SSSS.Gridman – 07 – City in the Sky

While the Gridman Alliance is still in force, neither Rikka nor Shou believe much of what Yuuta tells them about his encounter with the little kaiju girl and Shinjou Akane’s role in creating kaiju and destroying/rebuilding the city. They even break out kimochi warui, a famous line in Evangelion.

Yuuta knows he can only find out what’s up from Akane from Akane herself, but for a number of reasons he just can’t come out and ask her about such things. Anti also invades the school unbidden, accosts Yuuta and tries to make him “bring Gridman” so he can fight him.

Still, when the team meats up at the Junk Shop, Max admits he too saw the girl. Yuuta remains the most logical person to ask Akane, he just has to suck it up and do it. Akane makes it easy for him by being in his bedroom when he gets home, having clearly sensed that he wanted to talk at school.

Akane proposes they join forces, telling him “it will be fun with a god” while rolling around in his bed and cuddling his pillow. Ueda Reina’s lazy yet sensual delivery really pays dividends here, but Yuuta won’t be seduced; he won’t betray his friends.

Trigger then demonstrates Wes Anderson (or perhaps more appropriately, Akiyki Shinbo) levels of precision in an intricately-detailed top-down composition of Rikka reclining in her room, her various belongings strewn about or just off right angles.

I wouldn’t mind having that shot framed and put up in my living room, and it’s just an incidental scene where she gets a call from Namiko and Hass.

Akane and Yuuta go out to eat on Akane’s “friend’s” dime, and somewhat cruelly picks the restaurant of their now-dead classmate. Her friend is Alexis in the flesh (or whatever he’s made of), and he’s nothing but cordial to both Yuuta and the proprietors.

Before any pertinent discussions can take place, Yuuta’s wrist alert thingy goes off. Akane assures him there’s no kaiju out there or she’d know, but there is something out there…a weird alien-like floating ball of red energy with pointy chrome appendages.

Rikka ditches Namiko and Hass (who are taking advantage of her generosity with her notes), while Akane goes out to see what’s up, and for once, the god doesn’t know what’s going on or why.

Yuuta joins Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis, Yuuta merges with Gridman, and they blow up the…whatever. But then it rebuilds itself, gets angry, and starts darting around like a Snitch. Back home, Akane learns that Anti designed the kaiju that’s out there, with Alexis informing her that because Anti hates Gridman more, the kaiju he built is stronger. Akane is not pleased.

Despite not being at all enthusiastic about it, Sky Vitter sorties in order to link up with Gridman and give us one hell of an nighttime aerial battle. There’s a cool contrast in movement between the chunky Sky Gridman and nervously-hyper alien bogey.

Eventually, Sky Gridman soars so high, he hits a ceiling, or rather something that looks like a city in the sky (shades of Patema Inverted). Since Rikka and Shou are watching Yuuta’s progress on the computer, now they believe what he said about there being boundaries to the city.

Also up there is the kaiju “pulling the strings” of the regenerating “snitches”, along with Anti, who quickly transforms into another kaiju. Gridman and Vitter split off, with Gridman cleaving the “puppeteer” kaiju with his sword and Vitter obliterating Anti with missiles.

So Anti fails, and Alexis goes back to Akane, now convinced he needs a “ral human” to make the best kaiju, not just the person who hates Gridman most. (On a side note, Akane’s trash level is really getting out of hand). But there is now a question of whether Akane really wants to kill Yuuta.

If she did, you’d think he’d be dead by now. Maybe she just hasn’t created the right kaiju yet, but between Gridman and his Neon Genesis buddies, Yuuta will always have a fighting chance against whatever Akane can throw at him. It’s been a straight stalemate, with the only gains Akane’s made being the elimination of things in the city she doesn’t like.

But Yuuta knows he can’t keep letting her get away with that. Can she be redeemed, or will the lure of her godlike powers, augmented by Alexis and his constant egging-on, continue to consume her? On top of all that (literally), there’s the mysterious sky city. Here’s hoping we get a closer look at that soon.

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Goblin Slayer – 07 – These Things Happen

The other adventurers give their excuses for not wanting to accompany the Priestess to the baths, but she’s eventually joined by the Sword Maiden herself. She sees many small scars on her body that suggest she’s had experience dealing with goblins.

The Maiden also warns the Priestess that while Goblin Slayer is dependable, one day he’ll “disappear”, meaning she’ll have to find another strength to lean on. Sure enough, GS mails a letter to the Farm Girl; in this context it’s another death flag.

GS, armed with a canary to detect poison gas, begin mapping some ancient ruins when they find themselves suddenly trapped in a chamber and attacked with…poison gas. GS provides charcoal to filter the gas while everyone prepares for battle, and the “mastermind” of the goblins finally shows himself: a massive Goblin Champion.

The party fights well, dispatching dozens of goblins with arrow, blade, fist, rock, and bare hand. But they keep coming, and the when the Champion delivers a crippling blow to GS that sends him flying and spewing blood, the Priestess loses her concentration, the Protection field falls, and the shit well and truly hits the fan.

