GANGSTA. – 06

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Nic spends the episode recovering from his injuries (Paulklee shot him with drugs, not bullets) under Nina’s admirable ministrations as the clouds continue to dump rain on Ergastulum, as if to wash away the blood of the last battle. But the duel with Doug and the shootouts that accompanied it may only be a taste of what’s to come, as the Corsicans are about to throw off the delicate balance that has been sustained by going after the Christianos, a family beholden to Monroe.

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It’s fitting in an episode called “THORN” that everyone deals with various literal and emotional thorns in their sides or minds. Both Nic and Worick carry a lot of baggage from their highly traumatic pasts. Nic was the son of a prostitute shanghaied into mercenary service; Wallace is the unwanted and unloved son of a drunk, violent crime boss whose light we know is destined to go out.

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Wallace got over his prejudice for his perceived low-rent bodyguard and befriends Nic and even teaches him to read and write, most likely out of a desire to have one friend in his life; someone who doesn’t curse his existence. While we’re still missing a couple of bits and pieces in the middle, the genesis of their friendship, which would persist for decades to the present, is making more and more sense.

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Ally has her own thorn in the form of  withdrawal due to an appalling drug her pimp plied her with regularly in order to keep her submissive and in line. The horror movie scene that ended last week’s episode turned out to be hallucinations from that withdrawal, and Dr. Theo informs Worick that Ally has yet to fully recover, though it will happen with time. Some thorns can’t be removed too quickly.

When a shoeless, rain-soaked Ally kisses Worick on the street, it’s filmed as if it were a climactic, passionate romantic scene, right up until she tries to undo Worick’s pants and we realize she’s still hallucinating Barry, and is ready to do anything to him if only he doesn’t hurt her. Ironically, Worick does technically hurt her—by head-butting—in order to snap her out of it (not sure how that works medically, but whatever), but since her head’s harder than his he ends up hurting himself more.

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At any rate, it’s one of the show’s best scenes, and combined with Nic’s recovery, the Handymen and their administrative assistant are back in business…just in time for another war. Even in his hospital bed, Nic looks as ready as ever to take on whole battalions on his own, but a part of me thinks Worick would really rather just kick back in his apartment and talk about his crappy day with Ally-chan.

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GANGSTA. – 05

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As fellow A/0 Tags Nic and the dreadlocked kid fight furiously up on the rooftops, the normal gangsters take bets below. but when Worick arrives, he determines not only that Nic is depending on an overdose of Celebrer to fight and shrug off his stab wounds, but that the kid words for the Paul Klee Guild, and Nic shouldn’t even be fighting him.

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Of course, the kid, Doug, took the job to take out Monroe for the opportunity to fight a fellow A/0, and is loving the fight, but when he’s winded and Nic hasn’t broken a sweat, he realizes the fight is tainted. This is drugs, not merely natural talent and skill, at work. Finally, Doug’s master, Gina Paulklee of the guild, arrives with her very able assistant Ginger, to break up the fight and punish both Doug and Nic with multiple gunshots.

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Such is the price of going against the “Three Laws” instituted once Tags were freed from slavery. We finally learn what they are thanks to Gina: “Don’t take action against Normals”, “Obey your master”, and “Defend Yourself”. To break one of those laws is to upset the delicate balance of Ergastulum, which Gina and her guild work to maintain.

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Doug is left for dead, but Worick can and wishes to only carry one person, and that’s the wounded Nic, to Dr. Theo’s, where Nina looks after him. Meanwhile, Alex is seeing her old pimp in the alley even though he’s supposed to be dead, and even hears him coming up the stairs to the Handymen’s office. When Worick calls, the office is abandoned.

Did the pimp survive, or is Alex merely hallucinating due to PTSD? I’m guessing the latter. Either way, the fifth episode ends with our trio of protagonists roughed up physically and emotionally. I’m guessing next week won’t be the beach episode…

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GANGSTA. – 04

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Another day in the life of GANGSTAs reveals new details about Worick (formerly Wallace) Arcangelo and his partner (formerly his bodyguard). Notably, Worick wouldn’t make a bad detective, owing to his preternatural talent for memorization. Chad, who’s known these men since they were 17-year-old boys, periodically brings them in to appease the higher-ups, but makes use of Worick’s skills in identifying some suspiciously cleanly carved-up bodies.

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As far as the present-day goings-on, Ally continues to wring her hands over whether to stay or go (knowing the last girl who lived with the Handymen almost died) and one of their clients, Danny Monroe, and his men end up in a spot of trouble with a kukri enthusiast. Those events are punctuated by flashbacks going back to the day Wallace met Nicolas. Back then, Wally could basically read any book in a minute, and grew bored and restless with his education and stifling living situation.

