NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 03 – Taking a Turn

Fresh off their narrow escape from the diner and SWE, Naoto and Naoya  decide to pay a visit to their dear old parents who drugged them and sent them away to the lab when they were kids, because there might not have been any choice considering the powers they possessed. Predictably, not only are the parents gone, but so is the very house they grew up in.

The balance of the episode is focused on a high school, where a circle of friends are apparently suffering the effects of a black magic spell that backfired. They intended to get revenge on someone, but their “spell” seemingly results in a string of gruesome suicides at school, all of which are worth a solid trigger warning.

The SWE squad is dispatched to the school to investigate, with Takuya driving while Kimie rides shotgun and tries to relate to him as a fellow Psychic. They raid the club room and find a treasure trove of fiction and occult contraband, any one item of which carries the death penalty.

I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how this society…works. The SWE can’t be everywhere all the time, so I imagine bastions of lawbreaking are quite prevalent—especially in schools! In any case, Mikie can sense a powerful psychic at work, controlling the minds of people, including Michio and Reika, who shoot wildly at their Kuroki brother comrades like brainwashed zombies.

The one survivng high schooler ends up crossing paths with the Kiriharas at their dad’s old factory, where they also encounter the time-traveling Futami Shouko, who ties her hair…with her hair, which is…unsettling, somehow. I guess that’s the point; she’s an inscrutable person.

Before Shouko blips out (returning to several years in the past), Naoya’s clairvoyance senses a voice telling them to go to a certain place. That place happens to be where the culprit behind the mind control murders lives. He’s just a little boy, but he’s a powerful Psychic whose puppy the high schooler who spearheaded the black magic ritual slaughtered for its blood…hence the desire for revenge.

Mikie and Reika roll in and neutralize the boy, ending the immediate threat, while Naoto uses his psychokinesis to shove the ladies aside so he and his brother can escape. They’re met outside by Takuya and Yuuya and the two pairs of brothers recognize each other from their strange visions. It’s like that Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man meme.

Thankfully, the Kirihara brothers have an ally in the shadows, who reveals himself to knock out the Kuroki’s and tells them to come with him. He doesn’t add “if they want to live”, Sarah Connor style, however. I can’t say I’m the most engaged with these characters, but it’s a very slick looking show and the music is great, so I can’t complain that much.

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 02 – Diner of Illusion

In addition to showing us a lot of cool stuff, NH2K41 can add another feather to its cyberpunk cap: it’s able to cover a lot of narrative ground in these two episodes. There’s a lot of information to convey, and while it isn’t always the most elegant or subtle (we learn the Kuroki brothers were abandoned because…they mention it while looking at a photo) it’s all easy to digest. And Takuya’s whiskey on the rocks looks frikkin’ epic.

The show also wastes no time connecting our two pairs of brothers, as Yuuya has a momentary vision of the Kirihara brothers, who are once again just trying to fill their stomachs in an unassuming diner. Unfortunately for them, the fugitive Miracle Mick is there, along with a Harley Quinn-style femme fatale, who uses Mick’s celebrity to bilk a 2D three-man band out of all their cash. She, not Mick, is the one with the psychic power: the power of mind control.

It isn’t long before the Thought Police (Takuya and Yuuya’s squad) show up, but they’re just there for Mick and the woman using him and manipulating the musicians, whom she sics on the cops like brainwashed dogs. The order comes down to arrest everyone in the diner, even the cute waitress, but when they start getting rough Naoto gets pissed off and uses his psychokinesis to fight back, stopping all the bullets Neo-style. In the process, Yuuya learns he has a skill: psychic shields.

Naoto, Naoya, and the waitress are able to flee, while Mick and the band are arrested as scapegoats. Then the mischievous woman, Kobayashi Kimie, reveals she’s a cop who was working undercover to bring Mick down. She also demonstrates her powers of illusion in one of the coolest manners possible: by “stabbing” the four squad members with glass spikes. It’s as pretty as it is gruesome.

That’s when Takuya, Yuuya, Reika and Michio learn that it isn’t that the supernatural doesn’t exist, but that the government wants the public to think it doesn’t exist. Psychics, like the four cops are about to awaken to be come, are the exclusive purview of the government. If they have to use supernatural powers to root the civilian world of the supernatural, so be it.

The waitress Naoto saves isn’t particularly thankful, as now the cops will be after her since she’s a Psychic too (though not, as she says, a “monster” like the brothers). She thanks them before shuffling off, warning them to keep a low profile. That may be tough in what is clearly a police and surveillance state where everything that has a microchip could be watching or listening.

The fact that when the Kirihara brothers escaped from the lab where they spend fifteen years, only to find themselves ten years further into the future than they expected, doesn’t help matters. Naoto thought they were going somewhere where their own kind were accepted and coexisted with regular humans. Instead, the opposite has happened.

Clearly the girl in the school uniform is a part of the experiments at the lab, as she’s returned unconscious and with a weak pulse, but alive after an apparent trip to the future. The question is, is there any way to prevent the awful post-WWIII dystopia that exists in 2041?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

NIGHT HEAD 2041 – 01 (First Impressions) – It’s That Kind of Night

I’ll give NIGHT HEAD 2041 this: it gives you bang for the buck. There’s a metric fuckton of stuff to look at in its 22 minutes, and a pulsing, pounding score by Yamada Yukata (Vinland Saga, Great Pretender) adds weight and dignity to every one of those minutes. The CGI modeling of most characters is akin to Knights of Sidonia, a show I enjoyed quite a bit, and like that show’s sci-fi setting, the sometimes off-putting style fits the cyberpunk milieu like a glove.

