Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 03

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By formally introducing the main character of the Haruhi franchise in just the third episode of a spin-off starring a meek bookworm, Nagato Yuki-kun seems to be issuing a challenge—to itself—can Yuki hold her ground when a charm factory like Hirano Aya’s Haruhi crashes her show, or will she disappear, as the title suggests?

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I would imagine most of the audience turned off by all the show’s changes have already checked out (unless they’re hate-watching). Now it’s up to the show to deliver for the cautiously optimistic viewers who stuck around to see where they’re going with this.

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In terms of Yuki being replaced as the protagonist, that isn’t going to happen, nor would I want it to: Haruhi is a supporting character who just happens to steal every scene she’s in with her charisma, and instant chemistry with Kyon. Their half-hostile, half-flirtatious sparring on display here is nothing new for veterans of the franchise. And listening to two true pros at work in Hirano and Sugita is always a pleasure in and of itself.

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As it has every episode thus far, the show doesn’t forget to give Yuki and Kyon a romantic moment or two to keep their romantic potential active. Here, Yuki gives Kyon an extra-formal thank you for helping her this year, and then prays at the shrine for the courage to tell him her feelings—her real feelings, not the word salad she dropped on Haruhi and Kyon in that cafe.

That being said, I loved how her melon soda refilled when she realized she could call Kyon a friend without anyone thinking it’s weird.

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The new year brings with it more Haruhi, and when she infiltrates North High with her transfer student pet Koizumi Itsuki (who doesn’t appear to be an esper) and moves right in, getting Yuki to agree to make them members and make her Executive President. In an odd moment, it seems like Haruhi heard Kyon’s inner monologue. Was that just an easter egg, or a sign things could get more supernatural?

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That’s going to be another big question: assuming Nagato will still have the greater share of screen time as the official protagonist, how much will the people Haruhi has amassed change? Does she have the same godlike power to make her delusions reality she possessed in the original series? Did the show start out like a conventional, non-supernatural rom-com as a feint?

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I’m skeptical of that. I see this Haruhi as no more a god here than Yuki is an alien or Asahina a future-girl. I’m not saying there’s no way they’ll become those things under extended exposure to Haruhi, but I doubt it. The challenge remains, the lit club is now much louder and livelier (the whole cast does a great job creating the aural chaos of such a club), and Yuki must become louder and more aggressive in order not to be left in the dust.

The good news is, Nagato doesn’t need to grow her hair long enough to put it in a ponytail…though if she really wants to, Kyon won’t stop her.

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Kekkai Sensen – 03

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Leo isn’t one to freak out when confronted by a ghost, especially if she’s cute. Instead, he takes her picture to confirm if she’s a ghost, but she shows up in the photos. White tells him she likes him and draws nearer, only for Leo to wake up in his apartment. The transition has us wondering how much of his interactino with White is in his head, but there’s no time to ponder such things, as he’s being evicted and has forty seconds to vacate or, presumably, be eaten. Just another day in the ‘Lot!

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From there, we see him dozing on the couch in Libra HQ, refusing a stipend any higher than the standard rate even though he’s still delivering pizzas and sending money home. But this week Leo is on the sidelines, as the bulk of the episode follows Klaus on his quest to satisfy his fix of Prosfair, which is perhaps best described as “Chess on Acid”. It’s a game as intricate and bonkers as the world that conceived it.

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Initially, the game is introduced as a little joke, with the physically imposing yet cultured Klaus getting way to into it on his original Macintosh(!), to the bemusement of his colleagues. But when Zapp and Chain’s efforts to investigate the distribution of an advanced (and world-unbalancing) new drug called Angel Scale, it rises to the utmost importance, since one of the most powerful overbosses in the Alterworld, Arlelelle Eruca Fulgrouche (what a name!), happens to be a huge fan of Prosfair.

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When he arrives with his comely colleague K.K., Klaus is shocked to find Prosfair grandmaster Ulchenko has also come to challenge Fulgrouche. In the Russian’s mind, he has risen as high as he can amongst mankind in the game, and so playing a non-human is the next logical step. Also, he wants his country to have nuclear weapons, something Fulgrouche can make happen.

Alas, Ulchenko is no match for the don, coming up two minutes short of the nine hours he had to survive in a game. The exponentialy increasing speed and complexity of the game as it drags out nearly kills Ulchenko, and as per their agreement, since he lost, Fulgrouche will take the rest of that life.

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That’s when Klaus finds his opening to finally connect these events with the mission to uncover the Angel Scale ring. If Klaus lasts 99 hours straight, Fulgrouche agrees to not only reveal the trafficking routes of the drug, but also spare the Russian. And doggone it, the guy does it! As K.K. chain smokes and Ulchenko waits in stunned disbelief.

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Klaus doesn’t win, but he hangs with Fulgrouche for the full 99 hours, and all to the lovely stylings of Ludwig van’s vaunted Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy, an inspired use of a classic piece of music that really lends the duel otherworldly grandeur, as befits a prosfair battle taking place in the Alterworld.

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Klaus gets the trafficking routes, Ulchenko is freed, and K.K. makes sure Libra takes out all the cells pushing Angel Scale. It’s all made possible thanks to Klaus’ unparalleled strength, selflessness, and perseverance. Yet, to hear it from Leo, book-ending the episode with his interactions with White, he has no idea what Klaus did for the firm, and he may never know.

All Steve Starphase said is that “anything in this world can happen”, which has so far proven true. For Leo, those words must be pretty reassuring, because the one thing he wants most in the world is to heal Michella.

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Fate / stay night: Unlimited Blade Works – 15

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Shirou and Rin really have the worst timing…

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What I thought would be a thrilling battle between an unstoppable force and an unmovable object turned out to be something a bit more…one-sided: the slow, methodical slaughter of Berserker by Blonde Guy, broken down into twelve trials, just like Berserker’s true identity, the demigod Heracles, had to overcome. Heracles may never give up, but Blonde guy will never run out of weapons to throw at him.

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Ilya doesn’t fret, however, for it has been ingrained in her for years that she is the ultimate master, the product of a thousand years of research and countless sacrifices, while Berserker is the undisputed strongest servant. But Ilya didn’t always have Berserker. In fact, when she first met him, she ran away in disgust.

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Out in the woods, a pack of wolves caught her scent, but just when it looks like they’ll tear her to pieces, Berserker comes out of nowhere to save her, but not because it’s in his contract or because it’s part of his programming as a servant. He chose to protect her of his own free will. And among the people in Ilya’s life, he’s the only one to do that.

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Back to the present battle, Ilya cannot fathom losing to Blonde Guy, but when the battle moves into the confines of the castle, the symbolic walls begin to close in on the allegedly most-powerful master-servant duo. Berserker is being worn down, but isn’t able to lay a single scratch on Blonde Guy.

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Shirou and Rin can only watch in horror from the shadows as the duo they had hoped to team up with has their asses handed to them, to put it indelicately. Berserker never gives up, but Blonde Guy eventually immobilizes him with the Chains of Heaven and impales him with a giant spear.

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With her servant and weapon slain, Ilya is a sitting duck, and it’s all Rin can do to keep Shirou from yelling out and running to her aid as Blonde Guy pulls a simple sword from his treasury, slashes out Ilya’s eyes, then runs her through the heart.

After the baroque spectacle of felling Berserker, Ilya’s death is chilling in its austerity, and having learned all the trials she herself went through, and the realization she was living for herself and Berserker and not her family, caused my heart to sink into my feet. It’s a quiet yet utterly crushing moment.

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Berserker is able to break the Chains of Heaven (“surpassing his own myth to the end”, as Blonde Guy poetically puts it) and make one more futile lunge at him, but while Blonde Guy’s face betrays momentary surprise, his weapons are quick enough to finish Berserker well before he can touch him.

From there, Shirou and Rin should just wait for Blonde Guy to depart before leaving themselves and regrouping…but Shioru just can’t keep his damn mouth shut, earning him a sword in his geneal vicinity for his trouble, which destroys a part of the balcony he’s standing on.

While Blonde Guy could clearly kill the lovebirds in the blink of an eye, obviously they’re not going to die next week. So what happens next? Do they form an alliance with him against Caster? Their options are fast dwindling.

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Owari no Seraph – 03

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Episode three opens with Yui receiving a love letter from a cute girl. Falling for a not unattractive young lad who saved you from being drained by an escaped vampire prisoner is not an unreasonable thing for this girl to do, but as strong and brave as he is, she still doesn’t know him, and he’s too busy with his quest for vengeance to notice or deal with romance.

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While this girl sees him as a hero, Shinoa continues to look down at him as a novice, as well as a frustrated virgin. She points out the Demon Army isn’t just about killing vamps, but also creating an environment suitable for human procreation. The virus killed 9/10ths of them, after all, so the remaining tenth “needs to make babies”, to quote Commander Adama.

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Shinoa doesn’t doubt Yui’s physical strength or his courage, but warns him he shouldn’t move to fast with his training. Only those with cursed gear can fight vampires, and the demons within them will consume, rather than contract with, those with “weak hearts.” Shinoa believes Yui’s unyielding thirst for vengeance makes his heart weak. Not a bad conclusion, but incomplete, as we see.

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When one of their classmates wanders into a forbidden dungeon below the school, where demons roam ready to take the souls of the weak, Yui, Shinoa and Yoichi head down there. Shiona reveals it’s really a training ground for the VEU, and the whole school is a human experiment for recruiting VEU members, who are naturally drawn to said dungeon.

So while there are bullies and love letters and cut euniforms, the school isn’t just a regular school after all. Shinoa even mocks Yui for potentially thinking “such a peaceful place” as the school appears on the surfact could ever exist in such a messed up world.

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If Shinoa was hoping to intimidate Yui with all this show-and-tell, she failed, and if she didn’t want him to do anything rash, she shouldn’t have let him in the dungeon at all. Then again, when Yui goes through the forbidden door, she doesn’t stop him, suggesting she’s letting him make his own choices. Once there she insists he not touch he demon gear his classmate is holding, lest he become consumed by a demon. Again, Yui ignores her warnings and grabs the ax with a nifty little move.

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Then all of a sudden he’s gone back in time with Mika and his family. Shinoa didn’t say how the demon would consume him, but creating a very real illusion of his past is a good way to start. But where both Shinoa and the demon underestimate Yui is in not in their calculation of his desire for revenge—which is high—but the fact such a desire is a weakness.

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Yui knows his desire is wrong, so it can’t hurt him as badly. He also knows it’s something Mika wouldn’t want, so as soon as Mika and the other kids are acting totally out of character, Yui knows he’s in an illusion and breaks free.Doing so impresses Shinoa once again, who again seems put out that he proved her wrong yet again.

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Yui’s heart isn’t as weak as she thought, but will see what happens if and when he learns Mikaela not only wasn’t killed, but became the very thing Yui wants to wipe off the face of the earth. We finally get a good look at Vampire Mika, who doesn’t seem particularly friendly with Ferid. More likely, he’s done what he’s done all this time to survive. He always put others before himself, so I’d like to think a few years of being a vampire hasn’t bleached out that inherent goodness.

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Oregairu 2 – 03

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This was a pretty dark and depressing episode, one I thought I’d respect more than outright like, due to its necessity: it’s always darkest before the dawn. But I ended up liking it anyway. Having created a rift with Yukino and Yui, Hikky ends up further exploring his predicament through other women from both past, present, and future: apropos for Oregairu’s own Scrooge.

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Is it just me, or does he look way further away than when he and the girls were on better terms? Just as he refused to tell his concerned sister anything, that everything is normal, after downing an extra-bitter can of Georgia Extra Mountain Blend Black coffee, he walks back into the club after school like nothing’s the matter. But something is the matter, and nobody’s buying his feigned apathy anymore.

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Fortune seems to favor Hikky and his desire to slip back into normalcy when Shizuka brings them their latest client, Isshiki Iroha, who has been nominated to run unopposed in the student council president, but wants to lose. Only Isshiki is the kind of girl who juggles guys and makes enemies of the girls. He immediately tears down her kind in his mind, believing he knows everything he needs to about her without actually knowing her.

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Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it’s Yukino who is unable to keep things professional. When Hikky suggests another superficial easy-way-out plan (something involving a sacrificial campaign speech that will erode Isshiki’s cred), Yukino rejects it, and makes this about more than just Isshiki’s job.

Yukino walked away quickly after Hikky’s false confession to Hina with good reason: she can’t be around Hikky too long right now without losing her cool. That just speaks to how much she cares about him, but also to the depth of their impasse. Yukino isn’t just disappointed in Hikky; she’s wondering if she ever really knew him.

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Shizuka seems to understand, especially when put on the spot to reveal the current “standings”, as the three agreed a while back that the winner could order the loser around however they want. Yukino probably hoped she could order Hikky to stop his nonsense, but Shizuka points out not only that it’s a dead heat depending on the measure, but that Hikky, Yukino, and Yui are all but impossible to evaluate independently, as they depend so much on each others’ contributions.

Even in its darkest hour when the service club threatens to tear itself apart, Shizuka makes sure to point out that the club really has worked, and no matter what evil stares Hikky gets or gives, the work he’s done has proven to her he’s a good person. He just needs to come to terms with that himself.

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After Yukino again tells him off for his hypocrisy over the superficial confession, Hikky retreats from the clubroom entirely. He looks over superficial flicks to take his mind off things, but eventually finds shelter in a “Master Donut”, peddler of sweet-looking but ultimately superficial confections, that if not consumed in moderation, can also be detrimental to one’s health.

There, he finds Haruno, who like Komachi lends an open ear but doesn’t get much, while she tells him Yukino may hate her family, but she doesn’t want them to hate her, so she goes through motions like mailing them gifts from her school trip.

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Hikky also encounters Orimoto Kaori, a girl he liked in middle school who rejected him. Like Haruno, Orimoto acts like a with-it grown-up, recalling those days with fondness before happily saying none of that middle school stuff mattered because it was ages ago. Yet it’s as clear as yesterday in Hikky’s mind. Orimoto scarred him, and helped turn him on the path of avoiding contact out of fear of rejection. What’s even more biting is that she’s clearly moved on, having no idea how much torment she caused Hikky back then. Hikky’s quick assessment of her is one-sided and unfair to Orimoto, but it fits his self-destructive narrative of being beyond “this kind of girl.”

Haruno brings Hayama into the mix so Orimoto’s friend can meet him, but Hayama is really there to tell Hikky how Haruno only ever kills people she likes (like Hikky) with too much attention or crushes those she doesn’t like, without much middle ground. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that when Hikky spots her, she’s all alone in that donut shop.

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Yui the mediator gets Hikky back in the club, to at least listen as they discuss what to do about Isshiki’s election, but this latest attempt to reconstruct normalcy from the shattered shards of last week goes nowhere. Yukino admonishes him again for avoiding the real problem and taking reckless easy ways out, both with Hina and here. As long as Hikky remains stubbornly taciturn and haplessly defending methods even he isn’t sure are right, there will be no rapprochement.

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As Isshiki Iroha thanks Hikky for his help in her subtly manipulative “boy-juggler” way (as Hikky sees it, anyway), her performance no doubt calls to mind the easy, friendly, slightly flirty way Orimoto Kaori gave her email to him years ago. Hikky didn’t think about whether it was just out of courtesy or pity; he merely started to gnaw at the bone he was thrown, not realizing it was all he’d get from his crush.

But Yukino and Yui aren’t Isshiki, and they aren’t Orimoto. They represent Hikky’s only hope of moving beyond the romantic traumas of his past. I just hope he realizes that before their rift grows too wide. They both seem to be waiting for him, but no one’s patience is unlimited.

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