Astra Lost in Space – 05 – The Kids Are Alright…Right??

Even after last week’s harrowing ordeal, the crew is not yet ready to pack up and leave Shummoor—not until they’ve gathered enough food. Thanks to a successful hunch from Charce, they learn that the pole trees, once their nemesis, are actually the yummiest food on the planet, and with the stores filled, the Astra departs from Planet #2.

The crew are also grateful to Yunhua, whose voice had both physical and psychological healing effects for all who were poisoned. That gratitude quickly shifts to straight-up admiration when they learn she’s the daughter of the superstar singer Lucy Lum. She then enlists Luca to give her a haircut, and Quitterie bristles as all the guys swoon.

Meanwhile, back home, Aries’ mom Emma listens to her daughter’s last video message to her, saying all is well—and probably isn’t watching it for the first time. It’s been over forty days since Team B5 was last seen on McPa, and Ulgar’s father has gathered all the other parents to decide whether to call off the search and declare their children permanently lost.

Emma is not ready to make that determination, and even correctly conjectures that the reason there’s neither remains nor luggage on McPa is because their kids are somewhere in space, still alive. But many of the parents are past the “denial” phase of loss (or don’t love their kids as much as her) and are ready to give up.

Meanwhile, at the very same time, many thousands of light years away, not only are their kids perfectly fine…they’re living it up on a tropical beach.

Planet #3 is Arispade – which is 99% water with one tiny islet that features a wealth of food and a sugar-white beach on which to break out and show off one’s swimsuit. It’s paradise. It’s so paradise, Quitterie almost loses it; after all they’ve been through, why are things suddenly so easy and comfortable that she can totally see herself living out the rest of her days on that beach?

Since this is, in fact, Kanata no Astra‘s beach episode, it wastes no time delivering the goods, as Quitterie insists on comparing boob sizes with Aries and Yunhua, and also assures Aries she’ll have no problem attracting Captain Kanata with her “spicy” bikini. The implication flusters Aries.

Back on the ship, there’s more good slice-of-life, with Quitterie pressing her attack upon Aries, urging her to go ask Kanata out, or at least find out if he already has a boyfriend. Aries actually musters the courage to ask him if he’s popular with girls (he says he’s popular with “all humans”) and then asks if he has a girlfriend (he says all girls are his friends). Neither Aries or Quitterie are happy with Kanata’s lame replies. Quitterie exacts swift punishment by sticking Kanata’s toothbrush up his nose; Aries goes to bed early; dejected.

Meanwhile, Luca thinks he’s making progress becoming friends with Ulgar, having fashioned a bow, arrow, and fishing poles for him to do what he apparently does best: shoot and hunt. Yet Ulgar remains aloof and hostile, and becomes…something else entirely when he learns that Luca’s last name is Esposito, and that he’s the son of a senator back home.

Ulgar’s reaction—like a switch had been flipped in his head, combined with the image of the gun we saw a couple weeks back, spell nothing but dread for the final scene of the episode, an otherwise placid sunset repast among the crew members, with only one person absent: Ulgar.

After waxing romantic about the time they have and how neither photos nor medically secured memories will ever adequately convey the emotions they’ve felt in the last fifty-or-so days, and Luca remarks that he doesn’t even believe there’s an enemy among them, that enemy finally reveals himself, and points his gun at Luca’s head, warning he’ll shoot if he moves.

And that my friends is how you go from a solid “8” episode that lacked any danger or difficulty for twenty-two minutes, to a solid “9” in the twenty-third. The good-old cliffhanger. It doesn’t even matter if the most likely of the crew to be the bad guy is the bad guy (unless he isn’t, and there are more twists afoot); that was marvelously done.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 05 – Relay Chase, Sauna Race

Summer is over, and with the Fall comes Sports Day, a day Hibiki has been dreading. Worse still, students are appointed for events based on lottery, not skill, so she finds herself the anchor of the final event: the 400m relay.

Hibiki is not a skilled runner (nor is Satomi), but Machio has pointers for them both: leg curls work the hamstrings (the “accelerator” muscles) without working the quads (the “brake” muscles).

Leg curls also tone your bottom, which fires Hibiki up; she may have missed the chance to have a hot summer bod but she’d still working towards a hot winter bod. Unfortunately, her overzealouness leads to her pants splitting.

When the day of the relay arrives, Hibiki finds herself competing directly against Akemi, who doesn’t know that Hibiki has been secretly working her lesser-known iliopsoas muscles located in the back, crucial for sprinting. Akemi may be cleaning up for her Class A team, but Hibiki aims to make a race of it.

Unfortunately, the baton transfer fails and Hibiki ends up way behind, but still rallies to finish second behind Akemi, impressing both of them. It’s just too bad her second-place finish is wiped out by the fact the runner who dropped the baton didn’t pick it up, leading to her disqualification.

The loss really eats at Hibiki, but she finds an opportunity to exact her revenge when after a day of training, the four girls decide to hit the sauna after the showers and have a little competition: whoever lasts longest in the sauna will get all of the four raffle tickets Machio gave them (the show makes sure to warn viewers not to try this at home).

Ayaka is the first to hit her limit and leave, followed, rather surprisingly, by Akemi. Hibiki is flagging, but Satomi looks cool as a cucumber…until Hibiki realizes she’s so burnt out she’s basically stuck in place. That makes Hibiki the winner! Too bad she doesn’t win a trip to America with her tickets, but four T-shirts she doesn’t really want, and gives to Akemi anyway. So ends another entertaining and informative Dumbbells.

P.S. This show is also super strong with the twisted reactions, critical asides, and of course, fourth-wall breaks:

…Though characters seem to have stopped commenting on the eroticism inherent in Machio’s training lessons. Like Machio himself, I guess they just got used to them!

Vinland Saga – 04 – The Warrior Without a Sword

Even Askeladd’s biggest, toughest warrior Bjorn, tripping balls on “berserker mushrooms,” can’t make Thors so much as draw his sword. He defeats an entire boatfull of Askeladd’s men with his bare hands, then smells him out as the leader and challenges him to a duel.

Askeladd shows why he commands such a large group of unruly pirates—he’s really good in a swordfight, relying on speed, surprise, and trickery to get the upper hand. When Thors starts wearing down Askeladd’s sword at the cost of his own, Askeladd takes the bait, swinging wide and paying for it.

If Askeladd were an honorable warrior like Thors, he would have accepted defeat. But things aren’t that simple. Thors is outraged that the rules are being broken, but Askeladd has clearly made a life out of doing just that—not to mention Thors also broke the rules by deserting in the first place.

Now, while it’s been great hanging out with the Troll of Jom and seeing the awesome things he can do, we’ve known pretty much since the start that he wasn’t going to last long, and sure enough, as Thorfinn watches helplessly, he’s run through with a good number of arrows from above.

In the end, Thors was as much a victim of his own pacifist ideals, and the expectation everyone he dealt with would follow the warrior’s code to the letter, than those arrows or any cheating on Askeladd’s part. Men like Askeladd almost always outlast men like Thors because they understand that rules don’t mean a damn thing if you’re dead.

In Thors’ case, he’s also incredibly lucky that Askeladd decides to honor Thors’ duel victory by withdrawing and sparing the rest of Thors’ crew. But his one final miscalculation was that Thorfinn would go quietly back to Iceland after watching his father cheated and killed before his eyes.

Thors’ death now sets up Thorfinn’s quest for vengeance, as he stows away the villagers’ ship Askeladd’s crew took as a prize and basically stares the man down, promising he’ll kill him. Askeladd is unimpressed, and tells his men to leave him to starve. If he manages to survive, he could be useful down the road. After all, his whole crew saw the fire in the kid’s eyes.

I won’t lie; it was tough to blast through three fantastic episodes of Vinland Saga in the first week, then wait three weeks for the fourth, especially when we knew full well Thors was doomed and his son is going to join Askeladd’s crew. It would have been better if this introductory arc had been completed before the long hiatus, but alas. Still, while telegraphed, Thors’ death was still well-executed. Now we move on to the next phase.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 04 – Brains Beat BOSS-Drinking Brawn

Nishikata is the best arm wrestler in his class, due to the fact he does three push-ups for every time Takagi teases him during the day. But all that extra brawn is for naught as long as he doesn’t exercise that most important of “muscles”—his head.

Case in point: Takagi genially challenges him to arm wrestle, and in the first round starts she pretends to be far weaker than him, and simply waits for him to let his guard down. In round two, Nishikata is done playing around, but is then flustered when she asks if he wants to hold hands walking home.

In both cases, Nishikata’s superior strength is neutralized by Takagi’s mind games. And yet all Nishikata will do as a result of his losses is do more push-ups. After all, he simply can’t predict every trick Takagi has up her sleeve. He could plan 100 moves in advance and she’d be ready with Move 101.

After Hina tries to make a big display of how mature and grown-up she is by staring out the window, sighing, and talking about the impermanence of things (mostly foods) which only leads to Yukari and Sanae laughing at her, Nishikata decides to show Takagi how mature he is by taking the advice of one of his guy mates (never a good idea) and drinking the bitterest coffee he can buy.

That coffee, clearly a non-copyright-infringing stand-in for Suntory BOSS, proves way too bitter for him to not make all the faces one expects of someone who hates coffee, and in addition to being a Teasing Master Takagi is also mastered reading Nishikata’s face.

She does the practical (and truly mature) thing and buys a delicious melon soda, and offers Nishikata a sip, pointing out it would be an indirect kiss. To accept her offer would actually show maturity on his part, since an indirect kiss shouldn’t be a big deal to a grown-up.

Not to mention Takagi isn’t about to stop teasing him even if he convincingly enjoyed a can of BOSS; she’d simply devise new ways to tease him. It’s what she does.

Finally, Takagi meets Nishikata for their walk to school, but for once without her bike. He recalls her saying something about the brakes on their last walk, and assumes that’s the reason why, but Takagi warns him that if he guesses wrong it’s an “instant loss,” so he ponders other reasons as they take detours not possible with a bike.

Ultimately, Nishikata sticks with his brake answer, thinking Takagi was throwing a bunch of other potential reasons (stairs, hopscotch, cats) as a distraction. But of course, he’s wrong. Takagi actually had two genuine reasons that he did not consider. One, she didn’t bring her bike because she wanted to watch him struggle to determine the reason. Two, she actually did, and does, want to hold hands with Nishikata, hence no bike.

Of course, whether it’s dropping her -san or sipping from her can or holding her hand, Nishikata remains nervously reticent, despite now being a second-year. Because he makes her laugh so much, this doesn’t seem to bother Takagi so much, but as Hina says, nothing lasts forever, so one would hope that applies to Takagi’s patience.

At some point, Nishikata is going to have to reckon with the fact a girl likes him, and he likes her back, and pursuing that is more important than winning and losing silly games.

HenSuki – 04 – The Desired Outcome

Last week, before I endured a week of high-altitude training, I presupposed that Nanjou Mao has a particular interest in Keiki, but considering she was neither a sadist or masochist, the particular peculiar shape that interest took remained up in the air.

Keiki gets a bit of a reprieve this week when both Yuika and Sayuki independently offer their apologies for “going too far” and urge him to “make up” with Mao. When he confronts Mao after class, she asks if he’ll hang out with her and Shouma at the arcade, like they used to.

There, we get the second hint of Mao’s interest—her first was the very characteristic Stressed Mangaka Girl Look (AKA the School Queen/Home Nerd Look popularized by Kare Kano, but I digress). When Keiki slips and is about to fall backwards, he’s caught in an inadvertent wall slam by Shouma, which excites Mao very much.

Later, while walking Mao home, Mao wonders out loud if he wants to be in a couple rather than a trio. Keiki also notices Mao staring intently at a photo of Shouma, and gets the wrong idea that she likes Shouma. But when he pries too deeply and too directly, she runs off on him, even in the pouring rain, leaving him with the rank of Sex Animal Sergeant.