The thing is, it’s not just visuals and sound that NH2K41 has in spades; it’s characters, factions, and ideas. It’s not lacking in ambition, but it often feels scattered, like it’s trying to say too much to fast. I’m reminded of the 2004 live-action Casshern film, which my friends and I love, but also joke that it’s about “absolutely everything, all the time, only louder and faster”.

Perhaps that’s a side effect of having to introduce us to this world, its pair of protagonist brothers on opposite sides of a post-WWIII conflict between the hyper-atheist, rationalist powers that be and anyone and everyone who believes in higher powers, the supernatural or the occult, or any kind of fiction. That last part is a bit hard to chew; but fine.

I can totally believe that society has put all of its eggs in the pseudo-military police industrial complex that is Special Weapons Enforcement, to which the Kuroki brothers belong. There’s a distinct vibe to both them and their two comrades that made me think they were criminals going after other criminals a la PSYCHO-PASS. But the less this is compared to that, the better; at least for now.

P-P could go off the rails at times, at least had some focus to its bold brash ruminations on society. It was also anchored by my avatar of many years, Tsunemori Akane, one of my all-time favorite anime characters. Night Head has a lot of characters, including the aforementioned pair of brothers, but they’re not exactly brimming with personality or originality.

One thing I did like was how the episode suddenly changed gears after one of the Kuroki Takuya accidentally conjured an EMP to save his little brother Yuuya, basically committing a crime by doing something that shouldn’t be possible. That segues smoothly to the Kirihara brothers, Naoto and Naoya, a psychokinetic and a clairvoyant, respectively.

Freshly sprung from some kind of lab where they’d spend an untold portion of their lives and with a fast car and a stack of cash in their possession, Naoto continually assures his adorable little brother that the time is now, as in, for people like them to step out of the shadows and join the world community without fear of ostracization or oppression.

Unfortunately, when you and your brother are essentially X-Men, it’s hard not to make ordinary humans fearful, angry, or a combination of both simply by existing. That’s what happens when the brothers dare to grab a bite to eat—though it’s at least partially their fault for waltzing into a bar where there’s an obvious shit-starter lounging on a couch with his honey.

Weirdly enough, these two are rendered in the anime-standard two dimensions instead of the three of our superpowered brothers. I’d normally cry foul but it makes sense thematically, so I’m going to allow this. Still the interaction is awfully pat, and drags on a bit too long, such that I left the scene less worried about backlash for the brothers, and more upset that what was probably a pretty good pizza went to waste.

After the Kiriharas’ pub crawl, we return to the thought police in the aftermath of the EMP, which erased all records of what happened during the raid to capture “Miracle Mick”, who may just be a money-grubbing charlatan or could actually have powers. Heck, Takuya clearly has the power to create an EMP—a super useful ability if you don’t want anyone to know you have an ability, owing to the overreliance on electronic tech.

While it’s usually a good idea not to expect every episode to look as good at the first, both Sidonia and the more recent Akudama Drive are exceptions to that rule. But it’s not consistent production quality I’m worried about. I know Night Head 2041 is probably going to look and sound awesome every week. But will it ever get around to organizing its myriad ideas and scenarios?

Learning that the girl only the Kuroki bros saw during the raid astral projected into the future is the kind of hook that ensures I’ll be back next week and probably the week after that. I just hope there’s more in store than eye an ear candy…but some head meat and potatoes, too.

Bokutachi no Remake – 02 – On the Right Track

Given the chance to go back ten years, Kyouya has resolved to do a better job this time around, starting with taking a different path in choosing art school. But beyond that he had no idea where that new path would take him. If the answers are in his head, you could say they’re locked, and getting to know his three roommates is a good start in finding the means to unlock them.

By coincidence, Kyouya gets a part-time job at the same konbini as Nanako, and a part of that job is restocking the walk-up fridges. Between the darkness of the stocking space behind the shelves and the coolness of the fridge, the scene is akin to a cozy winter night in the park, only Kyouya and Nanako are on the clock.

While Kyouya may have entered art school completely devoid of confidence, he’s already learned from his roomies that just because they’re talented doesn’t mean they don’t have their own insecurities. It didn’t sit well with Nanako that she thougth Lake Biwa was the ocean, so she left her hometown to get a better idea of the size of the world, hoping to learn who she is as the explores it.

Kyouya admits to us that he’s in no hurry to get past either quiet little scenes with Nanako in the fridge or even the little conflicts that arise when two guys and two girls live in the same space (read: food stealing, which Shinoaki will not tolerate).

Things become a bit more urgent in the now when their class is assigned a short film assignment. They’ve only got three minutes to tell their story. Having spoken to Aki and Nanako and having found similarities to his own (and even having visions of the three on the same train platform), Kyouya comes up with the idea of telling the story of a woman’s life by using a day at train station.

Tsurayuki, the one roommate Kyouya hasn’t reached out to about why he enrolled, goes into his room for a half-hour and comes out with a treatment for the station idea. But then he takes Kyouya aside and says he had the same exact idea locked away. He knows Kyouya didn’t steal it, but asks if “anything else is going on.” Kyouya is unsure of how to answer, so he says nothing, and the tension passes.

Still, it’s telling that Tsurayuki is the first one to get a hint that there’s more to Kyouya than meets the eye, even if he has no idea what that is. He’s a screenwriter, after all, and scenarios like that are always going through his head. He accepts that two people get the same idea all the time, and the group starts production of the short in earnest.

This inevitably leads to creative differences, with producer Kyouya’s insistence they stick to the three-minute limit butting up against Tsurayuki’s desire to tell his story his way. He thinks if it’s good, no one will care about the runtime, and even asks Shinoaki and Nanako to adjust what they’re doing to accommodate his contribution.

When Kyouya puts his foot down, Tsurayuki is angered, but in this case at least, Kyouya is right; this is an assignment and if the rules are broken all their collective efforts are for naught. That said, he also knows Tsurayuki has a point about taking risks and not over-compromising on one’s art.

