To Your Eternity – 08 – Gugu Unmasked

“Skip Intro” is a well-established and often useful feature to our world of streaming entertainment, but I make it a point to watch every second of To Your Eternity’s OP every week. I can’t not, and not just because “PINK BLOOD” fuckin’ whips. Every time I watch I go through the heartbreak of losing both the arctic boy and March as well as Parona’s trauma all over again. The OP continues to grow more powerful as Fushi progresses on his journey and we meet more of the faces it presents.

Two of those faces are of Gugu (or rather his distinctive mask) and Rean, and the latter (voiced by Iwami Manaka, the voice of Honda Tooru) suddenly decides she’s going to live and work at Booze Man’s place from now on. Gugu isn’t sure what to think about this, because while it will be nice to see more of Rean, the fact she likes Fushi and not him will make things uncomfortable, if not painful.

Then again, pain promotes growth. When Gugu asks “what else” Fushi can do besides transform, he creates a spear. Gugu cuts him with a knife, and after healing, Fushi creates a duplicate knife. When Gugu burns him with a torch, Fushi can only create the stick, not the flame…at least not yet. In reaction to all this “experimentation”, Fushi produces a Marchface, indicating he doesn’t like this.

When Rean shows up bright and early, Fushi still hasn’t come in for work; we later see he’s assumed his wolf form and is sleeping away the day. Gugu asks Booze Man for something Rean can use on her wound, and the coot unexpectedly uncorks part of Gugu’s face and bumps out a strange liquid. When Gugu learns the Booze Man gave him a “new organ” where liquor is stored and ferments (hence his distended belly), Gugu is furious, and runs off.

As usual, the old people are only thinking about themselves. Booze Man wants the valuable booze inside Gugu back, while Pioran is worried about who will cook their meals. Rean is loath to go looking for Gugu since she’s not yet an established part of the “family”, while Fushi outright refuses, still sore over how Gugu treated him in the kitchen, and rightfully scared of the forest besides. He volunteers to cook, but ends up simply boiling a daikon with no salt.

Still, no one comes to look for Gugu, who returns to the tattered tent he and his brother once shared. He gets his job tilling the land back from a kindly father who even invites him to join his family. Unfortunately his kindness and empathy weren’t inherited by his sons, who know about the rumors around town that Gugu is a monster.

Gugu agrees with Chan that he can’t be in a family if the members can’t love one another, and removes his mask to determine if they’ll be able to love what they see. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Later that night while sulking outside, some older kids steal his mask and throw it in the stream, but after realizing the mask doesn’t actually do anything, he throws it right back in, walking through town the next day. Let the people gawk in horror…the faces they make are funnier than his!

Fushi’s attempts to cook, clean, mind the shop, and work the fields all end in failure, but when he asks Pioran (by name!) to teach him those things, she soundly refuses, not moved by the March-inspired dirt balls he offers as tribute. For one thing, she’s got better things to do with her time—sitting around drinking her lover’s excellent booze, for example. For another, she doesn’t want to spoil him, and the best teacher he could ask for isn’t her. It’s Gugu.

Gugu settles back into a routine and puts on a little muscle working in the field, but Chan visits his tent and splashes water on him, telling him not to come back, saying it’s because his dad is such a good man that he doesn’t want Gugu causing trouble with his freakishness. Without work, Gugu runs short on funds, but remembers he has the ring Rean gave him.

It’s clear from the look of the merchant that it is indeed worth enough to ensure Gugu never has to sell produce again, but Gugu can’t see what a monster like him would do with that kind of wealth. So when he discovers his drunk, emaciated brother lying in an alley, he gives the ring to him. Even in his current state he’s better off with the ring than a monster. But while he gives Shin the ring, he doesn’t acknowledge him as his brother. He doesn’t have a brother anymore.

Of course, that’s just not true…he has Fushi! Fushi needs Gugu, and as we see when Gugu is scooped up in the night by bandits prepared to sell him to people a taste for freaks and the cash to spend on them, it becomes apparent Gugu needs Fushi as well.

Fushi bowls into the bandit carrying Gugu in his wolf form, and when the guy and his partner stand their ground, he transforms into the Bear, who, let’s be honest, no one other than Hayase would ever think about fucking with!

With that, the Monster Brothers Gugu and Fushi are reunited. Gugu resented Fushi for being admired by Rean, while Fushi resented Gugu for cutting and burning him willy-nilly, but they’re able to get past that, because that’s what brothers do—well, good ones, anyway…

To Your Eternity – 06 – A Grand Objective

Note: This episode was originally mislabeled as episode 5. It is episode 6.

