SAKUGAN – 08 – EASIER TO RUN THAN REGRET

Rufus was going to be Gagumber’s last partner. When things went sour with Memenpu last week, Gagumber remembered why he didn’t want, didn’t need, and shouldn’t have a partner, even if it’s his daughter. While Memenpu wanders off to sulk in his old hometown, Gagumber drinks with a recovered Yuri and reconnects with the old man who ran the marker shop.

Zackletu, who had been by Yuri’s bedside, tracks down Memenpu and treats her to the local specialty of tea-in-a-plastic bag. She gets Memenpu to open up about what’s troubling her: about the dream that felt like more than a dream where Gagumber died, and how she can never really hate Gagumber. But once we get a good look at Rufus’ little “brother” Zack, I felt like things were going to take a turn.

And turn they do. Turns out the tea Zackletu gave Memenpu was drugged, and she kidnaps her and uses her as bait for Gagumber. Zack was actually Rufus’ kid sister, not brother, and when she became convinced Gagumber was responsible for Rufus’ death, she spent a huge sum of money for Yuri to track him down so she could get her revenge.

What finally pushed Zackletu into carrying out her plan was seeing how blithe and callous Gagumber was being to his new partner and daughter Memenpu, after what she saw as him abandoning her after Rufus’ death. It was definitely shitty for Gagumber not to follow up with Zack. Does he deserve to die over it? Even Zackletu isn’t sure, as she fires a lot of bullets and detonates a lot of bombs in his general direction, but never seems able to deliver the killing blow.

It’s this episode where I understand why Hanazawa Kana was cast as Zackletu: in addition to being able to credibly voice a young boy, who was actually a young girl hiding her true gender to protect herself from her rough environment, Hanazawa really brings out her pathos and rage. Through all the violence she’s exacting upon Gagumber as Memenpu is forced to watch, you never get the feeling Zackletu is enjoying this.

Rather, she just doesn’t know what else to do, so she’s lashing out. It’s only when all the explosions and Memenpu’s struggling causes her rope to break, and Gagumber overrides the stopper on his “Gale” device to save her and then apologize to her, that Zackletu stops her attack. She couldn’t easily kill Gagumber knowing his daughter still loved him in spite of all his flaws; once he admitted those flaws to Memenpu, she definitely couldn’t kill him.

Instead, Gagumber is admitted and then discharged from the hospital, while Zackletu prepares to depart…only Memenpu won’t let her. She forgives her for trying to kill Gagumber, and insists she stay with the group as they head to her dream place. Memenpu just warns Zackletu, in the same way Rufus did, that next time it happens, she’ll really let her have it.

Do I buy that someone as hell-bent on getting revenge as Zackletu would not only stand down, but remain with the man she believed killed her brother for years? I do, it all comes down to buying that she tried to be a heartless avenging baddie, but couldn’t go through with it because she still had a heart, and wasn’t all bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 08 – The Only Way to Live

Last week aptly documented Lugh’s happy and successful life as Illig Balor with his right-hand women Tarte and Maha. Now two years have passed. While before Maha was powerless to save her friends from criminals, here she keeps an eye out for them when they’re out late and dispatches their would-be muggers with ease.

Lugh has learned that given a chance (and adequate resources), Maha has not only become someone who can protect herself and her friends, but thrive as a merchant. We learn that the shop purchased as the HQ of his now booming cosmetic brand was the first shop Maha’s father opened when he was a merchant. Both Maha and her friends are eternally grateful for Illig’s help giving them their new happy and successful lives.

But for Illig, this life is now over and it’s time to return home and to being Lugh Tuatha Dé. He leaves his thriving business in Maha’s capable hands, while Maha asks that if her Prince can spare a day a month for Dia, surely he can come see her sometime as well. Maha and Tarte also leave on warm, happy, and mutually respecting terms. They don’t see themselves as rivals for Lugh’s heart, because in their view there’s plenty of that heart to go around.

On the wagon ride home they run into some wolf monsters, which Tarteuses the skills Lugh taught her to easily defeat without Lugh having to lift a finger. Once they reach Tuatha Dé lands and he sees the new soybean fields, he gets out of the wagon to receive a warm welcome—and a big basket of produce—from his adoring people.

Unlike Maha and Tarte, they may not know there’s a lot of calculation in his behavior, but even if they did, like Maha and Tarte it’s his actions, not the motivations behind them, that would likely matter most to them.

Has the assassin from our world who is now Tuatha Dé become more sentimental now that he’s been in this world for fourteen years? It’s hard to say, but if he has, it hasn’t softened his edge one bit. When his father reveals that one of the most important reasons for sending him to be a Balor was to give his son the choice he no longer has: to walk away from the thankless life of an assassin anyone in the kingdom could betray and abandon at any time.

Lugh’s answer is a firm no, for the simple reason that he isn’t a Balor, or a merchant: he’s an assassin and a Tuatha Dé. Honor and duty to the kingdom mean nothing to him, but the happiness of the people he cares about means everything. Also, he mentions that he’s in love with Dia, and can’t marry her if he abandons his noble station to be a merchant. It’s another calculated move, but one that doesn’t preclude that he is in love with Dia, and simply calling it something more pragmatic.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 07 – You Gotta Moisturize

“You know, I’ve tried all sorts of moisturizers. I even went fragrance-free for a whole year. Now my sister, she uses some kind of uh… uh… uh… uh… aloe vera with a little sunscreen in it, and ideally, we should all wear gloves when going to bed, but I found out that that creates a kind of an interference with my… “social agenda”, you know what I mean.”—Frank Catton, Ocean’s Eleven

“It’s all going according to plan”—‘Illig’ thinks this as he lay in bed flanked by the undyingly loyal Tarte and Maha. He says the loss of their parents makes them seek human warmth, and their infatuation with him has made them his “pawns”—he continues to insist in his head that there’s a distance between artifice of his precious Plan and the reality as the girls see it: that is and has been kind and generous enough to demand that their loyalty and love.

