Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 26 (Fin) – Catching the Evening Train

After semi-binging this series to the tune of 26 episodes in 30 days, I can’t help but feeling now that I’ve arrived at the end that this first season was nothing but a prologue for the real story to come.  Heck, It wasn’t until last week that Tanjirou was able to use Constant Total Concentration—an absolute necessity when fighting elite demons.

Mind you, I am not complaining. If this is a prologue, it’s one of the best I’ve seen, and instantly makes any future adventures with Tanjirou, Nezuko & Co. more meaningful because we know how hard everyone’s worked to get this far—and how far we have yet to go.

The end of this epic beginning starts with a meeting similar to that held by the Demon Slayer Corps commander with the Hashira, only it’s Kibutsuji Muzan and the five surviving Lower Six of the Twelve Kizuki. The meeting takes place in a gorgeous, trippy, Relativity-style space of his own making. Unlike the Corps commander, Muzan doesn’t lead with a serene, considered manner, he rules by absolute fear.

With the loss of Rui, he’s decided the Lower Six aren’t even worth his effort anymore, and he executes them all except for one: the Lower One. Unlike the others, this one tells Muzan what he wants to hear, and is rewarded not only with his life, but Muzan’s blood, and a mission: defeat a Hashira and Kamado Tanjirou.

Just before dawn a Kasugai Crow wakes Tanjirou, Zenitsu and Inosuke, informing them of their new mission to join the Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou on the Mugen Train, a crisis that has already claimed forty lives. The balance of the episode consists of Tanjirou preparing to depart and saying his goodbyes.

Tanjirou’s sweet nature and pure heart reassure Aoi, who feels like she’s a coward for not fighting on the front lines, that he’ll carry her emotions on the battlefield in her place, and should he hurt himself again, he’ll be relying on her care once more. Say what you want about his idealism, but our boy possesses emotional intelligence in spades.

But the true highlight of the episode is his parting interaction with Tsuyuri Kanao, who flips a coin to decide whether to talk to him, and then does. Tanjirou asks her about the coin, and when he learn she basically takes orders from chance, he suspects it’s because the voice in her heart is soft.

He asks her to make a deal with him: He’ll flip the coin, and if it comes up Heads, she’ll try listening to her heart more, even if she has to strain to hear its whispering. She watches carefully as he flips it and notes he does not cheat, and it comes up Heads. He returns the coin to her and takes hands in his as a sign of heartfelt optimism, promising they’ll see each other again.

As he runs off, she raises her voice in asking why it landed on Heads, to which he replies that it was only chance, but had it been Tails he would have kept flipping it until he got Heads. If Tanjirou, who bears his heart on his sleeve, and Kanao, whose heart was buried deep in her chest by her past, eventually become a romantic couple, I will be 100% and fully Here for it. They are surpassingly adorable.

Tanjirou, Zenitsu, and Inousuke pass Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi’s Giant Gourd Test, meaning they now possess the breathing to fight some serious demons. Giyuu stops buy for a quick, stoic goodbye, telling Tanjirou he can thank him for vouching for Nezuko by “doing good work.”

With that, the trio set off West to the train station, and we realize that neither Tanjirou nor Inosuke have ever seen a train. Inosuke believes it’s some great sleeping god; Tanjirou speculates it may be an benign deity. It’s here where Zenitsu’s city smarts shine as he castigates his “country bumpkin” comrades for making a scene.

We also learn that Demon Slayers are not officially recognized by the Japanese government, and so they’re not legally allowed to carry swords in public. They hide their swords—well, Inosuke tries but also insists on going shirtless, so it doesn’t go well—and wait for nightfall to board the train while avoiding the police.

As they leap onto the departing train and it begins to steam into the night, we get a great closing shot of the three slayers on the caboose, ready and excited for their new mission, while Tanjirou tells Zenitsu that the safest place for Nezuko is together with him, in the box on his back.

We spot Rengoku Kyoujurou in one of the passenger cars, as well as the Lower One Kizuki standing atop the engine. The stage is now set for the Mugen Train arc, which is covered in the film that premiered in Japan October 2020, which surpassed Spirited Away as Japan’s all-time highest grossing film. I look forward to watching it as soon as it’s available in the states, as well as the second season that will air at some point in 2021.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 25 – Chestnut Flower Drop

Tanjirou intensifies his Constant Concentration Breathing, asking the three little girls (named Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi) to slap him with carpet beaters if he breaks the breathing in his sleep. I love how the girls are rooting for him all the way, and will gladly do what appears to Zenitsu and Inosuke to be straight-up torture.

It may be torturous, but it goes a long way toward Tanjirou making progress. He’s definitely getting closer and closer to tagging Tsuyuri Kanao, who we can be quite sure isn’t going easy on him, while he’s eventually able to break the Lv. 1 Gourd with his breath.

Soon Inosuke and Zenitsu grow weary of falling too far behind. Also, Shinobu knows exactly how to motivate each of them: in Inosuke’s case, talking down to him and saying it’s okay to be weak; in Zenitsu’s case, batting her lovely eyelashes and saying she believes in him.

Shinobu also asks Kanao to get more involved in the boys’ intensifying training, but seems weary of approaching them, leading to her taking out a coin to flip. We learn how she came to rely on that coin for most of her decisions, but first we learn where she came from: nothing. She was dirt-poor and horribly abused by her parents until she one day just snapped and couldn’t feel pain—or anything—anymore.

