Peach Boy Riverside – 01 (First Impressions) – Carrot Debt

Peach Boy Riverside drops us right into the middle of former princess Sally’s journey away from home. She has a positive, can-do attitude as ample as her pants are shiny, and isn’t above lending a carrot to a hungry, adorable Harefolk Frau when she hears their stomach growling. When he pair visit a nearby village, the seemingly friendly townfolk reveal they’re racist as fuck. What feels like more than half the episode is spent in this village, which serves to contrast Sally’s kind and tolerant heart to the fearful, prejudiced townsfolk.

But when a Cockatrice emerges from the forest to wreck up the place, it’s Frau who saves the village that hats them with a One Punch Man-style demolition of the foe. The villagers aren’t won over, but the local lord seems moved by Frau bowing and thanking him for the carrots the previous night (when he somehow didn’t see that Frau was a demihuman). Hawthorn, commander of the local Kingdom’s knights, brings them in for questioning, but soon frees them, and feels bad about having put them in stocks, so treats them to a meal in the open-air market. That’s when Peach Boy Riverside quite suddenly gets dark and bloody, as two high-level Oni unleash a devastating attack on the city.

Frau again rushes to protect Sally, their main source of carrots, but is no match for the giant knight-gooshing walrus. That said, Frau fights valiantly enough to buy time for Sally’s latent “Peach Eye” power to awaken, turning her into an even more powerful fighter than Frau. While a bit light and lulling in the early stages, and featuring a completely random image of a nude Sally tangled in tentacles, Peach Boy Riverside picks up some steam and reveals a sharp edge when it counts. At the very least, I’m intent on see what happens next!

To Your Eternity – 03 – Bear Necessities

In last week’s episode, all March wanted was to grow up and become a mother. Hayase and her ilk tried to rob her of that future, but by the end of the episode March has grown in all ways but age and size. Now she has a child under her wing in the boy-shaped baby bird still known as It.

She’s also grown to realize that if she runs, others will die, and she can’t allow that. Being a grownup means nothing is simple anymore. But since she’s It’s surrogate mom, she tries to teach him how to say “thank you” and even gives him a name: Fushi or Fu-chan.

While March is headed back into Hayase’s clutches on purpose, Parona is captured but far from giving up on saving her little sister/wife. Stretching out her leg to produce a bone knife from her shoe which she uses to cut the ropes that bind her. Then Oniguma-sama appears, and it’s a harrowing race against time.

Parona, who is in effect the heroine this week (and that’s not a bad thing!), just manages to escape the lethal paw swipe of the giant spiked bear with bloodied eyes, and while she ends up running off a cliff, her fall is sufficiently cushioned that when she does finally hit the ground, she sustains no serious injuries.

Unfortunately, Parona is just too late to save March from being re-captured by Hayase. Fortunately, March inadvertently left a very clear trail of fruit and fruit remnants, at the end of which is Fushi, whom Parona can’t communicate with but can follow to March’s location.

March has had some great Asirpafaces in these past two episodes, but none better when she’s eating the weird black gelatin thingy Hayase orders her to eat, which eventually knocks her out cold. Hayase then re-applys the ink to her face—Oniguma-sama will only accept an unblemished youth—and carries her to the mountaintop altar.

I was surprised by the log fort that surrounds the altar, as I was expecting something much less grand. It’s instructive that before they reach said altar, Hayase’s underlings who saw the giant bear report that it could only have been Oniguma-sama, and she and the other guards react with disbelief.

That’s right: despite their utter devotion to carrying out this ancient custom, they believe Oniguma-sama is only a legend, and have never seen him actually claim any of the girls they’ve left on that bone-strewn altar. It’s not so much about belief in the actual entity as carrying out the job they were assigned to do.

That changes when Oniguma-sama arrives and busts his way into the log fort. Parona also arrives, and once again has to cut through ropes before the bear kills her and the still-unconscious March. Hayase is more intrigued than terrified by Oniguma-sama, and even tells her guards to stand down: If Parona wants to give the god a second meal, Hayase is going to let her.

When it’s clear that Parona isn’t going to finish cutting March’s ropes in time, it looks like it’s all over…and because this is To Your Eternity, I was fully prepared for both Parona and March to die. But someone…something was still missing from this scene, and that something finally arrives, I couldn’t help but cheer.

Parona is thrown clear of the altar by Fushi, who has come to protect the Giver of Fruits, AKA Mama, AKA March. He initially tries to take Oniguma on in his human form, but is torn to shreds and devolves into his wolf form, which is not only faster and more vicious but quicker to regenerate.

Despite being several dozen times smaller than Oniguma, Wolf!Fushi uses his speed, agility, and fast-healing, and with each attack learns something new about its adversary. Eventually it starts focusing on its soft spot—it’s nose—and eventually brings the great beast down.

Witnessing it all from a safe distance, Hayase wonders if this is just another act of the gods. And I guess there isn’t that much difference between what we’d call a god and a sufficiently advanced alien species.

With Oniguma-sama soundly defeated and nothing to which to offer a sacrifice, Hayase exhibits a slim modicum of humanity and makes a deal with Parona and March: she’ll report that the sacrifice was a success and March is dead, but in return, the two of them will accompany her and her guards back to Yanome. Either that, or they can die right there.

They choose to live (obviously), while Hayase also intends to bring along the very bizarre wolf who first appeared as a boy and was able to kill a deity. Parona is weary of the beast at first, but March offers it a fruit and it eats it in the exact same way as Fu-chan. Even more pointedly, it says “thank you”…as a wolf. It still has a lot to learn about the ways of this world, but it’s in just the right place to learn them.

