Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 01 (First Impressions) – Fine the Way They Are

When I visited Tokyo, I’d always naturally wake up very early in the morning, when the only people up were crows and convenience store clerks. One of those clerks could have been a guy like Uozumi Rikuo, who feeds the crows rejected bentos on his break. He’s approached by a cute young lady named Haru (Miyamoto Yume) who has a pet crow named Kansuke and a pointed interest in him, though he internally dismisses her as eccentric.

Rikuo just isn’t sure what to do with the energy Haru provides in that brief moment in the early morn, because he’s been in low-energy mode since graduating from university. He never engaged in any serious job hunting, and seems resigned, if not content, with a modest existence in a modest apartment with a modest part-time job. His former classmate Fukuda informs him of their upcoming six-month reunion, and also that Morinome Shinako (Hanazawa Kana), with whom Rikuo was good friends, is back in town teaching high school.

Rikuo skips the reunion, but Shinako comes to him at the konbini, and she waits at nearby a family restaurant until after his shift. There, the two pleasantly catch up, and visit their old stomping grounds. Rikuo admits he’s become what most in the world would call a failure, due to not living up to his potential and education. Shinako doesn’t judge, deeming him more “someone who needs taking care of” rather than “working his ass off in a suit”.

Shinako pops by more so the two can walk and talk after work. Rikuo’s co-worker assumes he’s some kind of smooth operator to have the attention of such a “mystery beauty”, on top of the quirky-cute Haru—who definitely gives off a mild MPDG vibe. One night the two women cross paths, and Rikuo learns Haru was once in Shinako’s class, but dropped out after being suspended for working at a bar.

While chatting in the park Haru makes it clear she comes to the store to see him, and that they met before. When he can’t recall, she tells him it was a momentary exchange five years ago. She’s harbored a crush on him ever since, but considers all relationships “illusions” anyway.


After getting a frank but salient lecture from an amateur punk rocker co-worker (of all people!) about being so self-deprecating and keeping the stakes of his life so low as to avoid getting hurt. Rikuo knows that while he can’t lose anything going through life like that, he can’t gain anything either. So he decides to breaks that pattern of behavior (for once) by meeting Shinako outside her house and confessing his feelings…and promptly gets shot down. Shinako just wants to be friends.

Rikuo urges himself to buck up—after all, he just did something he should have done before graduation—but still crashes his bike, and has himself a little weep in the pile of garbage bags that broke his cushioned his fall. The next day he reports having “closed the book on an illusion”, lamenting that while he attempted a “personal transformation”, it didn’t get him anywhere.

Haru can relate. As she talks about how she lives her life he realizes they’re alike; self-professed “social outcasts” who tell lies to escape hurt. In meeting Rikuo, Haru suddenly wanted to be liked, though now that she’s aware of his feelings for Shinako perhaps that’s no longer a viable escape. Even so, Rikuo snaps a photo of her for his co-worker’s album cover, and Haru beams at the camera.

Yesterday wo Utatte’s a wonderful realistic portrait of grown-ups looking at what they should do and not. Its detailed, lived-in atmosphere draws you in and envelops you. It can be melancholy and brooding at times—okay, most of the time—but that’s balanced by moments of brightness and warmth like that smile that closes out the episode. Haru calls it “basic” but it wasn’t 100% insincere.

After years of losing nothing, Rikuo and Haru have gained something valuable: a new friendship and understanding. Will they be able to give each other the courage to move forward, or at least pick a direction and go, or just hurt each other more than they already are? I’m eager to see how this shakes out.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 01 (First Impressions) – She’s Got Something to Say

Wave, Listen to Me! is a lot of fun. That is to say, it’s fun, and it’s also…a lot. The opening minutes is a surreal scenario in which late-night radio talk show host Koda Minare finds herself in the woods, face-to-face with a big brown bear. She tackles fluffy write-in comments from listeners that are well beneath the urgency of her present life-threatening situation.

But it’s all an illusion; we’re seeing what a radio listener would imagine, and we see it vividly because Minare is such a good audio performer. Her producers and assistants are along for the ride as she starts riffing off-script, drawing from her own extensive emotional baggage. It’s not just what you say on the radio waves that matters, but how you say it.

You can see why a radio programming director like Katou Kanetsugu would switch on his phone’s voice recorder upon encountering Koda Minare in the midst of the fifth—and worst—day of Getting Over a Tragedy; in this case her boyfriend breaking up with her. Minare is just her own unvarnished self, but Katou can sense the innate talent within her, and can’t let it go to waste.

