Cardcaptor Sakura – 37 – The Voice

We begin this episode with the demonstration of a new Daidouji Brand prototype portable karaoke mic, perfect for picnics like the one Sakura and her friends are having. While ostensibly there to view the cherry blossoms, Syaoran is viewing Sakura the human girl, and when she looks back he can’t help but blush and turn away. Every episode it seems there’s a little reminder that his feelings for her are slowly but surely growing.

The star of the karaoke demonstration is the daughter of the woman whose company made the mic, but when Tomoyo is practicing for a chorus recital, a Clow Card overhears her and steals her voice! Suddenly the school’s best singer can’t even talk, and Sakura blames herself for not finding and sealing the card before it could cause trouble.

Tomoyo goes home and ends up taking a sick day, and her mom Sonomi also takes the next day off to spend time with her daughter. Tomoyo puts a brave face on this incident but she’s no doubt frightened of never being able to speak or sing again, and her mom knows the power of simply being there for a hug. Back at school, Sakura is down in the dumps and wondering what to do, and Syaoran is worried about her, and volunteers to help her search for the Voice card.

They go to Tomoyo’s house, but his compass doesn’t turn anything up; once Voice has a voice it likes, it goes into hiding. Hours pass without progress, and Sakura voices her frustration and guilt, seeing as how this is the second time Tomoyo has fallen victim to a Clow Card; the first being when Song copied her voice.

That gives Syaoran an idea: lure Voice out with Song, who still has that copy. Sure enough, Voice can’t resist Song’s Tomoyo-like singing. Syaoran traps it inside with magical talismans, and Sakura returns it into its rightful guise.

Tomoyo’s voice is restored, and Sakura embraces her, tearful with relief. All that’s left is to sit back and listen to Tomoyo’s delicately gorgeous voice at the recital as she knocks her performance out of the park.

While there are many friends in Sakura’s orbit she holds dear, there’s no one more important to her than Tomoyo, who in turn loves Sakua so much even without a voice she was urging her to cheer up. When Sakura is happy, Tomoyo is happy, and vice versa.

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 06 – Adamantine Gratin

Anos invites his new friends Ray and Misa to his house along with the Necron sisters, and his parents couldn’t be happier; the more the merrier. Anos’ mother tells the sisters how there was a possibility her son might die in the womb, but she prayed with all her might to raise him well no matter what happened, and he was born healthy.

We also learn through Ray that half-spirit, half-demon Hybrids like Misa usually don’t live very long lives, which means Misa must be special. Misa, on the other hand, considers Ray special as a Royalist who doesn’t discriminate against Hybrids.

After Anos meets with Melheis Boran of the Seven Elder Demon Emperors (who believes his memories of Anos must have been stolen, but his source remembers him), Anos comes home to find Misha learning how to cook Anos’ favorite mushroom gratin.

Anos thanks her by taking her on an “outing” (read: date) the next day, visiting her favorite shop in town, where intricately detailed miniature “magic models” are sold and made. He indulges her by making one of his own: a model of the entire town that’s so small it serves as a jewel for a ring he makes for her.

Misha is troubled that Anos does and gives so much while she feels she doesn’t give enough in return, but Anos assures her not to worry; he’s no totally omnipotent, between her eyes and creation magic, he believes she will surpass him one day.

They go to a cat cafe, where Ivis shows up in cat form to report the findings of his investigation into Melheis and the tournament. Basically, Anos is unsure of whether to participate since it’s sure to be a trap by Avos Delhevia and the Royalists. As for Ray, Anos learns his mother is in the hospital dying of something called “spirit disease”, which is probably why Ray asked Misa about her spirit blood.

When the tournament arrives, and his teacher’s big brother Krut is presented as the reigning champion, favorite to repeat, and Anos’ opponent in the first match. Anos remains unsure of whether to participate until his absence causes the Rotyalists in the crowd to mock him. This draws the ire of his mother, who won’t sit idly by and listen to them talk shit about her son.

Then Anos’ father, absent for much of the episode, finally returns with a freshly-forged Adamantine magic sword. With both his parents and his fan club on his side, Anos isn’t about to let them down, and curses himself for considering backing out of the tournament, which in hindsight is probably what his enemies would prefer. He enters the arena, promises to defeat Krut in one minute, and vows to break through any and all cowardly traps thrown his way.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 17 – RGB

With Yuuna & Co. captured, the question this week was “who’s left?” to rescue them and stop PoH? That’s answered by Yui, who sends two characters from the Ordinal Scale movie…which I must sheepishly confess I’ve yet to watch. They are the idol Yuuna, whose singing buffs her partner Eiji’s stats. They dive in and fight PoH, and while they aren’t able to beat him, they do buy precious time for Higa to wake Kirito up.