The original March may be deceased, but she lives on in Fushi, in the same way parents live on in their children…only different, because it’s Fushi, who can take on the physical form of his found mama. Thankfully, it’s not just her climbing ability he’s inherited, but a measure of her profound humanity.

There’s no doubt that March taught him generosity and gratitude, which he pays forward when he reunites with a stranded and hungry Pioran quite by chance. Pioran is her usual sardonic self, but isn’t beneath trying to take a literal bite out of Fushi in his boy form, causing him to switch to his defensive wolf form.

Eventually he becomes March again, climbs a tree, tosses Pioran some fruit, then says “Thank you” in a way that sounds like “This is what you say.” Pioran, in turn, starts to teach him more words, as well as how to write his name, as well as her own, March’s, and Parona’s.

The two make a good traveling team, and Fushi learns more and more, so by the time they arrive at a port town and board a boat to Pioran’s homeland, he’s able to communicate in a more-or-less conversational manner, a far cry from crudely mimicking sounds out of context. The youthful vigor of the late March as well as the seasoned wisdom of Pioran have quickly made Fushi more human than ever.

So it’s terrifying when he’s ambushed one night in the woods by mysterious tree golem-like monster who literally steals Fushi’s boy form, along with most if not all memory of the boy’s life. The narrator arrives and tells Fushi the score: the tree monster is the enemy, and if he wants the boy back, he’ll have to fight…and win.

Fushi transforms into the wolf, but the monster steals the wolf. He transforms into the giant bear, but the monster steals that too. In terms of corporeal forms, he’s down to just March, who while tiny and relatively weak, is quick and agile enough to dodge the monster’s bear form, enter its hollow chest, and grab the core that enables the golem to move.

This is a simply breathtaking action scene, marred only by the low light, which isn’t even that big a deal since it leds a great gloomy atmosphere to Fushi’s building panic at losing his forms. Like the drawings in the boy’s hut (which are updated in the card between the A and B parts), they are Fushi’s family, and he’s clearly distressed about losing them.

Fortunately, his March form is enough to grab the core, give it a good squeeze, and the wolf, boy, and bear flow back into him. He smiles in relief, and the mysterious cloaked narrator introduces himself as Fushi’s creator. He created him with a grand objective in mind: preserve the world before “the coming end”. The tree monster was their enemy, unable to take a true animal form and bent on impeding their objective.

That said, the Creator can tell Fushi can’t quite understand these concepts, and so parts ways with him until later, when he’s lived a little more in the world, and gained a few more forms. Pioran takes him to her hometown and the house of her lover, who is apparently a scholar who might be able to make heads or tails of Fushi. The house is also home to a boy wearing a distinctive mask that hides his face. Pioran rather rudely introduces Fushi as an “immortal freak.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 05 – A Family

Parona frees March, Fushi, and the old lady Pioran, but before they escape the prison, she wants to cut off a chunk of “Oniguma-sama” as proof to Ninnanah he was defeated. She even has a wolf toy ready to placate March, along with the justification that it will save the lives of many girls.

But March, who had just washed the great bear’s wounds and watched him die, won’t allow it. So Parona reconsiders. She’ll convince the villagers some other way—one that doesn’t require another life.

Parona proves as bad a wagon driver as she is an archer, but thanks to her asking March what she wants to do when she becomes a grown-up, it offers March a chance to set a death flag or three. Right on time, the casually relentless Hayase and her Yamone warriors close in on their fleet donkeys.

Hayase assures them she’ll spare their lives if they give up the dog, but Fushi is family, so that ain’t gonna happen. Parona gives a valiant effort to fight them off, but she has to be saved from an arrow by March, who declares “I can do something too” before saving her beloved husband.

Immediately after March is shot, Fushi leaps towards Hayase, transforming in mid-air from wolf to giant bear, wounds and all, and rakes her across the face. Then we take a look back at how Parona and March met. Parona watched from a distance as March played with her fingers in the dirt, imagining them as her kids.

When March approached her wondering why she was always alone, Parona presented her with a doll she made, and March returns the favor with a “thank you meal” that, while inedible, Parona still “eats” and voices how delicious it is. March suggests they become a family; her new doll can be their kid, she’ll be Mommy, and Parona will be Daddy.

