Appare-Ranman! – 05 – Jockeying for Position

Kosame gathers up a sleeping Appare and Hototo for the pre-race banquet, where they are immediately turned away for not abiding by the dress code—something Xialian is doing thanks to her classy new dress. The code suddenly becomes more flexible when Thousand Three member TJ arrives in an outfit even more outlandish than Appare’s, carrying a turntable boombox playing anachronistic music.

Thanks to TJ the others gain entry (once Kosame puts on a necktie), and we soon learn that when it comes to fashion, Thousand Three members are extremely extra, judging by the arrival of the ruthless Gil and his lieutenant Chase. Hototo only came in order to ask Dylan about a snake tattoo. Dylan tells him it’s worn by Gil’s henchmen, but suggests that if he wants revenge (and not to die), he’ll have to be patient.

There are introductions of the B.I.G. BOSS car companies, the race cars, and their drivers (Kosame’s name is mispronounced and they’re given number 0), and then the pre-race lottery for pole position begins. TJ breaks up the ceremony by shooting the raffle box and declaring pole position for himself, which leads Dylan to challenge him. That sparks a very weird pistol duel, complete with unlimited ammo and acrobatic bullet-dodging moves.

The other drivers hash it out with duels ranging from kicking  to cucumber slicing. It’s all a little nutty and arbitrary, and it’s a miracle not one person was shot or even wounded by all the stray gunfire (though if the show takes such liberties with tech and fashion, it tracks that it doesn’t have a problem taking them with normal human ability and gun lethality as well).

That brings us to the next day and the start of the race, which we first saw in the first episode back in April. After five episodes of setup, the race has finally begun, and Appare has a steam-powered car in a race that favors gasoline-powered cars. No matter; he declares the car will never be finished because it will always be evolving, including during the race.

With Hototo as a guide and Kosame as…er, captain, they’ll no doubt take routes and make moves other racers are either too afraid or too sane—or both—to attempt. But even as the racers speed off into the wild, there are conspiratorial elements committed to turning the race into a “tragedy”.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 04 – Don’t Let Reality Win

As Mami and Kazuya kiss, all of his time with Mami flashes before his eyes, from the moment they meet to their first kiss. As Mami’s “lost” bracelet lies in a very intentional spot for her to pick up at will, she asks Kazuya to forgive her, as she just “couldn’t control herself anymore.”

This keeps the possibility alive in Kazuya’s head that a reunion with Mami isn’t just possible, but also what Mami wants. Even if this encounter is 100% a calculated move by Mami as part of her breakup scheme, a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if a part of Mami really does want him back.

When Kazuya gets a call from his gran telling him she’ll be out of the hospital soon, it gives him another opportunity to properly end things with Chizuru. His friends also give him an opening when they pepper Chizuru with questions about where she lives and plans to hang out.

But when he sorta-half comes clean and tells them they’ve been planning to break up, his best friend Kibe won’t let it slide. He starts beating Kazuya up, accusing him of fawning over Mami and generally being a wishy-washy, self-centered dirt bag. He tosses out this exquisite line: “Yes, your brain’s a dumpster fire, but at least make it burn for your current flame!”

Kibe also puts some of the blame at the feet of Mami, accusing her of leading on a guy she dumped despite knowing full well he’s a fool who will fall for it every time. Mami’s eyes narrow without going “empty” as they’ve done in the past, and half-heartedly pleads ignorance, but Kibe seems to have her pegged despite her attempts at subterfuge.

The issue is, Kibe doesn’t know the whole story, which is that Chizuru didn’t choose Kazuya, but the other way around. Chizuru knows this, which is why she regrets the beating Kazuya took but is proud of him for taking the first step to separating the two of them.

She calls what he did a bold move, and that he can be a man when he tries. When he apologizes for all the trouble he caused her, she rebuts that being a rental girlfriend is her job, and she had fun. When he walks off, ready to cut ties with her, there’s an unmistakable look of doubt in her face. She’s not doubting whether Kazuya will really go through with it, but whether that’s she truly wants.

Things get more complicated—again (don’t they always?) when Kibe takes Chizuru aside for a chat. He explains how he’s known Kazuya since they were little kids, and so knows full well what a dumbass he can be. He describes his friend to an absolute T that Chizuru can’t help but recognize. Then Kibe tells a story about a supposed weed that grew in Kazuya’s school planter.

He kept lovingly tending to until it bloomed into a different and more beautiful flower than everyone else’s morning glories. It was a combination of dumb luck and Kazuya’s refusal to stop dreaming and give in to reality. It’s also a touching enough story to make Chizuru a little glassy-eyed. Kibe certainly has a way with words!

Kibe basically gives Chizuru the extra opportunity her previous moments of doubt seemed to be searching for, in the form of ferry tickets. That said, she decides to use one ticket and five Kazuya the other simply because she can’t not after Kibe’s speech. The rest of their plan holds: they’re going to separate and not interact anymore.

Kazuya seems increasingly enthusiastic about putting all the fakeness aside, even as Chizuru is experiencing not second thoughts, but apparent seasickness combined with the fever that had been brewing throughout the episode. She asks Kazuya to let her be, despite that not being the best thing for her in her current state, on a boat.

