Don’t Toy with Me, Nagatoro-san – 01 (First Impressions) – Just for the Fun of It

This is going to be one of those shows most viewers will either hate with a steaming passion from the moment the titular Nagatoro first speaks, or follow with a kind of morbid curiosity about just how much teasing, taunting, and at time straight-up bullying our MC Hachiouji Naoto is ready, willing, and able to endure before he snaps and does something desperate.

I’ll also point out that even more so than Takagi-san, this show is extremely rude, mean, and cruel to Naoto in what Nagatoro gets away with. It’s stressful, even for someone who wasn’t bullied as a youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just not a pleasant time for some people, and would totally understand if they want to wash their hands of this show after its first outing made clear what it’s going to do.

All that said, I came away from Nagatoro thoroughly entertained, and I think a lot of that has to do with tuning into its very particular wavelength. You have to buy into the idea that as horrible as she is for much of this episode, this is all really Nagatoro’s way of engaging with and flirting with Naoto.

Nagatoro is first introduced as one of four faceless gyaru types loudly carrying on in the library, where none of the shyer people around them have the guts to tell them to shut up or leave. Naoto is intimidated by their mere presence on the opposite end of the room, thinking he’s never going to have anything to do with “that species”.

When one of the girls picks up a manga drawing he dropped, Nagatoro seems more interested than the others, and stays behind while they go hang out elsewhere. This is key, as no one else is around during all of the teasing that ensues when she has a flustered Naoto reenact the scene from his manga with her. That’s not an accident; I think she likes it that way.

Nagatoro may be ridiculously irritating and invasive and almost utterly contemptuous of personal boundaries (and let me hasten to add, seiyu Uesaka Sumire is so damn good at this role), but she is this way to Naoto and no one else, and with no one else around. It’s the same in the art club, when she makes sure they’re alone before teasing him by offering to be a nude model.

I daresay Nagatoro gets off on dominating the year-older Naoto. Her face does a lot of things throughout the episode, but one thing that stands out is that she’s often blushing just as much if not more than he is while she’s engaged in her teasing. When he’s knocked backwards when she unbuttons her top, she blushes. When she relents and agrees to draw her normally (with her clothes on) she blushes.

She’s loving every minute of this, and seems to be fueled by Naoto’s passivity and submissiveness. Her criticism of his manga and his portrait of her is actually pretty constructive when you think about it, as her goal seems to be to get him to either draw a manga with a character more like him or to become more like his character. She also wants him to draw her better, which means she wants him to draw her again. She was, after all, the first girl he ever looked at so closely.

When Nagatoro makes Naoto cry in the library and she offers him a handkerchief, it almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound. But then when it happens again—after she physically overpowers him and says he’s “so weak”—her demeanor softens considerably and she apologizes while drying his eyes, stating she “had to” mess with him again. More like she couldn’t resist, because she gets so much pleasure out of riling him up.

Nagatoro continues to bother Naoto as he leaves school, as they apparently share a route home. It’s here whre Nagatoro may actually be hiding a genuine request to go out with her behind a layer of teasing. Sure, even if Naoto straightened up and said “yes”, she’d laugh it off as a joke, but the simple fact that Nagatoro won’t leave him and only him alone means there’s something there.

When she accidentally pushes him into the river (due to some creative physics on the part of the episode) and he comes out soaking but still not letting her have it, she remarks how he never seems to get angry. The thing is, Naoto is used to bullying and used to dealing with it by looking away and closing his mind. Because of that, he doesn’t remember the faces of his previous bullies.

When prompted, he tells Nagatoro that she ticks him off and gets on his nerves, but “he doesn’t hate it that much…talking with [her] and stuff”. Having called her simply “miss” throughout their interactions, Nagatoro finally gets him to ask her for her name, and for good measure, she writes it on his chest with her finger, never passing up a chance to get a rise out of him.

The episode ends with her trademark devilish smirk, but also flushed cheeks as she says “Let’s get to know each other, Senpai.” I’m willing to give Nagatoro the benefit of the doubt because Naoto has dealt with worse treatment before, and Nagatoro simply feels different. Perhaps it feels less like a bully and victim, and more like a dom/sub or top/bottom relationship? And it also feels safer because so far all of the humiliation she’s brought upon him has been private?

I doubt at this point that Naoto perceives that Nagatoro harbors genuine attraction to him precisely because he lets her drive him to tears, but he knows he doesn’t entirely hate it that much. Will the D/s dynamic continue, or will he start to try to assert himself more as he grows more comfortable around her? I’m eager to see where this goes. Your mileage may well vary considerably.

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Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 03 – Space Hotel Sunrise

Fifteen years have passed since Diva rescued the assemblyman, Momoka died in a plane crash, and Matsumoto beat the ever-loving shit out of Diva to prove the point that they can’t meddle excessively in the timeline. He had her body repaired and she returned to NiaLand, where she continued to perform and attracted larger crowds over the years.

She’s still wrestling with the concept of singing “with all one’s heart” when Matsumoto returns to report the next “Singularity Point” requiring action. He also scolds her for influencing the assemblyman to push for even more pro-AI human rights legislation. But the more pressing crisis is that of Space Hotel Sunrise, whose AI director crashes into the earth, killing thousands.

Matsumoto arranges for Diva to join the space hotel’s all-AI hospitality staff under the name Vivy, going Full Temporal Secret Agent in a thrilling space venue that calls to mind the Fhloston Paradise space cruise in The Fifth Element. She meets the director, Estella, and learns that she’s her successor model—essentially, her little sister.

