Otherside Picnic – 06 – To the Trained Eye

Lt. Blake takes Sorao and Toriko to Major Barker, the “current” commander of the unit, implying a previous commander was among the many casualties. Barker seems nice enough, but weary of the situation, and like Blake, isn’t sure how much longer things can stay “civilized.”

They are surrounded by “bear traps” (i.e. glitches) that either kill or transform whoever or whatever touches them. They are running low on diesel fuel and will soon be out of food. The girls are offered an empty tent that’s strewn with garbage. It’s empty because its previous occupants are dead. It’s just not a place you want to be, especially after a pleasant dinner and drinks.

Blake “advises” them not to use their phones, but it should have been an explicit order and explained that making a call, as the girls do to Kozakura, has an effect on the environment. Specifically, it calls the “Meat Train” to the station, and with it a frightening train of “face dogs”, on whom the soldiers’ mortars and gunfire have no effect.

Toriko hops onto a Humvee and whips out an M14 EBR, but even though Sorao spots the proper target for her, her shots never reach them. This gives Sorao the idea that the one perceiving the targets must be the one to pull the trigger, so she has Toriko anchor her so she can take the shot, all before the soldiers can stop them.

The face dog mass dissipates, but when firing the shot Sorao lost her contact, and the soldiers wig out. She and Toriko make a run for it, and are probably lucky none of the exhausted, extremely on-edge soldiers took any shots at them. Call it a win for Major Barker in keeping discipline under suboptimal conditions.

As the Meat Train approaches, Sorao has another hunch: even though it doesn’t look like it will stop, she belives they can board the train if Toriko reaches out and touches it with her translucent hand. Sorao repeats Toriko’s line about everything working out if they’re together, and take a leap of faith.

It works, and they’re on the train, but Sorao senses a great number of unspeakable, horrifying things on that train, the collective auras of which are enough to cause her to lose consciousness. However, when she comes to, Toriko is smiling from above, and a bright blue sky indicates that they successfully returned to their world, safe and sound.

That’s not to say they returned to Ikebukuro. The beach and palm trees indicate they could be in Okinawa, having used the same entry point to the Otherside the Americans used. Further weird details include the childish drawing of a train track in the sand, and a cut to Kozakura playing back her phone call with the other two, which is distorted and full of unsettling gibberish.

If they’re now in Okinawa, I’d think the next step for Sorao and Toriko is to report the whereabouts of Pale Horse Battalion. Yet even that carries some risk: Kozakura has never heard of such a unit, though the Dark Horse Battalion is stationed in Okinawa. Just what was that unit really up to in the Otherside?

Otherside Picnic – 05 – Pale Horse

After treating Kozakura to well over $100 worth of dinner as an apology for her unwanted excursion to the Otherside, Toriko and Sorao complete their making-up by ordering another $100 worth of grub and drinks. During the meal, Toriko whips out Lady Hasshaku’s hat, which turns out to be much more than bad table manners.

After the waiter starts acting very strange (muttering about “sublance” and “abardmont”), Sorao leads a tipsy Toriko out of the oddly empty café and to the station, but something is off about Ikebukuro: all the lights are out and there isn’t another soul in sight. Before long the pair find themselves in an unfamiliar field, and encounter a bizarre two-headed robot horse-like monster, carrying several hanging bound bodies.

Neither brought guns to dinner, so they have to make a run for it, with Sorao doing her best to scope out potential Glitches. They reach a train track, which they believe will eventually lead to a station (i.e. shelter), but they’re then chased by a frightening mass of glowing purple faces.

Suddenly, Toriko hits the deck and has Sorao do the same, and bullets fly over their heads—bullets from the guns of soldiers. Their leader identifies the girls as human in Japanese, but his men chatter in English. The bullets aren’t meant for the girls, but for a third monster: a towering Groot-like hulk with branches for antlers.

Eventually the tree man wanders off, while the robotic horse doesn’t continue its pursuit. The lead soldier introduces himself as U.S. Marine Corp Lieutenant Will Drake, commander of the Pale Horse Battalion, Charlie Company 1/2 out of Okinawa. (“Pale Horse” is a reference to Death, the fourth Horse of the Apocalypse.) He and his unit have been trapped in the Otherside for over a month, while their robotic pack mule was transformed into a monster that has claimed a number of his men.

