Vinland Saga – 16 – End of His Rope

Askeladd’s luck ran out the moment Anne was found by Thorkell’s men. The weight of his army steadily bearing down on Askeladd’s comparatively paltry band fills this episode with increasing tension. While there are warriors like Bjorn and Thorfinn who will never betray him, those two aren’t nearly enough to counter the precipitous drop in morale, and thus loyalty, among the majority of his men.

When I think of how much fun Askeladd and his men once had earlier in the series when his luck was riding high, it only puts his current predicament into greater focus. By episode’s end he can count on one hand the number of men he can truly count on, with fingers to spare. When an English captain simply won’t talk no matter how many fingers Askeladd snips off, it’s almost the final nail in the coffin for him; a sign that he’s lost his power.

When your men are all either worshipers of older gods or of no god at all, they put their trust in a leader with luck and strength, and Askeladd’s is almost totally out. His side plan to force Prince Canute to toughen up pretty much takes a back seat to the far more pressing matters of how long it will be before Askeladd’s men turn against him, and when Thorkell will finally catch up to them.

Thorkell’s name invokes far more fear than Askeladd’s at this point, which means Askeladd’s time is almost out. However, it’s not yet certain whether his longer-term plan to “reform” Canute will fail. All we see is that after he leaves Ragnar behind without any kind of funeral and slaps Canute across the face, Canute starts adopting a far more Thorfinnian visage.

Askeladd is nothing if not perceptive, and has no illusions about how things will go down once the men who are done with him gather enough allies within their ranks to pull something off. That’s why when Thorkell finally appears on that horizon—the glinting from the tips of his mens’ spears portending dread, while his own thrown spear impales three men and beheads a fourth—Askeladd has the best possible defensive position he can have.

Bjorn is at the reins of the lead sled with Thorfinn, Canute, the priest, and two horses when the rest of the men surround Askeladd, calling for an end to his leadership. It is without doubt the most precarious position he’s ever been in, but one should never underestimate Thorfinn’s desire to have at least one more duel with Askeladd—which means keeping him alive…maybe.

Vinland Saga – 15 – Every Father Loves His Child

In the aftermath of Askeladd’s cruel slaughter of the villagers, Prince Canute, Ragnar, and the priest pray to God the Father before the mass grave. When the drunken priest voices his doubt of that father’s love, Canute erupts in outrage, saying all fathers love their children.

But if the priest’s faith was shaken by the massacre, it should be buoyed somewhat by the fact a survivor—Anne, from last week’s masterpiece—managed to get away without anyone noticing. She makes it to Gloucester, where as luck would have it, Thorkell’s army is encamped. Eager both to see Canute and fight Thorfinn again, he immediately prepares to head Askeladd’s way.

The foundation for Canute’s outburst at the priest was no doubt laid by his first outburst, which was in response to Thorfinn’s disrespect. In other words, the kid is finally growing a bit of a spine, at least insomuch he’s less weary of speaking his mind. In the same way, Finn’s “domestication” continues thanks to being around Canute, who secretly cooks as a hobby despite his father’s deep disapproval with his son “acting like a slave.”

Ultimately, Canute will probably have to rely on his frenemy Thorfinn after the events of the episode’s final act, in which Ragnar is killed and Askeladd assumes Canute’s guardianship.

Askeladd believes it’s for his own good, and considering how much Ragnar had coddled Canute to that point, it’s hard to argue that point. Still, Askeladd makes this move unaware of a truth Ragnar ironically would only tell him with his dying breath: King Sweyn always intended for Canute to die in battle so his other son Harald would assume the throne.

Despite how badly his father has treated him, Canute still believes his earthly father loves him, but that’s not the case; he was fine with discarding him. Thankfully, the father upstairs may still love Canute, because Canute still has Thorfinn by his side.

Vinland Saga – 14 – The Luck of the Wicked

I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light. —Maximus, Gladiator

Forget about Thorfinn for a moment. He’s not the protagonist this week, Anne is. Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is large, poor, and devoutly Christian. But even if Rome was once “the light”, it has long since fallen, while the world remains as brutal and cruel and dark as ever, if not more so.

Anne has a secret: she’s come into possession of a beautiful ring. We later learn she’s not sure how much it cost, because she didn’t buy it; she stole it from the market. By doing so, she broke one of the Ten Commandments, which her pious father has no doubt drilled into her means a one-way ticket to hell.

Anne understands she’s sinned on one level, because she keeps the ring hidden from her family in the hollow of a tree. But on another level entirely, she’s just so goddamn delighted to have this gorgeous ring! It seems to give her no end of pleasure. At present, her love for the ring overrides her fear of God’s judgment.

Two of Askeladd’s men, whose banter we’ve seen during various marches and battles, are trying to understand the drunk priest’s concept of “love.” Does the longstanding brotherly bond between the two constitute that kind of love? The priest doesn’t know.

Does whatever amount of silver would break that bond constitute that love? Is the priest’s own veneration of booze love? He wouldn’t call it that; needing booze due to addiction and loving it are far from the same thing.

Ultimately, the warriors can’t understand the priest’s words, but they can remember another “weirdo” who used to talk in strange, seemingly contradictory riddles. Thors said “a true warrior didn’t need a sword”. Thors may not have been Christian, but to the drunken priest who never met him, Thors may as well have been describing Jesus.

Still, most warriors in this cruel dark world still carry swords, like Askeladd. He’s a man like Askeladd, who would probably be the first to say he owes a lot amount of his success as a warrior and a commander to luck. Even all the skill and experience he has, he could not have gathered without luck.

But his luck seems to have hit a snag: the countryside has been beset by harsh wintry weather that threatens to kill his men long before he reaches his destination. Ragnar believes Askeladd’s luck has run out altogether, and that nothing he does will be able to change that.

But Askeladd isn’t out of luck; not really. If he were, they wouldn’t have encountered a village to plunder for food…Anne’s village.

When Anne’s large, devout Christian family sits around the table for a meager (but very much appreciated) repast, her father says the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, and explains to the younger children why it is important to say it, and to obey the Commandments. When the day of judgment comes—and father believes it will comes soon—the faithful and righteous will ascend to heaven, while the sinners will descend into hell.

This is enough to frighten the little ones, but when Anne quietly excuses herself from the table to “go pee,” it seems more out of discomfort than fear. Outside, as the cold winds and snow lash, she recovers her precious ring, puts it on her raw, rough hand, and revels in its beauty. And while she’s out by the tree, Bjorn bursts into her family’s house.

Askeladd still has luck, but it isn’t perfect, and isn’t without cost. When he learns there’s only enough food in the village for fifty villagers to last the winter, the choice is plain: either he and his men starve, or they kill the villagers and take their food. He decides on the latter, making use of what luck he was given.

The villagers—men, women and children—are rounded up and slaughtered. Anne survives that slaughter, because she’s hiding behind a tree. You could say she was lucky, at least in terms of being able to stay alive, in spite of the fact she broke one of God’s commandments. If she hadn’t stolen the ring, or gone out to admire it, she’d have met her family’s fate.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God—Matthew 5:8

Was Anne’s father’s heart pure? Her mother’s? The hearts of her younger siblings and other relations? Did they ascend to heaven upon being murdered, leaving her alone in the cruel dark world below? Was her luck merely a curse, keeping her bound to cruelty and darkness her family will no longer have to endure?

Anne wanders off, neither spotted nor followed by Askeladd’s men, and the winter storm passes. She reaches a spot where the crescent moon looms large. She asks God if her family made it to heaven, but declares that she’s “elated” not to be sent there herself.

Shocked to have witnessed what Askeladd and his men did without fearing God’s punishment in the slightest (since, of course, they believe in entirely different gods), she’s as elated in that moment staring at the moon as she was when she stole the ring.

Maybe she sees in those wicked men, and in her own wickedness, a different kind of purity—of a kind she can’t quite describe, but which bestowed upon those wicked men the luck to find food, and upon her the luck to survive at least one more harsh winter night.

Sarazanmai – 08 – Giving Up Something Precious

Where did Kazuki originally get his miçanga? From Toi, years ago, after he shot his brother’s foe. His brother had given up so much for him, he wanted to return the favor, and so gave up soccer, just like Kazuki would end up doing after Haruka’s injury. The thing is, Kazuki doesn’t remember.

That may be part of the equation of why Toi is alright leaving Kazuki and Enta, but it doesn’t mean he’s okay with it. Still, family comes first, and Toi would do anything for his brother. Unfortunately, Chikai is such a selfish jerk that he exploits Toi’s utter devotion to him at every turn, not letting him have his own life. “You need me, I need you.” Neither is true; not anymore.

On the contrary, Toi would be better off if his rotten brother were apprehended and faced justice. He has new connections. Not to be cold with regard to Chikai—he may well genuinely love his brother and wants them to be together. But he’s also an adult who made his choices, which come with consequences.

That he’s okay with Toi getting dragged down with him out of fraternal loyalty is proof of Chikai’s self-serving nature. More proof? Relying on a 14-year-old stranger in Enta to keep him hidden from the roaming Otter policemen. At least during this interaction, Enta learns the truth about the origin of Kazuki’s miçanga, and that Kazuki an Toi’s connection goes back further than he thought.

While the sudden presence of the “bro” of the guy Chikai (though technically Toi) killed wanting revenge seems rather sudden and contrived, when Chikai tosses Enta in the line of the guy’s sword, it’s Strike Three; dude should be in jail.

Thankfully for Enta, Reo and Mabo rescue him from the gangster, and then Reo shoots said gangster dead. Two other police hear the shot, but he and Mabo use special otter pins to brainwash them into telling the story of their choosing.

In a theater, Keppi consults with Sara on the Otter situation, and Sara unveils an apparatus that will flash freeze them alive upon capture, all to get back “Dark Keppi.” It’s interesting to see these two work so closely together, and to see Sara’s intermittent extreme clumsiness on display as she sneezes from pepper and accidentally kicks Keppi into the device, freezing him.

When Toi calls Enta to say his farewells, Enta tells him he knows about the miçanga, but that Kazuki doesn’t realize it’s Toi who gave it to him. Toi doesn’t think it matters, nor is there any reason to tell him, and says goodbye, wishing Enta and Kazuki the best as the Golden Duo.

When Toi calls Kazuki, he tests him by saying the same words he said years ago about having to “protect the connections he has.” Kazuki assumes, quite wrongly, that Toi is leaving because Enta betrayed them and stole the Dishes of Hope.

That makes Enta’s next encounter with Kazuki fraught with a great deal of anger and sadness over the misunderstanding. Even though Enta returns with the dishes and urges Kazuki to hurry up and help him get Toi back, Kazuki is still burning from Enta’s betrayal, and won’t believe or even listen to another word he says.

This is how, on the same day his friend Toi leaves his life, possibly never to be seen again, Kazuki puts all the blame on Enta and disowns him as a friend. To make matters worses, Keppi is nowhere to be found and thus can’t protect them when Reo and Mabo show up in the park.

Reo pulls out his pistol and shoots, and Enta takes the bullet for Kazuki…a love bullet! As the cops leave with the dishes, Mabo tells Kazuki he may still have time to save Enta’s life, and Enta comes to sprawled over Kazuki’s lap, and laughs that he couldn’t even joke about ever hating him before passing out again.

No doubt unsure what else to do, Kazuki calls Toi, but Toi is already on the boat out of Tokyo with his brother, and doesn’t bother answering. One imagines if Kazuki texted him that Enta got shot, he might ask the boat to turn around, but Kazuki doesn’t text him, so he doesn’t know how dire things are back on land.

With Kazuki a definite emotional wreck, Enta possibly dead, Toi on a boat and Keppi an ice kappa-cube, the Otters couldn’t be in a stronger position, nor could the good guys be mired in a deeper abyss of despair. Where does Sarazanmai go from here?

Sarazanmai – 07 – Back to Who He Was

We check in on Mabu as he’s undergoing some kind of semi-sexy “maintenance,” which makes sense considering we’ve seen that he has a mechanical heart that I believe runs on desire. Mabu and his partner Reo seem more distant than ever.

Meanwhile, Kazuki is now to cherishing his connections: those with his friends, his parents, and of course, his totez-adorbz bro. He doesn’t even accept his mom’s sachet, telling Haruka to hold onto it for him. You can tell his folks are relieved Kazuki is acting more like he used to: cheerful, upbeat, and magnetic.

It’s a triumphant moment just to see Kazuki joining Enta at their riverside practice spot; more so when Toi decides to join the soccer club, a heart once thought cold sufficiently thawed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the other two and their acceptance of him, delinquent history and all.

While the kappa boys are on cloud nine, Reo surveys the ward for potential zombie kappas alone, in the dark. In a flashback to just after the siege of the Kappa Kingdom, he learns that his beloved partner Mabu was gravely wounded, and but for the grace of the Otter Empire’s Chief “Otticer” of Science and Technology, would have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The lads are shocked to find the practice spot has been vandalized by trash (like Dr. Kappa cans) and paint, but immediately set to work cleaning the place up until it sparkles, employing the same teamwork they would have used playing footie.

But the next day, the mess is back, and just as bad, and Toi gets a foreboding call from his brother, informing him his latest job went south and they’ll have to leave town. The timing can’t be a coincidence, can it?

While I initially thought Toi was vandalizing the spot on the sly, my suspicions evaporated when I saw how genuinely disappointed he was that he had to go, and his gratitude when Kazuki suggests they collect the one more Dish of Hope needed to make five, and use them to help Toi and his bro.

When Toi asks Enta why he’s okay with this arrangement, Enta states that the way he sees it, Kazuki’s present wish is to help Toi. Almost on queue, the potential source of that fifth and final dish arrives in the form of a “Balls” themed Kappa Zombie, reported by Sara (who goes on lovey-dovey strolls with Keppi) with an E.T. visual reference.

But when they all meet in Keppi’s park, he senses something is amiss, and sure enough, they discover the four dishes they hid under the ground tile have been stolen. Keppi suspects the Otter Empire, and he transforms the trio into kappa to do their thing, sticking with the plan to collect a fifth dish.

The Kappa Zombie’s Shirikodama reveals he longed to be kicked, either like a ball or in the balls—or heck, both—by his girlfriend. In the Sarazanmai that follows his defeat, the culprit behind both the practice spot vandalism and theft of the Dishes of Hope is revealed to be Enta, who is jealous of Kazuki’s increased attention towards Toi.

Enta’s treachery is dastardly, but easily explained: just when Kazuki is back to the way he was before Haruka’s accident, Enta has to share the guy he loves with someone else; someone he feels has neither put in the work nor been around long enough to deserve such outsize attention; at least compared to him.

Speaking of being “back to the way he was,” that’s how the New Mabu describes himself on the rooftop when Reo sees him for the first time since his injury and operation. But Reo’s reaction is immediate and intense; this is not the Mabu he knew; he would never look at him the way this Mabu does.

Mabu may have been given a mechanical heart that enables him to live on, but as Reo said earlier in the episode, everything he says is a lie. And of course, consistent with Kunihiko’s love of wordplay, uso is Japanese for “a lie” but can also mean “otter”, as in kawauso.

All this backstory deepening the Otter Cop characters is very welcome. As for the large monster with very Keppi-like pink eyes that ominously yells “daaarknessss”…well, I think I’ll just need to tune in next week to figure out what that’s about…

Dororo – 02 – The Telltale Bell

Try as Dororo might to communicate as he travels with his new companion, it’s pretty clear Hyakkimaru can neither see nor hear, at least not in the conventional sense. Rather, he depends on a different kind of “sight” in which he can see the souls of objects, and lets Dororo stay close because his soul’s color denotes him as non-threatening.

Dororo, in turn, starts a fire for him so he doesn’t have to eat the fish he catches raw. Between his adept fishing skills and ability to slice up demons, Dororo is sticking with this guy because he knows there’s both people to be saved and money made slaying monsters. One such apparent monster lurks in the forest, ringing a bell.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru end up in a village, where Dororo does the talking, claiming they’ll root out the monster that’s harassing them. But something isn’t quite right: the village has too much money to throw around for guests considering they don’t seem to have rice paddies or any other source of such income.

In the night, the bell-ringing monster appears, but Hyakkimaru won’t budge, which can only mean one thing: whatever that big-headed thing is, it ain’t a threat. The next morning the interim chief introduces them to Bandai, the bedridden chief. Dororo, being a little boy with eyes, is immediately smitten by the woman’s otherworldly beauty.

Hyakkimaru…isn’t. He draws his arm-sword, and Dororo has to hold him back from attacking Bandai. Clearly, she’s the monster, but the villagers are protecting her.

They toss Hyakkimaru and Dororo in a storeroom, where they meet an old blind priest, who explains to Dororo how both he and probably Hyakkimaru “see.” When the lights suddenly go out, Dororo becomes the blind one, while Hyakkimaru goes after a demonic limb that peeks out of a hatch.

The hatch leads outside Bandai’s house, and Hyakkimaru busts in and recommences his attack. Bandai reveals her true form as a giant green demon, whose soul the priest senses as a blood-red; the most dangerous kind.

Hyakkimaru chases Bandai into the bamboo forest, and eventually slices it to pieces and stabs it through the “woman’s” head. The interim chief confesses to having fed Bandai travelers who came to the village so it wouldn’t attack them. The big-headed bell guy turns out to be some kind of youkai that leads Dororo to the gold the village took from their eaten guests. Dororo reprimands them for being worse than monsters for letting one prey on others for profit.

Moving on to their next destination, Hyakkimaru finally introduces himself to Dororo by writing his name in the dirt. Dororo can’t read the characters, but the blind priest can. The priest also recognizes Hyakkimaru as the poor cursed babe he encountered in the river.

With the demise of Bandai, another statue in the Hall of Hell is cleaved in two, and Hyakkimaru gains another part of him that was taken by the demons: his nerves and thus his ability to feel pain. Considering the wounds he sustained in the fight with the demon, he ends up with a lot of pain. But at least he’s not alone; his new friend Dororo will help him in any way he can.

It’s fun watching Dororo learn more about his new friend as we learn beside him, and as he gradually collects more parts of himself. The spunky kid is never not fun to watch. The show aptly balances the friendship-building with quick, brutal action once Hyakkimaru is in Go Mode. It’s also starting to look like with each part he regains, Daigo may lose a bit of the good fortune the demons bestowed upon him. Ah well…that’s why you don’t make deals with demons.

Dororo – 01 (First Impressions) – Oldie but Goldie

If I haven’t seen it, it’s new to me…so said NBC back in 1998. Indeed, through the eyes of new generations, the old can become new again, and draw strength from its venerability.

That certainly seems to be what we have with Winter 2019’s Dororo, a re-imagining of an anime from Spring 1969, based on a Tezuka Osamu manga began in Summer of 1967. That makes the anime a cool fifty years old—golden—and ripe for a good dusting-off by Tezuka Productions and MAPPA.

Impatient and distraught by the withering of his lands and his people, a samurai lord named Kagemitsu Daigo forsakes Buddha and makes a deal with the demons of the Hall of Hell: he’ll get victory, prosperity, and power, and the demons get…whatever they want.

When his first son is born without limbs, facial features, or even skin, Daigo rejoices, for he knows the demons have accepted the deal. A midwife takes pity on the cursed child, placing it in a boat rather than drowning it in the river, but as its father rises in significance, the babe slips into obsurity.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and the young, Aladdin-like boy thief Dororo has swindled a man of burlier frame but punier intellect. Dororo takes his beatings but won’t let anyone tell him what to do. His mark is on the cusp of drowning him when their exchange is interrupted by the appearance of a strange young man with a doll-like face, seemingly looking beyond them.

He’s actually looking at some kind of sludge demon that emerges from the river and starts eating Dororo’s marks, but Dororo himself is saved by the young man’s rather unorthodox fighting with multiple prostheses. It’s pretty obvious who he is by the time jump and false limbs: the child survived, and has become strong enough to handle himself.

This young man, whom we learn is named Hyakkimaru, is still mourned by his mother, the wife of Kagemitsu Daigo, though she now has a healthy, fully-limbed son who is no doubt being groomed to succeed his father. As for Dororo, he just thinks it’s hella cool that Hyakkimaru can do what he does. He also gets to witness something quite unusual (well, more unusual): upon defeating the sludge demon, Hyakkimaru regains his skin.  

And so the stage is set: a lad lacking many body parts, itching to get them back from the demons who took them, and his plucky sidekick who takes shit from no one. It’s a stylish new interpetation of a literally classic pairing. Dororo’s seiyu is solid, the OP is frikkin’ bad-ass, and the action is swift and satisfying. Very encouraging start.

Classroom of the Elite – 12 (Fin)

The first seven episodes of Classroom of the Elite were solid, but gave way to an increasingly unfocused and often downright tedious Island Arc. After pointing out how delicate and demanding the girls are compared to the guys, demonstrating the class’s appalling ignorance of outdoor fundamentals (except for one character who camps out a lot), and introducing a set of rules and objectives only slightly less complicated than the U.S. Tax Code, we were then treated to thrilling whodunits involving the theft of a girl’s undergarments and the burning of a manual.

Class C student Ibuki was planted as the obvious culprit to everything, but we can’t be sure if she’s really the culprit, because the biggest question mark of them all is, and has always been, Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, whom it’s implied was the sole “survivor” of a “gifted kid farm.”

Meanwhile, his interactions with Horikita Suzune have been dull and repetitive (due in no small part to the nebulousness of his true motives and  intentions), while what had been perhaps the best character dynamic of the show—that between Ayano and Kushida—has curiously been abandoned altogether, with no further exploration of her character. Some of Kushida’s screen time was replaced by Sakura, whose puppy love for the unperceptive Ayano isn’t nearly as compelling.

But WHO CARES? This was a bad-ass finale. It stuck the landing.

It starts slowly, in basically the same place we left off last week: in a state of confusion and frustration. Horikita wakes up to find Ayano nearby, telling her she should drop out and that whatever goal she has in mind, whether it’s making Class A to prove something to her brother, or something else, she’s going to need allies. She faints again, and Ayano carries her to the teachers.

Ayano tells Hirata everything that’s happened and how it will effect the points, and Hirata is devastated, no doubt believing he let his class down…but Ayano asks a favor of him. When the day the Special Test ends arrives, Sakura asks Ayano what he thinks their points will be, and Ayano simply looks over to Hirata, who is holding the leader identification form.

All of the classes assemble on the beach, except Class C…but a dirty, disheveled Ryuuen does appear…in his mind, to declare victory. Once he lays out his scheme to gain the names of all three class leaders, things don’t just look bad for Class D, but Classes A and B as well.

Ryuuen’s plan is extra-complex, as befits the finale of CotE: signing a binding contract with Class A in which they’ll supply 200 S-points in goods and provide the names of B and D’s leaders, using Ibuki and another C-class student as spies D and B.

Of course, Ryuuen intended to betray Katsuragi, because an ally of Katsuragi’s rival Sakayanagai gave him the name of Class A’s leader…which was never Katsuragi to begin with. Ryuuen runs the math as the calculations are displayed on the screen.

Then the points are announced: Class C gets ZERO points, Classes A and B make just over 100 each, and Class D…WINS, with 225 points. SHOKU!

How’d it happen? Cough-cough. C’mon now, you know: it was all Ayanokouji-frikking-Kiyotaka. What Horikita doesn’t know is how. Class A continues its internal strife as Sakayanagi’s ally antagonizes Katsuragi’s furious levies, while Ichinose doesn’t feel too bad about her class’s high score, since she’s likely close to amassing enough points to buy her way into the class of her choice (which I’m assuming would be A).

Ayano managed to win by pivoting from a strategy of spot-occupation points to leader identification points, and used virtually everyone and everything he had on that island to discover the identities of the leaders of Class A and C (leaving B alone to preserve their alliance). He even used Horikita’s illness, which was actually crucial to giving him a “legitimate reason” to change the leadership of Class D to him at the very last minute. Thus, Ayano was right about Ryuuen and Ryuuen was wrong about him – a 100-point swing.

As an apparent apology for using Horikita and potentially making her even sicker, he had Hirata tell the rest of Class D they owe everything to her, not him. It’s a brilliant move that accomplishes two things: it keeps Ayano in the shadows where he can do the most, and brings the class together, which was Hirata’s goal all along.

Kushida seems to know there’s something a little off about Horikita being the hero here, but can’t get a straight answer out of Ayano when she asks which girl he’d choose. It’s not much, but I did appreciate one last scene with “Real Kushida,” especially in which she resents the fact a girl like Horikita doesn’t have a “side to hide.” But Ayano rightly points out that most people have one.

In his chat with Chabashira-sensei in the ship’s theater, she commends him for having performed up to the standards not only she, but “that man” (AKA his dad) expected. There’s talk about Daedalus and Icarus, but Ayano doesn’t intend to lose his wings any time soon. That’s good, because Ryuuen (and his loyal lieutenant Ibuki) are coming for him, armed with a windfall of points thanks to one other stipulation in their contract with Class A.

Finally, Horikita loses her throng of admirers long enough to track down Ayano and ask him why he told Hirata to spread the word that she, not he, was the class savior and mastermind behind their victory. He tells her, in a scene that’s played quite tenderly at first, to remember when he said she needed allies to succeed – giving her the credit helps get her those allies (and she did suffer in sickness for the cause).

Horikita’s Tsundere Levels reach critical levels as she both thanks Ayano and acknowledges him as an ally while making it clear their future interactions will be purely professional in nature and focused on getting to Class A.

She’s fooling no one, but Ayano is fooling her along with everyone else, because, at least according to his inner thoughts, he’s only looking out for one guy: Ayano. Hirata, Sakura, Ichinose, Kushida, and Horikita are nothing but stones he’s all too willing to step on to win, because winning is all that matters to him.

A dark ending…but also a wide-open door for a sequel down the road. Horikita has changed a lot, and she says it’s all Ayano’s fault. Maybe she, along with Kushida and the others, will get a chance to change him. Or maybe he’ll just dance on their corpses when he’s king of the world. Here’s hoping we get to find out!

Classroom of the Elite – 11

Prior to watching this episode, only one persistent wish occupied my mind: Get off the damn island. Just get off. It’s been a convoluted mess and I’m honestly having trouble caring anymore. The primary reason I watch anime is to be entertained, and the island arc just ain’t getting the job done. It’s a slog.

Alas, we do not leave the island, as time only transitions from Day 5 to Day 6, with the girls and boys of class D continuing to bicker amongst themselves, a storm coming, and the hidden fact that their leader Horikita has been ill since leaving the boat.

Way too much time is spent on the secondary and tertiary classmates yelling at each other. I already get that there’s discord, the episode just repeats itself. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no reason for Yamauchi to put a clump of mud on Horikita’s head, except perhaps to serve the plot, as Horikita must exert herself by throwing him.

More importantly by having mud randomly dropped on her head, she has to wash it off, which means stripping down to her skivvies…which means temporarily not having her key card on her person. Her one primary job as leader is to hold on to that card, but she failed, and only informs Ayanokouji.

Their talk is interrupted by a fire at the camp, which sets off another round of argument. Hirata kinda loses it once it starts to pour, and then orders the others to do useless things like cover the already-wet firewood and collect the already-soaked clothes.

Completely independent of the events on the island, we keep making small check-ins on Ayano’s past as some kind of organization-raised “special” kid, the last one remaining among of a large group of potentials, for which he seems to be placed behind bars.

I honestly couldn’t tell how these little glimpses of Ayano’s past are trying to relate to the events of the present…unless, perhaps, Ayanokouji means to betray Horikita, and is the one who told Ibuki to steal the key card. It could also be an elaborate plan to make their rivals think chaos reigns in Class D, and “betraying” Horikita is part of that. Still, Ibuki doesn’t hold back on beating her up.

That person remains a mystery for now, but the reveal that Ibuki is the one causing all the mayhem feels a bit…obvious, even though the episode tried to keep its cards close. Ayano must’ve found something buried in the spot where he found her, and we don’t know that either.

I have no idea if we’ll get another cour of CotE, but if not, it’s been an interminable, disappointing, seemingly aimless final arc, in which everyone has become progressively dumber, except perhaps Ayano, whose true intentions remain stubbornly opaque. It will take one hell of a finale to bring all the disparate pieces together and deliver some satisfying answers.

Classroom of the Elite – 10

How could a show that started out so fresh, slick, clever, and cerebral feel so stale, dull, dumb now? The first mistake seemed to be taking the classes out of the proverbial classroom and onto an island…then proceeding to do basically nothing for five days.

Horikita conducts recon of Classes A and B, both times having unpleasant encounters with their respective leaders, both of whom are drawn as if they were in their thirties. Fine, I’ll forgive the disappointingly goofy character design—this is Lerche, after all—but I won’t forgive the obvious holes in logic that keep creeping up this week, even if the sexism subsides.

Remember how I said Horikita came into contact with the leaders of Classes A and B? Isn’t there a 50-S-Point bonus to anyone who correctly guesses the leader of another class—an a 50-point  deduction from the leader correctly ID’d? Am I missing something here? Katsuragi and Ryuuen aren’t exactly being subtle in their leaderliness—nor is Horikita herself.

Days 2 thru 4 breeze by without any incident…or any meaningful developments whatsoever, aside from more of Sakura flirting with Ayanokouji (who has never been portrayed as anything other than an unromantic, assexual character, making her flirtation seem like a futile waste of time), a mysterious scene in which a mystery student of unknown gender steals a girl’s bag from the tent, and Sudou suspecting Class C exile Ibuki of some kind of treachery.

I suppose I should look to the episode’s title for guidance, a Kierkegaard quote: “Every man has in himself the most dangerous traitor of all.” I’m no philosophy major, but off the top of my head, this seems to have dual meaning: everyone has the potential for treachery, but no other person is capable of betraying you more than you can betray yourself.

It could also just mean there’s a traitor in Class D’s midst, which Sudo believes is Ibuki, so I gravitated to her as well. Then, on the morning of Day 5, the girls are united in their outrage that Karuizawa’s underwear was stolen in the night. The rest of the episode deals with the investigation of this panty heist. See what I said about feeling a bit dumb and rote?

Despite that feeling, things to sharpen up a bit when Ike finds the panties in his bag. Clearly they were planted there, but by whom? What the heck would Ibuki have to gain by sowing discord, when her own Class spent all their points and headed back to the boat to party?

By the way, I’m happy Class C’s strategy was not immediately dismissed as the wrong one; none of the remaining classes are guaranteed to earn enough points to make all the trouble they’ve been through worth it. It’s almost as if the show is saying “yes, this whole island survival premise is indeed dumb, but only Class C and Koenji decided to reject it.”

Ike gives the panties to Ayano, and Hirata finds them when giving the boys pat-downs at the girls’ demand. But Hirata doesn’t turn in Ayano, because he understands the distinction of Ayano having the panties and Ayano stealing them.

Hirata takes the panties from Ayano, supposedly to protect his classmate, as Karuizawa’s boyfriend is the one the girls suspect the least to have them, but despite the fact it’s (I’m assuming) to prevent further discord from compromising the class, Hirata is betraying himself here, by lying.

And the fact he’s able to be dishonest here makes me start to think that maybe his whole upstanding, “Everybody Loves Hirata” act is merely cover for…more sinister designs.

Ushio to Tora – 30

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With Mayuko doomed to live the rest of her life replacing Ushio’s mom, Asako in the hospital still growing her skin back, and a lot of people either dead, turned to stone, or unable to remember Ushio, this entire second season has been one big fat DOWNER.

There seems to be no end to Ushio’s torment, as one thing after another crops up to make his life that much more dark and tragic. Just take Nagare, who “frees” Ushio and Tora from a JASDF transport taking them who knows where.

As was teased previously (by his evil grin), Nagare is now on Hakumen’s side. There’s no explanation why, nor why he retreats as suddenly as he appeared when a HAMMR helicopter approaches (he sliced an armored humvee in half; he can’t take out a chopper?)

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So yeah, there’s been a lot of piling on this season, and each episode has dug deep into the vast repository of Ushio to Tora characters from the first season, dusting them off and putting them back on the game board, like the two HAMMR scientists who didn’t die.

All the negativity of compounded ordeals early on made it hard to enjoy this episode, but the show does,to its credit, throw us a few bones of both hope and levity, which are much appreciated—though Asako getting out of bed and wandering around town with her skin still healing, looking like a damn mummy, is definitely not one of those bones. For the love of God, Asako, go back to the hospital!

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Rather, Ushio’s first bone is the Rock Eater armor HAMMR procured from the Kouhamei Sect before shit went down. They believe it will help them in the latest trial he must face: stopping the JASDF, all the brass of which have been fooled by a false Jei Mei, to launch missiles at the stone pillar at the bottom of the sea where Hakumen is (barely) being held.

It’s pretty obvious by how she speaks and looks that this Jei Mei is not Ushio’s mother, but a Hakumen fake, and it’s just as clear destroying the stone pillar will have the opposite effect of destroying Hakumen’s power.

You know you’re in a plot-heavy show when a fleet of submarines makes an appearance in your supernatural action fantasy shounen rom-com-a-drama! So much stuff going on.

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After Nagare’s tease and HAMMR, Ushio decides to stop by at home to…clean his room for some reason. Naturally, he runs into an ambush by more agents of Hakumen determined to crush the stone Azafuse before they revive and join the fight.

In the process, Ushio’s house is fucking destroyed (I can’t believe that hasn’t happened like five times already, considering all his dangerous adversaries!), and even when he dons his arguably badass Rock Eater armor, he and Tora end up in a tight spot.

So it falls to the shattered bits of petrified Azafuse to glom onto Tora like armor which, while lamer-looking than Ushio’s, enables Tora to take out the baddies with ease.

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After that, all that’s left is for Ushio to collect a couple of mementos from previous episodes and go down to the cellar to re-enact the scene where he first met Tora, which was….weird. I guess it speaks to how on-the-same-wavelength these two are—and how desperate for a moment of fun and levity among all the destruction and despair—that they’d do such a goofy thing.

However, after seeing Asako wander the streets in her bandages, I was really hoping she’d end up at Ushio’s place, even if, realistically, she’s still probably too frail to make it there. But she didn’t, which sucks, because now Ushio is off to the Okinawan Sea to stop those JASDF subs from doing something stupid.

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Ushio to Tora – 29

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With the East and West youkai still not remembering Ushio (but admitting he and Tora are probably their best hope), Mayuko gone off to relieve Ushio’s mom, and Asako healing in the hospital, Ushio and Tora…don’t have much to do this week. Instead, they learn a couple of new nuggets of information and run into an old acquaintance. A pretty quiet, often lumbering episode.

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That old acquaintances is Hyou, who we haven’t seen in who-knows-how-long. He doesn’t get much of a chance to explain why he’s at Ushio’s house when another unexpected visitor arrives: Guren, the black Tora working for Hakumen.

Hyou gives Ushio and Tora the scoop about Guren, whose name used to be Sokuei when he was a human thief who loved to kill, found the Beast Spear in the mountains, used it to make money, and eventually let it corrupt him and consume his soul (Ushio got close to a similar fate, but his friends saved him).

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Anywho, Guren continues to do what he wants, which in this case is doing the bidding of Hakumen. However, Ushio doesn’t fight Guren, and he tells Tora not to either. That’s because Guren also happened to be the sonofabitch who killed Hyou’s family.

That gives Hyou a better claim to fighting him, and he does…but I’ll be honest, it’s not the most thrilling or consequential fight. It doesn’t help that it doesn’t even end decisively, with Hyou managing to survive and leaving a knife in Guren’s body to track him later.

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The other big news is that Tora himself was once an ordinary human whose soul was corrupted by the spear, which is news to Ushio. A lot of other Tora-like monsters showed up for Hyou and Guren’s duel, but they didn’t do any more than Ushio and Tora, which was watch.

Anyway, Ushio patches Hyou up as best he can and lets him help himself to the house sake, which is apparently the best thing to drink after a big battle, win or lose, in order to “wash the hate out.” Hyou is also confident that not only will he defeat Hyou eventually (not caring what happens to him) but that Ushio and Tora will eventually defeat Hakumen.

That may be because Hakumen is fueled by the fear of its enemies, and Ushio and Tora are too busy bickering with each other to have much fear. Still, they’d better not come at Hakumen with anything resembling fear, or they’ll likely be toast.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 07

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Ranta believes that the party now knowing about Mary’s past doesn’t change anything, at least in a practical sense. You can’t be friends with someone who simply doesn’t want to be friends with you, and he doesn’t see why they need to go out of their way to accommodating her because she had a tough past. They’ve all had tough pasts.

But that last point is the hole in Ranta’s logic: they’re not so different from Mary, so they can find a way to connect. They lost Manato, their leader, but Mary left a part of herself down in the caverns where her friends were killed. Haruhiro and the others managed to pull out of a similar tailspin because they were still together, and were able to work through the pain.

Shinohara and Hayashi also live with the pain of losing friends they cared about, but didn’t realize until they were gone that they had to treasure those bonds while they were still around. When Haruhiro hears Ranta’s grievanes about always being dismissed or ignored, he listens and takes it to heart: Mary isn’t the only one he hasn’t been attentive to.

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After the party tentatively agrees that they’re all friends, and that they should embrace Mary as one as well, it all comes down to execution. Haru is clearly apprehensive about the conversation; so much so Yume has to jump on him so he doesn’t reveal their position to a goblin (albeit one who has his dagger). By the way, I liked how Yume acted to protect Haru, their leader, from his own emotional desire to get back what he lost, since a dagger is far easier replaced than a comrade.

When Haru asks to speak to Mary, she seems resigned to the fact he’s about to kick her out, just as she’s left so many other party’s after her trauma. There’s the underlying feeling she’s contributing all she thinks she can, but it isn’t enough, and that frustrates her. She’s trying to find the Mary she left behind.

Obviously, Haru doesn’t want her to leave. Instead of pry into her past, he gives her the past of their party, painful as it is. He tells her how important Manato was and how hopeless things seemed without him. He admits he agreed to her joining the party because they needed a priest to survive, period.

But now, after some time, he’s decided, and all the others agree, that she’s become more than a hired hand. She’s become a valued friend, one he wishes to cherish as much as all his other comrades. Shihoru, Yume and Moguzo share the same feelings. And yes, even Ranta relents, buying into the generous atmosphere in the room – leading to one of present-day Mary’s most expressive looks.

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Now that Mary knows the score, and knows that her new comrades also carry pain with them every day, she softens a little more. She doesn’t join them in shopping for Moguzo’s helmet, or any of several subsequent meals, but not because she doesn’t want to, but because she’s easing into a new situation. “Not yet”, she says, which isn’t “no”.

Like all things in Grimgar, Mary’s coming-around takes time, not because the show is stalling, but because such things take time in real life. It’s great that they think of her as a friend, but she still needs to process that and figure out how to have friends again.

Haru takes the party out to fight goblins in the city ruins day after day, creating a strict routine. Each time they go out, they get a little better as individuals and as a team, and rather than spend on better accommodations, they invest in better equipment. Soon, Haru notices it’s getting easier to kill goblins – the spot where he needs to cut is now lighting up in his head.

Repetition strengthening muscle memory, and increasing the efficiency of his motions. They make the most of their newfound skills, and fill each other’s shortcomings. They also include Mary in on their downtime chatter, including Ranta tactlessly asking Mary which guy she prefers (she doesn’t answer).

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After taking things one day at a time for many days, Mary finally agrees to come to the tavern, and it’s a wonderful moment to see her in the middle of the party, sharing in the glow of the fire. Shinohara and Hayashi are also relieved to see her finally looking like she belongs in a party.

Before long, the time comes when it looks like Mary is going to move in with the others. On the last night she’s on her own, Haru is out in the courtyard, where Manato comes to him once more, likening the excitement and anticipation Haru feels to the night before a field trip (a rare look into their unknown past lives).

I don’t see Ghost Manato as a real ghost physically there, but the memory of Manato who appears when Haru is alone with nothing but the calm of night and the crackle of the fire nearby. But that doesn’t lesson his importance as a presence Haru treats like Manato.

The new leader wants to show the old leader what kind of party they’ve become. Other tavern patrons may be half-mocking in calling them the Goblin Slayers, but it’s a name Haru intends to wear with pride.

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