Overlord IV – 01 – A Land as Sweet as Honey

Overlord’s fourth season—and the first episode of Overlord I’ve seen in 1,373 days—announces it’s going to be the same old Overlord by starting off with Albedo rolling around in bed pretending a pillow is her beloved Ainz-sama. Ainz has to contend with maids constantly fussing over him (and sitting beside his bed at night and not sleeping). The household staff is led by Fith, who has him dress in robes of red and gold rather than his usual sinister black.

It’s a casual easing back into this quirky world of overpowered monsters-as-workplace protagonists. Ainz sifts through a lot of carefully-prepared paperwork that he admits (only to himself and the audience) he doesn’t know a whole lot about—he is just a salaryman back home—but such are his subordinates absolute trust in and love of him that he can BS his way through pretty much any situation.

After some lap time with Aura, Mare, and Albedo (the red makes him look like a regal, skeletal Santa) Ainz meets with the always extra Pandora’s Actor, who will be taking over Albedo’s duties while she’s off in the Re-Estize Kingdom. As Pandora’s “father”, he expresses his wish for his “son” to surpass his original settings.

Pandora also gets Ainz thinking about the bigger picture of what kind of leader he wants to be in this new Sorcerer Kingdom. Right now there’s almost no commerce, the city is short on supplies, and the adventurer’s guild is all but abandoned. But in this world, the adventurers are essentially security or exterminators.

Ainz wants to change that, by absorbing the guild into his kingdom and giving them a new directive: actually, ah, adventuring. Exploring new places and gathering information, in ways his subordinates would have more difficulty both due to how powerful they are and how much they detest lower forms of life.

Ainz wants to build a kingdom and a guild he’d be proud to show his old friends, whom he believes may still be out there somewhere. But he knows he can’t do it alone. He’s going to be leaning on Demiurge (all too happy to serve), Albedo (who is all too happy for him to lean on her), and the rest of his colorful crew of cretins.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 01 – Strife on Mars

Do you like enormous casts of people mostly acting standoffish and suspicious of one another as they navigate school tests with rules that read like stereo instructions? Well, your five year wait is over: the kids are off the damn island and back on the boat, but a new Special Test that threatens all the strides Class D made is waiting for them.

After an uneasy interaction between Ayanokouji Kiyotaka and Karuizawa Kei involving Hirata (who wants Ayano to join them, but Kei objects), Ayano and Kei end up at the same table anyway, as two of the four Class D reps in Mars, one of eight groups named after planets.

There are a lot of rules, and it’s almost impossible to summarize easily, but I’ll try: there are four outcomes, each of which has specific pros and cons to either the individual, their group, or their class. Four possible outcomes involves who guesses who the VIP is, when, and whether they’re correct. A lot of private and class points are on the table.

Of course, a lot of personalities and loyalties are on the table too. Having each group made up of three students each from Classes A and B and four students each of C and D creates an enticing imbalance; Ayano’s Mars Group’s Class A decides right from the get go that they’re abstaining from all discussions in order to avoid the worst case scenario.

Class B’s idol Ichinose Honami insists that the best way forward is together (even if she ultimately intends to stab some folks in the back). Ayano can’t be 100% neutral, as even saying he’d “like to cooperate” is taking a stand against Class A and its leader Machida Kouji.

After Mars Group’s first unproductive meeting, the three Class C girls gang up on Karuizawa, accusing her of bullying their classmate. She says she has no idea what or who they’re talking about, but when they try to snap her picture she quickly becomes upset. Machida helps Karuizawa and tells the C-girls to buzz off, earning Karuizawa’s cutest smile.

Mars’ second meeting of Day 1 is just as unproductive as the first, with Class A gumming up the works with their refusal to discuss…anything. Even when she says they should just relax and shoot the breeze, it seems like Ichinose is carrying out some kind of strategy. As for Karuizawa, she seems normal enough at the meeting, but that night breaks down into a sobbing mess in the shower.

