Cop Craft – 02 – Fearful Kitten

When gunshots won’t bring down one of the zombified baddies, Tirana ignore’s Kei and kills it with her sword. Kei then impugns Tirana’s honor by insinuating she’s working against the case for profit, Tirana puts her blade to Kei’s neck and warns him never to insult her like that again, and Kei points his pistol at Tirana’s face.

At the Medical Examiner’s office (Cecil, Kei’s ex), they determine that Rick’s murderer and the guy Tirana slashed were both dead before they were killed: place under a wizard’s spell and manipulated like remote control zombies. But it doesn’t take an M.D. or Ph.D. to pick up on the fact that Tirana and Kei’s relationship is having a tough gestation.

Kei drops Tirana off at her hotel, but within minutes she’s tossed for not surrendering her sword (indeed a ridiculous request to make of a knight), and she calls his cell. He considers leaving her to sleep on the ground for the night, but reconsiders and picks her up. The moment her face of dejection turns to joy is a sight to behold.

At Kei’s place we learn why he wears a mask: a cat allergy. But he was the only person at the station who would take the cat in, so he’s keeping it “temporarily.” This leads Tirana to laugh and realize Kei is more of a softie than he lets on, and then thanks her for letting her stay. Appropriately, Kei later checks a translator and learns she was flubbing his name intentionally to the phrase “fearful kitten.”

I liked how those neat mini-mysteries were organically solved this week, as Kei and Tirana put down their defenses and act more like the professional partners they’re supposed to be (Tirana also mentions that despite her childlike appearance she’s 26). The veil is also lifted on the identity of the villains and their plan. A club owner from Semaani named “Mr. Elbaji” meets with a “terrorist” named “Mr. Kareem.”

The former demonstrates a prototype “fairy bomb” that enables his on-staff wizard, Zelada the Sage, to control humans without the time and effort of getting them hooked on fairy dust (like the two zombies Kei and Tirana have encountered). They test it on a couple doomed cops who respond to a call. Once the bomb is perfected it could be used as a superpower-threatening WMD.

After Rick’s suitably morose funeral which Tirana observes from a respectful distance, she and Kei inspect the corpses of the cops, which again suggests they were fairy dust users, but since they’re cops, there’s something else in play here. Tirana suspects gold to be a factor, unaware of just how big the threat is becoming.

Kei believes a digitally-controlled manufacturing device is in use, and some digging reveals that a Mr. Elbaji is in possession of such a device. Obviously from a world where justice is dispensed more quickly and the ideals of chivalry still rule, Tirana wants to go after the guy immediately, but Kei tell her they need to find proof and do paperwork first.

During dinner at a diner, Tirana goes to the bathroom, but leaves her sword behind, something she said was as important as her life (and which got her kicked out of her hotel). By the time Kei realizes she didn’t go to the bathroom, it’s too late; she’s in the wind. Just when the two were getting along, Tirana goes her own way, for her own reasons. When Kei catches up to her, he’s not going to be happy.

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HenSuki – 02 – Kohai Master

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

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

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

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

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

Fruits Basket – 15 – Lakeside Detour

In a show that is very upfront of being just the first of several seasons—and a 25-episode first season at that—it’s going to move at its own leisurely pace, and there’s going to be the odd episode that feels more like filler than others. This week was one of those times, and it felt like a few disparate story lines were combined to fill the run time, none of which were resolved or even advanced all that much; only inched forward a bit.

Ever since seeing her hat and remembering when he last saw it, Yuki has been quiet and awkward around Tooru. Similarly, Kyou has been quiet and awkward ever since he seemingly kissed her as she napped. Tooru is very weirded out by their lack of arguing and naturally assumes she said or did something to offend them. Before they can assure her, she trips and falls down a hill.

Meanwhile, Hatori, who drove everyone to the cabin, passes the time reading Shigure’s books. Shigure claims he’s just teasing his editor by going AWOL for a couple of days, but Hatori sees a possible other reason: his former fiancee Kana is getting married, and perhaps Shigure just wanted to get his friend away from…all that.

Tooru’s tumble results in Yuki and Kyou transforming into rat and cat for the first time in a while, and it’s apparently enough of a shock to forget why they were so silent and awkward and start arguing again, which makes Tooru laugh with relief and joy. But they still don’t tell her what was bothering them, and because she’s so easily distracted (or relieved), she doesn’t press the matter.

