Classroom of the Elite – S2 12 – Introduction to Fear

I didn’t give Karuizawa Kei enough credit last week. Yes, she does come ever so close to giving up and descending into an abyss of despair. But at a certain point, she decides that no matter how much torture Ryuuen doles out, she’s not going to tell him the name of the mastermind. Period. Even soaked and freezing, the fire in her eyes mocks Ryuuen’s efforts. Fine, he says; he’ll just keep going.

Kiyotaka and his friends are about to go into the karaoke parlor, but he craps out at the last second, citing fatigue from an all-nighter. Like the ANN reviewer of this show, I was not particularly looking forward to an entire episode of Kei getting tortured (even if it wouldn’t get Ryuuen what he wanted), so I was relieved that after informing both Chabashira Sae and former StuCo President Horikita Manabe of the situation, Kiyotaka arrives in the lion’s den.

At first Ryuuen, Mio, Ishizaki and Albert are amused by the notion this guy is a.) the Class D mastermind and b.) dumb enough to come there alone. However, they are the ones who should be scared. They may think they’re lions, but Kiyotaka is a dragon, and a particularly unemotional one. Ryuuen sends Ishizaki and Albert at him to test him, and both underlings go down in seconds.

At no point does Kiyotaka raise his voice or break a sweat taking down two of the toughest motherfuckers in the school. But they’re only tough compared to everyone else. There’s no comparing anyone at the school to Kiyotaka. Kei can only sit in the corner, shiver, and enjoy the show, just as gobsmacked as her torturers by Kiyotaka’s skill.

Mio, more pissed off at the situation and by how fucked up both Ryuuen and Kiyotaka  are, does her duty as the next opponent, and while her kicks are impressive, she is absolutely no match for Kiyotaka, who knocks her out with a well placed hand to her neck.

Yet Ryuuen still doesn’t panic. Why would he? he believes himself to be the school’s foremost expert and wielder of violence. It’s likely none of his underlings would last five seconds in a fight with him, but the gap between him and them might as well be the length of a car, compared to the gap between his strength and Kiyotaka’s.

Ryuuen hangs in there only because his fighting style is unique to him, developed from a life of fighting. Unpredictability and raw talent in the place of formal training and discipline will serve you well…right up until it doesn’t. Ryuuen’s fatal flaw isn’t that he thought he could win in a fight against Kiyotaka…it’s that he could evoke any emotion at all in their fight.

Even as Kiyotaka is fighting back yawns while he meticulously bashes Ryuuen’s face into paste with his deadly fists, Ryuuen talks about how he’s never felt fear, and how even if he loses this fight, he’ll be around every corner, 24/7, waiting to spring on Kiyotaka. Instead, Kiyotaka not only gives him a much-belated introduction to fear, but shrugs off his “victory” as a “mundane task” that would never inspire the slightest bit of emotion from him.

Once Ryuuen has stopped moving, Kiyotaka covers Kei up and holds her as she shivers and weeps. When asked why she didn’t give him up, she says, simply, “for myself.” It was loyalty to Karuizawa Kei, not Ayanokouji Kiyotaka, that fueled her resolve until he arrive. That’s not to say she’s not happy he came, and that she wasn’t wrong to believe he would.

As Manabe told Chabashira, Kiyotaka went into that lion’s den to “end the war” all by himself. I can’t imagine Ryuuen will be able to hide the marks of his fight anytime soon, nor do I think he’s in any hurry to tell anyone who was able to beat him so thoroughly. Class C has been dealt a serious blow, but as he always ruled with violence, I imagine plenty of Class C would welcome his downfall.

While in general I abhor violence as a means of solving problems (it usually only begets more violence), this situation is rather unique, due to the fact that a villain like Ryuuen was never going to be defeated by any other means but superior force, and the fact that Kiyotaka took no discernable pleasure in the victory.

That said, he does express regret for making Kei suffer so much to achieve this result, and reiterates his promise that should she ever find herself in trouble again, he will rescue her without fail. After what she witnessed, I daresay Kei can trust in those words. But to answer a question she raised in her monologue, yes, Kei, you are extremely effin’ cool.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 11 – Stone Cold

God, Kiyotaka sucks so much. Can’t even say “Good Morning” back to Kei. Even so, I had no idea just how deep and harmful his sudden, impulsive cutting off of communications would end up being by episode’s end. With no new tests being announced, Ryuuen strolls into Class D on a fishing expedition.

