Mahoutsukai no Yome – 16

The pagan holiday of Yule is upon Chise and Elias, and the Yule Twins appear to remind them to make their preparations, gathering various logs, boughs, leaves and berries. Elias wants to make certain Chise doesn’t overwork herself (she herself wonders if she’ll make it to next Fall), while they both have to convince Ruth that he’s not a failure of a familiar after Chise’s latest scare.

These scenes are imbued with the spirit and the beauty of the season, from the snow shimmering in the setting sun to the awkward exchange of kisses under the mistletoe. Elias reports that Chise’s kiss made him a little “tingly” in the neck and back, but is that because he felt something emotionally, or just feeling the effects of having to crouch down?

The next day, after receiving a message via bird in the night, Chise sneaks away to London on her own, where she meets Alice. Alice wants to hang, but also needs advice on what to get Renfred for Christmas. It occurs to Chise she hadn’t even considered getting Elias a gift, but wants to do so.

As they shop and eat and eat and shop, Alice eventually runs into a “straggler from her past”, who wants to sell her drugs. When he doesn’t take no for an answer, Alice kicks him in the balls, and Chise scares of his friends with a ferocious Ruth (eager to redeem himself).

Now that Chise has seen a glimpse of Alice’s past, she tells Alice not to hold back on talking about that past just because it might be uncomfortable; after all, Chise knows something about rough pasts!

Alice was a drug dealer and an addict until one day Renfred plucked her off the streets, invited her into his home as a ward of sorts, and stayed with her throughout the long, painful withdrawal process.

Once she was clean he put her to work organizing his library, but when she opened the wrong book a monster jumped out to attack her, and Renfred took the attack for her, having his face all ripped off.

From then on, Alice knew she could trust Renfred, which made him the first person she could trust in her life. Now that extends to at least a second person, as she clearly trusts and likes Chise enough to open up like this.

Once their shopping for their respective masters is finished, the two part ways, and Chise and Ruth (who is happy Chise has made a friend) head home, where an “angry” Elias is waiting. I use angry in quotes because he himself isn’t sure what it means to be angry, but if he was going to be angry it would be because Chise ran off alone without telling him anything.

Still, Elias is happy with Chise’s gift for him, a new string tie, while Chise learns that Elias has a knack for making teddy bears, and made a big one, his best yet, for her. He also points out other presents for her to open Christmas morning.

Chise goes to bed warm, excited, and actually looking forward to the morning, something that would have been quite foreign in her dark past. The next day Ashen Eye finds “a pitiful child” walking in the snow; likely the subject of next week’s episode. But this week was all about Yule, Christmas, and two women with dark pasts living much brighter, happier lives. I can dig it.

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Sousei no Onmyouji – 13

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Yes, this show is still around, and yes, I’m still watching! Who would have thought that Benio not only had an evil overpowered brother who needs to be defeated down the road sometime, but also both their parents were killed by an overpowered Kegare that’s the equivalent of an Arrancar in Bleach: a kegare with human (or humanoid) form. This girl just has the worst luck.

But hey, someone’s looking out for her, and that someone is Rokuro. After getting the lay of the land, he peaces out of Magano with Benio at his earliest convenience, since Benio is in no condition to fight.

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He uses a med-talisman on her, and she wants to head right back in there, but he tells her to eat first and cheer up, assuring her that her late parents would much rather she kept living than die trying to avenge them.

As he goes in to get a better idea of who they’re up against in Kamui, Benio actually listens to Roku and eats his stone-cold oyakodon, which actually isn’t that good at all, but Benio still scarfs it down. As she does, she really does cheer up, remembering all the positive reinforcement and support Rokuro has offered her over their time together.

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Back in Magano, Rokuro learns that Kamui is primarily concerned with being “entertained”, and with his demon gauntlet thingy, Rokuro seems able to provide the absolute minimum quantity of entertainment for Kamui to reconsider killing him quickly. Roku has potential, after all, and anyone or anything that can land a blow on Kamui is someone he isn’t in a hurry to kill. That would be boring!

Of course, it isn’t long before Kamui turns up the difficulty level a tick, and Rokuro is shot back and bloodied with ease. That’s when a reinvigorated Benio returns (albeit hopping on one leg) to relieve him.

