"It rides beside me
It has no choice
It's my life
It is my voice
It is stupid
It is my noise"

-Superchunk, "My Noise"

There's a lot of setup for the finale in these two episodes, on both plot and thematic levels.

The plot stuff is... I mean, it is what it is at this point. The threat of Orochi is either overwhelming or theoretical, depending on the scene. You'll get a cliffhanger of the Makamou swarming over a city, limitless, endangering all life; and then in the next episode you'll have characters enjoying the calm before the storm, not a monster around. The stakes are so subjective as to be not worth thinking about. And that's not even counting how nebulous the entire Orochi thing is to begin with, where it just sort of happens, a million old monsters pop up each episode, and then the Oni get pointed to the one place that a drummer can defeat it. It's... there is not a lot of meat on that bone.

The only real source of tension, beyond the usual Or Else All Life On Earth Is Destroyed, is that Ibuki gets picked to avert the apocalypse, which... look. I will give the show Ibuki being chosen to eliminate Shuki a few episodes ago. He's the golden boy, and that was something that they needed to give to someone who won't necessarily ask a ton of questions. Ibuki does what he's told, and that's what they needed at the time. But the idea of HQ picking him to drum so well that the apocalypse is prevented? When Hibiki's right there? It's a dumb twist, and it mostly exists as a way to give Ibuki something to do for an episode. Worse, you know that Hibiki's going to take over for the finale, so every moment we have to watch Ibuki fret over this feels like a waste of time. There was no reason to make Ibuki the guy for this, so we're just waiting for Hibiki to get sick of pretending that this won't fall on his shoulders.

Thematically, things work a little better.

Like, the Ibuki thing is incredibly stupid on a plot level (moreso since Ibuki is so terrified of dying that he's forgotten how to drum effectively), but it works okay on a thematic level. It's part of what these two episodes are trying to explore, the reasons we pursue goals and the things that make life worth living.

Ibuki views the role of the Oni as someone who'll fight and die to protect people, so he's trying to be okay with potentially/definitely dying if he has to end Orochi on his own. But that's not the point of being an Oni. It's not about viewing your life as less important than others, it's about valuing living so much that you won't let monsters stand in the way of that. Ibuki's not weak because he doesn't want to leave Kasumi. That's his strength. He's stronger for wanting to keep living. Hibiki basically calls this out when he reminds Ibuki that if you die in a fight, you lost. These dudes are training to win! It is okay to want to not die in a fight, Ibuki!

The other big part of the Let's Talk About The Themes Of The Series end of things falls, naturally, to the boys. Asumu continues his activities in the panel theater group, while Kiriya dedicates himself fully to the Oni lifestyle. Can you guess which of these I was more into?

Asumu's in a very questioning mood, and, like AsuMum, I'm super into it. While Asumu is physically and temperamentally suited to be an Oni, it's not really his calling. He wanted to try it, to see if it was what was missing in his life, but it might not be. Making people happy, bringing a little light into the world, that's giving him a better feeling than defending the world from monsters. But is that enough? Is he letting Hibiki down? Is art pointless in a world of violence?

To the show's credit, it doesn't really land on answers to those questions. There's a sense that Asumu knows what he wants (art) and what he doesn't (being threatened by monsters), but the burn on this one is pretty slow. Kiriya's around to act as the surrogate for the parts of the audience who don't care about the non-Oni elements of this show, denigrating Asumu's ambivalence and feeling personally aggrieved by him stepping aside as a potential Oni. It's pure, unfiltered Kiriya for him to take Asumu's personal growth as an insult, a conscious decision to rob Kiriya of a victory. It's cute, how even when he's becoming someone who could maybe possibly sort of be an Oni, Kiriya is still willing to be a gigantic baby. The more things change, you know?

I actually did enjoy the Kiriya parts of these episodes. I like how he's willing to be humbled in pursuit of his goals. It's something that you'd've never expected of Kiriya a dozen episodes ago, so I really appreciate how naturally the show built to his Not Being The Worst But Still Being Not Great attitude change. There's a clear sense of Kiriya being able to acknowledge and overcome his weaknesses, even if his competitiveness will always be his Achilles heel. I like that he's better, without becoming good, if that makes any sense.

But, anyway, I really like what's going on with Asumu here. I joked about wanting the show to follow Asumu into panel theater more than I wanted the show to be about him training to be an Oni. Except it wasn't a joke, I meant it, and it's the best part of this show right now. It's all about how it's important to care for people (series theme), how you shouldn't be afraid to try new things (series theme), how you should be willing to follow your passions (series theme), how it's not for others to tell you how to live your life (series theme), how art has value in a world of violence (series theme), and how we need to create art that children can learn and grow from (series theme).

It's... this Asumu Joins Panel Theater Club is the endgame of the show. And I think it's working pretty well.