Fruits Basket – 47 – Nothing Like a Prince

Yuki continues to open up to Manabe, expounding on the evolution of his relationship to Tooru. First she was a wierd classmate who lived in a tent, then he saw he could use her to rebel against the Souma clan. At some point, he started to realize strong maternal vibes coming off of her as a result of her showering him with unconditional love and kindness.

It started when she told him to become friends with her again even if her memories were taken by Hatori. And Yuki panicked when he felt this way, and immediately tried to deny and suppress those feelings, even trying to interact with her more “like a man does a woman,” creating a love triangle with Kyou even though the two men weren’t seeking the same thing.

It’s the first time Yuki’s able to talk at all about this being about more than competing or not being able to “beat” Kyou for Tooru’s heart, but rather feeling something other than romantic attraction and being okay with her and Kyou as a couple; after all, he’s observed the two together and is pretty confident they love each other.

The one thing Yuki doesn’t want is to waste the kindness and warmth Tooru gave so freely. He wants to use it to move forward and discover his own “special purpose in life.” He’s buoyed by being able to discuss it so candidly with Kakeru—who he notes is also a kind (in his way) person to listen without judgment. However, Yuki wisely doesn’t discuss any of this with Todou Miki!

Yuki sees a day coming that he’ll be able to tell Tooru how he truly feels and about the purpose he’s found thanks to her love and support. Until then, he’ll keep watching over her, as he does right after casually confronting Kyou about the hat, which causes Kyou to withdraw into his room.

Before Yuki came home, Tooru and Kyou were having a flirt-fight in the entryway over his confiscating of her Cinderella script after she let Shigure know about it. Kyou still hasn’t committed to even participating in the play, and he certainly doesn’t want Shisho to know about it.

There’s also the matter of Tooru simply not being able to act like anything resembling an evil stepsister, as expected. She promises to work hard and even go without food in order to master the role, but it seems hopeless. With Ayame and Mine sure to provide some unique takes on Cinderella costumes and both Kyou and Saki also seeming miscast, the scriptwriter decides to scrap what she has and write a script that better fits the actors.

I’m all for that, and it’s great to see Ayame trying to support his brother in any way he can, once again making up for all the neglect Yuki suffered in the past, including from a then-indifferent big bro. It’s also fun watching Yuki’s classmates react to finally meeting his very different brother—while I’m sure Mine probably felt like she just struck gold upon meeting Saki and Arisa!

When Yuki goes off to look for Kyou for Tooru, he finds him sulking on the staircase. Kyou is going over what he said to Yuki when his hat was offered back to him. Remember: Kyou still considers Yuki not only a rival for Tooru’s heart, but the underdog, even if the truth is he’s running more or less unopposed.

As such, Kyou interprets Yuki bringing up the hat and the fact he gave it to Tooru to be another instance of looking down on him. When Yuki dares bring up Tooru (specifically why Kyou is making her worry by ditching rehearsal), all of Kyou’s insecurities come pouring out.

He lists all the ways he sees Yuki as better—having a living mom and dad, being needed and praised by others, surpassing him easily as he desperately struggles, etc. Had they ever deigned to open up to one another, Kyou would know all those things Yuki has “over” him are more curses than blessings. What I’d give for Kyou to watch last week’s episode and the first half of this one!

Instead, Kyou sees Yuki’s expression—one not of anger but of sadness, almost on the brink of tears—and sees it as yet another instance of looking down on him. So he punches a window and storms off. This results in another welcome interaction betweeen Yuki and Machi, as Machi contradicts her classmate saying he’s the least prince-like person she knows—again, because she knows Yuki’s pain.

Kyou finds Tooru sitting in the classroom after everyone else left, and his thoughts stray towards what she was thinking about before he arrived, when she was alone. When she excitedly presents Kyou with the revised script, I was fully prepared for him to dismiss it out of hand, or even slap it out of hers, like the old Kyou; like the Kyou who might’ve resurfaced after his rant to Yuki.

Instead, he draws ever so close to Tooru, and then agrees to do the play, warning her not to laugh at him! The two share blushing looks before heading home together. The now-explicit contrast between Yuki’s and Kyou’s feelings for Tooru paves the way for potential happiness for all three of them in the future. I’m also not discounting the potential for a relationship between Yuki and Machi—stranger things have and will happen!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 50 – Thread and Thrum

Sakura wakes up early, but seeming a little down. Kero-chan tells her whatever the deal is with the Sakura Cards, she needs to keep her spirits up and stay positive. To that end, she goes to school early to watch Touya and Yukito play soccer. Naturally, they’re a dynamic duo on the pitch—and Akizuki is quick to pounce on Touya and glare at Yukito.

Sak’s friends have noticed she’s seemed not quite her usual cheerful self, so Rika makes her some delicious homemade cookies, and also shows everyone the teddy bear she’s making for Terada-sensei. Syaoran lounges in a tree high above Sakura, about whom he’s worried, when Eriol confronts him about all the nasty looks he’s shot his way. Eriol seems to have plans for Syaoran, deeming him “useful”.