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Benio certainly has a head full of steam, but it’s been abundantly clear for a while now that neither she nor Rokuro can accomplish much on their own; they have to combine their power in order to make progress.

And progress that make, as Rokuro catches Benio from out of the air, the two combine their spiritual energy (or whatever), her sword gets bigger and meaner, and they deliver an epically crushing blow to Kamui.

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Kamui survives, but a limb lighter, and decides he’ll withdraw for now and wait for these two to become stronger, or, if they produce a Miko, send him or her to face him. It doesn’t really matter, as long as he’s entertained.

I actually like the guy’s philosophy; it’s at least more interesting that just a mindless killing machine. Guy’s got a code, and he’s got priorities. He even remembered Benio’s ‘rents, and how they were one of his only victims who actually sacrificed themselves for someone else, namely their daughter.

Turns out the encounter between Rokruo+Benio and Kamui was all but set up by Arima, to further bring the two together, and you can hardly argue that it worked like a charm.

Benio wakes up in bed with Rokuro, in the lovenest Arima prepared for them, no more willing to follow through with the plans Arima made for them than before, but still no less grateful for Rokuro’s support. Her parents told her being scared is okay, because they’re not alone. And she’s not alone here.

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GANGSTA. – 12 (Fin)

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“It’s no use. Any of it.”

It’s a dark, nihilistic and very open-ended finale for GANGSTA., and although I wasn’t expecting many happy endings, then endings we did get were ambiguous, and I felt that too much was left on the table. Maybe that was the intention.

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One ending left open perhaps by design, was the Marco/Connie crisis. Connie’s grief-stricken grandmother whacks Marco with her cane, cursing him for taking yet more of her family. Nic stops her, at later drapes a coat over her in the rain, and all she wants at this point is to seem some thing, any sign of what happened to Connie, even if it’s just a head or an eye. But all we get a heartbreaking flash from Marco’s POV of her smiling in bed, a perfect moment that may never come again.

Marco, once a member of the Destroyers who are wreaking havoc on Ergastulum, laments he no longer has the strength to protect what’s important to him, or even save his girl. So what does Loretta do? Strips down, puts on her work clothes and shoulder holster, and steps up to the plate. Marco has given a lot to the Christiano family, and she’s going to see that he’s repaid for that leal service. Marco sees the ghost of her father behind her as she speaks with his voice.

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As Nic backs up Christiano at Bastard, leaving Ally behind at the office, Worick prepares for a last stand with Miles to buy time for Daniel Monroe. When the Destroyer Striker arrives, no normal or Twilight or steel door can stand against him.

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Worick and Miles set up an elaborate trap, but both are seriously wounded, and though Worick manages to get a sedative into Striker, Striker tosses him out the window. It’s an exciting fight, but there’s never the feeling Worick or anyone else has the slightest chance. Hauntingly, Nina suddenly wakes up as soon as Worick’s bloodied body hits the ground, sensing he’s done for.

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Delico continues to trudge through the rainy streets with Heather searching for his sister Erica, and he finally looks up helplessly at her flying over the rooftops with Mikhail. Worick lies bleeding out, remembering being told he can try as hard as he wants to keep up with Twilights, but they’ll always be different from him, and out of his reach. Nic flies through the rainy sky and delivers the nihilistic line up top.

Is he right? Are Loretta, Marco, Connie, along with Nic and Worick, all simply doomed? Is all we got, and all we’ll ever get as viewers, is a brief, twleve-episode look-in to this accursed world populated with wounded souls, beasts, and lost causes? Or is Nic wrong, and the fact none of the above characters end up dead for sure offer hope that things can turn around in a future GANGSTA. sequel?  This episode gave no indication of a continuation, so we’ll just have to wait and see. But in the meantime, our look-in has concluded.

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GANGSTA. – 11

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As Corsica’s hunters (AKA the “Destroyers”) begin bombing the Paulklee district to dull Twilight senses, Delico leaves Monroe’s mansion to find his sister Erica and deal with her, with his colleague Yang tagging along. Doug tries to get back to base, but gets an X-slash across the chest. And the axe girl with the everlasting lollipop and funky manicure is unimpressed with the quality of opponents, calling them “a pile of crap.”

Notable in their total (rather than partial) absence from the episode? Nic and Worick. And yet the episode does just fine without the Handymen, giving the supporting cast room to breathe and be fleshed out a tad more (though without any lengthy flashbacks).

