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

Akudama Drive – 07 – The Offering

As the elevator to Brother and Sister’s destination rises out of the debris, Hoodlum reunites with the others, proudly reporting to have stabbed the Apprentice to avenge his brother, Brawler, who didn’t make it. When Brother is flippant about there being casualties on the job, Hoodlum almost loses it, but Swindler once again plays the peacemaker, and his temper subsides.

At the end of the elevator’s descent they reach Expo Park, a sprawling abandoned underground amusement park. Bunny and Shark cut in to tell us it was built before the war to preserve the culture of Old Kansai, but ominously notes that “there are some things better left not known”. The siblings’ ultimate destination is a rocket that Brother says will convey him and his Sister to a base on the Moon, where they’ll be safe.

That’s when we learn from Brother that he and his sister are the result of human experiments at Kyushu Plant to create immortal humans. Between them they are the product of 5,555 other siblings who were sacrificed in one horrific way or another to make the two of them possible.

I’m reminded of any number of anime in which humans and innocent kids in particular are treated brutally by an unseen, unfeeling scientific villain. Brother wakes up in a lab in a puddle of blood that grows bigger and bigger until one day the gym once full of siblings is empty.

That’s when the “Headmaster” reports that he was a successful experiment. They go on to make one more, Sister, and the two of them will be sent to Kanto as an “offering”, with mass production to follow. But their “Professor”, an AI in an artificial cat body, took pity on them and allowed them to escape on the Shinkansen. The rest of their story we know.

With that, Brother deposits a billion yen in each of the surviving Akudama’s accounts and deactivates their bomb collars, and prepare to board the rocket. Swindler gives them a farewell hug with the wish that maybe someday they’ll see each other again and eat more yummy takoyaki together.

Then, as the siblings ascend to the rocket’s hatch, Sister is stabbed in the throat…with one of Doctor’s scalpels. She’s fine, but she grabs Brother, making her meaning plain: she’s sold them and everyone else out to the Executioners.

A huge contingent of them suddenly swarm the launch pad and surround the Akudama. When Swindler asks Doctor why, the Doctor coldly declares she doesn’t owe her or anyone a goddamn thing. In exchange for her delivering the “offerings”, Boss removes Doctor’s Akudama status; she’ll no longer be on the run. Boss also tells Brother that the “Moon” they see in the sky is a mere holo-illusion; the real moon was destroyed in the war.

Brother bites Doctors hand and breaks free, while Courier and Cutthroat fight off the swarming Executioners—the latter particularly concerned with Swindler’s safety. He gets cut up pretty bad (which spells trouble considering their medic has defected) but ultimately ends up buying time for Swindler and the siblings.

Brother takes hold of Swindler and leads her and Sister into the rocket just as the countdown reaches zero. The rocket successfully launches with Swindler and Sister inside. Brother probably feels better to have at least protected half of the 5,555 siblings who died for them than none at all.

As for where the rocket is headed, who can say? The episode ends with it trailing away from what’s left of the moon—though perhaps its course takes the earth’s rotation into account. Even if they reach the moon, there surely isn’t anything there but death…but that wouldn’t be any different from the Executioner-infested launch pad.

First Hacker split off, then Brawler died, and now Doctor has stabbed everyone in the back. It remains to be seen if the Executioners either claim or scatter the remaining team of Courier, Cutthroat, and Hoodlum. Much like the war shattered the moon, the show has blown its group dynamic to smithereens. We’ll have to wait and see where the pieces land.

Akudama Drive – 06 – Akudama Brawlliant Park

Even though the Boss has mobilized every Executioner to seek and destroy the Akudama, Master gets there first, driven by his need to redeem himself for past failure. An Executioner doesn’t execute, then what is his purpose, right?

He goes all out from the start, sending both Brawler and Cutthroat flying and tossing the police drone at Courier, knocking him and the kids off his bike. Then he slashes Doc across the belly…though I somehow knew she’d be fine.

When Hoodlum finds Brawler in a pile of rubble, he suggests they fall back and give the latter time to recover, but Brawler won’t hear of it. He’s never been in a brawl like this, and isn’t going to back down. His words and wholesome smile make Hoodlum blush…his brother is so cool!

Cutthroat ends up under rubble as well…but cuts his own legs off to continue protecting Swindler…and Swindler alone. Without any regard for the kid brother, he uses him as an (artificial?) human shield, then stabs right through him to wound Master.

