subordinates. They’re veterans who have seen it all, or close to it, and they seem a little more comfortable in their skins and confident in their abilities. Even when Guren spots Feris with a scope and Feris stares right back, it doesn’t faze him. He’s also on a first-name basis with the others, like the power-punching Mito.

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Like Guren, Feris is just kind of chilling as the underlings get valuable battle experience; ready to swoop in if there are any problems. Mika is with Feris, but soon goes off on his own. Feris’ insistence he drink someone’s blood takes Mika back to his first days as a baby vamp, during which Krul Tepes was trying to get him to do the same.

Mika refused a human boy’s blood, and knocked a cup of Krul’s own blood out of her hand…but the sound of that blood pouring and splattering on his face has a visceral effect, and in a moment of possible weakness, possible necessity, he finally digs into her arm. She’s very clear: Mika is her dog, and will always be her dog. In the present, he still carries vials of Kurl’s blood—no one else’s—and he has 10 days of it before he needs more, during which time he hopes to find Yuu.

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That makes Krul’s blood a drug that keeps Mika alive and not a reasonless demon. Turns out, it’s also drugs that, in a pinch, give the humans the edge they need to have a chance against higher-ranking vamps. Shinoa whips them out as casually as Bleach’s Kuchiki Rukia introduces the body-swapping Soul Candy to Ichigo.

In both cases, a fundamentally terrifying biological transformation is treated like taking your Flintstones vitamins. But that’s Shinoa for you; always keeping it light and breezy.

Then there’s the fact that she gives everyone, including Yuu, more than the maximum of two the human body can tolerate, almost assuring that when he’s in a tough spot, Yuu might get stupid and take more than two.

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There’s a foreboding to the truck driven by Corporal Nagai taking them to the front line, but that’s replaced when an Apache ambushes them. The team works together to save Nagai and destroy the chopper, but they end up separated when the street collapses and they fall into the subway below. Yuu is with Shinoa and the unconscious Nagai and head for the nearest base, while Mitsuba, Yoichi and Shihou head to the defense line where they’ll ideally meet up later.

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Meanwhile, as Mika is milling around, looking for Yuu, a cloud of dust is kicked up, and a detached vamp limb flies by his face. As the dust clears, we see Guren, ready to exterminate his next target. It’s kind of fitting that Yuu’s brothers, past and present, meet before Mika and Yuu, though I don’t see either defeating the other, nor do I see Yuu being brought up unless Yuu himself enters the fray.

However this goes, the buildup in the end, presented without music—just the falling rain and a cut to silence—was very effective. Guren v. Mika: Who ya got?

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Owari no Seraph – 08

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Ahh, good ol’ Omotesando Station… I remember it well, travelling on the Ginza Metro line between Shibuya and Shimbashi. It was in a far better state of repair when I was there. On Owari, after the fall, it’s been re-purposed as a creepy lair for the team’s next targets: seven vampires. Shinoa says they’d probably do okay fighting individually, but better to work together and defeat them without a scratch. For once, Yuu agrees.

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They enter not to find fello Metro users like myself, but the vampires’ thralls, who give their blood in exchange for protection from the monsters above ground. They glare at the soldiers as they press on to their primary targets; saving them is secondary, and for once, Yuu doesn’t protest. They glare because they wish they had the power to choose a different fate for themselves besides this or death.

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When Mitsuba gives the order to prepare their weapons, Yuu takes it upon himself to cut down an unarmed vamp, their first catch of the day, following the letter but not necessarily the spirit of his orders. This irks Mitsuba, but he catches her hand before she can slap him again, then maneuvers her out of the way of a second vamp’s strike, whom he takes care of without any trouble. Two down, five to go, and Yuu’s first rescue of Mitsuba.

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When they confront the final five, three more pop out from behind Mitsuba, and one of them grabs her by the throat. But in one of the vamps’ sillier choices, he decides not to kill her immediately, but wait until Yuu and the others have engaged his comrades to do it, by which time it’s too late, and Yuu slices him in half.

