Overlord II – 03

In order to build great things, one must construct a solid foundation. The first two episodes accomplished that. At first, I wondered why all of a sudden we were so immersed in the lives and politics of a bunch of Lizardmen. Then, when I got to know a few of them, I became emotionally invested in their fate, even rooting for their victory against the armies of Cocytus, even though Cocytus is a servant of our ostensible protagonist, Momonga.

What was made clear this week is that not only was it well worth all the table-setting, which I enjoyed far more than I ‘endured’; but that Momonga and his court were given heightened mystique by being pushed into the background, such that every time we cut to them (which wasn’t often, or for a very long duration), it felt like an occasion.

Things start out small, with Zaryusu earning Zenberu’s trust and an alliance after fighting him one-on-one. Crusch heals both, and after returning to Zaryusu’s brother Green Claw, the five assembled tribal leaders have a strategy meeting.

The enemy outnumbers them over three to one. Zenberu is confident every lizard can take out three zombies or skeletons each, but they have to plan carefully to avoid being routed. Zaryusu forms an elite squad with Crusch, Zenberu, and his trusty hydra Rororo, to face the enemy commander when they show themselves.

Cocytus orders his army to advance, and Ains Ooal Gown seems slightly disappointed that things aren’t going the way he hoped, and that’s all we see of him. From here on in, it’s all battle, which means it’s all payoff for the careful preparation of the previous two episodes.

The Lizardmen send out their forces to meet the undead army, while their magical units efficiently keep the foes at bay. Cocytus confides in Demiurge for advice on how to proceed (that is, how to salvage what is starting to resemble a defeat on the field); Demiurge muses that their great lord meant to give Cocytus a weak army and a wide berth in hopes it would promote his awareness.

Cocytus is ready to take his medicine, but first sees how his reserves will fare, led by the Elder Lich Iguva, who launches huge fireballs in Zaryusu’s direction, helpfully revealing to the elite unit the position of the enemy leader.

Zaryusu decides upon a direct frontal assault, using Rororo’s bulk to shield himself, Crusch, and Zenberu. Once close enough, Zenberu starts carving up the reserves while Zaryusu faces off against Iguva, who is a formidable opponent from any range.

For a moment, Iguva has Zaryusu caught trapped in a Scare spell, but Crusch comes through in the clutch and breaks him out with Lion Heart, in addition to healing Zaryusu’s wounds.

Iguva is full of hubris until the end, when he wrongfully assumes Zaryusu foolishly unleashed the full power of his Icy Burst against him (as a lich he’s immune to ice). However, the ice was only meant to provide cover for Zaryusu’s attack from above, stabbing Iguva through the eye.

After a struggle, Iguva is vanquished, and the Lizardmen are victorious, in what was a hard-hitting, heart-pounding, perfectly-paced battle. From his base, Cocytus congratulates the Lizardmen; it was a very close victory, but a win’s a win.

Not only that, the battle forced the Lizardmen to give up their tribal squabbles, come together, and sacrifice for the sake of their race’s survival. I would think they would continue in peace the unity that was forged by the threat of annihilation, while Zaryusu and Crusch, having come out of the battle in one piece, are poised to marry.

Overall, this episode was as satisfying, complete victory; a sure-handed execution of an intricately-constructed, multi-layered story in which the lines of heroes and villains are blurred. I’m eager to see what Lord Ains has planned next—and for whom.

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Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 04

Step by step, episode by episode, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho keeps building up the anticipation while continuing to build up the stories of its characters and their growing friendship as they embark on a life-changing adventure…but they still need permission from their parents!

That’s when we learn Mari hasn’t so much as mentioned this life-changing adventure to her mother, who has to find out from the neighbors. The slasher film-esque scen in which Mari tries to break the news she senses her mother already knows is a tour-de-force of tension and comedy.

Mari gets permission…but only if she passes all of her tests at school, meaning she’s going to have to study her ass off, and nobody is going to help her, because if she can’t do this much, how is she ever going to make it in the Antarctic?

The quartet meet up to be whisked off to their mountain training retreat, and while they’re underwhelmed by the beat-up HiAce, their instructor Maekawa (Hikasa Yoko) notes they’ve got to pinch every penny (she also mentions that Shirase still has her million yen, and in the next sentence, the fundraising needs of the expedition).