GS is in bad, possibly terminal shape. The Priestess pees herself and then has a chunk of her arm bitten off by the Champion. The Lizardman and Dwarf are swarmed, as is the High Elf Archer, who can’t keep the goblins from tearing her clothes off.

Finally, as he hears the screams of the Priestess, GS remembers someone mocking him for cowering and doing nothing as his mother and village were slaughtered. His hatred of those comments leads to his left eye suddenly glowing red and entring a kind of Limit Break.

Back on his feet and with a full head of steam, GS carves his way through goblins as he bull-rushes their leader, then uses the long blonde hair of a corpse to strangle him before ripping one of the Champion’s eyes out of its socket. The others free themselves from the goblins’ grasps and keep fighting; the elf unfazed by having lost her top and most all of her shorts.

They give the Lizardman time to save the Priestess’ life, and the Dwarf and Elf help GS go to her side. The Priestess apologizes for letting the Protection fall, but the GS isn’t in a prosecutory mood, saying “These things happen.” They’re his last words, as he spews one more cloud of blood and then passes out. From the reactions of all around him, and the lingering closeup of the canary’s eye, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be getting back up.

Did the show really just kill off its title character after just seven episodes? If so, that’s a pretty bold move. Will the Priestess, Elf, Dwarf and Lizardman carry on with their adventures without him? Will someone new take up the mantle of Goblin Slayer? Or will they somehow save the current one from near-death?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 07 – Trouble, as Usual, Finds Kirito

As Asuna has arrived at Rath and taken a seat at the table when one wasn’t offered, Kirito continues to play, or rather live, in the Underworld. Two whole years have passed since we last saw him, and his goals remain the same: to learn this new virtual game’s rules, abide by them as he and Eugeo seek Alice, and most importantly, get good enough to face any opponent that might crop up.

To that end, after winning a swordsmanship tournament, they enrolled at Swordcraft Academy in the capital Centoria, to serve as pages to their mentors. Kirito’s mentor is the Second Seat Sortilienta Serlut, or “Tiena-senpai” for short (SSSS could also work ;), ably voiced by Han Megumi. In the time he’s trained under Tiena, Kirito has learned that attaining strength in this world is, unlike SAO or ALO, as much about confidence and willpower as the hard numbers.

Since they’re now in the Big City, Kirito and Eugeo’s statuses as commoners makes them the target of pompous high class elites who are always trying to press their buttons. When Kirito showed Eugeo the progress on his garden, I thought for sure that garden was going to be destroyed by the two punks who tried to provoke Kirito in the dining hall.

Tiena can tell there’s something of Kirito’s “Aincrad Style” he’s been holding back, and she believes the key to her improving (and finally defeating First-Seat Volo Levantain…what a name) is for him to reveal to her what that is. Since training on a day of rest is forbidden (and rules aren’t broken in this world, only bent a little), he labels his last sparring session with Tiena a “graduation gift.”

But before the session, Kirito picks up a newly completed sword from the metalsmith’s which was forged from a branch of the Gigas Cedar. The resulting black/blue blade is definitely Kirito’s style, and when he successfully swings it, he even gets it free of charge.

Kirito can’t help try out sword skills he was unable to break out with a simple wooden training sword, but in his enthusiasm to do so, he gets mud on one Volo Levantain’s crisp white uniform. Volo lets him off for practicing on a day of rest (he himself finds it hard to keep back from doing that, and understands as a fellow swordsman)…but he won’t let the mud stain slide.

So he challenges Kirito to a public duel to first point (not stop short) with real swords, perhaps eager to see what he can do with his new black blade. Kirito has never defeated Liena in a training session, and she’s never defeated Volo, so his mentor is understandably nervous about what he’s getting into. As for Eugeo, he’s just surprised his friend didn’t get into trouble much earlier.

Of course, Kirito has only fought with wooden swords at Swordcraft Academy; more training tools than actual weapons. We’ll see if he gets embarrassed before his mentor, friend, and assembled fellow students (not to mention punished for breaking the sabbath), or if he’ll be able to call his new blade Volo Levanbane…should he choose to.

Bloom Into You – 07 – Plenty for Right Now

In middle school, a girl confessed to Sayaka. Sayaka thought it was weird, but went with it, and got very much into it, such that when she and the other girl were apart for a long time, her longing only grew. That made it particularly painful when they reunited and the other girl was just, suddenly…done with her. She laughs off what they did to be “what kids do”, and “just a phase.” But Sayaka’s heart was broken that day.

She decided to push the experience to the back of her head, and focus on her studies, enrolling at a co-ed high school where she imagined a boy would fall for and confess to her (or vice versa). But the heartbreak still stung so much she couldn’t quite focus enough to score the top grades of the class. So the role of freshman rep went instead to one Nanami Touko.

Whoever this Nanami was, Sayaka resolved to surpass her. But then she caught a look at her face and heard her voice, and she ended up never surpassing her, and moreover stopped caring about trying to. Despite never wanting to fall for another girl again, Sayaka fell for Touko.

