The aquatope on white sand – 09 – Compassion for the unfamiliar

Two very common ways anime deal with an interlopers is by either turning them into friends or putting them in their place. Aquatope does neither, opting for a far more nuanced, multifaceted, and ultimately more satisfying and enriching experience. In the complexity of emotions it expresses (and elicits), Aquatope is as diverse and colorful as its sea life.

Haebaru Chiyu is the interloper, and immediately an interesting choice was made to have Ishikawa Yui voice her. Ishikawa has one of the most charming and likable voices around, even as she voiced Mikasa Ackerman, one of the toughest motherfuckers in all animedom. I automatically like everyone she voices, even if they’re not easy to like otherwise.

Despite the only reason Chiyu agreed to go to Gama Gama for training was because of the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper”, Gramps pairs her up with Kukuru. Kukuru doesn’t know Chiyu, but hates everything she represents, and cannot mask her disdain and hostility.

It quickly becomes clear that beneath her polite façade Chiyu masks a similar contempt, but for an aquarium she believes (not without good reason!) to be a failure. The place is mostly empty and the equipment is falling apart. Not only is it a depressing place with which she has no emotional ties, it is to her the antithesis of a properly run aquarium.

Gramps and Fuuka are in the middle of the ensuing rivalry of passive aggression and pointed barbs; Gramps tells Kukuru it doesn’t matter what building an aquarium occupies; what matters is that people get to enjoy and come to love the creatures of the sea. Gran backs him up by telling Kukuru it would do her well to occasionally think outside her proverbial seashell.

To her credit, Kukuru does take a look at why exactly she’s trying so hard to save Gama Gama, and if she’s just selfishly clinging to her memories rather than facing reality and coming to terms with it. Fuuka tells Kukuru that she’s chasing her dream, and she’ll keep supporting her.

In response to this loving gesture, Kukuru brings up the possibility of having a sibling to someone for the first time. As the omniscient audience we’ve seen her look at those two maternity books, but now we know why: they’re in her parents’ shrine, but she’s never had the courage to ask Gran why there’s a second one.

Before going to sleep while holding hands, Kukuru promises she’ll be more civil to Chiyu tomorrow, but Chiyu has already had her fill of a teenaged assistant director, and basically demands that Gramps train her from now on. Gramps does his rounds, and Chiyu is suitably unimpressed with the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper.”

And why is that? Because with her outsider’s perspective she can’t quite see what he’s doing, and what he’s done, with Gama Gama. To him, an aquarium is more than just the building, but also more than just the fish. He knows and greets everyone, asks them how they’re doing. It’s a vibrant community of people young and old.

One could castigate Chiyu for so thoroughly missing the forest for the trees, but as we learn in her private moments, she has a dream too, and she’s not going to let what she regards to be a half-assed failing aquarium to hurt her chances at gainful employment.

That night in her Western-style hotel room—another sign she’s not interested in straying too far from her established world—she demands that her boss assign her somewhere else, and he agrees. She can’t afford to waste time…not when she’s come so far on her own.

Honestly, as much as she clashes with Kukuru and simply doesn’t “get” the appeal and value of Gama Gama, I can’t fault Chiyu for feeling or acting as she does. When Kukuru asks her what deficiencies she found there, Chiyu doesn’t hold back, and also makes the very good point that at the end of the day, Kukuru isn’t doing this for a living.

She may be slacking in her studies, but Kukuru is still young enough to do anything with her life. That’s less true for Chiyu, and because she desperately wants to work at an aquarium, she has to work that much harder in a country of 126 million with only about 100 aquariums.

Kukuru needs to use an unwitting Kai as a stress-relieving punching bag (a wonderful moment between the two old friends) not only because Chiyu pisses her off royally, but because Chiyu is right about a lot of what she said. For someone who earlier questioned her motives about saving Gama Gama, Chiyu adds salt to that wound.

The previous day, Fuuka overheard Chiyu remarking how no one at Gama Gama is actually looking at the fish. But as Fuuka learns, Chiyu was wrong: theyu have looked at the fish, over and over, with their cheap annual passes they’ve memorized most of them. They’re past that “tourist” phase of aquarium visitor. Now, Gama Gama is their living room, their lounge, their game room, their parlor….their home away from home.

Oh, and one of the kids mentioned he once say his dead dog, which means there’s something even more inscrutable and intangible about Gama Gama at which Ciyu turned her nose up. Between that kid’s comment and the brief look at Fijimunaa, the show wants to make it clear it hasn’t forgotten its magical realism elements.

Lest we forget Fuuka has her own baggage, she finally picks up when her old group-mate Ruka calls her. She eventually had to face her mom, and so it only made sense she’d have to face her very different past life as well. Unfortunately we don’t get to learn what exactly Ruka has to say to Fuuka, but it’s a great hook for next week.

Fuuka only gets this chance in part because Kukuru doesn’t go home with her, instead riding out to the big city to see the great nemesis itself. And just as her nighttime ride reminded me of Akira, seeing her behold and be dwarfed by the towering behemoth, still under construction and looking like a great sleeping beast.

