In / Spectre – 15 – So Generous, It’s Creepy

This episode was an emotional roller coaster! It begins by rewinding from Yuki-onna’s request to Kotoko to the police detectives questioning Masayuki. Their reasons for suspecting him of murdering his ex-wife are numerous: Mahiru left a note accusing him should she die suspiciously; the beginning of his name scrawled on her hand; and camera footage of Masayuki with a woman that looks just like her.

The police have reasonable cause to suspect, but not arrest Masayuki, and his failure to definitively state he had no alibi doesn’t help his case. But what choice does he have? He can’t tell the police he was having tempura and drinks with a yuki-onna on the night of Mahiru’s murder. Why, they’d think he was nuts…even though it’s the truth! Days pass and the police don’t bother Masayuki again, but it’s still looknig bad.

Then Yuki-onna, who was present in rabbit form for the entire talk with the police, asks him if she looks like his ex-wife, and he admits that she does, so it was Yuki-onna in the camera photo. Hers was the face of the one person in his life who didn’t betray him, but he admits he felt bad for marrying for whom he was otherwise unsuited.

Masayuki decides he’ll head out and try to find the real culprit, but Yuki-onna tells him to wait, and when he keeps going with a full head of steam,. she freezes him in his tracks—literally! 

Yuki-onna correctly diagnoses this as Masayuki being impatient and restless and wanting to prove his innocence at any cost, but with no leads and nothing to go on, the best move is to stay put, eat some food, get some rest. Then she remembers that her Ladyship, the Goddess of Wisdom, is just the person to solve this case, so she reaches out to her.

Yuki-onna flies Masayuki deep into the mountains to a cave where Kotoko is waiting. Rather than her going right into the particulars of the case, Masayuki gets a better taste of who Kotoko is, namely someone still quintessentially human despite her status as a goddess to supernatural beings near and far. That’s because Kotoko is upset that Kurou blew her off and she had to get cold pork cutlet from the local konbini.

I was so happy to see my favorite goddess of wisdom meeting my new favorite human-yokai couple, about to dish out the solution to their problems. But that’s where the roller coaster starts hurtling down to the earth, as Kotoko points out that not only does Yuki-onna’s wishy-washy sense of human time make her a poor alibi, but Masayuki might have capitalized on that poor sense to manipulate her into trusting him implicitly.

With Yuki-onna’s unwavering trust, Masayuki could kill his ex-wife one night, have tempura with Yuki-onna, and say they were doing the latter on the night of the murder, thus making him look innocent in her eyes and persecuted by the police. He could even convince her to kill the business partners who betrayed him.

Kotoko is so precise (as always) in laying out this theory that it even had me questioning if Masayuki really did have such a diabolical plot in motion, and had pulled the wool over Yuki-onna’s eyes with food, drink, and companionship. But you know who didn’t suspect Masayuki, even after hearing all this? Yuki-onna herself. She prostrates herself, says Masayuki has a truly kind heart, and demands that her Ladyship reconsider her stance.

Kotoko responds to Yuki-onna’s display by making it clear she’s all too aware that Masayuki isn’t the culprit, and that everything she uttered about otherwise was a lie. Among the reasons she trusts Masayuki? He’s been refusing Yuki-onna’s sexual advances! If he’d wanted to gain her trust quickly, he’d have swept her off her feet.

While Kotoko’s theory of Masayuki being a yokai-manipulating criminal mastermind was harsh and at times cruel, it was still crucial for her to say what she said, so she could enlighten Masayuki to the fact that Yuki-onna trusted him so much, she was even willing to defy her goddess for his sake.

By underscoring the courage Yuki-onna demonstrated for him, Kotoko hopes Masayuki will make the effort to regain some of his own courage. Even if this criminal investigation is all tied up with a neat bow and he gets off scot-free (as he should), Kotoko suspects that won’t be the end of Masayuki’s troubles.

A new start is in order. Masayuki owns up to being terrified of interacting with people—that lack of interaction is why he doesn’t have a human alibi—and tenderly gathers Yuki-onna’s cold white hand into his to thank her for going to bat for him. As for the true culprit of his ex-wife’s murder? Naturally, Kotoko already knows that too!

In / Spectre – 14 – Youkai Alibi

In/Spectre can really spin a good yarn. This week we meet Muroi Masayuki, who is pushed off a mountain by his best friend. As he lays contemplating his imminent death, a spunky yuki-onna (Yuuki Aoi) pays him a visit. She’s not there to kill him, though she does think long and hard about it when he knocks her looks!

Yuki-onna subverts Masayuki’s idea of her kind by building an conjuring an igloo around him so he’ll last the night, then flying him down the mountain in a princess carry, all for half of the cash he’s carrying. Once back in town, he’s able to walk in on his former friend lying about what happened and finger him for attempted murder.

Eleven years pass, and Masayuki moves back to the town by the mountain where he met the Yuki-onna. As luck would have it, he doesn’t need to search far for her, as she’s enjoying soft serve in human form. When he tells her about the time he met a yuki-onna she’s initially furious he broke his vow of silence, but he’s sure she’s the same person, so he technically isn’t.

Masayuki is coming off a divorce from a woman who cheated on him and tried to kill him, as well as the hostile takeover of his company by another former friend. Understandably distrustful of future human interactions, he sought her out. Yuki-onna is eminently interested in human food and drink (and cars!), so he agrees to buy her booze and cook for her at his bachelor pad.

An adorable, mutually beneficial friendship ensues. The connection to the In/Spectre we know finally comes when Yuki-onna speaks glowingly about her lady and Goddess of Wisdom, Kotoko. Yuki-onna cleared befriending Masayuki with Kotoko, and even got approval for sexual relations with him should things go that way (as long as they use protection!)

The good vibes suddenly sour when detectives come to Masayuki’s door to inform him that his ex-wife has been murdered, but that’s where Kotoko comes in. Yuki-onna reports that she knows for a fact Masayuki wasn’t the culprit because she was with him at the time of the murder. The problem is she can’t go to the cops and Masayuki can’t say the source of his alibi is a yokai.

It looks to be a fascinating case, and one that has a lot more resonance now that I’ve come to know and become quite fond both Yuki-onna and Masayuki. They make a surpassingly cute and charming couple whose playful banter and cozy chemistry rivals Kotoko and Kurou, and if anyone can get this out of this legal dilemma, it’s the Goddess of Wisdom.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

In / Spectre – 13 – Things That Go Thump in the Night

When In/Spectre last aired, I said I’d hope we’d get more of the adorable duo of Kotoko and Kurou as they investigate and resolve more supernatural cases. Thirty-three months later here we are. There’s a lot of expository dialogue between a ghost and two youkai that bring us back up to speed on what this show is about, and Kotoko and Kuro’s abilities.

This is the same old In/Spectre, which means it is absolutely packed with scenes of people doing nothing but sitting or standing and talking. If that was fine with you in the first season, it will be fine here, as it is with me. There are three things that makes this not only tolerable but enjoyable for me, and that’s Kotoko’s magnetic charm, Kitou Akari’s firm yet affable voice, and Manabe Akihiro’s beautiful accompanying score.

The spook-of-the-week initially seems to be artificial, Kotoko tells the ghost and youkai discussing it that the scary thumping in the night wasn’t a supernatural phenomenon, but the sounds of an escaped monitor lizard illegally owned by the building manager. The truth is that an ancien cursed sumo doll was making the sounds.

Kotoko not only works out a deal with the manager that gets Kurou a cheap new place for them to live, but she and Kurou take the doll out to the isolated woods. There, she instructs Kurou to fight with the four-armed, horned sumo demon that manifests. This doesn’t go well at first, with Kurou suffering a number of gruesome deaths.

Of course thanks to eating of both mermaid and kudan flesh, Kurou is immortal and can see and choose the future. In between death and revival, the future he picks involves basically pinning the sumo down, exposing his back and enabling Kotoko to stab him through the throat with her cane.

It’s a victory, but not an ideal one for Kurou, who had hoped Kotoko could have been kept out of harm’s way. But Kotoko remains steadfastly unafraid of dangerous situations, and knew she could score an easy blow against a being that would not attack her due to her goddess status.

All of the various supernatural beings that dwell in the woods come out not just to gaze upon their kawaii Goddess of Wisdom, but thank her for dealing with the sumo doll. They all still consider Kurou a terrifying monster, but as long as he’s by Kotoko’s side and she’s vouching for him, they’ll accept him.

As for me, I’ve long since accepted that this is one of the talkier anime out there, and that more often then not that’s an asset and not a liability. And with all the reintroduction out of the way, next week’s dialogue will be less about what we already know and more about what we don’t.

Call of the Night – 01 (First Impressions) – Carpe Noctem

Now that’s what I’m freakin’ talkin’ about! Call of the Night is a pitch-perfect vampire rom-com from start to finish with a keen understanding of how to set tone and atmosphere, and the entire episode takes place over a single night—one of my favorite settings, being a night owl myself.

The infrequent scenes from Yamori Kou’s ordinary middle school life are shot relatively normally, but the light (and indeed, normalness) of those scenes feels oppressive, while the sprawling, shimmering night feels like a release. Kou doesn’t get things like “crushes” and “confessions”, but this place? This time? He gets it.

Surfing the web for remedies to his insomnia, many bring up booze as a surefire way to eventually lose consciousness, so he walks up to a very brightly-lit beer vending machine, and just as he’s making his selection, a sinister figure wreathed in shadow sidles up to him, questioning his legal age to purchase alcohol.

But the girl is only playing around; she has no intention of snitching. Indeed, she tags along with Kou as his night continues, passing by three older dudes who took the advice of the internet and got rek’d. Kou is awed by how she can so casually high-five strangers, but that’s what the night is all about: it’s a time of freedom; of casting off inhibitions and living.

When Kou is starting to feel a little tired, the quirky lilac-haired girl invites him up to her place, a sparse studio with a futon on the floor. The girl disrobes—as in, removes her robe, not all her clothes—but reveals, well, a revealing crop top, which catches the romance-averse Kou off-guard and makes him wonder what this girl’s intentions are.

She tells him: there’s nothing in the world wrong with two people simply sleeping in the same bed together. Even though the weird girl remains very much awake and basically stares at him the whole time, Kou can’t help but feel far more relaxed with her beside him than no one at all.

Kou is also good at pretending to be asleep; so good that the girl assumes he is, the light suddenly changes from deep purplish blue to warmer fuchsia, she bares her fangs and sinks them into Kou’s neck. For those not paying attention, yes: this chick is a vampire.

If a series is going to spend so much time at night, it had better know what to do with light, shadow, and color, and boy does Call of the Night ever know. Some scenes even reminded me of Fantasia. When Kou wakes up with blood on his neck, her fib about a giant mosquito doesn’t hold water (or blood).

That said, he keeps his head as the girl causally admits what she is, though he wonders why he hasn’t become a vampire. Here’s where the two find they share something in common, besides a love of the night: while some vampires go around making a whole mess of offspring, she’d…rather not. Just like Kou would rather not participate in all the junior high drama.

Perhaps it’s because she feels as comfortable around him as he does around her, the girl lets slip a truth about vampires: one way to become one is to have your blood sucked by a vampire you’re in love with. One thing I love about this girl is that she can get just as frazzled talking about this stuff as Kou.

She redirects the conversation to ask him how his first night “taking a step outside the norm” felt, out here in the place furthest he can hope to get from the things he thinks are a pain. He asks her formally to let him fall in love with her, but she promises nothing. She’ll just keep sucking his blood; if he wants to fall for her, he can go right ahead.

Now that they’re in agreement, they exchange names—her’s is Nanakusa Nazuna—and she resolves to “infuse more night” into him and his blood, which she maintains tastes best at night, just before going to bed. To that end, Nazuna kicks him off the roof of her high-rise apartment building…only to catch him in the blink of an eye long before he hits the pavement.

Thence, Nazuna princess carries Kou on aerial tour of the late night cityscape, flipping him upside down for an even more unique perspective. As he simply sits there in her arms in quiet but intense awe at what’s happening, Nazuna seems to take a great deal of pleasure from it as well.

And that’s the key to this: for as traditionally horny as vampires are depicted and as revealing as Nazuna’s garb is, this is a surprisingly sweet and innocent love story in the works. It’s about two outsiders in their happy place, staying up late and embracing the freedom of the night. With this banger of a premiere, the summer season has finally kicked off in earnest!

Summertime Render – 07 – Tools of the Trade

Deciding to tentatively trust Shinpe, Hizuru and Nezu fill him in on some details about the Shadows. For one thing, if you destroy a Shadow, like Hizuru just did with Alan’s, the Shadow can’t come back, and you can never be copied again. Hizuru’s brother was killed by one fourteen years ago, but a part of him lives on…as the second of her two personalities. When she puts her hair up, Ryuunosuke comes out.

That means it’s game time. The Kobayakawa’s are her target. Her old friend welcomes her in warmly, but Ryuunosuke takes a sledgehammer to her face. Then the monsters show their faces, and while her parents are relative pushovers, Shiori proves to be the toughest of the three. Ryuunosuke has to stab himself with chopsticks to injure her, but she manages to dodge fatal sledge strikes and slithers out a window.

Nezu is ready for her outside with “Plan B”—a nailgun—but he’s unable to get three consecutive nails into her Shadow, which is key to pinning her down. Shinpei proves to be an indispensable member of the party by tackling Shiroi when she tries to give them the slip. Nezu pins her, and Kugimiya Rie gets to chew some scenery as Evil Shiori until Ryuunosuke has had enough and finishes her off.

