SAKUGAN – 07 – FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS SUEÑAS

After the last few episodes took place in colonies or on a mission in a stationary place, this week is all about the journey. Memenpu, Gagumber, Zackletu and Yuri embark upon a road trip that soon grows monotonous in both scenery and routine. Yuri tries to spice things up a little with some lovely red flowers.

The only problem is, he picked flowers that look just like the flowers he wanted to pick, but these flowers happen to have psychotropic effects. As such, things get a little Hunter S Thompson, as the higher the rest stop numbers get, the higher Gagumber, Zackletu, and Yuri get. Memenpu, the one who is most with it, gets rid of the flowers and uses a native cactus to whip up an anecdote.

Alas, Memenpu mistakes the cactus for one that looks just like it that only makes the symptoms of the flower worse. This is hilariously depicted as everyone continues to get nuttier, with the three acting like they’re at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. They repeat the same lines but their words get more and more slurred. Their driving gets more wild and reckless. They can’t stop barfing.

Memenpu determines the only way for the other three to recover is water, rest, and luck. They do eventually find themselves (after she slaps them in the face several times) but Memenpu is having her own rough time. When under the influence of the flowers her dream got psychedelic, but when she buried the blooms they got more intense and violent, depicting Gagumber bleeding out and dying in the flower fields of her dream.

When Memenpu tries to get the others to hurry up and get to the place, Gagumber tells her to chill out and stop taking her dreams so literally, even saying “I thought you were smart.” When she tries to climb aboard their mech on her own, he pulls her knapsack and she loses her footing and falls hard, getting all scraped up.

Gagumber doesn’t apologize an the two drift apart as the trip continues, but Memenpu’s dream of him dying is obviously extremely upsetting, and she believes the only way to prevent it is to go there and check things out, and possibly meet Urorop, who always appears in the dreams. Only Urorop is already there, at their camp.

Is she just there to watch in the shadows, or will she engage with the others? The chaotic goofiness of the drug tripping combined with the dark turn Memenpu’s dreams have taken made this an edgy, unpredictable episode—befitting a proper road trip.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Senpai is Annoying – 06 – If You Love Your Child, Send Her on a Journey

This week we finally meet Futaba’s enormous grandfather. It all starts with Sakurai using a photo app filter to make Takeda and Futaba look like they’re wearing traditional wedding garb. Sakurai “accidentally” sends it, and Gramps shoots back a torrent of texts wondering who this “big lug” is and “what rock he climbed under”.

Takeda joins Futaba at the florist where she intends to buy herself a birthday bouquet, only for them to learn they share the same birthday. How goddamn friggin’ cute is that? Minutes later, Gramps arrives on his hog to give Futaba a second bouquet, grabs Takeda by the scruff (he’s slightly bigger than Futaba) and asks him what the heck he’s doing with “his” Futaba, and Takeda makes Futaba blush by saying she’s not an object and belongs to no one.

The two butt heads, but part ways without tearing each other to pieces. The next day Futaba goes out with Harumi for some day-after-birthday cake. Gramps, who spent the night at Futaba’s on the floor, tries to understand young love better…by going to see Your Name.! He perhaps learns the wrong lessons from the Shinkai masterpiece, and later texts Futaba the cryptic question “Who are you?”, which goes unanswered.

Meanwhile, Gramps and Takeda keep bumping into each other, and whether it’s fishing, batting cages, or trash pickup, they engage in intense competition, each time going too far and eliciting strange looks from bystanders. The two end up developing a mutual respect for each other, which tracks, because they’re almost the same damn person! Gramps also waxes nostalgic about what a cute kid Futaba was.

Takeda learns that Futaba decided to live on her own in Tokyo when she was just 16, and Gramps let her, because he trusted her, and agreed with her that she needed to learn to become less dependent on him. That said, when Takeda goes to a public restroom and Futaba is accosted by three punks making light of her stature, she requires Takeda and Gramps’ assistance to get rid of them. That begs the question: certainly while living on her own all those years this happened more than once?

Never mind; I love the dynamic between Futaba and her doting gramps, even if it isn’t particularly complex. And I also love how Takeda and Gramps learn to get along. I’m sure he would have preferred if Futaba were going with someone more traditionally handsome than Takeda, but he can’t argue that Takeda is a stand-up guy, and someone he can trust with his beloved granddaughter.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

86 – 18 – A Bat Into Hell

There was no new episode of 86 last week, nor will a new episode air next week. Instead, this eighteenth episode whets our appetite for the final desperate struggle of an alliance of human nations to defeat the apocalyptic Legion the Empire of Giad created. It starts out pretty subdued, with a pair of conversations, once again underscoring the unfortunate production issues apparently plaguing the show just as it nears the home stretch.

Ernst wants the commander’s promise he’s not sending the Eighty-Six to their potential deaths simply because he said they were too dangerous to keep around to begin with. In this particular case, it’s more that they have no one better for a mission that must succeed, or everyone dies. We also learn that Wenzel, who lost someone dear in the war (a spouse, perhaps), isn’t ready to give up on the kids living normal lives after surviving this.

Part of surviving means having the best equipment available, and both Wenzel and her boss know the slow military helicopters won’t get the job done. Instead, she requests and is granted access to an old prototype ground-effect vehicle or ekranoplan, one of the strangest and most nerdy of aerospace inventions.

I believe this is the first time I’ve seen one of these contraptions depicted in anime (if anyone knows of another, shout it out in the comments), but the long, foreboding journey through darkness into its hangar feels like Wenzel and the Nordlicht are descending into a dungeon to wake a dragon that may either help or kill them. It’s also named after a Giadian legend of yore: Nachzehrer, a vampire that drags its shadow along the ground.

Ekranoplan or no ekranoplan, Frederica wants to know what the plan is for getting out of enemy territory if and when they destroy Morpho. Everyone loos around until Shin says getting home alive is secondary to destroying the target and saving human civilization as they know it.

That’s not enough for Frederica, who refuses to return to the rear lines and has a “tantrum” in her room. Shin visits her, and is not particularly sympathetic, saying he’s not her knight, and even expressing doubt she wants him to kill her old one. Frederica hits back that she simply doesn’t want Shin going down the same path as Kiri. She doesn’t want to lose another brother.

But Frederica doesn’t convince Shin not to go, and probably never would have succeeded. He and the other four Eighty-Six might only be doing this for their own pride and because they known nothing else but being bloody swords on the battlefield, but in this case there is literally no alternative; the enemy isn’t someone that can be surrendered to or asked for quarter.

Ernst, donning his army uniform and taking command of the operation, gives the Eighty-Six a pep talk, telling them no one in Giad wants them to die, and that their most important mission is to come back alive. It’s at this point I was almost ready to say “Hey, he’s not such a bad guy after all”…but then the lighting changes, his smile vanishes, and he adds that if they don’t come back alive, he’lls “destroy this world.” So yeah…still evil.

Regardless, Ernst gives a stirring speech to rally the troops as the clock counts down to zero. The always-on point Sawano Hiroyuki score swells, the diversionary forces successfully clear a path,  Wenzel hits the throttle, and the bat-shaped Nachzehrer blasts out of its hanger like, well, a bat out of hell.

Only they’re actually heading into hell. Regal Lily’s “Alchemila” hits different when the sounds of weaponry the diversionary units holding their ground and being massacred mixed in. This heartens the Eighty-Six, as the soldiers of their adopted nation aren’t turning tail and fleeing like the drunk and arrogant San Magnolians almost certainly would. They’re not giving up, so they can’t let them down.

Ernst’s under-his-breath threat aside (does the blue light hint that he’s somehow secretly controlling the Legion?) this battle really is for all the marbles. As the voices of the damned fill Shin’s head and a smirk grows on his face, will he be able to keep his and lead Raiden, Anju, Kurena, Theo, and Giad to victory?

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait at least two weeks to find out. But I’m not bitter over the lack of an episode last week or next. I’m just happy we got this one, and all things considered, it ruled pretty damn hard.

Komi Can’t Communicate – 05 – Ramen, Chuunibyou and Other Inclusions

Summer uniforms are here, and so are fitness tests. After her “tie” last time, Yadano is eager to defeat her rival Komi. Alas, she can’t even manufacture a tie this time, as Komi wins seven out of seven “events”, despite knowing of no rivalry whatsoever.

Yadano holds out her hand to congratulate Komi on a great challenge. But when Komi doesn’t take her hand, Yadano sees it as a rebuke to Yadano giving up. Instead, Yadano “accepts” Komi’s “offer” to continue their “rivalry”. Those quotation marks are doing a lot of work!

Thanks to their pushy presumptuousness, Najimi invites themselves to Komi’s house with Tadano, and they meet Komi’s mom Suko. Initially she looks like a cool quiet, slightly intimidating lady. Then she reveals she communicates just fine. In fact, she’s proud of how she looks “forever seventeen” and her kiddy enthusiasm mortifies her silent daughter.

Najimi tries to find secrets in Komi’s room, but instead finds books on communication (with both humans and cats!) then leaves the room to watch Komi and Tadano alone in the room. For fifteen minutes, the two sit in silence, frustrating Najimi, but it’s never awkward. Komi and Tadano could sit quietly together for hours. Najimi snaps a candid shot, and Komi is so happy with it she ask her mom if she can buy a picture frame.

When Komi meekly expresses her wish to go out for ramen, Agari, a ramen expert, takes charge. When talking about food, Agari becomes a much more confident and talkative person (until people look at her), and obviously knows her stuff, listing off the various “ramen commandments” one must follow. Komi is able to communicate what she wants to the brawny but similarly tiny-voiced ramen chief, and proves a ramen master, waiting patiently and quietly (natch) and finishing and leaving promptly.

