HenSuki – 02 – Kohai Master

Keiki flatly turns down Sayuki’s request that he make her his pet—he’s just not sure if he’s into S&M, and probably never thought about it. But that doesn’t stop her from hanging around him, even in the library, where she gets too close and draws the ire of their mutual kohai, Koga Yuika. When Keiki admits he took Sayuki out for a parfait and performed a romantic wall slam, she’s angry, but he can cure that anger by taking her on a date.

Keiki does everything right thanks to some pointers from his little sister Mizuha: Arrive early, compliment often, go to a movie she likes, have a relaxed lunch, match her pace, let her shop till she drops. He even has the opportunity to rescue her from some leering mall trolls. Yuika gives Keiki a pat and kiss on the head as thanks and then falls asleep on his shoulder on the train home. All in all, it’s a wonderful first date for the both of them.

Yuika always kept to herself in the library and was hard to approach (which he chalks up to her mixed heritage, which…okaaay), but he was persistent in his friendliness and kindness, and her suspicion and “ice in her eyes” gradually melted away to the point they’re now much closer. But is she “Cinderella” who included a pair of underwear with her love letter? The jury’s still out.

What becomes painfully clear, however, is that Yuika is not like Sayuki, and she does not want to be his pet. In fact, when she asks him to meet her in the library storage room, she reveals that she wants to be his master, and wants him to be her slave. As an incentive, she removes her underwear and offers them to him. When he doesn’t immediately take them, she punishes him by stuffing them into his mouth. Yikes!

Suffice it to say, this development comes as something of a shock to Keiki. He was so enchanted by their conventional date, he would have been content if he died the next day. Instead, he finds himself passed out in a closet with Yuika’s underwear in his mouth, and a commando Yuika sitting astride him. They’re tricky, those tides of fortune!

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O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 02 – Holey War

After Kazusa reads about masturbation at the bookstore (no doubt learning it’s natural and healthy and thus way less of a big deal than either she or Izumi are making it out to be, even if it was super-embarrassing) she finds Niina in the clutches of some mouth-breather, and gets a text asking her to follow, along with other instructions.

When Kazusa joins them at the cafe, Niina is acting like “a different person”, talking about having to “take on three guys at once” later, then asking the dude if he’d hook up with her “super slutty friend” instead. That’s when Kazusa declares, loudly and proudly, that her crotch is really itchy. The guy flees.

Turns out it was all according to a script Niina’s friend at a theater troupe gave her to use as a defense against the many guys of all types who have projected their fantasies on her due to her ethereal, girlish good looks, and in doing so push past normal social boundaries. It’s a sad but very accurate commentary on the need to know how to deal with such men; many of whom won’t take rejection well.

Because of her looks, Niina grew up a little faster than the other girls. As for Kazusa, she really only grew up when she walked in on Izumi, who her clueless dad invites over for pizza. Izumi and Kazusa have a mature and productive chat about it briefly tries to make Kazusa forget by grabbing her head and shaking it (the childhood friend rambunctiousness coming out at the worst time) but ultimately would prefer if she just forgot it ever happened.

Later that night, in the shower, Kasuza puts herself in Izumi’s shoes, and of all the things she’d want to cover if he walked in on her, she determines she’d probably most want to hide her face, as if like an ostrich with its head in the ground, it wouldn’t be happening if she couldn’t see it.

At lit club, Rika instructs each member to come up with ten more “literary” words to use in place of the inartful English word “sex”, since it’s an otherwise unavoidable word with the works they’re reading. Then the writer among them gets a call from a potential editor, telling her she’s not quite there yet, but coming by his place will “probably help her chances.”

Then Rika gets “bothered by the chidings of lascivious beasts,” causing her to hurt her crotchal area on the vault; one of the girls doesn’t laugh and wonders out loud if she just “broke her hymen”; Rika later admits to herself she “doesn’t know how to check”.

It’s just and overall unpleasant-as-hell experience, but as she’s washing her face in the sink, Amagi comes by and calls her cute again, even comparing her to a model. There’s no reason to think the kid is messing with her, but Amagi isn’t prepared for the praise, and flees in a cloud of dust.

Then, the inevitable: the girl who boasted to her friend she’d take Izumi’s virginity makes her move. Kazusa is instinctively ready to riot, even tossing out the lame excuse of “having to keep an eye on him while his mother is busy with work!” She ends up getting to watch the meeting thanks to Niina paying her back for “having an STD for her” the other day.

Izumi ends up turning Asada down, but when she learns he doesn’t like anyone in particular, gets him to agree to “think about it,” as she’ll wait for him “forever.”

After Asada leaves, Izumi spots Niina snooping and recording, but Kasuza comes between them and tells the truth: Yes, they were snooping, but he didn’t give the girl a straight “no.” Then she asks if he just wants to “do it” with girls, and Izumi doesn’t understand, she blurts out a variant of one of the club’s euphemisms: “Ess Eee Ecks!” before running off.

The next day, with the whiteboard full of vulgar words and phrases, the principal and vice principal, both men, declare that absent a faculty advisor to keep them in line, the lit club will be dissolved. Kasuza starts weeping form the news; she doesn’t know what she’ll do if there’s no lit club (answer: they can always meet up somewhere after school and in the summer).