While Estella reminds Vivy to keep smiling for human guests who may be on edge from being in space for the first time, Matsumoto’s assignment for her is simple: prevent Estella from crashing the Space Hotel Sunrise by eliminating her. The crash is a major catalyst in anti-Ai sentiment that will eventually lead to the AI uprising.

The problem is, Vivy simply can’t reconcile the Estella she’s met—and observes playing with children in a Zero-G bubble room—with the Estella later remembered as “the single most grievously defective AI in history”. Matsumoto considers this irrelevant.

They’re here to destroy Estella and prevent the crash; anything else is “needless calculations” he warned her about. Still, while fulfilling her hospitality duties, Vivy learns from her co-worker Leclerc that there are rumors Estella took over the hotel and was involved in the death of the previous human owner.

Vivy decides to investigate Estella on her own, but Matsumoto follows her into Estella’s quarters just as Estella arrives. When Estella picks him up, he prepares to hack her and cause a system failure, but Vivy casts him aside and asks Estella straight-up about the previous owner.

She maintains that the owner died in an EVA accident, which Matsumoto later confirms she had no involvement. Estella asked his family for permission to keep the hotel going under her management to keep a promise he made to him before he died. When she says anyone would laugh at an AI talking about such things, Vivy, genuinely moved, says she wouldn’t laugh.

Just then, an alarm sounds, some 23 hours before the crash is slated to occur. Estella runs a scan and determines a malfunction in a security wall. She asks the rest of the staff to double check all systems while she opens up the roof of the main hall to reveal the dazzling night sky. Then she sings a song to calm and soothe the stressed guests—a true professional all the way.

However—and this will probably be important next week—Matsumoto is right beside her when she opens the roof. Did he do something to her while they were in physical contact? Also, a girl recognizes Vivy as Diva and introduces herself as Momoka’s younger sister. For Vivy, that seals it: she isn’t going to let another Kirishima die, no matter what.

However, something is very rotten in the state of Leclerc, as she meets secretly with Estella in a cargo bay and holds out some kind of device Estella presses with her thumb. Moments later, as Leclerc walks away, Estella rushes up to her as if to gather her into an embrace, the shears Leclerc’s goddamn head off and sighs in a thoroughly sinister way.

This sudden carnage occurs while we’re still hearing Estella’s lovely song about the stars, providing a wonderful clash of the beautiful and the horrific. Whether it’s Leclerc who caused Estella to malfunction with that little thumbpad or Estella just snapped, Vivy’s trials aboard Space Hotel Sunrise have just begun.

86 – 01 (First Impressions) – There but for the Grace of God Go I

Here’s a little story about the term “86” that I looked up after the title of this series piqued my interest: back in the 30s during prohibition there was a speakeasy on 86 Bedford Street in NYC, and when the cops arrived, its patrons would “86”—quickly flee—from the premises using various hidden exits. Since then, 86ing has also developed as a term to reject, discard, or cancel—86ing an idea, and such.

The second and now more common definition applies to the eponymous military unit of discarded humans in the 86th District of the Republic of San Magnolia. Despite national propaganda in the other districts that assures the public that war is now fought by bloodless drones, that’s just a lie: the 86 are very much flesh-and-blood, and they’re dying for a nation that doesn’t know they exist.

The 86 units are led by Processors, who answer to Handlers operating from the safety of San Magnolia’s luxurious military HQ. Major Vladilena Mirizé is one such Handler—and also one of the only ones with a conscience and who feels the weight of the lives at her fingertips. Much of HQ is a den of hedonism, with drunk and carousing Handlers either unaware their decisions cost human lives, or worse: they’re well aware and don’t care.

Lena cares, however. She tries to keep an open and cordial dialogue with her Processors on the battlefield, who thank her sarcastically. In between operations, she hangs out with her researcher friend Annette, who like Lena is following in her late father’s footsteps. One day, Lena is reassigned by her commanding general, who is also her uncle, to command of Defense Line 1 in Eastern Defense Line Combat District 1, AKA the Spearhead Squadron.

Warning his niece—the youngest person ever to rise to the rank of Major—that feigning modesty will make unwanted enemies, the General also informs her that the Processor who leads Spearhead is called Undertaker, AKA Reaper, which is notorious for destroying Handlers, either by forcing them to retire or change units or, in some cases, commit suicide. Lena, insistent she’s no coward, takes the assignment, but not without a generous helping of dread.

From there the perspective shifts to Processor Shin and the 86, of whom we caught a brief glimpse prior to the title card, fighting a battle that was a chaotic storm of smoke, metal, fire, and blood. But during their downtime, the unit of “grizzled veterans” is nothing more than a bunch of kids. Iron-blooded orphans, if you will, seeking fun and joy and love where they can, but also carrying the scars of their ordeal and their lot in life on their sleeves.

The 86 are mustered for a sortie, and one of them ends up seriously injured inside his spider-like mecha. There are no medics, but Shin the “Reaper” puts his comrade out of his misery with a single bullet, cutting a scrap of metal out of the mecha and later carving his name on it—a grim ritual for a leader tortured by loss and the futility of their shared struggle.

That night after dinner when the 86ers are cleaning up and preparing to go down for the night, Shin and the others receive a message in their ears from their new Handler, Major Vladilena Mirizé, cheerfully introducing herself and looking forward to working with them. Shin answers cordially, while one of his soldiers sketches a caricature of the woman he hears: an aristocratic pig in a frilly dress.

