DanMachi II – 10 – For Whom the Bell Tolls

I loved how many challenges and formidable warriors stood between Bell and freeing a single prostitute, because it just meant he’d have to beat every last one of them, on top of convincing Haruhime that yes, she actually is worth saving, stop saying you’re filthy and a burden! He’s there, and he’s going to finish what he started!

He may not be one of the heroes she loved growing up, who would never sully themselves with her ilk, but he was the hero she needed. Meanwhile, Freya’s forces have already set to work burning the pleasure district, while the goddess herself will seek out Ishtar for a goddess-to-goddess, woman-to-woman “chat”.

Bell’s next opponent is Phryne, who orders Haruhime to boost her level with Uchide no Kozuchi. Instead, Haruhime uses it on Bell, allowing him to fight on more-or-less equal footing with the giant Amazoness. After watching Phryne easily win every match she’s fought so far, it’s immensely satisfying to see Bell give her fits, until she falls through a hole in the floor her own substantial mass has created.

On a lower level, Phryne encounters Freya’s right-hand beastman Ottarl, who easily overpowers her. She pleads for mercy by offering her body, but ends up blaspheming his goddess’ name, so he pummels her. As awful a character as Phryne was, I kinda felt sorry for her in the end. After all, like Ishtar herself, she didn’t expect this battle to go so badly for their Familia, and so wasn’t sufficiently prepared to lose everything.

Aisha is Bell’s next opponent, and the fight is made fairer when Haruhime’s spell wears off. Still, Bell has a full head of steam and stays with Aisha, dodging her kicks and countering her Hippolyte spell with his own Firebolt, the bells tolling as he charges it up. It’s yet another glorious, fluid kinetic attack between two very different fighters who both know what they’re doing.

Unlike Phryne, I always liked Aisha, who after all had suffered a lot more than Bell, Phryne, or even Haruhime in Ishtar’s clutches. She also didn’t go mad with fury, but actually respected Bell’s transformation into a real man, someone who could impress and best her. I hope she lands on her feet somewhere after her Familia disperses.

That’s right: almost as soon as Isthar’s ridiculously rich, seemingly invincible empire showed up on the DanMachi scene, it crumbles to dust before Freya’s calm, elegant figure. She charms and strides right past Ishtar’s last lines of defense and delivers a divine bitch slap, sending her back to Heaven, never to return.

On the roof of the hanging gardens, Bell removes Haruhime’s collar and they bask in victory (and the morning sun) as Hestia and the others arrive. Turns out he didn’t need the cavalry at all. Just like that, Bell Cranel has played a pivotal role in toppling another great divine power. Now it’s time to head home and relax!

DanMachi II – 09 – Your Hero is Here

After stewing in self-hatred for a quick spell, Bell regains the nerve to rescue Haruhime despite the consequences. Mikoto is with him; they’ll get yelled at later together, but with Hestia, Lili and Welf stopped at the gates, the two are on their own. Mikoto will sneak her way to where Haruhime is being held, which will require a diversion.

Bell provides that diversion by rushing the front door and spamming Firebolt at the waves of Amazons who come at him. That only works for so long, especially once a dual-wielding Phryne enters the phray. At her Level, she can swat his Firebolts away like flies. He’s “saved” by Ishtar, who figures it’s time to deflower the Little Rookie, but to her dismay he’s immune to divine charms—even hers.

Freya, another goddess whose divine charms are wasted on Bell, gets a report about Isthar Familia’s movements and starts to move, while it looks like Hestia’s party will also get in, just not in time to help save Haruhime (I imagine they’ll serve as the cavalry later). Mikoto gets to Haruhime, who continues to believe herself unworthy of being saved by a hero due to her profession. Mikoto isn’t hearing it. She’s getting rescued.

That means Mikoto has to go up against Samira, who’s a Level higher and batters her with her bare hands and feet. With Haruhime’s execution imminent, Mikoto pulls out some ninja trickery, pulling Samira into a hug and releasing a huge magical discharge before falling over the side of the building.

The rest is up to Bell, who deflects the killing blow of the woman tasked with killing Haruhime, and shatters the Killing Stone, rendering the ritual impossible. It’s yet another thrilling episode from a show that has proven time and again it knows how to pull off epic action. Mikoto really shone this week; I hope she’s okay.

As for Bell, well…maybe he can quickly get leveled up by Haruhime and at least hold his own until the cavarly arrives? ‘Cause he ain’t charming those Amazons off that roof…not after he just torpedoed their chances of beating Freya.

DanMachi II – 08 – Whatever It Takes

Mikoto arrives in the midst of Bell’s beatdown at the hands of Aisha, but the latter takes her down with one strike, then continues wailing on the Little Rookie. Turns out Haruhime, donning a red cloak, is the source of Aisha’s power boost. Phryne also gets in on the game, snatching up Bell for herself and chaining him to the wall of her secret love nest.