As Eiji and PoH fight, we learn of PoH’s backstory and why he hates Japanese so much (he had a Japanese half-brother whom his dad valued more than him, and made him give up a kidney for him). When he learned of the SAO incident, he used a black market NervGear to dive in and commence killing players as part of Laughing Coffin, with the PoH handle standing for “Prince of Hell”.

Frankly I can’t quite care about a sadistic, unrepentant serial killer’s background; any injustices committed against him have long since been outweighed by the death and suffering he’s caused, and I truly hope he pays for it sooner rather than later.

On other fronts, Sinon loses her legs but manages to take one of Subtilizer’s arms (thanks to her Solus profile and Kirito’s pendant), while little sis Suguha gets impaled through the eye but keeps on ticking thanks to Terraria’s infinite regeneration.

Subtilizer ends up breaking off from Sinon, which seems odd considering he wanted to eat her soul and she’s pretty vulnerable. I guess he intends to group up with PoH? In any case, back on Ocean Turtle a well-thrown wrench from Rinko causes Yanai to lose his balance and fall off the platform, ending the standoff with Higa. I for one hope the dinner date they make doesn’t turn out to be a death flag.

No longer hampered by a mole, Higa proceeds with the operation, connecting Asuna, Suguha, and Shino’s STLs to Kirito’s. Their avatars glow red, green, and blue, respectively, combining into a golden light that surrounds Kirito…though he notably doesn’t quite open his eyes to reveal they’re no longer dead-looking. I’m hoping next week he finally does wake up for real and get to work—he can’t possibly ask any more from his girlfriend, sister, friends and comrades.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 36 – White April

Welcome to April 1999 and to the second season of the iconic Cardcaptor Sakura! We get a new OP and ED, and are quickly and efficiently re-introduced to Sakura by watching her morning routine. She’s still having the dream about Tokyo Tower and a figure she believes to be Mizuki-senpai, but doesn’t know what it all means quite yet.

As the sakura petals fall Sakura glides to school on her rollerblades, escorted by Yukito, who is now in the twelfth grade with Touya. To celebrate Sakura’s eleventh birthday and start of fifth grade, he gives her a gift, which sends her into “dreamy mode”, a state she also enters upon learning Mizuki-sensei will be their new full-time teacher.

Yukito’s gift is a cute watch with a wing motif that matches many of Sakura’s outfits and accessories. But the Clow Card of the week isn’t time-related, but weather related. Despite being April snow starts to fall, and by the time Sakura has finished a pot of stew for dinner, there’s forty inches on the ground and Touya comes in soaked.

Sakura uses Fly to pick Tomoyo up to investigate, and she’s ready with a new pink snow bunny battle costume as well as her camcorder. They encounter Syaoran and Meiling in Penguin Park, who keep from sinking into the deep snow thanks to Syaoran’s magic; Sakura eventually does the same with Float.

Things take a turn when the Clow Card starts enveloping Sakura and Syaoran in a blizzardy vortex. Syaoran reluctantly rides with Sakura on her Fly staff to lure the storm away from their non-magical friends, but running isn’t enough to stop Snow. After Syaoran’s fire sword has some effect, Sakura realizes she lost her watch in all the hub-bub. She unleashes Fiery, which seems to feed on her anger as it sweeps all of the amassed snow in the town away.

After sealing Snow, Sakura breaks down in tears, but Syaoran tenderly comforts her, saying he’ll help her search for it until it’s found, however long it takes. Such a gentleman! Unfortunately, Mizuki-sensei steals his thunder by producing the watch, having had a “hunch” it was Sakura’s.

Like Shinomoto Akiho in Clear Card nineteen years later, Mizuki Kaho is an enigma who is seemingly perfect in normal life but hiding no small share of secrets when appearing in Sakura’s dreams (if it is indeed Mizuki—it sure looks like her). In the meantime, between Sakura’s reactions to her gift and the winter landscapes, the second season is off to a beautiful and touching start.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 05 – Grandma Gambit

Kazuya dives in and rescues Chizuru from drowning, which is a big deal, even if the two weren’t in a complicated relationship that has long since blown past professional detachment. They wash up on an islet, and Chizuru wakes up first and realizes what Kazuya did for her…then notices Kazuya isn’t breathing.

