Spy x Family – 13 – The Dog Borfs for Thee

After a brief recap of the premise and a nifty, breezy new OP, SpyFam gets right back into the swing of things, as Loid and Yor take Anya on an ooting to adopt a dog as a reward for her gaining her first of eight Stellae. The first pet shop is also the location of his contact, who has a new mission for him. Loid feigns digestive distress and tells Yor and Anya to go ahead while he’s whisked away to meet with Handler.

There’s a plot by terrorists at Berlint University planning to assassinate the Foreign Minister of Westalis in hopes of starting a war, but one of them has already been caught, and Loid barely pulls off the disguise of his leader Keith to get the kid to spill the beans about their operation and hideouts. Turns out they’re going to use…dog bombs, which doesn’t seem like the most efficient means of assassination.

One of these dogs is a gigantic fluffy white dog that doesn’t say “woof” or “bark” but “borf”, which is a lovely bit of onomatopoeia. But this is no ordinary dog, but one with the power of precognition, able to save a running child from a falling sign. Even without some hints that this dog was gong to join the family, it’s clear he and Anya are destined to meet.

That first meeting happens through glass as Anya is in a dog adoption event in a convention area with Yor. But she can tell there’s something about that dog; she sees her family when she reads his mind, and despite Yor telling her not to wander off, wander off is what Anya does.

Her search for the large pup takes her across the street, where she not only finds him (and a host of other poor good boys and girls), but stumbles upon the latest hideout of Keith and his minister-wasting dog bombers. When they realize she’s heard all of their very loud plotting, Keith wastes no time brandishing a pocketknife with which he intends to silence her.

That’s when the ol’ borfer bites through his leash and puts himself between Anya and the bad guys. Yes, he wimps out and later hides behind her, but his precognitive ability saves them both, as he uses the distraction of a phone call (warning the terrorists that someone leaked their plot) to get Anya away.

Anya, who is tiny, is able to ride the great pup like a horse through the streets, and while Yor overhears Anya’s voice and Anya asks the dog to go back to the adoption place, the dog just keeps on running, and Anya starts to revel in the excitement, determined to crack the case as Starlight Anya.

Alas, the dog’s sense of direction is poor, and they end up running right back into the baddies’ clutches. Keith delegates the killing of Anya to his henchman, who tells her no hard feelings and reaches out, presumably to strangle her. That obviously doesn’t happen because Mama Yor arrives and kicks him so hard he pinballs against the alley walls ten times.

Keith is gobsmacked by this sudden feat of strength, while Yor has the wrong idea: in her mind, these aren’t assassins trying to silence a witness to their dirty deeds, but a band of creeps trying to kidnap Anya and make her their bride. No doubt Keith will soon wish he never antagonized the diminutive coral-haired young lady. Or as she might say, he’s in deep shit.

Spy x Family – 12 (Part 1 Fin) – Aquatope of Spy Fam

It was pretty apparent SPY x FAMILY wasn’t going to end at twelve episodes, but not so apparent was how it would wrap up its first cour. Rather than a big new development or thrilling cliffhanger, it elects for a bit of a grab bag palate cleanser. The first few minutes are easily it’s weakest, as the heavy narration and retreading of facts we already know had the stench of a recap.

Thankfully, that soon transitions to Loid’s current predicament, which is that Operation Strix is not his only job as Twilight, it’s just his most important. Due to short staffing, he’s called upon to take on numerous side missions that keep him out late or otherwise separated from his fake family.

When he overhears the neighbors gossiping about it, he decides action must be taken to shore up his standing as husband and father in his apartment block by taking Anya and Yor to the aquarium on a day off. Of course, this means completing all of his side missions beforehand, leaving him particularly haggard on the big day.

Still, Loid shakes it off for the good of Operation Strix. As his fellow spy who works at the subway store makes clear, spies work towards peace and a day when they’re no longer needed. She also has a mission for Loid on the day of his family aquarium trip, but the mission happens to also take place at the aquarium.

It involves a secret microfilm containing intel on a new chemical weapon that could bring the country to its knees if it fell into the wrong hands. Fortunately, it is currently in no one’s hands, but down the gullet of one of the two hundred penguins at the Aquarium.

