Kemono Jihen – 06 – Raiding the Pantry

As he tries to hide from the stunned kononba sister, the fear grips Shiki. He recalls little from his earlier life except that he lived happily with his mom, and at some point he didn’t. But when Kanabe contacts him, having easily taken care of one of the other sisters, and offers him words of encouragement, Shiki snaps out of it and gets to work.

When the kononba uses her super-sensitive detection ability, Shiki ensures she senses him everywhere, as he’s distributed his spider webbing and sweat all over the hallway. Essentially blinded by her own heightened perception, the sister ends up getting stuck in the webs, and Shiki delivers a satisfying kick to the face.

Kabane and Akira reunite with Shiki, and the sister Kabane captured is also restrained in his webs. That’s when the lead sister appears, and offers to let the kids go if they forget all this. When Kabane refuses (he has a job to do) she sucks the brains and organs out of her two sisters without a second thought and attacks him.

Proving too strong for him to overpower, Kabane’s mind races; if he can’t beat this monster, Shiki and Akira will surely be killed. He doesn’t want that. Mihai offers a bit of free advice, which is nice considering he got the kids in this mess to begin with: Kabane is only using his human strength; to defeat the monster he’ll have to summon instinctual power from his other half, which he accesses via his heart.

It works, and he tears the sister’s arms off, just as Inugami frees himself from Mihai’s room. He orders the kids to retreat and let Inari take care of the rest. Sure enough, Inari’s shiny new attendant Nobimaru arrives to do just that.

Nobimaru, another kitsune (technically a bake-gitsune) burns the three kononba sisters so there is no evidence of monsters for humans could discover. Kabane doesn’t like the idea of pretending the foes never existed, but doesn’t protest enough to stop Nobimaru (if he even could; for all we know he’s much stronger than Kon).

Nobimaru lets Kabane in on a couple of secrets: first, Inari hasn’t given up on stealing his lifestone, so he needs to watch himself. Especially if he ends up sufficiently manipulated (say, one of his friends is put in danger) to willingly offer it to Inaru, Inugami won’t interfere. He has to not only hold on to it tight, but not get tricked. His other secret? He really doesn’t like Inari. That’s interesting, because Kon basically regarded her as a deity.

Back at the agency, Mihai half-apologizes for his role in putting the ids in danger, but qualifies it by making the point that they won’t get stronger if Inugami only gives them easy missions. Even Akira agrees with that point, as he learned that he can’t make ice without water. He should keep some on him at all times, like Avatar’s Kitara. That night, Kabane compares the heartbeats of a sleeping Shiki and Akira and is glad they’re alive.

The next day Shiki is fine, but Kabane is still watching him like a mother hen. Then it dawn on Kabane: he completely forgot about poor Kon. He rushes back to the part, and Kon falls ungracefully out of the tree to greet him. Kabane doesn’t mince words even when he should, telling Kon that other things came up and he simply forgot about her. And after she’d caught a pair of koi for them to eat together…POOR KON!

Kabane is sure to continue his friendship with Kon, even though Nobimaru says from afar that it’s not wise. As for Shiki, his ordeal at Bugbite has psychologically prepared him to hear what he wasn’t ready to hear before: what became of his family.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 05 – Don’t Let the Bugs Bite

While Kabane is cleaning the back room, he’s pulled into a room Inugami told the kids never to enter. That’s because the room is the domain of Mihai, a vampire. As with other anime, he’s defined by immense strength and cunning equaled only by his crushing ennui and desire to be both served entertained.

Kabane is tailor-made for both, going right along with it when Mihai declares him his slav—er, waitperson. Shiki protests, so Mihai says they’ll settle it with an arm wrestling contest. He beats both Shiki and Kabane easily, causing Kabane to mope in the park about not being strong enough.

That’s when everyone’s favorite kitsune good girl Kon falls out of a tree. She’s not there to take his head again; when she presented the last one to Inari, the lady didn’t even look in her direction. Thus shunned, she’s hung out in this park, eating small prey.

Feeling a little self-conscious after losing to Mihai, Kabane challenges Kon to a fight in a totally non-aggressive way. Kon goes all out, but she ends up flat on her back with a bloody nose.  Tears well up in her eyes and she starts to sob, but Kon takes her hand and stays with her until nightfall.