Chizuru administers CPR—and mouth-to-mouth—and Kazuya comes to, none the worse for wear. Both Chizuru and Kazuya appear to have difficulty separating the romantic from the practical (in the case, from a kiss of life). On the way to hospital Chizuru later recalls Kazuya’s heroism and can’t help but turn beet red.

Things are relatively simple on at least one front: Mami’s. She doesn’t take kindly to being stood up (especially after hearing how Kazuya was indisposed) and rolls up her window without speaking to him. That’s probably not all, but it suffices for now.

In a masturbation scene that goes on way too long, raunchy images of him with Mami are gradually replaced in his head by much purer images of Chizuru. He concludes that he’s fallen for her beyond the point of no return, which means their imminent “breakup” will hurt him more than he’d hoped.

Leave it to Kazuya and Chizuru’s grandmas to make sure things don’t get any easier for the kids. Kazuya joins his gran at a hot springs hotel in Gunma to celebrate her discharge from the hospital, and the moment Chizuru’s grandmother appears, it’s clear the two set things up so their grandkids would have a room all to themselves, to enjoy their youth and have sex—both old ladies lament how reserved the kids are.

After simmering in anger and frustration, Chizuru decides to let go, at least for the duration of the trip, and enjoy herself to the fullest. That means availing herself of the baths (where she and Kazuya’s gran have a nice heart-to-heart), and lowering her guard so she and Kazuya can have a pleasant meal together.

This is a new Chizuru who is neither pretending to act like his girlfriend nor the “off-duty” version of herself who openly loathes him. As a result, Kazuya gets to see and hear a genuine laugh from Chizuru. When bedtime arrives, Kazuya proactively starts to make himself scares before she asks him “what the big deal” would be if they slept in the same room.

This episode much clinches it, if it wasn’t already pretty obvious: Chizuru doesn’t dislike Kazuya, nor is she indifferent towards him. I’d go so far as to say she likes the guy, and realizes that Kibe is right that he’s not a bad guy. That may all be true, but it doesn’t mean she wants to be his real girlfriend, nor does it mean she should feel obligated to do so, grandma angle or not.

This isn’t a matter of her not being honest with her feelings or stubborn in giving into them, but a matter of her having a good thing going with her rental business and not wanting any boyfriend at the moment.

I initially assumed she had the job so she wouldn’t be a financial burden on her family. But the fact she mentions she’s a low on funds suggests she’s paying for something expensive and important to her (either that, or maintaining her girlfriend persona is an expensive business, which it most likely is).

For all the sides of Chizuru we’ve seen, there are still things we don’t know. As a new character is introduced next week, I hope we don’t lose sight of her.

Appare-Ranman! – 06 – Outside the Box

At the start of the rave, favorites Dylan, TJ and Al are in the front, with Appare’s thrown-together contraption just barely keeping up with the second group of Xialian and Richard Riesman. Al stops at a railroad crossing, but daredevils Dylan and TJ jump the track a moment before the train crosses, showing they’re willing to put their lives on the line for this race. Since they’re the first into the first supply town of Lancaster, they’ll be the first allowed to leave.

As teams rest and resupply, Al finds himself feeling discouraged and insecure. He wonders if it would be better for Sofia to go ahead by train and meet him in New York, since the race will only get hairier.

Sofia reminds him that he’s not supposed to be putting his life on the line for the race; he has a future with her and the company to think of. After Kosame spars with Al (and continues to exhibit a kind of “block” keeping him from his best swordsmanship) he buys Appare, Hototo and Xialian a nice dinner.

Appare’s team is scheduled for a 12:07 am departure from Lancaster, but Hototo, having seen Gil’s henchmen all over town, decides to split off in order to “take care of something.” He overhears Gil’s team planning to sabotage the entrance to Death Valley via the Valley of Despair and dynamite the entrance behind them.

Hototo doesn’t do a great job of staying hidden, and one of those henchmen finds him. They tie him up and stuff him in a box. When the start time arrives, Appare pretends the car needs more work to buy Kosame more time to find Hototo.

Hototo finally breaks out of his box prison by the side of the road and runs back into town to reunite with Kosame. Appare betrays a brief smile at the sight of their return, and off they go. Fortunately, all the cars that left ahead of them were stopped in their tracks by Gil’s men blocking the entrance with junk, so the delay doesn’t hurt them.

Appare is confident his newly “reborn” engine, improved during the downtime in Lancaster, can catch up to the group, overcome the junk and the dynamite, and remain in the running for the win. He’s tired of relying on shortcuts; he wants to win with his machine, not in spite of it, or all of this is for nothing.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 18 – The Legend of Bust Upper

When Ruiko proudly, flamboyantly shows Mikoto how much her kendama skills have improved (showing off like nunchaku) through Dream Poker, its to encourage her friend not to give up on the fad just because she had a bad first experience. Meanwhile, Kinuhata Saiai of ITEM (this arc takes place before the group was destroyed) has discovered that of the four female members she has the smallest bust, and is not okay with that.

Saiai and Mikoto, two young women overly self-conscious about their size, end up crossing paths at a street poker card street dealer. The one S-Class card in his stock happens to be the dream of a “long-lost but brilliant scientist” researching a certain matter near and dear to them. When the two learn it is called Bust Upper, they’re both on the cusp of starting an esper brawl when the dealer breaks them up and all the cards scatter.

Rather than fight, Mikoto and Saiai decide to each buy up half the cards and try them all out until they find the Bust Upper, which got lost in the pile. Yet neither end up dreaming with that card, only finding themselves in scenarios in which society and the world persecutes them due to their modest natural bust sizes. Both get so frustrated they end up waking up loudly ranting in the napping center, and are politely kicked out.

They continue searching the cards poolside (though not in swimsuits), and aside from an extremely cryptic, abstract dream involving a mysterious black-and-white-haired woman (of whom we certainly haven’t seen the last), they come up empty again. They part ways “ultra”-disappointed, but the Railgun and ITEM having enjoyed a truce over a shared lack of a burden (on their shoulders), and believing the dealer was simply telling tall tales.

However, the real Bust Upper card ended up snatched up by a crow while both were napping. When a cat startles the crow, it drops the card near the hand of a girl in the park with a modest bust of her own. The next day, as Rikou is showing Uiharu her new master pen-spinning skills (love her trend of only mastering useless skills), they unwittingly witness the results of Bust Upper, tying the episode up with a neat bow.

As far as Railgun filler goes, it rarely gets as filler-y as this, and takes the patently silly bust complex comedy about as far as it can go. But it’s nevertheless a fun time because it’s bursting (busting?) with Railgun charm straight out of the gate. It’s great to Mikoto enjoying some ordinary days before the next threat shows up, and especially nice to see ITEM during better days.

P.S. Considering how hard she worked the past two weeks, it’s understandable that Kuroko just wants to get some shut-eye when Mikoto, who is overly rested from all the napping, talks about her day. Kuroko doesn’t even react to the mention of Missy in a revealing outfit!

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 05 – Toothpaste Isn’t Food!

Sakurai can’t even daydream about falling in class without Uzaki getting on his case, and it just happens to be a class about dream interpretation. Uzaki is having so much fun mocking the issues behind Sakurai’s falling dream, she almost falls down the steps herself, but is tiny enough to be plucked out of mid-air and held in the safety Sakurai’s arms. Neither blushes about this unplanned close contact.

We finally see Sakurai spend some time with his male friend Sakaki Itsuhito, who is pained to hear that his pal has been wasting his crucial college days doing nothing of note. That is, until Uzaki arrives, he gets a taste of their dynamic, and he’s fully invested in helping them get together. This draws the ire of Ami, who prefers a hands-off approach and condemns any meddling on Sakaki’s part.

But as the final sequence shows, if they don’t do anything to move things along, Sakurai and Uzaki will become an official couple in, oh, about a thousand years. That’s because in the aftermath of an epic monologue defending the Choco-Mint flavor to the mint-adverse Sakurai, the two both realize they’ve shared indirect kisses from using the same toothpick to eat the candy. This is stuff middle schoolers would get bashful about.

So yeah, like Sakaki, I’m worried this thing will just keep spinning its wheels without intervention. The Uzaki in class and in front of Sakaki was much like the one at the glasses store—mercilessly mocking Sakurai and his flaws, yet still blushing at the indirect kiss realization. Hopefully something will come of their continuing to blush over one another…but I won’t hold my breath!

P.S. Like Uzaki, I am a dedicated Choco-Mintian. Death to the Anti-Mintite Brigade!

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 04 – Two Lost Puppies

This might be my favorite episode of Balance: UNLIMITED yet, and it only cost Daisuke a scant $500: pocket change for the moths in Daisuke’s pockets if his pants weren’t mothproof. After some kind of quarrel (thankfully left undisclosed) he leaves his family’s palatial mansion on his day off.

Haru summons him to a park, where a fourth grader has guilted him into helping him find his lost puppy. Haru figures Daisuke can just employ the “magic” of his HEUSC and unlimited balance to find the pup, but Daisuke left home in such a hurry he’s without his interface earring, and left his phone in the butler Hattori’s minitruck.