Kazuya gets a call from Mami, who tells him she’ll wait as long as she has to for him to join her at the pool on the fourth floor of the hotel. She’s blushing heavily during the call despite not having to put on a physical performance for him. Is this a means of cynically ensuring he breaks up with Chizuru, a case of her genuinely desiring more romantic contact…or both? I see ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean it’s there.

What isn’t ambiguous at all is that Chizuru is not well. She stumbles to the railing for some fresh air when the ferry hits a wave, she loses her balance, and then dramatically falls overboard. Thankfully Kazuya is in the vicinity when it happens, and he dives off the boat to save her. Risking his life to save hers…so much for a clean break!

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 17 – Miyama-ty Report

This episode considerably scales back the complexity of last week’s outing and focuses on the precognitive abilities of Miyama Shaei, and their role in transforming Kuroko into even more capable and efficient Judgment Officer.

He starts by predicting a girl falling into the water—Chisa, whom I believe injected an ampule of fertilizer into a tree last week. Where before Kuroko would not have learned of her predicament until after it happened and it was reported, thanks to Miyama’s prediction she can rescue Chisa seconds after she falls in.

One after the other, Miyama predicts mishaps and Kuroko is able to teleport in the nick of time to save the would-be victims. Be it a girlfriend with a knife, a falling sign, or bullies, Kuroko is on the scene and Getting Shit Done.

Like the previous arc where she lost her memories, it’s never not great to see Kuroko operating in fully bad-ass non-comic relief mode. Mikoto and Saten don’t even appear this week, but I didn’t miss them because Kuroko can carry an episode any time she wants.

With the combined help of Miyama’s ability and Uiharu’s handy hacker skillz, a pattern of incidents are predicted in a public park, and the imagery points to a raging fire, so the girls recruit their superior Konori Mii and other members of Judgment to lock the park down and prepare for anything.

Since Kuroko has been at the center of so many incidents with happy endings, the other Judgment members don’t bristle at the odd request. However, Miyama eventually reaches his physical limit and has to be hospitalized with blood cell damage from ability overuse.

While there, he dreams of how he was ostracized at school by popular girls lke Okawachi Megumi for having such a “creepy” ability. She changes her tune when he predicts she’ll fall victim to a mishap, and promises her he’ll try to prevent it. Of course, since this was well before he met Kuroko—the only person who can change the fates he sees—Okawachi is badly injured and curses the day she met him.

When he predicts the first and earliest of the incidents to occur in the park, it involves a stray dog with whom he is close, and starts to wonder if Okawachi is right—if bad things happen to people who know him like her and Perro—as a result of his ability, a chicken-and-egg dilemma that would be stressful for an adult, let alone a grade-schooler.

Night comes, and with them predicted raging fires, an extremely clever and complex sequence of events involving both the park’s vending machine (which may have a frayed power cable due to Mikoto having always zapped it) throwing a short that ignites dry leaves and grass and eventually causes Chisa’s ampules to violently detonate.

Of course, Kuroko, Uiharu, and Judgment don’t panic; they planned for this, and Kuroko is outfitted with both a HUD monocle and breathing tube for a sequence of quick teleports into and out of the fire, rescuing imperiled parkgoers each time. Again, I cannot underscore how much enjoyment I get out of Kuroko simply hunkering down and doing her job extremely well.

A panicked Miyama races to the park to try to rescue Perro on his own, but in his childishness (he is still just a kid after all) he wrongly assumed Judgment wouldn’t bother saving a random stray dog. Kuroko heads back into the inferno with Konori and her X-ray vision and eventually find the dog, a bit limpy but none the worse for wear. Miyama can’t help but blush and tear up, and Kuroko tells him its okay.

Later, we learn that Miyama has arranged for Okawachi to adopt Perro, and that she’s ready to apologize for how she treated him. In a chat with Kuroko, he worries his predictions will only involve those close to him, but she doubts that will be the case, since he’s like her: devoted to peace and justice for all.

She also believes that in time his power will grow to the point he can use it more often without risking his health. And when he does, she’ll be ready and willing to receive more intel so she can do some more rescuing. I love how Kuroko faces away from him to hide her blushing, no doubt a bit embarrassed she shares the same values as a little kid, while also casually mentioning a certain “champion of justice” she looks up to.

The big question last week was if and how the shared dream fad and Miyama’s mishap prediction plot would connect, and the answer comes in a very small detail at the very end: those ridiculously hazardous nutrient ampules that Chisa used? They were meant to allow the cherry blossoms to bloom year-round.

Chisa and her friends got idea to use the ampules…in a shared dream. With the additional brief mention of a “mass unconsciousness outbreak” this week, is it possible Chisa was unknowingly directed to plant explosives, or was it an innocent accident? Considering the potential for abuse of the shared dream system and the large number of troublemakers populating Academy City, I’m not ruling anything out.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 04 – Curry and Rain

This episode starts with Hana paying Shinichi an unannounced visit to his apartment. It’s Golden Week, and she had a reasonable expectation he’d be home and wouldn’t have anything going on. She gets him to join her on a Doraemon Go! trip outdoors, but his eyes are bothering him from all the gaming, so she takes him shopping for glasses. That’s where they encounter Ami, who is back from her family.