Swindler laments Brother’s death, but the Sister tuges at her sleever and tells her to watch: Brother is fine; he has fully regenerative healing. He’s more miffed Cutthroat broke his backpack. Doctor, who stitched herself up, then stiches Cutthroat’s legs back on so he can fight at 100%.

It’s clear from the injuries both the Executioners and Akudama sustain that they’re something more than plain ‘ol human. Only Swindler and Hoodlum, whom we know to be “normal”, escape horrific injuries this week, likely because they wouldn’t recover from them so quickly. Everyone piles onto Couriers bike, then Brawler bursts back onto the scene like an uncaged beast.

The balance of the episode is taken up by their one-on-one decisive battle, which moves from a glitzy arcade to an old amusement park, their fighting and the lightning seemingly giving these abandoned places new life, if only for a short moment.

Here Akudama Drive really shows off its visual flair, taking the ridiculousness of the brawl the extra mile, and all the while both Master and Brawler feeding off their mutual joy over how much goddamn fun they’re both having. Before Master hid his scar with a mask; now he’s grinning like a schoolboy, just like Brawler.

The two continue to wear each other down until it comes down to one last punch that does them both in at the same time. Meanwhile, Apprentice, who had just received a somewhat momemtum-sapping infodump from Boss about why she started pairing up Executioners, arrives on the scene. Boss told her survival rates of Executioners increased dramatically when they had a “reason to live”, i.e. their partner.

But Boss is incorrect that this is what separates the Executioners from the Akudama, because this particular group, despite having been a collection of selfish loners, has also developed a sense of camaraderie, even family. Had they not, they would have surely fallen to Master one by one. Instead, he falls, while the Akudama just lose Brawler—a huge loss, to be sure, but a survivable one.

As Apprentice mourns her Master’s death, Hoodlum mourns his big bro’s…then picks up Master’s lightsaber and rushes an unready Apprentice. When next we see her she’s alive and back in the hospital; both lightsabers by her bed. Hoodlum is also alive in the preview, which means he only took her eye, not her life. But it’s a given Apprentice will seek revenge.

Meanwhile, Swindler drops the nice-girl act (as Doctor had been pleading) to slap Cutthroat across the face and call him “despicable” for valuing her “beautiful” life over that of the kid Brother. The message is clear: she won’t tolerate any more of that. No more cutting through others to protect her! Brother and Sister locate their next destination, which turns out to be the underground network where survivors of the bombing of Old Kansai still reside.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 06 – No Groaning, Moaning, or Excuses

The Eizoken has 96 days to produce a 15-20 minute anime about a robot fighting a crabtle, and its members must contend with a nearly infinitely more complex production. More action scenes, more sound effects, more backgrounds, more of everything they already did with Machete Girl, only they’ll also need more classically epic music and voice actors for dialogue.

Kanamori Sayaka, the ever-steady executive producer, keeps the ship on course in these early stages, knowing when to crack the whip and when to show kindness and generosity…or at least that last bit would have been the case if she’d actually treated the artists to ramen. That said, never carrying more than 1,000 yen at all times is an elegant, effective means of budgeting!

She can forsee that this production could easily drain their finances, and the student council is keeping a watchful eye, so Sayaka decides to play ball, acting both as council enforcer and interested party with the delinquent Sound Club.

She gives its only member Doumeki an offer she can’t refuse, offering protection in exchange for access to her ridiculously vast collection of sounds, plus her own expertise as audio advisor. Doumeki is also compelled to sell much of the collection for club funds, and Sayaka and the Eizouken will get a cut of that.

Sayaka can’t do it all, however. She can only create a stable enough environment in which Midori and Tsubame can work. But there’s more work than the two of them will ever be able to complete in time, so they need to delegate some of the work to a willing art club (who like the robot club were impressed by Machete Girl).

In their first meeting with the art club, Midori constantly needs help from both Sayaka and one of the club’s members to get out what she’s trying to say. She’s simply not good at telling people what to do, but if she doesn’t, there’s no giant robot anime.

While recharging her depleted brain with some late afternoon sketching, Midori falls down a well of self-doubt, worried there’s no way she can make a robot anime that will satisfy everyone. Sayaka delivers the tough love speech she Midori in her moment of vulnerability. It’s not about satisfying everyone, but making a final product on time that she can be satisfied with and proud of.

As evidenced from their reaction to Machete Girl, Midori and Tsubame are their own most exacting critics, so it sounds counterproductive to tell her to trust in her own sensibilities. But Midori is eventually able to reconcile some of the inconsistencies (or as Tsubame calls them, “crimes” committed in order to field a giant robot anime), and regains her motivation.

Hands Off the Eizouken! has beautiful, terrifically imaginative art and a wonderfully novel way of visualizing its artists’ creations, but besides all that one shouldn’t overlook its devotion to what makes a good anime: characters you care about overcoming obstacles internal and external to achieve something great.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 05 – Blue-Collar Giant Robot

The newly-validated Eizouken could be forgiven for taking it easy in the shadow of their triumph. They worked their butts off with very little sleep, and it’s never mentioned how badly it affected either their academic studies or Tsubame’s modeling schedule. However, Sayaka puts them right back on track for their next project, which will be bigger and more ambitious.

She’s secured a commission from the school’s robot club to create a giant robot anime, a key promotion for both clubs to be presented as the centerpiece of the upcoming cultural festival. During their initial meet-and-greet, Midori’s imagination gets the best of her, as she finds herself in the middle of a drama involving dark, secret facilities and brainwashed friends.

Never ones to stare at blank paper, the girls explore the sprawling underground network beneath the school, where the setting takes on a distinct Girls Last Tour look and feel, in order to stimulate and feed their imaginations. The trip is a fruitful one, as Midori and Tsubame work out the concept of a crab/turtle hybrid with a heat attack and shockwave-creating claw as the robot’s opponent.

Midori is the scaredy-cat of the group, but also the most cautious and prepared for contingencies. Sayaka and Tsubame would have been SOL had their friend not brought rope and a shovel when the three fall into a pit. Meanwhile the show’s real-life setting continues to amaze with its whimsical complexity.

The next step is ostensibly where Sayaka will shine: the negotiations that lead to the official start of the project. However, in this case she’s unable to secure any blackmail bait for negotiation purposes, and one of the robot club’s members is both passionate and obstinate in his vision.

His problem is that while he knows what he wants, he can’t visualize it, so he was liable to reject anything that deviated from that impossible ideal. Sayaka is bailed out from this ordeal when Tsubame and Midori relate to the stubborn member as comrades in frustration with the mundaneness of the world, its lack of real giant robots, spaceships, and hadokens.

With that obstacle removed, the girls collaborate with the robot club members in brainstorming a direction for the design of the robot and its weaponry, which will include a chainsaw, pile driver and metal drill (not wood!). All of its camera and sensor functions are streamlined into a sleek retro-style head.

This marks the first time others have borne witnesses to Midori and Tsubame’s visualized flights of fancy, but the extra input results in a complex final model that Sayaka is worried will be a bitch to animate. Even so, with official standing, additional resources, and a more realistic timeline, I don’t doubt Tsubame and Midori can pull it off, and it will be loads of fun to watch!

 

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 11 (Fin) – Awakening

The schools sports and cultural clubs all defy the StuCo and meet with the members of the former Hero Club to lend them their support and to ask for assistance in the shadows. Everyone probably overdoes it with the disguises—not sure what’s going on with the black klansmen-looking dudes—but both school and town have spoken: they were better off with the Hero Club, and more than willing to accept their eccentricities in exchange for their hard work and kindness.

When the recent string of thefts and attacks leads to the postponement of visits by prospective students, the StuCo can no longer hold the Hero Club back, and they know it. Like astronauts marching towards their rockey, the heroes led by Mizuki approach the StuCo president and voice their intentions to do something. Having done next to nothing except ban their club, the prez can only let them pass.

That night the heroes stake out the location of the attacks, and find an iguana, Faust, and Benjamin, but also a fourth animal: a penguin that has escaped from the zoo. They chase it to the pool, where it has an advantage, and that’s when Mizuki decides to finally “awaken” and join forces with Yamato to unleash the half-drowned Touga’s ultimate attack. What’s described later as a freak meteorological phenomenon occurs, and the penguin is secured by the student who, as it happens, stole food and supplies to keep it happy.

The StuCo president publicly praises the heroes for their services to the school in an assembly, but they want something more than a fancy certificate of gratitude: they want their club room back, and the voices of the assembled student body demand the reinstatement of the club. Thus cornered, the president acquiesces to the will of the people (one wonders where the adults are in all of this…?)

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy was a quaint, lighthearted, fun and charming little show about a group of weirdo boys who are actually good people (imagine that!) and a girl who, while reluctant to be associated with them at first, is now proud to call herself a member of the Hero Club. Not much more to say about it. I enjoyed it!