Loid, whom it’s been established is already exhausted from overwork, must balance time with his family (and keeping up appearances with the neighbors, who are also at the aquarium) and disguise himself as a far-too-competent newbie aquarium worker.

When he finds the penguin with the film, he’s soon confronted by its intended recipient, whose lousy fake professor ID doesn’t fool Loid for a second. The bad guy bolts, but Anya (who had previously used her ESP to find the right penguin for Papa) tracks him down, grabs him, and pretends to be kidnapped.

When she calls out to her Mama, Yor springs into action, once again demonstrating she has a bright future as a hero of justice if she ever wanted to ditch the whole cold-blooded assassin thing. She kicks the dude so hard his head goes through the ceiling and keeps him hanging there.

I love how Loid’s difficult day is made much easier by his daughter, who as we know cannot reveal her powers to him, lest the show lose a third of its conceit. Loid uses the energy saved to make a big show of being a Number One Dad to Anya by winning her a giant penguin plushie.

Being between five and six (like my own niece), Anya immediately makes use of her vivid imagination to create her own intelligence agency with her new penguin plushie. She gives him a hilarious tour of the apartment as if it were a secret spy hideout, and also uses the tour as a pretense to enter her Mama and Papa’s rooms, which is forbidden due to all the “dangerous things” that are in them.

Loid yells at Anya for trying to go into his room without permission, and as you would expect of a little kid, Anya also overreacts, saying she hates Papa and Mama and threatens to run away from home. Loid and Yor quickly improvise to improve Anya’s mood by lending their voices to her Penguin plushie and toy robot. Their roleplaying continues out on the city streets, where passersby note what a “sweet family” they are.

It is an incredibly sweet, if low-key, way to end this first cour: with the core family at perhaps its most charming and convincing. The word “fake” is thrown around a lot, but while Loid, Yor, and Anya are all hiding huge secrets form one another, the more they interact with each other and experience new things together, the less fake a family they become.

Spy x Family – 09 – Best Selves

When Loid moves in for that kiss to prove he and Yor are in love, both Yor and Yuri panic; Yor because she’s never been kissed, and Yuri because he always dreamed of marrying Yor and doesn’t want to see her kiss anyone else. Yor chugs the rest of the wine to build up the courage to kiss Loid.

The very moment she can’t go through with it is the same moment Yuri tries to stop her, resulting in Yor slapping the absolute shit out of Yuri. He flies right into his ridiculous bouquet, resulting in a cloud of rose petals that in any other situation would be romantic.

Yor helps Yuri up, Yuri helps Yor stay vertical, and Loid helps keep both of them vertical. He tells them what lovely siblings they are (even with Yuri bleeding profusely) and privately feels envy for their familial bond, as he’s never had that. Unaware that even 2D-chess eludes the Briars, he starts to suspect that Yor might’ve married him at Yuri’s behest to get closer to him.

Yuri is too goofy and his blind spot vis-a-vis Yor is too large for him to feel like any threat to the mission to me, but Twilight is a spy; it’s his job not to trust anyone, even Yor. At the same time, Yor’s inability to kiss Loid or cook has her worried she’s not acting like a proper wife should.

Anya, who slept through the excitement (and really wants to meet her secret police uncle) picks up on these bad vibes, but can’t reassure either parent as it might give away her ability. So as she boards the school bus, she simply tells them they “need to get along”. Loid chalks it up to how “curously observant” kids can be.

Then, he plants a damned bug on Yor in order to listen in on her day, and while she’s out on an errand for her boss, he and Franky stop her while disguised as Secret Police.

If it were anyone other than someone like Loid in the situation he’s in, I would call this obsessive behavior. But if his gut can’t 100% discount that Yor isn’t secretly working with her brother, this is all he can do to assuage his suspicions. Franky predictably buries himself in the part of bad cop, quickly accusing Yor of leaking state secrets.

Throughout her day to that point, Loid had listened in and gotten nothing, and even when Yor’s back is literally against the wall in front of two secret policemen, her “story” doesn’t change, because it isn’t a story: she’s a good citizen (other than the assassinations) who loves her family and country and would never engage in espionage.