The two proceed to gang up on Shinichi, having him wear increasingly ridiculous glasses and then laughing at him. Considering Shinichi is not an M, he’s not really having fun, and the scene gets a bit uncomfortable, especially when Ami lies about having a serious pair for him, only for them to be over-the-top aviators. Shinichi has had his fill of this, so when Hana finally tries on a pair, he insults her and the two dive into a spirited bickering session.

It’s not a particularly good start for two people who are presumably eventually going to click as a couple, but when the train they’re on gets increasingly crowded, their dynamic morphs from aggressively adversarial to protective, as Shinichi’s relatively large body shields her from the crush of new passengers. Eventually the chests of the two are pressed together, Shinichi’s heart rate increases, and both he and Hana start to blush.

She remarks that they’re in a “wall slam” like situation, without getting into how she feels about that, though she admits there’s not much to be done about it; there’s no space. Rather than reckon with the present situation, Shinichi withdraws within himself, trying to block out all sight and sound, only for the smell of Hana’s hair to become more prominent. He ends up passing out standing up, and gets separated from Hana when the doors close between them.

When he comes to form his mini fugue state at the end of the train line, he sees missed calls from an obviously worried Hana, and feels bad. Back at the cafe, Ami suggests the best way forward is to simply reach out to her. At the college common room Hana is down in the dumps because it’s so gray and dreary and “there are no holidays in June”.

So Shinichi, unbidden, takes the initiative and suggests they hang out together to at least make the free time they have worthwhile, and also to make up for leaving her in the lurch on the train. The day they’re to hang out there’s even more rain, and Hana is soaked on her way to his place.

No matter; she simply showers (after playfully asking if he’d join her), borrows his much larger clothes, and cooks up some tasty curry. They spend the day playing Meowcraft, building a ridiculous structure together. Shinichi’s got his new glasses to cut down on blue light, and in general the atmosphere is so much more pleasant and comfortable than the glasses store debacle.

Aside from a brief vertical pan on a showering Hana there’s minimal fanservice and more importantly, no teasing or bickering. Between the close quarters, the shared clothes and cooking together, there’s a lovely domestic intimacy to their day, and even if it never veers into overt romance there’s definitely ample chemistry and amity we frankly needed to see after Glassesgate.

When Shinichi walks Hana to the station, the rain has stopped, and it feels like they’ve reached a milestone in their relationship. Not only did Shinichi suggest they hang out; not only did they thoroughly enjoy themselves, but he suggests she come by another time, something Hana thought wouldn’t happen so fast. She throws caution to the wind and proposes tomorrow, and Shinichi is fine with it!

Now Shinichi knows what it’s like to hang out with Hana on a rainy day, without Ami or any other bystanders to provoke any sniping or misbehavior. The two end up getting along famously. While Shinichi will probably always value his solitude, it’s clear he no longer sees hanging out with Hana to be a hassle or a chore, and something to which he can actually look forward rather than dread. It’s very promising development!

No Guns Life – 16 – Free Will Ain’t Free

While Juuzou destroyed Victor’s first fake body, he has a smaller spare extended backed in a suitcase. Nevertheless, Avi Cobo has Mary at gunpoint, and demands to know where Victor’s real body is, shooting her in the foot to show he means business. Even if the backup had an open shot, Avi has electroreceptors like those of a shark that allow him to dodge most attacks.

Emphasis on most, as Juuzou comes in unwilling to stand by and let one innocent young woman suffer any further harm. He starts the sequence to release his Gun Slave Unit limiters, enabling him to create a smokescreen and fabricate new arms. While Backup Victor sacrifices its arm to create a field that confuses Avi’s receptors and gets Mary out of danger, Juuzou gives Avi the mother of all forehead flicks, rendering him unconscious.

While Olivier and EMS arrive, Juuzou delays the grunts to allow Mary to talk to Victor properly. Like last week, way too much time is spent in a static location as exposition is delivered. Much of it we already know or have grasped from events thus far, but what we didn’t know was why Victor killed the man who took them in: he threatened to sell Mary’s body if Victor left for the military.

While Victor is still determined to destroy all of the Extendeds his hands created, Mary remains adamant that Extended components can be used for good, in the way Victor originally intended.

While recovering from the bullet to her foot, Mary ponders whether to take Lefty apart in order to determine just how the machine with the intelligence (and quite a few behavioral characteristics) of a dog functions. Lefty is not cooperative, understandably opposed to its own dissection.

Meanwhile, Wachowski pays a visit to Tetsuro’s quarters/cell, and we learn he had an engineer fix Tetsuro’s components so he can speak with his own voice, an apparent gesture of good faith. However, Wachowski’s plans for Tetsuro are anything but peaceful. The Gun Slave Unit Seven is a big thorn in Spitzbergen’s side, but only a GSU can defeat a GSU, and in his current state, Juuzou is no match for Seven.

Wachowski wants Tetsuro to use Harmony to unleash Juuzou’s full GSU potential, which is only possible when the original host surrenders all free will and humanity and becomes a mere tool of destruction. If Tetsuro agrees to do this, everyone he cares about will be safe. If he refuses, they won’t be safe. Pretty raw deal either way, I’d say.