Minare goes home, blacks out (though not before perfectly arranging her shoes in the genkan) wakes up, puts herself back together, and has a good therapeutic cry watching Ghost Ship (though her friend recommended Ghost). Then, while working at the soup curry restaurant Voyager, she suddenly hears herself drunkenly ranting on the radio during a “lonely hearts” show called September Blue Moon.

Minare drops what she’s doing (risking firing by her uptight boss), hops into her adorable little Daihatsu Mira Gino, races to the station, marches into the studio, and demands that they shut off her ranting immediately. Matou tells her three seconds of radio silence is a gaffe, and eight gets him canned, so if she wants it shut off, she’ll have to provide new material.

Surely knocked off balance, both by her recent relationship woes ( and associated bender) and the fact there’s always going to be something dreamlike, surreal, and disorienting about hearing yourself on the radio, to say nothing of being thrust into the recording booth, having a mic shoved in your face, and being asked to start talking when you get the signal.

When that signal comes in the form of a tap on the back, Minare comes out of the gate blazing, backtracking on her drunken stereotyping and hoping for the opportunity to judge a future partner by his unique individuality and not toss in a box based on his region of origin.

She closes by vowing to kill her ex Mitsuo even if she has to chase him to the end of the earth. Matou’s gamble pays off: Minare has “it”. She was born for this. It’s cathartic and thrilling to behold…and reminded me of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel of all things!

What’s so satisfying about Matou finding her and giving her the opportunity to talk on the radio is how much it fits her personality. While she has her own private life (and inner monologue that only we hear), whenever she’s around others she’s going to talk, talk and talk some more, especially when she’s on the sauce. It’s high time she made money doing this, right?!

This all works thanks to crackling, realistic dialogue and a brash, bravura performance by Sugiyama Riho, whose robust, confrontational, delinquent-ish voice reminds me of prime Sawashiro Miyuki and Shiraishi Ryouko. It will be interesting to see what other scenarios like the bear attack the producers come up with, as well as to see if and how Minare balances restaurant work, broadcasting, and finding a new partner…or just finding her ex and killing him!

Kakushigoto – 01 (First Impressions) – Den of the Fancypeeps

Hime’s father Gotou Kakushi has a secret (kakushigoto): he draws for a living (kaku shigoto). That right there is triple wordplay! But that’s to be expected of Kumeta Kouji, original creator of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Gotou is voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi, one of the most famous and recognizable male seiyuu of his generation.

Hime is voiced by Takahashi Rie, an immensely talented young voice whose career continues to soar. The show’s music is composed by Hashimoto Yukari, responsible for scoring many RABUJOI all-time favorite series. This is an anime Dream Team. So I immediately expected great things … and Kakushigoto mostly delivered.

While the prologue takes place as an 18-year-old Hime is finally given the key to her father’s secret repository of dirty joke manga manuscripts, the rest of the episode (and likely show) takes place years later, when Hime is in grade school. While I didn’t spot a shrine in their house, it’s implied she passed away, leaving Kakushi to juggle his secret job with Hime’s upbringing—two elements he keeps as separate as oil and water.

Fearing that learning his profession will make her think less of him and might even warp her, Kakushi makes every effort to keep Hime from learning about his job. But everyday circumstances—like a new editor wearing a t-shirt bearing his art coming to his house—make his efforts more difficult.

Adding to the complication of child-rearing in general, Kakushi is not the only person Hime sees and hears things from. Through her friends at school she’s exposed to ideas about having a good job and the importance of…well, being important. You could say Kakushi has a good job—he loves doing it and is good at it—but he’s no “CEO”, a term Hime doesn’t learn from him!

What’s great about Hime is that she is, at the end of the day, a good girl, but not a overly gullible one. She hangs the wish for her father to “be important someday” because she thinks it will make him happy, not because’s she’s disappointed. In this regard, Kakushi is a very lucky man; he could easily have a daughter who’s nosier, or more critical.

That said, Hime does inevitably get caught up in a “Girl’s Detective Agency” mission with her friends when one of them wants to track down the man who saved a cat from a stream (with his buoyant seat pad, no less).

In another instance of clever wordplay, Kakushi warned Hime of a monster named “Oshapi.” The other girls interpret this as “Fancypeeps”, or “fashionable people.” Their teacher confirms the existence of such people who occupy bookstores that don’t sell manga (she’s a fan of Kakuchi’s) and order drinks that sound like “spell names”.

When the girls manage to locate the “hero” (i.e. Kakuchi) they follow him into that “lair” of books and spell-drinks that’s really just an ordinary Starbucks. The other girls let their imaginations run away with them, but Hime remains levelheaded through it all. Though fortunately for Kakuchi, he doesn’t spot him, so his secret as both cat hero and mangaka is safe for now.