When Frankie tries to touch her, Yor restrains him with ease and warns both him and Loid that she doesn’t care who they are or who they work for; she’ll show them no mercy if they hurt her family. Loid takes another look at the letter Yor was mailing and says they made a mistake, and let her go.

Loid won’t admit it, but his relief is soured by guilt he felt going to such lengths to try to catch Yor in a lie. Ironically, she’s able to successfully preserve the actual secret she’s been keeping from Loid all along (that she’s a ruthless super-assassin).

When he meets up with Yor later, she apologizes for not being a proper wife, but Loid comforts her by saying she’s fine the way she is, always striving to be her best self. Everyone puts on acts to some degree, and it grows tiring and eventually intolerable. Better to not put on an act when one is neither desired or needed.

They buy cake to celebrate a year of marriage, and when Anya comes home (her “I HAVE RETURNED” is a great kid greeting), reads their minds, and finds the bad vibes have vanished, her face brightens—Mama and Papa are getting along.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Yuri, I’m glad his antics indirectly led to Loid and Yor clearing the air and growing a little closer. Next week, we return to Eden, and Anya’s solemn mission to befriend a little jerk.

Sonny Boy – 09 – 3 Cats and a Kotatsu

I’m still thinking about Episode 8, so I knew it would be hard to top it…for anything to top it anytime soon. Episode 9 doesn’t come close…but it does begin with the three Nyamazon cats shooting the shit like three wise old farts under a kotatsu. It’s just the latest reminder that predicting what Sonny Boy will throw at you from one week to the next is like trying to predict every move in a chess game when you’re not in the same room.

The cats, famous lovers of warmth, are under the kotatsu because outside the kotatsu is a frozen, snowy world. Nozomi, Nagara, Yamabiko, and their human Mizuho have traveled there to try to settle a thousands-of-years-old battle between two twins over who has the most hairs on their head (one claims to have one more). But it’s also a look back at Mizuho, and how the white cat Sakura believes she can’t survive without the three of them.

Honestly, the twin story is a bit dull, but it at least ties into the concept of duplication, which we learn is to be Mizuho’s true power. Everything the cats deliver to Mizuho and the others is a copy of products from the original world they came from. While Mizuho’s inner circle certainly wouldn’t hold it against her, the cats, who have been with Mizuho since she was a kid and still believe her to be one, are determined to keep it under wraps.

It’s Yamabiko who approaches Sakura with his suspicion that everything the cats deliver is copies. Sakura then admits that Rajdhani had previously figured out that Mizuho had copied everyone from the world, and now they’re drifting as copies of the people they once were, both the same and different, like the twins. Mind you, this dawned on Rajdhani when two copies of a tick dating Game Boy game(!) arrived, even though he knows there was only ever one in existence.

Yet Rajdhani didn’t tell a soul, proving to the cats he had “a fine character, for being so hairless”. Two copies were made of Sou Seiji, like someone accidentally ordering two of something on Amazon by clicking twice.

Sakura is caught in a bear trap to be a sacrifice of one of the twins, but Mizuho and Yamabiko save her. When armed with a gold ray gun by the shit-stirrer Aki-sensei, the other twin ends up with another ray gun, resulting in a duel that ends with only one twin standing, only for that surviving twin to take his own life.

Mixed in with this is how Asakaze seems to be making a habit of lashing out at Nozomi for not liking him romantically, leading to her spending the night outside sulking. One of the cats keeps her company all night, and in the blood red morning Nagara joins them, thanking her for “showing him the light”, leading him to change.

In a world full of copies and sheep, Nozomi, Nagara, Mizuho and Yamabiko (not to mention Rajdhani) stand out as one-of-a-kind souls who all thank the likes of Aki-sensei or Asakaze to let them pick their own places.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 08 – Canis Dei

What if you befriended God? Yamabiko pretty much did, as he tells the tale of how he became a dog to Nagara and Mizuho as they sit beside campfires in wastelands and traverse various gorgeous landscapes. Kodama was special. She could “direct” all things, and so quickly became worshipped by all her classmates. She became their “whole world.”

