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.

Fruits Basket – 13 – Yuki-kun, Adult Version

I always get antsy whenever Tooru’s hanging with Yuki in his garden, wondering what new devilry will come afoul of them. In this case, it’s a snake, but it’s okay, that snake is Souma Ayame, The Snake of the Zodiac. Being cold-blooded, he doesn’t do well when it’s cold, but you still have to wonder if he just used that as an excuse to hide inside Tooru’s shirt dress.

Ayame, who is actually Yuki’s ten-years-older brother he never once mentioned, is quite forward and ebullient, ordering Tooru to serve him lunch, then taking her out for gyoza when she doesn’t respond (due to Yuki telling him to check his rudeness). Turns out Ayame didn’t come to meet Tooru. He heard that Yuki interacted with Akito at school, and was checking in on him, knowing the terror he feels around Akito is on a whole other level as the other Soumas.

When he talks about how hard it’s been to reconcile his younger self (who was less interested in connecting with his baby bro) with his older self (who wants to repent for that younger Ayame) Tooru naturally parrots her mother’s advice about parents not knowing how to be parents…until they’re parents. But also the importants of remembering what it was like to be a child, such that as an adult one can empathize with the next generation.

Ayame is impressed with Tooru’s wisdom, and while Tooru doesn’t take credit, she definitely deserves it simply for absorbing every last iota of her mother’s wisdom (not something most kids do) and being able to so effortlessly apply it to others in order to sooth their troubles.

But as much as she might want Yuki and Ayame to close the yawning rift between them, it just doesn’t happen this time around. Part of that is Ayame is usually an unapologetic cad, and has been one since school when he was classmates with Shigure and Hatori.

He’s also possessed of a particularly silver tongue; whenever he broke the rules, either by growing his hair out or getting caught in a pleasure district, he could talk his way out of it with colorful oratory that would either inspire or annoy his foes into submission.

As Ayame and Shigure reminisce—and Yuki and Kyou sit there and stew—once gets the sense that all his bravado and good cheer on the surface is hiding that deep-seated regret for not being there when his little bro needed him most. Even if he was beholden to Akito like everyone else in the clan, shouldn’t he have put everything on the line to save Yuki…even exile or worse?

He didn’t, and that, much more than his salacious past and forwardness with Tooru, probably keeps that rift between the brothers as wide as it is. In the end, Shigure was more of a big brother to him than Ayame, since he at least got Yuki out of that hell.

Luckily for Yuki, Haruhatsu learns that Ayame is hanging around Yuki, and he informs the only one who Ayame listens to (since he’s always loved and admired the guy): Hatori, who shows up to collect Ayame, ending his reign of terror at Casa Shigure. Later at school Yuki makes sure to thank Hatsu.

And yet, just because a rift will never close doesn’t mean it can’t narrow a little. Yuki learning about Ayame’s devotion to Hatori does that somewhat, which Tooru takes as a sign they’re not an entirely hopeless cause.

Fruits Basket – 12 – Someone Scary This Way Comes

This episode starts out so harmlessly…and silly. It’s a new term, Tooru, Yuki, Kyou, and the others are all second years, and the new first year girls are extremely aggressive in making their existence known to Yuki. Tooru is targeted as an “easy mark” by first year boys, and Kyou scares them off with a move that hilariously befuddles her. New first years Momiji and Haruhatsu brazenly flout the dress code: Momiji by wearing half of a girls’ uni; Haru with jewelry and white-over-black hair.

They are immediately singled out by StuCo President Takei Makoto, who seems like a character from another show, even if FB is not above slapstick. This bespectacled dingus has a thing for Yuki, and his two nearly identical female lieutenants are soon won over by Momiji’s cuteness, while Haruhatsu proves he didn’t illegally die his hair by showing him his pubes in the men’s room.

Unfortunately for this half the episode Tooru is just kind of off in the background as all these Soumas bicker and test authority. I’m well aware Tooru was not always the focus of the source material and in some cases was totally absent as the cast expanded, but the broad goofy comedy on display here doesn’t really make a strong case for keeping her out of the anime spotlight.

Tooru does not play a small role in the second half, when she’s confronted by none other than Souma family head, Akito (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya in her best honey-poison imperiousness). Tooru is caught totally off guard by the sudden and very casual encounter, and Akito never says a single thing I am inclined to either take at face value or believe.

The one person Yuki doesn’t want near Akito less than himself is Tooru, so he comes to her rescue, only to be utterly neutralized by Akito, who after all threw him in a dark room and psychologically tortured him for years until Shigure finally put a stop to it by letting Yuki live with him.

So it’s up to Space Cadet Tooru to rescue Yuki-hime, demonstrating quicker thinking than would usually be expected of her in explaining an action that could’ve cost someone else their life (shoving Akito away from Yuki). In the moment, she knew Yuki was in pain, and she did what she had to do to stop it.

