Dororo – 07 – Spiders Are People Too

In the wake of the loss of Mio and the orphans, Hyakkimaru isn’t really in the mood to talk, even though he has his voice back. In an effort to get him to cheer up, Dororo tries to tickle him, no no avail. Instead, they encounter yet another monster.

This time it’s a frightening spider woman, who is busy sucking the life out of a man she hypnotized into thinking it’s a much more pleasurable experience. Notably, the man is not dead, and once Hyakkimaru frees him, the spider woman runs off, and we later see she’s transforming into human form.

This form allows her to grab the immediate attention of the first man to come across her passed out in a bed of flowers. His name is Yajirou, and he offers his home and his food to nurse her back to health. She has no human name, so Yajirou names her Ohagi.

She’s not particularly friendly, but his human food is good, and he’s not like other humans, not even harming a cockroach in his house. He values all life, big or small. In the night, while hungry for a human snack, Ohagi decides to have more rice instead.

As Hyakkimaru and Dororo spend the next two days searching in vain for the monster they believe is kidnapping villagers in a valley quarry where life is harsh, Yajirou is worried that Ohagi is getting paler and weaker, and offers to smuggle out of the town, whose lord is very stingy about letting people leave; he’d rather they work themselves to death at the quarry, making him money. It’s another sign that war or not, life is particularly tough for the little guy in this time.

Ohagi takes Yajirou up on his offer, but they come afoul of Hyakkimaru and Dororo. To their surprise, Yajirou confesses to being the “kidnapper”—the people who are missing he helped smuggle out of the town for their own sakes. Ohagi, meanwhile, doesn’t kill if she doesn’t have to, preferring to suck just enough life out of people to allow them to revive. But the village guard shows up, ready to arrest Yajirou.

Ohagi attacks them and slips away from Hyakkimaru, for whom it’s become a habit to tear off his fake arms and attack red form in his vision. But Ohagi isn’t always red; an indication she’s not always evil or demonic, just perhaps more often than most. More importantly, she’s not trying to kill anyone, just survive, and Yajirou wants to help her.

While I thought Ohagi would eventually betray Yajirou (like the scorpion and the frog—due to her nature), my expectations were nicely subverted, as it seems theirs will be a more symbiotic relationship.

The guard catches up with them and puts two arrows in Yajirou just after Ohagi agrees to go with her and be her regular “prey.” Yajirou strikes out in anger, and Hyakkimaru once again intervenes as Ohagi takes her true spider monster form. But once again, it’s not as simple as Hyakkimaru defeating the demon and regaining a new part of himself.

Thanks to Hyakkimaru’s hearing, he can hear both Yajirou’s pleas not to kill her, and he stays his blade, allowing the two to escape without further incident. Provided Ohagi has a willing source of life force in the person of Yajirou, Hyakkimaru can be confident she doesn’t pose a threat. For once, Hyakkimaru and Dororo aren’t walking away from a complete bloodbath; there’s hope for this couple.

While we’ve had a human serving as the instrument for a demon blade, we haven’t yet had demon who wasn’t just pure evil all or all about killing. We here at RABUJOI are all extremely pro-spider. They do humans far more good than harm as devourers of house pests, and aren’t really interested in hurting us unless threatened.

Thus it’s only fitting that the first demon to have a more nuanced, dimensional character takes the form of our scary-looking but generally beneficial eight-legged friends. The final scene—in which an initially-spooked Dororo spares a spider leading to Hyakkimaru’s first laugh—was pitch-perfect. Even better than having a diversity of foes is when some of them turn out not to be foes at all.

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Flying Witch – 04

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Makoto, Kei and Chinatsu attend the cherry blossom fair, eat many pleasant snacks, tour a haunted maze, and finally meet a strange-looking woman wearing a suspicious hooded full body coat reading fortunes by the road. The woman’s name is Inukai-san and it’s quickly revealed that Akane playfully changed her into a half-dog during the previous festival and Inukai is desperate to return to being fully human.

After a lengthy and roundabout introduction, Makoto agrees to help Inukai, but the magic is beyond her ability to undo. However, before everyone can get too upset, Akane shows up, explains that the whole mess is Inukai’s fault (due to being very drunk) and says the spell will wear off eventually. Everyone is sad but accepting, and Inukai flies off into the night.