While she seems to have the blessing of her friends, I do wish Terada-sensei would give Rika a tactful yet firm word about not falling in love with an adult when she’s still in fifth damned grade. As for Tomoyo, she holds firm in her position that she’s happy if Sakura’s happy—even if Sakura doesn’t requite her feelings. It’s an incredibly sweet sentiment…but also deeply sad considering how clueless Sakura seems to be!

Sakura’s attempt to make a bear for Yukito hits some snags when she suddenly senses Clow Reed’s presence once more. She meets with Tomoyo where the feeling is most powerful, and calls Syaoran to be by her side as she promised. However, this works against Sakura in this case as Syaoran’s body is being controlled by someone, and it’s making him attack her! A heroic Tomoyo tackle stops Syaoran from slicing Sakura.

This costs Tomoyo her camcorder, but she can buy more cameras. She only has one Sakura! Syaoran manages to regain control long enough to summon the water spirit, which makes visible the puppet threads in which he’s tangled. Sakura quickly releases her wand, converts Sword to a Sakura Card, and slashes the threads with authority, freeing Syaoran.

Having expended considerable magical power, Sakura passes out once more, this time in Syaoran’s arms. This side-effect of using Sakura Cards could prove a decisive liability if shit really hits the fan—say if a second threat appears after she falls asleep battling the first. It seems inevitable Eriol is going to make that scenario happen in the near future, because he seems determined to, in the parlance of our times, fuck Sakura’s shit UP.

And why, do you ask, would he want to do that? Well, the same reason Sakura and Kero-chan sense Clow Reed before something bad goes down: Hiiragizawa Eriol is the reincarnation of Clow Reed. Further, he’s created two guardian equivalents to Kero and Yue in Spinel Sun and Ruby Moon, AKA Akizuki Nakuru. Not only is Nakuru not human, she’s not a “she”, and doesn’t want to date Touya, but eat him!

Clearly, Eriol is testing Sakura’s powers, and while they’re impressive, I’m sure he’s just itching to regain control of the Clow Cards. Hopefully Sakura and her friends can keep that from happening and send Eriol and his minions back to merry old England. But since twenty episodes remain, that’s probably going to take a while!

Stray Observations:

  • Sakura’s all-white and gray battle costume was gorgeous, making it a dreadful shame when Puppet!Syaoran slashes it with his sword.
  • I also want to note this third season’s OP is probably my favorite so far, which isn’t too surprising since it’s anchored by the lovely vocals of one Sakamoto Maaya.
  • It also features my favorite OP Battle Costume, though Sakura seems awfully sleepy throughout the OP…no doubt since using her cards is so tiresome!
  • GROOVY! was the most toe-tapping end theme but the New ED has the best visuals, with a glowed-up Sakura and Tomoyo having an absolute blast baking a cake.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 49 – Beware of Grand Pianos

After ending the rain with her first Sakura Card, poor Sakura is wiped. She can’t even sit up in bed! Thankfully, she doesn’t have a fever, and Sakura assures her dad and brother that she’ll be fine. Touya, who has a sense for magical things without being an active participant in that world, assumes “something has happened” to cause the fatigue.

Sakura misses cupcake-making in home ec, but Tomoyo knows that a visit from her and a bashful Syaoran is just what the doctor ordered, while Syaoran can’t help but stare daggers at an increasingly suspicious Eriol. Similarly, a Yukito suddenly eating far more than usual gets a knowing, not-at-all friendly look from Nakuru, who competes for Touya’s attention by kicking ass at basketball.

When Tomoyo and Syaoran show up with sweets, Sakura is awake, alert, and back to her chipper self, and Syaoran can’t help but blush at her smile and earnest thanks, while Kero is amazed “the kid” was able to make something so tasty. Kero also deduces that Sakura’s fatigue was caused by her instinctively converting the card along with her wand, using a new magic circle in which the star (not the sun or moon) is most prominent.

Kero warns that since Sakura is relying on only her own power (no longer Clow’s) to release and use the cards, it’s going to be tough going. Even worse, he and Yue were stopped in their tracks even in their true forms, something only their master (Sakura) and Clow himself should be able to do.

Back at school while writing a letter to Mizuki-sensei, Sakura hears a lovely tune being played on the piano and discovers it’s Eriol on the ivories. Sakura is heartened and soothed by the music, and when Tomoyo shows up, she suggests Eriol accompany Tomoyo as she sings a new song. While playing, Eriol does…something magical and fishy to the piano.

That evening, while Sakura and Syaoran are walking in the hall wondering what to make of recent events, they hear Tomoyo singing, followed by a scream and a loud noise: the grand piano in the music room has decided to start moving on its own, and it’s gone berserk! Sakura grabs Tomoyo and they run from the pursuing piano, which Syaoran damages but doesn’t destroy with his thunder sword.

