The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 13 (Fin) – Cast Away Memories

Shield Hero comes to the end of this second season not quite sure what to do, so it dredges up a few little vignettes from the past, in the context of the characters having little “remember when” moments. It’s odd; it has the feel of a recap since there’s absolutely no forward movement to the plot, but since we never saw the scenes, it’s more of the kind of bonus episode you’d get with a Blu-Ray box set.

The Shield Hero completionist is then honor-bound to sit through a scene of the girls dressing Lil’ Raphtalia and themselves up in various costumes to get to the emotional scraps meat on the bone of this episode: actually watching Kizuna’s descent into ennui, suicidal thoughts, and then acceptance of her plight and making the most of it thanks to the Shield Hero version of Wilson the volleyball from to 2000 film Cast Away.

Kizuna regales that story to Yomogi, who then recalls her last fun moment with Kyou, when he trashed his lab looking for glasses that were on his face all along. This kinda clangs on the ground because as close as Yomogi once was to the guy, Kyou’s a villain and irredeemable jackass. Thankfully we didn’t flash back to that scene or have to see his punchable face.

Finally, Rishia and Raphtalia recall the time Ost taught them about sex, and while Raph had no idea what she was talking about, Filo understood the concept of mating right away. Back in the present, Naofumi, Raph, Filo, and Rishia stop on a promontory to release a bouquet of flowers in honor of Ost, and Ost’s force ghost shows up to wave farewell to Naofumi.

Anime News Network’s reviewer for this show often skewered it more than I, but they were right in one regard where they thought they were mistaken: the 12th episode was the last episode. This was just an epilogue, and while it had some cute moments, it didn’t justify the title of 13th episode.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 13 (Final Hole) – Killing You, In Golf

As Birdie Wing outings go, this last one was a bit tame; I’d almost go so far as to say leisurely. But I went in almost certain the entire All-Japan Girl’s Tournament wouldn’t get wrapped up in one episode; if it had, it would have surely sucked.

While expectations were lower, I still looked forward to lots of Eve and Aoi flirting, and in this I was not disappointed. Eve even starts things off frisky by giving Aoi a Nafrecian peck on the cheek and then claiming Ichina as her personal body pillow for the night, while Coach Reiya rightfully shoots Kinue down.


It’s a good thing Ichina shared a room with Eve too, as neither Eve nor Aoi would have slept a wink and not been ready for the golf. That said, due to their high qualifying rank they get a fairly late tee time, giving them time to good off more.

As Kuyou and Kaoruko do battle against another pair, their coach Date gets trash-talked by Reiya, who is confident his two first years will win decisively, seeing as how Aoi is golf royalty and Eve is the apprentice of the legendary Leo Millafoden.

This wouldn’t be much fun if Eve and Aoi didn’t run into a little adversity, as Eve’s worst enemy turns out not to be Himekawa Mizuho, but her own over-aggressiveness. She puts a ball into the bunker, and Aoi, perhaps a little too wound up about getting to play beside Eve, misses getting the ball out. That said, the two win their first round comfortably.

The thing is, Eve wanted to defeat their opponents to a pulp—kill them, with golf—as funny a collection of four words as I’ve heard spoken in an anime (I particularly love that comma in there). Their win, while easy, is also much closer than either of their elite rival pairs from Kouran and Nada.

We also learn that while Aoi is the daughter of Hodaka Kazuhiko, Himeko seems to have inherited his brand of golf, so much so that Aoi recognizes it instantly. Himeko and Kaede destroy their opponents in their two rounds, an impressive response to Eve and Aoi’s superior score in the qualifiers.

Eve’s usual mind games won’t work on the Kouran or Nada girls, but Ichina feels it’s actually good for her to be experimenting with her aggressiveness in earlier matches where it’s safe to do so. Eve and Aoi will have to take every risk they can to defeat Kaoruko and Himeko, to say nothing of killing them, in golf.

Naturally, this ends before those key duels take place, and a second season of Birdie Wing in Winter 2023 has restored my faith in both anime and humanity. As far as I’m concerned, the golf flirting and murder can go on indefinitely; a veritable Hole in One Piece.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summertime Render – 10 – A Leaf in the Forest

This week is a no-holds-barred Scooby-Doo adventure almost from start to finish. After watching what Ushio went through to warn Shinpei, there’s no way Sou isn’t going to tag along as they head to his family’s old abandoned clinic up in the mountains. Ushio also struts her Shadow Power stuff, able to transform into a shell necklace Shinpei wears, and explaining how her swimsuit is her armor.

Her abilities combined with Shinpei’s courage and Sou’s loyalty make them the perfect team to investigate a creepy haunted hospital. One great detail is a rare statue of the ancient Japanese deity Hiruko-sama, in the form of a limbless leach-like fertility idol. The fact that legend suggests it was heteromorphic creates an enticing connection to the clearly equally-ancient Shadows. Shinpei, Ushio and Sou end up in what seems to be a Shadow nursery.