One day her parents sold her off, and her buyer is preparing to sell her into slavery when they cross paths with Shinobu and her big sister Kanae (Kayano Ai). Disturbed by the sight of the young girl bound by rope, Shinobu tosses all of the cash she’s carrying up in the air and runs off with the unnamed girl.

Eventually Shinobu learns that Kanao was so horrifically traumatized by her life so far that she’s unable to do anything without being told to do it, even eat, resulting in her stomach grumbling far longer than it should. Kanae gives the newly-named Kanao a coin so she can make decisions for herself. Kanae also hopes that one day she’ll fall in love with someone, which will further help her understand her own agency and will. Back in the present, she gets tails, and doesn’t join the boys.

However, as a result of Tanjirou’s intensive training, one day he’s finally able to not only grab Kanao’s hand during tag, but win the cup game, all without splashing tea on her. It’s a stunning victory, and while Kanao never actually speaks to Tanjirou, you can tell she’s impressed by his progress.

After Haganezuka and Kanamori arrive at the mansion with Tanjirou and Inosuke’s reforged swords (and Inosuke re-chips his up with a rock, enraging the swordsmiths), Shinobu declares Tanjirou’s jaw healed and training complete. All that’s left is actual combat, and she tells him she’s expecting great things. As we saw back when she rescued Kanao to how she’s guided Tanjirou, it’s clear by now that Shinobu is definitely one of the good ones.

Interesting, she doesn’t know anything about the “fire breathing” Tanjirou brings up, only the distinct flame breathing in which Master Rengoku specializes, though he’s away on a mission, so more info on that will have to wait. Meanwhile, we see a Twelve Kizuki demon aboard a train eating its occupants—an apparent preview of the hugely popular October 2020 feature film Mugen Train.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 01 (First Impressions)

When we first meet Hatori Chise—who both resembles and sounds like the heroine Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, or perhaps her long-lost, much-maligned sister—she’s pretty much at rock bottom, having seemingly lost the will to live, signing away her human rights so that she can be chained and presented as an object to be purchased at an auction before some Eyes Wide Shut-ass muhfuckahs.

But holding true to the episode title “April showers bring May showers”, as well as the axiom “it’s always darkest before the dawn”, in this, her darkest hour, she is met by, and purchased with a winning bid of five million pounds, by an imposing man in a black cloak wearing a big antelope skull on his head (unless…that is his head).

Chise, fully prepared for whatever horrible fate might befall her upon being purchased (let’s face it, the kind of guys who would buy teenager girls in an auction are likely to be…not so great!), quickly finds that despite his fearsome appearance, her buyer Elias Ainsworth doesn’t want her to be his toy, but his apprentice. He’s a mage, you see; the “real deal”, and he believes Chise, who is what in his trade is called a “sleigh beggy”, can live a fulfilled life of purpose as the newest member of a dying breed of mages like him.

Teleporting her to his super comfy-looking country estate, swapping her chains for an protective adder stone, and showing her kindness she’s never known, Chise ever-so-gradually starts to learn that despite all of the hatred, abuse and suffering she’d endured her entire life up to this point, this place just might be different.

For the first time, she’s told she has a home and actually feels welcome there, and is told she’s family and someone to be protected and nurtured rather than spat upon and discarded.

Thus, when Chise is lured out for a midnight stroll by faeries who later show their true colors by trying to further lure her into their realm, Chise repays Elias’ kindness—and in doing so decides to trust someone for perhaps the first time in her life—by resisting the faeries until Elias arrives to shoo them off.

It’s then when, while princess carrying her home, Elias also confesses he doesn’t aim to merely make Chise his apprentice, but his bride as well. Her reaction to this information, as well as other instances of lighthearted humor, provide a nice ice-breaking contrast to the darker themes initially at play, giving way to a hopeful future in a real home with a real family that cares for them; things every child deserves. A very strong opening.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 05

It’s an incremental episode with little action, but I can hardly complain when it’s also stuffed full of nice character beats from everyone. Take Nina, going shopping with Mugaro and naturally assuming he’s a girl because he’s so pretty, and dressing him accordingly. Nina cleans up pretty well herself, not that her standard, practical outfit isn’t nice in its own way.

Nina uses her super-strength to negotiate discounts, but it also allows her to stand up against a pimp-like human for torturing his slaves. Brand-new frilly dress or no, she’s ready to rumble with him and his bodyguards when Mugaro uses his red eye to vaporize all of the demon slaves’ collars, causing their former owner and his goons to flee.

Meanwhile, Kaisar is having a crisis of confidence, unsure if he’s worthy of captaining the Orleans Knights in Jeanne d’Arc’s stead. What’s so wonderful is how he expresses this frustration, inviting Rita to lunch, then sounding an awful lot like he’s about to confess to her. Rita is understandably miffed that Kaisar only wants to rant, and punishes him accordingly, while also telling him the old Kaisar of ten years ago may have been useless, but he was better than this Kaisar.

Bacchus’s moral dilemma intensifies when Sofiel pays him a visit complaining that he’s not doing enough to secure the “child;” but it’s only when Nina returns with Mugaro that he starts to suspect Mugaro is the very child he’s looking for. Sofiel thinks Bacchus is pathetic for not caring about staying in the human world forever, and it’s clear at least a part of Bacchus wants to obey her and produce the child…but another part of him doesn’t.

Getting punched by Rita motivates Kaisar to confront the King once more, and gives some very reasoned arguments, but Charioce argues his position well, too, even if he’s a bit overconfident he can become powerful enough to overcome the hatred his hatred will beget. Kaisar rightly believes Charioce’s way of doing things simply isn’t sustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before a large scale demon uprising is upon them (as we see earlier, Azazel is well on his way to starting it). But Charioce says he’s got it. To his credit, he doesn’t begrudge Kaisar living his life the way he chooses, as long as he doesn’t interfere with him.