Eventually Tomoyo determines the piano is following her voice every time she speaks, which gives Sakura an idea for how to defeat it for good. Assembling on the roof, she asks Tomoyo to sing once more in order to lure the piano to their location. Then she releases the Song card, converts it to a Sakura Card, and uses its ability to copy Tomoyo’s voice to lure the piano off the edge of the roof to its destruction.

All’s well that ends well, but once again Sakura is completely wiped out by the magical exertion, and passes out in Syaoran’s arms. We then pull back from the school to see that our trio of shadowy villains has been watching. The central figure—who let’s be honest, is Eriol—declares that this is going to be “fun”. Sakura passed another one of his tests, but he doesn’t seem the type to keep going easy on her!

The Misfit of Demon King Academy – 09 – The Other Side of the Story

Flash back two thousand years to the Human capital of Gairadite. Anos stops by, walking nonchalantly through every barrier the Humans can throw at him. But he’s not here to conquer, but to forge a peace. Hero Kanon is incredulous, but seems willing to hear Anos out. His general Jerga…isn’t, and ends up with Anos’ hand through his chest.

Back in the present, Menou Historia has “temporarily” replaced Emilia-sensei, and informs the class of the impending inter-academy classes in three weeks. We learn Demons and Humans use magic in very different ways.

A select team of students will travel to Azeshion’s Hero Academy, Arclaniska. For everyone but Anos it will be everyone’s first trip to the Human Realm, and he wants to make sure they’re ready, tirelessly sparring with Misha, Sasha, Lay, and Misa.

He also gives Lay a magic sword that was once master by his right-hand-man, whom I assumed was Shin, before remembering the promise he made to Kanon after getting stabbed by the Hero: that if they reincarnated in 2,000 years it would be as friends. So is Lay Shin, or Kanon? It’s not that clear.

Meeting with the newly-freed Melheis, Anos learns that Gaios and Ydol are on the mend, while the Humans’ Hero Academy has raised an elite class of reincarnated heroes, suggesting they may be preparing…something. The students are expected to find their way to Azeshion on their own within ten days; Team Anos (minus the fan club) are teleported there in one second.

While touring the city, Sasha notes how it’s not that different from the Demon capital. When Anos compliments her eyes again, they start to go out of control until Anos calms her down. He promises not to treat her like a child if she’ll promise to use her eyes to protect everyone if he’s ever unable to do so.

They arrive at the front gate of Hero Academy Arclaniska, where they’re met by third-year student Eleanor Bianca, a friendly, cheerful young woman happy to show them around and impressed by Anos’ knowledge of the Hero Kanon.

When Eleanor tells them how Kanon defeated Anos and built the walls, Sasha is outraged, but Anos far less so. He understands how in order for his peace plan to ultimately work, humans had to make a story in which they were the good guys and victors. What’s odd is, Humans believe the name of the Demon King of Tyranny to be Avos Dilhevia as well.

As for Hero Kanon reincarnated, since he had seven sources (or “hearts”), each could be reincarnated into a different body. Four of those are current students in the elite class, and two of them, Ledriano and Laos, confront Anos when they hear he can’t “accept the defeat” his founding ancestor suffered (of course not knowing Anos is the founding ancestor).

After Laos comes at Anos and is handled easily, Ledriano begs Anos’ forgiveness for his comrade’s rudeness and requests that he and Sasha leave for now. Surely these two will see each other again when the inter-academy skirmishes start. But later Eleanor warns Anos that if he’s looking for the original Hero Kanon reincarnate, he may be disappointed, since Kanon was murdered two thousand years ago…by a fellow human.

Featuring a new setting of the Human Realm with its requisite hierarchies, players, and alternate history, this first episode of the inter-academy mini-arc is functional, if uninspiring, expanding the show’s world but lacking the awe and excitement of the previous episode’s battles. There were moments this week when I wished the details of the mythology were less muddled, but that’s at least partly the point: a lot can change in two thousand years.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 20 – Starburst Scream

Asuna gets to use her avatar template Stacia’s special move (always a great sound effect) to create an earthen staircase with which to convey Alice to the World’s End Altar. She and Alice are able to get away because Gabriel Miller has to get past Kirito first.

When asked who he is, Kirito momentarily blanks, but Eugeo reminds him: he’s Kirito the motherf***ing Swordsman. A duel filled with bombastic bright lights and colors ensues. Kirito loses his lower half but fights on. Gabe transforms into a neon angel/demon entity.

This showdown has been built up for years, so why did it feel somewhat …  underwhelming? It was okay—it wasn’t great—and it did kind of…go on. I can offer several reasons. First, we’re epic dueled out. Second, while featuring some impressive visuals this fight wasn’t as good as the one between Subtilizer and Bercouli. Visually things got a bit abstract, muddled, and even a little dull. Kirito’s edge—the love amassed from everyone’s hearts—was always going to beat Miller’s hate and greed.

Mostly the lavish duel just felt superfluous; ceremonial. A formality for Kirito to get through, perhaps so that the final final threat can come to light. At least the fight was generously punctuated by beautiful callbacks to the very beginning of Alicization and cameos from both friends and former foes. I also appreciated seeing everyone wake up in the normal world hoping they did enough, providing a neat contrast to the fantastical environs of Underworld.

I also liked how…ho-hum the Worlds’ End Altar looked. Rather than a towering baroque basilica, it’s a relatively modest shrine in a pleasant, tranquil garden. When Kirito reaches it, Alice has already logged out…or has she? Whatever happened to her, she’s no longer in the Underworld, nor are Suguha, Shino, and everyone else.

Kirito assumes he’s the only one who didn’t make it out before the acceleration factor grew too high for fluctlights to bear. He gets on his hands and knees and starts to weep, lamenting how he’s alone again and separated from those who love him. That is, until, quite curiously, Asuna appears, with a reassuring smile.

We know she’s still beside him in the STL room at Ocean Turtle, and so weren’t subject to the logout failsafes of the other players. But whether they’re stuck in there or there’s (more likely) hope for them to get out in one piece, it’s clear Asuna won’t let Kirito face the latest, and possibly final trial of Alicization alone.

Appare-Ranman! – 09 – Taking a Load Off

The car companies decide that despite the threat of Gil, the race will go on. The route to the next supply point is adjusted for the safety of the race staff. That means all of the racers have a day off, and this episode is all about how they spend that day, which means it’s all about Appare-Ranman’s colorful cast of characters.

This episode features a formidable number of character pairings and groupings, from Hototo an Dylan to Appare and former engineer Seth Carter to Hototo and the Bad Brothers. Appare spends much of the day lost in deep calculations about his hybrid drive, but everyone else basically kicks back.

We learn a lot of little details during this slice-of-life excursion: TJ and Al have a drinking contest, but Sofia easily drinks both of them under the table. Xialian and Kosame spar, and the former brings up how her father taught her kung fu to protect herself. Little things here and there that bring the ensemble cast to life.

Naturally there’s a fair amount of comedy in the episode, from the lost-in-thought Appare collecting objects until he’s riding on a donkey’s back in a barber’s smock with display pennants and a ragdoll hanging from him and his foot in a bucket.

The donkey eventually bucks him straight into a building occupied by one Thomas Edison. There’s even a hot springs session with the whole gang, and Kosame and Appare learn about American modesty the hard way. Sofia discusses Al with Xialian while the boys play an increasingly spirited game of jan-ken-pon.

It’s all a lot of fun despite the fact there’s no racing, and by sunrise the next day Appare’s hybrid system is in good working order, such that he deems the “real race” about to begin. But as Sofia boards the train that will follow the route of the race, she’s accompanied by Richard Riesman, whom we already know to be the real villainous Gil. No matter how much liquor Sofia can hold, that can’t be good!

No Guns Life – 20 – A Beautiful Pipe Dream

When Juuzou runs off, Wachowski assumes Tetsuro is still controlling him. Juuzou has no problem taking care of the Spitzbergen operatives sent after him, but since he never speaks we’re not entirely sure either until a very awake Tetsuro speaks to Wachowski.

Since this is after Wachowski sent Kunugi to help fight Juuzou, that leaves the old man in the wheelchair to the mercy of the kid who hacked his own sub-brain in order to control his own body. Juuzou didn’t come here to solve all of his problems for him, but to help him solve them himself.

Tetsuro offers to cooperate until Seven is defeated (keeping Juuzou out of the equation) but only if Spitzbergen ceases their terrorist activities. Wachowski regales Tetsuro with the story how how Berühren became twisted into an eternal life-support system for its four founders, and how he founded Spitzbergen to expose that rot. Only Spitzbergen also became twisted by extremists and anarchists.

For this reason, Wachowski needs Device 13, which has a setting no other Gun Slave Unit has, and which is his fail-safe against Wurzel. 13’s sacrifice will thus eliminate Berühren and with it Spitzbergen’s need to keep fighting, ushering in a new era of peace. When Tetsuro doesn’t buy it and furthermore would accept Juuzou’s sacrifice, Wachowski reveals he’s an Extended and bursts out of the suit in a a super creepy, absolutely bad-ass sequence.

As Juuzou is content to fight Kunugi (who is apparently Kronen’s senpai) and his henchmen as long as they want, Tetsuro grabs hold of his pipe dream of getting everything he wants without losing anyone he cares about. Its “beauty” is something from which he can’t turn away, so he’ll fight for that dream until his last breath—or in this case, Harmony scream.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 08 – Worst Christmas Ever

I had high hopes for Kazuya’s trial dating of Ruka, as it could help him and Mizuhara complete their post-rental separation. It could also have been a means of seeing more Ruka, someone actually honest about her feelings for Kazuya and thus a naturally more tolerable character than Mizuhara. Alas, the best episode of the series is immediately followed by the worst.

We never get to see Kazuya and Ruka’s “honeymoon” period, we just skip to him loathing his existence anew and desperate to cancel his Faustian deal with Ruka. And that’s despite him knowing full well Mizuhara may not think anything of him other than as a client.