He and his crew end up following and confronting Koenji. Ryuuen’s goal is to determine if the blonde bombshell is the Class D Mastermind. You have to admit, he looks the part, and his seeming indifference and passivity to everything is the perfect cover. Of course, we know he’s way off base, but it’s still a ton of fun watching him verbally spar with Kouenji, perhaps the only student more self-involved than he is.

But hold on, here comes Arisu and her crew, who stick their noses into the confrontation. When she uses Ryuuen’s least favorite nickname “Dragon Boy” twice, he rushes her and prepares to dropkick her. It’s a testament to Arisu’s toughness and confidence in her underlings that she doesn’t flinch an inch, but lets one of those underlings block the kick.

Ryuuen may not have bagged the Mastermind, but he takes solace in knowing one less possibility is off the board. He tells Mio that he’s having a shitload of fun. His next move is to prepare bait for the Mastermind in the form of Kei, whom he knows the Mastermind protected thanks to Manabe.

Ibuki, your standard monstrous collaborator who does nothing to stop evil, instead takes part in it, sticking around as Kei is lured into a refrigerated space with no security cameras. There, Ryuuen threatens to expose her bullied past to the whole school if she doesn’t give him the name of the Mastermind.

Never has Ryuuen been more cruel and menacing than in this scene, underscored by the dramatic, theatrical lighting and intensely cold atmosphere. Like Arisu, and as we know, Kei is tougher than she looks, and refuses to give up the name, even when bound and threatened.

So Ryuuen has his underling slowly pour a bottle of water over her, and then another, then covers her head with a cloth and pours another one on. It’s essentially waterboarding, only with the added threat of hypothermia. It’s here where I throw up two big middle fingers at the show for continuing to put Kei through the ringer. This is truly sickening, to the point I needed a nice hot shower after watching this.

Worse still, we see Kiyotaka agree to hang out with his new friendly friend group to celebrate the end of their term with some karaoke. His promise to protect Kei is rendered toothless by the fact she can no longer contact him via phone. Even if somehow Kiyotaka senses something’s up, it’s way too late for him to come to her rescue, isn’t it? The damage is done, with Ryuuen dragging her deeper into the cold darkness, making a promise of his own: to utterly destroy her.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 10 – He Carries All Our Hopes With Him

BINAURAL ASMR – 👻 Horror House Experience 👻 (Wear Headphones)

Before Yuu and Tsubame head to the Horror House, we get to experience it along with Kaguya, Maki, Nagisa and Tsubasa, and also found out how both Yuu and Miko contributed to making it the unique and terrifying success it clearly is.

Mind you in Miko’s case that success wasn’t intentional, but her classmate and president of Tabletop Game Club Makihara Kozue has a sadistic streak and pretty much tortures Miko with scissors, feathers, and even dang ear nibbling in order to record (with binaural mics in Miko’s ears) the perfect immersive experience for the house.

It looks like the perfect venue for Yuu and Tsubame to get a little closer; heck, even Kaguya and Maki hold hands for support in there! But when Miko finds Nagisa and Tsubasa making out in their locker, she decides visitors to the horror house shall forthwith be segregated by gender.

This, of course, ruins the whole purpose of Yuu taking Tsubame to a haunted house, since they won’t get to, ya know, experience it together. While a setback, it’s not a terminal one, and more importantly isn’t due to anything Yuu said or did.

Hell Is About to Start Now

Moving on, it’s always been clear Chika has no particular romantic designs or even prospects; I imagine her “type” is a man so beautiful and perfect that he might not exist, at least not at Shuchiin. He might be somewhere in Lichtenstein. Her lil’ sis Moeha, on the other hand? She has a crush on President Shirogane, specifically thanks to being friends with his sister Kei, and accurately interpreting her tsundere barbs towards him as the praise and admiration it actually is.

Chika tries to warn Moeha that Miyuki is not who she thinks he is, then proceeds to list off all the things he’s bad at. Of course, she has to include the disclaimers that Miyuki worked his ass off until he got the hang of those things, which endears him to Miyuki even more. Chika believes the only way to “cure” her sister of this curse is to allow her to witness Miyuki juggling.

Like a host of other skills requiring either talent or hard work, Chika assumes Miyuki will be terrible at it and turn Moeha off him like a cat on a hot tin roof. She assumed wrong; Miyuki is quite good at juggling, thanks to her grandma. He’s also good at cup-and-ball, top-spinning, and yo-yo. Chika breaks down in a floor kicking-and-pounding tantrum, while Moeha is as enamored of him as ever.

