Otherside Picnic – 10 – Tenth Floor Barbecue

Looking in the mirror without her glasses, Sorawo sees a longer-haired version of herself. She’s still clearly troubled by Akari’s comment about her perceived resemblance to Uruma Satsuki. That night she goes out for barbecue in Ikebukuro with the gang, and the American soldiers trapped in the Otherside come up for the first time since she and Toriko left them there.

That doesn’t sit right with either of them, particularly Toriko, and Sorawo wonders if Lady Hasshaku’s hat (which apparently still exists) can still provide them with a way to get back there to rescue them. But that’s put on hold when they get a call from Akari. She’d gone up ahead to get their table, but the elevator started strangely, and now she’s lost.

More worryingly, while on the phone with Toriko and Sorawo, she sees an illusion of them and assumes it’s them, drawing her even deeper into the rabbit hole. The other two conclude that the elevator of this Ikebukuro building operates the same way as the one in Jimbocho—as a gate to the Otherside. And Akari got off early.

They head to the elevator and go through the same process as in Jimbocho they’ve executed dozens of times, if not more. They’re joined at the last minute by Kozakura, who unlike them is not used to this stuff and is scared out of her wits the whole time, a far cry from the collected demeanor when she’s home.

Eventually the elevator opens on the floor where a monstrous girl tries to get on, but instead they see Akari. Sorawo decides to get off here to follow her, and Toriko and Kozakura follow her. Eventually they find Akari seated at a vanity mirror, only to vanish. Sorawo uses her eye and Toriko’s hand, but end up shattering the mirror.

That seems to take them from the In-Between world to the Otherside, which takes the form of a dark corridor full of shuttered stores. Sorawo finally gets Akari to turn around; from her perspective she was chasing them, not the other way around. Suddenly, Sorawo’s eye and Toriko’s hand start to tingle—call it their Othersidey Sense.

The white glowing form of a woman, probably Satsuki, appears from a distance, then creates a thick blue cloud of smoke. The four turn tail and run for it, initially finding themselves in a continuous loop before emerging at the In-Between. Kozakura starts to fall behind, but urges the others to keep running and not slow down.

The four manage to get to the elevator, and shoot the smoke until it retreats, but after a few moments of rest it comes back with a vengeance. Sorawo wakes up to find everyone else unconscious, and the elevator doors open to reveal Satsuki standing over what looks like a volcano…or possibly just a massive barbecue? Sorawo directs her eye and the unconscious Toriko’s hand at the two, and she’s out again.

This time, everyone comes to, and the doors open to reveal the barbecue restaurant; they’re back in the normal world. Akari heads over, having made a reservation for four in Sorawo’s name. When Akari asks her what the heck just happened, Sorawo says “Don’t ask me. I have no idea,” which is both fair and accurate.

But with stomachs growling impatiently, perhaps it’s best for everyone fill up with grilled meats, knock back a couple brewskis, and count their blessings. Whatever happened, they survived it together. And now they know that any building of ten or more floors could potentially be a gate to the Otherside.

Otherside Picnic – 09 – Grease Monkey

While on the train to Kozakura’s Toriko notices Sorawo’s hair has gotten longer since they met, and how she thinks it’s cute. Sorawo’s obviously chuffed, but seeing “Karateka” at Kozakura’s takes the wind out of her sails somewhat, while that farm equipment just sits outside the front door.

Akari has another case for Sorawo and Toriko, and it involves Sannuki Kano, another urban legend popular online with which Sorawo is already familiar. This time Akari isn’t the one afflicted, but her good friend Ichikawa Natsumi, a mechanic at a garage. Natsumi initially mistakes Toriko for Sorawo, then acts…odd upon learning she’s the black-haired one.

It’s also clear she and Akari are super close; one could say they have eyes only for one other. But Natsumi failed to follow the instructions the monkey stipulated regarding Sannuki Kano, and many a mishap has occured since, from an old woman hanging herself in her yard to both her parents being hospitalized.

Sorawo inspects the vicinity and they find a cremation urn full of teeth buried near the tree where the lady hung herself. They also find Natsumi’s family Shinto altar buried on the grounds. While searching with Sorawo, Natsumi admits that in the brief times she saw Akari’s tutor Uruma Satsuki, she had a very creep aura, as if she was about to take Akari far away from her.