She also remarks that those outside of the expedition team have always been concerned about its viability and whether the ship will even leave port. But Maekawa tells the girls they tell those people to shut up. Back at school Shirase doesn’t even do that; she’ll show everyone up when they least expect it, leading to this golden exchange between her and Mari:

Mari: You’re kind of a jerk, you know.
Shirase: I certainly am. You mind?
Mari: Nope!

Once they arrive at the mountain training course, they are quickly given an overview of the basics, and then Maekawa introduces the expedition’s leader Toudou Gin (Noto Mamiko in her tough lady voice) whose no-nonsense demeanor and stirring oratory intimidate and inspire Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki in equal measure.

What about Shirase? Well, she reacts differently; clearly they know each other, and Mari senses that, but leaves it be for the time being. That night, as the girls bone up on Antarctic exploration in what feels like a field trip sleepover, Maekawa and Toudou share a solemn moment outside.

Toudou didn’t want Shirase on the trip, but Maekawa didn’t help her; she got there by her own efforts (with the help of Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki, but she befriended them on her own). Toudou accepts this, but the fact she know Shirase’s mother weighs on her.

The next morning, the quartet is sent off to plot a route with a compass, GPS, and marker flags. They start out a little rough and off course (as everyone does at first), but Mari turns out to have a knack for the compass, and soon they’re on the right track, make camp, and settle down for bed.

Mari doesn’t want to sleep yet, thinking this is like any other camping trip, but getting enough sleep is crucial to survival, so the other girls promptly rebuke her attempts to converse. Only Yuzuki flubs her words, leading Hinata to start giggling, which leads Hinata and Mari to start laughing.

Things turn a bit somber when Mari asks a clearly preoccupied Shirase how she knows “Captain” Toudou, and Shirase’s answer is heartbreaking in its brevity: “Toudou and my mother were friends in high school. They both went to Antarctica. Toudou returned. My mother didn’t.”

After a quick by-the-book radio check in with base, the four go to sleep, but Mari, who opened her bag in her sleep, is the first to awaken, and is greeted not only by a gorgeous pre-dawn, but Toudou, almost standing guard out there. Mari asks her about Shirase’s Mom, Toudou says she was “very strange” (sound familiar?) and that her daughter is her spitting image in stubbornness and conviction (not surprising).

Shirase, like her mom, is “trouble”, but Mari says “Isn’t trouble the best?” Indeed, it’s Shirase’s trouble(s) that got Mari to this point, where she’s finally realizing her goal of making the most of her high school years. She didn’t want them to end “the way they were going”, and so decided to join Shirase of her own free will.

This is Peak Awesome Tamaki Mari right here, clearly expressing her intention, desire, and excitement for the impending expedition. And when you see that conviction on her rising sun-washed face, you know she’s going to pass all of those tests. She has to.

Before the sunrise is complete, Mari wakes up the others (none of whom are morning people), and they all climb up a rock face and admire the beauty of the glowing mountains; just a small taste, mind you, of the jaw-dropping, otherworldly majesty they’ll experience way down south.

And in one of the more surprising ways to end the episode, Mari sends a picture of the sunrise to her friend Megumi, who looks incredibly lonely and left out. It occurs to me that Mari never once asked if she wanted to come along. Is this closing scene meant to convey that Megumi is proud of Mari, or dejected over Mari not even considering her participation?

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 03

When Takagi spots Nishikata and suggests they walk home together, Nishikata offers her some of his drink, thinking she won’t go for an “indirect kiss.” Of course, she’s fine with it; it’s Nishikata who wigs out at the prospect.

Nishikata then makes a fluke shot with the empty can in the garbage can and gets all cocky when Takagi misses. Turns out her miss was a trap; her next shot goes right in, then interrupts his shot by saying she’ll give him her first kiss if he makes it. He misses.

The next day Nishikata estimates he was teased fifteen times by Takagi, so when he hears form a sports figure on the TV that he trains ten times harder when he loses, he begins doing pushups. At school, he’s all sore, and Takagi takes advantage by poking his arm.

Nishikata keeps up the training, despite the fact Takagi teases him more and more with each passing day. However Takagi later admits that she’s starting to notice the effects of the training, saying he “looks pretty good;” while she may be sincere, she’s also trying to make him blush, and she succeeds.