It is in this horrifically unbalanced world of haves, have-nots, and One Big Lie that a young man and young woman from different sides are introduced. Will the rumored “voices of the dead” that caused Lena’s predecessors to go mad have a different effect on her, due to her commitment to regarding the 86 as actual living, breathing people?

Will Lena, in turn, show the perennially abused and oppressed child soldiers that not all Handlers are sadistic scum who deserve a fate worse than death? Follow the visually impressive and thematically compelling 86 along with me, and ye shall find out.

Slime 300 – 01 (First Impressions) – Living La Vida Slow-ca

Isekai Series #48,763, the obnoxiously titled I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level, starts out super-dark (albeit tempered with kiddy art) with its workaholic protagonist Aikawa Azusa literally dying at her desk. She encounters an angel in heaven who reincarnates her as an immortal in some nice relaxing highlands.

Azusa is pleased with her forever-17 looks and witch getup—complete with a hat big enough to make Elaina blush. She’s also glad that the only enemies in these lush, verdant highlands are harmless slimes, which she decides to defeat at the rate of ~25 per day in order to fund her knew laid-back life.

Azusa goes on to live a slow, peaceful life in her secluded cottage, tending her field, making medicines from herbs, and basically just kicking back…all while defeating around 25 slimes a day, exchanging the crystals they drop for coin at the nearby village’s adventurer’s guild. This goes on…for three hundred years.

Before she knows it she’s the oldest and most venerable person in the village. The episode intentionally underplays this massive passage of time, comprising over three average human lifespans, but also underscores just how badly Azusa needed a long, long vacation from her hellishly busy past life.


When a guild clerk checks Azusa’s stats for the first time in three centuries, they learn she’s reached Level 99—slow and steady truly has won the race. When rumors spread of the power of the “Witch of the Highlands”, adventurers visit her wanting to test their skills against the best.

Of course, Azusa doesn’t really want to engage in such sparring, any more than she wanted to make a name for herself. She’s always been content to live her slow, peaceful life. But when the adventurers insist, she quickly dispatches them without breaking a sweat, and before she knows it a big red dragon is at her door, looking for a fresh challenge.

A short but sweet aerial battle ensues, with Azusa easily countering the dragon’s fire breath with her ice magic, which she then uses to fuse the dragon’s mouth shut. It plummets to the ground and then does exactly what Azusa had hoped it wouldn’t do: trash her beloved house, which in 300 years had gotten just the way she liked it.

Adding a slug to the face for good measure, Azusa makes the dragon promise to fix her house up, and it sheepishly departs to collect the gold it’s been hoarding in its mountain lair. Azusa’s seiyu Yuuki Aoi carries the episode with her highly versatile voice that darts from charming and sweet to annoyed and threatening at the tip of a giant witch’s hat.

While her house is in ruins, Azusa stays at a complementary guest room at the village office, and due to all of the goodwill she’s earned from the villagers and their descendants—from staunching a plague to protecting them from the red dragon—she never has to pay for a room, a drink, or a meal in that village ever again.

Azusa is surprised then, when a cute redhead with horns pays her a visit the next day and introduces herself as Laika, the red dragon she defeated. Laika has brought the gold, and begs Azusa to let her be her pupil. Azusa isn’t sure what she can teach her, but she does like the sound of someone to do all the housework, so she agrees. Laika gets to work building a larger dwelling from scratch that will accomidate them both.

When the sun begins to set, Laika assures her new master that she can work through the night to finish the house, but Azusa takes her face in her hands and delivers a “hard no” to that offer. As someone who literally died from working too hard, she’s not about to let her pupil threaten her health by doing the same. Too often “working hard” is overused in a positive light.

Instead, she tells Laika to watch the darkening sky, which is telling them she’s done enough for the day. That said, Laika is incredibly industrious, and the new larger house they’ll share is soon completed. Rather than kick Laika into the kitchen to make supper, Azusa takes her by the hand and they head into the village to celebrate.

While I wish Slime 300 had a more imaginative title, I am glad slimes were more of a means and not an end to Azusa’s story. I find her dedication to living a quiet peaceful life quite admirable, and it’s a nice contrast to more ambitious witches like Elaina, who starred in an more ambitious but ultimately uneven series.

By comparison, Slime 300’s wonderfully simple plot, lush idyllic land-and-townscapes, competent magical combat, and the all-star voices of Yuuki Aoi and Hondo Kaede (Maple from Bofuri) make it well-positioned for a low-stakes, high-comfort isekai viewing experience. It also featured more frequent and effective comedy and a more interesting heroine than The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent, so if I end up picking only one to watch, 300 has the early edge.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 02 – Let Loose and Take Flight

Setsu remembers back when a girl in his class was mad he dropped out of a shamisen competition, calling him a coward who was running away with tears in her eyes. She wanted to beat him, but it was more than that: she clearly admired and respected his play as someone worth working to defeat. When he tactlessly tells her he only cares about his grandfather’s sound, she slaps him.

It’s that same cheek—along with the other one—that Setsu’s mother is grasping when he finally comes to after being gassed. Umeko, would never win Mother of the Year, but she’s at least concerned enough about her son to establish some structure to his new home in Tokyo, setting him up in a boarding house in the vibrant old town (Shitamachi) and enrolling him in school.

When Setsu tells his mom he’s lost his sound, Umeko asks how far it went, and insists he answer with his shamisen. Beside the boarding house room’s open window that overlooks a bustling street, Umeko challenges Setsu to make everyone down there turn and look as he accompanies her singing, warning she won’t tolerate disgraceful play.