To Your Eternity – 02 – I Don’t Don’t Wanna Grow Up

I’ll tellya, you can have Tsuda Kenjirou read the friggin’ phone book paired with an epic Kawasaki Ryou score and I’ll be entertained, but TYE gives the man far more stirring things to say. It manages to achieve what the doomed poor boy whose form he assumed could not: escape the tundra and reach a lush, fertile land.

It doesn’t do so without incident, dying six times by starvation, exhaustion, or infection, and a seventh when it’s eaten by a giant white bear. But as Tsuda’s smooth, smoky voice proclaims: It died again…but that was not a problem. With each death, It regenerates faster and faster. It learns.

The episode becomes far more conventional than the first, by dint of featuring more than one character speaking. It’s also not a self-contained mini-film but the first part of an arc in this new green setting. Neither of these differences are bad things, mind you. In fact, it feels like Peak Ghibli a la Princess Mononoke.

A large part of that is due to March, the vivacious, instantly endearing heroine of this arc. Voiced by Hikisaka Rie with a nice balance of cutesiness and precociousness, March has a “family” of eight stuffed animal “children” with her “spouse” and big-sis figure Parona. But March wants to grow up ASAP so she can be a real mother.

Her village could use more mothers, too: she’s one of only three children, which makes her fate that much more maddening. One day, March hears a clanging bell, and Parona grabs her and runs off. They’re caught by an menacing, matter-of-fact warrior priest named Hayase and four guards who hide their faces with Beefeater hats.

Parona and March’s village has been chosen (I assume by the elders) to provide the next offering to Oniguma-sama, a god-beast who lives atop the nearby mountain and demands an untarnished female sacrifice every damn year. Seems like a bad idea if you, I dunno, don’t want to die out as a people.

March makes clear this is bullshit and she doesn’t want to die, because that means she’ll never grow up or be a mom. But both her reasonable words and her tiny punches fail to move Hayase from her absolute devotion to tradition. Hayase warns March that if she runs, Lalah will be killed in her place. If Lalah runs, they’ll use her infant sister. Real piece of work, this Hayase!

The preparations proceed, and while March’s parents hid their despair upon learning their daughter would be chosen, they don’t spare their grief and anguish when her procession commences its climb to the sacrificial altar atop the mountain.

Parona stood with the other villagers looking helpless, but that was only an act. While she is absolutely terrible at archery, one of her wayward arrows manages to smack Hayashitbag right on her haughty nose, and Parona uses the opening to tackle her. At the same time, March runs off as fast as her little legs can carry her, and is eventually aided by gravity.

She ends up face down in a pond, where she encounters It. It is also face down, and dead, and a mangled, decomposed corpse. But while Hayase’s pursuing guards turn tail upon seeing his grotesque form, March stands fast and watches with wonder as the husk of a boy reconstructs itself. March washes off the ink on her face—which in her village is done when a girl officially becomes a woman—and follows the wordless white-haired boy.

She grows increasingly frustrated with his complete lack of communication, but soon their speaking the same language: rumbling bellies. March climbs a tree and grabs him a fruit, which he proceeds to eat like he did when he was a wolf: ravenously and greedily. Every fruit March picks for herself ends up in his stomach until he’s had his fill and curls up to sleep.

After she eats and falls asleep beside her, March dreams of coming home, only to learn that Lalah and her baby sister Lisa were sacrificed to Oniguma-sama in her stead, and then, because this is To Your Eternity, we are shown the small child and infant being eaten by the great bearlike beast.

Upon waking, March heads back to her village, not willing to let the other kids die in her place. It knows to stay close to her if it wants an easy meal, so it follows her like a lost puppy.

Despite all the suffering and duress she’s had to endure the last few days, March can still maintain a sense of humor about things, turning around, flashing a gentle smile, and telling It “I’m not your mommy!” But she’s wrong: she is It’s mother. She became quite by accident what she’d always dreamed of becoming. How long will it last? Hopefully, as long as it can.

Kemono Jihen – 11 – Let it Bro

Let it be said that the system the yuki-onna employ to keep the Snowy Village arrive is patently awful, not to mention extremely inefficient. And yet, with many a human tribe throughout history relied on the suffering and sacrifice of a “special few” in order to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity survival, it’s certainly nothing new, on either side of the human-kemono spectrum.

We take a look back at Yui and Akira’s past in the village throughout this episode, as Yui becomes the chief and is studded out to all of the 200 women of the village, a duty he keeps secret from Akira. Akira assumes he has to deal with difficult paperwork, and cheers him up with sasanqua camellia blooms when they’re able to talk to each other in the night.

Until a woman produces a male heir, his duties will continue; no mention is made of what happens to any new female children produced in the meantime. But Yui’s burden goes beyond simply being the physical tool with which to keep the village going. He has to deal with the constant competition for his favor, which adds to his emotional toll.

Back in the ice castle Yui built for his pure brother, Akira’s plushie informs him the others are frozen, but they are still alive. Kabane even manages to burst half of his body out of the ice. And while his bottom half grows back, the fact remains he, along with the still-frozen Shiki and Inugami, are still at Yui’s mercy.

Not sure what else he can do to protect them, Akira decides to scorn Kabane, saying he hates them and wants nothing more to do with them. When Yui returns, Akira shields Kabane from his frozen wrath and, knowing Yui will do whatever he asks, says he wants to move with him to a new place.

Kabane is left in a state of shock, thinking Akira really means what he said. Then Inari shows up in all her saxophone leitmotif-having glory. She assures him she’s not here for the Lifestone, but the Nullstone, which among other things could provide answers about his parents.

