Super Cub – 12 (Fin) – Girls’ First Tour

Koguma says “I’m off” to no one as she leaves her spartan apartment (put up some Super Cub posters!) in the early morning to meet up with Reiko and Shii at Buerre. Back when Shii begged her to use her Cub, which had rescued her from the ravine, to take Winter and send it away, Koguma said her Cub couldn’t do that. But one thing it can do is take them to where Spring has sprung so they can seize it and bring it back home.

After Shii’s doting parents see them off with their blessing and some military-grade komisbrot, Shii rides double with Reiko and the girls set off on their grandest tour yet, headed all the way down to Kagoshima, on the southwestern tip of Kyushu. There lie the first cherry blossoms. After just their first hour on the road, known as “the devil’s 60 minutes” Koguma and Reiko stop to check their steeds from stem to stern.

They take the famous historic routes used in the Edo period, which happen to include many cute cafes where Shii can gather some pointers. They also enjoy a quick lunch of the hearty rye bread with cream cheese and local smoked salmon—very Scandinavian!

They spend their first night at an economical business hotel near Lake Biwa, where Reiko again demonstrates her complete lack of modesty, claiming curry should be eaten while naked; Koguma is having none of it. They pass the stirring Shirahige torii gate, pass the Tottori dunes, shell out for some seriously huge crabs, reach the far end of Honshu, then spend the night at a net cafe in Kyushu.

As they ride through all of these famous places and take in the sights and tastes, there’s a very straightforwardness to it all; it’s essentially one long breathless montage with only a few brief stops to eat or sleep. Through it all, the three girls grow even closer and more comfortable with each other.

When they finally reach their destination of Kagoshima, the rewarding feeling of having made it all that way there on two Cubs (no cheating with trains!) is matched by the ephemeral gorgeousity of the bloossoms. They set out to find out if they could achieve this, and they did it: they seized spring and basked in its beauty.

By the time they return home, Spring arrived there as well, as if they had brought it with them. And in the midst of Spring, Shii reveals she decided to buy a Cub of her own, an elegant “Little Cub” in her preferred powder blue. When she can’t help but pet it like a new puppy, Koguma and Reiko break into laughter, having both been there and done that!

The series closes on a triumphant shot I had been hoping for since Shii first entered the lives of the rich politician’s daughter and reserved loner: the three girls on their three Cubs riding together in single file. Koguma’s final voiceover says if you sit back and do nothing, a Cub can’t and won’t help you, but if you hop on and decide to take a corner you’ve never turned at before, that Cub will be right there with you for whatever may come.

I’ll admit it: I’m a lot more enticed to buy a motorbike than I was before watching this show! I also have a similar affinity for my trusty Civic. What I thought was a gussied-up advertisement turned out to be one of the most earnest, heartfelt, unique, and beautiful stories of friendship, love, adventure and accomplishment to come along in a long time. I’ll miss my Cub girls!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Super Cub – 09 – Winter Is Coming

An autumnal cold snap suddenly makes real what had merely been abstract: Koguma and Reiko aren’t quite ready for the full-on chill of Winter. Little things like Reiko warming her feet on her Hunter Cub’s motor offer temporary relief, but more stringent measures will soon be needed.

Despite the cold, Shii braves the outside to ask if she can eat lunch with Koguma and Reiko. These two are so tight-knit now it won’t be easy to penetrate their circle of two, especially without a Cub of her own, but Shii does have one thing at her command: copious amounts of delicious hot drinks.

Her hot Italian milk tea with a touch of grappa is so good, Reiko jokingly contemplates stuffing the tiny Shii in her cargo box so she can always have a hot drink when she needs one. And speaking of knit, when she hears of Koguma’s money problems, she offers her an oversized cardigan made of durable, minimally processed abrasive wool.

While it is indeed warm, it’s also big enough to sleep in, but Koguma hatches a new plan, Reiko removes her cargo box, and Shii rides double with her way too fast for her comfort as they race back to school before the gate closes. There, the home ec teacher regards the rare material with awe, and is more than happy to convert the huge cardigan into a jacket liner and stockings for Reiko. There’s even enough for a Thermos cozy for Shii!

The first time Koguma rides with the new woolly lining, she beams with joy and the episode’s color bumps up. Reiko is also happy that she can be warm and fashionable with her stockings. With the more saturated color comes another patented Super Cub wordless sequence, accompanied by an austere, minimalist piano and trumpet piece.

