86 episode 5

No, the screenshot isn’t upside down.

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Though the franchise does not advertise it, 86 does have a mild horror element, one that has only been vaguely hinted at through the first four episodes. (Really, the only significant indicator so far was the series’ opening scene, where Spearhead Squadron’s previous Handler loses it.) This episode is the one where that finally, directly, comes into play. In so doing, it explains and connects many little tidbits and references which have come up to date and fills in the biggest gap in the story’s overall scenario. And, frankly, the implications of it are chilling.

The core of the matter is the two years of remaining lifespan on the Legion. The Republic is not wrong about that per se, but what its leadership has utterly failed to consider is that the Legion might be capable of adapting to get around that limitation. Since the Legion’s operating system is based on the human brain, the solution seems obvious: use actual human brains (or direct copies thereof) to replace the operating systems. Not only do you get smarter and more adaptable Legion, but they also outlive the normal time limit. Further, the Republic has practically assured a steady supply of human brains are available by disallowing 86s from being buried. Hence the Legion just have to salvage the dead 86s to prolong themselves. The one that have been so converted are the Black Sheep that have been cryptically referenced once or twice before.

Something somewhat along this line has been used many times before in anime, but this version has an extra twist: Shin has a special psychic ability which allows him to hear the voices of these brains. Or, perhaps more specifically, he can hear the last thoughts imprinted on those brains before death, thoughts which the dead are locked into repeating over and over again. Anyone who syncs with him via the Para-RAID can hear them, too. The anime adaptation does a fantastic job of showing just how horrifying and overwhelming this can be on first exposure, to the point that how previous Handlers may have been driven to suicide just to get the voices to stop is perfectly understandable. So is Lena freaking out over it – especially when one of the voices in Kaie’s. So is why Shin acts the way he does; a person who hears those voices all the time would have to shut himself down emotionally just to keep his sanity. Also not hard to understand is why Raiden would be impressed that Lena sticks with them even after that.

The supreme irony here is that the Republic, in their efforts to stabilize the country through persecution of minorities, has not only set up the circumstances for their own demise but they have also cut off nearly any means to deal with the problem. Who, beyond Lena, would listen to the 86s even if the latter were willing to talk about it? Even besides that, curtailing the problem from getting bigger would require a complete rethinking of how they manage the 86s, and that’s not happening. A reckoning is looming for the Republic, and it will be ugly. Lena demonstrates again here that, for all of her emotional nature, she is made of sterner stuff, but will that be enough to salvage anything?

The episode has other things going on as well. The intro displays the accident scene where a young Lena lost her father and met Shin’s brother, who almost certainly had a big influence on her being where she is and doing what she’s doing several years later. The epilogue scene shows why Shin always wears a scarf: he has a scar around his neck, and flashes more strongly suggest that his brother was responsible. (This presumably happened before Rei saved Lena, as Rei’s behavior suggests that he has deep regrets.) The implication looms heavy that Shin’s brother’s brain is out there somewhere, and may even be a Shepherd, but more importantly for the story, it finally gives Shin a specific purpose. Lena also gets a couple of lighter-hearted moments to balance out the later grimness; her expressions when talking about the party and enjoying the cake are adorable. That Shin does not remember any of his family’s faces or much about where he lived pre-Legion is also telling.

Lastly, the artistic effort here deserves comment. Though neither is long, we get two different action sequences this episode, and the CG effort still stands head and shoulders above almost any other TV series anime out there. The 2D effort also continues to be top-caliber. The rest of the episode had a lot of exposition, so the production team puts a lot of effort into preventing that from becoming visually boring. Henrietta having x-ed out pictures of suitors just like the 86 do for Handlers is an amusing parallel, and the camera does its best to find little, possibly symbolic details to focus on while Shin explains things to Lena (especially the flowers). I could probably write a couple more paragraphs exploring the possible meanings there, but there is such a thing as obsessing too much on the little details. What matters most is that the series again proves how much of a powerhouse it is this season.


Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Episode 5 – Anyone else get the impression that Six really isn’t cut out to be evil, even though he does have a somewhat twisted side? I’ve read the novel that the first few episodes cover, but I’m still having a lot of fun watching him in action.

Higehiro episode 5 – There are all kinds of ways that this episode could have gone wrong, but once again, the writing deftly avoids them. Somewhat surprisingly, Gotou seems to genuinely connect with Sayu rather than things getting catty, and that’s something Sayu needs. Yoshida can tell her things bluntly, but he cannot put things the way Gotou can, or with the implicit backing of speaking from experience at being a high school girl and understanding, in retrospect, how they’re regarded. With Gotou also looking out for her now, may Sayu can even weather the coming storm of one of her coworkers being one of the guys she previously stayed with. That’s sure to be a loaded affair next episode.

How NOT To Summon a Demon Lord Omega ep 5 – Really, Diablo never realized that the rabbit kid was a girl? Even if I hadn’t seen that gimmick dozens of times over the years, I still think I would have figured it out.

Moriarty the Patriot episode 16 – I’ve seen many theories about the true identity of Jack the Ripper over the years, but this take – that it’s the ploy of a group of revolutionaries seeking to sow strife in London – is a new one for me. The resolution seemed a little too easy, but it also looks the like the episode is bringing a potential rival for William into the picture.

Vivy – Flourite’s Eye Song ep 7 – While I do like this confident, sassy, and perhaps even a little arrogant version of Diva, I was actually glad to see Matsumoto pop up again this time and awaken the questions in her about her past. Learning that a reboot was necessary after what happened at the end of episode 6 was not a surprise, but bringing the concept of AI suicide into the picture was. I look forward to seeing how that develops next episode.