That brings us to the most problematic part of the episode from where I’m standing: Ayame coming out of freakin’ nowhere. Ayame is just way to zany and hyper for the scenes he’s in, which feel like they go on forever: he says something that angers Yuki and Kyou, they react with hostility, rinse repeat. It just isn’t that interesting.

We later learn that Ayame came to give Hatori Kana’s wedding picture, courtesy of her friend Mayuko (whom Shigure dated for a hot minute but they broke up). Even if Hatori has decided there can be no going back to Kana, as his BFF Ayame isn’t satisfied. Shigure hopes Hatori finds happiness with someone else some day; he’s still very young after all.

Hatori just wants to make sure the likes of Yuki and Kyou don’t end up making the mistakes he did—by which I presume he means letting Akito control every aspect of his life, torch his relationship with his soul mate, and blind him in one eye.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 02 – Nothing is Eternal

One of Lord El-Melloi II’s basic lessons in his class is “nothing is eternal; everything changes,” and he should know, having once been the master of a heroic spirit of whose vast empire nearly nothing remains. And it is a former student, Mary Lil Fargo (subfamily of the Aminuspheres) who summons him to her mansion, which is the site of her father Ernest’s murder and dismemberment.

The seven parts of the body that were separated and arranged throughout the house indicate the same kind of planetary magic the Fargo family specializes in, but the arrangement is all wrong. Of the four people in the mansion when Ernest died, all have a motive to kill him, be it revenge for abuse (Claire the maid), jealousy over his research (Fernando Li), money to pay debts (his nephew Alec), and of course, his heir, Mary herself.

While this seems at first like a classic whodunit with El-Melloi picking the least likely suspect as the culprit, the murder mystery takes an entirely different and unexpected turn: no one murdered Ernest; he murdered and dismembered himself, all in the service of setting up an experimental spell that would grant him immortality.

El-Melloi confirms this when a hidden section of the rotunda’s floor reveals the part of a human associated with the planet Earth: the soul, not of the body. Once revealed, it contacts the other seven parts and reconstructs Ernest, but it is far from perfect, being his first and only attempt: he’s a grotesque monster, seeking Mary’s life force to complete his immortality.

El-Melloi doesn’t do anything to protect Mary, but he doesn’t have to: his apprentice Gray is on the job. After an incantation, her lantern-dwelling sidekick Add transforms into a mighty scythe, and its power blows her up to then ever-present hood off her head, revealing she bears an uncanny resemblance to Saber, AKA Artoria Pendragon.

While the reasons for this have yet to be revealed, knowing a little more about Gray certainly makes things more interesting. It also explains why she’s such a skilled fighter, such that El-Melloi only needs to step back with Mary and let her do her thing.

Once she dispatches the demented undead Ernest (creepily reciting words that rhyme with “Gray” in the process), she smiles in self-satisfaction before realizing her hood is down, and promptly pulls it back up. El-Melloi—Waver—apparently can’t look at a face that brings up such terrible memories of the Holy Grail War.

Before parting, El-Melloi deduces that Mary is a talented enough mage to know what her father was up to…and that it wouldn’t work and result in his death. El-Melloi won’t be able to prove it, but still wants to know why she did nothing to stop him.

Mary’s answer is rooted in the lessons she learned from El-Melloi himself: nothing is eternal. Letting her father go through with a doomed, incomplete immortality experiment was her way of relaying that lesson to him. Mages shouldn’t seek immortality, except in the indirect way they pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

If Ernest had succeeded, he’d have rendered that generation—made Mary, and her future and that of her children—redundant. Not only that, if I’m interpreting Mary holding hands with Claire at the end, letting Ernest essentially kill himself freed the maid from his abuse.

As first cases go (not counting episode 00) this wasn’t too bad at all; it introduced El-Melloi’s investigative process, showed off his knowledge of magecraft and deductive facilities, had an interesting twist, and of course, revealed Gray’s “Silver Saber” mode. A good week’s work. On to the next case!

BEM – 01 – It’s All Elemental

Across the bridge from a gleaming “Upper City” lies a “Lower City” where crime and corruption are rampant…and a water monster is preying on humans, drowning them in his aqueous body on the spot. That’s where idealistic rookie cop Sonia Summers is headed, partially for the challenge.