Oregairu 3 – 04 – Gradually Becoming Useless

Hikki and Yui are asked to take a look at the practice prom pictures and choose which to use on social media. Hikki leaves it to Yui, who makes sure to pick a couple of nice shots of her and Hikki dancing. After that, when they ask what’s next, Yukino tells them that’s all for now; the StuCo will handle the remainder of prom preparations, but she’ll reach out to them again if she needs any additional help.

Since neither Hikki nor Yui are busy, they decide to hang out together, with the ostensible mission of buying a gift for Komachi. Hikki geeks out at the new coffee vending machine, and the two end up in an IKEA showroom, which is a repository of various living spaces meant to inspire and entice customers. It’s apropos that Yui mentions the future and the dreams they both had as kids in such a place, where it’s never entirely possible to forget that the places aren’t real—only life-size dioramas.

That said, things seem to be going well with the prom plans until they’re not, by no fault of Yukino or Iroha. Yukino and Haruno’s mom represents members of the PTO (this schools version of the PTA) who are bristling at the idea of a prom after seeing the pictures, believing it to be “unbecoming” of high schoolers (clearly they’ve never been to an American high school dance!).

They want to cancel the prom, and Iroha’s impertinence in protesting that position and splitting hairs with the “initial consent” doesn’t help their case. Hikki can tell that Yukino’s mom is no joke, but he still reflexively tries to help by getting the school’s more positive opinion from Shizuka, and Haruno accuses him of being the “big brother” again. Yukino herself wears a defeated smile, telling Hikki if she accepts help whenever he offers it, she’ll eventually become “useless”.

Haruno later tells Hikki that his self-described “love triangle” with Yukino and Yui is really a triangle of codependency, but she’s letting her deep pessimism overlook the progress the three made. Yukino’s main issue is that she’s decided to shut Hikki (and Yui) entirely out of the prom, believing it the only way to demonstrate to her mom (and herself) that she can do it On Her Own.

That’s pretty damn harsh, if you ask me. People, be they high schoolers or adults, help their friends out when they need help! While I understand the moral objectives of a few parents (without agreeing with them), I find this absolutely-no-help, hands-off edict regarding Yukino…distasteful. No one person can organize a prom on their own, period!

What it comes down to is the reason Hikki wants to help, which is that he truly cares about Yukino, not because he needs or seeks anything in return. He and Yui are about to make some homemade cake for Komachi, but Hikki is drawn away by a text from Iroha indicating the PTO has gone forward with cancelling the prom outright.

Hikki calls Shizuka for the skinny, but she makes sure to ask him the reason he wants and needs to get involved, and after briefly clamming up, he tells her: because he “promised to save her someday” (which he did in season 2, episode 9). It’s as simple as that. When Yui hears that, and Hikki prepares to head back to school, a couple of tears fall, then stop; she claims they’re out of relief.

As Hikki runs away from her and towards Yukino, the tears start falling again, and they won’t stop. Part of her wishes they hadn’t stopped when they did, since Hikki might’ve stayed. But between Hikki running off like he did and the photo she found in Yukino’s room, the love triangle Hikki mentioned is looking more and more like a straight line.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 31 – Sakurazilla, Queen of the Kaiju

Touya does it almost every morning: Calling Sakura a kaiju for stomping down the steps and being too loud. One day, Sakura vows to grow tall enough to “stomp” her mean big brother. Little does she know that half of that wish will come true in the service of her Cardcaptor duties.

What’s odd is that despite her friend Naoko finding a book that is clearly a Clow Card (though not a Clear Card) at a used bookstore, Sakura senses the presence of a card elsewhere entirely.

When Sakura comes by later that night when there’s no one around, Tomoyo is with her, and dresses her up in a bold blue battle costume and has her camcorder at the ready to record some cardcapturin’. But they’re not alone: Syaoran and Meiling are also on the scene, and determined to get to the card first.

Unfortunately for Syaoran, cats love him, and when Sakura and Tomoyo manage to Fly to safety after a gigantic cat chases the four of them, he ends up the cat’s focus of attention. Kero-chan determines from the big cat that the Big card is on the loose. Sakura confronts Big, who doesn’t really put up a fight when Sakura moves to seal her.

That would be all, except that Naoko unknowingly has a second Clow Card in her possession in the form of a fantasy book that has blank pages at the end which are meant to be filled in by the owner. Naoko obliges, and the things she imagines and writes down take physical form, from flying animals that wouldn’t normally fly to a 10-story purple dragon. Kero identifies it as the Create card at work.

Faced with the prospect of a literal kaiju wreaking havoc on Tomoeda, Sakura has no choice but to use Big…on herself! Growing to immense size ironically makes her even more adorable, especially as she tries to cower in embarrassment. Even with her greater stature, the dragon is still bigger and stronger and unlike Big puts up quite a fight.

Thankfully Sakura (and, incidentally, the city) is saved when Naoko decides to put the quill down, close her book, and go to bed. Just like that, the dragon evaporates, and Sakura seals Create, and returns to normal size. But the next morning, when Touya teases her about being a kaiju once more, she takes comfort in the knowledge that she could grow to the size of a real kaiju and intimidate her brother anytime…if she wanted to!

So ends another high-concept—very high-concept!—episode that plays as the complement to the episode in which she shrunk down. But whether she’s big or small, Cardcaptor Sakura will always get the job done.

