Otome Youkai Zakuro 9

After much sturm und drang last week, a lighthearted and/or lightweight episode was expected by me, and in the first couple acts, this was very much the case. Spirit Affairs has to catch a mostly-harmless spirit forged from the countless thoughts of young ladies pining for love. The half-spirit girls’ usual shtick (using sakura sticks) won’t work on it; only a confession of love will send it away.

When they find this beast, grown larger and more dangerous, it’s Zakuro and Agemaki who find it; but Lt. Hanadate is with them too; and when neither of the others can get over the embarrassment to do it, he – not Agemaki – confesses his love for Zakuro. Playing along, she confesses her love for him, and the Kokkuri is gone. Agemaki isn’t happy; even if she didn’t mean it, it still stings.

This is pretty much the final time we see Hanadate before we learn that he’s in league with the Black Widow; unconvincingly hiding his face with a noh mask. This is bad news, since Zakuro’s feelings for Hanadate and Agemaki remain as confused as ever. When she finds out he’s evil (or being controlled), that will most definitely change…Rating: 3

Hyakka Ryouran 9

I’ll admit I was a little naive in thinking Gisen was a good gal last week just because she had a cute face and innocent voice. She shows her true, ruthless colors in this episode, kidnapping Muneakira and taking his free will away with her evil eye. When Sen and Hanzo locate them, Gisen transforms into a master samurai and proceeds to mop the floor with Sen. The battle is interrupted by Sen’s bro Yoshihiko who has arrived a week earlier than expected. His lieutenant Nia sends Gisen into retreat, but that doesn’t mean they’re on Sen and Muneakira’s side. This was a nice-looking duel; that different fighters create different color ink blots on the screen is a nice touch.

The episode then lays everything out on the table: Nia is an artificial master samurai created in an experiment that made use of the spirited-away students. The reason he wants these fake samurai is because he knows that the seven master samurai believed to be left are actually dead, leaving Great Japan with nothing to fight the evil force of change and destruction embodied by Amakusa. He credits Amakusa with every major calamity in Japan’s history – famines, quakes, bombings. The Master Samurai were always there to cut him down, but he always comes back, and with no natural samurai left, he believes desperate measures are in order.

Sen and Co. are now in an unfortunate situation. Her brother wants to kill them all, but the threat to Japan he speaks of is real, and must be dealt with. Gisen was likely Amakusa’s scout, and she was no slouch. It would seem there are two ways to defeat him: Yoshihiko’s human sacrifices, or Muneakira’s master samurai. Here’s the rub re the latter: Sen was weaker then Gisen, but Nia was stronger. Next week, beyond the more immediate challenge of escaping Yoshihiko’s clutches, the good guys will have to figure out how they’ll be able to win against the next iteration of Amakusa. Rating: 3.5

Oreimo 9

This nice, quiet little episode had a very slice-of-life feel, as Kyousuke, Kirino, Kuroneko and Saori were all in their respective habitats, each doing their own thing while thinking about the others. Kirino is playing a highly-anticipated new eroge while Kyousuke is studying in his room. One of the imouto characters treats her very similarly to the way she treats Kyousuke; with an air of superiority and unpredictable bitchiness. The parallels between this character and the game’s narrative aren’t lost on Kirino, who seems simultaneously annoyed and guilty about it.

Meanwhile, we see the home version of Kuroneko – without her gothic dress or red contacts, keeping her cute little sister (she has one!) entertained while sewing away. Suddenly, she gets a call from Kyousuke. It’s great how he just called her out of the blue, and they proceed to have this very genial, natural conversation. With everything these two have been through together – often in Kirino’s shadow – it’s not surprising that they’d end up as friends.

Finally, we have Saori…whose face isn’t ever shown in her one scene, but we discover that she is a tall, prim, proper, filthy rich aristocrat who has multiple servants. She has prepared three maid costumes for herself and her two otaku friends. Interesting twist, but not as interesting as Kyousuke and Kuroneko’s interaction in this episode…mad props to Kana Hanazawa for delivering an excellent voice performance. As for Kirino, well…let’s just say she’s definitely got some things to work out. Rating: 3.5

Psychic Detective Yakumo 9

Finally, the payoff: this episode puts to rest the mysteries of who killed the Nanase family and more importantly, why Yakumo’s mother tried to kill him. There’s adequate suspense and action, but also lots of lengthy scenes of people explaining things, which is kind of an undesirable by-product of creating such a complex story fraught with twists and turns. Still, I’m glad things were cleared up; my mind was glazing over with all the connections.

First of all, Miyuki herself killed her family. She went all O-Ren Ishii on them to be precise; having simply had it with them all. Takeda, who proposed to Azusa just before the murders, was framed for them, sending her into a spiral of depression and confusion. The glasses-wearing guy everyone calls “That Man” exploited that, driving Azusa into even deeper despair. Her attempt on Yakumo wasn’t an act of hate, but desperation. Her spirit confirms this; having shot out of the red pendant he gave Haruka, which gets them out of a pickle.

With this new knowledge of his mother’s feelings, and the temporary retreat of Nanase and “That Man”, Yakumo opens up a bit more, now cognizant that far from being alone, he is in fact connected to gobs of people – living and dead – who truly care about him; especially Haruka. With a more clearer picture of his past and his place in the world, he seems to be on a path of caring about her in kind. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 9

For punching Ishizawa, Akito is suspended for a week, which is fine with him, as it means a week to make names. Moritaka is stuck in a loop of self-loathing, convinced he’s holding Akito back with his substandard art. Still, Miho, impressed with how far he’s come, prods Moritaka to go check on him. When he does, he discovers there’s no reason for excess dread; Akito is fine. Well, fine on the manga front, anyway. It turns out Moritaka isn’t the first or even the second person to have come to check on Akito.

Kaya and Aiko are there as well, and both believe Akito is their boyfriend. Moritaka can only fade into the background as the battle unfolds: both girls make valid points, but Akito insists that both misunderstood his gestures; he never agreed to date anyone. Then it comes down to who he likes more; he doesn’t dislike either. The difference between the two girls finally comes out: Kaya says she’ll support him with his dream, while Aiko insists he quit playing around with manga and shape up. Akito has long since resolved to follow through with this dream, so he cannot be with Aiko. Kaya is victorious.

So the air is once again clear, Mashiro and Akito have their maidens-in-waiting and their priorities in order, and they have no choice but to keep “fighting the fight”. Hattori is ready and willing to meet with them more to critique their next work. Meanwhile, Nizuma has arrived in Tokyo, and he ain’t there to sight-see. The heat will be on. This was a terrific characterization episode for all involved that still kept the story moving and my interest high. Rating: 4

Star Driver 9

New character time: Head goes ‘on vacation’, leaving Marino You, or “Manticore” in charge of the Vanishing Star faction of Glittering Crux (I know, it’s a lot to follow). She has just been made into a Star Driver, but her cybody needs restoring. The other members of Vanishing Star aren’t impressed and will only go along with her as long as it serves their interests. Hers is the only cybody that can scan for the Western Maiden, whom Crux will need to increase their power.

Here’s the twist: Marino’s spunky, eccentric younger twin (by minutes?) sister Mizuno is the Western Maiden! Has Marino joined Crux to protect her sister? I’m not sure how Crux doesn’t suspect Mizuno already; she’s known as the “school freak” and a witch who can talk to animals. She rides on the roof of a bus to school and runs into the boy’s bathroom to save a baby crow she somehow knew was about to fall. It’s here where she meets…Takuto, of course! She promptly falls for him, and is already at the “filling-sketchbooks-full-of-surprisingly-accurate-drawings-of-him” stage when her sister finds out.

Manticore clears one of her subordinates to attack Tauburn before her, in order to gauge his stength. Her man doesn’t last any longer than previous cybodys, because they’re all a stage behind Tauburn, but with each battle Crux learns more. There’s a lot to contemplate now: is Manticore truly looking out Mizuno, or will she expose her out to Crux when the time is right? When will Takuto learn that Mizuno is a maiden, and her sister is a member of Crux (either or both will be interesting)? And will Crux ever gain the third stage that will allow them to face Tauburn on equal ground? Time, as always, will tell. Rating: 3.5

An aside: This seems to be the headquarters of the great Vanishing Star. It’s…just some bar with a dartboard and jukebox. I expected something grander and more sinister, but it’s actually quite hilarious that it’s this normal (and that these high-school age members drink ginger ale). They also have a painting from the same artist as all the paintings in Sugata’s house. In-ter-est-ing…

MM! 9

This festival episode essentially turns into another date for Mio and Taro. As they enjoy various activities, Yuuno is tirelessly searching for Taro, but always seems to have bad timing. All the while, some kind of cloaked strangers seem to be tailing Mio and Taro…they turn out to be her fan club. They kidnap Taro in Mio’s name, but Mio arrives to save him and talk them down. When Mio and Taro hold hands one more time that night, things have the potential to get serious when Yuuno finally catches up with them.

