Kemono Jihen – 11 – Let it Bro

Let it be said that the system the yuki-onna employ to keep the Snowy Village arrive is patently awful, not to mention extremely inefficient. And yet, with many a human tribe throughout history relied on the suffering and sacrifice of a “special few” in order to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity survival, it’s certainly nothing new, on either side of the human-kemono spectrum.

We take a look back at Yui and Akira’s past in the village throughout this episode, as Yui becomes the chief and is studded out to all of the 200 women of the village, a duty he keeps secret from Akira. Akira assumes he has to deal with difficult paperwork, and cheers him up with sasanqua camellia blooms when they’re able to talk to each other in the night.

Until a woman produces a male heir, his duties will continue; no mention is made of what happens to any new female children produced in the meantime. But Yui’s burden goes beyond simply being the physical tool with which to keep the village going. He has to deal with the constant competition for his favor, which adds to his emotional toll.

Back in the ice castle Yui built for his pure brother, Akira’s plushie informs him the others are frozen, but they are still alive. Kabane even manages to burst half of his body out of the ice. And while his bottom half grows back, the fact remains he, along with the still-frozen Shiki and Inugami, are still at Yui’s mercy.

Not sure what else he can do to protect them, Akira decides to scorn Kabane, saying he hates them and wants nothing more to do with them. When Yui returns, Akira shields Kabane from his frozen wrath and, knowing Yui will do whatever he asks, says he wants to move with him to a new place.

Kabane is left in a state of shock, thinking Akira really means what he said. Then Inari shows up in all her saxophone leitmotif-having glory. She assures him she’s not here for the Lifestone, but the Nullstone, which among other things could provide answers about his parents.

Seeing Inugami sealed up like a Thermos and reduced to communicating through the plushie (which can read his mind waves), Inari remarks that he’s gotten weaker…probably due to how he “makes too much” of “those useless children.”

Inari, meanwhile, uses her children like tools and discards them when they’re no longer of use. But like Kon, Nobimaru is all too happy to serve his mistress in all things, including going toe-to-toe with Yui, who encases Akira in a protective ice cage while he fights an ice-vs.-fire battle with the kitsune.

As the circumstances of Akira’s banishment are revealed—he had his first wet dream, so Yui sent him away before any of the women found out—Yui will do anything to preserve Akira’s perceived “purity”. And while both Nobimaru is hanging in there and the unkillable Kabane is on his way, it’s still looking like Akira will have to be the one to stop his twin brother from causing more harm.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 10 – Good for Something

When born in their snowy village far to the north, Akira and his twin brother Yui were the first male yuki-onoko born in a century. While they were treated like princes with every need tended to, they were also prisoners in a guilded cage, their mother dead and their father imprisoned and mad. Akira was weak and a crybaby, always being led around by Yui.

One day they found some supplies left behind by humans, including a magazine that teaches them about life in Tokyo. Fast-forward to the present, Yui is in Tokyo searching for his brother. When a drunk tries to extort him he demonstrates his immensely powerful ice manipulation. Immediately, we’re not quite sure we want this guy to find our kind, gentle Akira!

Unfortunately in an ongoing effort to be more useful, Akira ends up only making more work for Shiki and Kabane. Kon and Aya take the week off so that the focus stays on the core three lads and their dynamic. Akira writes a note and takes off on a jourey to find his brother, taking with him his plushie to which Mihei added AI when he repaired its stuffing. Sure, why not?

There must be some unseen force that draws the twin brothers together, because Akira finds Yui in his first five minutes of his “journey.” Akira buys him a crepe like the kind they saw in that magazine…but Yui doesn’t want it. Akira has shown that despite being a snow boy he’s the warmest of the lads. Even for a yuki-onoko Yui is oddly cold.

Still, when his brother mentions a certain frozen castle from a certain popular American film in which ice plays an important role, Yui instantaneously builds him a massive Japanese-style castle in the middle of a park. It’s a gorgeous and glorious thing, but also very unnerving, because it again demonstrates how powerful Yui is. Then he smashes Akira’s phone and locks him away.

Unaware their princess has been taken captive and locked away in a castle, Shiki and Kabane start clashing immediately in Akira’s absence. Kabane realizes, as Inugami hoped they would, that Akira is the glue that holds their little misfit group together. They decide to go find Akira, and his sole posting of the ice castle helpfully points them in the right direction.

As the post is now trending, a large crowd and even a reporter have arrived to investigate this strange ice castle that appeared out of nowhere. Leaving Inari to the inevitable cover-up, Inugami, Kabane, and Shiki confront Yui, who isn’t really interested in talking. Inugami also notices Yui has a “nullstone” lodged in his heart: basically the opposite of Kabane’s lifestone. which is keeping Yui’s heart well-chilled.

Akira learns that his plushie has Wi-Fi, but only just when Yui returns to tell him the claw-foot bath, four-poster bed and chandelier he requested are ready. Yui leads Akira downstairs, where he learns his brother has also decided to decorate a bit…with Akira’s frozen friends.

It’s pretty clear by now that the strength, precision, and control of his ice manipulation far exceeds Yui’s, and and that Yui isn’t the brother Akira knew, due to that nullstone. But assuming some combination of Kon, Aya, Inari, Nobimaru, and Mihei won’t drop in to save the day, it’ll all be up to our favorite useless scaredy-cat snow boy to set his twin straight and thaw his peeps.

Kemono Jihen – 09 – Kabane the Casanova

After she was born and learned to control her golden webbing, Aya had been treated like a tool, and when she was insolent she’d be beaten “like banging on a piece of malfunctioning equipment”. Still, she knew Akio needed her so she was able to live in relative comfort with dresses and books. When Aya learned she had a brother, she imagined him to be like the Prince Charming in her book, taking her and their mother away to live happily ever after.