Of course, the real reason Chika should give for why Moeha shouldn’t be pursuing the President is because of the Vice President, i.e. Kaguya, who appears behind Moeha like a glowing specter in an unsettling jump cut. Moeha then proceeds to list all of the legitimate reasons she likes Miyuki, which are the same reasons Kaguya loves him, and the two bond over their shared subject of affection. Kaguya just loves that she can talk about Miyuki with someone who understands!

If He Goes Down, We Go Down

Back to Yuu and Tsubame, as Tsubame invites Yuu to her class presentation, a kind of festival games set-up. Yuu can feel the momentum in his favor, and while he’d shrink, hesitate, or turn tail in the past, here he rides that momentum like a wave.

He wins a giant heart-shaped cookie, then offers it to Tsubame in the middle of a crowded classroom where 90% of them know what that means. He then makes it clear to those who don’t: the gift is an expression of how he feels about her.

It is indeed a 100% Public Confession, and while Tsubame has a good reaction and does not summarily reject him, she does suddenly run off asking for “time to think about it”, leaving Yuu in an uncomfortable limbo.

As Yuu’s success hangs in the balance, Miyuki contemplates the cost of failure: blanket Self-Imposed Restraint on Romance. Like a stone in a pond, Tsubame’s rejection of Yuu will have ripple effects for all the other would-be couples in the blast radius. Miyuki and Kaguya would have to put their romantic plans on hold to comfort Yuu. A confession in such an atmosphere would be romantic suicide!

Miyuki (and Kaguya) are invested in Yuu’s success, because if he goes down, they go down, and with no time left before he heads to Stanford. He asks Chika if Yuu has a chance, but her answer is biased against both Yuu and Miyuki, whom she’s long thought of as garbage men (not sanitation engineers, mind you). 

Still, even Chika can admit that over time she’s come to find both guys as “pretty decent men”; high praise for someone with her standards. If Tsubame takes the “point-addition approach” with Yuu, the kid has a chance. The most and best they can do is watch over him.

Of course, the stakes are much higher for Miyuki. Will he be able to keep his hands off the scenario and let the cards fall where they may? Will a Yuu defeat really spell as much doom for him and Kaguya as he assumes? We’re close approaching the endgame here, folks. You can tell from the surging notes of some of the absolute best musical scoring in the business.

Vanitas no Carte – 22 – Période Bleue

And so we descend into the heretofore untold story of Vanitas, AKA Number 69. He’d already been one of Dr. Moreau’s child experiments/torture victims when poor little Misha arrived. But rather than keep his head down and endure Misha’s screams, he volunteered to undergo the procedure in Misha’s place. Moreau, the quintessential mad scientist, is moved by his gesture.

So is Misha, who is pretty well-adjusted for someone who had already endured untold sexual assaults by his mother’s wealthier clients. Despite his aloof demeanor, Vanitas becomes a reluctant protective big brother to Misha. In a first act full of darkness and unspeakable cruelty and evil, it was nice to see these two children could find a moment’s warm relief under their dingy blanket.

I’ve long not been a fan of Moreau for always looking like the extra-stylized/simplified/cartoony version that other characters sometimes slip into for moments of levity. But after watching him this week do the things he does with a smile, it absolutely adds to the terror surrounding the character. He is an unhinged Mad Hatter with a Cheshire Cat grin. To his eyes, this grim, brutal world is a magical paradise of innovation.

I also felt a deep pressure in my stomach watching the “ordinary” human researchers doing Moreau’s bidding without emotion. You get the feeling they’re not under any duress (i.e. Moreau keeping their families hostage) but simply doing their jobs and following orders like good proto-Nazis. Moreau is outwardly mad, but they must be too to be able to do what they do to Vanitas and Misha.

Fortunately, they receive swift justice when Moreau’s procedure to convert the boys into “quasi-members” of the Blue Moon Clan so he can open the two Books of Vanitas. The resulting explosions kill everyone and leave Moreau crippled, and the mysterious black-skinned, white-haired vampire who claims responsibility for the chaos is primed to leave…until Misha begs them to take them with them…and when given the choice, Vanitas agrees to go with them too.

When the mysterious person introduces themselves as the Vampire of the Blue Moon, Vanitas’ chasseur training kicks in, asking them what they’re doing. They simply reply that they are helping them, since they asked for help. All of the exhaustion and the stress of the procedure catches up to Vanitas, and he passes out.

