Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train – All Aboard

In 2020, and what I believe to be the first time ever, the highest grossing film of the year wasn’t American. It wasn’t Chinese, either, which one could reasonably expect to be the first non-American film to take the crown. No, it was Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train. That’s an achievement that may never be matched. It also broke the record for home box office gross, now reigning over both Spirited Away and Your Name.

$500 million gross is a lot of cash to rake in, especially during a global pandemic. But after finally getting around to watch Mugen Train, which is essentially “Season 1.5” of the series, I totally understand why: it is an absolute crowd pleaser stuffed with action, comedy, and drama. I laughed; I cried; I may have pumped my fist and shouted “Fuck yeah!” once or twice.

But! Mugen Train is merely a very good movie. It is certainly a very good movie watching experience. What it is definitely not is a great film, and falls far short of the masterpiece status of the anime films whose records it broke. There is no single big reason for that, but several smaller ones which become evident throughout its prestigious 117-minute runtime.

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First, as we know from the end of the first season (yes, you really should watch it), a Kasugai crow ordered Tanjirou (with Nezuko on his back), Zenitsu, and Inosuke to join Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou aboard the titular Mugen Train, which has a demon problem. Rengoku is, as most high-ranking warriors in these kinds of shows, a bit of an eccentric, but has heard about Tanjirou and Nezuko and is even willing to train him.

Their demon opponent is Enmu, a member of the Lower Six and the group’s resident “gross body horror” expert, a niche occupied by the likes of Bleach’s 12th Captain, Kurotsuchi Mayuri (or more recently, Jujutsu Kaisen’s Mahito). Enmu spends much of the movie standing atop the front of the train, talking about how much he’s looking forward to devouring its 200 passengers but never actually doing so despite having ample opportunity. Ya know, typical big bad behavior.

Enmu’s preferred way of rendering his prey helpless is by putting them to sleep. He has made four regular human passengers plus the conductor into his minions: the tickets the conductor punches contain a bit of his blood which is used to put the slayers to sleep along with everyone else. In exchange, the minions are promised wonderful dreams in which to lose themselves.

With all the demon slayers asleep, we take a look into the dreams they’re having, none of which come as much of a surprise. Tanjirou’s is a very happy dream in which he’s reunited with his family, who act like they were never slaughtered by a demon. Suffice it to say, it’s an easy dream to get lost in.

Zenitsu’s dream involves frolicking through forests and fields with Nezuko, which would be touching were his relationship with her in the show not so easily boiled down to “one-sided obsession” or simply “toxic.” Inosuke’s dream is aggressively weird and surreal, like him, but like Zenitsu and Tanjirou’s doesn’t offer any further insight into the character.

Rengoku’s does, but only because aside from a couple of brief scenes last season, we don’t really know who the guy is. What we do get is pure hero boilerplate: following in the footsteps of a former Hashira father who gave up the life and doesn’t care anymore, while having to be both big brother and father figure to his younger brother to keep him from falling into despair. Also, their sainted mom is dead.

Ultimately the dreams aren’t supposed to be particularly enlightening to us, as long as they keep the dreamers occupied and distracted. The minions then go in, find the edges of their dreams, tear them open with what look like icepicks provided by Enmu, and pass into the subconscious where their spiritual cores lie. Obviously, none of the minions succeeds.

Tanjirou already has an inkling he’s in a world of illusion, since his default thoughts are that his family is dead and Nezuko is a demon, so his senses must be wrong. His subconscious actually reaches out to him through a reflection in the water, telling him he needs to wake up, even if it’s being made very difficult to do so because it means running away from his confused and upset family.

His minion, by the way, sought relief in his dreams because in the waking world he was wasting away from Tuberculosis. When he reaches Tanjirou’s gorgeous (and very Spirited Away-esque!) subconscious, he doesn’t have the heart to go through with destroying his core. Tanjirou ends up waking up by slashing his neck with his own sword—call it the equivalent of the “kicks” in Inception that wake you up from dreams (or dreams within dreams).

Tanjirou is the first to wake up. Rengoku’s survival instinct kicks in and he chokes his minion before she can destroy his core (a very graphic depiction of violence against a woman that’s very oddly scored as triumphant) but he remains asleep. Tanjirou sees that Nezuko burned away the rope connecting him to his minion, and asks her to burn away the others’ ropes while he goes topside to meet the boss.

After exchanging some standard big-bad/hero dialogue, Tanjirou manages to behead Enmu, but of course his head isn’t really his head, nor his body his real body. Turns out he’s merged with the train, meaning the entire train his his body, with his head hidden…somewhere (the head of the train).

Enmu then continues to put Tanjirou to sleep, taking the same route as the Farscape masterpiece “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, turning the dreams into increasingly disturbing nightmares to throw the hero off his game. Tanjirou counters this by continuously slashing his neck as soon as he enters his dream.

With every surface of the train suddenly erupting with reddish-purple goo, suddenly all 200 passengers have to be protected at once. Fortunately, thanks to Nezuko burning their ropes the others start waking up, starting with Inousuke, who is ready to rumble. Nezuko slashes at the tentacles attacking passengers, but is quickly overwhelmed and restrained.

Enter Zenitsu, who gets to have a seriously badass moment with his thunder breathing assault, rescuing her from her doom. Let it be said this film does nothing to make Nezuko more than the bit character/mascot she devolved into in the anime, and outside of Tanjirou and Zenitsu’s dreams, she never speaks, which remains odd as there are plenty of demons who can talk.

