No Game No Life – 07

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Following up the best outing of the show so far is no easy task, yet this episode succeeded admirably, in part by changing gears: No game this No Game. The Warbeasts continue to be built up as an exceedingly formidable enemy, so it wouldn’t have made sense for Sora and Shiro to rush headlong into battle without knowing anything about them. The Elves challenged them four times and lost all four, and even defeated Jibril’s Flugel. Worse still, when they lost the games they also lost all memories of said games.

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Sora and Shiro value information above all else, so the prospect of facing an opponent that has absolute control over it is immensely frustrating. When Jibril shows them that Dora’s grandfather inexplicably challenged them eight times and decimated Elkia’s territory, he grows even more irate: How could a king be so foolish? In the heat of the moment, he spews harsh things he shouldn’t have, causing Steph to flee in tears. Lest we forget, Sora and his sis aren’t the most sociable or tactful creatures.

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After much harmless teasing and messing with Steph, Sora’s crossing the line makes her question whether she should give him the “Key of Hope” her gramps entrusted to her, to give to the person who shows up later in her life to whom she can entrust Elkia. But how can she trusts someone who calls all humanity “crap?” Jibril rustles her from her brooding to return to the library, where Sora and Shiro are still hitting the books hard. There, without knowing Steph is listening, Sora gradually changes her mind.

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Once he calms down and tries to find a method to the old king’s seemingly foolish actions…he finds one: the king knew he couldn’t win all along, but fought the Warbeasts again and again anyway to gather information, wagering strategically marginal resources each time. Certain the king would never beat them, the Warbeasts didn’t bother wiping his memories, but made him pledge never to tell anyone as long as he lived. The king used that loophole to fill a journal with precious info on the Warbeast games, then locked it away with his porn stash in a hidden chamber, for a future king to use.

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It’s an awesome unraveling of a mystery and causes an immediate reversal in Sora’s opinion of Steph’s grandfather: he was a great man who created a legacy of foolishness so that his successors could defeat the enemies he couldn’t. And that will be Sora, because his moving speech—about the mankind’s potential and the rare “real deals” like Shiro (and Steph) who embody that potential and propel all humanity—convinces Steph to give him the key. I’ll tell you what else was the real deal: this episode.

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Stray Observations:

  • Jibril is a great addition to the cast. Steph can be a bit much in too-large quantities, but Jibril’s presense naturally breaks those quantities up.
  • We also like how her arrogant consdescention of humanity is softening in Sora and Shiro’s presence, and how she realizes Steph likes Sora, even though her love spell wore off.
  • Lots of anime references in this one, including Sora as that finger-tenting bastard Ikari Gendo; the Giant Warriors of Nausicaä, and Sora as Mr. Despair. The king’s secret room also resembled Nausicaä’s. 
  • We enjoyed the brief time when Steph thought the key was to her gramps’ porn stash after all, thus rendering her life a mistake!
  • When Sora first met Shiro when she was three, her first words to him were “You really are empty”, a play on his name “sky” and the fact he was fake-smiling. Sharp gal.
  • As you can tell from the shots above, this was yet another sumptuous-colored episode in a sumptuously-colored show. The environments are consistently gorgeous and imaginative.
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One Week Friends – 07

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After the often manic romantic anarchy of Nisekoi, it’s comforting to get back to basics: one guy, one girl. Plus, one supposedly faulty memory, and one surprisingly devoted best friend. Yuuki doesn’t have to worry about other girls, just Kaori…though Kaori is enough, to see how he sometimes struggles, which is where Shogo comes in.

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As Kaori’s friends grow, Yuuki starts to long for the days when he had more alone time with her. But as her new friends say, she’s very “pure”, in the literal sense of the term, they’re right: in her present state, friends of any kind are still a very new thing, so it’s that much more difficult to distinguish different kinds of friends, or the possibility of something more than a friend. In a way, she’s already there, but wouldn’t be able to define it if asked.

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Yuuki isn’t necessarily the best person for this, because he’s in love with her. That’s where the primary conflict comes in: what is Yuuki to her? She says she likes him, but she also likes Saki, Shogo, and Math. Yuuki can’t very well ask if she likes him that way, because she’s probably still figuringout what one “like” is; juggling an entirely different kind of “like” could be intimidating and even lead to regression.

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Okay, so things aren’t as simple here compared to Nisekoi; the romance may only be between two, but there’s still a lot of work for Yuuki to do elaborate on his feelings for Kaori. Sure, he fears losing what he has, but ultimately he won’t be content until he’s knows for sure that Kaori has the same feelings he has for her. It’s likely, she does, but doesn’t understand them yet. She certainly seems to be remembering him better.