Zombie Land Saga Revenge episode 5 – Lily is not one of my favorite characters in this series, but she outdoes herself in this episode with her on-the-fly reinterpretation of the song that her opponent in the contest just sang beautifully. Sure, getting that much done in just a few minutes is unrealistic, but it was a catchy enough performance that I’ll forgive that. Even though his was the more polished performance – and thus presumably why he won – the opponent clearly understands that her performance is the one that will be remembered, and he’s humbled by that

So I’m A Spider, So What? Episode 17

Ariel and White

Rating: 4

The bulk of this episode focuses on the human side. One of the episode’s late scenes shows the likely reason why: by doing so, it explicitly puts Schlain’s group and the Demon Lord and her forces on a direct (if eventual) collision course at the elf village. The more interesting aspect at this point, though, is what is transpiring on the way there. Basgath fills Schlain’s group in on a few more details about the Nightmare of the Labyrinth (i.e., Kumoko) and what all she was up to from a human perspective, which includes brief flashes of some content that was skipped over earlier in the novels. They later encounter some of the Nightmare’s Vestiges directly, and from the human perspective they drop tantalizing hints about knowing what’s going on, including about the reincarnations. More meaningfully, they don’t attack Schlain and crew like they did Julius’s party, and doubtlessly that’s because of the presence of multiple reincarnations. But Kumoko has already shown that she has at least a bit of a soft spot for her fellow reincarnations, so that should be no surprise.

Also on the human side, Schlain and his companions prove quite capable in a fight, even against another Earth Wyrm; could this be a new Hero’s party forming? Despite some shortcuts, this is a better-animated fight than the mess that constituted episode 14, and shows Schlain growing into a role as a leader. They also encounter the hole made by the Queen Taratect back in episode 15 and use that as their exit, with Fei even getting to resume her dragon form for the exit. All good – if unexceptional – fantasy fare. The most interesting parts are the dreams Schlain has. One seems to be of a woman reciting the words of the Voice, a woman who looks a bit like the one being crucified back in episode 11’s prologue. Is that supposed to indicate that this Sariel was sacrificed to become The Voice at the heart of the system, and is thus the core of the system. That initiates nearly as many questions about Schlain’s other dream, involving Schlain witnessing Shouko back in the Japanese classroom. . . and an actual spider in the classroom. That detail seems a little too meaningful to ignore when the series’ titular heroine is a spider, but that also just creates another strand in the web (heh!) of mystery at the core of this series.

On other fronts, the opening scene of the episode again implies that White is the future version of Kumoko, but that’s nothing new. What happens in the epilogue is more significant, though. Looks like one of the Parallel Minds shifted to attacking Ariel, and since that attack is operating beyond the normal parameters of what is possible in the system, even Ariel is at least a bit vulnerable to it. Unlike the Queen Taratect, Ariel only has one Parallel Mind on the offensive, but given the difference between how she acts here and how she acts 15 years into the future, this attack clearly had some long-term effect on her personality. Maybe the future Ariel is not Kumoko, but has a bit of influence from Kumoko in her due to this? How that plays out remains to be seen.

Then, finally, there’s Kumoko, who has finally reconstituted her head and apparently does not need more than that to deal with the occasional beasties. Besides generally being entertaining as a (literal!) talking head – and I do love the digitization gimmick for “graphic” content there – she’s scheming up an alternate way to survive a future DL attack via Abyss Magic. Should be very interesting to see where he thought process leads, given how she’s talking about reincarnating. . .

From an adaptation standpoint, both timelines are now squarely in the midst of novel 4, with even the suggestive dreams being directly from this part of the novels. Looking back from the perspective of having read later novels, both of those are massive teasers for revelations likely to be well beyond the scope of this series, and their implications are stronger in anime form. Expect to see both of those getting elaborated on should the series get a second season.

86 episode 4

Lena awaiting the 86s’ names

Rating: 5 (of 5)

Before seeing this episode, I had wondered how the adaptation could conceivably stretch the first three novels out to cover a whole two-cour season. Episode 4 starts to bring that “how” into focus. In the course of its 20½ minutes of story time, it covers just a dozen or so pages of the source novel, in large part by padding it out with some original scenes. However, not a single second of what was added felt extraneous; if anything, every bit of what was added in only enhances the impact of the points that the series is trying to drive home. This is a terrific adaptation of the first turning point in the original story, so much so that multiple viewings might be required to catch every little detail. Honestly, this series has to be considered among the qualitative front-runners of the season (on more than just a technical basis) after this episode.

The episode begins with viewers seeing the 86’s viewpoint on the ripping condemnation that Theo leveled at Lena to end last episode. Seeing Theo’s emotions on display (with the wonderful piano backing again) made the emotions all the more visceral, and Theo’s lost button makes a great visual allegory for his mindset both then and throughout the rest of the episode. Just as important is his reaction at the end and in later scenes. Even if he meant every word he said, he realizes to some extent that he should not have conveyed his sentiment that way and that much of what he said should have been targeted at the Alba as a whole and not Lena specifically. Most of the rest of the 86s seem to be of a similar sentiment, and he’s probably right that Kaie – the one who was at least attempting to make an outreach to Lena – wouldn’t have approved.

One of the two other interesting aspects of the 86 side scenes is the mention of Fox Commander, an Alba who previously chose to fight with the 86s and died protecting them, because he did not feel it was right that all the burden of fighting the Legion should be laid on them. The episode does not go into quite as much detail about this as the novel does, but it still gets across the point that this was a person that both Theo and others among the 86s who knew him had very mixed feelings about and thus cannot forget. The other aspect is how back to normal the 86s’ behavior seems despite having just freshly lost a comrade. (Some of this can also be seen in episode 2.) This isn’t necessarily a writing flaw; when you’ve seen hundreds of people die, and Processors have a life expectancy of a year or less on active duty, you have to adjust quickly just to appreciate being alive. The only one who seems to truly carry the burden is Shin, who affirms earlier suspicions about why he is called Undertaker.

