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.

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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.

Fairy Gone – 01 (First Impressions) – Victims of War, Choosing Different Sides

Like Owari no SeraphFairy Gone centers on two friends who went through hell together but separated and then encountered one another years later on opposing sides of the “war after the war.” They are Mariya Noel and the slightly older Veronica Thorne. Their village was burned along with the fairies who resided there, and they had no choice to escape.

Mariya almost gave up, but Ver made sure they got away safely, only to leave Mariya alone to pursue her quest for vengeance. Many years later, Mariya is in a mafia family providing security for a fairy auction, while Ver is there to steal one of the lots—a page from the Black Fairy Tome.

When Ver takes the stage, she doesn’t hesitate to shed blood to attain her quarry. Mariya’s ostensible boss, Free Underbar, isn’t messing around with Ver, summoning the werewolf-like fairy within him to counter her weird birdlike fairy.

Mariya’s loyalties are clearly torn, as the whole reason she joined the mafia was in hope that one day she’d find Ver. In the midst of battle, a glass container shatters and a fairy meant to be auctioned off is released.

It makes a beeline for Mariya and basically merges with her, making her a summoner just like Ver and Free, and thus giving her the power to break up their duel. Mariya does just that, summoning her fairy to grab Ver and Free’s fairies and dispersing them both.

While the characters are 2D, the fairies are CGI, but the juxtaposition of the two styles isn’t jarring, and the designs are cool.

When the dust settles, Ver has fled, and Mariya finds herself in an interesting position: she is a criminal by dint of now possessing a fairy. Free, who had only infiltrated a mafia family, is actually a member of an elite group of policemen called “Dorothea”, who track down and arrest illegal fairies.

So Free gives Mariya a choice: get arrested, or join Dorothea as a recruit. Mariya chooses the latter, as it will enable her to resume her search for and reconnection with Ver—whether or not Ver wants to be found, or considers herself the same person who parted with Mariya years ago.

Fairy Gone is…fine. I’m on board with the estranged friendship angle. The action is decent. The soundtrack is outstanding. But like Zane with some of the new Spring shows, I wasn’t ever really wowed. You can chalk that up to a lack of any original elements to the premise or narrative. This is, so far, basically a period Tokyo Ghoul, a show I had to stop watching when it started adapting its source material so quickly I was totally lost. So we’ll see.

Dororo – 12 – The Consequences Of Sacrifice

Father and discarded son finally meet face to face, and all Daigo can say is “Why aren’t you dead?” and call Hyakkimaru a “half-born demon child.” It’s pretty harsh, but not at all surprising considering those words are coming from the man who fed his firstborn to demons.

As long as Hyakkimaru is alive, Daigo cannot have confidence in the future of his domain. The mere fact he is alive is proof that the deal is in the process of being destroyed, as evidenced by all the lord’s misfortune of late. Of course, he deserves all the misfortune coming to him.

Hyakkimaru skitters off when Daigo’s men launch arrows at him, while elsewhere Dororo and Sukeroku are taken prisoner and stashed in a cave. After trying to comfort Sukeroku (who found his village only to find it destroyed and his mom likely dead), Dororo slips out of a Dororo-sized hole, promising to find Hyakkimaru so they can save everyone.

Tahoumaru, having received testimony from the midwife, confronts his mother, who does not dispute the terrible accusations, and indeed has never for one day forgotten what was done. Tahoumaru can’t believe his parents would do something so monstrous, but that just goes to show you how much he idolizes his great lord father.

Daigo tells Tahoumaru of the hellish times before he was born, and how sacrificing his first son was the only way to stave off the utter ruin of his domain. Tahoumaru rightly rejects the notion his dad’s motivation was anything other than the desire for power and prosperity. He notes the appalling amorality of the action.

His protestations fall on deaf ears. Lord Daigo believes he is a lord because he was given choices and made the decisions that he made. The ends justify the means, and in any case, it’s too late to undo what he did because to do so would mean sacrificing the welfare of the domain for one person: Hyakkimaru.

Daigo made a terrible choice, and he knew it was terrible, but to him not sacrificing his son would have been more terrible. Thus, if he had the choice, he’d likely do it again. He tells Tahoumaru if he wishes to cancel the deal with the demons, he can go to the Hall of Hell to do so, but rightly assumes his son won’t do anything (in any case the hall spits him and his aides out with a gust of wind).