While a happy ending was deferred, it is still possible. Aya learns this when Shiki welcomes her into the hospital room where their mother is resting. Aya may think she’s a bad seed that should be “done away with” like the other kemono Akio created, but thinks Shiki won’t kill her simply because she looks like a little girl and speaks. But that’s not the reason.

Shiki does not detest Aya, he’s grateful to her for being with their mother and keeping her alive, even though she was all on her own while her big brother had run away and was living in comfort. When she hears Shiki and Aya talking together over her, she wakes up and opens her eyes, and the Tademarus are a family united for the first time. It’s perhaps the sweetest and most moving scene in the entire show, and it was the perfect payoff to the emotional stakes built up the last couple weeks.

Of course, Kumi now being alive and awake means Shiki has some things to think about, and is away for a week, causing Akira to frets and Kabane to bear an all-too-forced smile when asked how he feels about it. Shiki may have his family back and will need to help support them, he promises Kabane he won’t leave the agency before he helps Kabane find his family.

Unbeknownst to Shiki, Aya followed him to the agency and we see that her own style is quite a bit more…modern and mature (read: jailbait) than the frilly dresses Akio gave her. Her precociousness extends beyond wardrobe, however: she’s already planning to work with Granny at her clinic, with plans to start her own “kemonopathy” clinic using her healing webbing.

When Shiki begs Kabane to talk his sister out of this, as she’s only eight, he simply responds “If she has a power shouldn’t she use it?” It’s that cold, certain, honorable logic that draws Aya to Kabane’s side, and she declares him her boyfriend. Then Kon shows up, armed with the absolute worst timing—she had a week to see Kabane alone!

Just like that, Kabane has not one but two would-be lovers, who immediately exchange lightning glares. Inugami interrupts the spat to announce that they do have actual business to attend to: there have been reports of an invisible kemono ripping pieces of women’s faces off in stylish Harajuku.

The three who will go investigate are Kabane, Aya, and Kon, the latter relaxing her no-working-with-tanuki policy by declaring herself a mere “observer”. Really, she wants to closely observe Aya to ensure nothing happens, but it’s also never a bad idea to bring some kitsune muscle as backup.

After Kon’s failed attempt to impress Kabane by trying to order a cop around (Inari’s power doesn’t extend to her anymore), Aya ends up being the kemono’s next victim on accident when she pulls on her hair. Taking the form of a black smoke cloud filled with floating pieces of women’s faces she collected, the kemono’s story is pretty simple: she fell in love with a man who works in the area and wanted to look more human so he’d notice her.


When Kabane says love is about giving, not taking, the kemono is unconvinced, because Kabane has a girl on his arm. Instead she appeals to Kon, who looks like she’s in pain like her. She’s not wrong; ever since watching Kabane and Aya together she’s felt all “mushy” in the chest.  Being with Kabane has always been fun until now, and Kon blames Aya for making it not fun anymore.

Taking on her kitsune form, she tries to eat Aya, but only ends up biting Kabane’s arm. Then she runs off in tears. Aya uses her webbing to create a human body for the kemono, and referred her victims to the clinic where she’ll be able to heal him. Back at the agency, Akira is threatened by Aya’s frightening competence, while Aya thanks Kabane for protecting her with a smooch on the cheek.

Kabane may not quite understand love, romance, or jealousy, but he knows he and Kon didn’t leave things in a good place, so he rushes to the park where she lives and shakes her out of the tree (the gag about her never landing on her feet never gets old). Sure enough, Kon’s face is a mess of big soppy tears. She thinks Kabane must hate her for trying to eat the “bug-smelling girl.”

To Kon’s surprise, when Kabane takes her cheek in his hand, all the chest-mushiness goes away instantly. She sees that Aya wants to be Kabane’s “number one” because in Aya she sees herself having worked tirelessly to become Inari’s number one. Well, Kon wants to be Kabane’s number one, and asks what she should do to do that?

The obvious answer is to kiss Kabane, but not only does Kon not know that, but even if she did kiss him neither of them might understand what it means. They’re basically the most adorkably hopeless couple ever and I will never stop shipping them. I won’t deny Aya is both cute and capable, but she’s also way way way too young for Kabane. Also, Kon was first!

We get a nice scene of closure where Inugami helps Kumi arrange a memorial for all of her children who were killed. She ask him to keep it secret from Shiki and Aya, but in truth I think they’d understand her need to honor all of the life she created, as they’re in that group too.

Kon is realigning her primary allegiance from Inari to Kabane, but Aya once again beats her to Kabane’s arm at the agency. The two stare each other down once more, with Aya even telling Shiki he shouldn’t mind if she and Kabane married, since that would make them brothers. Akira, the Best Boy, finally steps in to break it down for Kabane: he can only have one lover, so he has to choose.

For Kabane, “lover” simply sounds like “one you love”, which he extends out to the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”. As such, the one he chooses is Inugami, again failing to grasp the difference in kinds of love, and also shocking both Aya and Kon with his apparent confession to “preferring older men”. Inugami, meanwhile, obviously wants no part in a Kabane love polygon!

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 04 – Making It Work

This week, the OP theme is played, but this time over a beautifully somber sequence of the Greyrat household is steeped in the winter of discontent inside while buffeted by the literal snows of winter outside. Zenith is pregnant, which was an occasion for great joy…but so is Lilia, and Paul says it’s “probably” his (it’s definitely his).

