The Promised Neverland – 20 – Emma

Instead of being slaughtered for meat, Norman was introduced to Peter Ratri, his “new father”, and asked to assist with his research. No matter how much they up the difficulty of the tests, Norman always scores perfectly.

Peter is trying to wrest control of the farms from James, presumably his brother or father. Norman also observes how gently he’s treated compared to the other children at the Lambda facility, who undergo all manner of horrific surgery and used as fodder for experiments.

Norman eventually meets Vincent, and together they clandestinely plan a prison break, which is initiated when Norman grasps the king while playing chess. He gives the surveillance camera a blank look, immediately followed by the blast of an improvised bomb.

Norman and Vincent rush through the facility, now in total chaos, and save what humans are still able to be saved, like Cislo and Barbara, the latter of whom asks Norman if he’s a “god” when he frees them. Standing over his great victory, Norman tells the captured demons he won’t stop until their kind has “died out from this world”.

I’m glad we were shown these events, as in this case where it’s important to see the horrors he saw, showing is better than telling. I only wish Norman and his comrades hadn’t spent so much of the last couple episodes spouting so much exposition, which in hindsight feels redundant.

Still, we get a very foreboding shot of a robed Norman at sunset, looking quite a bit like Anakin Skywalker after being seduced by the dark side. He doesn’t care if he has to be a god or a devil if it means Emma and the other children will be able to live in safety and peace.

This episode suffers from a considerably less interesting middle act involving the four days and change Emma, Ray, Gilda and Don are searching for Mujika and Sonju. They basically trudge from one point of the forest to the other in their demon disguises, coming up empty until they reach final search area.

Naturally, this area is crawling with those giant creepy wild demons, and naturally Emma almost gets her head bitten off not once, but twice. The first time, Ray shoots the demon in just the right eye to bring it down. The second time, Sonju and Mujika arrive In the Nick of Time.

But before Emma can even get out how they need the two demons’ help, there’s a blast from afar: Norman has started the operation a day early. Bombs detonate all over the town, releasing the degenerative drug in a sickly purple cloud. It spreads and affects the demons precisely as Norman calculated, turning them into wild vicious beasts that rip each other apart.

This creates a horrifying situation in which demons watch their loved ones degenerate, but beg other demons of sound mind not to hurt or kill them, only to themselves be killed by those transformed loved ones. Soon the streets are full of the cries of terrified children, their mothers and fathers either dead or transformed and about to kill them. It is the scene of hell.

As his comrades stand atop brick columns watching their vengeance unfold with glee, Norman enters the town square and finds one of the young demon girls alone, scared, and crying. Norman, determined not to waver, prepares to kill her with a sword, but he’s stopped in his tracks when her grandfather—the same elderly demon who visited the kids’ hideout—calls out the girl’s name: Emma.

A fresh cloud of the drug falls over the square, infecting the little one but not the old man, who Norman suspects to have devil’s blood like Mujika, and is thus immune. He stabs the old man, but he has Emma drink his blood, reversing her degeneration, and begs her to run.

Before Norman can re-commit to killing the old man or the demon Emma, someone calls to himhis Emma, with Ray by her side. Thanks to Sonju’s horse they managed to make it back to town just in time. When Norman sees Emma he starts to tear up, and when Emma sees him she sees him as the little boy at Grace Field House, in whose hands a bloody sword just doesn’t look right.

While Norman has the intellect to know what exactly to do, and that it may be the only way to save Emma and the others, and he even possessed the will to do the horrible things that needed doing, he still doesn’t have the heart to follow through, at least not without the wavering we saw.

I’ve heard many rumblings about how dissimilar and inferior this second season is to the first due to the fact it’s passed over large swaths of the original manga’s story and basically doing its own thing. I’ve also learned that this was apparently the author’s choice to do this, so it isn’t as if his work was getting short shrift against his wishes.

Whatever the case may be, a second season that takes place after escaping the farm was always going to be a thoroughly different kind of show, despite the same title, and that’s certainly proven the case. But now that Norman, Emma, and Ray are reunited once more in the epicenter of his grand plan, I remain thoroughly engaged and excited to find out where in the world things go from here!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Irina and Crow’s discussion of episode 20 here. They know their stuff!

The Promised Neverland – 19 – A Future Without Regret

By bringing up Mujika and Sonju, Emma clues Norman in on a major threat to his plan. He’s never met either, but heard stories about a mutation of demons who could maintain their human-esque form and intellect without eating meat. He thought they’d all been hunted down and killed by the Demon King and royalty committed to maintaining the status quo that lines their pockets.

With the “Evil-Blooded Girl” still out there, the demons presumably have a defense against his degenerative drug. Emma sees it the other way: instead of eradicating the demons, they can treat them all to be like Mujika and Sonju, so they won’t need to eat human meat anymore. But that misses the whole point: the Demons in charge would keep eating humans even if they didn’t have to, simply because they want to.

If that’s the case, then Emma thinks they should escape to the human world rather than committing demon genocide. Again, Norman has researched this, and the only gate he knows of is deep beneath…Grace Field House. It’s too dangerous and there are too many unknown factors, including whether the humans would even accept them.

Emma can’t accept a future she has to kill her friends and countless other innocents to achieve, in which she’d never be able to smile again. Norman knows the kind soul Emma is and always was, but here again they disagree: he says it isn’t “tough” to do what he’s doing, because he’s working towards the future he desires.

The debate would seem to be over, with the two sides at an impasse and Norman politely shuffling Emma and Ray out of there, but Emma proposes a deal: give her ten days to find Mujika and Sonju before proceeding with his plan. Norman gives her five…because he doesn’t expect her to succeed.

When Emma and Ray leave, Norman joins Cislo, Barbara, and Vincent in the bowels of their headquarters, and tells them that his siblings from the farm don’t want to annihilate the demons, and have also met with and are friends with the Evil-Blooded Girl. Just the thought of not eradicating the demons sends Barbara into a jar-shattering rage, leading to a “Lambda seizure”, which seem to be happening to her and the other two with increasing regularity.

They’re running out of time fast—just when Emma asked for more of it. Cislo is disgusted by Norman’s siblings’ “naive nonsense” but understands they’re good kids. So he asks Norman on behalf of the other Lambda survivors: Is Norman still on their side? Norman tells them he agreed to wait five days, but nothing else has changed. If Emma returns successful, Norman will kill the Evil-Blooded, but his plan will go forward without further alterations.

To show how far he’s come and why he can’t back down now, he shines his lantern on a massive Lilith-like demon, which he’s no doubt used for research and development of his anti-demon drug.

So now we know—if it wasn’t clear from the end of their conversation—that Norman has no intention of cancelling or changing his plan to commit genocide. Even if he wanted to, he has more than just Emma to think of. If the Lambda kids feel he’s betrayed them, he’s just as sure to die by their hands than demons’. And then there’s the matter of him doing what he did when he got shipped away: putting all of the burden on his own shoulders.

Of course, Emma thinks deep down the same Norman she knew and loved is still in there somewhere, and will honor his part of the bargain. Ray seems to want to trust Norman too; clearly being around Emma so much has blunted his cynicism. So they return to their mountain hideout, and there Emma presents her view and gets everyone onboard, even the terrified Gilda.

She uses the kids own grumbling bellies to drive home the point that killing all the demons would only spread more fear and hate, making the world a worse place. Emma can’t accept any other path but a peaceful one, but what she doesn’t yet grasp is that she’s already on the path Norman has paved for everyone—he just gave her five more days to pretend otherwise.

Back at Norman’s HQ, he suddenly coughs up blood into the same hand Emma took into hers when forging their doomed bargain. It would seem that whatever happened after he said goodbye to Emma to be shipped off, he didn’t fare any better than the other Lambda victims. His time grows short too, to the point even if Emma’s plan was most certain and logical, there wouldn’t be enough time to realize it.

Irina and Crow had a discussion on this episode. Check it out here!

 

 

The Promised Neverland – 18 – The Norman Invasion

After a recap week, Neverland is back, and as good as its been all season, although not for the reason you’d think. Norman’s back, and that’s great! Emma can’t believe it’s not a dream, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. This literally doesn’t seem real that their old friend is alive, well, and not just deep in the anti-demon resistance, but its leader. It changes everything.

Norman comes to the Temple where he receives a hero’s welcome from the other kids. Like Emma, they initially can’t believe it’s really him, but unlike her they weren’t in charge of ensuring everyone’s survival all this time. They see how they’ve fared, and how things aren’t going so well, and how now that Norman’s here everything will be fine.

Of course, they don’t consciously put it in a way that diminishes Emma’s leadership to this point. Instead, they see it as a great lifting of a weight from her shoulders she never should have had to bear alone. But with the lifting of that weight naturally means there will be a shift in power and authority.

That’s especially apparent when Norman regales the group with what he’s been up to since he left Grace Field House. Rather than processed for food, he was sent to Lambda, a facility for testing and experimentation. There, he made use of his superior intellect to wreck the place, freeing himself and many other captives who had suffered horribly.

Ever since then, he’s been developing a means of utterly defeating the demons: a drug that will cause them to degenerate into wild beasts who will turn against each other. In effect, it’s a biological weapon, and Norman intends for its widespread use in order to decimate their tormentors.

There’s no doubt that if the drug works as Norman claims, it will usher in a new era of freedom and peace for humanity. This is a big deal. And when you consider all he’s accomplished in the same amount of time Emma and her group have only barely managed to feed themselves, it really puts Emma’s relative lack of progress in relief.

Of course, Emma’s overwhelming concern with Norman’s plan is that it’s so barbaric, and renders humans as no better than the worst demons. Demons have names, thoughts, family. She wants a future where they don’t have to hate, fight, or kill. Ray can sense this, and he gets it out of her fairly easily, which means those so-called “secret” thoughts could have come out at a far worse time, in front of a far less receptive audience.

Ray doesn’t agree with Emma. He’s fine with annihilating the demons, but he also wants to make sure Emma makes her feelings known to Norman. They don’t know, for instance, if Norman knows about demons like Mujika who can maintain their intellects without human meat, so it could be an exchange of information that could help Emma better determine and articulate a more peaceful counterproposal.

As soon as they reach Norman’s holdfast and meet his fellow Lambda escapees, the immense scale of Emma’s task becomes clear. After what they and their friends both dead and alive endured at Lambda, Cislo, Vincent, and Barbara harbor a pure and intense hatred of demons. Cislo can’t wait for the high that comes from massacring demons, while the suspicious-looking haunch of meat Barbara is chomping on turns out to be demon meat.

That’s right: Barbara says her anger melts away when she eats their meat. She believes every single demon should suffer what they endured, and worse. The atmosphere wasn’t altogether welcoming at the beginning of the scene, but as the Lambda kids start talking about how much they hate demons, the mood of the scene turns that much more sinister, to the point I feared for Emma’s safety!

Indeed, when Barbara can see what she’s saying is disturbing Emma, she makes it clear that Emma better not have any disgusting ideas about changing Norman’s plan. Cislo and Vincent tell Barbara to take off and cool down, but they feel the same way: the demons must go. When they leave Emma and Ray to wait for Norman, Ray tells her there’s no stopping hatred like that once it’s begun.

I honestly couldn’t help but think of the current situation in Attack on Titan’s final season, in which the “good” and “bad” sides have long since melted away, and everyone arms themselves with enough hatred to commit any atrocity against anyone who stands in their way. I’m with Emma that this isn’t the right way to forge a future, but I’m also with Ray: in this climate she’ll be steamrolled by the hate long before she can come up with, let alone implement, an alternative plan.

When Norman is free, he sits down with his brother and sister, and shows them a bottle of the drug that will be used in the plan. Emma doesn’t even get to the part where she objects to that plan when Ray mentions the demons who didn’t eat humans. Norman reacts in a way neither Ray nor Emma expected: like someone who had staunchly believed their nemesis was dead and buried suddenly having to call that into doubt.

Referring to Mujika as the “Evil-Blooded Girl” while glaring and grasping his face dramatically, Norman shows a side of himself Emma has never seen, and part of the New Norman with whom the other Lambda kids are familiar and comfortable. No doubt Norman cast away those parts himself that weren’t relevant to The Cause. And now she and Ray may be the bearer of news that could ruin his intricate plan for demon eradication. Not the reunion anyone wanted!

Read Crow and Irina’s discussion of the episode here.

The Promised Neverland – 17 – Living On Grace

It’s been almost a year since the children escaped from Grace Field House. Rumors of how they have yet to be hunted down spread in a demon city, but more often than not they’re dismissed as having died long ago. All the while, those same children who escaped a year ago are walking among the demons who’d do almost anything for their high quality meat.

Neverland does a lot of efficient world building this week, and this opening scene lays bare the general social strata of the demons. Ordinary demonfolk who shop in the street markets will never see, let alone taste Grace Field meat. As for the kids, they’re older and wiser and more capable and resourceful than ever, but food is still scarce. The struggle for survival is constant.

While each and every one of the younger kids are absolute troopers, not even complaining about eating only thin soup day after day, the decision to leave the farm weighs heavily on Emma each night. When she can’t sleep in the night, she faces a wall, cursing her shortsightedness and arrogance.

Ray reminds her they all made the right choice—the only choice—to leave. If they hadn’t, Ray would be dead, and the others would soon find themselves on the wealthier dinner tables of the demon world. Better underfed than dead.

Their hilltop temple hideout is periodically visited by a solitary demon, who is blind and walks with a cane. He knows there are children there, but it’s left up in the air whether he knows whether they’re human. Perhaps he can’t smell so well anymore, or perhaps he’s just a very nice demon.

For the first time, Emma helps him when he drops his offering, and he thanks her before leaving. Gilda scolds her recklessness, but even if the old man is a human-eating demon, she couldn’t let him continue to fumble in the dark.

Returning to the pair of demons from the market, we see that they are trying to keep two starving demon children from degenerating to wild (and presumably vicious) state. But the low-grade, vat-raised human hand is hardly enough. When one of them reminds them of the Grace Field stock is still at large, they start to seriously consider searching for them.

These aren’t the plans of evil monsters who kill for sport, they’re desperate adults trying to save children with no other options in sight. This is the state of the demon side of the world a thousand years on. While there are certainly bad actors, demons are no longer homogenously “evil”, any more than the humans on the other side. There have no doubt been generations living under this system, and know of no other system.

It’s in this newly expanded picture of this world that we find Emma and the Kids fighting against the long-established norm, daring to sneak into towns to collect enough food to keep everyone alive. This week Thoma and Lannion convince Emma to accompany her, Ray, Gilda and Don, but they end up bumping into that desperate demon pair, and a stiff wind fills the demons’ noses with the scent of humans.

An tense and intricate chase ensues, one that demonstrates just how extensively the kids have trained and practiced evading pursuers. Emma and Ray end up luring the pair away while the others melt into the crowd, only to end up cornered by the pair and a group of other demons who have taken interest.

Then one of the other demons kills the pair who were chasing Emma and Ray, and a blue-cloaked demon lifts his mask to reveal none other than Norman. HI NORMAN! Not only is he still alive, he’s got some friends. Looking back at the beginning of the episode, he’d already  spotted Emma & Co. Months after losing their blessed shelter and on the cusp of losing hope for survival, the universe has graced Emma and the kids with a blessed break.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

See Also: Irina’s review of episode 17, via Crow

The Promised Neverland – 16 – Too Good To Be True

Last week’s cliffhanger wasn’t all that dire for the kids: Minerva’s phone call is merely a recording apologizing for not being able to meet them in person, revealing he once worked for the farms before revolting, and providing the password for the pen to display map to the human side of the world. The creepy messages and journal were from a previous batch of escapees, only one of whom remained before they chose to make a run for the border.

What our kids don’t know is what ever happened to that lonely last escapee. All they know is they can use the shelter as the headquarters for their plan, which still involves returning to the farm, freeing Phil and the others, then freeing all of the other children in the other farms. Far from not pragmatic, this plan seems far too difficult and doomed to failure, considering how few grown kids there are to pull it off.

Still, it’s clear Emma isn’t going to the human side without fulfilling her promise to Norman to free everyone, so they set to work making the shelter a sustainable place, including growing crops, hunting birds (and later gathering slimy fish) for food, and teaching the younger kids marksmanship.

As they settle into a happy and all-too obvious false sense of security, we check in on their former “Mother”, Isabella, who is in jail for allowing the escape. When the demons come, she’s pretty certain they’re there to execute her. Back at the shelter, a peaceful evening is shattered by an explosion blowing one of the hatches clean off, knocking out the power.

A human strike team then infiltrates the facility, where all the kids escape using the hidden passage behind the piano. Don’s one of the last into that passage, and Gilda gives him a huge hug of relief when he arrives. Ray changes their plan on the fly: with the shelter no longer safe, they have to get out of there and seek refuge in the forest…again.

Unfortunately, the enemy forces seem to have a good grasp of the shelter’s layout, since they trap them at every turn. The kids are saved by the fact that these guys are supposed to deliver the merch back to the farm, not harm it in any way. It makes me wonder why they’re not using tranq darts, honestly.

Emma and Ray cover the others as they head to the forest, but again the soldiers are waiting for them. It looks like Game Over, but for the giant wild forest demon bursting out of the trees to kill the soldiers one by one; the muzzle flashes from their guns makes them easy decoys while the kids scatter. But even if they’re all safe for now, they won’t be for long. In the end, shelter might as well have been a mirage!

We learn the farm demons were prepared for this operation to fail, and rather than execute Isabella at once, they’ll leave the matter in her hands as a means of redeeming herself for her failure. If she can successfully retrieve every escaped child, she’ll be granted her freedom and more.

Isabella seems eager to take on the job, claiming that her children “betrayed” her…but that’s just a bit disingenuous considering she was secretly raising them for slaughter. In any case, Mama’s back…and this time, it’s personal.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review here.

The Promised Neverland – 15 – The Perfect Hideout

Emma, Ray, and their convoy of kids are ready to leave the safety of Sonju and Mujika’s forest tunnels and head to the location indicated by William Minerva’s pen. They’re trained and prepared to survive and run or defend themselves from the threats that may arise.

Mujika and Emma seem to have formed a genuine friendship, and Mujika gives Emma an ornate amulet as a going-away gift and to protect her. However, we learn from Sonju once the kids are gone that his intentions are less benign. Mujika pointed out that if they had turned the kids in to the farm they’d have been rewarded handsomely. But Sonju has other plans.

Their religion doesn’t forbid him from hunting or eating wild animals, so by letting these kids go, they will eventually breed, creating of a “wild herd” of humans he’ll be able to hunt without forsaking his faith. His face grows especially monstrous as he looks forward to the day he can eat human meat. Yikes!

Regardless of his long term plans, the fact is Sonju let this group of kids go and doesn’t intend to eat them. In fact, he rides back to where the farm pursuers are still searching and kills one of their trackers. The kids head out into the wastelands where demons rarely go, but when they reach the location indicated by Minerva’s pen, there’s nothing there.

Fortunately, the fact they’ve arrived at this spot unlocks more information from the pen. Once the password “HISTORY” is inputted, a detailed map displays, and a sliding door in the ground reveals a hidden hatch, Zelda-style. The group descends the ladder and begins to explore the space. Emma eventually finds a switch, and to everyone’s great joy, it works!

The lights reveal a fully-functional shelter, complete with cooking facilities, a dining hall, a library, a greenhouse with grow lights, a bathroom with hot water, and a security room with cameras on all parts of the surface. There’s even a piano, a radio, and a pantry curiously half-stocked with food.

There’s also a handwritten note from Minerva congratulating them for finding the shelter, which is theirs to use. Emma, Ray, and the kids immediately settle into the new digs, which seem at all times to be an all-too-good-to-be-true gift from heaven above.

Ray successfully finds the frequency of the 8:00 PM reports from the farms, and will be tuning back in daily to gain intel. Now that they have a shelter and the means of supporting themselves indefinitely, Emma already wants to move on to the next stage of the plan: rescue the remaining family at the farm.

She’s looking ahead even though they haven’t quite finished exploring the shelter. They’ve found all the good rooms, but there are clearly some not-so-good rooms, as initially found by Yvette, the walls of the dorms are strewn with the manic scrawling of people who lived there previously, and were either going mad from boredom or from suffering something more sinister.

Emma uses the pen to unlock a special door that leads to a small room with a payphone, which immediately rings when they enter. She picks up the receiver, and William Minerva is on the other end of the line. Is it a recording, or the man himself? What is the nature of those creepy messages on the dorm walls? Is this shelter really safe, or are those hidden passageways a cause for concern? I can’t help but feel after catching so many breaks since escaping the farm, their streak of good fortune may have run out…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Promised Neverland – 14 – Bless Us for These, Thy Gifts

This week the kids catch two key breaks. First, they weren’t captured or killed by the farm trackers or the wild forest demon. Second, Mujika and Sonju, the two demons who rescued them, don’t eat humans and have no intention to harm them. In fact, it’s been so long since they’ve encountered humans they’re happy to show them ample hospitality.

Sonju later tells Emma and Ray that after endless war and killing, humans and demons agreed stop hunting each other and split to the world into segregated halves. All the humans on the demon side were “gifted” to the demons and vice versa. With hunting forbidden, farms like Grace Field were established. And, oh yeah, the great split happened over a thousand years ago.

At first Emma and Ray are gobsmacked by the amount of real time that has passed, but then literally jump for joy. The fact that demons only rule half the world and humans are free on their half is a huge boost to their outlook. Even if Sonju says no one has ever crossed the boundary between worlds, well, Emma and Ray will simply be the first, that’s all!

The pair relay the news to the others and rallies them to their suddenly more concrete cause. The good demons, who practice their religious faith by not eating human flesh, show the group the proper way out of the tunnel network under the forest to eventually reach the spot indicated in Minerva’s pen.

On the way, they teach them all of the things they need to learn to survive on their own, from building fires and cooking to medicinal plants and archery. Gilda and the little ones harshly scold both Emma and Ray for being so reckless earlier. They can’t afford to lose either of them, so they have to start being more careful and speaking up if they’re hurt.

When Sonju heads to the surface to scope out the area for threats, Emma accompanies him, but not for a change of scenery. She wants him to teach her something he hadn’t to that point: how to kill a living thing. Sonju acquieses, and while Emma initially hesitates to loose her bow on an unassuming bird, she eventually does so, and hits the bird right in the head.

While a clean strike, the bird is not yet dead, so Sonju shows Emma the Gupna, a ritual that takes place to give thanks and show respect for the kill.. By plunging a vampiric Vida branch into the heart of the still-living bird, when the plant blooms it means the meat is safe to eat. It also means the gods have approved the meat for consumption

When Emma remembers the same plant being used on her family members, she retches, but completes the ritual, adding her own prayer: “We don’t want to be eaten. We want to live. But we’ve been eating others too. And if we can’t keep eating, we can’t survive.” When she returns to the caverns with Sonju, the kids notice something different about Emma. Indeed, while out in the forest, making her first kill, she was changed irrevocably. You can see it on her face, and in the haunting way she whispers “I’m okay.”

I for one am glad the kids not only caught a couple breaks this week, but were blessed with a path forward. Not only that, for a few days they were able to stop being runaways or survivalists and simply live like the kids they are, being fed and taught and not having to worry about running for their lives. Emma took an important step into the new normal by officially becoming an active rather than passive participant in the food chain.

P.S.Check out Crow’s Episode 2 review here.

The Promised Neverland – 13 (S2 01) – Freedom! Horrible, Horrible Freedom!

When the first season of The Promised Neverland wrapped at the end of March 2019, none of us could have imagined what life would be like a year from then: a pandemic unprecedented in modern times spreading death, chaos, and uncertainty across the globe. Now it’s January 2021, and things are looking up in the U.S., a nation that has handled the pandemic the worst proportional to its size and wealth.

A new president will be inaugurated in just two weeks, joined by the first woman vice president. Just today we learned he may have a cooperative Senate on his side. Vaccines to tackle the virus have arrived. Now that the second season of Neverland has arrived and picked up right where it left off, I can’t help but relate to Emma, Ray, and the other kids who escaped the farm.

Like them, we are getting the first taste of freedom in what feels like far more than four years. Also like them, it is far too early to celebrate or rest easy. Yes, elections were won by reasonable, non-sociopathic, non-authoritarian people, and the vaccines are being shipped. But the winners must still implement policies to heal the nation, and the vaccines must still be distributed while maintaining the necessary safety guidelines that have caused so much economic harm.

As for the escaped kids, they are free, and freedom is sweet, but also terrifying. The Grace Field House sheltered, clothed, and fed the kids, but now all their survival needs are up to them, and the threat of being caught or killed by forest monsters is constant. And of the fifteen or so kids, only four (Emma, Ray, Gilda, and Don) are old enough to keep the group organized, and even these four are mere tweens. They’ve had to grow up in a hurry.

Fortunately, the kids have an ally out there somewhere in William Minerva, whose smart pen serves as a map and guide for those who have his books to decipher the code. That code points them to a particular spot on the map; they just need to get there and they’ll (presumably) be safe, though I won’t rule out the possibility Minerva could be dead or this could all be another cruel trap.

But potential threats on the horizon are of far less concern than those more immediate, starting with the giant monster that chases them in the cold open. The forest is very Nausicaä-esque with its giant trees, whimsical plants and creatures, but the kids have inserted themselves into a food chain that would be glad to avail themselves of easy prey.

It’s a good thing the kids practiced “playing tag” so much, because those organizational skills prove crucial to their survival. The group branches off twice, first with Gilda and the slower kids, then with Emma and the rest. Ray volunteers to lure the monster into a vine trap they find on the forest floor. But before he can implement his plan, the monster is beheaded by a sword-wielding demon pursuer, aided by bloodhound-like demons seekers who detect Ray’s scent.

If Neverland stretched credulity a bit by having all the kids run fast enough to elude the beast, and only one little kid stumbles (and happens to do so right beside Emma), it restores that credulity by not forgetting about the fact that Emma is missing an ear, and a wound like that can and does open up if you run around too much.

The blood loss becomes too much and Emma faints at the worst possible moment, but they are met by an unlikely ally—a mysterious cloaked figure—at the best possible moment. Meanwhile, Ray runs as fast as he can as far as he can, but ultimately collapses from exhaustion, at the complete mercy of the demons bent on returning the product to the farm.

Thankfully, their task is made harder by the fact that killing or harming such prime stock would defeat the purpose of catching it. A second mysterious cloaked figure on demon-horseback exploits this by snatching up Ray and riding off, leaving smoke bombs in his wake that confound the seekers.

Ray wakes up in a serene cave, safe and sound, and more importantly not tied up or otherwise restrained. He explores the caves and finds Emma also safe and sound, her ear wound re-dressed. They are approached by the female cloaked figure, who has apparently never heard of Minerva. She leads them to the other kids, who are about to be fed.

Then Ray notices the figure isn’t human, but a demon, based on her clawed bare feet. The second figure, the one who saved Ray on horseback, also appears. Emma and Ray have every right to be suspicious considering recent events (along with their upbringing, obviously). Do these two represent a faction of “good demons” opposed to the ones running the human farms?

Maybe. Then again, this sounds too good to be true. It could be these demons simply have different plans for the kids. For now, I’ll hope that’s not the case, and the fact the kids can roam free after waking up is a sign they don’t have to fear their rescuers, and could even regard them as allies in their ongoing struggle for freedom.

I just hope that we, as well as Emma, Ray, and the kids, don’t end up like the poor space ants who provided the title for this review:

P.S. Crow is reviewing Neverland too.

Golden Kamuy – 36 (Fin) – Not For Nothing

We were left hanging with the vicious knife fight between Kiroranke and Lt. Koito. Both use their arm or hand to block a knife from digging too deep into their vitals, but Koito gets a much-needed assist from Tanigaki and Tsukishima. Kiroranke, as dangerous as any wounded animal, produces one more bomb, but Koito is able to slice it away so it doesn’t blow everyone up.

They’re about to finish Kiroranke when Asirpa arrives in time to stop them; she wants to hear him explain why he shot her Aca. She doesn’t get an answer before he draws his last breath, but he dies happily, knowing Asirpa did indeed figure out the code, and their journey north wasn’t for naught. It’s also implied by Sofia’s reaction (prior to rejoining her fellow inmates) that she Kiroranke and Wilk formed a love triangle. Kiroranke’s body is buried in ice that will melt into the Azur river and flow back to his homeland.

Kiroranke and Asirpa try to go after Sofia, but find everyone’s favorite Stenka shoujo, Gansoku Maiharu. Kiroranke is the only one who ends up dying on the ice floes; Ogata remains alive and Tsukishima’s neck wound isn’t life-threatening. As Sugimoto returns Asirpa’s ceremonial knife to her, Sofia returns Kiroranke’s to him, confirming there was something going on between them.

Back at the Nivkh village in Ako, Tsukishima gets Svetlana to agree to write a letter to her parents which he’ll deliver as proof she’s alive, so that they can escape the black pit of uncertainty and know for sure their girl is okay. She heads to Russia with Gansoku, and the narrator indicates they’ll have a number of exciting adventures in the future.

This final Kamuy of the season wouldn’t be complete without another Ainu food session, so Asirpa explains mosu, a lucious-sounding treat made with fish skin, berries and seal fat. She describes the Nivkh, like the other tribes in Karafuto, as “a little bit different and a little bit the same”, and takes comfort in that.

Ogata is beyond Nivkh medicine, so everyone dresses up like Nivkh and reach out to the Russian doctor in Ako. He quickly recognizes Sugimoto’s Japanese, but still agrees to operate on Ogata. Unfortunately, no one thought to tie Ogata to the bed.

The moment he comes through post-op, he gets up, holds the nurse hostage, knocks Koito down, and escapes on a horse in nothing but his gown. Asirpa and Sugimoto are too late to catch him and the latter’s shots miss his horse, but Sugimoto is fine with that. He urges Ogata to get better so he can kill him fair and square later.

That need to do any and all dirty work, including killing, for Asirpa’s sake so she doesn’t have to bloody her own hands, defines Sugimoto. He withholds Wilk’s desire for Asirpa to be a guerilla fighter in the war between the Ainu and the Imperial enemies of Japan and Russia—but Sugimoto wants better than that for her. Maybe, with the gold, she can lead the Ainu into peace, not another horrible war that will claim her soul.

Sugimoto’s had his fill of war, but he’ll still fight all the battles needed to protect Asirpa. And as both of them are still in need of money to achieve their goals, Sugimoto renews their contract as partners, and Asirpa concurs. They remain on the same road together, with Sugimoto continuing to work with Tsurumi’s men per their agreement, and Asirpa hoping to learn who killed the Ainu and what ultimately became of her Aca.

So ends a another incredibly strong season of Golden Kamuy, a wonderful melange of a show that combines stylish, inventive, often brutal combat, enriching cultural and historical education, some of the best comedy of the season (with a prodigious side of beefcake), and many of the better characters and relationships. None were more compelling than Asirpa and Sugimoto, and now that they’ve finally reunited I look forward to a fourth season of their adventures together.

Golden Kamuy – 35 – Finding Warmth in the Shattered Ice

The reunion of old buddies Shiraishi and Sugimoto is appropriately gross, as the former’s nose snot ends up in Sugimoto’s eye. This is actually foreshadowing for another key reunion, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

These two men are still separated from Asirpa, just as Asirpa finds herself alone with Ogata—the only person who knows Asirpa has remembered the secret to Wilk’s code. Both groups have shattered on the ice floes, as Tsukishima finds Svetlana in the cold while Tanigaki and Koito are ambushed by escaped prisoners.

While Sugimoto uses his coat as a sail to steer their ice floe where they want (yet another lifesaving lesson Asirpa taught him), Tsukishima urges Svetlana to return home, only for her to tell him she willingly went with whoever would take her—anything to get away from the boredom of life in that lighthouse.

Live certainly isn’t boring for anyone on these ice floes, as Tanigaki and Koito successfully repel the bandits. However, an unlikely reunion occurs when Kiroranke emerges from behind an ice boulder. Tanigaki, who seeks revenge for the death of Inkarmat, gives Kiroranke his bone-handled knife back—by stabbing him with it.

As the skies seem to darken and the snow and wind intensify, so too does the tension between Ogata and Asirpa. He knows she’s figured it out, and asks her while they’re alone if she’ll tell him. He only wants a little gold; to have all of it would mean getting tangled up in war with all the parties who want it. He also believes she wishes to return home to her kotan and spend her days hunting in the woods.

When his methods of persuasion don’t work, he reveals that Sugimoto wasn’t quite dead when he saw him, and tells her his last words about giving some gold to his friend’s widow Tome for her eye surgery. Then Asirpa catches Ogata in a lie when she asks him if Sugimoto said anything about food, and Ogata says he wanted monkfish stew. Asirpa knows Sugimoto’s true final wish would be for dried persimmons.

She breaks Ogata’s grip and knocks her bow, but Ogata reminds her of when she stopped Sugimoto from killing him, and when she vowed never to kill for the gold or anything else. Ogata actually takes sick pride in trying to goad Asirpa into murdering him, since to him that would mean they were alike in their “impurity”. Sugimoto manages to arrive in time to shout out, but Asirpa is startled and looses the arrow straight into Ogata’s eye.

Sugimoto quickly administers first aid, purging the poisoned from the wound and bandaging it to slow the bleeding. He won’t let Ogata die. because he won’t let him make Asirpa a killer. When the ice floes split again, threatening to separate Asirpa and Sugimoto, he reaches his hand out, she leaps to grab it, and they successfully embrace. After an entire season of them apart, finally they’re together again, and it feels so good to see it!

Of course, this is Golden Kamuy, a show never afraid to follow up a tearful, touchingly cathartic reunion with some absurdly gross comedy. Asirpa says she “can’t let go”, but we soon learn she literally can’t, because her damn eyelid is stuck on Sugi’s frozen coat button! Shiraishi, who is holding Ryuu back from interrupting the lovebirds’ reunion, is quickly summoned for assistance.

As we learned, the best way to separate skin from cold metal is piss, and if there’s anything Shiraishi is always full of, it’s piss. This leads to perhaps the most hilariously fucked-up line in the entire Golden Kamuy series: “Piss on her face!” The snow lets up, the sky brightens, and the sun starts to peak through the clouds as Shiraishi, Sugimoto, and Asirpa revel in rainbow-making golden showers. It is utterly glorious.

The episode then jumps back a few minutes and returns to the darkness of the storm, as Tsukishima, Koito, and Svetlana find an injured Tanigaki, who tells them Kiroranke is wounded and on the run. While in pursuit, the two soldiers make the mistake of picking up Tanigaki’s rifle, which was rigged with a bomb by Kiroranke. Tsukishima’s neck is gashed in the blast, but Koito is relatively okay, and continues the chase.

He and Kiroranke eventually become locked in a bitter grappling match; Koito with his saber and Kiroranke with his rifle. Kiroranke has escaped worse scrapes in his long bloody history, but with Asirpa learning the truth about his treachery at Abashiri Prison and Sugimoto already knowing he’s bad news, whatever becomes of him, he can no longer hide his true colors.

As of this tremendous episode’s ending, Ogata, Tanigaki, Tsukishima, and Kiroranke are all seriously wounded, while Koito may be about to be. Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi are all fine. Sofia strangely plays no role in this episode, but I wonder where her loyalties will lie (I suspect with herself) while Svetlana just wants to go to St. Petersburg. Most importantly, Sugimoto and Asirpa are together again. That one fact makes my whole month.

Golden Kamuy – 34 – Hesitation is Starvation

The big day arrives, and while not everything goes according to plan—not all of the explosives planted in the prison walls detonate, and oh yeah, a frikkin’ Siberian Tiger complicates matters a bit—but Sofia is freed from Ako Prison. It’s a day she’s clearly been relishing, judging from the amount of fun she’s having. She even briefly rides the tiger!

Sugimoto’s team can see the explosion from where they are on the outskirts of Ako, meaning they’re catching up just as Asirpa’s team is heading out of the town across the ice floes. So tantalizingly close, and yet so far…

As Sofia trudges through the floes with Asirpa’s team, she seems glad to see the daughter of Wilk, whom she loved so much, and the bottomless pools of those deep blue eyes. With Kiroranke translating (remember, Sofia never bothered to learn Japanese), she tells Asirpa what a “pure and beautiful” man Wilk was, and how he taught a rich city girl about the minority ethnic groups and their plight in the rapidly modernizing world.

There’s no more impactful symbol of Wilk’s ethos and the natural order from which that world is retreating than a goddamn tiger, who also greets Sugimoto’s team when they arrive at Ako prison. When they fire shots to scare it off (killing it is bad luck), the unique report of Tanigaki’s old rifle catch’s Ogata’s ear all the way out on the ice floes. The dude really knows his guns, but he can’t quite believe that it means Tanigaki is following them.

Meanwhile, Sofia continues to tell Asirpa stories about Wilk, who believed the Native Americans couldn’t defeat the white man because they were at war with each other, necessitating the importance of creating a federation of all ethnic minorities to battle Imperial rule.

Sofia also regales Asirpa with the time they were on the run from the secret police and one of them was seriously wounded, slowing them down. When the police grew nearer, Wilk slit his throat so his moans wouldn’t give them away. He only ever did what was necessary exactly when it was necessary and not a moment later, which is what made him such a good revolutionary.

That ethos had been instilled in Wilk as a young lad, when he would often visit a wolf that had been separated from its pack by illness or “some other defect”. One day he found the lone wolf dead; killed by its own pack which he had called to with his howls. The other wolves in his pack saw his weakness as a threat to all of them, so they did what was necessary to survive. Young Wilk took that wolf’s pelt and wore it, leading his father to name him after the wilk, Polish for “wolf”.

Wilk taught Asirpa this wolfish way of living, which for those who live off the land like the Ainu is even more important: not to show kindness or mercy if it can become weakness. A bear cub too old to raise in the kotan is just as valuable a source of food as its mother. Hesitating to kill it out of pity could spell starvation and death. Beauty is strength, and strength is life.

This talk of Wilk’s name causes Asirpa to remember the night her father told him his Ainu name, Horkew Oskoni, which means “catching up to the wolf.” Asirpa then remembers the symbols on the prisoner tattoos, and seemingly solves the code right there in her head. Ogata seems to notice this.

As for Shiraishi, he became separated from Asirpa and the others when he ran off to take a piss and the floe he was on cracked and drifted away. He must therefore take the long way around to catch up to the others, but one sheet of ice he jumps on suddenly shifts, threatening to dunk him into the deadly frigid ocean.

His wooden dick talisman saves him momentarily only to snap off in the ice, but he’s then saved by the outstretched arm of none other than Sugimoto Saichi. He seems happy to see his old pal. It’s just too bad that old pal got separated from the person he really wants to see…

Akudama Drive – 09 – All Work and No Play

Brother is in custody atop Executioner HQ. Swindler, Sister and Courier are going to rescue him before he can be transferred to Kanto. It’s a wonderfully simple objective…if only it were so easy to pull off. Suffice it to say, they run into a few…obstacles.

One person who doesn’t get in their way this week is Doctor, who beds Hoodlum on a lark (hey, he’s pretty). He’s an audience for her increasingly unhinged monologue not about living forever, but gaining control over the life and death of all things.

Once her speech is finished, she and Hoodlum look out the window to see what the commotion is about: Swindler sent out crazy messages online about a “Akudama army amassing”, and massive Akudama lynch mobs have formed in the streets as a response.

Both the riots and the independent carnage caused by a loose Cutthroat serve as dual diversions for the authorities, giving Swindler & Co. a better shot of getting to Brother. The police chief sits on his hands regarding the riots, but Boss visits him to insist he use the police to restore order—by force if necessary. No doubt a Kansai on fire doesn’t reflect well on her.

Sure enough, security is light at Executioner HQ. Throughout their interactions with the ever-stoic Courier, Swindler and Sister have become a wonderful call-and-response duo, with Sister even resembling a composite of Asirpa and Enonoka from Golden Kamuy in her essential cuteness.

Unfortunately, the greatest threat to the success of their mission is Cutthroat, who has already “decorated” HQ for his beloved Swindler’s sake…with the dismembered bodies of dozens of Executioners. This is when the rescue mission turns into a straight-up horror movie befitting the episode title “The Shining”.

We learn that the source of Cutthroat’s inscrutable attraction to Swindler has nothing to do with her hair or eye color, but the “red halo” he sees above her head in only his vision. As time has gone on that halo has only grown larger, and serves as a tracking device. He’s been holding back, but now it’s time to kill her and bask in the beauty of the red halo.

In short, Cutthroat, like Jack Torrance, is freakin’ nuts. Overt references to the Kubrick film include the river of blood through which Courier’s bike skids, Cutthroat’s limp as he chases Swindler, and of course, chopping through the wooden door (though he doesn’t declare “Here’s Johnny!”). He even seems to calm down and returns to a measure of sanity when Swindler locks herself in a armory.

He sweetly announces he’s decided not to kill her, so if she could kindly open the door that would be swell. Of course, he’s lying, but Swindler is well aware—you can’t swindle a swindler. She took steps to end the stalemate by strategically tossing lightsabers around the armory floor so she’ll never be without one however the struggle unfolds.

I’ll admit I was waiting for either Courier or Sister to help her in the nick of time, but she ends up killing Cutthroat (or something very close to it) by her own hands. Courier arrives afterwards with Sister to finish the job brother gave him, but by the time they reach the room the airship he’s on is already flying away—they just missed him.

With Doctor talking about how control is everything and her plans to use the sibling research to control everything, Swindler would likely settle for just a little control over her life, which has spiraled out of control. She went from an unassuming civil servant who’d never hurt a fly to someone who has been forced to maim and kill in order to survive.

Perhaps thanks in part to both Sister and Courier, she’s able to preserve her core decency and morality, even as the uglier elements of society attempted to sell her off, and someone operating completely outside all human decency or sanity took his best shot at her. He missed, and Swindler, the no-longer-Ordinary-at-all-Person, somehow endures.

Akudama Drive – 08 – Fly Me Almost to the Moon

Poor Swindler, who has possibly the worst luck of all the Akudama, not least because she really isn’t one. The old rocket runs out of fuel long before reaching the ruins of the moon, and she and Sister come crashing down in a field of sewage…not a soft field of green grass and flowers, which apparently doesn’t exist anymore.

Miraculously, Swindler survives a rocket crash thanks to pulling the emergency ejection lever, and Sister is fine because she’s invulnerable, but their troubles have only begun. They can’t stay put, because they made one hell of a conspicuous return to the earth. Absent any other ideas, they head back to Kansai.

Doctor, officially no longer an Akudama, is able to infiltrate a research lab and learn more about the blood of the Siblings. It’s clear she’s going to use her new freedom and wealth to do what she’s always done; play with the human bodies, both of others and herself.

As for Apprentice, her name is poised to change to Master (or at least Senpai) as Boss assigns her a eager new junior male partner. She wants none of this, and Boss can tell from Apprentice’s remaining good eye that she seeks death like her Master did.

Swindler and Sister return to the city and go to the takoyaki stall where her whole whirlwind adventure began, fulfilling a promise to Sister I never thought would be fulfilled so soon. Alas, as soon as she uses her seal, Wanted alerts pop up everywhere. The Internet of Things is terrifying.

As they try to outrun the fuzz, Hoodlum wallows on the seedier side of town, missing his kyoudai Brawler and not knowing what to do next. When he’s recognized as a wanted Akudama, his moments on the earth seem numbered…until Doctor appears. Hoodlum just happened to slip a tracker in Lil’ Brother’s charm, but the position of the charm isn’t Executioner HQ, which is intriguing to Doctor.

Swindler and Sister find shelter from the pelting rain in the office of a vast junkyard, and are finally able to fill their empty bellies with canned goods, bathe, and change their soiled clothes. Swindler seems to relish suddenly having a little sister to care for, while Sister mimics Swindler in everything, even burping after eating her fill. Swindler also snips off all her hair to appear less like her Wanted picture.

Unfortunately, their shelter is already claimed by three thugs, who arrive and immediately consider selling the Sister (who they hope is under ten) and Swindler (if she’s a virgin) into slavery or some such awfulness. Swindler, having clearly learned a few things besides swearing from her criminal comrades, bides her time, then stabs two of the thugs and shoots the other. When one of them gets back up, he’s taken back down…by Courier.

Overwhelmed by the violence she had to exact in order to survive and protect Sister, Swindler passes out, but when she comes to, she and Sister are safe. Turns out Courier only tracked them down to complete one last job given to him by Brother before his capture: deliver the charm to Sister. With that done, he’s ready to move on, but Swindler is able to convince him to help them rescue Brother. Not with her billion yen share (which he calls “chump change”) but with her desperate plea that “this is all she has left”.

Swindler can no longer be an Ordinary Person; the incident in the city proved that. No one will stand around, not kill her, and listen long enough for her to explain what happened to her, and in any case they would never believe her. She is Swindler now, and perhaps the only way she’ll ever be free from the pursuing Executioners is if the entire Executioner system oppressing her is taken down in its entirety.

Meanwhile, Cutthroat is still alive, searching for his Angel. With Doctor and Hoodlum headed towards the charm’s tracker signal, an Akudama reunion is in the cards. Will it be cordial, or will they be at each other’s throats? What was once a cohesive group has been ground down into the mud and blood. I don’t think any of them have a chance without each other.