Continuing as if five years were merely a week, CoE returns to its distinctive blend of clashing personalities and motivations, split loyalties, and absurdly complicated rules (Karuizawa even gets the line of the episode: “I’m not sure I followed all that.” With the necessary setup of this new test out of the way, perhaps next week will be a little more exciting.

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 01-03 (First Impressions) – Uncut Gems

01 – Dust to Dust

Based on a popular web comic I haven’t had the pleasure of ever seeing (probably true of a lot of viewers), the charmingly vowel-less RWBY blast out of the gate with not one or two but three episodes, giving us over an hour for the titular quartet to be introduced separately, meet, clash, and learn to get along. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but it’s well-executed and excels at details.

Our cheerful, bright silver-eyed co-protagonist is Ruby Rose, who is both proud and jealous of her big sister Yang getting into the illustrious Beacon Academy, where talented youngsters who have mastered Aura and awakened their Semblances are trained into Hunters and Huntresses to fight their worlds great scourge, the Grimm. (Hope you like proper nouns because there’s lots.)

While Ruby and Yang live modestly with their pops, aristocrat and heiress Weiss Schnee longs for the same thing they do: to become a Huntress. The only problem is she has to prove to her father she can do it by defeating a Grimm in her ultra-rich family’s great hall.

This is our first taste of RWBY’s battle action, and…it’s great. No notes. Creative, lyrical, fluid, bombastic, badass, awesome…it’s all of those things, and without too much reliance on CGI. While her first round with the Grimm gives her an eye wound that leads to a scar, Weiss gets her second wind and shows her father once and for all she’s Beacon material.

Our fourth co-protagonist is a Faunus (demihuman) and part of White Fang, a group she leaves when it becomes to radicalized and bent towards exacting revenge against full humans rather than building bridges. Her One Last Job with White Fang is another excellent demonstration of RWBY’s awesome production values and ability to stir up excitement for a fight.

Perhaps the most fun sequence is when some thieves try to steal aura in a store that happens to be open late (note to store owner: have a security guy on duty). Ruby almost misses the robbery due to her blasting metal on her headphones, but when she becomes aware of their presence, she wastes no time showing off her powers, not to mention her penchant for cool poses and beautiful rose petal-filled physical fluorishes.

The thing is, while Ruby has talent, she’s not trained and lacks authority and experience. She’s able to keep up with the thieves right up until they escape in their airship, which is when Professor Glynda Goodwitch from Beacon Academy, a full-fledged Huntress, steps in.

The baddies get away, but Glynda wasn’t there for them, she was there to bring Ruby before Beacon’s headmaster, Ozpin. The good cop to Glynda’s bad, he offers Ruby tea and cookies and, oh yeah, the offer for her to skip two grades and enroll at Beacon beside her sister with immediate effect. I guess Ozpin needs Huntresses and feels Ruby, while rough, is ready to be polished.

That night, having run from White Fang, Blake gets an acceptance letter from Beacon on her tablet, setting her on her own path rather than following the one she was born into. That’s how Ruby, Yang, Blake and Weiss all end up on the same airship bound for their Beacon Academy initiation ceremony.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

02 – A Union of Colors

The first episode ably introduced our four main heroines, and the second expands the cast with four of their classmates and puts all eight into their first battle together. But first, Yang tries to heed their dad’s advice and wean Ruby off her a bit by encouraging her to make friends. Ruby and Yang first introduce themselves to Blake, who would rather read her book, and then Weiss and Blake clash over Schnee’s alleged corruption and the evilness of Faunus.

We also meet the unconfident Jaune Arc, who makes fast friends with the statuesque, famous Pyrrha Nikos, while Lie Ren and Nora Valkyrie seem to have been close friends all along. It’s trial by fire as Beacon literally puts the new students on catapults and launches them into the sky. The first person they meet is their partner, and two pairs will make a team of four for their entire four-year stay at Beacon.