In his report to Hatori about the car ride home, Shigure says Akito would later call Tooru “ugly” and not a threat to him, assured that one day Yuki would come crawling back, citing his fear of him as proof. But Akito seems like the kind of person whose threat assessments vary from day to day, or mood to mood. In any case, Tooru is far from safe, nor is Yuki.

Still, Tooru tries to refocus a clearly traumatized Yuki by joining a big ol’ badminton game with the gang. She doesn’t want to waste, or let others waste, the precious time they have, and she has no illusions about that time being infinite, or even indefinite. Something cold could come out of the shadows and freeze these poor warm people and warm life in which they’ve never been happier. But not today. Today, for a little while, they’ll forget their fears and have fun volleying a shuttle around.

Carole & Tuesday – 03 – ASCENSION!

After a rough first impression (I believe accusations of cyberstalking are leveled), Gus Goldman introduces himself to Carole & Tuesday, dropping names left and right. Unfortunately, the pair is #notimpressed because they don’t remember Bruno, Justin, or Brian Epstein—being from a much younger generation.

Brass tacks: Gus knows talent when he hearts it, and if they want to do what they do for more than just fun, he wants to be there to help them. His enthusiasm and earnestness make up for his underwhelming Wikipedia page. But since nobody’s become a commercial hit quite yet Gus has to insist his talent pay for their own Margherita.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s mother leaves getting her back to her son—lest police involement sully her campaign—then (presumably) retires to the boudoir with her toyboy. How I hope Tuesday’s bro doesn’t try to drag her back to this horrid gilded cage.

As Angela is asked 37 questions on some kind of vlog of her life (and introduces her extremely annoying AI pet rabbit Aladdin), C&T are at the laundromat waiting for their clothes to be done.

Tuesday likens the still, then suddenly-spinning clothes as mirroring the two of them, and Carole starts stomping and clapping out a beat, with Tuesday joining in and the two starting to sing an impromptu song (albeit one that is not clandestinely recorded).

Just messin’ around in the laundromat is a kernal that germinates as the two refine the music and lyrics, and their song is the soundtrack for a montage of their day in the life in Alba City, all gorgeously rendered and adding to the lush textures of both the sprawling city and their digs.

As for Gus, he vows to lay off the sauce now that he has a new client. Whatever his reasons for copying Motörhead in the past, he seems genuinely determined to put a human musical duo on the map—no small feat in a Martian cultural continuum in which AI has taken over so much of the creating.

What was billed as a trip to a voice coach friend of Gus’ turns out to be…something else entirely: a SPACE YOGA session so bizarre to Tuesday’s sheltered psyche she fears she’ll have nightmares about the experience.

Angela’s experienced at Artience is no less nightmarish. When she can’t hit a high note, Tao activates her restraints and deploys all manner of nasty-looking torture instruments, all an elaborate artifice in order to goad Angela into screaming…and hitting that high note she thought impossible.

She still voices her complaints to her mother, a former child star herself. But her mom insists she keep at it, lest she become as forgotten as she now is due to people moving on and her career not moving on with it. This looks like a classic vicarious parent situation. I hope Angela actually wants to continue as Tao’s guinea pig for her own sake, not just Mom’s.

Thanks to Roddy, C&T score a meet with the famous celebrity DJ Ertegun, whose sold-out megashows are the toast of the town. When they arrive at his waterfront mansion, Gus is prepared to make the pitch, but he’s held back by Ertegun’s security, leaving C&T on their own among the tacky pop art, including Banksy’s self-destructing painting!

Ertegun makes them wait as he talks on the phone by the woman-filled pool, but when he finally comes in, he initially scares the shit out of them by seemingly stripping in front of them; mercifully, he’s got boxer briefs on, and merely shed the robe so he could do some push-ups while he raps with them.

Either Roddy didn’t explain why C&T wanted to meet with Ertegun, or Ertegun didn’t listen to him (probably the latter), because Ertegun doesn’t know why C&T are there: he assumes they want autographs, selfies, or…him (Gus warned earlier them not to give him a leg massage).

When he learns it’s a pitch, he immediately shuts them down, rejecting them without so much as listening to a single bar. Why is he so confident they’re boring generic trash? Well, for one thing, “he’s DJ Ertegun,” which is apparently sufficient explanation. But for another? Because they’re not AI. Like Tao, Ertegun doesn’t trust humans to make good music, except through technology.

Tuesday wigs out and burns their lyrics with the DJ’s cigar lighter, setting off the sprinklers before running away. Ertegun doesn’t seem particularly miffed that all his goofy art is getting doused, but I imagine T&C left an stronger impression on him!

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