It’s then, during his playing and her singing of “Tsugaru Ohara Bushi”, that we learn that while she’s by all appearances a pompous, arrogant, and overbearing force of nature, Sawamura Umeko is perfectly able to offset those traits with her singing talent. Tetsu says he “hates” her, but her voice has always made his heart tremble. You and me both, bud!

Unlike her personality when not singing, Umeko’s voice is more than a force of nature: it’s all four seasons. It’s apropos that her song can be interpreted as the life cycle of an apple tree…and a woman. From the first note she sings, the unyielding power, confidence, and beauty of her voice is plain…and terrifying.

For a bit under four minutes, I was transported to nirvana, experiencing winter, spring, summer, and autumn, feeling the wind blowing, smelling the blossoms and ripening fruit. Every single person in the crowd below stops what they’re doing, turns to the window, and listens. A girl seemingly falls in love before our eyes.

Umeko and Setsu put a spell on everyone, including me…and then Setsu breaks a string before he can finish his big solo, and it’s all over but the ovation below. Umeko admits she did this so Setsu would make a good first impression on the neighborhood, ensuring he could practice whenever he wants.

But that night, all of the praise and promised freebies from his neighbors amounts to nothing in Setsu’s angsty thoughts. All Umeko has done is ensure he can continue drifting along and going with the flow, accomplishing nothing; amounting to nothing. Methinks our boy doth protest too much…I think he’s got a pretty sweet deal here!

The next morning at the boarding house restaurant run by a father-daughter pair, Wakana arrives as promised to see Setsu to his first day at his new school. Umeko gave Setsu a choice: continue his education, or return to Aomori. The brothers’ breakfast and tense discussion is interrupted by their mother in a cosmetic ad on TV.

As they walk to Setsu’s school, Wakana tells him about the competition he just came from, in which he placed third. First Place went to Kamiki School master Ogata Kousuke, while Second Place went to his kohai, third-year high schooler Tanuma Souichi. Setsu recognizes the name Tanuma, as his little sister was in the same year as him, and indeed girl who slapped him in his flashback.

While Setsu gave up on competition to try to pursue his gramps’ sound, Tanuma Mai won in the competition’s women’s division, telling Wakana prior to the performances that he was no match for the Kamiki School…and turned out to be right. With Wakana and Setsu’s master deceased, it’s as if they’ve hit a brick wall and are “stuck in the dark”.

Between his good looks and refreshing accent, Setsu is well-received by his classmates despite his cool introduction. Wakana learns Umeko told some tall tales (and signed a fat check) to get Setsu enrolled so quickly. While in the faculty lounge with his homeroom teacher Kobayu-sensei, Setsu meets Maeda, a girl in his class who also happens to head up the school’s shamisen appreciation club.

She also happens to have a shamisen left at the school by one Ogata Kousuke. Setsu is initially troubled by the idea of a tourist like Maeda handling such a honed instrument, but lowers his hackles when she looks at him forlornly with trembling eyes and asks “Is it wrong for me…to touch it?” Phrasing!

He helps her assemble the shamisen, which has a torn skin as a result of disuse and neglect. But other than that correctable flaw (at the not insignificant cost of ¥40-50k!) he recognizes it as a particularly exquisite specimen. Maeda is smitten with it, and with Setsu, who clearly knows his shamisens. Alas, before she can properly thank him, Setsu has executed a perfect Batman exit.

Wakana meets up with him after school and presents him with the parting gift of a genuine kiri wood case, which Setsu clearly loves. Wakana also says he now understands more why Setsu left home, considering the burdens left for him there. Setsu tells Wakana how, like penguins and seals can recognize the call of their young out of a group of hundreds, he’ll always be able to pick his brother’s sound out of a chorus of shamisens.

Before Wakana takes his leave, Setsu suggests they go somewhere and play something together. They invite the boarding room father and daughter (Sakura) to join them, and they pick out a nearby Inari shrine where Sakura assures them the kitsune won’t mind their music.

Talk about it! Once again a musical number sends me straight to heaven. The two brothers play a piece with no title they came up with when they were younger and “just messing around”. As Sakura and her dad stand absolutely rapt, the brothers’ music summons images of a golden light-soaked Aomori evening. Wakana recounts how Setsu would always follow him. He’d run ahead, or climb a tree, and Setsu would fall behind and cry.

But then Wakana would take Setsu’s hand and bring him along, making sure he didn’t fall too far behind or feel lonely. Back and forth they’d go, just as their dueling shamisens chase each other. The piece gets very quiet for a bit, then they both cut loose and take flight like birds.

Sakura recognizes that this is no idle strumming, but the melody of the two brothers; the vocalization of their love and devotion; a dialogue of souls bound by blood far stronger than words could manage. With fresh strings on Setsu’s shamisen, the piece ends properly with a two-note exclamation point: blang-blang. The duet is the perfect cap to another perfect episode of Those Snow White Notes. Now the wait begins for the third episode, when Maeda will no doubt attempt to recruit Setsu into her club.

SSSS.Dynazenon – 02 – What Are We Now?

The first of many wonderful decisions made in this exquisitely directed and impeccably detailed second episode is that we catch a second look at the end of last week’s kaiju battle from Yomogi’s POV. It’s great to see this confused ordinary kid simply along for the ride as Dynazenon leaps, flies, and takes its opponent down.

After that, the dino-mecha vanishes, or rather reverts to its resting form of four toys distributed among the three new co-pilots by Gauma. When Yomogi says he didn’t even do anything, Gauma says it’s possibly Dynazenon recognized his innate aptitude.