Finaly, on a rainy afternoon Takagi forgets her umbrella, so asks Nishikata if he can share. He tries to scare her with a frog, but it doesn’t faze her in the least, and when she notices his wet shoulder, she scoots closer to him, causing his heart to race even more in such an awkward situation.

In all three segments, Takagi is both testing and expanding the limits of contact with Nishikata, all while inducing the priceless reactions she lives for. It gets to the point where she tries to get Nishikata to say “I love you” in both Japanese and English.

He bristles as expected, but some day, perhaps a couple years from now, he might not think all this attention from and contact with Takagi to be so torturous.

Kokkoku – 03

Juri escapes death by strangulation when her eyes go white and she spontaneously gains the ability to expel “specters”, the jellyfish-like beings humans must merge with to be able to move in the Stasis. Before long, the three men in her house are stalled, and Juri escapes with The Stone, much to the chagrin of Majima.

Now that we’ve seen flashes of both Majima and Juri’s memory, it’s clear the two knew each other, and were both involved with specters during that time. Majima remembered, Juri didn’t, and now Majima is with the bad guys, working against Juri’s family. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Meanwhile, the Bad Guy leader (Sagawa) tests the abilities of the Herald on an expendable henchman, and learns that the monster is getting smaller, and thus his power isn’t limitless. Before long, they may even be rid of it, and able to do affect change in Stasis as they see fit.

Coincidentally, the specter within the now-dead henchman travels to Makoto and merges with him, enabling Ma-tan to wake up, much to the delight of Tsubasa.

With all the Yukawas now free except for Takafumi, Sagawa decides to try to talk man-to-man about ownership of the Stone. In the fact of such intimidation, I fully the gentle, passive Takafumi to fold like a cheap suit.

The tougher members of the family in Gramps and Juri thankfully reunite, but not before Juri gains another tail from a group of thugs who were looting a store when she walked past…not trying to hide herself or her movements in any way despite not knowing who may be around and after her. Baka Juri!

One of those guys appears and tries to keep up a story about simply being some guy who happens to be able to move as well, which lasts all of ten seconds before he and his friends start to rush Gramps and Juri.

With a series of short teleportations, the two are able to get away, and stick to the middle of the road to avoid ambush. However, they don’t take the extra and very obvious precaution of staying away from other people, regardless of if their motionless or not.

The huge goon in sunglasses doesn’t have to go anywhere to get his knife in a position to stab Juri to death; she strolls right up to him! I tell ya, I’m rooting for the Yukawas—there’s no one else worth rooting for—but they aren’t making things easy for themselves with these constant tactical blunders.

I get it; they’re merely civilians unaccustomed to being in this kind of situation, they’re way outnumbered, and they’re scared. But if they want out of it with their all organs still internal, they’ll have to do better.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 03

The rate of strange magical happenings in Tomoeda increases this week, with Sakura capturing not one but two Clear Cards. The first is a water-element Card called Aqua, which telegraphs its presence to us early on with an unexpected rain that grows heavier and heavier as the day progresses.

School goes on as it pours outside, affording us a look at “indoor lunch”, as well as another demonstration of how Yamazaki and Chiharu’s running bit in which he comes up with bizarre and dubious facts about things, Sakura and Li believe him, and then Chiharu hits and/or scolds him.

Finally, the rain is so heavy Sakura has to respond by releasing her staff, while Tomoyo provides a frog-themed battle suit. Sakura also makes use of her Clear Cards for the first time, using Gale to disperse the rain and Siege to surround and hold its source so she can secure it.

Indeed, it’s as if a Card showed up that specifically required the power of the two Cards she’d already collected to capture. I’m also now versed in Sakura’s trademark lingo, be it “Release”, “Secure”, and her generic exclamation of “HWEEEH!” All good stuff. Also: consistent Battle Music!

When Sakura texts Yuki that she’s gained another Card, her brother Touya is nearby, and lets on that he may know a little about what Sakura and Yuki are up to, and that he himself once gave them power which he doesn’t expect he’ll ever have back.

The next day Sakura and Chiharu get to show the Cheerleading Club what they’re made of, but after stooping down to tie her shoe, Sakura gets up to find every other person at school gone. With nothing attacking her, she releases her staff and goes on the offensive, only to have her Gales either hit nothing or get reflected back.