With neither his tech nor any cash on hand and out in the world of ordinary people, Daisuke makes for an amusing fish out of water. Haru initially thinks he ditched him and the kid, but finds Daisuke waiting outside the station where Haru dropped the kid off to be united with his parents.

That’s when we learn that Suzue, who ran after him as he fled in the beginning, is desperate for Daisuke to return home; so much so that she hacks every electronic sign in his vicinity in order to urge him to return home.

Due to this cyber-stalking, Daisuke is resolute in not wanting to return home quite yet. Haru assumes he had a fight with his wife, but we officially learn Suzue isn’t Daisuke’s wife, but his “relative.” A relative who dotes on him excessively.

Instead, Daisuke elects to spend the night at Haru’s modest apartment; Haru must answer the question “You really live here?” far more times than he would like. He whips up a mean curry, presents Daisuke with some 1500-yen dry-cured ham that he declares “inedible” since it’s not Jamon Iberico de Bellota, and the two get drunk and watch crime dramas together.

It’s great to see these two do nothing together for once, but Suzue is a nervous wreck with Daisuke out in the world with nary a yen to his name, and pulls an all-nighter observing the giant monitors, drinking several energy shots and developing a strung-out Wednesday Addams appearance.

Seiyu Sakamoto Maaya brings a lot of energy, passion and enthusiasm to Suzue, who loses it when HEUSC almost mockingly declares “Balance: LIMITED.”

The next day Haru wakes to find Daisuke slept in the tub. Haru takes another day off to help the kid search for the dog, but they’re unsuccessful. It’s Daisuke who arrives at dusk with the puppy, or rather a member of the same litter; he learned the kid’s dog was hit by a car, and that it would be best if he didn’t know that.

Daisuke then heads home, not wanting to worry his family “too much”, and treats Suzue to Haru’s family recipe, “The Devil’s Natto Rice”, which of course she loves. In all, an extremely fun and informative low-key outing that was all about the characters.

It’s bonding episodes like these that God of High School desperately needed to establish the three leads as friends. Now that we’ve seen them hang out and do regular stuff together, it’s fully credible that Haru and Daisuke have grown a bit closer and learned a bit more about each other.

No Guns Life – 17 – The True Duty of John Podpie

Olivier has stopped by to collect the data Juuzou has, but he says he doesn’t have it; she later shows him that Christina and Tetsuro are safe and so he doesn’t need the data anymore.

Just then, Rosa McMahon, who has become smitten with Juuzou, bursts in and sees him with Olivier and runs back out in tears. For a gun-faced metalhead, it cannot be said he can’t attract the ladies!

It’s a situation that puts more serious issues on hold to tell a far more comedic story. Much of the episode is sternly narrated by one John Podpie, who possesses special eye Extensions that allow him to (among other things) see through the clothing of women.

Not only is he not shy about employing this when he gets a shampoo from the barber’s daughter Scarlet, but he considers it his duty to observe and collect imagery he can share them with men all over the world.

Scarlet is so devoted to her customers she assumes his ensuing horrific nosebleed to be an acccident, but once Mary shows up for a shampoo and is spurned by Podpie for having too small a chest and stinking up the joint, his nose his bloodied all over again by a much-deserved punch to the face.

She hooks her diagnostic tool to his eye and determines the nature of his Extensions and the shameful way he’s using them. It would seem that despite his noble pretensions they’re about to call the EMS on the old perv.

However, Scarlet takes pity on the man and forgives him without pressing charges. On his way out Juuzou tells him there are good things he can and should be doing with those extensions, rather than being a corrupted tool for the depraved.

Podpie’s plight reminds Juuzou of Extended soldiers who succumbed to “noble rot” as a result of their abilities, and maintains that unlike him, Podpie can still help people. What Mary wants him to understand is that he’s capable of good too, and has saved plenty of people.

As one-off characters go, Podpie was equal parts disgusting and hilarious. It’s good to see No Guns Life letting it’s hair down and lightening things up on occasion.

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 03 – Shinkansen Standoff

I’m a week behind, but I finally got around to watching the continuation of one of the most promising, quality anime of the Covid-shortened Spring season, Balance: UNLIMITED. And I’m happy to report it’s just as solid, though this episode wasn’t quite as flashy as the first two. That said, I’m glad we get to meet Daisuke’s gran, one of the few people who can put him in his place.

When she tells him to accept his senpai Haru’s coaching, Daisuke has no choice but to comply. On the way back to Tokyo via Shinkansen, Haru finds himself sitting next to an unassuming-looking hungry college dropout, and gives him his onigiri.

Haru figures he has this guy pegged, but upon reaching Tokyo the platform is suddenly evacuated due to a standoff: that same mild-mannered seeming kid has a woman at gunpoint and is streaming the standoff live on “ChainTube”. We learn from bystanders that whoever scores ten million views in one day will earn 100 million “coins”, which is presumably a lot.

While Haru is first on the scene to to being a passenger, the First Division unceremoniously shoos him off. We flash back to a bank robbery in which he shot and killed a civilian who had pulled a gun on him after he shot the robber. While the First Division and his former partner don’t trust him anymore, Daisuke has no such compunctions, and in fact is obligated to follow Haru’s lead, having promised his grandmother.

Haru’s objective is to resolve the standoff without anyone dying, and Daisuke has the resources to put them in the best possible position to achieve it. That includes smoke rockets fired from the boot of his Bentley, a laser capable of cutting through the train’s windshield, the perp’s email records…and a gun, which the police Chief says he must use to shoot the perp if he gets a clear shot.

Once again Daisuke’s resources enable another way: having earlier asked his AI to provide info on the hostages in the car, he learns they’re a fan club for a male vocal quartet. Seeing their farewell concert is a matter for which they’re willing to risk their lives, something the young perp didn’t count on.

So Daisuke has the group choppered in to perform a quick impromptu show the group of fans can watch from within the train. The fans bum rush the perp, who loses the gun, only for the fan everyone thought he shot (but was just playing possum) knocks another gun into his hands.

Daisuke calmly approaches the perp and gets him to stand down with a promise to pay for his sister’s surgery—the money for which he was live-streaming the standoff. When Haru asks him how he knew the kid wouldn’t shoot, I was ready for Daisuke to say “My suit is bulletproof.” It probably is, but the real reason is that Haru told him it wasn’t in the kid to kill, and following his gran’s directive, trusted in his senpai.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 01 (First Impressions) – The Optimism’s Back

We’re big Star Trek fans here at RABUJOI, and while I was both excited and proud to watch its return to TV (albeit streaming TV) in the form of Discovery and Picard, since it meant Star Trek was back and that could never be a bad thing, I’ve been ultimately disappointed in the negative and violent general outlook and worldview of those new shows.

I came into Lower Decks with extremely guarded expectations. I was not a fan of the art style in the previews nor what sounded like a lot of try-hard rapid fire comedic dialogue. Heck, even the logo of the show is ugly, with the words “LOWER DECKS” rendered what looks like a crappy free font, clashing with the iconic yellow/gold Star Trek word type.

Lower Decks is first Trek show since Voyager ended in 2001 to restore that upbeat, optimistic, cozy, joyful Star Trek milieu in which actually want to live and hang out. It felt more like those shows, and thus the Trek that I grew up with and love, than any of new live-action stuff, and pulled off that feat in less than half an hour!

Obviously, a show like ST:LD has the advantage of not having to spend too much time setting up its world—it’s basically TNG-era Star Trek, only animated. If you aren’t a Trekkie, I’m not sure why you’d watch this show, nor could I begin to imagine how it would come off not knowing anything about warp cores or the uniform colors or what-have-you.

LD can immediately focus on its scrappy underdog characters who populate the unremarkable Federation Starship USS Cerritos, starting with Ensigns Beckett Mariner and Brad Boimler. While Mariner comes off as an overly hyper chatterbox (she’s also drunk in her first scene), I’m pleased to report not every character chats at the same pace, and even she calms down for some scenes.

It’s clear Mariner’s authority-bucking, boisterous joie-de-vivre is a veneer to conceal the fact her round-peg personality in a square-hole Starfleet has caused her career to stall. There’s a lot of Tom Paris in her, right down to her admiral dad. She’s the opposite of the eager-to-please, by-the-book Boimler (ahem…Ensign Kim, anyone?), and between his discipline and her experience the two are poised to learn much from each other about life in the command division.

Rounding out the main quartet is medical officer D’Vana Tendi of Orion (hence the green skin) and engineer Sam Rutherford, a cybernetically-augmented human and to me, spiritual successor to Geordi LaForge. Tendi, also like Ensign Kim, is the definition of “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rookie” without Boimler’s hang-ups, while Rutherford’s still-buggy implants sometimes add cold Vulcan logic to his human baseline at inopportune times.

There is a mission-of-the-week, and it involves the less sexy but very important second contact with a new purple porcine alien species. An aspect of Trek I believe really translates well to animation is the aliens and their worlds. Since it’s animated, the makeup and production design budgets are only limited by the animator’s imagination, and there’s never a chance of putting off viewers with either unconvincing makeup or falling into the uncanny valley.

Boimler was instructed to “keep an eye” on Mariner by the no-nonsense Captain Freeman, and that eye immediately watches Mariner break protocol by selling farm equipment to aliens on the side. Boimler ends up being sucked on by an alien spider-cow creature for far too long, but the whole incident demonstrated that his green instincts caused him to overreact on more than one occasion while Mariner got the feel for things and was able to improvise them out of peril.

Back on the Cerritos, Rutherford is on a date with Ensign Barnes that, unlike LaForge’s many dates, starts out pretty well! The issue is, the Cerritos’ XO Commander Ransom came back up to the ship infected by a bug bite that turns him into a vicious black bile-spewing zombie, and soon more than half the crew succumbs to the same transformation.

While it could have come off as too-cute-by-half to have the Rutherford and Barnes remain completely calm and even continue their small talk as their comrades start eating each other in the Ten Forward-style bar, the comedy worked for me since it tracks that Starfleet officers would keep their heads even under extreme conditions. Similarly, D’vana enters a gory hellscape of a sickbay, but feeds off the professionalism of her Chief Medical Officer (who is a Caitian) is, and comports herself well in triage duty.

What ties Boimler’s close encounter on the planet to the zombie virus aboard ship is the purple-pink goo secreted from the spider-cow, which cures and de-zombifies the crew. Thus it’s established that despite her refusal to submit to Starfleet orthodoxy, Mariner inadvertently saved the ship by letting the spider-cow suck on Boimler as long as it wanted. I got a really cozy feeling from the scene of the four officers taking a much-earned breather, their deeds going unsung as the senior staff takes all the credit.

While I hope she doesn’t back into saving the ship every week (something that would make her akin to early Wesley Crusher aboard the Enterprise) in a pilot it works pretty well at establishing the value of her approach to a Starfleet officer’s duty. If she breaks a few regulations, she’ll be able to rely on Boimler (who doesn’t rat her out to the Captain) and her other fellow junior officers to rein her in or bail her out.

“But wait, Zane,” you may ask: Why would you want to live in this Trek world—in which the crew turned into vomit zombies and a drunk officer cut another’s leg to the bone with a contraband bat’leth—but NOT want to live in Discovery or Picard? Because the violence, xenophobia, and general lack of human progress is too virulent and unrelenting in those live-action series, while the violence in Lower Decks is more stylized, comic, and by dint of being animated doesn’t feel as real (and thus depressing).

Also, it’s clear Lower Decks isn’t centered around violence, whether it’s threatening to blow up Qo’noS, enslaved androids being hacked into causing a massacre, or beheading people you don’t agree with. It’s far more aligned with the values of TNG. Its goal of being a Trek comedy inevitably bring up The Orville. I actually thoroughly enjoyed The Orville because it too took place in a lighter-hearted TNG-style world that’s futuristic but also bright and fun.

But as hard as it tries, Orville will always be homage with a hint of satire. Whatever else it is, Lower Decks is Star Trek, through and through. Production of live action Trek is delayed In These Times, and no telling if what we ultimately get won’t be filled with more violence and despair, and the further erosion of my preferred Trekkian outlook. I didn’t know this going in, but Lower Decks is just the Trek I need, just when I needed it.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The show’s logo may be hideous, but the opening sequence is beautiful, showing the Cerritos getting damaged in various ways against gorgeous space backdrops. The credits are also in the same font and color as TNG, which is just fine by me!
  • The USS Cerritos is the perfect balance of familiar details (like the Enterprise-D style deflector dish) in a new orientation. While a little awkward-looking, it’s a clean enough design, and I actually prefer it to the Orville.
  • The Senior Staff is mostly in the background, which is how it should be, but I do like the Riker-esque Cmdr. Ransom and the big burly Bajoran security chief. As for the doctor, she’s from a catlike species first depicted in the original Animated Series but a live-action Caitian admiral appears in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He was my favorite Trek alien for a long time, even though he was just in the background.
  • On that note, another great thing about an animated Trek is that you can have as many alien officers as you want without worrying about the makeup budget. Orions, Bolians, Andorians, etc.
  • It’s astonishing how many Trek lore Easter eggs this episode manages to cram into the half-hour, but most of them feel organically integrated, rather than shout out “Remember THIS?” or “Remember THAT?” The old didn’t get in the way of the new, but added texture and color.
  • This is a show that rewards die-hard Trekkies, not just with familiar sights and sounds but in how qualities of past Trek characters and episodes inform the crew of the Cerritos.
  • Mariner’s dad is an admiral, but her mom is also her Captain!
  • Rutherford’s date with Ensign Barnes ends up kissing him in a moment of passion after an emergency EVA, but he’s so preoccupied with a code fault in the airlock, and the fact she isn’t preoccupied with it, he later decides not to pursue a second date.
  • The second part of this joke is that Ens. Tendi agrees with his reasoning. Both of them are total Starfleet nerds and I love it.
  • That was a hell of a battle through the decks of the ship…reminded me of the DS9 Genesis game where Sisko has to run through the corridors of the Saratoga after the Borg attack.
  • I have never seen Rick & Morty, but I think part of why I think I’m okay with the very un-anime character design is that I’ve also been recently watching Avatar and Korra, which features an almost-but-not-quite anime style.
  • Other quick production notes: the voice actors all do great work bringing their characters to life, while the orchestral score does what a Trek score should.
  • I’ll be reviewing this series going forward, but future reviews will be shorter and feature fewer images, I promise!

Oregairu 3 – 05 – Making It Work

After enduring a heartbreaking ending last week, Yui doesn’t appear in this episode, which is just as well as Hiki, Shizuka, Iroha and Yukino are more than sufficient. As Shizuka lays out the situation to Hikki, he laments that the prom already in danger of being checkmated.

The “anti-prom faction” most likely led by Yukino’s mom has already sown the seeds of negativity regarding the event. “The prom might be cancelled” can become “The prom should be cancelled” much easier than overcoming the naysaying. In effect, the detractors are using the original “social media”—word of mouth and inertia—to undermine the prom.

Hikki wants to help. He also knows Yukino considers making the prom a reality to be the ultimate personal trial, and will surely reject any offer of help, lest it descend into undue dependence as before. While she chain smokes Shizuka helps Hikki determine the proper language with which to approach this complex problem.

Having shot the breeze with a sensei, Hikki moves on to his kohai in Iroha, who stops him from entering the StuCo room without her knowing how he’s going to deal with Yukino. He ends up surprising her (which he does a lot anyway since her surface opinion of him is so low) by making this about taking responsibility for the complication of both the prom situation and his relationship with Yukino.

Like Shizuka, Iroha gives Hikki her blessing in his imminent confrontation with Yukino. But while Shizuka was mostly joking about having to marry him if she ends up fired over her role in the prom scenario, Iroha is still harboring some pretty strong feelings for this guy, with which she’s not sure quite what to do, resulting in frustration and her refrain he and his friends are a “pain”…which they most certainly are!

When Hikki and Yukino finally meet in the StuCo room (with Iroha watching), he comes right out and asks to help, using a lot of qualifying language to underscore how it won’t be like other times when she’d come to depend on him; he’d be moving as instructed and not interfering. He gives this argument everything he’s got, because in the moment he thinks it’s best.

Yukito appreciates the offer, but is resolute in making the prom happen without Hikki; as Shizuka said, it’s a matter of personal pride as much as wanting to grow beyond her dependency. When he mentions how he wants to “save” her, it’s a word that catches Iroha totally off-guard, while Yukino understands immediately, and is happy just to hear it, even if her position remains unchanged.

Hikki is of the mind that they’ll need more than just a Plan A to get the prom out of check, and so he didn’t come into that room without a Plan B for how he’d end up helping Yukino. He proposes something that came up last time they had a “difference of opinion” when it came to how to accomplish a job: a good old-fashioned showdown.

Rather than helping Yukino directly, he’ll go his own way and use his own methods to bring the prom to fruition, foiling those who want it to fail but don’t want to be the ones actively stamping it out. This appeals to Yukino’s desire for independence as well as her competitive spirit and love of winning. They even set up stakes: whoever loses the showdown will have to do whatever the winner says.

What had been palpable tension suddenly lifts from the room and the two launch into good-hearted trash talking, the parameters for their interaction having been established. Iroha, who is privy to all of this, feels like a voyeur listening to either a confession, a lovers quarrel, a breakup, or any combination of the above. Watching the two affectionately bicker is a glimpse into another world where Iroha is baffled by the dialect and local customs.

Yet her impressively eloquent thought: “Seriously, I never imagined their talk would get this complicated while being so clear and precise”, could just as well be describing Oregairu’s dialogue, in general, which is always about more than the sum of its words. Finally, she’s frustrated that while Hikki is so determined to “take responsibility” for things with Yukino and Yui, he has yet to take responsibility for how he’s come to make her feel…and how uphill her battle truly is.