But Niina knows better. She knows Kasuza’s tears that just won’t stop aren’t just about the threat of the club dissolving. She gets Kasuza to admit that a “storm is raging in her heart”, and that if she absolutely had to “do it” with someone, it would be Izumi, which indicates she likes him. This may be something we’ve known for a while now, but only then, on the riverbank, does she finally have the official epiphany. She’s in luuuuuuve.

Machikado Mazoku – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Think This Means You’ve Won!

One morning Yoshida Yuuko wakes up with horns and a tail, and her mother reveals that her family are descendents of the “Dark Clan,” whose powers were sealed by the Magical Girls of the “Light Clan” long ago. It’s why her family lives in poverty. But now that she bears the horns and tail of a demon girl, she is named “Shadow Mistress Yuuko” (sent by fax) and must seek out and defeat a Magical Girl in order to restore her clan’s former glory!

The casual blending of the supernatural and the mundane, and the superb, energetic performance of Kohara Konomi, form the beating heart of this slick little slice-of-life comedy that’s also a charming underdog story and a send up of the demon/magical girl genre in which it operates. The moment the town’s magical girl, Chiyoda Momo, rescues her “mortal enemy” from a truck (transforming in just 0.01 seconds!), you know this is going to be a wonderfully extreme mismatch.

At school (which the narrator describes very literally when Yuuko asks “What’s up with this school?”), Yuuko’s friends don’t seem all that concerned with her horns, and soon point her in the direction of Chiyoda Momo, for whom Yuuko is absolutely no match.

Yuuko flubs her words when trying to formally initiate a duel, and Momo doesn’t bother dodging her attacks, letting Yuuko wear herself out. Like when she rescued and then fed her, Momo, while polite, is just barely restraining her arrogance and superiority.

Unlike Yuuko, Momo is rolling in cash from the look of her postmodern mansion and chic decor—but she seems to live all alone with her cat, no one to share all that square footage. She’s bored and alone! When she saved Yuuko it had been a long time since she even had to transform.

Even if they’ll remain “mortal enemies”, perhaps Yuuko could be someone to make things interesting in Momo’s life for a change. As for Yuuko, she’s resolved to improve her offensive capabilities (leveling up from…Level 0), training beside the river as her sister spots her. As she exclaims every time she’s retreated from a fight she knows she’d lose, Momo hasn’t won yet—not as long as Yuuko still has the will to fight.

Machikado Mazoku is a lot of fun, and is backed up by above-average production values and exquisite attention to detail (Momo wears Crocs! The background characters play very goofy games!). It constantly makes fun of itself with characters’ side commentary, and the jokes-per-minute ratio is quite good. All in all, a solid way to spend twenty minutes of your Thursday afternoon.

Carole & Tuesday – 13 – Army of Two Steps Back

I’m not sure why every episode of Carole & Tuesday needs to begin by reminding us about the “Miraculous Seven Minutes” that haven’t happened yet, as if we forgot. We get it: they’ll set it into motion! It will change Mars forever! Shut up about it, would ya?!

For now, all C&T get for not winning, but also not quite losing, Mars Brightest is a lot of notoriety, not all of it welcome. They muddle through talk shows and interviews, while Angela, owner of a new contract with a 20 million Woolong singing bonus, has already released her first single.

It features such stirring slogans as “breaking chains”, “keep moving”, “taking control”, “today’s a new day”, and “find my heaven,” collections of words no one has ever thought to put together before! New day, same crappy lyrics.

C&T’s new fame is earning them zero Woolongs but plenty of headaches. At a laundromat, Tuesday is surrounded by brusque gents, and is only saved further harassment by the intervention of a fellow clothes-washer who is probably Carole’s long-lost father (or at least, we’re supposed to wonder if that’s who he is).

When Gus and Dahlia cross paths, they’re all smiles and passive aggression, but Angela cuts through the crap: C&T better get their heads out of the clouds and start making hits soon, or else she’s going to leave them in the dust come Mars Grammy time. Heck, she’ll probably leave them in the dust anyway, but like Mars Brightest, she still wants a fair fight.

There’s nothing fair about the contract meeting at Brightest Records, the studio run by Catherine. As Tuesday’s suddenly very Trump-like mom starts talking about deporting illegal immigrants (which makes one ask the uncomfortable, what exactly is Carole’s official immigration status?) Gus rejects Cathy’s offer without consulting the girls, taking money out pockets and food out of their mouths without any guarantee of alternate sources of income.

Daddy Gus has simply decided, unilaterally, that C&T are going to be an indie group, selling their songs online to “boost their commercial value” and make their negotiating position better. And the girls just…allow it. It’s baffling; they’re just not developed enough as a group to be turning down reasonable offers; not when it’s really past time they started, you know, earning money to “live” and “eat”.