Eventually, Sakura can see a faint wisp of something racing around, but it’s mostly invisible, so she employs Aqua’s rain to render it visible. Upon securing it, she herself is drenched by the rain she used, but Li races to the rescue and lends her his jacket until she can change.

It’s a cute and heartwarming moment, and it’s nice that every episode has at least one or two such moments (even if Li still seems a bit shady).

Just as Sakura thought she was done with magic for the day, she suddenly loses consciousness and ends up in her recurring dream with Cloaky. This time the figure tries to steal her Key, and when she grabs hold of it she gets pulled along with it, until she’s face to face with them.

Upon waking up, she notes that they’re about the same height, but that’s about all she seems to know. I’m now caught up on CCS:CC, and must now wait until next week like everyone else to see where this goes.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 15

Chise’s in Mortal Danger again, only this time bed rest won’t do the trick. Oberon believes the best way to treat her is to take her to the Land of the Faeries where time passes more slowly. Elias, overcome by worry, has to be slapped into coherence and the they then go, leaving Silky to watch the house.

You get the feeling that even though Oberon didn’t wish any harm on Chise after she made tabooed ointment, he’s still every bit an opportunist, and as a Fae he is unconditionally drawn to a Sleigh Beggy such as Chise. Medical treatment is a perfect excuse for Oberon to invite her to his world. And hey, if she can be convinced to stay…one hand washes the other, right?

Chise does not witness the trippy journey into Faerieland; she merely wakes up in a bed made out of part of a tree, bandaged head to toe. Her doctor, a changeling named Shannon (a faerie raised by human parents who then returned), seems kind enough, and confirms that there was no urgent need for Oberon to bring Chise there.

As Titania and Oberon try to convince Elias to stay with Chise in Faerieland, Shannon takes Chise to an otherworldly Mononoke Hime pool which contains healing waters…and proceeds to strangle her underwater.

As Elias tells the Fae royalty “thanks but no thanks, a human accepted me, so with humans I shall live”, Chise’s now-established Stong Will to Live overpowers Shannon’s attack. She saved herself, and Shannon remarks that she had to fear her life was going to end in order for her wounds to fully close.

Because time passes so much faster back home, Silky spends a good deal of time alone, tending to the house, and sometimes magically redesigning its interior a la Howl’s Moving Castle. Watching her install bells on the door so she can immediately know when her family is back was a rare display of emotion from the mute maid.

When Silky drifts off, she dreams of her past, when she was a banshee. When the family she haunted passed away, she had nothing and nobody, but Spriggan led her to the house that Elias Ainsworth would one day occupy. The Spriggan transforms her into a maid and bestows the name “Silky” upon her, and no matter who has lived in the house, she’s kept it a home ever since.

By the time Elias, Chise, and Ruth return, it’s Winter, but the house was kept a home by Silky’s presence. Her raw elation upon hearing them finally walk in the door, as well as the enormous hug she gives Chise, were a delight to behold. And hey, now we know Silky’s story, and that she’s not the cold fish she always appeared to be.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 02

Sakura has a new key, a new staff, and new clear cards, but neither she nor Li can detect any magic emanating from them. Sakura wonders why these kinds of things are happening in Tomoeda again, while Tomoyo is simply disappointed she wasn’t present for Sakura’s first card capture in a while with a fitting outfit or her camcorder.

As much as Sakura wants answers, for the time being there’s not much for it than to continue on with her middle school life, slices of which are wonderfully presented this week without any shoes dropping. Sakura intends to join the cheerleading squad, the girls have art class, and Syaoran is stubbornly non-specific in the “things” he has to “take care of” which preclude him joining any clubs.

Still, just two eps in and I’m a fan of Sakura and Syaoran, because neither try to be in each other’s lives every second of every day. They each have their own stuff going on, and each respects one another’s need and right to be individuals. Pretty enlightened relationship strategy for middle schoolers!

 

CCS:CC is also full of little life lessons about not worrying too much about things outside your control. Sakura resolves to do what she has to do and put one foot in front of the other every day, and she’ll cross bridges when she comes to them.

One problem that often arises is the need to conceal magical things—like Kero-chan—from her older brother Touya. Kero must be completely still when he’s around—kinda like Hobbes—but Touya can’t help but wonder what’s going on when he sees fruit sauce on Kero’s mouth, and later spots beads of sweat. Amusingly, Sakura employs literal hand-waiving to distract her bro.