Much of what transpires on Lena’s side is anime-original. Henrietta and Lena’s uncle both take different tacks on essentially the same point: the treatment of the 86s may not be right, but it is much too big and ingrained a thing at this point for one person to tackle without getting swallowed up by it. The implication here is that Lena’s father may have met his fate under those circumstances, and more clearly that was the case with Fox Commander. Ironically, they are pitching the same point that Shin and other 86s are, though for different reasons: Lena is not cut out to be a Handler because she’s trapped between being sympathetic enough to want to do something and not having the means to do so. Both sides see her as foolish for even trying.

But therein lies the point of this episode, and what its title alludes to: short of wiping everything out and starting from scratch, things will not change unless someone takes the first step. One way to do that (at least as Lena sees it) is acknowledging the humanity of the Other through an exchange of names. If the person’s name is known then it can be remembered and memorialized, which is why Lena having that conversation with Shin and the others – as well as the conversation about how Shin memorializes the names of fallen 86s – while in front of a war memorial carved with the names of Alba war casualties (including, in one shot, her father’s name) is such a fantastic addition in the anime versioin. I’m betting that wasn’t coincidence on Lena’s part, either. As soft and naively high-minded as Lena has seemed until this point, this is where her true strength starts to show, where she gives more than just lip service to her ideals. Being their savior is beyond her, but she can, at least, be their connection. It’s an effort that the 86s are at least willing to acknowledge, even if they still don’t feel that there can ever be true camaraderie.

The episode’s final scene is also a loaded one: when Shin finally reveals his last name to Lena, she not only recognizes it but also knows the name of Shin’s elder brother. Almost certainly this has something to do with the plane that she was flying in with her father crashing, but presumably more details on that are coming at the beginning of next episode. The more interesting parts are the flashes Shin has of his brother. The ones where his brother’s eyes are scribbled out are the easiest to spot and doubtlessly loaded with meaning, but one shot shows a book titled “The Skull Knight,” which seems suspiciously close to the code names used by both he and his brother, and another shows someone choking a child – his brother choking him, perhaps? That’s a lot of implied meaning to unload, but just as important is how both the visuals and the musical cues are handled. Again, the direction and editing of this series impresses mightily.

When all the little details are factored in, this may be the best episode of any series that I have seen so far this season.


Higehiro episode 4 – Man, there’s so much to unpack in these episodes that I am half-considering starting episode reviews for this one, too. This episode brings up two major threads: Sayu getting a job (and with it a new friend at work) and Yoshida once again having a “date” with Gotou. In the former case, the scenario seems a bit truncated, but Sayu definitely needs someone her own age who’s looking out for her and this girl seems plenty wise enough to fit the role. On the other front, I have to wonder where Gotou’s motives really lie. Is what she said this time – that she was interested in Yoshida but just not ready – the truth, or is this a case where she’s becoming interested because Yoshida is showing the effects of another woman supporting him? She seems to be aware that Yoshida is focused on her breasts and is deliberately enticing him, but she also seems uncertain how far to take things. My guess is that she is fumbling through this process because she has no experience and isn’t sure what she wants, which makes the contrast with Sayu rather ironic. We’re also finally starting to see hints of Sayu’s deeper issues, trauma deep enough that just eating alone can induce nausea. That should make next episode, when Gotou may meet Sayu, interesting indeed.

Moriarty the Patriot episode 15 – I wasn’t sure about the James Bonde thing at first, but Irene seems to be settling in well. And now, Jack the Ripper, because of course.

Vivy – Flourite’s Eye Song ep 6 –  Interesting twist in the second half of this arc, but it worked, and what a sad (but not unexpected) ending. Vey much like how the series continues to deal head-on with the consequences of what has come before.

Zombie Land Saga Revenge – That climactic concert was certainly an exercise in absurdity. Nonetheless, it fit the series well.

So I’m A Spider, So What? episode 16

Fei in her new humanoid form

Rating: 4.5

As this series goes, episode 16 has little bits of everything. It has little bits of action, little bits of revelations, plot advancement, character transformations, and guest reappearances, and not-so-little bits of revelation. And oh, yes, it also has little bits of Kumoko – rather literally, in the final scene.

Exactly what’s most important in this episode depends on perspective. That Kumoko has evolved into a form that has Immortality as a skill is certainly among the most consequential developments, especially given how the end of the episode plays out. I liked the addition of the comedy bits where Kumoko revels in being immortal (especially the one about her body being aired back up after being squished), but that also may have been what attracted D’s attention. In the novels, D’s voice is described as sounding flat, but Saori Hayami’s more lilting interpretation in the anime version is preferable, as it gives a better sense of D’s mischievous nature. She certainly knows how to pulls Kumoko’s strings, but the key points she explains to Kumoko are even more important:

  • Nearly the whole classroom – not just Kumoko – died and reincarnated. (Viewers mostly knew that, but Kumoko didn’t.)
  • It all happened because of (essentially) a misfire resulting from a collaborative effort by the previous Hero and Demon King.
  • That happened in Ms. Oka’s classroom specifically because D was present there and was, in fact, one of the students in the class.
  • D was probably targeted because a faction exists in the setting which is anti-Administrator.
  • D specifically reincarnated everyone into forms in tune with their natures and with an appropriate starter skill.