This episode defly introduced a new character who was both likable in her own right while also providing a welcome thorn in the whole Gama Gama kubaya environment. Not everyone needs to be friends, and sometimes that makes for great, sometimes downright thrilling  anime, as it did here.

It also marked what looks like the beginning of some significant growth and soul-searching for Kukuru. She’s faced the beast…but what does she make of it, and what will she do next?

Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy – 08 – Tough Love Tomoe

For a show called Moonlit Fantasy, there’s an awful lot of reality rearing its practical head this week. Tomoe reports that the orc and lizardmen warriors are, in a word, terrible; not 10% as strong as she’d like them to be. No doubt inspired by her historical dramas, Tomoe organizes a tournament of sorts in which the various races fight each other, thus making each other stronger. Mio doesn’t really participate in any of this, while Makoto simply has to sit and look stoic.

Makoto factors even less in the next segment, in which Tomoe focuses her drill sergeant skills on the four-person party of Toa, Hazal, and the elf and dwarf women. Blessed as they were by the goddess, she knows there’s a lot more she can get out of them if properly trained, which translates to exhausting, torturous and life-threatening for the four adventurers.

When the four go up against a group of boss-level monsters called shadow tails, they forget their training and three of them rush headlong into the fight while Hazal stays back and heals/supports. This is all wrong, and is the real reason they think they can’t beat the beasts, not because they’re not powerful enough. She has them set a trap and then play to their strengths, and they make quick work of the shadow tails, surprising themselves in the process.

They’re again weary when Tomoe sends them to clear out an entire cave of shadow tails, this time without her supervision, but just as the guild girl is telling Tomoe what a low chance of success the four will have, they burst through the doors of the adventurer’s guild tired, bloodied, but victorious. Tomoe isn’t just talk (and mimicking TV); she really can bring out the best in people.

While it’s generally good fun watching Tomoe put Toa & Co. through their paces and showing them they’re stronger than they thought, Makoto is relegated to side character status, asking Rembrandt for some shop space to rent. Rembrandt gives him a counteroffer of some space in a neutral city where the Kingdom in which Tsige resides can’t bother Makoto with their passionate devotion to espionage.

Mio also gets very little to do until the very end of the episode when Makoto orders her to Tinarak Forest to gather ambrosia fruit. But as another adventuring party trudges through the dense woods, they are shadowed by a pair of silver-haired elves(?) who don’t think very highly of humans at all. In all, it was a serviceable, functional episode, but it was neither all that exciting nor all that humorous. It was just kind of there.

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 07 – All About Aira

SMPO pulled off a clever trick: By having Sei’s story monopolize the first six episodes, we became wholly invested in her happiness, her growth, and her success as the true Saint. Prince Kyle and Misono Aira were always off-camera, and so neither of them really had a chance against someone as charming as Sei—not to mention her seiyu Ishikawa Yui.

But while we were always pretty sure Prince Kyle was a big ol’ asshole for picking Aira and spurning Sei, there was always a lingering feeling that there was more to the story, and in any case Aira was as innocent as Sei in this whole business, having also been summoned there against her will.

The show finally rights a wrong by explicitly placing Aira front an center in her own episode, which is bookended by an instance of Aira encountering Sei in a hallway, who is too preoccupied talking to Liz to notice her. But Aira notices her, and you can’t help but feel a yearning in her; a desire to reach out and know this person.

But first, Aira’s beginning. The daughter of two busy parents, she’s about to head out for a solo dinner when she’s summoned to Salutania and quickly whisked away by Prince Kyle. Her visceral shock over the sudden change of world is beautiful and heartbreaking in its presentation

When she’s told there’s never been an instance of a Saint returning to her home world, she finally breaks down. Here’s where we learn Prince Kyle isn’t a complete shithead, as he displays genuine remorse over putting Aira in such a position. That said, he is convinced the survival of his kingdom and his people will depend on her.

Like Sei, Aira is cast into a den of maids who present her with a variety of dresses to try. Just as her parents did for their family portrait, a “cutesy” pink dress is chosen for her, rather than her being vocal about wanting the more subdued color.

When Kyle sees that Aira still can’t quite believe any of this is real, he springs her from the palace to walk among the masses in the capital. This raises her spirits, and is also when she sees that Prince Kyle is not altogether beloved by his people.

While on a balcony overlooking a gorgeous view of Salutania, Kyle’s friend anf advisor Damian confirms what Aira had suspected: to uphold the Kingdom’s peace, they must be “strict” with its people, even if it doesn’t endear them to said people. Kyle also vows to do whatever he can to find a way to send Aira home once the threat has passed.

Aira tells the “self-centered, awkward…and direct to a fault” prince that she’ll do her best. Shortly thereafter, he presents her with a wand, a robe, and all the other supplies she’ll need to attend the magic academy. There, we see she begins to thrive, all while enjoying the company of spoken-for lads.

Due to her forwardness with said lads, Aira is shunned, resented, and ostracized by the other women, who are in the margin of every shot in her training montage, visually expressing their disapproval. this whole time, I wished Sei would enroll at the academy and give poor Aira a damned hug.