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With Mitsuba rescued by Yuu once more (who regards her as his family), the team closes ranks and mops up the remaining vamps, armed with second-rate weapons no match for their cursed gear. In all, it’s a good first subterranean fight, packed with peril but ultimately not too difficult to pull off with the lessons they’ve learned.

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The girl who told them about the vamps in the station lowballed the figure to save her own friends/family, something Yuu doesn’t hold against her when they return to base camp, where other former thralls are being tended to by the army. When Mitsuba learns from Shinoa about Yuu’s past, and how it so closely resembles her own, but his denseness annoys her and she storms off without telling him anything. There’s pretty textbook romantic bonding exercise in practice here, but not unearned due to solid fundamentals and decent voicework by Iguchi Yuka.

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The second half opens with Shiho getting a derelict Hummer H2T running again to shorten their trip to Shinjuku. While Yuu grows up a lot in this episode, the comedic scene the show allows as a breath between life-and-death ordeals successfully reminds us he still is a kid, judging from how stoked he is about driving a car for the first time. This is Yuu as a charming, wide-eyed kid, not an annoying angsty or arrogant; and it’s nice.

The shot of Shiho gathering the others, as Yuu drives into the frame and crashes into a lamppost, demonstrates decent comedic timing (plus it looks like Yuu is having a ton of fun, which I can speak to having driven one of those brutes). Shinoa sitting in the drivers seat is a nice sight gag, as is her off-camera revenge over the lads for laughing at her.

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Once everyone’s aboard and they near the Shinjuku barrier wall, they spot a Vampire Noble, the first we’ve seen in action since Yuu ran from Ferid. Everyone bails as they set the Hummer on a collision course with the vamp, but he stops the three-ton SUT with one hand and flings it back at them like a toy. *GULP*. They had a relatively easy time with vamps up till now, but it’s clear this will be a little different.

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The noble is so fast he’s upon Shinoa before she can raise her weapon. Yuu is able to block his blow and disarm him, showing her yet again why he and Shiho are Guren’s favorites. The noble is a little impressed as two more noble vamps descend from the sky, flanking him.

Yuu asks if they should retreat from this. Let me repeat that: Yuu mentions retreat. But it’s too late; Shiona believes they’ll still have a chance if the five of them work as one unit at the very limit of their demon power, but she doesn’t pretend there won’t probably be a casualty or two.

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The lady vamps have come to bring their comrade to the front lines, and he grudgingly goes along with them, sparing Yuu & Co. from a fight but promising he’ll drink their blood when they meet again, casually tapping him on the shoulder before flying off. That easy arrogance really ticks Yuu off, but Shinoa is still visibly terrified from the bullet they just dodged.

Even if Yuu had what it took today to take that noble on one-on-one, his friends would get killed as he fought without teamwork. Shinoa also does what Mitsuba couldn’t: thank him promptly for saving her life, noting that as Guren said, he really does care about his friends. Her gratitude brings the bashful boy out in Yuu.

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Those nobles were pretty damn scary, but they’re gone for the moment, and while the episode ends with the team staring down a Shinjuku under assault, about to enter that inferno themselves, it ends with an upward pan right into the smoke, as upbeat music plays. It will be tough going from here on, but they’re going in together, and whatever they face in there, they’ll get through it with teamwork.

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Hataraku Maou-sama! – 03

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The day after Emi spends the night at Maou and Shiro’s, the guys are picked up by the cops when Maou’s bullet-ridden bike is found. After someone calls Emi at work threatening to kill both her and Maou, she goes to the cops to grudgingly sign off as their guanantor, and explains the situation. Chiho arranges a date with Maou in Shinjuku to discuss the earthquake, but Emi and Shiro tail them. Chiho tells Maou she’s heard voices and he realizes the other world is trying to contact him. A large earthquake strikes, ravaging the underground mall and trapping the four in rubble. Emi uses a spell to put Chiho to sleep after reassuring her, and Maou emerges in his true form, to attempt to free everyone.

We figured Chiho would get dragged deeper into this alternate world heroes-vs.-demons mess sooner or later, and she does this week, by hearing communiques in the aether intended for her ears, but which she can hear and understand nonetheless, likely do to her extended proximity to Maou. The title “Maou-sama goes on a Date” doesn’t do justice in an episode where a lot more goes on than a date. Both Yusa and Maou have a mutual enemy; he’s already taken shots at them. That means as much as Emi has been conditioned to loathe Maou and his general, a temporary alliance is in everyone’s best interests.

This is especially true if Emi wants to minimize harm to innocents, which she does, because she’s a hero. Here’s the thing: when it comes to Chiho, it would seem Maou’s a hero too. He’s talked of his return to glory once he regains his powers, but once he finally gets them back after the earthquake, his first thought is to help others, not further his own goals. Emi even considers pulling out her trump card to slay him in this opportune moment when they’re isolated, but doesn’t go through with it simply because, well, Maou just isn’t acting evil. In the other world, things were black-and-white, but here, so far, things are different.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Emi speaks passable English, but the true awesomeness was when she attempted to converse with her enemy while maintaining the pretense that she was chatting with another customer. She doesn’t entirely succeed, but it’s an excellent, well-written exchange that is simultaneously serious and funny…something this series is proving good at.
  • We enjoyed Emi’s comment to Shiro about how an empty fridge is a sign he’s failing as a general in this new world.
  • However, Shiro proves her wrong by breaking out a strategic fund to upgrade Maou’s wardrobe from his usual “Uniclo” (not that there’s anything wrong with Uniclo!) Chiho notices.
  • We love how Chiho doesn’t back down from Emi for a second, beliving her to be a jealus ex of Maou’s, which is actually the most logical presumption, from where she’s standing.
  • A hotel we’ve stayed at is in an establishing shot of Shinjuku.

RDG: Red Data Girl – 02

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Izumiko gets a new cell phone from her mother Yukariko in the mail and with it, an invitation to meet up in Tokyo. Izumiko and Miyuki use their school’s class trip to Tokyo to do so, but everywhere Izumiko looks, she sees dark, shadowy, threatening figures. Sagara surprises them by appearing, and telling them they won’t be meeting Yukariko after all. Crashing in an apartment for the night, Izumiko is possessed by some kind of divine being, and tells Sagara that Izumiko will probably be her last vessel.

As the OP helpfully points out, “Red Data” is a reference to The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, or Red Data Books. Obviously, this suggests that Suzuhara Izumiko is a rare girl whose preservation is Sagara’s priority. Last week we saw a lot of what makes her different from ordinary humans, but that was just scratching the surface. As it turns out, she’s never been able to use cell phones or computers. This essentially makes her a culture of one: stuck several decades in the past and unable to avail herself of the technology that the rest of modern society takes for granted. A girl like this needs to be protected, and while Miyuki will follow Dad’s orders and stay by her side, it doesn’t mean he isn’t going to complain or question the efficacy of the task.

This week we fly to Tokyo (a very accurate Shinjuku, to be exact) with them, in hopes of meeting with her very busy mother (who works at the “public safety something”). But this meetup never happens. It’s almost as if Izumiko’s trip was a test to see what threats show themselves. In the end, Miyuki finds out what makes her so special, besides the technophobia and ability to sense creepy figures mixed in among the masses: this girl is a vessel; for whom exactly we don’t know. Moreover, the entity who inhabits Izumiko (imbuing her with an ethereal aura and gorgeous yukata) states Izumiko may be her last such vessel…endangered species indeed. While the nature and mission of this entity and her specific powers remain a mystery, there are parties out there who want that power, and Sagara fears his son alone is not sufficient protection against what’s coming.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Car Cameos: