NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 06 – A Model of Peace

While an armed guard keeps Naoya hostage, Kazama’s sketchy-ass Free Speech Alliance takes over the main news government propaganda TV station. After a brief and frankly hackneyed speech about corruption, oppression, etc., Kazama intends to put Naoto and his power on display for the entire viewing public to behold.

Needless to say, with so much of the population brainwashed hook, line, and sinker, it’s patently silly for this guy to believe seeing someone demonstrate “powers” on a TV program will win hearts and minds. Just as Naoya warned several times, the operation fails when the super-skeptic guy—whose treachery, in hindsight, was telegraphed within an inch of its life—reveals he’s an undercover SWE agent, and kills Kazama.

Despite being surrounded by the newly-awakened SWE oficers, Naoto still manages to slip away, until he’s cornered in the parking garage by Takuya. The Kuroki brother has a lot of questions for Naoto, but Naoto is in no mood to answer them, and at least at the start of the battle he’s a better psychokinesis user; or at least a more controlled one.

Ultimately, Naoto, along with Naoya, Emily, and Masayuki’s mom (Shouko’s old friend) end up vanishing in a big ‘ol flash of light. While I shouldn’t assume anything with the limited information we’re given, I’ll go out on a limb and theorize that it was Masayuki’s mom’s connection to Shouko that led to everyone being sent…somewhere in a similar manner to Shouko herself in previous encounters.

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 05 – Girl Out of Time

The Kirihara brothers escape with the FSA and Masayuki Miki, who wants to go right back to rescue her boy. But Naoya believes it was Miki’s friend Futami Shouko who guided them to meet Miki.

From there we flashback to Miki’s friendship with Shouko back in 2014, when she saw with her own eyes what Miki could do. Shouko compulsively wrote strange symbols in a notebook which literally jump off the page and send Miki into a kind of hallucinatory trance spanning time and space.

But according to Miki of the present, one day she was just…gone. Of course, we know she’s still alive, kinda, in the future, and either the willing or unwilling guinea pig in a lab’s desperate attempt to do…something. Correct the timeline to make 2041 less of an anti-fiction hellscape? Perhaps.

Miki also mentions how when she was 26 she received a package from Shouko, postmarked before she disappeared. In it she found the notebook and some instructions, which Miki followed, spending a single night in a small shrine but emerging the next morning to find three months had passed.

We also flash back to when the Kirihara brothers were first brought to the lab where they’d spend the next few years. While they awaken in what could be described as a gilded cage, Naoto still tries to escape with Naoya, only to be stopped by a barrier that only seems to affect psychics.

Back in the present, one of the FSA members bristles at Kimi’s story about seeing the future and skipping time, continually calling it a bunch of lies. How he can say this after what he’s seen psychics strains credulity a bit; it’s as if he’s only there in the room to complain and dispute Kimi’s testimony.

Meanwhile, while the SWE lost a number of people, HQ is back up and running, and they consider it a net win since it resulted in the awakening of both Reika and Michio and the progression of Yuuya’s powers. Takuya ended up psyching himself into a coma, but he soon recovers.

Kimie gets to work as a guide for Yuuya and his powers, as both she and the SWE boss believe he could be the most powerful of all of them if he’s able to control that power. All we know from the boss is that they’ll “use that  power to achieve their goal”, which I presume means rooting out all psychics who aren’t SWE soldiers. Kimie calls it “protecting the order of the world.”

Back at the old factory, the FSA’s leader Kazama has a proposition for the Kirihara brothers, and Naoto in particular: they’re going to execute an offensive operation on the FSA, and they need Naoto’s power to help. When Naoto refuses, they pull a gun on Naoya and threaten to kill him if Naoto doesn’t obey. Emily, the voice of reason and temperance in the FSA, definitely didn’t want it to come to this, but Kazama and his commandoes are the ones with the guns.

Takuya and Yuuya are chilling in their cold, sterile apartment when visions of the past start flowing through Yuuya, including a scene of their mom and dad being taken by…er…someone.

Between the SWE crew not doing much this week and the FSA immediately and disappointingly showing their true colors, it was overall a pretty listless downer of an episode. My favorite part was the inter-dimensional joyride Shouko sent Miki on with her symbols, but that was all too brief, and that part of the story still carries more questions than answers.

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 04 – The Kids Are Not All Right

NIGHT HEAD 2041 is all about making connections between people on very different ends of the struggle for freedom of thought and creativity, which is really the struggle for humanity itself. One of those is that the mother of Masayuki—the boy who can take over minds who went full John Wick last week—was high school friends with Futami Shouko, the time traveling girl the Kuroki brothers saw at the Miracle Mick raid. I’m not sure why this connection exists—or why Shouko ties her hair…with her hair—but it’s still intriguing.

 

Meanwhile, the Kirihara brothers were rescued by the Free Speech Alliance, who are pretty much the opposite of the SWE, fighting for the very things the SWE are trying to stamp out on orders of a government that does not care about the hypocrisy of employing psychics. Members of the FSA admit that nobody really has very clear memories of the disasters propaganda touts as the reason for this thought crackdown.

In case you thought the governemnt had some good points, we along with the Kiriharas are shown how those who commit thought crime—including young children—are put on display like zoo animals and re-educated. These are bad, but faceless people. We only know who work for them: SWE and the Kuroki brothers.

When Masayuki goes berserk, escapes from custody and goes on a bloody killing spree through the halls of SWE HQ, all because he fears the cops hurt his mom, I’m kinda on Team Nobody. Both Masayuki’s mom and Naoya are a bit too naïve to think the kid can come back to anything resembling a normal life after all the people he killed.

At the same time, only SWE scrubs get killed, and I can’t feel too much sympathy for them, since we know “I was just following orders” is no defense for committing atrocities. That the SWE officers with names who we do know shoot their mind-controlled colleagues without hesitation shows how much this system has fucked with their humanity.

Hell, that the system pushed a little kid to the brink it did means this simply isn’t a system that can last long before it crumbles. But despite working for what can be charitably described as an Enemy of Humanity in the SWE, Yuuya still leaps out and saves Masayuki from Takuya’s psychokinesis , while Reika’s own power awakens just in time to save Yuuya from a giant deadly falling corporate sculpture.

This is a great symbol for the system: overly burdened with zero tolerance laws and brutal punishment; hanging by a thin, fraying cable. The Free Speech Alliance doesn’t actually do anything yet, and it’s not exactly clear what they will do. But between them and the rampant “law-breaking” going on even in normal high school club rooms, that cable is going to snap someday.

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 03 – Taking a Turn

Fresh off their narrow escape from the diner and SWE, Naoto and Naoya  decide to pay a visit to their dear old parents who drugged them and sent them away to the lab when they were kids, because there might not have been any choice considering the powers they possessed. Predictably, not only are the parents gone, but so is the very house they grew up in.

The balance of the episode is focused on a high school, where a circle of friends are apparently suffering the effects of a black magic spell that backfired. They intended to get revenge on someone, but their “spell” seemingly results in a string of gruesome suicides at school, all of which are worth a solid trigger warning.

The SWE squad is dispatched to the school to investigate, with Takuya driving while Kimie rides shotgun and tries to relate to him as a fellow Psychic. They raid the club room and find a treasure trove of fiction and occult contraband, any one item of which carries the death penalty.

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how this society…works. The SWE can’t be everywhere all the time, so I imagine bastions of lawbreaking are quite prevalent—especially in schools! In any case, Mikie can sense a powerful psychic at work, controlling the minds of people, including Michio and Reika, who shoot wildly at their Kuroki brother comrades like brainwashed zombies.

The one survivng high schooler ends up crossing paths with the Kiriharas at their dad’s old factory, where they also encounter the time-traveling Futami Shouko, who ties her hair…with her hair, which is…unsettling, somehow. I guess that’s the point; she’s an inscrutable person.

Before Shouko blips out (returning to several years in the past), Naoya’s clairvoyance senses a voice telling them to go to a certain place. That place happens to be where the culprit behind the mind control murders lives. He’s just a little boy, but he’s a powerful Psychic whose puppy the high schooler who spearheaded the black magic ritual slaughtered for its blood…hence the desire for revenge.

Mikie and Reika roll in and neutralize the boy, ending the immediate threat, while Naoto uses his psychokinesis to shove the ladies aside so he and his brother can escape. They’re met outside by Takuya and Yuuya and the two pairs of brothers recognize each other from their strange visions. It’s like that Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man meme.

Thankfully, the Kirihara brothers have an ally in the shadows, who reveals himself to knock out the Kuroki’s and tells them to come with him. He doesn’t add “if they want to live”, Sarah Connor style, however. I can’t say I’m the most engaged with these characters, but it’s a very slick looking show and the music is great, so I can’t complain that much.

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 02 – Diner of Illusion

In addition to showing us a lot of cool stuff, NH2K41 can add another feather to its cyberpunk cap: it’s able to cover a lot of narrative ground in these two episodes. There’s a lot of information to convey, and while it isn’t always the most elegant or subtle (we learn the Kuroki brothers were abandoned because…they mention it while looking at a photo) it’s all easy to digest. And Takuya’s whiskey on the rocks looks frikkin’ epic.

The show also wastes no time connecting our two pairs of brothers, as Yuuya has a momentary vision of the Kirihara brothers, who are once again just trying to fill their stomachs in an unassuming diner. Unfortunately for them, the fugitive Miracle Mick is there, along with a Harley Quinn-style femme fatale, who uses Mick’s celebrity to bilk a 2D three-man band out of all their cash. She, not Mick, is the one with the psychic power: the power of mind control.

It isn’t long before the Thought Police (Takuya and Yuuya’s squad) show up, but they’re just there for Mick and the woman using him and manipulating the musicians, whom she sics on the cops like brainwashed dogs. The order comes down to arrest everyone in the diner, even the cute waitress, but when they start getting rough Naoto gets pissed off and uses his psychokinesis to fight back, stopping all the bullets Neo-style. In the process, Yuuya learns he has a skill: psychic shields.

Naoto, Naoya, and the waitress are able to flee, while Mick and the band are arrested as scapegoats. Then the mischievous woman, Kobayashi Kimie, reveals she’s a cop who was working undercover to bring Mick down. She also demonstrates her powers of illusion in one of the coolest manners possible: by “stabbing” the four squad members with glass spikes. It’s as pretty as it is gruesome.

That’s when Takuya, Yuuya, Reika and Michio learn that it isn’t that the supernatural doesn’t exist, but that the government wants the public to think it doesn’t exist. Psychics, like the four cops are about to awaken to be come, are the exclusive purview of the government. If they have to use supernatural powers to root the civilian world of the supernatural, so be it.

The waitress Naoto saves isn’t particularly thankful, as now the cops will be after her since she’s a Psychic too (though not, as she says, a “monster” like the brothers). She thanks them before shuffling off, warning them to keep a low profile. That may be tough in what is clearly a police and surveillance state where everything that has a microchip could be watching or listening.

The fact that when the Kirihara brothers escaped from the lab where they spend fifteen years, only to find themselves ten years further into the future than they expected, doesn’t help matters. Naoto thought they were going somewhere where their own kind were accepted and coexisted with regular humans. Instead, the opposite has happened.

Clearly the girl in the school uniform is a part of the experiments at the lab, as she’s returned unconscious and with a weak pulse, but alive after an apparent trip to the future. The question is, is there any way to prevent the awful post-WWIII dystopia that exists in 2041?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 01 (First Impressions) – It’s That Kind of Night

I’ll give NIGHT HEAD 2041 this: it gives you bang for the buck. There’s a metric fuckton of stuff to look at in its 22 minutes, and a pulsing, pounding score by Yamada Yukata (Vinland Saga, Great Pretender) adds weight and dignity to every one of those minutes. The CGI modeling of most characters is akin to Knights of Sidonia, a show I enjoyed quite a bit, and like that show’s sci-fi setting, the sometimes off-putting style fits the cyberpunk milieu like a glove.

The thing is, it’s not just visuals and sound that NH2K41 has in spades; it’s characters, factions, and ideas. It’s not lacking in ambition, but it often feels scattered, like it’s trying to say too much to fast. I’m reminded of the 2004 live-action Casshern film, which my friends and I love, but also joke that it’s about “absolutely everything, all the time, only louder and faster”.

Perhaps that’s a side effect of having to introduce us to this world, its pair of protagonist brothers on opposite sides of a post-WWIII conflict between the hyper-atheist, rationalist powers that be and anyone and everyone who believes in higher powers, the supernatural or the occult, or any kind of fiction. That last part is a bit hard to chew; but fine.

I can totally believe that society has put all of its eggs in the pseudo-military police industrial complex that is Special Weapons Enforcement, to which the Kuroki brothers belong. There’s a distinct vibe to both them and their two comrades that made me think they were criminals going after other criminals a la PSYCHO-PASS. But the less this is compared to that, the better; at least for now.

P-P could go off the rails at times, at least had some focus to its bold brash ruminations on society. It was also anchored by my avatar of many years, Tsunemori Akane, one of my all-time favorite anime characters. Night Head has a lot of characters, including the aforementioned pair of brothers, but they’re not exactly brimming with personality or originality.

One thing I did like was how the episode suddenly changed gears after one of the Kuroki Takuya accidentally conjured an EMP to save his little brother Yuuya, basically committing a crime by doing something that shouldn’t be possible. That segues smoothly to the Kirihara brothers, Naoto and Naoya, a psychokinetic and a clairvoyant, respectively.

Freshly sprung from some kind of lab where they’d spend an untold portion of their lives and with a fast car and a stack of cash in their possession, Naoto continually assures his adorable little brother that the time is now, as in, for people like them to step out of the shadows and join the world community without fear of ostracization or oppression.

Unfortunately, when you and your brother are essentially X-Men, it’s hard not to make ordinary humans fearful, angry, or a combination of both simply by existing. That’s what happens when the brothers dare to grab a bite to eat—though it’s at least partially their fault for waltzing into a bar where there’s an obvious shit-starter lounging on a couch with his honey.

Weirdly enough, these two are rendered in the anime-standard two dimensions instead of the three of our superpowered brothers. I’d normally cry foul but it makes sense thematically, so I’m going to allow this. Still the interaction is awfully pat, and drags on a bit too long, such that I left the scene less worried about backlash for the brothers, and more upset that what was probably a pretty good pizza went to waste.

After the Kiriharas’ pub crawl, we return to the thought police in the aftermath of the EMP, which erased all records of what happened during the raid to capture “Miracle Mick”, who may just be a money-grubbing charlatan or could actually have powers. Heck, Takuya clearly has the power to create an EMP—a super useful ability if you don’t want anyone to know you have an ability, owing to the overreliance on electronic tech.

While it’s usually a good idea not to expect every episode to look as good at the first, both Sidonia and the more recent Akudama Drive are exceptions to that rule. But it’s not consistent production quality I’m worried about. I know Night Head 2041 is probably going to look and sound awesome every week. But will it ever get around to organizing its myriad ideas and scenarios?

Learning that the girl only the Kuroki bros saw during the raid astral projected into the future is the kind of hook that ensures I’ll be back next week and probably the week after that. I just hope there’s more in store than eye an ear candy…but some head meat and potatoes, too.

To Your Eternity – 01 (First Impressions) – A Dog and His Boy

Happy Monday Everybody! Are you ready to…bawl your fuckin’ eyes out?! I know I am. Welcome to To Your Eternity, one of the Spring’s most anticipated series. As always, I enter completely in the dark, unsure of what’s in store for me. Yippee!

It is sent to Earth, a tabula rasa of an entity that can take the form of things it encounters. First it’s a small and basic white sphere, then a rock, then the moss on that rock, then a white wolf that dies on that mossy rock. Fantasia and 2001 came to mind. The visuals and music are epic, and given greater gravitas with Tsuda Kenjirou’s narration.

Then, the wolf reaches a small settlement. Of the handful of huts, only one is occupied by a single boy. The last boy. He knows the wolf; it’s his wolf, Joaan. He welcomes him home, glad he’s no longer alone.

The boy makes dinner and shows Joaan how to eat. He talks of the others who left the village to find “Paradise” but promised to return with gifts. He stayed to take care of the elderly. That was five years ago. Some days pass, and the boy decides it’s time to stop waiting, leave the village, and head to paradise himself, with Joaan in tow.

The boy leaves his home with a sense of finality, like he won’t be returning. He drew pictures of everyone who lived there to show others that they lived. He trudges through the snow, following helpful arrow markers, camps for the night. His nose and fingers gradually become raw and red. One day, he falls through the ice.

He manages to avoid hypothermia, but he has a nasty gash in his left thigh. He dresses it, but the wound swells and festers. Joaan can only watch. The boy speaks for Joaan, carrying on a conversation with himself to keep himself optimistic. But the frozen tundra and his wound continue to wear him down.

The boy is in a very bad way when he comes across a final arrow marker X’ed out with blood, and close by, a host of graves and the ruins of a wagon. With nothing but more frozen tundra everywhere he looks, the boy grapples with the fact the others never reached paradise…or maybe they did, but had to perish to do so.

With no further markers, the boy has no choice but to return home. The weather worsens, as does his health. He feverishly crawls back through the door he so confidently closed for good when he first set out. He manages to get one more fire going, but the cold outside and his leg have already decided how this ends. We’re now firmly in Grave of the Fireflies territory.

The final choice the boy has is how to die. He does so sitting in a chair with the faces of the village, along with himself and Joaan, drawn on the wall. With one final smile, he hunches over and dies, his suffering at an end, and his journey to paradise complete as he reunites with all the other villagers. Triggered by the boy’s death, It transforms from Joaan to the boy, in search of more stimulation. From death, rebirth. But rebirth to something not quite what it had been.

It’s a triumphant glimmer of hope after an episode that was largely watching a happy-go-lucky kid die in agonizing slow motion as his unrelenting environment ground him into dust. This show absolutely wrecked me, but I’m glad to have watched it. It isn’t often anime—or anything on a screen—moved me to this extent. I hadn’t gone through so many tissues watching a single episode in quite a while!

Was this perfection? No. The music is almost uniformly excellent (and the OP is an absolute banger) but there was one out-of-place track that sounded like it was from a far older and less serious show. As good as some of Joaan the wolf’s expressions were, the animal modeling was all over the place, esp. in wider shots. Finally, as invested as I was in the poor doomed kid, he talked a lot. More Cast Away-style silent storytelling would have been welcome. Then again, boundless optimism was literally keeping him alive.

But those are minor quibbles. To Your Eternity is primo prestige shit with the potential to be a classic. It made me feel just about fucking everything! It’s a hell of a neat concept: a completely neutral “entity” that observes, then meets the conditions for transformation—a kind of Kino’s Journey, only Kino is a full-on alien. Considering the next episode involves some kind of child sacrifice, I fear we’re in for more misery than jubilation. But it doesn’t matter…I must watch on.

Kemono Jihen – 12 (Fin) – How to Melt a Frozen Heart

Nobimaru presses his attack on Yui, but learns he can’t even touch the nullstone without freezing and cracking his arm, as the thing literally feeds on life. Nobimaru, who is unquestionably loyal to Inari despite knowing full he’s nothing but a tool to her, allows himself a moment to stew in the knowledge that Inari knew about the damage the stone would do to him…and didn’t care.

But if Inari left him on his own to succeed or perish, Kabane won’t have it, and he steps in as Nobimaru’s flaming champion. The nullstone grabs still more power from Yui to give him an ice suit of armor, and just like that we’ve got a dazzling Ice Boy vs. Fire Lad duel. Kabane’s constantly burning and regenerating body provides some of the cooler images this vibrant series has yet offered.

Akira manages to use all the fog and steam the battle is creating to smash his ice cage and wastes no time coming between Kabane and Yui before either of them do any permanent damage. And it’s here where I must declare my undying love for any show whose MC crumbles into flaming pile of burning flesh and bones without anyone batting an eye.

Moments later, the nullstone has nearly sucked Yui’s life dry, and his own body begins to become brittle and crack. Fortunately, Kabane has regenerated enough to give Akira a hand pulling the nullstone out of Yui’s chest. Kabane then coughs up his lifestone, which merges with the other stone on contact, releasing it from Yui.

Right on cue, Inari arrives on the scene to snatch up the stone, but Inugami is right there to remind her that neither half of the stone is hers, so she an Nobimaru slink off. In yet another demonstration of empathy and fellow feeling, Kabane asks Nobimaru to go with them to the Ohana clinic where Aya can surely heal his ruined hand…only for Nobimaru to politely decline, intending to bear the wound as a warning not to get careless again.

As Yui recovers at the clinic (and Aya calculates the exorbitant bill), Kabane hangs around outside his door, waiting for him to wake up so he can ask him about his parents. Akira sees him out there and immediately apologizing for saying he hated him, which he obviously only did because he was afraid Yui would kill him. On the contrary, Akira reiterates his love for Kabane, and their little making-up dance in the hall is just precious as all get-out.

Yui eventually wakes up, and is ready to talk with Kabane, starting with the “Kemono Incidents”, a period of history forgotten by most humanity when kabane and humans were in devastating open warfare. An agreement was made to end the hostilities, and all the kabane higher-ups had stones like Kabane’s to maintain balance through the threat of force—the only way a group as fractured and ungainly as kemono could be controlled).

While this is a lot of exposition for a final episode, it provides welcome setup for a second season that, while not yet announced, seems likely due to strong manga sales and a studio that often produces sequels. It also includes Akira’s inner voice worrying about falling asleep during all this talking, which is a wonderful little moment.

As for the question of what’s to become of Yui, he’s content to shuffle off into the shadows and bear all of the horrible things he did. Akira won’t hear of it, and it takes a slap to Yui’s face to get him to listen when Akira says they’re brothers and twins and should share the burdens together. Yui is also heartened when Kabane forgives him, though the others know that’s just who Kabane is. He gives and forgives.

The gist of Yui’s stories (as well as Inugami’s contribution to the discussion) is that for Kabane’s parents to have had the lifestone meant they were either kemono chiefs themselves or found it themselves. The best way to learn more about his stone and all the others that are out there is to track down their owners, some of whom Inugami knows.

Meanwhile, Inari, in her appropriately noir-ish office at the police HQ, assures Nobimaru she’s not done trying to get her hands on either stone (now that they’re merged, which one she’d rather have is irrelevant). But she knows she can’t take from those the tanuki is protecting by force. So he tells Nobimaru to relay Kon’s next mission: to seduce Kabane and get him to give her the stone willingly.

While there’s nothing Inugami can do about that scenario, asking Kon to seduce anyone—particularly Kabane—seems doomed to failure. Neither Kon nor Kabane quite grasp the concept of love or romance quite yet, and Kabane clearly knows more since he now has more of it in his life.

But there’s no denying Kon is smitten on one level with Kabane, so it’s just as likely he’d seduce her to his side than she’d get him to give up the stone that—lest we forget—is crucial to keep him under control. As Akira goes on a trip with Yui and Shiki minds the shop, Kabane and Inugami prepare to head to Shikoku to meet the first of many stone-keepers.

Kon super-awkwardly inserts herself into their trip, and Kabane urges her to join them, which is fine with Inugami. He’s no fool, and so knows full well Inari sent Kon to try to steal the stone. But he also knows Kabane isn’t half as guileless and manipulative as he once was, and so he’ll probably do fine against Kon’s inept attempts.

The three board the shinkansen, bound for more adventures in search of answers to the mystery of Kabane’s folks. That should make for a heckuva second season, the announcement of which I eagerly await. Even if for some reason it never comes, I had a lot of fun watching this eclectic and lovable bunch of characters work through their dark pasts, and differences, grow closer as a family…and kick some monster ass together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 11 – Let it Bro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 10 – Good for Something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kemono Jihen – 09 – Kabane the Casanova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kemono Jihen – 08 – A Sister Richer

Right in the middle of Shiki considering killing his Uncle Akio with neither Inugami nor Nobimaru not standing in his way, a filthy Akira emerges from the woods having pissed himself with fear. Then a whole mess of Akio’s kemono creations arrive, surrounding the area. Akio informs Shiki that while none of them can produce the golden webbing, they’re still smart and can even speak—in Kumi’s voice.

When the monsters start to rush everyone, Inugami steps in, but his arm is poisoned, keeping him from producing a gun. Hearing his mother’s voice tell him she loves him through all the monsters paralyzes Shiki. Kabane’s lights up as he draws close to Shiki and asks once more “How can I help?” Inugami has Akira freeze his arm, but they’re saved from the charging kemono by the little girl Aya, whom they listen to.

When we cut back to Kabane, he’s already demolished all of the dozens of kemono protecting Akio, leaving Shiki free to kill him, or otherwise ask Kabane to kill him. Kabane is simply “happy to help”, as there’s apparently zero psychological cost to the carnage he causes.

The thing is, Shiki no longer wants his uncle to die. He wants him to live with the torment of all the things he meant to leave behind erased, and dying many years from now a forgotten man with no legacy. Aya doesn’t want Akio killed either, and not for sentimental reasons: he knows the location of a certain cocoon.

A bitter Akio refuses to tell her, but fortunately for her Inugami & Co. are detectives. Aya has no leads, but with one call to Mihai, they get a location: the same secluded spring in a patch of skunk cabbage where Aya had Inugami heal his arm. Aya prepares to plunge in, but Shiki goes in her place; she’s just a little girl after all.

At the bottom of the spring, Shiki finds something he’d never expected: his mother, still alive, encased in the cocoon. A bodyguard kemono attacks him but he defeats it and surfaces with his mom. Aya reveals that she herself is the golden webbing, and created the cocoon to keep their mother alive.

When Akio tries to rant more about “nearing mass production”, Shiki knocks him out with a slug to the face. Aya and the still-unconscious Kumi pile in the car with Shiki, Inugami, Kabane and Akira and they head back to Tokyo. Kabane noticed Nobimaru slipped away at some point, but Nobi doubles back give Akio at taste of his kitsune flames.

With his mom alive and suddenly possessed of a little sister in Aya, Shiki’s had a considerable turnaround in his fortunes. But Kumi still won’t wake up, so Inugami takes her to a clinic in Tokyo run by a diminutive ohana-basan—who doesn’t seem to mind the after-hours visit when she learns it’s Inugami.

If Kumi woke up fully restored, she could presumably pick up where she left off before falling into Akio’s foul enterprising web. That could mean Shiki and Aya would go live with her, either in their hometown or Tokyo. If the latter, Shiki could still work at the agency and hang out with Kabane and Akira. But this is all academic. First Kumi must be revived.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 07 – The Spider with the Golden Silk

At Shiki’s request, the agency gang is off to his home village of Kinshigo, now that he’s ready to learn the fate of his parents. It’s bound not to be a pleasant stroy, but Inugami thinks it’s only right for Shiki to know if he wants to, and he does, for closure and to be able to move on.

After a little girl with pink hair gives Shiki a hard look (my first instinct, these two share mom), Inugami runs into his Uncle Akio, who tells Shiki that his parents are both dead. His father died before he was born, and his mother died when he was five. The reason he’s traumatized is that he walked in on her body at such a young age.

Having heard the news, Shiki returns to his friends to join them for ice cream, but even Kabane can tell he’s putting on a brave face, Akira tells him not to point that out so tactlessly, but Shiki can’t deny something is still troubling him. Enter Nobimaru, joining them at the bath, suggesting they go see the fireflies.

While Nobimaru is clearly still trying to trick Kabane out of his lifestone for Inari, that he takes Shiki into the woods helps trigger a memory involving a peculiar tree. This sets Shiki on a path of landmarks leading to a Creepy Shack, the very sight of his real trauma. It wasn’t seeing his mother’s dead body, but something far worse: her mother being forced to breed with a monster.

As Shiki recovers from the shock, Nobimaru inspects the now-empty shack, where there is still evidence of medical equipment and claw scratches. He recalls a report a year ago involving Shiki’s uncle, who was trying to make the local folktale about “golden silk” come true, which would expose kemono to the world, something both Inari and Inugami must prevent.

Still, Inugami kept Inari from “disposing” of Shiki’s uncle, knowing Shiki himself deserved to face him for what he did. When Inugami meets with Uncle Akio at his house (formerly Shiki’s parents’ house), he’s pleased to find Inugami is willing to spill the beans about his plan, because he doesn’t think what he’s done was wrong.

Shortly after he was born, Shiki came down with a nasty case of the Flu, and Akio coerced Kumi into horrific cross-breeding experiments with various kemono in the forest, hoping to find the pairing that would give them the legendary Healing Silk that’ll make them rich and make Akio famous. And while Kumi died in the process, Akio can report that he was successful in finding that pairing—no doubt the little girl is the result of that success.

Inugami happened to be recording Inugami’s confession/rant on his phone for Shiki to listen, and basically gives Shiki leave to do what he wants. Shiki grabs and suspends Akio from the neck with his silk, and out of deference for the years he took care of him, Shiki is willing to give his uncle a quick death.

While he has every right to make him suffer, there’s no escaping the fact that killing Akio will make Shiki a killer, and likely deprive that girl of her only guardian. Will Shiki follow through on his threat, or further weigh the enormity of his uncle’s crimes with the consequences of taking a life? We shall see.

Rating: 4/5 Stars