It’s at this point that I admit that while checking MAL for Lilia’s seiyu (Lynn), I caught the little factoid that she’s described not just a maid, but Paul’s “second wife”. In hindsight, this complicated my understanding of her precise status up to this point. Turns out Zenith is very much not okay with Paul sleeping with her.

At the same time, Zenith cares a great deal about Lilia, and doesn’t like the prospect of Lilia taking a rough month-long trip to her hometown with hew newborn. Both she and the baby could die. Rudy doesn’t like that either, so he introduces a compromise to keep the family from being torn apart.

When Zenith tells Rudy that the mood is gloomy because Paul and Lilia were “bad”, Rudy comes to Lilia’s defense: she couldn’t refuse Paul; the fact she’s in his employ aside, he has a “hold” on her that resulted in their illicit night together. That being the case, Lilia doesn’t deserve to suffer for something Paul did wrong.

Moved by her son’s words, Zenith decides that Lilia and her child will stay in the family…because they are family. Rudy knows he only dug Paul’s grave deeper, but it was a grave Paul dug himself, even if Lilia confides to us that she seduced him. Hearing the couple’s lovemaking in the next room created pent-up urges, and one night she left her door open so he’d see her washing herself.

Lilia believes Rudy understood full well that it wasn’t all Paul’s fault, but he forgave her anyway for “giving in to desire” and betraying Zenith. She also knows that by forgiving her and guiding the family to a compromise, Rudy saved her life. She had always been justifiably skeeved out by Rudy—even to the point she feared he was possessed by the devil!—but now resolves to spend her life repaying him—and have her child serve the future Lord Rudeus.

Zenith’s son daughter Norn and Lilia’s daughter Aisha are born, and Paul for all intents and purposes has two wives to care for (and take orders from). Rudy also notices how much more open with him Lilia becomes after the Great Compromise, and learns that she and Paul once studied swordsmanship at the same training hall…where Paul deflowered her…while she was sleeping.

My opinion of Paul plummets with each passing episode. Yet for all of Paul’s many faults (and, let’s be honest, crimes), Rudy respects him because he’s strong…and not just physically, mind you. Paul is also someone with whom Rudy can engage in “guy talk”, not just about women, but how to be a better man. It’s a path full of mistakes and failures, but Paul is hopeful Rudy will learn from them, even if he ends up making more of his own.

Paul discussing how underwhelming rich girl sex is, on the other hand? Probably going too far. But that comes up when Paul asks his son if he’s contemplating going to school, since he’s around the age kids start to go. Paul worries a kid like Rudy will be bullied (while also being confident Rudy could handle it) and questions the utility of him mixing it up with all those spoiled rich kids. Still, it’s ultimately Rudy’s call.

Rudy, meanwhile, starts to sense that Sylphiette could one day surpass him in magical prowess. When he mentions going off to the magic academy to continue his training, Sylphie reacts by hugging him tightly and bawling her eyes out until he says he’s not going anywhere. And why would he, when he has such a wonderful life with her and his family?

Things become more complicated when Paul interrupts Rudy jerking off hugging his pillow by presenting him with a letter from Roxy. She is well, training a similarly perverted young prince while also improving her own magical skills. She thought she’d hit a wall, but learned otherwise with the benefit of time and experience in new places. She writes that if Rudy feels similarly, he should enroll at Ranoa Magic University.

Rudy doesn’t want to make Sylphie feel sad or lonely, but he also doesn’t want to disappoint Roxy. In such a conundrum, he must fashion another compromise, as he did to save his family. He tells Paul, Zenith and Lilia of his intention to enroll at Ranoa, but requests that they pay Sylphie’s tuition along with his. She’s Ranoa material, but her family lacks the funds.

Paul refuses, but not because he doesn’t want his son to have his way. He has three valid reasons for doing so. For one thing, he’s still intent on making Paul into a capital-S Swordsman, and with Rudy’s lack of progress now is not the time to stop his training. Secondly, Rudy is still young, and Paul can’t neglect his parental responsibilities by sending Rudy away. Third and finally, they actually can’t afford to pay for Sylphie as well as him.

Rudy doesn’t argue, or even get mad. He probably knew he’d get a response like this. Instead, he introduces a counterproposal, asking Paul to find him a well-paying job so that by the time his dad deems him ready to go to Ranoa, he’ll have saved up enough to pay Sylphie’s way himself. When Paul tells him that “might not be the best thing” for Sylphie, Rudy acknowledges that, but it will be for him. Paul did tell him earlier to stick with one woman, and Rudy intends to do just that.

Paul accepts this proposal, but exactly what he has in mind for Rudy is left up in the air until an ornate wagon pulls up to the Greyrats’ front gate. Ghislaine, a hulking beast-woman, climbs out, and she’s welcomed by both Paul and Zenith. She’s the first beast-person Rudy’s encountered, and to his credit he doesn’t leer at her or make any unsolicited comments about her.

Paul asks a cryptic question, “What if I told you to stay away from Sylphie?”, then launches into a vicious sparring session, which ends with Paul using an advanced Water-God move on his son, knocking him out. When Rudy wakes up, he’s in the wagon opposite Ghislaine, who tells him they’ll be working together starting tomorrow. Rudy wanted a job…be careful what you wish for!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 4 here.

Akudama Drive – 07 – The Offering

As the elevator to Brother and Sister’s destination rises out of the debris, Hoodlum reunites with the others, proudly reporting to have stabbed the Apprentice to avenge his brother, Brawler, who didn’t make it. When Brother is flippant about there being casualties on the job, Hoodlum almost loses it, but Swindler once again plays the peacemaker, and his temper subsides.