Then, out of nowhere, their world became something else: a pandemic struck the class. Horrible red tumors grew on their bodies, including Kodama’s. But Yamabiko, ever her loyal subject, refused to say she was ugly. In fact, he felt very much the opposite: she was hard to look at because she had become too brilliant. When one of her tumors burst and her blood flowed, he lapped it up, and transformed into a dog.

Yamabiko never thought he did much with his human form, an ill-natured youth wandering the worlds alone and bitter. But one night he was pulled out of the literal muck by Kodama. He found himself in a “peaceful, easy world” where she and the others lived contentedly. But she admits it’s dull, as living their cut them off from new information.

Yamabiko couldn’t understand why anyone, much less someone akin to a god as Kodama, would be kind to him. It disturbed him, so he attempted to flee. Remind you of anyone Yamabiko is currently traveling with? Naga-er, Yamabiko tried to sail a raft across the sea, only for Kodama to catch up to him with a hot meal. When he tosses it over the side, she dives in and makes a giant goddamn soup fountain that Yamabiko couldn’t help but lap up.

The more time he spent with Kodama, the more he thought he had come to the end of his once endless wandering, to his destination. But then the pandemic struck, and a man appeared who seemed to fare worse than any of them. This man was the first and only person to call Kodama “ugly”. It both shocked and pleased her, that someone would tell her the truth. That was the whole point.

This mysterious man, named “War” (which…okay) indicated he was not the sole cause of the pandemic, but a side effect of the otherworld in which everyone dwelled. In this world, mental wounds became physical tumors. As for who made this world, well…when Yamabiko was pulled out of that muck, he was being pulled into a world of his own making, which is why Kodama’s godlike powers could not stop the pandemic.

Yamabiko learns to late that had he “changed” himself and flown voluntarily out of the shell he had created around himself, he could have saved Kodama and everyone else; even met them on the other side, in another world where the pandemic didn’t exist. But he couldn’t. Even when Kodama was the last one alive and all but consumed by the red crystal-like tumors, he stayed by her side like the dog he was…loyal to a fault.

Then Kodama died, and Yamabiko finally fulfilled his promise to Kodama by flying out. He’d stayed there till the end because he feared losing the light that she represented. As for actually flying out, it took him five thousand years to do so.

As Yamabiko completes his tale, he, Nagara, and Mizuho reunite with Nozomi, and learn that while they believe they arrived precisely on the day agreed upon, time moves two weeks faster for her. No matter; Nagara takes her phone and re-syncs their times.

That night, beside another fire, Nozomi catches up on what Yamabiko has told the others. He also tells them that this “War” fellow was trying to kill God. Nagara wonders whether it would make a difference even if such a thing could be done while roasting a marshmallow.

So yeah…Yamabiko’s been through some shit. Kodama immediatley asserted herself as one of the most impactful characters of the series in just one episode, and much of that is due to Taketatsu Ayana’s virtuoso performance.

Combined with Tsuda Kenjirou’s dulcet tones, a lush, moody futuristic soundtrack, all those gorgeous, painterly vistas, and some truly gut-wrenching moments, this Sonny Boy stands as the most raw, unrelenting, and personal outing yet. I’ll be watching this many more times in the future, no doubt gleaning new insights or noticing new details each time.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

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

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 05 – Red(shirt) Herring

This is one of those fast-paced grab-bag episodes where nearly every member of the main cast is given time to shine, yet doesn’t feel overstuffed. We start with the C-plot, in which Captain Freeman meets the haughty captain of the USS Vancouver, which is newer and superior in every way to the Cerritos.

The two ships are tasked with removing a rogue moon on a collision course with a planet, but first Freeman has to wade into interminable negotiations with inhabitants of the planet who for various reasons don’t want the moon destroyed. I’m immediately reminded of two season 3 TNG episodes: “Deja Q”, which involves moving a moon, and “The Vengeance Factor” which involves mediation with aliens.

The Vancouver also happens to be the ship where Boimler’s girlfriend is stationed, which means they get to meet up, forming the A-plot. At first Mariner is convinced Lt. Barbara Brinson is either made up or a hologram, and when she finally meets her, she finds her to be a bit too perfect. Boimler also feels threatened when he learns Brinson will be working closely with Jet, her burly ex from the Cerritos.