After dinner, Tomoyo presents Sakura with a new outfit (the first she’s worn in years, a meta statement referencing how long it’s been since the last CCS series), but no sooner does Sakura don the garb of a magical girl than she, Tomoyo, and Kero suddenly find themselves in a giant white cubic room with no doors or windows, an eerie situation well-sold by both visuals and the soundtrack.

When Sakura and Kero try to touch the walls, they bend out of the way, and before long, the entire cube starts to wobble like Jell-O. Kero deduces the material is similar to rubber, and that they’re inside the equivalent of a giant cubical balloon.

The seamstress Tomoyo, armed with her trusty pincushion, proceeds to pop the cube once Sakura summons her Staff of Dreams to capture another new card: “Siege.” Just like that, the trio are back in Sakura’s room, and have to play things cool when Touya checks in.

Let’s face it, neither of the two challenges Sakura has faced so far have been all that difficult to crack, nor the cards difficult to capture. However, there are still numerous unanswered questions, and while a new dream only adds to them, Sakura’s friend Eriol in England is holding off on contacting her until “the time is right”; presumably not until she captures more clear cards.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 01 (First Impressions)

Why am I seriously considering belatedly picking up a reboot of an 18-year-old anime I never watched and know nothing about? Simple: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is gorgeous, massively charming, and surprisingly easy to jump right into.

My knowledge of the franchise is its own “clear card”, and yet Keroberos’ super-abridged intro at the beginning gave me the gist. From there we join Kinomoto Sakura as she starts her middle school life, along with her best friend Daidouji Tomoyo and her boyfriend Syaoran Li, with whom she rather dramatically and beautifully reunites.

All seems well in Sakura’s life, but after she has a startling dream about clear cards, she discovers all of the “Clow Cards” she’d amassed have become clear, blank, and devoid of power, which I imagine could be a problem since the cards are the source of much of her power.

This situation has Sakura reaching out to fellow magically-inclinded friend Yuki (who can transform into an angelic alter-ego) and her friends in England, but no easy answers are forthcoming. Tomoyo tries to distract her from her troubles by assuring her she has no shortage of cute costumes waiting in the wings for Sakura’s future use.

In another trippy dream sequence, Sakura’s cloaked tormentor faces her again, but she’s able to summon a crystal that transforms into a key, much like the one she’s always used to summon her magical staff. The next day, when she and Kero-chan are attacked by sharp gusts of wind, she releases the new staff.

With the staff, she’s able to focus the winds into a captured card of a type she’s never seen before, and just like that she’s back in the card-capturing and mystery-solving business.

CCS:CC features top-notch animation with very satisfying movement and modern special effects, while the retro-inspired character design, voice work, sound effects and music lend an irresistible nostalgic feel. The dialogue is also a nice balance of humor, drama, and romance. In short, I may not know much about the CCS universe, but I definitely like what I’ve seen so far.

3-gatsu no Lion – 36

We start things off with Shimada and Yanagihara inspecting a conspicuously cool and high-quality poster prominently featuring Kiriyama and Souya’s upcoming commemorative match. Takanori says he spared no expense because he needs interested eyes and ears on the match, and because Shimada and Yanigahara’s “sickly” match involving hacking coughs and stomach pains simply wasn’t the most marketable shogi, so limited resources have to be allocated where they’ll be most effective.

Rei isn’t concerned with the poster composition or style, but on studying for his very first match against Souya Meijin. He’s so immersed in game notes he initially doesn’t realize Hayashida-sensei has joined him on the roof.

Rei takes the opportunity to relay to his teacher that Kawamoto Hinata’s troubles would thankfully seem to be resolved, before once again lamenting how he wasn’t able to do anything. Hayashida asks Rei if she said that to Hina (he did) and whether she responded by saying that wasn’t true (she did). Results don’t reach people, and the world doesn’t revolve around them.

With that, Rei and Souya depart for their journey to the site of the commemorative match in Morioka, Iwate, and Rei is overwhelmed by the fanciness of the hot springs hotel room and facilities in which he’ll have free reign.

One thing I love about 3GL is its geographic accuracy; it only took fifteen seconds on Google Maps to locate Lake Gosho, the Tsunagi Hot Spring, and the Hotel Taikan where he’s staying. While strange fantasy worlds are cool, so are places I can actually go and experience the highly alkaline waters of the Tsunagi springs, and their naturally moisturizing salicic acid, for myself.

But like I said, Rei is easily overwhelmed, and what should be a haven of peace and relaxation is more like a storm. Granted, were I to go, I wouldn’t have to deal with an evening reception with speeches, Q & A, flowers, signings, etc. This is the big leagues, and it’s a lot for someone as reserved and bashful as Rei to endure.

Rei observes Souya, who is much older despite his looks, navigating the same choppy waters with aplomb…until he doesn’t. Souya apparently reaches his limit of human interaction before the festivities have ended, resulting in him delivering the wrong rehearsed answers to questions, and not reacting at all when a hostess spills wine all over his white suit, the only one he brought to Iwate.

Souya has always been a bit of a cautionary future look at Rei if he devotes his life to shogi and shogi alone. If Souya ever had something like the Kawamotos (or Kyouko for that matter) in his life, he doesn’t seem to anymore, and as a result, he lives for shogi and shogi alone.

One attendee calls him a “demon of shogi” who can only hold his “human form” for so long. However far in the world of shogi Rei wishes to go, he doesn’t want to go so far he doesn’t even know when he looks like he was slashed with a chainsaw.

And yet, Rei cannot deny that Souya’s total dedication and complete lack of distractions has made him so formidable a shogi player that he’s nigh unbeatable. When the demon emerges the next day for the match, he’s switched from his irreparably stained suit to traditional Japanese dress; all silver and white as always.

And Rei forebodingly reports that the morning of their match, an unseasonable typhoon began creeping up to the Japanese archipelago, so for the next few days he’ll have to deal with storms both within and without the shogi venue.

Darling in the FranXX – 02

Last week was pretty much Hiro, his rough break-up with Naomi, meeting Zero Two, and taking care of the crisis. This week things slow down a bit as we’re introduced to the rest of the squad where Hiro once again has a home. That includes the squad leader Ichigo, very well-voiced by Ichinose Kana in her first role (and sounding a bit like another, more famous Kana).

Ichigo clearly harbors feelings for Hiro of which he’s clearly unaware, and so she sees Zero Two as an interloper. Setting aside the fact that she swooped in and snatched Hiro practically the moment Naomi peaced out, Ichigo doesn’t want to see him get hurt, and Zero Two seems like the type who will hurt. She barges into the squad’s chow and pours honey over everything like a weirdo.

Hiro is the eleventh of a squad of ten, but Zero Two isn’t the twelfth; her fate is unknown, leaving Hiro with no official partner or FranXX. Ichigo is the unquestioned elite squad leader, but one can tell the redhead Miku maintains a quiet envy for her stature (as demonstrated in the classic locker room scene with fanservice and plug-suit fitting).

Ichigo and Miku are “pistils”, and their “stamens” are the studious Gorou and wild Zorome. Gorou is very friendly with Hiro (and not threatened by Ichigo’s affection for him) and seems like a nice guy, but Zorome is your classic heel/rival character who will likely keep berating and running Hiro down until Hiro does something (not counting last week).

Rounding out the group are the pistil-stamen pairs of Kokoro/Futoshi (the lovey-doveyest) and Ikuno/Mitsuru. When the pairs enter their colorful, distinctive FranXXs, we see that the actual pistil-stamen interface is a little…suggestive, with the girl on all fours while the guy stands behind and “drives.”

Basically, the girl is an interface between the guy and the FranXX; without total synchonicity between partners, the FranXX won’t work properly. Adding to the suggestiveness is the fact that interfacing is very physically taxing and sometimes painful, so that while operating a FranXX, everyone’s breathing heavily and occasionally making weird noises.

After their first official sortie as parasites, the pairs stand down. Zero Two continues to loiter around, invoking the ire of Ichigo, who isn’t afraid to warn Zero to stay away from Hiro. Though Ichigo might wish she hadn’t, as Zero Two gives her a taste. Out in the yard, Zorome wallops Hiro with a football, and the two get into each others faces, forcing Ichigo and Gorou to be the adults in this messed-up family and restore peace.

The thing is, Hiro can understand why Zorome is so dubious of his ability: Hiro himself doesn’t actually remember what happened after entering that cockpit being kissed by Zero Two. He only remembers the feeling, and he wants to get back to it so he can prove to Zorome, Ichigo, the others, and most importantly himself that he can pilot a FranXX.