Then immediately goes back to what he was doing before the attack: castigating Yume for standing Yomogi up, leading Yomogi to ask for calm. Gauma goes on to say a group called the Kaiju Eugenicists controlled the kaiju, and they’ll be back, so the group has to train. Everyone agrees to meet up tomorrow…even Yume.

The next day at school and in Koyomi’s room, everything seemingly reverts back to normal, except for the compression of classes due to the kaiju attack. Yomogi’s friends want him to hang, but he has work. Chise points out to Koyomi that if he’s a robot co-pilot then that means he’s technically employed.

After school Yume gets a piggyback ride from her best friend Mei on a grassy hill near the flood gate. We’ve never seen her so outwardly joyful, laughing until she’s out of breath before heading to training session, this time keeping her word. Mei, a photog, notices this sudden change in Yume’s attitude and snaps some gorgeous candid shots of her as she parts.

Yomogi, who’d classically be the one most “into” this new kaiju-punching mecha scenario, has to work instead, missing the first training session. When his manager what happened on his date, he says “way too much” happened, though none of it “erotically”. He then goes home for a soak and is shocked when Gauma comes in to join him in a far-too-cramped tub.

There’s a lovely juxtaposition between Yomogi and Gauma’s bath and Yume’s. Yomogi was thinking about what having “aptitude” for Dynazenon means, while Yume is thinking about apologizing to Yomogi. Her parents are arguing on the other side of Yume’s bathroom door, one instance of many of Dynazenon’s elite sound design.

From the tinny sound of voices on radio or TV, voices muffled through walls, far away, close up, outside and on the train, we hear voices in Dynazenon just like we do in real life. Also adding to the immersive realism are the extremely lived-in interiors. Like Gauma, we feel like an honored guest in the cozy, realistically cluttered home Yomogi shares with his mom and aging granny.

It’s also clear from this scene why Yomogi is working so much he’s missing all of Gauma’s training sessions: with no siblings or father, now that he’s old enough to work he wants to help support his family as much as he can. As odd as Gauma is, he still seems to get this, and isn’t hard on Yomogi’s choice to skip training for work.

But as we’re introduced to four suspicious figures near a wrecked station, he won’t be able to ignore his Dyna-duties for long. Yume tracks him down and decides to give him a one-on-one lesson on how to access his Dyna-vehicle. She starts by accessing hers: the aerial Dyna Wing, and he accesses Dyna Soldier. Then she merges with him, giving his robot the ability to fly and giving her robot arms and legs with which to fight.

The two combine quickly and without any fanfare, but it still feels like an intimate act, and it was foreshadowed by Yume piggyback riding on Mei’s back. Now she’s piggybacking on Yomogi, and their maiden flight together results in a very sweet and simple conciliatory talk from 40,000 feet travelling at mach 0.8.

Yume is sorry, and Yomogi isn’t mad. Yomogi asked “What are we now?”, referring to their combined Wing/Soldier form. But you could just as easily answer that “what they are now” … is friends. They were able to bridge the distance between them and start fresh…all thanks to robots.

In a very slick transition, their combined “Dyna Wing Soldier” flies behind a building as the camera pans down, and once we’re at ground level we see Yume and Yomogi walking together. They visit the collateral damage the kaiju battle caused, which distresses Yomogi, but Yume assures him it would have been far worse had they not fought and defeated the kaiju. In light of the mess they made, Yomogi wonders if they should hand off their Dyna duties to someone else—perhaps someone older or more experience.

Yume’s response is instructive: If you always go by the book, there are things you can’t protect. On the train home, Yume opens up to him about how her sister died, in an accident, at the flood gate where she spends so much time. It’s another momentous moment presented with sublime mundaneness. Kudos again to the sound design, as you can hear her voice bouncing off the metal walls of the train.

Just like that, smash cut to the kaiju of the week – initially so unassuming, taking up a tiny portion of the frame as it lurks under an overpass. Then Yuuga, one of the four too-cool-for-school “Bad Guy” kaiju users in marching band uniforms (a Trigger trademark) is chosen by the others to take command, and the kaiju grows to immense size.

The psychedelic kaiju starts leveling city blocks when Dynazenon arrives, just as Yuuga & Co. predicted. Only as expected, this second kaiju is a lot trickier than the first. One can’t just punch it, because it can freakin’ teleport. Yuuga uses this ability to great effect by kicking the shit out of the comparatively sluggish Dynazenon while dodging all it’s counterattacks.

Gauma decides to audible “Disperse!”, and the four Dyna parts split, giving their opponent four targets. The only problem is, without any training Yomogi has no idea how to move his Soldier Dyna on its own, and as he wrestles with the controls his sitting duck Dyna’s arms flail around comically. If that wasn’t enough, his manager calls him from work, a fun instance of his normal life interrupting his new kaiju-bustin’ one.

When the enemy kaiju accelerates its destructo-beams and buildings start to crumble, Yomogi spots a bus full of innocent people in harm’s way, and realizes that whether he’s confident in his abilities or not, he wants to protect them. Yume suggests they do what they did before and piggyback into Dyna Soldier, and with Yume’s added agility is able to destroy the fragile wings the kaiju was using to teleport.

After that, he and Yume launch the kaiju high into the sky, where Gauma is able to finish it off with his Dyna Launcher Burst Missile. Team Dynazenon is now 2-for-2, with Dyna-teamwork making the Dyna-dream work. As they exit their robots and bask in their latest victory, Yomogi asks if Yume was close to her sister. She says they didn’t get along well, but admits that now she’s not so sure anymore.