Turns out there’s something even more terrifying than a Shadow … a baby Shadow, one that seems docile and harmless enough right up until Shinpei tries to shoot it with a nailgun. It dodges and rolls and bounds all over the place until Sou hits it with his baseball bat.

But then it wraps around the bat (again, Shadow) and very nearly kills him, only Shinpei has been practicing his nailgunning and gets three shots into the Shadow. Ushio finishes it off with her Shadow hair, and cue Victory Fanfare for the Scooby Gang. As much as I fear for their safety, it’s a hell of a lot of fun watching these three old friends get shit done.

At the end of the battle, Ushio gives Sou a playful shove forward as the three continue their investigation, but her arm starts bleeding, like the injury that occurred to a previous copy of the arm has returned. After her powers are essentially a cheat code for most of the episode, it’s good for the episode to self-level and demonstrate she’s far from all-powerful.

Shinpei knows this, and he also stands by his promise to always protect her (which made her blush earlier), and his foreknowledge of the nightmares to come even make a dark cave full of Shadow babies seem…not that bad? He knows firsthand it can always be worse! That said, considering how much effort it took to defeat one baby, the trio have their work cut out for them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 12 (Fin) – Eraser War and Peace

It’s already March and White Day is upon him, but Tadano doesn’t know what to get Komi. Candy means you like someone, cookies mean they’re just a friend, but to him Komi is kinda-sorta both. What to do? Well, under the unconvincing guise that he’s getting a gift for Katai, he enlists the help of his sister Hitomi, who is excited about her big bro “gettin’ some”, in the parlance of our times.

White Day is actually Saturday, but everyone takes care of their business on Friday…except Tadano, who instead invites Katai to dinner. That only makes his task more difficult as he must go to Komi’s house the next day and brave her parents.

But he does make it, and delivers a very sweet and thoughtful gift of hand cream, along with a single candy. Just like she gave him the very best of the “friendship” chocolate she made, the single candy is an acknowledgement of something more than just friends, and it’s not lost on Komi.

Komi seems a little out of it to Tadano one day, but before he can ask her what’s up, Najimi goes and starts the eraser war to end all eraser wars. Much like the snowball fight with the kids, this takes an extremely mundane classroom activity to a ridiculous level of intensity that involves the entire class and ends with Komi claiming an easy, stylish victory.

Then the class clears out, leaving just Komi and Tadano together in the classroom as the rains fall outside. Komi, increasingly unafraid of speaking out loud to Tadano, tells him she feels lonely since the closing ceremony is upon them and they’ll be in a new class soon.

Tadano uses the rain as a metaphor to ensure her that things will be alright, and that they shouldn’t lament the end of one year, but celebrate how amazingly full and fun that year was, in which she made one friend, then two, then three, then, I dunno, something approaching twenty.

The first day of the new school year, there’s every indication Komi and Tadano ended up in the same class together again, and when he says good morning, she puts the notebook away and tells him she’s looking forward to another year with him. It’s Peak Sweet Komi, and a perfect way to close the curtain on the second—and most likely not final—season.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 10 – Cup Ramen and Foie Gras

When Erika takes off to hang out with her mom (the one who raised her) Sachi doesn’t waste the sudden opportunity to hang out with her Onii. She ostensibly wants to buy a gift for their mom, but both of seem to agree their mom isn’t much of a gift receiver, so you have to think part of her just wants to see what it’s like to go on something like a date with Nagi.

The two settle on an apron (and sure enough, their mom could take or leave it) but when Sachi comes upon the idea, Nagi rewards her with a head pat, which pisses her off to no end. As much as she pretends not to stand him, Sachi wants Nagi to see her as a girl, not an imouto. Alas, he’s utterly oblivious. He just wants to study and win Hiro, which is why he’s probably none too pleased about suddenly being yanked out of the house by Erika.

Erika, who herself was blissfully reveling in her first cup ramen, got a text from her dad saying he’s coming—no discussion, not argument, he’s just coming and that’s that—so she ditches both wallet and phone, grabs Nagi, and heads out. Where doesn’t matter; that even she’s not sure is the point. No GPS or purchase history means even someone as rich and powerful as her dad can’t find her if she doesn’t want to see him.

Instead, Sachi is person who encounters her dad making himself at home in the house. She initially thinks he’s a burglar, but she should have called the cops anyway, considering he later lures her out and plys her with foie gras. I’m with the wait staff of his restaurant: it’s weird that he suddenly takes Sachi out to dinner.

Sachi is there for the foie gras, and also considers it equitable to tell Erika’s father about how she and Nagi are getting along. She probably doesn’t realize she’s being a snitch, because she’s distracted by the fact this is another opportunity for her: if she says they’re terrible together, she could potentially be able to swoop in and have Nagi to herself (again).