A lot happens this week with the group beyond the group’s short film. There’s the aforementioned getting-to-know-you and slice-of-life scenes; Kyouya, Shinoaki and Nanako are snared into a fine arts club desperate for members, and Eiko reveals her group is also filming in a train station and won’t be outdone. I do hope at some point Eiko becomes a less antagonistic presence, knowing how well she and Kyouya work together in the future.

When Kyouya’s teacher can tell he’s down in the dumps, she shows him a script from a film that everyone loved, but no one liked the finished product, because the director and cast got to do whatever they wanted without any boundaries. She reminds him a producer doesn’t just issue cuts or subtraction, but about properly wrangling and harnessing the collective talent of his team to make a final product people will like.

It’s just as much a creative process as writing a script, drawing storyboards, or acting, and it’s something Kyouya reveals he’s actually good at when he applies himself. He manages to strike the balance of motivating Tsurayuki and the others to do what they do best without letting them run wild, and they in turn appreciate his calming, organizing presence.

That’s why it’s so heartbreaking that on the first day of filming, when all their planning and preparation is about to start paying off with real images on film, learn Tsurayuki accidentally checked out a digital still camera instead of a video camera. Here, the others echo a statement Kyouya had repeated to himself and used as a crutch for much of his ten years to come: It is what it is…nothing to be done about it.

It is here where we learn the true power of Kyouya’s potential as a producer: he alone, having lived and learned from those ensuing years, is the only one of the four to say No, something CAN be done about it. And he’s right. Chris Marker’s La Jetée is just one famous example of a film composed of a series of still photographs.

I’m guessing that’s what they’ll do, but even if it isn’t, the fact Kyouya isn’t going to let things end here means he’s continuing to learn and benefit from the time jump. What’s so satisfying about this dynamic is that he now finds himself in a position to help everyone out because living and working and bonding with them helped get him in that position. It’s a symbiotic balance creative teams always strive for.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 01 (First Impressions) – To Be an Artist Is to Believe in Life

Bokutachi no Remake’s first episode is fifty minutes long, giving it a cinematic quality. While there’s no combat or explosions, there is a lot of heart and a lot of quiet, relaxing atmosphere. I was a little surprised we spent nearly half of the episode on protagonist Kyouya’s life in 2016, but in hindsight I’m glad we got as much as we did.

Kyouya comes to believe his life went wrong when he chose an economics school over an art school when he received acceptance letters from both. He burned out of his office job, went to work for a video company, but was soon laid off. While searching for work he happens upon Kawasegawa, who just so happens to be in dire need of Kyouya’s specific set of skills at SucceedSoft.

At first it seems Kyouya has found his dream job, but gradually politics from higher-up curdle that dream, and he has to take the express bus back to his parents’ house for the second time. That double whammy, combined with Kyouya’s laid back affability-turned disillusionment, helps us feel for him. I could also relate: I was laid off a job of eleven years due to Covid!

It’s here where the show stops teasing us with “will he/won’t he” travel back ten years every times he hits the hay. This time he wakes up in 2006, which he identifies from his sister’s middle school uni, his deep CRT TV, PS2 (all I had in ’06 too!), and flip phone. It doesn’t really matter how he ended up back to the day he got two acceptance letters—just that he chooses the art school this time.

He’s the first to arrive at the house he’ll be sharing with three other co-eds, and there’s a palpable excitement to spending his first night in his half-unpacked room. Things get quite a bit more exciting when, after a bizarre dream sequence, he wakes up to find a cute blue-haired girl dozing next to him. When this girl slips and falls into Kyouya’s crotch, his other two new roommates enter and get quite the first impression.

Fanservice and pratfalls aside, the blue-haired girl, Shino Aki, as well as Nanako and Tsurayuki, soon settle into an easy co-habitation and become friends. They’re even all in the same visual arts program. Kyouya soon learns that his former/future boss Kawasegawa also attended this college, but she gives him the cold shoulder.

Kyouya also learns just how few art school grads end up working in their desired fields (just eight out of over 130), but also just how little he believes his past ten years future experience will help him in this setting when he’s among so many talented people. Again, I can relate to Kyouya here, in that I was the best artist at my non-art high school but when I reached college there were plenty of people way better than me.

It was a little overwhelming, but I soon learned to see it not as being someone unable to shape up in an ultra-competitive field, but part of the education itself being meeting people who do what you do, either better or worse; learning from them, and them learning from you.

Of his roommates, Kyouya ends up spending most of his time with “Shinoaki”, and the two have a lovely cozy chemistry, to the point he can carry her home on his back when she nods off, but she doesn’t wig out when she wakes up. On the contrary, Aki insists Kyouya drop the act and tell her what’s bothering him, because she can sense something is.

He tells her, and she assures him that there’s plenty he can do at their school, just as there’s plenty the people he deems amazing can’t do. Even the amazing worry; probably especially so. It’s just a lovely and beautifully lit scene between the two that thankfully time doesn’t lead to any goofy romantic pratfalls, but instead to Kyouya discovering that Shino Aki is his favorite illustrator from his future. Learning this doesn’t discourage him, it inspires him.

If you find Bokutachi no Remake’s premise too familiar by half, do not be discouraged; unlike say Tokyo Revengers there’s no effort to explain the mechanics of the time travel, which works to the shows benefit. Suffice it to say, Kyouya gets a second chance, and he’s not going to squander it, and now he lives with some of the best creatives of his generation. They’ll all make each other better by making up for each other’s shortcomings.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 07 – The True Puzzle

It often feels like Takemichi is butting up against the breakers, with just as much success as any of us would have against the ceaseless power of the sea. Tempers are hot, Moebius has arrived in force (no less than fifty in number), and a fight resulting in Draken’s death seems as inevitable as the tides.