The mission is simple: make their way through the forest to a temple where they’ll retrieve a chess piece. Naturally, the forest is full of Grimm. Also naturally, Ruby and Weiss end up encountering each other first, while Yang first runs into Blake.

Weiss doesn’t take Ruby seriously at first because she both seems and is younger and seems like a show-off. That said, when they start to encounter more dangerous Grimm, they have no choice but to work together. Yang and Blake don’t clash quite as much, but the former is more chipper and gung-ho while the latter more stoic and serious.

Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang end up working together to bring the aerial Grimm boss down—and with quite a bit of style, I might add. Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha and Ren also distinguish themselves while forming their team. Back at Beacon, the two quartets officially become RWBY, both pronounced and led by Ruby, and JNPR, pronounced “juniper” and led by Jaune.

03 – Bridges and Nightmares

With the two groups formed and enrolled, the third and final introductory episode starts throwing conflicts both internal and external at the groups. While the quartet has fun redecorating their dorm, when it comes time to class all of Ruby’s energy washes away.

Weiss is the first to volunteer to defeat a Grimm in class, and it rubs her the wrong way when Ruby, her “leader”, is cheering her on. When she skulks away and Ruby chases after her, both are found by teachers, who give both of them a pep talk. Ozpin assures Ruby that her being chosen as the leader was no accident, and that she’ll learn to grow into the role and inspire her teammates.

Even if we know Weiss doesn’t get everything she wants like the other professor presumed (she’s a middle child after all), she should worry less about who is leader and more about being the best teammate she can be, as it could make the difference between victory and defeat; life and death.

Starting with the welcoming ceremony and touched on here and there are the presence of two creepy things: weird branch-like marks on the backs of both Weiss and Jaune, and shadow-like doppelgangers of the two sneaking around, who only they can see.

Shortly after losing a battle with another dude and being shown his Aura by Pyrrha, Jaune’s condition gets worse, while after making an effort to be a good teammate to Ruby, Weiss’ marks also spread.

Jaune is the first to succumb, as one morning his teammates are unable to wake him. Shion Zaiden is brought in, since she specializes in hunting Nightmares—Grimm that take over the mind of their hosts and trap them in their dreams. She sets up an elaborate system to send the other members of JNPR into his mind to rescue him and draw the Nightmare out.

It works like a jiffy—indeed, he’s saved and the Grimm captured almost too quickly and easily. It was nice to see how well JNPR has gelled compared to the more dysfunctional RWBY. That said, I’m glad the focus wasn’t taken off of the main group of RWBY, as focus returns to them in the second half of the episode.

Jaune’s infection-by-Nightmare is foreshadowing for Weiss’, as like Jaune she’s going through some emotional conflict. While RWBY goes into town for an annual festival, it’s interrupted by news of a Faunus castaway on the run. Weiss and Blake get into it over human-Faunus relations and the nature of White Fang.

While trying to chase the castaway, Weiss bumps into Penny, a very robotic-seeming girl who is the cast’s newest member. But when Blake can’t handle Weiss’ prejudice anymore she runs off, and eventually the castaway finds her without the black bow that covers her cat ears and knows he’s with his brethren.

The thing is, Weiss isn’t a 100% racist monster, she’s just never contemplated the possibility someone like Blake could have once been in White Fang. Yang is there to see Weiss finally break down and cry over her frustration with how things have been going, but it’s a cathartic cry, not one of hopelessness.

When the same criminals who robbed the aura store in the first episode try to pull off a heist at the docks, it ends up being Penny who shuts it all down all by her lonesome, once again indicating she’s not human either. But when RWBY reunites, Weiss tells Blake she’s ready to look past her prejudices and see Blake for who she is, a classmate, a teammate, and hopefully one day soon, a friend.

But as had been heavily telegraphed, Weiss was eventually going to fall into the same briar patch as Jaune did, the product of being infected by a Nightmare. This leads to some creepy but also eerily beautiful final moments of the episode as she’s trapped in those brambles.

The big question for the fourth episode is, will Weiss allow Ruby, Blake and Yang into her mind as easily as Jaune let his teammates in, and will she prove harder to rescue from her dreams?

There’s an adage that three episodes are enough to know whether you want to continue with an anime. Honestly, it’s takes me everywhere between one and twelve, but one thing I can say for sure is that I’ll be sticking with RWBY. 

More often than not it looks and sounds fantastic, the character dynamics and conflicts sufficiently compelling, its world is elaborate and whimsical, and the Grimm are a multifaceted, credible threat. Finally, with a cliffhanger like this I await the fourth episode with great anticipation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

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

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

Spy x Family – 11 – A Dog Will Bring Peace

The agency expects Anya to earn eight Stella in four months, but it’s becoming apparent to Loid (thanks to Anya’s test scores) that academics might not be the way. Fortunately, there are other ways to earn Stella. Unfortunately, Anya is also not great at those other ways either.

Loid thinks her drawing of a moo cow is a cheetah or a panda; Anya plays the violin like a cello and breaks all the strings; she can’t hit a tennis ball she tosses in the air (I felt seen). There’s also volunteer work, but no sooner do Loid and Anya show up eager to work that the kindly head nurse loses her cool and tells them to clear out.

It’s important to Loid/Twilight that Anya earn these stars without any undue “outside assistance”, but with even a volunteer Stella feeling as far away as an actual star, he may have to ask his agency for that assistance in order to get Desmond in a room. Then Anya hears a boy’s thoughts: he’s fallen into the pool and he can’t move his legs.

Without any regard for her secret, Anya tells her dad that there’s a boy drowning in the pool, before taking advantage of Loid’s confusion to walk it back and come up with a (slightly) more plausible reason for racing to the pool. She dives in and swims with all her might, but soon tires out. Loid, having seen where Anya went, jumps in and pulls both her and the boy out.

Loid is too proud of his daughter to think too much about how she knew what she knew. There’s also the matter of Anya literally putting her life on the line to save a little boy’s life. It’s an act of heroism that earns her a Stella, the first in her class and the fastest ever to earn one at Eden.

While Anya’s legend grows among her peers, Loid and Handler meet in disguises that make them unrecognizable. Handler asks if any agency resources could be used to help quicken Anya’s rise to Imperial Scholar, but again Loid declines. He doesn’t want to put anyone else at risk. If Anya won one Stella on her own, she can win another. That may not be Twilight’s cold logic and practicality, but Loid Forger’s pride, trust, and love.

The dangers of Anya rising to far too fast are evident at her return to normal classes. While she earns the esteem of some classmates, rumors start to swirl about the legitimacy of her Stella. But when Damian is asked by a couple of girls to add his two cents, they get more than they bargained for: he scolds them for besmirching Eden’s good name with such spurious accusations.

He’d never admit he was standing up for Anya, but he is standing up for truth and justice, which make him good and cool. When Becky brings up Anya’s new opportunity to ask her parents for a reward, Anya tables her desire for a large amount of peanuts and decides that the right way to befriend Damian is by getting a dog.

When she makes the request at home, Loid is open to the idea for its security benefits, while Yor can’t help but imagine the ways dogs big and small might kill Anya if given the chance. All the while, we get a little closing sequence of what I presume to be the Forger’s future dog, currently in a cruel, dark kennel where experiments are being run on the dogs

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 11 – Polishing the Diamond

We check in on Aoi, who is finishing off a lauded competitor who couldn’t bring it in a practice match, and she’s looking forward to reuniting with her soul mate Eve when instead she’s summoned to her grandfather’s house. She’s only mad until he serves her her favorite cake from Hokkaido. The true purpose for the visit is so Gramps can find out who Coach Amuro is pairing Aoi up with.

Shinjou says without hesitation: Eve is the best replacement for the injured President Jinguuji. Back at Raiou, Amuro doesn’t bother putting Eve in the standard golf practices with the plebs; he knows he has a diamond in the rough on his hands, and when Jinguuji removes her arm sling and volunteers to polish her, he agrees. Ichina also tags along for the three-day retreat to the Athena Golf Resort, the better to build chemistry with Eve.

While Jinguuji wants Eve to learn about Japanese courses, Eve starts off their training sessions with her bullets. Jinguuji throws a wrench in her works by moving her balls into uncomfortable and difficult positions. Easy Mode is officially cancelled. Eve complains at first, but when Jinguuji assures her that she’ll have to master all kinds of unplanned shots to beat the best Japan has to offer, she rises to the challenge.

A nifty day-to-night training montage ensues, with Even getting the hang of Jinguuji’s coaching and actually seemingly learning something. Jinguuji also makes sure to run Eve ragged across their three days, so much so that Eve falls asleep in the hot spring and leans up against Ichina…something she’s lucky Aoi didn’t see.

Everyone, including Ichina, venerates President Jinguuji, but she claims to know the truth about herself: that she’s a “weed” who can grow to impressive height but can never reach the sun. In trying to become the golfer Amuro wanted her to be, she ruined her elbow, and it will never be the same. We see Jinguuji at her lowest moments, the imperious façade she shows Eve completely broken down.

Amuro, the asshole, actually seemingly engineered things so that Jinguuji would injure herself and make way for Eve, presumably after he saw her play on TV. That’s pretty shitty, and my skin crawled when he gave her a commiserating hug. After treating her like a tool and literally breaking her, now you treat her like a human being?

The next day, Amuro announces that Aoi and Eve will be the two Raiou representatives for the All-Japan Girls High School Doubles Championship—a tournament that, again, Aoi’s mom invented to serve as a spotlight and springboard for her daughter. Amuro wants to eliminate any doubts the other golfers might have about his choice.

What results is Aoi and Eve’s much-anticipated first golf date in way too long a time. Both of them remark how they’ve been disappearing from one another ever since Eve arrived, only to laugh it off and quite casually put on one hell of a show for their club-mates, both with their golf and their lovey-dovey interactions.

Here’s hoping Birdie Wing continues its brisk storytelling by covering the start (if not all) of the tournament in its final episode (or two). I’d hate to think the show is ending so soon with so many big golf names being introduced for Eve to challenge and defeat, and to not give this splendid series at least another cour (and ideally three or four more, a la Chihayafuru) would be criminal in my eyes.

Spy x Family – 10 – Star Seizer Anya

Professor Henderson continues to observe rancor between Damian and his lackeys and Anya and Becky, while the M.V.P. of a P.E. dodgeball tournament is rumored to be awarded a Stella. Loid steps back and leaves Anya’s intense training to Yor, and we’re awarded a lovely Rocky-style montage of Yor being her usual badass self and Anya just barely keeping up, while also learning the merits of hard work and stick-to-itiveness.

Of course, Anya isn’t the only one who wants that Stella for her dad’s mission. Damian believes he needs to be the first to earn a Stella, and Anya can read his mind as he reveals why: as the second son, if he doesn’t meet or surpass his older brother, his father won’t notice him. Damian may be a “shithead”, but he’s not iredeemable.

As for the third student rearin’ for that MVP star, we have our first exercise in Spy x Family descending into the absurd with Bill Watkins, who despite being six years old has the physique of Brock Lesnar. Just the sight of the large lad amongst all his tiny-mite classmates is enough to elicit a hearty chuckle; learning his dad is literally M. Bison kicked that up to a full belly laugh.

Against a normal human opponent, Damian’s shot and his teamwork with his lackeys would likely be enough to win the match and earn MVP (I got a kick out of the Calvin & Hobbes-style bending of reality in the glimpses of their training). Unfortunately, like being born second, Damian has he misfortune of having Watkins for an opponent.

Bill easily catches Damian’s best shot and takes out four opposing players at once. Damian’s lackeys sacrifice themselves to keep him in the game. When it’s down to Damian, Anya, and a third guy, Bill targets Anya, but thanks to a combination of knowing where he’ll throw it and Yor’s training, he just can’t hit her, and soon shows his age by getting very frustrated.

That leads to him yelling “DIE!” and forgetting all about “going easy on the women” by firing a fastball directly at Anya, who is a sitting duck when she trips and falls. This is when Damian exhibits his inherent “goodness” by sacrificing himself so Anya doesn’t take the hit. In that moment, he stopped caring about winning and status, and only cared about Anya’s safety.

After he tsunderes the heck out of his explanation for why he did it, the end result is it’s all up to Anya to bring Watkins down. Recalling Yor’s teachings in the park, Anya unleashes her killer move, “Star Catch Arrow”, and for a moment, appears to become a Powerpuff Girl.

Alas, despite perfect form and creating an intense atmosphere that has both teams and Bill in her thrall, she releases the ball so it bounces straight up into the air, then harmlessly in front of Bill, who swiftly ends the game by beaning a stunned Anya.

The consolation is that no one was ever going to win a Stella for exceling in a game of dodgeball. Henderson doesn’t know how such a silly rumor came about, but does know that anyone who yells “DIE!” in a friendly game is asking for a Tonitrus Bolt! Watkins stands chastened and rebuked.

While he praised her for her “not bad” dodging and took a direct blow for her, Damian is so disappointed in the end result of Anya’s ratcheting up of suspense that he can’t help but yell at her and call her “stubby legs”, even as he’d probably be the first to admit that until those last moments Anya was cool as hell out there. As for Henderson, observing these brats bickering, he wonders if this new class is really worthy of Stella…

This Spy x Family did not care how ridiculous Bill Watkins looked or how seriously this dodgeball game was being taken. It summoned and harnessed the outsized importance of mundane things all little kids engage in, taking after their adult counterparts while infusing the proceedings with their vivid imaginations. The result is another thrilling and hilarious outing.

Love After World Domination – 10 – An Invincible Couple

LWD did a beach episode, so you knew at some point they were probably going to put their hero/villain spin on the school festival episode. Desumi really wants Fudou to come on the third and final day, because that’s when a traditional moon sculpture is unveiled. Couples photographed at that moon will become “invincible.”

Fudou and Desumi know it won’t be easy for the two of them to pull something like that off at a busy festival, but Fudou didn’t expect his comrade Hayato (AKA Blue Gelato) to catch wind of him going to a festival and make him his horse for the day. Meanwhile Desumi has to deal with Anna’s aggressive advances.

This is the high school Kiki and Kyouko (Beast and Steel) attend, but while the latter brings Culverin Bear as her date, as disciplinary officer Kiki is fixated on breaking up lovey-dovey couples.

The lovey-dovey-est of them all are our protagonists, who finally manage to get some alone time in a haunted house, only to be found out by Kiki (who luckily doesn’t recognize her comrade in the darkness).

That said, Desumi ends up right back in Anna’s clutches, while Hayato once again mounts Fudou as if he were a conveyance. If the couple has any chance of getting to the moon sculpture, they’ve gotta shake off these pests.

While the animation of this episode is spotty at best, it kicks into high gear when it counts, like during Anna and Desumi’s high speed chase through the halls. Desumi seeks refuge in the nurses office, where Blood Princess happens to be on duty.

Having bought a little time, Desumi tracks down Fudou, only to find him being used as a horse for Hayato. She can’t very well just stride up to Blue Gelato, but nor can she do nothing with her sweetheart in peril.

Fortunately, Hayato spots Kiki, whom he recognizes at the beach, and they engage in their own breathless chase through the school. This leaves our couple alone again at last, but with the minutes dwindling to get their photo, they’re not sure how to pull it off, considering how recognizable Fudou is as Red Gelato.

Finally, their surroundings tell them what to do. The school is lousy with cosplayers—Kyouko even lost Culverin and ended up with a guy in a bear suit—so they decide to transform into Red Gelato and Reaper Princess…a “fanfic” pairing if ever there was one, but an effective one.

Rather than suspect them of being the real thing, the other students simply chalk it up to amazing cosplay craftsmanship and attention to detail. Desumi and Fudou get their snapshot at the moon sculpture, and with it verification that they are an invincible couple that can accomplish anything together.

That being said, they would have been that even if they hadn’t gotten their picture taken; these crazy kids don’t need their love propped up by legends. Kiki prevails over Hayato, Anna and Blood Princess rest one one another’s back after a great fight, and Kyouko introduces the fake bear guy to her bear guy. All’s well that ends well at the festival.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 10 – Every Shot’s a Gamble

Eve attracts a lot of attention at her knew fifties diner-looking fancypants school, and on her first day, she doesn’t really like it. She dresses and acts like a yankee or delinquent, because she’s not here to make friends. She’s here to fulfill her promise to Aoi, whom she longs to “play with” all day long, only for Shinjou to put the kibosh on an after-school game.

Aoi giving Eve blue-bullet-balls only makes her more pent-up and frustrated, but Aoi tells her they can play all the time if she joins the school’s Golf Club, so with Ichina in tow, that’s what she tries to do. Unfortunately, the coach, Amuro Reiya (voiced by the same seiyu as Amuro Rey of Gundam fame) only pisses her off more. Of course, that’s intentional on his part. He’s testing her.

Unaware of how much money Eve made in the previous arc, Ichina assumes Eve has nowhere to go after school, but Eve proves her wrong by sidling up to the first pair of admiring classmates, captivating them with her ladykiller skillz, and proceeding to have a grand night out of shopping and games. Eve demonstrates she’s not just good at golf.

When her new friends (whose names she probably won’t remember) head home just before their curfews, Eve reveals she’s known Ichina has been stalking her all along. Ichina doesn’t consider it stalking; she’s observing one of the best golfers she’s encountered, and wants to be her caddy so they can win together. When one Iseshiba Kuyou appears and challenges Eve to a game of mini golf, Eve is ready to do battle.

While Kuyou demonstrates sublime precision in her putting, both she and Ichina are equal parts shocked, outraged, and entranced by the unique way Eve plays, which involves jumps, bounces, and lots of ricochets. Every shot feels like a gamble, like Eve is walking a tightrope…and yet the balls keep going in all the same.

After witnessing a few of Eve’s holes, even an elite golfer like Kuyou is well and truly shook. Fortunately for her, her senpai and teammate, Iijima Kaoruko, is nearby and tags herself in, sensing Kuyou is about to miss a shot. Keenly aware of the psychological aspect of golf, Kaoruko proceeds to use her In the Zone skill to shut off the outside world until there’s only her, the ball, the hole, and the route to get there.

After Kaoruko sinks her hole with a wedge, Ichina stops Eve from taking her shot. Eve remembers that Ichina said she could help her win the all-girls tournament, she stops and listens to what her caddy has to say. Kaoruko set a trap with her wedge shot, denting the green right in front of the hole. Ichina proposes not avoiding that dent but using it to get the ball in the hole. Eve is able to do so, and learns the value of Ichina as her caddy.

Kaoruko learns that both Eve and Ichina aren’t as dumb or inept as they look, and cuts the match short for the time being. That said, Kaoruko fully expects to see Eve at the All-Japan Girls High School Golf Doubles Championship. She’ll most likely be paired with Kuyou, and gives Coach Amuro a call telling him it was cruel to use her kohai to a player like Eve.

Turns out both Kuyou and Kaoruko comprised the test Amuro laid out for Eve, and she passed it with flying colors. With his ace Jinguuji Kinue out of commission, he needs someone to replace her by Aoi’s side at the championship, and it’s looking like that person is Eve. She’s already shown she can take and benefit from advice from a caddy; perhaps her crazy style of play can find a home at Raiou.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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