Lt. Drake & Co. lead Sorao and Toriko to “February Station”, which Sorao identifies as Kisaragi Station from the real world, but the group keeps moving until they reach the company’s well-equipped base camp. The thing is, a lot of Drake’s men distrust the girls and aren’t convinced they’re not monsters in disguise. They obeyed his orders to stand down this time, but what if fear of the unknown, or additional illusions, cause them to lash out?

The introduction of American marines from Okinawa to the Otherside, as well as the new manner in which the girls ended up their themselves, brings a fresh new dynamic to their adventures. Toriko may have been joking about marine basic training, but now they find themselves unarmed and exposed in a potentially paranoid hornets’ nest. As Toriko is also fond of saying, as long as they stick together, things will work out. Here’s hoping.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 11 – Their Little Dream

Suddenly, we’re back where we began: Ordinary Person gets off work on time and spots a takoyaki stand. Instead of being accused of not paying, she pays without interacting with Courier and the two go their separate ways. Of course, if this is how things had gone down in the first episode, there wouldn’t be a story.

This is clearly not reality. What is reality is Pupil waking up in a hospital bed to find that not only have nearly 6,000 ordinary people been marked as Akudama, but nearly a third of them have been executed, and his senpai seems perfectly fine with it, as is their Boss, who is praised by Kanto. Order in Kansai has been restored—even if the odd orphan has to be tossed off their parent’s corpse into the cold.

Swindler at first revels in the comfort of her ordinary apartment, and could presumably continue living there as if all of the crazy events in which she participated was all just a very weird dream. But this is the dream, just as a young Courier discovering his mentor, the previous (and female) Courier murdered is a dream.

Bunny and Shark—in crisp HD for the first time—deliver their latest lesson with Swindler and Courier as an audience: they explain the “Butterfly Dream” in which one asks themselves if they’re dreaming of a butterfly or the butterfly’s dream. Apparently, in Kanto, it doesn’t matter: you can be both or neither.

The animal stick puppet characters assert this is where Swindler and Courier “truly belong”: a place where they can dream of whatever and whenever they want and live in their happiest moments forever! Swindler even has a little Shoujo Manga moment with Courier…before both he and the takoyaki stand beging to digitally degrade and evaporate, leaving only the interior of the Shinkansen.

Swindler and Courier escape this world of coddling and restraining illusion thanks to Hacker’s Haro bot, with which the real Hacker is able to interface and which serves as a kind of dream totem for Swindler and Courier; their means of realizing they’re in a dream. The Bunny & Shark program is a form of brainwashing meant to separate body from mind (and free will) when entering Kanto. It is the effect of the Decontamination Zone.

Why would Kanto insist anyone who enters have their mind separated from their body? That becomes clear when Hacker leads them outside of the train to see something even stranger than their dreams: an endless deep blue sky full of eternally floating wreckage of old Tokyo.

As for Kanto, its true form is that of a complex quantum computer with a morphing geometric black structure resembling an Angel from Eva. Everyone in Kanto converted their consciousness to data and stored it in this structure (again, like Eva’s Human Instrumentality Project). Hacker turns back and cheekily breaks the fourth wall, commenting on how crazy a twist this is!

Swindler’s first priority is the kids, whom Hacker points out are currently being restrained by the Kanto structure. It’s presently breaking down, and the siblings were always meant to be Kanto’s new and everlasting vessels. All of Kanto’s data is being transferred to them.

Needless to say, Swindler isn’t cool with the kids being used once more as mere tools. She’s long since completely devoted her mind and body ensuring brother and sister’s one “little dream”—to be alive, safe, and together—is fulfilled. Whatever else they are and whatever Kanto perceives their use to be, she insists they’re ordinary kids who deserve and ordinary life.

Unfortunately, her attempts to physically attack Kanto are repelled by its gravitational wave defense system, which means it’s up to Hacker to go into Kanto and play the toughest—and most fun—game of his life. That’s just fine to him, as the whole reason he’s helping Swindler and Courier comes down to profound boredom. If he can die doing what he loves, he’s okay with that.

This is definitely Akudama Drive at its most baroque and psychedelic, and even though The Day I Became a God had a quantum supercomputer and trippy virtual hacker fight first this season, Akudama is able to put a different spin on both. Hacker’s battlefield resembles FFXIII’s final dungeon, Orphan’s Cradle, while the floating wreckage reminded me of FFXIII-2’s final dungeon, Labyrinth of Chaos.

Hacker ends up succeeding in freeing the siblings, but only by sacrificing his digital self, which is all that’s left of him. He lies about being “just fine” to Swindler and offers her a final token of gratitude for returning his Haro drone intact: coordinates to “a mystical place nobody’s heard about, let alone been to,” which he deems a “perfect place” for them.