When she stops her Range Rover to chase down a purse-snatcher, a mysterious man in a wide-brimmed fedora saves her from getting run over before vanishing into the night. But he can’t stop her car from getting stolen.

Turns out the police are corrupt too, taking kickbacks from organized crime to look the other way. This is something Sonia “the girl scout” is extremely not okay with. Little does she know cops on the take are the least of her problems, as the serial drownings mount.

The man with the fedora (and string tie and skull cane) confronts the monster, who is growing increasingly murder-happy. It mentions that it was once human but has shed that humanity and now couldn’t be happier.

The man, the titular Bem, is also not quite human despite his appearance, and after electricuting the water monster and forcing it to flee, he meets with his two compatriots, Bela and Belo. Belo says Bela values humans too highly, while Bela says Belo values them to low.

Bem seems to be the man in the middle of a group that’s also in the middle of the struggle between monsters and humans. Bem believes (and the other two follow along) that if they save enough humans, they can become full-fledged humans.

The episode culminates in a final battle between Bem, who transforms into his true, beastial youkai form, and the water monster, who keeps resolving into a joker-like form. Sonia is there to witness, and three of her fellow cops are sliced to death in the crossfire. Once Bem defeats the monster, Sonia is so frightened of him, both in youkai and human form, that she empties her sidearm into his chest.

The bullets bounce off and he’s fine, but the message is clear: getting a human, even one as virtuous as Sonia, to trust him and his kind is not going to be easy. And yet still, he won’t stop trying, just as Sonia won’t stop turning down kickbacks. No doubt they’ll cross paths and Bem will try again to reach out (but not with his beast claws).

Bem is a sleek, elegant supernatural noir, supported by some excellent “camera”work and night lighting, a very tight soundtrack by MICHIRU and SOIL&”PIMP”SESSIONS, and character design by Range Murata (joining Cop Craft as the second show this season with his designs).

With a mysterious lady (voiced by Sakamoto Maaya) in a board room in one of those gleaming towers in Upper City apparently after Bem, it looks like monsters roaming the mean streets and befriending Sonia aren’t all he needs to worry about. Definitely worth a watch, even with another cop show in a gritty city airing this season.

P.S.: This is the second remake of the series Youkai Ningen Bem, which first aired in Fall 1968(!) and was remade for the first time in 2006. I’ve never seen either of those, so I’m coming at this with a clean slate.

Toaru Kagaku no Accelerator – 01 (First Impressions) – Getting Nowhere Fast

If you were badly yearning to see Yomikawa Aiho and her ineffectual SWAT-like Antiskill unit take it on the chin once again at the hands of the latest espers baddies, or were desperate for more of Accelerator’s glowering face and growling voice, as Misaka clones mill around aimlessly and Last Order squeaks about herself in the third person, this new Index side-story is for you.

In this introductory episode, a trio of precocious high schoolers led by a pint-sized redhead (who constantly says “yabee” or “radical”) believe the time is ripe to try to steal some genetic material (i.e. blood) from Accelerator, who is in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained in the previous story arc when he managed to get Last Order healed. But while they’re able to get past Antiskill, they’re no match for even a slightly off-his-game Accelerator.

By the time he’s shooed Last Order out of harm’s way, he’s deduced how the three high schoolers’ powers work and makes quick work of neutralizing them, shattering their epic scheme to…sell his blood on the black market.

These were some small-fry baddies with pitifully low stakes considering how Index III ended, but I can already see where this is headed: more of Accelerator being forced to protect Last Order yet again and prove that he’s now way more of a hero than a villain due to his particular devotion to his minuscule double-speaking charge.

The thing is, I feel like I just finished watching that exact thing in Index III, and in a very full Summer season packed with new stories, I’m just not that enthusiastic about watching that dynamic unfold so soon after it just ended—particularly when the production values are so mediocre.

Fire Force – 02 – About All Any of Them Can Do

With the Rookie Fire Soldier Games coming up, Captain Oubi has high hopes for young Shinra. But he’s not the only rookie assigned to Company 8. That’s right, it’s the Rival/Friend His Own Age Who Is More Like Him Than Not, Arthur Boyle, the self-proclaimed “Knight King.”