But Sachi is not a bad person, so she tells Erika’s father the truth: as mismatched as their personalities seem, Erika and Nagi definitely have a spark—je ne fois gras, if you will. Their chat is interposed between scenes of Nagi showing Erika a good time with zero yen thanks to a steep hill and a piece of cardboard.

As for Erika’s increasingly creepy dad, he heads into his office to admire a framed photo of him and Erika’s dad with Erika…and Nagi, looking like older toddlers. This is strange, as my understanding is they were separated at birth; this suggests they were reunited at some point. It also gives credence to the fact the “certain someone” Erika is trying to reach through SM is, in fact, Nagi, and the two of them simply somehow forgot they knew each other as kids.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 10 – So Cute, So Cool

Hot on the heels of the cultural festival is the athletics festival, and while I was fully ready to throw my hands up and shout “no more festivals”, this episode soon convinced me otherwise. That’s entirely because the five-person mixed relay team is none other than our five friends Shikimori, Izumi, Nekozaki, Inuzuka…and Hachimitsu.

The three jocks of the group help train the fast but mishap-prone Izumi and the slow, indoorsy, generally reluctant Hachimitsu. Both are amazed and heartened by how kind and patient Shikimori, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka are. Hachimitsu has the most athletic ground to cover, but she has the right teachers.

In fact, both she and Izumi are sufficiently inspired to keep training together even when their sporty friends have to head off to practice for their other events. Izumi wonders why Hachimitsu is working herself to the bone for running, something she’s never been a fan of.

As she zips her jacket over half her face, Hachimitsu’s answer is simple; if it makes everyone happy, then she’s happy. On the day of the festival, the girls watch the guys do the human cavalry thing, and Hachimitsu notices Shikimori ogling Izumi, looks a little jealous for a moment, then tells a joke. It’s a nifty little exchange that really deepens the complexity of this group’s bond.

When Hachimitsu participates in the bag toss, she turns out to be quite exemplary at it. No doubt she was motivated by watching the boys working hard, and by the warm and enthusiastic support of all of them. Her reward for her near-victory is one of Shikimori’s biggest smiles, and Hachimitsu can’t help but beam back in pride and satisfaction.

With the mixed relay approaching, Hachitmitsu can’t help but feel nervous. Shikimori, who looks so calm and cool, takes her hand in hers, revealing it’s ice cold because she’s nervous too. But nervousness and lack of confidence are two very different things. Shikimori says that having fun is most important, but if it’s all the same, she’s going to have fun winning. Hachimitsu can’t repel competitive fire of that magnitude.

Nekozaki gets their team into first place in the first leg, then hands it off to Hachimitsu. She’s moving so much faster than she’s used to she gets disoriented and trips herself. She falls on her face and skins her knee, but the baton never left her hand; they’re still in it. She gets back up and keeps running, handing the baton off to Izumi cleanly.

Izumi loses a shoe, but simply loses the other and keeps running in his stocking feet, and does not trip and fall, or fall further behind. He hands it off to Shikimori, who singlehandedly gets the team from the rear back into second place with acceleration that uniformly shocks all in attendance.

Just before Inuzuka receives the baton from her, he gets one good look at her intense face and knows that he just can’t let her or the others down. He only has one man to beat, and he beats him to the finish. Izumi is the first to tackle him into a celebratory hug, followed closely by Nekozaki.

Izumi is so high on their upset victory, he exhibits absolutely no propriety by taking Shikimori into his arms and holding her close, very nearly causing her to overheat. Then Hachimitsu—indoorsy, wisecrakin’ ol’ Hachimitsu—smiles a genuine smile of glee as she thanks everyone for working hard, shocking her friends.

The victorious quintet then poses for a beautiful Postcard Memory as Hachimitsu reiterates how happy and proud she is to have such fine friends. I tell you, it’s legit goddamn tearjerker material, and it’s also one of Shikimori’s best episodes. Just five incredibly cute, cool friends, supporting each other, making each other better, and having a blast. Who could ask for more?

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 12 – Savage Burn

After some glimpses of both Naofumi and Kyou’s past lives in the real world—the latter having nothing but contempt for those days and said world—we see the transported Cardinal Heroes of this world just managing to hold their own against the new Waves of Catastrophe, while Naofumi, Raphtalia, Filo, Rishia, and Yomogi enter Kyou’s lab. They’re met by three of the late Kazuki’s ever-loyal attendants in chimera form, and Raph makes quick work of them with her katana.

After that, Kyou does his gloating villain thing and then sends a zombified version of Kazuki after them. While Raph and Filo deal with him, Naofumi and Rishia break through and reach Kyou. Kyou is good enough at what he does to enrage Naofumi enough for him to draw upon the Rage Shield, which quickly takes control of his persona and even tries to choke out Rishia, saying some horrifyingly mean things about her in the process.