A new friend is introduced in the chuunibyou girl Nakanaka Omoharu, who wants to be Komi’s friend but assigns labels that confuse Komi, which cause Nakanaka to get the wrong idea that Komi isn’t interested in being friends. Just as Tadano is a great Komi translator, he is also well-versed in the chuunibyou/”cringe” lifestyle, having lived it himself in junior high, only to swear it off when his crush rejected him for it.

When everybody is trying to be Komi’s partner for stretching, Nakanaka watches everyone else pair up and sits in on the floor alone and morose. She’s startled but ultimately delighted when she notices Komi had declined all other potential partners to make a “blood pact” with her. Nakanaka may play it cool and say that the pact actually made Komi her “vassal”, but it’s just “friend” by any other name.

As for Tadano, Komi’s most “normal” friend (at least relative to the others), Komi finds excuses to spend time with him, even though they’re rarely apart. When Najimi steals Tadano’s umbrella and it rains after school, Komi is waiting for him with hers, and they end up sharing. It proves a bit too much for Tadano after grazing her shoulder, and offers to hold it between them—getting his shoulder wet, but keeping Komi dry.

Later at the konbini where Tadano buys another umbrella and towels for them to dry off, he asks if Komi saw Najimi’s note and chose to wait, rather than it being a coincidence of timing. To this, Komi simply looks on in silence, and her very aura parts the clouds. For all the various terms Komi’s friends use to describe their association, Komi is clearly Tadano’s sun—and vice versa!

The World’s Finest Assassin – 07 – You Gotta Moisturize

“You know, I’ve tried all sorts of moisturizers. I even went fragrance-free for a whole year. Now my sister, she uses some kind of uh… uh… uh… uh… aloe vera with a little sunscreen in it, and ideally, we should all wear gloves when going to bed, but I found out that that creates a kind of an interference with my… “social agenda”, you know what I mean.”—Frank Catton, Ocean’s Eleven

“It’s all going according to plan”—‘Illig’ thinks this as he lay in bed flanked by the undyingly loyal Tarte and Maha. He says the loss of their parents makes them seek human warmth, and their infatuation with him has made them his “pawns”—he continues to insist in his head that there’s a distance between artifice of his precious Plan and the reality as the girls see it: that is and has been kind and generous enough to demand that their loyalty and love.

After Illig heals his father’s legitimate son with his Tuathe Dé skills, his father agrees to adopt Maha as Illig’s sister, and also agrees that no matter when this charade ends, Illig or Lugh will always have a home to go back to in Milteu—a smart backup plan Just in Case.

As far as the merchant world goes, Illig takes to it like a fish to water and intends to make a huge first splash, converting one of his father’s failed liquor stores in the city into a cosmetics and confectionary shop focused on women. Knowing brand trumps quality in this competitive industry, he has an ace up his sleeve: there are no moisturizers in this world.

Not only does Illig impress his father, but his mother too, though she’ll still always hate him as a symbol of her husband’s impropriety. I’m sure Illig appreciates her directness. Six months pass, and Illig and Tarte watch the women and the money pour into the store. Illig further galvanizes Maha’s loyalty and love by making her the store manager, who hires her friends.

Maha and her friends are now living the dream they dreamt while living on the streets before being captured. Maha couldn’t be more content, and we learn Illig has also trained her in the skills of assassination. Such are her and Tarte’s depth of devotion to their master and brother, they’ll happily brutally torture a corporate spy in the night. Illig didn’t even have to be there.

This week is the wackiest Goddess interlude yet—in which she’s rap-dueling with The World’s Greatest MC, only to learn that 30 years later he’s done nothing because all he does is insult people. But while they provide a measure of comic relief, they also show us that of all the Worlds Best ___’s the Goddess has brought to a new world, Illig seems to be faring the best.

We also learn that once a month Illig travels to hang out with Dia, who is essentially his big sister. They collaborate on new spells and catch up. Just one day a month must be lonely (that bittersweet loneliness has been beautifully expressed in the Dia-centric ED), but even if Illig cynically thinks he’s just keeping another pawn loyal to him, there’s clearly more going on than that.

While Illig’s constant assurance to himself everything is going according to plan make me nervous for some kind of unanticipated setback, the first instance is pretty low-key: his body has arrived at puberty, and after a mana-intensive day at Dia’s, he sleeps soundly between Tarte and Maha…and wakes up to learn his body has had its first wet dream.

Tarte and Maha immediately assure him that in the future they will be able to “take care” of this new development without issue or delay, and Illig, who didn’t seem like much of a ladies man in his past life, is understandably flustered. While this first crack in his plan is mostly silly, the fact he now has less than five years to defeat the hero provides potential for many more. So much remains unknown of the hero, from their gender to the possibility of fulfilling his mission without killing them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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