Sonny Boy – 07 – Nagara Inverted

Sonny Boy loves starting episodes in media res, and this week is no different, as we sit in on the 601,344th meeting of the Drift Victims Society. If it’s a weekly meeting, that means it’s been going on for 11,564 years, give or take a decade. Needless to say, the majority of those assembled are looking for someone to blame for this predicament.

Now they know it’s Nagara, and they condemn him and promise justice, whipping the enraged mob into a bitter froth.

Meanwhile on the island, the Mizuho, Pony, and Yamada watch Hoshi’s faction loads up the Ark with supplies in preparation for a journey from which they won’t be returning. Yamada, who’s been around as long at least half of those meetings, describes the thousands of other castaways, and how it’s taken thousands of years for them to figure out how to travel between worlds.

That this newest class was able to do it in a matter of weeks or months means whatever this “culling” is that God is doing, it’s breeding more capable students with each generation.

When Nagara liberates Rajdhani’s ant farm before he lets the ants start eating each other, he comes upon an exercise bar, and when he decides to flip himself on it. That’s when the episode goes full Patema Inverted, as his world is flipped upside down. A strange student who is completely covered by a giant folded umbrella greets him before he starts falling…up.

Nagara wakes up in the middle of a shift, with helmeted students working tirelessly like worker ants building an endlessly tall tower (but oddly enough, carrying the building blocks downward). Nagara being Nagara, he tries to keep his head down and roll with the punches. He’s bailed out and befriended by the kindhearted Futatsubushi…who’s been at this for over two centuries.

Futatsubushi is charmed by Nagara’s “new guy” aura. Everyone in this world were students of the same school, but now all they’re doing is building the tower…and eating gross invertebrates and insects during their breaks. Hakuna Matata, I guess. Futatsubushi makes it feel like a simple, honest life, even if its seemingly dead-end one.

That night, Nagara is ready to return home, only to find he can’t use his powers. That’s because the “Host” or boss of this world—a guy with glasses who wears a tall sock on his head and is umbrella guy’s associate in an elite group of castaways called Beatnik—is able to nullify those powers. The two hang out atop Babel, basically waiting to see if and when Nagara can figure his way out of this place.

While striking out with Futatsubushi to discover the urban legend of shooting stars, Nagara instead discovers a macro version of the predatory luminescent bugs Rajdhani once showed him. We don’t watch his gruesome “end”—only his screams—but before that he has a very bittersweet monologue about how it’s important to believe in nonsense or continuing to go after a hope, even if it’s false…because otherwise, what is there?

The question of “if not this, than what?” seems foremost in the mind of Nozomi as she watches the cubic Ark carrying Nozomi and most of the rest of the class off to parts unknown grow smaller and smaller in the sky before disappearing altogether. It’s such a simple image as presented, but so haunting and lonely. Meanwhile, the prickly but loyal Mizuho searches diligently for her friend Nagara.

Futatsubushi probably inspired our guy to keep going forward and putting in an effort, even if Hoshi has said many times before that getting home is not in the cards. After remembering when he’d try to flip on the exercise bar as a child while another kid nicknamed “Koumori” (“Bat”) flipped with ease.

Once he’s up at the top of Babel, he walks straight out the railing-less balcony…and re-inverts to his original orientation. Since he figured things out, both Sockhead and Koumori (the same kid he saw that day in his youth) let him go.

No sooner does Nagara return, having been found by Mizuho and Yamada, is it revealed that Rajdhani is also off on his own personal voyage of discover and wonder. Nozomi, a tearful Mizuho, and Nagara all give him big hugs, and I have to admit this completely unexpected goodbye scene really made the air in my room dusty.

With Rajdhani gone, apparently the only ones still on the island are Nagara, Nozomi, Mizuho, Yamada, Asakaze, and possibly the members of Aki-sensei’s faction that didn’t leave on the Ark (Aki-sensei, it’s revealed, is just another student). I almost wish it’s just the five of them left. While the ideas and allegories are growing bigger and more complex, I’m excited at the prospect of the cast getting drastically stripped down to the basics.

Sonny Boy – 06 – Director’s Cut

When it comes to anime, or any television or film, really, I’d rather not quite know what’s going on and be entertained than know what’s going on and be bored. Sonny Boy is definitely the former variety, and this is its trippiest episode yet.

I honestly had no idea what was coming from one scene to the next, but was thoroughly enjoying the ride the whole time. Heck, it starts by revealing that the voice in Hoshi’s head that knows the future is none other than Dr. Strangelove, timeless avatar of contradiction and inscrutability.

It becomes apparent that Dr. Strangelove of Sonny Boy is this universe’s God, or at least one of them, and likely the God of whom Aki-sensei speaks and acts on behalf of. Heck, by manipulating Asakaze, she’s built something of an army on the island complete with barracks and barbed wire for the express purpose of tracking down Nagara and his co-conspirators before they bring about the end of the world. Shit got serious in a hurry.

Still, even in its creepiest or most reality-bending moments, Sonny Boy has never put the lives of its students in mortal danger. No one has died. The “penalties”, while essentially torture, did not result in permanent damage. There isn’t even a shortage of food or supplies, the usual problems with your students marooned on an island.

But then Mizuho encounters a big black dog named Yamada Kunihiko in the Costco where she’s grabbing lunch for Nagara and Rajdhani. Yamada was not only once a human, but a student at their school. Yet despite being three years younger than them, he’s been trapped in This World for five millennia. In that time he’s taken on the velvety lilt of Tsuda Kenjirou—who I’m a little surprised wasn’t chosen to voice God.

Yamada is certain it’s too late for him, but Nagara and the others still have a chance to get home. It’s not impossible; just improbable. That hope proves feasible when the gang stumbles upon a world full of film reels, including reels of the original world where they came from.

After fiddling around with the projectors and reels in this world, Nagara and Rajdhani figure out how to edit the reels and splice and layer them together to create a “director’s cut”. This is the latest and best hope of returning to the world: building it from the myriad parts at their disposal, along with Nagara’s ability.

They only have one, no, two…actually three problems: the three other factions. There’s Hoshi and the StuCo; Aki-sensei and Asakaze, and then Ace and his group of no-longer-it-people. Hoshi, who again has heard the future will be and that it doesn’t involve going home, has instead built an “ark” that will protect his faction from the coming “storm”.

Here’s when things get a little nutty, in the episode’s version of a “battle scene”, as Aki-sensei and Asakaze battle Nagara and Rajdhani’s adventurous director’s cut, all the while traveling aboard Hoshi’s cubic ark. The visuals become downright kooky as groups of people simultaneously stand around statically and fly through wildly undulating landscapes and psychedelic patterns.

By the time reality “settles” back into the world and the school they know, it soon becomes clear that it’s not actually their world; or at least not anymore. Time has gone on and their class is graduating, but there are changes, chief among them that Nozomi died. While other students observe their alternate future selves, no one can see or hear Nozomi, and she phases right through people. It’s a nightmare.

Dr. Strangelove eventually confronts Nagara (while standing, oddly enough), telling him he didn’t create any worlds, but only observed them, thereby opening a “box of possibilities.” The alternate world where Nozomi is dead exists because the Nozomi who lives is on the island, along with Nagara and Mizuho and everyone else. They have been sequestered, and judging from Yamada’s fate, that sequestration is meant to be permanent.

They are unneeded copies, not chosen to continue in the world they used to inhabit. This is just the luck of the draw, mind you; just like being born with natural talent or into money. They got the short end of the stick…or did they? The world they caught a glimpse of didn’t seem “all that great”, to borrow Nagara’s words when questioning Hoshi’s ability to read the future.

It’s certainly not a world Nozomi liked, considering she was dead, but it also might explain why she and no one else can see a light up in the sky; it’s the same light her other self must’ve already stepped into when she passed away.

While others may contemplate whether their lives are better or worse—Nozomi now knows that this life here is all she has. Then again, it’s all any of her classmates have too. They may have split into multiple facets, but they’re still on the same island, in the same boat, with identical status of not being chosen.

If that sounds like a huge bummer, I’m still not convinced it is, especially when I think of the friendships Nagara has forged and the exciting adventures exploring new realms with them. If there’s a set limit to how far they can travel before bouncing off the boundaries of the island, well…how is that any different than the bounds that, with vanishingly few exceptions, keep us fundamentally tethered to our world?

Sonny Boy – 05 – The Creator

If you thought Sonny Boy was going to pick up right where it left off with the Bond Girl-like arrival of a teacher (like ahem me) well…you haven’t been paying proper attention. Sonny Boy, you see, picks up where and when it feels like it: in this case, a 2D Pac-Man-like world that Nagara, Nozomi, Asakaze and Mizuho manipulate in order to “liberate” all of the digital mice.

Their “reward” for “conquering” (i.e. clearing) this world is a corded desktop mouse with the power to unravel things, from computer code to sweaters. Turns out each time a world is conquered, a new power is “unlocked”. Back at Rajdhani’s lab on the beach, he’s recording and cataloguing all of the team’s successes and failures, gradually narrowing down what can and can’t be done…slowly unraveling the big tangle that is their predicament.

The rest of the class probably would have tolerated this as long as they were kept fed and busy, but along came that Aki-sensei, who claims to have been sent by “God” and only seems to be their to stir up some shit. She immediately plays favorites with Asakaze, and encourages him to take up the mantle of the class’s savior. With him, she’s less Swiss Family Robinson and more Mrs. Robinson.

She also insists that no matter what they do, none of the students will ever be able to return home. She also assigns a scapegoat in Nagara, cultivating the idea that the only one of them with the power to teleport was trying to escape the world they came from, and happened to drag them all along with him. The StuCo brings Nagara before the class, but due to his social anxiety and ineloquence, his answers only make them more suspicious and angry, and even Hoshi can’t sway them to take it easy.

Happily, Nagara at least gets a small respite from all the finger-pointing when he joins Nozomi for some nighttime fishing. When she spots “guardian angels” in the otherwise inky black water, she dives in without hesitation, and pulls Nagara in with her. Under the water they soon become surrounded by a shimmering silver school of minnows, a wondrous and beautiful moment in an episode full of bleak cynicism. Nagara is glad he jumped in. He’s also glad he met Nozomi.

Things go south when Nagara is again confronted by the class, with Aki-sensei apparently trying to get everyone to turn against him as the one villain on whom they can pin all their blames. One student even shoves Nagara to the ground, causing him to run away once again. As she pulls Nagara down she builds Asakaze up, as he demonstrates he can cut through the world Nagara teleported them to and return to the island.

But that’s the first clue that Nagara’s power isn’t actually teleportation. He ends up escaping to a burned version of the island from before they set up a barter system that obeyed the world’s rules of fair exchange. Nozomi, Mizuho, and Rajdhani end up being able to travel to this burned island where they find Nagara. Mizuho in particular masks her genuine concern for him by being super prickly with him upon their reunion.

But the fact that the burned island wasn’t healed, but a second island created, seals one of the many theories Rajdhani’s simmering in his head: Nagara isn’t a teleporter…he’s a creator. Each and every one of the worlds they’ve visited was made from his power.

With Aki-sensei grooming Asakaze into Nagara’s nemesis, destroyer of those worlds, and savior of the class, all while painting Nagara as the devil, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before things boil over into something ugly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 04 – Monkey League

While cliff-jumping into a pool of…voidness, Nagara is almost dashed on the rocks, but his latent power kicks in, transporting him and everyone else seemingly back home, if only for a moment. Everyone, especially Asakaze, is convinced that Nagara can get them home if he would just give a shit and try. The thing is, I’m not sure Nagara cares what world he’s in. He’s just not tied to the world he came from like some.

But enough about that; let’s play some baseball. Yep, after Nagara and Mizuho’s friendship was forged in last week’s buddy detective story, this week is a straight-up sports episode. Turns out there’s a baseball diamond on the island, which is used by a league of mysterious invisble monkeys who were taught the rules of baseball. Cap bends everyone’s ears off singing the praises of that noble league.

Nozomi and Mizuho, who settle into a nice rapport this week, are eager to see these monkeys, requiring a special flashlight only Ace, the pitching star, possesses. His girlfriend, however, doesn’t like Mizuho or Nozomi, so no dice. Ace decides to challenge the two girls and Nagara to a one-inning game. If they win, they get the flashlight. If he wins, well…he only whispers to Nagara whe he gets in return.

The ensuring three-batter game starts as you’d expect, with Mizuho wildly whiffing far too late to catch up to Ace’s fastballs, followed by a more capable but still outmatched Nozomi striking out. It’s all up to Nagara, who at no point throughout their rigorous practices had any confidence whatsoever he’d ever be able to hit one of Ace’s pitches.

Even so, the story of the Monkey League umpire who ruined an immaculate game for the pitcher, his team, and all of the amassed spectators resonates as Nagara prepares for the third pitch. That monkey umpire did not bend to the will of the people, but held fast tot he rules of the game as they stood.

His call was correct and just, but it didn’t matter; he was killed by the mob. Nagara ends up using his warp in the middle of his at bat and adopting a more assured stance, but still swings and misses for strike three.

That means Nagara has to do what Ace asked of him: use his power to warp him and everyone else home without delay. Ace, you see, wishes more than anything to return to the place where he’s “properly appreciated.” But since Nagara doesn’t share that wish, he’s unable to warp them back home. Indeed, he confirms he has little to no control over where he warps.

Just when Nagara was being primned to be the savior of the class, he lets most everyone down when they all return to the beach, having gotten all their hopes up and then dashed them. But just when they return, they spot a woman coming out of the surf: one of their teachers, Aki-sensei, who declares that the “fun and games” are over.

This was an episode that really got lost in its invented Monkey League lore and quick-and-dirty underdog sports story, but also managed to develop Nagara’s ability while giving us some fun Mizuho-Nozomi camaraderie. Still, Cap’s elaborate stories did go on a bit long, and if they referenced real-world Japanese baseball history, it went entirely over my head.

Sonny Boy – 03 – The Detective Is Already Snarky

Nozomi, Nagara, and Asakaze have turned out to be a pretty good survey team, with Nozomi locating new worlds with her Compass, Nagara being able to access them, and Asakaze bailing them out with his powers of flight.

When we check in they’ve already found thirteen new worlds, and Rajdhani is soaking up the data like a sponge at his beachfront laboratory. Their survey work is interrupted by an unsettling trend of students starting to freeze in place and turn pitch black, like voids in human form.

Since she’s the one with the most time on her hands owing to the immense wealth her power provides, Mizuho is put on the case, and she chooses Nagara as her Watson, partly to share what sounds like a hassle of a case, but also because Nagara…was nice to her previously, and she enjoys his company.

That said, she still initially treats him as a rank servant, making it clear that this isn’t a collaboration of equals. That said, she still orders a gaudy couch big enough for both of them, and even gets Nagara the same fast food order she got. When it comes to sharing the wealth, she’s fine sharing it with Nagara.

The uniting quality of the two students (who later become three, then four) who fell victim to the freezing phenomenon is that they kept to themselves, hardly anyone noticed them when they were around, and no one noticed when they suddenly vanished.

While Nagara is busy with Mizuho, Nozomi and Asakaze fail to find any new worlds. Despite this, Asakaze drops in specifically to tell Nagara that he’s not needed and that Nozomi doesn’t care if he doesn’t come back. Nagara brushes this off, and that ineffectual passivity irks Mizuko.

Eventually, Mizuho and Nagara break the case wide open when, no doubt due to Nagara’s unspoken power even he may not even be aware he has, they discover a portal to the space where the four students ended up.

They walk through a honeycomb of blackout curtain walls separating the four spaces of the students, all of whom are content to stay right where they are and keep doing what they’re doing indefinitely. It becomes evident that while they may be content, this wasn’t originally their doing, but another rule of the world, separating those no one else wants around or cares about.

After Nagara and Mizuho’s nightly debriefing with Cap and Pony, a minor disagreement causes simmering underlying resentment to boil over for both of them. Mizuho points how how watching Nozomi follow him around like a puppy grosses her out; Nagara accuses Mizuho of lying to show off and being “ill-natured” because she’s just another recluse; Mizuho tells Nagara to die and storms off.

It’s a testament to how much these two have come to know each other that they each know the precise buttons to press to sting hardest.

But because the two really do care what the other thinks of them despite words to the contrary, both of them feel bad about the spat. Fortunately, back at Rajdhani’s lab, Nozomi offers a clue Nagara hadn’t considered, and he texts an apology to Mizuho, along with a promise to be waiting by the blackout curtains tomorrow.

Armed with Rajdhani’s bizarre, whimsical instruments, the two get down to business lifting the blackout curtains and freeing the students. This is Sonny Boy at its most Eizouken, particularly with the fantastical machinery and Yuuki Aoi lending Mizuho such a wonderfully husky, distinctive voice.

With the case solved and the afflicted students retrieved, Nagara and Mizuho make up with a handshake; what was said when heads were less cool and frustration was mounting is water under the bridge.

As much if not more than their surreal surroundings, what I enjoyed most about this episode was just reveling in this nascent friendship between two people who don’t normally do so well around others doing just fine around one another. I daresay I wouldn’t even mind a whole cour of these two solving cases together.

On the periphery were some interesting inroads into the larget questions about this place, with Hoshi admitting a voice told him this would all happen, and Nozomi being the first to suggest that while she can spot new worlds, Nagara alone has the power to create portals between them.

Sonny Boy – 02 – Kindle Blue Fire

While technically a beach episode, there’s not a ball or a bikini to be found. There are crabs—you gotta love crab—as well as a makeshift open-air classroom with rows of desks and a chalkboard, but otherwise the sand is just another flat surface for Nagara to lie on and wile away the hours.

When Nozomi catches a crab, it cuts her hand up pretty badly with its claw, but she soon heals; just another one of the rules of this “This World”, as the egghead Rajdhani calls it while explaining the situation.

While most of the class is in tents on the beach, Mizuho has, presumably through the three cat Amazon power called Nyamazaon, built a Disney princess castle full of stuff, but otherwise isn’t that different from Nagara in her fondness for straight chillin’.

Another girl steals makeup from Mizuho’s vast collection of things with impunity, but that and other items acquired from Nyamazon start to burst into blue flames, rumors spread that Mizuho is doing it intentionally.

Mizuho doesn’t help matters by stirring the shit on social media that the recent election was rigged in Michi’s (AKA Pony’s) favor—which is the truth; the extremely Kyuubey-like Hoshi helped rig it. Pony and Hoshi learn Mizuho is behind it and try to exact an apology, but Mizuho is stubbornly refuses.

When they confront her at the front gate, Hoshi uses his power of showing everyone potential futures to depict the entire island covered in blue flame; everything destroyed. On top of it all, Mizuho is exhausted and filthy from looking for one of her cats, who has gone missing.

While the rumor may have well gotten started since Mizuho is a natural target for envy and resentment among the other students due to her extremely cool power, Nagara still blames himself for blabbing about Mizuho knowing something about the flames, which got twisted into “Mizuho is responsible for the flames.”

But thanks to Rajdhani’s research and a retro Game Boy, it is determined that the blue flames appear every time someone receives something without a fair exchange. Among the things that burned-up, only Raj’s Game Boy was exchanged for some toys he made with his power, and only it escaped those flames. Therefore, it isn’t Mizuho’s doing, but the Rules of the World.

Among the students, most of whom end up in the “Punish Mizuho” camp/mob, only Nagara and Nozomi want to help her. They both know she’s not doing this, but also know that she hasn’t explicitly defended herself, which isn’t doing her any favors. Nagara also finds the missing cat, and unlike two previous instances of letting birds die, this time he takes care of the animal like the non-heartless person he is.

The two decides to go to her—nay, run to her, just as she’s literally making it rain fat stacks of cash, which soon burn up and set fire to the whole island. Mizuho, overcome with relief her kitty is safe, admits that she should have simply stated her innocence from the beginning. It’s an all-around wonderful performance by Mizuho’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi—which comes as no surprise as she’s one of the best in the business.

Nagara, Nozomi, and Mizuho oversee the ruined island—the realization of Hoshi’s vision—and concede the fact that they can’t live there any more. But then something happens: as the sun rises over the ocean, the island essentially resets itself to before everything burned up.

It’s as if the island, which set the rule of fair exchange, is forgiving all of the students for their stumblings as they learn of those rules and correct their misunderstandings. Mizuho comes down from her castle and apologizes, but only for making it rain flammable money…not the stuff she was accused of doing but didn’t really do.

Mizuho also stops by the beach where Nagara is lying to give him a token of her appreciation for finding her cat: a hat to keep his face out of the sun. When he asks if he needs to give her anything in return for it, she says with a gentle smile that it’s “her treat” before walking away.

This episode was significantly less weird and frightening than the first, but that tends to happen when you take the inscrutable black void out of the equation. What it was was another relatively straightforward exploration of how the court of public opinion can be wrong—in school or life—and it’s up to those who know it’s wrong to speak up. Nagara grew as a person in this episode, as did Mizuho, and they each gained a friend in the process.

Credit also goes to Rajdhani for not giving up on trying to make sense of the place, thus confirming the injustice being done to Mizuho, as well as Nozomi, for lending Nagara the encouragement to correct the injustice. Just as she’s the “Compass” who can see the ways out of these other worlds, she’s also a moral compass; a check against both rampant authority and rampant apathy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 01 (First Impressions) – Rules are Rules

Welcome to RABUJOI’s belated reviews of Sonny Boy! I will try to catch up before the end of the cour, but no promises—Braverade

More than anything else, this episode is full of uncertainty. Why is this school suddenly in a black void? Why do only some students have superpowers? Who did this, if anyone? What exactly is happening, and how is it happening? Will it stop, and when? Nothing is certain…hey, kinda like the times we live in. But enough about reality, let’s step into the land of surreality.

The void is intentionally creepy, both in its impenetrable darkness and its haunting stillness. I’ve always been drawn to voids in fiction, because they typically have a way of simplifying the universe down to…the contents within the void that are not the void.

While one egg-headed student is asking these questions, everyone else is going full Lord of the Flies (or at least that’s the vibe I’m getting; I only skimmed the book but I watched the Simpsons episode that references it). The approaches to coping with their new abnormal are as diverse as the personalities of the 36 students.

The three-person StuCo doesn’t have time to ponder the big questions; they were the authorities before the void, and if they don’t claim some degree of power and control everything will soon devolve into pure chaos. The little guy Hoshi may already have some answers, but he’s also shrewd enough to capitalize on the asset that is the class’s popular, if oafish, baseball star in Cap.

It isn’t long before the order that is established (through social media, natch) is challenged by some of the power-havers, who are already well on their way to drunk on that power, like Asakaze. He’s not about that with great power axiom; for him, if he has a power, he should be able to use it to his heart’s content.

If he’s drunk on his trippy glass-shattering power, Cap delivers the hangover in the form of a PENALTY, which asserts itself as a frighteningly sudden big black X on the faces of those who receive them. They are then forced to do something—in his case, long division of pi all night.

Hovering around the periphery of all this political push-and-pull are two outcasts in Nagara and Nozomi. Nagara would rather stay out of sight and out of mind; Nozomi would rather do what she wants when she wants to. She doesn’t have the power of the others but they share a distaste of authority.

When she politely declines the smartphone Cap offers her, then takes it and smashes it on the gym floor, she’s not immune to the PENALTY: a hundred laps around the school that leave her flat on her back on the homeroom floor—Nagara’s usual position as he apparently yearns to be one with said floor.

After a very unsettling shot of the school apparently very slowly sinking into the inky void, we get a flashback of sorts to just before the school went into the void.  Nagara finds Nozomi tearing up some workbook she got from the faculty office, and invites him to join her. Not eager to do anything with anyone, he turns to leave, saying he has stuff to do.

But he’s pressed by Nozomi about whether he actually wants to go somewhere and do something else other than where he is and what he’s doing. All the while, storm clouds obscure the blue skies. When Nozomi puts her hands on Nagara as he’s trying to leave, a lightning bolt flashes and just like that, the school is in the void.

Whether Nagara caused this on accident or not (and whether Nozomi was the catalyst for him doing it, making them partners in crime, like Flowers of Evil), it’s certainly not something in his control, nor was it ever. The StuCo is suddenly ambushed by power-havers who twist the school into either an Escherian nightmare…or a Katamari.

They declare that they’re in charge now, but Hoshi is unimpressed. Cap PENALTYs Asakaze’s two associates, but as he hasn’t broken one of the agreed-upon school rules, the PENALTY “power” doesn’t work on him.

Still, Cap uses brute force by hitting Asakaze with a baseball bat. Since that breaks the rules, it’s Hoshi who PENALTYs Cap into stripping naked and hopping around. Hoshi then drops another hint that he knows a lot more than everyone else, including the egghead (who is probably not on the right track trying to apply things like physics to this predicament).

When Asakaze won’t stand down, Hoshi demonstrates his apparent power: showing everyone a future where no one ever escapes the school and eventually become desiccated corpses seated beside each other. It’s the most overtly spooky and unnerving sequence in an episode full of weird shit.

Once again on their own wavelength, Nozomi takes Nagara by the hand, avoids all of the StuCo versus Supes drama, and seeks out that bright spot in the void she saw before. It turns out to be the same white feather she plucked from Nagara’s face in the episode’s opening moments.

She then decides to put her life in the hands of fate by performing an experiment to see what happens when you leap from the physical school into that endless black nightmare. In a show with 36 characters, I wasn’t 100% sure this wasn’t the end for Nozomi just as soon as we met her.

Instead, Nagara grabs her arm just in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter, as the rusty railing breaks, sending them plummeting down the void until, suddenly, it’s not a void anymore. Their bodies and the piece of railing must’ve “popped” the void, revealing that the school is sinking into an unknown ocean, just off the coast of an unknown island with both lush green jungle and a slim, jagged alpine mountain peak, like the Matterhorn stretched vertically.

It’s probably simplistic to say this episode was a trip, but it was a welcome and thrilling one. Even at its most quiet and mundane, primal dread emanated from every nook and cranny. Nagara is somewhat of a nullity so far, but Nozomi, the StuCo, and the bristling supes are all fun to watch. I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode; whether it delivers answers or more questions, I know it’ll be another weird trip presented with a strikingly austere beauty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Peach Boy Riverside – 01 (First Impressions) – Carrot Debt

Peach Boy Riverside drops us right into the middle of former princess Sally’s journey away from home. She has a positive, can-do attitude as ample as her pants are shiny, and isn’t above lending a carrot to a hungry, adorable Harefolk Frau when she hears their stomach growling. When he pair visit a nearby village, the seemingly friendly townfolk reveal they’re racist as fuck. What feels like more than half the episode is spent in this village, which serves to contrast Sally’s kind and tolerant heart to the fearful, prejudiced townsfolk.

But when a Cockatrice emerges from the forest to wreck up the place, it’s Frau who saves the village that hats them with a One Punch Man-style demolition of the foe. The villagers aren’t won over, but the local lord seems moved by Frau bowing and thanking him for the carrots the previous night (when he somehow didn’t see that Frau was a demihuman). Hawthorn, commander of the local Kingdom’s knights, brings them in for questioning, but soon frees them, and feels bad about having put them in stocks, so treats them to a meal in the open-air market. That’s when Peach Boy Riverside quite suddenly gets dark and bloody, as two high-level Oni unleash a devastating attack on the city.

Frau again rushes to protect Sally, their main source of carrots, but is no match for the giant knight-gooshing walrus. That said, Frau fights valiantly enough to buy time for Sally’s latent “Peach Eye” power to awaken, turning her into an even more powerful fighter than Frau. While a bit light and lulling in the early stages, and featuring a completely random image of a nude Sally tangled in tentacles, Peach Boy Riverside picks up some steam and reveals a sharp edge when it counts. At the very least, I’m intent on see what happens next!

Talentless Nana – 03 – What’s This F-Boy’s Deal?!

With two enemies of humanity eliminated in short order, Nana knows she must be careful not to incite panic or draw suspicion upon herself. But that’s hard when Onodera Kyouya is snooping around, especially when he’s almost if not as good as her at deduction, as evidenced by how he knows the Ice Prince is dating.

She can’t have this guy breathing down her neck, so she makes him her next target, and begins the process of learning his talent and weakness. But following him leads her to discover he’s the kind of guy who goes out of his way to give warm milk to a stray cat.

As Nana tries to figure Kyouya out, he invites her into his dorm, which is a bit of a mess, but is also full of potentially useful clues. She seems to spot them, but she’s also consistently kept off balance by Kyouya, even going so far as to call him a “low-level f-boy”.

What’s fun about these two interacting when we only have access to Nana’s thoughts is that we’re not sure if Kyouya is putting on a big act for Nana, just as she’s putting on an act for him. This is only heightened when Kyouya produces an issue of the manga Humanity’s Girl, which is obviously Nana’s favorite, because she considers herself humanity’s savior.

Kyouya also pulls the power move where Nana thinks she’s about to leave scot-free, only for him to say “Oh, one last thing…” and then whipping out Nanao’s fancy Rolex. Nana can’t hide her true shock at seeing the Velben good in Kyouya’s hand, since it means Kyouya has been busy.

He also tells her about how it’s strange that the government set up a “training” facility where very little structured training goes on. Since agents like Nana are the Talentless’ last chance to get rid of the Talented, any Talented as curious and suspicious as Kyouya have to go.

Just to confirm her suspicions, we finally hear Kyouya’s inner voice. In a way, that’s a shame, since now we know for sure he’s not already 100% on to her. But he’s definitely getting there!

The next day, Nana sets a clever trap based on Kyouya’s weakness, gleaned by observing his dorm: he’s an anosmiac. That means the next time he heats up the milk in the abandoned janitor’s shed, he doesn’t detect the gas leak, or the closed window, until it’s too late. BOOM.

Bye-bye  Kyouya, right? Wrong. He may have no sense of smell, but that’s not a weakness one can use to kill him, due to his Talent: he’s freakin’ invincible. The explosion covers his body in burns, but he quickly heals, and when Nana runs to the wreckage, she all but confirms to him that she was the one who caused the explosion. Who else knew he was here but Nana, who mentioned the cat earlier?

Even so, Kyouya isn’t totally convinced, and so doesn’t retaliate against Nana…yet. After all, he can’t discount the fact she knew he was in the fire because she read his mind. His parting words to her—“I’m so glad we’re friends.”—is a clear threat. It’s almost like he could out her now if he wanted, but would prefer to keep their cat-and-mouse game going.

Now we know for certain that Kyouya isn’t a fellow Talented hunter like Nana. And Nana definitely has no taste for games; she’s here to do a job as quickly and efficiently as possible. The question is, how is she going to find his real weakness and kill him now that his defenses are up?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 02 – A Matter of Time

Talentless Nana let the cat out of the bag in its first episode, and while that was an excellent twist, it also made it much harder for subsequent episodes to deliver the same impact. We’re told about the history of the Talented in an infodump, and it’s not pretty: after a five year war that the Non-Talented won, remaining Talented were basically isolated on islands. Missing from this story is exactly HOW they won against an army of superheroes. Sheer numbers? Kryptonite?

Hiiragi Nana stood before a dark and foreboding Talentless government entity, and given the directive to eliminate the Talented on the island, and threatened with serious consequences if she failed. Not explained: That said, she chose to take the mission and is determined to carry it out. What we don’t quite know yet is why her and only her. Did Supes Talented kill her family?

I mention “Supes” because Nana is giving me some Hughie vibes from Amazon’s The Boys: an unpowered individual seeking to bring down the superpowered despite being at a overwhelming disadvantage. The difference is the Supes in The Boys are almost all horrible people; the kids at the school are arrogant but are ultimately innocent.

They could go bad when they grow up, like their forbears back during the war, but preemptively eliminating them before they’ve done anything wrong is ethnic cleansing, at best! That creates a conflict when it comes to routing for Nana, especially since we don’t know of any motivation she has besides a sense of loyalty duty to the Non-Talented race.

At any rate, the moment Nana pushed Nanao off a cliff, the show transformed completely. Right now, it’s about Nana identifying the most powerful Talented and rubbing them out one by one (though she’d probably take a twofer if conditions were right!) At first her next target would seem to be the Ice Prince, but Shibusawa Youhei is even more dangerous, since he can manipulate time.

Nana does the same thing she did to Nanao and gets friendly and bubbly with Shibusawa. The difference is, this week we get her full internal monologue. While I’m not opposed to this shift in the way the story is told, she withdraws into her thoughts a lot, and often what she has to say is obvious or redundant, like Icy Prince’s tell, or the threat Shubusawa represents.

Still, Nana is good at her job or she wouldn’t be alive, and manages to not only wrest the true nature of Shibusawa’s ability: he can only go back in time. But she soon attracts the attention of the ever aloof and suspicious Onodera Kyouya. He knows Nanao has disappeared because their dorms are adjacent and he never returned home, and he believes Nana was the last person who saw him.

Nana would seem to be in a bind when Kyouya asks Shibusawa if he could investigate Nanao’s disappearance by going back in time. But even as Kyouya caresses her pigtails, she manages to regain control of the narrative by delicately turning suspicions onto Kyouya. He even seems to realize what she’s done and makes a tactical withdrawal, but his business with her isn’t over.

For now, Nana has two objectives: prevent Shibusawa from discovering she killed Nanao, and eliminating him. Pretending to cooperate with his investigation, she learns more about his abilities. He becomes fatigued and short of breath whenever he jumps, and the further back in time he goes, the more pronounced the side effects. More than twelve hours makes him vomit.

Ultimately, Nana can’t stop Shibusawa from going back to the time when she and Nanao were on the cliff. Indeed, last week someone was hiding behind a tree nearby; now we know it was him. But there’s one other key limitation to his time traveling: if anyone from that time spots him, he’s automatically sent back to the present.

Nana can’t warn her past self, she can only trust that she’ll be diligent and observant regardless of the situation. Nanao may have been an easy win for her, but she still followed the best practices of all assassins, namely to make sure you’re not being watched when you do the deed. Sure enough, Shibusawa returns automatically; Nana noticed him after she held hands with Nanao, but before she let go and shoved him to his death.

Still, considering how Shibusawa initially harbored suspicions of Nana since she was the last one with Nanao, it’s odd how he all but drops those suspicions simply because he saw them lovey-dovey together. His abrupt exit from that scene before he saw it play out would seem to be a gaping hole Nana’s testimony—and that’s before considering questions like why he can’t go back again and again, in the off-chance past Nana doesn’t spot him.

Instead, Shibusawa’s satisfied she had nothing to do with Nanao’s disappearance and they call it a night, making it certain too much time will pass by morning for him to go back again. But of course, that’s only one of Nana’s two objectives is complete. To kill him, she devises a dastardly plot that utilizes everything she’s learned about him.

Later that night, Nana goes to Shibusawa’s dorm to tell him the full story: after visiting the cliffs, she and Nanao were ambushed by an Enemy of Humanity, and it ate him. She rushes out to show him where it happened so he can jump back in time to save Nanao, and Shibusawa, with his strong sense of justice, follows her…to the precise spot she prepared.

When he time jumps at that spot, too much time passes and he doesn’t come back, indicating he won’t be coming back. That’s because the spot is really a section of the lake Kori Seiya had frozen Nana covered with earth earlier in the night. She recalled that Shibusawa couldn’t swim, which combined with his shortness of breath after jumping, resulted in him drowning in the past, unfrozen lake, and his body was then entombed within the ice.

It’s an clever, elegant, poetic, and utterly diabolical assassination—and Nana’s superiors estimate she saved 800,000 lives by getting rid of Mr. Time Travel. I still have reservations about whether either Nana or TA can keep this up before things get truly ridiculous, but if they keep delivering fun yarns like this, I’ll keep coming back for more!

Talentless Nana – 01 (First Impressions) – Song of Ice, Fire, and Wits

Major plot spoilers follow. Proceed with caution!

“Watch Talentless Nana blind”, said ANN in their Fall 2020 Preview. I didn’t read any further than that, and followed that advice—and boy am I glad I did! We start with the introduction of protagonist Nakajima Nanao, who in a remote island school full of students with elite superpowers, he apparently has none. He is bullied and mocked by boorish fire-user and elegant ice-user alike…but if he is truly “Talentless”, then why is he on the island?

Some of the students believe he could be one of the dreaded “Enemies of Humanity” who have threatened mankind for fifty years (which seems like a really long time for neither side to have decisively won, by the way). Enter two new transfer students, the shifty, hostile Onodera Kyouya and his exact opposite, the ridiculously pink and adorable Hiiragi Nana.

Kyouya won’t reveal what his talent is, but Nana is immediately forthcoming: she can read minds. Upon being assigned the desk next to Nakajima, she senses he’s being bullied, but her mind-reading soon becomes a nuisance to Nanao, who’d rather simply fade into the background. Even so, she follows him after school and has him give her a tour of the island.

During an unexpectedly deep discussion of his past over lunch, Nanao tells Nana how he was the “dullest member of his family” but his father still urged him to “aim for the top” and seek leadership wherever he ended up. He was disillusioned when doing so in class made him an object of mockery.

On a dramatic cliff at sunset, Nana confesses to having had similar trouble making friends due to her mind-reading. No sooner are the Enemies of Humanity brought up than a mysterious gust of wind nearly pushes Nana off the edge. At the same time, Onodera is searching the student records.

Nanao rescues Nana, but later that night he pushes her away, calling her constant mind-reading “violating”. Even so, Nana believes that he should be the leader of the class. Alas, he’s shoved to the sidelines in the inevitable superpower duel between the Fire and Ice guys, and when the latter wins Nana seems to accept him and Nanao is disheartened.

The Fire guy is pissed that he wasn’t able to go all out to prove himself, and ends up going a bit too far, launching a huge fireball at the rest of the class, including Nana. That’s when Nanao springs into action and reveals his true power for the first time: the ability to neutralize anyone else’s power, much like Kamijou Touma’s Imagine Breaker.

After his triumphant coming-out party, Nanao goes up to the cliff with Nana at sunset, where she takes his hand and declares that she can’t hear his inner voice anymore, and it’s wonderful. Even so, she can still tell what he’s thinking: he’s so glad they’re friends.

Then she pulls his hands away so he’s off-balance and shoves him off the goddamn cliff.

The entire palette of the scene darkens, Nana’s eyes glow red, and Ookubo Rumi’s voice drops at least an octave. As Nanao hangs on to deal life to a frayed rope, she reveals that she never had mind-reading powers; and details all the ways she made him think she did by simply making deductions from his appearance and behavior. If she has a “power”, it’s her wits.

Just when Nanao is declaring that she’s an Enemy of Humanity, Nana flips the script once more: he is the true Enemy, and for humanity’s sake, she asks that he please die, and he falls. She checks her phone, which tells her Nakajima Nanao could have potentially been responsible for over a million deaths.

I love shows that seem like one thing (initially a fun cross between My Hero Academia and Assassination Classroom) and turns out to be something else entirely. This was such a well-constructed and executed fake-out. Your enjoyment may well depend on your level of gullibility, but the fact is even I knew something/someone was “off”, it was just a matter of not knowing exactly when and how that other shoe would drop. That tension and atmosphere was delicious.

Even better, the dull boy protagonist ended up not being the protagonist at all, but the unwitting enemy (if Nana is to be believed); the clue was right in the title: it’s Talentless Nana, not Nanao, after all. Nana’s early performance manipulated me just as masterfully as she manipulated her quarry, along with the rest of the class (except for Onodera, who is clearly suspicious about something).

Is he Nana’s ally, enemy, or a little of both? That’s just one of dozens of questions floating around in my thoroughly, beautifully blown mind. Unlike Higarashi and its gory cold open, Talentless Nana held its sinister cards close until the very end, and both methods worked. Here’s hoping it has more fun surprising twists in store.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. After remembering we first saw the phone instructing someone to “kill the Enemies of Humanity” and “save 10 million lives”, I believe both Nana and Kyouya are engaged in a competition to see who can save those lives fastest. Which means so far Nana has the early lead.

Dies Irae – 00 (First Impressions)

Dies Irae takes people from real-world history (namely Reinhard Heydrich and Karl Krafft) in the midst of a real-world conflict (WWII) and mixes it up into some kind of occulty Nazi X-Men-type milieu. And while the metal soundtrack was very apropos, much of the episode was what Heydrich initially aimed to be: boring.

That boredom arises from a lack of a strong character to root for. If you’re going to give a fictional character the name of one of history’s greatest monsters, well, I ain’t rooting for him, whether his mini-arc in this episode somewhat resembles Kotomine Kirei’s or not. There’s also an introduction to a good number of people with long flowery names who don’t make much of an impact.

It’s a jumble of overly-baroque (and in the case of the floating skeleton cities, somewhat silly) settings and thin characters with unclear motivations. Krafft seems to have tried and succeeded to bring out Heydrich’s full potential, leading to the creation of a badass nazi kill squad, with the aim of—wait for it—“creating a new world.” “Loving and destroying” are also the same thing, don’t you know.

Yeah, not sure I’m feeling Dies Irae. Episode one, still to come, may be totally different, and succeed where zero failed to hook me…but I won’t hold my breath.

THE REFLECTION – 02

This week’s THE REFLECTION didn’t so much move the plot forward as provide voices and context to the various players we saw in action last week. But I couldn’t help but wonder if most (or all) of the new information presented this week could have filled in all of the long pauses last week, adding pace and urgency to what was, if I’m generous, a slog.

Upon inspecting Red’s Baltimore apartment, X-On concludes that she’s stalking him. She wants him to teach her how to use her powers properly so she can use them for good like him, but he’s “not feeling it” and would rather she redirect her focus on someone else…say “Wraith.”

Meanwhile, after his little battle in New York Ian saves some suit fuel by hitching a ride on a jetliner’s wing before landing in his very Tony Stark-like Malibu beach mansion, where a team of men (rather than robots in Tony’s case) disassemble his suit to reveal a bearded old musician who had one big hit, “SKY SHOW”, in the 80s. The Reflection gave him a new life as a hero, a mantle he’s comfortable staying in the suit to nurture.

While the bad guys, seemingly led (or at least counseled) by a guy who looks just like Stan Lee, ponder their next move, eager to gather more ability users to their side, Red researches “Wraith” and notices something on the NYC camera footage (though the zoom-in-and-enhance only reveals a larger blurry black blob to us).

Then there’s that group of high school girls in Japan we saw in last week’s cold open. As their classmates talk about NYC, they prepare to decide on a name for their “group”, suggesting they have powers and are ready to work together to use them. It’s no coincidence that the ED consists of four Japanese girls in what looks like school uniforms singing and dancing.

But again, due to the questionable animation (gutsy in theory, lazy-looking in execution), and inefficient use of time, I’ll have to qualify last week’s “watchable” 7 with this week’s “niche appeal” 5, as this is certainly an acquired taste. Put together, THE REF is an underwhelming 6 so far…but I still want to know what happens next.