(Left out from the novels here is an explanation that D was surprised that a Zana Horowa actually evolved because normally the previous form kills itself off with Rot Attacks before living long enough to evolve.)

All sorts of unpacking can be done with these revelations, especially the bombshell that D was one of the students. Given that D has previously claimed to still be in Japan, that creates numerous interesting possibilities. One is that D is using one of the supposed reincarnations as a remote avatar, but that seems unlikely, since D seems to delight in watching rather than participating. A second is that D is one of the ones that Ms. Oka labeled as “out of reach.” Viewers now know that one of those is Shouko (aka Sophia), but two are still technically unaccounted-for. (For anime-only viewers, both have had cameos so far but not been identified as reincarnations.) A third is that this is a situation akin to the horror series Another, where one of the students was present but never real. The fourth is that D is one of the dead students, but the only one of those that had a specifically female-sounding name was Hiiro.

That Hiiro could be D also seems highly unlikely, given that every indicator so far (including Kumoko’s own memories) has pointed to Kumoko being Hiiro, but one of the other revelations – the causal comment about each person in the classroom reincarnating in something in tune with their natures – at least opens that door. Nothing about Hiiro’s nature in the flashbacks suggested “spider,” but then again, nothing in those depictions suggested D, either. (For anime-only viewers, the truth about D is one of the story’s biggest and most important secrets, so a definitive answer should not be expected in this series. Speculate away!)

The “reincarnated into forms in tune with their nature” has interesting implications for other characters as well, especially Kanata. He is the only character we know of who gender-swapped on reincarnation, and if that was because of his “nature” in Japan, then it suggests more powerfully than ever that Kanata may have been an unrealized/undeclared trans. (The novels are never definitive on that point, either.) Mirei being reincarnated as a dragon could be related to her prideful nature back in Japan and the fact that dragons are, by nature, prideful creatures, and reincarnating “Spooky” Shouko as a vampire progenitor fits the kind of perverse sense of humor D has. As for Oka, “elf” just seems to fit her character.

The episode also has other things going on. Goyef, who guided Julius’s party to defeat the Nightmare Vestige back in episode 6, reappears as well, though only long enough to introduce his retired father, who leads Schlain’s party to an alternate path into the Labyrinth. Along the way, Fei reveals that she has learned a skill which allows her to take on a humanoid form, which interestingly, brings her prideful nature back, and Katia insisting that it wasn’t a problem that she went along to pick out clothes for Fei is somewhat a summary of some skipped content indicating that Kanata’s mindset has gone entirely female and he is accepted as such by other girls who know who he was. This episode also reveals that water dragons are the reason why an across-the-sea route is not possible.

The episode ends with Schlain and party finally in the Labyrinth, but the other ending event is much more significant: Kumoko encountering the Demon Lord herself in this timeline. This reveals that Ariel – and not the Queen Taratect – is not only the true top of the chain among spider monsters but also the progenitor for all of them, that she makes even the Queen Taratect look like a chump on stats, and that she is also something called an Ancient Divine Beast. This should mostly quell speculation that Kumoko becomes the Demon Lord, and the DL certainly does not waste time in offing the threat to one of her chief underlings. Good thing that Kumoko just picked up Immortality, right? Tune in next episode to see how Kumoko pieces herself back together!

On other random fronts, this episode was clearly designed so that the water encounters in both timelines paired up, maintaining the sense of parallelism that has pervaded the series so far. Kumoko’s spider thread-based boat is a neat detail easy to overlook, and the Water Dragons looked pretty good. I was less impressed with the CG rendition of Ariel, but it wasn’t awful. Also notably, her demeanor in that brief shot seemed quite different than in her previous appearances. We’ll see if that is an idle detail or not. Also, the comedy seemed to be landing especially effectively this episode, hence the higher rating.

Demon Slayer The Movie – Mugen Train

Photo: ufotable

Rating: 4 (of 5)

While I don’t plan to make a regular habit of providing long-form reviews of anime series/movies/novels, I will occasionally toss one out when something comes along that I find worth talking about. That happened this past weekend when I had a chance to see the Demon Slayer movie in theaters.

The movie probably needs little introduction, as I’m not sure how one can participate in the online anime community and not have heard about it sometime in the last few months. After all, it has only crushed every other title to become Japan’s #1 all-time box office champ; in terms of both box office revenue and tickets sold, it has sailed past even Spirited Away, Titanic, Frozen, and Your Name (#2-5 in the rankings, respectively, for revenue). Rather than just be a one-off adventure, like movies connected to shonen action series often are, the movie is a direct sequel to the smash-hit 2019 series from studio ufotable. Thus, it is not a standalone movie, which is what makes its box office success all the more amazing. But how much of its success is the movie itself, and how much is just fortuitous timing?

Without a doubt, Mugen Train was released under circumstances that anime movie makers could normally only imagine in their wildest dreams. It hit Japan in October 2020, at a time when theaters were finally coming out of COVID-19-related shutdowns. Because the American movie theater scene was still very limited, no major American releases were coming out at the time, so the movie essentially had no significant competition. Further, sales of its source manga had surged massively in the months leading up to the movie’s release (to the point of even beating out long-time champ One Piece) and the series’ OP “Gurenge” was also a massive hit on the Japanese music charts, so the title was familiar to the general public. That meant that there was nothing to distract even general audiences hungry for a theater experience from going to see it multiple times.