Unfortunately, the woolly upgrades only last so long, as soon both Koguma and Reiko are uncomfortably cold on their steeds. Even so, Reiko is adamant about not procuring a windshield, which she dismisses as deeply uncool.

In another example of how Shii hasn’t quite clawed her way into their circle of two, they leave her in the dust with nary a word to her when they ride off to the store. Poor Shii! Still, I’m sure in time she’ll be as close to the other two as they are to each other; this stuff doesn’t happen overnight.

Koguma is staring at the 4000-yen price tag of a Super Cub windshield when a clerk removes it from the display and sells it; turns out it’s the last one. An affiliate has both Super and Hunter shields in stock, but the girls shake their heads: Koguma can’t bear the cost, while Reiko can’t bear the lameness.

Even so, they visit the resident Cub collector from whom Koguma procured her cargo box, and each of them tries out an old battered Cub with a windshield…and they’re both sold!

They order their shields, and then work together mounting them to their bikes without anyone else’s help. Once they’re done, they hop on, the color bumps up again, and they just keep riding, thanks both to the protection of their windshields and their high spirits.

As Reiko admits while drinking more of Shii’s coffee (honestly I worry about the girls’ caffeine intake now that they’ve met Shii): “If it works better, it’s not ugly.” She initially pooh-poohed windshields, but that was before she experienced just how much of a difference they make. They don’t just make winter riding bearable, they make it fun.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 08 – United Nations

The bike wives have become so close they’re now casually drinking out of one another’s Thermoses. Fall is transitioning into winter, which is no joke for riders. Kitting out their rides to battle the coming cold (Koguma’s first, by the way) means having to spend a lot of coin, which means vending machine coffee is a luxury best avoided.

It’s karmic providence, then, when Shii invites the girls to her family’s café, which looks like an inn straight out of Tyrol (in Austria), but has the French name Buerre, while inside resembles both a german bakery, a British sandwich shop, and an nifty fifties American diner. It’s about as all over the place as Koguma isn’t, but it has its charm.

More to the point, the coffee is free due to their herosim during the cultural festival, and it is also excellent, whether it’s Shii’s or that of her father, who quit the corporate rat race in Tokyo to pursue his scattershot passion. The coffee is so good, the color in Koguma’s world gets jacked up to eleven!

When not mainlining caffeine at Shii’s place, Koguma and Reiko hit up a job lot store for discount winter outfitting. Reiko is quickly distracted by rare firearms, drawing Koguma’s subtle ire, but then Koguma falls in love with a particularly nifty bento box that reminded me of Rin’s little portable camp grill—and may well be similarly much sought-after on the internet marketplace!

It may not be a purchase that helps winter-proof her Cub, but it’s a sign that Koguma will spoil herself on occasion, and has also begun to cook better lunches than the glorified microwavable salt pouches she choked down at the start of the series. She also manages to procure some handlebar covers within her budget, and is immediately glad she did so, as they keep the cold wind off her hands and out of her jacket sleeves.

While Reiko initially pooh-poohs the mod as too “old fogey”, one ride on Koguma’s Cub and she’s totally sold, hopping on the ‘net to buy the exact same pair of covers. They return to Shii’s family’s café and meet her Americanophile mom, whose yellow pickup truck and 50s outfit explain the diner half of the business. While her mom is Mrs. America and her dad is Herr Deutschland, Shii is a “tiny sliver of Italy”—tiny, but tenacious!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 07 – Going Solo

Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena were a lot of fun these past two episodes, but by the end of their Lake Yamanaka trip I was ready for some Rin and Nadeshiko time, and that’s what we get here! After Ena shows Chiaki some photos from their almost-ill-fated trip, it finally happens: Rin’s little grill is used as an offertory box, as they drop a coin in and praise their mutual savior. Rin’s deadpan reply is simple and perfect: “No worshipping.”

Ena splits, enabling Nadeshiko to talk solo camping with Rin. Rin’s a little surprised someone as gregarious as Nadeshiko has taken an interest in it, but is happy to offer all the advice she can. In what seems like an intentional contrast to Chiaki mostly winging it, relying on luck, and paying the price, Nadeshiko is determined to plan her first trip The Right Way, and not bite off more than she can chew.