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Central to the episode is the semi-secret romance between Marco and Connie, the latter of whom says goodbye with sign language in a way that suggests she’s going to end up in danger before the day is done. Yet between this, Ally taking care of the kid at the Handymen’s, and Delico’s Erica-Hunt, the Destroyer’s chaos isn’t as far reaching as last week suggested…at least not yet.

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It doesn’t take long for Sig to carve her way to Gina Paulklee’s bedroom window, where she’s just waking up (with Ginger, who we now know is also her lover). But Gina ends up agreeing with Sig that the place is a cesspool. Her point is, so what? Now that Sig has come to this point, neither she nor her Destroyer partner are authorized to act, and even when her partner does go after Gina, Ginger snaps his knife with her bare hand. Sig’s axed her way through soft wood, but now she’s up against tougher stuff, and it’s good to see the doubt in her eyes for the first time.

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That particular standoff ends in a Destroyer retreat, but the rest of them continue to move, and the damage is done. Delico and Yang run into Heather, the sister of a six-year-old killed by Erica, hoping she’ll lead them to her, and Doug bleeds out in Gal’s arms rather than accept a downer Celebrer. It would seem Doug has had enough of the Gangsta life, and is content to take his chances in the afterlife.

One Destroyer is a raven-haired beauty who wants smokes, and the town tobacconist just happens to be Connie’s grandmother, who is out. Connie gets her the smokes, but the woman can’t help but smell Marco on her. Marco, sensing Connie is in danger arrives only to find her hat. If the Destroyers are going to start taking normal hostages, the Twilights care about, that’s only going to make things more difficult in the finale next week, where I’m guessing Nic and Worick will pop back out of the shadows.

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GANGSTA. – 10

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No Summer show is better at setting a specific mood and atmosphere and flow to its episodes than the sometimes painfully hip GANGSTA., and a lot of the credit has to go to the super-smooth hip-hop stylings of Tsutchie, also known for his work on Samurai Champloo.

And while there’s certainly dread in the air in the aftermath of the first of many battles in Ergastulum, the mood the score evokes tends more to the tentative, and to a status quo everyone is struggling against fate to maintain. Many Twilights died, but many more remain alive, many of them children, who need to be protected here, in the only place there is for them.

That’s definitely going to be more difficult with a fresh squad of serious-looking Twilight Hunters entering the town, ready to continue what Erica and Mikhail started at Bastard.

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Rather than a calm before a storm, we’re in the relatively calm eye for much of this week. Connie reveals she’s Marco’s lover as the two embrace in Dr. Theo’s clinic, while Connie also embraces Ally as thanks for protecting Miss Christiano. Ally takes care of the orphaned baby of a Twilight killed in the fray as Loretta rests. Nina makes sure Nicolas rests up and heals. Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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That shoe starts to drop, as the eye of this storm begins to drift away from Ergastulum and the clouds and rains of violence proceed. Worick accidentally bumps into one of the new Hunters in town, whose look and smirk he doesn’t like one bit, while a scantily-clad, crazy-eyed blonde with an ax in her hands and a lollipop in her mouth, begins a one-woman assault.

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As Loretta assures Ally in the Handymens’ office that Bastard will open for business tomorrow, without delay, because it has to—as Al says, the people who rely on Loretta have nowhere else to go—Doug is sent out to meet the ax girl, and the guys who go with him are quickly taken out. While I’ve seen my fair share of cute homicidal girls, I can’t remember a time when a guy was viciously hacked in half to the tune of such chill music.

Once again, the bad guys have fired the first shots. At this point, I’d advise putting Ginger on the front line and letting her have at it. But I know no one Twilight will be able to stop this brash new posse of overpowered super-hunters, of whom Ally’s bro is a member. It’s going to take more teamwork, and a lot of luck.

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GANGSTA. – 09

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Alex’s gorgeous song, and the momentary tranquility it brought, is over less than a minute before the Corsicas attack Bastard, first with a token B-rank twilight whose daughter is being held hostage, then with the two twilight hunters, Mikhail and Erica, who prove more than a match even for Loretta’s best men, Galahad and Marco.