Deca-Dence – 04 – Changing the World That Is Yourself

Natsume happens to be thrust into her first battle by no fault of her own, but there’s no way she’s just going to stand around and watch. She borrows some tank gear and runs into the thick of it. Even when a Gadoll impales one of her fellow fighters and blood splatters everywhere, she heads towards the danger. Like a soldier. This is your place and time, a voice must be saying in her head. Don’t let it go to waste.

Natsume darts around the battlefield with aplomb, Taking every single stitch of training from Kaburagi and making full use of her brand-new arm cannon. She’s too busy to be afraid to die; she can die when the battle’s over; when her time is up, something she’s always known is something she can’t control, only maintain.

She really shows something out there, such that the other Tanker fighters and their illustrious leader Kurenai takes notice. When Natsume tells her she’s not technically “in” the Power because she’s a “bug”, Kurenai laughs off the self-deprication. If Natsume’s a bug, her two lieutenants are boogers.

Kurenai warmly welcomes Natsume to join the Power and her unit if she so wishes, and of course Natsume very much wishes, being sure to thank her boss, without whom she wouldn’t be there. Kaburagi, who is just trying to keep Pipe out of sight, gets accosted by Kurenai, who remembers “Kabu-san” when he was on the front lines and has a huge crush on him.

Natsume would seem to have joined the fight at an auspicious time, when the largest battle in Deca-Dence history is about to take place. Gear scouts have discovered the main Gadoll nest, and Kurenai’s Tanker squad is being given the toughest and most important job. They’re to defeat “Gadoll alpha”, a monster creating a cloud of fog across the nest. With the fog gone, the Gears will be able to easily mop up.

While touted in-game as the ultimate epic final battle that, when won, will finally enable humanity to live in peace, back at Solid Quake Kaburagi learns from a friend that the arc will result in a crushing defeat for Deca-Dence and massive losses. Those tragic developments will pave the way for the return of “legendary heroes” to save Deca-Dence in its hour of need.

One of those heroes is Kaburagi himself, who is being pulled out of his chip-collecting retirement as a result of rave reviews of his unplanned return to the battlefield back in the first episode. When Kaburagi told Natsume to “make sure not to die”, he was telling her to be careful. But now, if she participates in the battle she’ll die for sure. And since she’s human, she won’t come back.

Natsume meets Mindy, Mundy and Mendy, triplets who are, other than her, the youngest members of Kurenai’s unit. She makes a bad first impression when Mindy tries to shake Natsume’s artificial right hand and it accidentally transforms into a spear launcher.

Mindy is livid, warning Natsume that going into battle with a weapon you haven’t mastered is no different than begging for death (her siblings think she was too harsh.) Back in her neck of the woods, Natsume sees her friend Fei, who has decided to wash her hands of Natsume. Like Mindy, Fei sees Natsume’s disability as a disqualifying attribute. If she tries to be a soldier, she’ll just die.

Having had those encounters, you can imagine Natsume is decidedly not in the mood to have someone else tell her she can’t do what she wants to do, and is pleasantly surprised when Kaburagi knocks on her door for a change. She offers him milk (no doubt a rare delicacy), but he’s come to warn her not to join the battle tomorrow.

While we know full well Kaburagi is dissuading her for the right reason (she may well be ready, but the battle is literally rigged), Natsume assumes he’s once again joined the ranks of the naysayers. He can’t tell her the truth about why he knows, because that would be opening a whole other can of worms. So Kaburagi goes full “bad guy” and breaks her Tank. She may live to hate him, but she’ll live, and that’s what matters.

The spilled milk and oxyone pooling together on the floor was a really cool and effective symbol for the split worlds of Kaburagi and Natsume, as well as their oil-and-water difference of positions.

Natsume approaches Kurenai to tell her she’s sitting the battle out. Kurenai is understanding, but wants Natsume to be sure it’s what she wants. When asked why she fights, Kurenai states worthiness of Kaburagi  to be one reason, but also because living her days aimlessly in a cramped dirty metal box just isn’t for her.

As she skulks home, Natsume remembers feeling the same way as Kurenai, even as an adorable little kid. Her father would show her amazing sights of the outside world, and told her they’d be able to visit them when peace was achieved. She came to believe she’d be the hero to end the war, but after she lost her arm, and got told all the things she couldn’t do, that belief waned.

As Natsume tells Kurenai after changing her mind and declaring she’ll join them after all, she doesn’t like the way she is right now, and wants to change it. She wants to change into the fighter and the hero her younger self dreamed of being. She just needs to borrow some money to replace her tank! And then, of course, not die.

But hell, even if Natsume knew and believed everything Kaburagi knew—about cyborgs usurping humanity as the dominant species on earth, about how every aspect of her and every human’s life is manipulated by a corporation—she may well still decide to fight. This week’s episode made it clear this is her story, and her choice. And if she existed outside the system as a “bug” this long, not even Kabu-san knows how far she’s capable of defying that system.

Re: Zero – 29 – Take Care, Natsuki Subaru

Having episodes end with Emilia unconscious two weeks in a row was a bummer, but returning to the real world and getting to spend some time with Subaru’s remarkable parents made up for that and then some. Right from the word go, we know we’re in for a ride: Subaru’s dad executes wrestling moves to welcome him to the morning, while his mom (who shares his “scary eyes”) insists he eat a giant mountain of peas, which neither she nor his dad like.