Of course, Sayaka could never admit that to anyone, most of all Touko, because she could tell the burdens Touko bore even without knowing about the tragedy of her older sister. Touko was friendly and kind and approachable to all, but only to a point; she’d keep everyone, including Sayaka, at a certain distane to avoid exposing the old, flawed Nanami Touko she was hiding from everyone with her flawless facade.

Sayaka never thought she was special for detecting that other side, and so never seriously considered crossing that boundary to get closer to Touko, however much she might want to. Touko, in her words, belonged to no one. Rather, Sayaka carved out the role Touko’s right hand; her sidekick; her rock. Thus she could be pretty much closer than anyone else.

Touko is aware of this, and to the episodes credit, it takes time away from Sayaka’s head to spend some in Touko’s. Touko knows Sayaka is aware of “the other Touko,” but never oversteps any boundaries. Sayaka is only ever asking Touko to keep up that perfect version of herself while also supporting her in that effort. That’s the way things have been, that’s the way Sayaka likes it, and that’s the way Sayaka wants things to stay.

But now there’s a threat to that status quo named Koito Yuu. Sayaka didn’t consider Yuu a threat at first, and perhaps she still doesn’t; after all, Yuu hasn’t known Touko as long as she has. But at much as Sayaka prides herself on knowing Touko more than anyone, Touko and Yuu continue a gentle dance that is drawing them closer together. It frustrates Sayaka to no end that Yuu seems willing to so blithely cross the boundaries Sayaka established for herself…but still thinks she’ll fail, due to her “Touko belongs to no one” theory.

Touko’s reactions to calling Yuu “Yuu”—not to mention Yuu calling her “Touko-senpai”—make Yuu want to be more “aggressive;” to see how far she can make Touko go. Maybe, just maybe, if and when she does, Yuu will finally feel something as strongly as Touko does.

Like Sayaka, Yuu always thought it was puerile, weird or somehow not right for girls to like other girls. And it’s true that even in 2018 the LGBTQ community in Japan has it pretty rough, at least relative to other developed countries.

So it’s most gratifying that the show introduces a serious adult same-sex relationship in the form of the Japanese teacher Hakozaki Riko and her girlfriend, who owns the cafe where Touko, Sayaka and Yuu meet with Koyomi on writing the script for the stage play.

Hakozaki-sensei conceals this from her students when they ask how she knows the cafe owner, but like the intimacy of a first-name basis, the way the owner first greets Hakozaki before either of them are aware her students are there betrays the fact she’s hiding the true extent of her relationship. Ever the observer of human behavior, Sayaka also notices it in the way Hakozaki drinks her coffee at the counter.

While the other students are oblivious, Sayaka can tell something’s up, and her “suspicions” are confirmed when we see Hakozaki staying at her girlfriend’s place and kissing each other goodnight. It shouldn’t be such a big deal (again, this is 2018)…but it still feels like one. It’s not just what kids do. It’s not just a phase.

Sayaka’s isolation only intensifies when she hears Touko calling Yuu by her first name like it’s nothing. She stages a passive-aggressive protest, to no avail. Then, the next day, she visits the coffee shop and strikes up a chat with the cafe owner. She asks, as carefully as she dares, what her relationship is to Hakozaki-sensei. The owner states clearly and unequivocally that she’s her girlfriend.

Sayaka wasn’t prepared for such a frank, unambiguous response, but it’s something for which she’s greatly appreciative. It’s also liberating for her, and she opens up about her own feelings for another girl, even after having her heart broken by another (Touko’s name is left out of it, of course). It goes without saying (though Sayaka does mention it), but she really really needed to talk to someone about this, especially with someone who, like her, thought she should keep it a secret when she was younger.

When asked why she doesn’t simply confess, Sayaka lays out the reasons: there’s no room in Touko’s heart to accept the feelings of others; it would only be a source of stress for her; it could disrupt or even ruin what they have now, something Sayaka couldn’t bear. She asks the cafe owner if it’s okay to hide one’s feelings for someone in order to stay by her side…or is that just selfishness or cowardice?

The owner responds by giving Sayaka another coffee on the house…for being such a kind soul. Because that’s what she deems Sayaka to be. Someone who keeps her feelings hidden for the sake of her friend, who carries a lot of stress so their friend won’t have to, is very kind, in her book. Confessing wouldn’t be wrong…but neither is staying the course.

The truth is, Sayaka isn’t ready for things to change one way or another, so staying the course is the right path. Does Yuu get on her nerves? Absol-friggin’-lutely. Could it become more of a problem if Yuu and Touko get ever closer together? Of course. But as Touko makes it clear—almost as if she sensed Sayaka needed some reassuring on that particular day—is that she’s glad Sayaka is a part of her life.

If she weren’t, things would be too easy, and Touko would slack off. Standing in front of Sayaka helps her be the ideal person she strives for (which, as we know, is the person her late sister was). Wherever Yuu falls in the equation in the future, Touko will keep relying on Sayaka, which is, for Sayaka, plenty for right now.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 07 – The Face of Certainty

Hey, Hitomi got her colors back…PSYCH! The show chooses to rip them away almost immediately, off-camera. That’s kind of a downer to start with! But her granny Kohaku is right there to cheer her up with a star-reading (Hitomi’s a Leo), telling her to have fun in the moment…just as Summer Break rolls around.