In addition to being full of clever language jokes, Kakushigoto is a solid story of a single parent keeping their child safe and happy, and that child weathering external stimuli with that emotional and philosophical happiness intact. In other words, she’s going to be alright, and she’d still love her dad, even if his secret is exposed.

As Hime continues to grow and learn more from sources other than Kakushi, he’ll have to adjust to the fact that his secret will be less and less of a big deal (also it’s not as if he’s an eroge artist). Between Kakuchi’s assistants and other acquaintances and Hime’s teacher and friends, a lot of peripheral players are introduced this week.

Still, the core duo of Kakuchi and Hime shine through as the rightful dual anchors of the show. Their respective social circles should provide quite a bit of variety; this episode featured 2 1/2 to 3 distinct stories in one. The competent direction lacks the flair of an Akiyuki Shinbo, but the writing and performances more than make up for it. I very much like what I’m seeing so far, and looking forward to more!

 

Isekai Quartet 2 – 12 (Fin) – Breaking a (Giant Metal Spider) Leg

IQ’s second (but by no means the last) season wraps up with two parallel performances: first, that of the school play Cinderella, to which Rem contributes a…shall we say unique version of Cinderella, who exploits the masochism of one of her stepsisters, derides the homebrew pumpkin carriage as “pathetic” (probably because Subaru is part of it), can’t help but ruefully laugh during her glow-up, and kisses her sister.

As that farce unfolds, the “Battle of Maidens” plays out in the schoolyard, with the all-female defense force all contributing their unique talents to keep Destroyer from ruining the play (and likely the school buildings as well). Raphtalia and Filo only need to hear the first few words of Reinhard van Astrea’s motivational speech (which he also gave during the giant whale battle in Re:Zero) to join in.

Aqua actually ends up scoring the coup-de-grace with a God Blow, echoing a similar battle in KonoSuba. As the episode flips from the battle to the play, it employs clever transitions that tie the two performances together. With a strong finale, Isekai Quartet remains a fun lightweight, pocket-size diversion. I honestly wouldn’t mind if they kept it up indefinitely, continually adding characters from popular isekai anime.

KonoSuba Movie: Legend of Crimson – Megumin’s Homecoming

First of all, it’s been some time since I’ve seen Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness in their original non-chibified form, so it’s a rare pleasure to see them in their regular proportions and setting. KonoSuba’s twenty episodes proved you can make an often over-the-top isekai comedy with genuine heart.

If you liked the TV show, you’ll love the movie (as I did), which delivers more of everything. Though it contains roughly a half-cour’s worth of story, the ninety minutes just breeze by. Officially a sequel to KonoSuba 2, we return to Kazuma’s party’s mansion, where notoriously involuntary loner Yunyun has an unusual request: she wants—nay, must—make a baby with Kazuma. She comes to this belief upon receiving a letter from her father, Chief of the Crimson Demon Village.

While that letter turns out to be a work of fiction written by one of her academy classmates, Yunyun is nevertheless compelled to return to her hometown to help fight the forces of the Demon King. Megumin and the others decide to follow her, and rely on Iz to teleport them there.

Unfortunately, they end up far from the village, and in the midst of a stampede of rabidly horny she-orcs (there are no more male orcs) after Kazuma. After Yunyun’s request, this marks the second instance of Kazuma being entangled in romance (for good or ill) which he comes to call his “popular phase.”

What better way to learn more about Megumin than to visit her home? Turns out she’s hardly an anomoly, the town is nothing but overly-dramatic chuuni dressed in cool outfits with an emphasis on reds and blacks. The orcs are scattered by their overwhelming offensive magical power, a quality Megumin also shares with her clan.

Megumin’s parents are each eccentric in their own ways, while her little sister Komekko is adorable as all-get-out. Her family is poor, so the moment her parents smell money on Kazuma (he’s in the process of a 300m-Eris deal with Vanir to sell his memoirs), Kazuma finds himself at the mercy of a mother who wants to pair him with Megumin with all due haste.

To this end, she locks Kazuma and Megumin (sleeping due to a recent Explosion) in a room together. She comes to when he’s about to kiss her after much hand-wringing about how to proceed, and she escapes through the window to spend the night at Yunyun’s, fearing further lecherous advances.

The next day, Megumin shows her friends around the village, including to her and Yunyun’s (very Hogwarts-y) magical academy. We learn that when goblins attacked Komekko, Yunyun sacrificed her amassed skill points to repel the enemy. Because Megumin hesitated, that meant she was able to preserve her points and attain Explosion magic she cultivates to this day.