All the commotion caused by Zenitsu’s thunder and lightning finally wakes up Rengoku, who has does his whole “how have I been sleeping through all this” line, and fills the cars with tentacle-burning flames (which naturally don’t affect the passengers). He orders Tanjirou and Inousuke to find Enmu’s head while he protects the passengers in five of the eight cars and Zenitsu and Nezuko handles the remaining three.

When his best water breathing technique can only tear away the flesh of Enmu’s “neck” to reveal the bone, Tanjirou employs his dad’s Hinokami Kagura breathing, which does the trick. Enmu’s real head is separated from his body (the train) and in his death throes, the train is derailed and crashes…which really should kill a lot of the passengers, yet doesn’t.

During his struggle with Enmu the minion conductor stabbed Tanjirou in the abdomen, but Rengoku quickly teaches Tanjirou how to use Total Concentration, Constant to staunch his broken blood vessel. Even so, Tanjirou is in no condition to fight anymore, with more than forty minutes left in the film. Enmu slowly disintegrates after lots of whining, including about how he was never able to enjoy his meal (which was all his fault) or rise to the ranks of the Upper Ten.

Right on cue, one of the members of that Upper Ten shows up completely out of the blue: the Upper Three, Akaza, covered in tatts and slightly resembling an evil Tanjirou with his short-cropped red hair. And while the ensuing duel between Akaza and Rengoku is pretty cool, the combat animation isn’t appreciably better than that of the TV show. More importantly, Akaza and the battle feel tacked on rather than a natural escalation of the conflict.

It also begs the question of if an even bigger demon big bad could show up willy-nilly, why couldn’t the same be true of other Hashira? The answer is, because the movie needs Rengoku to die, even though he was being set up as Tanjirou’s new mentor and big brother figure. At the end of the day, Akaza can regenerate almost instantly, while Rengoku is a mortal human of flesh and blood, and the wounds he suffers prove fatal.

The climax of the film also plays with the timing of the rising of the sun, which begins to light Akaza’s face as Rengoku tries to hold him in place so he’ll disintegrate. Instead, he flees into the forest to fight another day and provide Tanjirou with a future opponent with whom to avenge Rengoku. Like Demon Slayer reinforcements, the sun doesn’t show up when you’d think it should.

The final act consists of Rengoku providing Tanjirou the same encouragement as his little brother in his dream (and presumably in real life), as well as meeting his force ghost sainted mother, who tells him she’s proud of him (he did reject Akaza’s repeated offers to turn him into a demon, after all). Tanjirou is naturally very upset over losing another important person in his life.

As for the impact it had on me…the film just didn’t do the adequate legwork to make Rengoku anything more than a passing guest star. He had a few goofy moments, a few badass moments, and a very long and melodramatic death scene, and then he was suddenly gone, seemingly as soon as he arrived.

So as much of a funny, thrilling and sometimes genuinely moving crowd-pleaser as Mugen Train was, as a sequel to the series it fulfilled a merely utilitarian role, establishing how tough the Hashira can be, while establishing that the most powerful demons are even tougher, on the biggest screen possible. There’s not much else that’s new here.

It also gave Tanjirou both further motivation to fight the demons, though considering what he’s lost so far, I’d say he already had plenty, as well as the direction to the next nugget of info about his pop’s Kagura, which he’ll surely pursue in the second season. Mugen Train had no shortage of faults to go with its merits, but one thing at which it unassailably succeeded was making me excited for the second season, for which my ticket is already punched.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 26 (Fin) – Catching the Evening Train

After semi-binging this series to the tune of 26 episodes in 30 days, I can’t help but feeling now that I’ve arrived at the end that this first season was nothing but a prologue for the real story to come.  Heck, It wasn’t until last week that Tanjirou was able to use Constant Total Concentration—an absolute necessity when fighting elite demons.

Mind you, I am not complaining. If this is a prologue, it’s one of the best I’ve seen, and instantly makes any future adventures with Tanjirou, Nezuko & Co. more meaningful because we know how hard everyone’s worked to get this far—and how far we have yet to go.

The end of this epic beginning starts with a meeting similar to that held by the Demon Slayer Corps commander with the Hashira, only it’s Kibutsuji Muzan and the five surviving Lower Six of the Twelve Kizuki. The meeting takes place in a gorgeous, trippy, Relativity-style space of his own making. Unlike the Corps commander, Muzan doesn’t lead with a serene, considered manner, he rules by absolute fear.

With the loss of Rui, he’s decided the Lower Six aren’t even worth his effort anymore, and he executes them all except for one: the Lower One. Unlike the others, this one tells Muzan what he wants to hear, and is rewarded not only with his life, but Muzan’s blood, and a mission: defeat a Hashira and Kamado Tanjirou.

Just before dawn a Kasugai Crow wakes Tanjirou, Zenitsu and Inosuke, informing them of their new mission to join the Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou on the Mugen Train, a crisis that has already claimed forty lives. The balance of the episode consists of Tanjirou preparing to depart and saying his goodbyes.

Tanjirou’s sweet nature and pure heart reassure Aoi, who feels like she’s a coward for not fighting on the front lines, that he’ll carry her emotions on the battlefield in her place, and should he hurt himself again, he’ll be relying on her care once more. Say what you want about his idealism, but our boy possesses emotional intelligence in spades.