Shou nominates Asagi to be his successor as president of the club, and the other members agree. She’s nervous about the responsibility, but Hitomi for one assures her she’ll be there to help. Hitomi is named vice-president, and that night her great grandfather gives her a tablet to keep in touch with friends. She considers when the right time will be to tell the other club members she can’t see color.

But while Hitomi and her worries about announcing something like that so late in their friendships forms part of this episode, the balance turns its eye on Kawai Kurumi, the ever-cheerful, enthusiastic glasses-wearer who organizes trips for the club and constantly flirt-bickers with Chigusa.

We learn that cheerfulness and enthusiasm is a front for her deeper-seated frustrations and perceived inadequacies, and lack of certainty in what she should be doing. She deeply envies her big sister, who dreamt of becoming a pastry chef and went out and did it, even against their dad’s wishes.

As the group goes on a one-day training camp, there’s a gray cloud constantly hanging over Kurumi’s head. When Chigusa brings up her sister, Kurumi sings her praises, but also runs herself down as a “nothing,” and Chigusa’s request to use her as a model is met by flat rejection, which brings down the whole mood.

For much of the camp Kurumi ends up isolating herself somewhere, but both times Hitomi comes to ask if everything is okay, seeing as how its painfully obvious it isn’t. It isn’t just Kurumi’s sister that’s bothering her, but pretty much everyone who has “that look”—a confident look towards the future…a look of certainty. It’s a look Kurumi just can’t muster, because she doesn’t believe she has anything important in her life to cause it.

Yuito tracks down Hitomi and shows her his newest picture, which is clearly inspired by her desire to see color. Hitomi can indeed see the colors in the painting, but no more Gold Fish pops out and paints the whole environment in colors. Even so, she’s just happy Yuito is able to draw again, and that he’s willing to share his creation with her.

Hitomi meets up with Kurumi a second time, and tries to cheer her up the way Kohaku did with her: a star-reading, with an identical fortune as she got. But even if Hitomi was giving her a fake fortune, it becomes real when the cruise ship Chigusa was going to photograph departs far sooner than scheduled.

Chigusa tries to chase it down by dropping all his luggage and running for it. Kohaku and Hitomi join him, and after some hemming and hawing, so does Kurumi, deciding to take the advice of her “fortune.” When they can’t catch up to the accelerating ship, Chigusa settles for a picture of Kurumi’s face; which carries the look of frustration that he’s giving up.

It joins a number of photos he’s taken of her throughout their time in the club, which he uses to assure her that as long as she’s making such faces, there’s nothing to worry about.

While others may seem to like things or be further ahead in making their dreams come true, the fact is everyone likes things with different intensities, or discover things they truly like at different paces. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and just because she can’t do what her sister did doesn’t mean she’s less than.

And just in case you were thinking that’s probably enough Kurumi and Chigusa for one episode, Hitomi has everyone pay attention to her once more, as she’s ready to tell them she can’t see the colors they see in that gorgeous night skyline backdrop. Somehow, I can’t imagine they’ll de-friend her on the spot!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 07 – The Bodyguard

Like a jargon-heavy book that keeps making you flip to the glossary in the back, the Academy City Underworld arc was so laden with groups, individuals, motives and goals that I had to refer to the Index wiki on more than one occasion just to find out who the hell some of the people were. As a result, it was hard to sit back and just enjoy the action.

So thank goodness this week is a far simpler Index episode (even though it takes a number of turns), featuring a straightforward plot and familiar, beloved  characters. It certainly starts out where Kamijou Touma would prefer to be, at school, where the most fraught action is being chased by a burly teacher when he and Tsuchimikado are the only two able to escape school to get to the convenience store for the lunch they want.

For all the misfortune swirling around him, Touma does catch a break every once in a while. In this case, a very lovely break in the person of Itsuwa, who mistakes Saigo for a hostile and takes him out for Touma. She’s come to A.C. to serve as Touma’s bodyguard due to stirrings that the powerful Saint Acqua of the Back (or Rear) is going to target him.

The rest of Amakusa is there to back Itsuwa up, as well as to try to get her to pull the trigger on Touma, whom she apparently likes. In this venture it’s Itsuwa who is more unfortunate, since she must contend with the jealousy of Biribiri, who makes a welcome return to the show. Misaka was actually concerned that Touma had amnesia, only to catch him deep in Itsuwa’s bust. Thankfully, Touma manages to keep Itsuwa from mistaking her for a hostile…even though she kinda is!

This also marks the rare Index III episode that actually has sizable portions of Index in it, as she watches with concern as Itsuwa enters her and Touma’s home, buys the loyalty of Sphinx with some high-quality bonito, and starts making dinner.

Like living a simple high school life with occasionally exciting lunch runs, just seeing a girl in his kitchen making dinner gives him no end of joy. The fact that Itsuwa is acting like a proper house guest and helping out exposes how comparatively little his other guest Index does.