Megumin finds herself locked in her room with Kazuma again, this time by ice. Kazuma assures her that he won’t do anything, and offers his apologies as well as thanks for all the things she and the others have gone through with and for him.

It’s a very nice heartfelt scene, and Megumin even ends up clinging to Kazuma under the covers, commenting on how he’s really a “wimp” when it comes to making a move. Unfortunately, their tender moment is interrupted by the return of Sylvia, the voluptuous Demon King who leads the attack on the village.

Kazuma managed to scare her and her goblin army off with bluster earlier, but when she learns he’s not really Mitsurugi of the Cursed Sword, she takes him hostage…and Kazuma lets it happen. First, because it’s more proof of his Popular Phase; second, because it’s comfy between Sylvia’s boobs; and third, he has an ax to grind with his comrades regarding his treatment.

Kazuma accompanies Sylvia to the Crimson Demon Village’s underground storage facility, and inadvertently unlocks the chamber where Mage Killer, the one weapon he can’t let a demon king get ahold of, is stored. While he doesn’t intend to make things worse for the village, Kazuma’s so out of it he doesn’t realize punching in the classic cheat code on the Nintendo-style control pad would unlock the weapon.

He manages to lock Sylvia in the chamber, but once she has the Mage Killer and absorbs it into her artificial body, she blows the entire facility to kingdom come, then heads to the village to start blowing it up. Megumin leads Kazuma & Co. to more underground caverns, where they find Japanese carvings that explain the origin of the Crimson Demons, and why they’re so “pretentious yet nerdy”

Turns out their culture was basically created by another Japanese man sent there by the goddesses. He also built the Mage Killer, but also created a countermeasure for it: something he tentatively called “Railgun” that Kazuma previously noticed being used as a backyard clothesline in the village.

When Crimson Demons march out to defend their town, Sylvia engulfs them in an “Ancient Dispel” field that nullifies all of their magical power. They’re “saved” by a suddenly cool and confident Yunyun, finally taking up the mantle of her father the chief and luring Sylvia away.

Turns out she’s acting as a lure to bring Sylvia in firing range of the Railgun. Aqua fills it with magial energy, but it still fails to fire. That’s when Megumin unleashes an Explosion meant to his Sylvia directly, but is instead shunted into the rifle, which her little sister Komekko then fires.

Sylvia is killed, and ends up in the same place as fellow defeated Demon Kings Verdia and Hans. She merges with them an is resurrected into a huge, bizarre four-legged beast. Turns out her old comrades Wiz and Vanir have arrived in the village on an unrelated errand, and join in the fight, but even they are barely able to keep Sylvia at bay.

That’s when Kazuma decides to use his Popular Phase for good; by appealing to Sylvia’s innate need to be loved and wanted by somebody other than her adoring hordes of goblins. Kazuma, his luck boosted by Aqua’s blessings, is that person, and stands before her unarmed and ready to be taken into her arms…or tentacles…or whatever.

I never thought I’d empathize with a Konosuba villain so much, but Sylvia turns out to be one of the most dynamic and sympathetic of Demon Kings KonoSuba has served up. Her feelings, and specifically her romantic longing, isn’t entirely played for jokes, but portrayed as a very human side of her that turns out to be the Achilles Heel Kazuma must betray her heart to exploit.

He succeeds in gaining her trust and becomes one with her as Wiz gathers the magical energy from all of the villagers and transfers it to Megumin and Yunyun, who combine their powers to unleash a gargantuan Explosion beam that, combined with Kazuma breaking her heart, destroys Sylvia and ends the threat to the village for good.

Back home in Axel, Kazuma receives a hero’s welcome, proving his Popular Phase still has a bit left in the tank. While having a picnic with Aqua and Darkness, Megumin asks Kazuma to allow her to learn advanced magic, setting aside her Explosion magic so she can be of greater use to the party.

Kazuma may have long railed against her utter lack of versatility and durability in battle, but spending so much time in close quarters with her and meeting both her family and the villagers who shaped her, Kazuma suddenly isn’t so quick to deprive her of her “Explosiveness”. Whatever he does to her skill card, she’s still able to cast a beautiful Explosion that creates a heart-shaped cloud. And for that, Megumin is happy.

Did Aqua and Darkness get the short end of the stick in this movie? Perhaps, but that meant a lot of great development for Megumin, Kazuma, and their unique bond. They may get on each others nerves at times, but at the end of the day they’ll always be there for each other: Megumin blowing up something that needs blowing up, and Kazuma carrying her home on his back.