Bell is lucky he couldn’t manage an erection, because Phryne has to leave him to find an “enhancement” medicine, allowing the one other person who knows about the dungeon—Haruhime—to sneak in and rescue him (after slipping the keys to the captured Mikoto).

Bell mentions his and Mikoto’s present efforts to buy her, for which she’s grateful to the point of tears, but it doesn’t seem like she’s interested in going anywhere or doing anything other than what was decided for her long ago: as Take tells Hestia, she’s to be sacrificed to the Killing Stone, a magical object that optimizes Renard power.

In Haruhime’s case, she’s able to provide a level boost to Aisha, but once the ritual is complete and the stone shattered, that power can be spread to many other Ishtar Amazons, giving them the offensive edge they need in a war against the more powerful-on-paper Freya Familia.

Once Haruhime gets Bell back to the Pleasure District and urges him to flee, Mikoto meets up with them, having learned about the Killing Stone thorugh books in Ishtar’s palace. Aisha also arrives, and snatches Haruhime back up. She dares Bell to do something—anything—to try to get Haruhime back, but Bell freezes. In that moment, he wavers between the desire to save her and his reluctance to get Hestia Familia tangled up in a war they can’t win.

He’s so frozen in hesitation, Mikoto has to grab his hand and run before the other Amazons can capture him. In short, this episode was a bit of a downer, as Haruhime has seemed to be a doomed character ever since her introduction. One wonders if her fate is sealed now that Bell lost his last best chance to save her, or if he can summon the same resolve Haruhime has and risk everything to challenge her death wish.

Heck, even if Bell wasn’t particularly emotionally invested in Haruhime’s fate, it just seems like a very bad idea to let Ishtar gain such a dangerous military advantage, considering she basically screws her underlings (like Aisha) into obedience. Here’s hoping for some kind of light at the end of this tunnel.

DanMachi II – 07 – Symbol of Destruction

When Hestia learns Bell went to the Pleasure District and spent all night there, she’s not happy to say the least. Still, Mikoto, Welf, and Lili pitch in on his punishment (cleaning up for the neighbors), since it was Mikoto’s fault they all ended up in the district.

As it happens, Haruhime was the renard Mikoto was looking for. Despite Haruhime’s line about being no good for a hero, he wants to help Mikoto save her. Lili warns the two that nabbing Haruhime would likely start a war they probably can’t win against Ishtar; Welf agrees.

Hermes, fresh from being ravaged by Ishtar, wants to speak to Freya, but only ends up getting the ear of Syr, who is very concerned that Ishtar somehow found out about Bell. Not that Hermes had any choice; it’s clear he’s the lesser god in that particular equation.

At the Guild, Eina is as unsettled as Hestia that Bell spent the night in the Pleasure District, but also confirms Ishtar Familia’s formidable economic and military power, telling him that many of its Amazon soldiers may be grossly underrated in the official books—not a crew to be trifled with, but we knew that.

That night, after Aisha gifts Haruhime with some candy from the Far East, Mikoto stops by to say hello, only to be rejected. Haruhime has clearly closed the book on the part of her life before she became a prostitute, so as far as she’s concerned, Mikoto is a stranger. Aisha catches the whole encounter, and if anything, looks guilty.

Mikoto fills Bell in on the details of her past with Haruhime; she and Chigusa lived in a shrine with other kids and gods; Haruhime was a noble lady, but alone. Sensing her loneliness, Mikoto led nightly raids to set Haruhime free to run and play with them.

They eventually moved to Orario to seek their fortune, but Haruhime was deceived by a “heartless person”—I’m thinking Aisha, who may not be so heartless—and sold into sexual servitude.

After a chance encounter with Hermes, he echos Lili and Welf’s worries about crossing Ishtar, but proposes an alternative: if you have enough money, you can buy a prostitute; one of Haruhime’s purportedly low status would only cost 2-3 million; a very doable fee for Mikoto and Bell.

He also mentions to them, as friends, that he delivered an artifact to Ishtar the other day called the Killing Stone, and tells them to make of that what they will. Back at Ishtar’s palace, she orders her top soliders (including her Captain, Phryne) to hunt Bell down, capture him, and bring him to her unspoiled. Once she’s done with him they can do with him what they will.

She’s also gung-ho about starting a war with Freya, so whatever Bell and Mikoto do or don’t do, a sizable war is inevitable. Eager to make the money needed to buy Haruhime quickly, Mikoto and Bell head to the dungeon to waste some beasts; Welf and Lili heard their plan and agree to help out.