Seeing Inugami sealed up like a Thermos and reduced to communicating through the plushie (which can read his mind waves), Inari remarks that he’s gotten weaker…probably due to how he “makes too much” of “those useless children.”

Inari, meanwhile, uses her children like tools and discards them when they’re no longer of use. But like Kon, Nobimaru is all too happy to serve his mistress in all things, including going toe-to-toe with Yui, who encases Akira in a protective ice cage while he fights an ice-vs.-fire battle with the kitsune.

As the circumstances of Akira’s banishment are revealed—he had his first wet dream, so Yui sent him away before any of the women found out—Yui will do anything to preserve Akira’s perceived “purity”. And while both Nobimaru is hanging in there and the unkillable Kabane is on his way, it’s still looking like Akira will have to be the one to stop his twin brother from causing more harm.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 09 – A New Adventure Begins

Rudeus wakes up in a white void and in his original human form, and assumes his time in a fantastical new world was finally at an end. Why wouldn’t someone with his experience in failure and disappointment think otherwise? But it’s not the end, just the end of the beginning.

First of all, as he’s told by the very sketchy looking and sounding “Man-God”, he’s not dead; this is simply his mental image. It’s only a dream, and when he wakes up he’ll be back in lil’ Rudy’s body. The concern is where he wakes up: the mana disaster transported him to the Demon Continent.

The Man-God tells Rudy to rely upon and help the man he’ll meet upon waking up. That man turns out to be a Superd, the demon tribe feared and loathed by all. Rudy is initially fearful himself, especially wiht a sleeping Eris nearby. But when the man shows no sign of hostility, Rudy decides to make use of his Demon-God language skills and politely introduce himself.

The man is named Ruijerd Superdia, and tells Rudy they’re in Biegoya, in the northeast of the Demon Continent, quite a trek back to the Central Continent from which he and Eris came. Ruijerd tells Rudy he’ll escort them safely back to their homeland; to abandoning children would damage the Superd tribe’s reputation. Of course, as an awakening Eris’ over-the-top yet quite normal reaction to Ruijerd confirms, the Superd’s rep is already crap.

Rudy serves as mediator, and within minutes, Eris and Ruijerd are friends, and Eris is all smiles about the prospect of going on an adventure in a strange land full of unknown dangers. It’s precisely the opposite of the prim, proper, fancypants existence cooped up in the Boreas mansion in Roa, where Eris so often acted like a caged animal.

Biegoya’s gorgeously-rendered landscape is downright alien, from the lighting and colors to the texture of the terrain and, naturally, the wildlife, which includes massive tortoises that call to mind a grand Final Fantasy overworld.

I also hasten to add that the three make for a neat adventuring party, with Ruijerd as the spearman, Rudy as the mage, and Eris as the swordswoman. The only problem is Eris lacks a sword, and Ruijerd wouldn’t think it right for children to protect him. I’m sure he’ll soon learn Rudy and Eris are not your typical helpless kids!

After the better part of a day of trudging through hot and barren wastes, the party comes upon a village that uses the giant tortoise shells as dwellings. When the guard at the gate sees two humans with Ruijerd he bars them from entering—human-demon distrust goes both ways—but Ruijerd asks him consult with the elder, which he does through telepathy.

Once the elder and other villagers appear, all of them with a familiar cornflower blue hair, I knew Rudy was about to experience “Small World” phenomenon, as the guard, Rowin, recognizes the green stone around Rudy’s neck. When Rudy says he got it from his master Roxy Migurdia, Rowin proclaims he is Roxy’s father!

Roxy apparently left the village 20 years ago and they haven’t seen her since. Hearing she’s alive and well in the Central Continent brings tears to Rowin’s eyes. He also estimates Roxy to be around 44 years old; demons enjoy over double the lifespan of humans, and keep their youthful looks well into middle age. I believe that officially makes Rudy’s goddess a MILF.

That night over dinner (of which Rudy is apparently not a fan), the Migurd elder mentions numerous shooting stars last night, the result of the mana disaster that brought Rudy and Eris to their lands. When Ruijerd tells him of his plan to take them home, the elder is weary, as it will be hard for a Superd like him to enter cities.

The elder is aware of Ruijerd’s goal to dispel the Superd tribe’s poor reputation, which Rudy knows isn’t going to be easy. Rudy then accidentally angers Ruijerd by telling one of the biggest lies: that the Superd just naturally kill everybody and anybody who looks at them the wrong way. He tells Rudy the truth: the Superd were betrayed…by Laplace.

Just as Sauron corrupted men with powerful but ultimately cursed rings, Laplace corrupted the Superd with powerful but ultimately cursed spears. Spears are a vital part of the Superd tribe, as they represent their very souls. At first the new spears Laplace gave them seemed like a great deal, but before they were aware of it they had become a violent and brutal tribe killing everyone they could see, including their own families.

Ruijerd raises his spear, which is the soul of his son, who sacrificed himself to free him of the curse. The Superd’s “curse of infamy” is punishment for trusting Laplace, but he’s committed to fight to repair his tribe’s reputation to his last breath. As he looks into the fire Rudy contemplates what 400 years of guilt and regret felt like for Ruijerd, likening it to the misery he felt in his old world, albeit for a much briefer, human-scaled duration.

Rudy makes up his mind right then and there: he will help Ruijerd redeem the Superd in the eyes of the world. Ruijerd, genuinely touched by the offer, accepts, and the next morning the three of them are off, after a very cute scene where Rudy asks if he can call Rowin “father-in-law” (he can’t), compliments his would be mom-in-law (who is 102!). Even Eris is polite for once, saying thanks and goodbye with a proper curtsey (despite not wearing a dress).