But the true highlight of the episode is his parting interaction with Tsuyuri Kanao, who flips a coin to decide whether to talk to him, and then does. Tanjirou asks her about the coin, and when he learn she basically takes orders from chance, he suspects it’s because the voice in her heart is soft.

He asks her to make a deal with him: He’ll flip the coin, and if it comes up Heads, she’ll try listening to her heart more, even if she has to strain to hear its whispering. She watches carefully as he flips it and notes he does not cheat, and it comes up Heads. He returns the coin to her and takes hands in his as a sign of heartfelt optimism, promising they’ll see each other again.

As he runs off, she raises her voice in asking why it landed on Heads, to which he replies that it was only chance, but had it been Tails he would have kept flipping it until he got Heads. If Tanjirou, who bears his heart on his sleeve, and Kanao, whose heart was buried deep in her chest by her past, eventually become a romantic couple, I will be 100% and fully Here for it. They are surpassingly adorable.

Tanjirou, Zenitsu, and Inousuke pass Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi’s Giant Gourd Test, meaning they now possess the breathing to fight some serious demons. Giyuu stops buy for a quick, stoic goodbye, telling Tanjirou he can thank him for vouching for Nezuko by “doing good work.”

With that, the trio set off West to the train station, and we realize that neither Tanjirou nor Inosuke have ever seen a train. Inosuke believes it’s some great sleeping god; Tanjirou speculates it may be an benign deity. It’s here where Zenitsu’s city smarts shine as he castigates his “country bumpkin” comrades for making a scene.

We also learn that Demon Slayers are not officially recognized by the Japanese government, and so they’re not legally allowed to carry swords in public. They hide their swords—well, Inosuke tries but also insists on going shirtless, so it doesn’t go well—and wait for nightfall to board the train while avoiding the police.

As they leap onto the departing train and it begins to steam into the night, we get a great closing shot of the three slayers on the caboose, ready and excited for their new mission, while Tanjirou tells Zenitsu that the safest place for Nezuko is together with him, in the box on his back.

We spot Rengoku Kyoujurou in one of the passenger cars, as well as the Lower One Kizuki standing atop the engine. The stage is now set for the Mugen Train arc, which is covered in the film that premiered in Japan October 2020, which surpassed Spirited Away as Japan’s all-time highest grossing film. I look forward to watching it as soon as it’s available in the states, as well as the second season that will air at some point in 2021.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 25 – Chestnut Flower Drop

Tanjirou intensifies his Constant Concentration Breathing, asking the three little girls (named Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi) to slap him with carpet beaters if he breaks the breathing in his sleep. I love how the girls are rooting for him all the way, and will gladly do what appears to Zenitsu and Inosuke to be straight-up torture.

It may be torturous, but it goes a long way toward Tanjirou making progress. He’s definitely getting closer and closer to tagging Tsuyuri Kanao, who we can be quite sure isn’t going easy on him, while he’s eventually able to break the Lv. 1 Gourd with his breath.

Soon Inosuke and Zenitsu grow weary of falling too far behind. Also, Shinobu knows exactly how to motivate each of them: in Inosuke’s case, talking down to him and saying it’s okay to be weak; in Zenitsu’s case, batting her lovely eyelashes and saying she believes in him.

Shinobu also asks Kanao to get more involved in the boys’ intensifying training, but seems weary of approaching them, leading to her taking out a coin to flip. We learn how she came to rely on that coin for most of her decisions, but first we learn where she came from: nothing. She was dirt-poor and horribly abused by her parents until she one day just snapped and couldn’t feel pain—or anything—anymore.

One day her parents sold her off, and her buyer is preparing to sell her into slavery when they cross paths with Shinobu and her big sister Kanae (Kayano Ai). Disturbed by the sight of the young girl bound by rope, Shinobu tosses all of the cash she’s carrying up in the air and runs off with the unnamed girl.

Eventually Shinobu learns that Kanao was so horrifically traumatized by her life so far that she’s unable to do anything without being told to do it, even eat, resulting in her stomach grumbling far longer than it should. Kanae gives the newly-named Kanao a coin so she can make decisions for herself. Kanae also hopes that one day she’ll fall in love with someone, which will further help her understand her own agency and will. Back in the present, she gets tails, and doesn’t join the boys.

However, as a result of Tanjirou’s intensive training, one day he’s finally able to not only grab Kanao’s hand during tag, but win the cup game, all without splashing tea on her. It’s a stunning victory, and while Kanao never actually speaks to Tanjirou, you can tell she’s impressed by his progress.

After Haganezuka and Kanamori arrive at the mansion with Tanjirou and Inosuke’s reforged swords (and Inosuke re-chips his up with a rock, enraging the swordsmiths), Shinobu declares Tanjirou’s jaw healed and training complete. All that’s left is actual combat, and she tells him she’s expecting great things. As we saw back when she rescued Kanao to how she’s guided Tanjirou, it’s clear by now that Shinobu is definitely one of the good ones.