And don’t get me started on Gus dragging them to the rougher side of town to play an impromptu concert no one there asked for, all to lure out a “genius producer” who loves swinging a goddamned ax around. But hey, I guess it will all work out. Those Miraculous Seven Minutes are coming, or so they say! I just don’t know if I’m going to make it there…

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 02 – Protein Punch

Hibiki is mortified to learn that even after getting into a routine of training, she’s actually gained weight, but she makes a common fitness rookie mistake: weight is not always a good indicator of health. What percentage of your weight is muscle as opposed to fat is far more useful, and muscle is denser and weighs more than fat.

After some lat pulldowns that work her back (she’s still too green for deadlifting), Hibiki heads to the gym’s fully-equipped protein bar, where a dickie-sporting Machio serves up delicious shakes during the 30-minute “golden time” after a workout. Still, that’s not enough for Hibiki, who wants more protein and so drags a weary Akemi to a steakhouse. Old habits die hard!

That said, Hibiki seems to be making mostly good decisions about her body, including taking a rest day when her body is telling her (through soreness) that she should. But she doesn’t want to just laze around the house either, so she and Akemi head to the pool. Hibiki stares with envy at Akemi’s figure, while Detective Akemi points out all the muscular people’s sports by the muscle groups they’ve defined.

Hibiki starts static stretching before activity, but Akemi stops her, citing a University of Zagreb study that indicates such stretching actually decreases performance, not to mention is bad for joints and tendons that haven’t warmed up. She suggests a series of dynamic stretching exercises instead, not too dissimilar from radio calisthenics. Unfortunately, an overeager Hibiki rips her too-tight swimsuit.

Hibiki spends the next day by visiting her best friend Uehara Ayaka’s house for the first time—the two became friends through mutual love of film, and only ever hung out in theaters up to now. Suddenly, Ayaka’s sister needs her help, and Hibiki learns the Uehara family business: an elite boxing gym!

The sisters’ dad was a champion boxer, and trained his daughters; Ayaka has the abs and muscle memory to show for it, but she still prefers movies. After successfully holding a planking pose for 30 seconds, Ayaka’s sister suggests Hibiki have a go at the heavy bag. Hibiki gingerly approaches it, then delivers a devastating right hook that breaks the bag, shocking everyone assembled. Looks like she had a hidden talent!

Dumbbell remains zanily good fun with some useful advice about weight training mixed in. Hibiki remains an utterly charming protagonist. It even eased off the ecchi fanservice this week. Guilty pleasure or no, the show just works—much like Hibiki’s punch. And then there’s that infinitely catchy OP. Keep it up!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 13 – Beyond Teaserdome

And now, for the show I’ve been looking forward to most this Summer: the continuation of one of the more low-key charming shows about young unspoken love you’ll ever come across. There’s nothing added to the formula, but the two seem to be at about the same place they were last season, a teeny bit little closer than they used to be.

Of course, you’ll never hear Nishikata admit it. He runs all over the school asking to borrow an English textbook, just so that he doesn’t have to suffer the embarrassment of sliding his desk next to Takagi’s so she can share her book with him. That’s what happens, of course, since theirs is the only class who has English that day.

Like an adolescent Wile E. Coyote, Takagi whips up another half-baked scheme involving vertical messages hidden in notes, and while Takagi the Road Runner refuses to take the bait and turns it right back on him, culminating in a note that is full of genuine affection with no hidden message at all…something that only makes Nishikata blush more.

In the next segment (this show does a nice job breaking up its episodes into multiple skits) Takagi offers to be Nishikata’s subject to test a pendulum he made to induce hypnosis, and for a good long time, Takagi makes him believe he was successful, by wearing a glazed-over look and obeying his every command.

When he orders her to pick her nose and she’s about to do it, he blurts out that he changed his mind—believing he was an a real position of power, he proved too kindhearted to let her go through with it. But in the same moment he retreats, Takagi advances, ruthlessly tickling Takagi in his side, the vitality in her eyes fully restored.

After that, a brief entr’acte involving Mina, Sanae, and Yukari, in which Mina watched the same TV show about hypnotism and ended up hypnotised herself. The three discuss their sleep preferences, and Mina reveals that while she may seem lazy at school, she works her ass off at home, watering the garden and making breakfast and lunch for the whole family before school. No wonder her hair’s askew!

Back to Nishikata and Takagi walking home, when the former suggests they hit up the riverbed. Takagi knows full well he intends to instigate a stone-skipping contest, and offers to forfeit immediately. All he has to do is hold her hand. He refuses emphatically, and the contest proceeds.

Takagi make Nishikata choke by claiming she can skip a stone 30 times, so that her modest three-skip stone beats out his zero skips. But when he’s a bit too excited about finding another perfect stone, they bump bums and she starts falling towards the water. In that moment, Nishikata grabs her hand and pulls her away from the river with such force that he ends up throwing himself in the drink.

If Nishikata ever wanted to truly catch Takagi off guard, this was the time. Alas, he refuses to admit they actually held hands, giving her the automatic win. Still, the fact he saved her at the cost of his own personal dryness is still more proof she won’t be losing interest in him anytime soon.

The mundane setting is bright and cheerful. Takahashi Rie and Kaji Yuki demonstrate their ample seiyu chops with their sensitive and nuanced performances. The characters are lovingly drawn, animated, and lit. Takagi-san is back. We are all better for it.