Finally we have the B-plot, in which Tendi and Rutherford are instantly enamored with the Vancouver and all her advanced bells and whistles unheard of on the technologically modest Cerritos, including a nearly mythical diagnostic tool called the T-88. The two are assigned one each by Lt. Cmdr. Ron Docent with the promise that whoever does the most with it will get to keep it.

“When a Starfleet relationship seems too good to be true, then red alert, man—it probably is!” So says Mariner, who as the crew’s Trek Fan Surrogate, knows what she’s talking about. Not only have the TV shows been full of these kinds of one-off relationships in which the significant other turns out to be a spy or alien or parasite, but Mariner herself witnessed a friend’s face being melted off by her seemingly perfect boyfriend years back.

Worried about her getting back with Jet, Boimler ends up breaking work-life boundaries by visiting Brinson at work, while Mariner follows him to try to investigate Brinson’s true identity. Neither Brad nor Beckett come off particularly well.

But it doesn’t end there. Mariner becomes increasingly paranoid, to the point she sets up a bulletin board with string connecting possibilities (this board is packed with references) like Charlie’s “Pepe Silvia” investigation in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. What is effective is that based on past Trek and her own traumatic experience, it’s never 100% certain she’s not right, even though you expect the episode to subvert the trope.

Boimler than tries to compensate for what he feels are personal shortcomings by wearing the coolest outfit ever (as determined by computer algorithm) and joining Brinson and Jet in the mess for a beer. Trouble is, Brinson and Jet are still on duty. Then Boimler trips and spills beer on Brinson (pulling what in Starfleet should be called a Sonya Gomez), then a crazed Mariner snips off some of her hair.

When Boimler comes to Brinson to apologize for being such a jealous jerk she agrees to a reset, but still not convinced Brinson is a normal hot human woman, Mariner goes so far as to go on a totally unauthorized EVA to one of the orbital platforms where Boimler and Brinson are working alone. There, she encounters a naked Boimler who mistook her for Brinson. I guess disregard for regulations is rubbing off on him, eh?

Back on the Vancouver, Tendi and Rutherford get into a heated competition for who can scan the most with their shiny new T-88s, hoping to show them off to their division-mates back home. Docent announces they achieved the exact same amount of work, so they both get the tools, plus something they didn’t know they were vying for: a transfer to the Vancouver.

After Boimler bumps his head on a console and passes out, Brinson and Mariner start to fight. Turns out Brinson has been suspecting Mariner all of the things Mariner suspected of her. Why? Because Mariner is such a badass, it seems unlikely she’d be friends with a guy like Boimler.

Learning of Brinson’s esteem for her, the two start to hit it off as friends in their own right, bonding over their shared amusement with Boimler’s many greenhorn mistakes. Eventually, Captain Freeman orders the immediate implosion of the moon when she learns the last holdout and his wife were the only inhabitants of a second planet that would be made uninhabitable. As Spock once said, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

When checking on Boimler, Brinson and Mariner discover a parasite attached to his brain, which was making him chemically irresistible to select others of his species. This was a factor in Brinson’s falling for him so fast, but as she notes it isn’t the only factor—she actually does like the guy!

Unfortunately for him she likes her career a bit more, and the need to research the parasite from his head means it’s probably best if they part ways rather than exacerbate what is already an interstellar long distance relationship. That said, she’s made plans to hang out with Mariner in the future, so maybe we’ll see her again.

Finally, Tendi and Rutherford decide they don’t want to abandon their friends and comrades on the Cerritos, something Docent is furious about because he intended to swap with them, leaving behind the stress of being a Vancouver crew member, which is more akin to being one on the Enterprise-D: just about every week, something epic happens.

Back on Home Sweet Cerritos, Tendi and Rutherford reveal they both stole duffels full of T-88s for each other, thus confirming why they are friends. All in all, this episode was a great vehicle to further explore the main cast all doing their things while held together by the overarching moon mission. Well-constructed and imminently charming and entertaining.

Stray Obervations:

  • Mariner mentions a lot of possibilities for Brinson’s true form, but one of the funnier ones is “sexy people in rompers who will execute you for stepping on the grass”, a reference to the TNG first season episode “Justice”.
  • She also mentions “salt succubi”, referring to the monster in very first episode of Star Trek: “The Man Trap”, which aired fifty-four years ago next Tuesday!
  • She also mentions Q (who actually helped the Enterprise move the moon in “Deja Q” and Captain Picard Day, which was first celebrated on-camera in “The Pegasus”.
  • Mariner’s ship, the Keto, resembles Captain Beverly Picard’s medical ship, the USS Pasteur, in an alternate future shown in the TNG finale “All Good Things.” Its spherical primary hull is itself an homage to some of the earliest designs of the first Enterprise, before the saucer shape was chosen.
  • Furthermore, the Keto is docked at Deep Space Nine, while the Starfleet uniforms match those worn in DS9’s final season.
  • Mariner’s fake code prior to going on EVA is “Mariner 8”, which was a spacecraft meant to orbit Mars that, like Beckett’s carrer, failed to launch.
  • Mariner compares Jet to both Kirk and the Enterprise (NX-01)’s chief engineer, Trip Tucker.

 

ReLIFE – 16

Well THAT escalated quickly! Christmas is approaching, and after Kaizaki recommends an almost too-pure-for-the-world Oga to just take Kariu anywhere and they’ll have fun, he suddenly finds Hoshiro not only avoiding him, but bolting away like a scared chipmunk whenever he makes eye contact.

Kariu and Tamarai kinda already know what’s up; both Kariu and Oga previously pegged Kaizaki and Hoshiro as being in love, so they convene in the locker room to get it from the horse’s mouth. Yet all Hoshiro can say about her feelings is “I don’t know.” Kariu, suddenly the mature one to provide the advice, tells her “I don’t know” isn’t going to cut it…not when she’s just “one step away.”

Later, Tamarai simply advises Hoshiro to ask Kaizaki on a date, just as Oga advised Kaizaki to ask Hoshiro. But just when Kaizaki thinks their distance couldn’t be any greater, Hoshiro sneaks up behind him and asks him if he’s free on the 25th and to expect further details by LIME.

That night, Kaizaki is a nervous wreck, but finally gets those details, along with another silly Hoshiro cat sticker. Hoshiro makes it clear it’s a date and she’s looking forward to it. After getting the all-green from Yoake, Kaizaki isn’t about to turn her down, even if he believes it will “ruin her Christmas” when she inevitably forgets all about him.

The date starts out a bit stiff, but both parties seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they mill around the mall doing date stuff. In an adorable little detail, Hoshino, completely unaware that “Christmas” dates typically happen on Christmas Eve, set the date for Christmas day, but that ends up working out just fine, as it’s a lot less crowded.

The montage of their date is a somewhat creepy montage of photos taken by Yoake and Onoya, who are keeping a respectful distance but still watching and listening to their charges like hawks…while trying to get in some Christmas chilling of their own.

When Onoya acknowledges with a somber look that both of the lovebirds will forget all about their wonderful date, Yoake, always trying to find the silver lining, says that won’t mean it never happened…which, fine, but dude, that’s not the same of having a date and remembering it! The latter is much better, and these two deserve much better!

Yoake, having at least a sliver of heart, sends a quick message to Kaizaki informing him it’s actually Hoshiro’s birthday. When she gets him a present for Christmas, he gets her one for both Christmas and her birthday, bringing a warm and appreciative smile to her face.

When the two go up in a Ferris Wheel, Hoshiro asks Kaizaki what his birthday is. He tells her it already passed in August, and both get very troubled and pained when they say they’ll just have to celebrate it next year, knowing full well (at least at this point) that next year won’t happen for them, and saying they’ll never forget today. It’s hard to watch, I tellsya!

But even if nothing romantic happens on the Ferris Wheel, things turn around on a bridge. Kaizaki impulsively reaches out and takes Hoshiro’s arm as if to hug her, but she draws back. Apologizing, she tells him how much he’s “on her mind”, and the more he’s on her mind, the less she understands what to do.

It’s all the opening Kaizaki needs. He tells her she’s on his mind to, and that he loves her. That in turn allows Hoshiro to take the one final step Kariu was talking about: she tells him her feelings for him are the same.

With that, it suddenly starts raining. Ever prepared, Hoshino breaks out her umbrella and holds it out for Kaizaki. He takes hold just above her hand, but she puts her hand over his before they walk away together into the dark sacred night.

I honestly have no idea where things will go from here, and I can’t rule out the possibility Yoake will have his way and their memory of one another will vanish, which would be an appalling tragedy. That’s why I wouldn’t have minded if this was the final episode.

After sixteen episodes of these two, things are exactly where I want them. Will I regret watching one more episode? Am I a fool for hoping some kind of happy ending is still possible? One, perhaps, in which they meet and hit it off as strangers? Hey, I’ll take a relationship respawn over a system failure any day.

ReLIFE – 15

In this outing the Aoba Fest, with its maid/butler cafe and stalls and bonfire, comes and goes fairly briskly. Kaizaki and Hishiro alike try to make the most of their second chance at a pivotal time in high school life, but it’s a decidedly bittersweet experience.

It’s obvious why it’s sweet: the festival looks like a lot of fun, especially when much of it has Kaizaki, Hishiro, and their friends dressed to the nines. After Hishiro tried to get Yoake to slip up and tell her Kaizaki is also a subject, she tries to find out for herself by grabbing Kaizaki’s arm and drawing close to him, as if they were dating…with inconclusive results.

She could interpret him as being uncomfortable because he’s really an adult, or he could just be flustered because she’s acting out of the ordinary, which she kinda is. The bitter part comes when the festival ends, when Kaizaki laments that he’ll “vanish” when his ReLife ends.

Yoake corrects him by saying he has to take solace in knowing he left his “mark” with these high schoolers; things happened in their lives that wouldn’t have happened without Kaizaki.

Onoya has a similar chat with Hishiro, telling her to take pride in the fact she’s taken a “lovely step forward” by taking an interest in someone like Kaizaki. Whether it’s true love or not, that’s something the pre-ReLife Hishiro couldn’t do.

Yoake’s attempt to cheer Kaizaki doesn’t last when his class undergoes college counseling. Both he and Hishiro choose to go to Aoba U like Kariu and Oga, even though they know it’s “pointless” since in reality their ReLifes will end and they won’t be joining their friends, nor will their friends remember them.

Any way you look at it, that stings. That stings hard enough to wonder if it was a bad idea to do a ReLife in the first place, even when one considers how socially and emotionally improved it made them.

It stings enough for Kaizaki to ask Yoake if he really has to go back to his old life, and has to let all the friends he’s made forget about them. Yoake reminds him that Kaizaki didn’t become someone new in his ReLife, he regained the friendly straightforward person he was.

But that restoration couldn’t have happened if Kaizaki hadn’t lived his life as he had before ReLife, which he’s now asking to discard. Yoake tells him not to give up on “Original” Kaizaki; “High School” Kaizaki is, after all, only an illusion.

Onoya, having only just started becoming Hishiro’s support, has nevertheless been engaged with the whole crew for some time now, and unlike Yoake, hasn’t quite accepted what they’re doing and sees the end result as cruel, sad, and scary.

Continuing his role as comforter-in-chief, Yoake tells her ReLife isn’t about enjoying every moment to the fullest in a life that is fleeting by design, and all they can do in their capacity as ReLife staff is support them with everything they’ve got, without regrets.

That night, Hishiro resigns herself to the fact there’s really no way to find out for sure whether Kaizaki is a fellow test subject, and there’s no point in thinking about it…yet she can’t stop thinking about it. Could that mean it’s not so pointless after all?

The next day is class photo day, and Kaizaki and Hishiro both know that it’s a photo in which no one else in the shot, not even the good friends they’ve made, will remember them.

They’ll be like “ghosts” in such a photo. And yet, just as the shot is taken, they look in each others‘ directions, holding out hope that a fragment of a memory will still remain in someone’s mind when they look at this photo.

Must all of the dream-crushing things the vile Yoake says really come to pass according to plan? Must these two people really forget one another? I, like them, certainly hope not!

ReLIFE – 14

Well, this is a nice surprise on the second day of Spring when there’s a Nor’easter pummeling my coast: a bonus episode of one of my favorite shows of 2016, ReLIFE! These four new reviews won’t make much sense without watching the 13 that came before, which I highly recommend. You can catch up by reading my reviews here.

When we left the main couple of Hishiro and Kaizaki, we knew they were both subjects, but they didn’t know that they were, and so maintained a distance that was not bridged, since they both assume they’ll lose contact with the other forever because of the nature of ReLIFE.

Still, both have benefited tremendously from their experiences as high schoolers, and continue to do so. Meanwhile, real high schoolers Kariu and Oga are now an item, while Yoake is transferring Hishiro to his junior Onoya now that she’s entering an “unprecedented” second year.

Hishiro now rather strongly suspects that Kaizaki is a test subject like her, but Yoake will neither confirm or deny it, while warning her that if she learned that he was a subject, it would spell the end of his experiment and an immediate severance, and Hishiro would never see him again.

With that in mind, Hishiro treads carefully, but is still eager to learn the truth. To that end, when Kaizaki is made the class boys’ cultural festival officer, she volunteers to be the girls’ officer. They work tremendously well together and the paperwork flies off the proverbial desk.

Their work is momentarily interrupted by a problem Oga is having. He got in a fight with Kariu for shooting down the idea of her coming over to his place after a date, because he didn’t want to hurt his older shut-in brother and feared Kariu wouldn’t “approve” of him.

Kaizaki and Hishiro put on a veritable friend-cheering-up and advise clinic, with Kaizaki assuring Oga that the best way to act around family is naturally, without hiding anything, while Hishiro assures him if he just tells Kariu what’s up, she’ll accept it; in fact, she’s probably mad because he didn’t in the first place.

Afterwards, Kaizaki and Hishiro exchange words of mutual respect. Kaizaki, unaware that Hishiro is a fellow adult, continues to be astounded by her maturity and wisdom beyond her years, while Kaizaki’s very accurate suspicions persist.

The two continue festival prep, and Oga and Kairu make an appearance to show they made up nicely, but later in the day, when Kaizaki returns to the classroom to find Hishiro worn out and asleep at her desk, he resists the urge to touch her head in affection, while in his head admitting he’s fallen for her.

So, we’ve come a little further from the fireworks festival episode, in that Hishiro is on to Kaizaki (the level of her surety is up for debate, but the fact she’s right is indisputable) and Oga and Kariu are doing nicely as a couple. But both Kaizaki’s ignorance of Hishiro’s true age and Oga’s veiled threat prevented all the truth from coming out. We’ll see if that happens in the next bonus episode.

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 05

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Alright: I’m officially frustrated with how slowly this arc is moving. It’s one thing to spend an episode or two in one place, but this is getting ridiculous. Yaozou holds another tedious meeting to bring everyone up to speed, and we keep seeing the same flashbacks of Rin flaring up and standing trial. The show seems to be spending so much time reminiscing while setting the table, I’m starting to lose my appetite.

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Mamushi, still being portrayed with the possibility she could still be redeemed, if barely, is having difficulty bearing the evil of the Right Eye, but Todou claims he can’t bear them both alone. Mamushi honestly thinks she’s doing what’s best for her order, so a little suffering is par for the course.

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The sitting around back at Myoda HQ is all the more frustrating because no one, save Tatsuma, seems to be in any hurry to follow Todou and Mamushi. Granted they vanished without a trace, but…you’re exorcists. Do something exorcisty to detect and find them! Instead we get more meetings, then are treated to Yukio reading a letter by Tatsuma that’s as big as a goddamn book.

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Granted, at least the book-letter takes us to a different place, namely the Myoda Temple years ago, when Tatsuma was a young man with a dying pregnant wife and preparing to take over from the master, his ailing father. We also learn that Rin’s Koma Sword was once the main relic of the Myoda sect…until one day Rin and Yukio’s dad…stole it.

Now that sounds like an interesting story. But in the back of my mind, I know that back in the present Rin and Yukio and Shura are sitting around in a jail doing nothing. What little momentum had been built up isn’t likely to survive such a leisurely stroll down memory lane.

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