Kuromukuro – 22

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With Kurobe Lab captured, its remaining staff brainwashed, and the Pivot Stone in Efidolg hands, the enemy halts its advance, allowing the good guys a measure of uneasy peace this week. Zell pays a visit to the Shirahane household to tell the story of how he met and befriended their husband and father Takehito.

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From the moment Zell jumps out of the shadows when Takehito tries to cut himself (to lure the “ogre” to his trap after many other baits failed), their entire interaction is pure gold. I love how unafraid Takehito is of Zell, and how Zell, while a little weirded out by this guy just runs with it, inviting him to his cave for some tasty boil-in-a-bag, showing him where he came from, and warning him of the Efidolg threat.

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Yukina’s father parted ways with Zell but got caught in a sudden snowstorm that claimed his life. Koharu would’ve just been a baby when this happened, but Yukina regrets calling her dad a liar, when he was right about everything. The “ogres” (or “oni”) that are a part of Japanese legend were actually ancient aliens.

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That night, as Yukishi says a prayer for Takehito, Muetta…wanders off, but not back to the Efidolg. She actually has no idea where she belongs anymore, only that it isn’t here. She can’t get the childhood memory of her homeworld out of her head, and the fact that memory may be fake doesn’t make it feel any less real or powerful.

Ken and Yukina go out to look for her, but the activated Pivot Stone lowers the temperature of the vicinity significantly, causing premature snow. Yukina trips and falls into a snowdrift, but Koharu’s ferret finds her, runs back to Muetta, then leads her Lassie-style to Yukina.

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Once again proving she’s not evil, Muetta strips down and warms the freezing Yukina up with her own body heat, causing Yukina to wake up very confused, but then very grateful for saving her life (and I’ll just say Ken really dropped the ball leaving Yukina behind without making sure she got back home safely.) When Muetta breaks down into tears at her frustration of not knowing where to go or what to do, Yukina gives her the only thing she can: a comforting hug and her belief that everything will be fine.

Like everyone else in this episode (who hasn’t been brainwashed), all Muetta and Yukina can really do is keep on surviving. Muetta notes that the premature Winter is the effect of the Pivot Stone, which will soon open a “star path” for the main Efidolg invasion force—if it isn’t open already. I simply don’t see how anyone survives if that force reaches Earth, so if anyone has an idea how to stop it and send the Efidolgs packing, now’s the time.

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Kuromukuro – 21

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Kuromukuro continues to blast through barriers it once held back from, building the diligent, detailed preparation of its first half. The care it took building its world, its technology, its characters and their roles relationships is all paying off.

There’s something irresistibly striking and engrossing about having witnessed the building of such a beautiful, intricate work, and then, in its 21st episode, it pins its ears back and smashes it all to bits without mercy.

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Ken saved Yukina, sure, but he was only able to thanks to Muetta. But that doesn’t change the fact that she’s The Enemy, and when they land, she’s treated as such despite Ken’s protestations. Then the “Ogre” Zell shows up, and Ken rushes at him reflexively, just as a fiery samurai who’s come face to face with his nemesis would be expected to.

But Zell does something wonderfully subversive: he presupposes that Ken is simply mistaken about him being the enemy, dismissing over four centuries of hatred and mistrust in a matter of words. In reality, Zell is also the reason Ken was able to save Yukina…not to mention the primary reason all his organs are still internal.

Zell isn’t done dispensing wisdom. He finally presents himself to the UN forces, and also solves the mystery of Muetta: she isn’t the original Yukihime, but a clone based on her genetic code, implanted with false memories a different personality…and the voice of Toyosaki Aki. This revelation seems to do a number of Muetta, and Yukina can’t help but feel for the “poor woman.”

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Unfortunately, these truths are the least of everyone’s problems. The most would be floating high above them, descending fast. The Lab and the surrounding town do their best to prepare and make a stand, but there can be no preparation, or victory, for what is coming, and arrives earlier than expected.

Efidolg mechas rain down from the heavens while the mothership looms menacingly. The three GAUS piloted by Tom, Shenmei, and Sebastian take a few foes out, but once the elite pilots show up in their fancier suits, the window on how long they can hold out significantly narrows.

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Ken, Yukina, Zell, and the Kuromukuro are occupied with Yorba, and Muetta is in custody, so her glongur stands by uselessly until knocked into the ocean by a raging Mirasa.