Later, Ryuu tells Shinpei that he’s not the author of the two, but he does come out when his sister is forced to deal with things she doesn’t like: interviews, meetings, and killin’ Shadows. Hizuru regains control by punching herself in the face. Shinpei now has one quirky ally, but you can’t say she—or rather they—aren’t capable.

The next task is to try to deal with Shadow Mio, whom Shinpei knows will stand outside his house at 9. When he heads in, for a moment he thinks Shadow Mio is already there, but it’s just regular Mio, trying and failing to cook for him. It’s a pretty great fakeout.

I was almost yelling at Shinpei to not let Mio out of his sight, but thankfully the episode had a different cliffhanger in mind: that of the Ushio variety, as she suddenly appears with a growling tummy when he starts sautéing some onions. We know Ushio is a Shadow—Shiori admits to killing the original—but we also know that she acts just like Ushio without a hint of malice, so her arrival isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 06 – The Kobayakawas Were Dead to Begin With

Much of the episode’s first half takes place through the eyes of Nagumo Ryuunosuke, AKA Minakata Hizuru. When she watches Mio send herself and Shin into the sea, and wonders if this “Shin” is Ajiro Shinpei. She attends the funeral, meets old friends, and we learn she frequented the Kofune diner as a middle schooler, before Shinpei was taken in by Alan. She was also friends with Shiori’s mother Asako, whom she learns is a Shadow when her shadow moves to avoid Hizuru’s feet.

Hizuru can’t trust anyone on this island…anyone, that is, except Nezu, whom she seems to trust implicitly. Not only does she invert herself in his presence, she even cries. She uses Nezu as a sounding board, reporting that the entire Kobayakawa family has been killed and replaced by Shadows, and that Ushio drowned because a Shadow attacked her. There’s a Shadow that can make other Shadows, and it’s been busy. How Hizuru and Nezu intend to end its free reign remains to be seen.

That brings us to Shinpei, who tries to act normally, but still warns Shiori about Shadows, inviting the suspicion of her parents. In one of the creepier moments in an episode full of creepy moments (what with all the body-snatching) and ant creates and ant-sized hole as it crawls across Shiroi’s parents’ shadows. Then Alan gives Shinpei a note written in a seemingly indecipherable code…unless you happen to be a fan of Nagumi-sensei’s work.

We see Shadow Mio create a Shadow Alan, who tries to replace the real Alan when he goes to the bathroom. However, Hizuru is already waiting for it, and smashes Shadow Alan’s shadow with a sledgehammer, thus destroying it. But it’s a hollow victory; so many lives have been taken already, and so many more hang in the balance. Hizuru and Nezu wont’ be enough … especially if neither of them can travel through time.

Enter Shinpei, who cracks the code and calls the number for Hizuru’s second phone, which she gave to Nezu. Nezu makes sure Shinpei isn’t a Shadow by getting him to stand in a certain place, then shoots his shadow with his sniper rifle. Once that’s settled, he takes him to Hizuru, and Shinpei immediately asks for Nagumo-sensei’s autograph.

Of course, Hizuru knows for a fact that no one but Nezu knows that she’s Nagumi-sensei, which means the only way Shinpei knows is because he’s lived July 22nd before, likely multiple times. When she tells Shinpei this, he can’t help but tear up in relief: somebody knows and believeswhat’s happening to him. Someone who can help him save Mio and the island.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 05 – Now She Rises

The bespectacled lady with the shotgun manages to save Shinpei’s life (and her own) not by shooting Shadow Mio, but by shooting her shadow, which is its true form. Shadow Mio glitches out, allowing the lady to set his broken arm, introduce herself as Nagumo Ryuunosuke—the same name as a novelist Shin reads—and deliver some exposition.

Basically, Nagumo lifts most of the mystery of how the shadows operate: they scan humans with light, absorb their information, and feed on human data. The two of them are only survived by staying out of sight, and can discern even a shadow that’s a really good actor by stepping on their shadow, which will cause said shadow to move on its own.

Nagumo was sent to this island to save Shinpei, and seems to be doing it out of obligation for her sister. But after what happens when the two ascend the steps to the shrine grounds, Shin might just wish Nagumo had let Shadow Mio kill him. The shadows have amassed and have made a mountain of corpses out of the festival goers. Shin arrives just in time to watch both Toki and Sou get stabbed in the back of the skull.

When Nagumo shoots Shadow Sou’s arms off before he can kill the real Mio (who was being shielded by the real Sou, which, after hearing his confession and rejecting him…goddamn) but the “lead” shadow, a four-armed humanoid made of black goo, instantly copies her form and her shotgun and shoots back. Nagumo avoids the killshot, but is still gravely wounded.

The lead shadow reaches out with a stretchy arm and restrains Shin, noticing that he bears the eye of the shadows’ “mother”, enabling him to control time. But while Shin possesses the power to reset the game here and now at the moment of his defeat, what if the boss (in this case, the lead shadow) is not only aware that there’s a reset button, but that it’s attached to a console he can simply cut the power to?

We learn that the pile of corpses, and indeed every living soul on the island that is gradually swallowed up by waves of black and blue ooze, are all an offering, a meal for the shadows’ mother, Haine. A scientist at the Hishigata Clinic observes what’s happening and concludes that Haine managed to awaken by devouring a thousand human lives. Something tells me that’s just an appetizer, as shadows can reach out into the water…

The bottom line is, everything is super fuckity-fuck-fucked in this go-around. It’s a wash; by far the worst of the bad endings Shin has experienced so far, and reminds me of the things-can-and-will-always-get-worse progression of Subaru’s loops in Re:Zero. But the option to reset still exists, in the form of the dying Nagumo’s last shotgun shell.

Ushio, who it’s clear is unique among shadows in not being evil or wanting any part of helping Haine rise, punches the lead shadow in the fact, giving Nagumo time to shoot Shin in the head. She promises to save him next time no matter what if he finds her and tells her his name.

In the interstitial plane between the previous loop and a new one, Ushio can now see and hear Ushio clearly. She embraces him from behind and warns him to be careful, for his ability to reset has a limit. Shin figures out what that is soon after resetting: his start point keeps moving further forward in time, locking what came before in stone.

In this loop he has three days, but if he fails too many times, he won’t have the time he needs to save everyone, if he can, and will eventually reset to a time after everything is fucked. Meanwhile, we learn Shadow Ushio (if that’s what she even is) washes up the same day he arrives, meaning she could theoretically go to her own funeral, Huck Finn-style.

Summertime Render – 04 – Ushio Deux

Last week Shinpei encountered Ushio on the beach, dramatically backlit by the festival fireworks. But it’s only this week that she says anything, and actually tackles Shinpei. Nagase Anna has such a refreshing voice that’s perfect for Ushio: crisp, clear, and full of exuberance.

Considering his previous encounters with doppelgangers of people he knows, Shin is understandably weary, as this Ushio must be a shadow. But she’s different from the others. For one thing, she’s not evil. For another, she doesn’t know she’s a shadow (or what a shadow is). As far as she’s concerned, she’s just Ushio. She wished for Shin to return, and he did, so she wastes no time confessing to him.

Shin still doesn’t fully trust this Ushio, but she’s talking and acting so much like Ushio, it’s a complete trip. When she runs off and joins the festival—still in her swimsuit—he chases her down, takes her to a quiet storage area and insists she stay put, lest someone see her and wig out. Incidentally, the only person we see spot her is Shadow Mio.

Shinpei gets back to the gang in time to join Tokiko in witnesseing Seidou totally crashing and burning in his sudden confession to Mio. Tokiko knows full well who Mio really loves, and that her brother is doomed to fail. Mio friendzones Seidou so fast his head spins.

That’s when he’s comforted…not by Shin or Toki, but but someone wearing a magical girl mask. Everyone instantly recognizes Ushio’s voice, and thus she’s found out even faster than Seidou was rejected by Mio. But when Mio sees Ushio, she naturally wigs out…because this Ushio is a monster…or is she?

For the moment, no; Ushio remains a compelling enigma: a shadow somehow gone wrong. When Shin first takes hold of her, I assumed he was going to scold her or lead her back to her hiding spot. But then he grabs her so hard it hurts her, and even causes her to bleed, and that’s when the shoe drops: this isn’t Shinpei.

But wait, when Shin returned, Mio said the code word and he gave the right response, right? Right; but as we see, Shin is jumped by Shadow Mio on his way back to his friends, and Shadow Shin updates his memories. Not only does he know his code with Mio, but now the shadows know he’s experiencing time loops. Shadow Shin’s solution to that? Don’t kill him…at least not until “everything is done”.

Shadow Mio obeys Shadow Shin, who heads to Shin’s friends. Regular Shin may be badly hurt, but even when Mio breaks his arm, he keeps trying to crawl to the real Mio to keep his promise to protect her. Shadow Mio is about to break his leg as well when her head is blown off by two shotgun blasts from none other than the woman on the Ferry.

The engaging mystery of “New Ushio” and her lived-in rapport with Shin combined with the added suspense and peril of the evil shadows and one hell of a switcheroo return Summertime Render to rare rating air.

Summertime Render – 03 – Mesopotamian Culture

Having watched footage of her own shadow on Shin’s phone, Mio believes the next step should be to help Kobayakawa Shiori. But when Shin goes to Shiori’s house, he finds only piles of black powder where Shiori’s parents once were, and deduces that the Shiori he saw at the funeral was actually her shadow, and the real Shiori is really dead.

After unsuccessful attempts to locate the woman in glasses from the ferry, Shin is heartened that at least the island cop Tetsu survived in this loop. He tells Shin and Mio that a detective from the mainland is on his way to investigate, and also gives Shin Ushio’s phone, saying she said he’d know what to do if he got it…but Shin can’t unlock it.

Shin shares everything he knows so far with his old friend Sou, who believes that since the shadows can be photographed, they are real and thus can be killed like normal people (might be a stretch). Mio thinks they should go to Hiruko (like the previous loop) for answers, but knowing what became of Mio there (being killed by her shadow) Shin hesitates at this suggestion.

After getting caught in the rain together, Mio gives Shin Ushio’s shell necklace, just like the previous loop, saying she wishes he’d stay on the island forever. Later, Sou shows up at Shin’s with both Mio and their mutual friend Yukiko in yukata for the annual island festival, which they attend together.

While there, Shin deduces that Sou is harboring a crush on Mio, while Toki asks Shin flat-out about his feelings for Mio. He responds that he of course cares or her…as family. That answer doesn’t seem to make Mio particularly happy, but Shin is distracted by the sudden sight of what looks like Ushio in the festival crowd.

His pursuit leads him to the beach, where he sees an apparent ghost—or possibly the shadow—of Ushio, backlit by the festival fireworks. Shinpei may have survived this loop—so far—but while it has resulted in some answers, a lot more questions have surfaced. At least he’s not alone in being aware of the general situation…but what’s up with this Ushio on the beach, and how can he be certain at this point that his friends Sou and Toki aren’t shadows?

While I’m enjoying the atmosphere and sense of dread lurking just beyond the corner, and the fact Shin and Mio survive to the end of the episode having learned more about the situation, this episode lacked the punch and the drive of the earlier two episodes, and featured some iffy animation to boot. I’m hoping for a rebound next week with the arrival of “Ushio”.

Summertime Render – 02 – Taking a Step Back

At night I’m driving in your car
Pretending that we’ll leave this town
We’re watching all the street lights fade
And now you’re just a stranger’s dream
I took your picture from the frame
And now you’re nothing like you seem
Your shadow fell like last night’s rain…
—”Shadow”, Chromatics

After he is brutally murdered by an evil copy of his adoptive sister Mio, Shin ends up back on the boat to Hitogashima, in the warm embrace of the bespectacled woman’s bosom. Back on July 22nd. The day repeats itself much the way it did before, with Mio ending up in the ocean. This time, Shin notices that her brakes were cut—likely intentionally.

After the funeral and dinner unfold much as they did the first time, Shin switches things up by staking out the front of the Kofune household. He witnesses Mio’s copy killing the cop Totsumura, then getting a glimpse of the shadowy alien/whatever that then assumes Totsumura’s form.

Thus the Totsumura we saw in the diner last week wasn’t Totsumura at all. Unfortunately, Mio spots Shin hiding, then kills him in gruesome fashion. But now we know: Mio’s copy tried to kill her by cutting her brakes, and these evil copies have plans.

…But yet again, Shin doesn’t die, and even observes his dead self before his Return by Death-style resurrection repeats. In the in-between space/time between loops, Shin both hears the voice and feels the embrace of his sister Ushio, urging him to protect Mio.

Back on the dock on July 22nd, Shin follows Ushio’s edict, putting himself between Mio and the sea to prevent her from falling ino the drink. Like Subaru, he is trying to take a long view of the situation and understand as much as he can while also trying to change enough to prevent further tragedy from befalling his family.

Meanwhile, the bespectacled lady is recording a message for someone we know not whom while inverted on a tree branch so she can maximize blood flow to her brain. Both of these odd practices and her dark suit reminded me of Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, and indeed, the talk of “shadows” led me to go back and watch the closing minutes of the second episode of Twin Peaks’  third season, when Chromatics performs “Shadow.”

It occurs to me there’s a distinct Twin Peaks-y vibe to Summertime Render, in that an isolated, seemingly idyllic community is suddenly beset by an unspeakable, inscrutable evil force that can take the form of its inhabitants, like Ushio and Mio. Perhaps this lady was sent here to investigate.

Unfortunately, in the first loop she is killed by said evil copy of Mio. But with each loop Shin learns more and takes measures to keep both Mio and himself safe. He deletes most of the data on his phone and hooks it up to an external battery in order to record the copy of Mio outside the house without actually being outside the house, then makes sure Mio is safe by barging in on her while she’s bathing.

Smacking him with the shower wand seems to be adequate punishment, since Mio doesn’t hold a grudge against Shin the next morning when he comes in to present her with footage of her own shadow. Knowing that an evil copy of her is roaming around, and that she and Ushio both saw a copy of Ushio, it’s pretty easy to deduce that Ushio’s copy may well have murdered Ushio.

At least for the moment, Ushio seems dead for good, as Shin can only reset back to the day he arrived on the island, which was well after she died. Can he, Mio, and Dahlia Cooper collaborate to neutralize the shadow threat? Perhaps, but I imagine it will take a few more loops—and unfortunate murders—to pull that off.

Summertime Render – 01 (First Impressions) – Beware the Shadows

After a suitably creepy dream that seems to set the tone, Summertime Render then suddenly seems to stumble, with Ajiro Shinpei waking up with his face all up in a woman’s chest. Soon after arriving on his home island for the first time in over two years, his little sister Mio flashes her shimapan as she flips into the water. So what are we doing here?

It was later in the episode that I realized—and even appreciated—the earlier moments of levity. That’s because much of the rest of the episode is simply dripping with grief, regret, sadness, and longing. Shinpei’s other sister Ushio is dead, and he’s here for the funeral. She died successfully saving a little girl from drowning. Her sudden loss casts a heavy pall over the entire island.

One of Shinpei’s friends, whose father is the island’s doctor, assures him that an actual full autopsy wasn’t performed, but that his dad was brought in to examine strangulation marks on Ushio’s neck. While her death was ruled an accident, those marks loom large. But not as large as seeing Mio—seemingly a different Mio—ominously standing outside her own home.

Inside, after a dinner of curry Shinpei made—which he said he’d make for Ushio again before leaving but never got to (he also leaves a serving at her empty place at the table) and the call from his friend, Mio embraces him and starts to bawl her eyes out, though promising they’re the last tears she’ll shed, not wanting to worry Ushio.

The next day, Shinpei, Mio, and their dad Alan start the process of moving forward and getting through their grief by keeping as busy as possible at the family diner. But a drunk customer makes a strange comment about a large-chested lady looking for Shinpei, while the island’s sole cop informally reports that the girl Ushio saved and her entire family have vanished from the island.

Mio is so upset by this she runs out of the diner, and Shinpei follows. When he finds her sitting against a wall covered in shadow, she tells him that she and Ushio saw a double of Ushio, just as the little girl Ushio saved saw a double of herself. A passing old hunter tells the kids the old story about a “shadow sickness” on the island that causes people to see their shadows.

Back in the old days, people with this affliction would be cleansed at the island’s shrine, so Shinpei and Mio head there, and Mio spots someone she thinks is the little girl Ushio saved in the woods. Instead, they find the large-chested woman gravely wounded by a gunshot. Before she can tell Shinpei who did it, she’s shot through the head…by Mio’s shadow, who then headshots Mio and then Shinpei.

Cut to black, then some static, and suddenly Shinpei is back on the boat, with his face in the woman’s chest. So we have Groundhog Day with murderous doppelgangers on a sleepy island cloaked in dark old legends and mysteries. I’m in. From the depths of grief and loss to a violent bloodbath, Rendering escalates quickly and ends with an exclamation point of a reset button. However many times that button gets pressed, I’ll be here to watch what unfolds.

Mieruko-chan – 12 (Fin) – Best Butt Bun Buds Forever

The fox spirits’ initial attack doesn’t completely destroy Zen’s mother-ghoul, but their second attack does, and they mutter something in their bizarre language before skedaddling. Naturally Zen can’t see any of it. Hana and Yulia stop by just as the tormented cat demons all turn white and pass on. Whether this was due to his mom-ghoul being gone or Hana’s aura, Zen is no longer burdened by any spirits.

Once he recovers, Zen-sensei stops by Miko’s to pick up Mocha, the kitten he found that they were fostering. He dwells on the words Miko said about setting him free, and he takes it to mean he should be more honest with people. This leads to him flatly telling his neighbor he doesn’t want any leftover stew. Turns out she was putting something in it. That’s not cool…and it’s a good thing he didn’t eat any of it! He’s moving anyway, to a place that allows pets.

After the big Zen-sensei mom-ghoul dust-up, things pretty much return to normal. Hana is still constantly eating, but isn’t desperately hungry like she was before. She and Miko go out to watch the sequel to the Totoro analog while urging Yulia to watch the first; the fortune teller receives a picture of Miko and Hana at the shrine in the mail; Zen-sensei captures the animal abuser, and Arai-sensei has her baby.

Miko decides she should offer her gratitude to the fox spirits, so she visits their creepy shrine, this time going alone (and thus without Hana’s apparently built-in divine protection). She offers one stick of sweet dango and then several and then a mess of coins, but the fox spirits and their big, big brother only seem to get more and more angry with her. Things look very bad indeed until Miko wakes up in her bed. It was only a nightmare…and perhaps a message to her: just don’t go back there!

Miko continues to see ghosts, ghouls and monsters pretty much everywhere, every day, but it has become easier to ignore them…practice makes perfect! But one thing she’s learned is that when it seems like it’s in her power to help her friends or others, she should face those monsters head-on. Maybe she’s out of fox spirit bailouts, but as long as she has Hana and now Yulia by her side and a scrumptious butt bun in her hands, life is good.

Mieruko-chan – 11 – Meowruko-chan

While last week seemingly confirmed that Toono Zen was a Bad Dude who was behind the local cat abuse, all the episode really did was confirm that he’s an odd, lonely young man; it didn’t explicitly show him actually doing anything. Now we learn that both we and Miko judged him too quickly.

First we flash back to Zen’s childhood, which was strictly controlled by his mother, who wouldn’t let him for relationships with anyone or anything other than her without accusing him of “betraying her like his father,” and punished him by squeezing his head if he kept secrets from her.

Fast-forward to the present, when Miko has decided she can no longer stand by and do nothing while Hana is basically starved by the spirits surrounding Zen-sensei. She carefully follows Zen down mostly empty and isolated streets, until he comes across a mangy stray kitten in a tunnel.

Miko had planned to call the police and catch Zen red-handed abusing a cat, but couldn’t let the act actually happen, and cries out when it looks like he’s about to crush the little kitty’s head…which we already saw was a similar gesture her mother performed on him many times.

Zen asks Miko if she followed him and what she’s doing, and the huge ghoul seemingly protecting him pops out and threatens her. Miko runs with the kitten in hand, but trips and falls, though the kitten is unharmed. Startled, it jumps out of her hands and runs right into the street.

Right on cue, Car-kun races down that street at breakneck speed, threatening to flatten the poor kitty. But then Zen leaps out in front of the car to save the kitten, and suddenly Miko has no idea what is going on. Why would he want to save a cat…then kill it?

Turns out Zen wanted to do nothing of the sort. At the hospital, he tells Miko not to blame herself for what happened; he chose to leap in front of the car. He further explains that someone in his area—not him—has been abusing animals, and he was patrolling the area like usual.

Because of the odd way Miko had interacted with him when he answered the message about adopting another stray cat, as well as her odd demeanor at school, Zen assumed she might be the animal-abusing culprit, proving that both of these people simply needed more information before forming assumptions.

Miko gets more context on the hospital’s roof from Satoru, Zen’s friend since grade school, learning about his strict—nay, fucking psycho mother, who killed his pet cat when she found out about it, which…goddamn. Satoru, a vet, is the one Zen brings all the cats he finds so that he can secure new homes for them.

Lately, with the animal abuser, Zen has only found cats who are either already dead or close to it, which explains last week’s suspicious scene. As for why Satoru helps Zen, well…for the same reason Miko wants to help Hana: if your friend is in trouble, you do what you can to help them!

Now that Miko knows that the cat spirits are the result of Zen encountering the victims of the animal abuser, and the ghoul was once his horrible mother, she decides to help Zen out, for his sake, for Hana’s sake, and hell, for her own sake. She addresses Zen’s mother-ghoul directly, asking her to set him free, and she charges after her into the corridor.

I’m not sure if Miko intended for the fox spirits to arrive and destroy the mother-ghoul, but I’m not sure what else she expected, considering she put herself in harm’s way. It’s supposedly the third and final time they’ll help her, but at least it was for a good cause, and will end up helping both Hana and Zen. But who knows; maybe this is only the beginning of Miko taking a more active role in helping people with her ability.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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