All of that probably had more to do with the movie’s runaway success than the quality of the movie itself, although the movie does have its selling points in qualitative aspects . Ufotable was much-lauded for its eye-popping work on the TV series, and that continues to show through here. The series’ signature visual style adapts well to (and is fully-retained for) the big screen, and that is the ideal way to view it. While maybe not the best anime movie ever on the presentation of its action scenes, the movie offers no shortage of highly-flashy fights that will not disappoint, except maybe in one aspect: the CG used to depict an amorphous demon with lots of pseudopods underwhelmed a bit. The 3D modeling and visual effects for the major power releases impressed much more, and neither of the climactic fight scenes lacked for intensity or energy; they are easily among the franchise’s finest action sequences to date, even considering the quality of the some of the battles in the TV series. As always, backgrounds also offer plenty of scenery porn and the design of the villains does not lack for distinctiveness. A solid musical score powers the movie throughout.

The story is less special, at least for the first two-thirds or so. Tanjiro, Inosuke, and Zenitsu (with Nezuko in her box) are sent to join Senjuro Rengoku, the Flame Hashira, on the Mugen Train over concerns that a rash of disappearances on the train could indicate a demon at work. The concerns prove to be founded, as one of the Lower Ranks among Muzan’s servants is behind it and has grand plans for the train, ones which involve putting everyone to sleep and offing the Demon Slayers while they are experiencing pleasant dreams. This plays out about like any other anime story where villains try to attack the heroes via dreams, including some humans who have been coerced into working for the demon. Once the demon slayers free themselves from the dreams, they must battle the demon more directly and in earnest. The only real twists in this part is the nature of the dreamscapes of Inosuke and Zenitsu, which are the movie’s prime source of humor. Along the way we learn a lot about Senjuro’s background and how he came to be such a firm, smiling guardian of justice and protector of the weak.

All of this may be typical fare, but the emotional stakes gradually build as a big plot twist gets thrown in late and Senjuro shows that he means every word he says from his heart and soul. While I found Senjuro rather one-note at first, the strength and depth of his convictions stand out even by shonen action standards, to the point that he can resonate cathartically with viewers; I seriously doubt that I was the only person in the theater getting a little emotional at certain points in the final quarter. And if one scene involving him near the end ultimately runs a little long, I can forgive the movie for that, given how well he is used overall. His popularity in the fanbase probably grew enormously in the wake of this movie.

The one significant negative about the movie is more of a personal one: not enough Nezuko! She plays a critical role at one point and has a nice action scene or two, but like with the TV series, she is criminally under-used. The end of the movie, while it closes out the arc, is much more a stopping point than a point of resolution; in fact, it is more of a springboard to future events, though it also rounds back to the movie’s opening scene.

Despite an ordinary start, the movie succeeds overall at what it tries to do, and in a way plenty entertaining enough that I can easily understand why audiences have flocked to repeat viewings of it. If you’re a fan of the franchise, see this one in a theater if you can.

86 episode 3

Lena is shocked by what she is told.

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Episode 2 devoted close to half its running time to setting up and executing an action spectacle. Episode 3, by comparison, has no visual action, even though the 86s do eventually go into combat and one of them – a named character with a major speaking part in this episode, even – dies. However, the episode does not feel lacking for that because the real action this time is in one incredibly harsh dialog exchange at the end, in the immediate aftermath of that death. That exchange is, perhaps, the defining moment in the series so far because it speaks more bluntly than ever before to the core themes of the series.

The death of the petite, dark-haired Kaie is revealed in the episode’s opening moments, so nearly the whole episode is about the downtime events which precede that happening. On the 86 side, the episode features light-hearted content as three of the guys execute this series’ version of “peeking on the girls while they’re bathing” – except that the girls are not stripped down for what would normally be an obligatory fan service scene. The result is an amusing riff on the normal fan service and a sequence of banter (including how Kureha is in love with Shin) which could be found in just about any other series.  One earlier scene of the cat reacting in fear to the dead boar that got carted in is also priceless.

The peacefulness of the episode ends – and the awkwardness begins – when Lena has one of her nightly check-ins with the 86s. Though the tone remains light on the surface, it carries a tension among the 86s that Lena is oblivious to, something which becomes all the more apparent with the truncated replay of the scene from Lena’s point of view later in the episode. This quite effectively conveys that she is missing more in these exchanges than she realizes. Even though she seems to be making a breakthrough with Kaie, and she acknowledges that the 86s have reason to hate her kind, she does not at all comprehend what that really means or how hollow her efforts to reach out to the 86s sound, to the point that Kaie’s very polite warning to keep her distance catches her off guard. Her belief that the way the 86s are treated is inequitable comes from a legitimate place – she reveals that her life was once saved by a high-minded Processor (though how that could have happened is a story for probably next episode) – but she does not understand the horrors that 86s like Kureha have been through because of the Alba, or that pretty words and well-meaning intentions are not enough. That disconnect leads to the savage blow-up from Theo at the end of the episode.

Though Kaie’s death isn’t shown, it carries no less impact for only being depicted through blips on a computer screen; this was a wise direction choice. Lena’s mistake here isn’t that she did not notice that Kaie was moving into a marsh in time, or that she expressed grief over Kaie’s loss; it’s that she unwittingly made the expression of grief about herself, which I could easily see coming across through the Para-RAID as fishing for sympathy. That not provoking a harsh reaction from an 86 no longer willing to humor her would have been more surprising.

Did Lena ultimately deserve what Theo unloaded on her? Partly yes and partly no. Some of Theo’s words certainly are not fair to Lena, as she has made a legitimate outreach effort, is legitimately trying to connect with them as fellow humans, and much of what Theo is blaming her for is beyond her ability to control. However, by being their Handler and trying to interact with the 86s beyond what is strictly necessary, she is the representative of the Alba to them, both for better and for worse. Lena also did need to understand the depth of the hatred that the 86s have for her kind, and Theo’s final admonition – about how she’s never even asked for their names – is a fair one. (This is a point whose full impact may not be apparent to anime-only viewers, as the novel makes a big deal of how the 86s specifically don’t have “official” names in order to further dehumanize them.) That the 86s are equally guilty of never asking about Lena’s name is the irony in that situation.