There’s no more heartbreaking, lonely scene than when Aira and a classmate end up sheltering from the rain beside each other. The other girl seems receptive to talking, but before Aira can get a word out, two more girls show up and offer the girl an umbrella, completely ignoring Aira.

Thankfully, Damian shows up with an umbrella, distressed by how soaked Aira is, only for Aira to demonstrate her extremely precise magic by gathering nearly all of the rain that was on her skin and clothes into a single orb suspended over her finger.

But while watching it unfold makes Aira a much more sympathetic figure, I could have imagined this was the life Aira had been living while Sei enjoyed a comparatively easier road. The real twist of the episode concerns Prince Kyle’s decision, in light of rumors Sei is the true Saint, to accept his mistake as having been born of his stubborn pride.

Kyle took Aira’s home away from her, so he feels it is his duty to find her a new home. If it’s inevitable that Sei will supplant Aira as the Saint, he plans to continue playing the role of “incompetent, stubborn crown prince”, hoping the court will take pity on her. He’s proves he’s not just playing lip service; he truly cares about Aira and doesn’t want her to suffer because of his fuck-up.

Not every woman hates Aira’s guts, of course. That one girl in the rain would have likely talked to and even befriended her had those other girls not shown up. Likewise, Elizabeth is ready and willing to become friends with Aira, only for Kyle to step between them and forbid it, saying he alone will look after her.

It’s another misstep for Kyle, who is being overprotective in this case. He may think his fiancee is jealous of Aira, but we know that Liz isn’t that kind of perosn. One would hope the crown prince would get to know his future queen a bit better!

As for Sei, she and Aira still haven’t so much as uttered a single word to each other, nor has Sei even looked directly at Aira since the two were summoned. That remains hugely frustrating, especially when I think of how much tension could be released by their meeting and sharing of experiences. There’s no good reason for them to be on opposite sides of anything. Hopefully this wrong is righted soon!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 06 – Goddess Dressing

Sei is surprised that Grand Magus Drewes deigns to serve as her tutor even in the most basic of basics until he explains why it has to be him. In addition to the Saint’s abilities being a jealously guarded state secret, Yuri is, at the end of the day, a researcher, and Sei is the most intriguing subject to come along in a good long while.

While not 100% enthused to be treated like a subject of research, Sei can’t deny that despite how hard Yuri works her he’s still going easy on her compared with the others he trains. She makes it a point to work hard and do her best to lesson the time it takes to cast her magic. Then Sei brings up expeditions with the knights, something Yuri hadn’t considered, but if and when it does happen, he’ll accompany her to ensure she’s kept safe.

Of course, Sei still sees this as Yuri preserving his prized subject, so her heart isn’t affected. Contrast this to Commander Hawke, who has missed Sei the woman, tenderly touches her face, then agrees to let her participate in the knight training exercises so she can get more practical healing experience. When she plops down on her bed, she’s exhausted but happy.

The next day is a “Lady Day”, the name Sei gives the days she’s taught how to dress, gesture, speak, and dance like a proper lady. The head maid seems to almost take a bit too much pleasure out of tightening Sei’s corset, but there’s no arguing the final result is a properly glowed-up saint.

Albert comes in before her dance lesson is complete, and her instructor suggests Sei dance with him, in order to get comfortable with another partner. Al shows he can cut quite the rug, while Sei doesn’t embarrass herself by tripping on her dress like I thought she would.

The “social season” is fast approaching, and while neither Sei nor Al are fond of them, as the Saint she won’t be able to refuse all invitations that come her way. With this in mind, Al asks if she’d let him be her date on these events to make them more palatable; after her mind wanders a bit, she blushingly accepts.

Sei’s next lady lesson involves a tea party of the daughter of a prominent marquis and the fiancée of Prince Kyle. It initially slips Sei’s mind that “Ashley” is the surname of her library friend Liz. Liz is impressed that her friend is so adept at healing she’s been called a “goddess” by knights she saved.

When talk turns to Aira and the way she’s befriended many a “taken” man—including Liz’s own Kyle—Sei explains to Liz just how much less socially strict her and Aira’s homeland of modern Japan are. She doubts Aira is acting “improperly” on purpose, and hopes she’s going okay.

I for one would sure like to hear Aira speak some time; I feel all the show has done with her so far is tease us about an imminent encounter with Sei that keeps getting pushed off. Maybe they’ll finally be able to meet at one of the upcoming soirees?

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 05 – Unappraisable

There’s a lot of lead-up to Sei’s introduction to Grand Magus Yuri Drewes—yet another hot guy who just recovered from the coma he suffered after summoning her and Aira. But when it comes time for him to do his duty as the most powerful mage in the kingdom and appraise Sei’s power, his spell is unable to penetrate her own far superior magical power. That means Yuri is fairly certain she’s the true Saint, because he was able to appraise Aira’s power.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Yuri’s inability to properly appraise Sei means he can’t be certain she is the Saint. Aira may not possess her incalculable magical power, but she is progressing abnormally quickly in her training at the academy, which is to prepare her to do battle against the monsters threatening the kingdom. If Sei were to follow a similar path, she’d be playing catch-up, at least on the training side of things.

Yuri relays his findings to King Siegfried, assuring him he’ll continue his research, but a satisfactorily definite answer as to who is the Saint probably isn’t forthcoming. All Siegfried has is Yuri’s expert opinion that Sei is the true Saint in one hand, and an unruly son in Prince Kyle who insulted Sei by choosing Aira as his Saint.

Siegfried decides to flex his royal power by officially inviting Sei to the court, which is a whole thing. Marie and a phalanx of maids thoroughly bathe her, massage her, and dress her in saintly robes. Then Hawke (who it turns out is the younger brother of Earhart, the Assembly’s second-in-command) arrives to be her personal escort, as both he and Johan worried she’d feel lonely entering the court on her own.

Sei, who is a bundle of nerves, is happy to have Commander Hawke to lean on, but once they enter the court chamber, she alone approaches the throne. Siegfried descends from the dais, and he and the rest of the court bow their heads in formal apology for Prince Kyle’s conduct. Sei accepts the apology and is praised for her grace and once again asked what she wants.

It was at this point that I figured the thing she wanted most was to continue living a quiet but rewarding life at the Research Institute. Considering she doesn’t seek any land or titles, this would be a simple thing to grant. But even there she’s hit a bit of a wall, so she asks for two things that will help breach that wall: access to the forbidden section of the royal library, and a magical tutor to teach her the ways of spellcasting.

Siegfried appoints the only person remotely qualified to tutor a saint: Grand Magus Yuri Drewes. As for Prince Kyle, he hears a report about his father’s activities and digs in his heels. As far as he’s concerned, there’s only one Saint, and it’s Aira, whom we finally see in the flesh, but unfortunately don’t hear her utter any actual words. Still, it’s inevitable that Sei and Aira will meet. I hope they won’t allow all the politicking going on around them to spoil what could be a meaningful, supportive friendship.

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 03 – A Blue Coffin

After Sawa learns that Yoshinobu himself ordered Kuzuhara to have the Treasurer killed, Makoto suggests that Sawa drop the “sister act” and cut little Asahi loose. All of them in Nue have assigned roles to play, and none of them can afford to let sentiment dull their wits.

After recalling when Kuzuhara first showed her a slideshow of her family and village’s destruction and the person responsible, ordering her not to cry, Sawa puts up the hard front Kuzuhara aimed to teach her in dealing with Asahi. Sawa refuses to let Asahi kill her until she’s killed Janome, and tells her to be gone by the time she returns that night.

Sawa, Elena, and Makoto all confront Nue’s cleaner, whom they suspect is a traitor passing secrets to Kuchinawa, finding money in the coffin he’s pushing. He pleads his innocence, then sets off a bomb with a detonator in his hat. Sawa follows him down a secret tunnel hidden in a tomb, while Elena intends to head him off on the surface. Meanwhile, a dejected Asahi seeks comfort in her grandmotherly neighbor Yamazaki.

But the cleaner never went in the tunnel; he hid in the coffin. When Makoto, who lied to Elena about a twisted ankle, opens it and the cleaner pulls a gun. A shot rings out, and Makoto later reports that the cleaner killed himself. But at this point Makoto was already acting super suspicious.

While burying the cleaner themselves, Elena asks Sawa what coffin she’d want to be buried in, her preference being red. Sawa doesn’t answer at first, then says blue, like her blood and that of her clan. That said, she won’t be put into a coffin until Janome is in his.

Makoto meets with Kuzuhara, who reveals he is a woman by tearing his clothes to reveal her chest binding, warning her to never forget where she stands. But Kuzuharais seemingly in the dark about where Makoto actually stands. Before the Treasurer died, she gave Makoto a karuta card that serves as a treasure map. Makoto follows it and discovers a small book that the Treasurer said could bring down “Tokugawa, Nue…all of it.”

Sawa comes home to find Asahi gone, but on her desk is the piece of paper with “Yuki” written on it Asahi had reconstructed with paste. Sawa then sees that Asahi left the satchel she gave her containing cash and a boat ticket to her new home, and blood on the walls.

Her white crow comes to help her search for Asahi, but we find out where she is first: in the clutches of Janome, who had disguised himself as Yamazaki with an elaborate prosthetic suit. We also learn that Makoto is indeed in cahoots with Janome, serving as a double agent. Or maybe triple, if Kuzuhara knows she’s infiltrated Kuchinawa.

In any case, for Sawa, who’d prefer clarity and simplicity, nothing is simple or clear, and never really was. To whit: she aims to save her would-be murderer from the man who murdered her family, and with whom her fellow Nue agent is working. Not ideal!

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 26 (Fin) – Catching the Evening Train

After semi-binging this series to the tune of 26 episodes in 30 days, I can’t help but feeling now that I’ve arrived at the end that this first season was nothing but a prologue for the real story to come.  Heck, It wasn’t until last week that Tanjirou was able to use Constant Total Concentration—an absolute necessity when fighting elite demons.

Mind you, I am not complaining. If this is a prologue, it’s one of the best I’ve seen, and instantly makes any future adventures with Tanjirou, Nezuko & Co. more meaningful because we know how hard everyone’s worked to get this far—and how far we have yet to go.

The end of this epic beginning starts with a meeting similar to that held by the Demon Slayer Corps commander with the Hashira, only it’s Kibutsuji Muzan and the five surviving Lower Six of the Twelve Kizuki. The meeting takes place in a gorgeous, trippy, Relativity-style space of his own making. Unlike the Corps commander, Muzan doesn’t lead with a serene, considered manner, he rules by absolute fear.

With the loss of Rui, he’s decided the Lower Six aren’t even worth his effort anymore, and he executes them all except for one: the Lower One. Unlike the others, this one tells Muzan what he wants to hear, and is rewarded not only with his life, but Muzan’s blood, and a mission: defeat a Hashira and Kamado Tanjirou.

Just before dawn a Kasugai Crow wakes Tanjirou, Zenitsu and Inosuke, informing them of their new mission to join the Flame Hashira Rengoku Kyoujurou on the Mugen Train, a crisis that has already claimed forty lives. The balance of the episode consists of Tanjirou preparing to depart and saying his goodbyes.

Tanjirou’s sweet nature and pure heart reassure Aoi, who feels like she’s a coward for not fighting on the front lines, that he’ll carry her emotions on the battlefield in her place, and should he hurt himself again, he’ll be relying on her care once more. Say what you want about his idealism, but our boy possesses emotional intelligence in spades.

But the true highlight of the episode is his parting interaction with Tsuyuri Kanao, who flips a coin to decide whether to talk to him, and then does. Tanjirou asks her about the coin, and when he learn she basically takes orders from chance, he suspects it’s because the voice in her heart is soft.

He asks her to make a deal with him: He’ll flip the coin, and if it comes up Heads, she’ll try listening to her heart more, even if she has to strain to hear its whispering. She watches carefully as he flips it and notes he does not cheat, and it comes up Heads. He returns the coin to her and takes hands in his as a sign of heartfelt optimism, promising they’ll see each other again.

As he runs off, she raises her voice in asking why it landed on Heads, to which he replies that it was only chance, but had it been Tails he would have kept flipping it until he got Heads. If Tanjirou, who bears his heart on his sleeve, and Kanao, whose heart was buried deep in her chest by her past, eventually become a romantic couple, I will be 100% and fully Here for it. They are surpassingly adorable.

Tanjirou, Zenitsu, and Inousuke pass Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi’s Giant Gourd Test, meaning they now possess the breathing to fight some serious demons. Giyuu stops buy for a quick, stoic goodbye, telling Tanjirou he can thank him for vouching for Nezuko by “doing good work.”

With that, the trio set off West to the train station, and we realize that neither Tanjirou nor Inosuke have ever seen a train. Inosuke believes it’s some great sleeping god; Tanjirou speculates it may be an benign deity. It’s here where Zenitsu’s city smarts shine as he castigates his “country bumpkin” comrades for making a scene.

We also learn that Demon Slayers are not officially recognized by the Japanese government, and so they’re not legally allowed to carry swords in public. They hide their swords—well, Inosuke tries but also insists on going shirtless, so it doesn’t go well—and wait for nightfall to board the train while avoiding the police.

As they leap onto the departing train and it begins to steam into the night, we get a great closing shot of the three slayers on the caboose, ready and excited for their new mission, while Tanjirou tells Zenitsu that the safest place for Nezuko is together with him, in the box on his back.

We spot Rengoku Kyoujurou in one of the passenger cars, as well as the Lower One Kizuki standing atop the engine. The stage is now set for the Mugen Train arc, which is covered in the film that premiered in Japan October 2020, which surpassed Spirited Away as Japan’s all-time highest grossing film. I look forward to watching it as soon as it’s available in the states, as well as the second season that will air at some point in 2021.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 25 – Chestnut Flower Drop

Tanjirou intensifies his Constant Concentration Breathing, asking the three little girls (named Naho, Kiyo, and Sumi) to slap him with carpet beaters if he breaks the breathing in his sleep. I love how the girls are rooting for him all the way, and will gladly do what appears to Zenitsu and Inosuke to be straight-up torture.

It may be torturous, but it goes a long way toward Tanjirou making progress. He’s definitely getting closer and closer to tagging Tsuyuri Kanao, who we can be quite sure isn’t going easy on him, while he’s eventually able to break the Lv. 1 Gourd with his breath.

Soon Inosuke and Zenitsu grow weary of falling too far behind. Also, Shinobu knows exactly how to motivate each of them: in Inosuke’s case, talking down to him and saying it’s okay to be weak; in Zenitsu’s case, batting her lovely eyelashes and saying she believes in him.

Shinobu also asks Kanao to get more involved in the boys’ intensifying training, but seems weary of approaching them, leading to her taking out a coin to flip. We learn how she came to rely on that coin for most of her decisions, but first we learn where she came from: nothing. She was dirt-poor and horribly abused by her parents until she one day just snapped and couldn’t feel pain—or anything—anymore.

One day her parents sold her off, and her buyer is preparing to sell her into slavery when they cross paths with Shinobu and her big sister Kanae (Kayano Ai). Disturbed by the sight of the young girl bound by rope, Shinobu tosses all of the cash she’s carrying up in the air and runs off with the unnamed girl.

Eventually Shinobu learns that Kanao was so horrifically traumatized by her life so far that she’s unable to do anything without being told to do it, even eat, resulting in her stomach grumbling far longer than it should. Kanae gives the newly-named Kanao a coin so she can make decisions for herself. Kanae also hopes that one day she’ll fall in love with someone, which will further help her understand her own agency and will. Back in the present, she gets tails, and doesn’t join the boys.

However, as a result of Tanjirou’s intensive training, one day he’s finally able to not only grab Kanao’s hand during tag, but win the cup game, all without splashing tea on her. It’s a stunning victory, and while Kanao never actually speaks to Tanjirou, you can tell she’s impressed by his progress.

After Haganezuka and Kanamori arrive at the mansion with Tanjirou and Inosuke’s reforged swords (and Inosuke re-chips his up with a rock, enraging the swordsmiths), Shinobu declares Tanjirou’s jaw healed and training complete. All that’s left is actual combat, and she tells him she’s expecting great things. As we saw back when she rescued Kanao to how she’s guided Tanjirou, it’s clear by now that Shinobu is definitely one of the good ones.

Interesting, she doesn’t know anything about the “fire breathing” Tanjirou brings up, only the distinct flame breathing in which Master Rengoku specializes, though he’s away on a mission, so more info on that will have to wait. Meanwhile, we see a Twelve Kizuki demon aboard a train eating its occupants—an apparent preview of the hugely popular October 2020 feature film Mugen Train.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 24 – Getting Back in the Game

While rest and recovery are the order of most days at the Butterfly Mansion, relaxation is most certainly not. That’s not just because of Zenitsu’s constant bellyaching, but the fact that Shinobu wants to begin their rehabilitation training ASAP, starting with Tanjirou and Inosuke. The training is handled by Kanzaki Aoi, Tsuyuri Kanao, and three pint-sized masseuses.

Zenitsu is perturbed when he sees the two returning from their first session as if they had just been beaten to a pulp, but Zenitsu soon finds out the score for himself, and he’s very disappointed in his companions. Why, he raves like a madman after taking them aside, are the complaining about getting massages, playing cup games, and light sparring, all with cute girls?

Zenitsu has no trouble with the massages or with beating Aoi at cups or tag, but Kanao is another story. She beats them at everything, and handily, as befits Shinobu’s apprentice. Zentisu and Inosuke are so frustrated that they stop showing up, but Tanjirou is determined to become strong enough to beat her.

The three little lady masseuses, who have really taken a shine to the sweet, wholesome Tanjirou (let’s be honest, Zenitsu’s a creep and Inosuke’s a forlorn beast) offer him some key advice. Kanao, along with Shinobu and all the other Hashira, are practicing Total Concentration Breathing … continuously. That is, every breath, morning, noon, and night.

The girls present him with a small, extra-hard beginners gourd he’s expected to break with nothing but his breath; Kanao can break a gourd over ten times its size. But while he clearly has a lot of grueling work to do (even short bursts of breathing wear him down), Tanjirou knows he can’t save Nezuko unless he’s stronger, so he puts the work in.

His efforts don’t go unnoticed by the lady of the mansion, Shinobu, who visits him on a rooftop while he’s practicing and even getting him to blush due to her close proximity and striking beauty. Shinobu is rooting for him because she too would like to live in a world where humans and demons got along.

It’s just, unlike him, she’s growing tired of believing that will ever be possible, having been ground down by battle after battle with lying, deceiving demon opponents. Tanjirou can smell anger behind her smile, which surprises Shinobu, causing that smile to briefly fade.

She tells him how her older sister, pure of heart like him, fought for peace with demons even when they ended up killing her. Due to her love and admiration of her sister, Shinobu promised to always carry the smile her sister loved, no matter how much she might want to frown or cry.

Knowing how much it sucks to lose a sister, she implores Tanjirou to keep Nezuko safe with everything he’s got—and there’s no reason to think he won’t. While I enjoyed this episode and the added depth given to Shinobu, Nezuko’s total absence is both conspicuous and disappointing—especially with only two episodes remaining.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 18 – Big Bad Spider Daddy

Puppet Mama and Spider Boy were only a warm-up for two of the three remaining members of the Spider Demon Family: Father and Rui. Needless to say they are much tougher customers, which is as it should be; why would the difficulty level go down in a demon gauntlet?

Even with Water Breathing, Tanjirou isn’t able to slice through one of Papa’s arms, and Inosuke inarguably saves his life by parrying the counterattack. Even dropping a huge tree on Papa doesn’t kill him, it only seems to make him mad. As Tanjirou goes flying, he begs Inosuke not to die, but wait for him to make his way back to him.