Rin’s insights and advice prove indispensable as Nadeshiko makes a master list of things to do. First, she tells her family she’s going solo, and Sakura quickly and clandestinely downloads a GPS app so they’ll know where she is—a move that’s as wise as Nadeshiko’s curious “What are you doing?” is hilarious.

She finds a spot that won’t be too cold that’s within walking distance of a train station (and in cellular range), checks the weather and in particular the day-to-night changes in temperature, and makes a list of things to do while she’s there so she doesn’t get bored. The big day arrives, and after sliding all of her gear onto her back with a “hup”, she’s off to Fujikawa by way of Fujinomiya.

Rin, who also has the weekend off, decides to take a solo trip of her own, this time heading to Lake Amehata in picturesque Hayakawa, first stopping at a super-cozy home café in Akasawa for mamemochi and amazake (with barley tea on the house).

Nadeshiko reports via photo of her arrival in Fujinomiya, and after praying at the temple there for a safe and fun solo camping trip, she stays the growling of her stomach as she passes restaurants on the way to the yakisoba place her sister recommended.

Sakura, who is also getting her sister’s photo updates, is driving … somewhere. Where precisely, we’re not told, but it looks for all the world like she’s trailing Nadeshiko like an overprotective parent, even though that seems like overkill. Nadeshiko even senses she’s being followed and looks behind her several times.

Rin leaves Akasawa and visits the Giant Cedar of Yushima. All the gorgeous scenery she rides and walks through really gives you the warm exciting feeling of exploring new and unfamiliar places. And then, as she pulls into a café near the Lake Narada Hot Springs, the Sakura mystery is solved, with Rin finding her car parked in the lot.

As Rin spots Sakura and starts to follow her, Nadeshiko finally gets a spot in the yakisoba place, and once seated, she quickly learns she’d better shout out her order when requested or she’ll be passed up. Trusting in her fellow orderers, she gets a gomoku shigure-yaki, a thoroughly rib-sticking local specialty of okonomiyaki and Fujinomiya yakisoba.

Due to the set up, we’re able to watch along with Nadeshiko every step of the way as her food comes together, and the opposite is true as well: the cook is able to see Nadeshiko’s patented “This is Super Tasty” Face. She snaps a pic for Rin, who is viewing it just as Sakura walks up to her.

Her “cover” blown, Rin decides to have some tea with Sakura, and while initially finds their silence awkward due to Nadeshiko not being there, Sakura is always ready to talk Moped Stories, the show Rin watched with the others during Christmas Camping. Rin also learns that Sakura is a fellow solo-er, taking a drive once a month or so to places featured on travel shows.

When talk turns to Nadeshiko, Rin can tell Sakura is worried, but right on cue Nadeshiko texts both of them a photo of her superbly round and jolly face standing outside the Tomato Food Market, where she’ll shop for dinner supplies before heading to the campsite.

Sakura heads to the hot spring, Rin continues on to her campsite, and Nadeshiko arrives in Fujikawa. She’s only a 5.5km (around 3.4 miles) walk from the “Fujikawa Healthy Greenspace Campsite”, the fictional version of Nodayama Health Ryokuchi Park. Thanks to the physical conditioning her sister forced upon her, it should indeed be a walk in the park!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 06 – Ice Station Yamanaka

Their dreams of cape camping dashed, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena set up their two tents and their tarp as close to it as they dare, then break out their brand-new (and IMO somewhat overpriced) camp chairs. Chiaki opted for the two-chair set-up to a lighter hammock.

A group of hobbyists are flying RC planes over the lake, while they’re visited by a friendly Corgi named Choko (named after the cup in which you drink sake) and his owner. The girls aren’t alone on this cape, and that proves to be of vital importance to their very survival later on.

But first, this trip starts out like many others we’ve seen before; with the participants basking in the beauty of their natural surroundings and bracing themselves against the cold with blankets and something warm to drink. For the latter Chiaki whips up some delectable non-alcoholic hot buttered rum, the recipe for which she got from a co-worker.

While Chiaki demonstrates she can be an angel when she offers one of her two chairs to the chairless Ena, she also shows she’s got a devilish side when she sends a picture of them relaxing to Rin back home. Rin is airing out her bag and cleaning her grill—all the maintenance required to keep your gear in ship shape. Chiaki’s photo puts a smile on Rin’s face, but it quickly turns to a look of concern as she checks that night’s low temperatures at Lake Yamanaka.