When he learned Nic was deaf, he felt insulted to have a “defective” guard, but at the same time, Nic gives off an irresistible aura of wildness and freedom (even if Nic is far from free). We also learn more about the “Twilights” and why they’re called that: as the victims (or children of victims) of combat doping gone wrong.

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Whatever the case ends up being, the two seem pretty tight in the present, as both professional partners and brothers of a kind. These scenes also bring up the question: did Nic just snap and kill Wally’s fam and take his eye…or did Wally ask him to blow up his life? There are still key gaps in their backstory, but the show is doling them out at a pretty good clip, and with Nic facing off against a fellow “A/0” ranked Twilight (and a sprightly one at that), I wouldn’t be surprised if Worick will lend a hand next week.

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GANGSTA. – 03

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GANGSTA’s first two episodes were anchored by big confrontations with Bad Guys, or at least people who are darker grey than our lead guys Worick and Nic, but this week is more of a Day-in-the-Life-in-Ergastulum affair as we shadow Ally as she helps out with deliveries of Dr. Theo’s drugs throughout the town. In the process, she learns a lot more about the town she apparently didn’t know too well before, and much more about her two employers; almost more than she probably wanted to know.

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But before that, we get a glimpse into Woricks (likely periodic) dreams in which he relives the night he met Nic: when Nic came to murder his family and stab his eye out back when he was thirteen. This puts their relationship in an entirely new light, introducing the possibility that Worick could be long-suffering Stockholm victim who simply went with the flow of where events took him.

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Worick shoos Ally out along with Nic because he has a lady caller; apparently one of his many jobs is gigolo, and apparently a well-regarded one as his client seems pretty well-off and discriminating (she also drives an old Jag…or is that an Alfa?)

It makes sense that he wouldn’t want to upset clients by having another woman around his pad…but perhaps he also didn’t want to make a federal case out of his other job to Ally, and would rather she figure it out organically from clues and the words of others.

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He eventually joins up with Nic and Ally. The latter gets to witness a variety of Ergastulum happenings, like a mobster trying to win Nic back into the fold (saying he can bring Worick along too) while disposing of bodies. They also visit a brothel where Worick once worked (and likely learned his trade after his kidnapping by Nic), where the madame treats him with some degree of maternal tenderness.

Dr. Theo’s drugs are for a very ill woman who doesn’t seem to be getting better; someone Nic seems close to. Ally agreed to work for the Handymen; now that the curtain is being pulled back a bit, there are still some doors that close in front of her she dare not push back open.

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And that gets to the advice of the old shop woman who knows what brand of cigs Worick sent Ally out to buy for him. She tells Ally not to linger around these two chaps too long. Heck, even Worick warns her not to stay in Ergastulum too long, or she’ll be stuck there just like everyone else.

For a second, it looks like Ally takes the woman’s advice, but she doesn’t go far; just to the alley where she and Worick first met. There, she asks Worick if he ever thinks about the “why”…whether it’s why Nic killed his family and kidnapped him, or why he’s a gigolo, or a host of other whys. But all Worick can say is “good question.”

Does this life make him happy? Is he weak, or passive, or complacent? Who knows. But Ally could probably answer Worick if he asked: “Why stay?” Because where else is there to go? The way Ergastulum is presented to us, there may as well be an empty void beyond its walls. Something is better than nothing, and the knowable and inscrutable are less frightening than the unknown.

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GANGSTA. – 02

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Everyone in the city of Ergastulum seems to be hanging by a thread in terms of keeping their internal organs internal, so it’s striking to see a relatively well-adjusted little girl living amongst all this violence and danger.

I guess it helps to be the nurse for a well-respected mob doctor, Theo, as well as good friends with Nic, who seems to be the most powerful cat in town, even against his own “kind”, a class of Shizuo-like supermen called, among other things, “tags.” Nina may be small and frail, but she’s tough, hard-working, and definitely a good influence around the feral Nic.

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Nina’s boss Dr. Theo, neutral in the various wars of the city, wants Nic to take care of somebody trying to bully him into joining an organization, theatening Nina in the process. In the chess game of these two sides, the guy targeting Theo already sent some wiseguys after Nina, but Worick sniffs them out, and uses Alex (or “Ally” as he now affectionately calls her) as a distraction so he can ghost the three of them.

Worick congratulates her on her measured reaction to the violence, but it’s clear she’s not exactly okay being around it, perhaps choosing to turn the despair inward. Ally later marvels at Nina’s stomach for this business, but this is Nina’s home, and always has been; she’s simply used to it.