Interesting, she doesn’t know anything about the “fire breathing” Tanjirou brings up, only the distinct flame breathing in which Master Rengoku specializes, though he’s away on a mission, so more info on that will have to wait. Meanwhile, we see a Twelve Kizuki demon aboard a train eating its occupants—an apparent preview of the hugely popular October 2020 feature film Mugen Train.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 05 – All Ore Nothing

Seemingly telegraphing the fact that Tanjirou isn’t going to face any demons more powerful than the one he beheaded last week, DS lingers on the aftermath of the Hand Demon’s life and demise. He started out as a little kid who just wanted to hold his big brother’s hand, but one day he became a demon, and that was pretty much that.

Tanjirou has shown that no matter how evil a demon might seem, he wishes for them to be at peace or be reborn as humans again. That empathy isn’t just the result of a kind heart: surely the only ones who know if Nezuko can be changed back are demons. Alas, the ones he asks aren’t even high-level enough to be capable of speech.

The sun rises on the final day of the Fina Selection, and it seems only four applicants survived, all kids. Oddly, we still aren’t introduced to any of them, though since they all appear in the OP and/or ED, that will happen at some point. The creepy twin girls in charge of the selection assign the survivors crows, new uniforms, and have them pick the ore from which they want their Nichirin blades to be forged.

The three other survivors consist of Silent Pretty Girl, Crazy-Haired Guy who is constantly afraid he’s going to die, and Short-Tempered Prick, who grabs one of the twins by the hair to protest not being given his sword immediately (it will take 10-15 days). Tanjirou, friend of the weak, comes between the two, putting the jerk in his place.

With his uniform acquired and the sword in the mail, Tanjirou makes the trek back to Mt. Sagiri, though it’s far slower going this time due to his exertion during the Final Selection. Even so, a newly-awake Nezuko literally breaks down the door to meet him when he finally arrives, runs to hold him wordlessly in her arms…I couldn’t help but get a little cloudy-eyed at their touching reunion.

Urokodaki believes that Nezuko is sleeping so much in order to conserve energy since she’s not eating humans. Haganezuka soon arrives to present Tanjirou with his very own Nichirin katana, which turns an apparently unlucky pitch-black when he unsheathes it (not red, as Haganezuka hoped).

Finally, the Kasugai crow the twins assigned to Tanjirou arrives and speaks the human tongue, announcing his first assignment in a town where young girls have gone missing. No rest for those who’ve just been given a really, really nice sword for free!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Okaa-san Online – 01 (First Impressions) – ZOMRPG, MOM!!!

One night, Oosuki is filling out a survey heavy on questions about his relationship to his mother, and the next morning a government official informs him that he’s been selected to enter a video game world. But he doesn’t go alone. His mom follows him in, and will be joining him on his full-dive fantasy adventure!

That’s the high concept, broad-strokes premise to an episode that then proceeds to take its sweet old time immersing Masato and his mom into this new world, an as-yet-unnamed MMO that’s still in beta. Their role is to play the game so that the producers can gather data.

Masato already has reservations about his mom following him along for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, but they turn to downright frustration when she demonstrates she can dual-wield legendary weapons and decimate multiple targets at once. His basic attack is pathetic by comparison.

So, of course, he lashes out, threatening to “disown” his mom in a moment of unguarded rage. That’s when his mom (named Mamako) starts to cry, telling him no one has ever said anything so mean and sad to her. He quickly backtracks, apologizing profusely, and his mom, being a very nice mom, easily forgives him.

They teleport into a town to gather a party at the Adventurer’s Guild, but after pulling the game guide out of her bust, Mamako decides to make a strong first impression by smashing a giant hole into the guild hall, much to Masato’s dismay.

Shirase, the woman who sent them into the game, is there to greet them, bleeding from the head (turns out she’s a game object and the blood is just an effect). And naturally, as they look over party members, Mamako is thinking about finding a nice young woman to team up with him.

Okaa-san Online takes the opposite approach of Arifureta and starts us off at the very beginning of Masato and Mamako’s story, but I still felt an inescapable impatience with the slow pace and the episode’s need to explain terms like “PK”, as if this was someone’s first isekai rodeo.

There’s also the little matter of the show looking pretty atrocious. Like the game in which mother and son find themselves (though I don’t mind their white pupils, like Moriko’s in MMO Junkie), the show just feels sparse and incomplete, both visually and conceptually, what with its lazy, unimaginative hand-waving.

The music has its epic moments, but can be too assertive during quieter scenes. And while the underlying premise is pretty funny at first blush, the comedic dialogue and pacing is iffy at best. With execution lacking in effort and attention to detail, I can’t see myself sticking with this for long. After all, Mama didn’t raise no fool.

Dororo – 19 – When Words Fail

After a very thematically and emotionally heavy multi-part episode, it felt right to get into some lighter fare. After his battle with Tahoumaru, Hyougou and Mutsu, Hyakkimaru’s arm-swords are ruined, and so with Dororo’s new cash, they set out to find the venerable swordmaker Munetsuna.

A passing peddler told them Munetsuna was the best, but when they arrive in his village, the first villager they meet tells them the hatchet he made for him is crap. Dororo tests it, it cuts perfectly. The guy also says Munetsuna’s daughter Okowa is ugly and has a bad personality, but when they finally meet her, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, warm, and sociable.

Okowa also takes an immediate liking to Hyakkimaru, calling him “Hyaku-sama” and “joking” that he’s come to marry her. Her dad can tell Hyakki’s swords have been used to kill demons, and so they head to a shrine to purify them. That’s where we meet the demon-of-the-week who seems able to manipulate people into saying the opposite of what they mean.