They may have their amusing quirks, but his folks are alive, present, and relatively normal…which makes them among the rarest anime parents out there!

Subaru is a shut-in; he has been since about three months after high school began. His dad manages to coax him out for a walk, and sakura-strewn park in which they have that walk is particularly dreamlike and bright, as bright as his bedroom is dark.

Also bright, to the point of blinding: his parent’s absolute unconditional love and support, no matter how far off “the prescribed path” he’s strayed. Like so many others, Subaru’s problems weren’t caused by a rough or abusive childhood.

When periodic stabs of pain in his head resolve to the spirit of Emilia thanking him for saving her all the time, his memories from the New World flood back in, and with all that amassed experience and wisdom, is able to look at his past objectively and wrestle with it.

Subaru’s dad is a gregarious renaissance man, which put pressure on Subaru to achieve a similar level of greatness in anything and everything he did. But as he grew, he became less than the best, and eventually not that good at those things.

He tried to make up for the lack of talent and ability by acting out, gathering people around him he called friends but who ultimately were only around until he got boring. High school was the rude awakening for which he was not socially or emotionally prepared, and he gradually just stopped going.

Even so, his mom and dad treated him with the same affection and cheer as they always did, despite his desire for them to punish him or even throw him out for being such a pathetic loser. At a couple points during their talks, his dad asks if he likes someone. That’s because as his father he must sense a positive change in Subaru; that he’d figured out to get back on his own two feet.

Without naming names, Subaru admits there is a girl he likes, and a girl who loves him. Rem once told him giving up doesn’t suit him. She and Emilia saved him from his own complex because they didn’t have to pretend he wasn’t the son of the great Natsuki Kenichi—obviously neither of them know his dad. Subaru didn’t know how bad he needed to know it was okay to just be Subaru.

After a little cry and hug with dad, Subaru puts on his school uniform and prepares to return to school, Starting Over from Zero just as he did on Rem’s recommendation…only with school. His mom decides to walk him part of the way there.

She reiterates the things Subaru and his dad talked about, and when Subaru tells her he’ll never let go of people who helped him get over his troubles, and be sure to make himself worthy of them later, she declares he’s definitely “his kid”.

While those two words once caused stabs of pain (and still do one more time), his mom assures him not to worry about being “just as awesome” as his dad. After all, he’s only half his dad, and half his mom, so half as cool constitutes a “filled quota”.

Subaru, knowing he’ll leave both his parents soon and may never see them again, offers tearful apologies for not being able to do anything for them before going off to do his own thing. Again, his mom tells him not to fret; she and his father didn’t have him so he’d do something for him, but so they could do something for him. And they have, just by being there for him, loving him, and never judging him.

Subaru’s dad may have cast a shadow that inadvertently, temporarily stunted his son’s development as an individual. But because his son was half-him, he was eventually able to make it out of that shadow. It’s why when his dad says “do your best” and his mom says “take care”, he can hold his head high, smile, and go to school.

In this case, “going to school”, and specifically opening the door to his homeroom constitutes the completion of the trial, and Echidna is waiting for him (in his school’s uniform!) when he does so, remarking how he made it there faster than she expected.

As we return to his trials in the new world, it was both instructive and at times downright emotionally compelling to see of the old world from which Subaru came. The struggles he faced before arriving in the new world underscore why ending up there and meeting Emilia, Rem and the others was not only the best thing that could have happened to him, but also possibly meant to be.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 30 – The Cardcaptor’s Dilemma

This week CCS switches things up a bit, dropping us in right in the middle of a card-capturing mission. Sakura’s in a gaudy new battle costume, Tomoyo is recording with her camcorder, God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. The target is Dash, a card that specializes in sprinting. When Sakura uses Windy to restrain it, Dash breaks free, injuring itself and landing in the yard of a girl named Rei. She dresses its wound and the two form an immediate bond.

Tomoyo dresses Sakura in a baseball uniform in order to create an excuse to enter Rei’s yard, but at school they later learn Rei is their senpai, and the ace track runner. It’s clear that Dash has a profound effect on her performance, as she shaves a full second from her personal best. Sakura and Tomoyo pay her a visit with the intention of sealing the Dash card, but when the opportunity arises, Sakura hesitates.

You see, Rei is a nice, good girl, like Sakura, simply trying her best. Sakura doesn’t want to seal Dash until after her track meet. Kero-chan basically tells her that as a Cardcaptor she can’t concern herself with emotional entanglements like this, but the bottom line is Sakura just doesn’t feel right taking Dash from Rei just yet. Unfortunately, before the meet Syaoran catches wind of the card and his compass leads him to Rei’s house.

Sakura tries to intervene, but Syaoran is in full cardcapturing mode, summoning lightning in order to corner Dash once it leaves Rei’s yard. When it appears before Sakura, Kero-chan again makes the argument that any victories Rei achieves with Dash’s magical help won’t be legitimate, and that Sakura won’t be able to cheer for her with all her heart.

So Sakura has no choice but to seal the card, which then flies into Syaoran’s hand. He’s confused as to why Sakura didn’t seal it herself much earlier, but learns the reason when Rei runs into the forest calling out desperately for her pet. Poor Rei!

Syaoran shows he’s not only a clever kid, but a kind one, as he summons Dash at the finish line to provide Rei the motivation she needs to win the track meet. He does not use Dash’s power to give her extra speed; she won through her own efforts.

Rei can celebrate her victory, Sakura was able to cheer for her whole heartedly, and Syoran scores some good guy points…not to mention style points—nice jacket! In fact, the animators were quite busy this week with the sheer volume of different outfits Sakura & Co. ended up wearing.

Fruits Basket – 42 – Softly Shining Memories

Tooru’s been so busy (justifiably) thinking about “various things” that she forgot about their class trip to Kyoto. When we begin the episode she’s already there, making haiku that aren’t haiku with Saki as the others cringe.

Back when Yuki reminded both Tooru and Kyou that yes, there is a trip, Shigure impresses upon Tooru the importance of living her best youth. A Class trip, after all, is a time for people to confess to the ones they like—unless you’re Prince Yuki and locked in a hands-off stalemate!

Kyou also gets confessed to—by a random classmate I don’t think we know. When Kyou is a bit too rude in his rejection, his two guy friends knock him over and scold him, while the girl assumes that Arisa likes Kyou, which prompts the both of them gang up on her. I wonder if we’ll see her again?

It’s been a while since we’ve had sustained high school character time and the wonderful comedy that comes from their character dynamics. Neither Arisa nor Saki disappoint, proving yet again that the show could consist of just the two of them, their families, and maybe Tooru and I’d watch three-plus seasons of it!

Tooru is temporarily hurt by Kyou telling her to mind her own business when she asks what was troubling him. Of course, Kyou isn’t mad at her, it’s his usual anger leaking out at people who don’t deserve it, because he was no doubt shaken (not just annoyed) by the random girl’s confession.

When she sees Kyou playing with a cat who “came and left on her own”, she wonders if Kyou will someday treat her like that cat. Before he can walk away, she grabs his sleeve, and he takes her hand, smiles his warm smile, and hangs out with her. Tooru notes how “a simple remark” from Kyou can make her unsettled or happy…a pretty good sign you’re in love with someone!

Tooru’s dynamic with Yuki has such a different vibe, despite the chemistry between them being just as good. When asked what souvenirs Yuki is buying, he says he’ll be content just to leave with some nice memories. Tooru assures him he will, and that he’ll “quietly keep those softly shining memories within him”. Meanwhile, Arisa and Saki treating Kyou like one of the shrine’s feral deer…priceless.

Yuki is just happy to get thoses positive vibes from Tooru, having determined that while she is dear to him, he’s not thinking beyond that as she and Kyou seem to be. Like he’s content with school trip memories, he’s content to have Tooru continue to quietly smile for him and encourage him.

This position is borne out when Kanabe mentions his interest in Tooru. Yuki tells Kanabe that he’ll never forgive him if he hurts Tooru, but otherwise he won’t interfere in his pursuit, if he’s serious about it (he’s not; he already has a girlfriend!) Kanabe continues the thought experiment by asking what Yuki would do if he did hurt Tooru. Yuki answers childishly, despite himself: “then we’re not friends!”

Yuki doesn’t think a guy like Kanabe who can so clearly say he likes someone is that bad, nor does he think it’s that bad for him to say childish yet true things at times. It’s all good in the hood! As he waves hi to Tooru and the others joining him by the water, a falling Japanese maple leaf slips into his fingers. He decides to give that leaf to Machi, who seems to really appreciate the souvenir despite not having asked for one.

As for Tooru’s “souvenir for herself”, she procures a set of cute Zodiac figurines, as well as some clay for making the cat that the set doesn’t include. I can just imagine her using them on a battle map of her ongoing Zodiac campaign!

Furuba. Crow. You know where to go.

The God of High School – 04 – Wedding Bashers

We’re already down to the regional semifinals as Mori, Mira, and Daewi have all advanced and Mira and Daewi will face off against each other next. I for one thought we’d see another fight or two, but I guess GoHS is eager to get to the higher-stakes nationals. However, the tournament is put on hold when Mira is suddenly approached by sports entertainment tycoon Seongjin, who asks for her hand in marriage.

The suddenness of this development is matched only by the sloppiness with which its fallout unfolds. Mori makes it his mission to stop the wedding, as Mira is still in high school and doesn’t want her to lose her dream of winning the tournament and resurrecting her father’s sword style. But Mira is marrying Seongjin as a shortcut to putting that style on the map.

While I can understand Mori’s objections to the marriage, it’s not as if he’s Mira’s childhood friend. Despite jumps forward in time, it still feels like they’re more casual acquaintances brought together by the tournament, which makes it seem way out of line for him to dictate how he thinks Mira should run her own life. He didn’t even know where she lived for Chrissake!

I mean, let’s get real here: Mira, Mori and Daewi had a couple of brief chats about their goals and shared one little moment fishing her sword out of the water (which was Mori’s fault in the first place). THEY ARE NOT BEST FRIENDS. The show can’t just proceed as if they are, or that they have some kind of unbreakable bond. And yet that’s exactly what this episode does.