Takemichi makes the first mistake of starring too long at Osanai, but he cant be blamed; after all, how the hell did this brute end up so defeated and pathetic in the future? Osanai seems to sense this brat is looking down on him and starts to rain blows upon him, but Takemichi is saved by Pah, not because Pah likes him, but because Osanai is his opponent.

Unfortunately, the already battered Pah is no match for Osanai’s boxing skills, and is soon barely conscious on his feet. Mikey insists the fight go on, even as Takemichi calls it nothing but cruel torture. However, once Pah slumps onto Mikey’s shoulder, essentially tagging him in, we witness just how much of a damn Osanai’s fancy suits and staggering numbers matter against Mikey-kun.

Specifically, none whatsoever. With one precise and devastating kick to the side of Osanai’s head, he’s down. When he gets back up to rush Mikey with a broken bottle, Draken stops him and puts him in a lock—without getting stabbed by said bottle, as Takemichi feared. With Moebius’ commander soundly defeated, Mikey declares that they’re all part of Toman now.

Then police sirens ring out, and as everyone starts to scatter, Pah plunges a pocketknife into Osanai’s midsection. Pah then decides to stay behind and turn himself in, while Draken drags Mikey away. As Takemichi flees with them, he suddenly loses consciousness, demonstrating he’s not so indestructable after all.

Takemichi wakes up in a hospital bed, and upon stretching accidentally gropes Emma, who Draken called to retrieve him and waited by his bedside. Emma reports that Draken and Mikey got in a fight over leaving Pah behind, and its looking bad. She slumps over and cries into Takemichi’s lap just as Hina arrives and pulls back the curtain, seeing something that’s not at all what it looks like.

If I have a gripe about this episode, it’s that this is all we get of Hina, with the implication she hits him again in response to seeing him with Emma, despite him being laid up in the hospital. I really wish they’d get back to the Emma of previous episodes who wasn’t being portrayed as a jealous, violent shrew. Why harp on a love triangle that isn’t really a thing when Emma still likes Draken?

Instead, Takemichi ends up at home convalescing while the situation between Toman’s top two deteriorates. Akkun and his other friends visit him, but after giving him a scare, assure him that those two fight all the time and it will resolve itself in time. But when Draken shows up with a watermelon to see how Takemichy is doing, he seems done with Mikey, and thinks Toman just might be done for.

When Takemichi brings up Mikey, Draken destroys a 2,500-piece puzzle he’d spent three days working on without sleep. Then Mikey shows up to see Takemichy just when Draken is leaving, and the two end up in a scrap that leads to all of Takemichi’s cherished possessions being destroyed one by one.

Even then, the two are still not done sizing each other up and getting ready for a real brawl, but seeing all of the irreplaceable treasures of his formative years seems to light a fire within (and visually, behind) Takemichi.

His eyes glow white with fury as he orders Draken and Mikey to “CUT THE SHIT!” Maybe, just maybe, with him conscious, fired up, and standing between them, he can stop them from doing something that can’t be undone. After all, he considers them both friends.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 06 –Part of His Plan

Takemichi is still watching Draken from the shadows as Mikey is chauffeured away from the hospital. I kept waiting for Draken to tell him to come out because he’s doing a shitty job masking his presence. Instead, we get Draken’s backstory.

His mom was a prostitute and he was raised and lived in a brothel. He got his head tattooed when he was in fifth grade, prompting the artist to predict he’ll be “one rotten adult”, the irony being he never comes close to even reaching 18.

But back then Draken still got his ass beat by middle schoolers, who made him escort Mikey over so they can teach him a lesson. Draken is bemused by this tiny weird kid, but when Mikey is the one teaching his tormentors a lesson, he suddenly gets it, while Mikey can tell Draken is friend material.

Surprisingly, Takemichi is back in the present with Naoto, tracking down the former leader of Moebius, Osenai, who is now even more of a pathetic loser than Takemichi had become. He’s still haunted by the August 3rd battle between Moebius and Toman that led to Draken’s death, but makes it clear the battle was part of a larger plan by someone to create a rift within Toman.

Why neither Naoto nor Takemichi mention Kisaki Tetta’s name, considering he’s the prime candidate for the identity of the puppetmaster, I have no idea. But Takemichi zaps back to his past self, who thankfully isn’t under a girl this time. Instead, he’s on the back of Akkun’s bike.

Takemichi can’t contain his joy upon seeing his friend alive again, and wastes no time getting all sentimental. While not as perceptive as Hina that this is a “different” Takemichi, when asked what his dream is, a blushing Akkun earnestly tells him he wants to be a hairdresser. Takemichi tells him to make that dream come true, and he’ll have his back all the way.

His heart-to-heart with Akkun once again impressed the urgency of Takemichi’s mission. He must save Hina, Draken, and Akkun, and he’s pretty sure that can’t happen if Toman fights Moebius. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a plan any better than barging in on a secret meeting of the Toman brass and demanding they call off the fight.

Mikey pulls rank here, saying he’s already made up his mind. When Takemichi endures a beating from Pah-chin and still stands his ground, Draken suggests they look into Moebius, but Mikey sees this as Draken going against Toman (i.e., him).

For all of Takemichi’s talk of it being unthinkable that these two would fight, it happens right here before his eyes: a tiny crack that could quickly turn into a yawning chasm of pent-up bad vibes that are inevitable in any power structure—particularly one run by literal frikkin’ adolescents.

If that isn’t enough, Prime Osanai arrives, resplendent in his embroidered red shirt and matching pants. He heard Toman was looking for a fight, and so he brought it to them, bringing dozens of his soldiers and setting up a seemingly hopeless mismatch…until you remember that Mikey and Draken have superhuman strength and Takemichi is virtually indestructible.