At the very end of every episode we’ve been told the same message: It gets cold during the winter. Stay warm and be well-prepared! No duh, right? Except that there’s cold, and then there’s COLD. At 4:30PM, before the sun even goes down, it’s already two below (28° F), and all three girls’ phones’ batteries die due to the cold.

It wasn’t anywhere near as cold in Asagiri for their Christmas Camping, but that was over 1,300 feet lower elevation! And it’s only going to get colder. Chiaki curses herself for not checking the weather forecast, and it would seem like the Outclub got “a little in over their heads” once they started getting all gung-ho about winter camping.

Still, the three come up with an emergency plan to stay warm through the night: build a fire and cook the hot pot to warm themselves up, then pile into one tent with every blanket and coat piled on top of them. Aoi and Ena don’t have the heavy-duty hand warmers, so Chiaki volunteers to run to the konbini to buy more, as well as some cardboard for insulation.

But the plan soon falls apart when Aoi and Ena arrive at the administration building to find the manager has already locked up and is driving off. Unable to buy or even access proper firewood, the two search for twigs, only to find the ground completely immaculate! With the sun fully down and the temperatures dropping fast, things look grim…but for the grace of their fellow camper and owner of Choko.

By the time Chiaki returns from her odyssey to the konbini and back, their campsite is worryingly abandoned. Then she’s called to the dog lady’s big teepee-style tent, which is both blessedly warm due to the continuously-burning wood stove, and large enough to accommodate the three girls. The lady and who I presume to be her dad are even preparing their own hot pot.

The dad may say with a laugh that the girls would have been “goners” if left out there, but he’s not wrong. Toba-sensei ends up showing up to check on them, and while looking in their tents gets the shit scared out of her when Chiaki sneaks up on her. As she explains, Rin notified her of their plans to camp at Lake Yamanaka, where the temps get down to 15 below (just F!), and weren’t answering their phones.

Toba-sensei puts on her Adult hat and firmly scolds the girls over the seriousness of their error. The greatly varying elevation means drastically varying temperatures and unpredictable shifts—stand on a mountain any time of day and you’ll learn that quick! Furthermore, their gear is woefully inadequate for even a normal Lake Yamanaka winter.

She impresses upon them the absolute necessity of thoroughly researching their campsite and preparing accordingly. The girls bow in tearful apology, but Toba-sensei is also sorry, for while she knew the three of them were camping, she didn’t ask where. From now on the must be sure to talk to each other about where they’re camping.

With all that settled, the dad/(or husband?) invites Toba-sensei to join him in imbibing a big bottle of sake—the good stuff from the store they own in Itou. Within minutes, Serious Adult Toba-sensei devolves into Drunk Toba-chan. Then they prepare their two batches of hot pot: both motsu and kiritanpo. A magnificent feast ensues within the toasty tent.

Toba-sensei is too drunk to drive, so she and the girls spend the night in her Hustler with the heat on. I once thought this was a bad idea, but only if your car is parked on ice! Turns out as long as your car’s battery and alternator are in good working order, as long as you’ve got gas in the tank you’ve got a warm car to sleep in. And it’s not like they had another option in this instance!

Just prior to sunrise, Ena is the first to wake up—quite uncharacteristic for the girl they’ve always cut to in the past curled up in her bed with her pup well into the late morning. She’s soon joined by Aoi and Chiaki, and their reward for braving the outside is another truly majestic sunrise complete with soaring orchestral score, which as by now become a Yuru Camp specialty.

Once Toba greets the morning, Ena gets to work on tempura smelts for breakfast. Ena snaps a photo with her newly car-charged phone, and all three girls send Rin their heartfelt thanks for worrying about them. Chiaki adds that she’ll never forget this, and Rin immediately cashes in by playfully warning them they’d better have gifts for her from Lake Yamanaka!

While cleaning her trusty but lately quite dingy moped, Rin gets a call from Nadeshiko, who just got off work, and voices her intent to try solo camping like the kind Rin does. Whether this leads to her trip to Lake Motosu in which Rin and Nade end up soloing at the same place (the epilogue of the first season) or a different, truly solo trip, we shall see.

