Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 08 – Live Your Own Life, Then Die

Moments after Rose’s prosthetic hand and wrist shatters after one too many Crimson Rose Bullets, we learn how she ended up with it in the first place: she got in too deep with the underground, and one day (or probably more appropriately, night) she lost, and the price was her hand. Leo only visited her to tell her she was stupid and he was having nothing more to do with her. He found someone new.

Rose meets this someone new, watches her fire a Blue Bullet, then tries to get her to work for her, but Eve isn’t about that. In fact, she didn’t show up on Rose’s doorstep until she wanted to play against Aoi. Fast-forward to the present, and Rose is going to play golf with one arm. Yes, you heard me. And she does.

Not only that, she comes heart-crushingly close to sinking the ball on just her second shot, a perfect shot from 140 yards away. But close is no cigar, which opens the door for Eve to take the win. The episode then jumps forward, to when the construction vehicles are about to level Klein’s bar while she, Lily, and the kids watch.

That’s when Eve shows up in Vipére’s car (and Vipére does a J-turn waaaaay too close to the children) and tells them to hop in, even though the car in question is tiny. Their problems are solved. She opens her new briefcase full of cash (again, a questionable decision in an open convertible traveling at high speed). She won. Rose lost.

From there, things start flying high. Vipére, as a treat, gives Klein’s whole family new identities (a snake keeps her ear to the ground), which allows Klein to buy a new bar, Lily to help out there, and the three refugee kids (from Palestine, Syria, and Somalia, by the way) to go to school for the first time.

Vipére herself ends up on a yacht, seemingly retiring both from golf and from wearing fangs. But while her family’s future is secure, it’s not all gravy for Eve. She meets Rose’s underling Anri on a rooftop, where Anri tells her that as a result of her victory, Catherine has put hits out on both Rose and her. Anri can’t quite kill Eve herself, even though she wants to. Instead, she runs away in tears, telling her to live her life however she wants, then die…with emphasis on the “die”.

Certain for some reason that A., Catherine won’t go after her family and B., Catherine will never know to send hitmen to Japan, Eve gets on a train to the airport bound to Aoi’s homeland, to fulfill the promise she made to meet her on a legit golf course. It’s the promise that drove her stunning victory, bouncing her ball of Rose’s and landing in the cup.

Mind you, shit like that probably won’t fly in above ground golf. But knowing her best years were behind her, Rose always intended for Eve to surpass her, and is glad her ass was kicked so thoroughly. She sits by the water with a cig, having summoned Leo to ask why he gave up on Eve. He tells her because he didn’t believe he could awaken her full potential.

But that time is seemingly coming. As if to underscore the official changing of the guard, Leo’s departure is immediately followed by the arrival of Catherine’s hitman. Before he pulls the (real, not metaphorical) trigger and ends her life, Rose briefly glimpses an ideal possible life when she was on the pro tour, with Leo as her proud caddy. Maybe in another life. This tragic moment is followed up by Eve is on a plane bound for Japan and to her beloved Aoi, who just can’t believe the drinks are free.

I will savor and treasure this episode for a long time, and you should too: it’s about as good as anime can get. Engaging, deadly serious, and absolutely window-lickingly bonkers in the same breath. And with only 4-5 episodes left, I desperately hope we get a second season, as it seems Eve’s golf story is only beginning now that she has emerged from the shadows and leapt into the light. The world would be a better place with more Birdie Wing in it.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 07 – Around the Bend

When you consider that Nicholas and Catherine are using Eve and Rose to settle a score that might’ve taken a lot more time, cost a lot more money and spilled a lot more blood on the streets, you can’t help but think that her $100 million underground golf course is worth every penny of her money—both dirty and legitimate.

Of course, Eve and Rose don’t particularly care about their bosses; they’re doing this for pride. Rose even told her underling to leave Eve alone a year ago, when she was only six months into her betting golf career. Only now that “the fruit is ripe” does Rose want to pluck it from the branch and sink her teeth into it.

Make no mistake: Rose is good. Like Eve, she was trained by Leo (who makes a rather baffling appearance at the bar while Klein is packing up) and also calls her shots “bullets” (though in her case she has only one color: crimson rose). The two play hole after hole to draw after draw. Since the stakes are their lives, this is a double-edged sword.

There is certainly a level of suspense, especially the way the balls just miss the holes. But that’s tempered by the inescapable knowledge that Eve is most certainly not going to die as a result of this match, and I’m not even convinced Rose will either.

This episode is also let down a bit by two factors: the ridiculousness of the underground configurable golf course was already established for the duel with Vipére, so its novelty and shine wear off a bit (especially as they use all the same shots as the first time we saw it, only in a different order).