Tokyo Revengers – 05 – Babes and Bikes

When Takemichi, whom I maintain looks way too babyfaced for a dead-end adult, is unceremoniously fired, he returns to Naoto, because it’s not like he has anything else going on in this life. He asks if he could just ask tell Past Hina everything, but Naoto says he only believed him because he was into the occult at the time. He worries Hina might think Takemichi is insane and stop liking him. I was internally yelling at Naoto “So?”

Wouldn’t it be worth a shot for Takemichi to break things off with Hina in the past, thus severing her connection to the gangs altogether? Then again, perhaps too much happened in the time between Takemichi and Hina breaking up for that to work. In any case, Naoto has found articles about a scuffle at the Mushashi shrine on August 3rd (two weeks from now) of 12 years ago between the Mikey and Draken crews of the Toman Gang, resulting in Draken’s death.

Takemichi can’t believe how the articles say it was a fight between two people he observed to be closer than brothers, but regardless of if and how things got that way, his new mission is to save Draken from dying. If he does that, he may be able to save Hina and Akkun. He and Naoto shake hands, and he finds himself in a very compromising position with a beautiful blonde in nothing but her underwear in a karaoke booth.

Completely disoriented and freaked out, Takemichi runs…almost directly into Hina, who’d just been walking home from cram school. Hina’s sharp enough to know when Takemichi is being a “kid” and when he’s being an “adult”. Lately he’d been a kid, and cold and distant towards her. Now, however, he’s considerably kinder. Then Draken calls, and Hina insists on tagging along.

Takemichi’s in no position to argue: since time moves at the same rate in past and present, Past Takemichi has been inadvertently complicating his future self’s mission by being a youthful, impulsive little shit. Takemichi and Hina arrive at the Musashi Shrine and are ambushed by bikers, but it turns out to be a big meeting of all the Toman divisions.

Draken greets Hina warmly and the two exchange apologies, then Draken asks his girlfriend Emma to take care of Hina while they talk. Emma, as it turns out, is the lovely young lady ready to go all the way (sans kissing) with Takemichi at Karaoke. Takemichi has no coherent defense (though he’s not lying when he says he doesn’t remember how he ended up that way).

Hina dispenses swift punishment, beating bloody the same kid she was so worried about always getting into scraps. Aside from still being around when the Toman meeting is over, that’s all we get of Hina, which was a bit frustrating, since so much between her and Takemichi is left up in the air.

As for Emma, she tells Takemichi she’s not actually into him, she just wanted to “grow up faster”, sleeping with him in hopes of making Draken, whom she is into, jealous, and lamenting that all he cares about is “Mikey, bikes, and fighting.”

As for the big Toman meeting, Takemichi is impressed by Mikey’s ability to command and inspire his troops. When the third division’s captain and vice-captain—Pah and Peh—come to him with a problem, they have Mikey’s full attention. A friend of Pah’s got into it with Osanai, leader of the Moebius gang, over “something stupid”. The friend got the shit beat out of him, and the friend’s girlfriend was raped and beaten.

Moebius may be two generations older than Toman and may control Shinjuku, but when Pah says he demands satisfaction nonetheless, Mikey asks if anyone objects, and no one does, which means there’s going to be a battle between Toman and Moebius, and it’s going to take place…on August 3.

That’s news to Takemichi, since the news articles Naoto had said the fight was between Mikey and Draken’s crews. Did the reporter just mix up the names and groups involved, or did the particulars of the conflict change because Takemichi went back in time again?

He doesn’t know either, but one thing he does know is that he has to save Draken. But when he approaches him the next day volunteering to be his bodyguard, Draken curtly declines. Takemichi doesn’t give up right there, however, and decides to follow Draken as he goes about his day.

Unsurprisingly, most of that day is filled with Mikey, whom Takemichi gets to see in a wildly different light than when he’s commanding his crew. For one thing, he’s upset his Kids Meal doesn’t come with a flag, but Draken happens to have one, and Mikey’s spirits are immediately raised.

Draken and Mikey’s day shifts from comedy to drama when Draken takes Mikey to the hospital, where Pah’s friend’s girlfriend has been lying in the ICU with a coma for the last few days. Her parents confront them and her dad levels all manner of curses at them. Mikey is upset because he didn’t do anything, but Draken bows deeply in apology and makes Mikey do the same.

He impresses upon Mikey the need to minimize collateral harm to innocent people, including the friends and family of his crew. Mikey may have nothing to lose, but that doesn’t go for everyone he commands. Draken tells Mikey to always “have a heart that cares for others” while conducting Toman business.

That exchange clinches it for Takemichi: Draken isn’t just Mikey’s muscle,  piggyback ride, or consigliere. He’s all of those things too, but most importantly, he’s Mikey’s heart; his conscience. Which explains why Mikey turns bad when Draken dies. Conspicuous in his absence throughout this episode was Kisaki Tetta, who filled the void left by Draken, a relationship eventually leading to Hina’s death and Akkun’s suicide. It feels like Kisaki is a wild card in the scheduled August 3 battle with Moebius.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 04 – Crybaby Hero

So far Takemichi’s mission has been all about saving Hinata, and just in case we forgot, she demonstrates that she’s a hero in her own right, using her cuteness and forwardness to make some boys make space for an old lady to sit down on the train. From this display, to how embarrassed she is by her mom, to the way she watches fireworks, she is unassailably one of the Best Girls.

It’s not a question of if Takemichi can save her…he has to, or this show and I are going to have some words. But of course, it’s not so simple, just as Takemichi trying to hold Hinata’s hand somehow goes wrong and he ends up shaking young Naoto’s instead, thus torpedoing a beautiful romantic scene he never experienced the first time around. Heck, he’d never even been in Hinata’s room before.