I also deeply respect the direction choices here. In the end scene, unrelentingly keeping the camera focused on Lena, to show how she emotionally breaks down as Theo’s invective gets thrown at her, was absolutely the right call, and the piano backing that scene perfectly complemented the wild tension of the scene. Earlier, cutting Lena’s point of view on the barracks conversation into chunks with abrupt jumps also heightened the sense of disconnect. This may not be one of the auteur titles that reviews love to rave about, but the directorial effort in this series so far is shining brightly. That leaves me expectant about things to come.


Not as many other series made a strong impression on me in the past week:

Higehiro episode 3 – Still like the way this one is going a lot, and especially Yoshida’s admission that Sayu can turn him on in a purely physical sense. But he’s a man who seems to connect love and sex, and in the former sense, she’s still too young and immature. Her dead eyes during the flashback sex scene at the beginning also spoke volumes about how she feels about all of what she’s been through, as well as her desperation to do anything to avoid being cast aside again. Some have criticized how much the camera is still sexualizing Sayu, but I felt those shots served their purpose by clarifying what, exactly, Yoshida was getting tempted by despite his claims not to be interested in Sayu that way.

Moriarty the Patriod episode 14 – James Bonde? Really? Oh, and that new opener is a major-league downgrade from the previous one.

So I’m A Spider, So What? episode 15

puppet spider

Rating: 4

Last episode ended with Kumoko going on the mental offensive against her mother. This episode is nearly all about how her mother responds, and she certainly isn’t taking the threat that Kumoko poses lightly. In fact, not only is she multiple times more powerful than Araba, but she’s also at least as smart and definitely more cunning. The Queen Taratect is not at the top of the food chain for nothing, and that means even worse trouble for Kumoko than she imagined.

Basically, it also means that the serious threats to Kumoko’s continued existence (much less well-being) remain for now. Even with mother weakened by Kumoko’s soul-based attacks, Kumoko cannot handle her in a straight-up fight, and mother is sharp enough to have prepared an ambush by her top underlings for where Kumoko escapes to. She even pulls out what would seem to be her ace in the hole: the devastating, multi-armed puppet spider. This forces Kumoko to use all of her own best tricks and push herself to the limit again on survival, but that is also what keeps these action sequences operating at a high fun level. Even with as frighteningly powerful as she has gotten by human terms, she can still be convincingly threatened, and the series is better for it.

As neat as it is to see the Queen Taratect finally in action, the real treat of the episode is the introduction of the puppet spider. I have been critical of the 3DCG design on some of the monsters to this point, but the puppet spider makes up for some of the more questionable previous efforts. Clearly special effort was put into both designing the puppet and figuring out how to depict its movements, as that critter is a menace. Even when it is in the side of the shot, using its multiple swords to deflect all the Black Bullet shots aimed at it, its movements impress, and the way it poses and manipulates its threads shows special care. If all of the critters had this fine an effort, this series would be one of the year’s visual treats. Another interesting visual comes in one scene where Kumoko has the arch-taratects on one side and the puppet spider on the other. As she turns her head to look from one direction to the other, one of the foes is reflected in one of her eyes. (This scene happens at the 13:03 mark.)

Beyond that two-stage fight scene, the only other content is a short scene at the end showing Shun and crew making plans to head for the elf village, while Lestor(?) returns to try to fight off Hugo. The one catch? It’s on a different continent, and the only feasible way to get there is to go through the Great Elroe Labyrinth, which apparently goes underneath the sea in between. Why they cannot cross the boat is not explained here; if it is not brought up next episode, I will explain then for anime-only readers, as the reason is given in the third novel. Given the time differential, that shouldn’t set Shun and party on a collision course for meeting Kumoko, but novel readers can probably see why that scene was put in the same episode as the spider-side scenes in this one. There is a connection between the two that will be apparent later.

Adaptation-wise, the human side is still in the midst of the third novel, while the spider side is a few chapters into the fourth novel. The pacing of the adaptation seems to be slowing.

86 episode 2

Tags for the dead

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

The most predominant underlying theme of the first part of 86 is racism, especially the self-destructive (or at the very least self-limiting) impact of it on a country as a whole. However, the series will have other themes as well, and another of those starts to come more sharply into focus in this episode: the great divide which can lay between two groups of people, even when they ostensibly work together.

In this episode, that shows through in many ways, and one of them lies in the vocal performances so far. In the novels, Lena’s voice is repeatedly described as having the quality of a silver bell; in anime form, seiyuu Ikumi Hasegawa (in her first co-starring role) portrays that by making her sound lilting, bright, and optimistic. By sharp contrast, Shoya Chiba’s rendition of Shin is constantly monotonous and businesslike. He does not so much give the impression of being cold or emotionless, but rather like he must remain perpetually focused; indeed, one scene in this episode suggests that he is doing so to shut something else out. Even if I wasn’t familiar with the source material, and so didn’t know the revelation that is coming next episode, this having something to do with what has forced other Handlers away would be a reasonable assumption.

But it comes through in other ways as well. Lena is clearly well-meaning, and seems determined to fight against the racist attitude that has become so institutionalized that it is even promoted in classes and textbooks. (Historical precedence for this exists.) That she is using her uncle to keep herself from getting in too much trouble for defying official government policy makes her less brave about it, but her heart is clearly in the right place. However, as the 86s’ reactions to her indicate, she does not truly understand them and their situation even though she wants to be on their side and does not regard them as pigs. They do not bad-mouth her because the series does not need to do that to convey their disdain; it is plain in their body language that they consider her naïve at best. Though Lena shows good intent and at least some real tactical acumen, their appreciation of her will not be won so easily.