The bottom line is he’s not happy with Ruka because he doesn’t like Ruka the way he likes Mizuhara. Which is fair! Meanwhile, Mizuhara looks unhappy too as she spots Ruka with Kazuya, suggesting she is also having second thoughts about going along with Ruka’s deal.

I get how Kazuya feels, but the despicable things he does throughout the episode threaten to make him irredeemable, not to mention excruciating to watch. For one thing, he doesn’t dump Ruka even though it’s clear it’s not working. Instead, he’s content to string her along, lies about having family Christmas plans, and Ruka is never seen again in the episode. WTF?

After thinking about why Mizuhara decided to work as a rental girlfriend for all of ten seconds, he hears her showering through the wall and jerks off. The next day, instead of enjoying a date with Ruka—something he’d consider torture for some reason—he spots Mizuhara with what appears to be a date…and proceeds to stalk her. ALL DAY. ON CHRISTMAS EVE.

That’s not just torturing himself, but the audience as well. This shit is hard to watch. Lest we forget, Kazuya is not a high schooler but an college student and full-grown-ass adult. At any point during his stalking he could—he should—get arrested and tossed in jail. Of all the boundaries of decency and privacy he’s broken, this is probably the worst instance, especially considering his goal to become a better person. All that progress went down the shitter this week.

When he starts to believe Umi-kun is Mizuhara’s real, perfect boyfriend, he feels solidarity with a brotherhood of her clients he doesn’t even know in opposition to a her personal life he also doesn’t know. By sumply watching them creepily from afar during their date (which might not be a date) and eavesdropping on Umi’s call, he has no context with which to jump to conclusions.

Umi could be a client, or an old childhood friend, or a brother or cousin, or a manager, or a gay friend, or a scout. With an incomplete picture gleaned from stalking them, Kazuya decides they’re boyfriend and girlfriend, and Umi is planning to sell Mizuhara into sexual slavery (or something to that effect).

For his hours of disgusting criminal conduct, culminating in him jumping out before Mizuhara and Umi can “kiss”, Kazuya is rewarded. Turns out they weren’t going to kiss, Umi was fixing her earrring, and they’re not dating, Umi is a fellow actor. That’s right, Mizuhara is starting out as an actress. She’s working as a rental girlfriend and living in the same dump as Kazuya to pay for acting school.

One after another, Kazuya presents up his incorrect assumptions and Mizuhara knocks em down, until it’s clear he’s been stalking her for hours, and listened in on Umi’s phone call. Yes aside from momentarily turning cold, calling what he did “simply stalking” and asking if he has “anything better to do in life”, he’s completely let off the hook!

This is Mizuhara, who in the past has legitimately threatened legal action against him if he doesn’t back off her life. But it’s also the Mizuhara who slowly seems to be falling for Kazuya, despite him being an absolute ghoulish cretin of an incel. Love has certainly made and idiot (and criminal) out of him, and so it’s made an idiot of Mizuhara as well.

She presents him with the gift of a new phone case (which she picked out with Umi) and he breaks down crying, which is good, because it means he is at least aware of how much pure trash he is, even if he seems incapable of changing. Among Mizuhara’s excuses for the gift is that she feels bad leaving him to deal with Ruka alone.

The mention of Ruka underscores how frustrating this entire episode was. It seems to be portending Mizuhara and Kazuya becoming a couple, but poor frail-hearted Ruka ends up being a placeholder and pawn while the inevitable is delayed. Ruka herself felt like gift to us for our endurance, only for her to be immediately ripped away so we can watch Kaz do crimes. Sorry, I wasn’t havin’ it!

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 21 – 21 Artificial Grams

For two people who claim not to be anything like friends, Mikoto and Misaki sure are hanging out a lot this season. I guess it’s more a matter of circumstances continuing to bring them together, as they do here when Misaki learns the inventor of Dream Poker is a very interesting person named Kuriba Ryouko.

Initially carved up like a spiral ham and augmented with cybernetics to create two separate bodies, Ryouko was a test subject to gauge the limits of cyborg technology. But when all of her organic parts were back together, the “Ryouko” with the machine parts had  retained a soul. Misaki wants Mikoto to break into the facility where Machine Ryouko resides and verify the experiment.

While Misaki’s talk with Mikoto is very expository, the scene is given room to breath by being bookended by the clever manner in which Misaki gets Mikoto’s attention (brainwashing a random girl) and the fact Mitori and Dolly aren’t far away observing Misaki’s movements. So happy to see Dolly out in the world.

Misaki and Mikoto are never not fun to watch bounce off each other and try to deflect their chemistry with the facade of pure practical necessity. That is, Misaki needs a “muscle-head” for the op lest her brainwashing not work on cyborgs. Misaki also makes it a square deal: if Mikoto helps her out here, she’ll use her skills to help get the Sisters something closer to a normal life.

After assuring Kuroko she’s not going out to cheat on her, Mikoto heads into the night to the facility, where she’s just in time to watch MechaRyouko explosively escape, taking out a chunk of the building and all of the lab data in the process.

