The view from Igirisu:
Near the start of this episode, Neko turns up at school covered in bandages and says, “it’s just a cold.” It’s a welcome moment of humour in an otherwise depressing episode but there is always a glimmer of hope in amongst the misery.
I mentioned last week that the balance of power is far less in the favour of the good guys than it was in Elfen Lied. This week we discover the full extent of that. The escaped “witches” have to take a pill every 30 hours or so, or they start to bleed and will be dead within five more hours if they don’t take another pill. Neko and Kana only have ten pills left between them. When Neko reveals that she has been trying to stretch them out so she can go on the beach trip it’s one of several terribly sad moments in the episode, which piles misery upon misery on the main characters. Just when we are getting used to the idea that the girls have 5 or 6 days left and are going to have to try to come up with an idea quickly, Neko leaves a fire burning and loses the remaining pills. The episode keeps ramping up the fear and desperation, and just as Neko says, “our last ten pills, they got burnt up”, Kana immediately starts bleeding from the nose. It’s pretty bleak.
This is also the episode that gives us nearly all the answers to most of our questions. We learn about the “harnessed” devices on the backs of the witch’s necks for the first time, with one button killing them and another “hanging up” their powers for a day. The third button remains a mystery:
“We don’t know. The people at the lab would only tell us that it’s worse than death itself.”
That raises two possibilities: the scientists could have been lying, or the button could really hold a nasty secret, but to be “worse than death” it would need to be something horrible. We also learn that witches are classed by their abilities, from AAA to C, and that the scientists are sending an AA to the factory to fight Neko. Saori’s power is terrifying: the ability to slice people into pieces from distance, but it is perhaps a little too reminiscent of the Diclonii powers in Elfen Lied.
The big reveal of the episode is of course the identity of Neko, who is indeed Murakami’s childhood love. It might seem obvious, but there were other possibilities. Let’s face it, this was never going to be just a coincidence, but some kind of cloning could have worked, or even a twin. Instead, it’s exactly what Murakami always knew in his heart: Neko is Kuroneko, and her birthmark simply moved as she matured. We even get the explanation for her lack of memory:
“When Neko uses her powers she loses things that are dear to her.”
But this is an episode that never lets us relax for a moment. As soon as we get used to a new piece of information, things always get immediately worse. It’s like the writer is constantly saying, “you think that’s bad, well how about this!” In a moment of bitter irony, Murakami realises he has got his Kuroneko back, only for her to be brutally murdered by Saori. And it’s not even one of those wounds that happen in sci-fi anime to mislead the audience. I’m watching Shakugan No Shana at the moment, and it’s a good example of an anime that is far too fond of characters getting stabbed with massive swords, only to show up later bandaged up and saying they heal quickly. The writer here leaves us in absolutely no doubt that this is a fatal blow. Neko is sliced to pieces. It’s a completely shocking and bleak moment where all hope is ripped away, and yet Murakami somehow has an idea:
“That’s right. Hang on, there’s still a chance!”
Now that’s what I call a cliffhanger ending. So far, this has been a series where things happen with too much of a degree of convenience or coincidence. Two examples spring to mind in this episode: Murakami’s memory of reading a medical journal that gave him the information about the code number on the pills, and Neko’s clothes getting ripped in just the right way to reveal her birth mark. It’s not exactly the most sophisticated writing in the world, but for excitement it’s hitting all the right notes, while also delivering a strong emotional kick. It’s also a good example of methodical introduction of characters. The first episode featured almost exclusively just Murakami and Neko/Kuroneko, the second introduced Kana, and this week we get our first glimpse of super-hacker Kazumi, who has also taken her last pill. By the end of the third episode we already have our hero-loses-all moment, unusually early in a series. Brynhildr certainly hits the ground running with the first few episodes, and demands that you keep watching. So far, it’s pushing all the right buttons… RP
The view from Amerika:
Episode three opens with an utterly hilarious scene. Neko arrives at school completely bandaged up as if she’d fallen from the top of a particularly branchy tree while that tree was being transported via train across country at high speed. Murakami is shocked! He asks what’s going on, to which she answers: “It’s just a cold.” I guffaw and struggle to hit the pause button.
Death Suppressants introduces yet another character on the side of the good guys and one on the side of the bad. It also gives us the driving concept: the Witches have pills that will keep them alive. If they don’t take the pills every 30 hours, their skin dissolves and they die, a bloody mess. They have about 150 hours’ worth of pills… until Neko accidentally sets fire to their home and burns the remaining pills to ash. And in one fell swoop, the game is set: Murakami is going to help Neko and Kana get more pills. Except to do so, they’ll need the help of another good witch. Kazumi Schlierenzauer (at best I spell the first name from now on) is the good witch capable of hacking any computer system, anywhere. Saori is the bad witch who is capable of Elfen Lied levels of slicing people apart. I see where the ideas came from! Now, to get more pills, they have to infiltrate a drug company that Kazumi will hack to get them inside, but they have to contend with the foreknowledge that doing so will lead to the death of Neko and Saori’s Witchy powers.
First off, at this point, having had a chance to get to know Murakami, his outburst over his arm-wrestling match with Neko is quite funny. Knowing her powers are used simply to break things gives him every justification to be overwrought. What was initially a weak character trait has taken on a level of fun like it should have, had we had a better understanding of the character earlier on. He’s a decent lad tortured by the loss of a friend from 10 years ago but at his core, he’s a really good person. Getting cake for himself and his two new friends in the last episode was a very kind act brought on just because he felt like it. This gives added weight to Kana’s simple request, knowing she will die very soon: she just would like a little more cake. If that’s not a testament about valuing the little things, I don’t know what is. This episode establishes the “powers” of each character so far. Murakami is a regular guy but has a near eidetic memory. Kana has the gift of seeing the future. Neko can break things. Their main enemy can slice things to shreds. And we get a bit of understanding about the 3-button outlet in the back of the witches necks: one disables their powers for 24 hours. One melts them. And one is so bad, it actually is worse than death! What that could be is the most obvious mystery. Since I already watch The Endless Eight of the Haruhi series, I’m not that worried, but these guys might want to concern themselves… they might be subjected to that, only to have to do homework in the end! Death, indeed, would be better. Of course, this leads to another conundrum: hairbrushes, pillows, massage parlors! I mean, here’s how my mind works: you have this 3-button thing on the back of your neck; what happens when any of dozens of things press it? Kana spends her whole day lying on her back. (This isn’t a statement about how lazy she is! She’s paralyzed!) Does she ever worry that maybe the pillow will land right on a button? Neko has long, flowing hair; she’s clearly brushing it. No fear of an accidental bump? And heaven forbid they go for a massage! It seems like an odd contrivance to have this weird thing on the back of their necks! The obvious thing to do is to find out what the final button does!
Anyway, here’s the thing: until now, we’ve been shown that this is not a fatalistic universe. A premonition can be avoided by knowing about it. Kana has had the foresight to see the death of Neko and warns her friends not to go for the pills but they go anyway under the assumption that knowing and planning can make a difference. As the audience, we’ve been trained to know nothing is etched in stone. Plus: main characters! Duh! To compound matters, during the fight between Neko and Saori, a birthmark is revealed and both Murakami and the audience now know: this is his childhood friend! And by God, he won’t lose her again! So when Neko and Saori are fighting, we know what the outcome has to be!
Let me paint a picture: remember that girl in episode one who was stuck in the pool filter because the suction was so strong? Well, this episode gave me a total mind-twist. (I was not thinking of the word “twist”!) I was pulled in faster than Galactus eats a planet. Almost as fast as I can eat a pint of ice cream. My point is, this episode messed with me big time. Had I been smarter and watched this earlier in the night, I would have seen more than one episode. The result of the fight is so horrendous and bloody and shocking, that I actually started writing Roger a strongly worded email when I stopped and realized: if I have time for an email, I could do another episode instead. I did not have time for either and called it a night! Wrecked emotionally, but I called it a night nonetheless.
There are probably things that need to be said about this episode that I am leaving out. So be it. I’ll pick up with some of the important elements later. For now, there’s only one thing for it: press on. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Brynhildr in the Darkness Episode 4