One of Bahamut’s strengths is its ability to be so stern and serious in one scene, and so lighthearted and comical in the next—and sometimes both in the same scene. So it’s nice to see Kaisar and Charioce’s political debate followed by Bacchus and Hamsa’s ham-fisted attempt to see if Mugaro has two different-colored eyes, only to wake up and creep out Nina, who delivers swift justice and tosses them out of their own wagon.

No huge movement here, but still plenty of solidly entertaining scenes. Nina in particular continues to be a magnetic presence. I could honestly watch and listen to her read the phone book—which makes me that much more excited to see how she’ll fit into the coming confrontation.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 02

How did Nina end up safely in Rita’s lab? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Not that I care; pairing the listless, sardonic Rita with the hyper, naive Nina is a great move. Rita’s assistant Rocky was fun too. But like last week, this episode of Virgin Soul ably juxtaposes moments of levity, comfort, and optimism with scenes of unspeakable horror, destruction, and dread.

First, the levity, comfort, and optimism: Nina is still crashing at Bacchus’ carriage with Hamsa, and in her letters to her mom back home we see she’s from a Dragon Village full of dragons in human form who transform into dragons when upset—or in Nina’s case, gets too excited over an attractive man. And there are a lot of those in Anatae.

Yet she insists to her mother that she’s just fine, and having a blast in bustling capital. The montage that accompanies her letter doesn’t seem to suggest otherwise; everyone she interacts with on a daily basis in the city seems to love Nina, and so they should.

Then the Rag Demon, AKA Azazel had to go rain on Nina’s parade, confronting her and demanding she join his cause as a kindred demon. Nina doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and in any case can’t actually look at his face too long lest she turn into a dragon, so it makes for a very interestingly staged discussion.

Azazel has little patience for Nina’s coyness and confusion, so he takes her to the hind end of the city, scattered with suffering, starving demons. Ever since Good ol’ King Charioce sacked the Demon capital Cocytus, the demons have been brought to the human world and sold into slavery.

Azzy is perhaps too zealous too soon (he fully deserves the flying arm punch Rita sends his way to rescue Nina), but I’m glad he puts a crack in Nina’s pristine view of her city life. She didn’t know anything about this horrible stuff because she never looked.

I’m not sure how likely Nina is going to suddenly join Azzy’s cause, which would require her to do the thing she least wants to do: be a dragon. But he provides her vital food for thought, and more importantly, she’s no longer completely oblivious to the very real and very unfortunate situation demons find themselves in.

Kaisar somehow ending up at the manor of some particularly awful aristocrats (who like to do all manner of awful things to demons they presumably buy) seems a bit convenient, like Nina ending up at Rita’s lab safe and sound, but again, I don’t mind. Kaisar and his Orleans Knights were dismissed from Rag Demon hunting after they failed Charioce for the last time. Maybe he was reassigned to security detail?

In any case, he walks in on Azazel killing the humans, and begs him to stop, because revenge will only lead to more hate, etc., etc. Even when Azazel tells him to actually take a second to look around at the despicable doings of the men he’s killing, Kaisar is firm in wanting to stop the killing first and foremost.

Azazel basically warns him to stay out of his way: he’s a human, after all, and humans are Azazel’s enemy. He hates them, and that hatred is as pure and deep as Kaisar’s chivalry.

Little does Kaisar know the king ordered him followed and watched, which leads to Azazel’s location being ascertained by the Onyx Soldiers who replaced the Orleans Knights in the hunt. It’s not a dragon rampage, but Azzy’s battle with the Onyx soldiers is another good one. When his ranged attacks fail against the soldiers’ armor, he goes with straight-up brute strength, delivering brutal blows and stabbing out eyes.

But the Onyx soldiers have the abilities appropriated/borrowed/stolen from the Gods, and they use those powers to bind Azazel. He’s saved by his mute companion Mugaro, a former slave himself, using a power that makes him seem like more of an angel than a demon, and sporting blue-and-red eyes in the process. When Onyx reports back about the kid with the powers, Charioce is intrigued. He believes he knows who Mugaro is.

Another strong, fantastic looking episode, sporting the show’s OP (another stylish, badass, metal affair) and ED (a super-cute 16-bit sidescroller featuring Nina and her entourage). Virgin Soul continues to be top-notch entertainment, with its new star Nina all but stealing the show. Honestly, if it keeps up at this clip, I won’t even mind if Favaro only shows up at the very end, Luke Skywalker-in-The Force Awakens-style.

GATE – 14

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Here I thought the earthquake would be a major calamity for the Special Region, utterly unequipped to deal with a natural disaster that does plenty of harm even in modern Japan. But it’s “only a 4 or a 5”, by Itami’s reckoning, as he and Sugawara weather it calmly while Pina and her maid are shaking in their nighties.

The quake passes, but Pina knows she’s not the only one of her people who was scared shitless, so she rushes to the palace to meet with her father, bringing Itami and Sugawara along.

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Their coridal meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Prince Zolzal, who wastes no time at all confirming what a woman-hating creep his is by bringing in Noriko, a Japanese hostage from when their armies invaded the Ginza. Noriko looks as beaten-up and beaten-down as the bunny chief from last week, but Itami and Shino waste no time rescuing her from Zolzal’s clutchs and doling out swift punishment.