In the facility, MechaRyouko had just had an epiphany, in which she recognized the mug her mom gave her, but suddenly couldn’t remember anyone or anything prior to arriving in Academy City—or afterwards. Clearly distressed by the fact she thinks she’s the real Kuriba Ryouko, it’s no wonder she sought freedom. And she’s a tough customer, having no problem beating up some thugs before securing a hideout and some cool backless black top that exposes her tattooed back.

Mikoto and Misaki (disguised as the third brainwashed person in the episode) pay the real Ryouko a visit and report her cyborg counterpart’s escape. Ryouko informs them in no uncertain terms that this could spell big, big trouble. Whether that means the cyborg will seek to destroy her and claim the mantle of One and Only Ryouko, to a whole host of other threats.

As the episode ends, we’re quickly introduced to a new underground org that has been tasked with retrieving the cyborg (after they recently failed in a mission involving Accelerator, which is probably more Index III stuff I vaguely remember). This group is called Scavenger, and it looks like next week will focus on their retrieval mission.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 08 – Beautiful from Any Angle

Ever since she got wasted and threw up on his futon, Uzaki has been out of sorts. While apologizing in public and offering money for the futon, bystanders get the wrong idea thanks to a lot of unfortunate phrasing. But at the cafe, Ami has the antidote for Uzaki’s recent blues. Sakurai will take Uzaki out to the fireworks festival, and if he’s nice and compliments the hell out of her yukata, she’ll cheer up: Ami guarantees it.

The night of the festival Ami is proven right; Uzaki is still down and things are awkward, and despite how annoying he’s typically found her, Sakurai just thinks it’s wrong for Uzaki to be so down. His steady stream of compliments eventually bring out the usual energetic Uzaki-chan, but also results in her accidentally hitting him too hard in the head with her purse.

Even before the blow, Uzaki’s quiet-and-meek disposition reminded him of her when they were still in high school, and while he’s out cold, he remembers one evening she was practicing alone (which is dangerous) and he jumped in the pool to help guide her. That night they came across the fireworks festival, he bought them grilled corn (perfect after all that swimming), and he watched Uzaki’s subdued face brighten up for the first time.

When Sakurai comes to, he’s in Uzaki’s lap, not quite able to see her face, but he can tell she’s back to being meek and contrite over braining him. So Sakurai does what a good guy would do: look back on their time together since reuniting at college and admitting it’s all been pretty fun. He’s been able to see and do so many things he otherwise wouldn’t, so he tells her not to be so down, and invites her to hang out more before summer is over.

Sakurai may not be able to see the reaction in Uzaki’s face either to his words or the fireworks, but it doesn’t matter; “the view is fine” from where he is. While last week’s interactions were lubricated by alcohol and looser inhibitions, this was the true romantic standout episode thus far, when Sakurai is open and honest about how he feels about their time together, and Uzaki shows more than her usual quasi-loner-bullying default mode. Nice work, all!

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 04 – Bad Lieutenant

For a show with Lower Decks in the title, there sure is a lot of time spent on the senior officers. And while they’re an equally colorful bunch, I’d prefer the majority of episodes spend time with the gritty underdogs. This week we stick with Beckett for the A-plot and Tendi for the B.

In this case it’s impossible to avoid senior officers since Captain Freeman is Beckett’s mom. When the Cerritos and her sister ship Merced encounter a giant dragonfly-like generation ship with a cargo of Genesis-like terraforming fluid, the Merced captain’s briefing is just too boring for Beckett, causing a fit of yawning.

For whatever reason Freeman is loath to kick her daughter off the ship, so Cmdr. Ransom suggests they simply five her the worst and dirtiest jobs on the ship so she’ll request a transfer on her own. Considering her conduct, I’m a bit surprised Beckett is surprised by the shit jobs she ends up getting.

Meanwhile, Ensign Tendi, who cannot allow anyone on the ship to dislike her, acts like a bull in a china shop during a crew member’s “ascension” ritual, resulting in the destruction of his two-year sand mandala, and his ascension doesn’t occur. In response, he tells Tendi “I don’t like you” and “don’t talk to me”…which to be honest, is fair!

While doing holodeck waste extraction (yes, most crew members do that there, because of course they do) isn’t really her cup of tea, Beckett finds small ways to enjoy herself in other duties, like getting in a carbon-phasering race with her colleagues.

Ransom reports his failure to demoralize Beckett into transferring, and Captain Freeman has an even more diabolical idea: if her daughter won’t leave of her own volition and enjoys even the dirtiest jobs, she’ll just saddle her with more responsibility.

That’s how Ensign Beckett Mariner ends up swapping her red shirt for a gold one and gaining a pip to make her a full lieutenant. She gets her own quarters, but in exchange she’s constantly filing reports and audits and audits of audits, or sitting in interminable conferences about what style of chairs to replicate.

Beckett is even invited to the executive poker game (a staple on the Enterprise-D for both senior staff and lower decks), but she can’t even enjoy that because everyone always folds and there’s no real money involved! Since Beckett’s pretty sharp, she eventually realizes her mom promoted her intentionally to make her miserable.