When she wakes up, he proposes she come live with him at Inugami’s, but she rules that out because I guess kitsune and tanuki classically don’t get along. Instead, she proposes Kabane move to the park with her. He still needs to buy stuff for dinner at Inugami’s, but he promises he’ll be back before too long.

Unfortunately that’s all we see of Kon, whom I adore, as Kabane is drawn into a new case that Mihai says Inugami is letting the kids take on alone. We then find that Mihai has locked Inugami in his lair. The case involves a sudden drop in suicides at an electronics factory from over a dozen to zero in an unnatural time.

In this very Foxconn-style facility, we learn that whenever the workers have had their fill of the repetitive, monotonous labor, they are escorted to the “employee counseling office” where their damn brains are sucked out by one of the three Kaga sisters, who are kanonba, or mosquito kemono.

Shiki, who has learned how to use his silk as camouflage, infiltrates the factory along with Kabane and Akira. Mihai determiens the kanonba sisters are only sucking brains, not organs or blood, thus keeping their automaton-like workers alive. Having gotten the intel, Shiki tries to sneak back out, but Mihai intentionally rams his RC recon car against the door of the womens’ office, causing a racket.

Shiki is discovered by one of the sisters, but the RC car she picked up electrocutes her; Shiki was just serving as bait for Mihai. When Mihai observes Shiki totally losing it with fear, he deduces that Shiki’s cautious, rational, boring way of doing things is a front for deep-seated trauma. Being an eternally-bored vampire, Mihai is way too excited to continue messing with him.

I’m hoping Inugami can break out and put a stop to Mihai’s sadistic mischief, but even if he doesn’t, perhaps Kabane, Shiki, and Akira can wrap this case up on their own, despite the high level of difficulty. In any case, he’s another colorful addition to the cast. I just hope Kon doesn’t worry about Kabane taking longer than expected…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 04 – The Iceboy Cometh

The next case with Kabane and now Kon on board involves Yoruno, a young man who has fallen in love with a woman who is actually a nekomata or cat youkai/kemono. In addition to learning the basic concept of love, Kabane also learns that Inugami’s former partner once ran the bar, and that it’s a somewhat sensitive subject. Inugami has Akira sit this one out, knowing he’ll have trouble with the dirty alleys and rodents.

Kabane and Shiki soon track down Mao-chan in her cat form, and learn she’s transformed other men into her cat servants. Kon ends up pouncing on Mao and neutralizing her, Mao ends up releasing the servants and starting a new life with Yoruno, and Kon leaves with Kabane’s head as payment from Inugami—or rather an orange given the appearance of Kabane’s head. Let it never be said Kon isn’t a good girl.

After Kabane rescues Akira from a roach in the bath, he decides to start serving as Kabane’s apprentice. Inugami doesn’t hesitate to give them a case with the potential to be far more disgusting than the first, but Akira is insistent. This leads to him suiting up in full hazmat gear for the trip into the sewers below Shibuya, though later downgrading to a chic mac and wellies.

There, where the original river is being broken up and diverted, various frog kemono have forgotten reason and become feral, monstrous man-eaters. A tanuki appears to lend a helping paw, but once dozens of the frogs appear, Kabane has his hands full while Akira is overwhelmed and freezes up…until he freezes OUT.

We learn officially that Akira is a yuki-otoko, the incredibly rare male version of the yuki-onna tribe who live in the snowy mountains of Aomori. We also learn Akira came to Inugami searching for his twin brother, who always told him to leave things to others because he’s so weak.

Akira is tired of being the weak one who only screams kya while the others do something, so with a sudden summoning of his powers of ice, he ends up taking out all of the rabid frog kemono at once. The tanuki turns out to be Inugami, who is thanked by the super-chill frog elder, while the social media-obsessed Akira celebrates his first great success with, what else, a selfie.

So far I’m digging the case(s)-of-the-week interspersed with downtime that shows us a wide variety of critters while also providing the opportunity to learn more about the cast, in this case Inugami and the always-adorable Akira. While not as battle-oriented as Jujutsu Kaisen or epic as Demon SlayerKemono Jihen is the cozier, comfier, more mellow of the three monster shows I’m watching. Its understated charm and likeable cast keeps me coming back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 03 – Good Fox Girl

This week Inugami sends Kabane to the woman he spoke to at the end of last week: Police Superintendent Inari Yoko, performed by Kana-Hana in her most imperious ojou-sama voice. Inari may as well be Empress of the Police, as she has every officer in her thrall.