Dororo reunites with Hyakkimaru and connects the dots that Daigo and Tahoumaru are Hyakkimaru’s father and brother, something he’s actually cheerful about because he doesn’t know the truth, but also because Dororo’s family was so loving and he longs to have them back.

By the time they find Sukeroku, the kid is already tied to the Banmon with other hostages as an overture to a battle between Daigo’s armies and those of Asakura. Among the combatants is one of the men who burned killed Mio and burned her orphanage; Dororo has to hold him back to stop him from proving to all assembled that he truly is a demon.

Tahoumaru arrives on the battlefield, and while he acknowledges what was done to his brother is wrong, the preservation of the domain and its people takes precedence over one life, even if it is his brother. So, the two fight, as the Banmon ghouls gather, picking off soldiers and eventually combining to form Kyubi.

Hyakkimaru eventually slices Tahoumaru’s eye, but then their mother Oku arrives, to ask forgiveness of Hyakkimaru; not just for herself, but on behalf of her husband, her other son, and all the people of the domain who owe each day of their prosperity to Hyakkimaru’s long suffering. If no one else will take responsibility, she will, and does—by stabbing herself.

It would seem the demons accept her as a sacrifice to their appetites, as their power seems to increase immediately after Oku’s stabbing, to the point the Banmon crumbles to the ground, forcing Daigo and his men to retreat with Tahoumaru and Oku.

Things calm down from there, and there’s even a happy note to an otherwise ominous ending, as Sukeroku reunites with his mother and other villagers who had been hiding. Dororo notes that even Sukeroku and his mom are only alive thanks to Daigo’s cruel, heinous deed.

Dororo then reiterates his intention to stick with Hyakkimaru no matter what, even if his blood relations continue to reject him. In a world full of moral shades of gray, their bond as brothers-from-another-mother (though one is actually a sister) is thankfully absolute. Will they be enough to stand against the relentlessly turning wheels of destiny?

Dororo – 11 – A Family Reunion

The two sons of Daigo may be meeting face to face for the very first time, but of course neither of them knows that, so their interactions don’t go too far beyond Dororo and Hyakkimaru’s usual dealings with people: kill a demon, collect a reward (and a handsome one at that). Hyakkimaru does, however, take an extra-long look at Tahoumaru’s soul: it’s “clean”, with no hints of red people get when they’ve killed another human.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru enter Daigo’s prosperous trading town and, after travelling around the sticks for so long, are positively overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sights, products, and activities. But someone spots them: a very disheveled woman who despite appearing like a lunatic to everyone around her actually has it exactly right: the “demon child” is alive.

While watching a play depicting Lord Daigo’s victory over the demons (ironic considering he actually struck a deal with them) Dororo spots Biwamaru, who sad to hear the news of what happened to Mio and the orphans. He’s there to check out what we know of as the Hall of Hell, where the Demons Daigo is believed to have defeated dwell.

Hyakkimaru overhears (now that he hears and all) rumors about the “curse of Banmon” being to blame for the lack of rain lately (little do the townsfolk know the reason is actually Hyakkimaru). Meanwhile, Hyougou and Mutsu report their encounter with a young lad with prosthetics and a small boy boasting that they’re high-level demon hunters. Needless to say, Daigo is concerned.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru pay a visit to the “Banmon”, the last survivng segment of a wall that was breached and destroyed by Daigo’s armies in his victory over Asakura. A young lad named Sukeroku is trapped on the wrong side of the border between the warring clans, and just wants to get back to his fam. He feeds Dororo and Hyakkimaru, so they agree to help him out.

Daigo informs his wife Nuinokata that their firstborn has most likely returned to their lands. He’s determined not to let anything, including him, spoil his prosperity. When Nuinokata voices her concerns that the two of them are going to properly pay for what they (really he) did to their son, Daigo dismisses her, making a remark about women “not knowing anything about politics.” Tahoumaru overhears everything, only increasing his curiosity.