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When Zolzal orders his men to attack them back, Itami steps back and lets Shino take care of everything. She bayonets all approaching fighters, then guns down those with shields (the bullets go right through them and their primitive armor).

We’ve seen Shino-As-One-Girl-Wrecking-Crew before, but having her do her thing in the middle of the Imperial throne room sets a new high for audaciousness. It’s also never not fun to watch her go on a spree, even if, again, I’m not so sure SDF protocol is being followed here.

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But while it’s fun, and I’m glad Zolzal quickly gets his just desserts for all the shitty slimy stuff he’s done (and I’m sure he’s done much more we’re not privy to), and Shino’s fists carry with them all the manifest despair and loathing and suffering of Zolzal’s victims, being brought down upon him, it’s also a bit, well, easy. 

I mean, of course this guy is a loathsome little shitstain, and of course when someone actually fight starts whaling on him, he crumbles into a crybaby.

But I’m going to call this scene exactly what it is—Tarantino-esque revenge porn—and while I considered Shino’s actions justified (if a little over-the-top), it would have been more satisfying if there was a little more moral ambiguity to the exchange. The stark black-and-whiteness sapped the scene some of its power.

Interestingly, it’s Tyuule the bunny chief who stands between the prince and Itami, begging the LT not to kill her abuser. I’m thinking perhaps she has her own plans for him, plans for which she’s endured much suffering, and they won’t work if he’s dead. I look forward to the time she can repay him for everything he’s done, but with her people’s safety to consider, she’s playing the long game.

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The Japanese government acts swiftly upon news of Japanese hostages in the Special Region – by bombing the Imperial Senate, sending the message that they’d better release the others if they don’t want to lose anymore buildings.

We learn of the existence of another brother of Pina and Zolzal’s—Diabo, which sounds kinda like “diablo”, only he seems like less of a devil than Zolly…though he may just be better at hiding it. Zolzal also calls his sister a traitor, opening up the possibility he takes her prisoner, stripping her down and beating her, as is his M.O. with captive women.

They have a little chat about how Zolly knows he’ll be named emperor over Diabo, even though his father won’t actually give up all his power. Tyuule’s presence by his side and in his bed is starting to make more sense if she is indeed plotting against him, it’s best to keep your enemies close. And as we know with that tan elf chick who hasn’t shown up yet (Ducy), the warriors of other races resolve to do whatever they can to protect their people.

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Mochizuki Noriko is brought back to base and her injuries are treated. You can feel the traumas she endured in her eyes and the sound of her voice (not sure who the seiyu is, but she does a fine job); but also her relief and joy at being free, something she probably gave up on when she was one of Zolzal’s sex slave. But her troubles aren’t over; it’s heavily implied her family was killed in a Special Region raid while they were distributing flyers about her disappearance. Talk about a rough hand to be dealt.

And speaking of those missing family, Tuka spends the entire episode looking for her father, though again we only see her for a couple of beats. Next week’s episode is titled “Tuka Luna Marceau”, which bodes well for getting her more involved in a show that for the last two weeks has seriously snubbed her, Rory and Lelei.

However, I see that it did that for a pretty good reason: to remind us quite unambiguously that the SG isn’t just some charmingly primitive fantasy land. It’s brutal, and cruel, and dark, and sometimes the only way to deal with it is by knocking out a couple of its teeth.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 10

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Except for the battle at the very end, this episode was even quieter than the last, but also another episode that reminds you in no uncertain terms that This ain’t your Daddy’s Gundam—and it’s all the better for it. Last week was about forming a new family with Teiwaz. The Turbines are still with Tekkadan, but will set them loose on their own before long. This week is heavy with introspection and backstory, but all of it happens to be top-shelf stuff, thanks to a powerful, often tear-inducing script by Okada Mari.

I don’t want it to sound like this was a tear-jerker start to finish: in fact, there were just as many tears of joy over what Tekkadan & Co. have now achieved and their bright future than there were tears of sadness or longing over dark pasts. Laughs, too: all of a sudden Euguene think’s he’s an expert on women and looks down on the still “orphaned” Orga, who claims not to care about women, because he already has a family.

Meanwhile, those who have families outside Tekkadan like Biscuit and Takaki listen to their messages in private so as not to be insensitive to those who have no other family or who lost them long ago. The two share the dream of sending their bright sisters to school so they can one day be strong enough to stand on their own. The Isaribi has really become a home too, judging by all the hand-painted symbols on the walls.

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As a family, Tekkadan grows a little more complex, as Naze introduces Orga to the Teiwaz liason officer that will be joining his crew: Merribit Stapleton, with whom Orga had his meet-cute last week while drunk. Like all newcomers, Orga is cautious, and Merribit’s warm friendly manner with him will take getting used to, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment these two shared, particularly their elevator scene.  Orga may “just” be obeying orders by “tolerating” a “Teiwaz stooge”, to put it indelicately, but Merribit might just want to be friends too, and I look forward to her continuing to work with, and work on, young Orga.

Kudelia got a message from her mother, as well, but it wasn’t an encouraging one; her mom wants her to stop all this troubling silliness and come home. I don’t think her mom is simply relaying her husband’s sentiments, but expressing her own sheltered, deeply-aloof, “leave everything to others” nature. Then Kudelia asks about Atra’s parents, putting her own troubles into perspective.

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Atra tells Kudelia a dark tale of an orphan who did chores at a nightclub/brothel for food, but wasn’t very good at it, so never had enough to eat. Unlike many girls like her who likely grew up and became prostitutes for better pay at the club, she ran away, and quickly found out the outside world was even worse, but for one thing: she was free out there.

By chance, she was sitting on a stoop, trying to gather the strength to get back up, when she spotted a young Mika across the street, chowing down. Mika, who by then had also  learned a bit about the world, tells her she can’t have any, and that only those who work get to eat. Atra knows the score, and doesn’t beg. She just looks defiantly at Mika and tells him she will work, before fainting.

Because Mika does have a heart, though, he tells the shopkeeper about Atra, and gets her a job. Now we know Atra doesn’t just admire Mika from afar: Mika saved her when she had nothing. And not just with an isolated handout of a fish, but by getting her the means to fish herself.

From that point on, Mika became someone very important to her—so important, that Atra looks at Naze’s harem, and sees how it could theoretically work for both her and Kudelia to be the mothers of Mika’s children. Of course, she’s getting a bit ahead of herself, but it’s fun to see her thought process; not to mention I needed something to laugh at after that tear-inducing flashback.

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Just as Atra’s story beat Kudelia’s for pure initial despair, Akihito’s beat’s Atra’s. I was amazed they were able to stuff one more story into this episode, but I was very glad for it, especially since it ended by tying everything together. While Takaki was with Biscuit talking about their sisters, he was throwing a lot of standard death flags by talking so excitedly about a future he feels he can reach. Out here, he’s a little more subdued with Akihito out of consideration; but Akihito saw him and Biscuit before, and it reminded him of his own brother, Masahito.

Before he was “human debris” (God, how I hate that awful term), he and his brother helped out aboard a ship where their parents worked. It was attacked by pirates (the same kind of pirates the Turbines warn Tekkadan about), his parents killed, and he was separated from his brother and sold. Just when you thought your tear ducts were safe, too.

Akihito laments that he forgot about Masahito for so long, and doubts he’s still alive, but Takaki thinks otherwise, and now that Tekkadan has the backing of Teiwaz, anything is possible. Even Akihito believes this a bit, unconsciously, as Laffter notices he’s no longer fighting like he has a death wish in the simulator.

Just how much that alliance means comes into focus immediately after Akihito’s story is done, when pirates ambush them. This is where I’d expect a lesser show to act on Takaki’s death flags, but GIBO isn’t that kind of show. Instead, it plays a card it had held since the cold open: Tekkadan left Mika behind so that mods on the Barbatos could be completed, at which point he’s more than capable of quickly catching up.

That’s what he does here to bail out Akihito and Takaki. As with Atra years ago, Mika is more often than not, There When You Need Him. And pirates who would prey on Tekkadan will soon learn that the Iron-Blooded Orphans aren’t ones to be messed with.

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GANGSTA. – 06

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Nic spends the episode recovering from his injuries (Paulklee shot him with drugs, not bullets) under Nina’s admirable ministrations as the clouds continue to dump rain on Ergastulum, as if to wash away the blood of the last battle. But the duel with Doug and the shootouts that accompanied it may only be a taste of what’s to come, as the Corsicans are about to throw off the delicate balance that has been sustained by going after the Christianos, a family beholden to Monroe.

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It’s fitting in an episode called “THORN” that everyone deals with various literal and emotional thorns in their sides or minds. Both Nic and Worick carry a lot of baggage from their highly traumatic pasts. Nic was the son of a prostitute shanghaied into mercenary service; Wallace is the unwanted and unloved son of a drunk, violent crime boss whose light we know is destined to go out.

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Wallace got over his prejudice for his perceived low-rent bodyguard and befriends Nic and even teaches him to read and write, most likely out of a desire to have one friend in his life; someone who doesn’t curse his existence. While we’re still missing a couple of bits and pieces in the middle, the genesis of their friendship, which would persist for decades to the present, is making more and more sense.

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Ally has her own thorn in the form of  withdrawal due to an appalling drug her pimp plied her with regularly in order to keep her submissive and in line. The horror movie scene that ended last week’s episode turned out to be hallucinations from that withdrawal, and Dr. Theo informs Worick that Ally has yet to fully recover, though it will happen with time. Some thorns can’t be removed too quickly.

When a shoeless, rain-soaked Ally kisses Worick on the street, it’s filmed as if it were a climactic, passionate romantic scene, right up until she tries to undo Worick’s pants and we realize she’s still hallucinating Barry, and is ready to do anything to him if only he doesn’t hurt her. Ironically, Worick does technically hurt her—by head-butting—in order to snap her out of it (not sure how that works medically, but whatever), but since her head’s harder than his he ends up hurting himself more.

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At any rate, it’s one of the show’s best scenes, and combined with Nic’s recovery, the Handymen and their administrative assistant are back in business…just in time for another war. Even in his hospital bed, Nic looks as ready as ever to take on whole battalions on his own, but a part of me thinks Worick would really rather just kick back in his apartment and talk about his crappy day with Ally-chan.

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Owari no Seraph – 05

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This week, on Owari no Seraph:

  • We get a verbatim repeat of the vampire war speech for some reason;
  • Mika wanders around and scares some children;
  • Guren clashes with the higher-ranked Hiiragi family members in an army;
  • Yuu, Shinoa, and Shihou are allowed to interrupt class with their endless bickering;
  • Guren nearly kills said class with his cursed gear, and lets everyone left standing join him in the weapons repository to choose their own gear.

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In other words, not a lot happens. I understand the desire to keep the mood light while at school, but Guren’s childish behavior at the army meeting, and the extended antics in the classroom this week, were both a bridge too far. I get it: Guren’s a “bad boy” like Yuu with a chip on his shoulder, and the bureaucracy is a super hassle and all, but what does acting like a petulant punk get you?

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This episode also underlines Yuu’s refusal to grow the hell up. Even after coming to a kind of understanding, if not forming an official friendship, with Kimizuki, and yet here they are, still resenting one anothers’ existance so much they feel the need to disrupt whatever is going on to engage in name-calling and brawling. It’s wearing thin, as is Shinoa’s constant high-and-mighty attitude and mocking/teasing of Yuu (even though he deserves it).

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Even if you forgive all this immaturity, bickering, and horseplay, all of which takes up much of the episode, it’s still retreading things I already thought were established, such as the fact Yuu, Kimizuki and Yoichi were all valid candidates for cursed gear.

Yuu’s “0” in Japanese spellcraft because he can barely read or write Japanese because he spend his childhood as livestock hardly seems fair, but then the test results end up completely meaningless when Guren busts in and simply unleashes the demon power on everyone.

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Not one other student in the class, besides the main characters we knew would move on, pass the test, rendering them just as pointless as the class itself. It would be nice if one or two new characters we hadn’t met yet would have passed; at least there would have been a reason for the test then.

Everyone also singles out Yoichi, whom they think is too soft to accept a demon. After Yoichi saved his life two episodes ago, Yuu tries to throw him under the bus. Dude, he already decided to come along, and it’s clear he’s tougher than he looks. Why all the discouragement?

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And just when something interesting is about to happen—Yuu draws a cursed blade and prepares to face the demon—the episode ends. Much of this episode felt like half-hearted filler, which aimed to add texture to relationships and politics, but piling on all this over-the-top dysfunction with no real meat only served to make everyone more irritating, not endearing. War is coming, and selfish personal quests for vengeance aren’t going to help humanity.

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Owari no Seraph – 04

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Mika screwed up, in part because he put everything on his shoulders. His plan to free his family, which was more than fine going along with it, ended up killing them all except for Yuu. Mika himself would have bled out, were it not for the intervention of Krul Tepes, Loli Vampire Queen, offering him, nay, forcing upon him, her blood.

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Now he’s a vampire, and the pain and guilt could stay with him for centuries, potentially twisting him into a wretch. Yet he still carries out his duties alone, eliciting resentment form his vamp peers but gratitude from a single girl he saved from a monster, who gladly offers her blood to him as thanks. Once his escape plan failed he had no choice in becoming a vampire (Tepes wouldn’t let him die), but he can choose what kind of vampire to be. It’s a choice that’s perhaps lost on someone so racked with guilt.

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From checking in on Vampire Mikaela the episode segues to Yuu and Yoichi transferring to the Moon Demon class, where he makes the most ridiculous overbaked shonen speech possible about not being there to make friends and declaring he’ll get the best gear. His seat happens to be positioned right in front of that of Kimizuki Shiho, the dude who picked a fight with him earlier to test his ability.

And so we have our two arrogant, hotheaded rivals who both have something to learn from one another and will become tentative pals by the end of the episode through greater understanding of where they’re coming from. If this sounds somewhat rote, it’s because it is; nothing out of the blue here.

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Like Yuu, Shiho lusts for power…all of the power, though not for revenge, but to save his sister, who is dying from the Apocalypse virus. But Guren warns him, with demonic visual aids, no less, that Shiho can’t go anywhere near cursed gear as long as that lust for power drives him. Like Yuu, Guren needs him to make friends and learn to rely on the strength of others. Going it alone won’t end well for anyone.

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Shinoa fixes it so at their first major evaluation, Yuu and Shiho are paired up. Predictably, they try rushing in opposite directions despite the fact they’re handcuffed to each other. Seriously is their mutual lust for ultimate power so strong, it affects their basic understanding of the physical limitations of handcuffs?

Apparently, but they don’t get to demonstrate just how badly they fight together, because word comes Shiho’s sister has taken a turn for the worse. Suddenly understanding why Shiho is so gung ho about beating him, Yuu insists, with prejudice, that they go to the hospital. Being with his family is more important than the evaluation.

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Shiho relents and goes, and doesn’t regret it. His sister pulls through, but the doctors warn regular medical equipment will only keep her alive so long. The military has tech that might be able to cure her, but the military, like society, is transactional: if Shiho wants that tech, he’ll have to distinguish himself in the Moon Demon Squad.

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Yuu, jerk that he is, still won’t back down on claiming the best demon gear the army has to offer, but he won’t stop Shiho from taking the second-best, now that he understands what Shiho is fighting for. Both guys failed the evaluaiton, but while Shiho feels defeated, Yuu tells him it’s no time to give up. He’s going to do everything he can to avenge his family, regardless of evaluation scores or moon squads. He expects Shiho to do no less to save his sister.

Mind you, I’m not sure the lesson about teamwork has quite stuck, since both seem dug into their own separate aspirational trenches, but the seeds of a alliance or possible friendship were certainly sown.

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That’s good, because Yuu and Shiho can ill afford to stay ineligible for handling cursed gear. They need to get into good fighting shape soon, because Tepes has formally declared war on the humans who would organize into armies to oppose them. A rancher wouldn’t let thier cows join a union barring slaughter, now would they?

As for Mika, he’s determined to “rescue” Yuu, and while I’m not sure what that entails, if he’s planning on loading everything back on his shoulders once again, he hasn’t learned much. As repugnant as Ferid is, he could be a valuable ally against Tepes, the mutual thorn in their side.

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Owari no Seraph – 03

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Episode three opens with Yui receiving a love letter from a cute girl. Falling for a not unattractive young lad who saved you from being drained by an escaped vampire prisoner is not an unreasonable thing for this girl to do, but as strong and brave as he is, she still doesn’t know him, and he’s too busy with his quest for vengeance to notice or deal with romance.

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While this girl sees him as a hero, Shinoa continues to look down at him as a novice, as well as a frustrated virgin. She points out the Demon Army isn’t just about killing vamps, but also creating an environment suitable for human procreation. The virus killed 9/10ths of them, after all, so the remaining tenth “needs to make babies”, to quote Commander Adama.

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Shinoa doesn’t doubt Yui’s physical strength or his courage, but warns him he shouldn’t move to fast with his training. Only those with cursed gear can fight vampires, and the demons within them will consume, rather than contract with, those with “weak hearts.” Shinoa believes Yui’s unyielding thirst for vengeance makes his heart weak. Not a bad conclusion, but incomplete, as we see.

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When one of their classmates wanders into a forbidden dungeon below the school, where demons roam ready to take the souls of the weak, Yui, Shinoa and Yoichi head down there. Shiona reveals it’s really a training ground for the VEU, and the whole school is a human experiment for recruiting VEU members, who are naturally drawn to said dungeon.

So while there are bullies and love letters and cut euniforms, the school isn’t just a regular school after all. Shinoa even mocks Yui for potentially thinking “such a peaceful place” as the school appears on the surfact could ever exist in such a messed up world.

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If Shinoa was hoping to intimidate Yui with all this show-and-tell, she failed, and if she didn’t want him to do anything rash, she shouldn’t have let him in the dungeon at all. Then again, when Yui goes through the forbidden door, she doesn’t stop him, suggesting she’s letting him make his own choices. Once there she insists he not touch he demon gear his classmate is holding, lest he become consumed by a demon. Again, Yui ignores her warnings and grabs the ax with a nifty little move.

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Then all of a sudden he’s gone back in time with Mika and his family. Shinoa didn’t say how the demon would consume him, but creating a very real illusion of his past is a good way to start. But where both Shinoa and the demon underestimate Yui is in not in their calculation of his desire for revenge—which is high—but the fact such a desire is a weakness.

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Yui knows his desire is wrong, so it can’t hurt him as badly. He also knows it’s something Mika wouldn’t want, so as soon as Mika and the other kids are acting totally out of character, Yui knows he’s in an illusion and breaks free.Doing so impresses Shinoa once again, who again seems put out that he proved her wrong yet again.

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Yui’s heart isn’t as weak as she thought, but will see what happens if and when he learns Mikaela not only wasn’t killed, but became the very thing Yui wants to wipe off the face of the earth. We finally get a good look at Vampire Mika, who doesn’t seem particularly friendly with Ferid. More likely, he’s done what he’s done all this time to survive. He always put others before himself, so I’d like to think a few years of being a vampire hasn’t bleached out that inherent goodness.

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Owari no Seraph – 02

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As the credits rolled and SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Yosh’s excellent ending theme “scaPEGoat” played (the OP was also dope), four words blazed through my mind: “Are You Not Entertained?!” I certainly was.

This ambitious, thrilling episode had a complete and compelling arc and aced all the fundamentals, giving it the feeling of a rich, self-contained short film when combined with the premiere.That premiere was key in setting the brutal tone of the human/vampire conflict while creating solid kinship and sympathy with young Yuu and buying into his motivations for wanting to live a life of revenge. This episode would not have been nearly as emotionally resonant without it.

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Owari also surprised me quite a bit with its deftness with bait-and-switches. Last week’s cold close created an It’s On Like Donkey Kong vibe, but Private Hyakuya Yuuichirou proves to be a rough fit in the demon army, where soldiers are expected to put their personal feelings or vendettas aside and obey orders. Yuu breaks the rules, and so he’s punished…by being sent to school.

This sudden addition of the school drama allows the show to let its hair down a little after a stodgy start and finds a pretty strong comic voice in the process. Yuu isn’t just banished to school, but there’s a soldier posing as a classmate whose tasked with supervising his progress in making a friend. If he keeps breaking rules, his suspension from the army will only be extended.

That soldier/classmate is Hiiragi Shinoa, deftly voiced by Hayami Saori, whose standout performance blends military formality and authority with feminine grace and sly humor. Her character design and eyes in particular somewhat remind me of Steins;Gate‘s: clean, attractive, and stylish.

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Yuu’s punishment makes sense. Yes, he’s scarred by past traumas, but if he wants a future fighting vampires, he needs to learn how to engage people and work in a team, which means forming bonds. That’s not going to be easy for someone who lost his whole damn family, and you could say the show’s being tough on him, but I think Yuu has just the right amount of arrogant, rebellious dickishness to allay that concern for me.

And just because humanity’s population has literally been decimated (not entirely wiped out as Yuu thought; but then he grew up absorbing vamp-prop), high school is still high school, so there are bullies and weenies and he decides he won’t let the former have their way with the latter…which is when Shinoa helpfully warns him his suspension will be extended if he harms a civilian. This guy can’t win!

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The exploded soda as a lingering presence of Yuu’s defiance is a really nice touch.

But in another glorious case of the good kind of bait-and-switch, the would-be victim of bullying, Saotome Yoichi, turned out not to be a weenie after all, nor was he being bullied: he wanted the non-bully to put in a good word for him with the demon army. Yoichi tried to enlist and failed the exam, but he wants to keep trying so he can avenge his sister, who died to protect him, as we witness in a grim micro-flashback that made my heart sink.