He then urges everyone to hurry aboard the Shinkansen, which he programs to return to Kansai, and from there they can presumably head to those coordinates. As Sister surprises Brother with her new street smarts (and potty mouth—”You were shit at protecting me!”), Swindler thanks Courier for all his help. Of course, for Courier, finishing the job wasn’t a choice, but a necessity.

That’s when we return to Kansai where the approaching Shinkansen is placed in crosshairs. Three choppers open fire on it, knocking it off the tracks in a huge fireball as Pupil and New Pupil look on. Here’s hoping Swindler and the kids alighted before the train blew up!

Assuming they did, there are likely to be more hardships—and a likely final showdown with the Executioners—before they can reach their promised haven. Whatever happens in the finale, this episode was a master class in twisty, surreal, mind-bending, truth-dropping, beautifully batshit fun.

Akudama Drive – 10 – Just Like She Taught Him

Courier, Swindler, and Sister leap off Executioner HQ in pursuit of the helicopter carrying Pupil, Guy Pupil, and Brother. They’re headed to Kansai Station to put the kid on the next Shinkansen. Doctor is also headed there aboard a flying bus whose other passengers she murdered, with a terrified Hoodlum thoroughly wrapped around her little finger.

While en route, Pupil, Guy Pupil and Brother watch a newsfeed showing that the civil unrest has intensified, with large mobs ready to storm police and government buildings.

Courier, Swindler, and Sister learn of the extent of the unrest firsthand when their path to the station is blocked by a civilian-established checkpoint. Unfortunately for these intrepid vigilantes, Boss straight-up strong-arms the ineffectual police chief to declare all rioters to be Akudama.

This has the unintended side effect of allowing Courier, Swindler, and Sister to pass through the checkpoint, as the police bots begin arresting the civilians. As the bus flies over the hotel where he and Brawler had so much fun, Hoodlum wonders just what the hell he’s doing.

Armed with police authorization, Boss sics her Executioners upon the mob, resulting in a bloodbath she deems necessary to restore law and order in Kansai; her primary concern is how this reflects on her to Kanto. Courier reveals he always knew Swindler wasn’t a real Akudama until she became one, which makes her happy.

Then it starts to snow much earlier than is usual in Kansai, almost providing a little bit of hope and cheer to an awfully tense and uneasy situation for all involved parties…except Doctor, who doesn’t even look up to see the snow.

Pupil and Guy Pupil arrive at the station and enter the elevator just as Courier railguns through the doors. He manages to blast his way down to the platform, but by then the Shinkansen has arrived and Brother is in a cargo vault on its way to the train. That’s when Doctor appears and things get way more complicated and intense.

With the quickness of a cat she sticks Guy Pupil straight through the heart with a needle to make a “string of life” that she holds in her hand. Since she’s still not technically an Akudama anymore, the Executioners can’t touch her. Doctor uses that immunity and the string to force Pupil to go grab Brother for her.

Hoodlum, still thoroughly in Doctor’s thrall, holds a scalpel to Swindler’s carotid artery, while Doctor gasses Courier. She revels in having the lives of everyone around her in her hands, but underestimates the “nauseating woman” Swindler’s gift of gab.

By talking to Hoodlum about Brawler and their mutual respect and love for each other, and how disappointed his big bro would be to see him now, Swindler is able to get Hoodlum into lowering his scalpel. Doctor, in turn, is disappointed that Hoodlum is now useless to her, and brings up the fact she stitched Brawler up so he’d bleed to death.

Doctor orders Pupil to execute Swindler and Hoodlum, but before she can bring her lightsaber down on them, a revived Courier shoots it out of her hand. Then things get even more chaotic as this entire standoff is crashed by hundreds of rioters who broke into the station to pray before the sacred Shinkansen for salvation.

In the ensuing confusion, Hoodlum pounces on Doctor and slits her through “just like she taught” him, though she’s still able to slit his and whip out her emergency surgery tools. Only this time it doesn’t work, as the Shinkansen seemingly answers the rioters’ prayers and opens its doors for them. This starts a stampede, and before Doctor can stitch herself up, she’s trampled to death.

The train also completes the loading of Brother’s vault, so with no time to spare Courier, Swindler and Sister hop on the bike and board the train, meaning their next stop will be Kanto. After the credits, Bunny and Shark say this was Shinkansen’s purpose all along; to bring people to Kanto. For what purpose we don’t know, as they’re suddenly cut off. But hey, it can’t be good, can it?