But yeah, this week Yuru Camp got real with us, showing how quickly laid-back can become life-threatening! Winter camping can be wonderful, but it is not for the ill-prepared. No doubt Chiaki, Aoi, and Rin learned their lesson, and between doing their research and maintaining clear communication, they’ll be ready for their next excursion in the cold.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spark in the Gloom

When the immensely popular and critically acclaimed ufotable series Demon Slayer aired between April and September of 2019…I missed out. Being highly susceptible to FOMO, when it first appeared on my Netflix home screen, I decided to dive in, buoyed by going back and catching up on the currently airing Jujutsu Kaisen.

With the first episode in the bag, I can confidently say that this is right up my alley, and I really should have cracked it open back in Spring 19. In my defence, back then I was busy watching the excellent Dororo reboot, Part 2 of Attack on Titan’s third season, and the second cour of the promising Rising of the Shield Hero, so I wasn’t just twiddling my thumbs.

That said, I’m glad I went back to check this out. While the number of characters and storylines are sure to balloon before long, I loved how simple it starts out: a boy carrying a wounded girl through a bleak wintry forest. I can’t stress that “bleak” part enough—once Kamado Tanjirou returns home to find his entire family slaughtered but one sister, I couldn’t help feel like we were entering Grave of the Fireflies territory.

I won’t spoil Grave for those who haven’t seen it; suffice it to say it’s by far the darkest and bleakest Ghibli film and one of the saddest films ever, and things don’t end well for its pair of siblings. Demon Slayer differs in that while Tanjirou and Nezuko suffer horrendous tragedy, the opening episode ends with a spark of hope that breaks through the unyielding cold.

Granted, that hope is a spark and only a spark, made possible by a titular demon slayer named Tomioka Giyuu staying his hand when it comes time to execute Nezuko. Did I mention demon blood got into her wounds, thus transforming her into a demon? Well, that’s the sitch, because it wasn’t enough that Tenjirou lose his mother and other siblings.

While this could easily have descended into tragedy porn, there’s a sense that things can’t get any worse, and that it’s always darkest before the dawn (though Tenjirou is warned to keep Nezuko out of direct sunlight). That fact is reflected in the stunningly gorgeous wintry mountain landscape, which at least started out bright and cheerful before the clouds amassed.

Tomioka admits he shares part of the blame for Tenjirou’s plight; if he’d arrived a few hours earlier he could have stopped the demons before they attacked. But he didn’t get where he is today by dwelling on the past. What keeps him from killing Nezuko is that despite most likely starving for human flesh, rather than eat her knocked-out brother, she shields him from Tomioka. Instead he places some kind of pacifier in her mouth that seems to calm her (and give her a very cute surprised expression).

So the story so far is simple and familiar: kid loses almost everything, and seeks to find and kill (or…slay) the demons responsible, and save his sister. Naturally, he’ll need to become stronger to do that, and Tomioka tells him to head to Mt. Sagiri to find a man named Urokodaki Sakonji.

ufotable, renowned for its action sequences, wows with the landscapes first, but is no slouch when it comes to the showdown with Tomioka and the Kamado siblings. The action is beautiful and precise, but not overly flashy or show-offy. Tomioka is so quick it’s as if he can teleport. Tenjirou is a lot more clumsy in his movements, as befits his desperate mood, while the demonic Nezuko is both beast-like and balletic in her strikes, leaps and lunges.

All in all, Demon Slayer is off to a stirring, enticing start, front-loading the tragedy but also presenting its hero with a chance to claw back from the brink and salvage what remains of his shattered life. I’m glad Tenjirou isn’t left all alone, and while Nezuko is a demon, and that sucks, there seems to be enough of her left that she’s not an immediate threat to him. As their quest begins, so does my quest to cover it. Better a bit late than never, eh?

The Day I Became a God – 10 – The Disappearance of Satou Hina

Hina is gone from Youta’s life, as well as those of Kyouko, Ashura, Sora, and the rest of the gang. After a period of restless but fruitless searching, life has returned to normal—or at least to what it was before Hina appeared—though Kyouko seems to hang out with the boys a lot more often.

Before they know it, their group of three friends swells to four with the addition of transfer student Suzuki Hiroto. Hiroto randomly approaches Youta one day, hacks his number onto his phone, and just like that, they’re hanging out on the regular.