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We’ve seen how well Worick and Nic work as a team, but in this case, against a fellow “tag”, Worick leaves the bulk of the work to Nic. His target actually gets a knock or two in, but only because both Nic and Dr. Theo are screwing around to a remarkable degree, considering Nina’s right there in the crossfire. But Nic, an “A/0” rank, is just giving his “B/2” opponent three minute lead time to do his worst. Once those minutes are up, Nic does what he does and carves the guy up, though doesn’t kill him.

I’m liking Gangsta’s grungy style and smash-mouth combat, though at times it reminded me of a Durarara!! fight. In fact, this show could almost pass as a spin-off of that show’s underworld elements. We see the guy Nic doesn’t kill beg his boss for his life and get rejected, showing us that while some like Nina consider “twilights” like Nic to be kind, good people, others just see them as tools, or if they don’t perform, plain old trash.

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GANGSTA. – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: As the title suggests, a gangster show, and a perfectly serviceable one at that. It takes place in a world pretty much like ours, only perhaps a bit colder and harsher (your locale may vary). It’s populated by all the usual suspects: wiseguys, pimps, prostitutes, dirty cops, and Worick and Nic, two gangsters-for-hire.

Nic is deaf and good with a sword; Worick wears an eyepatch and is good with his words (and handgun). They take on a job from Police Captain Chad to clean out a new gang led by a prick named Abbot that’s breaking the rules, and have no trouble doing so. In the process, they make a friend in Alex, a woman once under Abbot’s heel, but once Abbot is checked out, she answers the Handymens’ phone.

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Why you should watch: If you liked the thematic elements of Cowboy Bebop/Samurai Champloo, Michiko to Hatchin, Black Lagoon, and the like, this show will probably be a good, if familiar, fit. It deals with grown-up stuff like gang territory, corruption, drugs, sex, abuse, and other unpleasant things, and the camera mostly sits back and lets everything play out.

Watching the quirky duo of Worck and Nic do what they do helps this small, well-contained episode avoid by-the-numbers-ness. The town where they live and work is a maze of high, ashen walls, accentuating the claustrophobia of those like Alex trapped and oppressed within them. And like Zankyou no Terror, these two guys may not be entirely safe or sane, but they have their soft spots too.

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Why you may not want to watch: If you don’t want swearing, blood, or sexual content, stay away, obviously. But the shows I mentioned above also happen to be shows that were both more original and came out of the gate better than Gangsta, and also had their share of quirky MCs.

The milieu is almost too familiar, and while a subdued palette is called for considering the atmosphere, the show does look a bit dull, and aside from a couple neat moments (like Worick firing a gun right next to Nic’s useless ear), the combat animation isn’t anything special. Finally, Alex, so far, is a boilerplate damsel-in-distress who is only alive and free thanks to the actions of others, who happen to be male.

The Verdict: Gangsta has the distinction of being the first of six Summer 2015 anime I’ll be checking out, in addition to continuing Food Wars. It executed fine, but I wasn’t dazzled, nor did it really innovate. At this early stage in the season, the chemistry of the core trio and the promise of more gansta-y adventures warrants further watching— for now. I’ll call it a slow but solid start.

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Zankyou no Terror – 05

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Despite the seemingly random (to the public at large) destruction and disorder they’ve caused, Nine and Twelve’s activities as Sphinx have been highly controlled at every level. They’re not launching their attacks to kill or even hurt people. They’re sending messages Nine hopes Shibazaki will pick up on.

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He does, but it leads him back to “old mistakes” and introduces the opportunity to make them all over again. But what neither Nine nor Shibazaki learn soon enough is that they’re no longer the only players on this board. The cat and mouse have been joined by another mouse, intent on stirring up shit and introducing chaos into what had thus far been a very orderly “courtship dance.”

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That new mouse is Five, a distinctive-looking woman whom Nine remembers from his flashbacks to the facility. Nine never sees Five’s face or hears her voice in the present, but he knows it’s her, because of what goes down this week. Namely, she Ruins Everything: his latest terror plot ends up an even bigger, smokier mess than the one Lisa made in their kitchen.

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Lisa was trying to make an honest effort to get Nine to no longer see her as useless, so she could stick around, as she has nowhere else to go. Nine is not happy to say the least that Twelve brought her home (I’m delighted, personally), but she’s too sick to be thrown out; even he’s not that heartless. But he does predict her getting tangled up with them can and will end badly.