Rishia doesn’t take the insults personally, but insists that the rage shield release Naofumi immediately. But what ultimately quells his rage and frees him from the shield’s hold is an echo of Ost, who asserts that he doesn’t need the shield’s flames. Naofumi wakes up flanked by Raph and Filo, accepting the anger he feels for Kyou but letting it pass and moving forward—much to Kyou’s consternation.

Wielding the Vassal Weapon of the missing Mirror Hero of this world, Naofumi ethers Kyou, not because it’s the right thing to do or because it will save this world, but for himself, of his own free will. Even as he is defeated, Kyou seems to think that Naofumi’s troubles are far from over, so he should enjoy his victory while it lasts. After one last appearance from “Ghost Ost”, Yomogi thanks Naofumi for defeating her friend gone entirely astray.

After that, the Waves of Catastrophe vanish and Naofumi’s party is reunited with Kizuna, Glass, L’Arc and Therese. There’s talk of returning to L’Arc’s palace and having a celebratory banquet, but a one-minute countdown sudenly begins on Naofumi’s HUD, the result of having defeated Kyou and retrieving the Spirit Tortoise’s power; the reason he and his party were able to travel to this world.

Kizuna tears up as she accepts the fact their goodbye must come far sooner than she thought, and Naofumi invites her to come by his world anytime she likes, assuming she’s able to do so. Back home in their world, Naofumi is given a medal and the title of Viscount by Queen Mirelia, and learns that the other three Cardinal Heroes made themselves useful while he was gone by repelling the Wave that appeared at the same time it did in Kizuna & Co.’s world. But while things are relatively peachy, other problems remain to be dealt with, like a new awakened Guardian Beast, the Phoenix.

While there’s still an episode remaining, this felt like a finale, and not a great one. Things felt incredibly rushed, Naofumi moving past his rage felt like a retread of last season; the occasionally fun Kyou was profoundly one-dimensiona, and while Ost was a warm and loveable character, her emotional involvement in this episode and arc felt unfinished and unearned.

While it wasn’t without a couple of decent episodes, I’m sad to say this second season has proved to be a pale shadow of his predecessor. That said, there’s one episode—and an entire third season—to come. Maybe they’ll be better.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 12 – They’re Coming After Us

Nadaminami’s Himekawa Mizuho, Japan’s Number One high school golf girl, knows the upcoming doubles tournament is meant to be a coronation for the Athena CEO’s daughter Aoi, another stepping stone to the pros. Mizuho’s partner bristles at the idea, but Mizuho wants the best rivals possible in order to become stronger. Aoi isn’t an obstacle, but a tool to hone her own greatness.

But before Mizuho can face off, both she and Kaede and Aoi and Eve need to get through prefectural qualifiers, which for both pairs amounts to barely more than a warm-up. Coach Reya doesn’t even bother attending; if they can’t win the qualifiers, they never had a chance anyway. Aoi and Eve stand out, being incredibly cute and blonde, respectively.

Their only serious competition in the qualifiers is Satou, a third year and an absolute unit, but while she drives the ball further than Aoi, Eve drives it even farther with her Blue Bullet, crushing not only Satou’s spirit but the other players watching as well.

The qualifiers become a match between Aoi and Eve; whoever has the best score will treat the other to burgers. We’ve been waiting for the opportunity to watch Eve and Aoi do proper golf battle, and this episode does not disappoint. It even has their caddies Ichina and Amane getting along, despite their analog and digital approaches to caddying.

In addition to their personal wager, Reiya tells them before their match that Nadaminami and Mizuho already advanced with a 10-under score. Aoi and Eve end up tying at 11-under. When an underling gives Mizuho the report, she warns Kaede that Aoi and Raiou’s new “secret weapon” are coming for the crown, and she’s fired up.

After a brief call to Klein and Lily (who is upset Eve shipped her the wrong Gunpla), Eve hops on the Raiou bus to the tournament fashionably late, wearing her “battle gear”, a bodacious outfit that flaunts the school dress code. Kinue is appalled, but Reiya allows it, because he wants all eyes on Raiou.

Eve also declares she doesn’t mind guys like Reiya, but Kinue grabs his sleeve and tells Eve she can’t have him, which…girl, get you someone who doesn’t make you golf your elbow off on purpose! After Ichina explains tournament-style match play rules, Aoi expresses her excitement over playing so many strong golfers, and Eve gives her a teasing head pat that turns her ears hot pink. I never tire of these two flirting.

Once they arrive at Athena Golf Course, venue for the tournament, Eve walks right by Kuyou, whom she pretty much beat, acknowledges Kaoruko, and then loudly calls Himekawa Mizuho out. Kaede can’t believe how uncouth this foreigner is, but Mizuho has no problem walking right up in Eve’s face and introducing herself.