Fast-forward back to the wagon, and March is fading fast. Parona finds another “thank-you meal” with which March was going to surprise her. March asks Parona to become a mommy in her place, then asks if Fushi is near, and as he causes a rampage in the city, Parona says that he is. Then March draws her last breath.

Between this and Fruits Basket’s tearjerker earlier today, I’ve gone through half a big box of tissues crying my eyes out. But Parona wears a smile as she approaches Fushi and tells him to stop; there’s no longer any need to fight.  He returns to human form, while Parona finds Hayase lying in a pile of rubble, wounded but alive. She picks up a nearby broken blade, telling March “Let’s go home together.”

In the space between life and death, March envisions returning to her village with Parona and leaping into the arms of her elated parents. She dreams of growing into a beautiful young woman with lots of stuffed “kids” made by Parona. But then March notices this isn’t really happening, and that she’s not really there, or anywhere. She doesn’t want to be nowhere, not when there was so much more she wanted to do.

She sees Parona with the blade, seemingly pointed at Hayase, but Parona, who is unwilling to live in a reality where she outlived March, turns the blade on her throat and prepares to plunge it in, thus “going home together” with her little wife. She can’t hear the spectral March pleading for her to stop…but Fushi does hear her, and stays Parona’s hand, all the while pouting like March. He takes her by the arm and transforms into Oniguma, and the two ride back to Ninnanah.

Once there, Parona approaches March’s parents and presents them with the “letter” containing only March’s handprint, which Parona translates as “March is doing great.” That, along with Parona’s demeanor tells the parents all they need to know. But rather than shun her like her parents did when she dared to live, March’s mother embraces Parona, thanking her for everything she did—and tried to do—for their March.

As the watch announces the Yanome are coming, Parona tells a suddenly far more expressive Fushi to flee before the enemy arrives. After all, life is never merely given, it must be won. He transforms into a wolf and departs.

Using an arrow that’s served her well for more than half a year and a heavy bow borrowed from a watchman, Parona takes aim at Hayase as she aims at Fushi, and her arrow goes right through Hayase’s hand. Even so, Hayase merely smiles, and Parona admits she missed her intended target, which was no doubt meant to be fatal.

As for Fushi, as the narrator says: “In meeting its mother and parting with her, its humanity increased.” Not only that, he can now take March’s form, and does so in order to grab one of the fruits his mommy once so generously fed him. So ends the most moving episode of To Your Eternity yet, in my books surpassing even the sublime first episode.

If I’m honest, I always knew March would be a goner and probably end up another one of Fushi’s forms. And yet the show kept serving up hope she might have a future, right up to her act of self-sacrifice. Parona may not have to live with the loss of March and her sister, but she’ll keep living all the same. It’s what her wife would have wanted.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

To Your Eternity – 04 – Put to Good Use

Parona remembers when her big sister hid her away in a tree hollow, only to learn her sister had taken her place as an offering to Oniguma-sama. Lil’ Parona had to learn when she tripped over her dead and buried sister’s foot. She wakes up in a wagon with March and Fushi, headed to Yanome, bastion of the enemy. Also in the wagon is the shamaness who turns out to be a fake and a captive in her own right, admitting she only chose March because she was the prettiest.

Through the shamaness Parona and March learn that the Yanome are envious of Ninnanah’s lush lands and are using the ritual to exert control. When Fushi wets himself, the wagon stops at a lake for everyone to bathe, and Fushi remembers the boy and re-assumes his form. Hayase treats her captives gently as they enter the bustling Yanome city of which she’s clearly proud. But as soon as March, Parona, and Fushi eat, they’re all knocked out; Hayase drugged their meals.

She then presents Fushi to other Yanome officials, declaring the immortal creature a weapon essential to Yanome’s future. As two prisoners hack at Fushi, who regenerates almost instantly, he learns a new phrase: “It Hurts”, and then attempts to flee by changing back into a wolf. Hayase leaves him in March’s care, while Parona, in the cell above her, plans their escape, not content to spend one more day than necessary in their prison.

Hayase also puts March to work tending to Oniguma-sama, whom she learns is just a really big bear covered in arrows and spears from various attackers throughout its life. Once she’s removed them all, the bear dies in peace.

Once she has sufficient rope, Parona commences her escape plan, but nearly almost slips and falls to her death at least three times before landing in a storage room. There, a Yanome guard threatens to rape her, but she kicks the shit out of him, steals his uniform, and arrives at March and Fushi’s cell to announce they’re getting the hell out of there, vowing to put the life her sister gave her to good use.

Parona basically owns the episode, taking on the mantle of the classic Ghibli heroine who is refreshingly not perfect in everything she does. She’s as charming and lovable as the much-more-perfect Hayase is loathsome and despicable. I really hope she and March, maybe with Fushi’s help(?) are able to come out on top, or at least make a good fight of it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 03 – Bear Necessities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Your Eternity – 01 (First Impressions) – A Dog and His Boy

Happy Monday Everybody! Are you ready to…bawl your fuckin’ eyes out?! I know I am. Welcome to To Your Eternity, one of the Spring’s most anticipated series. As always, I enter completely in the dark, unsure of what’s in store for me. Yippee!

It is sent to Earth, a tabula rasa of an entity that can take the form of things it encounters. First it’s a small and basic white sphere, then a rock, then the moss on that rock, then a white wolf that dies on that mossy rock. Fantasia and 2001 came to mind. The visuals and music are epic, and given greater gravitas with Tsuda Kenjirou’s narration.

Then, the wolf reaches a small settlement. Of the handful of huts, only one is occupied by a single boy. The last boy. He knows the wolf; it’s his wolf, Joaan. He welcomes him home, glad he’s no longer alone.

The boy makes dinner and shows Joaan how to eat. He talks of the others who left the village to find “Paradise” but promised to return with gifts. He stayed to take care of the elderly. That was five years ago. Some days pass, and the boy decides it’s time to stop waiting, leave the village, and head to paradise himself, with Joaan in tow.

The boy leaves his home with a sense of finality, like he won’t be returning. He drew pictures of everyone who lived there to show others that they lived. He trudges through the snow, following helpful arrow markers, camps for the night. His nose and fingers gradually become raw and red. One day, he falls through the ice.

He manages to avoid hypothermia, but he has a nasty gash in his left thigh. He dresses it, but the wound swells and festers. Joaan can only watch. The boy speaks for Joaan, carrying on a conversation with himself to keep himself optimistic. But the frozen tundra and his wound continue to wear him down.

The boy is in a very bad way when he comes across a final arrow marker X’ed out with blood, and close by, a host of graves and the ruins of a wagon. With nothing but more frozen tundra everywhere he looks, the boy grapples with the fact the others never reached paradise…or maybe they did, but had to perish to do so.

With no further markers, the boy has no choice but to return home. The weather worsens, as does his health. He feverishly crawls back through the door he so confidently closed for good when he first set out. He manages to get one more fire going, but the cold outside and his leg have already decided how this ends. We’re now firmly in Grave of the Fireflies territory.

The final choice the boy has is how to die. He does so sitting in a chair with the faces of the village, along with himself and Joaan, drawn on the wall. With one final smile, he hunches over and dies, his suffering at an end, and his journey to paradise complete as he reunites with all the other villagers. Triggered by the boy’s death, It transforms from Joaan to the boy, in search of more stimulation. From death, rebirth. But rebirth to something not quite what it had been.

It’s a triumphant glimmer of hope after an episode that was largely watching a happy-go-lucky kid die in agonizing slow motion as his unrelenting environment ground him into dust. This show absolutely wrecked me, but I’m glad to have watched it. It isn’t often anime—or anything on a screen—moved me to this extent. I hadn’t gone through so many tissues watching a single episode in quite a while!

Was this perfection? No. The music is almost uniformly excellent (and the OP is an absolute banger) but there was one out-of-place track that sounded like it was from a far older and less serious show. As good as some of Joaan the wolf’s expressions were, the animal modeling was all over the place, esp. in wider shots. Finally, as invested as I was in the poor doomed kid, he talked a lot. More Cast Away-style silent storytelling would have been welcome. Then again, boundless optimism was literally keeping him alive.

But those are minor quibbles. To Your Eternity is primo prestige shit with the potential to be a classic. It made me feel just about fucking everything! It’s a hell of a neat concept: a completely neutral “entity” that observes, then meets the conditions for transformation—a kind of Kino’s Journey, only Kino is a full-on alien. Considering the next episode involves some kind of child sacrifice, I fear we’re in for more misery than jubilation. But it doesn’t matter…I must watch on.

Golden Kamuy – 34 – Hesitation is Starvation

The big day arrives, and while not everything goes according to plan—not all of the explosives planted in the prison walls detonate, and oh yeah, a frikkin’ Siberian Tiger complicates matters a bit—but Sofia is freed from Ako Prison. It’s a day she’s clearly been relishing, judging from the amount of fun she’s having. She even briefly rides the tiger!