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Mind you, there was almost enough time after Alex’s song for Loretta to finish inviting her to stay at a room at Bastard if she needs a place, but then the club proceeds to be torn apart as Loretta’s men battle the hunters. Gal and Marco are able to restrain Mikhail, but when Erica is ordered in by Ivan Glaziev, the tables turn quickly, and are then turned into kindling.

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The Handymen get word of the chaos unfolding at Bastard, and Worick sends Nic in to buy him five minutes while he fires a flare that the Paulklee Guild, Dr. Theo, and the police all see. I liked how the flare was reflected in so many different windows, connecting all the people in various parts of Ergastulum’s labyrinth and drawing them to the action.

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When Erica is about to kill Marco, the honorable Loretta can’t help but defend her man, but both she and Alex empty their clips at Erica, she deflects them all and they end up on the wrong side of her sword. That’s when Nic arrives to save Alex and Loretta and buy Worick five minutes to assemble backup, during which Galahad tells Ally that Nic is only an A/0 when he overdoses on Celebrer Uppers; otherwise he’s a B/5 at best. In other words, a “faker.” Nic also pegs Erica as Delico’s estranged sister.

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A/0 or no, Nic gets Worick his five minutes, but no more, as Erica’s about to kill him too when Ginger blasts in and shuts Erica and Mikhail down, with Doug in tow. There’s every indication Ginger is one of if not the strongest twilight in Ergastulum, and her presence forces the hunters to retreat as the police also arrive.

We then see Uranos Corsica talking with Ivan, who has Erica licking her wounds in his lap, when the newest member of their little team, эсминец (“Destroyers”), arrives, and it’s yet another sibling: Alex’s brother. Emilio. Now one of her primary rationales for leaving Ergastulum has followed her there, and he’s with the bad guys.

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GANGSTA. – 08

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GANGSTA.’s finest episode yet gets off to a wonderful start, as the Handymen are…actually doing handyman work, fixing up Constance’s shot-up gun shop. They’re even wearing matching overalls. It shows us that their service to their community isn’t just “dirty work” involving intimidation, violence and/or bloodshed.

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This show sometimes runs the risk of getting too serious, stodgy, or sappy, but avoids all of them by getting a little cheeky this week, from Constance grabbing what she thought was Ally’s fake boob (it isn’t), to her Granny sticking her cane into Worick’s buttcrack for loafing. These little moments of incidental comedy keep the darker stuff going on from taking over completely.

When Constance starts asking Ally innocuous questions about her family, Ally remembers she has a little brother at East Gate, but her memories of him are blurred and transition into more hallucinations of bloody Barry, indicating she needs to take her stabilizer. When her hands are shaking too much, Nic is there to calm her.

As you can see, the screencap can be very misleading; a big burly guy suddenly coming from behind would usually spell trouble, but here it’s Nic saving Ally from descending in a more serious episode. He brings her back.

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Worick apologizes for letting Ally out of her sight, but it’s telling that Nic has his back even in this instance. He also tells Ally that her memories will return as the drugs leave her system. Ally really is in a kind of purgatory right now, without sufficient information to go one way or another. What Worick suggest, however, is that whatever her memories are, when she gets them back would be a good time to leave Ergastulum.

He can’t promise her she won’t end up back under the control of drugs or the heel of another pimp if she stays, because he’s not sure if he’s going to still be alive tomorrow. It’s a volatile place that just happens to be calm…now.

Also for now, Ally is for all intents and purposes, one of the Handymen, so Worick brings her along to a Christiano soiree at their nightclub, Bastard; a fitting name for a club where Twilights—essentially the bastards of science and humanity’s hubris—are welcome.

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Once at the club, Ally curls up in a balcony window and loses track of Worick and Nic, who are busy rescuing Twilights from Anti-Twilight hunters. But on this otherwise clear, serene night, with her gorgeous evening dress and glass of wine, Ally feels perfectly at ease for the first time in a long, long time.

When she starts to hum the song being played downstairs, Loretta’s right-hand Twilight Galahad lets her in on Christiano’s under-the-table protection of Twilights, using the club as a front of sorts, just as the soiree is a front of sorts for the Handymen’s activities. Then he insists she take the stage and sing, which is why Worick brought her, having heard her humming before.