When Catherine cheats and has a hole made that requires a slice, she does so believing, Wile E. Coyote-style, that the Road Runner isn’t capable of learning. Turns out Aoi taught Eve a new “Purple Bullet” that does indeed slice. Worse for Cathy still, there’s a very concerning crack when Rose hits her shot.

When Rose tries to match Eve’s 287-yard Blue Bullet bomb, she manages to do so, but there’s that cracking sound again, and it’s followed by Rose clutching her right arm and screaming in pain. Then, and mind you this is after the credits, something happened that made me cackle like Catherine after something goes her way.

Turns out Rose’s freaking arm is a bionic arm, and it shatters. I’d say that’s the end of the game…but this is Birdie Wing. It’s possible she has a spare, or just plays with one arm. Either way I can’t see her outright dying … but by golly that arm was one hell of a surprise.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 06 – Killing Her Properly

A part of me was disappointed with how relatively cleanly Menou’s path to redemption became when Orwell went full Genie Jafar levels of evil. But I shouldn’t have worried; Virgin Road pulls off a rip-roaringly epic mid-cour finale that’s both ass-kicking and heartwarming.

While Menou fights Orwell down below, Akari’s “blanching” is interrupted by an automated time magic spell, which revives who I’ll call Akari Prime, who knows everything that has happened in all the previous time loops she’s experienced.

It’s thrilling to see this knowing Akari easily dispatch her captors, as well as to learn that she knows Menou has been trying to kill her, but she loves her so much that if she must die, she wants no one but Menou to kill her.

Akari ZAPs herself back to a simpler, earlier version of herself, but keeps a sense of deja vu and her love for Menou, which is clearly the most important part of her existence. No wonder Akari fell for Menou so hard in such a brief time together. Akari Prime also does something pretty “mean”, but also necessary to defeat Orwell.

In the bowels of the castle, Momo and Ashuna are stalemated against the demon and red dragon. But then Akari remotely ages Momo’s most prized possession: the ribbons Menou gave her when she was little. Now, we know Menou is excellent at wielding ether but has a very short supply. But her aide is no slouch in the ether-wielding department, and possesses vast stores of the stuff.

She is so freaking pissed when the dragon’s flame burns away what’s left of her ribbons, she goes absolutely ballistic, unleashing an attack that brings half of the castle down on top of her. For one terrible moment I thought she’d ethered Ashuna, but not, the swole princess not only escapes, but has never had more fun.

Following Momo’s lead, she whips out a mega-blade to defeat the demon with no regard for the corrupt castle where she was brought up. Then it’s Game Over for Orwell at the halfway point of the episode, because Akari and Menou are reunited. That means Menou’s ether supply is no longer of any concern.

That said, it’s her against Orwell and her Red Angel automaton, but the advantage doesn’t last long when Momo, still super pissed, brings down the cathedral’s barrier and beats the red angel to a pulp. Momo takes advantage of her competent aide’s distraction to create a diversion of bubbles…and etheric camouflage.

By appearing as Flare, she’s able to make Orwell hesitate for just the few moments she needs to throw a knife at her unguarded head. But it still is guarded, as the apparently not-too-judgey cathedral itself protects her simply due to her position as Archbishop. This even surprises Orwell, who thought for a second she was a goner.

She isn’t, which means she’s still quite a handful for Menou what with her RGB wand, and Menou knows it. In order to defeat her she’ll have to use Akari’s Pure Concept and delve deeper than she ever has into Akari’s subconscious.

I lit up when I heard that, because that means Menou is going to catch a glimpse of Akari Prime, who is still in there somewhere. A trippy dream sequence ensues as Menou enters Akari’s mind while dealing with her own subconscious, which admits she was never able to become the villain Flare taught her to be.

Just as Akari always has Akari Prime in the back of her mind ready to protect her, Menou always harbored a desire to be a non-sarcastically pure, just, and strong priestess. And in a way, she has remained that, as she didn’t go along with Orwell’s scheme.

Subcon Menou is ready to take her own life with her blade when she’s stopped by Akari in the classroom of her school. There, Akari tells her she’ll be her best friend, no matter what happens.

This acknowledgement of their bond allows Menou to unlock her and Akari’s combined powers, against which Orwell’s RGB wand is absolutely no match. The white beam overwhelms the rainbow beam, and rather than her planned de-aging, Orwell’s aging is ultra-accelerated to just a few moments before her death.

She almost seems to regret having cast aside all that was just and pure for her own path, and considering it led to her ruin, I can’t blame her. But this isn’t her story, it’s that of Menou and Akari, and of Momo and Ashuna, the latter of which finds the former sleeping off her berserkness. She tells the slumbering Momo that she genuinely enjoyed fighting by her side.

In the aftermath of the battles that claimed both the Noblesse’s castle and the Faust’s cathedral, the public report is that Orwell died in battle, her heretical crimes never to be revealed. She wasn’t too big to fail, but the Faust are, which means Menou still has a job, and still has values to uphold.