As thanks for relaying the news that their Roxy is well, her parents give Rudy a purse of what looks like demon currency and a very cool-looking demon sword, which he gives to Eris. He reiterates the choice he made to help Ruijerd after empathizing with his suffering and acknowledging his goodwill towards him and Eris—all while Eris is in the background practicing her swordsmanship!

It’s an all-around good arrangement: Rudy will let Ruijerd protect him and Eris outside of the cities, while they’ll protect him within them. So ends a particularly strong episode, made all the stronger by drawing upon the parts of Rudy’s original life besides his perversity (it’s the lightest episode yet on that front), and the fact that Eris is clearly super-pumped to be on an adventure.

Read Crow’s review of episode 9 here!

Otherside Picnic – 03 – It Takes a Village

It’s just Sorao and Toriko this week, as Otherside Picnic sticks to a simple formula: the two meet up, go to the Otherside, encounter something dangerous, then make it back safe and sound. Rinse, repeat. Throughout each of the three visits we’ve watched, Sorao wonders if she really should keep hanging out with Toriko, but hasn’t been able to keep herself from doing so—in large part because Toriko is fun and pretty.

This week while searching for the supply point where Toriko first found her gun, the two go into the nitty-gritty of how to search for glitches along their path. Wide shots of the two give a sense of scale of their surroundings, but because they’re rendered in clunky CG it pulls me out of those scenes every time.

The “Big-Heads” who inhabit the village are initially creepy, but as soon as there are dozens of them rendered in CGI, they look more goofy than anything else. And while they end up chasing the girls, one could argue they had a right to be mad about their friends getting shot by intruders.

During the ensuing chase, the girls stop numerous times while Big-Heads don’t, yet they’re never caught.  Also, both Sorao and Toriko stumble, but neither of them help the other up. They end up escaping back to their world through a miniature shrine, showing that there are many different ways in and out of the Otherside.

It’s somewhat deflating that even after Toriko expresses genuine affection for her, Sorao ends up in the precise same headspace as the beginning of the episode: wondering whether she should rethink continuing these excursions with Toriko. The kids chasing each other in masks that were the same colors as the Big-Heads was a neat little detail. Otherwise, three episodes in I must admit I’m getting a little bored with this.

Kemono Jihen – 01 – (First Impressions) – Tokyo Dreamin’

Detective Inugami is on his way to a remote village to investigate strange instances of rotting livestock corpses. Yataro, the innkeeper’s son, is quick to show off to his friends, who all think Yatarou will be Tokyo-bound at some point.

Yatarou also warns Dorotabo—a boy working in the fields in lieu of school—not to go near the detective, lest the stench upset him. However, the detective, an eccentric sort named Inugami who wears a flashy suit and drives a vintage car, seems far more interested in Dorotabo than in Yatarou.

Yatarou plays the role of eager-to-please innkeeper’s son, hoping to make a good impression on a Tokyo resident, but soon after he talks to Inugami about Dorotabo in derisive terms, the detective dismisses him in favor of Dorotabo.

Dorotabo has always been ostracized in the village for smelling bad and being generally creepy. He also wears a strange necklace that he was wearing when he was abandoned, but Inugami identifies it as a “lifestone”, which means whatever happened to his parents, they didn’t abandon him.

Yatarou, like the spoiled haughty little shit he is, tries to steal the necklace from Dorotabo, but when he does, Dorotabo transforms into a vicious demon; he’s just barely able to regain possession of the lifestone and transforms back into human form.

He’s hiding when Inugami tacks him down, warning him that he is the cause of the dead and rotting livestock. But Inugami while already has him pegged as the child of a human and a demon—a kemono like him—he knows Dorotabo isn’t responsible. Sure enough, other demon beasts appear as corrupted dogs and deer.

Inugami and Dorotabo are in time to save Yatarou from the dogs, but a giant demon buck with weirdly human teeth appears, and is a tougher customer. Inugami is only able to shoot through half of its thick neck with his gun (which he’s able to summon out of thin air), but Yatarou rips the rest of the demon’s head off with his bare hands.

Afterwards, Inugami reveals to Dorotabo that the innkeeper brought him to the village to kill him. He asks him his real name—Kabane—and asks once more if he wants to meet his parents. Kabane says no with a bright smile, and asks Inugami to kill him. Inugami shoots him in the head, and reports the kill to the innkeeper.

Kabane wakes up in the back of Inugami’s car, having been out for a day healing. A bullet to the head can’t kill what’s already dead, after all. Kabane now finds himself in the middle of the largest metropolis in the world—where that little punk Yatarou wanted to go—and Inugami sets him up with some cool new threads at the Inugami Strangeness Counseling Office, where two other kids—presumably also kemono—show up wondering who the heck he is.

I found Kemono Jihen (literally “Beast Incidents”) to be a fresh, fun supernatural series that immediately pulled me in with its picturesque village setting, and kept me engaged by having a bake-danuki like Inugami act with more human compassion than actual humans towards a kid who didn’t deserve their ire. The beasts are legit creepy, while there’s a palpable sense of excitement and momentousness to Kabane’s arrival in the big city. This looks like a keeper so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 25 (S3 E01) – Russian Beef Bonanza

Golden Kamuy picks right up where it left off, with a healed Sujimoto sailing north to Sakhalin, accompanied by Lt. Koito, Sgt. Tsukishima, Private Tanigaki, and Cikapasi (who stowed away). In the Japanese town of Otomari (now Korsakov), Koito samples the hurep, a local lingonberry wine, and they learn that a little Ainu girl was there before them.