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It can’t be understated how disruptive a force Five truly was this week; not bad, considering we mostly see her painting her nails. She negates Sphinx’s use of cell carriers by causing a wholesale cell blackout. She baits Nine with a fake backdoor then hacks into his computer. After the bomb is allowed to go off, she sends a mass text saying “I found you.” It really shakes up the status quo nicely.

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Meanwhile, Shibazaki has made the connection Nine wanted him to: the bombing targets were all big shots involved with the “Rising Peace Academy.” But targeting these people means he’ll have to investigate them, and they’re not the kind of people who want to be investigated, especially as some are cops themselves.

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So Shibazaki is again in a situation where he can’t help digging too deep until he angers the wrong people. Both he and Sphinx have been outmaneuvered and their agency curtailed. And Five, the one responsible, is right there in the office with him, smiling away. Does Five want to catch and/or hurt Nine and Twelve, or “help” them? I’m just hoping she doesn’t turn out to be one-note chaotic evil.

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Zankyou no Terror – 04

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“At the place where the king who solved the riddle received a scary prophecy, whose name would you carve on its entrance?” Let’s just say, if you’re a detective chasing Sphinx and don’t know anything about western mythology, you’re up a creek without a paddle. Shibazaki doesn’t have that problem. He’s locked in, or at least more locked in than anyone else on the case.

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He visits a town where one of the suspected culprits held a part-time job, not so much for answers, but to get a lay of the same land they saw; see the same sights and smell the same smells…to sweat the trivial details that could lead to a breakthrough. Sphinx won’t be defeated if their mind can’t be penetrated. Shibazaki is trying to get in, and he may well be the only one who can work at something approaching their wavelength.

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Shibazaki’s observations, intuition, and deductions were nothing short of brilliant this week; the rust has definitely been shaken off. But again, he finds the answer, but not the whole answer; he remains several moves behind. He doesn’t take one word or gesture for granted, which is why this time he knows it falls on them to stop the bomb, not merely find it, and certainly not storm what is believed to be the culprits’ hideout.

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Therefore, even when Shibazaki realizes one of the maxims carved into the temple at Delphi—“know thyself”—is directed at him (he did put his face out there and issue a challenge), and thus the password to stop the bomb is his own name, ‘shibazaki”, it isn’t enough for victory, because his superiors sent EVERYONE to catch the guys, which is the very “cheating” Sphinx warned them not to try. The bomb that goes off is a bomb of information: all of the documents related to he department’s investigation are released onto the web.

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Shibazaki figured out the first maxim was the password, but the other two maxims were also in play. “Nothing in excess” could be interpreted to mean “no storming our hideout with a cop army.” “Make a pledge and mischief is nigh” (i.e., “be careful what you promise”) is another stab at Shibazaki, who promised to bring Sphinx to justice. Shibazaki can know himself to a t, but if he can’t control the people around him, that justice will remain out of reach.

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This is all fantastic stuff, but that isn’t even the whole episode, as we also get a big development in Lisa’s story. Rendered up to this point as a coldly-discarded loose end, she’s run away from home and from her awful mom, which sounds like a good idea until you realize Tokyo is not the safest place for a young lady to stroll about. She’s first accosted by curs, then cops, and Twelve can’t help himself, even though Nine definitely can, and urges Twelve to stay away from her.

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Nine is right in that the more people you involve in your schemes, the greater the chance you’ll get caught, but Lisa is very much a ghost at the moment; a ghost only he and Twelve can see. I don’t think there’s any question that they can trust her, because she has literally no one else. Any shadow of doubt was erased when Twelve plucked Lisa from police clutches and onto the back of his motorcycle. Turns out someone would just take her away when she wanted them to.

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The pure, unbridled exhilaration and jubilation; the wind in her hair and the glowing skyscrapers flying by overhead; smiling and laughing out loud for the first time she can remember…why would Lisa ever betray the person who gave her that? I’m not saying there isn’t the potential for her to end up being their Achilles’ Heel (with Shibazaki as Paris delivering the arrow)…but who said the Sphinx can’t take a waif in?

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Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 07

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With Tsurugi trapped in the underworld, Tama tends to an injured Kagami. Back at the ruins of the Tsukuyomi complex, Sasami’s mother gives her drugged daughter one last chance to return to being a Tsukuyomi princess. Sasami refuses, so her mother drugs her further to make her little more than a tool to impregnate with a Tsukuyomi priest she’s procured, in order to bear a new princess to fulfill her duty. Kagami gains consciousness long enough to heave Tsurugi’s devine sword all the way to Kamiomi, who uses it to escape from the mother’s captivity and free Sasami. The mother confronts them, but Tama arrives and take several bites out of her. A portal to the underworld opens, and Tsurugi drags Sasami’s mom in with her.

Once again this episode does a superb job subverting all of our expectations. What were we expecting? For starters, we thought we’d see Tsurugi struggling through the underworld, as depicted in a psychedelic style Shaft is no stranger to. She’d come out stronger than ever, face off against Sasami’s mom, and send her back where she belongs. But Tsurugi hardly does anything this week, and we barely see her. Most of the gruntwork of saving Sasami is left to the grade schooler with the grown-up body, Tama. In the process, we get a bit of backstory about how Tsurugi wasn’t always the perfect older sister, and times were tough for both Tama and Kagami, as could be suspected of new and reformed gods.

The episode’s climax also involves Sasami herself performing a binding spell on her mother that was taught to her by that same mother long ago, as depicted in a flashback in the cold open. There, we see a little more of the mom she remembers, rarely smiling but always kind and curious and loving, like the mother she was pretending to be last week. And for all her twisted methods (drugging and promoting rape), she is utterly convinced all she does is for Sasami’s and the world’s own good. But she’s not Sasami’s mother anymore; she died, and the kindess died with her. The bloodstained plushie Tsurugi overnights to Sasami from the underworld is a symbol of that loss and a memento of that ordeal.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 06

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Sasami starts seeing her deceased mother in random places. One day while shopping she shows up and they spend the day together like an ordinary mother and daughter. But she has an ulterior motive: she’s made a pact with the god of the underworld and come back to make sure Sasami returns to her training to become a Tsukuyomi princess. The Yagami sisters are powerless against her; Kagami is stabbed and Tsurugi is pushed down the slope of Yomi. Before she can harm Tana, Sasami surrenders, and she and her mom are transported to another place, presumably to resume her training.

This episode was something. It had us thinking the myriad gods created Sasami’s mother as she remembered her to fulfill her wish to hang out with her more like ordinary people, not as Tsukuyomi princesses or nursing her when she was bedridden. And eventually the Yagami sisters would show up and tell her she’s just another wish fulfilled that must be put aside to move forward. Needless to say, we were dead wrong. The formula (such as it is) of previous episodes was roundly subverted this week. The priestess fish-out-of-water story is over, and we’re now in full Serious Mode, where everyone’s lives are at stake.

Put simply: the Moon believes it’s time for the Sun to step aside and let it rule the universe. To that end, Sasami’s mom has been sent to set her back on the path she strayed from. And Sasami’s protectors, virtually invincible up until this point, are dispatched with terrifying speed and ease by the mom, who was no slouch even when she was a human, and possesses a divine, god-slaying sword. (Both Tsurugi and the mom have some awesome dialogue throughout their dealings with each other). Anyone wondering if Sasami was going to one day face the consequences of walking away from her birthright…needn’t wonder any longer.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Dantalian no Shoka 7

Last week proved there are other duos out there like Huey and Dalian, but this week we get back to their exploits, which begin innocently enough with a bun-acquiring mission. She certainly shares traits with Index – being a repository of magic knowledge, being small and cute and sweet-toothed – but her interaction with Huey is of such higher quality, it isn’t even worth comparing them beyond those superficial traits.

This week the two are thrust into the middle of a conflict between a cosmetics company and its most gifter perfumer, Madam Fiona Famenias, and the company’s and its shady underworld partners’ desire for maximum profits. Fiona is a very interesting character, called “unruly” by her father, but also eccentric, getting into peoples’ personal space to sniff them, garnering her the nickname “inu musume” – dog woman – from Dalian. She even has a civet up her skirt (don’t ask)! She also has a phantom book in her possession, the contents of which aid her work.

Her ultimate goal isn’t profits, but to develop a scent that will make everyone happy. My first reaction to this was, uh, she’s trying to make drugs. It turns out, the byproduct of one of her perfumes is indeed a drug called Relic that the Padauk Firm intends to replace opium. The Firm, getting high on its own supply, massacres the Famenia’s office and Fiona’s father, and leads to a great standoff in which Huey has to fight a drug addict who doesn’t feel pain, Fiona cleverly throws various vials perfume at the foes to incapacitate them. You definitely want a potions master on your side.

The sequence where huey unlocks dalian and pulls out a book is abridged.  They use the book to save her life, but she knocks Huey out and ties up Dalian, then proceeds to take out the entire Pandauk firm herself, to “atone” for what she perceives as greed on her part. They cannot save her again, and she dies. They return to find her house burning, and the scent wafting from the billowing smoke is the very ideal scene she had sought all along. Not a particularly necessary twist, but I didn’t mind it, and it was ironic.


Rating: 3.5