It’s a novel skill for a demon that makes for a delightful rom-com conceit, consisting of the triangle of Dororo, Hyakkimaru and Okowa. Before Dororo knows it, Okowa is proposing to Hyakki, who says he will abandon Dororo their adventures and stay with Okowa. Dororo can’t believe what he’s hearing.

But the next day, he can’t believe what he’s saying: everything that comes out of his mouth is in support of Hyakki and Okowa’s marriage, for which Okowa couldn’t be happier. I can’t place Okowa’s seiyu (I’ll post it when I learn it) but she does a wonderful job bringing the adorable and eminently likable guest star to life.

Even as I sympathized with Dororo after Hyakki’s apparent turn against him, their traveling and/or living with this woman wouldn’t be the end of the world. Still, before Dororo figures out all this opposite-talking is the work of a mischievous demon, he finds an outlet for his frustration and loneliness in Munetsuna.

Ultimately, Dororo figures out something is amiss, and decides he has to stay by Hyakki’s side like he promised, no matter what bro said to make him not want to.

The day of the wedding arrives, and despite saying he was all for it, “Hyaku-sama” has no intention of actually going through with marriage, as he’s not even sure what marriage is. This is all pretty humorous, and the episode makes sure we know it’s okay to find it humorous, as the Amanojaku is far from the killer sharks or lake creatures our duo has fought before. He’s more of a trickster; a nuisance.

Mind you, that nuisance nearly becomes deadly when he makes Hyakki choke Dororo, but Munetsuna bonks him in the head with a log while wearing the mask of Hyottoko, one of their protective deities, and the “spell” he put on both Hyakki and Dororo is lifted. Hyakki embraces Dororo apologetically, and Dororo is happy his bro is back to normal.

As for Okowa, she figures out that Hyakki was saying the opposite of what he meant all that time, which means he never wanted to marry her. Fortunately, with the capture of the Amanojaku, one of the villagers who previously had nothing but unkind words for her is finally able to properly tell her how he really feels, and proposes to her.

As Hyakkimaru tries out his sweet new swords, he demonstrates to Munetsuna and Okowa that it never would have worked out; Hyakkimaru is someone who has dedicated himself to a journey to make himself whole again. So, with a warning to him not to rub his head against anyone unbidden (like he did when he met her), Okowa sees Hyakkimaru off, wishing him and Dororo well on their continuing adventures.

While perhaps not an essential addition to that main journey, this was nonetheless an enjoyable, warm, and above all funny episode that had its “other girl steals Hyakkimaru” cake and ate it too. It reaffirmed both that Dororo need not always be all dark and dire, and that no matter what supernatural foe they face, there’s no breaking up Hyakki and Dororo.

TenSura – 04 – Shelter, Clothes, and Elves

After Ranga assures Rimuru that he harbors no grudge against him (being given a name counts for a lot in this world), His small band of wolves and goblins races to the dwarven city of Dwargon, where Rimuru hopes to find some cute and/or sexy elves.

Only he and Gobta (the only goblin who didn’t evolve) join the queue that leads through the gates, but they’re quickly harrassed by bullies. Rimuru transforms into a storm wolf but his foes have a whole party of various jobs who attack him all at once…to no effect. Rimuru counterattacks with Menace, and causes a lot more collateral damange than he intended.

For that, he and Gobta are granted entry into the city…’s jail. However, when the warden needs potion after an emergency in the mines, Rimuru fills an entire barrel with the stuff, saving the warden’s three best friends and earning him an early release.

From there, the warden takes him to his brother Kaijin’s blacksmith’s shop. Kaijin has fallen behind on an unreasonable longsword order, but once again Rimuru provides what is needed: first refined magisteel, and then nineteen perfect copies of the one sword Kaijin has completed.

Rimuru and the dwarves celebrate by paying a visit to a kind of elven hostess club, where they’re surrounded by beauties. Oh, and it would seem Rimuru will get the know-how he needs to shelter and clothe his  (hob)goblin village. Everything is looking up!…but for the ominous planting of a boot outside the club. Could it be somebody strong enough to make Rimuru to break a sweat?

Kakegurui – 05

I may have bristled at least week’s structure (spend the entire first half introducing Ikishima, someone not involved in the second half’s gambling) but it was a blessing in disguise, putting a welcome kink in the gamble-a-week rhythm of the show to this point. Also, a poker game this layered with lies, deceit, and glorious twists needed more than two halves of an episode; it needed three.

Liberated from the need for setup (ably achieved in the first half) the crazy-faces showed up early and often here, as did the twists, the most important one being that the moves of the seemingly superfluous fourth player, Tsubomi, are being controlled by Kiwatari, the only non-livestock in the game.

Tsubomi and Mary are aware of this (Tsubomi isn’t so great at hiding the cheating), but in the tenth and final game, when Kiwatari tells Tsubomi she’s not allowed to beat him, Tsubomi does her stuff: painstakingly picking and peeling back the emotionless facade Tsubomi had built to repress the trauma of losing her beautiful locks of hair, roughly hacked off by Kiwatari himself once she became livestock.

Tsubomi tells her that losing intentionally here, when she has a perfect opportunity to prove she’s not “lifelong livestock”, would be like a “motionless pig in an open cage.” Unable to accept that, Tsubomi’s facade cracks, beats Kiwatari in the round, and becomes a human again.