He comes to in a comfy bed of one of the vampire’s human acquaintances. When Vanitas asks how that’s possible, the vamp makes it clear that the more occult-aligned folks have always preferred consorting with vampires than the church. When the vamp asks Vanitas why he was calling out for his mother, he tells the story of what happened to his parents.

He was the bastard child of a successful doctor who abandoned his old family for his mother, a performer at some kind of traveling show. He says his mother died giving birth to him, and when vampires attacked, his father died protecting him. When the church and then Moreau took him in, he learned that humans were far more terrifying monsters than the vampires he’d spent his life loathing.

More importantly to understanding Vanitas’ character through all that tragedy and pain is the fact that he never tried to escape Moreau’s clutches for the same reason he tried to protect Misha: because he didn’t want someone else to experience that pain and trauma in his place. He is, as the vampire says, “a truly kind child”.

And yet even in the present Vanitas believes he’s no one who should be loved. In this act, we see the vampire who will later be known as Luna, Vanitas, and Misha becoming a family. We learn that Vanitas soon surpassed cooking and cleaning skills, while they made sure Vanitas and Misha got both an education and the opportunity to be boys and have fun.

But Luna knew that it couldn’t last like this for long, as both Vanitas and Misha would one day succumb to the strains against the natural world caused by Moreau’s experiments on them. So they offered their adoptive sons a choice: die as humans when the time comes (which could be in days or years), or become official members of the Blue Moon Clan when Luna turns them.

We know that Vanitas chose to live his remaining days as a vampire, even if it meant dying tomorrow. This, despite saying humans are the ultimate monsters. It’s as if he knows he could only right the wrongs of humanity by remaining a human as he began his crusade of healing curse-bearers, thus bearing his own self-imposed curse, a product of his deep-seated kindness.

As for Misha…whether he is still human or not isn’t as important as what he’s after, and how he’s willing to hurt Vanitas to get it. Misha’s already done far more than Vanitas would typically forgive, sharing memories of their past with Noé. Noe and Vanitas’ relationship has been irrevocably altered. How will Vanitas respond to these actions by his long-lost kid brother?

The World’s Finest Assassin – 08 – The Only Way to Live

Last week aptly documented Lugh’s happy and successful life as Illig Balor with his right-hand women Tarte and Maha. Now two years have passed. While before Maha was powerless to save her friends from criminals, here she keeps an eye out for them when they’re out late and dispatches their would-be muggers with ease.

Lugh has learned that given a chance (and adequate resources), Maha has not only become someone who can protect herself and her friends, but thrive as a merchant. We learn that the shop purchased as the HQ of his now booming cosmetic brand was the first shop Maha’s father opened when he was a merchant. Both Maha and her friends are eternally grateful for Illig’s help giving them their new happy and successful lives.

But for Illig, this life is now over and it’s time to return home and to being Lugh Tuatha Dé. He leaves his thriving business in Maha’s capable hands, while Maha asks that if her Prince can spare a day a month for Dia, surely he can come see her sometime as well. Maha and Tarte also leave on warm, happy, and mutually respecting terms. They don’t see themselves as rivals for Lugh’s heart, because in their view there’s plenty of that heart to go around.

On the wagon ride home they run into some wolf monsters, which Tarteuses the skills Lugh taught her to easily defeat without Lugh having to lift a finger. Once they reach Tuatha Dé lands and he sees the new soybean fields, he gets out of the wagon to receive a warm welcome—and a big basket of produce—from his adoring people.

Unlike Maha and Tarte, they may not know there’s a lot of calculation in his behavior, but even if they did, like Maha and Tarte it’s his actions, not the motivations behind them, that would likely matter most to them.

Has the assassin from our world who is now Tuatha Dé become more sentimental now that he’s been in this world for fourteen years? It’s hard to say, but if he has, it hasn’t softened his edge one bit. When his father reveals that one of the most important reasons for sending him to be a Balor was to give his son the choice he no longer has: to walk away from the thankless life of an assassin anyone in the kingdom could betray and abandon at any time.