In a beautiful callback to last week’s shopping, which feels like a dang year ago, Menou instantly cheers a contrite, weepy Momo up with twin red scrunchies, which immediately become her new most prized possessions. Menou also explains how the Akari now among them is a regressed version of one from a distant future, but despite “resetting”, she maintained her affection for her. As we saw, that’s a feature, not a bug, of Akari’s magecraft.

Menou decides she’ll stay by Akari’s side in order to find a way to kill her. After all, Akari is still an existential threat to the world, something Prime Akari is aware of. Because of that and her love for Menou, she not only doesn’t hold it against her, but welcomes the day Akari will kill her.

We catch a glimpse of that future in the form of a nightmare non-Prime Akari has before waking up in her hotel room with Menou. It’s definitely a nightmare for Akari Prime, because it’s the day Menou dies before she can kill her, leaving the deed to Flare.

All Akari Prime can do is keep going back, making adjustments, and maintaining her faith that one of these times around, her beloved Menou will kill her properly.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life – 05 – Old Age Having a Go at Youth

Having seen where Menou came from and who trained her, it’s entirely possible her bonhomie is merely a carefully practiced act. Hell, even her sense of style, which Akari admires, was developed as one more arrow in her executioner’s quiver. But gosh darn it all if she and Akari have the most adorable date in Garm on the eve of Akari’s ethering.

I honestly didn’t know why so much attention was spent on Menou delegating her investigation mission to Momo, but now we know: because as Menou skips around town with Akari, Momo is scouring Garm’s massive underground tunnel network. There, she not only finds forbidden Faust tech under the Noblesse royal palace, she also finds Ashuna, who is conducting an investigation of her own.

Ashuna and Momo’s dynamic continues to get better and better, especially here where they don’t take up arms against each other but simply co-exist as two people with a shared goal: uncovering the truth, whatever it is. Meanwhile, the absolute truth that Menou feels nothing for Akari starts to show its cracks the closer they get to zero hour in the creepily white ceremonial hall.

As the apparent magecraft to eliminate Akari starts up, Menou’s scripture lights up, indicating a call from Momo. Momo, along with Ashuna, have already discovered that there are Faust conspiring with the Noblesse for some dark purpose. Menou is just a little too late to realize it, for Orwell is right beside her when she does, and she can tell Menou’s figured out she’s doin’ some dirt.

So no sooner does Menou know than Orwell knows she knows, and after that, Menou finds herself in a hopelessly lopsided battle against the Archbishop of the Faust. Her most powerful attack is leisurely swatted away by Orwell, who then unleashes a terrifying counterattack that destroys Menou’s book. She tosses it at Orwell like a bomb, but ends up falling through the hole Orwell makes below her, leaving Akari on her own against eight priestesses.

Orwell follows Menou to the space below the hall, where Menou finds all of the missing women who have literally had the life and vitality sucked out of them. Orwell’s face game is epic, as she gives her bad guy speech about how she’s sick of helping people and wants something in return: her youth back. She’s planning on using Akari’s Pure Concept to make that happen, and was willing to conspire with the Noblesse to do so.

The scripture-less Menou is probably already toast in a one-on-one battle with Orwell, but Orewell still decides to make it interesting by summoning a red automa in angel form to do her dirty work. It’s not just Akari she wants for her Pure Concept, but Menou she wants as a catalyst, revealing she’s played the long game for ten years.

The title of the episode is “Goodbye”, but it’s not about Menou saying goodbye to Akari. It’s about her saying goodbye to the righteous life she thought she was living. With Orwell not just turning heel, but having been a heel all along, the bottom has dropped out from Menou’s world. She and Akari are down, but they’re not out…not as long as Momo and Ashuna are still out and about.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 04 – Snakebit

When Aoi missed her putt, Eve confronts her angrily, thinking she let her win. But Aoi admits the miss was “her mistake”—apparently no one noticed Anri flashing a laser into Aoi’s eye before she putted, including Aoi herself. But she wants to have another go at a real game with Eve, so they agree to meet back at the course at 5 AM so they can play until her flight back to Japan.

Normally Eve would be able to keep such an appointment, but Catherine cashes in on Rose’s favor to her for letting Eve into the tournament that very night, and Rose and Anri deliver her to a massive configurable underground golf course. This is just the window-lickin’ craziest shit.

Eve is Catherine’s golfer, while her opponent in a real estate deal, fellow mobster Mr. Nicolas, has hired the thoroughly corny Vipère, a vampy minx in a leather catsuit. In addition to their employers’ bet, Vipère makes it interesting for her and Eve by saying whoever loses becomes the personal property of the other for a day.