The two in the midst of hashing it out when the captain of the Merced pulls a power move that ends up rupturing the hull of the generation ship and sending the terraforming fluid bursting out. All non-organic matter it touches turns organic, which means it isn’t long before both ships are transformed into biospheres, a process somewhat reminiscent of the TNG episode “Masks” when the Enterprise slowly turned into an ancient temple.

Once again, the limitless production budget of Lower Decks’ animation comes through as the cold sterile ship is transformed into a gorgeous psychedelic menagerie of caves, vines, and coral. Tendi is in engineering still trying to be friends with the guy who doesn’t like her, but they end up making up when they save each others’ lives.

Beckett and Captain Freeman are similarly able to put aside their differences long enough to devise a plan to restore the ship to its normal state and beam the too-far-gone Merced’s crew to the generation ship. Tendi’s friend ends up ascending after all (turning into pure energy as so many Star Trek characters have done) though it’s a much longer and more painful process than either of them expected!

Naturally, Beckett doesn’t remain a gold lieutenant for the rest of the show, and her kumbaya moment with her mom ends when she embarrasses her in front of an admiral after he awards them for their meritorious service. That means by the end of the episode everything’s back to normal—also a venerable trademark of TOS, TNG, and Voyager.

Notable this week: both male mains Brad and Sam barely appeared this week, which was pretty refreshing, as TNG in particular often had trouble creating episodes that focused on Crusher and Troi; I appreciate that as much of the Trek universe presented in Lower Decks is cozy and familiar, there have been notable improvements in non-white male representation.

Stray Observations:

  • The Cerritos and Merced are both California-class, but are not named after the cities you first think of when you think of that state.
  • I’m both surprised and relieved none of the crew of the generation ship were alive. Alien guest stars would have made this episode overstuffed.
  • The initial ascension ceremony really captured that warm lighting of the TNG crew quarters. I always thought those were pretty sweet digs.
  • The senior staff’s discussion about office chairs is a nod to the Burke chairs used in TOS, starting a tradition of interesting-looking conference chairs in Trek.
  • When Beckett and Captain Freeman break through the rock, they emerge into a turboshaft that’s been overrun by jungle. I was immediately reminded of the Genesis Cave in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • I’m gradually getting used to the character designs, which I’m told are similar to those in Rick & Morty, with which Lower Decks shares its creator. But I’ll be honest: I’d be just fine with more anime-inspired designs.

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 07 – In Too Deep

I’ve already commented on my preference for fun cases-of-the-week centered on Haru and Daisuke’s budding buddy cop dynamic to the dense and lengthy trip down memory lane we get this week, but as someone with the belief a work of criticism should explore what you’ve been given (rather than harping on what you weren’t), this wasn’t a bad murder case diligently worked by good cops, then swept under the rug by higher-ups.

The relationship of then-relative newbie Takei Katsuhiro and Nakamoto Chousuke also provides an imperfect but still notable parallel to Haru and Daisuke’s dynamic: Takei and Haru are the by-the-book cops while Nakamoto and Daisuke are the mavericks, willing to go down any rabbit hole for the sake of justice.

The murder case they investigates is that of Kanbe Sayuri: Daisuke’s mother, and while her husband Shigemaru is the prime person of interest, he’s overseas and the Kanbe family (Daisuke’s gran) stonewalls the investigation. This doesn’t stop Nakamoto from stealing a photo album to positively ID Shigemaru as the suspect.

What Nakamoto didn’t expect was the album to contain a key to a locker likely containing data and materials on a top-secret material being developed by the Kanbe group. Just when they’re about to crack the case, that key turns up missing and Shigemaru is dead of apparent suicide.

For sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong, both Nakamoto and his boss Kiyomizu were sent to the drudgery of Modern Crimes, while Takei, the director’s son-in-law, remained in the first division, where all three men still reside.

The flashback is full of great details, such as the fact Takei’s wife is expecting and ends up giving birth while he is busy with a case that ultimately proves to be a dead end.  I also liked how Nakamoto always spit out the chocolate “seeds” of the watermelon pops he and Takei would often eat; a symbol of his ultimately career-torpedoing dedication to dispensing with bullshit.

Nineteen years later, Nakamoto has been hoping for a new lead in Sayuri’s case ever since Daisuke arrived at Modern Crimes, and sure enough, Daisuke admits he caused Imura’s car to go out of control so she could be arrested. What he didn’t do is cause the explosion, but Takei believes Daisuke is the culprit.

Takei wants to bring someone to justice to repay Nakamoto for his past kindness, but he ends up being knocked out by gas in his own car. By literally knocking down the front gate of the Kanbe compound with his Corolla, Haru and Nakamoto manages to get to Daisuke, who with Suzue’s help placed Takei in an elaborate virtual reality simulation that that reveals Director Saiki’s role in the cover-up.