From there the team heads north into the forest where the girl headed, but the Ainu girl they meet is not Asirpa, but a similarly capable-beyond-her-years Enonoka, who fell of her grandfather’s dogsled. Its here where the soldiers have their first brush with a wolverine, an animal even more feared than bears, and which indeed is in the process of attacking a bear when it turns on them.

After wounding Koito, the others shoot at the nimble wolverine but hit nothing but air. Thankfully, Enonoka’s gramps Henke returns and gets them all out of there on his dogsled. The snow that arrives a month earlier, combined with beasts more dangerous than bears, indicates that Sakhalin is going to be even less hospitable than Hokkaido.

After a quick check-in on HIjitaka’s crew, who are headed to Kushiro on a new lead on the gold, Sugimoto & Co. arrive in Enonoka’s village, and we learn how Sakhalin Ainu have adapted to the harsher conditions by having separate summer and winter domiciles. Koito’s wound is treated with bear fat, and Enonoka tells Sugimoto that Asirpa visited them earlier (her “Hinna!” reaction to the salted hurep being a dead giveaway).

After hiring Henke’s dogs, the group sleds to a Russian town to the north, hoping Asirpa and Kiroranke’s trail heats up. But upon entering a tavern they only encounter unhelpful and lippy drunks. Sugimoto has no patience for this, and slugs the biggest, toughest mofo in the bar, while asking Tsukishima (the only one of them who speaks Russian) to translate the elaborate way he’s going to fuck them all up if he doesnt get his way.

When a distraught Enonoka reports that their lead sled dog (who is like family to her) has been kidnapped, Sugimoto & Co. learn that the tavern owner had money on the guy Sugimoto slugged in the next stenka, and that Sugimoto will have to replace him if he wants the dog back. That night the Japanese boys experience a stenka (Russian for “wall”) for the first time, and it’s a veritable testosterone factory—which is right up their alley!

Eager to teach the towering Russian fighters that they’re no slouches, all four soldiers enter the match and defeat their opponents convincingly (even Kaito is jacked as shit). This has the intended consequence of attracting the interest of another tattooed ex-prisoner, who only fights in matches he deems worthy of his skills.

Desperate to reunite with Asirpa, Sugimoto has been wrangled into a wonderfully over-the-top Russian beef-mashin’ factory. It would seem they’ll get the lead sled dog back with this first victory, but he’ll probably have to entertain the tattooed guy even more before he gives him any information.

In any case, Golden Kamuy returns in fine form, delivering its wonderfully unique blend of treasure-hunting, frontier survivalism, cultural education, supercharged masculinity, and slapstick comedy.

Shironeko Project: ZERO CHRONICLE – 01 (First Impressions) – The Desperate Pursuit of Balance

In the Kingdom of Darkness, an unnamed young lad (Kaji Yuki) flees from his village with younger children when monsters attack. Neither the villagers nor the children survive, leaving the lad alone. Not knowing what else to do, he digs a huge hole for the dead, but also for himself, because he comes to like how the sun pours in, coating everything in the hole equally.

He encounters an old but stout knight named Skears, who urges the kid to come out of the hole and direct his energies elsewhere. He manages to inspire the kid into having a little duel with him, and he shows a bit of skill. That’s apparently enough for Skears, who by the way is dying, to name the kid his successor as well as the next Prince and future King of Darkness, a title Skears himself failed to gain.

Meanwhile, high above the clouds in the Kingdom of Light, Queen Iris (Horie Yui) leads an attack on an encroaching darkness that is expanding in both size and density, making each battle tougher. Shironeko Project takes pains to accentuate the stark contrast between the kingdoms of darkness in light.

Obviously, there’s more light, but more saturation, richer hues, and an ethereal vividness. It’s as squeaky clean and gleaming up here as it is muddy and brooding down there. And just as important as the visuals are the sounds, and Iwasaki Taku’s lavish orchestral score is excellent, featuring distinct leitmotifs for the two kingdoms: more orchestral and soaring in the sky; more grungy and metal down below.

The Lad makes it to the capital where he’ll become stronger and challenge the current King, but he’ll need allies. He gains his first in Valas, a knight friendly with Skears (and possibly his former student). Valas presumes the kid is a thief, but after flashing some skill and more importantly Skears’ words, Valas changes his tune, pledges his loyalty to the kid’s claim, and takes him to Skears’ mansion.

This all happens rather fast, but as the Bard said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” If you’re using my viewing time wisely and efficiently I’m rarely going to be mad, as long as you don’t run out of story or worse, the speed hurts my ability to get engaged with the material. Neither is the case here…at least not yet.

Back in the Lightdom, we get to know Queen Iris’ top officers, like the knight Faios and mage Sima. They know their queen is more concerned with maintaining balance than achieving a total victory. Interestingly, Sima was once a candidate for Queen but lost to her best friend. Refreshingly, she seems to hold no hard feelings, and wants only to serve her queen as best she can.

Iris’ commitment to minimizing fighting and death is noble, but the expanding darkness is forcing her hand, and a report comes that the Western capital is under attack, she must immediately head back into battle. Even so, she sees this latest incursion as a sign it’s time for the King of Darkness to be replaced. She’s confident his successor will work with her to maintain the balance.

I first approached SPZC with skepticism—with so many fantasy anime out there (isekai or no) any newcomer would have to make quite the impression. I wasn’t encouraged by the breakneck speed and simplicity of the early scene of the kid and Skears, but once I saw both sides of this dark-light coin, and heard more of that sweet, sweet Iwasaki sound, this gradually grew into something I’d tentatively recommend.

I’m also a sucker for star-crossed love stories in the midst of warring nations, and a big fan of both Horie and Kaji, so the inevitable meeting of Prince and Iris is a built-in reason to keep watching. SPZC is telling a very old story with very basic elements, but telling it reasonably well. We’ll see if it can elevate that material.