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As always, this week’s Flying Witch was packed with lovely details and little exposition. In one example, Mokoto mixes an interesting potion without explaining what she’s doing or how it would work — and the transformation process, which fails, happens entirely off-camera.

The resulting humor is pure deadpan, but soft, and the world-building is natural. It’s even more interesting in contrast with the opening act, which focuses on the cherry blossom fair itself, and is packed with the characters telling us about the fair, its food, and what they like about it.

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Flying Witch continues to remind me of a travel show. The slow pace, pleasant suggestions about what I may like about its setting and people and why, just have that style.

Even without that unique style, it exudes pure charm and surprisingly witty dialog, often sneaked into the background: when we learn that Inukai is Kei’s type, only Makoto seems to notice, but neither she nor Kei are dominant in the frame, and her reaction isn’t given significant visual consideration. It’s subtle, natural, part of the flow. Awesome!

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Flying Witch – 03

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Flying Witch continues to engross and enchant with a deft, gentle touch. It excels at showing life at the pace a Yokohama girl transplanted into the boonies would see it: much slower, but pleasantly so. I appreciate the dialect barrier: she has no idea what her uncle is saying, so it’s good her cousins do.

When Makoto wants to start a garden, Kei and Chinatsu help prepare a patch of the field out back, neglected since their grandmother’s passing. Like their dad’s accent (and their lack of same), the family’s move away from farming is a sign of the times, but the show doesn’t dwell on it in a negative light; it’s just the way things are.

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Similarly, when Makoto, city girl, sees a pheasant tantalizingly close up for the first time, she and Chito just can’t resist trying to catch it. Makoto exerts almost as much energy chasing the thing (which has nothing to do with her witch training) as she does preparing the earth. But the three get the job done, and now it’s up to the soil to absorb the nutrients, which will take, you guessed it, time.

It’s a testament to just how calm and quiet this show is that Chinatsu later describes Makoto’s world-wandering sister Akane as a typhoon, even though Akane isn’t particularly forceful or stormy or a burden; she’s just not at the same pace as this quiet country life.

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Akane is a mover and a shaker, living as a nomad (currently in Africa); giving everyone unprocessed gifts of cacao, salt, and oil; and correcting her modesty by agreeing with her sister that she is, in fact, a big deal in the witching community.

But like the signs of the times, the show makes no bigger a deal of Akane than anything or anyone else. It’s a rare anime instance where hearing bits and pieces of the larger witching world is more effective than showing everything. It leaves the imagination step in to wonder.

Akane hears (from Chito…the cat) that Makoto hasn’t used any magic since moving there, and only flown on her broom once. This confirms what I’d already suspected: not only is the show downplaying more overt forms of magic, but Makoto herself still isn’t comfortable with them.

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That’s okay with Akane, and even sees it as a boon for her sister, not having to rely on spells the way she does. That being said, she wants Makoto to cast spells from time to time, lest her powers dwindle. I like the the idea that the magic a witch possesses must be nurtured and polished like any non-magical skill.

To that end, Akane shows Makoto and Chinatsu one of the simplest beginner spells there is: summoning a witch with a girl’s black hair, fire, and an incantation written on paper. Makoto uses her own hair and ends up making a huge column of black smoke that summons all crows, which is what happens when a witch’s hair is used.

I’m fascinated by the fact that the power of a witch can be expressed in such a subtle way as her hair burning differently than a non-witch. It’s another detail that enriches the world of the show, a world grounded in reality with little flourishes of magic you’ll miss if you’re not looking.

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Flying Witch – 02

 

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Part travel guide to the magical world of the countryside, part cooking show, this week’s Flying Witch is leisurely and incredibly comfortable. I’ve never been so transfixed by a show with so little drama or humor and has no stakes at all.

What happened? Makoto finally makes it home from school on her own and spends a pleasant afternoon with Chinatsu-chan. Then the Harbinger of Spring arrives and poor Chinatsu is terrified by his mask and great size.

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Later, after learning about the Harbinger’s job (to bring spring) and receiving a gift of spring flowers from him, Chinatsu’s heart warms and she asks if he will return soon.

The second act is presented in 3 small parts. First, Makoto dreams that Nao is marked with a sign of great luck only to wake up, having no idea what the class is being quizzed on. Second, as they walk home talking about witch dreams, Kei stops and shows them Bakke growing beside the road, which they pick for dinner. Finally, Kei deep fries the bakke for Makoto to try while Chinatsu alludes to this being a sign of being an adult.

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Flying Witch reminds me of taking a casual walk with a friend in spring. It’s crisp, un-strenuous, and surrounds you with subtle details to admire and talk about. When picking bakke, Kei reminds us not to pick near utility poles because dogs pee there. While cooking bakke, Kei reminds us that the bubbles on our chopsticks mean the oil is hot enough to cook.

Slow bites, warm smiles, loving conversation.

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It’s worth watching: because each character feels ernest and specific. Its characters are cute, but not KAWAIIIIII over the top and when they are nice, they are nice, not absurdly selfless.

Its all so welcoming, there’s no reason to criticize it for a lack of overall plot, lack of conflict, or clear purpose. Flying Witch is just Makoto’s happy life, observed closely, as if we were sharing the space with her.

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Flying Witch – 01 (First Impressions)

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Like Shounen MaidFlying Witch has a very self-explanatory title, and is also a lighthearted slice-of-life tale about a young person starting a new chapter of their life.

In this case it’s an of-age witch, Kowata Makoto, moving out of her parents’ house in Yokohama to live with her second cousins in sleepy Aomori, where she’ll remain until she becomes full-fledged.

She also brings along her black cat Chito, though he only speaks Cat, not Human. Still, the first thing that came into my head was Kiki’s Delivery Service, only Makoto isn’t living all the way on her own and doesn’t have to worry about money and such.

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I like the excitement of moving to a new place and basking in its newness, though by God Makoto has a lot of moving boxes!

I also like the very realistic way her younger cousin Chinatsu is initially weary of the new freeloader, especially when she hears her talking to her cat.

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That changes when the two girls go out shopping, Makoto picks up a bamboo broom, and starts levitating above the ground, a magical scene full of quiet awe.

Once Makoto takes her on a ride around town (which we unfortunately don’t get to see), Chinatsu’s weariness is replaced by the sheer glee of, well, having been flown around on a broom by a real witch.

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Another girl who doesn’t initially warm to Makoto is her cousin Kei’s childhood friend Ishiwatari Nao, who first meets Makoto while the latter is on her broom.

‘Alarmed’ and ‘cautious’ are the best word to describe Nao’s attitude, though Makoto makes it clear that besides being a witch, she’s just a normal girl who would like to be friends, and would hope that Nao bear with her occasional lapses into…witchiness.

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The latest comes when Makoto smells something and starts bushwhacking in a random lot to procure a “present” for Nao that turns out to be a Mandrake root.

Both the horrifying screams of the root and its bizarre cooing and squirming thoroughly creepy Nao out, and who can blame her? Makoto is her first witch acquaintance.

Flying Witch is a calm, quiet, earnest slice-of-life with tinges of supernatural-ness and comedy dispersed throughout, and Makoto is a kind, likable Amami Hibiki-type with a healthy tinge of eccentricity. A nice little feel-good show if you have the time.

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Kekkai Sensen – 11

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In my experience, Kekkai Sensen is at it’s best when it’s balancing the chaos of its setting and characters, with focused, clever, bombastic action setpieces that propel an episode forward. A drawback of the show is its insistence on explaining every last little thing in asides, voiceovers, crawling CRT text and heads-up graphics.

As a result, episodes can end up showing a lot, but still telling too much, or at least more than I really need to know. After a recap last week, I really wanted things to get moving, and they do, but not until some way into the episode. And the forward motion is preceded by flashbacks to White’s life.

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It’s not that I disliked White story of her life, it just felt a little momentum-killing when combined with the recap. There’s too much narrative process and procedure on display; and I had the uncomfortable feeling that all of this was one very large advertisment for further explaining/justifying White’s motivations for betraying Leo for her brother: “She is doing this because of this.”

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And that’s the thing: the family and sibling moments were sweet, and Kugimiya Rie’s dual performance was lovely, but they didn’t feel necessary. I didn’t really need any further explanation for her actions, I already got the gist why she was doing it and felt she had no other choice. The show had already given us subtle, relatively unobtrusive bits and pieces of that past. I didn’t really need all the blanks filled in, especially not now.

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All that being said, once White has finished telling her story and turning on Leo, things do indeed take a satisfyingly dark and dire turn. I’m not sure why White thought to trust the word of the King of Despair, but she believes she’ll get Will back if she helps him get the eyes, probably because, just as she told Will, if he was gone, she wouldn’t know what to do. They are twins, after all, closer than mere siblings.

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Once “Black” starts implementing his plan, which is apparently to cause a Second Collapse, one that Libra will certainly be hard-pressed to stop with people like The MacBeths no longer casting, the show stops explaining things and just shows us a whole bunch of crazy shit going down, all of it set to a soaring classical score that recalled Klaus’ great Prosfair match.

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As Despair grabs Leos eyes and causes city-wide explosions in the midst of a massive Halloween parade, a dejected White pores over Leo’s photos, and remembers why she first started taking photos: to prove she existed when she’s gone.

Looking at Leo’s photos through this lens makes her despair even more, and she asks a suddenly present Sonic to find Leo. As for White herself, she suffers a kind of heart attack, which as Black explains, is part of the spell his parents used to keep her alive through “persistent affection”, and she appears to be at the end of its tether.

In a move I wasn’t expecting, Black takes a gun and shoots her…or does he? With all the camera flashes and the fact there was no audio during the “shot”, part of me wonders if he really shot her. Whatever the case, she, Leo, and all of Hellsalem’s Lot are in big trouble.

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Kekkai Sensen – 10

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This week Libra works with HSLPD to defeat a thousand-strong yakuza mecha incursion, and with LHOS’ help, start to uncover they mystery of Black & White with regards to one of the city’s damaged barriers. White also picks a side—her possessed brother’s—and demands Leo hand over his eyes. And she gets that opportunity because Zapp ate some bad tuna!

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While many of those events sound far more significant to the overarching story, it will come as no surprise to those who have followed Kekkai Sensen thus far that the majority of this episode is spent on the most mundane of those events: the search for lunch that ended with a sushi place Zapp had a bad feeling about from the start. Still, it’s clever non-linear storytelling and yet another opportunity to present how strange even a lunch run can get if you walk in the wrong doors.

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Like Zapp’s bachelor nights filled with victory, defeat, and a girl kicking him out of her place, the show portrays the lunch run in rapid-fire fashion, only like a house of horrors, with a staggering variety of bizarre foods. Even when they locate human-run establishments, they’re either getting blood from extramarital brawl all over the food, or trying to serve rival yakuza stew.

Having to flee from so many establishments takes Leo to his breaking point, hallucinating about a “God of Chow” spouting random (and unhelpful) diet-related slogans, before Leo finally declares they’re receiving “Divine Famishment” as a result of trying to use food to haze newbie Zed O’Brien.

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When they finally end up at Leo’s usual foodbag, where they were in the cold open, we now understand why Leo and Zapp are crying with joy upon receiving their chow. And yet, even then they can’t even take one bite, because the Libra-Yakuza battle blows another hole in the diner, and one of those mechas flattens Leo’s beloved burger.

Yet it takes one more round of narrative calisthenics to get Leo to the hospital before a waiting White: After the battle that interrupted their lunch, they end up at the sushi place, and Zapp ends up so sick he has to go to the hospital. Unfortunately, this development is explained with words on the screen, which somewhat undermines the cleverness of the narrative so far.

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In any case, Leo’s there, White gets him alone in the church, where she very well could have been praying to someone, anyone, for some way out of the unfortunate mess she’s in. But then Black arrives, and it’s time for her to ask for Leo’s eyes, revealing her duplicity.

If White had sat Leo down to explain everything to him, he’d probably understand, but considering how in the dark he is (ironic considering his eyes), this betrayal must sting all the more, especially as it’s being committed by someone he’d come to like as a friend and possibly as something more. Then again, he’s also still convinced she’s a ghost.

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P.S. The preview mentioned a “Special episode” while time-lapsing the whole show so far, which can only mean one thing: A dreaded recap is likely next week. >:(

Kekkai Sensen – 09

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As Libra, joined by another one of Jugei’s pupils, the half-man, half-fish Zed O’Brien, contine battling the blood breed, Black & White’s story thankfully comes into better focus. We also see HSL’s tentacle defense system in action, knocking the cargo plane the blood breed hijacked out of the sky (This is the second show in a row I’ve watched with vampires operating military planes. Weird!).