Lugh’s answer is a firm no, for the simple reason that he isn’t a Balor, or a merchant: he’s an assassin and a Tuatha Dé. Honor and duty to the kingdom mean nothing to him, but the happiness of the people he cares about means everything. Also, he mentions that he’s in love with Dia, and can’t marry her if he abandons his noble station to be a merchant. It’s another calculated move, but one that doesn’t preclude that he is in love with Dia, and simply calling it something more pragmatic.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The World’s Finest Assassin – 07 – You Gotta Moisturize

“You know, I’ve tried all sorts of moisturizers. I even went fragrance-free for a whole year. Now my sister, she uses some kind of uh… uh… uh… uh… aloe vera with a little sunscreen in it, and ideally, we should all wear gloves when going to bed, but I found out that that creates a kind of an interference with my… “social agenda”, you know what I mean.”—Frank Catton, Ocean’s Eleven

“It’s all going according to plan”—‘Illig’ thinks this as he lay in bed flanked by the undyingly loyal Tarte and Maha. He says the loss of their parents makes them seek human warmth, and their infatuation with him has made them his “pawns”—he continues to insist in his head that there’s a distance between artifice of his precious Plan and the reality as the girls see it: that is and has been kind and generous enough to demand that their loyalty and love.

After Illig heals his father’s legitimate son with his Tuathe Dé skills, his father agrees to adopt Maha as Illig’s sister, and also agrees that no matter when this charade ends, Illig or Lugh will always have a home to go back to in Milteu—a smart backup plan Just in Case.

As far as the merchant world goes, Illig takes to it like a fish to water and intends to make a huge first splash, converting one of his father’s failed liquor stores in the city into a cosmetics and confectionary shop focused on women. Knowing brand trumps quality in this competitive industry, he has an ace up his sleeve: there are no moisturizers in this world.

Not only does Illig impress his father, but his mother too, though she’ll still always hate him as a symbol of her husband’s impropriety. I’m sure Illig appreciates her directness. Six months pass, and Illig and Tarte watch the women and the money pour into the store. Illig further galvanizes Maha’s loyalty and love by making her the store manager, who hires her friends.

Maha and her friends are now living the dream they dreamt while living on the streets before being captured. Maha couldn’t be more content, and we learn Illig has also trained her in the skills of assassination. Such are her and Tarte’s depth of devotion to their master and brother, they’ll happily brutally torture a corporate spy in the night. Illig didn’t even have to be there.

This week is the wackiest Goddess interlude yet—in which she’s rap-dueling with The World’s Greatest MC, only to learn that 30 years later he’s done nothing because all he does is insult people. But while they provide a measure of comic relief, they also show us that of all the Worlds Best ___’s the Goddess has brought to a new world, Illig seems to be faring the best.

We also learn that once a month Illig travels to hang out with Dia, who is essentially his big sister. They collaborate on new spells and catch up. Just one day a month must be lonely (that bittersweet loneliness has been beautifully expressed in the Dia-centric ED), but even if Illig cynically thinks he’s just keeping another pawn loyal to him, there’s clearly more going on than that.

While Illig’s constant assurance to himself everything is going according to plan make me nervous for some kind of unanticipated setback, the first instance is pretty low-key: his body has arrived at puberty, and after a mana-intensive day at Dia’s, he sleeps soundly between Tarte and Maha…and wakes up to learn his body has had its first wet dream.

Tarte and Maha immediately assure him that in the future they will be able to “take care” of this new development without issue or delay, and Illig, who didn’t seem like much of a ladies man in his past life, is understandably flustered. While this first crack in his plan is mostly silly, the fact he now has less than five years to defeat the hero provides potential for many more. So much remains unknown of the hero, from their gender to the possibility of fulfilling his mission without killing them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 04 – All Concerned Parties

In a particularly chaotic episode, Mitsugu is captured by the president of the Torture Club for allegedly getting to close to Nami, the Dance Club president, whom he is stalking. Due to their mutual interest in Mai, Karate Club president Kasuno teams up with Nami to free Mitsugu, who packs a bag for Mai, who is apparently no longer safe in her home.

The pair head to Dr. Chihiro’s “house”—more of a mad scientist’s lab—only for Chihiro to have a predatory ulterior motive for harboring Mai. After Mitsugu sedates Chihiro, every other member of the cast shows up in sequence, demanding answers about who Mai is.

Kasuno and Nami end their brief alliance and their respective clubs “fight” each other, all while Maki films it and Kaoru runs around cosplaying as a Chun Li-like character. The Disciplinary President Jinko then shows up, demanding everyone stop breaking the rules.

The sudden surge of characters interacting means Vlad Love relies far too heavily on sliding inset portraits of characters talking and reacting, such that the episode at times looks more like a PowerPoint presentation than animation. There’s so much of this it borders on ludicrous—nay, it is ludicrous!