Then the mothership lands, dwarfing, then destroying the massive yet elegant arched bridge across the river, then literally driving stakes taller than mountains into the earth to form a perimeter shield that traps most if not all the evacuees in.

In every way, all hell is breaking loose, and it’s all the earthlings can do to keep from getting killed by the rubble of their own destroyed structures, to say nothing of surviving wave after wave of enemy mechas. The chaos and mounting hopelessness is palpable, and pulls you in.

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When Shenmei’s GAUS-3’s arm is ripped off, it lands on the Humvee that was transporting Muetta, flipping it upside down and trapping her in. Sophie, who witnessed the collision, rushes to free Muetta, and the gang composed of Yukina’s uncle, sister, and classmates stops to assist her.

Hopefully the altruism of these earthlings is not lost on her, for if there’s going to be any kind of counterattack or rather resistance to what’s shaping up to be a very successful Efidolg invasion, they’re going to need Muetta.

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That’s doubly true considering once the cactus-like personnel-sized mechas are sent in, firing tiny implants that go in the ears of earthlings and causes instant brainwashing and submission to the Efidolg. They are literally poaching all the talent.

Poor Rita saves her console-mate Beth from getting nabbed by a mecha, but she falls under their spell, as do countless other UN staff, soldiers, and townsfolk. Talk about complete and total domination.

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Shenmei’s GAUS is destroyed, forcing her to bail out with a super-cool inflatable escape pod, but such a feature doesn’t seem to be equipped on Sebastian’s GAUS. Either that, or he simply didn’t have time to eject when tackling Mirasa to the ground and blowing the two of them up when she tried to go after the bus carrying Muetta, Sophie and the other civvies.

Seb dies an Apparent Honorable Heroic Death, sacrificing himself to save them, but Sophie is crushed (emotionally, not literally). Ken, Yukina, and Zell grab Tom and retreat, completing an utter defeat I knew was coming but simply wasn’t prepared for how far it would go, so fast. So many of Kuromukuro’s safety nets are gone now.

The lab is toast, most of its staff dead or “turned”, the remaining heroes scattered with little more than their wits, and the Efidolg are now in possession of the final pivot stones. Assuming this is fairly close to Rock Bottom for our heroes’ fortunes, I simply thank goodness there’s five episodes left; this is a hole out of which it’s going to take some time to dig. And I can’t wait to see if, when, and how they pull it off.

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Qualidea Code – 05

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QC stuck to its guns b confirming Canaria is dead, as were all the other students who went through the no-entry zone. Ichiya is off in a cloud of grief, leaving Tokyo rudderless. Hime leads the way in stepping in to pick up the slack, initially putting forth policies intolerable enough that she hopes Ichiya’s own people convince him to come back.

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Hime shows a lot more depth this week, as more than simply the hyper overpowered princess we’ve seen her as so far. We see the true reason Hotaru cares for her so much. Ever since Hotaru saw Hime’s hands trembling as she told adults she was fine after her parent’s death, she knows when Hime is hiding her true emotions, which she must to in order to try to restore some semblage of morale in Tokyo.

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Unfortunately, neither the friendly nor the more hard-line tack do much good against the nearly catatonic Ichiya. She misjudges just how much Canaria meant to him by scolding him for “freezing every time one person dies.” Canaria wasn’t “one person”, she was the person to Ichiya. We also learn that one person managed to survive the post-no-entry purge: Aoi, but only because the adults took out her old Code and installed a new one, with very little explanation other than “you’ll be fine now.”

We know that going into the zone marked Canaria and the others for death by surprise Unknown attack. But we don’t know why, and the adults don’t want anyone else to know, either. That being said, Hotaru still wants answers, and if she can’t get them from the adults, she tries to lead Aoi back to the no-entry zone for clues, all but forcing her to explain why they simply cannot go back there.

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As expected, it’s Kasumi who manages to get Ichiya back out into the sunlight, but he’s still a zombie who doesn’t do anything other than grieve and lament his plight this week. This had the effect of giving the other heads and subheads more screen time, and while the Chigusa siblings were their usual half-bored selves, Hime and Hotaru shined.

QC is doing the right thing by keeping its cards close vis-a-vis the Unknown. Typically, the more details one learns about an initially mysterious/inscrutable villain or evil force, the less frightening they become, since there’s nothing scarier than the unknown.

The fact we still know very little about what the Unknown are and what motivates them adds to their creepy mystique, leads us to flex our imaginations searching for theories, and mitigates their uninspired designs.

But it’s inevitable we’re going to learn more about them, especially when the very sky turns red as the largest Unknown force yet amassed seems poised to wipe out the three cities once and for all (a great Oh Shit moment). I just hope we don’t learn more than we need, thus the threat become devalued.

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One Punch Man – 04

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This action-packed, side-splitting OPM comments on the severe wealth gap, the rise of individuals with no motivation to work, the concept of what I’ll call “power relativity”, and the necessity of jumping through bureaucratic hoops in order to receive due recognition for one’s heroic efforts. Also, a bunch of people get beheaded and someone gets punched in the Gentleman’s Vegetables.

Saitama catchphrase is “I’m just a guy who’s a hero for fun.” For fun, not for fame. So why is Saitama so hurt that no one knows who he is? Well, for one thing, when an army of stolen battle suit-wearing baldies start tearing down buildings (the first one by accident) and the news warns the public to look out for bald people, then it becomes a problem!

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That army calls themselves the Paradisers, they’re led by a giant fellow Hammerhead, and they all share a kind of lazy Robin-Hood philosophy of taking from the rich and giving to, well, not just the poor; the poor who don’t feel like working.

Their chief target is the richest man in town, Zeniru, who resides in a skyscraper topped with a golden turd. Unfortunately for the Paradisers, Zeniru has a cocky, smirking ninja named Sonic under his employ.

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Battle suits or no, the Paradisers are lower on the food chain than Sonic, who has no trouble lopping the heads off of all of Hammerhead’s comrades, before dodging all of Hammy’s rock and tree-based attacks and throwing a kunai in the back of his head. While

Sonic calls his boss to report his success, Hammy disappears; turns out he has a really really thick skull. And that darned kunai stays lodged in the back that skull for the rest of the episode!

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This is not Hammerhead’s day, because he almost immediately comes afoul of Saitama, who is rather pissed off that his “look” has been stolen. Hammy powers up his suit and starts throwing dual paddlewheel attacks, but obviously nothing works against the OPM.

Here’s the thing: Hammy reminds Saitama enough about his past self that he goes easy on him, which means destroying his battle suit with a glancing blow and letting him escape without clothes or his pride, but with his life.

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Then Saitama encounters Sonic, who is stronger than Hammerhead, and believes himself the fastest, strongest sonofabitch around who has trained in ninjutsu his entire life…he’s just not as fast or strong as OPM.

Saitama doesn’t really have to exert any effort to neutralize Sonic, and he only neutralizes him accidentally, when Sonic’s junk comes down on his fist (the slow motion shot is priceless). Frankly, Sonic got off easy, as Saitama didn’t put anything into that fist. Yet he considers this encounter a motivator to train harder so that next time they meet, he’ll beat him.

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That brings us to Saitama having tea at his place with a recently-repaired Genos, where Saitama expresses his frustration that even after three years of saving various cities from evil villains, no one in either the hero community or the general public know who he is. He doesn’t have a fan club of well-dressed blushing maidens, either.

So Genos brings up Hero Registration, something Saitama didn’t know was a thing, but which he sees as his ticket to recognition. Going online, filling out forms, and showing up to morning exams: it’s the life of a professional, officially recognized hero. Doesn’t sound very fun though, does it?

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One Punch Man – 03

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As episode three plunges into a detailed backstory for Professor Genus of the House of Evolution, I was wondering “Hey, what’s with all the lame long-winded narration?”—only for Saitama to interrupt the narrator (the cyborg gorilla) and state the exact same thing, followed by Genos telling the gorilla to keep it to “20 words or less.” Nicely played, OPM—I learned about Genus and laughed.

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Anywho, as there’s a big sale at the supermarket tomorrow, Saitama wants to take care of Genus and the HoE ASAP, so he and Genos race to the site, throwing Genus and his many clones into a panic. They have every reason to be concerned, as when they arrive at the HoE’s front door, Genos incinerates the entire above-ground structure, along with the mountain it’s attached to, as a time-saving measure for his sale-hungry boss. Still, Saitama is a bit miffed; it’s not nice to not at least hear the villain out!

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Well below ground, Genus is still kicking, and unleashes his trump card, a highly violent, psychopathic superhuman experimentation gone wrong, Carnage Kabuto. Still, he’s the strongest weapon Genus has, and thus his best bet against the intruders. That strength is demonstrated when CK turns Genos into, as Saitama calls it, “modern art.” But as usual, Saitama doesn’t panic, or even flinch at the sight of his suddenly abstracted apprentice.