Of course, the reason Index doesn’t help out is that her help often only causes more work, such as when she pours an entire bottle of drain cleaner down the shower and almost causes a fire.

Itsuwa cuts off their ensuing dust-up, rents a motorcycle and sidecar, and takes Touma and Index to a splendid public bathhouse in the 22nd School District, which is entirely underground yet has a giant screen in its “sky” projecting the real sky. It’s a really beautiful motorcycle ride that shows yet another side of the sprawling city.

Naturally, Misaka ends up in the same bath as Index and Itsuwa, and as Itsuwa clumsily tries to explain how Touma came to end up in her breasts she then becomes the target of Index’s ire, while Biribiri stews until she overheats and a medical team with a stretcher has to be called.

I presume Misaka had to be temporarily taken out of comission in order to lend more peril to the final act of the episode. Touma and Itsuwa go on what could be construed as a romantic evening constitutional, but once they reach the bridge (Touma and bridges don’t mix!), Acqua suddenly appears, and wastes no time mopping the floor with the both of them.

Itsuwa is a strong and honorable bodyguard, but she simply has no chance against a Saint, and her restoration spells have limited effect on Touma due to his right arm. About that arm: Acqua will let him live if he cuts it off and gives it to him. He couldn’t care less about Kamijou Touma, he wants Imagine Breaker taken out of the equation of church and global affairs.

In his surpassing charity, Acqua doesn’t simply take what he wants, even though he’s certainly capable of doing so (unless Imagine Breaker somehow prevents the arm from being separated from Touma’s body). He gives Touma one day to decide whether he’ll give it up willingly, or die. And since Itsuwa is his sworn bodyguard, she and the rest of Amakusa will certainly die defending him before he does.

So yeah, a Saint with the Right Hand of God either wants Touma’s arm or his life, and Itsuwa alone won’t be enough to stop him. Like I said, straightforward! I imagine one needs a Saint to fight a Saint, so we’ll see if Kanzaki enters the fray…not to mention Misaka once she recovers from overheating in the bath.

Zombieland Saga – 07 – A Truly Shocking Performance

(Apologies for the horrible pun that titles this post.—Ed.) Last week’s episode proved ZLS is far more than just a venue for Miyano Mamoru’s manic voice performances or a showcase for idol-dancing CGI. It can also do serious character drama. How would it resolve the generational rift between Franchouchou’s dual aces?

With Junko unwilling/unable to continue in this new and scary idoling world and holed up in one of the mansion’s many rooms, Ai commits to doing Junko’s part as the days to Saga Rock count down, even as the strain causes her head and limbs literally fall off (kudos to the foley artists for appropriately gross sound effects as the zombies move about).

Even Lily admits there may be nothing any of them can to to convince Ai to come back. Sakura asks Tatsumi for help, but he shouts her away. Even so, Tatsumi later breaks down the barricade Junko had built over the door and, surprisingly enough, provides the sober voice of reason. He acknowledges Junko’s fear of how things have changed in the last thirty years, but assures her the calling of idol is no less noble than it was in her time.

He also suggests something Junko didn’t consider a possibility: that if she doesn’t want to get so close to her fans…that she just shouldn’t. She can still sing and dance with the others while continuing to carry the Showa flag and live the life she’s most comfortable with.

He also reminds Junko that she’s not the only one with fears as a result of waking up a zombie in a strange time and place. He informs her how Ai died, and the weather forecast for the festival, and how Ai is going forward to face her fears. Considering she’s already dead, what harm would it do Junko to give this idol thing one last try?

With that, Tatsumi leaves Junko with her outfit for tomorrow’s festival…and a casual order to fix the door he busted (hey, this is still a comedy first and foremost). The next morning everyone waits as long as they can, but then pack into the van without Junko.

Just as they start off, Junko heroically leaps over the mansion gate lands in front of the van…which absolutely pummels her, in such a similar fashion to Sakura’s own demise it sparks a vague memory for her. Like a zombie horror movie, Ai slowly gets up…but not to eat brains; to join her fellow members of Franchouchou, all of whom but Ai run to embrace her.

Still, Ai decides to bury the hatchet as the group prepares for their show, promising Junko she’ll have her back. Tatsumi liberally sprays shoe waterproofing all over the girls so their makeup won’t melt in the coming rains.

The others join Ai as she watches her old group Iron Frill knock it out of the park (without anyone getting roasted by lightning). Why the more popular band would open for unknowns like Franchouchou, I have no idea, but that plot contrivance is only one of a long chain of them that, IMO, somewhat mar the group’s biggest moment yet.

While Iron Frill’s dancing and singing was 2D animation, the show breaks back out the smoother-moving but still far creepier CGI models of the Franchouchou members. I remain mostly unconvinced this was the best way to animate them performing, as it really pulls you out of the otherwise 2D world of the show.

Technical aspects aside, I liked how the storms made Ai so frightened she couldn’t sing properly, threatening to make their big break a disaster right from the start (the rain also forces much of Iron Frill’s crowd to flee, combined with the fact they don’t know who Franchouchou is). I liked Junko having Ai’s back even better, especially when Ai said she’d have hers. Junko may have nerves too, but they don’t relate to performing in a thunderstorm.

The idols regroup and finish out their first song strong, but the entire stage is suddenly destroyed by lightning, making real Ai’s worst nightmare: a repeat of the events that killed her. However, due to them already being dead and zombies (and perhaps the thick coats of spray Tatsumi applied), their exposure to lightning only makes them glow, and makes their voices distorted.

The group proceeds to perform their last song in “autotune” remix mode, their bodies providing the only light on the stage, and occasionally shooting lightning beams out of their fingers. This sequence of events represents a new level of preposterous-ness for the show.

While a show about zombie idols already demands one to suspend disbelief about quite a number of things, the piling on of absurd events culminating in glowing idols shooting lasers while singing autotune…was just a bit much.

The attitude that created this sequence seems to be: “So we carefully crafted a nuanced character conflict between Junko and AI rooted in generational differences…but SCREW ALL THATAnything goes when they take the stage; nothing has to make sense!” Never mind the fact that there were zero consequences for Junko not practicing with the group for weeks. I know she’s one of the best from her time, but no one’s that good!

All that criticism aside, the festival, ridiculous as it was, had the intended effect of getting Franchouchou much-needed publicity, as news of their “illuminating” performance at Saga Rock ends up published in a magazine. We’ll see how that translates into cash to fund their operation, but more importantly how it heightens their statute in the idol world, and how they’ll respond to that increased fame.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 07 – A Tale of Two Futabas

Fresh off the amicable resolution of the Koga Tomoe arc, we are presented with not one but two new mysteries, both involving characters we’ve dealt with before. Just as Sakuta’s earlier, seemingly random encounter with Koga paid off nicely (butt-kicking leading to quantum entanglement), his past established crush on “Makinohara Shouko” makes the sudden appearance of someone with the same name who looks just like her, only two years or so younger, that much  more intriguing.

At the same time, Futaba Rio is elevated from Sakuta’s sounding board and scientific consultant to an actual participant in Adolescence Syndrome weirdness. Sporting a fresh look with ponytail and contacts, Futaba doesn’t have any answers for Sakuta about why some younger copy of his crush suddenly appeared. If it’s not causing any harm, just don’t worry about it for now.

And the episode doesn’t; not really. Shouko is mostly tabled as the episode veers toward the slow-burn relationship of Sakuta and Mai, who is done with a job early and surprises him by showing up at the restaurant where he works, and even implies he’ll let him make out with her later.

After his shift, the two spot Futaba entering a Net Cafe and follow her. Using Mai’s phone, Sakuta calls her (presumably so the sound of her phone will indicate where in the cafe she is) but as he’s talking to Futaba on the phone, he and Mai spot a second Futaba. Yup, she’s got herself a doppelganger!

This Futaba, with glasses and no pony tail, finds herself temporarily homeless, since the other Futaba is already living in her house. Sakuta invites her to stay at his place, something Mai only approves if she can spend the night there as well.

This Futaba is extremely coy about what could have brought on Adolescence Syndrome to the point she’d split in two. Sakuta puts her up in his room with Mai, but Mai soon comes out to the living room where he’s sleeping, giving him the hints and nudges he needs to indicate she’s open to him making a move whenever, not just a special occasion for an apology. After all, he’s her boyfriend. Unfortunately, their kiss attempt fails when they bump heads. These guys are just to frikkin’ cute together.

The next day, after some domestic bliss with his full house, Sakuta has Mai watch one Futaba while he goes to school to track down the other. Shouko shows up, but nothing further on her situation is explored; it’s just an opportunity to confirm to Futaba that there is a new Makinohara Shouko in Sakuta’s life.

At school, while on the way to science club (which consists only of her) Futaba stops to watch Kunimi play basketball, which is where Sakuta finds her. After talking with her for a bit, it’s obvious he’s not dealing with “real and fake” Futabas; they are both Futaba, through and through.

That’s not to say the two aren’t very different; not just in appearance (though that’s a start): the ponytailed, contact-wearing Futaba just seems far more assertive, confident, and active, whereas the Futaba back at his place seems, well, almost the opposite of those qualities.

When Kunimi’s girlfriend confronts Sakuta with a social media feed of Futaba taking risque pictures of herself, my theory solidified: the two Futabas embody her id and ego (or super-ego). She is out of balance, and her unrequited feelings for Kunimi seem to be the cause. The question is, how is Sakuta going to help her restore that balance and become one again…and where does Shouko fit into all this?

P.S. A powerful little moment is when Mai’s cell phone goes off and Kaede suddenly looks like she’s about to be shot. Now we know why Sakuta doesn’t own one!

P.P.S. Futaba fell for Kunimi when he bought her a Choco-Cornet; Id-Futaba makes that her social media handle for her photo feed.

TenSura – 07 – Song of Slime and Fire

While sleeping in Rimuru’s goblin village, Shizu dreams of her wretched past, from when she was summoned from WWII-era Japan, was merged with Ifrit, and then essentially became a living weapon for the Demon Lord, who with one gaze can command her to destroy anyone from an interloping giant chicken to her poor friend and their unauthorized furry friend.

Waking up from a dream like that, it’s no surprise Shizu tries to make haste in leaving the village and her new friends behind, before the time comes when she can’t control the destructive power flowing within her. Unfortunately, her goodbyes run a bit too long, and Ifrit awakens in all his terrible fiery glory…right next to Rimuru’s newly rebuilt village.

To their credit, the experienced three-person party of adventurers don’t run, but try to fight to get their friend Shizu back, but Rimuru can tell they’re hopelessly under-leveled against a boss like Ifrit. However, Eren’s ice attack proves useful when Rimuru makes her use it agains thim and he analyzes and perfects it into a more powerful attack, which takes out all of Ifrit’s minions.

Ifrit counters by cloning himself dozens of times and surrounding Rimuru. When Rimuru takes the bait and blasts the clones with ice, Ifrit reveals a magic circle just beneath the slime, and casts Flare, enveloping Rimmy in a column of flame visible for miles around. The thing is…Rimuru is immune to fire, which means Ifrit is absolutely no threat, at least to the slime.

With that, Rimuru casts Predator and swallows Ifrit up where he joins Veldora in the void of the slime’s vast internal storage facility. Glad Veldora isn’t alone in there anymore! I have to admit I’ve missed the big guy ever since Rimuru ate him. In Ifrit’s place lies an unconscious but intact Shizu. Did Rimuru inadvertently free her from the curse she’s carried for decades?

Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

SSSS.Gridman – 06 – The God who Went to a City School

“They shouldn’t be making episodes without kaiju!” proclaims Akane while at the Starbows having coffee with Shou. It’s a meta comment on the episode they’re in, which has no big kaiju battle. The resulting outing is largely a return to the quiet, normal, naturalistic sights and sounds of city life that distinguished the first episode, before All Hell Broke Loose.

And yet, the city always returns to that state after a kaiju battle. None of Yuuta’s classmates remember anything about the battle during their field trip, and because there’s no kaiju battle this week, he, Rikka and Shou are isolated from each other for the bulk of the episode.

Something sticking in Yuuta’s mind is Akane’s words to him, which suggest she has memories of the battles just as he does. He just needs one more push to learn at least some of the truth about her, and he gets that. But not before Akane puts out a hit on Yuuta, telling Anti that the two are one and the same.

The silences in this episode, or rather areas where there’s nothing but ambient sounds, are well-placed, and as such I really felt Rikka’s boredom of lounging around the house then milling through stores on a hot summer day.

It’s clearly a relief to her when she encounters Anti, who is not only hungry but also in great need of a bath. Rikka’s scenes with Anti further establish her as someone kind and generous with a good heart—someone Yuuta shouldn’t be so reticent about talking to.

When he can’t quite approach Rikka to discuss recent events, he tries the junk store, but she’s out. Then he’s confronted in an alley by a small girl who seems to revel in the creepiness of her own voice. She claims to be a kaiju, and grows to the size of a catbus to prove it. She’s not there to fight, but rather to repay Yuuta for something he doesn’t remember doing.

I just got done saying last week that I really don’t mind not having all the answers about what’s going on and why, beyond the fact that Akane makes the kaiju Yuuta fights. But the little stinky kaiju girl gets on a train with Yuuta and proceeds to provide some answers.

The city in which Yuuta lives is essentially ruled by Akane, whose lonely heart is being used by the outrageous-looking being we know as Alexis. Thus she creates kaiju who then go on rampages, constantly knocking down and remaking the city into something of a kaiju itself, while eliminating people or things she simply doesn’t like.

Beyond the confines of the city is a great fog, and then nothing, the kaiju continues. Thus, Akane is basically the city’s god, deciding what exists, stays, or goes. But because Akane is hurting and killing people, Yuuta knows what he has to do, which I imagine means confronting her soon.

In addition to ordering Anti to kill Yuuta, Akane ends up running into Shou at the bookstore, and then having coffee. He sole reason for interacting with him is to gather more info on Yuuta, just in case Anti didn’t fully understand her orders and fails. The thing is, Shou eventually catches on that Akane has no real interest in him, and stays loyal to Yuuta by saying nothing.

As for Anti, who now has a full belly and is squeaky clean thanks to Rikka’s kindness, he finally locates Yuuta and attacks him, only to be deflected by the members of Neon Genesis, whom we’ve seen lurking on the episode’s periphery the whole time, keeping an eye the Gridman Alliance.

When trouble comes in the form of Anti, they’re ready, not just with weapons, but words: If you kill Yuuta, you will never be able to defeat Gridman. That’s enough to get Anti to retreat. Akane’s words ultimately weren’t convincing enough for him to go against his primary directive, just as her charm wasn’t enough to get any info from Shou.

