Urusei Yatsura – 08 – A Ran for Her Money

After seven episodes of floating around class causing a commotion, Lum officially enrolls at the school, surprising Ataru so much he nearly chokes to death. He insists Lum attending school will “cramp his style” but I know not of what style he speaks.

Lum isn’t the only transfer student either: the other is the newest addition to this boisterous and chaotic bunch: Ran, Lum’s childhood friend. Ataru starts hitting on her immediately, which is when Lum recognizes her and asks for a talk behind the school.

Once there, Lum and Ran greet each other like the old friends they are, and Ran says she’s disguised herself as a human so she could see Lum. But when reminiscing about old times brings up the boy they both fell for—Rei. who looks like a complete bore—Ran’s personality suddenly curdles into that of an enraged ogre.

Ran hasn’t forgotten how Lum stole Rei from her, and has come to earth to take revenge on her. Specifically, she intends to use her succubus-like ability to suck the life out of people with her mouth on an unwitting, two-timing Ataru who will be all too eager to kiss.

Lum tries her best to stick close to Ataru, committed to protecting her darling despite the fact he’d still cheat on her in front of her face without batting an eye. This episode does not show Ataru at his best, but I suppose it shows him at his most libido-first Ataru-ness.

Ran manages to get Ataru alone under a tree, but is unable to apply a smooch due to Lum flattening Ataru at the last minute with a tatami mat. I guess the injuries he receives as she keeps him away from Ran’s mouth aren’t as bad as what would happen if she kissed him.

During the cavalry clash, Ataru gets the chance to witness what happens as Ran accidentally kisses another boy, who ends up transforming into a feeble old bansai-watering fogey. And yet, Ataru doesn’t care in the slightest. He’s always been about the hunt. If capturing the hot babe of his dreams will result in his death, it will have been worth it.

Yet the day passes with Lum successfully defending her baka-darling from Ran’s lips. Ran slips back into her more mild-mannered mode, only to get all worked up again when she remembers the wedge that split the two of them apart: her would-be darling Rei—whom I must point out chose Lum over her.

The second segment involves Ran saying, Poochie-style, that she’ll be returning to her home planet shortly, but wants to spend one more day of tea and cookies with her best friend and her darling. Why she chooses to relay this message via self-destructing Ran doll is a mystery I fear we’ll never solve.

Ditto Ran’s insistence on passing as human while her house is very clearly an alien spacecraft. Ran makes sure she looks her cutest and most innocent, as she tries to convince Lum that 1.) she’s really leaving and 2.) she’s given up on stealing Ataru from her. That fiction evaporates when Lum feeds her drugged cookies to a sentient vase that then falls fast asleep.

But Ran has more than one trick up her lavender sleeve, as she’s preparing a copy of Ataru in her oven, identical in every way except for an apostrophe near his head (looking like a kind of floating ahoge). That apostrophe is actually one of the first things the real Ataru notices, and he snatches it just as Ran grabs him and returns him to Lum, thinking he’s the copy.

Ataru doesn’t know it, but he accidentally saved his ass by grabbing that little thingy. As Lum forces him to leave with her, Ran storms out holding a wholly deflated Ataru clone, madder than ever. That night, Lum, ever the optimist, wishes she’d tried to get along better with Ran before she returned to her home planet.

Of course, Ran doesn’t return to her home planet, but back to Ataru and Lum’s school the next morning, still maniacally determined to steal Ataru from Lum and suck the vitality out of him. So for all intents and purposes, she’s here to stay … and I’m fine with that! The more intensely-haired shiny alien beauties, the better, I say. I’m simple like that!

Ran is, you’d probably guessed voiced by the incomparable Hanazawa Kana, and I’m glad Urusei Yatsura saved one of the biggest guns in its massive seiyuu arsenal for a character with a split personality; the better to utilize Hanazawa’s fantastic vocal range. She has the ability to jump from syrupy-sweet to pure venom on a dime.