She’s spent her whole day looking for him, while Mio was with him all along? She can’t let that stand…so she grabs Taro’s hand with both of hers, and predictably, can’t handle it, and sends him flying. This triggers his masochism, but also defuses the love triangle crisis for the time being. Not a bad episode, as it featured a little more dere-dere in Mio, which is periodically necessary to balance her more common tsun-tsun side. Rating: 3

Koe de Oshigoto! 1 OVA

This half-hour comedy OVA revolves around Kanna, a student urged by her enterprising older sister Yayoi to become an eroge seiyu for her game company. Such a profession is hard, extremely embarrassing work, as Kanna quickly learns when she has to start comfortably blurting out words and phrases she’s probably never even said before.

The lead actress tells her to become one with the characters, and Kanna’s vivid imagination allows her to literally visualize the scenes she’s recording. She turns in an surprisingly solid debut, justifying the faith Yayoi had in her. The reason she’s able to go so far and say sooo many indecent things into a microphone is this: when their dad died, Yayoi pledged to make enough money in his stead to pay for Kanna’s college. That there’s a nice big sister, somebody Kanna owes big, and thus agrees to take on this unorthodox job of…dubious legality.

Many of this OVA’s sights and sounds are not for the fainthearted, but it all serves to highlight the sheer absurdity of a girl having to do such a job. Eroge exist; and seiyus for eroge exist, and make good money doing it, and are somehow able to keep their work and their lives separate. It’s a challenging, daring theme, but not without a basis in reality.

So the comedy worked well, the voicework was (obviously) top-notch, and the soundtrack ranks among the best I’ve heard this fall. Add to that crisp yet smooth animation and a good pace, and you’ve got yourself an enjoyable, hilarious (if a bit wrong) half-hour. Numerous series this fall have already explored societal taboos (e.g., MM!, Oreimo, and Yosuga no Sora). Count Koe de Oshigoto among the most audacious. Rating: 3.5

Shiki 17

Seishin still can’t get on board with Toshio’s methods, and this is driven home when he meets exactly what he’s been talking about: Toru, who is killing to live, not out of evil or hatred. Do vampires have just as much a right to kill humans as humans have to kill animals to live? Is this just the luck of the food chain? This seems to be his line of thinking: Killing vampires is still killing. He won’t kill. After a strange encounter with poor tormented Kaori, he goes to the Kirishikis’ mansion to hang out with Sunako. Will she bite him?

Meanwhile, Toshio is holed up in his clinic, carving stakes for the coming battle. He definitely seems resolved to go out fighting. When another victim arrives, he lets slip that it isn’t an epidemic. Ritsuko, remembering seeing Nao in action, asks Toshio what he meant, but the conversation stalls. When a fellow nurse is kidnapped, Ritsuko is drawn out into the night and bitten herself, and it’s over. It seemed she had come around to the conclusion about what was going on, but it was too late. She is glamored by her biter to refuse treatment and insist on being left alone.

Finally, Mrs. Kirishiki appears in the clinic, with her…interesting outfit. Toshio comes at her with a stake but Mr. Kirishiki shoots it to pieces with a sniper rifle. Is this...Game Over? Well, she bites him, and tells him to burn his data, and he does. But who said this wasn’t the next stage of the plan Natsuno suggested? Natsuno can think for himself; perhaps the risen Toshio will be rebellious as well.

Of course, first things first: Toshio has to die and rise. And his last words before being bitten suggested he didn’t care about the village anymore; it was full of idiots who did nothing to stop their plight. Excellent stuff. Rating: 4

Amagami SS 21

In a break from the previous five arcs, I’ve decided to do individual write-ups of the last five episodes, in hope the series goes out with a bang and not a whimper. I’ll assume the producers saved who they deem the best girl (or at least the most challenging) for last.

Tsukasa Ayatsuji (voiced by Kaori Nazuka) hasn’t been much of a factor in the series thus far, serving the obligatory class prez role. But I was looking forward to the series bringing her out of that neutral, dormant state and giving her some personality…and human flaws. When Junichi decides to help her out with the Founder’s Festival, he, like us, learns a great deal about Ayatsuji-san in a very short time.

Ayatsuji excels in academics, is a swimming instructor, and is extremely well-organized when it comes to the festival planning, to the point where the timid, inept Junichi is almost in the way. But we also learn that she has a older sister (no more than one or two years her senior, by the look of her) who she seems extremely annoyed to have bumped into while with Junichi.

There are several other subtle hints about her “inner side”, but none so in-your-face (literally) as the final shot of the episode: Having found and read her notebook, Ayatsuji fears he now knows of this side, though in reality nothing he read was incriminating. Regardless, by putting him in a deathlock she’s shown him a side of herself neither he nor anyone else in the school knows about. There’s infinitely more promise in this arc than either Sae or Rihoko’s, for which I’m glad. Rating: 3.5

To Aru Majutsu no Index II 8

There’s a massive inter-school sports festival in Academy City, and the family and friends of all the students are invited. Touma and Mikoto have some nice rapport-building scenes (let there be no doubt, they’ve actually become good friends), and Index actually fails to successfully bite him for a whole episode. There is also a host of new characters, including a very well-endowed, spirited class rep – she, like Mikoto, also has good chemistry with Touma.

There’s also a blonde courier, who’s arrived in the city amongst of all the festival hubbub to make a trade with the C of E for a magical artifact called “Stab Sword”, a weapon imbued with the power of the blade that stabbed and killed the Son of God. This artifact is capable of killing a saint in one hit, so it’s a big deal if the Catholics snag it.

Touma also finds himself in numerous compromising positions, which is pretty much par for the course as far as his “misfortune” goes. This episode was a nice transition from the Railgun mini-arc as it re-established a few old Index characters, introduced new ones, and set up the next standoff between churches; this time in the heart of science; Academy city. Not too shabby. Rating: 3.5

Panty & Stocking 9

It’s never a dull moment when the angels have to square off against their demonic counterparts, and this week’s part one is no different, as the two pairs of sisters engage in a beach volleyball duel. The angels actually win, but the demons respond by releasing a plague of sea-based ghosts. The segment is sprinkled with the requisite trash inter-rival talk.

However, its the second part that really caught my attention. Panty & Stocking both actually seem to exhibit personalities and emotions – a rare thing indeed – as Stocking falls head-over-heels in love with an extremely uncouth, rude, and apathetic guy who also happens to be a ghost. Panty is necessarily concerned, and aims to take out the ghost until Stocking intervenes.

Stocking is willing to ditch her duties as an angel along with her sister in order to elope with the ghost. But when he puts the ring on her, he ascends into heaven, as the yearning keeping him tied to the world has now been fulfilled. There hadn’t been this kind of ghost resolution thus far in the series, and it was surprising, considering how contemptuous of ghosts both sisters have shown throughout. For one of them to fall in love so completely – without explanation – was certainly unexpected. Rating: 3.5

Nurarihyon no Mago 21

We have what looks to be the last calm before the storm, as both sides have resolved to attack the other with as much force as they can muster. In Tamazuki’s case, he’s lured an enormous army of Shikoku yokai into Nura territory and are itching to start the war. The hot-headed Shoei can’t wait, though, and storms the Shikoku’s tower alone. He is nearly killed before the crows show up and rescue him.

This is a revelation to Rikuo; simply waiting around while his clan’s defense gets shakier is not an option. He can’t let the fact he’s a weakling during the day be an excuse anymore. The elder youkai tell him it’s time for him to start a night parade of his own, so he does; starting with Yuki-onna and his other bodyguards. He also makes a pact with Night Rikuo. He’ll handle protecting the humans, while Night Rikuo will protect the yokai.

When Shoei, wounds still fresh, insists on going back to finish his fight; Rikuo stops him. But not to keep him from going, but to join him. The enemy is serious about wiping out the Nura clan and conquering its territory. The time for talk is over…hopefully. With only four episodes remaining, there’s plenty of time to deliver a satisfying resolution. Rating: 3

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