This episode also lays out the backstory a bit better. It uses an anime-original classroom scene to summarize some details sprinkled through the content covered in episode 1 in the novel: that the invasion from the Empire of Giad started nine years ago, that the enemy Legion are all autonomous, that the Legion is presumed to have wiped out the Empire’s humans before initiating the attacks on the Republic, and that the Republic’s military was quickly devastated early on, which is likely why Lena is in such a position at such a young age. The war is only expected to last two more years because the Legion shouldn’t last longer than that before their operational time runs out, hence the reason why none of the Alba seem to be taking this too seriously. That 50,000 hour figure sounds fishy, since simple math indicates that new Legion have to have been made in the last 13 years, but the government is clearly fudging on other details (such as how the Juggernauts are supposedly higher-spec than the Legion), so that two year estimate also has to be considered unreliable. The presentation of the information in a classroom setting does allow for the show to demonstrate how deeply-ingrained the racism is, though even with that it cannot escape the impression of being an infodump.

The real feature of the episode, though, is the first true all-out fight scene, and it is worth watching the episode for that alone. I loved the effect of the day swiftly turning to twilight as the cloud of butterfly-like Legion swarmed over the sky, but that is merely the first visually impressive shot. A driving musical score backs some of the best CG-heavy battle animation I have yet seen in series animation, but that would mean nothing without excellent camera usage and battle flow, which allow the viewer to fully follow everything that transpires. Comparing this scene to any major action scene in, say, So I’m a Spider, So What? is like comparing a pro team to a collegiate team in sports, and it’s all the more impressive because this is Toshimasa Ishii’s first time in the director’s chair. If the series can produce future action scenes at this quality level then this could be remembered as one of the top action series in many years.

Almost lost in all of this is the episode’s most poignant scene, and the one which most speaks to why Shin has the nickname that he does: the chest containing scraps of Juggernaut armor, each etched with the name of a former comrade who (presumably) died in battle. That is the most harrowing reminder of what the stakes are for the 86.


This is not all the series that I am following, but the others simply didn’t do much worth commenting on this past week.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched ep 2 – This series is shaping up to be nearly as much fun as KONOSUBA was. The salacious and occasionally mean-spirited flavor of the humor is similar to KONOSUBA’s, so if you found it off-putting in that title then you probably won’t like it any more here, but the characters will not lack for personality. A favorite moment in this episode was Snow’s comment about having to make payments on her magic sword.

Fruits Basket The Final ep 2 – I’ve heard ever since the first anime series about how Shigure was a far more twisted character than what the first series revealed, and this episode shows it better than any previous one. He may be a dog in more senses than just the Zodiac curse.

Higehiro ep 2 – This one continues to walk a really delicate line, as there is all sort of inappropriateness to the living situation here, but so far the series is still careful to cross the line and Yoshida seems to be serious about the fatherly role he’s taking on here (even if he does not want to admit that’s what he is doing). Enticing hints continue to be dropped about how Sayu ended up in this situation, especially how unperturbed she seems about not being in contact with former friends. I am fully on board for seeing how this plays out.

Vivy – Flourite Eye’s Song ep 4 – Though the last two episodes have not impressed me as much as the first two did, I still like the concept here – of an AI progressing through the years to tackle different potential triggers for a bad outcome – quite a bit, especially the way episodes 3 and 4 both draw connections across the 15 year span back to episode 2.

Zombie Land Saga Revenge ep 2 – Maybe my favorite episode of the week beside 86. As corny and outlandish as the radio host’s behavior and appearance were, his message still resonated: you don’t necessarily need to go far from home to find the answers you seek. I can easily understand how his words could speak to a troubled adolescent like Saki, and that he decided to name Saki as his successor was quite fitting, as she is the one he has met who most “gets” the spirit of Saga that he has always espoused.

So I’m a Spider, So What? episode 14

Sue and Schlain in a pivotal moment

Rating: 2.5

This episode has the expected big plot twist on the human side and some juicy revelations going down on the spider side, but neither is likely to be what is most-talked about for this episode. No, that (dis)honor goes to the animation and direction effort on the episode.

Really, did this episode get a fill-in director or something? While the series has not exactly been a technical marvel, its technical merits have generally been solid (outside of the occasional questionable CG elements) and editing choices have been plenty sufficient to support and promote the story being told. This episode, however, is a near-disaster on those fronts, and it only gets worse as the episode goes on. I have to wonder if this episode suffered from a time and/or budget crunch, as in too many places it cuts away to simplify animation. This is hardly unusual in anime, but this episode does so even at the expense of obscuring critical actions on the part of certain characters. Combine that with some bizarre choices for camera angles, distracting camera shifts, and deteriorating ability to keep characters on-model and some scenes – especially much of the running battle which takes up most of the last quarter of the episode – become difficult to follow. I dearly hope this is not a new norm for the series, and it’s the reason why I am rating this episode much lower than normal.

Setting the visual and editing problems aside, the episode offers up a lot of important little details. One of the biggest is the confirmation that Shouko Negishi, the homely outsider featured significantly in the original-world flashback a few episodes back, is actually the vampire Sophia and not the Demon Lord; the irony that she is a physical bombshell after reincarnation is probably intentional on the part of D, since that seems like something she would find amusing.  This also establishes that Shouko she met Kumoko back when Sophia was still a baby, though they did not at all have a conversation. This begs all sorts of questions on how Sophia ended up working for the Demon Lord (and the final scene clarifies that she is), but the other interesting point here is the carriage driver, who looks awfully similar to one of the Demon Generals from the conference scene a few episodes back. The additional interesting point is that the elves – the same ones Oka is affiliated with, based on appearances – aimed to kidnap Sophia as a baby and were not shy on the extremity of the methods they intended to use. Could that have something to do with why Sophia seemed so keen on beheading Potimas in the human timeline?

And speaking of that human timeline, Hugo and Cylis finally make their moves, and the probable explanation for why Cylis would get involved comes up: daddy was going to make Schlain heir apparent, and Cylis could not tolerate that. Seems like Hugo is a Ruler of Lust, too, which, in a sense, fits; his desires are certainly strong, even if they have not been shown to be sexually-oriented. They have this planned out pretty well, too, as Schlain and his supporters that have not been brainwashed are forced to go on the run. The one thing that the attackers did not seem to count on was Fei’s evolution into a cool new winged form (or as cool as that janky CG design can look, anyway). That being said, Sophia did not afterwards seem perturbed at all about the escape of Schlain’s group; in fact, she even mentions that she got “everything done,” and that she was under orders not to harm Oka. Those two statements suggest that capturing/killing Schlain and his party was not part of the plan; were they, in fact, supposed to escape? Something’s fishy here, and Hugo is looking more and more like he’s just a pawn in bigger machinations himself. The other factor which gets washed out in that whole sequence is the cloaked figure using the rings, who seems like much more than just an ordinary individual.

In adaptation terms, this episode pushes much further into the third novel on the human side, while the spider side has jumped ahead to a scene which straddles the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth novels. As with most previous adaptation choices, I don’t see this as problematic, as it lines up Sophia’s more formal introduction in both timelines. That is going to requires some things on the spider side to be done quite a bit out of order, but that should be fine.

Other Series Thoughts: I will add this update onto the second episode of 86 instead.


Lena and Shin

86 episode 1

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

86 is my most-anticipated new series of the Spring 2021 season, as I am current on the American release of the source novels (and have previously reviewed the first four volumes for ANN) and have felt ever since reading the first novel that the first story arc, at least, would adapt well into anime form. The first episode does not disappoint; in fact, I think it would have solidly hooked me, and compelled me to do episode reviews for it, even if I wasn’t familiar with the source material.

One thing should be understood up front: while this, on paper, a story about a pretty girl commanding a ragtag bunch in fighting off a mechanized invading Legion, the true focus of the story is racism, and – as the first episode amply shows – it takes this to such a severe degree that racism pervades just about every aspect of the first episode. It can be seen in the suspiciously homogenous look of the population of the Republic of San Magnolia, and how anyone who isn’t silver-haired and silver-eyed lives in a base every bit as decrepit as the capital city is seemingly-flawless. It can be heard in the news reports of no casualties suffered by supposedly-autonomous Juggernauts or how co-protagonist Lena is told not to report fatalities among the 86s (as minorities are collectively called) since they’re not counted as human. Lena also witnesses it in her lackadaisical fellow Handlers, who regard the 86s as “pigs” and beneath contempt, or the way the Handler featured in the opening scene laughs while commenting that he doesn’t expect his assigned squadron to survive. It even shows in the fact that the minorities live in the 86th district (hence their name) when we hear the Republic only has 85 districts. The 86s likewise regard the predominant race as “white pigs;” the picture of a pig in a dress that one of them draws upon first hearing Lena is a nice touch. And this isn’t even the worst of it; the Republic’s treatment of minorities is based at least in part on Nazi Germany’s treatment of minorities, so those sensitive about the Holocaust might want to avoid this one because of some upcoming content.

In this environment, Vladilena Milize is the youngest-ever Major in the Republic’s military, which directs combat units from afar using a device called Para-RAID. They are fighting off an invasion by autonomous Legion units, and based on the level of destruction shown in the later scenes, this has been going on for a while. (A later scene where Lena comments about eating mostly synthetic food also suggests that this has been a longer and more problematic war than the capital’s condition lets on, as is the fact that she is an officer at such a young age; no, this isn’t just an anime/LN affectation.) The belief exists that, for some reason, the Legion’s attacks will end in no more than two years, so the Republic’s military officers are not taking this seriously since it’s not their people (or really, people at all) dying. Lena is the exception; she cares about the 86s and doesn’t proscribe to the racism. How much the 86s care about that is another story; the tone of voice in the one she spoke to from her previous assigned squadron suggested her sympathy may be regarded derisively.

Meanwhile, at the 86’s forward base, everything is lively and more colorful, even it if is worn. However, that only stands as a stark contrast to the reality of the brutal combat situation they face. What little is shown of the action is active and savage, and having to put a badly-wounded soldier out of his misery, and then making a nameplate from the dead soldier’s machine to take along, hints at why the young man Shin is known as Undertaker. A mystery also remains at this point as to why he has been so difficult to work with that some previous Handlers have even committed suicide. What is Lena in for here as she takes her new assignment for the elite Spearhead Squadron?

Even if they are CG-heavy, the action scenes look sharp and suitably intense so far, and character designs (especially for Lena) are a further visual highlight. I also liked how they worked in a little bit of humor for Lena now, because opportunities for it are not going to be frequent going forward. There is a lot that the first episode does not explain which is explained in the novel by this point, but the adaptation so far is still doing an excellent job of conveying the look, feel, and intensity that this story will carry, including the dead expression on Shin’s face at the end. Frankly, I’m not sure how this first episode could have been done much better, and I eagerly anticipate seeing how the rest of this (most novel fans are assuming that the first story arc, which covers the first three volumes, will be animated for this season) will play out.