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The cockpit of the plane crashes into a giant skyscraper, and Klaus, Zapp and Leo do a little BASE jumping, a sequence that really nicely captures the scale of the building and the drop into the big hole the plane made. Just another instance of the extraordinary made ordinary in HSL.

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While they’re battling, something glows and beats like a heart in an eerie city-sized GeoFront-like cavern.

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Black, or rather the guy possessing Black, seems to have something to do with this beating heart, but nothing seems to come of it, much to the disappointment of Femt and Aligura, fellow n’er-do-wells looking for excitement.

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The blood breed puts up a fight, but is ultimately defeated by the combined efforts of KK, Zapp, Zed, Steve, and Klaus, using the true name Leo discovered to seal him away. And that’s pretty much that. Zed joins Libra, and Jugei peaces out, possibly for another decade. All’s well that ends well.

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But all is not well with White, who also seems tied to that underground heartbeat, passes out, and wakes up in bed, where Black, or rather the entity possessing him, give her a device Aligura fashioned for him, which will allow White to take Leo’s eyes. As Leo is now a friend, White, or rather Mary, doesn’t want to do it, but the agreement was the eyes in exchange for releasing Black, or rather Will.

It’s an unenviable choice between her good friend and kind lad and her beloved twin brother, who sacrificed himself to save her. On the one hand, she feels a duty to her kin, but I wonder if Will would really want her to help a monster to save him. What with Klaus saying Leo’s eyes weren’t the only reason they let him join Libra, maybe Leo isn’t fated to have them forever.

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Kekkai Sensen – 08

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After a White and Black cold open that might confirm they’re the orphans of the “casters” who stopped the catastrophe that threatened the city, we get a lovely rapid fire sequence of Zapp’s daily hedonistic life. It takes on a familiar pattern:

  1. Wake up hungover in the bed of last night’s conquest
  2. Grab breakfast at a fast food joint
  3. Gamble at the horse races and lose
  4. Beat up would be thieves and take their money
  5. Gamble at the slots and lose
  6. Drink away his bad fortune at a hostess club
  7. Repeat!

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It’s either an honest life Zapp loves living, or the only life he knows how to live. It’s probably the latter, because when he meets the girl of his dreams in step 2, it’s as if a new path opens before him, and he’s majorly excited to go down it.

He’s so overzealous in pursuing her, he grows a huge gut from all the fast food he’s ordering, and creeps her out with stalkeresque obsessive behavior. But hey, the man knows what he wants, which we’re not quite sure of since we never see her face!

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This is an entertaining episode in that it doesn’t just very efficiently dive deep into Zapp’s personal life, of which we’ve only seen bits and pieces, but also teach us a bit about his roots. A lot of his present lifestyle may be a means of rebelling against a past of torturous training under the heel of his Big Dipper Style master, Raju Jugei Shizuyoshi.

Jugei’s a dude so powerful and badass that only a small piece of his body is able to take on and defeat a hi-class blood breed. He’s the latest in this show’s cavalcade of unique and intriguing non-human characters, this time it’s the super-arrogant alien who speaks a language too complex for lowly humans to comprehend.

Libra even mistakes him for a blood breed, even though he’s one of their greatest weapons against them. The problem is, he’s like smoke only showing up once every decade or so and doing what he wants. He’s like a hyper-distilled Zapp.

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To test his former pupil, Jugei places Zapp in a blood bubble and tasks him with sealing the final form of the blood breed, AKA zhen tai dan. He has no idea how he’s going to do it until Chain gets the idea to pretend Angelica’s calling him aching for Zapp’s masculine touch. In the blink of an eye the job is done. You gotta hand it to the guy, he’s got a system, and it works: make him think he’s going to get laid by his crush, and he can do anything. Naturally, Chain only called Time.

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Operating almost totally independently of the Zapp/Jugei/Libra A-plot is the B-plot of Black and White, in which we learn Black actually has two distinct personas, one of which is worried the other is manipulating their sister, but the other, nastier one assuring himself that White knows what she’s doing and is doing it willingly.

What is “it?” Being friends with Leo…to snatch his eyes? The show is keeping its cards close on this one. I’ve enjoyed Leo and White’s interactions so far, but I need more info to be fully emotionally invested.

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