Hensuki – 01 (First Impressions) – A Short Leash

Kiryuu Keiki gets to hang out with three cute girls in the Shodou Club (four if you count his imouto, which he doesn’t), but he wants a girlfriend. So imagine his shock when he finally receives a love letter from a secret admirer…along with a pair of underwear.

From there, Keiki tries to investigate which of the three girls (excluding his sister) could be the “Cinderella” to his Prince: the cool, mature senpai Sayuki (Taketatsu Ayana), the adorable blonde kohai Yuika (Hidaka Rina) or the approachable classmate Mao (Nomizu Iori).

In his interactions, the girls exhibit what could be construed as signals indicating they are the culprit, in addition to having feelings for Keiki beyond mere friendship, but nothing concrete until Sayuki happily accepts a date offer he accidentally makes when thinking out loud.

When he asks Sayuki straight up if “she has a secret” she’s not telling him about, she flees, and spends the entire next day at school very obviously avoiding him. Mao suggests he employ the “wall slam” tactic (much more effective in anime than IRL), which he does when he spots her walking home.

He tells her he knows her secret (assuming its the note and underwear); when she asks if that means he dislikes her now, he tells her it’s quite the opposite; after the initial shock, he was glad. Mind you, he makes no mention of what he’s talking about.

The next day, Keiki reports to the clubroom as requested, Sayuki makes him close his eyes, and when he opens them, she’s wearing a collar and leash,  exposed her bra, and asking to be Keiki’s pet. That’s when Keiki knows he’s in for something a lot stranger than he bargained for!

Hensuki is another show that would probably benefit from being 12-13 minutes instead of double that; the “investigation” drags on too long even if it’s also meant to introduce the main players. While a decent-looking, this show is utterly by-the-numbers and generic except for the twist at the end, which doesn’t definitively answer the question of who gave him their underwear.

This will be the story of a guy whose female acquaintances each have their own unique kinks, which they’ll reveal to him because he’s a kind and understanding dude. It is notable that the show so far exhibits a particularly soft touch when it comes to its ecchi element. But where this goes from here—and whether and how the premise can be sustained for 12 episodes—very much remains to be seen.

Wasteful Days of High School Girls – 01 (First Impressions) – An Interesting Woman (Or So He Says)

Wasteful Days picks up on the first day of high school for three friends who have been together since middle school (and possibly longer). Particularly for the liveliest of them, Tanaka Nozumu (voiced by the always-energetic Akasaki Chinatsu), this is supposed to be the start of their amazing high school lives; the pinnacle of youth. She hoped to become popular with the guys. The only problem is, they attend an all-girl’s school.

The only guy is a teacher who makes it clear he’s only into college girls, and manages to creep out the entire class. From there, Nozumu seeks out advice from her classmates, assigning them nicknames in the process, from from “Serious” (the girl who regularly checks stocks) to “Loli” (self-explanatory). No one is of any help, particularly her two friends, Saginomiya Shiori (a listless Toyosaki Aki) and Kikuchi Akane (Tomatsu Haruka).

The veteran all-star voice talent and the pacing of jokes somewhat make up for the fact that only a few of the jokes land, and I particularly liked the various cutaways and instances of characters reacting by just…walking away. But the full episode length makes it feel like there aren’t quite enough jokes to fill the space—a 12-minute runtime might’ve been a tighter affair. As it is, my mind often wandered.

There is a nice sequence of “possible” (but highly contrived/far-fetched) scenarios in which Nozomu encounters a hot guy, but they’re all in her head, and all are rejected as absurd by her friends, neither of whom have much energy for her antics. That being said, you get the feeling these three stick together anyways, as friends tend to do, due to pure inertia, and in the absence of strong new bonds.

If nothing else, this show captures the ennui and irrelevance of high school life as much as O Maidens captures the drama and angst. The fact it’s early in the Summer season means I don’t have a full plate yet, so this will stay on my list for now. But as tends to be the case, if better shows come along in my wheelhouse, it may signal the End of (Wasteful) Days.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 01 (First Impressions) – Crazy Train

Onodera Kazusa is an almost aggressively normal high school girl. She doesn’t really stand out anywhere, and is part of a literature club whose members include both a budding author, a glasses-wearing prudish type, and a serene senpai who is perfectly comfortable reciting very steamy sex scenes in the book they’re all reading.

Kazusa has a best friend in fellow lit club member Sudou Momoko, and she has a childhood friend in the train-loving Norimoto Izumi. She and Momoko are each other’s main source of verbal and emotional support in these trying adolescent times. She and Izumi were once as close as brother and sister, but have drawn further apart due to his increasing popularity—particularly with other girls.

Kazusa is voiced by relative newcomer Kono Hiyori, who does a splendid job modulating her voice for Kazusa’s vulnerable and frustrated inner monologues. It also helps that she closely resembles Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, a rare Ghibli film grounded in contemporary life and one of my favorite anime works.

It helps because Shizuku never strayed past the “pure and innocent” phase of her romance with Seiji; the film ended (spoilers!) with her suddenly proposing marriage after they bike up the highest points in West Tokyo and watch the sun rise on the city. It’s beautiful, and it marks a major milestone in their trudge toward adulthood…but it’s incomplete.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season (written by the great Okada Mari) is not incomplete. It reveals all of the insecurities and worries and downright dilemmas far beyond simply developing feelings for someone and being frustrated by one’s comparative lack of accomplishment. By the end, we have a nearly complete picture of who Kazusa is (just a kid), what she is gradually becoming mentally and physically (an adult) and how she feels about that (not so great so far!)

When Kazusa’s mom—whom she says many describe as “child-like” even though she’s most definitely not a virgin due to Kazusa’s existence—asks her to take some food to Izumi’s next door, the comfort of their familiarity is evident, but so is a growing awkwardness punctuated when Izumi asks if he should talk to her around other people.

Kazusa’s wishy-washy reply (depends on who and where) doesn’t help matters. Talking about their issues clearly would be optimal, but again…these are kids. She’s aware enough to know she didn’t handle her interaction with Izumi in a satisfying way, leaving so much up in the air and unclear, but she doesn’t yet possess the tools to do so, hence her frustration and very Shizuku-like private mope on Izumi’s front stoop.

Back in lit club, Sugawara Niina, with her confident stride, ever-calm tone, and shorter skirt, all indicate she’s more mature than the other four members. To put it far more harshly, some boys consider her a diamond atop a pile of dung. But when a story with the premise of “doing something before you die” comes up, she blurts out “have sex,” because as mature as she looks and sounds, she’s still a virgin—still in the bubble with the rest of them. Despite all the classy smut they’ve read, it’s still a totally unknown world.

But her stated desire to have sex before death brings that subject too the forefront, like poking at the bubble until it bursts. Now sex is the first thing on the minds of the four other girls, from Rika (glasses) telling some gals to shut up about sex and being verbally abused by some classmates and then complimented by another; to Kazusa overhearing two of the girls who like Izumi talk very openly about wanting to take his virginity.

The more Kazusa hears about Izumi and sex, the more those two seem like something possible and thus terrifying—a far cry from the little boy with which she used to run around, fall over, and wade in the kiddy pool. The boy who’s crazy about trains. With the bubble of obliviousness popped by Niina, Kazusa finds herself on the deep end, her surroundings growing darker and more morose. But she has to kick and swim and breathe, or she’ll drown.

Things already feel like they’re starting to spiral out of all control for Kazusa, who asserts that she doesn’t like this and isn’t ready for it at all, but she has no idea what’s coming down the track to knock her off the rails of innocence for good, where she was once only teetering and threatening to fall. In an absolutely stunning sequence that plays like, well, a train wreck, Kazusa hears music inside Izumi’s, and so enters through the unlocked front door.

She makes her way up the stairs to Izumi’s room, where the door is cracked but not closed, and lets herself in without knocking. Izumi is inside, his pants down and his feet on the desk, masturbating to porn on the internet. The director lets the two just sit there in the moment of horror, completely silent but for the (likely fake) orgasmic screams of the woman on the laptop. Izumi gives a half-hearted “Hey,” then asks if she’ll keep this a secret. Pretty smooth, considering one of every guy’s worst nightmares just came true.

Kazusa…snaps. She bolts out of the house screaming and just…keeps running and screaming (the action animation is superb) through a market district. Naturally, every food sign is a double entendre, lending credence to her lament that there’s just too much god damn sex in the world.

Worse, her pure, innocent Izumi has changed forever. The boy is dead; a man has taken his place. The last time he saw her penis it was tiny and harmless. Now, not so much. As she stops on a bridge over a train track to catch her breath, she tearfully declares out loud that “that won’t fit in there!” Then, in a moment perhaps almost too on the nose but also pretty damn effective, a train passes beneath her, lining right up between her legs, and enters a very tight tunnel. “It fit,” she says, relieved, but she soon collapses back into a heap of adolescent frustration.

O Maidens is a refreshingly bold, sincere, brutally frank depiction of sexual awakening and its maaaany pitfalls. So far the experience is largely horrifying, terrifying, and overwhelming for Kazusa, and it’s sure to continue to be so. But the show balances the drama and comedy, never letting you forget these are human beings with human being minds and parts, all of which are in a state of open rebellion, but all of which are also very complicated.

The stakes for Kazusa and her friends are far higher than looking fit in a bikini for the summer. This is for all the marbles. All we as viewers can do is ball our fists and hope she hangs on for dear life to this train ride that can’t be stopped, until the ride becomes at least little smoother, if not joyful. I’ll be in the cafe car, quietly cheering on these maidens in their savage season.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 01 (First Impressions) – Feel the Burn

Sakura Hibiki eats too much of the wrong food and doesn’t exercise enough. That’s what brings us to her initial motivations: to slim down so she can snag a hot guy. Of course, this is not a finger-snapping affair, but a brutal, exhausting odyssey that will challenge every aspect of who Hibiki thinks she is and of what she’s capable.

Of course, Hibiki doesn’t have the willpower to undertake such a quest alone, which is why it’s surreptitious that another girl at her school, the rich, beautiful, and 16% body fat class president Souryuuin Akemi joins the newly-built Silverman Gym the same day she does. She soon learns that not only is Akemi a health and fitness fanatic, but cultivates a strong muscle fetish.

Thus we have our comedic duo for this edu-taining aspirational slice-of-life: Akemi as the wilder comic, Hibiki as the straight man who reacts similarly to how most of us would in the midst of all the intense musclery on display. Their coach at the gym is Machio Naruzou, who is always wearing a bright smile and whose Prince Charming good looks immediately persuade Hibiki to join despite seeming way out of her element.

But that’s the thing about trying any new thing: you can easily come to feel like you have so much to learn and catch up on that you put far too much pressure on yourself from the start, rather than trusting in a healthie, more incremental process. You’re so afraid of failure, and success feels impossible. In something like weight training, the body will follow the mind’s lead and you’ll get nowhere.

Where How Heavy excels is on how carefully and gradually Machio eases Hibiki into the basics of lifting weights, all while maintaining a supportive demeanor that never comes off as patronizing. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but Machio makes it easy.

Heavy is also fully aware that some of the explanations of the routines look and sound pretty…erotic, but hey, we’re dealing with sculpting the human body here, and the production values are more than up to the task, so the ecchi element is not just unforced, it’s executed splendidly. You’re not mean to leer at the bodies on display, you’re supposed to regard them with awe.

That’s exactly what happens when training wraps for the day, and when Machio says the word “besides” he suddenly becomes compelled to bust out of his tracksuit and strike a classic “side chest” pose, presenting his Arnold Schwarzenegger Mister Universe physique. Hibiki fell in love with his face, but is somewhat put off by the excessive muscles, while Akemi, she of the fetish, almost has a crisis.

After her first real workout probably ever, Hibiki feels ruined, and can barely stand in class the next day. As she and Akemi walk home and she continues to voice her reservations about continuing at Silverman Gym, Akemi tells her how happy she is to be able to train with a friend from school. That convinces Hibiki to stick with it. After all, this is already more about getting a hotter bod, or gaining joy and confidence in one’s increased strength and stamina…it’s about making a lovely new friend. Akemi certainly challenges her preconceptions about her “rich girl” status.

The next day, his “secret” revealed, Machio doesn’t bother hiding his tank of a body, and gets right into introducing Hibiki to squats, which are much tougher than the bench presses Hibiki thought were already plenty tough.

Hibiki is such a relatable protagonist because she approaches things realistically within her established modus operandi: try a bit, and quickly give up. As we all would if we were in her shoes! But with multiple motivating vectors including not wanting to let Akemi or Machio down, and yes, wanting to look hotter for the beach, she perseveres and blows past those old boundaries. That’s what the slogan “becoming a new you” is all about.

While walking home after another grueling workout, Akemi notices Akemi snacking and asks her how many times she eats a day. When Hibiki honestly replies “around six or seven, sometimes more,” she fully expects a stern scolding, like she normally gets from her best friend Ayaka. But instead, Akemi is duly impressed that Hibiki has been blessed with such a powerful appetite. After all, building muscle requires fuel.

Where the critical Ayaka sees the expanding Hibiki as a bomb ready to go off, Akemi sees great potential, not a threat—a diamond to be cut and polished from rough stone. While Ayaka’s concerns are legitimate and her heart’s in the right place, the tone is wrong. If Hibiki is going to make progress, she’s going to need positive voices, including her own. I look forward to her and Akemi’s iron-pumping journey!

One Punch Man 2 – 12 (Fin) – A Blow from the Weak

Bang, and then Bomb, and then Bang and Bomb start whaling on an already diminished Garo, and Genos is reasonably confident the old dudes have this in the bag. But he underestimates Garo’s almost bottomless stores of resentment and disdain for the heroes of the world.

As a kid, he was always made out to be the monster while so-called “heroes” beat him up, just because he was weak and unpopular. The monster never got to won. This fuels a fourth or fifth wind for Garo, but the battle is interrupted when he is airlifted out by a big talking bird monster.

I have to say, I’m as pissed off as Garo, Bang, and Genos about this twist. This was supposed to be the Hero Hunter’s final battle; this episode should have brought some kind of closure to his story (and this season), even if it ended with him meeting Saitama’s fist. But that expected period became an ellipsis. Clearly OPM has other plans for our bloody-eyed friend.

As Garo exits the stage prematurely, Centichoro appears in all his very big, evil-looking CGI glory. As skilled as Bang and Bomb are, their gifts just aren’t that effective against an enemy so freakin’ huge, while Genos is similarly hamstrung by a firepower limit that can barely scratch Cent’s carapace. Even Bang and Bomb’s final one-time combo attack only works temporarily; the centipede simply shrugs it off molts.

Genos offers to stay behind, but the old-timers don’t think that’s right. Young’ins need to live on; Genos’ own scientist mentor said as much. But Genos ignores the advice of his elders, because he doesn’t think it’s right to let the old protect him while he sits back and watches.

So he blasts off and starts going at Centichoro, pushing him away from the civilian centers, blasting through one of his teeth, entering his digestive tract, and incinerating him from the inside out. As he’s spat out of the boss’s mouth, all his clothes burned off, it looks like his reckless abandon did the trick…but it just wasn’t enough.