Daisuke, Nakamoto, and Haru all want the case closed and justice served; Daisuke has already spent billions of yen in that effort. As Nakamoto told Takei regarding the ambitions inherent in marrying the boss’ daughter, justice requires power. All that remains to be seen is who out there still has more power than our good guys, and how they’ll continue to pervert that justice.

Oregairu 3 – 08 – The Person in Charge

It’s the much-belated appearance of Hayama Hayato, the only person who comes right out and tells Hikki that he shouldn’t be going about things this way. Hayato is already helping the StuCo, but frankly he partially blames himself for helping out in a previous scenario that didn’t turn out so well.

Hikki, while grateful for his friend’s candor, insists this isn’t about codependency, but personal pride and satisfaction. That pride extends into the purchase of a high-end camera and learning how to use it for a beach photo shoot that will be the hero(ine) image on the website.

Despite this, Ebina Hina still has to flip a couple of switches on the camera so it will take the most dramatic pictures, just as she, Yui, and Yumiko have to take off their shoes in the freezing cold water for it to seem “genuine”.

The final product speaks for itself and looks fantastic, and the Gaming Club nerds are again surprised by Hikki’s formality and gratitude for their and Zaimo’s assistance. Little did I know this would be all he’d call on them to do, since the “dummy prom” effort comes to an end this week!

With the site in place, Hikki needs his fake prom plans “leaked” to the PTO (AKA Yukino’s mom) and recruits Haruno for the job. Like Hayato, Haruno won’t stand in his or Yui’s way but doesn’t see how his argument for it not being codepenency is anything other than a battle of semantics.

She suggests they simply “watch over” Yukino as she works towards her goal alone, and Yui is the one to rebut that. Watching over someone, to her, isn’t any different from staying away from them, even abandoning them. That’s no way to “end things properly”, as all three of them desperately wants to do.

The next day (or so), thanks to Haruno, her mother has gotten word of the second prom proposal, and quickly outmaneuvers Hikki’s slipshod preparation for the meeting by declaring the gig is up, she knows his prom is a decoy, and as such isn’t going to move the needle on the PTO’s position.

That said, Hiratsuka (who prior to the meeting asked Hikki out for ramen sometime) offers a solid assist to Hikki in stating that the current options on PTO’s table are to look over the adjusted proposal for Yukino’s prom and retain some influence on the event, or risk the rebellious elements of the student body hold the event outside school grounds and rules.

Yukino’s mom still doesn’t show her cards, but to add a game metaphor, Hikki considers her the queen in a game of chess, and as such someone he can turn into an ally if he uses a very specific underhanded tactic only he could use: his name, which she recognizes as the boy who got hit by her car.

This has the intended effect, thankfully for Hikki, since after that he’s probably out of moves. Yukino’s mom is impressed with his “remarkable intrepidity”, even unfolding her fan as if to concede his point. Responding to her question about his leg injury by telling her it’s stronger than ever and he’ll display it by dancing at the prom…chef’s kiss.

We backtrack a bit to Yui visiting Haruno again on her own to take exception to her use of the term “codependency”. Haruno proceeds to harunosplain it to Yui, but Yui doesn’t budge. When Haruno dismisses her dream to be together forever with the other two as “not genuine”, Yui doesn’t see how it can’t be, considering how much it hurts.

Let it be said Haruno practices what she preaches. She and Hayato were an item, but it wasn’t sufficiently genuine. And things she deems not genuine aren’t simply an annoyance, they are repellent, and she’ll say and do what she thinks she must to stamp them out.

Hikki visits Yukino in the Service Club room to tell her that her revised plan was safely approved by the PTO, making her the winner of their prom rivalry. She begs to differ: because she went along with his decision to make a competition at all, and trusted that he’d succeed in getting her prom approved, she feels that he is the one who won.

Yukino takes this trust in him as further evidence of her dependence on him, but Hikki still maintains that because her prom was approved, she won this particular rivalry. She takes it the next step to say that if he insists she won, then he has to do what she says, which is to grand Yui’s wish.

Yukino tearfully tells Hikki how much she’s cherished the time the three of them have spent in the Service Club, but the “seemingly fake” relationship that has resulted from their continued interaction is “wrong” and different from what Hikki “desired” for them.

Therefore it’s time to end that relationship right there. Hikki leaves without argument while Yukino hopes this is the “correct ending”. Later, Yukino meets with Yui and while she doesn’t explicitly say the relationship they had had is now over, Yui can see it in Yukino’s smile.

Still, by essentially placing the ball in Yui’s hands, there’s a chance that even if one relationship between the three is coming to an end, it doesn’t mean a new beginning isn’t in the cards. The question is what form that beginning takes. After all, it’s certainly not Yui’s wish that the three stop talking or seeing each other.

In this way, Yukino is doing the same thing with Yui’s wish she claims to have done with Hikki’s alternate prom plan: relying on it, knowing full well she will find a way just as he did. Haruno’s strict ideal of what is properly genuine—maybe these three are simply destined to keep relying on one another as they continue to stumble towards adulthood.