After Illig heals his father’s legitimate son with his Tuathe Dé skills, his father agrees to adopt Maha as Illig’s sister, and also agrees that no matter when this charade ends, Illig or Lugh will always have a home to go back to in Milteu—a smart backup plan Just in Case.

As far as the merchant world goes, Illig takes to it like a fish to water and intends to make a huge first splash, converting one of his father’s failed liquor stores in the city into a cosmetics and confectionary shop focused on women. Knowing brand trumps quality in this competitive industry, he has an ace up his sleeve: there are no moisturizers in this world.

Not only does Illig impress his father, but his mother too, though she’ll still always hate him as a symbol of her husband’s impropriety. I’m sure Illig appreciates her directness. Six months pass, and Illig and Tarte watch the women and the money pour into the store. Illig further galvanizes Maha’s loyalty and love by making her the store manager, who hires her friends.

Maha and her friends are now living the dream they dreamt while living on the streets before being captured. Maha couldn’t be more content, and we learn Illig has also trained her in the skills of assassination. Such are her and Tarte’s depth of devotion to their master and brother, they’ll happily brutally torture a corporate spy in the night. Illig didn’t even have to be there.

This week is the wackiest Goddess interlude yet—in which she’s rap-dueling with The World’s Greatest MC, only to learn that 30 years later he’s done nothing because all he does is insult people. But while they provide a measure of comic relief, they also show us that of all the Worlds Best ___’s the Goddess has brought to a new world, Illig seems to be faring the best.

We also learn that once a month Illig travels to hang out with Dia, who is essentially his big sister. They collaborate on new spells and catch up. Just one day a month must be lonely (that bittersweet loneliness has been beautifully expressed in the Dia-centric ED), but even if Illig cynically thinks he’s just keeping another pawn loyal to him, there’s clearly more going on than that.

While Illig’s constant assurance to himself everything is going according to plan make me nervous for some kind of unanticipated setback, the first instance is pretty low-key: his body has arrived at puberty, and after a mana-intensive day at Dia’s, he sleeps soundly between Tarte and Maha…and wakes up to learn his body has had its first wet dream.

Tarte and Maha immediately assure him that in the future they will be able to “take care” of this new development without issue or delay, and Illig, who didn’t seem like much of a ladies man in his past life, is understandably flustered. While this first crack in his plan is mostly silly, the fact he now has less than five years to defeat the hero provides potential for many more. So much remains unknown of the hero, from their gender to the possibility of fulfilling his mission without killing them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 07 – Wasted Wings

They say bad news comes in threes: First a bloodied Al is brought to Red and Rit’s; fortunately, he’s fine. Then he says his parents were attacked by Ademi, the bully and son of the captain of the guard. They turn out not to have suffered life-threatening injuries. While his folks recuperate, Al stays with Red and Rit, who get a taste of what it might be like to have a son—a son with the Weapon Master Blessing.

But then the third Bad Thing happens: Gonz and Nao come by saying Tanta was arrested. This starts a big and frankly pretty boring sequence where Red and Rit first go to the Adventurer’s Guild to request a join query with the Townsguard. Turns out their captain, Ademi’s dad Moen, didn’t intend to treat Tanta badly. It’s just that his men suspect Ademi was killed by a resident of Southmarsh.

In exchange for helping them out, the Adventurer’s Guildmaster asks a favor of Rit: track down a drug dealer. She lets her guard down and he blows up in a spray of sticky substance that prevents her from drawing her dual blades. Fortunately, she’s bailed out by Red’s former party-mate Danan, who admits he was originally going to drag Gideon back into the party, but is reluctant now that he sees Red living a happy life.

That said, Danan sees that there’s a lot of strange and upsetting things transpiring in the once-sleepy town where Red intended to settle down Also…Danan might be evil now? Or at least being controlled by that guy he met last week. When Rit comes home, all she wants is to nibble on a sandwich and then relax in Red’s lap. She sees the writing on the wall: they may not be able to enjoy their quiet life much longer.

Did I mention there are some complex dynamics going on with protests in Zoltan and Southmarsh, possibly egged on by the Thieves Guild, keeping those towns’ guards from properly investigating the attacks? Yeah…while the moments between Red and Rit were lovely as usual, there was precious little of it, and there was simply too much else going on.

By the time we checked in with Ruti, Tisse, Ares, and Theodora, I felt a bit exhausted…not what you want from your fantasy slice-of-life show! The party defeats a behemoth and then commandeer a damn airship, and Ruti laments that such a craft is wasted on someone who can’t go where she actually wants—her brothers side.

Unfortunately, the scene is undercut by the fact the show has nowhere near the budget needed to model and animate a halfway-decent airship. Instead, it dredged up memories of the similarly goofy pirate spaceship in Rogue Galaxya PS2 game released back in 2005.