Just as their regular lives are portrayed so simply and realistically with both sights and sounds, there’s a similar realism to the feelings Yume and Yomogi expressed here. There’s nothing over-the-top or melodramatic about their exchanges. Instead, they’re becoming closer little by little, at their own pace.

Unfortunately the pace of battles is likely to heat up, as the enemy kaiju users Gauma identifies as the “Kaiju Eugenicists” are steaming over their latest defeat. Our ragtag gang of good-hearted souls want to keep protecting what they can, they’ll need to step up their Dyna-battle game, ’cause these drum majors look serious, and the gloves are coming off.

Zombieland Saga: Revenge – 01 (First Impressions) – The First Ragged Cry of Rebirth

After their miraculous show in the snow at Arpino, Franchouchou’s first CD sold like hotcakes, but then Koutarou booked them for the 30,000-seat Ekimae Fudosan Stadium (EFS)…and only 500 fans attended, or 1.66% capacity. They failed to get even a single encore, and ended up in humongous debt.

That would’ve been the end of the road for most idol groups, but the Franchouchou girls weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Sakura, Ai, Saki, Junko, Lily, and Yuugiri all secured jobs with which to gradually pay off that debt, and are working towards a comeback show at the metal club where it all began a year ago. But even a month after EFS, Koutarou remains a drunken, disheveled, distraught, and infuriating mess.

He’s convinced it’s all over for Franchouchou and his Saga project, even dramatically standing on the edge of the water during a horrific storm and ranting incoherently. The girls start to consider that it may not be just about the money, because there’s no way he could’ve reasonably thought they could have sold out a stadium show. They break into his office and find a demo tape of the song they were going to perform as an encore but never did.

After Yuugiri, working at a fancier bar using the skills learned in her past life, encounters a horrendously drunk Koutarou mistakenly sticking his head in, then going outside to vomit. He’s in a very bad way!

The day of their concert arrives, and Sakura tries one more time to get through to him, but ultimately loses her patience. She returns to the others, and they go forward with the metal show, despite the fact almost no one in the crowd wants to see an idol group aside from their handful of hardcore fans.

The girls are confident if they can just take a step in the right direction they can begin the hard climb back to recognition, but the crowd is, to say the least, impatient and hostile. Their performance suffers due to Koutarou not being there, but a grizzled bartender eventually guilt-trips him into running to the venue, where he yells for an encore from the back and starts a huge brawl.

Re-energized by the timely arrival of their eccentric producer, Franchouchou slaps their collective cheeks, bears down, and belts out the encore song with power and confidence. As with the last season, the group is CGI, but I wasn’t bothered.

On the contrary, the performance really packed a punch, especially since the CG looks like an improvement on the first season. Even after that, they only get mild applause, but they managed to pull it off. The zombie idols clawed their way back from the dead…again!

A bit later, the girls assemble in the basement and are further heartened to find that Koutarou, still bearing the scars of the concert brawl, has shaved, cut his hair, and dried himself out. Recognizing how they’ve been able to pull off everything he’s asked for (aside from the totally unreasonable EFS gig). With their producer’s head back—and pocket squid—in the game, the Zombie Land Saga Project continues apace.

Zombieland Saga picks its zany story back up nicely without missing a beat, offering the same wonderful blend of weirdness (the foley on their undead body movements is always great), charming camaraderie, heartfelt drama, and of course, Miyano Mamoru being a completely unhinged lunatic! I for one am overjoyed the zombie idols are back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Full Dive – 01 (First Impressions) – Reality Bytes

Just as Tyrell Corporation’s replicants were billed as “more human than human”, Kiwame Quest was meant to be a full-dive VR RPG “more like real life than real life”—stimulating all five senses and capable of near-infinite routes. The problem is, video games are supposed to be like video games: a relaxing escape from the troubles of real life. So KQ was panned and receded into obscurity.

Our dull MC Yuuki Hiro’s life sucks. Something traumatic happened two years ago that everyone around him can’t help but keep bringing up and dancing around; he’s entering his final year of high school and still not sure what he’s going to do. He “lends” cash to two delinquents, so he’s a key short when it’s time to purchase Finalizing Quest 22 (the show’s FF equivalent).

Certain he won’t find FQ22 for sale at a lower price, he rolls the dice at the unassuming and deserted Kisaragi game store. The newest FQ on display is last year’s, and when he asks the gorgeous clerk Kisaragi Reona (Taketatsu Ayana) if they have 22 in stock, she goes on a passionate and unsolicited rant about how people just keep buying FQ out of habit despite diminishing returns.

Reona has something else in store for the low, low price of 10,000 yen: Kiwame Quest, which Hiro has never heard of. Dismissing FQ as “innocent”, she calls KQ “a super hardcore full-dive RPG for adults”, and since she logs in regularly, she’ll be there to teach him what he needs to know “attentively and patiently”. Hiro reluctantly agrees to the transaction and heads home.

Hiro’s home, by the way, seems to have been lit by Zack Snyder. After learning KQ is a decade old but not being able to reach Reona on her phone, and after the obligatory walking in on his sister in her underwear, Hiro settles into his room, switches on his VR gaming system, and dives in.

He’s initially underwhelmed by the opening spiel, telling him to begin the quest to defeat the Demon Lord by leaving the city and heading to Flora Castle. But once he coalesces in the game world, he is soon legitimately impressed by the realism, and the fact he can feel the metal of a window handle and the wind blowing in.

He soon meets Alicia, an NPC who is anything but. She’s his character’s childhood friend, and Martin is her “nice young man” big brother. They’ve come to invite Hiro to join them for apple picking. When he tells them ihis intent to leave the city and asks where Flora Castle is, they react like his head’s on backwards.

Apparently there’s no entering or leaving the city walls due to the heightened threat of goblin attacks. When Hiro waves that threat away, assuming it’s a low-level battle, Martin is convinced Hiro is mad and tries to beat him back into coherence. It’s here it’s confirmed that a punch to the face is every bit as painful as the real thing.

Thoroughly pissed off and out of patience by a game that’s not going the way these games usually go, Hiro lashes out at Martin, shoving him to the ground. When he doesn’t move, Hiro leans in to find the knife Martin was using to cut an apple went straight through his mouth and out the back of his throat, killing him.

Alicia freaks, and Hiro, still not sure how the hell things got to this particular place, decides the only thing to do for now is to run. A crazed Alicia chases him like the Terminator, but he eventually loses her in a downtown alley. It’s there where Reona finally joins him, but in a neat bit of camerawork it’s revealed she’s a tiny fairy, who is there to be his guide.

She also points out that the little tag around his neck is etched with a title to denote his game progress so far. Hiro is unable to tell her what has happened before she reads his tag and learns for herself: “Best Friend Killer.” Hiro’s been diving less than ten minutes, but it’s already Game Over, Man.

Full Dive is helped by its offbeat approach to VR game immersion, and by its crisp and highly expressive character designs and smooth animation. It is hurt more than anything else by its absolute flat-line of a protagonist. Granted, some of his reactions are fun and he’s supposed to be dull. Still, I want to watch the next episode, if nothing else to see whether he’ll start over or continue on from his bloody, disastrous start.

Tensura Nikki: The Slime Diaries – 01

The timing of The Slime Diaries couldn’t be worse. First of all, the first half of the second season just wrapped. I’m eager for the second part of that season, not a look back at events that took place prior to the first part. In addition to being a bit of Rimuru overload, this simply isn’t the Rimuru Tempest we know any more. I mean, (spoilers) the kid just mercilessly slaughtered over ten thousand humans to become a demon god and resurrect what, 30 of his subjects plus Shion?

So yeah, even if I was in the mood for more Rimuru, I’d want to watch the dramatic, emotional, and moral fallout of the choices he made. Alas, those won’t come until part 2, making this look back feel even more awkward and redundant. That is unless you are a fan of Tensura not for its action adventure or drama elements, but for the characters and comedy. This first episode is a bunch of unconnected little vignettes involving those characters with even less stakes than the quieter episodes of the first and early second seasons.

But again, the timing is suspect. This really should have aired between the first and second seasons, before our slimeboy did war crimes and evolved. If I want laid-back isekai this season, I have a fresh face in our botanical buddy Sei—the Saint with the Omnipotent Magic Power—without the baggage. So I won’t be following the The Tensura Diaries.

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent – 01 (First Impressions) – Keeping Busy in a New World

I loved how elegantly Saint’s Magic Power begins: a lovely prelude preceding the title card, then a quick sequence of overworked office drone Takanashi Sei (Ishikawa Yui—Hi Mikasa!) suddenly being transported to a new world via a summoning spell. It immediately feels new and refreshing simply because its protagonist is an adult woman and not a horny male teen/NEET.

The other refreshing catch is that Sei wasn’t the only “Saint” summoned by the Grand Magus of the Kingdom Salutania. A second Saint is summoned right beside her, but despite them having equal standing, the preening Prince Kyle chooses the other young woman, totally ignoring Sei. Rather than follow the chosen heroine, we follow Sei…the “Spare” Saint.

Except for a brief recollection of her in Sei’s thoughts, we never return to the other Saint’s story, though I’m sure she or we will check in on her at some point. Until then, Sei is encouraged to reside on the grounds of the royal palace and basically stay out of trouble. While her life is comfortable and every need seen to by her kindly maid Marie, Sei, a hard worker in her original world, soon becomes quite bored.

Frankly, that’s awesome! For once, our heroine isn’t thrust into an epic battle of good and evil with a ticking clock. Instead she makes do with far more modest stakes that nevertheless make the fantasy setting feel more real and down-to-earth. Watching Sei, so often cooped up in an office most days, happily frolicking on the palace grounds, is quietly enthralling.

Sei soon finds that her real-world interest in medicinal plants and herbs has a magical analogue: an entire institute dedicated to their research. She meets Jude, one of its researchers, who shows her around, and before long it occurs to her that this is where she wants to be: somewhere she can do what she loves and keep busy.

With the institute director Johan’s blessing, Sei decides to join, and to move out of the palace and into the institute. The palace’s aide-de-camp is happy she’s found something to do and pleased to offer whatever she needs. With that, Sei starts her new unexpected new career in potions.

But first thing’s first: she has to learn to make potions, the institute’s top export. Jude goes through the process step-by-step, and reaches the point when he learns that she’s never used magic. You’d think Jude would know this if he knew she was a summoned Saint from another world, but whatever.

Regardless of her inexperience in casting spells, as a Saint she is naturally imbued with more magical power and sensitivity than most. It’s just a matter of learning how to summon and use that power. Within three months, she’s already making medium-to-high level potions the institute usually had to order from outside sources—and making Jude understandably jealous with her rapid progress.

Their playful repartee is interrupted by an emergency: knights who were on a mission to subjugate a forest of monsters took heavy casualties, and several are near death. The researchers are summoned to the palace with all the potions they have in tow. It’s a good thing, then, that Sei has gotten so good at making potions—all of them 50% more effective than anyone else’s—she lost count of how many she’s made!