Zenitsu defeated Spider Boy definitively, but continues to pay the price as the poison starts shutting down his limbs. He’s all but ready to step into the light when a series of butterflies appear before him, followed by Shinobu, one of the two elite Demon Slayers sent to salvage the mission.

Tanjirou manages to cushion his fall with water breathing, but he’s only thrown from the frying pan to the freezer. Due to his strong sense of family and morality, he objects to the Spider Brother Rui apparently punishing his sister by cutting her face with his threads as she cries out in pain. Demon or no, that’s not cool. The Brother doesn’t take well to being told his familial bond with his sister is nothing but a sham.

Rui threatens to carve Tanjirou up, but is momentarily distracted by another Demon Slayer who comes out of nowhere. While claiming to be taking the easiest path to higher ranks (and higher paydays), he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He rushes in without knowing a thing about Rui, who dices him into cubic chunks with his threads.

Finally, we have Inosuke, trying to hold out against Papa Spider. While he briefly starts “using his head” like Tanjirou, he shakes that off and follows his own primal instinct to charge the enemy without fear. He keeps hacking at the arm until he manages to slice through, and Papa flees…but only to molt his own skin, revealing a bigger, tougher, meaner skin beneath it.

Inosuke’s chipped blades shatter when he attempts Beast Breathing, and Papa grabs him by the head and squeezes. Inosuke’s life flashes before his eyes, including when his bloodied mother sent him away to avoid being killed, and the interactions with Tanjirou and Zenitsu which seems to value.

Just before his skull pops (and the foley is pretty ripe) Inosuke is rescued by Giyuu, who cuts off Papa’s arm with one slash and defeats him with a single elegant Water Breathing Form. It’s a pretty convincing and awesome demonstration of just how much more powerful Giyuu is than Tanjirou, Zenitsu, or Inosuke.

Inosuke is safe, and so too is Zenitsu, but Tanjirou is still out there on his own against Rui, and we get a cliffhanger of Rui’s vicious thread cutting straight through Tanjirou’s sword on a collision course with his face. It’s a big forest, so it could take a while for help to arrive. Could the sister demon be an unlikely ally to Tanjirou? And what about his own sister—when will she pop out of her box?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 17 – Lightning in a Bottle

Zenitsu would rather be anywhere than Mount Natagumo. He is literally shaking in his sandals, and that crushing fear is only compounded when he spots a shack and numerous bodies suspended from threads, the latter in various stages of gruesome transformation. It feels like a nightmare, and Zenitsu just wants to wake from it. Unfortunately, he’s already wide awake, and since he didn’t follow Tanjirou, he’s on his own.

It gets worse: the Spider Demon Brother’s lesser spider minions bit Zenitsu earlier, which means he’s currently doomed to transform into one of the hundreds of grotesque spiders with human heads that are currently chasing him. The Brother doesn’t see Zenitsu as much of a threat, mocking his cowardice. When Zenitsu notices his hair start to fall out, he faints in a tree.

If there’s anything we know about Zenitsu, it’s that he’s at his most effective when he’s unconscious. He recalls the day he was struck by lightning while hiding in a tree, turning his hair yellow. During his ensuing training he was only ever able to pull off the first of six Lightning Breathing Forms.

His master urged him not to be discouraged. If he could only unleash one form, then he needed to perfect that one form, just as a swordsmith hones steel into the hardest, strongest blade. Brother doesn’t expect and isn’t able to deal the fruits of Zenitsu’s rigorous training, and as a result, is beheaded.

While brother’s pocket watch breaks upon his death, his poison is still coursing through Zenitsu’s blood. Zenitsu attempts to slow his breathing and blood flow, the better to hold out if and when someone finds him.

While this episode spent a lot of time fleshing out Zenitsu’s character, it also continues the development of Inosuke as someone who detests being coddled or seen as weak. He laughs off his clearly serious bleeding wounds, and refuses to leave the mountain until the job’s done.

Tanjirou, obviously, isn’t going anywhere until he’s had his shot at the member of the Twelve Kizuki, whose blood could help cure Nezuko. Unfortunately his usually reliable sense of smell continues to be adversely affected by a distractingly acrid odor, such that he doesn’t even notice the presence of the Spider Demon Sister.

Sister gets Inosuke to chase after her, but she’s only posing as a lure for her Father, who looks to be the berserker (and possibly the Kizuki) of the family. Inosuke may end up learning the hard way not to leap headlong into a battle when you’re at less than 100%.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 04 – Making It Work

This week, the OP theme is played, but this time over a beautifully somber sequence of the Greyrat household is steeped in the winter of discontent inside while buffeted by the literal snows of winter outside. Zenith is pregnant, which was an occasion for great joy…but so is Lilia, and Paul says it’s “probably” his (it’s definitely his).

It’s at this point that I admit that while checking MAL for Lilia’s seiyu (Lynn), I caught the little factoid that she’s described not just a maid, but Paul’s “second wife”. In hindsight, this complicated my understanding of her precise status up to this point. Turns out Zenith is very much not okay with Paul sleeping with her.