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Nisekoi – 19

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It’s telling that despite getting one of the things he’s always dreamed of—the opportunity to play Romeo to Kosaki’s Juliet—Raku can’t stop thinking about Chitoge. He can’t enjoy being closer with Kosaki knowing something is up with Chitoge. And the more he presses Chitoge about what that something is, the more cold stone walls Chitoge puts up in front of her.

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When Chitoge insists she wants nothing more to do with him—despite what it could mean for their families—and worse still, tells him she never once enjoyed being with him. Raku, taking all this as the gods’ truth, responds in kind, telling Chitoge off to the point she slaps him and storms off. Neither are able to say what they’re thinking, and end up at rock bottom, having scorched much earth in their wakes.

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But the show brings them both as low as they’ve ever been so they can be brought back up. As if the universe acted to right all missteps the two have taken, poor Kosaki ends up spraining and ankle, and with her understudy Marika home sick, Raku must beg Chitoge to step in as his Juliet, putting aside the fact they “hate” each other. It’s a great little moment when he takes her spatula’d hand, proclaiming “Found you!”

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This gets them talking again, and rather than exchange more barbs at one another, they say actually say a bit of what’s really in their hearts. Raku realizes he hurt her at the beach, and Chitoge learns he doesn’t hate her (not by a long shot). He’s still convinced they’d make a terrible real couple, but he knows they make a great fake one, which makes her the Juliet he needs in the here and now. Their mutual relief upon “finding” each other, after lifting the veil of mutual scorn, is palpable. Break a leg, kids!

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Mekakucity Actors – 06

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Did you go into this week thinking we’d see what became of Shintaro, Konoha, Hibiya and Ayano? I did, but I forgot that this show has exhibited a penchant for non-linear storytelling, and further reinforces that this week with an intriguing flashback.

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A big part of its intrigue is the fact that it centers on two close friends (and potentially something more), Enomoto Takane and Kokonose Haruka. We’ve seen these two before, but in this flashback, Takane isn’t a digital avatar and Haruka isn’t a futuristic-looking fellow with superpowers. They’re just normal high schoolers, the only two members of the club they’re in.

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They decide to hold a shoot-em-up video game challenge for the school festival, and Takane dominates everyone who steps up to challenge her, eventually revealing that she is the celebrity gaming sensation “Ene” on the web. Already, we see her building what may become her future digital self.

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She’s been something of a one-note character since the beginning of the show, but this episode fleshes her out more, showing her as just as shy, insecure, and vulnerable as many of the other folks we’ve come across. The events this week shed some light on how she came to become a constant “companion” of Shintaro, as she promises to serve him and call him “master” if she loses to him.

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She does lose to him, decisively, which shakes her confidence, but falling from the pedestal the masses of people she beat is also liberating in its own way. There’s also a bittersweet quality to seeing Takane, Haruka, Shintaro and Ayano (who we know is now gone) hanging out as friends at school, considering what’s become of them in the present.

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Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – 06

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I’m definitely liking the way Nanana is layering its narratives. The adventure club hits up the next set of ruins, the treasure is recovered and then promptly stolen, Tensai discovers the culprit with some sleuthing, then later divines the true extent of the mystery. The episode is speckled throughout with little clues that let you know Juugo’s already been to the ruins, as had Matsuri.

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Matsuri appeared to have been waiting to swoop in on the treasure one the club did the work for them. This isn’t a case of rival groups just happening to be staying at the same onsen; it’s a calculated plan. Tensai’s “Watson” (Daruku) recovers the cat plushie from the laundry, and Tensai exposes the new hire as Shuu in disguise.

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Again, Juugo keeps his cards close for the whole episode until Tensai studiously worries them loose, proving he’s worthy of her efforts. This week’s puzzle also had a satisfying 3D-platformer “lost ruins”feel to it, even though it wasn’t quite as clever as the foam labyrinth. Its simplicity is mitigated by the fact the stuffed cat isn’t even one of Nanana’s treasures. Maybe that real black-and-white cat was?

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Whatever the case, everyone in the adventure club has their own unique motivations and modes of operation. That ubiquitous, chaotic aspect of not knowing who’s getting one over on whom is part of what makes this show so fun to watch. Juugo having fancy pudding delivered to Nanana to apologize for leaving her alone was a nice way to end, especially as he gets home before the pudding, and has to behold her rage. He’s good, very good…but he’s still human.