Then Mai drinks some very suspect blood from Chihiro’s vast collection and transforms into Salamander, and world-ending dragon, and starts destroying the city with her fire breath while Chihiro has a lengthy, meandering, and seriously unfunny monologue about how she came upon the blood.

From there Mitsugu and her classmates fade away and the focus shifts to a kaiju movie-style sequence in which military command center instructing fighter pilots to attack Dragon!Mai. This sequence is very sluggish, full of throwaway characters worrying about being sued for copyright infringement—an old, played-out joke that just won’t die.

Speaking of dying, once the fighters are authorized to open fire, the resulting battle over the city is cool-looking, though it also results in the death of Mitsugu and all the other characters in a massive explosion. Once again, the story ends up in the papers, and we can look forward to everything resetting back to a measure of normalcy next week.

Once again, the surfacy spectacle is occasionally diverting, but it’s hard to care about anything or anyone when everyone is doing little more than yelling at or slapping each other, and nothing that happens ever matters. Mai becomes an unthinking force of nature, while Mitsugu becomes just one more victim of the destruction. Once again I’m forced to ask: where is the vlad love in Vlad Love?

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 15 – Scratch Off

After coming so close to a good ending only for a crazed Ooishi to kill everyone, Rika is buoyed by her friends to try five more loops before using the fragment of the weapon she can use to kill herself for good. I figured the loops would gradually unfold in the next few episodes. Instead, we get all but one in one go!

This new loop starts out promisingly, with Ooishi and Keiichi getting along famously over their shared love of mahjongg (stop trying to teach us mahjongg, anime!) Ooishi’s mahjong buddy also makes an appearance: Akasaka, who is introduced with a soft filter and angelic light.

Back in 1978, one of Rika’s predictions saved his wife Yukie’s life, and he’s come to return the favor. Rika asks him to stay for the entirety of the Watanagashi Festival, and he agrees. Rika is genuinely happy and hopeful about this development!

Then there’s a smash cut to her covered in stab wounds and bleeding out on a tatami mat. Akasaka is the crazy killer scratching his throat out. Even as she burns Rika laughs out loud at how whimsical fate is, puts up her hand, lowers one finger, and snaps.

The episode doesn’t bother with the lighthearted fluff; we just fast-forward directly to the killing, as Mion and Shion’s mother is this loop’s crazed slasher, and she uses her katana to behead her own daughter, vowing to erase their family’s blood for good. Rika lowers two fingers and snaps just as her shoulders are relieved of her head.

In the next loop, Kimiyoshi is the killer, and drags Rika by a rope, rows her into the middle of a swamp, and tosses her overboard with a rock to drown her as a sacrifice…but not before Rika has to endure way too much unhinged monologue and bad breath for her taste. As she sinks into the swamp, she lowers three fingers and snaps.

Just when we’re wondering what ridiulous hell-scenario Rika will end up in next, there are columns of riot police outside the cosplay cafe, where a very itchy Keiichi is bludgening everyone to death, including Rena, who can’t get him to wake up from the bad dream. Rika gets Keiichi to end her life quickly by telling him the secret to getting rid of the “maggots in his neck” is to bash her skull in and eat her brains. She lowers four fingers and snaps.

These loops have become the most unbearably hellish torture for Rika, who is trapped in the goriest version of Groundhog Day ever. It is by far the bloodiest and hardest-to-watch episode of Gou to date. Those scratching sounds…Jesus. If Rika keeps to her plan, she’ll only have one more life to endure before ending it by her own hand. But will that really work?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

DanMachi III – 04 – Seeking the Surface

Hestia Familia’s Xenos hosts provide food and beverage to celebrate the meeting of humans who will accept them. As Bell and the others drink, eat, and dance, they learn a lot more about these intelligent monsters. Like them, they collect loot from the enemies they defeat, be they adventurers or “dumb” monsters.

We also learn that while Lyd is presently the Xenos’ de facto leader, a stronger Xenos has awakened who could challenge his claim as the strongest of them. On top of that, there’s a faction of the Xenos who want no part of the humans, distrusting them every bit as much as the townsfolk on the surface.

Like last week once they reach the Xenos’ hideout, this episode spends most of its time explaining the bigger picture, with “former human” and sage, now skeleton Fels being a useful font of information while Ouranos tells Hestia a lot of the same stuff.

Just as Ouranos hopes Bell and Hestia’s Familia will be the bridge to make people acknowledge the existence of intelligent and peaceful monsters, Dix Perdix and the Ikelos Familia is working to maintain the status quo, killing, capturing, and smuggling the monsters without a moment’s thought to their intelligence.