Only Ishtar’s people are lying in wait, and once Bell is separated from his party, he’s scooped up and attacked…by Aisha, who seems to have gotten buffs thanks someone who looks like a disguised Haruhime. As a Level 3 going on 4, Aisha is more than a match for Bell, and soon has him on his back. Barring an unforseen miracle, it would seem Ishtar has her prey, and the perfect provocation to spur Freya to war.

Vinland Saga – 04 – The Warrior Without a Sword

Even Askeladd’s biggest, toughest warrior Bjorn, tripping balls on “berserker mushrooms,” can’t make Thors so much as draw his sword. He defeats an entire boatfull of Askeladd’s men with his bare hands, then smells him out as the leader and challenges him to a duel.

Askeladd shows why he commands such a large group of unruly pirates—he’s really good in a swordfight, relying on speed, surprise, and trickery to get the upper hand. When Thors starts wearing down Askeladd’s sword at the cost of his own, Askeladd takes the bait, swinging wide and paying for it.

If Askeladd were an honorable warrior like Thors, he would have accepted defeat. But things aren’t that simple. Thors is outraged that the rules are being broken, but Askeladd has clearly made a life out of doing just that—not to mention Thors also broke the rules by deserting in the first place.

Now, while it’s been great hanging out with the Troll of Jom and seeing the awesome things he can do, we’ve known pretty much since the start that he wasn’t going to last long, and sure enough, as Thorfinn watches helplessly, he’s run through with a good number of arrows from above.

In the end, Thors was as much a victim of his own pacifist ideals, and the expectation everyone he dealt with would follow the warrior’s code to the letter, than those arrows or any cheating on Askeladd’s part. Men like Askeladd almost always outlast men like Thors because they understand that rules don’t mean a damn thing if you’re dead.

In Thors’ case, he’s also incredibly lucky that Askeladd decides to honor Thors’ duel victory by withdrawing and sparing the rest of Thors’ crew. But his one final miscalculation was that Thorfinn would go quietly back to Iceland after watching his father cheated and killed before his eyes.

Thors’ death now sets up Thorfinn’s quest for vengeance, as he stows away the villagers’ ship Askeladd’s crew took as a prize and basically stares the man down, promising he’ll kill him. Askeladd is unimpressed, and tells his men to leave him to starve. If he manages to survive, he could be useful down the road. After all, his whole crew saw the fire in the kid’s eyes.

I won’t lie; it was tough to blast through three fantastic episodes of Vinland Saga in the first week, then wait three weeks for the fourth, especially when we knew full well Thors was doomed and his son is going to join Askeladd’s crew. It would have been better if this introductory arc had been completed before the long hiatus, but alas. Still, while telegraphed, Thors’ death was still well-executed. Now we move on to the next phase.

Vinland Saga – 03 – It’ll Pull You In

Askeladd immediately shows both Floki and us what kind of dudes we’re dealing with, as he manages to double the bounty for Thors’ head from five to ten pounds of gold. Floki is a very shrewd man with good instincts, but he also has a solid right-hand-man in Bjorn, who spears a Jomsviking who was hiding behind a tapestry and passes it off as an innocent accident.

As for Thors, he doesn’t leave at the break of dawn, but is seen off by the whole village. Before they leave, all five of the young men he’s bringing along have designs on asking Ylva for her hand in marriage upon their return and presenting her with spoils of war; all Ylva wants is a little more shuteye.

When a young lass who likes Ari (one of the guys who tried to propose to Ylva) is cruelly rebuffed, Leif assures her none of the five greenhorn lads will come to any harm; Thors will see to it they’re dumped off in Norway before they see any battle, and Leif promises he’ll ship them back to Iceland, disappointed, but with their organs still very much internal.

Seemingly the only member of the village not seeing them off is Thorfinn, who is nowhere to be found and presumed by both Thors and Ylva to still be off skulking, angry about being scolded. We get a little more comedy when the five guys line up on one side of the boat, while Thors is on the other side all on his own with one hell of a huge oar. Leif bangs out the pace on the drum, and the ships are off.

It isn’t until they’re already out in the open sea that Thorfinn reveals he stowed away. While peeing over the side (he really needed to pee) he suddenly notices where he is, and his smile is so wide and bright, Thors can’t help but smile back, despite the fact his son just ruined his plans to try to keep him safe.

He later paints Finn’s back door red for his insolence (pretty tame discipline from a viking in the 11th century), as the gears turn in Askeladd’s head. He chats with Bjorn about the bounty deal not seeming quite right; he’s quite sure Floki reached out to them independently and his superior didn’t order Thors’ execution.

Askeladd also believes Floki is afraid of incurring a great loss of his own men, and so hired someone else. This tells Askeladd that this Thors fellow shouldn’t be a pushover, even if Floki says he’s “not a warrior” anymore.

As night falls, Thors warns Ari not to stare at the moon in the sea, lest it “pull him in,” a common nautical hazard. As Thorfinn dozes contently in his lap, Thors tells Ari more about his first child, the woman Ari says he’s in love with.

It was a difficult birth for Helga, the daughter of the leader of the Jomsvikings, but Thors was about to head out on another mission, and was annoyed he got a daughter instead of a son. He’s about to leave when Helga asks him to name her.

He says he’s “busy”, but Helga insists—the first time he ever saw her truly angry. So he named her Ylva, after his mother. And that, he tells Ari, was the first time he started to feel afraid of battle…which makes sense, as dying in battle meant abandoning his newborn child and wife to an uncertain future.

The next day they arrive at the Faroe Islands—the usual rest stop between Iceland and Scandinavia. They row into a cove that leads to a trading village, but the high walls immediately spell foreboding, and Leif notes that there are fewer structures in the village itself.

By the time they start rowing out of the cove, it’s to late—Askeladd’s men start dumping huge piles of debris onto their ships, blocking their only exit. Then another drum can be heard: the drum of Askeladd’s two ships rowing towards them.

Ari and the other men bristle and claim to be ready for battle, but Thors knows better; the boys will be no match for these hardened foes. So he takes a deep, “I’m getting too old for this shit” breath, pulls out his sword, and hands his dagger to Thorfinn, warning him only to use it in time of absolute need.

Before Askeladd’s men know it, Thors has leapt onto one of their ships. He takes out the first man with one punch, two others with two more, and then three with three; six skilled men downed without even drawing his sword. It’s then that Bjorn and Askeladd know: they’re going to have to work their asses off to earn every ounce of that gold.

Each of the first three Vinland Sagas have been very different affairs—from an introduction to Thors and Thorfinn and live in Iceland, to the arrival of a new old threat, to the swashbuckling adventure that begins in this episode. But all three of kicked all kinds of ass in their own way.

Like Thors himself, it doesn’t glamorize violence or killing, and Ari and his four hotshot friends are presented as the naive fools they are. As for Thorfinn, he may not have pissed himself while hiding in that barrel, but yeah…he’s now somewhere that’s absolutely no place for a six-year-old. I just can’t see how this ends well for anyone…but nor dare I look away.

Vinland Saga – 02 – Nobody Has Enemies, but Everybody Loves War

As the English launch an ambush on their Danish occupiers during their Saturday bath (note to self: switch up bath days for this very reason) in Northumbria—slaughtering men, women and children indiscriminately—the children in Thors’ village, Thorfinn inluded, participate in mock battles using blunted wooden swords and spears.

It’s a simple but effective juxtaposition of the ideation of war as a grand, noble, and honorable venture, and all it really boils down to: people ending the lives of other people, often without even the slightest hint of grandeur, honor, or nobility.

Thors ended many lives as a warrior, but those days would seem to be over, as he now takes smithing classes not to make weapons, but to make cooking pots. But his old comrades, the elite Jomvikings, have other ideas. A warship captained by Floki land at the village, their mere presence a transparent threat.

It’s revealed Thors essentially deserted when he jumped into the ocean and cast away his sword. The Jomsvikings don’t take kindly to desertion, but they’re giving Thors one chance to repent because he is a skilled warrior. Floki gives him an offer he dare not refuse, because now that they know of his village, it’s the villagers—and his family—who will suffer if he does.

As Floki makes the announcement that Thors has agreed to join their campaign and will need volunteers to crew his warship, the entire village erupts into celebration: finally, a war! But the only one who has actually seen war—Thors—is the very picture of gloom.

As they drag the village warship out of mothballs and prep her for the voyage to Jomsberg, Thorfinn gets a bit overzealous during the mock battles, injuring a couple of kids four to five years older than him, breaking one of their arms with his wooden sword.

When he gets home he tosses that sword aside, because he wants—he thinks he needs—a real weapon. Snooping around the storage room, he soon finds a stately chest, full of Thors’ old regalia and weapons (minus the sword he tossed).

When Thorfinn takes a dagger in his hand, unsheathes it, and holds it up to the light to admire, his father’s huge hand closes upon it, as powerful and concise an image as Vinland Saga has conjured thus far. Thors isn’t the kind of dad to rage or even raise his voice to his kids, so when he asks his son who he plans to kill with these weapons, it carries even more weight.

Thorfinn, all naivete and bluster, says he plans to kill “the enemy,” but Thors asks him who that is, knowing he has no idea. In his many brutal bloody battles, Thors gradually learned that fighting and killing is ultimately pointless, which is why he cast it aside. But his son has already been influenced by his peers and by the presence of the Jomsvikings.

Thorfinn also thinks his father is being hypocritical, as he’s heading out to war. Never does it occur to him that he shouldn’t be thinking about fighting in any battles anyway simply because…he’s six damn years old.

As Helga stoically cleans the dagger wound on his hand, Thors tells her to take care of Thorfinn. The next morning, Leif, who is joining Thors, tells him the conditions are right to begin the voyage, and Thors takes one last look at his sleeping son before departing.

Meanwhile, on one of the Faroe Islands, Floki is meeting with someone named Askeladd, who has been contracted by the Jomsvikings to kill Thors, in exchange for five pounds of gold. Thors is sailing into a trap, to his death, and there’s no guarantee the village will be left alone if and when he’s taken out.

The question is, is he as reluctant and morose about having to mobilize simply because he thought he was done with this shit…or because he knows it’s a trap, has no choice but to sail into it, and can no longer guarantee his family’s safety?

Vinland Saga – 01 (First Impressions) – Hard Times in a Hard Land

Fresh off the heels of Attack on Titan’s third season, Wit Studio brings us something just as harsh and bleak and serious, but with its roots in real history; specifically, Vikings. We’re immediately thrust into a melee aboard a longship in the middle of a huge naval battle, as the stoic warrior Thors is rudely awakened from a pleasant daydream of greener pastures and his wife Helga by an attacking foe.

Thors easily defeats his opponent, then carves through dozens more in a very businesslike fasion before anyone lays a finger on him—or in this case, an arrow to his shoulder. Still, he pulls a warrior into the freezing sea with him to even the odds, kills him, and eventually comes ashore, none the worse for wear. The battle is an impressive display of mixed 2D and 3D animation, particularly the sudden storm of hail.

Fifteen years later, in the harsh colds of Iceland, Thors lives with his wife Helga, his daughter Ylva, and his young son Thorfinn, who longs to go on adventures like another village member, the gregarious Leif Erikson (who discovered North America, which he called Vinland, half a millennium before Columbus).

Donning a headpiece and smoking a pipe from the natives he met, Erikson evokes both awe and skepticism from the kids, but Thorfinn is mostly among the former. He doesn’t like Iceland, and would rather be anywhere. I can’t blame him; while an achingly gorgeous land, surviving there is a constant battle, and the spirit of a warrior like his dad Thors is paramount in such an exercise.

As Thors talks with Leif long into the night about the worsening winters in Greenland and Iceland, and how his family’s battles are only going to get tougher, Thorfinn dreams of captaining a grand longship on a westward journey.

Unfortunately they run into the legendary Jormungand, who proceeds to squeeze Thorfinn until he awakes. Turns out Jormungand was Ylva, sharing his warm bed (a “hot” commodity in such a cold land). Vinland Saga wastes no time showing that while life is hard, this family has endured by sticking together.

Ylva, it seems, would still prefer if they bought a slave, since her mother has grown weaker, something to which her dad seems morally opposed. But when she falls off the roof they’re clearing of snow (a scary moment), she lands on something strange, and after some digging, she finds a runaway slave.

Meanwhile, Thorfinn, probably not doing his fair share of chores considering he’s just hanging around Leif, wants to start adventuring at once, not waiting until he grows into a man. Leif warns him of the dangers of the sea, particularly so far north, and how he was once the only survivor out of a crew of seven whose ship was crushed by ice floes.

When Thorfinn asks why they all live in such a hard place, Leif doesn’t sugarcoat it: their forbears once lived in Norway, but when a king rose there and demanded the people choose fealty or exile, they left. Thorfinn is angered and doesn’t believe Leif, seeing this fleeing of his ancestors as cowardly.

The slave gains consciousness after Thors warms him by the fire gives him a kind of primitive CPR, and is awake long enough to tell him he doesn’t want to go back to Halfdan’s household. We soon learn why when Halfdan suddenly shows up at the village, causing a standoff. Still, the chain-obsessed Halfdan is looking for a slave, not a fight, so even when one of his own men tries to attack a villager, he flays the skin from his face himself. Talk about lawful evil…

Upon entering Thors’ house, he demands they return the slave to him. Thors offers to buy the slave instead, for more than Halfdan paid for him—over four times more, when the negotiations conclude. The whole time, Ylva can’t believe her dad is making such a deal, which isn’t a good one in any century.

Sure enough, the slave dies soon after the deal is struck, leaving Thors’ family short eight goats. But I know why Thors did it. The slave had already suffered enough, and Thors wasn’t going to be the one to return him to his earthly torments. Better to die peacefully, which is what he did. It was a bad deal, but it was the right thing to do.

That night, as the family watches the Northern Lights from a dramatic promontory (it really is a shockingly gorgeous land), presumably after burying the slave, Thorfinn asks his dad if Leif was telling the truth about their people running away. Thors quietly confirms that “that’s what they say.” To which Thorfinn asks, if one wanted to run away from here, where would they go?

The answer, it seems, will likely drive Thorfinn from this sleepy, cold, and often cruel village, no doubt after whoever is smirking in a longship attacks his village…at least that seems to be the likeliest sequence of events. Not being well-versed in Norse history (and never having read the manga), his journey will be new to me.

While a mostly quiet and understated beginning, Vinland Saga built a strong foundation for the coming twenty-three episodes (the following two of which I will review soon) by showing us Thorfinn’s roots, and why his wanderlust is so strong. I can assure you if Leif Erickson regailed us with tales of his travels every night, I’d probably want to head out too.

Attack on Titan – 57 – Prisons

We return to Grisha’s accounting of the day he learned he was a prisoner, and always was. A prisoner of the oppressive Marleyans who confine all the Eldians to internment camps. A prisoner of history, for the Marleyans punish the Eldians for the crimes of their ancestors.

He’s a prisoner in his powerless child’s body, unable to save his little sister Fay from a terrible fate—being attacked and eaten by guard dogs—just for the crime of leaving the camp without permission. And he’s a prisoner to his father, who is a full-on collaborator who is happy to condemn his ancestors if it means being able to live out his humble life.

We also learn that the lands where the three walls that were the entire setting for Titan up to this point are only a tiny sliver of the world; in fact, everywhere Eren & Co. have ever known occupy a relatively small island called Paradis—the last refuge of King Fritz and the Eldians.

When Grisha learns the truth about Fay (confirming his suspicions), he joins an underground movement of “restorationists” bent on restoring once great Eldians—and of course, exacting revenge on Marley for their brutal oppression. They are aided by a member of Marleyan security, known only as the “Owl.”

That informant sends them the last surviving descendant of the Eldian royal family: Dina Fritz, and she and Grisha soon fall in love, get married and have a son, Zeke. But their attempts to indoctrinate him and make him the instrument of Eldian salvation fail miserably, as he turns in his own parents to save himself and his grandparents.

Grisha doesn’t blame his son—after all, he ended up building a prison for Zeke just as his father had tried to build for him: the prison of adopting the beliefs (and grudges) of one’s predecessors. But after thorough torturing, he, the other members of his cell, and Dina, are all sent to the island of Paradis, to be injected with serum to transform them into wandering Titans. Dina is transformed first.

Eren suddenly wakes up in a stockade in the present—he realizes he’s been connected with his father’s memories, such that it feels more like he’s been re-living Grisha’s experiences rather than simply having a normal dream. He and Mikasa are behind bars for their insubordination of Levi, but Armin, whom they defied Levi to save, is there with them.

Back in Grisha’s recounting, he finds himself at the boundary of the Titan penal colony, having just seen his friend and his wife transformed into mindless giant monsters, and the same officers he and Fay encountered the day she was killed are present with him. The mustachioed officer tells him he doesn’t feel remorse for the terrible things he does to Eldians because it was their ancestors who started the fight. Besides, life is more “interesting” if every day is lived like it’s your last.

As it happens, it is the last day for Mr. Mustache, as his colleague, Kruger, who was there back when Fay died and is here now, pushes him and not Grisha into the pit to be eaten by a Titan. Turns out Kruger is the Owl, and he cuts himself to transform into a lucid Titan, in order to demonstrate to Grisha what a Titan can do.

This was another trippy journey that vastly expanded the show’s universe and revealed more crucial answers about What This Is All About: a seemingly endless, vicious cycle of retribution between two races of men, neither of which can ever forgive the previous generations of the other; one ultimate prison, containing everyone in the world. So, when will Eren & Co. try to squeeze through the bars?

Dororo – 15 – Moths to a Flame

The longer Dororo and Hyakkimaru stay at Lord Sabame’s village, the fishier things get. Dororo finds an almost ideal village full of simple but happy folk who have more than enough to eat. But when he questions an old lady about the nuns and children, she wanders off without answering. The villagers are hiding something, and the ghoul they fought last night was a big part of that something—as well as the reason Sabame insists they stay as long as they like.

Hyakkimaru follows Sabame, but isn’t that good at staying hidden. Sabame shows him the best vantage point of the village, which he would do anything to protect. That includes ghouls, as it happens, and if Hyakki is there to kill them, Sabame intends to stop him. As for Dororo, the villagers trap him under a rice storehouse where he’s to be caterpillar food, but the big baby rescues him as thanks for his earlier kindness, and out of the baby’s head sprout the ghosts of the children who were killed in the fire with the nun.

The fire was set intentionally by Sabame and the villagers as a sacrifice to the demon Maimai-onba, whom he took as his wife. In exchange, they have peace, prosperity, and don’t want for anything. But that butts up against Hyakkimaru’s zero tolerance policy on demons and ghouls, and he attacks Maimai-onba. Almost immediately it’s as if the deal struck with Sabame is called off, as the village is engulfed by flames. When Dororo meets up with Hyakkimaru, the latter’s left leg is shattered.

That night Hyakkimaru, with a makeshift peg leg with a bladder of oil, takes a boat out to a lake where Maimai-onba dwells, enticing it to pluck him up with a flame, then shooting the oil bladder at its body, torching it into ash. In exchange, another statue in the Hall of Hell cracks, and Hyakkimaru gets his real spine back, with his body expelling the artificial one.

But unlike previous demon-slayings, Dororo doesn’t feel right about this. It’s true the villagers got their peace and prosperity through ill-gotten means, but it’s not like the children had any say, and they’re the ones who will suffer most in the conflict that immediately flares up once they realize they no longer have enough food.

Hyakkimaru is utterly dismissive of Dororo’s concerns, and has no sympathy for anyone—not Sabame, not his father Daigo—who makes deals with demons. By the time he realizes Dororo isn’t still right behind him, the kid is suddenly in the clutches of Itashi, who already has one half of the map and wants the rest that’s etched on Dororo’s back. Talk about the wrong time to split up.

Suddenly throwing Itashi into the mix at the end of a monster-of-the-week (spread across two weeks with mixed results), basically immediately after Dororo lagged behind Hyakki out of anger, definitely upped the stakes for next week. On the other hand, Itashi’s appearance felt almost too abrupt and coincidental here. We’ll see how next week pans out.

Dororo – 14 – Kids (With or Without Wings) to Feed

The markings on Dororo’s back, which are only visible when his skin is warm (and he’s never had a warm bath before) form half of the map to his father’s “ambition”—a hoard of stolen samurai gold meant to finance a peasant uprising.

In the event of his death, his wife insisted he engrave half of the map upon her so that she’d never be tempted to draw from it, not even to feed herself or Dororo (these guys were zealots to the last). The other half is on Dororo’s back, though his memory of what was on his mom’s can’t be that clear.

And so while Hyakkimaru is cursed with missing limbs he must fight to get back from demons, Dororo is cursed with the legacy of two parents who could have given him a much better life had they had swallowed their honor pride for his sake.

He also now has a choice of what to do next: find the gold and use it as his folks intended, or use it to life a comfortable life. Biwamaru lays out the choices Dororo has, but he’s not leaving Hyakkimaru’s side, and Hyakkimaru is focused on the here and now and the remaining demons.

Hyakkimaru ignores Dororo’s questions about “what comes next”, and is “saved by the bell” in the form of the approach of two bizarre monsters: an emaciated woman and a giant, demanding baby who grabs Dororo. Hyakki takes no action since they’re “not demons,” and they eventually come upon the ruins of a temple that was apparently burned down intentionally (judging from all the oil).

The big baby vanishes before a well-dressed man with a very odd stare appears: he introduces himself as Sabame, lord of a village and its surrounding lands. Dororo doesn’t exactly trust those weird eyes, but he’s not turning down the offer of a meal and a roof over his head, now is he?

And what a meal and roof! The pair probably enjoy the most sumptuous meal they’ve ever been served, and they eat in front of a traditional band and synchronized dancers. Lord Sabame, who claims to have never left his own domain, is always eager to hear the stories of travelers, and so is more than happy to give them food and room to stay in exchange.

Sabame begins with the tale of an evil nun who abused, enslaved, and sold off orphans. She was killed when the heavens apparently “saw enough” and burned the temple down with lightning. Neither Dororo nor Hyakki quite believe this story, since they saw evidence of arson.

That night, with a huge room all to themselves, Dororo blames the “draftiness” of the house, and not fear, for his adjusting his futon so he sleeps closer to Hyakkimaru (who sleeps with his eyes open). Then a giant caterpillar with four human arms drops from the rafters, and Hyakki wakes up in a flash, blades drawn.

The caterpillar has silk that momentarily immobilizes Hyakkimaru, but he’s able to do enough damage to force the monster to flee, which it does with the help of a giant, poison mist-spewing moth. Dororo and Hyakki prepare wash themselves off in a nearby bath.

Then we check in with Lord Sabame, who has not only not turned in for the night, but is actually facilitating the moth demon, who takes the form of a woman. The “travelers” Sabame hosts apparently become food for the moth’s children, the survival of whom Sabame places the utmost importance.

While Sabame’s methods are fundamentally immoral, he has made the choice to value the moth and its offspring above the lives of innocent guests, just as Dororo’s parents chose to keep the grand cause alive over their only child’s well-being. Just as Hyakkimaru’s victories will continue to threaten Daigo’s lands and his people, how they chose to deal with Sabame could also have larger-scale consequences. For an imperfect world is full of fragile, imperfect solutions.

Fairy Gone – 02 – Wherein Things Happen

This episode doesn’t start on the sunniest of notes, dropping back a few years to chronicle the history of people near Mariya meeting their ends because she sees herself as something of a talisman of bad luck. We also witness a younger Free being bailed out by his friend Jet, who takes a blade to the gut in his place. It’s almost as if both he and Mariya are bad luck to those closest to them.

Thankfully the dreary, muddy browns and grays give way to the greens and blues of the present as Mariya settles into Dorothea and distinguishes herself in target practice. She accompanies Free to some ruins where it’s believed a large-scale “artificial fairy”transaction involving the mafia is about to go down. Mariya seems mostly resolved to honoring her former friend and big sis Ver, who told her the Ver she knew is gone. She also meets Serge, who has a sniper fairy, and Clara, who has a recon fairy.

Free’s old comrade Wolfran Row shows up, apparently now a mercenary hired by the mob to ensure the deal goes down, but Dorothea is there to interdict. Like Ver with Mariya, Wolfran doesn’t hesitate against Free for a second, and while Mariya’s fairy protects her, it loses both of its arms in the process, which means she can’t summon it again the rest of the episode. Thankfully, Serge is able to bail her out and force Wolfran to fall back.

Free and Mariya catch up to Wolfran again, who sics three artificial fairies at them. Once they’re dealt with, Free and Wolfran go one-on-one again, but it basically ends in a stalemate with Wolfran fleeing in a very bizarre transport that uses legs instead of wheels. By the time Free catches up, not only is Wolfran nowhere to be found, but he’s killed everyone on his side, leaving no trail for Dorothea to follow.

This is all still…fine, just fine…but I can’t help but feel like Fairy Gone isn’t leaving much of a trail for me. A lot happened this week, but for the second straight week I didn’t really come away actually caring about any of it. Ichinose Kana does her best, but Mariya is bland…as are her Dorothea comrades, and her and Free’s flashbacks did nothing to change that. Meanwhile the soundtrack, apparently all done by the same band that did the OP, is hit-or-miss.

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin has some good ideas but lacks the production values to do them justice; Fairy Gone has the production values (better than MOK, anyway) but lacks compelling ideas and characters. I’m not sure how much more I need to watch.

Dororo – 13 – Face/Off

Since leaving Daigo’s lands Hyakkimaru has barely slept, as he seeks out any and all demons to kill until all of his parts have been returned, and Dororo is worried about him. He suggests they head to a hot spring for some rest and recovery, but has to lie about there being a monster there to get Hyakkimaru to go along.

Turns out Dororo’s only half-wrong: there is a monster in these parts, but it can be found under a waterfall. A great stone statue possessed by a demon cleanly cleaves the faces off victims. A woman with long black hair is delivering these fools to be de-faced, and she in turn can look and sound like anyone.

When Dororo encounters the statue while collecting firewood, the woman appears as his mama, and the resemblance and sound of her voice are so familiar he can’t help but want to call her Mama, which she allows (her real name is Okaka).

As Hyakkimaru dozes, Okaka tells Dororo the story of the statue, a giant Fudo that was to be a scorned carver’s masterpiece and thumb in the eye of his detractors. But he never completed the face, working himself to death but never satisfied with the results.

As Dororo starts to nod off, Okaka reveals that she drugged the both of them, and that she is in fact the carver, revived by a demon to complete the Fudo’s face. And Okaka thinks she’s finally found the perfect face in Hyakkimaru’s.

When Dororo comes to, he’s just in time to slow Okaka down before she can place Hyakkimaru in the path of the Fudo’s giant sword; that buys enough time for Hyakkimaru to wake up, cut himself free, and start hacking at the Fudo, much to Okaka’s chagrin.

Dororo, whose guileless kindness has clearly had an effect on Okaka to this point, manages to convince the carver of the madness she has wrought. Okaka doesn’t know how her obsession with artistic perfection has turned him into a murderer.

The demon within the Fudo isn’t so contrite, however, and it slashes Okaka nearly in half with its sword. Hyakkimaru finishes it off, and the demon disperses, but before Okaka dies and turns to ash, she asks if she can feel Dororo’s smiling face—like the kind face of the Buddha statues she once carved.

Dororo apologizes to Hyakkimaru for getting tricked by his mama’s face, but Hyakkimaru tells him out loud that he’s fine, and that they should proceed to the hot spring to rest. Once they get there, they find Biwamaru is already there (and he believes they were fated to keep meeting like this).

They also encounter a father and two rugrats who jump into the spring and splash about, disturbing the tranquility. But they also notice something on the annoyed Dororo’s back: an elaborate red tattoo that looks like some kind of map. That just may indicate where they should head next, as they’re currently lacking a set destination.

Dororo returns with a new OP (not as good as the first but still nice), ED (wonderful vocals with somewhat muddled visuals, though that’s probably the point), and demon-of-the-week. We also learn Hyakkimaru’s mom is still alive (though not in good shape) and that Daigo believes his deal with the demons is still in effect, but who knows for how long.