At the end of the elevator’s descent they reach Expo Park, a sprawling abandoned underground amusement park. Bunny and Shark cut in to tell us it was built before the war to preserve the culture of Old Kansai, but ominously notes that “there are some things better left not known”. The siblings’ ultimate destination is a rocket that Brother says will convey him and his Sister to a base on the Moon, where they’ll be safe.

That’s when we learn from Brother that he and his sister are the result of human experiments at Kyushu Plant to create immortal humans. Between them they are the product of 5,555 other siblings who were sacrificed in one horrific way or another to make the two of them possible.

I’m reminded of any number of anime in which humans and innocent kids in particular are treated brutally by an unseen, unfeeling scientific villain. Brother wakes up in a lab in a puddle of blood that grows bigger and bigger until one day the gym once full of siblings is empty.

That’s when the “Headmaster” reports that he was a successful experiment. They go on to make one more, Sister, and the two of them will be sent to Kanto as an “offering”, with mass production to follow. But their “Professor”, an AI in an artificial cat body, took pity on them and allowed them to escape on the Shinkansen. The rest of their story we know.

With that, Brother deposits a billion yen in each of the surviving Akudama’s accounts and deactivates their bomb collars, and prepare to board the rocket. Swindler gives them a farewell hug with the wish that maybe someday they’ll see each other again and eat more yummy takoyaki together.

Then, as the siblings ascend to the rocket’s hatch, Sister is stabbed in the throat…with one of Doctor’s scalpels. She’s fine, but she grabs Brother, making her meaning plain: she’s sold them and everyone else out to the Executioners.

A huge contingent of them suddenly swarm the launch pad and surround the Akudama. When Swindler asks Doctor why, the Doctor coldly declares she doesn’t owe her or anyone a goddamn thing. In exchange for her delivering the “offerings”, Boss removes Doctor’s Akudama status; she’ll no longer be on the run. Boss also tells Brother that the “Moon” they see in the sky is a mere holo-illusion; the real moon was destroyed in the war.

Brother bites Doctors hand and breaks free, while Courier and Cutthroat fight off the swarming Executioners—the latter particularly concerned with Swindler’s safety. He gets cut up pretty bad (which spells trouble considering their medic has defected) but ultimately ends up buying time for Swindler and the siblings.

Brother takes hold of Swindler and leads her and Sister into the rocket just as the countdown reaches zero. The rocket successfully launches with Swindler and Sister inside. Brother probably feels better to have at least protected half of the 5,555 siblings who died for them than none at all.

As for where the rocket is headed, who can say? The episode ends with it trailing away from what’s left of the moon—though perhaps its course takes the earth’s rotation into account. Even if they reach the moon, there surely isn’t anything there but death…but that wouldn’t be any different from the Executioner-infested launch pad.

First Hacker split off, then Brawler died, and now Doctor has stabbed everyone in the back. It remains to be seen if the Executioners either claim or scatter the remaining team of Courier, Cutthroat, and Hoodlum. Much like the war shattered the moon, the show has blown its group dynamic to smithereens. We’ll have to wait and see where the pieces land.

Akudama Drive – 06 – Akudama Brawlliant Park

Even though the Boss has mobilized every Executioner to seek and destroy the Akudama, Master gets there first, driven by his need to redeem himself for past failure. An Executioner doesn’t execute, then what is his purpose, right?

He goes all out from the start, sending both Brawler and Cutthroat flying and tossing the police drone at Courier, knocking him and the kids off his bike. Then he slashes Doc across the belly…though I somehow knew she’d be fine.

When Hoodlum finds Brawler in a pile of rubble, he suggests they fall back and give the latter time to recover, but Brawler won’t hear of it. He’s never been in a brawl like this, and isn’t going to back down. His words and wholesome smile make Hoodlum blush…his brother is so cool!

Cutthroat ends up under rubble as well…but cuts his own legs off to continue protecting Swindler…and Swindler alone. Without any regard for the kid brother, he uses him as an (artificial?) human shield, then stabs right through him to wound Master.

Swindler laments Brother’s death, but the Sister tuges at her sleever and tells her to watch: Brother is fine; he has fully regenerative healing. He’s more miffed Cutthroat broke his backpack. Doctor, who stitched herself up, then stiches Cutthroat’s legs back on so he can fight at 100%.

It’s clear from the injuries both the Executioners and Akudama sustain that they’re something more than plain ‘ol human. Only Swindler and Hoodlum, whom we know to be “normal”, escape horrific injuries this week, likely because they wouldn’t recover from them so quickly. Everyone piles onto Couriers bike, then Brawler bursts back onto the scene like an uncaged beast.

The balance of the episode is taken up by their one-on-one decisive battle, which moves from a glitzy arcade to an old amusement park, their fighting and the lightning seemingly giving these abandoned places new life, if only for a short moment.

Here Akudama Drive really shows off its visual flair, taking the ridiculousness of the brawl the extra mile, and all the while both Master and Brawler feeding off their mutual joy over how much goddamn fun they’re both having. Before Master hid his scar with a mask; now he’s grinning like a schoolboy, just like Brawler.

The two continue to wear each other down until it comes down to one last punch that does them both in at the same time. Meanwhile, Apprentice, who had just received a somewhat momemtum-sapping infodump from Boss about why she started pairing up Executioners, arrives on the scene. Boss told her survival rates of Executioners increased dramatically when they had a “reason to live”, i.e. their partner.