The game would have ended with Tsubomi in first place, if the chip count, which we’d been getting from Kiwatari, was accurate. Turns out that is the last and final twist in the game: Mary and Yumeko falsified their debt reports (just like Kiwatari did), then swapped them, so the boards in front of them at the card table gave Kiwatari the wrong figures to do his math throughout the game.

It’s a total defeat brought on by Kiwatari’s confidence in his control over Tsubomi, as well as his hard-headed belief he can judge everyone as if they were cut from the same cloth. Meanwhile, Tsubomi may still technically be livestock, but regained her will to live and fight for solvency.

The council secretary Igarashi worries about what Pandora’s Box President Momobari (whom she seems to love) has opened by allowing someone as inscrutable as Jabami Yumeko to roam free. However, when Igarashi says “the usual things” that one can use to control a person don’t work on her; she’s not entirely right.

I have no doubt if Yumeko’s friends were threatened, she wouldn’t stand by and do nothing. And now Yumeko has two friends—Ryouta and Mary—who may be leveraged against her in the future. We’ll see how she deals with that as she faces off against more and stronger opponents.

Kakegurui – 04

Gentleman that he is, Ryouta offers Yumeko a small contribution of 1 million yen ($9000 US) but she tells him she’s got cash on hand; the council hasn’t yet come to collect her massive debt. Instead, she, Mary, and other livestock are presented with “Life Plans.”

With these, the council is “collecting” by taking ownership of Yumeko and Mary’s futures and planning them out accordingly, stripping them of all human agency. In Mary’s case, she’ll marry a lolicon Diet member and have three kids, grow old, and die. Yumeko is likely in for a similar fate.

We also learn there’s yet another downside to being livestock: non-livestock like towering brute Kiwatari feel empowered to demand, say, that Yumeko strip in a dark corner of the school.

When she refuses, he threatens to violate her. With Kiwatari and his two goons to deal with, the noble Ryouta is hopelessly outmatched, but still looks ready to try rescuing her.

That’s when the “fun” is interrupted by piercing and accessory-laden student council member and Beautification Committee chairman Ikishima Midari. Rather than outright stop Kiwatari’s assault, Ikishima challenges him to a round of Russian Roulette with a massive revolver. Kiwatari retreats, so she retires to a bathroom stall to play alone.

Ikishima (voiced by unhinged-girl extraordinaire Ise Mariya; see Aku no Hana), like Yumeko, literally gets off on the thrill of gambling, but takes it to a very visceral extreme, playing with her very life rather than chips or cards. Yumeko promises she’s repay her for saving her, and Ikishima seems very excited at the chance to collect.

That first half is to introduce Midari, but she plays no role in the remainder of the episode, which is given over to the “Debt Adjustment Assembly.”

Livestock are invited to play Blind Man’s Bluff (AKA Indian Poker) in order to try to transfer their debt to someone else in exchange for a lower sum—a much lower sum in Yumeko’s case. And just Mary’s luck: she ends up in Yumeko’s group…and Kiwatari’s there too.

Two issues: First, so much time was spent on the intro of Kiwatari and Ikishima that this game is left unfinished. Unless Ikishima plays a role in this gamble next week, it would have made more sense to save her intro for later, establish Kiwatari as a rapey dick quickly and efficiently during the game, and have the whole game contained within this episode.

Second, while BMB is a fairly simple game, the way it’s employed here, and the way it’s explained, threatens to sap all of the enjoyment out of the proceedings. It’s very convoluted and requires a lot of words—too many, in fact—to get the point across of what is going on.

Still, I enjoyed watching Mary utterly reject the life plan the council (and that stupid “kiddy” council member in the bunny suit) laid out for her, as no matter how comfortable and happy a life it might be, it’s not a life she chose. This motivates her to put in an effort to try to claw out of her situation.

She even breaks out her crazyface, as does Kiwatari (the latter looking for all the world like he wouldn’t be out of place in Attack on Titan), but Yumeko doesn’t join the party. She remains quite calm as the episode pretty abruptly ends without any resolution.

Surely more wrinkles will be added to the game as things escalate, but of all the ways Kakegurui could shake up its formula, giving half an episode over to two character intros and then rolling credits before a game can finish didn’t quite work for me, especially when the game itself required so much narration to lay out.

Kakegurui – 03

Upon watching the “official match” between Mary and porcelain-faced council member Nishinotouin Yuriko, Yumeko becomes excited at the prospect of the chouhan bakuchi style game they play, in which swords are used rather than dice, and how they land determines the distribution of chips to a wild extent.

It’s not a gamble for the weary, but as Yumeko is a compulsive gambler, it’s perfect. However, if I didn’t know better, I’d say there was more to her facing off against Yuriko than simply wanting to play or win, and that gets back to Saotome’s humiliating, devastating loss to Yuriko in the episode’s opening moments.

Yumeko takes exception to Yuriko “showing a weakened human a glimmer of hope than beating them into despair” and calls the councilperson a loan shark, the lowest of the low, and a piece of shit to her face. She even messes with the characters in her distinguished name to show that her favorite numbers are right there, but missing a couple in the middle, a “perfect name for an airhead.”