Eve is neither amused nor impressed by all this nouveau riche and faux-vampiric posturing, and simply wants to get on with the game. But every other shot she makes is totally off, and she has no idea why…until she notices the same thing most of the audience probably noticed immediately: Vipère stinks. Not at golf, but literally.

Every time Vipère unzipped the front of her catsuit near Eve, she messed up. Turns out her perfume is a sublt poisons that threw her game off just enough to almost lose. Not about to lose to a cheater with fangs and a way too active tongue, Eve uses her Yellow Bullet to drive her ball out of a bunker and straight into the hole, beating Vipère and fulfilling her favor to Rose and Catherine.

What follows is a lot of plot malarkey, unfortunately. First, Eve has Vipère drive her to the course to meet with Aoi…in Vipère’s slow antique car. Aside from it not being Vipère’s style at all (why is it yellow?) Anri was right there in the parking lot with a Jaguar XJS, which if I know Rose had a V12. Combined with the fact the distance from the underground course to the above-ground one wasn’t revealed until it became a problem, and my eyes were rolling like a Titleist on the green.

Just as Anri manufactured Aoi’s loss and Vipère almost manufactured Eve’s, the the plot tomfoolery ends up manufacturing the first major interpersonal conflict between Aoi and Eve, as Aoi waits as long as she can but has to board her flight before Eve gets there. She leaves her Pac-Man ball on the tee, but drew a tear in its eye and “Liar” on the other side.

As her plane takes off, Aoi spots Eve and her Blue Bullet taking flight. So, I guess the airport is right next to the golf course? What with that crazy golf bunker, I half-expected Eve’s golf ball to go into the jet engine, forcing it to land and giving the two a chance to play.

Of course, there’s a good chance that would have ended in fiery tragedy, so maybe it’s best Eve didn’t hit the plane….I just hope their budding friendship hasn’t been shattered irrevocably. After all, Aoi began the episode with a mistake caused by others; now that Eve was late, the two are even par, as they should be.

SAKUGAN – 03 – THAT LITTLE VOICE

Memenpu takes to the untamed Labyrinth like a fish to water, locking Gagumber out of the controls so she can try her hand at salvaging crystals to exchange for money. But while following the routes of the map jewel and taking some more perilous shortcuts pays off, her natural talents, intellect, and guile, if untempered by experience, could quickly spell the end of her.

Despite basically watching her best friend Lynda die, Memenpu doesn’t seem to be showing the Labyrinth the proper respect. She insists She’s Got This, and while Gagumber is initially willing to indulge her, when increasingly strong, mysterious earthquakes rend the aptly named base camp “Troll’s Palm”, playing it safe and getting some rest are the order of the day.

As a former elite Marker, Gagumber is someone Memenpu should really be listening to and trying to emulate, as the fact he’s still there annoying her is proof he knows what it takes to survive in the Labyrinth, a place whose beauty can lull you into a dangerous false sense of security or comfort. Memenpu literally leaps down a freshly-created crevice and lands on her inflatable goat doll in a dark frozen cavern.

She should be scared, all alone down there with no backup and no idea what lurks in the shadows. When those whats start lurking, shining their many red eyes at her, and then chasing her, Memenpu probably wishes she’d gotten a little more rest so she could run a little faster. The swarm of horseshoe crab-like creatures don’t care how smart she is, or how badly she wants to reach the “Dream Place.” They just want dinner.

It’s in Memenpu’s most dire hour of need, holed up in a cargo container the creatures are slowly but surely smashing into, that she finally calls out for her dad to rescue her. Thankfully, he does, even if it strains credulity a bit that he was able to find her in the nick of time. Suffice it to say, Memenpu needs Gagumber here in the Labyrinth, even if she didn’t in Pinyin.

At the same time, Gagumber needs Memenpu too, at least if they’re going to reach their destination, they’re going to have to take the occasional calculated risks or unorthodox routes. Their latest one ends with them parachute-dropping before Jolly Jolly Base Camp, where a debonair mad sips tea, nibbles cookies, follows up his earnest praise for the father-daughter pair with what sounds like a threat…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 02 – SEEKING STABILITY

Gagumber has to hit it a few times, but his dusty old Mark Bot shudders to live and he and Memenpu engage in a protracted chase against a kaiju that seems oddly drawn to them. While old and dusty, the Mark Bot is still highly tuned and modified for maximum performance, which means Gagumber and Memenpu are able to keep a step or two ahead of certain doom.

After last week established how deadly the kaiju are, that creates an excellent nervy tension throughout the chase, which combined with the diversity of the environs (from the underground Chinese-style city to the darker depths of the mines) and the top-notch Cowboy Bebop-esque soundtrack make for one hell of a crowd-pleasing 23 minutes.