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No Game No Life – 06

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In preparation for the next NGNL, I reassessed my perceptions of the show by watching a couple of episodes of SKET Dance. That’s not meant as an affront; SKET Dance is one of my favorite comedies, because when it was on, it was really ON, even if it wasn’t necessarily doing comedy that week. SKET and NGNL are alike in possessing vast stores of thematic material to draw upon, their ability to cultivate the belief that in any given episode, anything could happen, and that they’re not afraid to get really silly.

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This week, pretty much everything does happen, as the Flugel Jibril agrees to wager not just her library, but literally “everything she has”, so confident is she that she’ll win. If she wins, she gets an iPad containing 40,000 e-books’ worth of knowledge from another world. The game she picks is a kind of Shiritori not possible in our world: “Materialization Shiritori”, in which every word spoken affects their environs. This is a very cool concept with near-limitless potential.

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With such a wide-reaching game, one would expect things to go off the rails pretty soon. They do, when the first word Sora utters is “hydrogen bomb.” If he can kill Jibril before she can respond, he wins, even if he dies. Yes, this means when the game ends everything that happens is reset, but this is one of those rare instances where that knowledge doesn’t lessen the peril or suspense in the slightest. After all, Sora and Shiro are risking their iPad; the only iPad extant in Disboard! (I’ll set aside the matter of how they’re charging it).

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After that H-bomb, the competition remains fierce, and the words are exchanged at a fine quick pace, interspersed with a back-and-forth regarding Jibril’s unapologetic arrogance. As a Level 6 Exceed, she’s used to looking down on Imanity as ants, which is why she’s so convinced she’ll emerge victorious. But inspecting Sora’s erogenous zone (his armpit) should have tipped her off: she’s not dealing with run-of-the-mill humans.

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Much of the game is also played with Jibril, Dora, and Shiro relieved of their clothing thanks to Sora, but because their privates are gone thanks to another word he used previously, it’s a PG-Rated affair. What makes this kind of Shiritori so devilishly awesome is that the players must keep track of every word not just so they won’t repeat it, but to keep track of what’s gone and what isn’t. This results in Sora vanishing away the Mantle, Crust, and Lithosphere from the planet.

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Things escalate from there into a war of attrition with various gasses being removed, along with the ability to speak. The back and forth reaches an apex when Jibril throws the term Sora used to describe her—”Empty-headed Academic”—back in his face (writing in the air) as a coup-de-grace. But Sora was counting on that, and already has his pre-written, decisive response: Coulomb’s Force, the removal of which causes a hypernova.

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What had started with the vanishing of some candles and the ladies’ clothes ended up with the rearrangement of the cosmos. Back in the library they’ve won, Jibril graciously concedes defeat. When Sora allows her access to the iPad and library anyway, she admits she’s finally found someone worthy to serve as her master; someone who can overturn everything she knows. And since Jibril knows pretty much everything, that’s saying something!

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One Week Friends – 06

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On the one hand, I wouldn’t have minded a study group episode with just Kaori and Yuuki being awkward, but because she invited Saki and Shogo too, it was much more productive. It also showed that everyone makes friends and treats friendships differently. Shogo may seem cold and scary at first, but the fact he’s hanging out is proof that they’re already friends, without any forced small talk being needed.

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The sight of Kaori with a group of friends also delights her mother, and formally meeting Hase, the friend Kaori is always talking about, compels her to arrange a later meeting with him alone. Yuuki is nervous at first, but Shogo lays out the possibilities: she either wants to talk about Kaori’s memory, or tell him to stay away.

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We never thought the latter was going to be a possibility, but Kaori’s mom does express surprise Hase is still her friend after so long. If Shogo puts little work into making and having friends, Kaori’s “situation” demands that her potential friends work extremely hard for her friendship. We learn from her mom that while the car accident gave her a concussion, there was no brain damage that would have caused such specific memory loss.

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Yuuki may be bad at math (like me!) but he’s no fool: he knew this was a possibility. But the fact that he now knows her issue with remembering friends is at least partially psychological doesn’t change anything. If what he’s gone through is what it takes to be her friend; if he has to re-introduce himself to her again and again and again, so be it.

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By agreeing to those terms without complaint or wavering, he stands to gain more and more of Kaori’s trust. And as she starts to remember how happy having friends was and is, who knows; her “friendnesia” may start to recede, or disappear entirely. Until then, Yuuki will continue to be her friend on whatever terms she deems necessary. He’s a loyal dude.

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Mekakucity Actors – 05

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This episode started off a bit unjustly for Shintaro: he wakes up in a random bedroom (that turns out to be Marry’s) and Ene makes him strip before she’ll tell him anything, and that’s how the other Mekakushi Dan members find him: in his underwear, on Marry’s bed, staring at his phone. For that, he’s tied up and ridiculed. Where is the King’s Justice?

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At any rate, Shintaro is part of something bigger now, whether he’d like to be or not; it’s either become a member or become a hostage, as he knows too much to be neither. It’s obviously a lot to take in for a shut-in meeting five new people all at once. This is also interestingly the first time we’re seeing Shintaro and Momo interacting as bro and sis, and it’s…adequate.

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The entire episode was similarly adequate, filled mostly with sitting or walking around not doing much of anything, but couple new connections were made. When Shintaro went off on his own he bumps into a very memory-challenged Konoha, who spots Hibiya and Hiyori (who ISN’T dead!) getting kidnapped and acts instinctively with some pretty awesome superpowers.

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We also learn that the founding commander of the Mekaushi Dan was Ayano—something Shintaro probably didn’t know. Between Shintaro’s (and Hibiya’s) “dreams” that involve her and the strange fairy-tail like stories about a monster girl that end each episode, there are still many mysteries left to solve.

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Nisekoi – 18

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When Shuu arranges a late summer beach trip with everyone, we expected a full-on war between the girls interested in Raku in various ways. But while there was competition, most of the silly stuff was dispensed with relatively quickly, again giving way to Kosaki and Chitoge’s struggles. It would seem Kosaki can’t even when her thoughts accidentally surface into words (blurting out her desire to kiss Raku as they gaze at the moon from a pier), because Raku had nodded off in that moment.

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But while looking for the two, Chitoge does hear her. She somewhat convinces herself she misheard and Kosaki was talking about kimchi, but she’s just as frustrated that it matters. She shouldn’t care if Kosaki likes Raku, because she doesn’t…right? Well, no. When Chitoge confides in Kosaki (passing her problem off as a friend’s), Kosaki diagnoses it as a crush. All the symptoms are there. Even Chitoge knows it, as much as she doesn’t want it to be true.

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Her affection for Raku has simply progressed to the point she can’t simply continue to be pretend lovers or even friends. The pressure has built up too high, and she needs a release. She posits a question to Raku about whether they’d have (past tense) worked out if they were a real couple. Totally thrown off by the question and Chitoge’s seriousness, the hasty reply Raku utters feels like a total rejection, which crushes Chitoge in the more literal sense.

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Mind you, Raku isn’t necessarily lying when he says Chitoge isn’t his type, but people who really hate each other don’t argue all the time, they simply ignore each other. And neither Raku nor Chitoge have ignored each other during their time together, and it’s seemed to be less about fulfilling their familyt obligations and more about having a true friendship, like they used to have years ago. But after that night, they don’t speak for the rest of the summer.

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The Chitoge that arrives at school next semester is longer crushing on Rake, nor does she appear to want anything more to do with him. Raku doesn’t like this, but perhaps this was the kind of dire situation that was needed to bring about change. Both have already thought the things they need to say to one another. Now they need to say them, without further sarcasm, pretense, or forced insults.

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Stray Observations:

  • The girls are wearing exactly the kind of swimsuits they should be wearing, except for Seishirou, who is wearing a sexy number because Chitoge made her.
  • Kosaki’s sand castles (and sand…Esthar Citys) are pretty boss. Very Shaft thing to have characters building ridiculously detailed, impressive things while chatting.
  • Looks like we’ll be getting a cultural festival for the home stretch…plenty of opportunities both to avoid each other and be together. Shuu wants to make sure of that by casting them as Romeo & Juliet. Talk about bad timing!

Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – 05

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Aside from having his space invaded by Tensai and Daruku, Juugo is also starting to feel the financial pain of living with Nanana: since she plays video games constantly, the monthly electric bill is a formidable ¥15,765, in addition to more than ¥6,000 in gas and water.

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That’s more than $217 in American, no small sum for a high schooler, even if his father hadn’t cut him off through Yukihime, who insists he return into the fold. When he refuses, she bounces, warning him his face will be an unwelcome sight in the future. With a sense of obligation to remain by Nanana’s side (and a landlady who will happily toss him out onto the street if he doesn’t pay up), Juugo must find a job.

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Whatever Matsuri was up to, he seems quite determined to make it on his own without involving himself with it, though he seems a bit sad to have to turn from Yukihime. While we don’t yet know the whole story, you have to respect his sticking to his guns, even if that’s the more treacherous path. I also liked how the episode managed to slip in a little scene of Juugo admiring Tensai’s fetching disguise, as well as having him reveal a little jealousy toward Daruku’s…proximity to her.

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Hardly a rolling boil of a romance, but there’s definitely something there. When he chooses a job that pays handsomely but is sketchy as shit, he ends up on the wrong side of the apparent utopia, delivering a suitcase of drugs fancy flour to the stylish don of a lawless district who also collects treasures. Juugo ultimately fails to collect his payment (he has to escape a sudden raid), but unless Shiki was just joking (I doubt it), he’d better find another job…or another treasure.

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No Game No Life – 05

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When it comes to games, say Blank, “They’re always serious.” The same, ironically, can not be said of the show they’re in. NGNL showed a glimpse of its serious side in reiterating the importance of—and difficulty in—saving mankind from subjugation at the hands of the Exceed, and even though there’s no war, the pledges have done plenty of damage all the same, to the point where the three million people of Elkia are scared and anxious about the future.

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But like I said; only a glimpse of seriousness, and just a teensy one. The majority of the episode is devoted to Steph challenging, losing, and being humiliated over and over by Blank, in an intermittently humorous effort to make Sora a decent person. But it’s unnecessary because despite looking like they’ve done nothing but eat, sleep and play games (as NEETs are wont to do), Sora and Shiro have been working furiously for their new kingdom. Their only problem is, they’re not sure how to proceed.

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While Steph’s string of consecutive losses to Blank in supposed games of chance forces her to act the goat (or rather, the dog)—and a very skimpily-clad one at that—it’s revealed she’s not as much of an idiot (or a “steph”) as Sora and Shiro thought. Before they arrived on the scene and after when they researched in seclusion, she was ruling Elkia, gathering support for their reforms and neutralizing the opposition. When it comes to Imanity (the ones not being supported by outside nations), she’s done pretty well.

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What she hasn’t been able to do is regain any of her country’s lost territory, and that’s where Sora and Shiro come in. Sora first targets the Warbeasts (or “Animal Girls”, even though there are guys) for conquest; a gutsy move considering their vast land holdings and ability to read minds, nullifying strategy and bluffs in any games. However, Steph happens to have a “Flugel” up her sleeve (convenient, that) who could help them in the coming fight, which will most likely be seasoned with more rapid-fire, spaghetti-on-the-wall comedy.

Oh, one more thing: the Castle In the Sky reference was most appreciated.

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Weekly OP: Mekakucity Actors

The Tokyo Subway route map looks like a mass of impossibly tangled christmas lights at first glance, but there’s a simple system of unique colors and letters to represent lines along with unique numbers for each station, so finding your way around it is far easier than it initially seemed.

It’s the same with Mekakucity Actors; there’s a dizzying array of characters, but the fact most of them have a unique color and number of their own makes it easier (for me at least) to familiarize ourselves with them. I may still not know exactly what’s going on (the blindfold has not been fully removed from our eyes), but I can say with certainty I’m engaged nonetheless.

A big part of getting into an episode is the fast-paced, jaunty J-rock opening theme, entitled “Daze” by MARiA from GARNiDELiA, the same group that did the more florid Kill la Kill OP. “Daze” also reminds us of a slightly less dramatic version of “Matryoshka” by Nico Touches the Walls (the OP to [C]); not a bad theme to be reminded of.

One Week Friends – 05

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Kaori’s rule restricting contact everywhere but the school roof never seemed fair to me, and the fact that Yuuki went along with it didn’t make it any fairer. She says it’s “her decision” to pretend she and Yuuki don’t know each other, but pretending you don”t know someone when you do is rude any way you look at it.

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Of course, one way you could see Yuuki’s tolerance of this rule is that he simply likes being her only friend. This is backed up both when he got irritated when she talked about nothing but Kiryu (leading to their first fight) and when he gets jealous when a new girl, Yamagishu Saki, breaks all the rules and coaxes a new friendship out of Kaori with her floaty, lazy charm.

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When Saki arranges an after-school friday date with Kaori, Yuuki again exhibits his possessiveness, essentially stalking them with Kiryu around so it appears less creepy than even Kiryu himself agrees is quite creepy already. I know Yuuki means well, and under these specific circumstances he can’t very well barge in on the date, but it’s behavior I hope he doesn’t repeat in the future.

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Saki turns out to be a good thing for Yuuki, as she handles the “Monday transition” totally differently than he’s been doing. She’s persistent and is able to get Kaori to remember details about their date. She’s even able to put Kaori so much at ease, she starts talking out loud to Saki and others in class; huge progress. Kaori even spots Yuuki, and recognizing him, gives him a look, perhaps cognizant he was her first one-week friend, and a big reason why she now has two.

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