Shiki and Akira escort Kabane to the Shinjuku police station, but the desk officer claims not to know about their appointment. Then a blonde girl their age with a fox-ear hoodie comes for Kabane and only Kabane, then takes him to a waiting Inari, who immediately asks to see his lifestone necklace.

Once Inari has the stone, she has the girl, Kon, slice Kabane’s head off, then has police officers seal the head in a case and take the body away for disposal. When Kabane returns to the lobby with the case, Akira and Shiki sense something is off about him.

Kon, voiced by Hanamori Yumiri (who often voices maids or other dutiful characters) lives only for Inari to tell her she’s a “good girl”, disguises herself as Kabane to shoo the other boys away. But when Shiki insults her beloved Inari-sama, she drops the disguise and prepares for a fight.

Because Kon, like her mistress, is a kitsune, she can shoot fireballs from her tail, and does so…a lot. Shiki uses his silk to pull a bunch of furniture together to form a shield, then snatches the case from Kon, who’s too concerned with burning everyone and everything to keep a firm grip on it.

Shiki opens the case to reveal the real Kabane’s head, the shock of which causes Akira to faint. Kabane instructs Shiki to throw him at Kon, and he’ll deal with her. Shiki is dubious, but sure enough Kabane is able to disable the enraged fox girl with a bite to the shoulder.

With Kon out cold, the lobby returns to normal; all the fire was just an illusion. Free from the case, Kabane grows his body back from his neck down in a very cool (but far more casual) Titan-style transformation. Shiki can’t deny Kabane got the job done and saved him and Akira, and after giving him his jacket to cover up, offers his fist for Kabane to bump…which he does wrong of course.

Inari, who thinks she just pulled off a neat little theft, watches the lifestone transform into a tanuki figurine in her hand, then gets a call from Inugami, who has just picked up the kids. He’s not surprised things went down like they did, and says she owes him for her treachery. He also warns her that the lifestone is Kabane’s, and if she tries to take it again she’ll have to deal with him.

I for one like how Inari and Inugami never got into a fight, or even showed their true forms; handling things on the phone like regular humans and threatening with words is enough to maintain their territorial balance. That said, Kon didn’t get the memo, and is still wandering the streets trying to retrieve Kabane’s head for her mistress.

Kon ends up approaching the others after they have a Kabane-welcoming meal of Chinese and pancakes, only to immediately pass out from exhaustion and hunger. Inugami brings her into the agency and feeds her pizza, but at the first sight of Kabane she lunges at him with a beheading strike.

Inugami, realizing the proper way to deal with her, tells Kon that Inari wouldn’t be happy if she knew her “good girl” wasn’t minding her manners. No standing on the table, no leaving leftover food out, and no beheading hanyos. While not technically in her thrall, Kon’s daughterly devotion to Inari is absolute, and so she behaves herself.

This episode was a lot of fun, giving the three kids more time to gel in both casual and hectic situations, introducing the adorably dutiful Kon (who is a lot like Kabane) and her haughty mama figure. I like how Shiki is slowly warming to Kabane, and if Akira had a real Twitter I’d definitely follow. This is the kind of show where your protagonist gets beheaded one afternoon, but you know he’ll probably be fine and ready for pancakes that evening.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kemono Jihen – 02 – The Strong, Sad Type

Inugami introduces Kabane to his new roommates and colleagues at the “kemonoist” agency: Shiki, a fellow hanyo one year older than Kabane who adopts a hostile attitude towards him early on, and the beautiful Akira, who looks like (but isn’t yet confirmed to be) a yuki-onna with one key difference: he’s a boy, and Kabane gets off on the wrong foot by mistaking him for a girl.

Last week Kabane was surrounded by people who hated him and wished he’d go away until Inugami showed up. But neither Shiki nor Akira hate him, nor treat him as badly as the humans in his village treated him. Shiki even offers him pizza, which he’s shocked to learn Kabane has never tried, which means he’s never really lived. He’s also intrigued when his flesh-rending silk cuts Kabane’s ankle, but it heals immediately.