It’s for the best that Takemichi return to the present, even if it was on accident. For one thing, it confirms that no matter which timeline he’s in, shaking Naoto’s hand sends him to the other, and his body ends up in a state of “suspended animation”, meaning they shouldn’t do it again except in the safety of Naoto’s apartment.

Takemichi also learns that while there’s still much more to be done, he did manage to change history again; specifically, Akkun’s fate. Originally, Akkun did stab Kiyomasa and ended up being arrested and convicted at sixteen. But now that Takemichi’s bravery stayed Akkun’s hand, he went on to join the Toman Gang, meaning they have a potential in for meeting with present-day Mikey.

After tracking down his old contact book, Akkun’s old phone number amazingly still works, and leads him and Naoto to a hostess club Akkun runs. There, Akkun introduces himself and his new, close-cropped and life-worn appearance. Honestly upon seeing him I worried he was dying of a terminal illness, or had become a drug addict.

Instead, Akkun is simply haunted. Takemichi is right that Akkun considers them friends for life, but he admits that he was the one who pushed Takemichi onto the tracks. That should have killed him, but Naoto saved him, which planted the seed in Akkun’s head that Takemichi can travel through time.

Takemichi tries to deflect Akkun’s ideas as insane ravings, but the bottom line is Akkun had been waiting for him. You see, it may look like he made the big time and has anything and anyone he wants, but the one thing he doesn’t have is freedom. He’s one of Kisaki Tetta’s soldiers, and the way he talks about him, disobedience is death. As for Mikey, Akkun hasn’t seen him in years.

Akkun must’ve been following Kisaki’s orders when he pushed Takemichi, but between failing to kill him and telling Takemichi all these things now, Akkun has already sealed his fate…at least in this timeline. So as Takemichi watches in horror, Akkun climbs up to the ledge, tells his “crybaby hero” Takemichi to save everyone, then jumps to his death. As Takemichi cries out in anguish, Kisaki is on that same rooftop, utterly unmoved.

It must’ve been tough to witness what he did, but in doing so Takemichi finally realizes this is about far more than Hinata. Hinata died because Mikey turned evil, but he turned evil because of Kisaki Tetta after Ryuugjuu Ken died. If Takemichi wants to have any chance of saving Hinata, he’ll have to save Akkun and Draken too. He has to stand his ground, tears and all, and keep fighting for a brighter future for everyone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 03 – A Rare Thing

Once Takemichi calls out Kiyomasa, he’s determined not to let him win. No matter how many crushing blows he lands, the pain can’t compare to the pain of having failed to save Hinata. So he tells Kiyomasa straight up: unless he literally kills him, he’s not going to lose.

That’s just fine with Kiyomasa, who asks for his bat, but his fun is interrupted by his bosses, Koman Vice-Commander Ryuuguuji Ken and Commander Sano “Mikey” Manjirou. After beating Kiyomasa for making Koman look bad, Manjirou declares Takemichi his friend.

This is precisely what Takemichi was hoping for in fighting Kiyomasa. Honestly, it’s a little too tidy, except for the part where Takemichi put his very life on the line with no guarantee he wouldn’t lose it. There’s also something about the eccentric “Mikey”…for one thing, he can’t believe Takemichi is really a middle schooler, which…well, he’s not.

After heading to school on time Takemichi encounters Hinata, who arranges a date before her cram school. Then Mikey and Ken barge right into his class despite being from a different school, and insist Takemichi hand out with them. Hinata intervenes, slapping Mikey and vowing to protect Takemichi from the bullies who keep beating her beau up.

As Hinata tries to flee with Takemichi, Ken  puts his hand on her, but while Takemichi notices her shaking, she stands her ground. Takemichi then puts his hand on Ken and warns him to get his off off Hinata. Mikey says it’s a shame Takemichi doesn’t want to be friends, but now he’ll have to kill him. Again, Takemichi doesn’t back down, and Mikey turns out to simply be messing around.

Hinata’s misunderstanding is cleared up, and both Takemichi and Hinata gain respect from Mikey and Ken. Hinata, glad they’re his friends, tells him to go hang out with them, and after a bike ride they end up watching the sun set from an embankment while Mikey talks about creating a new kind of delinquent—one who will need people like Takemichi, who are willing to put everything on the line for something they need to do.

After this encounter, Takemichi can’t imagine Mikey or even Ken bringing about the kind of Koman Gang that would kill Hinata in the future. But that’s because he hasn’t met Kisaki Tetta, of whom Takemichi catches his first glimpse without quite realizing. One look at Kisaki and you can tell he’s the kind of sadist and bad influence who could one day corrupt Mikey’s heart. Befriending a pre-Kisaki Mikey was no problem for Takemichi. The true challenge will be preventing a post-Kisaki Mikey.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 02 – Done Running

MPD Sergeant Tachibana Naoto has been busy since Takemichi told him the day and manner of his and Hinata’s deaths. At first Takemichi think the kid has gone off the deep end, until he remembers that Naoto is only here because he can, in fact, travel back in time. If he’s a Hinata-saving, gang-stopping time agent, Naoto takes up the mantle of his operator, briefing him on what actions should be taken once he returns to the past.

Naoto’s first task is simple: try to cut off the head of the Tokyo Manji Gang in the past before its the big deal it is in the present. That means Takemichi needs to make contact with its two founders—Sano Manjirou and Kisaki Tetta—and ensure they never meet.

As for how he’ll get back to the past, that’s solved pretty quickly: he just has to shake hands with Naoto again and he’s back in his middle school body, just in time to take a knockout punch to the face. Honestly, the “science” of his time travelling is unimportant, so I’m glad Revengers doesn’t dwell on it.