That’s when Bang, Bomb, and Genos finally run into a little luck, as “S-Class” King starts egging on Centichoro with a megaphone, telling him he’s brought his rival, “Blast”. Of course, he’s only serving as bait for Saitama, who arrives just in time to save King from being squashed like a bug.

Saitama steps between King and Centichoro, rushing at him at full speed, and delivers his One Punch special, totally eradicating the monster, just as we all knew he would. It doesn’t matter how much other heroes struggle in vain to defeat a boss; Saitama will always make it happen.

That’s why it seems like a bit of a letdown he wasn’t able to deliver a punch to Orochi, chopping off the head of Monsters, Inc. so the body will die (or alternatively, punching all of the monsters into oblivion, Orochi included). Instead, Genos is yet again inspired by his master’s excellence, and Garo is probably off to be transformed into an actual monster. Those twelve episodes just flew by!

BokuBen – 13 (Fin) – The Lights in the Sky are Stars

This is it—The episode we’ve all been waiting for: when Nariyuki finally chooses which of the girls he’s going to go out with! Pfft, sure. If only it were that simple! Every girl has good qualities—though as discussed ad nauseum last week, some people have a particular preference, depending on their own type—but however Nariyuki feels about them, he’s either unaware of their feelings for him (in the case of Fumino and Rizu) or has been misled or messed with so much he doesn’t know what to think (Uruka, Kirisu, Asumi).

While she’s serving as a kind of “substitute Nariyuki” at an all-girls pajama study session at Rizu’s, Sekijo Sawako impresses upon them how lucky they are to have such a dedicated tutor, though she’s not sure if it’s because he’s a pushover or simply gets “caught up in stuff so easily”—the answer is somewhere in the middle. Alas, that’s the last we see of Sawako, one of BokuBen’s more intriguing but underutilized supporting players.

Later, Nariyuki intends to help his mom with his littlest brother and sister at the summer festival, but when his fam sees his two cute friends in yukata, they quickly ditch him, and Fumino soon follows, leaving Nariyuki with Uruka, which came as a bit of a surprise considering they arrived at a pretty good stopping point last week.

Aside from her showing him her tongue (stained pink from shaved ice) and offering some to him (for an indirect kiss), there’s no further romantic awkwardness between them, as they chip in to help an overworked Rizu and her dad at their udon stand.

Kirisu ends up attending the festival in disguise to keep an eye on students, but when Nariyuki makes her, she runs away, trips, and injures her knee. He has to give her a second piggyback ride (only this time she’s not sauced) to the first aid tent, which of course is being tended by Asumi and her dad.

Asumi leaves Kirisu’s skinned knee to Nariyuki, but he ends up helping out the rest of the night, showing that Sawako is indeed correct about him being a bit of a pushover and easily caught up in things. But hey, if he enjoys helping everyone out, so what if he’s not the one instigating these scenarios?

Fumino, who split off to let Nariyuki and Uruka be alone, ends up losing track of time gazing at the stars, and on her way to the last train, she has to corral a little lost girl and get her back to her mom. Nariyuki also loses track of time at the first aid tent, and ends up finding the little lost girl’s twin sister.

With the twins back with their mom, Fumino and Nariyuki end up missing that last train, and encounter one other at the station. With no taxis (or indeed any cars) around and only an inn to turn to, the do-gooders have to consider an action that, if taken out of context of their situation, could be seen as very bad.

That action, of course, is spending the night together at a ryokan, which only has one room left, and that room has only one futon, and because it’s a chilly night they have to share it. These two have clearly never heard of sleeping head-to-foot to avoid awkwardness, but that’s rarely a comfortable way to sleep anyway.

For the first time, Nariyuki and Fumino find themselves sleeping in a bed with a member of the opposite sex, and it’s tough. Thankfully, it’s a gorgeous, clear, starry night, so they manage to find a topic that sets them both at ease; the very subject Fumino intends to pursue: astronomy.

Fumino tells Nariyuki about a book she first read when her mother was on her death bed, about an old astronaut continuing to chase his dream and conquering his weakness—something she, Rizu, Uruka, and Asumi are all doing. Nariyuki points out how cool he thinks they are for doing so, and expresses envy for not having any particular personal goal of his own.

Fumino tells him she doesn’t consider herself particularly special for having a dream, and it’s clear she doesn’t think he should discount his desire to help make his family more comfortable and prosperous. But if he ever comes up with another dream, she promises to help him, as his “big sis” (they checked in to the room as siblings).

Fumino ends up falling asleep while grasping Nariyuki’s hand, and he doesn’t have the heart to wake her up. Turns out she’s dreaming of that day she read that book with her mom, and when she wakes up, her hand and his are still intertwined. While initially surprised and bashful, she doesn’t see any need to break their embrace, and so curls up a little closer to him.

The night after on the train, the two are mortified by the choice they made last night, but as they part ways, Fumino, back to calling him by his family name Yuiga, smiles and tells him simply that she’ll see him later. And indeed we shall, as a second season of BokuBen is coming this Fall, where I’m sure we’ll be presented with more adventures both wackily comedic and poignantly warm between Nariyuki and the girls he tutors.

I can’t see why I wouldn’t be around to keep watching them. After all, it seems when it comes to this kind of show…I never learn.

Carole & Tuesday – 12 – Setting the Stage to Stardom

As a dejected Carole tells Gus and Roddy what just happened, Tuesday is briefly scolded by her mother upon returning to her mansion. Her mom couldn’t give to shits about her beyond how her actions reflect on her, and she basically says as much before locking her daughter in her room for a week.

You’d think for a politician worried about the scandal of a runaway daughter, subjecting that daughter to solitary confinement might not be the best look! Anyway, what follows is an effective montage of the two girls suddenly ripped apart becoming more and more morose. They are both The Loneliest Girl all over again.

Gus, who had a similar falling-out with a loved one that in hindsight he believes he could have salvaged, offers some sage advice to Carole about not letting things fester too long without making amends. Carole, eating her feelings in the form of a double Whopper, is way ahead of him: She needs Tues, and she thinks Tues needs her. Gus agrees, which means it’s time to plan the rescue mission—which, yes, may technically involve kidnapping!

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s only non-robot visitor is Spencer, who is as supportive as Gus about getting the duo back together, and letting his sister pursue her dreams. He reveals to her he saw her in the club, and while he admits he never thought his sis was capable of running away to the big city or getting into music, he can relate (having once pursued music but gave up, likely under pressure from mom).

I like Spencer. He’s a good brother! He didn’t give in to their domineering mother when it mattered most. Mom’s too self-involved and distracted by politics and toy boys to realize her hold on him is not as strong as she thinks. And while he couldn’t make it, he can tell she’s got what it takes, and so will do everything to free her from her gilded prison.

That night—the night before the finals, as Carole, Gus, Roddy take the train to Tuesday’s district—Angela is at the Artience Lab with Tao, asking him why the AI lyrics seem to be almost reading her mind. His answer is that, well, the lab itself has been reading her mind all along, as well as her body. It’s been listening and watching and writing, and perhaps even drawn out words from her subconscious she’d never be able to draw out alone.

In this regard, Angela is not a solo act, despite appearing alone on stage. Tao is her collaborator, since he’s the one who developed the AI. After getting into singing to please Dahlia, she can’t sing the final song to her Mama, so she asks Tao to indulge her and look at her and only her throughout the performance.

Tao agrees, but only this once. Like Carole and Tuesday, there’s nothing overtly or explicitly romantic in play here, but it’s also not like there’s nothing there.

The next morning, the rescue attempt, in which Spencer aids Carole, Gus and Roddy without even knowing it by unlocing her door and holding back a security robot so she can run away in her very inappropriate-for-running fancy shoes. They also catch a bit of luck when a driver in a car that’s faster than the cops recognizes them and offers them a ride to the station.

Gus and Roddy are arrested, but the mission is complete: Carole & Tuesday are on their way to their destiny. On the train, Carole apologizes to Tues for the things she said, and the two make it clear to each other that they want nothing more than to by each other’s side. Carole also finally manages to give Tues her birthday gift: a shiny acoustic guitar pin.

When the two return to Alba City, the grandeur of the first episode in which Tuesday arrives for the first time returns, only now she’s not alone and unknown, but running hand-in-hand with her new bestie as the throngs of people recognize and cheer them on. The only problem is, they’re very late; the season finale of Mars Brightest has already started, and as promised, Tao is in the back of the hall, his gaze locked on Angela.

Angie takes that gaze and runs with it, turning in another lovely performance. The vocals are good, but as usual I’m just not that impressed with the lyrics. She sings two identical verses without any change, which makes me wonder, are they that deep and sophisticated as to make Angela believe the AI was reading her mind? I don’t know, but as usual I have to grade on a curve and for this show, it’s a damn good song, well performed.

The judges agree, and are ready to crown Angela a winner until the sudden belated appearance of Carole & Tuesday. Catherine whips out the rulebook and states that any performers not present at the start of the show will be disqualified. Despite this, Carole, Tuesday, Benito, the crowd, and even Angela all compel her to allow them to perform anyway.

Since they had no time to write or practice a new song, they go with their very first song, Loneliest Girl, the song that marked the beginning of their friendship, the end of their loneliness, made them a viral sensation (thanks to Roddy) and put them on the road to musical greatness.

While we’ve heard the song a few times throughout the series, it’s never been performed so powerfully as this time, and with both this and Angela’s finals performance, Mars Brightest finally sounds and feels like a genuine reality TV competition, breaking through the walls of mere imitation.

That’s carried forward with the deliberation of the judges afterwards. Even DJ Ertegun is moved to tears! Catherine initially holds her “rules are rules” ground, but allows an exception that satisfies everyone from the crowd, to Angela (who wanted a fair-and-square fight) to Gus and Roddy (still stuck in jail): Angela is the official winner, but both acts will be permitted to make their pro debuts.

They earned it, and Angela is cordial in congratulating them. She, Carole and Tuesday have come a long way, and many challenges remain. Will their continued chilly rivalry curdle into outright hostility? Will Cybelle break out of prison and finish what she started? Will Tues’ mom take harsher measures, despite the blowback from the duo’s growing legion of fans? We’ll find out in the second half of the series. I’ll be on board!