Well, Hiro promptly gets his Shot, though perhaps not quite under the circumstances he’d hoped for. The brass (led by the mysterious “Papa”) okays a FranXX mock battle to test Hiro, but Zero Two isn’t allowed to partner with him this time.

Even before that was made clear, Ichigo volunteers to partner with him, hoping she can bring out the pilot in Hiro as much as her pink-haired nemesis. Zorome volunteers to be the opponent, and eager for an opportunity to prove her worth against Ichigo, Miku agrees as well.

The second Ichigo got her wish, I knew things were not going to go well, but things start out just fine, with Hiro and Ichigo reaching 100% sync rate and activating her FranXX Delphinium, without any trouble. And then, not ten seconds into the battle, it shuts down again.

Inside the cockpit, Ichigo is on all fours, sweating and heavily breathing as she and Hiro unleash a flurry of double entendres that, taken out of context, sound like dialogue from Girls, a show renowned for its awkward sex scenes:

Ichigo: What’s wrong?
Hiro: I don’t know. It just stopped.
Ichigo: Was it my fault?
Hiro: I don’t think so.
Ichigo: What did she do differently?
Hiro: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Ichigo: Calm down. No need to rush.

Whew. Suffice it to say, as much as she may like Hiro and want to stick it to Zero Two, Ichigo and Hiro simply aren’t a good match in a FranXX.

When Hiro remembers that Zero Two kissed him and everything went “BOOM”, and Ichigo climbs onto Hiro and kisses him as well, it felt as much like a last-ditch effort to get things moving again as Ichigo not wanting Zero Two to have something she doesn’t with Hiro, i.e. a kiss.

That her kiss does absolutely nothing for Hiro only makes things worse. I can’t help but sympathize with both of them; things are not going well at all.

When Zorome starts kicking Delphinium while its down (with Miki and their FranXX Argentea), Ichigo remembers they’re in a fight, and decides to bypass a defeated, powerless, inert Hiro and pilot the FranXX by herself, a very risky maneuver that takes a lot out of her.

The mock battle ends with Hiro having hit a new low, with all hope of ever piloting anything again in grave jeopardy, with Ichigo feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and very much taken down a notch, and Zorome emboldened. Last week was Hiro’s bad breakup and fleeting fling with Z2; this week Ichigo attempted to reassert her bond with Hiro and it went horribly, horribly wrong.

The failure she endured in front of her squad is the kind of thing that might have far-reaching impact on her confidence at precisely the wrong time in her development as one of the defenders of humanity.  Here’s hoping things start to look up for both of them, both personally and professionally.

Citrus – 03

Yuzu doesn’t understand why she has such a crush on Mei, just that she does, but she knows the only way to move forward is to make those feelings known. To do that, she needs to be on better terms with her, and the universe provides. When the chairman collapses in his office, the first person to find him and call an ambulance isn’t Mei, it’s Yuzu.

Mei is grateful, and lets Yuzu call her by her first name (even if she doesn’t reciprocate), and Gramps even reverses his decision to expel Yuzu. His health scare has made him re-evaluate a lot of things he’d taken hard lines on, be it the new granddaughter he never asked for in Yuzu, or the decision to make Mei live with him.

Mei then returns to Yuzu and her mom’s house, but it couldn’t come at a worse time, considering Yuzu’s feelings for her aren’t very sisterly. Yuzu seeks clarity in a yuri manga (which Harumin sees and jokingly pretends to reinact the action within its pages), while Yuzu’s mom makes things worse by buying a double bed for the sisters.

Obviously, living with one’s (presumably unrequited) crush is not easy, and I can’t help but feel for Yuzu here.

That’s not the end of her torment, as when bedtime comes and she finds herself unable to sleep, she tries to steal a touch of Mei’s hair or skin, and Mei gets out of bed and unrolls a futon, claiming it’s too hot with both of them under the covers.

When Yuzu brings up Mei kissing her, Mei coldly dismisses it as merely a tactic to shut her up, demonstrating its effectiveness by coming in oh-so-close only to withhold a kiss. She states she has “no interest” in Yuzu, or in getting closer, hence her unwillingness to call her by her first name. Yuzu goes to sleep in the bed alone, angry, and in tears.

Adding insult to injury, since Mei is the rule-obsessed class president, Yuzu is unable to hang out with Harumi after school without both of them getting punished by having to clean the bathroom. When that’s done, Yuzu finds a note from Mei calling her to the chairman’s office.

Yuzu is excited by the note, but when she arrives, Mei has her yuri manga, and warns her to dispose of it lest rumors crop up. Yuzu snaps, pushes Mei onto the desk, kisses her, then breaks into tears.

If Mei is uncomfortable here, but the fact is she kissed Yuzu first, and that’s how Yuzu’s crush on her developed; they wouldn’t be on that desk without Mei’s earlier antics. Yuzu knows she can’t go back now that what’s done has been done, but gets off Mei, apologizes for being such a bad sister, and runs off.

Her running off, and Mei lingering in the office, doesn’t go unnoticed by Mei’s friend, right-hand woman, and enforcer Himeko, who immediately suspects something is very amiss. Just as Yuzu and Mei are trying to sort things out, Himeko will no doubt insinuate herself into the situation.

Takunomi. – 02

Michiru has somewhat overblown standards of how a young Tokyoite office woman should look, and her perceived failure to meet them leave her frustrated to the point of tears upon coming home. Enter Nao, who works at a clothing store. Michiru offers shochu as payment for fashion advice.

After the presentation of “chu-hi” (shochu highballs) as one of the more delicious alcoholic beverages one can enjoy (for those over the age of 20), Nao opens her closet for Michiru, who settles on an understated natural look. In doing so, Michiru rekindles the passion that drove Nao into clothing industry: that satisfying moment when a customer has found their look.

As for things like finding a man to accompany her to couples spots like Tokyo Sky Tree and an office demeanor in which she’s not mixing up words like “call” with “coal”, Michiru is on her own. But when she comes home, she can be assured of good drink, good food, and good friends.

Update: What do you know, my local state-run wine & spirits store actually sells shochu, a 50-proof mugi (barley) variety made in Kyoto. Earthy and nutty, it’s great neat, on the rocks, or with club or flavored soda. Kanpai!

Devilman: Crybaby – 01 (First Impressions)

So begins my foray into the venerable Devilman franchise, which dates to 1974, its latest iteration available on Netflix at the same time in America as Japan. It’s actually been available for a while now, but I didn’t get around to cracking it open until now.

The first episode of Crybaby is brisk, starting with some heady philosophizing, giving us a quick glimpse of friends Asuka Ryou (a cold realist even in his youth) and Fudou Akira (the titular crybaby, who has enough empathy for both of them).

It isn’t long before the mundaneness of P.E. (and the somewhat head-scratchiness of a random attack by beatboxing rappers) is left behind in a cloud of Ryou’s Mitsuoka Orochi exhaust and the innocent, sensitive Akira finds himself in a debaucherous orgy of hedonism in which drugs and sex reign supreme, the escape of the young, rich, and bored.

Ryou brought Akira here to pop his cherry…in a sense. Ryou’s experience abroad has led him to believe a human can merge with a devil/demon and gain its power while maintaining their humanity, and Akira is the perfect vessel to test that theory.

However, the orgy isn’t, well, bloody or gory enough to draw out any devils, so Ryou rectifies that by wrecking up the place. He and Akira are very nearly beaten to death in the fracas, and before long devils start sprouting from the orifices of women and what were once areas of pleasure become weapons of evisceration.

It’s a huge mess, but Ryou gets what he came for: the demon Amon possesses Akira and merges with him, resulting in the titular Devilman. Perhaps because of how good and pure Amon’s human vessel is, Devilman is particularly powerful, and dispatches the other nasties without too much trouble, and with quite a bit of satisfaction.

And there you have it! Oh wait, why is Ryou doing this? For SCIENCE, I suppose; humans aren’t evolving fast enough for him; perhaps he believes it’s time to shake things up by nurturing such mergings as Akira with Amon. Or maybe that one merge was all he cared about, in hopes his friend, always a crybaby, would benefit in some way.

Yuasa Masaaki’s unique style is unmistakable here, and though this is certainly more violent than the only other work of his I’ve seen. As I said, it’s a brisk and relatively straightforward episode with a decent hook: what the hell will become of Akira now that Ryou has condemned him to share his existence with a demon?