Maki and Iris are enjoying the nice day on the roof when the two prepare to go at it, but Lt. Hinawa puts an end to both Maki’s idle fire manipulation (technically against regs, but he’s a stickler) and the attempted duel. Instead, he rearranges the fight so Shinra and Arthur have to go up against their senpai Maki.

While both third-gens are unconcerned about taking on a second-gen, Maki’s military training, experience, wonderful muscles, and most important, her ability to manipulate the flames of others means both guys end up taking quick losses.

Maki may be a little self conscious about her “ogre gorilla” alter-persona, but there’s no doubting her toughness despite not being the latest generation of pyrokineticist. If Shinra’s a devil and Arthur a knight, she’s a witch—and a very accomplished one, at that.

Taken down a few pegs, Shinra and Arthur shift their battle to see who can eat the ramen Oubi treated them to faster…which is not the point of eating delish ramen. There’s also a mention of how much gear a non-user like the captain has to wear (and Hinawa has to maintain) for the job, while Arthur’s Excalibur and Shinra’ feet and Type 7 ax are sufficient for them. Speaking of which, the alarm sounds and the now five-person Company 8 answers the call.

The scene is eerily quiet but the Infernal is inside, the father of a girl who already lost her mother to “infernalization,” and dreads being next as a matter of genes (though it could just be a coincidence). When Shinra and Arthur take out their weapons in public, they are scolded by Oubi. The Infernal they’re about to fight was a human, with family. It’s not a glorious battle, but a solemn funeral. If the rookies think otherwise, they can leave the 8.

Oubi is proven right when they enter the house and find the girl’s infernalized father just sitting quietly at the table, the shrine of his wife nearby. Shinra wonders why they should attack an Infernal that isn’t doing anything, but Arthur corrects him: the person sitting there is in tremendous pain, and they must put him out of his misery.

As Iris says the prayer, all it takes is a single quick strike form behind with Arthur’s plasma sword to send the father to rest. A quick and dignified end, but no consolation for his daughter as she never saw it.

Before they went in, a cloud of flames above the house formed into a smirk, and after they defeat the Infernal, the house inexplicably comes tumbling down; fortunately Oubi is tough and isn’t injured, but he and Hinawa immediately suspect a third party that’s messing with their duties. Indeed there is someone outside among the crowd, who leaves smoke letters in the sky reading “Joker.” Huh.

Meanwhile, Oubi completes his duties by doing what he can to comfort the surviving daughter in her time of greatest despair. He posits that because his parents protected her so thoroughly from the flames, she’ll be safe form now on, even if they’re gone. The fire soldiers didn’t fight a battle this week; the Infernals did, for the sake of their daughter, and they won, because she’s still alive.

Neither Shinra nor Arthur can sleep that night (obviously they were assigned the same bunk bed), realizing that the academy could not prepare them for the most terrifying part of being a fire soldier: getting accustomed to what they do. But as much as they snipe and sneer at nip at each other, they’ve perhaps started to realize that they’d rather have one another by their side than not, to help deal with those solemn times.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 02 – Holey War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Stone – 02 – King of the Stone World

Yuzuriha literally in hand and mere moments before freeing her from the stone casing, Senku and Taiju taste the perils of stone age life for the first time. It’s October in the year 5738AD and humans no longer top the food chain.

A pride of lions gives chase and our heroes are only saved by luck and proximity to Shishio Tsukasa casing. You see, Shishio was the ‘super primative’ high schooler back in the day and in pure OTT Dr Stone fashion, he is immediately able to slay the male lion. By hand.

While Taiju is immediately bro-swept by Shishio’s strength and earthy values, Senku (and foreshadowing) quietly sound the alarm. Shishio’s strength is a threat because no societal structures or technological advantages exist to keep it in balance.

His ability to hunt and protect the tribe is welcome, and his respect for Senku’s brilliance keeps things on the rails for a while. However, Senku’s late night crossbow building and intentional omission of calcium carbonate’s importance as a weapon, make it clear rail-riding is only temporary.

And Just as Senku feared, Shishio becomes the new stone age’s first murderer. Shishio doesn’t want to bring adults back, and doesn’t really want the structure of society to return either. But before a second stone head goes flying, Senku lays it down: he’s bringing everyone back and Shishio is going to have to kill him to prevent it from happening.

The Good: While no one could argue that Dr Stone is educational, I really appreciate the care it takes to explain the science and application of things. This week’s item was calcium carbonate, which is used for soil management, mortar and soap. The value of each application is clearly spelled out, and Taiju’s enthusiasm just makes it fun to take in.

I also appreciated Senku’s explanation that lions are in Japan because they were probably in a zoo during the event and have had free reign to eat the other zoo animals and unattended pets for 3,700 years. It’s a completely unnecessary detail that feels crafted for the vlog critic era who would otherwise cry ‘nonsense’ about Lions being in Japan, even though this is a nonsense show about global petrification.

The Meh: The show’s exaggerated art style and get-you-pumped-bro shouty dialog are take it or leave it. Honestly, I’m not a fan but it somehow works with the goofy story.

Verdict: I can’t imagine rating Dr Stone higher or lower than a 7 all season. That may make it boring to review but I doubt it will ever get boring to watch. Annoying, perhaps, but not boring.

In the mean time, I’m wondering how tragically funny Yuzuriha’s death will be and spending too much time wondering why some species of birds were turned to stone, but no other non-human animals? You’re probably better off just taking the show at face value. No wondering necessary.

DanMachi II – 01 – May I Have This Dance?

After a four-year pause, DanMachi resumes, starting with Cranel and his party (Lili, Welf, and Mikoto) on thirteenth floor, taking care of business. The baddies are threatening; the action is smooth, slick, and packs a punch. Mikoto is a nice addition with her lightning-quick, multidirectional katana strikes.

While unwinding at the tavern, talking about the future of this party full of members of different Familias, Bell is suddenly verbally accosted by a young pipsqueak, backed up by a group of his friends all wearing the same military uniform: that of the vaunted Apollo Familia.

He says a couple of the wrong things about Hestia, and Bell gets mad, but it’s Welf who stoves in the kids face with a flagon. One of the kids’ much tougher (Level 3) friends quickly rearranges Bell’s face and nearly chokes him to death; he’s “saved” by Bete, complaining about the noise.

Hestia, ever the goddess of warmth and kindness, is proud of Bell for fighting for her name, but impresses upon him how sad she’d be if he got hurt again for her sake (Lili tends to Welf).

The next day, after reporting the fight to Eina, Bell is approached by two Apollo’s children—Daphne and Cassandra, whom I’m sure we’ll see later—who present him with an invitation to a Banquet of the Gods.

Since Hestia and Apollo have a sour history (she rejected his offer of marriage—Poseidon’s too—choosing instead to remain pure), there could well be some unpleasantness, but Hestia is excited nevertheless, in part because she gets to take a child plus-one.

It’s an occasion when everyone gets to show off how nicely they clean up, and while his hair remains stubbornly messy, even Bell looks pretty damn dapper in his tux.

It’s also an effective way of re-introducing all the gods, goddesses, and children after a long hiatus. Still, it’s hard to feel easy at the house of Apollo, the Familia Bell & Co. “disrespected” so recently. You can’t trust a god with children that…sophomoric.

Hestia and Loki snipe at one another as Bell and Ais give each other eyes, but neither has the guts to defy their goddess right in front of them. Even so, Bell lingers a bit as Ais walks away, and once he turns his head, Ais turns back too. Though members of different Familia, particularly those whose gods don’t like each other, don’t often mix, Bell and Ais clearly don’t feel that way.

While out on the balcony, Bell spots the Apollo child who almost killed him talking to someone and gets suspicious, but is saved from locking eyes with him when Hermes shows up and, after hearing Bell explain why he became an adventurer (at least in part to meet cute girls), steers him in the direction of one with whom Bell should dance.

A completely unexpected but utterly delightful dance scene between Bell and Ais ensues, the two looking absolutely killer in their classy duds, but looking even better because of how much goddamn fun they’re having dancing with each other.

I was gradually reminded of a similar dance scene in FFVIII (that was top-notch CGI in 1999!), starting out awkwardly but becoming smoother as the two grew more comfortable. Even if it was shameless bait for AizBell shippers, I don’t care; it was freaking beautiful and I loved every moment of it!

Unfortunately, the episode’s crushing low immediately follows its dizziest high, as Apollo pulls the plug on the pleasantness and reveals his resting crazyface. Yep, he’s one of those…gesugao or whatever…

Previously described as “spiteful”, he demonstrates he’s petty too, calling Bell and Hestia out for the bar fight his children started, then using it as a transparent excuse to challenge Hestia to a “War Game” between their Familias. And if he wins, he’s claiming Bell.

And there you have it: one of the littlest Familias (but sporting the biggest heart in that of Hestia) going up against one of the biggest, most powerful and militaristic. Assuming allowing outside help (like Ais, for instance) is forbidden, Hestia, Bell and Lili will surely have their work cut out for them!

Okaa-san Online – 01 (First Impressions) – ZOMRPG, MOM!!!

One night, Oosuki is filling out a survey heavy on questions about his relationship to his mother, and the next morning a government official informs him that he’s been selected to enter a video game world. But he doesn’t go alone. His mom follows him in, and will be joining him on his full-dive fantasy adventure!

That’s the high concept, broad-strokes premise to an episode that then proceeds to take its sweet old time immersing Masato and his mom into this new world, an as-yet-unnamed MMO that’s still in beta. Their role is to play the game so that the producers can gather data.

Masato already has reservations about his mom following him along for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, but they turn to downright frustration when she demonstrates she can dual-wield legendary weapons and decimate multiple targets at once. His basic attack is pathetic by comparison.

So, of course, he lashes out, threatening to “disown” his mom in a moment of unguarded rage. That’s when his mom (named Mamako) starts to cry, telling him no one has ever said anything so mean and sad to her. He quickly backtracks, apologizing profusely, and his mom, being a very nice mom, easily forgives him.

They teleport into a town to gather a party at the Adventurer’s Guild, but after pulling the game guide out of her bust, Mamako decides to make a strong first impression by smashing a giant hole into the guild hall, much to Masato’s dismay.

Shirase, the woman who sent them into the game, is there to greet them, bleeding from the head (turns out she’s a game object and the blood is just an effect). And naturally, as they look over party members, Mamako is thinking about finding a nice young woman to team up with him.

Okaa-san Online takes the opposite approach of Arifureta and starts us off at the very beginning of Masato and Mamako’s story, but I still felt an inescapable impatience with the slow pace and the episode’s need to explain terms like “PK”, as if this was someone’s first isekai rodeo.

There’s also the little matter of the show looking pretty atrocious. Like the game in which mother and son find themselves (though I don’t mind their white pupils, like Moriko’s in MMO Junkie), the show just feels sparse and incomplete, both visually and conceptually, what with its lazy, unimaginative hand-waving.

The music has its epic moments, but can be too assertive during quieter scenes. And while the underlying premise is pretty funny at first blush, the comedic dialogue and pacing is iffy at best. With execution lacking in effort and attention to detail, I can’t see myself sticking with this for long. After all, Mama didn’t raise no fool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Given – 01 – Boys in the Band

Mafuyu Sato lives his life in a dream state. He wakes each day from the same nightmare, fear gripping Sato’s body only as tightly as his grips the neck of his guitar. The guitar he carries but has no idea how to play. He is a mystery.

Ritsuka Uenoyama lives a life of diminishing purpose. He commands great skill with his guitar, but as he sharpened his art, he dulled his passion. He is tired but awake. He lives with with his art-def sister and his father gave him his first guitar. There is no mystery in his life. Only routine.

Sato and Uenoyama meet by chance at Uenoyama’s favorite nap spot, nestled behind the gym. Then Sato witnesses Uenoyama play, and Uenoyama’s bandmates witness Uenoyama in rare form. Slowly, bonds begin to form…

Given is, by miles, the most interesting anime running this season. Given is very good looking, though this is more due to great use of color, lighting and character design than actual animation. Given is also very good sounding.

However, what makes Given sing and shine is solid crafting of characters and storytelling. The nuance of how Uenoyama and Sato are living opposite parts of life makes it special. The choices of how we see that play out, without dialog or other characters telling makes it masterful.

Given does not have the artcraft value of Yuri on Ice but Given nails the depression and challenge of being an artist, and of an artist feeling love, with an equally flawless sincerity. You owe it to yourself to check it out.