But Boss is incorrect that this is what separates the Executioners from the Akudama, because this particular group, despite having been a collection of selfish loners, has also developed a sense of camaraderie, even family. Had they not, they would have surely fallen to Master one by one. Instead, he falls, while the Akudama just lose Brawler—a huge loss, to be sure, but a survivable one.

As Apprentice mourns her Master’s death, Hoodlum mourns his big bro’s…then picks up Master’s lightsaber and rushes an unready Apprentice. When next we see her she’s alive and back in the hospital; both lightsabers by her bed. Hoodlum is also alive in the preview, which means he only took her eye, not her life. But it’s a given Apprentice will seek revenge.

Meanwhile, Swindler drops the nice-girl act (as Doctor had been pleading) to slap Cutthroat across the face and call him “despicable” for valuing her “beautiful” life over that of the kid Brother. The message is clear: she won’t tolerate any more of that. No more cutting through others to protect her! Brother and Sister locate their next destination, which turns out to be the underground network where survivors of the bombing of Old Kansai still reside.

Akudama Drive – 05 – Damn Kids

“Mission Impossible” is accomplished…or is it? Brawler is ready to head back to Kansai to fight Master, who is the first opponent to ever scare him and thus more important than the money. Hacker wants to head the other way to Kanto, and even managed to deactivate his bomb collar. Just as Brawler lives to fight, Hacker lives for excitement, and there’s nothing back in Kansai but boredom.

They’re both right: their job should be complete; the Black Cat didn’t say anything about smuggling two kids back to Kansai. And yet that’s the job. The brother offers to double the reward to ¥2 billion, but as Doctor points out (as perhaps the most intellectually shrewd of the Akudama) it’s not about the money for any of them—except Courier, who is ready to complete whatever mission the kids want.

Still, with no bomb collar the kids can’t force Hacker to keep working for them, and he’s doubtful he’ll ever get as good a chance to see Kanto than now, so he’s going to take it. He gives one of his Haro to Swindler as a parting gift, but she fully intends to return it when they meet again.

Doctor isn’t prepared to go any further until she learns more about these mysterious siblings, which is where Swindler comes in—and I’ll just call her that from now on because she herself seems to have gotten used to it. She accuses Doc of bullying little kids (whose hands she can see are trembling). Brawler and Hoodlum scold Doc, and she backs down.

The brother does at least tell them where they’re headed in Kansai—Expo Park—and when everyone’s tummies start to rumble, he produces a special bento box that creates whatever food someone wants out of thin air. I’d call it magic, but the Kanto and Kyushu Plant are capable of some pretty spiffy tech. Bunny is clear to shark that Kyushu can manufacture anything—meaning it’s not outside the realm of possibility the brother and sister are themselves manufactured.

Both can feel their stomachs are empty but don’t register it as hunger, and when they eat some of Swindler’s takoyaki they can’t tell if it’s good or not, just that it makes their bellies warm. It’s fun to learn of each Akudama’s favorite food (Brawler, meat; Hoodlum ramen, then onigiri; Doctor, wine, bread and cheese; Cutthroat, marshmallows), and that Courier and Swindler share a love of takoyaki. 

With a considerable and likely intentional pause in the action this week, we get to watch these colorful personalities mingle and clash. Doc for one believes Swindler is putting on an “innocent act” that she’s not buying. And hey, it remains to be seen if Swindler really is hiding something from us as well as her comrades.

We also learn more about the Executioner Division structure, with a Boss (named “Boss”) answering to Kanto in the form of three Noh masks atop a traditional shrine-like structure. They aren’t just elite cops, but Kanto’s muscle in Kansai and a form of society control. Akudama, after all are the only people from Kansai who could threaten Kanto’s hegemony.

Boss is given an ultimatum to find and destroy the seven Akudama who raided the Shinkansen at all costs, but the hospitalized Master and Apprentice are suspended indefinitely for twice failing in their mission—something virtually unheard of up to this point.

Meanwhile, in a nice moment between Swindler and Courier as the skies clear and reveal a gorgeous sunset, she tries to give him back his dropped ¥500 piece, which she almost slips up by saying it’s what “got her in this mess.”

The Executioners’ Boss gives a rousing speech to all members, including trainees, to find and eliminate the seven Akudama, and their faces pop up all over town video boards. Frankly, while Boss talks about law, order, and justice, there are more than generous hints of fascism and hyper-conformity in both her rhetoric and the division’s uniforms.

Apprentice is frustrated she and her Master can’t take responsibility for their failures by participating, only to find that Master has given her the slip. The next we see him he’s already located the Akudama, who attempted to clandestinely enter Kansai through the drainage and sewage network. They failed, but is the Master and a single security drone really enough against the six Akudama—even if the little sister doesn’t provide defense via her flute shield? We’ll find out.

Not every episode is a bullet train heist, nor should it be, nor would I want it to be. This was just the kind of follow-up I wanted, using the calm between storms to give a little more depth and seasoning to the players and their relationships.

Whether Swindler is just an ordinary girl in over head or secretly and/or unconsciously the most powerful of all of them (due in large part to her ability to “move hearts”), the true nature of the siblings, and the all-hands manhunt add up to plenty of juicy material for the remaining episodes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 04 – The Kickass Express

As expected once the Shinkansen took off from Kansai Station, the action and difficulty level of the heist kicks into a higher gear. The train is hurtling towards an “Ultimate Quarantine Zone”, and if that doesn’t kill them, the sweep that eliminates all organic material before the Kanto gate certainly will. Oh, and the Master and Pupil have hopped aboard.

With so many different ways to die, the shrinking of the setting to a long but relatively narrow tube makes for some excellent action set pieces. Without a lot of space for lateral movement, there’s a lot of people punching, kicking, or tossing their opponents across the length of a carriage.