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Wanting more room to play, CK invites Saitama to a colossal white training room, a perfect pure, empty canvas against which to make marvelous artwork with their fists. But eager to prove himself, Genos rushes in first, blasting Kabuto with everything he’s got…and getting nothing but a cracked-up face and frightening afro for his trouble. Yet when Genos is out for the count and CK turns on Saitama, he squares up a devastating punch and…scurries into the corner like a frightened bug (indeed, his body resembles a Hercules Beetle).

Why? Well, Genus didn’t just make CK strong, but intelligent as well, and some instinct within him is shouting stay away from Saitama, which is actually a very good idea. It also makes CK ask how he got so damn strong, a question both Genos and Professor Genus also want to know. But they all come away deeply unsatified, since all Saitama can tell them is what he did: undergo a rigorous but not altogether ridiculous training regimen for three years, losing his hair in the process.

I like how the art style becomes more dramatic and intense as he talks not of some kind of super drug or divine encounter, but mere sit-ups, push-ups, squats, runs, and going without mod cons.

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Now not so sure he trusts his instincts, CK goes into “Carnage” mode, powering up into a grotesque, rippling purple and green hulk, brimming with confidence. But it’s CK’s big boasting mouth that gets him in fatal trouble. He says he’ll be in carnage mode for a whole week, and won’t stop his murderous rampage until next Saturday. Saitama takes that to mean today is Saturday, the day of the sale, and he’s missing it!

What’s wonderful about this revelation is how much it’s built up as some kind of fatal mistake Saitama made that relates to his powerful opponent in some way. And CK in Carnage Mode certainly looks like someone who might be able to take a punch. But no, he’s taken out in one punch just like all the others; a punch Saitama really puts his heart into, since he’s so frustrated about missing the sale, though Genos later tells him if they hurry back home they can still make it.

With CK’s demise, decades of Genus’ research goes up in smoke, prompting the professor to consider ending his work on evolution and instead start a personal training regimen. Great stuff.

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One Punch Man – 02

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The first episode of OPM was going to be a tough act to follow, no matter what, so I fully expected at least a degree of regression in the second. But while that did happen, and this wasn’t nearly as good as the first episode, it was still very good, as Saitama and the young cyborg Genos join forces…or to be precise, Saitama tolerates him being around, despite not really needing anyone to fight supervillains with.

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The two meet over mosquitos. While Saitama finds himself unable to kill a single mosquito buzzing around his apartment, Genos targets Mosquito Girl, the first “sexy” supervillain OPM has fielded (voiced by Sawashiro Miyuki, who is perfect for the role), who uses her giant swarm of mosquitoes to harvest blood from the living things around her, be they animals or people.

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She also puts up a mean fight against Genos, as the two exchange the detachment of limbs and she sacrifices her sworm to power up and start beating Genos to a pulp, until Saitama arrives, running after a mosquito with bug spray. I know this show revels in absurdity, but I would have liked a more clever reason for Saitama to encounter Genos, and Saitama’s puns (“They sure bugged out”; “Mosquitoes suck”) fell to the floor with loud clangs.

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Still, Saitama takes care of Mosquito Girl with one punch, leading Genos to want to become his disciple. Saitama invites him in for some tea once he’s repaired (apparently easy, as long as parts are available) and Genos mistakes Saitama as a fellow cyborg.

He also launches into a monologue of interminable length, which is so long and accompanied by so many still shots (though I liked the micro-story of the pillbug getting up) it stopped being funny. “Drawn-out” comedy has to be utilized sparingly and not taken too far (see a classic example here). But hey, if we were supposed to get as annoyed as Saitama, mission accomplished!

We also learn that Mosquito Girl was just one of dozens of monsters being developed at the “House of Evolution”, run by a bespectacled mad-ish scientist who has his eyes on Saitama and who induced the biggest laugh in the episode:

“Why is he naked?”
“Unknown.”
“Well, whatever.”

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The scientists sends more monsters to escort Saitama to the HoE, but they predictably fail, being one-punched one after the other. He doesn’t even let the mole get away. But what’s funny about this final act is that Genos ends up in a fight with a cyborg he suspects could be the one that killed his family, but is just a gorilla trying to sound cool, while Saitama stays buried in the ground until it’s absolutely necessary to come out because it feels so nice down there.

So yeah, another entertaining episode with some genuinely funny moments, but just not quite as awesome or hilarious as the first. Which, again, is nothing to be ashamed of.

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