But neither Fels nor Lyd brough Bell & Co. here to ask for their help, so much as to lay out their plight, as well as their most common desire: to reach the surface and see the sky (and in the Siren Ray’s case, fly in it). Ouranos even posits that it could be the Will of the Dungeon itself (which the Xenos call their “mother”) for Xenos to emerge and yearn to reach the surface.

This is because just as humans die, go to heaven, and are reborn in the lower world, monsters also have a cycle of death and rebirth that starts and ends in the Dungeon. This means someone like Wiene, who learned to speak and act like a human so fast, could have died and been reborn hundreds if not thousands of times.

It’s a lot of fascinating food for thought, but if there’s one demerit to this episode it’s that it is, a the end of the day, one in which everyone is sitting around either talking or listening to people talk about things, rather than watching much in the way of action. The information may be fascinating, but the manner in which it is relayed is somewhat rote.

That aside, the smaller but no less significant immediate ramification of Bell & Co. meeting the Xenos is that Wiene won’t—and shouldn’t—return to the surface to their home. This comes as a surprise to poor Wiene, who cries and screams for Bell not to leave her even though he must, with only a promise he and the others will return at some point.

As Bell & Co. return to the surface and meet up with Hestia to pool share what they’ve learned, the group of Xenos caring for Wiene fall into a trap set by the Dix and the Ikelos Familia, using a brutally tortured Ray as bait. What looks like the strongest of the Xenos charges Dix, and is swiftly killed.

Dix has a huge host of humans and demis under his command, and he clearly relishes the monster hunt to come. He and his ilk represent the extreme challenge any attempt at human-Xenos co-existence, as it will be everything the Xenos can do to simply continue existing period!

There’s also the matter of Hestia being reluctant to risk her children and Familia being branded enemies of their own kind and in league with monsters, thus destroying all the progress the Familia has made and resigning them to ostracization and worse. But if they don’t do anything to help Wiene and the Xenos, who will?

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – 05 – Hospital of Horrors

This week Yuuki has a bad fever, so the girls take him to the hospital. At least, they think it’s a hospital. The eccentrically dressed (even for this world apparently) Doctor Mitsuki and her nurse Nanaka assure them that they’ll have Yuuki feeling “30% better” in no time, and to leave him in their care.

Turns out Mitsuki and Nanaka are part of a guild of dark mages called Twilight Caravan who bring in the injured to use for their experiments. Their third member Eriko, possibly the most unhinged of the three, is the very person Yuuki “rescued” with an onigiri, and is convinced he’s her “soulmate.” What she intends to do with him is left shrouded in mystery…but it can’t be good, right?

What had been a “make sure Yuuki gets the medical care needs” mission turns into a “rescue Yuuki from the demonic hospital full of loons”—note neither has anything to do with cooking or food. Kokkoro creates a diversion with her stinky backwater ritual while Karyl and Pecorine grab Yuuki and sneak him out of the hospital. But Karyl realizes if the others are going to get away successfully, she must offer herself as bait to distract the doctor and nurse.

While Yuuki is rescued, the party simply swapped his captivity for Karyl’s, who appears in the sky with her thumb up in a less-than-convincing sign she’s okay. However, when they visit another doctor in town, he confirms that Dr. Mitsuki is legit and that the lad will be on the mend in a couple of days. That means Karyl will probably be fine when—and if—she’s released.

While I usually don’t give much thought to source material of anime I watch, the fact that this is based on a game with lots of colorful players was not lost on me when a bunch of new characters were introduced. This week there’s no sign of those, but instead we get yet another set of introductions, and while they are indeed colorful there’s not much else to them, and their antics rob time from the core quartet and their culinary mandate.

Elfen Lied – 12 – Total Recall

Shirakawa and the assault team can only stand around and watch in horror as Mariko continues to toy with Nana like a child rips wings off an insect. Only Nana is, horns and prostheses aside, a human being. Despite this, they allow 35 to have her way with Nana so she’ll be more cooperative. It’s frankly sickening to see other humans stand by and let this happen.

I know they see Dicloniï as an existential threat to humanity, but Shirakawa and the soldiers are abdicating their own humanity by allowing such sickening, wanton cruelty to occur. Lucy may be one thing and 35 another, but Nana is living, breathing proof that Dicloniï can coexist peacefully with humans. Mayu sees Nana and Nyu as sisters and Kouta and Yuka as their mom and dad.