She also makes Ran, for all her flaws, a lot more likable than if someone else voiced her. The episode also wisely kept Shinobu, Mendou, and all the other characters out to the periphery so it could focus on the Ran-Ataru-Lum triangle at hand. I’m sure it won’t be long before Rei arrives on Earth to try to reclaim Lum’s heart. His efforts are sure to be met with failure, since Lum only has eyes for Darling now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akiba Maid War – 09 – Raiders of the Lost Oink

Leave it to Akiba Maid War to infuse some alternate history into its alternate timeline, as it introduces Omoe, the first maid from the Meiji era, who inspired the Lady Omoe Climb, which to the present day remains the crowning event of the annual Akiba Maid Festival.

Now that Maidalien is no more, it’s a very special festival for Creatureland, the only game in town. Nagi wants everything to be perfect, which for her means the café she manages, Dazzlion, will win the climb. Her otaku errand boy assures her everything will be arranged.

Nagomi is pumped up for the festivities, but Yumechi and Shiipon tell her not to bother. For Oinky Doink, the festival is all about knowing their place, keeping their heads down, and simply getting through it.

The seriousness of working within the highly structured confines of the “ecosystem” Nagi has set out means the Pigs occupy the very bottom of the creature pecking order, even below the newbie Axolotls. The Otaku distributes the guidelines, which are in extremely small print, warning Tenchou that Oinky Doink will be disowned entirely if they deviate.

Meanwhile, Nagi’s head lion maid sits in her throne like a queen while other lion maid give her a mani-pedi. She assures the Otaku that they won’t need any help climbing to the top of Lady Omoe, where the king of beasts belongs.

None of these elites imagined that their carefully controlled narrative would be completely usurped by the end of the festival by one of the bottom-feeding pigs, namely Nagomi. She stays up all night to make their stall (which is next to the bathrooms) look nice.

As for the guidelines, since they were thrown out with the trash Tenchou never relays them to the others, and spends the entire episode apart from them, fishing and wondering if she’s even really needed (a fish tells her no). Ranko has a steamy little interaction with one of her regular (and age-appropriate) masters, while their other regulars sample pigs’ feet (the only fare they’re allowed to sell) for the first time.

But sales are slow, because everything has been done to make Oinky Doink fail and keep them at the bottom. Nagomi ain’t about that, and in keeping with her commitment to her late sister to be the best damn maid she can be, she decides to walk about the festival grounds, taking the pigs feet to the people. For this, the higher-ranked Cow, Cat, and Bear maids punish her and the others.

After prostrating themselves in deference to their bullying “betters”, Ranko asks why things are this way, when in her experience they’re all top-notch maids. Nagomi wonders the same thing, and believes that this is their chance to leave the truffles alone and climb higher.

The last straw comes when the starting gun fires for the Lady Omoe Climb, and because the Pigs are at the very end of the line they’re not even able to move. Zoya picks up Nagomi’s baton of rebellion and dashes into the street where she and her fellow pigs have a clear path to the front of the race. Are they butting in line? Yes. Do they not care? Also yes.

The Pigs employ teamwork, with Zoya clearing the way at the bottom while Yumechi, Shiipon, and Nagomi start their ascents. the latter two get all tangled up in fights of their own. Nagomi manages to evade the pouncing lions and ends up near the top with their boss, and everything we need to know about her we learned when she slapped the shit out of one of her own maids for no reason.

Nagomi tries to hold her own but is no match for her, but Ranko gives her a clutch assist, grabbing the lioness and leaping off the megamaid to enable Nagomi to grasp the victory she worked so hard to attain. She plants the pig “flag” in Lady Omoe’s head, and just like that Oinky Doink has prevailed.

At the victory ceremony, Nagi plays it cool rather than disemboweling Nagomi right on stage in front of thousands of citizens. She tells New Lady Omoe Nagomi that she has “plenty of promise”, but says only time will tell if she’s truly worthy of the honor. Interestingly, Ranko is way off to the side, and she and her former colleague don’t interact at all.

Nagi takes out her frustration over Dazzlion’s defeat in the shadows, by having Otaku guy killed. I’d say RIP, but this lackey has been nothing but a menace to our Oinky Doink girls, so to him I say good riddance to him and his stupid backpack. Unfortunately, I highly doubt Nagi will stop there.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bocchi the Rock! – 05 – Not Just for Me

Seika distributes the girls’ pay, and for a moment Bocchi dreams of all the nice things she can spend it on. Unfortunately, she forgot that every one of the 10,000 yen she received goes into the band’s quota fund.

When Nijika lists all of the bands other expenses down the road that will necessitate second jobs in the summer, Bocchi retreats to the nearest trash can, then looks for a sketchy online website that buys livers from minors.

But in addition to receiving their first pay, Ryou has big news: she’s finished their song. Once she read Bocchi’s lyrics, the music just poured out of her. As thanks, Ryou gives Bocchi a chin scratch that makes Ikuyo green with envy. All that’s left is for Nijika to ask her sister for a slot for them to play.

But what she thought was a mere formality turns out to be a firm obstacle: Seika won’t book them. She only made an exception the last time so Nijika could make a memory, but doesn’t sugarcoat things at all when she says she can’t have a repeat of “that awful May performance”, and tells Nijika to stick with it “as a hobby.”

Nijika storms out of the club, and Ikuyo insists that she and Ryou run after her. Bocchi starts to follow, but is held back by Seika. When she rejoins her bandmates, she tells them what Seika told her: if they want to perform on stage, they’ll have to audition in a week. That means Bocchi has to get better at playing in a band and Ikuyo has to get better at playing period.

Nijika and Ryou believe they’ll be fine as long as they show her sister that they’re “bank-like”, which for the whimsical Ryou means dressing up in suits and mop-top wigs. But as the week of practice proceeds, Bocchi thinks long and hard about what she’s trying to accomplish now that she’s in a band, and what “growth” means beyond simply exerting a lot of effort.

Nijika misreads Bocchi’s distraction with these big questions, and after their last practice before the audition, catches up with her at the vending machines, buys her a cola, and apologizes for roping her into a band without asking her what kind of band she wanted.

Bocchi assures her she’s not doing this against her will, but still won’t tell her that she wanted to join for fame and adoration. By the same measure, Bocchi knows Nijika wants to play at the Budokan, but Nijika has a dream beyond that, which she’s keeping secret for now.

I really liked this scene both artistically (the light of the vending machines is both dramatic and warm) and as a sign that Nijika and Bocchi are still relatively new friends, and still have a lot to learn about each other. That will happen in time as they share more experiences.

The day of the audition arrives, and I felt a pit in my stomach for the girls as they took the stage. It’s the first full song we get to watch the band play, and after four episodes and change, it feels momentous. The performance animation looks great, and more importantly the band sounds great … but crucially not too perfect. There’s plenty of room for polish.

As they play, Bocchi asserts that she’s grown from someone who wanted to become famous for herself, but now that she’s in a band and has friends, she wants to help them achieve their dreams too. Beyond personal motivation, she doesn’t want to let them down or be a weak link.

Infused with that passion to lift herself and the others, her stage play takes a noticeable step up in quality. She’s able to enter a zone where she’s comfortable enough to play almost as well as she plays when she’s recording covers in her closet. A previously private Bocchi, now performing in public and turning heads, just like she dreamed.

Granted, the heads she turns are those of Seika, P.A., and her bandmates, but you gotta start somewhere! When the song ends and everyone is catching their breath, Seika starts with criticism—the drums are too tight, the bass is too distant, etc.—before noting that she now knows what kind of band they are. That means they pass!

The ordeal is so taxing on Bocchi that the show has to cut to live-action video of various Japanese dams while she boots next to the stage. Turns out Seika is a big ol’ softie who had an open slot for her sister’s band all along, but didn’t want to make it too easy for Nijika. She challenged them to work hard and play their butts off, and they did.

Seika also wants to try to encourage Bocchi and further unlock talents being held back by lack of confidence. But in what’s looking like a penchant, Seika’s attempt is worded so that Bocchi misinterprets her “I see you, okay?” as a threat, not a supportive acknowledgement.

While Bocchi panics over having one family member short of the five-ticket quota (two, if you don’t count her dog) the bottom line is shit is starting to get real for Kessoku Band. They have a song, and another on the way, and they have a venue and slot for their first concert as a unit. It’s not “all over” at all!

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