Eve can tell Mizuho is strong and “worth defeating”, but Mizuho isn’t intimidated in the least—just as Aoi wasn’t when she tried her usual shtick—and says something with dead seriousness that just made me laugh out loud because it’s so dumb and awesome: “I’ll kill you, in golf.” Mizuho may be Number One now, but that was before Eve dazzled the Japanese high school golf stage. She’s coming for the Queen, and she’s not planning to miss.

Spy x Family – 12 (Part 1 Fin) – Aquatope of Spy Fam

It was pretty apparent SPY x FAMILY wasn’t going to end at twelve episodes, but not so apparent was how it would wrap up its first cour. Rather than a big new development or thrilling cliffhanger, it elects for a bit of a grab bag palate cleanser. The first few minutes are easily it’s weakest, as the heavy narration and retreading of facts we already know had the stench of a recap.

Thankfully, that soon transitions to Loid’s current predicament, which is that Operation Strix is not his only job as Twilight, it’s just his most important. Due to short staffing, he’s called upon to take on numerous side missions that keep him out late or otherwise separated from his fake family.

When he overhears the neighbors gossiping about it, he decides action must be taken to shore up his standing as husband and father in his apartment block by taking Anya and Yor to the aquarium on a day off. Of course, this means completing all of his side missions beforehand, leaving him particularly haggard on the big day.

Still, Loid shakes it off for the good of Operation Strix. As his fellow spy who works at the subway store makes clear, spies work towards peace and a day when they’re no longer needed. She also has a mission for Loid on the day of his family aquarium trip, but the mission happens to also take place at the aquarium.

It involves a secret microfilm containing intel on a new chemical weapon that could bring the country to its knees if it fell into the wrong hands. Fortunately, it is currently in no one’s hands, but down the gullet of one of the two hundred penguins at the Aquarium.

Loid, whom it’s been established is already exhausted from overwork, must balance time with his family (and keeping up appearances with the neighbors, who are also at the aquarium) and disguise himself as a far-too-competent newbie aquarium worker.

When he finds the penguin with the film, he’s soon confronted by its intended recipient, whose lousy fake professor ID doesn’t fool Loid for a second. The bad guy bolts, but Anya (who had previously used her ESP to find the right penguin for Papa) tracks him down, grabs him, and pretends to be kidnapped.

When she calls out to her Mama, Yor springs into action, once again demonstrating she has a bright future as a hero of justice if she ever wanted to ditch the whole cold-blooded assassin thing. She kicks the dude so hard his head goes through the ceiling and keeps him hanging there.

I love how Loid’s difficult day is made much easier by his daughter, who as we know cannot reveal her powers to him, lest the show lose a third of its conceit. Loid uses the energy saved to make a big show of being a Number One Dad to Anya by winning her a giant penguin plushie.

Being between five and six (like my own niece), Anya immediately makes use of her vivid imagination to create her own intelligence agency with her new penguin plushie. She gives him a hilarious tour of the apartment as if it were a secret spy hideout, and also uses the tour as a pretense to enter her Mama and Papa’s rooms, which is forbidden due to all the “dangerous things” that are in them.

Loid yells at Anya for trying to go into his room without permission, and as you would expect of a little kid, Anya also overreacts, saying she hates Papa and Mama and threatens to run away from home. Loid and Yor quickly improvise to improve Anya’s mood by lending their voices to her Penguin plushie and toy robot. Their roleplaying continues out on the city streets, where passersby note what a “sweet family” they are.

It is an incredibly sweet, if low-key, way to end this first cour: with the core family at perhaps its most charming and convincing. The word “fake” is thrown around a lot, but while Loid, Yor, and Anya are all hiding huge secrets form one another, the more they interact with each other and experience new things together, the less fake a family they become.

Love After World Domination – 12 (Fin) – Cutting of the Cake (Baby)

Fudou and Desumi are having one of their usual mid-battle idyllic meetups when Fudou tells her he’s going to appear in a commercial…for a bridal venue…as a groom, cutting a cake with the lovely celebrity Hashimoto Anna as the bride. Desumi is understandably not okay with this, Fudou tells her it’s his job and she’s being selfish, and she runs off. Haru, always keeping watch over the couple, quickly gets Fudou to realize how badly he effed up.

While Desumi sulks over Fudou’s virtual cheating, Fudou tries to get Big Gelato to cancel the commercial gig, but the venue already provided funding to complete Gelato 5’s new combined weapon, so he instead gets to work baking a cake worthy of cutting with Desumi before he cuts one in the commercial with Hashi-An.

Unfortunately, when he calls Desumi to announce said cake is complete, she doesn’t answer, since she’s still down in the dumps. Then she and all the other Gekko members are assembled by Bosslar to behold the awakening of Ultimate Phantom, a megaboss with which he intends to take over the world.

Unfortunately, Ultimate Phantom doesn’t turn out quite like Bosslar expected. It’s a giant, ornery baby that cannot be controlled. All the Gekko members throw everything they have at it to no avail, and Culverin Bear even gets eaten and his powers absorbed by Phantom.

Desumi is still too distraught to care about all of this, but at the commercial shoot Fudou just can’t go through with cutting a wedding cake with another woman, and in any case Ultimate Phantom attacks the venue in order to defeat Red Gelato. Desumi catches the attack on the news.

Fudou is briefly distracted by the destruction of the cake he made for Desumi, but the other members of Gelato 5 assemble and fight Ultimate Phantom. But they’re no match for it either, and Gekko rolls in to try to bring it to heel. Desumi tags along, still unsure what to do until she sees the remains of Fudou’s cake.

Phantom eats the wedding cake meant for the shoot, transforming itself into a cake baby monster, which is actually a thing that exists and is the occasional mascot for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. I also suspect the previous episode’s baby antics were setup for the reveal of this ludicrous final boss.

When all his comrades are out of commission, it’s up to Red Gelato to wield their new combined weapon, but he alone isn’t strong enough. That’s where Desumi comes in, the two quickly make up, and then combine forces to defeat Ultimate Phantom, an act that doubles as cutting a cake together.

Fully made up and back to their lovey-dovey selves, Desumi and Fudou are embarrassed to find that the baby-sized version of Ultimate Phantom that remains has seemingly imprinted on them as its mama and papa. The hero news covered this entire incident, but always remained too far away to hear what the two lovebirds were saying.

When they draw in close enough to try to get an interview, wondering if the aces of Gekko and Gelato are now allies, Desumi returns to her Reaper Princess persona and beats the stuffing out of Red Gelato, leaving no doubt as to whether there’s “mutual understanding”. Of course, Fudou tips his hat at Desumi’s efforts to keep their relationship theirs.

So ends a very bizarre but fun and entertaining finale to a show that always marched to the beat of its own drummer and exhibited both a solid knack for adorable romance and surpassing creativity with its hero/villain milieu. If it ever gets a sequel, I’ll definitely be tuning in.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 11 – Gekko Babies

Such is Desumi’s gregariousness and kindness, when she sees a fellow princess eating lunch alone, she can’t help but want to reach out to her, even if said princess, Judgment AKA Ranran, has been trained to avoid interpersonal contact.

Desumi says screw that, she wants a new friend, and so invites all the princesses over for a “strategy meeting”, AKA girls’ sleepover. Ranran arrives in the guise of Red Gelato, which briefly throws Desumi off, but she knew it wasn’t her Fudou due to the way she arranged his boots in the entryway and the fact his muscles were a little off.

The assembled princesses (Desumi, Kiki, Kyouko, Anna, and Ranran) proceed to have a grand old time, making takoyaki and briefly discussing romance (Ranran almost corners Desumi on who she likes). Desumi is so goshdarn sweet she even knits scarves for her fellow princesses as a gesture of friendship.

Later that night when everyone else is asleep, Ranran starts to slip out, but Desumi is right behind her, not to keep her there but to thank her for coming, wish her a good night, and tell her she’s welcome to come again anytime. Despite having gone into the sleepover fully prepared to reject any attempts at getting closer, Ranran clearly had fun, and in Fudou guise once more, says she’ll be back.

When Culverin Bear arranges a battle against Gelato 5 but neither side can move in the waist-deep snow, Desumi and Fudou have coffee in a cozy snow hut, and Fudou tells her about a signing for his new book…about the strongest insect if it was giant (an 8-year-old boy’s idea of a perfect book). Alas, the next day due to their snowy rendezvous, Desumi comes down with a bad fever.

Her classmates escort her to the nurse’s office, where it’s been established that Blood Princess is the nurse. Unfortunately for Desumi (and Kiki before her), Blood’s maternal instincts kick into high gear and she ends up treating her patients like babies, to the point they start to feel and act like babies. When Kiki and Kyouko try to rescue Desumi, they only end up in Blood’s subterranean baby dungeon.

I’m not one to kinkshame, and baby play is most definitely a kink, but the lack of patient consent makes it more uncomfortable (then again, Blood Princess is technically a villain). Worried about Desumi not showing, Fudou infiltrates her school and finds her in a pink onesie, where she’s not quite out of her baby reverie and wants more storytime.

However, Desumi does eventually snap out of it, cover herself up, then celebrates the fact she was able to get Fudou’s first book autograph…since absolutely no one showed up to his signing. I kinda have to call foul on that as he must have a strong fan following. As for Kiki and Kyouko, well … they suffer a fate that to some might be considered worse than death, but there’s no doubt they’ll sleep tonight!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 12 (Fin) – Blossoms That Never Scatter

When Miyuki tells Kaguya how he’s been accepted to Harvard and will be gone this time next year, she pretty much turns to stone and then shatters into pieces. But she drags Ai out from whatever she’s doing to update her on where things stand. They both know that the basic plan hasn’t changed—confess to Miyuki—it’s just a matter of how.

Kaguya tries a number of methods, but all are pooh-poohed by Ai in various ways. That is, until Kaguya digs deep, describes all the unique ways she loves the president, including his drive to move forward, and starts to cry as she notes how cruel it would be to ask him not to go overseas. Ai, realizing she went too far, draws Kaguya into a hug and assures her that they’ll get her confession to Miyuki without fail.

In Yuu/Tsubame land, things seem to be going swimmingly. Yuu prepared a hella warm coat for Tsubame to wear when the evening chill came around, and even impresses her with his knowledge of flower language and a red cherry blossom tree in the spot where she wishes to give him an update on her answer to his confession.

Her answer, while not no, is that she doesn’t yet have an answer. That’s fair enough; Tsubame only just realized when Yuu gave her that heart how he truly feels about her, and she’s still getting used to seeing him like that. As for Yuu, he isn’t even aware he did confess with that heart until he watches her perform in the play about the Hoshin legend.

Thanks in part to Ai, Kaguya is poised to have a perfect opportunity to confess to Miyuki: when she’s resplendent in her archer’s garb and lit by the burning flame of her arrow, and Miyuki is completely captivated by her beauty. Unfortunately, Miyuki is nowhere to be found when the time comes to light the campfire!

Instead, shortly after the fire is lit, it suddenly rains cards signed by “Arsene”, the Phantom Thief Chika has been chasing throughout the festival. The jewel from the dragon’s mouth is also missing. Kaguya can’t believe her terrible luck; for all this nonsense to be happening when she’s supposed to be confessing. But the thing is, the Phantom Thief is none other than Miyuki.

When Chika runs off with Erika to further investigate, Kaguya already puts two and two and four together and realizes this is one big scheme by Miyuki, and that she’s going to catch him and then confess to him. That involves sipping canned coffee together, but the machine won’t accept the lowest-denomination bills she has (10,000 yen).

But hey, at least she has the heart trinket to give him, right? Well, no…she managed to lose that when she changed in and out of her archery garb. At the same time, the narrator explains how Miyuki, while initially in a kind of whimsical enthusiasm fugue state, is starting to come to his senses and feel embarrassment for his current situation (and goofy master thief getup).

As Kaguya ascends the clock tower to meet Miyuki, they both find themselves bereft of their usual arsenals of weapons in their long war game of love. There’s nothing left but their feelings, their words, and the months before Miyuki heads to California.

This would make for an infuriatingly frustrating end to the third season…if this were the final episode in its entirety. Thankfully, this is not the end, and as soon as I realized I’d only watched the first of a two-part double episode, I regained my composure and kept watching.

When Kaguya reaches the top, the narrator repeats his spiel from the very first episodes, about how love is war, those in love live in terror, etc. But Miyuki and Kaguya go on that they must convey their feelings for the one they love, even if it means they “lose”, or they’ll never move forward.

While donning his ridiculous top hat, Miyuki tells Kaguya having her beside him for this, his big final culture festival moment, and Kaguya goes through all the things in her head she should say to him out loud. That she wants him to stay by her side forever, and that even if she’s not sure he would ever like a “cold, hateful woman”, but if he confessed to her right then and there, she’d 100% accept it.

Miyuki doesn’t confess with words, but he does confess by unleashing the jewel of the dragon—which turned out to be a weather balloon—with an app, and has it drift over the campfire until it pops, revealing a massive swarm of heart-shaped balloons that float up to their vantage point atop the tower.

He and the narrator recount Miyuki’s efforts for the “Ultra Romantic Campaign” that culminated in this heart balloon blizzard; a plan he first set into motion the same day he applied to Stanford. He planned every last detail, including ensuring Chika, Yuu, and Miko didn’t interfere at the proper time.

Just like Kaguya, Miyuki launches into a self-deprecating inner monologue about how he worked his goddamn tail off to become her equal, and explains that if he overtly confessed or ask her out in words, he’d be confirming the fact they weren’t equals. No, he needed to do something that would make her confess to him.

But what’s most important to Miyuki isn’t that she confess, or that they go out…it’s that they are able to remain together. To that end, he got the principal to agree to write a second letter of recommendation for Kaguya, and atop that tower, as he holds a blue balloon heart and she holds a red one, he asks her to apply to Stanford and go with him to the U.S.

It’s not a confession, but despite what a shock it brings to Kaguya, she’s so happy to hear these words that she agrees on the spot, so quickly that it weird Miyuki out a little. And now that Miyuki has expressed how he feels and what he wants, Kaguya can do the same, and does so with a passionate kiss that is witnessed but notably and mercifully not interrupted by Chika’s Scooby Gang.

In between these stunningly epic scenes of some of the most gratifying payoffs in anime rom-comdom, the rest of the cast get their curtain calls for the season. Nagisa dances with Maki, assuring her that she likes her more than Tsubasa; Kobachi admits to her bae it’s time to stop being so overprotective of Miko; Yuu deems it unkind to steal Tsubame away from her adoring fans and classmates and instead tracks down Miko, shows her footage of the campfire she made happen, and tells her to go enjoy it already.

Later that night, Kaguya recounts her Ultra Romantic evening with the President to Ai in a voice best described as … “giddysmug”. She gleefully describes the kiss as tasting like ketchup (since Miyuki had just eaten a corn dog) and goes on to decribe how she used her tongue during the kiss, which we see made a lasting impact on Miyuki.

Mind you, neither Miyuki nor Kaguya actually verbally confessed … but c’maaaahn. Even these two clueless doofuses cannot deny what they are to one another, and while there’s certainly a lot to think about and plan (including how to get the other to verbally confess to them!), the fact that their future is secure together is a great weight lifted from their shoulders.

Student Council antics continue as usual, with Chika coming up with a game that will start some shit, and Yuu and Miko sparring like siblings. Kaguya and Miyuki look on with pride and contentment, the Miyuki’s desk hiding the fact that they’re holding hands. It was definitely touch-and-go throughout this stressful closing culture festival arc, but Love is War nailed the landing, and I never should have doubted it would.

If a fourth season comes around—and apparently there’s an enormous amount of source material left to adapt—it will be icing on an already perfect cake. But when we’re talking about icing this well made, there’s no such thing as too much. Keep making this show until these dweebs are old and gray with grandchildren running around in California; I wouldn’t need any other anime to sustain me!

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

 

Heroines Run the Show – 12 (Fin) – Feeling the Love

A little while after punching Hiyori, Chizuru starts eating alone. The feelings that led to her taking photos and causing a scandal have subsided, but she feels both her relationship to Hiyori and LIPxLIP have been irreparably shattered. But Juri knows Chizuru still cares, because she was genuinely worried about Hiyori after the punch.

Despite what she did, Chizuru is still deserving of redemption, but knows she has to change. The boys, meanwhile, are prepping for their Countdown Live performance, but when Uchida gives them comp tickets, they hesitate to give them to their former manager-in-training, and settle for their respective brothers.

In the midst of kicking her LIP fandom entirely, Chizuru is surprised when Hiyori pops by her place with the ticket Chizuru had bought and then left with Juri. Chizuru maintains she doesn’t deserve to be a fan anymore, and in any case won’t listen to Hiyori and promptly kicks her out.

Things seem grim, until Uchida does what the boys couldn’t and stop by her place to personally deliver not just a comp ticket, but an all-areas staff pass: they won’t admit it, but they need her to be their manager-in-training for this one. Now that both she and Chizuru have he means to go, Hiyori returns to Chizuru’s house, reveals she knows she’s Chutan, and finally tells her the truth about being their manager-in-training.

Chizuru accepts this truth, and understands why Hiyori had to keep it secret. With that, Hiyori leads the two on a mad dash to make the concert on time. Yuujirou and Aizou scold Hiyori for being late but are clearly glad she’s here, while Chizuru finds her seat among all their other classmates and their friends/dates also in attendance.

Invigorated by the sounds of their awaiting Julietas, Yuujirou and Aizou put all the pieces together and deliver perhaps their best performance, one that’s not about advancing to the top of the idol mountain, but performing for the fans and showing their love for them.

AT4 praises them for this, as they finally seem to “get” what being an idol on stage is about. Chizuru is moved to tears by their passion, and Hiyori also feels that this concert hit different, likely because she’s happy to be back by their side as manager-in-training.

After the show, the managers offer Hiyori her old job back, which she accepts with her usual enthusiasm. After AT4 counts down the new year, things go back to normal with Hiyori both on the track, with her two besties, and back at work with LIPxLIP. Presumably Hiyori also told Juri about her job, while Chizuru openly shares her Chutan persona with her friends.

Whether LIPxLIP could actually get away with having Hiyori fill in as a backup dancer with absolutely no training is a little doubtful, but it’s fun to finally see the Heroine take the stage, if only under a mascot costume. No doubt the boys wanted to share with their future full manager what it felt like up there, to be cheered and adored by the masses.

Is this also a bit of a neat and tidy conclusion, what with Hiyori and Chizuru mostly making up off-camera? Are a lot of the issues about parasocial relationships, stalking, and other obsessive behavior mostly tabled in favor of Chizuru’s personal redemption story? Perhaps, but on the other side, I never liked Hiyori’s decision to quit, and I’m glad she’s back on the job. In the end, she really did run the show.

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