He even has Youta and Ashura to teach him basketball, though he already seems pretty good at it. When the others suggest going out for burgers, Hiroto suggests ramen, so they go to Jinguuji’s. He suggests all four of them play a game, and so they play mahjongg.

Youta still tends to the “Lost Hina” posters around town, even if it seems futile, because each day he hangs out with his friends, there nevertheless feels a sense of emptiness, that Hina should be among them. When Hiroto asks if he can watch Sora’s movie, Youta vetoes, because it’s “not finished. Fall turns to Winter, and then entrance exams in the new year.

It’s clear by now to us that Hiroto is very consciously getting Youta & Co. to go through all of the same experiences they went through with Hina…but Youta’s melancholy is such that he doesn’t pick up on it until Hiroto loses his temper, gives up, and threatens to leave.

That’s when it dawns on Hiroto what he’s doing, and Hiroto reiterates that he’s a genius who do “just about anything”—and that includes letting Youta access to Hina. It’s just that his boss insisted that he not directly tell Youta why he showed up in his life; Youta had to figure it out for himself.

Now that he has, Hiroto offers him the opportunity to see Hina. He warns him that she won’t be the Hina he remembers, but Youta doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Just like that, Hiroto’s drive gives them a ride to the Yamada Sanitarium, where Hina is currently a patient.

Hiroto wielded his hacking magic to ensure Youta had full access, but only for a maximum of two weeks. He strides right in and is met by a matter-of-fact visiting researcher, who takes him to Hina’s room. We discover what’s become of her…and it’s predictably gutting.

Bedridden, lean, wan, and very out of it, it would appear her Logos Syndrome has picked up where it left off before her grandfather cured her with the quantum computer in her brain. When that computer was cruelly removed from her brain, they had to shave her hair, which has only recently grown back.

The researcher also warns Youta not to yell or be provocative, as Hina is acutely fearful of men, hence the all-female staff of the facility. She can’t discern between Youta’s anger for those who did this to her and anger directed at her specifically, and she freaks out. Their visit has to be cut short.

Youta sits outside in the cold, and snow starts to collect on his head. He is lost. The emptiness remains, and it expands and festers from the sheer heartbreaking injustice of it all. Hina didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment. Youta can scarcely believe this is real life. Not having a remote idea what to do, his confidence is flickering away like a dying flame in frigid winds.

Where does he go from here? My suggestion? Maybe slowly, gently try again with Hina…only KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE YELLING!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Cardcaptor Sakura – 33 – A Thawing of Relations

Winter has arrived, as has the first freeze, and as Sakura’s class will be going on a field trip to the ice skating rink, she tries to get some practice in on her blades, only to fall on her bum. Any soreness is forgotten when she learns Yukito is spending the night at her house to study for exams with Touya. She even has a couple “anyahns” for Yukito, something she’d previously saved for Mizuki-sensei.

That night, however, she doesn’t dream about Yukito. Instead, she has the same dream she’s had several times now, only the details are becoming clearer and easier to recall upon awakening. She distinctly remembers a full moon and someone with long hair. While this figure resembles Mizuki-sensei, Kero mentions the name Yue, I believe for the first time. Could the reddish hue of the dream figure’s hair be a red herring?

Armed with a beautiful bento prepared by Touya and Yukito (such a nice couple), Sakura hits the rink with her class. While she’s not sure on her feet at first, she quickly gets the hang of it (as Tomoyo predicted) thanks to some pointers from Mizuki-sensei. Syaoran also figures it out…just a tiny bit slower than Sakura. Meiling, meanwhile, bundles herself up like a button-cute Matryoshka doll, not used to Japan’s cold winter.

Turns out she doesn’t just have a ridiculously low tolerance for cold; temps throughout the rink and cafe soon drop below zerc degrees C, and soon everyone except Sakura and Syaoran are encased in ice, in one of the more overtly frightening scenes CSS has turned out. As expected, it’s the Freeze Clow Card. If they want to free everyone, Sakura will have to seal it.

Turns out Freeze is a hugely aggressive dick, and even with the heightened agility of Jump, Sakura takes a bit of a beating. Thankfully Syaoran is not only there to catch, shield, and protect her, but doesn’t get bashful about all the close contact. He even hacks away at the ice that starts to gather around her, then shows off his newly-learned skating skills to distract Freeze and allow Sakura to seal it. Since he made the sealing possible, Syaoran earns the card’s loyalty.