It’s quite simply KonoSuba at its absolute best, firing on all cylinders with confidence, comedy, and chemistry. My main gripe with this movie is that it makes me long that much more for KonoSuba 3!

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 12 (Fin) – No Daughter of Triton

The finale of Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun begins with a rare look at Nene’s house, where her exposed legs…look like they’re of normal thickness?!? We’re brought up to speed through her narration: Kou told her and Hanako about his connection to Mitsuba, leading Hanako to worry about Kou and trying to determine a way to cheer him up.

Her preoccupation with Kou makes Hanako jealous, and he visits her when she’s in the middle of class before skulking off, leading Aoi (who can’t see or hear apparitions) to wonder who Hanako was talking to. I was a little surprised Nene hadn’t dealt with this kind of situation to this point!

But just as she’s worried about Kou and frustrated by Hanako’s lack of openness and tendency to tease, she’s courted by Puffy the pufferfish of the Fish Kingdom for the title of Mermaid Princess. She’s already eaten the mermaid’s scale; all she needs is to drink some of her blood and boom, she’s a princess.

While she likes the sound of having a harem of hot guys and being at the top of the popularity pyramid in said Fish Kingdom, Nene is not okay with breaking her contract with Hanako, and she becomes far less enthusiastic about the princess offer when she learns all of those hot guys are just hot fish, and henceforth she’d be a fish too.

Puffy drops the kindly act and goes for the low-hanging fruit in criticizing Nene’s judgment with men and her fat legs, assuring her neither would be a problem once she comes into her fishy throne. Then the Mermaid grabs and pulls her under water to further force the issue.

The blood is mere millimeters from Nene’s lips when Hanako pulls her out and restores her human form, scaring the fish off by threatening to turn them into sashimi with his knife and declaring his cleaning assistant officially off the market.

When Nene was asking Tsuchigomori-sensei for advice about what to do, Hanako was listening from behind a curtain, and he apparently got the message, because he finally does let Nene in a bit by telling her about the little brother he killed, following that up with the question of whether she really wants to learn more.

Again, the answer should be obvious: she almost became an apparition, sacrificing her very humanity, in order to try to understand him more, when him simply talking to her would have done the same job! Nene may not be in love with Hanako, but she finds herself unavoidably charmed by and drawn to him.

Nene won’t accept anyone else’s ideas about who or what he is. Sure, a lot of the problems she’s had that required him to save her were of his making, but the fact remains, he saved her! And so, she’ll keep visiting him in the girls’ bathroom, and helping him keep the balance among the School Wonders. It’s a heckuva lot better than being pursued by presumably hot fish suitors!

Chihayafuru 3 – 24 (Fin) – Gathering the Wind

Goddammit! This is a dark fucking period!—Dewey Cox

In the wake of Taichi’s sudden departure, the Mizusawa Karuta Club is still able to recruit four new members—two girls including one who is Class A, and two boys—and rather than quit like everyone expected, Sumire takes the lead on showing the newbies the ropes.

She has to, because Chihaya is too out of it. The cards “turn black” for her as well. Fukasaku advises that she “learn something”—anything—because karuta and the hundred poets can’t be all that holds her together.

As Mizusawa’s club loses its founding members, Arata remains determined to start one at Fujioka East. For that, he needs at least two new members, so he goes class to class in his black yukata, starting with the first-years and working his way up.

When he tells Yuu how he saw her as part of his team when they were caring for his grandpa before he passed, she decides to volunteer to join if he’s a member short—but he gains one more than he needs.

Wanting them to see one of the best at what they’re setting out to do, Arata arranges practice matches at the prestigious Fujisaki High, but Sakurazawa is the one to break to him the news that as he’s starting a new club, Chihaya and Taichi have quit theirs. He’s so shocked he can’t focus properly, but he’s still the only one on his team to come away with wins.

More importantly, he learns a lot about how a karuta team must be run and who must run it. It’s rare that a great karuta player is also a great leader. Fujisaki’s best player is Rion, but Hyuuga (“Cheers”) is better at rallying the team. Mizusawa’s leader was Taichi while its best player was Chihaya. Seeing them create a team inspired him to do the same. But he just can’t fathom what happened to cause both of them to quit.

However, he knows instinctively that as a member of their triangle it’s his turn to try to cheer them up, as they once did. So as his team is heading home, he takes a selfie of them bathed in the light of the setting sun. He assures Chihaya that Taichi “will be back”, and that the two of them have to get stronger to prepare for his return.

I don’t share Arata’s optimism, as Chihaya’s response to Taichi’s confession seemed like the final nail in the dual coffins of friendship and karuta. This season ends with us not even 100% sure Chihaya definitely quit, we only hear it second hand, while Arata has no idea what happened between Chihaya and Taichi. That’s a lot of balls in the air for a fourth season. Hopefully it won’t take six years to come!

Isekai Quartet 2 – 11 – The Show Must Go On

The school festival is on, and immediately attracting characters from a sixth isekai anime, Cautious Hero. Sadly for Ristarte, Seiya deems it too risky to enter school grounds. While he may not be aware that an attack on the school by Mobile Fortress Destroyer is imminent, he’s not entirely wrong to be wary, but he surely possesses enough power to defeat such a boss.

Many of this week’s visual gags come in the form of the ridiculous costumes, in which none of the animal masks fit over the chibi-fied characters. Ainz in particular is just Ainz with a horse head plopped on top. Still, Raphtalia and Filo think Naofumi looks cute, while Albedo & other followers of Ainz are no doubt that much more smitten by his new look.

The issue becomes, how can the MCs participate in the play when Destroyer is out there, ready to…destroy? Simple: by relying on their friends, or in this case Albedo, Emilia, Visha and Aqua. Everyone mostly hopes Aqua won’t undermine the efforts of the other three. Tanya and Ainz then use reverse psychology to get Megumin to play the Fairy Godmother in place of the indisposed Aqua. Everyone has their roles, all that’s left is for the curtain to rise!

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 12 (Fin) – Such Sweet Sorrow

It wouldn’t be an Eizouken production if it wasn’t completed after an all-nighter, during which Midori, Tsubame and Doumeki modify the ending to omit the dance party, in order to match the only track of music they’re going to get, which has a more somber tone. When their last-minute changes cause them to miss their window for their go-to DVD publisher, Sayaka bails out her creatives by making a deal with the club that got busted by the StuCo.

The dance party is left out as an extra scene to be released when proper music is procured—a necessary sacrifice in order to come in on schedule and under budget. The next day at Comet A (which is held at a very Tokyo Big Sight-looking venue), Tsubame dutifully interacts with customers, until Sayaka deems the time is right for her and Midori to don paper bags, thus increasing word of mouth and social media interest.

Thanks to their genuinely good work and Sayaka’s gift for marketing, the Eizouken sells every last one of their DVDs moments before the chime marking the conclusion of Comet A. Midori, who had to interact less with people and generally took it easy, suddenly has a burst of energy, and suggests the three of them go to her house to watch their finished creation, which for them will be the first time.

The sight of the three comrades gathered beside the warm blue glow of the TV, surrounded by food and drink, Midori safe and content within her hermit crab-like blanket, is just so cozy and beautiful. They slide the DVD into the player just as everyone else who bought one does, and the show begins.

Like Gas Mask Machete Girl and Robot vs. Crab, Shibahama UFO Wars packs an immediate visual punch, with both Midori’s talent for intricate conceptualization and Tsubame’s passion for lyrical motion on full display. The music track wasn’t at all what they expected, but they make it work for the short, and no one outside of the production would ever have suspected otherwise. As people watch, they imagine residential towers like the ones in the short suddenly bursting forth from the ground.

By the time the short ends, Midori has fallen asleep, and Tsubame and Sayaka deem it unnecessary to wake her before heading home. After all, they’re sure she’d say that while it was something they could be proud of, there is always always always room for improvement, and they’ll be working to improve it starting tomorrow, after a well-earned good night’s sleep.

Sure enough, the next morning Midori dashes in and animatedly describes to Tsubame and Sayaka her latest insight into how to improve the short. As she does, the camera pulls out of their studio, past the river to the other shore, and…just keeps going, getting more and more fanciful until an entirely alien world is revealed. Which is only fitting, as Midori might as well not be of our world. ;)

And just like that, we’re no longer privy to the daily goings-on of the Eizouken. They’ll keep at it, but it’s sad we can’t keep watching. At least, not until a second season comes…if it ever comes. I’ll cross my fingers for that, but like Sayaka’s attempt to delay the initial DVD order, it might not work out, and that’s okay. This was a particularly special dozen episodes; a lush and imaginative love letter to anime I almost instantly fell in love with.

It’s been easy-breezy.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 11 – Artificial Ghost

After fruitlessly prostrating themselves before the bathroom mirrors, Hanako and Kou seek help from Spider-sensei, who directs them to the boundary of the former Second Wonder, Yako, which still exists but is simply no longer under her authority. She leads them to a mirror within her realm (which looks a lot nicer), which leads to the boundary of the Third Wonder.

By the time they arrive, a lot has happened in the Hall of Mirrors. Nene has been put to sleep after trying to stop Tsukasa from forcing Mitsuba to eat the remains of the Third Wonder, which he claims is the only way to keep him from disappearing altogether. Hanako is surprised to see his brother in the boundary, but not as surprised as Kou is to see the friend he thought was gone.

As it turns out, Mitsuba may look, talk, and act very much like the “old” Mitsuba ghost, they’re not the same entity. New Mitsuba is the result of Tsukasa taking the soul, or “reason” he stole from old Mitsuba and placing it in an artificial spirit body constructed from myriad lesser spirits. This new version of Mitsuba becomes the new Third Wonder after eating his predecessor. He also doesn’t seem to remember Kou at all, which is disappointing.

Interestingly, a big battle doesn’t ensue, which surely subverted my expectations. Instead, Mitsuba uses his newfound authority to send Hanako, Nene and Kou back to the living world via mirrors. He may not know Kou, but he knows Nene well enough now to not want harm to befall her, while Tsukasa made a point to be gentle with her earlier. I doubt Hanako can let Mitsuba the Third Wonder stand, but can Kou still find the Mitsuba he knew, or is he truly gone forever?

Chihayafuru 3 – 23 – Pitch Black

Chihaya’s Taichi Tournament is a huge success for all involved. Taichi is bowled over by how serious everyone is (even Sudo shows up to read) and is greatly cheered up, while other participants were glad to have fun with weird rules. Taichi and Chihaya end up tying for the lead in points, so the prize—a kiss from Taichi—is never presented.

The tournament is also suffused with nostalgia, as it’s the same type of matches and same place where Chihaya, Taichi and Arata first played as a team. Notably absent from the tournament? Arata, who admits he lost the Takamatsu Cup to Murao because he couldn’t re-focus after beating Taichi, and can’t wait to play him again.

Yeah…that’s not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. On a day when the karuta club isn’t active, Chihaya encounters Taichi alone in the club room. As she (poorly) fits new curtains for the incoming new club, Taichi first confesses to stealing Arata’s glasses back in sixth grade, then confesses his love for her.

First he simply lets the three most important words come out, while covering his face. To his credit, rather than laugh it off like a joke, he elaborates by describing all the parts of her he loves He leaves out the one part he dislikes the most: the part that changes when she thinks of Arata.

When he swiped his glasses, he didn’t want to lose to Arata, even though Arata was sure to mop the floor with him with the wide gap between their karuta ability at the time. While that gap has narrowed somewhat, the fact remains the cause is all but hopeless.

At least in this case, Taichi isn’t being a coward or a cheat. Arata already made his move, so all that’s left is for Taichi to make his and let the cards fall where they may. As the school bells sound, warning kids to go home, Chihaya says in her tiniest voice, “I’m sorry.” The cards don’t just fall, they turn jet black. And that’s that.

Time keeps marching on, and the new year starts with proficiency tests and club demos. After the former, Tsutomu is shocked to find he’s taken over the first spots in both maths and sciences, and worried Taichi’s mom will pull him out of the karuta club.

At the demos, when Chihaya, Oe and Sumire about to take the stage, resplendent in yukata, their adviser comes up and makes one small, devastating change to the speech, reducing the third-years by one: Taichi has quit the club. Chihaya tries to get through the demo, but has to stop in the middle and rushes off in tears.

As she runs off, a tearful Oe takes over (Sumire is crying too!) and waxes poetic about the hundred poems, songs of joy, sorrow and love that have endured for a thousand years, and urging newbies to join them in their magnificence. Of course, the themes of the poems are a big reason why Taichi can’t continue.

Chihaya doesn’t consider that as she races to his side and yanks on his sweater, tearfully begging him not to quit the club. Taichi draws her in and almost touches his lips to hers before pulling her back and telling her it’s no use; he couldn’t play if he wanted; all the cards have turned black. His love of the game and of her were too intertwined. She rejected him, so he must walk away. Quite the emotional roller coaster this week—will the Season 3 finale be funereal or redemptive?

Isekai Quartet 2 – 10 – Who Killed Mr. Archie?

The Cultural Festival is approaching, which means Class 2 must choose a play and a food stall. The play chosen is Cinderella, with Ram(!) in the lead role and Rem(!!) playing the Prince. We also learn Naofumi will be Class 1’s Ugly Duckling.

The four MCs, meanwhile, will play…horses. They probably don’t mind stepping out of the spotlight in this instance, but Shalltear is not happy about her master’s lot. Master of food Visha spearheads Class 2’s choco-banana stand.

In the midst of lively preparations, bouts of destruction take hold on campus, starting with the hutch sheltering Hamusuke and Death Knight. While Reinhard and Beako are stumped for the moment, we Konosuba watchers know the culprit is the massive robotic spider known as Destroyer.

One wonders how such a huge foe is keeping itself hidden from everyone, but its next victim is “Mr. Archie”, Aqua’s affectionate name for the hand-painted arch it would seem Kazuma mostly worked on. Fretting over how long it took and how little time remains until the festival begins tomorrow.

Aqua has an extended temper tantrum, and can only be snapped out of it by a determined Rem, who substitutes Aqua for Subaru in an abridged reenactment of her seminal “Return to Zero” scene from Re:Zero episode 18, a rare instance in which we see both her eyes.

I knew as soon as Aqua said “step one” that it was coming. As for the faculty, they seem to know a lot more about why they’re all here, and leave it up to the students whether it was the right choice or not. Between those words and Destroyer, something big is on the horizon during and/or after the festival.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 11 – Ripples of Peace

With 45 days until their deadline, the Eizouken creatives are working furiously while Sayaka conducts business in the same space, giving her the idea for partitions in the future. Things get even more lively when their studio hosts a raid by the Security Club.

The StuCo arrives and expels the president of the Transcription Club for “arranging deals using school funds without permission.” Eizouken is not affected, but the Secretary warns Sayaka not to let something like this happen to her. Sayaka responds with a bill for the property damage. Touche!

While working on the weekend—as they must for all weekends—the trio finally notices their adviser is supervising them at all times, even without overtime. As their adviser, he advises them not to work so long and have some fun from time to time, for “the best work comes from a sense of play.”

This permission to goof off is his highly inconvenient for Sayaka, who is just barely keeping Midori and Tsubame on schedule, but the three go on a fun trip anyway. An underground tunnel leads to a sheer cliff, and the promise of a tire swing leads them to an abandoned, flooded “Solar City” that gives Midori all kinds of ideas about underwater civilizations.

One day, Midori and Tsubame arrive to find a sign posted on the studio entrance strongly warning against acquisition of outside-of-school funds. Sayaka is home sick(!) so Midori and Tsubame catch a train to visit her. We learn how Sayaka and Midori met: they were the only two loners in middle school P.E.

Having endured partnering up with a stranger, Midori follows Sayaka around and even makes money collecting special leaves for a restaurant that serves grilled fish on them (a very Kanamori Sayaka hustle), and even rides a train for the first time. Sayaka’s thoughts about how people temporarily allying for mutual benefit doesn’t automatically denote friendship.

It’s probably why Midori to this day considers both Sayaka and Tsubame “comrades”, not “friends” (or, in Japanese, nakama, not tomodachi). More importantly, it gets to the heart about how people see things in different ways. Where once she saw leaves, Midori now she sees cash, thanks to Sayaka.

When Midori and Tsubame show Sayaka the threatening sign, she tells them not to worry about it; she’s secured another checkmate against the commerce-ruining adults of the school in the form of widespread and overwhelmingly supportive publicity for their Shibahama film project. They’re now virtually bulletproof against the school’s retaliation.

That again underscores the concept of people seeing things in different ways; the school sees the Eizouken’s activities as “anti-educational”; Sayaka considers them the exact opposite. Then, when asked about her progress with the story and ending, Midori is ready with a full rundown of the film, which she gives in a gorgeous illustrative scene.

In the process, Midori utilizes the concept of different perspectives by having the human and kappa societies be a mirror of one another. She also integrates all of the weird and seemingly unrelated ideas she came up with during their adventures! Ironically, the skeptical vice principal planting Cosmos (a symbol of peace) may have been the spark Midori needed to tie everything together.

It looks like an exciting film with no shortage of action and battles, but the central theme of peaceful coexistence and understanding will certainly play well with the city officials. Making the humans and kappa so visually alike is both thematically on-point and a time-saver, indicating the creatives have gotten better at managing their creative ambitions and embracing shortcuts when appropriate.

Armed with a strong story and all the leeway they’ll need to execute, the Eizouken gets to work, and even manages to complete the animation with time to spare (though not much). That’s when they hit an unexpected snag: the music track they acquired for the film’s score is nothing like the demo they heard, and doesn’t match the animation at all.

Assuming there’s no time to draw anything new, they’ll need a musical miracle. Maybe one of them knows someone who knows someone who could bail them out…