At the same time, Zenith cares a great deal about Lilia, and doesn’t like the prospect of Lilia taking a rough month-long trip to her hometown with hew newborn. Both she and the baby could die. Rudy doesn’t like that either, so he introduces a compromise to keep the family from being torn apart.

When Zenith tells Rudy that the mood is gloomy because Paul and Lilia were “bad”, Rudy comes to Lilia’s defense: she couldn’t refuse Paul; the fact she’s in his employ aside, he has a “hold” on her that resulted in their illicit night together. That being the case, Lilia doesn’t deserve to suffer for something Paul did wrong.

Moved by her son’s words, Zenith decides that Lilia and her child will stay in the family…because they are family. Rudy knows he only dug Paul’s grave deeper, but it was a grave Paul dug himself, even if Lilia confides to us that she seduced him. Hearing the couple’s lovemaking in the next room created pent-up urges, and one night she left her door open so he’d see her washing herself.

Lilia believes Rudy understood full well that it wasn’t all Paul’s fault, but he forgave her anyway for “giving in to desire” and betraying Zenith. She also knows that by forgiving her and guiding the family to a compromise, Rudy saved her life. She had always been justifiably skeeved out by Rudy—even to the point she feared he was possessed by the devil!—but now resolves to spend her life repaying him—and have her child serve the future Lord Rudeus.

Zenith’s son daughter Norn and Lilia’s daughter Aisha are born, and Paul for all intents and purposes has two wives to care for (and take orders from). Rudy also notices how much more open with him Lilia becomes after the Great Compromise, and learns that she and Paul once studied swordsmanship at the same training hall…where Paul deflowered her…while she was sleeping.

My opinion of Paul plummets with each passing episode. Yet for all of Paul’s many faults (and, let’s be honest, crimes), Rudy respects him because he’s strong…and not just physically, mind you. Paul is also someone with whom Rudy can engage in “guy talk”, not just about women, but how to be a better man. It’s a path full of mistakes and failures, but Paul is hopeful Rudy will learn from them, even if he ends up making more of his own.

Paul discussing how underwhelming rich girl sex is, on the other hand? Probably going too far. But that comes up when Paul asks his son if he’s contemplating going to school, since he’s around the age kids start to go. Paul worries a kid like Rudy will be bullied (while also being confident Rudy could handle it) and questions the utility of him mixing it up with all those spoiled rich kids. Still, it’s ultimately Rudy’s call.

Rudy, meanwhile, starts to sense that Sylphiette could one day surpass him in magical prowess. When he mentions going off to the magic academy to continue his training, Sylphie reacts by hugging him tightly and bawling her eyes out until he says he’s not going anywhere. And why would he, when he has such a wonderful life with her and his family?

Things become more complicated when Paul interrupts Rudy jerking off hugging his pillow by presenting him with a letter from Roxy. She is well, training a similarly perverted young prince while also improving her own magical skills. She thought she’d hit a wall, but learned otherwise with the benefit of time and experience in new places. She writes that if Rudy feels similarly, he should enroll at Ranoa Magic University.

Rudy doesn’t want to make Sylphie feel sad or lonely, but he also doesn’t want to disappoint Roxy. In such a conundrum, he must fashion another compromise, as he did to save his family. He tells Paul, Zenith and Lilia of his intention to enroll at Ranoa, but requests that they pay Sylphie’s tuition along with his. She’s Ranoa material, but her family lacks the funds.

Paul refuses, but not because he doesn’t want his son to have his way. He has three valid reasons for doing so. For one thing, he’s still intent on making Paul into a capital-S Swordsman, and with Rudy’s lack of progress now is not the time to stop his training. Secondly, Rudy is still young, and Paul can’t neglect his parental responsibilities by sending Rudy away. Third and finally, they actually can’t afford to pay for Sylphie as well as him.

Rudy doesn’t argue, or even get mad. He probably knew he’d get a response like this. Instead, he introduces a counterproposal, asking Paul to find him a well-paying job so that by the time his dad deems him ready to go to Ranoa, he’ll have saved up enough to pay Sylphie’s way himself. When Paul tells him that “might not be the best thing” for Sylphie, Rudy acknowledges that, but it will be for him. Paul did tell him earlier to stick with one woman, and Rudy intends to do just that.

Paul accepts this proposal, but exactly what he has in mind for Rudy is left up in the air until an ornate wagon pulls up to the Greyrats’ front gate. Ghislaine, a hulking beast-woman, climbs out, and she’s welcomed by both Paul and Zenith. She’s the first beast-person Rudy’s encountered, and to his credit he doesn’t leer at her or make any unsolicited comments about her.

Paul asks a cryptic question, “What if I told you to stay away from Sylphie?”, then launches into a vicious sparring session, which ends with Paul using an advanced Water-God move on his son, knocking him out. When Rudy wakes up, he’s in the wagon opposite Ghislaine, who tells him they’ll be working together starting tomorrow. Rudy wanted a job…be careful what you wish for!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review of episode 4 here.