KonoSuba Movie: Legend of Crimson – Megumin’s Homecoming

First of all, it’s been some time since I’ve seen Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness in their original non-chibified form, so it’s a rare pleasure to see them in their regular proportions and setting. KonoSuba’s twenty episodes proved you can make an often over-the-top isekai comedy with genuine heart.

If you liked the TV show, you’ll love the movie (as I did), which delivers more of everything. Though it contains roughly a half-cour’s worth of story, the ninety minutes just breeze by. Officially a sequel to KonoSuba 2, we return to Kazuma’s party’s mansion, where notoriously involuntary loner Yunyun has an unusual request: she wants—nay, must—make a baby with Kazuma. She comes to this belief upon receiving a letter from her father, Chief of the Crimson Demon Village.

While that letter turns out to be a work of fiction written by one of her academy classmates, Yunyun is nevertheless compelled to return to her hometown to help fight the forces of the Demon King. Megumin and the others decide to follow her, and rely on Iz to teleport them there.

Unfortunately, they end up far from the village, and in the midst of a stampede of rabidly horny she-orcs (there are no more male orcs) after Kazuma. After Yunyun’s request, this marks the second instance of Kazuma being entangled in romance (for good or ill) which he comes to call his “popular phase.”

What better way to learn more about Megumin than to visit her home? Turns out she’s hardly an anomoly, the town is nothing but overly-dramatic chuuni dressed in cool outfits with an emphasis on reds and blacks. The orcs are scattered by their overwhelming offensive magical power, a quality Megumin also shares with her clan.

Megumin’s parents are each eccentric in their own ways, while her little sister Komekko is adorable as all-get-out. Her family is poor, so the moment her parents smell money on Kazuma (he’s in the process of a 300m-Eris deal with Vanir to sell his memoirs), Kazuma finds himself at the mercy of a mother who wants to pair him with Megumin with all due haste.

To this end, she locks Kazuma and Megumin (sleeping due to a recent Explosion) in a room together. She comes to when he’s about to kiss her after much hand-wringing about how to proceed, and she escapes through the window to spend the night at Yunyun’s, fearing further lecherous advances.

The next day, Megumin shows her friends around the village, including to her and Yunyun’s (very Hogwarts-y) magical academy. We learn that when goblins attacked Komekko, Yunyun sacrificed her amassed skill points to repel the enemy. Because Megumin hesitated, that meant she was able to preserve her points and attain Explosion magic she cultivates to this day.

Megumin finds herself locked in her room with Kazuma again, this time by ice. Kazuma assures her that he won’t do anything, and offers his apologies as well as thanks for all the things she and the others have gone through with and for him.

It’s a very nice heartfelt scene, and Megumin even ends up clinging to Kazuma under the covers, commenting on how he’s really a “wimp” when it comes to making a move. Unfortunately, their tender moment is interrupted by the return of Sylvia, the voluptuous Demon King who leads the attack on the village.

Kazuma managed to scare her and her goblin army off with bluster earlier, but when she learns he’s not really Mitsurugi of the Cursed Sword, she takes him hostage…and Kazuma lets it happen. First, because it’s more proof of his Popular Phase; second, because it’s comfy between Sylvia’s boobs; and third, he has an ax to grind with his comrades regarding his treatment.

Kazuma accompanies Sylvia to the Crimson Demon Village’s underground storage facility, and inadvertently unlocks the chamber where Mage Killer, the one weapon he can’t let a demon king get ahold of, is stored. While he doesn’t intend to make things worse for the village, Kazuma’s so out of it he doesn’t realize punching in the classic cheat code on the Nintendo-style control pad would unlock the weapon.

He manages to lock Sylvia in the chamber, but once she has the Mage Killer and absorbs it into her artificial body, she blows the entire facility to kingdom come, then heads to the village to start blowing it up. Megumin leads Kazuma & Co. to more underground caverns, where they find Japanese carvings that explain the origin of the Crimson Demons, and why they’re so “pretentious yet nerdy”

Turns out their culture was basically created by another Japanese man sent there by the goddesses. He also built the Mage Killer, but also created a countermeasure for it: something he tentatively called “Railgun” that Kazuma previously noticed being used as a backyard clothesline in the village.

When Crimson Demons march out to defend their town, Sylvia engulfs them in an “Ancient Dispel” field that nullifies all of their magical power. They’re “saved” by a suddenly cool and confident Yunyun, finally taking up the mantle of her father the chief and luring Sylvia away.

Turns out she’s acting as a lure to bring Sylvia in firing range of the Railgun. Aqua fills it with magial energy, but it still fails to fire. That’s when Megumin unleashes an Explosion meant to his Sylvia directly, but is instead shunted into the rifle, which her little sister Komekko then fires.

Sylvia is killed, and ends up in the same place as fellow defeated Demon Kings Verdia and Hans. She merges with them an is resurrected into a huge, bizarre four-legged beast. Turns out her old comrades Wiz and Vanir have arrived in the village on an unrelated errand, and join in the fight, but even they are barely able to keep Sylvia at bay.

That’s when Kazuma decides to use his Popular Phase for good; by appealing to Sylvia’s innate need to be loved and wanted by somebody other than her adoring hordes of goblins. Kazuma, his luck boosted by Aqua’s blessings, is that person, and stands before her unarmed and ready to be taken into her arms…or tentacles…or whatever.

I never thought I’d empathize with a Konosuba villain so much, but Sylvia turns out to be one of the most dynamic and sympathetic of Demon Kings KonoSuba has served up. Her feelings, and specifically her romantic longing, isn’t entirely played for jokes, but portrayed as a very human side of her that turns out to be the Achilles Heel Kazuma must betray her heart to exploit.

He succeeds in gaining her trust and becomes one with her as Wiz gathers the magical energy from all of the villagers and transfers it to Megumin and Yunyun, who combine their powers to unleash a gargantuan Explosion beam that, combined with Kazuma breaking her heart, destroys Sylvia and ends the threat to the village for good.

Back home in Axel, Kazuma receives a hero’s welcome, proving his Popular Phase still has a bit left in the tank. While having a picnic with Aqua and Darkness, Megumin asks Kazuma to allow her to learn advanced magic, setting aside her Explosion magic so she can be of greater use to the party.

Kazuma may have long railed against her utter lack of versatility and durability in battle, but spending so much time in close quarters with her and meeting both her family and the villagers who shaped her, Kazuma suddenly isn’t so quick to deprive her of her “Explosiveness”. Whatever he does to her skill card, she’s still able to cast a beautiful Explosion that creates a heart-shaped cloud. And for that, Megumin is happy.

Did Aqua and Darkness get the short end of the stick in this movie? Perhaps, but that meant a lot of great development for Megumin, Kazuma, and their unique bond. They may get on each others nerves at times, but at the end of the day they’ll always be there for each other: Megumin blowing up something that needs blowing up, and Kazuma carrying her home on his back.

It’s quite simply KonoSuba at its absolute best, firing on all cylinders with confidence, comedy, and chemistry. My main gripe with this movie is that it makes me long that much more for KonoSuba 3!

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 07 – The Witching Hour

As he did with Shizuno and Yabashira, Golem confides in Haitora the truth of his dwindling lifespan, and how like Haitora he won’t be around to see his charge grow up. It’s like he’s getting the weight of the lie off his chest; dropping the facade of pretending everything’s okay with Somali.

Even so, Haitora considers Somali all too lucky to have found Golem, as she gets to live her life with a smile on her face and with peace of mind thanks to her guardian’s care, despite being a human.

Haitora’s words make Golem feel lighter in the chest. Anyone who thinks Somali hasn’t made him more human isn’t paying attention. The next day, Golem and Somali say goodbye to Haitora and Uzoi, but Uzoi promises Somali they’ll meet again once she’s found a cure for Haitora. I for one would have enjoyed them remaining together longer, especially since it makes sense for all four of them should be headed in the same direction.

That’s because Golem and Somali’s new destination is a village filled with witches who bear a solemn duty to amass all of the world’s knowledge. If there was a cure for eating harpy flesh, you’d guess you’d find it there. Alas, it’s just Golem and Somali, who are greeted by a bevy of witches selling all manner of delicious food an drink, in which the food-crazy Somali is all to happy to indulge. The village is gorgeous with its whimsical architecture and glowing light.

The pair are directed to the Witches’ Crest Library, a huge and grand structure containing millions of books of every conceivable topic. Just being led into the libarary and hearing the various voices bounce off the walls has a major impact, a feeling of being truly immersed into this gradually expanding fantasy world. Somali is eager to read a book about food, and I’m surprised she knows how to read!

Among the myriad non-human clans of this world, one would think witches, like harpies, would be able to “sniff out” a human in disguise. But if their magical hosts detect Somali’s true nature, they don’t make an issue of it. Instead, friendly librarian witch Hazel and her bookworm older sister Praline are happy to escort Golem to the location of a biography that makes mention of humans.

Things are derailed a bit when Somali locates the book in question on a shelf and recklessly pulls it off the shelf, dislodging a school of skeletal book-eating fish who are particularly interested in that particular book. Praline summons several little blue penguins to eat the fish, while Hazel produces a cloud of rose petals that squash the remaining beasts out. Their magic, and the accompanying music, adds the whimsical, wondrous atmosphere.

Even Hazel’s spell isn’t enough, however, as the surviving bookfish coalesce into a single giant subspecies. Somali refuses to give up the book, runs off, and inevitably trips over her feet. The book goes flying and the bookfish destroy it before a single page can be written. Worse, Golem must sacrifice the remaining “skin” on his arm and enter into a reflexive Attack Mode to rescue Somali and defeat the fish boss.

Somali is tearfully apologetic for getting Golem hurt, but he’s not concerned as long as she’s okay. Praline also suggests that all is not lost if they can find the previous person to have read the book, who could then share its contents with Golem and Somali. It turns out the last borrower of the book was Isolde Nebsolv, their boss and Head Librarian.


DanMachi II – 12 (Fin) – A Goddess’ Love

While last week’s cliffhanger, in which Bell, Hestia, and Ais literally fell off a cliff, hinted at more action and peril in the finale, we end up with no such thing. My expectations were duly subverted; thank you, DanMachi! The episode skips to the part where Ais has already effortlessly saved everyone, and Hestia is in bed recovering from a fever.

They end up in a gorgeous mountain village, whose mayor Karm and daughter Rina are more than happy to host a goddess. When Rina proves more than capable of taking care of her, Hestia puts Bell to work helping the villagers prepare for their harvest festival. Ais joins him, donning some very fetching village garb.

So…what’s the twist? Isn’t everyone in this village a bit too kind? When does the other shoe drop? Well, it doesn’t. Bell and Ais never encounter any more enemies, be they Ares’ children or anyone else. The village doesn’t even have a dark secret; the scales of the legendary Black Dragon are on proud display for all to see, their mere presence keeping monsters away and enabling the village to prosper. Ais gives them the stink-eye, but that’s all.