Once the Asakura sentries call it a night, the site of the Banmon becomes a battlefield between Hyakkimaru and an ever-replenishing number of angry fox spirits, who eventually combine into one massive demon fox, or kyubi. He’s about to be overwhelmed when a volley of arrows hastens its retreat.

Just as Tahoumaru and his aides find the “crazy” woman in town, who is one of the midwives present for Hyakkimaru’s birth and knows what they did to him, Hyakkimaru is confronted by those who fired the arrows: the entourage of no less a person than Lord Kagemitsu Daigo himself.

For the first time since his birth, the firstborn and his father are finally face-to-face. I wonder if Tahoumaru will have something to say about what should be done with Hyakkimaru; considering what we’ve seen of him, it doesn’t seem like he’d hold his brother’s very existence against him considering what was done to him. But if he’s to adopt a sympathetic position regarding Hyakkimaru, he’ll be defying his lord father.

Dororo – 10 – The Brother Who Didn’t Suffer

This episode is all about Tahoumaru, Hyakkimaru’s younger son, and the one who’s been able to live a normal life of comfort thanks entirely to his father’s sacrifice of his firstborn. Now that Lord Daigo’s good fortune seems to be literally running dry (drought has gripped his lands that threaten to ruin the crops), he pays a visit to the Hall of Hell, where he sees a vision of what has become of that first son.

But again, this is not about Hyakkimaru, but his little brother, who is tired of his father keeping secrets and his mother praying to a headless diety. Daigo gives him no answers, and he runs off to brood in the same place he always has, which is why it’s so easy for his lifelong companions and bodyguards, Mutsu and Hyougou, to find him.

Tahoumaru happens to be the nearest of Daigo’s son to the lake monster, and while other Daigo samurai dismiss the villagers’ pleas for help out of hand, Tahoumaru shows he has a kind heart that inspires loyalty in his people.

He agrees to defeat the beast, which they set out to meet with their boats firmly tied to the shore, and discover to be an enormous crab. They get a few licks in, but when the crab retreats to beneath the surface of the water they have to withdraw.

Tahoumaru is angry they failed in the first go, but is determined to finish the crab off lest it claim more of his people. He rejects the suicidal idea of Mutsu and Hyougou to wear explosives in their clothes so the crab will blow up when it bites them.

Instead, he makes use of the geography of the area, and the extremely fast and efficient engineering and construction skills of the villagers. He manages to have sluice gates built between two lakes. I’m not sure how he managed such a labor-intensive feat (in the middle of a drought no less) but it definitely proves Tahoumaru does not mess around when he sets his mind to something.

They manage to lure the crab monster through one gate, which slams behind it, and then drain the artificially-made lake, trapping it on dry land and evening the odds. Tahoumaru and his friends rush in, further inspiring the people.

The crab proves smarter than it looks when it throws rocks at the gate to re-flood the lakebed. Mutsu very nearly gets eaten up and Tahoumaru’s big (and definitely expensive) plan looks headed for ruin…until Hyakkimaru swoops in to finish off the crab. For the first time, Tahoumaru gets a look at the older brother he never knew—and still doesn’t know—he had, while high up in the hills, Lord Daigo seems to be witnessing the meeting.

While previous episodes had depicted Hyakkimaru as a bit of a spoiled, moody brat, here we see that he’s actually a good lad, if a bit impulsive and liberal with resources both human and natural. He’s also brave and highly skilled with the sword, though he still relies a lot on his two friends while Hyakkimaru has spend most of his life on his own.

The meeting itself is surprisingly anti-climactic, though I wonder if they’ll really part ways so soon without Tahoumaru getting an answer to his question of who the young lad with the prosthetic arms was. Even if Tahoumaru did stick around to chat, Hyakkimaru can barely speak.

Dororo – 09 – Not Letting The War Win

Dororo has never not known war, and it has taken everything from him but his life. But even that is threatened when he suddenly collapses with an apparent fever. Hyakkimaru has to carry him to find help, and eventually comes upon a kind priestess who takes them into the temple for Dororo to recover.

After a couple of lighthearted episodes—one in which the ghoul-of-the-week turns out to be not so bad, and one in which a boy and his big sis survive—the “party is over” this week, as we’re told the heart-wrenching tale of how Dororo became an orphan, and why he clings so close to Hyakkimaru and fears being left behind.