Then again, it could yet be good for Swindler, Courier, and the Siblings. For one thing, Hacker is in Kanto now (as far as we know). For another, they no longer have to worry about Doctor stalking them. I’m a little sad she went so completely heel, but she was always the most calculatingly treacherous of the original group, and the undignified, ignominious end she meets was in ironically stark contrast to her lofty goals.

Dagashi Kashi – 11

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Any DK segment with a healthy dose of Endou Saya is fine by me, and we get that in this week’s first segment, as Hotaru has her and Coco hide under a box so they can observe firsthand why Coco’s dad is so amazing.

Of course, due the the close quarters (and their adolescence), initially all Coco and Saya can think about is the face they’re so close together in a dark, confined space. Naturally Hotaru thinks nothing of this.

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Somehow, Hotaru’s plan kinda works: You doesn’t notice that big box with peeping holes, but Coco comes to think a little higher of his old man after he sees how expertly he deals with a customer. Specifically, a young boy comes in with a girl he likes, but doesn’t have enough money to buy two pieces of Cola Gum.

Why doesn’t the boy just buy gum for her, then? I don’t know, but the girl seems ready to wash her hands of him right there when You suggests he unwrap the gum to see if he won another piece. He doesn’t, but he grabs the little insert and sayshe won, letting him take a second piece. The boy thinks he won, the girl is impressed; everyone’s happy.

This exchange reminds Saya of a time when she and Coco were that age, and she kept winning gum from unwrapping winning wrappers. She surmises that You was letting her win so she’d have more fun, but Coco knows better: Saya has scary good luck when it comes to candy; as good as Hotaru’s is bad. If only Saya had as good luck with Coco!

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The next segment starts leisurely with Coco and Hotaru waiting for the next train after just missing the previous one. Hotaru, in her typical blithely oblivious way suggests passing the time by “sucking on something.” Whoa there, Coco: she’s just talking about suckable kombu (seaweed).

While not technically a candy, neither are a lot of the snacks at Coco’s store. But Miyako Kombu was developed to be sold in a place with lots of people coming in and out all the time; i.e. a train station. After the history lesson, Hotaru’s mouth is parched due to all the talking she’s done, so breaks out a refreshing Ramune.

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After offering Coco some (and inadvertently, an indirect kiss as well), he mentions that “Ramune” is a Japanese bastardization of “Lemonade” brought to Japan by Commodore Perry back in the 1850s.

Underwhelmed by the roteness of his story, Hotaru takes the history lesson to the next level, in a hilarious reenactment in which Perry talks in the manner of a contemporary hoodlum, and in which she credits his ramune with convincing the Japanese to open their borders to international trade, despite having plenty of their own problems.

This was a ludicrously funny little bit, punctuated by the disturbing sight of Hotaru’s face morphing into Perry’s as she imitates his voice.

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All that aside, the reason for the train journey comes up. Coco needs art supplies; Hotaru wants to go on a candy shopping spree. As it turns out, only Hotaru boards the train, as if leaving for good, suddenly giving the scene—and the episode—a welcome bit of serialization.

Hotaru tells Coco she knows he has his own aspirations in life, and doesn’t want to force him to succeed his dad’s shop. But forcing and persuading are two different approaches to achieving the same end.

Having stayed in town these past eleven weeks (or however long it’s been by the show’s calendar), Hotaru quite suddenly decides to leave it up to Coco to contact her when he’s made a decision. She’ll be waiting…only she just didn’t bother to tell him where.

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Hanamonogatari – 02

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This act begins with unbridled elation, as Suruga almost revels in the fact her regular human arm is back. She goes for a giddy run on a beautiful day, and the very air she breathes seems to smell better. But the new arm totally throws off the balance she had achieved with the hairy one, which tempers the elation somewhat. She’s initially happy by the fact the arm is gone, but now she’s troubled by how it might’ve happened.

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Suruga may not be the most classically bright of the Monogatari cast, but even she’s able to connect the dots between her arm and her encounter with Rouka. But her sources say the Devil Lord has ceased operations and disappeared, so Suruga heads to the train station to search for her out of town. There, she comes afoul of a wan but impeccably dressed and magnificently bearded Kaiki Deishuu. And as I for one am aware, adding Kaiki to the mix always makes things better.