Those two failures belong to Akane this week, and while they’re not as big or flashy as the defeat of her various kaiju in the past weeks, they are defeats nevertheless that add to her frustration and rage, which Alexis is only too happy to exploit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Akane gets to work on a new kaiju design, which Lex will then embiggen so it can wreak havoc and challenge Gridman anew.

As for Yuuta, after a long, weird day of learning some truths, he ends up back at the junk store to brief Gridman on the computer (which the store bought back). There, to his relief and joy, are Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis.

Akane may be using her godlike powers to change almost everything, but the bonds Yuuta has formed with his friends and allies remain, and they look to be ready for whatever their opponent throws at them next.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 06 – One Big Weapons Project

Now that Asuna has revealed herself, Kikuoka must answer some questions for her. It turns out he wasn’t lying when he said Kirito was receiving treatment he couldn’t receive anywhere else. They have him in a full-spec STL that is gradually rebuilding his damaged brain, though they still don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

However, Kikuoka didn’t bring Kirito to Rath HQ out of the kindness of his heart. As an SDF official, he has always sought new ways to fight wars ever since the NerveGear came out. When fully copying the souls of fully-formed real-world adults failed (none will ever accept they are copies), they had to use the copies of infant souls, and raise them in a controlled virtual environment where they’d accept their existence—bottom-up AI.

While that in and of itself was a major achievement, it caused problems for Kikuoka vis-a-vis his ultimate goal: to develop a new weapon for the defense of Japan. The AIs followed the law—the Taboo Index—precisely and without exception. The Underworld was a utopia with no crime…until Alice crossed that border as a result of her dealings with Kirito, whom they placed into the world after wiping his memory.

In effect, Kirito was the chaotic element they needed in order to “teach” their homegrown bottom-up AIs to break the law; even to murder. Alice, or A.L.I.C.E. (a rather tortured acronym I will not repeat), was the first product of introducing Kirito to the project: the first AI to dissent and resist the Taboo Index (even if it was accidental).

That, Kikuoka hopes, is the first step towards building an army of artificial fluctlights capable of killing an enemy, which will mean no longer having to sacrifice real-world soldiers in conflicts—a huge strategic advantage that could elevate real-world Japan to the highest echelons of global power.

Of course, this opens up a tremendous ethical and philosophical can of worms; one so large Kikuoka himself isn’t interested in pondering it beyond the limited scope of what is essentially a weapon R&D project. But having experienced about as much virtual life as Kirito, Asuna is not okay with exploiting souls that are the cognitive equal to real-world humans as, well, cannon fodder. Perhaps they’re not real humans, but they’re close enough for it to be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the imperfect human world, two or more wrongs often make a right, and while Kikuoka is definitely putting out some serious supervillain vibes with his secret base and yukata, his intentions to eliminate the human cost of war are noble. But he execution has yielded the creation of a new race of beings that aren’t necessarily his to do with as he pleases.

Project Alicization is, in a way, one massive crime against virtual humanity. While she loved Kayaba too much to kill him, Koujirou Rinko is still aware of the role she played in his crimes.  But when she confesses that role to Asuna, Asuna is forgiving, because she doesn’t feel she’s in any position to forgive.

Asuna and Kirito, like Rinko and Kayaba, have also committed crimes in their various virtual dealings. But all they can do is accept that and move forward, learning the lessons that had to be learned. And right now those lessons are telling Asuna that Kikuoka is doing is wrong, even if it is saving Kirigaya Kazuto.

I imagine at some point Asuna is going to plug into one of those unused STLs, to reunite with Kirito and, if he ends up remembering her, confer with him on how they should deal with Kikuoka and his monstrously advanced experiment.

Even assuming Kikuoka had free reign to do as he pleased, there are so many complex variables in his system that something unexpected is sure to arise. If and when it all blows up in his face, he’ll need people like Asuna and Kirito to clean up his mess.

Goblin Slayer – 06 – Adventures in Water Town

Goblin Slayer ends his party’s respite by announcing a new client in the bustling city of Water Town: none other than the Archbishop of the Church of the Superior God; the Priestess’ boss’ boss.

Neither the grandiosity of the town nor the Sword Maiden’s digs faze GS in the slightest; if there are goblins to be slain, he’s in. He also learns for the first time, bless him, that if he has songs written and sung about him by bards, he’ll get more goblin slaying jobs, which is exactly what he wants.

The party heads down to the town’s sewers, where they find hordes goblins plying the various sliuceways via boat. Thanks to teamwork they’re able to defeat the first boat-full, but there are more boats—without using water, fire or poison – a handicap the High Elf Archer has imposed upon GS.

When they encounter a giant swamp dragon (alligator), GS remarks that it’s “not a goblin”, but has the Priestess spend her last miracle of the day on illuminating its tail, which lures the goblins right to it, and to the slaughter. It’s almost too easy for them.

The party seems to have things well in hand, but GS is concerned that there are so many goblins down there and that they’re so organized; so much so, in fact, that mobilizing the town guard and military would have been the best idea.

Alas, it’s up to adventurers, so GS’ next step is to find out who or what is responsible for making the goblins in the sewers such an orderly fighting force. Looks like it’s a hobgoblin, or even goblin lord.