Sugimoto’s team can see the explosion from where they are on the outskirts of Ako, meaning they’re catching up just as Asirpa’s team is heading out of the town across the ice floes. So tantalizingly close, and yet so far…

As Sofia trudges through the floes with Asirpa’s team, she seems glad to see the daughter of Wilk, whom she loved so much, and the bottomless pools of those deep blue eyes. With Kiroranke translating (remember, Sofia never bothered to learn Japanese), she tells Asirpa what a “pure and beautiful” man Wilk was, and how he taught a rich city girl about the minority ethnic groups and their plight in the rapidly modernizing world.

There’s no more impactful symbol of Wilk’s ethos and the natural order from which that world is retreating than a goddamn tiger, who also greets Sugimoto’s team when they arrive at Ako prison. When they fire shots to scare it off (killing it is bad luck), the unique report of Tanigaki’s old rifle catch’s Ogata’s ear all the way out on the ice floes. The dude really knows his guns, but he can’t quite believe that it means Tanigaki is following them.

Meanwhile, Sofia continues to tell Asirpa stories about Wilk, who believed the Native Americans couldn’t defeat the white man because they were at war with each other, necessitating the importance of creating a federation of all ethnic minorities to battle Imperial rule.

Sofia also regales Asirpa with the time they were on the run from the secret police and one of them was seriously wounded, slowing them down. When the police grew nearer, Wilk slit his throat so his moans wouldn’t give them away. He only ever did what was necessary exactly when it was necessary and not a moment later, which is what made him such a good revolutionary.

That ethos had been instilled in Wilk as a young lad, when he would often visit a wolf that had been separated from its pack by illness or “some other defect”. One day he found the lone wolf dead; killed by its own pack which he had called to with his howls. The other wolves in his pack saw his weakness as a threat to all of them, so they did what was necessary to survive. Young Wilk took that wolf’s pelt and wore it, leading his father to name him after the wilk, Polish for “wolf”.

Wilk taught Asirpa this wolfish way of living, which for those who live off the land like the Ainu is even more important: not to show kindness or mercy if it can become weakness. A bear cub too old to raise in the kotan is just as valuable a source of food as its mother. Hesitating to kill it out of pity could spell starvation and death. Beauty is strength, and strength is life.

This talk of Wilk’s name causes Asirpa to remember the night her father told him his Ainu name, Horkew Oskoni, which means “catching up to the wolf.” Asirpa then remembers the symbols on the prisoner tattoos, and seemingly solves the code right there in her head. Ogata seems to notice this.

As for Shiraishi, he became separated from Asirpa and the others when he ran off to take a piss and the floe he was on cracked and drifted away. He must therefore take the long way around to catch up to the others, but one sheet of ice he jumps on suddenly shifts, threatening to dunk him into the deadly frigid ocean.

His wooden dick talisman saves him momentarily only to snap off in the ice, but he’s then saved by the outstretched arm of none other than Sugimoto Saichi. He seems happy to see his old pal. It’s just too bad that old pal got separated from the person he really wants to see…

Golden Kamuy – 33 – A Wolf in Vladivostok

As Kiroranke and Sofia exchange correspondence, smuggled in and out of the prison with a little help from master of disguise Shiraishi, Asirpa, Kiroranke, Shiraishi, and Ogata stay in a village of the Nivkh, Karafuto’s most populous ethnic minority. Kiroranke maintains that Sofia could have crucial information about Wilk and the code for the gold.

Because he claims the gold will benefit all minorities including the Ainu, Asirpa is willing to go along with his plans. We also learn that Sugimoto’s team has reached the reindeer farmers who previously hosted Asirpa’s team. They’re still a ways behind, but Sugimoto is looking forward to reuniting with her at Ako Prison.

That’s pretty much all for present-day events, as Kiroranke spends much of the rest of the episode telling a story about—among other things—how he, Wilk, and Sofia learned Japanese from a man named Hasegawa Kouichi, who ran a photography studio in Vladivostok. Kouichi has a happy life with his wife Fina and infant daughter Olga.

Before the three revolutionaries arrive at his doorstep wanting to learn Japanese, Kouichi spots a lone wolf on the outskirts of town—an ill omen, if you will. Still, Kouichi welcomes the three and they learn quickly, with Wilk learning the quickest while Sofia seems least motivated to learn. Sofia is also immediately smitten with little Olga. Kouichi even likens the three to the Three Great Nobles of the Restoration who successfully modernized Japan.

It isn’t long until Kouichi learns that his three visitors from the far west were responsible for assassinating the emperor. Assuming the Russian secret police will descend upon his studio soon, he tells Fina to take Olga and go far away to await word from him, insisting she not return under any circumstances.

As it turns out, the police aren’t there for the revolutionaries; they’re there for Kouichi, a Japanese spy using the studio as a front. Sofia, Wilk, and Kiroranke break out the guns and do their thing; none of the police can be allowed to escape. Kouichi makes things a little easier in the ensuing siege by revealing he keeps a machine gun hidden amongst his photography equipment.

As the three take out the police, Sofia fires a shot into a tree, and I half-expected it to be that lone wolf Kouichi spotted earlier, which he encountered a second time while Wilk was teaching him about traps. Instead, it’s Fina, who did come back for Kouichi. A bullet hit both her and Olga, killing the child and leaving the mother in bad shape.

Sofia is beside herself with grief and regret, but there’s little time for either; she and her compatriots must flee before attracting more attention. When they reach the seasonal ice floes that allow passage from Russia to Karafuto—the same ones Kiroranke will use in the present to help Sofia & the other inmates reach their allies on the mainland—Sofia declares she won’t be going with Wilk, whom she loves, or Kiroranke, deciding to stay in Russia to stoke the fires of revolution.

We then return to Kouichi holding his dying wife, and the moment he tells her the truth: his real name is Tsurumi Tokushirou. That’s right, that Tsurumi, with the busted skull. It truly is a small world. Now we know the connection between him and the revolutionaries, and it’s another horribly tragic story, this time centered on one of the series’ main players.

Lt. Tsurumi seemed to accept his wife and daughter’s death as an accident, but he’s quite a different man since his head injury. This added history will color all future interactions (if any) between Tsurumi, Kiroranke, and Sofia. Kiroranke also writes to Sofia that Wilk has died, and though the woman has become hard-as-steel in the years since she last saw him, she still can’t help but weep from the news.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 03 – When Their Journey is Over

It’s clear Golem has been made more human by having Somali around. Heck, he only got her near the very end of his millenium-long life, meaning he’s already been bestowed the limited mortality of a human. He’s been good at keeping her safe and her true identity hidden, but he still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining her emotional welfare.

This is evidenced by the sudden speed and urgency of their journey, which leads to the gorgeous, fantastical Anthole City. Golem learns the meager loot he carries fetches only a modest price. To keep Somali fed and to gather the supplies needed to continue the journey, he needs more money.

He finds a source when Kokilila, the owner of a cafe, needs a waiter. Golem institutes a strict agreement with Somali: she’s to stay within the cafe, under his supervision, at all times while he’s working. Even with Kokilila’s son Kikila as a fluffy playmate, she gradually grows bored and restless (as does Kikila).

However, for Golem the need to make as much money as possible overrides Somali’s need for recreation stimulation. He knows it’s not ideal for her to be cooped up in the cafe all day, but as he doesn’t trust anyone else to watch her and isn’t certain others will be okay at all with the fact she’s a human, there’s no choice.

Even when Golem isn’t working, his tendency to count his earnings is not lost on Somali either, and absent any explanation for her dad’s haste, she begins to believe he wants to end their journey and part ways with her as soon as possible. Sure, it might well trouble her more to learn he’ll be dead in less than two years, but at least she’d know it wasn’t because he didn’t want her around.

Because that’s what she gleans from his behavior, when Golem finally allows her to join Kikila on a simple errand, Somali grasps onto the city legend about yozame flowers and their ability to grant a wish. That leads the two kids (and fast friends finally sprung from their cafe prison by their guardians) to the city’s majestic but perilous subterranean caverns.

Of course, the moment Somali left Golem’s supervision, a knot formed in my stomach. This early in the show I’m still not sure how far it will stray to the dark side and present situations in which Somali is in true peril (like, say, Abyss, which was merciless to its young characters). We get a slightly clearer picture here, as Somali’s innocent plucking of a flower awakens an toothed eyeball mushroom monster.

She is rescued from said monster not by Golem or Kikila—who let us just say truly failed in his mission to keep her safe—but by a big, gruff, crossbow-wielding wolf-man who may be able to tell she’s a human from her smell. He could even be a member of the clan that originally put her in chains before she got separated and found by Golem.

In any case, Somali is now in serious danger. I just hope Kikila can keep the wolf at bay until Golem can find them.

Vinland Saga – 05 – A Duel Deferred

Despite Askeladd and his crew being sure Thorfinn would eventually die of hunger, thirst, and/or exposure on the captured ship, he survives long enough for them to sail into the Humber for a brief stint in England. At first his thirst for revenge outweighs everything, but he slips on some moss and gets knocked out by a tree trunk. Defeated by his surroundings before he’s anywhere near the enemy.

He awakes in a gorgeously lit forest and finally drinks some fresh water. He’s so surprised to still be alive he even manages to smile and laugh, but that cheerful mood doesn’t last when he starts to hear screams and spots flames in the distance. Askeladd’s men have decided to spend their “resting time” doing what they apparently do best: rape, burn, and pillage.

Once things die down Finn sneaks into the village and finds the hut where Askeladd is sleeping, unprotected. Eschewing his dagger for an unwieldy longsword, he raises it in preparation to behead his father’s murderer, but stops and retreats, much to the surprise of Askeladd (who was briefly roused before going back to sleep.

In the morning, it’s confirmed why Finn stayed his hand: he’s his’ father’s son. Stabbing a sleeping man in the back isn’t his style; he wants a proper duel with Askeladd. Unfortunately Finn is absolutely no match for Askeladd, especially when he’s letting his sword swing him. He gets a brutal kick to the gut, but that’s all he gets.

Back in Iceland, Leif and the rest of the crew return and inform Helga and Ylva of Thors’ honorable death, and promise to not rest until they’ve found Thorfinn. Ylva, bypassing several stages of grief, flies straight to detatched acceptance and gets back to work, reacting to the news with little more than a shrug and by admitting she figured he’d get killed one of these days.

Neither Ylva’s friends nor her mother are buying what she’s selling—that she feels nothing for what has happened and merely wants to move on—and this is most powerfully illustrated when Ylva is working on a loom late into the night and Helga puts her hands on hers to stop her.

Only then, when Ylva stops—working, busying her mind, simply stops—do tears start to flow, almost despite herself, from her crystal blue eyes. Then Helga draws her into an embrace of shared grief and comfort. Will Ylva stay with her mother, perhaps the only family she has left, or join Leif on the search for her kid brother?

As we know, she still has a brother, who simply refuses to die. While Thorfinn won’t accept scraps from Askeladd’s men when they’re offered, he comes back later to eat what little meat is left and suck out the marrow. He has a chance encounter with Bjorn (collecting mushrooms), who treats him as little more than an irritant, but tells him that while his father was indeed strong, he was also naive. Finn isn’t even strong, not yet, which means he doesn’t have a chance.

Taking that to heart, Thorfinn continues training in the forest, and one night encounters a hungry wolf. Remembering Askeladd’s words about being swung by his own sword, Finn ditches the huge weapon for something much more suited to his size: the dagger Thors gave him. He then kills his first wolf, learns to throw a dagger, kills his first rabbit, feeds himself, recovers some strength.

As Askeladd and his men prepare to depart, having stayed longer than originally planned, Thorfinn confronts him one last time with yet another duel challenge. This time, he shows Askeladd a lot more, and even surprises him with the thrown dagger, but Finn is still nowhere close to being a threat.

Demonstrating he has at least some heart and empathy for the kid’s plight, Askeladd refuses to kill him, and instead makes a promise: if Finn becomes stronger and distinguishes himself in battle, he will honor the duel at a later date. The implication is, he must first join Askeladd’s crew. Knowing that as much as he might want to avenge his father, he’s still too young and weak, Finn agrees, and a truce is struck.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 19

We jump from a cold open in which Cartiphilus’ smirks while one of the poached dragons is being dissected as they cry “please stop” and “I want to go home”, to a scene at the college where it’s revealed Renfred is a weepy drunk.

Methinks the composer is a bit too proud of his slide whistle “comedy” theme. The tonal shift is clunky to say the least. Things swing back from jocular to dark when Chise has a very disturbing dream involving an amnesiac Cartaphilus in London.

She awakens to find Alice, Renfred, the Selkie, as well as several members of the “College” she knows nothing about (nor do we) hanging out with Elias in the sitting rom. The College members range from tolerable (Adolf) to embarrassingly awful (Tory). They inform Chise that two dragons have been poached and they’ve come seeking help from her and Elias.

Elias refuses, properly citing Chise’s fragility, but Chise overrules him, and before you know it, we’re back at the underworld auction house where Chise gave herself up to be sold to the highest bidder; one of the dragons is on the block. The man who arranged for Chise’s sale, Seth, gives Chise a checkbook and card tied to a account containing half of the value of her sale, since she was technically her own seller.

It’s strange that she didn’t have access to this cash until now, when she may have to spend it all bidding on the dragon. At least Seth seems pleased that since last they met Chise has become someone who actually, you know, wants to live.

Buying the dragon’s freedom in the auction seems like the College and Chise’s play, and the two combined would seem to have enough to do so, but things (predictably) go pear-shaped when the dragon goes berserk, breaks free from its physical and magical binds, and starts breathing fire.

Chise can sense the dragon’s emotions—its scared and wants to go home—but it might be too late to reason with it. Who the woman is who whispered in Chise’s ear, and what Cartaphilus’ convoluted plan is this time (if he even has one) remain unclear. I just hope this doesn’t all end with Chise yet again coughing up a couple liters of blood…followed by more slide whistle.

 

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 18

The day after Christmas, Stella shows up with sweet treats to hang out with Chise, as promised. Chise is so unaccustomed to friends as we know them that not only did she not expect Stella to come, she doesn’t quite know what to do.

Stella, who we learn is just ten but very mature for her age, tells her not to sweat it; being friends is nothing more complicated than being with someone, talking and listening to them. It shows how far Chise still has to go, and how little Elias can help her.

In fact, having Stella around is apparently too much for Elias, who isolates himself in his study then storms out of the house without any warning. Worried, Chise ditches Stella to go after him, transforming into a wolf to keep up. Elias traps her in the shadows and binds her with tentacles.

Elias doesn’t say much, but he does say that Stella’s presence made him want to leave the house,. He felt better when Chise chased him, but couldn’t stop running, and now he can’t seem to let her go.

Meanwhile, back in London, Stella and her family seem to be being watched/stalked by Cartiphilus and Ashen Eye. What the heck to they have planned?

Chise manages to fire off a flare with her wand, and Ruth manages to find her when a Fae daughter of Titania reveals the shadow where he’s holding her (she helps because they gave her a proper Yule offering).

Chise puts a knife to her throat, which causes Elias to immediately release her. He’s rightfully ashamed and contrite, but Chise forgives him and suggests they go home and get some sleep.

Elias, as we know, is even more emotionally stunted than Chise, lashing out when he doesn’t get his way like a small child. Here’s hoping Elias eventually learns how to control his wilder instincts whenever faced with a perceived slight.

However, Chise accidentally puts Elias into a deep sleep when she sings him a lullaby, and she heads to London to seek the aid of Angelica, meeting her non-magical husband David in the process.

David lends Chise some perspective as someone who knows he doesn’t have all the time on Earth with his wife and daughter he might like, but that he intends to make the most of that time, and so should Chise.

Chise returns home with a recipe for a potion that will wake up Elias, and it works like a charm…but she’s so exhausted from her ordeal that she immediately passes out beside him, leaving Ruth to explain.

Meanwhile in Dragonland, some poachers apparently hired by Cartiphilus(?) try to capture two of the young dragons, but they’re thwarted by a pissed Lindel. Is there a connection to what Carty was doing with Stella in London and the attempted dragon theft here? To be continued.

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 03

This week the party of Mercenary, Zero and Albus arrive in the bustling trading town of Formicum. Zero reports to the guards at the gate that she and Albus are Merc’s sex slaves, and they’re allowed to pass at half cost…though it could be argued you can’t put a price on Merc’s reputation.

Once there, Zero shows Merc some gems, and he tells her she only needs one small one to buy a fine set of new threads, which she does. I like the look, even if the clothes are a bit baggy on her. Zero also shows off her utter lack of modesty by trying to change in front of men and women alike. That’s so Zero!

Once they’re settled in…at an inn, Merc tries to sneak out but Zero spots him and they go out drinking, only to re-encounter another Beastfallen who has three captive girls who Zero knows are not witches. So Merc enters and wins a duel with the wolf-man and the girls are freed.

The sprightly dialogue between Merc and Zero continues to entertain, and it’s always fun to watch Merc take down a baddie. But as Merc’s defeat is never remotely in doubt, the whole episode lacks any kind of serious stakes. Still, it’s a pleasant enough watch for an overcast Monday afternoon.