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I don’t know if this is what Worick planned for all along (he’s a pretty sharp, chess-playing kinda guy after all), but when Ally is literally put on the spot, she doesn’t disappoint, giving a gorgeous, soulful rendition of a song that almost plays like a lullaby, a song about putting your fears aside because everything’s going to be okay, and a new day will come. The show expertly cuts from her singing to Worick and Nic brawling, and I drew a parallel between the soundless fighting and how it’s a lot like how Nic lives in the world.

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The song takes up a lot of time, but rather than feel like too long, I almost didn’t want it to end. I love GANGSTA.’s penchant for giving parts of its episodes room to breathe, drawing us deeper into its world. And Ally’s song turns out to be a form of therapy when the blurry images of her little brother come into focus and she remembers singing it to comfort him when he was sad.

So her memories did come back just as Worick said they would, and faster than I expected. She’s also found out quite by accident that she’s not a bad nightclub songstress, further excising her of the persistent self-hatred and perceived worthlessness the drugs induced. So, will she stay or go…or go, find her bro, and come back?

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Worick isn’t wrong when he says Ergastulum isn’t the best place for souls such as Ally’s, because the guys he and Nic were fighting were merely ineffectual foot soldiers. The elites have yet to strike, and when they do, they will surely destroy all of the peace and serenity Ally got a well-needed taste of that night.

Ally isn’t a Twilight, nor is she a soldier, but before she knows it, her present residence will become a battlefield, and Worick and Nic may not have an eye to spare for her in the impending chaos.

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GANGSTA. – 07

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Another night, another nightmare Worick has about the day his life changed and became inextricably tied with Nicolas’. Only this time, Ally is there to give him a comforting hug to calm him down. This week fills in most of the remaining blanks of that fateful day, giving us a full picture of that early scene of a blood-soaked Nic standing over Worick, missing an eye. In short: it isn’t quite what I thought went down, but that’s a good thing.

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But first, both thanks to Theo and Nina, Nic and Doug are all fixed up, and Nic thanks Nina by taking her on a ride as he does his flying-between-buildings thing, which looks terrifying and hella fun at the same time. It’s a great little scene, because it shows how close Nina and Nic are, and how much Nina trusts him, but also that neither Doug nor Nic hold any grudges against each other. If anything, Doug is embarrassed most of what he said during the fight went unheard by his one-time opponent. Doug also learns that Nic is a rogue, like him, and from the West Gate, which is a big deal.

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As Monroe, Paulklee, Corsica and Christiano (whose boss is a schoolgirl) meet in a dark smoky room trying to maintain balance in Ergastulum, Ally is with Dr. Theo trying to do the same thing with her head. He has her on mild tranq to keep her calm and is optimistic she’ll eventually recover now that she’s not seeing her dead pimp anymore.

Ally also gets to break out her newly-learned sign language to thank Nic and ask if she can hang around for the time being. Does Nic really not understand her “weird” signs, or was her message fully received, with Nic essentially replying that of course she can stay; that she didn’t even have to ask. Thus Ally really connected with both of her handymen roommates this week.

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That brings us to that day, or rather that night the show has given us glimpses of for many weeks now. Turns out Nicolas didn’t randomly kill Wallace’s family in some kind of contract job. In reality, Wallace saved Nic’s life by buying a supply of Celebrer to keep him alive. The mercenaries fired him, leaving him with Wallace.

When Wallace’s abusive father found out Wallace was smoking, he puts the cigarette out in Wallace’s eye, a scar he still carries on his face. Nic made the sign for “kill”, and saw Wallace’s lips word something, which he took as an order to kill…everyone, including himself, when he was done with everyone else. Wallace stops him, telling him he can’t die until he’s suffered more; much more.

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So there you have it: Wallace sic’ed  Nic on his father and family, not knowing the full extent Nic would go, and unable to undo what he did, took it upon himself to stay with Nic to ensure he’d endure the punishment of a long, tortured life. But has the life Nic has lived really been worse than a quick death? In reality, it hasn’t been all bad, what with he and Worick developing a friendship and symbiotic business relationship…not to mention getting to hang out with Good People like Nina and Ally.

These years have proven Nic hasn’t just been pretending to act like a human. He is one, albeit a deeply damaged one. Still, every time his bad eye hurts, Worick remembers that night, and remembers the hatred he had for Nic and all Twilights, while simultaneously pitying him/them. And there’s a nasty, efficient-looking pair out there hunting down and mutilating great numbers of Twilights. Nic is almost certainly one of their targets. And it’s clear there’s a part of Worick—perhaps residing in that festering eye socket—that doesn’t care if this is where Nic finally exits.