On two occasions, Dororo spots red spider lilies, which he hates, because they remind him of when his mama died in a field of them.

Dororo’s father Hibukuro was a big, strong leader of a band of brigands who unusually only targeted samurai, seeking retribution on those who destroyed their village. His mother Ojiya was his strong, kind wife. But it doesn’t take long to see that an age as cruel as the one in which they live wouldn’t allow such an arrangement to last for long.

Hibukuro is good at killing and good at bringing men to his side, but when his band gets strong enough, his right-hand man Itachi suggests they make a deal with a lord. It’s the smart, pragmatic move; one that has the best chance of ensuring the survival of his family. But neither of Dororo’s parents are willing to turn to the lords ever again…and young Dororo follows their lead.

Predictably, Itachi betrays them by making a deal with the samurai, who end up filling Hibukuro’s legs with arrows. Itachi takes the band for himself, leaving the wounded Hibukuro and his family to scavenge fields of the dead for scraps of food. Itachi and his treahery represented a natural element to this world, and Hibukuro and Ojiya simply lacked the pragmatism that would have enabled them to survive.

If he hadn’t betrayed them, Hibukuro’s stubbornness would have doomed him again anyway…and it does, when they happen upon another village the samurai are preparing to burn. One of them recognizes Hibukuro’s signature pole sword and seeks revenge for his fallen friends.

Hibukuro has an epic death by bear-hugging and impaling the man who impaled him, but the end result is that Ojiya and Dororo are now all on their own. You can see the moment Ojiya knows they’re somehow even more screwed than they were a minute ago, and their margin of survival henceforth is that much smaller.

It’s something of a miracle the samurai let Ojiya and Dororo go free, and we know from Dororo telling Mio that Ojiya never sold her body for money or food. But when she hears that samurai are handing out free soup, she gets in line, something she and her husband might not have done before things got so dire.

She’s even willing to cut in line, hold out her hands, and have the scalding soup poured in her hands (she has no bowl) so that Dororo can eat. And Itachi is there, in his fancy clothes, comfy with the lord, basically telling her “I told you so.” Dororo throws a rock at him—perhaps for the first time—but Itachi catches it easily.

When we see the mother and child walking slowly through a field of those damned red spider lilies (the show’s profound artistry on full display this week as usual), I knew that was going to be the end of Ojiya’s tether. She collapses from starvation, can’t get back up, and the life drains from her eyes as Dororo begs her not to, promising he won’t tell her he’s hungry anymore. It’s a brutal gut punch.

Time and time again, right until the moment of her death, Dororo’s mother told him not to let the war beat him, even though it claimed her and his father. When he recovers from his fever, we learn he had told the priestess this entire story. Thanks to her ministrations, he can keep going, keep fighting against the war that’s taken almost everything.

But as he continues his journey with Hyakkimaru, Dororo realizes when he smells his freshly-cleaned clothes that those clothes had to have been removed at some point. And the priestess told Hyakkimaru how difficult it must be to travel with “such a young girl.” That’s when I learned for the first time (I never watched the original show): Dororo is a girl.

The hints were there: her button-cute appearance, girlish eyelashes, and the fact she was voiced by a girl and not a boy. And surely it’s smart to dress as a guy and not a girl when you’re all alone in a cruel, merciless world like this. Now Hyakkimaru knows the truth, and I’m eager to see how that’ll change their dynamic as he continues to develop his voice.

Unfortunately, the days they still have to travel the lands together in search of ghouls and fortune may soon be interrupted by more huge developments: one of Daigo’s spies has informed him of a midwife who put a limbless infant in the river, and young warrior with prosthetic arms. Tahoumaru overhears as well. Soon, Hyakkimaru, the instrument of Daigo’s mounting misfortunes (due to the demons losing his parts one by one) will be the crosshairs of his father and younger brother.

And while Dororo is a capable fighter and thief, she’s far from invincible, as we’ve learned from the times Hyakkimaru has had to rescue her, including the first time he did. Like Hibukuro, the day may come when he’ll have to choose whether to fight those who have forsaken him, or focus on protecting Dororo. More limbs and senses, more problems…