This is Yumeko exercising psychological warfare on a highly accomplished and studied opponent—and largely succeeding. And while there is a practical purpose for getting Yuriko riled up, I don’t doubt Yumeko also takes satisfaction in putting Yuriko in her place, suggesting she won’t let people like her have their way with livestock unchallenged.

Add to that the fact that, naturally, Yumeko’s opponent is cheating (with the dealer using magnets to manipulate one—but only one—of the metal swords), and it looks like this gamble will take the same shape as the previous two, with Yumeko prevailing at the last second and Yuriko’s mask finally cracking and breaking.

However, we get a different outcome, and notably no overt “gamblingasm”. Instead, Council President Momobami enters with two other council members, to oversee the result of the sword toss, which is something neither Yumeko or Yuriko expected, and puts Yumeko 310 million yen (over $2 million) in debt to Yuriko.

Momobami’s presents makes Yumeko suspect she was not only the victim of magnets, but a “badger”, and that this was a multifaceted cheat that may have required the ignorance of both players. Yuriko may have won, but she certainly doesn’t look or seem to feel like she won. Meanwhile, despite her immense new debt, all Yumeko is focused on is facing off against Momobami, which is her right as newly-minted livestock.

As for the hazing and bullying that results from her initiation into the livestock, it runs off Yumeko like rain from a fireman’s hat; when they call her the common cat name “Mike”, she simply gets on her knees and starts talking and washing herself like a cat, completely immune to the students barbs and, on the contrary, scaring them off with her bizarre antics. Here’s hoping this is a preamble to Yumeko becoming an inspiration to all livestock.

Re:Creators – 08

I found last week’s episode a bit plodding and tedious, but as Altair’s identity is discovered by all and a confrontation of ideologies mounts, this week’s sequence of emotionally-resonant conversations and its closing confrontation earns it a higher grade.

The briefing to the group proper on what they know about Altair so far kinda goes off the rails when Yuuya’s creator appears with a dismissive, aloof atitude, and Yuuya, sees it as provocation to sic his esper on him. Blitz’s artist is also there, but these are merely intros for people who may or may not play key roles later.

Showing Yuuya as an unpredictable hothead was nothing new, but I appreciated Meteora’s meet-up with Souta, in which she senses he’s trying to get something off his chest and tries to make it as easy as possible.

Souta still dances around matters far too much for my taste, but it’s definitely a start, and Meteora shows how she’s morphed from a fish-out-of-water game character to a warm, patient, understanding person who considers Souta a friend and hopes he feels the same.

Despite their wildly clashing worldviews (and for the record, Alice’s take on the “world of the gods” isn’t all that unfair or inaccurate) Mamika continues to embrace Alice as a dear friend; one she believes in an hopes will believe in her.

Alice does, and can, as she can tell from her words and actions that for all her naivete Mamika has a strong and pure heart. But Alice is caught off guard when Mamika suddenly jumps off the skyscraper they’re both perched on (Tokyo City Hall) and heads off on her own, indicating it could be the last time the two friends see each other, either on the same side, or at all.

Chiku’s been busy tailing Souta during his meetings with Mamika and Meteora, and she’s pretty sure not only that Souta knew Altair’s creator, but that the creator is dead, and Souta feels at least partially to blame. Not willing to wait for him to spill the beans, she used what he’d given others to paint a larger picture for herself, and Souta’s reaction makes it clear she’s spot-on.

As such, Chiku now has leverage on Souta, and isn’t about to let him get away with avoiding the reckoning she feels should surely await the protagonist of a world as messed-up as Souta’s. So she swaps contact info and promises him they’ll go on a “date” soon. Unless he wants to be exposed, he’ll do as she says.

As for Mamika, her ultimate destination this week is Altair’s lair (an ‘Altlair’, if you will) to confront her with the knowledge she’s gained, affirm that she considers her a friend too, and offers to help “save her soul”, and that of her creator. For all the talk of creators and/or creations expressing their affection for one another, Altair is having none of it.

She hates everyone and everything and wants to destroy it all, and her response to Mamika’s olive branch is to launch a fusillade of sabres into Mamika’s body. If talk failed, Mamika was always prepared to do what was necessary to stop Altair from destroying anything or anyone else, so she casts Magical Splash Flare in a thrilling finish to the episode. No matter who emerges from the resulting conflagration, things will never be the same.

Re:Creators – 07

I realize Re:C is a 22-episode run, enabling it to take its time when it deems it necessary, or when the plot demands it. But despite a couple of characters gaining important information for the road ahead (or at least drawing closer to it), I really struggled to figure out what actually happened this week, which is hardly ever a good sign that the episode itself was necessary.

The interesting multi-vector battle on the riverbank never met its potential, as Mamika flexes her mahou shoujo muscles to put an end to the duel between Celestia and Alicetelia as well as between Blitz and Mirokuji.

As a result, the Celestia/Meteora and Alicetelia/MUP factions go their separate ways, and we’re treated to the former faction….simply sitting around doing nothing yet again.

Chikujouin Makagami also goes off on her own, but only to visit and promptly murder her creator off-camera, no doubt using her power of words. In the process, she reads her own source material, starts to understand her situation better, and vows to “regroup” and continue her “Miracle Great Emperor Plan.”

I like how Chiku is only on her own side at the moment, but there’s such a thing as being too far-removed from and un-invested in everything else going on.

Meanwhile, Kanoya Rui’s creator has a hunch about MUP being the creation of a doujin artist on a DeviantArt-style site, and hits paydirt—before Souta comes clean about knowing her.

Souta’s continued refusal to do so is becoming a liability, not just in terms of the safety of creators, but in that all Souta’s character is, at least so far, is the secret he carries. I want more.

Perhaps my favorite part of this somewhat stingy, uneventful episode is one in which Mamika reaches out to Souta, believing they’re alone together, but actually being shadowed by Chiku.

Mamika admits that she may not be in a world where everyone like her gains power from simple “belief” in things, ideals, or people, but that doesn’t mean she’s willing to give up on her usual way of doing things; just modify it to better suit her new world.

She manages what no one else could: get some info about MUP out of Souta. Specifically, her name is Altair, and most likely hates the world of the creators, which definitely makes her capable of “planning something very bad”, as Mamika puts it. I just hope that “plan” isn’t just a MacGuffin.

We’ve seen people suffer and die, but recently, only by Chiku’s hand (well, words). When is whatever Altair is planning actually going to organize into something that actually threatens the world?

Re:Creators – 06

Souta realizes who the MUP’s Creator is (or was), but he’s reluctant to tell Celestia, who is back in normal clothing and is having fun with her new smartphone. And that’s pretty much it for Souta; he carries his secret with him and will have to resolve his moral dilemma another week.

This episode is all about the arrival of another new Creation, Chikujouin Makagami, who is nothing but trouble. Her arrival sparks the big multiplayer confrontation we knew was coming, while being an eminently fun-to-watch player in her own right.

As befits a dynamic-shifting character, Chiku is voiced by the illustrious Sakamoto Maaya, unquestionably one of the best in the business since her debut in Escaflowne two decades ago. She has a lot of fun in what sounds like a fun role to play.

Like a similar scenario in Captain America: Civil War, an eclectic combination of heroes and villains of diverse backgrounds, powers, weaknesses, and worldviews come together and we behold the beautiful chaos that ensues. To its credit, Re:Creators gives characters on both sides the opportunity to express their views one way or another.

The unlikely friendship between Alice and Mamika—one from a war-torn dystopia, the other from a Tokyo not dissimilar from the Creators’— continues with the two discussing how they should deal with the newcomer.

Mamika believes as long as someone is a “good person” they can be a powerful and worthwhile ally, even if their goals don’t mesh with your own. Alice hears her, and compliments her for “knowing where justice lies.”

Chikujouin will test everyone’s sense of justice, because she’s a trickster who loves flipping things upside down and inside out, including lies. When she catches a bookstore clerk in a web of “lies about lies” it seems to give her the power to summon beasts that tear him to shreds.

Kikuchihara and a normally-dressed Meteora (a subtle but nice touch for both her, Celestia, and Rui) determine Chiku is a villain (duh) and start their search, but Alice and Mamika have already found her.

The initially cordial encounter soon sours when Alice smells blood and malevolence all over Chiku, and Chiku realizes she has another mark in Alice with whom she can provoke into “lying about lies.”

Alice, naturally, dismisses everything Chiku says, calls her a “buffoon”, and charges straight at her. Before Chiku can make Alice stab herself with her own spear, Celestia arrives, with Meteora by her side.

Mamika and Meteora plead for calm—everyone’s in the same boat; there’s no need to fight each other—but hotter heads blow over, as Alice thinks no more of Meteora’s musings than Chiku’s.

Alice and Celestia won’t back down, so the two warriors go at it, and Meteora must defend Celestia with her shield. Tokar Blitz enters the fray on Team Alice, but first tells Mamika that she has the power to stop the fight. Mamika knows this, but is afraid to use her powers again after what she did to Celestia when they first met (justifiably so).

And yet it’s Tokar, disabling Meteora’s shield with a gravity round then preparing to finish her off, when Mamika finally says enough and intervenes, saving Meteora and destroying every bullet Tokar fires.

In a battle of clashing powers from clashing genres, I love how it’s the magical girl abilities that seem to be the most powerful here, precisely because they come from such a vague, whimsical, and non-scientific source.

From the moment Celestia and Meteora appeared, Chiku is on the sidelines, literally, and once the swords start to cross and the bullets start to fly, she kick back, cracks open a juice and enjoys the show.

I for one appreciated this approach, because beyond its meta value (she, like us, is eagerly awaiting what will happen next) it’s in a trickster like Chiku’s nature to play sides off each other, then step aside and let everyone beat each other up, leaving her unscathed.

This was the Re:Creators episode I’ve been waiting for, and it felt the fleetest of the lot so far. It’s an episode where everyone’s disparate personalities are on display and where interesting things happen when they butt up against each other.

Having Yuuya and Rui sit this particular battle out keeps things from getting too chaotic too fast—though I’m sure we’ll see larger and more complicated battles in the future.

I’m also glad it’s Mamika, who not only has the “purest” powers but also the “purest” sense of justice, who not only has wherewithal but also the moral compulsion to stop the fighting before someone gets hurt too badly.

She may be “naive” and may not come from as bad a place as some of the others, but she knows what she needs to know: that there’s a better way to solve problems than trying to kill each other. As such, she’s emerged as an important bridge between the pro and anti-MUP factions.

Those who don’t like it better be ready to taste an assortment of colorful hearts, stars, bows, and crescent moons.