Brawler and Cutthroat fight Master and Pupil with Doctor offering occasional support and Hoodlum, um, cheering on his kyoudai. Ordinary Person and Black Cat watch Hacker’s back as he hacks one lock after another to reach the next carriage. Each lock gets more complex, so it feels like a game for him.

Indeed, everyone seems to take the unexpected setbacks and increased difficulty level in stride, thriving off the increased challenges. That’s with the exception of the lazy and childish Cutthroat, who just wants to see blood, but even Master can’t help but be impressed by his natural fighting skills.

Thanks to the weekly Bunny & Shark informational segments, we learn more about how and why the Shinkansen operates, while Hacker and Ordina’s progress reveals passenger carriages, meaning the train either used to transport people to and from Kanto, or once did and no longer does. After the mostly metal and mechanical freight carriages, the lavishly-appointed, wood-paneled carriages are a lovely visual change of pace.

Once Courier finally gets to his bike, he points its railgun forward to destroy the defense drones, then points it back at the Executioners, slicing their carriage off from the front of the train. This exposes everyone to the Zone briefly, but Doctor uses a quick-solidifying foam to seal the breach. Like last week, some members are more important roles than others, but everyone is needed and everyone contributes, with both actions and wry banter.

They finally reach the front carriage, which has an appropriate “final stage” aesthetic with its clean off-white bulkheads. Hacker breaks through all the locks he can, but the final one requires a seal he doesn’t have. That’s when the Black Cat disintegrates, revealing it was the seal all along. Ordina uses it to open the vault…where they find a young brother and sister in military uniforms.

The sister immediately plays a note on a flute which stops the train and puts up a protective shield. The brother speaks with the same voice as the cat’s (Maaya Uchida), while the sister is voiced by Ichinose Kana. So, Mission Accomplished—everyone’s super-rich, right? Seems that way; I don’t see the siblings double-crossing their own rescue team.

The question is, why were two human children being transported to Kanto like cargo? As the Black Cat implied with an earlier comment, Kanto is far from the wonderful Utopia Hacker believed it to be. Will our gang head back to Kansai for now, or will we get a glimpse of the not-so-perfect-after-all other side?

Fruits Basket – 41 – How You’ll Feel Tomorrow

Just because Tooru has taken it upon herself to lift the Souma curse doesn’t mean she’s going to start neglecting her two best friends. To that end, she learns Arisa’s longing for the man she met is so strong, she’s had to quit all her part-time jobs and get new ones so she wouldn’t keep expecting him to show up!

Then Tooru learns his name—Kureno—and from that point on becomes determined to find out if Souma Kureno is the man Arisa met. Mind you, Arisa doesn’t ask Tooru to check; she’s of the belief it couldn’t possibly be the same Kureno. But Tooru is driven by devotion to both Arisa and the Soumas and the fact she’s right means I want her to seek out Kureno, in case she could be the go-between Shigure was with Mayuko and Hattori.

This means Tooru has to sally forth to the Souma estate long before she has a final battle plan with Akito. I can’t imagine Akito’s rage should they find out Tooru was there, but fortunately she comes upon Momiji’s little sister Momo, in more ways than one. You see, Momo has been told all her life by their dad that Momiji isn’t really her big brother.

His Zodiac status is a threat to a happy normal life with the rest of his family, so Momiji has been cut out of it. He even had to stop violin lessons since he and Momo had the same teacher. The thing is, there’s only so much their dad can do to keep Momo away if she wants to see him and wants him to be her big brother—both of which are true.

When Tooru hears that Momiji is worried Momo will be hurt if she sees him, she tells him that not only does she want to see him and be his sister, but she’s been watching him this whole time from outside his window, especially when he practices.

Tooru cannot stand the fact that two people who are still alive and so close can’t see each other, even though that’s what they want most. It’s a clear parallel to Arisa and Kureno. Momiji tells her he is and will be fine, as long as he has people like her to cry for him.

Momiji can’t escort Tooru to Kureno since no other Zodiacs are supposed to see him, but he draws her a map. She ends up right outside his open window but is spooked by other people on the grounds and ends up filthy from all the running around and hiding. But just when a myterious woman with painted toes is about to spot her, Kureno whisks her away and asks her why she’s on private property.

His manner softens considerably when he learns Tooru is good friends with Arisa, and Tooru instantly knows he’s indeed the one for whom Arisa has such strong emotions. He voices his intention not to see her again, and not just because he has a Zodiac spirit—his other reasons are “none of her concern”. Still, Tooru offers Arisa’s contact info just in case he feels differently tomorrow…or next week…or in ten years.

Considering she can never see her mother again, the prospect of Arisa and Kureno never seeing each other again—despite the fact they both want to and have the means to do so—is utterly heartbreaking to her. Having returned safely from Souma Central without getting arrested (or scratched in the face) Tooru goes up on the roof to brood, a rare occasion but always a beautiful one due to the dramatic backdrop of city and open sky.

It’s not long before Kyou comes up to offer some company. When she first starts talking about not being able to be with the person you like, Kyou is confused and asks if she has a crush on anyone, flustering her. However, Kyou is sincere in his promise that he’ll be by her side to help if she’s ever in such a situation. This brings uncontrollable tears to Tooru, but he simply dries them with his sleeve.

While Tooru feels like her heart is “tearing apart” from the pain of knowing some wishes may never be fulfilled, the fact Kureno decides to hold on to Arisa’s contact info gives us a parting glimmer of hope that at least one of those wishes can still come true.

Read Crow’s review here!