Unfortunately, the meat grinder doesn’t end with that single punch. Older delinquents like Kiyomasa and his henchmen had money riding on their “slave” putting up more than a fight, so they punish him by beating him again. Takemichi then makes things worse for himself by mentioning the two names Naoto said he had to meet. Kiyomasa takes a wooden bat, beats him bloody, and threatens to kill him if those names come out of his mouth again.

Having suffered three brutal beatdowns in less than a day, part of me wonders exactly what kind of high-strength alloy Takemichi’s bones are made of…but then this is a shounen series, and as such carries with it a heightened sense of reality with an appropriate suspension of disbelief.

More to the point, Takemichi is emotionally beaten, and all he wants to do now is run back to the present. His life there might suck, but it doesn’t involve the regular beatings of his tortured youth. He goes to the Tachibana residence so he can shake hands with Naoto and end this charade…but Hinata greets him instead.

Their exchange goes pretty much the way it did the other day, with her scolding him for fighting (not understanding that it’s the last thing he wants to do), but this time she laments not being a boy, because she’s sure she’d be stronger than him. In fact, since she knows karate, she probably is stronger than him, regardless of gender.

Knowing she’d go to bat for him soothes Takemichi’s bruised heart, and he thrusts his fist out promising to protect her, he accidentally blurts out the shortened form of her first name—Hina—causing them both to blush. Hinata tells him to call her that from now on, and insists that she’ll be the one to protect him.

Considering how Takemichi’s interaction with Naoto saved the guy’s life and set him on the path of law enforcement, part of me hopes these new exchanges with Hinata he never had in his first go-around may similarly influence Hinata’s actions and choices. If he can just stay with her, protect her, and let her protect him, maybe her death can be prevented.

But for now, Takemichi still has to at least try to meet the founding members of the Tokan Gang, and after meeting with Hinata, he no longer wants to run; he wants to fight with everything he has, even if it’s not much. He’s further inspired to action when he watches his friends offer emotional support to Takuya, whom Kiyomasa has chosen to fight next despite (or maybe because of) his frail constitution.

When he first arrived in the past, Takamichi thought his pals were as pathetic and lame as he was when he first saw that bright hair in the mirror. But now he sees he was lucky to have such good friends, whose bonds never broke no matter how much the older kids stomped on them.

Takamichi interrupts the conspicuously in-the-open fight club match (where are the cops? I guess there are lookouts) before Takuya has to fight, and challenges Kiyomasa himself to a fight, billing it a “king vs. slave” match. Crying and running has gotten him nowhere but a shitty life and a dead ex-first-and-only girlfriend. He’s done with both. He has to be: for his sake, his friends’ sakes, and for Hina’s sake.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tokyo Revengers – 01 (First Impressions) – Keen on the Grindstone

“We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity.”
― H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

Hanagaki Takemichi, 27. Former delinquent, peaked in middle school. Virgin. Aimless. Menial employee, prone to mistakes. Too used to the mess in his apartment. Too used to apologizing and having it not be enough. A pebble worn smooth and shiny, the better to be carried by the whims of the river.

Then a news bulletin arrests Takemichi’s listless flow: gang violence has claimed innocent lives, including Tachibana Hinata, his first and only girlfriend, and her brother Naoto. That name from his past makes him look at his present and wonder Where Things Went Wrong.

Then Takemichi falls—no, is pushed—onto the track as a train approaches. There’s a flash of light, and the first image in his head is of Hinata, shamefully blurry for someone he was once so close to—a symptom of the dreary inertia of the ensuing twelve years.

Before Takemichi knows it, he’s not under a train, but on one. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror: open collar, bleached hair, baggy pants. To his contemporary eyes it’s all too brutally lame…and yet this is when he says he peaked. When he was a delinquent in middle school. When he was Hinata’s boyfriend.

Sensing that his life must be flashing before his eyes, those times twelve years ago slowly come back to him, making him realizing how easily he forgot them. By the time he realizes he and his four delinquent friends are walking into an ambush by third-years and his tough-talking cousin is merely their errand boy, it’s too late to avoid the beatdown by the hands of the Tokyo Manji Gang—the same group responsible for killing the Tachibana siblings.

And yet, as Wells quote above makes clear, it is only through adversity and failure, personal or collective, that we are compelled to change and improve. The beatdown is a wake-up call to the adult Takemichi. He splits off from his friends and rushes to Hinata’s apartment.

When he rings her doorbell, Hinata answers, and her first reaction is concern that he’s been fighting again, asking if he needs help. Takemichi is so happy to see Hinata’s face clearly for the first time, and so ashamed that he forgot it and his love for her, he begins bawling.

Hinata, in turn, doesn’t believe for a second that nothing is wrong, and tells him to come out with it. After all, she’s his girlfriend, and she wants to know everything about him. Seeing her face and feeling her hands on his serve as another wake-up call—another turn on the grindstone—in twelve years, this wonderful person will die needlessly.

As Takemichi contemplates his present situation, a small boy is being hassled for changed by three slightly older kids. They’re interrupting the moment Takemichi is trying to have, something in him snaps, and suddenly all of the worries and questions that flooded his head earlier when he first realized he’d be getting into a fight disappear.

He slugs one of the harassing kids, then breaks a bottle in half and threatens to kill the other two if they don’t piss off. He’s left with the small boy, whose first instinct isn’t to thank him for saving him, but to say it’s dangerous to just throw the broken bottle on the ground.

After properly disposing of the glass, Takemichi gives the kid some pointers about having confidence and resolve—things he never had—before learning that the kid is Tachibana Naoto, Hinata’s little brother. Takemachi goes for broke and tells Naoto how he’s travelled back in time, and Naoto, possessed of the open, curious mind of youth, believes him: on July 1, 2017, he and his sister die. But now that he’s warned him, Naoto can protect her.

If this is real, then I want to change the future, Takemichi thinks to himself before shaking on it with Naoto. Upon that handshake, an odd spark runs through Takemichi, and next thing he knows he’s coming to in the train station infirmary, very much not dead, on July 4, 2017. He’s told a man saved his life at the last second, who is there to speak to him.

That man is none other than Tachibana Naoto, who credits Takemichi with changing his fate. Thanks to his warning twelve years ago, he worked hard to become a cop so he could protect Hinata, and survived the gang attack so he could save him in turn. Despite all that, in this timeline, Hinata is still dead. Which means Takemichi’s quest is far from over.

While no one can mistake this for a fully or even remotely original affair (with elements of Erased, ReLIFE, and Steins;Gate, along with Groundhog Day and Back to the Future), its straightforward, confident execution and blooming emotional resonance count for a lot.

And while even his 27-year-old self is a bit of a wide-eyed baby-face (some weight gain and scraggly beard would better sell his plight) Takemichi makes for a surprisingly likable protagonist, ready and willing to make the most of the second chance the universe has given him. It remains to be seen if he can change enough of the future to save Hinata, but I’m committed to watching him try.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina – 09 – Estelles;Gate

Last week’s doll-and-face fetish episode, and the grape-stomping maiden episode before it, made for some particularly goofy Journeys of Elaina, making me wonder when and if show would get dark again. Sure enough, this episode arrives with an “Explicit Content” warning, opens on a starving, broke Elaina, and no OP! What the heck are we in for? At the time, I had no idea.

Elaina finds a flyer promising good pay for “ultra-short-term” work, and encounters a fellow Witch, Estelle. Through meeting her, Elaina is pleased to learn that while Estelle became an apprentice when she was younger, it took her longer than Elaina to become a full-fledged Witch. Wand-measuring aside, Estelle is offering a giant sack of gold coins for the job.

What is the job? Well, first, a sad story: Back while Estelle was training abroad, her dear childhood friend Selena’s parents were murdered in a robbery. Selena’s uncle took her in, and proceeded to abuse her. Selena eventually snapped, murdering her uncle, and then several others. It ultimately fell to Estelle to apprehend Selena…and execute her.

Estelle seeks to use magic to go back in time so she can save Selena’s parents and prevent the chain of events that lead to her having to kill her own best friend. Time-traveling requires more magic than any one witch has, so Estelle has been gradually draining her blood to augment the spell.

The other problem is that once they’re actually in the past, Estelle will be drained of all magic, which is why she needs Elaina. By wearing matching magical rings, Elaina will be able to share her magic with Estelle. This job is not without its risks and inconveniences—hence the generous payday.

Elaina, confident and cocksure as always, proudly proclaims herself to be a traveler, and so the next logical step in her journey is to travel through time and see how things used to be in the past. So she slips on the ring, Estelle activates the spell, and off they go.

The witches safely arrive ten years into the past, but only have one hour to do what needs to be done before being sent back to the present. Estelle makes it clear that the timeline in which she executes Selena has happened and can’t un-happen; changing events will create a tangent, but that’s enough for her, as long as there is a timeline in which Selena gets to live on.

Their broom-flight to Selena’s house is interrupted when Estelle spots young Selena walking down the street, and can resist giving her a big hug, no matter how much it weirds the girl out. Elaina notes that Estelle got quie the cold reaction from Selena, but Estelle insists that deep down Selena is very kind.

Estelle proceeds to get Selena’s parents out of the house under the guise that she’s Selena’s half-sister and has business with them. Elaina stakes out the house, waiting for the robber to arrive, but it dawns on her that the murder of the parents was too grisly for a mere robbery. Then her magic-sharing ring glows and shoots a red beam in Estelle’s direction: she’s engaged in battle.

When Elaina arrives, she finds a horrifying sight: Selena has viciously attacked Estelle, and has blood on her mouth just like her photo in the future papers. It turns out Selena’s parents abused her long before her uncle had the chance, twisting her into homicidal mania, even sadism. It doesn’t matter whether Estelle was her best friend or she and Elaina are trying to “help”—Selena is already beyond helping.

While the blood and gore on display in this scene is indeed explicit, I for one am glad we didn’t have to witness the abuse Selena suffered at the hands of her parents, and the warning was meant for the violence. And there is a lot of it—the most in the series’ run for sure.

When Selena prepares to attack Elaina, Estelle gets up and stops her in her tracks. Having worked so hard and sacrificed her own blood to try to save Selena, she is overcome by heartbreak and despair, and there’s nothing left but to kill Selena again before she can kill Elaina or anyone else.

Elaina tries to stop this by removing the ring, but Estelle simply sacrifices her memories of Selena in order to summon enough magic to explode her head off. The hour is up and the two witches return to the present. Sure enough, Estelle doesn’t remember Selena, and barely remembers Elaina. She’s a ruined husk of a witch, and Elaina is so upset by the experience she runs out of Estelles house, pointedly leaving the bag of gold behind.

That, and Elaina’s subsequent breakdown on the bench in front of the clock tower, shows that the effects of this particular journey will (or at least should) last beyond just this episode. Elaina weeps uncontrollably, her confident façade utterly shattered. She no longer thinks of herself as a special or exemplary; only an “ordinary” traveler and witch, inexperienced and unable to do anything.

She’s being a bit hard on herself, as who the heck could have handled that situation better? It was largely out of her hands. The best thing to do would have been to refuse the job, but she really needed money and was intrigued by the prospect of a different kind of traveling. The episode fades to black and the credits roll without images. Black Friday, indeed.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!