I also find it problematic that the only main female lead is portrayed at the start as shortsighted and even stupid for accepting Seongjin’s proposal, and has to be “set straight” by three men: Mori, Daewi, and her uncle, who was a terrible custodian of his late brother’s school. More than that, it’s problematic that Mira considers her life to be so tied to her father’s legacy that she’s given up on living a normal high school life in order to keep the style alive.

Even so, that’s a tall enough task that if a rich and powerful figure in the martial arts world offered a strategic alliance in the form of a marriage, and that she could be as blatant as she wanted in exploiting his prestige to promote her style seems…reasonable? The only reason it isn’t is because all the other characters and the episode itself think it’s a bad idea.

And, oh yeah, because Seongjin is an evil dark shadow clan member just following orders from his grand wizard to obtain the Moon Light Sword style for the organization. So see? See? Mira was a fool for thinking his intentions were honorable!

Everything conspires to put Mira in a box where she looks weak and misguided no matter what she does, because on one path she’s being played by the evil guy, and in the other she’s deferring to her “friends” who Know What’s Right for her. And again, there just hasn’t been enough evidence Mori and Daewi are her good friends.

The jump from “we’ll help you fish out the sword we threw in the drink” to “we’re going to crash your wedding and save you from both yourself and the bad guy” is ludicrously steep and ultimately untenable. Her sudden change of heart just doesn’t work, narratively or emotionally.

To me, the fact Seongjin turned out to be evil is irrelevant; the fact is, Mira’s agency was negated by both Seongjin and her so-called friends. Even more ridiculous is how easily she’s able to defeat Seongjin. Surely, if he’s as big a deal as he says, both publicly and in the shadows, she’d have had a bit more trouble with him? To me, making him look so toothless just underscores how Mira could have potentially gained the upper hand in their strategic marriage.

Never mind, as Mira walks away from the venue smiling and laughing with her bandaged abdomen, taking both Mori and Daewi’s arms. She’s smiling! She’s happy! From the look of their noses, everyone clearly still has bad colds, but all’s well that ends well! Only no; Mira can’t even have a whole episode dedicated to her hastily planned and just-as-hastily cancelled wedding.

Instead we cut to Daewi standing by as his buddy is on death’s door. It’s not clear whether he actually dies, but Daewi takes it out on the bullies who hound him at work, then takes it out on Mira in their semifinal match by exploiting her abdomen wound and beating her to a bloody pulp.

After we’d just dealt with Mori nearly being disqualified for breaking the rules, all three of them ended up assaulting people outside of the tournament this week. While in Mira’s case it was self-defense, both Mori and Daewi should have gotten in trouble for crashing the wedding, and Daewi should have been arrested for assaulting the bullies. But no; everyone was allowed to break the rules and continue the tournament. Interesting.

But yeah, after that whole song-and-dance with Mori, Mira and Daewi being the three best goshdarn friends there ever were, and that the guys support Mira chasing her dream with her own hands, Daewi puts an end to her GoHS run the very next day. I told you they weren’t friends! What a horrific mess. With three straight weeks of decline from the promising first episode, I think I’m done here.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 29 – The Great Japanese Baking Show

Sakura is on a cake-baking kick since learning she’ll be baking them in home-ec class. One of the many many things her dad is good at is baking cakes, so he gives her a few pointers. Sakura especially wants to bake a cake for Yukito to try, while Meiling simply wants a wedding cake for her and Syaoran to share. Since they’re definitely getting married. For sure.

Syaoran and Sakura actually have the same idea to observe professional cake-makers at one of the local bakeries, and happen upon Yukito, who lets them know that he’s down for any cake, any time. I must admit it’s been a little disheartening to see Sakura and Syaoran both expend so much energy trying to woo someone who isn’t interested in either of them. Meanwhile poor Meiling is so eager to have a cake ready for Syaoran when he comes home she ends up burning it, earning nothing but his ire.

When the big baking day comes, everyone seemingly brings their A-game…only when everything comes out of the oven and is ready to taste, it’s all way too sweet. Sakura doesn’t understand how she and Tomoyo screwed up, or how everyone could have screwed up at once. Back at Chez Li, Syaoran finally gives Meiling some kind words, telling her it’s not her fault the cake was too sweet.

He’s not just saying that; he sensed a Clow Card in operation, and eventually so does Sakura—and Mizuki-sensei for that matter. When their home-ec class bakes another round of cakes, the Sakura and Syaoran hang back, and eventually get a glimpse of the Sweet card.

She may just be the most adorable card yet, tiny and fairy-like, and able to not just turn cakes sweeter, but turn anything into sweets, from the chalkboard to the stools. Sakura devises a plan with a trail of salt in order to trap Sweet without hurting her and then sealing her back into card form. To her and everyone’s delight, everyone’s cake turns out great as a result.

Sakura also ends up winning the Yukitostakes-of-the-Week by getting her cake to Yukito first, causing Syaoran to glare ruefully at the two through a fence. It’s a shame, because Yukito would have likely accepted cake from him and enjoyed it just fine. We’ve seen how the kid can pack it away!

Meiling comes to comfort him, but he’s got a one-track mind, and that track is Yukito. Honestly I felt pretty bad for Meiling. Granted, Syaoran never asked her to follow him to Japan, and she can be a haughty pest, but his aggressive indifference towards her borders on cruel here. Despite being an episode full of sweets, that fact left a rather bitter taste in my mouth.