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GANGSTA. – 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tokyo Ghoul – 02

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I’m not sure if it was the less even animation, the wealth of scenes in which Ken is bawling or screaming, or that highly irritating OP song featuring a guy who fancies himself Imogen Heap; this second episode of Ghoul felt more of a chore than the first. Then again, the act of turning Ken was done; this was more about the realization of what he has become, and how ignoring his new needs will only lead to greater suffering.

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It’s a shame Ken is such an irritating little twerp most of the time, because his “flesh withdrawal”, made worse by hallucinations (or possibly something more) of Rize seductively egging him on, are effective and visceral, if a bit repetitive. But the focus of this episode is his relationship with his best/only friend and quasi-brother Hideyoshi, along with the awareness that ghouls aren’t simply showing up all over his world; they were always there and he just didn’t see them.

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Unfortunately, Hide comes off as a bit of a cypher himself: the ideal friend who is smarter than he looks (and he looks really dumb) who Ken can’t bear losing by going over to the flesh-eating side of things. But when Hide introduces Ken to Nishio, who is posing as a normal college student living a normal life, Nishio siezes the opportunity to again beat the crap out of Ken, then threaten Hide’s life, causing Ken’s (or rather Rize’s) kagune to sprout out of a desire to protect him.

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The kagunes are kind of silly looking and over-the-top; kind of the ghouls’ version of bankais. Hide’s is blue, while Ken has three or more, all red and sinister-looking. The colors of their fight scene are inverted so as not to show so much blood, which, like the heavily censored cold open, created more confusion and shrugging than actual excitement. This show is probably best watched uncensored, but I don’t have that option at present.

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In the end, Ken defeats Nishio fairly easily, but he can’t defeat his hunger. His dalliance in addressing that hunger puts him into a frenzy, and a crumpled Hide ceases being his treasured friend and just looks like irrestistable meal. Thankfully Touka appears (I assume she was following them; as Tokyo is kind of a big place), knocks him out, and she and her boss at the coffee shop (another ghoul) feed him while he’s out, ending his flesh-jonesing.

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The flashbacks that attempt to create a deep and meaningful bond between a character who has been doing little besides irritating us and his friend we’ve barely seen come off as a bit schmaltzy and generic. Where the heck is Ken’s family? Is Hide his only link to his human life? Seems that way. That makes the stakes of crossing over that much lower. You’re a ghoul now, dude…deal with it. The old cafe owner and Touka clearly have.

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Nazo no Kanojo X – 01

One day, a girl named Urabe Mikoto transfers to Tsubaki Akira’s class. She’s a strange girl who’s branded a weirdo her first day for laughing out loud in the middle of a lesson and sleeping through breaks. One day after waking her up to leave, Akira tastes the drool she left on the desk. The next day he gets sick. Mikoto visits him at home and gives him more of her saliva, which cures him. It turns out, he’s lovesick. She continues ‘supplying’ him until he confesses to her and asks her out; she agrees.

Ah, now this is more like it: a romance series we don’t have to make any excuses for. It’s the best of its genre we’ve yet seen this Spring season. There always seems to be a series we hadn’t originally planned to watch, but give a shot anyway – that’s how we came upon Penguindrum, and it’s how we ran into this. Just an innocent taste of the proverbial drool on the desk. And we found it sweet. So what makes it good? Well, beyond all the glistening saliva, it’s a beautifully presented, sincere, unpretentious story. Efficient too: not a line of dialogue is wasted. The retro character design is also pretty sweet.

The chemistry between Akira and Mikoto is effortless and watching them interact is sheer joy. They’re the only two characters in this episode; everyone else is in the background (which makes sense, since they only have eyes for one another). The quirky but warm Mikoto (very well-voiced by rookie Yoshitani Ayako) is so lovably weird, you have to root for Akira to try to win her, and he does – in the first episode, without any silly games. Hell, we were half-expecting him to offer her his own finger drenched in spit, but a torn-up photo of an old crush suffices. If this all sounds very odd…it is. But it’s good odd. Like Akira, it will have to continue to prove itself, but it’s off to a fine start.


Rating: 9 (Superior)