The lack of any classic conflict allows the episode to be a meditation on the goddess-child relationship, represented in the present by Hestia and Bell, and in the past by Karm and his goddess Brigid. Once a brash young adventurer himself, he and Brigid loved one another, so much so that she saved his life at the cost of returning to heaven.

Filled with grief and regret, he swore never to take a wife and instead adopted Rina, who keeps him going. But as his life continues to wind down, he impresses upon Bell the importance of honoring and protecting his goddess at all costs.

Bell takes that to heart when a recovered Hestia joins him and Ais at the festival. Rather than bookending DanMachi with Bell-Ais dances, Bell remembers Karm’s words and how he spurned Hestia last week by saying the wrong thing, and formally asks her for a dance.

The fun is interrupted by Rina, who brings Hestia back to speak to Karm, who is very near death. While everyone around her is weeping, Hestia maintains an ethereal calm about the whole thing, keeping things light and upbeat as she speaks to Karm.

Turns out she and Brigid were best friends (though, like Loki she used to call her a shrimp), and she lets her hair down so Karm can see her as Brigid with his failing eyes, calling him to join her in heaven. Bell can’t help but weep as Hestia shuts the departed Karm’s eyes—he can’t help but see his own future in the scene.

Bell wanders off on his own, but is soon found by Hestia, who suspects he’s worried about their very lifespans and resultant perspectives on time. But she tells him not to overthink things. If he wants to be with her—and he very much does—then there’s nothing to worry about. She’ll be with him, all throughout his life, even when he grows old.

Even when his soul rises to heaven, is wiped clean, and returns to earth as someone else. She’ll simply find that person and ask them to be in her Familia. There’s no need to fear their love for each other, because even if his body isn’t eternal, she, and that love, most certainly are.

With that, Bell, Hestia, and Ais return to Orario. They vow to return to the village—I can’t blame them, place was super-cozy—and Ais has Bell promise to bring her along, inviting Hestia’s ire. Haruhime invites it too when she welcomes bell home with a big hug.

As action-packed, world-changing finales go, this…wasn’t that. In a way, it was something better—or at least far truer to what a goddess like Hestia is all about: the warmth and comfort of the hearth, and the kindness and love of a happy home.

Vinland Saga – 10 – Dawn in the Age of Twilight

Vinland Saga has become an exercise in guarded patience, centered around the question of how long Thorfinn going to pursue revenge, and when he’s going to wake up and live his own damn life. Maybe that’s what he thinks he’s doing, and his father, both in life and in his dreams, is just wrong that there’s a better path than the one he’s on.

Maybe Thorfinn is simply caught in the inertia of the events surrounding him, and would simply rather put effort in what he sees as a sure thing—one day cutting Askeladd’s throat—than the uncertainty of returning to a life of peace with his mother and sister. After all, Thors tried to live that life, and failed when his past caught up to him.

Whether consciously or not, Thorfinn is drawing nearer to ending up just like his old man: strong and distinguished, but in too deep to ever get out. But he’s still young, and as many lives as he’s taken, it probably doesn’t come close to the number his father took. There is still plenty of time to turn his life around into something worthwhile.

His dreams start as an idyllic life that never was with his family in the endless, rolling, fertile hills that look a lot like England (or possibly Vinland). They end with the skies darkening, his village attacked, and his father run through with arrows. Will Thorfinn ever take that dream to mean stop wasting your life chasing revenge and return to his family?

Maybe, maybe not. As Vinland Saga reaches its midpoint, I’ve found Thorfinn’s quest for revenge misguided and increasingly not that interesting. I’d like to know whether it’s going to reach a point where he either finally manages to kill Askeladd and moves on to something else, or walks away from that quest entirely.

But the cloud of uncertainty persists without any regard for my wishes, and in the meantime, the Danish war with England seems to be winding down. Askeladd’s men have been mopping up lesser villages as the main army has headed north to rest. Canute has failed to do anything with his 4,000 men in London, preferring to pray to Jesus in his tent.

Askeladd’s men are so restless, the smallest insults between them become pointless fights to the death. Having awakened from his beautiful, terrible dream before dawn, Thorfinn stays above the encampment, among Roman ruins, where Askeladd finds him.


It’s there where Askeladd attempts small talk but is rebuked by Thorfinn, asserting “they’re not friends” and that he hasn’t given up his goal of slitting his throat. Askeladd likes Thorfinn’s look, but still isn’t scared. He knows time isn’t on his side, and that his would-be killer will continue to grow stronger as he grows older and weaker.

But by that same token, if the Christians are to be believed, Judgment Day and the end of everyone and everything on earth, could be upon them in as few as twenty years (an event Thorfinn likens to Ragnarok). Considering the Romans were a far more advanced society than the Saxons who defeated them (not to mention the Vikings on the cusp of defeating the Saxons), it certainly seems like humans have had their time in the sun, and now live in an age of twilight.

And yet, the sun still rises just as it always has, bathing the land in light and possibility. With the dawn comes a rider from London, who reports that Canutes forces were routed by the English led by Thorkell, who’d grown impatient waiting on the bridge and is marching his men north to meet the main Danish army.

The war is not over as long as Thorkell is with the English, while Askeladd sees the potential for great riches if he and his men rescue Prince Canute. Not wanting to share the glory or spoils of such a victory, he kills the messenger, and will make do with what he has. He fires his men up, and Thorfinn seems poised to continue following him.

If the end is coming for all, Askeladd will be satisfied with “going out with a bang.” But as we know, the world wouldn’t end in twenty years, meaning final blazes of glory are woefully premature, especially for someone like Thorfinn, who still has a mother and sister to protect, and a family and home of his own to build. With so many dawns he has yet to watch rise above the horizon, it would be a shame to descend into night now.