Shin no Nakama – 06 – The Champions of Here

Red is making a routine delivery to Dr. Newman when the two of them suddenly hear someone freaking out. They discover one of their neighbors has overdosed on that recently approved drug that has become popular as a narcotic. These opening events, and an episode title like “The Rampage Begins”, portend a not-so-quiet slice of Red and Rit’s quiet life.

…Or so you’d think. Instead, these suddenly unpleasant events don’t suddenly take over their lives. They still find time for a leisurely omelette lunch, or a day by the river in their swimsuits. They even share their first kiss. Investigating drug crime is not their job, and they’re fine with that. Their job is to stock the necessary ingredients to counteract the drug, and take it easy.

I’ve been a steady defender of both Red and Rit’s individual freedom to live their lives how they see fit…but neither of them is The Hero. I’ll admit to seeming a bit dismissive of Ruti’s fate, but I wish to dispel that right here and now by declaring her the show’s most tragic figure.

Ruti’s Hero’s Blessing is more of a curse, overriding her life 95% of the time. The rest of the time, she’s just a lonesome young woman who loves and misses her brother, and is crushed by the weight of a duty she never asked for.

I felt bad enough last week when we learned she can’t even sleep at night. This week we learn she’s resistant to nice weather as well as bad, and never gets hungry and so doesn’t eat food. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t have a sense of taste…being a hero in this world means being anhedonic.

When a bloodied and maimed man suddenly rushes into the apothecary, Red treats him while Rit heads into town to see what’s going on. Turns out it’s nothing good: a number of members of Albert’s party are apparently tweaking out on that drug, which has turned them into rampaging killers.

Rit is content to knock them all out, but Albert kills them with bolts from his crossbow, then nonchalantly apologizes if his party members inconvenienced her from her slow life with her “fiancé”. Rit seems ready to fight, but then suddenly drops her twin blades—something she says is a ritual to “douse” her blessing’s urge to attack.

Possessed of Blessings far less intense than Rutis, Red and Rit are able to maintain their quiet cozy days, but Zoltan seems primed for a major drug and violence epidemic. Red’s ability to produce healing medicines will be key, while Rit may have to use a lot more of her Blessing’s skills than she’d liked in order to maintain peace. The two of them are two talented to sit on the sidelines for long if shit really hits the fan in the village.

As if to herald the figurative storm for which this week seemed like the uneasy calm that always comes before, there’s a literal storm that requires Red and Rit to close up the house shutters and prepare for a long night of rain and thunder. That preparation includes a cup of warm milk and honey Red serves Rit as a calming and sleeping aid.

It’s something Red once made for his sister Ruti when she was little. In a flashback to a similar big storm, we see that even as a young girl Ruti was already exhibiting the qualities of an unfeeling hero, even though it’s clear in her words and actions that she adored her big brother. It’s heartbreaking to watch Red (well, Gideon back then) explain the concept of emotions like happiness and affection and why he thanked her for saying she loved him.

Ruti knows the words, and maybe deep down feels the feelings, but her Blessing is constantly tamping them down. It’s why, in the present, Ruti laments in her own way that she can’t go to where her brother is, even though she once asked him to promise never to leave her. Because she’s the Hero.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai! – 11 – Odd Couple

When Jahy’s manager starts growing cherry tomatoes outside the pub, Jahy follows suit, planting seeds in a pot and basically trying to assert her old Dark Realm authority to compel them to sprout. Initially it doesn’t go so well, but with enough water, sunlight, and bug repellant, her plant soon flourishes and bears fruit…in the form of red-hot habanero peppers.

Jahy’s solitary apartment existence is suddenly upheaved when the landlord has a fight with her sister and moves in with Jahy. When Jahy asks why she doesn’t just move into the vacant apartment next door, the landlord says she’d be lonely. Jahy can’t turn down an offer of free rent, but the landlord soon proves to be an unruly roommate, making messes and stealing blankets left and right.

Jahy gets a reprieve from her landlord roomie when she joins Druj at a fancy cafe for a meeting over the progress of collecting mana crystals. Druj has actually collected quite a lot of crystal shards large and small, but believes her rather impressive progress to be woefully insufficient for her dark mistress (Druj is the queen of optimistic assumptions).

Even when Jahy’s lie about defeating the Magical Girl is immediately debunked by the sight of her, Jahy simply declares the flashily-dressed girl as her newest underling, which only makes Druj want to work harder to prove she’s superior to a lowly human.

Jahy returns home to find that the landlord has done precisely none of the housework she was supposed to do, and learns that the landlord is in fact terrible at housework, since she live with her big sister who takes care of it. When her sister calls her, Jahy forces the landlord to take the call, and after a few minutes, the ordeal is over and the landlord moves back in with her sister.

Turns out their “big fight” was about the manager wearing her shirts and stretching them out with her ample bosom. But Jahy was right: when you have a home to go home to and someone waiting for you to return, it’s just selfish not to go back. As for Jahy, she longs to restore her home, and that of the Dark Lord, of whom we catch a glimpse for the first time this week.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 10 – You can’t go home

Only a damn week left in August. A week of Summer Break. Until reopens, the aquarium closes, and Fuuka goes back to Iwate, among other things. After staring at the downtown monstrosity that reminded me of the Olympic Stadium in AKIRA, Kukuru is staring at that damn calendar with only seven days left.

Kai, whose first memory of Kukuru is watching her back tremble as she wept in her front yard, sees that back again. It’s not trembling, but he knows it’s troubled. But he can’t, because he’s just a little too slow and Kukuru is so distracted by her problems she doesn’t even notice Kai is there, and certainly doesn’t see him as a potential source of healing.

Kukuru isn’t really seeing Fuuka either. Fuuka did commit to supporting Kukuru’s dream when her own dream ended, but thanks to the call from Ruka, that dream is suddenly alive again if she wants it: a goddamn starring movie role. Of course she can’t share this news with Kukuru, who has no time or headspace for anything but her beloved Gama Gama. Seeing how Kukuru flails near the finish line really accentuates just how grown up and mature Chiyu was by comparison last week.

Chiyu can see her future and she’s lunging forward and grasping at it with everything she has. Kukuru is trying to keep her past her present and future. She’s so desperate, she resorts to asking Udon-chan’s mom to see if there’s a way to exploit the inscrutable magical realism moments she, Fuuka, and others have experienced. She thinks if she can put it out there on social media that Gama Gama is a “place of miracles” and a “healing power spot”, she can save it.

But just look at everyone’s faces. Kukuru’s desperation is clear to see. Udon-chan is the only one humoring her with a half-hearted, almost patronizing smile. Fuuka is quietly neutral. Karin is like this girl is going off the deep end.

During what was without doubt the most depressing watermelon-eating scene I’ve ever seen committed to the screen, Fuuka can’t hold in what’s bothering her anymore, even if it only adds to Kukuru’s problems. When Fuuka doesn’t enthusiastically say she’ll turning the movie role down, Kukuru cant stomach any more watermelon, or Fuuka’s presence.

In a way, it’s not fair. Fuuka has pretty much had to couch all of her issues while August has worn on and Kukuru’s various ideas to save Gama Gama have come and gone with the same middling success. But Fuuka isn’t sure what she’s doing anymore, which means she’s not committed to helping Kukuru salvage her dream. There’s no point in lying, and I’m glad Fuuka doesn’t, nor does Kukuru hide her disappointment.

Kai, who it’s clear has been working himself way too hard just so Kukuru has an extra strong back at the aquarium, finally gets a chance to spend some time alone with Kukuru, but it’s strictly business: she needs him to be her guinea pig to see if the “illusions” will occur for him. Kukuru’s obsession with saving Gama Gama is flattening all of her relationships. She only noticed Kai when she needed him.

Why she thinks sitting three feet away and leaning towards him with a notebook will put him in the right state to see said illusions…but like I said, Kukuru is desperate…almost as desperate as Kai is to help and console and comfort her. But once again, he’s a little to slow to call her name and reach out, as she buzzes off on her motorbike after their failed illusion session. He keeps getting so close! 

Back home, Kukuru’s Gramps gives her a talking-to about how it was wrong to try to lure supernatural otaku to the aquarium with promises of miracles and illusions. In effect, this week is when Kukuru’s illusory world finally comes into focus. Everyone but her isn’t saying Gama Gama is doomed because they’re being assholes. It’s because Gama Gama is doomed. Barring some serious Kijimunaa divine intervention, of course.

I don’t know of Kijimunaa is directly responsible for the illusions, but the reason for them is made plain (if it wasn’t already) when Kai, distraught over his inability to reach present-day Kukuru, finds himself behind the shoulder of his younger self when he first met her. Audio is added to this scene and it’s brought into context as one of countless times young Kukuru ran out of her grandparents’ house declaring through tears that she’s going home to “mommy and daddy.”

This was, predictably, the point at which I broke down in tears, and basically unconditionally forgave Kukuru for all of her transgressions both this week and in previous episodes. Kukuru lost her parents at a tender age, but not so tender that she was shielded from the weight of the loss. She was old enough to know, but wasn’t ready to accept, that they were gone. The home she knew and loved was gone too.

Past Kai hesitates just like Present Kai did three times prior, but Present Kai is there to give Past Kai a push towards Kukuru. He whips out a big, gorgeous fish he just caught, and Kukuru’s tears stop almost immediately.

Kai comes out of his illusion to a Kukuru hopeful she just witnessed him experiencing what she experienced. But to both her dejection and my own, Kai softly shakes his head. It was a beautiful memory, but just a memory. It was the past, and just the illusion of it. He doesn’t want to feed her any more illusions. Instead, rather than gathering her into a big hug, he puts up his hands so she can punch them and yells “Come!”

Kukuru cries as she punches, but Kai tells her to keep punching, as hard as she can, into his palms. I’m sure if he had a big beautiful freshly caught fish, he’d give her one to cheer her up. We later see that Kukuru posted a retraction on social media, so even that last-ditch plan ended in failure.

If I were her, I’d also be grateful for a friend willing to absorb my punches, my failures, my despair—all of it, for my sake. And when my fists (and their palms) were sufficiently red and stinging, I’d feel better, and maybe even be ready to take a step forward.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

The aquatope on white sand – 09 – Compassion for the unfamiliar

Two very common ways anime deal with an interlopers is by either turning them into friends or putting them in their place. Aquatope does neither, opting for a far more nuanced, multifaceted, and ultimately more satisfying and enriching experience. In the complexity of emotions it expresses (and elicits), Aquatope is as diverse and colorful as its sea life.

Haebaru Chiyu is the interloper, and immediately an interesting choice was made to have Ishikawa Yui voice her. Ishikawa has one of the most charming and likable voices around, even as she voiced Mikasa Ackerman, one of the toughest motherfuckers in all animedom. I automatically like everyone she voices, even if they’re not easy to like otherwise.

Despite the only reason Chiyu agreed to go to Gama Gama for training was because of the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper”, Gramps pairs her up with Kukuru. Kukuru doesn’t know Chiyu, but hates everything she represents, and cannot mask her disdain and hostility.

It quickly becomes clear that beneath her polite façade Chiyu masks a similar contempt, but for an aquarium she believes (not without good reason!) to be a failure. The place is mostly empty and the equipment is falling apart. Not only is it a depressing place with which she has no emotional ties, it is to her the antithesis of a properly run aquarium.

Gramps and Fuuka are in the middle of the ensuing rivalry of passive aggression and pointed barbs; Gramps tells Kukuru it doesn’t matter what building an aquarium occupies; what matters is that people get to enjoy and come to love the creatures of the sea. Gran backs him up by telling Kukuru it would do her well to occasionally think outside her proverbial seashell.

To her credit, Kukuru does take a look at why exactly she’s trying so hard to save Gama Gama, and if she’s just selfishly clinging to her memories rather than facing reality and coming to terms with it. Fuuka tells Kukuru that she’s chasing her dream, and she’ll keep supporting her.

In response to this loving gesture, Kukuru brings up the possibility of having a sibling to someone for the first time. As the omniscient audience we’ve seen her look at those two maternity books, but now we know why: they’re in her parents’ shrine, but she’s never had the courage to ask Gran why there’s a second one.

Before going to sleep while holding hands, Kukuru promises she’ll be more civil to Chiyu tomorrow, but Chiyu has already had her fill of a teenaged assistant director, and basically demands that Gramps train her from now on. Gramps does his rounds, and Chiyu is suitably unimpressed with the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper.”

And why is that? Because with her outsider’s perspective she can’t quite see what he’s doing, and what he’s done, with Gama Gama. To him, an aquarium is more than just the building, but also more than just the fish. He knows and greets everyone, asks them how they’re doing. It’s a vibrant community of people young and old.

One could castigate Chiyu for so thoroughly missing the forest for the trees, but as we learn in her private moments, she has a dream too, and she’s not going to let what she regards to be a half-assed failing aquarium to hurt her chances at gainful employment.

That night in her Western-style hotel room—another sign she’s not interested in straying too far from her established world—she demands that her boss assign her somewhere else, and he agrees. She can’t afford to waste time…not when she’s come so far on her own.

Honestly, as much as she clashes with Kukuru and simply doesn’t “get” the appeal and value of Gama Gama, I can’t fault Chiyu for feeling or acting as she does. When Kukuru asks her what deficiencies she found there, Chiyu doesn’t hold back, and also makes the very good point that at the end of the day, Kukuru isn’t doing this for a living.

She may be slacking in her studies, but Kukuru is still young enough to do anything with her life. That’s less true for Chiyu, and because she desperately wants to work at an aquarium, she has to work that much harder in a country of 126 million with only about 100 aquariums.

Kukuru needs to use an unwitting Kai as a stress-relieving punching bag (a wonderful moment between the two old friends) not only because Chiyu pisses her off royally, but because Chiyu is right about a lot of what she said. For someone who earlier questioned her motives about saving Gama Gama, Chiyu adds salt to that wound.

The previous day, Fuuka overheard Chiyu remarking how no one at Gama Gama is actually looking at the fish. But as Fuuka learns, Chiyu was wrong: theyu have looked at the fish, over and over, with their cheap annual passes they’ve memorized most of them. They’re past that “tourist” phase of aquarium visitor. Now, Gama Gama is their living room, their lounge, their game room, their parlor….their home away from home.

Oh, and one of the kids mentioned he once say his dead dog, which means there’s something even more inscrutable and intangible about Gama Gama at which Ciyu turned her nose up. Between that kid’s comment and the brief look at Fijimunaa, the show wants to make it clear it hasn’t forgotten its magical realism elements.

Lest we forget Fuuka has her own baggage, she finally picks up when her old group-mate Ruka calls her. She eventually had to face her mom, and so it only made sense she’d have to face her very different past life as well. Unfortunately we don’t get to learn what exactly Ruka has to say to Fuuka, but it’s a great hook for next week.

Fuuka only gets this chance in part because Kukuru doesn’t go home with her, instead riding out to the big city to see the great nemesis itself. And just as her nighttime ride reminded me of Akira, seeing her behold and be dwarfed by the towering behemoth, still under construction and looking like a great sleeping beast.

This episode defly introduced a new character who was both likable in her own right while also providing a welcome thorn in the whole Gama Gama kubaya environment. Not everyone needs to be friends, and sometimes that makes for great, sometimes downright thrilling  anime, as it did here.

It also marked what looks like the beginning of some significant growth and soul-searching for Kukuru. She’s faced the beast…but what does she make of it, and what will she do next?

Vanitas no Carte – 06 – His Lordship’s Guests

We learn the amorphous distorted-voiced monster isn’t named Charlatan, but is someone named Naenia who is merely part of Charlatan, when Noé is broken out of his jam by Vanitas, while Luca is protected by a no-longer-thirsty Jeanne.

The three-monster team of Charlatan decides to skedaddle before “The Queen’s Fangs” show up, and Domi rips her dress to provide protection for Vanitas while he deals with the remaining curse-bearers in the palace. One of them, a young girl, is to far gone, and Vanitas has to turn her to ash.

Here little old me I thought Domi was flamboyant; turns out she’s scared shitless of her big sister Veronica, who is the aforementioned Queen’s Fangs. Easily wearing three times her mass in fabric and a black fox mask, she unilaterally decides that the stinky mortal Vanitas is responsible for this fiasco, and decides to literally put him on ice.

Nothing and nobody can stop her and her crazy eyes…except the timely arrival of one Lord Ruthven, who cracks her mask with one tap of his pimp cane, then chides her for such an “unbecoming show of power.” Just like there’s always a bigger fish, there’s always a stronger vampire, huh?

Ruthven is ready to dispense some quick justice upon the on-ice Vanitas for turning the little girl into ash, but Noé comes between them and calls Ruthven out for not knowing remotely the whole story. Rather than angry, Ruthven is amused, but also chastened by the young buck.

He introduces himself a a member of the Senate in service of the Queen, then melts the ice to free Vanitas. But after his ordeal with Naenia and the attack from a Veronica who was not holding back, Noé finally collapses from exhaustion.

In his dream Noé’s tucked into bed, holding the hand of his Teacher, and curses himself for forcing his hopes and ideals upon Vanitas and feeling betrayed when he didn’t live up to them. The Teacher clarifies the mission he bestowed upon his student: not to determine if the book of Vanitas is a threat, but to meet those whose paths cross it, and judge it on his own terms—terms in which the Teacher clearly trusts.

When Noé wakes up he finds Vanitas perched atop a clock tower like a gargoyle, sulking. When Noé mentions how sometimes Vanitas looks like he’s “given up on something”, Vanny pulls a knife on him and says he wants nothing to do with him. Noé comes back by saying he’s never remotely liked him.

But as the sun rises between them, Vanita’s anger turns to more brooding, and Noé, feeling like he just might understand his companion a bit more, gives Vanitas a cool smile and says he’ll be remaining by his side for the time being. This comes as no surprise, as we know someday Noé will kill Vanitas…or will he?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 05 – Getting to Noé You

Charlatan takes hold of Noé and instigates a trip into his memories; specifically, back to when “Teacher” (not “Master”) brought Noé to live with his two grandchildren, Louis and Dominique in a mansion not too dissimilar from Bocchan’s. The siblings quickly become his first and dearest friends. The three of them, in turn, befriend four kids from the nearby village.

We’ve seen flashes aplenty of Louis—though I assumed she was a girl due to being voiced by one—but here we finally meet the kid, who while withdrawn and aloof does find comfort and even occasional joy in both Domi and Noé’s constant company. The three are inseparable, even sharing a bed during a thunderstorm, and during the blue moon the Teacher seems to indicate to Louis that he brought Noé there to raise him to eventually befriend someone like Vanitas.

That’s key, as Louis is isolated because he is a curse-bearer-in-waiting. He believes Dominique was born to replace him as the heir to the de Sade clan. Things take a turn for the super-dark when one of their village friends is scheduled to be executed, but goes berserk, leading to Louis beheading her to save Noé and Domi. However shitty his situation, he never blamed his sister and adpotive brother for it.

But when Louis himself succumbed to the curse, the Teacher steps in to behead him—right in front of Noé, who could not do what Louis wished and kill him himself. Left with nothing but a chest full of hand-carved stakes, Noé falls in despair for not being strong enough to save Louis or even put him out of his misery.

It’s Noé’s misery and regret upon which Charlatan feeds and tightens its hold on him, ready to curse him as he did Louis. And after reliving his tragic past, Noé definitely seems to be in a bad way…until Vanitas, having not been sucked dry by Jeanne—and possibly even made stronger by her drink—arrives just in time to disperse Charlatan and rescue his new friend Noé.

While lengthy flashbacks can sap present momentum, in this case it feltjustified, as we lacked the full emotional context of Noé’s relationships and motivations. We learn how close he got to Louis and how that made him reluctant to get too close to Vanitas. We see how adorable and sweet Domi was (Kayano Ai is so good at voicing the younger, more innocent versions of her characters), but how Louis’ fate and her family’s plan transformed her.

Finally, we understand why the Teacher sent Noé to befriend Vanitas, as the Teacher seems to be the rare vampire who understands the true value of those born under the blue moon. But then if Vanitas can save the vampires from the curses of Charlatan, why is Noé destined to kill him? Is that the Teacher’s ultimate plan for him, or does it just…happen? For that, we’ll just have to keep watching to find out.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 04 – No Time to Be Choosy

After a pretty but clinical infodump about how the exploration of “World Formula Theory” led to the alternate coal known as astermite, the alternate Paris known as Altus, and the alternate humans known as vampires, we get something a lot hotter and heavier, as Domi offers Noé the blood in her neck and Noé does not refuse it with a boyish blush, but goes in and drunks deep.

Domi probably preferred that Vanitas was on the other side of the wagon door when Noé fed on her, as in the middle of the masquerade ball, she manages to separate Vanitas from Noé and locks him in her sadist torture chamber. She wants to know what he’s really doing with her Noé. Far from frightened by all the spikes and chains, Vanitas is wearing his usual fox-like smirk, loving every minute of this.

Rather than spook him, Domi’s heavy handed tactics inspire him to declare who he is, what he is, and what he plans to do with all the vampire bigwigs at the ball, adding that he looks forward to them experiencing the humiliation of being saved by a human who inherited the name and book of the Blue Moon vampire.

His impromptu speech does not go over well, with Domi’s sister Veronica ordering him killed. But in just an instant the chandelier upon which he was perched falls to the dance floor, and Vanitas is whisked away in a princess carry by Jeanne, following her master Luca’s wishes to meet Vanitas and Noé again.

Unfortunately neither Vanitas doesn’t just have angry, rich, murderous vamps to worry about: Charlatan has crashed the ball in tripartite form, turning numerous vamps into curse-bearers and basically setting up a gift-wrapped scenario in which Vanitas can prove his haughty boasts by healing the bearers. With Noé busy protecting Luca from Charlatan, Vanitas has a little room to work.

He also has Jeanne, who is extremely hungry, and acting suspiciously like a curse-bearer, though not all veiny and demonic like the others. Needing muscle to back him up in Noé’s absence and with no other convenient necks around, Vanitas decides to conduct a new experiment on himself by allowing Jeanne to suck his blood.

She warns him her fangs may be the death of him, but he repeats his claim to have fallen for her, and bids her bon appetit. If Noé drinking Domi’s blood was steamy, Jeanne drinking Vanita’s is downright smoldering, aided by the otherworldly pinks, purples, and reds of Altus.

Jeanne takes a brief pause, but then goes back to Vanitas’ neck for seconds, and he declares that “this isn’t half bad.” Let it never be said Vanitas can’t be sexy as hell right after being goofy as hell!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 13 (Fin) – Deus Eggs Machina

Instead of being represented by an angel and  a devil perched on her shoulders, Neiru works through her indecision by giving voices to her bunny slippers. She determines it’s time to be “selfish”. She encounters Ai, and they have a listless conversation about the weather before going their separate ways.

Ai returns home to find Neiru’s pet rat Adam by her door, and a text from Neiru asking her to take care of him. That’s all Ai gets; she calls and the phone rings and rings, but Neiru never answers. In a way, Ai is a good part of the audience of Wonder Egg Priority who waited three months for some kind of definitive conclusion.

Unfortunately, this is not really that. Oh, it takes a turn or two in new directions, but very few loose ends are tied up. Indeed, the first half of this special is a recap. Like Ai listening to those droning tones on the phone, we never should have expected answers would be forthcoming. Instead, we get more questions; fresh avenues for contemplation.

After the frankly obnoxious recap (the second, as the first was a necessary evil when the pandemic and time constrained production could not keep up with cruelly unrealistic deadlines), we learn that Ai and the others actually did bring their dead people back to life, only now they have no connections to them. Koito treats Ai coldly and even joins in bullying her.

Worse, when Ai calls Neiru’s office and meets her on the ground floor, Neiru tells her she won’t be her friend and walks away. Ai is so frustrated she tosses her phone, shattering the screen, and even buys a pack of cigarettes…though one sniff of one and she reconsiders actually smoking one.

It’s little moments like that, and all of the angst and depression and panic that sets in as Ai realizes the people closest to her have suddenly drifted away, that reminds me of the best this show could offer. Those painstakingly rendered quiet moments that really brought Ai, the others, and their world to vivid life. Ai decides to vent her frustrations into the mic, singing the ending theme (badly) at karaoke with Rika and Momo

Rika doesn’t like how Neiru just up and left, and suggests they return to the Accas to investigate. Momo doesn’t want to go. She, quite justifiably, doesn’t want to be hurt (anymore than she already has, of course). Rika calls her a coward, but Ai tells her how sad she’d be if Momo got hurt. Rika then says she’d just go and save her all over again.

It, and the scene of the three on the train, exemplifies the highs and lows of friendships. Sometimes we get on each others’ nerves, or have fundamental disagreements, but the bonds endure. Then Ai gets a call from Neiru’s secretary admitting that the cold, dismissive Neiru she encountered earlier wasn’t really Neiru, but Neiru’s sister Aira.

They are invited to Neiru’s house, which was once Kotobuki’s before she died…and becomes Kotobuki’s again when she is revived. Or, to be more precise, she and the other girls’ dead people aren’t the same people because they came from alternate timelines.

That whole can of worms has always been a hard pill of magical realism to swallow, and the more detail given to it, the more it starts to fall apart, so it’s to WEP’s credit they mostly wave their hands and say “it’s fine, just go with it.” Ditto Ai and Rika watching the last dream Neiru recorded, and essentially learning that Neiru…was never human, but an AI???

Rika, always quick to anger and saying things she might not mean, says she’s not willing to “risk her life for a machine.” But what is a sophisticated AI but an infinitely less complex version of the Real McCoy? We are just machines; machines we’ll probably never be able to perfectly replicate no matter how many shows and movies explore the possibility.

When Neiru does finally call Ai, Ai decides to be the one not to answer. She throws her phone over the balcony of her apartment building, then cries into her loving mother’s lap. Not all friendships are forever, and even when turning the page is in one’s best interest, it’s often far more difficult and painful than simply ripping a band-aid off of a hairy arm.

Time passes, and Ai not only leaves Neiru, but drifts away from Momo and Rika as well; sadly we don’t get to see them again. Ai changes schools, since Koito isn’t her Koito anymore, and seems to be adjusting and adapting just fine.