And it’s Kouta who comes to Nana’s aid when no one else will, putting his own life at grave risk. Not only is Mariko eager to have more “fun” killing people, she resents the fact Nana has a friend, something Mariko didn’t believe was possible because, well, she’s been encased in a giant steel enclosure who whole damn life! I can’t blame Mariko for being the way she is, which is a direct result of the dehumanizing, self-defeating actions of the researchers at the facility.

Nana uses her remaining strength to keep him from being hurt, demonstrating she’s far more human than those who wish her dead. She ends up falling off a bridge into the water, and her fate is left unknown. However, when Nyu finally catches up to Kouta, she slips on a pool of Nana’s blood and hits her head. Lucy reawakens and kills Shirakawa and the soldiers one by one right in front of Kouta, whose long-repressed memories finally surface.

The story that unfolded in episode nine is thus completed, as Lucy followed Kouta’s family on the train out of Enoshima. Kanae claims to have witnessed a “girl with horns” killing lots of people at the festival, but Kouta doesn’t believe her. When Lucy appears, Kanae confirms she was the killer, but Kouta won’t hear of it, slaps Kanae, and orders her to apologize.

Kanae just wants to get Kouta away from Lucy, worried he’ll be her next victim and putting herself between the two, but Lucy snaps her in half, and then beheads Kouta’s father. When Kouta asks why she did these things when he thought they were friends, she calmly responds in her cold Lucy voice: “I didn’t kill you because we’re friends,” then vows to kill Yuka next.

Let me be clear: Lucy is this way because of humans. She killed the bullies because they bullied her; had they been nice to her she’d have been nice back. She punishes Kouta by killing those close to him because he lied to her. It may have been a white lie meant to protect her, but someone with her past didn’t make that distinction, and it doesn’t change the fact it was not the truth.

Back in the present, Kouta finally reconciles those newly surfaced memories with Nyu’s true identity, but he has little time to process them as Bando arrives ready to kill Lucy. She flees, baiting him to follow her, and urges Kouta to meet her at the stone steps. Kouta and Lucy have hurt each other gravely, but perhaps, like Shirakawa briefly hoped, there can be a resolution that doesn’t involve killing. Okay, that involves minimal killing. Bando obviously has to go.

Cautious Hero – 04 – Hairy Solutions to Hairy Situations

We pick up right where we left off, with Seiya categorically rejecting Mash and Ururu. He could be a little nicer about it, but the truth is he is far beyond them in power and they would slow him down. But for some reason, when Rista gains wings and tries to catch up to him, he takes his foot off the gas and comes back for her.

Sure, he then accelerates so fast her boobs pop out, but it seems he had a change of heart about having her around just minutes after saying he “so didn’t need her” any more than the Dragonkin. Did he simply appreciate the effort she made to chase after him? Or just remember that she as a goddess can still do things he can’t, like open portals?

In any case, Seiya arrives at the site of the advancing undead army and uses not one but two Meteor Strikes to eliminate them all at once. When he appears fatigued, Rista lets him lean on her, but she’s annnoyed when he states he’s actually very far from having used up all his MP.

With Seimul safe, Seiya holes himself up in room at the inn, mastering synthesis, in particular making use of Rista’s stray goddess hairs to synthesize a powerful sword, but wanting her to provide one thousand more hairs to make more; Rista for her part is not prepared to go bald!

Then they get a delivery: a looking glass through which the Heavenly King Deathmagla presents a captured and tortured Mash. When Mash is defiant rather than begging for his life, Seiya decides to rescue him and defeat Deathmagla in one trip.

After using his goddess hair-infused sword to slice off Deathmagla’s hand through dimensional planes, he quickly withdraws to the Divine realm where the ten or so seconds before Mash is killed is stretched out to fifteen or so minutes, using that time to brusquely ask an amused Ishtar to open a portal to Mash’s location.

Once there, Deathmagla claims to have prepared for every contingency in creating an invincible boss in Dark Firus. But detail-oriented as he is, Deathmagla can’t hold a candle to Seiya’s preparation, as the hero uses previously-unseen high-level blunt abilities and an ice-element bracelet (again, synthesized with Rista’s hair, making her wonder if she has a hair loss problem).

Whether it’s turning back for Rista in the air or choosing to rescue Mash so he can carry his equipment, Seiya seems most motivated by those who demonstrate maximum effort, as he does. With only two Heavenly Kings and the Demon Lord remaining and Seiya’s continued exponential growth, Rista seems poised to save her first world…barring something unexpected.

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.

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