Even when one pursuing kaiju becomes two, Memenpu soon finds her Mark Bot legs (even if they can’t quite reach the pedals) and uses her inventive genius both to plot the best course out of the colony, but precisely where to place charges around the trapped kaiju so it causes the ground beneath them to crumble in a neat circle shape, where they become fish in a barrel to shoot at…with fireworks that just happen to be stowed in the cabin.

Gagumber and Memenpu’s heroics end up on the radio, and someone we’re sure to meet sooner or later—possibly their ex-wife/mom?—hears the broadcast. The two pay their respects to Walsh and Lynda, and Gagumber impresses upon his wee daughter how shit is not going to get any easier, but when you’re out there in the Abyss Labyrinth you’ve gotta learn to roll with the punches…even if one of those punches is the death of someone you love.

With that, the two pack their bags, take care of the paperwork necessary to leave the colony, and then strike out into the Labyrinth proper. The scenery is stunning, like a dream you never want to leave, as well as highly reminicent of Made in Abyss. Suffice it to say I don’t mind SAKUGAN’s cosmetic similarities to an all-time masterpiece. Let the subterranean father-daughter adventure begin.

P.S. In a truly weird, random easter egg, one of the ramen cups says “Tubular Bells”, the name of the theme to The Exorcist by Mike Oldfield.

SAKUGAN – 01 (First Impressions) – SOMEDAY IS RIGHT NOW

The all-caps up top are no mistake—this is a big, loud first episode, starting with a father-daughter quarrel through an impossibly complex subterranean metropolis that’s shot like a Mission Impossible film. The precocious Memenpu wants to become a “Marker”, one of the elite group who trek through the Labyrinth to parts unknown. Her father Gagumber is content to keep her home and safe as they work menial jobs in the colony.

Their home, Pinyin, is basically one big nest where Memenpu’s father never wants her to leave…at least not yet. But Memenpu, despite being only nine years old, is already a college grad and distinguished inventor. It’s only a matter of time before Pinyin—and her dad—just can’t hold her back from grander, more dangerous future.

Memenpu finds inspiration in Lynda, a Marker who works side-by-side with her dad Walsh. Lynda is initially fine stoking that fire of adventure and discovery in Memenpu’s diminutive abdomen, acting as a big sis and role model and encouraging her little sis to dream big. As it so happens, Memenpu has dreams about and draws pictures of a surface with a boundless sky. A mysterious master Marker named Urorop seemingly eggs her on by leaving a photo at her door of that very surface.

While Memenpu and Lynda bond, Gagumber and Walsh drink. It’s pretty clear that Gagumber used to be a Marker like Walsh, and probably a good one,  but gave it all up (including all the esteem and preferential treatment) the moment his daughter entered his world, and then became it. But Walsh, as someone with an older daughter who has already been through this, tells his friend that there comes a time when a father has to put trust in their child to become their own person.

While I have no doubt that Gagumber is immensely proud of his little girl, that’s tempered by a great sadness that she grew up so damn fast. When he teeters home drunk as a skunk and she pretends to be asleep, he’s still lucid enough to make his thoughts clear. It’s not that he never wants her to grow up, only that he wishes she’d stayed a kid a little longer.

But it’s not just Memenpu’s natural intelligence and talent that is pushing her towards adulthood and independence, but seemingly Urorop as well. Along wih the photo of the surface, Memenpu is given a jewel that when its intricate cracks are projected on a larger surface reveals a map of the Labyrinth around Pinyin…and a route to the surface in the picture.

Then a kaiju bursts through the walls of the colony and wreaks havoc, sending Memenpo, Gagumber, and Lynda on a mad dash to safety. When they’re cornered, Gagumber draws his pistl and shoots the monster in the face, asserting that he won’t let it hurt his beloved daughter. Memenpo is shocked by her usually deadbeat-ish dad’s sudden change in demeanor.

Speaking of changes in demeanor…at first the kaiju chase is played as tongue-in-cheek; the kind of whimsical lunacy you’d find in Durarara!! or Gatchaman. But the kaiju threat is real, and even Lynda curtly orders Memenpo to keep back as she and her dad Walsh board their Mark Bot to do battle. Just as Walsh is complimenting Lynda on having grown up, the two of them instantly get blown up. Memenpo is frozen in shock…as was I. I did not expect shit to get so real so quick.

Fortunately, her dad’s composure isn’t so easily shaken, as he scoops her up and takes her to safety. But if this day’s events taught him anything, it’s that Walsh (RIP) was right: when “someday” becomes RIGHT FUCKING NOW, all a father can do—all a father must do—is trust in their child. But, again, she’s only nine.

So he compromises: she’ll let her strike out into the vast underground unknown towards her destiny—heck, he’ll even supply their transport in the form of his old Mark Bot—but he’s coming along for the ride to protect his little girl. So begins a father-daughter adventure for the ages. I can’t freakin’ wait to see where it goes.