Natsumi also worried when she heard about Sorawo and assumed it was Toriko that she wouldn’t have been able to compete with a “babe like that”, and was relieved to learn it was the…plainer? Sorawo. Just then, Sannuki Kano appears in spectral form and immediately claims one of Natsumi’s teeth, ripping it out with telekinesis.

Sorawo inspects Sannuki with her eye as Akari adopts a karate stance, and Sannuki pulls one of Akari’s teeth out, calling her “Karateka”, which is odd because that’s Sorawo’s nickname for her. Sorawo orders Toriko to put her gun away, yelling “Stay!”, lest she become the next tooth extraction target.

Sorawo holds eye contact on Akari and tells her not to hold back, as Sannuki is not human like the cat ninjas. She also says “Your karate will work on any monster you face”, which suddenly puts Akari into some kind of trance. Akari tilts her head funny and smirks maniacally, saying she is indeed a badass and rushing Sannuki.

The old lady dodges a couple of strikes, but before long the crazed Akari has her on the ground and is just raining blow after devastating blow. Toriko can sense Sorawo did…something to Akari, and tells her to call it off. When Sorawo calls her name, it’s as if a light switch goes off, and Akari is back to her normal self.

With Sannuki destroyed, Akari and Natsumi hug, both relieved they’re okay, and start to repeatedly say each other’s names like the adorable couple they are. Toriko asks Sorawo if she indeed did something to Akari, but it wasn’t intentional. Then Sorawo decides she’ll grow her hair out, leading Toriko to take her bangs lovingly into her transformed hand.

Back at Kozakura’s, Akari admits something happened to her after Sorawo said “I’ll be watching you.” Akari thanks Sorawo profusely once more, glad that she’s such an expert on urban legends, but Sorawo decides to dispel for everyone present the belief she’s “into” urban legends. What she’s actually into is what she calls real-life horror stories: not unsubstantiated popular rumors but documented incidents with witnesses and/or victims and detailed reports.

For Sorawo, scary stories, strange tales, and unexplainable events of this nature are clues that lead “somewhere beyond our world”, i.e. the Otherside, which is where those stories led her, and where she met Toriko, for whom she cares so dearly.

That’s when Akari makes a parting observation: that with her silky black hair and glasses, she somewhat resembles Uruma Satsuki. It’s something Sorawo never considered, but thinking about it transports her right back to that pond in the Otherside she was lying in when she first met Toriko. Is the reason Toriko and Sorawo haven’t been able to find Satsuki because…Sorawo IS Satsuki??

It’s now been established she can cause ordinary bullets to kill monsters and put someone like Akari into a monster-beating trance. She also can sometimes drink too much and forget what she did the previous night. And Toriko thinks would look cuter with longer hair. Heck, the mystery surrounding how Sorawo first reached the Otherside demands we at least consider the possibility she’s the woman she’s considered a rival—and for whom Toriko has searching—all along. 

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Otherside Picnic – 08 – Ninja Cat Attack

One day while having lunch Sorao is approached by freshman Seto Akari, who has heard from the grapevine that Sorao has “the sixth sense” and specializes in supernatural incidents. Akari’s current problem is she’s being attacked…by ninja cats. Sure, why not?

This isn’t really something Sorao can laugh off, as they’ve experienced far worse in the Otherside. Sorao discusses it with Toriko at Kozakura’s house, only to be interrupted by the delivery of a “tobacco farming vehicle” the partners in crime ordered when they were super drunk together. Note to Sorao—Alcohol is a drug!

Sorao’s main concern in taking on Akari’s job is that she loves cats, and doesn’t think she’d be able to harm one if it came down to it. Toriko assures her she’ll do the violence this time, if necessary. While meeting with Akari at a (non-cat) café, the two ninja cats appear behind them as the three suddenly find themselves in what Sorao calls “Space-Time Man’s world.”

Before pulling their guns, Toriko says they’ll have to make Akari a fellow “partner in crime”, but Sorao objects, as that’s the term she’s landed on to describe their relationship. No one else can be their partner in crime, so they settle on Akari as a “victim” instead.

In this kind of conduit between their world and the Otherside, one of the ninja cats charges Sorao with a sharp blade, but Akari blocks it with a menu. The three flee the café, only to find a surreal “cat world” outside, and the ninjas still in hot pursuit.

When the ninja prove too quick for Toriko’s gun, Akari, who knows “some karate”, puts her purse down and busts out some moves. I didn’t expect any cool martial arts combat animation, but that’s what we get for a glorious sixty seconds or so. Unfortunately, Akari ends up hitting nothing but air, suggesting to Sorao that they may not have a truly physical form.

When she turns her blue eye on Akari, the girl’s personality suddenly turns twisted, and Sorao sees the source: some strange object inside her abdomen. Sorao lifts up Akari’s shirt, grabs Toriko’s hand, and plunges it into Akari, and Toriko produces a cat-themed good-luck charm, the true reason the cats were chasing Akari. Sorao tosses it away and the ninjas chase after it, leaving them alone.

Sorao wakes up back in the real world, not having had to hurt any kittys, Otherside or otherwise. When asked about the charm, Akari says she got it from her tutor, Uruma. Uruma Satsuki. It’s hardly going out on a limb to say that’s not a coincidence, considering Akari reached out to Sorao and Toriko.

Wonder Egg Priority – 03 – Soft-Boiled

The bright colors and dark themes continue to intermesh as the third girl of the series is introduced. Kawai Rika’s ash-blonde hair is set off by a hot pink highlight and a magenta-and-purple jacket. Like Ai, she has a statue of someone she’s trying to save, though she makes a point to tell her she’s fat and ugly and her palm sweaty. When Ai meets her at the egg gachapon, Rika is on the ground, holding her ribs, but soon recovers miraculously.

After commenting on Ai’s heterochromia, and promptly asks for some spare change. Aka and Ura-Aka, always seated around a game of go, aren’t concerned with the injuries the girls endure; it’s part of the job. Ai’s excitement to meet a new egg heroine quickly shifts to bemusement, as her interaction with Rika feels like a “one-girl handshake event”, as Ai puts it to Neiru, with whom she’s now texting on the regular.

Between barging in on Ai’s visit with Neiru, always making sure people know her name is Kawai because she’s so darn cute, calling the doctor hot, labeling Neiru a tsundere, and most distressingly eating up all the kiwi, Rika creates the impression of a superficial, shameless, self-involved brat. Nevertheless, she keeps following Ai around, inviting herself over to her house (causing Ai’s counselor Sawaki—whom Rika also calls hot—to leave) and unilaterally deciding to sleep over.

When Ai tells her about why she’s currently a shut-in, Rika immediately jumps to the conclusion Ai is seeking attention from the hot Sawaki. Then Ai tells her about Koito, then asks about the person Rika is trying to save. Rika makes clear the “ugly fatty” Chiemi isn’t her friend, but her fan, and also refers to her as a patron and a wallet. Ai is more or less appalled.

As Rika bathes we see scars on her arm from cutting, which she’s promised to stop. It was clear she was using a veneer of carefree bravado to hide deeper issues, but the scars confirm it without anyone saying a word. She says everyone’s the same in that when you “scratch the surface” they’re all “slimy”—something you could also say of an egg. Neiru texts Ai to be careful with Rika, warning that “junior idol could mean bedroom stuff.” That Ai earnestly asks “like pillow fights?” really says it all about Ai’s sheltered existence.

Ai dreams of a memory of her walking in on Koito crying while in Sawaki’s arms, adding a fresh dimension to their past together. One could interpret such a scene in any number of ways both innocent and otherwise, but Ai quickly apologizes and shuts the classroom door, believing she’d seen something she shouldn’t have. She’s also pondered ever since whether Sawaki was a factor Koito’s suicide. She wakes up in her cocoon bed, over 50% of which is being taken up by the smaller Rika.

Ai then awakes in Rika’s dream. Due to their proximity in bed they “synchonized”, as Ura-Aka tells them, and it’s Rika’s dream because she’s apparently the one with the stronger feelings. They crack their eggs at once, revealing two fans of the singer “Yu-Yu”. They were so fanatical, in fact, that when Yu-Yu committed suicide, they did the same. When Ai says “just like that?” Rika corrects her: their choice was neither easy nor casual. She knows, because she had a fan.

When the usual horde of Seeno Evils (which Rika calls “bystanders”) starts to swarm, Rika and Ai get to work smiting them with their weapons; Rika’s two swords resembling giant versions of the box cutter she used to cut herself. It’s determined the field of flowers is too wide open, so the four girls head to a lighthouse within the nearby woods. It’s there, while they have a couple minutes to catch their breath, that Ai asks Rika to tell her about Chiemi.

After hand-waving the scars Ai spots as “just a youthful whatever”, Rika starts out by explaining the formal and emotional context of a junior-idol handshake event. When you’re only mildly popular like her group was, the lines were shorter, which meant the same fans would line up over and over. Chiemi did this with Rika, who shook her sweaty hand many hundreds of times.

Eventually, Chiemi would give Rika money. Rika accepted it, and began to expect and even rely on it. Like the two Yu-Yu fans who had “sugar daddies”, Rika saw Chiemi as a rich patron. She later learned Chiemi was shoplifting and fencing stuff to make money to give her. When Chiemi started to think of them as friends, Rika ended their relationship, ripping Chiemi off like a Band-Aid and telling her she was too fat and ugly to be anything more than a fan and a wallet.

She never saw Chiemi again until her funeral, and was forever haunted by what she saw that day. In a gutting inversion of the geography of the handshake event, Rika and Chiemi have switched places. Peering into the open casket, Rika saw nothing but skin and bones, like a mummy. Knowing she’ll never be able to forget her if she tried, Rika took Chiemi’s hand one more time. Since then, she’s vowed to kill as many Seenos and Wonder Killers as it takes if it will bring her back.

The Seenos break through, leading to a frenetic chase up the spiraling lighthouse stairs. Ai stumbles, still processing Rika’s heartbreaking tale, but also acknowledging that while she receded into the Seenos at a crucial time due to fear, a part of her also resented Koito for never talking to her like friends should; the kind of talking she just experienced with Rika, which helped her understand better where she’s coming from and why she is the way she is.

She also looks on the Yu-Yu fangirls with a measure of envy. They were able to die with their idol. If Koito had asked her to die with her, she thinks she would have. But what’s done is done, and what was left unsaid remains so. Ai gets back on her feet and powers up her rainbow mace, striking a very cool heroine pose at the top of the steps and assuring Rika she’ll kill ’em all with her. Rika’s quizzical reaction is priceless.

From there, we meet the fangirls’ Wonder Killer, an older woman who stalked Yu-Yu and pushed her into suicide. Ai and Rika spring into action like the pair of valiant heroines they are. Rika frees the fans by slicing off the Killer’s arm, while Ai delivers a crushing blow to the face with her mace.

What follows is why it’s particularly hazardous to engage in boss fights before you’re aware of their special moves. The Killer unleashes a cloud of dark smoke that everyone is able to dodge except Rika, who is immediately paralyzed and soon turns to stone. Before her face petrifies, she wishes Ai good luck. It’s all up to Ai now: she must protect the petrified Rika and the helpless Yu-Yu fans while defeating the biggest toughest Wonder Killer yet.

Perhaps Ai and/or Rika haven’t considered that Aka and Ura-Aka are just using them. Or they’re fighting even while part of them is well aware they may end up getting cheated. But in either case they have no other choice. Now Ai’s mettle will be tested like never before. Hopefully she can get the job done and wake up beside Rika, with neither of them too seriously injured.

Wonder Egg Priority – 02 – Poached

Episode one was such a feast of beautiful and weird imagery and sound, twisting time and space, and unblinking glimpses of hard truths that we as the audience necessarily needed a little time to find our footing. This week focuses Ai’s new role as plucky heroine saving “damsels in egg-stress”, but also her efforts to connect with the taciturn Aonuma Neiru.

Unlike the other girls with whom Ai has interacted so far, Neiru is both alive and inhabits the same real world as her. Which means Ai can make a real friend! Trouble is, Neiru is singularly focused on processing as many eggs as possible in order to save her little sister, i.e. her Nagase Koito. So while Neiru gives Ai her number, it’s only so they can arrange not to meet.

Neiru makes it clear that while they have similar roles, they’re different people. For one thing, she “loves” herself, while Ai hates herself. We’re reminded of the struggles Ai faces when she comes home to find a therapist is there, and grudgingly goes through as session with her mom present. While we know she’s out doing good in the world, her mom likely suspects she’s engaged in some kind of self-destructive behavior.

Regardless, Ai continues her work, determined to “save” Koito even though “saving her” may not bring her back physically but rather heal Ai—I’d call it an elaborate means of working through the trauma and not allowing it to consume her life. As with last week’s egg, this newest one contains another girl who is already gone, but thanks to Ai, is able to exorcise her demon, AKA her “Wonder Killer.”

In the case of timid Suzuhara Minami, the Wonder Killer is her abusive gymnastics coach. Minami doesn’t like the situation she’s in, but blames her own weakness, and we witness the psychological power of the coach when she arrives on the roof and places a hand on the submissive Minami’s head.

In a nice visual tough, as this week’s “captured maiden” Minami wears a frilly leotard under her hoodie, emphasizing her status as a princess for Ai the knight to rescue. The resigned Minami urges Ai not to bother with her, but as her head is turned, the coach transforms into a grotesque monster.

Ai looks back to when the bullying of Koito started. Koito’ uniform was torn and thown in the mud, which she calls “classic harassment”. The other girls were jealous of the extra attention she, as a transfer student, got from their teacher. She had Ai hide in a locker and film the bullies physically abusing her, but Ai was too scared and didn’t capture any usable footage.

Even so, Kotio smiles her sad smile and thanks her friend for “doing the best she could.” Disgusted that she didn’t do more when it mattered, Ai resolves to save Minami no matter what she says. She heads to the gym, where the monster coach is holding her by the head and repeatedly slapping her in the face.

Of course, the “tough love” the coach is dishing out is nothing more than abuse, and Ai won’t stand by and watch. That said, her giant rainbow key weapon proves useless against the coach. When Minami tries to stop her from hurting Ai, the coach tosses her aside and her yellow ribbon goes flying.

Ai realizes the ribbon is the weapon she needs to use, and while the coach squirts a thick pink liquid from her teat to blind Ai, Minami serves as her eyes, telling her where the coach is and which way to dodge. She eventually lands a coup-de-grace, and the coach explodes in a spatter of paint-like blood.

In the aftermath, Minami thanks Ai for saving her, and wishes they had met earlier so they could have gone out for burgers together. Instead, she vanishes in a puff of smoke just like the first maiden, after asking Ai to think of her sometimes.

While it’s gutting to watch Ai gain the trust of and befriend someone two weeks in a row, only for them to disappear moments after she saves them, that pain is mitigated by two factors: Ai is working towards saving Koito, and she’s met a real friend and fellow heroine in Neiru.

After Minami vanishes, we find Ai in the hospital with her mom, wearing a neck brace. As with last week, the injuries she sustains in her battles with Wonder Killers remain with her in the real world. No doubt her mom is horribly worried for her daughter, having no idea what’s going on. It could also be that nothing we’ve seen Ai do is actually real, but all in her head.

That said, Neiru fares worse than her, ending up in the ICU after trying to handle too many eggs at once. Ai visits her in the hospital and asks if they can be friends. Once she’s recovered a bit, they head up to the hospital roof and discuss what being friends entails. Ai talks about going out for burgers and fries, as Minami wanted to do.

Over sweet-smelling peach-orange sodas, Neiru texts Ai back a thumbs-up, indicating that she’s willing to give this friend thing a try. In a wonderful little piece of elegant animation her resting neutral face slowly turns upward into a gentle smile, and Ai’s smile subtly widens in response.

Even though  I’m rarely sure what’s real life or not (which is likely the point), the scene of Ai and Neiru on the roof seemed realer than most. We’ll see if the two only hang out in between separate maiden rescues, or if they decide to join forces and aid one another in their respective goals. Now that I better know the structure and rules of those rescues, like Ai I feel a lot more comfortable and optimistic.