Before the new home dynamic of Kabane, Shiki and Akira can be further explored, Inugami gets a call and it’s off to the next case. The police let the “specialists” get through simply because they’re stumped about what to do about a woman and her child being completely engulfed by swarms of bloodthirsty bugs…beyond burning the whole house down and leaving the other two kids orphans.

That’s…obviously not ideal! Inugami prepares to harden his skin in order to go in the room and deal with the bugs, and it seems like the only other choice when Shiki’s silk is just eaten by said bugs. But then Kabane volunteers to head in, and while the bugs swarm and crawl all over him, he has no blood for them to drink, and he feels neither pain nor revulsion after a life of ostracism.

As Inugami tells Shiki and Akira, Kabane’s unflappable nature means he never wavers, which combined with his immortality makes him plenty strong…but it’s also sad that living with humans has sapped much of the boy in him. That said, Kabane gets the job done, separating the item causing guilt that summoned the bugs: a pair of new shoes shoplifted by one of the mom’s sons because he felt bad about her worn ones.

After being thanked for saving his mom and sibling, Kabane is officially accepted by Shiki, who was only putting him through his paces to learn more about him. Kabane gets a hammock in the bedroom with Shiki and Akira, while Inugami calls a fellow kemono colleague about having found an immortal half-demon hanyo—who could be a threat, but could also be all their salvation.

While the departure from the sleepy village sapped a bit of this episode’s lush natural beauty, the bright and straightforward personalities of Akira and Shiki, along with Tokyo’s endless lights, helped illuminate Kabane’s world, while the first case-of-the-week was an appropriately creepy intro into the kind of work the agency does on the regular. Surely more challenging cases lie ahead, and we’ll meet more kemono, but as an establishment of Kabane’s new life, this episode got the job done.

Kemono Jihen – 01 – (First Impressions) – Tokyo Dreamin’

Detective Inugami is on his way to a remote village to investigate strange instances of rotting livestock corpses. Yataro, the innkeeper’s son, is quick to show off to his friends, who all think Yatarou will be Tokyo-bound at some point.

Yatarou also warns Dorotabo—a boy working in the fields in lieu of school—not to go near the detective, lest the stench upset him. However, the detective, an eccentric sort named Inugami who wears a flashy suit and drives a vintage car, seems far more interested in Dorotabo than in Yatarou.

Yatarou plays the role of eager-to-please innkeeper’s son, hoping to make a good impression on a Tokyo resident, but soon after he talks to Inugami about Dorotabo in derisive terms, the detective dismisses him in favor of Dorotabo.

Dorotabo has always been ostracized in the village for smelling bad and being generally creepy. He also wears a strange necklace that he was wearing when he was abandoned, but Inugami identifies it as a “lifestone”, which means whatever happened to his parents, they didn’t abandon him.

Yatarou, like the spoiled haughty little shit he is, tries to steal the necklace from Dorotabo, but when he does, Dorotabo transforms into a vicious demon; he’s just barely able to regain possession of the lifestone and transforms back into human form.

He’s hiding when Inugami tacks him down, warning him that he is the cause of the dead and rotting livestock. But Inugami while already has him pegged as the child of a human and a demon—a kemono like him—he knows Dorotabo isn’t responsible. Sure enough, other demon beasts appear as corrupted dogs and deer.

Inugami and Dorotabo are in time to save Yatarou from the dogs, but a giant demon buck with weirdly human teeth appears, and is a tougher customer. Inugami is only able to shoot through half of its thick neck with his gun (which he’s able to summon out of thin air), but Yatarou rips the rest of the demon’s head off with his bare hands.

Afterwards, Inugami reveals to Dorotabo that the innkeeper brought him to the village to kill him. He asks him his real name—Kabane—and asks once more if he wants to meet his parents. Kabane says no with a bright smile, and asks Inugami to kill him. Inugami shoots him in the head, and reports the kill to the innkeeper.

Kabane wakes up in the back of Inugami’s car, having been out for a day healing. A bullet to the head can’t kill what’s already dead, after all. Kabane now finds himself in the middle of the largest metropolis in the world—where that little punk Yatarou wanted to go—and Inugami sets him up with some cool new threads at the Inugami Strangeness Counseling Office, where two other kids—presumably also kemono—show up wondering who the heck he is.

I found Kemono Jihen (literally “Beast Incidents”) to be a fresh, fun supernatural series that immediately pulled me in with its picturesque village setting, and kept me engaged by having a bake-danuki like Inugami act with more human compassion than actual humans towards a kid who didn’t deserve their ire. The beasts are legit creepy, while there’s a palpable sense of excitement and momentousness to Kabane’s arrival in the big city. This looks like a keeper so far.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

In / Spectre – 02 – Murder at Mount Tsukuna

Iwanaga Kotoko has a very cool job, a job I would love to have. This week, she’s summoned to a very fretful giant serpent guardian spirit of a swamp on Mt. Tsukuna. This serpent needs the calming, ironclad explanation for why a woman dumped a corpse into his swamp and said to herself “I hope they find you.”

Kotoko probably doesn’t expect this to be a dangerous mision, and this is confirmed when the serpent expresses his general distaste for humans. Her reason for inviting Kuro to tag along isn’t about protecting her or defeating a boss, like last week’s case. So what is it about?

I’d say it’s a combination of her genuine affection for him and desire to be his wife, and part of that if the Goddess of Wisdom can become involved with the human most youkai fear most, perhaps she can show them he’s not really so bad!

That said, she’s unable to convince him to accompany her to Mt. Tsukuna, though when she uses youkai to locate his apartment, he sends her off with a hoodie to keep warm in the mountains and a hot meal of miso soup and onigiri, so he doesn’t come off as completely heartless.

Also, unbeknownst to Kotoko until much later in her meeting with the serpent, Kuro actually does follow her and observe from a distance, perhaps trying to get a feel for who this person is without the benefit of her being able to put on any airs.

What he witnesses is a surpassingly clever and well-spoken young woman who not only shows the serpent spirit respect and deference he doesn’t believe he deserves, but holds his proverbial hand through all the facts of the case she has amassed with the help of the youkai who work with her.

As the serpent attempts to rebut Kotoko’s explanations, Kotoko simply zigs or zags to a new route, adding ever more color and depth to the story of what led to Tanio Aoi dumping Yoshihara Hiroo’s corpse in the serpent’s swamp.

Since Aoi lived at the foot of Mt. Tsukuna, she may well have been aware of the fact the serpent was once worshiped there as a water god who brought rain. While the serpent betrays a bit of godly haughtiness by saying he would have much preferred a beautiful living girl to a dead middle-aged man, Kotoko reminds him there are two ways to bring rain: presenting an offering to please the water god, and one to enrage him; Aoi did the latter.

That’s when the youkai Kuro used to track Kotoko reunites with its sibling, and Kotoko realizes Kuro has been there all along listening in—including the part where she called him her boyfriend. But before their “lovers quarrel” as she calls it, she wants to resolve all lingering questions and doubts the serpent might still have. Not only does she have a cool job, she knows it, and thus does the very best work she can.

In / Spectre – 01 (First Impressions) – An Eye and a Leg

Two years ago, Iwanaga Kotoko saved Sakuragawa Kurou‘s life by catching him as he fell backwards. All she asked in return was that he remember his savior for the rest of his life. Kotoko later learned Kurou had a girlfriend, but they recently broke up. Having harbored a one-sided affection the last two years, Kotoko now approaches Kurou with her intentions to date him with eventual plans for marriage.

If Kotoko sounds like an unusual girl, she is: when she was eleven she was kidnapped by various youkai who asked if she would consent to serving as their “God of Wisdom”, one who could both mediate issues between youkai and between youkai and humans. In exchange for agreeing to help them, Kotoko lost her right eye and left leg, but considers becoming a god who can commune with youkai to be a fair trade.

When a particularly nasty ayakashi troubles a local library, youkai go to Kotoko to ask for aid. But as she’s outgunned in this particular case, she asks Kurou to accompany her. While youkai everywhere fear him like some kind of bogeyman, including a kappa whose reaction to seeing him led to his breakup with his girlfriend, Kotoko sees the value of having someone like him in her corner.

Thus, their “first date” involves confronting the giant beast in the library, and while Kotoko’s words fail, Kurou’s actions don’t. Only even Kotoko is surprised by how Kurou deals with the beast: he lets it rip his arm off, only for it to immediately regenerate, and the beast shortly dies, poisoned by Kurou’s flesh. Kurou confesses that something happened to him when he was eleven too: he ate youkai flesh.

While lacking in action until the final  minutes, the introduction of the forthright, no-nonsense, charming Kotoko and the inscrutable, unflappable Kurou is very well-handled and their dialogue never drags. They sport instant chemistry, owing in no small part to the voice talents of Miyano Mamoru and Kitou Akari, and I’m eager to see not just how they work together but how they become closer going forward.

BEM – 02 – It’s a Nice Face

Bela, or “Annabella”, as her high school friends call her, may be a youkai, but she has a human form and dreams of one day becoming a real human. So she “practices” by going to high school, having friends and interacting with them, including teasing a young man who likes making very nice drawings of her.

But when a woman in her late twenties recognizes Bela as Mary, someone she went to high school with, the question arises: where exactly did Bela get her human face? As it happens, she got it from the corpse of Mary Russell, which is now nothing more than a skeleton when Sonia and the police find it. But who killed her?

After a very weird (and animation-wise, pretty lazy) canvassing montage, Sonia is no closer to learning the actual truth, just that different people say the opposite things about Elaine, the blue-haired woman who recognized Bela. The next day, Bela is assaulted by three guys at the mall, but who comes to her rescue but Elaine.

Elaine then proceeds to tell Bela her side of the story, in which Mary was blamed by their mutual friend (and queen bee) Dominic Vali for stealing her jewelry, then punished by being forced to undertake a test of courage in the Outside, and ends up never returning. Elaine says the piece of jewelry Bela wore when they first met, along with the one she gifts to Bela, were made by Mary, who dreamt of becoming a jewelry-maker.

The more Bela thinks on it, the more she wants to tell Elaine the truth, since she seems like a nice person. That turns out not to be the case, as she has both Bela and Dominic meet up at the cemetery where Mary died, just so a hitman she hired can kill them both.

This entire scene feels like it comes out of the blue, but more importantly, it’s just patently silly that the bad guy is some kind of “bowling greaser monster.” Both Bela’s transformation, youkai design, and the ensuing battle that ends with Bela victorious, are pretty mediocre.

The disappointment continues when Bela (who doesn’t bother to change after transforming back into a human) pays Elaine a visit, and Elaine immediately drops the nice lady act and becomes a leering villain, complete with a “covering one eye” move. When she cops to having Mary and Dominic killed, Bela loses her cool and transforms into a kind of Alien Queen-type monster, only lamer.

Bem ends up intervening before Bela kills Elaine, and also calls Sonia to arrest Elaine, the culprit in the case of Mary and Dominic’s murders. Basically, by helping the cops clear homicides and assisting them in other ways, Bem hopes to one day become human. Bela shares that dream, and despite being very aloof about it, so does Belo (he does play video games with kids “his own age,” after all).

Bela comes away glad she learned more about Mary Russell, whose face she took, and hopes to honor her memory by leaving the youkai life behind. But who knows when or if that will happen. In the meantime, while BEM is pretty solid in some areas (the jazzy score for one), it seems odd that a show heavily featuring monsters would do such a bad job visualizing said monsters and their battles.

BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 01 (First Impressions) – Believe What You See

MOK’s first episode takes place entirely at night, as Miyako Arata reports to his first shift at the Shinjuku Ward Office “Nocturnal Community Relations Division”, the exact nature of which is something Arata himself is a little fuzzy about.

He meets two of his new colleages, the bishounen scientist Himezuka Seo and their bespectacled shift leader, Sakaki Kyouichi. They’re both warm and friendly, and inform Arata most of his shifts will take place outside, which only compounds his confusion with what their division does.

Kyouichi and Seo take him to the entrance to Shinjuku Gyoen, unlock the gate, and head inside for a “rite of passage” that involves spraying a “helper spray” that makes fairies and other supernatural creatures visible to those who aren’t able to see them.

Arata meets a tiny (and somewhat surly) pixie, a giant, cuddly Cu Sith, and more, and learns that it’s the NCR Division’s job to maintain good relations with the various supernatural beings that inhabit the forests. It’s most comforting to learn that Tokyo’s ultra-urbanization over the decades hasn’t resulted in the destruction of these beings.

Rather, they exist much like conventional city animals—pigeons, crows, raccoons and squirrels—they’ve adapted to exist beside humans, albeit out of sight to most. Only occasionally, they can cause a disturbance, such as a fight breaking out between angels and tengu.

Arata discovers that an angel and a tengu are lovers who wish to elope, but neither the angel’s older sister nor the tengu’s father approve, and since the two races just naturally don’t get along, it isn’t long before their bickering spills outside of the park and into the city proper.

While Arata can tell the angels and tengu mean no harm, Kyouichi and Seo both seem to ignore them and present a defensive posture, ready to use gas grenades and the like to disperse them. However, Arata informs them that he can hear what they’re saying, and manages to defuse the situation by being the one person who can have a calm dialogue with everyone.

Arata’s colleagues are amazed that Arata can understand what the angels and tengu are saying—it’s a rare if not impossible gift for a mere human, and sure enough when an elder tengu appears and addresses Arata as Abe no Seimei, it’s all but confirmation Arata isn’t a mere human at all.

MOK follows a long tradition of night-oriented Tokyo-set shows like Tokyo Ghoul and Durarara!! in creating a rich and lived in animated version of the Eastern Capital. It also follows the latter of those two shows with a usually laid back, upbeat tone, helped in no small part by the jazzy score by Evan Call (previously of Violet Evergarden and currently of YU-NO). I found MOK—or Midnight Occult Civil Servants—clever, cozy, and cool.

Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou – 02

This week Yuushi settles into his strange new life in the titular Youkai Apartment by meeting several of its eccentric tenants, from a painter with an awesome dog and some kind of wizard to a beautiful hard-drinking woman who’s “not ready for heaven.”

Yuushi also meets Ryuu-san, a psychic whom everyone, human and youkai, seems to greatly revere. When he speaks, everyone listens, including Yuushi, and he points out to Yuushi how long his life is, how far out the world stretches, and that the most important thing is to relax, man.

Since losing his parents, Yuushi adopted a resting aggro face that kept most people away, especially women, but Yuushi finds that since he moved into the YA he’s able to speak with people more easily, like his classmate and clubmate Tashiro.

He also learns about a power he didn’t know he had: a kind of precognition that Tashiro is about to be hurt, then a “synchronization” that allows him to take the pain from Tashiro when her leg is injured by a passing motorbike. Akine then takes his pain and disperses it.

What had seemed like a six-month chore has become a kind of journey of self-discovery for Yuushi, as he learns to befriend people other than Hase, whom he is writing to throughout the episode but is certain he’ll find the conditions he describes crazy. YA remains watchable Monday feel-good fluff.

Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou – 01 (First Impressions)

Inaba Yuushi, newly graduated from middle school, intends to move out of his aunt, uncle, and cousin’s house, where he’s lived since his parents were killed in a car accident. When his high school’s dormitory burns down, he moves into a grand old apartment building that turns out to be populated by both humans and  youkai, which he didn’t know existed. Thus, Yuushi’s “first step toward independence” has landed him “somewhere incredible.”

That’s a pretty elegant premise, and the simplicity works in Youkai Apartment’s favor. The enjoyment of this premise is to be found in the details, like a seemingly normal, cute Kuga Akine who is actually an exorcist-in-training, or Yuushi’s favorite author being a resident, or his gradual realization that things in these apartments are something other than normal.

There’s a distinct Spirited Away atmosphere to the apartment, especially once the youkai start to appear, mill around, and interact with each other and Yuushi. But rather than not belonging in this nook of the “spirit world”, Yuushi and other humans (albeit weird ones) are welcome to coexist.

At the same time, while Chihiro learned what it meant to grow up, the message to Yuushi, who has always felt like a burden to his relatives, needs to relax and not worry about growing up too fast. He’s just a first-year in high school, after all!

The pleasant, easygoing, whimsical world of Youkai Apartment is, despite the presence of a few scarier youkai, a very warm and cozy place to spend time, and the slice-of-life nature of the narrative makes YA perfect Summer comfort food.

We’ll see how things go with Yuushi, his best friend/rival Hase Mizuki, Akine, and all the other characters human or otherwise we’re sure to meet in future episodes. This first one was an effective hook to draw us into its world.

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