BokuBen 2 – 06 – (Public) Bath & Beyond (High School)

When Kirisu’s plans for an end-of-day bath are ruined when her building has no hot water, she’s forced to go to a public bath, and not only runs into Asumi, but Nariyuki and his two youngest siblings Kazuki and Nazuki.

The little ones are the source of a number of issues, like when they steal Kirisu’s underwear, or try to get her to agree to marry their big brother. They act like little kids, and when Kirisu is too stern with them, they cry.

The baths provide a rare opportunity for Kirisu and Asumi to talk, but end up not really talking about anything other than Kirisu’s exquisite skin, and Nariyuki’s kindness and penchant for going the extra mile to help others.

Naturally, since this segment involves people not wearing clothes, Nariyuki inevitably sees Kirisu naked, as Hazuki rips off her towel when she berates her big bro for being shameless when all he did was answer a call for help, a rare case of being allowed to cross the gender lines of the bath.

The next segment is all about mock college interviews, which Rizu in particular is very apprehensive about. Those concerns only intensify when the kind teacher who was going to interview her and Fumino calls out sick, and Kirisu is her substitute.

Needless to say, she’s about as hard on the two as an interviewer can be, leaving them steaming and deformed. Kurisu forces Nariyuki to have a surprise interview, and he’s so tired he hallucinates her wearing a school swimsuit and maid outfit, among other costumes.

The turning point is when Nariyuki respectfully gets up and leaves, because he isn’t confident he can give Kirisu the answers she wants, but he’ll strive to find out how to provide them in the future. That, Kirisu tells him, is the stength she asked him to describe: the one that faces his own limitations (and those of others) and works out the best way to overcome them.

That doggedness has rubbed off on his tutees, as Fumino and Rizu are found in the library, determined to be better prepared in their next mock interviews. In this way, Kirisu gave them a tough-love kick in the pants they needed to put their best selves forward when the real ones come around.

Domestic na Kanojo – 10 – Cowardly Lion

This week’s cold open features Hina cooking for Natsuo at her place—or rather trying to cook while he paws her. They look cozy, comfortable; lived-in. It’s clear he’s been coming to her place a lot. Cut to what must mercifully be the shortest cultural festival I can remember (they usually take up 2-3 episodes in shows like this!) followed by the concerned lit club members paying Kiriya-sensei a visit.

Turns out Kiriya is not just a famous author, but one of Natsuo’s idols. He presents Natsuo with the opportunity to submit his work for an award that could get him on the fast track to a professional writing career. Later, Natsuo teases Miu about liking Kiriya, and she accidentally shoves him down some stairs, fracturing his leg.

Natsuo’s physical “crashing down” is a portent for another imminent and unavoidable collapse: that of his half-assed web of lies!

I was very cross with the whole Natsuo x Hina situation last week, but I’ve moved on to the acceptance phase: I like Rui better, but it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for her, so better to move on and see where this goes. But just because I’ve moved on doesn’t mean Rui isn’t going to use Natsuo’s injury as an excuse to act as his nurse—a role she embraces with gusto, including washing him in the bath while nude (and accidentally mistaking his little Natsuo for a soap pump).

It’s when Rui mentions how much she’s missed Natsuo being “at Fumiya’s house” so often recently that we learn how he’s gotten away with his visits to her under Rui’s watchful gaze: He’s just lying to Rui, because he’s a coward. Just like the Cowardly Lion in the school play. When Rui tells Fumiya about Natsuo’s leg, he says he hasn’t been by in ages. When Natsuo is caught in a lie and confronted by Rui, he lies again, saying he was going to Momo’s.

But the next time Natsuo is at Hina’s, and things start to get hot and heavy despite the cast, there’s a ring at the door and it’s Rui. When she sees Natsuo on the floor, clearly having been up to no good with Hina moments before, her eyes well up with tears and she storms off into the rainy night. The mood ruined, Natsuo goes home. But Rui isn’t there.

After a long time looking for her on his wet, muddy cast, Natsuo finally finds her, and she has a slap in the face ready for him. Turns out she was awakened to the possibility of where Natsuo might be (if not Fumiya’s) when she read his novel (which is presumably an extremely fast read). It’s the semi-biographical story of a student falling for his teacher even though he had a girlfriend.

Only instead of a girlfriend, Natsuo has Rui, the first person he slept with. Only he was never in love with her, but with Hina. Just because Rui has developed strong feelings for him doesn’t change that fact. It’s just a shame she had to find out the way she did, and that Natsuo had to lie to her not once but twice. This was the the wake-up call he needed to stir up some of that “nerve” the Cowardly Lion yearned for…it just came too late to spare Rui.

Domestic na Kanojo – 09 – Cavalcade of Unpleasantness

Time to go on the record: I am not a fan of the Natsuo x Hina route. It made sense for Natsuo to be infatuated with his beautiful and kind teacher, and for those feelings to remain even after their parents married. But as for Hina returning those feelings? I’m just not buying it, and Natsuo isn’t doing himself any favors with his incessant brooding, whining, and stalker-ish behavior that blows past any and all decent boundaries.

He’s also apparently decided to utterly ignore and move past the fact Rui was coming to his room to make out, without considering why she may have been doing that. Rui is thankfully less concerned with Natsuo than with her big sister leaving the house right now, blaming her and Natsuo’s shenanigans for being the primary factor in her move.

A serendipitous encounter with Hina’s ex who we learn is underclassman of Kiriya-sensei (which…who cares?) properly apologizes to Rui (with a $45 parfait), and doubts Hina is moving because of Rui, but because she genuinely wants to strike out on her own. That night, Hina is surprised to find Rui in such distress, but her lap is there for Rui’s head, and she assures her she’ll visit home when she can. It’s a nice sisterly moment, but obviously fails to address the Natsuo-shaped rift between them.

It was disconcerting enough when Hina said her move would make “meeting” with Natsuo more convenient, but when she gives him a key to her new place, she’s truly playing with fire. As she’s been fond of saying, Natsuo is still a kid, which basically means he lacks experience, emotional maturity, and above all, self-control. Give a kid an inch, and they’ll take a mile.

Predictably, as soon as he is able (and after coldly rebuking Rui) he rushes his horny ass to the apartment she’s still moving into, lets himself in, then sits by her bed until she wakes up (she’s exhausted from unpacking). They make out a bit, but thank goodness Hina pumps the brakes, because Natsuo “isn’t sure he’d be able to stop himself” from going all the way. Ugh.

You can tell Hina is being torn apart by the opposing forces in her heart—she knows she should be a good adult, teacher, and older sister (and thinks she’s failing at all of those). For whatever reason, she loves Natsuo more than that, and wants him in a way normally impossible—and certainly problematic—for those other three roles. So she delays, telling Natsuo there’s no need to rush; they have all the time in the world to do…whatever it is they’re doing.

I must also go on record in voicing my extreme displeasure at the sudden and baffling introduction of Alex, perhaps the most annoying and cliched character of any of the shows I’m watching this Winter. Did the show forget about Natsuo’s actual best friend in whom both he and Rui confided and relied upon? Why are they wasting so much time with this…creature? Whatever they have planned for him can’t be good…unless they plan to shoot him out of a cannon!

That brings us to Natsuo’s worst moment of the episode, which is saying something: confronting Hina at school about how he felt she was being too distant towards him, at school. She takes his hand and leads him somewhere presumably more private, but it’s still a window-filled hallway, and the vice principal is not far away. She once again appeases him, and kisses him, I say again, AT SCHOOL.

Some words to the wise, Natsuo: Hina isn’t your property, and if you get her fired, she won’t be able to afford your lovenest. Shape the ef up my dude! And Hina: stop enabling the bastard!

Domestic na Kanojo – 08 – Keep It Together

Natsuo is bowled over by the Japanese American transfer student Alex, who is biking indoors, and the two end up apprehending an underwear thief who stole from Rui, among others. At the police station, Al sees Rui and immediately asks Natsuo (who calls her “a friend”) if he’ll set him up with her.

This, when Natsuo is still trying to figure out how he feels about Rui, who is affectionate when they make out but otherwise her usual stoic, hard-to-read self. While making dinner, Natsuo comes right out and asks Rui if she’d want to hang out with him and Alex. she sees right through his feeble ploy, and storms off, positively furious.

He visits her room later with a peace offering of yaki-udon and an apology, but Rui wants him to apologize by kissing her. The two are closing in on second base when Hina enters the unlocked, slightly open door and sees the two embracing.

After a long, agonizing pause, Hina flees to her room, and when Natsuo tries to explain, she tells him she’s not in the state of mind in that moment to believe anything he says. Instead, she declares that she needs to stop living there.

Rui visits Hina and explains that she initiated things, because she’s pretty sure she likes Natsuo. When Hina brings up the fact they’re family, Rui doesn’t see a huge issue, since there’s no blood relation. Nevertheless, Hina thinks their mother would be sad.

Al gives Natsuo the advice that nothing will ever be solved if nobody talks to each other plainly and honestly about how they feel, but the next day Hina announces she’s going to move out and live on her own. Her mom and stepdad buy her explanation, but Rui and Natsuo suspect they’re to blame (obviously).

The entire family goes to a night festival while Hina is still around, and Rui wonders if she and Natsuo should cool it with the kissing for the time being. Meanwhile, Natsuo can’t stop looking at Hina’s nape. When Hina loses her cell phone, Natsuo takes her by the hand and leads her to a private place where they can talk.

But Hina remains evasive, other than to say it’s necessary for her to move out for both their sakes. Natsuo’s attempts to force an honest conversation backfire badly, when he refuses to let go of a Hina who’s clearly had enough, and she bites his hand. The manager listens to Natsuo and holds Hina in place, noting how ugly she looks when she’s angry (his response when she says she’s always ugly is both brutal and hilarious).

The manager, one of the waiters, and her young son all join Natsuo and Hina in another secluded spot so the latter can cool down, but she’s tired of being the adult, and starts acting like a child. The son offers her a lollipop to cheer her up, and it largely works.

The manager, waitress and son depart, and Natsuo listens as Hina explains how it was just as much jealousy as shock when she say him with Rui. Rui has always been a free spirit, so Hina always felt she had to be the “normal” one who “kept it together”, not simply shooting from the hip like her little sister. She sacrificed her grasp on her identity, in part, to protect Rui’s.

Even though Hina rejected him, she did so because she felt she had no choice; as the adult in the room, she couldn’t give in to her feelings, no matter how real or strong they were. Hearing that his love isn’t unrequited after all is a revelation to Natsuo, who embraces her and asks nothing more than to be able to hold her like that and say that they love each other for that brief period of time.

As the family heads home together, while Rui isn’t turned around and looking, Natsuo and Hina hold hands. So it would seem that Natsuo is choosing a sister, based on his longstanding feelings for Hina. But just because he now knows those feelings aren’t one-sided doesn’t change the fact that Rui has fallen for him, and he’s going to have to address that every bit as earnestly as he and Hina addressed where they’re at. Because one thing is certain: Rui ain’t dating Alex!