But then one day she walks past a familiar storefront with capsule dispensers, and suddenly all the memories of her friends and of Neiru rush into the foreground of her mind, and she decides to do what Rika wanted to do back at Karaoke: return to the Accas and get cracking. Not all friendships are forever, but not all friendships that end necessarily stay over forever.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 11 – What’s Past Is Providence

As the end of last week teased, all of the work Vivy and Matsumoto have done throughout the century would seem to be for naught, as all the AIs still go berserk, this time with the added insult of singing Vivy’s song while they slaughter the humans.

Vivy does what she can in her immediate vicinity to stop the berserk AIs from killing, but even when she saves one man, he runs from her in terror. She’s woefully outnumbered and almost hit by a Johnnycab when she’s saved by Matsumoto, who just woke up after fifteen years to learn the Singularity Project was a complete bust.

The episode drives that point home by not shying away from the scenes of carnage mixed with programmed mirth, perhaps best illustrated by a gigantic musical parade float-thingy red-misting humans in the streets. Wit Studio’s experience in depicting horrendous disasters is well known, and they really flex their dread-inspiring muscles here.

Osamu is hard at work doing exactly what he did in the first episode: send the insulated Diva AI data into the past to fix this disaster. Only that’s already happened in another timeline, which means we have two Divas here. Instead of activate the Diva native to his timeline, Matsumoto witnesses as the AI security guards who came to kill him are neutralized…by Diva and Matsumoto.

Osamu’s first reaction is intense sorrow and guilt at having put Diva through a century of burdens and suffering when she was only born to sing. But Diva isn’t the Diva he knew anymore; she’s Vivy, and not only did she not mind the last century of service, but she’s asking him here and now to tell her and Matsumoto how to deal with this.

To make everyone happy with her singing, she must protect her audience. To protect her audience, she must stop the war.

In this fully dystopian-adjacent episode, the scrappy underdogs must hook up with their allies, who in this particular case—and quite ironically so—are Toak. Specifically, a moderate faction of Toak led by none other than Kakitani Yugo’s granddaughter, Yui (voiced by Asai Ayaka, who sounds a lot like a more assertive Ichinose Kana).

Like Osamu, she wants to create a world where AI and human can coexist. When Vivy, Osamu, and Matsumoto arrive at the cargo port where Yui’s faction is battling, we and Vivy lean that Elizabeth is not only still alive and well and not berserk, but serving as Yui’s bodyguard.

Once Yui stands down the Toak soldiers suspicious of Vivy and Matsumoto, we learn the details of how Beth is still around: while her body was lost in the Sunrise incident, her data was still on Toak servers, and was uploaded into a new body, but only with memories before Sunrise.

Beth asks Vivy about herself, Yugo, and her sister Estella, and Vivy’s answers comfort her: she was Yugo’s lifekeeper, and Estella carried out her mission until the very end with a smile on her face. Yui produces a recording of Yugo from just before Vivy met Ophelia forty years ago, with Yugo asking Beth to protect the others, a recording that inspired Yui to found the moderate faction of Toak.

Once the group is in a safe (for now) place, they start to put their heads together: which historical event sparks this war, and how can it be avoided? Why is everyone singing Vivy’s song? Also, why haven’t Vivy or Beth lost control like the others?

Beth can be explained easily enough; she’s no longer a true autonomous AI, but a kind of emulation of the past Beth, “a bot who keeps on following her master’s orders.” She was also never uploaded to the Archive for updates, as that would have exposed Toak to authorities.

That Toak never updated Beth after reviving her is a eureka moment for Osamu, who reveals there is a supply of dormant, outdated AIs who also were never connected to the Archive, and so haven’t gone berserk.

As for the Archive, its physical form is the Arayashiki, the tower that Vivy and Matsumodo used as both index and measuring stick for AI progress. In both this episode and in the updated OP, the tower is complete. This episode started with a countdown, and when zero was reached a signal was send to all AIs, save Vivy and Beth: essentially, “kill all humans.”

The group’s brainstorming session is interrupted by some new devilry: The Archive sends out a message over every PA: it has started a twelve-hour countdown, after which it will bring down a giant orbiting satellite. It warns “all AIs who want to exist” to evacuate the affected area ASAP.

Vivy dives into the Archive, which is in the middle of some major redecorating, turning the pastel classroom into an early 21st-century Tokyo nightscape. When Vivy asks Archive (voiced by Ohara Sayaka) what she’s doing, she says she is fulfilling her and their purpose: to wipe out the current human race.

It seems clear now that Archive is the key. This time, she used Vivy’s song as part of whatever data package altered all AIs’ missions to mass murder. That she’s bringing down a satellite on Arayashiki’s position indicates she may also be trying to end her own existence, leaving the humans and AIs who survive to deal with the aftermath.

Of course, this is all speculation. Suffice it to say, we needed an episode that upped the stakes near the end and put Vivy, Matsumoto, and their allies in a race against time to stop the robo-pocalypse. This episode served that purpose admirably, and with the series’ typical flare for grimly dissonant juxtapositions.

It was also great to see that Elizabeth survived, at least in some form. It will be nice to see the Diva sisters fighting side-by-side this time around. Matusmoto said the Singularity Project failed, but that assumes the project is over. I just see this as them having attained the project’s next level; the final dungeon. And it looks to be a doozy.

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