When they arrive, Sei is initially shocked by the sudden scenes of injured and maimed soldiers, but soon snaps out of it and gets to work administering potions, which have an immediate healing effect. She’s brought before the horribly wounded captain of the knights. When he won’t drink her high-level potion, she insists that he must until he does, and soon recovers nicely.

Both the captain and Johan, his good friend, thank her for saving him. Sei, beaming proudly, is happy she could help. I for one am here for this charming, laid-back yet still engrossing slice-of-life isekai series. Should her titularly omnipotent magic power justifiably lead her to greater things, I’m fine with that too!

 

Fruits Basket – 51 (S3 01) – There’s No Night that Doesn’t End

Where we last left off, Kureno had just revealed to Tooru that not only was Akito a woman. No matter how much he loved Arisa, he couldn’t leave Akito’s side, not even after being freed from the curse—or especially because of that. He further explains that Akito was raised a male from birth because it was decreed by her mother Ren, to whom we are finally introduced.

Ren still lives on the grounds, but as Kureno puts it she has “some…troubles, mentally and physically.” Akito freaks out when Ren even tries to touch Hatori, while Ren insists Akito’s belief that her bonds with the Zodiac animals are real love and eternally unchanging is nothing but fantasy.

Her cruel taunting of her daughter—whom she made into a sun by pure will—causes Akito to fly into a rage, but Ren wouldn’t mind being killed, because it would mean reuniting with Akira, Akito’s late father. In a flashback Akira tells Akito she was “born to be loved”, but to Akira that probably doesn’t mean being venerated as a god.

The thing is, Ren may question whether the Zodiac bonds are right or even real, Kureno, Shigure, Hatori, and Ayame all woke up in tears the same morning Akito was conceived. Before appearing in Ren’s belly, Akito came to them in a dream, and the four kids ran to Ren, who didn’t even know she was pregnant.

From that day, Kureno felt the other self that lived inside him, in his blood, and knew he could never betray her. Even if the bond was unnatural, or painful, he simply could never push away a crying Akito, and so can’t see Arisa. Because just as Akito wounds others, she herself is wounded.

Kureno said all of this to properly explain why he can’t leave Akito ever, and that the choice to stay with her is his alone, not guided by any curse. As he leaves her in the courtyard, the DVD falls out of Tooru’s hands and she cannot move for some time, frozen by the weight of this new information.

Her scarf flies away, she falls to her knees. Rin, her ally in ending the curse, watches this from afar. Kureno explains how he went out for fresh air, gets a vicious slap from Akito, and then the two gently embrace. Then, like a gothic fairy, Saki approaches Tooru, flanked by Megumi, and announces she is “here to save the day. Ta-da.”

After informing Yuki that Tooru is in her “custody” and will be her’s “all night” (phrasing!) Saki prepares a “Nightgown Festival” to soothe Tooru’s troubled soul. She tells Tooru that she was able to detect Tooru crying in a voice no one else could hear, but was deafening to her. Tooru explains how she tried to bring Kureno and Arisa together, to make up for all the things people like Arisa did to help her…but she failed, so she’s useless.

As we see Kyou spot Tooru’s scarf lying in the street, Tooru tells Saki how Kureno is someone who puts others’ feelings before his own. I’m glad Saki’s there to essentially say “look in the mirror…that’s you!”. Saki worries if Tooru keeps taking everyone’s feelings on her shoulders, it will crush her, and her smile will disappear. Arisa enters Saki’s room to add that if Tooru’s smile disappears, “it will be the end of the world.” Neither of them will let that happen.

Arisa sits with Tooru and says she’s “trash” for maing her cry. Tooru says she’s not trash, and Arisa in turn says Tooru isn’t useless. What she is is a dummy, just as Kureno is a dummy, and Arisa can’t help but love dummies. But because she loves them, she doesn’t want to cause problems for them, so she gathers Tooru in a hug and assures her she needn’t worry; she’ll be fine. With that, the Nightgown Festival commences in earnest, and Megumi’s heart pounds as he’s surrounded by older women, the little scamp!

Rin continues slinking around the Souma compound, only to be caught by Ren, who asks her if she wants any “help.” No doubt Ren would love to lift the curse, though it’s interesting that she only comes into the picture now.

Fatigued by their emotional exertions, Tooru and Arisa fall asleep early. Megumi asks Saki if she thinks it’s really hopeless for Arisa and Kureno. Who can say? Arisa may have said “that’s it”, but Megumi isn’t so sure. Sometimes it takes a long time for lovers to find each other.

The next morning, Tooru comes home, all cheered up, and becomes even more cheered up when she finds her scarf waiting for her, courtesy of Kyou, who even washed it (though some stains remain, which is apropos!) Tooru bops him with a pom-pom once more, then Yuki and Shigure bid her good morning. As Tooru gets on with her life—no mean feat after what she’s learned—she resolves to gradually think upon the thinks Kureno told her bit by bit.

With this beautiful, magical, heartrending-and-mending opening outing, Fruits Basket continues to prove it is the final word in supernatural romantic comedy/dramas. After two exquisite seasons of painstakingly introducing characters, delivering their backstories and developing and strengthening relationships, this third, The Final, will introduce and execute the endgame.

Some of the darkest and most painful episodes may be yet to come, but I’ll happily endure them with Tooru, Arisa, Saki, Yuki, Kyou, and everyone else to see how things turn out!

Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars