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.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 04 – Fifty Pages of Cute

When Rika maintained a practical, studious appearance, her classmates would say hateful things to her, but when she changes her look and becomes “hot” to girls and boys alike, all the attention and remarks are just as unpleasant. But when she retreats, Amagi follows her and tells her he’s falling for her. Flustered, Rika orders him to write a 50-page report on why, firmly believing he’s only been “hoodwinked” by her makeover and only likes her superficially.

Having already essentially blackmailed Yamagishi into advising the club, Hitoha confronts an inconsistency in his words and actions. If he really has “no appetite” for high school girls, why did he agree to meet one from a chatroom?

His monologue about them being “crude and unrefined,” and his assumption from her words that he was chatting with a “middle aged man,” cause Hitoha to snap. She jumps on Yamagishi, demanding to know if such conduct is “within his expectations,” but just as quickly shoves him back and flees, in part because, well…being on top of Yamagishi aroused her.

When they’re alone again, Hitoha tells Yamagishi as much. Furthermore, she grabs his hand, places it on her chest, and demands that he “teach her the reality” of the material she’s struggling to write about. Even if it’s Hitoha instigating a potential relationship, the power imbalance is clear, and the bottom line is legally she’s still a child while Yamagishi isn’t. So I can’t say I like where this is going, even if I understand it.

In other O Maidens news, Sudou Momoko actually exists as a character!! After a nice one-on-one with Sugawara (who declares Momoko and Kazusa her two best friends), she’s invited to karaoke with a mixed party, but the boys sing songs with sexually explicit lyrics.

One of the boys, Sugimoto Satoshi, can tell she’s uncomfortable, and joins her outside to talk. He reveals that for a long time he’s admired her maturity and confidence from afar, and asks if they can exchange LINE info to keep in touch. Momoko is a little relieved, a little overwhelmed, but also glad that someone out there has been thinking about her.

As she tells Kazusa, with whom she meets up to tell her about Sugimoto, Momoko says she now understands more how Kazusa must feel about Izumi…even if Kazusa hasn’t 100% figured that out.

Back to Rika, who for the second straight day is earnestly approached by Juujou, one of the class “it” gals, but refuses to have lunch with her (it is the same girl who called her names not long ago). Retreating to a thankfully unlocked rooftop, Rika is again chased down by Amagi, who presents her with his report, leaving her to read it alone.

Rika immediately starts poking holes in Amagi’s writing, using the not inconsiderable critical thinking she applies to the literature she writes. But the more she reads it, the fear it’s all skin-deep nonsense fades away when entire pages of “Rika is cute” seem to wash away the bitterness of all the bad things flung at her for so long. Amagi utilizes uses the report as a love letter, ending by asking her out. Rika has a big choice to make!

One of girls who got a lot less time this week was Niina, who as I mentioned was flattered by Momoko’s kind words about her being more than just a pretty face. She’s also the victim of some petty antagonism from Asada, who changes her tone from spiteful to innocent when Izumi shows up. Clearly she sees Niina as an impediment.

Izumi, meanwhile, continues to have cordial, friendly interactions with Niina, which, combined with his increasingly awkward (or as was the case this week, nonexistent) interactions with Kazusa, spells trouble for her. She had the least time this week, and didn’t get anywhere in patching things up.

If anything, when she spots Izumi and Niina on the train and remembers Niina’s desire to have sex before she dies, she only conceded more ground vis a vis Izumi that she simply can’t afford to lose. All the while, it’s becoming more and more impossible to escape into books.