They're baaaaaack, fuck yeah. Great timing, too. I was just rereading this last night and reflecting how it's absolutely one of favorite series in recent memory. The bartending theme lends itself so well to the exploration of a relationship's growth- as Naori and Hinata come to trust each other, drinking moves from ritual to romance, an act of sacred intimacy between bartender and drinker that's infinite in its flavors and by extension the dimensionality of those involved. Alcohol in this tale is both elixir and expose, nectar of a lotus and the blood of dragons, universal solvent and giver of forms, melting in blood and breath to blend emotions to brews, sentiments to spirits, flowing and mixing in a trillion transient moldings that etch upon dancing veins a moment's hue. As shakers sing and glasses clink, Hinata and Naori sing to each other in a language of need, lines between serving and savoring blurring into pulsing pleasure- though Naori may be said to begin the dance by pouring a drink, she receives beforehand a constellation of signals from Hinata, seeing in her starry eyes the keys to her preparative prediction, and as Hinata trills her bartender's praises in intoxication's flush, she rains upon Naori a host of affirmations, coloring the next concoction, which paints in turn this shimmering ogre another hue, emotions sipped richly on by Naori and reprocessed into the next drink, a cycle of mounting gains (until someone passes out or pounces, that is).
In this ocean of exchanges, a passing of the cornucopia, there's such wonderful blooming and expansion, a tremendous glowing and overflow as bodies shaped by circumstance and society now run free of familiar forms and burst into sculptures of spontaneity, running riot in rummish rapture. Hinata's example is perhaps the more obvious, given the spouting of scarlet horns as if to hold more drink, but Naori too grows in these happy hours into her archetypical ideal of a bartender, suave and sensitive, deliverer of great pleasure, unraveller of tongues and times. And especially charming is how this key to this authenticity is necessarily strangeness, an engagement with demonic, occultic, esoteric and eccentric, the quintessence of aqua vitae found in the way one's own spirit flows, the grandest of works achieved in collaboration, making moments golden in the alchemy of love. Over the course of the series, this growth is also unity and fulfillment and regeneration, as Naori no longer sees bartending as something done in places and hours as separate from her non-professional identity, but a holistic discipline and way of life devoted to empathy and attention in all things, an ear for the whispers of parched souls crying out for replenishment, an eye for the ingredients that dissolve differences into a glittering medley far greater than the sum of competing parts. And so too is Hinata moved in fluidity towards a solidity of self, the precious understanding that to be oneself is to give oneself the space to be, that this uncertainty is not limbo, but limitless potentiality, dissolving in the churn of a good drink the line between human and ogre both within and without, blurring in the warm tumult of a party all forms to one, one form to all, revealing to Hinata that her belonging lies not in an essence, species or race, but in places, connections, spirits both hers and others, bonded and brewed. It's wonderful how she becomes more comfortable receiving and demanding, growing vocal with her needs and yet also trusting Naori to read and respond to them, to gift her pleasures she didn't even know existed, just as Naori herself realizes how much she has to give and enjoys giving, seeing a million glorious versions of herself, a billion things to love, all reflected in Hinata's sparkling eyes.
Stories about people learning to love and enjoy each other in ways ever developing, engaged in cycles of resonance and adaptation, are the absolute best, and this particular story's garnishing of the recipe with the occultic and folkloric is a mocktail (my appreciation of alcohol remains largely literary) suited perfectly to my tastes. Lighter drinks can also hit damn hard, as evidenced by Naori's plight at the end of this chapter, and while I feel like this latest adversary may also end up joining our cast of wacky gays (as Mikage proves, taking pieces out of little bartenders is a form of youkai flirting), I do hope all the ominous warnings about curses and dangers fetch us some spicy confrontations. I want Naori to be hunted by her wife's family of magic gangster has-beens and be bodily flung around by giant monster women (she absolutely enjoys it, the natty little freak). I want Hinata to gore someone regardless of the ultimate status of her horns. I want Mikage to use that wicked knife she busted out when we first met her. You can't have a story about drinking or a story about monsters without a few scuffles, and that goes double for this setup. A toast to murder! (this was originally a wholesome comment)