Mars Red – 01 (First Impressions) – On a Silver Platter

Tokyo, Japan, 1923: Major Maeda Yoshinobu is escorted to a maximum-security underground prison at Tsukishima Island housing a single inmate: Misaki, an actress who was performing Salome at the Imperial Theatre when she was turned into a vampire. When Maeda meets her through thick glass, she’s still reciting the lines of the play, as if she were still on stage.

Later on, a suspiciously vampiric-looking young man at the theatre tells Maeda that when the lights go out and the curtains rise, the audience is transported to the underworld. I can’t help but watch Maeda and his chatterbox underling’s journey deeper and deeper into the Tsukishima  facility and think they too are on a journey to the underworld.

While Japan and its military are rapidly modernizing and westernizing, it’s ironic that the covert vampire hunting unit Lt. General Nakajima has created deals with ancient monsters. The general reminds Maeda not to allow sympathy or pity to dull his blade, and Maeda assures him if Misaki cannot be brought to their side, he’ll promptly dispose of her.

Maeda visits the theatre, where the stage is still a mess of blood and ruined scenery, and he meets the inscrutable actor Deffrot, who played Jokanaan, AKA John the Baptist, whose head is served to Salome on a silver platter as payment for her Dance of the Seven Veils. In a very neat piece of “camera”work, the shadow of Maeda’s head is cast on the play’s poster, held in Salome’s hands.

Outside the theatre Maeda is approached by a young lady he mistakes for Misaki, but she introduces herself as Shirase Aoi, a reporter for the Nitto News. Maeda ignores her requests for comment and access to the theatre, and then Moriyama arrives by car to report that Misaki has escaped. For a second there, I wondered if Aoi was Misaki after all.

As Moriyama speeds Maeda back to Tsukishima, Misaki effortlessly smashes through all of the steel doors and barriers in her way, takes a bullet with barely a flinch, bleeds black blood, bites a neck, casually nudges a bullet away and dodges the others with her vampiric speed. Through it all she moves with a dancer’s grace, embodying the role of Salome—whom I learned was transformed by French writers from her biblical role to the “incarnation of female lust”.

A different dance ensues, with both Maeda and Misaki gradually making their way to the same spot: across the Nihonbashi bridge to Marunouchi Plaza at Tokyo Station. It’s the capper to an episode that serves as a Where’s Where of Taisho-era Tokyo.

Misaki gets closer and closer to Maeda, but when he grips his sword and prepares to draw, she places her hand over his, embraces him a little while longer, then steps aside and lets herself be consumed by the morning light, without further bloodshed. The same stigmata design on her tongue appears on the spot where she incinerated.

Back at HQ, General Nakajima promotes Maeda to Colonel and puts him in command of Code Zero, with the mission of apprehending or disposing of vampires in Japan. If I had to describe Mars Red in one word, it would be classy. Given another word, I’d use deliberate. As Maeda navigates a Tokyo in flux and deals with Misaki, every scene is given room to breathe.  Maeda is a bit of a stiff, but still…I’m intrigued.

The Promised Neverland – 16 – Too Good To Be True

Last week’s cliffhanger wasn’t all that dire for the kids: Minerva’s phone call is merely a recording apologizing for not being able to meet them in person, revealing he once worked for the farms before revolting, and providing the password for the pen to display map to the human side of the world. The creepy messages and journal were from a previous batch of escapees, only one of whom remained before they chose to make a run for the border.

What our kids don’t know is what ever happened to that lonely last escapee. All they know is they can use the shelter as the headquarters for their plan, which still involves returning to the farm, freeing Phil and the others, then freeing all of the other children in the other farms. Far from not pragmatic, this plan seems far too difficult and doomed to failure, considering how few grown kids there are to pull it off.

Still, it’s clear Emma isn’t going to the human side without fulfilling her promise to Norman to free everyone, so they set to work making the shelter a sustainable place, including growing crops, hunting birds (and later gathering slimy fish) for food, and teaching the younger kids marksmanship.

As they settle into a happy and all-too obvious false sense of security, we check in on their former “Mother”, Isabella, who is in jail for allowing the escape. When the demons come, she’s pretty certain they’re there to execute her. Back at the shelter, a peaceful evening is shattered by an explosion blowing one of the hatches clean off, knocking out the power.

A human strike team then infiltrates the facility, where all the kids escape using the hidden passage behind the piano. Don’s one of the last into that passage, and Gilda gives him a huge hug of relief when he arrives. Ray changes their plan on the fly: with the shelter no longer safe, they have to get out of there and seek refuge in the forest…again.

Unfortunately, the enemy forces seem to have a good grasp of the shelter’s layout, since they trap them at every turn. The kids are saved by the fact that these guys are supposed to deliver the merch back to the farm, not harm it in any way. It makes me wonder why they’re not using tranq darts, honestly.

Emma and Ray cover the others as they head to the forest, but again the soldiers are waiting for them. It looks like Game Over, but for the giant wild forest demon bursting out of the trees to kill the soldiers one by one; the muzzle flashes from their guns makes them easy decoys while the kids scatter. But even if they’re all safe for now, they won’t be for long. In the end, shelter might as well have been a mirage!

We learn the farm demons were prepared for this operation to fail, and rather than execute Isabella at once, they’ll leave the matter in her hands as a means of redeeming herself for her failure. If she can successfully retrieve every escaped child, she’ll be granted her freedom and more.

Isabella seems eager to take on the job, claiming that her children “betrayed” her…but that’s just a bit disingenuous considering she was secretly raising them for slaughter. In any case, Mama’s back…and this time, it’s personal.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Read Crow’s review here.

The Promised Neverland – 15 – The Perfect Hideout

Emma, Ray, and their convoy of kids are ready to leave the safety of Sonju and Mujika’s forest tunnels and head to the location indicated by William Minerva’s pen. They’re trained and prepared to survive and run or defend themselves from the threats that may arise.

Mujika and Emma seem to have formed a genuine friendship, and Mujika gives Emma an ornate amulet as a going-away gift and to protect her. However, we learn from Sonju once the kids are gone that his intentions are less benign. Mujika pointed out that if they had turned the kids in to the farm they’d have been rewarded handsomely. But Sonju has other plans.

Their religion doesn’t forbid him from hunting or eating wild animals, so by letting these kids go, they will eventually breed, creating of a “wild herd” of humans he’ll be able to hunt without forsaking his faith. His face grows especially monstrous as he looks forward to the day he can eat human meat. Yikes!

Regardless of his long term plans, the fact is Sonju let this group of kids go and doesn’t intend to eat them. In fact, he rides back to where the farm pursuers are still searching and kills one of their trackers. The kids head out into the wastelands where demons rarely go, but when they reach the location indicated by Minerva’s pen, there’s nothing there.

Fortunately, the fact they’ve arrived at this spot unlocks more information from the pen. Once the password “HISTORY” is inputted, a detailed map displays, and a sliding door in the ground reveals a hidden hatch, Zelda-style. The group descends the ladder and begins to explore the space. Emma eventually finds a switch, and to everyone’s great joy, it works!

The lights reveal a fully-functional shelter, complete with cooking facilities, a dining hall, a library, a greenhouse with grow lights, a bathroom with hot water, and a security room with cameras on all parts of the surface. There’s even a piano, a radio, and a pantry curiously half-stocked with food.

There’s also a handwritten note from Minerva congratulating them for finding the shelter, which is theirs to use. Emma, Ray, and the kids immediately settle into the new digs, which seem at all times to be an all-too-good-to-be-true gift from heaven above.

Ray successfully finds the frequency of the 8:00 PM reports from the farms, and will be tuning back in daily to gain intel. Now that they have a shelter and the means of supporting themselves indefinitely, Emma already wants to move on to the next stage of the plan: rescue the remaining family at the farm.

She’s looking ahead even though they haven’t quite finished exploring the shelter. They’ve found all the good rooms, but there are clearly some not-so-good rooms, as initially found by Yvette, the walls of the dorms are strewn with the manic scrawling of people who lived there previously, and were either going mad from boredom or from suffering something more sinister.

Emma uses the pen to unlock a special door that leads to a small room with a payphone, which immediately rings when they enter. She picks up the receiver, and William Minerva is on the other end of the line. Is it a recording, or the man himself? What is the nature of those creepy messages on the dorm walls? Is this shelter really safe, or are those hidden passageways a cause for concern? I can’t help but feel after catching so many breaks since escaping the farm, their streak of good fortune may have run out…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Promised Neverland – 14 – Bless Us for These, Thy Gifts

This week the kids catch two key breaks. First, they weren’t captured or killed by the farm trackers or the wild forest demon. Second, Mujika and Sonju, the two demons who rescued them, don’t eat humans and have no intention to harm them. In fact, it’s been so long since they’ve encountered humans they’re happy to show them ample hospitality.

Sonju later tells Emma and Ray that after endless war and killing, humans and demons agreed stop hunting each other and split to the world into segregated halves. All the humans on the demon side were “gifted” to the demons and vice versa. With hunting forbidden, farms like Grace Field were established. And, oh yeah, the great split happened over a thousand years ago.

At first Emma and Ray are gobsmacked by the amount of real time that has passed, but then literally jump for joy. The fact that demons only rule half the world and humans are free on their half is a huge boost to their outlook. Even if Sonju says no one has ever crossed the boundary between worlds, well, Emma and Ray will simply be the first, that’s all!

The pair relay the news to the others and rallies them to their suddenly more concrete cause. The good demons, who practice their religious faith by not eating human flesh, show the group the proper way out of the tunnel network under the forest to eventually reach the spot indicated in Minerva’s pen.

On the way, they teach them all of the things they need to learn to survive on their own, from building fires and cooking to medicinal plants and archery. Gilda and the little ones harshly scold both Emma and Ray for being so reckless earlier. They can’t afford to lose either of them, so they have to start being more careful and speaking up if they’re hurt.

When Sonju heads to the surface to scope out the area for threats, Emma accompanies him, but not for a change of scenery. She wants him to teach her something he hadn’t to that point: how to kill a living thing. Sonju acquieses, and while Emma initially hesitates to loose her bow on an unassuming bird, she eventually does so, and hits the bird right in the head.

While a clean strike, the bird is not yet dead, so Sonju shows Emma the Gupna, a ritual that takes place to give thanks and show respect for the kill.. By plunging a vampiric Vida branch into the heart of the still-living bird, when the plant blooms it means the meat is safe to eat. It also means the gods have approved the meat for consumption

When Emma remembers the same plant being used on her family members, she retches, but completes the ritual, adding her own prayer: “We don’t want to be eaten. We want to live. But we’ve been eating others too. And if we can’t keep eating, we can’t survive.” When she returns to the caverns with Sonju, the kids notice something different about Emma. Indeed, while out in the forest, making her first kill, she was changed irrevocably. You can see it on her face, and in the haunting way she whispers “I’m okay.”

I for one am glad the kids not only caught a couple breaks this week, but were blessed with a path forward. Not only that, for a few days they were able to stop being runaways or survivalists and simply live like the kids they are, being fed and taught and not having to worry about running for their lives. Emma took an important step into the new normal by officially becoming an active rather than passive participant in the food chain.

P.S.Check out Crow’s Episode 2 review here.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 08 – The Safest Place

Suddenly, not long after talking to Keiichi, Rika is missing. The class calls her name around the school grounds. Keiichi prepares to search the outhouse, but Mion asks him to search the roof. Then Mion suddenly grows agitated, declaring she has to “put an end” to Oyashiro’s curse.

Mion calls out Rika, one of the heads of the Three Great Families, for coming to carry the curse out. She’s is shaking the ladder so much it seems likely Keiichi will fall and hurt himself or worse, but their teacher Chie snaps her out of her agitation and sends them both home for the day.

It isn’t long before Mion invites Keiichi to her house, certain there’s something he has to say to her. Sure enough, he breaks down and confesses to entering the ritual tool storeroom. Mion already knows this, but now that he’s confessed, she feels she can trust him now, and asks him to trust her in turn as “the only one on his side.”

That’s because there are “some” in the village who believe anyone who disturbs that storeroom should be “punished”. She leads Kei deep into the bowels of Sonozaki family’s personal underground dungeon, torture chamber, and safe room, then locks Keichii in a cell…for his own protection.

She tells him she loves him, which is why she wants him to be safe while she…takes care of business. If she doesn’t come back, she tells him to say it was she who took him prisoner and locked him up. But especially when he watches Mion pull a giant revolver out of a drawer before she leaves, he can’t and won’t stay put.

He manages to bust himself free from the cell door, and the security monitors show a team of suspicious people in construction jumpsuits amassing on Sonozaki property. The safe room door proves far tougher, and Kei ends up knocking himself out trying to force it. He briefly wakes up to find himself on a gurney, with Ooichi looking down on him.

After Kei is discharged from the hospital, Ooichi meets with him again to give him some rather extensive bad news. The detective dispenses with any sort of tact and even seems to cruelly relish delivering the report, even laughing about the mess: there was a well in the Sonozaki’s dungeon.

At the bottom of the well were the bodies of Sonozaki Oryo, Kimiyoshi Kiiichiro, and Shion. Below them were the skeletal remains of at least three others. Rika was found in the septic tank of the outhouse Kei was going to check but didn’t because of Mion. As for Mion, she and Satoko were found in the Sonozaki mansion, dead from gunshot wounds to the head. Rena’s fate isn’t mentioned, but I assume she’s still alive.

Keiichi manages to survive thanks to Mion, with whom he finally came clean with his sins. But it was too late to save anyone else. The clues all point to Mion killing everyone involved in the rituals—including herself and her twin—in order to end the vicious cycle of Oyashiro’s curse.

Whether she ultimately succeeded, who can say. Kei is now all alone (aside from Rena), with a host of difficult questions that will probably never be answered. In any case, this is the end of the second arc. If we’re going by Rika’s final words, this “loop” ended in abject failure; another Bad Ending. Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Then again…perhaps not!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

%d bloggers like this: