The God of High School – 01 (First Impressions) – Stand Tall, Smile Big, Strike Hard

Fresh off the heels of Tower of God—which Hannah enjoyed, though admitted frustration that it was essentially just an extended prologue—comes The God of High School, another Korean webtoon-based anime with “God” in the title and an appealing blend of action, comedy and drama.

After a ominous, cryptic cold open that doesn’t even pretend to explain what’s going on (suffice it to say some guy on an island with designs on blackmailing the prime minister is literally wiped off the map), we dive straight into one of three main would-be Gods of High School, Jin Mori, resident of Seoul.

Waking up from a dream in which he was encouraged by his gramps, Mori realizes he smashed his alarm in his sleep, and must race to the GoHS preliminaries at KORG Arena. He takes a shortcut by riding his bike off a cliff, and immediately it’s apparent that these are no normal humans.

There’s a lot of influence from Durarara!! in the ensuing action, and not just because there’s a purse thief on a motorcycle whom Mori feels compelled to chase (he makes up a sob story about the elderly woman who needs the cash for her grandson’s surgery or some such). The mere fact Mori can keep up with a motorcycle on his bike, and the reasons for doing so, are great shorthand for the kind of character he is: as relentless as he is just.

His first encounter with fellow GoHS contestant Yu Mira is kinetic, to say the least: while she’s admiring the ample muscles of some martial artists who failed to make the cut, she’s absolutely obliterated by Mori (accidentally, of course). Mori attempts a quick apology, but Mira uses her trusty wooden sword to stop him in his tracks.

When she hears he’s chasing a thief, Mira tags along, and provides more offense against the biker as Mori keeps up. She’s about to deliver a decisive blow to the baddie when a road sign jumps out at her and her face is driven so deeply into the metal it creates a ghoulish mask.

The cartoonish amount of punishment these characters can take is matched by the utter hilarity of the way the violence and various acrobatics are rendered. I suddenly realized the episode was almost half-over, but things were so non-stop from the moment Mori jumps on his bike, events fly by effortlessly and breathlessly, evoking shades of Mad Max: Fury Road.

While Mira and Mori fall behind, the motorcyclist’s face ends up meeting the fist of a third GoHS contestant in part-time convenience store employee Han Daewi, and the impact of his punch is akin to the superhuman strikes of Durarara!!’s Shizuo. Daewi knows who to punch and why thanks to a roving rapper live-streaming the chase online.

With the chase finally complete, the three contestants head to the locker rooms of the arena and formally introduce each other, having already demonstrated from their actions in the streets that they’ll be tough competition in the prelims—and perhaps useful allies as well.

The preliminary is wonderfully simple: a battle royale of all the assembled fighters, and the last people standing move on to the tournament proper. There isn’t really any doubt that Mori, Mira, and Daewi will advance, but when a convict with the title “King” enters the battle late, the three seem to meet their match, with Mira giving her best shot and Mori answering the challenge.

This is a show that is deliciously simple in premise, wonderfully energetic with its trademark Studio Mappa action, and as moves along at a rapid clip without causing whiplash. The three main characters look poised to complement one another, while the way the episode ends in mid-fight guarantees I’ll be back for more rock-em, sock-em madness.

All that said, I do find it odd how red everyone’s noses and ears are in closeups…it’s like they’re all suffering from colds!

Great Pretender – 08 – Tinker, Gambler, Soldier, Fly

The plan is to get Sam to join an underground casino the gang controls and squeeze him for all he’s worth. When Cynthia’s honeypot angle fails (Sam likes ’em young), and Abby refuses to be her replacement, Laurent is ready with a backup: Makoto. Specifically, his skills as a mechanic. In order to sell him, he brings in Luis Muller (Clark’s rival in the air who was nearly killed in an accident) and his attractive, patient wife Isabelle.

Thing is, Luis is only interested in one thing: revenge. He wants Sam and Clark dead and their entire race burned to the ground, but isn’t willing to stoop to a con to accomplish that. He’s also a bit…unbalanced since the accident. Fortunately Isabelle is steady as a rock and comports herself well in selling Makoto as a desirable mechanic, even though it’s her very first time participating in a con.

Clark is eventually sold by Makoto’s mechanical know-how, but Sam is on the fence. Clark thinks he’s a cheeky but otherwise “nice guy” but Sam, being a self-professed “bad guy” can sense that Makoto is more like him than he lets on. That belief is confirmed thanks to Laurent’s use of Mrs. Kim and some goons to pose as Muller’s “patroness” who are looking to hang Makoto out to dry for double-crossing her pilot.

Sam eats right into their hands, claiming Makoto as his “property” and “buying” him off of Mrs. Kim. The kicker is when he hears about the underground casino to which Makoto has connections. Sam may not fall for pretty faces like Abby’s or Cynthia’s, but he certainly falls for the prospect of betting on pilots and making more money on the side, especially as it caters to his bad-guy image.

One thing I like about Sam (who is otherwise a scumbag) is that you’re never 100% sure whether he’s buying what the con artists are selling, or simply going along for the ride to see where it goes. As for Abby, she’s interested in learning whether Luis was really a soldier, and when and where he operated, as he may have played a role in her own dark, traumatic militant past. That said, you can only have so many shots of Abby staring stoically out of windows!

Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 01 (First Impressions) – Same as She Ever Was

We kick off the Summer 2020 season with something dumb, silly, and either fun or tedious, depending on your mileage: a show about teens fighting libido-sucking aliens with their pent-up sexual energy! The world is relying on youth to save it from a future in which no more children are born because they just can’t be bothered to get it on.

This silly (and very familiar) premise is anchored by two childhood friends Hoshino Kirara and Enjou Retto. While Kirara was once very close to and friendly with Retto, one day a switch flipped and she became someone aloof and so disgusted by boys she won’t even touch anything they touched without gloves. At school she’s given the nickname “Iron Maiden”.

Meanwhile, Retto became a superhero. Assuming an alien (called Kiseishuu or “Censor Bugs”) sapped Kirara of all her emotions five years ago, he swore that he wouldn’t let the same awful fate befall anyone else without him doing something about it. That “something” involves focusing his “erotic power” to defeat the Kiseishuu.

One day, while Retto is trying to apologize to Kirara for accidentally groping her when she slipped on steps (as you do), a Kiseishuu who has grown powerful collecting the libidos of townsfolk confronts the two, and Retto doesn’t quite have the necessary power to defeat it.

Retto takes Kirara’s hand in his and flees, and Kirara, touching a boy for the first time in years and not disliking it, is suddenly overcome by erotic energy. Turns out the Kiseishuu didn’t suck all of it out of her years ago; instead it realized she was an exceptionally ridiculous wellspring of the stuff, and she intentionally suppressed it out of shame.

With the monster bearing down on them both, she finally frees her heart from the iron maiden in which it had been locked away, and in the ensuing sharing of energy with Rettou, the two manage to pulverize the Kiseishuu into the stone age. Naturally, a side-effect of using their powers means all of their clothes are torn off.

In the afterglow of their ecchi victory, Kirara offers to help Retto with his alien-bashing work going forward, even slipping up and using his first name after years of refraining from doing so. Then the other three members of Retto’s HxERO superhero group appear to introduce themselves to Kirara, their newest member. Oh and by the way, they all live together, no doubt to keep their HxEro force in top form.

Both the realization she and Retto are nude and the realization he’s been living with three other girls compel Kirara to deliver a couple blows to Retto, but there’s no going back now! Like them, Kirara was born to do this, and no less than the future of humanity depends on their continued victories over the aliens.

So there you have it! As I said earlier, this was silly, dumb, fun, harmless stuff, and even has a smidgen of heart to it what with the pure childhood-friend affection between Kirara and Retto at its core. Production values get the job done, neither embarrassing or exceptional, while the ecchi elements so far follow a restrained less-is-more pattern.

It’s not great, but it was better than I expected as it went along. At the very least, I’ll be checking out the next episode to see how Kirara fits into the superhero milieu.

Great Pretender – 07 – Skybrawl

Team Confidence heads to Singapore, where Makoto sees the Ibrahim brothers in action for the first time. While Clark plays the flashy playboy, Sam is the ruthless wheeler-dealer. The pair bought up the struggling race and have since made it a fixed affair a la WWE—all the winners and losers are chosen ahead of time.

Watching racing planes swoop over around and through Singapore’s futuristic skyline is fun, but the pulse-heightening action is once again hurt by a lot of obvious CGI and harshly posterized photo-based scenery. It’s an aesthetic that works sometimes, but often comes off as cheap.

The night after prelims, in which Abby just manages to qualify for the race by the skin of her teeth, she and Cynthia to the brothers at the rooftop pool of the iconic Marina Bay Sands. While Abby skinny dips and plays hard to get with the already-smitten Clark, Sam proves a more stoic nut to crack, but Cynthia seemingly convinces him that she’s enough of a rising star to promote—and ensure she’ll win the next race.

While we often see Clark carousing with ladies, this is still a PG-13-equivalent anime, so it call comes of as pretty chaste, especially when he doesn’t push for a more intimate rendezvous with Abby. She retires early for the night, but probably doesn’t get much sleep, as ever since she started flying she’s been getting flashbacks from her Dark Past.

The next day, Sam doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, and the veteran pilot steals the lead from Abby. When Cynthia gently protests, Sam drops any semblance of a nice guy act and tells her he neither promised nor owes Cynthia a damn thing, and proceeds to go into a bitter misogynist rant that you know he’ll pay for later. Abby has another flashback in the cockpit, but Makoto is able to snap her out of it via radio headset, and she ekes out a photo-finish victory.

From what I gather, Abby was at one point an award-winning ballerina whose life was suddenly turned upside down. At some point she became separated from her parents, ended up in a terrorists training facility, and got caught in a fierce battle where her comrades were cut to ribbons. When Makoto asks why Abby is in the con artist business at all, Laurent’s answer is simple and devastating: Abby is trying to find the right way to die.

We’ve seen her flashbacks and heard a bit about her from Laurent, but the fact remains Abby’s said very little herself—either about herself or anything else—in the past seven episodes. Will Makoto, con man with a conscience, seek to talk her out of her apparent death wish? Will Abby ever be in the mood to listen? All I know is, they’d better inspect her plane thoroughly for sabotage before her race against Clark.

Great Pretender – 06 – Earning His Wings

After an enticing stinger in which a terrified Makoto is along for the ride in a plane piloted by a crazed-looking Abby—which then blows up—we rewind a bit to see Makoto serving the remainder of his sentence at a Japanese penitentiary. The warden notices he’s good with a wrench, and decides to put in a good word for him with Nakanoshima, a grizzled old mechanic who runs a successful garage.

Makoto’s prison sentence really has changed his perspective on things. He no longer believes it’s justified to scam people, whether they deserve it or not. He wants to pay his debt to society and live life on the straight and narrow, rejecting any further collaborations with Laurent’s crew. Of course, that stinger of him in a plane with Abby indicates he will ultimately fail.

From there, we shift to a woman being fired by her boss for refusing his advances, and that same boss meeting Cynthia (AKA “Jennifer”) at a bar in Las Vegas. Jen clues the man in on unlicensed underground fights where the real money can be made, and even spots him cash to wager.

She tells him to put the money on Abby, who ends up winning despite her opponent being twice her size. Jen tells the businessman the outcome of the fight—and subsequent fights—was rigged so Abby would win, getting him to bet more and more of his own cash on a sure thing, night after night.

Meanwhile, far from his past con man life, Makoto works his ass off for two months, learning his way around his boss Nakanoshima’s true passion, propeller planes. Eventually Nakanoshima informs him of a racing team that needs a mechanic, encouraging him to “leave the nest.”

This mention of a racing team, along with the abrupt shift to working on planes, should have tipped Makoto off in some way, but perhaps his con man instincts were dulled by prison and his focus on “breaking good”.

As for Mr. Businessman, he ends up withdrawing all of his liquid assets and wagering them on another Abby victory. Only this time, Abby doesn’t win…though after taking a couple of blows to the head, she tries her damnedest not to lose, going into MMA punishment machine mode against her hulking opponent.

Ultimately she loses, as there are no rules to break to achieve victory. Businessman loses everything, and in a very Robin Hood move, Cynthia ends up delivering his duffel of cash to the very woman he fired. She may be a ruthless con artist, but she still has a sense of honor, and isn’t above pulling off jobs to right injustices.

Shortly thereafter (and once Abby’s battle damage heals) is when Makoto finds himself on an island that gives him quite a bit of deja vu, and before he knows it he’s being introduced to the plane racing team for whom he’ll serve as mechanic: Cynthia, Abby, and Laurent. They paid

The next scam involves a race in Singapore, where they’ll work to take everything a pair of oil magnate heirs for everything they have—two hundred million dollars, or double what they made in the LA job. Makoto wants nothing to do with them or any more crimes, so Laurent insists he’ll be on the level as a mechanic, and not be involved in anything else.

Abby, who will apparently be the team’s pilot, goes up with Makoto in a plan he himself serviced, returning us to the events of the stinger. That’s when we learn Laurent and Cynthia paid Nakanoshima to train Makoto just enough to pass as a plane mechanic, but obviously there’s only so much he can learn in two months, right?

Even so, the plane Abby and Makoto are in blows up (they’re able to safely eject) not because Makoto didn’t service it correctly, but because Laurent sabotaged it, in order to convince Makoto that he’s not a mechanic, but a con man.

I’ll give Great Pretender credit: it closed the book on the LA job before it got stale and then immediately shifted gears to something entirely new, fresh and exciting, with ever higher stakes and moral implications in store for Makoto. Just when he thought he was out…

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 12 (Fin) – Adjusted for Inflation

After the thrilling but nearly completely comedy-free Ishigami Sports Festival denouement, Love is War returns to its bread-and-butter with a relatively understated slice-of-life, life-goes-on finale. We get two stories, the first of which is by far the most emotionally engaging.

The Principal wants to snap photos of the StuCo, but Shinomiya family policy forbids Kaguya’s face from being distributed in any media, so she sits out the shoot. The Principal quickly pulls Miko out of her shell, but gets on Kaguya’s bad side when he pairs Miyuki and Chika as a dating pair.

While Kaguya once looked down on other girls who took pics with their phones, she’s nevertheless come to enjoy documenting her life with the StuCo on her antiquated flip phone (full disclosure: my landlord still has one, and she’s not planning on giving it up anytime soon!).

When the other members insist on including her on a private rooftop shoot, her phone falls off the roof during the exchange with the principal, and it is destroyed, along with all of the data (since it’s not only old, but a weird proprietary phone with no SD storage).

Crestfallen, Kaguya and Ai head to the store to buy the latest smartphone, but she’s thoroughly down that all of her precious memories were lost. The rest of the StuCo picks up on that, so Miyuki finally starts a StuCo LINE group with a shared cloud album, having held off until Kaguya got a smartphone, not wanting to leave her out. Suddenly, her phone, so sad and lonely when new and empty, starts to burst with brilliant 4K HDR photos of the StuCo’s hijinx.

This also serves as a curtain call for some of the most indelible images from this marvelous season. Kaguya’s blank look of quiet despair becomes a gleaming smile, and the five StuCo members pose for another group photo. Needless to say, Kaguya wins, having lost a low-res flip-phone album but gained a much more comprehensive hi-res one.

The majority of final segment feels like a stakes-free epilogue that could also have aired at any point this season. It makes a point to demonstrate that despite all the development these characters have gone through, they can still fall into their old habits, whether it’s Miyuki worried about Kaguya saying “How Cute” to Yuu losing his nerve.

The premise is easy enough, and starts out as a very direct double entendre involving pumping. Chika has a big balloon leftover from the sports fest, and pulls everyone into an increasingly stressful game in which each player must pump at least once, but if the balloon bursts, they lose. Chika actually gets poor obedient kohai Miko to pump the most, but lets her stop before it bursts.

This leaves Miyuki and Kaguya as the last two to pump, and they too survive, but when Chika gets a drop of tangerine juice on the paper-thin rubber, a cataclysmic explosion occurs that destroys the entire academy. As the credits zoom horizontally from right-to-left (a la Chihayafuru), both Kaguya and Miyuki, who survived the blast, are determined to get the other to take their hand.

What sets this interaction apart from so many past ones is that for once their wavelengths are perfectly aligned and they each get what they wanted, which was to hold the other’s hand without saving face or enduring mockery. It’s the perfect way to wrap up this momentous second season, while creating hope for a third one.

Still, I’d be very surprised (and delighted!) if a potential third episode surpassed this second, which goes down as one of the best second seasons of anime ever. MAL has it at #22 all time, and I think that’s a little low. I’ve savored every minute, and now that it’s over for now I shall miss it dearly!

Great Pretender – 05 – Cooking Up Something Good

Turns out Dickens wants Salazar in cuffs, so Makoto’s efforts to keep him free to care for his son goes nowhere, and Makoto has no choice but to cooperate lest he end up in prison himself. So as Eddie, Laurent, Abby, and a camera watch closely, Makoto cooks up his very first batch of Sakura Magic, a drug that doesn’t really exist.

Having watched sufficient instructional videos, Makoto is able to pull it off, though the candy is a little rough-looking. Abby is ready to taste-test and offer another performance, but first Eddie presents Laurent with the ten million dollars in ten suitcases, and Agent Dickens’ troops bust in, automatic weapons drawn.

Dickens makes no effort to conceal the fact that Makoto was her mole. She also promised no one would get killed in the raid, but that’s before an enraged Abby suddenly pulls a gun on the cops. Laurent dives to shield her, but the two end up riddled with bullets and die in a puddle of blood on the floor, to Makoto’s absolute shock. Naturally, I immediately questioned whether they had actually been killed, or if this was simply a larger con in play.

If it is, Makoto goes off script and takes Dickens hostage, forcing the cops to back off. He urges Salazar to escape, but in the confusion Eddie sneaks off and overloads the pressure on a tank, blowing up the entire lab. Makoto ends up under a wounded Salazar, and ends up chasing a hobbled Eddie. Eddie gets the jump on him and starts beating him with a traffic cone before Salazar, okay after all, punches him out.

That’s when things get weird. Dickens conducts an interrogation that ends with her accepting a bribe of 100 million dollars, again to Makoto’s shock. This cleans Eddie out of his international assets, but he’s free to leave and make it all right back. Naturally, Makoto is disgusted with Dickens’ shady conduct, but before he can protest too much he’s knocked out.

When he comes to, he learns what I expected: Laurent and Abby were fine, and Dickens and her team were fellow con artists, part of a much larger scheme to take Eddie for all he’s worth. “Dickens”, who really goes by Cynthia, hosts a huge celebration for the whole team on her private island, and everyone receives a cut in the numerous millions of dollars.

It’s understandably quite the surreal experience for Makoto. Despite the predictability of the outcome, Makoto being in the dark for the majority of the long con nevertheless lent an air of suspense, which helped the proceedings feel like more than the sum of their elemental parts. When people start going their separate ways but Laurent offers to take him under his wing, Makoto asks them to wait three or four years for him to get his affairs in order.

They agree, and Makoto returns to Japan. But just as soon as he arrives, he dumps his sack of American cash on the front desk of the nearest police station, confesses to having conned people out of it, and indicating his wish to pay back those he scammed. Looks like he’s going for a clean slate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those years he told Laurent to wait would be spent behind bars (again). In any case, the LA designer drug adventure comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Great Pretender – 04 – The Candyman Can’t

Let’s start with the basics: Makoto has no idea how to cook drugs, yet Eddie is now spending millions to renovate a lab where he’ll be…cooking drugs. Laurent (through Abby, who sneaks into Salazar’s house in the night) provides video lessons in how to cook.

It’s pretty much the best he can do; the rest is a result of the various rash choices Makoto made that got him so deep into this mess. But it still seems rather unlikely Makoto would be able to learn how to make even a marginally passable product after a week of watching videos.

In the week the renovations will take, Eddie lets Makoto enjoy the sights of L.A., provided his bodyguard Salazar is always around. When Makoto learns that Salazar’s wife is dead and he only sees his son on Sundays, he insists on Salazar keeping to that schedule with his kid.

The three have a lot of fun together; the son knows his samurai, and also considers a bodyguard to be a much cooler job than cops or FBI. If he knows what his dad truly did for a living beyond bodyguarding, he’s not talking about it. Makoto wonders if it’s genuine ignorance or simply putting on a brave face.

During a bathroom break, Makoto is accosted by Anderson, who then introduces him to Dickens, who offers Makoto a deal: if he serves as their mole and helps them apprehend both Laurent and Cassano, he’ll be sent back to Japan without any jail time.

It’s probably as generous an offer as he’ll get from law enforcement, though it certainly doesn’t ensure his safety; Eddie’s reach, even outside of prison, is likely vast. Not to mention the last time he tried to pull one on Laurent and Abby, he ended up hanging out to dry on the Hollywood sign.

At a big lavish “sushi party” at Eddie’s celebrating the completion of the lab renovations, Eddie formally welcomes Makoto into his “family”, while also announcing he’s found a rat. It turns out to be a random guy who gets the bat to the balls.

This, despite the fact Makoto didn’t notice a video camera in the teddy in his room until he’d already had a couple meetings with Abby. The thing is, Salazar doesn’t care what scam Makoto, Abby, and Laurent are pulling on his boss. His job is to protect Eddie’s personal safety, not his money.

Salazar’s situation hits home for Makoto. He grew up thinking his dad was a cool, moral lawyer protecting the rights of the downtrodden. He’d later learn, the same time as his mother, on TV, that their father and husband was scamming them all along, and was really the linchpin of a despicable international child trafficking operation.

Makoto also wants Salazar’s dream of getting his kid in college to come true. Like Makoto himself, his son is an innocent who doesn’t deserve to have his life destroyed—or the stigma attached to his name by his criminal dad. So Makoto puts on the glasses with the built-in two-way bug, and agrees to assist Dickens—but only if they leave Salazar out of it.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 12 (Fin) – Life Goes On

Rou is his usual puerile self upon discovering Shinako with Rikuo (though you can’t really blame him!) and runs off in a tizzy, Shinako chases him down and tries to explain. She valued their relationship and was afraid of ruining it.

To his credit, Rou takes the high road, telling Shinako all that mattered was her happiness, and he was a “chump” for not noticing her feelings for Rikuo. Despite telling her “it will take time” for him to comes to terms with it but that he gets it now, Shinako assumes she’s just ruined everything with Rou forever.

The next time Shinako and Rikuo meet, its at a park bench, and as they analyze what they are to each other and how things went with Rou and Haru, the meeting gradually morphs into a more-or-less mutual breakup.

It’s only natural; things haven’t quite felt right because Rikuo hasn’t been able to properly tell her he loves her, but when he asks her simply “me or Rou”, she can’t help but summon much more emotion for Rou, who is family.

Rikuo owns up to becoming terrified of the happiness that suddenly rained down upon him when he found himself in a relationship with Shinako, but perhaps the reason it never felt 100% real for him is that…it wasn’t. He and Shinako had a natural distance from their long friendship that could not be closed, no matter what either party tried.

At the same time, Rikuo assures Shinako that Rou, who is still mostly a kid after all, will eventually come back around to talking with her. He just needs time to cool off, and as we saw, he already exhibited the self-consciousness to admit the mistakes he made. The two cordially shake hands, committing to maintaining what they know works: their friendship, and just like that, Shinako x Rikuo is dead.

Despite this breakup occurring in the last episode, there’s nothing rushed about it. After all, these three had been milling around for three months without the slightest romantic progression, which all confirmed that they’re not meant to be in that kind of relationship, however logical it might’ve seemed.

Meanwhile, Haru notes how little has actually changed in the world since what she felt was a categorical rejection by Rikuo, but still can’t help but wear a gloomy face as she fries vegetables, much to her mom’s dismay. It turns out she’s only taken some time off from Kyouko’s cafe and moved back in with her mom and stepdad. She spends the time away contemplating what love and happiness are to her, not

Rikuo ends up securing Haru’s address and bus route from Kyouko, and sets off to meet with and talk with her about what’s happened, if she’ll have her. During his long journey we get all of his naysaying inner thoughts in real time, negative and dismissive sentiments he must force his way through in order to take action.

He doesn’t like how things ended with Haru, and despite not knowing how she’ll react to seeing him again (or even if she’ll agree to do so), he’ll never forgive himself for not making he attempt, even if it makes him look selfish and foolish.

When he finally crosses paths with her (kudos to Kansuke for keeping her off the bus he just got off!) she’d been remembering when she met him and fell for him in middle school, assumes he’s just another vision, and proceeds to punch him. But when she realizes he’s real, she regrets the assault…but not too much.

All of Rikuo’s inner dialogue was a fight with himself over whether he should even be attempting to reconnect with Haru, which means when Haru is finally there in front of him, he has almost no plan for how to describe his feelings. He initially comes off as having only come to her because Shinako dumped him, but when he elaborates on the details Haru can sense it was more nuanced than that.

Rikuo comes out and says what we all know: he likes it when a woman is nice to him, and for a long time, he thought that was love…until he took the next step with Shinako and it didn’t work out. Then an “incomprehensible, bothersome chick” came along, and Rikuo didn’t realize until recently that love was staring at him all along from the opposite end of the konbini counter.

He thinks everything he thought about love and feelings up to now had been mistaken, but he knows one thing for sure: he thought Haru was cute, and that all of the time she was suddenly away from him, and all hemming and hawing on his way to seeing her, mean that he’s in love with her. It’s something he can come out and relatively easily say to her, while he could never say it about Shinako.

Seeing the shock, embarrassment, joy, and relief wash over Haru’s face is a season standout, as is her instinct to immediately embrace Rikuo and give him a kiss before he knows what hit him. Then she allots only 35 points to his confession and orders him to give another one. After three futile months and so much overthinking, I was astounded and delighted by how comparatively easily the distance between these two was closed!

A little time passes, and Rikuo and Haru prepare to go on their first official date together. Haru, always one to wear her heart on her sleeve, is clearly on cloud nine as she glides around the cafe where she returned to work. Meanwhile as Rou’s classmates celebrate him moving in to his own place, Shinako pays him a surprise visit.

This isn’t exactly how I thought things would end up between these four, but I can’t say I’m not satisfied. The events of this last episode, in hindsight, didn’t even feel at all like sudden twists, but a logical, necessary, and welcome corrective to the awkward confusion of previous alignments. It made me immediately giddy and excited for a Haru x Rikuo future. Not a bad trick for a show based on a 23-year-old manga!

For those asking “Wait, weren’t there going to be eighteen episodes, not just twelve?” Alas, that was an unfortunate miscommunication. Turns out the final six episodes are streaming-only shorts, so this is the final episode, with an anime-original ending. That’s obviously extremely disappointing as I was watching this show unfold as if it had six more eps to work with, but oh well…at least it ended on an upbeat note!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 11 – The Other Side of the Story

The Cheer Squad’s cross-dressing skit goes off without a hitch, pleasing Yuu, who feared everyone would think he was gross. He starts to finally think about enjoying life more instead of dwelling on past regrets and failures…only for the greatest regret of his life to show up to anti-cheer him.

Just as Yuu is drafted to fill in for an injured Kazeno as anchor on the club relay race, all of the past unpleasantness rushes back into the forefront of his mind. All his ears hear around him are the discouraged and annoyed voices of the crowd cursing his name and everything about him.

The mystery girl who arrives is Otomo Kyouko, who was neither a crush nor a friend in middle school. She was just a kind classmate who’d look out for him whenever she could. She was a good person. Then she started dating Ogino Kou, whom Yuu soon learns is cheating on Kyouko with other girls.

Honestly I don’t remember middle school being this sexed up, but Kou further demonstrates how pure a scum he truly is by refusing to stop cheating, then using footage of Kyouko on his phone to threaten Yuu into silence.

Not about to let a good person, even someone who’s barely an acquaintance get hurt by a bad one, Yuu’s sense of justice curdles into rage before the despicable Kou, and he punches the shit out of him in the middle of class. He aimed to ruin his face so no girl would approach it again, but Kou quietly threatens to abuse Kyouko if Yuu doesn’t stand down.

If that wasn’t enough, Kou also loudly professes that Yuu is a stalker. To both her and everyone else around, it looks like a crazed Yuu is beating up her boyfriend because he’s jealous and obsessed, and he’s too shocked by how badly things are going for him to defend himself, though I doubt it would have helped.

For the assault, Yuu is suspended for a month and ordered to write a letter of apology to Kou, but despite writing and erasing over the paper hundreds of times, he’s unable to write a single word of anything; neither a false apology nor an indictment of Kou’s own misdeeds. In his absence at school his reputation as a creep crystallizes.

Back in the present, the relay anchors are ordered to their marks, but Yuu is so out of it he forgets what color team he’s on…until Miyuki puts his red headband on his head and offers him words of encouragement and a pat on the back. This mirrors Miyuki’s eventual visit to Yuu’s house to present the “Student Council Secret Report” he prepared with Miyuki and Chika.

While Miyuki doesn’t judge whether Yuu’s actions were right or wrong (merely that they could have been better), he cannot deny that Yuu’s ultimate objective was to protect Otomo Kyouko, and that objective was achieved when Kou broke up with her days after the beating. Turns out all those months of refusing to apologize made Kou paranoid, and he released his grip on the poor girl.

However, Kyouko never saw this report, and still has the same idea of what went down. She still believes Kou to be a good guy and blames Yuu for their breakup. She came to the festival specifically to “unload” on Yuu, but rather than continue to wallow in despair, Yuu draws strength from the knowledge someone—specifically Miyuki, Kaguya and Chika—learned his side of the story and supported him.

So before running his leg of the relay, Yuu responds to Kyouko’s heckling with the same words Miyuki wrote in thick black permanent marker way outside the gridlines of the apology letter stock…so hard that to this day the ink residue is embedded in the desk: GO TO HELL, DUMBASS.

As the race progresses, Yuu is determined to win. He believes he has to win to prove he truly “shake Kyouko off” and move on with his life. Kaguya and Miyuki and Chika cheer him on, hoping the good person they know can overcome adversity. Kobachi loudly cheers him on, while Miko, who helped get Yuu reinstated, cheers for him almost under her breath—but with no less conviction.

Yuu ends up losing by a hair. Like the lack of a forced reconciliation with Kyouko, the defeat is an excellent subversion of how these races usually go. But the fact is, he still tried his best and his cheer squad comrades appreciate that. Koyasu, the pink-haired girl, even tears up, so moved by his genuine frustration. Rather than calling him a loser and failure and weirdo like he feared, they tell him he did good.

Suddenly, as his tears give way and his field of vision clears, he can finally see the EYES of the cheer squad members, a pack of Normies with whom he thought he’d never get along and inherently distrusted due to past traumas. But there they are in all their glory. We’d never seen their eyes either because Yuu never looked at them properly. Now he does, and he’s elated to discover they’re all good people.

As Kyouko departs, she tells her former classmates she was glad to be able to give Yuu a piece of her mind, and leaves Shuchiin with fun memories despite how things turned out. As Kaguya and Ai observe, she’s blissfully ignorant, but the smile she wears as she leaves is the very thing Yuu worked and suffered to protect, and he succeeded.

That Yuu would do that for a classmate he barely knew, at the cost of so much personal turmoil and with no reward, then he must be the very best quality of person. It’s no wonder he was recruited into the StuCo. This episode of Love is War had virtually no jokes or gags, but it didn’t matter. What it offered instead was masterful character drama, further cementing its status as Anime of the Year.

Great Pretender – 03 – Burrowing Deeper

Makoto manages to win Eddie Cassano over by first spending the night watching his movies at a motel, then intentionally getting caught by Eddie’s men. Once he’s before Eddie himself, he flatters him by declaring his love for his movies—which he considers art rather than RedLetterMedia fodder—and likens it to his drugs, which are like precious children to him.

Eddie will pay $10 million not only for an exclusive license for Sakura Magic, but all of Makoto’s lab notes on the formula, enabling any chemist to make it themselves. Still, Eddie wisely withholds the exchange of cash until his lawyers have been to Makoto’s lab in Japan. Thankfully Makoto’s pals are there just in time to greet them and corroborate Makoto’s story.

However, it’s still too risky to hand over millions in cash at Eddie’s house, which is under LAPD surveillance, while Eddie himself has been hounded by Chief Inspector Anderson for over a decade. They try to give Anderson the slip with a false limo, but Anderson sends a decoy tail after it and chases Eddie’s shitty Malibu instead. A pretty nifty car chase ensues, though it’s marred somewhat by the clunky CGI car models.

Anderson turns out to be on Eddie’s payroll, and simply had to make it look good for both his team and the higher-ups. Eddie then shows Makoto, Laurent, and Abby to one of his top drug labs, presents Makoto with everything he needs, and asks him to whip up a batch of Sakura Magic right then and there.

Makoto never designed for his researcher story to endure under this level of scrutiny, and he’s able to save his skin for the time being by dismissing the lab as too filthy to work in. In response to this, Eddie vows to completely renovate the lab to Makoto’s exact specs. Each time he squirrels out of trouble the lie he uses ends up burrowing himself deeper into this increasingly lethal situation.

Pretty soon he’ll be out of moves, but that may not end up mattering. That’s because Anderson’s case has been suddenly taken over by infamous mob-buster FBI SA Paula Dickins. However, she’s not even after Cassano, but Laurent Tierry & Co., purveyors of international fraud. Getting arrested by the feds is far from ideal, but it’s probably better than whatever Eddie will do to Makoto when he finds out he’s being scammed.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 12 (Fin) – Don’t Stop the Signal

The final episode of Wave begins with a high school-aged Mizuho conferring with Kureno about her future. Specifically, she only dreams of becoming an assistant director for a radio station, as she’s more “behind the scenes” in nature. Kureno warns her that most stations won’t give someone with such small (if realistic) goals the time of day.

From there we go back to the present, and to another radio station entirely, where—bombshell—Makie turns out to be “Joker Skonsky”, making her first in-studio appearance. It’s something she keeps to herself, even when Nakamura finds her celebrating by herself with a couple drinks. And why not? After having her life controlled by her bro for so long, she absolutely deserves to go out there and do things by herself and for herself.

Nakamura doesn’t pry, he just tells her he’ll be opening his own restaurant soon, and if she ever needs a paying job, she’ll have one there. It’s a very sweet exchange that never feels the need to get too romantic or dramatic. What it feels like is two good friends on the same wavelength.

Later that night, Minare’s latest Wave broadcast begins with her reading listener submissions from the website and Twitter, responding to them, and eventually picking a winner. It’s actually a pretty standard bit for a show, but since it’s the first time her normally abnormal show is doing it, it has potential to be fresh.

Minare only makes it two minutes in until a 6.8 earthquake rocks the entire island of Hokkaido, knocking out power everywhere. Naturally the station has backup power, so Matou directs Minare to change gears and offer emergency information. At first I thought the shaking was dramatic license, but then suddenly it dawned on me that “oh shit it’s an earthquake!”

In other words, I had the exact same reaction as the first time I experienced an earthquake for real. It’s so strange and disorienting on a primal level, I can’t imagine having to not only keep a radio broadcast going but staying on message and not messing up.

Indeed, you can tell Minare is a bit off initially. Even though she’s pretty dang good at improvisation, she literally never saw herself as a news-reader, which is essentially what she becomes until people start sending messages about their current state.

Matou shows her a note to stop acting like an amateur, and she snaps out of it, returning to her “normal” energetic radio voice as she reads and reacts to the messages.

There’s a sense of community and solidarity continuing the show helps to cultivate even in times when the power’s out and no one knows when it will be back. People need to be comforted, and Minare’s in a unique position to comfort them simply by keeping things as breezy and mundane as possible. It surely means a lot to those who reached out to be personally reassured on the radio!

Meanwhile, the first thing Makie thinks of when the lights go out is “how can we help others?” The answer is heading to Voyager and cooking up some hot food for those who will need it. She and Nakamura get approval from the boss (who was out with Makie’s brother and wants the Gagarin curry out of his freezer anyway) and get to work. Nakamura and Makie really do make a great team.

Before she knows it, Minare’s typically 20-minute program is extended to 90 minutes, finally ending at 5:00AM when Madoka arrives to relieve her and provide relief with her celebrity voice. She even puts on a classic song about looking up at the stars, because what else are you gonna do when the lights are out in the city?

Minare heads to the nap room feeling great about her future in radio, but when Makie and Nakahara flag her down to give her a ride to Voyager to help out, she realizes she can (and should) keep room for a day and night job to make ends meet.

So ends Wave, an anime that marched to the beat of its own drum with its unique and assertive voice and thoroughly fascinating heroine. However accurate it is to real-world radio industry, it certainly felt (and sounded) more than sufficiently convincing for someone like me who doesn’t know a lot about it going in.

It was a strong and surprisingly cozy ending, demonstrating that whatever content you bring to the broadcast table, what’s most important is keeping the signal going, speaking clearly, and connecting with your listeners, making them feel heard and making sure they know you know they’re listening. Whether it’s a Terry Gross interview or the Shipping Forecast, there’s really nothing quite like radio.

Kakushigoto – 12 (Fin) – Lifting the Veil

Kakushigoto’s finale is truly a crowd-pleaser, and I mean that in the best way. It spends its entire runtime in the “future” and painstakingly reveals all of the mysteries and answered all of the questions we might’ve gathered from the slow trickle of information throughout the season. It expertly released and justified all that built-up anticipation to deliver one satisfying reveal after another—including several secrets we didn’t consider!

For one thing, neither we nor Hime had any idea Kakushi was the love child of a kabuki actor and his mistress (though it explains a lot!). We didn’t know he had a half-sister, who had a son the same age as Hime, who visits her at the Kamakura house.

Among the other blanks of Kakushi’s story are also filled in, we learn that for ten years after his wife was lost at sea he spent a significant amount of his income on continued searches, not believing she was gone. When Hime was in middle school the tabloid article came out that killed his confidence in ever being able to make readers laugh again.

After finishing Tights and putting his pen down for good, Kakushi took on a number of menial labor jobs, culminating in perhaps the most ironic and symbolic accident imaginable: in a forklift accident he was crushed by a palate full of the very manga publication he quit drawing for.

Kakushi has been in a coma for over a year, but he same day Hime’s cousin visits her, he regains consciousness, and Ichiko and the Detective Agency escort Hime to the hospital, where they learn that he has amnesia—specifically,  he has no memories of the last seven years.

For Hime to finally see her father awake only for him to not recognize her seems almost too cruel, but I was confident Kakushigoto would find a clever way for things to eventually work out. Sure enough, the key to restoring Kakushi’s memories is the thing he loved doing for a living, despite keeping it secret from Hime.

Kakushi’s seven-year gap means he’s stuck in the time when Hime was ten (i.e. all those episodes that felt like the present at the time but are now the past). As such, he believes Tights in the Wind is still in publication…and he’s eager to get back to work.

His old team of assistants (including Rasuna, who is now an accomplished mangaka in her own right, with Tomaruin as her editor) gets back together, and turn the hospital room into a studio. Assuming Hime is a new assistant, he asks her to go to his house and make sure his daughter isn’t lonely. Of course, her daughter will always be least lonely when she’s with her dad.

Seeing her dad working for the first time is momentous for Hime; so much so that seeing him so happy doing what he loves makes her hesitant to continue efforts to restore his memories. He’ll get back the good times in the last seven years, but also all the heartbreak and despair.

What ultimately sways her is when she asks him if he’s happiest being able to continue drawing his manga, and he says no; the one thing that makes him happier than anything would be Hime growing up big and healthy. Hime rushes back to Kamakura, the Detective Agency in tow, and returns to the room with all of his manuscripts of the last seven years.

As Kakushi looks them over and remembers drawing them, he also remembers moments of Hime’s life that took place when he drew them. As the veil on those seven years of memories is pulled back, he watches Hime grow into the 18-year-old woman before him and finally recognizes his daughter. His first instinct, of course, is to try to hide the manga from her; to maintain the secret.

Now, as Kakushi prepares a comeback (perhaps with a story very similar to what we just watched…very meta!), we see the tables have turned: Hime has secrets of her own, like the fact that while she’s an accomplished and award-winning painter following her mother’s father’s footsteps, she also has a passion for drawing manga, something she’ll keep secret from her dad for a while. It’s only fair!

Kakushigoto was a beautiful blending of the clever, sometimes goofy, sometimes artfully intricate “miscommunication” humor of author Kumeta Kouji with genuine and powerful emotional stakes. It never felt too melodramatic or goofy because the drama and levity were always so well balanced. Indeed, that made it feel more real, despite how convoluted some of the mysteries and secrets turned out to be. The wit was sharp, while the heart was always warmed.

No matter how many walls or veils or feints Kakushi put up to keep his precious daughter from the truth of his livelihood, he couldn’t hide his true passion from her forever. Nor could the truth that whether he could feed that passion for a living or not was immaterial in the face of his overarching priority: ensuring Hime had a stable, happy childhood full of laughter and fun.

Hime is as stunningly awesome and beautiful an adult as she was an adorable, air-headed kid, and she has a bright future whether she pursues painting, manga, both, or neither. It can be said without reservation: Papa did good.