This externalizes Yuu’s own desire for revenge, but in this case, he justifies his own desire as backed up by his strength and ability. On the other hand, he still thinks Yoichi is a whiny little weakling who’d only get killed, and in any case, his sister probably wouldn’t want him avenging her. The discussion is put on hold when a bomb goes off and the city P.A. alerts everyone of an escaped vampire test subject.

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Seeing this as a perfect opportunity to prove he belongs in the extermination unit, Yuu runs to school to seek out the vampire, stopping her from feeding on a student. The non-bully is there too, but in this moment of crisis, he’s paralyzed, and admits he lied about wanting to enlist.

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Here, the show shows off its readily apparent action combat chops, as well as the inherent trickiness of fighting a vamp with a regular katana when her wounds and severed limbs quickly grow back, and any bystanders are like phoenix down for her. Yuu needs help, and he gets it when Yoichi tackles the vamp minx. When Yuu asks why, Yoichi calls him a friend. Yuu then holds the vamp back and they go out the window, Spring Break-style.

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Yuu is able to get the vamp to land on his sword, but it’s still just a sword. Enter the anti-vampire spell-dosed sword of Lt. Col. Ichinose Guren, commander of the Vampire Extermination Unit, Shinoa’s superior, and the man who rescued Yuu four years ago. When he pulls out that sword, the vamp dissolves into a cloud of gore and ash.

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Ichinose thinks Yuu looks every bit the helpless little kid he saved back then, but he can’t deny the fact he held his own with that vamp pretty well, and also minimized causalties. He also can’t go back on his promise to lift Yuu’s suspension if he makes a friend, both because Shinoa won’t let him, and because Yoichi is so happy his friend Yuu is okay he pounces on him like a cat, knocking his head on the pavement.

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In the episode’s beginnings, Yuu remarks how every time he closes his eyes he sees the faces of his family before they’re murdered by vampires. So while he’s out cold after a life-changing day, there they are. Only this time, they express their relief Yuu was able to live and fight for something other than revenge. Just as Mikaela put his life on the line for Yuu, and Yoichi’s sister for him, Yoichi and Yuu protected each other.

From now on, he won’t be living just to avenge his family, but to protect the two friends he’s made today, all the other friends he’s sure to make in the Vampire Extermination Squad (which he and Yoichi are assigned to, joining Shinoa), and to protect a humanity in resurrection. This looks like the start of something great…especially if we take the hints that Mikaela didn’t die, and is now a vampire.

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Owari no Seraph – 01 (First Impressions)

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Owari no Seraph’s opening episode was a swift, merciless Saturday afternoon gut punch. It was all about getting things done. I mean, the entire population of earth over thirteen years old simply keels over in the first minute. No messing around!

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As for the little ones who are left, well…my heart’s not made of stone; it’s hard not to sympathize with their plight as they cower in their home and are taken captive by scary red-eyed vampires in robes. The power differential is simply staggering.

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The episode jumps forward four years to when Yuuichirou and his “family” of fellow orphans, including Mikaela and Akane who are his age, live a dreadful underground existence as living blood bags to be periodically squeezed for the vamps’ use. But everyone adapted and made the best of a shitty situation. Yuuichirou is always talking of fighting back one day, and while it’s all talk, the smaller kids believe him, and that hope sustains them.

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It turns out to be Mikaela who actually does something, acquiring a pistol and a map from a vampire noble and suggesting they book it out of there. Nobody here on RABUJOI cared enough for Rolling Girls to watch it all the way through, but that certainly wasn’t because of Wit Studio’s animation, which was very crisp and zany and pretty.

Wit shows RG was no fluke with another gorgeous presentation, only this time the big backgrounds are filled out with lush detail of the subterranean city. Sawano Hiroyuki (Kill la Kill, Aldnoah.Zero, etc.) contributes another soaring score that lends gravitas to the proceedings.

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Unsurprisingly, the kids end up caught by the very noble who liked the taste of Mikaela’s blood so much he kept him around. So far at least, this is not one of those shows with grey areas in the affiliations, as Ferid is pretty much pure evil and likes the look of despair and hopelessness in the kids’ eyes. As they try to run for it, he kills them one by one with lightning speed.

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All of them except Yuuichirou. Mikaela is able to distract Ferid long enough for his brother to get a clean headshot off, but as Ferid had just put his hand through Mikaela, all Yuuichirou can do now is RUN, alone, out into the unknown world. Ideally, twelve-year-olds shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of trauma, but kids are all that’s left of humanity, and those kids have been dealt a tough hand.

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Upon emerging from the caverns, Yuuichirou finds three adult humans in uniform who have been waiting for him, following some kind of “prophesy.” How long have they been out their waiting? Did they take shifts? No matter, they were here when they were supposed to be, and the kid emerged on schedule.

Now they intend to use him to defeat vampires, something Yuuichirou, who may be in shock but is still lucid enough to express his interest in helping them. After all, he pretty much has every reason in the world to want to dedicate the rest of his life to exacting revenge.

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We jump forward another four years, and we see Yuuichirou more grown up and in a very slick-looking suit, patrolling what looks like the ruins of Tokyo. It’s a wordless, music-less scene made all the more powerful by its use of silence and the white noise of the wind, a silence that continues into the credits.

Presumably we’ll watch Yuuichiro’s life as a budding professional punisher of vampires in the episodes to come, but it was a good idea to begin with a prologue that shows us just how much torment he, and probably everyone else who managed to escape the vamps, went through. After all that darkness, I won’t begrudge them their righteous vengeance. Even so, less one-dimensional vamps would make for more compelling foes.

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