After Freeze is sealed everyone thaws out and no one is the wiser. As Sakura hands out hot drinks to everyone, her eyes meet Syaoran’s and she gives him a cheerful smile, and Syaoran can’t help but blush…again. Unfortunately for Meiling, he’s well on his way to having a crush on her. I’m not sure how Syaoran will eventually wrest Sakura’s primary affections from Yukito, we’re not even halfway through the show’s run—so he’s got time!

Vinland Saga – 16 – End of His Rope

Askeladd’s luck ran out the moment Anne was found by Thorkell’s men. The weight of his army steadily bearing down on Askeladd’s comparatively paltry band fills this episode with increasing tension. While there are warriors like Bjorn and Thorfinn who will never betray him, those two aren’t nearly enough to counter the precipitous drop in morale, and thus loyalty, among the majority of his men.

When I think of how much fun Askeladd and his men once had earlier in the series when his luck was riding high, it only puts his current predicament into greater focus. By episode’s end he can count on one hand the number of men he can truly count on, with fingers to spare. When an English captain simply won’t talk no matter how many fingers Askeladd snips off, it’s almost the final nail in the coffin for him; a sign that he’s lost his power.

When your men are all either worshipers of older gods or of no god at all, they put their trust in a leader with luck and strength, and Askeladd’s is almost totally out. His side plan to force Prince Canute to toughen up pretty much takes a back seat to the far more pressing matters of how long it will be before Askeladd’s men turn against him, and when Thorkell will finally catch up to them.

Thorkell’s name invokes far more fear than Askeladd’s at this point, which means Askeladd’s time is almost out. However, it’s not yet certain whether his longer-term plan to “reform” Canute will fail. All we see is that after he leaves Ragnar behind without any kind of funeral and slaps Canute across the face, Canute starts adopting a far more Thorfinnian visage.

Askeladd is nothing if not perceptive, and has no illusions about how things will go down once the men who are done with him gather enough allies within their ranks to pull something off. That’s why when Thorkell finally appears on that horizon—the glinting from the tips of his mens’ spears portending dread, while his own thrown spear impales three men and beheads a fourth—Askeladd has the best possible defensive position he can have.

Bjorn is at the reins of the lead sled with Thorfinn, Canute, the priest, and two horses when the rest of the men surround Askeladd, calling for an end to his leadership. It is without doubt the most precarious position he’s ever been in, but one should never underestimate Thorfinn’s desire to have at least one more duel with Askeladd—which means keeping him alive…maybe.

Vinland Saga – 15 – Every Father Loves His Child

In the aftermath of Askeladd’s cruel slaughter of the villagers, Prince Canute, Ragnar, and the priest pray to God the Father before the mass grave. When the drunken priest voices his doubt of that father’s love, Canute erupts in outrage, saying all fathers love their children.

But if the priest’s faith was shaken by the massacre, it should be buoyed somewhat by the fact a survivor—Anne, from last week’s masterpiece—managed to get away without anyone noticing. She makes it to Gloucester, where as luck would have it, Thorkell’s army is encamped. Eager both to see Canute and fight Thorfinn again, he immediately prepares to head Askeladd’s way.

The foundation for Canute’s outburst at the priest was no doubt laid by his first outburst, which was in response to Thorfinn’s disrespect. In other words, the kid is finally growing a bit of a spine, at least insomuch he’s less weary of speaking his mind. In the same way, Finn’s “domestication” continues thanks to being around Canute, who secretly cooks as a hobby despite his father’s deep disapproval with his son “acting like a slave.”

Ultimately, Canute will probably have to rely on his frenemy Thorfinn after the events of the episode’s final act, in which Ragnar is killed and Askeladd assumes Canute’s guardianship.

Askeladd believes it’s for his own good, and considering how much Ragnar had coddled Canute to that point, it’s hard to argue that point. Still, Askeladd makes this move unaware of a truth Ragnar ironically would only tell him with his dying breath: King Sweyn always intended for Canute to die in battle so his other son Harald would assume the throne.

Despite how badly his father has treated him, Canute still believes his earthly father loves him, but that’s not the case; he was fine with discarding him. Thankfully, the father upstairs may still love Canute, because Canute still has Thorfinn by his side.

Vinland Saga – 14 – The Luck of the Wicked

I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light. —Maximus, Gladiator

Forget about Thorfinn for a moment. He’s not the protagonist this week, Anne is. Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is large, poor, and devoutly Christian. But even if Rome was once “the light”, it has long since fallen, while the world remains as brutal and cruel and dark as ever, if not more so.

Anne has a secret: she’s come into possession of a beautiful ring. We later learn she’s not sure how much it cost, because she didn’t buy it; she stole it from the market. By doing so, she broke one of the Ten Commandments, which her pious father has no doubt drilled into her means a one-way ticket to hell.

Anne understands she’s sinned on one level, because she keeps the ring hidden from her family in the hollow of a tree. But on another level entirely, she’s just so goddamn delighted to have this gorgeous ring! It seems to give her no end of pleasure. At present, her love for the ring overrides her fear of God’s judgment.

Two of Askeladd’s men, whose banter we’ve seen during various marches and battles, are trying to understand the drunk priest’s concept of “love.” Does the longstanding brotherly bond between the two constitute that kind of love? The priest doesn’t know.

Does whatever amount of silver would break that bond constitute that love? Is the priest’s own veneration of booze love? He wouldn’t call it that; needing booze due to addiction and loving it are far from the same thing.

Ultimately, the warriors can’t understand the priest’s words, but they can remember another “weirdo” who used to talk in strange, seemingly contradictory riddles. Thors said “a true warrior didn’t need a sword”. Thors may not have been Christian, but to the drunken priest who never met him, Thors may as well have been describing Jesus.

Still, most warriors in this cruel dark world still carry swords, like Askeladd. He’s a man like Askeladd, who would probably be the first to say he owes a lot amount of his success as a warrior and a commander to luck. Even all the skill and experience he has, he could not have gathered without luck.

But his luck seems to have hit a snag: the countryside has been beset by harsh wintry weather that threatens to kill his men long before he reaches his destination. Ragnar believes Askeladd’s luck has run out altogether, and that nothing he does will be able to change that.

But Askeladd isn’t out of luck; not really. If he were, they wouldn’t have encountered a village to plunder for food…Anne’s village.

When Anne’s large, devout Christian family sits around the table for a meager (but very much appreciated) repast, her father says the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, and explains to the younger children why it is important to say it, and to obey the Commandments. When the day of judgment comes—and father believes it will comes soon—the faithful and righteous will ascend to heaven, while the sinners will descend into hell.

This is enough to frighten the little ones, but when Anne quietly excuses herself from the table to “go pee,” it seems more out of discomfort than fear. Outside, as the cold winds and snow lash, she recovers her precious ring, puts it on her raw, rough hand, and revels in its beauty. And while she’s out by the tree, Bjorn bursts into her family’s house.

Askeladd still has luck, but it isn’t perfect, and isn’t without cost. When he learns there’s only enough food in the village for fifty villagers to last the winter, the choice is plain: either he and his men starve, or they kill the villagers and take their food. He decides on the latter, making use of what luck he was given.

The villagers—men, women and children—are rounded up and slaughtered. Anne survives that slaughter, because she’s hiding behind a tree. You could say she was lucky, at least in terms of being able to stay alive, in spite of the fact she broke one of God’s commandments. If she hadn’t stolen the ring, or gone out to admire it, she’d have met her family’s fate.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God—Matthew 5:8

Was Anne’s father’s heart pure? Her mother’s? The hearts of her younger siblings and other relations? Did they ascend to heaven upon being murdered, leaving her alone in the cruel dark world below? Was her luck merely a curse, keeping her bound to cruelty and darkness her family will no longer have to endure?

Anne wanders off, neither spotted nor followed by Askeladd’s men, and the winter storm passes. She reaches a spot where the crescent moon looms large. She asks God if her family made it to heaven, but declares that she’s “elated” not to be sent there herself.

Shocked to have witnessed what Askeladd and his men did without fearing God’s punishment in the slightest (since, of course, they believe in entirely different gods), she’s as elated in that moment staring at the moon as she was when she stole the ring.

Maybe she sees in those wicked men, and in her own wickedness, a different kind of purity—of a kind she can’t quite describe, but which bestowed upon those wicked men the luck to find food, and upon her the luck to survive at least one more harsh winter night.