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There’s a dark, predatory air to Kaiki early on as he chases Suruga throughout the station and outside into the streets. This reinforces all of the bad things her senpais have said about the man. They told her to run if she ever encountered him, and she does, not having any other information to work with. That changes when Kaiki, grabbing her by the scruff of her shirt like a helpless kitten, cordially offers to treat her to a cup of tea.

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That tea turns into an all-out sumptuous korean bbq feast. Who among those who include meat in their diet wouldn’t be elated at being in her shoes here? As Kaiki grills the succulent cuts of meat and organs and serves her, Kanbaru’s opinion on him becomes muddled. Moreso, when he states his business with her, it reveals a humanity she’d heretofore thought impossible for her senpais’ nemesis: Kaiki loved and admired Suruga’s biological mother, and promised to look after her daughter.

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To that end he gives her his card and tells her to contact him if she’s ever in a pinch, even though he admits its probably if she doesn’t. He also tells her to expect a “collector” to come and take her mummified monkey paw. That merges this present encounter with Rouka’s, leading Suruga to ask the simple question that wason all our minds form the start: how Kaiki knew Suruga would be at the station. He says the collector told him…a girl named Numachi Rouka.

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That’s not an unexpected twist, considering we certainly weren’t done with Rouka in this series, but still nicely staged. The atmosphere of the elaborate yet intimate korean bbq (contrasting with the huge open space where Suruga met Rouka), and the vaguely paternal way in which Kaiki seems to be upholding his promise to Suruga’s mom again shows us his softer side. But he isn’t about to tell Suruga everything. It’s up to her to investigate further.

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Ao Haru Ride – 06

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When Futaba learned that Yuuri liked Kou, it could have been a simple matter of her telling her she likes him too, so of course Futaba lies and says she doesn’t, and everything Yuuri says and does thereafter makes it that much harder for her to recant her statement. Yuuri trusted her, so now the truth will hurt Yuuri and damage that trust, instead of just the former.

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But by lying to Yuuri, Futaba is lying to herself too; something she realizes by the episode’s highly charged ending. Futaba decided to consider whether she actually loved Kou, or was simply charmed by his sparingly-used nice side. She strives to devalue her feelings for Kou compared to Yuuri’s, even though it’s far more likely the opposite is true. It seems to me that Yuuri is the one letting one instance of Kou being nice balloon into infatuation.

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Futaba’s doubts are supported when she has trouble with Kou trivia, but Yuuri knows even less about him, and has no history with him. Not to devalue the strength of Yuuri’s feelings, but from our perspective, Futaba was first, and has just as much right to love Kou as she does. We also don’t see Kou choosing Yuuri over Futaba…not even as a cruel joke.

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Of course, I’m talking about sense and logic, concepts unknown to teenagers with love on the brain. Futaba wants to love Kou, but it makes her feel like crap because of Yuuri. It’s an unenviable position, and she tries to let fate and circumstance choose for her, with Kou himself as the game piece. The result is satisfying because as inevitable as the couple seems, in this instance it really could have gone either way.

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Kou surprises her when he sticks around after she turns in the paperwork, and even when she takes the ridiculous step of deciding to give up on Kou if he doesn’t get out of the train and not giving up if he does, Kou stays right there, by her side, a fairly arbitrary test! Yet, it’s as if he’s just naturally drawn to her, and picking up on what he said, it would be “unnatural” for them to be apart. At the end of the day, she wanted him to step out of that train—to pick her—and he did. So, as Futaba says in her head: Sorry, Yuuri.

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Kyousogiga – 03

One of Douji Yase’s animal-like youkai records video of a special day in the world on the other side of the looking glass: a day when unwanted or unneeded…stuff is relased into the air, where it drifts away towards a train station which will take it further away still. One of these objects is a stuffed animal a mother wants her daughter to let go, but she won’t, and floats off with it. Koto, A and Un fly up to grab her, and it isn’t long before Shouko and her suited legion also assist; finally Shouko shoots the plushie, and the girl and Koto fall back down to earth. Also among the objects that shouldn’t have flown away: Douji Yase’s favorite teacup.

This really captured the grandeur and whimsy of the strange world Koto is now at home in (the awesome soundtrack really helps sell it). There’s a very fable-like vibe to it, and it’s also very much the opposite of how the real world operates. Our waste falls to the earth, both due to gravity and due to the nature of municipal sanitation and decomposition. We as a modern society toss out a lot that may still be useful to others, but is wasted anyway, due to convenience. Still, it would be great if, once a year, all the unnecessary clutter that had accumulated that year could be released into the sky, to find its own way…somewhere else.


Rating: 9 (Superior)