Having made next to no progress, Keiki seeks advice from Mizuha, of all people, who was previously peeping at his porn stash, puts his head in her lap, and hides an annoyed look from her brother when he discusses other girls.

Still, she advises him to go all out, but act naturally, and if it doesn’t work, she’ll surely will be there to comfort him. When Keiki once more confronts a sleepy Mao after class and apologizes profusely for hurting her feelings, and unwisely offers to do “anything” to make things right.

Mao declares she wants Keiki in a relationship…not with her, but with Shouma. That’s right: Mao is a fujoshi, and her Shortcake series uses Shouma and Keiki as her character models. She wasn’t jealous that other girls were coming on to him; she was angry that they were ruining her image of Keiki as a BL model!

If he refuses to date Shouma, she threatens do everything in her power to impede all of his other romantic endeavors. So now all three of the non-sister girls in Keiki’s circle have some quirk he’s not sure he can live with. If that weren’t bad enough, someone leaves an envelope in his shoe locker containing a photo of him groping Sayuki…perhaps an prelude from one of the yet-to-be-introduced other girls?

Cop Craft – 04 – Temporary Insanity

Picking right back up from last week, Tilarna and Kei reach the roof where the fairy Leahyah is trapped in a psychic bomb on a timer. Zelada is ready with magical blue flames that horribly burn the better part of Kei’s back.

As Tilarna tries to counterattack with little success, Kei focuses not on what his eyes see but on what he hears, knowing Zelada is hiding himself with illusion magic. His pistol, which Tilarna said had a certain level of latena, briefly glows purple before he gets a shot off, and it’s a direct hit.

Tilarna presses the attack by claiming one of Zelada’s arms, but he throws himself off the building rather than suffer the dishonor of being killed by a human and a pipsqueak knight. With Kei too burned to get up, the clock winding down on the bomb, and no known way to defuse it, Tilarna sits down with Kei and Leahyah for their final shared moments alive.

Realizing the child she helped when she was lost in the forest is ready to die beside her, Leahyah sacrifices her body before the bomb detonates. With no other choice, Tilarna uses the resulting output of latena to cast a healing spell on Kei. With Leahyah dead, Tilarna and Kei have failed in their primary mission.

Tilarna prepares to board a ship back home where she’ll return a disgraced and dishonored knight, but is ready to face the music. He gives her the floral broach he got back from O’Neill, and she thanks Kei for his partnership, praising him as a “gallant doreany soldier” when they part.

And from the time they bid one another farewell, Kei goes through the rest of the day positively miserable—more so than usual for him. Then he comes home and hears the TV is on, tuned to a basketball game. He draws his gun, looks inside…and finds Tilarna, in casual clothes, lazing on the couch with Kuroi.

She changed her mind: Zelada may not be dead, and there are other threats in San Teresa, so she got a field commission to detective in order to continue serving as Kei’s partner. Kei tries to seem put out, but there’s no doubt he’s happy about this.

On their next arrest raid, Tilarna and Kei are front and center when they take the door, but in her medieval overzealousness Tilarna also takes the finger of a gunman. She thinks nothing of it—she was simply serving justice—but their new chief, Zimmer, lights them both up, saying whatever the “alien” (as he racistly refers to Tilarna) does, her partner Kei is just as responsible.

Thus the old earlier dynamic Tilarna and Kei being at each other’s throats continues apace, with Kei refuing to thank Tilarna for rescuing him and Tilarna repeatedly punching Kei in the back. This all looks like flirting to other detectives, who show them an old wooden coffin with Semanian writing…and a Semanian mummy inside.

They take the mummy to the medical examiner (and Kei’s ex), Dr. Cecil Epps, who resents having to perform an autopsy on an archaeological artifact, but becomes fast friends with Tilarna when the two women share their mutual disdain for Kei. Though Tilarna still isn’t quite clear what an “ex” is, she does chalk up her reunion with Kei as a bout of “temporary insanity.”

The pair is summoned to the station to speak with the suspect whose finger Tilarna sliced off, and she immediately establishes herself as the “bad cop” by pulling her dagger and tossing the perp around. It ultimately pays off, as she learns from where they stole the coffin…and realizes that Cecil is in mortal danger.

Back at the M.E.’s office, Cecil has delegated the CT scan of the mummy to her assitant, Chapman, who either hates her or has a secret crush on her he’s not handling well. That means Chapman becomes the mummy’s first victim, as Cecil enters the CT room to find all his blood being drained and drunk by the now fully animate vampire.

Tilarna arrives to save Cecil, and the vampire says something in what she identifies as “the old language.” The vampire is superbly nimble—not to mention extremely creepy—and even naked, unarmed, and without her morning coffee, still proves more than a handful even for Tilarna. Perhaps she’ll get some timely backup from her partner and his latena-infused sidearm.

While Cop Craft’s fish-out-of-water buddy cop dramedy is deceptively simple, it sports some of the summer’s best and most creative cinematography and action animation, and Tilarna’s striking character design is one of the coolest (and cutest) while Yoshioka Mayu does some great work as her seiyu. And despite its perils, San Teresa is still a really fun place to spend time.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 04 –Lightning Round

Gray eavesdrops on Lord El-Melloi talking to a scrap of Iskander’s cloak, longing to be in the Holy War again. To do so, he must bow his head before the late Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri’s brother Bram, incoming head of the Spiritual Evocation department.

In the meantime, El-Melloi has a fresh case, involving a fellow lecturer in Wills Pelham Codrington and Marburry Workshop he inherited from his father Trevor, who was among many recently killed by increasing amounts of lightning at the site believed to be the result of an unbalanced leyline.

It is Reines who meets clandestinely with Bram, who agrees in principle to help El-Melloi get one of the coveted spots for the next Holy Grail War. Not only does Reines demonstrate a Machiavellian shrewdness far beyond her meager years, but also shows off a very cool trick involving blue stones that create a magic wall of privacy for her and Bram.

Sophia-Ri is offering the slot in exchange for El-Melloi investigating the Codrington affair, which is basically a matter of inheritance between a main and branch family, on behalf of a Spiritual Evocation department that doesn’t want to sully its reputation by getting involved. Immediately upon arriving, Reines’ “Mystic Eyes” turn red and start to hurt.

They reach the mansion to find they are not the first to arrive: a member of Policies, Adashino Hishiri, is already on the scene with Waletta, a member of the head Codrington family who is also a childhood friend he rejected for marriage…so there’s clearly bad blood.

Adashino is ready to arrest and charge Wills with his own father’s murder, since the lightning only appears when Wills is at the workshop. Despite El-Melloi also having some kind of unpleasant past with Adashino, he manages to convince her to give him a chance to determine the truth, and whether Wills really is responsible.

As Wills shows El-Melloi a fairy rooted to the Marburry lands who has appeared and warned him every time before someone dies, Reines is also feeling a little adventurous, and she and Gray explore an underground catacombs, and meet a man in sunglasses who wards off hostile spirits with a magical shotgun.

The man is Shishigou Kairi, necromancer, mercenary, and a friend of the late Trevor’s, apparently there to pay his respects, but also among the suspects in Trevor’s murder.

With the hour late and Reines taxed by her Mystic Eyes, El-Melloi is ready to retire for the night, but is vexed by the lack of a connecting factor between the thunder, Mystic Eyes, and graveyard. After the credits, the pattern of someone dying after the fairy appears before Wills repeats, as Gray reports to El-Melloi that Waletta is the latest to be struck by lightning.

Despite both the whodunit and howdunit remaining up in the air, what we have is the first part of an incomplete investigation that is nevertheless compelling enough to make me eager for part two. This is also the first case that is explicitly not just about paying debts, but getting Waver another shot at the Holy Grail, in which he presumably intends to repay the greatest debt of all.

DanMachi II – 03 – Finding an Opening

Soma’s commander, Zanis, claims that the whole point of helping Apollo attack Hestia Familia was to bring Liliruca back into the family, but all he really cares about is her transformation magic, with which he intends to make a fortune. Lili’s prison guard, Chandra, snorts at Zanis’ arrogance; portending his giving a helping hand to Lili later.

Hestia meets with Welf, Takemikazuchi, Ouka, Mikoto, Chigusa, Miach, and Naza to arrange a rescue mission. When they ask whether the upcoming War Game with Apollo Familia should be her priority, Hestia retorts that all she has against Apollo is Bell, but he can’t fight 100% as long as he’s worried about his supporter, so Lili must come first.

As for the meeting of the gods in which the terms of the War Game are set out, Hestia by way of Hermes draws the worst possible lot: a siege. When Hermes says that the situation is just too unfair unless Hestia is allowed helpers, and Freya mocks Apollo for being afraid of allowing them, Apollo caves to the crowd and declares that Hestia Familia shall be allowed *one* helper, but they can’t be from Orario.

Meanwhile, Zanis reveals his true nature by dropping the whole “family” bit with Lili: she’s a resource he’ll use up and discard for his own gain. Once Zanis leaves, Chandra tosses the keys to Lili to do as she will; he can’t stand that guy! Once free, Lili finds a rescue raid in progress that she doesn’t even want. When she tells Hestia and the others to leave her, Hestia tells her how important she is to Bell—to all of them—and that they’re not leaving without her.

Lili tries one more time to get Soma to take a break from his winemaking and do something, but typically he’s left everything to the corrupt Zanis. This time, he offers some wine to Lili, and if she is still able to ask him for help, he’ll do as she asks.

To Soma’s surprise, Lili does not become a drunk slave, and still has the lucidity to beg him to stop the battle, which he does, even allowing Welf to zipline in and sword-slap Zanis in his shitty face.

With Lili safely rescued, she promptly officially transfers from Soma to Hestia Familia, and she’s not the only one. Mikoto asks Takemikazuchi for a transfer to Hestia, and wanting to help Hestia, he agrees. Welf also gets Hephaistios to let him transfer, while Hermes and Syl convince Ryu Lion to be the one helper that Hestia is allowed to recruit.

With Hestia Familia appointed the attacker in the War Game siege, and Bell training hard with Ais and Tiona, the odds of a Hestia victory are starting to look a lot less hopeless!

Astra Lost in Space – 04 – Songstress of the Mushroom Kingdom

In addition to action, adventure, and danger, there’s also quite a bit of plain old life aboard the Astra, and whenever the crew is not working against the clock to save their skins, there are little quiet moments of that life: Zack accidentally walking in on a naked Quitterie (and even worse for her, not blushing about it); Funi coming up with a new way to address Kanata (“Aye, yeah!”); or Kanata basically telling the traitor, whoever they are, to “do their worst.”

In the meantime, the crew is going to focus on food and water, not investigations that will waste time and sink morale. While I’m sure the mystery traitor will cause more problems down the road, I’m glad it’s not totally dominating the narrative or the headspace of the crew members. Instead, the crew splits up to find food on the planet Shummoor, a name that sounds kind of like “mushroom,” and thus a hint about who or rather what is the true king of the planet.

Thanks to some friendly Gruppies, one team makes it back to the ship with giant cacti full of water, while the other team has a pretty big haul of delicious fruits. Unfortunately, those fruits spoil almost immediately after being picked, making them unsuitable for storage. This presents a serious problem: their first day’s haul of food will only be good for five days at most; not nearly enough to reach the next planet.

After Ulgar earlier called the towering Yunhua a “big girl” and “useless”, Luca’s thoughtless joking words about being worried Yunhua inadvertently eating all of what little food they have are the last straw. Aries and Kanata find Yunhua’s glasses and a note saying she’s left the ship and will stay behind for the benefit of everyone else.

Naturally, Captain Hoshijima is not going to remotely accept that; each crew member is precious, regardless of their talents or other perceived value. Thankfully both Luca and Ulgar show at least a measure of remorse for their ugly words.

As to Yunhua’s crushing lack of self-esteem, it’s chalked up to Yunhua’s dream to sing like her mother (a famous professional singer) and that selfish mother’s commitment to making sure Yunhua not only never sings to anyone, but remains as invisible as possible.

Even though Kanata has skills for which he’s been praised (and indeed qualities that made him the consensus captain), he can still empathize with Yunhua, for the trauma in his past stems from an inability to do anything to save his sensei. He knows what it’s like to feel useless, but what’s even more useless is to keep feeling that way.

But Yunhua leaving the ship isn’t the crisis of the week, it’s the mushrooms, specifically, when the Pole Tree releases poisonous spores that knock out Aries, Zack, Luca, Ulgar, Funi, and Charce, who at leasts manages to send an SOS to Kanata warning him not to take his helmet off.

Every planet is going to have a bit of an edge of danger to it—it’s built into human nature to fear the unknown—but I like how Astra smartly builds up its threats with clues, while also presenting possible solutions that, while not impossible, still require the crew to work together—or for individual members to do what is necessary when it’s their turn.

Dr. Quitterie is stumped; the medical supplies on the ship can only make the six patients a little more comfortable, but aren’t sufficient to cure them. As Kanata did with the traitor mystery, Quitterie drops her beef with Yunhua running away (and risking everyone else’s life to look for her) and asks her to help out with the patients.

Charce, still barely conscious, figures out the process of the predatory Pole Trees that rule Shummoor, and their symbiotic relationship to the moss and other plants. When Kanata asks if the ecosystem has some kind of limiter on the predation of animals, Charce says there could be an antidote out there: a medicinal mushroom. Sure enough, Yunhua used that very mushroom earlier to cure an ill gruppie. Kanata runs back out there to find some.

He has no luck, and worse, Quitterie succumbs to the spores, having been around the infected so much. That means the only non-bedridden crew member on the ship is Yunhua. Remembering her chat with Kanata about her dream to sing but reluctance to defy her mom, Yunhua steps up and finally does what only she can do: sing to her ill crewmates, sing with all her might, and by doing so create a soothing atmosphere suitable for healing.

As she envisions herself on the stage, in a glittering purple gown, with her bangs out of her face, belting out a reassuring song, Kanata realizes that the Pole Tree won’t allow access to the antidote fruits unless he’s suffering the symptoms of the poisonous spores. So, in true Classic Sci-Fi Captain-y fashion, he takes a huge gamble, removes his helmet, and lets himself be poisoned.

 

Sure enough, the medicinal mushrooms reveal themselves before him, he eats enough to get back on his feet, and the very gruppie he and Yunhua saved gives him a ride back to the Astra. The other ill crew members eat the mushrooms and recover.

The captain put his crew before himself and they are grateful for it. But Yunhua is even more grateful for Kanata helping her break her chains of self-loathing, leading to her playing a vital role  in the crew’s recovery.

As for the crew, they’ve likely learned some vital lessons for future planetary excursions: just because a plant or a mushroom doesn’t have teeth or a roar doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous or deadly. Anything in this vast universe is capable of ruling a kingdom, and mere humans interlope at their own risk.

Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

Fire Force – 03 – Hero or Devil

Enen no Shouboutai took a week off out of respect for the victims of the Kyoto Animation fire. There was probably never going to be an ideal way to return to regularly scheduled programming, but it felt particularly awkward to frontload the first episode back with repeated accidental gropings of poor hastily-introduced Kotatsu Tamaki, the show’s new resident Revealing Outfit Girl. I could forgive the empty fanservice if the episode had better points to focus on…but sadly, it didn’t.

What this disjointed episode did have was a whole lot of plot and table-setting. The Rookie Fire Soldier Games begin with all the fanfare of a quaint high school sports festival, but the episode abandons the games almost as quickly as it introduces them, by taking a sharp right onto the tired “Evil Clownlike Villain” road, introducing “Joker,” a name I think we can all agree is not the most imaginative.

When Shinra enters the building, Joker is assaulting two fire soldiers. He also threatens to kill Shinra, but also offers him the chance to join him, becoming a “devil” instead of a “hero.” This doesn’t fly too great for Shinra, partly due to his lifelong dream to become a hero (not a devil) and partly because the Joker assaulted two of his comrades. The two duel (Shinra’s no match for Joker), Arthur and Tamaki pitch in a bit (neither are they) and Joker fills the building with highly explosive ash.

Shinra grabs Arthur, Tamaki and the two injured soldiers and flies out of a hole in the roof. Tamaki’s captain praises Shinra, but doesn’t offer any more info on the circumstances of the fire twelve years ago. Joker hoped to lure Shinra to his side by sharing “the truth,” including the claim his brother, just one year old when he died, is actually still alive.

Some lengthy still shots filled with exposition from Captain Oubi later (seriously; the last five minutes are barely animated), we now learn the 8th Company has a mandate to investigate the other seven as part of an effort to uncover the truth of spontaneous human combustion, the explanation for which may already be known. Whatever their mission, Shinra wishes to remain on the hero’s path. We’ll see how hard Joker makes that.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 04 – No Gym? No Ocean? No Problem!

Due to a large volume of summer casual trainers at the gym, Hibiki and Akemi aren’t able to access the “free weights” like the bench press and dumbbells, so on Machio’s advice they train instead on machines like the chest press machine, which are a good way to diversify the way one exercises a muscle group.

Ayaka also joins the gym to give boxing classes, and is as immediately smitten with (a fully clothed) Machio as Hibiki and Satomi were…before he struck his signature “Side Chest!”, that is.

The first day Hibiki, Akemi and Ayaka meet up to go to the gym as a trio, Silverman is unexpectedly closed for the day. While they lacked their primary training equipment at the gym, not having access to a gym at all means getting more resourceful.

Akemi invites the other two to her palacial house, and shows them a beefcake-packed video by Ozu Toshio, apparently Machio’s sensei. They learn reverse sit-ups and dips using chairs, but unfortunately when Hibiki ups the difficulty by attempting dips with a backpack full of books, she breaks two antique chairs she later learns could sell at auction for hundreds of millions of yen. Oops!

Finally, the three girls (plus Satomi, in another case of pure coincidence) hit the beach to show off their tight new bods, only to learn the summer swimming season is closed due to hammerhead sharks in the water.

Not one to be discouraged by a setback, Akemi shows the others how to do burpees, which exercise the entire body (which she proceeds to expose in the instructional video), followed by sprints along the beach. While everyone gets properly worn out by day’s end, everyone rightly feels a great sense of accomplishment. Who needs gyms, or even the sea, when you have a nice stretch of sand?

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 03 – A Matter of Honor(ifics)

Nishikata is eager to pull an April Fool’s Prank on Takagi, but immediately he plays himself by essentially asking her out on a date, a get-together independent from class or school. And for the record, Takagi is delighted to go on a date, even if Nishikata refuses to admit that’s exactly what it is.

The constant futile attempts to “get one over” on Takagi are simply a shallow front for the truth: Nishikata would rather Takagi were in his life than not. One need only see how morose he gets when imagining she’s not in his class when their second year starts.

Making full use of the “date” opening Nishikata so carelessly gave her, Takagi insists they attend to the sakura viewing with Yukari, Sanae, and Mina, who is constantly exercising so she can one day become a gravure model…though her friends note she is quite a bit removed from that future.

The only future Nishikata claims to want is one in which he’s not constantly teased by Takagi. Drawing from his beloved 100% Unrequited Love manga, he tries to throw her off balance by dropping the -san and simply calling her Takagi. While that certainly surprises Takagi, she’s actually fine with him doing it whenever he likes, and when challenging him to do so, he crumbles.

Still, when the second year begins and Nishikata’s desk is right back next to Takagi’s in class, he is fully committed to acting like an “upperclassman,” which means dropping her honorific. This also backfires when he proves utterly unable to follow through, combined with Takagi’s teasing. He eventually gets so caught up in it, he naturally drops -san again, which Takagi reiterates is not something she’d ever mind.

Hardly any other anime around gets away with basically rolling out the same thing over and over again, yet it almost never gets old. Perhaps that’s partly because there are always little hints and indications of progress being made on the romance front. Takagi being ever more assertive doesn’t hurt either; her “enough lies, let’s just talk” line was particularly satisfying, as was her recitation of lines from the 100% anime both she and Nishikata watch.